Epilogue

“And so Maleficent the Second said: ‘If I must burn half the realm to save the rest, then kneel before the empress of ashes.’”

– Extract from the Scroll of Restoration, fortieth of the Secret Histories of Praes

The Vogue Archive did not sleep and tonight neither could Cordelia Hasenbach.

Numbly, she walked down the mostly empty hall past the great tables bearing maps of the realm she ruled and the smaller bureaus – where, at hours other than the middle of the night, some of the finest minds in Procer tended to its regions. There were a few mages of the Order of the Red Lion tucked away in corners, having retreated after greeting her and now again simply waiting to be of use, but aside from them the oft-crowded hall was quiet. Fewer than a dozen men and women were within it, sometimes reading through the odd reports that had come in the night but more often tidying up the numerous scrolls and reports that’d poured in during the day.

Cordelia made for the back of the hall, the raised dais where her handpicked analysts were charged with sifting through a sea of ink and parchment so that they might find the catastrophes on the Principate’s horizon in time for them to be averted. The First Prince had chosen five such individuals, but at this hour there was only one awake and present: a woman of an age difficult to parse, rather dowdy in appearance and of generally unremarkable looks. The sole eye-catching part of the Forgetful Librarian’s appearance was her oddly beautiful eyelashes, as if they had been borrowed from a more striking woman and set on this one’s face.

She looked, Cordelia had come to realize, rather like the manifest ideal of someone’s reclusive, scholarly aunt. It was an appearance that would invite dismissal from many, hiding the sharp mind and utter lack of morals of the Damned. The Librarian was an exceptionally talented woman as both a scholar and an advisor, the First Prince had learned, but she was best used as part of a larger council that would temper the ruthless pragmatism of the solutions she tended to propose. The other woman did not rise as Cordelia approached, remaining engrossed in a book as she cradled a steaming cup of chamomile.

It was a small slight the Damned liked to give, one of the little games she seemed unable to stop herself from playing even when there was no conceivable benefit for her to gain, but it had remained an irritant. Usually the First Prince took the time to consider whether a threshold had been reached where the other Proceran needed to be reminded of the hierarchy between them, but not tonight. The disrespect slid off her like water off a duck’s back. It seemed such a small, petty thing to eve spare thought for after the news she had received.

The First Prince of Procer instead slid into one of the seats she’d had brought here, exemplars of comfort given the long hours they would be used for, and leaned back. She closed her eyes, wondering if the Heavens would take pity on her and let her fall asleep instead of remaining like… this. Numb and exhausted, feeling as if she was somehow too tired to sleep. There was a muted clap as the Forgetful Librarian closed her book – though not before placing a bookmark, the parts of Cordelia that never rested noted, which was interesting given that most Chosen and Damned seemed to have enhanced memory – and set it down, sipping with uncouth loudness at her chamomile.

The Librarian was Alamans and of good birth, meaning she was being unpleasant very much on purpose.

“Long night?” the Damned idly asked.

Cordelia did not answer for a very long time, yet she did not hear the book creak open.

“I have been told,” the First Prince finally said, “that no less than three Hellgates were opened across the breadth of Procer.”

And that was not why she grieved, for sorrow was a nation’s due but grief could only ever be personal, but it was an answer of enough gravity that it would obscure what was truly moving her. The Forgetful Librarian breathed in sharply but did not answer. Cordelia opened her eyes, finding herself being closely studied.

“All three were temporarily sealed,” she continued, “though at the cost of the lives of every Gigantes that came to our aid.”

The villainess hesitated, for though she was not a moral woman neither was she the manner of monster that bargained with devils for the lives of thousands.

“And Keter’s Due?” the Librarian asked.

In proper Proceran scholarship the phenomenon was known instead as ‘the desolation’, but since the Arsenal had begun to train wizards the Praesi terminology had seeped through. It could not be denied that Proceran sorcery had a rather religious turn to it, and as Cordelia understood it the ‘desolation’ was considered to be as much theological in nature as it was magical – a punishment by Above for the ruinous overreach of mortals. What disgusting idea, the Lycaonese thought. To punish thousands for the crimes of one, who would not even be moved by the sight of such cruelty regardless. The very definition of pointless suffering. No, Cordelia would take no issue with the use of ‘Keter’s Due’ at all.

“There are reports from both the Hierophant and the Grave Binder that suggest the effects of the Due were purposefully worsened,” the First Prince evenly said. “In each case, most of the surrounding region was blighted.”

The curse had flooded outwards. To the north the losses were acceptable, for Twilight’s Pass had already been bare rock while the swaths of western Hannoven and southern Rhenia that had been lost had been poor farmlands. In the case of Hainaut, where the blight was said to have spread down to a natural fortress named Lauzon’s Hollow, the loss was one still to be felt: those lands had been in the hands of Keter for most of the war. In Cleves, however? The Hellgate had been opened at the fortress of Trifelin, where Rozala Malanza had won a great battle mere weeks before, and the Due slain a few thousand soldiers out in the open where there had been too few wards. That had been the least of the losses there in truth.

The blight had also swallowed most of the fine lands along the length candle road, snuffing out the principality’s breadbasket.

That meant that Cleves would have to be fed by southern principalities, which where already buckling under the strain and rebellious besides. It meant dozens of thousand of refugees forced to flee south into lands grown increasingly hostile to them. It means that Procer would have to either beg for parts of the harvest of the Kingdom of Callow which it could not afford to buy – not with Merchant Prince Mauricius having clearly laid out there would be no more loans until some unacceptable conditions were met – or there would be starvation in the heartlands of the Principate. Hannoven was ash and ruin, ruled by the dead. Of her own Rhenia no lands save the city-fortress itself remained, her own people huddling in the dark beyond those impassable defences while death roamed the countryside. Now Cleves and Hainaut as well were a ruin.

The armies that had been supposed to turn the war around, to push the dead back into the lakes, had delivered instead one of the bloodiest stalemates in the history of Calernia. And Cordelia’s own uncle had died in some ill-fated last charge without the break between them ever having been mended, nothing but harsh words left to part on. She forced herself to breathe slowly and steadily, else she knew she would tear up. There were too many people looking. There were always too many people looking, and she could not afford to show weakness after having forced the hands of the Highest Assembly the way she had.

“Was Hainaut a defeat, then?” the Librarian quietly asked.

Cordelia Hasenbach allowed herself a bitter smile.

“The Black Queen won the field, though the field was but a smoking ruin and many died,” the First Prince replied. “Among them the Grey Pilgrim. The White Knight broke the Dead King’s great bridge in the north, so the campaign can still be settled in our favour.”

She knew better than to name such an outcome a victory, however. Nearly half the Army of Callow was gone, the Lycaonese forces on the front mauled and leaderless and general casualties had been atrocious for everyone save the Levantines. Who had not been spared, either, though in a different way. The Dominion was in uproar, as at least a few hundred of its Blood had died turning to ash without warning on the evening of the Battle of Hainaut. Cordelia’s spies believed that everyone who could have a feasible claim to being an Isbili had died, around the time the Peregrine himself had died and brought down the pilgrim’s star on Hainaut.

With the Holy Seljun dead, no legitimate successor in sight and all remaining major nobles up north fighting Keter the resulting chaos already promised to be crippling. Another nail in the Principate’s overly burdened coffin, she thought, for the Dominion had been one of the last few nations with which Procer could trade to keep afloat: the coming tide of squabbles and ‘honour wars’ would strangle those routes soon enough.

“Trouble in Levant,” the Forgetful Librarian frowned, tracing the rim of her cup with a finger. “I’m not so sure we can afford that – economically speaking, anyway. We will have to lean on Helike and her dependents to compensate.”

“It will not be enough,” Cordelia tiredly replied.

