Chapter 60: Zwischenschach

“In war and politics, we are all as men sharing the same dark cave and stumbling along blindly. The keys to victory in either matter are patience and seeing just a little further ahead than your opponents.”

– Luc Monseiller, thirty-second First Prince of Procer, largely remembered for the Great War that followed his assassination

A brawl. The last blows of the battle not even an hour past, and now they were brawling.

Sometimes I sympathized with Cordelia Hasenbach, for though I had fought her tooth and nail to keep the Truce and Terms from being beyond the reach of temporal laws I didn’t entirely disagree with her when it came down to it. I bent the rules for Named all the time, didn’t I? I’d made them beyond the authority of all but two of their own kind, allowed them to wield power over others and invested them with weighty responsibilities. But sometimes, Gods sometimes, they just went and did something that made it feel like I was biting down on a mouthful of embers. I knew the names and the Names, could discern the source of this stupidity, but to understand was not to excuse.

If they’d been soldiers under my command, this would end with a flogging and a demotion. If it had been allied officers, even nobles, I would have had them removed from command and sent away. But Names were rarer than noble blood, the power they gave more highly prized than titles in these days where the end times were howling at our door, so instead I would have to be lenient. To chide and discipline, as if dealing with children instead of hardened killers empowered by Creation. What hope was there for the Liesse Accords, when not even the Dead King at our gates was enough to force reason onto us?

I wrestled my mounting fury down as I limped through the dusty grounds of our camp, knowing calm would serve me better. It was exhaustion and anger talking, I told myself. There would be good days and bad ones in the era to come and no treaty could change that. It’d never been their purpose to fix the world, for that was too ambitious a charge for anything made by my hand. The Accords would do what they were meant to, and Calernia would muddle along with a few less atrocities splattered across the pages of its history. That alone would already be a better legacy than I had any right to claim, some would say.

In the distance, as I turned a corner, I heard cheering. The Night boiled in my veins, answering the livid streak of anger that seized me, and the closest legionaries shivered. I’d sent for a full company of armed soldiers, phalanges one and all, to accompany me. They were to serve as either escort or mailed fist, depending on my orders, and my mood was feeling more and more like clenching fingers. The cheering itself wasn’t bad, it was what it meant: that Named had decided to fucking brawl in public in front of any soldier that cared to watch. On the same day as a bruising battle with the Kingdom of the Dead, our corpses not even all burned. My fingers clenched.

Well, at least one was going to be one of mine so maybe flogging wasn’t off the table yet.

It was with that hard stomp particular to soldiers meaning business that my company entered the picture. A large crowd of soldiers – a few hundred, a thousand? – had gathered in a great ring. By their looks and armour they were from half a dozen different armies and oaths, a clean slice of our coalition shouting hoarsely as five Named brawled and coin changed hands. A quiet fell in the immediate surroundings of the phalanges, soldiers paling and hastily getting out of the way of authority having come to call. There was just enough of a quiet I finally made out one particular thread from the cacophony. An old ditty I’d learned as kid in Laure, beautifully sung by a cold-blooded monster.

“Maiden Mary, fair and merry

Your tears make poets sigh

But for a smile given sweetly

Tall banners will kiss the sky.”

The Rapacious Troubadour had a nasty sense of humour, it seemed. ‘Maiden Mary’ was a children’s song, but it dated back to the War of the Cousins – the civil war that’d put on the throne the same branch of House Fairfax that my father had later ended – and the Mary in question was Mary the Claimant. Queen Mary the Third, most scholars called her, as her Eastern Bells had won over the Southern Bells just long enough for her toddler son to die a crowned king and another cousin succeed him. I would have been impressed about the Troubadour knowing the song at all, if he’d not also been the same shit playing a song about civil war while Named fought in front of a crowd of rowdy soldiers.

There was blood on the floor, I saw, but at least no one was dead yet. Archer and the Silver Huntress were both bleeding, and I knew the look in Indrani’s eyes – she’d take a killing stroke without hesitation if she got the opportunity. The Silent Guardian and the Headhunter were both in better shape, the Guardian having nothing but marks on her plate while the Headhunter had suffered only a small cut on their cheek. The only voice of sanity in there was Roland, even now trying to force everyone apart and largely failing.

“- settles nothing,” I caught the Rogue Sorcerer saying. “You are only making it worse for-“

“Do it to ’em, Lady Archer,” someone with a heavy Liessen accent shouted. “Callow! The Sword and Crown!”

“Huntress,” an Alamans accent shouted back. “For grace and Heavens, Silver Huntress!”

The crowd roared, the crowd cheered, and the Rapacious Troubadour was still playing that fucking song.

“Maiden Mary, bright and lovely

What groom did you embrace?

Hand in hand, wooing roughly

Your troth is kingdom’s grace.”

Enough was enough. The mood might still be more joyous than bloody at the moment, but crowds were mercurial beasts – this could turn sour very, very quickly. I was still damned winded from the gates Akua and I had opened, but not so spent I couldn’t muster a resounding thunderclap when I struck the ground with the butt of my staff. The clap rolled across the ring, drowning out even the cheers, and I limped forward as the phalanges roughly shoved aside the few onlookers and gambled still in my way.

“Disperse,” I said, voice cold as steel. “Now, and I will not bother with arrests.”

A shiver went through the crowd, though my eye was on the fighting Named – which had ceased actively trying to stab each other, but were still close and holding weapons – and the mood was doused rather comprehensively. I’d half-expected someone to protest and to have to make an example, but instead already the edges of the crowd were fraying as people made quiet escapes. Like a crumbling stone, the whole ring would fall apart before long. There was a flicker of remembrance, just as the edge of my mind, as I recalled when I’d been a slip of a girl in Laure and I’d watched Black empty a hall’s worth of lords with but a handful of words. I’d sworn, that evening, that one day I’d have that power too.

It had taken years, but I’d gotten there. I wondered, though, what that wary wild girl from the orphanage would think of the woman I’d grown into. I thinly smiled, knowing that she might well have added me to the list of monsters in need of killing.

“Queen Catherine,” Roland started, “this is-“

“Utter stupidity,” I mildly said. “But your role in it was minor and well-meant. Walk back to your tent, Rogue Sorcerer.”

He caught my eyes, for a moment, and whatever it was he saw there it told him not to argue. My gaze lingered long enough to acknowledge his bow, then moved to the four remaining Named. I couldn’t see the Silent Guardian’s face under her helmet, but her stance was sheepish. As for the Headhunter, they – no, he if I understood the face paint correctly – looked rather unapologetic and entirely unembarrassed. He had an excuse for butting in, then, I decided. Which left the two who would have been the spark for the entire mess. Archer and the Silver Huntress.

“Who struck first?” I asked.

“She did,” the Huntress said, her high-pitched voice grown shrill with anger.

“I scored first blood,” Indrani dismissed. “You swung at me first, Alexis.”

“That is true,” the Headhunter jeered. “On both counts. And the Guardian couldn’t resist backing up her friend, could she? Hardly sporting, two on one.”

My gaze returned to Silent Guardian, who took off her helm and revealed a tanned and dark-haired head. While she looked like she rather wanted to smash in the Headhunter’s skull, to me she bowed in apology.

“You only intervened after blood was drawn?” I clarified.

She nodded. I hummed, eyeing the Headhunter.

“And you intervened out of your abiding love for fairness, I take it?” I mused.

“You have me pegged,” the Headhunter grinned.

“You tried to stab me in the back, you-“

The word the Huntress used was in tradertalk, but by the tone it wasn’t a compliment.

“You’re both dismissed,” I said, ignoring the Huntress. “For having participated in a brawl, you’re both docked pay for five months and you’ll be assigned menial work under an officer of my choosing.”

The Headhunter glared at me, opening his mouth, but his gazed dipped to my side – where my fingers, without my notice, had taken to clenching and unclenching. His mouth closed.

Dismissed,” I coldly repeated.

The Silent Guardian offered a bow first, which I returned with a nod. The Headhunter did not go quite as politely, elbowing some of the last remaining soldiers in his way as he went. Of the Rapacious Troubadour there was no sign, I noted. The clever little shit had made good on his escape before I could rap his knuckles. Indrani and the Huntress were still facing each other weapons in hand, long knives for Archer and the spear for her old acquaintance. I cocked an eyebrow.

