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"It doesn't matter how flawless the scheme was, how impregnable the fortress or powerful the magical weapon, it always ends with a band of adolescents shouting utter platitudes as they tear it all down. The game is rigged so that we lose, every single time: half the world, turned into a prop for the glory of the other half."
Black Knight

A Practical Guide to Evil (2015-2022) is a Young Adult (Allegedly) Heroic Fantasy Web Serial Novel written by erraticerrata. The seventh book of the series was completed on February 25th, 2022, ending the series. A key element of the setting is that many Heroic Fantasy tropes are enforced by the universe's laws.

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Black-and-White Morality is an objective reality here. Individuals, species, and nations can be clearly and unapologetically Evil and Good. People can gain superhuman powers and a degree of in-universe Plot Armor by embodying certain archetypes, which leads to gaining a Name. The majority of Names have a definitive association with either Good or Evil. A few Names can be claimed by a person from either side. While some Names used in-story are more specific (Bumbling Conjurer, Ashen Priestess, etc.) the majority of Names can be found or derived from the Fantasy Character Classes page (Black Knight, White Knight, Ranger, Warlock, Thief). Named individuals are both more powerful than normal people (able to kill dozens or hundreds of Nameless Mooks or Red Shirts single-handedly) and more important in terms of fate (i.e. the plot). Fate tends to play out in patterns that can be manipulated by particularly Genre Savvy individuals. Named individuals also each have access to three personalized Aspects, initially undefined powerful moves or abilities that they gain access to at a suitably dramatic or necessary moment.

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The series follows the exploits of sixteen-year-old Catherine Foundling, the Squire. An orphan born a few years after her homeland, the Kingdom of Callow, was annexed by their perennial foe, the Dread Empire of Praes, following a short and utterly devastating war of conquest, Catherine was raised at the Imperial House for Tragically Orphaned Girls. Although she resents the greed and corruption of the imperial governor of her home city, she is cynical about the prospects of rebellion, instead planning to join the Imperial Legions of Terror in order to improve the system from the inside. However, when she manages to impress the Empress' Black Knight, she is offered a chance to join the ranks of the Named by taking the role of the Squire.

But the Balance of Good and Evil is reasserting itself. Whereas previously a new hero might have appeared in Callow once every few years, they are now popping up every few months, which is a rate that even the Black Knight's supremely efficient spy network can no longer keep a lid on. Meanwhile the very reforms that made it possible for the Dread Empire to triumph so completely are stirring unrest among the nobility of Praes, who seek a return to the Stupid Evil ways of the Empire's past. To make matters worse, the powerful neighbouring Principate of Procer has emerged from the long, debilitating civil war that has crippled them for so long — and are seeking revenge for the Empire's role in prolonging that conflict. As all of this threatens to boil over into a continent-wide war, Catherine must navigate her own, and her country's, path through the turmoil.

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This series provides examples of:

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    A - K 
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade:
    • The Penitent's Blade, the sword used by the Lone Swordsman. It has cut through other swords, shields, and stone.
    • The Severance, a blade so sharp and powerful that it causes severe wounds to the user who tries to wield it, as well as inflicting wounds that cannot be healed.
  • Abomination Accusation Attack: A common occurrence whenever a Hero speaks to a Villain.
    • Catherine herself is declared Arch-Heretic of the East, despite not being a Dread Empress.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Young Named often take up leading military or governmental positions for which non-Named would be considered far too young. An excellent example is the Tyrant, who gets his position as ruler of Helike at age 12.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Cat manages to Speak within months of becoming Squire, noted to be an absurdly short frame of time. Black theorizes she would not have had nearly as much success if he had taught her how such abilities functioned. She also manages to brand Lone Swordsman's Name immediately after acquiring her own Name, changing his entire approach to heroism to the benefit of her own plan, despite not even knowing that such a thing can be done.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Above and beyond their natural resilience, all Named have a limited ability to purge toxins from their system, assuming that they know about the toxin in time. This is often used to allow them to drink as much as they like without getting drunk.
  • Action Bomb: Initially used by Catherine as impromptu siege equipment, the practice of raising a dead creature using necromancy and stuffing explosives inside is copied by multiple characters, in multiple forms for multiple different situations. A short list includes undead suicide goats, undead suicide oxen, and undead suicide horses.
  • Advantage Ball:
    • The function of the more combative Named on the battlefield is to ensure their side has the Advantage Ball, and this usually results in an Epic Duel to the Death.
    • Sometimes the Idiot Ball and the Advantage Ball are in play at the same time — the best example being the Exiled Prince trying to get the Advantage Ball by challenging Catherine to a duel... while standing within crossbow range of the Legion of Terror's line of battle.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: The plethora of cultures, wars, and monsters tend to make for this. For Named, people tend to give them positions of authority they would normally be considered too young or too inexperienced for otherwise, and the Gods ensure their lives are interesting as part of their wager over Black-and-White Morality. Taken Up to Eleven for Heroes due to fate and providence giving them so many advantages that what would normally be Suicidal Overconfidence simply is not.
    • Technological advancements are held back by the gnomes who prevent certain technologies from being researched in the form of a warning by Red Letters, and total annihilation if you hit your third letter.
  • A Father to His Men: Many characters, including Catherine, the Black Knight, and the Exiled Prince. Black is of particular note, as he is not only regarded highly by the troops he has personally led, but by more or less everyone in the Legions of Terror. He was the one who reformed the Legions to allow orcs, goblins, and ogres to be actual soldiers rather than just Cannon Fodder.
  • Affably Evil: It is pretty much the trademark of Praes' reformers and their successors. All of the ones we have seen are perfectly decent people as long as you do not interfere with their plans. The only one that has not been directly seen outside of a very short passage in Book Four as of the start of Book Six is noted to have a distinct sense of humor.
  • The Ageless: Evil Named are this, living until they are killed. However, since all Named are soldiers in the endless war between Good and Evil, most of them end up killed in action long before they can take advantage of this. Good Named are notably excluded — because of this, one absurdly powerful Heroic Named is defeated when Catherine uses an artifact to cause an artificial passage of years of life from both herself and the Saint of Swords. The Saint, who was already elderly before the series started, dies as a result, unable to do a single thing to prevent it. On the other hand, Catherine mostly walks it off.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Played with among the various "Evil" species.
    • The Ratlings play it straight, with them being an animalistic species who are all ravenous cannibals and have no concept of defeat or peace. Their evolved forms of Ancient Ones or Horned Lords are achieved by being the best at eating anything and anyone they can before they can be eaten in return. While these new forms come with more intelligence, their ruthless nature remains unchanged.
    • The Drow were once a powerful civilization before their fierce infighting lead them to become isolationist, marauding slavers with no cultural taboo on cold-blooded murder or any real concept of loyalty. Justified in that they quite literally gain skills, magical power, and status based on harvesting it from others.
    • The Goblins hold secrecy and struggle to be sacred and are known for their utter ruthlessness and opportunism. Still, they have been known to have genuine, if guarded, friendships with members of other species and can be loyal to someone as long as they consider the person to be strong or cunning enough to deserve it.
    • Orcs often see war as a thing of beauty and instinctively view all creatures as possible food, and once were The Dreaded of the continent before their warbands were largely exterminated by invaders. Afterwards, centuries of being shaped into a warrior caste for the Dread Empire did not help these traits. Still, orcs operate on a strict meritocracy (albeit based on a martially-focused set of priorities), have human-equivalent intelligence, and despise the concept of slavery.
    • Villains are often viewed as this because of their fate-induced tendency towards monologues, arrogance, and insanity. Many are shown to have an admittedly warped moral code that makes them more sympathetic than many Heroes, but there are plenty of Villains who embrace the stereotypes.
  • Angelic Abomination: Angels are almost as horrific as demons, and those who meet angels are warped to reflect the angel's nature to an extreme degree. For example, it has been noted those that serve the Choir of Compassion are unable to reconcile with the world's uglier sides because of their All-Loving Hero nature.
  • Annoying Arrows: Well, annoying to a Named at least, unless it hits somewhere lethal. This is more a case of regular soldiers not being able to take down Named under normal circumstances. Named bow wielders such as the Archer, the Silver Huntress, and the Hawk avert this trope. The last is lethal enough to even deal a deadly enough blow to Catherine that she nearly dies, and is unable to command the rest of the battle, which promptly goes From Bad to Worse, and the worst-case scenario is only stopped by the Heroic Sacrifice of multiple major characters.
  • Anti-Magic:
    • Goblinfire burns magic just like it burns everything else.
    • Light has priority over magic, which means it can be used to disrupt most spells, whether they are offensive, defensive, or utility in nature. However, this is not absolute and can be overpowered or outsmarted.
    • The Knights of Callow can have magic "slide off them like water off a duck's back" thanks to the scripture verses engraved on their armor.
  • Anti-Villain: The web serial is primarily focused on examining the concept, as well as Pragmatic Villainy, in a world with strict Black-and-White Morality.
  • Appropriated Appellation:
    • The Calamities got their group's name after the Dread Emperor they rebelled against said that they'd bring calamity on any who followed them. The group later overthrew and violently executed him, before establishing Malacia as the new Empress.
    • The Woe got their group name after the Fae Queen of Summer said that they were destined to bring Woe. The group would survive the battle, and (as unintended pawns of the Winter King) completely destroy the concept of the Summer Court from Arcadia.
  • Arc Words:
    • "I/We Do Not Kneel" is Black's.
    • "Justification Only Matters To The Just" becomes Catherine's, and a critical part of her Refusal of the Call.
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted, everyone wears armor whenever it's an option and it plays a very important role in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Arrow Catch: Catherine tries this twice in the attack on Liesse. The first time is less than successful, but the second works just fine.
