Chapter 5: Incursion

“The Heavens pick the victor, my friends, but the Hells detail the aftermath. How else can it be explained that when a battle is won we most commend the general – that is, the only man in the army that can be relied on not to have picked up a weapon?”

– Captain Thierry the Acerbic, addressing his company before the Battle of the Twelve Routs

It was tempting to just run out sword in hand to find out what was happening, but I resisted the urge. I’d learned the hard way that recklessness could have permanent costs – like half someone’s total supply of eyes, for example. I put up my hair in a loose ponytail and strapped on my armour, not without fumbling, and only after putting on a helmet did I finally limp out. Sword at my hip and deadwood staff in hand, I looked out into the night and found entire swaths to the south of my camp aflame. Had Sargon played me with the ransom payment? It shouldn’t be. Hierophant had inspected the ingots personally and they were in a warded pit anyway. It made no sense either, considering I hadn’t even given him back his prisoners yet. I’d kept them overnight as a precaution against foul play and he had to know I might hang them as an object lesson if he tried something.

Sargon Sahelian hadn’t struck me as the kind of man who pissed away either gold or lives.

I made my way to the tent closest to mine, where Adjutant had placed a station of his adjunct secretariat, but there were no phalanges there. I found a line of regulars hurrying south through the dirt avenue passing by my tent, however, and wasted no time approaching the lieutenant in charge. A young Taghreb, no older than twenty and rosy -cheeked.

“Your Majesty,” he breathed out, before snapping into a more professional salute.

“Lieutenant,” I said. “What’s happening? I’m not hearing the alarm wards.”

“Our wards are down, ma’am,” he replied. “All of them. And we’re under attack by giants.”

Our wards were down? I felt a shiver of unease. Not even the Dead King had managed that so easily. The mention of giants, though, had me skeptical. I seriously doubted the Gigantes had anything to do with this. Ogres, though, I’d be willing to believe. I had less than a tenth of ogres left in the entire Army of Callow – our campaigns had not been kind, and none lost were ever replaced – but the Dread Empire would not be so limited. That would mean a Legion raid, which did nothing to settle my discomfort. I’d learned enough at the feet of the Legions of Terror to know how brutally skilled they were at what they did.

“What did they hit?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Your Majesty,” the lieutenant admitted. “My orders are just to head at the southern rally point with my line and await further orders.”

I smothered my irritation. It wasn’t his fault I wasn’t aware of what was going on and taking it out on the kid would help no one.

“Let’s go then, lieutenant,” I evenly said. “There’s no time to waste.”

I pulled at Night – and how crisply it came now that dusk had passed, almost as easily as before the Ruination – and killed the pain in my bad leg so I would be able to keep up with the brisk pace of the legionaries. We passed through a sparsely manned checkpoint, but there was no way the sergeant in charge would know more than the lieutenant I was with so I pushed on. At the second checkpoint, I found Adjutant waiting for me. He was armed and armoured, with an axe in his dead hand and a broad shield in his steel one.

“Catherine,” he gravelled. “Apologies, by the time my phalanges reached your tent you’d already left.”

I waved it away and didn’t bother to ask how he’d known where I would go. There were lines between us where there once had been none, but he was still my Adjutant.

“What’s happening?” I bluntly asked.

“The Legions of Terror are hitting us,” Hakram gravelled. “Less than a hundred, nearly all ogres. They gated out of Twilight a foot away from the outer palisade and smashed through, then used some sort of artefact that fried our wards. Hierophant and Akua are working on getting them up again.”

“Fuck,” I eloquently said. “Do we know what they’re after?”

“They split into two forces,” Adjutant said. “The one lighting the fires is going straight for our supplies and Juniper’s mustering men to drive them out. The other force – smaller, we think – is headed west.”

My eyes narrowed. West had Sargon’s soldiers and the rest of the warded pits we’d dug. Was this a rescue operation? That made little sense. The High Lord of Wolof had already paid their ransom and they’d be handed over come morning. Something didn’t fit, and that made the second force the odd hand. The one to watch out for.

“That’s the one we’ll intercept,” I decided. “Where’s Archer?”

“She’s-”

“Disappointed you didn’t hear her coming, is what she is,” Indrani drawled.

My hand was halfway to my sword when I recognize her voice, and my muscles stayed tense until she’d moved out from the tent she’d used as cover for her approach. There was some alarm as legionaries began to notice her, but it didn’t last long. She was a known quantity for my soldiers.

“That’s what we have you for,” I retorted. “Vivienne, Huntress, the kids?”

“Vivienne is with Juniper,” Hakram said.

“Alexis went to guard Cocky,” Indrani said. “I’m not sure for the kids.”

For a moment I almost sent Adjutant to look for them – he had the right aspect to Find the needle in the haystack – but I held back. He might see it as him being sent away from the fight, one which would be hard enough without shedding off a third of our Named before we started.

“Send one of yours to Vivienne,” I ordered Hakram. “I want them kept from getting into too much trouble.”

Entirely out of trouble was sadly more than could be reasonably asked for, given that they were Named. Hakram nodded and saw to it, even as I checked my gear one last time. I made a note to have a bag of goblin munitions prepared for me and kept in my tent. Now that Scribe’s scheme had paid off and we’d essentially bought out High Lady Wither’s stocks of munitions – with the blessing of the Matrons, who saw it as weakening her military strength even if our grain helped her maintain control in the short term – I could afford to start using them again. The moment Adjutant was back we headed out together, moving fast. Since our wards were down and we had an idea of where our enemies were headed, we took a shortcut through the Ways to try to intercept. We sidled through instead of using a gate, since Indrani found us a path in moments, and it allowed us to skip over all the barricades, checkpoints and mustering soldiers.

The advantage of fighting people as tall as ogres was that, given the average height of tents in our camp, we could easily see them from a distance. Within moments of leaving Twilight I had my eyes on maybe twenty towering silhouettes, all decked in pitch-black plate engraved with runes and wielding massive flanged maces. Those were not Legion heavies, not any kind I’d ever seen.

“Archer, go around,” I said, already pulling at the Night. “Begin on my signal.”

“Gotcha,” she said, pulling down her hood.

She slipped into the shadows, swift-footed even as she began to string her bow.

“Adjutant,” I said, shaping the Night, “I want you to bait them. Take the front and draw them in.”

“Warlord,” Hakram replied, flashing his fangs happily.

I finished the last touch on the ‘eye’ of Night I’d made and threw it up in the air. A shadow on black, it remained unseen to our foes even as I closed my physical eye and made myself see through that one. It didn’t tell me much more about the enemy force itself, but it did give me a bird’s eye view of them moving around the camp. They’re not headed towards the prisoners, I realized. They’d walked right past an avenue that led to their pit, and I doubted it was because of the two lines of regulars manning the palisade around the prison pit. They were after something else and moving like they knew they layout. Which they would, of course, since the Army of Callow pretty much used the Legion layout with a few modifications. It sunk in a moment later.

The ransom. It was further east in a guarded pit as well, and the group – twenty-one ogres and two humans, I counted – would soon get to an avenue that’d lead them straight there. But why the Hells would Malicia care about the gold? The empress still collected taxes from most of Praes, she was positively rolling around in coin she couldn’t spend for lack of friendly neighbours. I set the question aside for now, as I had more urgent cats to skin. I checked Adjutant was on the right path to reach the enemy, which he was, and then prepared to disperse the eye. There was no point in even trying to find Archer, I knew that from experience.

Then the night lit up with a flash of sorcery as streaks of flame hit one of the lead ogres, scarring the black plate, and I caught sight of two small humans getting in the way of the enemy.

Fuck,” I cursed.