“Is there a particular reason you two are still holding weapons?” I mildly asked.

I saw Indrani suppress a wince. She knew better than the Huntress that particular tone of voice did not herald a good mood on my part.

“If she puts away her blades,” the Silver Huntress began, “I will-“

“If I must make it an order, Alexis the Argent,” I lightly interrupted, “I might just lose my temper and fucking drum the two of you of this army before the eyes of gods and men.”

With a quiet sliding sound, Indrani’s long knives went back into the sheaths. I turned a dark eye on her: she’d timed that, I knew, just so that the Huntress would look like a recalcitrant malcontent and she the obedient subordinate. Unlucky for her, I wasn’t buying it. The Silver Huntress blinked in discomfort, then reluctantly stabbed her spear into the ground. She folded her arms over her chest, looking rather defensive.

“I’m going to ask you two questions,” I said. “You will reply to them calmly and concisely, without interrupting each other.”

I got nod. Indrani’s almost playful, as if it were set in stone she’d get out of this without losing any feathers. My irritation spiked.

“Huntress, why did you attack an ally?” I bluntly asked.

She grimaced, though I’d wager more from the phrasing than remembrance of the punch thrown. The Lady of the Lake had not raised those girls to shame easily.

“She got Lysander killed,” Alexis the Argent harshly said. “Same old story: Indrani has a lark and one of us bleeds for it. Only this time it didn’t stop with bleeding.”

The anger in her voice was a hard, cold thing. I found the hate threaded in it unsettling, as it was too strong to be a fresh – this was an old poison, just brought to the fore with a fresh wound.

“I assigned her to the Third Army myself,” I evenly said. “And by the reports I’ve read, she fulfilled her duties admirably. As for the death of Beastmaster, I understand she fought and had an arm broken trying to prevent it.”

The Silver Huntress’ eyes hardened, turning to Archer.

“Ranger, Black Queen, it makes no difference,” Alexis bitterly said. “You’ll always find skirts to hide behind, won’t you?”

“Say that again,” Indrani hissed, hand going for a knife.

“Watch your tongue, Huntress,” I sharply said. “And Archer, I ordered you not to interrupt. Don’t make me repeat myself again.”

She looked mulish but did not argue. She’d been more interested in protecting her pride than my ‘honour’ there, I thought, so my sympathy was limited. I felt a faint breeze against my neck, gone in a moment, but did not let it distract me.

“Archer,” I said. “You were struck with a fist. Why did you answer it with a knife?”

Indrani’s lips thinned.

“I was insulted beyond reasonable expectation of restraint,” she said.

“You lying-” Huntress began.

My anger, never far, burned cold and sharp as once more an order I’d given within my rights was disobeyed. This, this I was done tolerating. The breeze came back, but it’d never been a breeze at all: it was a breath. Warm, coming through an open maw.

“Be silent,” I Spoke.

The Silver Huntress fought it. But as the Beast leaned over my shoulder, hacking out a laugh, even as she struggled her mouth snapped shut. I felt a vicious twinge of satisfaction that I did not indulge, but did not ignore. Archer’s face was slack with surprise.

“The two of you are damned disgraces,” I said. “On the same day where thousands fought and died turning back the Enemy, you attacked each other like drunken bulls before we’d even finished burning the corpses. Shame on you both.”

Indrani reared back like I’d slapped her. With a twist of will, I peeled back the order I’d Spoken at the Huntress. Her lips parted and she breathed out in pants.

“Huntress, you are no longer commander for the heroes in this army,” I said. “The Rogue Sorcerer, who tried to put an end to this bout of idiocy, will take your place. The White Knight will handle the rest of your disciplining. I offer him this as a courtesy, but should you break the Truce again I will have no choice but to cease being polite.”

My eyes moved to the other offender.

“Your pay is docked for this entire campaign,” I told Archer. “You are not to speak with any hero outside of official duties without the explicit permission of the Rogue Sorcerer or myself. If you draw a blade on an ally again, I’ll send you south like the child you insist on acting as.”

Her hands clenched, but she stayed silent.

“You’ve also lost the right to refuse assignments for six months,” I finally said. “You’ll be accompanying the Firstborn on the raid tonight, so return to your tent and prepare.”

Both of them glared at me sullenly, in that heartbeat eerily resembling each other for all their starkly different appearances. Grief was a bitter brew, I knew that better than most, and they were both fresh off the death of someone they’d cared for in a very complicated way. I understood why it’d come to this, I really did. But I was also a high officer of the Grand Alliance, sworn to enforce the Truce and Terms – which they had just broken in a spectacularly public and untimely manner. My duty was clear, and my anger not faked in the slightest. I stared them both down until they left, not bothering with a proper dismissal. The moment they left the Beast brushed against my shoulder, almost affectionately, and without a single lingering wisp it was gone.

I could Speak again, I knew. It hadn’t been a fluke. I could feel the way my will once more struck against Creation like a queen’s decree. One step closer, I thought, and breathed out. To what I did not yet know, but the shape I was beginning to discern was not unpleasant to my eye.

“Bleed them,” I ordered the Firstborn. “Under this moon, your only mandate is the reaping of deaths.”

With nightfall had come our opportunity to savage the Dead King’s forces badly enough that tomorrow’s fighting would be the final stroke of annihilation. The Twilight Ways would allow the drow the harass the enemy’s camp on the other side of the pass from every direction, all the while staying out of the jaws of the trap that’d been sprung on us the previous night: here would be no wards to keep us penned in, this time. Only skirmishes in the manner that’d been the lifeblood of the Everdark for a millennium, perhaps the only manner of war in which the Firstborn could be said to be the most accomplished of all Calernian peoples. And out the sigils went, under the command of Ivah and its subordinate sigil-holders.

We went with them, a band of Named under my own lead. Archer, naturally, for I meant to keep her out of trouble and the camp for a span. To some a place in such a raid was considered a prize and so I awarded it accordingly: the Vagrant Spear came with us and the Headhunter as well. Roland I’d dragged along mostly on account of his expertise in breaking magics, knowing it was never wise to bet on Keter not having that one last trick up its sleeve. The choices had also been a balancing act, which naturally some noticed.

“I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” Archer sardonically murmured, “that your picks are even on both sides of the fence. Ever the diplomat, eh?”

It was not an approving tone. Even the band was a good one, well-fitted, I suspected that in her eyes politics having had a say in making it tainted it irremediably.

“Are you complaining I’m calming waters you helped unsettle?” I replied.

“I didn’t pick that fight,” Indrani told me flatly.

“You still fought it,” I said. “You could have taken the lump, walked away.”

Her face tightened with genuine anger.

“I don’t owe you that,” she said. “I don’t owe anyone that.”

“Then spare me the comments,” I curtly replied. “I’ll take shit for you, Indrani, but I won’t take it from you as well. If you want to talk of things owed, best remember that.”

Not the most pleasant exchanges to precede going into battle, though only Roland seemed to notice the tension between us as we sidled through the Twilight Ways. He did not ask, that very Alamans instinct for discerning when a question would not be well-received sparing me the irritation of having to offer even a cursory explanation. Before long we were back in Creation, anyhow, and the raid claimed everyone’s full attention. I’d left the command in Ivah’s hand, knowing my Lord of Silent Steps was perfectly capable of leading sigils in war without my breathing down its neck, so I had the freedom to pick where I wanted to meddle. I had some thoughts already.

I rather itched to get rid of the Pale Knight, if it could be done without paying a ruinous price.

That plan went the way of dust, though, the moment we emerged from the Ways and found that the enemy was retreating. The pass was still in the hands of undead forces, and if anything the northern end of the passage was more heavily defended than before, but we’d come out to the north of the enemy’s camp – in the flat plains between Lauzon’s Hollow and the Cigelin Sisters – so it was impossible to miss that there were departing columns. I sharpened my eyes with Night, seeking numbers. Maybe ten to twenty thousand massed to hold the pass in case we struck overnight, but the rest were mobilizing to leave. Hells, there were already scouting detachments north of us in the distance.

