Chapter 69: Peerage

“Traitorous’s Law: while redemption is the greatest victory one can achieve over a villain, to function it does require the villain to have at least a single redeemable quality.
Addendum: Yes, even if a Choir is involved.”
– Extract from ‘The Axiom Appendix’, multiple contributors

Some days I wondered what it said about me that I much preferred holding court down in the Everdark than back in Laure. Sure, odds were good that every single member of my Peerage – even Ivah – would turn on me in a heartbeat if their oaths allowed for it, but for all that there was a simplicity to the proceedings that I enjoyed. Callow’s royalty was known for a certain lack of pageantry compared to its much wealthier neighbours to the east and the west, but even that relative lack of ceremony could feel stifling at times. I’d spent most of my times prior to the crowning on one campaign or another, and while it was true that the Legions were strictly regulated I’d had the benefit of being a Named in a Praesi institution. Which had meant, more or less, that rules had only ever applied to me if someone higher in the Empire’s pecking order had decreed that they did. Considering Black had been the very definition of hands off and Malicia had largely considered me his problem early on, I’d been allowed to run free.

It might have been for the better if I hadn’t. I’d learned a lot from my teacher but in many ways my apprenticeship felt only half-finished. Though I had long disdained the kind of aristocratic someone like Akua brought to the table, I’d since felt the costs of lacking that kind of education. Dealing with Wastelanders and Procerans I’d often been on the backfoot while they turned etiquette and custom into armaments. Much as I hated to admit it, treating with Cordelia Hasenbach without Diabolist whispering in my ear all the while would have seen the First Prince playing me like a fiddle. She’d called me a warlord, in one of our little talks, and she had a point. On the surface that was a stone around my neck, but down here? It was the wind in my sail. I was dealing with other warlords, and even before I’d stolen Crepuscular from Akua’s mind I’d known how to speak the language of these people. Seated comfortably on a stone bench perched atop an inclined that less-than-subtly set my Peerage below me, I struck a match against my sleeve and lit my pipe.

My wakeleaf stash was running low, so I’d had to ration the vice, but there was no point in letting the herbs go to waste. I puffed at the sculpted dragonbone shaft, inhaling the smoke and letting it stream out of my nostrils with a pleased sigh. It was gladdening that Winter had not stripped me of all my petty pleasures.

“Evening,” I drawled. “I see none of you are missing, so I’ll take it that negotiations didn’t go too badly.”

My court of murderers offered up polite amusement at the admittedly weak jest. The Peerage now numbered eleven Mighty, every single one titled by Winter. Most of those had come from Great Lotow, reluctantly bending the knee after wandering around the outskirts of Arcadia for a while and finding no way out save the one I’d offered. Slaus and Sagas had been the first to fold, remaining where I’d left them and taking the oaths after a single day. The others trickled into my service over the following week as my sigil settled our other affairs in the city. Nodoi and Vasyl had held out for three and five days, respectively, finding no trouble living off the land but no way back to the Everdark either. By then I’d already bullied  Losle and Zarkan into oath-taking after a few demonstrations of how dangerous living in places with only one entrance and exit could be when that space could be closed off by gate. Kanya and Soln had refused the longest, the full seven days, and they’d only changed their minds after Mighty Orelik vanished without a trace. Sooner or later, those treading the domain of the fae were found by them.  Including Ivah, I’d left Great Lotow with nine titled lords. The last two we’d picked up on our way to Great Strycht, the sigil-holders of the Lovre and the Vadimyr.

Practically speaking, those sigils had been roving bandits and raiders living off whatever they could take from the weakest nearby territory. They’d had almost no supplies to throw into the pot, which had been something of an issue, but the sigils were also the most battle-hardened I had at my disposal. They’d had as many dzulu as nisi in their ranks, and according to Akua they were the tribes finding it easiest to live under my rules. It made sense to me: with low numbers, they simply hadn’t been able to afford the casual cruelties of larger and more established sigils. The other sigil-holders we’d come across on our way to Strycht had been less inclined to bend the knee when presented with overwhelming numbers, so they’d ended up feeding my nascent Peerage instead of joining it. Their lesser Mighty and dzulu had not been so obstinate, so they’d been folded into my own Losara Sigil where Ivah could keep an eye on them. It’d had the added benefit of swelling what could be considered my personal tribe larger than any of the others, always a good card to have in hand when dealing with other warlords.

