Chapter 62: Pledged

“Power is as wealth; that which is yours has always been snatched from another.”
– Dread Emperor Venal

General Rumena had sent for them and they had come.

The Firstborn, I’d understood since my first steps past the murk of Gloom, were the ruin of a people. Even the name of their realm was the remnant of olden nights:  from Empire Ever Dark to a brutal tapestry of sigils haunting the last gasps known simply known as the Everdark. They had been, when I journeyed through their ancient broken cities and their endless tribal wars, little more than a desperate ritual masquerading as a people. Sve Noc had bargained for their salvation of their people, made a pact with Below, yet it was survival they had sought and there their ambitions had ended. Wise of them, perhaps, given how insistently the Twilight Sages had courted the doom of their kind until they were slaughtered in their own seat of power to earn audience with those the drow called the Shrouded Gods. Under the auspices of Komena and Andronike the Firstborn had carved out their old glories and made of them hovels and walls, forgotten how to read their own sacred writings and traded steel for obsidian. Cut after cut, they’d forgotten what they used to be until what they’d become was but distant kin to the people who’d raised the great works I’d seen but the barest fraction of.

I’d taken me some time to understand how much more they’d lost than things like knowing how to build sewers or make steel tools, or a hundred other small practical bits of knowledge that made life easier for people who knew them. No, the wound was deeper than that. There’d never been a day in my life where I did not know that if I sought the right books, or the right stories, I could not know the history of my people. Who we had been in ages past and through that how we’d become who we were. What it meant, when a well-dressed Proceran tread a street and my people began humming the tune of Red The Flowers. Why at every summer fair there was an evening where primroses were hung form the tallest tree or roof and comical plays were had under them until dawn – a last defiance in the name of the Albans, smothered in madness so long ago. Hells, I’d even been able to find out why early in the spring so many grizzled old men and women filled the taverns of Laure and that’d actually been fairly dangerous to openly acknowledge. That old soldiers still mourned the last defeat of the Conquest drink in hand had not been one of those things people talked about fit they didn’t want to draw the attention of the Eyes. Not too loudly, anyway.

Even during Black’s decades of occupation the old histories had not been burned. Oh, he was a cannier man than that. He’d restricted grimoires and weapons, eradicated every legacy of the paladins of the White Hand, but the histories he’d not even tried to torch. Viciously elegant as always, he’d simply made the histories he preferred cheaper and easier to obtain before letting human nature do the rest. Yet for someone designated enough to digging, Callow’s past was there to find. Even under the Praesi, I’d known more of the truth of my people than any drow born in the last thousand years could claim to know of theirs. I’d seen the truth of that laid bare between the Lord of Silent Steps and the Tomb-maker, Ivah and Rumena. The younger looked at the Firstborn and saw the only thing it had ever known, a history that was closed circle of murder under the Night, while the older drow held a rank in the host of an empire that no longer existed, commanding soldiers that were long dead. Rumena treated even other sigil-holders as children because that was what they were, in its eyes: children putting on the regalia of the empire that’d birthed them, thieving magpies making a nest of rubies and golden bracelets. It wasn’t wrong, I thought, to believe that. It was true, that the Firstborn born of this era wore old honours and spoke old words without knowing the truth of them, having made mystical of mundane through the passing of the years. And still, looking at this host of magpies before me, I could not deny that they were beautiful.

Fifty thousand strong, spread out before me as a sea that’d swept away tents and bedding and distractions until all that stood in the moonlight was flesh and bone. They were a riot of colour, these warriors sworn to a hundred sigils: red and silver, yellow gold and radiant green and deep azure blue. Few sigils shared the same colours, and none the same symbols. My own Losara, stayed mine through even Winter’s death, had taken to drawing the silver tree down the ridge of their nose and encircling their eyes to finish the pattern. The effect was striking, a mask of purple and silver whose roots were the lips and teeth of warriors. The golden sunflower on ochre that was Rumena’s own sigil-symbol was more often tattooed with needles on cheeks or necks, though every drow out there seemed to have their own manner of bearing their sigil. Their manifold banners traced the air lazily under the trailing fingers of the wind, each speaking a claim or story or boast, and even their armaments were as works of arts. Oh, the dzulu bore spears and shields and practical tools of killing, but the Mighty? Every one of them treated both their body and armaments as works of art. Artifacts shaped in Night likely older than some Callowan cities had been painted or polished or touched with strips of cloths and ribbons.

