Chapter 61: Remonstration

“Beware those who peddle sweet truths, for that which cleanses is rarely gentle.”
– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand
I tossed the bow and Indrani snatched it out of the air. She ran her hand down the length, checking it for damages, and only after she’d made certain it was in pristine condition did she turn her eyes to me.

“How much did it cost you?” she asked.

“Not a copper,” I said. “Restitution was tacked onto to a larger bargain.”

“We’re going on a hunt, then,” she smiled. “It was about damned time. We’ve been creeping around for too long.”

I wasn’t all that surprised she’d caught on to the nature of my pact with the dwarves without being briefed. I had precious little to offer the Kingdom Under save for the work of my blade. I’d sent Diabolist to gather our drow while attending to Indrani myself, though that situation felt like trouble brewing. Leaving the prisoners behind wasn’t on the table: the dwarves might interrogate them before breaking their skulls and throwing them on the nearest corpse pile, neither part of which I wanted to come about. Taking them with us on the further journey was trouble too, though. They’d know I’d talked with the dwarves, and there was no guaranteed they wouldn’t open their mouths whenever we ran into a drow powerful enough it could give me a challenge. I was currently inclined to let them go after pulling ahead of the army by a day or two. They could live and die on their own merits, after that. Ivah was the only one I had plans for, though I was still hesitating over pulling that particular trigger.

My mistakes had larger consequences than they used to, and nowadays there was no one to clean up behind me.

The prisoners were awaiting us at the edge of the camp, Diabolist standing among their number while a few companies of dwarven regulars kept an eye on the proceedings. More out of principle than fear, I thought. The shackles had already been removed but still the drow looked uneasy, as if they expected the slaughter to begin any moment. The way some of the soldiers were very casually playing with their crossbows wasn’t helping matters, and from the way grins split their beards the dwarves knew exactly what they were doing. I did not bother to offer our escorts any farewells before leaving. Goodbyes had already been traded with the two dwarves that mattered in the vanguard, and none of the other had done anything to deserve the courtesy. To the contrary, one might argue. Ivah had carefully remained close to me from the moment I arrived, and did not give distance until we’d left the large cavern. We went through another two dwarven chokepoints before finally leaving the territory they controlled, and only then did any of the drow let out a breath of relief.

We took our first break around an hour later, when they began to tire. Where before the prisoners had offered only fear, there was now a touch of reverence in their eyes – towards me, mostly, but Akua as well. From their point of view, we’d walked into the jaws of the wolf and gotten off without so much as a scratch to show for it. They might not know why, but they could not argue with the results. Our guide approached me while the others rested.

“You spoke truth, Queen,” Ivah said, and smoothly knelt. “For the offence of doubting your word, I present myself for judgement.”

I tore off a chunk of dried beef and popped it into my mouth, chewing as I considered the drow kneeling before me. Even on its knees, it was of a height with me sitting. Already I was missing the dwarves and their much more reasonable proportions. I could dismiss this out of hand, I thought. I’d often done this with my doubters in the past, especially when they had good reasons to doubt me. Those who had come into my service had done so after I’d proven myself, shown I could achieve results. This, though, this was different. I wasn’t dealing with a human or an orc, not even a goblin. My grasp on drow culture was still weak, but I suspected that if I made it clear doubting me came without consequences then I was giving an open invitation to do so again. Akua had been just right enough I couldn’t outright dismiss her, when she’d said it was worthless to offer people mercy when mercy had no worth in their eyes. I swallowed the last of the meat, then wiped my fingers on my legs. Measured response, I thought. My hand lashed out, swift as a snake, and the sharp tips of ice I’d formed at the end of the fingers raked across Ivah’s right cheek. Four bloody clawmarks began dripping blood.

The drow did not flinch.

“A reminder,” I said. “When the doubt next comes. You may consider the matter settled.”

Ivah rose on shaky legs, and I dismissed it with a wave of the hand after telling it Diabolist would see to the marks. Indrani slid next to me barely a heartbeat later. She’d been pretty blatantly eavesdropping, though I’d seen no need to stop her. She pressed a skin into my hands, and I did not need to take a sniff to know it wasn’t water. Her breath made that clear enough.

“So what’s the plan?” Archer asked.

“We go to Holy Tvarigu,” I said. “And have a pleasant chat with the Priestess of Night.”

“Seems to me like we’ll need to have a bunch of pleasant chats to get there in the first place,” she mused.

“You and I are pleasantly chatty people, by reputation,” I said.

“It’ll be a load off my back for us to return to the basics,” she admitted. “But you’ve got the look.”

I glanced at her, finding her halfway between amused and annoyed.

“The look?”

“The one that says you’re tripping all over your morals again,” Indrani said. “It’s led us to some beautiful scraps, mind you, but never before a long spot of hemming and hawing.”

“What do you care?” I said.

She blinked in surprised and I passed a hand through my hair.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” I said. “But this isn’t us, ‘Drani. We don’t have those talks. Did Hakram put you up to this?”

