Chapter 64: Momentum

“When in doubt, attack. When doubtless, attack as well.”
– Bastien de Hauteville, Proceran general

Great Lotow was nothing like I’d expected.

All I’d seen of the drow so far was raised stones and the occasional clever exploitation of natural features, and so my expectations had been rather low before I took my first look at one of their ‘cities’. I’d believed it would be a few half-ruined structures and perhaps a surviving set of walls, but the Lotow I was looking upon served as a reminder that the Everdark had once been an empire in its own right. I’d thought of the term city in the Callowan sense, a gathering of houses and streets with marketplaces and maybe a decent set of ramparts. But that was a surface way of looking at things, wasn’t it? Up there, cities were built in breadth. Spreading when the population rose. The drow had instead built in depth, in a way that would have been impossible in the land of my birth.

Great Lotow was built in levels, that was the easiest way to describe it. The heart of the city was a massive pit with a spire of stone in the centre, from base to summit large as a small fortress. From that tree radiates branch-like bridges leading to districts carved directly into the rock across the chasm, their sizes variable. Closer to the bottom I could glimpse districts large as Summerholm itself serving as farms and lakes, while closer to the centre the holes in the rock were more like neighbourhoods of carved houses. At its peak, I thought, Lotow must have had several hundred thousand drow living in it. Now, though, most of it was abandoned. Some of the bridges linking the spire to the sides had been broken and though some were replaced by rope bridges made of some kind of pale weed many more had simply been left gaping, the districts they led to now empty ruins.

It was a moving sight, I would admit. The structure of the city alone would have been impressive, but the ancient drow had made of Lotow a work of art. There was hardly a wall or floor that was not filled by a mosaic or bas-relief, stalactites and stalagmites had been carved into painted statues of drow and animals. Entire spans of ceiling had been set with coloured stones and gems to create a sky, and there were tall steles showing spindly sentences in Crepuscular reciting old stories and ballads where my people would have placed street signs instead. Ivah had told me that last detail was an old drow custom: streets had once been known by the never-mentioned titles of the written work on the stele, every drow expected to be well-taught enough to know it at a glance.

Now, though, those old stories were painted over with blood red runes to mark where territories began and ended. Metal and precious stones had been ripped out of statues and mosaics, carvings older than Callow left to erode under the depredations of elements and time. Stone houses that collapsed were not raised anew but covered with skins and leathers as half-tents while ancient temples and mansions lay cracked open, their heavy stones used to make walls of piled rock. And still, after centuries and millennia, Great Lotow endured. Long winding aqueducts rival to any of Miezan make descended along the sides of the pit and provided water to cisterns and fountains, sewers unlike I’d ever seen sent filth towards the lower farms without overflowing or clogging after what must have been centuries of disrepair. There was no city like this in Callow, I thought. Not even in Praes, who had been under Miezan occupation and so benefitted from that empire’s fondness for great civil works. Great Lotow would have been the crown jewel of any surface nation, the envy of the continent.

Down here, it was just one more decaying corpse in the pile. It was a sorrowful sort of awe that I felt. Would we have raised cities like this, if we were not always at war? I wondered. Callow had little to boast of save for cathedrals and fortresses. The bridges linking Summerholm were a wonder, to be sure, but a Miezan one. Sometimes I could see why the rest of Calernia called us backwards peasants. We were so much less than we could have been. Praes too, I thought. There was so much potential in the Empire, if it would just cease devouring itself every other decade. So much knowledge and skill, always turned to acts of self-immolation that took chunks of the continent along with it.

“You’re being quiet,” Indrani said.

“It’s a lot to take in,” I replied.

“Eh,” my friend shrugged. “After Keter the bar’s been raised. Gonna take more than pretty ruins to impress me.”

“We walk through the grave of an empire,” I murmured. “That’s worth a moment of contemplation.”

“Oh, there’s still people down there,” Indrani mused. “For now. I don’t see this lot surviving a firm assault from the dwarves, if we don’t get them moving.”

