Chapter 45: Progress

“- one might then wonder if a kingdom’s sufferance of a tyrant for a decade is not worth the inevitable successful uprising by an usurped relative and the golden age it will usher. Given the frequent petty cruelty and mediocrity of kings, might it not be worth inducing a great tyrant so that a great ruler will follow them?”
– Extract from the controversial treatise ‘Ethics of Fate’ by Kalchas the Gadfly, Atalantian philosopher

The tavern had closed hours ago, as it was the middle of the night, but the Peregrine had a knack for getting into places he shouldn’t and I had a Night-trick decent with locks. I snapped my fingers and a few streaks of black flame sputtered to life in hanging lanterns, revealing a dirt floor to the large room. Just like the one we’d had in the Rat’s Nest. Feeling just a tad nostalgic, I limped up behind the bar – a nice large oaken piece – and went looking through the bottles after leaning my staff against the sude. Whoever ran this place kept a cudgel under the counter, I noted with approval. Good form.

I snatched up a bottle of what looked like genuine Neustrian schnaps, pulling the cork and taking a sniff. Apple, maybe? It’d do. Klaus Papenheim loved the stuff, and he’d offered it to me enough I’d acquired a taste for it. I took up one of the wooden cups and filled it, cocking an eyebrow at Tariq when he sat himself on the other side of the counter.

“What’s your poison, Pilgrim?” I asked.

“I don’t suppose there’s a pear brandy lying around?” the old man asked. “Alavan, if possible.”

I looked through the stock but there wasn’t, sadly enough.

“Closest they’ve got is some sort of berry brandy,” I told him, “and it looks Arlesite, though Gods only know from where beyond that.”

“Now you have me curious, I’ll admit,” the Pilgrim said. “If you don’t mind?”

I deftly set the cup down on the counter without turning as I took the bottle – some things never quite went, huh – and poured him a finger. I sniffed the bottle discreetly afterwards and almost gagged. It smelled like a whole bush had died in there along the promised berries. This might be the Grand Alliance’s camp but I wasn’t a robber queen, so I placed two golden crowns where the bottle I’d taken had stood. I cast a look at Tariq, who looked faintly embarrassed.

“I have been travelling light,” he admitted.

He wasn’t so crass as to actually outright request I pay for his drink, though, I noted with amusement.

Heroes,” I sighed, teasing.

I was actually out of crowns by I had a Praesi aurelius and a Proceran gran, which should more or less cover the costs. The gran was less pure, and so worth less, but some places refused imperial coinage as they believed it to be cursed. I vaguely remembered that one of the Dread Emperors had in fact tried to drive a chunk of Callowan nobility mad by cursing coinage a few centuries back so I couldn’t even blame them.

“You’re covered for the bottle,” I said, and raised my cup.

He matched it with his, and the drink went down. I laughed after it went down, my throat aflame. Damn, but the Lycaonese liked it with a kick. Orcs would actually enjoy drinking this, which was a standard rarely met.

“Business, then,” I said.

“Business,” Tariq agreed.

I said nothing, only cocking an eyebrow as I leaned against the counter.

“I will assume,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “that your intent is not to gloat.”

“I like to think I’m above such things,” I lied.

“Naturally,” the Peregrine seriously agreed.

A beat of silence passed.

“That said,” I thinly smiled, “I fucking told you so.”

He sighed, but did not disagree. That was already promising. I’d not been sure exactly what to expect, as the silence and eventual assent from the Dominion when I’d gotten the Wandering Bard to be designated as formal enemy of the Grand Alliance had only told me he’d abstained from getting involved. His actual thoughts remained unknown to me.

“It is possible that the attack on the Arsenal was meant to aid in the long term,” Tariq said, then grimaced and poured himself another finger of brandy. “But that is irrelevant. She has forced us to take her as an enemy through her actions, regardless of whatever intent might lie behind them.”

“There’s precious few acts you can’t justify by saying they’ll help down the line,” I flatly replied. “That does tend to be the convenient thing about using the future for proof.”

“Peace, Black Queen. I am not attempting to justify the Wandering Bard’s offences against us,” Tariq tiredly said. “Merely struggling to reconcile the woman I have known for a very long time with the one who is now my foe.”

Much as I hated it’d taken him this long to get here, it was starting to look he actually was there so I swallowed the many barbs still on the tip of my tongue. Rubbing salt in the wound would get me nothing save a fleeting moment of satisfaction.

“Then we’re in agreement that she’s kill-on-sight,” I said. “And that an order ensuring as much comes down on both your side and mine.”

“You are unlikely to actually kill her, using such means,” Tariq said. “But I do not disagree with the principle: her power comes from access to and influence over Bestowed, stripping her from these strengths is sensible.”

“Sensible,” I slowly repeated. “Yes, I believe so. Another sensible thing would be, for example, how you came to be so certain she won’t die. I know why I think that, Peregrine, but you’ve been less than forthcoming about your ties with her.”

“Should I complain to my representative under the Terms and being so clandestinely approached?” the Pilgrim drily said.

I filled my glass, conspicuously.

“This is just two old friends having a drink and a chat, Tariq,” I toothily smiled. “Not an interrogation. Skirt around the letter of the law, me? Perish the thought.”

He cocked a brow.

“Perish is the right word,” the old man said. “How does the Red Axe fare, these days?”

“I believe they went with decapitation,” I said. “’twas a little late to boil her alive, admittedly, and a brisk hanging would have been good fun but little else.”

I suspected that Hasenbach had been amused, in that discreet way of hers, that from now when the execution by sword of the Red Axe was spoken of there would be a great deal of trouble over the nomenclature. Mind you, that it would add a dash of confusion to any rumours about the execution in the Arsenal was a more likely culprit for why she might have arranged that.

“You lost trust when you arranged that,” Tariq said. “Some with our Bestowed, more with the man who leads them.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I replied, almost rolling my eyes. “You disapprove, I take it?”

He sighed.

“No,” the Grey Pilgrim finally said. “It helped stave off the collapse of Procer at otherwise minor costs. I only wish it had not forced a distancing between yourself and young Hanno, though perhaps it is for the best.”

I drank of my cup, silently inviting him to elaborate.

“The cordiality of the relationship between you two has much been commented on,” he said.

“If this is going to turn into another polite request I don’t sleep with him, I’m going to get miffed at having to repeat I’m not interested,” I warned him.

“I believe you,” Tariq replied, sounding like he meant it. “But friendship is already seen as dangerous enough. You represent interests, the both of you, and those interests are often at odds. Friendship complicates that.”

I waved him down.

“Bullshit,” I frankly said. “If anything liking him made dealing with him significantly easier. But it’s no longer an issue anyway. Let those fears be buried, and instead of dealing with fish market gossip we can perhaps deal with the endless undead armies trying to kill us all.”

“I have yet to witness any power in this world or the next that quell gossip,” Tariq amusedly said, “but your point is taken.”

“Good,” I said. “I believe we were talking about the Bard?”

The Grey Pilgrim conceded with a nod.

“We first met in the Free Cities, when I intervened in a spot of trouble within the Helikean royal family,” he said. “I took her for a simple Bard, that first time, but recognizing her under a different face a few years later put paid to that notion.”

Yeah, that’d do it. I still wasn’t sure what his reading aspect exactly was, but it was frighteningly sharp even when the Ophanim weren’t actively whispering secrets into his ear.

“And you knew she wasn’t strictly one of Above’s,” I pointed out. “You weren’t surprised when I told you I’d seen her work on Below’s behalf.”

Blue eyes sad, he nodded.

“That much became beyond dispute when she disrupted my pursuit of a villain in Lange within a decade of our first meeting,” Tariq said, “forcing me to retreat from the Principality entirely and so lose the trail.”

I whistled.

