Chapter 52: Finesse

“No, see, you’ll profit as well. All you need is to convince five others of contributing coin and when they do you’ll get a part of their own contribution. It’ll all work out, I promise.”
– Dread Emperor Irritant, the Oddly Successful, convincing High Lords to invest in the construction of ritual pyramid outside Ater

Even after having done arguably worse things, I’d never warmed to torture. I’d once had an interesting conversation with Black about it, where he’d been somewhat equivocal but overall inclined to agree with me. Torture, he’d noted, tended to be unreliable. Some people folded the moment you pulled out their fingernails, sure, but those with a little more staying power would need a great deal of violence before they started talking. And at that point, how could you tell whether they were saying something because they thought you wanted to hear it or because it was actually true? Some heroes side-stepped the whole issue by having truth-telling abilities, but that was bullshit divine intervention – you couldn’t reproduce those results with spells, not with any degree of reliability. I tended to get by on my increased senses, since fae eyes and fae ears were much harder to trick than their human equivalent, as I now suspected the Lone Swordsman once had. William hadn’t gotten a pat on the back from Above and glaring lights appearing whenever someone fibbed at him, he’d had to rely on Name senses to read the opposition. He’d been quite good at it, in retrospective.

I’d had to mutilate my own soul to get better at that trick than he was, so for once good ol’ Willy had me beat from the grave.

I stared down at the drow kneeling in front me, frowning. There’d been three who’d stiffened when Indrani had spoken in Chantant, and we’d separated those from the rest of the prisoners immediately. I’d then shaped Winter into a thick spire of ice hollow on the inside and ordered the first prisoner brought in. Akua was at my side, as she likely had more experience at this kind of thing than any of us. Indrani had been curious but I wanted someone keeping an eye on the rest of the drow. A flick of the wrist shaped a rough bench of frost and I sat down, eyes never leaving the still-silent prisoner. Diabolist had stripped it of its helmet, revealing bone-white hair cut so short I could almost see the skin beneath. I would have preferred the obsidian armour off as well, but there were no obvious clasps to it: I suspected it was like a mail shirt, put on with another person’s help.

“We know you understand us,” I said.

The drow did not react. Denial? Possibly. Or resignation.

“Akua, raise its head,” I ordered.

Diabolist knelt by the prisoner’s side, forcing the chin upwards so the drow would have to meet my eyes. It resisted, but only half-heartedly. The eyes were not as silvery as I’d thought. The sclera was white as a human’s would be, though noticeably larger, but it was the iris that caught my attention. It was not entirely silver: there were strands of the colour to be found, more visible than the rest, but the base was a dull brown. Some sort of sorcerous blowback? The black pupil at the centre was uncomfortably shaped, more oval than circle, and I’d yet to see a single drow blink. In a way, it was more troubling to look at their kind than a fae – the fairies were inhuman, with only the barest varnish of similarity, but the drow was close enough to human that the discomfort was felt more steeply.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

Silence. There was fear in the air now. I drummed my fingers against my leg, then sighed.

Answer me,” I Spoke.

The prisoner’s face twitched into a pained rictus. It was fighting the command, proving to have stronger will than most. It was not enough.

“No one,” it hissed, voice dim. “Nothing.”

Diabolist rose to her feet and the drow stubbornly went back to looking down.

“Blind it,” Akua suggested evenly. “Rip out the eyes and toss it back out bleeding in sight of the others.”

“There’s no need for that,” I said.

This one looked unwilling to provide useful answers even when its arm was being twisted, so we’d try the others before seeing if it was necessary to resume the proceedings a little more sharply. Diabolist wasn’t wrong that a dollop of fear would be useful, but she was also proving that even as a shade she had that horrid Wasteland disregard for people. I would not resort to knives without exhausting every other possibility first. I’d gotten an idea of the drow’s voice, from that unwilling reply, enough for glamour. Illusions did not come naturally to me, as even now they required more focus than I was typically able to spare when in a fight, but I had the time to weave it properly tonight. A small sphere of shining light formed over my open palm and the drow breathed in sharply when a decent approximation of its voice began screaming hoarsely into the night. I kept the glamour going for thirty heartbeats, then ended it with a harsh snap. Akua’s scarlet eyes followed me as I dismissed the sphere and spun glamour again, resting a hand atop the drow’s head: a heartbeat later half its face appeared brutally scorched to the naked eye, nose cut off and one eye left a bloody empty socket.

“Sleep,” I ordered, and forced a sliver of Winter into its shaken mind.

It dropped without a sound.

“Drag it outside,” I ordered Diabolist. “In sight of the others. Then get me another.”

“By your will,” the shade said, and smoothly bowed.

I flicked my wrist and shaped one last glamour. An eye, this one, though since I’d never actually seen a drow eye out of an eye socket I had to improvise to an extent. Akua came back quicker than I’d expected, the fresh prisoner moving gracefully into the room. I was pretty sure I recognized this one. It’d been the one who actually surrendered when things went to shit for their warband. Still, it wouldn’t do to leave the point half-made. I popped the glamoured eye into my mouth and chewed, smiling pleasantly at the new arrival. Its lips thinned, darkening to a deeper bloodless grey.

“That will not be necessary,” the drow said in perfect Chantant.

I swallowed. So did the prisoner.

“Well, this is promising,” I mused. “Diabolist, make our friend a seat.”

Ice bloomed and a block spun into existence. It was, I noted, with mild amusement, closer to the ground than my own seat. Praesi, huh. The drow’s silvery eyes lingered on the sorcery before it took a seat. The silver strands were much deeper, in this one. I could see almost nothing of the original green. They were also… less vivid than those of the previous prisoner. Interesting.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Ivah,” it replied. “Of no sigil.”

“I’m Catherine Foundling,” I said. “Lately Queen of Callow, though I’ve picked up a few other titles over the years.”

“I greet you humbly, Lately Queen,” Ivah said.

I resisted the urge to close my eyes. I was going to let that one go, for the sake of avoiding the awkwardness of a correction this early into the talk.

“Just to make sure I’m addressing you properly,” I said. “Would you happen to be a boy drow or a girl drow?”

Ivah blinked, silver fluttering behind long lashes. Not because it needed to, I suspected. It was a conscious expression of surprise.

“I am no longer Mighty,” it replied.

“That, uh, was not the question,” I said.

“If you were human,” Diabolist said. “Which gender would you consider yourself to be?”

Ivah looked a little uncomfortable.

“Cattle has no gender,” it said, sounding apologetic.

“As a Callowan, I can tell you that’s frankly terrible way to approach animal husbandry,” I noted. “But let’s keep moving. You were… Mighty, is that right?”

“When still named Dimas, I was third under Zapohar and a rylleh in my own right,” Ivah said. “What stands beyond you was toppled and disgraced, harvested of all but a sip of Night and sent to die in the Burning Lands as final mockery.”

My eyes narrowed. I lacked context for most of that, but there was one part I had guesses about. I tapped the side of my eye.

“The silver,” I said. “Yours is dulled. It’s this Night that caused it in the first place?”

“That is so,” Ivah sadly agreed.

“Your people are said to pay obeisance to the Tenets of Night,” Diabolist said, standing at my back. “The matter is linked, I take it.”

