Interlude: Ebb

“The highest form of victory is not mere triumph over another, but to use such a triumph as the foundation of your own. This way superiority is demonstrated not only over one defeated but also one victorious, proving your own cunning to be beyond both.”
– Extract from ‘The Behaviours of Civil Conduct’, by High Lady Mchumba Sahelian

There were some who called Mauricius indolent but he preferred think of himself as patient.

The expensive chilled wine – genuine Baalite red, not the imitation the Ashuran brewed on this side of the sea – before him slowly warmed, the coating of frost on the goblet slowly dripping down onto the table. He had yet to touch it. His eyes remained on the lights of the city instead, on the warm glow that set jewels to the dark and the heartbreakingly beautiful mosaics of the Irenian Plaza displayed below the hidden balcony. It was a common tale in Mercantis that Aeolian himself, the famous Tormented Painter, had died moments after putting the last touches of colour on the work. Mauricius knew the truth behind the unspoken boast, for he’d cared to learn it.

Aeolian had been eighty-three and dying when he’d begun the work, debt-ridden to the extent that he’d been willing to spend even his last days on the mosaics if it meant his children would not inherit the crushing burden of his lifetime of indulgences. Yet the City of Bought and Sold preferred the shorter tale, the one that claimed to own a work so beautiful it had taken the life of a Named to make it. It made the mosaics no fairer to behold, Mauricius thought. They were, regardless, a wonder of this world: moving with hour and sun, a living story of interwoven sorcery and skill. But buying the life of a Named spoke of power, and for the merchant lords of this city there was nothing more intoxicating than that.

Mauricius ought to know, as the eldest of the living merchant lords.

Behind him, past the sculpted marble arch bearing a discreet muting enchantment, the shadowy silhouette of a waiting attendant stood still. The service in Sub Rosa was second to none, even in this island where every delight could be bought, though the truth was that Mauricius had taken a balcony tonight largely for the view. Few people even knew that this place existed, hidden behind wards and secrecy as it was, and most believed the Irenian Plaza to be entirely surrounded by the three edifices that were the heart of the Consortium’s power in this material world.

The Forty-Stole Court, the Guild Exchange and the Princely Palace.

Power, wealth and influence – all nestled closely together like chicks gathering for warmth. Knowing what was to happen tonight, Mauricius had thought it fitting that he should be close to the beating heart of Mercantis. Two men were to die tonight, after all. The merchant lord slid a finger along the rim of his goblet, watching as beads of condensation slid down the sinuous length of silver. Even now, in manses across the city, his fellows would be scheming behind closed doors. Dear Livia’s return from this Arsenal bearing the answer of the Grand Alliance had thrown the Consortium into disorder.

Several of the most influential among them had voiced a belief it was treason for Ambassador Livia Murena to have agreed to such unfavourable terms when half the City knew that the Principate was so deeply in their debt it couldn’t even see daylight. It was said that there’d been foul play. Given that Livia had not let her wife out of her sight since returning to the city, Mauricius believed there might be a thread of truth there. Not that the opposition cared. The Consortium buried bleeding hearts long before they might rise to a position where their words might matter, but there were some who objected to fleecing the Grand Alliance on more practical grounds.

If the Dead King won, they first said, we would rue our schemes. That found little purchase, for this was not the first crusade to struggle against the undead. Always these ended in bloody sacrifice and the resumption of the ancient stalemate, as the aftermath decided which among the living nations had been the winners and the losers of this particular iteration. Yet when it had been argued that in the aftermath of the Grand Alliance’s victory a burning gaze might be turned to Mercantis, more had bought into the argument. Cordelia Hasenbach was a civilized woman, and her anger could have been appeased should it prove lasting, but it was not so with her allies.

The Dominion was a pack of savages that killed each other on a whim, and Callow was a cauldron of long hatreds. There was a reason that the Consortium had never tried to seize Callowan lands, though it had often had the strength to do so and feasibly keep them. The scheme of taking Dormer and adding it to the holdings of the City had long been discussed, but never once undertaken. The lesson had been learned well from the Brief War, when Atalante had tried to annex part of the Callowan south after buying passage for its war fleet from the Consortium. Jehan the Wise had butchered the invaders, which had not been unexpected, but he’d then began to raise ships for a retaliatory attack on Mercantis itself. Which had been.

Embassies of the Merchant Princess Clarissa had made it known that the City was not involved in the invasion beyond having sold passage through its waters, but the Callowans hadn’t cared. When Daoine ships bearing soldiers of the Watch began docking in Dormer, Clarissa had realized that the Callowans would go through with an invasion even if they were likely to lose, even if the mere undertaking of it would bankrupt them for a generation. She’d emptied the coffers of Mercantis appeasing the king of Callow, and no merchant lord had ever seriously talked of taking Callowan land again. Jehan the Wise had been a Named of heroic bent, the practical sorts were now eager to remind the City.

The Black Queen was a monster that gave even the Wasteland pause, and the Consortium wanted to extort her?

Mauricius had been privately amused by that rejoinder, for the Black Queen did not truly give the Wasteland pause in the slightest. Some days he wondered if anything ever did. Poor Fabianus had been stuck in the middle of it and lost what few feathers he’d still had. Their Merchant Prince was first tricked into keeping the First Prince’s secrets, and then was pushed so strongly to reveal them that he’d preferred to recuse himself of such matters entirely than continue to be involved. Given that Fabianus’ office held little direct power but a great deal of influence, that decision had practically ended his reign in every real sense.

Mauricius smiled and looked at the shadowed mosaics down below. A decade ago, most of the city had thought him the strongest contender for that very same office. He was among the wealthiest few – trading arms in the Free Cities was ever a tidy profit – of the Consortium, he’d served in the Forty-Stole Court for over a decade and save for that little offence when he’d had his first wife’s lover and the man’s entire family sold into slavery, there were no black marks on his record.

He’d made sure they all ended up in Stygia, so that they were actually slaves even in the legal sense. He was not a forgiving man, and preferred his revenges to be of the through kind.

Though Mauricius was reputed to be somewhat indolent, back then that’d been in his favour. No one in the Consortium wanted too motivated or skillful a prince lest the days of the Caepio, who had ruled as kings in all but name, return. He’d campaigned for the office, of course. Sunk a fortune into buying the love of the streets, the votes of the Lesser Courts. But he’d not fought for the support of other merchant lords. Indolent, his supporters had mourned in the years that followed. After Fabianus was elected the office. None of them ever learned that he’d never sought the title at all: while most saw the elections as a gaping pit for coin, he’d been after a profit. Mauricius had required twice as much as he’d invested in the election as a bribe, to let Fabianus win.

He’d kept a single gold coin from that bribe, as a sentimental token, and as the lights of Mercantis shone in the distance the merchant lord took it out of his robes and idly toyed with it. The luster of it brought out a hunger he knew would never be entirely sated, but Mauricius was a patient man. He’d learned as a boy that the patient always got their day, if they picked the right opportunities. And what was this era of chaos, if not a great banquet of opportunities? The Consortium was fighting itself, the recklessly hungry and the cravenly cautious at odds in the markets and the courts. Praesi gold set tongues wagging, or silenced them, while the long shadow of the Grand Alliance blotted out old certainties.