“And you didn’t, you know,” I delicately said, slicing a finger across my throat, “try to Mercy her afterwards, so to speak.”

I glanced atop the hero’s sparse crown of white hair apologetically.

“No offence meant, fellows,” I added.

I didn’t get smote, so I decided to ascribe a passable sense of humor to the Choir of Mercy. The things you learned, huh?

“None was taken,” the Pilgrim informed me. “Though after your… colourful conversations with Contrition and Endurance, that could be seen as favoritism.”

I winked above his head.

“Don’t spread it around,” I loudly whispered.

Long-suffering, he sipped at his drink and sighed.

“I did, in fact, try to kill her,” Tariq said. “It did not take, evidently, and the misgivings of my patrons in pursuing her demise gave me pause. As did the eventual realization that the young villain she’d helped escape me had within the year died fighting another villainess, in the process exposing her schemes in Penthes.”

Ah, I thought. There it was, the first of the missing pieces. Tariq trusted the Ophanim, and we’d already established that the Intercessor could affect angels.

“You thought she was another like you,” I realized. “Only subtler and older.”

“It was my belief that she was not a willing servant to Below, and so that she ensured all the victories arranged in their name would lead to starker defeats down the line,” the Pilgrim admitted. “I suspected her forced service to be a consequence of the nature of her Bestowal, a storyteller’s duty to attend to the foe as well as the hero.”

“She’s not like us, Pilgrim,” I said. “Named, sure, but I get the feeling there’s a lot less between her and the Gods than there is for the rest of us.”

“The sufferings she attended to are on a scale we can hardly imagine,” Tariq softly agreed. “And so I did not judge, Catherine, to borrow another man’s words. Even with the wisdom of the Ophanim close to me, I cannot begin to understand the crushing burden of her purpose. Weighing the suffering of a century knowing it might spare another, patching and bleeding nations to prevent greater horrors – a millennia of ugly choices, one after another.”

He looked grieved.

“And still she did good whenever she could, I have seen this,” the Pilgrim said. “It was she who led me to heal Laurence after her duel with the Ranger, did you know?”

I blinked.

“I had no idea,” I said.

I’d known about the duel between a younger Saint of Swords and Ranger, since Indrani had told me what she knew, but I’d never known the Pilgrim to be involved.

“I trusted her,” Tariq admitted, “to see a path out of the dark even when I did not.”

I’d never really had that kind of trust in me, but then I supposed there was a reason I’d become a villain and not a heroine.

“I still believe she seeks a better future for Calernia,” the Grey Pilgrim admitted. “But that is not enough. I have seen the world we would make, through the Alliance and the Accords, and I am willing to fight for it. If she seeks to darken that path, then she is my enemy regardless of her intent.”

Not exactly the ringing endorsement of killing the Intercessor first change we got I’d kind of been hoping for, but life was all about tempering your expectations. I’d settle for a grief-stricken fight between past comrades if that was all he had it in him to summon up.

“More will be asked of you,” I bluntly said. “I know there are dangers, but by the White Knight’s sentencing you’ve gained a pupil in Christophe de Pavanie.”

“I am aware,” Tariq frowned.

“What you’re not aware of is how he’s tied to that mess in Cleves,” I said. “You know, the House of Langevin being made to eat crow.”

“He’s the reason Prince Gaspard abdicated in favour of his son?” the Pilgrim asked, sounding surprised.

Hasenbach had wasted no time spending the political capital she’d gained through the trial, though at least she’d been subtle about it. Gaspard Langevin had, officially, taken a bad wound and passed the burden of leadership to his younger and more vital son. It’d been an unpopular move in Cleves, where the man was respected, but Hasenbach had privately marshaled the Highest Assembly using his ties to the Mirror Knight as an anchor around his neck instead of the trump card Gaspard had likely seen them as. The army under General Rumena then leaving regardless of protests had made it very clear to him that he’d made more enemies than his house could afford, driving the final nail in the coffin.

“Not exactly,” I said. “But he was involved.”

I elaborated quickly, laying out the concerns Sve Noc had brought to me along with the plot and the difficulties the situation had represented for the First Prince: stark consequences to acting, worse if she did not.

“I’m assuming Hanno will speak to you as well when he arrives with the Mirror Knight,” I said. “But I wanted you to know the nature of what’s being dropped on your lap. He needs to be straightened up before he blunders into another mess like this, Pilgrim.”

I grimaced.

“He’s still the best match we have with the Severance,” I reluctantly admitted. “And I’d be a lot more comfortable trusting him with that power if you were able to first look me in the eye and promise be he wasn’t going to shit the bed with it.”

If anyone could do it, mind you, it was the Peregrine. As far as heroes were concerned, he was the mentor. To Tariq’s honour, he did not balk or try to pass the responsibility to another.

“How long would I have with him?” the Pilgrim asked.

“If things go well, we want to try Keter next summer,” I said. “I know it’s not long, but…”

“I will do all I can,” Tariq simply promised.

“Hells,” I grimly said, “that’s all I can ask, isn’t it?”

And on that we toasted, cups rising in accord and going down with the same.

It was probably a good thing that our attendants were far enough behind they couldn’t hear us speak as watched over the entrance of the reinforcements into the stronghold with threadbare ceremony.

“I don’t know what my niece has been bribing the Levantines with, but I hope we have more in stock,” Prince Klaus Papenheim appreciatively said.

The older man was eyeing the rows of heavy Alavan foot with an almost hungry look. I snorted at the sight. I’d found it difficult not to like the grizzled Prince of Hannoven from the start, even knowing he’d almost been one of the leading generals in the invasion of Callow. He was from a mould I was familiar with, that I’d spent most my life around: an old soldier, a veteran who’d spent almost as much time on the saddle as reigning in his capital. My reputation with Lycaonese tended to be decent, for a servant of wicked power, but I’d not expected the old prince to take to me as well.

“Having infantry envy, are we?” I mused. “That ought to be a familiar feeling by now.”

More a tease than a truth. An open ground exercises my army tended to trounce his own, but the moment the terrain got difficult the balance tended to swing harshly the other way. It’d been about as I expected, given the difficult of using classic Legion tactics in the mountains when they’d been designed to win wars on the plains of Callow. On those plains, though, Black’s war machine still reigned queen despite the best efforts of the opposition. The Lycaonese were good, but they hadn’t mastered the tactics of the Reform yet.

They’d find it difficult to catch up there, since their lack of mage was even worse than my own. Unfortunately for them, they wouldn’t have the workaround of having stolen a Legion or two as I’d done when founding the Army of Callow.

“Talk to me when your lot use a goat path without waking up all of Ashur,” the one-armed prince scathingly replied.

The obligatory trading of insults having been seen to, I took a better look at the six thousand troops Lord Yannu Marave had sent our way. Most of them Alavan, by the colours on the shields and faces, but I was hardly complaining about that: the Champion’s Blood coughed up to arm its heavies in good mail and plate, and they fought ferociously with their swords and shields. Two thousand of the Levantines were lesser captains sworn to the Holy Seljun instead of Alava, though the pattern for why they’d been chosen was neither the size of their warband nor their origins. Instead they were all, in majority, made up of slingers. Less a boon than the heavies, these, but still very much a boon.

The Dominion’s armies were inferior to those of Procer and Callow in several regards, but they were also the only standing force that still fielded slingers – whose thrown stones had proved to have a great deal of bite against the undead than arrows.

“That was the last major force we were waiting on,” I said. “The White Knight will arrive with Named and the latest from the Arsenal in a few days, which has us almost ready to begin the push.”

“Weren’t you waiting on some sort of Levantine bounty hunter?” the older man asked. “I was warned she might be trouble by the Silver Huntress.”

“The Headhunter’s a prick,” I conceded. “But they’re a prick with the finest tracking chops in the Grand Alliance. Archer went to fetch them, and they should both be here by dawn.”

