Chapter 63: Initiation

“Blood sacrifice is such an ugly term. I prefer to think of it a ‘blood redistribution’, a thriving new form of Imperial enterprise.”
– Dread Empress Sinistra II, the Coy

“One hundred and sixty years, subjected to the full breadth of lesser and greater oaths,” Akua said.

The nisi at her side, a one-eyed drow named Centon, repeated her words in Crepuscular loudly enough all those assembled below would hear them. Nearly seven hundred drow were seated respectfully on their knees, packed tightly on the cavern floor, but they were the most orderly crowd I’d ever seen. That many humans in a room would carry out hushed conversations among each other, even if there was a devil looking over them, and neither orcs nor goblins were very different. Goblins, in fact, might try to talk with the bloody devil. Not a single one of the drow had so much as let out a grunt except when bidding. The difference here, I thought, was cultural. Most surface people had an expectation they would not have their throat cut on a whim, while drow had lived their whole lives under a different set of unspoken rules. Life was the cheapest form of currency in the Everdark. Centon’s words were not followed by another bid, though in truth I’d not expected one. One hundred and sixty years was fairly high for a rylleh. A sigil-holder’s corpse could easily fetch as much as five centuries, but then it came with the understanding that a drow harvesting that much Night should easily be capable of living that long.

Diabolist and I both knew why the bidding for lesser corpses had risen. After it’d been made clear that titles like the one bestowed upon Ivah would only ever be considered for people who’d fought under me and sworn the full breadth of oaths, interest in even the lesser Mighty had significantly increased. The most ambitious among the dzulu wanted to be worth bringing along for the fight when we hit Great Lotow, judging the comprehensive oaths an acceptable shackle if it could lead to that greater ultimate payoff. The Lord of Silent Steps had made something of an impression when it’d gone through the upper ranks of the Trovod like a hot knife through butter, and the lingering tales of that had led to regular polite inquiries on the subject of titles from both dzulu and the occasional nisi.

“Then Sekoran may rise to take the oaths, and this auction has come to an end,” Akua said, after the silence continued for a full sixty heartbeats. “You may disperse.”

Centon translated her words, and without a sound the drow below us knelt forward until their foreheads touched the floor. Not one rose before the winner – named Sekoran, apparently – was climbing up. They left in orderly files after that, neither jostling nor hurrying. Even though I’d made it clear that as far as I was concerned all of their kind were equal under my rules, the nisi still allowed the dzulu to leave ahead of them while expressing deference through tilts of the head lowering their gaze to the floor and presenting their neck. It meant, Akua had told me, that the nisi in question were offering their life and Night for harvest should their social superior wish it. Mostly a courtesy, as nisi were communal property of the sigil and not to be touched unless allowed by the sigil-holder, but here in the outer rings those customs were more loosely kept to. When the difference in power between rylleh and sigil-holder was thin, order tended to break down and killing nisi was often used as statement of rising or descending influence. The drow, I’d learned, made the Praesi fondness intrigue and blood sport look positively mild in comparison. Sekoran climbed up the rocky outcropping that’d served as our seat for the auction with poorly-hidden eagerness.

It was young, though it was hard to tell with drow. Sekoran did lack the kind of agelessly young look most Mighty had, though, its features still soft and lacking the harsh angles of a mature drow. The lifespan of their species was a headache and a half to understand. It was known that those who held no Night save that which they were born to would live exactly sixty years, much too clear-cut a lifespan to be natural. They called it the Three Faces: drow reached maturity at twenty and began their decline at forty, their bodies breaking down over those last twenty years until death took them at the exact age of sixty. Dzulu, like Sekoran’s silver-touched eyes betrayed he was, could expect to live over a hundred years old. It was unheard of for even the lowest of the Mighty to die of old age, but some of the worst monsters in the inner ring were alleged to have lived over a millenium. The kid bowed after finishing the climb, first towards me then towards Akua. It allowed Centon to speak to it with contemptuous patience, though more than once I caught it glancing at the banner at my side while the nisi spoke. It’d made an impression, as it’d been meant to.

Drow did not take oaths, or make them, and so a few of the first dzulu to secure a corpse in the auction had treated their word a little too lightly. Three, to be precise. They’d tried to slay other drow under my banner, or hurt them. Their hideously twisted and frozen corpses had been hung from the long metal pole at my side, dangling softly back and forth. I’d not had to lift so much as a finger to see them die. The oaths had seen to that, the sliver of Winter I’d put inside them devouring their bodies from the inside the moment they acted in a manner breaking their word. The Night they’d taken was still there, stirring as they dangled.

They’d started taking the oaths seriously after that.

“It is ready for the ceremony,” Akua said, breaking me out of my thoughts.

I glanced at the shade and nodded. She’d helped me with both the ritual and the wording of the oaths, putting her extensive experience with diabolism to slightly more acceptable use. As a sorcerous discipline, diabolism was as much about wordcraft as it was rituals: a binding could be technically flawless and still turn out to be completely worthless if there was a loophole in the protections it carried. There was a reason Praesi preferred summoning lesser devils when they could get away with it: the risks rose sharply when the devil was capable of thought. I’d agreed that making the oaths in Lower Miezan would be to our advantage, since neither of us mastered Crespuscular well enough to be able to understand all the nuances – or, to be frank, trusted any of our translators enough to let them shape the oaths in our stead. Centon would translate the words as well as it could, but the oaths and answers would be in my own native tongue. The ritual tools involved were, to Akua’s open despair, rather crude and simple. A sharp obsidian knife, unadorned save for the leather grip, and a rough bowl of sandstone. More than once I’d caught her complaining under her breath that only a Callowan would ‘try to subvert an entire civilization with kitchen utilities’, but she’d get over it.

Or not, I didn’t care either way. Her continued genteel horror was always good for a laugh.

The ceremony, if it could even be called that, was rather simple. I sliced the knife across my palm – normally I’d consider that horribly inconvenient, but my unusual physiology allowed me such dramatic liberties – and let the blood flow into the bowl. I handed the knife to Akua, who then passed it on to Sekoran. It followed suit, cutting too deep in its eagerness. There was no need to slide a piece of Winter into the mixture. My blood itself, I’d been forced to admit, was the stuff of Winter manifest.

