Epilogue

“And on the first day of the year four hundred and ninety-three after the Declaration did a stranger slay High Lord Baraka Sahelian in the streets of Wolof, and she did not flee. Instead she challenged the Sahelians in such a manner: ‘Come now, you who believe you might triumph over me, that I might teach you the error of your ways.’”
– Extract from the Scroll of Dominion, twenty-fourth of the Secret Histories of Praes

Inch by painful inch, Malicia had dragged the Dread Empire of Praes out of the pit and herself along with it.

She allowed herself to feel a sliver of pride over that, though only for a passing moment. To grow conceited over victories would signal the beginning of a swift descent. Yet victories she had won, slowly and carefully laying the foundation for them until they could be brought to bear against her enemies. The throne that had been crumbling under her had been forged anew by the fresh blood she’d spilled abroad: watching the Imperial Court through the enchanted wall that said to be the work of Dread Emperor Sorcerous himself, Malicia read the lips of the highborn gathered before her. Rumours had swelled of the developments in Salia and the Free Cities. The sudden reverses against the Grand Alliance only echoed more loudly for the way it had before seemed on the rise to pre-eminence, restoring the prestige eroded by Ashuran depredations and the losses in Thalassina and Foramen. Malicia did not rejoice of this, for she knew every speck of that clout would be needed for what was yet to come. Though in dark days the High Seats and lesser nobles were more easily convinced of great changes, there were many who would balk at the mere setting of a precedent.

The crop before her, however, looked ripe for harvest. High Lady Abreha Mirembe’s absence, for Alaya had refused to relieve her from her duties as Governess of the Blessed Isle, had naturally prompted protest from Aksum and the Mirembe. In attempt to make her influence keenly felt Abreha had ordered the lords and ladies sworn to Askum to refrain from attending court until she was summoned back to Ater, but to Malicia’s eye this had backfired. Lord Kosu’s lion-like mane of hair could be picked out from the crowd, as could Lady Sesay’s famous enchanted dress of pure gold. Those two ranked among the most powerful vassals to Aksum, and another half dozen lesser nobility sworn to Abreha had ignored her edict and attended regardless. None whose holdings were close to the city of Aksum, for Abreha Mirembe’s wrath would run hot at the defiance, but enough that the High Lady of Aksum’s position was revealed for the worsening drought that it was. A year ago, Abreha had been but a few manoeuvres of having herself proclaimed Chancellor regardless of Malicia’s opinion of the matter. Now the vultures were beginning to circle her, her defeats at the hands of General Sacker when she’d attempted to intervene in Callow having soured her position.

In the wake of the recall of the inaptly named Legions-in-Exile, the highborn of Praes had come to believe the entire affair a long-reaching scheme of hers and General Sacker one of her agents in humbling High Lady Abreha. Perhaps if Sacker’s soldiers had not so neatly slaughtered the Askum forward parties and driven the refugees back to the Blessed Isle – where they must now be fed at the expense of Abreha – her influence could have been salvaged, but the defeats had been both swift and utter. The Governess of the Blessed Isle was then left with the dilemma of either pursuing a punitive campaign into Callow and risking starting a war with Laure or admitting herself to have been almost contemptuously swatted down. Abreha had attempted to sidestep the issue by accusing General Sacker of treason, which the goblin general had answered in kind, which had been trouble at the time. Amadeus was a rebel in all but name and conceding to the shadow of his influence would have been a grave mistake. By stretching out giving answer, however, Malicia had been able to feign control of the situation and leave the High Lady of Aksum’s support to wither on the vine.

With the currents within Praes mastered, it had been time turn her full efforts outwards. The League of Free Cities had been the easiest grounds to make gains in, and so where she had first concentrated her efforts. It had swiftly become clear that Penthes could be bought, courtesy of Amadeus sowing crippling chaos across the nobility during his last visit and Kairos Theodosian then pouring oil on the fire. Reaching an accord with the Tyrant of Helike had proved necessary, for through the Hierarch he wielded great influence over the rest of the League. They’d agreed on the Exarch-claimants that should be spared, and in binding them irremediably through participation in a darker scheme: the deployment of Still Water against the fleets of Nicae. From there, it was only a matter of ensuring that her position in the Free Cities was strong enough Kairos Theodosia’s coming treachery could inflict only minor damage. The Magisterium was approached and promised protection from invasion until it had finished its cycle of replenishment for the Spears of Stygia. The deal had to be further sweetened with magical tomes, but in principle Malicia had no objection to an empowered Magisterium tying down the resources of neighbouring city-states.

Antagonizing Atalante had been as simple as inciting the Tyrant and other greats of the League to constantly and publicly slight some of their most beloved preachers, culminating in their delegation being forced to carry a nailed manuscript of the Book of All Things as a formal member during the conference in Salia. The utter humiliation and the rest of the League’s acquiescence to it had made them walk away from the situation the moment they were no longer bound by law to be involved. The Secretariat’s longs-standing tendency to state neutrality when its interests were not being threatened – as well as the dire state of its coffers after maintaining so many mercenaries in its service for so long – meant that so long as they were not provoked they could be counted on to be neutral as well. All that was required then to utterly isolate the Tyrant of Helike had been to sever or turn Nicae from the rest, which Theodosian might have assumed to be difficult given their shared treachery against the city and its young Basileus. And it had been a thorny problem for Malicia, she’d admit, at least until Catherine had returned to the surface and begun reminding the rest of Calernia of the looming threat she represented.

It’d only been a question of aiming at Basileus Leo Trakas in particular, from there, and he was not all that complicated a man.

The deceased Strategos whose authority he’d usurped had been a close ally of Cordelia Hasenbach, and now so was Catherine Foundling. A foundation for mistrust. She’d also had dealings with the Tyrant, at the best of times his enemy as well as his ally, and made the leading heroic lights of the Grand Alliance defer to her will several times. Best of all she had the soul of Akua Sahelian, the sole known user of Still Water, bound to her service. It’d not been all that difficult to tip wariness into fear and then fear into the making of mistakes. Not that her victory there had been as complete as it could have been, Malicia silently conceded. Kairos Theodosian had risen from the grave to spit on her plans one last time, a poisonous snake even in death. The Eyes had confirmed that one of his two foremost generals had sworn herself to the war against Keter while the other, General Basilia, had openly declared war on Penthes. A weakened Helike might be able to maul the even more desolate Nicae, should it support Penthes, but it would not find Penthes itself so easy a prey. The distance between the city-states was significant and marching there would involve making pacts with the states between them, which Malicia fully intended to sabotage.

Still, where the League of Cities might have informally been an ally to the Dread Empire instead it was likely to spiral into another civil war that tied it down for the foreseeable future. In the longer lay of things, the Empress would see what might be arranged. If the war went badly for General Basilia and her Helikeans, the Magisterium might yet be convinced to step in for easy spoils. And if it went well? Then the Magisterium it might yet be convinced to step in lest victory allow Helike to resume pre-eminence among the League. The Tyrant might have allowed his people to reach tall heights while he lived but in his death he had left them stranded and surrounded by potential enemies. There would be some pleasure in teaching Helike the consequences of its actions, Malicia would confess. Kairos Theodosian had been an atrocious little prick, convinced he was amusing and that his sneering smugness was somehow endearing. It’d been draining to deal with him even when he was genuinely trying to cooperate with her, and passing the duties to Ime had not been possible: the moment the little shit had sniffed out how abhorrent she found him, he’d insisted their bargaining be done only between rulers.

Steps coming from the deeper reach of the hidden corridor the Empress still stood in, studying her court as she awaited the proper time to enter, shook her out of her thoughts. Ime’s pace was brisk, befitting urgent news. Malicia did not turn, eyes on the overly lingering courtesies Lady Nazar and the younger brother of Lord Salee – affair or scheme? The Salee and Nazar lands bordered one another, lending potential weight to either. It would not be the first time Lady Nazar allowed a foe’s younger sibling into her bed as well as her plans.

“Speak,” Malicia said, eyes moving to catch yet another of the thousand little details that might allow her to keep the court under her thumb.

“Duchess Kegan had our envoys drawn and quartered,” Ime said. “In front of cheering crowds.”

Unpleasant, but not unexpected. The Deoraithe were not an expansionist people by nature and with Kegan’s appointment to Governess-General of Callow they’d begun accruing honours in the kingdom as the duchess appointed kin and allies to offices. Competent ones, sadly, which only added to the faction’s influence. It meant that the Black Queen’s promise to the Deoraithe of independence-in-all-but-name along with a tight military alliance was a very difficult bribe to better.

“The Legions?” Malicia asked.

“The Okoro mages cadres were made welcome by Marshal Nim, and construction of the ritual grounds is progressing at a steady pace,” Ime replied.

Good, the Empress thought. When the time came and signal was sent by the Exile Legions mages, the ritual could be initiated and the armies forced back into Creation from these ‘Twilight Ways’. Returnign exactly at the centre of fortified killing ground, manned by her more loyal armies. High officers of dubious loyalty would be taken hostage and kept at the Tower, the unsalvageable purged and more trustworthy men forced in place. Heavy-handed but necessary. The Legions of Terror needed to be unshakeably hers before Amadeus returned. It meant more blunt action than she would have preferred employing, but in these times such bluntness could serve as a reminder of her strength as well.

“And?” Malicia asked.

There would be more. Neither of those reports had been time sensitive.

“Lord Amadeus has gone missing,” Ime hesitantly said. “Neither our people in Salia nor in the Army of Callow know where he is. We believe Queen Catherine herself is unaware.”

Alaya stilled.

“You are certain?” she said.

“It is like he vanished into thin air,” Ime said.

He was not dead, Alaya decided. She would have… felt it, somehow. She would have. And though the Empress had been harsh in demonstrating to him the futility of defying her, it was no more than he had earned. He’d know that, understand how measured the answer had been considering the gravity of his mistakes. Had she not held her hand until he claimed a right to her very throne? Even allowing for what had no doubt been poisonous whispers by Scribe – who, it was now clear, after decades was finally done pretending to be anything but an enemy – there was no light under which those actions could be seen that was anything but a betrayal. It was, Malicia knew, better this way. Now there was no longer anything let wondered and unspoken, no question of what would happen if he turned against her. He had, and he had lost. Swiftly, utterly, without ever landing a blow in return. And with that question finally laid to rest, they could forge a fresh understanding of who and what they were. Amadeus would not have taken his own life over such a thing, for sober admissions of his blunders were at the heart of who he was. He was still alive, which meant he was coming home. One way or another.

“It is likely he went into the Twilight Ways,” the Empress said.

“Agreed,” Ime said, standing by her side. “And though I know it displeases you to even consider this, Your Dread Majesty-”

“He could be returning as a foe,” Malicia said. “I am aware.”

Amadeus yet commanded loyalty with much of the Legions and had many sympathizers among the Empire’s bureaucracy. Scribe had seen to that. Some of the High Seats might be using to use him as a stalking horse for their own bid for the Tower, too, High Lady Abreha most of all. There might even be some lesser nobles that would genuinely rally to his banner, should he raise it. Though despised by most highborn, his tenure as her Black Knight had also seen him become widely feared. For some that meant respect, especially with families who had martial inclinations by tradition. His Duni birth meant most would not even consider him a possible claimant, true, but there would be some with greater interest in deeds than skin. More worrying were his ties to the Clans and the currently rebelling Tribes, though Malicia had already begun to check those potential threats with measures of her own.

“I would win,” the Dread Empress of Praes said.

“You would,” Ime agreed. “And so I caution you of assassination.”

Malicia glanced at her spymistress, almost amused.

“You believe he’d run me through in open court?” she asked.

“At this point?” Ime said. “Yes. Or, at least, I’m unsure enough of the answer I have to consider the possibility.”

“Without his Name, I could have him frozen with a word,” Malicia noted.

“That is no reason to expose yourself unduly,” Ime said.

“I do not intend to,” Malicia flatly said. “I am not a debutante thankfully accepting an ally’s antidote, Ime. Regardless of his reasons he has failed and betrayed me. It will be years before I can even begin to trust him as I once did.”

She paused.

“But I will not rob myself of what could be restored out of petty fear,” Alaya said. “He will have a place in my court, should he return.”

What was there left to fear, after all? In Praes, her vise was tightening around all who might yet oppose her. In the Free Cities, she stood queenmaker and holder of strings as the crows gathered above. In the far west she had sown chaos and confusion, stranded for months the Army of Callow, and last of all she stood the sole ally of Keter on Calernia. The Dead King needed her, lest the entire continent band against him as the sole crucible of darkness. Lest every hero turn north, the sum of every Hell and Heaven march against him. Malicia would betray him, in the end. That much had never been in doubt. She would betray him the moment the armies of the Grand Alliance were savaged beyond ability to harm her, and in the uneasy peace that followed the Dread Empire of Praes would stand without peer. Hers to mold into what it should be, as she reigned untouchable from atop the Tower.

The storm had come for Dread Empress Malicia, First of Her Name, and she had beaten it. She had survived the crucible thrust upon her by Below, and now she would claim her dues from Creation.

“It is time,” the Empress said, eyes on the court. “Have them readied.”

“By your will,” Ime said, bowing low.

Malicia was left to stand alone, watching her court. Where she would soon enter and introduce before the lords and ladies of Praes the beginning of a new age. From the Northern Steppes, chieftains had come. Blackspear, Graven Bone and Stag-Crowned. Large, powerful clans of the southern stretches. Their chieftains had come to be proclaimed Lords of the Steppes, empowered to collect tribute in the name of the Tower from the other clans while themselves standing exempt of it. There were some among the court who would despise this, and what would follow yet more. For there was one more awaiting, hidden. She would be presented as the very first of her kind: High Lady Wither of Foramen, having renounced her former title of Matron as she returned Foramen to the Praesi fold. The Great Game, it always changed.

The only thing that didn’t was that Alaya of Satus always, always won.

Tariq listened in wonder to the roars of the crowd. Mere days ago the people of Salia had been angrily rioting, boiling out onto the streets, and yet now the same mob was cheering Cordelia Hasenbach so vociferously it seemed as if the very sky above might collapse from the ruckus. Merovins Square was considered one of the great works of Procer, the great Salian gathering place built over generations of the rule of the family of the same name. In the upper reaches of the part of the city men called the Joinery, massive arches of pale stone formed a perfect circle above great open avenues. Statues and monuments of every stripe dotted the square, some so worn by ages that the faces had been eaten through by rain and sleet while others were but a few years old. The tall, slender monument to the dead of what Procerans called the ‘Great War’, for example. The twisted marble, showing a ring of men and women both dragging each other up and pushing each other down, had chilled him when he’d first glimpsed it. The sculptor has shown great skill in making the faces move from triumph to agony and grief under the vagaries of the ‘Ebb and the Flow’. A fitting monument to a bloody civil war.

