Interlude: Sigil

“Peace is death, stagnation of the soul. Peace is a child closing their eyes to the truth of the world: the great will partake of the small, until they falter and they too are partaken of. Strife is life and death, and there can be no more evil in embracing it than in the act of breathing.”

– Extract from the ‘Tenets of Night’, ancient Firstborn religious text

Rumena waited, patient.

Many of the Mighty were growing restless, eager to seek excellence through strife as the… cattle around them did, but the once-and-again general knew better. The Enemy had sent hordes to batter the walls and the gates, but the Pale Crown was not one to seek triumph through brute strength. The killing knives had yet to be bared. The Mighty studied another of its kind, Mighty Borislava, as it sat on the bares stone of the street with its eyes closed. Night pulsed from it in weak waves, a feat of control considering the strength of the Secret being used. Borislava suddenly breathed out, its silver-pierced face twisting into a smile.

“They are found,” Mighty Borislava rasped out. “The tunnels expand too quickly to be dug by hand or pick. The Enemy has brought acid-worms.”

Rumena nodded, expressing no displeasure. That worms were not unexpected, though this marked the first instance they were used on any front but Serolen or the Pass. This cattle-city of Hainaut was as jaws of steel, the general had come to suspect, a trap laid for any unwary foot willing to step into it. Soon enough they would begin to feel the bite of those teeth,

“How many breaches?” Rumena asked.

“I have found seven, General,” Borislava said. “Five of these along the western shore of the basin.”

Reluctantly, it added that it might have missed a few tunnels whilst looking. Good, Rumena would not need to discipline it again. Borislava usually required such a firm hand only every half century or so, and had earned that raspy voice the first time it had allowed its pride to delude it into thinking it might replace Rumena as sigil-holder, but its usefulness in the southern expedition was feeding the pride again. Perhaps the old Firstborn would not need to end it before they reached their fourth century together.

“Zarkan,” the general called out, without turning

The rylleh had been still and silent, knowing that even though bearing the title it was the weakest of its rank among the Rumena and should be wary of giving offence. Wise, though lacking in audacity. The mark of one who was to be slain and harvested before it could reach any significant measure of power. Night rewarded the knife that struck, not the knife that waited for the opening.

“Whisper into the Night,” Rumena ordered its messenger. “Tell Mighty Jindrich that it is to begin attac-”

The wave rage that roared through the Night staggered them all for a heartbeat. Sve Noc were furious, their earthly forms in the sky above cawing in pain and anger. The general knelt, mastering the feelings not its own, and sent its humble regards above. Its goddesses deigned to answer, sending a flicker of thought: the First Under the Night. face ripped apart by an unnatural arrow. Near dead, though not quite. Already Sve Noc had sent had servant to see to the matter, moving with swift and silent steps, and the Eldest went with it. It was the Youngest, who had ever favoured Rumena and commanded its own affections in return, that bade the old drow to turns its eyes to the sky. Where sorcery made the firmament creak and groan, opening three great gates above the city.

Strike, Komena ordered.

The old drow breathed out, and Night flooded its veins. It filled it to the brim, seeping into the flesh and the organs as Rumena drew on a power it had not deemed worth using in seven hundred years. The Secret of Tolling Wrath was but a mimicry of something the Firstborn had been able to craft at will, ancient engines of destruction that the general had once turned on the unbreakable ranks of the nerezim as their relentless advance broke one city after another, but in the old nights it had taken a company of sorcerers and a Sage to guide them for the ritual-engine to be used. The Tomb-Maker could now do the same with but an exertion of will and power, as if a company of one. The Night vanished from it without warning, as the Secret took its final shape, and Rumena shivered.

It would not be able to call on the Secret twice tonight, it decided. Once had already set its bones to aching.

In the sky above, water had begun to pour from the gates. The Youngest cared not to suffer this affront, so see the wiles of her First Under the Night turned against a city under its protection, and so it had struck as well. The great crow had was growing, turning from a small blot of darkness in the sky to a great nightmare blotting out the stars themselves. It was, Rumena thought, beautiful to behold. And at last the Secret of Tolling Wrath finished shuddering its way through the air, striking the side of one of the gates with a sound like a bell. Power tore at power, tearing at the edge of the sorcerous gate, and it was with amusement that Rumena saw a long beam of Hateful Light spear upwards from somewhere in the city, cutting at the edge of another gate. The Peregrine was a reliable foe even as an ally.

It was after the Light faded that the Youngest Night struck, the great crow’s wrath covering the sky as its wingspan streamed with the sea of water she had flown in the way of. Bending under the weight of the water’s strength, the great crow raked her talons against the third gate and there was an immediate eruption of power. Rumena’s crooked fingers tightened as it saw the Youngest Night tumbled downwards, her shape diminishing until she was simply a crow once more and she began circling above the city once more. There had been something in the gate that had hurt its goddess, the general thought. At least all of the gates were now – another one blinked into existence, Rumena’s sharp eyes catching the side where the Peregrine’s Light had cut it.

The same gate, not completely destroyed?

Whatever the truth of it, it began pouring water again and the old drow watched as the torrent fell like sea of stones on the Fourth Army of Callow. The shields made by sorcery were not enough, breaking instantly under the impact. Soldiers died, engines were shattered and the repaired gate shuddered. Before the annihilation could be complete, however, the side cut by Light snapped and the gate exploded in burst of sorcery that lit up the sky.

“Mighty One,” Zarkan quietly said. “Mighty Jindrich has claimed the right of vanguard and begun assault the tunnels. I have word from other sigils of dead erupting from other places within the city.”

“Then whisper this order to all sigils, Mighty Zarkan,” Rumena said. “Strike now at the dead, and hold nothing back.”

“Chno Sve Noc,” Zarkan fervently replied, and others with it.

Rumena the Tomb-Maker did not say more. Instead it walked to a stretch of starlight on stone and softly spoke a word of power, its will reaching for the deepest depths of its shadow where it kept only things it had not meant to see Creation while it still drew breath. Yet it would make an exception, tonight. It would have been arrogance to refrain when its goddesses took the field.

It would put on, one last time, the armaments it had once worn as a general of the Empire Ever Dark.

Ivah of the Losara Sigil, Lord of Silent Steps, moved with purpose.

The Eldest Night had sent it to seek its mistress’ side with all haste, and so it skimmed along the edges of the Pattern to quicken its pace. It was not a fortress or a fight Ivah found when its steps slowed but instead a house. Masses of water falling from the firmament had devastated swaths of the city, including most of this street, but though Ivah saw fighting on the ramparts to the west there seemed to be no immediate threat here. Instead a fire had been lit inside the house, and Night whispered to the Lord of Silent steps that Losara Queen was within. It rapped knuckles against the door, as was the human way, and only then opened it.

This was no great palace or library, simply a hovel of humans, and so within there was only one room. The lit hearth did not catch its attention, not when instead it saw Losara Queen wan and bloodied on a mattress of straw. By her side sat the shade it knew as the Mighty Akua, though no longer did she have the scent of one who could draw on Night. Curious. The shade did not turn and so Ivah took a step forward, closing the door only to then turn to the sensation of a blade resting against its neck.

“Don’t move,” the Mighty Archer said, eyes hard. “There’ll be no vulture’s meal tonight, Ivah.”

The Mighty would strike him down without batting an eye, for though human she was admirably ruthless even with long acquaintances, but Ivah shook his head. The edge bit into the throat of its skin, but only shallowly.

“This is not my purpose,” Ivah said. “I have been sent by Sve Noc.”

The Mighty Akua finally turned towards it, her eyes like golden flames. Its face was not composed as the Lord of Silent Steps had always seen it before. It was… drawn.

“This one’s not looking to wet its beak red, Archer,” the shade said. “It enjoys its place too much.”

The blade moved away slightly and Ivah nodded, pleased to have been properly understood by such a dangerous creature.