There were still drow, it was true. A mere pittance compared to what Lotow must have kept in olden days, but our new acquisitions form the departed Delen Sigil had estimated twenty thousand people here and I believed that was a conservative number. The larger sigils reigned close to the bottom, where the old farms could be kept going and so allow for more nisi to be held, but that didn’t necessarily mean the deeper sigils were the most powerful. Mighty Delen and its tribe had been intending to have a go at claiming territory on the outskirts of Lotow within the decade, and so interrogation had wielded more information than I’d expected. The central spire – called an overly-long word meaning ‘column’ in Crepuscular – wasn’t the territory of any single sigil, as whoever held it would have a massive advantage over rivals, but the rest of the inhabited city had been carved up between the ten sigils that inhabited it. The weakest, and the one we’d go after first, was the Urulan Sigil. They’d once ruled a few of the central districts, but after being evicted by a stronger sigil they’d moved upwards and devoured the sigil that had previously ruled the part of Lotow called the Crossroads.

If the city was a cylinder from which districts sprouted, then the Crossroads was the circle atop that cylinder, connected through the central Column by four broad bridges. Nearly every tunnel in the region led to the Crossroads, including the one where we currently stood, though the Hallian ways that had once been the highways of the drow empire were linked to Lotow’s bottom level instead. Which was unfortunate, since I intended to go through those. The Crossroads were arguably the city’s second most important strategic point, but highly unpopular territory for a sigil to hold: since near  every tunnel led to them, any ambitious sigil trying to get into the Lotow scrap would begin by taking a swing at whoever held them. Word was that a sigil holding them could expect slow and steady decline through constant conflict until either a sigil of the outer ring managed to mount a strong enough assault or a sigil on the losing side of a conflict deeper down moved up and evicted the latest occupants – much as the Urulan themselves had done.

Sadly, the Urulan Sigil had been force to migrate less than twenty years ago. They might be a wreck compared to any of the deeper sigils, but they would have maintained enough strength they’d make any of the fights I’d picked in the Everdark so far look like child’s play.

“The city will be tricky to assault,” I finally said.

“Gotta take the Crossroads before we go at it seriously,” Indrani noted, squinting down. “That’ll be ugly fighting, mark my words.”

I did not disagree. Though that section of the city was a single ring going around the edges of the pit holding the Column, it wasn’t flat grounds. Large rectangular halls were tightly clustered, with small streets and broader avenues between them. Easy to defend, to force the attacker in a bottleneck.

“We’ll have to split our force in two,” I said. “Sweep the ring from both sides. I’ll need you to lead one of the assaults.”

She shot me a curious look.

“Who am I getting as a lieutenant, Diabolist or Ivah?”

“You get Akua,” I grunted. “I imagine I’ll need a translator more than you.”

“Sure,” she snorted. “Let’s pretend that’s true. We certain we want no one keeping an eye on the bridges?”

That was the large risk here, I thought. The odds that a deeper sigil would be willing to send its Mighty against an attacker it hadn’t properly looked over were low – sigils prone to taking those kinds of gambles didn’t tend to last long. They weren’t non-existent, however, and it might change the situation if they learned that it was a human leading the charge. Still, I couldn’t afford to let the Urulan run or concentrate their forces. But can I afford to be flanked halfway through? Not really, no. After Archer had ‘acquired’ the Delen Sigil and we’d gathered the people from both them and the Berelun, our numbers had doubled: a little over four thousand drow were now under my banner. Of those, I counted three hundred and change dzulu and twenty-three Mighty of varying ranks. It wasn’t a small force, by the standards of the outer ring, but all the real players down here were either in a city or the inner ring. We wouldn’t be fighting dregs, this time. If we ended up going against two real sigils at the same time…

“Fair point,” I said. “Change of plans. I want you to sweep a quarter of the ring, then stop in front of the bridge and keep an eye on what’s happening.”

“To put arrows in the curious and the runners, if there happen to be any,” Indrani sighed. “Ugh, I always get the shit jobs.”

“You’d get bored scything through dzulu,” I countered. “Besides, feel free to take shot from your perch at anything getting in my way.”

“Slightly better,” she conceded.

The two of us remained standing there for a while, strangers in this broken land looking down at a once-great city. I would have called the moment solemn, if not for the fact that Indrani was pulling at a flask of liquor. She sighed in satisfaction, then rolled her shoulders.

“All right,” Archer said. “We doing this or what?”

“Don’t get yourself killed,” I reminded her, meeting hazelnut eyes with my own.

“Never have before,” Indrani drawled. “So, you know, if we go purely by precedent it only makes sense that I’m immortal.”

