6 – 26

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“I guess the most obvious question is, why now?” Carter settled back into the chair he had been offered, pencil poised over his notepad. His interviewee had perched on the edge of the bed, there being no other furniture in the little room. “Why is the Wreath suddenly interested in speaking openly?”

“Why, because you think this is unprecedented,” Mogul replied, steepling his fingers and smiling over them. It was a knowing smile, but not an overtly sinister one. That summed up his whole aspect; he didn’t threaten, but something about him always hinted at the level of control he had over the situation. The deliberate, slightly exaggerated way he moved his long limbs was evocative of a large spider. “There have, at various times in history, been enclaves of open Elilinist belief, whole societies dedicated to our faith, practicing their beliefs in broad daylight before their neighbors. Odd villages here and there in most parts of the world in most eras, but at times, entire kingdoms, and once, an empire worthy of the name. I don’t suppose you knew that, did you?”

“I did not,” Carter admitted, jotting down shorthand and refraining from saying he still wasn’t sure he knew it.

Mogul’s smile widened, his expression suggesting he understood what was in the reporter’s mind. “Let me begin by giving you some advice, Mr. Long. Once your paper has run your article, report immediately to Imperial Intelligence and turn yourself in for questioning. Once there, volunteer for any kind of mental scrying they want to do and positively fall over yourself to answer questions. I am not a source who needs protecting; hiding from my enemies is my entire way of life. You, on the other hand, will need to ingratiate yourself with the law.”

“Well, I’m not particularly worried about that,” said Carter. “The Writ of Duties—”

“Yes, yes, that is precisely my point. The Tirasian Dynasty makes it a point to be reasonable in its rule. Take advantage of that. If you fall, instead, into the hands of the Universal Church… Well, it’s likely that’ll be the last anyone sees of you.”

“The Church isn’t in the habit of accosting journalists,” Carter said with a smile. “Really, I appreciate your concern…”

“Rare is the journalist who has had the opportunity you are enjoying right now,” Mogul replied, that knowing smile still hovering around his lips. His eyes, though, were direct and intent. “You have no idea what the gods and their pawns do to people who truly threaten their interests. You don’t know because they are very good at doing it. Yes, right now you’re thinking this is exactly the kind of paranoid propaganda you would hear from a man in my position. Right?”

“In my line of work, one learns not to be judgmental,” Carter replied. “The point is to report on the facts, not to promote opinions about them.”

“Very laudable,” Mogul said, grinning now. “Here are some facts, then. Members of the Black Wreath set themselves up to oppose the greatest powers in existence, and live under the constant threat of imprisonment, injury and even death if exposed. Have you never wondered why?” He tilted his head, beginning to drum his fingertips against each other. “There’s no glory in what must be done in secret. There is assuredly no pay in it. Sure, one can accrue great power as a warlock, but the Wreath practice diabolism chiefly with an eye toward containing it; our summoners suffer a much lesser rate of damaging infernal corruption than those employed by the Church or the Strike Corps, or any other organization, for that matter. Chiefly because containing demons without permitting them to spread corruption is central to our calling. Why, then, do we do this?”

“You tell me,” Carter suggested, keeping his tone carefully mild. “That is why you asked to meet with me, correct?”

“I don’t oppose the gods because I’m a rebel, Mr. Long. I’m a rebel because I oppose the gods. Because once I understood the truth about the Pantheon, I could not live with my conscience while giving them the support of my prayers.”

Carter leaned forward. “And what is the truth?”

“The entire truth, I’m afraid, I can’t tell you. But there are things it is time for you—and your readers—to know. It is, as I’ve said, not without precedent for the Wreath to operate openly, though the Church has gone to great lengths to bury those facts.” He grinned, and winked. “But I encourage you not to take my word for it. The records may be destroyed or hidden, but there are living immortals who remember Elilinist kingdoms. There was one on this continent as recently as twelve centuries ago, in the foothills where Calderaan Province abuts the Stalrange.”

“Dragons and elder elves don’t have a reputation for being approachable,” Carter noted wryly.

Mogul grinned again and nodded. “True, true. But who better to approach them than a professional interviewer? If you want to start with an easier search, though, you might direct your attention to Last Rock. The good Professor Tellwyrn has some fascinating things in her University’s library, and she enjoys tweaking the establishment’s nose enough that she might show them to you. But for the moment, let’s focus on the here and now.”

He shifted, unfolding his legs and re-crossing them the other way, then settled himself with one hand on his knee, the other resting on the bed. His expression was suddenly much more serious.

