8 – 3

< Previous Chapter                                                                                                                           Next Chapter >

“I think he’s mellowing with age.”

“I don’t think that man is capable of mellowing, Ruda,” Toby disagreed. “I think we’re just getting used to him. Which…could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.”

“What’s bad about getting used to things?” asked Teal.

He shrugged, pushing his teacup back and forth on the table. “I don’t know…just something about this place. In hindsight I can see the point of a lot of what Tellwyrn’s subjected us to, but on the other hand, I sometimes get the feeling the University is training us to cope with a certain kind of ridiculousness that just doesn’t occur anywhere else.”

Ruda laughed and added another splash of brandy to her “tea.” She’d been doing that after every sip and not refilling it from the pot; by this point she basically had a teacup full of brandy.

The cafeteria was open to students at all hours except during the night. There weren’t meals to be had except at mealtimes, but they could almost always find hot tea and cold pastries. It had long been a popular place for groups to study, between the plentiful table space and free food, though the library was enjoying a resurgence in popularity since Weaver had been replaced by the somewhat awkward but vastly more pleasant Crystal.

The newly-minted sophomores had stopped in to relax and swap stories of their various summers after their first class. Rafe, as per his pattern, hadn’t kept them long, using a tenth of the allotted class time to do little but say hello, strike a few poses and give an extremely brief description of the focus of this year’s alchemical studies.

“The unexpected and extreme can occur anywhere,” Sheaine said. “Perhaps we are better served by—”

She was interrupted by an enormous antlered hare, which bounded onto the table and snatched the half-eaten muffin from Gabriel’s plate. Gabe yelped in surprised, jerking backward so hard he nearly tipped his chair over.

“Jack, no!” Juniper exclaimed, lunging across the table to seize the animal, which kicked in her grasp. Teal grabbed the teapot, barely averting a disaster. “I’m so sorry, he’s not really used to indoors, yet. We’re working on his manners.” The dryad settled her pet back in her lap, soothingly stroking his fur. Only the antlers were visible over the edge of the table.

“Well, this is as good a time as any to ask,” Gabriel said, grimacing and pushing away the smashed remains of his muffin. “June, what is with the rabbit?”

“Actually he’s a jackalope!” Fross chimed. “Closely related to rabbits, as you can see, but a distinct species. They’re fey, rather magical; an actual rabbit’s neck wouldn’t support the weight of those horns very well.”

“They’re antlers, not horns, and it’s a druid thing,” Juniper explained. “Animal companions are a tradition of druidic practice.”

“They’re called ‘pets,’ and they’re a tradition everywhere,” Ruda observed.

“Well, yes, but I mean it’s a specific druidic practice. Several traditions of shamanism and witchcraft make use of animal familiars. It’s a way of…well, it’s kind of technical…”

“It involves imbuing an animal with a part of one’s essence!” Fross said brightly. “Thus creating a second point of observation which is capable of instigating the wave-function collapse which is at the heart of all magical action.”

“Wave…what?” Teal asked, mystified.

“That’s arcane theory, though,” said Gabriel. “Does it really apply to druidic or any fae arts?”

“Arcane physics is so called because it’s most easily investigated by use of arcane magic,” Fross explained. “The principles themselves apply to basically all magic equally. That’s why magical creatures are popular familiars. Actually, some witches use pixies, if they can! Pixies are hard to get, though, you usually have to go to the Pixie Queen’s grove to find any, and she’s not big on visitors.”

“That’s an interesting choice, Juno,” Trissiny said. “Aren’t jackalopes sort of…infamously ornery?”

“Well, he’s not a true familiar,” Juniper said somewhat defensively. “I’m not at that point, not nearly. Really, I’m just starting out. The Elders had me take care of an animal for somewhat more mundane reasons. It’s all about forming a bond with—”

She broke off, having to grab and subdue Jack again as he launched himself at Teal’s plate.

“Taking on a more challenging prospect can be a way to learn more swiftly,” Shaeine observed. Juniper was too busy wrangling the jackalope to respond; he didn’t seem as interested in settling down in her lap again this time.

“Hey, check this out,” Ruda said, craning her neck to peer past Toby at the glass front wall of the cafeteria. “It’s the freshmen!”

“There are an awful lot of them,” Teal remarked, turning to look.

“Twenty-two!” said Fross. “The student roster is posted in the library.”

“Twenty-two isn’t a large class at most schools,” Toby pointed out. “Though…compared to nine, I guess it is.”

“Why are they all boys?” Trissiny asked, her brows lowering.

“Oh, here we go,” Ruda muttered, rolling her eyes.

“The Class of 1183 has seventeen men and five women,” said Fross, “which is a seventy-seven percent gender imbalance, which is the same as the seventy-seven percent gender imbalance in our class skewing the opposite way. Actually those are rounded percentages and ours is just slightly greater, but you get the idea.”

“I didn’t know you could do that kind of math in your head,” said Teal. “Bravo!”

“It’s an important skill if you’re going to study arcane magic,” said Gabriel. “Which is why I really ought to work on that…”

“And I do it in my mind, not my head,” Fross clarified.

“Hey, wanna go say hi to the newbies?” suggested Ruda. “Look, they’re trooping toward the greenhouse. Already had Tellwyrn’s claws in them and are about to meet Rafe. Makes you feel sorry for the little darlings.”

“You mean, like how Natchua said hi to us between our first two classes?” Toby said, smiling faintly.