“Vivienne asked that I keep an eye out,” she said. “On account of your last advisor around being ‘Ol Portal Dazzle. Worries were had that if you got in a bad place our little friend would be eager to give you a push over the edge.”

“I haven’t talked to her about this,” I said. “I don’t intend to, either.”

“So talk to me,” Archer said. “I’m here, and mostly sober.”

“Do you actually give a shit about any of this?” I bluntly asked. “I’m not saying this to be an ass to you. You never have before.”

“I do give a shit about you, Catherine,” she sighed. “Even when you’re being an utter wench to me. You think I’m down here for the scenery?”

I bit my tongue. Taking out my mood on Indrani would be underserved, even if she was pushing me and she damn well knew it.

“Why are you down here?” I finally asked.

“Because that’s where we went,” she slowly replied, eyeing me dubiously. “How hard was the stuff the dwarves gave you?”

So that was how she wanted to play it, huh. Dumb. Usually I’d leave it at that, play it off with a quip or an insult. It was the way we worked, leaving things unspoken. But Gods, I was tiring of that. Of just… letting things go.

“You take orders from me, sometimes,” I said. “But I’ve never considered you my subordinate. If you’d chosen to go back to Callow with the others, there wasn’t anything I could have done about it.”

“Hells, Catherine,” she sighed. “Do we really need to do this?”

“Don’t we?” I said. “Indrani, there’s maybe ten people in all of Creation I can genuinely call my friends and I can barely claim to understand half of them. I keep leading you into one ugly mess after another, and for some of you I understand. Vivienne’s in this for the kingdom, and Hakram… Hakram believes. In this, whatever it’s become, even when I don’t. I’m not trying to throw stones at you, Archer. There’s just some days where I honestly wonder why you bother.”

“It’s not enough that you’re my friends?” she asked.

“If that’s your answer,” I said, “and I mean your real answer – not us laughing this off and never mentioning it again – I’ll take it. But I don’t want either of us to survive the other and look back in twenty years regretting we were too proud to actually have an honest talk.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“So, Ratface finally sunk in,” she said, not unkindly. “Was worried it might happen. You took it too well when we learned.”

I flinched.

“Cat, he-”

“I used him,” I said, with terrible calm. “He was my friend, and I used him until it got him killed. It’s… Fuck, Indrani. He still had so much left to do. Who does she take next, Aisha? Juniper?”

How many people do I need to lose before I’m just a raving monster who just happens to lack a Tower to rave from? The utter selfishness of that thought shamed me. They’d killed him and still I’d somehow made it all about me.

“We’re not going to die that easily,” Indrani said.

“We’re not invincible, Archer,” I hissed. “We just got savagely beaten by a dead elf and a giant rat, and those were the toys of what’s waiting. All we got to show for it was Malicia taking home a victory once more, and fresh off that she took the knife to Ratface. We’re in this mess and I can’t protect any of you. You have to-”

“Have a reason we’re here,” she finished quietly. “Something worth the risks.”

“You’d be fine without me,” I tiredly said. “Maybe even better off. I’m a fool for saying that, because I need you more than I can put into words, but it’s the damned truth. You can leave this at any time and none of my enemies will follow. And let’s not pretend they’re not my enemies, Indrani. We both know they’re not really yours.”

“Sure they are,” Indrani replied.

“The moment you leave back for Refuge, Malicia and the crusaders forget you ever existed,” I said. “That’s not arguable, that’s a fact.”

She flicked my forehead. I reared back, more in surprise than pain.

“That’s the problem with you, Cat,” she said. “You say these sweet things, sometimes, but you still can’t quite get out of your head. Refuge’s not my home, it’s a place I lived in for a while. The Lady being there is the only reason it exists and the only reason I ever went. You have this… loyalty for Callow. I don’t really get it, the place is war-torn shithole, but if it’s a madness then most of your people have it too. I don’t have that for Refuge, or really anyone in it. There’s nothing to go back to.”

“You could travel,” I said. “That what you really want, isn’t it?”

She laughed, harshly.

“Gods, I can’t get angry,” Indrani said. “It’s infuriating but that’s why it works – because you’re such a fucking idiot it can’t possibly be manipulation. You think I want to leave without somewhere to get back to, Catherine?”

“You could-”

“Shut up,” Archer interrupted. “For once in your life, just shut up and listen. You’re right when you say you don’t understand us, because you somehow missed who you opened your home to. Do you know why Hunter was afraid of me, when I came to fetch him? Because I used to beat him in the yard. Bad enough he’d bruise for weeks even as a Named. Not because I hated him or because we had a grudge, but because seeing it happen put a twinkle in Lady Ranger’s eye. I would have slit his godsdamned throat, if it had done the same. I fought everyone there was to fight in Refuge until I could crush them underfoot, and then I went out into the Waning Woods to find harder opponents. I don’t need a cause. I don’t need a reason. Every time I come out on top, I prove that I deserve this. That I’m not a fucking charity case, some curiosity she picked up in Mercantis along with whatever artefact took her fancy that year.”

“I’m not her,” I said.