“Four years ago, in locations scattered across the Empire, seven teenage girls spontaneously combusted. Only one survived. The Black Wreath was involved in creating this situation, for which we owe an apology to those poor children and their surviving loved ones. That is overdue, but the opportunity hasn’t exactly arisen before now. I hope you’ll convey it in your paper.” Mogul’s eyes narrowed. “But had our plans unfolded as they should, those girls would all be alive today. Alive, healthy, happy, and with nothing to fear from anyone, ever again. I believe the world, and especially their families, deserves to know the whole truth about that incident. If I knew which god of the Pantheon murdered those children to protect their secrets, believe me, I would tell you.

“Allow me to explain.”

“Your Grace, you have a—”

“Trouble,” Weaver announced, shouldering roughly past Price into the study. She gave his back a very calm look.

“Indeed,” the Butler said. “As I was saying, you have a trouble. It insisted upon seeing you immediately.”

“Sounds dire,” Darling remarked, removing his feet from the desk and setting aside the novel he’d been holding. In fact, he had been practicing his knife work, due to the lack of opportunities for proper exercise lately, and had affected an indolent pose upon hearing the footsteps approaching his door. “Is Peepers okay?”

“Last I saw her, probably,” Weaver said. “She’s gone off following some journalist who she thinks is going to an assignation with the Wreath. Or so I mostly put together, from what Jenkins said. This is third-hand intel. What I know is that she’s run off after this guy and Jenkins went off after her.”

“Hmm, that could be trouble indeed,” Darling mused. “Joe isn’t exactly trained for discreet operations.”

“Sounds like a good thing to have considered before assigning him to discreet operations,” Weaver observed.

Darling grinned at him. “Watching from across the street isn’t discreet operations, Weaver, it’s babysitting. Anyhow, it was always my assumption the Wreath would spot anyone we sent to tail them. Hence you two; if this was to be done through spying alone, I’d have just sent Peepers. I doubt they’re prepared for the Kid, if it comes to rough stuff. Where are they?”

“No idea,” Weaver said bluntly. “I can lead you to them in a more or less straight line, but you can probably guess where the line ends better than I. You know this city.”

“Ah, yes, your…that. Just a moment, let me think.” Darling frowned into the distance, drumming his fingers on the desktop while he rapidly sifted through facts, probabilities and options. Price remained as calmly aloof as ever; Weaver began tapping his foot in ostentatious impatience before half a minute had passed.

“All right, then,” Darling said abruptly, standing up and rummaging through his upper desk drawer for items which he began tucking into his coat pockets. “Let’s go give them a hand, shall we?”

“You want to… Just us?” Weaver frowned. “If they run into real trouble with the Wreath, it might we smarter to round up some of the others.”

“Time is more important than firepower,” Darling replied, tucking throwing knives into his sleeves. “It’ll take too long to gather McGraw and Billie. Mary might turn up anyway; I’m never sure when she’s watching, but it’s probably best to assume it’s just us. Anyhow, I’m not worried about that. We have you and Joe, remember?”

“Against an unknown force of possible Black Wreath warlocks and demons?” Weaver stared at him. “Who the hell knows what they’ve got waiting for us?”

“Only one way to find out,” Darling said breezily, stepping around from behind the desk and brushing past him. “Price, I’m going out.”

“Indeed, sir.”

“If I’m not back by dinner, you know what to do.”

“Very good, sir.”

He lengthened his stride in the upstairs hall and practically bounded down the steps, making for the front door. He was in one of the Bishop’s nicer suits, so it wouldn’t be too shocking for the neighbors to see him leaving this way.

Weaver followed at a slightly less efficient pace; Darling had to pause and wait for him at the end of the garden path.

“What’s the plan if we don’t come back, then?”

“Plan?” Darling shrugged, smiling vaguely. “I guess we’ll improvise.”

“Not us, I mean what contingencies did you set up with your Butler? That bit about her knowing what to do.”

“Oh, I haven’t a clue. There’s no plan, per se. Price always knows what to do, though.”

He’d have dearly loved to see Weaver’s face right at that moment, but he wasn’t about to spoil the effect by turning around to look.

Joe rounded the corner of the stairwell, slightly out of breath but doing his best not to pant or otherwise make needless noise. There was no telling who or what was lurking in the abandoned complex. Quite apart from the darkness and dust, if his quarry’s quarry had come for the reasons they suspected, there was certain to be something very dangerous here. Multiple somethings, in all likelihood.

Fortunately, Peepers was right in front of him, and had finally stopped moving. She was a good distance down the hall, partially shrouded in darkness, kneeling before one of the room doors and clearly trying to listen at the keyhole.

