Chapter 74: Eyewall

“My husband thought himself a cynic for believing that men so often race towards the bottom of the barrel. I found it charmingly idealistic that he believed there was a bottom at all.”
-Queen Yolanda of Callow, the Wicked (known as ‘the Stern’ in contemporary histories)

Leaving the gate open wasn’t an option, not really. The more my opposition saw that trick in action, the higher the chances they’d figure out how to counter it. Rubies to piglets there was some Night equivalent to the Pilgrim’s miraculous beam o’death, and I could not afford to be knocked out of the battle literally moments into it. I’d adjusted my tactics accordingly, and so after five heartbeats I closed the opening. Gravity and mass turned the water into a massive hammer blow coming down on the Rumena, but I wasn’t dealing with amateurs: of the three ‘officers’, two immediately fled in shadow form and the third was swallowed by a hulking shape of Night moments before the impact. Neither would have been a bad answer, if water was all I’d brought to the table. Instead I strung Winter and loosed it again, turning the entire ploughing mass into ice just as if fell on the drow. There’d been two hundred of them, when I’d opened the gate. The vast majority of that had been dzulu, and those died instantly when the water hit. The lesser Mighty were crushed by the ice, and the two officers who’d fled in shadow form found themselves stuck in it.

The last, though, I knew to be untouched. The Night construct had taken the impact without flinching, and was now tearing its way out. It’d been too much to hope for to take out the enemy commanders with the first blow even if it’d been a sneak attack. Didn’t mean I was going to make it easy on them, though. Even as my sigil flowed around me, heading into the fray without a single battle cry, I seized the reins of the ice I’d crafted and slapped my palms together. The entire construct contracted around the Night-shrouded drow at the centre and I felt its defense flinch. My lips stretched into a grim smile when I realized I’d forced the other two officers back into drow-form as a side effect, bloodying them in the process. There was another pulse of power and the Night-construct began pushing back. I could make this a slugging match, I thought, but that would be missing the point. I didn’t want to annihilate the Rumena, I wanted to drive them back to the central district after weakening them. Their sigil was, after all, a part of the force I intended to put between myself and the Longstride Cabal.

Another exertion of will had the ice collapsing into mist, a thick fog that would blind them for a while. Good enough that I could move on, I decided.

A quick glance told me that the Losara Sigil had added a fresh current to the mess in the Flowing Gardens but hardly affected the entire lay of the battle. At our angle of entry, we were taking the pressure off one of the coalition sigils – making a semi-stable line of battle on the northwestern side. I didn’t intend to meddle there, since Ivah had been ordered to return and drive away any Mighty that were too much for them to handle. No, I’d go make friends of my own. The half-dozen islets in the middle were so chaotic a melee I couldn’t even tell exactly who was fighting, but to the northeast a Rumena detachment was tearing through a mix of sigils both ‘neutral’ and allied. A good place to start. Wings of shining light burst out of my back and I took flight, rising above the mess to hurry things along. I went high to avoid distractions, but even then I still had to dive out of the way of a javelin roiling with Night some Mighty tossed in my direction. I could have batted it away, but why take the risk with a trick I didn’t know? My brow rose, however, when after arcing a dozen feet above me the javelin finished the curve and flew in my pursuit. Someone had it out for me, huh.

Evidently I’d made an impression.

I was quicker than the projectile, so I was less than worried, but I slowed my flight to allow it to catch up. Not close enough to hit, or even explode if that was how that was supposed to end, but close enough the Mighty controlling it might think it had a chance to clip me. I angled my flight downwards after reaching the battlegrounds I’d picked out, javelin howling behind me, and landed in a crouch. The two Mighty in front of me, who’d been hacking at each other with obsidian blades, paused and turned towards me.

“Surprise,” I said, and turned into mist.

I took solid form again half a dozen feet to the side, just in time to see the javelin strike them. It did not, to my surprise, explode. In the heartbeat where it hung in the air between them, tendrils of Night came boiling out and wrapped around to the Mighty. Almost instantly they were dragged into the projectile, leaving behind only half-finished screams. No trace of a corpse. Whoever had tossed that, I thought, wasn’t fucking around. I checked if there was another flying towards me just in case, but there was nothing coming so I pressed on. It wasn’t difficult to find the Rumena: I just had to follow the screaming and the runners. A crew of four stood in a loose diamond formation, steadily advancing through the opposition. I ran through the melee, drow parting around me cautiously, and leapt on the one at the front. Even as I swung my sword towards its throat I saw it begin to turn, surprise passing in its silver eyes, and I could tell exactly when it realized it wouldn’t be able to raise its own sword in time. And yet there was no fear to be found. I learned why a moment later, when the strike that should have carved through its throat instead shattered my blade. It’d been like throwing an egg at a wall, I thought.

It countered smoothly, blade coming down to hack between my shoulder and throat, but I kicked at its side and used the momentum to throw myself backwards. The tip of the iron blade came within an inch of my nose as I landed on my feet, and immediately I pushed forward. I couldn’t allow the four of them to strike in formation, it was bound to get messy. Shifting its footing skillfully the drow began a backswing. Unfortunately for it, I slid down between its leg and grabbed its left ankle as I did. Hoisting it up was easy as lifting a feather, and I rose even as the other three Rumena watched me with visible surprise.

