8 – 9

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“I dunno, maybe it’s all the chapel sessions they made us sit through in basic, but I can kinda see it,” Farah said somewhat dreamily. The rest of Squad Thirteen eyed her askance.

“Really, now,” Merry said. “First week of active duty and you’re already planning your retirement and how many kids you want. I think you skipped seven or eight hundred steps, there, private.”

“Oh, hush,” Farah retorted without rancor. “I’m just saying, it’s a point, you know? The spiritual power of motherhood, the bond between mothers and daughters. I’d never really considered it, but I can see myself wanting that. Can’t you?”

“Babies terrify me,” Casey muttered in between bites of porridge.

“You know, there’s no reason you’d necessarily have daughters,” Merry pointed out. “It’s kinda random.”

“Nonsense, you can pick!”

Merry snorted. “It’s possible to pick. You can’t, though. Not on a Legionnaire’s salary.”

“The expensive alchemical methods aren’t a hundred percent certain, anyway,” Prin commented. “You want certainty, you need a good shaman. And even then they mostly won’t do it. Blah blah, messing with nature, wakka wakka spontaneity, yakety yak respect the balance. Pfft.”

“See?” Merry said, grinning, and tucked back into her own breakfast.

“Oh, you’re a bunch of wet blankets,” Farah said crossly. “I’m just saying, I think having a daughter would be a beautiful thing. Come on, I bet even you’d settle down for that, Locke.”

“I have a daughter,” Principia said mildly. “About your age, in fact.”

Farah blinked. “Oh. Um…well, then you’ll know what I mean, about that connection!”

Prin shrugged, eyes on her porridge. “Well, not really. She won’t talk to me.” A half-grin flitted across her face. “Can’t really argue with the kid. I’m arguably the worst mother who’s ever lived.”

They fell silent, the sounds of the busy mess hall washing over them.

“You really know how to kill a conversation,” Merry said at last.

Principia grinned at her. “You’re in the army now, woman. Killin’ is our business.”


There was a mass scraping of benches and clattering of dropped utensils as every woman in the cohort sprang upright, saluting. Two figures were approaching the center of the mess hall’s open front area, which was commonly used by officers to address the assembled troops. Squad Thirteen were disciplined enough not to react to either the speaker or the Legionnaire who paced along behind her carrying a stack of papers under one arm.

“There has been a disruption of our normal schedule, ladies,” Bishop Syrinx announced, coming to a stop in the center of the space and folding her hands behind her back. Private Covrin fell to attention behind and to her right. “You will be informed of further details at a later time if command deems it necessary, but for now, Captain Dijanerad is among several officers called away on an urgent matter. As I have an interest in this cohort’s progress, I am delivering your assignments for today.”

She paused, angling her head slightly to one side and giving them assembled cohort a look that was both contemplative and slightly supercilious. “One day’s duty is hardly indicative of your skills, ladies, but as I told you yesterday, you are being watched and evaluated closely. The High Commander and your captain appreciate your patience with the unconventional manner in which this unit is being run, for the moment, as do I. A few of you are already beginning to stand out…and I mean that in both positive and negative respects.” Her eyes flicked back and forth to a few specific spots, none of which included anyone in Squad Thirteen. “The plan at present is for squad leaders to be assigned by the end of the week, after which you will not need to be nursemaided by more seasoned units and will draw more conventional duties. Those of you who have distinguished yourselves already, do not get complacent. Those who have not managed to stand out in any way still have time to do so. Several of you are on very short notice to get your act together. The Silver Legions have no place or the incompetent or the weak.

“Thus far, by and large, I’m pleased with you. Keep up the good work, troops. In fact, improve upon it. Private Covrin will now distribute assignments. At ease.”

She turned and stepped over to the side to speak quietly with Lieutenant Vriss, who was the only officer attached to the cohort currently present in the hall.

“I have a very bad feeling about this,” Farah muttered as the assembled Legionnaires relaxed, some hurriedly finishing off their meals.

“Mm,” Principia mused, eyes on the Bishop.

By chance or design, they were approached in reverse order, meaning Squad Thirteen was the first to be handed its orders, a sheet of cheap parchment bearing the Third Legion’s seal and an illegible signature at the bottom. Ephanie accepted this wordlessly.

“Covrin,” Farah said in an icy tone.

Private Covrin paused just barely long enough to ensure that her faint sneer was visible before moving on to Squad Twelve’s table.

“It’s bad, isn’t it,” Casey said, eyes on Ephanie, whose expression bore out her prediction.

“We’re to meet up with Squad Nine from Cohort Six,” she said slowly, eyes darting across the page. “They’re…heavily patrolling the Steppes. Specifics are to be given once we’re in the field, but that squad is positioned to intercept a major operation by the Thieves’ Guild, targeting a shipment of gold arriving at a Vernisite bank.”

The silence hung for a beat.

“But…we can’t have an assignment that involves the Guild!” Farah protested. “Locke has a conflict of interest. It’s against regulation!”

“Welcome to the conversation,” Merry said acidly.

“Heel, Tazlith,” Prin said.

Merry snarled at her. “Don’t you dare—”

“Treat your squadmates with respect and you’ll get the same in kind,” Prin said relentlessly. “It’s not as if Szaravid is wrong. Hell, we should’ve all been expecting something like this, but it’s faster than I’d imagined she would move.”

“This is what yesterday was about,” Casey said softly, frowning into the distance. “She was priming you to expect something like this. She wants you to challenge the order. Why? That’s not punishable, is it? Avelea?” She turned to Ephanie, who suddenly straightened up, eyes widening.

“Wait,” she said. “Come with me!”

