Chapter 43: Conclusions

“I have been assured that my enemies lie behind every shadow, which is why they will henceforth be illegal.”
– Dread Empress Sinistra III

During one of the first conversations I’d ever had with Black, he’d told me that he did not believe rule through fear alone could be sustainable. I found it one of those lovely little ironies of life that my first teacher had arrived by cold pragmatism to share that belief with Cordelia Hasenbach, who’d gotten there largely on account of being a halfway decent person. Whatever the reason, in practice it’d ended up meaning that while we could have bullied Mercantis into withdrawing with nothing to show for its efforts they’d instead been thrown red meat. Not in the quantity or quality they’d wanted, but enough that they’d have something to chew on besides their pride.

In the event of a lapsed debt by princes, Hasenbach committed the office of First Prince to taking up the debt in their name and repaying it from diverted taxes at a fixed rate. She also guaranteed payment in goods if coin was not forthcoming, for up to a third of the worth of debts and offered that both commitments she’d just made would be guaranteed by a treaty under the aegis Grand Alliance. To sate the hungriest of the merchant lords, she even sold a handful of monopolies as well: only for a duration of ten years, however, and they would solely be enforced in Proceran lands.

Mostly it was monopolies on goods in which Mercantis already dominated trade – perfume, cloth, dyes and enchanted luxuries – that were sold, which would essentially serve as a ten-year stay on competition in those goods whether or not the monopoly was enforced in Callow. My kingdom had neither the skilled artisans to begin trading in such goods nor the gold to sink into building the workshops necessary for their creation. In time we might, but the merchant lords would have quite the head start by then and no competition from the greatest realm on the surface of Calernia while they took it. My people lost nothing with this and might yet gain, though. The audience ended coolly but not with hostility, and the matter was considered settled.

For now.

The following days went by quickly, the last stretches of haggling over how the Hainaut campaign was to be raised and waged – Malanza was still trying to trade back some of the drow sigils for Arlesite foot and horse, the Iron Prince wanted fewer prongs on the attack than Juniper’s suggested three – occupying my hours along with regular meetings with the White Knight to discuss which Named should be assigned to the campaign. So far it was skewing a little heavily favour of heroes for my tastes, but we were starting to figure out what a functional roster would look like. A haze of anticipation hung in the air of the Arsenal, as all awaited the arrival of the envoys from the Titanomachy.

They were the last loose end left to tie up, and when they were tied we’d return to the business of war.

When the Gigantes did arrive, they startled me with their swiftness.

We had less than a day to prepare between the first warning that the three giants had reached Iserre and their unexpected arrival in the Arsenal. The fortress in Iserre where they’d appeared was used to cross into the Twilight Ways but wasn’t actually one of the translation points, just a shortcut to head towards one in southeastern Salia. Which made it all the more of a surprise when the three giants emerged in the translation room of the outer gatehouse to the Arsenal most of a day later. Neither the swiftness of the march nor the direct crossing into the first level of Arsenal defences were something any of our people would have been able to replicate, Hierophant privately admitted to me.

I got the message the Gigantes were sending, as I expected the Procerans and Levantines did as well: there were mysteries at their disposal we could only dream of, and we should not get too cocksure even after all  we’d managed to build.

The hastily arranged welcoming party for the envoys ended up being a headache to wrangle. The Titanomachy still did not have any formal diplomatic relations with the Principate, and while it was dubious they’d attack the First Prince if she stood before them that did not mean they would be willing to speak with her. Which meant Hasenbach couldn’t come, and if Procer couldn’t have someone in attendance then to save face it would be best if the Grand Alliance simply ‘elected to send a single representative’. I voted for Lord Yannu Marave to handle it, given the Dominion’s cordial if distant relations with the Titanomachy, but he voted for me and the First Prince abstained.

A round of bickering later, I ended up sent out when the whole matter was settled by our being notified that Hanno intended on going to greet the Gigantes himself. If the heroic representative went so must the one for villains, while Lord Yannu and I could not both go – it’d make Hasenbach’s absence all the more glaring. Masego tried to be there as well, rather transparently so he could have a look at the Gigantes from close with his magical eyes, but I turned him away. He could try his hand at that later, when the diplomatic claptrap was over with. And so I found myself standing once more atop the stairs leading down to the stone floor where the translation ritual would take place.

At least I wouldn’t have to go down the damned stairs again, so there was that.

I wore formal clothing in black and silver, a crown set on my brow and the Mantle of Woe on my back as a pointed reminder of the two offices I was standing for here. The White Knight was in plate with a sword at his hip, though he’d chosen not to wear a helmet. We’d exchanged a few courtesies after I arrived, a dozen attendants from the Arsenal staff standing behind us, but while there’d been no brusqueness from either part we’d quickly lapsed into silence anyway. Neither of us were in much of a talking mood. There was a little more to it than that, of course. Since our conversation over the fate of the Red Axe, we had not once shared words save in our official capacities.

There was a price to everything, I’d learned that lesson early – and never forgotten it since, as fate went out of its was to refresh my memory every few years. My thoughts did not get to linger on the subject, as a shiver of power in the room warned that the Gigantes were soon to be among us. Leaning against my staff, I had a look over the edge from the high vantage point.

Immediately it became clear that this was not the usual ritual. The gates in and out of the half-realm that served as the funnel into the Arsenal had a particular look to them, like a cut into the fabric of Creation that rippled outwards, but the large gate beginning to open was nothing alike. A broad and tall rectangle bordered in shining glyphs came into being at once, with a muted blast of air, and along the inner side of the border there was a small tremor. The filling of the rectangle wavered, and I realized it had been almost like a cut as the layer between the Arsenal and the travellers crumpled and shrivelled into nothing. Slower than our own method, I noted, but it looked more stable and their gate was perfectly aligned with the ground on both layers of reality.

I wasn’t sure that was actually possible under the laws of Trismegistan sorcery.

The Gigantes came in without fanfare, or for that matter human mages guiding their translation. I’d not been sure what to expect, as I’d never seen any member of their race before and illustrations in books tended to vary wildly. Their height was impossible to miss, of course. The tallest must have been thirty feet tall, and the others but a few feet shorter, which had them standing taller than the ledge I’ve been using to overlook the platform. Though there was some variation between them, their skin was a deep brown and looked rather coarse. Though shaped not unlike humans in much greater proportions, there were easy differences to pick out: they had long, powerful legs and their necks were noticeable shorter.

Their clothing was light, eerily beautiful white cloth which had no stitches but instead complicated folds that revealed a triangle of brown flesh beneath the neck and went down in a tunic that covered down to the lower legs. It was belted with flashing bronze, fashioned as a hundred little cards of the metal interlinked, and the short-sleeved cloth revealed arms covered by winding, curling patterns of flowing gold. It was the same with the parts of their legs bared, and their sandals were polished stone bound by sinuous copper strings. Two had beards, of the same dark brown as their skin, which were without a moustache and went down to their chest in luxuriant curls – to the side they went up to where ears would have been on a human, though on the giants there was only smooth skin and a small cartilage-like ridge.

All of them had shaved their heads in part, though the one without a beard instead had a long stripe of hair beginning near his – – her? Hard to tell, I saw no difference in body shape – brow and going all the way down to the back. Their eyes were startlingly human-like, though, I found. Perhaps a little pale for our kind, but otherwise much the same as ours and similarly topped by eyebrows.

The gate collapsed into the ground behind the giants without a sound, and there was not a trace of it in the heartbeat that followed. They took slow steps forward, careful of the arched ceiling above, and the tallest of the three – he had a beard, and unsettlingly luminous blue eyes – subtly moved his head and arms while his body otherwise remained eerily rigid. Hanno moved, at my side, the way his own head moved to the side displaying what I believed to be friendliness and deference. The Gigantes shot me a cursory look, which I returned with a face like a blank mask.

“I am Ykines Silver-on-Clouds,” the giant said, his Lower Miezan only slightly accented. “Amphore for the Hushed Absence, envoy of the Titanomachy. I greet you, Queen of Callow.”

I’d not expected him to recognize me, to be honest. It unsettled me some, even though I could reason it away at the cloak and crown being rather distinctive. Amphore wasn’t the title Hanno had called this one by, I thought with a frown, when we’d last spoken of the Gigantes. It’d been skope, I was certain. From context I’d gathered that amphore was a higher title, though I was uncertain as to what it entailed. Before I could answer the greeting, the envoy turned towards the White Knight. They moved their bodies in ways that were too quick and slight for me to really catch any of the nuances.

“I greet you, Guest of the Nine Peaks,” Ykines said.

“I welcome you in peace,” Hanno replied.

“Indeed,” I said, forcing myself not to cock my head to the side. “You are all welcomed to the Arsenal, as guests of the Grand Alliance.”

“We receive your hospitality,” Ykines Silver-on-Clouds said. “Slumber will be required for some hours. After, the Titanomachy can be heard and hear in turn.”

Blunt, though I didn’t particularly mind. I didn’t hound the envoys with small talk, instead passing them to the awaiting attendants. Most of the hallways of the Arsenal were too low even if the giants bent their bodies, so it would be a specific itinerary they had to follow. Their rooms would be fitted for them, at least, though they’d be lodged in the Repository instead of the Alcazar. Their ‘quarters’ were a repurposed warehouse, though it’d been decorated richly enough I wouldn’t have believed it if told. Following through exactly on their word, the Gigantes disappeared into their quarters and did not stir in the following hours. Knocks on the doors were not answered.

It’d been early morning, and it was only mid afternoon that they emerged. Lord Yannu’s presence was requested, as was the White Knight’s, and for a few more hours the doors closed. They broke only for a communal meal – Gigantes apparently did not eat much meat, to my surprise – and then cloistered themselves away for one last hour. The two humans left after that, and I was not entirely surprised to receive a messenger from Hanno soon afterwards. I agreed to meet without delay and limped my way to one of the Alcazar halls not too far away.

He’d changed out of his armour, I noticed, and settled into his usual grey tunic. A few papers and scrolls took up part of the table where he’d sat, as well as a quill and inkwell, but it looked a light workload. The White Knight duly rose to his feet when I entered, which I dismissed with a grunt as I took a seat on the other side of the table. Hanno had asked for the meeting, so as I sipped at the glass of water he’d poured for me I waited for him to speak.