“Leaving?” the Headhunter sneered. “Fools. We’ll catch up through the Ways.”

She – it was she, tonight – would have been right if our soldiers were things of stone instead of flesh and blood, but it wasn’t the case.

“I’m not sure we can,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied. “Not after today’s battle.”

One of these days, I was going to have to ask Roland exactly what kind of an upbringing had forged a man like him. He was surprisingly well learned in a variety of subjects, including quite a few that mages in the Praesi mold would have considered beneath their notice.

“He’s right,” I said. “Our army’s fit to battle, tomorrow, but not to march.”

Practically speaking parts of the army would be – the Second Army and the Proceran detachments freshly returned, as well as a healthy chunk of the Dominion’s warriors – but it’d be risky to engage in pursuit with low numbers and it’d leave the force behind us very vulnerable. Unlike us, though, the Dead King did not have to give a shit about wounded or exhaustion or supplies. He could just order the march. There were three days between the Sisters and Lauzon’s Hollow, so if we took a day to recuperate and immediately marched maybe we’d arrive at the Sisters before he did. Maybe. But it’d be risky. If the Cigelin Sisters had been reinforced, we might end up walking into a positional disaster.

“Then what is to be our purpose this night, Black Queen?” the Vagrant Spear asked.

I chewed on my lip. I wasn’t comfortable risking a night battle with Keter, even assuming I could muster enough of my army to wage one alongside the Firstborn. That left only one logical move.

“We’ll not be hunting Revenants, after all,” I said. “Damage is our purpose. We thin their numbers as much as we can – Binds over Bones, constructs over anything else. We avoid Revenants unless they’re alone and keep close as a band. Understood?”

Archer, even after our terse exchange, remained entirely dependable.

“Understood,” Indrani replied, stringing her bow.

“We hunt,” the Vagrant Spear agreed.

Roland sighed, offering a nod, and the Headhunter rolled her eyes.

“I’ll take a kill if it’s offered,” she insisted.

“By all means,” I mildly replied. “Though if you disobey my order I will, naturally, discipline you accordingly.”

The Levantine villain met my eyes and I smiled thinly. I’d killed harder women than her, and without too much trouble. After a moment she nodded.

“Good,” I said. “Let’s get to it, then.”

It’d be a stretch to say that what followed was boring – the danger might be limited, but it still existed – but it did get… repetitive. And it was dull from the start. Moving on foot we struck hard at the enemy’s columns, targeting Binds and the occasional constructs or supplies before retreating back into the Twilight ways and popping out elsewhere. We were quick enough no Revenants came even close to approaching us, though part of that must have been from the Firstborn being a larger and significantly more damaging threat. We saw, maybe two hours in, that things were actually turning starkly in favour of the drow.

Mighty were burning entire swaths of the enemy with impunity and casualties were mounting among the dead with only paltry costs to the Firstborn. Some of the sigils got too bold, though, it cost them. Revenants, at first, but the struck sigil doubled down and called allies – only for the Grey Legion finally to make an appearance. It was a major enough development that I parted ways form my band temporarily and called a sigil-holder to me for a report. Lord Soln bowed deep, but talked briskly. It wanted to return to the fray.

“The ironclads unmake the Night, Losara Queen, much as the carved pillars did during our previous raid,” Lord Soln said. “It appears they have also been invested with a ward that prevents access to the Twilight Ways. That surprise was… costly. Between them and the Revenants, we were forced to pull back.”

“Give me a look,” I ordered, extending a hand.

The sphere of Night was promptly offered and my damning suspicions were confirmed. I’d seen the Grey Legion before, those hulking dead encased in armour so thick it more of a rampart. Those armours had been well-maintained and quite distinctive, so it was easy to tell that the Grey Legion had been quite recently refitted. So that’s what you got out of this, Neshamah, I thought. You tested the pillars and wards on our Firstborn, and when they proved effective you used that Crab lurking around somewhere to refit your Grey Legion into drow-killers. It wouldn’t matter much here, where we could harass away from their ranks and avoid them, but there would come a time in this campaign when the drow would have to stand and fight.

And when they did, the Prince of Bones and his legion tailored to kill Firstborn would be waiting for them.

“Go,” I told Soln. “Return to the fight. Pass my order that the Grey Legion is to be avoided, lest we allow the enemy to further refine ways to kill us.”

It was worse than those troops just being a hard counter to drow, I knew. It also meant that two of the three assets we had at hand that could possibly deal with the Grey Legion without horrendous casualties – namely Akua and myself – had just been made equally obsolete. Some tricks would work to a limited extent, like flood gates, but I wasn’t confident in smashing them by myself anymore. And our last answer to their kind, the Blessed Artificer, worked exclusively in Light. I was not so confident that the Dead King did not have something to counteract that as well, considering how much he’d invested in building up this army. Fuck.

Unpleasant as the revelation was, there was nothing to do but to continue our raiding. I returned to my band and we resumed our attacks, continuing to inflict bloody noses wherever we went until around Early Bell. We were all beginning to slow, close calls were getting closer and victories getting sloppier, so I called it at an end. The Firstborn remained until a full hour before dawn, only then retreating into the Twilight Ways. I slept for as long as I dared, which wasn’t much, and woke all too soon to be presented with corpses. Named and Revenants, this time. I took two aspects from the Beastmaster before it grew unfeasible to do more, but unfortunately I did not have the rights to the Sage’s body.

The way the Headhunter took heads from the foes they defeated fucked with my ability to steal aspects, I discovered with displeasure after a very frustrating hour pawing at Revenants fruitlessly, but I still got two out of the kill the Vagrant Spear had made. Disappointingly weak, those two, but I was never one to sneer at having another artefact up my sleeve. When the war council held session afterwards, once more with the full roster, there was no real disagreement over the decisions to be made. The morning’s scouting parties and found Lauzon’s Hollow abandoned, so we’d send out Named to smell out the traps no doubt left behind and after them a forward force to hold the end of the pass.

The full army would only begin moving tomorrow at dawn, when we took to the Twilight Ways in an attempt to catch up to the enemy. If we were lucky, our surprise strike would seize the Cigelin Sisters before the enemy arrived and we’d be able to pincer the Dead King between the fortress and our field army. If not, we’d have to get… inventive. There were still too many unknowns for a proper battle plan to be made, unfortunately.

 There was a bit of a commotion before Noon Bell when the Gigantes delegation finally caught up to us, but the giants were polite and it did wonders for morale. I was sent a polite yet firm reminder that the Gigantes would not fight unless attacked, and could not be used as war casters by my order, but I had no qualms with that. Just as ward-makers they’d be worth a dozen times their weight in gold, which would be no small sum. The Gigantes, though, had been largely expected. I’d known they were coming from the messages received from Neustal. When there was once more a commotion at a sudden appearance though, it came as a genuine surprise to me. I figured it might have been an early supply convoy, at first, but Hakram swiftly send a phalange to inform me otherwise.

It was Scribe herself who escorted the surprise arrival into my tent, helping him into the chair with surprising gentleness. I dismissed her with a look afterwards – Hakam I’d trust with such a conversation, but she was not Hakram.

“Catherine,” the Grey Pilgrim greeted me tiredly.

Tariq looked a month past exhausted and all too frail even for a man of his age, which did not bode well. He was also supposed to be with Prince Klaus’ army, which boded significantly worse.

“Tariq,” I quietly replied. “Can I offer you a drink?”

I did not bother to ask if something had gone wrong, for he’d not be here otherwise. To my surprise, he took me up on my offer.

“Something stiff,” Tariq Fleetfoot asked. “It will keep me awake long enough to get through this conversation, at least. I’ve not slept in weeks.”

I silently revised my estimate of the trouble from ‘pretty bad’ to ‘fuck’ as I poured him a full glass of brandy and pressed it into his hand. He drank deep and offered thanks.

“We finally learned why the army in Juvelun did not chase us when we marched past it towards Malmedit,” the Grey Pilgrim told me.

“Did you,” I said, already grimacing.

“We also found that missing army of two hundred thousand,” the Peregrine mirthlessly smiled. “It was, after all, waiting for us in the latter city.”

