Chapter 73: Feeder Bands

“The rat it bites the rat
On the tail, the tail, the tail
The rat it does grow fat
And swell, and swell, and swell
But a rat will bite the rat
On the tail, the tail, the tail
So we’ll sing the chain again.”
– “Growing Horns”, a Lycaonese nursery rhyme

The first blow struck in the Battle of Great Strycht was an illusion.

Glamour, to be precise, woven by my own will. I’d seen no need to waste strength by making it too elaborate, so it’d remained a simple streak of blue light high up in the ‘sky’. In of itself it did nothing, but it didn’t have to: it was a signal. If my army stepped into the city uninvited, we were the enemy. The ones everyone would be aiming at, and even the few sigils who’d struck pacts with us would think twice before coming out on our side. Whether it was to see if we could match the opposition or simply to bleed us a little first to have a better position after the battle didn’t matter, since I couldn’t afford those kinds of losses. No, I needed blades to already be out when we struck. Thankfully, Ivah had provided me with the means to ensure that. The Rumena Sigil, Gods bless their ambitious souls, had decided that the barbarians knocking at the gate was the right moment to make a play for the control of Great Strycht. My Lord of Silent Steps had learned as much after grabbing one of their lesser Mighty and interrogating it thoroughly. Not so thoroughly, though, that it had died from my lieutenant’s attentions.

So we’d made the songbird sing a second time, this time in front of the inner circle of the Jindrich Sigil. They’d been the natural targets for sowing dissension, and not just because they’d already made a deal with me. See, the Jindrich were the second most powerful sigil in the city. They’d opened negotiations because they were under attack by a cabal of lesser sigils going after their water reserves and agreed to take oaths under condition of those enemies being humbled, but they weren’t bound to me. Not really. It was an alliance of convenience for them, and those were not to be relied upon. But this changed things. As the second best, the Jindrich would have to be annihilated of the Rumena were ever to fully take over Great Strycht. More than that, we’d hinted that the sigils attacking them were doing so at the invitation of Mighty Rumena – which, for all I knew, could be true. It didn’t matter if it was false, though, because from the perspective of Mighty Jindrich it made sense and confirmed its worst suspicions. It was not hard to get people to believe the worst of each other when they’d been feuding cyclically for a few hundred years.

So my alliance had become a little less shaky, and I’d put it to work. The Rumena had been the kings of the island for a very long time, and never been all that nice about it: to the extent that there was technically a cabal including most everyone else dedicated to keeping them from devouring the rest of the city. That meant they had a lot of enemies, and that the Jindrich had… well, allies was a bit of a stretch. Sigils they’d fought with more than against for the sake of keeping the Rumena in check. Mighty Jindrich had reached out through envoys and warned them in advance of the plot, which was exactly what I’d needed. If my people had done that, it would have been taken as naked plot to incite civil war. Which, dues where they were due, it was. Coming from Mighty Jindrich, though? It had a reputation as an implacable berserker, not an intriguer. Put that together with our songbird, and you had all the necessary ingredients for a discreet coalition. Once it’d been assembled, the hard sell had been making it wait. Understandably, the drow preferred being on the offensive if there was going to be a battle: Mighty were no strangers to collateral damage, and they’d rather it happen on Rumena territory than theirs.

So Mighty Jindrich had ‘tricked’ me. It had assured its allies that it’d managed to convince me to send a force into the field to back them up, small enough the risks of it turning on them afterwards was minimal. But there was a catch. It’d only managed to wrangle that loan on a specific day. Namely, the one where the Longstride Cabal was suspected to be arriving – not that they knew that. The rest of the coalition had reluctantly agreed to the delay, weighing that my own people sharing the losses was worth the risk of discovery implicit to sitting on a plot like this for a few days. I was pretty sure that when the time came, Mighty Jidnrich would actually turn its coalition on us if it thought we’d been weakened enough to be beaten. That was fine, though, because I’d betrayed it first. Ivah had dug up from the prisoner that the Rumena had approached ambitious rylleh instead their target sigils and we’d helped clean up those leaks by providing the names we have. Not of the exact rylleh, sadly, since we didn’t have those – the prisoner hadn’t been that high up in the Rumena Sigil. But sigil names had been given and their sigil-holders had picked out the most likely treachery candidates for killing before they joined battle.