“No,” she replied. “You’re not. I trounced your ass the first time we met just so I could prove I was better than the Black Knight’s pupil and somehow that just… never became an issue. I thought you were some kind weakling, at first, too afraid for revenge or a rematch. But then you picked a fight with a demon and its minions, not because you thought you could win but because you wouldn’t accept losing.”

“That’s not a virtue,” I said. “And that kind of thinking has gotten a lot of people killed.”

“You keep your eye on the horizon, always have,” she said. “Makes it that you always end up missing what you actually do. You opened your home to me. Your family. Shit, Cat, we might make fun of you but there’s no one that doubts you’d murder your way through a kingdom for one of us. And you just handed that freely, asking nothing. Not even an oath. And now you’re surprised we’re willing to kill for it?”

“That’s not what I meant to do,” I quietly said.

“It wouldn’t work if it was,” she smiled mirthlessly. “It’s like you don’t realize who it is you took in. You think Masego asks himself whether people should be killed because he cares about Callowan justice? You found a kid who couldn’t talk to others without a chart and you told him he wasn’t mad or strange, that he was right and clever and worth something beyond his magic. Vivienne was so desperate to do something that mattered she joined a rebellion of people she didn’t like or trust in a place where those have the life expectancy of a fly. She fought you, stole from you, and instead of slitting her throat you gave her your trust and told her what she wanted to hear the most: that she’s a decent person and that she can make a difference. Hakram used to wonder why he even got up in the morning, Catherine. He was barely even a person. Now he’s got such searing purpose his own Name made it that he doesn’t need to sleep.”

“That was all them,” I thought. “I didn’t change anything. I’m not owed-”

“You try to be good,” Indrani said. “Or at least decent. So you’ve got this idea that all of us were, before you came along. That you dirty us by making us fight, that you’re somehow imposing on who we’d be otherwise. Set that aside, because it only ever existed in your head. You took in wild animals, fed them and gave them a place by the fire. Loved them, in your own terrible way.”

Shadowed eyes met mine, the glint in them a savage thing.

“None of us forgot the years out in the wilds, Catherine,” she said, baring her teeth. “It was cold and dark and lonely, and if we have to make a graveyard of half this fucking continent to never go there again then that’s what we’ll do.”

I did not reply, because after that what could I possibly say? Archer snatched the skin back from me and rose to her feet.

“Gods,” she grimaced. “I can’t believe you made me do that. Where’s Hakram when you need him?”

“Indrani,” I said. “I-”

“Don’t,” she curtly said. “I have no idea what you’re wrestling with, right now, but I’ll say this: you’ve been running scared since Second Liesse. We’ve all seen how it stayed with you, but grieving is one thing and this is another. If you let it bury you, then you’ve failed those people twice instead of once.”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“An occasionally halfway-clever woman once told me she didn’t win battles because she was the Squire,” Indrani said. “Or because she had tricks and fancy mantle. You’re afraid of what’s coming? Then do what you need to and stand with your back straight. Let them take a swing. See where it gets them.”

She strode away without another word, already guzzling away at the skin as if liquor could wash away the embarrassment reddening her cheeks. I stayed there sitting in silence for who knows how long, never taking a breath. It had warmed me, what she’d told me. But it terrified me as well, and not only because of her own words. Your people becoming warped by your presence, the Grey Pilgrim had said, old traits grown more vicious and acute. I wanted to deny him, as or all his kindly appearance he was a man very much trying to kill me.

And yet.

Archer believed all the hard edges in my companions had been there long before they came across me. That it was circumstance making them come out, not some deeper sinister influence. She might be right. Was is not, in a way, supremely arrogant to decide I was responsible for who they were and what they were willing to do? Masego had been raised by a villain and and a devil, Archer by cold-eyed thrill killer and Hakram was an orc – his people’s bouts of savagery filled the pages of history books. Vivienne had been the Thief before ever hearing I existed, and had walked that narrow line between Good and Evil for most her life. Her stolen riches had never gone to feed orphans or the destitute: she’d been settling a grudge. A deeply Callowan thing to do, but if nothing else the last few years had brought out in sharp relief that my people’s penchant for vengeance was not necessarily a thing of the Heavens.

The old voice in the back of my head gave answer soon enough. It would be easy, wouldn’t it, to eschew responsibility for all of this? To let the comforting words wash over me, to share the burden of all the woe that had come to pass. But I’d seen it with my own eyes, decent men arguing for Bonfire. A little word that meant that slaughter of thousands of innocents simply to prevent Procer from sallying out against me. The excuses came swift and plentiful, that withholding that assault had led to the Battle of the Camps and the deaths of thousand anyway. That it was my enemies who had sought the war, not I. Justifications always came aplenty. I still felt a shiver of discomfort, when I realized at some point I’d become the kind of woman that would sow justifications matter only to the just on her own banner. What a vicious joke that’d turned out to be: even while espousing the words, had I ever really stopped telling myself what I was doing was necessary? I’d clutched that whisper tight and led my soldiers, my people, into one war after another.

