Chapter 74: Herald

“It is not the grand choices of our lives that determine who we are. It is the small acts of small days, the quiet kindnesses and cruelties, that shape us like a smith’s hammer. And when those grand choices come calling we are already formed, already shaped, and we understand that it was never really a choice at all.”

– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

I’d returned to the cheesemonger guildhall with what I believed to be pretty sensible hopes.

By now Adjutant ought to have gotten the first set of wards anchored around the property and the watches set up, so I’d be able to steal a few seats and drag my friends into the solar for our first homecoming in much, much too long. A quiet evening before the storm blew in would do us all some good. Instead as I limped my way down the cobblestone road leading to the hall, cloaked under a veil of Night, I found that the place was swarming with activity. Wagons were being dragged by oxen into the estate, some filled with live chickens and the occasional goat while others were crammed fit to burst with barrels bearing the seal of my army’s ale rations.

Soldiers and officers from both armies that’d come to the capital were all over the grounds, seated at tables or on dead grass, talking and drinking and eating their fill. A few pits had been dug and pigs were roasting as well as a few birds, while sergeants stood by open ale barrels and marked tankards with red stripes after filling them – making sure no one emptied a keg on the own, I figured. Magelights had been put up, hanging from ropes crisscrossing the grounds, and braziers had been spread around to beat back the coolness of the night. It looked like a festival, honestly, and pretty rowdy one.

Some fighting circles were already emerging, greenskins and humans brawling under the eager shouts and bets of their fellows, and some mages had set up a pair of tables for an old Wasteland sparring game called achoma – kettleburn, in Lower Miezan. It was a Legion favourite, since all you needed to play it was six small cauldrons and five marbles. Two teams of three mages were trying to shoot the marbles into the cauldrons of the other side, using only low-grade fireball spells to both attack and defend. Anyone whose cauldron got scored on had to take a drink, which meant games tended to end with a need for healing by a still-sober practitioner.

To my amusement, I saw that some boys and girls from the House Insurgent had dragged up tables of their own and were trying to mimic the game using Light tricks instead. Mind you, what drew the crowds wasn’t any of those but the unholy melding of my own people’s proclivity for open-air plays and puppet shows during fairs and the goblin tradition of takha. A Taghreb word, that, since the Tribes had unsurprisingly never shared their own for it. It meant ‘jeer’ and stood for the way goblins tended to put on farces making fun of other people’s traditions, typically stealing the structure of an already existing play or story and then twisting it into a parody of itself.

Blending my people’s tendency for spite and the typical goblin fearlessness in mockery had birthed shows like the one I was currently looking at. They were called trick plays, or sometimes ‘Barber and Edward’ plays after the two characters that were a recurring motif in every show: the cunning goblin sergeant Barber, whose beauty always caused suitors to swarm after her, and morose young squire Edward, who always ended up winning and then losing a fortune before the end of the show because of his need to settle every slight. The two of them always ended up triumphing over the damned foreigners, usually by getting one of Barber’s suitors killed and Edward sacrificing his latest gain to screw over his latest enemy.

And so, surrounded by a drunk and cheering crowd, half a dozen Callowans and goblins were putting up a play on a table that, by the sounds of it, claimed to be a recreation of the Princes’ Graveyard. Gods, I really hoped there weren’t any Procerans or Levantines around. Trick plays did tend to be harsher on nobles than soldiers, but they weren’t kind on anybody. Not even me. In at least one of them, set after the Folly, Barber stumbled onto ‘me’ having nicked the standards of the Sixth Legion and painting them blue to use them for the Army of Callow, hoping no one would notice.

Which, you know, fair.

“- so we should just cut them!” a goblin wearing a tabard shouted.

Half the audience shouted it with her, as it was apparently a recurrent line, and I realized with a start that she was supposed to be the Saint of Swords. The real laughter came when the ‘Saint’ turned towards the ‘Pilgrim’ and found him asleep again, though, having failed to notice Edward stealing his staff with the intention of pawning it off to some Procerans. It uh, wasn’t an interpretation of the Graveyard real flattering to anyone who wasn’t part of the Army of Callow. There was a swift scene change, with a mage tainting the magelight green instead of blue to signify it, and I was treated to the sight of the Tyrant of Helike – played by a young Liessen girl – duelling one of his own gargoyles as played by a grizzled sapper.

The both of them, I grasped from context, sought Sergeant Barber’s hand in marriage. I smothered a laugh, still under my veil. The wretch would actually have gotten a kick out of that, I figured. I lingered long enough for the Tyrant and the gargoyle to defeat each other in a draw and was about to leave when the scene was changed once more and Edward ran into a cloaked shape, dropping the staff and when picking it up accidentally taking up the other person’s instead when he scampered off. Wait, that was a patchwork cloak even if the colours were faded. And a staff?

“I swear I’ve seen this somewhere before,” the Black Queen on the stage observed as she looked at the Pilgrim’s staff, to the hooting laughter of the crowd.

My character then proceeded to go through an overlarge laundry list of foes real and imagined it could belong to, always with a second line dismissing why it couldn’t be them. I couldn’t help but smile when it came to the Lone Swordsman and the line went ‘alas, ‘tis too long a stick to have been the one up his arse’. Meanwhile Edward, on the other side of the stage, lost ‘my’ staff while in a panic and began deploring his upcoming executions by various methods in between foe couplets declaimed by the Black Queen. It ended with him imploring whatever Gods might be listening to bring the staff back, which a goblin with hands painted black making crow noises seemed about to answer.

On a whim, I drew on Night and wove two shades of darkness into crows. I passed them my staff of yew and let them fly, dropping it on Edward’s head. The crowd went utterly silent.

“And don’t lose it this time,” I sternly spoke through the Night, before unmaking the crows.

Half the actors looked like they weren’t sure whether they should be awed or terrified, but the crowd was not so ambivalent: there was a deafening roar of approval, followed by cheering. The play was waylaid for a bit, and with a satisfied smirk I left them to it. I’d send someone to get the staff back later, but there was no harm in it serving as a prop for a bit. Drifting away from the crowd, my attention was caught by a figure at the outskirts of it. Wearing a hooded cloak, it was lingering at the edges and sniffing about as if looking for someone – but never actually looking at people, as far as I could tell. The silhouette was hard to make out under the cloak, but those careful steps I knew well. I extended the Night veil to cover the both of us after hobbling close, which was nit immediately noticed.

“Taking a walk, Vivienne?” I idly asked.

She didn’t start, or even look particularly surprised, which kind of took the fun out of it. Bringing down her hood, she shot me a put-upon look.

“I had people waiting for you on the road, but you never showed up,” she accused.

I shrugged.

“Got curious,” I said, and gestured at the festivities around us. “Your doing, I take it?”

“It’s been a long war,” Vivienne said. “And it’ll get dangerous to cut loose when the dead start arriving.”

Fair enough. I wouldn’t begrudge my people a night of rejoicing, even if I’d not been the one to order it. With the supply wagons coming in through the Ways, we could afford to bite into our reserves a bit.

“It’s a good call,” I said. “Maillac’s Boot was rough on the Third, and the Fourth has known little but Twilight and battle for a month.”

“Hakram described that one as a little more than just rough,” she grimaced. “And General Hune dying’s a blow. I know you weren’t close, but…”

My fingers clenched. It wasn’t always about closeness or friendship. If people stuck with you through long hardships, sometimes that alone was enough to be a bond. I’d trusted Hune, even while aware her allegiance was not deep, because I’d known her in ways I now knew the leading figures of the Army of Callow less and less. The circle that’d come up with me through the ranks was dying off.