While pushing her over the tunnel’s edge would have been deeply satisfying, we did have a battle to win. I settled for freezing her flask solid instead, grinning at the muttered imprecations that followed.

Steel-clad boots hit the ground, and I slowed long enough to have a look at my warriors – and they were definitely that, not a soldier among them. One hundred dzulu, moving like large hunting cats with their spears and swords in hand, barely a dozen shields among them. Thirteen Mighty, most of them ispe with only a single jawor and a pair of freshly-harvested rylleh to serve as heavy hitters. My Lord of Silent Steps led the pack from the front, and they slowed along with me without a word.

“Ivah,” I said. “Translate. The old terms apply: nisi are not to be touched save in self-defence, surrenders are to be accepted and observed. Anyone they kill, they can take. Corpses of my own making go to auction, and I will personally execute any who reaps their Night.”

Not exactly the most inspirational of speeches, but then with drow I’d found it more important to lay down rules than tug at heartstrings. They had precious few of either, and the latter was beyond my ability to fix. The words were repeated in Crepuscular, and within a heartbeat of the sentence ending the first shot of the battle for Great Lotow was fired. A javelin, thrown from a rooftop maybe half a hundred feet ahead. Aimed towards me, which meant either it was a warning to the drow or they’d already caught on to the fact I was running things. I could have simply stepped aside – it was aimed at my centre of mass, well-thrown but barely any better than a mundane human could have – but sometimes it was necessary to make an impression and… set the tone. I let it arc downwards, and at the last moment caught the shaft. Less than an inch stood between the sharp stone tip and my plate. Casually, I spun the javelin around between my fingers and gripped it correctly. One step, lowering my body, then rising up I threw the javelin back.

It, uh, wasn’t something I was trained in. I had better aim and certainly more body strength than I’d used to, but that didn’t translate to skill. It flew like a damned crossbow bolt, in a straight line, and was easily dodged by the silhouette on the rooftop. Still, at least no other projectile had followed. It was a start. I flicked my wrist, forming a blade of frost, and advanced.

“Forward,” I ordered, Ivah translating a heartbeat afterwards.

Archer would begin her own sweep the moment we engaged the enemy properly, so all I had to worry about was the world in front of me. I went down the slope at a pace, and entered the avenue briskly. Already the Urulan had prepared a reception. A dozen dzulu led by a drow roiling with Night – Mighty, and stronger than ispe – were spread out in a loose crescent with with Mighty at the tip. I’d missed this, I realized. The simplicity of it. Enemies ahead, allies behind. No tricky little shades of morality, no debate over right and necessity. It was like I’d been whisked back to the Pit and its much less complicated time. I felt a savage grin split my lips, and for the first time in ages I could savour the air in my lungs. The glorious burn of it, illusion that it was. I’d keep it going as long as I could. I darted forward, dashing around another javelin and closing the distance in mere heartbeats. The Mighty yelled and Night flared, the sound reverberating, but instead of ducking I plunged into it. My eardrums burst and reformed in the same moment, and the last I saw of that drow was the look of utter surprise on its face when my sword carved through its throat.

The dzulu immediately began retreating, faces gone pale, but I was having none of that.  I moved faster than them, and the first I caught before it could even turn to strike me. My hand went through its back and I snapped its spine, withdrawing bloodied fingers. The next struck at me with spear, but I let the stone tip bounce off my plate and slapped its cheek hard enough the neck broke. The third tried to parry my strike, but while the blades were at the right angle the difference in strength made it pointless. Its arm was forced down, and a flick of the wrist had its head rolling on the floor. My own drow joined the fray eagerly, falling on the survivors like wolves on the fold, but I pressed on. I’d not come here to make sport of dzulu. Archer would be going to the right, so my charge was to sweep by the left. Already yells were sounding in the distance, the Urulan gathering for war, but I did not intend to give them the opportunity of mustering a proper resistance. Through halls and houses I strode, ears sharp, and caught my first ambusher. Atop one of those long halls, pressed closely against the roof. Laughing, I struck at the wall and tore through the stone. It rose, alarmed, and I leapt up.