The Prince of Hannoven cocked a brow.

“They?” he asked.

“Fluid,” I explained.

He grunted in understanding.

“I want to split the Dominion forces between the armies when we move out,” Prince Klaus said, “You know their discipline holds better when they’re kept apart.”

“I also know it’ll be a cold day in Ater before you get Tanja and Aquiline to split,” I snorted.

“They listen to you,” the older man said.

“When it suits them,” I shrugged.

“Then take them both with you,” the Prince of Hannoven said. “And leave me the Alavans.”

“Fat chance,” I replied. “I’d get both a guaranteed headache and fuck all slingers, Papenheim. Aren’t your people supposed to be all about giving people a fair shake?”

“And yours are supposed to spend their days trampling Praesi out in Streges, but it’s a strange new world,” he grunted back. “I’ll take the larger slice of fantassins and give you with Princess Beatrice if you agree.”

Now that was a tempting offer. My officers just didn’t have the knack for dealing with Proceran mercenaries without it going badly – falsifying a report in the Army got you caned and demoted, when it was considered common practice among those fantassin companies who even bothered with reports. Some poor Arlesite bastard had even tried to bribe an orc lieutenant, which got him his throat ripped out and ten more people hanged in the aftermath of the vicious brawl that ensued.

“Gods, you must really hate dealing with the Blood,” I said. “That leaves you who to run the Alamans, Prince Arsene? The man’s got all the boldness of a wet towel and I’ve never seen him send out his soldiers when he could pass the fight to others.”

Never to the extent that it was insubordination or harmful to the war effort, but the Prince of Bayeux was very clearly trying to make sure his forces suffered as few casualties as possible even if that meant other forces would suffer instead.

“I’ll have Mathilda breathing on his neck and fill his days with petty mercenary squabbles, it’ll keep him too twitchy to be a load,” the Prince of Hannoven said. “I can’t do either those things with your lordlings.”

I hummed pensively, the two of us watching the brightly painted ranks of Dominion soldiers streaming in. I’d theoretically be leading the Second and Third Army on my prong of the offensive along with the lion’s share of the Firstborn, so in truth I wasn’t badly in need of more heavy foot. If I got the army of Hainaut I’d get what I considered to be the cream of the Alamans forces in the region as well as their finest cavalry captain, which gave me a solid force to work with.

“If I were selected to lead one of the offensives,” I said. “That might be a tempting offer.”

The older man spat to the side.

“You’ll get one prong and me the other,” Prince Klaus said. “It’s a done deal, and I won’t hear it otherwise. The lordlings are still too green and the only other one I’d trust with a large force is Volignac.”

Prince Beatrice Volignac wouldn’t be getting a command that size, though. Not only was most of her principality already occupied by the dead, the appointment of two Proceran commanders would go over… poorly with the coalition forces in Hainaut.

“You didn’t agree outright,” he said. “So out with it. What more do you want in the stew?”

“I want first pick of the fantassin companies,” I said. “If my flanks are held by Levantines, I can’t afford runners in the mercenaries.”

“You’re a cold one, Foundling,” the grey-haired man said. “Sticking me with both the company dross and the Brabant conscripts?”

“I’ll cede General Rumena in return,” I offered. “It’ll keep your sigils in good order.”

Unlike the Prince of Hannoven, I could handle the Firstborn just fine on my own. Mighty Jindrich could hold field command and I’d handle the rest. Offering General Rumena was not a small concession to make, given its known power and its standing as the finest commander among the drow, and I could see the older man was tempted.

“Agreed,” Prince Klaus said, and spat into his palm.

I did the same and clasped his hand.

“May the Heavens strike a liar,” the Prince if Hannoven said.

“Crows take the oathbreaker,” I replied, and we shook on it.

I could feel he was just as eager as me to get started on his planning, but to our common frustration there’d be no going anywhere. The Levantines had yet to finish coming into the stronghold, and it’d be poor politics to slight them by leaving early.

Gods if it wasn’t boring as all Hells, though.

“Glaring won’t add lines to the report,” Hakram said. “Though I praise the quality of the effort.”

I sighed and dropped back into my chair, blowing at an errant strand of hair that’d slipped out of my loose ponytail and gotten into my face. Sinfully comfortable as the seat liberate from Arcadia was, it did not improve my mood.

“It’s ridiculous that we still have so little reliable information on the fantassins,” I complained. “I know we’re thin on Jacks, up here, but this isn’t even bare bones. It’s bare bone, maybe, and even then I’d argue it’s not a full one.”

I’d sent for all we had on the fantassin companies of the Hainaut front after returning to my tent – which I still used for work, if not always to sleep in – and even as the parchments flooded in my despair at what little we actually knew increased. Half of this was rumours – many reported by our soldiers, sure, but that didn’t magically make them more than rumours – while the solid information was… sparse. Company names, captains and numbers. A few records, including who had gotten commendations for bravery, and a few bits about which companies were known to hate each other or to have bad blood with the Army of Callow. The three largest of the companies had a little more on them, a bit about the leading officers and their reputations, but I had to admit this was largely a pile of nothing.

“I fucked myself negotiating with Papenheim,” I noted. “I might have first pick of companies, but I can’t even be sure what companies I should pick.”

“Neither would the Iron Prince, dearest,” Akua said.

Where Hakram had claimed a corner of the tent with several smaller tables set around his wooden wheelchair – though it was not all wood, and Masego had laid so many enchantments on the thing that wards sometimes confused it for a mage – Akua had instead claimed a seat around the table Indrani was still carving for me, and was lounging on it with a cup of wine in hand.

“Useless consolation,” I replied in an irritated tone. “My favourite, how did you know?”

“I shall endeavour keep this revelation in mind, my heart,” Akua silkily replied, “though it has nothing to do with the point I was making.”

Ah,” Hakram exclaimed. “Beatrice Volignac. Clever.”

I frowned. What did the Princess of Hainaut have to do with – oh. Shit, I hated it when Akua was right just after I’d gotten snippy with her. The Lycaonese weren’t that much better at dealing with Alamans than my own officers, so the Iron Prince usually delegated that sort of thing to his most trusted among the Alamans royals, the Princess of Hainaut. The Prince of Hannoven wouldn’t be able to pick the companies any better than I, but Beatrice Volignac very likely could. She’d be assigned to my part of the offensive, too, so she’d have motivation not to be half-hearted about this.

“Set up a meeting with her, Adjutant,” I said. “It’s the kind of thing that needs to be asked in person. Tomorrow morning – wait, no, early afternoon.”

It’d break one of those unspoken Alamans rules to ask her to do me that favour before she was officially folded under my command by our morning war council, even if the matter was effectively already settled.

“I’ll see to it,” Hakram said, his long and skeletal fingers jotting notes down on parchment. “You still need to decide where you’ll be addressing the villains, Catherine. The earlier we settle that the better.”

I grimaced. I’d wanted to wait until the White Knight was here to hold that, to ward off the perception that we might be plotting, but now that the last two of my lot were arriving with dawn the Named I represented under the Terms were due a proper council. Some were getting restless, too, so I was wary of delaying further. So far I’d put them off by saying all was best addressed after the war council settled broader affairs, but that excuse would be expiring tomorrow morning as well. That meant I’d be meeting with the villains assembled in Hainaut before sundown, like it or not.

“I would suggest far from anything expensive,” Adjutant dryly suggested, a peek of fangs revealing his amusement.

His face hadn’t changed much, I thought. So when he was seated, when the fold of his clothes hid the missing arm and leg and meat, it was almost possible to forget. Almost.

“Outside would be best,” I agreed. “Though I don’t want eavesdropping, which limits our options. There’s not a lot of places here warded up right for that.”

Most of them were war rooms, personal quarters or other places of import. None of which I particularly wanted to shove a bunch of rowdy villains into.