But we’d held two names back. Akua had removed them from the head of the prisoner just to be sure it wouldn’t sing an inconvenient song even if prompted. I’d been inclined to think that even if we did nothing the enemy would find out, but best to be sure. It was now a certainty the Rumena knew there was an attack coming, and that meant they’d be intercepting it on their own chosen grounds. And so an illusory streak of blue light got the first round of betrayals started even as my army moved out. It was the signal for the coalition to begin its attack, for the Rumena to begin their counter-attack and my own plans to begin.

The drow were a fair hand at betrayal, but I had the Fairy Godmother of Treachery in my service.

My drow set out in warbands, treading the half-dried lakebed quietly. Soldiers would have moved in formation, according to precise orders, but I had none. Only warriors, and those couldn’t be made into neat companies with designated officers. They’d move and fight as tribes, led into battle by the members of my Peerage. I’d studied the grounds for days and spoken with drow better learned in Everdark warfare than I, ultimately coming to the conclusion that there would be four different skirmishes that would dictate the outcome of this battle. Two would take place to the east, near the islands-turned plateaus of the Jindrich and the Hushu – respectively our main allies and the leaders of a cabal of four mid-tier sigils that’d remained aloof from the intrigues unfolding across the city. That sector would be the most volatile, since the two different skirmishes could easily turn into a single broader pitched battle if we weren’t careful. That the Hushu and their allies would get involved was a given, but on what side they would fall in this was anyone’s guess. Those fronts had been named, respectively, Spear and Dice.

One would take place to the north, in what had once been a lake-within-the-lake. The drow called it the Flowing Gardens, as it’d once been an entire district of small stone islets covered in sculptures and greenery. A place of leisure for the ancient drow, where pleasure ships had lazily drifted between enchanted metalwork that sung songs when touched by the breeze. It’d been centuries since those days, though, and now the Flowing Gardens were an eagerly fought-over battleground. The district had both water and food, after all, and the entire thing had been fed lakewater through a complex system of canals and sluice gates: holding those was a sign of power among sigils. My confiscating of Lake Strycht had lowered the waters within until the majority of the sections had become little more than large scummy ponds whose dirty waters were still fought over brutally by the minor sigils occupying the district and its outlying regions. Most members of my ‘allied’ coalition under Mighty Jindrich were from there, and my assessment was that the Rumena were going to hit them hard and early to keep them from assembling. Which would draw opportunists from the warlike sigils in the region, making it a beautifully chaotic mess. As a front, it’d been named for what it was going to turn into: a Pit.

The fourth and final front would be in the centre of the city. It would be the slowest to come into being, and at the start wouldn’t even exist. The Rumena Sigil’s territory was to the west, a five large and comparatively rich islands serving as the heartlands of their tribal possessions, but the fight would never get that far. The forces going after Mighty Rumena and its warriors after being freed from other fronts would pass through the central district of the city, since it was the quickest and easiest path, which meant that was where the ambush would be waiting. It was good grounds, I’d been told, for that kind of fighting. The centre of the city was filled with old temples and administrative complexes, set on a massive plain of solid rock. Every single building was separated from the others by deep grooves carved into the stone, more or less small canals, and the drying of Lake Strycht had turned the place into a labyrinth of bridges and corridors on three separate levels. A good spot for the Rumena to await an enemy force, after they’d devoured the sigils currently occupying it. It’d be hard to concentrate troops there, and either attacking Mighty would stick together and risk lesser warriors being casually wiped out or they’d separate and a hundred small duels would erupt on bridges and alleys.

We’d called that front the Woods.

I stood on a promontory as my army moved out, beginning the trek to the battles, and below me stood those that would lead them in battle. There’d been a fresh addition to my Peerage, a twelfth member. The Agus Sigil weren’t part of Strycht proper but they’d held territory close, and been half-mad with thirst when Lord Zarkan found them. Mighty Agus had not been difficult to talk into becoming Lord Agus, though it seemed uncomfortable with its new role and wary of the rest of the Peerage. With good reason, I thought. Before oaths were taken, most of those drow would have wiped out its sigil in an afternoon’s work and done so without batting an eye. It was the weakest of my lords, and knew it. The others did not share its mood, though. There was the scent of eagerness in the air, like they were itching for the fight. They probably were, I admitted to myself. Drow were not the kind of people to leave power unused after it was gained, and they had gained much from bargaining with me. I took a moment to gaze down at them in silence, wondering how many would survive the day.

“Today,” I stated, “we take Great Strycht.”

There were hard smiles at that, but no cheers. That was not the drow way.

“I won’t waste your time with a speech,” I said. “You all know what I’m about – we’ll be dancing on the edge until the last beat.”

I had their attention, though not because of any eloquence on my part. What came next was what they’d waited for all this while.