“Reports, then,” I said. “Lord Soln?”

The Lord of Shallow Graves smiled, which was promising. I’d been careful not to play favourites with my Peerage, but I would privately admit that Soln was the Mighty who’d most grown on me. It had taken to its title better than any drow save Ivah, and its continued knack for producing results was a very large feather in its metaphorical cap.

“Talks with the Jindrich have been fruitful, Losara Queen,” it announced. “Mighty Jindrich is willing to take the oaths, in exchange for certain considerations.”

I puffed at my pipe, impressed but trying not to show it. The Jindrich weren’t top dog back in Strycht, but they were widely considered the runner-up to the sigil that was. In large part because Jindrich itself was apparently a fucking terrifying savage that went berserk when fighting other Mighty and sunk entire chunks of island in the throes of uncontrollable rage. I’d expected them to be holdouts, not in the first batch of collaborators. Letting out a stream of acrid smoke, I let out a pleased hum.

“Considerations?” I prompted.

“Jindrich territory holds the largest cisterns of Great Strycht,” Lord Soln elaborated. “This is well-known. They would outlast all others when thirst takes the city, and so cabal was forged among lesser sigils to take the water from them by force. Mighty Jindrich requests assistance in scattering the scavengers before oaths are taken.”

Ah, these charming drow. You could always count on them to turn on each other even when the enemy was at the gate.

“And Jindrich will fight at our side, when the time comes?” I asked.

“That is so, Losara Queen,” Lord Soln replied.

“Then the bargain is struck,” I said. “Centon?”

Akua’s secretary had been standing in my shadow all the while, stone tablet and chalk in hand, and approached when bid.

“My queen,” it murmured.

“Add five auction seats to the due of the Soln,” I ordered.

The auction system had not lasted long before needing revision, though we’d never expected it would. Considering we now had almost forty thousand drow on the march, allowing everyone to bid would have been difficult. The simple logistical difficulties of fitting that many people in a single cavern aside, I’d needed a carrot to keep my growing army happy. Oaths bound them regardless of preference, but willing soldiers tended to be a lot more useful than conscripts. The right to attend the auction of Night-filled corpses was now restricted to a smaller number of people, currently four hundred. My own Losara Sigil owned a quarter of that, most of it attributed by lottery so more than dzulu and Mighty might rise, but I’d given every sigil under my banner a certain number of seats and kept the last hundred as rewards to parcel out. Lord Soln would have the right to grant those seats to whoever it wished, both reinforcing its authority over its sigil and giving a reminder that the power’s ultimate source was the Queen of Lost and Found.

Diabolist might be a bloody viper but there was no denying how godsdamned useful she was.

“Honour was given,” Lord Soln said, inclining its head.

“The worthy rise,” I replied, the cadenced sentence in Crepuscular rolling off the tongue.

My gaze swept over the rest of the Peerage, and I could almost taste the anger and envy some displayed. But not directed at me, I thought. Not for now, anyway. It was an ugly little bit of irony that some of the Praesi practices I despised the most worked so well with the drow. Keeping the blades of my subordinates pointed at each other was an old Wasteland game I was beginning to be a fair hand at. But they will not fight each other, I reminded myself. The oaths have seen to that. The violence would be turned outwards, and put to my purposes.

“I await other fair news,” I said. “Lord Vadimyr?”

The most recent addition to the Peerage shook its head. Vadimyr had actually answered a few questions I had about drow and the nature of the titles I was handing out without meaning to. The Lord of Fading Echoes was, well, the owner of a womb. It had risen to prominence late, and birthed a child when it was nisi. I did not choose the titles I gave out when empowering my lords – Winter provided them – so it’d been interesting to learn that my mantle would likely never hand out a title of Lady to a drow. A matter of perception by the beholden, Akua had theorized, and in Masego’s absence I had no reason to gainsay her.

“Mighty Karmel founded a cabal with three others to share their water,” Lord Vadimyr said. “Together they may well last until the great cabals of the inner ring come to war against us, and so will not consider the taking of oaths.”

I nodded.

“Lord Slaus?” I tried.

