Chapter 78: Comes Around

“The finest summation of Traitorous’s reign I ever heard came from an illiterate peasant from the outskirts of Ater, who described it as follows: ‘Like watching a snake eat its own tail, only the tail was fake the snake was an angry badger and also you are poisoned.'”
– Introduction to ‘More Art Than Act’ by Hakim of Kahtan, the Haunted Scholar

And so the sound of my fragile mortal shell being ripped into signaled it was time for everyone’s favourite Wasteland game: backstab, help or both. Akua had grown on me, rather like the bubonic plague, so I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt and put my money on ‘both’. It was mildly surprising she’d stuck around at all, to be honest. I’d expected her to be halfway back to Praes by now, considering I’d lost my leash on her along with my soul. The unsettling sensation of fingers squeezing around my beating heart was coloured by the unspoken acknowledgement this was a dark mirror to Second Liesse’s ending. And to think they said Diabolist didn’t have a sense of humour. The sheer shock of being torn into this brutally and suddenly was tipping me right over the edge and straight into the grave, my vision dimming, but in the darkness power awaited. Not owned, no. Sve Noc’s victory had been too deep a cut for that. But Akua bestowed upon me a chord, an invisible string, and through it my fading senses expanded.

“Both it is,” I muttered. “Called it.”

Winter as an independent entity was dead. I knew that instantly and instinctively as my mind glimpsed the web of power spread over Great Strycht. There would be no restoration, it was too far gone for that. Sve Noc had clumsily melded Night and Winter where she could, though the merging was far from complete and my old mantle had reacted violently to the attempt. Knots of raging power had erupted all over the city, like too-large insects caught in a web of Night: wherever they stormed they weakened the weave around them. The Priestess had been hammering them into submission, I thought, one at a time. A time-consuming process, and a difficult one – like trying to smooth out wrinkles on steel. I could feel the gargantuan weight of her presence gripping one of the storms, fingers pulling out the threads one after another and releasing them accalmed. She had barely a sliver of her attention on me, I thought. Broken thing that I was, I’d been judged harmless and only a cursory eye had been kept on me. Bad form, that. It would remiss of me not to make her pay harshly for it.

“You forced her to act early,” Akua said.

Diabolist felt like she was at my side, but she couldn’t be. I wasn’t really anywhere, practically speaking. Just a ghost haunting the labyrinth, and her barely more than that. And yet if felt like her breath was whispering against my ear, like she was not even an inch away.

“So, the power of friendship,” I said. “Feels a bit ungrateful to say as much after such a touching interruption, but we’re not really friends. Acquaintances, at most, and that’s being generous.”

“You break my heart, dearest,” Diabolist drawled. “Again.”

“And I didn’t even need to punch through your ribcage first this time,” I replied, genuinely pleased. “I am getting better at this.”

“So is she,” Akua said.

She didn’t point – we were presences, not flesh – but like a feather’s touch her attention moved towards Sve Noc. My not-eyes followed.

“She wanted to bleed me after smoothing out all the knots,” I said. “Like a coronation.”

“Baptism in queen’s blood, yes,” Diabolist said. “Quite properly done, if a mite archaic. Queens are not as easy to acquire as they were in olden days.”

“But she doesn’t need it,” I said, feeling out the web with a thought. “She’s already winning, Akua. The Night is absorbing Winter, slowly but surely.”

“This situation should feel familiar, my heart,” she replied. “You are a claimant once more. The lesser one, certainly, but a claimant still.”

“For what?” I asked.

“That rather depends, I think, on which of you successfully presses her claim,” Akua said. “Before, I would have wagered it was sovereignty over night. But now… who knows?”

The shade laughed.

“Interesting times, dearest Catherine,” she said. “Interesting times indeed.”

“Interesting,” I repeated. “That’s a word for it. Especially considering I don’t see your hat anywhere in the ring. This was your chance to get back on top, Diabolist. There will not be another no matter the outcome.”

And if she hadn’t stepped in the game would have come to an end. I could still vaguely feel my body in the hands of Sve’s manifestation, but she’d yet to kill it. There’d be no point, I thought. What she needed on the altar was me, not a mangled empty corpse. If Akua had no chance of claiming this mess for herself I would have called this pragmatism, denying the Priestess her victory at the last moment, but she’d had other options. She could have fled, she could have fought. And yet here we were.

“Am I not in your service?” Akua said. “Bindings are formality, not essence.”

“Don’t waste our time,” I said. “She’s nearly done with the knot.”

I felt the shade press close to me, almost like an embrace, and I saw Akua Sahelian whole. Not the shade with the bloody hole in her chest, not the semblance of fae I’d turned her into. The same woman I’d met under the Name of Heiress, who’d schemed her way into becoming the Diabolist and vaingloriously raised her banners against the entire villainy of the East. Golden eyes set in a sculpted face, her long tresses falling in a curtain behind her. Adorned in a crimson gown set close against long legs, belted high on her waist in rubies and gold. She’d always been gorgeous. Even when I’d first met her, before I’d learned to truly hate her, I’d thought as much. This was not Akua as she was, but as she still saw herself, and I could not call her anything but the culmination of centuries of Wasteland breeding: as beautiful as she was terrible.

“I have grown tired,” she said, “of iron.”

“There’s no walking back the Folly,” I told her. “Not even for this. I’m one life, Akua. That’s the weight I have on the scales.”

“I consider myself something of a theologian,” she said. “And yet I still lack the answer to one question. Perhaps you can answer it for me. Which matters most, Catherine, when it comes to doing good – the conviction or the act?”

There was a beat of silence as the enormity of what she’d just said sunk in.

“You can’t be serious,” I said.

I was not sure whether to be amazed or appalled by what she was implying. Akua might be the single most amoral person I knew, which was saying something considering I was acquainted with the fucking King of Death. And she was talking of redemption? No, I realized. Not redemption. The conviction or the act, she’d said. I hated to even think it, but it fit with how she’d always done things. I used stories as an arsenal, taking up and discarding what was of use to me, but Akua? She rode them into the storm like a warhorse. It had killed her, in the end, the flying fortresses and the monologues. But before it had she’d matched an entire empire blow for blow.

“But I am,” she smiled. “I shall be, Catherine, the most terrifyingly heroic woman in the history of my kind. And in the end, together we will learn the answer to my question.”

“It’s not the Gods you have to convince,” I hissed. “It’s me.”

“Would you snuff me out for observing your own principles?” Akua asked. “I will do nothing but what you have demanded of me.”

“They won’t take you in,” I said. “You have to know that. You can’t fake being a good person.”

“I have learned much from you, darling one,” Akua Sahelian smiled. “I may fail, true. In my hour of judgement I may – most likely will – be unmade and cast into the deepest burning pits. But until then? Oh, what a glorious ride it will be.”

She spun away from me, presence parting in full.

“Now, my dear Catherine,” Diabolist said, and there was joyous laughter in her voice. “Shall we save some innocents?”

I would have argued still. Done something, anything, to deny this. But the last string of Winter was untangled, made docile, and even as the Night spread through it Sve Noc finally turned her whole attention to us.

Clever little rats,” the Priestess of Night said. “You have earned death at my hand.”

It felt like the tide pulling back before the wave. Something unspeakably massive gathering before release, preparing to crush everything in its path. I called on all that I was, too, but I was no longer Sovereign of Moonless Nights. There were no bottomless depths of Winter to stand behind me, no stolen mantle to make me anything more than I was. In the face of a living deity, I stood a mere mortal – one with a claim, perhaps, but no less frail for it. If she crushed me here, I thought, would die. Unmade so thoroughly there might not be enough of me left for the afterlife. And so we began the dance one last time, for keeps. Winner got to be Queen Bitch of Night forevermore, a victory almost as terrible as defeat. I didn’t want it, I realized. I didn’t want to go back to the thing I’d turned into, that pale imitation of myself. A creature playacting at being a person, more a pack of lies and ambitions than anything remotely human. I’d feared alienation as the consequence of drawing on my mantle, all the while too far gone to realize I’d already estranged myself from everything that’d made me Catherine Foundling. Better to die than go back to it, I thought. To be nothing at all rather than be that. I closed my not-eyes.

“Mortal,” I whispered. “To the end, whatever that may be.”

A savage joy took hold of me, sweeter than wine, and I almost laughed. Even if it was doomed, even if all was lost – I would not go quietly into the night. I would go out kicking and screaming, making an unholy mess of it. Not-lips splitting into a grin, I took hold of what remained of my mind. If you are the sea, then I am a needle, I thought. Slender and piercing and too slight to catch. Hold and release, and then the impact of our wills shook the entire web. I went through like a needle through silk, and sunk into darkness. The pressure of it was crushing, a mind so much greater than my own bearing down, and I balked. I am stone, I thought. The pebble beneath the coursing river, smooth and unmoving. I crashed at the bottom, but there I remained. Unbroken. I could do this, I thought. I was so much less, but what I was could change. Adapt. She was too large to be able to do the same so easily. The sea withdrew and I let out a relieved breath. The web was frittering, I saw. Parts that had been calmed grew riotous as Sve Noc exerted herself against me. Winter was not so easily tamed.

Fumbling child,” the Priestess of Night said. “You but delay the inevitable.”

“Hells, Sve,” I grinned savagely. “That’s my life in a sentence.”

I had become unto stone, and so she became a chisel. She struck down, lumbering and unstoppable. She had become a chisel, and so I became wind: shapeless, coursing around the might of her. The chisel broke into a storm, taking hold of me, and so I became a bird. I rode the winds, and she turned into a hand. Fingers closed around me, but I was smoke and slipped through them. It was a game of riddles, where the first mistake would be the last. Smoke was inhaled by gaping maw, the maw escaped by a scuttling rat, the rat crushed by boot only for mud to stick at the bottom of the sole. Shape to shape we went, ever changing and never twice the same. I knew, instinctively, that repetition would be barred to me. Always forward, or there could be only death. I had become a snake, coiling around a narrow spike, when Sve Noc screamed. There was a flicker, and I saw her long-haired silhouette again – with Diabolist stabbing away at her neck, dagger in hand. Taking your eyes off the Praesi, huh. Always a mistake, that. Akua was swatted away angrily, her shape shattered by the sheer force of the blow, but I was already moving.

“I am a sword,” I murmured. “Sharp and merciless, I cut.”