And now a young father was hoisting up his daughter so that she could peek over the weeping face of a marble woman and have a better look at the First Prince addressing the people of Salia. Merovins Squared had filled with thousands upon thousands, like a sea of people split by elegant islands of stone and metal. From where Tariq stood, under the shade of a great roofed terrace overlooking the magnificent wooden pulpit from which Cordelia Hasenbach was addressing the crowd, he could only barely make out the words the First Prince was speaking. Yet there was no mistaking their thundering approval, the way it echoed through the sunny afternoon air. He was not the only one who had been invited to wait here, far from it. The Grand Alliance’s shine must be burnished, for the people to put their hope in it, and so the great names had all been brought. Young Razin and Aquiline, pretending to be speaking politics over wine when they were truly flirting in that heady, hesitant way of those still unsure of the affection of the other. Tall and serious Yannu Marave, in the cast of whose face Tariq could not help but seeing Sintra. Itima Ifriqui, the sole of the Blood could still remember him having a full head of hair, though their long acquaintance had yielded little fondness. Respect, yes, but the Peregrine had always held in distaste the fondness for bloody vengeance of the Brigand’s Blood.

Others too, the seconds of their realms: Princess Rozala Malanza and Lady Vivienne Dartwick, seated in the shade and speaking in low tones of granaries and treasuries. Tariq’s opinion had already been sought over the matter of a temporary common treasury for the Grand Alliance, though he’d demurred from giving an opinion. It was a sound notion, as far as he was concerned, but he must wean the Blood from the habit of seeking his council. The chances he would survive the coming war were slim, and the surrender of his crown had only made him warier of speaking on matters of rule. Yet it was the last here on the terrace that his eyes lingered over. Hanno of Arwad, once the Sword of Judgement and perhaps one day once more, was leaning against the balustrade and look down at the crowd. At his side the Black Queen of Callow, hair loose down her back and a light smile on her face, was looking down with him and speaking without reserve. The easy cordiality that held between the two, natural as a sparrow’s flight, had surprised him. Perhaps it should not have been, for those two had never fought before and for a hero sworn to the Seraphim the White Knight could be said to be… unusual.

Tariq approached, as much out of curiosity as desire to converse.

“- wait, so if you recall someone that understood High Arcana, wouldn’t you-”

“Only so long as I am within the memories,” the White Knight replied. “Which makes you correct, but the knowledge itself impossible to use.”

“You still get to learn languages by the fucking basketful, so I wouldn’t complain,” Catherine Foundling drily said. “Even back when I still had Learn, it took me months to learn what I knew. Even had to learn Chantant the hard way.”

“I find Tolesian significantly easier,” Tariq admitted, coming to stand at Hanno’s side. “Though that might be because of the tradertongue and Lunara loan words.”

“Everyone should just speak Lower Miezan,” the Black Queen suggested.

“Chantant is the single most spoken language on Calernia, I believe,” the White Knight said. “Should it not be the chosen tongue, by virtue of this?”

“It’s got more exceptions than a Wasteland loyalty pledge,” Catherine Foundling snorted. “Over my dead body.”

The Grey Pilgrim’s brow almost rose, for though the Black Queen was known as something of a wit and prone to bantering, there seemed to be a genuine rapport between the two he’d not expected. They were both young and attractive, Tariq thought, so perhaps… No, he decided, flicking them a long and considering glance. The Black Queen had a roving eye, a fact he’d heard had been the subject of great interest among Proceran royalty, but the White Knight had no reputation for dalliances. And seemingly little interest in them, which the Grey Pilgrim could only approve of considering the days they lived in. Below them, the crowd roared again,

“The First Prince is in fine form today,” Tariq said.

“She is a gifted speaker,” Hanno noted. “As one would expect of a woman bearing her title.”

“She’s offering them hope,” the Black Queen said. “She could be stumbling over half those sentences and still they’d cheer fit to shake the earth.”

“The Grand Alliance has lost a founding member, with Ashur,” Tariq cautioned.

“The League of Free Cities retreats, or joins our ranks,” the White Knight said. “And the dreaded Black Queen has been tamed and added to our ranks. There is reason to rejoice.”

Young Catherine replied with what he believed to be fairly obscene language in Kharsum, to Hanno’s apparent amusement, but Tariq was grimacing.  Precious little of the League had joined, no matter the posturing, and Tariq mistrusted those that had. General Pallas and her ten thousand, the appallingly named Tyrant’s Own, might not have the stomach to truly see through the war to the north. It remained to be seen, and soldiers were not to be turned away, but these were not to be relied on.

“Best for all of us that Cordelia has her day,” the Black Queen said. “If parading us all before the crowd puts some spine back in Procer, I’ll even smile and say pretty things.”

“Your generosity is remarkable,” Tariq said, only half teasing.

Most of her allies had, after all, until recently been at war with her. The Peregrine cast a discreet look at young Razin and Aquiline once more, heart clenching. Blood, both of them, and that would matter in the days to come. But Aquiline Osena had not so long ago tried to kill the man she now courted and yet now the smiled softly at one another. Razin Tanja, defeated and orphaned, had not been embittered or broken but instead risen past what he had been taught. Tariq had heard of his words, of the renunciation of the honour killings. Of the harsh words he’d spoken at what Levant had become. And Gods, but Tariq was feeling his years. His soul had been wounded, and his body was nearing the end of its days. There was a future for the Dominion, but it lay not in Yannu Marave, who embodied at once the best and the worst of Levant, or in Itima Ifriqui’s borderlands savagery. Yet those two, the seed of what they might yet become, it would need to be nurtured. Protected. And he might not live long enough to see this through.

“I would, Queen Catherine, ask of you a favour,” Tariq said.

Dark eyes studied him, amusement sliding off her face.

“Funny, that,” the Black Queen said. “I’ve been meaning to ask one of you as well.”

“A trade might be arranged, then,” the old hero said, pleased. “When the Grand Alliance marches north, you are to be among the great warleaders of it.”

“Seems likely,” the young priestess acknowledged.

“There are two of mine I would have you take under your wing,” Tariq said. “Under your protection.”

She followed his gaze to Aquiline and Razin.

“You’ve got plans for them,” the Black Queen said.

“It is a new world you would make,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “I will not have Levant left behind.”

Slowly, she nodded.

“I am told you might be one of the few people alive capable of removing a compulsion from someone’s mind,” Queen Catherine said.

“I have some experience with this,” Tariq acknowledged.

Sorceries to that effect were more easily disrupted, but even alchemies and Speaking could be purged if one knew the way. The Peregrine had greatly benefitted from the tutelage of the Ophanim in this.

“I believe Dread Empress Malicia to have planted commands among several officers of the Army of Callow,” the Black Queen said. “I’d request your assistance in removing them without harming the officers in question, which I’m told could be… difficult.”

“This I would offer free of recompense,” Tariq frankly said. “I will not begrudge you my hand’s work when it is to be used to aid your soldiers in fighting for the preservation of mankind.”

She seemed surprised, which had him pushing down a grimaced. It had not been unfounded a conclusion, but Tariq was attempting to bridge the gap and vexed to see how deep he had helped dig this one. The Grey Pilgrim was not unaware that there was only so long one could keep treating someone as an enemy before they became one in truth.

“I’ll keep the favour, then,” the Black Queen said, eyes watchful as she studied him.

Below the crowd roared anew at some fresh turn of phrase of the First Prince. White, Grey and Black, the three of them looked at the lone silhouette of Cordelia Hasenbach. The stubborn soul that would not allow the Principate to fall to its knees, no matter the coming doom.

“The Tower stirs,” Tariq quietly said. “The Ophanim whisper of it.”

“I suspect,” the Black Queen quietly said, “that the Tower is about to have a great deal of trouble on its hands.”

Suspect. Was it true, then, that she did now know where the Carrion Lord had gone?

“And if Praes sallies forth?” the White Knight asked.

“Then I will get the east in order the hard way,” Catherine Foundling replied, tone steady as stone.

It was a small, almost imperceptible thing. Tariq Fleetfoot saw it anyway, as did Hanno of Arwad. A flicker, a spark. When the Queen of Callow had spoken the words and meant them, something had begun to take shape.

A Name, Gods help them all.

It was a beautiful realm, Amadeus thought.

A summer night unending, starry and warm. The kind of realm that made for a pleasant journey even when the sum of your earthly possessions was a horse, bundled armour and a fortnight’s worth of rations. Bridle in hand, sleeves rolled up on his tunic as the sword at his hip moved with his leg, he wandered down the road snaking forward through the Twilight Ways.

Amadeus no longer had his armies, not even his personal guard – he had left them in Catherine’s hands, requesting she safeguard them through the strife to come.

Amadeus no longer had spies, or wealth or even the power of a Name. He had sent away Scribe, failed Captain and lost Warlock. Assassin was gone, if not from Creation then at least from his service.

Alaya would see him kneeling, or forever gone from her sight.

Tabula rasa, a blank slate. After so many decades, the thought of it should have angered him. Should have brought in him despair and bitterness, for all he had built went up in smoke. Instead he felt relieved. Like a weight had been lifted from his shoulder. It was just him, now. Him and a sword and a plan against all the world. He looked up at the starry sky and laughed.

“Evening, stranger,” a voice drawled. “Where might you be headed, that it has you in such a merry mood?”

Leaning back against a tree, shrouded in darkness, Hye Su was gazing at him with mild interest. It’d been years since they last saw each other, and she’d hardly changed at all – save for the burns on the side of her face, a mark of Summer challenged but not beaten.

“East, I would think,” Amadeus mused.

“Whatever for?” Ranger asked, tone nonchalant.

Voice high and clear, he sang.

“The last is strangest, she said to them
The easiest and the most solemn
For when the tower is yours to claim
You will have forgotten why you came.”

There was a moment of silence, and then the Lady of the Lake pushed herself off the tree.

“Might be I’ll walk with you a while, then,” Hye Su said.

“I thought you might,” Amadeus smiled.

And into the starry night they went, side by side.

304 thoughts on “Epilogue

  1. And so we end Book V. As mentioned last update, instead of the usual month-long break between books I’ll be taking two months this time instead, as much due to the length of the last book as due to the need to begin work on my next project after the Guide. I’ll be making a formal announcement later on, but Book VI should begin on January 6th!

    Thanks to all of you who’ve been reading the Guide, especially those of you who’ve been there since the rather humble beginnings of this project. It’s been a pleasure writing this series, and I hope it’s been a pleasure to read. I’ll see you all in January.

    E.E.

    Liked by 76 people

    1. Gunslinger

      This was by far one of the best books of the series. I cannot wait for the next one as well as your future work (which I’m sure will be a Mallory towers style tale set in the Name academy)

      Liked by 8 people

    2. As someone who’s just binged this entire thing over the last couple weeks I can say:
      Thank you!
      For all the work you put in to this world and these characters, and keeping it on schedule as far as I can see for many years.
      Thank you!

      This ending marks a great beginning of the final chapter of APGTE and I am sure I will enjoy being here for the rest of the ride.

      See you all in January!

      Liked by 5 people

    3. Draconic

      Thanks a lot for all of your work! I will be sure to check out your next project.

      Does the two months break also apply to the monthly extra chapters, or can we expect the next of those in december?

      Liked by 4 people

    4. I loved all the resolutions and the notes.

      Black escapes the Bard and rides with happiness. Cat triggers a name. The war with Keter begins and they figure out Cat has *all* the Drow.

      More heroes are drawn into Cat’s orbit.

      And the last volume starts to roll.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Eh. He can go without it for a while longer imho, gain confidence in what and who he is without it and all. Sure he already has an understanding, but there’s knowing and there’s knowing.

        Like

    5. Fhshsncn

      Omg you ended this in the best best best possible way with the most amazing hooks ever!!

      Catherine’s coming into a new name and the Rangers going to help Black climb the Tower?? Also a choir is crippled right at the start of the war with the Dead King??

      You are a genius!!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Zggt

          … and I’m sure she’ll succeed in the first step of that, but Ranger habitually invaded Keter alone in order to have drinks with the Dead King for *fun*. At the moment, Black’s position in a story involving them is “the right hand who betrayed the Big Bad” which is rather hopeless. Going after Ranger could change it to “the Big Bad went too far and didn’t caused their own death”, which Malicia has to avoid.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Draconic

        “Nothing is half as dangerous to a villain as victory. We raise our own gallows.”
        -Dread Empress Maleficent the First
        (Book 2 chapter 48)

        It seems like Alaya forgot about this warning.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. danh3107

    As someone who has loved this story dearly for the past several years, and has waited with bated breath for every new chapter, I can only say thanks erratic.

    Thanks for everything, see you in two months.

    Liked by 13 people

      1. Pokekid011

        “But it needs to be phrased as an impera-”
        “No”

        In all honesty, I feel that the name is Tyrant (The Praesi one, not the Proceran). Catherine is gonna be climbing the tower, and a Cat/Black/Malicia free-for-all is gonna be epic.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Thank you for this amazing story. Every update made my day. I been around since the end of the 2nd book and I had no idea what I was getting into then. Every second has been worth it. I can’t wait to read whatever you do after this story, and while I’m sad to hear it’s going to end I know you have your reasons.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. Crash

          As opposed to the Decrees and Rules we have already seem.

          Yeah Refuse works. If not that then Reject.

          But I love the “No.” idea, I propose that it be the first thing she Speaks with her new Name.

          Liked by 4 people

      1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

        Well, technically Vivs was the Thief as both a heroine and a villain, albeit her duties in the latter role saw her slide out of the relevant narrative groove.

        Liked by 9 people

      2. Jarthon

        I don’t think she would end up being the first. In the very first book they talk about how there are already stories for redemption arks and falls from grace. Thats why Cat’s name freaks out when she spares William. That suggests to me at least that it has happened before at some point.

        Liked by 9 people

  3. Ben Serreau-Raskin

    E.E., it has indeed been a pleasure to read and it will be a pleasure to see where you take it and what you want to do after it’s done.

    Also, these are some fantastic cliffhangers to leave us on for the hiatus.

    Liked by 11 people

  4. Cicero

    There was always one thing that Scribe and Ranger agreed on. That it should have been Amadeus who climbed the Tower, not Alya.

    Looks like Amadeus has had his mid-life crisis, and like the best mid-life crises, been left feeling twenty years younger, and in a world full of… possibilities.

    Liked by 22 people

      1. Shveiran

        Ah, but what does he want?
        His restraints have ever been self-imposed; with his project demolished before him, what he will strive toward next? I’m very, very curious about that.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Oh, his project is still the same: drag Praes out of the ditch. He’s not giving up on that one, he cares as much as he ever has.

          Now, what means is he planning to employ… and more interestingly, what story lies in store for him from Providence?

          Liked by 5 people

    1. RoflCat

      Go around and murder every single damn Praesi nobles he deem as being in the way of his plan of making Praes into a less shitty place, especially with Ranger in tow to act as less subtle Assassin.