“The fortune of Mighty Soln was my own curse,” the drow ruefully admitted. “For the Hushu are of the cabal besieging the Jindrich, and so have undertaken salvation by strife. They deny any other ending.”

Yeah, there were two sides to that coin. For every cornered sigil they’d be twice as many sigils cornering it, and those would be less than inclined to make a pact with an interloper like me. I suspected that if I allowed the internal skirmishes to play out I’d get a willing accomplice out of every major defeat, but I had constraints of my own to consider. My own camp might be fine when it came to water – I did have a lake to parcel out – but food was another story. I had over forty thousand drow to keep fed nowadays, and no supply train to speak of. Considering I’d refused foraging raids in favour of assimilating the same sigils we’d be pillaging, the state of our food reserves was essentially a downwards slope with the occasional uptick when we brought in a sigil. Of course that same sigil also brought additional bellies to fill, so the relief was short-lived and followed by even sharper descent. We had maybe another two weeks left in us before emergency rationing started, and after that maybe a third before the stores ran empty.

There’d been cattle in Great Lotow, great lizards and some sort of giant moles whose milk Indrani assured me was utterly disgusting, but Lotow was an outskirts city. The wealthy sigils with full stores were further in, and meanwhile we’d already butchered most of the lizards for meat. Several times, actually. The younger ones were smaller but they grew back body parts over several days as long as they didn’t lose too much flesh and die from the effort, which had strung out their use some. Strictly speaking I could afford a week of sitting on my thumbs before matters became urgent but it would be risky. We’d have to take Strycht and its entire stores immediately afterwards or risk circling the drain of our personal reserves while hammering down the last pockets of resistance. Archer had half-seriously noted that since corpses were currently our most common form of loot perhaps grey meat should be put on the table, but cannibalism was a little too far for me. Akua had noted that it was strictly taboo in drow culture regardless, as eating their own kind’s flesh was believed to cause rot in the soul and cause Night to seep out.

No, in my eyes were needed to take Great Strycht within the next few days. It’d give us enough of a margin that we’d keep our head above the water while resuming our march into the inner ring, racing ever more harshly against the bottom as we went. It wasn’t sustainable, but then it didn’t have to be: this was an exodus, not a conquest. Unfortunately that meant attacking soon, and that would be risky business without allies on the inside. Which proved to be in rather short supply, I discovered as the Peerage continued giving me their reports. There were a few offers to help against other sigils but not take oaths, in exchange for water, but the lords who’d held those talks admitted betrayal was more than likely the moment water was supplied. Lord Zarkan, who’d yet to bother hiding how much it despise my very existence, brought a second success with a minor sigil that’d apparently been evicted of its territory by a cabal and was now furious enough to turn its cloak. Five auction seats went to the Zarkan for the success, though that one did not thank me for them afterwards. Lord Nodoi had failed in talks with the Strycht sigil it’d approached but found another settled near the western sluice gate that was desperate enough to take the full oaths in exchange for survival. They were already on their way, and for that the Nodoi earned six seats.

It was Ivah’s own report that turned the mood grim, for it’d been sent not to bargain but to gain information.

“Over the last two days I took five Mighty from varying sigils,” the Lord of Silent Steps informed me. “As of an hour ago interrogation of four of them has been carried out. From this, two matters of import were discovered. The first is that we have drawn the attention of the Longstride Cabal.”

The drow were always eerily well-behaved, at least when I was present, so there was no ripple of murmurs as there would have been with humans. But several of the lords visibly stiffened, which for their kind was a glaring warning sign.

“This is certain?” Lord Vasyl pressed.

“Mighty Leslaw is of the Swooping Bat Cabal, of which a lesser member of the Longstride is also part,” Ivah said. “It is my understanding that is the path by which word of our arrival spread. When the cabals of Great Strycht put out the call to war, interest developed.”

“You’ll have to fill me in on the particulars of this Longstride Cabal,” I said.

Ivah grimaced.

“Hunters of hunters, my queen,” the Lord of Silent Steps said. “A great and ancient cabal.”

Lord Soln nodded, catching my eye.

“They fight only for the glory of the Night,” it added. “Only the sharpest blades are invited into the fold. They hold no territory, protect no temple: their only purpose is the death of those they deem worthy.”