Glancing up at his arrival, she made a sideways slashing motion with her hand, then urgently beckoned him forward.

Joe paused, trying to even his breathing, before stepping slowly out of the stairwell, heading toward her. He decided to interpret her sign language as “be quiet, but come here,” for want of a better idea. She was once again intent on the door, apparently ignoring him. He approached with a blend of relief at having found her and annoyance at her antics, which in turn made him feel a little chagrined. She was, after all, doing her job; his was to watch her back. It might have been nice if she’d make it a little easier for him…but then again, it might not have been possible.

Peepers stood as he neared and stepped toward him, away from the door.

“They’re in there, all right,” she reported very quietly, barely above a whisper, “but I can’t hear a thing. They keyhole isn’t blocked, I can see through it, but no sound comes out.”

“What’s the plan, then?” he asked, just as softly. “I don’t suppose you can read lips?”

Her mouth tightened. “Can’t see them clearly enough.”

“Then…you want to back out? We know the guy’s meeting with the Wreath…”

“This isn’t evidence,” she whispered fiercely. “It’s some fellow in a white suit, not a Wreath robe. I need to hear what they’re saying in order to get what I need.”

“But you can’t,” he said reasonably. “And if we just hang around out here, we’re sure to be discovered. When they come out, if nothing else. If they just got here, they’ll be a while. I think the best thing to do is to go get reinforcements and try to take the Wreath guy into custody.”

“There’s a window in the room,” she said, turning and heading back toward the stairwell. “I’m gonna try to get to it and see if I can hear in.”

“Wh—if they silenced the keyhole, you don’t think they’ll have thought of the window?”

“It’s a third floor window. Probably why he chose this room. I’m a Guild agent; I can get up the side of a building, especially one as old and crumbly as this. Yes, Joe, I know what you’re going to say, but I have to try. If it doesn’t work, we’ll retreat, get Darling. Where’s Grumpypants, by the way?”

“Getting Darling.”

“Oh, well, then. Everything’s taken care of. C’mon.”

His exasperated sigh was cut off by, of all things, a soft giggle. They both whirled, and at what they saw, Peepers edged behind him and Joe whipped out both his wands.

She was a woman of incredible beauty, wearing an improbable leather bustier and a skirt that barely deserved the title, falling well short of her knees and slitted to the waist on one side. Joe appreciated a pretty girl as much as anyone—though he always endeavored to do so politely—but in this case, he was far more interested in her eerily white complexion, scintillating jade eyes, and the half-furled bat wings with which she blocked off the corridor.

“Oh, shit,” Peepers whispered.

“Are you children lost?” the succubus asked solicitously. Her sculpted lips were curved up in a gentle smile, but those eyes were far too wide, exhibiting a glee that verged on insanity. Joe edged back, pushing Peepers behind him and training his wands on the demon. “You shouldn’t root about in condemned buildings, you know. It’s dangerous. Why, the whole floor could fall right out from under you.”

“Shoot her,” Peepers hissed.

At that, the succubus laughed again, and abruptly vanished into thin air. Joe hesitated; he could fire at her position, but there was no telling where she would be. Did the room’s silencing work both ways? Were the soft hisses of his wands enough noise to get its occupants’ attention? He’d never had to use them under a need for silence before.

“Did you seriously just hesitate to kill a demon because it was a woman?” Peepers growled. “I never thought I’d hear myself say this to anyone, but if we survive tonight I am gonna drag your ass to an Avenist service, boy.”

Joe didn’t bother replying, scanning the whole hall rapidly. They could go invisible, check. They could shapeshift, which wasn’t really relevant here. Could they shadow-jump? Were those wings functional, and was there room for her to fly? For being on a job involving the Black Wreath, he had lamentably failed to study up on demons. He could feel the air currents in the corridor, enough to suggest there were bodies moving, but despite his mind converting perceptions into hard information, none of his senses were acute enough to pinpoint an invisible person. He’d probably hear and feel it if she tried to fly, but the hallway was wide enough for her to walk past if she was careful. He glanced back at the stairs, then back at the room. Peepers whimpered into his coat. The demon hadn’t carried any visible weapons, but…

The soft sound came from behind them, by the stairwell. They both whirled again, staring.

The succubus was visible again, no more than two yard distant, but she was gaping at them with a shocked expression. A small wound had appeared in the center of her upper chest, just above her bulging cleavage, trickling black blood. As they stared, the demon slumped forward, falling to her knees and then landing face-down on the ragged old carpet. Joe and Peepers hopped backward to avoid her.