“Service to Losara Queen is pleasant and I could not sit her throne,” Ivah told the Mighty Archer, slightly embarrassed as it was rather forward of it to speak so plainly. “I seek not Night in this house.”

“I would hope not,” Mighty Archer smiled. “You wouldn’t live through an attempt at harvesting it.”

It was always rewarding for Ivah to see others proclaim such loyalty for Losara Queen. To serve an accomplished sigil-holder was rewarding, for who should the Firstborn learn from save the great?

“Can you help?” the Mighty Akua asked. “Hierophant did what he could and I have further slowed the spread, but we’ve not turned the tide.”

“We sent for healers,” Mighty Archer quietly said, “but she’s in no state to be moved. We can’t do shit but wait, at the moment.”

“I have no such talent,” Ivah of the Losara Sigil said. “This matters not, for I am the tool in the hand of a greater power.”

The blade was sheathed, a tacit permission, and Ivah approached the bedside. It unwove the bandages delicately, revealing the deep wound below, and unexpectedly found its heart clenching. Losara had… done much, for Ivah. Opened its eyes to paths that could be tread, raised it to a position of trust and power. It did not please the Lord of Silent Steps to see the sovereign it had once sworn oaths too so harshly hurt. The left side of Losara Queen’s face had been torn through by an arrow, ripping through her eye and cheek as well as shattering the chin bone. Not a mortal wound, perhaps, save if the arrow were invested with power. It must have been, for someone had clearly tried to heal the wound with sorcery and it had opened anew since.   

“Poison,” Mighty Akua said. “It got into the blood. And something more, too. An aspect.”

It nodded, closing its eyes and breathing deep.

“I know nothing,” Ivah murmured in Crepuscular. “I am nothing. I am a vessel, filled with Night.”

Power surged, power beyond Ivah’s understanding. The Lord of Silent Steps felt the house around it shudder as the Sve Noc herself came upon it, flowing through the cracks and forming anew on the drow’s back as a great crow. Her talons dug into its skin, drawing black blood, and it breathed out raggedly.

“Fuck,” Mighty Archer muttered, voice shaken.

The golden-eyed shade stared at the goddess, unmoved.

“Your intentions, godling?” Mighty Akua asked.

“I will see to my chosen,” Sve Noc said, voice like the cawing of crows. “Do not think to interfere in this, shade.”

“We will trust in your intentions,” Mighty Akua smiled, a cold thing. “Trust in ours, Sve Noc, should you overstep.”

Ivah swallowed a gasp as talons sunk deeper into its skin, tearing at flesh as a mind infinitely greater than its own moved its hand to rest against Losara Queen’s forehead. Night flared, moving into the First Under the Night’s body, and knowledge came to the rylleh.

“It is a poison that resist sorcery,” Ivah spoke for its goddess. “And it was empowered, as was the arrow, by an aspect.”

Night slithered down the veins of the unconscious queen, feeling out the transcendent nature of the wound, and Ivah cocked its head to the side.

“Murder,” the Lord of Silent Steps conveyed. “That is the essence of the trouble, the concept that seeks to kill her even now. This ‘Hawk’ was no servant of the Pale Gods when she still drew breath.”

“But you can fix it?” Mighty Archer pressed.

“It can be done,” Ivah agreed, bowing to the pressure in its mind. “But it will not be a panacea. The eye is gone for good, and a scar will remain.”

“Fuck,” Mighty Archer cursed. “Would the Pilgrim do better? He said he couldn’t, when he came to pick up Masego, but if we lean on the Ophanim through him…”

“It will make no difference,” Ivah regretfully said. “An aspect is an aspect. Sve Noc must see to it now, before the wound worsens, and you are given warning that it will be hours before Losara Queen wakes.”

The two humans traded glances, Mighty Archer hesitating.

“Go,” Mighty Akua said. “I will stay.’

“You sure?” Mighty Archer asked.

“Trust me,” the shade replied, wryly smiling.

There was a heartbeat of silence between them, until Mighty Archer nodded.

“I do,” she said, sounding almost surprised. “Take care of her, Akua.”

The shade went still, and somehow looked pained. Mighty Archer offered them all a hard smile.

“Meanwhile, I’m going to go express my displeasure to the Hawk.”

Mighty Jindrich picked up the corpse by the throat, idly tossing it down the tunnel.

Its armour clattered as it toppled another few skeletons, the lot of them ending up in a writhing pile. Jindrich advanced on two legs, head slightly bent for the height of the tunnel, and fell upon the pack. One strike was enough to plaster a skeleton into the stone of the wall, another was stomped to dust and out of bored disgust the sigil-holder smashed the last two’s heads into each other until both broke.

“Disappointing,” Mighty Jindrich said. “There has not been worthy strife since we slew the worms.”

“We could head back,” Mighty Lasmir said. “Head down another breach, see if there is stiffer resistance there.”

Lasmir was sill growing back the arm it had lost to the acid spit, having not found enough dead flesh to devour for the Secret of Consumption to truly show its worth. There was a reason Jindrich had never bothered to kill Lasmir for it even before the First Under the Night had decreed that Firstborn of the southern expedition could not slay each other.

“No,” the sigil-holder decided. “The Tomb-Maker implied there would be worthy strife, should we push far enough. We will quicken the pace instead.”

The rylleh bowed, passing the order down to the rest of the sigil as it had been meant to. The breach they’d forced had been a pleasant fight, but below the cattle-city the dead had seemingly dug a maze of tunnels. Jindrich found the feeling of treading underground stone once more sweet, yet it had found little opposition aside from a continuous flow of skeletons. Even splitting the sigil down several tunnels had not yielded greater prey, but the sigil-holder was wise to the Enemy’s ways. Once, a very long time ago, Jindrich of Great Strycht had wielded a pick and dug tunnels for souls it had believed to be wise. Sve Noc had shown it a better path, the true path, but it had not forgot. These tunnels were for moving around, but there would be somewhere further below where the broken stone would be dragged so it could be thrown away instead of clog up tunnels.

There, Mighty Jindrich decided, there would be enemies worth destroying.

Its sigil moved swiftly after the order was given. They ran into undead, a larger battalion standing together – forty dead, armoured and armed – which was a good sign and decent entertainment. Mighty Draha was allowed to use the Secret of Impalement to stick them all in a line before they were smashed into the walls until destroyed. Always good for a laugh. Until then the tunnels had been a slope, but after this they were a sheer drop with an iron ladder going down. Promising, Mighty Jindrich decided, and leapt. It landed atop the helm of a skeleton, crushing it with its weight, and let out an approving noise at what it beheld: a great cavern that was a hive of tunnels, swarming with corpses and dead stitched-up monsters. Even a few of the Greater Dead, these who had been Named in life, if its eyes were not being fooled.

The sigil-holder smiled, power thrumming in its flesh as it began to let it loose.

“You will be Night,” Mighty Jindrich promised.

“You trespass on the realm of the dead,” a voice replied. “And so will join them.”

A tall silhouette, in heavy armour and bearing a large morningstar, strode forward.

“You are the one they call Mantle, yes?” Jindrich grinned.

The Greater Dead spoke not a word, but the sudden darkness not even Mighty could see through was answer enough. Mighty Jindrich laughed, letting Night rip through it and rent its body asunder before reforming it with a shell of Night.

Finally, strife worth having.

The lamellar of steel and obsidian still fit as it had when Rumema had been young, tightened at the hip with a belt, and the red-plumed helmet was still comfortable around its long pale hair. The marks of the ancient honours bestowed on it under the Empire Ever Dark, that of Great General Who Shook The World and Victorious Commander of the South, each claimed a shoulder with twisted braids of gold and iron. And at General Rumena’s hip, the long single-edged sword of steel it had once borne into battle rested comfortably. Waiting, eager to be used at last after all this time. Sighing, the old drow straightened its back and heard it crack as if someone were treading on twigs. It popped its shoulders, loosening them, and only then did it lay a hand on the pommel of its sword.

“Mighty Borislava,” the general said.