My will struck out against hers and finally I drew blood. And here was the pit fight Archer had promised, I thought. Two beasts in a hole, tearing at each other. Devouring. I was to eat what I had carved out, grow stronger from it. Ascend through this hallowed cannibalism and strike again, until one of us had consumed the other whole. That was Below’s game, its promised and certain victory.

“Mortal, you meddling fucks,” I snarled. “To the end.”

I crawled into the gushing wound, spite warming me down to my petty core.

“It is forbidden, ‘Mina. The vigil must be held alone.”

The suddenness of the sound had me twitching. There had been the warm darkness of blood, until I crawled out dripping onto a floor of stone, and immediately the woman had spoken. I rose to my feet, eyes wary. It looked like a temple, that was my first thought. The ceiling was tall and curved, held up by arches and columns. The stone beneath me covered in strange scriptures similar to Crepuscular, but only in part. Older, I decided. What few words I understood among them seemed to be in the vein of astronomy, about celestial orbs and their movements. On all four sides arched thresholds led into nothing: I could glimpse a sea of lights below, and only then did I realized I was standing atop a tower. There were no stairs, no visible way into the room save the arches. Rich laughter drew my attention sharply, and my eyes moved to watch a pair of drow. Both young – truly young, not like the Mighty were – and long-haired, though their appearance was starkly sexless. One sat with her legs folded, in the centre of the room, while the other lounged against a pillar. She’d been the one to laugh.

“So many rules,” the drow called ‘Mina gently mocked. “Why apprentice to the Sages at all, if you intend on following all of them?”

Neither of their eyes were silver, I realized with a start. Both a deep amber, identical in every way. As if sisters. My blood thrummed with excitement. I’d been right, then. It was Sve Noc’s soul I had cut open, and it was her memories I’d crawled my way into. And if I got to the bottom, found the right path… My way out. The victory denied.

“We are the enemy of death,” the sitting drow replied, almost chiding. “It is great honour to be chosen to stand among those who hold back twilight.”

“Shrouded Gods, Andronike,” her sister said, rolling her eyes. “You could at least wait until after the ceremony to start with that. If I wanted to get preached at I’d prostrate at temple like a good little zealot.”

“There will be no ceremony at all, Komena, if you are caught up here,” Andronike sharply replied. “I will be sent home in disgrace and Mother-”

“- will have to take the war oath or be forever disgraced,” Komena interrupted. “I’ve heard that song before, sister. You say that like it’d be such a disaster. I’ll be taking the very same oath this year, and it’d be nice to have kin at my side.”

The other drow’s face softened.

“You know I would follow you,” she said. “If I had not been called to higher purpose.”

“All hail the mighty Twilight Sages,” Komena said, smile too serrated to be genuine. “May we forever kiss the hem of their robes.”

“I didn’t meant it like that, ‘Mina,” Andronike feebly said. “There is great honour in war service.”

“Just not quite as much as in this,” her sister said.

The other drow’s eyes tightened.

“You have the talent, Komena,” she said. “Our fathers both have sorcerer blood. Do not blame me simply because you never had the discipline to sharpen your skills.”

“Much good they will do you, these precious skills,” Komena said. “Cloistered in some hidden shrine, debating magic with crazed half-corpses. At least my lack of discipline will serve the Firstborn against our enemies.”

“Fetching human servants for the rylleh?” Andronike ridiculed. “Squabbling with the nerezim over some empty tunnel? How well you would serve our people.”

“How gladly you mock the same blades that keep our mines full, that keep the nerezim from making goblins of us,” her sister snarled. “At least we act, inglorious as our lot is. Provide for the Empire Ever Dark.”

“You talk like a colonist,” Andronike said, wrinkling her nose. “The King Under the Mountain will slay us all, every Firstborn must take the oath! There will be peace, sister, as there has been for over a century. War is only ever waged for petty glories.”

I coughed into my fist. Well, you couldn’t get them all right. Probably the single worst thing she could have gotten wrong, but in her defence she didn’t seem alone in her assumption. If the drow in charge had really all believed that it was no wonder the dwarves had wrecked them in the following wars. That did not sound like an empire ready for a hard fight. The two sisters continued to argue, but I let the noise wash over me. There was something… There it was again. A tremor. I knelt, wincing as my lame leg flared, and pressed my ear against the stone. It came again, louder, and my fingers clenched. Not a tremor, a footstep. And one getting closer. Time to move on, then, I’d learned all I could from this anyway. There was no obvious way out, I thought, save the one I’d rather not take. I breathed out and got up.

“Oh Gods, this better work,” I muttered, and took a running leap off the tower.

I thought I’d failed, at first, because I stood in utter darkness. But then there was movement, Komena sweeping out her arm and causing globes off glass to light all over the room. She’d gotten older, I saw. There was nasty scar on her neck, but it was the sharper features and braided hair that drew my attention. She wore armour, too: good steel mail, with pauldrons of sculpted obsidian. The sword at her hip was without a sheath and glinted cold blue. Enchanted, for sure. As she began unstrapping her armour I allowed my gaze to sweep our surroundings, reluctantly admitting that the woman who’d become Sve Noc had taste. And coin to burn, apparently, because much of the furniture in here was wood instead of stone and that was a rare thing in the Everdark. I froze when she did, only the noticing that there was someone seated in the corner. Who it was I could not tell for sure – though I had a decent guess – because they were masked and covered by a thick cloak. It was an ornate thing, the mask. Forged iron, the upper half of it a sun setting while the bottom was half the moon. Komena drew her sword without hesitation.

“I know not your intent, Sage, but I am a jawor of the Southern Army,” she coldly said. “I will not be disappeared so easily.”

The Twilight Sage slowly raised a hand and took off the mask, revealing the very pair of amber eyes I had expected. Andronike hesitated, worrying her lip.

“‘Mina,” she quietly said. “I know we did not part-”

The sword clattered against the ground, and I had to admit I was touched at the sight of Komena embracing her sister without the slightest hint of hesitation. The two drow remained like that for a long moment, and I saw their arms tightening against each other like they were afraid of letting go.

“‘Nike,” the younger sister said, after finally releasing the other. “Gods be kind. I have regretted many things since taking the oath, but none half as much as the last words we spoke.”

“I’m sorry, Komena,” Andronike whispered. “I was too proud to reach out, after. I have sown sorrow where there needed be none.”

The other drow touched her shoulder, almost shyly.

“It does not matter,” she said. “It could have been a hundred years instead of twenty, and still it would not matter. Heart of my heart.”

“Heart of my heart,” Andronike whispered back, voice shaky.

Komena shook herself, as if trying to wake. She smoothed out her already pristine armour out of nervousness.

“I am being a frightful host,” she said. “I have senna, if you would like a drink – or! I have this bottle of this drink they call wynneh, from the Burning Lands. Very exotic, you wouldn’t believe how many fingers I had to break to get it.”

Andronike took her sister’s hand and shook her head.

“Sit with me,” she asked. “This is… better spoken sober.”

Komena’s eyes tightened.

“You worry me, sister,” she said. “Are you in danger? I now striking a Sage is sacrilege, but I will not-”

“We are all in danger, I fear,” Andronike croaked. “‘Mina, what I want to tell you, it is a crime for me to speak it. Even if all you do is listen, they would-”

“Heart of my heart,” Komena said, voice like steel. “Your woe is my woe. No soul can change this.”

Her sister smiled, for just a moment, and it felt like dawn breaking over the room. Andronike tugged her down into a seat and they settled together while the Sage sister chose her words. The ritual, I thought. This is about the ritual when they tried to become immortals.

“They’re going to kill us all, ‘Mina,” Andronike murmured, sounding genuinely terrified. “The Sages, the elders among them – they’re afraid of dying. The alchemies work a little less every year and their minds have begun to fray. So they now plan a ritual.”

“A ritual,” Komena repeated slowly, trying to understand her sister’s fear.

And failing, though I thought she was a decent hand at hiding it.

“They will borrow from the years of every Firstborn yet to be,” the drow said. “They say they have it charted – they’ve used oracles, the old rites as well – but they’re wrong Komena. There are too many uncertainties.”

“There will be revolt, if this comes out,” Komena said face gone grim. “I can reach out to other officers-”

“You don’t understand,” Andronike said. “They are proud. They through it we will all be made immortal. With the turn of the red season they will announce it themselves.”

“But you don’t believe it will work,” the younger sister said.

“All it takes is a single mistake, and our entire people will pay for it,” the other drow replied, shaking her head. “There is always a mistake, ‘Mina. Always.”

Her sister slowly nodded, and I watched her thoughts flicker through her face. Hesitation, first, then reproach. And after that only determination, cold and relentless.

“So what,” Komena said, “are we going to do about it?”

Pivot, I thought. They were not Named, not yet, but that sentence and that moment were the beginning of a very dark road I already knew the end of.

“In that moment, I loved her more than I have ever loved anyone or anything.”

I froze. She’d not made a sound, until the moment she spoke. Not a breath, not whisper of foot on stone. I turned and there she was, standing at my side. The cloak I recognized, for she wore it in front of me as well, but there was no mask now. She had grown, I thought, beyond such petty symbols.

“Strange,” she said, head cocked to the side. “That even after all these years, I grieve that more than all the rest.”

“Andronike,” I said, meeting eyes of pure silver.

“Catherine Foundling,” the other half of Sve Noc greeted me calmly. “I believe you were looking for me.”

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260 thoughts on “Chapter 78: Comes Around

      1. stevenneiman

        Honestly, most of these aren’t controversial at all.
        My bets: Masego, Black, Vivienne (?), Robber, Hakram (?), Cat, Akua (?), Black, Robber, Cat, Black, Cat.
        I’m curious to see whether I even got the ones I’m confident in right.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Sulomund

            Just because the destination is assured doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey.

            And besides, there still is the chance for upset. :3

            Like

    1. JJR

      The first one was tricky, with neither one showing up. The Hierarch claiming the ranking individuals was Against the Will of the People and Therefore Forbidden. Masego, probably too occupied to even notice such a thing happening. I had to give it the the Hierarch though.