“The Myrmidon has volunteered to participate to the Hainaut campaign,” he told me. “Since the Grey Pilgrim will be participating as well and the Mirror Knight will be with him, the Anchorite must stay in Cleves. The principality grows too lightly defended otherwise.”

My brow rose. Not the conversation I’d expected, though it wasn’t unimportant either. Cleves was admittedly getting low on Named, since both the Exalted Poet and the Maddened Keeper had come from that front and they wouldn’t exactly be coming back.

“I can leave the Red Knight there, if you’re worried,” I said. “Though not the Headhunter, that tracking trick is much too useful.”

The Red Knight was one of the finest killing Named on my side, but she was also deeply unpleasant in a lot of ways. There were only so many times you could be told that the weak should die and the strong take what they wanted before it became more than slightly grating. No, given the difficulties inherent in juggling a coalition of Named it might be wiser to leave her regardless – I could even cite Named running thin in Cleves as the reason why when she inevitably complained about being left out of the offensive.

“That would be appreciated,” he nodded. “I also intend to reassign the Stained Sister from Twilight’s Pass to the Cleves theatre, unless you have a major objection.”

My brow rose.

“She’s been doing well there, last I heard,” I said.

Hard old girl, the Stained Sister, and her affinity with Light made her very useful against the massive necromantic constructs that the Dead King used as siege engines up north.

“I need someone to take up leadership in Cleves,” the White Knight admitted. “With the Mirror Knight gone, the eldest hero in the region is the Anchorite and they are… not a good fit.”

Yeah, spending forty years in exile in the mountains did not tend to do wonders for one’s social skills. The Myrmidon was probably second in the heroic pecking order there, right now, but while an impressive fighter all her languages except some obscure Penthesian dialect were a little shaky. She also despised the Red Knight, a feeling violently returned, which made her even worse a fit. The Knight wasn’t exactly a leader of villains – I’d assigned mostly Named with an independent streak in Cleves partly as a way to prevent her from gathering a power base – but she was the strongest of my lot in the region, which carried some weight.

“You need someone good with Light assigned to the Pass,” I said. “We’re already pulling out the Forsworn Healer, they’re starting to look a little bare up there.”

Of the three villains in Lycaonese lands – the Bitter Blacksmith, the Affable Burglar and the Skinchanger – only the last was truly fighting fit in my opinion. From Above’s lot the Daring Pyromancer had proved worth twenty times his weight in gold since he’d come from the Free Cities and the Bloody Sword’s appearance as the first Lycaonese hero of the war had been a massive morale boost for his countrymen, but for all their skill neither of them could smash a beorn the way a Light-wielder could.

“The Stalwart Apostle will be heading there, the Astrologer has agreed to take charge of her,” he countered.

Ugh, that Ashuran lunatic. I didn’t care how often she’d predicted storms, what she did was just specialized scrying and not some sort of unearthly discipline. Still, she was older and not prone to getting herself killed. There were worse mentors to have. Like the Skinchanger, who the Lycaonese would probably have gone wild over as their first Named in at least half a century if she’d not also been a shapeshifting cannibal. That, uh, tended to put a damper on things.

“The Unravellers are proving effective, so I’ll make my peace with it,” I sighed. “You hear back from the Swaggering Duellist?”

“He still considers his honour sworn to the protection of the First Prince until next winter solstice,” Hanno replied, “even if she personally orders him north. We’ll be without him.”

Shame, the man might be next to useless in an actual battle but he’d be a right headache thrown at Revenants.

“The roster’s taking shape,” I mused. “Archer is leaning towards releasing what’s left of her old band, right now. If she does, I take it you want the Paladin for up north?”

“His presence would neatly fill the niches left empty by the departure of the Stained Sister and the Forsworn Healer, when combined with the Stalwart Healer’s assignment,” he agreed.

Replacing strong hands with weaker ones, but then if we wanted our finest fighters in Hainaut we couldn’t then complain they weren’t elsewhere. I sipped at my water, and a moment of silence I offered as an opportunity to speak up ensued. We were done with Named, then. Good.

“How’d the talks with the Titanomachy go?” I bluntly asked.

“Fruitfully,” he replied. “A formal proposition will be made to the Grand Alliance this evening.”

My brow rose.

“Good news,” I said. “What are they offering?”

He met my eyes calmly and did not reply. I knew instinctively, from the start, that this wasn’t the silence of someone choosing his words. I still waited.

“So it’s going to be like that,” I eventually said, voice gone quiet.

“You cannot have it both ways, Catherine,” Hanno simply replied. “Lord Marave will soon attempt to arrange a formal meeting of the Grand Alliance, during which he and I will present the offer made by the envoys of the Titanomachy. That is all I have to say on this matter.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to correct him, to say that he should be calling me Queen Catherine then, but I mastered my temper. I would not further salt these fields out of petty spite. I breathed out, studying him. I felt, I’d admit it, a tinge of sadness over this. We’d been friends, in our own way. It had been a friendship with many boundaries, but a friendship nonetheless. Perhaps we might be that again, someday, but even if we were it wouldn’t be the same. I looked for an echo of the same thing in him but found only a tranquillity that now seemed… cool. Distant.

Perhaps it always had been, I thought, and I’d just been too busy staring at my reflection in the pond to notice.

“Then we’re done talking,” I said. “I will see you when the proposal is made, White Knight.”

For a moment I thought he might speak, but instead he nodded.

I had neither the words nor the right to change his mind, and so I simply left.

The message came within moment of my having returned to my quarters, and I wasted no time agreeing to the time suggested – a little after supper, this very night. A note from Vivienne was awaiting me also, as it happened. Her people in the Arsenal staff had seen Lord Yannu and the First Prince having a private meeting that began not long after my own with Hanno. The Levantine lord made no such effort with me, I could not help but note, and somehow I doubted it was because he’d expected the White Knight would fill me in. Hanno had, after all, taken pains to make it understood that he would not meddle in the political affairs of the Grand Alliance.

Was Marave showing goodwill to the First Prince, to make up for the times we’d made common front to leverage her? Callow had common interests with the Dominion, it was true, but my kingdom was far and Procer was close. Careful Yannu might simply be living up to his name once more, hedging the Dominion’s bets when it came to its alliances. It was unpleasant to be the one left out of the loop this time, but I would take it as a helpful reminder that my influence within the Grand Alliance was not something everyone enjoyed. I’d concentrated a lot of power in my hands by virtue of being both Queen of Callow and representative for villains, and while no one was trying to replace me that didn’t mean no measures would ever be taken to check me.

The council came quickly, and after an afternoon’s worth of anticipation I found the proceedings rather anticlimactic. The White Knight standing as witness, Lord Yannu brought out written transcriptions of the proposal made by Ykines Silver-on-Clouds on behalf of the Titanomachy. The goods offered were well worth a second look, I silently admitted to myself. Two hundred wardstones, around a hundred artefacts suited for fighting and the temporary services of ten artisans from the Reticent Fidelity – a Chorus whose preoccupation was such artefacts, and whose members were some of the most frequent traders of their kind with Levant – to adjust them before they were used, as well as lend their expertise on the fronts so long as it did not involve combat.

In ‘exchange’, the Gigantes required two of their spellsingers – whose identity had yet to be determined – to have full access to the Arsenal, its resources and all its public projects. They also wanted formal recognition by the Grand Alliance of their people’s right to use the Twilight Ways.

Tempting as the artefacts were, I was honestly inclined to hold out for better terms given what was being asked of us. The Arsenal had cost a fortune to make and carried the research of some of the finest minds on Calernia: we ought to ask for more than trinkets if we were to share it with the Titanomachy. Then Lord Yannu put the final part of the offer on the table, and I was glad to have held my tongue.

“The Titanomachy acknowledges the threat of the Dead King’s rising,” Lord Marave said, “and though they will not make war at the side of Procer, they offer instead a gift: a great warding, raised along the shores of the Tomb, that will turn away the dead.”

I saw the hunger in Hasenbach’s eyes at the words and knew the giants had us. I set aside the strategic implications of such a gift, instead wondering that the Gigantes knew to make it at all. It was not yet common knowledge that we were to have an offensive in Hainaut. I eyed the White Knight and the Lord of Alava, wondering how much they’d told the giants, before admitting to myself it didn’t matter. The Gigantes might have made the offer meaning to begin the work in Cleves, were the shores were somewhat secure, and going east along the water with our armies in support. Besides, even if it turned out these two had been overly chatty the results they brought more than justified it.

It was tempting. Gods, but it was damned tempting. If we took back Hainaut all the way to the shore and behind that wave the Gigantes came in to raise wards rivalling the quality of those beneath the Red Snake Wall, the nature of this war would change. The heavily fortified Lycaonese lands would become the main path of invasion for Keter, and the lakeside fronts would stabilize almost overnight. Enough that it might be possible for us to take a stab at the Crown of the Dead itself, should Masego come through with Quartered Seasons.

“Gigantes do not bargain,” the White Knight told us. “This is the only offer there will be, and I ask you consider it seriously.”

Hasenbach thanked him, and it was agreed that we would reconvene tomorrow after having ‘considered’ matters, but everyone in the room knew how this was going to end. It was just a matter of how long we’d delay before accepting so we wouldn’t be looking too desperate.

There were still a few days left to my stay in the Arsenal, but it was swiftly coming to an end.

As soon as the treaty was the Gigantes was wrapped up and my own few affairs settled, I’d be returning to Hainaut to begin arranging the campaign from there. Indrani would be coming with me, and perhaps eventually Masego as well – it depended on how the Quartered Seasons project was looking – but there were others I would be leaving behind. I was looking at one that’d sting the most, once more settled in the same old infirmary seat that’d become as a second bed for me. The only sign that Hakram was healing was that the healing mages had removed the breathing spell, trusting his lungs to carry him without the help now. Otherwise, his sleeping form had not changed.

“I’m going to have leave you behind,” I quietly said. “’Drani’s right. I could stretch out my stay by doing some planning from here, but it’d just be delaying the inevitable.”

It still sickened me to think that I’d be abandoning him to this little bed in this little room, when the only reason he was wounded at all was that he’d fought for me. A knock on the door jolted me out of my thoughts, though it also irked me more than a little. I’d instructed my people not to disturb me.

“Come in,” I said, tone forcefully even.

