Chapter 66: Tremors

“It is a small-minded man who needs a reason to create a ritual that would crash the moon into Creation.”
– Dread Emperor Malignant III, before his death and second reign as Dread Emperor Revenant

The Urulan Sigil broke within an hour of its chief dying at my hands.

It was a valuable lessons as to how I should handle drow in the future. Decapitating a Proceran or Praesi army, for example, wouldn’t necessarily take them out of the fight. The Legions, after the Reforms anyway, had been built with the notion in mind that the highest-ranking officers were natural targets for heroes or resistance fighters. Redundancies and a clear order of succession for the chain of command had been set into their framework. Princes of Procer, on the other hand, might be the undisputed rulers of their hosts but they also tended to delegate the practicalities of campaigning to trained career officers. In both cases, putting the head of the army’s leader on a pike would be damaging in many ways but not outright scatter that same army. Sigils weren’t armies, though, they were tribes kept together only by the strength of the sigil-holder. When I’d tossed Urulan’s severed head into the middle of the battle, the glue keeping the sigil together had crumbled. Their kind, when it came down to it, let their actions be dictated by the invisible balance of martial strength. If the attacker was capable of killing the sigil-holder, odds were that the individual who’d done it was capable of wiping out the rest of the sigil on their own. Best to bargain, if possible, or flee if it was not.

Unsurprisingly it was the Mighty that kept fighting the longest. Dzulu could afford surrender more easily, knowing that they weren’t worth harvesting to the enemy’s upper ranks and that whoever was in charge there would always be a need for warriors to send into the meat grinder. What did they care under which sigil it happened? Drow did not fight for plunder in the way that most tribes and clans would, not exactly. To amount to anything they needed Night, and war was certainly the easiest way to accumulate that – but when there was a clear winner, doubling down on a losing fight was not to their advantage. Mighty, on the other hand, knew they’d be hunted and harvested after a defeat. Used as spoils instead of coin or food. Surrender might be feasible if assurances were made, but that was not custom. Drow, for obvious reasons, preferred to raise the strength of their own Mighty rather than bring into the fold those defeated. I was part of a broader trend in their ways, one I was only now beginning to really grasp: as far as the drow were concerned, maybe nine tenths of their own kind were essentially irrelevant. Matters of life and death were settled by a handful of Mighty on both sides, with dzulu and nisi serving as tools and ornaments to whoever came out on top.

What that meant, practically speaking, was that the moment Mighty Urulan died this stopped being a battle and started being clean-up. It could still have turned south on us, if we hadn’t been careful. The Urulan had outnumbered us three to one in Mighty and if they managed to cull my own numbers the idea of continued resistance might have taken hold. Corpses would have been harvested, fresh demigods raised and sent after our ‘champions’. Our saving grace, in this case, was Ivah. My Lord of Silent Steps had no real interest in fighting minions, and had gone after the enemy’s Mighty relentlessly. It would have been one thing if those had been allowed to gather together, but instead they’d found themselves ambushed and taken out one by one by a titled drow who was no stranger to these kinds of fights. Archer’s sweep on the other side had met with only cursory resistance before she stopped as ordered. When it became clear neither she nor her escorts were inclined to advance any further, the forces sent out to meet her had doubled back to meet my own assault. Too late, however, to turn the tides. Their sigil-holder was already dead.

A few had tried her flank anyway, but after the second time she shot a jawor in the throat the moment it left cover their enthusiasm had mysteriously waned.

I spent the rest of the battle watching over my forces like a hen watching her chicks, not exactly holding their hand but ensuring that if they got in over their heads I could swiftly step on the opposition. To my surprise, even when we began taking sections of the Crossroads holding mostly nisi I never found the need to call my warband to order. My Mighty were oath-bound to decency, but the dzulu were not. Still, it had been made clear to them that wanton slaughter would not be allowed, or rape – though apparently that latter crime was near unheard of among drow, who treated sex as more a chore than a pleasure and rarely bothered unless they were nisi – and in the end they did not test my laws. I wondered if they would have pulled at the leash, had I not personally slain Urulan and its strongest rylleh. My general distaste for what passed as drow nature whispered yes, but I might be doing them injustice. I held no illusions about the moral fibre of a people whose main occupation was murder, but there was something about them that brought old words from Black to mind. If you have the ability to accomplish something, it is your right to do so. I hadn’t understood back then how deep a look into him that little sentence offered, or how close to the same Praesi philosophy he disdained it was in practice.

