Chapter 54: Scavenger

“One hundred and ninety-three: should your nemesis offer you a wager, a truce or delay for the first time always accept it. Villains with a fated heroic match have reached the peak of their power, whereas you and your companions can only grow.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

“That’s a lot of dead bodies,” Indrani noted. “Like, battlefield a lot, not ‘the Woe has a bad day’ a lot.”

I ignored the attempt at humour. In someone else I might have attributed it to needing to cover up shock, but Archer didn’t get those kinds of shivers. The benefits of being raised in a part of the world where every day a single misstep could get you killed by a raging monster-hunting lunatic. It was an uncomfortable truth that’d I’d gotten somewhat used to the sight of corpses as well, though not quite to my companion’s extent. The drow who’d scuttled in behind us had gone still as statues, stricken by either terror or awe. I left them behind and waded into the pool of death. I knelt in lukewarm blood and guts, flipping over the nearest body to have a better look at it.

I immediately withdrew my hand.

“Cat?” Indrani probed, catching up to me.

“There’s still Night in those,” I said.

I knew that because I’d felt the eldritch power react to my own. Not an attack or an attempt to meld, but… almost like the darkness had been licking my hand. Like it recognizes something larger and meaner, and tries to make friends. I shivered, and it’d been a long time since any kind of cold had caused me to do that. The dead drow was badly mangled. The face had been smashed in, skull crushed through the eye socket, but it had an earlier wound. A bloody hole in its chest, near the centre. I stuck my fingers in there again, ignoring the feeling the Night eagerly pressing against Winter, and popped open the ribcage to have a closer look. There was an organ in there that looked somewhat similar to a human heart, though it had way too many veins coming out of it and it stood deeper in the body – almost next to the spine, which at least was easily recognizable in shape. It was more grey than white, though, and oddly granular.

“That’s going to be a pain to wash,” Indrani commented, glancing at my now blood-drenched clothes.

“It was a crossbow bolt that did this,” I said. “Look at the indent. It’s similar to what Legion-issue makes on humans. Didn’t go deep enough, so whoever did this had to finish them up close.”

For all her many flaws, Archer had deep knowledge of the ways of murdering at a distance. When she turned her attention to the wound I was indicating her eyes narrowed.

“That’s a much bigger mark than the crossbows Robber’s minions used would have made,” she said. “Bigger bolt, and much stronger impact. Honestly, it looks like it should have gone straight through.”

Which would require much more force, if the head of the bolt was larger. Whoever had done this they had significantly better crossbows than the Legions of Terror fielded – when it came to the power of a shot, at least. Hard to tell the rate of fire from a single corpse.

“That points a damning finger already,” I said.

The Dread Empire was hardly the only nation that fielded crossbowmen, though they did field the largest amount by a significant margin. I could honestly think of no Calernian power that wouldn’t have crossbows in a field army, save for the Chain of Hunger. But Praes used a goblin crank model that was a significant improvement on what the likes of Procer and the old kingdom used. Better rate of fire, better range, better impact. Whoever had done this used a superior model, and I couldn’t think of any power that could boast of one. Not on the surface, anyway. Indrani leaned forward, jostling the corpse from my grasp, and then leaned back with a frown on her face. She was looking at the eye wound, the one that’d broken the skull.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she said. “Look at the angle. Hammer – and it’s absolutely a hammer that did this – came down all wrong for someone of the same height. That’s dwarf work, unless there’s another bunch of murderous little people running around the region.”

I dropped the dead drow entirely, slowly rising to my feet. For a butcher’s yard, this place smelled nothing like rotting flesh and blood. There was that coppery scent wafting around, but aside from that? Another physical oddity for this already strange race. My gaze swept across the slaughter, looking for the lay of it. Some bodies had obviously been dragged and dropped, but others had been left where they fell and from those I could try to piece together the events that had preceded our arrival.

“First volley hit them by surprise,” Indrani said, come up at my side. “Look at the bodies there. Too many of them are face down, they were shot in the back.”

I followed her pointed finger. The corpses were as she’d said, but that was not what drew my attention. The crossbows would have been fired from a passage leading roughly to my current left, but I could see it winding closer to my back. That should lead to either the Gloom itself or a cavern very close to it. Ivah had said that the dwarves sometimes pierced trough the Gloom, sending an expedition through to mine or claim other sources of wealth.

“Then the second volley went straight into the crowd, right there,” Indrani mused, finger moving towards a handful of dead bodies closer to the centre. “That’s interesting. You’ll know what kind of tactics that is even better than me.”

“Panic,” I said. “They were inciting a panic, so the drow would try to flee instead of fight back. Which means…”

Our two gazes swept towards the right side of the cavern, where the other passage out could be seen. It was broader than the other one, would likely allow for twenty through at a time. The corpses near it were piled almost hip-high, not a single one coming closer than twenty feet of the passage.

“There was another force waiting there,” I said. “So they’re numerous enough to afford splitting up at least, assuming there’s a single dwarven expedition at work here.”

“They did it cold and methodical,” Indrani grunted. “I’d guess they let the panic sink in before moving in the second force, so the drow wouldn’t get desperate too early.”

“It was mean to be a massacre since the beginning,” I softly agreed. “They never intended to leave anyone alive.”

“There’s more. Look around. No structures in here, Cat,” she pointed out. “Nowhere to huddle in, not even the beginnings of a camp site. So why were there at least a thousand drow in the middle of fucking nowhere?”

“You think the dwarves slaughtered the entire tribe,” I said. “Sigil, whatever.”

“Whatever they’re up to, it doesn’t involve leaving survivors,” Indrani shrugged. “This lot didn’t give much a fight, by the looks of it. I’d bet they were bottom feeders who fled another battle and got cleaned up before the dwarves moved on.”

“That’s monstrous,” I said, appalled. “I understand hitting those who can fight back, but civilians? Gods, Archer, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found children in the piles should we look for them.”

“There’s a sense to it,” she replied. “Hard sense, mind you, but still sense. Leave a bunch of Night-bearing corpses behind and the survivors will eat that. Possibly make trouble on the way out. No one can harvest if there’s no one left.”

“Fucking Hells,” I said. “Is there a single place on Creation where we’re not going to find atrocities if we scratch the varnish a bit?”

“This whole fucking place is an atrocity, Cat,” Indrani dismissed. “All the dwarves did was heap another ugly day onto the pile.”

My finger clenched. Her utter lack of sympathy for the drow was not without reason. But there was a difference between holding the responsible to account and shrugging off massacres. I’d wrestled with this before, when I had to make choices about the Empire. How many people in Praes could really be called at fault for the many sins of the High Lords? Farmers and shopkeepers did not get a voice in the run of the world, no matter whose banner they lived under. For every drow calling themselves Mighty and heedlessly partaking in the slaughter, how many thousands were just meat?

“Enough,” I said. “We’ve got too many worries for me to be angry with you.”

The other Named shrugged.

“Sure,” she said. “We might consider this a useful turn, if not a good one. We need to get deeper, right? If we follow in the wake of the dwarves I expect we’ll have an easier way of it than on our own.”

