Chapter 65: Cross-Check

“Victory lies in understanding the intentions of the enemy. Therefore, a general with no intentions cannot be beaten.”

– Isabella the Mad, Proceran general

“So what is this place called again?”

“Maillac, my queen.”

I idly glanced at the man who’d replied to my question. Sir Brandon Talbot, Grandmaster of the Order of Broken Bells, had not been much changed by the war. I was often surprised by that. His once-long hair had been cut short but the beard and the strong build remained just the same as when I’d first met him, sitting in a cell where Juniper had tossed him. Many of the great officers of the Army of Callow and other hosts strained under their burden of their position, but on the contrary Brandon Talbot had taken rather well to this war. It helped, I suspected, than this was all simpler the kinds of war he’d known before – be it the Folly, where he had fought to maintain Praesi rule under my banner, or the Tenth Crusade when he’d followed a homegrown villain against invading heroes.

There was no one alive who could bring horrors to bear that would rival the Dead King’s, but for all the madness this was the kind of war that my people were most comfortable waging: black and white, no truce with the Enemy. I sometimes envied that he was not in a position to truly grasp the kind of ugly dealings necessary to keep something like the Grand Alliance afloat. A great good too often came at the costs of a hundred petty evils, like a saint standing on a pedestals devils had paid for.

“Gods, and to think someone believed it a sound notion to build a village here,” I said. “They must have been drunk.”

The dark-haired nobleman – one of the few of the breed I caught myself occasionally liking – let out a small amused noise.

“Some of the land north of Harrow is not so dissimilar, I am told,” Brandon Talbot said. “I was taught as a boy that the people there are usually poor but skilled hunters and fishermen. As bowmen they have a high reputation in certain parts, though the Deoraithe are a hard shadow to escape in that art.”

“Not much left to hunt or fish here,” I replied. “Usually isn’t, after the Dead King had a go.”

If the Second Army was to make a stand against a wildly larger amount of enemy soldiers without getting butchered and overwhelmed, picking the ground it was going to make that stand on was crucial. We’d dug through maps and records as well as the officers from Hainaut that Princess Beatrice had leant me before picking the abandoned village of Maillac, and for all that the place was a hole in the ground for our purposes it was perfect. See, for all that undead had less trouble with difficult terrain than living soldiers they didn’t actually get to ignore that terrain. Swamps, bogs, or other combination of mud and scrum water and crawling things were easier for undead to go through because unlike people they wouldn’t get cold or tired or sick – or even attacked by animals, usually.

But in no way did that mean a swamp was something easy for undead soldiers to march through.

The skeletons still wore armour, still weighed heavy, and as a rule tended to be significantly less deft and agile than living soldiers besides. Marching through a mire would wreak havoc on their lines and they’d be damned slow going through mud – or, if they weren’t, would be so lightly armoured that our priests would scythe through them like wheat with volleys of Light. It was a comparative advantage the undead had, not an absolute one. And that meant that a place like Maillac made for very good grounds to defend: the village had stood on a relatively large peninsula surrounded by swamplands in every direction but the southeast, and with few trees in the immediate area that would obscure line of sight when the dead came from the west.

We wouldn’t be able to fit the entire Second Army on the peninsula that locals apparently called ‘the Boot’ – seen from a high hill in the distance it looked vaguely boot-like, I’d been told after asking – as ten thousand soldiers would be much too many, but we could fit at least half and then position the rest on the broader solid grounds behind the peninsula, which were thankfully rather difficult to access. To the north and south there were rock formations and deep water, both of which would screw with enemy advance even worse than the swamps. That meant that open grounds around the Boot would be the best approach for the dead, short of circling rather far around.

Which sounded like a good idea for them, at first glance, as it would allowed them to attack us from solid land an attempt an encirclement of our army divided between the Boot and the broader shore. I almost hoped they made the mistake of attempting that, though, as the amount of time it would take them to both gather large enough forces and circle around us meant my army would get to delay the dead long enough for Prince Klaus to get away and then escape ourselves without even giving battle. While I might have chosen Maillac as a battle site first and foremost, I wouldn’t complain if we got to evacuate it without first having fought said battle.

Not that we’d be so lucky. I’d stripped ten thousand legionaries and my finest horse from the rest of the army before dangling them like juicy bait out here in the wilds, the Dead King wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to bloody us a bit. Still, I’d not come this far by leaving things to chance.

“I can see little use for the Order in the battlefield you have chosen us, Your Majesty,” Sir Brandon admitted. “Yet it is not your habit to act without purpose, so I must presume there is one.”

“The swamp would be hell on the horses, and you’re much too heavy,” I agreed. “But I don’t actually intend for you to fight here, Talbot.”

Blue eyes brightened with understanding.

“We are to go a’raiding, then,” the Grandmaster smiled.

“And I with you,” I agreed. “We’ll be taking the Twilight Ways. Once the Second Army has begun setting up here, you and I are going to make such a nuisance out of the Order in these parts that Keter will have to come and give us a fight.”

“To vex the Enemy is always a pleasure,” the bearded knight said, sounding pleased. “Even more so if we confound him into an even greater defeat.”

I looked at him, for a moment, and glimpsed the part of his kind that my people had loved for so long. That fearless, hardy breed of nobles that’d known sword and spear just as well as dances and laughed as the charged under the banners of the Fairfaxes and the Albans to turn back the invaders of the east and the west. War wasn’t a trade to him, I thought, not like it was to the Legions and so many in the Army. War was part of who he was, just as much as his name or his blood. War isn’t just what we do, Catherine, it’s what we are, Juniper had once told me. She’d been speaking of her own people, that night, but so often I found that Praes and Callow were more deeply intertwined than either care to admit.

“I mean to do more than just vex,” I said. “Half the world still sits up when our war horns are sounded, Talbot. I mean to brand that fear anew in the legions of the dead.”

His fist struck his breastplate over his heart, the thump pleasantly solid to the ear.

“We are at your command, Queen Catherine,” the knight said.

For a few years yet, I thought. It would be enough.

I would make it enough.

Sapper-General Pickler, whose notion of the decorum due to her rank usually varied between ‘sounds like Commander Waffler’s problem’ and ‘if I’m not covered in dust I’m no doing this right’, crouched down on the shore and dipped a crooked green finger in the mud. After taking a long sniff, she licked it and hummed.

“So?”

“Rich silt,” Pickler told me. “Good material. Mind you, mudbricks in this humid a locale would be foolish. There’s clay, though, and we can use that for fired bricks. The trees in this dump aren’t for much of anything, though. I’ll need companies out foraging for decent firewood if we’re going to be cooking bricks.”

