Chapter 61: Reformation

“Zarei, of short stride
saw the long’s pride
and carved, laughing
found them wanting:
chased into shadow
by one mighty blow.”
– Extract from the ‘Zarei Veste’, a Firstborn traditional epic

Night had become my time, refreshing to my tired bones like a cool drink on a parching day. I enjoyed the quiet of it, the veil of stillness laid down by the dark under the stirrings of creatures nocturnal. Without so much spinning my thought came clearer, less cluttered, and these days what already lay within my own mind was quite enough clutter already. It felt, at times, like I was attempting to juggle half the continent – it felt that way because it was, essentially, what I was trying to do. Yet while there might have been quiet awaiting us at the heart of the drow’s tent-city, there was hardly any stillness to be found: with dusk passing the curse of the pale light had passed, and the Firstborn tread under the moon’s unblinking eye like shifting shadows. After my Lord of Silent Steps’ report I’d expected for there to be a tautness to the air, but that had perhaps been naïve of me. Drow didn’t complain or riot or indicate their displeasure, because every last one of them was born to the knowledge that all it took was irritating someone stronger than them once to end up killed. The only drow who were vocal about much of anything were the Mighty and even among those only sigil-holders could really be said to be outspoken, that cabal of the few who’d spent years slaying all comers until they rose to the summit of the pyramid of strife. No, instead of a boiling cauldron about to tip over the tent-city of the Firstborn looked like half a festival.

A drow one, anyway.

Grey-skinned dzulu wearing the colours and signs of their sigils, either painted on skin or woven into cloth, had come out under moonlight to play. I was used to a soldier’s vices of choice being drinking and gambling, but those were the favourites of the Legions. Here it was instead the old amusements of the Everdark that reigned, and they were less bloody in nature than I’d expected. Standing before a tall heap of piled stones drow would set on their brow a thin leathery chord set with a single small stone and claim in cadenced Crepuscular that their tongue was made of flame. Another drow would then step up to them, and call them an eight-year-snake, after which they would each sing a couplet with the challenger going second. It seemed to me that, more often than not, they were citing old and well-known texts with only just enough adjusted to brutally mock their opponent or boast of their own obvious superiority in all things. Hakram sent me a look that was disturbingly pleasing, coming from an orc that hefty, and I allowed our steps to slow so we’d catch some of it. One dzulu from the Sudone claimed that its opponent was –

Cunning as cattle, fearsome as a trout,
Beloved of nerezim, quiet as a shout!”

–  which had the watching dzulu laughing in approval. The other singer, one of the Jindrich, went the other way instead. Boasting shamelessly, it announced it would –

“Swallow pale light and make it night,
Harvest from death its very breath,
Weave with loom a second gloom!”

Which had a few of the Soln in the crowd and most the Jindrich ululating in approval, some even calling out a name: Zarei Stride-Carver. After both songs had been sung in full the dzulu cast small tokens – trinkets, pieces of cloth, even simple stones – at the feet of one or the other, deciding whose song had been the finest. The Sudone dzulu won, that time, and triumphantly called out that for the fourth time its tongue was flame.

“There are traditions much like this in the Lesser Steppes,” Adjutant murmured as we both watched another drow step up and challenge the victor.

The steppes beyond the Wasiliti, I knew that meant. Where the Clans had been able to hang on to more of their old ways, further from Miezan steel and the Tower’s schemes.

“Duels of singing?” I asked.

“And steel as well,” Hakram said. “Though there was a time, Catherine, when no great warrior would have wielded the axe without the verse.”

I eyed him amusedly.

“If you want to challenge one them, I could always translate into Crepuscular for you,” I offered.

He looked genuinely tempted but eventually shook his head, clicking his fangs in polite refusal.

“Too much would be lost in translation,” he said. “And though I was taught old and cherished words, there are few I can claim as my own.”