“If we look back, all there is to find is ghosts,” I quietly said. “Forward we go, lest they catch up.”

The sounds and lights of the feast reached us through the veil of Night, muted as if belonging to another realm entirely. I sighed.

“I need a drink,” I said.

“That I can provide,” Vivienne amusedly said. “Brought a crate of Vale summer wine, too.”

“You give the best bribes,” I praised.

“You’re just a cheap date,” she snorted, linking her arm with mine. “Even the wakeleaf’s not that expensive, for a royal vice.”

I smiled, both at the repartee and the subtle way she’d made herself into a support for my bad leg now what that I’d leant out my staff.

“You’ve seen the treasury, Viv,” I drawled, “if I were an expensive drunk, Mercantis would own the country by now.”

“I like to think that, as a kingdom, we could afford to help you drown yourself in at least second-rate wines,” Vivienne solemnly replied. “That it what it means to be a patriot, Catherine.”

My lips quirked. I’d missed this more than I’d realized. Even after we’d settled some of the tensions between us at the Arsenal, there’d not been much time to spend together. And while most of the Woe had been with the army since the campaign began, I’d spent most of my hours in war councils, fighting or scheming – with a lot less of a reprieve for sleeping than was probably healthy. It was Hakram I’d seen the most, and over the last few months that relationship had grown… complicated in ways it’d not been when we were younger. From the corner of my eye I noted we were drawing away from the lights, past the guildhall itself and into the adjoining property.

“So where is it you’re taking me?” I asked.

“We made a fire,” she easily said. “Indrani found a good place and Hakram gathered everyone.”

My steps stuttered. Even leaning against her arm that led to a painful twinge, so I pull Night from the veil to smooth the sensation away as I gathered myself.

“Cat, are you all right?” Vivienne asked.

I nodded jerkily, righting myself up. I couldn’t quite grasp why that had blindsided me so much. It was the first night in ages we were all in the same place, it was only natural we’d have a fire. If I’d not been busy speaking the White Knight and the Pilgrim, I would likely have arranged one myself. Maybe that was it, I thought. Had we ever had one of these without my arranging it before? I couldn’t recall a single instance. It wasn’t like I should feel insulted by this, and I didn’t, it was just… I breathed out, somehow gladdened and saddened at the same time.

“You don’t usually keep your thoughts to yourself like this,” Vivienne said.

She tried to make the tone a teasing one, but it did not seep all the way through. I was smelling smoke and our steps had brought out as the edge of a cove of dead trees and skeletal bushes, so we couldn’t be far. I could almost see the fire’s light, the shadows it cast against the darkness.

“You ever feel like the world’s passing you by?” I quietly asked.

Our steps slowed, and she slid her arm out of mine. Smoke came on the wind, and the distant sound of talk and laughter. I could see the edges of the warm light, licking at the dark we were still cloaked in. It touched the side of Vivienne’s face, framing its shape. The dainty nose and heart-shaped chin, the cheeks that had lost some of the hollowness they’d born when she was still the Thief. And those piercing blue-grey eyes, considering me in silence.

“I used to,” she said, leaning back against the tree. “After joining the Woe. I didn’t know it, at first, because there were always so many things to learn, to do, to see. But it sunk, in eventually.”

“Not anymore, though?”

She smiled.

“I figured out what I want to do,” Vivienne said. “It was easier, before we met. I didn’t need to think, not really – I knew the Lone Swordsman was a hero, so his cause was just. If I fought for that cause then, I would be just as well. There was no need to look further.”

“A lot of the things he wanted were good,” I softly admitted. “I just didn’t think his way of getting them would work.”

“That’s always the trouble, isn’t?” Vivienne ruefully smiled. “The means. Everyone likes the dream, but no one can agree on how to get there.”

“Didn’t you?” I asked.

She snorted, shook her head.

“I know I want to see our home safe and happy and prosperous,” Vivienne said. “And I figured out, before it was too late, that being the Thief wasn’t going to help me with any of it. Once I knew who I wasn’t, it just… didn’t seem to matter as much that I didn’t know who I was.”

She leaned her head back, against the bark, looking up at the night sky.

“I wasn’t going against the current anymore,” she murmured. “I wasn’t drowning.”

Though her lips quirked into a smile, it was mirthless.

“Hakram saved my life, that night where he cut off his hand,” Vivienne said. “He shocked me out the nightmare. And every time I felt the urge to go back, to dismiss it, I saw the blood again. The bone and the flesh. And words can lie, Cat, but not those.”

We let the silence lie between us for a moment, almost comfortable.

“I don’t think I can do this for strangers,” I quietly admitted. “Maybe when I was young and it still burned in me, the knowledge that I was right and I was going to fix it… maybe back then it was enough, just the principles. The ideal. But now it’s the people that bear me through it, and with every year there’s a few less.”

My fingers clenched.

“You are bearing me through this,” I said, “and it is breaking your backs.”

And at the end of the road, what will I find? I did not voice did, did not dare to, but terror coiled in my guts like a snake as the thought came unbidden. A world of strangers, and a graveyard where everyone I ever loved lies sleeping the dreamless sleep. Vivienne learned forward and slowly reached up her hand. I froze, wondering if she was going to cup my cheek, but instead she flicked my nose. I started in surprise and outrage, wrinkling it.

“Don’t be so arrogant,” Vivienne Dartwick chided me.  “Do you think the banner’s yours just because you raised it, Catherine?”

My mouth closed. I was taken aback enough to be speechless, for once.

“We’ve all stayed with you for our own reasons,” she said. “For oaths or causes, because we believe in the woman or the dream, because we have our own pride. You don’t get to take that from us, Cat. It never belonged to you.”

“It’ll get you killed,” I hoarsely replied.

“There are things worth dying for,” she calmly said. “It’s not all on your shoulders, Cat.”

She looked at the light of the campfire in the distance, the drifting sounds of what seemed to be Indrani loudly singing. I followed her gaze.

“Sometimes other people can light the fire,” Vivienne gently told me. “You’re not the only one it keeps warm.”

She offered up her hand, slowly, and like a lost child I took it. She tugged me along, and as the veil of Night fell I let her take me home.

“- you take that back,” Robber said, tone deadly serious. “Sallastus?Really, Sallastus?”

Akua Sahelian, somehow making a fallen log look like a sofa to lounge on, cocked an imperious eyebrow.

“His comedies were among the finest Miezan works that remain to us,” she replied.

“Oh Gods,” Indrani said, grinning like a loon, “you actually sound defensive.”

I pulled at my bottle – like most evenings whose bounty was arranged by Archer, it was heavy on bottles but low on cups – and shared a look with Pickler, who was rolling her eyes. It was always unsettling on a goblin face, especially at night when their eyes got somewhat luminous.

“I hate it when they talk theatre,” I told my Sapper-General. “I don’t know half the names.”

“My mother made me read some plays so I wouldn’t look like a fool if I participated in a takha,” Pickler admitted, “but I always despised the stuff. I might as well have spent the time clipping my nails, at least it’d have improved my life somewhat.”

She was drinking from a tankard of dark beer that was about as large as human head, and so a significant chunk of her chest, which someone had painted the side of with a very nice, if threadbare, rendition of a human being set on fire.  There were also notches around the rim, which I decided not to think too much about. There were a lot more than I’d anticipated.