It was in moments like this that I was awe at what something like the War College actually stood for, what it achieved. That little exchange we’d just had alone was something that’d be impossible to have in most armies of our age. See, there were engineers in the ranks of Procer and the Free Cities with knowledge much like Pickler’s. Neither goblins nor Praesi had a monopoly on such things. But none of these had the rest. Pickler had been taught about mages, so she understood that we couldn’t just use spells to make her fired bricks: we’d half-kill our mages with exhaustion before we were anywhere done. Pickler had been taught about defensive tactics, so she knew how quickly I’d need the bricks and that if I didn’t get enough making any was a waste of time: that meant making many fires, and firewood.

Pickler had been taught about limited manpower logistics, too, and so combining all these teachings in a few moments she’d put together a proposal. One tailored to the rough amount of people I’d be able to spare, and how many would be needed to achieve what needed to done in our current time strictures. In effect, several companies of regulars on rotation with attached mages for Twilight Ways access.

Most of the contemporary armies of my allies and enemies had all this knowledge, in practice, but none of them had it concentrated in the same person. Maybe a few exceptional fantassin captains might have most of these competences, or rare Helikean generals, but those individuals would be rare. My father had made the War College into a place that could make entire companies of those rare individuals every year. There were many who still thought the Conquest had been an outlier, an anomaly made possible only by the genius of the Black Knight and the Marshals of Callow. Those people were fools. The Conquest had been won in stone classrooms a decade before armies lined up on both sides of the Fields of Streges.

“You’ll have them,” I said. “How much can you fortify in two days?”

“The Boot will be walled up, and we’ll have platforms for those of my ballistas you didn’t hand off to your toy general,” Pickler replied, a tad peevishly. “We’ll have to use palisades for the part stretching between the end of the boot and the deep waters to the south. We won’t be able to put up anything else in time.”

I slowly nodded, fixing the picture in my mind’s eyes. The peninsula was where I wanted clay walls the most, since it would be suffering the brunt of the enemy assault. Palisades to the south would get rough, given that Keter usually was capable of toppling those by throwing enough corpses at them – to say nothing of constructs or Revenants – but we weren’t trying to make an invincible citadel out of this chunk of swamp. Favourable fighting grounds would have to be enough.

“And the northern grounds?” I pressed.

The peninsula on which Maillac was built looked like a boot fitted to a particularly fat foot, but it wasn’t jutting out of perfectly straight dry – well, dryer anyway – land. To the south a wavy shoreline connected to the top edge of the boot kept going for about two hundred feet before jutting rocks and deep water made the grounds impractical to pass. As Pickler had said, we’d cover that stretch with palisades. But from the uppermost top edge of the boot the shoreline instead went straight for maybe forty feet before jutting upwards for a hundred feet and curving east into the second mass of rocks and deep water that were the reason I’d picked Maillac as our battlefield in the first place.

It meant there was a stretch of water between the Boot and the shore, which to make things even worse wasn’t even particularly deep. Skeletons coming through the mire would use it as a ramp to flood our northern flank, it was pretty much a given.

“If we had a week I’d sink a stone wall and drain it,” Pickler replied with a sigh that rattled through her teeth, “but we don’t. The mud is too soft there, Catherine, and unlike the Boot or the deeper shore there’s no solid layer to steady a palisade on.”

I grimaced.

“So we make a fort deeper in and dig in for a rough fight,” I summarized.

“I can make fortified nests for scorpions, with an eye to firing on anything that emerges from the water,” my Sapper-General said. “But anything beyond that would take more time and hands than we have to spare.”

She sounded almost apologetic, which was rare for her.

“These are imperfect grounds,” I said. “I didn’t expect you to wave a magic wand and make them into an impenetrable fortress. Already you’re doing wonders, Pickler.”

And I wasn’t lying for her benefit there: that in the span of a mere two days my sappers would be able to turn this defendable stretch of swamp into a makeshift fortress was beyond impressive. When I’d made the decision to use only the Second Army and the Order as delaying forces, I’d been able to make that decision comfortably because I’d known almost half of the sapper corps remained with me instead of manning the siege engines that by now General Abigail would be using to reduce the Cigelin Sisters. I relied on my sappers a great deal, which I knew they took pride in, but I would not let the burden of unrealistic expectations crush them.

“I want to do more,” Pickler admitted, to my surprise. “There won’t be another war like this in my lifetime, Catherine. This is the one I’ll get to fight, the one I’ll get to make my teeth on.”

She clicked her teeth, the flash of needle-like row betraying what had to be genuine irritation. Goblins were easier to read than humans, in some ways – most didn’t bother to hide their body language the way a deceitful human would, since most of my race never learned goblin body subtext.

“I work with imperfect tools, the way all my predecessors have,” Pickler said, “but it… irks, that I know we could be better. That we could match Keter blow for blow, if we had the time and the coin.”

I hid a fond smile. Leave it to my Sapper-General to be irked by being on the lesser side in an arms race with the Hidden Horror. Even most heroes, those chosen few blessed with the belief of promised victory, usually limited their ambition to survival and eking out a win when it came to the Original Abomination. Yet Pickler of the High Ridge tribe had been forged of goblin steel tempered in Wasteland fire, kept sharp by the whetstone of the Uncivil Wars. When faced with dreadful might, the Sapper-General of Callow’s nature was not to cower but to crave to surpass it.

“War’s not over,” I said. “One day it will take us to the gates of the Crown of the Dead itself, Pickler.”

I offered her a smile.

“On that day, I expect you will find your coffers filled to burst and few requests beyond acquiescence,” I said.

“Gobbler grant me breath until then,” Pickler of the High Ridge tribe grinned, all teeth and malice, and offered a quick bow. “I’ll get started on the work, Your Majesty.”

I nodded back, mind already moving. The Order of Broken Bells was already mustering for the raids, picking out targets with General Hune and Hakram, and now my Sapper-General had assignments and hands to see it through. It was time, then, to see to the… irregulars.

I’d begun with Masego because I’d figured it would be less unsettling to look at than whatever it was that Akua wanted the Rapacious Troubadour for, but alas it seemed that hubris had come around to bite me in the tit. That Hierophant would be standing atop a flat floating stone was sadly not unexpected, nor were the smaller rocks circling around him with visibly shifting runes carved into them. That the Grey Pilgrim would be stand with him there, though, head cocked to the side as if he were listening to someone talking as he corrected some of the runework, very much was.

“- being very helpful,” I heard Zeze say, tone appreciative. “I could talk to Catherine about remuneration, if you’d like, or draw from Arsenal discretionary funds.”

Well, that was nice of him.

“A kind thought,” Tariq drily replied, “but the Ophanim require no compensation for their help.”

Wait, had he been talking about paying the Choir of Mercy? Godsdamnit, Masego, we definitely didn’t have room for that in the budget. I cleared my throat as I got closer, as it seemed both of them were too involved with their work to be paying attention to their surroundings.

“Catherine,” Hierophant greeted me. “Come to have a look?”