“Sekoran of the Everdark, under this name and any name you have ever borne or will ever bear I bind you by these oaths,” I said. “May they hold true for one hundred and sixty years, lest the power now bestowed devour you whole.”

“I so swear,” Sekoran spoke in heavily accented Lower Miezan after Centon translated for it.

“You will never slay nor harm nor hinder any in the service of the Sovereign of Moonless Nights, or dwelling within Callow, save in your own defence or the pursuit of its laws,” I said.

“I so swear.”

“For the duration of one hundred and sixty years, you will follow the orders of the Sovereign of Moonless Nights without intent to subvert or pervert the spirit in which they were given,” I said.

“I so swear.”

There were sixteen lesser oaths, all in all, and we moved through them briskly. Most of them were practical boundaries I needed to set before turning loose the murderous drow equivalent of the Watch on the surface for my campaigns. There would be no rape or wanton slaughter, protection of civilians would be enforced by magical oath and standards of decent behaviour thrust upon them. Akua had called it forging a facsimile of Callowan honour through threat of death. I called it refusing to create another batch of fae nobility if they weren’t bound to behave the way nobility supposedly did. The greater oaths were only three, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call them my contingencies. Black had taught me that there was always a point of failure hidden away in even the most stringent of plans, something unseen and unexpected that would come back to bite you at the worst possible time. Given the scope of what I was undertaking here, the sting of that bite would be equivalently brutal. If – when – this turned south on me, I needed levers to either sideline or end them. Fortunately, this time I was not negotiating with the most powerful woman on the continent while she was arguably at the height of her power. I was dealing with eager, desperate drow who craved what I had to offer so badly they could taste it.

The kind of people willing to make dangerous bargains.

“Until death, you will obey and enforce any and all terms of the Liesse Accords,” I said.

“I so swear.”

“The Sovereign of Moonless Night will once name a foe you must fight until it and all it commands is utterly destroyed,” I said.

“I so swear.”

“The Sovereign of Moonless Night will have right to ask one boon of you, to be carried out at all costs, and that right if unused can be passed down to others at its discretion,” I said.

“I so swear.”

Help, long-term plan, insurance. It was not fool-proof, but it was the best the finest diabolist of my generation had been able to help me craft.

“Then Sekoran of the Everdark is granted right to the corpse bargained for, and all Night held therein,” I said. “By this compact we are now bound, and will remain bound.”

The young drow shivered, and it had nothing to do with the coolness of the cavern air. There’d been power in the air, power running through its veins. Through mine as well. I glanced at Centon and nodded. The nisi spoke in Crepuscular, and guided the other drow towards the rylleh’s corpse. Akua lingered, to my complete lack of surprise.

“Diabolist,” I evenly said. “Report.”

She sat at my side without need for an invitation.

“The food situation is out of control,” Akua said. “We can last two more days, three if we ration even the children.”

“We’ll be seizing the Berelun reserve today,” I said.

“And the Berelun themselves with it,” she pointed out. “The speed at which we accrue bellies to fill vastly outstrips the quantity of food we’re acquiring.”

I nodded slowly. She wasn’t wrong.

“I expect you’re leading to a suggestion,” I said.

“You were intent on hitting another two sigils before moving against Great Lotow,” Diabolist said. “We cannot afford that. Perhaps one, if what passes for their granaries is large enough.”

“We’re still weak,” I said.

“Our drow contingent will not be the cause of victory or defeat in Lotow, let us not pretend otherwise,” she said. “A few more Mighty sworn to you will not make a significant difference either way.”

Time and empty bellies. Along with coin, they were the enemies that most often imposed on my plans.

“Agreed,” I sighed. “I’ll send Archer to see if the Delen are more inclined to fighting than fleeing, we can decide from there.”

“Sensible,” she conceded with a nod. “As for the situation in the camp, it remains… fluid.”

“Rarely a good word, when passing Praesi lips,” I said.

She seemed amused by that, and did not deny it.

“The nisi remain cautiously grateful for the rules of behaviour you have imposed, though skeptical it will last,” Akua said. “The situation with the dzulu, however, is fast reaching boiling point. The auction has worked, to an extent, but I would expect betrayals in the camp from ambitious elements the moment we run into solid opposition.”

“You have names?” I asked.

“I am in the process of gathering them,” Diabolist said. “Which remains difficult, as I lack eyes to watch on my behalf. I must rely almost entirely on rumours and observation of social currents – observations, I will remind you, made without appropriate cultural context.”

“Still angling for your little death squad, I see,” I said.

“There is no nation or large-scale organization on Calernia that does not have individuals charged with internal surveillance,” Akua said. “Including Callow under your reign, Catherine. Drow being notably more fractious than humans, to establish such a measure is mere common sense. We both know the longer we wait the larger this will become and the harder it will be to track would-be traitors. It must be done, and done quickly.”

“Not to revisit our last argument, but I still don’t trust dzulu to keep an eye on their own kind,” I frankly replied. “And for them to have right of life and death inside the camp would carry obvious dangers.”

“I have come to understand and somewhat agree with your perspective in this,” Diabolist said. “Which is why I would amend my previous request. I would like ten ispe corpses from the next… acquisition to be set aside for raising nisi of my own picking. They can be charged with the duty, after being subjected to a strict set of oaths.”

“That’ll take the wind out of the next auction,” I said.

“It will also make it clear that there is more than one way to rise in your service,” Akua said. “A useful tool, if the notion is properly conveyed.”

I clenched my fingers, then slowly unclenched them. She was right about the risks of leading a pack of drow without anyone charged with keeping an eye on them. Knives pointed at our back weren’t just likely at this rate, they were inevitable.

“Agreed for the corpses,” I said. “We’ll discuss the hierarchy of that fresh batch of spies and assassins after the Berelun have been brought into the fold.”

I was disinclined to let Akua Sahelian head what would effectively be my equivalent of the Jacks down here, but I might not have another choice. Ivah was another possible candidate, but I might need it on the frontlines and my leash on Diabolist was arguably tighter. In the end I could dislike it all I wanted but who else was there?

“One last subject, if you would,” Akua said.

Evidently she’d noticed my attention was waning.

