Chapter 1: Visitation

“Even a devil can be merciful once.”
– Callowan saying

The night was full of shadows and every last one answered to me.

Fairy gates had never been quite as precise an art as I would have liked, particularly when the needle was threaded half-blind, but these days I had more than Masego or Akua adding up the numbers for me. The sisters understood these matters in a way no mortal ever could, and considering it was their – ours, I supposed – army I was taking through Arcadia they’d not balked at charting the path for me. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Komena had complained about being a goddess, not a cartographer. I’d wholeheartedly agreed: after all, a cartographer would have given me an answer instead of petty whining. You’d think finishing apotheosis would have done something for her sense of humor, but instead I’d been given an indignant silent treatment for a few days. Which was fine by me, really. There was only so much croaking I could take from the damned birds they’d sent with me. The night-feathered crow on my left shoulder stirred in displeasure and I snorted.

“Fine, fake birds,” I said. “That better for you?”

Indrani cleared her throat, less dainty scoff and more middle-aged dockworker about to spit.

“Catherine, you’re talking to the crows again,” she said.

I shrugged.

“It’s fine as long as I don’t expect to hear them talk back, I think,” I noted.

“Caw,” the crow on my left shoulder drily said.

The word, not actual cawing, because Andronike had developed a taste for the sardonic since shaving off a sliver of her godhood and sending it if off with me.

“Wind’s real loud tonight,” I said, blithely pretending I hadn’t hear anything.

“Well,” Archer mused, “it is winter.”

And wasn’t it just? The heartlands of Procer were pretty as a painting, under moonlight. Open fields of driven snow, sparse trees trickling down icicles and the occasional game wandering through the frost. It said a lot about the drow, I thought, than an army of fifty thousand of them hadn’t scared off every beast for four miles around it. There’d been some childlike wonderment at first, when the grey-skinned host had first witnessed the world covered in white. Drow centuries old patting at the snow like they couldn’t quite believe their eyes, strangers as they were to a surface winter. I remembered that fondly, the innocence of it. There were some things that even millennia of constant bloodshed could not entirely erase. Tonight, though, there would be no wide-eyed fascination. The warriors I’d sent out had moved out across the snow like ghosts, melting back into the darkness they’d been born to.

Indrani had come to keep me company as I stood, watching the small town in the distance. My friend – we’d shared a bed more than once, by now, but lover ill fit what lay between us – was half a shadow herself, the hooded leather coat she wore over fine mail hiding her face away from the light of the moon. Now and then I could see her hand twitching slightly, the urge to reach for the large bow strapped to her back only barely repressed. Archer had never been one to shy away from a fight, which was the reason I hadn’t sent her out with the drow in the first place: corpses weren’t what I was after. Not tonight anyway. There were a few long years ahead of us, I knew, and there would be blood spilled before they came to a close. Whose, I thought, is the important question, isn’t it?

“What’s the place called again?” Indrani asked.

More out of need to fill the silence than true curiosity, I suspected.

“Trousseau,” I replied anyway.

Finding a hunter out in the plains had been a lucky stroke, and result in a vague notion of where we were in Procer. Somewhere in eastern Iserre, for one, which was what I’d been aiming for. Unfortunately said hunter had never gone all that far from her hometown, and had little news of what was currently taking place in the Principate. No map, either, but that much I’d expected. Those were damned expensive, and even halfway-accurate ones not usually in the hands of commoners.

“Bit of a shithole, to be honest,” Archer said.

Trousseau probably had no more than a thousand souls living in it, most of the time, but these were not that. War and conscription would have thinned the town. I’d decided to charitably attribute how run-down the place was to the removal of so many able hands, though odds were the place was poor enough it looked like this even on a good year. There were as many huts as houses, all huddled around a few streets that were more streaks of cold mud than anything, and what cattle could be seen held in pens around the town was thin and sickly. Though Indrani’s gaze had lingered on the ramshackle and no doubt bitingly cold huts, I’d been more interested in something that wasn’t there. Namely, walls. I honestly couldn’t think of a single town of a thousand in Callow that wouldn’t have at least a palisade up, or tall piles of stones without mortar. For my purpose of the night, however, that defencelessness was not unhelpful.

“If it were worth putting on a map, Black would probably have burnt it on his way south,” I said.

She hummed in agreement, and only spoke again a few heartbeats later.

“You think rumours about what’s happening to will have trickled into here?” Indrani asked, glancing at me.

“Worth a try,” I grimly said.

Archer’s footing shifted almost hesitantly, and I blinked in surprise when she put a comforting hand on my shoulder. I could almost feel the warmth of her through the cloak and doublet, and my heart beat a little faster. Not because of attraction, this time, though that was never far. That I could feel warmth at all was still a feeling I could only luxuriate in.

“We don’t know he’s in trouble,” she said.

“He should be back from Thalassina by now,” I replied. “And still we can’t make contact with the Observatory. Something happened.”

“He could be buried up the neck in some hidden library,” Indrani smiled. “Only to remember the rest of Creation still exists in a few months.”

The smile was slightly forced, I knew her well enough to tell. I wasn’t the only one worried about Masego and the resounding silence from Laure.

“Shouldn’t it be me comforting you, anyway?” I said.

“He can take care of himself,” Archer quietly said, though her eyes flicked east anyway.