“All is one,” Ivah gravely said, touching its lips with two fingers. “All is strife. The worthy will rise.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” I told Akua in Kharsum. “It’s one thing for them to have some sort of cult paying dues to Below, but that silver in its eyes is no illusion.”

“The drow mercenaries I hired were not capable of the shadow flicker,” Akua noted in the same. “Perhaps the power ebbs away from the Everdark?”

“That lot outside is bottom-feeders, Diabolist,” I murmured. “And still they were capable of a trick most Named wouldn’t sneer at. There’s something wrong here. If their lower ranks are this strong there’s no way they’d be a ruin of an empire as they supposedly are.”

“Unless,” Akua said calmly, “that very power is the cause of ruin.”

My brow rose. That was possible, yes. Were they all fighting of this Night so ferociously they’d broken their own realm?

“Ivah,” I said. “The other drow outside, were they also Mighty once?”

The prisoner smiled thinly.

“None of us are drow, Lately Queen,” it said. “Had we returned in glory, perhaps once more, but this is disgrace heaped upon disgrace.”

So that was just going to keep happening, huh. Lovely.

“I thought Mighty was a gender,” I said.

“Mighty are,” Ivah stiffly said. “We are not, no longer. Most of them never were. They fought under no sigils, nor knew the favour of cabals. Meat for harvest.”

“Mighty are people,” Akua suggested in Kharsum. “And so those not Mighty, by definition, are not. Natural nobility, it would seem. Power earned or lost blade in hand.”

“It’s madness, Akua,” I grunted. “If the only way people can ever amount to anything in a society is by killing, that’s all they’ll ever…”

I trailed off. Well. Yeah, I supposed that would collapse an empire. There would be a need to dig deeper into that nightmare of a culture later, but first there were immediate matters to be addressed.

“Do you know a way into the Warrens?” I asked the prisoner.

“The path we took was also meant for our return,” Ivah warily said. “The marks on our feathers allow for passage through the Gloom, twice.”

“Your feathers,” I repeated carefully, then leant forward to flick a finger on one of the strips of obsidian making up its armour. “Those?”

“It is so,” the drow agreed.

“What is the Gloom?” Akua probed.

“The gate into the realm of the Mighty,” Ivah said. “Only those marked may leave, or enter.”

“Indrani told us that when Ranger tried to get into the Everdark she got stuck in the tunnels,” I told Akua in Kharsum. “Some kind of warded labyrinth, sounds like.”

“We’ve enough at hand to salvage keys for ourselves,” Diabolist said. “Though I would suggest we keep one guide to learn how to use it.”

“I’m not going to just execute prisoners, Akua,” I peevishly said.

“Those unable to speak Chantant are useless to us,” she pointed out.

“It’s not a question of usefulness,” I said. “We don’t execute prisoners.”

“Dearest, I understand that mercy is a useful tool,” she assured me. “I do not dismiss it. Yet for it to have worth in the eyes of the enemy, there need be a cultural value assigned to it. There is no indication it is so with the drow.”

“This isn’t about the drow, Akua,” I said. “It’s about us not putting holes in people who’ve surrendered. I’ve got no issue with killing on the field, and I’ve made my peace with assassinations when there’s no other way to avoid making a mess. This is different. They’re no real threat to us.”

“They are blades we must then keep an eye on,” Diabolist said. “Perhaps you and I are proof to such slights, but Archer is not. Nothing we have seen leads me to believe they will honour their surrender the moment the threat of death is lifted.”

“If they break that understanding, after being made aware it exists, then they can be killed,” I patiently told her. “That’s how keeping prisoners of war works, Akua.”

“The warband sought to slay or enslave us, and gave no warning before striking,” the shade reminded me. “They have not earned such treatment. This is an unnecessary risk.”

“It’d be easier to kill everyone, Diabolist,” I said steadily. “It always is. But when you behave like that, you end up living in the fucking Wasteland. Is this the simplest way to do things? No. But it’s how we do it, because if we don’t act civilized then people don’t act civilized with us.”

Scarlet eyes flicked to the prisoner facing me. Ivah’s eyes were watching us carefully, unable to understand the words but not beyond following the tones.

“Will they?” she wondered. “Act civilized, even if we offer them such civility.”

“It was always one of your worst habits,” I coldly said, “to burn bridges without ever trying to cross them. It may not work. We’ll never know unless we try.”

Diabolist languidly shrugged.

“I offer only perspective,” she said. “The decision was always yours.”

“It’s been made,” I flatly said.

I turned away from the shade, and cleared my throat.

“Ivah,” I said. “I want you to guide us through the Warrens.”

The drow’s face fell.

“The passage leads to the holdings of the Kodrog,” it said carefully. “The Mighty of that sigil are said to be among the strongest of the outer rings.”

“Stronger than the sigil you used to fight under?” I asked.

“The Zapohar once ruled a whole district of Great Parun,” Ivah proudly said. “Our Mighty claimed seats on no less than five cabals. The Kodrog would have been broken in an hour’s passing, facing our wroth.”

It grimaced.

“Their wroth, now,” the prisoner corrected sadly.

“Parun was one of the great cities of the drow, before their empire broke apart,” Akua told me in Kharsum. “Though not the capital, which I recall to be named Tvarigu.”

“I’d guess the more powerful tribes – sigils, I suppose – live in the old cities,” I replied. “Not sure what the cabals are, though. Some sort of alliance? Their Mighty seem to be able to belong to both at the same time.”

“Warrior lodges, perhaps,” the shade mused. “Or an association of influential aristocrats. It is hardly unprecedented.”

I’d ask our songbird later.

“We can handle the Kodrog,” I told Ivah. “I’d rather avoid a fight if I can, but if I can’t I assure you they’re not going to stop us. We’re looking to speak to, uh, your most powerful sigils. The people that make the real decisions for the Everdark.”

“You speak of the entire realm of the Mighty,” Ivah said questioningly.

I nodded.

“There is no such thing, Lately Queen,” Ivah told me. “No cabal has ever claimed to influence more than two cities, and the Hour of Twilight was massacred by its rivals a century past.”

“All right, let me put it another way,” I said. “Is there anyone at all that if they speak, everyone in the Everdark will listen?”

Sve of Night,” the drow said in a hushed whisper, touching its lips again.

“The Priestess of Night,” Akua said, chancing a guess at the unfamiliar Crepuscular term.

“That is cattle-term,” Ivah reproachfully said. “The Sve is Mighty.”

Ah. That shed light, in a manner of speaking. So a Mighty was not male or female or anything else, they were just Mighty. Priestess was a female term, in Chantant, so the implication would be insulting to the drow. I’d keep that in mind for future reference. No need to give insult to the people I’d come to bargain with.

“And if the Sve gives an order, the Mighty will obey?” I pressed.

“The Sve has already given order,” Ivah. “It is the truth of us, embraced.”

“If the Sve says the drow are going to war,” I patiently tried. “Would people listen?”

Ivah’s face creased, folds in the skin appearing that no human could mimic.

“It may be so,” the prisoner said. “The Sve does not speak, yet if the silence was broken all would hear of it.”

“Then that’s where we’re headed,” I said. “To have a chat with the Sve.”

