Chapter 57: Betwixt

“Come now, my lords, you started this war knowing what I’m about.”
– Dread Empress Massacre the First

It was too large for a pond but much too small for a lake. A reservoir? Nah, I was pretty sure that implied spadework, which this clearly didn’t have. Pool, maybe. Regardless, it was a source of unsullied freshwater and it’d been almost a day since we’d run into one of those. Tactically redeploying in the opposite direction of an incoming army was thirsty work and the drow weren’t nearly as enduring as the rest of us, so it was probably time for a break. We’d need a bit to refill the skins, anyway, and if there was some kind of edible creature in there it’d be a nice change of pace from our increasingly stale rations. Indrani had taken to pouring brandy on hers, though in all honesty I wasn’t sure whether the taste was the actual reason for that.

“Half hour,” I called out, withdrawing the finger’s I’d been dipping into the waters. “Ivah, tell your fellows they’re responsible for rationing their water as well as filling the skins. They’re not dipping in ours a second time no matter how thirsty they get.”

I could make ice and let it melt into drinking water, sure, but at the moment we were keeping a low profile. I wasn’t sure whether the dwarves had some sort of device that would allow them to sense sorcery, but if they did I was pretty sure using Winter to any great extent would be like lighting a brightstick in a dark room. My mantle could do subtle, theoretically speaking, but it’d never been a specialty of mine and I wasn’t willing to gamble our remaining hidden on it. My guide nodded and addressed the rest of its kind in an even tone. Ever since the former Mighty Kodrog had been disciplined and I’d declined to let anyone harvest its Night and serve as a replacement guide, Ivah had gotten much more self-assured.

Akua had voiced opinion that since it’d functioned as a lieutenant to a violent and unpredictable entity for decades, it was falling back on those habits now that it was under my protection. Bogdan wasn’t too happy about that, but I’d ordered Diabolist to get the broken bones patched up and nothing more. The message had been received, from the way it was now behaving much more carefully. I got up from my crouch and sighed. Our pace was being slowed down by the drow more than I’d like, but there was little I could do about it and leaving them behind wasn’t on the table. If they weren’t in my custody, they’d be in that of the dwarves. Indrani was at my side a heartbeat later, footsteps so soft I’d barely heard them.

“They’re getting near the end of their rope,” she observed. “Might want to give them a full hour instead, stretch out the last gasps.”

“We’re already crawling at a snail’s pace,” I grunted back. “You’ve said it yourself, we’re probably a little more than a day ahead of the dwarven army.”

“Guesswork,” Indrani reminded me.

“Guesswork based on the messengers you’ve seen going back and forth,” I replied. “We’re not swinging in the dark here.”

She opened her mouth, but I raised my hand.

“If what passes your lips is a pun, Archer, I will drown you myself,” I threatened.

There was a pause.

“Fill my skins,” she offered, sounding very casual. “I’ll take a look ahead, see if I can rustle up anything.”

“Ivah says we’re nearing the edge of the outer rings,” I told her. “If the vanguard is going to dig in and wait for reinforcements, it’ll be soon. The odds of running into the army have significantly increased.”

“If they dig in, it’s our opportunity to go around them,” Indrani countered. “Best we know as soon as possible and plan accordingly.”

I mulled over that. She had a point. Half the reason she wanted to go for a wander was likely that she was starting to feel like she had a leash around her neck – I’d asked her to cut back how far she went on her exploratory trips – but she was right on the nose about the vanguard digging in. My bet, at the moment, was that when they got close to the first strong drow position they’d set up and wait for proper assault troops. If we went around them while their eyes were on the local sigil, there were decent odds we could make it through without getting noticed.

“Do it,” I finally said, taking the mostly empty water skin in her hands. “As usual-”

“Tread lightly, steel stays in the sheath,” she finished, rolling her eyes. “At this rate you’re going to get that tattooed on my arse.”

“I assumed something deeply tasteless was already taking up the space,” I replied without missing a beat.

“Hey, my arse is extremely tasteful,” she protested.

“You’re confusing words again,” I airily said. “What you’re looking for is tawdry.”