“Look,” I said. “It’s just really hard finding a weapon that won’t break. Bear with it.”

“You-” the Mighty at the back started, Night blooming around its wrists, but it was interrupted.

I took my angrily flailing mace and smashed it into another drow. Bones crunched, though they snapped back into place with a hiss – jawor, then, since they had more than a single good trick – and the drow went flying. The other flanking Rumena tried to slide around and ram my back with a spear, but I caught my drow-weapon by the throat and used it as a loudly protesting shield. The spear pinged off like it’d hit steel, just in time for me to sidestep two hissing whips of Night wielded by the fourth. They snaked back around towards me, but I batted away their tips with my drow after releasing its throat. My mace screamed in pain as the Night punctured its flesh, dropping its sword. In a show of good drow sportsmanship, my disruption of the Rumena advance was followed by an opportunistic attack from other sigils. The left side of their force was swarmed by an angry sigil so thin on Mighty it must have taken a brutal beating before I arrived. Sadly, drow opportunism applied to everyone. An arrow flew at my back, the head of it glinting with shadow, and I had to pivot so my mace could take it in my place after I seized it by the crook of the neck. Heat licked at my fingers as the arrow failed to pierce through but dark flames charred the Mighty’s skin.

I was kind of impressed it hadn’t passed out yet.

My drow weapon was beginning to try wrestling my wrist into loosening, so our love affair had sadly come to an end. I crouched low and spread out my stance, heaving it in the same direction the arrow had come from. Halfway through it flicked into shadow-shape, but to my amusement our friend with the bow shot it and it fell to the ground with a scream. Well, no longer my problem for now. The Rumena had identified me as the person whose head needed to be on a pike before they got their footing back in this section, so I found myself swimming in Mighty soon enough. We played for a while, my frown deepening as we did. They were outclassed against me, but the longer I got them striking at each other by weaving into their midst the more I realized these were bottom feeders as far as Mighty went. Maybe there were a few jawor in there, but not a single rylleh. Most of those were ispe, the lowest kind of Mighty, with maybe a few pravnat – practically speaking those were just ispe showing promise, but drow were touchy about titles – thrown into the mix. But they’d been wrecking the opposition, and I could see why. My own sigil had ispe, and the Rumena Sigil’s made them look like bumbling amateurs. The fact that I’d yet to fight dzulu here was telling, too. I’d been told that the Rumena made up almost a third of Strycht on their own, but I hadn’t though they had quite that many Mighty to spare.

The quality of the opposition was going to be a problem, if these were their third-stringers.

As if to reinforce the point, I got a lesson in why Mighty Rumena had judged that three officers were enough to take care of this front. Three falling stars impacted the battlefield, less than a breath of delay between them, and as stone and drow went flying the Mighty I’d ambushed earlier made their entrance. Steam drifted off their frames as they rose in unison, unbothered by the fact that most casualties resulting from their landing had been of their own sigil. The Night construct from earlier flared, and I finally got a good look at it. It looked like stylized panther, though one vaguely humanoid and standing on it forelegs, and its eyes were empty socket. I could feel the power coming off of that, and to be frank I did not want to find out what’d happen if I got hit with it. The other two advanced with long tridents of bones held in loose grips, fanning out in a circle. I could fight them, I thought. The collateral damage from it would hurt their sigil more than anyone else’s. But I’d already accomplished what I’d come for, disrupting their success in this sector. There was little to gain from an all-out brawl with these three.

“Well put,” I said, “But if I may retort?”

I opened a gate behind me and retreated through it. The cold breeze of Arcadia scattered my hair as I strode across the waters of what had once been Lake Strycht, ice forming under my feet. I cast a look back to see if they were following, and to my pleasure they were. I quickened my steps as the followed in hot pursuit, one of them stretching out its shadow for the others to walk on as if it were a solid thing. The exit gate beckoned, and I called it open with a thought before leaping through. The one we’d entered through was already closing, so my pursuers wasted no time in following suit.

All four of us started falling, because why would I make the gate lead to the ground when I could fly?

Wings burst out of my back again and I left for greener pastures as they fell impotently back to the floor, landing in the middle of the bloody central melee. None of them would die from it, but they’d be stuck in another fight they had no time for. Another arrow flew towards me, this one without Night woven into it, and I almost struck back blindly where it’d come from. Luckily I glanced first, and found it’d been Archer who’d fired the shot. Frowning, I crafted a platform of shadow under my feet and landed. Indrani was, rather unsurprisingly, surrounded by corpses. It’d take too long to make my way to her, so I closed my eyes and took a shortcut.

The corpse rose, the lingering warmth chased away by Winter coursing through the veins. Archer eyed me skeptically, nocking an arrow.

“Cat?” she asked.

I spat out a glob of blood and phlegm.

“You have my attention,” I croaked out.

“Left corner, three sigils massing,” she said. “Tickled their lookouts, but they’re playing the waiting game even under provocation. Should I start shooting leadership or do we leave them be?”

The dead drow’s neck was horridly stiff, but I forced it to turn with a snap and followed her pointed finger. Couldn’t make it out from here, I wasn’t high up enough, but from up in the sky it’d be no trouble.

