Chapter 77: What Goes Around

“In trying to beat a fool at her own game, I have only made another.”
– Theodosius the Unconquered, after the Maddened Fields (apocryphal)

 

“Not to nitpick,” I said. “But being carried this way is doing great injury to the inherent dignity of a woman of my station.”

Mighty Rumena had, after sundry misadventures, hoisted me over its shoulder and was now lugging me around like a sack of cabbage. I got the distinct impression the old bastard was having a lot of fun with this.

“If I allow you to lean against me instead,” Rumena said. “Will you cease attempting to strangle me?”

The drow was a tyrant, truly. It was my Gods-given right as a Callowan to rebel against foreign powers regardless of context or feasibility.

“Yes,” I lied.

Mighty Rumena fluidly leapt over a canal, landing on the other side with barely a sound. It jostled my body enough I had to bite down on a scream.

“So,” I got out. “We doing this or what?”

“No,” the Mighty said. “I merely wanted to see if you would lie.”

That prick. I’d gotten my hopes up, thinking of looking for something sharp to stab it with instead of having another fruitless go at strangulation – my fingers were too shaky to have the requisite strength, and to be honest I wasn’t sure it actually needed to breathe.

“Fine,” I said. “Obviously you’re a man – drow, I mean – of deep cunning and perception. I’ll level with you, Rumena. I was going to try to murder you again.”

“I am aghast at this unexpected turn,” Mighty Rumena said.

Oh, so Crepuscular could do sarcasm. This was a day for revelations.

“Since murder doesn’t seem to be working out for me, I’ll try bribery,” I continued. “Betray… who is it you’re working for at the moment?”

I probably should have inquired as much before beginning the process, I mentally conceded. Hindsight was a harsh mistress, as the effective evisceration of my soul and mantle had made clear.

“Arguably my kind,” Rumena said. “Practically speaking, the youngest sister.”

“That the murderous one, or the one that’s basically suffered a few millennia of torture by Night?” I squinted.

“The former,” the Mighty replied.

“That’s fine then,” I mused. “So, betray her drow ass and I’ll give you half of Procer.”

“I know of no such place,” Rumena said.

“Right, it’s pretty recent as far as nations go,” I muttered. “Think the central chunk of western Calernia.”

“And you currently rule these lands?” the drow asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I mean, in a manner of speaking.”

Lies were, technically, one of those.

“Fertile fields?” the Mighty asked. “Peaceful neighbours?”

Well, half of that was true. There was that unfortunate thing about the Kingdom of the Dead and the Chain of Hunger bordering it, but nowhere was perfect.

“Absolutely,” I answered without missing a beat.

“You are a surprisingly terrible liar,” Mighty Rumena said, sounding impressed in the worst way. “How have you managed to survive this long?”

“Good officers, luck and the ability to walk off lost limbs,” I replied, more honestly than I’d meant to.

Of course, in a sense I hadn’t. Survived, that was. I’d died at First Liesse and then kind of again at the Doom. The whole Winter-eats-your-soul thing had felt in the general wheelhouse of dying, anyway.

“Luck always runs out,” Rumena said.

“What a deep philosopher you are,” I sighed. “Any more profound truths you’d like to share?”

“You warred against an entity older than the civilization that birthed you,” the Mighty said. “Wielding weapons in which it holds superior mastery, following a plan laughably straightforward and fielding armies which owed you no true loyalty. All this, and somehow you believed you would win.”

“Ouch,” I said, not particularly offended.

I’d already lost, what was there left to be offended about?

“We going somewhere with this?” I asked after a heartbeat of silence.

“Nowhere, evidently,” Mighty Rumena said.

The Secret of Scathing Retorts was unfathomably deadly, I mused. The half-blind pieces of meat that were now my eyes took in our surroundings as well as they could as the drow carried me through the ruins of Great Strycht – and there could be no word for it but ruins. Winter had blown through mercilessly, upending temples and halls like children’s toys. We must have still been in the central district when it found me, because our surroundings were vaguely familiar. They lay of the canals, at least, since the city looked like it’d been smashed to pieces by an irritated god. In a sense, it had been. It wasn’t hard to find the dead, though it certainly was to tell which side they’d belonged to. Frozen silhouettes of drow, many seized halfway through a motion, were scattered all over the district. Some had tried to run, I saw. It hadn’t done them any good.

“Is everyone in the city dead save the two of us?” I asked.

“You were not so powerful as that,” Mighty Rumena said. “Many of those who fought under your banner remained, before they were made to kneel. And Sve Noc preserved her own when the heart of you was ripped out.”

“Soul,” I corrected mildly. “The soul of me, Rumena. Come on, it’s not that complicated a concept.”

I was mildly surprised having that ripped open hadn’t killed me, but then maybe I shouldn’t be. Akua had walked around without hers for years before our little heart-to-hand. She’d also been soulless in another way entirely long before that, but that was a different story.

“Not complicated,” the Mighty slowly repeated. “Are you chiding me for considering the process of apotheosis a complex matter, Losara?”

“I mean, Praesi know about it,” I said. “How complex can it really be?”