I clasped her bare fingers with my gloved ones, squeezing tight, and she shot me an amused look before removing her hand. Where our conversation would have wandered after that would remain a mystery, for I felt a ripple in the Night headed our way. Mighty Rumena – crow-Komena pecked at my shoulder and I rolled my eyes – General Rumena, I mentally corrected, had not ceased in its attempts to sneak up on me even though not a single one had succeeded since I’d become First Under the Night. It was hard to pull a Night-trick on someone who had a finger on the pulse of that very power.

“So, the way you don’t leave footprints in the snow,” I called out. “Is that an illusion, or are you so feeble and delicate you’re light enough not to leave one?”

Grey fingertips appeared out thin air a few feet in front of me, coming down to tear away at a veil of Night and revealing the creased face of the ancient drow. Even stooped the bastard was taller than me, which unfair in so many ways, and ever since it’d been appointed to the command of the southern expedition it’d made a point of looming over me whenever it could.

“Many are the mysteries of the Night,” General Rumena vaguely replied.

I eyed him skeptically.

“So where’d we land on whether or not I have power of expulsion from the faith again?” I finally asked crow-Andronike.

“No,” she replied.

“Maybe,” crow-Komena said at the same time.

The two crow-shaped slivers of Sve Noc turned to glare at each other.

“There can be no-” crow-Andronike began.

“It is necessary that-” her sister interrupted.

I smothered a grin, though not quite well enough. Both turned their glares towards me. That was never going to get old, was it? A heartbeat later I was yelping as a pair of godly crows started flapping around my hair and pecking vengefully at my scalp, though I valiantly managed to shoo them away with only minimal loss of dignity. The two of them flew off, possibly off to torment some poor luckless rabbit. Made of Night as they were they hardly needed to eat, though that certainly hadn’t stopped them from toying with the animals they came across. Amusement bled out of me a moment later and I turned my eyes to Rumena.

“Report,” I ordered.

It did not bow, not that I’d expected it to.

“The town has been seized,” the old drow said.

“Casualties?” I asked.

“Seventeen wounded, no dead,” General Rumena mildly said. “Some stubborn souls insisted on resisting confinement.”

I chewed on my lip. Too much to hope for this to be entirely bloodless, I supposed. I’d tell Akua to have the wounds healed if she could. And if the people were willing to take healing from the likes of us which was less than certain.

“No priests?” I asked.

“None resided within. There is a moan-haste-ree to the north where servants of the Pale Gods hold court, but they only visit infrequently,” the old drow said.

“Monastery,” I corrected absent-mindedly. “Good, that would have complicated things.”

Priests tended to frown upon dark hordes beholden to eldritch horrors of the night strolling into their backyard, and I’d rather not cut one’s throat if I could avoid it.

“Send a sigil up to keep an eye on the monastery road,” I finally said. “No blunders tonight, Rumena.”

“Ah,” the general mildly said. “Will you be absenting yourself, then?”

To my side Indrani shook with a suppressed laugh, the filthy traitor.

“You just wait,” I grunted. “One of these days I’ll talk the damned crows into letting me write your holy book and there’ll be an entire hymn about how much of a prick you are.”

I began the trek towards Trousseau immediately, carefully refraining from hearing Rumena’s skepticism at my ability to rhyme on purpose even as Archer cheerfully waved him goodbye.

As usual, I was surrounded by insubordinate backtalk and wanton treachery.

There were a few houses near the centre of the town made of stone, but this wasn’t one of them. I approved, truth be told. From what I’d read, large towns and cities in the Alamans parts of Procer were usually governed by an official appointed by the ruling royal – quite often some toady or relative that could be counted on to keep the coin flowing towards the principality’s capital. On occasion, some wealthy landowner ended up in charge instead but given that those occasionally got ideas about who should be the local royalty that was rarer. In smaller towns and villages, though, a degree of freedom emerged. Someone needed to be in charge so the lawmen and the tax collectors would have an arm to twist, but the people were left to their own devices as to who should be picked. Trousseau should be small enough for that to apply, and that the town’s mayor was living in a wooden house instead of a stone one implied wealth hadn’t been why he was put in charge. Half a dozen drow bearing the mark of the Soln Sigil were keeping a sharp watch on the premise, and if the ripple I was feeling in the Night was any indication my old friend Lord Soln itself wasn’t far.

It had amused the Sisters to send what little remained of the army I’d once led against them on the southern expedition. I wasn’t complaining: the oaths binding us might have been broken, but they were quicker to obey my orders than most drow. The covenant under Winter had left marks that would not easily be erased. On another night I might have taken the time to flush out Soln from its hiding place and share a few words, but not this one. I had business to finish, and no inclination to delay it. As far as I was concerned, the quicker we moved on from here to undertake our campaign proper the better.

“Want me to come with?” Archer idly said.

I glanced at her, catching a glimpse of her hazelnut eyes under the hood. I read an expectation of boredom there, but still she had offered. I did not fight the flush of affection that brought out in me.

“No need,” I said. “Find something to entertain yourself, I’ll catch up.”

She smirked.

“Bound to be at least one tavern in this dump,” she mused.

“We pay for what we take,” I reminded her.

“Gods,” she muttered under her breath. “Between you and Akua I feel like I’ve joined the most ironic nunnery in Creation.”

I grinned and waved her off.

“Don’t get too drunk without me,” I said.

She grinned back, and promised not a thing. I watched her saunter away for a moment, coat swaying behind her, but before long my gaze had returned the door in front of me and the good mood drained. The two closest drow were looking at me from the corner of their eyes and I offered a nod.

“Restrict interruption to Peerage and my own people,” I spoke in Crepuscular.