She flipped me off, I mimed drowning her in the pool and with the traditional rites complete we parted ways. I watched her saunter away, though with the leather coat on there wasn’t much to look at, and absent-mindedly tossed up the skin before snatching it out of the air. The drow were going about their business visibly exhausted, and to my quiet amusement Mighty Bogdan seemed to have no earthly idea how to fill up a skin. I was too entertained by its struggles to seriously consider offering help. Akua was kneeling by the pool as well, though her skin – which she didn’t need, or use – was full. She was staring at the far wall, unmoving. A few steps took me to her side, and in a blatant abused of my queenly prerogatives I threw Archer’s skin at her shoulder.

“There,” I said. “Since you seem in need of something to keep your hands busy.”

The shade picked up the leathery folds between two fingers, somehow managing a full monologue’s worth of disdain without speaking a word.

“It smells like aragh,” she said.

“So does Archer, half the time,” I shrugged. “What deep thoughts did I take you away from, Diabolist?”

“I was pondering,” she said, “the nature of this invasion.”

“The term is usually pretty self-explanatory,” I noted, only half-serious.

“Context, Catherine,” she chided. “This was a significant investment of resources, even for the Kingdom Under. The kind that would have to be prepared over the span of decades, requiring specialized labour otherwise in high demand and significant preparations of logistics.”

“And you’re wondering why they’d bother, given that the Everdark is a mess of collapsing tunnels filled with violent lunatics,” I said. “I mean, there’s the obvious answer. Drow don’t mine much, as far as we can tell. Lots of wealth to claim once they take over the place.”

“Over time, the investment made could be recovered tenfold,” Akua agreed. “Yet we both know that kind of long term planning in the highest reaches of a nation is a rarity. The expense would have to be justified in the face of more immediate uses for that coin giving more obvious benefit.”

“It’s rare on the surface,” I said. “Where sinking that much of your treasury into anything makes you weak elsewhere and your rivals will take advantage of it. What rivals do they have left, down here? They can afford to take the long view. Hells, they live longer than humans too. This could just be the life’s work of some highly influential dwarf.”

How long dwarves actually lived remained a matter of bitter and divisive scholarly debate, a matter not helped by the fact that their kind lied profusely about the matter whenever they ventured to the surface. Theories ranged from a few hundred years to a couple thousand, though most scholars agreed it was under five hundred. Considering people weren’t even sure how dwarves reproduced, lifespan uncertainty was no surprise.

“And yet the invasion only takes place now,” Diabolist said.

I could have replied that there was precedent for the Kingdom Under evicting other underground nations to the surface largely out of principle – the goblins were testament to that – but that would rather be missing the point, wouldn’t it? Dates for the goblin exodus were vague, since the Tribes rarely gave straight answers to anything unless there was a blade at their throat, but it was a fact it preceded the Miezan occupation of Praes. Which meant at least a millennium and a half ago. If the entire point of this was to remove a rival power, however comparatively weak that rival was, then they’d taken quite a while to get around to finishing the work.

“Might be it was just that one tedious chore they never got around to doing,” I mused. “They polished off the rest of the list over the centuries, now they’re out of excuses not to massacre the neighbours.”

“Overdue spring cleaning,” Akua mildly said. “This is your theory for what drives the fate of two nations?”

“You got anything better?” I said.

“Let us assume,” the shade said, “that the Everdark’s continued sovereignty is the result of dwarven incapacity instead of unwillingness.”

“Which is a wild guess on your part,” I said.

“One that aligns with other facts,” Diabolist said. “Regardless, it is fact that there was a dwarven contingent on the surface during the Liesse Rebellion.”

“Mercenaries,” I said. “That’s not exactly unheard of. They also took the first bribe offered to leave.”

“Because their purpose was not to make war, but to assess the situation,” Akua suggested.

“They already do that through Mercantis, supposedly,” I said. “Everyone sells information about everyone else in exchange for crumbs about what’s happening down here. Why send soldiers?”

“A host of dwarven infantry would represent a significant force,” she said. “One which would be worthy of courting by surface powers, as the Carrion Lord did. As the Callowan rebels did, and the First Prince behind them.”

