Chapter 25: Fool

And so Dread Emperor Irritant addressed his Chancellor thus: ‘You have moved me through argument, so I crown you in my stead. May you rule wisely.’ The day after the royal banner of Callow was seen, and soon Ater was under siege.”

– Extract from Volume IX of the official Imperial Chronicles

The first dart came from my left and I caught its glint in the morning light.

I clawed Night across the air, making a shield, but the one thrown a heartbeat later from my right I didn’t see at all until a phalange moved in the way with her shield raised. It didn’t help. Night shattered the first dart, but the second punched through steel like it was paper and then went on halfway through the orc’s skull before stopping. And it wasn’t even, I realized a moment later, the real attempt on my life. I was warned by shouts and the sound of crossbows being fired. Behind me, I thought, and turned to see a small creature leaping towards at my back. Hairy and clawed, like a toad gone wrong, but my staff was in movement and it was not quicker than me.

The side of the length of dead yew caught the creature in its distended belly, but it let out a high-pitched screech and spat out a yellow tongue that looked like a muscle. I saw something like bone at the end of the absurd length and threw myself to the side, but a legionary had come too close and he was in the way. Heavier than me. It was luck that got a fold of the Mantle of the Woe just close enough I was able to pull it closer to my body, covering my side in time for the bonelike stinger to slide off the enchanted cloth. I snarled, as much about the legionary who’d almost just gotten me killed trying to protect me as in anger. Night cascaded down the length of my staff in strings that crisscrossed the creature’s entire body in the span of a heartbeat before turning sharp.

Chunks of flesh and gore splattered the grass and I breathed out, eyes scanning for other threats.

The assassins that’d thrown darts at me had been tackled down but there seemed to be no more of the creature, which – shit, the corpse was dissolving into the ground. Ichor. That thing had been a devil. What the fuck was going on with our wards? I spared a look for the phalange that’d take a dart for me, grimacing as a hand over her mouth told me she was dead.

“Take them alive,” I shouted.

It was no good, though, I saw moments later. The assassins – garbed in regular’s armour – had stopped moving because they were dead. Poison, most likely. I’d be getting no answers out of them save through necromancy, and maybe not even that. There were alchemies that made corpses near-impossible to raise, and though they were expensive I somehow doubted that whoever had arranged this was lacking in funds. I rose back to my feet, closing the orc’s eyes. She’d taken that dart for me without hesitation, and if she hadn’t I would most likely be dead. Fuck, I thought breathing out. This wasn’t the first attempt on my life, but it’d been a while one had come so close to succeeding. If that tongue stinger hadn’t been meant to deliver a particularly nasty poison, I’d eat my shoes.

I got my people moving to cover the security breaches, because there was no way a devil should have been able to cross our wards. Before the hour was out the phalanges had caught most of our traitors alive, two trying to pull a runner towards Ater before being shot in the back. Enough confessed without need for… firm interrogation that I got a picture of what had happened. A few of my soldiers had been turned either by threats to their families or petty bribery, which had allowed a pair of mfuasa mage infiltrators in through our defences. They’d used illusions and murder to let in a summoned devil through the wards and make their attempt before being put down.

“They went for enlisted, not officers,” Vivienne said. “Not all of them Praesi, either. Two of the flipped soldiers were from Summerholm.”

I grimaced.

“This one wasn’t a warning shot,” I said. “They meant business.”

“It won’t be the last either,” the Princess said. “You’ve provoked the High Lords enough a single failure won’t put them off.”

“You don’t think this is Malicia?” I asked.

“It could be the Eyes,” she conceded, “but I have my doubts. They don’t usually use either devils or mfuasa.”

Which might be the point, putting us off the trail, but I wouldn’t argue the point. I’d certainly angered enough of the Wasteland’s aristocracy that they were as likely of an author for this nasty little surprise. I clenched my fingers. Time to make a point of my own, then. I’d need to speak with Scribe, and Archer as soon as she got back. She was a day late, at this point, but I wasn’t worried: I could still feel her star and the way it was moving towards us. She’d be there by noon.

“We’ll retaliate,” I said. “

“I expected as much,” Vivienne said. “And our traitors?”

“We have a punishment for aiding the enemy in our regulations,” I said.

My successor made a face but she did not disagree. It might have been a Legion regulation, originally, but Callowans were not much softer on treachery.

They’d be stoned.

Archer dragged her carcass back into camp an hour past Noon Bell, immediately heading for my tent when she did. She stank of dust and sweat but I still poured her a glass of lemon water when she dropped into a seat with a sigh, sending one of the phalanges to get her warm food. Indrani drank greedily, emptying the whole cup before letting out a sigh.

“Gods, the things you send me to do,” she said.

I dropped into a seat across from her own, lowering myself slowly so my leg wouldn’t ache too much.

“Thought you were all about travelling,” I said.

“Ater was damned interesting,” Indrani admitted. “Wouldn’t have minded staying a little longer to see the sights. There were… complications, though.”

“Ominous,” I praised. “You’ve been working on your pauses, I see.”

She preened.

“I have,” Indrani said. “I keep using them in random sentences, it drives Zeze crazy.”

I swallowed a grin. Amusing as that sounded, I had sent her out on an important errand.

“Report,” I ordered.