“I’m listening,” I said.

“I would ask for one more ispe to be set aside,” she said. “For Centon to harvest.”

“Your assistant,” I frowned. “It should have enough status from that position alone, and I can’t think of another reason why you’d want to empower it.”

“It is being treated as a nisi favoured by one of higher status, not an individual to be respected outside that very narrow boundary,” Akua noted. “The casual disrespect it is still offered grates me and hinders its work besides. Status as one of the lesser Mighty would neatly remedy that.”

And also allow her to sink deeper hooks into the rest of the drow through Centon, a notion I was much less pleased about. Keeping Diabolist useful without giving her too much power was ever a delicate balancing act.

“If you were serious about promoting for reasons other than martial talent, you will hardly find a better candidate,” Akua said. “It was careful enough to hide it held the Secret of Lower Miezan for more than twenty years.”

“No one’s born with a full Secret,” I grunted. “Not even literacy, and that’s the most common there is. It whet its blade a few times to complete that.”

“You might as well chide a Praesi for diabolism,” she replied amusedly.

My brow rose.

“How’s your heart, Akua?” I said.

“Ever in your hand, dearest, in more ways than one,” she smoothly replied.

I rolled my eyes.

“I’ll see if I can spare an ispe, but that’s unlikely until Lotow,” I said. “Make do until then.”

“By your will, my queen,” she said.

“Because that’s not getting old,” I muttered.

I rose to my feet. Time to finish cleaning up the Berelun, then. Archer would be getting restless by now.

“You’re angry,” Indrani said. “It told Ivah you’d be angry.”

“First off, I very much doubt that,” I replied.

“That’s fair,” she mused. “I mean, I was lying.”

“Yours is the laziest, sloppiest form of treachery I have ever countered,” I said. “I can’t believe that’s a mark in your favour, but Gods help me it is. Anyhow, I’m not angry. Surprised? No, surprised is too weak a word. Befuddled.”

“I mean, you left us alone without supervision so when you really think about it who’s really at fault?” Indrani said.

There was a pause.

“You. You are that fault. That was what I was implying,” she revealed.

“I left you two alone for two hours and a half tops, Archer,” I complained. “How the Hells did you end up ‘accidentally’ taking over another sigil?”

What the Berelun called their stronghold was, practically speaking, a plateau inside a tall cavern with a passage through drilled under it. To reach the part where the drow had actually lived – the top of the plateau, more specifically a knot of descending stalactites and stalagmites that’d fused into some sort of stone tree around which all the Berelun tents and structures were centered – would normally have required climbing a sheer cliff, but there were benefits to being made of smoke and mirrors. Like growing wings at will. When I’d first realized that Archer and Ivah had proceeded ahead of me I’d expected to find the stronghold cleared of the last Mighty and terrified drow awaiting instructions. The second part of that, at least, had come true. The first had not, since I was currently looking at around thirty Mighty of varying ranks kneeling on the stone with their hands behind their necks.

“There’s a very good explanation for that,” Indrani assured me.

My brow rose, and I gestured for her to speak. Silence persisted.

“I can’t think of a believable lie,” she admitted after a moment.

“Have you considered giving me an actual truthful accounting?” I suggested.

“What is this, a bloody House of Light?” she complained, then her eyes brightened. “Although, if you’re willing to wear ripped up sister robes I’m more than willing to give you my confessions.”

“Just give me your godsdamned report, Archer,” I said, rubbing the bridge of my nose.

“Fine,” she pouted. “So I was, like, making small talk with Ivah while surrounded by corpses.”

“As one does,” I said.

“Right? We never go anywhere without there being corpses around, we should work on that,” she said. “Anyways, it was all like ‘Archer, you peerless beauty whose charm has moved me, I’m going to brag so you become interested me’.”

“Classic Ivah,” I agreed.

“And so it mentioned that Bere-whatever tried to convince it to stab you,” Indrani said. “Offered it fourth place in the local pecking order.”

Probably the only accurate part of what she’d reported so far, though I would not hold out hope for that trend to continue.

“So then, I was like all ‘Ivah, please, don’t be so obvious it’s just embarrassing’. But then I figured – wait, fourth? That’s pretty high up. Burley-whatever brought two rylleh with a bunch of mooks and Ivah hadn’t done much to show power at that point. Unless it was real bare back on the home front, Shirley-whatever was full of it when it made that promise.”

The worst part, I thought, was that she was perfectly aware that the name of the sigil and sigil-holder had been Berelun. She was yanking my chain. I knew that. She knew I knew that. And I knew that she knew I knew that. Yet if I actually corrected her I would lose, and that was just unacceptable.

“So you went on a walk,” I prompted.

“Well, technically you said to keep an eye on the corpses and the corpses were gone by then,” Indrani said. “So really you have only yourself to blame.”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that,” I grunted. “There’s plenty of blame to go around.”

“Look, when we found the Troubadours they were already under attack by this other bunch of drow,” Indrani protested. “So you know, I defended the innocent. As is my custom.”

“I don’t suppose you bothered to learn the context for all this,” I tried.

“I knew you’d say that,” she crowed. “So I wrote it down.”

She pulled back her coat and mail sleeve, revealing red scribbles. I blinked.

“Archer, is that blood?”

“Which do we run into more often down here: dead bodies or inkwells?” she pointed out. “It’s like you don’t even think, sometimes. Anyways, here it is. The Dubious-”

Delen, I mentally corrected, which was the nearest sigil to this tone.

“- have been all warlike recently, and slapped the Henries in the face in a skirmish a while back, a defeat bad enough that it cleaned up most of their Mighty.”

Had we really gone from ‘Bere-whatever’ to ‘Henries’ in the span of thirty heartbeats? I was in dire need of a way to exact pretty revenge on Indrani, it was the only language she truly understood.

“When they heard the Henries were moving out to speak with us, they decided it was a good time to attack,” Indrani continued. “But they’re blind and their timing is shit-”

The stronghold of the Berelun was difficult to access and finding out precisely when they’d gone to ambush me was difficult, I mentally translated.

“- so they were only just getting started when me and Ivah showed up,” she said.

“Ivah and I,” I said. “You ignorant wench.”