My eyes narrowed.

“So you think the point was to gauge how invested all the players were in the rebellion and the wars that would follow it,” I said. “They shouldn’t need to go that far, Akua. Who the Hells would be stupid enough to pick a fight with the Kingdom Under? They’ll be selling cheap weapons to at least half the nations involved in any scuffle. There’s a reason the Principate can throw massed levies at us without going bankrupt.”

“Dread Empress Triumphant, may she never return-”

“Forced them to pay tribute, sure,” I interrupted, rolling my eyes. “Once, after she flooded a few of their tunnels with demons. Didn’t stop them from funding and arming a continent’s worth of rebellions against her a few years later, did it? They just threw gold at her so she’d fuck off and then paid for other humans to actually put her down. Let’s not pretend it was more than a headache for them.”

“That is still precedent for a surface power proving troublesome to dwarven interests,” Akua insisted. “A cautious assessment of the situation was therefore made, yielding the answer that the largest surface powers were preparing for large scale and long term warfare.”

“After which they did nothing,” I said. “That was years ago, and they’re only moving now. I doubt it would take them that long to mobilize.”

“Indeed,” the shade agreed in a murmur. “They acted only after a much more recent development.”

It wasn’t the Tenth Crusade. There had, after all, been nine predecessors to it. But if her argument was about a power on the move that usually remained put…

“How would they know about the Dead King?” I frowned. “It’s not like he sent them a letter. We don’t even known how he’ll go about participating in the war, and we were guests in Keter not that long ago.”

“The Kingdom Under has borders with the Kingdom of the Dead,” Akua said.

“Which are, famously, tunnels they drowned in lava and molten metal until there was nothing left moving,” I said.

“Your argument is that the preeminent power on Calernia has no way to observe the going-ons at its most dangerous border,” Akua mildly said.

I grimaced. Yeah, fair point.

“So they see him pull back his undead for a push on the surface,” I mused, following the thread. “And take that as an open invitation to march on the Everdark. Why? That’s still thin, Akua. If they’re that worried about the Dead King, why take the risk at all? It’s not like the drow are a threat to them.”

“So I wondered,” Diabolist admitted. “If neither wealth nor pride are the reason, then why? It cannot be room for expansion, they could simply layer deeper. Such a large undertaking could hardly be made without sanction from the highest powerbrokers of dwarven authority. That implies, to me, a strategic motive.”

“Hard to guess at those when no one knows their exact borders,” I said.

She nodded in agreement. I narrowed my eyes at her.

“But you have a theory anyway,” I said.

“After your distant kin settled in what is now the Duchy of Daoine,” she said, “the largest threat to them was greenskin raids. Yet they did not strike directly at the clans, instead raising the Wall. Why?”

Because only an idiot would try to take the Steppes. The Miezans had done it, sure, but they’d had a whole arsenal of advantages no one on Calernia could boast of having and there’d actually been orc cities to target back then. Which wa no longer the case: even after the Reforms, the Clans had remained nomadic. Rulers of Daoine could and had cleared out belligerent clans near the Greenskin Marches but there’d never been a serious effort to conquer the Steppes. The orcs would just retreat deeper in and the Deoraithe armies would have to settle in for winter in hip-deep snow with nothing to live off of and a lot of angry orcs on the prowl. Which, I thought, is Akua’s point.

“Containment,” I slowly said. “Ratlings don’t lair deep, so they’d have a free hand under the Chain of Hunger. You think they know they can’t take the Dead King, so they’re trying to bottle him up instead. And for the encirclement to be complete the drow need to go.”

“Should any significant drow presence remain in the region, the fortresses maintaining that encirclement would suffer sporadic assault,” Akua said. “To make the sealing easily sustainable-”

“They need the drow gone,” I quietly said. “Dead or far, far away.”

We filled our skins in silence, after that. It was a fragile house of cards that she’d built one sentence at a time, and all it’d take for it to crumple was a single assumption proved false. But it sounded like a distinct possibility. That was always the problem, with Akua. She was a skilled speaker, one that could spin a decent story out of nearly anything given long enough. But if she’s right… Either the drow drove back the dwarves – and reckless as I was, I wouldn’t t put gold on that – or there’d be a an entire race of vagrants needing greener pastures to move to.