“I’ll handle it,” I said. “You should- oh shit!

Height was no guarantee of safety, in a fight like this, even if my distraction lasted only a few moments. I didn’t see what broke my platform but it vaporized my right foot with it and I began falling again until my wings slowed it to a halt. Which was exactly what my enemies wanted, as it happened. If it’d been the three Rumena from earlier going after me that’d have been fair game, but it wasn’t: four Mighty from a sigil I was pretty sure I was theoretically allied with stood atop long pillars of Night and were forming a globe of the same around me.

Really?” I said. “Fine. Have it your way.”

I snuffed out my wings, opened a gate under me and fell right through. Arcadian air howled around me and I crashed into the water, ripping open a gate under me. The sudden whirlpool drew me in and I fell along with a mass of water more or less over the sigils Archer had pointed out to me. Streaks of shadow immediately flew up but a flick of the wrist had the water around me turning into a large spike of ice I casually tossed into the midst of the gathering warriors. I landed among screams and fleeing dzulu, brushing off my shoulders. The sigil-holders would be on me soon, but my eyes were drawn to the corpses I’d just made. There was Night in them, though like with all dzulu not much of it, but it was fading. Going away, and I could quite say where. I tugged at the chain binding Diabolist to me, allowing her to see through my eyes. I felt the trace of her presence come, lingering only a few moments before disappearing. She tugged back one, a message received. Had she already known? Quite possible, if this was happening all over the city instead of just here. Then the Mighty were on me, and the time for musings had passed.

Three sigil-holders, each with a pair of rylleh backing them. Difficult to deal with, if I’d intended on fighting them. Instead I tossed a few spears of ice at them to get them riled up and began a retreat. They followed, and our merry chase began. I could have called the Flowing Gardens the stuff fairy dreams were made of, but I’d had fairy dreams – and this was much more surreal. We danced through canals where vines had grown thick and sprouted thorns and hooks, bursting through faded poems carved into stone. Tortured sculptures of bronze and obsidian sang dissonantly as shards of Night were tossed, stirred by the wind in their wake, and towering trees whose only produce were leaves red like blood shook as Mighty rode shadows in my pursuit. A sluice gate of oily metal was torn open like parchment as I leapt over it on translucent wings, the sigil-holder who’d done it looking like a creature of nightmare in the light of the glowing flowers and ferns it’d torn through in its haste. And everywhere we went, drow fought and ambushed and bled on stone and water. There were Hells, I thought, not even half as grim as this. I stoked their anger with darting strikes followed by vanishing into mist, clipping a few with ice spears to little more effect that mounting frustration on their part.

They didn’t realize what I was doing until we’d barrelled into the central melee, and by then it was too late.

It was such a mess down here that another few Mighty in the crowds hardly made a difference, the fight ebbing for a moment before forming anew around them, and just like that my job was done. The Rumena were losing here now, though the situation was slowly turning around as the warriors from the section I’d flipped earlier joined up with their fellows. It must have gone quite badly there after I’d left for them to outright abandon the fight. Good. The cauldron was near the boiling point, a little more and they’d be ready. In my absence, the Losara Sigil had pushed deep. Moving as a cordon along with our allies, it was moving slowly but surely towards this mess. Seeing my sigil’s symbol as war paint and adornment was surprisingly moving, but it ended up costly. By now, my identity was no mystery to the people I’d tangled with. And if they couldn’t pin me down themselves, then there was one way they could force a fight.

Three falling stars hit my sigil, and in the span of a single heartbeat I lost at least two hundred warriors.

Gone, in a shred of flesh and bone and stone dust. People it had taken me months to bind and empower, dead in the snap of a finger. I clenched my fingers, pushing down my fury. War could not be waged without losses. I rose in the sky and dived for them, deciding that gating close to them was too much of a risk. In the time it took me to arrive, I lost another hundred drow. The Rumena officers slaughtered them with contemptuous ease, be they dzulu or Mighty, and only ceased when I landed at their back. I rolled my shoulder, weaving a glamour without missing a beat.

“All right,” my illusion said. “You got me here. Now what?”

“The worthy take,” one of them said. “The worthy rise, Losara Queen.”

I circled around them, footsteps muted, but one of them must have had a trick to see through that because the two with bone tridents ignored my glamour and turned towards me. The Night construct erupted for a third time tonight, the blind panther roaring out, and they charged. There was, of course, one thing they hadn’t accounted for. The leftmost drow ducked under an arrow, batting it aside, but there’d been a second shot hidden in the curve of the first and that one took it in the throat. It gurgled, unsurprisingly still alive, but then its throat began burning green. Indrani had spent quite a while with Robber and his miscreants, hadn’t she? She’d been due a few new tricks. That one I immediately discounted as dead, flesh reknitting or not, and that left me two to deal with. Or it would have, if Ivah hadn’t cut into the dance. My Lord of Silent Steps moved with unnatural agility, waiting until the bone trident had struck out before… moving. The description failed to convey what had taken place, though. One moment it’d been standing in the way of the weapon, the next it’d been behind the Mighty and striking with its own glass staff. Afterimages followed a heartbeat later, revealing how it had moved and the whole affair reeked of Winter.