“Losara Queen,” one murmured back, though both bowed.

I left it at that, and knocked at the door out of habit. There was a long beat of silence, before a male voice hesitantly bid me to enter. Ah, I thought. The last people to come in would not have been so polite. I pushed open the surprisingly well-oiled door and entered. A man was standing by a brazier, my eyes lingering only long enough to note he looked only in his mid-thirties before they pressed on to take in the rest of the house. One bed, shoddy as it was, but four cots. The table was old but well-maintained, and the roughly-hewn chairs struck me as of recent make. Not much else to see, aside from wooden shelves filled with foodstuffs. When my eyes returned to the man, his face had gone ashen. His hands were still above the flames, but now they were trembling. I wiped my snow-sodden boots on the straw by the door before offering a bland smile.

“I am told your name is Leon,” I said in Chantant. “And that you are mayor of Trousseau.”

The man drew back as if struck. It was almost comical, given that he stood at least two feet taller than me and was built like a sandy-haired ox. Almost.

“You’re the Black Queen,” Leon shakily said.

“And so introductions have been seen to,” I mildly said. “Take a seat.”

Something like anger flickered across the man’s face. Not someone used to be ordered around in his own home, was he? But even as his jaw squared, his eyes came to rest on the sword at my hip. Caution won out, and slowly he drew back a chair and sat down. Wiping my boots one last time, I limped across the floorboards and sat across from him. I could have drawn on the Night to chase away the pain for a time, but I disliked relying on that measure unless blades were out. I leaned back against the chair, the Mantle of Woe bunching up as I did, and calmly took off my leather gloves.

“I have questions to ask of you,” I said.

“I am the mayor of a half-empty town,” Leon replied. “What could I possibly know of import to a queen?”

His gaze was steady, I thought, and his back straight. But he’d not quite managed to hide his hands away from me, and I could see how tightly clenched his fingers were. Afraid, but trying not to show it. I wondered if he expected he’d be dead by the end of this conversation. My reputation in Procer had been less than gentle even before the entire fucking priesthood of the west had declared me Arch-heretic of the East.

“More than you think,” I said. “Peddlers come through, even in a deserted town. And peddlers carry rumours.”

“I put little stock in rumours,” the mayor replied. “And so know little of them.”

I glanced to the side, already knowing what I would find. The bed was large enough for two. Some of the cots were too small for adults. The man had a wife and children. All of which were currently under the guard of my drow in a previously house. When my gaze returned, Leon’s face had grown tight. The steady gaze was gone, replaced by desperate fear.

“No merchant has passed in months,” the Proceran said. “We are not a town with coin to spend. Those few of wealth have already left.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“For where?” I asked.

“Iserre,” he said. “Walls and safety.”

I leaned forward.

“Safety from what?” I pressed.

The man grit his teeth. I could see them war on his face, fear and principle. I was, to be honest, admiring his spine. How many of my countrymen would have it in them to even hesitate answering a question, if a villain of my repute was asking it? I’d not sat in conversation with a human other than Indrani in months, and in some ways this felt fresh to me. I could see the tremor in his arm, the beading sweat on his brow. This was not a drow, I thought. I understood the shape of this one’s thoughts, the milestones by which he saw the world.

“Heavens preserve me from the Enemy,” the mayor of Trousseau shakily said. “Still my tongue and ward my hand, that I may give it no succour nor relief.”

I slowly breathed out, studying him. I might have continued, if not for the knock on the door.

“Enter,” I said.

The door opened to reveal Akua Sahelian’s silhouette, and closed after she fluidly stepped in. I cocked an eyebrow, meeting her golden eyes, and she nodded. Good. She leaned back against the wall without a word and I turned to the mayor.

“Do you see the Heavens in this room, Leon?” I softly asked. “I don’t. There’s just us, and the consequences of our choices.”

“I will not sell out my home, Black Queen,” the large man said. “Not an inch, not a league.”

The fear had not left, I thought. And yet he’d said it anyway.

“I hold your family,” I said.

The tone was casual, as it discussing the weather. I had learned from Black that mildness could be much more disquieting than the most thunderous of wraths. Leon swallowed drily. I had not made threat, and would not need to. My name itself was a threat, these days.

“Even so,” he said, tone thick with grief. “Gods, even so.”

To do right, even if it cost you everything. That, at least, the Houses of Light on both sides of the border taught just the same. I thought of Amadis Milenan, then, and wondered what such a man had ever done to deserve a subject like this. Nothing. But then that was the whole point, wasn’t it? That the underserving so often ruled. That there could be more heroism found in a terrified man sitting across a monster and refusing to answer a question than in an empire’s worth of royal lines, or a legion of heroes.

“It’s a strange thing, fear, isn’t?” I said. “I have known those who rule by it. I have fought those who deny its very existence. And yet I have come no closer to understanding what splits the brave from the mad.”

I met his eyes with equanimity.

“But I do know one thing, Leon of Trousseau,” I said. “That knot in your stomach, right now? That part of you that keeps your back straight when death meets your gaze?”

I did not blink. Neither did he.

“That is the weight of the choice you made,” I said. “Remember it, in the years to come. Learn from it, grow from it. Because one of those days you might find someone else sitting on my side of the table – and unlike me, they might not admire what you chose.”

I pushed back the chair and rose to my feet, picking up my gloves and slipping them on. The mayor hesitated.

“That’s all?” he said.

I smiled, thin and mirthless.