She flipped me off. My gaze returned to the kneeling drow, who’d been watching us talk back and forth very carefully.

“And you what, killed enough of them that the rest gave up?” I asked.

“We protected the innocent until surrender ensued,” Indrani proudly replied, then spoiled the way she’d kept her face straight through that by badly winking.

“Fuck it,” I sighed. “We’ll offer them the usual ‘oath or sword’ bargain then loot everything before we get back on the road.”

“Yes sir, your queenliness ma’am,” Archer grinned. “We decided on where we’re headed, then?”

“Great Lotow,” I told her. “I hope you’re in a fighting mood, because we’re about to declare war on an entire civilization.”

The smile she gave me at that was terrifying in more ways than one, but at least she was on my side.

The drow wouldn’t be so lucky.

131 thoughts on “Chapter 63: Initiation

  1. Solfadore


    Hey all,

    RL friend of ErraticErrata here. A few others and I were debating Guide characters recently, and it dawned on us that there is truly no other way of settling any debate than by the laws of Bellerophon, Peerless Jewel of Freedom.

    That’s right – we’re organizing a PGTE Character Contest!

    Mostly because we’re curious as to which characters The-People-Who-Can-Do-No-Wrong (that’s you) prefer. Getting to hear your opinion of each character is valuable, so don’t hesitate to share!

    Before you ask, we did manage to talk EE into letting us do this, and with only a minimal number of threats.

    – The contest will start with next Monday’s chapter (October 22).
    – One match per chapter – the link to the poll will be in EE’s first comment in response to the chapter. We’ll also publish it on PGTE’s subreddit if you don’t read any of the comments. Like the one you’re reading right now. I’m helpful.
    – It will be a series of head-to-head matches between 32 PGTE characters. Just vote for your favourite!

    We promise lies, violence, more lies, and even the clenching and unclenching of fists. Or maybe none of that and just a series of polls. We’re still figuring it out.

    I’ll publish the bracket on Wednesday, so stay tuned!

    Liked by 19 people

      1. Novice

        Hmmm… Your statement feels like you’re implying you actually have a choice in whether or not to comply to the Laws As Penned By The People. Have you something to say, Citizen?

        Liked by 17 people

    1. Fern

      god finally, the only waifu wars that have ever mattered

      lets just all agree that brandon talbot is best girl and move on. I’ve never fought to the death for a bear before but i sure as hell will give it the old college try

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Agent J

        Your waifu is shit and your existence has proven a failed project.

        Robber is Best Girl. Always was. Always will be. The quality of the series has declined starkly with his prolonged absence.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. Cap'n Smurfy

            Traitorous is fine for thrills and to look at, but we need a waifu who’ll stand by us through through thick and thin. Bad boys like Traitorous are no good for us. Reliable Brandon Talbot is clearly Best Girl.

            Liked by 2 people

  2. Someguy

    “Blood sacrifice is such an ugly term. I prefer to think of it a ‘blood redistribution’, a thriving new form of Imperial enterprise.”
    – Dread Empress Sinistra II, the Coy

    She should have been in PR and Marketing.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. SlyMcFly

        I forget the details, but didn’t Akua go on a huge “I’m the culmination of centuries of Praesi High Lords breeding their offspring for beauty, brains, and magical brawn” speil at some point?


          1. Raved Thrad

            If that’s the case then they can’t just leave things as they are. There must be a big showdown between Megaliciatron and Starsakuascream.


        1. Micke

          As long as the oaths are the same, the risks should be Cat, neither more nor less. We know Akua’s interest is making Catherine Dread Empress of Praes, not backstabbing her allies for shits and giggles.

          Liked by 3 people

            1. Allafterme

              Because we know before the end of this book things roll downhill so hard that when you yell “the underdog” to a fountain of knowledge, words “Catherine Foundling” will appear. And Akua is, well, Akua.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. RanVor

                Isn’t it the case now?

                I mean, Akua is many things, but dumb isn’t one of them. She will not betray Cat unless it improves her situation considerably, and so far none of Cat’s enemies can offer her anything that would beat what she already has under Cat, and what she would lose if she turned against the Woe.

                Liked by 2 people

      1. I noticed that too. It’s possibly a limitation as that’s the part of her that allows her to bind those oaths, but even then it’s going to come back and bite her.
        I’m kinda disappointed that Akua isn’t suffering the fate of her folly yet.


    1. RanVor

      Actually, no. The sad fact is that Cat can’t do everything by herself, and can’t relegate any sensitive tasks to Archer. That leaves only Akua and the Drow, who are equally untrustworthy and much less predictable. Now, granting any kind of independent authority to the Diabolist would be an utterly moronic move. But authority on behalf of Cat that can be easily overridden if Akua feels like being stupid? That’s not a bad idea at all, as long as Cat can ensure the secret police are loyal to her before the Diabolist, which shouldn’t be hard with all the oaths and Winter shards.


  3. Might need some sort of recall/abort command/option on the second greater oath.
    Though, since it appears to be a one-shot, it’s unlikely to be lightly used, so maybe not.

    But oath-enforced behavior? That’s going to work as long as the oaths run for, but I’m dubious about what happens after the term of the oaths expires. Unless she uses the third greater oath on a permanent/indefinite extension of the other oaths, lesser and greater.

    Oh, that first grater oath is sneaky – she brings a host of oathbound enforcers to the Liesse Accords … if she can ever bring the Liesse Accords into play.

    Akua gaining more power – especially as head of an internal security service – is trouble waiting to happen.

    I bet “Callow” is going to be a lot larger after the Uncivil Wars. Don’t want drow marauding on your territory? Become part of Callow, and then they can’t or their oaths kill them (until the term of the oaths expire).

    Hah, Archer is hilarious “we accidentally took these guys over while you weren’t watching us”.
    Leaving Ivah and Archer together and unsupervised is a bad idea Cat, and you should know better.
    At least they’re about to be causing problems for somebody other than Cat shortly.

    These oaths demonstrate just how bad an idea it is to make and then break oaths with Cat. As it should be when dealing with powers linked to the Fae.
    Pilgrim broke his, though that presumably wasn’t anywhere near as one sided. It should still cause him serious problems dealing with Cat in the future.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Novice

        He did, when Pilgrim promptly disappeared after promising to accompany what’s-his-face (the Proceran prince heading the Callowan invasion, forgot the name) after the Proceran army agreed to a truce.