I thought of Nauk, in that moment, Nauk who’d written In Dread Crown and whose song was still sung even after the warpriests of the Dominion had taken him from me. I caught the exact moment Hakram thought of him too, and we watched the Firstborn trade singing barbs in silence as we shared in the same grief. I half-smiled at the defending champion’s verse – it’d just claimed it would make a tomb for the Tomb-maker – and we let it flow out of us, like a mouthful of wakeleaf smoke offered up to the wind.

“The formula they speak, at the start,” Hakram said.

“My tongue is made of flame,” I quoted, then my lips quirked. “You are but an eight-year-snake.”

He inclined his head.

“What does it mean?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I said. “Rumena, care to share?”

I felt the general’s mild irritation through the Night at having once again failed to approach me unnoticed and savoured that for the very petty victory that it was. The general of the Southern Expedition strode to my side in silence, filling the empty space at my left.

“It an old story, Losara Queen,” Rumena said.

“Oh,” I said, sweetly similing. “So you were there?”

“I see,” General Rumena gravely said. “Now that you have servants to flatter you again, you have resumed your delusion of being amusing. I had thought your cured of this ailment, Queen of Lost and Found.”

“Careful, buddy,” I said, jutting a thumb at the singing drow. “One of those just promised to put you in a tomb, are you sure you want to spend your last moments failing to get the best of me?”

Rumena glanced at Hakram, pale silver-blue eyes lingering on the missing hand.

“The orc has only one hand and still a defter touch with words,” it told me.

“He hasn’t even said anything,” I protested.

I winced the moment I said it, feeling the sense of mocking satisfaction wafting off of it into the Night. The prick.

“One of these days,” I told it. “One of these days, Rumena.”

“It is true,” the Tomb-maker conceded, “you might truly have a chance, if I am asleep.”

Ouch. Well, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t going up there to sing with the old bastard anytime soon.

“It is from a legend of the ancient days, before the Twilight Sages,” the old drow told Hakram. “There was once a manner of snake that was said to be born with the favour of the Shrouded Gods, manifest as stone on its head. Should it live for nine years, and devour flesh every day, it would grow to become izmej. That is, flame-tongued and immortal, swimming through stone with on its brow the shine of pale light.”

Dragon, I thought, but it was not like the dragons I knew of – which were, anyway, all but disappeared these days.

“And so an eight-year-snake is one that could not become izmej,” Hakram thoughtfully said. “What happens, if a singer is the victor nine times?”

“None who cast token in the contest may kill the nine-year-snake for a span nine nights,” Rumena said. “Immortality, Deadhand. For a time.”

It murmured in Crepuscular, after that, citing the Tenets of Night. For glory fades and stone crumbles, no victor forever crowned. The words were sobering, for they brought to mind the reason I’d come to the tent-city in the first place. Under the currents of celebration here there was a lit sharper that’d blow unless I put out the fuse quick enough.

“The Zoitsa Sigil is still under control?” I asked.

“The children that were disciplined have recovered,” Rumena said, “yet word of your impending arrival has stayed hands for now. The Lutesuk and the Vachikna will require adjudication as well, if your intent is to prevent killing between all Mighty.”

“Between all Firstborn,” I sharply corrected. “Take me to them, then.”

The general’s pale eyes flicked to Hakram.

“The Adjutant’s presence will be commented upon,” the old drow said.

“Let them comment,” I grunted. “He can’t understand Crepuscular anyway, I’m bringing him as an advisor.”

Ade Varul,” Rumena said, eyes narrowing. “Yes, this would be accepted.”

It’s sounded the same, to an extent, but the meaning had been different: truth-bearer, or truth-keeper maybe? It was from an older form of Crepuscular, the one drow tended to use for formal titles.

Mais encore?” I said in Chantant, just to show it wasn’t the only one who could speak all fancy.

“When the Empire Ever Dark still stood, it was the title given to those who learned precedents of law and bore old scrolls of histories to provide these during adjudication,” General Rumena said. “A learned servant.”

“In service of who?” I asked.

“The Twilight Sages,” the Tomb-maker. “Or those they appointed to pass judgement in their stead.”