“Neither of you have a speck of culture in you,” Hakram mourned, seated to my side. “It’s sad what this army has come to.”

“You read Proceran bodice rippers,” I sneered. “I take no commentary on taste from you at all, buddy.”

“Gobbler, Hakram, why?” Pickler asked him, sounding genuinely puzzled. “It’d be like reading about mountain goats mating, only with pretensions of sentiment.”

“Hey,” I objected.

“No, she has a point,” Masego noted.

“- Augustina?” Akua hissed, sounding outraged. “Perhaps if you want to hear Aulius Blandus’ verses as butchered by a second rate-”

A heartbeat passed, eyes moving towards the irritated-looking orc.

“Hierophant’s a member of an Ashuran love cult,” Hakram revealed, shamelessly betraying a comrade.

“I am?” Masego asked, sounding surprised.

Vivienne coughed, sounding a little embarrassed.

“It is possible as fee was paid in your name so you might be added to the rolls of the Covenant of Gasping Ecstasy,” she admitted.

Indrani, leaning her head backwards over Vivienne’s shoulder, wiggled her eyebrows.

“All right, you now have my undivided attention,” Archer announced. “Continue.”

“Tell me you didn’t use treasury funds for that,” I begged.

There was a beat of silence.

“It was from Indrani’s pay, she’s still stealing it,” Hakram said.

“Hakram, you treacherous whore,” Vivienne cursed, as I began laughing convulsively. “I knew it was a mistake to bring you into this.”

Indrani, not unexpectedly, was more amused than offended by the fact that Vivienne had continued robbing her for years. It wasn’t like she usually touched the coin I had kept in her name, anyways. Masego cleared his throat, cutting though my snickers and Vivienne’s continued tongue lashing. Indrani flopped gracelessly over Vivienne, landing on the dark-haired lady’s lap and then extending an empty hand – only for Masego to fill it with her bottle without even turning to look.

“Are there obligations attached?” he seriously asked. “I do not want to be a feckless associate.”

“He’s right,” Archer approved. “What did I even pay for? There better be naked parts.”

“I don’t believe participation in the yearly pleasure festival is mandatory,” Vivienne said.

“Are you quite sure?” Indrani hopefully asked.

“The priests have their sermons compiled every few years,” Adjutant told Zeze. “I’ll try to get you one of the scrolls.”

“That is very kind of you,” Masego beamed, but then his expression turned shifty. “Though am I to understand that as a trick this is an acceptable specimen?”

“For a human, maybe,” Robber said. “Not enough blood.”

“I am human,” Zeze helpfully reminded him. “Good, then. How might I go about making Adanna of Smyrna a member?”

Indrani, useless as always, began belly laughing and even Vivienne couldn’t hide a smirk. Neither of the goblins were inclined to intervene and I’d recently been informed that Hakram was a treacherous whore, so that left either me or Akua. I glanced at her, finding her looking mightily amused and very much disinclined to help.

“Zeze,” I said. “That, er, might be misinterpreted.”

He looked at me in surprise.

“How?”

“You’d be trying to make her part of a love cult of which you are also part,” I slowly said.

Indrani contributed a gestured that, while accurately representing what I was getting at, was very much less than helpful.

“This is why I call you a wench,” I told her.

“Ugh,” Masego said, wrinkling his nose. “How could anyone make that mistake? She is terrible. And she must know she is, as I frequently tell her so.”

Yeah, I had no trouble believing that. The frequent screaming matches were something of a hint.

“I do believe it is possible for Ashuran citizens to become parts of a prestigious ship’s crew in an honorary manner,” Akua idly said. “On occasion even ships that have sunk. Perhaps that might make a more fitting present, Hierophant.”

“Oh,” Masego muttered, “it would be as if I were telling her to go to the bottom of the sea. That is clever.”

He actually seemed pretty enthusiastic at the prospect of trying to get one over the Blessed Artificer, which was kind of heartwarming in a very Praesi way. The conversation drifted towards some of the more elaborate slights we’d seen dealt out over the years, something Robber was quite interested in arguing with the rest of us, and Vivienne eventually got tired of Archer being sprawled over her so she pushed her to the ground. Pickler had moved to sit on the other side of Hakram to discuss something about a fellow War College student I’d never known who’d recently gotten promoted back in Praes, so Vivienne slid into the spot by my side with a bottle of her own in hand. I offered up mine and we toasted, drinking down.

“I’m surprised we’re all here,” I said afterwards, eyes flicking on the other side of the fire.

Akua was telling a story about some ancestor of hers who’d drowned a Stygian slaver in melted slave chains, to the vocal approval of some around our circle.

“It’s out of my hands,” Vivienne murmured. “And I have made my peace with it.”

I hid my surprise. Forgiveness was not something either of us would ever offer over the Doom of Liesse, so I was not sure of her meaning. She must have sensed my uncertainty.

“I don’t deal in absolution,” she said. “Not for me, not for you, and certainly not for her. The Folly must and will have an answer. But it’s not for me to decide what it will be.”

She half-smiled at me.

“You’ve trusted me with a lot, Catherine,” Vivienne said. “And it’s not a tie that goes only one way. I trust you with this – I believe you’ll see justice done, in the end, or something like it.”

“I have you an oath, once,” I quietly said.

“I relieve you of it,” she said, without a speck of hesitation.

I went still with surprise, which had her smiling.

“What good would it to, for me to demand her suffering?” Vivienne murmured. “Would it unmake the tears of a single orphan, mend a single inch of blighted land? Liesse was lost, and all who dwelled within it, but I’ll not chase vengeance of healing.”

“I have not forgotten the Doom,” I said.

“I don’t expect you will,” she said. “It lingers in your dreams more than mine. Worry not of me, Catherine, when you see to this. I would be quite the fool, to need twice to learn the lesson that no amount of taking can ever set things right.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to answer to that. It felt like getting her blessing, somehow, but also like she was… washing her hands of it. As if it no longer concerned her. Troubled and yet dimly relieved, I sunk back into the warmth of the conversation instead. It was not long before my bottle was empty and the smile back on my face, the ebb and flow of conversation with old friends filling me whole. The hours passed, long into the night, and most of us stayed around the fire instead of returning to the guildhall. Indrani had brought blankets, and though Robber disappeared into the dark it was only after tucking in a very drunk Pickler affectionately. I drifted into sleep easily, but woke while it was still dark. There were still hours left until dawn, Sve Noc’s first gift told me.

I tried to stay under the blankets, by the dying embers of the fire, but I got restless. Taking care not to wake anyone I snuck away, finding my staff propped up against a tree not far. I couldn’t remember if I’d actually asked Hakram to see to that, but I suspected that even if I had not the dead yew would have turned up on its own. It was not an artefact, not exactly, but it was not a simple staff either. With the moon hung in the sky above us and a cool wind beginning to blow, I found my steps leading me to the guildhall. Not to find a bed, no, but to seek another old friend: the roof. It was flat atop, easy to tread, and easier still to limp to the edge.

I could not see the great valley that’d be spread out below around the plateau, but I could fix it in my mind’s eye. I breathed out and learned forward, as if tempting the fall. The streak of ice, that fear I would never entirely master, came as bidden. Like an old friend. Not the only one, though friend was not the right word for her.

“Do you still have the dream?” Akua softly asked.

I’d not heard her come, but I had known it. We were bound, she and I, had been since I ripped her heart out of her chest and stole her soul. Though she was next to me, I did not turn.

“Yes,” I murmured. “Though I came here, I think, because I am curious.”