Just a dzulu, I saw, eyes barely touched with silver. Disappointed, I snatched it by the neck before it could bring up its weapon and tossed it further down the avenue. It hit stone with a loud squelch, head pulped. I leapt back down, noting my forces were beginning to catch up. The first enemies had been too heavily outnumbered to put up a real fight. I took the lead, moving down the avenue. We hadn’t even taken a fifth of the circle yet, but I found the resistance to have been too lukewarm. Someone had sent expendable to probe out strength while they prepared a response. My instincts proved right maybe sixty heartbeats later, when I found the length of the ring had been walled up. Thin walls of hide held by a framework of glue and stone, but they were decent makeshift fortifications to block off the streets and avenues. Atop the roofs drow with bows and javelins were awaiting, while the streets behind the hide blocks slowly filled with reinforcements. The first chokepoint to break, then. They’d made a kill zone at ground level – the hide panels were likely movable to let through their own warriors – so I’d go at it from a different angle.

I leapt back up on the nearest rooftop and broke into a run. Best to soften up this lot before my drow ran into them. Arrows and javelins streaked the air, which bothered me little – they were loud and slow and my body was mist whenever I wished. They might as well have been shooting at a ghost. I closed the distance and then streaks of Night began lashing out towards me, which was more dangerous. I suspected the mist trick would fail against sorcery, and this was as close as drow could get to magic. There were, by the looks of it, seven casters. I could take the hits and barrel through, most likely, but the knowledge that my body was exceedingly difficult to permanently damage nowadays had not whisked away Black’s earliest lessons. Never take a blow unless you have to, much less if you do not know what it will do. A platform served as anchor for the push that sent me to crash into the house beneath which the archers and casters were standing. Momentum alone would not get me through that wall, even in plate, so instead I formed a spike of ice at an angle and caught it with my free hand. A spin had me leaping back upwards, the looks on the faces of the drow when I came of height with them most amusing. Another platform – just in time to avoid a second set of Night streaks – had me landing in a roll among them.

The dzulu, for that was what most of them were, scattered immediately. I didn’t have the time to go through them one at a time, so I dipped into Winter and let loose a working. The rings of sharp ice spears formed around my abdomen, lingering for a moment before shooting out. Blood, screams and shredded flesh followed in their wake. I had to throw myself to the side when looked like a snake made of Night ran through where I’d been a heartbeat earlier, jaws snapping. Another two follow suit, keeping me dancing, and to my distaste a streak of Night clipped me on the shoulder as I landed in a roll. It went straight through the plate, though at an angle that meant it hit air instead of flesh after punching through. Seven casters, I found, the only ones not dead or running. The snakes were coming out of their bellies, coiling and releasing at their will, while the other four drow were shooting shorter bursts to keep me from closing distance. Irritating. If they were Mighty, which was likely, they weren’t far up the ranks. I didn’t have time to waste on these when the real threats were still on the loose.

I sidestepped another streak, ducked under a snake and exerted my will. The drow guiding the snake found its throat filled with ice and began clawing at its skin impotently. I caught another snake-charmer and one of the shooters before being forced to move again. Darting around a snaked extended sharply like an arrow shot I ran forward, rolling under another streak of Night and responding with a collar of ice around the second drow’s neck that tightened and immediately choked it. They’d needed the numbers to keep me busy, they realized too late as I carved through the throat of the last snake-charmer. The remaining two tried to make a run for it but I pursued, shaping my sword into a spear and tossing it in the first’s back. The last survivor leapt down from the roof and I sighed. Its throat filled with ice a moment later and it dropped. The whole of it could not had taken more than seventy heartbeats, and now my own sigil was assaulting the barricades. I casually formed an anvil of ice and dropped it on the nearest hide wall to make an easy point of entry. I supposed I could clear out the dzulu a bit to make it easier on my warriors.

Then the roof under my feet turned into Night, and the Mighty of the Urulan Sigil entered the fray.

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75 thoughts on “Chapter 64: Momentum

  1. Solfadore

    Dear readers,

    Reminder that starting on Monday, we’ll be hosting a PGTE Character Contest. All readers and most varieties of lesser footrests are welcome to vote!

    – The bracket is out: http://www.bracketmaker.com/tmenu.cfm?tid=470805. Follow the link to find out who will be facing whom.

    We had to limit the field to 32 characters, so if your favourites didn’t make it in, well… know that it could be worse. You could be a Lesser Lesser Footrest. (We don’t let those vote. We have standards.)