“Do you know why we praise bravery, Leon?” I said.

He did not reply. Did not dare to, I supposed, when it seemed possible he might survive our little chat after all.

“Because it surpasses our baser nature,” Akua spoke from behind me, and I could feel the smile in her voice.

I could see the moment when the man understood, the anger and the sadness and the burning indignation.

“Someone talked,” I gently said. “Someone always talks.”

I limped back into the cold, and left him to sit in his silence.

148 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Visitation

        1. True ;u;

          Huh, it’s entirely plausible her soul per se is still bound to the mantle, isn’t it? She had her chance to cut and run if she allowed Cat to perish against Sve Noc and took the cloak for herself, but she didn’t do that.

          That sounds coherent.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. Skaddix

    Akua seemingly has a body which I guess makes sense. She even has her eyes back since I don’t think making a body and putting a soul in it would be two had for two goddesses. They probably leashed her though.

    Oh how wrong they are about Masego. That is going to cause some drama. Though maybe not seems more convenience and lust.

    Interesting though that they cannot call the Observatory, there should be other mages there that they can call so that really should be setting off more alarm bells. So either Masego got back and simply passively soul flayed everyone and is not taking calls or some other force decided hey while Cat is missing and Masego is in Thalassina why not attack. I mean we are missing quite a few heroes so its not inconceivable they launched an attack to take down Cat’s communication hub and top non named Mages. Cat does have a more powerful army but she is also like Cordelia and Malicia lacking in Intelligence so much so she is trying to interrogate a Mayor of an insignificant town that Black decided wasn’t even worth sacking.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        It might be that they don’t know how. In the tunnels below, Scrying may be absolutely useless as it cannot penetrate the rock (its been noted several times). The Magiological advances on the over world may have never made its way into the Underdark, since Scrying seems to have had difficulty in reaching even Procer.

        This is before we get to the components needed, like Sea dredged rock and other materials that aren’t found in the Under dark or in Rural Procer.

        Or Juniper just conscripted all the mages in the Observatory, since they weren’t needed to watch out for Heroes as the cease fire/Dead King has them all busy.

        Liked by 7 people

          1. Rook

            Probably won’t even be horrifying, considering how much fun she’s currently having with the Hero bandwagon.

            In her current state she’s likely to pop out a bauble that only works when you hold it to your heart and truly -believe- in your friends or something.

            Liked by 11 people

        1. Skaddix

          There is no way Juniper cripples their main scrying center and communication center willingly. Juniper values communication and intelligence gathering which is what the Observatory provides. So I find it hard to believe she left no one at all in the building. Especially since we have seen one standard imperial mage makes very little difference in any fight. Named and Higher Level Mages matter sure but Warlock has made it quite clear you either have or you don’t. We saw Cordelia and Malicia so it doesn’t seem like they ordered an attack which limits the options to Masego or Hero Action…could be League of Free Cities or Dead King but the last two are more stretches.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. IDKWhoitis

            I could see Juniper reducing the number of Mages and level of Coverage. Sends maybe 50% of mages for field training and diverts focus from Counter Intelligence in Callow to Active Scrying on the Callow/Praesi border.

            Theres also the White Caps, so there no guarantee that a fully staffed Observatory could get coverage over the mountains.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Could be just that its current levels of staffing aren’t enough to reach any place Cat has been recently, with all the stuff in the way.

            And we don’t know what exactly she’s been dealing with back home.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Dainpdf

        Might not be a question of raw power; the Observatory used the sympathetic link of Winter water as a medium. Maybe the Night takeover ruined it, but I’m betting something more sinister is afoot.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Dainpdf

          That’s a good question. Perhaps a Drow messenger wouldn’t work, though. They don’t know the geography of Callow and they might get attacked on the way. And Cat is decidedly not sending Indrani away.

          Like

    1. magesbe

      I was thinking that about the Observatory as well. Unless some property of it makes it so she can’t scry it from afar without Masego being at one end, something is up.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        White Caps are probably also interfering, as the Observatory was never proven to be able to beat those traditional limitations. Last time, Cat was at least in Keter.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Skaddix

          That doesn’t make sense since Cat and Indrani don’t mention White Cap interference as a reason they cannot call the Observatory. Especially considering they have two goddesses and Akua.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. They also don’t show worry about anyone but Masego, and there’s no reason to bring White Caps up if it’s obvious to both of them.

            White Caps mean they can only call the Observatory from Iserre if Masego is in it. They’re worried that they can’t because it means he isn’t, and that’s what they’re takling about.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Skaddix

        ??? I don’t think its grand secret that Masego raised a Mage’s Tower. Malicia officially and publicly had to approve it. Its also has protections sure but its not invisible to the naked eye.

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          Yes, but what it is used for is a secret. A random mage’s tower is not that appealing a target – its likely heavily defended, and operations in it are likely to be both costly and have unpredictable effects.

          Like

        2. What does Masego’s mage tower have to do with this? That’s in Marchford. The Observatory is in the palace in Laure. Nowhere near each other.

          And yes, this does imply Masego abandoned his highly coveted mage tower in favor of a new shiny bauble the minute Catherine gave it to him. Sounds like him, to me.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. danh3107

    Rumena and Soln are still alive, that’s pretty sweet. I wonder if that Berserker guy is still alive as well.

    Also,

    Two ravens? Come on hunin and munin you can be a bit more creative

    Liked by 14 people

  3. Gunslinger

    The return of the Guide warms my cold heart. Blessed Indrani alive and sleeping with Cat. Rumena still being the best Sasser.