      Second one was much easier. Amadeus was always able to play my emotions like a violin.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Letouriste

      Damn. 4 of my favourite characters at once and I need to choose…
      I like black too much so I guess ratface is a no:/
      Hierarch vs masego tho…. how could you make us choose, you demon!
      Chose masego at the end but broke my heart

      Liked by 2 people

    3. RanVor

      Two of my favorite characters vs. two guys-I-like-but-not-as-much-as-the-other-guy.
      Since the Hierarch will obviously lose now (which sucks, but what can I do?), I can only hope that Akua tears Masego apart in the quarterfinals (I’m sorry, Zeze, but it’s not my fault you have this kind of opponents).

      Liked by 2 people

  1. “The finest summation of Traitorous’s reign I ever heard came from an illiterate peasant from the outskirts of Ater, who described it as follows: ‘Like watching a snake eat its own tail, only the tail was fake the snake was an angry badger and also you are poisoned.’”

    Bloody hell, that last bit is the most accurate thing about Praes ever said. No matter what, you’re always poisoned.

    Liked by 25 people

    1. “Which matters most, Catherine, when it comes to doing good – the conviction or the act?”

      Fucking hell Akua, you can’t be serious.

      I read this really interesting suggestion recently (actually, calling it a suggestion would be a bit much) relating to the missionary that died on that island near India.
      Basically, the idea was “What if he did this as a form of suicide?”

      The logic of it went something like this:
      As a man who had faith in God, suicide was forbidden and he would be cast into Hell.
      There’s a group of people in the world who are violent towards all outsiders and do not believe in God. If he was to act as a servant of God and deliver his message and blessings to them, if he were to die during it, he would go to Heaven.

      The counter-argument I saw was that God was omniscient and would know about his intentions from the get-go. Quite interesting how I see the parallel here in this story.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. “I would not go quietly into the night.”

      “Do not go gentle into that good night,
      Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
      – First stanza of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

      Liked by 12 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Yeah but this was a peasant. Though I would propose as head canon that while this man was not Traitorous, he had bought shoes from him. The shoes were usually not poisoned. Usually.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                Aw crap that was irritant. Dammit.

                Okay, head canon revision, Traitorous also made shoes that one time as his cover while working with the rebellion to overthrow Dread Emperor Traitorous. Irritant used a lot less poison so overall is remembered as the better Cobbler.

                Liked by 4 people

    3. JJR

      Did anyone else, when they first read that, think that the so called peasant was actually Dread Emperor Traitorous the whole time. And that last bit was actually him telling Scholar that he was poisoned, as in just now?

      Well the guy did manage to write the rest of the book. Maybe Traitorous was off his game that day.

      Liked by 19 people

            1. NerfContessa

              Fitting.

              Also nice to see you already posting good comments so shortly after being brought to this marvelous story (from the playground) ^^

              Like

    1. Cap'n Smurfy

      Considering the Goblins were forced to the surface by Dwarves, are small, green, short-lived and an entirely different species I think it’s safe to say it was meant as a metaphor for defeat/exile to the surface.

      Liked by 25 people

      1. mavant

        Well, in Arda you can make orcs out of elves with careful torture and selective breeding. I forget if it was Morgoth or Sauron that did so – probably the former.
        Maybe in Calernia a similar rule applies for drow and goblins.

        What I’m really concerned about are the MIND FLAYERS.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Cap'n Smurfy

          No. That’s silly. The Guideverse is, as the name might suggest, a practical place. Drow and Goblins are in no way related or created from another.

          Like

  2. Gunslinger

    Lots to unpack here but for once I actually believe Akua. Holy hells how did it get to this point!!

    The chapter does reveal thought that Catherine didn’t plan for Akua’s betrayal/help. What then was the Folly in the original plan?

    Liked by 8 people

      1. JJR

        It kind of seems like she’s betraying herself here. The whole, “I tire of iron line.” Basically throwing away everything she was taught to believe. To be a hero I think? Not a Hero with the capital letter surely, the Gods above wouldn’t have her. But some kind of hero.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Metrux

          You sure they wouldn’t? The Peregrin has done just as bad as her, and he is one of the most pious. To me, what William would do was worse than what she did, and he was never doubted of Heroism. No, the God Above would have her, if she really went that path. But I don’t think she will.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. No he hasn’t. Come on. What the Pilgrim did was horrible, but let’s not pretend he didn’t save far more lives than he took by stopping Black. The Grey Pilgrim killed two or three thousand innocents as collateral damage to stop a murderous rampage across Procer. Akua murdered a hundred thousand civilians to use them as meat shields in her personal rise to power. The two aren’t at all equivalent.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Jani Nyyssönen

              There’s a very important difference between what is Good and what is Effective.
              Once we accept biological weapons and child murder as acceptable tactics, moral high ground is lost.

              Pilgrims side would, probably, be better winners and/or rulers than the villain side, but they have little room to argue about morals to Cat considering the things hey have done.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. And William wanted to brainwash and effectively kill the very same hundred thousand civilians, and use their bodies to throw into the meat grider against the East. Totally not comparable, how could he.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. I’m not talking about William. I’m talking about the Pilgrim. Saying that the Peregrine is just as bad as the Butcher of Liesse is simply ridiculous.

                Although now that you bring it up, no, I don’t think what William tried to do makes him as bad as Akua. Trying to brainwash Liesse was an unforgettable crime, but at least he wasn’t doing it for personal gain, he was doing it to free his kingdom from oppression, and at least some of his victims would have survived. Not to mention the fact that Akua thought it was ok to use demons that permanently damaged reality. I honestly can’t imagine a crime worse than that.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. I don’t think there was a chance any of his victims would have survived 😡

                  the problem is that Akua intended to open MORE hellgates than just one and not have them contained by Warlock

                  Still Water is just the part of her scheme that succeeded

                  so no, in sheer mass slaughter she still wins out 😡

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Aotrs Commander

                  Really?

                  You really can’t imagine a crime worse than that?

                  You can’t be trying very hard.

                  Without even going outside the Guide:

                  The wanton slaughter of countless thousands if not millions over centuries to win a pissing contest, not to mention the action of creating the stage itself to do that and to cap it all, then punishing the creations you made able to chose for the explict purpose of facilitating this pissing contest for not not always choosing you AND ALSO for not being perfect?

                  Or tacitly murdering your entire species future children to attempt to give yourself immortality?

                  Actually, I would say William is far, FAR, *FAR* worse than Akua ever was. Hers was “only” mass murder, whereas as his was (attempted) mass mindrape/soul-crime AND murder (and I rank the former two (among one or two other things) as being way more heinousthan mere death). William might only be only “lesser” in the sense that he didn’t actually manage to do it and only *then* if the answer to Akua’s question is “act” not “conviction.”

                  What we’ve seen Pilgrim do over the course of this story is very likely just the tip of the iceberg. The way he treated it seems like this is the first time he’s pulled that crap. I shudder to think how many times he’s done similar things over the decades in the name of so-called “Good.”

                  Liked by 5 people

                  1. Aotrs Commander

                    Dang lack of edit function: Clarification: Akua likely would have gone on to be worse than William if not prevented; my assertion (if I was not used to being able to go back and re-word my posts on a second pass and tidy them up!) is that, *at the time of respective deaths,* I would hold that William’s (attempted) crimes were worse than Aku’as actual ones..

                    Liked by 1 person

                  2. I was exaggerating a little when I said I couldn’t imagine anything worse than that. However I do think permanently damaging the fabric of reality is something truly, objectively evil. It makes things worse of absolutely everyone for the rest of time, and benefits no one

                    Liked by 2 people

                  3. Soul-crime? What on earth are you talking about?

                    Come on. You can’t be seriously arguing that the Pilgrim is worse than Akua. You can’t just make up previous crimes and declare that they make him worse. We can only judge them based on what we see, and on those grounds Akua is far, far worse.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Aotrs Commander

                      I was referring to William’s attempted mind-rape[1]; the attack on self/soul, in a such permenant way, I find vastly worse than murder.

                      Though yes, not related to that specific instance[2], but I *do* find Pilgrim infinitely more objectionable, vile and loathsome than Akua on *every single level.* (Even when Akua was just the anatagonist I wanted to see disembowled.)

                      [1]Or, though I will NOT debate any further than this single in-passing mentioned, because NOT the time or place, physcial rape/

                      [2]That we know of; I would not even be remotely surprised to find Pilgrim lending a hand to Contrition Heroes in the past nor shedding a real tear (as opposed to a self-deluded one of actual, true compassion) over it.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Aotrs Commander

                      Again (dang no edit, fraction of a second to early with click post): clarfification footnote [1] should be at the end of that sentence, not where it is, not implying or asserting Willy did that.

                      Liked by 1 person

                3. Isi Arnott-Campbell

                  “[A]t least some of his victims would have survived.”

                  I would argue that, philosophically speaking, they would all have died the moment he Contrition’d them. What would remain would effectively not be the same people, but gross parodies of them.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. Okay I think a decision would have to be made if you were a citizen.

                    Is mind rape with holy might attached worse than literal demon rape?

                    Now I don’t care which is more evil one of these outcomes leads to death while the other will leave you with a chance of possible life.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Both corrupt who you are to.make a mockery of a person.

                      One side lies about it; the other wears the grotesque nature of what it has done like a feather boa.

                      Both are appalling in an “equal and opposite” way, making neither one of them better or worse.

                      The real question is “is it possible to stop both sides from mutilating the fundamental essences of people in their bids to win this pissing contest of theirs”. Because they’re both treating thinking, feeling beings as NPCs they can use and abuse like young kids mutilate their least important toys.

                      Liked by 1 person

        2. Rook

          I think she might be staying true to what she is, actually. We may all have had the wrong impression of her from the start.

          I think She’s not about being a Villain. She doesn’t want to be a Hero now, either. I think her motives, at the very heart of it, are neutral. She just wants to be part of the biggest, most momentous story she can get her claws on.

          Think about it. It was always a bit strange why someone clearly much more intelligent than Catherine – let’s be real here, Akua is as smart as she is a total cunt – fully versed in history and the best education money can buy, would so stupidly engage in theatrics known to have miserable ends without fail.

          Maybe she was never being stupid, maybe she never really gave a shit about Winning or Evil or Good. Maybe what she wants is exactly what her actions have always lead her towards. That even in the future when Praes and all its works have been reduced to dust, people will still remember that Akua Sahelian existed. Glorious, terrible, and magnificent.