There was silence for a long moment.

“Is it…is she faking?” Peepers whispered finally.

Joe could only shake his head. The succubus had landed gracelessly, with her wings flopping limply to either side; one was half-propped up against the wall. He couldn’t see any benefit to her in playing dead, unless she was just toying with them. Of course, the children of Vanislaas were known to do that. On the other hand, there was the wound in the center of her back, opposite the one in front and much larger. It looked a lot like a triangular blade had run her straight through. Even if it had severed her spine, though (and it appeared to have entered an inch to the left), that shouldn’t have caused instant death. He had seen how long it sometimes took people to succumb to mortal wounds. Or were demons different?

He stepped carefully around Peepers, ushering her back with one arm, and was only dimly surprised when she submitted to the protective gesture. Joe leaned closer, keeping one wand trained on the felled succubus, peering at the stab wound. The edges of it were severely discolored, blackened and peeling away, with dark streaks running visibly through her veins beneath. The whole area looked decomposed, as if on a corpse dead at least a week, rather than seconds.

He had seen wounds like this before.

“She’s not faking,” he said, straightening up and looking somewhat nervously around. There was no one and nothing visible in the dingy hall except himself and Peepers.

“What the hell happened?” she demanded.

Weaver’s familiar was supposedly unable to interact with things on the physical plane. Khadizroth had only run afoul of it by thinning the barriers between dimensions. Then again, demons were from another plane. Did they carry with them some trait which made them vulnerable to it? He knew nothing of demonology.

“I appreciate the help,” he said aloud, tugging his hat politely in what he could only hope was the right direction. “If you’re inclined to continue assisting, you may need to take point. I can finish most demons, I think, but not as quietly.”

“Who are you talking to?” Peepers asked, a note of panic rising in her voice. “What is happening?”

“Weaver’s invisible friend,” he said. “It can’t ordinarily touch things. Are demons different, maybe?”

She swallowed so hard he could hear it. “Taking this job wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, was it.”

“Well, I couldn’t really say, ma’am. What else have you done?”

Peepers huffed softly. “Well…we’re here. Let’s head down and around back.”

“You still want to try listening in? We know there are demons around now! What are the chances that was the only one?”

“Pretty good, I’d say,” she replied, creeping past him and stepping carefully to avoid treading on the felled demon’s wings. “We didn’t see any on the way up, right? And the Wreath clearly wants this to be discreet. An invisible shape-shifter is the ideal guard for an assignation like this. Keep alert, though, I wouldn’t want you to be taken by surprise again.”

Joe had to concentrate very hard to withhold the response that welled up. Following her to the stairs, he was a lot less careful about stepping on the succubus’s wing.

“I should’ve known,” Darling commented. “There are so many places in the city where you could hold a discreet meeting, it didn’t occur to me to choose the most obvious. People who live by subtlety don’t typically go for the obvious anything. On the other hand, this isn’t only about subtlety, is it? If something goes sour, an entire empty neighborhood makes for a great battlefield.”

“Do you never tire of hearing yourself talk?” Weaver growled.

“Well, not so far, but who can say what the future holds?”

He snorted, then lifted his arm to point. “Should be that one. The big building next street over, you can see the top above the roofs here.”

“The old tenement? Looks unsafe,” Darling noted cheerfully, adjusting his course toward a side alley.

“I seriously don’t get what you intend, here,” Weaver said, jamming his hands in his coat pockets and peering balefully around them. The neighborhood had been empty only for a few days, but was already severely dilapidated, not that it had been in sterling condition to begin with. With no residents, it was totally at the mercy of scavengers and vandals; it seemed that whatever wasn’t broken was covered in graffiti. Despite this evidence that vagrants had spent time here, there was no sign of them now, nor of anything living apart from themselves. The contrast, especially in light of what they were approaching, had chilling implications.

“We’re going to walk into a totally unknown situation, just the two of us,” Darling said lightly.

“Yes! That, right there! Would you kindly quit screwing around and tell me what you’re planning? This couldn’t more obviously be a trap!”

“First step in avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence. Yes, yes, I get what you mean. And yes, a trap is one possibility; the other is that our quarry doesn’t know we’re coming, and us strolling up to them will kick the hornets’ nest.” He glanced over at Weaver, his expression finally growing more serious.

“You want to provoke a confrontation?” the bard said, staring at him. “Again, I’m lost. You really want to pick that fight with nobody but us two, Joe and Peepers? Against a group of the Black Wreath with completely unknown capabilities?”

