4 – 21

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Debris crunched under Trissiny’s boots as she approached the Rail platform. Behind, Sarasio was relatively quiet—not the menacing, deathly silence with which it had first greeted them, but still a departure from the celebratory air of the night before. It had been a complicated evening, the hours immediately after the battle spent in damage control, healing the injured and mourning the dead. Still, all the action had left the townsfolk with energy that needed to be discharged, and there had been a veritable party at the Shady Lady lasting past dawn.

Thus, not only was Professor Tellwyrn’s intention of retiring right afterward thwarted, so was her plan of embarking on the Rails bright and early. It was mid-morning now, and Trissiny, like nearly everyone else, hadn’t managed much sleep. The students were still mostly getting themselves together in preparation for their departure. The citizens of Sarasio were more quietly adjusting to everything that had changed. There were few families without someone to grieve. The elves had quietly slipped away during the evening, but Robin, at least, had seemed optimistic that those who had come to help would be less standoffish in the future, and perhaps other members of the tribe would join them in the time.

Now, Toby stood alone on the Rail platform, beneath the tattered awning, gazing out over the Golden Sea. The Rail itself was inert; Tellwyrn had said a caravan was coming today to retrieve them, but not when. Trissiny climbed the short steps to the platform and went to stand beside him.

Toby’s expression was drawn and grim, more than simple fatigue should explain. She opened her mouth to speak, found she had nothing to say, and closed it, painfully aware of the silence. He hadn’t even acknowledged her, which was unlike him. Trissiny found herself thinking back to a few moments the night before when she’d spoken shortly to him in the heat of battle. Was he angry with her?

Then, finally, he glanced over at her and managed a weary little smile. “I’m kind of redundant, it seems. All the injured are doing very well. Those shamans do good work.”

“I always thought the plural was also shaman.” She immediately wanted to slap herself in the face. Why could she never find the right thing to say?

He chuckled. “You’re probably right… I’d have to look it up to be sure. More than an Omnist, right now, I think Sarasio needs a Vidian priest. Far too many dead.”

She nodded slowly. There just wasn’t much to be said in response to that.

Toby shook his head slowly. “I guess we must have a pretty different outlook on how things turned out here.”

“How so?” she asked quietly.

“Well… We won. It was an unquestionable victory in battle. I’m trying to be glad about that… I know I should be, given what was at stake. Things will be immeasurably better here, now, thanks to us. I just… I can’t think of anything but the dead, the injured, the grieving.” He fell silent, clamping his lips together firmly.

Trissiny drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Avei’s doctrine tells us that any contest of wills is a form of war, and the art of war applies to it. There are so many ways of engaging in warfare that don’t involve violence; violence is considered the least desirable, least honorable method. We view any situation that’s allowed to degenerate into physical violence as a failure.”

He looked over at her, surprised. “Really?”

“We fail a lot, of course. There are situations that are beyond our control… Situations that went bad before we became involved, or where the possibility of preventing violence simply doesn’t exist. And yes, sometimes, we just fail because we make mistakes. Avenists train and prepare for combat because it’s part of the reality of the world, and once it breaks out, it’s far better to win than to lose. But we don’t seek it. Our energies are devoted to preventing it from occurring whenever possible. A battle averted is a battle won by the only truly honorable method.”

“I never knew that,” he said quietly, again staring the horizon. “You see the Legionnaires guarding all the temples, hear the old stories about the Hands of Avei and their exploits…”

“Have you ever heard of Laressa of Anteraas?”

“Of course.” He grinned ruefully. “The Apostate, we call her.”

“We call her the Peacemaker. The only time Avei ever called a paladin who was a follower of a different god. The Omnist Hand of Avei lived in a particularly brutal time. She fought with diplomacy and trickery as her weapons, and the Sisters certainly questioned her strategies, but nobody ever claimed she was anything but a warrior. Her stubborn avoidance of physical combat is credited with a whole social movement that brought about a century of peace. Such things move slowly; she didn’t live long enough to see it, unfortunately.”

He nodded slowly. “I’m…sorry, Trissiny. I guess I misjudged you.”

“You’re not the first,” she said bitterly. “Or the tenth.”