“Well, no,” Ruda replied. “Because we aren’t creepy and pathetic.”

Gabriel cleared his throat pointedly.

“I stand corrected,” she said, grinning. “Most of us aren’t creepy and pathetic.”

“Thank you,” he said with deep dignity. “I hate to fuss, but a fella likes to be acknowledged.”

“It’s a good idea, though,” said Trissiny, standing up. “Shall we?”

“Yeah, sure,” Gabriel replied, glancing down at his desecrated muffin. “I guess we’re pretty much done here.”

“It’s almost time to head to Yornhaldt’s class anyway,” Toby added, also rising. “C’mon, we can meet the freshmen on the way.”

“Well, a few of them,” said Ruda. “They mostly went past while you lot were jabbering.”

Indeed, most of the students had gone past by the time they emerged onto the lawn. The freshmen walked alone or in small groups, forming a staggered line; some turned to look at the emerging sophomores, a few slowing down to stare as they recognized Trissiny’s armor and put the rest together. Only the last cluster actually stopped, though. For whatever reason, the girls were walking along at the end, with only a couple of their male classmates.

“Mornin’, little lambs!” Ruda said cheerily. “How’re you settling in?”

“Well, thank you,” said the drow woman politely, then turned fully to Shaeine and bowed. Shaeine nodded deeply in reply.

“Teal, how lovely to see you again,” said a diminutive girl with waist-length blond hair, smiling brightly.

“Likewise, your Grace,” Teal said in a carefully neutral tone.

“Pshaw, let’s not fuss about that,” the girl replied, waving a hand airily. “We are all equals here, as Professor Tellwyrn has just emphasized at some length. Call me Ravana.”

“If you say so,” Teal replied evenly. Shaeine eased closer to her, moving her hand so that the backs of her knuckles brushed Teal’s.

“Can I ask a question?” said the gnomish woman timidly, raising a hand and peering up at Ruda. “Are you really a princess?”

“Only on my parents’ side,” Ruda said lightly. “C’mon, girl, project from the diaphragm! Are you actually raising your hand? Trust me, outside of Tellwyrn’s class, that’s not gonna do you any good.”

“Ruda, be nice,” Trissiny said reprovingly.

“I am being nice! It’s all about confidence, Boots. C’mon, let me hear you roar!”

The gnome’s eyes widened, and she began sidling behind a tall, dark-skinned girl in a white dress, who was gawking at Gabriel.

“Hmph.” The speaker, whose derisive snort seized everyone’s attention, was a plains elf incongruously dressed in a conservative, old-fashioned human style. “We are going to be late. Come along,” she ordered, grabbing one of the boys—also an elf—by the arm and dragging him off toward the greenhouse. He glanced back at them, smiling timidly and offering a small wave.

“Well, damn,” Ruda said, raising her eyebrows. “Who pissed in her oatmeal?”

“Oh, she’s just like that,” said the girl in white. “Are… You’re Gabriel Arquin, aren’t you? The new paladin!”

“Um…for whatever that’s worth, yes, that’s me,” he said, smiling somewhat awkwardly and settling a hand on the hilt of his sword.

“That’s amazing!” she gushed, eyes shining. “I mean… You’re amazing! To be a demonblood and get to… Augh, I’ve wanted to meet you ever since I heard and when I got accepted here I just, oh I can’t even think!”

“Oh, gods, don’t do that,” Ruda groaned. “He gets a big head over the slightest little thing.”

“And this is my fan club,” said Gabe, turning to Ruda and raising an eyebrow. “Not to worry, if my head starts needing the air let out, I can always count on you to fucking stab me!”

“And he carries a grudge like you wouldn’t believe,” Ruda added, winking. “Anyway, you don’t need me to stab you anymore, Arquin, since you seem determined to carry that thing around.”

“I’m getting better with it,” he said defensively, running a hand over the black sword’s hilt, almost as if he were petting it. “Anyhow, it seems like an appropriate thing to carry, me being a paladin now, and all.”

“You were given a divine weapon,” Trissiny pointed out.

“Yes, but it fits in my pocket,” he said, grinning. “The ancient elven sword is so much more impressive.”

“It’ll be real impressive when you hack your foot off,” said Ruda. “I dunno, Arquin, something about you with a sword will just never look right.”

“Hey,” he protested, “do I give you crap about the special lady in your life?”

“…I can’t even start to deal with all the shit that’s wrong in that sentence.”

The remaining male member of the freshman party stepped forward and bowed directly to Trissiny. “General Avelea, may I say it is an honor to be in your presence, and one I have eagerly anticipated since long before my arrival.”

“Oh,” she said, nonplussed, “that’s kind of you.”

“Forgive me,” the young man replied with a smile. “I should have introduced myself to begin with. I am Sekandar Aldarasi, prince of Calderaas.”

He was dressed casually, in a simple open-collared shirt with pressed slacks. The lack of regalia did not detract from his claim, however; the boy was every bit as good-looking as a prince from a fairy tale would be, and carried himself with the confidence of a man who knew it.

“Wait, prince?” said Fross. “I’m confused. Calderaas is an Imperial province, right? How do they have royalty?”

“Calderaas is one of the original provinces,” said Ravana. “The then-Sultanate of Calderaas formed the alliance with the city-states of the Tira Valley that became the Tiraan Empire. Several of those first provinces still have royal titles, though the rank of king, sultana or whatever is applicable is functionally the same as that of an appointed provincial governor.”