“We don’t know why they’re here,” I reminded her. “Or even were they’re headed.”

Indrani gestured down at the slaughter beneath us.

“That’s not the opening move of someone after a few rubies, Cat,” she said. “They’re leaving no one behind, so it follows they’re gonna be in the Everdark long enough they’re worrying someone might raise a banner here before they return.”

I reluctantly nodded. Not because I agreed following the dwarven expedition was our best bet, but to concede she was right about the logistics. The drow were terrified of the Kingdom Under, evidently with good reason, but this brutal a massacre wasn’t something that would go unanswered. Even a rat bared its fangs when cornered. The entire affair reeked of calculated risk.

“This complicates things,” I finally sighed. “It might be easier to find friends here, if the drow are under attack, but the price…”

“We’re not picking a fight with the Kingdom Under,” Indrani flatly said. “Not even the Lady does that. You kill a single dwarf and they won’t send a complaint, they’ll sink cities underground and slaughter everyone remotely involved. Maybe their relatives just to be sure. It doesn’t matter if by some miracle you manage to beat the army they send, Catherine. They’ll keep sending them, just get across the point that you don’t fuck with the dwarves.”

I glanced at her, surprised. I didn’t disagree with what she’d said – odds were that if the Queen of Callow killed a dwarf then Laure would be a ruin before winter arrived – but I was taken aback by how vehement Archer was being about it. She’d always been, well, fearless. Occasionally to the point of foolishness, though that was not unusual for any of the Woe. Including myself. I’d been under the impression few dwarves ever came to Refuge, even though it probably the surface entity with the closest ties to the Kingdom Under. Save maybe Mercantis, but that was famously strictly business as all the relationships of the City of Bought and Sold tended to be.

“You won’t get an argument from me,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “You got more on your plate, anyway.”

“How’s that?” I frowned.

Archer pointed down at the pond of corpses.

“That’s a lot of Night, Cat,” she said. “Even if they were all nobodies, that’s a great many nobodies. You just going to leave that lying there?”

I’d been trying not to think about that, all the while knowing I would have to soon enough. I wasn’t sure if I could devour the Night myself, but I did have Diabolist with me. If there was anyone would could tutor me in the basics of eldritch cannibalism it was Akua Sahelian. That’d still involve eating power from a source I only poorly understood, unaware of the possible long-term consequences. If Ivah had been upfront about what the Night was, then this could represent an extremely useful addition to my arsenal. I’d been running into old monsters more and more, of late. Older heroes, yes, but there was also the fact that the Dead King would be fielding an entire battalion of the most dangerous Named he’d been able to get his hands on. Having a much shallower bag of tricks than the opposition had cost me, in my last few fights, and I didn’t have the time or the kind of opponents available that’d allow me to play catch up. Drawing on the ancestral knowledge of an entire race would, to be frank, be the perfect solution. That was the most obvious reason not to go through with this.

It was too good a solution, too perfect. Like it’d been handpicked for my problems. Mundane coincidence was not unknown to Creation – the Gods were not behind every stroke of fortune or disaster, even for Named – but this crucial a coincidence? No. It wasn’t happenstance. I would go as far as to say I was inclined to believe this was a bid from Below. Look at what you could get, if you start acting like a proper villain. My last talk with the Dead King had involved a warning about the offers that would come knocking at my door. About the kind of stories that would be offered to me. I had not forgot it, even though it had been the least ominous part of what was spoken.

“No,” I finally said. “I can’t. It’s too useful.”

“Tell me you’re not drinking dead drow juice,” Indrani said. “You don’t know where it’s been, Cat, it could be full of diseases.”

“Not me,” I said, glancing back at the rest of our band.

The drow had gathered themselves while the two of us had been examining the massacre. None of them came within even spitting distance of the corpses, though, and from the looks of it one of them had thrown up against the cavern wall. Diabolist was still with them, though her eyes remained on the bodies. She was too well-taught to let her face betray her deepest thoughts, but the blankness of her expression was a hint in and of itself.

“Shit, you feeding them to Dubious Witch?” Indrani muttered. “Vivi’s going to have a fit when she learns.”

I waded back to dry land, boots trailing blood all over the stone. The drow visibly shrunk on themselves while Akua withdrew her gaze from the massacre’s aftermath to meet my eyes.

“Catherine,” she greeted me. “Have your deliberations come to an end?”

“In a manner of speaking,” I said. “Akua Sahelian, I forbid you to partake in Night.”

Diabolist shivered as my order sunk into the heart of her being, words writ into law. She threw me a reproachful glance, after gathering her bearings.

“I would not have so blundered, dear heart,” she said. “Such power would not come without trappings or demands. I am more discerning in my usurpations.”

“Then this shouldn’t be a problem,” I replied flatly.

She could argue all she wanted that she wouldn’t have done it, it was bad form to give an alcoholic the keys to a liquor shop. Even when they told you they didn’t like the bottles on the shelves.

“As you say,” Diabolist murmured, bowing her head.

I turned to the drow. I’d gotten used to them over our journey, well enough I no longer had trouble telling them apart. Ivah was the only one who talked regularly, even among each other. The former guide shifted uneasily when my gaze came to rest on it.

“Ivah,” I said. “Are you still set on us parting ways?”

Silver eyes narrowed.

“I am reconsidering this matter, Queen,” it said.

“Good,” I smiled. “Then I have a bargain for you. I still need a guide to Holy Tvarigu, or at least someone who can take me to the path that leads there. If you’re willing to be that guide, I can offer safety on the way there.”

I paused, then glanced at the corpses behind me.

“There would be other benefits, were you so inclined,” I added.

The drow’s face creased in thought.

“You would grant me right to harvest all of them?” it probed.

“So long as you can do it in a reasonable amount of time,” I said. “I want to get a move on as soon as possible. I don’t suppose it’s possible to take all of the Night at once?”

“There are rites to do this,” Ivah admitted. “Yet I know them not. It could take more than hours to finish this. The act of harvest is tiring.”

“If I may intervene?” Akua asked.

I nodded at her.

“If simply gathering the Night is the issue,” she said. “I believe we can be of assistance.”

“You can drain all those dry?” I said, jutting a thumb at the dead.

“The power itches to be held,” Diabolist said. “It would not fight us in this.”

“And contamination?” I pressed.

I got the impression the shade had to hold back from rolling her eyes.

“I have struck bargains with demons and devils most ancient,” Akua said. “This is ancient work, to be sure, and strong. It is also incredibly simplistic. I am no green warlock, drunk on the success of binding an imp.”

“Gods, you sound like Masego only two parts more Evil,” I muttered. “Fine, I didn’t mean to impugn your talent at short-sightedly endangering the very fabric of Creation to try winning battles you ended up losing anyway on account of being kind of a fuckup.”

I heard Archer choke behind me.

“That was unnecessary,” Diabolist said, sounding genuinely miffed.

“Don’t know about that,” Indrani mused. “I got a laugh out of it.”