I’d give whoever had the come the benefit of the doubt, if they were willing to interrupt against my clear instructions. It was not some nervous messenger who came in, though, but Vivienne Dartwick. I immediately bit down on the sharp words already on the tip of my tongue. Vivienne did not look nervous, not exactly. It’d take more than our current disagreements to make a woman who’d faced down a Princess of Summer feel nervous. But she did look… cautious. Hesitant. And she’d noticeably dressed down.

In Salia she’d gotten into the habit of wearer nice dresses. Nothing extravagant – she was Callowan, and we were at war – but there’d been a distinct noble tinge to it. It made sense. Her father had been a noble, if one stripped of his lands after the Conquest, and she must have worn clothes not unlike those when she’d been younger. I’d never occurred to me how different it made her look until just now, when I saw her for the first time in ages in something closer to the leathers she’d worn as the Thief. There were still skirts and leggings beneath the long shirt, but this was a notable departure from usual.

“Cat,” she greeted me. “Do you have a moment?”

She had a bottle in hand, I noted. The glass was of poor quality, so it was probably Callowan. Vale summer wine? She’d come prepared. Or trying to bribe me, like I was a drunk that could be bought with a favourite poison.

“I asked for-” I began, and saw something in her face close.

I bit down on the sentence. The hesitance, the dressing down, the wine. Gods but she was trying, wasn’t she? When it wasn’t even her fault. And there was something about the change clothes that left me a sour taste in the mouth. It felt a little like abasement, and I did not like what it said about either of us that she’d thought it might work. Poor timing was no reason to bite her head off.

“Never mind,” I said. “Come in, close the door behind you.”

She nodded, but the wariness did not leave. She looked a little at a loss as to what she should say, even as she sat down at my side in the same chair Indrani usually did.

“I was saying my goodbyes,” I told her. “Or maybe warning him they were coming, I suppose.”

I wasn’t going to leave tomorrow, after all, even if the date was not far in the future either.

“I still can’t believe he was wounded this badly,” she admitted. “He was never our finest fighter, but he always seemed so… solid.”

I grunted in agreement.

“Nobody’s solid against demons,” I said. “At least the Mirror Knight cut him before the taint could spread.”

Otherwise… I thought of Nephele’s pleading eyes, and my staff coming down. I closed my eyes for a moment and breathed steadily, in and out, until the cold fear that’d seized me ebbed low. Gods. Even just the thought of having to do the same to Hakram…

“It’s been a long few years, hasn’t it?” Vivienne said, tone almost thoughtful.

She was looking at me with an expression that was hard to read. My jaw clenched in embarrassment.

“For everyone,” I said.

“For you more than me,” she said. “We’re both tired, Cat, but it’s a different kind of tired.”

“A hollow excuse,” I said.

The heights where I now stood had been reached through a pile of corpses. I would not spit on those deaths by moaning about the burdens of authority. Vivienne said nothing for some time. It did not mind, though the silence was not exactly comfortable.

“I have been putting together a census of Callow,” she suddenly said.

My brow rose in surprise. I’d not actually heard about that.

“The Fairfaxes only held them infrequently and by unreliable methods, but under the Carrion Lord the Empire gathered a great deal of trustworthy information,” Vivienne continued.

Black had probably been most interested in population numbers and what the local trades were, I thought, since that information would allow him to follow the flow of coin. Lack of gold where there should be plenty would have told him which nobles were trying to raise troops to rebel.

“What do you intend to do with it?” I asked.

“I want to fund workshops and guilds to foster certain trades,” she said. “We have the materials to make dyes and the manners of cloths that have enriched Mercantis. Royal coin could help our people enter the trade. And we could organize much, through guilds: the lumber from Holden and what was once Liesse would be worth a fortune out east, where they so sorely lack it. Trading cattle with the Clans upriver for amber and fur would not only enrich us, it would give the orcs a reason never to resume raiding.”

“You need peace for that,” I gently reminded her.

For there to be any trade with the east, to have the coin to make any of this at all.

“I know,” she assured me. “I really do. I understand that the war with the Dead King is what matters right now.”

She met my eyes, the blue-grey of them grown pale under the glow of the magelights.

“But I need you to know that I won’t be a… parasite,” she said. “I won’t just coast to the throne on your reputation and then do nothing with this. You put trust in me, Cat. And I know some of it is because I learned to see what you see – how much more we could be, if we stop seeing greenskins as the enemy – but I want to believe you saw in me the makings of a good queen.”

Her voice had grown raw. I held my breath, somehow afraid it would be enough to interrupt.

“I want to live up to it,” Vivienne said, eyes gone hard as stone. “I will live up to it.”

Slowly, I breathed out. She did not speak a word more, only searching my face with something like desperation.

“I know,” I quietly said. “I never saw you as a…”

I did not stay parasite, though the word echoed in the silence anyway. I passed a hand through my hair, mulling over my words. However inarticulate my first words had been, I saw on Vivienne’s face they had at least taken the edge off of the apprehension. With clumsy hands I ended up reaching for my pipe, that old gift from Masego that had become so dear to me, and filled it. Moments later, a touch of Night was enough for me to breathe out a long stream of wakeleaf. Vivienne had been patient, and so I talked.

“I believe you’ll be a good queen,” I said. “I genuinely do. And while I have been an able warlord, I don’t think the talents that helped me there would suit peace times.”

I’d grown too used to having my orders obeyed without questioning. I’d grown too used to resorting to violence to get my way, to schemes and assassinations and all the bastard ways to see your will done. Those methods had their place for any queen, but they’d come to be just a little too close to my hand. Too easily grasped. I liked to think I had done the best I could for my people, but I would not deny I had done it as a tyrant. Vivienne was not weak, but even as a heroine she’d disliked killing. It would not be her first resort. And the plans she was already making only reinforced my belief I’d made the right choice of successor.

“That’s part of what makes me angry, I think,” I admitted. “I know my name will make it onto the pages of history books, Vivienne. But back home, I can’t help but suspect I’ll be remembered as the dark days before you took up the crown.”

I smiled, a tad bitterly.

“Necessary days, most will agree,” I murmured. “They were savage times and so Callow required a savage queen. But we were well rid of them and her, afterwards, so that a more enlightened era might take their place.”

That enlightened era, I thought, was sitting next to me with something like grief on her face.

“It won’t be like that,” Vivienne fiercely said. “You know I wouldn’t let them…”

I took her hand for a moment, clenched it in a gesture too hard to be gratitude but too grateful to be anger.

“I can already see the current,” I gently told her. “And its inevitable end.”

It wasn’t without reason it was happening. This had not sprouted from thin air as if by divine intervention.  Deciding to keep Akua in my service had cost me much esteem among even my most loyal, and back home sending Callowans to die on foreign fields against the Dead King had become increasingly unpopular as the soldiers stayed abroad and the taxes stayed high. I wouldn’t face revolt over this, I suspected at least in part because anyone who might feasibly lead one was either dead or part of my armies. But I’d turned Callow into a cradle of armies, and only that. My only legacy among my people would be the victories and defeat I had led my soldiers through.

It was not an enjoyable thought.

“Archer chewed me out,” I admitted, “in that way she does when she pretends it’s not what she’s doing.”

“Because Indrani is much too tough and aloof to care about it when her friends quarrel, naturally,” Vivienne amusedly said. “It would be beneath her to ever meddle in such things.”

I grinned, though it faded after a moment.

“She was right, though,” I said, “when she castigated me for clutching to my pride when I like to claim I have none. I’ve said for years I was ready to abdicate, Vivienne, and I thought I meant it. But then I had to deal with genuinely sharing power – not just delegating it – and it got stuck in my throat. It matters more to me than I like to admit, the authority.”

“It’s all right, you know,” she said. “To be hurt that after all you’ve sacrificed, the gratitude passed so quickly.”

I breathed in sharply. That was perhaps, I thought, the closest anyone had come to actually reading me right when it came to this.

“Maybe it is,” I said. “But all these years, I’ve always told myself I was taking that next step because it needed to be done. That I’d surrender it all the moment I was no longer necessary. And maybe that’s half a lie, always was.”

The words came out in a stumble, perhaps more honest than I would have liked.

“But I’d like to live up to it, Vivienne,” I softly said. “I’d like to be the kind of woman who genuinely believes that.”

I gathered myself, after a moment.

“I’m sorry I took it out on you,” I said. “It’s not your fault, and it was ill-done of me.”

“I’m sorry too,” Vivienne replied. “For what this will do to you, before it’s all over.”

A knot I’d not known was in my shoulders loosened. I smiled, and she smiled back. Sometimes, I thought, the things that mattered could still be fixed. Sometimes you got to them in time. A hoarse breath sounded, which I realized a heartbeat later that was neither mine nor Vivienne’s. I hurriedly rose to my feet, wincing in pain at my bad knee, and arrived just in time to see Hakram’s eyes flutter open.

“Cat?” he groaned.

“I’m here,” I told him.

It’d been a hard few years, there was no denying that.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we got lucky.

132 thoughts on “Chapter 43: Conclusions

  1. Reconciliation between Cat and Viv is good.
    Viv has plans for the post-war future, also good.

    Hakram is awake! Even better.

    That’s a pretty good offer from the Gigantes. Honestly, the ward on the lake shore against the dead would probably be worth what they’re asking for anyways.

    Distance between Hanno and Cat … could cause problems down the road, especially if it worsens.
    Although, honestly, Hanno, not giving Cat a heads up on what the Gigantes offered? That’s just petty.

    Liked by 33 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      On the plus side, now they can sleep together without it being a risk! Here’s hoping they get trapped in a cave in awaiting rescue jussssstttt long enough to be bored and naked.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Miles

        Hhhhhhiiii Jaaaack /(slash)

        ““I want to live up to it,” Vivienne said, eyes gone hard as stone. “I will live up to it.”

        Slowly, I breathed out. She did not speak a word more, only searching my face with something like desperation.

        “I know,” I quietly said. “I never saw you as a…”

        I did not say http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil though the word echoed in the silence anyway. I passed a hand through my hair, mulling over my words. However inarticulate my first words had been, I saw on Vivienne’s face they had at least taken the edge off of the apprehension.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. caoimhinh

      I wonder (and actually hope) if the Gigantes could do something about Hakram. They have ways to magic that other races’ sorcery are incapable of achieving.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Xinci

          Yeah, they could probably weave him prosthetics from “living” concepts of Creation to get around the soul issue. Honestly, the Gigantes would know best how to meld a concept to him and his soul as they have the depth of connection to the world that other sorceries don’t have without the safeguards that Light has.

