Chapter 48: Hilltop

“Faith is not an act of surrender but of conquest, for doubt lies within us all.”

Daphne of the Homilies, best known for ending hereditary rule in Atalante 

Arranging it had been simple, in a sense. Just a matter of timing, of sensing what people would want and how they went about getting it. When you had that, as I’d once been told it was all just… objects in motion.  And it’d had to be that, because more direct manipulation would have been sniffed out in a heartbeat by the people involved. That was the trouble with trying to beat people at a game they were better at than you. I wanted answers, though, and I wanted them in a way that wouldn’t scar what I wanted achieved. And so here I was, in the darkened warehouse standing before an open crate and holding an artefact in my hands.

It didn’t look like much, for such a dangerous thing.

A Callowan knight’s lance was usually around nine feet in length but the kataphraktoi used longer ones, closer to twelve. The unraveller I held in my hands was shorter than either, perhaps a little over six feet in height, and lighter as well. It was easy enough to see why, as unlike a lance of hardened wood the unravellers were partly hollow: at the heart of them was a tunnel that went from the top to the bottom, with a thin wire of cold iron hung up. The outside of unraveller was touched with coin-like patches of metal, mostly bronze and brass, which themselves were connected to thin metal wires within the wooden shell.

The most expensive part was the sculpted amethyst ring at the bottom of the lance-like artefact, like a pommel to the wooden handle, which even at rest hummed with magic. The rest was runic carvings in the wood to stabilized the product, and a steel tip at the end of the unraveller that was very carefully linked with the central cold iron wire without compromising the artefact’s ability to, well, be used as a weapon. It needed to bite into bone or flesh before it disrupted the sorcery, which was unfortunate but couldn’t feasibly be fixed.

It wasn’t that we weren’t capable of it, just that the materials required would multiply the cost of production by at least ten. We’d not be able to fill entire crates with unravellers, which would defeat the entire purpose of that artefact’s existence: having an answer to necromantic constructs that we could mass-produce.

In the lamplight of the supply warehouse I studied the artefact closely, testing the weight and the way the grip handled. Archer would need to tinker with hers before she found a way to fire them by her bow, and likely the Silver Huntress as well – whose own silver recurve was shorter than Archer’s absurdly large longbow, but only in the sense that it was the size of an actual longbow. I’d need to have half a crate set aside for them to tinker with, and maybe lend them Roland when they got to it: the Rogue Sorcerer was only a passable enchanter, but even Masego praised his artefact-handling.

“I don’t get the cold iron wire,” I admitted out loud. “I’ve done the readings you suggested, I get why the patches are there and at different metal purities: it pulls at the spell structure in different ways, makes it unsteady. But cold iron isn’t supposed to be conducive to magic so why put it at the centre?”

The stuff hurt fae, because having it worked without the heat of a forge meant it didn’t lose properties through the transmutation affect – which I’d been chuffed to learn even Praesi recognized had been discovered by a Callowan wizardess, Blaine Caen! – so it was still ‘of Creation’ in a way that forged or wrought iron just wouldn’t be. But all I’d read about the stuff said it was kind of standoffish to magic, which was why people used it to make boundaries in rituals so often.

“Because the Hierophant is a singularly brilliant mage,” Akua said, frank with her praise.

She’d chosen to stand at the edge of the lamplight and the shadows, where the play of light and dark on her form was almost like a veil thrown over her clothes. Tonight she’d chosen a simple sleeveless, neckless silver dress in a wavelike pattern interrupted by slightly more ornate stripes – all of it covering a base of dark cloth. A thick silver choker and a hat of silvery tinsel stripes ending in dark gauzy veil completed the ensemble, making for a striking sight. It was one of her finer picks since I’d known her, and by the occasional smirk she’d clearly noticed my appreciation.

“I’m aware Zeze is a genius,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “If I could get an actual explanation, though?”

She smiled.

“Cold iron is resistant to magic, not repellant,” Akua said. “And it is an unnaturally stable material, in the sense that it will take to all forms of power by the exact same proportion – Cosmas’ Constant. In this case the wire serves two purposes. First it stabilizes the magic coming from varying metal purities as it is sucked into the amethyst ring, which is why the unraveller does not simply explode in a shower of shards when it is used. Secondly, it actually enhances the destabilizing effect on a necromantic construct: the iron wire’s resistance to magic means more of the construct’s invested magic is sucked in without it ever reaching the amethysts, and some of the runes carves ensure that ‘wasted’ magic does not turn to heat.”

Akua paused pushing herself off the wall and more fully into the light.

“It is an inspired solution,” the woman who’d once been the Diabolist admiringly said. “And not one I would have considered in his place. I’ve always sought the elimination of waste in artefacts and rituals, it would not have occurred to me to actively pursue it instead.”

“Masego has his moments,” I agreed.

I set down the unraveller atop the open crate, over the eleven remaining ones cradled in cloth and straw. The real breakthrough had been the amethyst ring though, or so Roland had implied, and that’d been a contribution of the Blessed Artificer. It was a relatively cheap precious stone, in Procer, which was why some Ashuran ship mages liked to buy them in bulk in Valencis and enchant them to hold winds. The ring structure was even an invention of her own, though it’d had to be slightly reworked since it was being used to anchor an enchantment instead of Light. While I might not get along particularly well with Adanna of Smyrna, I was not complaining that she’d ended up as one of the heroes assigned to my army.

“The Dead King will know we have these,” I finally said, “or at least suspect. We’ve done enough field tests he can’t have missed it.”

It was hard to notice something the size of a beorn or a tusk get struck with a lance and then… collapse, barely a heartbeat later as the necromancy animating it shattered like glass. We’d been afraid that the Dead King’s necromancers would be able to raise them right back up, but we were pretty sure by now they couldn’t. The Arsenal specialists believed it might take as much as months of rituals to raise those creatures, imbuing the different parts with different spells as they were being assembled. It just wasn’t something that could be done in the field and on the fly, not even with massed mages.

“You were careful to use the prototypes only sparingly,” Akua pointed out. “Hiding we have these was always a fool’s errand, but we can still take him by surprise with the sheer amount that can be fielded. He will be expecting these to be Named-work, not a pattern that trained mages and artisans can make on their own.”

Named were still arguably the source of the labour, since they’d been the one to train these mages and artisans when it came to making these, but her point stood. By now almost a full third of the Arsenal was dedicating its time to producing stockpiles of these to send to the fronts. There’d even been talk of starting workshops in Procer, though I’d balked: the Dead King and Malicia both had spies, and if either got their hands on the plans it’d make it much easier to figure out a countermeasure. I wanted to extend our window of effectiveness with the unravellers as long as possible, especially if it coincided with the offensive for Hainaut.

Ideally, the Gigantes would then raise massive wards on the coasts that’d keep the dead out and we’d have breathing room to make a counter-countermeasure in time for the assault on Keter itself.

“We’ll see,” I finally said.

We’d only caught the Hidden Horror flatfooted a handful of times since we’d unveiled the pharos devices, so while I was hoping to repeat the experience I wasn’t going to be relying on the hope. I cast a last look at the lances, snorting.

“Something amuses, my heart?” Akua asked.

“For all the cleverness that went into these fucking things,” I said, “they still have to be stabbed into the enemy. There’s something almost reassuring about that.”