The Queen of Summer had called us a woe unto all we would behold, and I felt that to be the most savage kind of prophecy: the one that called not on unearthly sight but simple recognition of character. Who was I, to take such grand decisions? Not even twenty-one, taught too little and haunted by grave mistakes. What right did I have to make decrees that might resound for centuries after my death? The fear was paralyzing, that I might botch the matter badly enough a dozen generations might pay for it. I was a drunkard playing dice with the fight of nations, compared to my enemies. I’d be damned for the disaster, and rightly. And yet, I thought with a dark smile, would I not also be damned for doing nothing at all? Maybe Black was right and I’d never been meant for grace at all, for the righteous choices of a hero’s story. Maybe I’d always been who I’d told myself I had become, a deeper truth laid bare by power. Because in the end, if there was only damnation I would rather be damned out of error than fear.

And that left only one thing to do, didn’t it?

I found Ivah standing along, the red marks of the blood I’d spilled dried on its cheek. It rose when I approached, but I waved that away. We settled down comfortably, out of anyone’s earshot.

“It is my understanding,” I said, “that you seek power. To redress what was done to you, to rise above where you once stood.”

“That is so, Queen,” Ivah said, silver bright in its eyes.

“Then I believe,” I said, “it might be time for us to make deal.”

Winter whispered in my ear, promises and imprecations, the distant howl of blizzard parted by the deep crack of great glaciers.

I let it.

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121 thoughts on “Chapter 61: Remonstration

    1. I am going to add to this. First post was a little late, but I feel like this is important.
      The Guide has beautiful moments like this chapter here that are stunning. Please go vote, share the Guide on social media, tell all your friends to read it.
      This is a work of art that is few and far between. it is said that anyone can write a book, which is almost true, but so few people are able to actually finish their book, and, if they do, there are many books that are not good – not necessarily bad, mind you- but lack the moments like this one, where dialogue is what you look forward to more than the combat, where Characters actively reflect on themselves, and try to improve. This work is beautiful, and Erratic writes at an astonishing pace. Get the word out, if you have a few dollars to spare a month then go support Erratic on Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=3523924), he deserves the money.
      And if you made it to the end of this text block… Thanks for reading it all! Go vote!

      Liked by 11 people

    1. Rook

      Not to mention, if what Archer said is the truth then there’s a terrifying prospect here. Cat might’ve accidentally done what Dread Emperor Malignant II tried and failed to do.

      She’s got a Band of Villains running off the power of Friendship.

      That’s usually a Good-aligned storypower on the level of Justice and Selfless Sacrifices, as far as cheats go.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. sheer_falacy

        The Calamities are already running off the power of friendship. I guess we don’t know about Assassin but Warlock, Ranger, and Captain (rip) are all straight up doing what they do because of Black. They don’t care about Praes, they don’t care about Malicia, they don’t even care about Black’s grand plans – they just follow him. The Woe really do mirror them.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Jesse Coombs

          The most recent Warlock POV (that I recall at least, Chapter “Sing-we-of-rage” was pretty clear that he does like Malicia, considers her a friend. He was even going to side with her against Black should it come to it.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Warlock is actually torn. He honestly cares very deeply for both his old friends. But, he would take Praesi ideals, practices and mores over most other considerations every day of the week without blinking.

            And, he holds to the ideal of the Tower as a concept well above friendship. What Amadeus proposes could well shatter the Tower as it has always functioned for Praes — tweaking and updating power structures using all the tools in the box has always been fine, but destroying what he considers Praes to be in doing so… is not. :/

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Novice

      Winter is coming, boys and girls. On that note, does this mean that there’s a chance for Summer to resurface? Since Winter and Summer was supposed to be different sides of the same coin; and what Winter does, Summer has no choice but to do as well.

      I genuinely can’t wait for the fallout.

      Like

  1. “It wouldn’t work if it was,” she smiled mirthlessly. “It’s like you don’t realize who it is you took in. You think Masego asks himself whether people should be killed because he cares about Callowan justice? You found a kid who couldn’t talk to others without a chart and you told him he wasn’t mad or strange, that he was right and clever and worth something beyond his magic. Vivienne was so desperate to do something that mattered she joined a rebellion of people she didn’t like or trust in a place where those have the life expectancy of a fly. She fought you, stole from you, and instead of slitting her throat you gave her your trust and told her what she wanted to hear the most: that she’s a decent person and that she can make a difference. Hakram used to wonder why he even got up in the morning, Catherine. He was barely even a person. Now he’s got such searing purpose his own Name made it that he doesn’t need to sleep.”most: that she’s a decent person and that she can make a difference. Hakram used to wonder why he even got up in the morning, Catherine. He was barely even a person. Now he’s got such searing purpose his own Name made it that he doesn’t need to sleep.”

    If I quote quote it all I would…

    “It is my understanding,” I said, “that you seek power. To redress what was done to you, to rise above where you once stood.”

    “That is so, Queen,” Ivah said, silver bright in its eyes.

    “Then I believe,” I said, “it might be time for us to make deal.”

    Winter whispered in my ear, promises and imprecations, the distant howl of blizzard parted by the deep crack of great glaciers.

    I let it.”