She leaned back into her seat, grinning in a way that did not bode well for whatever poor bastard I’d make transcribe this later, and only stashed that insolence away long enough to thank the young man that brought her a plate of greens and stew with slices of rye bread on the side. Archer wasted no time dipping her bread and scarfing down an entire slice, almost choking as she slapped her chest twice.

“Right,” she gasped. “So report. Got into their noble camps no trouble, their security is horrendously bad. The outer parts, anyway. They ward to the Hells and back little sections where the important people sleep, couldn’t get in those. Stayed long enough to learn that our buddy Sargon is here now, with a small escort.”

“Good to know,” I grunted. “We’d figured as much, but it’s good to have it confirmed.”

“It shouldn’t be too hard to get a strike force in Ater the same way I went in,” Archer continued. “Lots of servants and peddlers go back and forth through the gates every day, the Legions don’t actually watch them all that closely. The problems start in the city.”

“Heard through sources that Malicia’s pretty much lost grip,” I said.

“Yeah, she’s not real popular at the moments,” Indrani snorted. “The Sentinels followed up massacring rioters by being just as hard with a few attempts by people to get at imperial granaries, which didn’t win her any admirers.”

Unfortunate timing for her, that. I didn’t disagree with taking a hard line over food reserves with a siege possibly looming, but it was becoming clear that the Sentinels weren’t the kind of tool that could be used for delicate work.

“So who’s rising?” I asked.

“Akua,” Indrani frankly said. “She’s the city’s darling at the moment. They’re convinced she’s the only person that can beat you and she’s been making all the right moves – she’d been healing people, setting up hospitals and shelters and organizing the refugees. Even the gangs like her, Cat, it’s ridiculous. They started patrolling the districts the city guard won’t go in anymore after she asked them.”

I let out a low whistle.

“So she’s making a play for the Tower,” I said.

“Maybe,” Archer said, wiggling her hand. “She hasn’t actually gone there since coming to the city, way I hear it. She’s got this mansion that’s become like a second imperial court. There’s already a song about the ‘empress in the tower and the empress in the city’. Whatever she’s up to, though, she hasn’t actually made any moves to depose Malicia. Most people figure she’s either still working on getting the Legions on board or there’s some sort of clever plan afoot.”

“I don’t see the Black Knight flipping her way even if Malicia’s star is waning,” I said. “They get on terribly, by all a reports, and Nim’s a Legion loyalist. Without the army on her side, Akua will need major noble support before she can make a move. Won’t have enough troops otherwise.”

Support that I intended to deliver right into her hands, but was still in the making. It’d have to wait until Abreha and Jaheem Niri arrived.

“Could be,” Indrani shrugged. “Went to have a look at the defences like you asked, and it’s exactly like Juniper figured. They have a skeleton garrison on the walls facing us and the rest of the troops are at barracks in the nearby districts.”

It was the only sensible way to defend a city the size of Ater with forces as small as the Black Knight’s. She couldn’t really afford to man the entire set of walls facing us, not with solid numbers, so she’d post just enough up there and keep her real numbers near streets that could be used to quickly mobilize. That was she could be sure her soldiers were where the fighting was actually happening when we attacked. Against a less seasoned commander the trick would have been drawing those troops out by an attack on the wall and then sending a smaller force to climb an unprotected stretch while the defenders were busy, but that wouldn’t work on Marshal Nim. She’d keep companies in reserve.

No, like Juniper had said the only real way for us to take the city by force was speed. We needed overwhelm the walls before the Legions could fully mobilize, smash them while they were still separated and take up solid defensive positions before the highborn armies could intervene.

“Good,” I said. “Did you get anywhere close to the Tower?”

“Nah, they’ve locked up those districts tight,” Indrani said. “The Sentinels have been moving wagons around, though, so I’d bet Malicia’s opened up the vaults for a few things. Couldn’t get into the Tower itself, though, not even through Scribe’s underground routes. They’re either closed or swarming with guards.”

“Ime knows her trade,” I sighed. “And my father?”

“That,” Indrani grinned, “is where it gets… complicated.”

“Now you’re just overusing it,” I chided.

“Fuck… you, Your Royality,” Indrani eloquently replied. “So, I went around looking for ye ol’ Carrion Lord like my boss – terrible woman, you know, couldn’t recognize a good dramatic pause even if it bit her in the ass – asked. I was prowling rooftops and alleys like a majestic panther, but then I got shot in the shoulder.”

“You what now?” I replied, alarm.

“Don’t worry about it, shallow wound, all in good fun,” Archer dismissed. “So since the Lady had said hello, I set fire to the house she was standing on to say hi back and we had a good laugh about it. Only that, uh, drew some invited guests.”

“Sentinels?”

“Please,” Indrani snorted, “like I’d worry about those. No, I was asking her why there was some gray in her hair now like an old granny – there wasn’t, always pisses her off when I ask anyway – but then suddenly there was just this guy there.”

“This guy,” I repeated, skeptical.

“Yeah, just standing there,” Indrani agreed. “So I was all like ‘what gives, did you maybe not notice that building is still on fire, you jackass’ and then he turns to me saying ‘Black Queen vassal. You are spared. The debt is paid. Leave.’ You know, like an asshole.”

“Indrani,” I patiently said, “did you pick a fight with the fucking Emerald Swords?”

She blinked at me, surprise.

