Chapter 11: Veer

“A dog to the brave, a wolf to the craven.”
– Arlesite saying

I would head for the Arsenal tomorrow, I decided after the White Knight left.

There were still decisions to be made and responsibilities to discharge, so I put my back into it instead of leaning backing into my seat and sleeping for a few months the way I wanted to. It was tempting to simply say I could take the bundle of reports and letters with me, but if I wanted to keep a decent pace while on the move I couldn’t afford to have wagons of affairs and a crowd of attendants with me. That meant answering every bit of correspondence I’d received – or left to languish, honesty compelled me to admit – over an afternoon’s span, Hakram flitting in and out of my tent like some big green bureaucratic butterfly after I’d told him of my intention. I’d left Baron Henry Darlington’s complaint about the continued Deoraithe presence in the northern baronies unanswered for two months, considering the shit knew very well it’d been at Vivienne’s order that Duchess Kegan had sent her soldiers to hold our end of the Passage. He was just trying to extract concessions for the supply convoys passing through his territory to feed the host there, the rapacious prick.

I penned an amicable reply inviting him to propose a plan to field a force apt to replace Kegan’s, if his objections to the Deoraithe were so deeply felt. No doubt he’d enjoy that, it was the kind of thing that could be used to muster up some support and influence among the few remaining nobles of Callow. I added that he should forward such a plan to ‘Heiress-Designate to the Crown Vivienne Dartwick’ as soon as it was done, which he’d enjoy a great deal less. Did he really think I’d not noticed he was trying to go over Vivienne’s head by calling directly on me over something she’d already ordered? I might be the Queen of Callow, but I wasn’t fool enough to start undermining my own chosen successor’s authority. The invitation from the Closed Circle of Mercantis to attend one of their auctions had already expired by the time I got it, in a practical sense, given that the auction had already been held when I got the letter. I’d been meant a mark of honour than a real expectation I’d leave the front, though, so I wrote a polite refusal anyways.

It always paid to be polite to people you owed money to, even if the ‘you’ here was the Grand Alliance and not me personally.

The offer by the Holy Seljun of Levant, one Wazim Isbili – who was, to my understanding, Tariq’s grand-nephew – to formally send an ambassador to the Callowan court and receive one from us in Levante in turn was rather more pressing. It was heartening to see that the Dominion was willing to establish closer ties with my kingdom, and to an extent rarely sought given the distance between the two realms, but there were… complications. For one, I didn’t really have anyone to send as an ambassador. In the Old Kingdom that’d been a role for the highest ranks of nobility, which had been quite thoroughly exterminated in the decades since the Conquest. My father being the viciously meticulous bastard that he was, he’d also done all he could to stamp out what one might call diplomatic apprenticeships. Almost like he’d wanted to make sure Callow was isolated and incapable of properly reaching out. It was a sad but undeniable fact that most ‘diplomats’ I could send would be Praesi officers of noble birth from my army, with as other option maybe Brandon Talbot. Who I needed in command of the Order of Broken Bells anyway, making him highly unsuitable for the task.

I kicked that decision back to Vivienne, after pondering the matter a bit, along with a note outlining that she’d be in charge of finding a suitable ambassador if she decided to accept. I also suggested that a potential Levantine ambassador should be received by her in Salia rather than at my ‘court’ in Laure, and lastly stipulated that no ambassador of ours could be related to Duchess Kegan. There was already enough discontent at the way the Duchess of Daoine kept naming kin and vassals to key court and bureaucratic positions, she needed no encouragement. Especially if a decade from now the Duchy of Daoine was to be independent, complicating the loyalties of all such appointees by a great deal. More recently, the Iron Prince had sent a missive describing the way the dead beyond the defensive lines had massed for assault before suddenly withdrawing and asking if I had an explanation.

I spent the better part of an hour describing the Dead King’s latest plot to tie us here down south while he went on the offensive again. Klaus Papenheim had added a note that his envoy had spoken glowingly of the results of the assault formation on the field – somewhat to my surprise, given that she’d not expressed such enthusiasm before me – and that he would want to pit a formation against a more traditional mixed force of Bones and Binds before committing to that doctrine but he was definitely interested. Amusing enough, he also warned me that Otto Redcrown had extended an offer of settling in Lycaonese land to Sapper-General Pickler but that no offence should be taken by it. Any such offers made in the future would pass by me first. It was enough for me to soften my language when I wrote to the Prince of Bremen over the matter, mentioning that I was willing to serve as intermediary between the Lycaonese and the Confederation of the Grey Eyries if they wanted to extend that offer to the Tribes instead of to troops sworn to my service.

The rest was minor correspondence, mostly from my commanders on other fronts, including the usual letter written in Crepuscular from General Rumena that turned out to bear some insulting nuance to a native speaker I wouldn’t get without asking for help. Hence getting me insulted in front of an audience every single time. The old bastard never actually bothered to send me proper reports, given that Sve Noc saw to it we spoke in ‘person’ regularly. I’d be due that tonight, I thought. Not necessarily a conversation with Rumena, but communion with my patronesses. Last time they’d brought me in for a waking dream it’d been to show me the sigils of the Exodus raising the foundations of a hidden city in the depths of Serolen, though also to make a point that warfare around the edges of the Gloom reborn was growing… rougher. The Dead King was getting serious about dislodging them from their positions, not just trying to erode them one corpse at a time. I set those drifting thoughts – a sure sign I’d been going through these chores for a while – aside when Hakram flitted back in, wasting no time to bring another folded parchment to me. I took it with a sigh.

“What am I looking at?” I asked, eyes begin to scan the cramped lines.

“The proposed numbers and composition of our escort to the Arsenal,” he said.

I frowned.

“I don’t need knights,” I said. “They’re a lot more useful out here.”

“You’re the Queen of Callow,” Hakram pointed out. “Knights are expected. They expect is as well, Catherine.”

“I’ve no personal guard,” I said. “There will be no second Gallowborne. If the Order of Broken Bells understands this differently, Talbot is in need of being disciplined.”