  • Asshole Victim: Catherine's first introduction to the world of perpetrating villainy is killing a repeat rapist and his accomplice. No tears were shed for them.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Subverted. Black Knight is intimidating, but his position within the hierarchy of the Empire is much more to do with his strategical and tactical mind and his charisma than personal power. Several of his subordinates are far more physically powerful than he is. William tends to play this straighter, as does Catherine, who later is the most powerful member of the Fifteenth Legion as well as the commander.
  • The Atoner: William, the Lone Swordsman is this. Later, so is Akua Sahelian.
  • Badass Army: The Legions of Terror and the Army of Callow that uses the same template as a whole. This is mainly because of a comprehensive reform of combat doctrine, professional officers, and the excellent leadership of Black and Catherine.
  • Badass Boast: Coming out of her crisis of faith in her abilities, Juniper carves 'Marshal Juniper wins here' onto a tree. Chapters later, the enemy commander stumbles onto the tree, sees it... and realises that she's been played. She orders the retreat on that very spot, proving the boast right.
  • Badass Bookworm: Masego is this. He is overweight (after becoming the Hierophant, he is often underweight and unhealthily skinny) and has trouble keeping up with the Fifteenth Legion on the march, disdains physical combat, prefers books to people, and hates having his research interrupted. He is also probably the second most powerful human Mage on the continent and the guy filling the top spot is his father.
  • Badass Cape: Catherine's "Mantle of the Woe": not only is it magic-resistant, but it is also highly recognisable and intimidating due to the stripes of the banners of her vanquished enemies that Hakram sews to it. This includes Diabolist's soul. It is, at one point, noted to be an artifact in the making.
  • Badass Creed: Legions of Terror: One sin - defeat. One grace - victory.
  • Badass Crew: See Band of Five.
  • Badass Fingersnap: Cat uses one when the Thief of Stars is ripped into pieces after the Revenant steals her staff and draws the unhealthy attention of Sve Noc. She mentally admits this was unnecessary, but wanted to keep her enemies guessing at her capabilities.
  • Badass Normal: An unusual non-action example in Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer and the woman behind the man in Book 2. Despite not having a Name, she manages to go plot for plot against Dread Empress Malicia just fine.
  • Badass Unintentional: Abigail joined The Army of Callow and immediately regretted it. A healthy dose of luck, improvised tactics, and an accidentally-acquired reputation for fighting in the thick of things catapulted her up the ranks, making her the first Callowan-born General in The Army of Callow. All while still contemplating desertion. By the end of the series, she has retired nine times and been "forced" to come back to the army each time due to unfortunate circumstances, like her mansion flooding one time and going bankrupt twice.
  • The Bad Guys Win: The Empire invaded Callow (for the millionth time) and successfully conquered it for the second time in history note  twenty years before the story starts, and thus far Catherine has not lost a pitched battle.
  • Black-and-White Morality: In theory, the world operates this way, but from the reader's perspective it often seems more like Black-and-Grey Morality since some of the heroes are Jerkasses, many of the villains are Affably Evil, Pragmatic Anti-Villains, and ultimately both sides are aristocratic societies where the peasantry gets shafted.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved:
    • Robber has composed several poems/songs about Nauk having a love affair with the Legion's oxen.
    • Vitriolic swearing is often implied by noting the tone and that the word for some animal in another language was all the listener caught.
  • Best Served Cold: Callowans are noted to be one of the worst people when it comes to holding grudges: "Steal an apple from a farmer of the Kingdom and fifty years later his grandson will find yours on the other side of the continent, sock him in the eye and take three apples back." This becomes a Commonality Connection with their new, typically low-caste, Wastelander and Greenskin allies, as they have their own grudges against the Tower.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: As Catherine learns more about the history of Calernia, it becomes clear that many of the major conflicts have been part of a deadly game between the Wandering Bard and the Dead King, both of whom seek to wipe out all life on the continent:
    • The Bard, hoping to finally be released from her job as the Gods' Intercessor, has been propping up various Evils so that First Prince Cordelia Hasenbach will be forced to use her ealamal weapon, the effects of which she can then amplify to devastating effects.
    • Neshamah, seeking to survive long enough to escape the Gods' control during Last Dusk, discovers the Bard's true intentions and goes to war the the Principate of Procer, hoping to deprive her of Named she can manipulate into weapons against him.
  • Big Bad Wannabe:
    • Akua Sahelian is the main villain for the first half of the series, Catherine's Arch-Enemy with aspirations of overthrowing Dread Empress Malicia and restoring Praes to its glory days. While her Hellgate device is undeniably one of the most dangerous weapons seen since the reign of Dread Empress Triumphant, she's unknowingly being funded by Malicia herself, with the Empress hoping to take the weapon as a deterrent for the imminent Tenth Crusade. Even if she had succeeded, Catherine notes a hero would have inevitably slain her within a few months.
    • Malicia herself falls into this in the second half of the series. Her adamant refusal to enter into a war with Procer, combined with her extreme actions in pursuit of this avoidance (funding Akua's doomsday weapon and allying with the Dead King) quickly alienate her biggest allies. Although she remains an accomplished manipulator throughout the series, Book 7 sees her various schemes crashing down around her as Catherine invades Praes and refuses to consider any option that doesn't end with Malicia dead. It's only thanks to Amadeus effortlessly manipulating the entire war that Alaya isn't immediately killed when the Empire finally falls.
  • Blatant Lies: Regularly employed by Catherine.
    Catherine: Told you my plan was working.
    William: You planned to become a necromantic abomination?
    • Also used regularly by the Tyrant. A curse of truthtelling does not stop this.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Goblins seem to have shades of this, with core values wildly differing from humans. Pickler seems to think saying someone is good at stabbing people while they're asleep is a compliment and later notes that by goblin standards Robber is macho.
    • Flat out stated to be the case with Fey, as they are locked to reenacting existing stories but do not have any concept of the morality of their actions at least from a Human standpoint.
  • Body Horror:
    • Devils in general are this, with such delightful specimens as a ship-sized snake with human faces where scales should be. Demons of the thirteenth hell, however, beat them out with the ability to inflict this on others with simply their prolonged presence. Highlights of the battle of Marchford include men fused with their horses, men fused with their armor, and the demon itself giving a laudable Chest Burster impression.
    • Being The Empire, the Empire is no slouch in this department either. Of note is a previous Emperor who believed he was a giant spider in human skin. Through some process or another, he was proven right and disappeared into the sewers to spawn a horde of other giant spiders, though the way this is presented makes more a case of Narm.
    • Catherine herself is no slouch in the department of horrific self-mutilation, such as using necromancy to move her half-dead limbs. Especially as the Sovereign of Moonless Nights her body is changeable at will, such as turning to mist or regrowing chopped-off limbs. After the Battle of the Camps, when she is unconscious, her body shifts wildly 'like a puzzle box', with 'square blocs of flesh erupting from her chest', 'face melts down to the skull and reform', and other such horrors.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Both the Exiled Prince and the Bumbling Conjurer get brutally killed off this way, just as they seemed poised to seriously threaten the protagonists. In book 5 The Dead King does this to Archer.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Apparently the Lone Swordsman's plan for the Battle of Liesse. He'll sacrifice his life to summon an angel of Contrition that will brainwash all the people in a radius of forty-nine miles into opposing Evil at all costs and thus become the core of a new Crusader army.
    • In general, angels seem to do this to their own, as we get a first-hand view of Contrition, Judgement, and Mercy doing this to their own heroes for better or for worse.
  • Breast Plate: Generally averted, as most female warriors wear bulky practical armor. Heiress, however, shells out top dollar to get personally crafted armor that is sexy as well as magically protective.
  • Brick Joke: The rebelling faction of the Thieves Guild from Summerholm is mentioned as one possible faction being supported by the Hero in the city, but they do not make an appearance in that book. They show back up, briefly, in Book 2, when the Lone Swordsman yells "Now!" and then Robber pops up and informs everyone present that his line "ran into some shady Thieves’ Guild folks" with bows and "stabbed everything until it stopped moving". Also serves as a hilariously subverted Chekhov's Gun.
  • Butt-Monkey: Played for laughs with Abigail.
    • In the Battle of Dead Dawn, most of her line is wiped out by undead, and she temporarily loses an eye, before being redeployed to hold the same position her people just died holding.
    • By the Battle of the Camps, she has earned a promotion... into the unit that spends the most time on the front lines. Her soldiers are hit by the Mirror Knight (twice) and the Saint of Swords. She is then mortified by Captain Kromer's awe at her mostly undeserved reputation for drinking the blood of enemies.
    • She is the only one not on leave when all her superior and equally-ranked officers are assassinated during the Night of Knives, leaving her unexpectedly in charge of the soldiers in Laure right as a mob of rioters starts to form.
    • By Book Five, she has been field-promoted to General due to the violent demise of every other ranking officer in her legion in a surprise raid. And then the Black Queen shows up with her insane plans and requests, as well as personal attention and tutoring.
    • In Book Six, she might be a general that can stand at the back of her army, but there is no rule that says her army cannot be in front of everyone else. She also hits upon the brilliant plan of holding the standard so that she cannot be expected to fight, only to realize that a standard requires both hands, meaning no shield or sword if things go sideways.
    • In the same book, Catherine develops a tendency to mess with our poor Abigail to relieve her own tension. Apart from the low-level pranks, Abigail is given noble peerage so that she instantly becomes the most valuable marriage prospect for every scheming noble, which means she can never retire to a peaceful life without being dragged into the kingdom's affairs. She is also given an assistant in the form of Scribe, the former dreaded spymaster for Black, who quite rightfully has everyone from Callow scared.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Several Named say the name of their Aspects upon using them, and all Named say the name of their Aspect upon awakening it.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You:
    • Catherine spares — as in: keeps her ghost around —Akua so that she can use her considerable political and magical skill to serve Callow, as well as a form of Cruel Mercy.