      And Alaya acting like a typical tyrant stamping down on anything that doesn’t go her way seems like she’ll now be on that list.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. I don’t think she will be. Amadeus is too much of a white knight (full irony) to not do his best to save her from her own stupidity.

        Which was… in full force this chapter. He’s not wrong that she’s falling to the old madness unfortunately =x

        Liked by 5 people

      1. Argentorum

        Alaya has a long and storied history of taking the measure of her enemies exactly, and dancing them on her strings.

        It is ever her allies that she cannot seem to fathom.

        Liked by 22 people

      2. caoimhinh

        Well, we actually saw her considering Ranger around the end of Book 4. If I recall correctly, Malicia’s conclusion was that Ranger was not an ally, but that she would not move against the Tower due to being still recovering from her fight against the Summer Queen. It’s also one of the reasons why Malicia thought that Ranger couldn’t be counted on to rescue Amadeus back then.

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Shikkarasu

            I think she didn’t so much forget about Ranger as she correctly assessed that Ranger wouldn’t care about the Tower or the Army of Callow. Alaya genuinely thinks that Maddie is coming home to her, and not to take the Tower.

            She has no reason to think Ranger would care.

            The problem is that Amadeus said exactly the right things to get on Ranger’s good side again. He’s not Malicia’s partner, ally, or subordinate. He’s free from any obligations, save his own whims. Ranger has been waiting years for that to be the case again.

            Liked by 9 people

  5. Novice

    Of course Triumphant would not only kill a High Lord in broad daylight in the middle of his power base but also challenge the rest of Sahelians while still inside said power base. Fucking mad lass.

    Liked by 14 people

        1. Shequi

          The Scroll is about events in the life of Triumphant. That doesn’t mean every character in it is.

          In fact… Wild Guessing time, but maybe the reason Triumphant took that as a regnal name was that she was the one person who actually beat Ranger?

          Liked by 2 people

    1. S

      Lakeomancer..

      “That’s not a true discipline, Cat.”
      ‘But what’s my name, Zeze?’
      “Catherine Foundling of Laure, Queen of Callow, First under the Night.”
      ‘But what’s my Name, Hierophant?’
      -Masego grumbles-
      ‘Sorry what was that?’
      “The Lakeomancer.”
      ‘Attaboy.’

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Hierineus

    So cat might be getting a name? Not sure if its time to get hyped or not. Honestly not having a name gave cat oppertunities she might not have gotten if she had a name. On the other hand we are likely getting into unknown terrority with heir new name, so that should be interesting.

    Also mentor role confirmed.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Novice

      One of the reasons to get hyped this time is the fact that this Name might be a new one directly caused by the Catherine Foundling-shaped groove in Creation she’s been carving all this time. Not something someone did in the past or a story long forgotten but something specifically Catherine’s.

      Liked by 20 people

      1. Isaac Martinez

        Yeah, it could be awesome to see a Name shaped Cat, but the problem is if Cat will accept that name or not. After all, she now knows the danger of having a Namex mindset. More is she is in charge of the ruling priesthood of the Night. And Cat is not yet ready because the wound in her leg is still needed to mark her limits, and with a Name there is a danger of the wound dissapearing in the air.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. lennymaster

          Not if her limp has become a part of her, her role and story. Than it would just be as much hers as the grey pilgrims ever grey cloak or the bards flask and lute.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. …or Kairos’s, y’know… everything…

            I think Cat only had the wound disappear into thin air before because of the angelic resurrection coming with free healing of everything, and Names don’t really do that inherently.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Lord_GM

      Everybody seems to forget that Cat has heard the song of the girl who climbed the Tower since Book I. The Gods Below want her to become Dread Empress. The question is wheather Cat would accept, given her strong opinions on devine meddling, ruling names, etc. My guess is that, when given the opportunity, she will so the Hasenbach and reject the Name.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. My opinion:

        Gods Below don’t have an opinion on who gets the Tower beyond ‘ooooh this one looks entertaining too! more please!’ and if they are they aren’t expressing it.

        The song of “The Girl Who Climbed The Tower” does not appear in claimants’ heads as a result of anyone – any sentient actor/entity – wanting them to be claimants. The Tower’s story just identifies its potential claimants much earlier than most other stories do. Cat was in position to maybe potentially climb the tower, and so she was by automatic narrative-powered mechanism extended an invitation to.

        Same as Amadeus, back when he was backing Alaya. He got a song of his own, and happily ignored it in favor of getting her on the throne.

        Anyone who ever so much as looked in the direction of the Tower as something they might maybe one day… has heard some of the song. And some of the people who hadn’t previously but were in position to make a bid anyway.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. haihappen

      Cathrine shaping a Name or a Name shaping Cathrine, it does not matter. The accumulated weight of story, culture and personality make Cat leave a mark in Creation, a mold/groove/cast that reflects the choices she made.

      A Name is a Choice. And Cathrine made a lot of choices, and each one solidifies the forming Name. A new one, by the looks of it.

      Also: loving the reuniting of Ranger and Black.

      Liked by 11 people

    4. Cicero

      Actually, that might be an interesting twist.

      Cat’s last Name was a transitory Name. A mentee name. The Squire.

      Now she is moving towards gaining a new name, just as she is taking on the role of mentor, umpire, etc.

      Basically… she’s going to be the replacement for Tariq?

      Wielding a staff instead of a sword. One who could have been an Empress, who resigned her throne for a higher cause. Yeah… she’s actually got quite a lot of those Grey Pilgrim qualities.

      Not that I think she’ll be a Grey Pilgrim, just an equivalent for the New Age.

      The Named who founds the college, and is the protector of the Accords?

      Liked by 7 people

    1. RoflCat

      I think in this case, it’s not a Name being offered, but rather a Name being created by her story.

      As in, Cath’s declaration/story is creating a new groove in creation that Name were formed from, instead of other Named who came into theirs from what they do.

      Liked by 15 people

    2. Sun Dog

      Arch-Heretic. It’s already among her titles, may as well own it. Particularly as her story involves copious amounts of goblin fire and the repeated mugging of angels.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. So … the message Amadeus was given probably wasn’t from Malicia, judging from the Malicia PoV.
    Which suggests Bard is responsible. This could be a problem.

    Malicia probably didn’t actually forget about Ranger, exactly, but Ranger has a longstanding habit of noninvolvement and generally not giving a fuck about anything not directly affecting her.

    Hmmm. I wonder … the Twilight Ways have origins linked to Arcadia and the Fae. It’s possible that they have inherited aspects of the unfixed and variable nature, which could lead to Amadeus encountering the Legions in Exile before they fall into Malicia’s trap. That may or may not help them or Amadeus, though.

    Malicia’s trap may have severe repercussions – Amadeus is and largely always has been, fairly popular amongst the troops, not just those closest to him. And he’s popular amongst the orcs and goblins … for his systemic changes improving their positions. Malicia’s gotten at least some of the credit … but she’s also the one who started rollbacks of the Reforms in order to pressure the High Lords.

    Also … even thinking to yourself that you always win? That’s a terrible sign of hubris, which is fatal flaw for a Named in the Guideverse.

    Cat has a flicker of a Name now? I wonder if she’ll take it or reject it. Or if she’ll even recognize it forming in order to have a choice.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Silverking

      …I’m not sure she’ll have a choice once the Name fully forms. It’s a bit unclear exactly how new Names are formed, but my understanding is that it is making a choice to embrace an established archetype to better accommodate a Role. Cat’s current philosophy seems to view Names as power that comes with chains pulling the wielder in directions they wouldn’t otherwise go. However, with the new groove Cat’s forming in Creation, she wears the chains she forged in life; link by link and yard by yard fashioned of her own free will, and of her own free will she wears them. I’m guessing the temptation she’s felt at the Free Cities meeting is a hint of the Role she’s creating.

      Which brings up an interesting question. At the Doom of Liesse, Cat was essentially offered a pre-existing name of Black Queen as part of accepting the hellgate maker and the terrible price of making it as a means to ensure peace on the continent. This archetype had its own Role and constraints, and while Cat has been given the moniker by her subjects and enemies, she has not accepted the Name. Is Cat changing the Name of the Black Queen to better suit her, or is she making a new Name entirely?

      Liked by 12 people

      1. panic

        I believe the spark of a Name Hanno and Tariq saw is the spark of Dread Empress Victorious. It’s laying there like a ember, glowing and just waiting for some fuel to grow into a roaring bonefire. It’s why Tariq is so afraid. Because he knowns that once that spark has been allowed to light something what comes will be on the scale of Triumphant. And is that not a thought to make anyone afraid? So it’s more like a warning of what could be as opposed that what will be. And a testament to just how dangerous Cat has become and how much damage she could do if her hand is forced.

        Liked by 13 people

            1. Victorious was the idea of using Praes as a base from which to suborn the rest of the continent. If she can instead use the rest of the continent as a base from which to suborn Praes, she has better options.

              Liked by 3 people

          1. panic

            I don’t think we can say that with any certainty until in about 2 months or so. I stand by this simply being a glimps of what can be, should she just reach out and claim the title of Dread Empress. Like the foundations of a great castle. Like a… foundation for a building or the like. The desire, will and story are there. Everything for a Name to grow an flourish. Just with no active push to start smack a castle up on said foundation. Not yet anyways.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. Shikkarasu

          The big question for me is, what would happen if Amadeus, Cat, Akua, and Alaya all find themselves in the Tower competing for the throne? So many mixed loyalties and not a lot of room for survivors.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Akua’s out of the running automatically, Cat locks her in the cloak and if it doesn’t work just kills her. There won’t be a Dread Empress Magnificent in her lifetime no matter the cost. More likely, Akua’s gleefully backing up Cat and hyping Victorious to anyone who’ll listen.

            Amadeus and Catherine immediately team up and start playing the game of “no u”, because neither of them actually WANTS the Name. They just trust no-one other than themselves / each other with it.

            Alaya has a belated midlife crisis as she tries to understand how exactly her life turned into a circus. Eventually she abdicates in favor of Akua, who abdicates in favor of Cat, who abdicates in favor of Amadeus, who is stuck holding the ball, exactly as Alaya planned.

            Liked by 2 people

      2. > but my understanding is that it is making a choice to embrace an established archetype to better accommodate a Role”

        Sabah, Anaxares, Tariq, Vivienne.

        Making a choice to embrace the archetype is one way to get a Name. But if you fit it already, and all of the actions you consider to be viable choices also don’t break the association, then you’re stuck with it.

        > However, with the new groove Cat’s forming in Creation, she wears the chains she forged in life; link by link and yard by yard fashioned of her own free will, and of her own free will she wears them.

        Pretty sure that’s how most Names work. Cat’s problem with them is a little more abstract.

        > Which brings up an interesting question. At the Doom of Liesse, Cat was essentially offered a pre-existing name of Black Queen as part of accepting the hellgate maker and the terrible price of making it as a means to ensure peace on the continent. This archetype had its own Role and constraints, and while Cat has been given the moniker by her subjects and enemies, she has not accepted the Name. Is Cat changing the Name of the Black Queen to better suit her, or is she making a new Name entirely?

        I don’t get the impression the Name was pre-existing. She made that one out of her own actions too, although the /archetype/ was already half-formed in people’s consciousness, she just needed to pull the building blocks together.

        And while she did in reputation, she ended up not matching that reputation in her actual actions and decision making processes. The Name and she met for a moment and then flew their separate ways.

        This Name might be Black Queen Amended Version (the archetype itself changing in people’s minds towards more of what Cat is like, she might have the reputational pull for it), or it might be something new… 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, she’d previously been offered White Queen (at Marchford), and having rejected it, was starting to mirror it as Black Queen — but then she accepted Amadeus’ destruction of the weapon, which was Not In The Program for a traditional Black Queen.

          Now, she’s certainly writing a new script, but I think it won’t actually be a Name until it reaches whoever comes after her. It may replace the old script for the Black Queen name, or it may find another moniker such as High Priestess of the Night (no reason the Drow can’t have a few Named to go with their Mighty). Or she may eventually abdicate from Callow and settle in as Dark Queen Under The Mountain. Or the Name-energy may scatter into support roles — two of her followers have already coined new or nearly-new Names, and she’s got a Cowardly Hero/Bumbling General type developing, there may be others to come.

          Liked by 1 person

      3. jamesc9

        [quote]fashioned of her own free will, and of her own free will she wears them[/quote]
        Fashioned of her past free will, and worn without option in future situations where she might choose differently. Even if it’s her personal name, it’s still fixing some things that she might want fluid.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That just means she’ll lose it at that point. Names influence wielders almost exclusively through offering incentives – so en masse the effect is both noticable and terrifying, but an individual as self-aware and flexible as Cat won’t be ‘fixed’ much.

          Like

    2. Malicia is so totally screwed. She’s taken the immediate results of half-a-dozen of her schemes as final results, forgetting that others can add their own responses.

      And our Cat is past mistress of taking a dog’s dinner and getting a proper meal out of it.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Frivolous

        I think one of Malicia’s more obvious blind spots is that she thinks she knows of and about all the pieces in play. She doesn’t think outside the box very much.

        Like when Cath disappeared, in Interlude: Heretics, Malicia automatically wrote out the possibility of the Cath going to the Everdark. In this Epilogue, she believes she has nothing to fear because looks only to the threats she knows about, particularly those in Praes.

        A second blind spot is that Malicia thinks in terms of politics much of the time. She evaluates Amadeus as a threat according to who and what he can sway to his cause. She assumes that if Amadeus can’t convince the military forces she knows about, he’s helpless.

        I suspect that Amadeus has been hoarding forces and tactics for a long time, and that what the uses against Malicia are outside of Malicia’s experience and will surprise her again and again and again.

        Liked by 12 people

        1. SilverDargon

          Honestly, about halfway through Malicia’s section I had to take a step back because I realized that she was basically doing a villainous monologue. I mean, she wasn’t saying anything out loud, even she isn’t that dumb, but her thoughts seemed to pretty closely follow the line, “You cannot stop me now! I am INVINCIBLE!” Which as we all know is basically a suicide button.

          Liked by 8 people

  8. RoflCat

    So Malicia has gone full tyrannical Dread Empress, trusting no one and try to enforce her rule onto Creation…yeah, that seems like the Story of her falling, HARD.

    Catherine possibly creating a new Name?

    And hey, finally Ranger appear again, and who needs an army or spy network when you have the best knife/wife at your side eh Black?

    Liked by 16 people

  9. IDKWhoitis

    Alright, so my current bet as to how Amadeus will crack Praes under his boot is either:

    1) Pull a Napoleón, and arrive at the site where the Exiles and Loyalists meet, and recruit them both outright. Brutal civil war follows. Orient the North and Eyeries to declare full independence.