“I will cherish the memory of our little talks, after your throat is slit,” Rumena said. “I believe you might be the single most aggressively ignorant creature I’ve ever encountered.”

I spat out a ball of phlegm and bile, aiming for its leg and missing narrowly. So, interesting information there. I was being carried to a sacrificial altar, which I’d already kind of suspected but hadn’t known for sure. Added to the bit about my former forces being ‘made to keel’, I now considered it a safe bet that Ol’ Sve herself had come down for a bit of ceremonial knifework. Strange she hadn’t killed them outright, though. Was it because she couldn’t, or because she had a better use for them? It’d be a splendid little bit of irony if she ended up using the framework of oaths I’d built as the model for the army she’d be taking to the surface.

“I’m flattered, really, but I’m not in the market for a nemesis,” I replied. “There’s probably a line and it’d be unfair to all those angry heroes for you to just skip ahead.”

“It is admirable that you refuse to compromise your principles even moments away from your unmaking,” the Mighty said.

“I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic right now,” I said. “And I think my hearing might be going, because there’s this weird screaming sound that-”

I paused, then swallowed. Oh, so my hearing wasn’t going. Nice to know. Slightly less nice was the patchwork of rippling Winter I was looking at. Ribbons of shimmering blue storming about uncontrolled, eating away at an obsidian tower like the King of Winter had suddenly said ‘fuck this building in particular’. My vision dimmed and I looked away blinking. It stayed dim, like a shadow had been cast over everything I saw.

“You could have told me I’d go blind looking at it,” I screamed through the ruckus.

Rumena made me wait until we’d left the immediate area before answering.

“Did you?” the drow curiously asked. “Interesting. It should have driven you mad as well, then, and you sound no less coherent than usual.”

“I think we hit the bottom of that barrel a few years back, buddy,” I said.

That had been a knot of pure Winter, I thought, and it had been running wild. The power had never done that while I held the mantle. The – I avoided thinking of the word, knowing it would send me into another episode – nothing above our heads was the same as my domain’s, so I’d assumed that Sve had devoured the whole thing. Or at least bound it somehow. But this was an interesting twist, wasn’t it? Even if was in her belly, it looked like she was having some issued with digestion.

“So, how strong is your boss’ stomach?” I casually asked.

“As strong as it takes,” Mighty Rumena soberly replied.

“Gods, is that what I sound like when I talk that way?” I asked. “Someone could have told me it made me sound like an asshole. I’d have stopped.”

“I assure you, there is no need to rely on specific sentences for that effect to be achieved,” the drow smoothly replied.

“So much sass, Rumena,” I grinned. “But was that uncertainty I detected? Someone’s worried Sve bit off more than she can chew.”

“A passing thing,” the Mighty said. “In a sense, much like you.”

Ah, and there it was. The reason it hadn’t just nonchalantly torn off my head back when it’d first found me choking on my death in the middle of a broken wreck. I was still of use somehow. A sacrifice to cement Sve Noc’s hold on my domain? I’d earned the mantle through murder, back in the old days of about two years ago. It might be that proper succession required the same deed by her hand.

“So, are we there yet?” I asked.

Rumena sighed, and I took perverse pride in the way I was managing to get under the skin of a creature a few millennia my senior. Unfortunately it then shook me on its shoulder, letting me slip back a little, and the fresh pull on my abdomen had me howling. The throbbing pain brought unwilling tears to my eyes, and to add insult to injury my throat began heaving. The droplet that tipped the cup was that even as I began spewing out clear water and bile the Mantle of Woe fell down over my face, smothering it all over my face. The Mighty left me like that for quite a while, until my stomach felt empty once more, and only drew me back up when left the district. The vomit-strewn cloak remained draped all over my face.

“That was genuinely cruel,” I rasped out.

“Possibly why I enjoyed it so much,” Mighty Rumena noted.

It was not far before our magic journey together came to an end, though of course I had no idea. The Mantle of Woe was still covering my face. I was carefully set down on solid ground, propped up against something that felt like stone. My legs didn’t pain me at all, which I took as the opposite of a good sign. I was metaphysically bleeding out. Rumena’s fingers closed around the hem of my cloak and pulled it back, finally revealing my surroundings to me. It was a hill of barren stone, one that must have once been an island. My Mighty friend was at my side, but we had other company: over a hundred drow were scattered around us, weapons in hand. The rest of the Longstrides? Without my otherworldly senses, I had no way to tell them apart from any other drow. Ahead of me lay a broke stele of obsidian, the symbols on it faded and the better part of it laid down as a makeshift altar. All of that paled, though, in comparison to the silhouette standing over it. A perfectly androgynous face larger than my entire body stared down at me, descending into a neck that melded with the robes of pure Night beneath it. Eyes of unbroken silver shone bright, but it was the hair that drew my attention. Long strands of darkness that went up into the nothing above like puppet strings.

“Sve Noc,” I said. “Good of you to finally show up.”

I cleared my throat, spat another bit of bile to the side.

“You may kneel,” I allowed.