    One more step towards Apotheosis, one more step towards the True Mantle of Winter, one more step that you can never take back.
    This was an amazing chapter, easily one of the best in the Guide. It reminds me of the Akua chapter a bit back, but so much more. Archer actually matters to Cat. Her opinion was not manipulation, but something that Cat needed to hear.
    And Cat’s ‘Justifications only matter to the Just’ is either about to die, or about to becoming something more.
    When the Heavens come a knocking, Cat will need something to rally herself behind, if not Justifications, then what? She is on uneven footing, pushed there by Pilgrim, and when, not if for it will happen soon, the Heavens come if she is not on better footing the Redemption will come.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Is he still, though?
        Black has received a new reign on life that messed that story up. When Cat stabbed Black, it was supposed to be a death blow, supposed to send Cat into being the next Black Knight, yet she refused. She is hardly the Squire, and is not set up in opposition to Cat at the moment. If Black dies then I could see that happening, but I am much more inclined to believe that the White Knight will be Black’s kill rather than Cat’s.
        Black is out for vengeance of a friend, a powerful story, whereas Cat has still yet to react to Hanno at all.
        And, personally, I want to see Amadeus kill Hanno for what he and his band did to Captain, it would not be the same coming from Cat.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          True on the Captain part. But it’s hardly Black or Cat’s call to make. Black tried to force one earlier on and nothing connected. The Angel’s may have *enlighted* plans for Hanno.

          Unless we count the Seige where Cap died as a definite Loss (the bard called it one), the Red Flower Vales as a Tie, and a 3rd engagement will be Blacks unrelenting vengeance (man wont that be something to see).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Percula1869

            They had an engagement before all that though. The one where Warlock was pretending to be in a bubble in the sky and Cap was fighting both Ash and Champion. So their pattern of three should be closed, anything can happen next time.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. Yotz

          Simple BNxWN solution would be rather ungratifying, methinks. I’d much prefer the option where Captains killer – courtesy of certain ritual involving two strongest spellweavers of their generations – inherits the Curse through the skin she is wearing and in crucial moment of Black and Hanno’s inevitable duel transforms to deliver a crippling backstab to the White Knight.

          But then again, variant where after her transformation White outfights her and is forced to kill one of his few friends seems perfectly fine too…

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Yotz

              Sympathetic link is a pretty straightforward and simple thing, and blood is blood. Valiant definitely bled on the battlefield, and if one can link weave of Creation with that of Arcadia, can’t see the reason behind not being able to link blood with blood – especially blood of killer with blood of killed in the case of hunter wearing the skin of her prey. They can be seen very much like soul-sisters from different sides – a Story in itself – and now they are linked with blood rite of greatest intimacy, old as Creation itself. Now, if one to tilt the scales slightly, and make them related not only metaphorically, but metaphysically…

              Liked by 2 people

          1. grzecho2222

            Champion killed The Old Warrior That Rised Her Children To Be Noncombatants
            What chance there is that one of them pop up with “You killed my mother, prepare to die”

            Like

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Maybe not particularly powerful nobles, but new footsoldiers like Deadwood regiments.

      Or the complete opposite, and get the current Hunt killed off so Cat can lead a new Winter aristocracy where she is the only meta-story aware.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jane

      Hm. It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world – it would give her a claim on a vessel of an alien power that she doesn’t wish to directly touch, whom she could proceed to pour more Night into at will. I wouldn’t trust that leash too far, but she’s powerful enough that she doesn’t need much of a leash on it.

      Of course, there are risks to bringing Winter into the world, but… It’s a Drow. Unlike any of her own people, she’s much more free to dispose of them when they become inconvenient to her, regardless of what form that inconvenience takes.

      Liked by 5 people

    3. Thea

      Let’s face it: the drow could never stay underground, there’s nothing Cat can do against the dwarves, and the drow immigrating into Callow would be more than one giant disaster waiting to happen. But hey, Cat has this useful parallel realm of eternal darkness waiting for new inhabitants…

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Agent J

        Why do people keep forgetting that there’s already a King and Queen of Arcadia and that Cat can only use the fae gates because she made a deal with said Queen of Arcadia to allow her and her army to travel through the other queen’s domain unmolested?

        Catherine does not in fact have a parallel realm of eternal darkness awaiting new inhabitants.

        Liked by 2 people

            1. That was my point, yes. *confused* It is both a location and a facet of her Mantle, i.e. part of her. Ergo, it is also of Arcadia, but also not.

              The fae are walking patterns and constructs. So is the dimension they come from. Cat is fae (even though she’s stubbornly sticking to old patterns).

              Like

                1. Which, when you think about it, must be something somewhere connected to her mind, identify, memory and what passes for her body these days, yes? So, it can be a location in time-space, a link to Arcadia and itself all at the same time.

                  A damense or a domain is always more than spacial coordinates on a map.

                  Like

  2. Jane

    She might have a bit of an argument about the citizens of Callow being warped by a Villainous leader (though I have my doubts, given their legendary grudges and longstanding history with Procer), but the Woe?… Yeah, no. I’m not even certain how she got the idea in her head that any of them would have been decent people in her absence. She really needed Indrani to point that out to her?

