Chapter 53: Gloom

“I am ever amused to hear men speak of senseless violence. What is violence, if not the failure of reason? One might as well bemoan the wetness of water.”
– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

“So what are we doing with the spares?” Indrani asked.

It was bluntly put, as was her wont, but she wasn’t wrong to ask the question. Ivah, after being further questioned, had been pretty clear: the only way for someone to pass through the Gloom was with the obsidian ‘feathers’ the drow were wearing. We’d had a corpse already, so one of us was covered. Two more prisoners had to be stripped of their armour to make sure we’d pass without trouble, though, and that left the issue of what we’d now be doing with them.

“We can’t take them into the Gloom,” I said. “Ivah was vague – I think it doesn’t actually know a lot on the subject – but the implication was that we’d just ‘lose’ them the way Ranger got lost.”

It was still night, though now dawn was a great deal closer. While Akua saw to the wounded, I’d told Indrani she should catch a nap. We’d be moving out as soon as she was rested, since I saw no point in idling around the surface any longer now that we had a guide. I softly inhaled the lingering scent coming from the cup of tea in my hand. Actually drinking it was nothing to write home about, but the smell was strangely pleasant. I’d though nothing of it, at first, but now that it’d become a habit I was realizing I’d seen something like this before. The fae in Skade had taken delight in small, ephemeral things too. A lot more than in the physical pleasures I’d once preferred.

“So that’d be releasing them, pretty much,” Indrani mused. “I take it we have some issues with that.”

“They came to the surface to slave and kill,” I said. “It’d be irresponsible to simply let them loose after capturing them.”

My friend shrugged, hazelnut eyes tinted with indifference. She’d yet to slip on her leather coat, or even her mail, wearing instead thick grey cloth cut close to her form. The only touch of panache to the drab attire was the dark linen scarf hanging from her neck, some kind of weave allegedly particular to Mercantis. It was certainly finer than anything I’d seen come out of Callowan weaver shops, and I knew it could be used to breathe through noxious fumes if she needed it to. It was one of the few possessions I’d ever seen Indrani care for, save for her bow. I’d gathered from idle talk that both were gifts from Ranger.

“So kill them,” she said. “We never flinched at that before. Crucified a bunch of Praesi after Second Liesse, didn’t you? Those you didn’t make into your most expendable soldiers.”

“They were all complicit in mass slaughter,” I told her. “And it was the mages I had crucified, those who had a direct hand in the killing of innocents. This is different.”

Killing Malicia’s minion who’d tried to surrender came much closer to the line, in my eyes, but it’d been a trick played on an enemy. It felt like a step closer to becoming someone I cared little for to have played it in the first place, but I could swallow my discomfort.

“They’re slavers, Cat,” Indrani mildly said. “Kill them all, let the Gods sort it out.”

“Their entire civilization practices slavery, as I understand it,” I reminded her. “Should I murder my way through the whole lot?”

“Their entire civilization didn’t pull blades on us,” she said. “They did.”

“Then we’re killing them for pulling blades, not being slavers,” I pointed out.

“Sure,” Indrani said. “Let’s kill them for that, then. I’ll do it myself, if you’re feeling contrary.”

“My point was that we don’t do that,” I said.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she muttered. “Cat, what else can we do? You don’t want to release them and we can’t keep them. There’s not a lot left, is there?”

No, I grimly thought. There wasn’t.

“Let them settle it the drow way, then,” Indrani suddenly said. “You’re being all lawful, so let them follow their own damned laws.”

“They don’t have laws, Archer,” I replied in a low voice. “They seem to murder each other at the drop of a hat.”

She met my eyes, the deep tan of her skin seeming even deeper under cover of dark.

“You need to make a decision,” Indrani said, “about why we’re going into the Everdark. Because if you’re going down there to murder bigwigs until their people are terrified into playing nice, I’m on board. They have it coming, let them choke on it. But if you’re just going down there for an army, Catherine, there’s going to be darker lines to cross than this.”

I grimaced, then looked away. Once more, she was not wrong. I’d known going in that this would be ugly business. My conversation with Ivah had only lent weight to the notion. It was an odd thing to hear a person seeming otherwise perfectly reasonable to dismiss the rest of the continent as cattle and preach the virtues of cold-blooded murder without a hint of irony. Even the Praesi kept a veil over that, twisting the act into some kind of wicked art. The drow had spoke of killing without reason as if there was no need for pretext or justification, and I suspected it had not been one of the stronger Mighty. Those at the top of the pyramid would have swum through a sea of blood to get there, and it was them I’d need to make pacts with. Them and the Priestess of Night, who was the very architect of this bloody misery.

“I can’t fix an entire empire,” I admitted tiredly. “I can barely even handle Callow, and that’s with a second born for the work.”

“Then we don’t pretend,” Indrani said calmly. “We don’t go in half-baked, posturing like we’re liberators. Because that’s how we lose, Catherine – by straying from what we’re actually after. Don’t swing for the toes if you want to cut a throat.”