          Liked by 18 people

          1. Remember in the earlier chapters back when she was the Heiress? At one point she said something super grandiose along the lines of “I will inherit all of Calernia/usurp the will of the gods.” I don’t remember the exact quote, but I think you’re onto something. At the time I just thought she was being a total idiot but in light of her current character it could just be that she wants to live her life with a bang, even if she goes out early because of it.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Yes!
            Akua believed in Old Evil as the most theatric and fun ride she could possibly have. And now she’s getting to hitch a ride on something even more amazing.

            She’s Praesi to the core, and at the core of Praes is the same idea even Black ended up holding on to: you always lose at the end, but the end is not what matters.

            She’s true to herself, to the herself that said that learning from history did not mean rejecting change. She respected ‘iron sharpens iron’ because she believed in it and gambled on it, and now that it’s lost, it’s only natural for her to switch to the other philosophy to follow. Iron sharpens iron on a more meta level.

            Liked by 11 people

        3. Haihappen

          She is not the Hero we need, but the hero we deserve.

          She is not a Redeemed Villian, for this trope is full of shit, but more of a Fallen Villian, who “is just tired of that shit”(paraphrase), and decides defy all tropes, to not seek redemption, but a change of pace, to act philosophy, instead of contemplating it.

          Difficult to come up with a Name, though, if that was where the journey is going

          Liked by 4 people

        4. Insanenoodlyguy

          Cat’s been doing a pretty good job being a hero while still being Evil, and Akua’s had a front row seat and is known to be able to learn quickly. To steal a quote from Girl Genius and the character therein that’s the most Akualike: “Besides, they always win. There must be SOMETHING to their [heroic] philosophy.”

          Plus, we know from the last time we saw it from her perspective, Akua finds being a hero refreshingly FUN. And now, as she’s reasoned correctly, she’s going to be immortally famous. Consider her philosophy before: She truly honestly believed that she’d still die. That she wasn’t going to live forever and would be the Empress until the next Akua overthrew her. Somebody who goes into it knowing it ends badly for them is about the ride. Cat may be the first Evil Hero, but Akua will be the first PRAESI Hero, at least since the land and people have been called that. And what she’s doing may well save Praesi. That’s a pretty good alternative right there, if you are about doing something extraordinary. Plus, she’s already gained the unstoppable power of friendship!

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Yes!

            TBH, taking a step back, Akua is a fucking teenager. Well, a year older than Cat, so not literally, but like, when she was doing the demon thing at Marchford and setting up Liesse? She was. Everything she did was set up by others in some way, between Tasia and Malicia. She wouldn’t have either gotten the idea or the means of going through with it without horrible adults who should have known better yet didn’t.

            If anyone deserves a genuine redemption arc and character development, it’s her.

            Liked by 3 people

      2. SilverDargon

        First of all, I think her last betrayal happened when she tried to possess Catherine during the fight with the 10th crusade when she was still knocked out after having her portal Pilgrim’d. Not too long ago at all. Possibly less than half of a year, though I haven’t checked the timeline. Certainly no more than a year prior to this.

        Secondly, the only reason for this so called, “Change of heart” is because Akua thinks she can get away with it and come out in a better position than before. She says she tires of iron, less because she actually has grown morals, and more because she knows that she has to renounce something about her previous self in order to get on the heroic bandwagon.

        Also, from what it sounds like, Akua wants to know if Above would even accept her. She proposes that Above cares more about doing good acts regardless of the intent behind them, as supported by the existence of Hanno, who goes around doing good acts, with literally no personal conviction save service to Above. Catherine thinks that Above cares more about heroic character and convictions than deeds, and that because of that Akua will fail her attempt to become a hero. At least part of her reasoning for doing this is to answer that question.

        Liked by 6 people

      3. Rook

        I’m on the verge of believing her too. Not because she’s likeable, but I think we might have misjudged her base motives from the start.

        I think she isn’t, at the core of it, all about villainy, or prayed, or team evil. That’s a Catherine and Black way of thinking. They’re all about the end goal, the practical consequences.

        Akua might actually be along the same vein as Ranger or Archer. All about the journey, not the goal. Being all you can be, doing all you can do.

        If you look at it that way, it makes sense why she’s so completely unafraid of failure, so utterly unconcerned about her previous loss, and why she didn’t take the most pragmatic approach for her personal gain when no one could stop her from doing just that. Because she never cared about winning from the start. She just wants to matter, in the big scheme of things. Go down in the history books as a name no one can forget for a thousand years.

        Remember the fourfold crossing? She wasn’t Dread empress Powerful, nor was she Dread Empress Diabolical, Wicked, Clever, or Beautiful. She was Dread Empress Magnificent, first of her Name.

        Of course she didn’t stab Cat in the back, of course she didn’t run. Why would she? The possibility of becoming a part of the rise of a new deity is everything she ever wanted. This is her chance.

        A chance to be Magnificent.

        Liked by 20 people

  3. Lark

    Akua as a hero. This will be fun.

    It’s also delightfully elegant – it seems the Liesse Accords needed someone on the other side of the fence to have a chance, and while I don’t doubt Pilgrim and his allies will fight it, “prior nemeses coming to an agreement in the face of a greater threat” has the shape of all sorts of stories to it.

    Plans like this are part of what make Akua such a wonderful character to read.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Oh man, yeah. That could work. It’s a perfect Yin Yang.

      Cat, an Evil Hero that has good intent, and does bad for them.

      Akua, a Good Villian that has bad intents, and does good for them.

      The Evil one will always hate the Good no matter what, even though she’s warmed up to her alot, where the other fondly cares for them despite all the abuse thrown at them.

      But what the shit is down and the accords need to be held, both team up and get shit done in glorious snarky flirty fashion.

      It’s one of the most unstoppable forms the Power of Friendship can take: the dual-foil-at-odds-but-cooperating BUDDY DUO.

      They will be unstoppable, at least until one of them finally gets too old for this shit.

      Liked by 7 people

  4. Kirroth

    Akua always wanted to escape her cage and always found a larger one outside. Now she’s going to take a turn at breaking out of the cage of “Standard Bearer of Praesi Evil”. Best of luck to her with that.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Anon

    And so winter fades – not with a bang but with a weak gasp.

    Sad to see the power (seemingly) clumsily go out like this – while it was admittedly too absurd as a power-up, Cat losing in such a half-assed way doesn’t necessarily feel better.

    Cat’s entirely at odds with herself, and self-realization of the mantle’s bastardization of her humanity or not, it feels like a tonal shift unearned – especially in the context of the whole conversation with the dead king on being immortal and the like.

    And while maybe that’s the point, something feels….different here, than in previous books’ pivots. And while I can’t quite put my finger on a defining specific sentence or idea, it just…feels off, to me.

    Cat definitely didn’t care for parts of the mantle and how they changed her life, but she seems too….vehement here, about her mortality, and how it (may or may not) ties into her plans, and/or being ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

    (Admittedly I can see the over-arching meta-narrative desire to get cat ‘Back’ to being mortal, but….have to wait and see to be sure)

    Nothing about Akua’s ‘help’ feels ‘earned’ enough to secure Cat’s pivot to a claim, here (like, is she REALLY thinking going out with a heroic bang will save her from the gods below?), and for how easily Sve Noc literally tore Cat apart (and Cat’s seeming desire to die just recently), Cat coming ‘back’ in time to stake her claim feels wonky because of it, just because Sve Noc waited to double tap./

    And while having a ‘reversal’ of Cat’s playing with her own soul now resulting in her snooping around in someone else’s is interesting, I just…..I dunno.

    Some of it’s probably not knowing exactly what parts of ‘winter’ and/or ‘Catherine’ are going to result from this (and to be honest, not really sure how the whole Sve Noc claiming winter with night [when previously, it was explicitly stated multiple times that the ‘night’ was subservient to Winter] even really was done so neatly as to rip Cat’s ‘winter-ness’ in twain), but even so, I’m past ready to see the Drow business come to a close.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Anon

        I’d believe that if she hadn’t already told Cat (while mind-whammied) that she knew Cat made a deal with Vivienne to end Akua’s ‘life’ when she was no longer useful.

        So as a bargain to live a little longer it maybe works, but as a pivot I don’t see the narrative weight behind it – she’s been useful, but even ‘faking’ a pivot would require some onus I haven’t really seen Cat give her.

        Certainly not any impression of contrition or repenting.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Haihappen

            Her whole argument is the question that, to be a hero, is it more important to “do good” or “think good”, conviction versus act. Her reasoning is on the act: It does not matter if I am not thinking “good”, if my actions are “Good”, how can she be denied the mantle of a hero.
            It is challenge, something that is outside her “iron sharpens iron” mindset that had been instilled into her since her birth to her death.

            I think I have one aspekt of Akua figured out: She desperately wants to DO stuff, SHOW people of what she is capable. She wants to be LOOKED at, it does not matter if people fear or admire her, as long as they need to look upwards.

            Liked by 6 people

              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                She outright said she expected some other Akua to come along and kill her some day. I am 100% sure she’d have reinstated a Chancellor knowing that’d be the most likely person to do it. She was going to be Dread Empress Magnificent. She didn’t intend to do it all, just to do it all well. Now a new path has opened and she’s taking it.

                Liked by 4 people

        1. Akua is a villain. A Praesi villain. All of them always know that the end will be terrible. Cat’s deal with Vivienne means that it will be a little more terrible than possibly expected, but ultimately, it’s still the same deal: paying for everything at the end.

          Akua did not make Liesse because she was afraid of paying due.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. Myatt22

          What happens though if she is no longer akua or if she sets herself up as the necessary hero for the accords those are the only 2 ways out of cats and vivs deal that I can see unless of corse it’s no longner binding as cat isn’t fae anymore

          Liked by 1 person

          1. The only narratively valid way out of Cat’s and Vivi’s deal is to make it so thoroughly obsolete Vivi will take her request back. This isn’t about wiggling through loopholes, anymore, this is about changing the tides of stories. Akua always loved the grander approach, after all.

            Like

    1. Jane

      Eh, I imagine she’ll walk out of this without too much of a power-down – maybe with a Goddess-on-a-Leash, maybe with the shattered remnants of WinterNight being a less overwhelming power to absorb, or maybe with something from a completely different direction. Losing it all just doesn’t fit with the tone, plot, or direction of the series, to say nothing of how it would waste the way she’d been studying how to use her power properly.