“You might say that,” I replied. “Pilgrim, always a pleasure to see you.”

I did not bother to specify that I’d not actually expected to see him, though, as it was pretty much implied by his mere presence here.

“And you,” the old man said, sounding amused. “We have been lending a hand to the Lord Hierophant, you see, as his work has proved to have… surprising provenances.”

“I figured out how angels smite people,” Zeze said, sounding very pleased with himself. “More or less. When the Ophanim tried to kill us all at Lyonceau I got a good look.”

“That was not their intent at all,” Tariq sighed. “The death of the Tyrant of Helike – a necessity, I’m sure you’ll agree – was all that was sought.”

“By smiting,” Masego helpfully specified. “Which I am now reproducing, only without the angels.”

“Are you now,” I faintly said. “How lovely.”

I looked to the Pilgrim, expecting an elaboration but receiving only a blithe shrug.

“It’s not an inaccurate description,” Tariq said. “They’re very interested in seeing if it works.”

“Are they now,” I said, tone grown even fainter. “That’s nice.”

“Now,” Masego said, “I know what you’re thinking.”

He tried to lean against a rotating stone but mistimed it and almost stumbled off the floating stone, the Pilgrim discreetly pulling at his robes so he wouldn’t.

“I doubt that,” I noted, “but go on.”

“If a Choir does not power the smiting, what does?” Hierophant enthusiastically asked.

“The bone-deep existential dread of all who witness your works?” I suggested.

“Too narrow, but you’re along the right path,” Masego encouraged me.

I glanced at Tariq.

“I thought you Light-wielding types had objections to blasphemy,” I said.

And this felt, like, maybe two or three steps past simple blasphemy. I’d say we were uncovering fresh new heretical horizons, but that was always a hard claim to make for anyone remotely familiar with Praesi history.

“Smiting is being used as a purely technical term here, with no religious connotations,” the Grey Pilgrim serenely replied.

Tariq, you shit, I uncharitably thought.

“Besides, if this endeavour succeeds it may be possible to reproduce it purely using Light,” the old man airily continued.

Meaning that Zeze’s brain was being utterly terrifying, as usual, but that in this particular case it might lead to a skill usable for heroes down the line – and Crows, wasn’t that particular prospect worth a fucking shiver or two? – so he was willing to not only refrain from objecting but actively help. I narrowed my eyes at the smiling old man, knowing Goods might just be getting the better bargain here. There was no guaranteed that Hierophant would ever be able to pass this down to anyone else on my side, so the knowledge might very well die out. The Choir of Mercy, though, would not forget a damned thing.

And the Ophanim were not, in my experience, shy about handing out this sort of knowledge to their favourites.

“How fortunate,” I replied with a grunt. “What is it you’re using, Masego?”

“I had thought to use Night, at first,” the dark-skinned mage idly said, “but Sve Noc did not seem willing. So instead we will draw on Arcadia for power and use runework to give the power shape.”

I blinked.

“And that’ll work?” I asked

“Should it not, I expect the result will be a large explosion followed by temporary instability in the weave of Creation on a local level,” Tariq noted.

“We can use that too,” Masego happily told me. “So there’s really no downside.”

I closed my eyes and breathed out. Well, he wasn’t exactly wrong. Mind you, Zeze tended to be very reasonable even when suggesting utter lunacy so that wouldn’t be a first. And this seemed like a functioning weapon, if an unstable and dangerous one. I opened my eyes.

“This won’t hurt our own?” I asked.

“No,” Masego replied, tone serious. “Precautions were taken. It will not kill your soldiers.”

“Then all hail the mighty smiters,” I drily said. “Have fun, you two, and try not to bring down Arcadia Resplendent on our heads.”

Which might have been a tad hypocritical of me to say, I mentally acknowledged as I limped at and left them to their work, since I was the one who kept stealing lakes from there.

I caught a few bits of the song on the wind before I saw either of them, the almost mournful tone of the Troubadour’s voice matching the sad strums of his cithern. The tent was wide open, leaving the song to take to the sky unhindered.

“- we of steel,

Forged in the east

As turns the wheel

And carrion feast.”

I knew precious few Praesi songs, unless you counted Legion ones, but this one I’d heard of before. The Tyranny of the Sun, it was called, an old war song from the days of the Sixty Years War. It’d been banned since, but banning a song only rarely succeeded at stamping it out. Making it forbidden tended to raise interest, if anything. The few Praesi tunes I’d heard – Count the Nights, Upon All the World and Burning Kiss – tended towards the boastful or the romantic, not the almost wistful beat of this one. It was, I suddenly recalled, a favourite of my father’s. Given that this had to be a request if Akua’s, I almost smiled at the thoughts.

Neither of them would be particularly pleased to hear they had something in common, even something as small as a liking for a song.

I found the both of them seated inside. The Rapacious Troubadour was sprawled indolently in a chair, long crooked fingers dancing across his cithern as he smiled. Dark-haired and pale, the man would have been handsome if nor for the too-red lips and insincere eyes. Though he wore armour when battle was at hand, he rarely bothered without immediate danger to move him: his tunic and cloak were of tasteful cut and good make, in shades of purple, while both trousers and boots were leather. He’d been looking at Akua with something like hunger in his gaze when I entered, though he immediately averted his eyes. Ah, but is it the looks or the soul that draw your attention?

The shade herself had claimed a small table and a folding chair, leaning forward with quill and parchment in hand – which bared an interesting expanse of smooth skin, given the generous neckline of her red dress patterned with what looked like peacock feathers in blue. I’d seen enough of Akua actively trying to appeal to suspect she wasn’t even trying to be enticing at the moment. She was just good-looking enough that even at work it looked like she was posing for a painting.

“Dearest,” the devil in question said, raising her head to smile at me. “How kind of you to visit.”

The Troubadour eased into an interruption of the song, the notes fading naturally, and then offered me a short bow.

“Your Majesty,” Lucien greeted me. “Ever a pleasure.”

“Is it now?” I mused. “Good to know.”

“Do not bully my singer,” Akua chided me. “He has been singing the loveliest songs.”

“The Tyranny of the Sun?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Somewhat maudlin, I know,” she smiled, “but it has such a pleasant melody.”

I smiled at her, knowing something she did not and amused by the secret.

“Got anything out of it?” I asked, glancing at her parchment.

A magical formula, by the looks of it. I could recognize certain parts of it from our lessons – wait, no, this was a ritual but it was meant to be used with Night. It just looked like sorcery because she was basing its workings on Trismegistan principles. I leaned in, frowning as I took a closer look. The scale of the power used would be large, since she was using the notations that meant every number mean should be multiplied by a thousand, but the duration would be… short? Maybe just a few breaths. And I wasn’t recognizing the end of her formula at all, there wasn’t even a boundary strength or an allowed variance.