    Still, I’m glad that she and Indrani had a proper heart-to-heart. Even if Indrani found it terribly embarrassing, it was something Cat needed to hear – that fighting for her adopted family was cause enough for her, and not some sort of obligation.

    Liked by 13 people

      1. Jane

        Eh, it’s a lot easier to believe that she’s still scarred from Liesse, as Indrani suggested, than that this was some Narrative business. She was showing clear signs of questioning and doubt ever since that day; Pilgrim might have provided a more specific channel for some of them, but if he’d never met her, I think she’d probably just be doubling down on the “Am I competent enough to be making these kinds of decisions?” angle.

        I mean, I can’t dismiss the possibility out of hand until the Guide is over? But I think using both would be muddying the character arc too much – if Pilgrim were to do more than take advantage of doubts that were already there, I think it would cheapen her struggle over her decisions somewhat.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Rook

          I feel like the whole moral indecision part has been part of the story from the start. She’s always been about the whole born a Hero, raised a Villain theme, to put it simply.

          When she signed on with Black and the legions to start, it was to try doing Good from the inside.

          Few years later she’s learned from and been half-raised by the biggest baddie of the century and she’s using all her new nasty tricks to… defend civilians against the forces of literal hell.

          She then, in her fear-inducing villainous competency, fights a civil war to defend civilians against murderous faeries and collar ghost

          Few years after that she’s developed into even more of a monster, this time committing the atrocity of fighting a defensive war to protect her homeland.

          I mean, there’s a pattern here. Bad means with good intentions, is it really that surprising that a major point of character growth is trying to reconcile the two?

          Liked by 8 people

          1. mavant

            She’s arguably more of a hero than the Punisher is, at least.
            Jury’s out on the comparison with Deadpool (our other favorite immortal regenerating bisexual walking disaster).

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Raved Thrad

              Not to be a niggler, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to call Deadpool a pansexual? I’ve always felt that, if it gets right down to it, Deadpool will fuck anything.

              Liked by 1 person

                  1. Maginot

                    I read the story chapters, which are F*ing amazing. Then I read the comments which are F*ing amazing in a whole different way. Just make sure its Barry Manilow…..

                    Like

        2. Yotz

          Well, in some way Pilgrim’s “taking advantage” may look juts so – accenting things, forcing Cat to look at them in the new context, stealing her box of failures and shames and hitting her with it until they will be forged into the blade of doubts…

          Anything beyond using what she already have will make the act of redemption into an act of simple brainwashing. An while Above is not above imposing braindeath when it suits them, I am still willing to give Peregrine moral credit on not using such blunt instruments.

          PS: Also, I’m secretly hoping he and the Cutter will show up. Hunt for the mark of Sve Noc’s caliber is a thing for a full Five of heroes, you know…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. FactualInsanity

    I really liked the chat with Archer, but I really wish Cat would grow out of this kind of self doubt. It’s good for a character, important even, to question their actions and always seek to do better next time, but there’s a big difference between questioning your actions and questioning your whole being. To put it bluntly, I’m bored of Cat doing the latter. It does nothing except leave her more vulnerable to manipulations by her enemies.

    And I really, really, really hope the story is not building to some kind of point validating those doubts. It’s just my personal opinion, but that would feel like an utter betrayal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oshi

      I don’t want her to grow out of it. It would mark the loss of something integral to her. You stop doubting and you stop fearing loss. It would mean she didn’t care. I’d rather see her hone that doubt and grow more adept at dealing with it.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. FactualInsanity

        Perchance you didn’t understand me, or I didn’t explain properly, because I’m not proposing she stop caring. As I said, questioning actions is fine. Doubting if having made that decision there was better than an alternative is fine.

        What I want her to grow out of is the self doubt that causes questions like “Who was I, to take such grand decisions? … What right did I have to make decrees that might resound for centuries after my death?”
        That doesn’t mean she should suddenly start thinking she’s the perfect woman for the job of ruling, nor that her every decision is flawless. But recognizing that she has as much right to make those decisions, as Cordelia; that she actually is the woman best equipped to rule Callow *currently*; that everything happening is not solely her fault, but the culmination of decades of actions, decisions and mulishness, of which only a tiny fraction are her own would be a welcomed change of pace.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Dunno, seems like a valid doubt to me.
          So long as you look around, you’ll see countless people better than you at something. And if you’re on the path of changing something grand, it’s seems perfectly justifiable to doubt whether someone else might be better for the job, especially if you’ve made a giant mistake, like Catherine feels she has.

          And there really isn’t an answer to those doubts, no one can tell you objectively whether you’re the one for the job or not, we all have some stake in it.
          How do you stop this niggling feeling then that you don’t really have any right to influence so many people’s lives? I’d say you can’t. It comes with the responsibility you carry.
          The best you can do is decide that leaving things as is is worse than you leading them toward something. Hoping it will stick long enough.