    • Grey Pilgrim is convinced to spare Tyrant of all people in Book Five because The Wandering Bard said it was necessary.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Virtually everyone on the side of Evil. Subverted, however, in that it's more of a job description; most of the Woe are actually far more likable than the heroic Named. Justified in that leaning into this trope can significantly affect the power a villain can command. Black is widely noted to be one of the weakest Black Knights in history because he does not lean into this.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Archer returns with Hunter to make a significant difference in the fight with the demon after saying that she had no intention of doing so.
  • Chaste Hero: Heiress sends minions of both sexes to tempt Masego with sex. He doesn't even notice it, causing her to lament his lack of vices.
  • Chekhov's Gun: All over the place bordering on Chekhov's Armory. If something is mentioned and might be remotely at all plot-important, expect it to show up again in the future.
  • Childless Dystopia: The Golden Bloom was established by a splinter faction of elves and constructed on land taken by slaughtering any Deoraithe who did not flee. The spirits and trees of the forest remember this atrocity and as a consequence, not a single child has been born to the elves since that time.
  • The Chosen Many: While only one person can be chosen for a given Name at a time, there are a lot of accumulated Names over the years, not all of which are in use at any given moment. As a result, there are a lot of Named out there, and more of them turn up all the time. Black Knight estimates in Book Two that he has been directly or indirectly responsible for the death of at least eighty Named Heroes, and there are still plenty of them around for his Squire to fight.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
    • Praesi Nobility have this in spades.
    • So do most of the upper echelons of any Evil side.
      Kairos: I’m going to betray you, you know
      Black Knight: You will try. They always do.
    • Not limited to Evil. Procer, on the side of Good, has plenty of backstabbing. Or throat stabbing, in the case of Prince Fabien of Lyonis.
  • Church Militant: The warrior-priest Lanterns from the Dominion of Levant embody Good Is Not Soft, and use their miracles to destroy monsters and enemies in equal measure. Even the "tame" priests from Procer can get around their oaths of nonviolence to heal soldiers and use their barriers to influence battles.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: Catherine has a moment where she screams at the sky from a balcony in the Tower after she gets outsmarted by Heiress in court.
  • Colony Drop: Do not draw the ire of Warlock, lest he drop hellstone meteors larger than your castle upon you.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The entire schtick of the Black Knight, and by extension the entire Praesi military, and Catherine as his Bastard Understudy.
  • Compelling Voice: Any Named can Speak and be given instant obedience. Named in leadership-related Roles can often extend this to any Named. Dread Empress Malicia has this to such a degree that any spies who have been in the same room as her are considered compromised.
  • The Corruption: The shtick of the thirteenth hell. Their demons will corrupt anything within up to several miles of them. Existences that they can corrupt include people, plants, animals, dead people, dead animals, dead plants, inanimate objects (though so far only in conjunction with another category), magic, souls, and really Creation in general.
    • In general, all demons will be this because most inflict a Wound That Will Not Heal. For example, Demons of Terror will inflict permanent terror on whatever they wound, meaning you will forever be in terror, even long after the Demon is dead. Demons of Absence tend to erase whatever they come into contact with, so that you do not even remember what went missing. In Book Four, 14 heroes join the northern push of the Crusade. After an implied fight with a Demon of Absence, there are only 12 heroes, but nobody can remember that there was even ever a Demon or two missing heroes except for some seemingly odd headaches that they tend to forget about quickly.
  • Creepy Child:
    • The Dead King's body, at least the last time Ranger paid him a visit.
    • Kairos, the Tyrant, became the ruler of Helike in a very violent fashion at the age of 12.
    • The Scorched Apostate, a young boy named Tancred, burned a hundred people alive in an inn to prevent the Dead King's plague from spreading.
    • The Queen of Summer, who looks like a farmer's daughter but is a Physical God who can kill hundreds in a heartbeat.
  • Cruel Mercy: While all her followers were crucified, Akua's Soul Jar was sown into Catherine's Cloak so her talents could be used to benefit Callow, and she might develop some sense of morality, so that one day she can one day comprehend the sheer horror of what she did. It might be working as of Character Development in Book Five and Six. Culminates in her voluntary sacrifice to become the Wandering Bard's counterpart/the second Intercessor at the end of the series, all while having come to genuinely love Catherine.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • The Conquest, when the Dread Empire invaded the Kingdom of Callow. The invasion is considered to have been incredibly one-sided by every character who has mentioned it so far.
    • This is the Black Knight's favored way of dealing with Heroes since giving them any chance for a turnaround tends not to go well for the Villains.
  • Dark Action Girl: Catherine. Her nemesis, the Heiress is as well, but only when she is fresh out of minions to command.
  • Determinator:
    • Catherine. As she herself points out, she was close enough to death at one point, she managed to repurpose necromancy to get herself moving. She won that fight, by the way.
    • Hakram "the Deadhand" is no slouch in the "injury-schminjury" department, either. His nickname isn't just for decoration: when you willingly sustain injury to get what you want, you're hard. When you get necromantic prosthesis just so you can keep slugging? You are definitely determined. Turned Up to Eleven in Book 6, where he loses an arm and a leg to a demon, then an impromptu surgery by Severance, both of which inflict permanent wounds. At the point where most villains and heroes would be content with retirement, he instead asks Masego for more magical prostheses and is trying his damnedest to get back to the field. As of Book 7, he seems to be on the verge of succeeding.
    • Anaxares of Bellerophon, The Hierarch, decides to declare the Choir of Judgement guilty of murder, while the Choir of Judgement is expressing its displeasure because a mortal is passing judgment on them. Said displeasure consists of attempting to reduce his body to ash multiple times. The Hierarch does not back down in the face of this, Mending his body so that he can finish reading out the verdict and sentence them. Three years later, there is no sign of his verdict and sentence expiring due to the sheer resolve Anaxares has, despite being locked into an everlasting duel of willpower with the Choir of Judgement.
  • Decadent Court:
    • The Court of the Dread Empire in the Black Tower of Ater, City of Nine Gates. The Black Knight describes it as the most lethal environment short of an actual battlefield. Just for starters, all the food and wine is poisoned — not necessarily fatally, but with something with visibly embarrassing side-effects. Nobles are expected to have a spy network good enough to find out what antidote to dose themselves with ahead of time.
    • The Winter Court certainly qualify.
  • Description in the Mirror: In the first chapter. On the less egregious side, using a description of injuries and dishevelment after a fight as an excuse.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Catherine pressures an angel into reviving her despite not being a hero. When it refuses, she Takes her resurrection.
  • The Dragon: The Black Knight serves as this to Dread Empress Malicia, and the Captain serves as this to Black himself.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The Black Knight in any place that has heard of him, and to a very slightly lesser extent the other Calamities as well.
    • Dread Empress Triumphantnote  holds this title centuries after her death just for the possibility that she might come back.
    • The Black Queen, scheming and plotting and smoking her dragon-bone pipe, has also achieved this trope. Notably, she has managed to stop a cavalry charge by doing nothing more than drawing a line and daring the opponents to cross.
  • Due to the Dead: Praesi burial practices include the mourners whispering secrets to the corpse of the deceased, to give them something to bargain with the Hellgods.
  • Dug Too Deep: A problem for a more mundane reason than usual. The Kingdom Under claims all mineral resources below a certain depth, even if they're not actively mining them. As such any mines from surface dwellers have to stay relatively close to the surface.
  • Dying Curse: Named Villains can, with their last breath, curse their killer.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • Demons are creatures from outside creation, which are not bound by creation's laws, the very presence of which is damaging to creation. Their appearance, and the appearance of the things they make also fits the bill; the Battle of Liesse involved a tower-sized pillar of flesh bleeding bile and pus, with dozens of spindly arms and legs and a head covered entirely in eyes.
    • Angels are just as bad.
  • Eldritch Location. Several:
    • The Tower. It is clear that the entire place is a supernatural deathtrap with an Always Chaotic Evil Demon as the greeter, murals that will drive you insane if you manage to see the eyes, an entire hallway full of severed heads screaming at you and a permanent storm around its upper reaches. The Decadent Court that takes place on the floor that is numerically significant for Devil Summoning is practically a relief.
    • Arcadia Resplendant, a.k.a. the home of the Fae. Entire buildings are sculpted out of Ice or Wind, and the geography responds to however the current King or Queen wants it to look. There is a flexible approach to time, namely you will always arrive Just in Time, exactly at the moment the story requires.
    • Twilight being created from a part of Faerieland, the Eldritchness turns rather more friendly, but it is still wonky in time and paths just like the original. However, the eternal twilight is noted to be a nice atmosphere for traveling.
    • Rare Heroic examples also make an appearance. The island formed from the corpse of an Angel in Liesse lake is one of them, considering that the forty-nine hours required for the Hashmallim ritual is nearly on the verge of completion after a single night. The Golden Bloom may count as another when it phases out of reality.
  • End of an Age: Most of the latter half of the series depicts the transition from the Age of Wonders to the Age of Order. This change is initiated somewhere around the time of Kairos Theodosian's Dying Curse, and officially completes with the death of the Dead King and the "ascension" of Akua Sahelian. This transition is marked by major societal changes for roughly every nation/race on Calernia.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Legions of Terror operate this way; there is still some racism between the different Praesi species and ethnic groups, and against Callowans, but institutionally these attitudes are suppressed and the Fifteenth Legion has officers from all the major human ethnic groups in the Empire (Callowan, Taghreb, Soninke, and Duni) as well as Orcs, Goblins and Ogres. Every other faction, good or evil, is openly bigoted against one group or other.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Anne Kendall, Baroness Dormer. Cat muses she did not know she was also attracted to women until she saw her when she was younger.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Most people with Names (which are generally job titles) usually are known by that instead of their original names.