“Make a request to borrow wardstones from the Gigantes,” Hakram suggested. “This is Terms business, not personal, so you would be within your rights.”

“There any left so spare?” I asked. “I know we restricted who can make requests, but they still go fast.”

“I’ll know within the hour,” Adjutant promised. “If it is feasible?”

“Then do it,” I ordered.

Which handled the privacy issues nicely. Leaving actual location as the last hurdle.

“In the country will have to do,” I finally said. “I’d rather not do this in the stronghold proper, if I have a choice.”

Obviously we wouldn’t be doing this on the Dead King’s side of the trenches, so it’d have to be south.

“Akua?” I asked. “You’ve flown over the region often enough.”

“There’s a large hill with a fire pit perhaps an hour away from Neustal,” she noted. “Formerly used by shepherds, I believe. No other larger significance.”

Mhm. Using somewhere with a little more weight to it would please those who liked to feel important – the Rapacious Troubadour and the Summoner came to mind – but I didn’t necessarily want to encourage the perception that this was a council momentous in any way. It was a relatively large assembly of Named, but it should be nothing more than that.

“It’ll do,” I said, then sighed. “All right, what’s next?”

The night was still young, and so there was still work to be done.

140 thoughts on “Chapter 45: Progress

  1. That seems … slim to base such trust in Bard on, Tariq.

    And you’re going to have a tough job in pulling Mirror Knight’s head out out his ass. And that assumes he’s doesn’t go all stubborn and resistant to being taught by and actually learning from you.

    And preparations for the offensive. Only two lines of advance? Hmm. On the one hand, that’s easier to defend against, but on the other, they can only afford to split their forces too much.

    Hmm. On the one hand, Rumena not being with Cat means that we’ll see less of them. On the other hand, that means we’ll get to see Rumena in an Interlude, possibly even having a Rumena PoV Interlude.
    Hmm. I’m conflicted.

    Liked by 12 people

          1. Shveiran

            They work on children, to some extent, not on adolescents.

            The receiver needs to see the punishment as the ire of someone greater (aka, a child’s parent in the early years) whose displeasure is not just feared, it is considered a wrongness in the world.

            I doubt Cristophe sees anyone’s displeasure as an unbearable thing, or we’d not have come to this point.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Cicero

              Except maybe the Grey Pilgrim still has that level of weight.

              Your wise old grandfather, who always had a kind word and support for you, now is terribly disappointed in your recent choices.

              And, let’s not forget that the Mirror Knight has figured out that he screwed up pretty bad in how he dealt with the White Knight.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Nope.

                I’m pretty sure Mirror Knight is one of the ones who believes that Grey Pilgrim has been critically compromised by Cat, what with her “resurrecting” him, among other factors.

                And then there’s the fact that Grey Pilgrim is a Levantine, and thus automatically inferior to a Proceran like Mirror Knight, or so Mirror Knight thinks.
                Remember, Mirror Knight is the asshole who was trying to justify Proceran atrocities committed against the Dominion to Levantine Heroes.

                Also, we don’t know how deeply Bard sunk her hooks into Mirror Knight, how far she got inside his mind. Other than “too far”, of course.
                Plus, I’m willing to bet his “girlfriend” was pushing pro-Proceran, anti-non-Proceran propaganda bullshit into his head too. That’s not going to help any either.

                I don’t think there are any Heroes that Mirror Knight views as a proper/true superior, far less one that could count as a genuine Mentor figure.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Salt

                  The mirror knight was already proven to be more willing to admit and fix his mistakes than the vast vast majority of characters in the story, so him starting out with prejudiced beliefs is hardly a sign of being irredeemable.

                  In the span of a single day, he

                  – walked into the arsenal believing Catherine was plotting something terrible

                  – re-evaluated into believing someone was trying to set him and Catherine against each other, at the miscellaneous stacks

                  – apologized to Catherine for being wrong about her involvement in the plots at the Arsenal, before asking for her cooperation in uncovering the *real* traitors

                  His POV showed him recognizing and crucifying himself for every mistake he made during the arsenal attack as well

                  Zero idea where you’re getting the idea that the Mirror Knight wont be willing to learn from the Pilgrim either. He actively cursed at himself for not having the magister’s tact in speech and recognized/was jealous of Hakram’s social skills.

                  Considering we have hard proof that he’s open minded enough to recognize superior personal qualities even in one of the most notorious Villains on the surface of the continent (who is also a literal man-eating orc), it’s rather difficult to argue that he won’t be equally or more open-minded about learning from arguably the most venerated Hero currently alive.

                  Especially since said Heroic mentor has made a decades-long career out of guiding troubled headstrong youths.

                  Liked by 8 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    First off, he didn’t say he would be unwilling to learn. He said that he likely doesn’t see the Pilgrim as a superior.
                    And I concur.

                    Second, you say “the mirror knight was already proven to be more willing to admit and fix his mistakes than the vast vast majority of characters in the story”; but while he chastises himself a lot in his own mind, he never acts to FIX his mistakes or perceived flaws.
                    He still walks out on Catherine, he still draws on the White Knight, he still keeps the Severance.
                    He has never, ever used these epiphanies to grow as a human being.
                    He chastises himself, then takes a new, rushed decision that causes more pain.
                    He says he realizes he knows shit, but that never seems to move him to listen to anyone else, or to stop him from acting without considering the ramifications of his actions.

                    The only growth the Mirror Knight has ever experienced is one in power.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Salt

                      Bruh, the Arsenal arc was like, one event that didn’t even last a few weeks in total.

                      As far as before the Arsenal arc goes, he spent the large majority of the time prior to it being tossed at endless waves of undead. No shit he hasn’t changed much before the Arsenal.

                      Are you really telling me some kid not changing his stripes with almost zero supervision, over a timeline that’s a small fraction as long as it physically took the chapters to come out, proves he’s some kind of irredeemable menace? That’s goes so far beyond any realistic standard that it’s not even in the same plane of existence anymore.

                      Tariq himself took ages longer to change his behavior than the length of the Arsenal arc. Cat got her more-power-doesnt-solve-anything lesson over several YEARS.

                      The Mirror Knight, of all people, is supposed to improve faster than Tariq and the Catherine? My dude, you out of yo mind

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Except for that two year timeskip.

                      Where, if things went more or less as they did in the Interludes where we saw Mirror Knight … he spent the entire damned time offending his nominal allies with his attitudes and statements. And only realizing he offended them after he did so spectacularly.
                      Actually, given the two year timeskip, he ought to have learned at least a little about how to do better, so the relatively “current” Interludes are after two years of “recognizing the problem” and “improvement”. I am not impressed.

                      Plus, Mirror Knight was one of the Heroes that went into Callow … so he already had time with Grey Pilgrim and other Heroes that he could offend. Although, it’s possible that after the first time Saint of Swords just told him to shut up, instead of turning it into a teachable moment.

                      Also, it could just be me, but I’m going to say that trying to justify atrocities, and excuse them as the right, proper, and Good thing to do, to the people they were committed against is basically never going to go over well.
                      Mirror Knight still hasn’t figured that one out.

                      It’s not like the Witch of the Woods just randomly decided to use Mirror Knight as a projectile weapon one day on a whim.
                      He straight up earned that kind of treatment with hard work and effort.

                      Mirror Knight is, philosophically speaking, a hardline Proceran Sumpremacist.

                      Liked by 5 people

                    3. Jago

                      “And, let’s not forget that the Mirror Knight has figured out that he screwed up pretty bad in how he dealt with the White Knight.” And how much he craves that power, instead of being an indestructible battering ram. He craves Severance as it is the kind of power he lacs.

                      Like

              2. Jago

                “And, let’s not forget that the Mirror Knight has figured out that he screwed up pretty bad in how he dealt with the White Knight.” I would bet that he will blame that on the Withe Knight for “not doing what was the right thing”. Someone want to take the bet?