    2) Multi-Continential schenaigns, getting the other world powers involved and maybe even the Gnomes to shell Ater. Take a page out of Cat’s book and convince the Dwarves of the virtues of stabbing Praes in the knees. Leave Praes smoking, broken, and ready to be made anew.

    Either scenario will probably feature some baiting and staying off screen for a long time. If Praes invades Callow at any point, Malica loses.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Praes is a backwater country by world standards. No one cares about them. Concerning the Dwarves, Catherine has to offer them the entire Everdark and an alliance against the DK to get them moving. I doubt Amadeus could do something like that. And the Gnomes would kill everyone in Praes, not just Ater.

      No, I think he will create an underground Resistance in the Steppes

      Liked by 7 people

      1. They’re really not. They’re the premier producers of finished goods, luxury goods, forged goods, magical reagents, magical practitioners, etc. Modern Praes *trades* for the food it imports, and it does that with very successful production lines.

        Like

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          I said « by world standard ». Compared to the Gnomes, the Yan Tei, the Elves (the original Elves, not the Golden Bloom) or even the Dwarves, it is an unimportant nation.

          Liked by 3 people

  10. Frivolous

    I hope Tariq is foresighted enough to inform Aquiline and Razin that he asked Catherine to nanny them, and preferably in front of Yannu and Itima.

    Otherwise, everyone of the four who was not present is likely to take the news very badly, partly because the Levantines are so honor-obsessed that Razin and Aquiline would throw a hissy fit over needing someone else’s protection, and also Yannu and Itima would insult R and A for needing a nanny, and partly because their new nanny is the Black Queen.

    But they won’t gainsay Tariq’s own words.

    R and A and Y and I are probably going to throw hissy fits anyway, because Cath would, since she’s R and A’s protector, have the authority to order them not to do this or that crazy suicidal stunt.

    I think this is the first time we’ve ever seen a head of one of the Levantine Blood families having someone else, especially someone not-Blood, with authority after them. I think people are going to freak over it.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Decius

      They aren’t getting a ‘nanny’, they’re being instructed to act as though they are loyal and following the directions of the Black Queen, pay attention to everything she says, closely observe her choices, and prepare a report back to Tariq about all of that.

      By the time they realize they’re students and/instead of spies, the goal is accomplished.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Frivolous

        First, I wrote about Cat having authority over Razin and Aquiline because Tariq asked her to protect them.
        Protecting them implies keeping them out of danger, both physical and political. It also implies putting them under guard. That also implies telling them where they can’t go and what they can’t do.

        Second, while Razin did speak against honor duels, he and Aquiline did go on the attack against the Firstborn, who were massively more powerful. I don’t think Catherine would want that repeated, if she means to keep them alive as Tariq requested.

        Third: Hanno? What’s Hanno got to do with it? Also, meddling? What meddling?

        Liked by 4 people

        1. > Protecting them implies keeping them out of danger, both physical and political. It also implies putting them under guard. That also implies telling them where they can’t go and what they can’t do.

          Nope, in this case it doesn’t. That’s not what Tariq is asking of her.

          What it includes is “oh hey I have a super important mission for you two that only you could possibly do. Pay no attention to how it involves safely staying in the back and out of the suicidal assault I know for a fact you would otherwise be heading”

          Catherine gets no authority over them that she doesn’t already have as a de facto commander general. It’s that authority, the mandate she already has, that Tariq is asking her to apply this way.

          They’ll probably catch on to being nannied either way. Eventually. Possibly after Cat literally pulls their asses out of the fire while loudly cussing Tariq out.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Except that neither Tariq nor Cat are actually direct superiors of Razin and Aquiline — Tariq could have claimed something of the sort before he lost his crown, but definitely not now. As you note, any attempt to “keep them safe” involves exercising control over them, which at this point has to be strictly unofficial and without actual authority. In other words, meddling with the affairs of other people where they don’t actually have a right to say boo. Of course, that’s nothing new for either of them.

          And Hanno, being present (and now fairly caught up in Cat’s wake), is certainly going to get involved….

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Shveiran

      i have no idea why anyone would “have a fit” over the fact that the Black Queen is shielding some of her mortal allies from the unspeakable horrors unleashed by the Dead King.
      It’s pretty much a given he’ll try to cut down leadership to hinder the logistics of the joined armies and impact morale, no?

      I mean… he just said keep an eye out for them ESPECIALLY because I think they are important. How is that diminishing?
      It would be pretty damn understandable if he was worried about normal assassins, but this is the Hidden Horror, the guy who thinks undead dragons filled with a legion of zombies is an opening move or a distraction. How is it diminishing to say “you now, maybe these two HUMANS will risk their life at soem point or another?”

      Liked by 3 people

  11. NerfGlaistigUaine

    I know quite a few people hate Malicia on this site or look down at her for being inept at stories but you gotta admit she’s impressive. She went from having a crumbling empire to securing her place of power and making the Alliance highly reluctant to engage her, albeit with Black coming for her ass. It’s impressive how much she’s managed to accomplish in such a short span with just a few concise actions. Politically, I don’t think anyone on Calernia is her peer.
    Her strengths are also her main blind spots I think. She sees everything as a political tapestry and misses the story and stuff that’s not about staying in power and keeping Praes strong. It’s pretty hard to exploit though cause her political game is on point.
    I am very interested to see how Black takes on Malicia. I know it probably won’t be the focus of the next book as Cat’s got bigger fish to fry up north, but damn it’d be interesting. Would also love a prequel of Black and Malicia taking on the Empire and Callow, although I realize it’s unlikely to happen.

    Liked by 18 people

    1. SINISTAR

      One of Catherine’s key strengths is she has a diverse array of viewpoints to draw from that she can trust. Adjutant, Hierophant, Archer, her recent heir, Robber, Juniper, Aisha, Pickler, friggin Akua, even Sve Noc, all these people keep Catherine dynamic and diverse, give her perspective.

      Liked by 15 people

      1. Shveiran

        “much better” if all you care about is to make a big boom before you die, sure.
        How long has the Tyrant been relevant as a whole, two years? Three?

        Malicia has been ruling for decades, more than any Empress before her, and she has kept under her thumb Callow for two of those decades, another unprecedented thing.
        She has accomplished all that even fi she started off with no power base. Even if Praes was a ruinous mess when she climbed the Tower.

        And she has now clawed her way back from being the afterthought in the war against the Dead King – which she made possible in the first place after her original plan was derailed – to being an entity that dives everyone pause, not to mention taking away most of the tools Black had left within a day of him staking his claim.

        Sure, Kairos left a mark on history.

        Malicia’s just godsdamn bigger.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. lennymaster

        Precisely!
        Same reason I despice the ever righteous heroes like Batman and Spiderman. If they could just manage to be at least a litle bit ruthless from time to time they could nip so many problems in the butt. Solving problems you caused or just stood by and watched mature from nuisances to major public threats does not deserve applause.
        Same with Malicia. Sure she just pulled of some major successes, ones that she however never should have had to deal with. If it were not for the Doom of Liesse and the following consequences, than Cat would still be an ally, and Black not her enemy.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. NerfGlaistigUaine

          Get where you come from, but I think their flaws come from very different places. Malicia’s come from her blindspots, she couldn’t see how the Doom could fuck her over and Black would betray her b/c she couldn’t see the story outside the politics. Her plans and actions made logical sense considering the impending Crusade, they were just flawed because she didn’t consider everythign she should. That and it seems like she’s tumbling to more and more desperate and ruthless measures, losing sight of anything beside keeping power after Black left. Batman on the other cares more about keeping his ideals than actually saving people, he sacrifices goals for methods. One is mistakes due to a blindspot, the other is refusing to see consequences or just sense.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. hakureireimu

            WTF? Black is the very opposite of sacrificing his goal for his methods. Remember his discussion with Pilgrim where he admitted that his methods wasn’t “worth the candle”? His goal has always been fixing Praes; his methods (like making Cat the next Black Knight) changes and adapts as necessary.

            Liked by 2 people

  12. SINISTAR

    Malicia, you’re slipping badly. Not only are you getting overconfident, you got played like a harp by Kairos. The lengthy lack of communication with Black means you’ve only got one other trusted viewpoint, and it’s too similar to your own.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Crash

      This is especially bad in light of Ranger finding all this interesting enough to go along with Amadeus.

      Now the question is, does Cat know Ranger is involved or does she have yet another mess to drop on Malicia’s lap on top of that?

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I think she’s reading the writing on the wall, aka the narrative. Now’s the time when Amadeus gets nasty, and Cat doesn’t need to know exact methodology to know the end result. This is the fun thing about narrative logic: the ‘what’ is a lot more fixed than the ‘how’.

        Cat could probably guess Ranger is a likely option, but she’d be doing that by extrapolation from knowing Malicia’s about to get savaged, not the other way around~

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Shveiran

      How was she played like an harp?

      All Kairos did is making a civil war likely in the League – something that Malicia doesn’t seem to see as a real problem – and gifting Cat a 10-thousand soldiers whose loyalty is likely dependant on their general’s survival.

      I… don’t see how those are big issues. Sure, Kairos pulled one over her, but it’s not like he undid anything she was striving for, is it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oshi

        Kairos had one goal and he achieved it by getting everyone including Malicia to need him long enough to do it. The fact that the little shit got a political master like Malicia to play ball and give him what he wants while not even considering anything he does as a threat is an accomplishment in and of itself.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          He accomplished what he wanted, sure.

          But what he wanted was not in conflict with what she wanted, not truly.
          Getting Malicia to play ball was not really “a masterful manipulation”, or teh empress being tricked. It was the two of them wanting different things, watching out for what conflicted with their own agenda, and agreeing to lend an hand to the other with what didn’t conflict with their own desires.

          Kairos got his win.
          Nothing he did was against Malicia’s victory conditions, so she didn’t lose because of that.
          She accomplished what she wanted -> Malicia got her win too.

          Liked by 2 people

  13. Author Unknown

    I wanted to start a thread for suggestions of what to read to get one through the next couple of months. Personally, I’m skipping things on top web fiction, as I assume you have already checked out the good ones. (Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with any of these authors/websites)
    Recommended Reading:

    Cradle series If you have been avoiding this because it is a cultivation novel and most cultivations novels are drivel, give this a try.

    Man of War Book series Possibly my favorite SciFi series of all time. Series is currently three books and two novellas, I’d give the 2nd novella, Hunters of Vermin, a pass, as it calls into question a lot of the plot of the books. Be warned, the author releases books at the pace of a paraplegic snail.

    The Concubine’s Tomb: A Dungeon Core novel A well written dungeon core novel set in an ancient egypt type location.

    He Who Fights With Monsters A take on the summoned to another world trope. Well written dialog, though there are occasional filler chapters.

    I’ll add more in a day or two if this makes it past the spam filters.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. lennymaster

      Ebooks:
      Demon Accords (John Conroe, good action)
      Super Powereds (Drew Hayes, originally webserial, finished by and for now with four books plus a few sidestories)
      Forging Hephaestus (Drew Hayes, amazing supervillian book, should he finally manage to write the next one)
      Dungeon Lord (Hugo Huesca, Dungeon Master story, NO HAREMS)
      Demons of Astlan (J. Langland, absolutly amazing, but god does he take time for his books)
      Honor Harrington (David Weber, amazingly logical scifi strategy to the point of ruining all other scifi for me)
      Chaos Seeds (very funny LitRPG)
      Webserials:
      Metaworlds (RoyalRoad, loooong story, prolog took pretty much 100 chapters, DnD magic meets logic, or at least loses the need to keep magic rules halfway comprehensive and learnable)
      Mother of Learning (RoyalRoad, soon to be finished in one last big posting, magical Groundhog day with a good explanation on how any kind of timeloop can make sense)
      The Gods are Bastards (https://tiraas.net/, nearly too many PoVs, lacks action, but very good worldbuilding and good posting speed)
      Azarinth Healer (RoyalRoad, not much story to speak of, but a refreshingly uncomplcated yet intresting protag)
      There is no Epic Loot here, Only Puns (RoyalRoad, amusingly ridiculous)
      He Who Fights With Monsters (RoyalRoad, great humor and conversations)
      A Journey of Black and Red (RoyalRoad, vampire story with lots of potential)
      Legion of Nothing (http://inmydaydreams.com/, good superhero story , if you do not mind one short chapter a week writing speed)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        That would be Qi Cultivation, also known as Xianxia novels.
        They are mostly Chinese, and revolve around people practicing martial arts and mystic techniques to become immortal and gain power over the universe through comprehending some aspect of it.
        There are some pretty great novels in this genre, but it’s also true that some tend to be repetitive and fall in cliches of the genre.

        If you are interested to check some of those, you can check wuxiaworld.com, that’s the main translator community of that type of novels (they translate from chinese to english) and see which ones catch your eye.

        I particularly loved “I Shall Seal the Heavens”, “Stellar Transformations” and “History’s Number One Founder”, though the last one I had to read through a machine translation (with a glossary of terms made by mods and other readers) site called lnmtl.com (I’m one of the mods there, actually) since that was the only place I found a reliable translation and the full novel.

        There are many novels in this genre, but like every genre there are good ones and bad ones.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. thearpox23

          What I see as one of the greatest achievements of the Guide, and a big reason why I love it so much, is the way it is capable of fleshing out strong to ridiculously overpowered heroes and villains while still keeping the regular armies relevant.

          The answers to the eternal questions like “Why should anyone even bother with a regular army when the ‘OP plz nerf’ final boss can’t be harmed by anything below +3 magic weapons?” and such are elegantly demonstrated throughout these five books. You have a varied and appropriate mix of threats to public order present in each culture, each of them presenting their own particular danger, and countered accordingly to each culture.

          Cultivation novels, in contrast, from my experience, play out like shitty RPGs set in fantasy barbarian tribes.
          The strong rule. If you want to rule? Become strongest, then challenge leader to duel. Once you are the strongest around, you do what you want.
          To become strong, go into wilderness and fight bears. Or pigs. Or stone dragons. Or meditate under a waterfall for 300*32,000 years. Also, everyone who is two levels of cultivation below you is irrelevant and should just go bake cookies or something while the relevant people interact.
          So in essence, setting public policy or engaging in intrigue or any other participation in society is directly detrimental to your ability to participate in said society because the time participating in society is the time spent not meditating under a waterfall. And the society itself is irrelevant, only who is above or below you in cultivation, and your inherent morals about the value of human life and so on.

          They can still be an entertaining read, but there isn’t generally much point in analyzing the characters tactics and strategies because every problem can fundamentally be solved by grinding boars under a waterfall. So I would make a gentleman’s bet that beyond both the Guide and the Cultivation stories being found online, there probably isn’t too much audience intersection.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Like everything else, there are good ones and bad ones.