Ivah’s eyes were moving from one of us to the other in sequence as we spoke, face visibly split between fear and befuddlement. I suspected the Mighty weren’t keen on banter with their underlings. What little I knew implied they were pretty direct about having their displeasure felt, though in all fairness that made me the pot mouthing off at their kettle.

“The terms stand, with the addition that we’ll help you gather Night at least this once,” I told the drow.

Ivah did not need to mull over it much longer.

“I would accept your bargain, then,” it said.

I nodded, pleased.

“Give me a moment to phrase the oath,” I said.

“That will not be necessary, Queen,” Ivah said.

My brow rose. Trust already? We’d only struck one bargain, and I’d needed it for urgent purpose. The silver-eyed guide smiled thinly, reading my surprise.

“This will make me drow again,” it said. “Drow neither give nor take oaths.”

“That’s rather inconvenient,” I frankly replied.

Would it try to betray us the moment it had a bit of power under the belt? I wasn’t overly worried about it hurting us, Secrets or no Secrets, but it’d be a pain to have to find another guide so soon after empowering the last one. A closer eye needed to be kept on it, then. I gave Diabolist a meaningful glance, getting the slightest of nods in response.

“Let’s get this done,” I said. “Akua, I’m getting the impression that improvising here would be a bad idea.”

“Your discernment remains impeccable,” Diabolist said, without a hint of irony.

I smothered a grin. The diabolism quip had actually gotten under her skin, which was just delightful.

“If I may?” she said, extending her hand towards me.

I nodded and she made contact with the bare skin of my neck. It felt… like when we’d fought together against the Skein, but softer. Access granted but not power. Her thoughts bloomed right under my fingertips, little whispers of knowledge and intent.

“Extend your will,” she murmured.

I closed my eyes. I could feel the Night wriggling in the bodies. She’d been right to say it was itching to be held: it responded eagerly to even the slightest of approaches. My mind covered the whole of the cavern – close to the perception that emerged when others entered my domain, but somehow incomplete. There was no inherent understanding here. I was blindly groping my way.

“Call it,” Akua said.

To me, I ordered. The Night slithered out of the corpses like a tide of snakes, eating through dead flesh. It hesitated, but I lashed it with my will and called it closer. It became easier the more I exerted myself, as if I’d overcome its hesitation. I spun it into a sphere until it grew larger than a person, then told it to contract. When I opened my eyes, there was only a pinprick of darkness hovering in the air before me.

“Ivah,” I said. “Now.”

The drow approached and bowed towards the Night, beginning cadenced whispers, but they fell away from my ears. I was looking into the small piece of darkness, and seeing beyond it. Through it.

I was not the only one looking.

There was a face, but I could only make out the barest contours because of the eyes: deep and perfect silver, they were glaring harshly in otherwise absolute darkness.

Splendid, a woman’s voice spoke into my ear.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Ah, perhaps not. Merely usurper. What an unusual creature you are.

I could feel her mind scuttling across my own, like a spider on glass. Feeling out the shape of it, tasting the power. It went both ways. Her soul, her mantle was no thick bundle of power. It was an impossibly large web of the thinnest possible strings, spread out so far and wide I could scarcely comprehend it.

“You’re not the Night,” I said. “I can feel you too, Named.”

I sensed you tread the Gloom with stolen feathers. Felt you come to me, purpose on your lips.

“Sve of Night,” I whispered. “I seek audience with you.”

So take it, the woman laughed. What stays your hand?

“You’re under attack,” I said.

All is strife. The Tenets will hold, or they will break. Only the worthy rise.

“Then you’re willing to talk,” I tried. “We need to-”

All paths lead to Tvarigu. I await you beyond the reach of dawn.

Silver light shone, blinding, and for a heartbeat I thought I saw her whole. A colossal silhouette, limbs outstretched and shivering in pain. Then I saw only the cavern and the concerned looks of my companions.

“Fuck,” I said feelingly. “This just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?”

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99 thoughts on “Chapter 54: Scavenger

  1. Yet another monday, everyone! Time to go vote so we can keep the Guide on the top (where it deserves to be) http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Also when I got here (To the website) the chapter wasn’t up! Which is surprised me, and is awesome. (Sad that the chapter wasn’t up, but….) this just goes to show how good Erratic is at getting chapters up on time, that I am caught off guard when they aren’t up, because it so rarely happens. Thank you, Erratic, for all the work you do sharing this amazing story with us, and putting in the effort to publish an *outstanding* three chapters a week, and getting them out almost always on time. It is appreciated, and I am always looking forward to each chapter. Thank you for all you do.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. SpeckofStardust

    “Fine, I didn’t mean to impugn your talent at short-sightedly endangering the very fabric of Creation to try winning battles you ended up losing anyway on account of being kind of a fuckup.” Well… this is fun.

    Liked by 14 people

  3. That’s mildly ominous.

    Cat is not going to be claiming Night here, though she could, because it looks too good and would come with strings attached and lock her into certain stories. That’s irksome.
    I wonder if that would apply to all possibilities of claiming some of the Night or just this specific opportunity laid before her(and thus similarly laid out freebies).

    And, of course, Cat just looked like she was taking to herself because nobody else was aware of Sve of Night’s presence.

    Like

  4. The concerned looks… did Cat accidently take the Night? Did something happen to her, did they see part of the whole of the Sve? So many unanswered questions.
    Kind of sad that Cat did not (willingly) partake of the Night, but she might have? No idea. But it makes sense why she did not, at the very least. Might cause a few too many problems.
    Wednesday will be fun.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. FactualInsanity

      I believe in this case the simple asnwer is the most likely one by far. Her companions merely heard her talk, seemingly to no one.

      What I find more thought-provoking is that the Night seems to be a manifestation of an aspect. Is the Sve a reverse-Ranger? One that grows in power through her minions amassing experience, instead of doing it herself?

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Yotz

      I do believe the concerned looks caused by the fact that she just went on discussion with an imaginary collocutor – from Archer’s and Akua’s pov; and the fact that Sve actually talked to someone – from the Drow. Though, the latter ones probably not so concerned, as more like “eyes popping out in disbelief, awe, and shock”.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Someguy

    I take it that Cultural connotations aside Cat is able to tell Sve of Night is a woman not by “hearing” her voice but by sensing it through her Mantle? If they physically meet she’d be anonymously androgynous like every other Drow?

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    1. Yotz

      Maybe that distinction is largely dependent on the amount of power one has. Meat simply doesn’t have enough to display any signs of gender, or even biological sex. And on the transition from low to Drow they gain enough power to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts – kinda like a form of neoteny.

      In other news, it seems we’ll finally be able to clear that point in regards to Ivah. Who will not be Ivah any longer, I assume…

      Liked by 2 people

          1. That… May be closer to true than I’d like. We are yet to be introduced to hive-mind and I’m pretty sure Chain of Hunger’s not it. What if drow is an artificial attempt to create a hive-mind? They even have genestealers and genderless drones. Between them and Chain of Hunger we have one whole Tyrranid hive.