I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them.

“Even letting them settle it by their laws,” I said quietly. “It’s just posturing, isn’t it? Foisting the dirty work onto them. The blood would still be on my hands, only with cowardice added to it.”

“Responsibility’s a bed of thorns,” Indrani said. “You keep lying down and then getting surprised at the bleeding. It’s not on you to save every stranger you meet. Especially if they don’t want to be saved.”

“Is it really too much to ask,” I murmured, “that we get to behave like decent souls, for once?”

“There’s a lot of those, at the feet of Above,” my friend said. “They don’t tend to stick around long down here.”

Maybe I was a coward, because when I gave the order it was for drow to settle it among themselves. The fought, until two were dead. The most heavily wounded, though they might have survived if they’d not been slain. Their Night was harvested by their killers as I watched in silence.

But we put on the dead men’s armour, and went into deeps.

I’d not been sure what to expect when we entered the Warrens. The Everdark was supposed to be a wreck, nowadays, its people fighting over faded glories they no longer knew how to restore. On the other hand, a lot of those tunnels should date back to when the drow had been more than a pack of backstabbers living in ruins of their own making. There wasn’t a lot known about the days when the drow had been a power to reckon with: what records dated to when the era was theorized to have taken place were sparse and didn’t tend to extend much further than whatever nascent city they’d been written in. In the echo Masego and I had eavesdropped on, the Wandering Bard had mentioned something called the Twilight Sages. That they’d ‘considered death the only sin’. That didn’t exactly sound like pacifism, but it was a long way from the drow encountered now. The territory of the Everdark on the surface was smaller than Callow’s, and nearly all of it mountainous, but then that didn’t mean much: they were a subterranean people, like the dwarves and once upon a time the goblins. Their holdings would have been measured in depth more than in length or breadth.

The Warrens ended up being tunnels. Just that. Not particularly well-maintained ones, damp and cold and occasionally half-collapsed, but they weren’t strewn with bones or filled with packs of monsters. I kept pace with Ivah, at the head of our little band, and the drow led us forward unerringly from tunnel to tunnel. It’d already been a few hours and I could honestly see no difference between the paths we’d taken at the occasional crossroads and those we had not. We were going deeper, that much I’d felt. But there were no markers, no signs our guide could be drawing on.

“How long before we enter the Gloom?” I asked.

Ivah flicked a silver glance at me.

“We already have,” it replied.

My brow rose. I’d not felt so much as a speck of power. I was particularly sensitive to wards, nowadays, so the passing of a threshold should have been noticeable.

“I can see no difference between when we first entered and now,” I admitted.

“Nor will you, Queen,” it said. “We bear feathers. There is no Gloom for us.”

“So if we didn’t have the feathers,” I said. “We… wouldn’t have seen the tunnels?”

“We would see others,” Ivah said. “Leading nowhere.”

That didn’t sound like a ward. More like a domain, honestly, though it was a terrifying thought there could be an entity out there powerful enough to keep a domain going for centuries.

“It seems too easy to cross,” I said.

“The nerezim have pierced through before,” Ivah said. “Never for long. They rip ore from the stone and leave, do not linger.”

“You mean the dwarves,” I said.

“That is so,” Ivah agreed. “They have slain Mighty with great machines of steel. They are not cattle.”

“Because they killed drow,” I frowned.

My guide shook its head, rueful smile baring sharp white canines.

“Because to them, it is us who are cattle,” Ivah said. “One does not fight nerezim. One survives them, hiding until their purpose is fulfilled and they leave once more.”

Well, it was almost heartening to know the Kingdom Under had everyone as terrified underground as they did on the surface. I’d begun to suspect that the Gloom had been placed to make sure the madness of the Everdark remained contained, but now another candidate had emerged: it might just be a sorcerous moat to keep the dwarves at bay. The Kingdom Under was not known to tolerate rivals underground, as the ancient exodus of the goblins tribes to the surface had made abundantly clear. I let the conversation lapse after that, though boredom saw me speak again when the journey through the tunnels continued to stretch on.

“You said you used to be a rylleh,” I said. “What is that, exactly?”

“Dimas was rylleh,” Ivah replied. “What you look upon never was.”

“And what did it mean, when Dimas was rylleh?” I asked.

“To earn this honour, one must know twelve Secrets and slay another rylleh,” Ivah said. “Even then, it is worthier to hold than to claim. Many do not last long.”

I hummed.

“And Dimas?” I probed. “How long did they last?”

“A hundred years and three,” Ivah proudly said. “Many tried to claim its Secrets, for Dimas knew the three glorious arts of killing.”

My eyes narrowed. First at the revelation that my guide was over a century old. Scholars argued about how long drow could physically live, but most ascribed them a lifespan no longer than a human’s. Apparently that was incorrect. More importantly, there’d been an implication to what Ivah said.