Ephanie set off at a sharp trot for the back of the mess hall, making a beeline for the bulletin board with the rest of her squad trailing along behind. Once there, she began rifling through a whole sheaf of papers pinned together to the much-battered cork board, finally pausing on a page half the stack in.

“This was posted a week before we arrived,” she said. “Due to a ‘pattern of incidents’ involving new enlistees, until further notice, privates failing to report for duty will be considered absent without leave and subject to court martial, with a potential penalty of dishonorable discharge.”

“Wait, what?” Casey exclaimed. “Okay, I’m still new to the military. Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

“Failing to report is a serious matter,” Ephanie said, letting the pages drop and turning to face them. “But yes, court martial and dishonorable discharge for one offense verges on the absurd. There are a lot of prescribed disciplinary steps before it should come to that point. It says this is at Command’s discretion…”

“Is Syrinx’s signature on that thing, by any chance?” Prin asked wryly.

“She wouldn’t be so overt,” said Casey, scowling. “There is no way this is a coincidence, though. Are you all seeing what I mean, now? She’s capable of anything.”

They glanced across the hall, past the knots of armored women dispersing to their assigned tasks, at Bishop Syrinx, who was still speaking quietly with the lieutenant.

“How did you even know that was there?” Merry asked Ephanie. “It was buried. It predates us being here!”

“I make a point to read all posted notices carefully,” Ephanie replied, “for exactly this reason. I really cannot afford any slip-ups.” She paused, glancing around at them. “Without meaning to tread on anybody’s privacy, I’ve been getting the impression that nobody in this squad can afford any slip-ups.”

“What the hell do we do now, then?” Casey demanded. “Dijanerad would shut this down, but she’s conveniently elsewhere on what I bet is some urgently made-up bullshit.”

“You need to challenge this as quickly as possible,” Ephanie said to Principia. “An oversight isn’t your fault. You actually reporting for this duty would put you in the wrong. Get on the record pointing it out to a superior…”

Prin was already moving. She wasn’t quite fast enough; as she approached the front of the hall, Lieutenant Vriss nodded to Syrinx and dashed out the side door. The Bishop herself turned to depart through the opposite exit.

“May I help you?” Private Covrin said coldly, interposing herself between Principia and Syrinx. “Hey!”

Prin slipped around her without slowing. “Bishop Syrinx!”

The Bishop paused, glancing over at her. “You have duties, Private Locke, as do I. Be about them.”

“There’s a problem with my squad’s orders, ma’am,” Principia said crisply. “Regulations prohibit—”

“As someone recently reminded me, private, I am not in your chain of command, and I am certainly not your mother. Find someone whose problem this is and pester her about it.”

“Your Grace—”

“You are dismissed, private.” Syrinx stalked off, Covrin following her after giving Principia a hard look.

The rest of Squad Thirteen gathered around Prin as Syrinx and Covrin departed the mess hall. Most of the other squads had already filed out.

“Shit,” Casey said feelingly. “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. How soon are we supposed to report?”

“We’ve only just got time to get there,” said Ephanie. “We could try to go over the captain’s head, find someone higher up… But by the time we did and actually got their attention we’d be way past late to report.”

Farah straightened up, her face brightening. “Cohort Six will have officers—that’s the whole point of us being assigned to them! They can excuse Locke once we report in.”

“We’re to join Squad Nine in the field,” Ephanie said, re-reading their orders. “We’re given a rendezvous point. That means we’re supporting… If it’s a standard patrol pattern for a district that size, we’ll be meeting up with two soldiers, three at the most. There will be officers, but odds are we won’t see them until after the action.”

“The group we’re sent to meet won’t have any officers,” Principia said softly. “I told you that thuggish display yesterday was beneath her. This is the real play—she won’t have left such an easy out.”

“A court martial is a trial, right?” said Merry. “You’ll have a chance to explain your case there. You’re obviously not at fault here, Locke.”

Principia shook her head. “I’m telling you, this is too thoroughly planned. The notice was posted a week ago; she’s been laying traps long before we even knew we’d be here. There will be some extra surprise waiting at that court martial. Hell, if I were running this con, that’s where I’d have hidden the real trap. It looks like the safest route to take.”

“Well…you can’t go,” Farah said miserably. “You’ll get in trouble with the Legion either way, but if you report for this assignment you’ll be betraying the Thieves’ Guild, too. I sorta got the impression you already aren’t their favorite person in the world.”

“No,” Principia said, narrowing her eyes. “No… We’re not beaten yet, girls. Let’s move out, or we’re AWOL and court martialed. When they put me on trial, I swear it’ll be for something a lot less stupid.”

“The insanity just keeps piling up,” Ephanie muttered, scowling. “Squads sent out without officers, the cohort’s officers all diverted, sweeping changes in regulations hidden… This is not just about Locke. It’s not just about this squad. This kind of nonsense can seriously damage a military unit. In wartime, people would die. I can’t even fathom how she’s getting away with this…”

“A lot can change between here and the Steppes,” said Prin, heading for the exit. “I just need a little time to think of something.”

“Something good?” Merry asked skeptically.

“Trust me, Lang, this isn’t my first time playing this game.”

“The last time you played this game, you got me arrested!”

“Someday I really need to hear that story,” Farah commented.

Principia, at the head of the group, grinned. “That wasn’t the last time.”

The dorm’s relatively quiet morning routine was brought to a halt by an earsplitting shriek.

“What?!” Maureen yelped, leaping reflexively onto her bed and falling into a ready stance. Across the room, Szith had also shifted smoothly to the balls of her feet, one hand grasping the hilt of her sword.