That, I thought, sounded like an opportunity to me.

Archer had returned without any fanfare, before the hour of rest she’d talked me into was even over. We stood to the side of the others, speaking quietly in tongues they would not know.

“This place is about to be a war zone, Cat.” Indrani said.

“You found the dwarven vanguard, then,” I guessed.

She brushed back her hair, lashes fluttering over hazelnut eyes as she did. Her longcoat was open, revealing the silvery mail beneath, but she wore the metal as nonchalantly as if it were cloth.

“Part of it, anyway,” she confirmed. “If there used to be three forces of five thousand like you guessed, that’s no longer the case. There were at least eight thousand preparing to give battle.”

“That’s too large a force of a single cavern,” I said.

“Not if it’s a huge godsdamned cavern,” Indrani snorted. “It’s at least the size of Laure. There were a bunch of lichen and mushroom farms down there, I think it might have been some kind of food centre. Water too, the largest body we’ve come across so far.”

“I was under the impression we were still a few days away from the closest city,” I said.

“”Dunno about a city, but there were a pack of drow there for sure,” she said. “Cavern’s a drop from our current height – the dwarves found another way down, I must have missed it – and near the back there’s some sort of massive stalagmite melding into the wall that the locals carved into.”

“Walls?” I asked.

“Nah, nothing like that,” Indrani replied, shaking her head. “It’s like some sort of spiral ramp going up. Pretty sure it’s flat at the top, but my vantage points was sloppy. The whole thing might be hollow, for all I know. There were tents going all the way to the top.”

“That’s defensible against even heavy infantry,” I said. “If the ramps are narrow enough.”

“Our short friends were setting up a bunch of weird siege engines,” she said. “Infantry’s not all the drow are up against.”

Eight thousand, huh. That was more than half of what I currently believed the dwarven vanguard to number, which was promising but still meant seven thousand should be traipsing around the tunnels unaccounted for. Fighting underground like this would be different from the kind of wars I was familiar with. With tunnels it would be much easier to defend than attack, as a rule, particularly if the defender had powerful champions capable of holding a narrow area against superior numbers. On the other hand, without an open field flanking operations became a very different kind of enterprise. No plains down here, no way to see an enemy detachment until they were right on top of you. If I were the dwarves, I’d station hardened troops on the flanks to keep an eye out while I was moving against a fortified drow position. Assuming high-ranking Mighty were as dangerous as even just green Named bent towards combat, a single one slipping through defensive lines was enough to make a costly mess. I chewed on my lip thoughtfully.

“I don’t suppose you took a look at the adjacent tunnels?” I asked.

“Not in depth,” Indrani said. “Glanced down a few, though, and I got the impression most of them curve towards the large cavern.”

A chokepoint? It’d explain while the dwarves were willing to slow their advance to take it. Ivah’s knowledge of the region was sadly limited, as it’d only crossed it the once and under the understanding it was to move towards the Gloom as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kingdom Under had maps, though, and good ones. It was tempting to try to get my hands on one even with the risks inherent to crossing dwarvenkind.

“They’re going to have the flanking tunnels under guard,” I finally said. “So far they’ve been careful to allow no runners. They’ll have the entire place sealed up.”

“That’s my guess,” Indrani agreed. “So what’s the plan, Your Queenlyness? We trying to shimmy through while they’re busy under a touch of the ol’ glamour?”

“We still don’t know if they can pick up on my using Winter,” I said.

“We do know they have eyes, Cat,” she replied. “I’m not fancying our chances of sneaking through a dwarven blockade without a little fae juice to help things along, and you know we can’t wait this out. The real army’s not far behind.”

I hummed, not disagreeing or agreeing.

“So we have to place a bet,” I said. “If you were a dwarf and you had devices that could pick up on sneaks – a pretty basic precaution, given who you’re invading – where would you put them? With the main force, or the flankers?”

“If I were a dwarf, I’d be massively rich and drunk all the time with a city’s worth of naked servants catering to my every twisted need,” Indrani mused.

