Chapter 78: Keter’s Due

“The parity of light and darkness is a false perception. Light is transgressive, an imposition on the natural order, and so will always spend itself into nothingness. Be as the dark and you will be beyond struggle, ever returning when the flames die out.”

– Translation of the Kabbalis Book of Darkness, widely attributed to the young Dead King

The turn of the year had begun with a boy I’d thought I might save, and then a hard lesson remembered to me by the Dead King. That this was not a war as I had known wars before, that there would be no miracles or saving graces to this ugly, brutal, exhausting struggle to the death we were having. I thought of that night again, as I watched stars fall on the city of Hainaut, and the lesson echoed once more: sometimes we just lost.

Masego’s spell was little more than a window between Twilight and Creation, but what it showed was… I knew the forces at work, but still the sight caused me in me a sort of primal awe. The meteors, shards of a broken star, were massive. The first that struck toppled half the city in a streak of dust and white flame, scouring it clean of life, but the rain did not end there. Again and again the capital and the valley around it were struck until there was nothing there but barren glass, and still in the distance stars fell. How much of Hainaut had been scoured in the span of a few moments, I wondered?

It’d not been undead alone that’d still been in the city when the star fell. The Fourth Army was gone, as were most of the Hannoven men and the Prince of Bayeux’s army. Almost all of the Alavan troops had been lost as well, since they’d served as the Dominion rearguard, and at least half the Firstborn with them. It had been a cruel defeat before the Pilgrim began his last hurrah, but after the star had struck the results could only be called disastrous. Not a single army in fighting shape had made it out of Hainaut except maybe the Neustrians, and they’d just lost their princess.

I couldn’t even blame the Pilgrim for when he had begun to call down the wrath of the Heavens, he’d not had any choice. There would be no repeat of the sacrifices – my heart clenched, my nails dug into my palms – that had bought him that opening, and risking a longer wait might have made it all worthless. He’d done what he could and turned this into a disaster for both sides at least. The Dead King, for all that he was the victor of the field, did not have an army left in all of Hainaut. The meteors had seen to that. Much as I itched to blame Tariq for what I’d lost tonight, it would have rung hollow to try it when he’d died trying to save all of Calernia.

And he had, Gods forgive me. If we’d simply evacuated, fled back to our defensive lines, then the simple amount of corpses swelling Neshamah’s ranks would have been enough to overwhelm us to the south after we retreated there to lick our wounds. And once the Dead King pierced into Procer, got his hands on cities and teeming masses of refugees, then it was all over. The Peregrine had averted that doom for us all, and I held that truth close as I watched the pieces of a dead star rain own on Creation.

“Some of the Scourges will have made it out,” Indrani quietly said. “The Hawk for sure, maybe the Prince of Bones as well.”

“The Grey Legion’s good as gone,” I replied, forcefully calm. “That, at least, is a gain.”

There had been few enough of those tonight that I would the find silver linings where I could.

“The Crab is destroyed as well,” Masego noted. “Though it likely was in a practical sense even before the meteor struck it, given the amount of goblinfire burning within.”

My fingers clenched. Blood dripped down from my palm onto the soft grass.

“It was a good way to go,” Archer murmured. “They will sing songs of him, Catherine.”

I would rather they didn’t, I thought, so that I might hear him sing again instead. But I’d known deep down that Robber would find his worthy death on some battlefield or another. He’d been looking for years, trying ever starker odds against ever sharper foes. You would have hated peace, I thought. Despised it to the bone. A long silence trundled along, the only sound that of our steady breaths. My cheek clenched in frustration as I tried and failed to blink an eye I no longer had.

“It will end soon,” Hierophant said. “The power is spent.”

I nodded. The pale streaks were waning, growing rarer. Even the might of the Choir of Mercy anchored on the death of a great man was not a force without limit.

“Your officers want to speak with you,” Indrani reminded me.

“They can wait,” I said.

General Bagram was dead. Vivienne has saved his life from the Varlet only him to die trying to rally the Fourth mere hours later. General Zola was now in overall command of my remaining soldiers, something eased by the hard truth that aside from the remains of the Second I had few of those left. Later I would speak to her, but for now I saw no point. Indrani brushed a hand against my arm, startling me as I’d not seen her coming. I had blind spots now, I reminded myself. I’d need to learn to compensate for them. I shook away the touch, even if it was meant in comfort. Archer knew me well enough not to take it badly. She left me to the way I had always preferred to handle my grief: alone. Her footsteps were soft against the grass as she left.

Masego stayed, but his eyes were on the vista revealed by his spell. He’d always been the most accommodating of my friends when it came to sharing solitude. It made him the easiest to be around when grief was still raw.

The last streaks of light softly died, leaving behind only a darkened sky and one fewer star than there had been at the beginning of the night. Hainaut was a ruin. The city itself was shattered, blackened stone smooth as glass rising in jagged pillars that looked eerily like teeth. Smoke and ash were on the wind, swirling thick. The land around the capital was no less a ruin, the plains scoured down to burnt bedrock as far as the eye could see. Nothing would live here for decades, centuries even. Of the armies the dead there was not a trace left, not even of that behemoth Crab that had tipped the scales in the Dead King’s favour at the end. It was all dust on the wind, hundreds of thousands of souls released back to whatever Gods they had kept to.

There was a terrible peace to it all, I thought. Masego turned towards me, raising an eyebrow in silent question. I nodded and he let the spell die. It ended in time for me to hear footsteps approaching, the cadence of them telling me who they were before I turned. That hobbling walk was Hakram on his crutches, while the still unnaturally smooth stride was Vivienne’s – she had once walked rooftops as other women did streets, and the touch had never quite left her. Leaning against my staff, I watched them approach with apathy. Vivienne looked away when I met her gaze. Trying to avoid looking at my eye, I realized, and suddenly felt self-conscious. I would have brought down my hood, were it not too obvious a reaction.

“Catherine,” Adjutant greeted me. “The starfall has ended?

I cocked an eyebrow at the empty talk, gaze moving to Vivienne.

“What is it that you two need of me?” I plainly asked.

She grimaced, and this time did not flinch away from the sight of the gruesome scar I had instead of my left eye.

“You need to hold a war council,” Vivienne said. “At least for Callow. General Zola’s keeping it together, but she doesn’t know where to go from here.”

“It’s obvious,” I tiredly said. “We lost the battle but the Pilgrim salvaged us an opportunity with his death. If the White Knight succeeds to the north then we will escort the Gigantes to the shore and ward Hainaut from the dead. If he has lost, then we retreat for the Cigelin Sisters and fortify what we can against the coming onslaught.”