Mauricius had taken the Dread Empress’ bribes, of course. And he’d listened to the honeyed words of her envoys, to the schemes she wove even here in the City. He was not in the habit of refusing coin, though her plots he’d been lukewarm to. At least until it had all unfolded exactly as she had predicted: dear Livia scared into a barely acceptable settlement, a band of Named coming to keep the City under the boot and the armies of the Grand Alliance charging into Hainaut. Far away, and soon to be bloodied. All the while Consortium had turned on itself in bitter infighting, needing the guidance that its Merchant Prince had surrendered the right to provide. And so Mauricius had agreed to the plot, seeing the need for it.

In the distance, what he had been waiting for all night finally appeared: a red light blinked into existence atop a tall tower, for three heartbeats before disappearing.

Merchant Prince Fabianus was dead.

Indolent, patient, Mauricius waited. It was the better part of an hour before a messenger for the Forty-Stole Court found him. Fabianus was dead, he was told, and elections would need to be had. An emergency session of the Forty-Stole Court was to be held soon. And still Mauricius waited. It was almost another hour before he was presented with a second cup of chilled wine, and only then did the merchant lord smile.

“Thank you,” he told the shadowy servant.

Prosperus Soranus was dead. That was what the cup had told him. And with him gone, Dread Empress Malicia had lost her puppet candidate to the office of Merchant Prince. All that gold she’d sunk into preparing his election would be gone unless she found another flagbearer for her interests. And even if she tried, that candidate might just lose to Mauricius should he try his hand at being elected. The Empress would suspect his hand at work, but she was a practical woman in her own way.

More gold was coming his way, and soon.

Merchant Prince Mauricius would walk the line, prevent debts being called in early but refuse to extend ‘dangerous’ loans. Negotiations would be opened again, seeking better terms. Malicia would get what she wanted, a Mercantis unwilling to meekly serve as the coin purse of the Grand Alliance, and the Grand Alliance would be pleased by the rise of a Merchant Prince willing to actively steer policy to their advantage if certain terms were met. There was wealth to be made, standing between the Tower and the West, and even more between the West and annihilation. Mauricius slowly rose to his feet, finally ready to attend the emergency session of the Forty-Stole Court. He was eighty-three, today, and so when he looked down at the mosaics of the Irenian Plaza it was with something like understanding.

“You’d understand, wouldn’t you?” Mauricius mused. “You died clutching your brush, after all.”

Leo had been raised to revile the name of Hypathia Trakas.

His mother had hated it before him and her father before that, a chain going back all the way to the first Trakas to have inherited a mutilated throne after Basilea Hypathia lost the ancient rights of their line. There was a time, Mother had taught him as a child, where we shared power over Nicae with none. In those days the Trakas had ruled as kings, titling themselves Basileus not out of humility but as a means to claim descent from the legendary emperor Aenos Basileon – and so primacy over all other crowns come from the collapse of his ancient empire. But Hypathia Trakas had been arrogant, and unwise. She had made such disaster of the Second Samite war that a swaggering thug of an admiral had been able to carve her throne in two: thereafter, there would be a Strategos as well as a Basileus.

Yet the truth was that, for all the bile that Mother had passed onto him, neither of them had truly expected that they would be able to right this ancient wrong in their lifetimes. They had been taught the dominance of their enemies when Leo’s own father went to sea and never returned, taken by ‘Stygian pirates’ on one of the safest stretches of water of the Gulf. Father had been of a military line, an old one and more importantly one foe to Strategos Nereida Silantis. The warning was heard clearly, and the alliances carefully sealed by Mother withered on the vine. The Trakas had tradition on their side, hallowed blood and the sacred duties only an anointed Basileus could undertake. They even had deep influence in matters of stewardship.

Yet the Strategoi had swords, and without those what was the rest worth?

Leo Trakas had been fresh to the throne when the war with Stygia and Helike erupted, though of course it was not so simple as that. In private the war had been a cause for despair, for when steel was out the Strategoi had excuses to meddle in every matter be they high or low. Leo’s palace would be filled with spies, appointments stripped away and granted instead to supporters of Strategos Nereida and the treasury of the office of Basileus plundered at will for war funds. Silanis had even developed ties to the First Prince of Procer, who now showered her with silver and soldiers even as the latest Theodosian madman set the Free Cities aflame. The years ahead looked grim.

And then the armies of Helike and Stygia encamped beyond the walls of Nicae, and Leo realized he’d underestimated the threat of the enemy being fought. Penthes had collapsed into civil war, Atalante outright capitulated and Delos so badly mauled it was good as out of the war. Bellerophon was busy somehow failing to invade the territories of a city at war with itself, as was the wont of the People, but that was hardly a relief. Nicae stood alone, and in the streets the people were afraid. Even the arrival of a band of heroes – and Leo would not soon forget they had gone to Nereida, not him, even though the Trakas stood closest to the Heavens by Nicean law – had done little to improve the mood.

This was no danger to Leo Trakas, for his strengths were not the kind that could be unmade by the displeasure of the people. His blood was in his veins, his authorities writ into immutable law. It was not so with Strategos Nereida Silanis, whose authority came from the sword but also from the love of the people. Strategoi hated by the commons had a tendency to take sick and die, so that the old families might elect a more suitable replacement in their stead. And so Leo Trakas sent what few servants were still solely his to whisper in the right ears, to wonder if once-bold Nereida had not gone craven in her old age. The whispers took, for Nicae’s strength had stayed behind its walls during the war, and when the enemies assaulted the wall the Strategos fought in the ranks.

It amused Leo Trakas a great deal, in private, that though he had paid a man to kill her during the battle the assassin died to a stray arrow and the Strategos was still killed by a Helikean blade.

Leo surrendered to the Tyrant of Helike himself, the red-eyed monster humming and grinning like a lunatic all the while before offering terms that were highly generous: the only concession required of Nicae would be its vote in the election of some nobody Bellerophon diplomat to the office of Hierarch of the Free Cities. Unearned as the acclaim was, the city thrummed with praised for his ‘having tricked’ the Tyrant into gaining nothing of worth from Nicae for his victory. And so when the opportunity had come, when the old families had come to him and asked for him to officiate over the ceremonial council that would elect the next Strategos, he’d done what every Trakas since Hypathia’s own daughter had craved like a drowning soul craves air.

No,” Leo Trakas had smiled, savouring the word like fine wine.

They cajoled and whispered sweet promises, at first. And when that failed, oh but how they raged and threatened. Yet it was all but air, for Leo was beloved of the streets – fickle as they were – and they were not. To Nicae, it was a Strategos that had made a disaster of this war. They were not clamouring for another, not yet. And Leo Trakas intended on having seized power properly, by the time it occurred to them that they might want to. At first he courted the First Prince’s support, for Cordelia Hasenbach had wasted no time in initiating correspondence, but when he saw the wind turn against Procer in the councils of Kairos Theododian’s puppet Hierarch he leaned into it.

There was nothing the people of Nicae loved more than a good settling of scores with the Thalassocracy, and such a war would put him at odds with Procer regardless. That lion was getting old anyway, he’d heard: there were rumours of the Dead King raiding to the north, even as Praesi and Callowans smashed Proceran armies left and right. The League of Free Cities was riding high, in contrast, and Theodosian was a madman but he was a successful one. He was also not as wary of his ‘allies’ as he should perhaps be, for when Leo began reaching out to the other cities for alliances he found more takers than he had expected. Basileus Leo Trakas had already restored the old powers of his blood, but still he hungered for more.