“And now what you actually want to know,” I smiled. “Lords Nodoi, Losle and Zarkan: yours is the Dice front.”

Zarkan was hard to read, because it hated my guts and that was usually the main thing to be found rather than anything more nuanced, but the others were easier. Relief. They knew their job would be mainly containment.

“Lords Slaus, Vasyl and Sagas, yours will be the Spear front.”

Nods, poorly-hidden surprise. Given that Mighty Jindrich would be there, the expectation had been that either Soln or Ivah would take the lead there. They were, after all, the two most powerful of my Peerage. And those I trusted the most, though that was not a hard hill to climb. I had other plans for those two, though.

“Lords Soln, Lovre, Vadimyr and Agus, you will be serving as our strategic reserve,” I said. “You’ll be hanging back for the initial stretch of the battle.”

Disappointment from Lovre and Vadimyr, I found. They’d been the most recent additions until Agus, and were eager to prove themselves in a battle that wasn’t waged against my own army. Agus was pleased, unsurprisingly. Soln, though? Soln understood. It knew I wasn’t finished speaking.

“For the duration of the fight, the three of you will be under the command of Lord Soln,” I said. “To be deployed as it judges necessary depending on how the fronts unfold. Unless I give an order otherwise, Soln’s words are good as mine.”

That they liked a lot less, save for Soln, since it was the closest I’d ever come to raising one of them above the others. They’d have to get used to it, I thought. This was not the last large-scale battle we’d fight, and some order would have to be forced onto our manner of warfare.

“Honour was given, Losara Queen,” the Lord of Shallow Graves smiled.

“You know my intent,” I simply said. “See it done.”

It wasn’t a coincidence I’d picked those four. Soln had the closest thing to battlefield acumen there was to be found in my pack of warlords while Lovre and Vadimry had led raiding sigils. Their Mighty were the most battle-hardened I had at my disposal, and the most used to fighting in a group. Agus would be a weak link wherever it was sent, but putting it on the roster would allow Soln to send warm bodies into a growing mess without committing my best troops.

“Lord Ivah,” I finally said.

“My queen,” the Lord of Silent Steps replied, inclining its head.

“You’ll be with Archer and myself,” I said. “We’re taking the Pit front.”

“By your will,” Ivah smoothly replied.

I gave them a last look.

“They’ll remember today,” I said. “What part of that story you end up being is up to you, my lords.”

They bowed, and to war we went.

They army marched together most of the way before splitting up front by front, sneaking through mud and reeds. We stayed out of sight, as much as could be done on largely open grounds, and my own sigil was the last to part with the reserve under Lord Soln. I came out of that journey pleasantly surprised. I’d never considered drow to be proper soldiery, but this kind of business was well suited to their skills and I’d underestimated them in some ways. Oh, I still winced at the idea of them in a shield wall. But the march we’d just done in an hour would have taken half a day for legionaries. Even dzulu could keep up a pace that would exhaust humans and orcs for hours without tiring, and they’d walked across mud like it was solid stone. Never a step missed, or a boot stuck in a mire. More interestingly, they’d done this so quietly I could hardly believe they were an army on the march. My Peerage would be a threat on the battlefield, but I was beginning to grasp how dangerous lesser Mighty and dzulu could be out of it. They climbed up slopes like spiders, leapt from stone to stone with the grace and easy of hunting cats.

How hard would they find it to climb a wall in the dead of night?

But those, I told myself, were thoughts for another day. Ivah guiding our warriors, we circled around the eastern fronts to get to ours unannounced. Going through the territories of sigils would have been quicker, but also risked skirmish. I did not want to start spending lives before we even got to the Flowing Gardens. The war had begun without us, it was plain to hear. The sounds of fighting carried across the void and echoed, making it hard to tell who was winning – if anyone at all – but it was too early in the day for anyone to be trying for knockout blows. For now the sigils would tentatively send out their lower ranks to probe the waters, hesitant to commit their most powerful Mighty until they had a better idea of what the opposition had brought. The main force of the Rumena should be busy taking over the central district, too, with only traitors and hunting bands out on most the other fronts. Save, I had guessed, the very front I was headed towards. Here they would want to break the core of the coalition early, before wind could touch its sails and they got a real battle on their hands. Still, with a little luck the fighting here would be limited between the two sides while the undecided local sigils watched on.

As it turned out, I was not going to get lucky.

