Chapter 62: Impulse

“I don’t care if they’ve been training, it’s only been two months. What could they possibly have learned that would threaten me?”
– Dread Empress Sinistra IV, the Erroneous

“The Mighty Berelun is willing to allow passage, but only for a tithe,” Ivah translated.

The Mighty Berelun was full of shit, I decided. That it had accepted an envoy instead of sending a warband the moment we entered its territory had been an auspicious start, especially when it’d proposed one of the large caverns of the region as a meeting place. The Mighty, I had learned, preferred to lay their ambushes in small passages where they could best leverage their superior speed and reflexes without the risk of being swarmed by ‘lesser’ drow. Sadly, it looked like this was going to be a repeat of our aborted talks with the Purka Sigil. The cavern surrounding us might have been broad and high-ceilinged, but there were discreet little paths on an upper level where I could hear drow scuttling around like rats. Berelun had been smart enough to listen to the rumours already making their way through the outer ring but not quite smart enough to decide picking a fight wouldn’t be in its favour. I was almost insulted by how few it had mobilized for the ambush: by the sounds of it, there couldn’t be more than twenty.

Most of those would be ispe, the lowest rung of the Mighty. In practice, those were fighters with a handful of interesting tricks but none of the dangerous Secrets out there. As dangerous in melee as your average fae soldier, if much less mobile for the lack of wings. They were the kind of enterprising souls that joined up with a sigil as much for the protection as because the quickest way for them to grow in power was to slay and harvest other ispe – either those of an enemy sigil or that of their own. Mighty Berelun itself had prudently shown up with an escort, a pair of rylleh. Ivah’s old rank, and one I’d begun to understand was higher up the ladder than my guide had previously implied. Rylleh were the drow just beneath whatever drow the sigil was named after, called the sigil-holder, and considered the most likely contenders to eventually run through their leader and take the clan for themselves. They were also usually the heavy hitters in a sigil apart from the chief, which meant Berelun was taking us seriously. It would not have brought both its most dangerous rivals and strongest fighters to meet with us on the ground floor otherwise.

That had seemed promising, until I’d heard the ambush setting up.

“What kind of tithe?” I asked.

I had no intention of paying anything of the sort, but stringing this out a little longer would allow for a cleaner resolution. As if prompted by my thought, my ears caught the sound of a blade slicing open a throat. There was a muted gurgle and a body was quietly lowered to the ground. One down. Ivah addressed the Mighty in Crepuscular and I kept my eyes on its own. Deep, perfect silver set in a dark grey face that looked like it’d been carved with a knife. Berelun was larger than most drow I’d seen, broad-shouldered and heavily muscled. The obsidian blade strapped to its back could not be called anything but a greatsword.

“One in ten of your sigil, my queen,” Ivah said. “With no fewer than six ispe among them.”

My sigil, huh. That was one way to call the gathering throng of the desperate and the ambitious Akua was keeping an eye on. Two thousand, by now, though we were still thin on Mighty. Few of those were willing to take my bargain when it was extended. I’d already made my peace with the fact that we’d have to grow our own pack through harvest, and truth be told that might make them slightly more reliable in the long term. Another gurgle above, another drop. Berelun had dispersed its ambushers to make sure they’d be able to fire from all angles, looked like. It would have been decent tactics if I hadn’t seen it coming. But I had, and their isolation meant they were easy prey for my own hunter on the prowl.

“Ivah,” I said. “Ask the Mighty Berelun if it heard what took place between us and the Purka.”

My guide’s deep blue eyes crinkled in amusement, but it nodded. The exchange of words was swift, but not so swift that I did not hear another two throats cut.

“The Mighty knows of the destruction that was delivered unto the Purka,” Ivah said. “It cautions you not to believe the Berelun to be weak or lacking in cunning. It says tithe will be paid, one way or another, and that pretending otherwise is foolish.”

“So it thinks I’m speaking a threat,” I mused. “When I was, in fact, delivering a warning. They might have been sloppier about their ambush, but the plan was quite similar.”

Fifth death, then a pause. The sixth and seventh were nearly simultaneous. She was having fun with it, if she was getting that fancy.

“Is there to be fighting then, my queen?” Ivah asked, sounding less than worried.

“Eventually,” I agreed. “Let’s keep stringing them along for a bit longer. Quibble over the numbers, make it look like I’m considering the offer.”

“By your will,” the drow agreed, head inclining in deference.

By my final count, there were eighteen ispe who’d been hiding upstairs. My eyes remained on Berelun all the while, and I saw it getting increasingly impatient as moments passed. Not because of the negotiations, I thought. We both knew those were going nowhere. Most likely it was awaiting a signal before attacking and growing restless because it wasn’t coming. After thirty heartbeats passed without another throat being cut, I elected to call down the curtains on the farce. Ivah was in the middle of a sentence, but paused when I raised my hand.