                Like

            2. RoflCat

              Isn’t the whole respect your superior the core of Proceran (or Alamans? Whatever MK is from)? Like how Callow have their long price thing and Praes forever backstabby.

              Christophe’s issue was that at best he is a Big Guy who would follow order and smash into whatever need smashing, but his reputation/charisma create a followings that push him into being a Leader, something he’s absolutely horrid at doing and fumbled so much it’s become a trauma of sort.
              Oh and the Black/White world view instead of seeing the grey that is reality.

              And nobody was around who could slap him into line.
              White wasn’t going to do it because ‘I do not judge’ and MK doesn’t feel like White is his superior after losing Judgement
              MK doesn’t trust Black Queen because Villain, even though her lessons are very much the thing he needed.
              the Proceran prince wanted to use him as a tool to cheat the Drow of their land
              other heroes like Antoine looked up to him with idol worship which push pressure on him to act like a Leader more.

              Basically Tariq should be the first mentor figure that MK wholeheartedly accept as his superior. (‘should’, because we don’t know how much MK still linger on the whole Tariq got revived by Catherine thing)

              Liked by 5 people

              1. Except Grey Pilgrim isn’t a Proceran, he’s a Levantine, and thus automatically inferior to a Proceran like Mirror Knight. Or so Mirror Knight’s mindset goes.

                And I’m pretty sure Mirror Knight is one of the ones that believes Greedy Pilgrim has been critically compromised by Cat.

                Remember, Mirror Knight is the asshole who was trying to justify Proceran atrocities committed against the Dominion (and others) to Levantine (and other) Heroes.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. You see that as a personal failing. I disagree. It’s a spiral: wherever his more gross views come up, people they concern start avoiding him. So he gets ever more isolated in the company of people who believe in that shit and reinforce it.

                  There is a reason education is a significant part of modern activism. A person who’s never exposed to alternative views will not spontaneously develop them within two years while still in their old environment.

                  And most of Christophe’s problem is that he was surrounded by people whose views his very existence as a hero he’s reinforcing, and pretty much completely isolated from other heroes socially.

                  It takes a specific effort to reach out from someone deeming it worth it, be it because of seeing something in him and wanting him as a friend, because of a personal mission of education, or because of being his superior and needing to fix this shit for pragmatic reasons.

                  It’s kind of like being in a cult. Not easy to leave.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Jago

                    Pro-change:
                    “I have skewed up, crippling one of the heroes of the coalition.”
                    “Hakram is smart and charismatic.”
                    “Apologized to Catherine” But then was totally unwilling to put down Severance at her and White request, even if it was their right to ask for that.

                    Against-change:
                    “He had to renounce to Severance.”
                    “There where already traces of him blaming the “need” to wound White on him.”
                    “His girlfriend’s father had to abdicate.”
                    “Wandering Bard and Tales: the Hero tats fall for want of a greater power.” Never discount the WB.

                    Like

        1. 'Ladi Williams

          Bah. Shock therapy used to be an effective and sworn by treatment for behavioral conditioning.
          I’m sure it would work wonders on him. Come to think about it. His plate would transmit electricity wonderfully.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Salt

            You’d probably need enough lightning to turn a small city into ash, to use it as corporal punishment against the mirror knight. The kid is a walking fortress that gets catapulted into armies as a form of transportation

            Most likely the Mirror Knight will feel a mild tingle, while some poor cabal of mages loses a lot of confidence in their lightning spells

            Liked by 3 people

          1. Shveiran

            People keep saying that.

            I have no idea how “the guy never bothers to consider consequence or how logic a theory is before donning is tin-foil hat” translates into “the guy is smart enough”.

            I mean, I don’t want to attack anyone here, but I’m very curious how you’d define “smart” if those are not black marks against him.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Clmineith

              It’s a good question. I admit, it doesn’t seams logical, but it’s RPG logic.

              INT / intelligence is how he will solve a problem, or how well he will plan to make happend whaever aim he has.
              WIS / wisdom is what make him choose that aim in the first place, considering consequences, and so on.

              MK has very low WIS (as you said, fail to consider consequence, tin-foil hat, etc) but average INT. Not great, mean you, but not especially low. Or: once he’s decide to do that tin-foil hat thing, he actually has not such bad strategy about it.

              Of course, it’s RPG logic, real life is different… but PGTE works on RPG tropes, so…

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Yeah … except that if Int is problem solving ability … I refer you to his plan to replace Hanno as the Heroic Representative by killing him, and also his plan to kill the Grand Alliance leadership if they didn’t agree with him (or, rather, as he put it, not needing to kill the Grand Alliance leadership who agreed with him).
                Also, his plan to force the Villains to replace Cat as the Villain Rep with the former Hero (and currently not Named) Vivienne.
                I’m finding it difficult to interpret any of that as quality problem solving.

                No.
                Mirror Knight used all his mental stats as dump stats. And he dumped them hard.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Pethrai D’arkos

                  Another way to think of it is that Int is your ability to come up with a plan (solidly average).
                  Wis is your ability to tell a good plan from a bad plan (a bit worse than sub par).
                  Cha is your ability to sell your companions on following through with a bad plan despite their better judgement (above average, not at Cat levels but who is).

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Clmineith

                  I disagree.
                  His purpose is to replace Hanno: Low WIS tells him he can does that by killing him. Average INT tells him how to kill Hanno.

                  I’m not saying he has a GOOD INT. I’m saying it’s not a dump stat. Or at least, it only becme a dump stat after he get it average.
                  I’ll place y about 18/22 to physical stats (and increasing with time), 2/3 to WIS (NOT increasing) and CHA, and INT at 9/10 (not increasing either). (And high LUK, because Hero).
                  Again, not great. Certainly, 90 percent Chosen have at least a couple more INT points than he does (from, say, Archer 15 to Masego 25). But hes not the village idiot.

                  Remember, having both very low INT and very low WIS make for a person barely articulate. Like, a troll or someting.
                  MK is not THAT bad.

                  Liked by 1 person

            2. caoimhinh

              No one is saying he is a genius or an intellectual, I think we can all agree that he has been shown that he is an average guy in that area.
              Sure, he has made mistakes, but his mistakes are not fruit of stupidity, but rather immaturity.

              Christophe is a stubborn guy with a fragile ego who is constantly pained by his social awkwardness and sought validation and authority by having strength.

              It is not his IQ that is the source of the issue, but his EQ.

              The issue has never been about Christophe’s intelligence.
              He doesn’t need to be smarter, he needs to stop misbehaving.

              Liked by 4 people

    1. KageLupus

      I think that Tariq’s point was that was the first time he noticed the Wandering Bard playing the long game, and it all turning out as a net Good in the end. I guarantee that the same pattern played out multiple times during the time he knew her, each one reinforcing the idea that when she looks like she is helping the bad guys, it is just to screw them over worse later.

      Between that and the angels in his head whispering not to kill her, it doesn’t seem too farfetched for Tariq to develop a deepening sense of trust towards the Wandering Bard over the many years he was a Hero.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Salt

        Ironically, the Pilgrim likely saw the Bard in a positive light for the exact same reasons that he currently sees Catherine in a positive light. He has a tendency to approve of people who are willing to commit lesser evils for the sake of greater goods that way.

        He even attempted to kill the Bard initially, before later admitting that her lesser evils appeared to have a greater good purpose, exactly like his relationship with Cat.

        Rather difficult to call him an idiot for trusting the Bard back then, without also calling him an idiot for trusting Catherine now.

        Liked by 10 people

    2. Jago

      “That seems … slim to base such trust in Bard on, Tariq.” The apparent trust or respect of his Choir seems a big basis for trust, from the point of view of the Pilgrim.