“Look! Look at this!” Iris, still in a patched nightgown, held up a white dress apparently identical to the one she’d worn yesterday, tears brimming in her wide eyes. It was of smooth and heavy fabric, decorated with subtle embroidery around the hem and cuffs. This one, however, had the word SLUT scrawled in blocky capital letters across the bodice in some thick red substance.

“Hm,” Ravana said, narrowing her eyes.

The door burst open and their house mother dashed in, staring around at them in alarm.

“What is it?” Afritia demanded. “What happened?”

Tears spilling down her cheeks now, Iris turned to face her, holding up the ruined dress.

Afritia stared at it in apparent bemusement for a moment, then her expression turned to one of silent fury. Over the course of a few seconds, she mastered it, and when she next spoke, it was in apparent calm.

“Addiwyn,” she said loudly in the direction of the long room’s other door. “Come in here, please.”

There was a moment’s silence. Ravana stepped over to Iris’s bed, picking up a small object from her nightstand.

Finally, Addiwyn’s door swung open and the elf leaned out, scowling. “What are you people doing? Some of us have classes to prepare for.”

“Do you know anything about this, Addiwyn?” Afritia asked quietly.

Addiwyn turned to stare at Iris, raising her eyebrows at the sight of the dress, then smirked unpleasantly. “Well. If you have to advertise, Iris, I guess you can’t be very good.”

Iris let out an animal scream of fury, throwing the marred dress aside, and launched herself across the room, clawed fingers outstretched.

She made it almost two feet before Szith smoothly intercepted her. One whirl of motion later, the drow had Iris in a firm hold, both arms secured behind her back. The taller human girl didn’t stop trying to squirm free, snarling at Addiwyn.

“She is baiting you,” Szith said sharply. “Contain yourself. You become unequivocally at fault if you commit assault in front of the house mother.”

“Worth it!” Iris screeched.

“No one is committing assault!” Afritia snapped.

“This is mine,” Ravana commented, studying the object she had picked up. It was a small clam shell filled with a thick red substance. “Or…was, I supposed. What’s left is ruined. Given how dry it is, I would guess it’s been left out all night.”

“Are you sure you had nothing to do with this, Addiwyn?” Afritia said, staring at the elf.

Addiwn shrugged, scowling irritably. “Domingue’s clothes turn up with Madouri’s cosmetics scrawled on them? Why am I even part of this conversation?”

“’ere now, just ‘cos somebody owns a thing doesn’t mean they’re the one who used it,” Maureen objected. “Y’don’t think Iris mauled her own gown, surely.”

“If you think me capable of something so unbelievably puerile,” Ravana said archly, “at least believe I take better care of my possessions. Frankly, this rouge cost as least as much as that dress. I wish to discuss that matter with whoever is responsible.”

“We all know who’s responsible!” Iris howled, glaring hatred at Addiwyn. She stopped struggling, however, quivering with rage in Szith’s grasp.

“Addiwyn, go wait for me in my room, please,” Afritia said.

The elf heaved a melodramatic sigh. “We have class in twenty minutes. I am still—”

“Go,” the house mother said flatly.

Addiwyn rolled her eyes, but flounced out, slamming the door behind her for good measure.

“Iris,” Afritia said more gently, “what kind of fabric is that? And Ravana, may I see that rouge, please?”

“It’s…just cotton,” Iris said miserably, finally slumping in Szith’s hold now that Addiwyn was gone. The drow gently released her. “Thickened cotton… I had to have it made. White cotton tends to be transparent otherwise.”

“Any enchantments? Alchemical augmentation?” Afritia asked, accepting the clamshell of makeup from Ravana with a nod of thanks.

“Alchemical, yeah. That’s where the thickness comes from. It’s not actually any heavier for it.”

“All right. I will be right back; I believe I can fix it pretty quickly.”

She slipped out, shutting the door much more carefully than Addiwyn had.

“Fix it?” Iris said morosely, picking up the wadded dress from her bed and staring at the now-smudged epithet scrawled across it. “How? This is ruined. Just look at this gunk! Maybe a professional cleaner…”

“Surely she wouldn’t make a promise like that unless she could back it up?” Maureen said encouragingly.

“Indeed,” added Ravana. “She is herself an alchemist of some considerable renown.”

“Is she?” Szith asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Ah, that’s right,” Ravana said smoothly. “Considering your point of origin, Szith, you are unlikely to have heard of Morvana the Poisoner.”

Everyone stared at her.

“Who?” Iris demanded.

“The what?” Maureen added.

Ravana shrugged, picking up the brush she had dropped and casually resuming work on her pale hair. “Perhaps it’s a matter chiefly of interest to the nobility. She never operated in the Tiraan Empire, at least not that I’ve heard. Morvana the Poisoner was an assassin who spent ten years cutting a swath across the Malderaan continent, striking down dozens of high-profile targets. Over a hundred, possibly; matters become a little confused when people are killed by untraceable alchemical substances. Others may also have taken advantage of the carnage to commit their own murders and blame them on her. The Poisoner published claims in various newspapers that each of her victims were members of the Black Wreath and had been killed for that reason.”

“Wh—that—surely…” Maureen gulped heavily, wide-eyed. “You can’t think that’s the lady who’s in charge of our dorm.”

Ravana only shrugged again, smiling. “Well, it could be a different Afritia Morvana. I’ve certainly never heard either name elsewhere, but it’s a wide world. And really, if you were an alumnus of the Unseen University with a dozen governments and the Black Wreath actively seeking your head, the prospect of hiding behind Arachne Tellwyrn’s skirts would start to seem rather inviting, don’t you think?” She set the brush down on her nightstand, her smile widening to an outright grin. “In any case, I would not like to be the person responsible for disturbing the tranquility of her home.” She angled her head pointedly at the door, tracing her ear with finger and thumb and then extending the gesture outward, as if outlining a longer, pointed ear.