          Liked by 4 people

      1. Salt

        It would be much better than using standard trismegistan sorcery imo, as they’re going into a fight with the Dead King who invented trismegistan sorcery and was confirmed by EE to be quite literally the most skilled sorcerer on the continent.

        Wouldn’t even put it past him for one of the twists to be the Dead King putting an intentional flaw in the foundations of the “Trismegistan sorcery” that he spread to the rest of the world, so that every single person who used it would be at an utterly crippling disadvantage when fighting him in the future. A Jade Empire style backdoor

        Light-based prosthetics clash with him being a Villain, Jaquinite sorcery is too closely tied to Above-miracles, Trismegistan could be risky when fighting the dead king, and Cat doesn’t do devilish pacts. Spellsingers that use a completely alien and hyper-advanced form of sorcery would probably be a narratively and practically better option if the giants were willing.

        Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanatoss

      Yes, too happy chapter, we are going for a hell now guys. Assasinations, betrayal, army destruction. New Plague? What with Amadeus and Ranger? Maybe there will things go downhill?

      Like

      1. Salt

        Rather worried about Black to be honest. We know the Bard was the one who pushed him into becoming a Claimant for Dread Emperor. I’m rather worried that he’ll end up in trouble or at odds with Cat, simply because we know that him attempting to Climb the tower is something that is at least partially the result of Intercession.

        Actually if you look at it, the Bard was the one who pushed the first domino in every event that caused him to go down the road.

        The Bard stopped the Elves from killing Akua to prevent second Liesse. This resulted in causing a rift between him and Malicia.

        The Bard intervened to help the White Knight’s band survive/maim the Calamities in the free cities – setting up the story that killed Captain. She told him immediately afterwards to go murder his little friend in the tower and rule until someone does the same to him. This was the loss where he realized that no pattern of three started, and that the “Black Knight” was dying

        After the role fully died, and he was captured by the Pilgrim, he figured he was at the end of his story and accepted death. The Bard once again intervened, this time directly talking him into becoming a claimant.

        Not a fuckin clue what her game is with this one, but anything that has her fingers in it is guaranteed to be trouble.

        Like

    1. LizAris

      Viv: “Cat, do you have a moment?”

      Hakram, cracking an eye open: If she doesn’t agree, I’m going to listen to the whole gooey goodbye before waking up

      Liked by 20 people

    1. Reconciliation is a time of healing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hakram caught just enough story spillover to wake up.

      It might also be that by damaging ties with Hanno, Cat’s starting to put the woe back together- Her name is returning, Archer’s old band is breaking up, Masegeo’s research is near a breakpoint and Vivi’s reconciling. Hakram waking up at this point is almost inevitable =D

      Liked by 24 people

      1. dadycoool

        Now that sounds interesting. Now that Vivienne’s in the Arsenal, an excuse can be made for her staying with the group and ruling from afar. Especially considering this is the first time in a long time that all five of them have been in the same region and also conscious.

        Liked by 7 people

          1. dadycoool

            That would actually be a good place for her, including cementing in their minds that “This is the future queen.” Also, she might not be named, but she’s still part of the Woe. Cat didn’t have a Name for years. She still doesn’t, in fact.

            Liked by 8 people

            1. Konstantin von Karstein

              Sure Cat doesn’t have a Name, but she’s the high priestess of Night and has the corresponding firepower. Vivienne does not have any supernatural capability, you can’t compare the 2.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. dadycoool

                I want to give some rebuttal about how not having a Name doesn’t mean Stories, Tropes, and Types don’t apply, but the only two people who that would work for are Cordelia and Abigail, and even then Cordelia isn’t affected nearly as much as Cat Jr. So, it’s more that Cat has the narrative weight from another source (Night), in a way that Vivienne doesn’t.
                I guess in summary, “Yeah, I agree.”

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Konstantin von Karstein

                  I am not speaking of narrative weight, you’re right on that front. I just say that Vivienne can only be useful in a commanding or administrative position, while the others (especially Archer) are much more personally powerful and can have a big impact on the frontline.

                  Liked by 1 person

    1. This isn’t one of the better ones, though there have been worse.

      Again, what I dislike is taking a genuinely powerful emotional moment and… changing associations. In a manner that is funny and snappy and ends up sticking better than the original because it’s funny, see? And then you cannot read the original without thinking of the change and PLEASE STOP DOING THIS. COME ON. PLEASE. IT SUCKS.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. galanailo

        That’s like complaining about fanfiction as though it were stealing from the original work. It’s not quite the same, even if there is a point there, and if the existence of fan works ruins the original show for you then that’s your problem, not theirs. And you whining about it in ALL CAPS isn’t going to change that.

        I mean, Jesus, if these really bother you that much then I feel like you need to think about if something elae is involved and if it’s healthy to think this way, or maybe at least reconsider your relationship with this comment section. You’ve as much right to fruitlessly complain and moan about it as they do to post it, but if your comment was serious (maybe I’m misreading sarcasm or playfulness?), then I’d be concerned.

        Like

        1. If there’s a porn fanwork scene posted right as text in the comment section under the chapter, yes I will complain about that too.

          My comment IS serious. I only give so much space in my head to fictional characters and stories about them, but to the degree that I do? That happens, and I do not like it.

          Like

      2. KageLupus

        Normally I don’t find these as annoying when they twist an emotional moment, but I also agree this one was a little weak and there were some other lines that would have worked as well without that emotional baggage.

        “We thanked him, and it was agreed that we would reconvene tomorrow after having ‘considered’ matters, but everyone in the chat knew how this was going to end. It was just a matter of how long we’d delay before voting so we wouldn’t be looking too desperate.”

        Liked by 5 people

  2. Okay, lots of very good things happening here, but also lots of cause for concern. Cat’s a Villain, and when sympathetic Villains get closure and have heartwarming moments before major battles, bad things tend to happen to them. The fact that the other leaders and dignitaries are cutting her out of meetings and discussions is more alarming because of that fact. I’m not getting outright betrayal vibes, but I do have concerns.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. She does not yet have a defined Name though. But reconciliation coming in time and a loved one waking from the coma in exchange for humility and protagonist striving to be better are decidedly not Villainous tropes.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Catherine has never been one for Villanous tropes. It’s one of her greatest advantages that she has Heroic tropes on her side despite being a Villain, because she is an Anti-villain who genuinely wants to do good.

        Pilgrim was even certain that “Dramatic Return in the time of need of her friends” was something inevitable for Cat, which prompted the Saint of Swords to grunt and observe that that was not a Villain’s story, yet she knew Pilgrim was right, and she didn’t like it.

        Liked by 14 people

  3. LizAris

    FINALLY!!! Ah but I have missed the feel good chapters. Thank you EE for a little brightness before Cat goes back to slaying zombies.

    I won’t call it a reconciliation because I think that’s a little too strong—Cat and Viv weren’t really even fighting, it was more misplaced anger— but I really loved the dialogue here. Not only that Viv will take up the crown and make it her own, but a herald of the end of Cat’s story. And a recognition that she is a warlord who has had a very…interesting relationship with justifications, and she’s willing to look that right in the eye even if it hurts.

    It seems like a small thing but I am SO glad Cat was there when Hakram woke up. That just speaks volumes about their relationship. And of course the first thing out of his mouth is her name. The loyalty between the two of them is phenomenal.

    And shit, now I have to wait three days for more of my favorite orc.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. dadycoool

      “Clearing the air” is what came to my mind when reading your comment on Cat and Vivienne.

      And yeah, narratively there’s only one time when he can wake up, and that’s when Cat is there to greet him. Maybe it was her and Vivienne, the girl-turned-woman that he was advising in Cat’s absence for a long time, “clearing the air” that did it.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. LizAris

        Yeah that’s a good way to phrase it—what can I say, after a new guide chapter my brain abandons any attempts at eloquence xD

        But you make a great point about the weight Viv brings, esp considering her relationship with Hakram, and how incredibly far THAT’s come. She’s the heir who he’s both terrorized and guided in her path to backing the warlord he loves, and I like to think the fact that Viv is doing a little of his work here for him jolted him awake.

        Liked by 7 people

  4. dadycoool

    Lots of wow this chapter, but special mention to Cat and Vivienne’s making up, complete with Hakram waking up.

    I like how Cat made an effort to keep her face blank, exactly the same as someone purposefully keeping their mouth shut when a language you don’t know is being spoken.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Xinci

      I do doubt it helped much given how minute expressions of body language are for the Gigantes method of communication she was probably a bit of an open book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Salt

        Which begs the question – if the Gigantes communicate through body language and minute facial expressions, does that mean that, to a Giant, the other races walk around constantly shouting rubbish in Giantese?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Tohron

          The Name that would really annoy Cat would be the Vivacious Queen. Having the Name of her successor be a pun on her successor’s actual name is something she might not be able to handle.

          Liked by 5 people

  5. erebus42

    Well wasn’t that sweet and heartwarming. One friendship potentially irreparably sundered, another mended anew.
    That being said, I really hope the Skinchanger gets some page-time now, she sounds cool. I mean a shapeshifter alone is pretty cool, but a shapeshifting CANNIBAL?! Come on!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. LarsBlitzer

      I know! The evocative Names, the powers that come along with them, and the personalities that shape them are part of why I love EE’s creativity. I’d like to see the Red Knight and the Swaggering Duelist in action, and I suspect we will before the book’s through.

      On another note, I think it’s perfect timing for Hakram to wake up. With Masego champing at the bit to get a glimpse of Gigantes magic, part of the terms including magical artifacts, and some leeway on what those artifacts would be I’d wager my lucky D20 Cat would lobby heavily on getting her Adjutant on his feet ASAP. They can rebuild him; they have the technology.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. I don’t think it’s irreparably sundered. If anything, the fact it was brought up with Cat’s reluctance to make things worse even as her spite wanted her to, right before she mended things with Vivienne, looked like a good sign to me.