“Of what?”

“If you stand at the edge of the cliff a hundred times, or a hundred times that,” I said. “Does the fear ever go away?”

I felt her gaze on me.

“Does it?” Akua asked.

I half-smiled.

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “Maybe it’s something that can be taught, with time and will. Maybe it’s just nature, Akua, and the best we can ever do is put a bridle on it and hope it doesn’t pull too hard.”

“Then why do you keep coming here, dearest?”

“Because I don’t know the answer,” I said, and turned to meet her eyes.

Lovely in the gloom, as she was lovely everywhere. And I felt it my clenching stomach, the fear of the drop, but it did not rule me. Not tonight. So I reached out, slowly, and as her gaze widened in surprise as I cupped her cheek. It was not a loud thing, or one requiring much power. Just will and knowledge. My fingers withdrew, having barely grazed her skin, and she went still.

“What have you done?” Akua Sahelian asked.

“I no longer have power over you,” I said. “You are bound to neither my mantle or my power, and Sve Noc has no purchase over your soul save what you give them.”

“You are mad,” she faintly said. “I could leave, right now. Even without Night, I know such tricks that…”

“I know,” I agreed.

“Then why?” she hissed.

“Because I don’t know the answer,” I said and turned away, closing my eyes.

For a long time I stayed there, the wind in my hair, and let silence keep the night. When I opened them, Akua was still at my side. I almost smiled. Wasn’t that something?

In the valley below, far from my sight, the dead began to gather.

157 thoughts on “Chapter 74: Herald

    1. Sir Nil

      It’s inevitable. If Cat’s trying the Redemption thing on Akua then Cat has to make it be of her own will. A Redemption isn’t worth shit if someone else forced you to do it.

      Liked by 26 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Nah. Wrong flavor. Contrition basically accepts that nothing can undo what you did and that change is meaningless. You should try to do something to make up for what you have been, but you are what you’ve been. The point of this whole thing, at least the point up till now, was to make Akua actually change and grow. I think given a contrition attitude about it just wouldn’t take. “Nothing can undo the evil that I’ve done and am… so why would I be anything else?”

          Liked by 4 people

            1. What you’ve done, no. What you are, yes.

              And Contrition in this unvierse is about taking up a sword to go kill what made you do what you did that you’re now hating yourself for. It’s not about trying to quietly change yourself into someone who does good about an entirely unrelated issue.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. agumentic

                I won’t really argue that Akua is going to go for Contrition or anything – for one, I am not convinced she will – but, in Cat’s own words, “if (Akua) saved ten lives for every one she’d taken, she would still be the same woman who’d murdered an entire city”. It doesn’t mean she can’t be something else as well, but it’s not going to change what she already is.

                Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s more likely to be the opposite, I think. If Cat was able to relinquish and unbind control so easily, the Dead King would probably have also been able to do so, or maybe even wrest ownership for his own goals. Now that Akua is free she should be able to better defend both herself and Cat.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. From a story perspective, I think this will push and/or free Akua to do something that will decide the battle for Cat’s army. Vivienne told Cat that everything will go to shit if she does not go to her before the battle. And Vivienne was the only person who could have pushed Cat to alter the relationship with Akua in this way.
        This was the pivot that the oracles saw by process of elimination. Cat needed a free Akua to win this battle and Vivienne was the only person who could convince her to set the Doom of Liesse free.

        Liked by 15 people

        1. Cicero

          That makes sense.

          Also, this is a heroic tale. Viv is a retired hero who convinced Cat (the heroic piece stolen by the Black Knight to become a villain) to play a heroic role once more. Freeing another villain (a most villainous villain), which then leads to…

          Redemption of a villain? To becoming a hero instead?

          What kind of repercussions will that have for the new world being built? In which heroes and villains interact and not always in hostility?

          Liked by 4 people

            1. Shveiran

              Redemption equals death only if we give death a very open description: it can mean the end of your life, sure, but it can also mean a more complex and less literal death of the self.

              if a character changes so radically it no longer fit its former mind frame, you can argue that it did “die”: everything he was has ended. Something new simply took its place and kept breathing through the same lungs.

              Redemption has to be a radical change. But even when the Pilgrim did it to Cat, she muses that death was the most LIKELY outcome, but the only certainty was that she would no longer be the Villanous Queen of Callow.
              Which likely was Tariq’s point.

              Liked by 4 people

  1. Frivolous

    Ah. I wonder how much of this can be attributed to Catherine’s association with Kairos Theodosian.

    From Interlude: A Hundred Battles:

    ====

    “Truth of truths, my friend,” he chortled, “I already gave you the only answer to that question worthy of being spoken.”

    A Rochelant, when they had first begun this dance of theirs.

    “That’s the entire point,” she softly quoted, “finding out.”

    ====

    The quote is not the same, but the sentiment is. That’s the entire point: Finding out.

    Liked by 18 people

    1. I doubt that’s the story being played out. Fatal Redemption is the easy way out. Practical Guide to Evil never does things the easy way. She is an immortal shade like spirit with countless lives on her shoulders being given a heart. My prediction is that she will not die. She will never die. She will live forever, never quite doing enough to make up for what was done. Not when she has saved as many souls as she has claimed, nor tens times that number.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. KageLupus

        My money is still on Akua becoming an eternal part of Cat’s new school for Named. An immortal presence who is canny enough to keep all of the intrigue the school will generate in check, while also being committed to seeing Cat’s ideals get passed on. How do you atone for something as terrible as the Doom of Liesse? Spend forever making sure it can never happen again.

        Liked by 10 people

      2. Hitogami

        Wow, that is one scary punishment and it could be accurate, but I still think that something will happen to cause her to die. A death she has to volunteer for.

        Like

      3. Insanenoodlyguy

        She might have the narrative weight that it’s unavoidable though. Generally anybody at her tier going for redemption has to pay for it in blood. I don’t think Cat’s actively trying to push her into it anymore, but that just means she’ll walk into it herself. Black Avoids the stories, Cat wields stories, but Akua has always ridden them hard when she gets on one, both good and evil. Even when fully evil she had a very fatalistic viewpoint: She essentially said “I’m going to do this until I inevitably die violently like all others who have walked this path, and that’s the game and I’m fine with it, I’m playing.” I’m not saying she’ll become a death seeker, but she’s got a good chance of being right where somebody can do massive good with an ultimate sacrifice at a critical moment. I think if she doesn’t walk off that cliff at the end, it’s because Cat actively gets involved in squelching that story, which vow lifted or not might be asking too much.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cicero

          Auka volunteers for the bridge job? Fully expecting it to result in her death?

          The Mirror Knight gets tapped for the bridge job (because he volunteers for it?) and the Witch does not want go, so Auka volunteers?

          Or the Squire or the Apprentice end up going (maybe the White Knight decides that it has to be all volunteers, because of the danger – and the heroic story being better served that way?) and then Auka volunteers, and promises Cat her charges will come back alive?

          There are a lot of ways for Auka to go wild playing the heroic role hard. Something she never had a real choice for growing up. Auka being the villain that always secretly wanted to be a hero? I could see that.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. > She might have the narrative weight that it’s unavoidable though. Generally anybody at her tier going for redemption has to pay for it in blood.

          Not even Cat thought that when she thought Tariq was trying to assassinate her.

          No, they don’t have to. It’s just a common writer copout.

          Like

  2. Frivolous

    Also from Kairos Theodosian, although not something he experienced or likely shared with Catherine.