These days I was not quite so prone to leaping into the fire, but what mortal guard could possibly be expected to survive the kind of messes I got into? No, there would be no revisiting that old blunder under a different name.

“And cut that number in half,” I added. “I want us riding briskly.”

“Wagons don’t ride briskly, Catherine,” Adjutant gravelled.

“Then they can catch up at the Arsenal,” I said. “I’ll not double the length of the trip for comfort.”

“Let me requisition packhorses, at least,” the orc said.

I waved my hand.

“So long as we don’t slow,” I said.  “And send for Akua, will you?”

He nodded.

“You’ll also need to personally write to the Rapacious Troubadour, if you want him to take up Origin Hunting without feeling slighted,” he reminded me before leaving.

Ugh, and I’d been just about done too. That letter I took my time in writing, since he was a prickly thing for a bandier of words and not half-bad with a knife. Mind you, when he’d admitted he stole songs from those he killed I probably shouldn’t have replied ‘surely you mean souls’ in a dry tone. He hadn’t taken that well. Still, vicious bastard or not he’d sniff out any Named popping out in this neck of the woods and ease them into the Truce – and I’d make it clear that Hanno was in the area too, which ought to keep him honest when it came to his more unsavoury tendencies. I was up and limping about looking for my seal when my right hand and my left arrived. I waved in their direction, pushing aside sheaths of parchment with a frown.

“It’s in your desk,” Hakram said.

“I looked in my desk, thank you very much,” I waspishly replied. “It’s not in-”

Having stepped around my desk and opened one of the drawers even as I spoke, he produced my personal seal – the Crown and Sword, as it’d come to be known – and said nothing. His silence was, admittedly, quite damning enough on its own.

“Must have been under something,” I weakly said.

“Walnut shells, mostly,” the orc reproached.

I winced.

“Look, sometimes it’s late and I’m not hungry enough for a meal,” I defended.

“And so the Black Queen so spoke to her dark legions,” Akua intoned. “Bring me walnuts, my wicked servants. But don’t tell Adjutant, for he gets snippy about the mess.”

I flipped a finger at her and hobbled to the side of the desk, picking up the bar of grey wax I’d set next to the letter before forming black flames against the side. Wax dripped and I dismissed the fire, extending my free hand and receiving my seal from Hakram. With a firm push the seal was affixed and I set the letter aside.

“Right,” I said. “So I considered it, and we’ll be scrapping the wardstone to get the obsidian spike.”

I gave a heartbeat of room for Akua to protest, but of course she’d been taught better than that.

“I’m not comfortable going on campaign against Keter with a repaired wardstone anyway,” I told the shade. “So we might as well get another weapon to study out of it.”

“You no longer speak in the theoretical,” Akua noted.

When it came to a summer campaign? No, no I did not. That little revelation about the bridge had ensured as much. We couldn’t afford to ignore that.

“Talks with the White Knight were fruitful,” I grunted. “I’ll need to speak with the rest of the Grand Alliance leaders, but an offensive campaign in Hainaut is now a certainty – the only thing up in the air is the timing of it.”

“I’ll see to extracting the spike immediately, then,” Akua decisively said. “If you’ll excuse me?”

I nodded my thanks, she returned them with a smile and just as quick as she’d come she was gone. The tent flap closed behind her, cutting through the slice of dusk it’d bared. She must have appreciated the courtesy of being told in person, I supposed, even if ultimately I’d not taken her advice.

“Tell me when it’s done,” I said, eyes turning to the tent flap. “I’ll have a look at it myself.”

“And until then?” Hakram asked, sounding curious.

“It’s getting dark out,” I said. “Time to speak with the Crows.”

At the exact moment night fell, I was seated alone in the dark of my tent.

The sprite-lanterns had been hooded, the braziers put out, and I’d dragged my fae seat away from the desk so that there’d be more room around. I’d long grown familiar with weaving silencing strands of Night around my tent that would prevent eavesdropping, be it physical or otherwise, and even my guards had been told to step further away. My pipe in hand, breathing in the wakeleaf I’d been gifted, I watched the burning red brand that was the only light inside and spat out a long stream of acrid smoke. The only sign that Sve Noc had deigned to join me was a slight breath of breeze, almost like an exhale, and then they were there. Perched on either side of me, on the back of the seat, great crows feathered in darkness so deep and even the dark of the tent seemed bright in comparison. Long, sharp talons dug into the wood of the armchair with a sound like steel scraping bone.

“First Under the Night,” Andronike said, voice cool.

Like stone far below where the sun never shone, like a deep lake whose waters were as a veil.

“Losara Queen,” Komena said, voice sharp.

Like the ring of steel against steel, like pride and hate and all the things that made men go mad.

“Sve Noc,” I replied, dipping my head in respect.

Two years was perhaps not so long a span, as gods would have it, but it had made a world of difference with these two. They were no longer taking their first stumbling steps past the threshold of apotheosis: these were goddesses in all the arrogant vigour of their youth, casting a covetous eye upon the world. And I was, on most days, the closest thing they possessed to restraint. I breathed in the smoke, held it in my throat and blew it back out. I ought, perhaps, to be afraid of those sharp-clawed patronesses of mine. I’d never quite managed, though. That might just be the reason they took my advice still.

“General Rumena brings ill tidings back to the Night,” Komena croaked.

“Do they?” I mused. “I’ve not had the displeasure to hear them.”

“Watch,” Andronike ordered. “Listen.”

The darkness within shifted as the Sisters seized the darkness for their own, made it as a domain forced onto Creation. It was one of their lesser tricks – a paltry thing, compared to the waking dreams that saw me tread grounds halfway across the continent and speak with others as if I were there – but it was still a casual display of power. Similar end could be achieved with sorcery, true. But it would be the work of years, not moments. I saw now, from my seat, two different fractured memories given unto the Night by willing Firstborn.

A human, a prince, an Alamans. All three and no longer young, seated with another crowned head: Rozala Malanza, vulgar in form to drow eye yet respected for its mettle. Not so its companion, this Prince of Cleves who could not preserve it sigil yet had not seen it stripped from its grasp.