“I will offer them the same terms I offered the Purka,” I said. “And the Trovod, and the Hilaron. They can kneel and take oaths, be granted power as you have been. Their forces will be folded into mine. Or they can be unmade. There will be no middle ground.”

“They will refuse,” Ivah said.

“I expect they will,” I replied. “So here’s a gift to help them understand the situation – Archer!”

My voice sounded loud and clear in the cavern. A moment later there was a mocking cackle and Indrani kicked down a drow’s corpse from the upper levels. The throat was still bleeding, and after the cadaver landed with a dull thump blood pooled around it. Berelun and its bodyguards stilled, eyes moving back and forth. Ivah spoke to them, slow and cadenced. I’d heard enough Crepuscular I could begin to make out individual words, and knew the meaning of a few, but even spoken so slowly the language was difficult. Unlike any other I’d been taught on the surface. No matter: I’d set Diabolist to learning it, and when she was done I’d rip the knowledge out of her mind.

“The Mighty Berelun refuses your offer,” Ivah said. “And demands your submission. I’ve also been offered admittance as fourth under the Sigil, should I turn on you.”

“Well, it’s a tempting offer,” I drawled. “Have you duly considered it?”

“Alas for the Mighty Berelun,” the drow said, “I much prefer being your Lord of Silent Steps.”

The title rippled in the air, after being spoken, and Ivah no longer seemed to be Ivah at all. I could feel the shard of Winter in its soul, the way it spread through its veins with every breath and intertwined with the Night. It was not fae, but oh how close it had become. And all it’d taken was will and oaths, traded in the dark. Berelun caught on to the fact that negotiations had come to an end, ripping its obsidian greatsword free from leather bindings, and the attending rylleh followed suit. A steel-tipped spear to the left, a long ornate stone knife to the right.

“The usual arrangement stands,” I calmly said. “Anything you kill is yours. The rest goes to auction.”

The curved obsidian sword the Lord of Silent Steps had wrested from the corpse of the Mighty Trovod left its sheath with a pretty little flourish.

“May my hunt be fruitful, then,” Ivah grinned. “I yet hunger.”

Without another word, it vanished. Glamour, which of all the fae arts the drow seemed to take to the easiest. There were ways to use the Night not too dissimilar. I turned my eyes to the Berelun, whose earlier condifence had been shaken by the open use of power they did not recognize. It would be the least of their surprises today, I thought. They opened the dance with what I’d come to call the Hunter’s Triangle. It was a tactic Mighty seemed to favour when facing an entity they suspected to be stronger than themselves but not by too broad a margin. Berelun itself advanced fluidly, greatsword raised above its head, while the other two flickered and dissolved into shadow. They would slither across the ground to flank me on both sides from the back while their chief kept my attention, all going for crippling blows instead of an outright kill. It was a tactic meant to get me slow and bleeding, not take my head. Drow fighting tactics were heavily influenced by the fact that the one amongst them to make the kill had the best claim to the body and Night therein. In single combat they immediately went for the kill, but when in a group they tended to go for the legs or the arms first.

The two rylleh flickered back into silhouettes with admirable timing. It was easy to see the three of them had fought opponents together before: the coordination was impeccable. The spear, knife and greatsword struck within a heartbeat of each other. They passed through mist, dispersing chunks of my body, and only then did I act. I returned to entirely solid form and my hand snatched the extended arm of the spear-wielder. My physical strength might have grown beyond natural boundaries but laws of momentum still applied to my action, which had required an adjustment I was only now beginning to get a handle on. My footing shifted, my torso pivoted and I swung the drow at Berelun’s head. Silver eyes widened in surprise and I merely clenched my fingers before releasing the rylleh’s wrist, crushing the bones in my grip. The last drow had kept its wits, and flickered back into a pool of shadow before I could strike it. Scoffing, I shaped and released a spike of ice that nailed the tendrils and forced the drow to flicker back into a silhouette. Wounded to boot, as the spike had gone through its leg, but Night flowed into the wound and the ice was forced out as the flesh beneath reformed. Neat trick, that one, but I’d seen it before. I backhanded the rylleh and sent it tumbling away, turning in time to see the other two drow extricate themselves and rise to their feet.

“Come now,” I said. “Show me a few Secrets worth stealing.”

Berelun snarled something in Crepuscular, the other grimly nodding. The Night pulsed and a supernatural darkness fell over me.

“Disappointing,” I said. “Hilaron did it right at the start and it was much more effective.”