The warlord in me, the general, looked upon them and saw only chaos. An army of wild folk, without standardized equipment, the doctrine to use them and the discipline to do so well. But part of me I’d stolen back from eternity along with my death, the one that could savour a good smoke and a sunny day and the chill of cold against my cheeks, that part looked at them and saw that even though they were the bastard children of the Empire Ever Dark the Firstborn were nothing less than splendid. Like a precious vase shattered and made into mosaic, still imperfect and broken but no less lovely for it. I would not forget that, I told myself, looking upon the proud ranks of the Mighty and their dzulu warriors behind them. In some ways I knew less of their people than even the least of them, and if I was to have a hand in the shape their kind would take long after my death I would move that hand with aware of my own ignorance. Our ways are harsh, but they are not without graces. Malicia had told me that once, years ago, because even what she hated about the Wasteland was still part of Praes. And so it’d been part of her bones and her flesh and her breath, taken in with her mother’s milk. I could not mold the nature of the Firstborn like clay, uproot everything that was at the heart of them because it displeased me.

I was a cold-eyed stranger speaking hard truths, not any kind of saviour. And truth was, the closest the Firstborn would ever have to watchful angels was the pair ink-feathered crow slowly circling above us all, high under the stars. I breathed out, watching the mist and whishing it was smoke instead, but I could hardly nurse a pipe throughout this. Merciless Gods, I wish.

“Are you worthy?” I asked, and it rippled across the night.

Thousands of lips spoke the same question I had asked of the Mighty before the Twilight Crown: sa  vrede. The tale of that moment had already spread through the throng last night, when it was still fresh. Not to all, but to enough. And though my question found echoes aplently, none dared to answer it.

“The Mighty Zoitsa was slain, and its Night awaits a worthy taker,” I said. “Yet it was decreed under Night that no Firstborn may slay another before the Southern Expedition has ended. And so now I am asked who is worthy of that Night, who is worthy to rise.”

I laughed.

“Did we not answer this question already, you who were born of blood?” I sang out. “Did you not learn that answer well?”

Fear and anger and uncertainty wafted up in the Night, a sea of emotion I could hardly touch lest I risk drowning in it. High priestess or not, I was only one woman and a mortal one at that.

“I wonder, you who claim might,” I said, “are you ashamed now to speak again before dzulu what you admitted in the shade of dusk? Is vanity the truest answer you have to give?”

That stung them, as it had been meant to. No, some said. I did not reply, and in the silence they were forced to confess the word again and again, louder and louder until none among the entire host of the Firstborn could claim they had not heard it. It was Mighty who had been questioned, but it was all who answered in the end – for if the great among them could not be said to be worthy, which of the lesser dared claimed themselves to be instead?

“There is no shame in this,” I said. “I am First Under the Night, and I do not claim to be worthy where you are not – else would it not be my right, my due, to rip the Night out of every single one of you?”

Fear strengthened, but also respect. The drow were not a people to resent threats, or for that matter to think well of weakness. A reminder that my power towered over that of even their greatest Mighty made everything else easier to swallow, for was it not the privilege of the strong to do as they would of the weak? That was the principle, anyway. As it always was with those, the reality was rather more nuanced.

“But there is shame,” I spoke, and there my voice sharpened, “in knowing yourself unworthy and remaining so. There is shame in sloth, in apathy, in seeing the flaws in what you are and not seeking to be more.”

A fine line I must walk here, for though the sentiment I spoke was old and beloved to their kind it also went hand in hand with the spilling of blood. At least, I wryly thought, I was by now an old hand at riding tigers and I’d yet to be eaten for it.

“I see before me hands hallowed in blood and little else,” I said. “What have you offered the Night, save for strife?”

I struck my staff against the snowy ground, the yew hitting it with a clapping sound and kicking off a gust of wind.

“When the Last Dusk comes to take you all and tally is taken of the deeds of the Firstborn,” I said, “what will any have you fill the pages with, save for death?”

There I sneered.

“Death,” I said. “Every creature’s given end. No great gift, to hurry what is certain.”