The drow shivered.

“Holy Tvarigu is forbidden,” it told us. “Ancient and powerful sigils guard the paths to it.”

“I can be convincing. I’m known as a diplomat of great skill, on the surface,” I lied.

Akua was too self-controlled to snort, but the way she folded her arms together told me everything she thought about that mild reframing of that slight exaggeration.

“It would be better to be slain,” Ivah softly said. “There are things worse than death.”

Well, I hadn’t expected the locals to be friendly from the start. Gods, when had anyone ever been?

“Tell you what,” I said. “Get us into the realm of the Mighty, past the Gloom, and when we’re there we’ll change guides for the next stretch of the journey. You’ll be free to go.”

The drow’s strange eyes narrowed.

“You would speak oath to this?” it asked.

“I would,” I said. “And there are forces beyond your understanding that make me keep to those, when I care to give them.”

Ivah hesitated.

“I would be slain, even free,” it admitted. “I return bereft of Night, failing the terms of my exile.”

Diabolist leaned forward.

“Tell me, Ivah,” she said. “You spoke of the Night being harvested. From the living, as was done to you, but can this also be done to the dead?”

“That is so,” the drow said.

“We have a corpse,” she told me in Kharsum.

The one she’d held, who’d been killed by his own warriors. An easy enough concession.

“Do you need to have killed the person yourself to do the harvest?” I asked.

Ivah shook its head.

“Due can be bestowed,” the drow said. “It is rare, yet not unknown.”

“There was a warrior with feathers on their helmet,” I said. “If you harvested them, would that fix your problem?”

“Tiarom was first in power among the warband,” Ivah said, sounding rather eager. “There would be enough to no longer walk as meat, though it would leave me well short of Mighty.”

“That sounds like a yes,” I said.

I offered my hand.

“Ivah of no sigil,” I said. “Should you take us past the Gloom and into the Everdark, I swear to return your freedom to you. We will part ways there without enmity or demand.”

The drow looked at my hand curiously, then back at my eyes.

“You’re supposed to clasp it,” I informed it.

“Strange ways,” the drow murmured, but without further fumbling we shook on it.

I rose to my feet, stretching out.

“All right, let’s get this done,” I said. “Akua, see to the rest of the warband.”

“Healing is no power of Winter,” she reminded me.

“You’re telling me tending wounds wasn’t something your tutors went over?” I replied, eyebrow raised.

“I will do what I can, if that is your wish,” she conceded. “Though I promise no miracles.”

“Never considered those to be in your wheelhouse,” I drily replied. “Come, Ivah. I’m getting curious as to this harvest of yours.”

The silver-eyed warrior followed without a word. Indrani was carving away at a peace of wood, when I came out, sitting on a stone and watching the others.

“Fruitful talks?” she called out.

“You might say that,” I replied. “Wanna see something I assume will be highly gruesome?”

“Do I ever,” she enthusiastically replied.

“Come with me, then,” I said. “Where’d you leave the corpse?”

She blinked.

“Was I supposed to pick that up?” she asked.

“Where it died, then,” I snorted.

It was a short stroll down the slope to where Fancy Hat – Tiarom, apparently – had found himself on the bad end of drow politics. The body was drenched with half-melted ice from Akua’s construct, but otherwise untouched.

“Are we corpse-robbing?” Inrdani mused. “I thought we had, like, moral objections to that.”

“I’m putting this under religious exemption,” I told her. “Ivah, it’s all yours.”

“Many thanks, Lately Queen,” the drow murmured, bowing.

It dragged the body further away from the wetness even as I felt Archer stiffen.

“Did they just-“

“Don’t you say a fucking word,” I hissed.

“Oh, that’s making it into my next chat with Hakram for sure,” Indrani crowed.

I valiantly ignored her, instead putting the full weight of my attention on Ivah and its ‘harvest’.  Kneeling at the dead body’s side, the drow closed the corpse’s eyes before leaning over. I could barely make out whispers in Crepuscular, low and rhythmic. Then the dead drow… shivered. Liquid tendrils of darkness ripped out of the body, leaving bloody holes behind, and they slithered up Ivah’s arm beneath the armour. The living drow exhaled. You are what you take, a woman’s voice whispered in my ear, in no tongue I knew.

Ivah’s eyes shone deep silver before dimming again, and I learned that this magical adventure was going to be a little more complicated than I’d like.

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143 thoughts on “Chapter 52: Finesse

  1. I’ve been bad at posting this link, I apologize to all those who get their hopes up each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just to be able to go vote for the guide, but then do not see the link as the first comment and thusly do not vote. I have made a grave sin, and for that I apologize and will try to be better.

    Now, back to your regulararly scheduled yell:
    GO VOTE!!!!!! http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Liked by 12 people

  2. Someguy

    “No, see, you’ll profit as well. All you need is to convince five others of contributing coin and when they do you’ll get a part of their own contribution. It’ll all work out, I promise.”
    – Dread Emperor Irritant, the Oddly Successful, convincing High Lords to invest in the construction of ritual pyramid outside Ater

    The Bastard! He introduced the pyramid scheme!

    Liked by 19 people

    1. Jane

      You know, I’ve always wondered (where “always” is defined as “A year ago at most”) whether that’s Dread Emperor Irritant (who was unexpectedly successful, despite expectations) or Dread Emperor Irritant (who defined success in unusual ways).

      With so many of his successes, it could be either way, really…

      Like

        1. Dainpdf

          And then for the ultimate surprise you’re actually him, too! He had the real you killed weeks ago and used liberal amounts of self hypnosis.

          Like

  3. Huh, interesting chapter.
    interesting Drow culture that is being built up here, it does seem that Exiled Drow are kept alive, though. In The Forgotten Realms they were generally put to death, so it *may* be a slightly better culture than that of Drizzt Do’Urden,
    Hmm, I wonder if Cat will be able to do something similar to that of the Drow, and gather power from the dead.

    Fair warning, tons of speculation:
    “You are what you take”
    Cat has taken a lot, over the story.
    The Name of the Squire, she took over the other Claimants, then took it back from (The Goblin who’s name I can’t remember)
    She took Rise
    She took the mantle of Duchess of Moonless Nights
    She took pieces of Summer’s power
    She took on the full mantle of Winter
    She took on the title Queen of Callow
    She took the Dead King up on his deal to visit.

    Drow society, however creepy, may be a reflection of Cat.
    Beyond that, it almost seems like Cat’s (old) aspects might lead up to what we have here, The Drow Take power from the dead, and use it till either the power, or the Drow themselves Break, and then they Fall from grace, into Exile. Could prove interesting.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. RoflCat

      I’m hoping we’ll get a Sve of Moonless Night by the end of this. After all, if the moon still get out, is it really EVERDARK?

      Also, it’s about time she get proper worshipers, not in just popularity sense but as in deity sense.
      And the Drow society is a lot like the ‘concept’ of Winter, constantly taking until it consumes itself.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I think the Forgotten Realms drow are slightly more functional. IIRC in the Drizzt books they have rules about attacking each other (well, rules about not getting caught, at least), which keeps the backstabbing down to a dull roar. And they have some actually functional institutions, like schools for fighters, wizards and clerics, so they believe it’s possible to become stronger without murdering someone.