The working was anchored around my neck, not a veil of darkness but a bubble meant entirely to blind me. It required flesh to be anchored to, however. I stepped back, feeling myself… slip. Grow vague and muted. The mist thickened back into myself one step removed from the now-pointless bubble, revealing the sight of the two of them slithering along the floor in shadow-form. Irritated, I smashed my boot down. The ground shook, stone splintered and the two of them were thrown out in drow-shape. I saw fear in the rylleh’s silvery eyes as it realized what its chief had not. This was not a fight, not for me. It was a spar through which I was mastering the use my mantle. This entire cursed ruin of an empire was. The last drow had already gotten back on its feet, but it had other troubles. The Lord of Silent Steps had cut through the muscles on the back of its knee, and was now weaving one glamour after another to keep it striking at illusions while it methodically ruined its arms and legs.

The Night, it had once told me, felt deeper when taken with an enemy’s last breath.

Berelun snarled once more and I rolled my eyes. It had yet to impress me. Six tendrils of shadow rose from its back, each forming a few fingers at the end that took obsidian knives to wield, and with its sword raised high it came for me again. The other drow actually bothered to be interesting, flickering into shadow-form but remaining a silhouette. That was a new one, and worth exploring. I formed a blade of ice and set out against the rylleh, ignoring Berelun. The shadowed drow shot forward, and only then did I notice the shadow had extended to its spear as well. Promising. I ducked under the tip of the spear and scythed through its ankles, but parted only shadow that reformed anew the moment my blade passed. It spun and smashed the butt of its spear against my armour, hitting above where my spine was. An exertion of will had frost keeping it stuck and when I turned the weapon was snatched out of its grasp. Curious, I plunged my sword through its throat and left it there. The drow panicked, wrenching it out, and my brow rose. Behind me I heard Berelun howl in pain when Archer’s arrow took him in the back of the knee. Simply because she hadn’t deigned to come down did not mean she was not keeping an eye on the proceedings.

I caught the rylleh’s left shoulder but the shadows wriggled out of my grasp and it kicked me in the stomach. My plate took the blow without trouble and I frowned, punching it in the face. It rocked back, though with no visible damage. Shadows are constantly moving and distributing any impact or cutting force across the entire body, so anything that doesn’t last is ineffective, I thought. On the flipside anything that lasted would do a lot more damage than it should. Too flawed a trick to be worth replicating, I assessed. The ice blade still in its hand turned to mist and formed again as a collar around its neck, tightening with but a thought. I left it to choke, returning my attention to Berelun. The Mighty was bound to have a few Secrets it’d yet to pull out. Archer’s arrow had gone straight through the knee, steel tip coming out bloody, and it appeared that pain was enough to get rid of the shadow tendrils it’s been wielding earlier. No great loss there. I could already do the same thing, more or less.

“So,” I meaningfully said. “Bleeding and desperate. Now’s about time to pull out the fancy tricks, don’t you think?”

It replied in Crepuscular.

“I don’t speak that,” I said, and shot a spear of ice at it to hurry things along.

It dodged effortlessly. Drow with that much Night swimming around their bodies had reflexes far beyond anything a human could muster even on their best day – even the Watch. I closed the distance, noting it’d ceased retreating and learning why a heartbeat later. Shadows roiled across its entire body and sprouted in seemingly solid spikes.

“Seen it before,” I sighed.

I hardened my hand to be solid as stone and struck at the spikes, shattering them and sending the drow reeling back. Berelun’s face was the picture of pained surprise, but it gathered its bearings long enough for one more trick. Night dripped down its body in thick rivulets, then shot out like arrows. One would have gone through my chest, but that was seen to with a half-step to the side. Yet the Night was hovering in the air all around us, I saw, forming some kind of spotty dome. Berelun smirked and stabbed its sword into the closest spot of Night. To my surprise, it came out behind me and carved into my plate. I moved forward, ensuring it wouldn’t bite too deep, but that’d been rather unexpected. I felt it safe to assume a blow could come out of any chunk of Night, which left him quite a few angles to attack from. Interesting. I wove glamour over myself, leaving my illusion weaving around blows even as I left the makeshift dome myself, and reached for Winter. Perfectly reproducing this was probably beyond my ability. Maybe by using my domain I could do something similar, assuming the Night really was Sve Noc’s own domain manifest, but it would require too much concentration to be worth it. If I was to wield my domain in combat there were better alternatives.

Using purely Winter, thought? This was a trick worth stealing.

I went about it methodically, since it was my first time. I formed frost at regular intervals around it on the ground in a loose circle, slight marks I could strengthen with barely a thought. Making frost marks that hung in the air proved trickier, until I started weaving them the same way I did platforms. Not trying to hang them up on something that did not exist, but interposing them between layers of Creation. Even then, I saw with mild irritation that the moment I tried using one of the hovering marks again it fell. The sound of frost breaking on stone caught Berelun’s attention, and its eyes widened in fear and surprise when it saw the other marks. Time to wrap this up, then. I let Winter loose, shunting off the alienation into the others who drew on the stuff of my mantle – Diabolist, as always, but now Ivah as well. Spears of pure ice shot out from over thirty directions, puncturing Mighty Berelun’s body like a rag doll. I withdrew them with a flick of the wrist, forcing them back into the initial marks, and the drow dropped to the floor listlessly.