My sigil crept through the mud quietly until we reached what now looked like a stone wall but must have once been the edge of a constructed island. Ivah had been ordered to lead us to the outermost edge of the district, close to one of the smaller sluice gates, and it had delivered. Its days spent marauding in the dark had given it a good notion of Great Strycht’s layout. I left my warriors at the bottom of the wall, going ahead with Archer and Ivah. The masonry here was fine and the stones polished by centuries of water, but I would have been able to climb this without too much trouble even before I’d become the Squire. We went up without a sound, Indrani disdaining my offer of a palm to jump off of in favour of a running leap. The top of the wall was a long rock pier, flanked by a structure where the sluice gate could be raised or closed, but it wasn’t either of those that drew our attention. The sound here hadn’t carried well, I decided, probably because all the sectioned parts and the ponds had broken it up. But now that we were up here, we had a decent look at the battle unfolding in the Flowing Gardens and it was a fucking mess.

“I’m counting at least eight sides,” Indrani murmured, kneeling behind a large stone cleat.

“More,” Ivah said. “Some sigils have yet to intervene. You can see their lookouts lurking at the edges of the fighting.”

It discretely pointed a finger and I followed the direction. Yeah, it was right. I could make out the silhouettes hiding within giant glowing ferns. I hesitated, just for a moment, because the place was a bloody nightmare. It was hard to tell where sigils began and where they ended: every islet was a melee, most fought between several sigils. There were two pairs of warbands going at each other with what had to be rylleh that I knew for a fact weren’t part of the coalition. They’d just… seen an opportunity, I supposed. The Rumena I could make out from the rest, mostly because they were slightly organized and winning most their fights. Either they’d come with some of their finest, I thought, or their lower ranks of Mighty were heads and shoulders above everyone else’s. It took me a few moments to figure out who was leading their expedition, since their forces were split. But near the southern edge of the Flowing Gardens there was a warband of maybe two hundred drow everyone was avoiding like the plague, and a triumvirate of Mighty positively reeking of Night that stood atop an islet while overlooking the mess. I got confirmation of my suspicions when one of them faced down and spoke at one of its warriors, a runner leaving immediately towards one of the detached Rumena warbands.

These were their officers, then.

“Archer,” I said. “Find a perch.”

“Gotcha,” she shrugged. “At will?”

“Try to draw in the bystanders,” I said. “Clip their lookouts, see if that gets them moving. After that…”

“Yes ma’am your queenliness,” she grinned.

She legged it, already stringing her bow as she went.

“Ivah, reach out to our beloved allies,” I said. “I don’t want to get in a brawling match with the people we’re supposed to be propping up.”

“As you say, Losara Queen,” the Lord of Silent Steps murmured. “And after?”

“Return to the sigil,” I said. “I’ll be busy making friends.”

That got a hard grin out of it, all teeth and malice. You learned that from us, I thought, and it almost troubled me. We were not teaching the drow kind lessons, and one that there would be a reckoning for that. It vanished into thin air, the glamour fine enough even I lost track of it, and slowly I rose to my feet. I looked down at my awaiting warriors, still at the foot of the wall.

“Over the top,” I ordered. “Forward, Losara Sigil.”

Even as they began to climb behind me, I cast an eye at the Rumena officers. Good, they hadn’t noticed me yet. Time to make my entrance. I let Winter loose and smiled, inhaling deep of the smell of blood and fear wafting from the battlefield.

95 thoughts on “Chapter 73: Feeder Bands

          1. RanVor

            Then prepare for disappointment.

            The main reason was that I was annoyed by some more hardcore Robert lovers, and I figured he’s going to win anyway. That was the decisive factor.

            Other than that, well, Herbert’s a fine character, but he’s more hilarious than interesting. And although I tend to laugh every time he appears, he doesn’t really bring much to the story by himself. Assassin, on the other hand, has this aura of mystery that makes every scene he’s in incredibly thrilling.

            Ok, Robber fans, you can lynch me now.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. NotQuiteHere

              Robber looked up at the Duchess Of Moonless Nights, then pointedly around for any signs of pursuit. The Mighty they’d escaped from were gone, it had been foolish of him to come here, but he had to tell her.

              He said, in the most solemn uncharacteristic way possible;

              “I have something to confess.”


              “Actually, I’m Assassin.”

              Liked by 2 people

            2. stevenneiman

              That’s reasonable. Our dear Lesser Lesser Footrest is certainly entertaining, but there’s not a huge amount more to him. I honestly think the most interesting thing he’s been involved in was the revelation that he’s basically the goblin version of macho, and that was more of a lore/culture thing that something about Robber himself.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      I’m honestly surprised that Assassin did better than Hune. I guess that the mystery of Assassin and the long time since Robber’s been on screen making mayhem must be having an effect.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Darkening

        To be fair, Assassin’s been pretty interesting both times they’ve appeared on screen, whereas Hune has had like, one scene where she was kinda interesting.