General Basilia, who was now quite openly mulling claiming the title of empress after having so long deferred taking up the queenship of Helike, had made great strides forward with precious little outside help. Cordelia herself had served mostly as a diplomatic broker in the matter of settling hostilities with Stygia, and now that Basilia had most of the western Free Cities under her and a sworn peace with Atalante her rise seemed difficult to stop. Luck was even on her size, as word was that Bellerophon had once more declared war on Penthes, belatedly seizing an opportunity to attack their old rival that the People had failed to recognize. It further tipped the balance in General Basilia’s favour, though given the fluidity of wars in the League there was no certain outcome. Not that Cordelia expected the war to continue much longer.

Delos was too great a fortress to easily fall, but it would not stand alone against three cities and the priests of Atalante had no yearning to break a holy oath freshly sworn. It might not be that Basilia would hold all of the Free Cities, as the Republic of Bellerophon at least would fight to the death over submission, but it seemed likely that a tributary empire centred on Helike would be emerging from the aftermath of that war. Given that Basilia was friendly to the Grand Alliance and hostile to the Tower as well as eager for trade to resume, this seemed like a saving grace for Procer’s ailing coffers. Except, of course, that General Basilia had spent two years ravaging the Free Cities with her wars.

Trading with a broken land not yet recovered from the last civil war that’d ravaged it was not going to be sufficiently profitable in the immediate future, not when the only Free City whose coffers had swelled was Mercantis and it was hoarding the wealth. In a year, perhaps two, this could be the miracle that Cordelia needed should the nascent empire of Basilia not collapse.

The Principate of Procer did not have a year to spare, much less two.

“Shall I send for the others, then?” the Forgetful Librarian asked. “If there was ever a reason to wake them in the night, this would be it. I have refined my proposal for the invasion of Mercantis as a stopgap solution, besides, so it might be the time for Your Highness to genuinely consider it.”

She still believed, it seemed, that there was room to maneuver. That there was still a game afoot.

“One year and twenty-eight days,” Cordelia Hasenbach softly said. “That is how long we have before the seals on the Hellgates break.”

And what could be done in so little time? Queen Catherine had left one of her foremost generals, Abigail the Fox, to handle matters in Hainaut with the returning White Knight and bluntly informed Cordelia that she saw only one solution: she was headed for east, for Praes. She would be taking the Marshal of Callow and the remains of the Second Army with her, as well as the reassembled First. A few Chosen and Damned as well, as she intended on settling the war for the Tower and returning west with mages in large enough numbers the Hellgates could be handled by Praesi magics. The Black Queen had not pretended that anything Cordelia could say might sway her form that decision, but the part that had truly cut had been the seemingly heartfelt condolences about Uncle Klaus.

It had seemed obscene to Cordelia that the Queen of Callow had spoken more to him than she had, this last year. That she… The First Prince mastered herself, evenly breathing. The east was beyond Cordelia’s grasp, it was no longer her trouble. She would see to the west as much as she still could, to her last breath, even though she knew in the deepest of her heart that the outcome was already decided. Procer would fall because it was simply no longer capable of standing. If the war was not won soon it was going to break, and the war would not be won soon. In truth it might be that victory was no longer possible, Cordelia admitted to herself. Or that if it were achieved, the Principate Procer would not live to see that achievement.

And facing that brutal truth was part of her duty, to plan for it. So Cordelia Hasenbach’s mind slowly stirred awake from the numbness, considering how any part of Procer might still be saved from the coming onslaught – how its people might be saved. And there was a darker duty still, one that she despised but must consider anyway. Should the Enemy triumph, should it all come to the worst of all ends…

“Send for the others,” the First Prince of Procer finally said, tone steady. “And for mage of the Red Lions as well, if you please.”

The Forgetful Librarian slowly nodded, then rose to her feet to see it done. Cordelia would need to speak with a man she had hoped she would not see again before the war was at an end. Not out of distaste for him, but because of what she had sent him to guard: the ancient corpse that had once lain in the depths of Lake Artoise, and the weapon that had been made of it. For Cordelia was a Hasenbach, in the end.

If it came to it, she would do what she must: better that some of Calernia survive than none at all.

It was a delicate balance to maintain, to keep a civil war going without ever being at genuine risk of losing it.

Malicia liked to think of it as painting with her own blood, drawing on the famous turn of phrase by Maleficent the Second. Every success in guiding the war according to her design came at the expense of carving away a sliver from the pedestal of her perceived superior position, and should the game be kept going for too long – or defeats not of her own making be inflicted upon her – then she ran the risk of that pedestal truly being toppled. It had not come to pass, of course. The Dread Empress of Praes had begun to prepare for this conflict several months before the first sword was drawn, and she’d had contingencies in place regarding civil war for decades prior.

Agents seeded and left to grow, traitors and assassins and impostors. Bribes and blackmail, debts to call on and more highborn in the palm of her hand than anyone alive might suspect. High Lady Tasia Sahelian had seen through parts of the preparations, in olden days, but now Tasia was dead and Wolof ruled by a young man she had personally seen soulboxed. High Lord Sargon Sahelian was, amusingly enough, one of her most ardent partisans well beyond the influence she could truly exert on him. He had bloodied Wolof taking it from his aunt, so he now craved years under the protection of a greater power to rebuild his domain in peace.

And, for all that Abreha of Aksum – Sepulchral, as she now styled herself – remained breathing, east of the Wasaliti there was no greater power than Dread Empress Malicia. So long as I do not slip, Alaya reminded herself, studying the board before her. She’d always enjoyed shatranj, even when she had still been her father’s daughter and not a prisoner in a golden gaol. It was a game of logic and sequence, of anticipating the movements of your opponent, which had always appealed to her. Wekesa had enjoyed the occasional game with her when he’d visited Ater, the two of them spending more time playing and gossiping over their common companions over wine than attending to the matters of state Alaya had claimed the time for.

These days, though, Malicia played mostly against herself. The Dread Empress of Praes considered the lay of the pieces, the disarray of black and white that signaled the tail end of a match closely fought, and slid her last black mage down a diagonal. Soft footsteps told her that Ime had joined her without the need for the empress to look away from the board. This was not her bedchambers, simply a study, but her spymistress was one of the very few people who had access to the enchanted secret passage whose door opened behind her.

“Speak,” Malicia said.

“Our people in Procer confirmed that Queen Catherine is headed for Praes,” Ime said. “Already orders have been sent to Laure by the Black Queen to prepare the supplies for a campaign in the Wasteland.”

Malicia cocked an eyebrow.

“They cannot afford one,” the empress said.

The intricacies of the internal politics of the Grand Alliance aside, Alaya was speaking to the plain realities of hard coin. Callow was not flush with gold, having already spent most of the coin it had received for brokering a peace between the dwarves and the drow, and Procer was so beggared these days that it was often resorting to paying in goods rather than gold for the Callowan grain and cattle it so desperately needed. In practice, the Kingdom of Callow was simply not wealthy of enough to afford a war on a second front. It did not have the steel, the gold or the manpower to attempt such an enterprise. That had been part and parcel of Malicia’s strategy to contain the Black Queen from the very start: make dealing with the Tower a choice between diplomacy and bankruptcy.

“They’re pulling out the First and Second Army from Procer,” Ime replied. “As for coin, Duchess Kegan was instructed to borrow from the northern barons if need be.”

They’d have wealth tucked aside, Malicia reluctantly admitted in a mental calculation. The lands under the baronies of Harrow and Hedges had been only lightly touched by the Tenth Crusade and their rulers had made a tidy profit selling their goods to a beleaguered south during the reconstruction of Callow after Second Liesse. More than that, they would be willing to lend. The barons were not unaware that their adversarial relationship with Catherine Foundling had barred them from the Callowan halls of power, so they would be eager to get a foot in – particularly if the debt was to be ultimately shouldered by the much more friendly Vivienne Dartwick.