“- this talk of leaving all conquered lands to the dark elves,” Prince Gaspard of Cleves snorted. “A kingdom’s worth, for a paltry few thousand raiders? It is madness, Princess Rozala.”

“The greater might of the Empire Ever Dark fights in the deep north,” Princess Rozala replied.

“And let them keep it, by all means,” Prince Gaspard dismissed. “But the lands south of Hannoven’s height should be brought into the fold: some of them would make good farmland, after a proper cleansing. It would be a waste to surrender them to these lesser elven cousins.”

A human, a killer, the Dawnstride: Mirror Knight, humans called it. Unsettling, its power like the sting of morning, and harder to kill than Savanov Hundred-Lives. But like most cattle, its guard lowered when it was busy mating with another of its kind. The other one in the bed: human, the daughter of a prince, Langevin. Carine, daughter of the Gaspard. They spoke after spending themselves.

“You really should consider it, Christophe,” Carine Langevin said, fingers trailing naked flesh.

“The war’s not won, Carine,” the Mirror Knight replied.

“But when it is, all those lands will need proper stewardship,” Carine Langevin insisted. “And who better than one of the Chosen who fought to reclaim it?”

“I wouldn’t know the first thing about ruling,” the Mirror Knight said.

“It would be my honour to help you, of course,” Carine Langevin smiled.

I let out a shallow gasp, closing my eyes. How very Proceran, I thought, to begin divvying the spoils of victory before the end of a war we were currently losing. Malanza had seemed lukewarm at the notion, at least, so I didn’t have to revise my opinion of her by too much. That she’d not stamped out this petty scheming immediately, though, got stuck in my throat. Hadn’t they learned by now that it was exactly this sort of habitual treachery that’d nearly seen them stand against the Dead King alone? What exactly did they think was going to happen next time a calamity like this struck and Procer had a record of backstabbing even the people who fought to save it? I brought the pipe to my lips and breathed in the wakeleaf, ordering my thoughts as I let the burn in my throat sharpen my attention, and spat it out.

“That’s one prince,” I finally said. “It would have been too much to ask for that all of that lot be kept honest by even the looming prospect of annihilation.”

And if it’d been going to happen anywhere, it was going to be Cleves. Between the Firstborn forces under Rumena, the veteran Dominion reinforcements under Lord Yannu Marave and Rozala Malanza’s practiced hand guiding the fight, it was the front that’d arguably least suffered. While the Dead King’s raiding parties frequently slipped the coastal defences and warfare around the lakeside fortresses was an almost permanent fixture, it was the most ‘stable’ of the fronts. The city of Cleves had not suffered a third siege, the supply lines remained wide open and the Named there were proving capable of dealing with Revenants – at least defensively, as the Stormcaller still had the run of all western Lake Pavin and we had no one that could touch her in the water. No, if anyone was going to start getting ideas it was the royals in Cleves. They’d not been afraid for their lives in too long.

“Does it go any further up?” I asked. “If they can’t even bring Malanza into the plot, it’s dead in the water.”

“If they continued down this path,” Komena said, “they will be as well.”

“More sinister than humorous, but not half bad,” I absent-mindedly praised.

Yeah, that the literal goddesses of murder and theft that were my patronesses would not look kindly upon their so-called allies planning to turn on them had been a given. I was not unaware, either, that they were in no way above calling back the forces under Rumena from Cleves and leaving the Procerans high to dry. It’d be a disaster both militarily and diplomatically speaking, but the Crows had no interest in playing nice with people sizing them up for a knife in the back. They’d cut ties with the Principate without batting an eye, if it came to that.

“The First Prince was told,” Andronike said.

My fingers clenched around the arms of my chair.

“You’re sure?” I asked.

The shadows shifted once more.

Humans, bearing the emblem of a red lion. Magelings, surrounding the Princess Malanza. They speak into the scrying bowl, believing themselves safe behind their wards. They are not, for the Lord of Silent Steps has brought great knowledge into the Night as to treading through without tripping.

“Gaspard is pushing hard, Your Highness,” Princess Rozala said. “But he’s toed the line carefully so I’ve no grounds to come down him. He’s still gathering support but the notion is a popular one.”

“It would permanently alienate the Empire Ever Dark,” the First Prince of Procer’s voice replied. “And perhaps Callow as well. If the Black Queen did not slaughter everyone involved first, that is. I do not suppose he spoke to this?”

“There’s a lot of heroes who don’t believe she’ll survive the war,” Princess Rozala said. “And with his daughter in the Mirror Knight’s bed, he gets to hear every rumour going around the Chosen. Callow under Vivienne Dartwick is a beast with a lot less bite, Gaspard argues.”

A long silence.

“I cannot step in,” the First Prince said. “Already the heartlands are chafing under the taxes and levies, there will be accusations of tyranny if I begin imprisoning princes over mere words. Let them plot, Princess Rozala. It will be seen to at a time of our choosing.”

It took a moment to gather my bearings. That turned to anger quickly enough, that Hasenbach was once more failing as an ally because of the Principate’s fucking internal politics. I mastered myself, though, and took a calming drag from my pipe. Procer was, undeniably, bearing the worst of the weight of the fight against the Dead King. It was its lands being ravaged, its people being conscripted and its traders being taxed into poverty. It was even its princes falling into debt. Callow and Levant, meanwhile, had sent north largely professional armies and while we’d felt the burden of war neither had suffered attacks from Keter. Procer, I then silently corrected, was bearing the worst of the weight among human nations. The Firstborn had been fighting against Keter in earnest for two years, and they’d had no reinforcements for any of it. But they were also fighting very far away, and people were people.

Sacrifices earned less gratitude when you didn’t get to see them happening.

“The two most prominent women in Procer don’t back the plot,” I said. “And it’s years away, besides. You’ve reason to be angry, and I’ll be taking up the issue when I next see Hasenbach, but it’s hardly a crisis.”