The kids were there and getting in over their heads. These weren’t Bones or a handful of necromantic monsters, they were a well-armed Legion strike team. I broke into a run without hesitation, knowing that if I lingered for too long they might be dead by the time I arrived. So much for springing an ambush. Calling on Night, I formed a rough wedge of power in front of me and ran straight through the tents in my way. It was a quick approach but not a subtle one, as was made clear when one of the ogres grabbed a javelin the size of a small tree and threw it my way.

I twisted the Night into a different working, catching the weapon in flight and turning it around before tossing it back. A miss, I saw, but hopefully it’d discourage a repeat. I formed another wedge and immediately another ogre threw a javelin at me. I cursed, resorting to the same trick and this time scoring a glancing blow against an ogre’s breastplate. They weren’t trying to kill me, I grasped, they were slowing me down. The bastards weren’t even intending to fight us, were they? They’d just do what they’d come for and then retreat.

Gods but I hated fighting against well-trained soldiers.

Thankfully, I could fall back onto the sage lessons of my childhood: if the other guy had a better plan, you just had to sock them in the face real hard until they forgot it. I abandoned the idea of the relatively harmless wedge and instead of drew deep on the Night, waves of heat emanating from me as I formed a massive ball of blackflame and tossed it in a straight line in front of me. It burned through tents and barricades, clearing me a straight path and smashing into one of the ogres. Even as I ran, my brow knotted when the flames cleared and I saw my working hadn’t actually broken the ogre’s plate. It’d blackened it further, half-melted it, but the fire had only gone through the armour’s visor. It was still enough to have the soldier screaming and clawing at his face.

Archer put an arrow between the hands and straight into the skull a moment later, dropping the ogre.

I unsheathed my sword as I crossed the last of the distance separating me from the melee, the flash of flames flickering at the edge of my sight and bathing the silhouette of the closest ogre in light. The great flanged mace rose, and Night or not there would be no parrying that. I struck out with my staff, black flames boiling out of the top as I aimed for the visor again, but I was forced to abandon the working when another ogre used drove a javelin like a spear into my flank. I hastily backpedalled out of range, almost eating the mace blow from the first as I did. Redirecting the black flame into striking the side of the mace’s head got me out of it, but the ground shook as the flanged head tore into the earth besides me. Worse yet, more and more of the ogres were converging on me.

A few I could handle, but ten? That was going to get tricky.

Then Adjutant came out swinging from their left flank a heartbeat later, proving once more that splendid timing was written into his very Role. The surprise earned me a moment to shape Nigh,t in between ducking away from a wild mace swing, and I threw up another eye so that I could see through it and grasp the lay of the entire melee. It was only the beginning. Power coursed richly through my veins even as I saw one of the ogres draw back his arm to throw a javelin, but I grit my teeth and kept weaving my miracle. My eye in the sky stayed focused on my enemy’s arm, spellbound. Almost there, I thought, watching as the plate-covered arm flexed and the tree-sized javelin went flying. I breathed in and out, listening to the instincts trained into my body by years of war.

A half-step to the side, the movement precise enough I felt the steel head of the javelin brush against my side, but I’d done it. I was finished.

“Bang,” I grinned, staff coming down against the floor in a strike.

I kept the eye for just a second, long enough to place the ten orbs I was capable of handling at one time. Night formed out of thin air in front of ten visored faces, looking like spinning orbs for half a heartbeat before they burst and air was sucked in. I’d first used the air explosion trick against demons at the Arsenal, but I’d improved it in the months since. This time, at the heart of the ‘orb’ there was a seed of blackflame. The air getting sucked in pulled in the ten ogres, just in time for the blackflame to grow unstable and explode in their faces along with the sharp burst of air. The result was a brutal blow of physical strength and fire that dented the visors before delivering the blackflame through the opening. Most of the ten died instantly and those that didn’t began to scream in pain.

 From the corner I saw Adjutant take a blow on his shield, aspect pulsing as he withstood the strength as if it were a breeze. He struck with perfect timing as the ogre withdrew, toppling his foe down into an already-trampled tent. He had that under control, I decided. I could push through to the kids.

I ran past a slowly falling ogre, clutching at her broken and burning face, and as she struck the ground behind me like a small earthquake I found myself frowning. There had been two humans earlier, mages presumably, but I couldn’t see them in the melee at the moment. Where – the only warning I got was the feeling of the air being moved, and I wasn’t quite quick enough. My staff was struck as I got pushed away, the silhouette of an ogre coming into sight for a flickering second as I was blown of my feet and my staff went clattering in the distance. Fuck, I thought, rolling away as I felt the air move again and the ground was hammered in front of me. One of the mages was using illusionary enchantments. I rose back to my feet lurching about, grasping a handful of Night and throwing it blindly ahead.

It stuck, as I’d hoped, and a blotch of darkness appeared on what looked like the side of the mace trying to smash me to bits. It’d do. Slicing behind me with my blade, I opened a gate into the Ways and stepped through. I glimpsed greenery and felt gentle wind before crossing back into a warm Wasteland night, coming out on the side of the mace I’d tagged and spinning out chords of Night. I hooked them around the mace, forcing it and the ogre back into flickering visibility, and then wrapped the chords around the shoulders and helmet of the ogre. Hands tight on the bonds I twisted, Night obeying my will as the ogre struggled to keep the mace away from their helmeted head and I tightened the noose. I was cheating, of course. It wasn’t strength I was using to tighten the chords but willpower, weaving Night, and the limits on my will were lesser than those on the soldiers’ body.

With a third twist of the wrist I tightened the chords into a vise and the side of the mace went through the helmet with a loud crunch. I wasn’t sure how far it’d gone into the skull beneath it, but the ogre was out of the fight regardless. That freed me to go forward, where I saw Arthur Foundling being battered down with brutal efficiency by an ogre. His shield was already a crumpled ruin and one of his shoulders obviously broken. The Apprentice was shooting darts of fire and spears of lightning at the ogre, but all it did was slow them some. Not even a mark was left on the armour, which had me staring. Even enchanted plate would have marks after that, and my heartbeat quickened when I saw the ogre kick Squire in the stomach when Arthur tried to slide behind them.

He’d been moving with Name quickness, unnaturally swift, but his opponent had begun moving the exact moment he did. No one was that fast without a Name, I knew, without leaning on that set of reflexes that came with a martial Role. From the corner of my eye I saw an arrow hit a man in the throat, the spell he’d been halfway through – aimed at Adjutant’s back – dying with him, but I looked past the corpse and found that four ogres were covering the last mage’s hasty retreat. I moved to the side, climbing over an ogre corpse to get a better vantage, and cursed. The pit where we’d left the ransom gold was now empty. They’d brought a caster that could use High Arcana and shoved all the ingots into a pocket dimension, the tricky fuckers.

As if I’d allow that. I drew on Night.

I heard Arthur Foundling scream as he was smashed into a barricade by a blow, and for a heartbeat I weighed the choice. The gold might keep a lot of my people alive, keep them fed and armed for the war on Keter, and the Squire was still a potential threat to Vivienne in the coming years. If I pursued the last mage instead now… The thought was ugly, but ugly wasn’t enough to stay my hand anymore. I needed better than that – Name, I thought, mind racing. He was in a fight of Named, one he’d stumbled into through heroic providence. That could be a potent tool, used right. Eye tearing away from the fleeing mage, I broke into a run. Ribbons of lightning struck at the back of the tall ogre with impotent fury, making the enchanted steel glow but little more as I shaped Night into thick tendrils.