    >Between you and Akua I feel like I’ve joined the most ironic nunnery in Creation.”

    And Akua shaping up to be best hero

    Liked by 19 people

  4. magesbe

    So much amazing. Catherine is as great as ever, her interactions with Sve Noc is hilarious, and Rumena is still the best Drow around. A little surprised that Ivah hasn’t been mentioned. I had thought he’d remain a part of her inner circle, but I guess he’s been demoted.

    On other news, I’m worried about Masego. I hope he doesn’t do something rash.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. SilverDargon

      Rash, what a fun word. In this case it may be insufficient though. When I imagine Masego’s next steps after having seen both the deaths of his parents, an ocean of blood, and the actual face of a god, words like “Unhinged” or “Demented” come to mind.

      Suffice to say he is well beyond rash at this point and I just can’t wait to see what kind of awesome he unleashes on the world next.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Skaddix

      All I will say is it doesn’t really bode well for Cat’s Precious Liesse Accords since what got his parents killed the Grand Alliance and Crusade from Cordelia. Now sure Masego might rage against the Gods but Procer is a far easier target to test his powers on and reek bloody vengeance on.

      Like

      1. caoimhinh

        He is more likely to aim his anger at the Thalassocracy of Ashur, since they were the ones who invaded Thalassina and caused Wekesa’s death.

        Ashur has long since being hinted to be a hated country as they have forced a monopoly of maritime trade and they have a harsh caste system (the tiers) that treats the people on low levels like trash.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Author Unknown

      Rash? Masego would never! The ruin he inflicts upon the world will be meticulously calculated. Granted there might need to be some experimentation, but only for the sake of improving efficiency.

      Liked by 12 people

  5. Dainpdf

    Poor Leon. He picked the socially optimal choice for this Prisoner’s Dilemma, but someone else chose the selfish way out.

    And yay for mortal Cat again! She didn’t break the man’s spine. I respect that.

    Also, crow-goddess baiting sounds like a great game.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Rook

      Honestly it turned out about as well for Leon as it possibly could. Kept his Heroic backbone in front of the current generation of boogeyman and got a lesson in why you don’t be brave without being smart; all without his wife and kids tragically perishing. Or even being maimed a little.

      Not that there was any real chance Catherine would’ve followed up on her threat in the first place, considering a senselessly murdered family is about as obvious a setup for a grim avenging Hero as it gets. But hey, it’s the thought that counts.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. Dainpdf

        Good old Machiavelli: “never offend a man you don’t intend to kill”. Also, Fakerine would have definitely either broken the man or killed his family. She’d have been all grim and sorrowful about it, but she’d have done it.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainpdf

        She planned to enslave en entire people, release the King of the Dead on Procer… I don’t know, that sounds to me like someone capable of murder. Also, recall her interaction with Lady Ime over scrying.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RanVor

          I think you’re misjudging the Sovereign of Moonless Nights pretty badly here. Of course, you arrive to your conclusions by taking things out of context, so it’s pretty much expected. It’s very much not about being able to do anything. Every single atrocity perpetrated by the Sovereign of Moonless Nights have been out of perceived necessity. She may have been ruthless, but never without reason. Sure, she could kill that man, but there’d be no point. That would be just another senseless casualty, and she did go out of her way to avoid those, as you choose not to remember.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Dainpdf

            It is easier to perceive necessity when one has fewer compunctions about the act in question. In any case, I believe Fakerine more likely to prey on the man’s fear and break him rather than kill his family as punishment.

            However, if the situation arose, she could very well go into thought about the importance of keeping up one’s threats, so as to not diminish their value. Cat said what kept her from doing it was admiration of the man’s bravery. When did we see something like that from grim Fakerine?

            Liked by 3 people

            1. RanVor

              Since I disagree with the preexisting assumption you base your entire reasoning on, I refuse to engage into this pointless debate that would inevitably lead us nowhere.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I don’t agree with the term Fakerine, but I do agree with your estimation of her likely actions. She’d have gone farther with the man with fewer brakes, even though she probably wouldn’t have killed his family for real.

              Liked by 3 people

    2. Leon’s stand was kind of stupid to begin with, given Catherine wasn’t asking for classified military intelligence or anything like that, just local news. There’s no harm in giving them to her for many reasons starting with her being able to obtain them in 1000 other ways.

      It wasn’t pointless though: it was a question if his personal morals and backbone and bravery, and I think Catherine recognized that.

      It was interesting to see.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dainpdf

        One assumes when the villain is asking things, she’ll be using them for nefarious purpose.

        Also, answering her would have meant giving her news of Black, and withholding such news from her might very well make a difference.

        …plus, religion (especially the kind that is sold in Creation) does not often breed nuanced thinking.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Raiseth

    Aaaaand the purpose of this whole spectacle was what, O Mighty Queen?
    Mmm.
    To find out what kind of person ran the town, I guess, but I can’t see why it’d relevant to her in any case, unless she suddenly decided to permanently occupy the town…
    Huh. It looks like instead of meeting the Dead King head on, Catherine is going to march to Salia with “friendly reinforcements, to be deployed at her Princeship’s convenience”, or else. First Prince is gonna be so glad.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RoflCat

      To get information.