Then an arrow went through the back of its neck, because Archer had a horrid sense of humour.

“That one was mine,” she called out from above.

I gestured obscenely at her, earning only laughter in response. A glance told me that the rylleh I’d left a collar on had choked to death and Ivah was already harvesting the other’s Night, kneeling over the dying body. Indrani came down, leaping from handhold to handhold on the cavern wall like some sort of demented grasshopper before landing in an unnecessarily elaborate roll.

“Diplomacy’s a lot simpler than I used to think, Cat,” Archer noted. “I’m finally getting the hang of it.”

I sighed.

“Keep an eye on the corpses,” I said. “Ivah will stay with you. We’re moving in on the Berelun camp after Akua’s people pick up the bodies for an auction.”

“Sure, sure,” she dismissed. “Look on the bright side, this isn’t the kind of neighbourhood where people will ask questions if they run into us standing over a bunch of corpses.”

I refused to dignify that with a response and left them with dead drow, beginning the trek back to what their kind had taken to calling my sigil. The auction would delay us by an hour or two, but no more. We’d crafted the system with our time constraints in mind.

It’d been Diabolist’s idea. There’d been no issue at first, as the first sigil we’d run into was the Trovod. Ivah, fresh off its title as my first Lord of Winter, had single-handedly slaughtered the sigil’s upper ranks and harvested all of them. It’d later admitted that even the sigil-holder would barely have qualified as a rylleh outside of the outer rings and it’d been more an execution than a battle. The two hundred meat – nisi, in Crepuscular – who’d belonged to the drow of the Trovod had been eager to follow us even before I made clear that the dwarves would be close behind. Nisi that were not under a sigil were fair game for any drow looking to accumulate a bit of Night, and all it would take was a single Mighty coming across them for a massacre to ensue. At best they might end up taken by another sigil and any among them with useful skills harvested. But then we’d run into Purka territory, and those had been tougher meat. Ivah had partaken, but eventually admitted it no longer gained much out of harvesting Night from lower rungs of the Mighty like the ispe. To continue feeding it the corpses would not significantly improve its combat capacity.

That revelation came right on the back of the fact I now had about one thousand nisi who wanted to follow us on our journey, along with a smaller contingent of two hundred dzulu – meaning person, more or less – which was what drow were called when they had enough Night to no longer be meat but not enough to qualify as even the lowest of the Mighty. Most of the dzulu were smart enough to surrender when people still covered with the blood of their overlords strolled into their camp, but they tended to be the ones that chafed under my rules the most. The prohibition on killing each other in particular: now that the old order was gone, they believed it was their chance to rise. I’d been inclined to just cut them loose, but Akua had talked me out of it. She’d pointed out that the nisi were largely incapable of fighting, but that the dzulu usually knew their way around a weapon. If I was to recruit an army in the Everdark, it would not be from the Mighty or the nisi. It’d be from the hungry dzulu, who’d be willing to take oaths in exchange for enough Night to no longer be arrow fodder. They’d spent long enough near the corridors of power to be willing to do quite a bit if the deal allowed them to walk those corridors in their own right.

And so we had created the auction.

We took the corpses of the Mighty and allowed any and all to bid for the right to harvest their Night. Akua had been inclined to limit bidding rights to the dzulu so that a warrior class would be created quickly, but I’d been of a different opinion. The nisi were, in my eyes, the closest thing to sane people that could be found among the drow. Most of them had spent their lives being slaves in all but name and while they paid lip service to the ways of the Everdark their hearts weren’t really in it. It was hard to love customs that saw you used a tools and beasts of burdens, killed at a whim. I’d rather have slightly less effective soldiers that weren’t ardent partisans of methaphysical cannibalism. What would be bid, however, had never been in doubt. Coin would be useful, if I could bring it back to Callow, but drow society ran on barter and somewhat communal slave labour – nisi were the property of the sigil as a whole, not individuals, but what they made was distributed at the discretion of the sigil-holder. There were precious few easy riches to be had, down here, and unlike the dwarves I didn’t have a legion of workers to mine every shaft full of metals and precious stones we came across. I’d not come to the Everdark for wealth anyway. I’d come here for an army, and so the bidding was done with oaths. Years in my service, enforced by blood and Winter. I was willing to empower the drow if it was on my terms. Two more sigils, I thought as I made my way through the tunnels, only two more sigils and we’d have enough numbers.