Even when you put all the brilliance in the world into an artefact, in the end you still had to find some thug to stick it into your foe. At least folk like me would never be entirely out of work. I felt a tug against my little finger, and I knew my patience had finally borne results.I’d traced tripwires of Night around the warehouse entrances – though no more than that, or I’d risk irritating the wards – so I knew it the moment the door opened even without needing to turn. Akua cocked a brow in my direction, her superior senses having caught the sounds without needing any such tricks. It was two people who were joining us by navigating through the darkened maze of crates, it was easy to tell when I pricked my ear.

I hoisted myself up to sit on the edge of the open crate before as they strolled into the lamplight, Akua moving to lean against the side to my left. Covering my bad leg as well as implying she was my left hand all in the same gesture, I noted. Fucking Praesi, I then added, but not without fondness.

“I’ll take it as a courtesy you tripped the wire at all,” I called out.

Especially given who I was addressing.

“You overpraise me,” the Grey Pilgrim drily replied, stepping into the light.

“There is no point in skulking around allies,” the White Knight pointedly told him before following suit.

Tariq had a way of slipping past any and all measures I wove around myself with Night. He couldn’t fool the Crows, at least, but the Peregrine’s habit of turning up unexpected and without warning was not abated by anything else I could call on. He’d not been anywhere this good at it back around the days of the Graveyard, but then if I could learn about heroes they could most certainly learn about me.

“Though I wonder that you saw fit to place such a measure at all, Your Majesty,” Hanno said, sounding genuinely surprised.

“Named are a nosy breed, Lord White,” Akua smiled. “And there are a great many of them in Neustal. As always, it is a pleasure to see you.”

“Lady Sahelian,” the White Knight blandly replied, inclining his head the slightest bit then turning to me. “The Adjutant pointed me here when I sought a conversation with you. Is now an agreeable time?”

Of course it was, I’d picked it.

“If you don’t mind my shadow,” I shrugged.

“Such sweet things you call me,” Akua drolly noted.

“Could you not send her away?”

I turned a steady look on Tariq, who did not look apologetic in the slightest. And though I could have chided him, as it was rude to ask audience and then quibble over the given terms – even more so for two heroes to corner me in the dark and ask me to send away my only nearby ally – I held my tongue. I’d gone to a spot of trouble to arrange a pit fight between two of the finer speakers I knew, so I was in no hurry to spot it. Akua took my half-beat of silence as the open field it was, and took to it without any visible hesitation.

“I assure you, Peregrine, that no disease will come of addressing me directly,” Akua smilingly replied.

I kept my expression blank. The danger with getting answers Akua had always been that she was a better manipulator than me – it meant I couldn’t put my finger on the scale, try to guide an outcome, without her likely noticing it. But Tariq was perfectly capable of matching wits with her, and in his own way Hanno could be said to be even sharper. It’d taken me long to learn the lesson that sometimes doing nothing was the best way to get what you wanted, but I’d gotten there eventually.

“If you’d prefer,” Tariq politely acknowledged, turning to face her. “I distrust you, Akua Sahelian, and do not want you to be part of this conversation. Please leave.”

She hid the surprise skilfully, but I knew her well. A Praesi blind spot, this one: the Pilgrim just wasn’t proud in that way that the Named of the Dread Empire were. On the contrary, in his own way he was humble enough he was perfectly willing to make a request like this without batting an eye. It made a lot of her usual social arsenal effectively useless, since he simply did not care about the hierarchal nuances she was so adept at using. Now came the interesting part, though, how the shade would deal with the challenge. Conflict was always told the tales that smooth faces hid away.

“I recall no reason for there to be distrust between us, Grey Pilgrim,” Akua replied. “And your companion’s silence beg the question of whether your opinion is shared.”

Mhm, I thought. Better than kicking this back to me as the person who could dismissed her – not that I’d expected her to, she’d be well aware that if I’d wanted to intervene I already would have – but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the answer. The first part floated, but the second still smacked too much of trying to turn heroes on each other. But was this old habits dying hard or just social ploy to suss out where the White Knight stood? I couldn’t quite tell yet.

“You are a criminal, Lady Sahelian,” Hanno frankly replied, “but your sins were committed against Callow and you are in the custody of its queen. It is not my place to meddle in this. I would caution you, however, against confusing respect for your warden as tolerance for the most egregious mass-murderer of our age.”

The Sword of Judgement wasn’t one to pull his punches, it had to be said. But there was a reason I’d wanted him as part of this conversation: unlike the Grey Pilgrim, whose own dabbling in horror might have made more wary of bringing up the Doom of Liesse, Hanno absolutely could and would go there. That was a sting I’d wanted Akua to feel so that I might see what it brought out.

“I neither seek nor expect your esteem, Lord White,” Akua said. “But I had hopes for courtesy, at least. Or is it too much to expect of a hero?”

Good, I thought. She’d not countered by going after the bloody records of heroes like the Saint or the Pilgrim, even though it was the easiest and most effective parry. Tariq would answer he’d killed to prevent suffering, the debate would get religious – for lack of a better term – and enter grounds where no one could truly win. It also meant that, deep down, Akua did not think of the Folly as something on equal footing with Tariq seeding innocents with the plague to catch Black. Or, at least, she recognized it was not an argument that could be made and be considered to hold water.

That’d be a lesser prize, but still a prize. A few years back, she wouldn’t have cared that people believed her to be wrong when she was espousing Praesi – more accurately Praesi highborn – philosophies. She would have said the words anyway, and should circumstance prove her right down the line pointed to that as evidence of the Wasteland’s dark but undeniable wisdom. Now she was avoiding that sort of talk even when trying to win the argument by other means. Her definition of winning, of how it could be achieved, had shifted. And not because she was being coerced or fearing punishment.

It’d sunk into her, the act. Maybe no more than the slightest drop, but that was all it took.

“It is unpleasant to talk of butchery,” the White Knight calmly replied, “but it is not impolite. The burden of snuffing out a hundred thousand lives is yours to bear, Lady Sahelian, and your discomfort with the truth of that is of little import to me.”

“You know very little of what you speak of,” Akua quietly replied, “yet display great certainty. There are many sayings on people who behave in such a manner. What do you know of my follies, save what others have told you?”

“I know enough,” Hanno simply said. “And this conversation is waste of time.”

“Is it?” she mused. “The two of you have decided I am to be dismissed, and there is nothing more to be said of the matter?”

She clicked her tongue.

“Though my hands are dripping red, White Knight, and I’ll not deny this or quibble over it, I have dealt fairly and openly with you and yours,” Akua said. “I have no expectation of ever seeing the scales of Liesse settled, but that sin is not yours to ask answer for – so what have I done to you, to deserve this scorning?”

Ah, I thought. And there it was. I’d been right, then, this conversation had been needed. The nudge over the crest of the hill was still required so that she’d finally be able to see the slopes on both sides. Some part of her, perhaps the same that she allowed to enjoy the companions she’d made, still thought that so long as the mountainous horror that’d been the Folly remained far away and she was good and loyal and lovely she could have her warm place in the sun. She spoke the words as I’d said them to her, but it’d not really sunk in that Liesse wasn’t something that could be atoned for.