It’d skimmed the edge of Arcadia, I realized with a start.

Move along the boundary between it and Creation, steps silent and sudden until struck. Merciless Gods, I couldn’t do that. Was it the true face of its title? Or was it just better at using power, after its centuries as a rylleh? It’d didn’t matter, I thought, at least not right now. Its opponent was far from dead, even after taking the blow, and I still had one to contend with. The shaped Night pounced, carrying the drow within as if it were lodged in the belly, and if I’d not batted wings to hurry my retreat it would have hit me. As it was, the panther’s claws tore through the stone beneath us and it turned to face with as its tail swung. As suspected, I did not want to get touched by any part of this. The thing was, I couldn’t really afford a slugging match with a rylleh when I was supposed to be getting this cookpot off the fire. Not even an obviously powerful one. There was a part of me that found it only natural to get down in the mud and brawl, but I couldn’t afford to fight that way anymore. Not with the kind of opponents I had, these days.

I’d done it at the Battle of the Camps, and what had that gotten me? Nothing I’d done there had actually mattered until the gate had been opened, and the Saint of Swords had batted me around until I fled. Keter had been more of the same, struggling through one messy gambit after another while a dead elf and a Horned Lord made sport of my best efforts. All this had happened while the fucking Dead King as good as named me a peer, while he’d be able to handle those matters easy as picking apples. Not because he was more powerful, because terrifying as Neshamah was Winter’s abyss ran just as deep. But because he knew how to use that power, while I muddled along using only the barest portion of mine. Akua was better at using these powers than I was, and she didn’t even have a title. So what did I have that neither of them did? Because that was the question, wasn’t it? If I was going to sit at the same table as Sve Noc and the King of Death, then I needed to prove I had the qualifications to claim a seat. Catherine Foundling, the woman who brawled with rylleh and lost limbs by the dozens before finally putting it down, did not have those qualifications.

I looked at the Night construct, watched its legs bend as it prepared to pounced, and I shaped it in my mind. I’d never done it simultaneously before, but why couldn’t I? Maybe I wouldn’t have been able as the Squire, but the Squire was dead. Devoured by a harsher mantle. How many of my limitations, I thought, are self-inflicted? I could be mist or hard as steel, I could grow wings and walk away from the loss of half my body. Lies and mirrors, and what was this but a different kind of lie? The panther skimmed across the ground, unnaturally swift, and I let Winter flow into me. Fill my veins and my lungs, steal away my breath. I embraced it, as I had in Liesse, and formed what I had shaped in my mind’s eye. The first gate opened in front of the Night construct, and it slowed by a fraction as it prepared to leap over it. That was enough. Another two, caging it in a triangle. Another two, above and below. All of them leading to the bottom of the Fields of Wend, that depthless glacier lake at the very heart of Winter. How many miles of water were there in it? I didn’t know, not for sure. But water came out from all sides, and in a heartbeat Night and drow were crushed like a bug by the gargantuan pressure. I breathed out and the gates closed as one, leaving behind only water and flesh made into paste.

No, Catherine Foundling had no place at that table. But maybe the Black Queen did.

I looked back, found the battle had gone on uncaring of what’d just taken place. Just another current in the sea. It was time to get them moving, I thought. Soon enough the Rumena would have taken the central district, and the madness in Great Strycht needed to be brought to its climax. I couldn’t get all these drow moving with my own power, it was true. It’d take hours to go around killing every sigil-holder and asserting command, assuming it was even possible at all. But I’d been taught by a man who had been an artist in the ways or ruling through fear, and his lessons had not all gone to waste.

“Retreat,” I called out to my sigil. “As planned.”

I left them to the grisly business of disengaging from a furious melee while I reached for my power one last time. Terribilis the Second had once said that a threat was useless unless you’d previously committed the level of violence you were threatening to use. I didn’t agree, though, not exactly. It was useless if the level of violence you were threatening wasn’t believable, I’d say instead. And I’d stolen a lake in front of these people, used it as a weapon and bribe both. They would believe quite a bit, coming from me. Even as my sigil began fleeing towards the heart of Great Strycht, to the surprise of their foes, I wove a glamour. A gate facing upwards, and through it came a deafening rumble. Illusory molten stone flew out, landing on the muddy lakebed and the edge of the Flowing Gardens, smoke and lava following as the glamoured volcano erupted in full.

The Losara Sigil fled, and every godsdamned drow in the north followed close behind.

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106 thoughts on “Chapter 74: Eyewall

  1. Hmmm. She rejected the Name of Black Queen once before.

    Most of your limitations are a mix of self inflicted and inexperience/ignorance, Cat.
    I do like the gate cage of doom.

    Ah, illusory volcanic doom. That one might be worth remembering for fighting on the surface. I mean, you already dropped a lake on an army – threatening to gate in a flood of magma/lava instead of water might be effective, too.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. The trick’s only working here because of the drow’s lack of cohesion though. We literally just saw that there are Mighty who can casually see through Cat’s glamours, clearly the glamour isn’t working on everyone. But it’s working on enough drow to have the desired result.