        1. Drunken Dwarf

          Pretty sure protecting that Prince wasn’t actually oath bound. Yes ditching him spit in the face of the Prince, the Northern Procer Coalition, and Callow but it wasn’t Story breaking. At least not oath wise, redemption story wise yes but that story sort of got nipped in the bud when she was labeled the archvillian by the Crusade.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. While accompanying the Prince of Iserre was one of his official reasons for wanting to accompany him back to Laure (really to work on the redemption arc for Cat), his presence as a”guest/hostage” was negotiated as part of the deal that got the Proceran army and its attached Heroes.
            Oaths would have been involved, otherwise Cat would never have accepted a Hero walking into Laure. Sure, they’re mostly going to be about good behavior and upholding the terms of the truce. And, sure, there wouldn’t have been the sort of Winter-enforced kill clause for violating them that the Drow are getting. But they still would have been required – and there be nothing for him to stand on objecting to swearing said oaths. And since he would’ve needed to make them, there are likely going to be consequences for breaking them – despite the Conclave declaring Cat Arch-heretic of the East nominally freeing him from oaths sworn to her.
            He made a deal with a Fae power (Cat) and then broke his end of the deal. Such things have consequences.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Cicero

              Actually… as I recall, Cat wanted oaths, but it was a deal breaker, that none of the heroes or nobles would risk giving oaths to Cat since if the Crusade ruled she was an nonredeemable villain that would trap them.

              So instead they agreed to hostages instead of oaths.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Pretty sure that’s not a deal he explicitly made- he was an observer to the truce talks not a signatory to them. Also, if I remember correctly the prince was the hostage not pilgrim – pilgrim was accompanying the prince but not a hostage by the terms of the truce.


        2. SpeckofStardust

          He didn’t do anything that went against his agreement to be allowed to be an observer for the Prince’s safety.

          He didn’t have to stay as part of the truce, Cat had to let him be there. (As long as he didn’t cause trouble while staying, which he didn’t)

          Liked by 3 people

          1. The same grade of penalty or enforcement, no, certainly not.

            But … Pilgrim was one of the guarantees of good behavior. He would have needed to agree to swear oaths to abide by his end of the deal as long as Cat and Callow did the same.
            In fact, he would have been required to swear more oaths than those staying with the army and leaving Callow.

            Sure, mostly he would’ve been swearing to things in the nature of good behavior, not escaping, no sabotage, etc.
            But he still made a deal with Cat (a Fae power) and violated his end of the deal. That’s going to have consequences.

            Making deals with the Fae is something you don’t do lightly, and you certainly don’t go anywhere near violating your end. Those stories never ever end well for the dealbreaker.


            1. Dainpdf

              Well, I’m not sure he did swear such oaths. Do we have confirmation? Plus, if just swearing were enough Cat wouldn’t have bothered with all of this.
              Also, he’s a super old hero. Bet he has a way to dodge whatever consequences may or may not come.
              Cat might be able to turn this into a story and capitalize, but I doubt it will do anything by itself.


              1. Pilgrim might not have formally and officially sworn binding oaths (and certainly nothing like the ones that the drow are making), but he would have needed to actively and affirmatively agree to abide by the terms of the deal and to terms of behavior and conduct.
                Ergo, he de facto made a deal with Cat – a Fae Power.
                And then he broke it.

                There are no stories where making, and then breaking, a deal with any Fae, much less a powerful one, ends well for the dealbreaker.

                Smart people don’t make deals with the Fae if it is at all avoidable, but only those who are too stupid to live make and then break a deal with the Fae.

                Oh, sure, there are some stories about getting the better end of a deal, if you tricked the Fae in the making of it, or if it’s some sort of wager or contest, sometimes you can surprise the Fae with an unexpected display of skill or luck. And the Fae will often leave themselves loopholes through wordplay, but that’s for them, not the mortal.
                But outright breaking a deal you agreed to? You are all kinds of screwed, until/unless you can somehow make it right, appease, and apologize to the Fae who you broke faith with.

                Pilgrim just broke the deal he made with Cat in order to kill (or at least come terrifyingly close in the attempt) Black (aka, Cat’s surrogate Father-figure/Mentor).
                I’m dubious about Pilgrim being able to grovel his way out of doom for breaking the deal and going after Black.
                If Pilgrim had gone north to face off against the Dead King, sure, maybe he could find some way to appease Cat (probably by throwing his full public and private support behind the Liesse Accords).


                1. Dainpdf

                  Would he? It’s been a while, so I may have forgotten, but I don’t recall any such oaths. Plus, he was there to guarantee the safety of Amadis, and he hasn’t attacked Cat’s people or Callow. It may be that he has abided by his part in it.


                  1. He didn’t swear the sort of binding oaths to support the deal that Cat wanted to get out of the Crusaders, no.

                    On the other hand, he was one of the negotiated guarantors of Crusader behavior, not just an observer.
                    There would have been terms negotiated on movement, activities, behavior, etc. – that would have been required by both the Crusaders and by Cat before a final agreement. Also, terms for enforcement/penalties for violating the rest of the deal.
                    Cat would have required that both the Crusaders leaving with the army and both the Prince and Pilgrim to actively and affirmatively agree to the deal. Pilgrim especially, because he could do all kinds of damage in Laure if he decided to misbehave – far more than Milenan could. And they’d require that Cat do the same.
                    That’s still making a deal with a Fae, even if there were no oaths covering the conduct, treatment, etc.

                    Also, in 36 Enchere, when Juniper tells Cat that Pilgrim has booked it, it is said that Pilgrim’s disappearance was a violation, though there wouldn’t be any point in using Pilgrim’s violation to invoke the negotiated penalty terms against either the Crusaders or on Milenan.


                    1. Dainpdf

                      I was looking at 21 and 22, and while Cat did say a random promise to her *would* come back to haunt people, the whole hostage thing was done to avoid oaths.
                      As for 36, I could find no mention of the Pilgrim, though it did mention that as arch heretic of the east all oaths to her are declared void by the Heavens.