That even if she saved ten lives for every one she’d taken, she would still be the same woman who’d murdered an entire city.

I couldn’t be the one to lead her there, though. I couldn’t deny it either – it was true, all other considerations aside – but to keep my role I could only agree to this and not be the one that brought it up. Otherwise she’d know there was a deeper game, beyond the one I’d admitted to. The long price that had yet to be paid. I couldn’t be the one to blot out that hazy hope, otherwise she’d ask herself why I would do that. Why, if I was manipulating her, I’d do away with the mirrored oasis that was being genuinely one of us. And I couldn’t have her ask that question, not yet.

I reached within my cloak, the gesture drawing no attention.

“I’ve known a great many monsters,” Tariq pensively said, “but in your own way you are among the most tragic – how you were raised, how you were shaped, it robbed you of the ability to understand what you did even as you did it. But it has begun to dawn, I think. The scale of the evil in something like the Doom, the way it ripples out into the world. How ugly such a thing fundamentally is, so unlike the stories of glory and triumph.”

The thing that made Tariq dangerous, I thought, was that he was being sincere. This wasn’t a veiled insult or a threat or some stratagem: he was genuinely grieved by what he saw in Akua. How accurate what he saw might be remained debatable, but the way the shade’s face went solid for the fraction of a moment – as if she was locking it by will – told me she’d read his sincerity and it’d struck deep. I’d been in her place before, as it happened. There’d been a reason I wanted Tariq here.

“Fair dealings and courtesy change nothing, Akua Sahelian,” the Peregrine said, almost gently. “You killed a city. There is nothing to be done, in the wake of that, that will buy you trust.”

She did not look at me, but I felt her attention shift my way. I forced my face into stolid blankness but just a beat too slowly – not even on purpose, it’d been simple luck.

“I believe you might even care for a few others,” Tariq said. “But there is nothing redeeming in this, my dear. Even the most terrible of us can love.”

“I am not your anything, Peregrine,” Akua replied, tone forcefully cold.

Overcompensation, I decided. She didn’t control her voice anywhere as well now that she was a shade, though she’d gained in other ways.

“Then I withdraw the address,” the old man said. “It is not enough to avoid doing evil, Akua. You have to do good. Even when there is no reward. Especially when there is no reward.”

I almost smiled. There went the last piece I’d been waiting for. Selflessness, the greatest of virtues in someone like the Pilgrim’s eyes – a virtue he clutched most desperately, I expected, considering some of the things he’d done over the year at the behest of the Choir of Mercy. And Tariq had spoken of it just after effectively telling her that the Folly was not something she should ever expect to dig her way out of. And now, I thought as I watched Akua Sahelian, you see the view from atop the hill. One slope goes back down the way you came, into the beliefs of the Truebloods. But the other one feels just as pointless, doesn’t it? Because you know there’ll never be a payoff, a redemption, a settling of accounts.

But she stood atop the hill now and her eyes had been opened to the choice. She knew she’d have to make it, sooner or later.

That’d been what I needed from these two. I’d been… lenient, perhaps. I’d let us get comfortable, too used to tiptoeing around the lines while indulging in the unsaid. It would have been too easy to stay there, if the bleak light of truth hadn’t been shone down on all of this again. But it didn’t feel good. I’d not really grasped, when I first conceived of my revenge, that it would punish me as well. Maybe it was better this way, I decided. A long price should cost you something to, require that you put something of yourself in it. It was too easy to get drunk on the bloodletting otherwise. What I’d wanted from this has been delivered, though, so there was no need to drag this out any longer. I struck a match on the side of the crate, lighting my pipe and pulling at the mouth.

It got their attention, shaking them out of the conversation.

“You wanted to talk,” I told the heroes, blowing out a ring of smoke. “So talk.”

Hanno looked mildly irritated, but spoke up anyway.

“There are two major matters,” the White Knight said. “The first is the missing army of two hundred thousand undead. The Iron Prince mentioned that our oracles were all in agreement that it was not in the capital, but there are ways to fool soothsaying.”

“There are,” I agreed.

I was hardly unaware, given that Black had run a game against the Augur for months by moving his army fast and picking his battles at the last moment. I raised an eyebrow, inviting him to elaborate.

“An army unseen is the blade of fate,” the Pilgrim said. “For those Bestowed by the Heavens most of all, but any Bestowed can try that luck.”

Meaning that force was bound to appear where and when it’d fuck up our plans the most. They’d come to me instead of Prince Klaus with this worry because I’d been Named, and understood the tricks of fate. The Prince of Hannoven would listen to them, he was not fool, but not necessarily believe or understand in the way that I would.

“It was kept in mind when the campaign was planned,” I assured them. “There’s only so many places that army can be, right now, and while I agree it’s probably not guarding the bridge as would be most convenient there are limits to the pull a pattern like this has. I’m not dismissing your concerns, to be clear, but you have to understand him having the wind in his sails won’t work like it would with a living army.”

Confusion on both their faces, which wasn’t unexpected. Both of them were experiences heroes, and familiar with war, but neither had ever commanded troops.

“The d dead will get fewer supply accidents on the move and maybe good weather,” I mused, “but it won’t be a great uplift like it would be with a living army. Undead armies already don’t tire and don’t have to worry about morale, there’s just less for providence to give them. Besides, to be honest the wind’s more in our sails than the Dead King’s.”

I pulled at my pipe, then spat out a mouthful of smoke.

“We might not have a story we can ride,” I elaborated, “but we’ve got a lot of godsdamned heroes to weigh in on our side of the scales. That counts. Believe me when I say that, because unlike everyone else here I’ve fought armies with that many heroes attached before.”

Hanno cleared his throat.

“To be clear,” he said, “you have a contingency?”

“Several,” I replied.

Not the kind of stuff you talked about at a war council, but I did have pieces in place. Hasenbach had been more than willing to indulge my paranoia, considering our common opponent was the Hidden Horror.

“Then I will put my trust in that,” the White Knight said.

Tariq looked less convinced.

“It is a strong story,” he reminded me.

“How’d it work out for you, at the Graveyard?” I pointedly asked him.

Thousands of cavalry from all across Procer, readying for a surprise charge out of Arcadia into my forces, had instead been tossed back into Creation in a murderous tumble of panicked horses and broken bones. It was a good trick, I wasn’t going to argue against that – I’d used it myself against Summer, during Five Armies and One – but it wasn’t as foolproof as he was making it sound. Especially not when the other aside had superior mobility, as we did against the dead.

“It took a third party to make it fail,” the Peregrine said. “There is no third party here, Catherine.”

“I’m not sharing the contingencies,” I bluntly told him. “Lord Yannu was brought in on the relevant ones, as the strategist sent by the Dominion to the Arsenal, but I’m not thinning the secret by further spreading it. If you can’t deal with that, take it up with the appropriate authorities.”

The old hero sighed.

“You are the appropriate authorities,” Tariq reminded me.

“And I’m telling you it’s handled, so don’t worry your pretty little head about it,” I replied with a winning smile.

While no general, the Pilgrim could at least recognize a lost battle when he was fighting one.

“The other matter is the one I would prefer privacy for,” he said.

He didn’t flick a glance at Akua, but I did. She’d been silent, her face like a mask, but those golden eyes missed little and she’d been listening closely.