      That said, her vehement rejection of Apotheosis makes sense when she’s able to experience mortality again, after months of having everything around her dulled and her mind made rigid; it’s like finally being sober after years of alcoholism. Once you get a taste of what you should be, you feel revulsion at what you had been trapped in.

      As for Akua, well… She’s been building up to this for a while, now, expressing a desire to step away from her old self and embrace a more successful direction. Saving Cat instead of just walking off is the payoff for that, as well as a reflection of the fact that Akua does genuinely like and respect her – at least, as much as Akua can be said to have such feelings for anyone.

      As for Sve Noc not bothering to kill her while she had the chance… Eh, she was so trapped in her enforced behaviors, it doesn’t seem odd to me. I mean, she couldn’t even hold a real conversation anymore, just throw out cliched lines; she really wasn’t capable of sensible precautions anymore.

      That said, I do feel that the last few chapters could use a bit of restructuring at this point… The flow just feels wrong at the moment. We go from laying out an outline of a plan for the big battle, to seeing it start to play out, to a sudden enemy trap, to… Having her soul cut open, taken in front of a goddess as a sacrifice, and a soul battle for their mantles. It’s just too abrupt, like this; there should have been an interlude for someone else noting how everything went to hell, to clearly signal the end of the battle and the beginning of the more personal struggle.

      But, well, pacing issues are to be expected with the format, which is why I haven’t been too critical about the arc as a whole; the editing to make everything flow smoothly is something that can really only happen once a book is actually finished.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. mavant

        The usual rule: Spoken plans always fail, unspoken plans always succeed.
        The only thing that was weird here is that there WAS an unspoken part of the plan – the details of “Folly” – and yet it still didn’t succeed. Unless it did, and memory shenanigans are involved, in which case I guess we’ll find out soon.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Jane

          Maybe I just missed the plan, somehow?… It sounded to me like they were going to gather everyone into the center of the city, and then… Something.

          I was kind of expecting that “something” to either happen, or be explained, which is why it took me a while to acknowledge that yeah, that’s probably not going to happen after all.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Tom

        Re: the flow of the last few chapters:

        Sve Noc’s involvement in the battle was expected after she showed up in Cat’s dream beforehand. Since Sve Noc is at the heart of all this Night business and the Night is kind of critical to the usefulness of Cat’s Drow recruits (not to mention Drow survival as a species?), it makes sense that a tangle with Sve Noc would trump all other engagements. And ultimately some change in the nature of Cat’s powers was expected by the end of this arc because her powers had been relatively static for a while. A straightforward physical brawl doesn’t grant you new powers, plus Sve Noc is kind of a demigod so a straightforward physical brawl isn’t gonna end well, so you need weird mumbo jumbo to sort out the confrontation between Cat and Sve Noc.

        So… everything is going according to plan 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Jane

    Aw, but it was always so much fun to note how Cat was a literal goddess (albeit a comparatively minor one), defending her country against petty mortals… Well, at least she should stay sane at the end of this. I did always like the Winter motif, though…

    I’m… Going to decline to comment on Akua’s ambitions, here, for fear of my brain blue-screening. I do recall once hearing about a character in a pen-and-paper RPG, though, about a young demon who wanted to try her hand at being Good, despite not understanding what that actually was… I guess Akua might fare a bit better in a world running on Narrativium, though, where holding the proper form of a thing is enough to compel its success. And a lack of Vile feats claiming a price on the soul she does not have, admittedly.

    You know, I kind of thought last chapter that this whole thing would lead to Cat becoming “Queen of Nothing” to a goddess no longer living, but finding something possessed of a bit of rationality in Sve Noc opens a distinct possibility that Sve might actually survive this somehow. Half of her, at least. Still, I wonder what the effects of stitching a part of a deity to your cloak does to the cloak…

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Big Brother

      It’s kinda like having Divinely Gifted Armour, albeit Forcefully Enchanted instead of Willingly Blessed. And that distinction can cause a MASSIVE difference in power granted by the Armour.
      Take a God(dess) of Life. Her Willing Blessing could give extreme regeneration, able to regrow limbs in milliseconds. But Forcefully Enchanting her into the Armour could cause Cursed Immortality, an inability to die, no matter the state of your body. You could live eternally as a severed head if the Armour is an ear or nose piercing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Jane

        Well… On the other hand, Sve Noc is an Evil goddess; those kind of artifacts usually come with nasty costs attached, like trading away your soul, demanding horrific sacrifices, or stealing your life with every use. Meanwhile, stealing and repurposing things associated with them tend to come without most of the drawbacks – though usually with a bit of evil flavor and/or need for self-sacrifice associated with them…

        Using the bones of a god tends to be a bit more neutral, but that’s just the body; messing around with the soul seems like it would be a different thing…

        Hm. A tricky question, though I don’t think Cat’s aware that her cloak has become an artifact (Akua’s binding aside).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. lennymaster

          She sure as hell knows! She herself mentioned that she noticed how magic just seemed to pearl off of it, like water from a leaf. She even used that effect several times, the last time if I remember correctly during second Liesse.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Shoddi

      The cloak becomes wrinkle-free, stain-repellent, water-resistant, reversible… and the pockets become capable of keeping of the souls of your enemies securely tucked away.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Decius

        Stain-repellent, except for bloodstains for blood you are responsible for shedding, which it soaks up, becoming heavier and heavier as it turns red, then black, then green, then Oh My God what color blood do Dwarves even have?

        Liked by 3 people

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      The demon makes me feel like that one time in Comics when Carnage became good. For those that don’t read: Magic Shenanigans made a big Multi-Hero Villian fight result in a mass AOE alignment swap spell both sides got caught up in. Serial Killer Carnage suddenly was filled with a desire to be on the side of good, though didn’t actually stop being an insane homicidal manic, which had… interesting results.

      https://imgur.com/gallery/PKSwn

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Anon

      Theoretically, if Winter as an ‘entity’ is gone and is merged/merging with night, then the hunt has either been forced to join up with whatever other faction the rest of the fae now are, or has been subsumed into allegiance with whatever the winter-night combination is.

      Also, they could be running rampant, but Cat seems to have been too completely decimated (and Winter gobbled up too quickly) soul-wise for them to act out the whole ‘traitorous opportunists’ aspect.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s entirely possible they’ve sworn to personally Cat and nothing’s changed.
          let me check
          …no, sovereign of moonless nights
          they’re sworn to whoever that is
          not to winter, to moonless nights
          we shall see

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      Great question, and one I’m sure we’ll get an answer to.

      I can’t even remember what have the Hunt been up to while Cat’s in the Ever Dark. Are they currently working with Hakram & Vivienne?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Intriguing.

    Backstory on the drow and Sve.

    “There is always a mistake. … Always.”
    This is so very true. And will probably affect Cat’s attempt to dodge apothesis and remain mortal.

    Hmmm. I wonder how Cat’s new Name/power is going to express itself.
    Also … I’m more convinced than ever that her new Name isn’t going to be a title, it’s likely to be a variation on her own given name of Catherine Foundling.

    Yeah, Akua is seriously going for a redemption play. That’s going to complicate things with Viv.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Daemion

      Redemption stories end in death, usually.

      Akua knows her days are numbered and instead of wheeling and dealing, instead of trying to trick and betray… she decided to go out on her own terms. She chose redemption as her way to die because before she does she gets to burn brightly, be a hero, be admired and most likely, make sure she isn’t ever forgotten.

      Vivienne has nothing to complain about. Cat made a binding promise and now Akua doubled down on it. At this point it would take a miracle for her to survive… and… you need to be a hero for that… oh, I see. Clever girl.

      Liked by 5 people

  8. Kirroth

    I think I’m seeing the shape of things to come. Winter merges with Night and gets passed off to Andronike, who remains an ally. The throne of Callow is abdicated and the crown passed to Vivienne, who also remains an ally. Everything that’s been weighing Cat down for all of Book IV is shed and she’s free to be herself again. Cue her Pivoting to a new name and going on a rampage with her new sidekick Akua as she upsets the plans of both Above and Below.

    This has been the dark period, the middle bit where the protagonist is misled and distracted by a path they’re not suited for. Now we’re seeing Cat starting to do what she does best again, now that she’s rediscovered herself.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Anon

      Cat made a solemn oath with Vivienne to kill Akua – and while the ‘when’ of that promise is a little vague, even if Vivienne name-transitions, she sure as shit is not going to be okay with Cat palling around with Akua doing ‘heroic’ things.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ah, but Akua isn’t asking Cat to break that oath. Even if Cat were to shed it with the mantle of Winter and no longer be literally bound, it’s still standing between them. After all, Akua surfing on the tsunami of heroism doesn’t have nearly as much oomph to it if she does it to save her life/unlife, or even to escape torment. Akua’s bet has always been ‘bad ending but a hell of a ride before it’, and this is basically the ultimate expression of that. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the payoff 😀

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Daemion

    I think it needs to be pointed out that Cat never owned or controlled all of Winter.

    She took over one half of one of the Fae realms. As mentioned in the story, there are lots more (possibly infinite?). She didn’t really earn it or conquer it or claim it, she simply got left with it because she was the last Winter noble remaining. I think that contributed in her never being able to use the power properly.

    Which means… the Winter she was using until now was not infinite. It was limited, probably in more ways than one. She had a lot, but it was never without end.
    This is supported by the fact that Sve Noc managed to meld Night and Winter. If Winter had been unlimited power, then the Night would have been a drop of oil in the ocean, not something that can be used to take control.

    I believe becoming immortal isn’t all that difficult, staying yourself and keeping your power intact for millennia is the challenge. Neither Winter nor Night seem to be solution here but perhaps the combination of them does? Maybe with some additional souls thrown in for stabilization?

    What I’m most curious about is how Akua becoming a hero will help. She’s dead. Just a soul bound to an object and keyed into Winter, which is dead and broken now too. She has no claim to either power and simply no power period. At most she can annoy people but that’s already Cat’s shtick.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      There have been plenty of non-coporal entities that have aided heroes in all sorts of stories. Talking Swords, helpful fairies, friendly ghosts. Akua was always powerful and fearful for her mental prowess and story meta-knowledge, not her bench presses, so this is hardly a problem.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      Cat did some of her best work when dead. Akua just saved Cat while dead. Don’t count em out just cause they stopped having a pulse.