Mind you, for all my lessons I was still essentially a drunken monkey trying to decipher the works of one of the greats of our age so my incomprehension should not be a surprise.

“I believe so,” Akua smiled. “It occurred to me, my heart, that the strengths of Night lie in its flexibility. Yet this comes at the price of a weakness, namely that it is only ever second best in all the many things it can accomplish.”

If even that, I thought. I called it the power of a thief for a reason. She wasn’t wrong, though, and if anything she was underselling it: given equal Night and Light on both sides of a struggle, Light would win ten times out of ten. Entities wielding Light and Night weren’t necessarily bound to that outcome, mind you, but in a straight fight it had to be said that Light always won. Considering that the prevailing theory was that Light had been made by the Gods Above when Creation was first built and that Night was only indirectly the work of the Gods Below, that made a great deal of sense to me.

“Let’s say I agree,” I replied. “What follows?”

“A great deal of power that could benefit from a… more defined method of channeling,” Akua said. “One more deeply aligned with Creation.”

I studied her for a moment, then discreetly flicked my eyes towards the Rapacious Troubadour. Her smile widened.

“Huh,” I said. “Is that… wise?”

She read between the lines, catching on to my very delicate question of ‘are you sure using the soul-eating villain as a Night-channel isn’t going to fuck us over?’.

“It is my ritual,” she easily replied. “It remains in my hands from beginning to end.”

Meaning that the Rapacious Troubadour would be a ritual component more than an active participant. Ah, I was already slightly more comfortable with this. Still not exactly eager, but damned few of the tricks we needed to win this war were anything that could reasonably be called safe.

“And you’re sure you’ll get results,” I said.

“I have proved the underlying principles,” Akua said, and leaned back as if to offer me a closer look at her notes.

Yeah, that would serve no real purpose. I had an almost decent handle on basic Trismegistan spell formulas these days – might not be able to make one, but was reliably able to pick out which part did what – but taking a gander at the kind of work that lay behind crafting an entirely new ritual, one working and Night and somehow involving a Named, would be absurd. I did not have the knowledge to parse the knowledge necessary to grasp the principles behind the basics of what was involved there.

“I’ll take you to your word,” I easily said. “But what is it your ritual will do, exactly?”

She gestured for me to come closer and whispered the answer in my ear. I drew back with a startled look.

“You’re sure?” I asked.

“The effects could be inferior to my expectations, but there will be effects,” Akua calmly said. “Of that there can be no doubt.”

I let out a low whistle.

“Well, here’s hoping it takes fully,” I said. “It would make a real difference, and not just in the coming battle.”

“I expect Trismegistus will mend the weakness eventually,” the shade shrugged. “Yet for now we have the element of surprise, so a success can be reasonably hoped for.”

Mhm. She’d not used that name as a coincidence: it was a veiled reminder that there was a reason Praesi magic was called Trismegistan sorcery. We were using his own methods against him, which meant our advantage was likely to be quite temporary.

“I’ll dare hope for it, then,” I said. “Did I glimpse correctly that you’ll be using a song?”

“Indeed,” Akua said, sounding pleased. “Do you have a particular preference? Lucien has proved to have a remarkable repertoire at his disposal.”

I glanced at the smiling man in question. Yeah I figured he would, what with all the godsdamned souls he’d eaten.

“It’s your ritual,” I said. “Let it be your song as well.”

“You do me honour,” the golden-eyed beauty said. “As it happens, I did have a thought.”

“Oh?”

Stars From the Sky,” Akua said in Mtethwa. “It is ancient, but remains sung for good reason.”

“Never heard of it,” I replied, “but I’ll look forward to mending that.”

She inclined her head.

“I will endeavour,” Akua Sahelian smiled, “not to disappoint.”

97 thoughts on “Chapter 65: Cross-Check

    1. Probably the fact it doesn’t require angels’ will, and only that.

      And Masego would probably be confused at Catherine even considering that as a possible downside for a moment. Aren’t they allies with heroes now? What is he not following?

      Liked by 19 people

    2. KageLupus

      If I remember right, “smiting” is the act of scouring creation clean in an area. It destroys everything in that area including more abstract concepts like memory. I am basing that on White Knight not being able to Remember what happened in an area that was smited. Smitten? Smote.

      If I had to guess at the metaphysics of the act, smiting seems to flood a part of Creation with enough energy that Creation itself warps, and when the effect ends what you are left with is a big circle of barren rock. The Ophanim clearly have enough energy to throw around to accomplish that, and it sounds like Zeze is going to use Arcadia as a battery for his ritual. I would assume that if the same could be done using Light it would have to be on a much smaller scale or by a very powerful Named. Imagine something like the second sun that Tariq summoned, but localized in a much smaller area.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > If I had to guess at the metaphysics of the act, smiting seems to flood a part of Creation with enough energy that Creation itself warps, and when the effect ends what you are left with is a big circle of barren rock.

        I think smiting might be distinct from the angelic erasure, because that one explicitly RESTORES the fabric of Creation where it has been damaged by demons and the like. It’s been noted to be the reason why Callow still, like, exists after so many creative Dread Emperors. And isn’t a wasteland, unlike.

        Of course if Masego is managing to reverse engineer the process of factory resetting select parts of Creation that’s even more awesomer somehow :O

        Liked by 6 people

      2. Konstantin von Karstein

        What makes the memories disappear and restore the fabric of Creation is the presence of the Angel itself, not the act of smiting. I suppose that at First Liesse the Angel of Contrition would have had the same effect even without smiting.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. Xinci

    Hm, logically if Angels smiting is just rearranging the properties of Creation to their default/pure state, then the main factors are the power resevoir its being drawn from and the values of the factors being reinforced. So if the runes are right and they have access to a power source they could mimic it with Light. Hm…useful for crafters like Adanna perhaps.

    It sounds like Akua is kind of mimicking spell singing while also applying the properties of boundaries we saw with Warlock? The closer something is to Creation the easier it is to trick things into happening, so shes aligning it to something pure(a cascade effect?) using the Troubadour as a conduit. Hm I guess the properties of Named souls do seem useful for that kind of thing. Wonder if you could substitute the Named for another properly scaffolded soul.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. > It sounds like Akua is kind of mimicking spell singing

      I don’t think so! Spellsinging seems to rely on different principles / properties of Creation than the Trismegistan stuff. Her ritual happens to involve spells and singing, but I would guess it’s as opposite from what the Gigantes do as it gets. Don’t forget spellsinging is known for ridiculous power/scale engaged just by the song itself, while Akua is going to be using Night as the power source.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. caoimhinh

        An underlying common principle might be there.

        The Gigantes use different methods than Trismegistan sorcery, true. But this ritual which Akua is developing might be touching on one of the basics of Gigant’s thaumaturgy.
        Like… I don’t know, (Forgive my tortured metaphor) a basketball player and a baseball player both using their hands and eyes to throw a ball. Different styles, objectives, and specific rules at play, yet underneath that there are some deeper laws affecting both, like gravity.

