Chapter 79: As Above

“Hubris and wearing a helmet are not mutually exclusive. Here, allow me to demonstrate.”
– Dread Emperor Abominable, the Thrice-Struck

 

“I’ll be honest,” I said. “I kind of expected to get to the bottom of memory lane before we ran into each other. You, uh, took me by surprise.”

Andronike – Sve Noc’s slightly less unreasonable half, or at least that was the hope – did not lean into the feeble attempt at defusing the tension. Fine, I thought, be that way. We can be all grim about this, and not even mention that right now in a very real sense I’m inside your sister. There was room for an even filthier joke in there, and really where was Indrani when you needed her?

“I expected you to move from shadow to shadow until you reached Tvarigu,” the entity mildly replied. “Not to raise an army of slaves and declare war upon my entire race. This has been, one might say, a year for surprises.”

I was really taking a verbal beating on the whole slave thing tonight, huh. Was this what if felt like to be the Akua of a situation?

“Subtle has never been my strength,” I admitted. “It was a bad habit even before Winter filled my veins with pure ‘walk off dismemberment’ juice. Not sure I can shake it at this point.”

Or even that I should, to be honest. I’d run into one dead end after another since I started trying to play queenly games with my opponents. It wasn’t that I was awful at those – with the Woe at my back, I’d made sport of my opposition within Callow – so much that my enemies were just outright better at them. It was no excuse to cease learning, but on the other hand had it not been a kind of arrogance to believe that with so little schooling I could stand on equal footing with the likes of Hasenbach or Malicia when it came to their preferred methods? My own were brutish and clumsy things, but in the end I’d accomplished more with bastard ways than proper ones.

“It seems like tonight it is your flaw that will be doing the shaking, then,” Andronike indifferently commented.

“Night’s not over yet,” I said.

“Fascinating,” Sve Noc said, though she didn’t sound fascinated in the slightest. “Even knowing that my sister pursues you, you would still waste your time on idle banter. You are quite peculiar.”

My fingers clenched.

“You’re not stopping her,” I realized. “Or stopping mind-time, whatever the Hells this is. She’s still coming.”

“And will annihilate you the moment she finds you,” Andronike agreed. “It is inevitable. Even if you flee, eventually there will be nowhere left to run.”

“Could you not, uh,” I eloquently said, gesturing vaguely.

Silver eyes flicked at me, unamused.

“Why should I?” she replied.

The memory was still unfolding in front of us, the two sisters speaking conspiracy in hushed whispers, but that wasn’t the fire I needed to be paying attention to at the moment.

“I want to make a deal,” I said.

“So I assumed,” Andronike said. “That is usually the way, when one is staring defeat in the eye. What I wonder is why you’d presume I would be willing to indulge you.”

“This isn’t going to go like you think it is,” I said. “If she eats Winter-”

“The sum of your knowledge on this matter is animal instinct and second hand crumbs of understanding from the heir to over a millennium of abject failure,” Sve Noc cut in. “While your fumbling attempts to sow discord in ignorance might amuse another, I am not fond of such crude forms of humour.”

I grit my teeth.

“First off, Hierophant is a fucking treasure,” I said. “Sure he’s not perfect, but he’s kind and smart as a whip and he tries his best. Don’t shit talk my friends, it’s rude.”

Andronike simply stared at me, then shrugged.

“The hourglass is emptying,” she reminded me.

“I’ll be expecting an apology later,” I said, equally unmoved. “As for the other thing, it’s no secret I’m not the most learned in things sorcery. But you know what I do have a knack for? Stories. And we’re treading one right now, Andronike. You want to guess how it ends for the two of you?”

“This is puerile,” Sve Noc noted. “You are the one who sought me out for conversation.”

“It’s been a long my whole life,” I grunted. “Humour me.”

She did not reply. I sighed and was I about to prod the conversation forward when I felt the reason she’d not spoken up: a tremor shivering across the ground. The other half was catching up.

“We’ll finish this later,” I told her. “I need to strategically manoeuver out of here.”

There was no open stretch to leap down this time, which complicate things a bit, but the room was splayed before me in full. Including, luckily, the door. I hobbled forward, trying to spare my bad leg, and tugged it open before going into the dark.

“Come on,” I muttered, limping forward. “Give me what I need.”

There was no winning this with power, I knew. The moment I was caught I’d be swatted into oblivion, Andronike watching with mild interest as my soul was obliterated by her incensed sister. Even our thrilling little chase earlier had seen me on the defensive almost the entire time, only Akua’s intervention giving me an opening to strike. Even if I returned to the pit fight, even if I somehow managed to defy the odds and devour her before she devoured me, it would be an empty victory. I’d go right back to being an imitation of myself, only with a second kind of poison running through my veins. I needed to mold the situation so that at least half of Sve Noc wanted me to win, and so far on that front I was swinging at mist. I didn’t have good enough a grasp of what moved the sisters, and it wasn’t like idle chatter was going to get me here. Somehow I doubted the legendary power of stilted small talk would allow me to turn this around. Fortunately, I could skip the middle man and have a direct look at their – hers, maybe, for I was not sure if these were shared or purely Komena’s – memories. I’d been hoping for another pivot, hard decisions taken behind closed doors, but what I got instead was a battle.

The end of one anyway.

Komena was easy enough to pick out from the rest of the soldiers, as her pauldrons were a different set of sculpted obsidian but the rest of her armour had not changed. She was standing among a small band of drow officers, the lot of them idling behind another drow at the edge of a steep promontory overlooking a city. One I did not recognize, it bore saying. The signatures of drow architecture were there, the bridges and complicated segmentations in height, but it wasn’t anywhere I’d been before. This looked like a victory, I thought, yet the mood among the officers was grim. Unlike any other drow city I’d seen this one had walls – four interlocking sets of them, with tall bastions towering over – and beneath those there was a thick carpet of corpses. Many of them drow, but there was no small amount of dwarves to match them. Given that the city still stood and the likely invading dwarven army was nowhere in sight, the Empire Ever Dark was master of the field. Yet below in the winding city streets I could see soldiers retreating in haste, forcing aside panicking civilians to make their way out faster.

“Jakrin, Soliva,” the drow closest to the edge said. “Have your javelineers scatter the crowds of the outer district. The delay is dangerous.”

My eyebrows rose in surprise. I knew that voice. Not so long ago it’d been mocking me mercilessly. Under the helm and ornate armour it was difficult to have a look at the drow, but the voice did not lie: I was looking at a younger Mighty Rumena. Was that what it’d meant, when it had said it knew one of the sisters? Komena had actually served under it during the wars? Rumena’s orders drew no enthusiasm, but two officers peeled off to see to their ugly duty.

“The rest of you, see to your sigils,” Rumena said. “Prepare for the retreat north. Dismissed.”

The drow scattered without a word, all save for Komena. She strode forward instead, coming to stand at Rumena’s side, and I limped forward to flank it on the other side. The three of us looked down at the city eating itself alive, silent for a moment.

“Great General Who Shook The-” Komena began.

“Enough, rylleh,” Rumena tiredly replied. “Today I held command over the single greatest military disaster in the history of the Firstborn. Spare me the titles, they now have the ring of mockery.”

“It is not of your making, this war,” the woman who would become Sve Noc said. “I was there when you protested the deep raids. As were all the others.”

