Chapter 56: Knock Knock

“Best not to think too deeply, lest the dwarves take the thought.”
– Mercantian saying

The Mighty Kodrog had been granted a blanket to wear as a makeshift skirt, because I was a merciful captor, but that failed to detract from the fact that it still looked mostly dead. It’d tried to get up, after waking, but the old Foundling response of unpleasant-smile-and-knife-to-the-throat had put an end to that real quick. Ivah had joined us without even need for summons, and spent the last few moments conversing in Crepuscular with our latest addition.

“It is done, Queen,” the drow said.

Informing it that ‘Lately Queen’ wasn’t actually my title had ended the misunderstanding, though not soon enough Indrani hadn’t made it part of her vocabulary.

“It’s willing to share all it knows?” I asked, not hiding my surprise.

“That was not what we conversed of,” Ivah said, silver eyes blinking. “It is now agreed upon that the Mighty Kodrog is no longer so. It is named Bogdan, ispe of the lowest rung. The Kodrog are no more.”

Wait, had they really been talking about this the entire time? Gods, they quibbled about this stuff even more than Praesi did.

“Ispe,” I repeated slowly. “Is that higher or lower than rylleh?”

“Lowest of the Mighty, Queen,” Ivah said.

Well, the silver in its eyes was full but it was admittedly quite dull. I’d have to remember the terms, or see about getting a more comprehensive list at some point. Feeling my way up the Everdark’s ladder one corpse at a time might take a while.

“Fine,” I said. “Then ask our friend Bogdan about the dwarves. What does he know?”

Ivah spoke to the other in that strange, fluid tongue of theirs. It was hard to read tone in Crepuscular – I suspected even loud imprecations would just roll off the tongue like honey – but Bogdan’s body language was less difficult to get a feel of. It looked wary, but also less than worried. Was it under the impression it could kill us all and escape if it wanted to? My knife was no longer at its throat, but I could bury a few inches of steel into its throat before it blinked. I’d gotten used to my reputation helping things along, I mused, but it didn’t mean much down here.

“Bogdan requires the clothes of another and its pick of weapons before entertaining such exchange,” Ivah finally translated.

I eyed the Mighty Bogdan skeptically. It was kind of impressive it could look this self-assured a full step into the grave, but my patience had limits. I flicked a glance at Ivah.

“Ask it if it enjoys having all ten fingers,” I calmly said. “And remind it doesn’t need any of those to answer my questions.”

The drow slowly nodded, and passed that along. Bodgan’s lips quirked at an angle impossible in a human, as if its cheeks muscles were entirely different from ours. It replied softly.

“Bogdan says all you attempt to inflict to them will be returned tenfold,” Ivah said.

“Will it now?” I mused.

It was quicker than I’d thought. Bogdan had seen me set my knife back into Pickler’s clever little contraption, and it reached directly for the hidden sheath. It was not quite quick enough I didn’t catch its wrist, though, and it was all downhill from there. There was no need for a brawl: I just squeezed and the bones broke. The drow paled in pain and tried to roll away, but I put a thumb on its collarbone and pressed. The sickening crack that followed was almost drowned out by its scream. Almost. I dropped it back onto the ground.

“Ivah,” I mildly said. “Inform Bogdan that if I actually exerted myself, I could punch through its ribcage and spine without so much as scuffing my knuckles. Once that’s been established, tell our friend it has ten heartbeats to give me a reason not to do that. I’ll begin the count the moment you’re done translating.”

My guide flinched and hurriedly spoke.

“One,” I said.

Bogdan, eyes clouded with pain, looked at Ivah and then back to me.

“Two,” I said.

Ah, fear. There was a familiar scent. The drow spoke urgently at my translator.

“Bogdan is now willing to speak,” Ivah drily said.

“Its wisdom truly has no bounds,” I replied just as drily. “Ask about the dwarves.”

Back and forth they went, my guide going through what I presumed from the length to be a comprehensive gauntlet of questions. Ivah suddenly looked surprised, then spat to the side. It turned a trouble look towards me.

“None who were Kodrog remain,” it said. “The nerezim were many, and armed for war. They moved with slaughter for their purpose.”

“How many?” I asked. “Hundreds, thousands?”

“Bogdan knows not the whole number,” Ivah said. “Yet more than five thousand struck those who were Kodrog, and before that ruin came there was word that the Solya and the Mogrel were struck.”

My eyes narrowed.

“In sequence?” I said. “Or simultaneously?”

Ivah questioned the prisoner, receiving one word for answer.

“Same time,” it replied.

“Those two names you said were sigils as well?” I said.

“That is so,” Ivah agreed.

“Stronger or weaker than the Kodrog?”

My translator shrugged.

“Not much weaker or stronger,” it said. “The outer rings do not often spawn greatness.”

Assuming the dwarves had used the same amount of soldiers for each sigil, and that the force that’d hit the Kodrog was not the same as either of the other two, that meant around fifteen thousand dwarves. Shit. Archer was right, that didn’t sound like an expedition gone through the Gloom to empty a few mine shafts of precious metals and gems.

“Does it know why the dwarves came?” I frowned.

“The nerezim do not give reason,” Ivah delicately said. “Snake does not reason with mouse.”

I sighed. Yeah, a monologue neatly informing me of why there was a dwarven army marching into the depths of the Everdark had been a little too much to hope for. Still, they could have dropped a smug yet cryptic hint at least. Was that really too much to ask for?

“Does it know where they were headed, at least?” I said.

Back and forth, one that lasted longer than I’d anticipated. Bogdan might actually be of some real use then.

“Before Mighty Kodrog fled,” Ivah said, “it found that the nerezim were headed north. And while in flight, found tracks of others that did the same.”

“Towards the cities,” I said. “And the inner ring.”