  • Evil Chancellor: Given it's one of the Evil Names, of course the Chancellor counts as this. Malicia made it treason to even claim the Name.
  • Eviler Than Thou:
    • Heiress believes she is this to the Praesi Reformists, and despises them for departing from the Empire's former For the Evulz ways, which are supposedly superior.
    • Kairos Theodosian feels this way as well, stating that he despises everything Black stands for.
  • Evil Gloating: Played with but mostly averted. Black, Catherine, and the rest of the protagonists specifically and intentionally avert this, Heiress mostly avoids it but still falls into the trap occasionally. Played completely straight and lampshaded with the Fey multiple times, who, locked in by story, are required to monologue about all their plans, though they often attempt to mislead or omit crucial information where possible. Genre Savvy opponents of the Fey often avert Talking Is a Free Action to disrupt whatever plan the Fey is attempting to accomplish.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Averted initially, with one of initial conflicts being a civil war between the Praesi traditionalists and the Praesi reformers.
    • However, as of Book Four, the Dead King comes out to oppose the crusade because he knows, should the Dread Empire fall, he will have to face a continent-wide coalition of the Good side.
    • The Tyrant is also generally willing to help out the Evil Named, though in his case, it is because he is positioning for the inevitable backstab, which he gleefully proclaims before the ink can dry on the alliance.
    • However, Catherine notably averts this. When given a chance, she promptly betrays the Tyrant, Dead King, and Malicia to the Grand Alliance, noting that even if they are on the same side as her, all three of them would be horrible outcomes for the common person. Then again, after a few initial missteps, Catherine and Sve Noc have a mutually beneficial relationship that borders on heartwarming, death threats and snarking aside.
  • Evil Plan: The most well-known Praesi rulers all had devious and grandiose plans which promptly imploded, sometimes without heroes needing to intervene at all. Examples include creating an army of sentient tigers , building flying fortresses , and stealing Callow's weather.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Warlock acts halfway between this and the Mad Scientist, running magical experiments and having apparently dissected gods in his basement at some point. Said to be massively powerful, and certainly wiped the floor with the heroes from the moment he started fighting them in Book II.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The palace of the Dread Tyrant of Praes, known simply as the Tower, and implied to have been built from the corpse of an unknown god. It has a footprint the size of a castle and rises hundreds of floors, some only accessible by flying, and each floor is more dangerous than the last, starting with an Eldritch Abomination built into the front door. It's been destroyed twice in Praesi history, only to be rebuilt even taller each time.
    No wonder they all go mad. How could you live in that without coming to think of yourself as a god?
  • Evil Versus Evil: Very often, usually along the lines of traditional Evil versus pragmatic Evil. Because Good wants the destruction of Evil, and Evil wants Villains to destroy on principle, Evil Versus Evil fights are usually much more vicious than Black-and-White Morality or Good Versus Good fights.
    • One of the core factors of Evil Named is that many of them must defeat the other claimants to the Name in order to prove themselves worthy of it.
    • Even after claiming a Name there is still competition - -such as Catherine as the Squire and her nemesis Heiress fighting over the fate of Callow, as their predecessors Amadeus as the Squire and the Heir fought each other.
    • Evil factions fighting among themselves: the court in Ater is a cesspool of violence, poison, and treachery, and the Drow take it Up to Eleven: their entire empire has been in a relentless war, one Sigil (clan) of drow against the other, for millennia.
    Catherine: And everywhere we went, drow fought and ambushed and bled on stone and water. There were Hells, I thought, not even half as grim as this.
  • Evil Gloating: Villains have an innate tendency to do this, with some of the more powerful sentient Evil entities physically unable to stop themselves from doing this. A monologue has such a tendency to lead to an underdog winning that Tyrant giving a brief monologue when his (at the time) allies were in a fight was rightly seen as a betrayal.
  • Exact Words: At one point, Catherine is forced to swear a binding blood oath "not to spill the blood" of Akua and her minions for three days. So she only pummels Akua black and blue and methodically breaks every bone in her body, spilling not a drop of blood. Akua also fails to cover her minions' souls. In order to blackmail the High Lords, Catherine threatens to cut out the souls of those who are destined to be heirs and hand them over to Black so that Black now has a legitimate claim to ensure the inheritance of his catspaw and then to do whatever he wants to those titles. With this threat hanging over them, Cat manages to blackmail enough High Lords to ensure that Callow will have a Ruling Council with her in command. Every minion that Cat cannot do this to has their soul cut out and kept until the truce expires, at which point they are killed.
  • Excalibur in the Stone:
    • As part of the ritual to summon an Angel, William inserts his angelic sword into a stone altar. Catherine uses this narrative element combined with her claim of being Callow's rightful heir (not by blood, we don't know who her parents were, instead using the narrative power of being the squire of the man who in essence rules Callow to finagle part of a story into the right shape) to Take the sword and then bully the Angel into granting a villain a resurrection.
    • Book 5 has King Edward Fairfax's sword stuck point down in the earth. Becomes a Defied Trope when Catherine muses at the power and Role that would come with taking up his sword, and decides to leave it there. She takes up a new Magic Staff instead.
  • Extra-Dimensional Shortcut: Traveling through Arcadia can reduce your traveling time by weeks... Or increase it by months, as time flows differently there. Powerful mages such as Warlock use it by forcing a fae to create a portal and then traverse through Arcadia with a small team of Named, as it is very dangerous. With Catherine's ascension to the Sovereign of Moonless Nights and later the creation of the Twilight Ways, mass travel through dimensions becomes possible.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Masego's eyes are burned to dust after his transition from Apprentice to Hierophant. He implies, however, that the magical prosthetic eyes might be even better than the natural ones.
    Masego: It was a fair trade.
    • Akua, after possessing Catherine is forced to rip out her own eye... More than ten times in a row. Her screams of agony were at least partly exaggerated though.
  • Faerie Court: the Summer fae as well as the Winter Fae both have a court with a monarch and attending nobles.
  • The Fair Folk: The story's Faeries fit the bill. They're immortal, otherworldly, elegant, extremely dangerous, and some of the more powerful ones can reach Physical God levels, especially the King and Queen. The story implies that they're closer to person-shaped living stories than actual people, which is why they're even more bound by the Law Of Narrative Causality than Named are.
  • The Famine: Praes is rich in mineral wealth but not arable land, and have few trading partners, so they're in an almost constant state of famine. The reason they kept trying to conquer Callow was because in the best case, they conquer some grain-producing lands and can fend off starvation, and in the worst case, they get their surplus population killed so that the rest can survive.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Many, some quite blatant. Callow is clearly a standard Medieval European Fantasy setting and its people are white with generally English names. The Duchy of Daoine is based on Wales/Brittany- an autonomous border region with Celtic-inspired names and culture. The Empire of Praes is made up of several different ethnic groups including the Taghreb (Berber/Bedouin inspired), the Soninke (Sub-Saharan Africa) and the Duni who don't have a clear analogue. There are many other equivalents in the past history of the setting and more distant regions.
    • The references to the three Licerian Wars between the Miezan Empire and the Baalite Hegemony seem to be a reference to the Punic wars, which in this setting were won by the Carthage equivalent.
    • Procer, a land of feuding principalities with an elected head of state, seems a fairly clear analogue of the late Holy Roman Empire, albeit without the Pope. Additionally, several of bits of the Principate are ripped straight from the pages of history - "Aequitan" is just "Aquitane" with the "e" moved around, and the "Merovins" dynasty is a play on the real-life "Merovingian" kings of France.
    • The League of Free Cities has several parallels with the Greek city-states. As a whole, they are a loose confederacy only rarely brought together, and were once conquered by The Miezan Empire (a Roman analogue). Individually, Bellerophon is Democratic Athens, Helike is led by a tyrant like Argos, Nicae is a naval trade hub like Rhodes, Atalante is obsessed with religion like Delphi, etc.
  • Fantastic Racism: Pretty much every group is racist against most other groups, more specifically:
    • The people of Callow hate the Praesi, as a result of centuries of war and decades of occupation. Many have a particular contempt for the greenskins (orcs and goblins) partly motivated by the orc habit of eating people.
    • The Praesi consist of at least five different ethnic groups, most of which hate each other in some way or another. The two dominant cultures, the Taghreb and the Soninke, have a sort of cordial contempt for each other born out of mutual chauvinism and a long history of conflict. They share their bigotry against the orcs and goblins, who aren't the humans' biggest fans either. The orcs and goblins seem to be only mildly suspicious of one another, probably because their lands are on opposite sides of the Empire and they both hate the humans more. All four groups despise the Duni, the light-skinned inhabitants of the western border lands, as they are associated with the ancient Miezans and the crusader kingdoms that occupied Praes in the past.
    • There's some hints in the story that the Soninke don't even consider themselves Human.
    • The orcs also hate Deoraithe, who hold Callow's northern border against them and with whom they have fought many wars over the centuries. Their preferred epithet for them is Wallerspawn. Interestingly if Breagach is any indication the Deoraithe Watchers don't seem to hate the orcs all that much, viewing them more as worthy opponents.
    • The Deoraithe absolutely despise the elves. Centuries ago the elves arrived in the Deoraithe homeland and drove them out to establish the Golden Bloom, slaughtering every human they encountered. The entire reason for the extensive training and magical empowerment of the Deoraithe Watchers is so that they can rival even one elf.