      Like

    1. caoimhinh

      It would be nice if that meeting came in 2 Interludes like the one with the Heroes. I really like when Catherine is seen from other people’s POV, they always say how amazing, cunning, and terrifying she is.

      Like that time in the Arcadian Campaign when Cat was always struggling to handle the officers from Praes and the Duchess of Daoine, then when we got chapters from Kegan and Ranker’s POV they were both scared of her and were absolutely sure that she had expertly manipulated them all during their meetings.

      Liked by 11 people

  2. So should we start throwing names down for what that hill is going to be referred to after this meeting or wait to see what sort of meeting it turns into, Cat’s intentions aside?

    I’m liking the ring of “the Dark Summit”.

    Liked by 12 people

        1. caoimhinh

          That name sounds pretty cool, but when I read that I imagine something like a gathering of the top brass of the Thieves’ Guild or a meeting of several Pirate Captains.

          Liked by 4 people

      1. caoimhinh

        “It is said that the Black Queen gathered over a dozen Damned for covenant on that hill, and used the sorceries of the Gigantes to ward off all prying in the vicinity. What was spoken in those dark hours is still unknown, but the eerie stillness never left that location ever since. Even birds and wolves are afraid to chirps or howl near it. Hence it is now called, the Silent Hill.”

        Liked by 21 people

    1. Salt

      “Gods below and everburning, it was just a routine meeting on a random hill in the middle of nowhere. Indrani, if you keep feeding the historians this bullshit I swear to crows I will have you han-”

      – The Black Queen, covering up the events of the first Council of Deepest Terror (widely believed to have been held on the Dark Summit, year 13 B.A)

      Liked by 27 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        “The fact that every single one of the fires that day started in the time period of the first Council of Deepest Terror, where each and every Villain is verified as being on the Dark Summit and thus nowhere near the fires, is not a collective alibi. Rather, it was the Black Queen’s bold challenge to friend and foe alike: “You all know I did this but none of you can figure out how. This is why I lead.”
        Elvera Tanja, the Passionate Accuser, defending her 2nd year history essay at Cardinal University, “Unconstestable Dominance: The Black Queen’s inscrutable power-plays forming the Council.”

        Liked by 25 people

    2. It’s a recurring meeting (although this is the first one we’ve seen), so it’s not going to get a title unless something really terrible happens. It’s just Meeting #37 of the Official Council of Villains.

      That said, I’m sure the villains would give it a super-chuuni name like “The Dark Summit” anyway, just for fun.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. caoimhinh

        It is the first happening before such an important offensive, no?
        And maybe she does these meetings with smaller numbers of Named gathered, since the Grand Alliance tends to send them in different assignments and different fronts.

        Of course, this could also just be “Session #13 of the Dark Council” or they may even call each large meeting that Catherine has with Villains a new particular Chuuni Name, partly just to annoy her XD

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Sir Nil

    I’m worried about the epigraph, hopefully it means that the current events are merely the necessary evils needed to achieve the Accords, or that something will go horrifically to shit so that eventually something will turn up to fix it.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

        It’s Atalante, which probably isn’t the same thing. If EE was gonna do Atlantis, he’d probably do it more unambiguously by drawing off of the original myth (super-wealthy island nation smote for its hubris), not just a sound-alike name. Based on my half-hearted googling, Atalante is probably named after a Greek heroine (it’s also a far-right group from Quebec, apparently).
        That being said, the specific Atalantean being quoted is called the Gadfly, i.e. Socrates, whose student Plato made up Atlantis to begin with for allegorical purposes.

        https://www.britannica.com/topic/Atalanta

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Konstantin von Karstein

        The Atlantis of this setting was Kergel, an advanced civilization that tought itself superior and was destroyed for it’s hubris by the Gnomes.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    the sude > the side
    crowns by I > crowns but I
    said,” I thinly smiled, “I > said”—I thinly smiled—“I
    look he actually > look like he actually
    example, how you (maybe “revealing how you”)
    Tariq,” I > Tariq.” I
    that quell > that quells (or can quell, or change power to powers)
    first change > first chance
    aware,” Tariq frowned > aware,” Tariq said with a frown (or something like that)
    promise be he > promise me he
    as watched over > as we watched over
    An open ground > In open ground
    lack of mage > lack of mages
    great deal of bite > greater deal of bite
    them,” I shrugged. > them.” I shrugged.
    give you with Princess Beatrice > give you Princess Beatrice
    Prince Beatrice > Princess Beatrice
    seat liberate > seat liberated
    endeavour keep > endeavour to keep
    left so spare > left to spare

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Miles

      Went a bit overboard to make the list long there. A lot of these aren’t typos, just style choices.

      >aware,” Tariq frowned > aware,” Tariq said with a frown (or something like that)

      Bit late to start complaining about this one. Gestures and expressions have been used as alternatives for speaking words since ch 0.

      >lack of mage > lack of mages

      Mage is shorthand for mage lines. Again, been the convention since book 1.

      Fake typo corrections are annoying.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. dadycoool

    I love Tavern Wench/Bartender!Cat. That encounter had all the feel of “Sit, drink, and tell me about your troubles.” Cat picking favorites among the Choirs is hilarious.

    It’s fascinating how she gets along so well with the Lycaonese, both the people and the drinks. Haggling generals are haggling.

    Hakram is on one side giving his advice and Akua is on the other giving hers. All is right with the world.

    Liked by 16 people

  6. Maybe is the lack of sleep, but when reading Cat and Klaus part i suddenly had this image of both of them hooking up for a bit, then Cordelias likely reaction xD

    Also villain meeting yay! normally i would say something is bound to happen but maybe it won’t since already the heroes had a meeting that devolved into fighting so it could be a weird way to show them up if their meeting ends ok, of course Bard could always just drop in the middle of it…..

    Liked by 7 people

  7. Big I

    It just struck me to wonder whether the Red Axe is going to go all Mimir, with her decapitated head still able to talk and offer advice. It’d add to all the Odin imagery Cat’s got already.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. ruduen

    “‘I did, in fact, try to kill her,’ Tariq said. ‘It did not take, evidently, and the misgivings of my patrons in pursuing her demise gave me pause.'”

    You know what might cause misgivings? An aspect which interferes with the senses of the creatures you’re checking with. That seems like important information to make sure Tariq knows.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Black swan problem. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume something isn’t a factor in a specific situation if it’s vanishingly rare and you’ve never encountered it nor heard of it before, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for what’s going on already.

      When you see truck tracks on the road, assume a truck, not an alien spaceship masquerading as one.

      Bard’s a bit of an outside context problem, being the most direct instrument of Gods and whatnot.

      And I think by this moment Tariq’s heard of the ability. It’s kind of critical to his sadly saying he still believes in her good intentions instead of vehemently insisting he knows she does.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Xinci

      Also, an important factor is that she seemed to be able to mess with how Light targetted things. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Angels were acting out of order when they whispered that it may not be good to kill her.

      Like

  9. ninegardens

    Hheeeyyy Tariq! You Aced it!
    Good job!

    And his reasons for trusting WB are… pretty damn legit. Specially if many of those things have happened multiple times.
    The detail of WB bringing him to save Saint makes sense- I always DID wonder how she survived fighting ranger.
    … *sigh* such a cute and sad detail. The memory of the woman Cat killed. Even if she had reason, She was still one of Tariq’s oldest friends….
    😦

    Liked by 8 people

    1. caoimhinh

      It had already been said that Tariq had saved the Saint of Swords after her fight with Ranger, one of Tariq’s POV parts of a chapter showed it as the reason she hated Ranger. And during the fight between Saint and Rumena, she had a flashback showing us that Hye let her live, simply walking away after cutting her along the torso and apparently disappointed at the Saint’s skill. According to Laurence, Ranger gave a look that said “is this all that you are?” before leaving her lying on the ground.