So not so much dwarven deed-seekers as a bunch of Night-powered Ranger equivalents. That was just lovely.

“How many?” I asked.

“Two hundred,” Ivah said. “Never more nor less. One invited must take another’s place.”

By which it meant murder their predecessor. So I wasn’t just dealing with thrill-killers, I was dealing with a full cohort of hardened Mighty who’d either been dangerous enough to kill one of the old monsters or remained sharp enough to kill the young ones.

“How long before they’re mobilized?” I asked. “If they’re this picky about members, they have to be widely spread out.”

“It is hard to say, Losara Queen,” Lord Lovre told me. “For while they range far and wide, there are those among them who know the Secret of shadow-striding. That is the source of their name.”

“Shadow-striding,” I slowly repeated. “Is that what I think it is?”

The drow sharply grinned.

“Wherever there is shadow, their strides may take them,” Lord Lovre agreed. “It is a gift from the very hands of Sve Noc.”

“And this is instantaneous,” I said, disbelieving.

That sounded like teleportation through shadows, which was a bit much even if the Priestess of Night had her fingers in it. Even the Miezans had to sacrifice a city’s worth of captives to move their armies like that. Masego couldn’t fucking teleport, and I’d seen him order a Princess of Summer to go sit in the corner like a petulant child.

“Not so,” Lord Soln said. “It is a lengthening of stride. Not unlike the stories Mighty Archer speaks of your journeys in the Garden of the Splendid.”

So cutting corners, not snap-your-fingers-and-it’s-done. If the Gloom and the Night were really part of Sve Noc’s domain, as I’d come to suspect they were, shadow-striding might just be taking a shortcut through the original domain from which all the rest spawned. Or it might just be an improvement on the shadow-tendril trick almost every drow with Night could use, only with a difficult relationship with its father and something to prove. Regardless, that meant we were about to be up in our neck in veteran old guard killers.

“A week?” I tried.

“Less,” Ivah said. “My captive had no precise day, yet believed they would arrive before assault was made on Great Strycht.”

“They don’t know when we’re going to assault,” I pointed out.

“Speculation abounds,” my Lord of Silent Steps drily said. “Most common is the belief that within five days there will be battle.”

“So four days,” I frowned. “Give or take.”

This was starting to take shape, slowly but surely. This would be fought in waves. My army had to strike within a few days. The Longstride Cabal would arrive within four to hunt us for sport. The earliest reinforcements from the inner ring cabals would start arriving within a week. If I took Great Strycht before the Longstride arrived, I could lay an ambush for them. Which would pay off massively, if I could title even a few of those drow. The shadow-striding trick would allow us to spread exponentially fast, and we’d be able to eat up the reinforcements as they arrived. That would be a tipping point for this campaign, I thought. If I had a Peerage that large and powerful? We’d trample everything in our way towards Sve Noc, swelling with recruits as we did. On the other hand, if we botched the invasion of Strycht we were fucked for good. We’d lose strength in the attempt, and then we’d get hit by the Longstride and the reinforcements in quick succession. It had downwards spiral written all over it. Bold strokes would either win this or end this, depending on how it all fell out. Waiting was essentially giving up the game, and so not even worth considering.

“There is a second matter of import, Losara Queen,” Ivah reminded me.

I rolled my shoulder, reluctantly emerging from my line of thought.

“I’m listening,” I said.

“One of the prisoners I obtained was a jawor of the Rumena Sigil,” my Lord of Silent Steps said. “Privy to intent of Mighty Rumena itself.”

My brow rose. If the Jindrich were the runner-ups, then the Rumena were the local hegemons. Their sigil was twice the size of anybody else’s, their rylleh were said to be a pain to even sigil-holders and Mighty Rumena itself was rumoured to have died once, gotten rather angry about it and promptly gotten up with a severed spine to smash in the head of the offending Mighty. The only drow in Strycht it was even remotely wary of was Jindrich, and there was cabal essentially every other sigil-holder was part of whose entire purpose was making sure the Rumena didn’t eat everyone else. If it was making a move, it would have major consequences on how this battle unfolded.

“And?” I said.

“The many sigils of Great Strycht are turning on each other,” Ivah said. “Cabals have split, or been reforged to address more pressing concerns. There is opportunity in this.”