109 thoughts on “Chapter 60: Zwischenschach

  1. Sir Nil

    Oh, dear. If Cat’s Name is taking up the form of authority over Named. Then such butting heads will be inevitable, even among her friends. I just hope this isn’t the middle slow fall from her relationship with her friends to her Name. Viviene, then Adjutant, now Archer…

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Anomandris

      I don’t know whether it’s the POV, but to be fair to Cat, it seems like the Woe are being a bit more standoffish socially with her than usual. Harkram doesn’t want sympathy from a close friend, Archer is just being childish in public, and Viv is more down to distance.

      Liked by 18 people

    2. Big I

      I’ve noticed, over this book, that Cat is being deliberately isolated. She has a nice conversation with a fresh made Villain, looks like she might become his mentor? He’s dead the next chapter. Relationship with the Repentant Magister seems to be on the cards? She dies too. The only member of the Woe she’s not bickering with yet is Masego; she’s even at odds with Hakram. Akua’s being set up by Cat herself for whatever her payback is going to be. I think the story’s setting her up to be alone when alls said and done. Something like the Lonely Wanderer perhaps?

      Liked by 21 people

      1. Itarion

        Lonely Wanderer neglects the law aspect of the nascent Name. The most recent stirrings have been from the just execution of a traitor to Callow (sort of) in the aerial fight against the Revenants, and the delivery of summary judgement to soldiers under her command. There is law there, and authority, that no mere wanderer would have.

        Liked by 8 people

            1. KageLupus

              Close, but I am leaning more towards Arbiter.

              Arbitration implies being a middle man, hearing both sides and making a decisions. There is a judicial feeling to it that I think would fit someone more like Hanno than Cat.

              An Arbiter is very similar, but also has an extra connotation of power and finality to it. The Arbiter has the final say in a dispute. They make a decision and are fully equipped to enforce it.

              From the very first chapters of the story, Cat has been someone who’s principles are so firm that she would change the whole world rather than compromise on them. She is pragmatic enough to accept things she doesn’t like, but she never actually stops believing that her way is correct. All of that makes me think that if Cat’s name were to involve judging in any way it would also have to reflect the fact that her judgement is final and based on personal beliefs rather than set laws.

              Liked by 13 people

      2. Practicality

        I think she’s going to pull a “monkey’s paw” by making her a dread empress. If she does, it will likely be the cruelest reward she can give, and she’ll do it knowingly.

        Remember how Akua was rather introspective after Kat invited her to a celebration, she was shocked that the people were genuinely laughing etc. she muttered something along the lines of “that she could have had this years ago” and then she thought back to sending her only friend to die. That chapter Kat’s political advisor (cannot recall atm) asked her if she intended to make Akua a Dread Empress, and if not then she made a mistake:

        Like Abigail, Kat is a pragmatic soul at heart, and like Abigail, Akua will get foisted into a role that benefits the Black Queen. Unlike the canny general, Akua will end up alone, years of service rewarded by a tower of solitude. A tower that she had always wished for, but no longer wanted.

        Small slights, long spites.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Crash

          To be fair bard is trying her best to set Cat up haha

          Not that it will work, cat has enough Bardy-ness going on all by herself but her… Let’s call it strong arming, of people and laws to achieve her goals is much more important to her character.

          Whether they be gods or kings and all the armies in cration is not for the meek after all.

          I like the suggestion of Arbiter, further up. Something that implies neutrality but, more importantly, authority.

          As for the situation with Indrani, this is very much unfortunate timing. She might be grieving in her own way and then somebody she doesn’t get on with picks a fight? Unfortunate. But THEN, Cat has to go and order her around like that? This is practically handmade to piss Indrani off. It’s expected she’d be prickly.

          Give her a little time and some alcohol, she’ll show up and very pointedly not apologize to Cat but show her she’s sorry anyway.

          Liked by 4 people

      3. Cat is similar to Eleanor Fairfax in major ways, namely in ruling Callow and in uniting the continent against Evil. She is also extremely prominent, arguably the most important person in Callowan history. That’s the closest match Cat’s culture has to who is now is. And we learned back in Book 1 that a name usually comes from the originating society’s culture, although that’s been muddled since.

        Eleanor Fairfax was the Rebel Knight first and got a new Name later, which has not been revealed. I guess Cat will get that one, or some twisted dark variant of it.

        Callowan aristocratic rulers were also the judiciary, so a Callowan royalty name fits the judgement-related hints we have.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Shveiran

          I don’t want to rain on your parade, but even if all you say has merit… isn’t it liekly that Eleanor was the first Good Queen?
          After all, she founded the dynasty and we have been told that the Callowan monarch usually had that very Name.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. Morgenstern

        Well, they’ll have to be, I’d guess, if the Accords are going anywhere. The supervisors over all the Named on either side cannot be friends with those they should supervise/judge, can they?

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Zach

      This chapter basically confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for a while that Cat is gradually having her relationships with the Woe weaken. Vivienne could be considered just a circumstance of them being geographically separated, and Hakram could be considered an individual incident, but this situation with Archer is just too conspicuous (and particularly the direct link drawn between that situation and the development of her Name). Like you seem to be mentioning, it seems like this might be tied to her developing a Name which somehow involved authority over other Named (and is thus inherently incompatible with being part of a band of Named like the Woe).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Frivolous

    Damn shit damn. Catherine can Speak again, already, and her Name hasn’t even coalesced yet. Which is very bizarre, I think we’ll all agree. Like reversed causality, cart before horse, effect before cause.

    I’m pretty sure that means one of her aspects will be Rule. It almost has to be, right?

    I find it interesting that Catherine felt schadenfreude and pleasure at commanding Alexis. I wonder what it means. Maybe that pleasure is common for all Named who have Rule.

    Also I think Prince Klaus is dead and has been turned into a Bind. Which is very very bad, since he’s one of the best generals in the Alliance.

    Could it be, though, that Tariq foresaw Klaus’s fate and decided to kill Klaus first and destroy his body? That would be a Mercy indeed; Klaus would have hated serving Keter.

    Liked by 12 people

      1. Frivolous

        Judge implies a Role that mainly deals with Named, yes? Or am I misinterpreting?

        I think Command is more likely, if Rule is off the table, because Cat is famous as a brilliant military commander, and the setting and context of her Speaking are military. She wasn’t just Judging other Named; she was reprimanding a lesser officer in her chain of Command.

        I think Command or Rule are also more likely because Cat’s Role involves much dealing with regular folks. Her Role won’t be limited to dealing with other Named. She won’t be like the Intercessor that way.

        The Intercessor is a shadow, almost unknown save by the Named until very recently. Cat will be a very public figure, leader, general, diplomat, and administrator, Ruling over people of all kinds.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Raivshard

          An Arbiter can deal with anyone and render Judgement as they see fit. I see no implication that it should only deal with Named. That said, having explicit power over Named even more than others is certainly one of the things she’s been working towards.

          What I find interesting is how everyone seems to assume that it will be a Name solely from Below, as that doesn’t really fit with the narrative she’s crafting. I think the Name will be neutral in that respect.

          I’ll toss up a theory while I’m here:
          Considering how strong her ability to Speak is before her Name has fully coalesced, I think that one of her aspects will allow her to remove or suspend their abilities; to judge them fit or unfit … Or Worthy, as it were.

          Like

          1. Frivolous

            Yeah, I think it is very possible Cat becomes a hero or neutral, given that her natural tendency is to Above, not Below, as Kairos noted.

            Which would cause all kinds of problems for the Truce and Terms, because she heads the villains.

            Governing the abilities of other Named is possible, yes. It meshes well with the apparent power and significance of her imminent Name.

            Still don’t believe Arbiter is very likely, though. It lacks any kind of military or governing connotation. It would be a narrow Name, whereas Cat’s Name seems likely to be vast and almost divine, in the vein of Living Goddess or She Who Must Be Obeyed or Great One.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Tenthyr

      Considering Cathrines whole life is based about bossing people around and her prior experience with Speaking, I’m not surprised that the moment she found herself aligned with her forming Name she was able to do it– she had the power that moment and knew precisely how it could be used. If black is a claimant he might be able to do the same.