      The problem with surface-side coordinated armies though, is that if one good mage or one hero with decent eyes sees through the glamour the whole army will know within thirty seconds.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. daniel young

        The difference between glamour and reality for a fae is very thin so a good army ignoring the glamour may soon find themselves being stabbed in the back by conjured fae troops.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Quin

        Thirty seconds can do a lot of damage at the right time. Just ask any operation that involves scattering the infantry to decapitate the head of their army of to create a key weakness you can exploit.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Satyr

        This one always confused me. Why would Black scattering an ancient artifact make her less of a black queen? Black was never under her command so it shouldn’t matter that he didn’t obey her.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Argentorum

          It’s because the Doomsday Device, and Cat accepting it’s continued existence and use, was her Pivot into the Black Queen. It was also the first time that Cat aligned herself with Malicia over Black on this choice, making the pair of them into the Dread Empress and the Black Queen.

          When Black destroyed the device, the narrative weight of that moment shifted. Instead of it being Cat’s choice, it was Black’s so her Pivot was stolen in that regard. In addition, she no longer had any reason to be on Malicia’s side so the narrative importance of her siding with Malicia over Black vanished as well. No pivot, no weight, no name.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Oh NICE. I’d missed the “siding with Malicia over Black” implication.

            IMHO, another thing it did was enable a shift in Cat’s own thinking. She’d been getting invested in Sunk Cost Fallacy courtesy of Malicia, believing the weapon would be useful in part because of how much it cost to get it. With the weapon gone and the decision out of her hands, she can take a step back and acknowledge that using it was, in fact, a terrible idea to begin with.

            I don’t think Catherine herself liked, or would have liked, the person this pivot would have made her into. Black did her a huge service.

            …and on that note, I do wonder what to make of this.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Metrux

      A problem to that might be that surface dwellers know what is winter, and that this is her mantle. So the would quite nicely see this as “not part of her mantle”. If she had both Summer and Winter, this could be quite possible for her, however, and I’m sure Winter has an equivalent to be used, so why she didn’t use, and instead made a Glamour… Seems like part of a plan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Michael

        But dropping lakes and stuff isn’t a Winter thing. The only reason she isn’t dropping volcanoes yet is that she still has to do some prep to make them erupt. Lakes are just so much more convenient.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Darkening

        I mean, if she knew where a volcano was in Arcadia I’m pretty sure there’d be no problem with her doing this. Might be worth exploring Arcadia a bit at some point for useful gate locations once she actually isn’t pressured on all sides.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Byzantine

        She could do this. Even if she can’t steal an arcadian volcano she can just use two gates: One from a volcano into the sky in arcadia and one in arcadia below that that opens in the regular world.

        Probably not worth the effort, but meh.

        Like

  2. Cat’s still got a long way to go in terms of fully utilizing her power, but it’s really something to see her finally thinking in terms of ‘what are the upper bounds on this power?’ rather than ‘how can this improve my fighting style?’. I’m loving this progression, the time and care and thought it’s taken her to get here, and each individual step has been so engaging to watch.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. Skaddix

      Yeah although Cat’s Problem compared to the Dead King for instance is the Dead King is Sorcerer by trade ie he knows what Magic can and thus has a way better understanding of the powers.

      Similar to Akua when she takes over she does way more impressive stuff now part of this she has less morals and thus self inflicted limits but also she has more understanding of what can be done.

      Basically I am saying Cat could stand to learn more about magic.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Someguy

      >‘how can this improve my fighting style?’

      Well, currently Cat has integrated the use of [Drow-Chucks] into her repertoire and has proficiency in [Projectile Defence].

      As for the ‘upper bounds of this power’, I prefer creative uses of limited power to “Throw Bigger Rocks”.

      Liked by 5 people

  3. eh

    All Ivah needs now are a fedora, a trench coat and a katana and he’s all set to be Lord of *teleports behind you*.

    Also, it seems lakeomancy is a lot more potent than the old snake in the collar gave credit for.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. Kind of hyped to see the wild hunt leader see the new lord of silent steps. Wonder if they will have a fight or other fae things. I mean one is indebted to Chat by oaths and is treacherous the other is a vulcan who sees his dead compatriots as food. They should have a lot to talk about.

      Of topic: Speaking of you think the fae are like living it up now that they broke the cycle of drama that they have been living in or our they depressed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. superkeaton

    Finally, Cat’s starting to actually use the incredible power at her fingertips. It’s take her too long to really start experimenting with it. I look forward to weirder body morphs and trickier portal usages.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Vhostym

      I wish I could feel the same way about that scene as you do. To me it kind of fell flat, because despite the internal monologue the actual use of the power was more of the same portals she’s been using all of book 4. It was an improvement on the usage, certainly, but only really in the case of a change of precision, not of kind.

      I’m hoping that she eventually does more in the way of either body morphs, or general winter usage beyond mere glamours and falling lakes, because while she definitely has a neat trick up her sleeve, I wouldn’t say she’s currently leveraging her mantle in as varied a manner as what an experienced Named could do. Especially the cheating sorcerous Named. Seriously, 2 aspects in and Masego has not one general combat aspect (though maybe Ruin can be used in that fashion) and yet is the greatest heavy hitter of the Woe.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Novice

    Akua once used devils and demons to acquire the name of Diabolist. Now Cat is slowly being known for bending water to her will. Step aside Akua, hydromancy is now a true discipline confirmed.