    • The elves of the Golden Bloom in turn consider any non-elf little more than an animal, with Heroes barely rating better treatment. They're actually the exception for their race, being the splinter faction of a much larger elvish empire that embraces the intermingling of races. And worlds.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: During the 10th Crusade, Catherine's ultimate goal is to enact one of these between all Good and Evil aligned nations.
  • Finger Snap Lighter: Cat becomes fond of doing this after the Everdark Arc. Bonus points for using black flames to do so.
  • Fisher King: The Grey Pilgrim claims that with Catherine, a Villain, as the Black Queen of Callow, the people of Callow will be twisted to have their morality more easily align with hers, making them fall on the side of Evil and the Gods Below too. Frankly, all evil polities on Calernia, reflect that this is very much not what you would want, even accounting for the fairly standard Medieval European Fantasy setting of most Good nations (with all the xenophobia and feudal classism that implies). The current Evil lineup includes:
    • Praes, which centers itself around the ideals of card carrying villainy and accumulating power for power's sake. The hope of one day producing an Evil Overlord is the driving motivation for most nobles, while the primary means of succession is being the most cunning starscream. Only in the recent past have those in power stopped using their subjects for en masse Human Sacrifice (or using Orcs for cannon fodder or magical test subjects), while most highborn still use literal demons as WMDs. Their least Stupid Evil leaders in recent memory have no problem imprisoning entire families in response to dissent, killing any child who they suspect might grow up to be a hero, and sacrificing entire cities of their own citizens for an advantage.
    • Bellerophon, which completely warps the principles of democracy in demanding total compliance and obsessive loyalty to "The Will of the People," the (frequently-contradictory) set of rules created by their governing body. Said governing body is both chosen at random every few years and unable to repeal the laws that came before, ensuring the city is entirely mismanaged with absurd bureaucracy inherent in the system.
    • Stygia, the only nation on the continent openly practicing slavery, where The Magocracy keeps their Slave Race in line with collars enchanted to kill them when they disobey, grow too old to fight wars, or any other thousand reasons. For the record, these slaves are "rented" by Praesi highborn when they need someone even more expendable than their own subjects. Meanwhile, Stygian peasants aren’t much better off, to the extent that freedom is legitimately a foreign concept to most.
    • The Kingdom of the Dead, the area that the Dead King rules over as God-Emperor. Half, including the capital of Keter, is inhabited solely by corpses, many of whom are Revenant Zombies in the form of Named that have remained conscious and sentient for centuries in the Dead King's service. The other half, the Serenity, is as bad as a city existing in one of the literal Hells would suggest. On the bad side of a Hellgate resides the people that DK basically keeps as pets to worship him, with the Serenity simultaneous functioning as his human farm to grow an army of the dead.
    • Finally, the Everdark is inhabited by the Drow, the remnant of a once prosperous people that were used centuries ago as a sacrifice to extend the lifespan of their leaders. When facing extinction, they were blessed/cursed with an ability to drain each other's knowledge and power in the form of Night. Since then, the drow race has decayed into a Vestigial Empire, driven only by warfare, Klingon Promotion practices, and the principle of Might Makes Right. Functioning as a perpetual tribute to the Gods Below, most drow live with the constant knowledge that they can be killed en masse by the Mighty among them for any insignificant Secrets they hold.
  • Five-Man Band: Both exploited and invoked, because the trope is a law of reality in this universe. A band of five is a group of heroes gathered by Fate, recognized in-universe as the Gods raising the stakes.
    • The Calamities are a pretty straightforward case of this, because together they end a centuries-old stalemate by conquering Callow, setting up the whole story. The Woe also grow into this, notably with most of them having some direct connection with the one whose spot they are taking.
    • Big Bad: The Black Knight is the undisputed leader of the Calamities. A master strategist with an entire army at his disposal.
      • Catherine takes this spot for the Woe. While her mastery lies in different areas, Catherine is no less of a master strategist than the Black Knight in her own way, and she also has an army at her disposal.
    • The Dragon/the Lancer: Ranger. Not officially evil, she's also possibly the most dangerous Calamity in a fight, capable of going toe-to-toe with a Physical God. Romantically involved with Black and probably loyal only to him, rather than to the Empire or the notion of evil.
      • Hakram fits this mold best among the Woe, being Catherine's most trusted advisor, confidante, and closest friend who is explicitly called the second most influential figure in Callow by several characters after Catherine takes the throne. He is also the most loyal to Catherine among the Woe, at least until he becomes the Warlord
    • The Brute: Captain. Although both Black and Ranger may be better fighters she's the largest and most imposing of the Calamities, with the most direct fighting style. Also leads some of the Mooks in battle. Doubles as the Dark Chick or The Heart, because she is the nicest Calamity and the moral and emotional centre of the group.
      • While not the largest or most imposing (that would be Hakram) Indrani fills this role among the Woe. The muscle of the group, Indrani is typically the first to get sent out when things need killing and the second-to-last for diplomacy. She is also arguably the strongest physical fighter of the Woe. She likes to affect being dumb or inattentive like the typical Brute although she's actually highly intelligent.
    • Evil Genius: Warlock, as the spellcaster and researcher of the group.
      • Masego has no trouble picking up his father's mantle for the Woe as their own spellcaster and resident genius.
    • Dark Chick: Assassin, who is always off on his own and never appears alongside his comrades. Could also be considered The Brute for his crude humour and his bodycount, which is the highest of all the Calamities. Despite him being away most of the time, he's still an actual Calamity, unlike...
      • Vivienne is often the same Spanner in the Works for the Woe, oftentimes hidden until the very last minute to make a devastating effect. Also, she picks up the slack in the morality department of the Woe due to her nature as a Callowan and former hero. Her connection to Assassin comes from in an adversarial form, from the time when he threatened her from trying to subvert the Dread Empire.
    • Sixth Ranger: Scribe. A very rare Evil example of the Sixth Ranger trope, Scribe is not considered a member of the Calamities, but she tags along and provides a massive spy network to the Black Knight. Also, she gets more "face time" than Assassin.
      • Akua, while her trust levels with the Woe vary wildly from member to member, and, while not a member of the Woe, oftentimes seems to be the closest one to them. Also notably, she is one of the few people to have directly beaten her predecessor, leaving Scribe and the Black Knight blind to as the true purpose of Liesse.
  • Gambit Pileup:
    • The ending of each book resolves the current arc with one of these.
      • In Book 1, each of the cadet company commanders has a plan to win the wargame
      • Book 2 ends with a three-way game of Xanatos Speed Chess between the Squire, Heiress, and the Lone Swordsman.
      • Book 3's ending starts with a battle where Heiress, Squire, and Black Knight attempt to outgambit the other side. The gambit pileup continues to build with Malicia, the Black Knight, and Wandering Bard out-gambiting each other. The Wandering Bard won. Probably.
      • Book 4 has all major opponents of the last battle out-gambit each other at least once. In the end, the pileup reaches a point where everybody is in a no-win situation. Cat takes a third option using the Power of Trust to solve the pileup.
      • Book 5 is entirely the war between Cat, the Grey Pilgrim, the Tyrant, and the Dead King that turns into a battle of Chessmasters, each trying to force their own chosen story onto reality.
      • Book 6 has a final battle where the Dead King wins the initial gambit by forcing Catherine off of the field, and trapping Sve Noc. The Grand Alliance responds with a series of successful Heroic Sacrifices that successfully stop the Dead King and win the battle. Except this ends up being the bait the Dead King left out so that the Grand Alliance would escalate power tiers first, allowing him to deploy multiple Hellgates to promptly wipe out any advantage. The giants carry out a Heroic Sacrifice to provide a temporary lock on these Hellgates so that the Grand Alliance has one chance to figure out some way to avert this catastrophe.
    • Two of the Extra Chapters show that the end of Procer's Civil War was one of these between the Dread Empress of Praes and Cordelia Hasenbach of Procer with the latter coming out on top, narrowly. Also serves to drive home the woman's competence since Malicia is an incredibly competent plotter and generally shown to be two steps ahead of everyone else.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Quite a few characters. Most notably the Black Knight and Dread Empress Malicia and one of the reasons they are so dangerous, and The Wandering Bard to the point that it is the only power she has demonstrated so far. This is largely possible because the Theory of Narrative Causality is enforced by Creation.
    • Book II deals heavily with the Rule of Three, where two foes clash three times, with a win, a draw, and a loss being guaranteed once each. For example, if the loser of the first confrontation draws in the second, they are fated to ultimately triumph in the third. Catherine knows she is fated to lose against the Swordsman but arranges the situation so she will survive her mandated defeat. She goes on to outplay the Lone Swordsman who no longer has a Creation-mandated win Similarly, Heiress purposefully arranged this situation between herself and Catherine so she could have a Creation-guaranteed win when it would be most useful. She fails because Catherine gives her a useless win, with everything post-win going Catherine's way
    • Notable Heroes can play the tropes as well. The Saint of Sword's gambit with the Crusade appeals to The Good Guys Always Win, aiming to draw in as many evil nations as possible so that they all get destroyed in the inevitable victory, while Grey Pilgrim's plot in the negotiations after the Battle of the Camps appeals to Redemption Equals Death, emphasis on the death.
    • Various excerpts appear from a book called Two Hundred Heroic Axioms, such as "Always send the comic relief in front if you suspect there’s a trap. The Gods won’t allow you to be rid of them so easily." and "Any companion volunteering to stay behind and hold off a superior enemy will be guaranteed success, twice over if having already taken a mortal wound."