            There are good ways to explore and display a genre, and there are terrible ways too. Like I said in the previous comment, there are plenty of Xianxia novels that fall into the cliches of the genre (one OP guy solving everything, confrontations in a restaurant, some rich “young master” wanting to steal the MC’s girlfriend, other people being irrelevant, etc) but there are also some pretty great ones that refreshen the themes and the ways of the genre.

            For example, in I Shall Seal the Heavens and Stellar Transformations, the importance of armies was displayed, as they were needed to keep order in a region and to administer resources, also because to face multiple enemies you need many reliable people to be in charge of the different fronts.

            In “History’s Number One Founder” and “History’s Strongest Senior Brother” (both by August Eagle), the author parodies and mocks many of the cliches of other Chinese stories, and as the story progresses the plot becomes more serious but kept consistently developing in original ways. in these two, the importance of a Sect/School/Clan was showed accurately, especially in the matter of raising the next generation of talented disciples, as well as the political dealings between the strong influences and the way different Sects maintain balance both internally and externally with each other.

            Stories that use arrays also tend to put more emphasis on strategy and intelligence rather than the individual power, as the use of magic formations serves to cover the power gap.

            It is true and undeniable, however, that in almost every single Xianxia novel will ultimately end with a God-level protagonist fighting one-vs-one against a God-level enemy, both using techniques that could destroy worlds. But that’s the natural conclusion for a story about someone who has spent the last few thousands of years walking the path to an ever-ascending Apotheosis.

            It’s a matter of whether the authors can manage to make the ride enjoyable, I think.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. thearpox23

              I’ll trust your analysis of the genre then. My first exposure to the genre was a few years ago with the Tales of Demon and Gods, aka Mary Sue the Novel, with everyone fawning over it. Trusting recommendation for the genre is kind of difficult when such works are some of the most notable, while other recommendations are like “great work but translation is patchy also the translator liquefied from drinking acid so it’s machine tl from chapters 300+”. Personally I’ve been sticking with Peerless Dad exactly because there doesn’t seem to be a premise of an ever-ascending apotheosis.

              I guess it’s just an issue of personally philosophy then, as I generally subscribe to the philosophy of Kairos where if the worlds are so easily destroyable, you might as well go for it and blame the one who made it so destructible in the first place. (And for all the trouble with nukes in the real world, it’s thankfully not a DIY weapon just yet.)

              Liked by 2 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Ah, yeah. Tales of Demons and Gods is what’s known as a “second chance novel” where MC’s soul goes back in time to his early years of life and starts over with full knowledge and amazing techniques that let him beat everyone. Those are a common cliche in Cultivation Novels, and indeed it gets boring after a point.

                It was one of the first novels to get a manhua adaptation, which is why it still remains popular and one of the first experience most readers have with cultivation novels.

                Peerless Dad is amazing, it is actually a Korean story of the Wuxia Genre (similar to Xianxia, but less magic and immortals, more focused on fights and physical martial arts), so it doesn’t have the same cliches that are usually present in a cultivation story.

                I know some webtoons like this one, so if you are interested in similar Korean stories and with somewhat similar art, you can check them out:

                Red Storm by the same author of Peerless Dad but different artist, the story progresses in the world where the leader of the Heavenly Demon Sect ascended to. The protagonist is a disciple he got upon arrival there, has lots of action and it’s more fantasy-like since there are monsters and Aura-users, but there’s also a political element since the protagonist has to deal with different factions as the leader of his people.

                Gosu has a very similar drawing style as Peerless Dad, even the setting of the society is somewhat alike. This one tells the story of a young martial artist that is raised by a powerful master to get revenge for him after a betrayal. It has comedy and lots of action, the first few chapters are kind of separate stories of people MC meets as he does deliveries while working for a restaurant in a mountain. It has good plot progression, great comedy, awesome action scenes, and good art.

                Chronicles of Heavenly Demon is a cultivation novel without the ascension part. MC and his master are targetted by the Murim Alliance, accused of being demon practitioners and killed, but by a strange fate MC’s soul is transferred to the body of a young boy who died training in one of the Evil Faction’s grounds, thus he swears revenge on the Murim Alliance and starts rising in the ranks of the Evil Faction. Good story, great art and action. Has a bit of comedy here and there.

                Volcanic Age is about an elder martial artist who dies in bed full of regret, after surviving the age of turmoil and warfare of his world merely because he lacked the skills to fight alongside the great heroes of the time, and full of bitterness as all his friends and the admirable people had died in the conflicts between schools and nations. As he dies, though, his soul gets sent back in time to his infancy when he was just an apprentice in his sect, so he decides to change the future and prevent the wars that caused so much death in his original timeline. Lots of fun reading this one, it has good comedy, a lot of action and MC is also not a hoarder of knowledge, instead he searches for the talented individuals of his world and creates connections with them, funding some of them to enable them to be ready for the future war, while hunting down the enemies he knows from his past timeline. It has great art and plot progression, going fast and slow depending on whether some events are important or not.

                If you have any recommendations, please share. I’m always looking for more stuff to read.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. thearpox23

                  I don’t exactly check this thing every day when the chapters are not updating.

                  I’ve checked out Red Storm for the exact same reason, but had a lot less enthusiasm for it mainly because of the setting. Low tech villages filled by quasi-barbarian tribes aren’t exactly an exciting backdrop. It’s not neither Ater nor Salia if you know what I’m saying. I suffered through the introductory act looking to see where it goes, but ragequit after the fat guy transformed into an adonis and then Noya showed up after the main character to clean up everything. Those chapters just seemed like such a punch in the gut for so many reasons.

                  1). Having a fat guy be a strong martial artist actually promised an interesting character variety, which was then squashed by his reveal. I was actually curiosity to see where it would go, his story, and so on more than any other character around. Not so much when he’s just skin-walking but is in fact your cookie cutter ancient blood=power.

                  2). There was no ‘real’ reason for Noya there to show up. The protagonist already escaped, the dragon was just hanging around, he could’ve just been left to do his own business, and perhaps come back in a few hundred chapters. It’s difficult to empathize with main character’s foibles when I know that everything he would encounter not level-appropriate for him will be shoveled away by a local janitor.

                  3). That fight was long, exhausting, and mostly arbitrary in how well it was going for the heroes and much strength they had to spare. Every time the dragon would do a thing, someone would reveal a secret hidden technique that wasn’t mentioned prior. I realize that perhaps the dragon ball readers have it a lot worse, but thankfully I don’t read that.

                  So yeah, I’m glad the author wrote Red Storm first because it really shown how much he learnt in Peerless Dad. If you want a recommendation, I’ve actually been a fan of Generation’s Queen Ling, which is a different genre entirely. Still ancient china, but it is essentially court intrigue masquerading as romance. And much like the Guide, it enjoying flipping your preconceptions of the characters with every chapter. Or at least, that is the case for the first volume, and it may all go to shit. Who knows.

                  Liked by 1 person

                1. caoimhinh

                  Ah, I see.
                  Well, I think your friend hunted down for those 2 recommendations specifically due to your tastes, because those are REALLY rare.
                  A cultivation story usually has a male protagonist (female protagonists are rare, but they are growing in number) and is mostly divided into two types when it comes to romance:

                  1) The protagonist gets a harem. Fucking and marrying any woman who is beautiful and relatively plot-relevant. On average, this type of MC will marry two women but have causal intercourse with others during his adventures, journeys and so on. Novels which have this type of MC are usually more prone to falling into cliches of the Xianxia genre.

                  2) The protagonist gets a “one true pairing”, loving only a single woman even if thousands of years pass by, often meeting peerless beauties and interacting with other women who get romantically interested in the protagonist, but he will disregard them or treat them as just friends in no ambiguous terms, as he only loves one woman and is loyal only to her (being in a polygamic society is irrelevant to him); so even if she dies he remains in love with her often going so far as to search for her future reincarnation centuries later or even out-right resurrect her, which can be used as plot development. This type of story, though, despite having such a loyal and devoted pair, may have them separated for long periods of time as they each focus on their own cultivation or responsibilities.

                  Romance-focused stories are rare in China, or maybe just not too popular, and gay romance is even rarer. In fact, a story with LGTB characters having any positive or even relevant participation in the plot is not only rare in Cultivation novels, but in China in general.
                  I have personally read dozens of cultivation novels, but only a few with an LGTB character having any relevance, and never as the protagonist. They are in fact, often seen in a bad light, both due to the historical and cultural setting being in China (there’s not much difference whether is ancient or modern setting in this regard). So if your friend found 2 novels like this for you, they spent a good amount of energy and effort looking for those, extra points if their plot is actually good.

                  I know only one with gay characters having an active part in the plot, in fact: “Wo Jia Dashi Xiong Naozi You Keng” or “my senior martial brother has a pit in his brain”. Although this one is mostly comedy and even if there are a couple of gay characters who are relevant to the plot (one of them is one of the leaders of the young generation in the Martial Alliance and hailed as a Hero), they aren’t the protagonists.

                  Like

                  1. Actually it’s my friend who was looking for gay shit and happened upon those specific cultivation novels without being familiar with the genre overall. I’ve been entertaining her with my reports on what exactly was being parodied in the one of them that was a blatant parody of the genre as a whole as I read I Shall Seal The Heavens – thanks for the rec, by the way! What do you think about Meng Hao as demiromantic/aromantic asexual? That’s the vibe I HIGH KEY got, there was a lot of emphasis on how he didnt actually care about sexy things where others expected him to at times… and the romance with Xu Qing wasn’t very romantic on his part, seemed more like pure reciprocation and commitment to me ❤

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. caoimhinh

                      I think Meng Hao’s love for Xu QIng was very romantic, just not sexually driven. You know, there’s a difference between romance and passion, love and lust, affection and sexual desire.
                      That drove crazy many English-speaking readers that were expecting sex, due to other popular chinese novels at the time having protagonists with a harem (Many readers were calling Meng Hao an eternal virgin).

                      I believe Xu Qing was also like him in that regard, they were romantics but almost asexual. This is both due to their personalities and their societies.

                      Xu Qing was a romantic person, but was a heavy introvert with difficulties to express her feelings. She kept the pill that Meng Hao gifted her for years and she was often described by the narrative as someone who gave off the impression of being cold while actually being caring, she even thought of herself as “a simple-minded person, naive in matters outside of strategy”

                      Do you remember their first “date”?
                      It was just standing next to each other while watching the stars in their Sect, not even speaking, just standing there, because neither of them really knew how to express their feelings and had little experience on such matters, but they enjoyed each other’s company and when the Sun came up they were both happily smiling and satisfied with the comfortable silence.

                      It also took both of them dozens of years to figure out that they were in love with the other. With Meng Hao only realizing it after rushing to rescue Xu QIng in Black Sieve Sect and noticing how panicked he was and the rage coming over him at the thought of her being harmed; and with Xu Qing only noticing because when she thought she was about to die she thought of him, realizing he was the most important person in her life.
                      And even then, it took them hundreds of years to get into a relationship.

                      Even when they were in that test within the dream of Night in the Ancient Demon Immortal Sect, when they lived with each other for months, they spent most of the time meditating next to each other and training to obtain the rewards of that stage, and yet they were both shown to be happy to spend time with the other, despite sex apparently not crossing their minds (which would have been normal for two people attracted to the other locked in a house for more than 24 hours).

                      Although, it was shown that Meng Hao could have feelings for other women, and he noticed when other women were interested in him, but he chose to stay faithful to Xu Qing and true to his commitment to her. He could have a Harem if he wanted, but he really only loved deeply Xu Qing and decided that was enough for him.

                      It’s also worth considering that in that novel the Cultivator Society as a whole was a bit… disdainful of sexual intercourse.
                      Cultivators in ISSTH lived for hundreds and thousands of years and spent most of that time training in seclusion, having very few children and often with hundreds of years in-between. While marriage and Cultivator Clans existed, each generation was hundreds of years apart from the other as each cultivator first had to prove their talent and achieve a degree of success to enjoy the benefits of their clan. So while there were instances of cultivators looking for a spouse (or Dao Companion) it was very rare to see them drive into sexual relationships.
                      In fact, I got the impression that such behavior of diving into pleasure was looked down upon and frowned by their society (and by the author, probably). As those who were shown to have strong sexual drive were weak cultivators or immoral people like rapists. Cultivation techniques related to sex are often seen as evil arts and used only for rape and to absorb the vitality of the victim (like a Succubus).

                      Only Meng Hao’s fatty friend Li Fugui went crazy into sex and was obsessed with having wives and children after Golden Frost Sect spoiled him due to his special bloodline.

                      P.S: Chu Yuyan, on the other hand, was more passionate about her desire to be with Meng Hao, which made her popular with a section of the fandom. Many of Meng Hao’s clone’s mortal reincarnations also had children, but they were mortal so they don’t really count. It was even stated that if those reincarnations had his bloodline he would have intervened and stopped them from having children. Probably the only reason his clone’s ninth reincarnation had a daughter at all was that Meng Hao couldn’t see his actions.(that reincarnation was a complete clone of him, with his real bloodline, due to magical reasons).

                      Like

    2. 'Ladi Williams

      I have checked out topwwbfiction.com and I’m currently reading many there…but I would still like a few pointers towards good ones…I might have missed some and ofcos the mere fact that you are here speaks volumes about your good taste. ✊🏾

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Author Unknown

      Continued recommendations, I’ll also add my top web fiction recommendations as well as things others have suggested.

      2nded:

      Super Powereds I second this, good writing. Not as sophisticated as EE, but it works well in the setting.

      Forging Hephaestus A supervillain story. The author leverages his experience from writing to Super Powereds series to create a compelling villain’s tale. Only one book in the series so far.

      Mother of Learning (Royal Road link) Not much to add to what lennymaster said, other than to note this only updates about once a month, but the webnovel is almost complete. It’s a good time to take a look at it.

      The Gods are Bastards If you have not checked this out, do so, ’nuff said.

      Honor Harrington series I’m going to semi-agree with this. The early books are great, but the last few have had a serious drop in quality, to the point where I had to stop reading the latest book as it was literally making me physically ill to read. I think the first book in the series is free.

      Ebooks/Audiobooks:

      Young Wizards series (Audiobook) A modern fantasy novel intended for the same age group as the Harry Potter series. It is one of the few series to make me emotional, as I have Asperger’s syndrome, that is no mean feat. Specifically, I am recommending the audiobook version. And this is a strong recommendation. This series translates extremely well to audio format, being superior to the written form, imho.

      Safehold Series Another series by David Weber. Technically a sci-fi series, but… well is more like a Napoleon era series. This story has strong religious elements, of which the author does a decent job of portraying both the good and bad sides. Skip the latest book, it is crap.

      NPCs series Another series by the author of Super Powereds. This is about a group of NPCs in a D&D world, forced to become adventurers. It has some good humor and a bit of a satirical nature. Solidly good, but not great. (Technically it is the Spells, Swords, & Stealth series, but that isn’t what I call it in my head.)