My translator nodded silently. I drummed my fingers against my tigh. It could be what they were after was in a ruined city, or even the inner ring, and that was why they’d come with such a large host. The opposition would be stronger and entrenched, further in. But what could possibly be worth enough that sending at least fifteen thousand soldiers into this mess became warranted? That was too large an army for simple wealth, even if there was an old treasury buried somewhere. Artefacts, maybe? It was an open secret that dwarves stole those, let a few decades pass and traded them back to the surface as ‘wonders of dwarven blacksmithing’ after having slapped a fresh coat of paint over them. Still, fielding an army this side wasn’t cheap. I knew that painfully well. It would have to be a massively useful or precious artefact. Not impossible, and it might even be that the pit of snakes that was drow society had regressed enough it no longer knew how to use said artefact – which would make it even more tempting a prize.

That was worrying. Anything worth sending an army for would be dangerous even in the hands of a bumbler, and the dwarves were hardly that.

“Ivah,” I said. “Do you know of anything important close to the north? Old ruins, or a holy site?”

“The closest city is Great Lotow,” the drow replied. “Beyond it the Hallian ways lead to Great Strycht and Great Mokosh.”

That gave me nothing. I knew one of those names, from – wait, Mokosh?

“Great Mokosh,” I said quietly. “That’s where you got your feathers, isn’t it?”

“That is so,” Ivah said.

“And you mentioned the sigil there was granted by the Sve of Night itself,” I slowly continued. “Is there a passage between it and Holy Tvarigu?”

“It is rumoured,” my guide admitted. “Yet none but the Sukkla know for certain, and they speak not of this.”

I might be going too deep with this one, since I doubted even fifteen thousand dwarves would be able to get to the Priestess of Night, much less killer. But there was a simpler explanation. Ivah had implied, when we’d spoken of it, that dwarven incursions were infrequent and tended to keep to the outskirts. Odds were that the method to pierce through the Gloom either required time to take place, or a non-negligible amount of resources to implement. Maybe it was wasn’t an artefact they were after. How much easier for the Kingdom Under would it be to take regulars bites out of the drow, if they had enough feathers to equip an entire army?

“How many feathers are there in Mokosh?” I said. “Is the number a secret?”

Ivah shook its head.

“It is holy duty, known to all,” it said. “At all times a thousand coats must exist, every one taken to the Burning Lands replaced. Never more or less.”

I frowned. Well, a thousand wasn’t nothing. And they could use them repeatedly, or try to make artefacts of their own that replicated the effect. But my theory had taken a blow there, no two ways about it. It could be a long-term investment, I told myself. Or I could be missing key information.

“Does our friend Bogdan have anything else to say?” I finally asked.

Ivah asked, and there was a quick exchange. My translator came out of it looking conflicted, and smelling slightly of fear.

“Mighty Bogdan offers to serve as your guide in my place, after harvesting the Night from my corpse,” it said.

“How kind of it,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “There’s no need to be afraid, Ivah. We made a deal and I intend to uphold it.”

“Your kindness is great,” it replied, bowing its head.

The fear was not wafting as strong, though it’d not disappeared entirely. Drow had trust issues that would make even Praesi raise an eyebrow. I rose to my feet, dusted off my shoulders. I’d come out of this with more questions than answers, but at least there’d been measurable progress. Hopefully Indrani would find something shedding light on this mess, though I wouldn’t count on it. It seemed likely we’d have to head deeper into the tunnels blind to the designs at play. The dwarves would likely clear the way, which was a mixed blessing. It’d limit the fighting, but I couldn’t ally with corpses. It was starting to look like my best bet was to head to Tvarigu, where the Priestess of Night would be waiting. If I could have stolen an army’s worth of drow without ever shaking hands with that particular devil I would have preferred it, but choices were running even thinner than usual.

“Inform Bogdan it is to behave itself,” I told Ivah. “If not, I have no qualms in doling out discipline as harsh as the situation requires. Diabolist will have a look at the broken bones, but I’m not inclined to offer too much comfort after that little interlude of ours.”

The drow bowed once more, and I left it to speak with the creature that had once been Mighty Kodrog. Gods, so many names and changing too quickly. That was going to be a pain to commit to memory. I’d have to go through Archer’s stuff and see if she had parchment and ink, it might help to make a bloody list. I had the time to kill anyway, we weren’t going anywhere until she returned. Two hour later, she did. To my surprise, she emerged from the same passage that had first led us into this cavern.

The surprises that followed were a lot less pleasant.

Archer looked exhausted, more than I ever remembered seeing her. She claimed a waterskin after dropping down on a vaguely flat stone, another surprising turn. She’d yet to run out of booze, after all. Scarf hanging loosely around her neck, she dropped her sweat-soaked leather coat to the side and fanned herself vigorously enough she could only be making the heat worse.

“Had to run,” she got out.

I blinked in surprise. The tunnels had so far varied between cool and outright cold. It’d take quite a bit to get her this sweaty.

“How long have you been running?” I said.

“At least an hour,” she grunted. “And we’ll need to get a move on too.”

“You found something,” Akua said.

“There’s that famous Sahelian cleverness,” Indrani replied. “Sharp eyes you got there. Or, well, soul bits that look like them. I’m still unclear on the fundamentals of what you are, Wasteland Waste.”

“Even Masego was pretty vague,” I said. “You sound like an hourglass just got flipped, Indrani. What did you find?”

She ceased drinking just long enough to pour the liquid all over head sweat-drenched hair, sighing in pleasure.

“Right,” she said, wiping her eyes clear, “So I’ve got good news and bad news.”

“Let’s start with the good news, for once,” I tried.

“The good news is that there’s only one bit of bad news,” she replied with a winning smile.

Akua closed her eyes, looking physically pained.

“I cannot believe I fell for that,” she muttered.

“What’s the bad news, Archer?” I sighed.

“I went looking for the dwarves ahead,” she said. “Didn’t run into them, but I found clearer tracks in one of the taverns. It’s not hundreds, Cat, I’d say they’re numbering between four and five thousand.”

“Our friend from earlier said as much,” I told her. “And mentioned than another two sigils got hit around the same time. I’m considering them a conservative fifteen, at the moment.”