“If you were a dwarf, but not a complete waste of a person,” I tried. “I know you don’t have a lot of experience with that, but use your imagination.”

She half-heartedly gestured for me to go hang myself.

“Would make sense for the shortstacks to keep the trinkets on the sides,” she finally said. “The stalagmite’s pretty fucking surrounded. But that’s assuming they don’t have enough devices to have them everywhere. And that they have those at all.”

“If they do have them everywhere, we’re screwed anyway,” I noted. “Best we can do is play the odds assuming they don’t.”

“So you want to take a stroll through an active battlefield,” Indrani snorted. “With a pack of unruly drow, a self-absorbed spectre and yours truly. That’s not one of our better plans, Cat, and that should not be a hard hill to climb given how we got into Skade.”

“Worked, didn’t it?” I said. “We played to our strengths-”

“Blatant lies,” she helpfully provided.

“- and their weaknesses,” I finished.

“Expecting sense of us?” she suggested.

“Unorthodox approaches,” I righteously corrected. “It’ll be dangerous, I don’t deny that, but then so is every other option on the table. I think this is the least stupid risk we can take. Unless you happen to have a better idea?”

“Aside from digging our own way through, not really,” Indrani mused. “And we’d need Winter for that anyway. Shovels alone wouldn’t cut it, and since Vivi left we don’t even have those anymore.”

I sighed and passed a hand through my hair.

“Well, let’s get moving then,” I said. “If this was a mistake, best to know it today.”

“Hey, look on the bright side,” she smiled. “If this is a horrible blunder that’s going to get all of us killed, then at least I won’t survive to give you shit about it.”

There was a silver lining, I mused. Shame it was on a cloud raining fire and brimstone, but that was life for you wasn’t it? Sometimes you just had to put on your good boots, bring out your sword and kill your way to the top of the flying fortress before you got to see daylight.

The last few years of my existence would have been a lot more pleasant if that were actually a metaphor.

60 thoughts on “Chapter 57: Betwixt

    1. Rook

      Don’t think it would make a difference even if they did talk. We have to keep in mind that the context of this is an unbelievably large invasion happening on what is essentially borrowed time. It’s taken decades of nationwide effort to prepare, years of waiting for other powers to be distracted, and tens of thousands of their countrymen’s lives are on the line. They literally have not left themselves a path of retreat, as far as we know so far.

      So if you’re part of the vanguard that’s sent out for the express purpose of killing all potential nuisances and make sure the main invasion isn’t slowed down since time is of the essence, do you choose to possibly hamper or slow the invasion by letting an unexpected, unknown variable into the mix?

      One that would need time to do work, time that the whole army does not have? Hinging upon the trust that their mighty force of several people will be able to accomplish the task of emptying an entire – particularly unreasonable – race from lands that they’ve occupied for thousands of years?

      Not a chance. You immediately nail them to the wall with your ‘mighty-slaying’ engines of war just to be safe, because if you fuck this up your dwarven commanders will nail your ass to the wall instead.

      Liked by 11 people

  1. So. Continuing one of my previous thoughts, why can’t she just talk with dwarves? Aqua said so, she is a powerhouse worth treating with. She can even offer to take drow on the surface for no cost of dwarven lives. I mean yeah, it’ll give away her position, but dwarves are aware of current situtation, surely, they are aware of the Catherine Foundling.


    1. Gunslinger

      All of this is contingent on the Dwarfs trusting her word that the Drow would simply leave. Most likely their tenets mean they’d rather fight to the death than leave with a whimper.

      Plus I get the sense that the Dwarves are rightfully confident they can steamroll the Drow easily enough

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Rook

        For it to work they’d be so in awe of a single surface dweller who doesn’t even have enough prestige to ward off a politically motivated crusade, that they’d risk compromising what may be the most expensive invasion the continent has ever seen.

        And even then only if they were so unbelievably enamoured with her relatively mundane -Villainous- reputation as to put their faith in her ability to remove an entire backstabbing, murderous race from the Everdark.