“That’s nice,” I commented.

A beat passed and I cocked an eyebrow.

“So, what is it?”

Hanno looked mildly amused as he answered in the other hero’s place.

“We followed the First Prince’s suggestion and it bore the results she predicted,” the White Knight said. “With a hero handling the scrying ritual and myself serving as the interlocutor, the elves finally accepted to talk.”

Unlike when it’d been a hero making the ritual but someone else serving as the diplomat, which got us a beat of connection with the sorcery before it was shattered, or when Hanno had first attempted to make contact through the ritual of Arsenal mages and the elves had simply warded against the ritual. Of course the finicky little pricks wouldn’t bother to answer to any less than the appointed leader of Calernia’s heroes, with his busywork done by another fucking chosen of the Heavens. They might be even worse vultures than the Choir of Endurance, who’d at least not been so godsdamned pretentious about it.

“Let me guess, they’re keeping the Spring crown?” I drily said.

“In essence,” Hanno admitted. “They’ve agreed to make sure their ritual does not destroy the surroundings, or damage the fabric of Creation, but my attempt to discuss alliance against the Dead King were brusquely rebuffed.”

Typical. Well, they’d had a border with the fucker for like a millennium so I supposed I shouldn’t be too surprised.

“The return of the Spellblade’s body was remarked upon,” Hanno then told me. “It was implied that to return the courtesy no claim would be made on the crown of Autumn.”

“All heart, those elves,” I grunted.

Well, at least we weren’t dealing with a war on one more front. That was always worth celebrating.

“Ah, and one lasting thing,” the White Knight said. “They asked if the Ranger is part of the Truce and Terms, and when I informed them she is not warned us against allowing her to sign them. They would take this as an act of war.”

I closed my eyes and sighed. Well, it wasn’t like she’d been going to sign those anyways. They involved too much not-killing-strangers-for-fun for the Lady of the Lake, by my reckoning.

“Duly noted,” I said, opening my eyes.

As expected, news about the crowns – which I’d learned there would be from Masego this morning in a private chat, hours before this lot got it going – had prompted the Pilgrim to want to expel Akua. I’d not been sure as to what the news would be, but in the end that’d not really mattered had it?

“We’re done here, I believe,” I said

Neither saw fit to argue the point, though by the look on the Pilgrim’s face this wasn’t the last I’d be hearing about contingencies. Good luck to him, since he was headed out with the eastern army and they’d be leaving in two days – before my own force set out. I suggested to Akua we return to my tent to take another crack at planning our route, which we’d taken a break from to visit this warehouse in the first place, but she begged off.

“The new wardstones for the Third require adjustment, dearest,” Akua told me. “I will see to that first.”

Lie, I thought. You just want to be alone. I didn’t call her out on it. Why would I? My plan was working.

It brought me no joy, but my plan was working.

111 thoughts on “Chapter 48: Hilltop

          1. Arctruth

            The comment section here is comparatively difficult to parse. Especially on mobile, where a long comment chain is reduced to single-letter lines and a mis-tap moves your screen to open a reply.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. NerfContessa


              Still prefer it here, for the whole package feeling.

              Also, can’t wait for the White specter of Woe ergo akua as heroics martyr to become a thing.


          2. layersr

            It’s probably because here you have to scroll past the obligatory plead to vote, and the 50 replies to that comment that have nothing to do with the post. Makes it such a pain to read thoughts on the chapter.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. thearpox23

              “since a few chapters, i’ve seen more and more people going to reddit to comment instead of here.”

              “since a few chapters”

              Reddit has been around for years. I get that you don’t have the answer, but I was asking if something happened recently.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. RoflCat

                Just because it exist doesn’t mean everyone is aware of it, or thought of using it initially.

                People don’t have to all go there for the same reason either.
                Some might go there because they hate wordpress’s comment system.
                Some might go there because he can get notified of updates by just following the sub.
                Some might go there because their friend who introduce them to the series do it via reddit.
                Whatever it is.

                Maybe it’s not so much something happen, but just coincidence of a bunch of people switching to using reddit for keeping up with updates/comments, the OP mentioned since a few chapters ago but maybe it happened earlier or more slowly but he only just took notice then.

                You know what they say, truth is stranger than fiction. If 5 random people can ends up in a Hero-Villain band, what’s wrong with reality of mass of people just casually show up there.

                Liked by 2 people

          1. thearpox23

            My issues with reddit are the issues with low site-wide karma coupled with occasional admin mods overreach, where your account can be effectively shackled because of a single cancerous thread in a completely different subreddit.

            I could see reddit as usable if I were to only limit myself to one or a couple niche subreddits like the PGuide, or if I had the care to make alts for every subreddit I was interested in, but it’s honestly a bother for a stagnating overripe forum.

            I acknowledge I the issues wordpress has, but I personally enjoy the stylistics of the UI, and that it doesn’t seem to try to draw my attention away from the text with gamification like account levels or other clutter.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Matthew Wells

              Terrible moderation is the bane of that site. Besides the whole volunteer mod thing, they’re outright awful with how the actual mods behave. I deleted my account a few years back when the site owner nuked someone’s account for disagreeing with him.


  1. “Tonight she’d chosen a simple sleeveless, neckless silver dress in a wavelike pattern interrupted by slightly more ornate stripes – all of it covering a base of dark cloth. A thick silver choker and a hat of silvery tinsel stripes ending in dark gauzy veil completed the ensemble, making for a striking sight.”

    Vivienne, is that you?!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. RandomDude

    Cat appears to be trying to pull a redemption in death story with akua, wherein one of the greatest villains of this age slays the greatest villain to date as an act of redemption, possibly at the cost of existence. Interesting story that.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Salt

      I think it’s actually not a redemption story so much as contrition. It’s one of the few “atonement” stories that features no redemption style payoff at all, generally shown by old William’s example where the angels were quite explicit from the start that he would never be forgiven, that he couldn’t make it right, and he was heading for below-hell instead of above-heaven regardless what he did to atones.

      The old “Repent. You will not be forgiven. Repent.” line from when Cat herself faced off against Contrition is pretty much an exact summary of the “other side of the hill” she led Akua to understand on her own just now, by arranging the talk with Hanno and the Pilgrim.

      Cat is basically putting her in a situation where every road sucks total ass. She poisoned the purity of Akua’s old Praesi ideology with her own so that she wouldn’t want to go back down the same side of the hill that she climbed up from, while the only other choice to be made is becoming the kind of wretch that William was, as far as mindset about her past crimes goes.

      It says something about how shitty a contrition-style breaking of a person is to go through, considering even the Bard thought was “sordid” when the angels did it for (in her eyes) a worthy greater-good cause. This one isn’t even about a greater good, so much as sheer Callowan spite making someone pay the long price.

      Liked by 22 people

      1. Evgeny Permyakov

        This kinds of choices occasionally blow up into you face when a third option is taken. And the Above is just as bad as Below, it simply has better PR. Cat knows that well herself.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. 7ime1ock

          Relevant WOE quote: “The Gods Above and Below do roughly correspond to “lower case” good and evil, as far as entities that far removed from mortals can be understood. That neither side of the equation intervenes directly means there’s a lot of room for interpretation in the respective philosophies they preach, but the bare bones are there.”