    – More info on the Guide’s subreddit (r/PracticalGuidetoEvil) because I don’t want to spam the chapter thread.

    Watch out for a comment from EE on Monday for the link to the first match. Votes will remain open until the Wednesday chapter is uploaded, and so on.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Jane

      You’re pitting Akua against Killian D: ? You monsters!

      Well, at least Killian’s been out of focus for long enough that I guess it isn’t a hard decision anymore…

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Jane

          The logic makes sense, true, but it’s also really the only first-round match that gives me any kind of pause 🙂 . Well, except Hanno/Hye, I guess, but for completely different reasons.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. stevenneiman

            Personally, I’m having trouble deciding for Malicia/Anaxares (impressive vs. funny and surreal), Aisha/Ratface (meh), and Juniper/Wekesa (substance vs. style). I’m probably siding with Hakram against Larat, but that one’s a tough call. I also notice that the listed title is incorrect, as he resigned his princedom. I think the only title appropriate to him would be Larat of the Wild Hunt.

            Like

        2. RoflCat

          Technically the new potential girlfriend would be Vivi.

          Akua is…the yandere stalker, whose plan previously was to brainwash Cath into her servitude to keep her forever.
          i.e. She’s probably quite happy at the current situation, even if the position is reversed from her initial plan.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. stevenneiman

            Nah, Indrani is the potential new girlfriend. That’s my chosen ship at least.
            And Akua never really seemed to have romantic plans for Cat, just plans to control her. Though she definitely did win the philosophical battle with Cat even as she lost the practical one, since she was only defeated because Amadeus proved even more heartless, and for all Cat’s moralizing Akua escaped justice by being useful.

            Like

          1. Nordvegr

            From where I’m standing, it looks like Robber and Hierarch. Just goes to show, we expect other people to think like us when we are all individuals.

            Inb4 plot twist: Final winner gets killed. Tournament was real all along.

            Like

          2. Agent J

            I really don’t see how that’s possible. Anaxares’ first opponent is Malicia, who’s an absolutely delightful character in her own right. If he beats her he’d likely be up against Masego next. And let’s be honest, Zeze is just adorable. Hells, even Indrani fell in love with him.

            And even if he beats both Masego and Malicia, his next opponent would either be Sabah, Wandering Bard, or Akua Fucking Sahelian.

            Our beloved Heirarch is up against some seriously stiff competition. While I do believe he’ll make it to round too, it’s a toss up if he’ll get to the quarterfinals and extremely unlikely he’ll make it pass them.

            Sabah is still mourned for, Wandering Bard is the second best hero so far and unquestionably the most effective. Zeze needs to be chibified and made a plushie of (get on it Double-E!) And Akua is Bae.

            Like

              1. Agent J

                Well, personally…

                Akua is Bae. Robber is Best Girl. And William Did Nothing Wrong.

                Everyone else will be voted for on a case-by-case basis.

                Unfortunately, Akua is still reviled and mistrusted by many, Robber is a minor side character at best, and William is mostly forgotten by now. So it’s unlikely my favourites will come out on top. No clue how Anaxares will fair as I’ve mostly just seen him as an interesting curiosity.

                Like

                1. RanVor

                  Ah, but Anaxares is the representative of the Mighty Bellerophon, Peerless Jewel of Freedom! Anybody not voting on him is clearly a servant of some Wicked Foreign Despot!

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. RanVor

                    Also, he’s the only character in the Guide who has successfully stood up to the Bard (Neshamah doesn’t count, he’s on the same level as her).

                    Like

      1. Rustndusty

        Robber might have a chance at beating Black too. If this had happened earlier I’d actually give Robber better odds than Black, but he’s had lamentably little content this book.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RanVor

          I’ve never really understood the popularity of Robber. He’s fun, but there’s not much more to him. All things considered, he’s just a glorified comic relief.

          Like

          1. He has his backstory in an interlude. It’s a really interesting exposition on the goblins as a race and shows how Robber struggled to get where he is. It was pretty gritty and cements him in the “underdog” role. It also hints that he’s named, or the Goblin equivalent.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Agent J

                Oh, so you do understand the popularity of Robber. That’s fantastic. Welcome, brother, to the Lesser Lesser Footrest Tribe. Meetings are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Snacks are by the corner.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. RanVor

                  What? He’s a fine character, but he has no role in the story beyond being a funny psycho. How can he be considered a better character than Black is honestly incomprehensible to me.