“It might not have been such a disaster, had we kept to the humans,” Rumena mused. “But they were too few, too far. We needed nerezim slaves if the hallowing was to happen in our lifetime.”

I let out a sharp breath. It’d been the drow that started the wars with the Kingdom Under? Deep raids, Komena had said, and all the greatest of Praesi horrors had been forged of human sacrifice. Gods, they were fool enough to attack the dwarves for ritual fodder, I realized.

“We had no idea, did we?” Komena murmured. “What they could bring to bear in their fullness of their wroth.”

Rumena stiffened, though not because of her words. It leaned forward, staring intently at the city, and I followed its gaze. It was gazing at some open-roofed temple. The structure was no great wonder, but its floor was glowing red and orange. No, not glowing. Melting. A massive creature with stone-like skin, horned and clawed, ripped free of the floor. Lava poured out in its wake, erupting like a fountain.

“I am told,” Rumena said, sounding darkly amused, “they use the creatures to heat their forges. They are not even soldiers, Komena. They are exterminating our kind with smithing tools.”

Red and orange bloomed over the city, smoke and screams filling the air, and I felt nauseated. Merciless Gods, was this the true face of dwarven warfare? No wonder the drow were still terrified of them after so many centuries. Still, interesting as this was it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Even as the two began discussing how much of their army they’d lose in the evacuation, I stepped forward over the edge of the cliff and embraced the fall.

“Now this is more like it,” I said.

The room was a barely-contained riot of scribbles. Every surface was covered with long equations in numerals I did not recognize and incantations in that near-Crepuscular I’d glimpsed in the first memory. There were piles of some strange string-like parchment scattered over what sparse stone furniture could be found, and Komena was going through one patiently.

“There,” she said, handing it to her sister. “The full transcription.”

Andronike took it absent-mindedly, a brush wet with red paint twirling between her fingers. On the wall in front of her scattered equations had red lines through them, others hasty corrections. The older sister finally glanced at the parchment she’d been given and frowned at what she found.

“It is as you said,” Andronike sighed. “It cannot be sacrifices. It would only worsen the gap.”

“It has to be the molten earth currents,” Komena said. “When we campaigned against the forest humans, they used the very land against us without relying on their own sorcery. The underlying principles should be the same. If the nerezim can master-”

“We are not the nerezim, ‘Mina,” her sister replied, sounding irritated. “In theory you are correct but it would take decades if not centuries of deep study before we could even begin to imitate their mastery.”

“We can’t wait forever, ‘Nike,” the other drow reminded her. “If you’re right, the tipping point was reached last year. The moment inertia ceases carrying us…”

“I know,” Andronike sighed. “I know.”

The second instance had been whispered and on the wings of it all semblance of vitality left the Sage. She looked afraid, tired, and so terribly young. I could sympathize.

“They’re still settling our former colonies,” Komena said quietly. “But it won’t be long before they start advancing again. They’re refused the latest peace offerings.”

“We have greater worries than that,” Andronike murmured.

Her sister’s eyes narrowed.

“You said we should still have five years, before we start dying,” she said.

“And that has not changed,” the older sister replied. “But the Sages are terrified, ‘Mina. They know the consequences of so many lost lives, and they have found no remedy in our lore.”

“Then there is none to be found anywhere,” Komena said. “Who else is there?”

Her sister looked away.

“‘Nike,” Komena repeated slowly. “Who else is there?”

“They have,” the other drow said quietly, “sought the advice of the King in Keter.”

“Shrouded Gods,” Komena snarled. “Have they gone mad? That thing destroyed an entire human realm.”

“And survived,” Andronike said. “Conclusion was reached that our kind as a whole can no longer be preserved. Yet the eldest of the Sages believe that is no reason for them in particular to perish.”

“How many times can a single band of fools damn an entire race?” her sister cursed. “They have to die, heart of my heart. I know you hesitate but we can no longer mass support in the dark. We must strike before they do.”

“If we kill them before we have our remedy, we have slain the Firstborn through them,” Andronike said.

“Gods take them all,” Komena said, passing a hand through her long hair. “As if they hadn’t done enough damage already.”

Her sister paused. After a long moment, she put the parchment back onto the stone table and refreshed her brush with red paint from a pot. Striding forward under Komena’s bemused gaze, she slashed through another few equations and then from that drew lines leading towards a rare empty spot on the wall. On it she wrote a single word in ancient Crepuscular, and this one I knew well: Night.

“We had never considered it before then,” Andronike said. “Neither of us were all that pious, and the Shrouded Gods have even been a capricious lot.”

I didn’t freeze this time. I’d expected her to show up from the moment I’d realized this particular memory would actually be of use to me. She seemed fond, I noted, of standing at my side. As if we were companions, the two of us watching some play unfold together.

“You needed a miracle,” I said. “And the hour had grown too late to quibble as to the source of it.”

Sve Noc blinked in surprise.

“An apt summation,” she conceded. “We did not grasp the full consequences of the bargain, then. We still believed it was a cure we would wrangle.”

“But what you got was a stay of execution,” I said. “The Night keeps them alive only so long as you keep feeding it fresh sacrifices.”

“As a young girl the notion would have disgusted me,” Andronike said. “But we’d both lived through the wars by then. Still, it amuses me in retrospective that it was her who balked at the terms when they were given. She cared for our kind in a way I never truly understood.”

“Why tell me this?” I frowned.

She’d not exactly been forthcoming with details so far.

“You do not understand the scale on which we operate, Catherine Foundling,” Sve Noc chided me. “How intentions fade in the face of eternity. The unmaking is in the details, you see. Allow me an example. I was of the Sages, and so unlike other drow allowed to learn of their history. They were once a great boon to my kind.”

“The same crowd who doomed you once and then tried to have another go at it,” I skeptically replied.

“They were necromancers, at their inception,” Andronike faintly smiled. “Not for conquest, but for peace and learning. They called on the wisdom of our ancestors, allowing the spirits to speak through them. Death, in their eyes, was the only sin – for it robbed the living of the wisdom of those departed.”

I’d seen the later meaning of those words with my own eyes and it had little to do with that gentle sentiment. Justifications only matter to the just, I mockingly thought. Sometimes you looked back and wondered what kind of madness had moved your lips.

“You wonder why I burden you with such tedious history, no doubt,” Sve Noc said. “I lead to a question – you held great power for years, Catherine. What did you build with it?”

Silver eyes studied me.

“What shape will your creations take, after your passing?” she said.

My lips thinned. Legacy. She was speaking of legacy. And what would mine be? Some things transient, other less so. I had changed the face of rule in Callow, left the old nobility to lie in the grave Black had dug for it, but there was no guarantee it would remain there in the decades to come. Tradition had a stubborn pull on my people. The Army of Callow had learned the Wasteland ways of war, but that was Juniper’s work more than mine and without a War College of our own to keep the torch lit the reforms would die with our generation. I’d fought wars, and liked to think most had been worthy of being fought. But that was to preserve, was it not? It was standing still, not advancing. I’d tried to bind more than humans to the Kingdom of Callow, more than born Callowans as well, but the numbers were few. A single goblin tribe, a few legions’ worth of foreign soldiers and officers. Not enough, I suspected, to truly change the threads the Callowan tapestry was woven from. Unpleasant as the thought was, perhaps the most consequential change I had brought to my home was receiving the oaths of the Wild Hunt. And that will die with me. Andronike, I thought, had been inviting me to ponder how what I’d created would twist and turn with time.