“I listen, Mighty One,” Borislava cautiously said.

None of Rumena’s sigil had ever seen it wear the armour. It had even the strongest of its rylleh feeling… cautious. A refreshing feeling, it would admit.

“You are to command the sigil in my absence,” Rumena said. “Look for breaches and settle them, ensure the cattle are not overwhelmed.”

“It will be done, Mighty One,” the other drow replied. “If this one may enquire, what is it the Mighty One intends?”

Rumena’s fingers tightened around its sword, and slowly it unsheathed the blade.

“Do you know why they call me the Tomb-Maker, child?” the general said.

“The tale is well-known, Mighty One,” the Mighty said. “You slew many a sigil, in your pursuit of Mighty Kurosiv’s end.”

“The truth is older than that,” Rumena chuckled. “Ysengral, I am told, meant it as a compliment.”

And it flicked the blade downward, not to cut but as the focus of its will as it called on the Secret of Stone. The stone below its feet parted like a receding tide, and General Rumena walked into the earth. It closed behind its footsteps, a sealed tomb, and with a hunter’s smile the Tomb-Maker burrowed deep into the earth. It felt the first tunnel within moments, moving to emerge into it and stumbling into a heated strife between dzulu and corpses. Rumena wasted no time, heading to the fore and closing the tunnel behind it with a glance. Slapping the head off the nearest skeleton, it walked back into the earth after closing the rest of the visible tunnel on the dead with a flick of its sword. The dead had dug beneath the city like ants, and now were crawling like them.

Rumena was not above stepping on the likes of them.

It wove between tunnels, closing them and burying the dead wherever it passed, until it reached a tunnel where some enchanted spikes digging into the earth resisted its will and kept it from moving the nearby stone. Unimpressed, Rumena seized the stone at the edge of the sorcery’s range and moved the spikes close to the surface by indirect pressure before collapsing the tunnel. It took the time to clear the western side of the shore before moving further down, finding sheer drops leading into a large cavern where a sigil had already arrived. The fighting was heavy and the general recognized the enraged roars, having shared a city with Mighty Jindrich for some years once upon a time. It was far gone, to be this loud.

Rumena landed softly on the floor, knees creaking, and eyes the deep darkness around it with irritation. Some Greater Dead was playing a trick. The Mantle, yes? Losara had spoken of her. This war would be well rid of her continued presence. The general sped forward, knowing the darkness would be fixed in range, yet it died before the old drow even reached the edge. Unimpressed, it leapt over Jindrich – now the size of a house, half an insect and killing even its own sigil when it strayed too close – and swept a wave of blackflame through the throng of corpses on the upper floors where javelineers were massing. They went up like dried leaves, though the use of Night caught Jindrich’s attention. It struck out with a long, articulated leg but Rumena only sighed and caught the end of it. It shifted its footing, tossing the other Mighty deeper into the enemy ranks.

That ought to keep it busy for a while.

Streaks of black smoke snaked along the ground towards the general, leading back to an armoured silhouette it decided must be the Mantle. Some middling thing with a helmet looking like a hound charged at it as well, a sword and shield in hand. Disinclined to play, Rumena sunk into the stone instead of moving out of the way. Cursed spike went into the floor not long after, but it was already moving and too deep below besides. The cavern seemed to a major outpost for the dead, the source feeding all the breaches to the west of the city’s great basin. Clearing it out in a single stroke ought to end the better part of that offensive in its tracks. Slowing its heartbeat the old general sunk deep into the Night and let the Secret of Stone settle at the heart of its soul.

Slowly, carefully, it began to sink Night into the bedrock beneath this city of Hainaut. As it did, extending fingers outwards, a greater force reached out and clasped its hand. The Youngest Night, talons puncturing skin even when the touch was meant to be tender, touched the general’s soul. She was wroth, and her anger was cold ruin inflicted unto the world: her hands guided its own, her eyes seeing beyond the reach of what any mortal might, and together they made for the Enemy an answer. Tunnels moved, closing and then weaving themselves anew as an intricate web leading to the five great caverns dug far beneath the city. And then, one by one, the two of them bound the ends of the web to the bottom of le Bassin Gris, the great water basin at the heart of Hainaut.

Water began to pour, and with panting breath Rumena leaned against stone as it felt Komena begin to withdraw from it. Begin and then stop. No, the Tomb-Maker realized with dread, not stop.

Fail.

Ivah of the Losara Sigil went still, as two goddesses screamed and the city shook.

It had found the waterside, returning to its sigil after the Eldest Night had ended her use of its body for the mending of Losara Queen, but the once-still waters were now as a sea taken by a violent storm. And the ground shaking had not ceased, as if some titan was hammering at the city from below with desperate strength. It turned to the terrified drow looking at it for answers, knowing it had none save for the furious howling of the goddesses in its mind.

“Disperse,” Ivah ordered the sigil. “Survive.”

They scattered to the winds. The Lord of Silent Steps could afford to spare them no more thought, for now the attention of its goddess was once more hammering at its mind. The rylleh stumbled forward, ending up on its knees by the shore of the basin. The waters were not only roiling, it realized with distant horror, but lowering. As if emptying. Before the revelation could sink in, talons punctured Ivah’s shoulders once more and the Eldest Night screeched in its ears. The wrath that bled into its mind made the world go white and brought it to the brink of unconsciousness, until those sharp talons brought it back with sharp pain. Service is required of you, Ivah of the Losara, a voice whispered into its soul. And though the talons were sharp, the voice was… cool. Soothing. A companion that Ivah had kept all its life without ever knowing it.

“We are born under Night,” Ivah murmured. “We die under the Night. All that I am belongs to it.”

The answer pleased the goddess. The pain of talons was fading, replaced with a pleasant coolness instead. Power intertwined with Ivah’s own, like a sea pouring into a lake. And the binding was deep, so deep that the Lord of Silent Steps… glimpsed. There was another crow, trapped deep below in a cage of curses and spells. Bound to the Tomb-Maker, the Youngest Night was striking at her surroundings with impotent fury. And though the plateau shook, it did not shatter. And looking closer, Ivah saw… hooks. Someone was binding the crow, containing it. Its mind was wrenched away from the sight forcefully, made to look upon the power being poured into its frame. Veiled Gods, so much Night. More than a hundred lifetimes would have let it win.

“Why?” Ivah croaked out. “It is… it is too much.”

Footsteps sounded behind it, but it was too exhausted to move. It felt as if eve twitching a finger would be enough to kill it, and still the Night would not cease pouring into it. A shape formed before it, a drow with silver eyes and ornate robes. It – no, she – bore a silver mask at her hip.

“You come at an inauspicious time,” Andronike said. “Return when we are less occupied.”

“One of you was caught.”

The voice of an old man. The Peregrine.

“It will be dealt with,” the Eldest Night said.

“Then why are you cramming your godhead into this one?”

A younger voice, calm but curious. The Hierophant. The Eldest Night did not answer.

“The Dead King is usurping the Night,” the Peregrine said. “Of that, the Ophanim are certain. You are losing.”

“If our First Under the Night was awake, it would not be so,” the Eldest Night furiously replied.

“Your weakness exists regardless of Catherine,” the Hierophant evenly said. “Do not blame others for your shortcomings.”

Ivah felt a sudden surge of mind-shattering pain, the Night’s flow into its body flowing, and it let out a hoarse scream. It was… Night was being pulled at from another side, through the other crow.

“He has his hooks in you,” the Peregrine harshly said. “This can no longer be allowed. If he devours your power whole, it means our annihilation.”

“We are,” the Eldest Night said, sounding pained, “still fighting. The strife has not yet come to an end.”

“We cannot allow him to devour you,” the Peregrine said, voice gone eerily calm. “You know this. Better to end Night than that.”

“You would kill them all,” Andronike hissed.

“No,” the Hierophant said. “There is another way. One that leaves enough they will live, if only as mortals. And with what you have put aside in this one, you will still be goddesses as well.”