But there was a ring to it, an underlying sense that I saw mirrored in the way drow thought. The pragmatic monsters who’d shaped the woman I was today – and the plural was not a mistake for Malicia had been a teacher too, if not a willing or gentle one – kept to a faith worshipping only ability, the capacity to carry out one’s will. That was a face given to their beliefs by the complicated games of the surface, though, where every little act was part of a broader war of growing sophistication. Down here the varnish of civilization had been stripped off, and the face given to that god was rawer: power. Just power. If you were strong enough, your rules were the only rules there were and they would not be questioned or disobeyed unless someone stronger than you contradicted them. I might be ordering them to act in ways that broke their customs, but as long as I remained the larger monster those orders would be observed for that, too, was custom. And perhaps deeper one than the rest.

“So is it me or do you always get all silent and philosophical after a big fight?” Indrani mused.

She swaggered in, her coat flecked with blood and a satisfied smile on her face. For someone who disdained the trappings of civilization, Archer had taken well to battles. Grown to enjoy them more than I’d thought, her sense of what victory being so personal it should not lend itself well to a clash of armies. A reminder, I mused, that people could continue to surprise even when you believed you had the measure of them.

“I never liked this part,” I admitted as she came to stand beside me. “The clean-up. When the blades are out and shields collide I can almost feel what the songs sing of, but the aftermath spoils it. The return to the bare realities of what took place.”

It’d barely qualified as a skirmish, by the numbers. More soldiers had been involved in the war game that’d won me command of the Fifteenth, and arguably much more complex tactics. How many people had actually fought today? Five hundred, maybe. And of those less than a hundred had actually had an impact on the outcome. There were not even two hundred dead in the aking of the Crossroads, though the way their corpses had been dragged and laid down in rows along the largest avenue made it seem more than it should. Most those bodies were already bereft of Night, their killers have wasted no time claiming their due, but enough remained that the auction to come would be the largest yet. Indrani sighed.

“It does get on my nerves, that the best parts of you are also the most irritating,” she said.

I snorted and left it at that, the two of us sharing a rare moment of comfortable silence. She tended to fill those religiously, almost as if she were afraid of the absence of noise, and so I savoured the rare respite.

“Should I ask why you’re wearing clothes too large for you?” she finally asked.

“No,” I grunted.

“Well, the pants are tight enough they make your arse look amazing,” Indrani said. “But the whole long sleeves thing makes you look like a Mercantis trader.”

“You know what, I’ll take it,” I said. “Still going to need to change before speaking with whoever comes up, though.”

“Talk with Diabolist first, maybe,” she said. “It’s not like she’s wearing real clothes, but she is disappointingly not naked all the time.”

Thank the Gods for that. Indrani would never get anything done if Akua’s admittedly impressive assets were permanently on display.

“I will,” I replied. “Not right now, though. She’s still taking count of our acquisitions.”

“Of course she is,” Indrani drawled. “It’s almost like she’s maneuvering herself into being the obvious pick for who ends up stuck watching over the drow when we get back upstairs.”

It was easy to forget, sometimes, that Archer’s lack of manners was more choice than inability. In some ways she was as sharp as Hakram when it came to reading social currents.

“She can manoeuvre all she wants, she’s not getting the job,” I said. “I’m still debating who’ll oversee when I’m not around, but she’s not in the running.”

“Vivienne?” Indrani suggested.

“She doesn’t have the right edges,” I reluctantly admitted. “They’ll challenge her. I’m considering Larat.”

“Now there’s a real philosophical question,” Indrani drawled. “How many treacherous lieutenants it too many treacherous lieutenants?”

“One, but we make do with what we have,” I sighed.

“We make do with what we have,” Indrani repeated grimly, squinting forward in a poor imitation of a frown.

“I don’t sound like that,” I protested.

She hunched her shoulders and raised her chin, trying for noble sorrow but mostly looking like she had stomach cramps.

“I beat up empires but I’m real conflicted about it,” Indrani declared. “A fairy queen named my crew the Woe because I’m so tragic and misunderstood.”

“Screw you,” I grinned. “You’re part of it too.”