    P.S. Cat is now adept at making people wet. Just ask Indrani ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Liked by 24 people

      1. Evil!Katara, more like. Bloodbending (for a given definition thereof), necromancy, icebending, lakebending, spirit-style illusions, darkness and occasionally brawling, stealing, stealthing and running… Cat’s the most worrying kind of polar waterbender and shaman there is.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Random Fae in Arcadia: Out on a stroll to visit my family and do some fae stuff maybe go fishing.
          1st episode

          “Oh shit what are all these drow doing here”
          “Did she trap a whole kingdom of drow in Arcadia”

          2nd episode

          “Is that the winter queen, why is she being chased by drow, shes a queen and they are drow”
          “I am definitely telling the other fae about this”

          3rd episode

          “Where are all the lakes going!!!”

          Liked by 3 people

  6. IDKWhoitis

    Are we all just going to gloss over Cat just taking over a dead body she had no prior contact with and taking through it? Because this could lead to officers in the Army of Callow carrying around dead heads as a “radio” to give field reports. Imagine Robber just talking to Cat directly, in a way that anti scrying spells cant stop or detect?

    Like oh shit.

    Liked by 17 people

          1. IDKWhoitis

            They knew Undead Necromatic constructs were a factor when dealing with Catherine, but were hilariously unprepared as to how to deal with them.

            While the Named priests and other names may be able to detect undead, the heads in question wouldn’t be UNdead until Catherine calls in for a field report. A semi-consistent schedule can be set up with Robber retreating away from the enemy and awaiting the call. Then once the call is over, the head stops being an UNdead and returns to its inactive normal dead state.

            Liked by 2 people

        1. I’m betting that it’s because the priests normally banish the powers of Below, which are usually used to animate. Buuuut if you happen to animate them using some other power such as, say, the Fae energy of Arcadia… well, there’s a lot less the priests can do then. Maybe.

          Liked by 3 people

        1. Yeah, well, her mind is still bound to it. She does not seem to have effective perception of the outside world when she dismisses the construct (I think she refers to her eyesight returning after reforming from mist). Just because breaking the camera doesn’t break the computer it’s feeding the data to, doesn’t mean the camera isn’t essential to its ability to work with that data.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Hastien

      The theory does have precedent, during Black and Hanno’s 2nd battle Hanno had an amulet that blocked scrying but didn’t interfere with necromancy. I wonder though, it used to be that she needed a mostly intact corpse to work with, just a head would be convenient. If it works at great distances or through the ground it could be a game changer in communication methods. It’d suck to relay hundreds of messages a minute though, better have Akua do it.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. RanVor

      If you think you’ve found a new method of doing anything that is completely hero-proof, think again. They may not have the counter right now, but they will inevitably find it soon because you just can’t out-bullshit the Heavens.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Reading this chapter and comparing it to the Battle of the Camps…
    Well, I don’t think the Crusaders are going to be happy the Black Queen is happy to be back.
    This battle is pure chaos and humans in this mess would be lambs to the slaughter.
    Frankly, with the level of manipulation Cat is learning battle after battle, Above will need each time to muster a considerable group of heroes to stalemate her, preferably with the Grey Pilgrim, the Saint of Swords, the White Knight AND the Witch of the Woods leading them. Which is of course more or less impossible, if the Dead King is busy ravaging Northern Procer.

    Interesting strategy with the illusion volcano and a particularly omnious thing to say when Cat admits she needs to be the Black Queen. Can’t wait for Friday and Sve Noc’s intervention…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. ALazyMonster

        I’m liable to believe that the elves will remain on the sidelines as the do perpetually since intervening could piss off the bard even if they genuinely did want to help, which everything we know about them claims otherwise.

        The giants might be a possibility but we don’t know much about them other than they might be a vaguely good race. I’m inclined to believe that the are closer to true neutral than anything as what we do know has shown that they hold grudges, are in tune with nature, and helped protect the independence of Levant, which more just shows they are on their own side and might help others if the mood strikes them. Maybe. We really don’t know much about them to make these calls so all this is shots in the dark.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I don’t think the Elves will remain on the sidelines. Above is going to need something extra to counter Kat’s Drow horde. I’m looking forward to seeing Elves vs. Drow. What we’ve seen of Elves is OP, but the new, improved Drow should be a good match.

          Maybe that then means the Giants are going to come into play? As you say, we really don’t know much about them. But we do know enough about them for me to think that they are going to be significant.

          You’re absolutely right that this is all shots in the dark. I think that’s what makes this so much fun.

          Like

    1. Stephen M (Ethesis).

      Especially because the dwarves drop molten lava on things.

      Though are we getting a discussion of the night being sucked out of the dead rather than harvested?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ByVectron!

      My thoughts, exactly- with what the Queen is learning, by the time she gets back, even if she adds no new drow to her army, she could likely roll through the Crusade with ease.

      Generals? Portal squish.
      Troops? Flash flood and shadow swarm.
      Stubborn Named? Flood, freeze, portal drop from a mountain.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Andrew Mitchell

    Thoroughly enjoyable chapter. Nice to see Kat discard some of her limitations. Loved the scene where she was using one of the Mighty as a mace and then as a shield.