“No, of course not,” Archer assured me. “Though that was obvious from the context.”

I narrowed my eyes at her.

“I picked a fight with the Emerald Swords and the Lady,” she proudly told me.

I rubbed the bridge of my nose, feeling the headache coming. I wasn’t even in pain yet, I could just sense its looming person like a fucking storm on the horizon.

“He’d told me to leave, see, so I did the only rational thing a woman can do in that position,” Indrani began. “I-”

“-shot him in the eye,” I finished.

“I did,” she said, pleased, then leaned forward. “Twice. And I’ll level with you here, Catherine, he did not enjoy that.”

“Go figure,” I said. “Ranger?”

“Kicked him into the fire when he was distracted and pulled down the house on him,” Indrani said. “Shot her in the shoulder but she caught it and threw it back – almost took my eye out – but then the rest of the Emerald Swords arrived and it got messy.”

“It got messy?” I drily said.

“Right, ‘cause we drew a bit of attention so the Tower dropped a demon on us,” Archer said. “Beast of Hierarchy, I think. Anyways the air started burning like oil and it spread fucking everywhere – no smoke, though, pretty weird right? – so I stabbed this elf in the back, ‘cuz he was basically asking for it, and I maneuvered backwards from the situation.”

She smiled proudly at me, the horrid wrench.

“You know, like a strategist,” Indrani said. “Which I am.”

“Tell me we don’t have a demon-tainted Emerald Sword to deal with now,” I said.

“Nah, everyone made it out,” Indrani said. “Except for the diabolists Ranger shot, I guess, but if I learned anything in our years together it’s that diabolists don’t really count.”

Yeah, and there it was. The goddamned headache.

“Anything else?” I asked, against my better judgement.

She considered that for a moment.

“I’m hungry,” Indrani shared.

I sighed.

“About your… adventure, I mean,” I said.

“Hey,” Archer complained. “If I can’t do the pauses, then you can’t either. And what happened to us, Catherine? You never ask how my day went anymore.”

I cocked an eyebrow at her.

“How did your day go, Indrani?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” she smugly grinned, shovelling a large spoonful of stew and greens into her mouth.

“How is that that I’ve met people who’ve literally eaten the souls of the innocent and somehow you’re still the worst person I know?” I asked, reluctantly impressed.

“Natural talent,” she told me through half-chewed greens.

There was nothing like spending time with my closest friends in the world to make me reconsider my position on people not being born terrible. I hid a smile, though, and drummed my fingers against the sculpted tabletop.

“It’s a good thing that you’re back,” I said. “You can rest now.”

“Sleeping in a bed will be nice,” she agreed.

“You’ll have to do it now, though,” I idly said.

She stopped eating, staring at me.

“I’ve got a job for you,” I pleasantly smiled. “You’re going back into Ater.”

“I was just in Ater,” she whined.

“Yeah, but last time was too easy,” I said. “So this time I’m sending you back with about forty handpicked Dominion warriors.”

She wouldn’t stay with them once they were in the city – anything a Named was involved in the Intercessor would know about – but that was all right, I had a different task in mind for her. Ater was no Wolof, after all, for all its formidable defences. It had fallen more times than I could count through the many centuries of imperial history.

Most of the time, from the inside.

It was another six days before High Lady Abreha Mirembe of Aksum – formerly empress-claimant Sepulchral – and High Lord Dakarai Sahel of Nok joined their forces to my own army. Most of their sizeable combine force had marched our way, a solid fourteen thousand. Abreha’s reins on it were nowhere as tight as before though, since the Nok soldiery now had their own liege lord along instead of simple kinsman in command. Within moments of getting them in my tent I saw the tensions between the two of them. High Lord Dakarai, a gracefully aged older man with silvery hair and the most golden eyes I had seen of any Praesi noble, now resented the woman he’d backed for the Tower.

I even knew why. One of the foundations of their alliance had been the marriage between Abreha’s then-heir Isoba and Dakarai’s daughter Hawulti, but from the High Lord of Nok’s perspective he had mismarried his favourite daughter: Isoba’s position as heir to Aksum was now up in the air. Mind you, Dakarai was here instead of talking with High Lady Takisha and the others for a good reason: it was too late for him to move to Malicia’s camp. Even if she accepted his allegiance he’d get nothing out of the switch and he was more than a little likely to get assassinated as an example down the line. Malicia couldn’t accept his return, anyway, not as things stood.

Too many of her ‘loyal’ lords had spent years waging war against Nok in her name, they wouldn’t accept a peaceful return to the Tower’s cause. If the High Seat returned to Malicia, it would be over Dakarai Sahel’s dead body and for obvious reasons that would not be terms acceptable to him.

“Your hospitality remains pleasing, Black Queen, but you asked us here for a reason,” Abreha eventually said.

“The wards against eavesdropping were something of a hint, I imagine,” I snorted. “Fair enough. I want something of you.”

High Lord Dakarai studied me calmly.

“Should you want Nok’s forces to take the vanguard in breaching Ater, there will be a price for it,” he plainly stated.

“Nothing so uncouth,” I said. “On the contrary, I think you’ll actually like this one.”

I explained exactly what I wanted out of them, and they listened with faces like masks.

Afterwards, Dakarai Sahel left my tent in a rage and Abreha Mirembe lingered a little longer before following him out of the camp. I let them go, instead calling my war council together.