“I once finished the last of the stew even if I don’t really need to eat, because I’m just the worst,” Indrani solemnly added.

It surprised a splash of laughter out of me, and once it started it didn’t stop. The two of us ended up standing there like fools, sniggering at nothing much at all. It was a released I hadn’t known I needed, and I could not help but be grateful for it. I’d thought before that Indrani was most beautiful in fleeting moments, when the part of her that was more glorious alive than anyone I’d ever known came to the surface and it was all you could see. I’d not been wrong, I decided. Strange as it was, she more attractive to me now – laughter glinting in hazelnut eyes, slightly breathless and making sport of all the world – than she would have been half-naked on my bed wearing little but lace.

“I did make a promise, while fighting Urulan,” I teased.

“Oh?” she said. “What-”

My hand slipped around her waist, beneath the coat, and she allowed herself to be dipped down. Her eyes wide, I watched her lips part and leaned down to kiss her. She tasted, I thought, like spices – but soon enough all I could think of was the hungry heat of her lips against mine, the way our teeth clicked together awkwardly before she teased me with her tongue. She threaded her fingers into my hair, forcing me closer, and when we finally parted she was flushed and out of breath.

“Gods,” she said, “you are so short.”

Naturally, I dropped her. She fell into a sprawl with a loud yelp, perfectly capable of landing on her feet but never one to allow practicalities to get in the way of theatrics. I wiped my lips, then shrugged.

“There, promise fulfilled,” I mused. “Back to work.”

Really?” she whined. “You’re going to get me all worked up and then just leave?”

“I’m sure you’ll get over it,” I grinned, and turned my back to her.

She cursed me loudly as I sauntered away, feeling more human than I had in a very long time.

I found Diabolist seated like the queen of an industrious grey-skinned hive, drow gravitating to her and Centon for translated instructions before darting away to carry out her bidding. They were getting in the habit of obeying her, I saw. Not the Mighty – they saw her, I suspected, more as an obstacle to climb than a superior – but the nascent pack of dzulu officers and supervisors had grown used to taking her orders. They saw little of me, on a daily basisl. Primly perched on a flat stone, Akua was a vision in her long dress of silver and blue. While high-necked and seemingly conservative, her clothes were cut to be rather flattering to her frame: they suggested rather than revealed, but the suggestion was not mild. Scarlet eyes remained on me as I strolled at her side, plopping myself down next to her. I glanced at Centon.

“Dismissed,” I said in Lower Miezan. “All of you.”

The nisi, though that status might just be remedied to today, bowed low and repeated the order in Crepuscular. Within five heartbeats we were entirely alone in the avenue.

“Catherine,” Diabolist greeted me. “Another victory for your tally.”

“It was the opening measure,” I replied. “The real pivot comes when the deeper sigils decide on their response.”

“There have been scouts,” she noted. “No Mighty yet.”

“It’s coming,” I said. “They can’t afford an unknown her for long, not when we control the top floor of the Column.”

“As you say,” Akua murmured, inclining her head. “I had the privilege of witnessing your duel with Mighty Urulan, from a distance.”

I hummed.

“And you have thoughts,” I said.

So did I, and I was curious to see if they aligned.

“If I may speak frankly?” Diabolist said.

“Never too late to start,” I drawled.

“Yes, yes, very clever,” she sighed. “I have begun to worry, Catherine. Urulan was perhaps in the twenty strongest drow of Great Lotow, and likely close to the bottom of that division. It fought… better than I expected. You came close to death more than once.”

“It was a wakeup call,” I softly agreed. “We haven’t been taking them seriously enough, have we? Lotow’s not one of the big cities when it comes down to it. There’s leviathans lurking ahead.”

“You have grown used to being able to walk away from wounds that would kill even Named,” Akua said. “And so developed what I can only call sloppy habits. I’ve heard descriptions of your encounters with heroes at the Battle of the Camps, the Saint in particular, and cannot help but think this is a trend and not an instance.”

“In that, we are in agreement,” I said.

Some of the fights I’d been in, lately… Black would weep to see them. I’d always been more inclined towards brawling than finesse, but I was starting to realize there was a reason my teacher had never seen his relative lack of power compared to his predecessors as a weakness. When you had a good enough hammer, everything started looking like a nail. That was a lot more likely to get you killed than lack of juice. I’d begun to rely on abilities that I should only ever use as a last result, and at some point I was going to run into someone who’d kill me for it.