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: So feared is one former Dread Empress that if ever her name is mentioned, every Praesi character present immediately prays to the Gods Below to ensure that she never comes back to Creation. When she died, half her Legions of Terror went down with her, and it is widely held that she may have tried to conquer Hell when they all ended up there. Such is the awesome cultural memory of Dread Empress Triumphantnote .
    (talking about why everyone says "May She Never Return")
    Squire: Is that considered… likely?
    Robber: You tell me, Boss. When she croaked it several of her Legions went down with her. Odds are they ended up in the same place. The old girl conquered more with less.
  • The Good Guys Always Win: Several characters state this to be the way Creation works. Black's entire life has been dedicated to breaking this trope.
    • Catherine has demonstrated a few times that this trope is not limited specifically to the Good side. Given a villainous enough Hero, the right sort of villain and story can viciously take advantage of this. Two notable examples include William and his city-warping angel, and the Saint of Swords who was breaking an alliance of heroes and villains.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Several heroes are shown to be as capable of cruelty and pettiness as any villain. William in particular is notable. Meeting an Angel turned him into a Knight Templar who cannot stand the existence of Evil, on top of his already present racism against non-humans, viewing Orcs and Goblins as sub-human brutes that exist only to serve Evil.
  • Good Is Not Soft: The Grey Pilgrim. In order to stop the Black Knight, he seeds a deadly plague in a small village and waits until the Legions cross that village so that they catch the plague as well. The only one to survive the plague is the Black Knight himself, though his failure in his Role ends up being the last straw to break his Name. The Grey Pilgrim achieves a perfect victory, except in morals.
  • Great Offscreen War: Dread Empress Triumphantnote  waged a war across Calernia that conquered every Good-aligned human nation, destroyed much of The Titanomachy, forced the Kingdom Under to pay tribute, caused the Golden Bloom to temporarily phase out of existence to escape, and allied with The Kingdom of The Dead. It took the First Crusade, backed by multiple foreign empires from different continents, to finally defeat her. Do note that this is a universe where the Heroes are supposed to win.
  • Grim Up North: The northern reaches of the continent of Calernia consist of the Chain of Hunger, a mountain range dominated by the horde-like evil species called Ratlings, The Kingdom of the Dead, a kingdom of undead ruled by an immortal Lich-King who also happens to rule over a hell note  and all the infernal legions that inhabited it, and the Everdark, the domain of constantly warring drow tribes who follow something called the Tenets of Night.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The Kingdom Under is expansionist and very possessive of all subterranean territory. In pursuit of this, they are more than willing to wipe out every member of the Drow Tribes. To be fair, the Dwarves' goal is the territory, not to annihilate them, and the Drow's tendency towards killing each other makes them Asshole Victims, but the sheer disregard for their lives is chilling. We eventually find out that the drow started the war in a bid to attempt to reach immortality for their species and were attempting to sacrifice enough dwarves to achieve this.
  • Hell Has New Management: The Dead King famously invaded and conquered one of the Hells.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Hilariously deconstructed. Before the Battle of Three Hills, the Exiled Prince rides in front of the Legion's formation to deliver his Kirk Summation, without wearing a helmet to show off his princely good looks. Catherine takes the opportunity to have him shot with a crossbow and the magical arrow-deflecting properties of his armor deflect the bolt straight into his unprotected neck, turning a potentially survivable wound (for a hero) into a One-Hit Kill.
  • Hero Antagonist: Since Catherine is a Villain Protagonist, quite a few antagonistic but good-aligned characters show up: Most notably William the Lone Swordsman and his party, Hanno the White Knight and his party, Cordelia, and the Wandering Bard.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Averted, deconstructed, and justified, depending on the situation. For the aversion, in Book Two, The Lone Swordsman attempts this, but Catherine kills him before he can sacrifice himself. Justified in Book Four, where Warlock sacrifices himself, but gets the Gods Below to cough up the dues for his service, giving him enough power and knowledge to save his son. Deconstructed in Book Six, where the Dead King manages to create a desperate enough situation for the Grand Alliance to have multiple characters do a Heroic Sacrifice. However, their sacrifice proves too strong, allowing the Dead King to use some of his bigger tools without a reprisal because he is only matching them. In the end, the Heroic Sacrifice proved to be useful in a very narrow spectrum, while the Dead King got to amp up him attacks on a very broad front.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Catherine and Kilian. Lampshaded by Black:
    Black: Never bet against a redhead.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: The villains often use Kharsum, the language of orcs, for this.
    • Used for deadly effect by the Wandering Bard in Book Three where she engineers Captain's death hiding the fact that word for maiden has no gender in a certain hero's native tongue. Monster eats virgins, hero slays the monster, and that is enough of an opening for the Bard to work her magic.
  • Highly Conspicuous Uniform: The low-ranking Eyes of the Dread Empress all wear ominous hooded cloaks, and have a tattoo of a lidless eye. Their job isn't so much to be the Dread Empress' spies as it is to be the obvious spies, so that resistance groups will look for men in hooded cloaks standing in the shadows and not wonder if the barmaid serving them drinks while they plot is passing along what they overhear.
    • The Black Knight goes everywhere, and does everything, in plate armor, no matter the occasion. Averted somewhat in that it is a normal plate armor, not black or anything conspicuous.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Black teaches Catherine that relying on any kind of enchanted artifact inevitably leads to this. He seems to have a point what with The Exiled Prince being killed by his magic armor diverting an arrow into his neck, and Catherine killing the Lone Swordsman with his own sword.
  • Human Head on the Wall: The tower has a whole hallway full of magically preserved, screaming heads of people that turned against the tower.
  • Human Sacrifice: Done by some villains to fuel magic rituals of greater scale. Also used to make enough lands in Praes fertile for crops so that there is not a famine each year.
    • Particularly noticeable are the field rituals in the Wasteland where convicted criminals are sacrificed and bled to ensure the fertility of the land to grow much-needed crops.
    • There seems to be an entire branch of sorcery running on (human) sacrifice: blood magic can bring people back from the brink of death or turn quarter-fae to full-fae, but not without sacrifice.
  • Hungry Menace: The Ratlings have a unique biology that keeps them overpopulated and always on the brink of starvation. Cannibalism and attempted migrations south to eat anything and anyone in their path are a yearly occurrence for the species. Similarly, Praes used to feed the orcs in the Legions of Terror enough meat to keep them from starving, but by such a small margin that they were in a near-constant state of hunger-induced aggression.
    • Interestingly, The Empire of Praes is secretly an example. Disastrous attempts at weather manipulation in the past, a generally arid climate, and the assassination of any leader who tries to make any meaningful reform to fix the situation have all caused it to suffer periodic food shortages. This makes the farmlands of Callow a tempting target, and the casualties such invasions bring actually cuts down on overpopulation.
  • Ignored Enamored Underling: Page is this to the Exiled Prince. Swordsman can't decide whether he's really that oblivious or is actively ignoring it.
  • Impaled Palm: In Marchford, Black forces Akua to stick a knife into her own hand and twist it through his use of Speaking in an attempt to provoke her into lashing out with her leashed demon and thus allowing him to execute her.
  • Inherent in the System: The universe runs on narrative laws, and there are two sides, Good and Evil. As long as this system exists, there will be conflict - as much as Black, and later Catherine, try to change it.
  • Internal Reformist: Catherine's plan from the beginning: join the Legions of Terror, reach a high position, then change the way Praes treats Callow from within.
  • It Gets Easier: When Catherine first meets Black, and kills two men the same night, she asks him if killing ever becomes easier. He negates it. Even years after, when she has no moral problems at all with killing enemies, Catherine thinks fondly of Black for telling her this kind lie.
  • Kill It Through Its Stomach: The Valiant Champion is overly fond of using this tactic, to the White Knight's exasperation. The Mirror Knight's damage-resistance abilities mean that he's often an unwilling participant. The Dead King becomes so exasperated over the fact that this keeps working that he starts making his undead abominations' saliva incredibly corrosive.
  • Kill the God: Captain approached an orc god in hopes of finding a way to control her curse. When it didn't give her what she wanted, she killed it, ate its heart, and gave the corpse to Warlock.
    Captain: You’re going to need another god. I broke this one.
    • Averted when Cat offers herself as a sacrifice to the Drow Sister-Goddesses Sve Noc instead of risking further destruction by continuing to fight, and when she claims to only want to drive the Dead King into hiding, as she knows the death of a god of his caliber would be “messy”.
    • One of the numerous claimed goals of Tyrant is to find out what happens if all the Seraphim (the Angels of Justice) are killed.
  • Kneel Before Zod: As a final trial before facing her, Akua confronts Catherine with the spell Trifold Reflexion: it shows Catherine three different lives she could have led, and each one - be it as a heroine, a crime-lord or a rebellious general - ends with her being brought before Akua who orders her to kneel. She refuses in all cases.

    L - Z 
  • Loophole Abuse: Heiress extracts an oath from Catherine that for three days and nights, Catherine will not kill her or spill a single drop of her blood. So Catherine uses her experience as a pit fighter to break nearly every bone in Heiress' body without breaking the skin. Also notably, this does not cover souls. Though Heiress has precautions for her own soul, her minions do not.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Ruling through fear is a large part of why villains tend to fail, because of the sheer number of heroic stories it triggers. More than anything else, a willingness to make Callow a better place and be noticed doing it is the cornerstone of Black and Malicia's plan.
  • Mad Scientist: Masego and Wekesa both qualify. While they are fearsome mages in a practical sense, both of them have outright said that what they are really interested in is tearing apart reality so they can figure out how it works.
  • Mage Tower: Wekesa, the Warlock, has one for his experiments. It links his laboratories in different cities (all the windows show different cityscapes), and is much bigger on the inside than on the outside. Later, Malicia grants Masego the privilege to build one, too.