Toby gave her another smile, and placed a hand on her shoulder. Even through the layers of metal, leather and cloth, she felt his touch like an electric current. “Sometimes it’s not so bad to be wrong. Maybe we’re not so different.”

“I think there’s a lot we have in common,” she whispered, turning to face him. She was aware, suddenly, of how close they were standing; it was a heady sensation. She felt she should be doing something…anything. She couldn’t think what, though, except to stare at his warm brown eyes. It almost seemed they were getting bigger…

No, Trissiny realized; she was drifting closer.

Then those eyes widened in sudden comprehension, and Toby moved backward with a speed that was just barely short of abrupt. He quickly schooled his features, but not quite in time to disguise a wince.

He’d moved back. And winced.

Something in her felt as brittle as old leaves.

“Ah, look,” he said, very carefully. “I think you’re a great girl, Triss…”

Everything after that was kind of hazy.

Darling was still more than a little bleary when he slouched into his smaller, more intimate parlor, guided by the scent of hot scones and tea. It had been a long night; even after dealing with the Beater, the Crow, the Jackal and the Archpope in that order, he’d had to go pull rank at the Temple of Avei to extract his apprentices. Unsurprisingly, the Sisters had reacted to the sudden arrival of three armed, self-described criminal elves telling conflicting stories by detaining everyone while they sorted out what was going on. Darling, Eserite or no, was a Bishop of the Universal Church and his say-so counted for something; he’d straightened that out, retrieved the girls and seen to it the Jackal was comfortably ensconced in a cell.

All this meant he hadn’t had time for much sleep, certainly hadn’t had a chance to sit down and process the Archpope’s revelations, and Flora and Fauna weren’t done being peeved at him yet.

“Good day,” Mary the Crow said politely. She was sitting cross-legged in one of the chairs around the parlor table. Not his favorite chair. She probably knew that.

He blinked at her, then shambled in and flopped down in his customary seat. “Morning. By all means, come on in. Make yourself right the hell at home.”

“Morning is nearly over,” she replied calmly, wearing a faint smile.

“Mornings are evil things,” he grunted, pouring himself a cup of strong black tea. “No decent person would be caught participating in one. Scone?”

“Thank you, no.” He began spreading butter on one in silence.

Mary waited until he’d had two bites. “Perhaps we should discuss last night’s events, Darling. I feel we’ve made some progress toward building trust. Or do you disagree?”

“Lady, let me get some tea and hot food in me, and then I’ll start determining what I think about anything. There’s a process. You don’t rush the process.”

From the doorway, Price cleared her throat softly. “Your Grace, you have…” She gave Mary an unreadable look. “…another visitor. Bishop Syrinx is here to see you.”

“How interesting,” Mary said, her smile widening.

“Oh, bugger it all,” Darling groaned. “Might as well show her in, Price, she’ll probably chew down the door or something otherwise.”

“Very good, your Grace.”

He managed to stuff the rest of the scone into his face before Basra arrived.

“Are you still having breakfast?” she demanded, sparing the Crow barely a glance. “How long have you been up? You look like death’s droppings.”

“Why, how lovely to bloody well see you too, Bas. Please, have a seat. How’ve you been? How’s the weather?”

She snorted, sliding onto the loveseat and helping herself to a scone. “We need to talk, Antonio. First, though, what are you doing with this here first thing in what I gather is still the morning for you?”

“Omnu’s balls, I just came downstairs and there she was,” he exclaimed. “What do you want me to do, put up a scarecrow?”

“Hnh. Maybe she can go play with the other elves while we talk?”

“They are at the Guild, attending to their training.” He grinned at her over his teacup. “So, no, the only elven ears in the building are the ones you see before you.”

“It may interest you to know, however,” said Mary calmly, “that your home is under Imperial surveillance.”

“Oh, that’s just Lord Vex’s way of beating his chest,” Darling said dismissively, though inwardly he wanted to curse. He hadn’t known that. It was something he’d have to keep in mind. “Ignore them, they’ll get tired and go away after a few more weeks of me being my boring self.”

“Seriously, though,” Basra said, staring at Mary. “Do you mind? We need to talk Church business.”

“I was here first,” the elf said placidly.