I did not doubt that even as we spoke the Dead King was marching troops through the bottom of the lakes to our north, trying to turn the setback into an opportunity. We’d destroyed the Twilight Gate here along with the rest of the city, but we still had pharos devices for mass-deployment of our remaining forces. Returning to Creation at the moment would be pointless, especially since the ruins were still hazardous and there was no water left to drink, so we would be staying in the Ways until the sun came up if not even longer. There’d be no point in leaving the Ways just to enter them anew when we marched either north or south.

“It might be obvious to you, Catherine, but not others,” Hakram calmly said. “More than that, you must be seen. The Lycaonese lost both their rulers in the span of a single night. The Alamans are shamed and desperate, with only a destitute Princess Beatrice to calm them.  The Dominion mourns the Grey Pilgrim without even a body to burn. The Firstborn huddle among themselves and speak to no one. And the Army of Callow broke tonight, for the first time since it was founded.”

“You’re needed, Catherine,” Vivienne said. “The Black Queen is needed.”

When fucking wasn’t she? My fingers balled into a fist, blood sliding down the skin from where my nails had bit through skin. Hakram’s eyes flicked there, though with his nose he would have smelled the red long before that.

“Enough,” Masego said, voice grown hard. “If you have the voice to ask, use it settle the troubles you bring her instead.”

I started in surprise, half-turning.

“Masego-” Vivienne began.

“She should be asleep, Vivienne,” Hierophant said, eyes burning. “She insists on remaining awake, so she will, but do not mistake this for her being in a fit state. You ask too much.”

I found myself both warmed and irritated.

“I can speak for myself, Zeze,” I said.

“Then do so,” Masego bluntly replied. “But I will not let this war drag you into the grave, Catherine. I have not forgotten what Aunt Sabah’s death did to my family, and I will not allow Robber’s death to bloom that sickly flower twice.”

I might have taken issue with the tone if he’d not spoken the words that followed. I remembered it too, the brittle look in Black’s eyes after Captain was killed. I had not loved Wekesa the Warlock while he lived, but I would not do the man’s shade disservice be denying he had cared for Sabah just as deeply. That evening in the Free Cities had left scars on all the Calamities, even if some had been subtler than others. I would not blame Masego for dreading the only family he had left might come to the same end. I sighed, drawing their attention.

“There’s nowhere for them to go,” I said, gesturing at the Ways around us. “And it will take more than my carcass being paraded through a camp to fix this. I’ll see to the Army of Callow later, but the rest can wait.”

Masego beamed at me, which was comforting even tough I knew this was probably the wrong decision. I was tired enough that I found it hard to care: there was only so much beating that this thrice-dead horse could take. I met Hakram’s eyes and found surprise there, but he nodded. Vivienne was harder to read. Was she disappointed? If she was, I’d cope. The legend I’d set was not one I could live up to. l If this campaign should have made anything painfully clear for all the world to see, it was that I didn’t always have the answers. I’d pushed for this offensive from the start and even if I’d not been the only one to do so my influence had objectively been key. This catastrophe was on me, if it was on anyone at all.

Most the people I could have shared the blame with were dead.

“Leave me,” I said. “I-”

My sentence went stillborn when I felt a shudder of indignation through my tenuous bond with the Night. Sve Noc were enraged, and though I found the shades of emotion difficult to parse I did pick up that this wasn’t about the Firstborn. In the distance, two great crows took flight. Masego was not far behind them, wrested sorcery already opening anew the same window into Hainaut he had allowed to lapse. The spell was not as stable as the last time, the edges buzzing and the spell itself letting out trails of smoke here in Twilight, but what we saw could not be missed. Among the great fangs of black glass which were all that remained of the city of Hainaut, a great spell was stirring up a storm of ash.

It was not one of ours.

“Hierophant, what am I looking at?” I calmly asked.

Masego remained silent for a time, golden glass eyes darting back and forth as they parsed the glimmers of the spell that could be seen through the ash. Thick, curving cords of runes spinning in cycles without making a sound, a dull but growing pale sphere at the heart of them.

“I am… unsure,” Hierophant admitted.

The Crows plunged through the night sky in a precipitous glide, Andronike and Komena claiming my shoulders and sinking their sharp talons into the steel of my pauldrons. They hissed urgency at me and I raised my bloodied hand to clutch my staff.

“Whatever it is, we can’t let it finish,” I said. “I’ll open us a gate, and-”

I glanced at Hakram and Vivienne, lips thinning. No more risks tonight.

“- you and I will go,” I told Masego. “Archer too, if we can-”

This time it was someone else who cut in, and before either Adjutant or Vivienne could object too. I was pleased to see Archer striding towards us on the grass, but surprised to see her scarf was already pulled up and her bow strung. She’d been expecting trouble already.

“Cat,” she said, “we have a problem.”

“I’m aware,” I replied, jutting a thumb towards the spell-window.

She took a glance, then grimaced.

“Cat,” she said, “we have two problems.”

Fuck me, I thought. Hadn’t this night been enough of a malediction already?

“I’m listening,” I said.

“The Gigantes are gone,” Archer said. “All of them. I think they went back into Creation.”

I felt a moment of blind panic at the notion of Keter getting its hands on Gigantes spellsingers, Gods would even the Ways be safe anymore now that Tariq was dead – but the talons of the crows pricking at my skin drew me out of it. I breathed out.

“Hierophant, is this their work?” I asked.

“No,” Masego immediately replied. “This is Trismegistan, Catherine. And I understand why it unsettled me. The elements I found familiar were of my work and Akua Sahelian’s.”

I blinked.

“The Dead King cribbed from your spellcraft?”

“I suspect,” Hierophant softly replied, “that it was the other way around, Catherine. However unknowingly. It is not without reason that the very magic we practice bears the name of Trismegistus.”

“Shit,” Archer said. “This is his spellwork, isn’t it? His actual hand weaving the spell, not some intermediary’s.”

Well, would you look at that. It had somehow gotten worse. There really wasn’t any time to waste if Neshamah himself was making a play, so I stiffly swept my staff across the air and ripped open a gate down into Hainaut. A howling gale swept ash and smoke towards us and I glanced at Archer and Hierophant.

“You two, with me,” I ordered, and went into the storm.

The winds slashed at us angrily, bludgeoning us with ash and sharp pieces of gravel.

With the Sisters themselves on my shoulders I could almost call on Night the way I’d been able to before it was ruined, but my body was weak. Aching and too close to collapse. Even with Komena banishing the sensation of exhaustion, I could feel a tingle at the edge of my senses warning me how close to unconsciousness I still teetered. The bubble of stillness I wove around us flicked in and out, becoming harder to maintain the higher up the slopes we went. It was Archer that guided us, pathfinding through the jutting blades of glassy stone with their sharp edges that dug into our boots. She took us through detours that saw the stone protect us from the wind, but even with all our haste it was frustratingly slow going.