Then we’d hit the city of Lotow, and the boulder would start rolling down the hill.

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127 thoughts on “Chapter 62: Impulse

    1. naturalnuke

      No no no, it’s all about framing. This isn’t a training run at all! No no, this is an experiment on the destruction of empires and the ursupation of a culture for ones own benefit.

      The Tower would be proud.

      Liked by 19 people

    2. To be fair, the Drow are basically a failed state devolved into petty town-state (can’t honestly call them city-states) warlordism, not a proper empire.
      They’re less unified than Procer at the height of the Proceran Civil War or the League during its internal warfare.
      Presumably unless/until the Sve gives clear, unambiguous orders to do something.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. haihappen

        And people. Or what counts as ‘people’ for Drow. She is also collecting an army. Or a warband of oathbound warriors. They are basically her new Forlorn Hope, just on a different footing.

        Funny thing is that her recruitment drive will probably be the last remaining drow after the dwarfs are done.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Xinci

      Hmm does it count as a empire though? This is but a gestalt of various microcosms kept that way to get that power into a select few individuals bound to a single…”unit(Sevi, still unsure on what one might call her interconnected state at the moment)”. If she started to figure out how to properly deconstruct the dwarves I would consider it as such though. This is more of plain ol’cultural usurpation, a choice as old as her name.

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  1. Heh.
    That’s an effective way to bind drow minions. Binding oaths in exchange for power.

    Also, the Dead King definitely had a hand in Cat going to the Drow. It’s part training exercise, part learning experience, part source of the troops and bodies she needs to survive the Crusade and Malicia and have the opportunity to continue playing the Game as a functional immortal, one step closer to the true apothesis that is her potential.

    Also, Winter empowered drow are going to ruin a bunch of plans for everyone except the Dead King, and possibly Bard, but I’d like to think this will be a move Bard didn’t see coming. At least, when Cat started. Of course, by the time Cat gets back to Callow, Bard will probably have gotten an update from Upstairs.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      It’s the best kind of slavery as well: Voluntary indentured servitude. They literally are competing to serve her longer. And since she delivers everything she promises in the deal, they are the types that, like Ivah, will more or less find they enjoy the price paid. I doubt she cam make them too unlike Drow, in that they would still stab her in the back if they thought it would A. Take and B. would benefit them enough, but they’ll spend a lot less time and energy looking for that sort of opportunity then they might otherwise.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Rook

        The genius of it is that it’s not slavery, it’s servitude. The whole system is set up so that the drow that get to harvest the most Night are the same ones that are more willing to kneel.

        The key is in the willingness to be bound under the oath, not the oath itself. Making it voluntary automatically picks out the ones with the least pride or the most cunning to sit at the top of the food chain, since that’s essentially the factor that decides how many ‘years of servitude’ a drow is willing to barter. The supersoldiers that float to the top end up loyal, dangerously competent, or both.

        Even better is the fact that the currency is time. There’s little risk of overinvesting into a turncoat for the cream of the crop, because after enough years the oath barely matters. Side characters that stand in the influence of a Charismatic Main Character for a long enough time almost inevitably become bound to them in an entirely different, more fundamental kind of way.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Well, the Gallowborne are always recruiting. And I guess she is saving them from a noose of sorts, if the dwarves won’t kill me for comparing them to death by hanging.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Alivaril

          It’s also worth remembering that the Drow don’t normally do oaths. So I expect there will be treacherous little buggers those who think they can just blow off the terms and vastly overbid in the pursuit of easy power. They will serve regardless of their original intentions.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. You’re assuming the Dead King is actually interested in seeing Cat actually grow and interfering with it himself. He didn’t indicate he had any interest in any of the other potential immortals. Beyond his initial interaction with Cat there’s nothing to say he’s interested in her beyond an initial curiosity. He outright stated he’s pretty ambivalent towards her and not to take stuff personally down the road.

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      1. The other immortals are elves, Bard, and Ranger. Oh, and probably Drow and the ratling elders.
        Elves, drow, and ratlings aren’t exactly peers worth friendly conversation.
        Bard is Bard, and Ranger only drops by periodically to break in, kill some of his (irreplaceable) undead Heroes, and drink his booze.
        And they’ve been around for centuries.
        Cat is new. And she managed to impose a permanent alteration on the the Cycle of Arcadia – ending it. She’s going to be an interesting addition to the Game, if she lasts long enough.

        He’s not personally invested in Cat or in her success, but my impression is that he wants her to succeed in reaching/attaining apothesis – if she can prove herself worthy and earn it.
        To that end, I see no reason to think that he wouldn’t point her in the direction of something that would serve to challenge and test her, but also advance her on the path to true apothesis and strengthen her position if she were successful, but would have serious negative consequences were she to falter or fail.
        For that matter, he probably did not need to pull pull troops back from his subsurface border regions to invade Procer.
        I don’t think he needed to give the dwarves the opening to move on the drow that he did. But the dwarves moving on the drow are a test for Cat to deal with – and I’d say Cat has done rather well in her encounters with the dwarves.
        And it costs the Dead King nothing, just some internal troop movements.