“Shit,” Indrani said, scattering her wet hair. “Yeah, that makes sense considering what I found. So the thing was, I came across a tunnel going back towards the Gloom and it had a fresh trail on it. Oil spill, still wet.”

“So you followed it,” I said. “You came back same way we came in.”

“That wasn’t where the tunnel led,” she grimly replied. “Went straight through another slaughterhouse, only this one had been cleaned up. Neat piles of dead to the sides. Couldn’t figure out why until I went back all the way to the Gloom.”

“More are crossing,” Diabolist quietly said.

“You might say that,” Indrani grunted. “Interesting aside, if you were wondering how they go through the Gloom? Lamps, ladies. They’re going through in massive caravans carrying hundreds of them, like a giant snake of light. Pretty sure that’s where the oil was from, someone must have spilled some.”

“You got close,” I said, and it wasn’t a question.

“Stone’s throw,” she admitted. “Legged it when they started getting suspicious, but then I came across another crossing.”

My fingers clenched.

“How many?”

“I found six,” Indrani said. “But that was maybe an hour’s length of distance, walking quiet. There could be hundreds for all I know.”

“You think this is an invasion,” I said.

“I think the nice little corpse piles we keep finding were the vanguard’s work,” she said. “And now that a foothold’s been secured, the real army is coming through.”

“And that army’s marching towards us as we speak,” I finished.

Well… fuck seemed to mild a curse, for once. Assuming all three forces I was also assuming were five thousand each had crossed on a single caravan each, just the six Indrani had come across would mean thirty thousand.

“The lamps you saw,” Akua said. “What did the light look like?”

“Not like a candle,” Indrani said. “Sunlight, maybe? Whatever it was it felt warm as the literal Hells and I would know – I’ve visited a few on training trips. Didn’t work every time, though. One of the lamps further in went dark just before I left a place, and what must have been thousands in the distance just… vanished. The dwarves weren’t happy about that.”

I wished I could say I was surprised Ranger had taken her pupils into the Hells just to blood them, but it would have been a lie. She’d done it with Arcadia, after all, and it was about as dangerous a place even when invited.

“A detail of great importance, this,” Diabolist said. “The Gloom seems to have properties related to the night, and so therefore the classical element of the sun would be a natural foe.”

Wait, the godsdamned sun was a – yeah, next time I saw Masego I was definitely asking him for a list.

“This will be the result of an enchantment,” Akua continued. “And if it is meant to last an entire crossing uninterrupted, the materials will have to be symbolically linked to the concept. Brightwood would serve well, but deteriorate too quickly. And is exceedingly rare besides. I would hazard a guess that the frame of the lamps was gold?

“Wow, Akua,” Indrani drawled. “You sure did answer that question no one was asking like a champion. You truly are the bag of uselessness that keeps on giving.”

“No,” I said. “This is actually important, Archer. I know the dwarves are the richest nation on Calernia, but even they have limits on how much gold they can just whip out. You said the other material would deteriorate, Akua. The gold too?”

“More slowly,” she replied. “A few days, if the enchantments were laid very carefully. It should allow for a passage through the Gloom.”

“But not a return trip,” I said.

“Not unless the fuel itself is inherently magical-”

“Which would make this the single most expensive invasion in the history of Calernia,” I noted. “Though it might very well be regardless.”

“-and that would add large costs to an already costly device,” Akua finished, sounding mildly irritated by my interruption. “The lamps would be extremely delicate work, the slightest mistake or corruption making them useless. They would need to be constructed in a specialized workshop, preferably in a magically neutral environment. Neither repairs nor making of fresh replacements should be possible on this side of the Gloom. ”

“Still not seeing why this matters, even if you’re right,” Indrani said, ruffling her scarf.

“Because even lesser artefacts don’t grow on trees,” I said. “Particularly if they need gold to work. They have to have a limited quantity of those to draw from, and you said one of the tunnels went dark anyway. There’s risks of failure too. If it was that easy to mount an invasion they would have done it ages ago. This is a massive investment of resources, probably prepared over decades. They’ll have had to make a choice.”

“A larger number of troops to get across,” Akua said, completing my thought, “or setting aside lamps to maintain supply lines.”

“Keeping the lines open means leaving soldiers behind to guard them,” I said. “Who need rations too, and the broader the area to guard the more mouths there’d be to feed and the more soldiers taken from the main force. And let’s assume the crossing fails… one time out of ten, which seems on the low end to me. The price escalates the longer they keep at this. It’d be more practical so send one large army through with their own supplies, then let them live off the land until they got what they came for.”

“They sent the vanguard to clear the way, so the larger army can advance without wasting time on petty skirmishes,” Indrani guessed.

“The sigils of the region were exterminated quite thoroughly,” Diabolist noted. “Suppressing word of the invasion was likely an objective as well. It would allow the dwarves to penetrate deep into the Everdark before organized resistance is mounted.”

“This is going to be a shitshow,” Archer grimaced. “Living off the land here? There’s barely enough for the drow to live on. Even if they manage to keep the ranks fed while they fight out there, they’ll have to march back through a place they stripped clean then risk the crossings again.”

“Did you see any of them carrying unlit lamps across?” Akua softly asked.

Indrani’s eyes narrowed. She shook her head. My fingers clenched.

“They don’t intend to leave,” I said, voicing everyone’s thoughts. “The army’s here to destroy whatever causes the Gloom, and then the rest of the Kingdom Under comes through to take the Everdark.”

And there we were, between the vanguard and the army. Well, I’d come here expecting a magical journey and I had certainly gotten one.

Curses were magic too.

133 thoughts on “Chapter 56: Knock Knock

    1. Someguy

      Actually, this bodes well for Cat. This is an expensive invasion force with limited supplies. If she does this right and fuck up the Dwarven lamps without being found or recognised, the Dwarven invasion will collapse on itself.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. GuidingMoonlight

        Dwarves will find out anyway, because Cat is not and never was stealthy. They almost noticed Archer. Drow are not worth the risk of pissing off OP neutrals. And they are committed to genocide of drow.