        Remember that the song is just a method, the actual power comes from the second soul that the Gigantes forge out of astral energies (which really, really sounds like the concept of Nascent Soul from Xianxia Cultivation novels to me)

        The key to this ritual, in my opinion, is souls. Which is why Akua requires the Rapacious Troubadour. Night will be the source of strength, but the method of channeling will be the ritual using the Rapacious Troubadour’s song, which we could speculate is related to the souls he consumes.

        My guess for the effect of the ritual is that it will target Revenants’ souls or at the least the constructs of Necromancy binding souls to undead bodies. Which would really be a game-breaker in this war.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Oh yeah I forgot about the second soul.

          Still, I doubt there’s only one underlying principle for using songs to channel magic, any more than there’s only one underlying principle for using gestures to channel magic, or using rituals to channel magic. It’s just a medium with its own strengths and weaknesses.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Dakota

          I have a feeling it is going to be more flashy than that the song she picked makes me think of the wonderful trick that earned the warlock his nickname

          Like

    2. Salt

      Using Arcadia for the smiting is probably going to work slightly differently than the angels smiting though. Arcadia is creation beta, with somewhat different properties, and it’s pretty likely that some of those different properties would bleed though.

      You could probably expect it to be significant in raw force but more rigid and easily deflected or dealt with, especially with the right story behind it, not dissimilar to Arcadia vs Creation proper in general. There would also probably be a pushback from Creation, since you’re replacing a factory reset with a patch that takes you back to a beta build, so it probably will be a bit weaker than an actual Choir smite if it does work.

      Which is probably also why the Pilgrim is predicting an explosion and temporary instability in the fabric of Creation if it fails. He doesn’t know if you actually can overlay Arcadia onto Creation proper that way, or if Creation will violently reject the attempt and, uh, blow up as a result

      Liked by 2 people

      1. shikkarasu

        Oh, ye Gods. I think Arcadia is perfect for this. Consider: Zeze is telling Arcadia that its story -its role- is ‘Angel Smites Evil.’ All the while Arcadia is getting line notes from actual Angels. With sorcerous musical accompaniment this will be the finest performance since The Fall of the Tyrant of Helike two years ago.

        Liked by 6 people

    3. I agree with Liliet that Masego probably isn’t imitating the Gigantes on this one. If he got to watch the Gigantes themselves at work, that would be a different story… but the Gigantes almost certainly know this, and are not likely to permit the Hierophant anywhere in the vicinity while they do their thing.

      Like

  2. Holy fuck, Masego!
    Emulating Seraphim Smiting? That’s going to be unpleasant for the Dead King’s armies.
    I’m not sure how I feel about it potentially being reproducible exclusively as a Light-working, though.

    Ah, Pickler, never change. Storming Keter is going to be a masterpiece for you. But I suspect Cat will want to involve you in designing and building Cardinal, which might be an even bigger endeavor, albeit probably with fewer explosions.

    I’m curious about what Akua’s going to do with Rapacious Troubadour, and even more certain that it’s going to end badly for him.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. caoimhinh

      It’s strange that Masego says that he watched the Ophanim.
      But it wasn’t they who were actually smithing someone over and over back at Lyonceau.
      The Seraphim were the ones striking there. The Ophanim only choked Kairos. True, they were planing to smite him, but didn’t.
      Whereas the Choir of Judgement carried out the action repeatedly in front of Masego and he was already leaving the place when the Choir of Mercy decided that a stronger approach to kill Kairos was necessary and was halted by Catherine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Earl of Purple

        You think he didn’t leave to get somewhere with a better view? Ground zero isn’t the best place to observe something like this. It’s everywhere you look, so wherever you look you’ll miss something. And you might not survive witnessing the detonation.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Could be… though it was said that he and the others evacuated the place, nothing else.

          But I mean, he was right there when the Choir of Judgement smited the Hierarch repeatedly, and the Choir of Mercy did NOT strike, Cat prevented them from that.

          So, it would make way more sense if Masego were saying that he got a good look at the Seraphim doing the smiting. Since not only was he there to closely observe it done in succession and detail, but the Ophanim explicitly didn’t do any huge smiting that day, they killed Kairos in a softer, more controlled way. They offed him by choking and them by throwing controlled jabs that made his blood boil and organs fail slowly while he kept monologing.

          This still revives the question of why the Seraphim were able to smite the Hierarch alone but apparently the Ophanim could not smite Kairos without putting the bystanders in danger, hence why Cat had to stop them.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Andrew Smith

            Didn’t Kairos die to a mass of light and he survived as long as he did by using his wish aspect and then giving a dying monologue.

            They tried to choke the Hierarch and story wise at least they were smiting Kairos and in fact did better at it as time went on.

            What I took was that smiting just Kairos he could block so they decided to do a stronger smite that would hit the entire temple because blocking that was beyond Kairos

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Earl of Purple

              No, Hierarch used Mend to survive the masses of Light blasting his body away, each blast bigger than the last- until he stepped through the blast to wherever the Choir lives. Kairos they tried to choke.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Andrew Smith

                Mercy to start with tried to choke Hierarch before Kairos Lied and so they were forced due to Story rules to Smite him first before they could help out Judgement in their stalemate of power.

                Rereading it not only do the Ophanim keep increasing how much power they use on Kairos they try to just area smite because he had no defence against such a smite but cat did and stopped them. They also refined their attempt at smiteing while in progress.

                So i could Imagine that gave far more information that the just repeated strikes which the seraphim were doing. Unlike the constant pressure of Mercy on Kairos

                Liked by 3 people

      2. Ben

        The Ophanim were going to strangle the Hierarch, but they seemed inclined to take a slightly less restrained approach with Kairos. The Hierophant had to actually take steps to prevent the Ophanim’s attack from killing everyone in attendance as collateral damage—Cat actually chides the Ophanim, saying that if they want to burn Kairos, go for it, but she’s not going to let them “burn half the rulers of the continent with him.”

        Liked by 4 people

  3. I’m loving all the interactions in this chapter.

    Talbot seems to be growing almost fond of working under Cat. At first he just wanted to fight for Callow and was willing to bear price that was obeying a Villain, but now it seems he genuinely enjoys and takes pride in his place in things.

    Pickler is yet another goblin who should have a Name, but in her case it’s more a case of why the hell does she not have a Name yet? We even get to see her almost directly compared to Masego, and I struggle to see a difference in their drives to succeed.

    Masego’s little project is utterly terrifying. Setting aside all the listed concerns, his whole story is about him becoming a god, but replicating divine power by siphoning off of another dimension is taking sixteen steps forward on that path. I’m ready to see his nuke in action, but I’m worried about the aftermath.