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  2. Antoninjohn

    Cat’s army is bound by Fea oaths and so counts as a Winter force not God’s Below so if the Heroes get support against it from Above the God’s Below can skew with them elsewhere

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Nafram

    And back to Cat. I imagine it’ll be a while before we see what was of Black’s last dance, and what nasty surprise he left behind as a final act.
    The auction system is clever, that way the Drow that will become her army gain power directly proportional to how much they bind themselves to Cat through magically enforced oaths.
    I also like that Cat, despite refusing to allow herself or Akua to absorb the Night, is still profitting and becoming stronger as she goes. She’s had immense raw power comparable to the strongest characters in the setting, but she lacked the know-how to properly use it. Now, that is changing, and if they meet again, Laurence and the thrice damned Tariq will find her more than their match

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Gunslinger

    Jesus Cat you’re being scary. I have to admit after coming this far I love seeing Cat wreck shit on these sorry mobs. All the joy and promise of the Epic Levels. The Night too has a lot of promise as an interesting power source, so the stronger Mighty fights will be one hell of a thing to read.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. SMHF

    It’s a nice parallel between what Cat’s doing to the Drow and what Black was doing to Callow.

    She’s an invading force… using heavy handed strategies to make them fall in line, changing their culture in the process. And while you can argue she’s improving their lives in doing so, Cat’s just doing this so she can use them for her own purpose… Black would be proud(er)!

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Come to think of it, she’s doing to the Drow what Black did to the Orcs when he taught them how to fight as legions, isn’t she? In the end the Orcs loved Black for it, too. Perhaps the Drow will one day be her most fervent supporters.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. “We thought we knew the meaning of darkness and night, she showed us deep polar winter nights with no moon, but all the many cold, distant stars. And, how to snuff out, bend or use the aurura and heartbroken according to our wills.”

          Liked by 5 people

  6. Someguy

    I have to wonder if the Winter Drow will be useful enough to be Canon Fodder to “assist” Duchess Kegan in seizing the Golden Bloom from the Elves? Having Fae Titles now mean that even if the Elves phase into Arcadia, there is no escape.

    A land-swap deal to trade Daoine for their ancestral homeland. Cat can then trade Daoine to the Orc Clans for ownership and legal recognition of Lordly Titles to give them what the Tower would not, undercutting Malicia’s hold on them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Unknown

      Seems unlikely since the Elves are outside normal space right now. I suppose Masego could force them into normal space but eh not really in a position for another fight.

      Like

    2. IDKWhoitis

      I’d like to think the Orcs would almost do it for free given how shit they are treated. Giving them land and lord titles would really just be glazing on the lamb.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Not happening. The Duchy of Daoine is the last bit of the Deoraithe ancestral homeland under their control.

      That said, they may well be useful assets against the elves, but at the moment, invading the Golden Bloom to liberate it from the elves for the Deoraithe is pretty far down the priority list for Cat and everyone else on her side, including the Deoraithe themselves.
      The Elves will keep – with as long as it’s been, reclaiming the Golden Bloom is not a time sensitive matter.
      The Deoraithe rather dislike the Procerans, and seem to be relatively on board with Cat being Queen of Callow – she’s certainly far more preferable than whatever the Crusade would have left in its wake, plus, the Conclave in Salia just declared them heretics.
      Also, the Dead King is invading Procer after making a deal with Malicia.

      The Deoraithe are more than willing to hold off on their desire to reclaim the Golden Bloom – they have more immediate matters to attend to. Like the Crusade, the Dead King, and Praes/Malicia.

      That said, Cat doesn’t need to give Daoine to the orcs to get them to follow her. She has Hakram – the first Named orc since the Miezan conquest – and he got his Name through her, in large part. And she wants to kill the High Lords and their allies.
      She’s Black’s de facto chosen successor.
      She’s a proven and capable fighter, not some talker with soft hands and soft muscles.

      She’s got about as many of the qualities orcs look for in their leadership as someone who isn’t an orc can.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. The orcs are kind of gaining all of Callow as it is: the population is slowly learning not to see them as the half-starved machines the Empire once turned them into, but people. People you can deal with and even call neighbour, should some move their businesses (and homes) nearby.