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          2. Drd

            Well the artificial hive mind thing could possibly explain why the Dwarves treat the Drow with such extreme prejudice… or they could just be bigoted, territorial, elitist, genocidal, psychopaths with small man syndrome. 0_o

            Like

      1. It definitely started out larger than a person. But yeah, I’m going to say that compressing an energy field larger than your head until it becomes a rift in the fabric of reality to an endless abyss and a mad, murderous demigod who stares back at you from within that abyss by no means makes the consumption of said energy field ‘safe’. Not by any stretch of any definition of safe.

        Liked by 10 people

  6. Alivaril

    There’s also the story of someone refusing dark power only to draw on it during a moment of desperation, Cat. That story ends even more poorly then the vaguely-villainous carrion devouring. Eat the baby, Cat.

    “I spun it into a sphere until it grew larger than a person, then told it to contract. When I opened my eyes, there was only a pinprick of darkness hovering in the air before me.”
    C’mon, Cat, this IS an energy field smaller than your head. Take a little bite. You know you want to.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Desperation is a story that has a potentially good ending for heroes fighting a tyrannical despot. For a villain though? Down in the Underdark? No down in the Underdark Desperation only has one ending and it is far, far worse than Gluttony’s.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Death Knight

    “All paths lead to Tvarigu. I await you beyond the reach of dawn.”

    Thematically there is no way the Priestess of Night does not join Cat. She is the Duchess of Moonless Nights after all. A deity in all but Name, and what are the Roles of Priestesses?

    Preaching the tenets of their deity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. GuidingMoonlight

    Cat should stop trying to take moral highground, she lost this privilege like 3-4 books ago.
    Anyway why she still wants this alliance with drow?
    They are not organised.
    They are completely untrustworthy, just because drinking Callowans is always more beneficial for drow than dieing for them.
    They are currently at war with fucking dwarves. This means by making friends with drow, cat willingly puts callow in dwarven shit list.

    Why is she still there?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amoonymous

      Kinda agreeing with this. Drow also don’t take or give oaths, so she can’t even get any oaths to make them trustworthy or not just kill Callowans and siphon them whenever they think they can get away with it.

      Even before this chapter it felt like way too few pros and way too many cons, and this just made it worse.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jane

      Properly speaking, she doesn’t need an alliance, per se. Just give them a reason to attack Procer and/or Praes, and offer a way to make it easy for them. Even if all they accomplish is a distraction, that’s enough to give Callow a bit of breathing room.

      If the Drow are hostile to everyone, just make sure they’re closer to your enemies than they are too you – if they’re not interested in holding territory (and they don’t seem to be), then making sure they’re harassing your enemies is close enough to being a friend. So long as you stay away from them.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yotz

        At it was said once – the enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more. No less.

        …and now I can’t but help to imagine Drow raiding party with stickers “Front toward enemy”…

        Liked by 8 people

      2. Drd

        The Drow would LOVE a chance at praes or procer, but they can’t get there due to being surrounded by the Dead king, ratlings, and psychopathic dwarves, but they STILL occasionally try anyway. All Cat has to do is open a gateway into her enemies back yard and back, I’m sure they’d jump at the chance. Because they do still want to go home with their spoils, they’ll play nice with Cat too.

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    3. Gunslinger

      It seemed like a desperate gambit at best before but hopeless now. I guess she’s hoping that they’d listen to the Sve if she orders them to ally. Though that’s never gonna happen

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    4. RanVor

      No, you got it wrong. You should be asking: with whom should she make an alliance instead? Everyone else is either already hostile or even more dysfunctional, after all.

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      1. GuidingMoonlight

        1) Goblins. Yeas they are treacherous bitches, but Cat has atleast some idea what they want to be able to predict their behavior. Unlike Drow.
        2) Make Winter Court. Its a matter of time anyway. Better now than in Cat yet another “darkest hour”.
        3) Go full Lich King. She has alot of dead bodies. Why not use them. I dont even remember for how long we have been teased with this. Her fae zombies are inteligent and resistant to Heaven usual hard counter.

        3 option from the top of my head. All far less dangerous, much quicker and in direct control by Cat. And i didnt make up any of them. They all were introduced in story at some point but cat doesnt use them because she keeps pussyfoot around some vague defined “Line”

        And dont even start with “it will lock her up in villain story and villains always lose”. This rule ignores Cat and Black for some reason.

        Like

        1. werafdsaew

          With (2) she’ll be bringing new pieces to the board, which allows Above to do the same. At least with the Drows she’s just re-purposing existing pieces.

          Like

        2. Jane

          I think she’s probably going to come to a deal with the Goblins anyway, but they’re not going to be enough to change things directly – they prize their own survival too highly to play a pivotal role in her conflicts. They’re excellent support, but she needs someone who can engage in a more direct fight.

          Building a Court has unknown, permanent effects – it’s true that it could be helpful to her, especially if it allows more people to use gates, but what if it drives her most loyal followers mad? She has a hard time dealing with the principle alienation, and she has quite a strong strength of self; those she bestows a title upon may not be able to deal with it at all.

          The dead might make good cannon fodder and shock troops, but they still need to be armed to be effective, and they have a shortage of money and arms. Raising the dead from a battlefield is one thing, but building an army of dead from scratch involves a different set of economic concerns. Furthermore, Catherine’s undead are “different”, insofar as they retain skills from their life – raising the civilian dead as well as the military might not be as effective as her usual dead soldiers. Also, there’s also a matter of suitable corpses – Black mentioned at the start that the freshly dead made for better undead than older corpses; we don’t know whether digging up old graveyards will yield undead good for more than scaring farmers with. And finally, there’s a real risk that she’s going to have to face some of the Dead King’s undead, as a result of his agreement with Malicia; they might well end up turned against her, in such an instance. It’s not a bad tool in her kit, but it’s questionable as to whether it would be worth more than pursuing an outside alliance.

          There are sound arguments against relying on each plan that don’t involve moral concerns. And besides, none of them are mutually exclusive with the Drow – it sounded like the Goblins know pretty much what they want, and just need Cat to agree to their terms, and she can start handing out titles any time she wishes. The Undead are the only thing that would take her any real amount of time, but raising an army of the dead will be much easier and faster if she has a few battlefields to work with anyway.

          Like

          1. GuidingMoonlight

            “Building a Court has unknown, permanent effects”

            And releasing Drow from contaiment between Dwarves, Elves and Dead King doesn’t? With Court Cat atleast has nope-button, because she is The Queen and can easily take power back.

            “but what if it drives her most loyal followers mad?”

            Than dont use unknown powers on your friends? I think Cat forgot but she has the Gallowborn. Turn them in Immortals and look for side effects. Again, Cat has full control over winter. Its established fact. If you affraid of people going mad, make them take binding oaths before they go mad.

            “but building an army of dead from scratch”

            There were atleast 2 major battles with ten of thousands fully equiped soldiers dead. There was a overhyped crusade but it was pretty forgetable. Damn Demon of Alzheimer.

            “freshly dead made for better undead than older corpses”

            Shouldnt have wasted time on DK nd Drow than.