“Dimas knew these arts,” I slowly said. “Ivah does not?”

The drow eyed me with surprise.

“Night was taken from Dimas, save the last sip,” it said. “Tiarom knew no Secrets, and so none were learned from the harvest.”

“You make it sound like there is more to the Night than the shadow tricks,” I said.

“That is so,” Ivah said, then touched its lips. “Shapeless and shaped, encompassing all. The worthy take. The worthy rise.”

It’s knowledge too, I realized.

“Those three glorious arts of killing, what are they?” I asked.

“Spear and blade and bow,” Ivah said. “Dimas harvested many, to learn them whole. It was great accomplishment.”

I breathed in sharply. So by killing someone who knew one of those Secrets they could just become a master swordsman instantly? That was insane. You couldn’t just create knowledge out of nothing, that wasn’t the way Creation worked. Unless it’s the same knowledge, I thought. Passed from killer to killer, since times immemorial. Were they just passing around the same few learnings, one corpse at a time?

“Ivah,” I quietly said. “Can someone add to the Night?”

“That is poor choice,” the drow amusedly said. “What worth is there in empowering Mighty by one’s death?”

“If a drow learned to make steel,” I said. “And someone killed and harvested them. Would they know how to make steel?”

“Weapon-making is a powerful Secret,” Ivah acknowledged. “The Ysengral hoard it mercilessly, and Ysengral itself hunts for the finest whispers.”

So anytime someone learned anything useful they were murdered for it. Gods. No wonder they lived in ruins. If someone tried to restore them they’d probably get stabbed for the knowledge of how they wanted to do it.

“Is Ysengral a sigil or a Mighty?” I asked, slightly confused.

“A sigil is a Mighty,” Ivah told me, tone implying I was a little slow.

“So Dimas’ old sigil, Zapohar…” I prodded.

“Zapohar is Mighty, of great influence in the cabal of the Silent Song,” the drow said. “Though forced out of Great Perun, the Zapohar are first of the inner ring. Many fear them.”

“And was that how Dimas ended?” I asked. “Fighting for the Zapohar?”

“Dimas grew fat and lazy,” Ivah bitterly said. “Forgot that many coveted its Secrets. That which broke it was worthier to hold them, and now stands second under Zapohar.”

So backstabbed by an ambitious colleague, not beaten by an outsider. And still it seemed to feel some sort of pride for the Zapohar, instead of hatred towards the sigil that had seen it laid low. That smacked of Wasteland morals to me, the way Praesi highborn claimed that hatred and enmity were unrelated matters. It seemed a touchy subject, regardless, so I didn’t press any further. There’d been something else I was curious about, anyway.

“Tell me about the Kodrog,” I said. “We’re heading into their territory, right?”

“They lurk near the Gloom, unfit for the strife of the inner ring,” Ivah said with open disdain. “Kodrog’s Night was thinned by the Mighty Soln, three hundred years past. It fled to the outer rings and has not returned.”

“Soln didn’t kill it?” I asked.

“Kodrog is said to know whispers from the Secret of Many Lives,” the drow informed me. “A single death was not enough, though it lost much Night in defeat.”

“I thought you said the Kodrog were strong,” I pointed out.

“To meat,” Ivah said. “To drow. To the least of the Mighty. Not to great sigils. It will crush you like an insect, Queen, but that is different matter.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” I mildly said. “Is it the Kodrog that gave you all your feathers?”

The drow shook its head.

“I journeyed to Great Mokosh under brand of disgrace, to be granted this last chance,” Ivah said. “There the Sukkla discharge holy duty, having been granted sigil from the Sve of Night itself. Any can claim feathers, if they know the tongues of the Burning Lands and despair enough to try striding them.”

“So it’s a holy duty, to try the Burning Lands,” I said. “Why?”

Ivah touched its lips once more.

“It serves the purpose of the Night,” it said.

Oh, that did not sound all that pleasant.

“Killing cattle,” I said. “Taking it. What does it do for you?”

“The Night grows,” Ivah smiled. “To do such sacred act would redeem any disgrace.”

“I want to be perfectly clear, here,” I said. “If you kill humans, or any other race. It grows the Night?”

“That is so,” the drow reverently said. “All is one. All is strife. The worthy rise.”

I sucked at my lip.

“Killing undead,” I said. “Would it also grow the Night?”

The drow paled.

“Speak not of the Hidden Horror,” Ivah whispered. “For its crown is dawn, and that pale light is the end of all things. Only the mad would enter the eye of the Host of Death.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” I said. “The necromancy that keeps its army walking, you can claim it for the Night.”

“I say no more,” Ivah insisted. “It sees all. It hears all.”