And there came the turbulence, for I had begun to speak of worthiness, of who was fit to hold a sigil, and now I was sneering down at the only measure the drow knew how to use: the long arm and blade it wielded. If not killing and claiming Night, what then was to be the path taken? And there, there I could not bestow upon them an answer like a saving grace made flesh. Because I could hardly see to my own soul, most days, and dared not speak to an entire people’s. Because I still knew so little of the Firstborn, of what they were and might yet be. Because I would not be my father, a well-meaning tyrant with a blade in hand intent on cutting out the ugliness of a culture until no imperfections remained. The drow were not children, to be led by the hand. I could speak to them of a horizon, but it they chose to chase it that decision would be of their own making.

“Those of you who hold sigils stand only below Sve Noc and those they have raised of their own hand,” I said. “You possess deep wells of Night, have bloody deeds of valour and cunning to your name. You have the weight of many years behind you, and an edge honed by as many victories. Yet the keen blade you have made of yourself goes unused. It was sent south in these lands to teach the Burning Lands the return of the Empire Ever Dark, yet what will follow our victory?”

I paused, my gaze swept the crowd.

“Rust,” I said. “Rust awaits you. Your sharpness will grow dull, your fire gut out. Lest you find higher purpose and seek it with those of like soul.”

I raised my voice, pitched it to resound.

“The Mighty Zoitsa was slain,” I said, “and its Night awaits a taker. None under this sky are worthy, yet it must not remain so. And so, Firstborn, I charge you to strive. To seek excellence in all things, and through this conquer eternity.”

I felt the feather-light touch of the Sisters against my thoughts, like a finger sliding down a page. My patron goddesses perceived the shape of my thoughts, the decree I would pass down to their people. I felt them brush up against me, those great looming presences, and taste of their judgement. Komena sat astride the wall, the remains of the woman who’d once commanded soldiers displeased but the idol of sacred strife pleased. It was Andronike whose attitude would settle the scale, and her judgement came more slowly than her sister’s. Beyond even my own thoughts she gazed upon the many ends such a decree might lead, the scattered strands, and where she went I could not follow. One who had touched the godhead, as the Sisters had, could follow the strands in ways beyond my comprehension. In silence, Sve Noc drifted down from the darkened sky on long wings. Down and down they went, until they dropped on my shoulders with sharp talons. I had their blessing, silent as it was, and the simple act of them perching on my shoulders had fifty thousand drow shivering. This was not an omen or an oracle, some religious text interpreted through the lens of years.

Sve Noc was true to them, true as snow or shadow or obsidian’s edge, and they had granted me their blessing beyond dispute. I raised my hand, palm up, and on it coalesced in Night what I had taken from the corpse of the Mighty Zoitsa. Power, given the shape of the sigil-symbol: a heavyset key, whose four teeth were as tortured antlers.

“This is the sigil of the Zoitsa,” I said. “It will be held before the pale light comes.”

A shiver, a ripple. Excitement like a crowd awaiting the first blood of a duel.

“All of you who are Zoitsa,” I said. “May lay claim to the sigil.”

I leaned forward.

“I took oaths from some of you, once, and though those nights are passed there was truth to our ways,” I said. “To hold this sigil is to make an oath, to strive to be worthy of the honour bestowed. And through this oath, power is gained, for the oath is the promise of a deed to come.”

I grinned, sharp and mean.

“Yet there can only be one oath, and many will be posed,” I continued. “And so there must be a beginning and an end, for no victor can ever be crowned…”

And in the end, all will be Night, the drow returned, finishing the verse from the Tenets of Night I had cited. I had thought of the terms, as Rumena assembled all the sigils, and found that the irony of them please me. It ran deeper than that, of course. A foundation set in song was set in something deeper than stone, more poignant than law. And if you knew the right song, the right stories? All you needed was to give the first push, and stone would tumble down the slope on its own.

“The oath will hold for nine years,” I said. “And upon the last dusk end, the sigil open to claiming once more. The keeping of oaths and bestowal of Night is a duty I bestow upon my own sigil, for the Losara are the children of the lost and found.”

I raised a hand.

“That burden will be the duty of the Losara, to discharge without friend nor enemy so long as there is empire,” I said, “and so in the keeping of oaths they will not rise or fall so long as they remain Losara.”