    Finally, I wonder if Akua’s attempting to turn Night into anti-magic? That’s the impression I’m getting from the emphasis on Night being a thieve’s tool and the name of that song.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. dadycoool

      Now that analysis of Akua’s actions is interesting. Light already resists magic, so Night absorbing it doesn’t feel particularly off the mark.

      Like

      1. Stories are made from the drive of the Named carving a groove into reality. Plus, arguably, Pickler and Masego have nearly identical stories. They are both savants head and shoulders above prodigies in a society devoted to their specialty, and they have an obsession to be the best and always do better. Pickler would be knocking down the gates to the Heavens and/or the Hells with a little more oomph behind her actions.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. > Stories are made from the drive of the Named carving a groove into reality.

          Especially newborn baby Sabah.

          No, Names are made from Roles, which are cultural archetypes. Masego is specifically a mage, an apprentice of the warlock, then a thief of miracles. Pickler is an engineer, which we specifically know doesn’t really have a defined groove because those usually get gnome’d, or be precise murked by people who don’t want to get gnome’d.

          Names aren’t made from exceptions, they’re made from rules. They’re rules about how exceptions work, but they’re still rules. If you’re doing a new thing, to get a Name out of it you need to get people telling stories about you.

          Nobody’s telling stories about Pickler. She’s an unsung hero, much like all the nameless Callowan and Lycaonese soldies holding the line – those don’t all get Names either.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Darkening

            The problem with that is that we’ve had Robber already defined as being a goblin cultural archetype as the perfect paragon of a man in goblin culture, which means he *should* have a Name by that definition.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Big Brother

            Remember, this was expressed REALLY early on in one of Black’s first lessons for Cat: Names are born from Cultural Archetypes. Goblin culture is really f*cking secretive. Would you be able to tell what a goblin Name is like, if it’s a Name born from an essentially unknown culture that’ll change it’s ENTIRE LANGUAGE because a couple words were translated?
            Nah, I say Pickler and Robber are already Named, just no one outside of goblin society knows it. We’ve already been told several times that Robber is OLD for a male goblin, past the usual life-span for them, and Villainous names have been shown to extend life indefinitely unless killed.
            Pickler’s probably a goblin variant of Engineer, and Robber… Honestly I’m not sure. Heckler? Scout? There’s also no way of knowing if goblin Named would ever enter into a Band of Five that had another race besides goblins in it.

            Only Named goblin I can think of was the Squire-claimant that Cat out down permanently in Liesse, an that was very much out of character for how every other goblin in story has acted.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Darkening

              Yeah, that goblin was very odd, with the orange skin and the extremely unusual choice to try for a praesi Name. Wonder if we’ll ever find out what Chider’s deal was. Probably not.

              Like

            2. > We’ve already been told several times that Robber is OLD for a male goblin, past the usual life-span for them

              You might be mistaking him for Ranker, Black’s old friend who was wayyyy too old and Black had no idea how.

              Robber is only now approaching goblin middle age. It’s somewhat unusual for a male goblin to survive that long, but it’s not past their natural lifespan; in fact, Robber is visibly aging in sync with his actual age, which Cat comments on.

              We have WoG that there are no Engineer type Names on Calernia.

              And yeah Chider was definitely unusual.

              (Maybe Robber has a heroic Name and that’s why he ages normally? ^^)

              Liked by 4 people

                1. Ranker was a Matron who have lifespan extensions, but she’s old even for them, and while some characters theorized it could be Black extending her life through alchemy, in his own POV he has no idea how she’s doing it. (And never asks because privacy and boundaries because Amadeus is precious)

                  Like

          3. caoimhinh

            You have been pushing for that for a lot of chapters. But Named are not forged only of stories. Stories are one factor, but they aren’t the only one and also aren’t necessary if other factors are present, and you don’t need others to talk about you to get a Name.

            I don’t recall where if it was said that Sabah had the Name of Cursed since birth. It was said that she had the curse since birth, because her whole bloodline has it, it’s an ancient curse, as stated in Extra Chapter: Beast, a Warlock put a curse on her bloodline a few centuries back, but when was it ever said she had the Name since birth?

            Some Names and Roles are easier to identify and say “that person stepped into this archetype” but others aren’t so clear cut. Like, remember when you kept saying that Names always had a job-related structure?

            To quote you: “Names are common nouns. Amadeus was a knight. Vivienne was a thief. Malicia is an empress. Hanno is a knight. Antigone is a witch. Tariq is a pilgrim. Hakram is an adjutant. Masego is a hierophant. Cat was a squire. Indrani is an archer. Roland is a sorcerer. Kairos was a tyrant. William was a swordsman…
            There is grammar to this language, people.”

            Yet we also have Names such as Red Axe, Blade of Mercy, Painted Knife, and Sword of the Free, which do not accommodate to that.
            So, keep in mind that just because we observe a general trend, it doesn’t mean that it is an absolute rule.

            Some Names don’t require much on the person, simply satisfying certain conditions, such as killing the previous Dread Emperor to get the Name. We could speculate this is because the person “steps into the Role” by claiming the Tower, but the fact that the people didn’t require a story on their backs, fame, or powerful will to claim the Name was likely the cause that so many Dread Emperors were the laughing stock of Calernia for centuries before Malicia took the throne.

            But there are also new Names that don’t have cultural backgrounds, and instead are paving a new ground, like Hakram becoming Adjutant. He’s the first orc to get a Name in centuries, it’s a new Name, and he got it far before he got any renown or story behind him, Catherine was just starting as a Squire back then.

            Sabah transitioned from Cursed to Captain not because there was a cultural archetype or story she was following, but because of her own personal story.

            Vivienne too, got her Name of Thief without any recognition or cultural significance, but rather because of her own personal quest. This was significant because the moment she concluded that “quest” she no longer identified herself as Thief and lost the Name (at least this is her and Cat’s interpretation of the matter, given how she lost the Name despite having restored her faith in herself).

            Consider William’s Name of Lone Swordsman and how he got it. He didn’t have a story backing him for that Name, though his personal story got him the attention of the Choir of Contrition, which in turn made him a Named (though his Name and Role weren’t really connected to his story).

            Some Names are formed by fame and repetition in people’s mouths, like Cat almost becoming Black Queen because that was how everyone was calling her, Warden of the West almost becoming a Name rather than just a title due to Cordelia, or how Akua transitioned from Heiress to Diabolist by making it so she was known for being a Named diabolist.

            So do not reject possibilities so easily. All is possible in this story.