“You use only the thinnest slice of what Winter is capable of,” Diabolist said. “Perhaps exploration in depth is in order.”

“You want me to fight like you,” I smiled. “Distance, control, never committing.”

“Not your usual fare, I know,” she said. “But you are no longer the Squire in any significant sense. Your repertoire has expanded.”

“Tricks are useful,” I admitted. “And I do need to learn how to use the kind of great workings you threw around when riding my mantle. But you’re wrong about the rest.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“You intend to take the opposite path,” Akua said.

“The basics,” I mused. “I’ve been neglecting those, since I took my mantle. Thinking it was all right to get into fights because I’m hard enough to win them. But many of those should never have been fights at all.”

“Fight no battle save that which you must, for war is best won away from the field,” Diabolist quoted thoughtfully.

“Theodosius?” I asked.

“Terribilis the First,” she replied. “You intend… contingencies for the coming meeting with the drow, then.”

“They’re useful things, contingencies,” I muttered, looking up at the bare stone of the cavern ceiling.

It was about time, I decided. The opening was there.

“Marker,” I said. “It’s time for us to have one of our regular little chats, Akua.”

“Is it?” Diabolist said. “I cannot recall-”

She paused. Her face went blank and I smiled ruefully.

I compel you to answer my questions and do so truthfully and completely,” I Spoke.

The shade shivered, the order sinking into her.

“We have done this before,” Diabolist said.

“We have,” I murmured. “Have you walled off any memories or knowledge, or considered doing so?”

“I have not,” Akua replied.

“Do you have any hole or holes in your memories?”

“I do not,” she said, then cocked her head to the side. “I do not. Oh my, you have been thorough.”

I had. I’d known from the start that I wouldn’t outplay her with words, she’d always been better at that. But I had other ways to even the scales.

“Have you plotted or acted against my interests?” I asked.

“I have not,” she replied, sounding amused.

“What are your current short-term and long-term objectives?”

“I seek to prove myself as necessary to the running of your sigil,” she said. “And in doing so, remain undeniably useful so long as you have use for the drow. My only long-term objective is survival.”

“How do you intend to secure your survival?”

Her lips thinned. She never enjoyed that one.

“I must first learn the exact wording of the oath I believe you gave Thief, to see if it can be escaped through a technicality,” Akua said. “I must then prove myself invaluable to your own objectives so that you will allow me to do so. I must be reconciled to Vivienne Dartwick, or she must be removed from the situation. If the wording if without flaw, I will seek to obtain a manner of resurrection that preserves most of what I am.”

Nothing new, then. Good.

“Have you manipulated the greater or lesser oaths, or both, so that you can exploit them in any way?” I asked.

“I have not,” she said.

The same answer as every time I’d asked the question, but it was worth checking to be sure.

“Do you know why I insisted the oaths be sworn to the Sovereign of Moonless Nights?”

“I do not,” she said.

Ah, too broad.

“Do you have theories as to why I did?” I asked.

“I do,” Diabolist drawled. “Shall save us the time and elaborate?”

I ignored her. If not prompted, she could lie.

“What are these theories?”

“I believe you intend to divert yourself or your mantle in the future, and so dissociated oath-keeping from your personal identity,” she said. “I am not certain if the beneficiary would be an object or an individual, but suspect it will be the former Prince of Nightfall.”

Wrong, but she didn’t have to know that.

“Is there any other part of my soul you would like me to bare?” Akua asked. “You must have other questions.”

I had to keep it short – too long and the risks increased she might notice – and I usually used my last question to make sure she hadn’t picked up on anything. I could do that tomorrow, though, at no great loss. And there were some things I’d gown curious about.

“Why do you flirt with me?”

She laughed, full-throated.

“I know you have difficulty remaining emotionally uninvolved when in a sexual relationship, and you have a known weakness for powerful women,” she said. “I also believe that contact between us would temporarily allow me to regain full physical senses, which is promising as I find you attractive enough sex would not be unpleasant.”

I waited for a moment.

“It also infuriates Thief when she overhears,” Akua added reluctantly, forced by the order. “Which I deeply enjoy.”

“That might be the most human I’ve ever seen you act,” I said.

She languidly shrugged.

“And now?”

