- "Woe on us all, but if the Gods demanded my home be ashes then the Gods would burn."
- ―Catherine Foundling
Catherine Foundling is the protagonist of the series. Raised in an orphanage, she takes up the position of the Squire in the first book.
Initially a mortal Human born in Callow, she later became an immortal after obtaining power and titles from the Winter Court of Arcadia. Formerly the Squire under Black Knight Amadeus, she is currently Nameless, though her titles are many. To humans, she is known as the Black Queen of Callow. To the fae, she is Queen of the Hunt, Air and Darkness, or the Sovereign of Moonless Nights. The drow titled her Losara, the Queen of Lost and Found.
She gave up her mantle as Sovereign of Moonless Night to Sve Noc, becoming mortal once again. Upon devouring Winter to reach Apotheosis, the two goddesses named Catherine First Under the Night, granting her magical powers and the ability to cast dark miracles, and also giving her authority over the entirety of the Empire Ever Dark, with only Sve Noc above her.
- "Does not show traditional heroic talent for forging strong friendships but considered a leader by her peers. Responds aggressively to threats. Displays continued recklessness and an aptitude for thinking on her feet. This agent recommends disposal before she can turn into a legitimate threat to the peace of the realm."
- ―Report ‘for the eyes of Lord Black only’, concerning the Imperial ward Catherine Foundling
The exact place and time of Catherine's birth are currently unknown but she was raised in Laure, former capital of the Kingdom of Callow. She was a ward of the Laure House for Tragically Orphaned Girls until the age of fifteen when she was taken under the Black Knight's wing as a claimant for the Name of Squire. The color of her skin indicates she is half-blood Deoraithe, though she was raised as an ethnic Callowan and does not know the Old Tongue.
Catherine is short and has brown eyes, high cheekbones and a pronounced nose. Her features have been described as sharp and austere unless she smiles. During her full transformation into the Sovereign of Moonless Nights her features became even sharper. She has long, brown hair which she usually wears in a ponytail for the first books, although later she tends to wear it loose. Thanks to having at least some Deoraithe heritage, she has darker skin than the average Callowan, and also of the slight build most common among Deoraithe.
During the battle of Hainaut, Cat lost her left eye, and has been wearing an eye-cloth over it to cover up the wound. She's been shot with crossbows at least twice in ways that left small marks even after healing and has a long reddish scar across her abdomen inflicted by the Lone Swordsman.
Cat's body has changed several times over the books. She starts out with the slight build of the Deoraithe. Then she takes on bulk and muscles while part of the Fifteenth. After becoming First Under the Night, Cat's body changes again, this time into something lean (making her body shape closer to that of the a drow than the muscular warrior she was before).
Mantle of Woe
She has a personal artifact, the Mantle of Woe. Originally this was a plain black cloak, enchanted for a basic resistance to magic. As she achieved various conquests, she added stripes to her cloak taken from the banners of her defeated enemies. The strips are from the bottom up taken from:
- The silver spears
- The banner of house Talbot (representing of Marchford and the battle she won defending that city)
- The banner of house Kendal (representing her victory at First Liesse)
- Clothing made of wind from the Duke of Violent Squalls
- Fabric made of heatless flame from the Princess of High Noon
- Banner from the Immortals
- And finally the actual soul of her defeated nemesis Akua
Catherine is liked and trusted by her immediate subordinates and companions. Her core group of villains is the Woe, effectively a successor group to the Praesi Calamities. This group consists of Catherine herself (A student of Amadeus), Hakram (officer of the Legions), Archer (student of Ranger), Masego (student and son of Warlock), and Vivienne Dartwick. Lately these have been joined by the shade of Akua, formerly Catherine's most powerful nemesis.
Other significant relationships include, Nauk, Robber, Juniper, Aisha, and Ratface. She in turn trusts in their skills and loyalty to help pull her through whatever challenges she and the Fifteenth Legion (later, all the Legions of Callow) encounter. She had a romantic relationship with the legion mage Kilian, since broken up over magical issues; in the Everdark, Cat began an occasional relationship with Archer.
She considers Amadeus to be both a mentor and something of a confidante. She does not trust him with all of her secrets especially regarding her ultimate objectives but she does place great value in his advice. She clearly considers him as a father figure, but then, Praesi family life can be... difficult.
Prior to his death, she had a hostile relationship with William, the Lone Swordsman. While she was willing to use him to achieve her own ends, she considered him extremely frustrating to deal with and resented the way that he seemed to always get everything he wanted without effort. She had a nemesis story with him, but it was resolved with neither of them remaining dead, and she killed him later.