Balance, balance must be had. If I was going to make Ivah and my warriors the priesthood that harvested and bestowed the Night, then they could not partake of that bounty – otherwise I might as well simply name the Losara the founding nobility of the Empire Ever Dark, saving their kind a few centuries of intrigue and treachery before we reached that result anyway. My sigil would serve as a priesthood, taking no sides in the discharge of their duty, and that meant barring them from the greater games of power.

“Which oath will be worthiest,” I said. “You wonder this, do you not? If I will speak for the Night when every great one passes, choosing oath.”

I laughed harshly.

“Are you children, Firstborn, that you must be held by your hands?” I said. “Are you without eyes, without ears, without tongue? Can you not choose your own path?”

I struck down my staff once more.

“I give you nothing save for tenets under the Night,” I said. “To perish or flourish will outcome brought by your own hand, and the Shrouded Gods take any who speak otherwise.”

My grin returned, for it had been some time since fate had last allowed me to bask so deeply in well-tailored irony.

“Any who are Zoitsa may lay claim to the sigil,” I said. “And so any of the Zoitsa may offer oath that will be sought for nine years as they hold the sigil.”

I let that sink in, then struck again.

“And it will be the same hands as it has always been, that will tell between snake and izmej,” I said. “For when oaths are offered, it will be the Zoitsa who choose which will own their sigil with tokens.”

They would, in the end, vote on the oath that would bind their sigil together for nine years with the elected sigil-holder keeping the Night for that duration. It would, I believed, forced the strongest of ay sigil’s Mighty to care for the weakest – lest, when nine years had passed, they find the strength that had led them to the summit lent to another for another purpose. There would be more, beyond this. The sigil-holders that still lived would be charged make oaths as well, though they would keep their Night when the nine years had passed. It would only be the rulership that would be open to challenge on that night, though it would be decreed than any sigil-holder that died while in that role would see their Night turned into oath-Night. The trick to all of it, what they wouldn’t care about until it was too late, was that it would be sacred under Sve Noc for any drow to leave a sigil whenever they so wished without violence being visited upon them. Sigils would still make their own laws for those they allowed into their fold, but no longer would Mighty be able to keep other drow in their service by force. I meant to hang tyranny with the rope of expedience, for if sigil-holders treated their followers like animals what drow would willingly remain in their sigil? Still, the deeper workings could wait for a time still.

“You who are Zoitsa and would put an oath to the Zoitsa, step forward,” I said.

I smothered a madwoman’s grin, when this time instead of three candidates I got thirty-nine.

“Hear that?” I murmured, low enough only the Sisters could hear. “That’s the sound of your people taking an axe to the old order.”

I was hearing it too, and it warmed the cockles of my damned villainous heart.

62 thoughts on “Chapter 62: Pledged

    1. Sparsebeard

      “That burden will be the duty of the Losara, to discharge without friend nor enemy so long as there is empire,” I said, “and so in the keeping of oaths they will not rise or fall so long as they remain Losara.”

      Did Cat just re-establish the Empire Ever Dark?

      Liked by 3 people

  1. danh3107

    In all of my long years of reading fiction and fantasy especially, few authors can capture a moment as readily as you can Erratic. It’s not perfect, and often times not very pretty, but I feel it when you write. I feel it in my heart, I see it with my mind, the emotions and moments you want to tell me.

    Thank you, once again for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 37 people

    1. Faiir

      Not many could take ‘Let’s ally with a random race’ and end up with rebuilding culture, politics and economy of an entire nation.
      And even then, hoping for more than just ‘This is now good, this is now bad, now work according to my morality’ is too much usually.

      Let EE be praised for his amazing work!

      Liked by 22 people

  2. James

    It would, I believed, force the strongest of any sigil’s Mighty to care for the weakest

    Until the strongest learn how to make secret pacts with each other at the expense of the weakest, saying one thing but doing another behind the scenes.

    At least, that’s what happened in my country.

    Liked by 20 people

    1. Well yes, that’s politics. But step 1 of any political system meant to arc towards justice and equality is setting up incentives for the mighty to care for the effects their actions have on the weak. Oversight committees, investigative journalism, separation of powers, all that stuff’s important but it’s several steps down the line.

      You’ve got to bring everybody to the table before you can start insisting on proper table manners after all.