“Ah,” Maureen said, nodding. She and Iris still looked slightly spooked. Szith simply gazed thoughtfully at the door.

Both Iris and Maureen jumped when it opened suddenly and Afritia stepped in. She held Ravana’s small make-up pad in one hand and a black silk pouch in the other.

“I think you’re right, Ravana; the rest of this is not salvageable,” she said apologetically, handing back the clamshell. “I’m sorry.”

“Not at all,” Ravana said smoothly. “It clearly is no fault of yours.”

“Iris,” Afritia went on, stepping over to hand her the pouch. “Sprinkle this on the stain and wait five minutes. Just brush it off after that; the rouge should come right off with the powder. Just… On the floor is fine, if you avoid the rug. I’ll come in and sweep it up while you’re in class. Will that leave you enough time to get ready? I can send word to your professor if you’ll be late.”

“I…no, that’ll be enough,” Iris said, blinking back fresh tears. “I just… Thanks so much. I’m sorry to be a bother.”

“You are not a bother,” Afritia said firmly, smiling at her. “Call if you girls need anything else. I need to have a few words with your other roommate before she’s late for class, too.”

Nodding again to them all, she ducked back out.

They stared at the door in silence for a moment, then Iris shook herself as if waking from a daydream and began laying out the marred dress across the bedspread, preparatory to applying the alchemical powder.

“Um,” Maureen said hesitantly. “Were you serious about…”

Ravana smiled slyly and placed a finger against her lips.

Deep beneath the peaks of the Dwarnskolds—the Spine, as some races called the vast wall of mountains that blocked off the continent from the tropics—the great library of the Svenheim Academy of Arcane Arts and Sciences occupied a chamber vast enough to accommodate a dragon. In fact, it once had, for all that none of its entrances were large enough to admit a creature of such size. A surprising number of would-be dragonslayers over the years had passed over their targets’ lairs by failing to account for their dual forms. In this era, though, rather than the piles of hoarded wealth it had once held, the cavern contained one of the world’s great treasure troves of knowledge.

Bookshelves climbed the walls all the way to the distant ceiling, accessed by balconies, narrow staircases and in some spots ladders, several on sliding tracks. Nearly the entire floor was lined by row upon row of bookcases, each heavily laden, several climbing upward in open-sided arrangements of rails and wooden floors to create towers and pyramids scattered about the middle of the open space. Everything was carefully filed, of course, though the necessities of the library’s odd architecture could make it difficult to find a given title if one were not intimately familiar with the layout of the room.

Most visitors ended up turning for help to the librarians.

Gwen caught herself humming very softly as she pushed the cart between the stacks and cut herself off with a grimace. It had hardly been loud enough to be heard a few feet beyond her, but still. It was a library. Someday, she really had to find a way to kick that habit. Her work kept her satisfied and happy, though, and happiness unfortunately resulted in music, no matter how inappropriate the environment.

She passed into a tunnel branching off from the main, well-lit chamber. The library was illuminated brightly by massive fairy lamps suspended from the ceiling in upside-down towers of metal scaffolding, which also contained the arcane charms that regulated the temperature and moisture in the air. The dwarves, by and large, preferred to use machinery above magic, but the technology to control environments so minutely was still in its relative infancy—and also, it was heavy. The vital task of protecting and preserving the Academy’s precious stores of knowledge was, for the time being, entrusted to the finest of Tiraan enchantments, no matter the current political tensions between the Kingdom and the Empire.

It was dimmer, of course, in the smaller side gallery into which she emerged, but that was mostly for atmosphere. Gwen hummed a few more bars before catching and stifling herself as she trundled along the well-worn carpet path with her cart of books, past a long row of doors, until she finally reached her destination.

Pausing outside, she rapped gently with her knuckles. “Professor Yornhaldt?”

No answer.

She waited, trying once more, before chuckling softly to herself and pushing the door open. A quick glance around the small study showed the Professor hunched over an entire desk full of open tomes, currently with a long scroll sprawled out across the top of the lot. Gwen backed in, pulling the cart after him.

“These are the last of the volumes you requested, Professor,” she said, a touch more loudly than before.

Professor Yornhaldt jumped in his chair, then half-turned to blink up at her. Lost as he was in some ancient lore, it took a few seconds of blinking before his gaze came back into focus.

“Oh! Miss Pjernssen, forgive me. Bless you, my dear, many thanks. I’m sorry, I was off in another world.”

“Not at all, Professor,” she said with an amused little smile. “It’s not as if you’re the first absent-minded academic I’ve tended to—and not the dustiest, by far. Anywho! These are the alignment records you requested from the Venalde Astrological Collection. You can only have them through the close of normal business hours, I’m afraid, and then they have to be tucked back into their own little beds.”

“Ah. Of course, of course…” He cast a regretful glance at his desk full of books before turning fully around on his swiveling chair and wheeling it over to the table as she laid out more volumes on it from the cart. “I suppose I’d best be about it, then. Hopefully I can gather everything I need from these today, and spare you having to cart them back and forth yet again.”

“Officially, I’m obliged to tell you it’s no bother at all,” she said solemnly, then winked. “But still, I appreciate it. Now, don’t let me catch you trying to put up your own books! The last fellow who requested anything from the Venalde Collection made the most abominable mess, attempting to helpfully clean up after himself. Let the professionals do their jobs, I beg you.”

“My dear,” Professor Yornhaldt said with a grin, “you have nothing to fear from me on that account. Believe me, if you had met the previous librarian at my own University, you would understand how careful I have learned to be with such rules.”