Instead I’d found I had created little and less.

But there was one thing, I thought, that I would count as legacy if I could – though it was so very far from done. One dream I was trying to bring into the world.

“I imagine the Accords will grow warped, in time,” I said. “And yet I have faith that even in their worst incarnation they will be better than the current face of Calernia.”

“Faith,” half of Sve Noc said, “is ever a costly affair.”

“Is that how you live with this?” I asked. “You tell yourself you were had, you were beaten, and that’s all there is to it?”

“You should choose your words more carefully,” Andronike coldly said.

Ah, was that emotion peeking through? Finally we were getting somewhere.

“You seem under the impression I’m afraid of you,” I said. “Best discard that, it’ll make this easier on both of us.”

“Do you believe your little shade will save you?” Sve Noc said. “It has hidden well, but not flawlessly.  Whatever her scheme it will end, and there will be no salvation through her bloody hands. Not half as clever as she thought herself to be, in the end.”

“Now, there’s a lot of harsh stuff to say about Akua Sahelian,” I said. “Believe me, I’ve covered a lot of that ground and I’m still discovering fresh pastures. But I’ll say one thing for her: even at her very worst, at least she wasn’t a spineless sack of whining like you.”

This, I reflected, was not my finest attempt at diplomacy. Well, too late to take it back so I might as well roll with it.

“Are you truly so arrogant as to believe I cannot destroy you here?” Andronike said.

“That’s beyond my control,” I shrugged. “You’re pretty much a goddess at this point, you could snuff me out like a candle at any point and there’s nothing I can do about it. But hey, not even an hour ago I lied down to die in the snow. As far as I’m concerned every moment from now on is an unexpected turnout, so if I’m about to be sent Below I might as well speak my mind first. You’re getting on my nerves, y’see, because behind all the bluster you’re a coward.”

“Your opinion is less than dust,” Sve Noc frigidly replied.

“So you got screwed by your deal with the Gods Below,” I said. “Surprise, who could possibly have seen that coming except literally anyone who ever read a history book not written by the violently mad. Still, I’m in no position to cast stones for bad bargains, given my record, so there you get a pass. Where you don’t is that over a thousand years have passed and the Everdark is still a murderous clusterfuck. If anything it’s gotten worse with the years.”

“It is as it must be to maintain the Night,” Andronike said. “Every grim beat of it.”

“And you’re proud of that?” I said. “Of maintaining this? It’s one thing to make a desperate mistake, but you’ve kept it going ever since.”

“Until today,” Sve Noc harshly replied. “Until you delivered yourself into our hands.”

“Can you not learn?” I hissed. “The Gods Below helped you into this mess in the first place and you’re still doing what they want.”

She rocked back in surprise.

“How do you think this goes for you, Andronike?” I pressed. “They throw two bears into pit, you come out with your teeth red and it’s all over? You do this, you give them the victory they want, and they own you all twice over. There’s no slipping a noose you tightened yourself.”

“The debt-” she began.

“- isn’t even the point,” I interrupted heatedly. “You think Winter is going to make things better? Its fae were almost as bad as devils, Andronike. Devils. Let that sink in for a moment. They’ll still have their hand up your ass, only this time it’s permanent instead of a ritual and you will never, ever be rid of it.”

“And being made into your pets is better?” she snarled. “An army of slaves to die for your cause, then sent away in some remote corner to rot when the usefulness has passed.”

“You’re right,” I said.

For the second time tonight, I took her by surprise.

“You’re absolutely right,” I admitted. “If I still bore my mantle I might be ranting about how it’s the lesser evil and at least with a leash on you’d be doing some good, but that’s honestly disgusting. So is what you made of your people, but it doesn’t excuse what I planned to do in the slightest. I was wrong, and it might mean dust to you but I apologize. I treated you like rabid animals in need of shackles instead of a people brutalized by circumstance and I can only be ashamed of it.”

“You are mad,” Andronike said.

There was an undertone of awe to the statement.

“I am angry,” I correcting, baring a grin that was all teeth and defiance. “Truth is, Andronike, I’ve been angry all my life. At the Praesi for owning my people, at my people for being owned. At my father, for being so much less than he could be. At my friends, for even needing someone like me. At myself for the trail of smoking ruins I’ve left in my wake. At my enemies, for just refusing to listen. I’ve been angry for so long that without the anger there’d be nothing left of me. It’s who I am.”

I bitterly laughed.

“And most of all, I’m angry I never left the fucking Pit,” I told her. “Because you and I, we’re not saviours or monsters or anything half as grand – we’re the entertainment, Sve Noc. We take out our pain on each other and their tally moves with the groaning weight of the dead.”

“There is nothing else,” Andronike said.

“There is,” I quietly replied. “We don’t claw at each other like animals. We help each other out of the pit instead.”

Eyes met, silver to brown.

“They can’t play shatranj if the pieces don’t listen,” I told her. “So I could say I want to make a deal, but that’s the wrong way isn’t it? This isn’t a competition, it’s not about winning. There doesn’t need to be a loser.”

I offered her a hand.

“You have my help, if you want it,” I said. “And there are hardly words for how very badly I need yours.”

Slowly, her arm rose. Then she struck like snake and seized me by the throat.

Damnit Akua, I thought, you broke the power of friendship.

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124 thoughts on “Chapter 79: As Above

  1. First update of the month, so extra chapter in the corresponding tab! This one is titled “Peregrine I”, from the POV of the young Grey Pilgrim. Character contest continues, with the extra chapter adding a third matchup to the round: Ranger vs Adjutant, Robber vs Pilgrim, Thief vs Juniper. Links to vote below.

    https://www.strawpoll.me/16966329?fbclid=IwAR3x27dSnq3zTclLXDAhcVc44_Kh-0RWD82h3OvZAbl7a7tKJ9N-PJHVBis

    https://www.strawpoll.me/16966326?fbclid=IwAR0FM3Bg0PsFnCws04wH73fLJcByEcp0VTeebyGlS7YMr16dQDe-b6uvoWM

    https://www.strawpoll.me/16966323?fbclid=IwAR0Z37BdZRqwXVeC2lZ9EdYqZf0PcufYI-Tfe-BN-YkgoxmXA86ky4SEoYQ

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Jonnnnz

        Tariq is at best a hypocrite. He lets people call Cat a butcher for dropping a lake on people in combat where he lasers down the opposition, and then creates a plague that kills over fifteen thousand outside of combat. He is sad about it, but that doesn’t change what he does. He is critical when others do bad things, unless they’re on the side of Above. He literally refused a deal that gave him everything he asked for because he wants Evil to lose, not just to win. He is Tyrant, only dishonest with himself in a boring way

        Liked by 6 people

          1. Nairne .01

            Which makes it even worse because that would have led to occupation or straight up annexation of Callow (which I suppose he would see as a good thing all things considered because Callow would still be a part of “Good”).

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Callow is one country. Tariq was talking about peace for literally the entire rest of the continent.
              Yes, sacrificing Callow for the rest of them is exactly the ugly thing that Catherine’s mad at. But sacrificing Procer and Levant for Callow isn’t exactly the better answer.