Was his line not descended from Aenos Basileon himself, who had ruled over the great cities that did not yet call themselves free? There were none more fitting than Leo to rise to prominence in the League, to replace Helike and its twitching goblin of a king as the power behind their simpleton Hierarch. Gods, but in those heady days he’d come so very close to getting all he wanted. How had it all gone so wrong?

“The rioters have seized the amphitheatre, my lord Basileus,” Captain Attika told him.

Leo looked down at the kneeling captain of his guard, letting the calm on her face settle his own unease. The game was not yet over, he told himself.

“Better that than the treasury,” the Basileus finally said. “Have the Valeides and the Petros answered my messengers?”

“They have not, my lord,” Captain Attika admitted.

It was a grim tiding, when even his closest allies within the old families were not willing to consider lending soldiers to keep order in the streets – or at least prevent looting of the granaries and the island-gardens. Most of Leo’s soldiers we bound to guard the palace and the treasury, which limited his ability to enforce peace in the streets.

“Two days,” Leo said. “In two days we will receive the Stygian grain and the dole will appease the people. We only need to hold for that long, Attika.”

His captain grimaced.

“I fear that the riots might be as much from the northern news as the rationing, my lord,” she admitted. “And Stygian grain cannot mend such accusations.”

“Hasenbach,” the Basileus hissed. “Her work, this. None of the others have the subtlety for it.”

When the threat had first come through the Grand Alliance – that band of robbers – that Leo might be named a friend of the Dead King if he did not surrender and come to terms with ‘Strategos’ Zenobia, he’d laughed at the letter. Procer was too busy warring against the dead to meddle in the south, and the Black Queen had proved a rather distant patron to General Basilia. As for the Dominion it was a pack of squabbling tribes that the only civilized lot among them, the Isbili of Levante, had little control over. They couldn’t agree on the colour of tablecloths without honour duel, much less genuine diplomatic policy.

There was a lot less to laugh about now that word of the condemnation had been smuggled into the city and riots shook the streets. Zenobia Vasilakis might be a mere country landowner, well beneath any of the old families that tended to claim the office of Strategos, but she had partisans anyway. Though with no real ties to the ruling naval elite of Nicae, the Vasilakis family did have a record of meritorious service in the army – which had often been neglected in favour of the fleet, over the years. Army folk kept tight loyalties, which was half the reason Leo’s own mother had taken a husband from one such family.

The Vasilakis reputation had won Zenobia sympathies, even before the Grand Alliance’s official recognition of her as the legitimate ruler of Nicae cemented her status. Leo’s attempts to present her to the old families as a country agitator out to replace the influential lines from the city had been largely successful, but after such honours from great crowns it wouldn’t matter. Grand Alliance backing made them as powerful as any of them, in practice, and ties to General Basilia’s Helike only added bite to her candidature. Zenobia had not been elected under the proper ceremony, which would have required Leo to officiate, but fewer people cared every week.

“I cannot speak to that, my lord,” Captain Attika said, “but I will say that should we lose the grain to rioters, it will deal your reign a great blow. I wager they will call it Zenobia’s dole instead, and the streets will sing her name.”

“The docks are also guarded by our… friends,” the Basileus said. “They would not hesitate to disperse riots.”

The thrice-cursed Dread Empress of Praes had massacred and stolen his fleet in the same stroke, but there was nothing Leo could do about that. What he could do was trade the Praesi access to the port for repairs of the ships in exchange for them funding Stygian grain shipments and providing the coin that let him keep paying his army even after the collapse of trade in the Samite Gulf. If Ashur weren’t fighting a very polite civil war with itself Leo might have been afraid of reprisals for the sacks of Smyrna and Arwad he’d ordered, but until the Thalassocracy dealt with its succession crisis Nicae would remain safe.

“I fear that would only incite further unrest, my lord,” Captain Attika said. “Would the sight of the dead slaying the living not seem to put truth to the accusations of the Grand Alliance?”

Leo’s fingers clenched. He’d not considered that. Any thinking man would grasp that the Dead King fielded no armies this far south, but angry mobs were not renowned for their wisdom. No doubt his enemies would seize on the opportunity presented regardless of the truth, too.

“Then we must secure the docks with our own men,” Leo reluctantly said. “All is lost, without the grain.”

He peered at his kneeling captain.

“Where would you suggest the men be taken from?” he said.

She hesitated for a moment.

“The palace,” Captain Attika finally said. “It is much easier to defend, and less likely to be attacked. Greed will lead rioters to try their hand at the treasury sooner or later, my lord.”

“Agreed,” the Basileus said.

Or rivals from old families under the guise of rioters, even. None of that lot was above plundering the coffers of the state to fill their own.

“See to it, Captain Attika,” he ordered.

“My lord,” she replied, saluting.

After the door closed behind her, Leo Trakas sat alone on the throne he’d been the first of his line to ever fully reclaim. And still the thought niggled away at him – would the Trakas of days yet to come name him as another Hypathia, another fool who’d wasted the gifts of fate? The long tapestries and slender columns around him gave no answer to his musings. No, Leo told himself. The game was not yet over, and this could yet be salvaged. Once the grain ships had come many of the rioters would disperse and he could finally suppress the riots. After he regained control of the city, he could come to terms with ‘Strategos’ Zenobia.

To his knowledge she was still unmarried, if a decade older than him, and perhaps the surrender being forced on him could be turned into a marriage alliance instead. He doubted Zenobia was any more eager to be under the Grand Alliance’s thumb than he was to be under Malicia’s. A united Nicae would be able to force Helike to end its incessant war-making, especially if it clasped hands with Stygia, and Leo could count his debts to the Tower settled if he made that savage Basilia cease attacking the reign of Malicia’s Penthesian puppet Exarch. Perhaps sending for a painting of Zenobia was in order, he thought, so that he might have a notion of what he’d be in for.

With Captain Attika gone he’d expected servants to begin attending him again, but the hall was instead eerily silent. Leo frowned. Was something wrong, or did someone simply need to be switched? The Basileus became uncomfortably aware that his regal clothes came without a weapon, or more protection than a few layers of cloth could afford him. There were armoured statues here in the hall, though, bearing the gilded armour of his forbears and matching ceremonial blades. Yet if he were to leave here having strapped on such a sword and there’d been no trouble, if servants saw him… Laughter was the death of fear, and much of his reign now depended on fear.

Silence lingered throughout his thoughts, and that as much as anything else made the decision for him.

The blade of Basilea Sousanna Trakas came clear of the scabbard with a hiss. It fit his hand well, as Sousanna had been tall for a woman. As he recalled she was best known for her victories against encroaching Stygia and having extracted tribute from the hill tribes later to become Helike, so at least half of the old use might see the light of day again. Sure-footed even if it had been years since he’d last held a blade, Leo pushed open the great gates of the throne hall and slipped into the corridor beyond. Still not a soul in sight, he saw with dismay. That was not natural.

Had his own servants begun to flee the palace, abandoning his cause?