“All right, enough,” Darling snapped. “Don’t try to swim up the waterfall, Bas. If she wants to know what’s going on, she’ll find out. Better in the long run to work with her than against her.”

“I suppose,” Basra said grudgingly, then grinned. “And after all, it’s probably better that you get used to hanging around here, what with Antonio being your new boss, and all.”

Mary raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, yes,” Basra said with relish. “He’s been placed in charge of the Archpope’s adventurer program. No more running around the city taking them down one by one. Antonio thinks he can do it smart.”

“And Justinian agreed to that?” Mary said mildly. “You must have made quite an impression.”

“I capitalized on an opportunity,” Darling said wearily, setting down his teacup. “He pretty much had to give me something. I don’t think he’d planned on revealing all that he did so early; after we found out about the Jackal and burst in on him like that, he needed to offer something to keep us loyal. Even after showing us the Chamber of Truth and announcing his plans… Well, it was a show of trust and a bribe, sure, but it was crazy enough he still needed to coax us. You could have probably gotten something, too, if you’d thought to ask.”

“Well…damn,” she said, scowling now.

“And what plans are these?” Mary asked, in the same mild tone.

“Well.” Basra gave her an unpleasant smile. “It seems his Holiness aspires to universal apotheosis. He intends to elevate all of humanity to godhood.”

There was silence for a moment while Mary contemplated this. Her face, as usual, showed no emotion. “The reasons that would not work are outnumbered only by the reasons it would be a disaster if it did.”

“Pretty much what I thought,” Basra replied, leaning back in the loveseat and crossing her legs. “And what Antonio thought, I’ll bet, which is why I’m here. He’s got Branwen wrapped around his little finger—not that that’s hard, she’s about as intellectually impressive as a bucket of shucked clams. And I strongly suspect Andros knew something about this going in; his cult is more heavily behind the Archpope than any other. You and I, though, signed off on that asshat project only as our best chance of getting out of that room alive and without a price on our head.” She stared at him piercingly, the intensity of her gaze belying her relaxed posture. “Or am I wrong?”

Darling nibbled at a scone, rapidly pondering. How much could he trust Basra? Whatever the state of her mental health, she was cunning, unscrupulous and had a cruel streak. Still, that could be an advantage. Allies of convenience were often less prone to giving each other unpleasant surprises than those bonded by deeper trust.

“You’re more or less in the right,” he said. “Whatever Justinian is doing is clearly going to go forward. I’m happier being around to keep an eye on it than sitting here wondering when the hammer will come down.”

“So the question is: was he serious?” She turned her gaze to the window, frowning as she stared into space. “I trust you of all people noticed we were being fed a line of bullshit from the start of that meeting to the end. My favorite part is how he twisted it around so that his hiring outside contractors ostensibly not to kill us was evidence that we should trust him more.”

“However did he manage to express that?” Mary asked, tilting her head. It was a distinctly birdlike gesture.

“Basically,” Darling explained, “we’ve spent so much time proving ourselves to him to be let into the inner circle; now that he’s called his own trustworthiness into question, he has to prove himself to us, which places us on more even footing.”

“I see.” She ruminated for a moment. “It does make a certain, insane kind of sense.”

“’Insane’ is a very relevant word, here,” Basra said grimly. “I’ll admit I might be indulging in wishful thinking by concluding he’s putting one over on us. Schemes, lies and betrayals are things I understand, things I know how to deal with. The Archpope concealing his true plans behind a grandiose front would make sense to me. The alternative is that one of the world’s most powerful men is irretrievably screaming bugfuck insane, and there’s basically nothing we can do about it.”

“It is not impossible that he is both,” Mary suggested. “Elevating an entire species to godhood is, in a word, unthinkable. Elevating individuals, however, has been done.”

“Not in eight thousand years,” Basra retorted, “and nobody knows how. The gods have been very particular about keeping that information quiet.”

“Shifty bastards, aren’t they?” Darling said cheerfully.

Basra winced. “I can’t help expecting thunder or something whenever somebody says something like that.”

“Meh, I’m not nearly important enough for them to pay attention to,” he said dismissively. “The question becomes, then, how serious is the Archpope?”