        At least it might make it easier to convince them when they see that she’s brought with her a jaw-dropping host of… two people, a collar ghost, and some captured drow serfs

        Seriously though I’m doubting even Catherine even has much faith in her ability to square things away neatly, let alone the dwarves. This isn’t a story where everyone decides to roll over in the face of the hero(ine)’s main character aura

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Well, if she crosses them, Callowan cities are getting sunk underground. Going out in the open has it’s downsides, true, but also it shows that you came in the good faith. She can also offer to kill them herself if they would refuse to leave.

        All that aside, it still does not answer a question of why she didn’t try to treat with dwarves. Unless she did and it went horribly wrong and now she refuse to talk about it. Would make sence though.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Rook

          The question isn’t what reason she would have to treat with the dwarves. What reason do the dwarves have to treat with her?

          If she brought all of callow, all of the woe, and every legion at her command with her she still might not have enough capital to make the kingdom under change their plans. This is a kingdom that can go toe to toe with the dead king, whom her betters on the surface dread the possibility of provoking.

          But she doesn’t have the kingdom of callow and all her legions with her. She’s got two people and some pathetic Drow prisoners. What could she possibly offer them that would be enough incentive for them to change any plans regarding an undertaking of this scale? Why would they even bother wasting time instead of turning her into mighty kodrog 2 to be extra safe?

          The answer is nothing. She has no capital to negotiate with, so she doesn’t entertain the idea as a first second or third choice. The same way the king of Zimbabwe would have no place walking up to the vanguard of allied forces on D-Day and trying to negotiate.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. the verbiage ecstatic

            I mean, you could say the same thing about treating with the Drow… what can she possibly offer them that makes her think this expedition is worth trying in the first place?


          2. the verbiage ecstatic

            I mean, you could say the same thing about treating with the Drow… what can she possibly offer them that makes her think this expedition is worth trying in the first place?


    2. Ravin

      ah but that would ruin the story…besides there is no guarantee that these dwarves are briefed on surface events, would they need to be? i mean beyond being told that no-one is paying attention at this time


        1. Metrux

          Peacefull solution? Okay, I prescribe you to take a month of leave from the guide and go read something nice, like Eragon or Metaworld Chronicles. Then you come back, ready for the full on 24/7 world of conflict we got here XD

          Liked by 4 people

    3. Rook

      You are a soldierdwarf. Or even an officerdwarf. You firmly believe dwarves are the best and everyone else is trash.

      You have some power in the field but nowhere near the top echelons of society and the privileges/knowledge that follow. You know what your superiors deem it necessary to know and what you pick up on your own time.

      You’re serving as part of the vanguard in a genocidal invasion where your orders are to kill everything that moves, nothing escapes. You meet unexpected moving things while preparing to kill expected moving things. Do you:

      A) immediately treat with said unexpected moving things, contrary to orders.

      B) immediately murder said unexpected moving things, per orders

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Welp, what would you do if
        A) Those tings refuse to get murdered
        B) They came under the flag of truce
        C) They just don’t die!
        D) Things don’t attack you
        E) And also can’t be killed
        F) While trying to talk to you

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Rook

          The premise of the entire story has been that special named characters aren’t anything close to one-man-armies. Black has made it a very specific point to illustrate that even previous Black Knights – who could wield power that made Amadeus look like a child – have died to a common soldier’s blade out of exhaustion.

          The kingdom of Callow’s great shining prince died during the Conquest by being swarmed by fucking goblins.

          Catherine isn’t a pushover, but this is far more than a mundane army and she’s a denizen of Calernia, not dragonball z earth. If the vanguard was a fifth the size of what it is now, she and archer would still get squashed in a head-on confrontation.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Nathan Bellis

            I think it would be more accurate to say that armies matter, but only so long as they have Named of their own to back them up.
            I mean, high-tier Named absolutely can destroy armies all on their own- look at Catherine freezing thousands of wights solid in an instant back in book 3. The real problem is that if you expend all your energy and narrative weight destroying your enemies army, they can just come out and kill you at their leisure once you’ve exhausted yourself. Thus, you end up with the fine balancing act we see in canon, where it’s rank foolishness for a Named to march off to war without an army, but just as foolish to expect your army to carry you to victory.