I clutched the rope when it came down after Masego had finished climbing, passing mastery of the bubble to Andronike as I concentrated on hoisting myself up. My muscles burned even when Indrani came to stand at the ledge and began to pull me up, grunting with effort, but after an eternity of labour I was over that too-sharp edge and falling on my knees atop the stone. My bad leg was pulsing with agony, but it was dull and distant. The Sisters did not want me distracted. I had left my staff down there, beyond the bubble, but it still stood perfectly still as if untouched by the storm. I extended my hand and moments later it was slapping against my palm, the dried traces of my blood rubbing against my palm as I pulled myself up.

The crows returned to my shoulders, never having strayed far. They seemed wary of leaving us behind, my patronesses burned by what it had cost them to face the Dead King while I slept. Hierophant was standing at the edge of the stillness, black robes in disarray and those long tresses woven with silver trinkets swept to the side. He was looking out into the distance, standing beneath two great fangs of stone crisscrossing as in the distance the Dead King’s magic slowly revolved. Archer had found us the right place, I thought, sending her a thankful look. Decent shelter and a good vantage point, it was exactly what we needed.

I limped to Masego’s side, not that he gave a visible sign he’d hear me coming.

“So?” I asked.

There was a tense silence.

“I believe,” Hierophant murmured, “that he is opening a Greater Breach.”

I screamed out the vilest curses I knew at the sky until my voice went hoarse. Archer came to stand by our side, silent as she warily eyes our surroundings.

“Can you Wrest it?” I asked.

“I have been trying,” Hierophant conversationally said, “for fifty heartbeats now,”

His shoulders were trembling, I noticed only then. It was hard to see under the ash-dusted robes. And though he was not grimacing, there was a line to his mouth. Tension. I dared not speak another word, even if he’d not said the distraction would be harmful, instead listening as Komena whispered into my ear. I heard not a word but something greater, and my vision swam until I glimpsed a part of what the goddesses were seeing. Wills at war over the sorcery raging ahead of us, those slowly spinning circles of runes and the sphere within them. Like ink in water, Masego was trying to spread his will through the gargantuan amount of power but it was not enough.

There was too much water.

“His perspective is still too narrow,” Andronike whispered into my ear, regretful. “He has not witnessed enough.”

It was hard to deny the truth of that when it was before my eyes. Hierophant was failing and would fail. Did we have anything else that might destroy this? Night would not be enough, not when I was falling apart and the enemy’s raw strength was so great. Did Archer have an arrow that would – no, that was thinking about this the wrong way. The Intercessor had mocked me, in the Arsenal, asked me where Neshamah’s devils and ancient sorceries were. Well, they were here now. Why? More importantly, why now? But I’d already been given the answer to that, I belatedly realized, by an old man that was now a dead one. He cannot use either, Tariq Isbili had told me, speaking of devils and demons. It would represent too steep an increase in strength on his side of the scales.

The Pilgrim had meant in the sense that if the Dead King used devils, then the heroes of the Grand Alliance would in turn get to call in angels as a superior counterstroke. Except we’d struck first, hadn’t we? The Grey Pilgrim had died intertwined with the Choir of Mercy calling down his dead star, it was our side that’d broken the seal. The story’s not on our side, I realized with dread. Even if Masego had proved to have the capacity to Wrest the spell, he still would have failed – the scales were tipped in Neshamah’s favour for this to work, he had earned it. Fuck. And I couldn’t believe it would be only the one gate either, it wasn’t the Dead King’s way.

“Can you see afar?” I asked Sve Noc. “Look for other gates like this, still forming.”

“It will be difficult,” Andronike cawed.

“But not impossible,” Komena noted.

It would require enough of their attention that I’d be on my own, though, their minds brushing against mine made clear. Wouldn’t matter, I decided, power wouldn’t get us through this. They seemed inclined to agree, and on my shoulders the weight of them waned. As if much of them had gone elsewhere. The glimpses they had granted me ended too, but Masego had been about to be evicted – diluted into effective nothingness, more accurately, but the practical result was the same – from the spell, his aspect stuttering to a stop. He breathed out raggedly moments afterwards, body shivering. Indrani moved to help him up.

“You’ll be fine?” I asked.

“I withdrew before it could be turned against me,” Hierophant hoarsely replied, nodding. “But though defeated, I have learned some of his secrets. It was impossible not to, when my will was coursing through his work.”

He coughed, as much out of exhaustion as the heavy and ash-laden air.

“It is imperfect,” Hierophant croaked out. “Unlike the closed circle that Akua made of Liesse. Not only will Keter’s Due spread, it was made worse. On purpose, I think.”

My stomach dropped.

“How much worse, Masego?” I quietly asked.

The last time the Dead King had opened a Greater Breach, he’d blighted most of the Kingdom of the Dead doing it. It was the reason the phenomenon was known as Keter’s Due in the first place.

“I can’t be sure,” Masego admitted. “Perhaps as far as the defence line to the south?”

That was, I thought, perhaps nine tenths of Hainaut that he had described. Made into a howling wasteland by the spell ahead of us, those spinning circles whose rotations were beginning to quicken. My bloody hand left the staff and I looked down at it, feeling numb. This was… Tariq had died for this, and a blighted Hainaut with a permanent hellgate in the middle was what would be achieved? I grasped for a story that could turn this around, but what was there left? We had spent all our miracles, our strength, our last chances. We had bargained ourselves away until only a remnant’s remnant remained, and still it had not been enough. The two of them looked at me, somehow expecting I would turn it around, but to my horror there was nothing.

My bag of tricks was empty.

“I-”

I swallowed. The words tasted like ash in my mouth but I forced them out anyway.

“I can’t stop this,” I quietly admitted. “I have nothing.”

I looked away, afraid of what I might see on their faces at that admission. What I found, instead, was a tall shape standing alone in the winds. Down there, away from our shelter. Troublingly close to the spell. Indrani began to say something but I raised a hand to interrupt her. Was this the Dead King, inhabiting a favoured corpse and giving silent invitation by his presence? Talon sunk into my flesh once more, the Sisters returning from their spirit-journey at last.

“There are two more,” Komena said.

“One close, to the west, and one far in the northwest,” Andronike said.

The other two southern fronts. Cleves and Twilight’s Pass. Neshamah did not just intend to win here: he was going to win everywhere and all at once. Not, not everywhere, I almost immediately corrected.  That would have been a mistake, overreaching. Enough of an opening for the Heavens to put their fingers to the scale. He’d not touched the front against the Firstborn, trusting in his crippling of the Night and his ability to triumph in a battle of Evil against Evil.