The looming ogre raised their mace as the Squire rolled to the side, grasping for his sword. He’d be too slow. The flanged mace came down and the boy’s face paled but his fingers closed around the handle of his blade anyway. He’d die trying. Or not die at all, preferably. I struck out, tendrils of shadows layered over my arm like some sort of skeletal armature, and the strength of it was just enough to slap aside the mace before it could crush the boy’s skull. I stood between the two of them, Night wafting off me like smoke as I prepared another trick, and cocked an eyebrow.

“So Malicia’s picked up a Named,” I said. “Which one are you, I wonder?”

Our foe – a woman, I glimpsed through the visor – did not answer. She raised her mace again, drawing back to make space for a swing, but I clicked my tongue against the roof of my mouth.

“Not Warlock,” I mused, “or you would have seen that coming.”

The Night-smoke I’d had trailing along the ground solidified around her feet as shackles, so when she finished the movement of striking the imbalance tripped her. I stepped to the side as she began to topple forward, tapping the side of my sword against Arthur’s flank tell him he should follow suit. An arrow whistled, aimed straight at the gap in the plate between the neck and the helmet, but with unnatural deftness the massive mace swept up to bat the killing blow away just before the ogress hit the ground face first.

“Martial, and not a transitional Name if you have control that fine,” I noted.

I raised my sword, calling Night to it even as the ogre grunted with effort and burst through my shackles with brute strength. And yet I was not worried in the slightest. I knew, somehow I just knew, that the timing would work out perfectly. I could see it as if it were written in the air, as if it were inevitable. As if some grinning devils down Below had put their coin on me and their fingers on the scale to match.

I was following my Role, and so the tide of Creation was on my side.

“None of that,” I chided my foe, bringing my blade down on her back as she tried to raise.

The Night struck out from the point of my sword like a needle, shattering the backplate, and then like cracks of ice my power went skittering in every direction and shattered the enchanted steel. The ogre was smashed back down into the ground. I heard bones break and froze in surprise. I’d not hit her that hard, not for a Named, and that was the moment if fell into place. My limbs grown strong with the touch of my growing Name, I moved forward and flipped over the gasping ogre. She did not resist, broken. I stripped off her helmet and a single look at those dark eyes was enough to confirm my suspicion: the power in there was fading. Not because I’d killed its wielder, but because I’d damaged the vessel too badly.

“Black Knight,” I greeted. “So what’s the aspect you’re using, I wonder – something like Deputize, Mandate?”

I wrinkled my nose.

“No, you’re clearly Legion,” I said. “You’re using mostly ogres, too, so I’d guess you’re Marshal Nim. ‘Commission’, maybe?”

It clearly wasn’t her full strength she’d put in the body, else the kids would be dead twice over. The ogress hacked out a cough, dying, and I sighed. Wouldn’t get anything out of her. I sheathed my sword, but halfway through the gesture the almost-corpse suddenly lunged. A single massive hand reached over my shoulder, grasping the Squire’s throat behind me, and she began to squeeze – I felt horror swell, I wouldn’t be quick enough with the Night I was reaching for – she went still. It was not luck that did it, but the eerily silent arrow Archer had loosed that went through her eye. I roughly dragged Arthur away by the scruff of his neck as the body dropped, the boy moaning in pain. As well he should, he was basically a mass of bruises and bloody wounds. He sagged against the ground.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” he got out. “I owe you-”

“Nothing,” I cut in, tone sharper than I meant it to be.

I refused to feel guilty. I was long past the luxury of clean choices, and just because today I’d chosen to keep him alive didn’t meant that tomorrow would see me make the same decision. The boy looked like I’d slapped him and I sighed again.

“Consider this a wake-up call,” I said. “This is what fighting with real Named and not Revenant puppets feels like. The Black Knight on the other side used a single aspect, not even in her real body, and she still nearly pulped you.”

“You’re not going to tell me it was foolish to fight?” the boy asked.

“It wasn’t a foolish fight, you just fought foolishly,” I corrected. “You likely saved a lot of soldiers’ lives by stepping in, the part that needs work is the one where you almost died doing it. You won’t be helping anyone when you’re in a grave, maybe keep that in mind.”

“Nothing we did got through her defences,” Arthur admitted. “Even at our best we were simply holding on.”

And in that sentence, in the anger – the unspoken urge to do better next time, the certainty that there would be a next time – I saw an opportunity. A tool. And I was enough of a monster to make use of it, even when I was using a boy barely more than a child.

“So prepare yourself,” I challenged. “Train. Make tactics.”

He was silent for a moment, exhausted and in pain, but eventually his blue eyes went steely. He nodded, brushing back a black lock stained with sweat and blood.

“I won’t lose, next time,” Arthur Foundling swore.

And with those words I’d invited, with the weight of them spoken by his lips, I knew I had made myself a sword. Because unless I was wrong, a Squire and a Black Knight had just fought. And the Squire had begun that fledgling, fragile pattern with a defeat.

If I stoked those embers just right, that story would end with my enemy’s blood on the floor.

In the wee hours of the morning, I sat with Vivienne and Juniper to go over the butcher’s bill. The good news was that, as far as dead bodies went, our losses were light.

“Ninety-three dead,” the Hellhound said. “Most of them regulars. We can thin some cohorts to make up for it, we still have the numbers to absorb that.”

“And we inflicted eighty-two casualties ourselves,” Vivienne noted. “Considering it was a surprise attack fielding almost entirely ogres, we made off decently in that regard.”

I grunted in agreement. The attacked had escaped, but not without taking losses equivalent to about eight out of ten.

“We’ll see if Masego can crack the enchantments on the armours,” I said. “It’s unlikely there will be enough of those to equip more than a handful of elite units, but that would be troublesome enough on its own.”

I got grimaces of agreement. Ogres were bloody difficult to kill, unless you had either magic or munitions to deploy against them. It was a clever decision for Marshal Nim to focus on stripping the sorcery option from us, considering the Army of Callow had been in chronic munition deficit for essentially its entire existence.

“Losses in supplies were not as grave as they could have been,” Juniper continued. “We changed the layout of the supply depots compared to standard Legion camp templates-”

She had, actually, making a point of it before we began marching, but my marshal wasn’t the boasting type.

“-so our current tallies have the losses mostly in dried meat and grain, about a third of our total stock,” she continued. “If our numbers stay roughly the same, Catherine, we’re now down to roughly four months of food.”

From six to four, huh. Four months for an army that could use the Ways was a very different beast than for an army that couldn’t, but this had still been uncomfortably costly. A lot of food had gone up in flame tonight.

“If you had to guess,” I said, “were they able to figure out what our total amount of supplies would be?”

She flicked her fangs uneasily.

“It’s likely,” Juniper admitted. “They might be slightly off, but the quantities were roughly even between depots and there are only so many places in a camp to put those.”

Which meant that by morning High Lord Sargon would know that we couldn’t afford to siege Wolof if we were going to do anything else this campaign season. There just wasn’t enough food in our possession to spend months besieging him and then war elsewhere. In other words, our negotiating position with him had just been dealt a severe blow.

“We’ll hit Wolof tomorrow, then,” I said. “There’s no more time to waste. The moment the Concocter is done with the powder I’ll set out.”

“It’d be for the best,” Juniper agreed.

“Sargon’s unlikely to ask for talks when he has the advantage, so in a way this lends us an additional dose of discretion,” Vivienne noted. “Yet that brings me to the last of our outstanding issues: the prisoners for Wolof.”

“They’ve been ransomed,” I said, though my tone was neutral.

It wasn’t a commitment so much as a statement. The High Lord of Wolof had paid the gold I’d asked for, and promptly too.

“We don’t have that ransom anymore,” Juniper said, “and it was taken by his empress. That’s on him too.”

It was, I wouldn’t disagree with that.

“You want to keep them?” I asked.

“That or hang them,” Juniper bluntly said. “We’ve been taken for a ride, Catherine. Maybe a point needs to be made.”