            TL:DR: In summary, there are multiple factors that can be involved in getting a Name, these factors include willpower, bravery, fame, a story setting, cultural significance or background, and a personal quest for discovery or meaning. HOWEVER, the lack of one or more of these factors does not mean a Name can’t be obtained.
            Also, you can be a claimant to a Name by having one of the above characteristics, remember Book 1, where there were 4 claimants for Squire and Cat had to kill them all to get it. One of them was a Goblin, too.
            And I would argue that the Sapper-General of Callow, the foremost goblin fighting in the war against the Hidden Horror, lead inventor of the new generation of siege engines that were developed for the Tenth Crusade and the War on Keter, daughter of the first Goblin Lady of Praes, and the most influential female Goblin in all of Callow, has A LOT of more renown and story-backing than what Chider ever had or dreamed to have.

            If she has the drive and the event comes when she has to face great battles where she must push her skill and life to the limit for the sake of victory, she could very well get a Name.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. > Stories are one factor, but they aren’t the only one and also aren’t necessary if other factors are present, and you don’t need others to talk about you to get a Name.

              No, actually, stories are the one factor completely and absolutely necessary. Why do you think otherwise?
              We have WoG saying Catherine cannot be the Grey Knight because there’s no cultural impetus for this kind of Name in Calernia. I think I could rustle up some more but that’s the first one that comes to mind that explicitly says that.

              As for Sabah,
              > I raised an eyebrow. “Your Name was easier?”
              >
              > “I was born into mine, back when I was the Cursed,” she grunted. “By the time I became the Captain, no one was dumb enough to challenge me for it.”

              https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/chapter-seven-sword/

              > To quote you: “Names are common nouns. Amadeus was a knight. Vivienne was a thief. Malicia is an empress. Hanno is a knight. Antigone is a witch. Tariq is a pilgrim. Hakram is an adjutant. Masego is a hierophant. Cat was a squire. Indrani is an archer. Roland is a sorcerer. Kairos was a tyrant. William was a swordsman…
              >
              > There is grammar to this language, people.”
              >
              > Yet we also have Names such as Red Axe, Blade of Mercy, Painted Knife, and Sword of the Free, which do not accommodate to that.

              Ok yeah that’s a very good point. There are Names that only work as nicknames. There’s still more to it, but I’ll grant you that this one was not a very accurate statement.

              > But there are also new Names that don’t have cultural backgrounds, and instead are paving a new ground, like Hakram becoming Adjutant.

              Adjutant absolutely has a cultural background, though. Sure it wasn’t a Name before, but the word “adjutant” referred to a specific, whole idea of what someone is like already. It was already a Role – imagine a simplistic play, or improv, or something like that, where people get assigned roles – you can imagine one named “the adjutant”, right?

              I’ll grant you that this matches Robber the macho goblin as well, in theory, so that’s a good point there actually. Still, there’s a lot of wiggle room for exactly how defined that archetype is, and whether or not there’s a single word that can encompass it (not every Role has a Name to it).

              I will reiterate that a Name absolutely requires a story, there is however a lot of flexibility to what “a story” means in the setting.

              It’s pretty clear why Robber wouldn’t have a Name, even though it wouldn’t be weird if he had one, either. I feel like “the macho goblin” is kind of weak-ass compared to Hakram the perfect adjutant – Robber might be a teeny tiny bit overhyped in the fandom.

              As for
              “the Sapper-General of Callow, the foremost goblin fighting in the war against the Hidden Horror, lead inventor of the new generation of siege engines that were developed for the Tenth Crusade and the War on Keter, daughter of the first Goblin Lady of Praes, and the most influential female Goblin in all of Callow,”
              how many people actually know (and care in any way) about her existence???? The upper military echelons, yes, and I’m sure the average Grand Alliance soldier would vaguely know there’s someone like that doing something, but until there’s a story spreading around that people actually care to tell and listen to, there’s not a Name to it.

              I’ll not deny it’s possible, but it needs to be known for a new Name to come into being.

              (Much easier for an existent Name – no-one needs to even know you match the groove, it’s already there and you don’t need to form a new one)

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Nah

                As far as possible Names for Robber go, Sardonic Lackey or Vicious Scout both sound a hell of a lot more likely than Macho Goblin, which would be nearly as bad as Snarky Lesser Footrest.

                Like

                1. Honestly, that’s the thing about Robber: he has a lot of stuff going on, between the macho goblin-ness, the scouting, the relationship with Catherine, the complicated relationship with his native culture and the like. They are additive for the purpose of the readers liking him, but they don’t add up to a single coherent Role as they work in-universe.

                  Liked by 1 person

              2. magesbe

                And how many people knew about the Thief’s existence before she got her Name? If the number of people was higher than the number of people who know about Pickler, I’d be somewhat surprised. Clearly Vivienne was well known enough for Assassin to warn her off, but she didn’t seem to have built up any kind of legend about herself.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. If Thief were a new groove, if there had never been a Named Thief before Vivienne, this would have been relevant.

                  But the groove was already there. There were already stories about great thieves; Vivienne didn’t need it to be known that she fit one to slip into it.

                  I go into greater explanation of how it works here:

                  (check out also the post linked at the start of that one)

                  Like

          4. > Especially newborn baby Sabah.

            Sabah certainly had a groove, just not one that she herself had created. Rather, the warlock who’d cursed her family had laid out a story-groove to catch and trap the family’s children (probably one per generation). The “family curse” is a classic story even in our own world — indeed, it’s one that I have personally experienced, courtesy of heritable mood disorders.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I don’t think the warlock laid the groove. I think that warlock high key didn’t intend to give the targets of the curse power, but the curse itself fit an existing groove well enough that it came with a Name even to newborns.

              That groove you mentioned, yeah.

              Like

        2. agumentic

          You can etch a new groove/cultural archetype into reality with your own actions, but beyond will, they also need to greatly affect both the world and the minds of people living in it. So, if Pickler builds great machines which break Keter’s walls before the assembled armies, she could get a name Machinist or whatever, but just inventing normal siege engines is not going to cut it.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Lady Serpentine

            Pickler’s certainly making a stir with copperstones; “First person to successfully put Light in an engine, her methods proven against the Dead King” is probably better known.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. edrey

    Stars from the sky, i think is related to the second terriblis, i dont remenber the chapter but it was about plucking stars from the sky was greater honor than born under it. Using Night with that song is really poetic in certain way

    Liked by 9 people

  5. Djinn O'Cide

    While the title of this chapter is probably another chess reference, which you can Google if you’d like, I prefer to think of it as an ice-hockey reference, where you pick your stick up off the ice, hold it in both hands, and smack the guy on the other team with the shaft.

    It’s a penalty, unfortunately, but usually worth it anyway…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dadycoool

    It feels so good to see Pickler do a dozen calculations in her head in the time it takes to analyze that little bit of mud.