Well, Neshamah had clearly paid these people a visit at some point after his ritual. The drow were a murderous bunch, they shouldn’t be so scared unless the Dead King had spanked them roughly after being provoked. I honestly wasn’t sure to root for there. Still, I was pleased to have learned that. If the undead had been of no worth to the drow’s societal murder pyramid it would have been much, much harder to gain any ground there. Ivah had been pretty high up the ladder at some point, by the sound of it, but he’d still been someone’s minion. The people on the notch above might be less terrified at the idea of a fight with Keter, if they were offered the right incentives. I had a few notions about what those mighty be, though the offer I knew would be most tempting was one I very much wanted to avoid.

“Let’s talk about the Kodrog, then,” I said. “I’m looking for practical information. Number of Mighty, which is known for what. How many fighters to they have, what are their defences like?”

I’d come with the intent to negotiate, but I might have actually found a place where my propensity to stab before making an offer would be considered reasonable. If I could get through without killing, I would. But if blades came out, well, it wouldn’t be the first time I walked over a few corpses to get where I needed to be. Ivah had unfortunately little to share, since it’d been ushered through Kodrog territory into the Gloom after copious mockery and a few beatings, but little was better than nothing. By the sounds of it, there were a few thousand drow scattered across several large caverns but only a small part of those were considered fit to fight. Even fewer of those would be Mighty, which I’d mentally put in the same league as half a company of Watch. Dangerous, if you took them lightly, but rather killable. If Archer hung at the back taking care of those with fancy Secrets, Diabolist and I could handle the brawlers. Unlike on the surface, I didn’t intend to take prisoners here. Wouldn’t run down anyone fleeing either, but if they became an obstacle capture wouldn’t be the objective.

It took us three days to leave the Gloom. Over the last stretch of the journey the tunnels changed from rough bare stone to something more ornate. Base-relief was carved on every surface, even the floor and ceiling, though the sculptures under our feet were covered by moss and dirt. It was my first look at anything the drow had made, and to my utter lack of surprise pretty much everything depicted was their kind sallying out to the surface and winning glorious battles before returning to the Everdark covered in glory, riches and slaves. There were also depictions of single combat between drow champions, though oddly enough they did not seem to be to the death. The loser was made servant of the winner, carrying their spear and quiver. Honour duels? Those were supposed to be common in Levant. The Northern Steppes as well, though orcs didn’t stop until one of the fighters was dead and dinner. The last step was a threshold carved into the tunnel, though one without gates, and there we found fresh signs of life. Symbols had been painted in blood over them, which Ivah informed me promised sundry torments to all venturing in the holdings of Mighty Kodrog.

“We now reach the realm of the Mighty, Queen,” our guide told us.

I nodded.

“Bargain was struck,” I said evenly. “We part ways now, if you wish, with no enmity or further demands.”

The drow hesitated.

“I walk with you a little longer,” it said. “Until we reach the ring of stones.”

The Kodrog apparently held the remains of an old border fortress, which barred the entrance to their territory proper. It was probably as deep as Ivah could go without being openly associated with us.

“Follow behind, then,” I said. “Archer, Diabolist – look sharp.”

“Oh Gods, finally,” Indrani whined.

I took the lead through the threshold, tough my advanced faltered after a single step. The others trailed in after me as I stood there in silence, ignoring the words they spoke. Well, we’d found the Kodrog. The cavern I’d entered was twice as large as the throne room in Laure, its uneven ceiling a natural dome. It could have fit at least a thousand comfortably, which I knew for a fact because it currently did.

The floor was covered with dead drow, thick as a carpet.

“Shit,” I finally cursed. “I’d better not get blamed for this.”

77 thoughts on “Chapter 53: Gloom

  1. Huh. Well, this could be hearkening back to WB telling DK to ‘eat the baby’ or whatever the direct quote, although I feel there is a bit more at play here.
    Also, if Cat *did* get blamed for it, that might actually be a good thing, all things considered for the Drow.


  2. So … this looks somewhat unpromising.

    Huh. Any kill helps grow/strengthen the Night.
    The Night carrying knowledge from host to host is an interesting tidbit. And that’s probably going to have interesting implications down the line.

    Time to check – have these drow been drained of Night or not? Either option could be interesting. Not sure which would be more concerning, though.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Misting

        Indeed, which is why DK might already be doing it. If he had a couple of drow zombies, it would make sense for one of the first things to do upon being released being to go and slaughter a few thousand drow with them to power them up.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Rook

    Catherine learning the same lesson young Akua did in that basement all those years ago. The same one Black was reminded of in second Liesse.

    If you’re going to balk, then balk. But if you take the step? No half measures, it only makes it worse.

    Make it count, Cat.

    Liked by 9 people

      1. Jane

        On the other hand, if it gets her foot in the door, it’ll save her a lot of trouble – and there’s no doubt she’s going to end up fighting plenty of people anyways, which will establish that she’s no weakling pretending to strength.

        Assuming the Drow have no strong taboo against lying, it’d probably be a net advantage for her.