      Must have been an enlightening conversation for Vivienne. “I promise I’m good enough for this – oh. Oh your problem is that you knew that. Oh okay”

      Liked by 2 people

  6. jworks17

    I don’t know why but this chapter really cemented in my mind the difference between the old story- the beginnings of cat, the formation of the Woe, and Cat’s legion’s campaign in Callow- and the new story revolving around Procer and the dead king. I feel like it’s been so long since we’ve seen the Woe in this light, and It’s something I missed without realizing it. Old world blues.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Anka

    I’m… extremely disappointed in the White Knight. He didn’t even make an effort to understand why what Cat did was necessary, and is now being extremely petty about things. I know that’s entirely in his character, but it really makes him out to be just like every other “Good” Named out there — only willing to accept blame when it’s good for their side and not the “bad guys”.

    Cat had a reason to not tell him about it before she resurrected the corpse to re-stand trial, because it might have caused a problem, and it was for the sake of continuing the alliance. The same can’t be said in not telling Cat what happened in the meeting with the giants — yes, she didn’t need to know and he didn’t need to discuss it with her, but there was no reason not to. He stonewalled her and cut off their friendship simply because she had to do what she needed to.

    I know that narratively inside and outside the universe it makes sense, but it still hurts to see.

    Like

  8. Raved Thrad

    Dammit, the suspense is killing me. With Catherine pinning all these hopes on Vivienne, I can’t help but think this might be a death-flag on her. Doomed shipping aside, I have to admit that she’s one of my favorite characters, and it would really hurt if she were to die. Especially if it were to happen off-screen, the way it’s happened to so many others we’d come to love.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Nell Rampello

        It’s all a matter of what the future is for Cat. Is she going to abdicate like she plans? Because that will only happen once they get peace, and if peace never happens, she never abdicates. Or maybe she will abdicate and find a whole new adventure. Go with Archer to a new continent for adventure. Or maybe the Tower assassinates Vivienne, and Cat has no choice but to climb the Tower herself, like the song she hears keeps indicating.

        Vivienne taking over just seems like too happy a path for this story. Cat tries hard not to be a villain but always ends up a bigger one by necessity.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Guide’s one of the lightest and most optimistic stories I’ve read in a while, and not because I avoid the genre. It’s got superhero comics levels of concentration of heroes lowercase, and it has an international alliance consisting wholly of non-corrupt officers who genuinely care. A politician caring only about their own country and not everyone else as well is villain level. Continent sweeping political changes are being made by people in charge who genuinely care and look to the future.

          The main character has won over ancient goddesses of blood and death through Power of Friendship, that’s the level we’re talking about here.

          I think Vivi will be fine.

          Like

  9. Shveiran

    Godsdamnit Hanno, are you for real?

    “Oh hey, Catherine, let me ask you for a meeting after a secluded talk with the Gigantes. Oh, but let me begin by addressing a Named issue that is not urgent but that I want to address now anyway for some reason.
    Then let me -pause- without saying I’m done.

    Oh?

    Oh, you thought I had something to add? Possibly concerning said secluded meeting, which you’d hear all about anyway?
    But I don’t. Of course I don’t. I don’t know why you’d think otherwise.

    I’m not being petty, of course, I just wanted you to know that the next time you fix all of our messes for me, I’m going to be an hindrance ratehr than just an ungrateful prick.”

    Godsdamnit Hanno. Screw you and your nonexistant horse. I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, so please pull your head out your ass and stop proving me wrong!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. dadycoool

      Now that you spell it out, wow. What an asshole. He spent all that time proving to us that he’s “Not like those /other/ Heroes that are pretentious pricks! I’m practical, like you! I know how to make the hard decisions and not hate myself too much!” and then he goes and does this. Le sigh. Heroes will be Heroes, I guess.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow, this whole “heroes will be heroes” thing is getting annoying.

        Can we not pretend that every single thing any hero has ever done wrong is an inevitable characteristic of all of them that proves they’re all bad? This is reaching chinese robber fallacy levels at this point.

        I don’t think Hanno meant it this way when he invited Catherine. He’s not the greatest at diplomacy, and it’s entirely possible he did invite her right after the meeting on purpose to communicate something, but I don’t think the idea was to hurt her. Just… to clear the air.

        Sure, it ended up coming out in an asshole way, but… I think that’s Hanno just not being all that good at people.

        Also it’s not characteristic of all heroes either way bla bla bla see above.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Yeah, social skills wise, Hanno is at kind of a weird point; he’s got enough empathy and intelligence to figure out other’s motivations and feelings, but he seems somewhat unaware of how he presents himself (on a moment to moment basis, I mean. I think in general he’s aware that he ranges from calm but compassionate to aloof and indifferent most of the time, he’s just never quite sure where on that spectrum he’s falling right now)

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Hanno isn’t aware of how he comes off in general either, considering his confusion two years ago about why the heroes even treat him as a leader.

            He does his best, the poor thing, but I think living with Gigantes instead of humans for a decade kind of warped his perception there.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Maybe. I feel like that’s less about him not knowing how he comes off and more him not getting why his calmness and insight would be valued over a more ‘typical’ hero’s passion and energy, but it’s been a while since I read the chapters where he wondered about it, so I definitely could be wrong.

              Definitely on the Gigantes, though; just spending a decade with another human culture would provide a major perspective shift, even more so being around a bunch of hyper-powerful giants (who I think are also immortal? Don’t know if I’m remembering that right) whose ways of communicating are basically opposite how humans normally do things.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. dadycoool

              Now that you mention it, having just come from a meeting with the Gigantes, he was probably speaking or listening in their language and probably ‘heard’ something she didn’t mean or she didn’t ‘hear’ something he was trying to communicate.

              With the “Heroes will be Heroes” thing being annoying, we’ve just come from five whole books where every Hero has been what the Mirror Knight was during the whole Arsenal arc. We liked GP, WK, and Frederic because they were a breath of fresh air. Hanno’s perceived asshole-ness felt like him being unable to escape the nature of Heroism, in the context of this Villain Protagonist story. In the back of our minds, I think most of us realize that the worst Hero is still better than the best Villain, but when the best Villain is Cat and the Heroes don’t tend to even try and see her as a human being, for five books mind you, any pedestal we might’ve had for them has been repurposed as Cat’s Lesser Lesser Lesser Footrest. (Can’t have it above the best goblin ever.)

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Salt

                Thing is Hanno DOES see her as a human being though.

                He refused to “Judge” her for being a Villain, even though she was reputed to be the worst thing since unsliced bread. He intentionally kept an open mind, resulting in the sword of judgment being willing to try not just cooperating, but being -actual friends with the high priestess of *murder*.

                Him being distant with Cat here isn’t some self righteous proclamation about the evils of having a black cloak. He treated her as a trusted friend and got bit for it when she went behind his back, so he takes a step back and treats her with cool professionalism instead of as a close confidant.

                There’s… absolutely nothing at all assholeish or holier-than-thou about that. That’s literally how normal friendships work between peers. You lose trust when you betray trust.

                Cat knows this too, she’s neither a teenager nor blind to social relationships. Which is why she’s just sad that it had to come to this rather than indignantly angry – she knows full well that it’s a reasonable response, if not a forgiving one.

                Liked by 5 people

              2. …I don’t really think Hanno forgetting what languages Catherine speaks and doesn’t is particularly likely. On a subconscious level though, it could be influencing him.

                And it’s inaccurate to say that over five books every hero has been like MK. Sure, William has been actually worse, and those three tragic dumbasses from prologue 4 are pretty Christophe-like, but you do have to not have been paying attention to say “all heroes were like that”.

                Unless, again, by “like that” you mean “opposing the protagonist”, which, just… :\

                Tariq and Laurence specifically discussed seeing her as a person and kind of feeling like shit about it at the start of Book 4.

                Just, I don’t like Protagonist Centered Morality?

                Like

                1. Shveiran

                  You can like what you will.

                  What *I* have a visceral dislike for is characters that murder and endanger houndreds, thousands, sometimes millions of life for a point of principle without ever considering if maybe murder is wrong, or the possible consequences, or doing their fucking research before they draw their fucking blades and march across the continent to kill people they know nothing about.

                  And it is AMAZING how many of the Heroes fall in this category.

                  William may have been the worst offender or at least close, but let’s not pretend he was an isolated incident.

                  Thief, Hunter and Conjurer were along for the torture and the deployment of goblinfire in the middle of a fucking city. At night.

                  Five bands (which, let’s be generous, means at leats 15 heroes because they wouldn’t number less than 3, even if not 25) tried to destabilize a country on the verge of collapse without a thought of the consequences for the people starving or dying of cold.

                  A shitton of them said “sure, a Crusade? Let’s go murder people, I’m sure those Callowans and Praesi citizens defending their homes which we are invading are allw icked warlocks, right? And surely, this couldn’t bring to an escalation or wanton loss of life in any way should we, by any chance, not achieve total and immediate victory. Sounds fun.”
                  That’s about 2 dozens of them!
                  Maybe Tariq had some larger design, but the rest, including Hanno, pretty much jumped on board because Crusade. I guess HE at least refrained from murdering random soldiers defending their borders, but we KNOW that wasn’t true for the rest of his suppor team and those using the Stairway.

                  The Saint tried to roll the dice on a Principality and the armies of the Grand Alliance without any idea of the odds.

                  The Maddened Keeper released eight DEMONS in the fucking Arsenal during a war with Keter.
                  That’s DOUBLE the demons THE DIABOLIST used in her whole career even including her allies. God.

                  The Exalted Poet and the Red Axe were complicit in an invasion of the Arsenal which- again, but it bears remembering- is the place were the weapons to repel the DK are being developed! God! Again!

                  I’ll just mention fucking Cristophe or I’ll be here all day.

                  The Blacksmith being betrayed by a godsdamn hero was not enough to persuade her that maybe not all Heores are good and not all villains are bad, which admittedly is a minor, minor offense compared to the rest but still made me want to punch her so hard.

                  Now Frederic would rather keep his hands clear rather than avoid the risk of the Alliance collpasing, while fully aware of the risks, so even if I’d still marry him I also have to hate him a bit now.

                  And now Hanno joined the band, because he saw a powderkeg about to blow, and said ” I’m not going to help keeping it from exploding”. Which while a bad mark in my book, given his estensive record would not be enough to earn my dislike if it wasn’t for the fact that he now keep going “I wanted that problem fixed, I didn’t want to fix it myself, I refused to give any constructive input regarding a fix, but I’m still going to bitch about how you fixed it”.

                  See how many there are? That’s about fifty Heroes! Fifty! As a conservative estimate!

                  “Protagonist centered morality” my ass, there are a just a FEW atrocities here that have nothing to do with opposing Catherine Fucking Foundling.