No doubt a few handsome spare sons would be sent along with the coin, bearing hints that a newborn Callowan dynasty could do with an infusion of fresh noble blood. Malicia was not unfamiliar with the tactic, her hand having been sought with varying degrees of aggressiveness over decades. Organising particularly painful deaths for those who dared to insist too much had been one of the few instances in which Malicia had worked closely with the Scribe. Eudokia was no friend of hers, but the other woman had inherited that very Delosi penchant for meticulous punishment of the contemptible.

“Who will hold command?” Malicia asked, eyes still on the board.

She moved a pale knight, venturing deep behind an arrant line of pawns.

“Abigail the Fox has been left in command of the Third Army in Hainaut, so she’d dredging up Marshal Juniper herself,” Ime said, tone wary.

The empress was not so affected.

“She is a skilled tactician,” Malicia calmly said, “and a general to take seriously, but her reputation is exaggerated. Rozala Malanza would have beaten her decisively in Iserre if the Black Queen had not intervened at the last moment. Marshal Nim should be her match, if it comes to that.”

Given a decade perhaps the ‘Hellhound’ would fully grow into her talents, having been seasoned by the Uncivil Wars, but for now the experience of the commanders that had served since the Conquest was difficult to match for such a young woman. It would tell, particularly in treacherous grounds like those of the Wasteland. Still, Malicia did mourn that such a talent had been stolen away from the Empire. It had been a stroke of terrible luck, that General Istrid would die during Second Liesse and so leave her daughter adrift and her old legion easily led astray. Not the greatest misfortune to come out of that battle by any measure, but a misfortune nonetheless.

“She will be coming personally, Your Majesty,” Ime quietly said. “The Black Queen. And she pulled away two of her armies from the war on the dead, against our expectations. She is taking a much harder line than we believed she would.”

Her spymistress was not incorrect, Malicia thought as she moved a black tower near the centre of the board. The Dread Empress did not find it entirely surprising that after what the Callowans had quaintly named the ‘Night of Knives’ their queen would balk at a diplomatic resolution of their disagreements, but she had expected that Cordelia Hasenbach would push for such an initiative. The burdens of the war should have rent Procer asunder by now and forced the First Prince to seek terms, even if behind the Black Queen’s back, but out of Salia there was only silence. Scribe had seized the reins of the remaining eyes in Procer, which meant information trickled east only at a glacial pace. Alaya slid a white mage, taking a pawn.

“She cannot afford a battle with either the Tower or Abreha,” Malicia said. “The ensuing casualties would make impossible an assault on Keter. It is posturing, Ime.”

“She thinks us weak,” Ime said.

“Which will make all the stronger an impression on her when it is revealed otherwise,” Malicia said. “I have no intention of offering onerous terms to turn on the Dead King, the shock and an amenable bargain will see us through.”

The priority would be dismantling the Grand Alliance as continental power. So long as Callow was leveraged to leave it after the war Alaya expected that old rivalries between it and Procer would resume, most likely through competing commercial interests, and it would be child’s play to cause incidents at the border between Procer and the Dominion. Her plans had not all gone perfectly, of course. The matters down south had turned against her and she would admit that the Stygian coup had been a complete surprise, but General Basilia’s victories brought opportunity with them. Sponsoring an eastern alliance within the Free Cities to rival the western Helikean bloc would check Grand Alliance influence in the region.

 Already the Secretariat was willing to privately entertain her envoys, worried that Delos would be gobbled up by the victorious marauding general.

“Or she could try to enthrone another in your place,” Ime murmured.

Alaya’s fingers tightened around a black knight. Malicia cocked an amused eyebrow.

“He has no armies, little practical support and fewer allies than I have fingers,” the Dread Empress of Praes said. “Amadeus has not returned to my side, but he has not raised a rebel flag beyond that unfortunate lapse at the Peace of Salia.”

Reconciliation might still be possible, she left implied. And Amadeus was in Praes, that much had been confirmed, but her once Black Knight had not made many visible waves. He had not sought allies within the highborn, reached out to the self-proclaimed Dread Empress Sepulchral or even come out of the woodworks to lead the deserter legions in the Green Stretch. The last in particular was a shame. It would have simplified things a great deal in some ways. Malicia was inclined to believe that Ranger had been an anchor around his neck, this time: for all that she was a fearsome force of violence, at the moment the half-elf was also being hunted by the Emerald Swords.

So long as she remained his companion, Amadeus could not come into the light without having those ten monsters coming for wherever he dwelled. Alaya released the knight, turning to meet her spymistress’ eyes. Ime looked troubled, as she often was these days. She was growing old, for all that rituals still kept the worst ravages of time away, frailer in both body and mind than the bold woman she had been in their youth.

“You have concerns,” Malicia said.

“In understand why we cultivated the perception of our weakness,” Ime said. “So long as we were a genuine military concern for the Grand Alliance, I agree that we ran certain… risks.”

Like Catherine Foundling gating in through the Twilight Ways and beginning to drown cities, driven to hard measures by the fear of the Grand Alliance buckling under a war being fought on two fronts. Much easier for Praes to be beset by civil strife, a threat still but only a distant one. Not urgent, an enemy that outright threatened the survival of Calernia. Not that Malicia herself did not genuinely believe that the Dead King had any real chance of winning, for Evil did not win wars, but then it was not her soldiers dying in droves. She had ensured that the Praesi civil war under her watch was to be largely bloodless, mostly fought through raids and maneuvering. 

“Yet that perception may yet come back to haunt us,” Ime continued. “She despises us, Malicia. She might refuse to deal with the Tower even if it’s the safer path, so long as there is another path at all. Another credible candidate.”

Malicia studied her spymistress. It was not assassination being alluded to here, of course. Ime had argued for it in the past but Alaya was still unwilling. Such an attempt would be laughably unlikely to succeed, besides, so long as he had Ranger by his side. Why even consider the option, with that in mind? No, it was a different sort of measure that Ime was arguing for. Alaya looked down at the board and rested a finger atop the black knight she had left behind, thinking for a moment. Sometimes childish dreams had to be let go of, she thought. Even when it was painful. There would be no returning to the way things used to be, and pretending otherwise was embracing the noose.

She tipped over the knight with a flick of her finger, the ebony piece clattering against the board.

“Your advice has merit,” Dread Empress Malicia said. “Send for Marshal Nim.”

Her spymistress watched her carefully.

“You’ll do it, then?”

“Yes,” the Dread Empress of Praes said. “I will recognize her as my Black Knight.”

It was a pleasant night out, especially with a bottle of wine and stolen roasted chicken to gnaw on.

The hinterlands of Aksum seemed perpetually doomed to being set aflame, Amadeus of the Green Stretch mused, since a mere few decades after he’d torched them on his way to besieging the city the High Lord of Wolof was now doing the same. Young Sargon was also abducting people to fill up the city that his aunt had mutilated on her way out, however, which Amadeus found an interesting variation on the usual Praesi civil war. It was important to keep those things fresh, he felt, and Gods knew that the Dread Empire had a great deal of practice bleeding itself. The dark-haired man chewed on his second chicken leg thoughtfully, watching the smoke rising in the distance. Another village burned. They ought to get moving soon, he figured, else they would risk running into raiders.

Amadeus wasn’t exactly afraid of the outcome that would ensue, but it wouldn’t be subtle and that lack was a lot more dangerous than those raiders could ever hope to be.

He wasn’t even halfway through the leg when he first glimpsed Hye coming up the path, noticing the splash of red blood on her sleeves when she got closer. Ah, fruitful talks then. She’d always been such a skilled diplomat, if one with a particularly narrow repertoire. He let himself drink in the sight of her for a moment, the long locks framing the high cheekbones and those clever dark brown eyes. Amadeus had seen her in everything but bare skin and moonlight to mail and cloak caked in filth, and even after all these years the faint note of wonder had yet to fade. The love of his life approached, taking a long look at him and narrowing her eyes.