“As the Lady Madouri knows quite well,” said Sekandar, nodding to her with a smile which she returned. He turned back to Trissiny, bowing again. “If it is permissible, General, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you further.”

“Of…course,” she said uncertainly.

“For now,” said Ravana, “I think we should all be moving along. It’ll make a poor impression on our professors if we are late on the first day.”

“I shall count the hours till we are together again, my lady!” Gabriel proclaimed grandly, bowing deeply to her and ignoring Ruda’s snort.

“Aren’t you a charming one,” Ravana said with a coquettish flutter of her lashes. “Come along, girls.” The girl in white looked to be on the verge of some kind of outburst, but swallowed heavily and followed meekly along after the much shorter blonde.

The sophomores watched their younger counterparts retreat into the greenhouse in bemused silence.

“Gabe,” Teal said tersely, “not to meddle in your love life, but… Not that one.”

“That’s right,” he said, turning to her. “She implied you know her?”

“I…” She stared after Ravana, expression unreadable. “…am aware of her.”

“So, this is a departure,” Toby commented, peering around at Professor Yornhaldt’s classroom as they wandered into their seats.

“I like it,” said Teal. “Doesn’t seem like his style, though…”

“I’m not sure he did it,” said Juniper, frowning and stroking Jack, who rested in her arms. “There’s a lot of magic at work here. Fae magic. Professor Yornhaldt is an arcanist.”

Most of the room’s accoutrements were the same, but it had gained a great deal of greenery over the summer. The back corners of the room contained artfully arranged clusters of potted ferns, which spilled out in a riot of leafy fronds. Other plants were placed strategically under the windows and along the walls, and in a huge, squat container on the dais itself was a small cherry tree, bursting with lovely pink blossoms, for all that it was completely the wrong season.

“So,” Ruda said, turning in her seat to leer at Trissiny. “That boy was crushing on you hard, General Shiny Boots.”

“What?” Trissiny demanded, her cheeks coloring slightly. “What boy? You mean Prince Sekandar? Nonsense.”

“Oh, come on,” she snorted. “’Such an honor to be in your presence, general.’ He was way into you.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Trissiny snapped. “He was just showing respect to a Hand of Avei. I simply happened to be that Hand.”

“There were three paladins standing right there,” Teal pointed out with a smile. “One of whom is a lot more interesting, for being new and unprecedented in several ways. Not to mention foreign royalty, a demigoddess…”

“Hm, Gabriel the Unprecedented,” Gabe mused. “I like the way that rings. I should have business cards printed up.”

“Calderaas has been heavily Avenist for over a thousand years,” Trissiny said testily. “The old Sultanate was a matriarchy and a lot of its traditions are still alive. Naturally an Aldarasi prince would be more interested in a paladin of Avei.”

“One presumes,” Shaeine observed, “that a prince of any extraction would be sufficiently poised not to snub the other members of a party to whom he was introduced. Unless, of course, he were emotionally overwhelmed by, for example, meeting the object of his distant affections…”

“Not you, too!” Trissiny exclaimed. The drow smiled at her, with only the faintest hint of mischief.

“Yeah, that boy wants you bad,” said Ruda, grinning insanely. “Juno, back me up here!”

“Oh, I don’t like to spread other people’s business around,” the dryad demurred, scratching behind Jack’s antlers. “I can’t help picking up on people’s desires and inclinations, but there’s no reason anyone else should be privy to that information. Everyone’s privacy is important.”

“Thank you, Juniper,” Trissiny said stiffly.

“No dryad business, then,” said Ruda. “Just girl talk, based on what you saw.”

“Oh, just that? Then yeah, he was totally into you.”

“Good morning, class.”

Several of them jumped, all whirling to stare at the dais. No one had seen her enter, but a woman now stood there, beneath the cherry blossoms, smiling mysteriously up at them. She was slender, with luxuriant black hair, almond-shaped eyes and vulpine features, and dressed in a sleek silk robe in dark green with a subtle pattern of white ferns around the hem and cuffs.

Most eye-catchingly, triangular ears, covered in reddish fur, poked up through her hair. A bushy tail extended from behind her, through some apparent opening in her robe, also dusky red and tipped in white. It twitched twice as they stared at her in shocked silence.

The doors of the classroom were infamously squeaky, and were easily within their frame of view. She had not come in that way.

“Let us begin by attending to the obvious, shall we?” said the fox-woman, still with that enigmatic smile. “Professor Yornhaldt is taking an unexpected sabbatical for this semester. I am assuming his duties in the classroom. I am Professor Ekoi, interim teacher of magical arts.” She bowed gracefully, her ears twitching. “And of course, I know each of you by description, and by reputation. You created quite the stir on this campus at the end of the spring term, did you not?

“It is my understanding that last year, you explored the basics of magic—what it is, and how it is used. In my class, you will be learning more specific, more practical things pertaining to that same basic school of thought. We will be examining each of the four common systems of magic, as well as the few which lie outside such classifications, with regard to their actual use. It should be your goal to learn to identify magical objects, creatures, spells and attacks, and understand how each should be dealt with. In short, you have absorbed sufficient theory that you can now begin learning facts. And, more importantly, strategies. You have a question, Mr. Arquin?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel said, lowering his hand. “Um, what exactly are you?”

Professor Ekoi gazed up at him placidly, in silence, until he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and opened his mouth to speak again.