      She basically split the people likely to have useful information around, then individually interrogate them (Akua being one of them or is in charge of the rest of the interrogations)

      The Mayor kept to his belief and kept quiet, but someone else spoke.
      Likely his own wife, when presented with the “I have your child” threat, that’s why the man went through a lot of emotions upon realizing that.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Author Unknown

        I don’t see why his wife would be more likely than anyone else. These aren’t soldiers; this is a village so safe it doesn’t even have walls. And most of the people there probably have very little, if any loyalty to procer. That’s assuming the person offering the information even realized the import of what they are saying. To them, the other side of the kingdom may as well be the moon. Moreover, people, or at least ill educated people, from small towns have a rather myopic view of the world.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. Rook

        More importantly, it’s a layer of protection. Karmic retribution is a pretty scary Above-themed weapon in a world where tropes are life and death. On the flip side, the opposite holds equally true.

        The Senseless Killer almost always gets their comeuppance by some side effect of their history.

        The Honorable Boogeyman that is surprisingly decent to normal folk though? They tend to find a lot more success. Sometimes even surviving or accomplishing their goal.

        The best part is they don’t even have to be a decent person. Just by being caricaturized as a total loon but turning out to be polite, respectable, and reasonable (but still evil), you automatically get points just for being so far above the incredibly low bar that was initially set.

        Liked by 16 people

        1. Good point ;u;

          And Cat would be looking to establish this reputation for more immediately political purposes, too.

          Politics and narrative have a lot in common: they’re both about presentation and PR. The difference is just that one of them doesn’t need actual other people to be informed of what is going on.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Rook

            That’s true as well. Sometimes rumors travel farther than any messenger, and it’s a lot harder for leadership to stir up the common people against a villain when said villain is known to avoid harming commoners.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. You know what this made me think about? Queen’s Gambit, and that one guy faced with the decision to obey his orders or commit treason. I feel like the reputation the Legions have established for not messing with civilians (and the lovely touch of the surrender demand clarifying that even in the even they take the city by force they’ll only kill every armed person) that swayed him towards the decision he settled on (even though it didn’t end up relevant)

              Liked by 2 people

  7. randodude

    i might have been misreading some parts, but the implications that our little pair of ravens can read cat mind at will is rather horrifying.

    twice, one with mighty/genreal Rumena and once with the bird/fake bird

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I mean, they’re goddesses. That seems par for the course.

      I love the touches of how Cat got them to fight and then they pecked at her in retaliation when they realized what she did

      and of Komena complaining and getting sass in response

      Cat is Cat ❤

      Liked by 13 people

  8. caoimhinh

    I wanted a longer chapter or one that showed more, but this one was interesting in its own way displaying the new dynamics and power-relations between Cat and the Night. I look forward to her finding out everything that has happened in the half-year of her absence.
    Also, Indrani is good and kicking, cool. Shared bed more than once, eh? with Cat being all addicted to mortal’s sensory pleasures, that’s to be expected, I guess hahaha.

    Typos found:
    -It’s fine as fine as long as I don’t expect
    -what’s happening to will have trickled into here
    -which unfair in so many ways
    -under the guard of my drow in a previously house

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Why wouldn’t they, really?

      And I love the touch of them both being super worried about Masego but Indrani being the one to comfort Cat ❤
      his girlfriend and his cousin (who is also his girlfriend's girlfriend)

      Liked by 3 people

    2. oliverwashere

      Some typos:
      I hadn’t hear anything.
      hear >heard

      than an army of fifty thousand
      than > that

      and result in a vague notion
      result > resulted

      up the neck in some hidden library,
      up the > up to the

      out thin air > out of thin air

      which unfair > which was unfair

      returned the door > returned to the door

      as it discussing > as if discussing

      fear, isn’t? > fear, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hmmm.
    I don’t get why the mayor was so opposed to talking to Cat about rumours – there’s no way that the rumors he has are sufficiently current or contain high level information or secrets. That is not the hill I’d have thought he would choose to die on – she’s basically asking for common information that she could get from literally anyone.

    That they can’t get in contact with the Observatory is absolutely a bad sign … though if I understand the timing properly, Masego should have made it back some time ago, relative to Cat returning to the surface with the drow in her wake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Compy

      In regards to the mayor not talking – he has principles. “Im a leader of a town in a capital G Good nation, anything I tell the Black Queen will give her something to use against the people of Procer, therefore no matter the question I must give her nothing, even in the face of death or worse.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. luminiousblu

      I mean it’s not really such an odd stance in the context of the minions of the Big Bad Evil Guy (arguably Catherine IS said BBEG) vs. a Good mayor of a failing town
      You could get the information from anyone, and anyone doesn’t include men of valour and so on.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Eh … it’s the sort of information that someone could pick up after spending some time and money in a local tavern or bar.
        Common knowledge really isn’t the sort of thing you risk much in trying to keep a secret.
        Unless you’re expecting that the messenger might get killed or something, then you might gamble that keeping your mouth shut is going to be less bad than being the bearer of bad news.

        Hell – if Cat had someone capable of subtle social infiltration with her, she literally could have sent them to with some money to a bar to ask about rumors and learned everything she asked the mayor about.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. luminiousblu

          It’s less about how effective it’d be and more about just not talking to her on principle. Is it absurdly stupid? Yes, but that’s where principle gets you…

          Liked by 1 person

    3. Skaddix

      I mean the fact the Black Queen rolled into town with a Drow Army and is asking you questions as the Mayor of small town that wasn’t worth her mentor, Black sacking. Tells said Mayor that Cat doesn’t actually know anything. If she did know anything about the ley of the land, why would she come to you? He is on the Side of Good, she is on the Side of Evil. Ergo he thinks any information he gives her will be used against Procer and the Grand Alliance and the Crusade.