            “Catherine’s undead are “different”, insofar as they retain skills from their life”

            And resistant to AOE blessings. And become more intelligent with time to the point where a horse can show personality. And animated with winter. And generally all around better.

            “there’s a real risk that she’s going to have to face some of the Dead King’s undead”

            Than dont send them against DK. Its not like she lacks other enemies. And frankly i dont see Cat winning against DK no matter what, so its a mute point anyway.

            “none of them are mutually exclusive with the Drow”

            Everything takes time, and time is limited.
            Goblins can decide to deal with Malicia any moment for what Cat knows.
            Finding volunteers and safe ways to make Court require testing.
            And dead bodies are spoiling like you said.

            Like

            1. Jane

              Whatever ill effects might come from Cat freeing the Drow can be safely presumed to be Somebody Else’s Problem, however, unless she decides to become Dread Empress herself. Unless there’s a realistic chance of some new Drow Empire arising, they’ll just end up a persistent thorn in the side of somebody else – worst case, she might feel a twinge of guilt from time to time when she hears about what they’re doing.

              The results are unpredictable, but outside of the worst case scenarios, the locations of those effects can be predicted fairly well – the Underdark (wholly irrelevant to her, unless it ticks off the dwarves), and the exit point of wherever she unleashes them.

              Regarding Courts, empowering people you don’t trust (presuming that you’re doing so as an experiment to see the results, before killing them to give the title to someone that you do) sounds like a horrible idea to me. I know you said not to bring up Narratives, but… I mean, it’s really obvious how that ends. Setting aside Narrative, though, giving an unknown (but significant) power to someone so that you can observe how they respond to the power doesn’t sound like it will yield good results – unless you hand them over to Masego for an unknown period of time (who has generally been working on equally important matters), you don’t really have the right tools to get good answers out of them, and if something goes wrong, they’ll do a lot of damage before you can properly execute them. And I don’t even know how you could tell what the consequences of expanding Winter’s reach might have on Callow, until it’s too late.

              Regarding the already-existent dead, she had to let them go in order to secure her truce; Procer certainly wasn’t going to treat with her if she’d left them standing, and I doubt they would be reasonable if she asked to keep the bodies.

              Regarding corpse-hunting instead of pursuing potential allies, is there some other great source of freshly dead bodies that I’m unaware of? Outside of a disaster, I don’t imagine there’s more than a few bodies generated in any given Callowan city per-day – certainly not enough to matter for military purposes.

              Regarding the differences between her dead and “standard” undead, what I meant was that, despite their advantages, we don’t know whether their “old life” restricts their capacity for military affairs. A “standard” zombie doesn’t need to think much – it follows the magic in its veins, and attacks a necromancer’s targets according to its programming. If Cat were to make, say, a baker undead – would she still be similarly programmed? Or would she retain knowledge of baking, but not know how to properly shamble and bite, or swing a sword? Furthermore, if they retain elements of their previous personality, would they still march solemnly forward, blue-eyed towards certain death? Or would they begin to express hesitance or cowardice? So far as I recall, everyone she’s previously raised has been a soldier or mage of some sort; raising the civilian dead might not be as effective.

              Regarding the Dead King… Well, then, Cat’s probably already lost. Do you really think that Malicia was so eager to cut a deal with the Dead King and cut Cat out if her deal didn’t involve Cat in some way? A full invasion’s probably off the table, for obvious reasons, but she’s going to find herself in at least a limited conflict with him. I mean, he practically said as much with that whole “Don’t take it personally if we fight” speech.

              Regarding time, Cat’s most pressing issue is the Crusade; the goblins will be used against Malicia, if they play a direct role at all. They can wait a bit longer. Testing the effects of bestowing a title will take longer, but honestly, if she’s going to do it at all, she should just skip the testing – in which case it doesn’t take much time at all. Raising an army of the dead takes time if she wants to establish one before the fighting begins, but I seriously doubt that digging up a few graveyards will be of greater value than opening a second front – the series has suggested in the past that low-quality undead are of little value.

              Like

              1. GuidingMoonlight

                Regarding Drow. Do you think nobody will figure out who let the Drow out? When it’s get out she will be on everyone shit list, so she could kiss goodbye to her dream of peace for callow. If nothing else, i give 75% chance that Dwarves will notice Cat following them.

                Regarding Court. Trust is not a factor, because Cat already heavily relies on people she shouldnt trust: Akua and Larat. And there are still no consequances. Thats why i refuse to accept “Villain story” explanation.
                Why empower people who are not your close friends? Well, you said it yourself, friend or not you cant trust him or her not to go full villain. But you can make them take oaths(like Cat did to herself and Larat) or bind them through power-link(Like Akua). Like that you have loyal winter army and all your friends alive and sane.

                Regarding Dead bodies. Most recent Places in Callow with thousand dead soldiers: Red valley, New Winter-Swamp, Liese, Summerhold. Main goal of dead army is to hold the line and lower the casualties for Legions and Court army. Their main qulities are “hard to incapacitate”, not “highly lethal”
                Consider battle of the camps. Heroes cut through Legioners like butter, So technicaly there is not differents between legioner and living dead when in comes to holding the line against heroes.

                Like

                1. Jane

                  Regarding the Drow, if she uses them against Praes, nobody will care – you can do whatever you want to a Villain. If she uses them against Procer, it will end up overshadowed by the fact that Malicia unleashed the Dead King on them. Besides, she’s already the Arch-Heretic of the East – exactly how much worse can her diplomatic position get, at this point? And it’s true, the dwarves might well notice what she’s done, but what do they care? To them, the Drow appear to be little more than pests, and surface-dwellers aren’t actually considered people.

                  Regarding trust, Akua and Larat are two people – creating a Court involves dozens of people, and would presumably be the heart of her forces. She has heavy leverage over Akua, and makes use of her in a relatively limited capacity; Larat has also been kept relatively peripheral to her plans, despite his power (I’m treating him separately from the Wild Hunt as a whole, to be clear). She can’t keep dozens of powerful people with questionable loyalties under her thumb at all times, and there would be no point in making them and then not relying on their talents; it would be quite different than her arrangement with her current dubious subordinates. Oaths are a potent tool, but the Fae are well-experienced in abusing technicalities and unexpected situations; it’s not a panacea. Besides, this still doesn’t deal with the “What side effects might there be to bringing more Winter into Creation?” issue – there’s no point in winning the wars if it plunges Callow into an eternal winter.

                  Regarding the dead; the Vales are on the wrong side of a landslide, and surrounded by hostile soldiers (admittedly, a good situation for stirring a bit of mischief by ambushing the enemy army, but probably not worth the risk to Cat herself), the Camps likely saw the enemy’s dead taken with them, and her own would have invited unnecessary morale issues, Liesse would be a public relations nightmare (as I think she mentioned, didn’t she?) and are probably too decayed at this point, as are the dead of Summerhold. They’d offer her a tactical advantage, but she needs to be more concerned with her strategic position at the moment – bolstering her troops would help her win a battle, but ensuring that Malicia can’t attack her while she’s otherwise occupied would be of greater significance, as would tying up another Crusading army, depending on circumstances. Besides, she’s unlikely to have to face that many Heroes again during this war – they’ll be tied up fighting the Dead King, and if they’re not attacking in number, she can limit the damage they do to her forces without much trouble.