“It’s preparing to take a swing at claiming all of Strycht,” I said.

“Malcontent rylleh were approached, I am told,” Ivah smiled. “And the jawor I took was looking for weaknesses in the defences other sigils.”

I closed my eyes. This… It might work. If they struck hard and quick while other sigils were already fighting. If they kept the fighting out of sight until they’d harvested enough Night, they could just retreat for a day and let their Mighty digest what they took – after that they’d have enough power to bring to bear that even allied opposition wouldn’t matter. That was an additional beat to the dance ahead, and one I could use. If I had eyes in the right place. If I was careful and fast and lucky. I opened my eyes and brought the pipe back to my lips. The fire had gone out, since I’d put talking above smoking, but there was still some wakeleaf not entirely gone to ash. I took a match out of my cloak and struck it on my arm, puffing at the pipe until it lit up again. Waste not, want less. Meeting the eyes of my Peerage, I spat out a mouthful of smoke and let it curl around my face.

“Are any of you,” I smiled, “familiar with Irritant’s Law?”

150 thoughts on “Chapter 69: Peerage

  1. This chapter’s got a lot of interesting details in it about how the granting of Fae titles works. I guess that the former King of Winter didn’t choose to make Catherine the Countess of Moonless Nights; it was a reflection of her own self-image. Presumably it took into account her identity as the Squire of the Black Knight, as well as the fact that she was the Lady of Marchford, and that the Praesi title of Lady was equivalent to the Callowan title of Countess.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Irritant’s law, for those that don’t remember it:
    “Irritant’s Law: inevitable doom is a finite resource, and becomes mere doom when split between multiple heroic bands. Nemeses should never simultaneously engage a single villain.”

    Liked by 16 people

      • I also want to point out that since the alternative to following Cat is being genocides by a massive dwarven army, there is an element of capturing an endangered species for their own good in Cat’s agenda. At least the Drow following her have a chance at survival up on the surface.

        Liked by 9 people

        • I guess but didn’t the Dwarves force the Goblins to the surface? So there is a high probability when the Drow know they are losing they just leave the Underground and go to the Surface. And considering the powers the Mighty have seems like they be able to carve out a Kingdom on the surface by themselves.


          • Other than the fact that when they talked with the dwarves, the talk was of genocide and that the ones that got to survive were the ones Cat took with her.


        • “There is always a choice.”
          “You mean I could choose certain death?”
          “A choice nevertheless, or perhaps an alternative. You see I believe in freedom. Not many people do, although they will of course protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based.

          -Terry Pratchett,

          Liked by 4 people

          • That’s, uh, certainly a hot take. From that perspective I guess it IS all the victims’ fault. They did after all, freely choose to be chumps who need water to live. Only right that they suffer the consequences of this dreadful decision.

            Liked by 1 person

            • No they chose to be chumps who can’t look outside and notice thier house is burning and the person offering them a way out doesn’t want to die the second you get out at your hands.


              • I’m going to go with… enslaving the drow in this way is the only way to ensure that crazed, bloodthirsty killers who live only to obtain power don’t get free rein to do whatever they like, while also not allowing the more innocent (albeit still totally amoral) lesser drow to be slaughtered helplessly by the dwarves.

                Or if it isn’t the only way, the other way is killing all the strong drow – I suspect they much prefer this way of doing things.

                Liked by 1 person

                • And, they won’t accept cultural reconditioning any other way.

                  It’s very hard to say that the Drow have the full capacity to choose freedom right now — they’ve been hollowed out and enslaved to the Night drug for how long, now? You can’t reason with junkies about how they’d be better off without the drugs until they realise by feeling it that they’ve hit bottom.

                  Cat is handing them a way to hit bottom without becoming genocided into the bargain. It ain’t pretty. It ain’t moral. And, the ethics are shaky beyond belief. But, it might be workable.

                  And, at the end of this, some Drow may survive to become a form of Drow capable of dealing with wider social groups without being totally ended in the process. :/ Who knows, they might recover some of what they were before Night came, but if not… They’ve been unwittingly enslaved before. Indentured servitude looks almost good by comparison to how they got wrecked the last time. 😦

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Yeah, a lot of comments seem to be assuming they are ‘free’ now, when what I’m seeing here is not freedom remotely. They are in an eternal murder ring that even has a super group that comes by and kills anyone that looks remotely interesting. They are enslaved to the power brought by murder due to this Sve Noc wrecking what was once an actual society and is now just everlasting violence with a slight emphasis on group mentality.