      The Wheel of Time series A classic fantasy novel following a young destine hero and his friends. This is a truly epic series, not perfect, but a great read. The author died before he could finish the book, and I don’t think the replacement author did the ending justice; something that may be offputting to some. The series is long and complete, totaling 12,446 amazon pages.

      Fourth Fleet Irregulars series An atypical sci-fi series. It focuses on the crew of a small ship of ‘bullocks’. People who are not living up to their expectations. It deals with a lot of societal and psychological issues. The author has very different political views than myself, but still manages to present his views without being preachy. I enjoy the series. Think of it as sort of a Star Trek: TNG type sci-fi, less big battles, more science and cleverness.

      Web novels:

      The Good Student Not sure what genre to call this. It is about a student recently accepted into a prestigious magical academy. It has some elements of mystery as there are things going on in the wider world, and it also deals with the discrimination poorer students suffer at that school. I avoided this for the longest time because I hated the author’s earlier work, How to Avoid Death on a Daily Basis. However, I find this to be quite well done, and enjoy the book. Updates are a bit slow, but not too bad.

      Deeper Darker A sci-fi series by the same author as the above. It is exceptional. Seriously underrated. It takes a bit for the pieces to start to come together, but I think this has the potential to become as good, or near as good as EE’s work. Currently at 911 RR pages, updates three times a week.

      Forge of Destiny A cultivation novel about a runaway inducted into a sect (A cultivation school). This is a very well done slice of life story that avoids most of the unpleasant tropes of the genre. It also features a female MC, something extraordinarily rare for the genre. Updates twice a week and is currently 927 RR pages long. Should stave off boredom for a day or two.

      There is no Epic Loot here, Only Puns A non-violent dungeon core book. Humor can be really difficult to write, but this author does an exceptional job. One of my favorite webnovels. Updates are irregular, even more so currently due to the author’s RL problems, however, there are already 1,523 RR pages written, plenty to binge on.

      Delve A summoned to another world series. In this one, the MC is not OP, doesn’t receive any special power, nor divine guidance. It is just a young man struggling to make sense of this new world and find his place therein. Updates twice a week; at 774 RR pages.

      Apocalypse Born In this story, there is the trope of Earth being forcefully converter to an litRPG world with magic, status screens, monsters, and technological failure. But this book doesn’t focus on that. It focuses on what comes after humanity has beaten back the monsters and reformed civilization. I like how the author tends to give the character meaningful choices instead of it being, Choose a skill: common skill, common skill, uncommon skill, Super Ultra Mega Mytical Godlike skill. It is still early yet, with 471 RR pages and updates ~once a week.

      (RR pages are 275 pages. Amazon pages are 300 words with formatting taken into account, meaning tables and stuff count as more pages.)

      I will add more if I remember anything that I have forgotten. Please add your recommendations! I need stuff to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. copaceticcockroach

    Hohoho! This chapter is a rollercoaster of emotions. Did not expect the book to end on this chapter, and there’s no way I’ll be able to stay sane waiting two months for the next book.
    (No complaints though, at least it isn’t three)
    And this got me jumping and hooting. Now time to find something to past the time. Where’s my re-read of Worm at?

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Frivolous

    Thoughts on Hanno’s aspect of Recall, based on his conversation with Catherine above:

    1. Hanno could learn a lot about Neshamah’s life (before he became a lich) by examining memories of the Bestowed who interacted with him, including Neshamah’s father, who apparently was a hero.

    2. Wonder if Masego could enter Hanno’s mind while Hanno remembers High Arcana. Maybe Masego’s Witness would work for that.

    3. It’s a pity Hanno is White Knight; he could be renowned as a historian. His ability to recall past lives of Bestowed could solve a lot of mysteries.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      I already thought about the potential uses of Hanno ´s Aspect. Any historian would give everything to ask Hanno to check firsthand what happened in the past.

      If Hanno died, maybe Cat could take that Aspect to learn a lost information needed to kill Neshamah?

      Liked by 10 people

    2. laguz24

      I’m pretty sure he’s limited to heroes with names, villains and nameless are blocked to him. However, I do like how he’s learning to use Recall in a more inventive way. He could learn how to story craft like a master since he’s seen all the stories, using it for combat moves and info on your enemies is nice but he isn’t thinking big enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He could, but he doesn’t have a spare couple of years to devote to research. That’s the hard limit right now: he’s young.

        I expect him to, with time, turn into the same kind of ‘wise sage teacher’ as Catherine is already lmfao

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Hm, either Malicia is providence-caused shortsighted or she’s really trusting of the exact reliability of a method of travel which is in no way, shape or form as reliable as she seems to think it is. Armies being a few leagues off their intended destination is par for the course of Fey-gates and even if her mages made a portal on this side of Creation to come out of it still ought to come with time and intensity-unstable factors.

    Quite likely her killing grounds will find the Legions-in-Exile coming out just outside of them with enough time to see that they were supposed to come out on a killing ground. Three guesses how that would be interpretated. I just hope that Arcadia’s rules aren’t going to be providence’s bitch and play directly and perfectly into the exiles’ and/or Black’s hand, rather than making it happen by actual coincidence and letting Grem’s tactical acumulen win the day.

    Odd symbolism, that we now see the Black, the Grey and the White with the White Knight being the neutral party that has to stand in between the other two. Not unexpected, but Pilgrim starting to see that he might’ve screwed up by his own fault and should start seeking forgiveness instead of just telling himself ‘Nope she’s Evil so I’m right for being an ass.’ because White Knight is standing in between the two of them, might’ve been the only reason he had these illuminating thoughts as well.

    Also I wonder about the true and practical balance of the Free Cities. Malicia seems to see it in the scope of their cities as well, while in reality all the armies are still in Procer likely having to go through Helike’s territory to return to their cities. If Helike attacks while they’re still marching home, Nicea’s and Penthes’s location vs theirs means squat. And the flatlands without fortifications would be optimal for Helike’s cavalry vs whatever Penthes brings, even assuming it’s not mostly mercenaries that won’t die for their wages under these circumstances.

    If Nicea’s leader has to decide between allying with Helike before returning home or getting killed backing a smaller and worse for wear Penthes army (still courtesy of Tyrant keeping his Helikean army the best armed and manned in Procer), and thus the political balance would be vastly different than Malicia seems to think as Helike is not at all vulnerable to seaside attacks, Malicia would just be plain wrong in a way that doesn’t befit her at all.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. > I just hope that Arcadia’s rules aren’t going to be providence’s bitch and play directly and perfectly into the exiles’ and/or Black’s hand, rather than making it happen by actual coincidence and letting Grem’s tactical acumulen win the day.

      There’s a difference? And they still need the Gray Pilgrim helping with the implanted commands, but he’s over in Salia. (However, if anybody can speed-ride through Twilight, he can.)

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Crash

        I think the main difference is in how prideful and self assured the people who usually claim the Golden Luck are.

        That said, Arcadia is known to imitate Creaton for its little schemes and plays during the seasons but stands itself removed from it, so it shouldn’t be affected by Providence. That said, Arcadia seems to have a will of it’s own and the sole objective of that is to be a prick.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ultimate_procrastinator

        I could be wrong, but I think Gray will only be helping with the Callowan legions, since they’re sitting still and outside of the Twilight Ways, while the Legions in Exile are essentially on their own in Catherine’s eyes, or at least a lower priority

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Crash

          Yeah, even if she wanted to help them out they’d be parting with Tariq for a good month or so to have him attempt to do that and it’s not like they could send him in alone so there goes a bunch of soldiers and bunch of agreements in how to create a guard to send him over.

          That is, IF people agree to allow this.

          Liked by 4 people

      3. I think breaking the hold on the Legions in Exile is going to be more of a good old fashioned ‘mind control falters in the face of loyalty’ shit. If anyone’s got setup for it, Amadeus does.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. The funny part is going to be if it fails on its own because Malicia miscalculates the loyalty of the ‘more loyal’ Legions. And THEN Amadeus shows up with Starbucks like ‘hey, what did i miss?’

            Like

  17. laguz24

    Malacia, the lack of fear and the thought that you have “won” is why you will lose. Victory is not an act but a state of being. You have also gotten the Praesi complex of being untouchable, you are never as strong as you think you are. Black, go do what you want to do you wonderful bastard, and good luck.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. caoimhinh

        It’s a bit ironic, but also fitting.

        Amadeus is the most experienced person alive in seeing how a villain can lose and then win despite that by taking the correct measures. He is capable of seeing the mistakes in their ways and methods, that’s how he won against the Heir when he was Squire and how he won the civil war for Malicia as well as how he managed to conquer Callow and beat Heroes for over 20 years.

        It took the joint action of the Wandering Bard, Kairos and a direct strike by the Seraphim to inflict the first loss to Amadeus and the Calamities in decades.

        Alaya has a tendency to think “if I’m not wounded, everything is fine, I can manipulate everyone”, she even thought she was a peerless planner back in Keter when she was smugly telling Cat how others were facing the Crusade except for Malicia, blissfully disregarding the fact that she had just lost half the Legions and the whole Kingdom of Callow while earning enmity from most of the rest of Calernia.
        It took the loss of Warlock, Thalassina and Foramen along with the Goblin Rebellion for Malicia to realize in how deep a pit she was, and now that things just barely stabilized she already thinks she won. This is part of why many readers have come to see her as part of the Stupid Evil breed of Villains, she might be a masterful schemer, but her methods are like the Old School Villains and she has the same blindfolds of hubris.

        Amadeus is going to crush her like he did to the High Lords during his rising and the Whore’s War.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Shveiran

          I really wish people would stop saying Malicia has the same blinders as the Old School Villains.
          She doesn’t.

          Old school emperors didn’t use to last a year on average. Praes changed rulers “like other countries changed seasons” according to Black.
          Malicia is the LONGEST RULING EMPRESS EVER.
          If Cat defeated her today, she’d need to shape half a continent’s fate for decades yet to claim she has a more sustainable method than Malicia’s.
          If we made a list fo Calernia’s most effective Villains of the Century, she’d be in top 5 easily.

          I’m not saying she’s perfect.
          I’m not saying she doesn’t have blinders.

          But can we please stop comparing her to the madmen that tried to steal the weather and fucked their countries, then got stabbed before their first year ended?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. ninegardens

            On the one hand- I totally agree on your assessment of Malica.
            I happily put her at “One step higher than Cordelia grade” competence, IE, really fricken’ competent.

            On the other hand, the scheme to steal Callow’s weather was a totally legit scheme, and as Black has hinted, several of Praes’s most sane and competent rulers were the ones that got taken out the fastest BECAUSE they worked too hard to mess with the story. Lots of their plans just look stupid in retrospect, because Bard, Providence, historians, and the high lords keep screwing them over.

            Malica is legit. And plenty madmen were in the past… but one can’t help but think there were plenty of sane ones too….

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Shveiran

              A fair point, but the argument stands: Malicia has ruled a nest of vipers longer than most the rulers we remember from history without falling under the waterline.
              Her reign is more powerful now than it once was, by a long shot. If she lost tomorrow, she’d still have been more successful than many real life world-changing figures.

              Malicia’s approach has simply been effective, for a very long time.

              The very idea that she is a raving madwoman is befuddling to me. If someone beats her, eventually, all that is proven is that she wasn’t invincible (shocking, I know).
              It doesn’t retroactively take away all she has built and done and won.
              It doesn’t make her any less brilliant.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. ninegardens

                Overall, yes, I agree with you.

                However, I would say that if she screwed up badly enough such that DK took over the continent it WOULD take away from what she had done to a significant extent, the same way the a powerplant which provides clean energy for 50 years and then explodes and coats the nation in radioactive waste is not actually one I want to build or use. It would retroactively prove that her planning, and method of planning was too focused on the short term.
                Hell, I’d say the fact that she has RISKED Dead King taking over is a significant mark against he. Even if it doesn’t blow up, that proves that she is lucky, not smart.

                Her losing a Civil war to Black, or anyone else however, I agree, does nothing to lessen her achievements.
                Hell if she loses to black is ESPECIALLY doesn’t lessen her achievements, because he is likely to build on them, rather than dismantelling them.

                It really is a shame that she didn’t opt for joining the grand alliance vs the Dead King instead- if she had (and had been properly invited), then I can see the rest of the continent finishing the war vs DK, and then shrugging and letting her off the hook for all her past actions- especially if she was playing by the accords and helping to build Cardinal. And she’d be so good at it.

                …. oh well.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Shveiran

                  Personally, I agree. However, I’d argue that Malicia wouldn’t, and that makes the lens through which you are judging her methods invalid.

                  To rephrase, I think your comparison says (in short): her methods are not sustainable, she takes gambles that could backfire and bring the house down on her head, which is stupid.
                  And, well, personally I think that is a valid perspective, but it is a morally colored one.
                  It assumes the observer cares about the aftermath after their death and while I share your belief (and can’t like Malicia because of it) I see no evidence that she shares that view.

                  Unlike other characters of the guide, Malicia doesn’t seem to have that big a cause to fight for; she doesn’t necessarily want to change the world according to her vision of how it should be, she just wants to rule and take care of her what is hers.

                  If she doesn’t care what happens after she loses, not really, then this doesn’t reflect on her intelligence, but rather on her morals: it’s not that she fails to see that there is this danger, but that she doesn’t consider it relevant.

                  TL;DR: Evil, not stupid.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. ninegardens

                    Right, but Malica is No Kairos.
                    Malicia doesn’t WANT to bring the house down on her head.

                    I think if you asked her, and looked at her methods, yes, she DOES care about the aftermath of her actions (She could be more powerful sooner if she was happy to play ball with the nobles, instead of slowly crush them for the sake of future generations).

                    But she cares about maintains control MORE. A better Praes is something she desires, but its not her top priority (Desperate, and a bit selfish, not evil)

                    She does desperate things to avoid losing control, but the thing is those gambles will cost her her control. So yeah, I’ld say those gambles are stupid, because she actually DOES care about the house coming down on HER head (unlike Kiaros, or even Akua really).

                    Hell, I’d go so far as to say that “Not bringing the house down on my head” might be her top priority, which makes it amusing how bad she is at achieving it sometimes.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. I would hold off with the ‘stupid’ brand, actually.

                      The difficulty level is a little high.

                      We’re following along a basically omniscient perspective, with all the POVs we get, presented so as to get the events basically chewed for us by the author so we don’t lose track of anything.

                      And even then, there is an increasing number of commenters going ‘huh? I cannot follow what’s going on at all’.

                      And even then, a lot of people just base their opinions on ‘the protagonist always wins’.

                      Malicia is making mistakes. She is above her ceiling of incompetence, and she’s going to bring the house down on her head without meaning to.

                      She is very, very, very far from stupid. This is just not her speciality.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. ninegardens

                      I agree. I wouldn’t say that Malicia herself is stupid… but I do think some of the individual *gambles* she has made (particularly involving the Dead King) were stupid.