      Liked by 12 people

    2. caoimhinh

      She must have really missed that power, hahaha.

      Also, wasn’t Catherine’s ability to loot Aspects limited to only one? Now she can loot two out of the same body.
      Also, considering that it seems to be standard practice to give the Black Queen any body of villains and all bodies of Revenants that are killed in the battle, I wonder how many artifact-aspects Catherine has stored.

      Must be quite a few, considering she got half a dozen just from this battle.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Oshi

        I don’t remember there being a limit just that the dead king burned out some aspects and in the Pilgrims place she only took one to prevent weakening him beyond where he was.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. caoimhinh

          There was an established limit of only one, that was shown every single time she did it.
          It went to the point where she had to choose which one to pick, because she could not take both of the available ones from Revenants. She was limited to one at a time when she had Take as an aspect, then she was limited to only one artifact-aspect lootable from a corpse when she became Sovereign of Moonless Nights.

          This was shown as First Under the Night, when she took aspects from the Spellblade and from the Thief of Stars, it was explicitly and clearly stated that Catherine had to choose one aspect. And the text showed us Catherine analyzing what she felt from each one and trying to guess their uses before picking because she could not take both and thus needed to choose the one that would be more useful.

          Also, the Dead King only destroys one aspect.

          This is the first time we see Catherine looting more than one aspect from a corpse.
          Either she got able to do that during the 2-years timeskip or she just got able to do that right now thanks to being closer to her new Name and thus being stronger.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Shveiran

            Small correction: I think the Dead King destroys aspects that may lead you to free yourself from his control (allegedly). I don’t think there is an hard limit on how many aspects he can do that with out of the three a Revenant has.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Hmm, but that’s an assumption. And I doubt it considering that one of the aspects the Thief of Stars had in her was about freeing oneself and escaping. Plus, it’s unlikely that every single Revenant so far had an aspect that would have let them escape Neshamah’s control. A more likely explanation is that one of the aspects is sacrificed in the process of raising them as Revenants.

              But in the end it’s all speculation on our part. We currently don’t know exactly why or how he destroys one of the aspects.

              And I didn’t say that the Dead King cannot destroy more than one, just that he only destroys one in each Revenant, not two as Oshi implied in their reply.

              Liked by 2 people

      2. Zach

        You might be thinking of her old Aspect, but what she’s doing now uses the Night.

        Basically Catherine gets high flexibility of use of stolen Aspects in exchange for only getting to use them (I think) once.

        Like

        1. caoimhinh

          No, I specifically cited examples of her aspect, her time as Sovereign of Moonless Nights and as First Under the Night
          .
          In every single case, she can only loot one aspect from a person.
          There is an established limit of exactly one, and that was reinforced by having to choose which one to take to make the artifact, as there’s no point in debating which one to loot if you can take both.

          This is the first time we have ever seen her loot 2 aspects from the same corpse.

          Liked by 3 people

  3. Miles

    Noun

    zwischenschach (plural zwischenschachs)

    (chess, rare) A zwischenzug that is a check.

    Noun

    zwischenzug (plural zwischenzugs)

    (chess) A tactical move which interrupts the execution of the current plan.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. caoimhinh

      When I read the chapter’s title, I knew what was going to happen would either be something very good, or something very bad.

      I’ll try to offer a larger explanation about the term.

      Ok, so do you guys recall those interludes in volume 5 when Amadeus was burning bits of Procer and the Grand Alliance chased after him, while Vivienne was in Laure getting deppressed thinking she was not important, and losing her Name, and Hakram had to chop off his hand so Vivi would get a self-esteem boost and snap out of it?

      Good.

      Back then, there were two chapters called “Zugzwang” which means “compulsion to move” in German. A Zugzwang is basically forcing your opponent to make a move at a time when any move will put them at a disadvantage. This can be done in several ways, either by simply putting them in check or by positioning the pieces so that all the options available to the opponent are bad ones that will either cost them a piece or make them lose a good position.

      This is somewhat related. It’s similar, yet different.

      In Chess, a “Zwischenzug”, (meaning in-between move or intermediate move in German), is a chess tactic in which instead of playing the expected move (commonly a “recapture”, which is taking an enemy’s piece that has just taken one of your pieces), the player first interposes another move which often (but not always) causes either a greater or more immediate threat to which the opponent must answer, and only plays the expected move after the opponent has moved to handle that threat.

      Now a Zwischenschach( which means “in-between check“) is when instead of moving what was expected, you first play a surprising check that the opponent did not consider when plotting a sequence of moves, thus forcing them to respond to the check first (an obligation in chess), and then you play the move that you were meant to do before anyway, but now you got more out of that exchange, either in materials or positioning.

      Basically, a Zwischenschach it’s a Zwischenzug done through a check.

      This was the Grand Alliance’s plan, attacking these places so the Dead King would be forced to respond and weaken his defense of the Capital of Hainaut which the GA troops would then attack, but Neshamah played his Zwischenschach first.

      That’s how it relates to the end of the chapter, the objectives of the campaign on both sides are still largely the same, and the end goals remain, the originally intended targets still need to be attacked… but now there’s a more immediate threat that needs to be taken care of.
      It also relates to the Epigraph, which talks about the importance of seeing further ahead if one wants to win. A zwischenschach won’t happen to you if you are attentive and able to anticipate your opponent. Though of course that’s easier said than done.

      Sorry if the explanation was too long.

      P.S: I totally called it, that mysteriously missing army of two hundred thousand undead was gonna bite them in the ass. Story logic practically demanded it.

      Liked by 23 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Weird. I may be under a Mandela’s Effect, as I clearly recall it as Zugzwang.
          I can’t even claim that the title was changed afterwards, since there are comments calling it zwischenzug right there in 2018.

          An alternative explanation is that I jumped to a different timeline where the only difference is the title of those interludes. But that seems unlikely.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s been known that Cat’s Name would be inclined towards rule and supreme authority, but it’s interesting that she seems to have so much power over others, without even having an established Name.

    Archer’s always been wild, and expecting her to be eternally loyal to Cat is foolish (especially seeing as it would go against the roles carved by the Calamity), but something about how pouty she’s being in this chapter doesn’t sit right. She may be wild, but she knows Cat’s an authoritarian; this kind of interaction should have been expected, no matter how close they are.

    Also, this “sudden” turn of events isn’t that shocking. It was kind of obvious. I legitimately thought Cat even recognized it as likely in-story. The only major problem I can think of is the Dead King managed to capture Klaus, and now he has a new Bind with high level knowledge of the campaign.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Maybe, but not necessarily. Cat’s new Name seems to be about overseeing Named, keeping order, administering judgment, delivering justice, and punishment for their actions. Now that might sound like a Hero, but let’s not forget that Catherine is one of Below’s because of her methods, not because of her end goals.

      About Archer, this was not about her being loyal to Cat. You can have discussions and fights with the people you love and trust, and this isn’t even the worst disagreement Cat and Indrani had ever had.
      The reason she is angry is because:
      A) one of the people who could be considered her siblings died, so she is grieving.
      B) another of those “siblings” is blaming her for Lysander’s death, and accusing her of not caring at all.
      Of course she is pissed off. She might even be feeling horribly responsible about it, as she was there and failed to save him.
      This goes a long way into Indrani’s past and her relationship with the pseudo band of five that Ranger raised. They resent her because they think she doesn’t care about them, and she found a Band of Five outside of her “family”, they want the place that the Woe have in Indrani’s heart.
      Also, Indrani was forthcoming to Cat and probably the rest of the Woe that she is going to eventually leave to follow her wanderlust, her pursuit of the Horizon is the core wish within her. That does not mean she isn’t loyal to Catherine, and being snippy at her now that she is angry doesn’t mean much either.

      And yeah, Cat should have known that army was going to appear, but then again she really couldn’t do anything about it, since they failed to find that army despite their best efforts and couldn’t just wait for it to appear.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Shveiran

        Pretty much, yeah. Spot on.