                2. De facto deals definitely don’t count with fae in many stories. Usually it’s the fae taking advantage of implying something, but in most stories it’s the exact spoken words that matter. As indicated in this chapter by the attention placed on the language of the oaths.


        3. werafdsaew

          Read chapter 22 again; the whole point of leaving Amadis behind as hostage was because the crusaders didn’t want to make an oath. Now Cat is a fae and GP did break his words, so it would have consequences, but they are not oaths.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Raved Thrad

      I really like the Archer-Catherine dynamic, too. It’s like watching a yandere and a tsundere, locked together in the same room, and slowly watching the tsundere go bugfuck.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Sure, he may think that works. And for regular mortals, even regular Named, it probably would.
        Just a slight problem with that, ignoring the fact that the Conclave were declared heretics, and Pilgrim was declared a Villain, not a Hero, by the Callowan House of Light.

        You don’t get out of deals with the Fae so easily. And violating a deal you made or agreed to with one always has consequences. Severe consequences, at best.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. When you break faith with a Fae you made a deal with, there are no stories that end well for you. And all kinds of stories demonstrating just how bad an idea doing so is.

            Above is specialized against Below and it’s substantially less effective against the Fae – remember when the priests tried to use “holy power” as a countermeasure against the Winter Dead in the Battle of the Camps?

            Sure, Pilgrim isn’t going to be going solo against Cat. But failing to uphold his end of a deal he made with a Fae power is going to have consequences that he can’t just walk off or ignore.


    2. AVR

      The drow oaths aren’t going to expire all at once. Auctions, remember? For the truly dangerous drow Catherine (or her successor) is going to have decades to convince them not not go on a rampage, to make examples of lesser drow with shorter oaths in front of them, or to plan for their inevitable betrayal in the worst case.

      If the Grey Pilgrim survives his current encounter with the Black Knight then a stabbing by Catherine looks likely to be a part of his future before the Tenth Crusade is over. Losing a reason for her to negotiate with him is probably the biggest consequence.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. SilentWatcher

      Guys! Did no one consider the possibility of these oaths beeing the powder keg blowing up in cats face? especially the second, what stops akua, when she is in cats body again, from telling the drow cats name? massacer in callow ensues.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. nimelennar

      I doubt Callow is going to get any larger. It’s the country of “You tried to annex us, and we’re going to make you pay for it for centuries.” Cat would know better than to expect for things to come from trying to occupy hostile territory.


    5. Rup

      Which do we run into more often down here: dead bodies or inkwells?……
      Exactly the type of logic that The Lady Of The Lake would term CommonSense


  4. Raved Thrad

    Archer’s on a roll here. I pictured her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the previous chapter, playing knife games with the drow, but here it’s like she’s building up to one huge deathgasm. She just basically killstole an entire encounter away from Catherine.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Rook

      Archer is kind of like a goblinfire bomb. You don’t actually control it, you sort of throw it in the general direction of your opponents, then look the other way as everything goes to shit for someone else for a change.

      Liked by 11 people

  5. Cicero

    Starting to feel like things are going too smoothly for Cat. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Although I suppose the other shoe could be Black’s death. Cat comes back from the Drow all full of a success that worked well and without significant setbacks only to discover her father figure got killed while she was off playing Drow Queen.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Don’t forget – she still has to deal with the strongest drow sigils.
      And take care of the Sve of Night.
      That’s going to be plenty hard.

      She’s still dealing, for the most part, with the trash mobs, and only a handful of not as bad ones, of the Drow. This has been the easy part.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Raved Thrad

      “The man I loved as a father is dead, killed by heroes in Procer, and I will have revenge! Go forth, my treacherous minions! Burn Procer and Ashur to the ground! Build my father a funeral pyre on the ashes of the homes of these crusading bastards!”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. AVR

        Black’s a master of making the apparent situation be different to the real one. Don’t count him out just yet. Though if he thought that it would make a story where Cat could and would do that he might consider it acceptable losses, he has been a bit suicidal of late.


    1. Raved Thrad

      Can the dead gain names, as opposed to retaining them (like the undead Named enslaved by the Dead King)? If so, then she might be up for “Demonic Advisor” or something similar.


        1. Yotz

          Akua is a wee bit different now, it seems, the question here being – does here soul interweaving with the Mantle would be enough to alter her /quote/ undead /unquote/ state. She was able to gain a weight once, which implies, I presume, temporary gaining a body of sorts. Would it be enough to gain a semblance of life, or life in full – albeit not a status of “living” in conventional sense, maybe – only EE could answer.

          What tickles me in a fancy way, though – her apparent genuineness in the heart matters. Not that it would make it wise to give her even a bit of command over the newly minted Schutzstaffel, but here’s the crux – I doubt she will betray Cat unless Cat undergo radical personality change, essentially eradicating everything she is at this point, but…
          Imagine a high-functioning psychopath, megalomaniacal, machiavellian in its worst, utterly unrepentant, and utterly loyal to you. Unfortunately, said psycho also considers you to be a bit of a naive numbwit somewhat, and is convinced that in some aspects she knows better. Now, give her an channel to realize her good intents – good for you, that is; from her point of view, that is…

          In two days everyone will be prosperous, happy, and smiling. And if someone would not, I will smother them down, crush them into fine powder, and feed that powder to the devils!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Dainpdf

            Cat did swear she doesn’t get to come back, so if she starts to seem like she’ll get to anything like that she’ll be bound to destroy Ubua.
            In any case, she’s too traitorous to ever be trusted with anything. It’s religion, to her.


            1. RanVor

              Not really. That she has no qualms to betray someone when there’s something to gain by it doesn’t mean she feels compelled to betray people at the drop of a hat for some ridiculous reason. She’s much better off at Cat’s side and she knows it. She’s going to stay loyal at least until the situation undergoes a drastic change.


              1. Dainpdf

                You forget that “betrayal for no good reason” is exactly where “iron sharpens iron” leads. Hell, Praes has a Name dedicated exclusively to knifing the Tyrant in the back.
                That, plus look at their version of ‘The Scorpion and the Frog’, which praises the scorpion for exactly betraying the frog for no good reason.
                And Akua is Praesi if she’s anything.