We had a battle to prepare for.

I pressed down against Zombie’s back, squinting under the heavy glare of the afternoon sun.

The enemy was moving slower than I’d thought they would, though that was of my own making. Between Assassin, Archer and the Silver Huntress about twenty high-ranking nobles had been killed this morning. Among those we’d even caught two Muraqib and a Niri, the prize of the lot being High Lady Takisha’s husband. Just after that anthill got kicked the Army of Callow had begun marching at a brisk pace, circling Ater to the north and advancing on the camp of the noble private armies. Much as we’d expected it would, though our advance had been almost immediately seen and reported it’d still taken them long to organize. I suspected they’d prepared a makeshift command system in case we did attack them, but the wave of assassinations had upended that arrangement before it could be used. So while the nobles fought over who would lead and who would take the frontlines, the Army of Callow had marched effectively unchallenged.

Juniper didn’t like the plan, but I’d sold her on the necessity of it so she’d put her talents to work making the best of the inevitable risks. While the Army of Callow and the Akusm contingent was moving to the north of the city, about five thousand – all Nok forces – under High Lord Dakarai were circling the city’s belly to the south instead. The route was slightly longer, and I could see from above that the Black Knight had taken the bait. Seeing a smaller force split from our main host, Marshal Nim had ordered one of the southern gates open and sortied against it. The temptation to try to defeat us in detail had been too strong.

Without knowing it, the Black Knight had been courting disaster. The Nok wavemen, the famous archers I’d yet to see prove their worth on the battlefield, were served up exactly the kind of fight they shined most in: flat open fields against slow-moving infantry. Those enchanted bows proved to be brutally effective tools of war at a range at least one time and a half of standard-issue crossbows, arrows touched with magic coming down in a rain that tore through even the testudo formation of the enemy legionaries. Still, there were only a thousand of those elite archers and Nim soon had field scorpions brought out so the slaughter didn’t last forever.

It still cost the Legions a few hundred soldiers for little gain and blunted their sortie. The Nok forces kept moving east towards the nobles with only paltry losses and the Legions did not attempt pursuit. No doubt the Black Knight was wary of getting another mouthful of volleys before Dakarai retreated again and the game began anew.

Up north, the shape of a battle began to fall into place. The enemy commanders were thinking along the same lines as the Black Knight, they too preferring to fight our army split. It’d made them take a gamble: instead of staying in their camp, a decent enough defensive position, the lumbering host of thirty thousand was marching towards the Army of Callow and its auxiliaries. The general facing Juniper had decided to bet that the battle against our main army would be won or lost before High Lord Dakarai finished circling the capital and fell on their backs. From up here I could see another trap, too, this one more subtly laid: at the speed they were advancing, the noble armies would be meeting my own about at the height of one of the northern gates of Ater.

Cheeky, that. They were hoping that Marshal Nim might see an opportunity when the battle had begun to flank us from there. And more than that, I eventually decided. If the Black Knight opened the gates, the nobles could then retreat through it and into the city afterwards. Neither me nor the nobles were interested in fighting to the death while Malicia was watching us from atop the Tower like a waiting vulture. It’d be more sensible to allow whoever got the worst of the fighting to retreat, be it us or they. Even with an army marching towards you, I thought amusedly, you’re more concerned with the Tower than the steel. A shame for them it wouldn’t pan out this way.

An hour before Afternoon Bell the skirmishes began north of the city and I got involved. I made a few passes on Zombie and left trails of blackflame behind, leaving our Levantine skirmishers with a decisive advantage. An hour after that, the skirmishers retreated and battle lines formed. To the south of the city, though, High Lord Dakarai had slowed. It might be taken for resting his men, who had been marching for hours in the sun with enemies nipping at their heels, but it wasn’t. To a practised eye, he was making sure he wouldn’t be there for the battle to the north.

It didn’t matter to the rank and files on both sides, who advanced with shields raised as sorcery and arrows began to fly. Hierophant ripped through enemy rituals – Akua didn’t seem to be out there waiting to match him – so the volleys weren’t too badly against us, and we closed the distance with only slight casualties. That turned into a massacre almost immediately. The nobles had put their levies in front and my legionaries chewed through them like a knife through butter. I was pretty sure the immediacy of that took even the enemy by surprise, because they answered by hammering at where their own lines met mine with rituals and that was hardly standard tactics even for the most wasteful of Wasteland lords.

It was a mistake, anyway. Getting columns of flame and clouds of poisonous smoke tossed at them by their own lords without the protections that my priests afforded the Army of Callow was enough to turn the fear of the levies into terror, which resulted in a small and then general rout. The household troops behind them were made of sterner stuff and tried to keep them in place, but that was like trying to ride a panicked horse: they got kicked for it, and hard. To my dismay, it looked like we were actually going to win this battle. Fuck. I’d badly overestimated the morale of the levies, and so had our enemies. My eyes flicked to the northern gates, waiting for them to open, but while Marshal Nim had reinforced the walls she kept them closed. Malicia’s orders? I could only guess.