It was easy to forget, I thought, that there’d been a time where the Firstborn had known laws more elaborate than the rule of the hardest hand. I nodded my assent, though in truth even an oblique tie with the fools who’d nearly destroyed their entire race for fear of death had me uneasy. Very few would remain that had known those days, I reminded myself. And of those that did, only Rumena had come south instead of marching with the Sisters themselves. We moved as swiftly as my limp around, eyes lingering on the distractions that’d seized the camp. Small packs gathered around the small colourful tiles that were the centrepiece of a game of inic cin, carefully placing down their own to make or break patterns according to the labyrinthine rules of their game – hardly any two sigils allowed the same set of patterns, and drow from the outer rings would rather kiss a dwarf than begin the game with a lizard-fish prowling pattern already on the floor instead of empty space, the way Firstborn from deeper in the Everdark insisted the game was meant to be played. There were more earthy entertainments as well, ones I was more familiar with: javelin-throwing and wrestling, as well as the madman’s bargain that was the por neroc, the axe-fortune. I’d yet so see anyone play that game without bleeding, and not for lack of trying.

Firstborn were more prone to indulging in luxurious meals or elaborate concoctions than hard drinking, as a rule, since liquor was usually reserved for the very powerful or the very much powerless. For the former it was a statement of might – that even drunk they could take all comers – while for the latter it was a tacit admission that their lives could be reaped at any time and there was nothing they could do about it. That might change, in time, at least if the drow were guided towards ways that bled them less often and eagerly by their own hands. Still, I doubted they’d ever become great drinkers of the wines and liquors of Calernia, anymore than the nations of the surface were at risk of becoming enamoured of the drow’s own drinks. I suspected that the Firstborn tasted things rather differently than we did, because some of the things they ate and drank… Ugh. There was a reason that I’d sometimes used their mushroom-based liquor on Archer as a punishment. I set the ponderings aside as we found the heart of the tent-city, and the Firstborn that awaited us there. What must have been the entire Zoitsa Sigil – which would keep that name even after Mighty Zoitsa’s death until another Mighty claimed the sigil – was patiently standing and awaiting us. An open space had been cleared on the snowy grounds, fitting the thousand or so drow in what I could only call a hierarchy laid bare. Four rylleh were seated at the front, then jawor behind them, then ispe behind those, leading to what must have been nine hundred and change dzulu. The Zoitsa were not a large sigil, though given that they had twelve jawor among their number I could see why they wouldn’t be taken as easy meat either.

“You stand in the presence of the Queen of Lost and Found, the First Under the Night,” General Rumena called out. “Kneel.”

They did. And they stayed kneeling, as I considered the approach I wanted to take. Ivah’s report had mentioned Rumena savaging the two most prominent claimants, and through the Night I could easily tell who those would be – they were significantly stronger than the other two, though not so much that the weaker pair allying against one would not see that particular rylleh killed. Unless they had a particular lethal Secret, anyway, but that struck me as unlikely. Drow that lucked into one of those tended to rise quickly through the ranks until they either died or became sigil-holders. I limped forward, leaning on my staff of yew as I cast a cursory glance around us. This was no Legion camp, there was no such thing as restricted sections of it: anyone brave enough linger where they could either hear or see could, unless someone chase them away. And there were plenty of curious Firstborn, though I noted they were largely ispe. The lowest of the Mighty. Sigil-holders, I grasped, were sending people to keep an eye on the judgement I was meant to render. Whatever decision was handed out tonight, it would not be long before the greatest Mighty of my host knew of it. That was trouble, for already I’d once denied them the prize that had been the Twilight Crown. If I further chipped away at their ways I might begin to encounter resistance, which given the hold sigil-holders had on their followers would be… more than inconvenient.

“You who would claim the Zoitsa Sigil, rise,” I said. “And come before me.”

I’d fully expected all four rylleh to rise, but instead it was only three. One of the weaker pair, I thought, must have been convincing enough to earn the other’s backing. The drow came to stand before my scrutinizing gaze, calm-faced and straight-backed.