“You and Joe are probably more than they’re prepared to deal with,” Darling replied, “I was serious about that. Here’s the thing, though: there are traps, and then there are traps. You can lay out everything precisely so that your enemy experiences the effect you want them to suffer… Or you can calculate the general lay of the land, and lead them into a situation you can control. If the Wreath is prepared for us, we’ll be stepping into the first one. But we are bringing with us the second. Listen, if it does come to violence, I want you to focus on ensuring everyone’s survival. If they run, we’re not chasing them; if they come at us with something we can’t handle, then we run. But if it turns into any kind of pitched fight or hostage situation, what we’re going to do is dig in and hold out. Don’t fight excessively hard not to be taken prisoner.”

“You’re counting on a rescue,” Weaver said slowly. “That Butler? What is she going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Darling said with a grin. “And as such, any scrying directed at me can’t reveal it. But Price is resourceful—they don’t make just anyone a Butler. I also have allies in this city, lots of them. Both friends of my own, and when it comes to the Wreath, far more powerful forces willing to intercede.”

“A counter-trap.” Weaver sighed, scowling heavily. “Really, this is the big idea? Heading into a totally unknown situation against an unknown foe with a possibility of unknown reinforcements coming if we take too long about it? This is insane.”

“No, it’s a risk,” Darling demurred. “A calculated one, and believe me, I have not survived this long by not knowing what risks are worth taking. Bear in mind I also know things you don’t, here, and I have excellent reason for keeping those under wraps for the time being. Whatever you think about my regard for your safety, Mr. Weaver, you can trust I wouldn’t be putting my own skin on the line if I weren’t confident of my chances. Just remember what I said. Stay alive, and don’t get too hungry for blood.”

“If that’s what you want, spending our entire prep session pissing me off isn’t your best approach.”

Darling turned to him and winked. For just a second, he thought Weaver was going to shoot him.

They emerged from the alley into another empty street. The sun was sinking toward late afternoon; the street lights weren’t on yet (and probably never would be in this particular district), but the light was beginning to take on an orange tinge. The two men paused, glancing up and down the street. In the distance they could hear the traffic of Tiraas, but all around them was deathly silence. It was as if a patch of ancient ruins had been transplanted into the heart of the Imperial capital, so out of place was the quiet.

Weaver withdrew a tiny cage of mesh wire from within his coat, no bigger than a cigar case.

“Ladybugs?” Darling said, peering at it and raising an eyebrow. “That’s a new one. What are those for?”

The bard just gave him a contemptuous sidelong look, very carefully flipping open the small catch on one corner of the cage, holding his hand over it so as not to release the captives within. He jimmied the thing until he had dropped one ladybug into his palm, then shut it again. And with that, he crushed the insect against the side of the cage, lifting it to his mouth to whisper inaudibly.

“Gross,” Darling observed.

Weaver ignored him, ending his muttering, wiping his hand off on his coat and slipping the tiny cage back into his pocket. “All right, they’re in there, both of our people still alive. There was at least one demon, now dead.”

“Smashing!” Darling said cheerfully, setting off across the street. “Let’s go tempt fate, shall we?”

Weaver followed, muttering to himself. Audibly, this time. Darling was impressed by the number of languages in which he could curse.

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26 thoughts on “6 – 26

  1. Chapter links will be added in a few hours. Doing that involves loading each web page and I’m down to the wire on my data allowance for the day. I will also have a more fleshed-out author comment at that time.

    Let me just say for now that I love you guys and am forever grateful for the help; I quite seriously do not know what I would do without you. Hope everyone has a safe and relaxing weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    Edit: All right! Everything looks squared away, thanks for your patience. Of course, it’s now 2AM and I’m all groggy, so whatever I had to say about the chapter originally appears gone from my head.

    This one’s a little shorter again, for the same reason: pacing. I’m not sure why but the scenes (or clusters of scenes) in Book 6 keep falling into this pattern where they’re just a tad too long or too short to fit into my ordinary chapter sizes, and I have to edit them oddly to make ’em work.

    All right, anyhow! I’ve done a lot of begging and pleading lately and it leaves a rather sour taste in my mouth; about the only thing I hate more than pestering people is feeling like a burden. You’ve all been incredibly generous even so, which I will never stop appreciating. I have been considering the situation and my long-term plans, and I have a request–one which I hope will be less onerous than “send help plox.”

    As I was mentioning recently, my plan has always been to pursue publication conventionally, which is where the money is. It’s not great money unless you happen to land yourself on the New York Times bestseller list, and even then only if you get there with multiple titles. Nobody becomes a fiction author to get rich if they have any sense, is what I mean. But to be frank, relatively piddly money would be a lot better than what I’m making now. You may not be able to support a family of four on a fantasy author’s royalties, but all I’ve got is two cats and I’m barely supporting us.