More worryingly, there was no trace of his personal guard. There should have been four in the corridor, awaiting his orders, but instead only further silence awaited. Leo decided to head for his quarters in the deeper palace, where more guards should be awaiting him. Tense moments walking through deserted hallways came at an end when he found the butchered corpse of one of his soldiers on the floor. Stabbed in the back, he found, and the body was still warm. It was a coup, must be, and by heading to his quarters he’d be putting himself into the hands of his enemies.

He must turn back now, find the barracks and convince soldiers to escort him to the manse of an allied family. The Valeides might have denied him more men, but they could not refuse him shelter without dishonouring themselves: his father had been brother to their patriarch’s wife. Discarding the last pretence of being in control, Leo ran for it.

He heard it as a whistle first. A the tune of a half-familiar song, though he could not remember the name of it. The Basileus abandoned the corridor it came from, banking left to shake whoever was whistling. Except the same slow, mournful whistle awaited him there. Dead end after dead end, until he began to hear the words.

Did we not lose,
A hundred times?
Did we not win,
A hundred times?

His blood ran cold. And as the snare tightened around him, Leo Trakas ran until there was nowhere left to run. Cornered in his own palace, surrounded by tapestries speaking to old glories as slowly the sound of hooves on stone came closer. The scent of blood was in the air. Back to a splash of blood-red silk, a golden sword in hand, the Basileus of Nicae stood his ground as rider came into the flickering torchlight. Her voice was clear, strong.

“For we did lose,
A hundred times,” General Basilia sang, a sharp smile on her face.

Her sword was already in her hand, dripping red on the stone. Behind her, a pack of riders followed her into the corridor – red-handed savages, defiling a palace older than their entire misbegotten city.

“And we will win,
A hundred times,” General Basilia sang, the smile fading form her lips and sinking into her eyes.

She leaned forward on her saddle.

“You warned of me consequences once, Leo Trakas. Shall we now finish our talk?”

The Basileus of Nicae spat to the side, defiant.

“Once a hound, always a hound,” Leo said. “You will fail your new masters, just as you failed your last.”

“Where was that spirit,” General Basilia laughed, “a year ago?”

Her blade rose, and so did his. She spurred her mount and he ran forward, ran and yelled until the horse was past him and he felt a flash of heat across his chest and face. Blood, he found as he stumbled onto the tapestries.

“‘till falls the age,
And end the times,” the general softly said.

Darkness came. And just before it, dread. Gods, if they’d taken the city – the undead the Tower had left, would they not burn the city as they fled? Malicia would not suffer the port to stand, if she could not use it.

Leo Trakas’ last word was a rasping gurgle as he tried too late to speak a warning.

124 thoughts on “Interlude: Ebb

    1. Anomandris

      True, she is definitely not going quietly into the gentle night….

      In terms of the Story, I have a feeling that she is gonna be higher on the totem pole of the big bad than DK, with only the Bard above her.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. thearpox23

        I am puzzled as to how you arrived at that. Imagine if in the Lord of The Rings the heroes decided to forego fighting Saruman in favour of defeating Sauron first, and the guy was still sending raids and causing trouble till after the ring was tossed. That’s the situation with Malicia now. Her whole plan of hoping the Grand Alliance is too exhausted to fight her after the war with DK is not what I would call “higher on the totem pole than DK”.

        Liked by 9 people

            1. The Empress is only alive at the moment for 2 reasons. 1) When the last we saw Ranger, when she joined up with Black, she still was recovering from her fight with the Summer Queen. 2) Not even the Dead King was able to keep Ranger from reaching him no matter what was done so he actually quit trying and there was the draw with the Summer Queen. Both are technically in the lower tier of “godhood” something Malicia is not. If a fully healed Ranger wants Malicia dead, she will be dead because she won’t be able to stop her and remember Ranger never liked Malicia she only help her because of Black.

              Liked by 5 people

          1. A.B.

            Also while she may not be higher to the world by the time the dead king is handled everyone else will be tired and broke. It won’t be grand alliance vs D.Empress but just Cat. So for the stories POV she will be the big baddest even if not for the world.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Shveiran

              …Anyone that liked the scouring of the shire, raise you hand. I’ll wait.

              In all seriousness, that is usually considered one of the few mistakes of granpa Tolkien. It generally reads as anticlimatic as the conclusion of the series, and here we wouldn’t even have the “hero coming home” feel to carry us.

              I sure hope EE doesn’t go that route. If Malicia will be last, she’ll likely need to be relevant. Not a Shire Saruman.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. shikkarasu

                I’m hoping that Amadeus will take the Tower. We know he’s a claimant for it. If not, then I imagine Cat will, having abdicated the Crown. Either way, if it happens post DK it will likely be the “establishing the new Status Quo” final story beat, rather than a story arc of its own.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  Yeah, I think it would be much better if Amadeus beats Malicia without the Grand Alliance’s armies and without Catherine.

                  And I hope we get to actually see it, not a “After the last battle against the Dead King, Catherine received a message: Dread Empress Malicia was dead.” sort of thing.

                  Liked by 4 people

              2. nimelennar

                *Raises hand*

                Come on, the Scouring is pretty much directly out of Tolkien’s life experience of coming home after WWI and finding that the idyllic place he’d been longing to return to had not, in fact, been left untouched by the war raging across the rest of the continent.

                I can understand not liking it; it is yet another conflict (if an easily resolved one) taking place after the climax of the book. It certainly wasn’t a “mistake,” though.

                Liked by 11 people

                1. It isn’t vengance, it is the only justice those who would not be capable of passing into the “West” would be able to get.
                  The Nuremberg Trials are Real Life. The Scouring of The Shore was Tolkein’s take on the idea.
                  Even the “Book of Revelations” contains parts of how the “bad guys” get justice.
                  Just because the imminent threat is gone doesn’t mean wrongs won’t be righted.

                  Liked by 3 people

              3. Branwen

                Bah I loved the scouring of the shire! It’s a much needed reminder that war is inherently destructive and even if heroism is called for it comes at great cost. And the scene with Meriadoc blowing his horn of Rohan and rallying the hobbits kicks enormous ass and is lowkey one of my favorites in the whole series XD

                Liked by 5 people

              4. iLissuin

                I shall raise my hand proudly.

                The Scouring of the Shire was essential to the greater themes of the story: the Shire is what they fought so hard to protect and thus needed narrative closure (it should have been in the extendeds). It is the cost of the journey, the true conflict for Frodo and Sam.

                In many ways I see this as a parallel to Cat’s relationship with Callow. She’s currently fighting “Mordor,” but what will await her at home? What of Callow and Cardinal? I highly doubt that Malicia will just let what Cat has built stand, and she is closer to home than Cat will be for a long time. Besides, this conflict of what the end of the war shall bring has been heavily foreshadowed.

                What I am very curious about is how Black and Vivi will factor into the equation. What will they bring to Cat’s “Shire”?

                Liked by 4 people

              5. lordcirth

                I liked the scouring of the shire! It gave a chance for Merry and Pippin to come home in style. Not just coming home as strangers, but as heroes. And to show how they had changed and grown, without being overshadowed.

                Liked by 3 people

              6. Clint

                Not to pile on, but I thought omitting the Scouring of the Shire from the extended cut of the movies was one of Peter Jackson’s two big errors in an otherwise phenomenal set of movies.

                (The other was reducing Gimli and the dwarves into nothing but a bad joke.)