“Decree was given,” I said. “The Southern Expedition is as one great cabal, and until it has ended no Firstborn may slay another. Yet I am told you would have broken the edict, if not for General Rumena’s reminder. Explain yourself.”

The weakest of the three kneeled.

“Losara Queen,” it said, “I am-”

“Bereft of a name or my mercy, until you have given me an answer,” I mildly said.

It didn’t flinch at my words, though its face blanked and I felt the malicious pleasure of the other two rylleh through the Night. It’d earned the rebuke, I thought, the moment it tried to smooth-talk me out of anything.

“Night cannot be left to fade, O Great One,” the rylleh said. “Mighty Zoitsa must have successor, and when strife is had over who that Mighty should be there is only one manner of settling the claims known to us. I aim not to break the Night’s decree, only to obey the Tenets of Night.”

Meaning that none of the three were willing to back down and let one of the others harvest the Night from Zoitsa’s corpse, which meant duels to the death were the traditional solution as established by Sve Noc. Lovely. The leftmost rylleh knelt.

“Losara Queen, this one recognizes the truth of the great cabal binding us,” it said. “And so this one implores your holy judgement in deciding who is worthy of rising, in place of strife.”

And there it was, my opening. All I needed to do was accept the invitation and this could all be settled in moments without blood being spilled. That this particular rylleh had been clear-eyed enough to realize both that I wouldn’t allow blood being spilled and that easing my way to judgement would incline me well towards it made it a strong candidate for sigil-holder, I thought, though also someone to watch. And yet I stilled my tongue, because what I did here would echo. Through the ears and tongues of the ispe lingering at the edges of this clearing, yes, but also through the years to come. I was setting a precedent, and it was not something I should do lightly. I turned my eyes to the third rylleh, the last one still standing.

“And you?” I said. “What words would you speak?”

It knelt, smoothly.

“None, Losara Queen,” it rasped. “I do not presume to reach beyond my grasp.”

Tasting its words through the Night, I decided it was speaking the truth – or at least that it believed what it was saying. If I was to wade in an make an appointment through the awarding of Zoitsa’s corpse, then this one was the safe bet. Not too ambitious, steady. Likely more set in the old ways than either of the other two, but with enough deference for Sve Noc and through them myself that it would broadly balance out. This one, I decided, was the choice if I wanted to avoid making waves among sigil-holders. If I appointed the second speaker, it’d be seen as my raising ambitious lickspittles. Those not willing to become my creatures would feel threatened and react accordingly. The first speaker, the one I’d chastened, was trickier to parse in implications. It was the weakest of the three, which would ruffle some feathers but perhaps also raise the hopes of Firstborns who’d hit the limit of what they could claim with their own strength that in my service they might rise further still. I wasn’t one to particularly enjoy a smooth-talker, and this one reminded me a little of Praesi highborn, but vague dislike was not reason enough to exclude them as a candidate.

“If you had the pick of three highborn for a lordship,” I said in Kharsum, “what measure would you use to weigh the right choice?”

Adjutant was at my side, a towering presence of calm that passed on a portion of that serenity to me.

“The three,” he replied in his native tongue. “Are they the only people I can pick?”

“Without making a mess, yes,” I said. “And no matter which I choose, I’ll have intervened in the succession of a noble line – while using royal authority.”

Religious, in truth, but it would not be too inaccurate to compare the kind of influence I now commanded among the drow to what a Good Queen might have commanded in the Old Kingdom.

“Letting the succession pass without intervention isn’t in the cards,” he half-asked, half-stated.

“They’d go at each other like Wasteland nobles over it,” I said. “Only without the subtlety. It’d be setting an even worse precedent, as far as I’m concerned.”