“From and including the word ‘marker’ I spoke earlier today, you will remember this conversation as idle chatter from the moment this sentence ends,” I Spoke.

Her form rippled and a heartbeat passed.

“Amusing as this was, I believe there might be more pressing matters at hand,” Diabolist said.

“You’re right,” I said. “Let’s talk contingencies, then.”

Still under control for now.

I’d ask again tomorrow.

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96 thoughts on “Chapter 66: Tremors

  1. For those of you who’ve been following the comment section here or checked out the reddit, you’ll know there’s a character popularity tournament going on for the Guide, organized by a good friend of mine! It’ll keep coming out update by update, with the link below leading to the first matchup. Check it out and vote!
    https://www.strawpoll.me/16692414?fbclid=IwAR1MTfBI8pLDLKmAU429g0LWgS6RtUUqRIp_kFKcD8ZG8a3QaYZEhs7a2QI

    Liked by 16 people

      1. Jane

        Someone confused this for a “who should we eliminate” style contest, a couple of weirdos really hate the main character, and a few dozen people’s mouse slipped while voting, I guess?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I personally, knowing that Cat will win, gave my voice to Klaus to support him, despite overhelming odds gainst him. It is exactly the reasomnthat I see no way for him to win, which compelled me to be graceful in victory, even though he would not be my first pick. However, it is my understamding that those rankings are used for purposes such as judging overall character reseptance by the audience, and I do solemnly apologise for throwing the data into a turmoil, however insignificant my voice may be.

        Also, I believe there is small, but vocal, groupe of readers who stand vehemently opposed to Catherine Foundling and her acomplices, who vote for Klaus out of principle, since he does represent the “Good” side of the conflict.

        Like

      3. stevenneiman

        I’m not surprised that there exist people who like Klaus better than Cat, but I am surprised they would have stuck with the story long enough to see this. I guess they might be in it for the side characters, given that Hakram and Juniper between them have a lot of Klaus’ personality.

        Like

  2. Huh. I’m wondering how long she has been doing that.
    Also, if that is Speaking as we have seen it before, that ability there could be terrifying. Find people, Speak something to them, and then make them forget what you Spoke to them.
    Has interesting potential, but would probably run into flaws quickly.
    It is nice that Cat has taken this precaution though, although I feel like Akua is a bit too smart for that to keep working for too long.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Byzantine

      That is the exact reason anyone in their circle who was ever in direct contact with malicia was killed by Praesi highborns: she can give an order they will be unaware of and that cannot be detected until it is already far too late.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Novice

      It’s probably the combination of the strength of Cat’s Speak and the fact that Cat has full ownership of Akua’s soul that makes this type of contingency possible.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Someguy

      She forgot to ask what Akua’s interpretation of Cat’s interests is.

      By deliberately interpreting that it is in Cat’s interests to walk down the Stupid Wasteful Evil path, it may open an opportunity for Akua to reverse the “Caged Monster” Storyline on Cat or Starscream her way free.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. stevenneiman

      My understanding is that Speaking only works when narratively you are the one who is expected to be in control of the situation. Otherwise the only combat ability worth having would be to Speak and command the opponents to kill themselves. Except for Malicia, but she was dealing with minions she had plenty of time to mess with and in a situation where the narrative was set up for her to swat aside an assassination attempt or two
      Most of the cases of Speaking we’ve seen have been between two characters with an explicit command relationship, and in most of them the one Speaking only short-cut a process that they could have done the hard way. The only exception I can think of was shutting up the Bard, and the Bard’s whole design is built around a lack of explicit power. For example, Black could have simply ordered Akua to stab her own hand that one time and she would have had to do it. Cat has incredible power when she Speaks to Akua, because right now Akua is as much one of Cat’s special abilities as an actual person, and there is certainly no question of who has the explicit power in their relationship for all that Akua might be trying to change that state of affairs.
      I think Speaking is basically a mechanism by which reality forces to plot along, so the more out of line your command is with Fate’s current trajectory, the less likely you are to be able to control someone by Speaking.

      Like

  3. Ah, good. Enforced Interrogations of Akua that she can’t remember to keep an eye on her.
    Clever. Nicely done, Cat.