  • Meaningful Echo: Book 4 Chapter 33 has a quote from Dread Empress Triumphantnote . About 187 chapters later, Amadeus of all people echoes her.
    Catherine: And what is it you are?
    Amadeus: Not yet content.
  • Medieval Stasis: The only exception are the gnomes because they enforce it on everyone else. Any nation that develops technology too fast gets two warnings to stop; if that fails, they wipe out the entire nation.
  • Military Mage: Part of Black's reforms involved implementing this trope. Each Legion of Terror includes its own Mage lines, capable of acting as massed artillery with a Fireball spell, or healing injuries after the battle. Individual Mages may be able to cast wards, scry or perform other spells, and working as a unit they can perform the signature Praesi Ritual Magic.
  • Military Academy: The War College of Praes. As one of the Black Knight's military reforms, attendance is mandatory if you want to rise above a certain rank in the Legions Of Doom.
  • Necromancer: The roles of Black Knight and his chosen Squire tend to come with Name abilities that mimic necromancy to some degree — undead steeds are a specialty. However, Masego would be among the first to point out that they are not true necromancers. He and his dad, Warlock, are. Well, it is just one of the many schools of magic they are well-versed in, at least.
  • No Cure for Evil: Villains can use healing spells just fine, but only the side of Good (via Angels and the Gods Above) is capable of actually bringing the dead back to life properly. The bad guys have to make do with necromancy. Unless, of course, you're a villain tricking a resurrection out of an angel.
    • Notably, the villainous side does have to work significantly harder at this. Healing spells are not fire-and-forget like many other examples of it, so a significant knowledge of biology and biochemistry is necessary. The Heroes, on the other hand, do not have to learn as they can off-load the knowledge to the Gods Above if they use a miracle of Light (miracle being a term for any spell that comes pre-programmed by the gods, the caster only has to channel the Light into his target).
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain:
    • The Dread Empire was considered this before the story began. Prior to Malicia taking power, the general consensus of most of Calernia was that the empire was comically inept, led by tyrants whose elaborate evil plots always backfired spectacularly. Of their seventy-odd attempts to conquer Callow, only one had succeeded (though that once was by Dread Empress Triumphantnote , which was terrifying). Now, not only has Malicia taken Callow, she's managed to hold on to it, causing the rest of the continent to see the empire as a legitimate threat for the first time since the days of Dread Empress Triumphantnote .
    • The Wandering Bard. An Ashuran hero who joins The Lone Swordsman's party before the rebellion begins in southern Callow. Ridiculously dressed, constantly throwing back enough alcohol to kill a herd of livestock and a less-than-competent musician and singer, The Bard at first appears to be little more than comic relief. There's certainly more to Almorava of Smyrna than meets the eye. She has the Genre Savvy that is the hallmark of her profession, with an understanding of the workings of fate rivaling even the Black Knight. She has a tendency to appear (literally) whenever anything particularly plot-relevant is going on; no matter how much violence is directed her way she always manages to escape just in time; she seems to know intimate details of events she should be far too young to have witnessed and if nothing else, her liver must be superhuman. Later revealed to be immortal, an emissary from both the Gods Above and Below whenever they need one, and planning the obliteration of at least the western half of the continent for ambiguous goals.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: Many Callowans hold this sentiment towards Praes, though they are willing to make case-by-case exceptions for Praesi who also have their own reasons to hate the Praesi nobility. When the 10th Crusade invades Callow to "liberate" it from its Callowan-born queen, they are seen in the same light.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: In the old days of For the Evulz style villainy, these were a big thing, especially under Dread Empress Triumphantnote .
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten:
  • Our Angels Are Different: Angels are aligned with the Heavens and are arranged in several Choirs. They are strictly Good and abhor any traces of Evil, no matter how minor, in mortals. Those who meet Angels are warped to reflect the Angel's nature.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Dwarves — the Kingdom Under — are the most powerful country on the continent of Calernia. Dwarves themselves are nearly five feet tall, very strong and tough, with leathery skin and owl-like eyes and, of course, beards. In-Universe, they are misliked and feared due to their belief that only dwarves can own property (everyone else merely borrowed it from a dwarf) and their consequently stealing everything that isn't bolted down, as well as them laying claim to every mineral under a certain depth. When someone else takes something that belongs to a dwarf, or mines too deeply, dwarves are not afraid to even sink cities in revenge.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons and Devils in this universe are separate but not opposed to each other. Devils are infinite in number and, while they start out weak and dumb, over time they can develop into more formidable varieties. They are known to devour human souls. Demons are Eldritch Abomination scale threats that come in a few varieties, each of which involves weakening and contaminating the nature of reality.
  • Our Elves Are Different: They take Good Is Not Nice Up to Eleven, considering every non-elf or non-hero to be scum, even shooting down birds that get close to their forest. They are certainly very powerful though, as a single elf can be expected to wipe out a company of soldiers.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Look like the Tolkien type, and are aligned with Evil, but have a Noble Demon side to them that gives them a Blizzard side.
  • Peace Conference: In the fourth book, that's how the Tenth Crusade into Callow ends.
  • Perma-Shave: The appearance of Named is influenced by their self-perception (as well as, to a lesser degree, other people's expectations of the Named) — thus, male Named whose self-image does not include a beard (for example Black) won't ever grow facial hair and never have to shave.
  • Perpetual Storm: A perpetual storm cloud covers Ater, with the Tower at its center. It's a remnant from the magic that disrupted Praesi weather under a previous ruler.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Warlock. Specifically noted several times in the text as only being deployed on the battlefield if the Black Knight is willing to write off the entire location as collateral damage. In one of the flashbacks we get to see exactly what he did to both earn the Name of Warlock and the sobriquet "Sovereign of the Red Skies". He dropped a small mountain on a Keep containing the holder of the Name Warlock and his former teacher, by thinning the boundaries with Hell and aligning it enough with reality that he was able to summon the mountain with minimal effort.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Catherine and her Adjutant Hakram have this going. The scene where Hakram pledges his loyalty to Catherine splits the difference between a feudal pledge of loyalty and a marriage proposal, under starlight no less. As in so many things, her mentor did it first in his relationship with the Empress.
  • Population Control:
    • Black leaves Catherine a series of journals that reveal the real reason for the constant wars between Callow and Praes: Overpopulation. Praes has limited arable land but is wealthy due to its trade in gems and valuable metals. When the Praesi went hungry a war would be launched to either claim land and food or just kill off enough people to balance the supply. That this was not sustainable in the long term is a large part of why Black decided to break the system.
    • In the past some Emperors tried to pass reforms to limit population growth in one way or another. Every one of them was assassinated or deposed.
    • Prior to the reformists taking control, goblins were subject to population control by the Tower. Removing this is one of the reasons goblins are happy to join the Legion.
  • Power Parasite:
    • Catherine's Take aspect as the Squire. Becomes further refined through her time as de facto Queen of the Winter Court, and First Under the Night to the Drow.
    • Drow can absorb the "Night" from others, absorbing their power capacity, life-force, skills, magic, etc.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The hallmark of the Empire's Reformist faction including the Calamities, the Legions and the Empress. Catherine and her merry band of young villains are in the process of learning the ropes.
  • Precursor Heroes: The five Calamities serve as Precursor Villains to the current generation of villains, though they are still active and powerful.
  • Proxy War: The rebellion in Callow is effectively this for Procer. If the rebels win, they are heavily indebted to Procer and Callow effectively becomes a Vassal State. If the rebels lose, Praes has been bloodied and the stage has been set for another Crusade. To be fair, Praes had perpetuated Procer's civil war for decades before this point, so Procer was turning their tactics against them.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Inverted. Despite Proceran propaganda to the contrary, the First Prince notes that the Legions of Terror have strict rules against rape or undue harm to civilians. This does nothing to make them less of a threat. In fact, the Black Knight enforces this trope to limit the production of heroes.
  • Really Gets Around: Hakram, according to Juniper. After he loses his hand fighting a hero and gets a magical prosthetic, orc women practically line up to sleep with him.
  • Red Baron:
  • Reflexive Remark of Reverence: Inverted; whenever someone mentions Dread Empress Triumphant, every Praesi present presses a knuckle to their forehead and says "may she never return." This is explained as the closest Praesi ever come to prayer.
  • Refusal of the Call: Catherine is offered the chance to become a Heroic Queen of Callow by an Angel and lead a Crusade to drive the Praesi out. She refuses and then Takes the power she needs from the Angel.
  • Religion Is Magic: Most magic is seemingly independent of religion note , but miracles are reliant on it. This is necessary as miracles come pre-programmed by a higher entity (usually a god), and the user is merely channeling the power without any need of prerequisite knowledge.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Most major characters, one way or the other.
    • The princes and princesses of Procer (notably prince Klaus Pappenheim and princess Rozala Malanza) as well as the Majilis from Levante, the Tyrant of Helike, and Catherine as the Black Queen of Callow lead their armies themselves.
    • Less warlike leaders such as Dread Empress Malicia and First Prince Cordelia keep their court at bay, form alliances abroad, and generally manage their country's affairs, such as Malicia implementing the reforms.
    • Special mention goes to the Dead King, who, back as an alive prince of Sephirah, orchestrated his succession to the throne, the use of progressively darker sorceries, and the turning of his entire country to undead so flawlessly that the Good side was unable to do anything against it. He has not dulled with age either, still being one of the most deadly villains in the Guideverse, despite having an immortal as his eternal opponent.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The actual Rule of Three in-universe occurs when two Named become nemeses. They are fated to have three battles and cannot die until then, unless there is major interference (which can be quite costly, as the Exiled Prince finds out). Each side is assured a win, a draw, and a loss each. Engineering this pattern and gaming it are the hallmarks of a Genre Savvy character.