If I exempted strife over the succession of sigil-holders from the ban on drow killing each other, then the gate would be cracked open. As far as I was concerned, any possible benefit to be obtained from a higher concentration of Night in some former rylleh’s hands was far below what I got by keeping the drow who knew how to use their own tricks in possession of those tricks. And that was in a military view, anyway. The moral aspects of it were… well, I couldn’t keep raising my nose a ritualized murder for power being a central tenet of drow culture if I simply allowed it to keep going on when I could do otherwise.

“If you are bound to rancor for any intervention at all,” Adjutant pragmatically said, “appoint the most apt candidate. At least you’ll be getting the most out of what it cost you.”

Sound advice. Following it, all that remained before passing down judgement was considering which of the three rylleh would be most valuable to my intentions. Gods, probably the first of the three. They’d – no, that was the wrong way to think about it. The most apt candidate was the one that’d best serve the interest of the sigil it led, not necessarily my own. Ah, I thought, but why appoint a lord at all? I thought of a thin man in ragged robes, keeping records no one would read for a revolution that pulsed out of him like a titan’s breath. How many of us are there, tyrant, he’d asked, and how many of you? I could not use old means save to reach old ends.

“General Rumena,” I said. “Send for the Firstborn.”

The old drow’s head bowed by a fraction.

“Which sigils?” it asked.

“All of them,” I said. “Every last one of you.”

If I was to hand down judgement, it would not be to seek the least of three evils.

I would try to do better.

101 thoughts on “Chapter 61: Reformation

  1. IDKWhoitis

    The Drow do rap battles.

    They are calling the best of their raps “fire”

    No wonder Hakram wanted to stay and listen. It must have been a sight to see.

    Liked by 38 people

  2. Ooh. She’s gonna pick the fourth one, the one that didn’t press a claim, giving its backing to another.

    Huh. Lot of similarities between the internal old ways and traditions of the orc clans and the ways and traditions of the drow. That’s interesting, and a sign of either parallel development or significant contact between the two cultures in the distant past.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        The duels of singing may not be the best measuring stick for rulership. However some sort of non lethal duel may suffice. Likely voting will be the manner it is ended.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Rynjin

          Well, duels of fighting aren’t exactly the best judge of leadership skills either. At least the two battles require you to be able to think on your feet, which is a valuable leadership quality.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. The “dozens” and variations reward not just verbal ability, but creative thinking under pressure, and of course unflappable self-control. There’s a reason it’s been popular as a non-lethal contest across many human cultures.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Shveiran

            I’ll concede it is an improvement over duels to the death (or physical contests in general), but that… is not a really high bar to jump.

            I’m with IDKWhoitis on this one… if that’s the way Cat goes, it would set a very odd measuring stick for drow leadership. Which is why “Dissing Crepuscolar Hour” is not an outcome I think will come around.

            Liked by 4 people

        3. Maaddiie

          If she is looking for the most apt leader she might do something along the lines of an oral quiz where she tests to see which has the strongest leadership qualities. It would be a competition and the drow would see it as a reason to follow the one she chooses.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. erebus42

      Not to mention the similar scavenger philosophies shared by the Drow and the Goblins. Though with the goblins, it was already said that the two races had had run-ins in the past.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      I’m placing my bet on the 4th guy too, but by Cat allowing the rest of the Mighty to vote on the next Sigil Holder. And the mighty pick that guy.

      Each sigil effectively picks its own sigil holder, potentially for life. This would do a lot to motivate the powerful to not abuse their subordinates, and the drow themselves are likely to vote for the “most worthy/strongest/most cunning”. So this gives the higher tier mighty something to strive for, to display their Superiority so they can truly rise.

      Based on the rap battles, we see the Drow already have the concept of voting, and concept of terms. So either they vote for the next Sigil Holder for a set term, or until death.

      This would inoculate Cat’s army from Hierarch, since her Drow ruling class would be rightfully elected representatives, thus not tyrants, and thus not subject to Revolutions or whatever chaotic head choppy Aspect the madman has.