        What I’m very interested in, is why Silver is blaming Indrani.
        I mean, yeah, there is a lot of baggae there -“you tied me in a sack filled with vermins I was afraid of” kind of baggae – but the Huntress struck me as rather clear sighted so far. Hanno would not have chosen her as leader of the contingent’s Heroes otherwise, after all.
        So I can buy her overreacting, but I’m assuming that she had a clue to start from, whether or not she misinterpreted it. I believe her Band of Five arrived on the scene momentarily? So she might have seen something?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Really? I didn’t think it was out of character for Silver to blame her or that there was any sort of clue that Archer was responsible.

          The story goes out of it’s way to mention that Silver and Archer almost always fight whenever they are around each other. Her dislike of Archer is mentioned constantly in other’s POV when she is brought up. That kind of baggage and that Archer was there when he died? Of course Silver made a snide comment about Archer getting him killed and Archer reacted violently. That’s who they’ve been show (or really told since I don’t think we’ve really seen them together in a chapter) to be.

          People usually tend to act like they used to around old friends/family instead of how they currently are. Current day Silver might be clear headed, but around Archer she’s going to revert (somewhat) to her mindset from back in her days studying under Ranger. Archer will too. We saw something similar with Concoctor and Archer back in Stronghold.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. Shveiran

            Well, sure, you are right. I agree on pretty much all counts.

            I just feel that what has been described is MORE than what we saw so far, and wonder if there was an additional ingredient in the brew.
            Like, this is not just a snide comment.
            Silver got on the scene, witnessing an undead abomination stepping over the corpse of one of her acquaintances to cleave off the arm of another of her former bully, and then decided Archer was so much to blame for what happened to punch her in the face. That sounds to me like she actually believed, on some leavel, that she caused it; that Acher didn’t just fail to kill the unstoppable Revenant before their companion fell.
            I mean, sure, she was grieving and all that, so maybe I’m reading too much into it.
            But it strikes me as the Huntress needing a catalyst to get so far so quickly.

            Then again, maybe that catalyst is simply her grief over Beastmaster? it could be.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Crash

              Your timeline makes no sense with the Interludes in mind. Beastmaster would have died before the band left the cave system.

              That said, you’re jumping at shadows in this. This makes perfect sense with the knowledge we have, a bad relationship (in which some extreme bullying, honestly even torture, you could argue, in the incident with the insects, figures heavily), some very real danger in her mission to the caves, where several revenants came after her and she onlyr really escaped because Cat and Akua intervened, and then she comes out of that into a heavy battle where some nasty surprises came out.

              Then, when it’s all over, she finds out one of the people she grew up with is dead AND he was assigned with Indrani? Heck, if Indrani passed by, going about her own business, and didn’t look like she was bawling her eyes out about Beastmaster’s death?

              There’s no way the Silver Huntress didn’t jump on that, to take out some of her grief as anger at a very clear target.

              The knowledge we have very easily explains all this. What I would like to know is why the hells you think Indrani would be out there trying to get folks killed in the middle of this war. That is a much more pressing question.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. Don’t forget John also died while on an outing with Archer. The sheer history here overrides any evidence. Archer might have been shielding him with her life right before Silver’s eyes, and she’d still accuse her of being at fault, because emotions this strong and old override reason like SNAP

              Liked by 2 people

        2. Morgenstern

          The Troubadour was instigating, once again. I have been vaguely disappointed ever since the last chapter that Cat did not immediately go after him to make that stop, NOW, at least now that it should have become clearer what kind of threat his always instigating strife (for whatever reason; another part of his “rapaciousness”?) is. He has been doing this before (she accounted for it during the meeting of the Villains), it seems a bad idea to not keep a closer eye on him and prevent such things, even more so in the current situation.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Aston Whiteman

    The whole purpose of the war imo seems to be to provide Cat with a Name and push the Bard out of the way.

    Then the Dead King has access to a good/evil Named balancer who won’t keep interfering.

    I’m sure Cat becomes the new Bard.

    I mean Cat is basically a weapon against the gods.

    Like

      1. Matthew

        I kind of hope they did…

        Because the Dwarves are at war with the Dead King as well. Cat got the Drow out of the way and essentially ceded the entire Calernian underground to the dwarves…

        The Dead King made no such treaty and the Dwarves have no desire for the Dead King to win.

        Liked by 4 people

  6. Djinn O'Cide

    A Zwischenzug (literally an “in-between move”) is a tactical move (usually a check or an attack which can’t be ignored), which breaks up the expected sequence of moves, with the result of a gained tempo for the player who makes it.

    For example, if you take your opponent’s queen with your queen, expecting that he’ll recapture your queen on his turn, he may instead check you–and then after you reply to the check, recapture your queen. In this case, the check was a zwischenzug.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    learned as kid > learned as a kid
    gambled > gamblers
    as the edge > at the edge
    Silber > Silver
    I got nod > I got nods
    to be a fresh > to be fresh
    the drow the > the drow to
    night: here > night: there
    Even the band > Even though the band
    might be limited > might have been limited
    Twilight ways and > Twilight Ways and
    though, it cost > though, and it cost
    ways form my > ways from my
    parties and found > parties had found
    There was a bit (extra space in the front)
    Hakam > Hakram

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I’m pretty sure that the potential Cat Name stuff is more evidence for a Name along the lines of Arbitrator (with or without descriptors).

    Troubadour is suspicious. I suspect that he was helping cause trouble for personal entertainment.

    Gigantes have safely arrived – that’s a good thing.

    On the other hand, it seems like the unexpected army gutted, or at least mauled, and effectively stopped the other army from advancing further.

    And the Dead King has a tested and proven hard counter to Night. That’s going to be a major problem for the Drow battlefront. In addition to the problems it causes for Cat and Akua and the drow in Procer.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Morgenstern

      I wouldn’t put it past them to do it for politicking as well, not _just_ personal entertainment (though that as well, likely as not). Make way for his ambitions by shining a bad light on ‘higher-ups’ in the Named hierarchy. Maybe, just maybe it’s even a drive to let things get so bad he might be allowed to eat a _Named_’s soul eventually, or at least that there might be so much chaos his doing so might somehow get overlooked? (Not that this would have to work out, but he might still be speculating on it. He might be brilliant or at least sly in other ways, but he’s still _rapacious_, after all. Probably it blinds him to seeing the hurt in his actions.)

      Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          WordPress really is weird. Not only there’s not an option to edit posts, but I think it needs to be customized to each site.
          I have seen WordPress implemented differently on different sites, some in horrible fashion.
          PGTE has the best one I have seen so far, here all comments remain neat and the thread of replies is long.

          In the Wandering Inn site for example, after 2 replies on a thread, the words of the comments will start to pile up vertically, until the point where there’s only a single line of letters. Urgh. *Shivers*

          Liked by 2 people

  9. mamm0nn

    Aw yeah. My odd-ball theory from last chapter remains feasible; Sage may have grasped DK’s knowledge of ascension and is now another DK body to be used. The body has not been burned.

    Also, DK has brute-forced the Grey Legion into their old groove again. The unbeatable force appearing at the worst time to check or break armies, rather than a single revenant to check a single Named. Guess that the Alliance having three or more means to counter the Grey Legion appearing really didn’t sit well with him. I hope Cat makes sure to warn the Sisters that the Grey Legion may march to their front now.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Morgenstern

      One would assume that the bodies _have_ been burned, as stated as standard method before? The important bit after that statement seems to have been a) that all the bodies of the freshly dead Named HAVE been collected (wasn’t sure for Beastmaster) and b) that Cat got to rip out aspects (before the heavily implied burning afterwards, even though it was not outright stated again in this chapter that they would do this, after having been described in the one before), but only from Revenants and Villains, not the Heroes.

      What a waste, really. One would think that in such an all-or-nothing war, moral conundrums about ripping out aspects would be trumped by pragmatism _for the time being_. Too afraid to create a precedent?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. mamm0nn

        If Cat has no authority to gain the body but the writing suggest it hasn’t been burned yet, then it may not have been burned yet. Also Pilgrim just showed up so Providence or coincidence may have seen to them not burning the Sage yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. thearpox23

    “So that’s what you got out of this, Neshamah, I thought. You tested the pillars and wards on our Firstborn, and when they proved effective you used that Crab lurking around somewhere to refit your Grey Legion into drow-killers.”