    • Every Name has three Aspects of power. Most active Aspects can only be called on three times per day, unless there is a significant backstory or balance reason that lends itself to another number.
    • The battle of Liesse is really a struggle between three Named for the future of Callow: The classic villainess Heiress, the classic hero William, and the progressive villain Catherine.
    • Catherine manages to claim the Angel's power with three narrative elements: A kingdom in peril, a claim to rule it, and an enemy to defend against.
  • Running Gag:
    • Catherine having castrated an ogre in single combat and the increasingly elaborate lies her followers tack on to that. Robber having a jar full of eyeballs comes up now and then, as does the fact that Hakram is an inveterate gossip and something of a ladies' man among other Orcs.
    Multiple characters in the story: Hakram you gossipy bitch!
    • Every time Catherine's indirect involvement in burning down part of a city is brought up and her complaints about everyone thinking she has a pyromaniac tendency.
    • The soldiers naming one of Catherine's zombie animals, usually with a pun, and her resulting irritation. This serves as Foreshadowing that the seemingly uncorrupted Horse at the Battle of Marchford is not as harmless as it appears after the soldiers give it a nickname.
    • Any POV section with Abigail has a rambling internal monologue (snippets of which she'll accidentally say out loud) all while she flounders her way to apparently brilliant tactical victories. By Book 5, Cat's the only one who seems to have caught on, and even then promotes her to General, much to Abigail's distress.
    • Indrani throwing things at Masego’s head.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The custom of vowing not to harm the people you share your fire with (at least, until the next morning of course) originated from the Taghrebi, but has become common among all human ethnicities of Praes. The orcs have a similar custom to sharing food, but are far more willing to break hospitality if deemed necessary.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Cat grew up in an orphanage, surrounded by dozens of girls her own age, with very little privacy. She's not unaware of cultural nudity taboos, but she finds other people's reactions to her not being clothed more amusing than anything. The only exception is that she won't be naked around someone who is her superior — either the Black Knight, or (when he's her Captain when she first joins the College) Ratface.
  • Shield Surf: Ranger, when visiting the Dead King, slides down a flight of stairs on a stolen shield, killing undead left and right.
  • Ship Tease: Almost every vignette from Juniper's perspective contains at least one moment suggesting that Juniper's affection for Aisha may not be merely platonic.
  • Siege Engines: Praesi Legions' sapper corps often build ballistae or small catapults when they have a large battle ahead. It's a mark of how advanced the modern Legions are that they construct their own siege engines from their own blueprints, while almost everyone else buys theirs from the Kingdom Under.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Slavery is the Berserk Button for Orcs, and generally despised outside of the Merchant City of Mercantis, which frequently "employs" Indentured Servants, and Stigya, a society built around their Slave Mook army.
  • Smug Snake: Heiress, though most all Praes highborn qualify. Most are taught to scheme before they can even walk.
  • Soldier Versus Warrior:
    • The Orcs used to fall firmly on the warrior side, but after Black showed them how ten humans fighting in formation could win against ten orkish champions, they tried their luck with Black and his Reforms. Now they make up a significant portion of the Legions of Terror.
    • The Drow are warriors: they excel in guerilla warfare, but their unorganized defense bites them in the ass after the dwarves (soldiers) decide that they need the Drow's territory.
  • Spontaneous Weapon Creation:
    • With the power of Winter, Catherine can form swords out of ice that rival steel swords. Once a fight starts, she usually has to do it a lot to replace the weapons she lost/her opponent broke/whatever.
    • Hanno's Aspect Ride lets him create a mount as well as a lance made out of Light which can be used in a devastating charge. It only lasts a short while, though.
  • Standard Fantasy Races: Each of the standard good races (except Halflings, who have yet to appear) gets a deconstruction.
    • The classic Elves-as-Superior Species trope gets played to its logical conclusion: The elves of Golden Bloom are technically aligned with the side of Good to such an absurd degree that they consider basically all non-heroes to be evil scum and are so xenophobic and isolationist that any human who comes close to their kingdom in the Golden Bloom is killed without warning. They are nevertheless undeniably better, with a small unit of elven troops reportedly able to slaughter battalions of conventional troops with no casualties. The greater whole of the elvish race also goes against the usual trope. Rather than a small, isolated society, they control a massive continent-spanning empire where interbreeding with other races is common.
    • The dwarves, rather than a dwindling remnant, are depicted at the height of their power with an empire that spans the entire continent of Calernia beneath the surface. Instead of accidentally unearthing a long-buried monster that destroys their civilization, they routinely harness and tame them to heat forges or use in warfare. All of their traditional negative traits are amplified — they believe that no one but a dwarf can actually own property and so dwarves travelling the surface customarily steal everything that isn't nailed down, with surface dwellers generally too fearful of the power of the Kingdom Under to object. They are also in the habit of destroying entire surface cities when vexed.
    • Little is known of the gnomes; however, their general Bungling Inventor hat has been replaced with an overwhelming technological advantage over all other civilizations. Generally the only time Calernia hears about the gnomes is when they send cryptic threats to any nation dabbling in technology they deem forbidden. Any nation ignoring their first two warnings is eradicated without a trace.
  • Super Weight: Admittedly, the existence of Named (who can vary in strength from "healthy human" to Physical God) tends to complicate matters:
  • Theory of Narrative Causality: Named often become trapped in patterns established by previous stories, which partially determine how the situation plays out. Much like in Discworld, cunning characters can identify the pattern and work out a way to adjust how the story unfolds.
  • There Can Be Only One: Only one person can claim a given Name at any given time, so if multiple people try for the same one, none can succeed until all of the others are somehow knocked out of the running (most commonly by death). That said, the winner does not have to kill the other contenders personally — using a hero to knock off your villainous rivals is a valid tactic.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Dead King wrote one, and scraps of copies can be found throughout the continent, with Praes having an all-but-complete copy in the Tower somewhere. It turns out to be a case of Artifact Domination. The knowledge within it infects the reader, allowing the Dead King to use a sliver of his soul to possess them. Making use of these people Soul Jars from this is theorized to be the reason no Hero has managed to permanently kill the Dead King so far.
  • The Unchosen One: Catherine sees herself as this. The heroes that were rising up to liberate Callow had failed for years, so she decided to do something about it on her own terms.
    Catherine: That's when I realized that nothing was ever going to change if I just waited for someone else to step up. It's not that I think I've been chosen, Hakram. I haven't. I choose. I am no longer willing to let someone decide my fate for me, not even for my own good.
  • Villainous Friendship: The Black Knight and the Empress are genuine friends and have been since before she was taken into the Imperial seraglio. This has not prevented them from turning on each other, however. Likewise the Calamities are by friendship and trust rather than fear or ambition as might be expected. Catherine follows her mentor's lead in this when she gets her own minions.
  • Villain Protagonist: The story follows Catherine, who is, due to the nature of her Name, on the side of evil.
  • Villain Respect: Catherine is the recipient of this from Akua Sahelian.
  • Water Source Tampering: The terrifying thing about the “Still Waters” doomsday weapon is not that it turns an entire city into frenzied zombies. It is that it infects them through a few alchemical potions poured into wells instead of some elaborate ritual.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Many amongst the Praesi acknowledge that Black is the weakest holder of the Name in recent memory—perhaps in all of history. Black freely admits that his predecessors to the Name "Black Knight" had a much stronger power set, who generally possess incredibly powerful dueling abilities to take down heroes one on one whilst his are centered more around enhancing armies. Outside of his Aspects, Amadeus can perform some necromancy and shadow manipulation—which Catherine notes uses less power than even her shadow platforms—but that does not stop him from being able to easily topple a fortress with said shadows. The fact that Amadeus has survived for decades and conquered Callow while his predecessors were generally killed in a failed invasion says a lot about how skilled Black is.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cordelia and a few others that know are disgusted by the Grey Pilgrim's actions in the second half of Book 4. Others think that the situation was justified.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?:
    • Cat does. Or at least, has Nauk do so.
    • This was even specifically called out previously as something that should not have worked, see the Annoying Arrows entry. See the Helmets Are Hardly Heroic entry for why it is not.
    Hakram: Can we... can we actually do that?
    Nauk ... Hells, I’d take a potshot at him myself if I thought it would work.
  • The Wild Hunt: They are a faction of The Fair Folk who like to terrorize mortals for sport, complete with hellish unicorns for steeds.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: The Sovereign of Moonless Nights Catherine becomes more melodramatic, more prone to monologues, and less rational and humane the more she throws her power around.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: A reoccurring and often discussed concept is how people in positions of power have to do what is necessary, instead of what is good or in line with their personal desires. Praesi philosophy holds that a ruler and the person holding the position are two separate entities, and the ruler's needs must always come before the person's.
  • Worst Aid: Catherine works out a way to use necromancy to control her body when it's too damaged to function properly. It's pointed out this is a very bad idea as the magic damages the tissue and can cause necrosis.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One:
    Aoede: So your grand plan, it’s not really a plan, it’s a juggler’s philosophy.
    Kairos: I’ve no idea what you could possibly mean
    Aoede: First step always works, so always have a first step going.
    • Apparently also used by a former Dread Emperor, Dread Emperor Irritant I, "the Oddly Successful."
    Irritant: Hahahahaha. Ha. You can’t beat me now, this is the first part of my plan!”
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Discussed and Inverted. A big part of the first books is Catherine coming to terms with her decision to try to reform The Empire from the inside instead of becoming a Hero and trying to destroy it. Her frustration with Lone Swordsman largely stems from the fact that she shares several of his opinions, but thinks his methods just make things worse.

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