Gwen smiled and stepped back, pushing her cart toward the door. “I’m glad to hear it, Professor. Will there be anything else I can get you?”

“I believe that’s all, Miss Pjernssen, thank you kindly. Oh! Wait a moment!”

She paused in the act of departing, looking inquisitively back at him.

“I meant to bring this up sooner, forgive me. Never to early to start making arrangements, though. I’ll need to access the Vankstadt Archives at some point this week, Miss Pjernssen, if you could kindly start the process. I understand there’s rather a significant amount of paperwork involved.”

Gwen blinked, her polite smile frozen in place. “The… Vankstadt Archives, Professor? I’m afraid we don’t have any such wing in this library. To my knowledge, Professor Vankstadt never endowed a collection before he passed.”

Yornhaldt frowned up at her in puzzlement. “What? But I was assured… Oh! Blast me for an old fool, I really am forgetting things left and right. Of course, of course, here.” He withdrew a slightly rumpled letter from an inner pocket of his coat and handed it to her. “One must have the requisite permissions, naturally. I believe you’ll find that entirely in order.”

Gwen accepted the paper and unfolding it, noting its unusual weight. Indeed, within were the wax seals of the Chancellor of the Academy and the King’s Counselor Dornvelt, as well as their signatures. The brief note, on royal stationary, gave him the stated right to access the secret archives in question.

“Ah,” she said, handing the document back after studying it closely. “That is, of course, an entirely different matter. Sorry for the subterfuge, Professor, but they take great care to keep those documents out of reach of the general public.”

“Of course, I well understand that,” he said firmly. “And heartily approve.”

“Having seen that myself, I can begin the paperwork,” she said, “but you’ll need to show it to Master Reichter, and possibly to other officials. Just to let you know.”

“No trouble at all,” he assured her with a smile, tucking the letter away inside his coat again. “As I said, the procedures are all there for excellent reason. The last thing I want is to upset your system.”

“That, too, I appreciate,” she said wryly. “Then, will that be all?”

“Yes, thank you very much, Miss Pjernssen.”

“Very good. I’ll leave you to it, Professor Yornhaldt.”

He made no response, already half-lost in his new collection of books. Gwen heard a belated acknowledgment an instant before pulling the door gently shut behind herself.

She deposited the empty cart in its allotted place beside her desk, then paused, glancing around the open cavern. Her station was tucked into a small recess, giving her a decent view of the surrounding stacks, which were not too tall in the immediate vicinity. Several dwarven scholars moved about nearby, and two humans were hunched together over a book at the very end of the nearest row, but no one approached the reference desk itself. Gwen double-checked that the small summoning gong was clearly displayed, then stepped through the door into her office in the back.

Quickly and quietly, she removed the silken covering over the magic mirror hung on the wall opposite her filing cabinets. A melange of gray and greenish clouds swirled silently in its surface, marking it a very old specimen. Newer ones functioned simply as reflective surfaces until activated, a much more energy-efficient enchantment. Magic mirrors were still made, but they were priceless even so; the spells involved had to be laid by hand, as not even the wizards of Tiraas had yet figured out a way to automate those enchantments. They were not simple to make, and not many even now possessed the skill.

Double-checking that the door was shut, Gwen stepped up to the mirror and cleared her throat.

“Mr. Greyhand, please.”

The mirror only continued to swirl, apparently ignoring her. Gwen waited, patiently staring at it, until…

There. It was only the faintest flicker, gone so soon one would likely not have noticed it unless one had been watching specifically.

“Potential problem,” she said tersely. “Tellwyrn by proxy investigating cosmic alignments. Getting close; has support from the Academy and government. First intervention circumvented. Please advise.”

She fell silent, waiting for the acknowledgment that her message was received. It came, after a few more seconds, in the form of another almost-unnoticeable flicker, the ephemeral shape gone almost before it had come. Only from long experience with this system did she recognize it as the form of a spiky black wreath.

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39 thoughts on “8 – 9

  1. I really appreciate everyone who’s donated this week! Barely halfway through the week and already we’re covered for this Friday. That’s awesome!

    I wanted to run an idea by you guys. As some of you know, Citadel, another webserial which typically ranks very high on TWF, has its current chapter behind a vote barrier–you have to vote for it in order to read it. Personally I’ve never had much use for this practice, but lately I’ve been contemplating trying that on a limited basis for one week only.

    The boost on TWF would certainly help me and I won’t pretend otherwise. However, my principle motivation is curiosity. I’m wondering just how many good folks are reading this thing. Each new chapter gets hundreds of hits and, on average, ten to twenty votes. I’m not bothered by people reading and not voting–if you’re going to put stuff online for people to read for free, you should go in with the expectation of most doing exactly that. I’ve simply been nursing a suspicion that TGaB would be a competitor for the top few slots if I were more aggressive with the voting thing. Honestly, however this experiment turned out, I would abandon it after a week. It really doesn’t feel like a good way to operate. That is my personal, emotional reaction and not meant to reflect a judgment upon any other author. With regard to my own story, though, I have to be faithful to myself.

    I’m just wondering if trying this would irritate or offend anyone. I think if I were reading a serial that did that, it might irk me a bit. I’m certainly not married to the idea and not even leaning heavily toward trying it, but while I’m kicking it around I wanted to see if anybody felt a significant opposition.

    Anyhow, thanks again to all who vote, donate, or just read! Simply having readers does wonders for my mental well-being. See you Friday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t mind either way on the vote barrier. I hadn’t been voting, but then I realized I was being a doofus by not doing it since I’m not able to offer financial support and that takes all of two seconds to do…. So… yeah, Ben be like the honey badger on this one, he don’t care.