        1. stevenneiman

          True, but Hune was actually the focus of a scene where all Assassin’s ever been is an aside in someone else’s scene. The badass of the Tolltaker was enhanced when it mentioned that she managed to kill them for real, and most of the other scenes they’ve had any part in they were just a part of Black’s schemes.
          The paradox is that there’s too little information for me to find the Assassin interesting, but if more was revealed it would detract from what makes them interesting at all.


    1. Nuke_The_Earth

      Reminder that letting your vote expire before re-voting makes it count once per week instead of just once. Smells a bit cheesy, but it’s the way the site works.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Stormblessed

      It’s hard not to have no ‘filler’ chapters in a work of fiction at all.

      I’m not sure I 100% agree with the word filler here. Perhaps lower energy, or just less happened.

      That being said, this sort of chapter is necessary; it’s just more noticeable in a web serial vs a completed work.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      Not action-packed, sure. But, “filler”? Not IMO.

      A very necessary chapter that will provide crucial context for how this battle will unfold over the following (five? I guess) chapters. I loved hearing the details of Kat’s plan.

      Liked by 10 people

    3. Skaddix

      Yeaeh the Masego & Warlock Interludes and the incoming Black Rescue Arc have really taken the wind out the sails of the Underdark for me. I note those two things cause they are recent. But also I kinda want to see what eat the Baby means for the Dead King. Basically just more interesting stuff is happening or about to happen elsewhere.

      Especially since the final clash is coming so early Cat really hasn’t gone that far into Dark Elf Lands but Sve Noc going to show up for final clash already? Which is good I guess means we get out of this arc as fast as possible but it does make this arc feel pretty Filler. I mean I like the Ladies but eh the material and foe they are going up against are just not entertaining and they get along too well as well so no real internal tension. Just don’t feel the tension at all especially since it just feels too early for Indrani or Akua to die especially after Masego just lost his parents.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Metrux

        I think you got confused, this is not a final confrontation. This is Sve’s first strike, the first time she is actually getting directly involved, which still doesn’t mean she’ll be here in person. The way she was depicted I expect a series on incresingly stronger moves on her part, until she can’t simply throw her weight and needs to go in person.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Argentorum

          Cat and Akua have named great Strych as Cat’s Pivot in the Underdark. Either she succeeds here, fast enough and with enough remaining forces to deal with the followup attacks from deeper Sigils under Sve Nocte’s control and the Longstrider Cabal, or she doesn’t and she dies.

          Meanwhile, Sve Nocte has been at the business of ascension for centuries now, and that she hasn’t succeeded means she’s *failing.* So, Strych is her pivot too. Either she eats Winter here, or she will be eaten by it.

          Either way, Strych is shaping up to be the climax of the arc, as far as we know in universe. It could be a jebait, but given the Masago and Black interludes foreshadowing much more interesting things going on up top? I don’t think we’re gonna be here for another three cities and then Holy Tvarigu. At most, from here’s it’s a straight shot to the end and the Sve’s last stand.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. Skaddix

            Thanks you explained that better then I did.

            But yeah basically this arc feels filler because far more exciting things with more relevant characters is about go down elsewhere. Obviously Cat, Indrani and Akua are important but the foes they are fighting and the characters meeting don’t really compare to the possibilities elsewhere.

            This arc reminds of something like Mass Effect where you can go recruit all the races but you don’t have to.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Okay, but Cat popping out of the Underdark with 40k+ drow?
              And a deal with the dwarves which means the Tenth Crusade is going to run out of weapons unless it stops fighting her?
              And enough money to allow Callow some stability?

              This is the game changer that’s going to fuel Cat’s next leap in status for the fifth book.


    4. KageLupus

      Give the shape of the battle that is about to unfold this chapter was pretty much a necessity. Cat is going to be juggling a few dozen fights on multiple fronts, including the expected surprise visit by the Longstriders.

      In-universe, Cat and the rest of the group have had days to really plan this fight and know all about the different factions they are playing against each other and how to best position them. But for us the readers, this whole complicated plan would quickly turn into nonsense without an info dump giving us the necessary context.