              Tariq couldn’t see a way he could have acted without breaking SOMETHING, so he stuck to what he saw as the least worst option. That happened to not be the one the protagonist was championing. Doesn’t make him despicable.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. RanVor

                It’s not that Callow is to be the Good’s meat shield now, it’s that Callow has always been the Good’s meat shield and is to become the Good’s meat shield again. That state of things has been taken for granted by the side of Good for a long time and suddenly everyone is super upset when it’s no longer true. Nobody gives a shit about Callow beyond sacrificing it for their own safety, and that’s what Catherine is mad at. Or at least that’s how I always understood it.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Quin

                  It’s not so much good, but circumstances. If you play by the hero book then tales have weight. Having a princess fighting food good to avenge her people against a terrible evil gives strength. Allying with those who work with evil weakens you.

                  Cat worked with Black and she is essentially his pupil. Story wise that villain side… Moral wise that’s a group that was left to the wolves and doesn’t want to be put on the chopping block again just when they gained some measure of freedom.

                  Story wise the kingdom will get better when the rightful heir retains the throne. All good princess needs is to marry a random noble. Reality wise it’s chopped into pieces for her nobles to claim just under a new label for the corrupt occupation.

                  Story stands strong with placing callow on the chopping block… This the story bound heroes will hack, slice, and kill… Because they are story bound. The current villains are the exceptions because they do not use stories and tales to guide their blades or dictate their actions.

                  They learn from their mistakes and strive to do better.
                  Something which we see most other groups fail to.do… As even seeing the trap before them and knowing how to escape… They can’t help but follow the story and leap to their doom.

                  Liked by 2 people

              2. Jonnnnz

                Except he is ignoring that Villains will continue cropping up, and that Callow left to the will of Above will continue being wartorn as Praes and Procer continually bleed them. His goal is a Hero in charge, and that matters more to him than the sea of corpses that would cause. He is sad about it, but ultimately doesn’t care enough to not commit war crimes on par with the worst Warlock unleashed.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. I think the thing is, you’re assuming everything Tariq does is a part of some big master plan.

                  But I think he reacts, not acts. He’s kept on the backfoot by all the SHIT going around, and that’s where the disrepancy in what he says and does at different points comes from, not hypocrisy.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Metrux

                    You should remember a very nice conversation between Cordelia and Cat. It wasn’t too far ago, at Keter, when she remembered it for a simple reason: what is it trully worth if you feel bad but don’t change your act? The Peregrin (and I refuse to call him by his “human” name) is not a person, not anymore. He gave his all to Above, so even if he does believe what if he preaches, he will never follow it, because as you said he reacts. You know who is always reacting until the final act? Heroes. Controlled by Above. Who are murderous amoral fuckers that don’t really care about life, confort or good feelings, as long as people follow them.
                    So, the true question here is: can you like a willing paw to heartless monsters? If your answer is yes, then feel free to like him. I unfortunately can’t.

                    Liked by 1 person

              3. RanVor

                Also, Tariq isn’t talking about peace for the rest of the continent, just Procer, Levant and Ashur. Even the Good cities of the League are beyond his willingness to care.

                Liked by 2 people

    1. Morgenstern

      My bet is that Komena listened. And SHE is the one that cared about the drow like Andronike never did… So my call is: Andronike is out to kill Cat, because she is simply arrogantly furious about the names Cat called her, because she would never admit the truth. And it’s “surprisingly” *Komena* who will come to Cat’s rescue and take her offer, even if it means getting rid of the her sister. Because her beloved sister has died long, long ago – and she realizes this, if only now. She simply needed a push, to be able to choose her people over her sister, because all the time she was seeking for a way to keep both. And this is the final straw telling her that this is not possible. She has to choose. And her choice will be her people.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. RoflCat

      It’s not broken yet, Cath just need to remind herself she’s more on the White Devil’s school of ‘Friendship’

      i.e. beat them into a bloody pulp THEN you’re best friends, best when giant, strangely non-lethal laser is involved. (rainbow color and exploding spaceship optional)

      Like

  2. Antoninjohn

    Well its not like Cat had a knife in the other hand which she will use to kill Nike and take the night from her corpse, or maybe Cat will skin Nike and wear her skin pretending to be her and then stab Sev

    Like

  3. Xinci

    Well then several excellent things to note this chapter. I was wondering and still am, ways to break the dwarves. The power of the dwarves bathes in earth and fire, so kill their beast, kill their fires and devour their knowledge of movements of the earth if you have Night. That would be the thing to do, to reverse inertia/to get a greater role out of the fight with the dwarves. Turn their knowledge against them with a adaptable force to get new power and new sacrifice. Relying on the beating heart of the earth and its cycles for power does provide a excellent story for self-destructive revenge too(in the area of blowing up the moon, and becoming it).

    I do wonder what they burn for most of their fire(what is fed to their beast, how do those beast go about their life cycles, etc. What makes them strong enough to survive?). At least if one wanted to outdo their doom somewhat and achieve a better purpose. They might have trees and maybe some sulfuric stormy seas down in the depth maybe. Or stolen a spirit of the land and bound it to the deeps.

    Coordination to set up greater things definitely seems one of the best results of Below’s environmental engineering, at least if one wants greatness out of it. After all that infighting, adaptation, and suffering using all that acrued experience to then coordinate with other subjects gets new, possibly positive results. Indeed working together to get out of their control/box if only temporarily is a great thing to attempt. Only way to get out is to create something new with the weight of all that pain and suffering…together.
    Andronike seems to have made one of the saddest and most important mistakes one can make as a villain. Giving up on change, the Gods below so far have shown a fairly good propensity to setting up the environment with opportunities to change ones own society from within and without. The moment one stops, the moment one calcifies, is the moment they must be switched to other targets, generally with bad times for the Villain being moved.
    Good also for Cat to realize how little of what she had done has effected the wheel as of yet.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Yavandir

          Chinese bug shit you throw everything poisonous into the jar and the last thing standing supposedly eats everything else and is the most poisonous shit

          Like

  4. Everyone talking about the drow and Gods Below and Cat and whatever, meanwhile I’m just loving that dwarves have domesticated lava lizards. Multipurpose lava lizards. Oh those wacky dwarves, what will they come up with next.

    Also damn, the Dead King terrified the drow before the drow as we know them existed. He really is the only human or former human to make it into the big leagues

    Liked by 6 people

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            Eh, she’s the antithesis of Jones. One is stoic, unchanging, true immortal, who intentionally does not pass on knowledge and changes as little as possible, and having been born into her apothesis and left her with blunted emotions, and just a little incesty.

            https://www.gunnerkrigg.com/?p=1117

            The other is a resurrector/body snatcher who’s problem is she feels EVERYTHING, who is one of the big game-piece movers. It occurs to me though, through your compairison, that Bard’s “die and resurrect” immortality is probably intentionally there to prevent her Apothesis. She can make so many changes because unlike other immortals she’s always changing.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. WuseMajor

      He hasn’t made it out of the pit yet, but he has claimed the status of boss monster/epic class piece that you only pull out of the box rarely. Which is something.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Dainpdf

    More of Cat realizing just how much Winter screwed her mind. And more her realizing how rigged this game is.