    2. A quick look at topwebfiction suggests that TGaB received 104 votes in the last week – which is rather more than 10-20/chapter.

      A vote barrier might annoy me slightly but it wouldn’t offend me.


    3. feel free to put up a vote barrier, honestly that will remind me to vote more often that the tag line at the end and it only takes like 5 seconds to do. Who the heck has the audacity to complain about a free service that asks for only a few seconds of your time to click a button.

      some thoughts
      did addyiwyn show this kind of behavior to all them previously? she only seemed stand offish with the szith at first. Iris is the girl that has a thing for gabe if i remember right, was she branded a slut for that? the entire new freshmen girls is just hard to remember.

      a question i really want answered:
      female dwarves, do they have beards? pls oh pls say yes. I don’t think this was covered yet and i must know. and please let them all have golf ball chins


    4. Hello and thank you again for an excellent chapter.

      Please bear with my approximative english, I’m a native french speaker 😉

      First of all, I’ve noticed a few typos here and there :

      * The Silver Legions have no place or (for ?) the incompetent or the weak.
      * Gwen backed in, pulling the cart after him (her ?).

      As for the votes, it’s quite complicated. I vote as often as I can, but I see two or three issues :

      * you can only vote once a week. So if you put 2-3 chapters every week, I can only vote for one of them.
      * Citadel and others (as I pointed out in another comment) does indeed require a vote to read the latest chapter so people reading it (as I do) sometimes vote for it. I try to vote for The Gods are Bastards before and after because I don’t know how the voting system works : does it take into account you last vote or the first one every week ? And even though my vote for Citadel isn’t taken into account, I still have access to it. I just wished we could vote for more than one serial (I sometimes vote from work to get another one out there :D). So it has it’s uses and it’s flaws. I feel personnaly that the obligation to vote makes me a tad upset, but it’s might be just me.
      * your chapters can be read in my mails (and I often read them there). So you can miss a lot of things like the comments and voting links that are far more discreet in the mail version if you never access the site. Most webserials just email you a notice of post with a link to it to make sure you are on the website with all that entails.

      I’m glad we reached the weekly mark for donations and I really hope you’ll get more attention in the future, you certainly deserve it !


      1. I think you misunderstand how Top Web Fiction works. You can vote multiple times a week, it’s just that it renews your vote instead of adding a new one. They don’t actually stop you from pressing the button or anything. Also, you can vote for multiple web serials.


    5. It’s not just Citadel doing it, Anathema does it, too. It’s currently #11 but perhaps that is because it only updates once a week. Although so does Citadel at the moment.

      The only one in the top10 with a vote barrier is Citadel and I think the reason there is that you don’t know which chapter is hidden unless you remembered the one before it. So people probably vote just to see if there has been an update.

      For some reason all the other webserials seem to do just fine without it. TGaB is #4 at the moment, which is fairly impressive considering you’re up against Wildbow and Drew Hayes.

      I don’t mind a vote barrier, it literally only takes a few seconds to see the chapter… but I think a little less of the author doing it. I feel that if a story is good then it doesn’t need those tricks and if more people start to use it, it might become standard and then we’re back to the status quo.

      As long as you’re on the first page of TWF (meaning people see the story without having to scroll), then you made it. Anything more is just a waste of effort.

      TWF isn’t as important as you might think. There are lots of webserials not listed there. If you google “web serial” only Worm pops up on page 1, as does TWF itself but none of the stories listed there make an appearance for the first 5 pages.

      If you want more hits, you need to get TGaB ranked higher in Google. TWF has a limited number of visitors, many of which belong to Wildbow’s fandom. You’re not going to see much of an increase of readers through there, all a vote barrier would do is artificially increase the number of votes so you could get up to #2 in the list. What’s the profit in that? What about the cost?

      Your longterm plan requires you to have a large number of readers, several thousand would be a good start. With that you can skip most of the hurdles on the way to publishing a book.

      Btw… there are no ads here. Getting more hits, more readers is not going to do you much good if you don’t make money of it. Your goal is to make a living through your writing, right? I’m not sure if relying on Patreon and donations will be enough for that. Especially since it’s not as reliable.


    6. Feel free to experiment if it’ll help you get a better idea of your community’s feelings about your work or whatever. Honestly, I sometimes forget to vote but would like to have my vote always on for this story. Congratulations on the funding success, and I eagerly look forward to Friday!


    7. A vote barrier is a small thing – if I like a story, I am reading it anyway, if I don’t like a story then a vote barrier probably doesn’t affect that much anyway.

      As I think another commentator asked in a different way, what’s in it for you? What do you get out of a (perhaps) increased ranking in TWF, as opposed to any costs, i.e. the mild irritation that some have expressed?


    8. I definitely just forget to vote sometimes, and having a vote barrier would be an effective reminder! It really shouldn’t be too much to ask of your readership, to click an extra button to enjoy this free thing you are providing for the internet.


    9. This is just my personal opinion, but it would bother me quite a bit. I’ve made it a habit to read the latest chapter of Citadel *without* voting(it’s pretty easy to do since it’s just the link that’s hidden behind the vote, but if you get the link without voting and go directly there, it works). In fact, I was going to vote for Citadel(and did, once, in the middle of my read-through of the archive) but ended up refraining because of the vote barrier.

      It’s not about being ungrateful, I love it that people would write something and put it up for free for others to read and in fact I make it a point to support them financially by buying the ebook form whenever something like that is available. However, I feel that having a vote barrier unfairly skews the results on TWF against other serials that don’t do things like that. The fact that others, such as yourself, are now considering it because Citadel is doing it and rising unfairly in the rankings just adds to my point. I’ve read serials ranked much lower than Citadel in the rankings and they were undoubtedly much much better(The Gods are Bastards being just one example of such).