Suddenly she flicked her wrist, and a folded hand fan slipped out of the wide sleeve of her robe, landing neatly in her grip. She swirled it open, covering her face below the eyes and revealing its pattern of calligraphy in a language that wasn’t familiar to them. Then, in a very disorienting spectacle, she twirled the fan in a full circle. It did not visibly grow, and yet it somehow concealed all of her body in passing—and she did not reappear when it moved on. The fan whirled in a complete arc and then vanished into its own center, like water swirling down a drain, leaving nothing behind.

The students gaped down at the empty dais.

“Um,” said Gabriel, “I didn’t mean to yipe!”

“There is endless variety in this world, Mr. Arquin,” Professor Ekoi murmured from right behind him, close enough that he could feel her breath. He could also feel the tips of her sharp nails, resting against his throat. Trissiny half-rose, gripping the hilt of her sword, but made no further movements as the professor continued. “People of every conceivable belief, origin and description. If you are privileged to lead a long life, and to explore the world in all its beauty, you shall come to know the grand diversity of its inhabitants—provided you possess the sense to absorb what you are shown. And you will find, Mr. Arquin, that none of these people enjoy being referred to as a what.”

He hissed softly as the tips of her claws—and those were clearly not just nails—pricked his skin. Five tiny points of blood welled up.

Before he could react physically, she was gone.

And then the professor stepped out from behind the cherry tree, down on the dais. “Except,” she said pleasantly, “for individuals in certain…specialty social clubs one tends to find in the major cities, which you are unlikely to enter or even discover without a specific invitation. For now, we should focus our attention upon the study of magic, children. Now, let us begin.”

Walter tromped through the tallgrass back toward the homestead, four hares strung on the rope thrown over his shoulder. It was early, not even noon yet, but he’d had the luckiest morning of hunting in a good long while, solid enough that he could justify taking the afternoon off. Ma would be happy enough with the meat he brought in to let him go without a fuss…probably. He had his bow in one hand, quiver hanging at his hip—he had a wand, of course, but that was for emergency use against any predators he happened to encounter. Lightning had a bad effect on game. All in all, he was in a great mood, whistling as he walked.

As such, he wasn’t paying terribly close attention, lost in his thoughts, and didn’t spot the other person coming toward him until Smitty barked. The hound was staring, on point but not growling, meaning he didn’t sense a threat. That was generally good enough for Walter; he found dogs were the best judges of character.

Then the individual coming toward him through the tallgrass pushed aside a particularly dense clump, coming fully into view, and he froze, almost dropping his bow and hares.

She was a girl, looking to be about his age, maybe a few years older, and stunningly beautiful in a way he only saw in magazine illustrations and never before on an actual woman. Also, she had pale green hair and was stark naked. He’d have been hard pressed to say which of those traits commanded more of his attention.

“Hello!” the nude girl said brightly.

“Uh… H-hi,” Walter choked out, then swallowed, struggling valiantly to keep his eyes on her face, a battle he knew he was doomed to lose. Not that it wasn’t a gorgeous face, but she also had gorgeous breasts, and he’d never actually seen… He gulped again, trying desperately to maintain an even keel. “Um, can I…help you with something, miss?”

She tilted her head to one side as if thinking, and suddenly frowned. “Maybe. Did you kill my sister?”

That made even less sense to Walter than her appearance and manner, but luckily he had a ready and truthful answer to it. “No, ma’am, I didn’t.”

“Oh, okay, then,” she said, that dazzling smile returning. “Maybe you can give me directions! Am I still headed toward Last Rock? Is it close?”

Last Rock. It figured. Ma always said the only downside of living out here was the proximity to that place.

“You’re headin’ the right way,” he said, looking at her chest again in spite of himself. “It’s about thirty miles on. Careful not to stray too far north or you’ll be in the Golden Sea.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” she said dismissively, taking a step closer.

Smitty whined, and instantly Walter was on full alert. The hound pressed hard against his leg, clearly frightened. His teenage hormones were telling him one thing, but the dog told him something very different—and he knew quite well which was more trustworthy.

“Since you offered to help, though,” she said, licking her lips and smiling broadly, “I’m kinda hungry. Can I have a couple of your rabbits?”

“Oh,” he said, easing backward from her. “I, uh…” It had been a lucky morning, true, and he had ample time to go back out and hunt more… But this was a significant amount of good meat, not to mention what the pelts would sell for.

“Don’t worry, I’d make it worth your while,” the girl promised, stepping forward again, her smile widening. “Would you like to have sex?”

He very nearly exploded on the spot. Ma was forever going on about how boys his age had exactly one thing on their minds, and to be truthful, that thing was very much on his mind right now. Meeting a nude beauty in the tallgrass and receiving such an offer…this was a situation straight out of some of his more absurd fantasies.

But Smitty wasn’t the only one whose instincts were jangling, now. Walter had looked into the eyes of predators before.

“Tell ya what,” he said carefully. With the slow, even movements he knew wouldn’t startle or provoke a wild animal, he pulled the string of hares from his shoulder and held it out toward her. “You just help yourself, my treat. I’ve gotta get home.”

“Aw, you sure?” she said, pouting slightly even as she took the hares. Her warm brown eyes flicked up and down his body, making his pulse accelerate. “I wasn’t just offering a trade. I think it’d be swell to stop and make love. Don’t you?”

Walter had to gulp twice before he could speak again. That would be swell. But Ma, it seemed, wasn’t wrong about everything; the very, very bad feeling he had about this was more powerful than lust. Her knowing smirk widened, almost as if she could tell what he was thinking. Maisie Taathir down at the trading post sometimes gave him that impression, especially when she caught him sneaking a peek at her bum, but…not like this.