“You ate both legs, you jackass,” Hye Su, who some knew as the Ranger, noted.

“So I did,” Amadeus, cheerfully replied. “You should have stolen your own chicken, if you wanted the choice cut.”

Though he had once been known as some manner of knight, he’d never bothered with chivilary: to add insult to injury, he also tossed the bones of the first leg he’d eaten at her and watched as she easily dodged. Her lips twitched, though.

“I should leave you hanging for this,” Hye complained.

“You won’t,” Amadeus smiled. “You got to kill something, it always puts you in a chatty mood.”

“I don’t get chatty,” Hye denied, deeply offended.

“Of course you don’t,” Amadeus pleasantly smiled.

He had to duck a chicken bone, but it was a victory in every way that mattered. Though huffing while she did, she dropped at his side and the both of them sat back against the tall milestone that some ancient High Lord of Aksum had raised on the hill near the road. Hye naturally helped herself to the rest of the chicken, producing a knife so she could pop the juicy but cooling pieces into her mouth, and the two of them sat closely together under the night sky.

“So I was talking with this fae,” Hye said.

“As one does,” Amadeus amiably agreed.

“He had this friend that knew a friend,” Ranger mused. “And they’d heard that the Black Queen, out west, she’s headed our way.”

“To clarify,” he said, “was this helpful rumour shared before or after you started stabbing him?”

“Eh,” Hye said. “You know how it is with fairies. There’s stabbing and then there’s stabbing.”

Sadly, Amadeus of the Green Stretch did know how it was with fairies. It was only marginally better than dealing with Wasteland highborn, something that had driven him to some fairly infamous bouts of stabbing over the years.

“Shouldn’t be a long journey through the Ways,” he said. “Two, three months at most.”

“Sooner, if Indrani’s guiding her,” Hye said. “She’s always been a natural at pathfinding.”

Amadeus hummed, amused at the understated pride in her voice. Though Hye did not visibly play favorites among her pupils, she’d always favoured those who used bows slightly over the rest.

“It is time for us to surface, then,” he said. “We need to get the last pieces in place before my own former pupil arrives.”

Hye grinned, all teeth and malice, and he felt his heart skip a beat. Even now, after all these years… well, he was not as young as he’d once been, but she did not seem to mind so what did he care? If anything she seemed to like the grey in his hair, which he had not known he was worried about until he felt relieved she did. It had been some years since Amadeus had last felt insecure, even unknowingly, and he had found it almost refreshing.

“Finally,” Ranger said. “I’ve been enjoying laying low, Amadeus, but sometimes you just need to bite down on something you know?”

“I do,” he replied in a murmur. “And this is long overdue.”

He looked east, where in the distance waited the gargantuan shape of the Tower jutting out from Ater, and he raised his half-empty bottle of wine in a toast. When was he to settle his accounts, if not the end times?

If the song refused to leave him, then he would silence it.

138 thoughts on “Epilogue

  1. And on that note we end Book VI. I’ll be taking a two month break between books, so the first chapter of Book VII will be coming out on the second of March.
    To all of you who’ve stuck with me since the beginning and to the many new readers, I hope you enjoyed this book and that you’ll enjoy the closing chapter of the series even more.
    Happy New Year, and see you in two months!

    Liked by 72 people

            1. Aerdor

              Considering the number of chapters only, book 5 seems longer than book 4 (108 for book 4 against 127 for book 5). I personnally think that the books 4 and 5 can stay as they are, but it is the books 1 et 2 that needs to be put together, because they are way smaller than the other books, and because end of book 1 doesn’t really feel like the end of an arc to me.

              If I’m right then EE needs to make 3 more books for “Seven and One”. Not complaining if he does 😉

              Liked by 1 person

          1. Mile

            Cat’s gonna climb it while Amadeus chops up the base. Then she’ll be at the top and he’ll get the last chop in and she’ll have a flying fortress because of course the tower is gonna have that enchantment.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. stevenneiman

        Due to your comment, It’s now headcanon for me that Ficsit Incorporated exists in Creation, and the Engineer is Named. Hell, the game’s tagline is a perfectly fitting Aspect lineup for her.
        “Construct. Automate. Explore.”

        Liked by 2 people

    1. TigerQuoll

      And for the story as a whole (and the Principate-Dead-King Storyline in particular), it seems we’re at that part. The night is darkest before the dawn part, aka the darkest hour part, everything is turned around but we can maybe see the beguinning of the end of the tunnel part. We’re nearing the climax now, at least because there is not many ways our stakes can get higher without changing a story that shines through its (admittedly very dark) comedy.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Shaerick 68

      Thank you EE for such an amazing story. I’ve only been following it for about a year, but for some time now having a new chapter come out has been the highlight of my days. The wait for the next book will be miserable, but enjoy your much deserved break!

      Like

    3. therealgridlock

      I said I would be doing these when I finally caught up to the present, so here it is:

      Typo Thread:

      It seemed such a small, petty thing to eve spare thought for after the news she had received.

      >Eve to ever

      The Hellgate had been opened at the fortress of Trifelin, where Rozala Malanza had won a great battle mere weeks before, and the Due slain a few thousand soldiers out in the open where there had been too few wards.

      >”Slain” to “had slain,” or rewrite the sentence

      The blight had also swallowed most of the fine lands along the length candle road, snuffing out the principality’s breadbasket.

      >”Length candle” makes no sense. If it is a proper name, perhaps capitalize it to denote that it is correct, otherwise “candle length road” makes more sense, or “long candle road”

      It meant dozens of thousand of refugees forced to flee south into lands grown increasingly hostile to them.

      >Thousand to thousands

      Luck was even on her size, as word was that Bellerophon had

      >Size to side

      that she saw only one solution: she was headed for east, for Praes.

      >”For east” to either “for the east” or just “headed east,” for east isn’t proper

      Or that if it were achieved, the Principate Procer would not live to see that achievement.

      >”The Principate Procer” to either “the Principate” or just “Procer” or possibly “the Principate of Procer,” i suspect either the of was left out, or this is an artefact from being undecided over whether to say the Principate or Procer

      “And for mage of the Red Lions as well, if you please.”

      >Mage to mages, or a mage, or magi, the plurality is insufficiently specified, but if it’s singular, it would be “a mage,” if it is plural, it would be mages or magi. Or if it is a specific mage, it needs to be specified.

      In practice, the Kingdom of Callow was simply not wealthy of enough to afford a war on a second front.

      >”Wealthy of enough” to “wealthy enough,” or “Callow simply did not have enough wealth”

      “Abigail the Fox has been left in command of the Third Army in Hainaut, so she’d dredging up Marshal Juniper herself,” Ime said, tone wary.

      >”She’d” to “she’s”

      The priority would be dismantling the Grand Alliance as continental power.

      >”as continental power” to “as a continental power”

      “In understand why we cultivated the perception of our weakness,” Ime said.

      >In to I

      Amadeus had seen her in everything but bare skin and moonlight to mail and cloak caked in filth,

      >I am almost 100% certain you meant “from” instead of “but”

      I didn’t mention a few other things that I found personally annoying to read, since they were a matter of editing preference and not actual incorrectness, and this is a typo thread and not an editing advice thread, but there you go.

      Like

  2. EE, I love this whole work and every character in it so I thank you for your dedication to this piece of art. That said, the two month break might just end up breaking my heart and soul. I hope everyone’s have an amazing 2021

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Sinead

      Here me out:

      The three factions of Praes are finghting over Tower raising, and are taking so long that Callow is coming in to overthrow them all.

      Hakram’s Tower Raising has taken on a life of its own.

      Liked by 9 people

  3. NerfGlaistigUaine

    Oh that is awesome. Guess Amadeus is going to test whether the Tower truly endures.