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Evgeny Permyakov

            The funny thing is, modern society is more aligned with evil than good. “Nothing personal, just business” is definitely not a part of “good”. “Good” philosophy often breaks on scale beyond “small village” (or “large condo”)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Tomatoking

            Not to try to fit this into a trope too much but doesnt this all feel like its leading to a “both sides of the hill suck so let’s stay on top forever”, custodian of the Arsenal unending choice for Akua?


            1. Nope. Cat’s specifically saying she can’t stay on top forever and will have to make the choice.

              She expects Akua will choose moving forward even without the eventual reward, and that will entail whatever task Catherine might have for her, Arsenal or whatnot.

              Liked by 3 people

    2. Ed

      No, Cat has to teach Akua how to feel remorse before she can be punished for Liesse. There is and will be no redemption, Cat is Callowan to the core.


  3. Frivolous

    I wonder why the elves were against Hye signing the T&T. Where’s the downside for them?

    The elves better hope that Hye never learns that the elves threatened to declare war if she signed them. She will probably be offended, and she is so contrary that she might sign them just so she could go to war against the elves.

    I liked and was amused by Catherine being high-handed and pleasantly obstinate when dealing with Hanno and Tariq. Turnabout is fair play, fuckers. I remember many many times when GP had been the same to Cat.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Eftwyrd

      Remember Hye is half elf, her mother was basically considered a traitor and was the one who taught Hye in order to protect herself from them if i recall the various tidbits about her past we’ve been fed correctly

      Liked by 17 people

      1. LizAris

        Correct me if I’m wrong—but don’t they just kinda hate her because of who she is? Aka they’re extraordinarily racist asshats? Cuz it’s not like most of what she does is really all that…repugnant. Or even evil, considering she’s one of those names that’s not heroic or villainous.

        Liked by 12 people

        1. Saithorthepyro

          Probably not rated as evil but from what we’ve heard of the Sanctuary she was a terrible guardian to those Named raised there. And she’s not exactly a moral saint, she mostly just goes around trying to kill stuff because she thinks it would make a good fight. But yeah the elves mostly want her dead because of who she is and because racism.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Refuge, not Sanctuary.

            Yeah, Ranger being a piece of shit is thoroughly unrelated to her being hunted by her “relatives”. They couldn’t do jack to actually harm her, but at least they can poison the alliance well!

            Liked by 11 people

                1. Rynjin

                  Really? Ranger always struck me as textbook Neutral Evil. She is defined as a character entirely by her selfishness and borderline hedonism. All that matters to her is her own pleasure, no matter who or what she needs to hurt to get it. In fact, the inflicting of pain is often the direct immediate goal of her actions.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. shikkarasu

                      I’ve always defined Chaotic, in DnD terms, as “views rules and laws as obstacles,” whereas Lawful would “view rules and laws as tools.”

                      I agree, Ranger sees no value in any rules other than “listen to the biggest, baddest one,” AKA “Do what the Lady says.” Also, as a fun aside, it’s worth pointing out that she’s now agreed to help Maddie tear down the Praesi government twice, but left the moment that his power base was established and stable after the Conquest. C/N or C/E.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. I can see that interpretation. Honestly, Chaotic and Lawful is an axis that is not only ambiguous based on how much weight you give to which traits, the zero point is also arbitrary, not to mention the divisions between Neutral and either.

                      I just think Hye fits the Chaotic Neutral archetype of going around doing random shit based on personal gratification, sometimes actually saving people if that is her whim (Indrani), mostly not caring.

                      The observation about government isn’t entirely correct. She stuck around for 20 years of Amadeus and Alaya ruling the Empire and preparing for the Conquest. I attribute her leaving more to self-preservation – the fun was no longer worth the risk of meddling with actually important stories and politics. Praesi succession has so little weight for the world as a whole she can do whatever and survive in her own Role, toppling stable governments puts her at risk.


                  1. I think Ranger is more of a True Neutral with some Chaotic and Evil tendencies.

                    Her take on life, per Amadeus (who ought to know as well as anyone), is more or less “be the best you can be; do whatever you want; kill anyone who gets in the way of that, unless you can’t, in which case respect that rule”.
                    Mix in her age, jaded nature of having literally outlived nearly everyone she’s ever met, buried almost everyone she had every cared about, and can reasonably expect those trends to continue until her own death, and being on the shitlist of the Golden Bloom Elves for her entire life … it’s not unreasonable that she doesn’t care about many people and definitely not about normal people – she literally cannot afford to care much and expect to retain mental equilibrium for very long, plus I suspect that she never really had what one could call a reasonable approximation of a normal upbringing or childhood interactions with other people.

                    On the other hand, she does take in students of various persuasions, even if she’s not exactly the nicest teacher.
                    So … I suspect that part of her wants more from life on a personal level but doesn’t really know how to get it.

                    But I digress … I see Ranger as more of a True Neutral because she’s about self-interest, and is amoral and indifferent about how she attains those interests, not immoral.
                    If you obstruct her indulging her whims, sure, she’ll kill you, but she’s not going bother you if you don’t bother or interfere with her.
                    If some random person asked her for help with something specific, she’d probably ignore them, unless they were being insulting or she was in a bad mood or something, but if whatever they asked for help with was something that interested her, she’d help them – that’s literally how she met Amadeus (and Wekesa) – they asked her for help getting into Callow.

                    However, in a way, Ranger’s philosophy (according to Amadeus) makes her an atypical Villain, but really an expression of the truest form of Below’s philosophy of “do whatever you want, as long as you’re prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions” … which might be a contributing factor to her strength.

                    Liked by 2 people

    2. LizAris

      T&T would give Ranger protection and allies. (Not that she needs either of those, mind you, it’s the principle of the thing.) The elves just…hate hate hate Ranger and want her to die. Declaring that she’s part of the T&T would then be declaring that Calernia’s new system for Named has her back, and the elves can’t have that. Cue declaration of war 😛

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Agent J

        The obvious solution then is not to have her sign the T&T, but rather, sign the Accords instead.

        Good luck bullying the continent that just kicked Nessie’s teeth in, asshats.

        Liked by 5 people

  4. I really do wonder what’s going to become of Akua. She hasn’t been truly Evil for a while, but literally all she knows is being evil. Her own intentions and Cat’s plans have her setting out on a more noble path, but even now that she’s been shown how stalled she’s been and for how long, I don’t know if she has enough will left to take a step in either direction.

    Additionally, she’s a shade, and with too much of a debt for a clean resurrection. If she falls back into Evil, I could see her becoming a wraith of some variety, her own will the only thing holding her together. On the other hand, if she does end up moving towards Good might see a restoration of her body, but at great cost, possibly in the form of a sacrifice of her magic and other powers, which could make for a solid hero story, honestly.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Eh … this isn’t some remnant of Akua.
      It’s her actual, original soul.

      That pretty much has to leave more options open for her.
      In theory, anyways.

      She’s still going to have to pay the long price, which won’t end well for her.

      Liked by 13 people

    2. Big I

      Since we learned about Cardinal I’ve always assumed Akua’s fate to be tied to it in some way. Ruler of the city, eternal Headmistress of the Named school, spirit bound to the city to protect it, something like that.