        Why is she still there? Oh right because now dwarven army blocks her way out.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Dainpdf

          “Neutral” is debatable. I give 1:3 odds that as soon as the dwarves are done here they spill out onto the surface to create mining outposts.
          Unless, of course, the sunlight harms them somehow.


            1. stevenneiman

              Elves aren’t neutral, they’re Good. Ironically they’re so extremist in being Good that it almost looks like neutrality though. Their thing is that they rarely venture out of the Golden Bloom and kill anyone who ventures in except for heroes and other elves. Dwarves I’m pretty sure are neutral, in the sense of being equally willing to screw over anyone to turn a profit. The mystery here is just why they think that invading the drow is a worthwhile venture.


      2. Hardric62

        Forget the invasion, the Dwarves as a whole will be severely crippled if things go belly up here, considering how much resources this invasion must need. The smug asstards could be looking at a lot of trouble and the beginning of the end if that happens…

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Dylan Tullos


      There’s nothing in the drow lands that could justify this kind of expense. Raids are one thing; this kind of invasion is simply impractical, given the vast costs of crossing the Gloom.

      My personal theory is that this is Bard’s move. I just don’t see why she would have prepared a move like this decades in advance, especially since the drow are a failed Evil state that never seriously threatens the surface.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. JJR

        Nothing material sure.

        But there is a matter of Dwarven pride. All land untouched by the sun is Dwarven by natural right. If there are some, Goblins, Drow, who think otherwise; they need to be shown the mortality of their bodies.

        That being said, I wonder what the chances are that the Dwarves end up digging too deep and releasing some hidden fun stuff.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Dylan Tullos


          I like your description of Dwarven Manifest Destiny.

          However, the dwarves drove the goblins to the surface thousands of years ago. Even if the ancient drow were too powerful and dangerous for the dwarves, their civilization has been in ruins for millennia; this kind of invasion has been possible for a very long time.

          Why wait and do it now?

          Liked by 8 people

          1. Dainpdf

            Maybe it has been prohibitively expensive up until now, or the political situation back home was just right…
            But let’s be real: it’s the narrative and/or the Bard fucking with Cat.

            Liked by 6 people

          2. Flameburst

            Change in leadership most likely. Didn’t someone hint at a dwarven civil war in an interlude? My guess would be the dwarves made an uneasy peace with the fact they couldn’t get to the drow for millennia until either a militant faction gained power or a war was needed to distract from civil unrest

            Liked by 2 people

          3. Metalshop

            Here’s my theory: Population. The dwarves aren’t invading for anything in the Everdark. They’re invading /for/ the Everdark and they’re doing it because they’ve run out of space at home.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. bakkasama

              My theory is that some random drow killed some dwarves a few decades ago and harvested Night from the corpse. Given that Night also passes knowledge, dwarves are exterminating them so there is no other nation with their tech.


              1. stevenneiman

                I don’t think the dwarves are technologically advanced enough to worry about that. From the sounds of it they had some cool tricks up their sleeves and superior smithing techniques they don’t share, but nothing that would be worth *this* kind of endeavor to suppress. Certainly not when they could just tell the city housing the knowledge-bearer that if it isn’t turned over alive and restrained they’ll wipe out the city. Also, I don’t think drow can harvest Night from things that don’t have it, it’s just that Night seems to grow when anything is killed by its servants.
                You might be getting the dwarves confused with the gnomes, which sound like they have outright sci-fi tech and are responsible for the permanent dark ages in Calernia. The exact relationship of superpowers is unclear, but I’m pretty sure even the dwarves don’t want to get a red letter, which starkly limits their technological options.


        2. Rook

          There’s no way this is just out of pride. It’s too large an investment and too high a risk. Why would dwarves risk thousands of precious dwarven lives, decades of work, and a metric ton of gold to exterminate the equivalent of silver rats scuttling around in magic rat tunnels?

          There is something extremely dangerous or extremely valuable at the heart of the Everdark. Or both. I’d bet bags of gems to Proceran promises on it.

          Not to mention, the practical logic barely matters. It’s an ancient mysterious realm containing an ancient mysterious race living in an ancient mysterious ruin of an ancient mysterious civilization. The narrative chances of a ridiculous secret not being hidden in there are as high as the chances of a hundred-step scheme going exactly as planned.

          Liked by 10 people

          1. Dylan Tullos


            Dwarves are undeniably evil racists who view every other species on Calernia as inferiors to be exploited or vermin to be exterminated. Remember, only dwarves can own property, because only dwarves are people!

            However, their power means that all of the people who despise them (which is everyone) are very careful not to do anything to offend them. If Cat antagonizes the dwarves, they could destroy every city in Callow. Any solution she finds has to avoid direct conflict with the most powerful nation on the continent.

            Wait, did I just say that Cat has to find a solution that avoids direct conflict? When has that ever worked for her?

            Liked by 1 person

        3. DHDragon

          More to the point. We already know that Dwarves don’t believe non-Dwarves are even people. This isn’t an invasion to them. This is a spring-cleaning long overdue.


    3. Cicero

      Actually this is an opportunity to recruit Drow.

      The pitch writes itself:

      “Hey, the merciless Dwarves have decided to exterminate you. You have no chance to survive against them. Swear yourselves to me though, and I will help you escape and give you a new place to live.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. SilentWatcher

        Or cat earns their loyalty by crushing them, or disabling their lamps and gets the rest of the drow kingdom. how does this saying go again? the oriole stalking the cicada doesnt see the mantis?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Unholier than thou

          That would make the dwarves her enemy, and because of some story shenanigans the elves would also take part. In the end, becoming the new battle of the five armies.


    4. stevenneiman

      I don’t see why. She’s in the market for expendable troops and laborers, and they’re very soon going to be in the market for a place they can stay where it’s possible that some of them might survive.