“I really have to go,” he repeated. Smitty whined again.

“Okay, then,” she said with a shrug that did extremely interesting things to her chest.

Walter tipped his hat to her, backed up a few steps, then half-turned to set off in a wide arc around her, keeping her in his peripheral view.

As he watched, she licked her lips again, then calmly ripped a leg off one of the hares and bit into it, fur and all. Bone crunched audibly and she made a soft sound of approval.

He didn’t walk backward, but kept going in the slightly wrong direction at an angle until a more comfortable distance had stretched out between them. Even then, Walter very carefully kept his pace measured as he and Smitty left the girl behind.

It was, as he knew very well, a bad idea to run from a predator.

< Previous Chapter                                                                                                                          Next Chapter >

53 thoughts on “8 – 3

  1. I’ve been re-reading this story in the last week as I have time, and the one thing that springs out at me is that I am not happy with Book 1. The first few chapters especially–it gets interesting by Chapter 5 or so, but the sequence of Trissiny arriving and settling in just feels like it drags on too long to me. That, I think, is the roughest part of the whole story.

    Generally I wouldn’t consider a re-write–I simply don’t have time, and anyway, part of me thinks of that as cheating, the nature of serials being what it is. On the other hand, that’s the very first introduction a new reader has to the story, and I have to wonder how many potential readers it’s cost me.

    Any thoughts on that?


    1. Rewriting it seems like a very good idea; I myself almost gave up because of it. Thankfully I didn’t, because your story is awesome!


    2. I thought it was interesting. Proof–I read it, rather than just finding something else. Didn’t even consider finding something else, as I recall.


    3. How about an intermediate step that will help readers get over the hump? I have read a couple of series where the author basically inserted a note like this:

      I feel that the first few chapters start slowly. If you would like a better idea of how the series actually goes once it gets started, please read through at least chapter ___.

      That worked for me at least twice.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. i do think it’s rough compared to everything that comes later save book 6, but part of what i was talking about in a comment before about realizing an author’s playing a long game is how much of book 1 feels like someone setting down at the table to explain the rules of said game – especially in how well it sets up, with trissiny, one of the story’s central themes: one can be a genuinely good person, who cares deeply and wants to do nothing but the best, and can still be horribly, violently wrong about a lot of things that don’t look wrong to you.

      without the way it feels like a bracing shift in tone and speed from the tellwyrn prologue, almost seeming to have nothing whatsoever in common with it beyond vague setting details for the first chapter especially, i’m not sure it would’ve set me up half as well for realizing the kind of story this is. the world of TGAB and trissiny alike needed that gradual settling-in, in my opinion – the care taken to give a thorough grounding in who and what we’re going to be reading about is what makes it easy for everything afterwards to move so quick, even the parts where we find out what we were set up to think was a correct observation in those early parts was an unfortunate reader presumption.

      to me, it’s okay if it feels slow compared to the rest of the story – it’s the overture.

      anyway all of their professors are going to be larger than life hams in some variety or another, aren’t they? i am perfectly ok with that. and OH NO ASPEN

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yeah I agree even though it feels a bit slow I find myself suprisingly ok with it because It is still interesting enough and it helps me get a feel of the world.


    5. God, I’ve thought about that exact thing so many times… Honestly, my opinion is that down that road lies madness, ’cause you end up re-writing everything to match your new quality standards and never write anything new.


    6. while a bit long it provides a good deal of world building to help describe the setting and provides a firm grasp that trissiny and the others dont constitute as the standard ‘normal’ for the rest of the world. It firmly places you in the setting without spoon feeding the reader every detail, which is important. high fantasy setting typically have longer intro’s and more pages than low fantasy or contemporary fantasy just because there is so much more for the reader to be familiarized with.
      all and all the intro is fine, if a little bit dry in trissiny’s personality, but to flesh that out you would end up making it even longer.

      what brought this thinking about, was it views per page or something along those lines, if so don’t think to much on it. most people drop a book after 3 or 4 chapters if it’s not their thing. I’ve gotten a few people to try reading it, some loved it, one lost int interest because of the rapidly changing view points, a couple others felt it was… preachy, to put it kindly.

      on another note, i post here enough i guess i should use my real e-mail so i know when i get responded too.


    7. Honestly, the parts that made me almost give up is when you were describing new locations. It would feel like too much detail, without anything yet to make it relevant. That might just be me though, as I prefer reading about characters over scenery.


    8. I would definitely suggest one, I had to restart at least 4 times before I actually started liking the story and got far enough into it to get hooked. I have a feeling that it’s lost you many potential readers…


    9. Rewriting isn’t a terrible idea, but webfiction is a very long format, so you need to set firm boundaries on how much you’d do. Otherwise your rewriting attempt can cause a break or delay in new material appearing – which would lose you more readers than you’d gain from a better start IMO.


    10. For me at least, those chapters were really good. Maybe a bit thick on scene setting, but given how much time is spent at the University and in Clarke Tower, I’d say it’s deserved scene setting. For right now, if it were me, I’d just leave it as is, and when you get to the point of wanting to put them all together in book form, whether E or regular, that’d be good for doing a rewrite.


    11. Ugh, you brought in a kitchen.

      I hate their oh so.supernspecialness, fake mysticism qnd I am better than thouness with a passion. Letting her nails price Gabriel was just the cherry on top.