      2. Yotz

        That’s why you must vehemently deny any relation to this act in a such overly specific way that your denial can but raise questions about your involvement. And after such questions would be raised, your denials must become even more overly specific – to the point of telling anyone who was not able to hide from you that “told you it wasn’t me” upon the reveal of even hint on actual culprit.
        Works miracles.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow. The first half is like EE read all the commemta nd compressed them into chapter.

    Nice bit of exposition. Although, I wonder, why drow society didn’t give a rise to a single panultimate being that slaughtered every drow and just grew stronger with each year. Like Rnger, but on steroids. I’m betting it’s the ultimate goal of the whole Tenets of the Night in the first place.

    Also, typo? “granted sigil from the Svet of Night itself”. Is ot Sve or Svet? The second sounds similar to Russian word meaning “light”.

    Also also, giving how this book capitalizes on showing us the rest of Calernia and throwing somd heavy bit of worldbuilding, I wonder if these drow were killed by dwarfes.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Quite possibly a cat

      Well, the Priestess of Night might very well be that ultimate being.

      Well, I think we should be glad they never learned the Secret of Working together. Just imagine if a team of drow had a people farm like the Dead King?

      Hell, I bet a Drow could go to the surface and get a job interrogating corpses. “Oh, I can get answers from the dead. You can skip all that unreliable torture and those faulty truth spells. For a small fee of course. I’m certainly not absorbing all their power into myself.”

      Liked by 4 people

      1. That only works if the Night can transfer memories from those who weren’t already carrying some Night of their own.
        I think what happens with non-Night-bearing kills is that the killer/absorber simply draws on the remaining essence or something of the victim to feed/multiply/grow the Night in the absorber’s body.
        Thus, in order for knowledge to be added to the Night, it has to be learned by someone carrying the Night.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Yotz

            They can, but the bearers of new secrets would be immediately hunted down by the more powerful Sigils. After which
            >“The Ysengral hoard it mercilessly, and Ysengral itself hunts for the finest whispers.”
            So the society itself would be deprived of the secret of weapon-making.

            It seems that Drow stumbled upon the something akin to Borg problem – the Borg can not invent. Drow can be incredibly knowledgeable and powerful, but they are not able to multiply Secrets – only transfer it from one vessel to another, with communal Harvesting being single possible way to actually spread knowledge. And if vessel is lost with its Night unharvested – so is the knowledge. And if someone culls Drow population and prevents Harvesting, that would result in total collapse of civilization, for all the Secrets the killed bore would be lost.

            Similarly, if someone of Drow is to invent something, it would be immediately harvested by more powerful ones, thus strengthening the strong and weakening the weak. There are literally no incentive for anyone of the lower stand to do anything not directly related to harvesting enough Secrets to higher its stand in one swoop. If it tries to penny-pinch Secrets from different sources – or create new Secrets for the matter, it would be Harvested long before it could get even a bit closer to its goal.

            We may see more on this point, but so far it seems that total sum of Drow knowledge follows the modified version Laws of Thermodynamics:
            * in isolated society knowledge can never be created, only transferred or changed from one form to another;
            * in isolated society total sum of knowledge always decreases until it reaches the possible minimum of knowledge;
            * total sum of knowledge of isolated society approaches constant value with number of vessels decreasing, to the point of being zero if there are no one to bear Secrets.

            …or something like that.
            With this structure in place, only possible way for the society to gain new knowledge would be to Harvest outside the system – id est, to raid other races for their Secrets. And such raids must be done by lowest of low – simply because loss of even one Mighty without the ability to Harvest its Secrets will result in weakening of the Night. That’s why it’s the “Last Chance” mission for disgraced – read, “weak”. Lowest of the low have nothing to lose, and – if – they can return with new Secrets, that would increase their status – at least temporarily.

            Liked by 5 people

    2. SilentWatcher

      Maybe this slaughter was made by this panultimate being? It makes way more sense to let many Drow grow the night and when the time is right, they get “harvested” of their night. Could be a reaction to Cat intruding into the everdark. or something/one else

      intresting. i seem to recall the scuttling of green and pale? skin underground in hierarchs vision in the epilogue of ark 3. I love these little hints which suddenly make sense

      Liked by 1 person

      1. SilentWatcher

        WAIT! this system benefits mostly the top dogs right? 2 chapters or so back wasn`t there a quote about pyramid systems? i bet sve of the night founded the tenets of the night


    1. Rook

      I think it’d be more advantageous if she could find a way to partake in Night and absorb it herself.

      It would be the way to reinforce her biggest key weakness. She’s too young by several thousand years.

      She’s got power gushing out her metaphorical ears, but her foundation is so flimsy it’s an insult to wet cardboard. Like a baby wielding a sledgehammer. A hundred years from now she’d still be a baby in the eyes of the big name players

      But if that could be shored up with thousands of years of knowledge, experience, and unending practice from an ancient, warlike race that predates the first elf that ever set foot on the continent? It could turn that crumbling foundation into the rock of Gibraltar.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. WuseMajor

        Yeah, but….I kinda suspect that the Night might contain more than just skills, it might contain memories. Personalities.