    Also great timing with end of this book

    Also gonna make an early prediction that this will be 8 books long.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    eve spare > even spare
    What disgusting idea > What a disgusting idea
    Due slain > Due had slain
    length candle (length of Candle road?)
    which where > which were
    It means that > It meant that
    died turning > died, turning
    Keter the > Keter, the
    her form > her from
    so she’d dredging > so she’s dredging
    as continental > as a continental
    Already the Secretariat (extra space)
    “In understand > “I understand
    everything but (should this be “from”)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Rando McRand

        I noticed that as well, but interpreted it as the author contrasting the reactions of Alaya, the lifelong friend and companion of Amadeus, vs. Dread Empress Malicia, a woman who cannot and will not embrace sentiment if it comes at the cost of being able to control her empire

        Liked by 9 people

      2. Frivolous

        beleester: I think that is not a typo but a reflection of the difference between the woman and the Empress.

        Alaya misses Amadeus. The Dread Empress, on the other hand, thinks little of Amadeus’s chances.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Tarial

    Wooooooooooooooo !!!!!

    Wonder what Cat is planning, she can’t have that many body left to bleed, even if “Callow interrupt a Praesi civil war” sounds like the sort of story that would have happened at least once in their 12 (?) centuries of existence.

    Wonder if Amadeus is gonna destroy the Tower, seems like a definitive way to silence a song, he ought to like the idea.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. dadycoool

      Rebellious Callow striking against Praes? With the (maybe) installment of a more friendly ruler at around the same time, or at least one busy/uncaring, willing to cut them loose entirely, that sounds like a story with history. Also, Struggle is at the foundation of Cat’s Life Story, so a half-broken Callow going up against a Praes that’s far stronger than they thought immediately after their biggest failure/tragedy might not be the worst situation. Maybe she’ll even take her Squire to visit a few lakefront properties?

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Sinead

        Nah, I don’t think we’ll see any installation of Praesi leadership. I think we’ll see a complete disbanding of Praes into separate groups to have to develop a different system of working other than the Tower. But one where the orcs, ogres, and goblins have a better seat at the table than at the Declaration.

        Liked by 6 people

    2. laguz24

      I don’t think simply destroying the tower will be enough to end the song. What he has to do is to get people to stop climbing. To be something more than a serpent forever eating it’s own tail.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. nick012000

        Yeah. Just toppling the building isn’t enough; it’s happened multiple times before, and they always rebuilt it again, even taller than it was before, afterwards.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Probably have to destroy the throne of the Empress that has endured since ancient times. It’s the one thing in the whole Tower that remains unchanged, standing in the rubble each time the Tower is demolished.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. TeK

    The end times indeed. Procer is done, the League is done, Levant is done, Praes is about to be done. The only country that still remains in the shape of it’s former self is Callow, amusingly enough.

    The old order is gone, the new one is yet to come. I wonder.

    If it will be truly worth it.

    Liked by 15 people

  7. laguz24

    Also, malacia is violating the iron sharpens iron philosophy of the wasteland. If you go up against yourself or someone too much like you. You will never grow, it’s time for the wasteland to learn that lesson.

    Liked by 7 people

  8. Hitogami

    Finally an ending.
    I’m honestly a bit dissatisfied with Black, he’s been doing absolutely nothing and that bugs me. He’d said that he would take care if Praes and now here he is waiting for Cat to come over…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. WuseMajor

      Amadeus is incapable of doing nothing. The man ALWAYS has a plan and his section implies as much.

      The fact that Malicia *doesn’t know what it is,* should be fucking terrifying her, not causing her to assume he’s just …on vacation or whatever.

      Liked by 24 people

      1. Crash

        Malicia went over cliff on villainy a while back, she has lost perspective.

        The fact she thinks she knows exactly how everything is going to play out here even as more and more wrenchs are thrown in her plans (some, she isn’t even aware of because Scribe took out her eyes in the West) is confirmation enough of it. She’s done.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. ruduen

      Amadeus has been doing absolutely nothing on-screen. Off-screen, who knows what. Unlike all of the other preparation which we’ve seen and therefore have immediate narrative payoffs for, Black’s had time to lay the groundwork for whatever large-scale plot is appropriate. And as someone on the villainous side of things…

      Combine that with the fact that Malicia seems more surface-level in terms of reading the narrative while Amadeus tends to go broader and see larger-scale consequences, and I’d say that we’re due for a proper reveal when he finally comes out to play.

      Liked by 12 people

  9. I shall endeavor to hold my breath for the next two months. This next book is promising to be almost optimistic with all of the powerups, redemptions, restorations, and revolutions on the horizon.

    Also, honestly, Alaya is coming across as almost a cartoonishly villainous in this. Kinda refreshing, actually.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      The age of wonders died when a Tyrant let a Hierarch judge angels, but an age doesn’t die all at once. It’s still in it’s death throes in many ways. As THE Evil nation, Praes is a huge part of that age, and so despite Amadeus working very hard to keep exactly this from happening, she’s taking on the roll of that Villian in a last stand of not only herself but her empire’s very way of life. Naturally the weight of that is making sure this is gonna be loud.

      Liked by 8 people

  10. WuseMajor

    Heh.

    Alaya made the same mistake Cat did.

    She tried to play things such that the other side would be forced to the negotiating table, but misjudged the situation, failing to realize that the negotiating table was never really an option.

    You have incurred the Long Price, Alaya. And you’ll be paying it sooner or later.

    Also… I mean, you’re right when you say that assassinating Amadeus was never really an option, but …he’s been in hiding with the most dangerous woman on the continent for over two years now and you don’t actually know what he’s planning.

    This should fucking terrify you.

    You, you of all people, know both what he’s capable of and the fact that he’s incapable of not planning something.

    And he likes Cat better than you.

    …..Also, I get that you’re hurting Cordy, but “*seemingly* heartfelt?” That was a needless jab and it displays that you still don’t get her. That was genuine and she’d be hurt that you thought otherwise.

    Oh. Huh.

    Alaya doesn’t know about the Hellgates. I bet that would change her math big time. It would mean that, at this point, Cat can’t afford NOT to be in charge of Praes or allied to the leader of the nation, because only the collective knowledge and mages of Praes could even give her a chance at closing those things. And you’ve screwed yourself out of ever joining the alliance, so there’s really only one option left, isn’t there?

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Huh. To expand on your comment about the Hellgates leaving *no* option but for Cat to war on the Tower, I wonder if Nemesah did that on purpose?

      He probably has a number of ways in which he could take advantage of the Grey Pilgrim’s escalation opening, but he specifically chose *Hellgates*, the method which forcibly drags Praes into this mess kicking and screaming.

      Liked by 17 people

        1. Oh why there was. It was such a lovely clause crafted to ensure that Praes got to sit on the sidelines fat and happy while the Dead King fought the whole rest of Calernia.

          Such a shame, such a *pity*, that Nemesah’s actions would result in the Grand Alliance turning their eye on Praes and directing some attention there too. Really, it’s just a *tragedy* that his Evil back-stabbing ally’s “leave me out of this” clause doesn’t also protect Malicia from Catherine deciding to attack her.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. ninegardens

        I mean… if Cat shows up and is like “Yo, we need you to join us in warring on the Dead King, otherwise we’ll knife you”
        And Alaya be like “Sure; you want some mages? I got a couple legions of diabolists out back”
        Cat would be like “Your a bitch. Thanks. Let’s get moving, times a wasting.”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I mean that’s the outcome we’d all certainly hope for. But I wonder if that’s even possible. Even if Malicia *did* agree to help.

          After all, Malicia has been so extravagantly back-stabby and front-stabby and side-stabby that I’m not sure her agreement to help could be believed. Especially considering she started this. Any commitment by Malicia to contribute diabolists in the Grand Alliance’s defense is almost literally unbelievable. To the point where accepting and potentially getting knifed might be considered a worse risk even than assaulting the Tower.