      Don’t think of Winter as infinite in the omnipotent sense, but rather in interms of stamina. Using winter, while it can cause changes, doesn’t wear out winter. It doesn’t tire, it doesn’t get “drained” merely from use. You can use winter for infinite uses infinite times, up to the whole of winter, and at no point does it lessen in the process. It doesn’t have to rest, it doesn’t need sacrifices or rituals to regenerate, and giving it to more people actually makes it easier to use. The more cannibalistic night fused with it should work very well now that it has a sustainable power source.

      That does not mean, as we’ve seen, it can’t be hurt or otherwise defeated. Cat, far weaker but more innovative, was able to hurt it. Part of this is the same reason I think she did so horribly with the power: She’s a god fighter, ill suited to be a god herself. She fought to maintain what humanity she could even as a self-proclaimed shell of herself (whereas Akua, willing to throw herself into it, did much more much faster). For example, the previous Akua, given the same power, never would have kept having a heartbeat. Cat’s an innovative, ever changing person (commented on more than once, both Malicia and Cordelia have only ever been able to fully figure out who cat used to be and keep encountering somebody different the next time), a horrible choice for a mantle that makes one an unchanging part of the fabric of reality. She owned it, but she was one of the most ill-suited people to do so. I imagine she’ll still have some measure of power at the end of this, if only in a new name, but what’s most important is that we have back a Cat who, even if weaker, is far, far more dangerous.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Am I the only one that had a flashback to the sword and the stone when Merlin and Madam Mim are having a fight the rules are set out and Mim keeps cheating and turning into predators agains the shapes that Mim is. (chicken for caterpillar, cat for a mouse).

        Similar to Cat he changes into a small germ that attacks Mim internally like how Cat turned into a small shard and plunged into Sve.

        I was dare I say giddy.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. IDKWhoitis

    I, for one, would happily embrace Akua if she turned her cloak.

    Not only because it would shut down potential redemption bullshit from the Pilgrim, but because Akua is one of the most well developed, multi-faceted characters I’ve read in a while.

    I know Viv may never truly forget what happened, but if Akua brings back an intact Cat, she maybe able to forgive. Because let’s be real, everyone was worried about Winter Cat, and Cat wouldn’t be able to return to Callow without Akua’s help. She would have been unmade and ended long ago in the Underdark, especially just now with that Kill Steal from a god.

    Also, I’m still hoping for Cat to go after Akua, as insane and unlikely it is to happen.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Anon

      I’d say Cat’s still more likely to go after Vivienne than Akua – not only does she have an actual body, but she doesn’t have the emotional guilt of lusting after someone who murdered thousands of her countrymen.

      Also, Vivienne was willing to fuck Akua over ‘almost’ to the point of letting Callow burn by leaving Hakram by himself. She swore a solemn oath with Cat on Akua’s eventually being killed off for good by Cat. That isn’t really something you walk back.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Oh I know Viv is more likely than Akua, but one can still dream.

        Also, Akua and Cat have hella a lot of history. The MADE each other, forged their names and positions off of each other. I would also say Akua is certainly more close to Cat than Viv probably will ever be, and understanding on some level what Cat is made of. While her replication of Cat’s personality in the Crusdae arc wasnt flawless, she did come a lot closer than Winter Cat did.

        Liked by 3 people

            1. Jane

              I can only imagine how much controversy a well-written Cat/William route would create – because people love a good romance, but seeing Cat go Hero for it? It’d be a vicious fight every single time someone brought it up.

              Then again, as obvious a spot as he fills, his arc might be too early to appear in a VN… Same with Killian, though it’d feel weird to leave out her one girlfriend who appeared in the work.

              I guess it would have to feature Akua, Vivienne, Indrani, Masego, and Hakram. Balance really calls for one more male love interest, but if we’re including Akua and Vivienne, it would really have to be post-Liesse, and there aren’t really a lot of men who have been that close to her (be it in a positive or negative relationship) after that…

              Of course, we could still start introduce them as side-story DLC afterwards – or maybe even go beyond that to include some really eyebrow raising love interests, like Cordelia, Kairos, Malicia, and Larat; characters that don’t have even the vaguest hint of a spark implied in their relationship, even with shipping goggles on, but who would no doubt be entertaining to see and explain.

              …Aw, now I really want to see such a game 😦 .

              Liked by 4 people

              1. IDKWhoitis

                I think it would depend on how long or deep one would write it. It could start Pre-Liesse, and then play around with the four storylines that we glimpsed there as potential outcomes that would set Cat on some very different routes.

                I wouldn’t want Winter Cat to be the protagonist of it, as she’s emotionally deep inside. However all that waffling about what to do certainly does remind me of a MC of a VN.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Jane

                  In terms of structure, I think it would be best if it covered roughly the events of a single book in length, with most of it tied to a common route but with Cat choosing to spend time with a given love interest after every major story beat, where they talk over what just happened and grow closer to each other; the storyline should split in the final arc, though, as Cat makes some big decision, either concerning the plan or concerning her goals depending on the route, that focuses on the particular synergy she has with the person she’s closest to. This should strike a good balance between the romance and an independent plot, I think.

                  I think if we warped the plot a bit so that Vivienne joins up a bit earlier (or just starts trusting the Woe a bit earlier, though that would be harder), Book Three would be a suitable Cat to adapt – her personality isn’t Winterfied, all of the Woe are with her, but things are still in flux enough that their interpersonal dynamics could go in a lot of different directions. It means no Akua (well, it could be done in a very different form, I guess, but… Pre- and post-Fall Akua are very different things in this context.), but it would also allow us to include Killian.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. IDKWhoitis

                    Personal preference, but I never really liked Killian. Never particularly disliked something, but I kinda always felt they were on the periphery of things. She was Cat’s first love, but the way she exited stage left lacked much grief on my end.

                    I do agree Book 3 is probably the best to adapt, and instead of forcing Viv into the position quicker, we could just slightly augment the ending of Book 3 to make Winter a bit less static and all consuming as we know it. Alienation being always on is what made me dislike Winter Cat, but having more of a gradient on Winter’s influence would allow Book 4 events to be part of the plot.

                    Like

                    1. Jane

                      Mmm… It’s just that stopping Akua’s plot (or not) would make a very tidy ending for the VN, and one that could be adapted to a number of unique routes. If we were to go into Book Four, I can’t really think of a good place to end things – and even if there were, it could easily make things too long.

                      Liked by 1 person

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        Thing is, Vivienne has no interest in having sex with Cat. Cat seems very sure she’s straight and not into girls, which likely means she’s already taken that swing and missed. Akua, on the other hand, has repeatedly expressed interest in having sex with Cat. That puts her ahead by a pretty good margin, especially now that Cat can no longer simply shapeshift into a man if all else fails. I’m not saying she ever would have, but it was theoretically possible before.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            Depends really. I am not getting into trans/generfluid politics or personal identity issues here. Rather just going with something that, problematic or not, has been in stories before.

            Namely:
            “I am into you. Wanna hump?”
            “You are the wrong gender for me to have interest in that.”
            “I am also a shapeshifter. Bam! I’m now in a body more appealing to you, yes?”
            “…” (various levels of interest/horror/revulsion/ here depending on story)

            I’m not saying that Cat see’s herself as a man, just that she could be one for a night if she wanted to.

            Like

      3. Is it possible that in aworld where Cat is carving her soul she could consume Akua and have her as some sort of symbiotic component keeping her hummanity intact as a sort of life support system for the fragile being that is Cat. We are missing the point that AKua like Cat is breaking away from her bonds and becoming more fluid.

        She could died like Cat and be born anew.

        She would walk away a ner being muttering “Akua made her mark, it is time Abua no makes hers”

        Like

      4. Cat/Akua is approximately 100% more likely than Cat/Vivienne.
        Because Vivienne is straight.
        And Cat and Akua both have what can only be described as a crush on each other, and sexual tension has to be cut with a knife when they’re up close.

        One of these is already canon, the only question is ‘will Catherine ever actually SLEEP with her’. The other is one-sided pining after a best friend.

        Like

    2. Looking forward to the day when Akua wags a finger in some Hero’s face because, while she, like, totally is on board with the spreading of sunshine and the fostering of puppies, the whole painting smiles on other people’s souls Is, like, really bad, you know?

      I should know, dude/tte: I was a Villain, remember. I know bad when I see it. *smile sweetly*

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        “Oh, are we all falling into Evil villiany? Unexpected at this point, but I’ve been on this horse before. I can teach you all how to do the laugh correctly.”

        “We are not falling into Evil Villany at all! The angel’s benevolent aura wll…”

        “Rape souls. It will rape every soul it falls upon. I’ve mutilated quite a few souls myself, trust me, there’s no appreciable difference what way that soul is reshaped. Now your laugh is entirely too soft, so we need to get started right away, if we are going to have you stand on the tallest tower in the city cackling when your evil plan comes to fruition.”

        Liked by 6 people

      1. Anon

        Wandering Bard.

        Honestly, with the way Cat is insisting on staying Mortal, I imagine the Gods below will stick it to her via making her unaging as a last laugh if (when) she wins, even if she doesn’t get all the winter-night power.

        Unless she manages to somehow pull off the ‘gain the power with none of the drawbacks’ via having Sve Noc become an ally without one of them dying, but that seems both out of character and not where the story is going – the gods below have too much at stake riding on this.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Evil Named are already relatively unaging. I really doubt she’s about to get a heroic name now. But she’ll still be just a life-prolonged mortal, and there’s a lot of differences there, namely in how easy it is die, and according to cat, how much more you actually live.

          Liked by 4 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Not true immortal, just unaging. In theory immortality is poor by comaprison, especially since, as you’ve said, most don’t even live longer than a regular mortal would. Becase they are lacking an answer for all those other ways you can die, and are more likely to be introduced to said ways because of their life choices. Named Cat would have died several times during this story arc alone. Winter Immortality picked up a lot of slack.

              Like

    1. SilentWatcher

      That would be terrible. again having Cat Mortal is a mark of bad writing, to make the main character weaker so he can be again in the position of the Underdog. The sword of truth is such an example. Even when she ends up with a god on her leash it would be even worse, because borrowed power is even more unsatisfying to read then no power at all. Also narrative Concerns, everything dangerous, which was leashed, will sooner or later break free.