“I don’t think Sargon actually has anything to do with this,” I admitted. “This has all the telltale marks of a Legion operation and he would have no pull there. This seems like an attack by Marshal Nim on our supplies that got a secondary objective tacked on.”

“Malicia would gain from our going back on our word here,” Vivienne said. “It would make Praesi lords warier of striking bargains with us.”

My eyes narrowed as I followed the threads.

“She wins if we give them over too,” I spoke through gritted teeth. “Rubies to piglets that ransom gold is going straight back to Sargon’s coffers, and very publicly. She’d be proving she can score victories against us and that she’s still protecting her vassals.”

Hells, the way it neatly landed her a win no matter what we did had me more convinced this was a Malicia ploy than anything else I’d heard tonight. It was exactly the kind of plot she liked use. I passed a hand through my hair tiredly.

“We release them come dawn, as I promised,” I finally said. “I’d rather let her flash her feathers than risk burning bridges we’ll need to cross when treaties are made.”

For all that I’d come here with an army, it wasn’t conquest I was after. And if I started letting Malicia bait me into hanging prisoners, she’d keep doing that until Praesi considered me not worth negotiating with. Or I’ll have to let things ago after taking a hard stance the first time and changing tacks will make me look witless. Fucking Malicia. She really was a devil to deal with, when she had a good general to play off of. I could only imagine how much worse it would be if she still had Black under her. Angry as I was at how we’d been had, I mastered myself. Fine, she’d stuck a knife in us and it had stung. This was the kind of game she most excelled at and we were in her own backyard.

Tomorrow, we’d do things my way.

119 thoughts on “Chapter 5: Incursion

  1. ruduen

    Boost! http://topwebfiction.com/listings/a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Ah, it’s been a while since we’ve had a pattern of three. Though with the current White Knight still alive, I do wonder what that means for Arthur’s name by the time it reaches a resolution. It’s not impossible, but it seems unlikely for Hanno to be gone by the time this particular side journey is complete, and it I’d think that the final encounter for the pattern would be done by then.

    Liked by 16 people

      1. dadycoool

        I’m personally convinced that he’ll be the Black Knight to the Black Queen. She’ll likely have her own name by then, but I’m pretty sure it was said at one point that Squires typically turn into Black or White Knights. If lesser knights don’t need the Squire path, then not only does that justify them being lesser, it also raises the minimum power level, etc. of Black and White Knights. Also, there’s only ever one Squire at a time, so it doesn’t make sense that every variety of Knight needs to be a squire first.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Pethrai D’arkos

          I highly doubt that Black/White Knight actually require that you be the Squire first anymore than Warlock would require you to be the Apprentice first. It’s certainly helpful but there’s only so many transitory names to go around while Below tends to have claimants fight to the death for the more important names.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Arthur seems like he’ll go to a broad Knight name. He is Callowan, but has been fighting against the Dead, and for a new Praes, and probably for the Liesse Accords when they’re signed.

            Knight of the Realms
            Peacekeeper Knight
            Knight of the People

            Liked by 4 people

          2. Cpt. Obvious

            The mechanism behind the name Squire is something of a conundrum. It’s a name that can transition into either black or white knight. But those names can also be picked up without ever being the Squire.

            Now some acquires the name of Squire directly while others first are Claimant, which is yet another transition name, and has to compete with the other claimants to earn the name of Squire.

            Do we know if the Claimants always are evil? It sounds a bit rich to have good claimants murdering each other while it’s just another day like any other for the Gods below.

            Finally as there’s times when claimants are named and it seems unlikely those with a Heroic bend would be OK with participating in a veritable Battle Royal over the name, is it certain that the alignment of the Squire always results in them transitioning into the knight of the same alignment?
            Or can a Squire switch alignment before transitioning?

            All in all I think it seems like whenever a Squire surfaces the pattern has it aimed at a certain knight position, and none but those of the right alignment need to apply.

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            1. Earl of Purple

              The Valiant Champion mentions once off-hand that she had to fight Claimants for her Name.

              The differences between Cat and Arthur as Squire is most notably that Cat signed up with Below whilst Arthur signed up with Above, and they grant Names differently. Besides which, the Squire Name was handed out to Cat because Amadeus was looking for one- so people who wanted the Name gathered up. Arthur wasn’t so formalised, but still he had to do something more heroic (I think) than all the other squires in the Order of the Broken Bells to get the Name.

              And the Black and White Knight thing is probably because Amadeus is Praesi; he knows Namelore, but mostly Praesi Namelore. The Squires of the Dread Empire transition to Black Knight; the most notable Squires in Callow become the White Knight. Other Knights may well be available for Squires to transition into, if the right circumstances are met. For example, if there’s a White and Black Knight already but the Squire’s story carries them to the right pivot.

              Liked by 1 person

        2. Sylfa

          Note that the current Black Knight never was a Squire. So no, being a squire isn’t required.

          Nor is there a direct and guaranteed direction that a transitional name have to go.

          Zeze didn’t become Warlock, Akua became Diabolist, etc. Cat went well off of the beaten path and seems to become Black Queen.

          The only thing that seems guaranteed is that transitional names go to young people that are likely to become named if they don’t die before that.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. shikkarasu

            It was clarified that Squires turn into Black/White Knights and Apprentices can likely become any magical Named (leaning heavily toward their teacher’s Names),while Heir/esses can become anything.

            I think there are three ‘Tiers’ of Name: Transitional Names (Squire, Apprentice, Heir, etc.) Standard Names that can be transitioned to, but do not require it (Knights, Wizards, Diabolists, etc.) and what I am dubbing Capstone Names (King, Queen, Tyrant, Hierarch, et.). The Capstones are more of an anti-Heir: they are Names that anyone can transition to.

            Liked by 3 people

              1. shikkarasu

                I think that Saint of Swords is similar. It seems odd to me that someone would start their Named career with a title like that, or that Ranger would take an interest in a fresh Named without all of their Aspects(Saint only gained Listen after being disembowelled by Ranger). That makes me think she started as something like the Lone Swords(wo)man and transitioned into Saint, something like a ruler Name where the only qualifier is being unfairly good at swords, even by Named standards.

                This whole post is, of course, heavy speculation.

                Liked by 8 people

                1. Earl of Purple

                  We have an AMA that stated that Saint of Swords started out with the transitive Name of the Wanderer. We don’t know when she transitioned, nor how many Aspects she had at the time- it’s possible that Listen was her first Aspect as Saint of Swords, and it was the fight against Ranger that caused her transition.

                  Liked by 9 people

                2. We have WoE her first transitional Name was Wanderer.

                  Also that Saint at her peak would have had a fifty-fifty chance against Ranger, and in her late years about forty-sixty..

                  And it was baby Laurence herself who challenged Hye, not the other way around.

                  Liked by 3 people

            1. Miley

              The Names aren’t that rigid. It’s all about the Role. The transitional names are so because they describe people whose Role is to learn to be something. A Squire is preparing to take a Knight role, an Apprentice is learning to take their Master’s role, an Heir is going to take over the family business and estates, and whatever Roles come with that.

              But nothing is forcing anyone to actually take those roles, other than the extra work it takes to change what you do.

              Liked by 2 people

        3. Aleksander Ross Møller

          That is certainly a possibility. But I don’t think that Cat is going to be the Black Queen. She had that exact possibility back when her hand was forced at the Doom of Liesse, and it was averted. Now its just a title. Whatever name is evolving seems to broader in scope than something dual like black and white.
          this leads to my pet theory that Arthur will also differ from the old duality. I’d personally love the Grey Knight, although that name itself might still be too entrenched in the old war between black and white.