      Liked by 23 people

    2. stevenneiman

      You know the old saying. Democracy is the worst political system ever invented, except for all the others. As a resident of a dramatically flawed democracy, I can assure you that it’s worse than it should be but still loads better than almost anywhere without a democracy.

      Liked by 18 people

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      The difference here is, when your politicians out and out lie, the priests of the gods they swore to will show up to have a discussion with them about failure to keep promises made, and even if they are successfully resisted, the gods themselves make a personal appearance. Oath’s made before an active god are a bit different than mortals lying to other mortals.

      Liked by 24 people

      1. stevenneiman

        Also, it’s not impossible that they’re just using the oath keeping power of Winter and anyone who breaks their oaths will just die. Which puts it ahead of our own political system because there are campaign promises which you’ll have to keep.

        Liked by 3 people

    4. Shveiran

      This is a primitive system.

      It has a dozen dozens weak points, who become exploitable as soon as Cat and Sve Noc stop policing it thoroughly – which will happen, eventually. Even the Sisters are not omniscient, nor are they willing to act on every small infraction.

      It is still better than what was in place before. It is still a working foundation to build upon.

      It is a primitive system, a fledgling society. Nothing less, nothing more.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Losara Sigil is the answer to that. Their job is to police the other Sigilis. Both the most and the least power as a check and balance. Considering the implications are they’d simply strip you of your power, that means you can give it up easy or lose it hard. resist a priest, Ivah’s going to show up. Resist somebody of Ivah’s skill and ability, and you can damn well bet that Sve Noc is going to take notice. Then you get somebody like Rumena showing up, or the current First under the Night simply rips the night from you. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but it’s not going to be that easy to corrupt it. Especially since Night has absorbed winter now and there’s still a bit of Winter in what it is. If you go into this intending to break your oaths it’s a story that ends badly for you.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. Shveiran

          Of course it’s easy to corrupt, and even more likely to produce a lot of peculiar cases that go very well against the spirit of the rule.
          There is no system – there has never been a system – that is so light in rules and so reliant on individuals in key roles that was not ripe for abuse.

          The Losara are an attempt to regulate the process, yes. And don’t get me wrong, they are a good addition. But there is nothing in the system that stops them from abusing their authority.
          They are going to take oaths, you say? Fine and dandy. Only, what does it mean to abuse it?
          Oaths don’t save you from bad, persuasive ideas; badly worded oaths don’t protect the drows unless they can spot the trap and not vote for the guy. Oaths will be simple, whereas ruling is complicated: an oath made in good faith may even be a problem during the nine years period.

          The system seems solid only if you ascribe to Sve Noc omniscience, willingness to police and enforce the system strictly and thoroughly, and a drive to see their people embrace Cat’s change.

          The first we know to be false; the second I strongly doubt; the third is a possibility, but no assurance: this is Cat’s plan, not the Sisters, and while they have endorsed it there is no way to tell if they’ll decide the idea needs editing, tomorrow or even a few years down the line.

          I can’t stress this enough: I don’t think it’s a bad system. It isn’t, given the situation; I think it’s straight-up impossible to argue in good faith that it isn’t better than “rule-of-the-stabberest”, which is pretty much how things have been for centuries down there.

          But it is a patchwork solution with a lot of holes, and even if magic could solve all the problems involved that would not make the system any less FRAIL. It is not a given the Sisters will survive the war in the north, is it?

          Cat’s working with what she has, but we can aknowledge that while also pointing out the results’ weak spots.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. I don’t think the oaths need to be enforced, so long as the system of elections works. If the current Mighty doesn’t uphold their oaths, then in nine years they’ll be voted out in favor of someone more trustworthy. (Or if they’re really bad, their dzulu might simply leave for a better sigil.) Real democracies work just fine without the ability to magically enforce campaign promises.

            The Losara sigil only needs to be able to enforce the peaceful transition of power after each election. While that’s not exactly easy, it’s quite within the demonstrated power of the goddesses, and doesn’t require any assumption of omniscience.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. I think this is a beginning, a foundation of a system. The fact it can stand on its own is already damn impressive, but it’s not really meant to. It will be supplemented by a lot of other changes, like how Cat’s earlier change to the core theological tenet – interpretation of “the worthy take, the worthy rise” – gets supplemented by this.