      What we didn’t know was that Tariq got there in time to put her innards back inside her opened torso thanks to the Bard’s telling him.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Shveiran

    What’s that, Tariq?

    You didn’t drop the ball?

    …Buddy, I’m so proud of you!
    Well done! Heavens, what a relief that is.
    Good job, Pilgrim, good job.

    …You are going to die now, aren’t you?

    Godsdamn it, you are going to die.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. 'Ladi Williams

      And it’s probably the mirror knight that kills him. Cementing the fact that Cat has to kill him horribly and inconsequentially like a stray dog.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. ninegardens

        It’s probably the fuckign Bard that will kill him. Using his trust in her… enough to make him hesitate… along with MK stupidity as a weapon.
        😦

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Konstantin von Karstein

        Probably not directly, but by being his usual stupid self. And he will learn his lesson while holding in his arms the bleeding corpse of his mentor.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Salt

            Careful what you wish for. That kind of mentor sacrifice + personality redemption tends to be accompanied by an equally dramatic and somewhat inexplicable powerup in terms of competence/overall success.

            Which on one hand might be great, a halfway sensible Mirror Knight after a passing a personal crucible would be a genuinely huge asset against the Dead King.

            On the other hand, he’d become an absolutely terrifying Hero in the prime of his life, who is thematically all about reflecting evil upon evil eye-for-an-eye style. In a story where your main protagonist is all about Necessary Evil.

            The scariest antagonists aren’t the ones that are comically misguided, it’s the ones that in one form or another have a valid point

            Liked by 6 people

        1. Jago

          Or instead, it will be his fall from grace. He wants Severance, and the WB has a tale of a hero corrupted by the desire for power to leverage. Or one of a Hero redemption for his great sin.
          The choice, for the WB, depend on how she can point those against the DK and Cat.
          The only saving grace is that I think that the WB still feel that the DK is her greatest enemy.

          Like

  11. KageLupus

    You know, I actually really appreciate the way things like gender fluidity are normalized in this story. Not just because i think they deserve more representation in literature in general, but because of the specific implications it has on this setting.

    Cat just has to mention that the Headhunter is gender fluid and Klaus gets it. That means it is a common enough phenomena that people generally understand what it means and don’t make a fuss about it. And why would they? Headhunter is Named, and sides with Below. Are you going to tell someone with superpowers and loose ethics that they are wrong about which pronoun they should be using?

    I am probably reading way deeper into this than is necessary, or even reasonable, but I really do like the idea of Named having such wide ranging effects on the world around them. Named are the stuff of legends and stories and are known to be incredibly independent people. They are like celebrities that can punch people. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the setting’s views on gender and sexuality wasn’t at least partially influenced by centuries of Named saying “This is how I am and nothing in the world can stop it.”

    Liked by 14 people

    1. 'Ladi Williams

      I actually do not like the fact the EE felt it necessary to include modern gender issues into his story.
      But then its his story. He can write it any way he wants. It’s still fucking awesome

      Liked by 3 people

      1. John Doe

        I think it’s nice he doesn’t try too hard to draw attention to it. It’s just so accepted in the world that there seems to be no stigma against it. Nobody looks down on/attacks/needs to defend villains (or heroes, civilians, etc) for their gender/sexual orientation, it’s not even an issue, and people’s preferences are treated with the same amount of laissez faire as their favorite alcoholic beverage.

        Liked by 14 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Yeah, I think that’s the best part of how EE gives them representation. It’s just a natural thing, and they are people like all others, no big deal and it is not the defining trait of the person.
          Way better than so many stories where it’s just plain obvious how a character’s introduction is simply for the sake of “representation” rather than for the story, and that ends up feeling forced to many readers.

          In Practical Guide to Evil, a character’s sexuality is background information, just one more detail of what makes the person. Basilia’s defining trait is that she is the most badass General in all of Helike, Wekesa was the best mage Praes had in centuries, Yannu Marave is the top military commander of his nation, and so on with every single major character who just happens to be LGBT.

          They are interesting and defined characters who simply happen to be LGBT, they are not some LGBT character that’s forced into the setting for the sake of representation. The difference is important and not all authors do it right.

          Something similar applies to skin color and ethnicity, here it doesn’t go beyond “so this person from that nation” in most cases and the “discrimination” shown between ethnicities is more accurately the animosity born from the previous years of war between the nations, which has whole different connotations that the racism we see on Earth. In Calernia, every generation is a post-war generation.

          Anyways, the point is that EE is awesome and has done an amazing job.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. soulpaintedblack

            This is why I still keep reading Guide, and why i dropped The gods are bastards. Its is a good story people follow, not some propaganda. It is just… every time diversity is shoved in my throat, my patience wears down and so my tolerance. I would love to read a good story without gender politics.

            Liked by 1 person

                  1. caoimhinh

                    The one I remember is when he was checking out Moro in Interlude Congregation III.

                    “The heir to Vaccei had gained a few fresh scars, fighting at his mother’s side against the Marshals. What had already been a hard face on a hard man was now frightful to behold, the red marks left by goblin steel running jagged through the umber-brown and basil-green face paint of his line. The effect was strikingly attractive, though Yannu was careful not to let his gaze linger. He was over a decade older than the other man, after all.”

                    Liked by 1 person

      2. KageLupus

        That is kind of my point though. In the story they are not issues at all, it is just considered a point of fact that is accepted by every character. And the real thing I was trying to get at is how I feel like the big driving force for that in-universe is almost definitely thanks to Named like the Headhunter.

        My favorite thing about any kind of speculative fiction, whether sci-fi or fantasy, is an author going “What happens to the world if X is true” and then really digging into all of the consequences and changes caused by that thing. And I really think a case could be made that “What if people people who took on a story role in real life got super powers” at least has the potential to lead to “People are more accepting of lifestyle choices because who is going to tell a Named they are wrong”.

        Liked by 10 people

      3. panic

        I agree on this. It was subtle in the first few books in a way that was inclusive without appearing unnatural or distracting. Now it’s just getting plain distracting to read.

        Like

      4. 1) That’s the thing though. These aren’t ‘modern’ gender issues. They’ve been a standard part of every single culture we have relevant records for since people first started writing stuff down. Whether that’s shrugging and being chill, assigning specific cultural significance or roles, or actively stigmatizing / outlawing it, it’s been around forever.

        So when one’s making an entirely novel world with novel cultural practices, there’s no sense assigning modern gender politics to it. One could as easily pick classical Rome, or a Native American tribe, or a pre colonial African tribe, or pre colonial imperial Africa, or one of the Pacific islands, or ancient Sumer, or any one of a thousand cultures and times to root a story’s gender and sexuality politics in. Most of which *didn’t* have a problem with this stuff. “Bringing modern gender stuff into it” is actually making a fuss about it or pretending it doesn’t exist, and *not* making a fuss about it and having those people exist is “*not* bringing modern gender stuff into it”.

        2) Being inclusive is a good business decision for word of mouth and community based media. Minority groups tend to be starved for stories which include them, *especially* stories where their humanity isn’t up for debate at all. So stories like that (like PtGE) get a *lot* of word of mouth spread in those communities. Those groups also tend to be aggressively positive and welcoming of new members, traits you want in a community fandom. Whereas the kind of bigots who’d stop reading a story because of this stuff, you might actually *want* to stop reading. They tend to be more gatekeepery and likely to harass other fandom members, creating a more toxic space. Which can drive down readership.

        TL;DR: Active inclusivity gives a story appeal in story-deprived communities and drives out some of the most toxic would-be members of. It’s a win-win as a business decision.

        3) Lastly, have you ever considered that EE might be bi? Or ace? Or trans? Or any one of the identities represented in the story?