          Liked by 2 people

        4. ohJohN

          I think Arthur becoming the Black Knight is incredibly unlikely, primarily because Black Knight is an Evil and uniquely Praesi Name.

          Cat, another Callowan Squire, had a good shot at claiming it, but she was already a villain, a citizen of the Empire (because Conquest), and taught by some of its greatest villains in recent memory, with Amadeus intending for her to inherit his legacy. Before meeting him, she wasn’t particularly inclined towards Above and her plans (join the Legions, gain enough power to force change) better fit a villainous mold, and even if the Fourfold Crossing is to be believed and she had the potential to be a hero, she would have been a darker, bloodier type.

          With Callow’s independence, Arthur no longer has any real claim on Praesi Names. He is learning from a villain, but not a Praesi one, and without the weight of an “official” mentorship. I’ll concede that it’s an era of great upheaval, so maybe with Callow under the rule of a villainous queen the Name could mutate to fill a Callowan groove — the land *is* famous for its knights and now (at least nominally) on the side of Below, with close historical ties to the Name’s birthplace.

          But even then I think Arthur is too solidly a hero to be a good fit: I believe it’s been shown that he can use Light, he’s caught the eye of the Hashmallim (the Penitent’s Blade dreams), and in their first meeting Cat notes that he’s “almost offensively” heroic in appearance and disposition before he confirms his alignment with an offended “I’m not a *heretic*.”

          Above has their hooks in deep, and while Vivienne was a much shallower heroine (no Light, no Choir, a criminal Name born from a mostly personal grudge) I’m not sure she ended up fully or deeply on the side of Below after joining the Woe — IMO almost definitely not enough to claim a classically Evil Name as her next, whatever it ends up being. Arthur would have a significantly steeper hill to climb to switch teams, and I don’t think being young and impressionable around some moderately Evil influences is anywhere near enough to get him there.

          Liked by 7 people

    1. Linnus42

      I mean White Knight is not the only Knight Name around. There are a lot of Knight Names one can get. Also Arthur has no particular connection to Hanno and even if he got the Name isn’t exactly going to be leading any Heroes. Doesn’t have the skills, power is debatable with a new no name, and doesnt have the Trust being closely tied to Cat won’t do him many favors in winning any votes.

      Liked by 6 people

        1. There’d been WoE in early books saying that Calernia doesnt have the cultural basis for a Grey Knight. I doubt that’d have changed so fast, especially when the Knight variants are funcitonally limitless.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Shveiran

            To be fair, it has been years, and they have been tumultuous years.

            I’m not saying he’ll become the Grey Knight, just that there is no guarantee that this particular WoE still applies.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Darkening

        There was a conversation at one point that went along the lines of, ‘A squire must become a knight, either White or Black, nothing else.’ It took Cat eating *an entire faerie court* to break away from that role into something else. Sure, she could have become a ruler name, since everyone seems to be able to do that. But the conversation was basically her asking, “Can I become a different knight while the black and white knights are alive?” As a way of avoiding killing black, and having her hopes shot down.

        Like

    2. Deworld

      I don’t think Arthur will get a new Name out of killing Nim. He’s just too young. 16 years old, he’s been a Squire for, like, few months at most? At this point Cat still had nothing but lessons with Amadeus. Hero!Cat from Fourfold Reflection fought in rebellion for a couple of years before killing Black and becoming White Knight.

      Unless Arthur’s pattern takes more than a year (at least) to complete, it would be too early for him to become a Knight. And considering how determined Cat is in removing Malicia, and that she has a strict time limit, I doubt it’ll be the case. Squire still has too much to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    I recognize her > I recognized her
    instead of drew > instead drew
    used drove > drove
    From the corner (extra space)
    blown of my > blown off my
    flank tell > flank to tell
    attacked > attackers
    things ago > things go

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frivolous

      Also cord, not chord. Chord is mostly musical in context. Cord is similar to rope.

      Very common error in fiction, like using diffuse a situation when it should be defuse. Situations being like bombs; you don’t want them to blow up.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Black Spiral Dancer

        Not the only phrase that happened, either. There was a bit about her “eyes narrowed” that make no sense with one eye only.

        Like

    2. Kel the Seer

      but I was forced to abandon the working when another ogre *used drove* a javelin like a spear into my flank.

      The word *used* may have been left over from an earlier edit

      Like

  3. dadycoool

    This was a very fun battle. It’s so cool to watch Cat lean into her roles like she did there.

    Ooh, I’ve been suspecting that Arthur would become the Black Knight, so this Pattern of Three that Cat just got him to initiate is very exciting to me.

    It’s always a bad time going up against a Dread Empress/Emperor. That this is one with, what, 40 years of experience only makes it worse. Pro: she doesn’t have her real Black Knight, she’s acting like an Old Villain, and she’s forcing Cat into being the underdog in the middle of her Transition. Con: she’s still the Dread Empress with schemes upon schemes, resources to burn, and the ability to put Cat into the underdog position.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Konstantin von Karstein

      I don’t think Arthur will become the Black Knight. Here we have a young Hero who was attacked by a Villain and saved at the last moment by his definitely-not-mentor. It’s more likely he will receive a Heroic Name, not necessarily White Knight.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Snappy

      A point can be made for both white and black knights. Cat is the squires patron and mentor and so he could become her black knight to her something name.

      Or Hannon is going through a crisis of faith atm wuestioning his role and therefore his name. He could become something else and squire then takes his spot.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Anybody living and magically gifted can use Twilight, and some exploratory Names can find gaps in reality. Permanent gates can also be made that only require an offering to open. Those are the only limits on access.

      Liked by 15 people

        1. Shveiran

          Anybody living can walk in it without combusting, but magic (or Names) are required to access the Ways.

          Though the Praesi being mostly alive and having a lot of magic around, I suppose it isn’t a surprise.

          Liked by 9 people

    2. laguz24

      It’s not like twilight is something that is a secret, the grand alliance has been using it regularly. Plus malacia has the magical and espionage resources to steal, reverse engineer, or develop a way to use twilight in the time twilight has been active which has been around a few years by this point.

      Liked by 6 people

    3. ohJohN

      I had this exact same question! I started rereading during the hiatus and I’m getting close to the birth of Twilight, but I definitely remember Book V the least — I had the vague notion that there were some restrictions limiting its use to Grand Alliance members, or something along those lines. In retrospect, it would be incongruously short-sighted of everyone involved to bind access to a new plane of existence to something as fleeting as a wartime coalition of nations 😅.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. aurikdomi

          I don’t know Liliet that sounds very age of wonders to me, binding great power to something flimsy. (I enjoy the picture of the hell eggs as being like actual eggs, a kid with a stick could mess up the runes keeping the demon contained hence the need to hide them away behind more substantial) or flying fortresses or whatnot.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I think this is the most dangerous part of Nim having a Name. The ogres a reclusive normally, but it’s very likely they take pride in her status, and Legion recruitment numbers have been on the up lately, if I had to guess.

    Sicking Arthur on Nim is both a brilliant and terrible idea. The rule of three basically says that if he can survive, he’ll kill her, and get a Name out of it, but it’s the aftermath that worries me. Evidence says he’s too natural of a Hero to do something like take the Black Knight title for himself, and Hanno’s claim on White Knight was already kind of dodgy. I can’t say for certain what will happen, but it just feels like Cat’s going to be making a shocked Pikachu face when the dust settles on that.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Earl of Purple

      Ogres are rare and inbred with fertility issues. I doubt the Hall of Skulls is sending more ogres than usual into the Legions, and whoever rules the ogres would send equal amounts to Sepulchral as well. They stay as neutral as they can, always. It’s why Cat had Hune, keep an ogre close to all powers that might end up in the Tower.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Zach

      I’m a little confused about people who keep saying Arthur will “get a Name” out of his Rule of Three with Black Knight Nim; as far as I’m aware there’s nothing in the story that ever implies that a Rule of Three results in someone getting a Name. Catherine had one and it didn’t cause her to change Names from Square.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. MMM what if the aspect is Conscript?