            Cat has started building. She is not done yet.

            Liked by 5 people

          3. > There is no system – there has never been a system – that is so light in rules and so reliant on individuals in key roles that was not ripe for abuse.

            Any system can be abused if not enough people are defending it compared to those trying to subvert it. That’s what’s lately happened to the US government, where a cabal within the GOP has spent the last 50 years or so chipping away at the supports for our governmental integrity: public education, public finance, trust in public officials (and for that matter in other expertise), election integrity, sense of common destiny, institutional experience, moral and professional standards, and so on. That’s ultimately how we wound up with Trump, who is doing his best to finish the job.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Shveiran

              Without arguing the specifics, I’ll concede that no system is ever safe from abuse.

              However, if a culture embraces the idea that there is a proper way to do things – that power should come with rules – than a more thorough and balanced system protects itself more than the alternative. Not enough to resist everyone suddenly deciding the rules don’t matter anymore, of course, but more.

              The more gray areas a system has, the less that is possible. The easier it is for that system to slide somewhat to the side and change the spirit of how things were decided before.

              All I’m saying is: this system is the good attempt of a young woman with revolutionary ideas but precious little experience ruling to peacefully change a culture of serial murderers toward sustainable values that dislike casual loss of life.
              I didn’t think it could be controversial to say that her best shot is still gonna be a mess. I mean, seriously, what else could it have been?

              Liked by 3 people

            1. Shveiran

              DId we? Uh.
              I read that more like “Masego could use the connection to destroy the drow through the Night by attacking Sve Noc”, but “without Night the drow will all die” is also possible given how the Night came to be and the mess the Twilight Sages did.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Zarquon

    I always look forward to your chapters with such anticipation.

    This one does confuse me a little, though, at least where the precise mechanics of the Night being passed is concerned.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. parahacker

      It’s a contest of ‘oaths’. The most popular oath given wins the prize.

      In other words, it’s just become all about the election campaign promises.

      Though the ‘Goddesses are RIGHT Here watching you’ element has a bit more of a punch than does, I’d say.

      Liked by 16 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Exactly, the thing that the Drow have that our world doesn’t is a deity enforcing the deal and magic oaths. So they can’t make empty promises, and would at the very least be compelled by magic to make their best effort in fulfilling their promises, unlike Earth’s politicians.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Shveiran

          Yes, and no. It is all about presentation, not quantification.

          “I’ll work toward making us more used to fight together” is an oath you can fulfill by organizing a weekly training exercise. Or a monthly one. Or a yearly one.
          It is imprecise, and it is based on the judgment of uncoltured people unused to rulership. Even is modern countries, where education is leagues above the drows’ and the electoral process takes months, not a night, the discussion of the practicalities of the electoral promises is rarely a factor.
          It’s not about them lying about the oaths, not as much, is about them being able to tell how the singular oath works and what it means long term (nine years is no small beans).

          It is a cool solution, possibly better than any she could have realistically called upon, but it isn’t like Sve Noc’s existance makes this a good system.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            Yeah but if your Sigil is dissatisfied with what you are doing, they can simply say “fuck this I’m out.” If you want to actually be in charge of anything, you are going to have to keep people happy.”

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Shveiran

              Yes, because people never get on board with stupid ideas championed by charismatic leaders; they are always great at judging long term consequences, especially when they lack both education and time to weight the pros and cons of thirty-something candidates.

              That rule is GREAT to prevent abuses. You can’t turn nisi target practice into the recreational activity of the sigil without ending up nisi-less. Awesome.

              But a lot of people are reluctant to change. It’s a solution meant to prevent abuses, not to guide good policing. How are they going to realize that an idea is a long-term mistake? How are they going to judge results and weight ideas, when the scope is so much bigger than their lives?

              People are not great at this kind of judgment calls, as modern history shows… and modern history is based on people who had a lot more education and a tradition of freedom and civil rights. I can’t say it’s reasonable to expect the drow to give a sterling performance.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. The point Insanenoodlyguy makes deserves more attention than I think you’ve given it here. Yes, there will undoubtedly be popular oaths made that turn out poorly in practice. And when that happens? People will just leave. Only the sigil-holder is bound to the oath for nine years. Anybody and everybody else can opt out in an instant. You sell people a really bad oath through whatever methods? Overnight you can become a sigil of one. It can hardly be emphasized enough how much practical accountability this imposes.