                1. RanVor

                  Name one time Ubua did something that didn’t further her agency in any way.

                  Her insistence on sticking to tradition may make her inefficient, but that doesn’t mean she’s dumb or doesn’t know what she’s doing.

                  If she actually did betray Cat for no good reason, it would be the most disappointing plot development in Guide, period. I hate seeing a well developed character being cheapened like that just for the sake of a twist that wouldn’t even surprise anyone. It would be much more interesting if she didn’t betray Cat at all, simply because too many people expect the betrayal to happen.


                  1. Dainpdf

                    People expect her to betray Cat because that’s her character. Her not betraying (or at the very least attempting to lead astray) Cat at all would be out of character for her. Calling her betraying Cat a twist is like calling Vivienne stealing things a twist.
                    As for one time Ubua did something dumb due to her blinders? It’s known as Ubua’s Folly for a reason.


                    1. RanVor

                      People oversimplify Akua’s character all the time. She’s opportunistic as fuck, but she needs fucking opportunities to take advantage of them. I’m not saying she will never betray Cat (why do you keep missing my points?), I’m saying she will only betray Cat when it’s actually beneficial for her to do so. She’s not going to betray Cat when it’s counterproductive and suicidal just because she’s Praesi or betrayal is her religion or some other bullshit. She’s smarter than that and it honestly baffles me that people think otherwise while simultaneously believing she’s a brilliant manipulator who can wrap Cat around her finger whenever she wishes. Right now she has much more to gain by corrupting Cat than by breaking free of her control for five minutes or so (because that’s how quickly she would be crushed if she tried).

                      Akua’s Folly wasn’t really dumb, and definitely wasn’t counterproductive. It was actually a solid plan that only failed because she underestimated Black’s ingenuity.


                    2. Dainpdf

                      There are ways and ways of betraying someone. I’m not saying that Akua is just going to rebel randomly. Just that as soon as she gets what she thinks is a window, she will use it.
                      Much like, had Cat not had contingencies when she was asleep from lake dropping, she might just have stayed out for a way longer while.
                      As for manipulating Cat, she’ll have a hard time doing it for now, since she still has her blinders on and Cat remembers who she is.
                      About Akua’s Folly: It was a plan that would have gotten her drowning in heroes in a heartbeat. The Bard didn’t even take her as a threat.


                    3. RanVor

                      ” I’m not saying that Akua is just going to rebel randomly”
                      But you make it sound like she is.

                      “as soon as she gets what she thinks is a window, she will use it”
                      If it actually had a solid chance to get her what she wants, then yes, she would do it. But I don’t see any situation of this kind coming up in the near future.

                      “It was a plan that would have gotten her drowning in heroes in a heartbeat”
                      Sure, but one does not become one of the most influential villains on the continent without attracting unwanted attention from the other side of the fence. Also, the Heavens don’t work that quickly. It would be months before the really dangerous ones got to her, and by that time she would have already won. Besides, she would likely be drowning in heroes anyway. The Crusade, remember?

                      “The Bard didn’t even take her as a threat”
                      That’s because the Bard’s definition of a threat is quite unorthodox. Ubua was not a threat *to her*, because she would benefit from the Diabolist’s success. Cat is much greater threat to the Intercessor, despite being less of an actual threat.


                    4. Dainpdf

                      “But you make it sound like she is.”
                      Now you’re just putting words in my mouth.
                      “If it actually had a solid chance to get her what she wants, then yes, she would do it. But I don’t see any situation of this kind coming up in the near future.”
                      It’s more a question of whether she thinks she can get away with it. Plus, there is bound to be an opportunity at some point.
                      “Sure, but … The Crusade, remember?”
                      This is why Neshamah lasted millenia and Triumphant did not.”
                      “That’s because … an actual threat”
                      The Bard dismissed her saying she would take care of herself. That ‘that kind’ always ends like that. She dismissed Ubua not only as a threat to her plans, but as a threat to Good as well.


                    5. RanVor

                      “Now you’re just putting words in my mouth”
                      As you in mine. Now we’re even.
                      “Whether she thinks she can get away with it”
                      Except it’s not really possible anymore. This time it’s an all-or-nothing situation. And the reason for that is the Winter Mantle.
                      People keep talking about Akua usurping Cat’s power, but I don’t think they realize how it actually works. Cat *is* Winter. It can’t be taken away from her any more than your brain can be taken away from you, except the consequences would be many times more severe. Her body doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion made solid by the power of Winter. Her very existence to anchored to the mantle, intertwined so closely that anyone drawing upon Winter is automatically drawing upon Cat as well. To sever that bond, Akua would have to erase Cat from existence, lest she turns into Cat the moment she tried to use her newly acquired power. Of course, she herself would end up erased from existence if her plan failed. That’s why Akua has become more cautious than ever before – because the price of failure is utter annihilation, and she’s not going to risk it lightly.
                      “This is why Neshamah lasted millenia and Triumphant did not”
                      This is also why Triumphant is revered in Praes and Neshamah is not. Praesi perception of victory is rather warped. They don’t really care about how long they would last. What matters to them is how they’re going to be remembered by future generations. If Akua’s hellgate machine succeeded, she’d be able to quickly generate a level of infamy rivaling the Dead King, surpassing almost every other villain in history of Calernia. That’s a perfectly valid win within this mindset.
                      “She dismissed Ubua … as a threat to Good as well”
                      Because she wasn’t, really. Save for Black, no villain is a serious threat to Good as a whole. She was a representative of Classic Evil, and those always lose in the end. She was a huge threat to *people*, but since when does the Bard care about those?
                      It’s also worth remembering that not only the Intercessor didn’t actually take care of Ubua, but actively hindered others who tried to do so.


                    6. Dainpdf

                      I am sorry I put words in your mouth. I did not intend to. Please tell me where?
                      As for the mantle being usurped, it has been mentioned before. It would be hella difficult, but if anyone can try it’s diabolist. The Dead King did mention Cat hasn’t finished her apotheosis yet.
                      As for Triumphant, that’s precisely my point. Ubua’s culture is Praesi, and it stimulates certain behavior even at one’s own cost. Grabs for quick power are one, betrayal and shifting alliances are another.