      Like

      1. Yotz

        That’s what always irked me in the depictions of FR drow society. Authors always recited litanies of cruel drow whose society was build on the unbridled lust for power with betrayal as a chief virtue – well, except for this school. And that institution. And also that immensely powerful ancient noble family. And basically everyone other except for fringe groups and outcasts. In the end, any other society described in thouse books looked more like stereotypical drow society than drow society itself.

        I may be biased, of course – but if you need an example of functioning, more or less, drow-like society, that would be The Dark City of Commorragh.

        Like

          1. 1queenofblades1

            Azdrubael did die. And the conflicts stopped because the Nobles wondered if they were next if even Azdrubael himself could be killed.

            “With every Incubi bodyguard within Commorragh deployed to stem the tide of Daemons, long-stifled rivalries between the Dark City’s elites erupt into bloodshed. Assassinations become commonplace, and the threat of civil war looms ever closer. Yet right when the denizens of Commorragh seem set to tear themselves and their city to shreds, the impossible happens. Asdrubael Vect himself is murdered, cut down by Mandrakes in service to an unknown master. Furthermore, every receptacle that contains a fragment of the Supreme Overlord’s essence is destroyed simultaneously, ensuring that he cannot be regrown by the Haemonculi. The internecine conflicts that have ravaged the Dark City are quickly replaced by an uneasy stillness as every Commorrite assesses their alliances. If Vect can be killed, then who amongst the Drukhari can be assured of their own survival?”

            They’ll eventually get around to fighting but not before attending his funeral to gloat. At which point every person loyal to Vect who died got resurrected, his enemies killed and as their blood split in great rivers, in a ‘Just as Planned’ moment the Praesi Highlords can only dream of, he was resurrected using their life force at which point he resurrected some of them as twisted and mutated slaves to his command.

            This guy is a 11/10 on the badassery scale. He’s like the unholy result of Cat, Akua and Malicia’s souls merging into one and being put into an Asuryan body.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. 1queenofblades1

              For this echo are still confused:

              He killed himself to draw his enemies into the open, slaughtered them, used their life force to resurrect himself and his loyal servants, and then resurrected some of his enemies as barely sapient slaves to be murderfucked like Dark Eldar like to do.

              Like

                1. RanVor

                  They temporarily stopped fighting in order to assess the situation. And before they could get back to murdering each other, Vect came back and murdered them first.

                  Like

          2. Let’s be fair here.
            While you can technically backstab Cat, it is both unlikely to take and likely to result in her stabbing you in the face.
            As such, it seems a distinct possibility that Cat could maybe make the drow work for her. She’d probably have to make some examples out of some of them before that, though. But hey, if the speculation that Cat is going to end up stealing some of the power of Night for herself is correct, each example made would simply make her stronger.

            Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              Javvies:

              I’m not sure that recruiting an entire “army” of backstabbing murderhobos is actually worth it. Even if they’re too scared to fight Catherine, their civilization has collapsed because they constantly murder each other.

              Like

              1. Decius

                You don’t “recruit” such an army. You use them against your enemies. It’s a little bit easier if you provide their supply lines and consider expending them completely to be a desirable outcome.

                Like

          3. Yotz

            I’ll disagree.

            True powers behind the continuing survival of the Dark City are Haemonculi Covens and Sculptor of Torments in particular, however insane he may be. Commorragh is like a dark reflection of the City of Doors in that regard, true. It’s just that Vect is of no consequence in the big picture.

            If Vect ever truly dies, Lady Malys will inherit his Mantle, so to say. And in that verse of minuscule probability where they would take each other out – or someone else would take them (which seems even less probable so far), the new Overlord will emerge from the roil and toil of Lower Commorragh streets. Yes, the Dark City will bleed for this, but then again – it constantly bleeds.

            Now, if someone would manage to remove all the Heamonculi from the existence…

            Like

            1. RanVor

              The Haemonculi keep the dark eldar from starving, but not from backstabbing themselves into extinction. It’s the iron fist of Vect that keeps the violence down to manageable levels.

              Like

              1. Yotz

                And before Vect there were ancient Aristos who managed to do exactly that.
                But then Vect random Salamanders’ strike cruiser with ensuing rescue party eliminated most of them, clearing path to Vect’s ascension.
                And now Cabals and Cults rule the City, dancing on the Covens’ strings like marionettes they are.
                Vect knows, and is OK with this. Kinda-sorta. It’s complicated(C).

                Second point – Haemonculi don’t feed the populace for free – or at all. Well, food for bodies – maybe, if there are no Cabals ready to overtake that area. Sustenance of the other kind – that’s a coin with which Cults and Cabals acquire Covens’ services. Haemonculi don’t produce that. Their chief function in context of civilization is population growth. Without their cloning vats Dark Eldari would die out long time ago, Vect’s iron rule or not. Yes, they leave tedium of actual ruling to the Archons – but they also need a civilization around to sustain their style of life. And so, civilization exists.

                Like

                1. RanVor

                  Ok, firstly, the Haemonculus Covens are actually completely self-sufficient. They have more than enough servants to survive with no help from the Kabals. They trade with Archons simply because it’s more convenient this way. Even if the Dark City descended into all-out civil war, they wouldn’t lift a finger to save it, because they don’t care. The entire Dark Eldar society is a commodity they can survive without. But there is one person who cares and actually makes an effort to keep the society of Commorragh from collapsing. His name is Asdrubael Vect.

                  Secondly, read my original comment again. I didn’t say Vect is unbackstabable. I said the Supreme Overlord is. For Commorragh to survive, this must be seen as a fact for anybody who holds the position, be it Vect, Malys or anyone else. The major factor in the continued survival of Vect is that most Archons effectively gave up on trying to depose him. Even if he died, his successor would have no choice but to uphold his legacy, to the point of making the identity of the ruler essentially irrelevant.

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                  1. Yotz

                    Firstly, Covens are definitely not self-sustainable.
                    They are in dire need of the same thing Drukhari need in general.
                    Souls.
                    Without large amounts of poacher they will die out. Without them to preserve population numbers, tech, and culture – Dark Eldars would not be able to harvest enough souls to stave off continuous assault of Hungry Bitch, and will promptly be devoured.

                    Secondly – if you’ll read my comment/response, I never said Supreme Overlord is of no consequence – only that Vect is. (re-reads thread) Umm… At least I meant that, using his position as a substitute for his name. One Overlord or several Aristor like it was before Vect, but Drukhari need a chokehold power above them to survive.
                    So on this we are in complete accord.

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                    1. RanVor

                      Exactly. If there was no Overlord, or if he/she was weak and easily replaced, the Dark Eldar would swiftly meet the same end as the Drow, with or without the Haemonculi.

                      Of course, the strict “no backstabbing while on the raid” policy also helps.

                      Like

                    2. Yotz

                      Eh, I remain of the opinion that in case of weak Overlord either new more powerful one will arise on a relatively short time-scale, or Covens will create one because of all the hubbub the absence of such figure is causing.
                      My point here is – Covens keep culture and knowledge intact, more or less. This means that even in the hypothetical case of total civilizational collapse, Haemunculi would be able to recreate it from scratch simply because they can’t be bothered with menial tasks like harvesting the souls beyond their specific and quite limited obsession-driven antics like Theft of Lethidia. Remove Overlord/s – and a replacement often is already here, ready to be drafted from the pool. Remove Covens – and there will be no pool to draft replacement from.