                When you’re elected leader of a nation, citizens looking to exit that nation tend to find it a relatively fraught process. Very, very few of those difficulties apply to leaving one sigil for another. That really, really matters.

                Liked by 6 people

              2. Oh, it’s not going to help drow do very well, per se.

                It will however impose a selection for doing better and a strong disincentive to doing worse. It imposes a floor – if things are really bad, you can always leave, and if you have an idea for how to make them better, you can try once every 9 years (which is a lot in a drow lifetime). Or make your own sigil with blackjack and hookers.

                This makes the drow society fluid and oriented towards strong doing well by the weak. It’s as well as can be done before you get into other ways to improve things – infrastracture, comprehensive legal code, stuff like that 🙂

                Liked by 5 people

              3. caoimhinh

                Even so, it’s still better than Earth’s political system in that they can’t lie or chicken out of their promises.
                Yeah, they can make stupid promises that might damage the group in the long term, but if that’s what the people chose then that’s what the people will get. Those that can’t stand it can leave or wait until the nine years are over and a better oath is sworn by the next Sigil-holder.
                Empty promises will be kept to a minimum because whatever the Drow promise in their campaign will be part of the magic oath that will force them to carry it out in reality once they are Sigil-holders.
                Wordplay will surely be a factor, and no one expects the system to be perfect or even to work awesomely right away, but it will make things better as time goes on.
                Considering that Drow have a lifespan of centuries at the least, they have a lot of time to make trials and errors.
                A cycle of nine years for Sigil-holders will get their society out of stagnation and keep things in motion toward improvements.

                It might not stop corruption or Sigil-holders making deals with each other for personal gains or them making stupid decisions that harm their followers, but at least whatever they promised their people will be fulfilled (or they will at least make their damned best effort to do so). That’s an important step.

                Liked by 2 people

    2. Sparsebeard

      From what I understand, the candidates turn their plan for the sigil’s future 9 years into an oath and people vote on the oath they prefer.

      For exemple, “We shall be on the forefront of every battle the Empire faces” or “We will be the keepers of ancient lore”.

      After 9 years, there is another election with stakes being leadership and the accumulated night of previous deceased sigil-holders if there are any.

      Liked by 10 people

    3. Aside from the mechanics of choice, Cat has converted the disputed power into a physical token that can be passed from person to person without killing the loser. A more interesting question is whether that token can also be stolen. Of course, Sve Noc are watching, and if it can be stolen, it can also be confiscated.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. KageLupus

        The right to rule a Sigil is not a physical token, it is merely represented by them. The Zoitsa will just vote on which oath they prefer using the same method the vote on who spat the hottest fire.

        This system actually makes a lot of sense for the Drow. The Sigil holder will be bound to their oaths for nine years by a priesthood backed up by actual goddesses. And the Sigil members are tacitly swearing to abide by that same oath by voting for the Sigil holder. Anyone who is incredibly opposed to the Sigil’s oath will have the option to walk away and join a group that they are more aligned with. Not only does that makes the oath-giving much more important and meaningful, but you also end up with much stronger Sigils since they will eventually congeal into groups of like-minded Drow.

        As Cat says, by the time the Drow realize that their entire culture was shifted from “the mighty rise (via murder)” to “Dzulu Lives Matter” it will already be too late to go back. This system was endorsed by Sve Noc themselves. Who among the Drow would dare to contradict it?

        Liked by 8 people

  4. erebus42

    It’s a shame Heirarch was there for that, he’d probably be a touch taken aback by it. Granted, he’d still probably put them all on trial but still…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      It wouldn’t work as well on the drow now. His power is drawn from very specific components right? Up till now, it’s been used in a kingdom that’s heretical monarchs have used the people as resources. So, his “Trial” whammy works spectacularly well before the injustice of “Tyrants oppressing the people.: But she just introduced a form of democracy to these folks. I’m not saying they’d completely ignore his power, but when he hits them with a wave of “unelected ruler-ship is wrong, fight this” they won’t turn into a mob executing their local authorities. They can respond to that mental compulsion with “We threw the tokens, more of us WANT this guy in charge than not, and those of us who didn’t knew we wouldn’t get our way if our votes weren’t enough.” and it won’t be an irritable force when it hits them so much as a persistent thought they can resist.