    From Villainous Interlude: Thunder:

    ====

    “I think what he wanted was to see if a lion was still a lion, having lived in a cage all its life,” he confided. “I think he just… wanted to see what would happen.”

    Nature tells, my friend. Nature always tells.

    The boy’s grinned widened, long and sharp and pearly white.

    “I wonder what your nature is, Hierarch.”

    ====

    Cat set Akua free, at least a little, from the cage of her upbringing and conditioning, the cage Akua herself tried to escape by becoming Diabolist and defeating her mother, Tasia.

    Now she sets Akua loose completely and waits for her to act, now that she has free will for the first time in her existence, if not her life. Though, knowing Catherine, she has contingencies in place anyway.

    I wouldn’t put it past Cat to, for instance, ask Tariq or Sve Noc for help.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. I think Cat will have contingencies to minimize damage from worst case scenarios, but they won’t be Akua-specific – that’s an insult, and a wrong way for this story to go. No, everything that’d make the fall softer if this goes south will be coincidental to it, and serve another purpose as a primary one.

      I love every single word of this chapter so fucking much, especially Cat fucking with the play. And Vivienne trying to get a wider perspective of what she’s doing through her thick skull (I don’t think it’s quite all the way through yet, she’s just taking Vivienne’s word for it, or we’d have rephrasings in the narrative in her own voice). And Masego having a wonderful, friendly feud.

      Oh yeah, and Vivienne finally relieving Cat of that oath. That’d been a long time coming ❤

      Liked by 18 people

    2. RoflCat

      No, she won’t have contingencies. Or rather, she can’t, if she has any it’d not only make this gesture pointless, it might even have the opposite effect.

      If she still have something over her, then it’s just changing the cage, not a true release.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Frivolous

        You could be right, Liliet and RoflCat.

        I think one example in your collective favor was Malicia’s use of Rule-empowered Speaking to plant subliminal commands in her officers, as a contingency in case her loyal Black Knight Amadeus betrayed her. He did, which made Malicia’s initial betrayal a good idea.

        Do you think it’s a Story rule in Creation that if one plans for a friend betraying you, those plans must inevitably become useful?

        That would be a really nasty rule, requiring blind trust in your friends, though it does seem a likely corollary in a universe where the Power of Friendship exists, i.e. if you plan for your friends to betray you, the Power of Friendship is retroactively null and invalid.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. > Do you think it’s a Story rule in Creation that if one plans for a friend betraying you, those plans must inevitably become useful?

          I’m pretty sure that would be a Heroes-only rule. For Villains, “[blind] trust is the wager that takes your life”.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Frivolous

            Mental Mouse: Heroes only? But how often do villains employ the Power of Friendship in the first place?

            In other words, the trust your friends rule might be invalid in the case of (most) villains because they don’t have friends they really trust in the first place.

            In other news: I’ve begun prefacing each Reply with the handle of the person I’m replying to, because it can get confusing and hard to discern otherwise.

            Liked by 8 people

            1. Frivolous: Yeah, but that’s how story-grooves work. The Calamities were unprecedented, and the Woe took that even farther. Cat also plays hero stories, but heroes don’t normally have to worry about other heroes betraying them.
              I think the Woe are breaking new ground story-wise.

              And yeah, the WordPress comments are staggering under the conversations here.

              Liked by 3 people

          2. Hitogami

            Mouse, I suspect there haven’t really been enough villain cases of blind trust to start that as a story groove, I support the idea that having specific measures against her is just a means of widening the cage she is in as opposed to setting her free. She has to be free to go or stay and to help or hinder for it to be true freedom; and for whatever story Cat is making it must be true freedom, remember that Cats revenge is to make Shua go willingly to her own doom, just that we don’t know what that doom is going to be

            Liked by 2 people

            1. > Mouse, I suspect there haven’t really been enough villain cases of blind trust to start that as a story groove

              Oh, there’s plenty of cases in our own literature — consider the classic “villain’s beautiful daughter betrays him”, or various guards and other underlings that shouldn’t have been taken for granted.
              But yeah, in this case, Cat is playing a deeper game — “trust in their nature”, but Cat has heavily investigated and reshaped Akua’s “nature” Even without magical constraints, Cat has swept up Akua into a story that Cat carefully laid out for her..

              Liked by 1 person

          1. Frivolous

            sivarajan: More like in case a fellow Calamity went crazy or got corrupted by a demon.

            At least that’s what Masego said to Catherine that one time she apologized for giving him an amulet triggered to explode his head off in case he really was corrupted by that demon.

            I don’t judge that to be true betrayal. That’s in the spirit of friendship, not against it.

            Malicia’s subliminal commands in case Amadeus went rogue are different, though.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. True, I was talking about the Calamities!

                The story with Masego was much more amazing and high drama than that. She did actually talk to him, she just didn’t tell him what he was doing, but she did talk to him to try and assuage her worries, which didn’t happen XD

                Anyway, the point with that one was that she might not have told him, but Masego KNEW from the start and accepted it willingly. That’s a verrry different story from Malicia violating Black’s trust behind his back with him none the wiser and confident she wouldn’t do something like that.

                Like

          1. Shveiran

            Are you talking about the commands seeded into the minds of the Legions? Because if so, I don’t really agree. I mean, granted, it was not nice by any stretch of the word, but at the end of the day they were the main military force within her empire and they were clearly more loyaly to someone else and only served her as a consequence.

            Even if we don’t consider Praes’ histroy of betrayals, it’s not really strange that she sought a way to ensure they would obey her commands at a critical juncture, even if Amadeus told them not to or if, say, Amadeus died and someone else brought them under their banner.

            Again, it wasn’t nice, but nice doesn’t always cut it. If the Iron Prince or Cordelia had the capacity, I can’t say for sure they wouldn’t have done the same just in case of a rainy day.

            Like

            1. There could be all sorts of ways to ensure that, that weren’t seeded mind control commands doing long term damage to the subconscious of people Amadeus personally cares about?

              (Let’s remember Juniper is the daughter of Ingrid, one of his old and close friends)

              You’re not wrong that it’s not surprising. It’s the opposite that’s surprising: the concept that they could have worked together for so long WITHOUT turning on each other.

              Like

      2. That said, Cat’s still the Black Queen, with the Woe at her back. If Akua gets too far out of line, she can be extinguished. But Akua has already come too far to turn back to Wasteland ways….

        Akua’s bonds now are… the same bonds of relationship and care that everyone else wears.

        Liked by 5 people

            1. Ţ͕͚̟͕͓̌h̛͔̪͚̮̭͇͒̇͋̓ḙ͔͖́͂́͜ ̶͍̱̼̩̩͉̅̀c̛̮̪̿̓̒o̸͍̞̲̮̙̫̺͑̀m̹͇͔̖̠͉̻̝͑̆̍͢p̸̩̮̽ͧa̳̖̮̹͓̺͈ͤ͘ͅcͭ͊҉͚̺̠̹̼t̗̠ͫ͢ ̞̜̘̖͆͐͜i͕͚̩̜͙̊̀ş̱͕̭͂̂ ̢͉̤̲̹͓̰̠͇ͬs̯̜͚̼͕͓͚ͩ̚͢e̥̮̪̱ͥ͗ͭͤ͜a͕̖̲̔ͮͣ͘l̴͉͙̟̘͓̦̆ͥͥͣẽ̗̤̜̋͟d̼̙̦̗̯̤̞̖̿̇̍͆͟.̳̬̟͕͌̋̚͝

              Liked by 1 person

  3. magesbe

    Can I just say that this chapter’s quote is fantastic and really covers some of the chapter’s major underlying themes. How powerful a simple night around a fire with close friends is. And even more about Akua. Once Akua was freed, whether to stay or leave seems like a grand, life changing choice.