    Liked by 2 people

          1. stevenneiman

            I think that Sve Noc can take back all of the Night any time she needs to. Her current setup was intended to distract everyone from the threat she poses by making her not look personally powerful and keeping her Mighty out of the way sufficiently that everyone would just write off the Underdark while she slowly amassed enough power for apotheosis.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. daniel young

    Well damn that was awesome. I’m glad cat is finally being to grasp just what she has become. The soul of winter need naught bow to deepest night, for chill cares not from whence you come as all things freeze in time.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Aotrs Commander

    The funny thing is, if Cordelia and the Grey Pillock hadn’t pushed her, she wouldn’t be skyrocketing up to make the Dead King nervous. But no, “Good” always has to have its own way, and now they’re going to pay for it – with luck and time, by the end of the series, possibly permenantly.

    Also, using enemies as mace.

    Class.

    Finally starting to push the boundaries of what she can do without human limitations?

    Classier.

    Cat is the best.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Skaddix

      That seems like some projection when has the Dead King shown he is worried about Cat? Heck he helped push her in the direction of Apotheosis. He has shown he is worried about the Bard because he doesn’t understand her but Cat nothing of the sort. Probably helps he is the strongest Sorcerer on the continent and should have no trouble containing a Fae. Akua managed it well enough.

      Now Cat bringing a Drow army kinda is on Cordelia although you could make the case that the Bard, Saint and whoever is next up after Cordelia would have gotten a Crusade going no matter what. And Malicia would have brought the Dead King in no matter what in response to the Crusade. Honestly, the simple issue for Cordelia is her political situation would have made it impossible to make a deal with Cat.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Aotrs Commander

        I was being hyperbolic in the suggestion that if Cat continues to advance in power that she would achieve a level that wpuld make the Dead King (the current arguably top tier opponent we know of) concerned. With the implication that “Good” would by that point, be Well Screwed.

        Cannot… resist.. urge…to… make… dubious… crack…

        Like Indrani was last night!

        I’m so sorry.

        (I am not sorry.)

        Liked by 5 people

      2. stevenneiman

        I agree. I don’t think the Dead King was all that concerned about Cat, he just wanted to get in on the action and not let the Intercessor be the only one working to manipulate her. Also, I think he knows that if she reaches a similar status she’ll be more effective at diverting the Heavens’ attention and giving him a free hand than actually opposing him.

        Like

    1. Moginheden

      The Black Knight used platforms of shadow, and the Squire used shadows a bit too. Cat is starting to transition to Black Queen so she might use a shadow platform instead of an ice one, (but she has been using ice platforms recently.)

      It’s always been weird to me that both characters create a platform with no supports, but can’t just make themselves not need a support.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Moginheden

          She is thinking of herself as the Black Queen in this chapter. That’s part of a name transition, (and others already call her that.) This chapter is looking like a Name pivot to me, using shadow would be another flag since it’s something she hasn’t been doing for her platforms since she got ice.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. stevenneiman

    One thing I’ve never gotten is why there are so many drow with any real power. Sure, there’s a lot fewer important drow than any normal culture, but that’s still thousands upon thousands of them. There’s pretty much one process by which Night gets transferred, and that process almost exclusively goes to a single drow who already has Night. In a normal society, many people are allowed to exist even under the most uncaring of tyrants because a leader’s power is proportional to the number of followers they have. Not so in the Underdark, where a leader would be better off harvesting all of their Mighty and killing anyone who isn’t vital to feed or equip them personally to increase their own power and reduce the threat of competition. The most sharing that would make sense would be a few people expressly intended to harvest Night and give you more of it than they keep for themselves.
    The idea of attrition in particular seems baffling to me. If a Sigil gets into a fight, they don’t get worn down bit by bit. Whichever side keeps the ground after a fight ends recovers ALL the power lost by both sides in the course of the fight. The closest thing a sigil could suffer to attrition is crushing defeat which they escape from in a much reduced capacity.
    For a sense of what it should be like, consider America. We have fairly weak laws limiting the power of businesses and very rich individuals, and as a result a lot of wealth is concentrated in the equivalent of Mighty and Cabals, but there are unarguably still restrictions on what the rich and powerful can do, both legal and practical. Now imagine what America would be like if rich people had no need for accountants to manage their wealth, no need for an economy populated by other people to spend that wealth in, no fear except that someone richer would pick a fight with them and take their money, and it was legal, possible, and socially acceptable for rich people to murder anyone and take all of their money. Now imagine that the more money they had the easier it got for them to do all of that. Pretty soon America would have a population of one all-owning god-king and maybe a few powerless favored servants who amuse them enough to be allowed to live.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      I can see where you’re coming from and you’ve made me consider why Night isn’t more consolidated than it currently is. IMO there are a few factors that may play a role in preventing more consolidation than we see.

      1. There’s already a lot of consolidation. The Mighty and Rylleh are getting more powerful as we get towards the centre where Sve Noc awaits. Maybe the process you outline is correct but it’s still ongoing. Maybe it just hasn’t had enough time yet.

      2. All Drow need food and water, and maybe have some social needs as well. This applies to Mighty and Duzzul alike. The Drow social hierarchy provides Mighty with others to do all these menial tasks and to meet the social needs, even if it’s just a Duzzul to murder whenever you feel like it.