      Liked by 6 people

  5. RoflCat

    >And so, Firstborn, I charge you to strive. To seek excellence in all things, and through this conquer eternity.”

    Ah, so that’s where THAT quote came from.

    (Book 4, ch 47 Tenet)

    “You who would be mighty, seek excellence in all things, for the conquest of eternity must be earned with every breath.”
    – Extract from the ‘Tenets Under Night’, Firstborn religious text

    Liked by 24 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Well, you know how it is. Things don’t go down on paper exactly as they happened.
        There’s also another example of Firstborn religious texts having slightly modified quotes from Catherine’s actual words. In Book 5 Chapter 25 Dead Ends:

        Night flooded my veins, abrupt and eager to answer my call. The gate ripped through Creation easily, to my surprise – and that of the Sisters, I felt. I’d felt this before, in Marchford. When Akua’s demon had weakened the fabric of Creation enough that it was made easier for the Winter Court to raid through. It’d not been like that when I gated earlier, I thought.

        “This is unusual,” Andronike said.

        I felt it too, even as the ink-black gate opened before me. Eyes, unfathomably large, gazing at me. The surface of the gate was like liquid obsidian, though without a single ripple, and I hesitated. I held back, leaning on my staff.

        “Thoughts?” I said.

        “Try a foot first,” Komena drolly suggested.

        “Oh, we think we’re funny now do we?” I muttered. “Mark my words, that one’s going into the holy book.”

        Godly advice, my ass, I thought. Still, wasn’t like there was another choice, was it? I breathed out and stepped through.

        And we see here her promise/threat fulfilled:

        “And so the First Under the Night came across a portal where great danger might lurk, and upon witnessing it halted and sought the council of Sve Noc. ‘O Night,’ said the First, ‘what wisdom do you offer?’ And so the Young Night answered thus: ‘Try a foot first.’”
        – Extract from the ‘Parables of the Lost and Found’, disputed Firstborn religious text.

        Liked by 15 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          Thanks for finding that. 🙂 I’m incredibly happy that the Drow religious texts are full of quotes which almost capture what really happened. Including the sass! ❤

          Liked by 1 person

    1. parahacker

      To be fair, the only way a society of murder hobos can go is up. That’s not the win here.

      The genius of Cat’s plan is in twisting their own values into a new, non-murderhoboish direction that still resonates with their cultural beliefs. This thing here feels like something that that could last beyond mere field expediency…. And that is a major coup if so.

      Liked by 16 people

        1. Argentorum

          Actually, the gods below *have* a vote. One vote, for all of them.
          In the History of Belerophon they have never exercised this power. But it’s there.

          Liked by 4 people

  6. Typo thread

    Power is as wealth; that why which is yours has always been snatched from another.
    Change “that why which” to ” that is why that which”

    had not been one of those things people talked about fit they didn’t want to draw the attention of the Eyes.
    Change fit to if

    Liked by 2 people

  7. werafdsaew

    Seems kinda strange to consult Sve Noc when the decisions are being announced. What if they refused or want more time to think about it? Then Cat is left hanging with nothing to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Godesses can probably process information much faster than mortals. In “the gods are bastards”, gods are basically sentiments supercomputers.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. byzantine279

    One thing people seem to be missing: This is a world of stories. Oaths taken in this way have real *power*. Even ignoring Losara and Sve Noc it is not safe to try abusing an Oath taken in this way – the stories say that oathbreakers are always found out, and always lose.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Besides … I’m pretty sure that Cat’s going to, if she hasn’t already, declare oathbreaking a sign of Unworthiness – to be Worthy is to keep the Oaths you make. To break an oath you made is to prove yourself to not be Worthy.
      There might be some exceptions for nonconsensual oathbreaking (ie, mind control or actions by third parties beyond one’s ability to react to), but as a general rule oathbreaking is bad.

      Admittedly, this might lead to Fae-like wording practices when it comes to the Oaths made. On the other hand, it’s also likely that the drow would consider a straightforward Oath to be more Worthy than an Oath with a lot more give in it. At least, as regards an Oath to lead a Sigil.

      Liked by 2 people

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