      If she manages to claim everything back, the question remains, if the night part of her power makes her weaker against powers of Above. Winter was not affected before (The undead could not be banished with holy juice)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        What are you talking about? That sword was clearly dangerous and she was right to do what she did to it. It would have killed her. Her cloak just did, since it managed to be a subversion, but it’s been clearly stated that magic artificats are a really fucking dangerous thing, at best being unavailable at a time of great need and at worst being the reason for the trouble. A villian wielding an angel-forged sword of a hero that can cut anything? That thing would have killed her during or before Kaleidoscope.

        As to her being mortal again: she’s never been more dangerous. Weaker is an acceptable trade-off to be more dangerous. That’s not bad writing, that’s sensible character progression. She never liked Winter. She now has an out, and she’s taking it. Whatever she becomes, it’s going to be mortal. There’s no way she could take it back simply because she wanted to once she became immortal, stories dont’ let you take life-altering decisions so easily. But Cat is doing here what she’s always done: using the stories to her advantage, including the ones that should be her doom. A great evil has supplanted another great evil and taken the power! But now Cat keeps saying “Mortal no matter what.” Even if she takes the power back for herself directly, it will be in some way where she uses it instead of being it.

        The key here is to NOT leash it. It’s not a leash if the power/monster is okay with what’s going on. And how interesting, Cat is making nice with Sve Noc’s other half…

        Liked by 4 people

  11. Antoninjohn

    When Cat took Winter for the first time the Winter King said that she was apart of the Winter court till “her last dying breath, clawing at the dark”, Cat’s not going to lose Winter that easy

    Liked by 9 people

  12. Nickyd5

    Well that probably wasn’t the best decision, in fact I would say it’s a stupid one. I mean “mortal to the end” is a nice sentiment everything, (except not really) but I don’t see how all that power she let go was the best decision. Just being mearly human and mortal, isn’t going to help her when the grey pilgrim, the sword saint, and everyone else they can gather up, come to kill her, everyone she knows and even remotely cares about, and then proceed to carve up Callow again, because she was to weak to stop them, and because and wanted to feel human again. She was barley strong enough not to die instantly when she first fought the sword saint, and even then she was smacked around like she was an unruly child, and was losing limbs left, right and center, and that was with winters mantel, now she doesn’t even have that.

    This isn’t even getting into the fact they have black, the closest thing to father she ever had, locked up and are probably going to execute him soonish, and she will probably be to weak to stop it, and maybe not even get there in time because she maybe doesn’t have access to the fay gates anymore. Hopefully she can get some measure of power back, so she can at salvage something from this catastrophe, and remain somewhat relevant.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sablonus

      You’re forgetting one itsy bitsy teeny weeny micromolecular but ever so crucial detail.

      Cat’s world runs on waves of literal narrative and deus ex machinas out the ass.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Jane

      On the one hand, yes, she did give up literally goddess-like power. On the other hand, though…

      She realized that she was being far more affected by the principle alienation than she had realized, and that it was dulling her mind – her single greatest asset. When she faces the Heroes, the Gods Above are going to be putting a lead weight on the scales; when she faces the Dead King or Malicia, she’ll be facing someone who already outplayed her. Matching power for power isn’t how she’s going to get through this mess – but that’s the kind of thinking Apotheosis forces on her.

      How much value is there really in taking the power to win today’s battles when it guarantees losing the war? That’s the kind of reasoning that caused her to reject Bonfire earlier, and which justifies rejecting Apotheosis today.

      Even if she walks away with nothing but the Drow (who don’t actually have to follow her if she’s no longer Sovereign of Winter, but I’m assuming that’s going to be resolved somehow), they have enough tricks to make up for her powerdown – and are diversified enough that Pilgrim can’t just knock her out by disrupting a single (awesomely powerful) spell. It’s enough to keep her in the game.

      Of course, I expect she’ll still walk away with some personal power, somehow, but… Even without going meta, I think from her perspective, it was still the right choice. So long as she has some reason to think she’s keeping the Drow.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. SilentWatcher

        Doing the right thing regardless of negative consequences just so she can masturbate to her principles is a hero thing. get over it Cat and grab that power of Damnation

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Aston W

        Take the power but remain in the game.

        Cat’s insane enough to want to break the game. In Callow. Break Names etc.

        That’s her purpose as a main character. She IS Meta.

        Time for a reset or time skip. Thanks EE.

        Liked by 4 people

    3. Novice

      If this was any other universe I would agree with you but this is a universe run by narrativium. A mortal going against powerful beings can pack a hell a lot more punch than they rationally should have depending on what story is currently running. This arguably can even have a better chance than matching power for power against demigods/minor gods/demons/angels. It’s all about the right story, as insane as it is.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Exactly!

        So far, Catherine won every time by being /right/. She did the right thing in every major conflict she had (no I am not counting the Lone fucking Swordsman in first Summerholm as a major conflict). She forced out the invasion of Callow despite it being backed up by two strongest heroes the crusade had because of what Tariq and Laurence noticed: she came back at the last moment to help her cornered allies, and it is a hero story, one where the hero wins. She genuinely WAS defending Callow from a foreign invasion motivated by territorial gain, and that was what tipped the scales.

        Refusing to play Below’s game here is the only winning move, on the broader game board. The practical way to be Evil is to not be. She was only ever going to pay for gaining power, more and more, and rejecting it gives her back the hold on the ‘underdog scrappy orphan’ story, which is what had allowed her to grab hold of Winter in the first place, way back when.

        Liked by 4 people

    4. Aotrs Commander

      Problem with Winter was, it was making her Story-vulnerable the more of it she used. I didn’t even really notice myself until last chapter how much Cat had become… Slightly less Cat since Winter.

      Shit.

      I just realised the points – the only couple of points – I found myself at odds with Cat were while she was under the mantle; around Second Liesse – and just after Winter unlocked. So now I wonder how much of that was Cat and how much of that was the influence of Story via Winter, unconscously, before she got bit of a handle on it.

      So, er, yeah.

      While going back to mortal is not a good move, it may be, ironically, a move which gives her better chances than the alternative. She’ll likely have to work harder, though, since she’s managed to attract all the attention and there comes a point all the cunning in the world can’t match a certain level of raw force.

      Maybe hero!Akua will get WinterNight and be Cat’s new attack… I was going to say “dog” but that hardly seems right.

      (That’ll piss Viv off no end…)

      Liked by 3 people

    5. Insanenoodlyguy

      Except narratively It is exactly what is going to help her with them. You are thinking in terms of a direct fight. This less alienated Cat is likely just going to not have one of those.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. RanVor

        On the other hand, the more Cat tries to avoid the direct confrontation, the more likely she’s going to be forced into it. I mean, when was the last time things went the way Cat wanted them to go?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Let’s see.
          – Callow not, in fact, getting invaded on two ends, as Cat made a truce with the crusaders and Black held the Vales
          – the Dead King drawing crusaders away from chipping away at Vales without plunging Cat’s narrative karma into negatives by having it be her doing
          – the dwarves making an agreement with her to fund her and refuse to sell to her enemies
          – the drow actually congregating around her
          – Akua’s sudden yet inevitable un-betrayal

          Catherine has things go her way more often than not when she plays hero, and she plays hero more often than not.

          She’s only going to get better at it without principle alienation, even if she has to bleed for it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. RanVor

            Yes, but how many things have gone wrong in the meantime? Cat might usually manage to win at the end, but she never wins cleanly. She might find a way to survive the confrontation, but to outright avoid it? That’s not how the Guide works.

            Liked by 1 person

  13. Burdi

    “But Akua bestowed upon me a chord, an invisible string, and through it my fading senses expanded”

    i thought it is maybe the key to apotheosis, the secret how akua rip off her own soul yet fully functioned as named with all her aspect intact. (refers to book 2 after first liesse) even masego marveled at her working.
    she maybe already learn from the Kabbalis Book of Darkness how to turn herself to an essence with clear mind without dying, she already free of immortal flesh from the beginning minus great mantle of power with immortal existence to anchor her soul (she used obsidian cylinder). neshamah anchor his soul to the hell, cat to winter but still with her mortal body so its incomplete. now she bestowed that to catherine, freed her from her mortal flesh so her apotheosis will full complete.
    so the key to apotheosis is get out of your body without dying then bind your soul to something that has immortal existence.
    Akua taking great risk here, chose to risk brutal dead in the end provided that she got her philosophy answer, trying to free herself from her old cage, live fully and died gloriously

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Nafram

    If this is really a crucible set forth by the Gods Below, then whatever it is that happens, the victor will come out greater than she was before their conflict began (we assume Cat is taking the win here). Even if she remains mortal, she will still be in a more powerful position than before

    Liked by 4 people

  15. SMHF

    It’s good point Akua brought up!
    I mean the end goal for Cat is pretty much “World Peace”. She just uses Villainous methods to twist people arms to achieve it. But even though World Peace is as heroic a goal as it gets, she’s still technically a Villain.
    So who knows, maybe Akua can technically become a Hero by saving puppies all day even though her end goal’s gonna be to Rule The World!
    Hey if anyone can do it, it’s this crazy bitch!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Is Cat even really going to be a villain after this? Her meta-story already was one of a hero, as Tariq and Laurence had noted, and she’s spitting in the face of Below by refusing their bargain, here.

      There are two levels on which the hero/villain distinction works in Guideverse. The first is the straightforward magic power one: what empowers you, Above or Below? The second, however, is more powerful: what story are you a part of? What effect are you having on the world? How are people going to remember you? Above and Below are matched in their pissing match, but in the narrative, the hero always wins.

      Oh, usually it’s the Above’s champions that are doing what’s right and claiming the hero mantle in the narrative as well. But doing the right thing has been Cat’s signature since Marchford (where it did not even give her an advantage as demons don’t care about narrative), and so the narrative is backing her.

      Akua is hoping to hitch a ride on that as well, and I don’t think she’s wrong. As long as she stands with Cat, at the very least she’ll get a glorious view.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. KageLupus

        Cat and the Woe have always walked that fine line between sides. For the longest time Cat was simply the Squire, which was repeatedly stated to be a transitional name that could either go Good or Evil. She never actually transitioned into Black Queen as a Name because of Winter fuckery, and while you can argue that Winter is a prototype for Evil I think there is room to argue, especially since she also never fully embraced the mantle.