      3. Even powerful Mighty are not totally without competitors. It’s a pyramid with Sve Noc on top. A band of slightly less powerful Mighty can (given the right circumstances) form a Cabal and bring a more powerful Mighty down.

      4. Even if a particular Drow was too powerful for anyone else to topple. What would motivate them to take the time and effort to exterminate all other Drow? We know that powerful Mightly don’t get any value from harvesting Drow who are too far down the power hierarchy from them.

      Any or all (or none) of the above could play a role and others can probably think of more reasons. Interesting thought exercise!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. No one rules alone. No one can coordinate a whole society alone. You have to delegate to someone. But in this society, if the person you delegate to is too weak they’ll inevitably be killed. That means to avoid untenable turnover you need to give up at least some power to your minions. And if you give them some power, it had better be enough that they can really hold their own, because otherwise they’re now just juicy tasty targets instead of targets.

      But then it gets worse. Say you’ve got enemies. Enemies who would love to raid your flock of harvestable drow who do stuff like feed you and clothe you and maintain your quality of living. Well you can’t be everywhere at once and you probably need to sleep (or at least would like leisure time to enjoy all that power you’ve gained). So you need multiple someone’s who can stave off enemy incursion while you’re not around, or at the very least make such incursions costly and/or delay them long enough for you to get your pants on and get out the door. Or maybe you want to be able to raid multiple places at once or execute feints. Two vs. one combat is also just a godsdamn nightmare, so by giving a minion some power you can get a return on combat power versus a solitary enemy that’s much greater than what you’ve given up.

      And then while a super drow could just not rule and instead wander around raiding and enslaving random drow to get by, such a solitary super drow would be a big obvious target for a cooperative cabal looking to score some easy Night. I don’t care how good you are, if you’re alone and you need to take a shit and two dozen enemies with reasonable power jump you when your pants are down, you are going to have a bad day.

      So yeah. There are plenty of logistical and tactical reasons why a drow sigil holder would need a variety of powerful minions under their command to operate.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. eaglejarl

    Things Cat could be doing with her stated powers:

    Open a small portal immediately in front of herself and another immediately behind her enemy. Stab forward and into their back.

    Same as above, but time the portal creation such that the enemy punches itself.

    Portal cuts.

    Does Arcadia have outer space? Can you portal someone into a vacuum, or into the sun? (Which canonically exists and is a thing that can get stolen!)

    Open your lake-blaster portal directly under their feet, facing up.

    Exactly how real is a glamour? Will a glamour of toxic gas kill someone? Will a glamour of goblin fire burn?
    Unfortunate that Cat’s world lacks the chemistry to know about FOOF and ClF3, but such is life.

    Cat’s shadows can replicate physical objects. Can they replicate moving parts, like a loom, automatic drill, etc?

    If she can create shadows, that means she can move light around. Can she grab all the light from a huge area and use it as a super magnifying glass? Or perhaps a laser?

    She could portal-drop corpses into random areas, then animate those corpses remotely. All the fighting, none of the vulnerability of your own body. (Obviously, still subject to some kinds of magic.)

    What is Arcadia’s sun made of? If she opens a portal that leads directly into it, what comes out? Heat, light, plasma…?

    She can transform her body. Can she do all the Mr Fantastic tricks? Using herself as a slingshot, making her arms longer to punch from farther away than expected, running faster because of longer steps, enveloping (and crushing?) someone…? Making her arm super long and thin so that she can send it down someone’s throat and into their lungs, then make spikes shoot out to rip the person apart from the inside?

    She can create shadow constructs and glamour at range. Can she do what I just described with shadow / glamour instead of her own body?

    Can she create constructs inside someone’s body?

    Can she turn to mist and get into someone’s lungs? Interesting way to accompany a friendly without being observed, and an easy way to kill enemies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why would Arcardia have an outer space? It’s not based on any laws of physics.
      Pretty sure the glamour isn’t physical in any way.
      I think the “shadows” thing is her ability from when she was Squire.
      The sun in Arcadia isn’t a “physical” physical thing.
      The Mr.Fantastic stuff kinda requires her body to have properties of rubber. I thought she was ice.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Xinci

    The most intruging things in this chapter are the cost/cause and effect relationship of the portals.Surely other beings can sense the gates in Arcadia, maybe even are attracted to it if they are of Winter. Each portal may go to a different part of the boundary between creation and Arcadia, and between it and those places seems to have differential distance to that boundary.Power echoes out through Arcadia from Creation, depending on the story/current state of the area the gate opens up to. I wonder if any creatures still exist in Winter’s Arcadian lands and if so how they have changed with time. Truly I wonder what kind of things a glaring beacon of Winter might attract if you have multiple such beacons opening up holes to creation. So I wonder what she could effect with multiple gates, with multiple boundaries. Could she make them vibrate/move in different patterns and open up different gates at different times? What would happen if she kept maintaining them? Could she play dimensional music with gates to weaken or strengthen boundaries and Call and Shape things that went through them? What is the effect of making so many gates, how does it echo through Arcadia? Cat still needs to become *more* but this has a lot of potential for breaking the world if she does it right.

    Liked by 1 person

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