      Liked by 13 people

        1. Rup

 so this is Cat ref Hierarch??

          a thin man in ragged robes, keeping records no one would read for a revolution that pulsed out of him like a titan’s breath

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Dainpdf

        You run the risk of having votes be compelled by violence or some similar means, and this does not explain what she’s calling every Drow there for. But it is probably something like that.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          There will probably be some sort of silent/hidden vote system in place, to prevent reprisals.

          It’s possible either the other sigils confirm, nominate, or get a vote on the next sigil holder. It’s also possible Cat wants to make a point, and rather make this a sort of ceremonial thing to make the other Sigil holders respect the results.

          Liked by 6 people

            1. Shveiran

              Small, localized truthtelling exists, though. Even Tariq’s Behold wouldn’t have the necessary magnitude, not unless every voter stops by him afterward to comment Who they voted for.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. I mean, Catherine literally didn’t do anything about the tribes. The drow are still entirely decentralized. Anything about building a city etc is their own ideas.


    3. WuseMajor

      No, I think she’s going to try to teach them Democracy. Or something. Which ….I dunno. With this group, I think democracy might implode faster than anarchic murder.

      Liked by 3 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            That’s possible IMO but unlikely. The new sigal-holder needs to have the additional Night in order to (a) ensure it now gets unquestioning obedience from it’s sigal, and (b) to put it on a roughly equal footing with the other sigals.

            Liked by 3 people

      1. Sylwoos

        As you say, a bid at Democracy at this point would feel very forced. I’m expecting a rap battle with the first born as the jury instead. This is the closest she can get, and it implement a non-violent way for the Drow to sort their difference without going against their tradition.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I disagree.

        First of all, as noted above, drow already have the concept of picking the best by majority opinion.

        Second, “leader by acclaim” is in no way a new idea. Sure, having the entire nation be led by elected representatives needs the kind of infrastructure the drow don’t have, but having intra-sigil affairs be settled by the sigil’s opinion? It fits with the best parts of the “warrior culture” the drow have while suppressing the worst.

        There is precedent for this IRL, and it would fit very well with what Cat has already started – “first be worthy, then rise”.

        By the way, note how she concluded that the weaker one was supported by the other weaker one. Again, drow already have the concept of ‘whoever secures followers wins’. It’s just subordinate to raw strength; Catherine will flip it around. A surgical intervention, changing very little but at the same time everything.

        Liked by 6 people

    4. Vortex

      I do not think she is going to play kingmaker at all. She wants a better system, not a temporary patch leaning on her authority. I bet she is going to design some kind of trial or test of suitability. Have each of the claimants demonstrate their worthiness somehow, rather than murder each other for it.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Quite Possibly A Cat

        Spreading the Night would an interesting precedent to set. I’m not sure how well it would work though. There might be practical issues. What happens if you split the Night among all the Drow? Politically short term it won’t be an issue. Long-term hopefully it will be better than ritualized murder.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. erebus42

    Well now, I’m curious to see what Cat’s plan is. It can’t be democracy. As amusing as it would be to watch her try to explain the concept to the Drow, there’s no way that would go down well.
    As an aside, the Drow are probably my favorite race introduced so far, except maybe Goblins. They’re just so fucking cool and their culture is so interesting.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Kirroth

      No no, it’s all a matter of how she frames it.

      This chapter established that the drow have rap battles that are a mix of boasts and trash talk where the audience votes on the winner. That’s like nine tenths of the way to candidate debates and campaign slogans already. All Cat has to do is call for a rap battle where the winner becomes the new Sigil Holder instead of measuring them on pure style points.

      It’s sort of like democracy, where the people get a vote on who’s in charge, but with enough bias towards the Mighty to satisfy their sensibilities.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “Leader by popular acclaim” is pretty doable when there’s just a thousand voters, IMHO. And not new to the drow as a concept, considering Cat’s musing that the weaker drow must have secured the support of the other weaker one.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        Not new to the drow as a concept, yes, but it has been a long time since it was a staple of their society. These are peers trying to seize a Night-filled body, once that is achieved the imbalance of power between the Sigil-holder and the rest would be restored. And there are the powerful ones: who cares what the jawor thinks, let alone the nisi? In drow culture, their support is not required, and their obedience can be guaranteed.