                  Like

                  1. The Maddened Keeper was a villain/neutral, Cat specifically mentioned her as the only one in the group Christophe arrived with who wasn’t a hero.

                    And sure, a lot of heroes have done a wrong thing in their life. I’m very much not disputing that. I don’t think “ugh, heroes” is a reasonable response to that, though.

                    Like

        2. masterofbones

          He’s hiding pointless pettiness behind a thin veneer of justice, and acting smug about it. That’s exactly what pisses people off about heroes in this story. This isn’t him not trusting Cat, this is him continuing the dumbassery that got her to go behind his back in the first place.

          “No, I won’t tell you things that you will find out later anyway, because that would make your life easier and I’m a prick”. He has no reason to withhold this information, he’s just doing it to be a dick.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Salt

            Yes, because it definitely makes zero difference to know the opposing party’s bargaining chips before going into what is a glorified international-level haggling session.

            I mean it’s not as if the dude doesn’t have VERY real flaws, but when the White Knight gets accused of being… smug(???), you know there are some rather heavy biases there

            The guy so aggressively avoids gloating or being smug that it’s almost unrealistic for a person to be like that all the time. Dude talks up his accomplishments with all the swagger of a limp rag, and actively walks around denying accusations of having virtue, rather than just being an agent of it.

            Like

          2. I’m not seeing any smug? 0.o

            He’s drawing a boundary, for his own sake because he realized he trusted her more than he should have, and it’s interfering with his duties.

            I’m pretty sure Cat’s “did he ever like me or was it all just me projecting” is insecurity multiplied by Hanno’s Gigantes-nursed facial control.

            He IS doing it to send a message of “I’m not sharing anymore”, but being a dick is not a purpose. Just… an unfortunate side effect that I think he isn’t quite noticing.

            (I wonder if he also now has his own doubts of “did she ever care about me or does she view all people as tools or obstacles and affection is in the eye of the beholder”)

            Like

    2. Fable

      Have you considered that Cat has proven that he effectively has no levers on their relationship, while Cat does?

      She speaks for a nation and all the villains.
      He acts as the first among peers for all heroes.
      She is willing and able to act dishonestly for her principles.
      Hanno’s principles require complete transparency.
      Cat is growing in power from her coming Name.
      Hanno is fixed in the experiences he has.

      And yet this needs to be an equal partnership in order for it to actually work. Hanno is a new hand at this, and he needs to demonstrate that he has some leverage to bring to the table, even if he has no idea how to politic—that is not his Role.

      I’d say to throw the dude a bone, but the man has no personal ambitions. There’s precious little to concede to him that he doesn’t already have a right to. The one thing that he asked from Cat in the aftermath was transparency. A compromise with *his* principles. Which she refused to give or make assurances for, or even show remorse over.

      I just hope Cat finally looks at this from Hanno’s side before all is done and find something to mend the relationship.

      Like

      1. Shveiran

        She said we need to fix it or this all burns. He said “I’m not compromising”.
        She said “I’ll fix it myself ‘down here in the mud’ ”

        Then she said let’s have a talk with cordelia and find a solution.
        Hanno makes zero concessions.
        Pot is still boiling.
        Hanno leaves.

        Cat fixes the mess.

        This is going behind his back? Come on. COME. ON.
        They aren’t children playing tag, millions of lives are a stake!
        He didn’t see this coming? IT’S NOT DOING IT BEHIND YOUR BACK IF YOU TURN YOUR BACK TO THE PROBLEM, HANNO! That’s just the solution being taken where the problem still is, aka, where you are refusing to look at.

        Breach of trust my ass.

        Like

        1. Salt

          You’re confusing Cat looking at it with the perspective of a guideverse Villain with some objective reality. Except the entire point is that Heroes and Villains don’t play by the same rules to begin with.

          Of course she says we have to stack the odds, she’s a Villain who has lived her entire career by the rules of a Villain. Villains never make the one in a million long shot. Villains don’t take a stand against overwhelming odds. They play dirty until the shot is no longer one in a million, and the odds are no longer overwhelming. Because otherwise the only ending they get is their heads on pikes.

          Heroes aren’t villains. There are thousands of years of history irrefutably proving that Calernian Heroes can reliably make the one in a million long shot, as long as they’re being a good enough do-gooder. The odds being overwhelming means the odds are about as good as they’ll get, if they’re taking a hard enough stand for some principle. Above quite literally rewards them proportionally for holding to principle, the same way Below repays villains for working to prove that people can get by on their own.

          Catherine thinks rolling the dice is braindead stupid because for a Villain, that’s just asking to roll a pair of snake eyes. It IS stupid for a Villain

          Hanno thinks it’s fine because when Heroes roll the dice, Above rolls for them, and their dice are always loaded. They’re just playing to Heroic advantages

          You either put full faith in the Heroic route to roll those loaded dice – which Catherine is rather incapable of due to her personal worldviews – or you take the Villainous route and cheat by your own methods, maybe even bastardize a Heroic story or two if it helps you rig the jury. Either way can actually work just fine in the guideverse, but only one option is specifically open to Catherine.

          The only thing you’re proving here is that you’ve gotten very into the guideverse Villainous way of looking at the story

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            I’ve gotten into the REALISTIC way of looking at things, thank you very much.

            If practicalities weren’t a thing, the Fortunate Fool would have strolled into Keter and killed the Dead King, instead of, you know, dying.

            Like

            1. And Amadeus’s Conquest and Occupation of Callow would have failed early. It definitely wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as it actually did or been as successful as it was.

              Sure, the Story matters. On the other hand, it quite clearly isn’t everything.
              Remember, framing events into the right Story gave Cat a chance to defeat the Duke of Howling Winds. It was by no means certain that she would, and she had to actually carry through and put serious effort into exploiting the opportunity the Story permitted her to have.

              Like

    3. Aotrs Commander

      Yeah, Hanno COMPLETELY lost the smidgen of respect for me when he flatly refused to look at the problem, flatly refused to engage to even try to present an alternative, placed his personal feelings and beliefs above the importance of other people’s lives and then got pissy when his allies had to work around his deliberate obstreporusness. He managed to convince with that action that my initial impression of him *was* correct, that for all the affability he sometimes projects, he’s a fanatic and just one more symptom of the underlying problem.

      So, we are down two exactly TWO heroes (Roland and Frederick) who ACTUALLY live up to the name; unlike the rest who just wear white hats and who are better than the villains only in the sense that the latter has produced confirmed rapists among the number.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mirror Night

        You realize Frederic could have helped mitigate this mess by actually charging Red Axe and agreeing to execute her himself? So you cannot say that he doesn’t put Principles in front of what is Practical.

        Still Named don’t compromise Core Principles. Cordelia didn’t want to get a Name which solve her Prince Issue cause she felt a Name should not rule Procer. Let us not act like Hanno is the only one who ever puts Principle first.

        Cat is being petty to Viv for no reason and I see less complaining about that which doesn’t have anything to do with Principles or Practicality.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Shveiran

          For Cat and Vivs, yeah, but that doesn’t endanger the world, does it? That’s why I’m not bitching about it, personally.
          Also, got fixed before it was too late.
          Which isn’t true for Hanno, since if it was up to him the pot woudl have boiled over.

          True on Frederic, though. Roland is the only one with a clean record, by now. He doesn’t always come through, but he has yet to willingly put people at risk.

          Like

    4. Salt

      Nah, this is one of the rare cases where the YA protagonist is being more mature about it than the readers are

      I mean seriously, you’re criticizing him for siding with… the Gigantes? The same Gigantes that he was taught by and lived with, the same way Catherine did with the fifteenth back in the day? Hello?

      Catherine is just a coworker of his. The Gigantes are Hanno’s teachers and old companions. They’re the ones who fished his dying ass out of the water and taught him the skills he needs to be the White Knight. Of-fucking-course he sides with them over a casual coworker, especially when he’s acting as a diplomatic intermediary to their ambassador. To bring her into that fold would be to extend a measure of trust that she is in no way shape or form entitled to.

      Hanno wasn’t wrong to react this way, nor is he an asshole. He’s the literal sword of judgement who spent the last few years extending trust and friendship to the also quite literal high priestess of murder and cannibalism in the dark. She betrayed that trust, specifically in a way that touched one of the VERY few bottom lines that the guy has at all, and subsequently lost some trust for it.

      We know it wasn’t for no reason, but it doesn’t change the fact that she did, and Catherine herself, for one, is actually mature enough to recognize it and know that it’s fair, even if it is unpleasant.

      Catherine isn’t some perfect untouchable paragon of goodness and wonderful computer-like rationality that all side characters are obligated to approve of. Her actions are often imperfect, and people are allowed to react negatively to them once in a blue moon.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. masterofbones

        This isn’t about keeping secrets or choosing sides though. Cat was going to find out the details very soon. He was literally just doing it to be a dick.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Salt

          You don’t typically leak the bargaining chips of diplomatic negotiations before going into the negotiations, especially to the exact same person who just proved herself capable of pulling one over on him if he isn’t on guard this way.

          You don’t get to kick a man in the nads and call him a dick for wearing a cup the next time you interact. That’s just a sensible precaution when you don’t know if a kick to the nads is on its way.

          Hence “you cannot have it both ways Catherine”

          Like

          1. What negotiations? There weren’t going to be negotiations and Hanno knew it.
            Unless you’re going to say Hanno lied when he told them, in the meeting, that it was the one offer the Gigantes were making and there wouldn’t be a second one or negotiations over the first … it was a take it or leave it offer. And whatever anyone thinks about Hanno … I don’t think there’s anybody that could honestly argue that he would be lying when he said that.

            There’s no upside to not telling someone in advance about a one time take or or leave it offer. And there’s no downside to telling them in advance. At least, that’s the case unless the offer is secretly an attempt to screw them over with the fine print or with the long term ramifications of some of the clauses that might not be readily realized or thought through initially.

            Also, it seems that Yannu told Viv and presumably also Cordelia something ahead of time, or at least it appears to be the case.