    10. The problem with that is that I am reading more just one webnovel and can only vote for one. If I could vote for all of them I would do and when I was just reading one of them I did but I deem it unfairly to just vote for one because all I read are really good.


  2. Clever, Black Wreath, putting a pawn in control of access to restricted material that relates to their plans. Someone legitimately seeking knowledge to join the cause? Pull them aside, have a chat, and possibly extend an invite. Meddling interloper? Interfere and/or stabbify.

    I /really/ do not like Addiwyn. She’s a bully and snob of the first order, and needs to have someone take her down /multiple/ pegs. Hopefully, that gets resolved by the end of this book, but I could see it not happening if she’s particularly entrenched in her ways.

    I continue to think that Basra is gunning for either molding 13 into her ultimate minions/replacements or for getting them kicked out. Clearly, right now, she’s only aiming at Prin, but with Ephanie’s statement about not being able to afford any mishaps, it could easily be the whole bunch in the Bishop’s sights. I look forward to seeing her vein popping rage when the Queen of Thieves manages to make this work in her favor.


    1. “This was posted a week before we arrived,” she said. “Due to a ‘pattern of incidents’ involving new enlistees, until further notice, privates failing to report for duty will be considered absent without leave and subject to court martial, with a potential penalty of dishonorable discharge.”

      I’d guess she’s just going to report for duty, tell them she can’t tag along and then fuck right off back to the barracks since the orders were to report for duty not to perform your duty. that or tell the thieves guild whats going on and have the entire operation on their end called didn’t in a previous chapter basra defend sharing info with the theives guild regarding prins location as wroking in conjunction with them through the spirit of a stronger unity with the universal church or some such.

      also webb you labeled bishop syrinx wrong in the name thingy, in all previous chapters you’ve labeled here basra syrinx. found that out when i went to look up a chapter


      1. It’d be the former of those two. Prin’s under orders from Syrinx (who, admittedly, is not in the command structure, but still) to not have any contact with anyone from the Thieves guild. That’d /definitely/ be in the way of her telling the Eserites involved that their robbery was about to be foiled. (Also, this assignment in general, not just the cadets but the Legion’s involvement in general, seems like a /horrible/ idea, designed to tick Sweet off.)


      2. That’s not possible. They don’t simply report for duty, they meet the other unit in the field, during a mission. And there will be no officers to report to around, only other soldiers.

        Prin can not inform the Thieves Guild, that would definitely get her courtmartialed. She can also not go against the Thieves Guild, that would be all kinds of trouble.

        That in essence is the first trap. The second trap would be waiting for her at her court martial if she simply didn’t report for duty.


      3. @ben
        actually prin isn’t under those orders since she basically told basra off for not having the authority ( and no one in the legions has the authority) to tell her who and who she can’t fraternize with. basra also leaked info to the theives guild and admitted it if i remember correctly and said that isn’t an act of treason or whatever and got away with it scot free. It would literally be prin doing the exact same thing she did.
        isn’t showing up to your post reporting for duty. so all she has to do is show up, also the letter specifically states report for duty and thats it. also it didnt say she had to report to an officer, a soldier is fine too.

        in an actual military, no she would get butt-reamed seven ways to sunday for intentionally misreading and misrepresenting orders to her enifit but in a training boot camp made to make politicians thats the exact kind of shift thinking they want. how to take a rule or a law and just go hey i misinterpreted it as meaning this. why do you think legal papers are 40 pages long with overly redundant clauses, to fuck you out of loop holing an issue.


      4. Perhaps the trap is that Basra sabotages the operation herself via anonymous security leak, thus putting Prin in the position of being the most obvious suspect.


  3. I think making your vote button a bit more prominent might help. I visit this sight every time you post and only after you mentioned the voting barrier did I notice that there was a button near the top of the page. Thing is, when I click onto the latest chapter, I dive right into the reading. Perhaps something at the end of a chapter would get you better results without having too do anything aggressive or experimental?


    1. There is always a small reminder to vote at the end of every chapter :

      “If you support schemes in every shadow, vote for The Gods are Bastards!”


  4. I still vote for citadel but I don’t do it through the vote barrier. Just when I rember to check TWF and vote for my favourite few serials. I feel you should try something else first such putting a vote link at the top of chapter but it would jump your vote up a few places.

    I just don’t like it because I feel it distorts the results of the website. ( I would use it if you put it up though because this is my favourite serial anyway and I feel it should be no. 1) I really should complain when I’m getting all these great web serials for free but I’m a little irrational.


  5. Seems to me more like Ravana is framing Addiwyn… Take her down a peg, get her room? Maybe even do extra credit on the first exam of Professor Tellwyrn – how to assault your roommates: by letting them be taken care of by another roommate or the house mother!


  6. Typos:


    Never to early
    Never too early

    (my spell checker likes the accent)


    Prin revealing personal details about herself? Even though that is one of the foundations of getting other people to trust you, and therefore one of the foundations of a con, I am somewhat surprised she didn’t simply keep quiet in this case. That would have cost her little enough. Trying to turn a new leaf?

    Ephanie is right that “This kind of nonsense can seriously damage a military unit.” The actual officers and commanders of the Silver Legions are generally portrayed as competent, so stuff like this is presumably out of the norm. So, how is it slipping through? Just due to the chaos? Basra’s continued hand in things?