                      … that said, that is my judgement based on information we have NOW. Even Cat was desperate enough to consider letting the DK off the leash a few books ago, I just don’t think anyone quiet realized how close DK was to *eating* the continent…..

                      …. Okay, actually now that I’m thinking about it, the initial “Lets unleash the DK” was only stupid in retrospect. Before hand we as readers didn’t realize how dangerous he was, and presumably neither did Ally. (Although Warlock really should have warned her you’d think…. then again he summons demons for research purposes so….).

                      The more recent “Lols, lets help DK get a truce” was actually pretty great, and if anything, rather responsible, seeing as she had no way of knowing there was ANY way to beat the guy.

                      The only one which feels a bit off is the “I’ll let DK maul them a bit more and THEN betray him.”
                      No- DK is serious bussiness. He’s already crushed the grand alliance enough to keep Praes, and honestly that seems pretty obvious. She should be happily betraying him ASAP, and I think she has the information to know that the DK is by now a larger threat than the Grand Alliance.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Yeah.

                      I just see it as a matter of… limited resources, in many ways. The CPU is powerful but the load is 100% already. There is plenty of RAM but it’s all already taken up. “Is it her fault that it is” doesn’t parse to me as a question that is either useful or even just valid.

                      Is she stupid? No. Is she making mistakes? Yes. Are those stupid mistakes? Depends on how you define the differentiating line between ‘stupid mistakes’ and ‘non-stupid mistakes’.

                      Do those mistakes partially come from her selfishness and lack of principles, where principles and altruism would have provided her with better heuristics that would have kept her away from these particular mistakes? Yes.

                      Do those mistakes also partially come from past trauma and also ongoing present BULLSHIT that is her internal and external political situation? Also yes.

                      Do I want to see her stop or get stopped? Yes. Do I want to see her die? No.

                      Liked by 1 person

                  2. Dainpdf

                    Malivia’s cause is Praes. She cares for a strong, stable Praes. It is her legacy. She is the greatest Wasteland patriot, though in a different way from Akua.
                    Malicia didn’t join the Grand Alliance because she was not wanted there. Because the idea of “No Named Rulers” is against a lot of what Praes stands for, and because it would mean she would be deposed (and substituted by someone without her vision). Because Cat had a beef with Praes. Because Evil would be outnumbered once the DK is beaten, and who’s to say they wouldn’t turn on her, then?
                    Some of it is arrogance on her part, but by now a lot of it is deserved confidence. Except, you know, this is the first part in her plan and those always work. Let’s see if she can swing succeeding at the whole gambit.

                    Like

                    1. Malicia’s cause is Praes to the degree that she has a cause at all, sure. But she’s not really a cause person, IMHO. She’s pretty solid compared to real world politicians, sure, or compared to in-universe Free Cities leaders, but in a world where Cordelia, Amadeus and Catherine set the standard, she just kind of doesn’t really measure up…

                      Liked by 1 person

              2. You’re missing a little detail.

                Malicia’s reign was, in fact, a duumvirate. Half the policy was set by Amadeus, and while in the eyes of the High Lords he was just a country bumpkin vicious dog, Malicia had to actually count with his opinion. He had a lot of autonomy and assumed that she’d listen to him on many things. They both expected that she’d need to explain her decisions to him, and him not demanding it was a matter of trust, not a matter of hierarchy.

                Malicia only has half the competence required for a successful reign. The other half was Amadeus’s, and once she stops listening to him, well…

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Shveiran

                  I don’t really have a problem with that, but my argument was not “Malicia did all she did alone and could do it again while bound and with a box of wet matches”, but rather “Malicia is brilliant, not dumb”.

                  Black has nothing to do with it, unless you are arguing that all the credit is actually his, and that she has no real merit of her own?

                  Liked by 1 person

          2. caoimhinh

            Hmm, she does. And this is shown in every single instance we get some insight from her POV.

            Alaya rose to power thanks to Amadeus, and kept reigning as the longest-ruling Empress thanks to Black consistently fighting to protect her and preventing Praes to fall into the story bindings to which she immediately jumped into the moment he was looking the other way. And also because Amadeus kept facing the Heroes for decades and administering Callow in such a way that it was inescapable from Praesi rule.

            Alaya can be considered a precursor for the Age of Order on the Evil Side, though. As she managed to keep the High Lords of Praes bound and at bay by the laws. Through mere political maneuvers, Malicia managed to keep them occupied and restrained for long enough she and Amadeus were capable of reforming the nation and also gave the stability on the rear that was needed for Black to fight the foreign threats (A.K.A the Heroes).
            But it is undeniable at this point that Malicia is at her core an Old School Villain. Her hubris of thinking herself invincible, her pathological need for control, trust issues and measures taken against the one person who had kept her alive this whole time, the methods she uses whenever Amadeus is not there to check on her (Dark Days Protocol, Mind Control, Flying Fortresses, deals with the Dead King, etc), and her refusal to acknowledge she was mistaken even when shown so, thus making her double down on the Story bindings that would ensure her downfall.

            Oh, Amadeus would have made a bloody mess, that’s true. His initial plan was to spark a civil war that would have destroyed the High Lords at the price of breaking Praes, even if from the ashes a new nation could have risen without being condemned to the mistakes of the old Praes, it was too much of a risk for such a steep price.
            Alaya was the one to talk him out of this, though part of it was because she admires the madness and foolishness of the Old Evil as she sees it as greatness (this was shown from both Black and her POV, the most recent example being Extra Chapter Seed II), but she was right that a different approach was needed.

            Thus, the two of them, the Old School Villainess who wields schemes and indirect power to make a web for accomplishing her goals, and the New School Villain who wields plans and pragmatism, unorthodox strategies and unconventional way of warfare while being Genre Savvy to avoid the trappings of the Story, found a balance and covered for each other weaknesses, enabling each other to fully display their strength where they had the greatest effect.

            They kept each other’s worst impulses at bay, taking the matters that were their specialties and succeeded because of it.

            Then that balance was broken by Malicia, and everything went downhill.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Shveiran

              I don’t really agree with your summary (it’s not that you are saying anything false, it’s just that I feel you are diminishing and enlarging events and causes, compared to my own read, to the point where we get a very, very different image at the end), but let’s focus on facts to make this more productive:

              Ever since the duumvirate crumbled (and skipping teh discussion over the blame on that one), who has screwed up between Malicia and Black?

              Black used his resources to try and tackle the crusade.
              He tricked them (step one of the plan, though it had fucking style, I ain’t denying that) and then he found a way to break Procer he could implement on his own.
              It was practical, vicious, and effective. It was a Bonfire by any other name.
              And it was a Mistake.
              It didn’t account for providence and story, for how it made him the big monster and put him at a disadvantage against the Heroes before the Narrative.
              He paid for it. He lost.
              He lost all.
              He REGAINED it, at least most of it, but it was someone else that saved his Legions and friends, not to mention his life and soul. That was not the result of some masterplan, just something indipendant from him.
              HE miscalculated.

              Meanwhile, Malicia got herself the one ally she knew of that could give the alliance pause, at the same time making herself the lesser monster before the narrative, and plot her way back to a word situation she can control and work with.
              Sure, she had problems with Callows, goblins, Ashur and what not. But at the end of the day, her long term objectives were reached.
              Can it turn on her head yet? Duh, no doubt about that.
              Is it fragile? Yeah it is.
              But Cordelia already miscalculated the situation and found herself dependant on a Deus Ex to save herself. So did Juniper, So did Black.

              Unless we are saying that all of them are “Old School Villain Stupid”, can someone explain to me how the situation points to her somehow performing worse than them? I don’t get it.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. ninegardens

                I mean, I think the deal with Black is that his plan DID work (all be it, he wasn’t expecting the DK to ALSO be breaking things).

                Did it cost him his army? Yes?
                Did it cost him his life? Also yes?
                Were these prices he was willing to pay?
                OHHHHhhhh yes.

                He was not surprised by the cost of his plan. Whether or not those costs were appropriate would involve details of military logistics that I don’t think we have access too via the narrative, but I don’t think he miscalculated.

                He required a Deus ex machina to save him, true, but the thing is, he was perfectly happen with the plan even without the machina. If anything, the plan worked BETTER than he expected.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. I’d note that the ways in which Amadeus’s plan was unnecessary / excessive / counterproductive in the end summary, were characteristic of his lack of competence in dealing with what I’d summarize as ‘other schemers’. His plan would have worked IF no-one else tentatively on his side of the field did anything. He can deal with enemies, he can deal with motivations of people who are subordinate to him, but he absolutely cannot deal with allies who aren’t completely on the level.

                  So, that’s his area of incompetence.

                  Alaya failed on multiple levels at once that all come down to her relationship with Amadeus. She didn’t learn enough about storyweaving from him, she didn’t trust his judgement enough. Part of this failure was because, as Amadeus once summarized, she’d been dealing with the workload of two Named for decades while trying to reform an Empire. She simply did not have the time/resources/attention to spare for the area in which Amadeus covered her back. She didn’t even have attention to spare for understanding just how much he was doing, how important his efforts were and how good he was at it. Her ability to be hypercompetent at everything just didn’t stretch that far.

                  As for that, I’d note it’s bad prioritization for a ruler. If she wanted to be the ultimate bad bitch in charge, not just one half of a duumvirate, it would have been better if she delegated some of the shit she did – appointed a Chancellor after all – and focused more on understanding the whole. WHAT Amadeus did if not HOW. That’d qualify her to actually make decisions about how important what he says is and how much he knows about what he says, like how Cat’s juggling advisors and underlings right now. How much to listen to Juniper? How much to listen to Vivienne?

                  So Alaya’s first problem is that her prioritization was off for a ruler.

                  The second part is her mental trauma and the coping mechanisms that came to help staunch the bleeding. On one hand she has the blind trust in Amadeus, which she NEEDED to have because to get out of the position she was in she needed to place her life and her everything in his hands. And of course the normal human need to trust people, to make attachments, to just… feel emotions. She made him her outlet for that. And he lived up to the duty, except it was unhealthy for her to put it on him in the first place, because it didn’t let her examine his motivations and, again, competence clearly. When she was in a better mental place than her worst she just sealed the question off.

                  And then there’s that on the other hand, she CANNOT trust people. She inevitably gets intrusive thoughts about how everyone is out to get her, and she doesn’t have enough to hold on to to kick them out fully – and she doesn’t really know how to reach out for confirmation. That first part up above, the work overload, contributes here – she couldn’t exactly take a year off for soulsearching. She was in a struggle for survival from the moment she was taken by Nefarious’s Sentinels until now that didn’t pause for even a moment, and she didn’t manage to build even the rough skeleton of a mental health support system that Amadeus has. She clearly wasn’t involved enough in Masego’s life to be one of his Aunts and Uncles, she had a closer relationship with goddamn Tasia Sahelian than with the actual friends / potential friends by her side

                  I am, like, super intensely not judging any of this. Just pointing out where the faultlines lie.

                  In the end, the way it manifests is exactly the pattern of an Old School Villain. And I would say the reasons are part of the same pattern, too. Trauma alienating from other people and distorting priorities (see also: Akua and Kairos, for the exact same cause-effect chain), narrow hypercompetence coming at the expense of other skills and big picture view, and it cascades from there. Her relationship with Amadeus actually supported her and kept her out of the ravine for decades, but, well… in the end, it was too much strain for it to support.

                  Liked by 3 people

                2. Notably, as far as my analysis of Alaya’s prioritization as a ruler goes, Amadeus did much better at it than she did. He actually understood what she was doing and how valuable it was, and while he couldn’t entirely follow he never underestimated her. I suspect a lot of the reason why Cat is so good at it is Amadeus’s tutelage – he taught her by example, drawing her attention to the areas he was used to paying attention to, and she needed to, as a ruler.

                  I don’t think his duumvirate with Alaya would have worked better with him in charge though, because of their respective personalities. He WITHERS under responsibility. He nearly got killed by being an Empire’s second in command already. And meanwhile, I don’t think Alaya would have recovered from THAT nearly as well as she had if she wasn’t given the opportunity to just straight up fucking be in charge. The REASON Amadeus managed to be her rock and anchor and recovery point to the degree that he was, was precisely his soft personality and how willing he was to be her second regardless of pre-existing power levels.

                  Regarding the question of structural arrangement at the top, there wasn’t a better option they could have taken than the one they had, IMHO. They were both very good at their jobs and did very well at keeping thelr relationship going. 40 years of stability, only falling apart because of the threat of war of extermination combined in time with the question of succession and multiple internal rebellions? That’s an excellent track record. Just… sometimes, the difficulty level really IS too high. Sometimes, you can only choose what happens before and after things fall apart, not whether they eventually do or not.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. ninegardens

                    I love this interpretation.

                    I would also probably add that potentially one of the reasons that Black was able to act as her anchor was… well, as you say, Alaya was trying to play the role of two name (Tyrant and Chancellor).
                    Black was only playing one, and honestly, he was only really CAPABLE of one in my mind.

                    That gave him the spare bandwidth needed to pay more attention to his team mates and their capabilities.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Nah, Amadeus did one and a half too. He got the full job of a Black Knight (security against martial threats, internal and external) AND some of the job of a Dread Emperor (leading, administrating, reforming, ruling – Callow in specific). Of course it probably really fucking helped that he had the Calamities, given that from WoG hints a Black Knight’s workload normally includes power struggle with the Warlock and the Chancellor instead of being able to rely on a Warlock and a Scribe as a support system.

                      Like

                    2. …so yeah, the way Amadeus did things specifically involved devoting bandwidth to maintaining a team that would help keep his bandwidth free enough to do that. Which is THE WAY YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO THINGS AT ALL TIMES ALWAYS ACTUALLY which is my point about what was Alaya’s deficiency as a ruler. Delegating and maintaining your ability to delegate instead of doing everything yourself is an objectively superior way of doing things when you’re in charge of so much.

                      The problem is, that’s not exactly the Praesi way of doing things. Amadeus did it because he’s a warm cuddly cinnamon roll of a person, not because he worked out the theory behind it – he worked out the theory behind a lot of stuff, but this one came as an intuitive unthinking bonus from just his personality and the way things fell around him. There was no pre-existing framework that would give either him or Alaya hints that she needed to be more like him. Praes is terrible actually and all villains eventually burn out or slip up and die… for real reasons… this being one of them…

                      Like

                  2. Nairne .01

                    Maybe kind of off topic but, I’d add that Cat is so good at it is that she never went past the Name “Squire” which is technically a neutral name and an apprentice name, i.e. a name that is meant to keep learning.

                    Even when she became a Winter thing, she never forgot the trappings of what she became, exactly because of how she became a Winter thing in the first place (by subverting the trappings of the Fae). This is probably best shown when Larat imitates her by putting down her crown and learns to escape his own limitations and by that destruction.