“Catherine,” Indrani said. “It’s all right. Your armies are still in the Ways, all we lose is-”

“That’s not a corpse,” I softly said, sole eye still on the silhouette among the storm.

I glanced at my companions.

“Hierophant, can you shield the both of you?”

“I can,” Masego slowly replied.

“Then do it now,” I said, and walked over the ledge of our perch.

Magic bloomed behind me even as I fell, Hierophant weaving transparent shields as the ground hurried towards me. I barely drew on Night, instead letting the Crows slow my descent. They were uneasy, but I slipped through the storm and limped my way to the lone figure. It was even taller than I had thought. Almost thirty feet tall, his deep brown skin just as indifferent to the elements as the still-pristine white tunic the Gigantes wore. The giant cared not for my approach, and I saw no other of his kind around us.

“Can you end it?” I asked.

The screams of the storm drowned out my voice, but I trusted I would be heard regardless. The Gigante glanced down at me, his short neck bending unnaturally.

“We cannot,” the giant said, voice even.

Hope I’d not quite allowed myself to feel died out.

“So what are you doing here?” I asked.

“I wait,” the giant said. “I witness.”

“Witness what?” I pressed.

“The end,” the Gigante said, “and what will come after. Send away your followers, Queen of Callow. Soon the Young King’s circle will close and they cannot withstand what will follow.”

The spell was ending soon, then. He was warning me that Keter’s Due would kill Archer and Hierophant if they stayed. Masego would know as much, and I suspected he would lead Indrani out whatever I said, but I wove a snake out of Night and sent it towards them bearing an order to retreat just in case. I could have gone and done it myself, but it felt like a mistake. My instincts were screaming at me that if I left, I would miss something important.

“There are other gates,” I said.

“We know,” the giant replied. “There, too, others will witness.”

There was a pause.

“Prepare yourself,” the giant said.

The world went still, for a terrible moment, and then the storm exploded outwards. Even with all the Night I could spare holding me down and the guidance of Sve Noc, I still fell down on one knee. The power was blinding, staggering, and I could feel it sink into the earth as well as the air. Whether it lasted for moments or hours I could not tell, my body and mind bitterly arguing what was true and false, but eventually the storm passed. It left behind only a perfect circle of runes hanging in the air, a perfect gate into some distant Hell.

A heartbeat passed, and nothing came out.

“What did you do?” I rasped out.

“It is called,” the giant said, “the Riddle of the Lock.”

My heartbeat quickened.

“It’s a gate,” I said. “Are you telling me your mages locked it?”

“Our singers are dead,” the Gigante said. “I witness only the work they gave their lives for.”

My fingers clenched as I remembered that while the Gigantes had sent people into Cleves there had been no bargain for the Pass, that – I stopped. But there had been, I realized. Clever Cordelia had spent the goodwill she had won executing the Red Axe a second time to move the Highest Assembly to apologize to the Titanomachy for the Seven Slayings. They’d sent people into the Pass to fortify the Morgentor. If the Gigantes had locked all three gates, perhaps the war was not yet lost.

“We are in their debt,” I carefully said.

“Aid was promised,” the giant said. “Aid was given.”

I nodded.

“And how long will their gift last?” I asked.

“A year, a month and a day,” the Gigante said.

In the distance, dawn began to break. The giant glanced at me again.

“I will return home the corpses of my companions,” he said. “We will not meet again, Queen of Callow.”

“Then take you leave with my thanks,” I said, meaning every word. “Your people have given Calernia a chance.”

Even if both Cleves and the Pass were blighted by the rituals too, we had been pulled back from the fall to the brink.

“We have given them time,” the giant said. “What might yet fill it is in your hands.”

And without another word he strode down into the restless ash, leaving me behind as he moved into the shrinking darkness. I stayed standing there for a long time, until even the Sisters left me. Dawn rose, slowly, and with it came shadows. My own found me before too long, her steps soft on the ashen ground. Her gaze followed my own, coming to rest on the Hellgate.

“It is oddly beautiful,” Akua Sahelian said, “for such a terrible thing.”

I didn’t answer. The Severance, I thought, might destroy such a gate. If we were lucky, it might even be able to do it through the locking spell the Gigantes had laid so that we would not have to wait until it ended. If we used it, though, the sword would be spent. Perhaps not materially, but as a story: it would be diluted, no longer the blade fated to kill the King of Death. I went through every Named I knew, every trick and spell and use of Light, and found nothing that could be relied on. There were only two Greater Breaches on Calernia, one in the heart of Keter and the other bloomed in the shadow of the Doom of Liesse – but there was no Warlock to divert it, this time, and even that trick had not been a true solution. The gate itself still existed in the heartlands of my kingdom, even if did not lead into them. It had no remained there for lack of trying otherwise on our part. One after another, the solutions fell away until one remained.

“We need diabolists,” I said. “Hundreds of them, thousands.”

Enough that every devil that came howling through those gates could be bound and dismissed, that a more permanent solution could be devised.

“There is only one realm in Calernia, Catherine, that is the home to so many of them,” Akua said.

There was an expectant shiver in her voice, halfway between fear and desire. Praes. The Dread Empire. The first crucible of my life, the fires where I had been forged. I closed my eyes, letting the rising sun wash over me, and let the decision settle.

I was headed east.

79 thoughts on “Chapter 78: Keter’s Due

    1. Frivolous

      Thank you. Happy holidays to you, too, EE.

      I wonder why the Alamans were shamed, as mentioned in this chapter. I can’t see the logic in it.

      Did Prince Arsene really deal in secret with Keter, as I had guessed, and then got found out, or was it something else I’m overlooking?

      Also, I’m totally envying the Gigantes and their perpetually pristine white tunics. Must be nice not to ever need laundry.

      I am surprised that Catherine didn’t take the opportunity to sidle closer to the Gigante and peek underneath the tunic. I mean, she’s very short. Why not take advantage of that for once and look?

      Like

      1. Frivolous

        Addendum: Just noticed now “with only a destitute Princess Beatrice to calm them”

        Obviously this means that Prince Arsene must be dead, since he is absent.

        Like

      2. The Alamans forces – the conscripts, specifically – broke multiple times, and in a much less desperate context than the Callowan army (which also was re-gathered before anyone else’s forces were hit by the consequences of the rout)

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Yay early chapter(s)!
    I totally forgot that the Dead King would get a chance to retaliate. Also looks like we’ll have to wait to get confirmation on Vivienne’s Name, but Cat’s should be coming soon, by the same token.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. therealgridlock

      I dont think she gets one, and i have three pieces of logic to support my thesis.

      1: no named may rule a kingdom. This rule of the liesse accords means that if vivienne, chosen princess of callow, gets a name, she must immediately pick someone else to rule. She may *refuse* a name, such as cordelia Hasenbach did, but she cannot narratively come into one without malfeasance afoot.