“And what are we going to do about it?” Basra added, taking a bite of her scone.

“This does not seem to be the time for aggressive action,” Mary said calmly. “The protections of the Church are…considerable. Even I would hesitate to strike at Justinian; whatever his plans, he enjoys the general favor of the Pantheon and the active, personal support of several gods. I believe your current strategy is the best one.”

Darling chewed slowly, not replying, not willing to give voice to the thought currently foremost in his mind. It was an absurd thought, of course, but he hadn’t succeeded this far in life by failing to cover the angles.

What if Justinian was sane, sincere…and successful?

“So how’s this Rail thing work, anyhow?” Ruda asked, climbing into the car. “Was there just no caravan scheduled this whole time we’ve been in this town, or what?”

“Sarasio isn’t a regular stop,” Professor Tellwyrn replied. “You’ll note that, like Last Rock, there is only a single Rail line; consequently, the caravans only travel in one direction. They only come to Sarasio when someone charters a caravan to this location.”

“Oh.” Ruda frowned. “Wait, the telescroll tower’s down. How’d you get a caravan out here so fast?”

Tellwyrn smiled at her in silence.

“Do you realize how fucking annoying that is?”

Tellwyrn’s smile widened.

“Yeah.” Ruda folded her arms and slouched in her seat. “I figured you did.”

The students weren’t the only ones departing Sarasio; in addition to Heywood Paxton, a number of residents were taking the opportunity to flee the beleaguered little town. Not many, luckily for the remainder. It seemed Sarasio would retain enough of its population to rebuild. The extra, however, meant different seating arrangements than on their trip out. For starters, Tellwyrn didn’t have a car to herself this time; Trissiny, Teal and now Ruda sat with her.

“So what’s all that about?” Ruda demanded, pointing at the bright hibiscus flower tucked behind the Professor’s ear. It was a very peculiar look for her, and not just because it clashed with her blonde hair.

“Apparently the Shady Lady has a small attached greenhouse,” Tellwyrn said mildly, looking out the window. “I can see the utility of an upscale bordello cultivating some exotic flowers. It was a little going-away present.”

“Uh huh.” Ruda grinned broadly. “Well, is anybody else gonna say it?” Teal and Trissiny both glanced at her momentarily before returning to their own window-gazing. “All right, guess it’s up to me, then. Lady, that boy is fifteen years old. I know you’ve got a rep to keep up, but there’s a line between doing whatever damn thing you please and just being a fucking creepy old creep. See?”

Tellwyrn turned her head to look at Ruda. She kept her expression perfectly neutral.

Ruda shifted slightly in her seat, her grin slipping. “I’m just saying.”

The professor stared.

“Oh, hey, there’s Gabe,” Ruda said, rising. “I need to ask him something.” She exited more quickly than she’d entered.

“Important life lesson, girls,” Tellwyrn said with a small smile. “There’s a time and a place for shouting and making accusations, but people who know they’re in the wrong absolutely cannot stand silence.”

The two girls glanced at her again, momentarily, before returning their stares to the glass.

“Oh, good, a seat,” said Juniper, ducking into the compartment. “Ruda apparently really wants to sit with Shaeine and the boys. I dunno why it’s important, but whatever. Fross is riding with them, I guess she’s small enough she doesn’t need her own seat.”

“Welcome aboard, Juniper,” Tellwyrn said mildly, now fishing in her pocket with one hand.

“Thanks! And don’t worry, I’m not gonna crush anyone when we go around the turns. I don’t weigh like a tree when I’m concentrating, and anyway I’m really good at bracing myself.”

“Good to know,” said the professor, finally retrieving what she was after. She handed a small square wrapped in gold foil to Teal and another to Trissiny.

“What’s this?” Teal asked, not sounding terribly interested.

“Svennish artisan chocolate,” replied the professor. “The cure for nothing and the treatment for everything.”

“None for me, thanks,” said Juniper, cheerful as ever.

“You don’t need any,” Tellwyrn said dryly.

“Boy, that’s for sure. I mean, I can metabolize just about anything, but processed sugar makes me all sluggish.”

“Thanks,” Trissiny said somewhat belatedly, leaving the chocolate resting in her hand, still wrapped. Teal had already extracted hers and was single-mindedly devouring it.