      Filler implies something that was added to take up space but does not contribute to the overall story. This is as far from that as you can get. This is the chapter that is going to make the next three to five chapters actually make sense.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Metrux

        I agree, this here is like the training chapter right before a new power is shown on-screen. It may seem to be preparations only and not that exciting, but it’s exactly what’s needed for the more action packed parts to go smoothly.

        Liked by 5 people

  1. Antoninjohn

    An hour over a swamp what would take professional Army of Callow/Legions of Terror half a day on flat and the Legion of Terror move fast compared to Procer, now add the magic Gates and you get a Nightmare to fight even if you see their move a month in advance

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Gunslinger

      So powerful in fact that I expect them to be thoroughly nerfed when they reach the surface. Maybe they’ll be weak outside the gloom or weak against light or something.

      Either that or Cat’s next enemy are the elves

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Skaddix

        Yeah basically Cat is just winning too much and has too strong of a team. Its one thing when the Named Woe Members are so good and her army is strong when its a normal enough army. Well trained core sure but it wasn’t supernatural.

        But not she is got Fey and tons of Winter Enhanced Drow on top of that and Epic Teleport to strike anywhere at anytime..she is the overdog now not the underdog. Yeah sure the Crusaders might have numbers on Cat but do they have enough numbers to fight the Dead King and Procer when all their opponents have armies that are simply on solider per soldier basis way better?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hastien

        I think a disaster or betrayal at the end of the arc will see Cat lose most of her army or she’ll use it almost exclusively against the Dead King or Praes. If she uses it to fight Procer the heavens will one up her in a heartbeat. They were willing to pull a literal manifestation of God to spearhead an invasion fleet, they’ll come down hard at the slightest excuse. In the form of the heroes following the Grey Pilgrim suddenly becoming Ranger Tier if I had to guess.
        I’ll bet Cat breaks the armies of the dead shortly after Klaus dies, then goes the the Grey Eyries to subjugate the goblins and capture Foramen. That’s maybe my favorite part about this story, you can make the wildest speculation and still be surprised.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I like your speculation. Mine is that the goblins are going to come on board without fighting Kat, because she’ll offer them more freedom/respect/land/whatever than they every have had under the Tower.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. RanVor

          Frankly, I don’t see it happening. She is probably going to face Neshamah somewhere down the line, but Malicia is a much more pressing concern right now. Also, if she helps Procer now, the Crusaders will just turn around and invade Callow again. There’s no time for gratitude when you wage a Holy War.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Metrux

        Oh no, Praesi just are always prepared for any betrayal, and for being on any side of the betrayal. When an opportunity appears, they just go for it. Cat actually creates the openings explicitly so she can maneuver others into a better position for her inevitable betrayal.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. taovkool

    A good overview of the Losara Queen’s Sigil. That Soln is going to be trouble in the long run, I can tell. Battlefield geniuses with insufficient loyalty tends to be a pain in the ass to deal with.

    Wonder what happens next after Cat won over the drow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Caine

    Have you ever thought about publishing chapters in parallel on RoyalRoad or similar, as a way of reaching out? Keep the chapters outside of here a month or so behind, draw some more audience to your story?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Aston W

    I’m guessing that’s not actually Cat.

    Not yet anyway. Until an excess of power is used.

    Well done for the top web serial EE.

    So another 20 chapters until the Night Arc is done. And interludes.

    When no Heiress Ghost appears in the chapter…
    brawl changer.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Interesting.

    Yeah … changing the drow culture away from chronic betrayal and teaching them to be smarter in battle and strategy is not going to be without side effects.
    On the up side … if you have them under oath for long enough, you might be able to make a lasting deal with them that they won’t reflexively double cross you over.

    Five or six battles – the four fronts, the Longstriders and whatever play Sve makes.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Metrux

      I think the Longstriders are already part of Sve’s play, but that’s just personal opinion and not really supported by anything shown. Yet, this wouldn’t be all one way or another.

      Liked by 5 people

  6. JackBeThimble

    This whole arc almost feels like a reconstruction of The White (or light-brown Iroqirish) Savior trope. Sure she’s bringing order to the savages and ending the hobbesian war of all against all but only in order to harness them for her own selfish ends with any benefits that accrue to the conquered being ultimately incidental (i.e. just like real empires).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Procer should throw themselves to the ground and pray Catherine will never try the strategy Black used to burn several provinces. They think it was bad? Amadeus had at best twenty thousand, most of his force was humans, orcs and goblins, and he needed to weaken himself fatally to increase their speed. Cat has several thousand drow marching at least three times faster, she has portals and she can put massive illusions.
    In a war of movement now, Catherine can refuse to engage any host of the Crusaders, and decide where and when she will deal with her enemies. Good luck defeating that, especially as she has manifested her intentions to transfer fortresses for tactical support…