    But it’s not. Akua made her decision as far back as Great Strix, and she’s continued to make it again and again. In the end when it came time to leave or stay, it wasn’t a choice at all.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      I disagree. It may well be true that the choice was already made, but narrativm makes this a pivot. This is her grand, life changing choice moment, even if it’s easy. There’s a few ways this could have gone and Akua started on a particular path.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. BlackPhoenix7777

      Agreed. Come to think of it, the chapter quote reminds me of a Mercedes Lackey song. Time for a relisten. Also we need to find or bribe someone to give voice to the PGtE songs.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. dadycoool

    Wow, this was a very nice deep breath before the plunge. A festival, a bonfire, a sleepover, and a relationship development that we don’t understand yet. It’s nice to rest for an evening once in a while.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. dadycoool

        Eh, I’ve never been great at reading deeply into subtext etc. so things like Akua’s continued presence has subtleties that I completely miss until someone points them out. I’d never last in an aristocracy.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      It will be loyal betrayal. Cat’s gonna have like, a “My sacrifice will clench this for everybody” moment, and that’s when Akua blasts her with her new name trick or something to take her place, possibly making some brief but epic monologue about how she just stole all the glory of this moment.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. TideofKhatanga

        Akua buying time for the White Knight’s party by standing alone at the almost finished superbridge, which will from then be known as Gjallerbru.

        Like

  5. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    pretty rowdy > a pretty rowdy
    tainting (should this be tinting)
    nit immediately > not immediately
    That it what > That is what
    pull Night > pulled Night
    speaking the > speaking to the
    had brought out as > had brought us out to
    did not voice did, > did not voice it,
    Sallastus?Really, (missing space)
    as human > as a human
    as fee was > a fee was
    a gestured > a gesture
    have you an oath > gave you an oath
    would it to, > would it do,
    vengeance of healing > vengeance or healing
    and as her gaze > and her gaze

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mamm0nn

    “I’d send someone to get the staff back later, but there was no harm in it serving as a prop for a bit.”

    *Meanwhile on stage*

    No, really! I can’t move it! The damn thing is immobile! *The goblin screeches as he puts his entire weight behind trying to move the standing upright staff without avail, much to the amusement of the crowd thinking this is a goblin size joke.*

    Liked by 9 people

      1. Sinead

        I just like the idea of the staff enjoying itself and messing around on it’s own will.

        Of course, letting it spend it’s evening among trick plays may give it a sense of humour…

        (Long shot I know, but I like the idea of continuing that empathetic back talk Cat got when trying to disguise herself as the Wicked Enchanter to a full on sense of humour.

        Just so that Cat can get back talked by a stick.)

        Liked by 3 people

  7. Of course there’s a magical beer pong. Damnit, I want to play.

    And did Cat just resurrect Akua in truth? I think that’s they only way she could have really been set free, but that’s a terrifying power for a Villain to have, even with qualifiers. I’ve been calling Cat developing into a Great Old Power in her later years for a while now, but that might just be the most concrete evidence in support of that concept.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Matthew Wells

      I think Akua’s probably a greater undead of some sort now. We know those can retain a soul and be unbound, e.g. Dread Emperor Revenant, Barrow Lord, First Liesse Cat…

      Liked by 7 people

      1. WuseMajor

        I feel like this is a very important point. One of the main things we know about the undead is that they can’t fundamentally change. While they can accumulate knowledge, they can’t learn. They can age, but they can’t grow.

        If Akua is actually becoming a better person, if she’s actually changing, she’s not undead. She’s something…else.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Nicholas Guyett

          I think you finally helped me address this niggling question mark in my brain about how there were these repeated hints about Cat’s necromancy being weird and her raised undead developing intelligence and personality that necromancy doesn’t usually give.

          It’s been a chekov’s gun that’s been unshot since book 1 and it was driving me batty.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. caoimhinh

        Her heart got ripped out of her chest, and her body burned to ash. So, yes, she died.

        Admittedly, that body didn’t have her soul, as she had ripped it out of her own body by the time she was 13.
        She wasn’t “dead” because there was still a connection between her body and soul.
        But after the destruction of her body, and the prevention of the ritual which would have let her possess a baby (that was Akua’s countermeasure for her death), by stealing her phylactery and tying it to Cat’s Mantle of Woe then we can very well say that Akua really died.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. agumentic

          I guess it depends on what exactly you can call “Died”. I would say that since her soul never left for other realms or dispersed, she never died, she just changed bodies. What is the difference between flesh and Mantle of Woe, in the end?

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I think she didn’t resurrect her technically speaking per se. I am boldly claiming Akua still won’t need to eat / will be able to turn intangible at will / probably won’t be able to bear a child, for example. Akua is not currently a human.

      But, uh, functionally speaking…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sinead

        Hmmm, I wonder if Cat has one more “oddity” as far as bringing about new varieties of beings into Creation to put in play.

        We have Akua, Larat and the Wild Hunt, and I wonder if we’ll see a third one.

        Thinking about what The Wild Hunt represents in our mythos, is Akua going to have a similar fate to Jack O’Lantern?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Cat and Akua or Cat and Viv? I was thinking both (to clarify, I don’t think Viv would be changing preferences or anything but rather that a single kiss might happen, it did seem like this was going to be punctuated with one of those for a moment there.)

      Like

        1. RubberBandMan

          It only took six books for Cat to have the queer girl experience of ‘are they flirting with me, or just being friendly?’ and have it ‘being friendly’ for once. Except that one time with Killian it’s typically been ‘yes, it’s flirting, even though it’s an enemy’.

          And of course Cat does the cheek-touch to Akua that was denied to her from Vivi. No symbolism here, themes are for nerds….

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Zee

    I made the following connection: Viv came to Hainaut because the Augur said the front will fall in a year if she didn t. This chap, Viv said to Cat she is no longer pushing for Akua s punishment. Then Cat releases Akua. Therefore, Akua s role in Hainaut will have a significant influence on how this campaign develops, mainly in the battle to come.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Vivienne has also knocked a bit more sense into Cat, perhaps keeping her from doing something stupidly self-important and self-sacrificing.

      Or maybe the Dead King tries stealing the Cloak of Woe, only to find that it doesn’t actually give him control over Akua anymore….

      Regardless, the party chapter becomes a potential plot pivot for the climactic battle against the Dead King… All hail EE!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Frivolous

      Zee: That makes sense, yes. A free Akua would have more agency. Her future would look very different to a precognitive compared to that of a bound Akua.

      Maybe Akua has tactics or knowledge she managed to keep secret from Catherine, or that Catherine never bothered to ask about, that could be useful in the coming battle.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Earl of Purple

    Aah, Masego. If Cat hadn’t let you out of the trap you walked into, Adanna would have been quite embarrassed. She would have seen the subtext, and possibly enjoyed membership, but I don’t think she knows Zeze well enough to know he didn’t see it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Necarion

      Earl: I’m pretty sure the made-up subtext would have encouraged Indrani to make made a public “I shall fight you for the affections of the Hierophant” declaration to Adanna, much to her utter mortification and amusement of literally everybody else on all sides, Heroic and Villainous.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Kini

    I don’t think words can say how significant this is. Nor just how far these two have come since they first met.