                  Like

        1. Dunno about that, The Dead King and The Bard seem to be in a similar weight class and if we’re talking about pure martial strength than The Ranger cannot be discounted. Admittedly it’d mean only 2-3 individuals would contest for the top but it’s hardly a done deal.

          Like

    2. Fern

      At first I thought “oh man, those two are so good! why would they be up against each other in the first round?!” before i realized that all the characters are good. sometimes i forget how fucking phenomenal the characterization is in this story.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. IDKWhoitis

    I wonder how far behind the Dwarves are. Are they just watching this, ale in hand? Or are they slowly clearing empty caves, and building up forts, expecting Cat to fail?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Byzantine

      They likely have a scouting party following her, with their main force continuing at a languid pace, making sure to mop up anything and everything Cat misses.

      This way they keep aware of what she is doing, and their main force stays far enough back they won’t unintentionally get caught up in a disaster if some kind of extreme working is used, like the lake-drop.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Byzantine

        Ah, and the heavy hitters are likely waiting for Cat to engage the Mistress of Night, at which point they will ensure they are nearby – to take advantage of any damage Cat manages to deal if she fails. (Aka be there to finish off the wounded and probably exhausted enemy, rather than giving them a chance to recover.)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Jane

    I wonder if any who know the Secret of architecture still remains? Callow could use this kind of deep city construction, especially if they keep picking up strays like the Drow and the Goblins. They’ve got plenty of empty land, sure, but why not make Callowan cities something special?

    …’Course, regardless of the techniques, it’d probably involve a lot of slave labor, which isn’t something Callow’s too keen on. But Cat would still have a lot of Nisi under oaths to her, so maybe she could make use of those instead.

    …Assuming that it’s even possible to build down like this while working with that much dirt instead of stone, and assuming it wouldn’t take them so deep that the Dwarves would have words for them.

    Look, it would just be cool, okay? Sure it might not be practical, but it’s not like the name of this work is A Practical Guide to Evil or anything!

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Even if Cat for some reason used slave labor to save on costs, there would need to be a lot of money spent on materials. Plus time and money spent training the workers…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Jane

        Based on the description, it sounded like the basics only really required tools (which would wear out extremely quickly, admittedly), as they primarily worked with the stone that was already present; the decorations and perhaps the bridges would require outside materials, but for the most part, it was a matter of taking stone away rather than putting stone in place. Of course, I could only think of a few sites in Callow where that could be remotely practical, so building a city like that in Callow would probably require some modifications.

        Regarding skilled labor, they’d certainly require a lot of stonemasons, that’s for certain. It would be quite the project.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          Well, I assumed you intended for such works to be done above ground, which would require a lot of materials to be obtained, starting by whatever specialized tools would be needed…

          Like

    2. Someguy

      The labour may involve slaves but the Architecture Techniques, Mathematics and other Secrets can simply be written down and studied. Not all education involves mind/soul rips.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Jane

        While this is true, I was wondering more about the possibility that Drow civilization has degraded to the point where literally nobody knows how the cities were first made anymore; with the Dwarves marching to claim the place for themselves, it’s not as though surfacers could send a team of archaelogists down there, and I don’t know how much thought Cat has given to collecting what written works might remain.

        Any Drow knowledge she walks away with is probably going to be locked in the minds of one of the Mighty she creates/recruits, I imagine.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Someguy

          I mean Cat herself just mind/soul rip the Secrets from whomever has them and writes them down to pass on the knowledge instead of the nonsense called the Tenants of the Night.

          Like

    3. IDKWhoitis

      Well it has been established that the Goblins do still own tunnels that do not conflict with the Dwavian territory.

      However the new worry is how to hollow out the earth that is supposed to be your foundation. Although Callowan cities dont have skyscrapers, undermining your own walls and buildings seems like a recipe for disaster. Unless you go deep enough, but then we return to the Dwarf probelm…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane

        Ah, I had been thinking of the establishment of a new city altogether, such as in the mountains of the Vales, rather than expanding on a currently existing location.

