10 – 13

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“All right, hear ye and all that shit,” Ruda proclaimed as soon as everyone was seated. “I’m callin’ this meeting of the Class of 1182 to order.”

“And Schkhurrankh,” Scorn added, raising a hand.

“Right, yes,” Ruda agreed. “Class of 1182 and their sidekick, Phlegm the Mighty.”

Suddenly scowling thunderously, Scorn started to rise from her chair.

“Vrash’khai nkh thrimpf,” Teal said softly. The Rhaazke paused, glancing at her guiltily, then sank back down. Teal turned to Ruda, scowling herself, now. “Will you please not mock her? She’s working to adjust.”

“Fuck yes I’m gonna mock her,” Ruda said bluntly. “I mock everybody. She’s supposed to be learning how to get along on this plane, right? Well, she can’t be flying off the handle at anybody who looks at her crosswise.”

“That actually is true, and important to learn,” Gabriel said more quietly, directing himself to Scorn. “Being demon-blooded on this plane means trying extra hard not to make waves. A lot of people barely need an excuse to attack you to begin with.”

“Let them,” Scorn huffed, folding her arms. “I collect they faces!”

“Who has been teaching her words?” Juniper asked, frowning at Ruda.

“I think we need to have a few conversations about this later,” Toby murmured.

“Anyfuckingway!” Ruda shouted. “Before this digressed into a discussion of demon social skills, we were gathered here for a reason!”

“A reason in addition to lunch?” Gabriel asked, picking up his sandwich.

“Arquin, by Naphthene’s pendulous teats, I swear—”

“Yes, yes, fucking stabbed, I know,” he said around a mouthful.

There were several spots around campus with picnic tables, all isolated from each other and most somewhat shaded by trees or buildings. No space had been provided for the entire student body to move an organized meal outside the cafeteria, unless they wanted to lay it out on the lawn, but the outdoor tables represented opportunities for smaller groups to gather for food or study sessions. The sophomores had, at Ruda’s insistent urging, collected lunch from the cafeteria as usual and made their way to a nook close to the alchemy building near the campus’s east wall. Actually, the table here had appeared only a few weeks ago; previously the spot had only held a few trees, one of which had been altered somehow during the first week of classes to look almost anthropomorphic.

When asked about this, Professor Tellwyrn had only said cryptically that anyone seeking to torture classmates should do it their damn selves and not involve innocent shrubbery.

“Here’s the issue,” Ruda said, laying her hands down flat on both sides of her plate and panning a stare around the table. “Trissiny keeps sensing demons.”

“It was just twice,” Trissiny said hastily. “It’s the circumstances that are strange.”

“Right,” said Ruda, nodding. “Both times, other people present who should have been perceptive to a demon felt nothing. The first time, though, Scorn did feel it, and could even identify it by species.”

“Vanislaas child, yes, I remember,” said Scorn, looking bored and still somewhat annoyed. “But that is one time. Last night, you interrupt my sleep for nothing.”

“Right, that’s what I was coming to,” said Ruda. “The difference is, the first time Scorn was right there, while the second, she was five floors down.”

“For stealthy species of demon, such as Vanislaads,” said Shaeine, “that distance would make all the difference in whether a sensitive individual would detect its presence.”

Gabriel raised his hand. “I am being invisibly harangued to insist that there is not and hasn’t been a Vanislaad demon on this campus, and Vestrel is beginning to be insulted at the lack of faith being expressed.”

“Hard to have faith in something you can’t see,” Juniper murmured, absently lowering her hand to pat her jackalope, who was back at Clarke Tower. He had been banned from the cafeteria after charging at Mrs. Oak and demolishing a rack of glasses.

“Isn’t that what faith…is?” Fross chimed.

“Right!” Ruda said loudly, slapping the table for emphasis. “Fuck’s sake, people, I’m starting to empathize with Tellwryn, and that pisses me off. Can’t you lot keep your focus for thirty seconds at a time?”

“Is food time,” Scorn mumbled around an unnecessarily visible mouthful. Everyone averted their eyes. “Better things to do than watch you speech.”

“I see two basic possibilities here,” Ruda went on, ignoring her. “One, to get it out of the way, is that Trissiny’s losing her mind.”

Trissiny sighed.

“Uh,” said Gabriel. “I don’t think…”

“Yeah, I’ve honestly ruled that out immediately,” Ruda continued. “And not just out of personal attachment. If the Hand of Avei were suffering mental disturbances…well, that would create notice. Anything from the Sisterhood discreetly sending people here to collect her to Avei coming down and putting a stop to it. You can’t have your soul hooked up to a deity and them not take note when shit’s seriously wrong with you.”