        That’s big.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. While becoming accepted as citizens in Callow is a big deal – and definitely a positive development – that’s orders of magnitude different from what Someguy was suggesting.
          What was suggested was giving the Duchy of Daoine in its entirety to the orcs.
          I think it’s fairly safe to say that the difference between the two positions is not insignificant and is a distinction that matters.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yeah, I know. Which is why I said what I did: there’s no need to cede any land to a people who already have their own. The Steppes are where the orcs come from, and it is already theirs (whatever the Tower thinks).

            They really don’t need any more, particular not any taken from an ally/ a rather critical part of Callow.

            Rights to trade within Callow as just normal people? Priceless — for the chickens, ducks, geese, cows, pigs, sheep, deer and horses Callow grows taste good. Not sure what orcs think of pike, but I’m pretty sure salmon would go down well. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

    4. nick012000

      I suspect that the Elves are basically just Fae that moved to live in Creation on a permanent basis. If that’s the case, then it’s possible that Cat might be able to turn the Deoraithe themselves into elves and regain the Deoraithe’s homeland through peaceful means (possibly a political marriage to the Elven king).

      Or that she can turn the Deoraithe into elves with a better claim on the forest than the elves who currently live there, and get the forest to evict said elves in favor of its old masters.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Rook

    “Lord of silent steps” huh. I guess she’s making her own Assassin? Even has the whole “I’m actually a thousand different people at the same time” thing going on, what with all the Night it’s going to be eating.

    Although in a very Catherine type of way, it seems like it’s only going to be an assassin as far as sneaking up quietly before breaking into the inevitable brawl

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Vivienne might be headed for a Transition to a new Name – she has not, after all, exactly been doing that much of the Role that contributed to her getting her Name originally.

          The question then is, what would her new Name be.
          Her current Role, were she to be properly doing what Cat sent her to Callow to do, would likely send her towards a non-combat Name in the vein of Regent, Castellan, Steward, Counselor, Councilor, etc., or something along the lines of Spymistress, Spy, etc., or maybe a Thief evolution to something like Thief of Knowledge or Queen of Thieves, etc.
          At any rate … we will likely have to wait until Cat gets back to Callow to learn what happened with Vivienne, Namewise.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Argentorum

        My guess?
        The Queen’s Hand.

        Hakram’s gesture was just that thematic. Plus, it plays into her taking a more active roll as the ruler of Callow in Catherine’s stead, which allows Adjutant to be, as his name suggests, an administrator again.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I mean this applies for both Cat and her Army. If the crusaders or Malica deploy anti fae weapons and tactics, the Drow shock troops will just crash through. If they try to contain Catherine through a ward, I imagine the fire in a box metaphor will return. It’ll look like it’s working until the whole box catches on fire.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Malicia has proven she can contain Cat. I imagine someone with access to priests can likely achieve something similar. As for the army, well… I assume it’ll work like any other army: weak to goblin fire.

          Like

          1. Yeah but as the premise goes. Trying to imprison a powerful foe is just asking the Narrativr to let them escape and fuck you up somehow. Unless the capture is a direct product of a significant victory then the longer you actually succeed the worse the outcome when said box burns down. Or in Cat’s case, freezes and shatters.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dainpdf

              Depends a lot on what the story is. There are stories about mighty otherworldly beings being bound and spent. I mean, if binding something always ended in it escaping the Tower would never have stood as long as it has. Nor would Akua’s weapon have been completed.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Xinci

                Well there are multiple ways of getting out. Rhetoric is important..for example I “free you…from your shoulders”. Technically the tower was possibly free during the few times it got taken down but it came back. Generally if you cage something it gets out one way or another, now if and how it comes back are more due to its circumstances. Most otherworldly beings get freed just in a different time-span than their imprisoner. Just read some stories about sealed demons and devils(Theres a nice example in a Twilight Zone episode actually).

                Like

                1. Dainpdf

                  Well… There are stories of things that just get bound and don’t escape, or don’t until the end of the world. First that comes to mind is Merlin, but there’s Lucifer in the original version, Fenrir, the Greek Titans…

                  Like

      1. haihappen

        thats the thing: Scientists always insist that you prove your hypothesis with experiments… but nobody is happy if the economics people actually DO it. I imagine the world of Hunger Games started out as an economics model like “wouldn’t it be very efficient if you gave a small number of people all the power?”

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Shequi

            They actually did that with Eve Online, which to all intents and purposes is an economics simulation for proving that completely libertarian economics doesn’t work.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Unorginal

                In 2013 Eve had 500000 concurrent subscribers, its only gone further up.

                It is also a true no holds barred player driven economy. There are no NPCs no banks but the player made ones, delivery services are just trusted guilds with blockade runner ships etc.

                Like

                1. Unorginal

                  Actually there are safe systems in game protected by Concord ships who are the only NPCs that you ever have to interact with but mostly they are there to protect newbie players from being sniped by large player companies

                  Like

                  1. Unorginal

                    Also hostile takeovers of player companies (guilds) is an encouraged part of gameplay result in overnight disappearnces of major players occasionally.