      Cat really probably should gone home first and regrouped I think that is a tactical mistake quite frankly. Especially since she cannot get in contact with the Observatory.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Argentorum

        Remember though, she knows that Black is taken captive and I’m pretty sure she either knows or suspects he’s going to be in Salia. There’s no time to go to Callow, regroup, night gate again, regroup and then save Black.

        In the real world, the extra time might not matter. But the price we pay for instantaneous travel in this setting is Narativium.

        To top it off, remember, the Drow are marching north to fight the Dead King. That they most certainly have to get to ASAP, and black, of course, still has to be rescued beforehand. Though, I love thinking about the expression on Cordelia’s face when she realized that Cat is going to save her home when she could not, would not, do it herself.

        Like

    4. I think from him it’s more akin to Ukrainian village leader telling Nazi officer during WW2 what he knows “about rumors”. Chances are, he would rather try to murder him with kitchen axe, then accidentially provide him with crucial information.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Mhm!

        Not likely to be effective, but makes the difference in making the entire land hostile to them.

        Well, except for the collaborators 🙂

        🙂 🙂 🙂

        good thing Catherine isn’t actually fantasy Hitler, despite having the reputation of one 🙂

        🙂 🙂 🙂

        Like

    5. He was too scared of her to think straight.

      His response to fear was to dig his heels in and do the exact opposite thing.

      Reminds me of Cat staring down Black during their first meeting, just because he was trying to scare her ;u;
      (that one was less stupid, but the basic principle is the same)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. In this chapter, Cat doesn’t know yet that the League’s army is in the area. I reckon she’ll find out soon from this village and maybe we’ll get to see her having a face to face with the Heirarch and the Tyrant.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Aotrs Commander

    See, this is why I don’t buy Cat being under the influence of Winter and not her own control. Five minutes in and she’s already corrupting two goddesses, what chance would poor, innocent Winter stand against that?

    Liked by 7 people

      1. They do have, they are just really asexual or at least not as horny as we humans………it would be funny if Cat refound appreciation of her sex life makes it seen like she is a seaxual beasts to the drow….then they spread these rumours until they grow and give her a reputation as a virgin killer or something xD

        Like

  12. I love it, its almost cute how Cat marvels at the small things and how appreciative she is of them, is like she realizes she got a second chance is not going to waste it, also so far the whole thing with Sve and the night seens like a good deal, i loved the crows and if later on Cat gets an eyepatch i am naming her She-Odin xD

    As for the future i had this impression that Cat will somehow end up saving the Lycanoesse, maybe even move Green’s army there, it would be a great move: she proves her intentions, does something igood n a real sense not the “good” above interprets, and may even wrest control or the loyalty of those provinses for callow, at least they will probably remember who stood with them in their hour of need instead of leaving them to die as a buffer.

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    Apologies to Erraticerrata for this but i don’t exagerate when i say i am growing scared and desperate with how things are developing here.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Cat being appreciative of small things is something that really drives home the difference Winter made. It’s what makes her POV such a joy to read right now, and provides so much contrast to the depressed tone it had before.

      The warmth of Indrani’s hand, the drow’s collective marvel at snow, the return of The Height Indignance (not that this ever really went away ;u;), the admiration of a common person’s mundane heroism, the considerations of whether or not she should use Night to quell pain in her leg – all of those things.

      And of course, wanton treachery and insubordinate backtalk ;u;

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, what i like more is that Erraticerrata is not being ambigous at all, those are clearly portrayed as virtues and advantages, mostly her ability to adapt and better comprehend about everything from people to their motivations. Like to really understand things she needs to be able to feel all of that, in fact i can see how the experience with winter helped her since she still remembers how she felt and acted so she can also draw on those experiences.

        On another note next time i will try to stay awake and post earlier, hopefully more people see the second part of whatever i comment (and i mean second part, if i don’t have anything important related tot he chapter i won’t post, that would be insulting to the author, or at least i think so)

        Liked by 2 people

  13. Mikasi

    I wish I could think of someone to commission to get a picture of First Under Night Cat with crows on her shoulders and a night gate behind her. Because that is an EXCELLENT image in my head.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. AdrianGrey

      Just a title. But I expect Cat will be getting a Name by the end of this book. It made sense for her not to have one when she was the not-really-human Sovereign of Moonless Nights, but now that she’s mortal again I expect it’s high time for her to be re-incorporated into Creation’s Story.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Yotz

            Indeed. From the exchange between Black and Bard we can gather – under the certain assumptions – that the Name of Black Knight is now free to be claimed. Cat’s old claims were devoured by Winter with the remains of her old Name, so in order to become the new Knight she had to make a new claim first. Which would be probable course if she either knew what happened to Black; or was tasting waters, so to speak, by making claims each arbitrary period of time to see if it sticks.

            As to possibility of her claiming a Name – this ties closely with the theology behind the New Gods. So far all the Names were Bestowed by either side of the original Players; now we see rise of the new generation – The Undeath, The Instigator, The Night… possibly, The Will of the People.
            With current trends charted, Cat have little to no chance to be Bestowed by ye Aulde Gawds; what remains to be seen then, is if the NKOTB would be able to grant a Name – not necessary to Cat, only to Cat, or to Cat first.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I don’t think Names are bestowed by Gods.