    What absolute bull. And I do mean that. More often than not this story takes me with its good sense and structure, but there are other times like this where an obvious play is written like some sort of dramatic reveal that’s supposed to shed light on Neshamah’s past tactics.

    The guy has an entire front to try out his tricks on the Firstborn on. And barring that, Rumena’s raids over the past two years, or even random drow detachments that might be plastered in off places across the front.

    Tactically speaking, testing new designs against the same army you’re going to be using them against later is the absolute worst decision one could make. What if there’s an imperfection and the enemy finds a way to exploit? In fact, it’s missing the whole point of having a disembodied intelligence that can possess any creature under its control; the ability to have such tests to be carried out several thousands of miles away and without waiting for the opposing army to arrive.

    Instead, he loses a bunch fortifications and has his elite troops twiddle their thumbs during what appears to be a last minute equipment retrofitting.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. alele

      Would you risk your Elite Troops with untested tech? This particular scenario made him able to test his anti-drow counter-measure against Cat. If anyone had a counter it would be her. Since no counter-stroke came he can now be assured of its current efficiency – and that it will take time for counter-measures to appear. So for now his Grey Legion will ALWAYS beat the drow on equal engagements. The same way the alliance only recently started to use the Unravellers in big engagements recently, since they want their edge to last longer (until it gets inevitably countered) so they saved their big new reveal for this campaign only.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. thearpox23

        Cat is no less likely to get a counter ready within a couple days of encountering the issue than she was to have it ready from the get go. And she is only NOW seeing the thing as a serious issue. So if I want my troops to achieve anything worth a damn with my shiny new toy, then yes, I’d want it revealed where it can make a difference.

        All that said, I’d like to retract my objections on account that Cat is dumb. As in, her inner thoughts elevate her own importance and miss the elephant in the room. Sage is dead. He was the one capable of countering Grey Legion’s new enhancements, and Neshamah can only now commit that he is out of the way. When thinking about the tactics and strategies involved, the whole thing makes sense if Cat’s monologue is off 100%.

        Like

        1. mamm0nn

          Why would she know of Sage? Named are notoriously cagey about their Aspects and don’t just summarise themselves by their Role when introducing. Even if she already knows the guy, then she needs not know his specialisation.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Practicality

      Honestly I think he’s just intending to grind them down while luring ’em in deeper into his territory, you need to remember he is frightened enough of the WB that he for the most part stays cooped up in his territory till she loosened his leash and removed the sword from his neck, he knows Kats track record and that she has beaten the intercessors plots before so it would make sense for him to be wary while he pokes and probes her and her army for strength and weaknesses.
      IIRC he also has a story driven need to be this ancient enduring evil, that suffers just enough minor setbacks to stop the gods above from sending some provenance guided prick from wiping him off the face of the planet.

      If the only endgame was to stop if not kill this expedition I’d assume that he or one of his proxies would have torched (if not spread a plague to) the fields and cattle, hell he could’ve just send some groups of revenants aided by a flock of flying critters to intercept the supply trains.
      After all Tactics win battles, logistics win wars.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. thearpox23

          Sister’s can’t inform Cat of jack if all your stuff is dead. And if your counters are to actually be effective and the drow overextends they should be.

          That said, I’d like to repeat (because I can’t edit my main post,) that all my annoyance was entirely misdirected. Cat is dumb, the reason Neshamah made the reveal now was because he managed to snipe Sage. That’s why the timing is awkward, not because of the testing nonsense.

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            I was replying to Quite possibly a Cat; I meant, if a counter to the Night was displayed on the drow front, I’m pretty sure the Sisters would notice whether or not the army involved got wiped, and pass that knowledge to teh remaining Generals and their Prophet.
            We have been shown that they can commune with her directly and periodically do, so why wouldn’t they?

            Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        Well, didn’t we see the previous version of this stuff in the visions that the Sisters showed Catherine back in Chapter 12: Contest?

        Honestly, there were already statements on the Dead King evolving his tactics and adapting, I don’t know why she and everyone insist that Neshamah “can’t learn, not really” when he has shown time and time again that he is constantly learning. At most he is simply stuck in the same personality and thought patterns that he had in life or the beginnings of his undeath.
        He is not a mere undead, he is the freaking god of the undead.

        The visions that Sve Noc passed Catherine showed:

        A) The Dead King is able to slip past the Drow scouts with entire armies now.
        B) He has adapted his armies to fight in the different fronts and use different tactics against each host. Even having specialized units.
        C) The tactics change over time, and using a trick against him repeatedly doesn’t work, which means Neshamah continues to learn.
        D) The Dead King has adapted to fight Night and units that previously disrupted magic but not Night, now are capable of disrupting Night.
        E) He has created artifacts that can direct Night away from the Drow down into the earth, thus rendering them unable to use the Secrets and their resurrection tricks.

        So yeah, Catherine knew that the Dead King was making advances in creating Anti-Drow tactics and Anti-Night artifacts. This is simply the latest version, and it is allocated to elite troops instead of the mooks that held artifacts of similar effect in the Drow Front.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. mamm0nn

          What you said is pretty much correct: “At most he is simply stuck in the same personality and thought patterns that he had in life or the beginnings of his undeath.” Neshamah can gain new information and think, obviously, same for Binds and Revenants. Just being able to remember Cat’s name proves that much.

          Your issues lie with you taking the statement too literally. Neshamah cannot learn, as in what he wasn’t already able of or prone to do in life, he cannot do now. He can never make the same mistake twice and prepare for tricks pulled before, because he already knew that before ascension. He can create new magical spells (by Trismedeus theory only, probably.) to counteract Night.

          But if it were him that Cat offered peace and her Winter to instead of the still alive Sisters, then she would’ve failed. That would be something completely new to him that he cannot learn, not even to escape WB’s grasp, because it’s something he wouldn’t have done or known in life. And it’s quite likely that his words upon introduction that he won’t hold a grudge no matter what Cat does to him are true, because he never learned how to hold a grudge while alive.

          Neshamah prepared for his apotheosis for a long time, it’s quite likely that he knew this known undead limitations and learned all the skills he knew he’d need in the afterdeath. He can still gain and interpret information, that’s not necessarily learning as they meant it.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. mamm0nn

            Better example: The Winter King chewed off his own foot to break the eternal cycle. This kind of unprecedented plan is something that Dead King couldn’t do, because it would be something that goes against what he was when he was first created.

            DK is more like the other fey: As much as he can learn and interpret and interact, he cannot truly change certain inherent and stubborn traits that lay at the heart of him. His are more subtle and less meant to be exploited, but they’re there somewhere, camouflaged by his personality and mystique.

            Liked by 2 people

    3. Salt

      That doesn’t make any sense. At all.

      You have to test it on Drow wielding Night to see if his counter magic works, before relying on it in a critical situation. If he tests it on any Mighty anywhere in the world, no matter how secretively, the Sisters will know about it because the ARE Night itself, this was explicitly mentioned. He can’t hide the existence of the damned things from the Sisters seeing through Mighty eyes any more than Cat can hide weapons from him seeing through Revenant eyes.

      And as for whether or not the Dead King knows the Night works this way? Of course he does. He’s literally the original mortal that went through Apotheosis as a minor god that sees through the eyes of their minions. He’d have to be an absolute idiot to not suspect that the exact same applies to the sisters who went through the same kind of Apotheosis. He’d all but know for a certainty after the first time a tactic he tried on one battlefield was suddenly made public knowledge to all Drow on every battlefield, and you bet your sweet ass that in a protracted war this has happened at least once.

      At which point the question is, will the Sisters tell their literal high priestess who is actively fighting a war against the Dead King about his newly developed weapons? Well, yeah. Of course they will. So why in the world would the Dead King bother wasting fruitless effort trying to hide it?

      Liked by 3 people

  11. IDKWhoitis

    Can’t be too happy about calling it…

    Well that leaves which brand of fuckery is Nesh going to try to block off Twilight tactics. And the actual damage report of the other army. I’m betting on them having faced 50% casualties. Nesh wouldn’t destroy the army, as that would spawn heroes and give too much weight to Above, but he would savage it to the point of being a heavy cost.