“An undeniable and weighty precedent for the Firstborn being reasonable, restrained actors,” Andronike said, mimicking my voice perfectly as I repeated words I’d once spoken to the Sisters.

“When we refrained from taking Twilight, you promised us our restraint would bring forth results,” Komena croaked.

“I’d have you fight this war in a manner that doesn’t guarantee having to fight another one in twenty years with your current allies,” Andronike said, eerily imitating my every intonation from back then without flaw.

“And yet,” the youngest of the sisters said.

They were questioning the value of playing nice when faced with allies like these, whose actions might very well lead to that war in a few decades regardless of what the drow did. It went back to the lessons they’d been taught while still mortals: that restraint would always be seen as weakness, that only the strong were bargained with and strength came without mercy. Of course, they were wrong in this.

“You did get that,” I pointed out without hesitation. “Sure, we might need to arrange an accident for Gaspard of Cleves in a way that can’t be traced back to us a few years from now, but you’re missing the point: the two most powerful people in Procer want to shut him down and will at the first good opportunity. The Empire Ever Dark is seen as valuable, something not to antagonize without reason. Considering the general amoral ruthlessness of Proceran diplomacy over the last centuries, that’s basically weaving you a crown of flowers and asking if you’re going to the fair with anyone.”

I’d, uh, maybe gotten a little too enthusiastic with that last metaphor.

Were you going to the fair with anyone?” Andronike asked, tone too serene for her not to be fucking with me.

Great, they were still missing the mark half the time with sarcasm but naturally they’d be the finest of students when it came to learning how to pull my leg.

“I had a shift at the Rat’s Nest anyway,” I said.

I felt Komena’s gaze descend on me, somehow coming across as skeptical even coming from a bird.

“Fine,” I grumpily admitted, “Duncan Brech did not, in fact, ask me to the fair.”

He’d asked Lily from one of the other rooms at the orphanage, whose… charms had developed quicker and more amply than mine. Mind you if I’d had my pick of the litter I might have chosen Lily as well, so I could hardly blame him.

“Procer has not asked us to the fair either,” Andronike comfortingly said.

See, if it’d been her sister I might have thought that halfway genuine but coming from her I just knew she was just having me on.

“Very droll,” I said. “Thank you for passing this along, then. I’ll be seeking out Hasenbach to bury it for good.”

Preferably without dead bodies being involved, but that depended on how reasonable Prince Gaspard intended to be. If he was willing to bend his neck and make reparations for overreaching in this way, I’d leave it at that. Otherwise I was going to have to take some measures to express my irritation, less than subtly. If even that didn’t make the point sink in, then I’d have to put some thought into how best to have him disappear without entangling the Mirror Knight into this mess. Tricky but not impossible, if I leaned on the White Knight to get him moved to another front and he’d not confused sleeping with the pretty Langevin girl for true love. Hells, though, why couldn’t he just have stayed out of this mess? The prince would not have been so bold without a Chosen to back him. Why was it that the only Proceran hero to have any degree of sense was Roland and he was the one I couldn’t have on the field? The Gods were pricks, as usual.

“How’s Serolen?” I asked.

There really wasn’t a proper, commonly accepted name for the massive forest in between Lake Netzach and the Chalice. Most maps ended at the bottom of the Kingdom of the Dead, and few people had an interest in what went on north of the human nations of Calernia. I’d seen it called the – inventively-named – Dead Wilds, the Forest of Ghosts and rather more poetically the Bleak Weald. Mapmakers tended to call it whatever they felt like, and there was no one to contradict them: it wasn’t like the Dead King’s legions had shared their name for it, if they even had one. Serolen was what the Firstborn had come to name the forest, and in Crepuscular it more or less meant the Duskwood. The Firstborn had fought nine battles and a hundred skirmishes before claiming the greater span of the woods, securing them enough that Sve Noc could bring down the Gloom around the edges and plunge the territory in permanent dusk.

Neshamah was perhaps the greatest sorcerer Calernia had ever known, so of course he’d found ways to pierce through the Gloom. They weren’t perfect, though, and it’d enabled the Firstborn to secure their frontline and begin settling in the depths of Serolen. The first drow city on the surface still shared its name with the Duskwood, for now, but I expected that would change with time. I’d already filled the ears of the Crows with rants about why Proceran principalities and capitals sharing their name was highly inconvenient in half a dozen senses, so you might even say it’d be a religious obligation. I’d shove that in the holy book if I had to, they knew damn well.

“See for yourself,” Komena said, open pride in her voice.

The shadows shifted, but this time it was not a memory that was offered up for me to tear through. I dragged myself up to my feet, teeth keeping my pipe in place, and walked over what had been made to seem like the evening sky. Below me, misty woods shrouded in shadow spread out as far as the eye could see. The ground fell beneath my feet as we closed in on the Duskwood, my old calcified fear of heights sending a familiar pang up my leg. What I found beneath the mists had me smiling, though. The sigils of the Everdark had come together under the Ten Generals and their great cabal of the Exodus, whose founders were Sve Noc themselves, and the results were a wonder. An empire’s worth of looted wealth had been made into a city at the heart of the gloomy woods, temples of stone and millennia-old steles held up by trees coaxed through Night to serve as stairs and roads and a hundred other things. Within the bark had been nestled precious stones and obsidian, while leaves around the sacred places were painted with colourful prayers and poems.

It was a city like none I’d ever seen, like no one had ever seen, made up from the stolen parts of half a dozen cities who’d once been among the most glorious of this land. And everywhere among the labyrinthine lay of its ‘streets’ the Firstborn were living. Sleeping and haggling and brewing their horrid drinks, making lizardscale clothes and harvesting the mushrooms from the deeps that’d spread like the plague. Waters had been diverted from half a dozen streams, and stolen lakes brought from their ancient homes, making the entire span richly watered and leading into an artifical lake at the heart of Serolen. There the great temple that had once been the soul of the Empire Ever Dark, the seat of the Twilight Sages and where Sve Noc had struck their ill-fated bargain with Below, stood tall. Entire flocks of crows like the ones on my shoulders perched there, ever-hungry and ever-watchful shards of godhood. I let out a low, impressed whistle after taking my pipe in hand.