            Honestly, Hanno was just being petty in not telling Cat anything about the offer. At best.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Salt

              Cat resorts to doing shady things to get her way all the time. We just saw her mentally break down the representative from Mercantis to get her way with them. Are you seriously saying it’s unwarranted to wonder if she might try something similar with the Gigantes, if she doesn’t like their offer? Cat also showed not even a week ago that she was willing to bend the rules and make a total mockery out of even a legal trial in the process, and be dishonest about keeping him in the loop

              He’s not a white-cloak version of Malicia either, he physically does not have the ability to see through every possible plot of Catherine’s even if he’s suspicious, considering nowadays she trades blows with the Bard as far as plotting goes

              So if you’re the white knight, not the white schemer, the only thing you can reasonably do when you no longer fully trust the black queen is to take these kinds of precautions, in case she is trying to pull another fast one

              Like

              1. There is no reason to think he has a clue that Cat sent the Mercantis representative threatening nightmares to warn against doing something stupid and being Malicia’s proxy.

                Plus, it’s a damned good offer from the Gigantes. And he knows, and could easily have told her, that the Gigantes don’t do negotiations like humans do, they don’t haggle, they just make a single offer, which had already been conveyed to Yannu and him.
                Hell, the only reason to try to negotiate for more would be partly (a) to see how much more they’re really willing to give, because everything you can get out of them is needed, but also (b) the negotiating principle of never taking the first offer.

                Also, and this is an important difference – Mercantis was trying to (a) control and/or kill Cat’s pet project of Cardinal, and (b) was going to fuck Procer and the Grand Alliance over for Malicia and the Dead King. The Gigantes are offering some rather significant assistance that if successfully implemented would be a critical gamechanger for the war, and asking for what is, admittedly, a significant level of access to the Arsenal in exchange for that assistance. And, honestly, the lake ward against the dead by itself would probably be worth giving the Gigantes everything they asked for.

                Plus … Cat is neither dumb enough nor suicidal enough to try to strongarm or pressure the Gigantes. And Hanno should be well aware of that.

                As for Cat having not told him everything that she and Cordelia planned to do to address the domestic political pressures Cordelia was facing … he very explicitly took himself out of having any knowledge or involvement.
                They didn’t make a mockery out of the trial. She was tried and executed. Just now her corpse is going to go to a second trial and get executed.

                Hanno doesn’t get to say “I have no involvement in dealing with internal political matters nor do I have any interest in helping you solve them” then get upset when he doesn’t get involved or informed, or have input into the process of coming up with solutions, or get upset that the necessities of coming up with a solution without his assistance results in working around him or methods that he doesn’t approve of.

                As I said, this is basically Hanno being petty because he’s upset over not being told about something he said he didn’t want to know about.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Salt

                  No, Catherine very explicitly took him out of the plans that she and Cordelia were about to make. She rather explicitly lied to him when excluding him from the initial conversation with Cordelia, and when he gave her another chance to talk about it right after the execution she didn’t bite. In a twist of irony, the way she was silent on the subject when talking to him after the execution is an almost exact mirror of the way he was silent on the subject when talking to her before the negotiations.

                  As far as trying and executing someone who was already tried and executed, for no reason other than political convenience? That is the definition of making a mockery out of the trials. This is even if you completely ignore the fact that she outright rigged another trial two days prior.

                  The hilarity of it is that most people were on the other side of the argument when the Pilgrim was fighting against Catherine, because he thought it was “necessary”. The dude got absolutely crucified when he betrayed Catherine’s trust by breaking an oath, and all he could offer for an explanation was “I believed it was necessary”.

                  “I believe it’s necessary” wasn’t a good enough excuse when Tariq betrayed Catherine’s trust. It wasn’t reason to stop working with him, but no one argued that Catherine was somehow being a petty dick when she didn’t extend him friendship or trust afterwards.

                  ”I believe it was necessary” still isn’t a good enough excuse, when Catherine betrayed Hanno’s trust the exact same way. Hanno is still working with Catherine, but it’s silly to blame him for not extending trust or friendship afterwards.

                  And the thing is, Catherine isn’t even saying that. She’s commendably honest enough to understand that this knife cuts both ways, hence why her reaction was “I had neither the words nor the right to change his mind”.

                  Like

      2. Aotrs Commander

        He a hero. He doesn’t get to hide behind “but he’s acting lkike a normal person,” he’s a captial-H Hero, that means he has to be BETTER.

        If he can’t be Superman, or Captain America or Optimus Prime or Ace fracking Rimmer, then at the least he needs to be Jack O’Neill and losing in a contest to see who is worse between himself and Arnold smegging Rimmer.

        Like

        1. Aotrs Commander

          Frag-damn WordPress and it’s not-editable comments, ye gods I’ve had so much trouble on various places trying to say stuff this last couple of days. (Its not like talking at people on the internet is literally the only interaction I get outside of family these days or anything…)

          Yes, the end of the last sentence was hyperbole, but only just in Hanno’s specific case, unlike some other “heroes” I could mention. Jumped-up farty little smeghead though Rimmer is, I’d trust him to fix a defective drive plate more than Mirror Knight (even assumng MK had the requisite skills) *even knowing Rimmer would screw it up and kill everyone.*.

          Like

          1. Salt

            That seems rather hypocritical to me. Being Captain America comes with BOTH the privileges and the burdens of being Captain America. Not just the burdens.

            You can definitely criticize “Captain America” harshly for every single instance that he falls short of the standard of Captain America. That is entirely fair and correct.

            But if that is true, Villains also have ZERO right to complain about being vanquished by captain America. The Red Skulls of the world don’t get to mock Captain America for his “principles”, or act as if the Captain Americas of the world are no better than the Red Skulls of the world, or whine that Creation is wrong for always letting Captain America beating Red Skull.

            But if you are of the position that Heroes are not innately any better than Villains, like Cat or Black does? That they do not deserve to always win, that they are no better than any of the rest of us, that they don’t hold any moral high ground and their vaunted “heavenly” principles aren’t worth any more than the so-called “base” values of men and women?

            Then how can you justify judging them like they are above you in reality, while simultaneously treating them like they are below you, or at best at eye level?

            To her credit, Catherine neither believes that Heroes are innately better than a Villain is, nor does she judge them more harshly than she judges Villains – she is *consistent*, unlike many other Villains, and in my opinion it is most other Villains who are hypocrites in this. Not Catherine.

            Like

    5. ninegardens

      The fact is Cat keeps *expecting* him to say more. He doesn’t. The weird silences and such are as much to do with her expectations as they are to do with his actions.

      And she has those expectations, because up until a few days ago they were co-workers AND friends. Now they are just Co-workers. Hanno is treating her proffesionally, but not with Warmth. If she wasn’t EXPECTING warmth/confidence/trust many of these weird silences might not even be noticeable.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    aegis Grand > aegis of the Grand
    heavily favour > heavily in favour
    after all we’d managed (extra space)
    I’ve been > I’d been
    participate to > participate in
    appreciated,” he nodded > appreciated,” he said, nodding
    within moment > within moments
    were the shores > where the shores
    treaty was the > treaty with the
    the come the > come the
    wearer > wearing
    I’d never occurred > It’d never occurred
    change clothes > change of clothes
    It did not mind > I did not mind

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Frivolous

    I’m not sure why Catherine is very unhappy about the opinions of Callowans.

    My reasoning: Even without the preserving effects of her imminent villainy, Cat is going to live a long long time due to her closeness to Sve Noc. She has to start thinking as an immortal does. And one thing an immortal can do is change history. By which I mean she can change the way history is written and interpreted, by getting close to the ones who write history books, by changing the opinions of present-day people, etc.

    So what if the Callowans currently despise her? She has a lot of years to change their minds. And if she can’t do it in the present generation, she might succeed in 3 or 4.

    Plus she’ll be living in Cardinal, educating untold numbers of heroes and villains, of mages and priests, of lords and princes. A really influential educator has nearly unlimited power to change the minds of the masses. Even if she can’t change their minds directly, she can change the minds of their rulers, divines, scholars, etc.

    Also, I’m super happy that Hakram woke up. I think it’s almost too sweet that the first thing he said was Cat’s name.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Matthew Wells

      She’s unhappy because she’s ruling a bunch of ingrates who need to be convinced stopping a Lich King is the right thing to do. Just because they can be convinced later doesn’t make it any less stupid for Mercantis or her political opponents or whoever to be worrying about political power during an existential total war with a god.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Frivolous

        Hmm. I’m not sure I agree. Cat’s disappointment and angst over Callowan opinion don’t strike me as being strategic or political in origin. Her reaction seems personal to me.

        But like I said, she needs to get over thinking in the short term. Immortals can’t afford to angst over mortal opinions, especially when those opinions can be reshaped to something more pleasing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Salt

          It’s because she’s as human and flawed as anyone else, not an infallible perfect protagonist like the image that sometimes gets pushed around here. It’s actually something in line with the direction that the characterization has been going for a while now, with the Everdark arc ending with “mortal till the end” rather than “let’s become more of an immortal inhuman god-thing”.

          The rational mind in her knows that Callow isn’t unreasonable to see her this way – she went into this with eyes open from the start, not in denial. She knew that she wouldn’t have the best reputation when she started with “justifications only matter to the just”, and when that no longer fit her she still made the conscious choice to do the dirty work that she thought was necessary before abdicating.

          But she’s a human being, meaning that despite knowing how irrational it is, she can still be upset at sacrificing so much and only getting the recognition of being some dark product of dark times that came before more celebrated rebuilding – even if she knows that’s what she realistically. Because it’s not about logic, it’s about petty pride and emotion, slowly built up over time.

          This was just her finally admitting it out loud, in confidence to Vivienne, because while she can’t immediately fix that flaw of hers, she can at the very least own it instead of pretending otherwise and causing more damage to her own relationships

          Liked by 6 people

    2. Well for one thing, learning to think that way (or any way you’re not used to) takes practice. You don’t just wake up one morning, say “you know what? I don’t care what anyone thinks” and then actually feel that way (trust me, I’ve tried). You have to practice the mindset.

      That said, I’m not so sure about the idea that moral opinions don’t matter to immortals. For one, the Dead King generally doesn’t mind that most mortals in Calernia see him as the local Satan figure, and he’s currently embroiled in a war with every major power except the card-carrying villains, with a story that’s most likely building up to his death. And even he goes to the effort of ensuring that his own living subjects approve of his rule. Heck, while most of Cat’s job as Priestess of the Night is teaching Sve Noc about stories, that includes caring about moral opinions so you don’t fall too far into the “evil gods” side of the spectrum and end up getting slain by a band of angsty teenagers with crazy hair (and probably too many belts and zippers, if we’re taking the FF analogy all the way)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Frivolous

        Did I say that mortal opinions don’t matter to immortals? If so, my mistake; I meant to say that to immortals, mortal opinions are flexible when the right pressure is applied.