    And do the 2 kids have any aspects already (and how i laugh at Cat calling them kids, i wish Saint was still around to hear her/or just notice it).

    Malicia doesn’t have a handle on Cat personality or capabilities, or rather she has an old one and refuses to acknowledge that she has grown and learned too much, part of it is that she has no way to know about Cat absorbing Bard’s instints but most is still her underestimating her.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Malicia has a solid handle on Cat’s personality actually, she’s missing details but everyone is.

      Her problem is she’s overconfident in her assessment. It’s good but it’s not as good as she’s acting like it is.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Oshi

        I agree Malicia has a solid handle on Cat before the war and certainly before the Underdark. I don’t believe she understands all of the changes Cat has gone through since returning or has an accurate assessment of how it shapes her.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. Shveiran

        I agree with Oshi, especially after the Prologue.
        Reading people is one of Malicia’s best skills, but it looks… off with Cat.
        I mean, she thought Catherine would settle down after the Night of Knives, whereas I think Winter Cat was more than a little likely to start dropping lava on Ater if the Everdark was shut on her fingers and she went back to square one.
        Let alone now, thinking she’d allow her enemy to comfortably harass her supply line…

        Liked by 4 people

    2. shikkarasu

      I have been waiting for Deputize/Conscript for years. I was expecting it to show up in some Paladin’s bag of tricks. Great for desperate last stands. The enemy charge up the hill with their mages and their 10:1 odds and then oops, all Named.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Silverking

    Malicia may be Story-blind, but she has honed the skill of “being too costly to mess with” down to a fine edge. So, if the person you were threatening with a siege gets both the hostages AND the gold while knowing your food is running out, how do you flip the script?

    …Well, I don’t know, but Cat does.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Shveiran

      Well, you make the conflict become something other than a siege.

      I don’t know how she’ll do it, but all these considerations about food and gold are only really relevant so long as the Army of Callow is stuck outside the walls. As soon as they can get through, they regain an overwhelming advantage.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Snappy

        It was implied that they were going to rob Wolof of their magical libraries.

        They are aiming to humiliate malica by weakening her biggest ally. Robbing them of magic, food and money but not actually taking the city cause thet would take took long.

        This hopefully convinces her other allies to stop supportting her.

        Liked by 6 people

            1. Shveiran

              It was more about the lack of bag of holding than the fingers.

              Aside from the fact that Vivienne doesn’t have one anymore, I doubt Cat will bring her along for a dangerous mission in enemy territory. Viv just isn’t Band of Five material anymore, it would be an incredible risk for no real gain. She is a human politician (with infiltration training) now, and she is too valuable to risk.

              Liked by 1 person

    2. Miley

      You steal all the enemys food before they realize they need to close their gates and then make the enemy ruler eat their own fingers in front of you before selling them a bit of food back for the gold they stole from you.

      One thing I think we’re forgetting is Cat never intended to siege wolof. The plan was always to misdirect, raid, and move on.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Huh, ogres are hard to kill, so garbing them in antimagic/enhanced durability armor makes them immune to nearly everything but munitions. An interesting addition to my understanding of fantasy tactics in this setting.
    I might not entirely agree with the way Twilight is used or with some of the assumptions around the war of the dead, but the tactical scenarios remain interesting.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. My issues with the war north:

        The choice to cut a pair of trenches across the length of the continent is of dubious value, even if they have a perfect knowledge of where all the attacking undead are at all times it’s still impossible to prevent them from bypassing those forces trying to defend the trench by using their superior numbers and superior in-reality marching speed/endurance to get to places where the defending force isn’t present, cross and flank them.
        While yes the Romans occasionally dug long trenches to help cover their foraging parties against the raids of hostile foraging parties, that mostly only had a psychological effect on discouraging enemy raiders/reducing the angles cavalry could approach from without dismounting to make a bridge with wood, and it was only possible to achieve any practical combat advantage from these when the area was utterly saturated with troops, and your own force is at least as numerous and fast-marching as the enemy. Similarly they only got to take advantage of trenches that fail to completely surround the defender either when their enemy were acting like overagressive idiots, or when they were only trying to make attacks from certain directions look less practical to tempt the enemy to fight on a different angle.
        You could maybe get some benefit from a pair of trenches cut across the continent by making them close together and cut by futher trenches into a series of squares small enough that a patrol could defend one of them, but even then the value is dubious and the Grand Alliance gets the same function out of the wagon fortresses we’ve been shown them using.

        The primary concern when trying to prevent enemy leakers is in detection, which would be achieved through ground scouting, scrying/counterscrying superiority, and flying scouts. If you’re willing to intercept them at any point along the length of the front and into either your own, or the enemy’s depth, instead of committing yourselves to trying to block them all at a linear point of depth along the front, the strategic repositoning speed advantage of Twilight is easier to bring into play(as opposed to the lesser strategic but greater tactical advantage of undead being able to march double time for days without tiring), and with that advantage and a skilled and quick command loop it becomes possible to drastically outnumber them in every skirmish.

        This in turn incentivises concentration again and moves the war away from a linear army structure and back into an atomic army structure as the enemy stops scattering into groups of a few hundred or thousand like what Raiza Tenjin fought that one time when he lost a relative, and instead the undead concentrate either in forces that are too big to be outnumbered, or behind extensive fortifications, or in tiny groups of probably less than fifty, hoping to escape notice as they infiltrate.

        And I know the obvious response to the way I’ve structured my argument is ‘that’s exactly what they were trying to prevent with the trenches’, but that’s my point, it shouldn’t work. The trenches aren’t enough fortification to allow a present Grand Alliance force to stall much against an equal or superior force, and the ability to stop small enemy patrols and raids should work or fail on information regardless of style of fortification.

        That’s not to say that trenches have no place. They’re very useful for defending fortresses and temporary camps, and alongside tricks like breaking dykes or building dams to flood an area, or cutting down trees and sharpening branches to make Abbatis, they can be used to block the likely lines of advance for large armies and make the enemy slow down and bunch up in front of ranged weapons.

        So while leakers should only be blocked by information superiority, large armies should really only be slowed by a mix of repeated obstacles and firing positions along their path of advance. But the firing positions needs to be well-defended enough that random patrols ranging slightly ahead of the advancing army can’t just clear them without at all slowing the army(and the firing positions needs to be there covering blockages to prevent random patrols from clearing them/filling the trench in dozens of places every day, only one of which the enemy main army will push through.)
        In practise this means building something like the lines of Torres Vedas, where you’ve got a bunch of small forts overlooking likely angles of approach that have been blocked.
        In PGtE I think the ideal form of tiny cheap fort capable of stalling large enemy forces might be something like a small hill with the edges removed to make a cliff edge by digging, lake-dropping erosion, or a combination of the two, to prevent sheer weight of numbers from overwhelming an undermanned shooting positon. A wooden Palisade on top to provide cover in an exchange of missile weapons and advantage against climbers, and a defensible underground barracks and associated tunnels to provide cover against giant monsters and let them pull tricks on hostile Revenants like dropping ceiling slabs on them or trapping them in front of a Balistae in a hallway too narrow to dodge in(bonus points if it’s still possible to shoot at the army outside from within the tunnels, more bonus points for the underground section if the limited number of acesses makes it easier to ward against swarms), wards against swarms, and preferably some sort of hidden tunnel or access to Twilght/dimensional shortcut that allows the fort garrison to evacuate or receive reinforcements after being surrounded(necessary if these places are going to have mages or Priests assigned to them, those are in short supply and hard to replace).