    I find it nice to recall how she hesitated to bring in the Night back when she first encountered Drow, which shows she at least wasn’t *that* far gone yet.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. luminiousblu

      It seems contrived to me, like EE decided Cat was too far gone for his liking and needed an easy way to bring her back. Cat was sliding down the scale of the lesser evil long, long before she became a fae so now this weird about-turn just comes off as forced and completely, utterly unnatural.

      Hell, Catherine has always since the beginning thought of herself as a tool to reach a better ending – not in the way Black did, no, but slightly further, because Black didn’t truly view himself as disposable – he wasn’t a martyr – but Catherine was willing to die for the things she wanted. That she balked at becoming a fae instead of a human seems really off, especially since the most tangible difference – that she had no real sense of taste – can be shrugged off by giving herself the illusion of taste. She can make wings grow out of her back and disappear, I’m not convinced she can’t grow herself some human taste buds.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. “Black didn’t truly view himself as disposable – he wasn’t a martyr”

        I’m sorry, are we talkng about the same guy?

        ““Do not try to become me,” he said. “I was a tool that served a purpose, and that purpose is coming to an end. This Empire will outgrow me and so will you. To linger beyond that would be to become a crutch, and do disservice to us all.””

        (Book 3, Chapter 55 “Reunion”, and that’s just the literally out loud contradicting quote in his own words)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. luminiousblu

          Black has a huge spergout about how martyrdom is stupid in the very same book, because the thing that distinguishes martyrdom is to die for something bigger than yourself. Black isn’t ready to do that, ever, if he dies he dies on his own terms, for himself.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Dainpdf

        Black didn’t see himself as disposable? He had a Thanatos Gambit all set up before Cat denied it! He isn’t a martyr, but not because he values his own life that much. He just also doesn’t see dying for the cause as particularly noble or deserving of praise.

        As for Cat slowly sliding, she has been under fae influence for a very long time. And it is hard to contend that she burned a lot more principles in this meantime than before; also, she doesn’t have the excuse of not fully grasping the consequences (as with releasing William) anymore.

        Personally, I don’t think it was particularly contrived – especially with all the setup regarding Cat struggling with both morality and fighting style.

        As for emulating senses… I’d hazard a guess that either Winter refuses to do it, or does it in such a way that ruins it?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. luminiousblu

          >Black didn’t see himself as disposable? He had a Thanatos Gambit all set up before Cat denied it!
          A Thanatos gambit isn’t viewing yourself as disposable, it’s knowing that despite your best efforts you might end up dying anyway so you may as well find a way to win beyond it. The man wasn’t literally planning to die, he knew (or believed) that he was going to die soon after he fought the White Knight, so he wanted to get what he could out of it.

          >As for Cat slowly sliding, she has been under fae influence for a very long time. And it is hard to contend that she burned a lot more principles in this meantime than before; also, she doesn’t have the excuse of not fully grasping the consequences (as with releasing William) anymore.
          In my eyes, Cat has only been “slowly sliding” to any extent worth mentioning after she took the throne, not during her time as Duchess of Moonless Nights. While this also coincides her ascension as the Sovereign of Moonless Nights, it is at the same time also the time during which she’s explicitly managed to shove off most of the principle alienation, has managed to hold back her wroth at Callow getting Callowed about six or seven times, and come up with her precious Liesse Accords. To me, the sliding comes from the fact that she was a sovereign and thus had to do things that sovereigns need to do.

          >Personally, I don’t think it was particularly contrived – especially with all the setup regarding Cat struggling with both morality and fighting style.
          The fighting style problem itself was contrived. Cat is shit at using Winter not because she uses too much power but because she doesn’t actually know how to use it – Akua all the way back in Kaleidoscope used Winter more effectively than Cat does all the way up to the quadruple abyss gate trick she pulled against the Longstriders, because Akua has imagination and doesn’t try to use Winter like it’s just a way to augment Catherine’s lacking sword skills. She constantly grasps for power but once she gets it she, like always, is terrified to use it for any reason, and that’s what frustrates me the most about her. It’s not the mark of a prudent ruler, it’s the mark of an ineffectual one to hoard power and yet not use it. The only reason she didn’t collapse is that she has had the very good fortune to be propped up from all sides by those far more competent and far more comfortable with using their abilities, even during combat. That, to me, has always been her biggest problem – that she has power but she doesn’t want to use it even when she should, and that while she chases power she has a tendency to not want to get it the normal way. Black says he’s teaching Catherine to kill, but swords of swordsmanship existed for a reason and in the age of killing each other with blades it wasn’t for show.

          The morality was honestly even worse and it sounds to me hilarious that we went from Justifications Matter Only to the Just all the way back at the beginning of Book 1 to all of this baaaawing about basically nothing. While back then it was quite honestly probably her being an edgy teenager, she’s now acting like an innocent kid who’s been tossed fresh into the halls of how human power works and is shocked at how disgusting it is, instead of acting like the woman who clawed her way up and has poisoned people to their face without blinking an eye.

          >I’d hazard a guess that either Winter refuses to do it, or does it in such a way that ruins it?
          I’ll wait for a canonical explanation for that but that sounds very, very odd to me. Catherine is the ONLY titled Winter Fae in existence save for those who are her explicit vassals, which sounds a lot to me like a Sovereign of Winter. She might still technically be a Duchess, but an independent duchess in a land with no other titles may as well be Empress. I’m inclined to believe that Catherine, with her trademark lack of imagination, simply hasn’t thought of it – she didn’t even realize she could grow wings or turn into mist until recently which is ludicrous to me, I mean when someone tells you your body is an illusion and you can do anything you want to it, proven by how you just grow a new arm if your old one gets lopped off, how is achieving flight not the first thing you try to do?

          Obviously I understand why EE isn’t doing it, the story disappears and that’s probably why he’s also getting rid of Winter as far as I can tell – if you don’t, Catherine quickly becomes a deity and it seems he’s not comfortable writing such a story (or is just throwing a curveball). It still doesn’t, however, actually justify Catherine’s illogical development.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Dainpdf

            You may wish to re-read the Thanatos Gambit page. You seem to be mistaking it for a Xanatos Gambit where death is one of the outcomes.

            Cat *thought* she had thrown off alienation. She still opened herself to a lot of things she would not have, otherwise, including but not limited to attempting to be a plotter and letting Akua live. That she held on this well is testament to the solidity of the patterns her double was pantomiming.

            The issue with Cat vs Akua in using Winter is that even Fakerine retained enough narrative awareness to know Winter was a trap. As recently mentioned, Akua rides suhh stories, while Cat uses them. Winter is only a manifestation of that. Remember that Black himself noted that his lack of power may have been more blessing than curse. People who come to rely on raw power always have it fail them in the end.

            You say Cat has gone back, but she hasn’t. She’s just shedding poisonous thought. She’s peeling back the blinders Winter and Below have put on her for so long. She already had some that clarity in her, from the beginning.

            As for the wings and such, and lack of creativity… Yeah, that’s how fae work. Not really capable of creativity. Way back, Cat had the ability for creative power use – exploding goats, for one, or her ability to trick a fae into playing the villain. Winter took that from her, in great measure. And it started from meeting the Winter King – you may recall she felt hatred for the moon as soon as she saw it back on Creation.

            Like

  6. IDKWhoitis

    Well, Im a bit confused as to what happened at the end, but at least things are progressing? Like Cat has her foot in the door, and she’s done more with less, so it’s looking up hill.