Aside from and after the Lone Swordsman, her primary nemesis was Akua, (Heiress, later Diabolist). She disliked Akua even more than William, as her schemes tended to be destructive and irresponsible as well as difficult for her to deal with, and unlike the Lone Swordsman, Heiress didn't have good intentions behind her actions. After killing Akua, Catherine captured her soul and bound it to her Mantle of Woe. Over time, she began to permit the shade progressively greater range of action, subject to fae and other magical oaths. After the battles in the Everdark and final confrontation with Sve Noc, Akua has effectively become a full member of the Woe; however, Cat feels that a final accounting for her crimes at Liesse is still due.
Catherine has gone through many drastic changes in her existence, including (by her own count) three deaths and resurrections. (Note that resurrections are normally not available to villains!) Her power level has varied wildly over the course of her story.
Catherine Foundling was exceptionally motivated and capable even as a mere orphan. At fifteen years old she was consistently earning money not only as a barmaid, but also in the illegal Fighting Pits where she regularly fought significantly larger and stronger foes.
Catherine was offered a chance at the Name of Squire by Amadeus. Due to his assistance and her own actions, she was able to defeat the other claimants and take the Name fully for herself. Like other Names, this granted her magically-assisted speed and strength, three Aspects, and a miscellany of other powers to develop over time.
Beyond her explicit magical powers, under Amadeus' tutelage she developed considerable military skills. This included the strategic creativity which she would be best known for. Amadeus also trained her in the manipulation of narrative, which is one of the great controlling forces of her world; her military and narrative skills remain strong in all of her incarnations.
Necromancy: Like other villainous Named, she can create undead. Initially this was limited to animals; she has had a succession of zombie horses all named Zombie. At this point, she could only control one at a time and initially required a connection to be formed by personally killing any animal she wanted to raise. She has yet to live down using this power to create mobile explosives in her final exercise at the War College. Even at this stage, there was an anomaly in her powers: Masego commented that her undead constructs appeared with more "life" than they should, and over time she noticed that the longer she keeps a particular undead, the more intelligent it becomes. This seems to foreshadow the entry to her Winter stage.
Aspects: Her two Aspects, Learn and Struggle, were both of great value to her. Learn allowed her to quickly absorb information to consider later, which makes her a very good student. Struggle allowed her to tap more of her Name's power when most needed in a losing fight. Catherine's third aspect was to be Seek, which appeared to be a powerful divinatory aspect, before it was corrupted by a demon and amputated from her soul by Masego.
After her death and reanimation at the Battle of Liesse, she traveled through a portal to reach the pocket dimension, where William of Greenbury (the Lone Swordsman) was trying to summon an Angel of Contrition while Akua was trying to capture and kill it. Along the way, she encountered Chider, one of the claimants she had originally killed to take her Name. Childer had been reanimated by Akua, and placed in Cat's path in the portal, empowered with magic specifically to usurp the Name of Squire. However, due to Chider's lack of practice with the Name's power, Catherine was able to kill her and take it back. Because she had effectively just won the Name anew, she gained a new set of three "slots" for new Aspects. In due course, she developed three powerful aspects:
- Take: Allowed her to steal magical or Name-related power from others.
- It is unknown whether the original holder of an Aspect gets it back after having it Taken; the only known person to lose an Aspect this way was William, and he was killed immediately after.
- When taking an aspect - like the William's "Rise" - she can keep it even after its original owner's death, though she is bound by the same rules as the owner was. For example, Rise could only be used 3 times per day. Over time, her copy of the aspect became degraded and less effective.
- She was able to capture active spells used by both Winter and Summer fae. When doing this, she was able to control the spell effect until it ran out of power or detonated, but could not repeat the effect on her own. She was also able to Take a fairy noble's wings, which disappeared from the target's back and briefly appeared on Cat's. The victim was unable to re-manifest their wings afterward (and was shortly killed).
- Other options were hinted at by events, but not fully explored. In particular, Cat Took her own resurrection from the angel (aided by story structure); while she did not then keep a "power of resurrection", this may have influenced her later Taking of William's aspect Rise.
- Break: Manifested after she broke the angelic sword into 100 pieces and scattered them across Callow. This aspect allows her to break both magical and physical things, from bindings to great palace doors.
- Fall: Calls on the power of winter causing any thing in the affected area to be frozen, wither, and sapped of power. The effects are only effective for a limited amount of time. Note that this aspect was influenced by her oncoming transition into the Duchess of Moonless Nights.
Duchess of Moonless Nights
Once claimed by the King of Winter, Catherine was able to tap into the power of the fae Winter Court. After the union of the Winter and Summer Courts, she was in fact the entirety of the remaining Winter Court. With time and use, this power eventually displaced her mortal flesh, effectively turning her into a fae. When she eventually discussed her condition with the Dead King, he assured her that she had indeed become a true immortal, indeed a goddess. He also commented that "never before have I seen anyone reach apotheosis by accident.".