    Brute force only gets you so far. Skill and finesse backed by force is better.
    And a liberal application of shooting/stabbing first from surprise doesn’t hurt either.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. SilentWatcher

        And I hope cat doesnt lose her mantle. It always pains me when the MCs lose Power in the stories, just so they can be back in the “Underdog” position. an Extrem example is: ” The sword of Truth”. Growth is always more satisfying.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. SpeckofStardust


    I already see the flaw in this but no one in story has spotted it yet.
    “From and including the word ‘marker’ I spoke earlier today, you will remember this conversation as idle chatter from the moment this sentence ends,”
    idle chatter is not always unimportant to remember when it comes to understanding something.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Dainsleif

      While i agree with you, she has done this before for who knows how long, and her questions to Akua shows that she doesnt remember any of these interrogations. Which means that Akua would not, as a character trait, focus on idle chatter. Also one may say that since she is FORCED to remember it as a idle chatter her brain would not save it unless she had photographic memory, which we know she dont.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sulomund

    Typos!(?)

    “I’d begun to rely on abilities that I should only ever use as a last result [resort], and at some point I was going to run into someone who’d kill me for it.”

    Well that’s actually all I saw. Any more? Great chapter, as ever.

    Like

    1. Berder

      There were not even two hundred dead in the aking of the Crossroads (taking)
      How many treacherous lieutenants it too many treacherous lieutenants (it/is)
      They saw little of me, on a daily basisl (basis)
      The nisi, though that status might just be remedied to today (remove “to”)
      They can’t afford an unknown her for long, (her/here)
      If the wording if without flaw (second if should be is)

      Like

  6. Gunslinger

    A lot of answers this chapter to regularly asked questions. The daily interrogation of Akua bit was probably the best. I still fear Akua is going to be a threat again (an extremely annoying one) but her addition to the Woe has been quite fruitful.

    Also poor Archer. The guy she loves is ace and the girl she hits on leaves her with only a kiss

    Liked by 10 people

  7. Well, this chapter was interesting, but Idk what Cat is really expecting from this. If this actually kind of works, imma call horseshit b/c this isn’t “Cat”. Cat’s never been particularly stealthy or smart on the pedantic side of the spectrum before picking up the mantle. Things never go well for her when she tried to fulfill a role that’s *not her*. Like, how well did her last few stealth missions go? The hell is she thinking right now?

    Maybe erratic is pushing towards Cat being affected by some kind of meta-story of a warlord invading the country of a big-bad, but I still have no clue how we got here. Everything leading to the drow arc has seemed kind of… loosely thrown together. Things have just kind of… worked. She didn’t even have a plan for how to bind the drow until Akua mentioned it in the *after* they dived into what seemed like unnecessary danger. Things are working out so easily it almost makes Cat seem heroic (which has been kind of annoying to read).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ______

      Hey, she’s the girl that almost got Path to Victory as an Aspect, only botching it because she rushed the aftermath of its acquisition (something that happened to the original, too). Hiding a deeper plan under reliable conflict and advisors who would pick up her slack is almost as much her thing as it’s the Tyrant’s.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Rook

        She’s actually seriously talented when it comes to mundane tactics and playing the story. It’s easy to forget in the wake of all the recent Winter shenanigans that her very first major victory came about as a result of some clever wordplay and a bit of theatrics. It let a fledgling squire rip resurrection out of the hands of an entire Choir, then stomp her foremost heroic rival’s head into paste without so much as a squeak of resistance. The same one that completely overpowered her and cut off her head, earlier the same day.

        The same kind of tactics Black uses are her foundations to begin with.

        Her strength is improvisation, but the key has always been to use it within the framework that her teacher taught her. Set up the scenario first, and when her Villainous plan inevitably unravels, that’s when her affinity for improvisation comes into play to give her that little edge needed to win. It’ll just get her killed if relied on from the start.

        Her instinct to go back to basics instead of playing for more raw power is the difference between wearing your enemies as a fashion accessory vs becoming a fashion accessory. The victory there was more Black’s than anything, and he did it without even being in the same room. Using some clever wordplay and a barrage of crossbow bolts to a certain mage’s face.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Dainpdf

      Well, I guess that’s why she says she knows she can’t outword Akua. I assume she has a great number of contingencies, as Black once taught her (since one big plan is a terrible idea).

      Liked by 7 people

    3. What are you even saying? That Cat isn’t a planner? She’s no genius, true, but she’s beaten Akua before, at First Liesse. Her plans have worked more often than not, though often at a cost.