“Don’t mind them,” Juniper said earnestly, leaning toward the professor. “They both just got—”

“I forgot to mention, Juniper, you did very well during the battle,” Tellwyrn interrupted her smoothly. “Excellent use of strategy.”

At this, Trissiny finally looked up. “She got captured.”

“Exactly,” said the professor, nodding.

“Well, yeah,” said Juniper. “I mean, if I didn’t let them capture me they were gonna shoot me. I really don’t like being shot, but that was sort of beside the point. We were supposed to be saving the town, which pretty much can’t happen if it gets destroyed. My mother is, uh, not exactly precise when she’s in a mood.”

“Oh.” Trissiny turned back to the window.

“Ah, youth,” Tellwyrn murmured. Juniper blinked at her in confusion, but no one replied.

The sharp crack of arcane energy sounded and the caravan began moving. All four braced themselves in their seats, some more glad of the distraction than others, and they accelerated away, on their journey home to Last Rock.

“A moment, your Majesty?”

Sharidan indulged in a sigh. It was only Quentin Vex, whose loyalty he trusted. It wouldn’t do for the Emperor to show weakness in front of any of his courtiers, but in front of those he knew were on his side, a little annoyance now and then didn’t hurt. Eleanora still gave him a look, of course, which he ignored. They were on the way back to the harem wing from the morning’s session holding court, and he knew she was looking forward to a quiet meal without anyone pestering them as much as he.

“Something urgent, Lord Quentin?” Sharidan asked mildly.

“No, your Majesty, not urgent, but immediate. I would advise that you receive this report no later than today, but if your Majesty is busy…?” He trailed off, falling into step beside them. A Hand of the Emperor prowled ahead of the party, two more behind; at least one of those would be watching Vex like a hawk.

“Just spit it out,” the Empress said curtly, and Sharidan gave her a little smile.

Vex, as usual, bore his Empress’s sharp tongue with perfect equanimity. “The situation in Sarasio has been resolved, and the outcome is optimal. Professor Tellwyrn personally delivered her report to me this morning, along with a written report by Surveyor Paxton and two communications from the Hands of Omnu and Avei. The town is secure, the rebels under citizen’s arrest awaiting Imperial retrieval. Sarasio’s request for Imperial aid is being processed; I understand it has been fast-tracked and should result in shipments of personnel and supplies within the week. The Minister of the Interior has already appointed a Marshal, who will embark later today. General Panissar has dispatched a regiment to secure the town, and per the Hands’ requests, three ranking clerics of Omnu and a squad from the Seventh Silver Legion are already en route.”

“How in the hell,” Eleanora demanded, “did that woman personally get into your offices?”

Vex’s normally sleepy expression showed uncharacteristic annoyance, a sign of the favor he enjoyed; the Empress knew well enough that it wasn’t aimed at her. “Apparently, your Majesty, she teleported directly in. And yes, that should be impossible. We are looking into it.”

Eleanora snorted. “I do not like the idea of involving that woman in Imperial affairs. The entire purpose of that University of hers, however she tries to dress it up, is to crank out high-level adventurers. More of those are the last thing the Empire needs.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” Vex said diplomatically. “However, she will be doing that anyway, and attempting to prevent her will certainly cause more harm than good. I am quite optimistic about the long-term prospects of cultivating an amicable relationship. Tellwyrn has already proven useful in this specific situation, and as a general rule, I believe it’s better to have her working with us than against us.”

“At least the town is stable,” said the Emperor before Eleanora could start in again. “What of the neighboring elves?”

“Ah, yes, your Majesty. They assisted in reclaiming the town and putting down the rebels. It seems Tellwyrn’s students were instrumental in arranging this.”

“Excellent,” Sharidan said, nodding. “So far, I concur with your analysis. If the good Professor is willing to play nicely, that certainly beats the alternative.” Eleanora snorted expressively, but withheld comment. “Anything further on the situation?”

“That covers it, your Majesty. I will of course keep you informed as new developments arise.”