There was a heartbeat of silence, and then I was drowning. Thick, cloying terror buried me – the kind I had not known in ages, that screamed so loud it drowned out every thought. It was a primal thing, old as the nights where mankind had first huddled around fires for fear of what prowled outside. It was, I thought, almost religious. I began laughing in delight.

“That’s the stuff,” I grinned, body shivering uncontrollably. “Gods, you wouldn’t believe how long it’s been since I felt this much like a person.”

Did she think this would break me? She had ripped open my soul. There was not a godsdamned thing left to break. The sea around be ebbed, and still the tinkling pleasure of real emotion stayed in my every extremity.

“Alone and lost,” the Priestess of Night said. “As promised, Catherine Foundling.”

“Please,” I said, waving a shaking hand. “Call me ‘Your Majesty’.”

My half-blind eyes drifted around her… well body, was the closest word to it. And the revelations of the day continued, for there were threads in her robes that seemed more solid than others. Whatever she was doing, it wasn’t finished. Considering the altar in front of me, the shape of the conclusion was rather obvious.

“Queen of Nothing,” Sve Noc said. “And so no queen at all.”

“Am I?” I mused. “Then why bring me here at all?”

“Tools wear no crowns,” Sve Noc said.

“Clearly you’ve never met Cordelia,” I said. “From the fact that my throat has yet to be slit, I take it we’ve a little while still before we get to the good stuff?”

“Your doom is writ,” the creature said.

“Yes yes, very ominous,” I snorted. “Rumena, be a dear and find my pipe will you? No point it making this uncivilized.”

The Mighty had moved a few steps away from me while I traded barbs with its goddess, but not entirely left. It glanced at Sve and found no answer there – she seemed a little miffed by my refusal to take this seriously – so in the end it strode forward to rifle through my cloak pockets. I took the opportunity to clasp its ringlet tunic and wipe my face somewhat clear of vomit. You know, for appearances’ sake. Rumena stuffed my pipe half-heartedly and offered it. I clasped it between my teeth and leaned forward.

“A light?” I asked.

The drow’s fingers lit up with black flame and within moments the wakeleaf was burning. Black flame, really? Did every single application of Night have to colour appropriate? There was such a thing as taking an aesthetic too far. I breathed in the smoke with a shiver of pleasure, letting it stream out of my nostrils.

Oh,” I murmured around the shaft. “So that’s what it used to taste like. I’d almost forgotten.”

To my utter delight, the little moan I let out after made Rumena visibly uncomfortable. I leaned back against my stone.

“I don’t suppose any of you folks have a decent bottle of wine?” I called out at the Longstrides. “It’s been ages since I could properly enjoy one of those.”

There was some confused shuffling, but no answer.

“And they call Callow a backwater,” I sighed. “You all make for terrible hosts.”

“No guest are you,” Sve Noc said. “A bird of misfortune, headed to grim ending.”

“Bold words, coming from a woman visibly fucking up her apotheosis,” I replied. “How’s Winter taste, Sve? A bit too much to swallow?”

It was a true shame Indrani wasn’t there to make a ribald joke out of that, I thought.

“All will be Night,” the Priestess thundered.

“You’re just a pile of disappointments, aren’t you?” I said. “At least Rumena knows its way around a phrase. You’re just yelling threats and platitudes. It’s pretty common with old monsters, you know? You haven’t talked like a person for too long, so you don’t know how anymore. Even Neshamah has touches of that.”

“You think to threaten me with the King of Death?” Sve Noc laughed. “You know nothing.”

I pulled at my pipe, eyes almost rolling into the back of my head at the pleasant sensation. I’d become so much less, but what I had left was so much more alive. Something as simple as the burn of smoke in my throat felt like the finest of wines.

“I know some things,” I retorted mildly, spewing out the smoke. “Like, for example, that Winter is a hard stallion to break in. It’s not really meant to give, you get me? It’s not flexible the way a Name is. Now, if I had to guess, you’re too far gone into whatever the fuck you actually are to worry about something as paltry as alienation. So the issue would be that you’re just as… static as the power you’re trying to eat. You can’t change to match it, like I did, so you can’t align either. You have to bludgeon it into obedience, and that’s proving a little trickier than you’d like.”

“Crawling, wretched thing,” Sve Noc said. “Still trying to escape your fate even now. Stripped of every ounce of stolen power, tumbling through death’s door.”

“Oh, Sve,” I said gently, a grin tugging at my lips. “You poor thing. It’s already too late. You see, this was all part of my plan.”

In the absence of an actual scheme, it seemed like I was going to have to bluff a living goddess. Odds were I was going to bite it regardless, but if I was going to die I was at least going to shit talk the opposition on my way out.

“Your deception is feeble,” the Priestess said. “Your plans are known to me.”

“Convenient, isn’t it?” I mused. “That you knew them all. That you crushed me so easily. Almost like I let you.”

“Mad and desperate,” Sve Noc said. “You resort to flimsy lies.”

I inhaled the smoke, closing my eyes, and let it out. The acrid tang stung my nose, beautifully so.