“Paltry things,” the Eldest Night said. “Remnants.”

“Time,” the Peregrine softly said, “is running out.”

There was a long silence, and in its soul Ivah of the Losara felt goddesses speak words only they could understand. Eyes closed, it saw the truth of things: a crown of obsidian, skeletal fingers wrapping around it.

“Do it,” Sve Noc spoke as one, and offered up a hand.

A dark-skinned finger was laid against it.

Ruin,” the Hierophant said, and Creation obeyed.

Night broke, and the city broke with it.

172 thoughts on “Interlude: Sigil

  1. ruduen

    Oof. In the grand scope of things, that’s going to be costly. Still, that’s what happens when you bring out the bigger weapons – you grant the story and the enemy permission to use bigger retaliations.

    At least the fact that they were decisive about the act should reduce the fallout to something costly but bearable, rather than something completely catastrophic.

    It’s also good to have confirmation that Cat’s not completely out of the game yet. Being wounded and in a rough state does mean story-wise, she’s in a good position to get back up when things get to their worst. Still, the city itself is more and more subject to problems. I wonder how much of a city there’ll be by the time everything’s done, and if what’s left can be reasonably defended. By now, it’s looking like there’ll be a need for something beyond mundane rebuilding to keep things intact.

    Finally, go boost/vote!

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Liked by 11 people

    1. tithin

      from what I’m gathering, he’s not breaking it to his will, he’s draining them of their power source completely.

      basically, they’d still be gods when he’s done, they’d just have absolutely no juice left to them at all

      Liked by 6 people

          1. Morgenstern

            So, did the other Crown enable him to try and usurp this one as well? That’s an unforeseen consequence then, a costly mistake it would seem, of the Woe giving him the Crown as a trap… Hmmm… Gonna be interesting.

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            1. Morgenstern

              Oh, right… the Crown was empty of a pool of power… he’s now just trying to get back the power pool from Winter that was stolen by Night… oh dear.

              Like

    2. NerfContessa

      Well,. That was entirely unexpected this early.
      I thought he would pull out the big urwupation once they were closer to. Keter…
      And fuck, they will be less than a 10th of what they were,. And. The firstborn will become entirely mortal.

      Shiittee….

      Like

        1. Sinead

          I had a really neat thought of wondering if she buried Zombie III in Twilight.

          Odinn used Slepnir to travel across all of the 9 Worlds.

          What do you use a faerie hourse that is native to the plane of travellers for?

          Basically, I want Cat to have her horse back with the ability to literally run into Twilight.

          Also complete crack theory on Odinn parallels….

          My understanding of the general reason for Ragnorok and the fall of the Aesir is that promises were broken by the gods, which allowed for all bonds to fail.

          If Cat is trying to bind the continent/Game of the Gods under such a rule, she may have Nemeshah and/or the Elves playing Fenrir to her own role as forces that are bound away, but will retaliate if her own balanced system ever destabilases. I could see that her putting this much effort into the system will bind her to it, as I do not expect her to die, just go dormant. Less a sentient Name of the Wandering Bard and more just a battered woman ever bound by her own desire to maintain the peace and keep people safe putting out the bigger fires.

          The reason I chuck the Elves in here is because I suspect that their own play for the Spring Crown, and their general aloofness from everything is going to bite them in the ass, and they will write themselves out of this new world that Cat is building simply by not engaging with the system. And I could see that the same way that Nemeshah is one of Below’s biggest players while Below doesn’t care for him anymore (he doesn’t do what he is supposed to do) that the Elves are like that for Above.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Lord Reginald

        Let’s not forget the staff, cloak & penchant for insulting people who take themselves too seriously. Really all she needs is a beard and to graft a couple extral legs onto her next Zombie to complete the look.

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  2. Sinead

    Hmmmm…..I’m going to have to see how this unfolds before I decide how I feel about this. I don’t like the idea of breaking a cultural ziegest like this, especially if it will actually kill people.

    I get that this is a war on Death, but there are _things_ about breaking icons that matter in terms of symbols in wars like this that would be much more literal here.

    If loyalty matters in the current Firstborn metaphysics, and the shift in the sigil system to encurage such loyalty matters, than perhaps Sve Noc can outgrow this weakness that has arisen.

    It doesn’t make this moment easier.

    Here’s hoping that Runmera can collect interest and make good on its promise to tear down the walls of Keter. That will be it’s finest work: crafting the tomb of Nemeshah as repayment for this.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Hitogami

      It’s not easy, but have you noticed that a lot of what happens in this story is that great power gets discarded or used up and it leads to something better. At the moment Cat and Vivienne both discarded their Names and are doing more now than when they had them.

      Liked by 18 people

      1. ruduen

        Amusingly enough,in the grand scheme of things, Night’s actually been hitting its limits. Remember, the war’s going poorly for the drow because of Night-specific counters. While it’s still a hit to their overall power, they’re losing something that was losing effectiveness in the context of the war.

        The overall shift that might result will really depend on what replaces it, if anything. And even if they’re brought down to the level of the other races… Well, the other races have managed so far. It’s just a matter of how quickly they can rally and adapt.

        Liked by 10 people

      2. Sinead

        That’s true, and I do keep that in mind. I am hopeful about the evolution of the Tenents of Night meaning that there is a rebirth for the drow.

        I think part of my issue is that the drow front was failing with the Night under constant onslaught, and the dwarves were looking at abandoning their part in this war.

        What will give the drow their respite here? That’s what I have a hard time seeing.

        I also just liked Night as a concept, and hope that perhaps it can return in some form.

        Liked by 10 people

      1. erebus42

        I hope she doesn’t end up with some heroic name or some shit. I know it seems unlikely given who she is and the ideological/philosophical temperament usually required, not to mention that it would fuck shit up much more royally than it already is. I just always hated it that Wildbow did that.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. shikkarasu

          I feel like the Gods Above giving Cat any power would work like that time Rumena gave her a literal lift to Sve Noc: she’d try to strangle them at every opportunity. Even if she has less than no hope of succeeding, even if it means dying powerless in a cave forgotten by the world. It’s the principle, you understand.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Cat has gone on an inner monologue before about how that’s a losing approach and you gotta breathe in breathe out and go for a victory for EVERYONE, and how Amadeus was wrong in just this way (even though Amadeus thinks this way now too rip)

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    bares stone > bare stone
    That worms > The worms
    those teeth, > those teeth.
    wave rage > wave of rage
    had servant > a servant
    crow had was > crow was
    tumbled downwards > tumble downwards
    fell like sea > fell like a sea
    in burst > in a burst
    begun assault > begun assaulting
    Silent steps that > Silent Steps that
    strike him down > strike it down
    Ivah shook his head > Ivah shook its head
    dust and out > dust, and out
    rent its body > rend its body
    eyes the deep > eyed the deep
    Cursed spike went > Cursed spikes went
    eve twitching > even twitching

    Liked by 6 people

  4. tithin

    I kinda saw this coming a long time ago.It’s grim that it came to this.
    I hope they pull a victory through this, but at this point, there’s not a lot out there that will save them.

    Anyway, here’s the white knight

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Hitogami

    Wow! That’s crazy! This whole chapter is totally crazy!
    So I’m assuming that it’s possible for them to regain the Night by harvesting it from defeated foes, but it will take ages to restock.

    Liked by 4 people

        1. shikkarasu

          I think they lose Night and Winter as Domains/Demesnes. Hence the whole “existing as remnants” thing. They would be gods, but they might even be below Winter!Cat in raw power.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. agumentic

              To borrow from Masego’s terminology, I imagine they will have the “crown/pool” of their godhood left, but the “water” of power in it is going to be almost entirely drained. I guess it’s as good chance as any to fill it with something other than murder and Winter, which is almost a tautology.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. I got the impression it’s also going to be somewhat, ah… damaged itself. It might not be able to HOLD as much power as it used to. And there’s no guarantee it’s even capable of accepting power that is not its own – Winter was pretty close to Night in many properties, and it was still a tough swallow.