        I’m just saying, it’s a long path between “being capable to strike deals of convenience with peers” and “open to the building of a society based on consensus”.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            Majority opinion is deciding through consensus: the shared agreement that we’ll use a method to detetmine the most popular opinion and stand by that decision, including who gets to rule.

            Even if we want to split hair, I can’t say I see many exemples of either in drow society, anyway.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. >Majority opinion is deciding through consensus

              not in this case, considering the only person who needs to make the decision to follow the majority opinion is Cat

              she’s asking the others because she deigns to, not because they actually have the power to contradict her if they disagree

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Shveiran

                If the only consensus needed is Cat’s, she is not establishing a precedent: she is playing a drunk Mighty, acting on a whim while everyone gets along with it because otherwise ZAP.

                We were talking about changing how the drow work, so I was assuming we were speaking long term, self-sustaining options; not “what Cat can punch them into doing”.
                That discussion would bring us back to the Ruling Council, and is so long it isn’t worth discussing besides; it is basically “whatever Sve Noc will allow”, since so long as that holds she can pull the Night out of anyone who disagrees.

                Which brings me to your second point; Sve Noc has not been active for a long time; centuries, in fact. It is everyone’s guess whether or not they will keep active in ten years, or twenty, or fifty.
                Once again, they are not a solve-it-all solution; they can, realistically, jump start any change by endorsing it. It is unlikely they’ll be willing to act like enforcers for it.


                1. Sve Noc weren’t active before because they hadn’t attained godhood yet.

                  Enforcing law for who gets to lead others in a theocracy sounds like something literal gods would be interested in.

                  Well, y’know, as long as there’s a priesthood to handle the day to day drudgery of it ❤ ❤ ❤

                  Liked by 1 person

      1. And it would not change much, considering the drow would very much vote for the powerful first and foremost. The genius of it is how little outside intervention it is, from the drow’s point of view. They are literally asked to pick, themselves!

        Liked by 6 people

    1. Inay

      “Mais encore” is litteraly “but again” yes. In this context, you could read it as “Yeah, and so?” or something akin. It’s to ask your interlocutor to say more.
      (Source: me, french)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Dainpdf

    I suspect she will have the new sigil holder be chosen by acclaim from other sigil holders. It ties the sigils more tightly and absolves her of picking herself, while keeping the system sufficiently… aristocratic for a group so accustomed to hierarchy as the Firstborn.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Also a very possible option, but… there has to be incentive for the other sigils to not want to fuck this one sigil over. The drow are competitive.

      IMHO asking the sigil itself to pick has more going for it.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Dainpdf

        It runs the risk of compelled votes, and also seems like something that would have the drow rebel. Plus, Cat has not yet recanted her dismissal of democracy. This could be it, but I am unsure.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The drow would rebel against what, the concept of democracy working improperly? What the fuck do they care?

          And Cat dismissed the concept of what Bellerophon does, not ‘everything that the modern irl world calls democracy’ (considering she has no reference for modern irl world).

          …and actually she has JUST flashed back to Hierarch as him having a point…

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            Cat has also always been against what I think she called “rule by mob”, giving everyone a say in choices they can’t meaningfully undestand under the assumpion that because there is a lot of them it will average out alright.

            I don’t know what Will happen, but It doesn’t seem like She changed her mind on the subject


            1. Yes, but that is completely irrelevant to the question of “who gets to lead this sigil”. In this case, the question is clear to everyone and nobody who doesn’t have the requisite background for it is being asked.

              What Bellerophon does is rule by mob, because they have everyone make every decision. Choosing a first among equals in a relatively small group though, has nothing to do with that.

              Liked by 1 person

          2. Dainpdf

            True. Still, whether the drow would accept a system where authority is not derived of power is, as of this chapter, up in the air.