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Wry Warudo

      In a way, Cat has already decided against that. I mean, Bonfire was basically her gating around burning provinces in Procer, which she vetoed since it would cause the rest of Calernia to see her as a bigger threat as well as the heavens escalating against her.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. werafdsaew

          Black explained it very well: the difference is between AN opposition and THE opposition. Same reason as why the Dead King think that conquer ing Procer will lead to his doom

          Liked by 1 person

    1. A childhood isn’t complete without a good baker’s dozen of nursery rhymes that scare you witless. And, a good score of them that later traumtise you as you revisit them with your own kids, thanks to now having a better idea of what they’re talking about. 😉

      Liked by 7 people

    1. Darkening

      I doubt it for many reasons. The Named rat she fought in Keter seems to have given her some wariness towards them, given her earlier comment about betting on Horned Lords over Mighty, they’re even more feral than the drow, so they’d be almost impossible to control and organize even with oaths, and she’s already got her drow army, she doesn’t currently need more than that to keep Callow afloat long enough for Juniper to get the Army of Callow ready for war.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Valkyria

    I don’t really like how so many talk how all of this is “just filler” and “has not much to do with the main story” or something along the lines.
    For me this just makes the story more realistic.

    I mean come on, life is not just about day long battles, fighting your arch nemesis and taking the heads of bothersome heroes. Sometimes you just gotta lay low, take a bit of your own time and casually evade the everdark for some sparkly new recruits.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. ^^^ this
      I don’t think people who say that understand fully how much there’s going on in this arc.

      1) Cat’s going to end up leading a host of at least a hundred thousand drow. That’s bigger than Callow’s and Praes’s armies put together, and will be a game changer for the next book on a level compared to Cat going from a solo Named to leading a legion between books 1 and 2, going from leading a single legion to being in charge of the Ruling Council between books 2 and 3, and going from putting out Praesi fires to just being fucking crowned Queen of Callow and flipping off Malicia between books 3 and 4. That needs to be EARNED. So far, the last ‘third’ (structurally) of each book has been a lead up to this leap in influence: the melee, First Liesse, Second Liesse. True, this time Cat isn’t actively in the center of where her interest lies, but this structural buildup is still the biggest plot thing in this entire book.

      2) Cat is going to murder a goddess. Like, she’s been told that she’s basically a nascent deity herself, and now she’s going to put that theory to test by killing Sve Noc. Considering dwarves have hired her to do that, I doubt she’s going to straight up fail, erratic doesn’t trip up the setup that much – this is a Practical Guide to Evil, not A Story Of Failure. Cat is going to change the status quo on the entire fucking continent and set herself up as an entity on the level with Sve Noc, proven by murdering her and taking her place. This is not only a huge plot thing, but also a huge internal change in how Cat views herself and her place in the world, and that’s why we’re getting so many thinking/feeling/talking chapters lately.

      3) Whatever the fuck is going on with Akua. She’s a character in her own right, even if she hasn’t been getting POV lately, and her arc and development did not stop at her death. She died at best in her early twenties, more likely a teenager, and there’s a loooot of room for her to grow. There’s definitely SOMETHING going on in her head, and us not getting to see what is no accident.

      4) Indrani! Is Cat going to have a love interest she has actual chemistry with? Is this story going to have a healthy and adorable poly relationship? How does Cat’s party function anyway? All of these questions, and more!

      5) So where DOES Cat stand in relation to Good and Evil? Winter is nominally narratively linked to Evil, but we’ve seen Summer which is nominally narratively linked to Good – this link is just a vague association, it’s not actual alignment. Just being a Sovereign of Moonless Nights does not make Cat a servant of the Gods Below. Her Name, for whatever its remains are worth, is still transitional, and she’s rejected her status as Black’s successor which was what linked it to Evil to begin with. Neither Adjutant nor Hierophant, the new Names Cat’s party spawned, have anything inherently Evil to them, and Archer and Thief are explicitly neutral. The Gods aren’t okay with this uncertainity, and we’re going to be finding THAT out. Which is of course inherently linked to the question of what the fuck Cat is going to actually do with the drow, and how what she’s doing with them right now is going to shake out, because Good and Evil aren’t just labels to sides in chess, sorry shatranj. This is a pretty Big Thing going on.

      What people who complain about filler mean is that they want to know what’s going on in Cat’s actual sphere of interest – Callow. This definitely is different than usual, but well… proactive, not reactive 😀

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Skaddix

        The issue is multiple.