    The trick is breaking into the industry. There’s a “work/experience” barrier in that in order to get published and start building credentials and an audience, you need to first establish credentials and an audience. Publishers do not want to take a risk on an unknown who may end up losing them money. The whole industry hasn’t adapted to the digital revolution much better than the music industry did, and institutions are reeling. The most conventional way of doing this is to publish short stories in magazines, which has a much lower entry barrier. I’ve considered and even tried, but I just don’t write well in the short format. I think in terms of epic-stories and elaborate plots. You may have noticed.

    There’s another, newer path, though, using self-published stuff in the digital realm. My plan has been as follows:

    1. Self-publish novel as an ebook.

    2. Publish webserial to build an audience, direct them to said ebook.

    3. When serial and ebook are both popular enough to stand on their own, begin seeking a literary agent with them as recommendations.

    As I look around, TGaB is pretty much at this point now. I’ve been at it for just short of a year and updated very reliably, and the story has consistently been in the top 10 at Topwebfiction.com for most of its life. The 1500 or so readers I get are peanuts compared to a conventional publishing house’s distribution (no offense, you guys may be peanuts but I love you all), but it’s something, and the consistency is a pretty big deal. Creative people have a tendency to be lackadaisical about deadlines and such. Someone who writes diligently is almost as valuable to a publisher as someone who writes well. Look at Nora Roberts.

    On the other hand, there’s the object of this plan, Rowena’s Rescue, which so far isn’t doing nearly as well.

    I think the only thing I still need to begin shopping it around to agents is some buzz on the actual book itself. To be frank I haven’t done much to promote it on this site, apart from having the link up there in the sidebar. One idea that’s occurred to me is making a banner ad for it to place at the bottom of each chapter. Would that be bothersome to you guys? Any thoughts on what else I can do to promote it without irritating my readership here?

    Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to request that those of you who have read the book take a moment to give it a rating on Amazon.com. Good ratings are preferred, obviously, but I won’t ask you to be less than honest. And, of course, if you’ve not read it, you still can! If you enjoy TGaB, you’ll probably like it. It’s the same basic kind of story: a trope-bending high fantasy with a double dash of humor.

    Regardless, once again, I appreciate all you’ve done to help keep me afloat. I sincerely hope I can get myself to a more stable place and never again have to plead for crisis aid. You guys are the best readers anyone has ever had.


  2. I can’t wait to hear more about the Ellinists’ actual position- it’s all been so tantalizingly mysterious so far. Also, thanks for getting this in so early (since it came up at 11:20ish)!

    Also, Peeper’s/Joe’s and Weaver’s/Darling’s interactions are funny 🙂 .


  3. More and more, I gotta figure out what’s going on with Weaver’s friend. The ability to dispose of (relatively) powerful demons, without even being in the area, seems immense, so there must be a heck of a price.


    1. For me the tantalizing unknown isn’t just the necromantic familiar or the relationship, it’s the powers behind it. We are told initially about the powers and the circle of interaction, all nice and neat. But exceptions or addenda abound:

      —Fross is composed of fae magic but can wield arcane magic, despite those two supposedly automatically countering each other.
      —A genius loci can overwrite the rules for most or all magics in its boundaries.
      —Except mithril opposes all magic. Isn’t that a magical effect itself?
      —Necromancy is an additional power outside the circle.
      —Perhaps related, ghosts and/or spirits exist and can wield powers from any of the areas of the circle (see headhunters’ haunting spirits).
      —Alchemy is an additional power, maybe outside the circle.
      —Divine powers don’t always act the same against other powers, e.g. Thymenra’s (spell?) powers don’t automatically negate demonic ones like the Pantheon’s powers do.
      —The circle itself is unbalanced, given that divine powers are less affected by arcane ones than other circle interactions.

      I hope this all fits into a larger framework. I will disappointed if the larger framework is “narrative expedience”.


  4. Rowena’s Rescue is long enough for at least 2 ebooks. Sure, I know you write long books, but breaking your books up would let buying one lead to recommendations for another. You could even let one part of your next ebook be free to get readers (assuming the next book is a new entry to a series) then charge $3 or so for the second part. Gaming the system just a little is not evil.

    Lindsay Buroker has a number of posts on her blog at lindsayburoker.com about succeeding in self-publishing ebooks which look good to me, though I’m not myself an expert.