    I suspect Covrin is being set up by Syrinx as a scapegoat. Syrinx doesn’t strike me as the type to like Covrin’s personality. Syrinx could ‘suggest’ some misfiled paperwork that Covrin ends up doing, and then blame it and other problems on her aide. And in the mean time, Basra has a lever on the military officer father of Covrin’s. Now, can Prin use that, assuming it is true?

    The little drama in the freshman dorms seems like another normal teenage backstabbing, but I suspect there’s something more going on.

    Morvana the Poisoner? Wow, Arachne has no problems surrounding herself with problem personalities. Gravestone Weaver and now this. I wonder what other stellar careers various university employees have had.

    Gwen blinked, her polite smile frozen in place.
    A tell. Not normal in Black Wreath, who have extensive practice in remaining hidden. Perhaps Gwen was overly shocked.

    I really hope Yornhaldt is deliberately playing up the scatter-brained academic. I would hate to see him killed.

    “cosmic alignments”
    OK, now we have a hint as to the nature of the disaster. And the Black Wreath know. Not surprising, since Elilial apparently did. Now, how can an aspect of “cosmic alignments” be truly hidden? Assuming that means something like “astronomy”, it may be difficult for most people to accurately observe and record all but the most blatant astronomical events, but it is darn hard to hide such things.


    1. perhaps it’s an alignment of high rarity, such that it’s occurrence is rarely if ever remembered the next time it comes around? The Bastardverse is approaching modern levels of tech and information availability, but I doubt that they’d be able to just MaGoogle the night sky for a given date as we can do now.


    2. I have the feeling Morvana the Poisoner didn’t exist before Ravana mentioned her. Just to fuck with her elven roomie who can hear every word. 😉


      1. Interesting thought. If so, that would imply that:
        1) Ravana made it up based on the single point of information that Afritia claimed to be able to do something about the dress, but before proof was supplied.
        2) Ravana was fairly sure that Afritia’s room (where Addiwyn was waiting) was not soundproofed. Otherwise, the joke would be lost.
        3) Ravana was fairly sure that Addiwyn could not call BS on the story and that other students wouldn’t either.
        I am still betting on it being a somewhat accurate story, but your idea is a viable alternative that I hadn’t thought of. I keep forgetting that omniscient viewpoints for readers doesn’t mean we can actually take events at face value.


      2. Read that passage again and pay attention to Ravana’s gestures and the reactions of her roomies. 😉


      3. @your last comment.

        I did see that. I am not disagreeing, I am saying that there is more than one viable hypothesis based on the evidence here. I think my points still stand.


  7. I know this is going to look pretty nitpicky, but I hope it helps to catch them now rather than potentially missing them later when there is a PILE of words to read when you collate it all into an ebook or something.

    Prin vs Principia – make your mind up, or at least be consistent with where it’s used, eg. shortened only when a character is speaking or thinking of her. (Apologies if you’re already being consistent; the method is not particularly clear.) I’m picking on this because we do not see the squad often, there are a LOT of characters, and it’s hard enough to keep first and last names straight without also having nicknames to contend with.

    “Or…was, I supposed” -> suppose
    And missing some spacing after the ellipses, assuming other similar uses are indicative of how you’re styling this

    “Addiwn” -> Addiwyn

    “Never to early to start making arrangements” -> too early to start

    “The brief note, on royal stationary” -> stationery


  8. Vote barrier for the bonus chapter?
    You might want to have a discussion with the author (K B Spangler) of http://agirlandherfed.com/

    Seems to do quite well with publishing with only 2 ads on the site apart from ones for their own publications.


    1. I’ve read that comic for years and never noticed a vote barrier… but she seems to have other ways of generating income.


    2. who doesn’t use ad blocker plus nowadays. some oldies don’t but anyone under 25 should be using some kind of ad blocking tool, just to stop the damn malware and tracking crap that is embedded in the ads.
      sorry if that cuts revenue but online ad companies are just plan evil with a capital LEMONS so much shit is added in with the ads, if it was just the ads, i wouldn’t care.


  9. Now you’re in fourth! Not bad, especially since two of those spots are wildbow’s obsessive army lol


  10. AH. I’ve never commented before, though I caught up with the whole series like two weeks ago.

    There’s too much to comment on, and too little of it actually relevant to this chapter. Maybe I’ll go back and add appropriate thoughts under corresponding chapters..

    What I keep thinking, about these new freshmen, is that it’s been said so, so many times that all of the students are some of the most dangerous and/or powerful young adults that can be found. And with these freshmen, we haven’t really seen what make them spectacular–yet.

    We know more about the girls than the guys. The most we know is that Maureen comes from a gnomish community that is even more private than gnomes usually are; Iris gives the impression of being some sort of priestess; Szith seems to act like Shaeine’s family, but isn’t (right? I mean, the two have met, and nothing was said about that, right?); and Addiwyn seems to just be a spoiled brat who is used to getting her way.

    And then there’s Ravana, who is quickly becoming my favorite character. We’ve only seen snippets of her capabilities with her intellect, but even that shows she’s been training her mind for a long, long time. But she also, so far, hides most of that behind a front of a carefree young woman who just wants to have fun. (Now that I think about it, with her sharp mind as well as this mask of sorts, she seems to be both a perfect Eserite and Vidian.. Hm. Now I’m kinda pulling for her to be the Hand of Eserion–even though Prin has been portrayed as the shining star thus far.)

    But what makes them all dangerous? What is hiding just under the surface that makes them all forces to be reckoned with? I can’t wait to find out.


  11. i find vote barrier quiet questionable would rather not vote and wait for the chapter, then vote and read cheapter immidately.i seen it done with two seperate webfictions and i found it really gives those who do it too much voting weight. of course that has it benefits, but i think it cheats the current system, and makes it worse overall. besides i vote for the webficitons i read anway.


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