        I think a good deal of people don’t find the conflict interesting or with much tension. As I said above the proverbial wind has been taken out of this arc by the Interludes. Masego’s Parents dying means its extremely unlikely Indrani or Akua dies here so people want to see his response. The Save Black Arc is also incoming featuring a trap by the Heroes and should feature a clash of the Big Names on both sides which is naturally more exciting.

        That point goes into the second. The Underdark been a bit too easy for Cat so far, she has not met many memorable characters and is building up a massively overpowered army in terms both size and average power level. People tend to prefer their protag to work for it and be an underdog. Cat is looking like a massive Overdog with 100,000 Winter/Night Enhanced Drow that is the biggest army on the continent with an average power better then anything but maybe the Dead King.

        Third, A Hero is only as good as the villain or in this case the protagonist is only as good the antagonist. Sve Noc has so far been mostly absent and not especially interesting in comparison to The Bard, The Dead King, Tyrant, Empress, Grey Pilgrim, etc. Yeah she hasn’t much time to make an impression but that is the disadvantage of being introduced so late in the series, you got come out of the gate swinging. It also doesn’t seem like she will be reoccuring either so feels like a one and done which adds to filling of filler. It doesn’t help that she is coming out early to face Cat. Cat hasn’t gone that far into Drow Lands and the Big Boss is already coming out for the Pivotal Clash? That adds to the filling of filler.

        Fourth, yes there has been some interesting relationship dynamics sure. But the more interesting part that quite frankly is the Masego reaction which we cannot get to until he gets back in the story. Also split the party arcs have a tendency to fill like Filler.

        I am interested in Akua making her move though.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Mikasi

          See, my problem with the idea of a Save Black arc is whether or not Cat will bother. She did kinda stab him and tell him the results would be dire if she ever saw him again. Will Black being captured play into next arc? Probably, but I doubt it will be the main theme.

          Masego’s dads dying was kinda coming. I was less surprised by that, though it was a great chapter regardless of all of the preceding death flags.

          Note, I’m also coming from a position where I started with not caring about the drow, and now I’m interested to see how Winter changes them once the Night is gone.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Skaddix

            I don’t see why it wouldn’t since it will bring all the major players besides the Dead King together at one location. Cat probably won’t have much of choice. Masego has made it clear he wants to save Black and he should be even more resolute with his parents dead to save Uncle Black. Ranger is going to want save Black ignoring the Masego/Archer/Cat Triangle is she going to say no? 40% of the Woe have reason to go and the member who do constitute most of Cat’s Named Firepower.

            I am not saying it was a surprise. I am saying it was a significant game changer as it shifts the balance of power to the Woe and should lead to some great development for Masego. But mainly it reduces the tension by making it less likely anyone important dies in the Under Dark. Especially with the aforementioned Save Black Arc coming

            Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not wild about the battle scenes, but Cat is leveling up on several counts (Winter, troops, strategy), and she needs to. We’re also seeing more development of her relationships with two of the more cryptic characters in the plot, Akua and Archer. Akua in particular… I don’t trust her containment at all.


  9. Brett

    I get the fealing Kat’s going to pull a fast one on the gods below. She hasnt really dealt with their manipulations to much. The story has been set that two evils will clash and whoever wins will be even more powerful (and more tied down to evil). Noc w/winter powers or Kat w/night. Kat knows this, and I think will use Akua to bait and swich the story. Evil fights evil and whoever wins, kat can finish off. Akua wins, tries to take the power of night and backstab, Kat triggers a contingency oath that kills off Akua. With both evils gone, she can slip out with her army.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Barrendur

    When commenters refer to something as “filler”, their meaning may simply be that they find the material boring or tedious, something to plough through, skim over or skip outright. By *that* definition, the entirety of the Underdark section seems like filler to me; something tedious I plough through or skim over.

    Exacerbating this problem for me is the way Catherine becomes steadily less interesting as she becomes ever less sympathetic/comprehensible/believable. I’m reading the story now for every character who *isn’t* Catherine, whom I’ll admit I’ve always found a pain and now find a bore.


    1. werafdsaew

      That’s not what “filler” means. Filler is something that does not advance the plot, so therefore can be cut out without affecting the story.


  11. I get it when people say this arc is filler, not this chapter in particular.
    Personally, I feel that this arc can be considered “filler” as it’s set-up for something much larger when all the Woe is back together. We could end this after the next battle and just go through a time skip I figure that everyone would be all fine and dandy with the result.


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