        Same thing with Zeze being the Apprentice. Transitional name that could normally lead to something like Warlock or Good Wizard, but instead he gets to be Heirophant. A Name which is either new or very rare, and which focuses on studying Creation as a construct. I don’t really think that it falls into the Good or Evil camps. If Masego had his way he would dissect the Gods Above and Below just to see what made them tick.

        Archer, Thief, and Adjutant are all Neutral names as well. Thief hung out with Heroes, but William was an asshole and she readily admits that his plan was as bad as anything Cat pulled off. Archer is here for a good time, not a long time, and the Woe have nothing but interesting fights lined up in their future. And Hakram would follow Cat through every hell and back because he believes in the world she wants to make.

        The thing that makes Cat and the Woe so dangerous is that they are actively throwing off the status quo. None of them care about Above or Below, and their Names all reflect that. Cat wants to break centuries of narrative by making Callow truly free instead of a vassal of Good or Evil nations. The simplest way to do that seems to be picking a fight with both sides and then making up the rest as she goes.

        Liked by 8 people

  16. And jsut as I was thinking Cat was on her way to become the immortal Dread Empress Irritant, our beloved author pulls a chapter like this…
    Go, Akua and Traitorous!
    My God, what have I said?
    More seriously, that promises a return to the Cat we loved to support in the first books, the one who killed, betrayed and screwed everyone one way or another.
    The Crusaders felt terrified by the Battle of the Camps? I think they may need to change their pants for the woman who was once the Squire is back and ready to kick the teeth of the opposition…
    Yeah, no wonder there’s going to be a battle named the Prince’s Graveyard…
    Nice twist of preferring mortality over immortality…Catherine Foundling may very well be the first soul to refuse apotheosis and unlimited power, screwing the plans of the Gods Below…

    Maybe there will be a new name…like Night Queen…

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Aotrs Commander

    Oh my fracking Lichmemaster!

    Akua IS serious!

    *Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!*

    Wow.

    I mean, just wow.

    That is priceless.

    I have seen people backed into the corner and go “fuck it, Evil.” (I can even relate to that.)

    I have *never* seen anyone just go “fuck it, Good” before. (For a given value of good… Which alarmingly is arguable whether ot not it is more or less Evil than the current “Good.”)

    This is just… Amazing.

    Liked by 9 people

  18. KageLupus

    So, here’s a question:

    What happens to all of the Drow Cat has been collecting, and especially the ones that she has given titles to? We were told very specifically that they all swore their oaths to the Sovereign of Moonless Nights and not to Catherine Foundling. She had her own long term plan for passing the mantle on but that kind of presumes that the mantle actually exists. Sve Noc seems to have put that presumption on shaky ground. Catherine admits she is no longer the Sovereign and that Winter and Night are currently being melded together. Even if she comes out of this with the full power of the new domain behind her I doubt she could get her title back. And Cat explicitly states she doesn’t want to play that game again.

    Let’s assume that the ending here is Cat staying mortal and freeing the other half of Sve Noc. The new Sve then owes Cat one or something and gives her a contingent of Drow to take back to the surface. That still leaves her titled Drow in a kind of limbo. They swore to obey the Sovereign of Moonless Nights, a title which no longer exists. They also agreed to follow the Liesse Accords, but unless Cat has those written down somewhere that is just a vague future guideline. And even if they are codified somewhere does that really count if they aren’t put into practice?

    Cat kept her hold on Winter even after that court was dissolved. Would a lesser title like Lord of Silent Steps be able to do the same, or would that power just slip away? Or would the titled Drow keep their power but have it shift around since they were already mixing Winter and Night? It would be interesting to see Ivah become the new highest-ranking member of the Winter Court, just like it would be interesting to see it keep a title but have it change to something else.

    Cat killing proto gods is cool and all, but I feel like I have more in common with Masego after this chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      I feel like considering the other power is called “Night” it’s ruler still being called “Soverign of Moonless Nights” could still work and still take. It’s conveniently unnecessary to change the title.

      Liked by 4 people

  19. Kel the Seer

    I am excited to see where this lands for Cat.

    Will she remain “mortal” but Named? Maybe the Grey Knight who owes no allegiance to above or below and regularly skews all of their plans?

    Will she be forced to once again bind the now larger power of Night-bloated on Winter as a sacrifice to protect something bigger?

    I am still rooting for a Queen of Air and Darkness out of this one, though it need not be Cat. Akua could still steal this at a critical and dramatically appropriate point while staying true to herself. I’d also accept a sane Sve with an army of Drow relocating to protect the borders of their new homeland, Callow.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. RanVor

        The thing is, the Queen of Callow is a heroic Name, and that’s very bad. How bad? Well, everything-Cat-has-strived-for-since-the-beginning-goes-up-in-smoke bad. To take up a heroic Name, Cat would have to surrender her agenda and subordinate herself to the Gods Above, who are very much anti-Liesse Accords and pro-Let’s-have-the-bad-guys-invade-Callow.

        Like

  20. magesbe

    I’m going to theorize that Cat will leave here with a Name like “Queen of Night,” or “Ruler of Night,” or (less catchy) “Night Queen.” I’m not positive by any means, but it would fit. Heck, it might even give her enough of a connection to her last title “Sovereign of the Moonless Night” that the Drow can’t just fuck off and leave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that would be AMAZING.
      She’d probably have more limited / narratively regulated access to it, but it’ll only work out in her favor with how narrativium works in this universe

      Like

  21. Cat’s plan is even smarter than you might think. Exactly how can you justify a crusade against someone who ISN’T a villain? If Cat goes back as a mortal with no name The Grey Pilgrim will be grasping at straws to justify invading and destroying Callow. Every refusal and condemnation thus far no longer has relevance against Cat and her ideals.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Actually, Grey Pilgrim will not just lose his /pretext/ but also his /actual reason/ for opposing her. He wants to support Cordelia, but at this point I think her and Cat are natural allies in this bullshit.

      The crusade is collapsing on itself, one way or another, and Cat no longer being a villain will rob it of its last remains of narrative momentum if it even had any left.

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  22. werafdsaew

    Several thoughts:

    1. Winter is dead, long live WinterNight.
    2. Significant portions of this arc focuses on Cat’s increasing mastery over Winter and her new Court of Winter. It would be extremely unsatisfying If all that becomes obsolete, either because Winter knowledge doesn’t transfer over to WinterNight, or if Cat never gets WinterNight.
    3. Is Cat with WinterNight still SOMN? If not, or if she gets a Name instead of WinterNight, then swearing the oaths to SOMN instead of Catherine Foundling is a huge mistake. Again unsatisfying.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. fbt

    as much as I like the series, and characters, something has been on the back of my brain lately. Cat isn’t particularly brilliant, doesn’t make great choices, doesn’t have any intrinsic advantage, nor does she create such in any way that can be viewed as a reliably knowable & workable mechanic. She mostly messes up/fails yet comes out more powerful via rationalizations that were not obvious/necessarily true. Over and over. Honestly, it sometimes feels like Cat’s only strength is Plot Armor; she benefits for no apparent reason other than because she’s the protag? Idk, maybe just a mood of mine! I do like the series, and love many of the quieter bits in particular (i’m partial to relationship bits) and snarky interactions. Ignore this freely, I’m probably being an idjit! It happens a lot. It’s great writing, and I really do like it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, you’re not wrong!

      Cat definitely has gotten through things so far mostly by power of Plot Armor.

      Literally.

      In-universe.

      This is my theory: providence can be granted by Heavens to those who serve them, but it is trumped by the providence granted by the narrative to those who actually really are doing the right thing.

      Cat’s real power is being on the right side of history, which is how she gathered her allies. Akua here is the purest demonstration of it, changing sides to be on the winning one. She sees Catherine as a hero, and following her as a possible path to redemption, and I don’t think it’s because she’s bad at evaluating stories 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s incorrect. Good does not have any real control over the narrative. Good’s supposed narrative strength developed as the “good Good guys beat the bad Villains”, who did unquentionably bad things as Villains in this world demonstrably do (flying castles, plagues etc). The narrative doesn’t discriminate between sides. The weight of actions can skew the other way as demonstrated by the functionally Evil Cat in book 2 drawing the sword from the stone and getting her resurrection which is establsihed narratively as a reward for “saving the day”, as Cat observed, the angels had to give her her resurrection because that is what the Narrative demanded of the angels. This was perhaps ironically because that was how the narrative developed because the angels had done that previously. Above doesn’t have any real influence on the Narrative, in fact nobody has demonstrated an ability to change the narrative outside the Bard which is its own entity and has only eevr demonstrated the ability to establish narrative weight as she did vs the Dead King.

        The higher an entity appears to be in the pecking order of power the greater the power the narrative seems to have on them. It might be that the narrative is in reality a side effect of attempts to prevent the Gods above and below from directly interfering with the world and thus ruin the entire point of the question the world was created to answer.

        Consider the Narrative and the providence that surrounds it to be a piece of clay that is slowly moulded over time as different stories (shapes) are pressed into it. Over time it gains a form and structure and as it does so it hardens. Eventually similar stories are forced to follow the mould instead of shaping it themselves. That is what the Narrative is. The Dead King and Interlocutor commented that the Narrative was not what it is currently back when they started out.

        The Black Knight and Cat both use this to their advantage, finding the “shape” of cetain stories and trying to manipulate and change them to fit certain narratives which would lead to certain outcomes. For example, the Champion vs the Monster is an ancient story that has been establsihed via many myths and fairy tales such as Heracles, Beowulf and Sigurd. Captain was fighting a figure who’s identity and origin embodies those old heroes and so could only lose in that fight once she transformed and became the monster to Champion’s well, champion.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. Unmaker

    Refusing a second apotheosis. Spitting defiance in the face of a monstrous evil while fighting the very schemes of the Gods Below. Sounds suspiciously like Good acts. And none of Catherine’s Named followers have explicitly Evil names. Going truly Good would be almost impossible, but taking a mostly-neutral Name seems like a possibility. The Gods Below wanted the only option to be who won because that would continue and expand Evil no matter what, but if Cat doesn’t take up the mantle of the Coldest Night, there’s a whole lot of power out there waiting to be claimed. A new Name that didn’t tap that would be surrounded by enemy power. I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Unmaker

    Another thought: What is Neshamah going to make of an immortal who gets it taken from them and then refuses to take it up again? He will certainly think less of her, but does the precedent alone give him any sort of fear? When the first god dies, the rest learn fear.

    Liked by 1 person

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