          I get that it’s tiring to hear her self-doubt recently, especially when we’ve loved her during her most confident moments, but I like this new side of her as well.
          Cause confidence comes when you know too little and when you know too much. And in-between those two is doubt, insecurity and cautiousness. I’d say that is where Catherine is now and where we all are when we go from twenties to thirties.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. RanVor

            Cat is asking herself the wrong question. Instead of asking “what right do I have to make this decision?” she should ask “what right does anybody else have to make this decision?”. Because nobody really does. Yet somebody has to. And in absence of other candidates, it might as well be Catherine Foundling.

            Like

            1. FactualInsanity

              Very much this. It’s not so much about literally not doubting herself, as it is about stopping to hold herself to some form of lower station than all the other bastards that make decisions that will resound for decades after their deaths and are affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

              I can’t think of any decision Cat has made that has not had the best interest of those under her rule as a goal. Many (addmittedly minor) characters on the so called “good side” have, in-story, made decisions that have no one but their own best interest as a goal.

              Like

          2. FactualInsanity

            I recognize that and it’s a valid point, but on the other hand what does wallowing in the doubt achieve?
            So you make a mistake and admit someone is superior to you. Get them on board. Either offload the responsibility on them outright, or if that’s unacceptible for whatever reason, make them your advisor, so that you can do better next time.

            If you can’t get the best person for the job, try for the second best, the third best, try everyone, until the only people you haven’t tried are those worse than you. If it comes to that, well, grit your teeth and keep doing your best, because no one else wants to do it.

            Caution, learning from past mistakes, possessing enough self-awareness to account for one’s own blind spots, yes to all of that. More of it, even.
            But developing a weird inferiority complex about herself to the point where she dismisses her own actions of friendship and affectation as calculated manipulations of her friends? I don’t know, I just have no interest in that kind of story. Could be other people might find it an interesting exploration of the psyche.

            Like

            1. Bruno Benaković

              Well, we may have some answers to what troubles her as our comments would indicate, but that’s probably due to our experience.
              Cat has none of that, she never really had a period of doubting herself, at least not for many chapters like now. I feel it is a process she must go through and work it out herself.
              I think it’s very human to do so as is to eventually conquer that doubt and move on.
              We get enough superhuman protagonists nowadays, I’m just enjoying the fact Cat, despite her badassery and being fae still possesses basic human elements, those we can relate to.

              Like

  4. Antoninjohn

    I don’t think she was talking about giving out Winter though it could work but giving Ivah the Night from Siv after they kill her in return for his loyalty (enforced by Fea oaths)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oshi

      I agree. This is likely to be the thing she does. What’s interesting is in how she plans to shape drow culture in the process. She is the ultimate incarnation of practical evil and the drow are very much not.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. WuseMajor

    I feel like it might be worth noting that she started becoming more indecisive aat the same time she stopped being the Squire. She is now one of the few personally powerful people in this world who isn’t drawing power from either the Heavens or the Hells.

    Cat isn’t a Named Villain anymore.

    She might well have her free will back. And with that comes a loss of certainty.

    Liked by 10 people

  6. Nihilant

    sugessted spelling/grammar corrections:
    She blinked in surprised and I passed – She blinked in surprise and I passed
    the place is war-torn shithole, – the place is a war-torn shithole,
    I wanted to deny him, as or all his kindly – I wanted to deny him, as for all his kindly
    raised by a villain and and a devil – raised by a villain and a devil
    Archer by cold-eyed thrill killer and – Archer by a cold-eyed thrill killer and

    Like

  7. Novice

    Fuckin’ finally, this is what I’ve been waiting for: for Cat to recognize, if not address, her own hypocrisies. Her character development is now free to go to the direction it needs to be.

    That talk with Archer is one of the many things that made me stay and keep up with the updates. So good!

    Like

  8. 1queenofblades1

    >”What right did I have to make decrees that might resound for centuries after my death?”

    Because you can’t die? Of old age at least and I’m sure you don’t plan to be killed in battle.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        It just occurred to me that, as a band of Villains, short of dying in some messy manner, the Woe will never grow old. It’s entirely possible that in a handful of years or decades, Cat having abdicated the throne, they could be wandering the world, seeing the sights, meeting interesting people, and killing them.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. mavant

    I liked this chapter a lot, but every time I’m reminded of how young Cat is I think jeez, no wonder she’s whiny.

    Maybe this was the real mistake of my adolescence: Not declaring war often enough to justify the level of internal turmoil I was experiencing.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Snowfire1224

      I think a lot of people forget how old she is, not suprising considering how much she has achieved. Most almost 21 year olds haven’t learned to Speak rather quickly, learned how to flip a story, used undead sucide goats, fought with demons and devils, been undead, bullied an angel into a resurrection, ended a rebellion, fought the fae, gained a fae mantle, forever changed the court of Arcadia by marrying the winter king and summer queen, killed a rival and then put them into their cloak, become Queen of her country despite being born a poor orphan, commanded the wild hunt, fought off a larger army and forced them into a truce with two of the oldest greatest heroes actively working against her, met the Dead King and learned of his orgins, fought an undead elf, fought an undead ratling, has gone into the gloom, and has negotiated with dwarves. If I missed anything in that list please let me know.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Typo thread – ok mobile so I skipped some

    I wanted to deny him, as or all his kindly appearance he was a man very much trying to kill me.
    Change or to for

    Was is not, in a way, supremely arrogant to decide I was responsible
    Change is to either it or I

    Masego had been raised by a villain and and a devil
    Remove second and

    “Then I believe,” I said, “it might be time for us to make deal.”
    Add “a” after “make”

    Like

    1. Argentorum

      Narratively it’ll only buy her a few weeks at best. Less if she uses it offensively. Still, with the drow forces and Juniper racing through a recruitment cycle, that might be all she needs.