  5. I’d love to read Rowena’s Rescue but I don’t have a Kindle or any e-reader. It’s on my list though.


    1. You can get read amazon e-books on pretty much any computer, they have an application you can download to read it after you buy it.


  6. Take $500 and hope things work out. I really enjoy your story. I’ve been reading for quite a while and I really enjoy it.


      1. I’ve been in your position before. I was was incredibly lucky and got a wonderful job that pays well. Even so I am going to have to buy a newer car before the year is out, so I really feel for you. Even right now I’m about 5k in debt, but with my new job I’m slowly getting it paid off. Even so about 5 months ago I had literally no money and the only entertainment I had was free internet games and tGaB. I really admire your writing and dedication. I wish I was as good at writing as you are.

        I admit this is partly selfish though. if you stop writing, I won’t ever know how this ends. I’ve already had stories I was interested in die (once literally with the author committing suicide), and I don’t want that to happen here.

        (huh, this post shows a really lack of social skills. Guess I should change my name to Gabe.)


      2. I’ve no intention of going anywhere. TGaB is likely to run for three or four years, depending on how the pacing works out. I am determined to finish this story unless I am struck down by something before I can. Honestly, if that hasn’t happened by now, I think the chances will diminish as a gradually work toward a more stable style of life.


      3. ps: Glad to hear you got the money. I was worried paypal might have messed up and sent it to the wrong person.


  7. Typos:

    two yard distant
    two yards distant

    Keep alert, though, I wouldn’t want you to be taken by surprise again.
    Keep alert, though; I wouldn’t want you to be taken by surprise again.
    (this one is a preference, not something wrong, but this appears to be a good place for clause separation by semicolon)


    Suppression of the Elilinists to the point of suppressing all indication that they ever existed is indeed indication that something isn’t right with the Pantheon. Mogul is likely overstating his case, but still. If nothing else, it is a kind of validation that Elilinists scare the pantheon. But, while there are circumstances that warrent information containment, it rarely makes sense at that level. I am having a hard time putting this into a simple argument, but let me say that any time someone says I shouldn’t know something for my own good, I am naturally suspicious of them and their motives.

    Embras’s take on what the various factions will do to the reporter is like my own, but more heavily slanted to work against the Universal Church, surprise, surprise. Of course, this is the church that set various adventurers to assassinate, murder, and destroy each other, so perhaps his concern isn’t warranted.

    “our summoners suffer a much lesser rate of damaging infernal corruption than those employed by the Church or the Strike Corps, or any other organization, for that matter”
    Razzavinax said something similar which doesn’t back this up but is somewhat corroborative: “Elilial’s chosen are by a wide margin the most responsible, and the most concerned with keeping overall order in the world.” (6-18) But Razzavinax also said something that paints this in a most unflattering light – he said that warlocks must cause suffering and the best that they could do was shift it to someone else. The combination of statements indicates that the Elilinist warlocks are much better at shifting that suffering to others than most warlocks. And that conclusion should alarm anyone dealing with Elilinist warlocks.

    I am on Weaver’s side in that, Darling’s headlong rush into situations looks insane. On the other hand, Darling is at his best in complex, changing situations, so from that standpoint, his rush in looks like the best option. I suppose the counter-Archpope group is best having both types.

    I think Joe’s reaction is both amusing and quite correct; one should always be polite and appreciative to invisible, demon-killing, necromantic powers who have your back.


  8. I’ve been reading this since I finished Worm, Pact, and caught up on Twig, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m also currently writing my own web serial, Jolt. Since you’ve earned my respect as a writer, I’d like to hear your thoughts. A synopsis and link to the first chapter are below.

    Set in a world where 20% of Earth’s population has super powers, fourteen years after the disappearance of every superhero in the world, a new, dorky superhero, a mean girl super villain, and an elderly, schizophrenic antihero try to go about their lives while also getting in each others way.

    In “Jolt”, Carter, Raina, and Malcolm navigate their lives through a world where 20% of Earth’s population has super powers. Trying to do more with their skills than others, be it out of hero worship, boredom, or compulsion, they find that the more you try to change the world, the more you yourself can change.


    Hope you like it.


    1. Okay, you asked for my thoughts. You’ve caught me at a particularly stressful time in my life (see comments on the previous chapter if you’re actually curious, which I’m going to go ahead and predict isn’t the case), so I will be blunt.

      When I’m looking for new serials to read–which is unfortunately not a frequent occurrence as there’s just limited time in the day–there are couple of resources I use to locate them. Chiefly the WebFiction Guide and TopWebFiction. When I'm looking to promote my work, those are basically the same two things I use and from which I get the best results.