        Trying to eat The Night might be akin to letting it eat Winter. The resulting amalgamation would be a monster to be put down quickly not an amazing master.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. haihappen

          Let Winter eat the Night. Seems thematically sound. Winter takes, thats its nature, she should fit right in.

          I can see the Sve taking a good look at Cat and the bodies that will trail her wake, and decide: “yup, you make a fine drow”.

          And I reckon the list of things Cat could offer them is very long:
          * Metalworking, or just “trade” weapons (oh the secret that secrets can be “learned”, not only “claimed”)
          * Opportunity to kill Praesi legionares/Procerean soldiers -> absorb their skill etc
          * Learn/Claim the secrets of Praesian mages, as even the lowest Drow would probably make excellent raiders/assassins if properly lead. Discipline seems to eb the major hurdle
          * training in advanced tactics, courtesy of Juniper

          The list could go on but discipline in following orders without backstabbing seems to be a major issue.
          It would need a skillful commander with lots of experience… oh… can anyone else see Black train/lead a company of Drow to devastating effect?

          Another thought: Have the Drow “forgotten” that Secrets can be learned?! That skill can be accumulated without taking it from somewhere else? It would certainly explain the state of their society.

          In an ideal world, a few intelligent Drow that see the big picture would enterprise to accompany Cat to learn the Secrets of the Burning Land’s people. Upon their return, they would be masters of many Secrets (mostly related to killing), and other Drow would see this and decide that this “Exchange Program” that Icy Princess was proposing may not have been a bad idea, resulting in many new gray-skinned recruits that Juniper has to whip into shape…
          But as I said “in an ideal world”, and their culture may make them incapable of even thinking this way.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. samshadar

            Winter might be one thing, but she is/was the ‘Duchess of Moonless Nights’… Can’t get much more ‘moonless’ than ‘underground’…


          2. It looks like a society-wide Prisoner’s Dilemma to me. If everyone learned skills, they could rebuild society. But if you learn skills and someone else kills you for them, then you’re dead and they get all of the benefits with only a fraction of the work. So that means everyone defaults to an equilibrium of killing instead of learning.


  5. Jane

    Counterpoint: Being blamed for a massacre of a decently powerful group is a wonderful advantage when dealing with an entity that only values strength, and cares nothing for the dead. If there was ever a time to practice “lies and violence”, it’s with the Drow.

    You know, this whole “harvest the power and knowledge of the slain” thing sounds perfect for Cat, assuming it’s not exclusive to Drow, attached to membership in some kind of deranged cult, or intrinsically drives those who know the secret to madness and/or violence. It probably is, though, that kind of thing has a way of spreading elsewise.

    That’s a horribly overpowered talent, too… If they weren’t so viciously self-destructive, they’d pretty much be the Borg, only a bit more digesty than assimilaty. One can only imagine how much the mightiest of the Mighty know… Above and beyond the killing arts, there’s all sorts of secrets they must possess. A pity that they can’t actually do anything with it, though.

    Incidentally, I wonder if this whole suicidal system originated as a way to preserve knowledge… That by killing the oldest and wisest amongst them, rather than only harvest the wisdom outsiders, they could ensure that their lessons lived on whole in the next generation. Of course, that also sparked conflict as to who would inherit the knowledge, and encouraged some to attempt to claim said knowledge earlier than its possessor would prefer, and sparked this whole system of paranoia and endless bloodletting as things grew worse.

    It’s unfortunate, in many ways; knowing that all of your studying and practice would live on in the hands of an heir would normally be a wonderful thing, giving back to those around you. Even if you hated the first person who inherited your talents, they aren’t immortal, and in time your work would pass to someone you didn’t despise. By taking it to this extreme, though, they’ve squandered the benefits to the whole in pursuit of maximizing the benefit to the individual – it’s long past time for the strongest amongst them to begin to rebuild, but because none of them can trust one another, they remain hiding in a mountain.

    Well, perhaps I’m passing judgment a bit early – what we know about the Drow is still mostly hearsay and assumption.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Amoonymous

      Could you imagine if they had a relatively normal, cohesive society?

      Every drow works to learn, increase their skills, etc. When an Elder dies, they have some kind of ritual for another drow to inherit their knowledge and further refine and build upon it.

      The drow would have the capacity to become one of the most advanced species if they weren’t so self-destructive.


      1. RanVor

        Maybe this is what the Tenets of the Night are for – to prevent the drow society from advancing. Maybe someone intentionally installed a system that causes them to self-destruct to stop their growth before they could become a threat to the surface… and suddenly I have a strong suspicion the Bard is somehow involved in this.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. Now here is an interesting thought, what if Cat claims parts of the night? Giving her winter and night powers to work with and as she kills she grows more powerful.
    That would be very interesting.