“A moment,” said Sharidan as Vex started to bow out. They had arrived at the door to the harem wing, which the Hand in the lead opened for them and slipped through, quickly surveying the interior before nodding his liege forward. “It’s nearing the end of the academic semester in the next few days, isn’t it? While we’re on the subject of Tellwyrn and her University, let’s have your semiannual analysis.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” said Vex, obediently following them in and toward the dining room. “It is quite early, yet, and the Sarasio event is the students’ first organized foray into Imperial territory, so my information is, at best, incomplete, but I have been able to gather several basic impressions. There are no surprises from the two Hands, nor from the Narisian exchange student. That last is a welcome improvement from last year’s drow. The half-demon is, of course, entirely unimportant; he’s only there because his father and Tobias Caine petitioned Tellwyrn to admit him. The pixie, likewise, is of no immediate significance and a fairly minor long-term concern.”

“How so?” the Empress asked as they stepped into the dining room, where servants held out chairs for the Imperial couple. Vex positioned himself discreetly to one side where they could both see him.

“We have ascertained that, as expected, the Pixie Queen has already forgotten the matter. Fross is an academically interesting case, but she is one individual, completely isolated from her species and of no diplomatic or political interest. It will be interesting to see whether an individual pixie can be housebroken, so to speak. If she proves this to be the case, in four years or so we may wish to look into acquiring some pixies of our own; they have potential tactical value. Fross’s current academic career is well within the margin of error for a pixie’s established attention span, however, so such action would be premature.”

He paused, and Sharidan gestured for him to continue while servants place a plate of steaming fish in front of him.

“The more important cases are, of course, the dryad, the archdemon and Princess Zaruda. In all three cases, I consider it far too early to make any significant judgments.”

“What are your gut feelings at this point?” asked the Emperor.

Vex frowned, contemplating momentarily. “If the Juniper experiment proves successful, it will change everything. So far, she appears to be obeying Tellwyrn’s rules without trouble, but it is, as I have said, early, and I am not aware that her self-control has been significantly tested against her predatory instincts. Should it prove that dryads can be integrated into mortal society… The implications are vast, not least because it will be the first sign in recorded history that Naiya is personally interested in interacting with us on a large scale. I almost hope Juniper reverts to type and Tellwyrn has to get rid of her. It will certainly cause less complication in the long run.”

Sharidan nodded, chewing, and kept his expression bland, not glancing at any of the Hands nearby. Privately, he agreed with Vex; the less the world at large understood about dryads, the better.

“The duo of Teal Falconer and Vadrieny remain stable,” Vex continued. “There is as yet no indication of progress on any front. Miss Falconer is, by any measure, a loyal and admirable citizen, but the nature of her relationship with the demon makes it impossible to predict what will happen should Vadrieny’s memories return, or she turn against the Empire for any other reason.”

“And the Punaji girl?” Eleanora asked. She had her wineglass in hand, but neither ate nor drank, her piercing stare fixed on Vex.

He shrugged eloquently. “Observation reinforces what we knew of her personally before she went to Last Rock. Princess Zaruda is as clever as her mother and as fierce as her father. All indications are that she will one day be one of the greatest Queens the Punaji nation has ever known; an education at Tellwyrn’s hands will only increase her capacities. At issue, then, is purely how she feels about the Tiraan Empire. She may become an absolutely priceless ally… But if she decides her people are better off separating themselves from Tiraan interests…” He let the thought trail off.

“Clearly, then, we must prevent that from happening,” said Sharidan, setting down his fork.

Vex nodded. “Yes, your Majesty. It is a delicate matter, however. Zaruda is likely to perceive any charity or blatant attempts to sway her as hostile acts, and she is certainly intelligent enough to see through them. Much as it pains me to say it, I don’t believe handling her is an appropriate task for my department. She should be approached with sincerity and skill by the Foreign Ministry. Specifically by whoever is best-versed in dealing with the Punaji.”

“How immediately do you think that need be addressed?” Eleanora asked.

“I don’t recommend that we involve ourselves with any of the students at Last Rock at this time,” said Vex. “Let them develop for a while. It’s too early, yet, to know exactly what action will need to be taken. I will repeat my earlier analysis, however, that this group of students on balance represents more potential for change than any of Tellwyrn’s recent crops. If anything, this underscores the importance of handling Tellwyrn herself correctly.”