“That’s more correct than you may realize,” Toby added. “Paladins don’t go insane—there have been observations written on this for centuries. It’s another reason paladins are used as front-line defenders in the case of chaos incidents. That kind of direct mental connection to a deity protects the mind from severe damage.”

“Right,” said Ruda, nodding. “So, unless anybody can think of something I haven’t, we’d best assume that Trissiny and her ‘sense evil’ thingamajig are functioning as intended.”

“What’s your actual idea, then?” Teal asked after a moment, in which there was no sound except chewing.

“Assuming that her senses are working correctly isn’t the same as assuming what they’re sensing is true,” said Ruda. “Senses can be fooled. We’ve got two other paladins to contradict Trissiny’s impressions, and especially Gabe’s valkyries. I get the idea they’re kind of specialized anti-incubus agents. Right?”

“Anti-undead would be more accurate,” Gabriel replied, setting down his sandwich. “Remember that Vanislaads are demonic undead, not true demons. But yes, their extra-dimensional origin makes them especially visible to valkyries, who themselves exist multi-dimensionally. Vanislaad stealth and shape-shifting absolutely do not work against soul reapers.”

“You are suggesting that someone is deliberately sending false positive demon signals to Trissiny?” Shaeine asked, frowning faintly.

“Nothing else makes sense to me,” Ruda replied. “That just leaves the questions of who and why.”

“I should think the how is also a significant concern,” said Ariel.

Ruda sighed. “Arquin, do you have to bring that thing with you everywhere?”

“Funny. I was going to ask Trissiny the same thing, but it turns out this meeting was your idea.”

“She always has a helpful perspective on magical matters,” said Gabriel, “you just have to learn to tune out the other commentary. Speaking of which, Ariel, you have any insight on this? And kindly refrain from irrelevant personal observations.”

“If you would refrain from associating with irrelevant persons, I would have none to make. To answer the question, however, the key issue here is that two other paladins in proximity to Trissiny were not alerted during the first incident. Sending out signals to trigger senses of that kind is rather simple magic, and would not be noticeable to valkyries; Fross could probably do it.”

“Aw, thanks!” Fross chimed. “I don’t actually know a spell for that, but now that you mention it, it seems pretty easy to reverse-enchant from the description…”

“At issue,” Ariel continued, “is that sending such a signal in such a way that it triggered only one specific person’s senses while avoiding others is inordinately complex magic. I can extrapolate arcane, infernal and fae methods of doing such a thing, but all would require significant energy reserves and a highly sophisticated casting. I frankly do not know what to make of the fact that the demon perceived the same signal. Data on Rhaazke is generally lacking on this plane of existence.”

Everyone turned to look at Scorn, who was busily licking the napkins in which she had carried her sandwich, and eying Toby’s half-eaten one. He nudged it away from her.

“Well, the sword’s not wrong,” Ruda admitted. “How is indeed a concern. But to backtrack, I think who and why are still things we should discuss, since we seem to be at a dead end there.”

“The who would explain the why if we knew it, I think,” Teal mused. “Any number of people might want to take potshots at the Hand of Avei. Most of those have motivations built right into their affiliations.”

“Something about that troubles me,” said Shaeine. “In Tar’naris we have a saying: ‘Evil yields only to a greater evil.’”

“Well, that’s grim,” Gabriel commented.

“I believe I understand what she’s getting at, though,” said Trissiny, nodding. “The Avenist proverb is ‘if the wicked feared the righteous, they would be righteous themselves.’ Assuming this is the work of someone with an established enmity to me… I don’t have any personal nemeses, that I know of. And if it’s someone opposed to Avei, it is very strange that they would attack me here.”

“Uh, here’s where you are, though,” Juniper said.

“Perhaps I muddied the issue with my choice of words,” said Shaeine. “My apologies. ‘Evil’ is a somewhat naïve concept most often used to dismiss foreign perspectives. My point, and Trissiny’s if I am not mistaken, is that any of the parties who would be inclined to assault Avei’s interests would also tend to shy away from antagonizing Professor Tellwyrn. Between her and Avei, I would hesitate to guess whose wrath is more fierce, but Tellwyrn’s is indisputably more indiscriminate.”

“This who becomes an increasingly interesting question,” Ruda mused.

“Well, one prospect springs right to mind,” said Gabriel. “I assume you all remember that asshole in the white suit from Veilgrad. He played us all like fiddles—if Malivette hadn’t jumped into that, the whole thing would’ve been a clean Black Wreath victory. Here, we don’t have a vampire backing us up, and even then she pulled it off through sheer element of surprise.”