        Like

      2. Someguy

        The Dwarves claim deep under bedrock I think so the Mountains should be fair game. Plus since the mountains are used by most countries as border markings instead of territory because as far as they know “no one lives there”, being the first to plant the flag and claim it would net Cat a bigger chapter in Callowan history books since it would involve “expanding the territories of the Kingdom for settlers” instead of endless battles. Also, high ground to rain rocks on anyone trying to kick them out after doing the groundwork.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Fern

        IIRC the goblin’s were extended a deal where they were allowed to keep their tunnels as long as they didn’t expand into dwarven territory; it was mentioned in the negotiations earlier, something bargain? I do recall it had to do with mercy on behalf of the dwarves, which if true frames their morality a bit better. Hardcore jingoism but no genocide unless you’re a drow is basically all we’ve got so far.

        Like

  4. Ah, back to one of Cat’s strong suites – murdering the crap out of an enemy army.

    I wonder how long Cat’s going to take in between taking the Sigils of Lotow.

    Hmmm. I think the drow are going to be complicated to train up into an organized and disciplined force when Cat gets back to Callow.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Rook

      Complicated? That’s like calling the ocean slightly damp.

      It’s going to be an utter logistical nightmare is what it’s looking to be. Trying to absorb the drow into any single existing surface nation is enough of a headache that even Hasenbach would likely be in tears; let alone Catherine “fuck it, let’s wing it” Foundling.

      An estimated twenty thousand drow in great lotow alone. One. City. What was the size of the – entire – army of callow again?

      Even if she murders three quarters of the Everdark in the process, the leftovers alone will likely dwarf any single army she’s ever lead in her life.

      Its not just the numbers either. This is an undisciplined force with no common language or culture with anyone on the surface, and customs so treacherous that it makes Praes look downright civilized. One with shit for leadership structure and every elite soldier or officer-equivalent wielding murder magic on par with a minor fae noble. All of which needs to be immediately fed and housed. Where does the food come from? The management? The equipment? The gold?

      If Catherine is even partially successful in her venture here, she needs to pull a magic solution out of her magic Fae ass before even attempting to bring this shitstorm to the surface. Otherwise it sure as hell is going to be Woe to everyone on every side within marching distance, and then some.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. It’s hardly the biggest force she’s ever had under her command, even if she got all 20k of them.
        Though, admittedly, individual for individual, 1 drow (if properly equipped) is likely to be worth a bunch of regular troops.

        Equipping them is going to be a noticeable problem as well.

        But more to the point about training, pretty much all of Cat’s people with applicable skillsets/experience have an entirely different paradigm for training troops up. It’s not like regular Legion-style training is going to work the same, or that it would even be aneffective use of the drow.
        And the closest thing she has to people with something like the right experience are the relatively few people responsible for training members of the Watch. Unless one or more of the Fae who joined the Wild Hunt in her service have experience at training troops, which seems unlikely.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Rook

          There’s an estimated 20k in just great lotow. One city in the Everdark, not the entire Everdark. Not even counting the thousands outside of the cities. The largest army she ever fielded was the army of callow which was under thirty thousand even before bleeding itself against the Crusade.

          If the entire kingdom of the drow has even one more city, which we know it does, that already puts the estimated total at nearly double anything she’s ever handled before. That’s assuming the remnants of an entire ancient empire are limited to two cities, which is unlikely at best.

          Training them even if you could handle the numbers is entirely different from training Callowan farmers who share the exact same culture and language as you to swing a sword. It’s another thing entirely to try training a different race so alien to yours that they find your common sense utterly incomprehensible to begin with.

          Especially if not a single person that would be training them can actually speak their language, unless the monarch is going to personally train several thousands of drow.

          She doesn’t call the drow ‘it’ because she can’t tell the difference between male or female. She calls them ‘it’ because they’re not just dark skinned mean people, they’re fundamentally different from anything above ground in every practical sense. It took her several days with Akua’s help to even begin to comprehend the basics of their social structure.

          Even ignoring all those problems, she’s currently the ruler of a country trying to rebuild after getting burned down twice in a few decades, with not enough hands to work the fields, one major city completely gutted, major leadership completely gutted, and a treasury so empty that its a viable option for Praes to attack them by devaluing their currency, because there’s that much Praesi gold that can’t be taken off the streets.

          So, with a country so in shambles that a Named sidekick specializing in administration that doesn’t sleep is already on the verge of breaking down, where do you get the manpower or resources to train an alien race that’ll likely significantly outnumber your existing standard army (which you can barely handle right now as is)?