      2: Vivienne will rule callow after the black queen. This is narratively set in stone, barring huge upsets, prepared for books in advance. Why throw away this storyline now?

      3: she gave up a name already, to be *human* and she realized that while her friends improved themselves, she was not, and so the skill she displays now is mere remnants of training, and personal ability. It isn’t superhuman, it isn’t Named, it’s just human excellence.

      If we combine the narrative that Cat’s chosen successor will almost definitely succeed Cat, and that no named can rule, then she doesn’t get a name. If we include the idea that she is simply exemplifying human excellence, like Cordelia, such that it is possible to be great without being Named, the no-name narrative becomes stronger.

      Ironically, she would carve a groove through fate that others could follow, except one without cheap tricks or superhuman reflexes, and instead only hard work.

      Like

  2. laguz24

    Also, this is better than crack. Just, the, aargh, so perfect, in the writing. After reading and watching so many other shows that could just be better and you can see it. This is a breath of fresh air.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. ByVectron!

    I really can’t express how thoroughly impressive the scope of this story is to me. Foundation, HGTtG, LOtR, GoT, The Expanse, and this saga will forever be part of my recommended reading list.

    Really well done, EE.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. I think I’ll just post my liveblog here

    ““The parity of light and darkness is a false perception. Light is transgressive, an imposition on the natural order, and so will always spend itself into nothingness. Be as the dark and you will be beyond struggle, ever returning when the flames die out.”

    – TRANSLATION OF THE KABBALIS BOOK OF DARKNESS, WIDELY ATTRIBUTED TO THE YOUNG DEAD KING”

    this is actually a really interesting thought? in context of guide in particular, where Light is known for RESTORING the natural order. something something different layers something something it sorta worked for him but also no

    “The turn of the year had begun with a boy I’d thought I might save, and then a hard lesson remembered to me by the Dead King.”
    turn of the year, huh
    guess she’d count from Foundling Day?

    “Masego’s spell was little more than a window between Twilight and Creation, but what it showed was… I knew the forces at work, but still the sight caused me in me a sort of primal awe. The meteors, shards of a broken star, were massive.”
    OH WOW
    I FIGURED IT WOULD BE MORE FIGURATIVE

    “Again and again the capital and the valley around it were struck until there was nothing there but barren glass, and still in the distance stars fell. How much of Hainaut had been scoured in the span of a few moments, I wondered?”
    OH BOY
    😡 😡 😡
    on one hand, undead!
    on the other hand, those villages DK left behind 🙂

    “It’d not been undead alone that’d still been in the city when the star fell. The Fourth Army was gone, as were most of the Hannoven men and the Prince of Bayeux’s army. Almost all of the Alavan troops had been lost as well, since they’d served as the Dominion rearguard, and at least half the Firstborn with them. It had been a cruel defeat before the Pilgrim began his last hurrah, but after the star had struck the results could only be called disastrous. Not a single army in fighting shape had made it out of Hainaut except maybe the Neustrians, and they’d just lost their princess.”
    okay WOW
    holy shit

    “The Dead King, for all that he was the victor of the field, did not have an army left in all of Hainaut. The meteors had seen to that. Much as I itched to blame Tariq for what I’d lost tonight, it would have rung hollow to try it when he’d died trying to save all of Calernia.

    And he had, Gods forgive me. If we’d simply evacuated, fled back to our defensive lines, then the simple amount of corpses swelling Neshamah’s ranks would have been enough to overwhelm us to the south after we retreated there to lick our wounds. And once the Dead King pierced into Procer, got his hands on cities and teeming masses of refugees, then it was all over. The Peregrine had averted that doom for us all, and I held that truth close as I watched the pieces of a dead star rain own on Creation.”
    hahaha
    yeah
    this is fun

    ““Some of the Scourges will have made it out,” Indrani quietly said. “The Hawk for sure, maybe the Prince of Bones as well.”

    “The Grey Legion’s good as gone,” I replied, forcefully calm. “That, at least, is a gain.”

    There had been few enough of those tonight that I would the find silver linings where I could.”
    yeeep

    ““The Crab is destroyed as well,” Masego noted. “Though it likely was in a practical sense even before the meteor struck it, given the amount of goblinfire burning within.”

    My fingers clenched. Blood dripped down from my palm onto the soft grass.

    “It was a good way to go,” Archer murmured. “They will sing songs of him, Catherine.””
    HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH
    I DONT THINK YOU THOUGHT THAT SENTIMENT THROUGH ALL THE WAY DRANI
    I KNOW YOU’RE TRYING TO BE COMFORTING
    I DON’T THINK IT’LL WORK WELL

    “I would rather they didn’t, I thought, so that I might hear him sing again instead. But I’d known deep down that Robber would find his worthy death on some battlefield or another. He’d been looking for years, trying ever starker odds against ever sharper foes. You would have hated peace, I thought. Despised it to the bone.”
    ok yeah fair 😡

    “My cheek clenched in frustration as I tried and failed to blink an eye I no longer had.”
    ah yes that also happened
    i love how that isnt even drama compared to the, uh, approximately everything else

    “General Bagram was dead. Vivienne has saved his life from the Varlet only him to die trying to rally the Fourth mere hours later.”
    OOF 😡

    “Indrani brushed a hand against my arm, startling me as I’d not seen her coming. I had blind spots now, I reminded myself. I’d need to learn to compensate for them.”
    😀 😀 😀
    ~you always did, in a different sense~

    “Masego stayed, but his eyes were on the vista revealed by his spell. He’d always been the most accommodating of my friends when it came to sharing solitude. It made him the easiest to be around when grief was still raw.”
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    "Nothing would live here for decades, centuries even."
    UH OKAY THEN
    WON'T LIE THIS IS NOT AN EFFECT I EXPECTED

    "t ended in time for me to hear footsteps approaching, the cadence of them telling me who they were before I turned. That hobbling walk was Hakram on his crutches, while the still unnaturally smooth stride was Vivienne’s – she had once walked rooftops as other women did streets, and the touch had never quite left her."
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    "Vivienne looked away when I met her gaze. Trying to avoid looking at my eye, I realized, and suddenly felt self-conscious. I would have brought down my hood, were it not too obvious a reaction."
    )=
    but also ❤ ❤ ❤
    i love both of them

    "“Enough,” Masego said, voice grown hard. “If you have the voice to ask, use it settle the troubles you bring her instead.”

    I started in surprise, half-turning.

    “Masego-” Vivienne began.

    “She should be asleep, Vivienne,” Hierophant said, eyes burning. “She insists on remaining awake, so she will, but do not mistake this for her being in a fit state. You ask too much.”

    I found myself both warmed and irritated.