              I think they’re bestowed by the narrative, which is why Neutral names like Thief exist – neither Above nor Below actually need to approve of a Name being created/claimed. They might have some influence over names that are, like, ABOUT being a servant to Above/Below, and of course there are the Choirs, but I think even those are both restricted to people who’ve already chosen the path leading them to the Choirs (William fled to the woods to scream before he met the angel), and kind of have to bestow power on those – as evidenced by Cat forcing the resurrection out of them. They tried to push her into claiming another Name. They didn’t succeed.

              The Above and Below have set up a system, and while they sure can give little nudges here and there, most of their participation in the world is automatic in a way, like priests calling on their power and Below’d debts being called in. They obey their own rules, and they aim for mortals to determine the wager on their own. That’s possibly why Intercessor is the way she is: even as a tool of the Gods, she still has her own free will, and not the broken obedient kind, the Named fuck-you-I-do-what-I-want kind.

              And I think Cat already has a new Name. She’s too much of a Named to not have one, and unlike Amadeus who’d been basically doing nothing since his defeat until we saw him, not laying claim to anything because of not pushing events around in anyw ay, Catherine is an active player. She’s already a Named, I don’t think one can lose this status so easily. There’s a reason Squire sort of stuck around even after being mostly obliterated by the aborted transition into Black Queen: there’s inertia to those things.

              Catherine has a Name, I’m certain of it.

              What it is, though, can be straightforward and logical… like Priestess… or it can be anything but 0.0

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yotz

                Well, even if the system is automated to that point – of which I am unsure – Names still do have a source: like Dichromatic Knights being clearly linked with Above/Below, with their own sets of abilities and limitations. That doesn’t preclude Bestowed/Whatever-is-the-analogue-term-for-Below-’cause-I-can’t-remember-it-for-the-sake-of-Saint-Phuk from having a free will: Black laid a claim, he was granted with a Name, he didn’t excel in usual mindless carnage correlated with the Name, ergo his Name became weak. Just as it was with Cat while she was a Squire. So, the jury is in debate on this one.

                What I was implying, though, is the consequences of the Apotheosis among the native denizens of the Creation: in essentiality, NPCs of the sandbox evolving into Players… well, in the case of Bard that would be a transition of PC into Player – but regardless.

                In becoming the Third Side in the Game they may serve as another, new source of Names, be the process of Bestowal so to say “manual”, or automated. Come to think of it, with the deep automation in place, a new class of Names coming from the new source may come into reality much more easely – simply as a byproduct of the System.

                In short, Cat can haz a Naem, of course; but if it is indeed so – in if it is, the Name of what nature… we shall see.

                PS: And as in regard to “Players” – I consider only individual entities from Above/Below to bear that status. Even if Creation is a multiplayer openworld sandbox, Players are by definition outside of the Game. That’s the reason of them being so anxious about Neshamah – they didn’t want him to escape from localized server cluster into the big Net.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. yeah, I think the point is that the mortals are Players, and the Above/Below are the DMs. I think that’s a more accurate description. And apotheosis makes you a more powerful / more permanent player, but never a DM.

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. I agree with Liliet that Names ultimately come from the Narrative, but I’ll strengthen her qualification: Once a Name has been established as specifically Good/Evil (or perhaps more strongly as Holy/Damned), the respective gods can bestow that name.

                  But we’ve already seen that fae titles closely resemble mortal Names, so I’d assume that Night titles are now also comparable, especially since Night absorbed most of Winter. And Cat is now High Priestess of Night, so that’s her place in the Narrative.

                  Interestingly, it would seem that the Dead King does not have the power to grant comparable distinctions, or we’d surely have met some of them in Keter. He may not be as much a god as he thinks.

                  Like

            2. My interpretation is that the Squire Name was suppressed by Winter before. When Winter was removed, she was back to the Squire.

              The conversation (quoted below) between Catherine and Sve Noc posing as Hakram feels like the moment of transition to me. Together with the fact that Amadeus lost his Name at roughly the same time convinced me of this. Shouldn’t be long now until we know for sure.

              “I should never have been queen,” I said. “At most a temporary regent while looking for a better candidate. There are things I’m good at, but ruling isn’t one of them. I should have put my effort to those instead and left the crown to someone suited for it.”

              “And what it is that you’re good at, if not this?” Hakram pressed.

              “Breaking things,” I said. “Facing the monsters so that the real work can take place behind me.”

              Like

              1. Yotz

                Mebbe, mebbe.
                I’d have to re-read some parts to either agree or disagree with you conclusively.
                Which would be sometime after I sate my thirst for literary excesses and/or graphomaniac tendencies. Which is to say – not in this century, it seems //sadface.

                Either way, you are on the point that will know for sure soon enough.

                Liked by 1 person

        1. Lucas

          Also don’t think so, but it’s at least a good reason for Amadeus being nameless.
          Although we don’t know if he actually lost it, only that he doesn’t have it right now. And we also don’t know it i was all willing or not

          Like

  14. Andrew Mitchell

    It’s so, so, SO good to have the Guide back again. 🙂

    Especially the sas:

    > “Caw,” the crow on my left shoulder drily said.
    >
    > The word, not actual cawing, because Andronike had developed a taste for the sardonic since shaving off a sliver of her godhood and sending it if off with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Yotz

    So, the Two-Faced Goddess of Night Everlasting rules over the shadows of any kind.
    Akua Sahelian is a shade.
    Therefore I hereby pronounce her to be the First among the Seraphs of The Night.

    Liked by 2 people

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