                Like

        1. Anomandris

          That’s kinda why I said in terms of the story. Yes DK is Sauron-esque in his power right now, but my feeling is that Malicia is gonna end up causing a lot more problem to Calernia in general and Cat in particular than DK. It’s not a plot thing, its where I might see the story going.

          Maybe I could have used better wording – Antagonist totem pole?

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Saruman didn’t cause problems on the scale of Sauron — he took a final chance to piss on the Shire, and then he got squashed like a bug. Once the DK is defeated, Malicia will be in much the same situation — if Black and Ranger don’t get her first, she’ll be facing Cat’s full attentions, with Cat riding a newborn Name, wielding the Bard’s powers, and riding every story in the books.

            Malicia is Doomed with a capital D.

            Liked by 8 people

            1. Miles

              DK is the smaller threat here. He’s always been happy to go back to his hole after causing just enough trouble to avoid ending his story. He wants to be the villain who gets knocked down, not the one who gets killed, and is happy in his immortal retirement.

              Malicia is trying to actually take over.

              Like

              1. It’s been pretty explicitly spelled out that THIS TIME the Dead King is playing for keeps. Because he thinks he can, because he thinks he cannot afford not to. Precedent isn’t much help here – the last time he made a decisive move, it was the end of Sephirah.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. caoimhinh

            She already has. In fact, most of the conflicts of this novel can be attributed and linked to her in some way.
            Her actions caused the Tenth Crusade by sponsoring the Doom of Liesse, and she is the one who unleashed the Dead King on Calernia again by inviting him.

            Malicia doesn’t believe herself capable of facing the other nations, so her style is not a direct confrontation. Instead, she causes a lot of fires around so that the other powers on Calernia have to be too busy putting them out that they can’t come against her… which works on the short term, but not on the long run, because eventually they are gonna look at her and decide she needs to be put down so that the fires end.

            So yeah, she is the final antagonist of the series because she is, in fact, the first and I don’t personally think she needs to cause one last disaster in her final confrontation (though she is probably desperate enough to do that) because she is already the one that caused the whole mess in the first place.

            It’s as if Saruman had been an evil sorcerer that when Gandalf and co. went after him, summoned Sauron on Middle Earth to get the heroes off him. Then after ending Sauron’s forces, the heroes need to kill Saruman because that was his fault.
            That’s the kind of situation Calernia has with Malicia.

            Liked by 5 people

          3. Jago

            *Raises hand*
            As nimelennar said, it is the moment when you return home from the war and discover that both you and your home have changed. Frodo is the veteran that suffers from PTD, even if the term hadn’t yet been coined when Tolkien returned from the war.
            The Lord of the Ring has a bittersweet ending, but that doesn’t make it less, it makes it honest.

            On a separate note, you must remember that Sauron was Morgoth lieutenant, so already a “lesser” evil.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. Mirror Night

      I mean I think its gone fairly well for Malicia. Not her first candidate in Mercantis sure but its her Second Option. Nicae is done for the forseeable future as goblinfire burns down the city and the ports. Ashur is bogged down in a Civil War with two of their major cities sacked. Did it go 100% perfectly not really but I doubt Malicia thought Nicae could hold back Helike forever anyway.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Odd

        Malicia’s pawns think it’s going poorly for her because the goals she told those pawns she wanted are not being fully achieved. If those goals are false, where does that leave the situation for her?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Still bad, between Amadeus and Catherine.

          There’s only so many times you can move the goalposts on what your victory conditions are before you follow in Traitorous’s steps.

          Like

    3. Miles

      Cat is getting blamed for the sacking. It’s the fulfillment of a threat she made in a dream.

      Also there are lots of fires and zombies

      Like

  1. Anomandris

    “Standing between the Tower and the West; and between the West and annihilation”…..not a great place to stand, mate…

    Also, was that Assassin in Mercantis?? (Please let them not be working with Malicia)

    Liked by 11 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yes, Assassin killed Magon, the head of Ashur.
        But that 2 years ago, no? I doubt he is still there. Though it is telling that his son and successor (who is on the side of Malicia) was not able to seize power completely.

        Liked by 7 people

      1. Actually, I can see the GA seizing the opportunity to have someone stand there. It’s not great for his life expectancy and he knows it, judging by the age comment at the end, but he can do a lot from that position.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          Not really? I mean, that’s what he thinks, that’s clear.
          I’m just saying…He plans to toe the line between teh two super-powers, but that is impossible as the two superpowers want irreconciable things.

          If he extorts a few concession from the GA that are not outrageous enough, they might tolerate it, but that means Mercantis doesn’t collapse their economic situation, and that Malicia won’t tolerate: the money bag doesn’t collapse without Mercantis, and the money bag is how she can sabotage the war effort.
          She won’t sit pretty and hope the DK delivers, that’s not her style.

          If he pushes enough for Malicia to be satisfied, though, the GA will stop playing nice and remind them that coin and influence are not worth shit if the opponent has enough swords and no qualm over using them.

          I guess it is possible for Malicia to find another scheme, but Mercantis does seem the weakest link… and therefore the best target.
          Even if she starts attacking elsewhere she has no reason not to keep attacking there as well.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. talenel

            The problem is that Cat can’t really afford to sack Mercantis. If she does that, then the money bag still disappears. So Malicia’s best plan is to bleed the Grand Alliance enough that they are hapless once they have defeated DK for good. And a Merchant Prince who is clever enough to walk the line where he will bleed every coin and favor he can is honestly almost more of a positive for her then having a puppet Merchant Prince.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes and no.

              Mercantis still has no idea exactly where “reluctantly tolerated, if barely” ends and “bad things happen to Mercantis” starts as far as pushing their demands goes.
              There’s clearly a point where Mercantis gets trashed immediately … but before that there’s a point where Mercantis gets tolerated for the duration of the war and then demolished instead of fulfilling the terms.
              Remember, if Mercantis gets sacked by Procer/the Grand Alliance, even if they don’t launch a punitive expedition until after after the war, the debts and concessions owed to Mercantis can easily be written off.
              It’s easier to pretend to accept and put up with things you don’t like if you know it’s temporary and are planning on getting rid of them.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. talenel

                Yes they can write off all their past debts and loans is they wipe out Mercantis. But then where are they getting any money from? No one will be lending them money after they destroyed their last major borrower. And the GA for all it has a powerful army still is woefully lacking in funds. They need Mercantis, its trade, its business, and most importantly its money. And, after the war, they’ll still need those things to function and begin the process of rebuilding.

                Now if Mercantis is being sufficiently unhelpful that it doesn’t matter, then they will be spitefully wiped out by Cat as Calernia burns around them. However, if they provide just enough recalcitrant help that the GA can still function, then Cat, being her practical self, can’t afford to nuke them. Especially since it will just make recovery for the rest of the world much more difficult.

                It’s the one downside to being practical. Cat would never copy Jehan the Wise and bankrupt her people just for spite. She’s too reasonable for that.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Shveiran

                  But she wouldn’t be bankrupting anyone. She’d take a stroll through the Twilight Ways and portal a few glaciers down on the city. Mercantis has no mage or Named worth a damn, I doubt she’d need an army to do it… and if she did, she has one that still has to go south.

                  Culling them after the war causes no problem to the GA. Sure, they might need funds to rebuild, but they need that less than they need crossing off gargantuan war debts.