“Why so many warriors, Sve?” I asked, opening my eyes. “Witnesses, honour guard? Nah, this is best left quiet. Not the kind of knowledge you want floating out there. I think it’s a statement of power. A reminder of hopelessness, to break me down. But if that’s the case, why these warriors?”

I croaked out a laugh.

“If you really wanted to stick it to me,” I said, “you wouldn’t have used people you already owned body and soul. You would have had my own army standing in submissive silence. But you don’t.”

I met eyes of blinding silver and smiled.

“I wonder why that is?”

“They have knelt,” Sve Noc said.

“I think you broke them,” I said. “I think you hurt them. But that you don’t own them, not yet. Because this is still my soul, even splattered over the countryside, and you need a little something to take you over the top. Queen’s blood, queen’s death. A passing of the torch.”

I cackled.

“How does it feel, to fall short even after millennia of scheming?” I asked. “It stings, I bet.”

Gods forgive me, but I had missed this. Teetering at the brink of annihilation, knowing if I was struck down I would not rise again. Dancing with death bereft of anything but wits and lies, knowing the first mistake would also be the last. It was terrible and treacherous, the kind of recklessness that had left a trail of ruins in my wake, but Merciless Gods I had missed this. I’d grown dull, under the sway of my mantle, and now I felt sharp again. Maybe I was drunk on the feeling of my own mortality, on the truth that there was nothing left to lose, but I felt like myself again. Finally, just as life left my body.

“And all you fine Mighty,” I called out. “Will you just stand there like silent statues as your fates are thrown like dice? Do you not have a stake in this?”

“Be silent, Losara,” Mighty Rumena hissed.

“Come on, be someone,” I grinned. “Act. Sure, I would have made you servants. For the span of a cosmic breath and no more, but I’ll own to that. I never thought much of it, since that thing in front of me has already made slaves of you.”

“We are Mighty,” one of the Longstrides replied. “Your words are empty.”

“That might be true right now,” I said. “But will you still be, when she’s done eating Winter? Hells, I would have required service for a decade or two but her? She’ll own you wholesale until the Last Dusk.”

Rumena struck me across the face, and the only thing I could think was that it’d just made a mistake. If it’d let me keep talking unworried that would have been one thing, but trying to silence me? That gave my words weight. And theirs was a path of betrayal, wasn’t it? They watched for the knife in everyone’s hand. Even their own goddess. I couldn’t make out what happened, but a moment later Rumena was thrown back and two silhouettes stood between it and me.

“Speak your piece, Losara,” one of them ordered.

Enough.”

They screamed, the two drow, and fell as Night ripped its way out of their bodies like smoke. The same happened all around me, every Longstride messily collapsing. The tall shape of Sve Noc drifted forward, tendrils of darkness wrapping around my body and dragging me to the altar. She was looming over me in a way that was not physical, her… presence enveloping me whole. As if I was being devoured.

Trickery is no match for real power,” Sve Noc said.

“Then fear me, drow,” Akua Sahelian announced, “for I wield the power of friendship.”

I turned right in time for the shade, grinning gloriously with half her body emerging from my cloak, to bury her arm into my torso up to the elbow.

265 thoughts on “Chapter 77: What Goes Around

  1. Akua strikes now will see if she stays loyal, goes for broke or simply tries to readjust the terms of her current deal with Cat. I could see Cat and Akua signing off a deal hat leaves Cat as Queen of an Independent Callow allied with Akua as the Empress of Praes. Cat doesn’t want climb the tower so someone has to. I would say at minimum Akua gets a new contract out of this one.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I hope Rumena survives this.
    Also, I’m calling it. Akua has been pulling a “Jarvis” (Avengers: Age of Ultron), where she’s been operating as a ghost in the system, making it near impossible for Sve Noc to get Winter to behave as she wants. Now that Akua’s had a bit of time, she’s rebinding Winter to Cat.

    Liked by 15 people

    • Addendum: a remodeled Winter, very small (infinitismal) chance of no longer causing Alienation, but almost fully reconfigured to work with Cat as easily as sassing Gods.

      Liked by 9 people

      • I don’t think it’ll end up being Cat wielding Winter 2.0. I’m gonna call it to be Cat wielding Akua wielding Winter 2.0.

        Cat just set up the story with clever dialogue. The Winter murder-mantle gets passed on by murder, the same way it was originally taken. Exact same thing as setting up the whole sword-in-the-stone play against Willy, back in the good ol days. Akua just knocked down the pins Cat set up, and pulled the proverbial sword from the stone right under Sve Noc’s nose.

        In the end this might be how the apotheosis ends up happening. Cat gets her practical-evil clarity back with little direct power other than being functionally immortal, but loses direct control over Winter; only retaining control over Akua who now holds the reins to winter itself

        The best of both worlds and the worst of both.

        The best of it is that Cat can have all the flexibility of someone powerless while wielding power usually limited to entities with absolutely no flexibility at all. Akua is more suited for that kind of thing anyway, being an old breed villain known for being as Herculean in power as they are proportionally lacking in flexibility.