“That’s new,” I said, pointing towards the great temple. “I didn’t know you’d looted that.”

“All of Holy Tvarigu is within us,” Andronike replied.

“It’s coming along nicely,” I approved. “Do you intend to keep a strong presence up here even after the war?”

“There would be advantages,” Komena said. “Like the nearness of the Chain of Hunger.”

Words to make a Lycaonese choke, that, but it made sense. To the drow, yearly ratling raids would be like a fresh harvest of Night coming over and asking to be scythed through.

“We’ve got time yet,” I said. “Might be worth speaking with the First Prince when you decide on where you’ll raise your cities. She’ll be better placed than I to point out the northern trade arteries of Procer.”

I received no acknowledgement of my words save for the two of them taking flight and landing on my shoulders, sharp talons digging into my flesh. I put my pipe back into my mouth and took a drag, spewing the smoke upwards just to spite them. It was time, it seemed.

“All right,” I said afterward. “Show me the war.”

I steeled myself and the shadows spun.

Horror swallowed me whole.

93 thoughts on “Chapter 11: Veer

  1. Idiot Procerans.
    And they might need to find something particularly unpleasant to throw Mirror Knight into.
    Hanno will not be pleased to hear that some of the Procerans are planning to betray their allies, especially with the involvement of another Hero. Neither will Tariq. And neither will Antigone – she’ll definitely beat the stupid out of Mirror Knight, or at least give it a solid try.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Zggt

      Call me a conspiracy theorist, but as you’ve pointed out this isn’t a very Heroic line of thought, then perhaps it originated elsewhere. I feel like Malicia is involved somehow. The focus on the aftermath rather than the war and creating strife between Cat and Procer really advances her agenda.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Shikkarasu

        It’s perfectly in line with the “Good Guys”

        “See, Catherine, there was nothing to it,” he smiled, sharp and cold. “The ordeal would only have stung were you a heretic, which makes wanton use of it perfectly permissible. Indeed, how dare any of us question the Wandering Bard’s right to pursue our demise whenever the whim takes her? How very impious.”
        -Book 4, Chapter 69: Repute

        Drow are evil, therefore why shouldn’t we do terrible things to them? They don’t deserve the rewards like we do.

        Liked by 15 people

        1. Shveiran

          If you want to bring in quotes to sustain your view on how heroes, Above and good-aligned nations think, may I suggest quoting them and not Amadeus during one of his unventing phases?

          I love the guy, but he is not, shall we say, impartial. What he says shouldn’t be taken for gospel, especially not when he is explicitly trying to pull an Hero’s pigtails with his words.

          Liked by 11 people

    2. Frivolous

      It’s the Mirror Knight’s glory that his body becomes better with time, stronger, swifter, tougher.

      It’s the Mirror Knight’s tragedy that his mind remains the same, stupid and closed and gullible.

      Liked by 22 people

      1. Shveiran

        Though he never struck me as particularly smart, it might be he isn’t quite planning on betraying anyone. Aside from the fact that he hasn’t quite agreed yet (though granted, “I’d make for a poor ruler” kind of implies he is debating the practicalities rather than the moral side of things) he might just be thinking of a small change of plans.

        Like, say, a few lands close to Cleves being annexed, in exchange for other concessions.
        It would be a plot, and it would be a betrayal, but not quite “thanks for helping us out, now go die in a ditch somewhere before we conquer you, bye!” treatchery.

        What I’m saying is, it reflects poorly on his judgment, but… it might not amount to much. Maybe.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. It’s also possible he has no idea that the lands were supposed to go to the drow. He’s not a politician and not a strategist. I’ll assume he has no idea what the fuck is going on before I assume he’s being malicious, here.

          Liked by 6 people

        2. Frivolous

          Ah, I neglected to clarify: If the Mirror Knight is openly disdainful towards Levantines, how much more disdainful can he be towards an Evil non-human race?

          It’s pretty logical that the MK would favor Procerans over the Empire Ever Dark.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. luminiousblu

        Mirror Knight strikes me as a Lawrence of Arabia type, not as a Balfour type. He’s the boots on the ground doing what he can to get things sorted out. He’s not aware of the plots back home, or at least not the depths of them and likely doesn’t understand the political situation, because he’s a combat-focused hero who gets stronger and stronger and apparently is indestructible. Politicians back home make things messy for him, but that doesn’t make him part of it.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. caoimhinh

      It’s good that they are finally taking notice of the Mirror Knight as a potential threat. I find it weird that no one in the story has Mirror Knight’s abilities oppose those of the Night. Catherine at least should have noticed.

      This might relate to the “great future threat” that Christophe is meant to face, which Hanno had predicted after observing how Dawn made Mirror Knight grow stronger every day. Hanno said that the Heavens had made him to fight something strong, and horrific. My theory: he is meant to fight the Drow. And this thing of tying Christophe to the Cleves Principality might be the first step towards turning him to that story, with the next being -of course- Cleves starting war against the Drow near its lands.

      Cat must be very careful and veer Sve Noc away from Story Traps. Making war against a Hero so seemingly tailor-made against their powers would be very dangerous. They must, at the very least, avoid falling into the role of the bad guys in that story.

      Liked by 10 people

        1. Shveiran

          Would that story be on Mirror’s side though?

          I mean, if he was the plotter and the inciting incident, then… he is the story’s villain. An heroic mighty would liberate his people from the threat of Proceran greed.
          It doesn’t look like the grove would help Cristophe.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. ______

            He isn’t, though, his would-be father in law is. Add to that the standard heroic coincedences and the combination of procerans’ attitude with drow’s idea of politics, and the tragedy might just write itself for him to avenge.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Yeah, and with Cat already plotting to have Prince Gaspard “have an accident” she might just make a self-fulfilling prophecy.
              Killing the guy to avoid his intentions of war only to have his Hero son-in-law go on a quest for revenge. I would expect Catherine to be more Genre Savvy than to think that such assassination wouldn’t be find out by the Hero later and probably at the most crucial and inconvenient time

              Liked by 5 people

              1. Shveiran

                A revenge story kind of requires a deep connection to the one you are avenging, IMO.
                It might work if his daughter stumbles into the incident and is murdered, but unless that happens it sounds kind of weak.