“Which you wish to continue doing, I take it,” said the Empress, her mouth tightening.

“My current policy toward her appears to be an unequivocal success, your Majesty,” he said mildly.

“Very well,” said Sharidan, nodding. “Thank you for your report, Lord Quentin.”

“Your Majesties.” Vex bowed to each of them before turning and slipping out.

Eleanora sighed, finally taking a sip of her wine. “What an unmitigated headache.”

“But a headache for another day,” Sharidan replied with a grin. “Let’s focus on the ones right in front of us for now, Nora.”

They finished eating in companionable silence, enjoying the brief respite from the politics of the Palace. All too soon, it would be back into the fray for them both.

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17 thoughts on “4 – 21

  1. If you support chocolate therapy, vote for The Gods are Bastards!

    Man, it seems nobody gets to fall in love in this story.

    EDIT: Okay, it’s worse. I’m actually in big trouble.

    The short version is, my car blew a headgasket and needs $1000+ in repair to be functional. I can scrape together maybe half of that if I just don’t pay a few other bills this month. The thing is, I am not someone for whom a car is a luxury. I live in the only housing I can afford, which is a trailer on my sister’s property, about an hour’s drive from my place of work. This is waaaaay out in the boondocks. There is no public transportation; there are no prospects for carpooling. No car, no work, no income… And thus I’m basically a couple of weeks from homelessness.

    The real stinker is I’d been saving up to try to get myself into a better situation; move into the city where my job is, sell the car, rely on public transportation, find a second job to better make ends meet. However, I need savings to do that, and they’re about to be wiped out with this fiasco. I’m still considering my options, including using whatever money I can scrape together to advance the plan and just move, but I don’t think I can make it connect as is. I’ve not actually started apartment-hunting. I am missing work today, and will tomorrow at bare minimum, and probably for the rest of the week. I’m a long-term employee in good standing so they probably won’t fire me, but the loss of income is pretty critical, especially since my reserves are about to be wiped out, one way or the other. I’m gonna have to fix the stupid car just to survive in the short term, and that’s gonna set back my long-term strategy hugely.

    Basically, I need help badly. I hate to lean on you guys–in part because I simply hate having to ask for handouts under any circumstances, but aside from that I get a lot of fulfillment from writing this story and interacting with all of you. It’s been a wonderful experience and I couldn’t ask for more…or at least, it feels like I shouldn’t, which is why I hate having to. I don’t have anyone else TO ask, though. I’ll forever be grateful for how you guys helped me out with my medical bills in December, and I’d really hoped not to have to come begging again, but here we are.

    I think, in all probability, me ending up homeless is a worst-case scenario and unlikely. If nothing else, I have family who’d take me in. One way or another, though, I’m in dire straits, about to face an abrupt change in living situation, and going to have to scrape to get by. I don’t yet know what course of action I’m going to take; it’ll depend on how a few things play out and what I can scrape together. I should hopefully have a more concrete plan in a day or two. Needless to say, my fate will affect the fate of TGaB. If I find myself, for example, lacking Internet access…well. Depending on how things fall out, I may have to put the story on hiatus, or switch to a much slower update schedule. I would really, really like to avoid doing either of those things.

    I want to thank you all for reading, commenting and being involved with this story with me; I enjoy every minute of it, and your support has been nothing short of wonderful. The Gods are Bastards is provided as a free reading experience in the tradition of the open Internet, without paywalls. It is my perspective that nobody owes me anything. However, I’m in a bad situation, which means the story is in danger, and I have to ask for help. Please do not feel obligated. If you are able to help, though, and willing to do so, my donation button is right up there on the right side of the page, and I’m in a place where every little bit makes a difference.

    If you’re inclined and able, I humbly request assistance.

    Cheers and blessings for now, and see you Wednesday at the latest.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was actually bittersweetly wonderful for my favorite ship- Trissabiel*! Bittersweet in the sense that on one side, one potential obstacle for the ship ceased to be one, and on the other side, that I feel really guilty and silly feeling any positive emotion in response to an event that is a minor tragedy or at least a quite painful misfortune.