        The worst of it is that Cat is no longer riding a horse made of knives anymore. She’s now riding a horse made of knives which is in turn riding a bear made of swords. Like having unlimited, unrestricted wishes, all of which are granted by a monkeys paw.

        Unbelievable power without direct cost, but a proportional pain in the ass restriction on how it’s used. Sounds exactly like what Apotheosis is described to be, but in a typical half-assed-but-functional-enough Foundling fashion.

        Liked by 12 people

        • So Cat is going to necromancy her soul back together in a horrifying remake of her marionette impersonation from Book 1? With strings of Winter holding up the frame, Akua being the manipulator, and Cat herself moving Akua in a macabre circular loop of blasphemy and cleverness?

          I love it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Making Akua theoretically hold all the power while also holding more of the risk. She’s the goddamn Chancellor now. At least until Cat climbs the tower and then puts Akua in the throne, saying “i’m not going to handle this mess either.” Chancellor-Empress Akua, still subordinate to Cat, will have what she always wanted but not the way she wanted it. I suspect her response to this sort of existential torture will be to start making love poetry and drawing pictures of the two of them getting married in her free time. She’d be more aggressive in her flirting but Cat wisely ordered her not to kill any more of her lovers after the near miss with Archer.

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  3. Aah how I missed bring of death bluffing sassing Cat. I was grinning wildly the whole chapter.

    Unsurprisingly Akua’s made her play at the end though I’m unsure as to the nature of it. Also is the power of friendship line a reference to a previous conversation?

    Liked by 25 people

    • I imagining Akua is trying hard to keep a foot in the door, as Sve Noc will just get rid of her or worse yet empty out her soul and keep her chained forever. The Power of Friendship (in praesi terms) of I-really-hate-the-other-side-more-lets-try-to-survive-this-shitshow-together. Which is adorable, as Akua is learning to lean into her role as Cat’s Ace in the cloak more. Hopefully something vaguely reminiscent of trust can form between them by the time Book 5 begins. (Although that would most certainly be a death flag for Akua)

      Liked by 10 people

      • I think that’s more the power of alliance. The Power of Friendship in Praesi adds in “I-would-have-regrets-about-killing-you-and-would-be-angry-if-another-did” It doesn’t preclude the idea of killing your friends, mind you. It just means if you do kill them (at least permanently) it was something that made sense for you to do instead of something you enjoyed doing. Even if Akua did kill Cat at this point, I think she’d speak wistfully about her for the rest of her life, a clear fondness in her voice. Probably keep on playing hero on occasion and even throw in a “fuck off and die” on occasion, just to keep the memory alive.

        Liked by 1 person

    • More like a metareference to the Guide to Tropes, imho, purely for us readers… in-world? Sarcastic sassy retort that might totally not be meant that way – or it actually could, because she still holds to her professed change of heart when it comes to “iron sharpens iron” not working and Cat’s way being better. She’ll “safe” her. Only in which way seems rather unsure, as it is never quite clear with Akua what she thinks is the best way to go about it versus what everyone else would think it actually is… =P

      Liked by 1 person

      • A few things to consider here, but I think she means it as legit as her warped mind will let her.

        While it is possible she’s the Moonless Soverign right now (Having woven into the soul of winter and now having leaked out of the cat-shaped bag it used to be in), she might still be connected to Cat, for all that she’s mortal at present. Winter still is woven to cat, even if only by a few threads now, and her full severing might cause the whole damn thing to unravel. At the very least it’d make it easier for Night to eat it, which Akua would not be a fan of. In addition, even if she’s a more powerful fae, she’s still a fae, and they don’t break their oaths easily. All of hers are too Cat.

        That said, I’m guessing this is her way to be “indispensable” she’s going to do what Winter King did for cat once, ripping out her heart to put something made of winter in it. Cat is rewoven into Winter, but the way she was before, a mortal with a connection rather than an immortal force. Cat gets some power back, but keeps her morality and thus the sharp mind that makes her truly dangerous, stronger then the first time since she has so many more tricks she can us with winter now, even if they take a bit more effort. The fact she’ll almost certainly get a name again will help make up the difference and keep her strong enough to play with the big boys (I’m a fan of Queen of Nothing). But now it works both ways. Akua’s survival is now essential to Cat’s own, since if the Soverign of Winter dies, Cat’s heart responds by eating the body of the mortal it resides in. An interlocking dependence that keeps both relying on the other. That sounds like a wonderful Praesi friendship right there.

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  4. “Tools wear no crowns,” Sve Noc said.

    “Clearly you’ve never met Cordelia,”

    That was such a savage burn that not even the grey pilgrim could heal it.

    This was the funniest chapter in a long, loooong time.

    Liked by 45 people

    • Actually nothing, considering that this is a story about stories. This is a sassy Hero, beaten and at the mercy of their clearly Villianous enemy, giving lip to their last breath beeing saved by (here it falls a little bit apart) their friend a moment before certain death. Do you think Neshama was ever stupid enough to end up in Nocs place? Fuck no! Even the Hidden Horror would not survive that.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Hah.
    The “Just as planned” gambit.