                  Like

                  1. GuidingMoonlight

                    Drow

                    Siccing Drow on Praes is a disaster. You dont want The Night anywhere near thousands years worth of magic theory especially blood magic and demonology. And Praes is right next to Callow, so in couple of years Cat may end up with much more hardcore version of Wastelanders invading Callow.

                    Siccing Drow on Procer is redundant, because they will be busy being deepthroated by Dead King.

                    Speaking of Dead King, If i understand it right, he bitch slaped Drow hard enough(or frequent enough) that they piss themseves just from a suggestion of fighting him. I dont think they will be very effective agianst him.(To be fair not many factions can beat late game Necropolis with expert Necromancy and Cloak of the Undead King)

                    Sending them after Hierachy is unnecessary antagonistic. They did swear undying love and friendship after all.

                    “And it’s true, the dwarves might well notice what she’s done, but what do they care? To them, the Drow appear to be little more than pests, and surface-dwellers aren’t actually considered people.”

                    That is exactly the kind of thinking that gets your cities burned by dwarves. You dont fuck with dwarves. If in doubt, assume that dwarves would not like it.

                    Court

                    Ok, i think we talking about different things. I am talking about several companies of immortals. Cat doesnt need ruling caste, she needs line troops to share casualties with legions. Immortals are perfect for that role. Hard to put down, resurect, highly lethal, have no personlaity and perfectly loyal based on what we saw. Cat can give Nauk and remaing original Gallowborn some titles if she really needs too(to be fair i hope she does, Nauk and Gallowborn undeservingly fell from spotlight)

                    Undead

                    Cat can teleport – mountains are not an obstacle. if she really needs fresh corpses (and i doubt that) she always can take Wild Hunt and haras Praes. Or just follow Black in Procer for some time.
                    More ruthless option is to let Praes refugees in, wait until they piss off Callowans and murder them all. From what we know of Callowans, they wouldnt complain much about it.(I know she would not do it but option is there)

                    All im saying is, she HAS options. They are not perfect but they are more manageable than Drow IMHO.

                    Like

                    1. Jane

                      Regarding the Drow, I do agree that Praes is the most likely target for them, but I disagree that it is a danger – the Drow were not interested in maintaining a surface kingdom in the past, and do not seem to be interested now. It’s far more likely that they’ll take the knowledge they harvest, and go back beneath their mountain, using their newly-claimed knowledge to gain an advantage over their old rivals. They are an inherently unstable society in their current form – empowering them for a moment doesn’t matter, because they’ll always collapse under the weight of their internal bickering. As for the Dwarves, I just don’t see them caring – they don’t care about the Drow now, unless they’re in the way of a mine, and they don’t care about surfacers. Giving knowledge to the Drow doesn’t matter, because Praes isn’t a threat to the dwarves either – why would pests armed with Praesi knowledge become more than a nuisance? It’s just paranoia to assume that the Dwarves would be deeply offended, based on what we know so far.

                      Regarding Courts, it… Doesn’t really work like that, historically speaking. Whether she uses those she grants titles to as commanders or as an elite company, they’re going to receive a lot of a attention and be granted special privileges, because being strong and very publicly successful tends to be rewarded (usually because things start going pear-shaped quickly, when they aren’t). In creating powerful individuals to throw into the worst of the fighting, they will end up influential, whether they were intended to be or not; they won’t just be cannon fodder. It’s important to keep such figures under tight control, either by strong ties of loyalty (something that Winter inherently erodes), or by some form of coercion (something that gives them incentive to betray you at a key moment, especially given how reliant she would be on such a strong force).

                      Regarding the Undead, I… Guess she could go raiding in Procer for bodies, but I think that would have the same issues that Bonfire did. Killing the refugees would create bodies, but they still need to be armed – even if they’re just fodder, they’re not going to accomplish anything without either swords or strong claws.

                      I agree that she does have other options, but I don’t think you give proper weight to the value of involving an outside force – as it stands, her enemies are able to focus their attention on her, and know that if they kill her, they (functionally) end the war. By introducing the Dead King (had negotiations worked) or the Drow, she presents a threat that won’t go away with her, that will split Malicia’s attention. Furthermore, I believe you exaggerate the dangers of this plan – the Drow are considered irrelevant to society at large for a reason. Assuming Cat doesn’t die down there (and we know she won’t), she’s not risking much.

                      Mostly, though, I objected to you suggesting that her only issues with these plans were moral concerns, when there are practical objections that can be raised.

                      Like

            1. RanVor

              If you can provide examples of situations where ignoring the narrative worked out alright for them, sure. Because I don’t remember any. I do, however, remember plenty of the opposite.

              Like

              1. GuidingMoonlight

                Ok, then.

                Cat, destroy horcrux of your archenemy, or she will come back in most inconvenient time.

                Nope, Akua now helpful loyal servant.

                Black, don’t go alone with your squire in Castle of her archenemy. It’s suicide by narrative.

                Nope, he literally won everything.

                Cat, don’t go after powerboosts. They will betray you in most inconvenient time.

                Nope. She became a half-fae winter queen.

                Black, don’t make plans revolving around single point of failure when fighting heroes. Hero will foil it.

                Nope, dropped a stone on Cavalry charge led by hero while riding a dragon.

                It’s just most recent I remember. All of them were described in story as Bad idea for villains.

                Like

                1. RanVor

                  Example #1: The story is far from over and Akua will have plenty of opportunities to come back in the future, but it’s not completely wrong. I’ll grant you half a point for that.

                  Example #2: Funny that you mention it, I intended to use the exact same situation as a counterpoint because it’s a testament to how good Black is at not ignoring the stories. The Second Liesse was Akua’s story, not his. By expertly manipulating the narrative, he forced the Diabolist into a scenario that just had to backfire on her. By setting up his defeat, he used Akua’s own victory to destroy her.

                  Example #3: Cat didn’t go after power. It was forced upon her. That is a) a completely different story, and b) hell-bent on fucking her over as soon as possible. She knows it and tries not to rely on it unless she has no other choice.

                  Example #4: It has been established that the Heavens can only grant so many auto-wins in a short span of time without giving the Hellgods an opening to exploit. Before going on his little dragon-induced flight, Black has ensured that the Crusaders’ Heroic Victory was wasted on something totally insignificant, again by observing the narrative and planning around it.

                  Your score: 0,5 out of 4 points.

                  Congratulations, the only thing you’ve proved is that you haven’t been paying attention.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. GuidingMoonlight

                    NO, my pride! i am slain! I would never dare to question things you like again!

                    1) We had Akua POW. She genuinely wants to help Cat and sees her as Empress.

                    2) “By expertly manipulating narative” offscreen. He did it offscreen. Akua captured Assassin, because the Narative somehow mistaken Black with Assassin. Black, somehow, walked undetected through Villain Sit of Power. then he, somehow, managed to find and capture protected and prepared VIP who based on Akua POW was most powerful not named mage. And Akua didnt notice him anyway, somehow.
                    How did he do it? Hell if i know, i didnt see it.