      Like

  8. Quite Possibly A Cat

    Wait… she’s never considered walling off part of her memory or knowledge? Not even during the little chats? Like I would think that would instantly trigger consideration of walling off bits of herself. Never as a method to beat interrogations while she was still alive?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. IDKWhoitis

      I’m absolutely sure Akua is aware of these conversations. With so many Wasteland horrors and seeing Cat pull that memory block gambit with the Dead King, I would be legitimately surprised if Akua does not have a countermeasure.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Byzantine

        I’d suspect she knows she is being interrogated, but nothing more.

        Right now it is better to minimize her knowledge of things in case Cat gets smart and asks. And following Cat really is in her best interests, at least until she has the information she requires to slip free.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Byzantine

          As to countermeasures: The Praesi Highborn considered anyone who ever had a direct contact with Malicia lost. …She can Speak so powerfully that she can give orders to an entire room and have no one in room aware of it. And there were no countermeasures to it. I believe we saw them kill an asset, annoyed by the loss but considering them irreparably compromised just from casual contact.

          And Cat has even greater control over Akua, due to her nature as Fey.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Dainpdf

        The issue is she’d have to do it so well she wouldn’t notice it when Cat asks. And she’d have to do it immediately or have to admit to considering it on their little session.

        Like

        1. IDKWhoitis

          The thing that has me on edge is that Akua PAUSES right before Cat asks her,

          “She paused. Her face went blank and I smiled ruefully.”

          There is so much bullshit that Akua could pull at that moment, and it seems like this has become a daily occurrence. Cat is so much more vulnerable if she thinks she’s holding all the cards, and we can’t trust her to have every contingency planned out if she is possibly under the influence of Winter or some meta-story.

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          1. Dainpdf

            This Cat doesn’t sound like Winter Cat; plus, Catherine has been able to tell when Winter was creeping up before.
            In any case, I believe Akua’s face went blank because the Speaking made her fetch all those memories of “idle chatter” and recontextualize them.
            It’s a given that she will eventually be able to use these times when she can remember to plan something, but hopefully Cat has enough small plans that she can stimmie the treachery until she’s ready to pass the mantle around. And/or snuff Akua.

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            1. Dainsleif

              However that specific line of narration happens BEFORE Cat Speaks. My take on this, is that Cat knows that these jabs on memories that should be inside Akua’s brain triggers them back. After she was surprised by the first time it happens she problably started taking pleasure in seeing Akua react. Which makes sense since Diabolist’s reaction doesnt change after Catherine Speaks.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainsleif

        Nor surprising. One of the first things she teaches Cat is to never do something for a single reason. A action must return several rewards. Its the same idea of the multi plan.

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      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        I always got the impression that Akua is heterosexual, but her attraction to power is held above all else. So her being a girl isn’t a plus, but the fact she murdered her and tortures her soul is. It’s certainly enough for her to work with.

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  9. naturalnuke

    I think I enjoy the little peak into Akua the most, this confirms she does truly believe her rhetoric of ‘to the victor goes the spoils’ and as a ‘spoil’ is being as helpful as possible to not die.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yotz

        One doesn’t contradicts the other. “I’ll serve you in sooth and good faith for one year and one day”, and all that jazz. If her survival first, and new body second would be assured, she would have no objections with her current subservient status, it seems. For the time being, yes – but the time in question will be measured by the Catherine’s nature. The moment she stops being the person who crushed Akua Sahelian would be the moment the ‘victor’ is no longer is, and so the ‘spoil’ would be set free again.
        …If only to reshape Cat in the form that can be considered ‘victor’ once more.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          They sort of do. One is honest subservience while the other is laying low, waiting for the time when one can flip the relationship and gain independence (hopefully killing and/or dominating Cat while at it).
          One implies she’s serving Cat out of respect for her winning, the other that she just thinks this is her best way forward for now.

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  10. JackbeThimble

    Catherine finally got her prescription in for a fresh pair of Dresden Goggles I see. Her old ones seem to have been wearing out a bit. Presumably the Liesse accords will have an appendix that properly accounts for releasing pent-up sexual tension like civilized foes.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dainpdf

    And so we see why Cat trusts nothing that comes out of Akua Sahelian.
    Damn… I hope Cat has ALL the contingencies for this one djinn in a bottle.
    As for Cat going back to a more controlled fighting style, that’s great to hear. She’s been depending way too much on just throwing power around these days, and that is something Praesi have tried over and over.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Dainpdf

        That, yes, but Cat also used to fight smarter than this. Never as well as Black, but she still used to have all sorts of tricks and plans when fighting.