                      Like

                2. RanVor

                  Also, I believe we have strayed from the original topic of the discussion, which was why the Dark City didn’t suffer a societal collapse like the Drow Empire. And the reason for that is that Commoragh has someone strong enough to keep everyone else more or less in check. Someone so powerful the very idea of messing with him is insane. Asdrubael Vect.

                  The notion that the Drow Empire collapsed because it didn’t have Haemonculus Covens is simply not true.

                  Like

                  1. Yotz

                    Well, since we don’t know about Drow Empire structure, I have no comment on its collapse with regard to Haemunculi. My comments were about Commorragh, and its dependence on them.

                    Like

            2. 1queenofblades1

              >Vect dying is of no consequence

              U wat m8?

              Vect dying is a very, very big thing for the Dark Eldar. He’s 14,000 years old and spent 8,000 years of bloody intrigue and murder, clawing himself up from a lowborn slave to the Supreme Ruler and then spent 6,000 years actually ruling the Dark City which is probably more impressive considering everyone is after his blood.

              Like

              1. Yotz

                And that’s precisely why his death is of no consequence in big picture. As I said, Lady Malys is more than capable of going toe to toe with him, and can replace him with ease. Yes, Vect is impressive – more than impressive. He more that earned his recent kinda-sorta-ascension. Yes, Vect’s true death will shake the Dark City to the roots – but all the Archons Vect was killing for being too ambitious will be able to realize their ambitions. Sooner or later, new Overlord will arise. If he/she/it will prove their merits, they will surpass Vect, otherwise – new Overlord will climb the Tower.

                Yes, there – probably – will be another no one even comparable to Vect in a few (hundreds) of years.

                But I was talking about big picture.

                The kind of picture, say, Urien Rakarth lives in. You know – one who was old when Old Eldari Empire was still around. One who allows Vect to rule simply because he can’t be bothered with such mundane things (and also because he’s insane). One who outclasses Vect as much as Vect outclasses everyone else sans Malys. One who actually can break few laws of Commorragh without any repercussions – not in the last because he wrote most of them. That Urien Rakarth.

                So, yes – with true death of Vect, Dark City will bleed.
                But it bleeds always.
                And soon(*) there will be new Supreme Overlord.

                (*)terms and conditions apply.

                Like

  4. Well that’s interesting. In a creepy sort of way.

    I foresee these negotiations with the Sve of Night going poorly and ultimately ending with Cat stealing its power.
    Especially since Cat heard the “You are what you take” bit.
    She might end up being a messianic figure to the drow, and shouldn’t that just terrify everybody who is still remotely mortal.

    So these aren’t just mooks, they’re outcast, underpowered mooks who are too weak to be allowed to live back home. Archer should be pleased. And Ranger might get irked, because she apparently couldn’t get into the Everdark when she wanted to go hunting drow. But the knowledge on how to get into the Everdark might be useful to trade Ranger for something.
    But drow culture, from what we can see of it is nuts.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. fbt

      i have to say, this makes more sense than I would like to admit! E may go a dif direction for several reasons, but your argument seems exceedingly plausible, authorial considerations aside.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. SilentWatcher

      NO! Silence your tongue fool! EE will read your post and decide to do something different! dont mention possible cool twists of the storie, or else EE will do something else just to surprise us.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. papermache7

    Am I the only one who feel this whole thing is truly is absolutely perfect for Cath particular skills? No need for fancy diplomacy, just devour strong people and amass enough Night to dictate what’s gonna happen to everybody else.

    She’ll come back with an army at back and some new party tricks like the Warlord she is.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Rook

      Absolutely, this is as fitting for Catherine as it could possibly get.

      The drow are all about darkness and taking from each other. Catherine is wielding the full might of a winter mantle that holds domain over darkness and taking power. The ‘queen of moonless nights’ literally walking into a realm of permanent moonless night.

      Even before donning the mantle she had fucking – take – as an aspect, which is supposed to be reflective of the core essence of the person in question.

      If she can’t find any success with the drow, she might as well retire and become an immortal farmer. It’d be like channeling the spirit of Michael Phelps and drowning in a bathtub, you just don’t live that down.

      Liked by 13 people

  6. Someguy

    The Tenets of Night is a shitty pyramid scheme based on killing and harvesting Night from corpses and everyone harvesting each other for it…Good luck trying to adhere them to the Rules of War or even basic regimental discipline Cat.

    Liked by 9 people

  7. What is this bullshit about not kiling people who have surrendered? A few chapters ago, she killed a mage that cried for surrender after being abandoned by Malicia and did the same with her colleages, when they tried to surrender.

    I can get behind the justifications she might have got at the time, about how less witness=better, as the Dead King might see fit to interview them. But if you do approve the killing of prisioners or people who try to surrender if it meets your goals, you have no right to go grandly announcing principles afterwards.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Polite Cultist

        Cat has executed her opponent by various means and for various reasons, but never immediately after capturing them. She doesn’t casually execute people, is what she’s saying here. These Drow are practically harmless compared to a wizard of Malicia’s personal guard.

        Like

    1. FactualInsanity

      This will veer into semantics, but there’s a distinction between “people who try to surrender” and “people whose surrender has been accepted”.
      Back in Keter “take no prisoners, kill all witnesses” may well have been part of the plan. By definition that would make all those kills kills in battle, which Cat has limited qualms about.
      Here it would be the murder of people (beings?) that have already surrendered and been taken prisoner, simply for having exhausted their usefulness as tools. Cat’s not nice, but she has been making efforts to be merely ruthless, not an outright monster.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Decius

      Sometimes it’s unsafe to accept a surrender. Wastelanders feign surrender as a matter of policy, which means that any “surrender” from one of them is unsafe, particularly when it takes a form other than the form that you told them to use.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. superkeaton

    Ah, so the drow are much like their D&D counterparts, sans female dominance. Might makes, all else is nothing. And they seem very deeply tied to their source of power.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Andrei

    The big question now is what exactly is this Night does the power of Winter relate to it in any way, I’m getting the feeling that Cat might bestow her first title in this arc since the powers are interchangeable to some degree, thats how she’ll get the drow on her side, the promise of returning them to what they once were.

    Like

  10. Cicero

    Yeah… is it strange that my response to all these revelations is that this is going to be another bad idea, and will turn out worse than Keter did?

    Good thing they didn’t bring Thief along, she’s much too vulnerable for the backstabbing murderfest that is the Everdark. Even Archer is going to have to step up her game.

    Like

  11. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think that Sve is dead. She didn’t talk since proclaiming the Tenets, it seems, so it just may be that she was murdered a long time ago, say because she actually decided to take Tenets back and some ancient and powerful cabals hadn’t liked it..

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Clmineith

      I was thinking exactly the same. And, also, that the Important-Person-of-Moonless-Nights might become the Sve of Night.
      If drow’s powers are bound to Everdark, she might make it bound to the Moonless Nights instead, allowing them to leave…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. pyrohawk21

    Okay, so anyone else betting that Catherine Foundling, the Duchess of Moonless Nights is going to end up either taking the majority of Night from the Drow, or claiming the title as Mightiest of Mighty/Sve/Queen/Empress/something like that?