        The Dead King doesn’t really try to make most people outside the Serenity not fear or hate him. I think he could if he wanted to, but he just doesn’t care.

        It would help a lot if Cat had any friends among bards who weren’t the Wandering type. She’d learn how flexible people could be with the right methods.

        I am also biased because of course I’m a real person. I’ve seen what the Internet and especially Twitter and Facebook can do to what people think. Human beings can reverse their opinion completely many times over the span of a lifetime. Cat would benefit from RL social media experts and spin doctors.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. At the start of the chapter, Cat doesn’t mind the merchants having monopolies on dyes and such in Procer because Callow can’t afford to make those things anyway, so she just focuses on her army. Viv, on the other hand, sees how much money those things make and thinks “so where can we get the gold to make it ourselves?”
    Just wanted to appreciate that little contrast

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Looking back, your original comment doesn’t actually say she couldn’t care; one part of your response to Matthew Wells above could be construed that way, if one ignored the context of the original comment, and I guess I was tired enough when I posted my response to both forget the original point and conflate it with my misunderstanding of your response; that’s my bad. Your actual point is a good one

      Like

  13. mamm0nn

    “I’d grown too used to having my orders obeyed without questioning. I’d grown too used to resorting to violence to get my way, to schemes and assassinations and all the bastard ways to see your will done.”

    Uhm, Cat? Have you heard of the things you did in the last four books? Pretty much none of this applies, rather the opposite has always been the case for you moreso than others. And I don’t think you’ve ever really tried your hand at assassinations on-screen other than telling Robber to go nuts that one time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Darkening

      I mean, they did bait a bunch of Callowan Noble types into blundering in such a way that she could hang them for treason because they were being inconvenient politically. Sure, they had to actually perform the illegal action, but she deliberately led them to it. It was mostly Thief we saw in the interlude, but as far as I know that whole thing was at Cat’s behest. And I suppose the time she tried to murder Malicia repeatedly in Keter is basically assassination.

      Like

      1. mamm0nn

        True. Though a Named trying to kill a Named in another Named’s kingdom in a rather direct confrontation when they both know the other knows is hardly an assassination. More like… a Story-influenced series of fights with a half-hearted theme of secrecy and surprise slapped onto it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Salt

      I mean, for having her orders not questioned, she’s had entire armies tripping over each other to volunteer to die for her. She has an entire race that sees her as the divine manifestation of the gospel of their murder-god

      For violence and scheming, she quite literally started the story by manufacturing a Callowan rebellion so that she could rise through the ranks during wartime. That’s the entire reason she felt so guilty about letting the Lone Swordsman go, since she knew full well that it would kickstart a rebellion she could put down to gain power, even if thousands of Callowans died in the process. Black also explicitly admitted to not putting down the rebellion himself (even though he easily had the capability to), because it was convenient for letting Catherine develop her power base.

      She also wasn’t above making a deal with the Dead King – Malicia just beat her to the punch. Followed shortly by a war of enslavement over the entire drow race, and then after returning to the surface she ran circles around everyone with her schemes during the Prince’s graveyard.

      So… yeah she probably has heard of the things she’s done over the last several books. Getting her way through violence and schemes is pretty much on point considering her history.

      Of course, she was also on the defensive against Malicia, Akua, and the Crusade, meaning she’s not exactly alone in guilt for this, but the bar for “I’m not as bad as Malicia, Akua, or the tenth crusade” is set so low that it’s underground. Probably a good thing, all in all, that she’s judging herself by higher standards than that.

      Like

  14. mamm0nn

    Oh oh. The Gigantes granting a magic McGuffin means of thwarting the Dead King and the big issue of his undead army BEFORE things look dire and they can really use such a Giant Deus Ex Machina? That sounds like it can only be betrayal or bound to blow up in their faces. And honestly, if the Gigantes can make these wards (for their own island), then why wouldn’t they let the Dead King roam a bit more through the lands of their most hated human kingdom before really helping?

    Like

    1. Matthew Wells

      This is the last second save. We just skipped 99% of the fight between books while the Giants let the undead run around their most hated enemies.

      Like

  15. Anonymous

    “You cannot have it both ways, Catherine,”

    Silly Knight, once again you forgot the alternative! [/wolf-salt]

    (“You can’t have the advantages of both the good way that you should have taken AND the bad way that you actually took. You only get to keep my approval if you take the good way.” “So what’s this ‘good way’?” “Heck if I know.”)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darkening

      Let Procer fall apart and lose the war over a point of principle, presumably. But that’s okay, surely the gods and angels will see your purity and save the world for you if you’re just Good enough~

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Salt

        > surely the gods and angels will see your purity and save the world for you if you’re just Good enough~

        I know this is facetious but that’s… actually how it does work in the guideverse. Below pays you back for the debt of championing their principles, while Above empowers you more the better you adhere to their principles. That’s the problem with Above/Below in the first place.

        Above will try to let you win if you’re principled enough, even if you are the dumbest motherfucker to ever walk the earth. (See: Mirror Knight, Valiant Champion)

        Below will try to let you win if you’re clever enough, even if you are the biggest asshole on the planet (see: Triumphant, Tyrant)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Salt

          Edit: I guess it would make more sense to say below pays you back for championing their cause more than their principles, considering that they don’t have principles so much as “your victory retroactively proves that you were correct and deserving”

          Like

      2. “But we lose the war if this happens!” cuts both ways – why is it okay to tell Hanno “Shut up about your principles and go along with the show trial, or we lose the war and we all die”, but it’s not okay to tell the Proceran nobles “Shut up about your show trial and let the Heroes have their principles, or we lose the war and we all die”?

        And of course, neither Procer falling apart nor the Truce falling apart are certainties, simply probable risks – people can reasonably disagree about uncertain long-term predictions without being evil or stupid. Cat has even pointed out that allowing Procer to demand *more* concessions because they’re *less* committed to upholding their obligations to the alliance is a perverse incentive. It’s not as clear-cut as “Either we have the Cadaver Synod or Procer dies.”

        Like

  16. Anonymous

    Saving the world: No matter how badly anyone’s fumbled their Roles before, somehow the world is still here. Anthropically, an observer can only observe a world which hasn’t already ended. In practice, the world actually finally ending might be met with a measure of disbelief/incredulity. Entire countries being ground into paste, now, to the misery of all their survivors… that’s happened before.

    Then again, when it’s just replaceable people or countries which are on the block (rather than the entire war as a whole), the side of Good becoming even more the underdog, then being willing to sacrifice even the people you most care about for the sake of Good can be lauded as Goodness…

    Considering the choirs, it would be amusing in a morbid way if Good straightforwardly won because it wasn’t hypocritical enough–if it actually kept fighting fair when the other side wasn’t, to the point of its own destruction. Not much chance of that, though, from what we’ve seen so far.

    Hmm.

    Cat’s talks with Cordelia come to mind, Cordelia unable to compromise without dying socially (and losing the crown). Betray the interests of the Alliance/Procer and Cordelia loses the Allliance/Procer, becoming no help to it or Cat. Be tainted with an unsavory reputation by Cat–even with unsavory dealings later dramatically revealed at a pivot–and the White Knight loses the Heroes under him, becoming no help to them or Cat. The consequences of the Pilgrim’s tainted reputation from being saved by Cat also come to mind.

    This still doesn’t forgive the White Knight’s attitude. That he blames her for what he himself can do nothing about, even if he feels distancing himself from her is compelled by political necessities.

    I find myself somewhat frustrated by that I cannot put together a functional mental model of the White Knight’s thought process–if there is an internally-consistent perspective, a White-Knight-point-of-view thing to read would be welcome, given that everything we see from Cat’s perspective are through the lens of her own interpretations.

    When in such a situation, I begin fearing that a character is an unintentional strawman: a character serving as a stand-in for a person who didn’t make sense to the author, whom another character gets frustrated at how they don’t make sense. The concern being whether the real person made choices which made sense to themselves, whereas the character made slightly different choices which make sense to no one. Whatever the case, it is more productive (and fun!) to gaze instead at the inconsistencies of my own mental model and try to think of ways to put it together that I haven’t thought of yet, which could explain matters. …But it is a red flag when a character says something which seems to have a good point and another character says nothing at all instead of something insightful(/which gives insight into their own thought processes), or when a character thinks something which seems to have a good point and yet keeps it to themselves without saying it out loud and having a chance to hear another character’s point of view.

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    1. Anonymous

      Wait, not ‘straightforwardly won’. Why did I write that!? ‘straightforwardly lost’!
      (Answer: ‘Because of how easy it is to flip a bit and how hard to notice at the time’…)

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      1. Xinci

        You could read the Winter Interludes perhaps, it contains his pov. Good’s virtues make a lot of sense under a generational model. A Good society, like all cooperative strategies, works only if a majority of its actors are cooperative. A dissident actor, like a Villain, can quite easily ruin the development of such a society as they will outcompete it or just survive in it far more easily than those who cooperate. If attempts are made to try to punish the dissenting actors, then you may get mutual destruction so other means of pressure may be used to have them act as cooperators. Cat proved herself a bad, and so is being cut off from other forms of interaction so she may only act(at least obviously) in a cooperative fashion due to the restrictions of her position in the grand alliance. I still think Hanno probably wouldn’t have stopped her even if she told him what she planned to do.

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        1. Xinci

          To clarify the generational comment somewhat, Good can afford to lose individual societies so long as it has properly consolidated capital to form new ones over each individual Good societies lifetime along with having other “related”(due to at least partially following its dogma, which aids their survival and mitigates corruption) societies to pitch in to address threats that other Good societies arent adapted for. So by making sure the dogmatic qualities that keep those living in those Good societies Good’s rules, they can retain their function and keep out those who would twist them for another purpose(bad actors/Villains).

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  17. Morgenstern

    Hm. Strange. The Interlude is in the chapter overview, but the actual *chapter* 43 before that isn’t. *rubs chin thoughtfully

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  18. Morgenstern

    Ah. The link for Chapter 43 is not entirely missing in the menu (anymore?), it would seem, but got shunted between Chapter 40 and 41, somehow.

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