    I suspect that rather than being the actual preferred plan (winning outright initially would have been preferred), this might just be a high order contingency plan.

    Cat, enjoy the mortality while it lasts. You’re probably going to have to give it up again.
    Also, never stop the bantering.

    Also, Akua’s line is hilarious.

    Liked by 26 people

  6. …Magical Girl Akua? Well, I’ve seen weirder takes on the genre, I suppose, and I do admit to being morbidly curious as to what it would look like. There aren’t that many magical girl series that feature human sacrifice and/or demon summoning.

    Honestly, I had kind of been expecting that Rumena had been planning a final act betrayal of his own here; the Wise Old Man betraying the Mad God for the Good of his People when All Seems Hopeless is a common enough trope, after all. Disappointing (of him, not the story) to see that he seems to have actually been playing it straight; eternal servitude to… That, isn’t exactly a dignified fate for a race.

    Incidentally, I see that Cat hasn’t learned much about cheesing off gods while they’re in claw distance since the last time she got her heart ripped out over it; while it was the right plan here, you’d think she’d try and appreciate her mortality for a few more minutes here. There’s every reason to believe she’s about to lose it again in a few minutes, one way or another, after all. Then again, this is her appreciating her mortality, isn’t it… No wonder people call her mad.

    Liked by 28 people

    • I mean, to enjoy a good cigar or a fine wine, you actually have to consume it. So in her own (maddened) way, Cat is enjoying her short (hopefully for foreseeable future) term mortality.

      I really love the fact that Cat is still able shit talk her enemy into betraying each other first, just like in Books 1,2, and 3.

      Liked by 14 people

    • Rumena’s stance may be “she may be a terrible mistress, but who will take care of her if not me”. If it remembers Sve as a child, playing carelessly with toys Rumena used to play when it was her age, growing up slowly before its eyes, becoming a girl, then a woman; more a parent than a servant or slave… Such bond tends to be nigh unbreakable.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Got thinking.
        Rumena called Sve “she”. From Ivah introspection chapter we know that upon “being called ‘boy'” by the Archer, it perceives it as a “cattle-term”, then remembers ancient text ‘Seven Husks of the Moon’ as a source of the “reference”. Rumena is ancient enough to be around then this text was written, and it seems it was written in culture where sex-gendered form of addressing was normal, unlike the modern drow society where genders are connected to power-level – ‘rylleh’ and ‘dzulu’ – and not biological realities.

        To remember and use such form of addressing after the ages passed one need to be either extremely stubborn, of have deeper underlying reasons to do so.
        Tangential and flimsy as it is – yet…

        Liked by 6 people

          • Not the time and place to tackling of this theme – but.
            From what we see in chapters so far, ruling class of Drow – the Mighty – completely ignore biological sex of the person, defining them solely by the level of personal power. From their standpoint designating person by the shape of genitalia is a lot of beasts and cattle.
            Therefore I posit that former ranks and titles are now replaced older and obsolete gender definitions and meanings. Thus, addressing someone by “jawor” or “nisi” would be analogous to addressing someone not even “dude” or “chick” – but simply “male” or “female”.

            As for personal pronounces – Mighty recognize only one: “it”.
            As it should be.

            Like

    • When the Dead King first took her heart and swapped it, she became of winter, but was still mortal. It was only after she took more of winter into herself that this changed. I think Akua is about to do the same but build “Better scaffolding” (I’d theorize the Dead King could have always done so himself, but saw no reason to do so). She’ll have some measure of winter, but will be more like she was as Duchess. Still more human that not, able to Wield winter (and maybe night) without it’s higher gifts or curses.

      As for Rumena, there’s a story for this as well. Namely the “She’s dead, I’m free! Oh thank you savior!” angle. A pile of bullshit, but one she might well accept because having a proper Drow general who remembers how to actually military will be very helpful since she wants to use them as an army at the end of this.

      Like

      • I can see Rumena as the general of the Drow-Exodus when Cat leads them to the Burning Lands. Cat will definitely try to recruit him, again, if it survives this. Because she can just NOT try to recruit someone who is able to dish out this kind of savage burns.

        Liked by 20 people

          • Second that. I’d really love to see him as the new bad-ass Drow Exodus General who got rid of the Mad Goddess (of Fail) for the sake of everyone of their people, playing a much deeper game than even that failed goddess. Although it make keeping Juniper a viably interesting character A LOT more difficult. Poor Junes, I like her… =/

            This is actually the first character I see coming really close to dear Maddie, while even Cat still lags behind.

            Liked by 1 person

          • It can be intentional in 2 ways:
            1) he spread doubt towards Sve Nok without ousting himself
            2) he managed to thin the ranks of the Longstrides possibly creating a vacancy for himself

            Like

            • He told seven Longstriders to fuck off, potentially making a 3-way fight with them and a God. I’m pretty sure if he wanted a vacany he’d just say “Somebody invite me, or I’ll take your corpse to the rest and say “So I hear you got a vacancy” He’s not a Longstrider for the simple reason that he’s not interested in being a Longstrider. if this was an intentional mistake, it wasn’t for reasons this petty.