    Because seriously, I think it highly unlikely that the fact that Cat is the Duchess of Moonless Night of all things is not going to play a major role in this. Especially when we’ve just had an entire arc about how Cat’s body is something that is not set, but rather an artifice of magic and power… And that the power thing for the Drow is called Night and causes their eyes to become silver, which is strongly associated with the Moon…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ALKATYN

        She’s queen of winter (by default, being the last winter noble) and duchess of moonless nights seperately. Like how the British royals were kings and queens of England and Scotland, but also Dukes of Normandy

        Liked by 5 people

    1. Morgenstern

      Actually, that thought (body = magic construct) is rather worrying me. As in “the drow might try to siphon that construct’s power away” and “what would happen if they succeed (at least to some degree)”??

      Like

  13. Silverking

    “Catherine doesn’t hesitate, she exhibits no restraint, she takes, and she takes and she takes…”

    One key question: is the Night explicitly a function of Evil that Procer and the heroes we’ve met are used to, or is it a separate evil-ish force like Winter? Because if Cat can harness another force that doesn’t have traditional weaknesses against Good, that could be a very useful tool. I can almost imagine the Bard working to make that society destroy itself to take them off the board…and then got frustrated when the elves created the Golden Bloom and effectively took themselves off the board.

    I hope another thing that sticks with Cat is an increased understanding of how evil cultures can function, or rather, how they fail. The Wasteland’s constant backstabbing and hare-brained schemes got them stuck in a rut until Malicia came along. Winter is a slave to its own nature, to the point that even when it wins, it will perish from its own excess. The Dead King survives, but only by effectively being a kingdom of one individual, with the rest being mindless undead, bound Named, and content slaves. Hopefully, by seeing the successes and failures of people who have taken the Evil ball and run with it, Cat will find useful patterns she can exploit so she can eventually beat the Bard at her own game…or at the very least, figure out how to handle a Callow that is slowly turning to Evil.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, if memory serves, the drow have been said to be a failed culture that is aligned with Evil.
      However, they’re so failed and the only drow that anyone other than the Dead King, Wandering Bard, and perhaps some of the dwarves, have ever seen are apparently exiled losers who are too weak to live among other drow, I suspect that the Mighty will be an unpleasant surprise to most of Calernia, since at least some among them were at some point considered by Ranger to be worthy of hunting.
      Countermeasures to their powers, other than general ones, are likely to be known/ practiced by few, if any.

      I think it distinctly possible that in the process of getting the drow, or most of them, to serve her, Cat will end up claiming access to the sort of power they use – the Night, whatever that is.
      While the Night likely has weaknesses, especially to the Light/Hero powers, specific counters have likely been all but forgotten.

      Claiming the power of Night, especially in quantity, will give Cat something else to work with the next time she gets hit with anti-Fae wards/Fae-suppressing magic/Aspects and forgets than she is Winter.

      Away any rate … I think that the Night is something different.
      It probably is not a completely separated system from the Good and Evil mechanics of Creation.
      Winter and Fae powers are fully separated because in Arcadia Good and Evil do not exist.
      There is, at present, no indication that the drow or the Night originated outside of Creation and the framework of Good and Evil.

      However, the Night, since it appears to be something transferable in a way we haven’t seen or heard of before, might very well not be something the drow originally had, and instead somehow created it or stole it from someone, something, or somewhere else. That might explain how they had an empire, only to lose it – gaining access to the Night could have caused a collapse.

      Liked by 4 people

  14. mavant

    This read like an Abbott and Costello skit. I can only imagine the next chapter is the establishment of an all Drow baseball team with the other prisoners, whose names turn out to be Who, What, I Don’t Know, Today, Tomorrow, and I Don’t Give A Darn.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. 1queenofblades1

    I like how this chapter is called “Finesse” and it involved Cat chewing on a (glamoured) eyeball. At least it wasn’t her own tongue….again.

    All hail Catherine Foundling, the Black Queen, the Duchess of Moonless Nights and Sole Sovereign of Winter, Queen of the Wild Hunt, Mightiest of the Drow, Arch-Heretic of the East, First of the Woe and the Lately Queen of Callow.

    You know what I really want though? An interlude from someone at her orphanage. Maybe the Matron or one of the girls who picked on her or whatever. Maybe one of the guys who groped her while she worked at the tavern in Laure, someone she fought in the pits, Booker, the girl she rescued in chapter 1, or her employer/his son at that tavern, maybe even that Praesi Lieutenant she used to gossip with. I want to see what they think of that tiny slip of a girl now being a walking legend and the greatest warlord since maybe Triumphant (because she’s certainly eclipsed Black by now and no one else as far as we know has come close to what Cat did, other than Triumphant).

    Generations from now, for all you know instead of Dread Empress Triumphant being the boogeyman, it’d be “The Black Queen – May she never return”, and all the while Cat is fucking around, maybe in Keter, maybe with Neshamah 😛 (Yes I ship Cat and the Dead King).

    Liked by 5 people

  16. My prediction is Cat will have a severe advantage with the Drow that she might learn or grow into st some point during this arc. It will be based on her being of Winter and its ties with whatever Night is. I mean, her Winter power can bring on total darkness. There has to be some sort of tie with Night. Hopefully, this gives her a much needed power up and she gains some awkward and funny by way of murder allies out of the Drow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Drd

      I wonder whether she might find them more of challenge than expected and finally be pushed into the realisation of what she can become when she chooses to fully let go of the the confines of her physical construct and become the very fabric of Winter itself.
      Now THAT might make them stop in their back-stabbing murder-fest and take notice.
      After all, for the Duchess of Moonless Nights, darkness means nothing, and it would seem that the Night is at least partially tied to darkness (themetically maybe), as the power they have shown allowed them to step through shadow, and what is darkness if not the deepest of shadows?

      Like

    1. Polite Cultist

      Executing war criminals after a trial is NOT the same as killing a harmless prisoner. She doesn’t mean that her prisoners are untouchable, she means she doesn’t kill without reason. These people are basically harmless to her, and they haven’t committed mass murder in a Callowan City, or anything of that sort.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I doubt it is Bard or connected to her.
        I suspect the voice saying “You are what you take” is connected to the Night in some manner, if it is not part of the Night itself. Followup guess would be something to do with Cat’s Fae/Winter titles/ powers. Third option is a reaction with her Name/Aspects, or what’s left of it, or the parts of her that contributed to her gaining Take as an Aspect. Alternatively, it is connected to her potential for apothesis.
        Or possibly some combination/interaction between the above possibilities.

        It being in Cat’s ear and in no language she knows, despite her understanding it dictates a far more metaphysical source than Bard showing up and literally whispering into her ear.