        While I think that design would be the cheapest for an army-staller semi-traditional fantasy-style fortresses would still have a role where preexisting or where the terrain is unsuited to just cutting the edges off a hill.
        And in any case it’s probably too expensive to put more than one(though possibly two or three) of these obstruction/fortress combos along each of the likely paths of an enemy advance.

        TLDR: I don’t like how fortification is handled, it clashes with my understanding of what fortifications can actually accomplish.

        Another issue I have with the war north/Ways use is that it’s never mentioned whether them not conducting constant raids into the enemy depth, all the way past the other shore of the lakes to outnumber and crush isolated groups is just because it hasn’t occurred to anyone that this should be a priority, or whether it not happening constantly and in great prevalence is a defeat the Dead King has inflicted on the Grand Alliance by constantly keeping the pressure on and preventing them from having the forces to spare/keeping them from getting enough information/scouting opportunities to find his forces. Still it’s unclear why a bunch of small armies can’t just lurk in areas of Twilight adjacent to enemy territory sending out scouts and pouncing on anything isolated they see, again making the enemy’s situation awkward as they’re forced to only move around in very large groups.

        Cat’s explanation of why they can’t resupply through Twilight: a need to have mages or Priests, with every caravan eventually taking up all of the mages and priests they need for other things, has too many unresolved logical flaws. Why does there need to be a gate-capable caster with every group? Can’t they just keep them with the army and the source of the supply caravans, with the gates with the army opening at predetermined time ranges and locations and the caravan finding them?
        If there strictly needs to be a gate-capable caster with every group that goes in for some reason or if Twilight is too chronologically or locationally imprecise for that, what about building twilight-side supply depots ahead of time near the independent path of an offensive, and leaving hidden markers in reality so an army on the march can know where to cross over to scout around in Twilight and find their supply depot?

        Also I feel like removing the Pilgrim’s resurrection aspect, not introducing another hero with any similar skill, and failing to acknowledge that the Dead King, as the foremost Necromancer of the age and a guy who should have former healer Named among his Revenants, can probably reconstruct or repair any Revenant that falls in battle, so long as the soul and ravaged body make it back to him, was a wasted opportunity where we could have gotten to examine some of the really fantastical aspects of Named conflict in the setting, in that killing a combatant isn’t always permenant.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Edit: I mean we’ve already examined how people don’t always stay dead, ever since the Liesse rebellion arc.
          What I’m trying to convey would be interesting is that once you have enough Named organized there should be ways of cheating death that apply to them all and can make average forms of death cheap.
          So in response Named would take on even riskier or overtly suicidal actions out of the belief that they are important enough to be brought back from it and their sacrifice would be useful, or become traumatized from repeatedly dying, or be established as being justified in being fearless of death, only to have the enemy deploy a more irreversible form of killing or to capture them alive to torture or cripple them.

          Like

        2. Miley

          Can’t they just keep them with the army and the source of the supply caravans, with the gates with the army opening at predetermined time ranges and locations and the caravan finding them?

          This makes me doubt your claims of knowing anything about how military operations work. No, the supply caravans would all starve to death with this approach.

          Like

          1. I’m not sure how you think the supply caravans moving through Twilight would starve to death. They’d be moving the same distance over the same time as an army traveling through Twilight.
            So if armies don’t starve to death in transit neither should caravans.
            Did you think that the issue is that they wouldn’t know where to go to get out of Twilight?
            Or do you think the issue is that the army won’t open ways out for them at the scheduled times? I mean sure that could happen if they’re under attack or all their gate casters were killed, but at that point either the loss of caster means that the army is soon to be lost to swarms, or the army can open a gate in the scheduled place at an UN-scheduled, later, time and give the pack animals on the other side a way out.
            While if none of the ways intended to allow them to join with the army work the supply caravans can just turn back and head for their point of origin(which would presumably be a permenant gate in this scenario).

            Maybe with a day or two tacked on to a journey for caravans as it turns out that the army has not reached the intended destinations at the intended times and there is a need to repeatedly have someone with the army pop into Twilight and either scry the caravan or send out a rider to carry a message, and the caravan is repeatedly re-directed to the new planned destination.
            Or the caravan reaches the location at the planned time, but the army is a day late and they have to wait for them to catch up and open an interdimensional door.
            Or the army is there on time, but someone breaks an axle midway through Twilight and then they’re probably stuck llading what they can on the other carts and leaving broken carts in Twilight in order to make their time window.

            Like

        3. violentink

          Twilight is definitionally a liminal and transitory realm. So yeah, it’s too chronologically and locationally imprecise for any of the stuff you’re talking about. I imagine it would reject any permanent colonisation like a supply depot as well.

          Liked by 3 people

  8. Shveiran

    Uh.
    On one hand, it’s so cool to see Cat on the right side of a Pattern of Three for once, that would be a very satisfying reversal.
    Also, this is what I was talking about, Nim: you got a neat trick, but you just earned a defeat in a Pattern without even noticing and for no lasting gain.
    You are green, and you’re gonna lose.

    On the other hand, I’m somehwat miffed that they could shut down the Army’s wards.
    I mean, sure, Praes, trismegistan magic, yadda yadda.
    But these wards were developed by the Arsenal and held up against the Hidden Horror, so the idea the Tower has an artefact that can just shut them down feels… kind of wrong.

    Unless of course this is a plot point and Akua sabotaged them as part as the false betrayal, or something like that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. agumentic

      I can guarantee you that DK himself could break those wards without even noticing them. They are a mass-produced work aimed at keeping away mass-produced works and normal magicians, the Tower having an artefact to bypass them is not strange at all.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Shveiran

        Uh… no? Do you remember the battles in the last book? The wards were the foundation of the Alliance’s strategies. If Neshamah could shut them down at will he would have.

        Unless you mean in person? Then sure. But if he couldn’t by proxy, it feels odd to me that the Tower can do so willy nilly.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I mean, he had a spike that wouldn’t just break them, but would catastrophically break them. And is allied to the tower, suppose he shared the design and some Praesi made an improvement on it, or this ward-breaker isn’t normal mage-produced modern equipment, but is something produced as a masterwork by a past Named Warlock.

          Possibly even Weska, given his specialties. All the Calamities made contingencies against eachother and collaborated in making it possible for the others to stop or kill them if they were subverted(ie, Masego willingly wearing the Goblinfire boobytrap), suppose Weska’s counter against himself involved making ward-breaking artefacts and sticking them in the Tower vault.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Wekesa.

            And his contingency was entrusted to personally Amadeus, not Malicia, let alone whoever-has-the-Tower. Wekesa and Masego would not have been imprecise about that.

            Still, yeah – Malicia has the same advantage Kairos did, which is to say insane variety of insane craftings in the vault.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Shveiran

            He did have that spike, but that particular weakness was countered by the Arsenal, so that angle was covered.

            The thing is, magic moves forward; it’s not quite like science, because a lot of warlocks hoard secrets, but it moves forward. We have it on record that the Principate in the Uncivil Wars used scrying techniques that were “twenty years old” and that was implied to be obsolete.
            And the utmost Praesi expert in wards in contemporary years was… well, Wekesa; who until very very late in his career would not have had any reason not to share with his son all he could. And even then, I doubt he gave the Tower something like a “list of ward secrets my son doesn’t know”.

            What I’m saying is, I can buy that the Tower has magical superiority on a lot of things. I have a harder time buying that they have counters to the specific developments the Arsenal focused on (namely, wards and anti-undead spells).
            If they have artefacts that can shut that down, I don’t really buy they have enough to waste one on something that is not a crippling blow.