  1. danh3107

    Far over the Misty Mountains cold
    To dungeons deep and caverns old
    We must away, ere break of day
    To seek our pale enchanted gold.

    The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
    While hammers fell like ringing bells
    In places deep, where dark things sleep,
    In hollow halls beneath the fells.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yotz

      Hammers will fall on Elves under the sky,
      Crossbows will scythe Drow in their halls of old,
      Humans will tremble, doomed to die,
      For the glory of People – so it’s foretold
      In the lands of Under where the Kingdom lie.

      One salvo to beat them all, one salvo to flush them,
      One salvo to bring them down, and in the darkness crush them;
      In the lands of People where the Kingdom lie.

      Liked by 10 people

  2. Jane

    Well. At least this provides good leverage for Cat for negotiations.

    “Hey, the dwarves took your homeland, why not set yourself up on the outskirts of Praes instead? I can portal you there!”.

    …Though, somehow this seems more likely to end in a conflict with the dwarves to me, however little Cat wants to get herself entangled with such a thing. At least it won’t be likely that the dwarven army can get word of her involvement back to the other dwarves?


    1. Decius

      The dwarves are satisfied with forcing the elves to live on the surface. If Cat can evacuate them without the dwarves fighting, that reduces the amount of damage done to the dwarves’ weapons. Everyone wins.


    1. Rook

      The stories are going to tell of the mighty Black Queen single-handedly crushing the armies of the Kingdom Under beneath her boot

      The reality will be a shitshow where she mangles herself in the usual fashion, before accidentally finding a way to trigger a magic cave-in on them. Rocks fall, everyone dies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. haihappen

        She reaches the Sve, who knows the Drow are in great peril, and seeks to save her people. Or at least survive to have vengeance later.
        For this purpose, she Allies herself to Cat. And how are high-level political alliances made? Marriage, of course? Or the Drow equivalent.

        And so the Queen of Winter together with her wife, the First Priestess of Moonless Night lead the exodus of the Drow people into the Burning Lands. While swearing Vengeance in black blood.

        Chances of this happening are zero, of course, for an uncountable number of reasons. But this would be very traditional, in epic fantasy terms. And just a little bit Anime…

        Liked by 4 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          From the Drow perspective: “Person who I will stab last, given no opportunities come up first.”

          The Goblins and Drow should really just get along… (You know, stab each other less often.)


  3. Scholar of Time

    So, calling it now…. Dead King waging a war on the Kingdom Under through an opening located in their kingdom to one of the hells, pushing them to take the Everdark. Sounds like a fine way of removing two players off the underside of an already full board.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Yotz

          Well, since official stance of the Administratum is to deny any rumours about existence of certain strain of abhumans, that particular interpretation of “squatting” is indeed the only one approved by Ordo Lexicanum.

          Thought of the day: Digganobz.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    I guess Black wasn’t kidding when he said the Dwarves were in an expansion phase.

    Which makes me question if Black knew, which I do not totally discount because it is Black…

    Liked by 6 people

      1. haihappen

        Interlude coming up with Scribe bringing Black a report from said agents, giving the reader a hint on what is going on with the Kingdom Under.

        My metaphorical money is on coordinated Expansion and planned genocide. With the added bonus of getting all those fancy Drow relics that supposedly exist (I mean, there have to be relics of the once mighty Drow Empire?)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yotz

    Golden lamps nothing.
    Just wait until Kingdom Under rolls out semiautomatic crossbows with bolts made from depleted caelium – a byproduct of corpuscular munitions manufacture.
    Also, subterrines with corpuscular furnace engines – but we won’t see that until later.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sylwoos

      I just thought of something. Are the Dwarf safe from Gnome intervention because they can’t scry underground, nor use their flying ship? Those sneaky bastard remained underground to develop their technologies without retaliation, and that’s why they are now the greatest force of the continent. Probably booted the Goblin to the surface to prevent them to do the same.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yotz

        Not an impossible scenario. “Can’t scry” option seems more plausible, though – unless gnomish ethics did not allow them to bomb through innocent surface population, used by the Dwarves as a living shield. I mean, given the “flying ships” thing, I wouldn’t put fuel-air charges and bunker-busters beyond Gnomes. It somewhat hard to develop technologies when everything connected to the surface by even the tiniest air channels will be immediately saturated with compressed sunshine in aerosol form, and everything not connected would be subjected to constant seismic bombardment until it becomes connected.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Gunslinger

    I wonder why the dwarves would need to invade the everdark. Resources? My first guess was they they’ve been routed from their own place by another enemy but who would be powerful enough to do that?

    This book has been giving us a splendid look into some of the other races in Calernia but I wonder how they would fit in the broader plot. Drow are unreliable allies and the Dwarves are unreasonable enemies.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, it has been established that they are obsessed with owning all of underground Calernia, much like the gnomes are with technological supremacy.


      1. BryceWilliam

        the Gnomes are pretty much just a tool that above and below agreed to both use. The gods, for some reason, don’t want people to advance to far tech wise.


    2. Yotz

      Probably living space and excess of dwarfpower.
      Also, it seems that from their point of view that’s not an invasion. Merely pest control.
      As for who could potentially chase Dwarves out of their ancestral lands… Well, let’s say – children of Shudde M’ell are plentiful indeed.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Cicero

      I think it pretty clear that the dwarves are not being pushed into this invasion by someone invading them.

      This is not a hasty invasion force being driven by necessity. This is a well planned invasion with decades of preparation according to Auka’s assessment of their magical devices.

      This is something that was planned prior to Cat becoming the Squire.

      My best guess is that it has to do with internal dwarven politics. Someone came to power and has taken up the cause of claiming the entirety of the underground for the dwarven race.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. Unholier than thou

      The elves would be powerful enough for that, even if it’s just the Golden Bloom ones. And in a lot of stories elves are generally against dwarves.


      1. I’d assumed that they are isolationist like elves. I’d wager top three goes like this in terms of sheer power: KU, DK (very near), Gigates/Golden Bloom (share a spot).