                Unless Cristophe starts raving about how the Prince is like the father he never had and also make amazing muffins, I’d say Cat is in the clear.

                Liked by 8 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  There’s also the matter that it would be the Queen of Callow and High Priestess of the Empire Ever Dark having one of the Princes of Procer murdered.

                  A lot can go wrong right there. It would be a political mess unchaining a war, and Heroes need much less than that to have the Story helping them.

                  Liked by 5 people

          2. caoimhinh

            The problem is that even the slightest pretense can serve as help for the Heroes, as we have seen so far.
            The crusade against Callow was a purely political thing that aimed at killing Catherine just for being a Villain (even without the Name) while the Procerans were already thinking how to divide the land of Callow among themselves. The Heroes were an invading force, yet the story was on their side because they were part of a Crusade that after beating Callow would fight against Praes. Catherine won, but not thanks to help of Providence.
            When the Saint of Swords decided that she would rather risk everything by destroying the Twilight Crown than let someone use it, she was losing and about to be restrained by the combined efforts of Cat, Tariq, Indrani, and Roland, yet Kairos simply said “we are invincible!” and that was enough to turn the tables and empower the Saint.

            That’s why Providence is mostly seen helping Heroes, they don’t need much to have it on their side, a Villain like Catherine needs a lot of planning and careful steps, a Hero just trust their instincts and needs the smallest pretense on being the good guy to have a boost.

            Hence what I said: Cat needs to be very careful in how she handles this. They can’t afford to leave even the smallest doubt that they are the ones on the right.

            Liked by 8 people

            1. Shveiran

              I’m not sure I agree with your analysis, not completely.

              The Heroic crusaders were infuriatingly turning a blind eye to the practicalities of their involvement, and the very use of the word hero loses all meaning when applied to them IMO, yet they got no help from provvidence.
              Cat may have played her hand smart and done her homework, but when you get down to it she was facing an invading force more than twice her numbers, with more mages if less skilled, a shitton of priests, and three times her Named, among which two of the oldest beasts in the continent.
              She still won, didn’t she? And it isn’t like the opposition played like morons on the field.
              I’m game for throwing shade on the crusaders, but from my point of view Providence sat that one out.

              As for Saint, sure, that happened.
              Yet I’d argue it happened as the third betrayal of Kairos fucking Theodosian, who leaned in the pattern, something he was able to do thanks to the involvement of the Bard in the first place.
              That’s a lot of tropes to add to the “invincible until you aren’t” cliche.
              Hero Bulshit was not the only culprit, IMO.

              Liked by 7 people

            2. > The Heroes were an invading force, yet the story was on their side because they were part of a Crusade that after beating Callow would fight against Praes. Catherine won, but not thanks to help of Providence.

              Not true. Tariq and Laurence spell out at Camps that actually Providence is audibly (to them) favoring Catherine in that battle.

              Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        I was thinking Cat might want to test Cordelia on this, in her current frame of mind. You know, give her a chance to inform her of the problem herself, pretending she doesn’t know.
        Just a thought.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Jeremy Cliff Armstrong

          Cordelia would need to be a raving lunatic to even think of sharing this with Cat. Sure, we know that Cat already knows and would see the reveal as laudable. But Cordelia doesn’t know Cat knows… else why would she be sharing knowledge of the plot with Cat?

          The problem, is that Cordelia can’t _know_ with certainty how Cat will react. The possibility that Cat would be infuriated by it and lash out cannot be dismissed. Not when the lives of tens of thousands of Proceran soldiers and the shattering of the grand alliance (and, by extension, the annihilation of Procer) might be the butcher’s bill. Cordelia thinks she can handle this in-house and is actively pursuing that end. Without the knowledge that Cat already knows, it’s just too big a gamble for her to tell Cat.

          Unfortunately… both Cat and Cordelia are going to end up being wrong. The Drow will be betrayed and the crows will lose faith in Cat… and it will be costly all around. The shape of that story is clear to me.

          Like

          1. Ahem? When has Cat been the first one to “lash out” during negotiations, or punished truth? She’s certainly walked away from negotiations when the other party was trying to jerk her around, and when faced with attack has given as good as she’s gotten.

            Also, she can open with a hint: “The Sisters of Night have brought me troubling reports of Prince Gaspard… anything you want to tell me there?” You know, play the “spooky goddesses tell me stuff, without reavealing just how much she knows….

            She can also mention that the Drow have already settled into the forest, and are looking forward to chewing on the Ratlings….

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Sun Dog

        My thoughts near exactly. I imagine Cat popping in and saying something like “the drow are pitching a fit, wanting to bow out of the war. Seems Rumena got the idea Procer, in particular Prince Gaspard, is preparing to betray them and take their new homeland. Before I go assure them there’s nothing to it, it would sure help if I knew there was actually nothing to it.”

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Par

    Hey everyone! Over on the PGTE Discord, we made a fan survey to get some info on the fanbase demographics out of curiosity. It’s entirely optional and anonymous, and I’d love it if you filled it out.
    Link to survey: https://forms.gle/A2yjezXvCYT6s21W7
    Link to responses so far: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScmP83cYx3ts56wr8-APh8Ojfx18dv9_AQMOtUrZt3mwNmv-w/viewanalytics
    Survey closes on Sunday, so if you wanna take part, do it this weekend!