                    The Drow seem like they’re living in the world of Fallout compared to everyone else’s Cyrodil. Maybe a silly comparison, but still.


    • Eh, shes barely using them to their starter potential at the moment. I would probably go with it being due to Cat not yet thinking of them as “hers” in full.


  3. Y’know, before champion killed captain I could see people maybe voting for her since she was pretty funny in what we saw of her, but with black being such a great character and the backlash from the whole skinning thing, I doubt she’ll get more than a handful of people that dislike black.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Can’t wait to see how this coming battle plays out. Those shadow-striders are totally hardcore.

    So, 40K troops with a lot more to come. These will be significant numbers back on the surface. And no one (except the bard and the dead king, maybe) is expecting them. And Cat can just March them back through Arcadia whereever she likes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dead King, yes. Kind of. He probably didn’t know about the numbers she’s managing to get, by which I mean her success rate in converting drow to her minions. I mean, she’s already up to 40k and she’s nowhere near done – and it’s worth noting that Cat’s likely taking a relatively direct route, and probably isn’t going to get to a lot of drow cities before getting to the Sve of Night. I’d like to think that Cat is being more successful than he thought she would be.

      I don’t think Bard anticipated Cat going to the drow, far less Cat being as successful as she has been.
      But by now, Bard probably suspects something is up with Cat being MIA for as long as she has been.
      And it’s not like Cat has many options to disappear to. So Bard probably suspects drow is over of the options, and knows that Cat is having at least enough success to be worthwhile.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah if the Dead King doesn’t have scrying capabilities at *least* on par with Masego’s Observatory (replicated a dozen times for redundancy and staffed by thousands of specially bred mages) I will eat my hat.


      • Don’t forget what The Dead King said to The Wandering Bard:

        “”Were you watching?” he teased.

        A little jest, just between the two of them. She was always watching.”

        She may not have seen her going for the Drows before, but now that she has struck a bargain with the Dwarves and started to recruit an army of Drows, I doubt she is unaware of it. After all, she get to see the script.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah, Archer, eating the corpses of drow is not a good idea. Even the doe think it’s a bad idea, which is saying something.

    200 top tier Mighty in the Longstriders.
    That’s going to be a lot of Night.
    Wait, what if Cat manages to flip some of them to her side. She can offer hunting Named and mages and so on, maybe even Elves, as bait.

    Cat, never stop murdering people with the box instead of thinking inside (or outside) it.

    Liked by 5 people

    • What box? There was a box? I simply thought that Cat left the box behind because the corners weren’t sharp enough to properly convey the right amount of ‘incentive’ that she required. So she decided to just bludgeon her enemies to death with reality itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In one of the chapter opening quotes, somebody, Juniper maybe, says something to the effect that Cat doesn’t so much think outside the box as pick it up and beat people to death with it.

        Ah, found it. Book 1: Chapter 27: Callow’s Plan:
        What Foundling does isn’t think thinking outside the box so much as stealing the box and hitting her opponents with it until they stop moving.
        – Extract from “A Commentary on the Uncivil Wars”, by Juniper of tge Red Moon Clan

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Did Traitorous really pretend to be “redeemed” by the power of an Angelic Choir just so that he could betray them?
    I honestly couldn’t help laughing at the addendum for Traitorous’ law.

    Liked by 16 people

    • No, no, no. This was a two-parter. The mention of the choir is an addendum. It was added in later to clarify the earlier law.

      What happened is that Traitorous was redeemed by the heroes to suddenly and shockingly betray them at a moment most inopportune. And so, to prevent future heroes from making the same mistake, Traitorous’ Law was written.

      Then, he was redeemed again, under the brilliant gaze of the angels of some choir or another. Only to then, suddenly and shockingly betray even the Heavens themselves. And so, an addendum had to be written beneath Traitorous’ Law.

      The take away here is that somehow, people continuously find themselves trusting a man known as Traitorous and are both surprised and shocked when he betrays them. Even the Heavens, apparently.