                    I’m might be mistaken or just not remember well enough, but we don’t see Malicia actually learn things in the way that Cat constantly attempts to and does. I guess hubris is a real bitch.

                    Like

  18. chris S

    Damnit Tariq, stop shooting down our shipping! Think about it old man; The White Knight and the Black Queen. Their kid would totally end up being your replacement/student as the next GREY Pilgrim, despite not being Levantine, because the universe has a dry sense of humour like that.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Mirror Night

        I mean one Cordelia implied she is straight and Cat has said she doesnt think Cordelia is that attractive. Second Cat and Cordelia would never work as they are both nationalist. Plus there is simply far more romance setup for Cat and Hanno then Cordelia and Cat.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. > Cordelia implied she is straight

          I’m sorry, but mentioning being possibly attracted to guys that one time doens’t count as ‘implying you’re straight’ any more than mentioning you like pizza counts as implying you don’t like ice cream.

          > and Cat has said she doesnt think Cordelia is that attractive

          (As has Cordelia about her. Repeatedly. In detail. While busy doing something else. In public)

          Catherine actually used to describe Indrani as not all that attractive, too… Physical appearance is not exactly Catheirne’s primary point of partner selection…

          > Second Cat and Cordelia would never work as they are both nationalist.

          What? Why?

          Yes, they both care about their respective nations more than the other one’s nation. Notably, they both ALSO care about ALL people, and have moral reservations and understanding and empathy. Also notably, Amadeus cares about places that aren’t Praes much less than Cordelia cares about places that aren’t Procer, and Amadeus and Cat get along justs fine…

          Are you expecting them to get into an argument over “my nation is better! yours sucks!”? That didn’t even get in the way of Indrani and Masego, and she was pretending to be a flat earther to annoy him…

          > Plus there is simply far more romance setup for Cat and Hanno then Cordelia and Cat.

          There isn’t.

          It ain’t Hanno from how the ‘brown orbs’ quote originates, let me tell you.

          And it ain’t Hanno who’s been caught mentally describing Catherine’s face in the middle of a conference.

          And it ain’t Hanno whose appearance Catherine painstakingly recounts every time they meet.

          And it ain’t Hanno who’s been there to ship Cat with since Book 2 and the ‘barrel of fish. it wouldn’t even have to be fresh fish’

          Like

          1. Mirror Night

            Okay the point is Cordelia has shown no interest in sleeping with Women as far I can tell. But she has shown interest in sleeping with a dude, thus I assume she is straight until evidence suggest otherwise. Not because have some anti LGBT bias.

            Fair enough.

            The problem them being nationalist is simply they will have very different agendas. What is best for Procer is not always what is best for Callow and viceversa. That is not even considering political issues for Cordelia she but the Holies down for now but they are not gone forever. Granted that is a long term issue. Masego and Indrani aren’t nationalist at all. And Indrani was just messing with Masego she is super well educated so not relevant at all.

            There has been recently. I mean come on midnight rendez vous staring at the night sky. That is all classic romance fodder. Cat was even speculating on if they met and had to kill each other and being sad about that at the first meeting.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. > Okay the point is Cordelia has shown no interest in sleeping with Women as far I can tell. But she has shown interest in sleeping with a dude

              Once. One time. One single time. You have one point of evidence.

              Actually I’m not even sure if it was Cordelia expressing the interest spontaneously or if it was her agent prompting her with the ‘PS hes good in bed’ report.

              But even if we agree that it’s legit interest (and ‘brown orbs’ and repeated dissection of how Catherine is or isn’t attractive aren’t), it’s still one data point. If you had 10 instances of attractiong to a man to 0 instances of attraction to a woman – hell, if you had 5 instances of attraction to a man to 0 instances to a woman… honestly I’d be willing to start conceding that we have HINTS in that direction at 3. 1 is an accident, 2 is a coincidence, 3 is a pattern. I’d admit pattern at 3 to 0.

              But 1? For all we know she’s asexual and her agent just made her think about weird things because she was bored in hot summer.

              But also seriously for real she launched into describing Catherine’s face in detail complete with analysis of whether she’s pretty in the middle of trying to analyze an entire conference’s reactions to an unexpected development. It was one thing when we got her analysis of Catherine’s appearance once in Empires – it was already suggestive back then, but it could just be a way for erratic to establish how Cat comes across to others while hijacking Cordelia’s narrative for it (even though he tends to not do that, all exposition is always something characters are currently in-character thinking about, Cat’s descriptions of others’ appearances have been repeatedly called out in-universe as a detectable from outside wandering eye). But it is repeating, and the fucking flushing at Catherine’s wink…

              I’d argue the speculating about needing to kill him is the ‘romance’ – romantic quality, as in romanticism and romanticizing – of friendship and just fucking liking other people. Remember Catherine’s speech in Cloaks of how much she valued what she had with Indrani despite it not being in love-romantic? Platonic affection is just as worthy of having words and thoughts devoted to it.

              And while I can see your point about the midnight rendezvous a little, that’s very weak compared to the shipping overtones Catherine has with Cordelia and Rozala. Catherine had that much ‘ship tease’ with Hakram. In this work in particular it’s not the kind of thing that’s indicative of anything, drawing on statistics.

              The ‘she is totally not attractive which I reiterate every time we meet because of reasons’ thing, now…

              Like

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        Black Queen seduces some Prince: Meh

        Black Queen seduces a preeminent hero of her generation: Dammmnnnnn.

        Also, out of nowhere, surprise ship!: Black Queen seduces Witch of the West! Hanno was just an in!

        Liked by 2 people

  19. Crash

    This might be petty of me but I laughed when Tariq said he saw a spark of a Name in Catherine.

    Not a Name made but a spark of one, out of her Role in all this. Being proven right is fun like that.

    Liked by 7 people

  20. Rup

    Could somebody please post the entire song about climbing the tower now that the last stanza is out there.
    PS: i know it varies by listener… but still gimme one version..

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      There was once a girl without a name,
      There was a tower no one could claim
      No one remembers why she has climbed,
      Or all those she must have left behind.

      The first step is hardest, they said to her.
      You will have to walk through fire.
      It will burn away what you once were,
      And always devour whole a liar.

      The second is the longest, they said.
      You will walk under the restless dead.
      The hanged all crooning from the gallows
      To join them and rest in the shadows.

      They say the third step is the cruelest,
      Walk when the moon is at her clearest:
      Love ends with the kiss of the knife,
      Trust is the wager that takes your life

      The last is strangest, she said to them
      The easiest and the most solemn
      For when the tower is yours to claim
      You will have forgotten why you came.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. edrey

        the first step is when she lost Nauk to the summer fire, the second when she became first under the night and the third is next book. that is a very hardcore foreshadowing.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. You’re in the wrong webnovel.

              Also, gods don’t actually decide the outcomes of what happens. That’s kind of the entire point of the wager – see what the fuck happens when mortals act.

              But mostly, I think you’ve confused webnovels 😛

              Liked by 1 person

              1. edrey

                no, it’s the contrary, you are missing details, and i just used that because it really fit.
                first, the song, if you remenber chapter Drop, cat said: ”I would be whoever I needed to be” in the middle of summer fire,–You will have to walk through fire. It will burn away what you once were.
                the debt of the drow for years to the gods bellow also fit-”You will walk under the restless dead..The hanged all crooning from the gallows.” also the nigth fit really well -”To join them and rest in the shadows’.
                if you want other examples, how about in chapter bestowal and only to the just: ” The Court of Winter receives you as one of its own, ‘till your last desperate breath clawing at the dark.”
                and it’s way too obvious in chapter Madman: ”To spit in the eyes of the Hashmallim. To trample the pride of all those glorious, righteous princes”. first liese and iserre is the obvious link.
                the ability of EE of putting details like that is great.

                Like

  21. Rup

    Could somebody please post the entire song about climbing the tower now that the last stanza is out there.
    PS: i know it varies by listener… but still gimme one version..

    Like

  22. ninegardens

    Look, can I just say, despite being an antagonist, and her many mistakes…. Malicia I gotta respect.
    What she has achieved is impressive. How she achieved it, kinda shady, but she’s juggling a pit of vipers, so I’ll give her some slack. By all apperances she has disarmed the black knight in the gentlest way possible, solidified her court, dealt with the goblin uprising and all at pretty damn minimal cost (in terms of lives spent… non-zero, but still pretty damn good given the circumstances)….
    Okay aside from setting DK on the grand alliance. I’m a little worried that her plan of “Betray DK at the opportune moment” is kinda fail pretty hard if her and Maddy end up breaking Praes with their civil war… and even without, DK is totally playing with Fire….
    But for most of the rest of it?
    DAMN that lady knows how to hustle.

    Also, no, seriously: I love how, Alaya has an empire, all of Black’s armies, mind control, and Black has… a bit of loyalty and a his girlfriend…. and its Malicia for whom I am worried.
    Ranger is terrifying.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Crash

      The fact that she thinks she can wait for him to “savage the armies of the Grand Alliance until they’re no longer a threat” and still have enough people to actually fight him reeks of villain overconfidence to be honest.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. ninegardens

        Oh yeah, ain’t denying that.
        Especially as the “Evil vs slightly lesser Evil” will leave her with NO story are her back.
        She’s making a critical error here… but that doesn’t lessen the fact that I’m impressed with her achievements.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Fayhem

        Yeah, this. Well, villain overconfidence and too much distance from the situation. Six of one, half a dozen of the other really. She thinks she knows what it’s like to war with the Dead King because she sent some meat-puppets to Keter and got the DK guided tour plus she has all her many spy reports, but that’s an academic appreciation that falls well short of reality.

        Also, I don’t think she appreciates what it means that DK is going to pull out all the stops now, or maybe has just failed to anticipate he’s going to do that because she doesn’t understand the story-related reasoning that has led him to conclude that is a rational course of action. Either way, mistake.

        Liked by 4 people

  23. Tom

    > What was there left to fear, after all?

    Welp, she ded

    I was wondering when Hye was going to come back into things – with the DK off the leash, she has no reason to expect that she can ignore the rest of the continent anymore. I didn’t anticipate her joining Amadeus for his return to Praes, but I have the impression Alaya didn’t either… 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    1. > she has no reason to expect that she can ignore the rest of the continent anymore

      implying she cares if he takes over, she can always just commandeer an Ashuran ship and fuck off to another continent

      Like

    1. Crash

      So I ran a quick script after reading the sexual content warning and the sheer amount of “thick shaft” and “warm seed” returned tells me I will not be reading this at all. May this be a warning to others of similar tastes(or distaste as the case may be)

      Jesus christ guys.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. Nairne .01

            Right?

            Yet it is the curious nature of humans to stick their heads into mysteries no matter how trivial or otherworldly and maddening they might be for whatever reason noble or otherwise they tell themselves they are doing it for.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      Having followed up on this recommendation, it seems interesting. Explicit chapters are marked as such in their titles, making them reasonably easy to avoid for those inclined to do so.

      Liked by 2 people

  24. Daniel E

    I wonder if Catherine’s Name will have a duality: Squire – Knight, Knight – White/Black, Apprentice – Warlock. Or perhaps she will get some unprecedented combination of Above & Below; Dread Good Queen Victorious :p

    Liked by 1 person

  25. WuseMajor

    Bard: “Ok, FINE THEN! If you won’t let me make her the Warden of the West, I’ll just pick someone ELSE to be the named leader of the army and anchor the story of the Dead King’s True Death!”

    “…….Hey Cat! Want a new name? …ok, yeah, I’m not actually going to give you a choice about it, but….”

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Why do I have an absolutely horrifying feeling that Black is lying to Hye Su, to keep her loyal to him while he works to regain Alaya?

    It doesn’t fit the story as presented, but on the other hand, it’s well within his ability to deceive the Ranger for power (though it would end badly, and be OOC in a lot of context), but Cat hasn’t been successfully screwed over for almost an entire minute, and I’m waiting for the shoe to really drop. This epilogue just seems to end too positively for her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean, he hasn’t actually lied. He has just made an implication. Which might or might not be true / something he has made a definite decision about.

      Somehow I doubt Amadeus is NOT going to try to save Alaya. He’s one of those – y’know the kind of cartoon hero who at the end tries to catch the villain’s hand as they fall into an abyss but fails? Yeah.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Nairne .01

      I disagree Cat wasn’t screwed for over a minute… she kinda was but wasn’t by Kairos.

      Damn, I just shed a tear cause the bastard is gone…

      Like

  27. Jessica Day

    Anyone else planning on rereading all 5 books in preparation for book 6?

    The first time through was just one chapter every so often. I want to binge it all! Lol

    Like

  28. So i think the Name Cat is going to get is a really weird 1 involvin mediatin, arbitrating and ironically the administration of justice, or/and it will be a new name (or one that has been forgotten), this is like the dawn of a new age so it would make sense that some of the most pivotal figures have newer names/roles, think about it Hakran gets adjutant that is new as far as we know (and the cultural weight comes from the new martial tradition of the leion and even now Callow), Masego gets one that if not new then is extremelly rare, Viv loses Thief because it just doesn’t suit her anymore (she grew up) and i wouldn’t be surprised if she ets a new 1 too (sure it would mess Cat’s precious plans but when has that stoped fate?) and Indrani still has Archer but between her row this book and something the Tyrant said i think she is more of an adventurer or explorer (i would say Ranger but that can’t end well xD), with all this said i think its 99% sure Cat gets a totally new Name representing the changing times and changing culture/s she represents.

    That said i have ABSOLUTELY no idea what could it be named xD

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think people are missing the point of how the Name system works in a lot of this speculation? It’s not just you, yours is just the latest post I saw it on.

        Names are common nouns.

        Amadeus was a knight. Vivienne was a thief. Malicia is an empress. Hanno is a knight. Antigone is a witch. Tariq is a pilgrim. Hakram is an adjutant. Masego is a hierophant. Cat was a squire. Indrani is an archer. Roland is a sorcerer. Kairos was a tyrant. William was a swordsman.

        Yall’s guesses like… Cat is a first under the night. Cat is a cardinal. What? There is grammar to this language, people.

        (“Laurence was a saint” might sound off, but it’s still grammatically correct, and semantically speaking House of Light doesn’t seem to have a concept of sainthood the way it exists in Christianity, which is our Western default association with the word, and the trope that Laurence is is borrowed from wuxia/xianxia where “Laurence was a saint” would in fact be an accurate statement referring to her level of skill)

        Like

    1. I think you’d have a decent chance of EE reading it if he ever feels like reading fanfiction if you post/link it on the subreddit. It’s linked in the sidebar and he reads it / periodically comments in it!

      Like

      1. Shikkarasu

        Quietly happy that I’m not the only one rereading the comments section a month after the last chapter dropped. If everyone else had a life I would have been a little sad.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s