        Like

  17. Morgenstern

    >> Ah. That shed light, in a manner of speaking. So a Mighty was not male or female or anything else, they were just Mighty. Priestess was a female term, in Chantant, so the implication would be insulting to the drow. I’d keep that in mind for future reference. No need to give insult to the people I’d come to bargain with. <<

    Uhm. What?? Above, it was stated that he LOST being of any gender when he BECAME cattle. Gender cannot be the thing about this term that makes it cattle-term, Cat. At least I presume this was an in-character mistake and not one by the author…? When in doubt, think about in-world-explanations first. Thus, I guess, he takes offence at a term of "priesthood" as being a thing for cattle. Guess "Sve" is more like a god/dess…

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    1. Morgenstern

      Or an avatar maybe. Some *actually* direct channel to the G/gods.
      Or something else entirely…

      Anyway, making gender only apply to the Mighty and then claiming gender does NOT apply to the Mighty, but offends them is rather… paradoxical.

      Like

    1. Allafterme

      The Wandering Bard said the Twilight Sages of Drow consider death the only sin to Dead king before his ascension so something must be horridly gone wrong in the last few millennia…

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Allafterme

          Even the name of Drow language implies associates them with Twilight but they either they shifted or corrupted to Night long time ago. Huh, very interesting. I’m looking forward to this arc and what will you make of it EE.

          Like

  18. Letouriste

    Interesting…I would bet cat will get some of that darkness…or even kill that mighty priestess and take over her place,leading the drows at war. Can you become an honorary drow?

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Follow ancestral lines back about 40,000 years… the answer would be “yes” for just about everybody in Nicaragua, considering the vast bulk of us with Eurasian origins have South East and East Asian cave shelters of the various Ice Ages in our genes. 😛

          No exceptions.

          Africa just about gets a pass (but, Eurasian genes have trickled back there in spurts fairly regularly).

          Yeah: we all have Africa and Eurasia in us. It’s called “being a human primate” (the first primates came from polar rainforests mostly in what we’d now term as Eurasia — they quickly made it all around the north pole thanks to even early primate shapes being good for swimming between island chains, and then spread south as things cooled). 😉

          Like

  19. Dylan Tullos

    I’m unsure why Catherine would want to recruit an entire species of backstabbing monsters who view Callowans (and all mortals) as cattle. It’s not like they would make good soldiers; for all their cool powers, they lack basic discipline and they’re more interested in cannibalizing each other than fighting the enemy.

    The drow are basically made out of Stupid Evil to the point that they destroyed their own civilization. Even if Catherine can make them march to war, she can’t make them magically stop being completely awful and mostly useless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Someguy

      One can only pray that they are a useful distraction for “heroes” deep in enemy territory by dumping them there via a variant of Bonfire.

      Like

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Someguy:

        “Useful distraction” seems to be all the drow are good for. Even if their Mighty are an order of magnitude more dangerous than the exiles we saw, they spend so much time murdering each other that they’re not exactly a threat to anyone else.

        Catherine wanted an alliance with the Dead King. Instead, she’s having to try to get help from a failed civilization of Chaotic Evil murderhobos. They’re certainly less dangerous that the “original abomination”, but they’re also not that powerful. Her only other possible ally is the Tyrant, who had an alliance with Black before he betrayed him for fun.

        Like

        1. Nah. The Mighty are likely to be on par with Named, if not greater.
          Remember – according to Archer, Ranger tried to hunt some of them but had issues finding her way into the Everdark proper. So at least some of them are or were considered “worthy” … which means they’re good in a fight, if only on an individual level.

          These exiles, while they got curbstomped by the trio of Cat, Archer, and Akua, aren’t actually pushovers relative to normal people – and they’re the ones considered too weak to be allowed to live among other drow.

          Besides … the most likely target for them is Praes, meaning Malicia and her High Lord allies, because the Crusade, the Grand Alliance, and the Heroes are probably going to be preoccupied with the Dead King.
          And whatever the Augur’s prediction of “Woe to the south” was referring to. Probably not Black, but likely connected to the Tyrant of Helike/the League.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Javvies:

            The problem is that the Mighty would be equivalent to Villainous Named, including all of their traditional weaknesses. This is an entire civilization based on backstabbing and infighting, and they’d be going up against a Dread Empress who specializes in social manipulation. Malicia would have them murdering each other in about five minutes.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Moginheden

            “Woe to the south” was explained in the interlude 2 chapters ago. A conclave the House of Light is being convened to the south of where Cordelia rules from. (I think in Orne.)

            This is a problem for Cordelia because it will unite all of Callow’s desperate factions against her, and possibly remove the Ashuran’s fleets that are attacking Praes freeing up Malicia to run wild even more. (As the Dread Empress is no longer the Arch-Heretic.)

            Cordelia NEEDS to beat Callow to stay in power. That’s now both highly unlikely, and more required.

            Like

            1. No. The Conclave is being held in Salia, in the palace itself, per Fatalism 1.
              Orne is, I believe, one of the Principalities bordering the Vales and is Southeast of Salia.
              Fatalism 2 says that the Lanterns (the Levantine delegation) almost caused a diplomatic incident when they passed through Orense – the Principality bordering the Dominion.

              The Ashuran fleets are not going to stop going after Praes just because Malicia is no longer the Arch-heretic. For one thing, while not completely landlocked, Callow might as well be. For another, Praes is still a target of the Crusade.

              It is a problem for Cordelia because it kills any possibility of a deal with Callow short of complete and total military victory with an extended occupation of all of Callow, including somehow taking Cat (and thus the rest of the Woe) all the way out, and also means that there is no practical way to have Callow return to its pre-Conquest Role. It’ll be worse than after the Fourth Crusade when the Principate tried to occupy Callow.
              Furthermore, it means that, especially with the Dead King moving, Procer and the Crusade are facing a war on at least two fronts for sure, plus the waiting “Woe to the south”, which is probably connected to the League and the Tyrant of Helike, which would likely be a third front.

              Liked by 1 person

          3. Moginheden

            Also the power level of the drow is not what makes them a terrible army. Their lack of discipline and likelihood of killing allies does.

            Take 5000 drow that are likely to back-stab each-other and kill any allied army you put them near, and pit them against 5000 slightly-trained peasants who have each-other’s backs and have been through multiple wars in recent history.

            Sure each drow is way more powerful than your peasants, but by the time the battle starts you only have 300 drow left as the rest murdered each other, and you lost any non-drow that were marching anywhere near them. That’s presuming you were able to maintain control over the drow long enough to get them to the battlefield at all.

            Like

            1. Drd

              I find it interesting that it mentions the Hour of Twilight (that were massacred) and Sve of Night. Is there also a Dawn and Day, or are they yet to come?
              And I have to wonder at what the Bard said about “death being the only sin” to the Drow. Could the silver eyes and Night they have be something to do with life and/or power? They have been drained of all but the smallest of amounts, but as death is sin for drow, they can’t be killed but are exiled. That could be why humans are “cattle”, that it is not a sin to suck their life dry to feed the Night within the drow? And these exiles could only go back if they attained “glory”, which would explain the “slavers” that occasionally to go on hunting trips, if they were actually desperate groups of exiles looking to find “cattle” to gain enough power to go home again.

              Like

        2. Decius

          Give them enough outside enemies to form temporary alliances against, and they will form temporary alliances that last until the outside enemy is almost defeated.

          Let the Drow almost defeat Procer and the Dead King and the Empress, before killing themselves over who gets to rule when the enemy is finally defeated. Once they have almost defeated all of your enemies (including themselves), clean up the mess they made.