                    3) Yeees, because “power granted by eldritch abomintaion” is so much better story… And it fucked her so much that she won Arcadian war by non stop using it. Oh and when Akua caught her by scaffolds around her soul, she used this power to escape not only captivity but the “Knight-Squire” patern. Oh and she also became Queen of winter after that. What a curse.
                    But Cat is responsible Villain and only uses this curse if absolutely necessary, i.e. everytime she needs something.

                    Anyway, Cat wilingly and intentionally went after winter title to get leverage in winter court. Remeber the Duke of Violent Squalls?

                    “To shut down Winter’s invasion of Marchford,” Adjutant said.
                    “Winter can’t invade Marchford if Marchford is part of Winter,” I murmured.

                    4) Oh right, sorry, i misread. I thought Black has always said that “Heavens are dirty cheaters who cheat and the only way to win is by not giving them any openings”. You opened my eyes! now i see that he actually said “When facing a hero/crusade on a break of defeat go for standart villain escape with monologue and imidiately follow it by something even more dramatic. They will never see it coming”.

                    to be fair i liked everything before Dragon. Slow fighting retreat, multiple landslides, Black not involving himself to exclude the Narative etc. If you forget about Augur and dont think about why she didnt predict it all, it was pretty soild strategy.

                    Anyway, how can i cash out my points? every bit helps, you know.

                    Like

  9. Yotz

    …ahem

    Look into the silver eyes –
    In the mist of dark forgotten times.

    Summon up the beast of flame,
    Unchain the warlord, call her name!

    Children of the Night –
    Let her reign and bear your plight!
    And save you from the day
    In which you will be slain!

    The Queen will rule with iron hand,
    Through blood – she’ll repossess the land.

    From the dungeon to the throne –
    From the darkness freedom has been born!

    Children of the Night –
    Let her reign and hear your plight!
    And save you from the day
    In which you will be slain!

    Soldiers of unholy empire,
    Hail the Moonless Night! – the silver eyes foresees end of light.
    Soldiers of unholy empire,
    Hail the Moonless Night! – make the enemy crawl!
    Soldiers of unholy empire,
    Let her rule, the raging one!
    Into dawning Night
    The time of fear will die…

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Rythm is mighty shaken. Is this a poem or a song?

      I kinda made a more consistent verdion, rythm-wise at least, but may be I’m wrong. Hod you sing this?

      Btw, good job as always.

      Like

      1. Yotz

        Also, speaking of something Night-themed, less rhythm-shaken, and more… ahem… “poem“-like – although distinctly less plot related and/or sensical…

        Well, to cut blatant attempts at false modesty short – here’s one more for you.
        …and anyone else who had misfortune to read it, I suppose.

        ‘Tis not the towers – silhouettes of ships:
        Their sails, and flags, and masts with broken tips –
        Dark blots on canvas dark and darker still.
        And yet they brighter than the starry swirl.

        The way is open – empty, save for worry and distrust;
        But sacred golden symbols poxed with scabs of rust,
        And all the dreams and nightmares crumble, turned to dust.

        The world asleep. We stepped on deck of ferry-boat.
        Reigns silence. Ferry heaves and rolls from side to side.
        And like a clap of sudden thunder oar’s gentle slide
        Caressing waves,
        and as if only echo from the depths
        is keeping us afloat.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. An interesting take on providence, Cat. I wonder if there is a similar Hero who avoid free power ups from Fate. I mean, ot’s kinda obvious in hindsight that taking hand-outs from both Above and Below makes you into Stupid X. Would be interesying to see Hero turn down the golden luck so that there would not be any strings attached. Also, kimda wondering something. If help from Above brainwash you, and help from Below zombify you, how are they any different, exactly? There’s a quote from the very first chapter, that some Gods sought to guide, and some to rule. But they both kinda do it. So what if the Side is actually anyone who has anything to do with Narrative, and the other Side is losing their wager badly? Wait, what if there are actually to worlds, one where everything is railroaded by gods, and another where they never intervene? Am I thinking too much? I’m thinking too much…

    By the way, if I understand correctly, the Night is basically Sve’s MANTLE, and I doubt those were chosen randomly (well not doubt, more like hope they’re not). It’s pretty obvious that she’s the one who kickstarted the whole Tenets of the Night thing, so, crazy theory, probably wrong, but it’d be funny if the whole “Tenets” is a socio-cultural experiment powered by Sve. She said so herself, Tenets would hold or they wouldn’t. It’s a hypertrophied Darvin socionomics ad absurdum. She’s a scientist! An evil one, probably.

    Liked by 8 people

      1. IS her mantle actually growing? It seems to me the Drow are failing, they spend all their time killing each other and getting massacred by The Hidden Horror, Emerald Bloom and Dwarves.
        Unless it doesn’t diminish, only grows, it should be getting smaller.

        Like

        1. Darkening

          It seems like anything the drow learns themselves gets added to the Night that they leave behind when they die, as mentioned in Cat’s queries about drow learning blacksmithing or construction and getting killed for the knowledge. So yeah, the Night is constantly growing anytime they learn something for themselves or kill someone from one of the other races to add to it. Unless it disappears after a corpse after a while if it goes unclaimed, I can’t see it diminishing in total, though it might end up spread thin through the hordes of drow. Though I suppose someone could kill a bunch of drow and burn/hide the bodies and maybe prevent the Night from being reclaimed. Which is sorta what the dwarves tried here, though they should blown the cavern or something to make the bodies inaccessible.

          Like

    1. The way I see it, the difference when it comes to the God, is that those Above shut down human growth hard, with morals and religious reasoning as well as handing out crutches instead of real and personal growth or power to heroes.
      Those Below, allow the potential for growth and freedom, but do not actually encourage it. They don’t want mortals to ascend or glimpse beyond the veil or whatever, they just think it should be possible. So they hand out real power and potential but never for free and with downsides that are basically traps.

      Like how heroes are mortal but reviviable, while villains are technically ageless but are cursed with ‘opposition in all things.’

      Neshamah proves its possible to leverage villainous power into true lasting power, its just really really hard on purpose and that’s before the bard intervenes.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I think that the issue with below is that people who were empowered previously “went mad with power” and the freedom it granted. This resulting is “bad” or evil events occurring resulting in the narrative that exists surrounding Evil. Good, representing order and a lack of choice evolved narratively aswell. I try to put aside the concept of “Good” and “Evil” for the purposes of this because in this universe they mean the sides of Order/control and Chaos/free will that the gods above and below represent.

      Like

  11. Snowfire1224

    I remember someone mentioning they thought Cat was being influenced by The Grey Pilgrim’s redemption plot and I think they might be right after reading this chapter. I mean Cat has always had standards– it’s what seperates her from Akua as well as Black– but she’s kind of being ridiculous for being mad at the dwarves for their tactics. I can understand her being mad at Akua for murdering a city, but the Drow are the Drow, they probably stab each other in the backs all the time and think nothing of it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Snowfire1224

        Point taken, but I was trying to say was that she seems to be reacting stronger about it than she usually would, not that she should condone what happened to them.