It was Abreha Mirembe who salvaged it. She’d been half-heartedly serving on the flank of the Army of Callow, fighting off the Kahtan tribal troops with a suspicious lack of rituals being thrown by both sides, when she saw the rout and ordered a general retreat of the Aksum army. I could see the dismay and fury flicker through the ranks of my men at the sight, High Lady Abreha’s order creating a massive gap that the enemy lines plunged into without hesitation. It was a strange sight, from above: the enemy centre and left were collapsing before the Army of Callow, but my own left had walked off the battlefield just on the eve of victory and so the enemy right was coming hard towards a formation unprepared for it.

I swooped down to stem the tide, carving a wall of blackflame through the Kahtan tribal levies that stopped them cold in their advance. It bought the time for Juniper to do as we’d planned and call a retreat, just as at last the northern gates of Ater began to open. Nim was, unfortunately, too late to the party. The Army of Callow began to pull back, its enemies too far or in no state to pursue, and as Zombie rose back into the sky I breathed out in relief. It might have worked out even better than I’d intended, in the end. Abreha Mirembe had not just turned on me, she’d betrayed me just as I was about to win the battle: it would win her a great deal of esteem. Good. It’d make her betrayal and High Lord Dakarai’s that much more believable.

Neither of them were in a position to go over to Malicia’s side, after all, but it was not to the empress’ banner they had flocked today. Why, they had just announced their support for the cause of Akua Sahelian by saving the entire goddamned capital.

And with that, the fall of Ater could begin.

65 thoughts on “Chapter 25: Fool

    • Why, they had just announced their support for the cause of PGTE by boosting the entire goddamned capital.

      And with that, the fall of Worm could begin.

      Liked by 10 people

    • Why, they had just announced their support for the cause of PGTE by boosting the entire goddamned capital.

      And with that, the fall of Worm could begin.

      Like

  1. Anybody else notice that Cat’s being a lot more careless and occasionally even resentful of the soldiers under her command? She’s not setting up meat grinders or anything, and she still shows she cares, but not too long ago she was known for her almost motherly (albiet dysfunctional) care for her soldiers and laughing with them on the battlefield. Now she’s setting up dangerous plans and getting frustrated with ones just trying to protect her.

    Liked by 12 people

    • I think it also has to with the soldiers becoming increasingly.. foreign to her. As alluded to before the current army of callow has less and less personal ties to her and more a product of logistics. Most of the original legionnaires who joined her are dead or even defected, the gallowborne annihilated, the original army of callow she raised, mostly spent or with Abigail, the officer corp from her college days and the ones that came with her, assassinated or otherwise. Replaced with dominion men, defections or recruits like the legions like the 13th, fresh faces from their own camps in callow. People who weren’t there at the start when she was small enough to know them and them her, who only know her as the black queen and everything else as her legend. It’d be life if most of your immediate family died and you and your one surviving sibling moved in with cousins you’ve never met before. They’re family, but not family (imagine that in italics), a technical sense rather then one with feeling.

      Liked by 17 people

    • Is still there, is called anger born of love, also at herself, remember not even a few weeks back when they started the attack on wolof by taking over the aqueduct fortress she was talking with a praesi soldier.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “She leaned back into her seat, grinning in a way that did not bode well for whatever poor bastard I’d make transcribe this later….”

    Didn’t know you were from Calernia, EE….how’s the weather over there?

    Liked by 20 people

  3. Yup. Cat’s plan is utterly fucked by her own inability to understand just how thoroughly she got through to Akua. Cat’s plan relies on Akua plotting something, and she really isn’t.

    Though credit where credit is due, Akua might not be this far along down her path of self-actualization if she hadn’t picked up her newest traitorous minion. He was the one who helped her realize just how much she hates this entire thing, and is gleefully watching her torture herself.

    Liked by 21 people

    • I am not sure Cat thinks Akua is making a play for the Tower. Based just on what Archer told her, and knowing the path that she set Akua on, I think Cat could at least guess that her overall plan is working. If Akua really wanted to make a play for Empress she could be doing so right now. Instead she is helping the commoners and keeping order in the streets. To most people that is going to look like building a base for her next move, but Cat has insider info.

      Cat’s plan here doesn’t require Akua to actually be aiming for the Tower, she just needs to keep making it look like Akua is working against Malicia. If Malicia’s position looks weak enough more of her nobles will switch sides and the prophecy is self-fulfilled. To me this feels like Cat is still banking on Akua being turned off of the idea of being Empress, especially if a lot push to do so comes from external sources. The more people who expect Akua to become Empress, the more she is going to see it as another prison.

      Liked by 3 people

      • It’s sorta both working and not working I think.

        Catherine think Akua will make a claim for the throne, but then realized she hate everything about it and desperately want out to the point of accepting becoming an eternal lid to Evil in a Jar that is Dead King.

        Whereas Akua right now is just…doing it because ‘why not?’…and hating how it’s working out extremely well despite her intention otherwise.

        Like, one of the thing Cat already misread was Nim. She thought Nim would be solidly for Malicia due to the ideal of the Legions, but the person herself is already broken to the point Akua could’ve turned her.
        But instead Akua went off on Nim for being such so weak that one critical failure broke her like this which will most likely get Nim on her side with far deeper loyalty than Akua expected or wanted.