                  And from a practical standpoint… if she is stepping down anyway, she is removing a tick from the continent who would do little for anyone save profiteering from the war-torn kingdoms’ impoverished state.

                  Not crossing off Mercantis after the war is not a practical measure, but a moral one.
                  Because, you know, it’s still a lot of death even if they are ruled by dicks.

                  Like

  2. Big I

    So I’m guessing we’ve just seen the Naming of the next Merchant Prince and Tyrant.

    On an unrelated note, I hope we get to see the fall of Stygia and Mercantis in this story to the Legions or the Army of Callow. “There can be no peace between orc and lash.” And how cool was that story about Jehan the Wise? Long prices indeed.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Raved Thrad

      I laughed out loud at the part where the Mercantian was recounting how Callow had been faced with penury for a generation and they didn’t care. Savages indeed.

      “You’re going to pauperize yourselves if you attack us!”
      “Then let’s make it good, yeah?”
      “Ok, ok, we’ll pay you to go away.”
      “Score!”

      Liked by 18 people

    2. caoimhinh

      I don’t know about them getting a Name.

      Basilia, I could see, since even Catherine sees Kairos in her when she grins.
      But the merchant prince position is not a Name, and this guy most definitely didn’t do anything worthy of getting a Name.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, what delightful insight into the lesser villains of the story. These events were either entirely according to Malicias plan, or she’s been slipping lately, if two of her supposed most important assets can be removed from the board so easily.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. talenel

        We are seeing these things from an outsider/tool’s perspectives. They aren’t party to Malicia’s plans. And honestly these things seem to have gone pretty well. Nicae is pretty much destroyed as an entity and I don’t think she could have ever really trusted Trakas as an ally. And Mercantis has a very powerful and effective MP who will do a good job of bleeding the GA without giving the appearance of being a figurehead and thus a straight-up enemy.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Ninestrings

    Mercantis: I see you loading up ships there to attack us
    Jehan: Yep
    Mercantis: hahaha that makes no sense though you’ll lose a lot of money on that
    Jehan: Yep *Continues loading*
    Mercantis: Hey man why not stop doing that
    Jehan: Nope.
    Mercantis: I… I’ll pay you not to?
    Jehan:…how much?

    Liked by 26 people

      1. Frivolous

        It kind of makes you think that Callowans have bigger dicks than anyone else. Yes, including Callowan women.

        After all, there’s only one letter of difference between long price and long prick.

        When they decide to fuck you up, you’ll know it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am not sure who will end up more fucked, i think Mauricious didn’t think on how whatever happens in the free cities would affect him, and i am not sure what will happen to Nicae.

    Also credit where is due Leo’s last thoughts were at least about his city and people’s safety, pity it came too late but is aparently more than what that guy in Penthes (and his brother) are/were capable off,

    Back to that merchant i think he doesn’t realize he is on the end of an era, he is sticking to old ways and that could sink Mercantis.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I get the impression Mauricius is fully aware he’s signing up for a WILD RIDE and going for it on purpose. Eighty-three, YOLO, etc. It’s not like he has a “stable” option in this climate.

      And yeah I noticed that too about Leo. For all that he was kind of a shit throughout his internal monologue, at the end his thought was about the city in his charge.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. Shveiran

        Leo Trakas: fucks over his city and everyone else looking out only for his own legacy throughout his life.

        Also Leo Trakas: has a last-moment ephipany while dying that maybe if everyone died it would be bad, which affects nothing.

        Sure, let’s give him a point for that. So long as we count the 10000 that were scored against him as well.

        Liked by 4 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        Most of a random Jora comment in Guild Wars: “Hail to the future! It is an axe age, a sword age, an age when shields are cleft asunder! It is a wind age, a wolf age, before the world plunges headlong into battle!”

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Raved Thrad

            It is derived from poetic (skaldic?) descriptions of Ragnarök. The Norn (of which Jora is one) are giants (relatively speaking) who live in the snowy North. Their culture revolves around hunting, brawling (among themselves), drinking, and killing things. Oh, and dying heroically, but really heroic Norn usually manage to put that off for a while.

            https://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Norn

            Liked by 1 person

  6. edrey

    Well, i am sure the augur would save nicae, with atalante priests maybe? Stigia is the problem. For mercantis, on the other hand? There are the dwarfs, the herald sound noble enough to help, they are in the war too, after all, scare them a little shouldnt be a problem

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ryan

    “Prosperus Soranus was dead. That was what the cup had told him. And with him gone, Dread Empress Malicia had lost her puppet candidate to the office of Merchant Prince.”

    This guy seriously thinks he outplayed malicia? I think he is in for a rude awakening.

    “There were none more fitting than Leo to rise to prominence in the League, to replace Helike and its twitching goblin of a king as the power behind their simpleton Hierarch. Gods, but in those heady days he’d come so very close to getting all he wanted. How had it all gone so wrong?”

    Poor Leo to paraphrase Azula of the fire nation, You were never even a player.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Anomandris

      Plus he thinks he can outplay not just Malicia, but Cat and Cordy.

      Thats like the answer to the question “Name three Calernian women you do not want to play politics with”

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I disagree re: Mauricius. Malicia IS short on options, and he’s not claiming to have outplayed her, it’s not like this results in her LOSS. She just wins slightly less, and that’s just how the game goes.

      I get the impression he’s fully aware he cannot outplay either of the three women involved. However, he can make himself a person valuable to all three of them as a workable compromise – he’s not completely Malicia’s puppet but he’s as good as she’s going to get without sacking the city entirely, and well, the Grand Alliance did just send a band of Named there. Malicia is going to have to settle, and he’s the ideal candidate for everyone involved. Sane enough to deal with the Grand Alliance without dismissing them, mercantile enough to give Malicia periodic bites.

      Nobody’s going to like it, but as long as they don’t dislike it at him, he’s fine.

      Liked by 11 people

    3. Forum Explorer

      No, I think Black outplayed Malicia and knew that this guy would be Malicia’s contingency. But since he’s just trying to ride the wave between maximizing profits and being destroyed, he won’t actually be that useful of a pawn. Sure, Malicia can bribe him, but there is a much sharper limit on what he’s willing to do. Plus his YOLO attitude means threats won’t matter nearly as much to him.

      Liked by 5 people

  8. Heh.

    Things aren’t going the way Malicia wants them to go … but she’s the type that has contingencies to trash as much as possible that she can’t get to go her way.

    Very much approve of the bit about Jehan the Wise and Callowan willingness to get revenge.

    But Mauricius is definitely underestimating Cat’s willingness to do terrible things to get enemies or those who help them.
    I rather suspect that Mercantis is going to have more trouble with renegotiating the terms than he thinks they will.
    And I suspect that if/when he finds out about the nightmare messages Cat sent Livia, he’ll reconsider – because he damned well ought to know that having made the threat, and how explicit it was, Cat basically has to follow through or she’ll never be able to make another threat believable.
    Plus, he was just thinking about what Jehan the Wise did, and that he was a hardcore Callowan Hero, while Cat is equally Callowan but also a Villain, and thus presumably has less restraints on what she’ll do to people.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I get the impression he’s not going to be renegotiating Livia’s deal directly. He’s going to conduct further, additional negotiations for more loans, while accepting the deal Cat nightmared Livia into.