          Like, even if there’s only a 10% chance they assault Praes, dethrone Malicia, and come out of this with enough of an army and enough Praesi diabolists to stop the Dead King … I might take those odds, *even if* Malicia was promising me she’d just capitulate and help out because this new move by the Dead King is too threatening. Because I’d rate those 10% odds as pretty comparable to the odds we’d survive accepting Malicia’s “help”.

          Liked by 4 people

  11. Ohhh, Malicia doesn’t even realize that Amadeus lost the Black Knight mantle a while back, does she? That he’s now Named only insofar as he’s a Dread Emperor claimant.

    ….. orrrrrr, I guess he’s not looking to climb the Tower, but to topple it. Permanently.

    Well. If there’s a person in the world who has a shot at ending that story, it would be Amadeus, the blackguard who conquered Callow.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I agree with you that he is a Claimant to the throne of Praes, having that damn song (The Girl who climbed the Tower) in his head all the time.

      And I guess that from the chapter part from his view, we can easily deduce that Maddie will not climb the tower and make his seat up there but that he will tear down that tower and grind the remains to dust and sever the ties of stories that make Praes erect it again. So that there will be no more Dread Empire.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        I wonder though, what kind of name he’ll get for doing that. Cause doing something like this could still make you something, and he’s already growing into a name…

        Like

  12. JJR

    The tower has apparently been trying to serenade Amadeus with that song about climbing the tower for however many decades it’s been. And he’s about ask it to cut it out in a way that can only be done by packing the ground floor with goblinfire.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Amadues, give his sappers orders post-victory: “I want other goblins to hear of what happened here and weep pitiful tears knowing they will never see such total and magnificent destruction, and I want the green to rise high enough into the sky that people stop thinking ‘The Black Queen’ when goblin fire comes up.”

      Liked by 15 people

  13. Daniel E

    So here’s a thought: Can Ranger’s Aspects be used on her own senses? Like, can she use Transcend on her tongue to experience a taste of chicken that no mortal could comprehend? Inquiring minds need to know.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I feel like Ime is a pretty good gauge on Cat’s reputation in Praes and it leans towards: “don’t fuck with, she’ll murder your city”. Imo the High Lords will fold like a stack of dominoes if it ever looks like she’s winning.

    As they say, better to be behind a Tyrant than before them.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Unfortunatly, Cat lost. A lot of people are going to assume that that’s robbing her of her momentum and they are seeing her last desperate grab in the twilight of her time, because that’s how the sort of role she’s had would go if she was straightforward Prasei villiany. So she’s gonna have to show them the hard way.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. agumentic

        She didn’t, though. Even in this epilogue, you can see Cordelia saying “The Black Queen won the field”. Sure, the field is a blasted wasteland that cost many men, but that’s nothing new to villains – I feel like they in particular are more likely to concentrate on the “won” part. Certainly, the epigraph says exactly that, and Maleficent II was one of the best rulers Praes had.

        Liked by 4 people

  15. ninegardens

    So… something no one else seems to be mentioning here….
    Malicia’s plan seems to be “Surrender to the GA terms in the most annoying way possible, so that DK is defeated, but the GA doesn’t stab us later.”

    Maddie’s plan seems to be “Welp, the end times are coming, so I might as well break the tower on my way out.”

    Uuuummmmm…. one of these plans gives Cat *exactly* what she needs. The other is needlessly destructive and time consuming, and may well get a bunch of the needed diabolists killed.

    Also, Maddies plan was literally “Chillin like a Villian until my daughter decides to ditch the war vs DK and come help out?”
    Seriously?
    Like… he couldn’t even be bothered sending her a message to say “hey kid, I got an awesome plan for fixing Preas; just free up some time in your schedule and we are gonna have ourselves a great super fun revolution”
    Wut?
    It makes no sense that he wouldn’t at least *communicate* what the hell was going on.
    He had two entire years.

    … I do like the explaination for why the civil war has been going so long though. That is hilarious, and totally in character, and a *very* smart move on Malicia’s part.

    Like

    1. Earl of Purple

      That’s not what he’s been doing. He was waiting, I would guess, for a change in the status quo. For Malicia to slip or Sepulchral to do something big. Malicia had things too much in hand for that, however, as Amadeus probably should have realised. But those blasted Emerald Swords possibly hindered him a bit.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      You misunderstand. What he’s been doing is setting up dominoes. In several places Malicia things everything is okay, there’s a great potential for it all to come tumbling down. Of course, a domino cascade can be stopped if you react fast enough and put a finger in the right place, or knock a few over sideways so the chains can’t continue, so you don’t just start it do it when somebody who wants to stop it is in the wrong place. Amadeus just found the right moment to start tipping.

      Liked by 13 people

  16. Meeble Moo

    I’m so excited to see Praes again! Alaya and Amadeus are always exciting povs, although my heart is still breaking at how much has broken between them.
    The one thing that bugs me is Alaya’s plans. She knows Amadeus better than anyone except Hye or Scribe. He’s been laying low for two years; she should know that he must have something in the works, and that whatever it is won’t be small. But she’s not taking anything of the sort into account, and that just … doesn’t mesh well with how sharp and perceptive Alaya always is. And while naming a new Black Knight is painful emotionally, since I still mourn for the old trust between Alaya and Amadeus, it’s not momentous enough to match the forces that are converging on Praes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zach

      The thing about the Black/Malicia relationship is that there hadn’t really been much in the way of trust between them for a really long time – Black just convinced himself that things were still good, because he has a tendency to be irrational when it comes to family/loved ones.

      The impression I get is that Malicia had basically been “broken” for a really long time (basically since whatever she experienced under the previous Dread Emperor) and Black was just in denial about it.

      Like

      1. shikkarasu

        I don’t think she’s broken, she just learned different lessons than Amadeus during the war. He learned that anything Doomsday-adjacent is doomed to fail and take its orchestrator down with it. She learned that Evil does not win wars, and to wars must be discouraged.

        If she really was broken by her past she would dwell on it more, but she canonically doesn’t consider her past trauma more than once every few months/years. That is the behaviour of someone who has mastered their fear/pain, not bottled it up.

        No, Malicia and Black just didn’t see eye to eye, but he was willing to work within her Empire since she is a better Empress than he would have been Emperor. She just never told him about half her irons in the fire and overestimated his tolerance for her approach to Rule.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. WuseMajor

          In some ways, it’s really funny that Malicia still thinks that, given that her army won the war with Callow and Cat has been winning every war she’s been involved with, or at least pulling out a draw.

          …No wait, not funny. Tragic, that’s the word.

          Liked by 1 person

  17. TheCount

    Happy New Year!

    Hope you can enjoy this two months, what with the general craziness of life nowadays.

    Thank you for your great work!

    Curious if Book VII will be the last or not, what with it focusing on the war on Praes AND the raid on Keter still a far away goal….

    Also, we got to know there is only 10 Emerald Swords remaining.

    And no sightings of the Wandering Bard….that worries me greatly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      I thought what she meant was she’d try and recruit Cat by offering her the job. It’s the kind of audacity one expects of Praesi, but Malicia has to know by now that it won’t work. Your interpretation seems substantially likelier.

      Like

      1. caoimhinh

        Malicia is going to anoint Marshal Nim as her Black Knight. Which she is likely hoping will give her the Name, thus gaining a more powerful pawn. Nim is the one Marshal that always stayed in Praes, and if I remember correctly, she is an ogre.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. shikkarasu

          Two points that I am stoked for, Narratively.

          •In chess the Knight is the only piece that can threaten the Queen without being threatened back. This makes it the only piece one might promote a Pawn to in place of a Queen.
          •Maddie predicted in Decorum that Hanno would have a pattern of three with a Black Knight, just not himself.