      Like

  11. Komploding

    Is anyone else seeing a parallel between Black reforming the legions of terror and Cat reforming the Drow? Being that it’s a defunct horde of the old style of evil being reformed into ‘practical’ evil?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Draeysine

    I see a lot of things coming together from previous chapters/books here. Just some things I’ve noticed.

    Every time I seee that self doubt in Cat, trying to decide if she is the best one to make decisions, I’m reminded of one of the dread emperor quotes. “Might makes” . I think that was Akua’s argument. That because she held the power to make decisions, she was the person to make them.

    I think that’s a philosophy the drow more than the Praesi take to the extreme, going so far as to call anyone with enough power “the Mighty” and they of course hold all decisions.

    When thinking of the drow I also think of a quote from my favorite character of RA Salvatore’s Novels. A person was largely influenced by drow culture “With each kill I grow wiser, and with added wisdom I grew stronger “
    I think the drow would take this quote as the whole life in a nutshell

    Like

  13. Raved Thrad

    In other fora I’ve joked about how I like yandere girls and how sexy it is not knowing if you’ll wake up or die in your sleep, but dammit I think I just fell in love with Indrani. She may not be able to say the words without immediately drinking something flammable, but I love how she managed to express her love and loyalty to Catherine (and, by extension, the rest of the Woe and even Callow, just a little) without actually using those words — it makes the declaration even more powerful, the emotion rawer and more honest.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Metalshop

    Welp, I legitimately teared up.

    Damn fine chapter EE. The world building and plotting and action setpieces in this story are all very good on their own, but it’s these occasional character moments that really elevate this serial to be truly great.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Dainpdf

    Soldiers of Under rejoice
    Swing, swing, swing with me
    Raise the siege and raise your voice
    Sing, sing, sing with me

    Down and down into the deep
    All is ours we find beneath
    Diamond, rubies, gold, and more
    Hidden in Calernia’s store

    Born underground
    Suckled from a teat of stone
    Raised in the (Ever)dark
    The power of our buried home
    Skin made of iron
    Steel in our bones
    We can take all we want for free
    Come on brothers sing with me:

    I am a dwarf and I’m killing some Drow
    Killing, killing Drow
    Killing, killing Drow
    I am a dwarf and I’m killing some Drow
    Killing, killing Drow
    Killing some Drow.

    A shortened version of the Yogscast song (slightly modified)

    Like

    1. Yotz

      Hmmmm…


      Volley hits them like a storm,
      That’s been kept on leash too long –
      They’re crying.

      Some days there’s nothing left to learn,
      From the point of no return –
      They’re dying.

      Hey, hey – I killed a Drow today!
      Everybody’s happy now –
      The vermin’s gone away,
      And everybody’s happy now –
      The Dwarves are here to stay!
      We’re here to stay!

      There’s a million pests to kill,
      And I’ve already got the thrill –
      I’m smiling.

      And there’s much hurting to be done,
      Until Gloom will come undone –
      Gratifying.

      Hey!..

      Like

  16. Fern

    Y’know, I think this cast we have here is the most morally evil a cast can get while still being supremely empathetic and likable. The Woe (excepting our friendly sixth ranger) are all pretty much genuine whole hearted friends. Their whole found family thing (plus Black’s found family) is like the most wholesome fucking thing in this book. It’s like loyalty driven to its extreme: there’s literally no line they wouldn’t cross for each other. I 100% believe that if it took something as horrific as bonfire to save one of the woe, Catherine would do it. Hell, Catherine’s really the only one out of these two bands that would even think of blinking at a cost like that.

    Consider also the fact that for all the good tropes White Knight’s band (plus the crusader band) stuck to, they have far less camaraderie then Cat and her fruity rumpus murderers. That’s gotta have some story implications

    Like

  17. Kel the Seer

    Finally glad to see Cat considering using her claimed sovereign status to refill her nearly empty Court.

    Now she just needs to beat Sve, temporarily rip out Sve’s power, and shunt it to elevate her newest titled Fae. Maybe make a new House of the Court for Night wielders?

    Still expecting Akua to siphon at least part of that for her own power and freedom, though.

    Like

  18. aran

    “None of us forgot the years out in the wilds, Catherine,” she said, baring her teeth. “It was cold and dark and lonely, and if we have to make a graveyard of half this fucking continent to never go there again then that’s what we’ll do.”

    Just kiss already, you two.

    Like

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