        1. IDKWhoitis

          If this is true (and it seems pretty reasonable to assume so), then none of the major power blocks are part of the Crusade yet. While Procer may very well have the largest “human” armies in existence, those are mostly peasants running on a very Russian like mentality of “drown them in bodies”. Are the major power blocks isolationist from core values (possible), or are they afraid of something larger and meaner coming down on them? (Like the Gnomes or the Pricks Above and Below?)


    1. Darkening

      Based on Warlock’s perspective fighting the Witch of the Woods, giants are extraordinarily in tune with the world and capable of using massively powerful magics because of it, especially as they get older and accrue more enlightenment or w/e, and I’d imagine they’re physically powerful as well, being giants, but I’d guess they’re not terribly numerous or prolific, which means that while individually incredibly dangerous, they’re manageable in a war scenario, hence, procer invading them that one time.

      The dwarves haven’t demonstrated any machines or guns or anything so far in the series, but it’s entirely possible they have them and just don’t flash them to outsiders, even when they go work as mercs. It has been mentioned that most people that aren’t Praes buy their siege engines from them or just copy their designs, and they’re markedly inferior to the ones the fifteenth is running around with, but that could just be them giving the surface inferior designs. I’d guess the gnomes with magic proof zeppelins going around nuking nations are stronger than the dwarves, but who knows what the dwarves have stashed away. I’m gonna guess there’s a *TON* of dwarves though, since they seem to have territory under basically the entire continent, and even if most of it is just distant outsposts, that’s still a lot of land to occupy. So, even if you didn’t have to worry about them collapsing the ground under your cities, you’d have to worry about fighting a foe that massively outnumbers you.


        1. IDKWhoitis

          When discussing the quality of Dwarves or their mercs this comes up often. I would not be surprised if the Gnomes were just a non-factor to the Dwarves (and vice-versa) since Air Superiority matters Jackshit underground. Even then, to bomb a whole continent seems extremely impractical…

          Liked by 1 person

    2. The Kingdom Under is the dominant power of Calernia, though that’s not really felt on the surface since they have very limited involvement. The Gigantes fall under the ‘don’t poke the bear’ category, but they’re not invincible. Their war with Procer ended in what was essentially a horribly costly draw matched with a political ‘victory’ for the Principate.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. nick012000

    Yeah, this is about what I’d expected. Looks like the dwarves are out to genocide the drow, and it’s going to be Cat who’s going to be able to save them by offering them a home on the surface.


    1. Hinkel

      Is there even a place the drow could live at on the surface? I cannot imagine them basking under the sun, when the gloom and the dark is a part of them.
      Maybe Cat could relocate them to Liesse or her part of Arcadia?


  8. edrey

    well, cat can’t run from the strories that the gods send her way, specialy war related. now she is in a savior story with dwarves weapons and drow’s magic


  9. Dainpdf

    Dammit, now I can’t get “Down Under” out of my head.
    Do you come from the Kingdom Under
    Where Mighty flee and Dwarves plunder
    Can’t you see, can’t you hear their thunder?
    You better run, you better take cover!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Ok, this may be seem unplausible, but what if this invasion is an act of desperation? What if Kingdom Under is somehow fucked and in decline? I doubt that EE is so cliche as to put in a Balrog and Mines of Moria expy, but dwarves sound like a fine businessman to me: they would not go onto such a massive waste of recources, unless they expected a profit bigger than worst possible loses. And what would push them now, after thousands of years? There are two more known player undeground, goblins and DK. Book 3 epilogue told about black and green figures lurking under earth. I assume green are goblins and black are drows.


    1. gloomyMoron

      The goblins were forced closer to the surface ages ago. The only deep dwellers left are Dwarves and Drow. The Dwarves might be moving into their end-game and forcing the Drow above ground now that the Dead King is on the move.


      1. Yeah, except “green figures lurking undeground” is a quote from the visions of Hierarch in the epilogue of the 3rd book. Who are they if not goblins, dwarves in carnaval cloths?


        1. darkening

          I believe it’s a matter of depth. Hell, could even be based on sea level, pretty sure the goblin are tunneled into mountains rather than going down.


        2. Yotz

          …for the sake of Saint Phuk…

          I misread “dwarves in carnaval cloths” as “dwarves in carnal sloths”…

          You know, image of thouse little critters know as Megatherium, who – probably – had mold colonies in their fur giving them distinct greenish tinge, just like their concurrent distant relatives have; combined with “carnal” implications…

          Eh, it’s not like I was going to sleep tonight anyway…


  11. God, now I want to play Dwaf Fortress. I want to see Cat visit great dwarfian capital Boatmurdered where everyone is drunk, mad and also on fire. Something-something she stands up to dwarves, something-something they take her to King Under, something-something they bond over their mutual love to sharp things and cheap wine, something-something Callow is now dwarven protectorate.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Giant sponges, yes – they have no brain, no blood, and no limbs, so it’s nearly impossible to kill them. In fact, prior to DF2014 they were literally invincible. Now they’re merely surprisingly dangerous and hard to kill.


  12. Someguy

    You know how the proper non-toxic method of killing an ant colony is to pour boiling water onto an anthill? Should Cat seriously consider pouring a lake-full of freezing water into the Dwarven tunnels?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yotz

        Here’s the plan.
        Dwarves have a limited supply of lanterns. With high probability nearly all of them would be used to cross the Gloom, with only a small part kept in reserve on the off-chance of the off-chance.
        Now, if someone are to gain control of the source of Gloom, wait until the Dwarven army gathers in one place to commit to all-out assault, and use Source to enshroud that area in Gloom…

        >thousands in the distance just… vanished.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Yotz

            Well, if they get lost for sufficiently long time, they’ll ought to end up dead anyway.
            On the other hand, Ranger was merely thwarted, not “lost until death”.
            On the other other hand – that’s Ranger, by all means not your usual lost one.
            Also in the kit – Peregrine, who can realistically shine his way though the darkness, and the Saint of Swords, who’ll just cut it until it relents.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Yotz

      It was tried, once, by certain city. They dug into the dwarven tunnels and opened the dig into the channel connected to the ocean. Now there is a hole in the ground where the city was, but the Dwarves are still there.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. typos

    “fielding an army this *side* size wasn’t cheap.”
    ” I doubted even fifteen thousand dwarves would be able to get to the Priestess of Night, much less *killer.* kill her. ”
    ““Didn’t run into them, but I found clearer tracks in one of the *taverns.*”should be caverns I think
    “And mentioned *than* that another two sigils got hit around the same time


  14. Anony

    “The dwarves would likely clear the way, which was a mixed blessing. It’d limit the fighting, but I couldn’t ally with corpses.”