      Liked by 25 people

      • I mean, the title usually comes after the emperor’s death, at the time he should be known by name, like Malicia. Also, he wouldn’t be worthy of the name if he couldn’t convince people again and again that he is trustable XD

        Liked by 2 people

      • I mean, he apparently took pseudonyms for a bunch of those betrayals, so the non-Choir time may have been a little less blatant.
        Oh, and I think that he may have done it more than once, for it to have become an axiom…
        By the way, angelic redemption didn’t stick on Cat either. What’s that say about her?


          • Didn’t work on Traitorous either. Difference is he pretended it did. In any case, the axiom says it doesn’t work on people who have nothing redeemable about them. Still wondering what it says about Cat that it didn’t work on her.


            • The real difference is that Cat had to actively fight off the influence of the Hashmallim, while Traitorous probably didn’t even bat an eye.


  7. “Irritant’s Law: inevitable doom is a finite resource, and becomes mere doom when split between multiple heroic bands. Nemeses should never simultaneously engage a single villain.”
    – Extract from ‘The Axiom Appendix’, multiple contributors

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Good to see the Drow have at least an anti-cannibalism stance…though we don’t know if they have the same opinion concerning humans, goblins and orcs. I mean, there must be a reason they’re calling them ‘cattle’…
    A new big battle is in preparation, and it looks like it’s going to be betrayal, lies, violence and plenty of big Night powers unleashed…Catherine has now 40 000 drow and eleven Noble-titled Mighty to her sides…and unless my count is off, she has not been two months in the Everdark, so what she has is just the beginning…
    I want to have a look at the Grey Pilgrim’s face when he will be informed the Black Queen is back with the hordes of psychotic killers in tow…

    So far the Peerage is consisting of the Mighty Ivah, Soln, Slaus, Sagas, Losle, Zarkan, Nodoi, Vasyl, Kanya, Lovre and Vadimyr.
    Ivah is the Lord of Silent Steps.
    Soln is the Lord of Shallow Graves, like in the songs.
    Vadimyr (female) is the Lord of Fading Echoes.

    Chaoes and cataclysm are coming…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Since cannibalism is explicitly “the act of one individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food”, any non-drow is a fair play for a drow. Recognition or non-recognition of attempts to broaden the definition of cannibalism in regards to other thinking species is a question of deep philosophy and ethics.

      There are some more practical reasons behind the taboo on consumption of flesh of your species – which can easely be broadened to your, closely related, or even simply reasonably similar from biology standpoint.
      Like, say, prions.
      Which were original reason behind this taboo anyway.


      • Cue catchphrase:
        “My dear friends, I have a confession to make. Some creative reframing of the truth may have taken place during the planning of this redemption.”

        Liked by 6 people

        • Prior to an ultimate showdown of Good Vs. Evil, a rope ladder falls down from what now appears to be a Floating Fortress of Evil and DOOM that was previously disguised as a thundercloud. “My dear friends, it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that I must now take my leave from this Band of Cohorts. Also I must sorrowfully regret to inform you that someone may have potentially ‘borrowed’ the Scrolls of Sealing required to banish evil from these lands. And said someone may or may not have exchanged them in order to acquire the capital to build and maintain a cloud shaped mobile fortress. Maybe… Probably… Assuredly. Most Assuredly.”

          Liked by 3 people

      • …except that in Black’s case I’d expect him to be a bastard about it in ways only he can.

        “Now, Catherine, mind me well: the secret of the Black Knight’s Final Attack is that there is no final attack.”

        Liked by 2 people

        • That is actually really good advice for a villain. Because your Ultimate Attack ™ is guaranteed to either fail ,only work nice, or worse, backfire. If you constantly have The Black Knights Secret Attack in your back pocket and let people know about it you can use every other attack you have because only that attack gets autocounteted.

          Liked by 1 person

          • “The secret of the Black Knight’s Final Attack is to lie and tell everyone it exists so that your opponents keep their best counter in reserve the whole fight without ever using it. Well. Really the secret is to keep it a secret that’s carefully calibrated to only be available to the heroes because they valiantly redeem your Treacherous But Not Morally Repugnant Lieutenant #3 with three acts left to the climax so it’s not obvious you’re baiting the heroes, but those are the kinds of details for Adjutant and Scribe to handle. Your part in all of this is to just not have a final attack.”