“That is a significant point,” Shaeine agreed, nodding. “Professor Tellwyrn is, at present, a somewhat static entity, and it has been observed before that she can be maneuvered around. These particular tactics suggest discretion of exactly that kind.”

“And the Black Wreath are excellent candidates for someone looking to start trouble for the Hand of Avei,” said Toby. “What’s curious is that they specifically avoided doing the same to me and Gabe. Seems like they should have just as much of a problem with us.”

“Maybe not,” said Trissiny. “I mean no offense, but Omnu and Vidius aren’t usually represented on the front lines against the Wreath. Avei’s forces are.”

“Hn,” Ruda grunted. “If anything, this makes the motive more obscure, not less. It’s fine and dandy to call this general Black Wreath fuckery, but remember their defining characteristic is they don’t do shit without a plan in place. What do they gain from ruffling Trissiny’s hair?”

“Provocation?” Shaeine suggested.

“I could see them maybe wanting to goad her into making a mistake,” Gabriel said, frowning, “but I can’t see how this leads to that. If I were the Wreath, aimlessly pissing off the Hand of Avei would not be on my agenda. Stop me if I’m wrong, Trissiny, but based on the crash courses Tarvadegh’s been feeding me, the Wreath’s strength is its cunning. In a straight-up fight, hardly any warlock is a match for a paladin, especially one of Avei’s. If it’s them, there’s gotta be something more going on.”

“We don’t have any actual info on that yet,” Ruda cautioned, “but you’re right, Gabe. We’d best be on the alert for something further to develop. Anyhow, while this is a productive theory, remember we haven’t established for a fact that this is the Wreath’s doing.”

“Who else?” asked Teal.

Ruda drummed her fingers once on the picnic table. “Well. There’s one other prospect…maybe. Ravana has a theory.”

Teal stiffened. “When were you talking with Ravana about this?”

“Ravana’s the little blonde one, right?” said Gabriel. “Of the new froshes I’ve only really talked to Iris.”

“Let me backtrack a bit,” said Ruda. “This started with the revival, and Bishop Snowe’s very un-Izarite shot across Tellwyrn’s bow. Then, after the cults packed up and left, there were two extra priests left over—an Avenist and a Vidian.”

“There’s a new Vidian priest?” Gabriel said, straightening up. “I haven’t been really involved at the temple since this weekend…”

“Sister Takli isn’t assigned to the Silver Mission in any official capacity,” Trissiny added. “But she’s staying in Last Rock for awhile, and wanted to volunteer while she’s around. That seemed perfectly admirable to me.”

“Has there ever been a priestess of Avei who randomly moved to town before?” Ruda said pointedly.

“The Mission wasn’t here before,” Trissiny replied. “Neither was I. I thought it was odd, but nothing about it seems sinister. I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Ruda.”

“Well,” Ruda continued, “yesterday there was the play, and the impromptu picnic, where Juniper’s bunny caused a scene, remember? Well, that new Vidian was there, right before, and immediately got involved.”

“What’s your point?” Gabriel asked, frowning.

“I’m repeating a theory, not proposing it,” Ruda replied. “Ravana found the sequence of events suspicious—she wanted to come to the paladins with this, but I asked her not to. That’s just something I prefer to do myself. Honestly, I’ve seen that girl’s type, and she’s trouble; it remains to be seen whether she’s trouble for us or someone else.”

“You have no idea how right you are,” Teal said grimly. Shaeine reached to hold her hand under the table.

“But her theory is that Archpope Justinian is using proxies to move against the University. Agitating the townsfolk, that kinda thing. Remember how Jack suddenly lunged at that guy from a standstill?” Ruda turned to Gabriel. “Arquin, hypothetically speaking, how possible would it be for a Vidian cleric to use a little spark of divine magic to flick a rabbit’s ear, and more cult-specific gifts to make sure no onlookers noticed it?”

“What?” Juniper sat bolt upright in her seat.

“Easy, there,” Toby murmured, patting her arm.

“Hypothetically speaking?” Gabriel pursed his lips, frowning at the table. “It’s the divine spark bit that would be tricky, there, but it could be done with a very small shielding spell. That’s possible, Ruda, but this whole thing seems really tenuous to me.”

“What?” Juniper snarled, rising from her seat. “Are you saying that woman hurt my bunny?!”

“Whoah!” Toby and Teal immediately lunged from both sides, taking her by the shoulders. Not that they were physically strong enough to hold the dryad down, but she at least stopped while Toby continued. “Nobody’s saying that, June. Gabe’s right, the idea is seriously a stretch. Why would a priest do such a thing?”