        Like

  12. Cat seems strangely possessive of Ivah. Calling him “My Lord of Silent Steps” every time she refers to him by his title… kind of worried about it tbh.

    I’m eagerly awaiting the point where her forces reach critical mass. If she’s smart and the sigils underestimate her, she’ll be able to take them over one by one and at certain point the drow under her command will be powerful enough to steamroll through any of the lesser sigils. I suspect the Sigils in Holy Tvarigu will be a different beast altogether.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Yotz

    -Dodo. Urulan. Papenheim. Apricot. Enter supervision, stealth mode. Execute Sitrep One, Akua.

    -Subjective integrity maintained. Subjective continuity maintained. Subject observes no tampering.

    -Good. Now execute Sitrep Two.

    -Subjective goals unchanged. Interference at zero point seven, rising. Subjective compliance at zero point eight nine, falling. Subject finds you not icky.

    -Very well. Exit supervision.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Mike E.

    Thank you for a follow up to the promise of a kiss…Archer’s reaction to being left with blue balls (or whatever women call their equivalent condition) was awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. burdi

    cat want to make a story, about “sovereign of moonless night” who change the drow civilization forever, it is just like akua when she tried to get Diabolist Name
    so i think cat want to make sovereign of moonless night a Name, by making drow swear to it

    Like

  16. Morgenstern

    ” I will seek to obtain a manner of resurrection that preserves most of what I am ”

    Why, just why, did this make me think again about Heroes, Akua trying out (faking) being a hero, and the redemption story the Pilgrim angled for or did not angle for that everyone was wondering about…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ______

      I remain of the opinion that the weird OOC dialog between Akua playing Catherine and the Grey Pilgrim was her negotiating for a resurrection and him establishing the conditions on which she could obtain it.

      Like

  17. Steve

    Possible dangerous loophole:
    Cat tells Akua to forget back to the utterance of Marker earlier that day.

    They are deep underground, how is Akua supposed to know when the days roll over?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve been modeling Cat’s mind control stuff as body control, for the most part. This update muddies the water a lot though. Like, why not Speak “Take the slave oaths” to her new followers, why bother with the auction? Why not tell Akua to forget her ambition to be free?

    Like

    1. Because that’s just asking for something to go wrong.
      If she mindcontrols the drow into taking the Oaths, that’s just asking for some hero to break the mind control at some point, and then for the drow to maliciously comply with the Oaths – rather than willingly volunteer and comply.
      This way, the most loyal and subservient drow get the most power. That means they are less likely to cause trouble for Cat.

      Also, there’s a fair chance that taking the kind of Oaths that are being taken requires the oathtaker to not be mindcontrolled into taking them.

      Besides, Cat is relatively pro Free Will.

      Akua’s ambition is not freedom. It is survival. Wanting to survive is fine, within reason – it is a motivation to prove useful, competent, and loyal.
      Free, Akua is without allies or protection from basically everyone.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Dainpdf

        Since the mantle seems to be able to tell names given from those taken, that latter hypothesis is quite likely.
        As for survival, Ubua knows Cat will kill her once her usefulness has stopped.

        Like

  19. jjffjhjf

    So, I notice that no one else seems to have given a theory as to who she plans to abdicate her fae title to. I’m putting forward its her Ex, the half-fae lady who she got in a fight with over her desire to use a blood ritual to gain power via her fae blood. She gives it to her, likely under the stipulation of loyalty to Callow. She’s got a fae monarch on her side, her ex is happy with her, no longer needs to do a blood ritual. Its really a win all around for her.

    Like

  20. Isa Lumitus

    Black’s words, “If you have the ability to accomplish something, it is your right to do so.” Probably deserve to be a chapter opening quote.

    Maybe I’m a bit biased, though. Mostly because that exact sentiment was one of my epiphanies when it came to understanding how the world actually works. In my head it was phrased as “I have the right to do anything that I am capable of doing.” With, of course, the unspoken implication that everything else also has this right.

    Like

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