        Like

  12. 1queenofblades1

    Agreed. But I think on the whole it’s a good thing. Cat has always been about breaking stories; I doubt she’s going to die, if anything in Book 5, if the dwarves are the “final enemy”, she’ll have the Providence of the Heavens and the Powers of the Hell Gods on her side (through Winter)…..provided of course that she hasn’t ascended and become a full-on Goddess herself by then.

    Also; remember how in the “Death to Malicia!” arc, Akua was siphoning off the Principle Alienation from Cat so she could draw on Winter deeply and not start spouting monologues? You’d think Cat would catch on that the larger Winter Court she has, the more she can draw on Winter while the others siphon off and share the Principle Alienation between themselves giving her not just a powerful Inner Circle of….Winter Soldiers (I’m sorry, I had to) but also a way to really cut loose with Winter Power and show Creation why you don’t mess with Catherine Foundling.

    Because the Night is dark and full of terrors

    Like

          1. Darkening

            I suppose there is her whole, “the people are important, not the place/government” thing, which could lead to her evacuating Callow to somewhere not so… strategically inconvenient for them to be at peace. But going to Actual Hell where an ancient evil lich can reshape reality to his whim is not the most comforting alternative.

            Like

            1. Yotz

              That indeed so – but what prevents Cat from aping DK’s achievement and carving a personal piece of Hell for her and her own?
              Though, I should probably use “who” instead of “what”…

              On the other hoof – evacuating Callow…

              “Think of the problems we’ll face if you uproot entire continents,” said Urza. “I have,” replied Teferi, “but the alternative is worse.”

              Like

  13. Novice

    “almost like the darkness had been licking my hand. Like it recognizes something larger and meaner, and tries to make friends.”

    Did…did Cat just compared the murderous, self-destructive, eldritch Night to a puppy? That’s kinda cute?

    Liked by 7 people

  14. Gunslinger

    Well the dwarf are scary. Reminds me of the bondmages. Kill one of them and they’ll come after you with vengeance. This might explain why Black bought out the dwarf mercenaries in the Callowan rebellion rather than fight them

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Cayle

    She makes good points, I’m still disappointed. Noticed everyone’s quoting not consuming Energy fields bigger than their head but forgetting that Catherine’s head is as big or small as she wants it to be.

    Like

  16. Frankly, I’m all for the “nah — I’ll watch what the energy field does to the local, first, thanks” approach. It’s the Evil-Lyn approach to seeing whether others grow tentacles or turn to goop before she tries to eat that energy field herself — after extracting it from their corpses or pain-wracked and very chained-up live selves, of course.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Forgot to include “testing to see if the awesome cosmic power goes to their heads so badly they forget how to toast sandwiches without a multi-step plan involving kidnapping a baby dragon, pillaging a farm and framing the baker to ‘encourage’ the blacksmith to help in reprisal”. Because she never was into the resulting suicide- by-local-heroes consequences of that. ;P

      Liked by 1 person

  17. soma

    I see people complaining about Cat making justifications or caring about things. In my opinion when people are complaining about these things they are confusing wants and desires for justifications, and missing that a truly dangerous villain in many stories cares deeply about things that are reasonable to care about. People follow these types of villains because it is reasonable to follow them, to fight for them, to visit evil upon others on their behalf.

    The Necessary Evil is so dangerous because it is needed by someone. Cat is a necessary evil for Callowans; Callowans would be subjugated by Praes or Procer without her. Her story arc is based on becoming this and using this to force her goals onto others. Look at her starting motivations for joining the legions. She’s become, and will continue to become, a necessary evil for others as well, seeing as that is her modus operandi.

    As for why this isn’t a justification or related to justifying actions, being a necessary evil is how others view her (forced to, or otherwise), not how she’s justifying her actions. She truly has no high and mighty justifications. She simply has something she wants. Callow free, able to a place to foster humanity and compassion, and no longer a killing field where her people bleed for all eternity. Those aren’t justifications, those are goals. She took up evil because she needed to in order to get what she wanted. Want doesn’t justify evil and make it right. Wanting things that could be considered good does not justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands. In some (or all) cases Justice may simply not exists. No scale can ever be righted for the dead.

    The danger of Cat is that what she wants could be considered justifications by some, though she clearly doesn’t see her wants and desires that way, and her goals draw people to her. I think that confuses people because they think the things Cat wants are justifications rather than things Cat wishes to impose on the world. They see the things Cat wants as good and so mistake them for justifications. They ignore the cost of those good things, the horrors visited upon others in pursuit of those things. Basically, the reason Cat is a villain is she can’t justify the cost, doing horrible things to other people, for a hopefully better outcome, but she’s going to do it anyway because she’s damn well going to get what she wants. A hero ignores the cost and says they’re right, good and justified.

    tl;dr Cat is a villain, or evil, in this story framework created by the gods because she’ll do anything, justified or not, to ultimately get what she wants, though her wants are unorthodox for a villain. A hero, in this story, wouldn’t do something they couldn’t justify to themselves or the gods above, though they might take horrendous actions by refusing to truly acknowledge the cost.

    Or, well, that’s like my interpretation for now, man.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Xinci

    A touch saddened by the Gods Below in this scene. They were a bit…disappointing? This is one of the first real mentionings of preparations by them in the story directly(as in planned effect on the story). So to compare the Gods Above monitor the flow through providence, mold and grow the heroes to create greater pawns/pieces to effect various bits of the geography/topography of reality as they see all possible timelines and decisions. As such when they cannot effect a situation they should be winning/attempting to win in some other way. Thus their orderly procession of societies for various roles are/were gradually improving over time, as mentioned by the bard herself on both bits. They improve you if you let them, make you better. Along with her mentioning of how the plan is gradually working.
    Below however manipulate the setting more than the narrative, they are the cause of Praes,The Chain of Hunger,etc. They manipulate through a more Darwinian approach, that which can win through all the various societies and environments they set up is obviously the answer(well possibly that doesn’t feel quite right as a answer sequence). Though that doesnt seem to be a overall answer for that equally a win by their book, because Ranger seems to be used by both sides to test for weakness in various powers and she is highly adaptive. Then again the fact that she can do so through have a Refuge, may point towards Catherines solution, given she needs some kind of force to get her outside the game or at least provide a solution for her people through her actions before her particular game board is flipped.
    Anyway this felt a bit heavy handed for people who could assumably see so far ahead, though maybe Cat was just unexpectedly genre savvy for them this time?

    Like

    1. Unmaker

      I am thinking both sides (Above and Below) are used to dealing with a different type of person. I am sure there are exceptions, but in general, heroes don’t turn down gifts from Above. Villians given a gift from Below will try to improve it, leverage it, bargain to lower the side effects, move the side effects to victims, give the gift to someone they control, etc., but even then they will rarely turn it down. Black is one of the first to flat-out subvert story elements. I suspect both Above and Below have yet to up their general game to his level.

      Liked by 1 person

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