    I seriously wonder what Archer has been upto while Winter hit the fan.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      I think Cat moved too quickly with the conversation and tried to close the deal before Andronike was ready. She’s going to suffer a bit more before Andronike agrees to work with her.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. magesbe

          I’m not sure I agree, because she doesn’t need to. The sister’s have all the advantages, the only question is when, not if, they’ll come out on top. Cat can avoid them temporarily, but she can’t fight back. They don’t need deception.

          Liked by 4 people

  7. I would argue the Twilight Sages deserved to die ten times over for what they did…God, they raided the dwarves because they wanted sacrifices for their altars? How stupid were they? by comparison, most of the Dread Emperors and Dread Empresses are geniuses…

    First rule of warfare in Calernia: don’t declare war to the dwarves. Never.

    Catherine is really back, and it’s good to see her be ‘diplomatic’ and try to change the rules…pity it didn’t seem to work in the end.

    And it looks like Triumphant was far from the first to ask for ‘help’ of the Dead King…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      > First rule of warfare in Calernia: don’t declare war to the dwarves. Never.

      To be fair, this may not have been a rule yet. Maybe the Drow experience was pivotal in establishing the rule?

      Liked by 2 people

  8. magesbe

    Am I the only one who doesn’t think that this means a complete breakdown in negotiations? I’m half expecting something like Akua’s sudden but inevitable betrayal where this isn’t actually a bad thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. werafdsaew

      Andronike said that negotiations are for when “one is staring defeat in the eye.” So I’m expecting Cat to negotiate successfully on the verge of winning. It’s very story-esque, and neatly combines the methods of both Above and Below.

      Like

  9. The whole “I’m finally human and thinking straight” feels… off? Beyond her full fae mode, there wasn’t ever a point where I thought Cat wasn’t herself or was influenced into being more Evil. All of her actions were fairly reasonable and all of the Evil decisions (Dead King, Everdark) were made out of desperation.

    One of the biggest complaints about when she broke her soul barrier was that there wasn’t a noticeable change in her behavior. She did it, and remained largely the same. Cat’s making this point of how she can finally think clearly and how her past self was just a construct wearing her face but it falls flat because all that’s different is that she’s mouthing off more now. There’s no real difference that I can see, that can’t be explained by her loosing to Sve and not giving a fuck anymore. And that… well, it’s a problem.

    It’s tricky because Winter is supposed to be a slow and insidious killer. There’s not supposed to be a break off point – Catherine is meant to slowly change into a cold and merciless creature. We didn’t get to that point however, so when Cat makes her point it doesn’t feel substantiated by the text.

    Maybe I’m just not reading closely enough but I think making a clearer distinction in her thought process between would make that point more believable. EE, If you’ll do an edit after the series is over I would advise for having Cat muse about how she’s falling into particular thought patterns in some of the older chapters.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The difference is not in how her POV is framed, it’s in how she’s looking back on her decisions. She’d been worried the entire time she had Winter that she was losing her grasp of her moral principles because the core thing that drove them was anger, not pragmatism, and she was finding herself left with just that.

      Pragmatism accepts the easiest solution it can find. Anger sees new problems to solve. As Catherine expanded her scope of influence – from just Callow to all of Calernia – she would normally have found new things to be angry at, but instead she stuck to just ‘my country, my people, my duty’ because Winter numbed her to everything she wasn’t /already/ passionate about.

      Catherine is rediscovering her ability to rage at injustice, and that’s what makes her look back on herself in horror.

      Truthfully, the way Catherine was handling the Wild Hunt, or her last round of negotiations with Cordelia, were already creeping me out. She didn’t seem to /care/ the way she used to, not about those she hadn’t already declared to be under her protection, and… yeah. That’s how Winter rigidity works.

      This Catherine is 100000% more awesome than the construct one, and boy is she glad to be back! And pissed. Very, very pissed.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Cat’s always been very Callowan in her outlook and part of that is putting her nation first. As the battleground of the continent, Callow holds a lot of resentment towards other nations and it’s especially true of Procer which occupied it for a decent chunk of time after the Third Crusade. The fact she cares about her country first and foremost is completely natural and in-line with her characterization prior to Arcadia arc, it’s just more visible now that she’s the queen and has to compete on the international stage.

        Negotiating with Cordelia is actually a perfect example of how Cat still had a strong moral fiber even when she was a Sovereign. She proposed to abdicate under very lenient terms. She warned Procer about the Dead King’s involvement despite the fact they were invading her. Hell, going to Keter was partially so she could limit the number of casualties he would inflict on them.

        I don’t see how any of it points to Winter corrupting her when by and large, she’s been acting like the old Cat.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. luminiousblu

            We call that growing up the fuck up and learning to do what you can instead of constantly seething at what you can’t, in the real world.
            If I were angry about everything that would actually make me angry my heart would explode and I’d die having accomplished shit-all. That’s exactly what happened to Catherine multiple times had she not been saved by entities and organisations far more powerful than she was.

            Like

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              It can be. or it can be alilenation from a creeping eldritch power that consumes all before it into a cold void.

              Turns out it’s that second one. Cat might well have matured into a similar mindset. We dont’ know because she became a static creature. Only now when the vine will eventually rot or be severed can it grow and bear fruit.

              Like

    2. Quite possibly a cat

      Winter Cat was basically running head long into Classic Evil Villain territory. I mean, enslave a race? Hijack a vast forbidden power. Hell even handing out titles was bizarre. If she’s willing to title people, she doesn’t need the Drow desperately.

      And it none of the steps seem that bad since it is all bit by bit. Winter is insidious.

      But when Cat got a look without Winter all she sees is herself breaking every rule she learned from Black.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. luminiousblu

        “Enslave a race?”
        A race quickly going extinct anyway. I don’t know how the oaths were actually worded, but it’s easy enough to basically make them mercenaries (selling service in exchange for greater power). “Bend the knee or die” is not exclusive to villains, or rather it’s exclusive only insofar that heroes are wont to say “just die, whether or not you bend the knee”.

        “Hijack a vast forbidden power”
        Was she actually trying to hijack Night? I don’t think she was. She just needed to get rid of Sve Noc, and in the process she’d gain a temporary ally in the Dwarves. The only real problem is she overestimated herself, and Catherine’s been doing that long before Winter was a thing.

        “If she’s willing to title people, she doesn’t need the Drow desperately.”
        Yeah I wasn’t sure how that happened since just half a book ago we were talking about how titles weren’t happening. Here’s the thing though, I’m extremely unconvinced that Winter has magical influence over your brain like that. It’s literally just Catherine. We’ve seen what happens when Winter takes hold, and it doesn’t look like what she’s doing. If I were her I’d do the exact same thing, hell this entire “make an oath to go and grant free reign to a group of dangerous lunatics to help you in a war you’re losing in exchange for salvation (?)” thing is what Aragorn pulled with the ghosts in Return of the King and I don’t think anyone is going to argue that he’s Evil.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hang on, there. Aragorn didn’t make the oath – he was the heir of the one the oath was sworn to. The Kingdom of the Dead became that way because they broke the oath they swore to Aragorn’s ancestor (or possibly ancestor’s cousin, depending on the exact genealogy and exactly when the oath was sworn, can’t remember offhand and away from my LotR books). Aragorn gave them a deal to fight in one battle and be released from the oath, being considered to have fulfilled it. And, in the books, that battle wasn’t even the one outside Gondor – it was the one at the mouth of the river – and a couple days before Aragorn got to the Fields of Pelenor outside Gondor; and IIRC, it happens almost entirely offscreen in the books.
          By rights, Aragorn could, and arguably should, have required the Dead to help him break the Siege of Gondor at Gondor, and even go with on the march to the Black Gate.