          Liked by 4 people

          1. werafdsaew

            I think the problem is smaller than you think. The nisi would not be doing any fighting, and they’re the bulk of the people. The people doing the fighting have some Nights in them, which gives them combat knowledge.

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            1. Micke

              It gives them individual combat power. In a battle discipline, coordination, and being able to manoeuvre in formation are each an order of magnitude more important – and neither is worth anything without a structure for crafting, distributing, and executing orders. The Mightiest of the Drow could be useful against Named champions; the mid-levels would be useful skirmishers and raiders if they could be taught to distinguish between enemies, allies, and civilians; the lessers would, at best, be equal to peasant levies – far better to use them for building a support structure.

              Logistics and camp hygiene, in turn, are each an order of magnitude more important than being able to win individual battles; campaigns are won on the march. I’ve no idea if Drow can become ill, but far more campaigning soldiers have succumbed to disease, malnutrition, and harsh weather than to the enemy.

              Of course, this is in the real world, not in a storybook where one might gain an advantage by sending one’s elites to certain death to obtain some underdog power in the rematch.

              Liked by 3 people

    2. ALazyMonster

      You say complicated but I feel like it could be fixed with “Ok you murderous twits, listen to everything Marshal Juniper tells you” and one month later the Hellhound has made the Drow legion. Yes, I’m over simplifying but I feel like sending them through her boot camp would sort them out quick considering that Archer and Masego both buckle under her glare as shown in that conference before they went to Keter.

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    3. Fern

      As long as the majority are nisi and the oaths hold, i don’t see much of a problem in force organization and logistics. The real problem is going to come from the stronger mighty trying to rules-lawyer their way thru the oaths, which could cause Cat a fair few headaches in the future.

      Like

  5. Dainpdf

    Felt a bit like filler… I guess it’s nice to see the Drow really were all that, before devolving into their current state, and good on Cat for finding that brawl she’d been waiting for.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just a comment about the throwaway line about the Meizan occupation. I really love how this story doesn’t have an empire based on the Romans, but an old, old historical empire based on the Romans. It’s a nice little subversion on the trope of “ever epic war fantasy has a Roman Empire” and you do some cool stuff with it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Rook

      I thought Praes was the Roman Empire though? I mean, looking at the birth of the Roman Empire you get:

      A nation embroiled in civil war with repeat assassinations of the leader until an indisputable dictator finally comes out on top, birthing a new empire and ushering in an age of unprecedented stability.

      Which then proceeds to immediately invade and conquer Callo- er, Britannia. A nearby land that was already prone to being targeted by its neighbors in the past.

      Using a professional standing army called the *Legions*. Which derived most of its superiority from being well-equipped, highly disciplined, and extremely organized. Even the title of legate was something the first emperor of Rome formalized as a designation for an officer in charge of a Legion.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Allafterme

        Praes is what would happen if Rome took Eastern Mediterranean instead of Africa first, somewhat assimilate it… only to be bitch slapped back to Italia by Carthage in the middle of the process

        Liked by 4 people

  7. nick012000

    What I find interesting is that the Drow seem to have the highest density of Named-equivlanents among any of the mortal races of Calernia among them. Even by this early point in her conquest of them, Cat’s already accumulated nearly two dozen of them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. GabrielTosh

      I think you overestimate the Mighty Cat has. They are probably closer to the weakest fey at this point or skilled Knights with some magic since they are of the lowest tier. The only one I consider on par with a Named is Silent Steps since he has both a title and probably the most night out of Cat’s force. I will agree that the Drow appear to have a lot of extremely powerful individuals but Named are just about always a cut above any mortal, simply because of narrative weight. The drow probably only have 1 named and that is their high priestess that has given them the Night.

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      1. Metrux

        In a sense, any of them are individually stronger than any mage, praesi or otherwise, with rare exceptions of people who could go for a Name. But they can’t unite their powers into trully great workings, and most of them have diferent powers. Powers, not tricks, that’s where the diference derives from. Most of them are incredible combatants, and the powers of the Night allow them to fight better, or in a way diferent from how they could before, so if you look at it carefully most of them CAN’T be considered special units like mages, they are more alike elite soldiers.

        But I agree they can’t be considered Named, even though they are nothing alike mages.

        Liked by 2 people

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