    Why not tho? If Akua can casually throw around hordes of undead without even a ritual just by using a bit of winter, why couldn’t she use rituals to raise them an army of undead drow?
    In fact, whether they make an ally here or not, leaving probably at least tens of thousands perfectly serviceable pre-equipped corpses just lying around, seems wasteful.


  15. OMG, I just had a thought, drawing on my expirience with dwarf fortress. Dwarves techincally can dig under ocean, aren’t they? If so, than why do we presume that Kingdom Under is really only under Calernia? It is a world power, after all. And heck, if they can, there is no limit on the amount of recources and space. Ocean cover roughly a lot of Earth’s surface, no reason to think that Creation is much different. And if they are that big and powerful, what would they want from the Everdark?

    The Gloom. It makes perfect sence, I mean, what dwarves need to finalize their domain over all things Under? The way to make undeground literally unenterable. Not just that, pu enough Gloom, and surface nations will have to buy their way to dig even the shallow recources from Kingdom Under. Just imagine, every cave, every mine, every shaft in Calernia and beyond, covered in Gloom. And the only ones who can manufacture “keys”, are dwarves. It worth all those tons of gold and dwarves.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. The guy below mentioned how Cat never even considered allying dwarves and he’s so right! Holy shit, she actually mentioned allying ELVES of all people. Not to mention a Dead King. Yeah, at least sending dwarves an envoy couldn’t go wrong. I wonder now, what if she did send an envoy, and dwarves ask a help in infiltrating drow in order to start negotiations? And well, she is probably genre-savvy enough to actually know about Unspoken Plan Guarantee.

      No, scratch that. The Dead King told her that dwarves are making a bid for drow, and, in concurance with my previous theory, for the Gloom (although I doubt he said exactly what ghey were after, just that they were after something, or rather, giving her reaction, that they wanted something but couldn’t get it.) but he didn’t say that they making the move now. Just something along the lines of “drow have something dwarves want, get it and you’ll have something to negotiate with”. Maybe it’s not Gloom. Bu she said she heard about Mokosh before, so mayhaps it wasn’t from her talks with Ivah.

      But even if that’s true, there’s still something. Why Diabolist didn’t ask about dwarves? She didn’t know Cat’s reasons, that much is obvious, so, why? Is it some winter stuff preventing them from actually thinking about dwarves? That’s ridiculous. And Hakram, Viviene, Mazego, none of them thought about it? Ok, so, may be they all were in cahoots with Cat’s secret plan, but what about Ubua? Although, treating with dwarves may have gone unmentioned for a couple of reasons. First, as Black said, they are in expansion phase, so they a little more dismissive about ground vermin than usual (“They will profiteer through weapon trade, at most.”), second yeah, the whole “all who are not dwarves are no people” take, though that didn’t stop her from considering elves or the drow, thirdly, no real leverage, fourth, including such a major player has consequences. But those are all cases that can be made after the possibility’s brought up. I’m confused.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. mordered

    There might be an opening here for an exodus story. A weakened people about to be slaughtered rescued and offered sanctuary by a foreign savior. There must be precedent for something like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kagelupus

      There is an established narrative here, but it is definitely not Cat being the foreign savior come to lead the Drow to the promised lands.

      Cat joins the war college and butts heads with the Hellhound. By the end of that exchange the Hellhound joins her as Cat’s general.

      Cat goes to Arcadia and butts heads with the Fae. By the end of that exchange the Courts are no more and the former Prince of Nightfall has joined her retinue.

      Cat goes to rule over Callow and butts heads with Diabolist. By the end of that exchange Diabolist has fallen and joins the Woe as the Ghost of Hubris Past.

      Forget about the Dwarven invasion going on right now, that is just there to increase tension and push Cat towards the real story. She is on a narrative path to butt heads with the Sve of Night, and there is one historical outcome of that kind of exchange.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Cat goes to the Gloom to ally the Drows and butts heads with the Dwarfs. By the end the Dwarfs use the revenues of their real estate enterprise in the Gloom to finance Callow’s wars, as a way to end up their part of the deal after Cat’s termination of the Sve. The Drow civilization is the baby Cat had to eat.

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Panic

    So I keep hearing ideas about the Dwarves actively running from something or being invaded themselves and I keep thinking that isn’t that the opposite of what EE wanted them to be like. Didn’t EE want the Kingdom Under and the Dwarves to be at peek Power as opposed to the remnants of a crumbling Empire, besieged on all sides. Personally I call narrative on the whole thing. Dwarves have settled their other affairs and want to finish this phase of expansion by taking out the last underground power that is not them.

    That aside I am a little disappointed that things are once more going to shite for Cat & Co. You can only read so much about Cat getting shat on before you no longer care. Darkness induced audience apathy and all that. It’s why I dropped The Last Angel.

    And I was really looking forward to Cat interacting with the Drow society that fits her so well, with a powerset waiting for her that also would fit oh so well.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. haihappen

      The only difference here is that everything instantly goes to shit instead of the situation first looking good or at least “kind of good”, also, usually Cat or her Minions come up with a plan or a set of plans that first look to go well and then fail and Cat and her crew have to improvise, i.e. stabbing people.