        It’s definitely leading up to Cat getting what she wanted (Akua being offered the crown and loathing it), but not the way she wanted it (Akua isn’t having the revelation after getting the crown, she’s been suffering through it so her decision at that moment would likely differ to Cat’s expectation) because Praes.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hearing Archer and Cat discussing Akua and just… completely misreading the situation (“There’s NO WAY Nim would join her…”) is…. utterly hilarious.

    Liked by 18 people

    • The unexpected windfall today might be the stroke of misfortune tomorrow: Supporting Akua will go better then expected.

      Gods, Akua isn’t even going to try to climb the tower at this rate. I thought she’d still do it, in a “somebody must, and if not her, who?” reflection like we’ve seen in the North and the West, but now it’s looking like Akua is very intentionally not going to do that… so she’ll be as surprised as cat when somebody (or possibly a citywide riot of somebodies) comes to her second court with a bloody crown in hand and says “We’ve done what had to be done. What is your first command Empress?” Possibly followed by a frantic Akua going “No! No! I am not your Dread Empress now or ever!” and somebody says something like “Of course you aren’t, you are the People’s Empress.” or something else lighter sounding and suddenly she’s got a Name (it won’t be Dread Empress whatever it is, she’d have heard the song) and it’s entirely the wrong one for Cat’s plans. I’m thinking it might actually be a hero name, making her completely useless as an eternal guardian.

      Long term everybody remembers Akua as the greatest hero who heralded in the new age by killing the Dead King. There’s a big giant statue of her in Cardinal with the epigraph “What the fuck is wrong with you people?! Stop praising me!” Scholars have had an ongoing debate on if the Unbeatable Queen Abigail was intentionally quoting her as an expression of her own humility when she ended up with the exact same epigraph on her statue, or if there was something more between them that this made a subtle reference to.

      I actually do ship this now. Abigail and Akua both find the same corner to hide in at some celebratory banquet after the war, look at each other’s faces, ask at the same time “Are you a piece of shit and nobody else can see it to ?” and collapsing in each other’s arms, crying. The subsequent relationship is very soothing to the soul and horrendously taxing on the two women’s livers.

      Liked by 22 people

    • Cat is doomed to get owned because she’s revealing *way* too much about her plans to the reader. I’m sure she’ll come out ahead in the end (because otherwise the story wouldn’t be able to continue), but her plans are definitely not going to work out as expected.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the likelihood of an “* Ex Machina” name is increasing.

    Akua gets this great story of a former villain fully turned around and redeemed, going good for her local town, and at the very end a Diablos Ex Machina shows up to stab her in the large intestines, because redeemed villains have to die at the end of their story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Despite what everyone seems to think about redemptions, it is wildly… unpractical to have the redeemed die after turning coat. Therr is so much good they can do after… switching sides, it seems almost… wasteful.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah Redemption Equals Death Occurs. But that is normally when someone gets redeemed during a Fight or right before a Major Fight. Not out of combat situations. So could Akua die fighting against DK sure maybe, do I think she is randomly going to die right after being put in charge of Praes unlikely.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. So interesting, how Cat’s plan gonna go after she gives noble support to… Aqua? Like, she fully believes Ubua won’t actually… climb the Tower, but what then is the plan? What, does she thinks our Fleshy Ghost will just… surrender to her?

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s amusing because right now Akua is essentially a spanner in the works. She keeps blindsiding both Malicia and Catherine by basically doing nothing at all. And at least part of that is her minion rescuing her just to fuck with her.

      How droll that Cat’s over-elaborate Callowan revenge scheme got co-opted for someone less-so-but-still-overelaborate callowan-style revenfe plot.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Typo Thread:

    towards at my back > towards my back
    take a dart > taken a dart
    thought breathing > thought, breathing
    been a while one > been a while since one
    retaliate,” I said. “ > retaliate,” I said.
    all a reports > all reports
    That was she could > That was so she could
    needed overwhelm > needed to overwhelm
    looming person > looming presence
    combine force > combined force
    two Muraqib > two Muraqibs
    Akusm > Aksum

    Like

  8. I realize this is a bit ranty, but I gotta say that these developments leave me really queasy.
    I… really don’t like where Akua’s plotline seems to be going.

    I’m not one of the, shall we say, Long Price crowd. I’m not disappointed it seems unlikely she won’t be tickled for a thousand years by tapir poets or whatever. It’s just that I don’t want her actions to be glossed over.
    It’s not really about her being in pain; if nothing else, she already is. It’s the… framing of it that leaves me constantly disappointed.
    I see her exhausting herself to heal sick and wounded and think: a month ago, she was murdering allies. What changed?
    I see her saving Nim from the Pattern of Three and think: a month ago, she was betraying allies to the pro-apocalypse faction. What changed?
    I see her counseling the Black Knight and the nobles and think: you have no idea what you are doing, or why. What is this building toward?

    And it’s not just that the crowd cheers, the crowd is scared and lost. And it’s not just how Cat thinks about it.
    It’s … well, it’s the text. The Akua interludes, which seems pointed a making her feel sympathetic. And they… feel kind of insulting, really.
    Because they dissonate too much with all that went on with Saint, and all that happened since. Because allowing people to be redeemed is IMPORTANT. It is not just elves and warlocks, it’s a very important debate in the western world’s justice system, and this is starting to look like just what its detractors accuse it of being: a slap on the wrist of murderers that will kill again, a chance taken on people that don’t deserve it. A risk to everyone else who did nothing wrong and deserves better.
    No matter what she does now, I feel like everyone that thinks redemption is too risky can just point to the bodies Akua left in the desert and say “tell those guys, that we shouldn’t lock criminals up and forget about them.”
    It doesn’t matter, that she could have killed twice as many. What matters is that she still chose to kill them.