    Liked by 6 people

  12. I had to go back and reread the chapter with the battle plan (Chapter 47), because I’d completely forgotten what those cities were and what Klaus was supposed to be doing with them.

    Short recap: Malmedit controls the network of tunnels that the Dead King is using to send in reinforcements. Juvelun is a nearby fortress-town that holds a big army. Klaus’s job was to bait out the force at Juvelun by threatening Malmedit. Ideally he’d take the city, collapse the tunnels, and then turn around to destroy the Juvelun army, but he’s mostly a distraction – so long as he’s out there, he’s stopping the armies from reinforcing Hainaut.

    So Klaus found himself sandwiched between an army of 100k (big, but something he expected to defeat), and a new army of 200k (probably too big). Not great, but remember, he was the distraction – if Klaus retreats in good shape, then he’s still keeping 300k dead soldiers busy. And the main thrust is still going to threaten the capital on schedule. And “What if this missing army moves to stop one of the prongs of our assault?” had to be at the top of the list in contingency planning, so I’m pretty confident Klaus’s army can handle itself.

    No, my question is, why was it there to begin with? Did the DK just pick one of the three prongs and decide to smash it as hard as he could? Or is there something big in Malmedit that he was looking to protect?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Shveiran

      I was going to say that Neshamah could smash the army with that kind of numerical superiority and that he could chase it with the tireless undeads.

      Then I remembered that if it looks like they are getting sandwiched, Klaus can retreat to the Twilight Ways.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        I’m sure they will be some reason why they can’t just do that. At least not without taking many casualties.
        Cat’s current Field Army was able to open 72 gates, which is a damnably low number when your army numbers hundreds of thousands. Besides, it was said that “most weren’t even large enough for two people, with a mere twenty of proper size to let carts and engines through”. and undead mages can mess with them if they are nearby.

        So as an evacuation measure, the Twilight Ways are only really usable for the Drow as they all have Night and thus are able to get in the Twilight Ways easier than other species. Back in chapter 57: Battery, it only took them “30 breaths” to evacuate a host of close to ten thousand.
        If the human armies wanted to evacuate while under attack, they would need to open the gates and evacuate while large parts of them are keeping the attacking undead at bay, and once the undead army gets close the gates would get disrupted.

        That said, the Twilight Ways are still horribly underused.

        Just opening a gate under a Revenant would be enough to destroy it as the whole realm would violently burn them. And this should be a weaponized method for Catherine as she can simply will it for gates to be made around her. She barely needs a flick of the wrist to open one. The Drow too should have developed techniques to do similar things. Like, when the dead are breaching the Gloom, open a gate to Twilight right in front of that breach, it would at the very least buy some time and at best it would be like an artillery blast that would destroy any undead nearby.

        And I still strongly object to having the supply lines going through Creation instead of through the Twilight Ways. It seems horribly inefficient and also an unnecessary risk.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Daniel E

    Oof, in every sense of the word. Even going on the assumption that Klau’s forces escaped through Twilight, I’m betting they got whooped hard; half dead or crippled. This sounds like a move that could only come from DK’s star General, The Prince of Bones, which would explain why he wasn’t with the Grey Legion. On a lighter note, Cat starting to get her Name powers back is very cool. I’m still thinking that her Name will formally be ‘Intercessor’, since Wandering Bard only has it attributed as a nickname / insult.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Crash

    Something completely unimportant but have we heard of the Early Bell before? I can’t remember it.
    Morning bell is most likely 8am so would this be 4am?
    (Sidenote: what kind of absolute bastard rings a bell at 4 am, the real monster.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. caoimhinh

      No, this is the first time “Early Bell” was mentioned. It seems to be equivalent to “First Bell” which was mentioned before.

      Although it has never been properly explained, it was intuited that each Bell is 4 hours, and yeah First Bell corresponds to 4 a.m.

      There are 6 Bells:

      First Bell -or Early Bell in this chapter- (4 a.m), Morning Bell (8 a.m), Noon Bell (12 m), Afternoon Bell (4 p.m), Evening Bell (8 p.m), and Midnight Bell (12 a.m).

      P.S: many people have to wake up at 4 a.m to get ready for the day’s work, even in our modern world. From personal experience, I know this is true for farmers and ranchers, but many other professions, especially those of low and mid socioeconomic stratum, also wake up at those ungodly hours.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Crash

        I’m aware, I was one of those people for a while. Ringing a bell at that time tho? Heck no bud. Wake up the whole town for funsies.

        Also yeah, that checks out with the bells I knew (tough I didn’t remember first bell either haha)

        Liked by 2 people

  15. Typos
    The Silber Huntress blinked in discomfort, then reluctantly stabbed her spear into the ground. -> the Silver Huntress

    I got nod. -> I got nods?

    Even the band was a good one, well-fitted, I suspected that in her eyes … -> Even if the band?

    I’d seen the Grey Legion before, those hulking dead encased in armour so thick it more of a rampart. -> it was more a rampant?

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Frivolous

    I believe the heroes of the Alliance will soon become (even more) terrified of Catherine, once word gets out that she can Speak.

    The information leak will probably be through Alexis, once she reports on the occurrence to Hanno. Hanno will of course warn his heroes that Catherine can Speak, and that they should avoid provoking her into Speaking at them.

    I think it will be really really good (or bad, depending) for Cat’s reputation that she can Speak to heroes, and that the first person she Spoke to was a hero. She can now tell Valiant Champion to screw herself and Rafaella would be forced to do it. And Cat has a very good reason to bully Rafaella.

    I wonder if the Truce and Terms have any clause that mentions exactly what kind of punishments can be given to heroes by the rep for the villains.

    Hell, Cat could now Speak to Hanno. What does it mean for the Truce and Terms when the rep for the villains can Speak to the rep for the heroes? What are the limits of Speaking? Can Cat now tell Hanno to give orders to heroes, without giving away that he’s operating under her command?

    Could Cat duplicate Malicia’s trick of implanting subliminal commands?

    In other news: I wonder what Klaus knows about the Alliance’s overall strategy. What military and political secrets could Klaus the Bind give over to Keter? It’s horrifying to think of.

    Can Klaus fight the Dead King’s power over him even temporarily? That is a really important question now.

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      1) You are overthinking stuff
      2) The kind of punishments that can be given to heroes by the rep for the villains is exactly NONE. Hanno is the only one who can punish heroes and Cat is the only one who can punish Villains. Unless extraordinary circumstances arise, like self-defense or preventing the death of an ally.

      3) Speaking is not that powerful, and not that easy to use. Many Named can Speak, but not all make a great thing out of it. There’s a reason only Malicia is so dangerous with it.

      4) We don’t know if Klaus is dead yet. Nor if the army under Klaus is gone. Odds are that the situation is dire, but it’s not yet unsalvageable.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Frivolous

        You must have missed how Cat was able to dock the pay of the Silver Huntress in this very chapter. So she can definitely punish heroes. Unless you think that docking someone’s pay is not a punishment? I’m truly uncertain how much heroes value things like money.

        Therefore it’s only the extent to which Cat can punish heroes that is uncertain.

        I think you must also have forgotten that Black was able to Speak to Akua and make her stab herself with her own knife. If self-injury is on the table, making Rafaella do something dishonorable could also be possible.

        Cat was strong in Speaking even when she had the transitional Name of Squire. When she has a mature Name, I suspect she’ll be Malicia’s equal. And she’s more subtle and crafty than she once was.

        To explain why I think Cat will be able to match Malicia – Remember that her Name started to arise when she declared to Tariq and Hanno that she would put the East, meaning Praes, in order. To defeat Malicia, she must in some way be Malicia’s equal.

        Thinking Klaus is still alive seems very optimistic to me, but I grant that maybe the worst was indeed avoided. I really hope so, actually. I quite like and admire Klaus.

        Like

  17. Isaac Martinez

    Cat is a thresher.

    She doesn’t judge in base of morality, or wills. She jugdes the Act, not the Conviction. So, I don’t think Justice have anything to do here.

    She is a ferver believer in consequences and is a woman of her word.

    She looks for peace, but is not afraid of looking the hard way.

    She is the daughter of the Carrion Lord, looking for trinkets between the dead. And is a good friend of Crows.

    Liked by 2 people

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