      Building a presence on WFG is a matter of being involved in the community; write reviews of other serials and participate in discussions in the forum. I've been lax in that area lately as I've been overworked and rather stressed, and need to get back in the habit of reviewing. Building a presence on TWF is harder: you just have to get people to vote for your serial. The simplest and most successful way is to put a vote link at the end of each chapter, which I do. All you can really do to encourage votes, beyond that, is write the best story you can and hope it resonates with people.

      What I don't do is go on other people's serials and use their comment sections to plug my work.

      Professionalism isn't even about ethics, except tangentally. Web serials are a fairly small market, and thus a small community; there are only so many authors in the biz and we tend to cross paths, and share a lot of the same readership. That's exactly why it can be a powerful thing to get a plug from another serial author. The single biggest boost I ever saw in my readership came after Maddirose over at Twisted Cogs gave me a shoutout, and from that recommendation also came a few individuals who have gone on to be my top commenters. The appeal of that, though, is the recommendation. It’s an endorsement from a person who has earned the trust of the readers. That’s a very potent thing.

      What you just did here is pretty much the opposite of that. It didn’t benefit from my credibility; it just made you look desperate, self-serving and rather rude. It’s annoying to me, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I suspect it was rather off-putting to the readers.

      As an obsessive watcher of my stats page, I can tell you that to date, this page has had 353 unique views, and your link got exactly one click. Extrapolating from my experience as a serialist, that one viewer has about a 20% likelihood of going on to read anything on your site apart from the page you linked to.

      The flip side of the small nature of the webserial community and largely shared audience is that you really can’t afford to be a jerk. Put a bad taste in people’s mouths and it’ll hurt you.

      I really hope you find success with your writing; I hope we all do. It takes nothing but time and effort to build a readership, though. There just aren’t any shortcuts. Anything that looks like a shortcut is probably a dead end.

      And to respond directly to your request, I’m a little burned out on superhero fiction, to be honest. There’s an awful lot of it nowadays.


      1. I’m really sorry that I annoyed you. As a fan of your work, that’s the last thing I wanted. I was feeling really depressed and with my serial being one of the few things I’m clinging to right now, I was desperate to try as many things to get readers as possible. It was a dumb thing to do. I have signed up on TWF, and I’m just waiting for editor attention. Again, I’m sorry, and I look forward to seeing more of your story.


      2. It’s okay; I’m sorry I was snappish. As I said, it’s a very rough time around here right now.

        I meant every word of the advice I offered; this isn’t a good path toward recognition and will likely put off the people whose favor you need. Unfortunately, an audience is a slow-growing thing. There really is no way around it. As long as you write consistently, you’re likely to go a good six months or so without having much in the way of reader feedback, if anything. Most serialists take years to really build up. Wildbow is the biggest name in the field, probably, and Worm was well over a year old before he was making significant money from it. It really is an investment of time and energy, and patience.

        I fully understand about depression, and how difficult that can make it to write. The best advice I can offer, as someone who’s been there, is to make the writing your therapy, not the recognition. You can never control what other people will do or say, but if you are writing material that truly speaks to you, that in itself is a powerful thing. Keep at it and you’ll be amazed at the power it has to lift you up. Depression isn’t exactly curable, but for my part, my serial is the best treatment I’ve found for it.

        I wish you all the best.


  9. I actually made an account (Such a feat, I know) to say that I extremely respect the way you’ve just been putting out these chapters consistently( I’m not sure if there’s a word for being between the level of being awed and being impressed, but that’s the word I am with your quantity-quality….thing(?)).

    I only recently started reading, at the beginning of july and I was slowing down when I started getting closer to the end of the current table of contents so I would not get to the last chapter and have to wait. So yeah…. That didn’t really work out…. I only saw that you were almost constantly putting out chapters after I sat awed, gaping with my mouth when I read in your post that you only started a year ago.

    I’ve tried writing (and shall keep trying) but I could never get myself to constantly work on it and often wanted to write a completely different kind of world a week later. So me being impressed is kind of magnified by that. Thank you for the great story so far, and thanks for what is yet to come. =D


    1. It is my pleasure to write, and I always love hearing from people. Now that you have your account I hope you’ll join in the chapter discussions in the future!


  10. First time I read this (and I really regret taking the path of the lurker the first, second, and third reads I’ve done on this serial), I grinned so hard at the situation Darling was setting up that my face hurt. I’m with Unmaker in that Darling is at his best in complex chaos, and his opting to purposefully enter such with the explanation of “can’t scry me now suckers” made me inordinately happy.


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