          Like

          1. luminiousblu

            You’re right of course, but my point remains unchanged. Aragorn basically pulled the same trick – an entire group of people with no way out due to old, old mistakes they can no longer undo, and a stranger comes along promising them release in exchange for limited service. I mean alright, sixty years is different from a single battle, but the idea is the same and Aragorn is presented as heroic (and not a little clever) for trying to get them on his side. Catherine doing so might not be HEROIC because of how it happened but I wouldn’t say it’s the same as “enslaving an entire race”.

            And anyway Julius Caesar did the same with Gaul and he was a good boy so who the hell cares, this is what war is.

            Like

            1. Oh, absolutely. Oath of service for a clearly defined term in exchange for personal benefits? That’s a far cry from Cat being some sort of slaver, even if the magical enforcement of the oaths is a nasty one, even if Cat is taking advantage of the situation to pressure some of the stronger drow in her path to sign on – that’s essentially a variation on a judge giving somebody the alternative to go into the military instead of what the regular options are. Better, really, since real life military service isn’t exactly a lucrative career. Ö

              Heck, I’m not actually sure that long term oaths were even being required by Cat in order to go with her and be saved. Oh, sure, following the Lesser Oaths is still a good idea if a drow wanted to follow Cat but not make longer term commitments.
              They were … a sort of currency traded for increased personal power.

              Like

    3. RanVor

      I might need to reread to confirm it, but I feel like Cat is being more moral right now than she has ever been since the first chapter. It’s as if the pull dragging her towards evil disappeared and she was hurled to the other side.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. luminiousblu

        Which is horrible, because that’s not how characters work unless you’re trying to write someone who’s had a mental breakdown and is hurtling well through schizophrenia. Well, if that’s what EE’s trying to do it’s perfect, but I doubt it.

        Like

  10. SMHF

    I’m gonna be honest, I’m a bit conflicted about the last two chapters…

    It’s not just the fact that Cat and Sve’s confrontation has made the whole gathering an army part kinda pointless… because you could argue we got a lot of character developments and Drow lore through it and she did force her hand earlier this was than just sneaking her way to Tvarigu.

    My problem is this whole “My Mantle made me do it” part… because it goes against a whole book of what I thought was character development.

    Assassinating generals… dropping lakes on a bunch of enlisted farm boys… trying to make deal with The Dead King… binding an entire race to her will through oaths are all things the Book 1-3 Cat would’ve never done (Okay she probably would’ve minded the first one!), but I though after the Liesse she’s learned that sometimes you have to do something Evil to stop a bigger one from happening…

    But now she’s saying what she was doing to the Drow was disgusting… I mean forcing the last surviving members of a dying race to throw themselves at The Dead King is a shitty thing to do, I wasn’t happy about it then and I’m not happy about it now, but it’s stupid not to take precautions when you’re bringing a race of people to the surface with more frequent and more literal backstabbing than the Praes nobility!

    The entire Liesse Accords is something she came up with while she had her Mantle. Is she gonna realize that’s not a good idea either?

    Still, it’s kinda early to judge since we have couple of chapters to go. So I’m looking forward to see how this wraps up! 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Not very happy with the recent developments myself either.
      Might be just my dislike of the “humsnity is special” outlook we’ve been seeing, and not really buying that the mantle was somehow making Cat a worse person.
      This “loose mantle, become human” feels too much like a Deus ex Machina to escape paying the price for the power Cat has been wielding (and pulling back the power levels story is working with to make the struggle easier to write).

      Just remembering first Liesse campaign, let alone Cats first encounter with William, makes it pretty clear that she was never all that nice when pushed, everything she has done so far (except maybe talking to Dead King) has been pretty in line with the character we followed from the start of the story.
      Even droppin the lake on her enemies was, to me, pretty measured response considering how far backwards she was bending to save the lives of enemy soldiers at the cost of her own.

      Cat is fighting people willing to wipe their own villages with plague to win, she is not the heartless monster in this equation, and never has been.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. SMHF

        Yes. The scales had changed so Cat had to change with it… that’s kinda the point of character development!

        But now she’s like… nope! That was all my Mantle!

        Don’t get me wrong the old crazy Cat is a blast to read (in moderation!) but if she’s just gonna be factory resetted after an entire book… then what’s the point?!

        But like I said story’s not over yet, so I’m really really hoping to be proven wrong on this!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Aotrs Commander

          Of course, this assumes that Cat is, in fact *correct* and that she is not, in fact, using the seperation from her mantle to (probably subconsciously) blame her actions on it, because (again, subconsciously) it didn’t work and she doesn’t have that power now and it trying – still – to justify herself *to* herself.

          Reality probably lies somewhere between the two.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. luminiousblu

            I’m honestly tempted to say that she’s just running from her actions and like she’s wont to do blaming everything on an easy target. People say she self-flagellates a lot and she does, but in Book 1 and early in 2 or so she was actually really good at deflecting responsibility for her actions because she wanted to believe she was actually somehow the good guy instead of just owning up to being the bad guy. I mean even the fact that she thinks she can choose to be the bad guy itself is the hallmark of a bad guy – the entire thing that differentiates the good guy from the bad guy is the bad guy thinks in terms of himself.

            Like

      2. This pretty much sums up my hesitation of the past few chapters. I’ve personally enjoyed watching Cat’s development in this book because she’s contending with world changing figures and the large stakes have changed how she looks and reacts to things. I don’t even really have a problem with her handling of the Drow (I know that point’s been argued back and forth at this point) but these recent chapters feel like EE is walking back on all of that. The fact that we’re showcasing how different Mortal Cat is to The Black Queen is interesting and it COULD be a subtle alienation effect of her mantle but…..i don’t really buy it. All of the decisions she’s made thus far feel like a Car that’s dealing with continent shifting decisions and is trying to learn the bast way to save her people the least amount of casualties. It’s the ever slippery slope of moral greyness that she’s always been on and I’ve loved it. I don’t want it to be undone 😦

        Like

    2. Kirroth

      The biggest difference I can see is that the Sovereign of Moonless Nights thought in terms of Power and Cat thinks in terms of Story.

      Take a moment to really look back on it, now that the contrast has been highlighted. Everything the Sovereign did was about using power to force people to do what she wanted. Break the Procuran invaders enough that they retreat, but not so badly they won’t negotiate after. Twist arms to get the Accords signed. Recruit muscle from the Dead King or the drow. Even at the very start, when she was going to agree with the Empress about keeping the doomsday weapon around. It was always about POWER and using it to get your way.

      Now Cat’s back and we can see what that really means. She’s already thinking in terms of Story and Pivots again. She’s trying to build alliances instead of bullying people into line with force. She takes one look around, sees a people treated unjustly and Gods meddling for their own benefit, and immediately rebels and tries to find a way out.