      He’s not underestimating anything. He’s going to play by the rules. He just expects that by the rules, he’ll still profit.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Even if you’re right, that he’s not going to try to renegotiate what Livia agreed to … and I got the impression that he was planning to renegotiate, or at least try to.
        The point is, the basic point of the message Cat sent was that Mercantis cannot afford to try to push Procer, and thus the Grand Alliance, too far, because crossing the line into unacceptable conditions means Mercantis gets razed. And there’s no real way to tell exactly where “reluctantly tolerated, if barely” ends and “bad things happen to Mercantis” starts.
        And I got the impression that he thinks he’ll have more leeway to push Procer (and thus the Grand Alliance) than Livia does. Remember the past where he thinks about the Grand Alliance’s armies marching into Hainaut, “soon to be bloodied”? I get the impression that he thinks that the forces of the Grand Alliance aren’t going to be available to pressure Mercantis soon.

        Also, I suspect that he’s seriously underestimating Cat.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Jago

          The main problem is that he thinks it is “a Crusade as usual”, with the crusaders being bloodied and all ending to a standstill and al going on as usual. But the war is an invasion of Procer by the DK. If the Crusade fails at least half of Procer fall under the DK and Marcanis larger client disappears. The DK doesn’t seem to care for trade outside his territory, so what is the utility of being the trading gate of the continent when the interior doesn’t trade at all?

          Procer fall, Callow is conquered by Praes and they trade food directly, half of the Free cities are wrecked for generations, the Titanomachy seem mostly an autarchy, so little trade from there, too. It ends like Venice in the XVIII century, when trade was across the Atlantic to the Americas or along the Cape of Good Hope to Asia. A sill famous has been, but not the economic power it was.

          And if Procer fall they can say goodbye to the money they loaned.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. > And there’s no real way to tell exactly where “reluctantly tolerated, if barely” ends and “bad things happen to Mercantis” starts.

          There is though. Sure it’s a zone of risk, but the GA does need Mercantis and it needs it for specific things. If the 10 things it absolutely needs are fulfilled but the 2 additional things it would also like aren’t, the game continues to be played – and the difference between ‘absolutely needs’ and ‘would also like’ is calculable with sufficient intelligence.

          Like

  9. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    preferred think > preferred to think
    Ashuran brewed > Ashurans brewed
    through kind > thorough kind
    while Consortium > while the Consortium
    soldiers we bound > soldiers were bound
    without honour duel > without an honour duel
    them as powerful as any of them > her as powerful as any of them
    A the tune > The tune
    as rider came > as a rider came
    fading form > fading from

    Liked by 3 people

  10. WuseMajor

    So, today’s was called Ebb.

    I’ll place a bet on the next one being Flow. As in the Ebb and Flow that Procerians keep talking about.

    I suspect we’ll see how these two situations play out for the people who think they’re winning right now. If not, then perhaps a few more such situations, ending with how Malicia feels about things.

    Or….hmmm…Perhaps Amadeus will comment on something?

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Shveiran

        I know right? We still have next to no clue what he has been up to for two years.
        We had some rumors about Sepulcral and a dragon being involved, but nothing certain or even detailed.
        I need some Not!BlackKnight goodness.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Raved Thrad

          It’s a miracle, really, when you consider that he’s been running around with Hye for two years and neither is half the world on fire, nor has Ranger boinked him to death. After all he is just another squishy human now…

          Liked by 4 people

  11. Oh goddammit, way to make me like a character right as he’s dying )= Leo was a twat, but he could use those extra seconds for a warning… he would have used them well. He wasn’t a good guy and he was kind of an idiot, but in the end, he did care.

    Mauricius, now, is interesting. I’m expecting he’ll be another big player now, having expertly placed himself in exactly the place he’s qualified to make big waves from. I kind of like him, I won’t lie, though it’s in a “wow what a terrible person” way.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I really really really cannot understand this logic.

        Being able to do a little bit of good is not something you need ot deserve first, even if you’re following the ‘deserve’ framework isn’t it HOW you deserve other things?

        Like

          1. I… what?

            This is not even circular logic, this is like… I don’t even know.

            Either his last moments being spent on telling Basilia to beware IS sufficient for redemption. In which case it’s sufficient and he has “set up” by being the kind of person to react like that.

            Or it’s not enough, in which case it’s not redemption and there’s no problem.

            There’s nothing else there. It’s not about him, he’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for the city. How it reflects on him is the opposite of the point. It’s just a reflection, and whatever you think the reflection is, it’s not relevant to the act itself?

            Like

            1. The “reflection” would affect how he’s remembered afterward, the stories that follow him. This falls under “call no man happy until he’s dead” — he hadn’t earned a break on his posthumous reputation.

              Like

              1. Basilia’s the only person there. If she doesn’t tell anyone, no-one will know.

                Also, an entire city full of people NOT being razed by undead KIND OF MATTERS MORE than Leo Tracas’s posthumous reputation?

                Like

  12. Sparsebeard

    I can’t see things going well for Malicia in the free cities. Nicea falling to alliance alligned forces means that her allies in the region are dwindling.

    If anything, undead are bound to rally surviving Niceans to fully join to Grand Alliance… which could shift the balance and have Malicia’s other allies in the region reconsider.

    Unless Leo was foolish enough to let Malicia bring a Dead Waters level WMD in the city, I can’t see the fall of Nicea not being a huge setback for her (and even then, she loses one of her few allies).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, and oh boy, they are sooo gonna say this is 100% proof of Leo being a friend of the Dead King. The last of the Trakas is gonna be the most vilified one.
      I wonder if the new Strategos will become Basileus.

      And this situation kind of has to be a wake-up call for the rest of the Free Cities.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Abrakadabra

      Yeah. I am still disappointed that Bellerophon Just left. After all who is bigger tirant Than the dead King, who will use and opress you even beyond thí point of death? The People might reconsider things if they see undead killing and torching in the south.

      Like

  13. Gabe

    I need books to read for the last leg of the summer. Since I figure that anyone reading the Guide has somewhat decent a taste, forgive me for talking about something other than the chapter here and ask if folks here have any recommendations on which books I should seek out?

    I’m decently well read, so maybe skip recommending your Tolkiens, Pratchetts and Sandersons.

    Anyway, I appreciate any suggestions and wish you the best.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If you want something a bit like Cat’s military adventures in earlier books, you could try Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. The battle scenes are fun, the strategies are both impressively audacious and reasonably believable (at least to me, though my knowledge of tactics and strategy comes exclusively from Wikipedia, YouTube, and the occasional history book), and the characters are fun and snarky.

      The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss is a pretty good read, if you don’t mind that the last book of the trilogy has been indefinitely delayed. It’s been a while since I read it, and I can’t really put my finger on any one thing that I enjoyed, but I found it enjoyable from start to finish. Apparently, the prose is of very high quality if you’re knowledgeable about that sort of thing (I’m not, so I can’t really tell the difference between it and ‘acceptable but basic’ prose)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Mark Alan Edelheit. The Chronicles of an Imperial Legionary Officer series is the main series, and is set a thousand years after Rome lost a legion. Turns out they got transferred to a new world and founded the Malzeelan Empire. But the story of Rome has mostly turned into their creation myth. At any rate, the Imperial Legionary Officer in question is one Captain Bennulius Stiger, and he’s about to get unpleasantly surprised by his new assignment.
      The Karus Saga series is the story of how that Roman Legion got lost in the first place, and if it continues will probably get to where they found what will become the Malzeelan Empire in a later book.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dammit. Just noticed the error.