              Liked by 2 people

  7. Man, I really missed Cat shit talking her enemies while having one foot and a hand in the grave.`Time like these is why I still come back week after week.

    Now come one Magical cloak fairy, don’t disappoint us now.

    Liked by 19 people

  8. Gods the sheer amount of sass in this chapter was beautiful. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed the Catherine Foundling who just doesn’t give a fuck who she’s up against, she’s going to mouth off at them.

    Liked by 31 people

  9. This whole back and forth remind me of the last episode of Hellsing Abridged…

    Sve Noc: “Why cant you take this seriously?”
    Cat: “Because that’s what you want, and I’m not gonna give it to you!”

    Welp minus the “vagina with shark teeth” part!

    Liked by 19 people

  10. Trap card: Collar Ghost

    Effect: Can only be activated when your life points are less than half of your opponent’s. When activated, reduce your life points to 1, and pick up the table and beat your opponent over the head with it.

    On a related note,
    Trap card status;
    [X] Activated
    [ ] Not Activated

    Liked by 24 people

  11. Wait, did Akua just Kill Steal a God or is she giving back a fragment of Winter to Cat?

    One is utterly hilarious and insane (and fits the pattern of Cat doing the same to her not too long ago), the other makes a little too much sense and is likely to backfire horribly.

    Liked by 5 people

    • If you outwit and outsass your opponent you can earn Engaging Story brownie points with the universe, and maybe kinda sorta half-ass your way into the universe deciding that your last second bullshit bluff is actually how the story should go.

      Liked by 20 people

      • I tried to speak up again but ended up spitting out a fat gob of blood as he looked upon me with horror, backing away. Still, it had the benefit of clearing my throat.

        “Told you my plan was working,” I rasped.

        Liked by 5 people

    • We’ve known for some time now that Cat can use hero stories. I’ve said it before, but I think Evil decided that if Hero’s keep winning, it doesn’t mean good is better, it means that heroes or at least heroic traits and narratives are better. So, below says, lets make an Evil hero, see how that works. And it’s working so well they even allow the classic Villian model they made as a control group start doing some of the same.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Y’know it’s just occurred to me that given Catherine’s shockingly awful planning skills, she’s actually a hell of a lot more dangerous when petending to have a plan then when she actually has one.

    Liked by 29 people

    • Proper reputation is a hell of a shadow to cast. If you are known as insanely powerful and dangerous opponent, your enemies will overanalyze every your move, burying themselves under the weight of their outcomeless analysis, and/or creating the opening for you to exploit, thus cementing your reputation as an insanely powerful and dangerous opponent. After a while, no one will actually believe that you have no plan, and thouse rare souls who’ll recognize that your only plan is “to poke it with a stick and see what crawls out” will spend so much time removing all sticks from the board that would be powerless to prevent you using your back-up plan of “bashing with gameboard instead of poking with a stick”.

      What can I say – Another Fine Myth was quite fine indeed. More the pity the series spiraled down to such a degree.

      Liked by 20 people

      • I disagree that it’s gotten that bad, but I am disappointed that there hasn’t really been any meaningful character development since… Sweet Myth-tery of Life, I’d say?

        Liked by 1 person

        • To me is was somewhere around Little Myth Marker – with first symptoms of character stasis; it trundled some more due to Asprin shuffling characters around – but it was only more painful in the end: if first books weren’t so good, I’d be more lenient that matter, probably. But then again – that’s Asprins main flaw, imho: he always starts with a powerful motion, but winds up way too early, and co-authors can mitigate that tendency only so much.
          Or, and everything from Myth-Told Tales and beyond I discard simply on general principle of because.

          Like

      • And her plan to defeat the Princess of High Noon. And the one to defeat the Summer Queen. And the Battle of the Camps, despite a few setbacks.

        Really, her plans are usually quite good. It’s just that most of her enemies are a lot more experienced than her.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I would say Cat is good at Gambits and opportunism, but full on grand chess-master levels of plots and schemes? No. I would call Dead King, Black, Malica, Bard, grand chess-masters. They actively know and gauge the movements of the game, knowingly take risks, expect payoffs, and will know the endgame of what they play before move one.

          Cat does not. She has a direction of what see wants, knows her opponents, and will set up the beginning to create opportunities and gambits that will maybe pay off in the end. If she’s playing against new players and even seasoned players, they will be put off their game and she will win (see William, Akua, Queen of Summer). If the other side is underestimating her (Queen of Summer or Cordelia) or very predictable (Akua or Princess of High Noon) Cat can create so much of a clusterfuck that no one really wins, so much that the other side loses.

          However, the chessmasters will know what she’s doing, and they may even make a few unequal trades just to get Cat into a position where she thinks she is winning and then will break her in two moves or a series of pre-determined moves that will result in a losing endgame for her.