        2. Ravin

          A) everything can be murdered
          B) its never been mentioned whether dwarves recognise the same truce rules as the surface
          C) see A
          E) see C
          F) assuming the dwarves speak the same languages as Cat,

          most likely they will run into some dwarven sentry, who will attack (as ordered) and things will go downhill from there…..there is nothing quite like having an army of angry people whose arms are perfectly posed at approximate castration hight.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Gunslinger

    I’m totally not surprised there’s Dread Emperor Massacre. I bet Cat would have loved all the High lord’s getting cut down.

    Lots of Dwarven politics info in this chapter that made it super interesting. Ohh and we also get an explanation as to how the underground folk feed themselves. Good stuff all around.

    On a side note I was pondering on the thought that the Bard played a part in setting the Dead King lose which set the Dwarves in motion which might lead to Cat getting her Drow army. How much of this was the Bard’s play? I feel like she’s become the Simurgh of the Guide verse where everything is her plot.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Morgenstern

        “The First” is basic throne name shit. Throne name counts only ever say anything about what came BEFORE you, NEVER anything about what comes after, as you cannot know that at the time of your coronation. 😉
        Example: You could be the 18th and there does not have to be a 19th (but there COULD come one in times to come, you’ll never know). But there certainly do have to be 17 others before you. 😉


        1. Morgenstern

          It is something special to be “the first of their name”, though, that’s why people say *that*, too, even though it’s kinda self-explanatory.
          Mostly, if a kingdom/empire has reached some age, people will just get names from some (or rather many) predecessors.


          1. As I understand things, if you are the first one to use your Reign name, you are normally referred to without a number until there’s a second person using your reign name, then you’re referred to as The First and the new one is referred to as The Second.

            Triumphant being referred to as First and Only to me implies that Triumphant is no longer considered an option to be chosen as a reign name. That the name Triumphant had been retired. Sort of like when sports teams will retire the jersey number of a great player – nobody else gets that number.

            Ie, it’s Pope John Paul the Second, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, and Pope Francis (no number until there’s a Pope Francis the Second).


  3. That’s a reasonable theory.
    And the motive – containing the Dead King, is not a bad one.
    Waiting for the Dead King to be distracted isn’t a terrible idea either – it’s certainly going to be better and easier than if he weren’t distracted and decided to actively contest their attempts to contain him.
    Of course, that implication ultimately saddles Cat, if she succeeds, with responsibility for the Drow. Either to find somewhere to settle them and keep them under control or to use them up until they are few enough left to kill them all.
    And it isn’t like the Drow are popular with anyone, which will cause Cat more problems.


    1. Azure

      Its also a huge opportunity for the DK to strike at the dwarves. Seriously I’m trying to figure out why he hasn’t gone for those lanterns. They think he’s distracted but meanwhile he’s just waiting to take them out.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Justin

    Not a huge fan of this chapter. I appreciated bringing together thus far disparate elements in the Dead King and the Dwarves but the Archer/Catherine banter felt forced and the Drow as a whole are just not that interesting. They are coming off weak and lacking in identity, which makes me regret that so much time is being spent on them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Djinn O'Cide

    “The last few years of my existence would have been a lot more pleasant if that were actually a metaphor”

    Doesn’t this sentence dramatically change the nature of the story as a whole? Thus far, the narrator has been using pretty much entirely present-ish tense, as if she’s describing events as they unfold, or at least as they occurred in the recent past.

    Now, suddenly, she’s switched locations in time–and form also. She’s suddenly describing events which happened in a more distant past–while implying that currently she is a being who no longer exists…but remains able to tell the story.


    1. No, it works fine as is.
      In this context, read “last few years” as “previous few years”.
      Similar to “the last few days the weather has been awful for anyone on the Mid-Atlantic in the USA”.

      The “of my existence” would probably be “of my life”, except Cat’s body isn’t exactly alive – or consisting of biological processes – these days.