                Like

                1. agumentic

                  Hard to say right now, really. As I think was mentioned here before, in Catherine’s view Ruin brings things to the very edge of breaking, but not over it. How exactly that translates into the use of Ruin now and the exact consequences of it is anyone’s guess.

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Sinead

                  If godhood is the trick of perspective, and the power is through what is offered to them (think of prayer and sacrifice giving them power), then perhaps this may be where you start to see the Tenants of Night evolve into something adaptable to all converts, such that the Crows actually gain power and influence from the small offerings of the Callowans and the goblins as well.

                  Sacrifice willingly give, especially in many small offerings could probably be absorbed easily, and probably prompt some expansion of role.

                  It’s a gradual change though. So less a thing easily seen in the current war, but perhaps a means for Sve Noc to heal in the time after this war.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Yeah, I’m still not seeing why anyone thinks Tenets of Night are ever going to stop being an ethnoreligion. Their entire point is being the drow thing, the thing about the drow, for drow and to let drow survive.

                    Like

  6. Xinci

    Hm yeah this was rather inevitable given the DK’s progress and Sve Noc’s framework. Usurpation was their weakness and they were maladaptive for a environment where they had to contest multiple competitors due to their lack of safeguards.
    This will possibly have rather costly impacts on their organizational structure, though perhaps it will be positive in the end for getting out bad actors like Kurosiv. As while the Drow’s reduced lifespan may mean while they hold even less direct influence, this also means more cooperative behaviors may be incentivized due to murder being less useful and malefactors not living as long due to lifespan. Not without a greater cost to themselves anyway, it is also entirely possible that due to them being weakened like this and Iva being the strongest font they have now, that Kurosiv will try and usurp them either after the war or relatively soon.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Frivolous

      Xinci: I’m afraid that usurpation by Kurosiv is no longer the worst case scenario where the Empire Ever Dark is concerned.

      Note that drow have to be aware that Keter has perfected its answers to Night. The drow also have to be aware that Sve Noc nearly got usurped by Keter.

      They must conclude that Keter is greater, mightier, than Sve Noc, yes?

      The greatest danger therefore is that drow will attempt to betray the Empire Ever Dark and go over to Keter’s side.

      Kurosiv is only the Mighty most likely to do so. There will probably be others who also decide that treason and betrayal (and living) are better than continuing to fight on behalf of a losing side, especially when the enemy, Keter, has demonstrated its ability to kill drow very efficiently.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Konstantin von Karstein

        The Drow will never betray Sve Noc for Keter, even Kurosiv. They are not stupid and know perfectly well that the DK doesn’t want living servants (except for the Serenity) when he can have dead ones. He would usurp the Night instead of subjugating the Drow, killing them.

        I can perfectly see Kurosiv betraying his goddess, but not to someone who will assuredly kill him. No one is going to betray the GA for the DK.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Frivolous

          Konstantin: What about discreet neutrality aka running away then?

          I’m not sure I agree with you that Kurosiv et al won’t actively betray the Empire Ever Dark, but he might passively do so by scampering away from the war.

          Now that Sve Noc has diminished, I am not sure they are still omniscient as far as the drow are concerned, or that they can still effectively punish Kurosiv.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Where the fuck would drow run? Their entire problem was that they were boxed in and needed to win territory from the DK in order to have somewhere to live.

            At the moment in the north they’re defending their home.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Shveiran

              Eh. Could the Langevins have afforded the drow taking offence at their plotted backstabbing? not really, but some people are just myopic assholes.
              I’m not sure it will happen, but I think it’s very possible Kurosiv will walk away from the battlefront and Sve Noc’s oversight and just take his chances that he can deal with the rest.
              With a bird eye’s view, it doesn’t work, but that is always not apparent to those in the thick of it.

              Liked by 1 person

          2. Konstantin von Karstein

            I don’t know. Kurosiv (as a general) has to be aware that without the GA the EED can’t win, and that fleeing en masse from the front is a temporary salvation.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. edrey

    did winter and night got divided? or komena is dead, i am open to options
    so its too much to ask that cat return at the darkest hour. that story would fit here.

    Like

    1. Jason Ispwitch

      Night has been Ruined by Masego, along with most of Sve Noc’s godhood. Exactly what that means… I don’t think we know. What knowledge and power individual drow will retain doesn’t seem clear to me. But if it’s not at least a good part of what they were Rumena and others are toast, unless Sve Noc can still miracle some rescue up.

      Liked by 6 people

  8. I KNEW IT!!!

    It was a grazing hit (i know its not the right word but it was really late at night and i couldn’t think straight xD), like when a person receives a bullet to the head and survives or even has something large trust into, like an accidental lobotomy………

    Mmm so Cat has/had 2 crows on her shoulders, and now lost 1 eye……anyone can think of an Odin related title that could be her name?

    Also that ending: HOLY SHIT!!!

    Maybe her nae will manifest as a way to save the Drfow too, she has come to like them a lot.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. Black Spiral Dancer

        The drow will eventually become vikings, with gods that hunger for blood (and that have abandoned them, so to speak), while Cat shall become their All-mother. Fitting.

        Liked by 4 people

  9. Well, I didn’t think it’d be the whole damn thing, but I did call that the Sister’s were gambling like mad risking half of the Night. That’s just asking for punishment.

    Weirdly, though, this might even be a best case scenario. The Night is a massive loss, yes, but it’s such a massive loss that it might have eaten up most of the consequences of Cat going into her Story perscribed inconvenient incapacitation. Probably a few thousand more soldiers die (which Cat is going to flog herself over), but I think the only major characters that are at risk from this point on are the ones that aren’t Named.

    Typing that did make me realize that the 4th got the brunt of the water, and I’m now dreading the thought that Pickler and/or Robber might be dead, though.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. TeK

      Nay, no important characters death, not yet. Pickler has a lease on life at least until she can rry her mind on Keter walls, and Robber is supposed to die in the pyre of glory and stabbing and fire and corpses, which I guess also means Keter. The point is, they don’t have narrative reason to die as of yet. You are probably right that most of the consequences had been nullified by the loss of Night. In fact, it just made the situation dire, as Saint once put it “the enemy on the gates, her people in peril, in the direst moment she will rise from her slumber and save them. It’s not a Villain’s story and I don’t like it.”

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Actually now that you’re saying that, that’s a little like saying lke “no, he cannot die yet, he needs to see his family after this when he retires the next day”. I’m not saying DEATH FLAGS DOOM AND GLOOM but it wouldn’t completely miss the mark tonally for Pickler and Robber to die here.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          I think one or the other has a good chance of being dead, but not both. Probably Pickler, Robber is already acting like he has a death wish at times so naturally he’ll survive.

          Liked by 3 people

  10. Frivolous

    So very glad Catherine lives. Such a relief.

    I feel smug over my comment in Tribulation. I predicted this or something like this would happen. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, though.

    =====

    This chapter strongly delineates the limits of Night and of Sve Noc. Sve Noc and the drow don’t seem to have any resources besides Night. That’s a terrible weakness. No versatility.

    I think that, if Sve Noc has any foresight at all, they must mull over the necessity of diversifying their portfolio, so to speak. They need to learn to do other things besides Night. If they don’t, sooner or later they’re doomed.

    =====

    I think there is huge favorable coincidence in that Catherine released Akua from all bindings, including connection to Night, right before Night got itself half-usurped.

    I don’t know what that means yet, but I think it’s important.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. mamm0nn

      Night is the Below version of Light and it’s very versatile in what it is both intrinsically and in options, so it was hardly too limited. It’s like saying that only using steel is too limited, ignoring in how many forms of armour and weapons it comes.
      It is more theme than others, sure, but it was hardly too much a singular gimmick. The issue lied in that it was too potent yet one-note.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Frivolous

        mamm0nn: I’m not sure I can really agree that Night is the Below version of Light, at least not in the context you are using.