      The implication I got from this chapter, and Pilgrim wanting her sent away before taking about the Spring Crown, is that the crown could be used to bring her back to life.

      Liked by 15 people

      1. Darkening

        Considering Cat got her body destroyed and got a new one made from magic when she went winter queen would be a pretty decent precedent to a soul getting a body from a fae mantle.

        Liked by 5 people

  5. Heh.
    Cat’s Callowan. She was never going to forget or forgive what Akua’s done. And Akua, Hanno, and Tariq all really should know that.

    Tariq … you aren’t in charge. And Cat isn’t a Levantine or a Hero to nigh automatically defer to your wishes and whims. She’s a Callowan and leans Villain. Plus, you’ve broken your word to her and told her that your word is inherently unreliable. Oh, and let’s not forget, you tried to throw Callow under the wheels to be ground up in order to prop up Procer at any cost. Oh, and there was that time you used a plague as a weapon on civilians and ripped Amadeus’s soul out. Cat’s not going to forget or forgive any of that, even if she did resurrect you that one time.
    Tariq, you may be a likeable fellow … but Cat doesn’t actually like you.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. dadycoool

      Yeah, he seems to be one of those that has trouble dealing with people who don’t fall over themselves trying to help/obey him. It’s most likely not on purpose, but the wise tend to get used to being listened to, especially when the only ones that don’t trip over themselves are either friends, equals, or opposition that you can exterminate and thereby prove yourself right because they were definitely wrong. I feel like Tariq’s only real friend by the time we met him was the Saint of Swords, the only one he considered an equal was the Wandering Bard, and the opposition was basically anyone east of the mountains, villains, or targets. In Cat he finds an equal who genuinely doesn’t like him, yet doesn’t directly oppose him, and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with her, especially after she proved herself a very capable enemy with compatible ideals.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. ninegardens

        I feel like there’s a difference here between “I am annoyed because Cat didn’t obey me” and “I am confused/frustrated because there’s a manipulative mass murderer in the room and Cat seems to be chilling like its an okay thing.”

        This isn’t just him throwing his weight around- he has *reasons* to ask Akua to leave. We the readers know Cat’s reasoning, but from Tariq and Hanno’s point of view, its just kinda… weird and obnoxious.

        Liked by 14 people

        1. Saithorthepyro

          While he has every right to feel that way, Cat can’t be fully sure how the two would react to the idea of trying to give Akua a redemption and even more that she was going to rope them into it. Better to let it play out on it’s own, also because Cat felt when Pilgrim was deliberately trying to steer her into a redemption equals death story and probably doesn’t want a situation similar where Akua catches on that he’s trying to deliberately steer her towards that. Better to have it be spontaneous and occur naturally.

          In reasons not related to Akua’s redemption, she’s Cat’s advisor, Cat can choose to keep her in the room, and Cat needs to not be too conciliatory to Hero’s wishes anyway, as what we see with Mirror Knight assuming Hero’s friendliness with villains being them getting corrupted by said Villains, Cat has to deal with on her own side, albeit more “I’m going to help protect you and assure you that you all aren’t immediately going to be righteously killed as soon as the war ends.” And that needs to be made clear to Hanno and Tariq as well, just because she will act friendly doesn’t mean she will share secrets or dismiss an advisor just because you ask her too. And given Hanno’s distancing after the Red Axe incident it doesn’t feel unjustified. Tariq is a little more complicated since he didn’t try to distance himself after the Red Axe thing, but he is the one of those two who tried to kill her with a story among other things, so trust being short on relatively unimportant things makes sense.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. ninegardens

            Oh yeah- I totally agree that Cat has excellent reasons for not letting them in on what is going on, and that she is well within her rights to demand that “advisor Kivul” be allowed to stay. I’m not saying Cat was in the wrong here.

            Just…the fact that she is within her rights, doesn’t mean it is stupid or unreasonable for GP to be confused and frustrated by the situation. He wasn’t exactly making demands, he just asked, twice, and then got on with his day. I was disagreeing with the idea that Tariq was trying to be “in charge.”

            Liked by 7 people

    2. Frivolous

      I loved loved LOVED that Cat told Tariq not to worry his pretty little head over her contingencies.

      That’s usually said by older men to young women. To witness it happening in reverse was delightful, especially considering how fatherly Tariq tends to appear to others. -She- was patronizing -him-!

      Or is it matronizing when a woman does it? I’m not sure.

      Liked by 10 people

  6. ninegardens


    Using white and Pilgrim as weapons against Akua. Classic. Particularly amusing because of how annoying they found it, despite the fact that she was achieving THEIR goals (running a redemption story, etc etc etc, IE, the work of the heavens).

    And keeping Akua around afterwards, while rude to the two heroes was… a solid investment in terms of redmption story: the hilltop is more likely to stick if Akua feels like Cat is actually on her side.

    The scheme is just even better because… how to put it. WK and GP aren’t exactly lecturing Akua voluntarily. If they were it just feels pretentious. The fact that they did so because Cat FORCED them to interact with her, and Akua FORCED them to justify themselves makes it more… genuine? More sincere.

    I like it. I like both Hanno and Tariq here. They make reasonable requests, and get denied for no apparent reason, and run with it anyway. Its not unfair for them to be confused and frustrated by it.

    Also, Cat played them like a fiddle.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. dadycoool

      Genuine is a good word for it. Them giving the lectures as a reaction means it wasn’t rehearsed, it was ‘ask a question, get an answer’ scenario. And yeah, none of it was their idea, so she can’t call them out on anything because she initiated everything.

      Liked by 11 people

    2. Saithorthepyro

      While they have every right to be annoyed, Cat also does have the right under the terms to refuse them, and it’s not like we’ve been shown any signs Hanno got over the Red Axe incident and has changed his attitude from right after then. And Cat has a very fair point that secrets spread around in the Guideverse are never really a good idea, and as neither really have military command or experience with military campaigns, there’s no reason they should know if it’s such an important secret. Hanno could maybe petition as head of the Heroes contingent, after which I imagine it would got to a vote much like at the trial?

      And also while Cat doesn’t mention in the narration it I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s keeping things secret from Tariq just in case Bard pops in with some really convincing arguments about how what she did was part of her secret plan to defeat the Dead King. Once burned twice shy.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Nobody’s saying Cat was wrong, as best I can tell. This is just a rare situation where EVERYONE is in the right and a minor conflict is peacefully settled by one side conceding.

        It’s beautiful, truly.

        Liked by 7 people

    3. Frivolous

      Tariq still has not and probably never will learn to compensate for his inability to Behold Cat’s intentions.

      It must frustrate him immensely that someone so powerful and influential (and obnoxious) is a blind spot in his aspect. He got too used to local omniscience.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    outside of unraveller > outside of the unraveller
    to stabilized > to stabilise
    runes carves > runes carved
    Hiding we have > Hiding that we have
    results.I’d (missing space)
    It was two people (“it was” appears twice in this sentence. might want to reword)
    before as (one or the other)
    answers Akua (missing word. i’m guessing “with”)
    Conflict was always (is this intentional? maybe remove the “was”)
    silence beg > silence begs
    could dismissed > could dismiss
    just social ploy > just a social ploy
    made more wary > made him more wary
    is waste of time > is a waste of time
    cost you something to > cost you something too
    has been > had been
    experiences heroes > experienced heroes
    The d dead > The dead

    Liked by 1 person

  8. MrMaturity

    If feel like Cat might just be getting a little too arrogant here.
    I worry that there is something catastrophic looming on the horizon because Cat thought she could manipulate the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tenthyr

      That’s the point though– cat didn’t manipulate. She just placed objects in motion in the position where they’d collide in a way she knew would form the patternsi nherent to creation.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Burnsy

    Okay I’m pretty sure that a) the Spring Crown can be used for resurrections (which is why Tariq didn’t want Akua knowing anything more about it) and b) the elves are planning to use it to rez the Spellbade.