    2. Never going to happen.
      Malicia was entirely right to seek to exterminate the Chancellor Name and role.
      Chancellors traditionally betray their overlord.
      Betrayal of Cat is not something Cat wants to encourage.


  6. JackbeThimble

    I think book 4 needs to be named ‘How Catherine Got her Mojo Back’ and it will end with her ascending to the Name of ‘Queen Bitch of the Universe.’
    Also Cat and Archer should just bang already.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Rook

    “at least she was on my side”

    That, right there, is everything about Archer as a person in seven words. She’s an inconvenience at best when she’s trying to help you, but gods, imagine how much worse it would be if she wasn’t.

    Liked by 8 people

  8. Ahoy Matey!

    i spy with my little eye a point of failure ; Akua usurping Cat’s title ”Sovereign of Moonless Nights” along with all the oathbound drow and most of Winter.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Yeah, I was reading those thinking “well that’s going to be something you regret when Akua steals the title, which she obviously already has a plan for.”

      That’s ok through, Akua winning in the end would be hilarious.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Josh

    I’m a little worried that the oaths were made out to the Sovereign of Moonless Night, as opposed to Cat specifically. That seems like a recipie for Akua usurping her title. She’s already got the body of a fae, and Cat keeps dumping the power bleed off onto her. Could be trouble.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. ______

      To be fair, when Catherine stabbed her supposed “father” she didn’t become a Duchess of Violent Squalls, though that might have been King of Winter rigging her title to destroy himself.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Dainpdf

      Thought the same. Could also be that this creates greater stimulus for other usurpation, eg by Larat.
      On the other hand, could be it’s the only option – their oaths are made on her mantle and upon joining Winter, and so it is possible they can only be made to the Sovereign.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. IDKWhoitis

      If she wants Winter to enforce the oath, she might be obligated to tie the oath to Winter by using her Winter Title. Same way how Cordelia uses her different titles in procer for different purposes. No prince in Procer follows Cordelia Hasenbach, they follow the First Prince.

      Likewise, if Catherine want to eventually Retire, she might want to be able to shunt off the responsibilities.

      Liked by 6 people

    4. Berder

      Absolutely. It apparently wasn’t even necessary because the first oath refers to “my service” and “my laws” (Catherine’s) instead of the Sovereign of Moonless Night. I get the feeling that Akua could usurp Cat’s title at any moment, she’s just waiting for the right time when she’s sufficiently insinuated into everything to take over.


    5. werafdsaew

      I’m thinking that’s exactly why the full oaths is to the Sovereign and not to Cat. Back when Akua was controlling Cat’s body, she was subject to all the oaths that Cat swore to. Conversely this means that as long as she controls the construct, she is Cat for purposes of oaths to “I”. Given that the Sovereign is the full mantle itself and not the construct, I’m thinking that it works differently for oaths to the Sovereign.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Dainpdf

    Can I just say that this is just hilarious as the recipe for the harem that will never be?
    Cat and Akua are delightful – until you remember that Ubua is a monster and should probably be dead.
    Cat and Indrani is cute – but they’ve made it quite clear they’re happy as friends, and Cat doesn’t even feel lust for her anymore.
    Still, I’m firmly in the “Cat should get laid” camp. Might help her unwind a bit.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. wintersprite

      Too bad Thief would probably be pissed off when she hears about Ubua’s drow spy/death squad… Plus, Cat’s body is already made out of fae stuff, can she even get laid? Winter’s not coming any time soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Berder

    I’m going to brag so you become interested me (interested in)
    the nearest sigil to this tone (to this one)

    Definitely Akua is getting too much power here by being liaison with the Drow, and this is going to bite Catherine hard.


  12. Redlaw

    Who watched code gueass where at the end lelouch enslaved his brother to “zero” and not him exactly. Here i think it’s the same. The oath are to the sovereingn of moonless night not cat. So what happen if she lose her title ? What happen if a certain shade who worded the oath and is able to tape in the power of winter managed to steal all the power ? After all this story is about tropes and a protagonist having all his power stolen by an “ally” is a trope used many time in many story.


  13. crescentsickle

    Comment on recent chapters, since I just got caught up:

    Viv paranoia’ing at Hakram is sad. She sees Akua eye up Hakram and conclude it’s because Akua recognizes a fellow schemer. The truth is that Akua aims to be Chancellor at the moment, to grab that name in order to aim for Empress once Cat claims it. The Chancellor is an extension of the Empress, and though Akua’s existence is a literal physical extension of Cat, Hakram is an extension of Cat in so many ways his Name represents the fact. He exists as a force poured into the mold of whatever tool Cat requires and is thus the ideal candidate for Chancellor to an Empress, especially one that doesn’t believe that ‘Steel strengthens steel’ and so doesn’t care for treachery as an open secret in her underlings.

    Akua has been trying this entire time to emulate Hakram and serve Cat in all the ways Hakram can’t; to be that same force poured into whatever mold is desired, but a force composed of very different things. Arguably more useful things, she whispers to Cat in every action she takes in her service.

    The problem is that she has to either make Cat fall far enough to accept her over Hakram, or Hakram has to die in a way she has to be so far removed from suspicion that she can’t actually be involved. I wonder if she’s been manipulating things with the woe in the hopes that Viv and Hakram will either have a falling out or one of them kills the other. If they do, her position is elevated. If they don’t, she gets to continue to woo Cat without supervision.


  14. Ravenfrost

    Everyone here pass on the most important piece of information delivered in this chapter, the discipline of the nisi. I think cat will make an army of those nisi that folllow her. And by empowering them will effectively change drow society.
    After all, named do not hold ground, a teaching that this guys have forget…
    Sorry for bad english


  15. “Black had taught me that there was always a point of failure hidden away in even the most stringent of plans”

    It’s a good practice to set aside a team (if possible) and give them a hypothetical: imagine it’s the future, and our plan has already failed. Your job is to explain why it failed.

    This is a proven way of rooting out those unseen weak points.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. RanVor

    If Cat ever loses the title of the Sovereign of Moonless Nights, I expect all kinds of awful shit happening to everyone except her, because I’m not sure if she can even exist without her mantle anymore.


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