    “I can speak for myself, Zeze,” I said.

    “Then do so,” Masego bluntly replied. “But I will not let this war drag you into the grave, Catherine. I have not forgotten what Aunt Sabah’s death did to my family, and I will not allow Robber’s death to bloom that sickly flower twice.”"
    OH HOLY SHIT
    DAMN
    YOU SPEAK ZEZE
    YOU TELL THEM

    "Masego beamed at me, which was comforting even tough I knew this was probably the wrong decision."
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    "The legend I’d set was not one I could live up to. l If this campaign should have made anything painfully clear for all the world to see, it was that I didn’t always have the answers. I’d pushed for this offensive from the start and even if I’d not been the only one to do so my influence had objectively been key. This catastrophe was on me, if it was on anyone at all."
    kadlfja;sldkfl'asldfjl;asdjf cat
    what were alTERNATIVES
    you KNOW THIS

    "My sentence went stillborn when I felt a shudder of indignation through my tenuous bond with the Night. Sve Noc were enraged, and though I found the shades of emotion difficult to parse I did pick up that this wasn’t about the Firstborn"
    oh, what? 😀

    "a great spell was stirring up a storm of ash.

    It was not one of ours.

    “Hierophant, what am I looking at?” I calmly asked.

    Masego remained silent for a time, golden glass eyes darting back and forth as they parsed the glimmers of the spell that could be seen through the ash. Thick, curving cords of runes spinning in cycles without making a sound, a dull but growing pale sphere at the heart of them.

    “I am… unsure,” Hierophant admitted."
    WHAT
    WHAT NOW
    ELVES, DWARVES, GNOMES
    WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE

    "“Cat,” she said, “we have a problem.”

    “I’m aware,” I replied, jutting a thumb towards the spell-window.

    She took a glance, then grimaced.

    “Cat,” she said, “we have two problems.”"
    beautiful

    "“I’m listening,” I said.

    “The Gigantes are gone,” Archer said. “All of them. I think they went back into Creation.”"
    …that could actually account for this
    maybe there arent two problems

    "“Hierophant, is this their work?” I asked.

    “No,” Masego immediately replied. “This is Trismegistan, Catherine. And I understand why it unsettled me. The elements I found familiar were of my work and Akua Sahelian’s.”

    I blinked.

    “The Dead King cribbed from your spellcraft?”

    “I suspect,” Hierophant softly replied, “that it was the other way around, Catherine. However unknowingly. It is not without reason that the very magic we practice bears the name of Trismegistus.”

    “Shit,” Archer said. “This is his spellwork, isn’t it? His actual hand weaving the spell, not some intermediary’s.”"
    oh-kay the worst case scenario then

    "With the Sisters themselves on my shoulders I could almost call on Night the way I’d been able to before it was ruined, but my body was weak. Aching and too close to collapse. Even with Komena banishing the sensation of exhaustion, I could feel a tingle at the edge of my senses warning me how close to unconsciousness I still teetered."
    Hum.
    So the crows can still empower HER, but probably not anything else they could previously do simultaneously with that.
    That sure is an interesting position it leaves them in :3

    "I had left my staff down there, beyond the bubble, but it still stood perfectly still as if untouched by the storm. I extended my hand and moments later it was slapping against my palm, the dried traces of my blood rubbing against my palm as I pulled myself up."
    yeppp ❤

    "The Pilgrim had meant in the sense that if the Dead King used devils, then the heroes of the Grand Alliance would in turn get to call in angels as a superior counterstroke. Except we’d struck first, hadn’t we? The Grey Pilgrim had died intertwined with the Choir of Mercy calling down his dead star, it was our side that’d broken the seal. The story’s not on our side, I realized with dread. Even if Masego had proved to have the capacity to Wrest the spell, he still would have failed – the scales were tipped in Neshamah’s favour for this to work, he had earned it. Fuck. And I couldn’t believe it would be only the one gate either, it wasn’t the Dead King’s way.

    “Can you see afar?” I asked Sve Noc. “Look for other gates like this, still forming.”"
    okay holy SHIT
    0.0

    "“It is imperfect,” Hierophant croaked out. “Unlike the closed circle that Akua made of Liesse. Not only will Keter’s Due spread, it was made worse. On purpose, I think.”

    My stomach dropped.

    “How much worse, Masego?” I quietly asked.

    The last time the Dead King had opened a Greater Breach, he’d blighted most of the Kingdom of the Dead doing it. It was the reason the phenomenon was known as Keter’s Due in the first place.

    “I can’t be sure,” Masego admitted. “Perhaps as far as the defence line to the south?”"
    UH

    "“It is called,” the giant said, “the Riddle of the Lock.”

    My heartbeat quickened.

    “It’s a gate,” I said. “Are you telling me your mages locked it?”

    “Our singers are dead,” the Gigante said. “I witness only the work they gave their lives for.”

    My fingers clenched as I remembered that while the Gigantes had sent people into Cleves there had been no bargain for the Pass, that – I stopped. But there had been, I realized. Clever Cordelia had spent the goodwill she had won executing the Red Axe a second time to move the Highest Assembly to apologize to the Titanomachy for the Seven Slayings. They’d sent people into the Pass to fortify the Morgentor. If the Gigantes had locked all three gates, perhaps the war was not yet lost.

    “We are in their debt,” I carefully said.

    “Aid was promised,” the giant said. “Aid was given.”

    I nodded.

    “And how long will their gift last?” I asked.

    “A year, a month and a day,” the Gigante said.

    In the distance, dawn began to break. The giant glanced at me again.

    “I will return home the corpses of my companions,” he said. “We will not meet again, Queen of Callow.”"
    OKAY THEN
    THAT IS CERTAINLY BETTER THAN IT WOULD HAVE BEEN OTHERWISE
    BUT
    WELL
    YEAH

    "“Then take you leave with my thanks,” I said, meaning every word. “Your people have given Calernia a chance.”

    Even if both Cleves and the Pass were blighted by the rituals too, we had been pulled back from the fall to the brink.

    “We have given them time,” the giant said. “What might yet fill it is in your hands.”"
    yeeeeah
    holy fucking everlonving shit

    "Dawn rose, slowly, and with it came shadows. My own found me before too long, her steps soft on the ashen ground. Her gaze followed my own, coming to rest on the Hellgate."
    I'd been wondering if she could help Masego but, like, decidedly NO lmao

    "ne after another, the solutions fell away until one remained.

    “We need diabolists,” I said. “Hundreds of them, thousands.”

    Enough that every devil that came howling through those gates could be bound and dismissed, that a more permanent solution could be devised.

    “There is only one realm in Calernia, Catherine, that is the home to so many of them,” Akua said.