        It’s Marc Alan Edelheit.
        Marc with a “c” not Mark with a “k”. Fucking autocorrect.

        Other authors you may or may not like:
        Terry Mancour’s Spellmonger series is also entertaining. Not sure when the next book is expected, but with ten books already out (I think of a projected thirty) there should be enough material to keep you reading for a while.

        Glynn Stewart – I thought the ONSET series ended a bit abruptly, but IIRC, he cut it shorter than intended because it wasn’t popular enough to keep going or something along those lines. ONSET is urban fantasy, as is the Changeling series. Starship’s Mage is based on a premise that I haven’t seen often – humanity went to the stars, but only because of magic – specially trained Jump Mages are able to teleport starships up to a lightyear at a time. The Martian Protectorate is ruled by the Mage-King of Mars (the first Mage-King used magic to fully terraform the planet) There are eight or nine mainline books, but there’s also a side series of currently three books covers some of the events that get foreshadowed in early books and contribute to stuff in later books, but the mainline series main character isn’t involved with. Book one is technically a compilation of five shorter stories that were originally released as more of a serial.
        The Duchy of Terra series – you know how usually in sci fi stories when Earth gets conquered by aliens, we plucky humans figure out a way to throw them off the planet? Yeah, that isn’t this story, but on the upside, we got annexed by the terrifying tentacled overlords who are trying to uplift and integrate us as valued and productive members of the Imperium, instead of their religious-imperative slaver neighbors, who are our other neighbors and would happily conquer and enslave us if they had the opportunity. At this point there is a complete sequel trilogy and a subsequent sequel trilogy has been started.
        He’s also recently started a new series, I think it’s called Teer and Kard, book one is Wardtown … I’m not entirely sure what genre to call it … there’s magic, but also sixshooters, repeating rifles, and a major Wild West vibe (at least in the starting region), but it very definitely used to be a fantasy world, only in this one the probable elf-equivalents invented gunpowder, the steam engine (probably), and landed on the continent where events are set in iron ships.

        Jonathan Moeller … his stuff tends to be a faster read for me, but since he writes insanely fast, you usually aren’t waiting too long for the next book, but the next book he puts out is usually in a different series, as he usually has three or four active series going simultaneously. Frostborn/Sevenfold Sword/Dragontiarna are high fantasy, and could be considered arcs of a single series.
        Ghost/Ghost Exile/Ghost Night are a different high fantasy setting and are also basically arcs of a single series.
        Demonsouled is also high fantasy and has a completed sequel trilogy and a started subsequent sequel series.
        The Silent Order series, starting with Iron Hand, are science fiction.
        The Cloak Games/Cloak Mage series are mostly urban fantasy, but there are some classic high fantasy elements … but it’s three hundred years after the Conquest of Earth (and humanity) by the Elven High Queen, the Elven homeworld has spent as long in the hands of elves who successfully rebelled against the High Queen and continually attack Earth.

        Evan Currie … I enjoy his works … but sometimes the waiting for the next one in a given series takes a while.
        The On Silver Wings series has eight books, it’s sci fi.
        Odyssey One is sci fi and has seven or eight? Books, I think, plus two parallel spinoff series.
        The Superhuman series is a near future Earth … and genetically engineered superpowers (plus increased aggression) are the weapon of choice by an alien AI probe to exterminate all life on planet Earth.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. hue hue

      Okay, I am a simple man who easy to impress, thus this is not a serious read list but ALL those make my monkey brain happy:
      – The experimental logs of the crazy lich. A comedy web novel with some things taken from D&D and chinese noves. It’s pretty fun to read, has memorable cast, but each arc has at least one sceane were the silly aspect Góes to zero and made my eye water a bit (again, I am a simple man easely impressed)

      -The girl who bore the flame ring & The girl who ate a death god. Both novels are from a series about girls in differents parts of the continent gratly changing the polítics. Simple read like If the first book o the Guide was a one shot

      -The lazy king. A demon of Sloth gets powerfull as fuck, but he is also lazy as fuck. We mostly see his surroundings and how others demons react to him and the holy war incoming

      -No game no Life. My guilty pleasure this one. What the first anime episode, If you liked I recomend checking the novel

      Like

    4. From my “read &/or reading” list.
      PGtE. You are Here.
      Somebody mentioned “the Gods are Bastards.” Good fantasy with a modern feel.
      The Legend of Randidly Ghosthound. Chapter 1278 is the most recent release on this webnovel.
      Jim Butchers’ Dresden Files. Modern fantasy. Cannot recommend highly enough. Dead Beat features “Sue”, the Chicago T-Rex.
      Asimov, Herbert, (Heinlein),Greg Bear, Niven, Robert Asprin, & Hambone1330
      The last has a monthly HFY webserial in as hard Sci-fi as HFY gets @
      https://deathworlders.com
      I could recommend more, but that’s a few hundred hours. Get some sun.

      Really. Go outside. Vitamin D is a thing. Make some.
      I’m near Seattle. Supplements suck.

      Like

    5. Miles

      Worm by John C McCrae (parahumans.net)

      Also check the recommendations threads on /r/rational if you’re into the practical aspects of this story

      Topwebfiction.com if you’re into the superpower fantasy aspect

      Like

    6. If you haven’t read All Night Laundry, you can do that now. It’s a web serial which recently wrapped up its main story (2400+ daily installments with graphics and text!) and is now waiting on the epilogues. We’ve been waiting a while, but trying not to noodge the author, because he Iron-Manned ANL for most of 7 years, and he deserves a break.

      It is not at all like Guide — it started out as interactive, but the author eventually had to tone that down (and eventually cut it off) so he could actually finish the damn thing. Follows our protagonist from “dammit, I’m out of laundry and have a double shift tomorrow”, through “I hate time travel!” to “we are going to kill a god”, and on to…. well, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s glorious.

      Like

  14. Frivolous

    I wonder how much money Malicia still has. Praes is supposed to be rich, but all these bribes must be costing the Dread Empire something.

    Sepulchral certainly isn’t paying taxes or tribute to Malicia. Plus Praes isn’t getting taxes from the cities destroyed by the Ashuran navy and Masego, that time he swallowed the souls of an entire city.

    Like

    1. And Foramen is under goblin control.

      It’s a good question.
      I suspect that she’s probably running a deficit, but I also suspect that the Praesi treasury has numerous well filled vaults that Malicia can draw on.

      Although, it probably actually depends on who controls which mines. Remember, Praes has gold and various gemstones as exploitable natural resources. That’s something that is definitely useful, at least for a while.

      Like

  15. Morgenstern

    … aaaand there’s a “Next” link on chapter 42 leading to chapter 43 — but in this Interlude, the “Previous” link leads back to 42 instead of 43. Really strange.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Hm.. where did my last comment go? Before this one, there should be a “Chapter 43 does not show up in the chapter overview” comment. 😉

      Like

    2. Morgenstern

      Funnily enough, now the “Previous” link DOES actually lead to back to chapter 43 (instead of chapter 42, which it lead back to when I started posting this). How the hell did that get fixed in the seconds I’ve been typing this? =P

      Like

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