    Then him coming charging in at an opportune moment like an incredibly racist Legolas to get some good old fashioned murdervenge on the Dead King is looking likely.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Elves may or may not try to resurrect the Spellblade.
      I am inclined to suspect that they probably won’t.
      For one thing, he’s an Elf, not Fae, and thus an entity of Creation, where the only source for true resurrections is Above, and not having been empowered by a Fae mantle or Title in life, is not eligible for the cyclical Fae reincarnation process.
      For another, the Spellblade was in the hands of the Dead King for centuries undergoing who knows what kind of trauma and mental reconditioning. Who knows what kind of traps are laid for anyone trying to resurrect him? Or where his loyalties would truly lie if resurrected? With the living? Or with his master for centuries?

      The Golden Bloom Elves are, however, definitely going to try to use the Crown of Spring to break their curse of infertility (with each other) that they’ve been affected by ever since they genocided the ancient Deoraithe out of the Golden Bloom. Which, I expect is the top priority for the Golden Bloom Elves.

      I think it’s more likely that a last hour surprise assist is going to come from Larat and the rest of the former Wild Hunt who are also former Fae.
      Sure, they don’t owe Cat anything, anymore, but the Dead King winning is definitely the kind of thing that they wouldn’t want to have happen (the undead are neither interesting nor fun). Calernia according to Cat would be a vast improvement, from their perspective, relative to Calernia according to the Dead King.
      And I suspect that they wouldn’t really like Bard any either.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Frivolous

        All I know for sure is even a resurrected Spellblade won’t have the aspect the Saint of Swords destroyed with Sever, the aspect of Ban that Cat ripped out of him, nor the aspect she destroyed with Ban.

        Reference: Pinnacle.

        A Spellblade with zero aspects might as well not be Named at all.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. RanVor

    Okay, I’ll be mighty surprised if Akua doesn’t backslide into her original self after this conversation. She had one reason not to and Cat has just taken it from her in the name of whatever she thought she could achieve by this.


    1. Shveiran

      I’m not sure I see your point: Akua didn’t take the chances she had to run away (the Everdark, the ritual at the Graveyard, etc) and start anew because she has become convinced that her former way of living is empty.
      That it made her risk his fatehr, that it made her keep friends at arm’s length, that it gave her less happyness than an evening around the fire with people that don’t really like her.

      She has renounced her ways because she now conider them to be empty and useless.
      Now she has simply being informed that the path she is walking now doesn’t lead to a place where her past deeds are forgotten. And that hurts.
      But it doesn’t make her suddenly see the old way as a land of milk and honey.

      She has a choice before her, one she must make with open eyes.
      No more, no less.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. RanVor

        Except the choice she has is, from her perspective, meaningless. Either she goes back to being who she used to be, but knowing it won’t be the same anymore because her perspective has changed, or she throws away everything that defined her in life for nothing. Both paths ultimately lead nowhere, but one of them requires significantly more effort. And if you’re going to be a monster no matter how hard you try, why bother?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Geckus

          That choice would be far from meaningless; with everything she’s experienced since her ‘death’, returning to her old ways would require her to actually choose to be a monster – even the most evil people don’t typically think of themselves as the bad guy. Whereas choosing the higher road, one full of challenge with no redemption at the end, would require her to choose to be better than she was before.
          She would bother because she’s become a better person, not a worse one.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. RanVor

            Spoken like somebody who hasn’t been raised to worship evil. Akua’s values are radically different from what you’d expect in a normal person and only recently she’s begun to change her outlook. Being a monster is perfectly normal to her. She doesn’t have any inherent desire to be a better person – she wouldn’t be totally fine with going back to what was, but it would be nothing compared to the commitment required to pick the other path. And since her only real incentive has just been taken away, she might simply not care enough to do that.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Salt

              Akua can’t go back to her old beliefs at this point without compromising them. Her old beliefs are a hardcore oldschool Below ideology of victory proving beliefs correct, as direct opposition to Above’s idea that beliefs are inherently correct or incorrect to begin with. Praesi ideology isn’t just “let’s do bad things”. She worships worthiness being proven through accomplishment, she worships the methods and beliefs that lead to accomplishment. She doesn’t sacrifice babies just for the sake of sacrificing babies.

              Which means that Catherine’s victories – and especially her victory over the old Diabolist – are what makes Catherine correct instead of the old Diabolist, even in the Diabolist’s own eyes. It can’t be denied without fundamentally denying the core of her original ideology to begin with.

              The funny thing about iron sharpens iron is that it only makes sense if there actually is a sharpening. You don’t get to believe in that and avoid being sharpened, just because the end result is unpleasant on an emotional level.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. RanVor

                Look, all I’m saying is, when all roads lead nowhere, might as well choose the easiest one.

                Ultimately, this was a test. Cat wanted to see how Akua would react to the notion of being beyond redemption. I believe she miscalculated. Denying someone hope never leads to positive change, even if the hope in question is only an illusion.


                1. RanVor

                  By the way, why does everybody suddenly think the Diabolist so trustworthy? What happened to “Akua is a manipulative evil demon and can’t not tell a lie if her life depended on it”?

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    Uhm… one doesn’t have to trust or like Akua, of course, but it feels like your arguments steem from the assumption that people never change, and that people never embrace a different self for reasons other than personal benefit.

                    I wouldn’t want to argue our respective view of the world, but if we are discussing the Guide that really doesn’t seem how the world and characters work?

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. RanVor

                      You’re 158% mistaken here (as usual). I’m calling you, the community, out on being ready to change views on characters so quickly whenever convenient. It’s kind of funny how my opinion on Akua is misinterpreted to mean different, sometimes completely opposite things depending on the discussion, while in reality, it’s always the same – Akua can’t be trusted, but that doesn’t make her points invalid. Even a hypocrite can be right, but that doesn’t make them any less of a hypocrite.

                      …Actually, it’s the same with my opinions on everything. One of the reasons I left this fandom was that I was tired of having to constantly correct people thinking I said something different than (sometimes even the opposite of) what I meant to say.


                    2. Shveiran

                      I really don’t think we have argued often enough for you to express percentages about how wrong I am (usually or not).

                      I’m also unsure about how I somehow became the whole community, let alone what kind of agenda I could have that thinking something of Akua is “convenient”.

                      But if you feel that anyone that disagrees with you shares the same (wrong) opinion, by all means keep at it. I’ll be over here, not joining the discussion.


                    3. RanVor

                      1. Fuck the English language, it’s the worst.
                      2. It’s always the same whenever I’m arguing with anybody (and I mean literally anybody) here.
                      3. You don’t want to talk, fine, whatever. My point stands.