      Here, they do not have a plan, at most the idea of a plan, which consists mainly of “Meet some Drow, stab some of them, ally the others.”
      And of course it goes wrong at the second step, as the Dwarfs smash the Drows before the can stab them…


    1. Yotz

      Offtopic – each time I stumble upon the mention of Mercantis, I can’t but remember of certain inverted mountain. You know, of “we all must profit for peace to last” fame.


    1. Yotz

      Dwarves are known to the surface nations as a single political entity. Whenever they are or are not wasn’t a significant point so far. I’d wager they are – at least in regards to relation with the world: they may maintain a loose confederation of small fiefdoms united as a Kingdom Under, or there may be other Dwarven kingdoms under the other continents/oceans – but they all are either unknown to the surface or act as a single entity against outer forces.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Dylan Tullos

    It turns out that murderhobos are no match for actual soldiers.

    I’m unsure how useful the drow are actually going to be; from what we’ve seen, Malicia’s Legions and Procer’s soldiers could slaughter regular drow with superior discipline and simply pull the Mighty down with pure weight of numbers.

    Also, they’re vicious murderhobos who would kill Callowans as happily as anyone else, and their society is so treacherous that their ruling class refuses to take oaths on principle. Which is honest, I suppose, but they’re honest about being completely unreliable, which is not helpful.


    1. Yotz

      They unquestioningly obey the Sve, though. If Cat manages to extract some form of agreement from her, the Drow will obey her orders.
      Martial prowess is a relative thing though – yes, Drow are basically grinded down to soylent gray, but they are against the Dwarves, of whom is known almost nothing in that regard. All Dwarves that visited surface as mercenaries were, afair, either random glory-seekers or outcasts, not professional soldiers. Also, numbers. Confrontation of five-some thousand elite storm-troopers against few hundreds of nearly powerless malnourished outcasts won’t produce a fair assessment of Drow military power.

      So far, Drow seems to be more of a Night Lords breed as opposed to Ultramarines, though.


  19. gloomyMoron

    Perhaps you should look into reorganizing your posting schedule to give you more time to edit and/or proofread the chapters more. The increase in (understandable but simple) mistakes and confusing/improperly worded paragraphs is really starting to take a toll on my enjoyment of this series. I don’t think I’m alone, but I definitely know I’m in the minority. Maybe take a break, try to get ahead of the curve… or get a trusted friend to proofread for you or… something? Just a suggestion. I’ll probably keep reading either way, but I’ve noticed more mistakes cropping up in the past few uploads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of the Guide, and Web Serials as a whole, is that the are first or second drafts. Sure we could have someone proofread It all, but I personally like the experience of just the very slightly edited story that we get.

      (Also, breaks to any degree except between books tend to be bad for web serials and they will lose quite a few readers)


  20. limlimrevolution

    So here’s a question that I’ve been struggling with for a while with this whole Drow interlude. We had the lovely debate between Akua and Cat last chapter going over all the options available to bolster the armies of Callow and the conclusion is that the Drow are the only feasible choice. Ok, so with that being said, it’s time for an expedition underground to enlist a race that is barely known to the world at large with the vague idea that Cat will be able to bully them into allying with her. Great, it’s a hail mary, but Catherine is pretty good at those by this point.

    But now here’s a massive army of Dwarves. Why is there no inkling of an idea or suggestion of allying with them instead? They weren’t even mentioned in the list of potential allies during the conversation with Akua. I understand that Dwarves are xenophobic and elitist as far as we know from the limited information we have on them from the story, but we also know that there’s precedent for them being mercenaries. Is the issue that Callow doesn’t have enough money to buy the services of the Kingdom Under? If that’s the problem, one possibility is that Cat can offer them the power of portals, which has huge monetary value. I’m sure there are other things that they might also be interested in, but we won’t know unless they ask them.

    I understand that the Dwarves are known to be horrifically good at killing things and that you don’t want to piss them off per Archer, but why does that preclude trying to recruit them? I just don’t know why the immediate assumption by Cat and company is that they are completely screwed by the sudden appearance of this army. They came to the Drow homeland to muster up an army and while they haven’t managed to gather up a Drow fighting force, they now have the opportunity to ally with a Dwarven army that’s arguably better suited to fighting alongside the forces of Callow (better equipped and more disciplined). Sure, they don’t have any plan for recruiting the Dwarves, but it’s not like they really had one with the Drow either.

    Am I missing something?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it is suspicious that allying with them was never mentioned.
      But it is unlikely to happen, for the simple reason that it would remove all the tension from the story. Armies of Dwarves (real armies, not mercenaries outcasts) defending Callow would make everyone (except maybe the Dead King) take a loooong look and then return home. I mean, Refuge is almost untouchable because of its status of quasi protectorate of the Kingdom Under.
      Others rulers also probably already tried to get them in their war hundreds of times too over the years.
      And that’s not even taking into account the Evil/Good battle in which the Dwarves don’t seem very invested. Or are they? We learned from the discussion between the Wandering Bard and the Dead King that there are quite a few events happening behind the scenes. Maybe the Dwarves are actually too busy underground to intervene aboveground and the Drow invasion is merely the tip of the iceberg?
      Or I am wrong and Cat will manage to make a deal with them, but their help will not be substantial enough to remove the tension.


    2. Yotz

      Only one thing – Dwarves are literally impossible to ally with.
      Proper Dwarves, that is.
      Dwarven mercenaries are indeed a thing, but they hold no loyalty to anyone bar the King Under and can be outbought and used against you in the middle of combat – of which we have in-story example. Not to mention that Dwarven units behave in a manner similar to Kender Peacekeeping Corpse – as in “anything that is not nailed down is considered lost by it’s owner and a rightful property of the Dwarf; anything that can be removed from its nails is considered never been nailed down”.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Decius

        I thought the kender peacekeeping corpse was the offering made by an adventuring party to atone for the thefts one of their members attempted during a formal dinner with the royalty.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yotz

          This gesture may be intended so, but it never works. Half of the time such offering ends up with missing corpse, and other half – with corpse and silver spoons vanishing into thin air.


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