    And this is not addressed.
    She sits there, healing orphans, and all I can see are the bodies drying in the desert, or the undead tide growing ever closer to eating the world. And she looks, at best, like a damned Proceran Prince, which would be bad enough after all of this, and more likely worse because at least the Idiots In Cleves were not stupid enough to betray their allies before the war was over.

    And Akua is tied into everything else, the plans with the Bard, and Malicia, and Amadeus, and it just spoils everything.

    For me, that is.
    I realize, reading the comments, that this is likely just me. Probably because this theme is very important to me and I’ve got a lot of hang-ups about it.
    But I just wanted to get it off my chest.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Clearly and reasonably worded… or at least as clearly as something this… tangly(?) can be worded. Nicely done.

      No real agree or disagree, or feedback.
      I think…
      This is dumb, but I don’t come to PGtE for the themes. There’s too much approval of the “Hard men making Hard Choices” doctrine for me to really buy into the story as a thematic work. And… I don’t think it’s trying to be that? It’s trying to be a story, a myth, a hilarious fun time. We are running on Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny here- not on “rule of themes”, and definitely not “rule of morality”.

      None of this disagrees with or is meant to invalidate your quesyness here, I’m just… mostly ranting about something completely unrelated that your post got me thinking about.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I mean I think part of this is Akua is in Praes and interacting with Praesi. They don’t care she killed a bunch of Callowans. They care what she can do for them now for the most part.

      As for redemption arcs tricky to write especially in gray storylines.

      Liked by 1 person

      • True, but as I said I don’t really mind the part where the Praesi crowd adores her.

        It’s more the general tone of it. Like she is becoming some sort or martyr. And I was on board with that before she committed mass murder and betrayed everyone that could be betrayed like, 5 minutes ago.

        Like

    • That’s kinda of the point? Those who know akua never forgiven her, she herself knows that her actions are meaningless, that no matter much are saved the dead still pille like a mountain.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m not sure I understand your statement.
        What exactly is “kind of the point?” That the story portrays her as someone I should feel bad about even as she lapses back into betrayal, madness and casual murder?

        Like

    • I can see where you’re coming from, and while I don’t entierly agree in this case, also dislike the trend of redeming irredeemable characters.

      In Akuas case I agree that she should not get a happy ending. But I think it is a interesting choice to make her sympathetic. She still isn’t a good person, what she does is still for selfish reasons, it just happens to have possitive effects this time. But it lets me imagine some of the hopelessness she would feel, if she weren’t I wouldn’ care much about her story. Usualy in books, sympathetic villains get a happy ending. I don’t think it will happen this time, which I think is an interesting subversion.

      Rant about politics in fantasy in general bellow, beware.

      There is a trend in fantasy novels of glorifying authoritarianism. Not intensionally necessarely, but as a consequense of using a medeival-like settings and not examening the message certain plot lines sends.

      This book falls into this trap as well, although to a lesser degree than some. I was happily suprised when the soldiers deserted as an example. In most fantasy stories the general public is shown to be either useless or a hindrance due to incompetence. Either not being able to take care of themselves, or rioting because they panic or are tricked into panicking. This is not supported by fact, in general during times of strife, people come together (except those in power who panik and make bad discisions as they are the ones with the most to loose). This can be seen in cities where large scale terror bombings happen, or where natural disasters like hurricane katrina occures.

      This is the standard of large scale fantasy stories.
      “It’s not that having a autocrat is a bad idea, it’s that we have the wrong autocrat that is causing the problem” paraphrasing a ‘bit’, but that’s usualy the message. It can also be seen as “its not a systemic problem, its a individual problem”. And while I don’t think authors are obligated to have a nuanced take on real world politiks, I think the most interesting stories have allegories to real world issues.

      I won’t go into specifiks as I don’t want to spoil the story, but there is a popular fantasy series where it is revealed in a flashback, one of the main characters comitted genocide, and the consequence is that he feels bad about it afterward mostly because someone they care about was also killed accedentaly, and changes as a person to someone who think killing people for no reason is… bad.

      And sure, the character comes from a culture where warfare and bloodthirst is encuraged, but the autor still had a choice in creating the culture, and the character. They could have made the same kind of character where they had done something less unjustifiable.

      I still enjoy the reading fantasy, but the prevelence of unexamined authoritarianism in fantasy gets harder to ignore when the messaging aligns with some alarming real world political trends.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I call bullshit on that. Projecting democratic ideas into a medieval environment is Just a useless thought excercise. Why? Because those people had NO IDEA that those ideas even exist or will exist in the future.

        Like

        • I’m not saying that fantasy series needs to portrai democratic societies. But I think it could be interesting to see a wider spectrum of systems of governance explored. As an example, fantasy often involves magic, but usualy only examines how the power divide would be widened. Not that the system needs to be based on the settings magic either, but magic could also even the power inbalance depending on how and when it can be gained.

          But thats not realy what I am complaining about, my main issue is whith how commonly I see having a single powerful individual in charge portraied as good and preferable whitout any critical examination. And how often larger structures of descision making, like councils are always portraied as indecisive and slow while never examining why you might want those things.