        • “Is this the part where you impart your Final Technique which I don’t fully understand until the most dramatic possible moment?”

          “Well, I’m not going to *now*.”

          Liked by 4 people

          • Which him not telling her would probably keep him from dying storywise, because as soon as he imparts that secret he is going to die.


  9. I feel this Sve Noc was the same as Cat once.

    Then her domain expanded etc and she’ll become Summer or Winter.

    Still a training exercise by the Dead King. Thanks EE.


  10. For some reason I keep imagining there is this one dwarf in the invading army, that has a real personal gripe with the Drow and been waiting for this expedition his entire life. And every time the dwarven army reaches an enemy fortification he runs forward, kicks in the door an goes…

    “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my- OH COME ON!!!!!”

    Liked by 9 people

  11. So… Is it just me that has considered Cat has a whole freaking lake to take not just water, but fish from? Sure, she can’t spare the manpower to feed her entire army with fishing, but she can at least extend her supplies’ life by feeding the army with fish.
    Also, they could have stored the giant carcasses of the lake monsters in the Winter icebox for eating later. I had assumed she’d done that, TBH.


    • Fishing for them in Arcadia would probably be quite dangerous thanks to the local clowns, and gating them – fishes, not clowns – in with a daily doze drinking water may give erratic results; to that, we know too little about relative farm and fishery outputs and nutrient consumption of the average Drow to make projections about time.

      Good point on carcasses – though, this bunch of supplies are currently in the hard to traverse open contested terrain, and any foraging team would act as proverbial sitting ducks waiting for a counterstrike from opforce.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cat and her subordinates are protected from Fae persecution by her boon, so fishing and not-too-long-term storage of food should be okay. The Wild Hunt isn’t likely to frag Cat’s people at random either, since their last discipline session… And if they do Cat can put them in line without much trouble.


  12. …So, if she can barely feed her army now, what’s she going to do once she takes them out of the Underdark? I mean, Callow has a bit of a food crisis of its own at the moment, no?

    Is she going to immediately strike at an enemy city to seize their food stores, or something?


  13. Many posters here are making excuses for Catherine’s lack of ethics. I shan’t, because there’s no need: Cat’s been making excuses *for herself* for most of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m just waiting for the moment Catherine realizes she can rip others abilities if they’re under her cloak. If she could take Akua’s knowledge of language, why not the abilities of the drow she titled and put under her cloak. She would get the powerup she needs for future battles without taking the night for herself. It would imply, since night and winter seem similar, that it’s possible to convert one to another.

    Actually, this leads me to another theory I have that I think was mentioned already. Calernia is not the first wager of Fate to exist, rather it’s the second with Arcadia being the first. But over billions of years, the patterns in Arcadia became so strong that their entire existence basically became predetermined. Night and Winter and Evil and Villain and Treachery all became one concept that fought an eternal battle against Day, Summer, Good, Hero, Nobility. Like smaller rivers that dug into the earth these concepts surged and merged into two huge rivers that went into opposite directions. It would explain why the very concept of Night in Calernia is attracted to Winter, as if it’s its mother. And Catherine has already broken the stalemate by merging Winter and Summer in marriage in Arcadia. That same marriage should be achieved in Liesse Accords in the same way, thus ending the wager of Fate in truce.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “Traitorous’s Law: while redemption is the greatest victory one can achieve over a villain, to function it does require the villain to have at least a single redeemable quality.
    Addendum: Yes, even if a Choir is involved.”
    – Extract from ‘The Axiom Appendix’, multiple contributors


    You wouldn’t…..

    Would you?


  16. So, Cat unconsciously proves here that the Tower’s way is very effective, AS LONG as they are oath-enslaved into not doing lots of things she doesn’t find acceptable.

    I wonder why other Dread Emperors didn’t try that before. Probably magical oaths are insufficient, and fae ones can’t be broken as easily. That would cut it.

    I still kinda wonder if the dwarves could TRULY bring down this whole drow society, even if they are not as powerful and strong as they once were. It would take maybe hundreds of years, if not thousands.

    Cat definitely should have asked for a higher price. What she is trying to do here in this timescale is… ahem… *almost* inevitably doomed to fail. But then, plot armour


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