      *Ever since that chess game…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Typo (perhaps):

    Eleanora demanded, “did
    Eleanora demanded, “Did
    maybe – my grasp of capitalization in dialog is weak


    “violence is considered the least desirable, least honorable method”
    That’s a bit unusual, considering how martial the whole cult is. Maybe if they actually trained for diplomacy instead of war, they would win “honorably” more often.

    “I think you’re a great girl, Triss…”
    This story is breaking the intra-class romance trope all to pieces.

    My, my, Darling just isn’t his usual charming self in the morning after having almost no sleep and having been forcibly inducted by circumstances into a world-ending plan created by a madman.

    “The reasons that would not work are outnumbered only by the reasons it would be a disaster if it did.”
    Nice turn of phrase, Mary.

    “one of the world’s most powerful men is irretrievably screaming bugfuck insane, and there’s basically nothing we can do about it”
    And nice turn of phrase, Basra.

    “[Justinian] enjoys the general favor of the Pantheon and the active, personal support of several gods.”
    And that would last how long if the gods knew Justinian’s plans? Come to think of it, there is fairly good evidence that mind reading is one of the gods’ powers, so exactly how do the gods not know his plans? Has Justinian learned to hide things from the gods? Soooo many implications.

    I am not fully getting the exchange between Arachne, Ruda, Trissiny, and Teal. I get that Arachne is offering Trissiny and Teal chocolates because they have been unlucky at love. But that would imply that she was also, since she was eating them. However, Arachne’s commentary on Ruda’s actions suggested that Ruda was wrong about her accusation, so there is evidence that Arachne didn’t do what Ruda implied. The best interpretation I can think of that fits is that Arachne made an offer and got turned down. But that would leave Ruda’s accusation as being true even though it is implied it is not.

    “Sarasio’s request for Imperial aid is being processed; I understand it has been fast-tracked and should result in shipments of personnel and supplies within the week. The Minister of the Interior has already appointed a Marshal, who will embark later today. General Panissar has dispatched a regiment to secure the town, and per the Hands’ requests, three ranking clerics of Omnu and a squad from the Seventh Silver Legion are already en route.”
    That’s almost cheating on the part of the students – the real grind of a job will be rebuilding, but they used their contacts to delegate that effort.

    “The half-demon is, of course, entirely unimportant.”
    Nice to see Imperial unintelligence at work. Gabriel is friends with one Hand, working on being friends with another, and becoming a solid tactician / strategist.

    “My current policy toward her [Arachne] appears to be an unequivocal success, your Majesty”
    He is just begging for smiting-by-Arachne there. Or more technically, smiting by Arachne’s power-over-finesse situational handling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tellwyrn wasn’t eating chocolate; she got it out just to give to Trissiny and Teal. Ruda was in the wrong because she was being off-color and inappropriate. That isn’t, after all, the way one addresses one’s professor. The exact circumstances under which Tellwyrn acquired the flower are only subtext for now.


    1. I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever had one of the latter, so I can’t much compare. Paypal’s cut is small, though; I’ve never felt cheated by their fees. As far as I know everything I’ve had were direct Paypal transfers.

      My sincere thanks to everybody who’s helped out already, and for the well-wishes that came with the help. Those help too, more than I can express.


      1. Sent mine as a credit card transfer; if the fees are significant let us know.

        Hopefully enough people have chipped in to keep you in your home, I’d really hate to lose TGaB. Selfish maybe but that’s me.


  3. Have you thought about selling your work on Amazon or other ebook services? You could probably sell for .99 or 1.99 and expand your story past the web serial crowd.


    1. I actually do have a published ebook; there’s a link to it in the sidebars up above (unless you’re on a mobile device, in which case it may be at the bottom of the page–Wordpress is weird like that). And I do plan to add an ebook catalog to TGaB, eventually, both as collections of the chapters published in the blog and additional side stories. That’s in the future, though, as none of that material is yet written.


      1. Spotted your story ranking high on topwebfiction, been going through it at a rate of multiple chapters a day. It reads just fine all at once. Lured out of lurking by your author note. Am on mobile, a browser on android, not the wordpress app – your ebook thing doesn’t show anywhere. I suggest an “other fiction” menu item.


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