    And as always, don’t forget to vote: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil
    Thanks in advance!
    also, join us on the discord here: https://discord.gg/jeHRFXm or the subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/PracticalGuideToEvil/

    Liked by 3 people

  3. nick012000

    Given how powerful the Mighty are, I wonder how the Dead King’s legions of zombies could possibly hold out against them. Diabolism? I wonder if the usage of Night would let them pilfer traits from demons and devils without getting corrupted.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sheer numbers.
      Plus the undead aren’t hindered by sunlight or the dawn. Or, if they are, they aren’t affected anywhere near as much as the drow are.

      Remember, Cat said something about the Dead King tossing fifty thousand Binds away as a distraction against the drow, just a couple chapters ago.

      Also, monsters.
      Plus, the Night doesn’t grant the drow the inherent advantages that Light-wielders have (priests and Heroes) against the Dead King’s forces.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Shikkarasu

      Sod the devils, what kind of Night can they drain from the Revenants? They can steal from other races as shown by their plan to harvest the Chain of Hunger, they can steal from corpses, and even if corpses normally lose their night over time the ones who retain their memories should keep their Secrets at least.

      The northern front is bleeding numbers, but the overall strength of the army might be growing.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Shveiran

        fearless numbers have a quality of their own, though.
        Plus, Cat’s Everdark Adventures showed that you need a body to take Night: I bet Neshamah is capitalizing on that, trying to destroy undead and drow bodies so that the Night itself slowly weakens as well.
        It sounds like his style.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    leaning backing > leaning back
    enjoy that, it > enjoy that; it
    I’d been meant > It’d been meant as more
    with as other (should be “with maybe brandon talbot as another option”)
    positions, she > positions; she
    Amusing enough > Amusingly enough
    time to bring > time in bringing
    eyes begin > eyes beginning
    expect is > expect it
    so the Black Queen so spoke (maybe remove one “so”)
    deep and even > deep that even
    Similar end > Similar ends
    it sigil > its sigil
    high to dry > high and dry
    come down him > come down on him

    Liked by 3 people

  5. So first (literally writing this as i read so i don’t forget to ask) the Rapacious Trobadour felt insulted and attacked Cat when snarked about him stealing songs?

    And procer being procer of course, never mind everything Cat said, having that out is like asking for Malicia or someone to use it to seed discord among the alliance.

    Personally i think Cat should find a way to record some of those conversations and the Drow front of the war, the first can be used as evidence and the second to show just how a bad idea it is.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. danh3107

    Great chapter, good way to do exposition. Now on to what’s bugging me (lol)

    I love Crows, I did research on corvids for three years, but I really dislike that they’re being associated with night here, capital Night too. Corvids are entirely Diurnal birds, they have almost 0 nightvision and are most active when the sun is high in the sky. They also don’t have talons, those are claws, they mostly use them to perch on things and walk on the ground. They aren’t very sharp.

    Now I know all of this literally doesn’t matter, I just needed to get it off my chest. Now I’ll never have to complain about it to myself ever again!

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Bladesmith

      Yeah, I’ve had some of the same thoughts. I justify it by telling myself that that is what you get when crows are imitated by goddesses who’ve been underground for the last few thousand years.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Shikkarasu

      As a fellow Corvid enthusiast I agree. Bats would make more sense; nightvision not much better, but still a nocturnal creature.

      As a Mythology enthusiast, however, I’m loving Cat’s whole Odin thing. Magic spear staff, Unnaturally awesome mount, lost eye crippled leg, and a pair of crows that grant wisdom.

      Liked by 8 people

    3. Mith

      I think they are crows because they are carrion eaters and clever tricksters, more than being nocturnal birds. Sve Noc is seizing power through might and trickery.

      Just thinking that since all Drow are hallowed priests (all Drow are born with Night), I wonder if Sve Noc could make all drow Night be returned to Them upon death, meaning that you could only get zombies out of the corpses.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Frivolous

    I wonder why many heroes are believing that Cat won’t survive the war. Why is that? Wishful thinking, or something more?

    Also, I wish there was less use of the double negative. Classy but so confusing especially if used so often.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. ninegardens

      They are probably running on story logic.
      Either as a Redemption story, or a heroic sacrifice- from the point of view of “Heroic” stories, Black Queen is ill placed to survive.

      They might not even be thinking “Story logic” the way Black or Grey do- just looking at the situation, and looking at history and going “Oh, great dark generalls seldom get to retire. That’s interesting”

      Liked by 10 people

    2. Zee

      Been asking this myself. I think some heroes say that about Cat because of her nascent Name. We don t know if it s public knowledge, but I bet it is amongst the heroes and princes. They probably have a clue of what the Name is about and feel they can tie a story where Cat dies in it.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Story logic yeah. I mean in Book 5 Cat herself admitted she doesn’t have great odds of not having to make a heroic sacrifice to tie the whole thing together and ensure its success before the war is over.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Cicero

    Well, discussions about yearly harvesting of the Ratlings is certainly a way to get a Lycaonese First Prince thinking that permanent friendship with the Drow might be a good idea.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. caoimhinh

      It has always seemed to me like the Lycaonese would be the most welcoming to both Callow and the Drow. Many instances have confirmed it through their interactions, they respect people with backbone and are willing to fight to the bitter end against the Enemy.
      Adding now that the Empire Ever Dark wishes to help against the Rattlings and even looks at it positively, would be a very good thing for the Lycaonese.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. So one problem is that the Drow are fairly likely to raid everyone around them, including the Lycaonese and other bordering principalities.
          On the other hand, while both Drow and the Dead King Want corpses out of the Procerans, the Drow don’t want live children, and would be willing to give the bodies back after they’ve extracted the Night.
          So it might be that they form a mercenary relationship with the Lycaonese, selling mercenaries against the Chain of Hunger in exchange for Night, while simultaneously having a more hostile raiding relationship with the southern principalities.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I’ll note there’s clear natural borders between DK and DK’s neighbours – raiding isn’t as easy as crossing an arbitrary principality border.

            And if the crows take Cat’s advice, they’ll, ah, limit that, if not ban it altogether.