        Saying “I don’t see this as necessary” assumes that it’s not important to EE on a personal level. When you’re a cis straight allosexual person it’s very easy to say “this isn’t necessary” because it’s not important to *you*. But not everyone who writes stories is like you, and sometimes including people like oneself and one’s loved ones can feel personally important to a writer.

        Liked by 9 people

      5. Xinci

        I mean its pretty logical if you have people in a world where magic needs to factor in literally everything that things like sexuality and gender would become normalized.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. mamm0nn

      “A woman, the diplomat saw, then his gaze lingered on her throat. Not that she had always been that.
      “Sire,” the general said, dismounting hastily and kneeling.
      “General Basilia,” the Tyrant said, patting her armoured shoulder affectionately.”
      -Prologue 3

      That said, it does seem that this setting implements the modern ideals a bit heavily at times. Ironically though, EE being much more heavy-handed with it in the first books makes this story pretty much Good white people vs the Evil coloured people because no country is quite a hotbed of not-Europeans the way Praes is while the most Goodish country is also decisively the most caucasian in both appearance and culture.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        I am fairly sure that the initial point of “the white guys are the Good Kingdom and the black guys are the Evil Empire” was a point of parody and playing with stereotypes.

        Kind of like the Black Knight is a short white guy, and the White Knight is a short black guy, where it is a subversion of the stereotypes. Neither of them is the stereotypical Knight that people on earth usually think of when they hear their Names.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. mamm0nn

          Oh yeah, no discussion there. It stays much a jab at fantasy tropes which either stem from a more racist time or which are directly ripped off from the LotR. And no hate about this being a more deconstructed case here.
          But when adding these lgqpt elements to the story though, such acts hold consequences of making the tropes stand out starker and hold weight where they’re otherwise easier considered a stab at the tropes.

          Liked by 2 people

    3. Konstantin von Karstein

      Yeah, same for sexism. Praes was sexist in the past, until one Dread Empress « fired » a director of the War College. And telling Wekesa that his an abomination would be a bad idea for you and the city you’re in.

      Honestly, I don’t see this kind of wide representation in a lot of fiction. It’s a really nice touch, and it makes me feel good.

      Liked by 6 people

    4. caoimhinh

      It’s not because they are Named.
      It’s simply because in Calernia no one gives a damn about other people’s sexuality or gender identity. That’s it, pure and simple, there was just no discrimination to begin with.
      Named aren’t given the privilege of living their sexuality the way they like, but rather everyone is. There are plenty of other situations we have seen through the books that show us that Named have a variety of privileges in their respective societies and countries of origin (military rank, authority, nobility title, etc), liberty of sexuality is not one of those, it is a self-evident right that everyone in Calernia has.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think the case was being made that the current culture of relative equality and openness likely has origins in the presence and activities of past Named.

        And, to be fair, we do have at least some evidence that that is true.
        There was that Dread Empress who fired somebody from a catapult for opposing the gender integration of the Legions at the Academy. And Amadeus pushed the Reforms through, resulting in species equality inside the Legions, which are a stepping stone towards broader species equality.

        Liked by 9 people

    5. Jago

      Note that “gender fluid” can be literal.
      The Assasin has no known gender. The Dark elves don’t care for sex after their power increase. I don’t doubt hat there are other examples in the setting.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Assassin has always been referred to as male, well by using male pronouns, by Scribe, other members of the Calamities, and those close to them. That is, those who ought to be in a position to know.

        It’s just that Assassin also has some kind of super disguise power, probably Aspect based, that may or may not be shapeshifting, that includes female forms and appearances.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. mamm0nn

    “It is possible that the attack on the Arsenal was meant to aid in the long term,” Tariq said, then grimaced and poured himself another finger of brandy. “But that is irrelevant. She has forced us to take her as an enemy through her actions, regardless of whatever intent might lie behind them.”

    “So what you’re saying is that I’ve been Acceptable Good all along and that you were being a retarded fuck-up for fucking invading Callow with an Proceran army and a godsdamned Lawful Stupid paladin _after_ the Praesi occupation of twenty years ended, and kept at it after finding out I’m a decent person?” Cat hisses. “Because if you consider the notion of a Villain doing bad things for the eventual greater good _at all_, that’s pretty much exactly and unarguably what you’re saying. Fuck you and fuck your double standards, we wouldn’t be in this shit if you told Procer to fuck off after I told you of the demon egg and took the Levantines with you on the way out.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What Isi said.

      And Tariq did privately mourn with Laurence having to fight Catherine. The pattern matches: believe in good intentions, recognise they are not magic and fight those you have to fight based on your own and your allies’ understanding.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. agumentic

      Tariq pretty much accepted that he is not going to survive this war, so even though he could avoid the dangers involved with the position of mentor, I am pretty sure he will lean into the role and accept story-given death to propel MK further.

      Liked by 10 people

  13. JJR

    “I have yet to witness any power in this world or the next that quell gossip,”

    Demon of Absence should do the trick. Though it is understandable that he couldn’t think of it.

    Liked by 12 people

  14. panic

    Is it just me or has EE marketly increased the amount of PC nods at trans and gay people in this book? In the first few books it was just, there every now and then. But now it seems that each chapter we get some nod that X is trans and X is gay and X identifies as a bottle of brandy. Getting a wee bit distracting.

    Like

  15. Tom

    > Mighty Jindrich could hold field command

    I didn’t have the impression that Jindrich was particularly tactically-minded

    Also, can Hakram use Rampage to do paperwork really fast?

    Liked by 2 people

  16. disappointed in CAT

    Is Catherine more and more Stupid Evil?

    It could be a function of her adopting roles like First Under the Night and Representative of the Villains, but Cat has seemed much more Classic Evil without the wit lately. Doing things like haunting nightmares, threatening ruin, etc. are invitations to get smacked.

    Yes, she makes some quips while raiding the bar, and pays for her drinks here, but big picture I think something fundamental has shifted. She used to be commented on that she was a Villain but not one of Below’s. It was more that she was unGood. Now though she leans hard into her reputation for being Evil, and I think it’s problematic. I’m not sure whether she comes back from this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ninegardens

      Can you give any examples ASIDE from haunting nightmares of Mercantis?

      In this chapter we have her… having a reasonable conversation with Tariq… another reasonable conversation with Klaus… and trying to organize her side of the war.
      In previous chapters… she uses necromancy on a criminal to avoid civil war levels of danger (which Tariq agrees with)… and messing with the WB *after being attacked*.
      None of that exactly screams “stupid villian ball”… unless there was something I was missing?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. > Is Catherine more and more Stupid Evil?

      No, she’s always been willing to pull out the scary shit when it’s needed — dropping lakes, ripping up that Everdark city (and stranding sigil-holders in Arcadia until they knuckled under), and for that matter undead exploding goats probably already qualified in context.

      The nightmare business was tightly contained and non-lethal, just leaning hard on the Mercantis folks — who were being themselves being Dastardly-level assholes. (“Hey, if you wanna keep holding off the Dead King, well, you’re gonna have to give us what we want.”)

      Like

  17. Satan

    Didn’t Cat already learn the purpose of the Bard? I thought she was a tool of the Gods to make sure that none of their creations can ever grow to threaten their positions. And she was selected for the job by being particularly “annoying” to the imposed order they created.

    Like

  18. “They?” he asked.

    “Fluid,” I explained.

    He grunted in understanding.

    I love the casualness there so much. Like, the people of Calernia – Good or Evil – might butcher each other by the thousands for simple political expediency, but damned if anyone will give anyone shit about their gender or orientation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do have a slight gripe with the brevity here, simply because swapping genders may be accepted (if only for self-preservation), but it doesn’t seem common enough that “gender-fluid” should be a well-understood reference. “Changeable” would have been better, though “they change depending who they’ve eaten lately”, would be a bit much.

      On the other hand, that might well be something of a “Tiffany problem”….

      Like

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