                  2. ninegardens


                    >By the way, why does everybody suddenly think the Diabolist so trustworthy? What happened to “Akua is a manipulative evil demon and can’t not tell a lie if her life depended on it”?

                    I mean…. that was like two books ago?
                    As in, she proved pretty reliable during the Everdark arc…
                    And then during the princes graveyard.
                    And then, for the past 2 years of war vs the dead king.

                    She’s had CHANCES to betray them, and demonstrably not taken those chances.
                    This isn’t exactly what I’m going to call “sudden”….

                    As for why everyone misinterprets your arguments and opinions… ummm….
                    If you are consistently misinterpreted this might be a problem with how your presenting things. Communication is a two way street.

                    And if you go around saying things like “Your 158% wrong (as usual)”, people will be less inclined to assume that you are acting in good faith, and more inclined to believe you’re a pain in the ass. *shrug*
                    If you say things like that why WOULD people assume that you are taking their opinion seriously? And if not, why would they listen to yours?
                    It kind of looks a lot less like the fandom ganging up on you, and more like you showing up and picking a fight. (though admittedly, I only have the context of your last couple posts; you have the context of your entire post history, so feel free to disagree)

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. RanVor

                      Maybe I am a pain in the ass. What I really am, though, is a fool, because I keep coming back even though it always ever ends with me getting pissed off and leaving again. I just can’t get along with you people, you’re far too annoying.

                      I can’t help but notice, though, that you keep focusing on an offhand remark I made instead of my actual point.


                2. Salt

                  It can only be considered leading to nowhere if the ideal destination remains centered around self gratification to begin with.

                  Which is rather the point. The only denial here is of personal pride or status as achievable end goals, which is far from the denial of any end goals at all. Especially considering a massive number of major characters in the story don’t hold those two as critical end goals in the first place, and since Akua has never been a character that lets difficulty affect her choice in goals.

                  Liked by 3 people

                    1. RanVor

                      Ah, see, here’s your mistake. You think Akua would want to be a selfless person. I have no reason to believe that to be true.


                    2. Akua is already a selfless person.

                      Now, I know how this sounds, hear me out.

                      She never wanted – for herself, for personal gratification and enjoyment – the things she was working to achieve. Nowhere in her POV is there a single thought of “when I am the Empress of Creation, THEN the true fun will come”. Instead, we have “when I win, Praes will become strong again” and “I will prove my cause right” and “do you ever get tired of what we do”.

                      She was raised to view ambition as a duty, and never wavered in that until by her own philosophy she was proven wrong in the assumption that made her stronger than everyone else.

                      By the philosophy she followed up until her death, she is now supposed to loyally serve Catherine and help her achieve her goals.

                      By her personal desires – well, that’s what Catherine’s playing with by “not taking away the mirrored oasis”.

                      It’s the middle path that Catherine is taking away, the path of not quite committing, of expecting things to circle around to her getting what she expected to get in the first place.

                      Here’s a more detailed analysis of what drives Akua:

                      Liked by 3 people

              1. RanVor

                Nope. Cat made a point of showing that each path is exactly as miserable as the other. One is a path of endless disappointment, the other is a path of endless sacrifice. Both can wear an individual out surprisingly quickly.

                In a way, it’s truly a genius punishment – Akua will have to bear suffering for the rest of her existence, but it will be almost entirely self-inflicted. Catherine just isn’t wary enough of the possibility of it backfiring spectacularly.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I think Catherine is very wary, but she’s also aware of the momentum Akua is giving to the forward path just through her perfectionism. Akua commits to things, even when they are proven increasingly idiotic over time. It’ll take a stronger stimulus than “I won’t be getting EVERYTHING I want” to make her deviate.

                  Akua has been proving her intent to go through with this for nearly two books now, and as she commits more and more – well, she commits more and more. It’s a psychological trick that Catherine is completely shameless about – and if she was at any point wrong about it, Akua would have backed out earlier.

                  They’re playing chicken and Catherine’s not flinching. She knows the risks, but everything genuinely IS going that way.

                  Note how this meeting was specifically noted as a means of calibration: she had no doubts about what the trajectory was, but needed to verify how far along it Akua was.

                  And she was not proven wrong about any of her assumptions.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. RanVor

                    Well, I’ve said pretty much everything I wanted to say and now that you’re here, I guess it’s my cue to back off, lest we start another flame war.

                    Bye, I’d say I hope we won’t meet again, but I’ve already shown that I can’t be trusted to be smart enough to avoid that.


  11. shikkarasu

    Real quick, and maybe I missed something, but what the Crows are these “Pharos Devices?” They were brought up in Chapter 2 and mentioned in 47, but I can’t find any mention of what they do. Only that 5ish were produced where there are crates of unravellers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frivolous

      I was sleeping, and as I woke up, it occurred to me that the Pharos of Alexandria was a famous lighthouse.

      Light-house. It is my vague guess that the pharos devices allow wielders of Light, such as priests of the House of Light, to project that Light with intensity at great distances, to burn undead like battle-lasers, or do other things with Light. Maybe even long-range healing, or making instantaneous holy ground of battlefields to weaken all undead on that field?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Konstantin von Karstein

      From chapter 2:
      « It’d been our first use of a pharos device, and the proliferation of gates out of the Twilight Ways had allowed us to take the dead flatfooted. »

      I suppose Pharos devices are tools to open several portals at the same time to shorten the time it takes for your soldiers to exit the TW.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Frivolous

        Oh interesting. I hadn’t seen that. Thank you, Konstantin.

        That explains what Cat was thinking about the Alliance having better mobility than Keter. I was wondering about that, since Klaus noted that the dead don’t need to rest.

        Liked by 3 people

  12. Reader in The Night

    People have been throwing around the word “redemption” when it comes to Akua’s engineered character arc. I don’t think redemption is the right word here, the right word is “revenge”.

    Maybe Cat wants to also make Akua useful in the process, but the primary goal here is not to atone her, it’s to punish her. And if her plan goes well, Cat has done that perfectly, because she made Akua reach a place of self-flagelation for the rest of her unnatural life. Doesn’t matter how long Akua lives or what she does, Cat has robbed her of the right to obtain penance.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. 7ime1ock

    So it seems that Akua’s going to go through a contrition story.

    As a side note: it does feel odd that the Choir of Contrition has the whole “Repent. You will not be forgiven. Repent” thing going on when in Christianity, contrition through Christ is regarded as the first step towards reconciliation with God. Was this an intentional choice?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Shveiran

    It doesn’t seem very surprising, in my opinion. The Guide is original enough that its content isn’t a thin-veiled parody of the real world, but something that lives and breathes on its own merits.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Can we start rumors that Grey was raised with necromancy tho?

    Every point against Akua can (and should) be made against Cat as well. Most ironic chapter so far.


    1. Aotrs Commander

      And Pilgrim. ESPECIALLY Pilgrim. No amount of “but reasons!” changes that fact; frankly, he’s worse than she is, because he beleives himself righteous on top of being a mass-murderer.


      1. J Corwin

        It’s especially funny because he says there’s nothing you can do in the wake of mass murder to be trustworthy, when his whole deal is “I mass murder, but for like, a good reason usually, so trust me with it.”


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