    Akua is the Rival, the whetstone that honed Cat into the wicked blade she is today. And here she is now, freed of all burdens and obligations, but as she is now she is one of the Woe. Indelibly, and irreplaceable.

    The beauty of this all, is that Cat made Akua want to be better, not by threat, not by guile, not even really by example, but by giving her somewhere to belong

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Sesostris

    Am I the only seeing some foreboding with Cat tossing her staff into a play about object switcheroos? Either narratively because she’s a Villain, or more pragmatically because the Dead King has a hidden revenant in the city who lays in a nasty surprise on the staff that’ll bite her at the worst possible time during battle.

    Like

    1. Sinead

      In short, I think that is worrying overmuch. It is just to be a bit of light hearted amusement that bolsters morale and Cat’s own story amongst her subjects. Please stop looking gor hidden daggers in everything. That’s why Malicia is so isolated. In this story, putting in the actual work pays off.

      The staff is not some overpowering relic, it’s just a useful staff that helps Cat when she needs it. She doesn’t put any serious demands/ expectations on it, so it cannot fail her. As such, there is little value in such a switch. While the staff has mystical origins and is a symbol of Cat, much like the Mantle of Woe, Cat doesn’t use these items for anything that any other high quality version of those items would not also do. Even when there are surprises, they are all meaningfully telegraphed in the story.

      Also, this deep into GA territory, I don’t think Revenants could meaningfully hide for long.

      In general, I wish people would stop panicking over these little details. I think EE has earned enough faith after 6 books to not pull stunts like this. The Night of Knives was a direct and brutal response to Cat’s attempt to assassinate Malicia. It wasn’t some “surprise contingency”. The mental hooks in the Legions was known of when Malicia executed Akua’s mother, and were a contigency in place against _Amadeus_, not Catherine.

      Liked by 7 people

  12. Frivolous

    Lesser comments:

    Priests of House Insurgent using Light to play a game while intoxicated and especially to gamble sounds heretical to me. Does anyone else agree? It sounds like that ‘perverse service to earthly powers’ thing.

    “So we should just cut them!” being what is always said by the Saint character in the play is sadly faithful to the original. Laurence basically always did want to cut someone.

    Cat using Night to create a fake Sve Noc seems horribly heretical, too. She was basically using powers granted by her goddess to pretend to be said goddess.

    Though I guess it could be explained, if Andronike got pissy over the lese deity, that anyone who got fooled deserved what Cat did to them. The drow are a raiding and theft culture after all, and deception is likely a strong theme.

    Covenant of Gasping Ecstasy is a good name for a conspiracy. Gaping Ecstasy would also be good.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > Priests of House Insurgent using Light to play a game while intoxicated and especially to gamble sounds heretical to me. Does anyone else agree? It sounds like that ‘perverse service to earthly powers’ thing.

      They’re decidedly not… serving a power, in doing that. Arguably, they’re creating problems for earthly powers instead, which is in fact quite virtuous by the mirror of that logic!

      > Cat using Night to create a fake Sve Noc seems horribly heretical, too. She was basically using powers granted by her goddess to pretend to be said goddess.

      I think it was obvious enough it was Cat fucking around in a theatrical context it doesn’t really work like that.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Sinead

        I love the idea that “trick plays” make it to the Drow, since they already have rap battles, so twisted mirror plays that mock the opponents could also fit some form of drow humour.

        (At least I want Rumena’s reaction to trick plays.)

        Liked by 5 people

    2. Some Smartass

      >Priests of House Insurgent using Light to play a game while intoxicated and especially to gamble sounds heretical to me. Does anyone else agree? It sounds like that ‘perverse service to earthly powers’ thing.

      No, just frivolous. And it could be part of Above’s plan for all we know, perhaps by showing more people than just Tariq that the limitations of Light are mostly imposed by the wielder.

      >Cat using Night to create a fake Sve Noc seems horribly heretical, too. She was basically using powers granted by her goddess to pretend to be said goddess.

      They’re demonstrably willing to rebuke her for anything they don’t like no matter how petty, and did not do so.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. It’s pretty well established that normally, summoning Light is basically a magical ability, once granted a priest or Named can use it freely according to whatever their usual rules are. The only exception we’ve seen, was an occasion where Pilgrim’s Choir was Right There Watching, and eager to make a point.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      Some of the army has already began adapting crow iconography, and Sve Noc has allowed this. It’s not hard to view it from a lens of “observing these troops making a small performance effigy to Sve Noc, the Priestess then granted them a small vision of the true goddess power, eliciting shock and awe.” Admittedly, if they actually made a caricature of the Goddesses themselves it might be different, but I feel like their take on the play itself would be “Yes, this is both amusing and accurate. There is no other God closer than us to answer entreaties, and frequently we have to compensate for your inadequacies and get things done while you contemplate pointless things.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sinead

        Also, isn’t one of Cat’s goals with her Role as First Under Night to teach them to emphasise with people to avoid becoming faded and unchanging monsters a la Nemashah and the Wandering Bard? I would think at this point, they could appreciate the humour, even if Andronike may be a bit more clinical about it. I could totally see Komea being genuinely amused by this though.

        Liked by 5 people

    4. Cicero

      I think a more likely outcome with Sve Noc is that they get curious about Cat involving them in the play, and then they start taking an interest in the play themselves. To the point where they start answering small request in the plays – making Sve Noc goddesses of the theater.

      Liked by 8 people

          1. Florian Hötzl

            Which, heck, I really need to start reading again.

            That God seemed less of a bastard than most, but then I wasn’t even halfway through….

            Also agreed on it bei g a great mix.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Sinead

        Sve Noc, the Goddessess of Death, Strife, Competition, Excellence, and Ambition.

        They are twinned because while they are united, they debate and argue over issues, refining the positions down to something more flexible.

        One represents the focus of the “Here and Now”, favouring reckless abandon, and jumping into the fray, while the other is more cool and methodical, aiming for precise methods to thier own goals. Dedication to the long process for the final pay-off.

        Why wouldn’t they become patrons of the Arts?

        (I am now picturing crow versions of the classic Greek comedy and tragedy masks)

        In case you haven’t noticed, I am kind of a big fan of Sve Noc

        Liked by 3 people

  13. Sinead

    Here’s a fun thought: If Tariq decides to criticise Cat for this choice with Akua, she could counter with “Empty Prayers birth no miracles.”

    Not saying that the scene won’t happen, but considering how much Tariq asks people to take things on faith (with good reasons, yes, but it’s still faith), it would be a fun little callback in my opinion.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was wondering about that scenario, and I think Tariq understands INTRISTICALLY what Cat is doing. We’ve had a scene of him interacting with Akua, and it notably played into Cat’s plan exactly – because Tariq’s instincts go in the exact direction that Cat’s driving this. He’s not going to have objections, I don’t think. It’s a trick from his book in the first place.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sinead

        That is a fair point. I am more thinking of the perspective of the discussion of trust, but Tariq does have that understanding of the path one needs to take to get someone to change.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. Xinci

    I do wonder if Cats oath affected her thinking. Oaths seem to act as bindings on souls, and bindings seem to affect the ability to think,amongst other things. So it could have been pushing her down a specific path of behavior to complete her oath and curtailing other paths of thought.

    Seems Cats is drifting inevitably from her “home” framework of Callow, which is a good sign for her shifting Name at least.