      I usually like.this.etory a LOT, but that part…No. Lets hope she is not significant…


  2. On rewrites: as someone who recently read the whole story for the first time, I can’t say I felt like the first bit dragged much at all. Trissiny is our viewpoint on the world, at least for a fair while; it’s fine to spend a little time getting to know her (and the way her biases inform that viewpoint). Do what you feel you have to, but it certainly didn’t turn me off the story.

    New chapter! Nice to see the main party again, and see a few changes made over the summer. (For some reason, it seems incredibly appropriate that Juniper’s taking a jackalope as a familiar — not sure why, but it does.) It sounds like Gabe’s let the rest of the party know about his intelligent item, although I’d give a lot to know what they were talking about last time we saw them. And Teal, at least, has been making friends, for some value of friends.

    Speaking of making friends, is it the Circle of Interaction that let Professor Ekoi so easily draw blood — fae negating infernal magic — or an indication of how personally powerful/weird she is? For someone who’s supposed to be incredibly resilient, he sure gets injured a lot. Regardless, it’s shaping up to be an interesting year even discounting all the non-academic craziness that’s sure to crop up. Such as, for example, a cranky dryad who’s going to get one hell of a surprise once she reaches Last Rock…


    1. I don’t know. Somehow I doubt Gabe told them. Even that remark about the “special lady” could easily be covered by the fact that the sword has a Name.

      Nice catch about drawing blood. By now I’ve pretty much forgotten that he’s more or less invincible, simply because he seems to manage to piss off the wrong people (i.e. those with the necessary tools / weapons to ignore his natural immunities – including his own sword).


      1. That’s true, it could just be referencing the sword’s name — that comment was what lead me to think he’d told people, but on reflection that’s probably a conversation we’d want to see onscreen, after a bit more buildup. So maybe not; we’ll see!

        Yeah, honestly I almost keep forgetting too, for the same reason. I’m looking forward to the next fight scenes, though, now that he has some more spectacular ways to contribute. By now he’s a strategist-sniper who can negate or disrupt any of the four magical schools by virtue of having access to three of them, which should be much more fun as a niche.


    2. Gabe learned the hard way: you don’t mess with a kitsune/ kumiho. And, I betcha she’s a ninetails: no halfdemon, paladin or not, is in her league.

      That is, if she isn’t a deity. Having said that… the line between demon-deity is rather blurry. Not just in this story. 😉


  3. First off, thanks for the awesome chapter! I wonder which dryad is it? I have a feeling it’s Larch, who Juniper felt was not quite right in the head, and who is now looking for Juniper because she went missing from Naiya’s senses aka “died”. The elves forgot to mention this; even though mother Naiya may be somewhat negligent, the dryads sisters live together and may care for one another, though I wasn’t aware that dryads themselves can sense their sisters.

    I’ve been re-reading the story too! I have to agree that the initial chapters were a bit dull and the characterization of Trissiny seems a bit off from what we see in later books, but when Book 2 came around the serial became simply addictive. A rewrite may help you gain more readers, but then again it depends on how you plan the new introduction. Personally, I feel that its not worth the time to re-write if you’re planning to continue writing TGaB as a webserial, but if you are planning to publish it as an ebook it’ll be a different story.

    Don’t stress too much about the first few chapters putting off new readers. Since the webserial community is pretty active, new readers would likely come from current reader’s recommendations and as long as you maintain the quality of the current chapters, the beginning shouldn’t matter too much.


  4. Rewrite: Yes, the first chapters are slow but you are showing us the world you built and something like that takes up some time and space. If you know a better way to introduce a new reader to TGaB, then you should go for it… but I think anyone who doesn’t have the patience to read a few slower chapters is someone who won’t have the patience to read several books either.

    There are many great series that started out slowly and it didn’t hurt them in the slightest.


  5. Oh, by the way, Walter just saved himself a slow and agonizing death, didn’t he? Good for him! That’s a sensible (and really lucky!) young man right there.


    1. quite likely. He might’ve lived, it depends on just how hungry aspen was. This being Aspen and not Larch, if the hares, right there and already dead, were food enough, she probably wouldn’t have killed him. That seems like a long shot, though, and better safe than sorry.

      Really looking forward to the Aspen+Jasper reunion. It should be quite interesting.


  6. After going back to re-read the bonus chapter with Juniper pre-university, I think it’s more likely than Juniper had been told that Naiya would have been paying attention and noticed her loss of connection to Juniper; I had forgotten that she wasn’t just the one who was chosen, like Foss, rather it was implied Naiya had created her specifically for the role, implying that she is taking the larger issues seriously. That said, I’m not sure Naiya would’ve been fooled into thinking Juniper was dead as a result; she’s a reasonably powerful deity, and I would think not strictly limited to the senses she bestows on her children. I’m also not sure that Naiya’s response if she did think Juniper dead would be to send another of her daughters out to investigate.

    Aspen seemed to be protective of Juniper, though, and it seems likely they explained at least the basics of schooling – including the idea of a summer beak – and that aspen would’ve been anticipating Juniper’s return home over the summer; after all, she would reasonably (and correctly) expect Juniper’s been having more truly novel experiences for a Dryad in that time than all the other dryads experience in a century. Even if she couldn’t sense at that distance, she might have assumed that only dying could have prevented Juniper from returning home to visit her mother and sisters during the summer.

    Anyway, technical note, since Aspen has returned as a character, you ought to go back and tag her in bonus #4; currently only arachne, naiya, and juniper were tagged there.