    Thanks for the chapter~~

    Liked by 1 person

      1. She’s the Duchess of Moonless Nights and the Sovereign of Winter.
        It’s not quite the same thing, though while it may or may not be a significant asset in dealing with the Night, it is unlikely to be a significant detriment, unless the Night and Fae powers are inherently inimical to each other, which seems unlikely.

        However, what is also relevant is that she has the Aspect of Take, which seems like a more limited form of claiming the Night that doesn’t require a corpse, first.
        Sidenote – I wonder what would happen if Cat used Take on Hanno’s past Hero-life power, can’t remember what it is called offhand. Besides violence.

        Whatever the source (Fae Mantle, Take Aspect, or something else), Cat certainly appears to have a some sort of affinity for, or connection to, the Night based on the “You are what you take” bit.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

          Cat doesn’t have Take anymore; when she went full fae, her name effectively died of frostbite. She still has Fall, but only that and IIRC it works differently than it did when she was still relatively mortal.


    1. nick012000

      It’d probably work as a fluff explanation for getting XP for killing monsters, at least. Reminds me of the fluff explanation for how XP worked in Knights of the Old Republic 2.


  7. Jane

    Say… Just how much knowledge ends up transferred, exactly? Because it occurs to me that “living” the entire life of the person you just killed – and who they killed, and who they killed, and so on – could easily end up “erasing” who you once were, under the weight of so many memories that weren’t “you”.

    I doubt it actually works that way, for plenty of reasons, but if it did… Well, that would also be another way of explaining why the Drow are the way they are, would it not? Those who might have been inclined to change the system found their goals buried under the weight of those they killed, while those who chose to abstain never had the strength to consider changing things at all.

    It’s a plot point I’ve seen used before, where directly absorbing information on too large a scale had dangerous side effects – though, not used in this particular manner before.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. WuseMajor

      22. No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.

      On the other hand

      “You can never have too many tiger pits, Chancellor. That’s the same lack of vision that has people say “that’s too large a field of energy to absorb” or “calling yourself a living god is blasphemy”.”
      —Dread Emperor Malignant III, before his death and second reign as Dread Emperor Revenant

      Liked by 10 people

    2. ______

      Well, yeah, different names referring to the same person with the different amounts of power are somewhat of a hint in that regard. Catherine was able to resist something similar, when fed a slice of a mind by Masego – and he has an Aspect to make up for that – but that was explicitly because she was approaching divinity even then. Add to that the fact that the Mighty are sigils, yet at least some of the sigils are apparently granted, and the whole things starts to look like a liability bigger than even the Winter titles.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. 1queenofblades1

    Think Ranger finally managed to get in? Or Neshamah helping Cat out/hobbling her? (dunno if this is positive or negative yet)

    Malicia killing the Drow before Cat could recruit them? The Grey Pilgrim? Ugh why isn’t it Monday already!?


        1. Though, she certainly is built as more of a boss-killer/single-target type, Ranger doesn’t normally bother with army-killing because it’s not a meaningful challenge to carve her way through grunts, not because she can’t.
          She goes after those she deems “worthy”. These days, “worthy” is apparently around the level of a Fae Monarch, and she’s been beating up and stealing the eye from a Fae Prince every year? for so knows how long, just because she likes the ring she made out of it.

          Now, call me crazy, but I doubt that all of the now-dead drow would have been anywhere near being “worthy” by Ranger’s standards.

          Liked by 3 people

    1. Malicia has not the resources, nor the knowledge that Cat was going to the Everdark, though it is certainly within the bounds of possibility that within the Tower and/or the basements of various High Lords, the knowledge of accessing the Everdark exists.

      Neshamah/Dead King is watching Cat to see what and how she does. While I’m certain it is within his abilities to do so, I don’t think he did. Getting involved here like this would not serve to help him determine whether or not Cat is worthy of apothesis. He’s intrigued by Cat, but I don’t believe that he’s going to randomly involve himself in her own arc(s) that don’t involve him – at least not so blatantly.

      Grey is probably more concerned with the Dead King and/or the actions of the Conclave. Plus, wghile he is a Hero, a Levantine Hero at that, I didn’t get the army-killer vibes from him.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Argh. Didn’t mean to hit post yet.

        Ranger is unlikely because she couldn’t get in, the last time she tried, per Archer. Also, it’s likely that she would have stealthed or skirmished past this outer lot towards more powerful/stronger types further in, rather than massacre them all, unless they did something to seriously piss her off.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. ______

      This may be the dwarves, at least I hope so. It’s about the time they became relevant, and a common enemy would be a great way for the drow to be at least temporarily united, maybe even grow stronger in the same way that goblins and orcs did during the civil war.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Berder

    The mysterious bodies here might be just perfect for Cat. Trying to negotiate with a whole lot of pathologically violent clans that hold no single leader? Virtually impossible. Trying to negotiate with the most powerful few drow that are left cowering in their last fortress after some horrible disaster slaughtered most of their kind? Substantially more manageable.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Snowfire1224

    Drow courtship must be complicated considering that identifying as any gender is considered an insult. I imagine it’s a bit like Discworld Dwarves but with lots of backstabbing since the Drow are Evil. The other possibility is that they are a one gendered race and so it doesn’t actually matter.