          Like

        2. smibd

          I’ve been thinking that a lynchpin of Black’s strategy will be to bring ogredom to the table. Since we were recently told that, ‘ogres are never on anyone’s side, because no-one is on ogre’s side’. Destroying the Tower and bringing all Greenskin to a seat at the table in the New Praes will most definitely be in their interest. So I think if you’re right, Malicia is gonna be Backstabbed big-time herself by her new Black Knight.

          Like

    2. caoimhinh

      Seems like Nim is a claimant for it, but still hasn’t been able to get it.
      Malicia is probably gonna try to strong-arm the process of Name acquisition by formally anointing her as the new Black Knight. Who knows if that’s really gonna work.

      One thing that I wonder about is that Malicia said that ruling is unfeasible on Named, a couple chapters ago when killing Mauricius. And Nim has been implied to be the Marshal of Praes on which Malicia had her claws deeper in, as she was the one Marshal that always stayed in Praes protecting Malicia.
      This new Name might be something that makes Nim… rebellious.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Frivolous

    I believe Malicia doesn’t know that Catherine’s upcoming Name was sparked by the need to put the East in order, and she also doesn’t know that the Name will finally finally manifest in the East.

    Reason: All the above seems based on the assumption that Malicia can negotiate with Catherine. Catherine’s Name won’t be the kind that compromises. It will be the kind that rules.

    Supporting quote: Scribe had seized the reins of the remaining eyes in Procer, which meant information trickled east only at a glacial pace.

    Analysis: Malicia isn’t getting much news from the war against Keter. She may not know about the Hellgates. She may not even know yet that Tariq and Klaus are dead.

    Malicia also isn’t talking much if at all with Neshamah. If she were, she wouldn’t be depending on spies for intelligence.

    In other news: I was surprised that the very slow civil war in Praes was Malicia’s own doing. I thought it was Amadeus’s doing.

    I was also surprised that Nim became Black Knight sometime during the 2+ years since Amadeus lost it. First ogre of that Name, yes? First Ogre with a Name, too, as far as we know.

    Amadeus and Hye seem awfully carefree for homeless people on the run. It implies that things are doing according to Amadeus’s plans.

    Also what was a faerie doing that Hye stumbled across one? Or did she just go into Arcadia to kill something for stress relief?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Well, the only ones to know of the moment that sparked her nascent Name were Tariq and Hanno, on account of being the only two people present when it happened, and the only one to know that it would ultimately coalesce into form in the east was Tariq, and he only knew that by peering directly into her soul through the Ophanim.
      And he died little afterward that same night.

      There’s simply no way for anyone in Calernia to know those pieces of information.

      It doesn’t seem like Nim became a Black Knight already, rather she seems to be a claimant for it, but apparently needs Malicia’s help to get the Name. Malicia’s official anointing of a Black Knight might strong-arm the process.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. There’s been ogres with Names before. It’s mentioned somewhere in the first book; they get Names even though there’s far less of them than orcs.

      I suspect the Wild Hunt will say hello during the eastern expedition, hence the fae.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Shveiran

      It was never written, as far as I know. It was mentioned only as something Klaus composed in his head but could never quite bring himself to put it to paper.

      Though I certainly hope he actually did offscreen, me being a big softie and all that. It would be so awesome to see Cordelia read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Darkening

    It’s funny, the Dead King’s whole schtick originally was that he wouldn’t go to war unless he was simply the ally of another villain that would act as the Big Bad for story purposes so he could make some gains while the inevitable loss occurred to that villain instead. And look, here comes the day when Malicia gets to reap what she sowed playing Neshamah’s patsy. Honestly, I’m really interested in how Malicia getting removed would affect the conflict against the Dead King on a meta level, once he no longer has that fig leaf to hide behind and he goes from secondary villain to Bigger Bad, at war with the entire continent. Will he stand down? Negotiate? Push on, confident he’s won enough ground already to carry the day? I expect there’ll be at least a token offer of negotiations. Really, when it comes down to it, Neshamah isn’t what Cat’s personal story revolves around, it’s always been about Callow and Praes, which is why her name requiring her to go East makes a lot of sense. So really, for the story of PGtE, Cat resolving Callow/Praes and the dead king deciding to pack it in and go back to being the slumbering evil would kiiiind of work? I dunno. This war’s been ruinous enough that I suspect Calernia would love a chance to get things in order without continuing to bleed an entire generation out in the north.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. WuseMajor

      Honestly, the Dead King has crossed enough lines here, that he’s definitely become the Big Bad. Whatever happens at this point, he’s not going to get to just go back to being the slumbering evil.

      Liked by 3 people

  20. Miley

    Next time, in a Practical Guide to Evil.

    Malicia: O Catherine Foundling, I declare thee my Blackest of Kniggits!

    Cat, aside: (Is this an insult? I am already a queen! Very well then, 2 can play at this farce.)

    Cat: Then as black knight, I declare praes is at war with the dead king! I require every single doabolist we have posthaste, to defend the portals he hath opened upon the lands O wish to claim and then give away to the Drow.

    Malicia: wut…. (pikachuface)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Miley

      Oy! Samshit! What’s the idea changing I to O?

      Anyway… who would have expected the new Drow nation may just become a part of the Empire? They do seem to have the mindset for it. Or maybe they’ll be a nation in the north in lands that the empire claims to own but dares not enter, like the Golden Bloom north of Callow.

      Like

    2. Miley

      Oy! Kun-hee! What’s the idea with autocorrect changing I to O?

      Anyway… who would have expected the new Drow nation may just become a part of the Empire? They do seem to have the mindset for it. Or maybe they’ll be a nation in the north in lands that the empire claims to own but dares not enter, like the Golden Bloom north of Callow.

      Like

  21. aran

    Wait, is Malicia intending to make Catherine Black Knight? Can she DO that?

    Catherine already seems to be coming into a new name, she’s the ruler/leader of two other nations, and she’s basically planning to kill Malicia besides. The story for her to suddenly become Malicia’s subordinate again just doesn’t fit.

    Like

    1. Necrologist

      ““Your advice has merit,” Dread Empress Malicia said. “Send for Marshal Nim.”

      Her spymistress watched her carefully.

      “You’ll do it, then?”

      “Yes,” the Dread Empress of Praes said. “I will recognize her as my Black Knight.””

      She wouldn’t need Nim to recognize Catherine as her black knight. She is recognizing her highest martial leader as her black knight. Nim.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Sirharixx

    “on his way to besieging the city the High Lord of Wolof”

    “in everything but bare skin and moonlight to mail and cloak caked in filth”

    I think something went wrong in both of these sentences ?

    Like

    1. ohJohN

      This is how I read those sentences, with clarifying punctuation/fixes:

      The hinterlands of Aksum seemed perpetually doomed to being set aflame, Amadeus of the Green Stretch mused, since — a mere few decades after he’d torched them on his way to besieging the city — the High Lord of Wolof was now doing the same.

      Amadeus had seen her in everything, from bare skin and moonlight to mail and a cloak caked in filth, and even after all these years the faint note of wonder had yet to fade.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Shveiran

    So much interesting stuff.

    Personally I’m a bit miffed at the actual aftermath in Hainaut. I think there were a bit too many twists without proper foreshadowing, something that is extremely rare in these books.
    But the whole
    CatherineIsSnipedEvenThoughSheKnewThereWasASniper-
    DeadKingCapturesSveNoc-
    PilgrimFamilicidesTheIsbiliAndNukesEverything-
    NeshamahOpensThreeHellgates-
    TheTitansSacrificeThemselvesToStall-
    OhNoesNowWeTotallyNeedDiabolists
    sequence was… a bit of a stretch?

    I don’t know. It felt unsatisfying to me. I don’t know if it is a problem of foreshadowing or something else, but it felt forced.