    1. Also regarding tags, neither Chucky nor Sheyanne are tagged in Book 4, although they were tagged in Juniper’s and Arachne’s interludes.


  7. Typos:

    he were emotionally overwhelmed by
    he was…
    (I think, it is both a past statement and a hypothetical, but I don’t know which one takes precedence)


    Gabriel really should listen to Teal’s advice on Ravana the tormentor. But will he? Really Gabriel, go for the fangirl – she at least has a higher chance of thinking your remarks are funny.

    So if Sekandar Aldarasi, prince of Calderaas, is of Arachne’s line (are the royals there still related to her?) and Trissiny is of Mary the Crow’s line, do you get anything interesting if you cross them, other than two relatives you know will cause trouble at the wedding but can’t afford to ignore?

    A part fox? In some Asian lore they are tricksters but not evil. To the Korean (if I remember correctly), foxes are still tricksters but wholly evil. Which archetype did we get, do you think?

    “Professor Yornhaldt is taking an unexpected sabbatical for this semester.”
    Checking up on what Elilial warned Arachne about, I am guessing. Arachne probably sent him to the top five sites of “things that could cause problems if they were dug up” since he has experience in that sort of thing.

    “And you will find, Mr. Arquin, that none of these people enjoy being referred to as a what.”
    It certainly could have been phrased more politely and it is an important lesson for Gabriel, but I think you are just touchier than most.

    “Except for individuals in certain…specialty social clubs one tends to find in the major cities…”
    And you know about those how? (I presume she means BDSM or inter-species dalliance clubs.) So, touchy but with an interesting background.

    I am not seeing anything good coming of Aspen showing up at Last Rock. The dryads seem to respect Arachne, but there are limits and Aspen is already acting like a threat.
    Chance that Juniper convinces Aspen to a different morality: essentially zero.
    Chance that Aspen just accepts Juniper’s decision: essentially zero.
    Chance that Aspen appreciates Avei’s meddling (if it comes out): essentially zero.
    Chance that Aspen has even the minimal restraints applied to Juniper that allowed her to attend Last Rock: essentially zero.
    A dryad/dryad spat could end up matching the hellgate incident for damage if Naiya gets involved.


    1. Typo:

      “The unexpected and extreme can occur anywhere,” Sheaine said. “Perhaps we are better served by—”

      Should be Shaeine.


    2. Maybe… depends on who deals what would be the finisher. If June were to do that, then would Naiya act? I’d imagine that she’d be able to tell that Juniper was the one who “killed” Aspen. Obviously, if someone else did it, then Tellwyrn would have to get involved to keep the town and university from turning into the Christmas Tree of Might. Heck, she might get involved anyways and poof Aspen back home after a stern talking to.


      1. Aspen is due some mortification. Heck, she might also get to enroll as a belated frosh if things turn out a bit less than totally crater… under the beady eyes of her younger sister. Just to drive the lesson home. 🙂

        I think the combined might of the university is a bit more than a dryad can cope with. Even one in a snit. :/


  8. I feel like poor Maureen is about to have a very unfortunate introduction to Rafe, mostly because she will have /no/ idea how to interact with him, especially when he crops up as their teacher for Alchemy as well.

    Also, Ekoi – clearly Sifanese (at least going off of the oriental style of dress and Sifan being the Orient analogue for TGaB), so is she some sort of fox spirit? And does she use Fey, as guessed above, or innate Divine like Dwarves have? I am so much the curious!


  9. D.D. Web after reading this through a second time a thought struck me,
    why is naiya sending anouther daughter to a place where she thought one of her daughters was killed after previously thinking that it was impossible to do just that.
    i understand she isn’t portrayed as a good mother unless the baby chicks are threatened, but this seems like a situation where the baby chicks were threatened and she’d go there herself.
    i’m waiting for an explanation on why everyone’s shit hasn’t been completely wrecked yet by her that I’m sure we will get in some time.


    1. This is the main reason I don’t think aspen was sent. Naiya’s kids are not kept on leashes, the ones who live in naiya’s woods do so by choice. In the bonus #4, Aspen seemed protective towards Juniper, and I suspect she just took it on herself to come investigate. Naiya has been said to be take a rather “scorched earth” approach if any of her children are harmed, and catastrophic as a single angry dryad can be, that doesn’t seem quite scorchy enough for this to be Naiya’s response if she thought Juniper had actually died.


      1. Adding to that, I mean, if naiya believed something managed to kill Juniper… there’s no reason to think whatever or whoever was responsible wouldn’t be willing and able to kill another daughter.


    2. i don’t believe that, outside of juniper’s special case, naiya has ever bothered to “send” her daughters anywhere, or stopped them from going wherever they’ve felt like. all evidence the story’s provided to this point suggests that while naiya loves her daughters as the works of natural art imbued with her own soul she’s made them to be, she really doesn’t care about them like that. about the only form of interference she seems driven to provide in their lives is the violent reaction she has when someone actually “kills” them.

      which is, really, the conundrum here: aspen thinks juniper’s dead, which may or may not imply naiya thinks so, too. if that’s the case, well, we’ve seen what naiya’s usual response to a dead dryad is on screen. we know that’s her usual response, because absolutely no one was shocked that it happened or the scale of it when it did, even if they were stunned by the violent spectacle of it on its own terms. and we do know that according to the forest elves outside sarasio, for all intents and purposes, that’s what juniper calling down avei’s judgment on her person “probably” looked like from naiya’s perspective.

      so – if we know that her vengeance and intercession in the event of a dryad’s death are typically swift and apocalyptic – why didn’t we see that again, down in the crawl, in the immediate aftermath of avei’s judgment?

      why is it just aspen, angry and dryad-brand crazy, out to revenge juniper’s “death”? and why does she believe juniper dead, if all signs point to naiya’s response to this not being what we’ve already had established as her default response to just that, suggesting any other response would mean she doesn’t actually think that?

      i mean, i dunno any of the answers to these questions, but i look forward to finding out.