            Endless active artefacts (summon a demon, bring down the sky, turn an army into a purple tapir commando), sure. But artefacts that interfere with spells designed centuries later? That’s like Tesla having a counter for GPS systems.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I mean, they probably have MILLENIA of once-a-generation-genius artefacts stored away. A lead sheet is a counter for GPS systems if you know to use it, and you know what’s a better counter? Dynamite. Counters everything.

              Like

  9. beleester

    The new Black Knight introduced themselves not by crushing people in open battle, but by leading a well-planned commando raid. She definitely learned something from her predecessor.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. No she didn’t. Black would have never fought a Squire unless he knew he was there and had a planned attack that would have had the Squire fight one of the other Calamities. If Black stumbled onto Squire like Nim did he would have immediately retreated so that a pattern of 3 could not form because he knew it would go against him being a big NAME villian.

      Liked by 5 people

  10. Aduro95

    And in that sentence, in the anger – the unspoken urge to do better next time, the certainty that there would be a next time – I saw an opportunity. A tool. And I was enough of a monster to make use of it, even when I was using a boy barely more than a child.

    “So prepare yourself,” I challenged. “Train. Make tactics.”

    Anyone else reminded of Ca making her first Pattern of Three?

    I could kill him. Right now, right here, I knew deep in my bones that I could kill him. I might not be able to the next time we met, but this once the story’s flow was in my favour. It was tempting, but at the edge of my mind I could make out a path. It was a dark one, strewn with ruin and the death of innocents, but hadn’t I stopped pretending to be on the side of the Heavens the moment I’d taken the knife?

    “Prove it,” I rasped. “If you want your way to beat mine, then come at me again. Properly. Earn your Name, hero. Run and hide and muster your armies in the dark. Make deals you’ll regret until you have nothing left to bargain with. I’ll be waiting for you, on the other side of that battlefield.”
    Book 1 Chapter 12: Squire

    Liked by 8 people

  11. Everyone is caught up in the Black Knight/Squire pattern that it doesn’t seem anyone noticed Cat’s NAME got stronger and her ROLE was shown: she is a coming into something that bends stories like the Bard does. Her boost didn’t come into she realized that Squire was in that spot due to Creation putting him there and she could use it.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. What I question is why the exchange of prisoners and hold didn’t happen simultaneously, as should be expected between parties who don’t trust eachother.

    Was it a display of largesse by Sargon?(to be willing to instantly spend gold at even the chance of saving his people, though I’d think Praesi would veiw that as sign of gullibility or weakness)

    Or was Sargon in on this attempt to score political points off of Catherine from the beginning, contributing to the plan to set up situations where she has to choose between looking weak or dishonorable?(and letting Malicia test which of her weird dichotomy of veiws of Catherine her perceptions and advisors have been feeding her is correct. She’s been hearing people assuming that there’s something sick or insane in Catherine, and that she might start dropping lakes on Praesi cities, and has been countering that view with her own assumptions that Catherine is willing to make a deal, neither of which is strictly accurate.)

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      1. postal.pacifist@gmail.com

        In reality, exchanges between parties who don’t trust each other are kept to small sums, but not simultaneous unless it’s just more convenient that way.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Because Sargon has a lot to gain from booby-trapping gold / raiding to get it back immediately, while the value of his soldiers to Catherine is ONLY the ransom / reputational effects she can milk the situation for. There’s every reason for HER to not trust HIM, but no basis for the reverse, and implying otherwise could be taken as a separate offense she’d make him pay for.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I love how amazingly this chapter showcases the blind spot which will get Malicia killed while still making her be an incredibly competent and scary opponent.

    She just organized, on basically no notice, a Named strike into an enemy camp with a hundred artifact-aided ogre heavies and mages using an incredibly modern and recent form of transportation. The raid took heavy losses but this is Praes, so par for the course. Given the degree of opposition they accomplished all goals to the greatest anticipatable degree, crippling Cat’s ability to lay siege to Wolof (through information gained), limiting her operations capacity, striking an economic blow, and putting Cat in a terrible political position to boot. All of which required detailed military intelligence to pull off and was probably put into motion the moment Cat set foot outside Wolof, given how quickly it was pulled off.

    That’s terrifying. That’s just *terrifying*.

    If this were any other magical war fantasy story this whole thing would be an unequivocal disaster for Cat and the prospect of facing more strikes like that in the future would be terrifying.

    But in this story there are Heroic roles and stories which Malicia is just not as good at Amadeus at predicting. And so she is screwed. She basically signed her Black Knight’s death warrant, sending her (even through a half-power proxy) to raid a camp the young Squire was in.

    To use a chess metaphor, Malicia traded some unimportant pawns of her own for some of Cat’s strategically important pawns. But without realizing it, because she doesn’t full understand the rules of Heroic warfare, she put a timer on her queen which ensures it’ll just fall over at the *worst* possible moment for her.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Especially when the mentor is a reluctant one who keeps insisting they are doing things NOT out of attachment to their student but for completely unrelated pragmatic reasons, but secretly has a heart of gold.

      Denial kills villains, Catherine. Please, please stop.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shveiran

        Yeah, but that trope is part of the student’s story.
        The Squire just doesn’t have enough weight to drag the Black Queen into it unless she makes the Squire pivotal to her own.

        Things are just… so much larger than Arthur Foundling.
        And so long as they stay that way, Catherine is safe.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Unfortunately this trope centers on the Mentor’s perosnal internal journey from denial to acceptance and eventual self-sacrifice.

          Also, Arthur Foundling has HELLA weight. He’s Callow’s first hero since the Liesse Rebellion, and visibly following in Catherine’s footsteps as a Laure Foundling Squire. There’s that sword, too. Creation is paying him plenty of attention.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            Compared to the average squire, sure! That is simply not enough weight to compare.

            Take Hainaut as an exemple. It was a pivotal moment for the largest war on the continent since time immemorial, and the Squire (a martial Name) was present.
            His contribution was killing a nameless Ravenant.

            Do you see what I mean?
            He is a scrappy orphan with a tragic background and lots of ideals and YES, that means a lot of potential, but he is coming late to the party.
            If he survives, he’ll be the veteran in whatever band he’ll lead after the colossal war, but he doesn’t have enough weight to be important DURING the war.
            There are too many stories here, and he is bound to none.
            You know who is bound to most? Catherine Foundling.

            Now, maybe, in time, Arthur may acquire bonds to more stories. Of course. But that won’t happen unless Catherine starts referring to him as “the son I never had” because the only way that can happen in time for him to matter in the war is through her.
            Which is why she’s being careful.

            Of course Creation is paying him attention! It just takes time for that to amount to shit. One day, maybe he’ll grab that blade and cut down the Black Queen in a tragic showdown filled with “I-can’t-and-yet-I-must”, but that won’t happen for years yet, for the same reasons why Warlock one-shot the Bumbling Conjurer.
            There is such a thing as playing out of your league.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. There is such a thing as… uh… like, you know how Harry Potter was a baby when he killed Voldemort? He didn’t actually DO anything, he just was there and Voldemort killed himself aginst him because of his own character flaws.

              That’s what would happen to Cat if she ends up denying that she cares about the Squire until she sacrifices herself to save him because nOOOOOO!

              Like

      2. Cat is trying to walk the line that Black did for her…without actually setting up one of her friends in her place. That is what happened to Black, he used Saba for most of Cat’s training and thought he was the Story driven death coming and the Bard exploited that.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Black didn’t really do that. Sabah trained Cat some, but she didn’t die as Cat’s mentor. She died as the person who was best loved by everyone involved, in the “beginning of the end” way.

          Liked by 4 people

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