            Liked by 3 people

  9. Okay, this is probably one of my favorite recent chapters. And the concept of Cat manipulating the Sisters into reviving Tancred is still on the table, although I do doubt she’ll take the opportunity. It’d be damnably easy for them, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      It’s impossible at this point. Tancred was a fledging Villain who was killed before his story got strong, and then was raised as an undead, and then was destroyed by Night sorceries wielded by Cat. Nothing can revive him. Even Angels would be hard-pressed to do it, as a resurrection doesn’t just happen, it needs to have the weight of a story behind it. There are rules and conditions that apply.

      That said, I agree with you that this is one of the best recent chapters.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. See, it amazes me that people still don’t seem to realize that I’m essentially just meming at this point (at the request of others that frequent the comics). It also amazes (and this one is totally serious) me that most people that try to shut me down have weak arguments like this.

        We’re still getting in chapter discussions of a dead character, from an emotionally exhausted villain with the bent ears of two fledgling gods with a strong desire to exercise their power. The story is there; it’s just not a happy one.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. caoimhinh

    “I set those drifting thoughts – a sure sign I’d been going through these chores for a while – aside when Hakram flitted back in”

    Don’t worry Cat, that’s caused by the misplaced 2-year timeskip which forces you to recollect events of the recent past each time you look at something and muse over stuff every time you meet people.

    It will pass, eventually, when we are caught up with all the info we missed.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. No, I’m pretty sure that’s ACTUALLY in-character, and it’s also convenient for us to catch up with because Erratic is a good writer.

      Like 5 events happened during those 2 years, which is entirely realistic because this war is a long and horrible slog and that’s the entire point. Putting them into actual books would make for a HORRIBLE story.

      And really, Cat no longer going off on random tangents mid-thought? In what world would that happen?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        No, it isn’t.
        Catherine has spent these last 11 chapters recollecting events of the past 2 years through musings that get triggered by things like meeting someone, instead of describing what’s happening in the present through the narration. There’s a big difference.

        The latter is what Cat usually did in previous books (and what happens in Chapter 12, for example, with Cat describing what’s happening around her), while the first is what the 2-year timeskip forces her to do in order to provide the readers with the info we are missing. It’s not in Cat’s character to go into flashbacks and reminiscence over everything someone has done in the past 2 years, that’s only happening in this book because there’s a gap of information that needs to be filled.

        Like

        1. I think Cat remembered old things triggered by random shit in-universe in previous books too, we the readers just didn’t get treated to it much like how we don’t get treated to the narration of her going to pee.

          Tailoring what you show to what the audience has to be told about is like writer 101

          Like

  11. Frivolous

    Not sure if a lot of people have noted this section:

    Humans, bearing the emblem of a red lion. Magelings, surrounding the Princess Malanza. They speak into the scrying bowl, believing themselves safe behind their wards. They are not, for the Lord of Silent Steps has brought great knowledge into the Night as to treading through without tripping.

    Especially in contrast with this section:

    “- this talk of leaving all conquered lands to the dark elves,” Prince Gaspard of Cleves snorted. “A kingdom’s worth, for a paltry few thousand raiders? It is madness, Princess Rozala.”

    Analysis: Gaspard and probably many other people believe the might of the Empire Ever Dark can be defined by their numbers alone.

    In contrast, Ivah the Lord of Silent Steps has apparently taught numerous other Firstborn how to bypass wards (at least the Proceran ones) and spy on people invisibly, giving the Empire Ever Dark matchless supernatural spies and assassins.

    Could that be why Cat isn’t bothered by Rozala saying that many heroes don’t believe Cat will survive the war – because she is hiding the greater part of her actual strength?

    Certainly Cat probably hasn’t told many people (maybe not even Hakram) about Serolen, or that Sve Noc has become more powerful and experienced since her/their apotheosis, or that she’s been spying on her allies.

    Last but not least: Sve Noc apparently teleported their entire temple to the surface. Amazing and probably horrifying to anyone who isn’t drow.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Earl ofPurple

      I don’t think it was teleportation, technically. I think it was put in an extradimensional space, moved to the surface, and taken out again. Still an impressive feat, but something many Named and mages can do on a much smaller scale.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Size matters… It’s one thing to stash corpses and handy items in a personal domain, but keeping entire cities and lakes in there? It’s comparable to when Thief yoinked Arcadia’s sun… and that stunt could only have been made possible by riding a major story, and then only in Arcadia.

        “Exiles we may be, but we did not abandon our cities. We brought them with us…”. Those Procerans definitely need “another think coming” about the wisdom of backstabbing the people of Night.

        Liked by 10 people

      1. Shveiran

        I know right? And they all see in the dark, and several are basically Named with less story bullshit!
        What kind of world does one need to live in to say something like that?

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            This. Now that the truce has gotten through, infighting will only weaken a story she no longer has fl control over. Oh sure, if cat just goes full Kairos and betrays the rest at a crticial moment, seemingly removing all hope, she could work with that, but there’s no value in sundering the alliance over infighting. There’s already at least two people on the top that would know exactly why Cat went after the Prince, which will blunt a “unite against the betrayer and then win despite all hope being lost” story. Now it’s best to ride this horse. Once Nessie is gone, might be a different story, but first thing first

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      Seen a few comments with Liliet’s like on ’em. They’re present and accounted for, though the lack of direct commentary is unusual. I still fondly recall insinuating that they’d end up in Cat’s position due to a handful of shared traits.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Frivolous

    Realized this yesterday: If the Levantines ever find out that the Mirror Knight is having sex with someone?

    They’re going to make dirty jokes about Proceran stuffing.

    The best part of it is that it works no matter what gender Christpohe is boinking with. It’s Proceran stuffing either way.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Wonder

    Sovereign under the moonless night gave Mighty titles that allowed increased power and very potent Secrets like Lord of Silent Steps being top assassin scout spy and basically drow Adjutant , Lord of Shallow Graves(?) Can Save Noc do the same?

    How powerful is the Losara Sigil compared to the rest? Is Mighty Jindrich the Battering Vanguard of Drow might a member of Losara Cabal?

    I sure hope that Catherine’s name have an aspect for title buffing people.

    Like

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