      1. Avei isn’t powerful enough to cut Juniper off from Naiya. She placed some sort of obstruction in Juniper’s aura that conceals her from her mother.

        “To cut you off from your mother is beyond the scope of Avei’s abilities,” said Sheyann. “Naiya’s power dwarfs hers, by a wide margin. Even if such a thing were done, it would simply kill you on the spot; the goddess’s power is what animates you. However, it is well within her reach to place a concealment upon you. Not diminishing the magic of your being, but hiding you from your mother’s sight.”

        “Such a thing could only work because Naiya is rather inattentive,” Shiraki added. “Forgive me for saying it, but I feel it is best you have the truth. In all probability she thinks you dead. What she has done about this, if anything, I could not even guess.”

        Personally I don’t think Naiya thinks Juniper is dead. I think what Avei did was blocking the direct channel between goddess and dryad on the dryad’s end and putting Juniper’s status on a loop, so Naiya would “know” Juniper was fine, even if she wasn’t. Unless she took a closer look, but that’s unlikely to happen because Naiya doesn’t really care. It probably similiar to the dryads who lost themselves and became something else. Naiya is still aware that they are alive but they are no longer protected by divine mandate. If someone was to kill Cherry or Jacaranda, chances are that Naiya would not retaliate.

        Or I’m completely wrong. 😉


  10. Two things.

    The dog was scared/felt threatened by Aspen. I thought dryads had a LOT of control over animals? Fuck, I remember Juniper just calmly walking up to that bull and snapping it’s neck.

    Maybe dogs are so domesticated by humans that they don’t count as “natural” anymore? That would be interesting, and kind of cool.

    Was Ravana one of those girls who were bullying Teal?


      1. Well, yes. I took it to mean that Aspen was just itching to be provoked and wasn’t bothering with the complete siren act. Or couldn’t: she’s dangerously close to pulling a Jacaranda and diving into the deep end. If she hasn’t already. :/

        Getting slapped out of it and onto a healthier path or put out her misery before she’s stuck with millennia of the cray-cray: either could be considered a decent outcome for her. -_-


      2. Aspen is a very typical dryad, just without any rules like “Don’t eat humans”. For a dryad to change she needs to have some sort of personal crisis and Aspen seems to be fine with herself and her place in the world.


    1. Ravana was someone Shaeine and Teal met during their summer break, I don’t think she was one of the girls bullying Teal.


      1. Quote author:

        “In fact there have been planned novellas in between each volume. In the first, a story with Jenny and Joe, which also holds the explanation for what Joe is hunting that Darling is holding over him. The second, which we’d have just passed in the timeline, starred Teal and Shaeine and also would have been the chronological first introduction of Ravana Madouri.

        On a side note, Ravana is basically my favorite character. I just can’t tell you how I’ve been looking forward to her introduction.”

        It’s from the comments of 8-1. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. A few thoughts on Aspen… She’s old enough to start feeling wrong to the younger lot. And, she’s just been given an emotional push the likes of which she’s never had before — which is a total balls up, because her little sister is just fine. She’s in crunch time; psycho-monsterville beckons if Juniper and Fross can’t get through to her (it’s not like she’d listen to anybody else).

    Worse: she’s been told off about her manners before by “the Arachne” — if she’s after her, she’ll be lucky if it’s only Fross + Juniper + Triss cutting her aura down to size. 😛

    My reasoning: what Fross can do to other pixies can probably scale up, as she’s a tiny bit of dryad-aura made more intelligent than most — which suggests dryads might be able to drain other dryads. Which that necklace Triss got from the Crawl can probably facilitate in some way if Fross can study how it does the huge transfer thing and translate.

    In short: Aspen is in for a bad day. She just doesn’t know it. -_-


  12. You may have already revised the opening chapters since this was posted and before I read them. I found them a little slower-paced and more exposition-heavy than most of the later parts, but not enough to put me off reading (and there are quite a few serials I’ve bounced off of within the first chapter or two, though mostly because of bad sentence-level writing rather than slow pacing). I think the slower pace of the first few chapters is not too bad because they come after an action-heavy prologue; but it couldn’t hurt to trim unnecessary verbiage and incidents from the opening chapters and improve the pace a bit that way, unless it takes too much time away from current writing and makes you miss updates.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sekandar Aldarasi ? If they did manage to keep the same royalities since the sleeping beauty incident, it’s a direct descendant of Arachne… as much as something probably over two millenias old may count.

    But then, unless they had an offshoot that moved somewhere else in the meanwhile (which still strikes me as possible), then my theory of Trissiny also being one is wrong.

    Also man, keeping track or even direct family lines for 2000 years gotta cover MILLIONS of people. Would feel a bit hypocritical if Arachne only kept track of the one family line on the throne rather than the non-crowded brothers/sisters of each generation, tho it seems pretty impossible to check everyone then. I mean, more than half the french population descends from Charlemagne one way or another, for example..


Comments are closed.