    There was an expectant shiver in her voice, halfway between fear and desire. Praes. The Dread Empire. The first crucible of my life, the fires where I had been forged. I closed my eyes, letting the rising sun wash over me, and let the decision settle.

    I was headed east."
    well, this is not THE reason we called for her going east but this sure was called!
    (mostly on the logic of "no her Name is coming soon also how the fuck would structure even work without going to Praes before DK is over")

    Liked by 6 people

  5. THANKS!!! Merry Christmas you too!!!

    Now for the chapter, wow, the thing that most shocked me about the gigantes is that they call Nessy the YOUNG king, the implications are staggering. Maybe this will force the elves to actually do something? Although i think they once tried and it ended with the king losing his son right?

    As for praes i wonder if DK had this pseudo planned, as an in case they do something this will at least force them to go to praes and dilute the story of me as their enemy kind of thing?

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Xinci

    This was lovely ty. That exert from the book explains some things, goes with the themes too. Evil tends to have lasting remnants between the various iterations. Changes to the genes that can’t be healed by miracles, or beast and monsters hunted by someone later. A fitting thing for the side of the argument who is less direct in their gifts and warier of directly investing. If your side is made of droplets in the tide that will drown Creation, then it makes sense to keep the waves churning.
    I do wonder then if the DK actually learned from Akuas cycling or had already learned a similar technique if he uses it for other projects. As a principle, it seems quite useful for running the Serenity with almost no upkeep.
    The Dk’s show of story craft here was pretty exquisite, neatly almost won if it wasn’t for the right people being in the right place.

    Like

    1. bennett palmer

      The dead king didn’t nearly win, he did win. Think about what he lost, long term. He lost one crab, a few powerful revenants, the grey legion, and probably an unfinished bridge that was always bait to begin with. all this adds up to very little for him. Meanwhile, the grand alliance lost the grey pilgrim, along with a bunch of lesser heroes, had many armies crushed, had night crippled, catherine and the woe are leaving the front lines to chase down praes, and the gigantes’ deal to help has been expended.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. “Young King” lol.

    I think Kairos’ 3rd secret, that Twilight Paths also lead to places not of Creation, will come to be used against the breaches. Maybe they could redirect them, sort of like what Warlock did? Maybe even use them to get to Serenity.

    A bit surprised Akua didn’t try anything when the breaches were being opened. She’s the finest diabolist of her generation and she opened one up herself. It was a ripe opportunity for usurpation. Then again I’m not really sure to what extent she can interact with sorcery.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Alec

    Perhaps the point is supposed to be to prove that even us readers believe in Cat’s story too much, but it somehow still feels wrong that Cat could be shot by the Hawk like that when she specifically said to watch out for it. When the Dead King took the time to speak to Cat a word in a language he knows only she would understand. Cat’s fall is clearly the shift that changed the story here. This ending to the Hainaut arc is tragic and moving and beautiful, but it is also unsettling and off in my mind. It feels like I have been sold the end to some other story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ninegardens

      I mean…. I feel like “I’ve been sold the end to some other story” and “Unsettling” is… kind of appropriate for vs battle against the dead king.
      The fact that it DOES feel wrong, the fact that he DOES beat them better than expected matches with the fact that he’s just… way better than the previous enemies Cat has faced.

      I know what you mean on the feelings, but I kinda like it.

      Like

  9. Daniel E

    I suspected in the previous chapter that the battle of Hainaut was shaping up to be a major victory for the Dead King. Recall that he has multiple Crabs, and most likely a significant reserve force in Keter as well, while the Grand Alliance has been effectively neutered. I’m starting to think that DK might actually survive this whole affair, shunted away in his personal Serenity, with the goal simply being to elevate Catherine to a position similar to his own; a story-driven demi god(ess), of sorts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sinead

      However, if he becomes Sealed Evil in a Can, he might be doomed if he ever stepped out of Serenity, binding him to irrelevance. He won’t even be a “hidden source of knowledge” since Cardinal will be a mage academy with Masego as a founding teacher. And while he isn’t Nemeshah’s equal yet, he is still a peer in terms of sorcery and his teachings along with every other contribution will build a resource far greater than what Nemeshah would easily provide.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oshi

        Which is probably what will happen to him. What you cannot defeat you bind. He’ll forever be the evil in a can. It’s a fitting ending that he will be bound forevermore to the very world he sought to dominate.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. JJR

          While not his first choice of fates, being sealed in his hell kingdom might be an acceptable alternative to death. Play the role of the ancient evil that fools try to summon for their own ends for a few centuries. They get to learn that evil is not a toy as they get pulled into hell, and Dead King gets to continue existing as there really isn’t an opportunity for heroes to attack him.

          It goes back to his quote at the start of the chapter. Her need only wait, the forces of light that sealed him will eventually spend themselves and the dark ages will return. Even if it takes 100 lifetimes.

          Like

    2. ByVectron!

      So, in a pattern of three, this is his victory. That leaves only a draw and a loss for him, unless we look at previous events for either of those.

      Like

      1. agumentic

        Still not how Patterns of Three work, and it wasn’t even much of a victory, thanks to Gigantes. Only one side has an army after all was said and done, and it is the side that breathes.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    caused me in me > caused in me
    rain own > rain on
    only him to die > only for him to die
    armies the dead > armies of the dead
    ended? > ended?”
    use it settle > use it to settle
    even tough > even though
    l If this> If this
    Most the people > Most of the people
    no remained > not remained

    Like

  11. standardtypo

    Typos [standard]:
    caused me in me -> caused in me
    rain own -> rain
    only him to die -> only for him to die
    armies the dead -> armies of the dead
    ended? -> ended?”
    use it settle -> use it to settle
    even tough -> even though
    l If this -> If this
    Most the people -> Most of the people
    no remained -> not remained
    Vivienne has -> Vivienne had
    I would the find -> I would find
    {dust on the wind} on -> in
    {I found it hard to care:} : -> ;
    {she warily eyes our surroundings} eyes -> eyed
    {heartbeats now,”} , -> .
    {Talon sunk into my flesh} Talon -> Talons
    {Not, not everywhere} Not -> No
    {Then take you leave} you -> your
    {even if did not lead into them} if -> if it

    Like

      1. It doesn’t matter if she wants it, it is the Name she is moving into. The Peregrine basically all but told us that when he looked inside her and saw her budding Name dealing with authority and in the East. The authority in the East is the Dread Empress

        Like

        1. Matthew Wells

          First of all, Queen of Callow and Arbiter of Cardinal are both ‘authorities of the east’. Second of all, Dread Empress literally cannot be claimed or moved into without having a legitimate claim to be currently ruling Praes, which is something she neither wants to do nor has the ability to do, even if she kills Malicia. Staying in the Tower would mean abandoning the War, the Accords, Callow, and Amadeus.