    It leads to the set-up of Catherine finally returning to Praes – and it gifted us amazing scenes like Klaus and Robber’s deaths or Vivienne steadying the frontlines – so I don’t think the direction is wrong, but there is something in the execution that didn’t sit right with me.
    I think it’s part me expecting Catherine to play a bigger role and instead seeing her put down hard by the Hawk whitout understanding why she didn’t have contingencies or why they didn’t work, and part me not being reminded often enough that the DK was sitting on the Nukes and waiting for an opportunity to bring them to bear.

    I think it wouldn’t be too hard to fix, but I do think it needs a few adjustments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree on the whole Hainaut bit. The lack of proper foreshadowing was what took the sails out for me as well. The actual amount of twists is normal for the usual PGtE fight, let’s be honest, it’s on the level of Liesse and below the Graveyard, but damnably the most of twists came seemingly out of nowhere.

      Like, what makes Hainaut so special it can trap a goddess? Dunno. Cat getting sniped is strange, given the kind of blows she shrugged off. I can hardly contain the irony of her getting shot with an arrow in the head after failing to wear helmet to battle. The Sisters going into a probable trap after THEIR SAFEGUARD HAD BEEN INCAPACITATED? Not the smartest move all around, but it’s never even acknowledged until after it blows in their face. Seems weird.

      It just feels rushed. Not like GoT season 8, but comparable. That EE takes two month of rest rather than his usual one should be a hint. I begin to suspect he just wants this series to end. It’s overdue.

      Like

      1. ninegardens

        I mean… a lot of this WAS foreshadowed.
        The Titans closing hellgates was explicity foretold by Augur.
        Sve Noc being vulnerable, and having difficulty fighting the DK has been mentioned before (What is it, “the basis of sorcery is to usurp”)
        The hellgates themselves were explicitly foreshadowed by Bard “Where are the demons cat?”
        The sniping of Cat wasn’t, but then again, “hawk is gonna snipe shit” explicitly was, so…

        Like

        1. Shveiran

          I agree, to an extent, but the thing is, there is a difference between establishing something is possible, and foreshadowing.
          Foreshadowing is, ultimately, making a promise and following through. This orphan down on his luck is going to marry into riches, or maybe he’ll realize the real riches were his friends all along, or maybe he’ll reach for more than he can handle and it will end in tragedy. All these can be good stories; but a reader needs to be able to tell, subconsciously, which one he’s reading. Only subconsciously, ideally.

          Mind you, a lot of this comes down to feelings; if the last chapters felt good to you, more power to you!
          Speaking personally, they didn’t. It’s not that I was surprised: I’m often surprised by the endings. “Cat becomes Fey Queen of Callow” was not how I expected the third book to end.
          But that is not the point: the point is that, to me, the surprise didn’t feel good because (again, to me) it felt like a very different story than the one I thought I was reading.

          If that was just me, well, things are probably good as they are. But if others did, maybe the foreshadowing needs a little tweaking?

          Like

        1. That being said, I want to say that, despite my nitpicks above, I do consider this series to be a genuine masterpiece and personally rank it among the classics of fantasy. I am, frankly, in awe of your writing talent, and consider that, in time, you will be remembered by the humanity as a whole. So yeah, looking forward to your next work and all the best.

          Like

    2. Victor

      Mabe the situation can be interpreted as part of the death of the Age of Wonders?
      The Piligrim sacrifices himself as an attribute of the dying Age, forcing the inevitable outcome.
      Rubies to piglets (thank you, Catherine!) he anticipated that Neshamah would be forced to quickly retaliate with something grand by his nature. It could have triggered:
      – A “cleaning of the board” for new stories to emerge or to give the Above a proper backing later
      – The Wandering Bard may be forced to act against Neshamah at last
      – A releif for the Drow front

      Cat had at last received her arrow. It was inevitalbe and Archer has warned her many times about the possibility of such a situation. Incapacitating Cat could have been also a way for Creation to save a large part of the Night (should she be awake during the Sve Noc capture – it could have been ripped out of her).
      Also, as previous practice shows, Cat learns to turn her permanent wounds into something greater and more powerful later. An artefact (like a bastardised version of Masego’s eye) could be crafted, etc.

      From another point of view the situation looks like something tipped the scales during the battle, something that we do not know of yet. Like the Nerazim desided to act against Keter while Neshamah’s attention was away. Something needs to destroy the other 9 Crabs in the narrative.

      The chapter did leave a feeling like a punch in the gut though. Like a Story broken before it reached its culmination. If it is explained later – this could be anoter masterful stroke.
      The story may still be a total tragedy in the end with a morale that in the end Death wins and no matter what you do – it will not be enough.

      Sorry for my English – it is not my native language

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Shveiran

    Also, Ranger text is identical to Archer’s.
    I don’t know how I feel about that.

    I’m not sure what Malicia is hoping to achieve here.
    Naming Mashal Nim her Black Knight gets her… a Named? But Cat has a team of Named, who have been honed by years of killing Revenants NO MATTER WHO SHE ACTUALLY BROUGHT. She has lorded over the Villains of the Grand Alliance because the is the toughtest bitch among them. And she thinks a wet-behind-the-ears Black Knight is a challenge?
    I mean, as an opponent to Juniper, sure, Nim is a threat. But he doesn’t need a Name for that.

    The whole sequence seems to suggest Malicia thinks this Naming is closing some avenues, but I don’t see it.
    How does the very murderable Marshal getting a Name change anything substantial?
    Did someone spot her plan?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the Nim Knight is more of a statement, like posting a picture of you and another girl after you broke up with your ex. To close the window for reconciliation. And also close it for Black Knight to be able to claim his Name back. That is, assuming she knows he lost it, because it may very well be just establishing a claimant to weaken him.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. More importantly though, this is an ogre getting classicaly Praesi Name. Ogres are very rarely Named to begin with, on par with orcs in that regard, and giving one a Name reserved for humans probably is another brick in the foundation of New Praes, along the Orc Imperial Governors and Goblin High Lady.

      Liked by 2 people

  25. Hakram the Goat

    “Seven Books and One ”

    That would be awesome. I can even picture the titles:
    Book 7 – LongCat Makes Malicia Pay Long Prices
    Book 8 – Dead King vs Grand Alliance 2: Electric Boogaloo

    I’m really hoping Malicia gets her teeth kicked in by… everyone. I want the Woe to team up with Amadeus/Ranger to crush her and the Dead King to backstab her. I’m still pissed that she killed Ratface >:(. Small slights, long prices bee-yatch. And merking our tasty (according to Cat lol) talented treasurer ain’t just no small slight.
    Hell, I’m still mad about Nauk’s death, though I’m not sure who to blame for that. The Summer Queen and Winter King maybe? I don’t think Cat’ll get another shot at them unfortunately, or if she would even take it if she got one.
    Not too broken up about Nilin since he was a traitor though.
    Robber’s death was glorious. He probably got the best ending out of all of Rat Company so far, though I doubt it can be beaten. He is, after all, the most honorable, honest, merciful goblin of the House of Lesser Footrest.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. PinkUnik0rn

    I am pretty sure the Dead King vs. Grand Alliance is somewhat finished. It is not about the ending, I am just pretty sure that conflict between Praes and Callow is the cornerstone of the whole series. There it started and there it will end. Im not saying that Dead King, Chain of Hunger or Golden Bloom are of the topic, but they will appear as a part of a larger scheme. I am personally betting on Malicia betraying Big Ol’Bones in one way or another, taking his power and becoming the Greatest Dread Empress, finally giving into the O.G. Dark Side.
    And Catherine will have to be the one to take her on. I bet my left testicle on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Frivolous

    Amazing how fast January has gone, and now we’re in the middle of Feb, with only a few more weeks to resumption of the Practical Guide to Evil.

    I hope that EE is getting good rest and remains safe and well.

    Liked by 1 person

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