“Now who is fly off the handle?” Scorn commented, smirking.

“I thought something was wrong!” Juniper growled. “Jack doesn’t just freak out like that for no reason!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ruda exclaimed. “He does that all the damn time!”

“He really does, June,” said Toby. “Everyone’s noticed it. Haven’t you seen how people leave the area when you bring him around?”

“I hate to have to tell you this,” Gabriel added, “but that rabbit’s a menace.”

“He’s not a rabbit,” Juniper said sullenly, finally letting herself be nudged back into her seat. “He’s a jackalope. There’s a difference. They’re excitable. It’s not his fault!”

“That is correct,” Ariel observed. “Since wild animals cannot be expected to train themselves, it is clearly your fault.”

Gabriel silently stood up, unbuckled the sword from his belt, laid her on the bench and sat on her.

“Thank you,” Ruda said to him.

“I believe I follow Ravana’s line of thinking,” said Shaeine. “If her theory is correct, this priestess’s actions would be consistent—assuming she actually committed such an action instead of simply being present while Jack exhibited perfectly characteristic behavior. Agitating the bunny to create a scene between students and citizens would advance this hypothetical goal. However, that scenario is constructed almost entirely of unverified assumptions.”

“Ravana’s a sly little snake,” added Teal. “If there are political machinations afoot, then it’d be a very good idea to listen to her—she’s probably more of an expert on that than anyone our age has a right to be. But the other side of that is I think she’ll be pretty likely to see hidden motives where they don’t actually exist.”

“Why on earth would the Archpope want to attack the University?” Trissiny exclaimed. “How could he possibly gain from that?”

“I dunno,” Gabriel mused. “Snowe did make that speech—we all saw it. And what she did afterward, or tried to. Plus, Tarvadegh’s warned me to be careful about the Universal Church; Justinian has a reputation for being a smooth operator.”

“He seems pretty popular with the general public,” Teal said, frowning.

“You do understand what a smooth operator is, right?” Ruda said dryly.

“Mother Narny and Commander Rouvad have both said similar things to me, now that you mention it,” Trissiny mused, her expression growing thoughtful.

“No one’s said anything like that to me,” Toby objected.

“It stands to reason that the various cults would have different attitudes toward the Universal Church,” suggested Shaeine. “A defining trait of Omnists seems to be their inclination to get along with everyone. By contrast, Avenists are constitutionally more combative, and Vidians more…subtle.”

“You can say it,” Gabriel said with a grin. “’Two-faced’ isn’t even taken as an insult in the faith.”

“Guys, I think this is wandering off the point,” Fross chimed. “Remember where we started from? Are you seriously going to suggest that the Universal Church is trying to antagonize Trissiny with false fragments of demon aura?”

A short silence fell across the table.

“Yeah, I’m inclined to agree with Fross, here,” said Ruda, nodding slowly. “Figured I should mention Ravana’s ideas; if there’s underhanded fuckery afoot, they’re worth considering. But this kind of shit in particular seems a lot more characteristic of the Black Wreath than the Universal Church. Pretty much by definition.”

“I’m not entirely convinced this Church thing has anything to it,” Teal added. “Though…I may be biased. Ravana Madouri really makes me nervous.”

“At some point, Teal,” said Gabriel, “I think we’re gonna need to hear the story behind that.”

“Regardless of that, she has a point,” said Toby. “Even if Justinian’s as much of a politician as you’re suggesting, and even considering Bishop Snowe’s behavior—which was extremely creepy at minimum, I’ll agree—I can’t see any possible motivation for the Archpope to try to start trouble with the University.”

“You children should make more of an effort to keep up with the news,” Professor Ekoi said brightly. Everyone jumped, staring; she was standing at the head of the table, smiling benignly, and had definitely not been a moment before. The kitsune laid a short stack of newspapers on the end of the picnic table. “There are fascinating things in the headlines today, quite relevant to your discussion. I happened to pick up the fresh editions in Calderaas this morning.”

“What were you doing in Calderaas?” Gabriel demanded.

Ekoi fixed her eyes on him, her smile widening to show her long canines. “On the subject of invasive personal questions, Mr. Arquin, why are your undershorts flying from a flagpole on the main lawn?”

“What?” he exclaimed. “There’s not a flagpole on the lawn. I don’t even know what you’re talking oh gods please tell me you didn’t.”

Ruda collapsed in laughter, nearly sliding off the bench.