        Night belongs solely to Sve Noc and the drow and Catherine; no other entity of Evil uses it.

        Keter almost succeeded in usurping Night, and that brought down Sve Noc and the drow.

        In contrast, Light and steel are ubiquitous. The only person I’ve seen who usurped Light was the Fallen Monk, and that imperfectly, in that Catherine believed that a Choir would easily destroy the Fallen Monk.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. mamm0nn

          We’ve been told several times by several people that Night seems to be a mirror or evil mimicry of Light, though. Sure, it’s not the intrinsic cornerstone that Light is, but it’s still a mirror copy, it seems.

          Like

      2. Konstantin von Karstein

        Below has no equivalent to Light. Night was created by Sve Noc and can only be used by Drows except for exceptions like the FUN. It also is a integral part of the Drow body/soul.

        Light was created by Above, and only priests and Heroes can wield it. It’s not a part of every human’s soul.

        There’s similarities between the 2, but in a direct fight Light always win against Night. If it was created by Below, I think it would be equal.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. caoimhinh

      To be fair, Night is one of the most versatile things shown as of yet. It’s a lot like sorcery and a bit like Light. The Drown can do practically anything with Night.

      Messing with Night is like creating a field where no magic or no Light is usable, it’s extremely hard to do, and it’s only because it is Neshamah that such a thing is possible.

      It’s still weird how the Dead King pulled this off, since it was a trap laid underground in a grand array, which means that he must have needed to predict one of the Sisters to go underground in person in order to set this.
      This working must have required preparations, materials, and so on for the ritual to be carried out and Neshamah’s attempt at usurping Night to be done.

      If this was done in the northern front, where Sve Noc is actively fighting, it would make more sense than in Hainaut, and it seems like too complex a trap to have been set only by mere chance.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Which is why he put it in the big invasion hub. Shutting this place down would be a good strategic move, that’d also need a lot of mojo behind it, meaning cat or one of the mighty would need to be down there with some serious mojo. I don’t think it had to be the goddess herself in person so much as enough night saturating the area, since all of it connects to her.. Dead King meticulously arranged this trap..

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Shveiran

        I think the set-up was elegantly simple: he brought in the acid worms, a powerful asset that could create breaches in the defenses and lead to collapse. A legittimate threat that was underground in nature.
        What was the GA going to check it with, surface Fantassins or underground Firstborn?
        After that, it was just a matter of making the threat big enough that Sve Noch herself was going to be personally involved.

        As I was reading, I’ll admit this seemed a bit far-fetched. Like, “how could Neshamah have predicted that” or ” this all rests on teh Sisters getting mad someone almost killed Cat and I refuse to believe Keter can accomplish that with any reliability, or they would have already crossed her off”.
        But now that I’m thinking about it… the Dead King didn’t really need that, did he? He just read the forces in motion the right way.
        Big underground threat, the underground response team will come in. If they are facing anihilation, which can feasibly be organized, the Sisters will get involved.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Note that every single step of the setup was a good move on its own. Offing Cat would be best, but if he can’t temporarily incapacitating her is excellent too. An underground invasion is an obvious move that loses him nothing and can potentially win him a lot. Etc. Anti-Night trap might have worked against a lesser amount of Night too, if not quite as effectively, and even if it couldn’t – for all we know DK has been mounting that at every major battlefront that he’s had enough time to prepare for, this is just the first time it triggered.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. ByVectron!

          To add to this- there is no reason Nessie couldn’t have been setting these traps for a while, and it just happens that this is the one we saw because it finally got sprung. He’s got the time and resources, presumably, so he could have a number of these scattered assertions that we’ve never seen because the conditions to the weren’t right.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Miley

    Is every chapter going to have yet another reason why cutting the shade loose is the pivot that made them survive this battle? I assume the crowd are shielding Cat but Ubua wouldn’t have been so lucky.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. WealthyAardvark

    If Rumena doesn’t die of old age immediately (perhaps unlikely considering Black’s condition after losing his Name), it’s still in a Tomb of its own making. Hopefully Sve Noc can still provide it with the power to get out before it suffocates in there.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. Frivolous

    I think Keter baited Sve Noc into a trap. My reasons:

    The spell or whatever that drove hooks into Komena and permitted Night to be usurped could not, I think, have been used as effectively on any regular drow, or at a significant distance. It had to be used on either Andronike and/or Komena in person for it to be useful.

    I think if the method could have been used on a regular drow, but then Sve Noc would have stopped it by killing the drow subject, and then Sve Noc would have been forewarned.

    To that end, I believe it was made clear to Sve Noc that Keter had perfected its answers to Night. This caused Sve Noc to put half their eggs, invest half of their godhood, in the current Battle of Hainaut. Which in turn led to this chapter.

    Basically it was an ambush and kidnap scheme, on a divine level.

    In other news: More Woe mutilation shenanigans. Masego lost his sorcery. Vivienne lost her Name but is otherwise pristine. Hakram is at around 1/3rd the orc he used to be. Indrani got her brains exploded, though she got better.

    Catherine of course is the worst, dying over and over again, and now she’s lost an eye Odin-style.

    Oh well. She can probably get a prosthetic eye to replace it. Masego already has 2 prosthetic eyes. He’ll probably design an eye that allows her to see magic and shoot laser beams.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Thanatoss

      I would prefer eye like Masego, see through solid stuff all around.
      But well lasers are nice too I guess.
      What if her empty eye socket will be some kind of conduit for her new aspect? Hmm, no, probably prosthetic

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Sinead

          Eh. Old One Eye sacrificed himself to himself, and based on descriptions it’s hard to tell if it’s actually a death or near death experience. There isn’t a huge different between comatose like this and being dead as far as “journey to the underworld” themes go. It’s It’s all wibbly wobblily deathy-wethy jumble of concepts.

          I was wondering if this was going to put Cat back as a manifestation aspect binding her to rules like the Wandering Bard with teleportation to Nowhere. That would make her out Gandalf Tariq.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Sinead

              Fortunately, Cat will end up with a different reflection of the Wandering Bard, which is fine. Intercessor seems overly bound for what would be interesting to have as a character perspective anyways.

              I hope she gets her horse back though and just has the dash out into the Twilight.

              Like

          1. Sinead

            You might be thinking of my comments.

            I was thinking Cat had figured that she was actually the less needed individual as far as the systems she has built were concerned, so she made herself a big glowing target for Keter to shoot.

            Liked by 1 person

  14. laguz24

    Crap, the drow front is about to go to shit at this point, also, what’s left of the city at this point? It has been lakeomancied, tunneled under, and assaulted by the scourges. Exactly how many people are left at this point?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      That assumes cat doesn’t wake up with a new mojo. Remember how Black could use an aspect that affected the entire group he led? I wouldn’t be shocked if, still having a connection to the goddess of a race, that Cat wakes up with something that keeps the Drow fighting.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Frivolous

    Sve Noc should count themselves lucky that Tariq and the Ophanim didn’t decide to just kill them all at their moment of weakness.

    I mean, if not for the Alliance and war on Keter and their desire to retain the goodwill of Catherine, who still lives, this would be doubtless be a great time for Mercy to ease suffering by murdering the goddesses of theft and murder, yes?

    Also, I’m blackly amused by this chapter being a dark mirror to Melancholy. In Melancholy, Sve Noc offered Night to Masego to compensate for his loss of sorcery, and Masego refused.

    In Interlude: Sigil, Masego offered Ruin to Sve Noc to prevent them from completing losing both Night and godhood, and Sve Noc accepted.

    I bet the Gods Below are laughing their Evil guts out at this reversal.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. > a great time for Mercy to ease suffering by murdering the goddesses of theft and murder, yes?