            1. It is derived of power tho. A sigil holder has Night a grade above anyone else, so anyone who got his Night would automatically have the power that goes with authority in the drow’s eyes. As long as the ‘this and this appear simultaneously’ condition is fulfilled, everything else is fluff that is much more changeable, in the eyes of people who are not political analysts.


  5. I love this so much.

    More worldbuilding, but more interestingly, a point about the drow culture: they HAVE it. Like, they are people and act like people. The Tenets of Night warp it, but they do not annihilate it.

    And Catherine has to set up their ways forever going onward 😀

    Liked by 4 people

        1. Nice, thanks for the link! Dunno if anyone’s noted this already, but re: the Alamans sometimes being called Alemanni (or something like that) which is germanic, IIRC they have generally been called Alemanni in a historical context in the Guide. So I think the parallel here is to the Franks (who were a germanic tribe originally) over time becoming the French (who are french).

          Liked by 3 people

  6. Author Unknown

    It seems the core issue Cat faces is redefining worth from who is the stabbiest to something more productive. It’s a pitty Masego has lost his mojo, he could have come up with some kind of ritual to choose who is the best servant of the Night. Something powered by the Night from the dead sigil and a tithe from the claimants, winner takes all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Argentorum

      Not gonna lie, I’m really looking forward to the defining characteristic of Drow leadership being they who spit the hotted rhymes.

      Eight year snakes need not apply.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Daniel E

    Gotta say, the divergence into Drow culture was interesting in the Everdark. Back on the surface though? I’m just not feeling it. I feel like if you skipped over this whole interaction (the end of Masego’s conversation till whenever this Drow bit ends), you absolutely would not miss anything relevant to the story, or even especially interesting as backstory. The Drow interactions seem incredibly trivial at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ghiribaldi

    Instead of a democratic vote, which I agree doesn’t seem very cat-like, perhaps she have each of the Rylleh seeking the title to have contests *between those who support them in their bid*. Then the title goes to those who have the loyalty of the most powerful/successful supporters rather than a simple vote.
    A set number of contests between the followers, but having more followers than another would be a big help in some contests. Again to make it worth while to keep the Dzulu and Ipse loyal to you as well. A contest could be fighting, another could be the Drow rap battle, another could be producing materials and supplies (where having Ipse and Dzulu would be good…), etc. The person with the most victories at the end wins the title.

    It encourages would-be rulers to take interest in their underlings.
    It gives them a taste of what leadership is like by relying on others rather than just yourself.
    The Sigil Seeker would be able to provide some level of support in some contests, but not all, to reflect what being a leader is like.

    There is already a rule preventing murder/harvesting… extend that to No Reprisals or put a rule in that says the same person cannot bid for leadership twice in a row, they have to stay out every other ‘election’. This means people who supported you in one bid would be available to support someone else in the next…. making reprisals economically unwise since time would be better spent on winning them over.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Andrew Mitchell

    I disagree for because the Drow and how Cat shapes them are going to be critical factors in the final book. So the fact that we got to understand why Cat can’t just decide on the leader herself, the significance of the decision she’s facing and that the decision is going to shape the drow are all important. Also, there’s been well-founded speculation in other comments that even the game the Drow were playing is going to be an important aspect of what happens next.

    Plus, we got to see more Rumena sass, and that’s always a good thing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. dalek955

    How I’d run this: Ask each contender to explain to the sigil why it would make the best sigil-holder. Then have each of them tell the sigil which of the others it would select for the top spot, if it had the choice and couldn’t choose itself. Then ask the sigil to vote by token-casting. Do all this in front of the whole army, so all see how it’s done and all see that it was done fairly.

    Now to see how much like me Cat thinks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. >Ask each contender to explain to the sigil why it would make the best sigil-holder.

      I don’t think this would work at this stage of their society’s development. They will only accept one reason: because this person is the strongest / most capable of winning a fight for them. However, how exactly it is determined which one is the strongest is something it is within Cat’s power to change.

      Liked by 1 person

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