          This is in no way saying Cat is stupid or simple, she is very clever and with experience will be able to fight head on with the Chess-masters (maybe Book 5). However it would be a mistake to think her “plans” are actually good and really, well, plans at all. Making trades (maybe even “favorable” ones) without rationale or care for the resulting position is not a plan. Sometimes it works out in her favor, or the trades made previously become crippling as the game goes on. But it could easily backfire.

          P.S. To make a long post longer, I would compare this “victory” to Cat making fun of the Sve for taking all of Cat’s pieces, but unable to deliver Checkmate.

          Liked by 3 people

    • I find it more likely Akua just tied Cat’s continued existence to hers. That’s what I would do in her situation. It keeps her “alive” and resolves the problem of needing to make sure she stays constantly useful. While not doing anything that would piss Cat off.

      Like

  13. Weaponized Autism!
    Rampart Thievery!
    Unbridled Alcoholism!
    Boisterous Self-mutilation!
    Utter Raving Lunacy!
    Tremble, ye mighty – for we are the Woe (and Akua), and we will crush you with The Power of Friendship!

    Liked by 20 people

  14. >“Oh, Sve,” I said gently, a grin tugging at my lips. “You poor thing. It’s already too late. You see, this was all part of my plan.”

    The good ol’ Foundling gambit.

    And holy shit. It **was** part of her plan. Those guys were right on Monday.

    Liked by 16 people

  15. I wonder to Akua is about to try and stick her soul into Cats body, this could be fun! What a chapter though! Tbh I was getting quite fed up with the set up for all this but what a pay off! I love it! Thank you so much erraticerrata!

    Liked by 4 people

  16. >Maybe I was drunk on the feeling of my own mortality, on the truth that there was nothing left to lose, but I felt like myself again. Finally, just as life left my body.

    Clearly, Cat was high on Wakeleaf. Obviously Rumena was slapdash with the dosage.

    Liked by 8 people

    • A theory of sorts was mentioned somewhere above, methinks – Akua hijacked Sve’s ritual sacrifice to became a sole profiteer of said ritual, it seems. If and how it reflects on Cat due to her link with Akua and the Mantle – if it is what happened, that is – we shall see after the annual Friday cliffhanger, probably.

      Liked by 3 people

  17. Well, we’ve got lies covered. Next chapter, Cat needs to give Sve a comprehensive education in violence.

    I predict Akua’s betrayal is not a betrayal in full. Her spirit’s been broken enough that she now believes in Cat’s version of peace – and Catherine herself. She will want a body and more of a power base, of course, but this isn’t her angling at usurpation. At least that’s my take on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Akua isn’t betraying anyone. She’s having a lot of fun playing hero at Catherine’s side, as we noticed last time we had her POV. That line about ‘power of friendship’ is only this funny when it’s true, because it’s fucking Akua, and she would not waste a glorious line like that.

      Yes, that’s my logic here.

      Liked by 9 people

        • She’s got at least a chance at both. Cat really doesn’t want to be empress. She’s destined to climb the tower, but she’s already going to abdicate Callow. She wont’ want to do that just to sit on another throne. Put somebody there instead who’s bound to her in certain ways and has come around at least partially to her way of thinking though? That could work. I’m pretty sure Akua is the Soverign of Moonless nights now. Why not make her Dread Empress as well? it’s not like the Drow won’t fit in pretty well over in Praes.

          I’m seeing this as an ultimate evolution of black’s path. Cat becomes an enforcer of Lisse, as she wanted. The evil that makes sure it sticks, as she promised. This means she can and will take charge when she has to, but she never keeps it, because she knows damn well she’s not cut out for peacetime ruling. a perpetual conqueror who never actually keeps a throne, sticking somebody else with the job. Vivian for Callow. Akua for Praes. Probably even slap Cordelia back on the throne of Procer she’s in the process of losing once she sits down with the lady and realizes Cordelia is now buying what she’s selling: namely that hero’s suck and their priorities are shit.

          Cat has become mortal just in time to become named. Queen, more specifically. Now Black Queen of Callow is no longer an option and it’s not a name for somebody who’s made it clear she’ll abdicate anyway. But that’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from a woman who’s army comes to reverently calls her Queen of Nothing.

          Liked by 1 person

  18. Bahahahahahahaha!

    Oh ye neither-above-nor-below gods, Cat is glorious.

    And Akua is… Really something. I… Honestly think she’s sort of maybe trying to actually do the whole friendship thing, in her own, completely crazy way. Sort of like a very slightly more evil Starlight Glimmer (who instead of being essentially offered the friendship version of “join me and together we will rule the universe,” decided that was tacitly what Cat meant she got that after being murdered.)

    Liked by 5 people

  19. Hah. So Winter *was* free, just like I thought – and Akua inside of it. Not the Sve owning it currently, but SHE, because she is still interwoven with it, while Cat was only separated from it – exactly like the Sve Noc, too, was, when Cat drove her out *at the very same moment*, like the text said. Pleasing, this. I do like suprises – but occasionally I love being right about some impressions.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I can still not decide if this was a “stick a heart into her chest, restoring her control over Winter” moment, or a “rip her heart out and with it her soul, including its grasps on Winter.”

    Liked by 3 people

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