      More broadly, it’s a reference to Akua’s Folly having been a thing that actually happened.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Morgenstern

        “of my life” always implies “of my life SO FAR”. It does NOT always imply a recount via someone on their deathbed or even already a shade looking back at their life, that’s just some relatively seldomly used narrative trick.


    1. Whoever generated this Night thing needs a clip around the ear, frankly. Because nightlife isn’t all stabby-stabby, kill-or-be-killed.

      Families den up at night while their children play (in the smallest possible hours, usually making a racket); those for whom night is their main shift go about their active lives doing creative or destructive things while being safe from eagles; stories get told; crafts get crafted on by firelight, main meals get eaten; it is the best time for life in hot deserts… and so on and so forth.

      The drow got majorly short-changed and should demand their money back. 😛

      Liked by 7 people

  6. If it’s so bad to provoke dwarves I wonder why Cat doesn’t use her powers to change the appearances of herself and others as she’s done with Akua once already. Using Winter to any meaningful extent would still be a giveaway, but at least she wouldn’t risk as much just meeting with dwarves somewhere along the road.


    1. Morgenstern

      Are you suggesting impersonating dwarves to get through? (Just what this comment made me think of.)
      Sounds hilarious… to see how it failed, of course. Because I don’t see that working in the Guideverse. Or at least not without other problems arising from doing so, like being “caught” as a dwarf moving away from their line, not doing what they’re supposed to do. 😉


  7. nick012000

    Akua’s speculation on the Dwarve’s motivation is interesting. I just assumed they were ideologically-driven to murder all the drow for having the gall to live underground.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RanVor

      Because the Dead King is on the march. Procer will need everything it has to stop him and adding new threats to the mix will only increase the chances of failure. Cat doesn’t want them to fail. She needs the Principate on its knees, not six feet under.


  8. GreenSunLuminary

    Aww, hell, I just realised, the kingdom under are practically memetic Dwarf Fortress dorfs aren’t they? What with the refusal to acknowledge ownership of other races, and the ludicrous overkill responses to any slight, and tunnels filled with magma, and the only thing that ever stopped them was High level FUN being summoned into their tunnels


  9. Decius

    That penultimate sentence barely isn’t a metaphor. It’s at least unforgivably hyperbolic. When was the last time Cat saw literal daylight? Plus, Liesse wansn’t flying when she had to murder her way to the top of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      I kinda wonder why they didn’t just think of using the refugees from Praes to till the fields, seeing how they’re worried they won’t have enough hands left to till the fields / risk a hunger crisis… why the focus on needing an *army*? Which could do much, much worse things, if they don’t behave than people on the fields could…
      Nationalism?? (AKA don’t let Callowans take the field, so they don’t die, use other people?)


      1. Morgenstern

        I mean, as if it seems you could trust the people from the Everdark, be they “drow” OR “meat” any better than the refugees from Praes. If you’re so afraid of betrayal, why look to someone who has seemingly made betrayal their shtick even WORSE (down to the last rungs of society, no matter if they lived their whole life as “meat” or not) — instead of the commoners from Praes (that Cat herself has more than once included in her thoughts about how the peasants etc. are just normal innocent people going about everyday business, downtrodden and not responsible for what the nobles do, like anywhere else), even though they are bound to have some *agents* in their middle? SOME agents versus ALL OF THEM being all about what you fear. This current plot seems somewhat forced and/or Cat thrown the idiot ball to me, considering this part of the whole thinking-through what you need to hold Callow “above water” and, most of all, FED. Because tilling the fields seemed to be the most prominent reason WHY she can’t have every one of her peasants trained for the killing field, i.e. not wanting their volunteering all *that much*… or did I miss something there? oO


  10. DD Durnell

    The direction of this story will ruin Cat’s plan of eventual retirement/abdication, assuming drow relocation to Callow is in the cards.
    A race of stabbing murder faces must be controlled with a firm hand, lest they kill off productive, innocent citizenry. Unless they abandon their moronic tenets, Cat will need to stay in permanent control to keep them as docile as possible. Which will probably mean putting down sporadic rebellions, etc.
    In the long term, they don’t seem worth it for the short term gain of a handful of undisciplined troops.
    Maybe if she kills off the Sve…


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