      I actually honestly don’t think so? They’re important to their people, their destruction would cause far more suffering (for drow) than it would ease overall unless you count genocide as easing suffering because now all these unborn children will never live to ever experience suffering at all (and that is not how Mercy counts, no).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Total sum reduction. The drow certainly wouldn’t be happy. But everybody now safe from the god of murder and theft’s followers and their tendency to “collect” from others, probably a lot happier.
        It’s the path that Sve Noc would have gone down if she hadn’t gotten herself a First Under the Night, her original plan was to just start eating other large power sources and I really doubt she’d have introduced a lot of reforms in her people. Killing all the drow with their Goddess becomes a feature of defeating the load bearing boss at that point, not an unwanted consequence.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. if she hadnt gotten herself a First Under The Night she would have never left the Everdark
          drow’s presence on this front in the first place is a function of Catherine introducing them to positive sum games

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Praneeth Kolichala

      Yeah, I think you have a wrong read on what Mercy/Tariq likes to do. They aren’t really in the business of genociding large groups of people; when they kill for a greater good, it is always one person or a small village. (For example, Tariq smothering his nephew). You can’t just name some weird, slightly-plausible benefit that might come from the genocide and conclude that because they do things for the “greater good,” this means that they would commit that genocide. If Mercy does an evil for a greater good, the good has to actually be greater than the evil, and when the evil is genocide, it’s hard to overstate how high the bar for the good is. Saying, “They were a fundamentally evil race based on theft and murder,” would definitely not cut it.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. pyrohawk21

    You know, an interesting thing is that I think we’re seeing the ways of the world to come here. It is a world of Mortals. For here we see that one of the Immortal races that inhabit this continent have had their immortality shattered, with Night being Ruined. We’ve learned that the Gigantes aren’t actually immortal, the way that the Titans that were their ancestors seem to have been. But rather their life is tied to their power. So they have the choice of living long, or being able to affect the world.

    We have the Elves, who are basically removing themselves from the continent, which is likely to have dire repercussions for them later on. Either losing their kingdom or finding that they can’t fully return to the world I suspect.

    And then we have the war that is being fought, with the Mortal Realms banding together to once and for all shatter the Immortal Kingdom of the Undead… Or be shattered in turn.

    So it seems to be that the era, and world to come, is very much going to be defined by the actions of Mortals. The agents of the Immortal will have a role in defining what paths the mortals travel, but the Immortal beings themselves are likely to have their own actions extremely restricted… Unless they discard that Immortality.

    As a side note, I don’t count the endless life of Villains as Immortality, because it is very susceptible to ‘sword to the heart’ ending them from even the weakest of beings if they get unlucky. It’s similar to how the GIgantes are technically immortal in that they have a path to not dying of old age… But it’s much harder for them to actually exploit that or it comes with steep costs.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. TeK

      Pretty much all immortals are actually mortals as in susceptible to the stabbing, but I don’t think that somehow inviolates their immortality. Immortality is first and foremost imperviousness to age, not necessarily death. Otherwise aside from big G Gods there never were and never will be immortals.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. pyrohawk21

        What I’m doing here is saying that there is a crucial difference between being immortal, and being an Immortal. Villains, the Gigantes if they conduct the rituals and don’t spend the power, and possibly the Drow even after the Ruin of Night renders them Mortals, are all immortal as they don’t die, and aren’t even really affected, by the passing of time.

        But it’s a lower-case i immortal because said immortality comes with a big cost. For the Gigantes it is the fact that their lifespan and the power are tied to each other, so if they want to be immortal then they can’t use their power and they must dedicate their life to conducting the rituals needed to accumulate more. For Villains it comes with the fact that if you want to retain that immortality, you need to keep doing the deeds that earnt you the Name that gave you the immortality as a side benefit. And that tends to drastically increase their mortality rate. If the Drow retain a form of immortality, I suspect it’ll probably be something like stealing the life of others, which means it has a constant cost.

        But for True Undead such as the Revenants and the King of the Dead, they don’t need to ever worry about keeping their immortality active. For the Elves, they have it naturally and the older they are, the more powerful their ability to manipulate Creation becomes, again making it so they don’t have to pay a cost to stay immune to the ravages of age and they in fact purely benefit from living longer.

        That’s why I use Immortals to describe those two groups of beings, because they don’t have a lesser form of immortality that requires you keep doing something to have it. But rather once you obtain it, you have it forever and don’t need to do anything to preserve it.

        So you aren’t a Mortal Being that has gained extended life. You are an Immortal Being, immune to time’s ravages.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          I like the lore of Last Unicorn for things like this, in that it’s a mentality and fundamental difference in outlook that also makes up an Immortal. (in that story/movie everybody should experience, magic turns a Unicorn into a Human Woman in order to save her from a malevolent creature hunting unicorns. Unconscious from the experience, it’s recognized by a character who knows lore that this is going to be horrible for the Unicorn, who may go mad. The Unicorn wakes up HORRIFIED, immediately aware she is no longer an eternal constant “I can feel this body dying all around me!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5rGhVhQaLk

          Other better people have expanded on all of this whom deserve credit I’m not willing to spend time looking up right now, but essentially, big I Immortals are BUILT to live forever. A mortal with an expanded lifespan might well end up regretting their state and seek an end. An Immortal is meant to be eternal, and so their outlook embraces it with a sort of stubborn optimism: Even on their worst day, at their most horrible moment, they know they have enough time for things to get better. It’s why some of the strongest passions of mortals eludes them (and so makes the short-lived things so fascinating), but it’s also how they can stay as they are so long. The Genie who’s been in a bottle for decades, the Demon sealed for Centuries, they leave their confines and they are fine, ready to resume acting on the world. A mortal trapped for that long in the same condition, even if their life was preserved, would be completely insane from the process. Because they aren’t built for that long-view mentality, and part of the process of a mortal becoming a true Immortal is gaining it, as Neshy refers to a bit in this story. It is, as many things that are of stories, both a weakness and a strength. There is a power in that inherent longevity, in the lack of need to change because of how little change can affect you, but of course, there’s also the stories of mortals time and again defeating such things despite how impossible that should be, especially because of how easy it can be for an Immortal to forget that anything but another Immortal could ever be a threat to them.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Matthew Wells

            I wonder how Elves are at learning? The undead seemingly being unable to learn big things is probably a result of all that, but Elves must presumably have some ability to radically change. Maybe they ossify at 80 or something, and then just accumulate magic.

            Ranger seems to be both Immortal and flexible in her mind, but she’s powered by three seperate aspects related to learning, and is half-human.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Ranger has also had the same personality for several centuries as far as we know.

              There seems to be a clear distinction to be made here between “assimilating information and drawing conclusions” and “restructuring your information processing framework”. The immortals are perfectly capable of the former at any age, but the framework ossifies with time – the longer you live, the less flexible your mindset is, and the less capable you are of mastering entire new skillsets / professions / philosophies that can’t be processed as a subset of your pre-existing ones.

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  17. LostRaven

    Oh nice to see Ivah gaining a partial Godhead by accident (more or less) same as Cat, an entity cramming the power in it shortly before that entity gaining new powers (King of Winter > King of Arcadia Resplendent)

    We see a lot of echoes here, by stories created before by Cat herself. She originated the unknowing apotheosis. AND it’s a former holder of Winter Power and still Lord of silent Steps who gains it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Crash

      My child Ivah is too pure for this world.

      About to have some life changing after effects from having a decent amount of godhead crammed on it, too I’d bet. Unlike Catherine, it didn’t have anything to help this along at all.

      Andronike just panicked and started pouring all that Night into it.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Frivolous

    ErraticErrata – Forgot to put in a Thank You for this phrase in Interlude: Woeful:

    ======

    the dictate that undead could not learn was not as absolute as some seemed to believe

    ======

    It was nice of you to give an answer to the topic we’d been debating about, whether the undead could learn. I appreciate it and I’m sure others do, too.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. jak

    I knew it.