    Like

    1. Oaths don’t have effects on souls unless you’re a fae or unless it’s a special magical soul-binding oath.

      They do have an effect on the mind through the mechanism of you knowing you gave an oath, though, which has this exact same result functionally.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. superkeaton

    I appreciate that Cat’s flaw of being determined to own sins that aren’t her own keeps coming up, and reinforces why she needs the Woe. That little bit at the end was lovely.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. “I don’t think I can do this for strangers,” I quietly admitted. “Maybe when I was young and it still burned in me, the knowledge that I was right and I was going to fix it… maybe back then it was enough, just the principles. The ideal. But now it’s the people that bear me through it, and with every year there’s a few less.”

    That hit really hard. Damn.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. agumentic

      It’s both funny and very sad that Cat is like what, 25? Even less than that? She is still young by any measure of years. But then she did spend most of the last decade on the battlefields leaving friends and supporters behind, that will age anyone far more than simple time.

      Liked by 5 people

  17. Goibnu

    What better punishment for a selfish monster than to get her to willingly sacrifice herself for friends she never knew she could make. To make her human and look back at all the horrors she has committed and truly regret them deep in her soul cat really is a cruel one

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Booo, hisss.
    Still kiind of pissed off at Akua and how it seems like this is just making it more difficult to punish her for the mess around Liesse. A bunch of deaths which still hasn’t been proportionately answered for.
    I can sort of imagine a ‘she’s doing this to redeem Akua and make her want things she knows she doesn’t deserve, and thus make her punish herself’-type situation. But any failing there will lead to akua escaping and making another giant mess, so she really needs some amazing countermeasures prepared for the betrayal.

    There’s also the whole issue around how Cat and Akua never really stopped being rivals in conflict over the fate of the Dread Empire, Cat just refuses to see it.
    I mean, does Cat seriously imagine that miss Praesi noble pride isn’t going to do something about it when the man who killed her father starts slaughtering his way through the nobility in a bid to annhilate their entire culture?
    This decision is a lead-in to Cat and Akua’s inevitable third major conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And then there’s the problem of what happens if she succeeds too far and Akua ends up as a Heroic Named trying to sign on to the Truce and Terms? There’s essentially no way to spin such a situation that doesn’t become a pain in Cat’s ass.

      Like

      1. kini

        that’s…kind of the point though?

        it’s been pointed out repeatedly that Akua can never truly atone for what she did, that the scales will never be truly balanced.

        This all began with Akua trying on the idea of being “good” while she was in control during the Battle of the Camps, mainly because it was fun, and then over time Cat realizing that this was the better path forward, the longest price she could possibly extract from Akua: redemption. Not as a destination, but as the process it truly is. Like I said above, Cat managed to make Akua want to be better through the simple expedient of showing her what the rewards were.

        And even beyond that, this redemption *will not work* if it is not done fully and freely of Akua’s own choice. It’s a gamble that isn’t, the answer was known long ago.

        Because yes, Cat does, in fact, actually trust Akua at this point, and honestly, I don’t understand why you don’t.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I don’t trust her because she learned the wrong lessons from her parents, and as far as I can tell isn’t unlearning them by working with the Woe.

          When she was sent into the maze to kill her friend as a child she learned that any act, any supression of personal feelings is justified if it is for the glory of evil. And as she rose through the nobility she learned that the loser follows the winner until they can become the winner.
          You’d think her whole ‘iron might sharpen iron, but iron is brittle’ revelation might change her, and it does, as does her observation that victory can come without having to reign supreme and be in control and that by accepting that you cna avoid having to fight innthe first place, but by necessity these things cannot change her need to come into conflict with Catherine.
          Not so long as she loves her people, the praesi nobility, who Cat would rather see wiped away, nor so long as she hates Black, who Catherine loves, nor so long as Cat and Akua’s story conflict within Narrative Causality over whose legacy of the nature of evil that will come to shape the Dread Empire remains unresolved.

          So maybe Akua does want to uphold fidelity in her relationship with Catherine and the Woe, but for that desire to become reality it needs to first overcome her impulse that she needs to seek greatness, and the lesson that setting aside whatever impulses are ancilliary to greatness in evil is always justified.
          And even then, she can feel comfortable in betraying Catherine so long as she encounters a situation where she can believe Catherine has betrayed her first, of which there are several surrounding Black, the lords of Praes, and Catherine’s own followers.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. > Not so long as she loves her people, the praesi nobility

            She really, really, really doesn’t. They’ve killed everyone she ever cared about, be it directly or through teaching HER to put them in danger.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. kini

            Also: Akua never truly hated Black. He was, at most, an irritating roadblock to her ascension.

            Don’t get me wrong, Akua always thought that Black was wrong, and despaired of the culling of the old ways, but it was never personal. And now, most of a decade down the line, Akua has come to realize that *she was wrong*.

            And it’s not as though Akua was ever any great patriot of the Truebloods in the first place. Remember how she was planning to throw off that yoke too once she had her flying fortress?

            So yes, this has been a long time in the making, and there was never any other choice Akua could have made. Not any more.

            Liked by 3 people

    2. Sinead

      Is she “Praesi Pride?” She seems pretty scornful of Karois, wjlho is basically the last harrah of the Irritant/Traitorous style Evil, when before she embraced them.

      I don’t think there is going to be a conflict, since I see her following her great uncle’s path and leaving Praes behind.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Sinead

          Also, if my long shot of Akua being taken up by the Choir of Compassion is correct, there could be some mirroring involved, especially since my understanding is that Adanna’s original foil was supposed to be Diabolist, not Hierophant, though she despises both Roles of those people.

          Another penny weight I’ll put on the scale is the fact that every Calernian faction mentioned in the story does show up in some form or another (the gnomes may not show up, but the Red Letter in my opinion count), and I think of all named Choirs, Compassion is the only one we have yet to hear from.

          Besides, if Akua is moved by the harm she has done and seeks to atone, the bind of Compassion (no harm to sentient creatures) could be taken to an extreme of cause no deaths up to and including animal and plant life.

          I know this counters my earlier post about Akua mimicking the tale of the jack O’Lantern, but you may still have the wandering sinner trope, especially since she will have turned away from Below while not really being in a position to be embraced by Above.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. > I mean, does Cat seriously imagine that miss Praesi noble pride isn’t going to do something about it when the man who killed her father starts slaughtering his way through the nobility in a bid to annhilate their entire culture?

      She’s going to cheer him from the sidelines or wade in and help.

      Akua’s been hurt by that culture more than most, and during Book 4 we’ve established that her thoughts on the topic have been going towards “no yeah that WAS wrong all along”.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Akua has accrued a narrative weight bigger than Liesse at this point: like Kairos, she can pass, if you squint right, as the Last Great Villain of the Age of Wonders. It’s not necessarily her true Role — while alive she was more of an Age of Wonders cover band (Malicia-funded, too) than an encore tour — but as the constant angel on Cat’s shoulder singing praises of the old ways, she seems to qualify as “symbol of an era” more than any other villain, uh, alive. (Amadeus/Malicia are transitional, Neshamah is in a whole other category, etc.)

    So insofar as the shoe fits, and the Age of Wonders is “dying” with each treaty Cat brokers, Akua’s long price is going to be one hell of a pivot. For Akua, pretty much being the fulcrum on which centuries’ worth of narrative weight is about to get yeeted…
    …that might get heavy.

    So, uh, very looking forward to seeing what happens. And kind of rooting for her to get a fate exactly as bad as a hundred thousand deaths and no worse.

    Liked by 3 people

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