          Like

        2. Trebar

          No, not a chance. Her upcoming name isn’t just “authority in the East”… she ACCIDENTALLY Spoke to Named as strong as the Grey Pilgrim. No way in Above or Below is the Empress a strong enough Name for that, nor does it have enough authority over the Pilgrim.

          Like

  12. Big I

    Obviously this has been a really bad day for our protagonists, but I couldn’t help think that that bit at the end with giants was a victory of necessity and preparedness. If Cat hadn’t sent the Red Axe to the Procerans the giants wouldn’t have helped. I think that reinforces her Story about the need for hard choices and the people who make them.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Frivolous

    It bothers me that Catherine was in the compelled by the Greater Breaches to go to Praes to get an army of diabolists to help control those Breaches.

    You see, in the recent chapter, Lost & Found, Tariq saw that Catherine’s coming Name would be birthed in the east, and by something in the east.

    The causality thereof sounds crazy. Does it mean that this entire horror, the destruction of nearly all of Hainaut and all the deaths of armies and civilians, were caused by Catherine’s Name?

    Because that is what it sounds like to me, at least a little. Causality dictates that happens before gives rise to what happens after. Catherine’s approaching Name started 2 years ago and came first. Therefore one could say that it gave rise to everything that happened after.

    What do you think?

    Also, I’m kinda disappointed in the Gigantes. They were enormously powerful, and yet the only agency they had in this battle was as cleanup. They gave their lives to be janitors to the mess, and not even permanent janitors. Just temporary ones.

    I would have preferred it if they gave their lives to destroy the Crab and win the battle instead. But I must presume that they lacked the capacity to do so.

    Still disappointed, though.

    I kinda suspect they knew the Greater Breaches would happen. Their serendipitous deployment to the sites of those Breaches is very very suspicious.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sir Nil

      Someone had to do it. As meh as janitorial work is someone has to clean the nooks and crannies otherwise bacteria and fungus get everywhere and starts bothering people. Their act of janitorial work probably saved the entire world, arguably a lot better than taking down a single crab.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I think the casualty was more like, the Name was forming in anticipation of this inevitably happening.

      Casualty of Name/Role events being fucky and relying on future knowledge is nothing new. Note how there was a whole bunch of Squire claimants going to Summerholm at about the time Cat would be there – they’d have had to set out before she was the Squire at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sinead

        On the Squire claimants – I think they were heading there because Amadeus was heading there after Laure, not in response to Cat. Cat followed the same route by already being hitched to the Black knight wagon

        I think the causality of this is that Keter always acting s the theoretical second partner in a deal (with the invite and all that) makes Nemeshah actively harder to deal with from a metaphysical perspective such that dealing with Praes was always the path forward, but Nemeshah blocked that path by swamping them with undead that were a more immediate threat. Binding Praes (and potentially the Golden Bloom) actually frees up more elements to deal with the Kingdom of the Dead.

        I wonder if the end result is going to be the Drow sitting on the Kingdom of the Dead along with blighted territories acting as containment of both Nemeshah and the Chain of Hunger.

        I could see the Gigantes predicting that Nemeshah would respond to any sufficient defeat with sorcery, and Nemeshah is famous for one feat of sorcery in particular, and planned accordingly.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. TeK

    One thing that slipped Cat’s mind is that WB’s comment about DK not using sorcery meant that he was not taking them as a threat…

    Now, he does.

    I do wonder though, if the Gigantes are spent, it means the shores are not protected. Tge Hainaut front is already mostly gone, how would they establish a new defensive line, if Cat also needs to take armies from it and into the Praes?

    Also, I am reminded about what Bard said to William.

    “They think they are special, but they are not, not really. Pattern does not discriminate between the shades, it only sees the black and white.”

    The Dead King takes on entire continent, the Good, the Evil and the Neutral, and still manages to hold his own. If the Pattern can be transcended once in Callow, it can be transcended again in Keter. He does not need to win, not really, he just needs to become the other side. And the Pattern will act to preserve him forevermore.

    On the side note, I except that long forgotten dusty Chekhov’s gun about Forever King eyeing the borders of Empire and pondering war will finally pay of. Having recently reread the PGtE (yet again) I am reminded of the sheer scope of the forethought put into this book. So yeah, still wait for a payoff on the elves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Damn, I forgot about the Forever King. If he got involved beyond sending a dozen Emerald Swords the situation in Praes would be even more messy. I’m not sure there’s enough time for it but it would be cool to clean up the elves and reclaim the Golden Bloom.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Shores can be held without the wards, they’re a natural defensive line. Wards would have been better obviously but iirc plans for this offensive were already being made without the promise of the wards.

      And… does Catherine need to take an army to Praes? Does she really? There are quite a few waiting for her there ready-made… 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      1. agumentic

        They were – the offensive was approved in chapter 40, while Gigantes presented their offer in chapter 43.

        And she really does. While there are people out there who she could ally with, there is no one who would just give her an army to command if she asks nicely. If she asks nicely while already having an army – probably the Third, since I suspect they went to hide in the Ways and so avoided most of the damage from the blast – well, that’s an entirely different situation.

        Liked by 1 person

              1. agumentic

                If he wanted to gather them for some nebulous plan of his, he could have already done so. He wouldn’t even need to be present, just reach out. Since he opted to not do that, whatever Amadeus is doing doesn’t need armies, and so he doesn’t have armies to give.

                Liked by 1 person

                  1. agumentic

                    Depends on the plans – who knows how changeable they are, and how fast? I don’t think Cat can (or even wants to) rely on “My dad will get me an army” when she is on a strict time limit to get Praes in order. And even if he can, it’s not like having more armies will make it harder to conquer Praes or it’s necessary to leave every soldier that can hold a weapon behind for the fronts to hold out.

                    Liked by 1 person

  15. Silverking

    Poor, poor Malicia.

    Everything she has done has been in service to keeping foreign armies from marching on Praes. The loans to infighting Procer, the poisoned water scheme, the Greater Breach machine the alliance with the Dead King. All to make sure that attacking Praes is either not worth the cost or not top priority.

    But now, through no fault of her own, she has found herself at the top of Cat’s “things to deal with list.” Life is simply unfair to a Dread Empress.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ninegardens

      *Cat shows up*
      Cat: yo, Ally Bell’s. gimmie 500 of your top diabolists not to invade.
      Malicia: Sure. Will that mean Maddie is pals with me again?
      Cat: I dunno. Probably.
      Malicia: Deal.

      *Cat proceeds to head up north to smash Keter using demons*
      *Maddie and Malicia make up and become friends again*
      *Hye and various elves kill each other, and the rest of creation doesn’t need to think about them again*

      Liked by 1 person

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