  11. Could Cat try necromancy on the drow? When she raised the mages during the Second Liesse, they seemed to have retained some of their knowledge so it might be a good way of gathering info. Plus, it seems like a good idea to see how her powers interact with the Night.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Novice

    I still don’t understand why Cat kept justifying herself here. Of course, I’m glad that she agreed with Indrani in the end but still. Didn’t Cat intend to use the Dead King’s horde in the first place? Knowing that she would be holding the thinnest of leashes especially after they saw the echoes in Arcadia, that the DK would be further strengthened for future atrocities?

    Did the trio met with the force-ghost of Willicakes offscreen or something?

    Anyways, I’m looking forward to their adventures in the Underdark. This is bound to be good.


      1. Novice

        Oh, I’m fine with her hemming and hawing in the earlier books since she was just getting set up character-wise. But I was not expecting it to last into the middle of Book 4 when shit is going down and Calernia is catching goblinfire (metaphorically of course).



    The Night is a really cool concept for a magic system. Makes the whole society inherently unstable and zero sum. Some thoughts:

    – Does knowledge from non-drow get absorbed? I’d guess not given their technological stasis, they would have killed someone with knowledge of blacksmithing or whatever eventually.
    – They talk about absorbing skills and secrets, but not memories. Why are those different? Or are they doing so, hence why the guide refers to its past self as a different person. Could one use it to obtain passwords, battle plans, etc?
    – Can non-Drow learn how to absorb the Night? If so thats a massive available power source. You could make your own version of the Watch by powering up human soldiers with Night from the Drow.
    – Hyothesis for how the Drow society collapsed: While they had a steady stream of Night coming in from surface enemies (the cattle) one advanced by doing raids and getting their share, and the proceeds were spread around the rest of society. But when the supply dried up (due to the Chain of hunger, Dead King etc) the “economy” of night collapsed, it became more effective to avance by killing other drow and stealing their Night, so it became a zero sum all against all continuous war, and cooperation to do large scale raids, infrastructure, etc, collapsed.

    Masego will be pissed he didn’t come. This seems totally different from the rest of magic in Calernia.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Letouriste

    I think the drows are not the only ones who can have the night. Cat didn’t kill any drows yet but when she does she could get their power and their knowledge…


    1. Someguy

      It’s the other way round. Drow can harvest Night from undead, Cat can mass raise undead. If Cat allows the Drow to powerlevel via herself, she has something to get their attention. Too bad they can’t be trusted to harvest enough Night/Winter to make Cat mortal again.


  15. ALazyMonster

    Anyone else feel that all of Cat’s hesitation might be coming from the redemption story that the pilgrim was trying to start? All this angsting seems slightly exaggerated from what Cat used to be like.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. ATRDCI

        I mean, to each their own, but I don’t see it as that bad. More along the lines of likw when she was trying to take out the Assassin’s Guild. Her inner morals all but demanded it if her (because what is the point of ruling if you are no better than the previous regime) but practical issues forced her to give up the moral stand

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Novice

          I guess I thought she was already over all this kind of moral dilemma since her badass stand against the Hashmallim. Justifications and all that jazz, you know?


          1. People and characters can and do backtrack, you know. Just ask any cognitive therapist.

            Doesn’t mean they stop moving in a general direction, but old habits, behaviour patterns and ideas aren’t all that easily broken.


  16. Dylan Tullos

    Well, the drow have just been promoted from “largely useless” to “worst idea ever”.

    This is an entire society based on treachery and murder. They can eat people to gain their skills. And Catherine wants to let them loose in Calernia, where there are mages and priests and soldiers for them to devour.

    If Procer takes over Callow, the people live. If Malicia takes over Callow, the people live. But If the drow get loose in Callow, they’ll kill everyone from great nobles to subsistence farmers. Even Akua wanted to leave some people alive to pay her tribute, while the drow would be quite happy to murder every single Callowan to harvest their knowledge.

    This has gone from being a bad idea because the drow aren’t strong enough to help to a terrible idea because the drow will level up by murdering half of Calernia.


  17. DarkDweller

    The whole twilight sages thing makes me think that the night started as a way to keep knowledge immortal. After all, they ‘considered death the only sin’. Then the Sve co-opted it in order to increase her power, and turned it into a magical pyramid scheme with her at the top. Probably drained the night from other twilight sages as an opeining gambit so none could possibly oppose her, then spread a doctrine that justified her actions.


  18. Isa Lumitus

    You know, reading Forgotten Realms and Warhammer books taught me to really hate dark elves. It always seemed like their civilizations should have descended into… Pretty much exactly what you have just described for the Drow. So I’m liking the deconstruction.


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