As her transformation proceeded, she lost access to her abilities as Squire; however, the capabilities of Winter overlapped heavily with those of villainous Name power; platforms and shields that Cat formerly made of shadow-energy, she would now make with ice, and her necromancy sharply improved. While few examples are shown, it was implied that her Take aspect was replaced by a Winter capability to extract aspects into single-use artifacts.
With the vast power of Winter, she could now raise hosts of undead on the battlefield. Her undead continued to be more functional; when she slew and raised eight mages during her assault on Liesse, at first they only nodded their heads in answer to requests, but in as little as an hour they were able to cast fireball spells. (For undead to keep the ability to cast spells was apparently not usual for Praesi villains; later the Undead King was revealed to have undead Named with intact powers.)
The power of Winter allowed her to open gates between Creation and Arcadia. She can also open gates "through" Arcadia -- after entering Arcadia, she must travel through the fae world to a destination gate which will open to her desired location. Importantly, she bargained a safe-conduct from the fae courts, allowing her to do this without facing opposition from the natives, and even to take armies under her command.
Her perceptions shifted sharply in this form -- while her sense of taste was almost nonexistent, her vision and hearing were drastically enhanced, allowing her to monitor the emotions and subconscious reactions of those around her. She also had enhanced psychic sensitivity.
She possessed the ability to make glamours that could be seen by everyone or only affect one person (e.g, punishing a guard). While this power can be used for camouflage or even disguise, she frequently used it for simple battlefield signals.
Thanks to the mantle of Winter, Catherine was impervious to most physical damage, being capable of regenerating from any wound in a matter of seconds. (This appears to be how her flesh was replaced by Winter material.) She was capable of creating and manipulating water in all forms, but especially ice. Over time she became capable of turning her body into mist.
When exploring the Empire Ever Dark, Catherine found that her Winter abilities let her easily overpower the lesser Drow, up to the lesser sigil-holders, and bind them to her own service. However, the tide quickly shifted once she reached the inner rings of Drow settlement and faced not only the greater Mighty, but the almost-goddesses Sve Noc herself.
First Under the Night
In her final confrontation in the Empire Ever Dark, she faced the ancient twins known as Sve Noc, who had originally bargained with the Gods Below to gain the power of Night, and had distributed parts of it among their people. At this point her combat magic was already overmatched by the top tier of Night-empowered Drow ("Mighty"). Sve Noc themselves were able to not only to overpower her, but to contain and absorb her Winter power, knocking her back to ordinary mortal human status, and eventually reducing her to a spirit captive within Sve Noc's domain. This culminated in Catherine and Sve Noc examining and simultaneously judging each other's accumulated memories and accomplishments:
- While Sve Noc was far more powerful than Catherine, at this juncture they realized that their own apotheosis had been incomplete. Having absorbed the power of Winter (and gained access to Catherine's experiences) now allowed them to complete the process and become true goddesses, thus releasing the Drow from the cycle of murderous behavior they had been locked into.
- Catherine in turn negotiated a new role for herself and the Drow: She would be the First Under the Night, representing Sve Noc to the outside world. As part of this, Sve Noc healed the damage they had done to Catherine's soul when ripping out Winter.
- The Drow, then facing genocide from the expanding Dwarven kingdoms, would migrate to battle the Dead King, while also assisting Cat in her battles in the surface world. Cat negotiated with the Dwarves on Sve Noc's behalf, gaining terms for the Drow survival and escape.
As First Under the Night, Cat is "First" not in the sense of greatest power, but as a pioneer; Sve Noc had not previously had priests as such, and Catherine's duties include "working the kinks out" of the role for her eventual successors.
- Cat's own body is now mortal, and accordingly she has lost the power to casually reshape her form or instantly heal injury. Indeed, she has chosen to retain an old injury to her leg, mostly as a reminder to avoid the raw clashes of power which led to her defeat by Sve Noc. However, she can use Night to counter that injury as well as to reinforce or protect her mortal body and enhance her senses.
- She is accompanied by two slivers of Sve Noc (one for each of the twins), taking the physical forms of large black crow-like birds. These provide her with ongoing access to the powers of Night, assistance in using said power, magical and general advice, including occasional insults and abuse.
- Since Night has now absorbed Winter, Cat retains many of the Winter abilities, notably creating Gates and raising undead. She can also shape Night power in much the same ways she formerly used villainous shadow and Winter ice, and can presumably also use various powers shown by the Mighty she fought in the Everdark.
- She can use Night to extract an Aspect from a Named victim, creating a single-use artifact based on it while deeply damaging the victim's own ability. This apparently works regardless of whether the victim is living, dead, or even undead.
- While she potentially has access to even more power, on the surface of Creation her use of Night is limited and difficult during the daytime. It is yet to be seen how the power of Night will fare against heroic Light power, but she has been making preparations in advance of this conflict.