      The hints have been there all along. They were practically shoved in our face by Warlock. The Sovereign wasn’t Cat. She wanted to accomplish Cat’s goals and valued what Cat cared about, but it wasn’t her and didn’t think like her.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I hope if we get to see the Liesse Accords then at least have Masego round up a bunch of sorcerers and write them into the fundamental laws of reality such that they can never be disobeyed. I want Cat to change things, rewrite the nature of reality and permanently end the war between Good and Evil. And killing off the Gods of Above and Below would be a nice side benefit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t really see a way for Cat to beat the Above & Below in a way that does not come of like an asspull, maybe there is, but i’m not really seeing it.
      Same for forcing creation to have somekind of inbuilt geneva convention, neither side wants that, and any rule changes Masego can do, someone else can undo.

      The way i see it, Cat can’t win, can’t kill the players, and can’t rewrite the rules.
      But, if she remains a god, she might become a player, or atleast enfroce a no conflict zone in Callow that remains mostly untouched because touching it is too costly for both sides.

      Here Cat realized that all the changes she made, are unlikely to outlive her, and she is right in that, partly due to weight of history, but mostly because she has 2 sets of gods enforcing the status quo of constant conflict, and both of those sides are evil (if for different reason and in different ways).
      Only real way around this is to not die, and if the price of that is not being able to enjoy narcotics, well, sounds like a pretty small price to me, pick up painting or something to pass the time instead.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. magesbe

        If you think that the only that the only reason Cat wants to remain mortal is so she can enjoy weed… you really peaced out of this latest chapter. She states explicitly here that Winter had forced her into a different thought process, and she was so affected by Winter that until she was separated from it she didn’t even notice there was a difference. Cat doesn’t want to go back to being Winter, she feels that dying is better than going back to being only mostly a person.

        Whether you feel like this is a compelling motivation is up to you, but don’t trivialize it either by saying that clearly the only reason is so she can enjoy smoking better.

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        1. Here’s the thing, lot of us did not notice any change of the thought process either.
          It feels like this comes out of nowhere, the only real change easily noticeable is the ability to enjoy taste and effects of weed.
          Her morals did not get worse, she did not become any crueller, she was just as flexible when situation required/allowed it.

          The story failed to emphasize any loss of personhood for Cat sufficiently, yes, she was not as human, mainly because humans get killed when beheaded, but the alienation, beyond inability to enjoy stuff like weed and wine, was insufficiently remarked upon.
          Hell, people have complained that Cat remained too human after becomming the Duchess of Moonless Nights, and i’d agree, so this sudden “yay, i get to be mortal, enjoy weed and die” is kinda jarring even if you dislike having the protagonist disempowered.

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  12. I wonder what EE is thinking of when he/she/it reads these comments from people unsure of how Cat’s been developing. However, I know the truth. Catherine was Dread Emperor Traitorous this entire time! That makes everything she’s been going through all part of the plan. It all makes sense! I’m onto you EE.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Fern

    Has Cat lost her blessed mind? “Oh I fucked up once at playing this smart so I better go back to brawling with every motherfucker in a 8 mile radius” bitch did you forget the part where you nearly died fighting a basic bitch Mighty? One loss does not mean you’re on the wrong track, it means you need to adapt your fighting style and information gathering apparatus. Local intel here was on point, you knew about every faction fighting in the city, their short and long term strategic goals, AND you knew your timetable down to the day!! The fact that the Longstrides and the Goddess Apparent came knocking a week early is a failure of intel, not of the method you’re using here.

    I might be a little mean criticizing her fighting style though. It’s been said that the role of named on the battlefield is to fight in the pivot, usually against another named. When you take into account that each side here is deploying a ludicrous amount of named-level fighters, though, that objective becomes a lot harder to acheive. Add into this the fact that there was a huge disparity in Mighty between Losara and Rumena…

    Well, it’ll definitely be fun to watch how this plays out. This arc has been outstanding so far, so we’ll see how As Below goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. magesbe

      I’m confused… it feels like this comment should have been written two or three chapters ago. It’s not very relevant to the current situation.

      Like

      1. Fern

        ““Subtle has never been my strength,” I admitted. “It was a bad habit even before Winter filled my veins with pure ‘walk off dismemberment’ juice. Not sure I can shake it at this point.”

        Or even that I should, to be honest. I’d run into one dead end after another since I started trying to play queenly games with my opponents. It wasn’t that I was awful at those – with the Woe at my back, I’d made sport of my opposition within Callow – so much that my enemies were just outright better at them.”

        She does follow this by saying she shouldn’t stop learning, so maybe i was a tad off base. Still. she can’t expect to win fights by walking into enemies and left clicking. That’s been drilled into our heads since book 1.

        Like

  14. Burdi

    at this point, we can’t predict what catherine plan actually is, she is just dancing with the story….maybe she somehow convince andronike and two head fight each other or she somehow eat komena’s memory and gain a bit of power or she pissed andronike so much that she blind (make her see wrong direction) then akua struck or she died and meet below..make some shit deal and go back to creation or they all became four face goddess (unlikely) or sve noc give cat a Name (maybe possible) or cat somehow find a way to instead sacrifice sve noc and all winter night to achieve different ending or she taunt komena and make her so furious then trick her somehow to struck at andronike then destroy her with her guilt.
    or black died and she became the black knight then stuck hard with Destroy and became queen bitch of night forevermore. i think its still possible for her to became black knight, she lost Squire name because she became winter incarnate that change who she is..now she is back free of winter…and she is right now is a claimant one more, what is needed of her is to claim something, just like when she claim the Squire name or claim as heir to king of callow (first liesse) and right now she can’t claim anything at all, not winter (because she already lost fight), not night (because it is not hers), not a Name (because what is to claim when she lost soo badly except a Losser)..her only possible claim i think is to became a Savior for sve noc and all the drow so they won’t fuck themselve twice..but she need to build story first, the ending is maybe she got winter night as passing torch (by tricking them of cource) or became something that unheard of

    Like

  15. Nairne .01

    The thing some other commenters said about the next chapter being named “As Below”.

    It may be a good prediction, she tried the good hand to make friends and was spurned/wronged even (that may be a stretch).
    So she will try the evil hand next, that may work, or her evil hand will be the grab from the flank, something extraordinarily evil in its roundabout way that just won’t let her grasp the victory she wants, just “a victory”.

    Like

  16. Aston W

    I really want Cat to die.

    Semi-permanently.

    Then EE can write the next level of her meeting Gods Above or Gods Below as she fucks up their game.

    It’s a drawn out ‘Cat Wins again without making much difference’ the last few chapters.

    Use the power of story to win. Meta Time.

    Like

  17. Aston W

    Pretty sure Cat needs to pull the Good card. Heroes are mortal.

    Redemption storyline. You can be insane but Good right?

    Look at Saint…elderly creation cutting powers.

    Just realized all our comments are food for Gods Above and Below.

    We’re trapped in the narrative.

    Like

  18. magesbe

    Honestly, I have a lot of problems with how this arc is going, but since almost all of them are technically fixable depending on how the next few chapters go, I’m not going to say anything just yet. People can expect a pretty big rant post on the last chapter of the book if it’s not cleaned up well though.

    Like

  19. The next button of this chapter skips Peregrine I, and Peregrine I is also not listed in the chapter list on the side. This makes it very likely that it could be overlooked by anyone who doesn’t get email updates.

    Like

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