          The problem with escalating by letting the Dead King out was that afterwards there would be a more powerful Dead King to deal with. The Drow will clean themselves up.

          Like

  20. Luis

    I want Catherine to wipe them out.
    If you can take from one you can take from the many or all.

    The drow are backstabbing savages that cannot be made into useful troops. At least not legion standard troops. More people like the wild hunt.
    Powerful, but not committed to the idea of helping her, and treacherous at the worst.
    Best to kill them off and turn them into at least useful cannon fodder and a power up.

    Like

  21. the verbiage ecstatic

    I’m getting increasingly confused by this Drow arc. I get that Cat wants another army and is pretty desperate, but this seems like it’s miles past long-shot territory and deep into the “totally illogical, only happening for plot reasons” zone.

    Negotiating with the Dead King was a Hail Mary play: making an alliance with a ancient horror that is probably playing you (as in fact he was) is a gambit of last resort. But at least Cat had reason to think that she might have negotiating leverage, since the Dead King was the one who invited her to the table.

    The Drow as potential allies have all the same downsides that the Dead King did (reputation damage, likelihood of betrayal, pure evil who would happily slaughter all the Callowans, unknown and vast reserves of power that could be turned on her if negotiations sour). But unlike with the Dead King, Cat has no reason to believe she has anything they want in the slightest, or that they care at all about events outside their own borders.

    I was assuming Cat had something up her sleeve here, but this chapter makes it clear that she doesn’t have the faintest understanding of Drow culture or goals.

    And even assuming the Drow do have goals that could be furthered by invading her enemies, and that they are willing to potentially negotiate with non-Drow, what does she think that Callow, a beleagured minor power that is already militarily committed, doesn’t share a border with the Drow, and is practically bankrupt, possibly offer the Drow from a geopolitical perspective?

    With the Dead King, EE at least gave the handwavy explanation that he might require an invitation to leave his realm, thus giving him an incentive to talk to Malicia and Cat. A little thin, but okay, sure. With the Drow, we’ve got nothing.

    The elaborate parting of the Woe chapter made clear that this is a costly, high-risk expedition for Cat. Presumably, not being a complete idiot, she thinks that there’s a probabilistic reward that makes this a better play than returning to fortify Callow and hoping the Dead King and Procer keep each other busy long enough for Cat to deal with Malicia. But I really don’t see it. Am I missing something?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. the verbiage ecstatic

      Also, I don’t totally get why Malicia outbidding Cat with the Dead King is so much of a setback for Cat that a second desperation play is needed. The biggest outcome of the negotiations is the same either way: the Dead King invades Procer. Cat wanted to give Procer better odds and minimize collateral damage, because she’s not a total monster, but from a Machiavellian perspective it’s not clear that Cat’s worse off with the Dead King having more freedom.

      Yes, it increases the probability that he crushes Procer completely and becomes a threat to Callow, but that was a risk anyway. Cat was planning to stab the Dead King in the back by warning Procer, which might have prompted retaliation; at least this way, Cat doesn’t have any commitments to the Dead King that she needs to fulfill or betray. And it makes the flip side of that risk — that the Dead King isn’t enough to derail the Crusade — less likely.

      Other than Cat’s humiliation at being outplayed by Malicia, it seems as though Cat got most of what she wanted from her excursion: the Crusade is now fighting a two-front war. It’s unclear why Cat thinks that adding yet another volatile element to the situation would improve her strategic position enough to offset the continued weakening of Callow that her absense is causing.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Cat needs to take on Malicia and the High Lords, and win.
        She also needs to cover the Vales and the Stairway with sufficient force to hold them against the Crusaders or the Dead King, at least long enough to reinforce them.
        She also needs to have sufficient forces left after beating Malicia, the High Lords, and everything that they’re willing to pull out against her, which will likely include devils and possibly demons, that she can either attain outright military victory or be strong enough to force a negotiated settlement with either the Crusaders or the Dead King, without a pyrrhic victory that would endanger her hold over Praes and Callow.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Jane

        This is easiest answered with another question; why did Malicia feel a need to outbid Cat? After all, she could have just let Cat make the deal, if this was just about attacking Procer.

        It’s more likely than not that Malicia’s deal involves some delayed unpleasantness for Cat, and having another ally at hand when it comes will put her in a better position. She can’t be certain what, exactly, she’s planning for, but she knows she can’t readily face it alone.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Decius

          Cat wanted to use Dead King against Procer, to force a diplomatic solution and actually end the war.

          Malica wants to use the Dead King against Cat, and possibly Black as well.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. More to the point, the impression that I have is that Malicia opened negotiations with the Dead King and he decided to allow Cat the opportunity to make an offer and to test her at the same time.

            If Cat had made a deal with the Dead King, especially under her original reasoning, behind the Dead King’s motivations, it is unlikely that she would have needed to be overly concerned about him attacking Callow or otherwise betraying or acting against her interests, and she could have focused more attention on Malicia and Praes.
            Cat did not want Malicia making a deal with the Dead King, especially one so expansive in scope.

            With Malicia having made the deal with the Dead King and the scope of what she offered … Cat has to heavily fortify the Vales and the Stairway, plus improvement patrols all along the mountains, because an army of the dead has limited need for logistical support, and can cross far rougher terrain than once burdened with supply wagons for food.
            That drastically reduces the number of troops Cat can deploy against Praes and on the border with Praes, and Cat had been, and still is, short on trained troops.

            Liked by 3 people

    2. John

      Cat needs to keep Malicia busy for six months, as cheaply as possible, while the Hellhound rebuilds Callow’s army. Malicia is overwhelmingly better at political maneuvering, has more money, more magical resources (especially now that Heirophant is unavailable), and is no slouch at spycraft. What Malicia doesn’t have, at the moment, is legions to spare or a Black Knight to lead them. So, Cat needs to present an immediate military threat to the Wasteland, using non-Callowan troops. Something that can’t be bought off with cash or deflected with political intrigue.

      Drow culture is completely unknown to the outside world, so there’s no remotely plausible way Malicia has agents in place, or any other established lever for influence. If the drow are solely interested in personal glory and mystic cannibalism, they won’t accept ordinary bribes. From the Dread Empress’s perspective, at least in the short term, drow invasion would be an almost context-breaking problem. Big distraction, then there’s the time and cost of actually dealing with it, and any time and energy spent on that is taken out of the budget for undermining Callow.

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  22. TheCatLord

    Am I the only one slightly interested in Cat returning to the orphanage and the bar, interacting with others form before she took on a name?

    Like

  23. Jessica Day

    I can’t help but assume Cat will be taking some of that night power and conquering the Drow while she’s at it. Another step on her way to godhood 🤔

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  24. Uh. Guys?

    What if they recruit drow who are willing to learn new ways, and power them up with the corpses of those who aren’t?

    The followers of the Tenets of Winter can come live in Callow; it can’t be any worse than goblins, orcs, or ogres.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Drd

    A very good point, as I believe the Everdark is cut off by the Dead King and the chain off hunger (I think…). Moving to Callow via Cat’s fae portals to help guard either the Procer or Preasi borders would be easy living compared to current neighbours.

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