                    Like

    1. Xinci

      She has been successful as far as I have seen. She just hasnt done enough to reform her classes. The lower portions need reforming and their relationship entangling them with her highest tiers also needs some reworking. A new leader is totally capable of making them into something more(a’la Cat). Well long as she doesnt waste them…and if she can manage to keep them flexible though this next transition(metaphysically and physically).

      Like

  8. JackbeThimble

    Hakram (Seeing Cat arrive from Arcadia with her drow host trailing behind): Where’d you get all the scimitars?
    Catherine: Oh the Dwarves offered me a discount on a shipment they had to unload. Something about them being nerfed in 5e. Last I saw they were haggling with an envoy from Helike for a rapier.
    Hakram: And the Panthers?

    Liked by 5 people

        1. JackbeThimble

          Yeah but that’s why they were ‘nerfed’ in 5e- they took the whole concept of threat ranges out. So scimitars are now essentially just shortswords that do slashing damage.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. ______

      He’s getting offscreened the same way Capitain was. It’s scary, really, how a single tidbit of reliable information (Catherine’s “My teacher dedicated his entire life to breaking this game, but that’s a reflection of his flaw – he can’t conceive a world where he doesn’t win”) allowed the Grey Pilgrim to come up with an Amadeus-proof plan where hero-collected intel of White Knight failed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RanVor

        Black has too many unresolved plotlines tied to him to die now. EE isn’t a writer who wastes potential like that. Besides, his death has been “ensured” for so long I don’t even believe he’s going to die anymore.

        Like

  9. Snowfire1224

    Interesting, but if Ivah is a lord of winter is he admitting that he has a gender or did it simply accept the title of Lord because there was no gender neutral term for lord/lady? I mean that is a big part of the drow culture, having no gender.

    Like

    1. mavant

      I suppose her objection to taking the Night was not a moral one so much as a practical one.

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

      Liked by 10 people

    2. Torturing implied she is strapping innocents to a table to cause pain. This is her fighting people who planned to attack her first and drawing out the fight to learn.

      Like

  10. ereshkigala

    At least Cat is learning to use Winter. Akua curbstomping a dozen heroes at once with her own power must have showed her just how stupid she was being not training with it.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Decius

    When none of the buyers at an auction has literally any maximum allowable bid, but can just bid “more”, the prices for motivated buyers will be quite high.

    Cat doesn’t have to worry about the oaths running out. After all, the bids for the top night are going to start in the eons and go up many orders of magnitude from there.

    The bids for the trash are going to start in decades, because the alternative is /not getting ANY/.

    Like

  12. fbt

    great, great bit, lovely to see cat chewing gum and kicking butt..and growing. And i love the snark, as always. “That one was mine!” lol. good comments and a lot of interesting hints in this one, I enjoyed it very much. I do worry about Black, he’s one of my favorite characters in any series. He reminds me of Kerr Avon, who I loved. If GP did indeed off Black, i hope Cat makes a legendary example of him (he’s certainly earned it, in many ways).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. WuseMajor

    So… No comments on the whole “Mighty Berelun used to be a sigil holder until he took an arrow to the knee” thing?

    How about comments on just how often “Akua did this helpful thing and I don’t really even think about how much leverage it’s giving her anymore” came up? Admittedly, right now, Archer is the only lieutenant who isn’t dangerously treacherous that Cat has with her, but it seems like Akua might have gained a worrying level of trust from this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Daemion

      Akua is trusted to behave according to her nature, which means Cat fully expects her to try to weasel out of the situation even if that means lies, betrayal, murder and unspeakable horrors unleashed upon the innocent.

      I doubt anyone trusts Akua to have Cat’s best interests at heart, she’s a very selfish creature after all. But as long as her desires line up with Cat’s goals…

      Like

    1. It’s indicated during the history scene during the journey in Arcadia to TDK when Bard is discussing her empowerment with him. She indicates she was the first empowered individual and that she was given power by both sides. Her original role was to maintain Calernia as a vehicle for the God’s argument about free will. Exactly how she goes about that or whether she actually still is following her role is anyone’s guess.

      Like

    2. fbt

      in the visions of the past on the way to see the dead king, tdk asks which side she’s working for at the moment when she visits, implying she does both. there are quite a few other important seeming hints in that bit, worth a re-read.

      Like

  14. Xinci

    Its a start. Theres a huge amount of potential in their structure, they only serve like they do now because of their ruler. She can shift them into something more in many ways. Grafting them into various metaphysical concepts to learn and become more herself.It’ll be a while before she makes such a decision I suppose though, she doesnt have the perspective or the love right now. Doesnt understand the Night enough.,,

    Like

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