    Poor Cat, having to deal with Masego and Tariq working together to puzzle out a Smiting. I could barely breathe as the implications were beginning to dawn on her.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Some Smartass

    It’s honestly for the best that some of the ways decisions made in this war bite people in the ass are to the heroes’ advantage. They’ll try to flip the table less if they can get their licks in.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    their burden > the burden
    simpler the > simpler than the
    pedestals > pedestal
    other combination > other combinations
    scrum water > scum water
    land an attempt > land and attempt
    wilds, the > wilds; the
    as the charged > as they charged
    either care to > either cared to
    I’m no doing > I’m not doing
    was awe > was awed
    reduce the Cigelin Sisters (missing words)
    filled to burst > filled to bursting
    be stand with > be standing with
    Goods might > Good might
    no guaranteed > no guarantee
    work?” I asked > work?” I asked.
    limped at and > limped away and
    request if > request of
    at the thoughts > at the thought
    if nor for > if not for
    every number mean > every number
    working and Night > working in Night
    you to your > you at your

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As always, I couldn’t fucking BREATHE for the Masego part of the chapter.

    People who thought Akua was going to betray Cat using the Troubadour: technically this doesn’t disprove the theory categorically. That said, we have the Unspoken Plan Guarantee now…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sinead

      I just realised that from someone’s comment on Akua and Cat actively flirting with each other that Akua’s basically Killianx10,000 in terms of Cat’s attraction/issues with them.

      Cat couldn’t handle Killian just sacrificing a few people on death row to just advance her own ambitions, while Akua has the entirety of Leisse. Combined with being talented mages that love showing off to Cat with their own knowledge (not saying that it’s uncommon, but it is a parallel).

      Liked by 3 people

  10. ninegardens

    I…. am really worried that these two rituals (with very different fuel sources) are going to interfere with one another in some way…

    Or, (against the hidden horror) potentially give Nessie some way to strike back at Akua.

    Also, it sounds like she is planning to usurp control of the dead?

    Like

    1. I like to think that neither Masego nor Akua are braindead, which is to say it would be a bit too stupid for the tone guide is taking here for them to fail at basic coordination, especially when Cat knows about both.

      Like, that’s a dramatic plot twist that would be appropriate in some narrative contexts, but really really not this one.

      Note also the Unspoken Plan Guarantee for what Akua’s doing.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Lady Serpentine

      Masego and Akua know each other, like each other okay, and are probably the two foremost practitioners of sorcery on the continent – they know to coordinate.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Crowleu

    Loved reading Masego reaching for new horizons of heresy. His lunacy in the last chapters has been delightful, Papa Warlock would be proud. Aqua scheming something once again, not sure if i’m anxious or looking forward to it.
    With all this buildup for a small battle, leading to a retreat and a following last stand, I can’t help but feel something will go wrong. Hope to be proven wrong
    Also, I keep hoping after the retreat we get a few interludes with Abigail at the Cigelin Sisters. Abigail and Scribe were the duo I never thought i needed until it occured.

    Typo thread below, feel free to add.

    would allowed-> would allow
    an attempt an encirclement->and attempt an encirclement
    as the charged under-> as they charged under
    I was awe-> I was in awe
    no guaranteed-> no guarantee
    working and Night-> working with Night

    Like

    1. agumentic

      Yeah, I am not feeling it. Some betrayal-shaped move from Akua might happen in the future as she trashes about on which slope to follow (even if I don’t think she will have it in her to really follow through), but this story doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen now. Akua already had several opportunities to simply break free, after all, and choose her current life instead.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Darkening

        The real question is what her inner cats will look like. Will Evil Cat still look like a grizzled merc, with Good Cat as some kind of priestess, or will Evil Cat just be her, with Good Cat as some kind of Good Queen of Callow like she got offered the one time?

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Trebar

            Evil Cat is her as Dread Empress, ruling the entire continent of Calernia with an iron fist so that peace can finally be obtained, but then taking a Red Letter from the Gnomes as a declaration of war and so escalating once again.

            Liked by 2 people

  12. Daniel E

    Even if the ensuing battle is meant as bait/setup, an old-fashioned ‘heroic last stand’ will be fun, and we have yet to see what Adjutant & Apprentice’s project is. Oh, and before I forget; Gods be with you, Boots the horse. I’m rooting for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Loved the tactical stuff in the beginning, it reminded me just how much this story excels in military world-building.

    Masego’s scene had me laughing out loud. But also the implications of being able to smite with Light along and no choir involved is, uh, *super freaking relevant* for Hanno’s character arc and I am riveted to this seemingly humorous scene’s implications.

    Akua is, as always, incredibly hot and it’s always amusing to see Catherine notice that a lot. It’s more interesting though to see that Cat’s *finally* had a modicum of magical theory drummed into her head.

    Now to see how all the pieces you’ve so masterfully set up play out. The mundane defenses and artillery, some secular smiting of … I’m going to guess Revenants?, and whatever the hell Akua is going to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Adding a separate comment about this because I haven’t seen anyone else mention it-

    Does anyone else think that the ability to smite without a choir’s involvement might be *super* important in Hanno’s coming character arc about learning who he is and what his Role is in the absence of the Choir of Justice?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Nah, it sounds like it’s the sort of thing that becomes a reward for snapping out of his funk. As soon as he decides to step up, he’s like “Show me how that smiting thing works – I have some smiting to do.”

        Like

  15. IDKWhoitis

    When a Praesi mage sings about “Stars from the Sky” why am I thinking of meteors and other magical explosives being flung about that leaves the mind shrieking in existential horror?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Moodprint

    Here is my 2 cents on the topic of goblins being Named. I am convinced some of them are. We have seen Robber sneak in to heavely warded places and survive impossible situations. We have seen Pickler build new extraordinary inventions, and make fortresses out of mudbanks.
    I am also convinced that goblin Names work a little different than the ones we are used to, and that we will never se a confirmed goblin Named. Names are i product of stories and culture. The whole thing about goblin culture is secrecy. It is only logical that the goblins as a society would do anything to keep their Names and Named a secret from outsiders, and I can imagine that goblin Names would come with special powers that help them hide their Names from outsiders. Because that is what fits goblin stories.

    I have always suspected goblin names (smaller case n) to look so similar to the Names we see, to act as camoflage. Robber is a goblin name.. or Name?

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      1. shikkarasu

        What I find incredibly interesting is that it wasn’t Chider who had the hiding Aspect, but Rashid the Forgettable. It could always be that Name-hiding is more of a non-Aspect part of Goblin Names and Chider was aiming for a Human Name (Squire), or that Chider was trying to make a point and choosing not to hide(as was her almost character arc), but I still find myself thinking about that detail.

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        1. Moodprint

          I think Chider was a special case. I think that goblin Names all have some kind of Name-hiding. Just like Villain Names come with the abillity to stop age, and hero Names come with the plot-amor providence guidance thing. Its a general theme for those Names. goblin society is so focused on secrecy, it makes sense for goblin Names to have an affinity for secrecy.
          Goblin Names would also explain goblin fire.

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