          Its not realy a single work of fiction that I have a problem with, its that there is almost no alternate type of setting or worldview portraid in fantasy that I dislike.

          Like

    • I think you are… partially right. But do keep in mind that it may be just your hang ups worsening the plotline. Remember, if you are uncomfortable with how it is going now, it maybe a good idea to… take a break for a month, and return when Akua ark is finished or at least given a definitive direction.

      I however, want to ask: what do you want to be done with Aqua, tone/plotwise?

      Like

    • There is, in the real world and in the story, a huge difference between killing enemy soldiers during a tactical engagement and massacring civilians. I mean, by that logic, do the Praesi soldiers that Cat is killing not count against Cat, too? We don’t try generals for mass murder, we give them medals for a successful campaign.

      The problematic part was Akua turning her coat in the first place, and we know from Cat’s viewpoint this is according to plan. Akua was reacting mostly on emotion and instinct, not reason, and that was also according to plan.

      From the perspective of those new loyalties, the Callowan army is the enemy, it’s war, and you kill enemy soldiers during a war. That’s why war is terrible. That Akua’s minimizing casualties rather than engaging in slaughter for its own sake is a telling development. That she is killing soldiers that are the enemies of the faction she just joined is not. She was going to be killing people during a war either way.

      This is a Contrition story. Akua is a monster who has committed unforgivable sins, who is trying to come to terms with the realization of the consequences of those sins. She will never be forgiven, and she will suffer eternally for it, but because of her new perspective, she’s going to do what she can to make things a little better with the time she has left anyhow, because anything less only makes it worse for her. Her choices are suffer more by going back to what she was but with her eyes open, or suffer a little less by engaging in inadequate but not completely futile attempts at restitution. It is a tragedy that is entirely of her own making.

      Liked by 2 people

      • > It is a tragedy that is entirely of her own making.

        The smashing of the clay figurines was her action. Her mother taught her that they were clay figurines and not people.

        Like

    • I don’t really understand the point you’re making here. It’s possible for Akua to change as a person while still having committed unforgivable crimes, and it’s not particularly strange that she has. Seeing the people in Ater made things hit home more than anything else because 1. they were the direct results of her own pointless actions and (probably most importantly) 2. they were her own people.

      Her recent military actions against the Army of Callow are also not remotely the same as the things she did in the past for several reasons. They were essentially fair acts of war done against a military, and they were done in a very “remote” way where she didn’t have to see the results up close (and even then, she still felt bad about it). Still bad, but not really beyond the sort of thing Catherine or other members of the Woe have done countless times.

      Her having this sort of change is not that unreasonable or strange. She was raised to not care about other people, and had her perspective change through spending years with Catherine, etc. Unfortunately for her, she did some unforgivably bad stuff before having the opportunity to change. The whole point of Catherine’s “punishment” is that, simply by making Akua grow a conscience, she has damned her, because no one with a conscience could ever be happy knowing they’ve done the sort of things Akua has.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I empathize with a lot of what you’re saying here, but I think your primary mistake was comparing Akua’s situation to anything resembling a modern judicial system. A large part of attempting to rehabilitate individuals is actually giving them the hope that if they do the time and play by the rules, they can actually earn forgiveness (if not from the victim, then from society at large). Akua gets none of that, Cat ran a years-long Gaslighting campaign designed to ultimately convince her that she isn’t worthy of redemption and never will be.

      So Akua does the only thing she knows how to do, betray her and go back to the only people who will tell her she’s not an un-person. Only, she can’t be happy there either, because Cat is still in her head.

      Ultimately, in any sane judicial system, Akua would have earned either death or multiple million consecutive life sentences, and that would still have been kinder than what Cat did. Akua’s punishment has no resemblance to any modern system of punishment, it most closely resembles A Clockwork Orange: A genuinely horrible person brainwashed into finding violence abhorrent, and then released back into that same evil environment, only this time to suffer and be tormented.

      Like

    • As for what changed, I think it comes down to Cat’s plans for her: the betrayal was expected, as was that it would be like ash in Akua’s mouth. The whole point is that she would defect, go back to old habits, and find that it was no longer bearable with her newly-grown conscience.

      So she had *already* changed internally, and the difference now is she gained proof that — even without hope of ever returning to Cat’s campfire — she can no longer stomach her old ways. That’s why she decided to try healing people instead of backstabbing them, because she just learned that backstabbing feels like shit regardless.

      It still seems a bit odd to me to get hung up on her marginally affecting casualties in battles between professional soldiers that would have been fought regardless; I’d be more convinced by “well, she’s healing the sick, but it’ll never balance out 100k civilian souls” than “well, she’s healing the sick, but wasn’t she recently fighting the army we care more about as gently as possible?”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. With all the rumors going around about Akua and Cat sharing a bed, It wouldn’t take a long time for rumors of Cat fighting Malicia for Akua’s Throne claiming to circulate. Or have they?

    What name would Dread Empress Akua have after successfully being made Empress by her liver The Black Queen?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Considering Akua has lately been angered by the fact that everyone is supporting her when they really shouldn’t be, I have to imagine her reaction to Abreha and co suddenly flocking to her cause will be… something.

    Like

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