    As soon as he took Cathrine out and the crows retaliated, I knew he’d make a move against them.
    No, even before that. As soon as it became clear that they were investing their godhood in this battle, i knew he’d make a play for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Ok new thought: DK could do this because Cat is out of it, the sister said word for word if she was awake they could fight it better or something, so in tipical name fashion she could come back at a pivotal moment to save the day, it wouldn’t be the first tiem she take a hero trope and make it work for her even when a villain.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. So I’m pretty sure they’ve just lost the war.

    Without the general OPness of the Drow pinning down two thirds of the Dead King’s armies they’ve got pretty much no chance of gathering a force capable enough of fighting the Dead King above that the Dwarves feel inclined to intervene.
    If many of the Drow lose access to Night the Grand alliance is losing something like two thirds of its combat force and many of those who can make gates into Twilight, unless they can come up with replacements for that somewhere they’re going to start losing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We know from epigraphs that Guide doesn’t end with the Dead King devouring Calernia, so there’s SOME X-factor waiting in the wings to spring out and turn the tide right back ^^

      Like

  22. Daniel E

    Thus did the Mighty Jindrich get thoroughly yeeted by General Rumena, and it was good. On a more serious note; Cat has been developing a striking resemblance to Odin for some time now (Crows, war & wisdom in equal measure), but the addition of an eye patch makes it a certainty. I’m now wondering if perhaps she won’t obtain a Bard-ish Name, but rather ascend to Godhood in her own right.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. I love how Zarkan has been with Rumena for almost four centuries now. Like, a looong time. And sure it thought it could take room at a once upon a time when it was young and stupid, but now paperwork together for a while, and Zarkan probably has the impression that it’s seen most of what Rumena can do. Enough that every half century it starts thinking maybe it has a shot.

    And then Rumena pulls out a freaking Secret it hasn’t used in so long that Zarkan has probably not even heard rumors of it, the Secret predates it by so much. A Secret which outperforms both the Grey Pilgrim’s Shine and a Goddess (Rumena wasn’t injured by backlash after all) and casually unmakes one of the Dead King’s greater workings.

    What do you think is going on in Zarkan’s head in this moment, and why is it “Hahahahaha, oh fucking gods I tried to kill that how could I have ever been so stupid?”

    Liked by 4 people

  24. Darkening

    Y’know, I find it odd that the Dead King is able to counter Night so thoroughly. Like, it’s portrayed as being equivalent to sorcery or Light, but he’s able to create perfect antimagic for it and ensnare and drain a goddess like this? You’d think over the centuries he’d have figured out similar counters for magic and light, yet we’ve seen no indication of that, but he was able to counter Night almost completely after just a couple of years. Sve Noc have been compared in might to a choir of angels, and yet we’ve never seen any suggestion that Keter’s been able to bind one of those and turn it into a power source or something. I guess there might be some story aspects to the second part, since Keter chaining an angel would be an opening for a hero to come free it, whereas attacking Night is just Evil vs Evil, but still. It just feels a bit cheap for him to be able to fuck them over this hard with like, a day of prepping wards in a cave that he had no guarantee they’d even show up at.

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    1. Xinci

      Well two key things. Night has less source purity than Light which means in a clash it comes down to sorcerous skill more than just power. The Night was only protected from unsurpation by the skill of its wielder and in this Sve is lesser. She had a glaring weakness for exactly this kind of issue and wasnt getting countermeasures as the DK learned more and more about the Night as the war progressed.
      And secondly the DK has been accelerating his understanding of Night for years as we saw as his artifacts that could affect it got more streamlined.

      Like

    2. Night is not equivalent to sorcery and Light is equivalent to neither. Light has “source purity”, as Xinci has pointed out, which basically means it trumps anything you throw at it. Sorcery cannot beat it, demons cannot beat it, if you throw something at Light the something gets destroyed and Light stays.

      Night and sorcery seem to be competitive with one another: Night can distrupt sorcery and sorcery can disrupt Night, depending on configuration. Now sorcery can disrupt sorcery as well, so this is an eternal arms race, but Neshamah cannot make straight up antimagic field generators because they’ll disrupt his own undead. I mean, he CAN, he just can’t USE them when he also wants his undead in the area. They would give him a straight disadvantage compared to the living. Night though, he doesn’t use it, so he can make disruptors and use them with impunity without losing anything.

      Now this does mean that theoretically everyone could come up with ways to disrupt his shit right back, but we’re back to the arms race problem here – the disruptor technology, the anti-disruptor technology, the anti-anti-disruptor technology etc. We’re seeing this play out: the Unravellers, the copperstones, etc.

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      1. Darkening

        I mean, we’ve directly seen Masego do anti-Light countermeasures back at the battle of camps, but sure, I can dismiss that as Name specific shenanigans that can’t be lightly replicated by others. I still feel like a two year war is exceedingly rapid for him to have been this successful at countering it, but maybe he’d encountered it before. The drow *did* have a fairly strong reaction to the idea of facing him at first, so they probably did try raiding Keter at some point in the past.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Darkening

          Though it occurs to me that that effect from Masego was based off an Order demon and Keter probably has those when he’s willing to break out the big guns. So that should get interesting.

          Like

  25. Mike E.

    Ivah is the best bud. How far he has come since we first saw him and his band exiled from the underdark.

    Also, his faith in the First Under the Night and in SveNoc is blindingly idolic.

    Like

  26. Mike E.

    So I just caught this re-reading the chapter…was the Mantle killed by Mighty Jindrich? I read this as Romena was on his way to take care of the Mantle, only for Jindrich to snuff it out before he got there, leaving Romena to believe the Mantle was overrated as a threat if Jindrich was able to kill it, hence his ‘unimpressed’ thought.

    “The Mantle, yes? Losara had spoken of her. This war would be well rid of her continued presence. The general sped forward, knowing the darkness would be fixed in range, yet it died before the old drow even reached the edge. Unimpressed, it leapt over Jindrich…”

    Liked by 1 person

  27. ByVectron!

    Re-reads can be so fun. Did you know the Cat already has a fancy glass eye? Book 5: Chapter 65

    “…that vicious little wretch Robber even threw something at me over the fire. I didn’t quite manage to catch it but it slid into a fold of my cloak and I picked it up there. I blinked, finding a rather fancy glass eye looking back at me. Where had he even – no, I didn’t want to know. It had to be someone of stature, though, part of it was painted but there was also coloured glass and that’d expensive as all… No, if I asked then he won. I’d get Hakram to find out later. Still, I pocketed the eye without any qualms.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Crash

      Kinda hoping she doesn’t put a glass eye in or gets an eyepatch or anything of the sort.

      Just kinda… leave it as is. If nothing else, that’s even better intimidation tactics. Especially since the Night has gone kaput.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tbf a glass eye can be a good option for wearing UNDER an eyepatch for structural integrity of the eyesocket.

        Also, I want Catherine to have a Masego-style magic eye that isn’t impeded by the eyepatch so she gets badass looks and utility all in one 0.0

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  28. Frivolous

    Can’t help but notice the parallel between this situation and the Battle of the Camps. Both times the situation was desperate and Catherine was injured and unconscious.

    Feels very much the same way as this quote from Kaleidoscope II:

    “She may rise,” the Pilgrim said. “The shape of it is there. Wounded or unconscious, those she loves besieged, she may return to offer salvation at the darkest hour.”

    “And that’s not a villain’s story, Tariq,” the woman grunted. “She’s hard to predict, and that’ll get people killed. You’re sure about what you saw?”

    The Grey Pilgrim let out a tired breath.

    “What Catherine Foundling craves above all is peace,” he murmured. “On chosen terms, perhaps, but peace nonetheless.”

    Liked by 1 person

  29. aran

    “Murder,” the Lord of Silent Steps conveyed. “That is the essence of the trouble, the concept that seeks to kill her even now.

    A villain with the literal aspect Murder feels a little on the nose 😛

    Like

  30. aran

    “He has his hooks in you,” the Peregrine harshly said. “This can no longer be allowed. If he devours your power whole, it means our annihilation.”

    Wonder how that happened. Maybe the link got established through the arrow in Catherine’s skull?

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