“Remember, Mr. Arquin,” Ekoi said solemnly, “manners are miniature morals. You kids may keep those—I think you will find them enlightening. I shall see you in class.”

She turned and sauntered away, tail waving languidly behind her.

“I disavow any knowledge of anything flying from any flagpoles,” Gabriel announced. “On an unrelated subject, you guys know if there’s a shop in Last Rock where you can get clothes on the cheap?”

“Don’t buy cheap clothes,” Teal said, lips twitching. “They just need to be replaced faster.”

“Uh, guys?” Juniper said, holding up the topmost newspaper so they could all see the headline.

“Snowe vs. Tellwyrn?” Teal read aloud. “How does anyone think that’s even a contest?”

“Are they all like that?” Trissiny asked, reaching for the remaining stack.

Ruda grabbed it first, spreading them across the table amidst the remains of their sandwiches. “Looks like…yup. Wow, I wouldn’t have expected one Bishop’s speech to generate this much interest in the newspapers. Was it really that newsworthy?”

“I…guess?” Teal said uncertainly.

“Or,” Shaeine murmured, “someone has exerted influence on the papers to make this happen.”

Another brief silence fell.

“So,” Ruda said, drumming her fingers on top of one of the newspapers, “the Church or the Wreath. Well, they both have a motive, though I still can’t tell what the Church’s is. They clearly are taking aim at the University, though.”

“Is this something we should be worried about?” Fross asked nervously. “I have to admit I’ve sorta skipped politics in my reading. I mean, apart from what we’ve been over in Professor Tellwyrn’s class, which isn’t exactly…current.”

“This is something for Professor Tellwyrn to worry about,” Toby said firmly. “Someone targeting Trissiny is our business.”

“And hers,” Gabriel pointed out. “Come on, you know that’s exactly what she’d say. Don’t you guys think we ought to take this to her?”

“I’m not sure I want to approach her, with the mood she’ll be in when she sees this,” Juniper muttered, still reading the paper.

“We’re not gonna have Tellwyrn’s skirts to hide behind forever,” Ruda snapped. “And we will have many of these same problems. We know the Wreath is after Vadrieny, and from what you guys said about what happened in Veilgrad, that guy seemed weirdly interested in the paladins. It stands to reason the Archpope would have similar interests, whatever it is he’s doin’ here. No, we deal with this.”

“How?” Teal asked.

“Well,” Ruda said thoughtfully, leaning backward and staring absently at the scattered newspapers, “we’re gonna need more information, first. Which of our prospects is actually behind the demon shit getting thrown at Triss?”

“Wreath,” Scorn snorted. “Is obvious. You are stupid?”

“Teal, I’m gonna stab your demon in a minute,” Ruda growled.

“Why is it obvious?” Teal asked Scorn.

The Rhaazke shrugged. “Sword say the hard part being the hiding, yes? Easy spell, but hard to make Trissiny only sense the aura? Well, I sense it too, so is Wreath hiding.”

“What?” Gabriel frowned. “What did she say?”

“Why does that mean it’s a Wreath spell?” Trissiny demanded.

Scorn looked incredulously around the table at them. “I am Rhaazke.”

“Yep,” Ruda said. “Gonna stab her.”

“Scorn,” Gabriel said irritably, “pretend for a moment that you’re from a completely different plane of existence with different rules, and nobody here knows what the hell you are talking about!”

“If I understand correctly,” Shaeine said before Scorn could react to that, “you are saying that the Wreath’s gift of stealth does not work against Rhaazke?”

“How’d you get that outta that word salad?” Ruda exclaimed. “And that’s another thing, Tanglish isn’t demonic. You can’t just mix words together at fucking random!”

“That’s what I thought she said,” Fross chimed.

Scorn sighed dramatically. “You know nothing. Fine, I explain. The goddess, she does not trust demons. They are made by Scyllith, and made to be hard for control. Also some still being loyal to Scyllith. Rhaazke are different; Scyllith throws us out, very long ago. So in Hell, when Elilial takes command, she does not trust demons to be in charge. Her highest…um… What is word?” She turned to Teal. “Servants in charge?”

“Lieutenants?” Teal suggested.

“Llllluuuutennn…” Scorn drawled out the word and gave up halfway through, shaking her head. “You all complain my language is silly.”

“Anyway,” Gabriel prompted.

“Yes, fine, going on. Highest… People being in charge under the goddess, they are the archdemons,” she nodded to Teal, “and some others she makes herself. Very unique beings, not like the demon races. Prince Vanislaas, the Shroudwraith, Kelvreth of the Eyes… Others like them. Not being of Hell’s races, they are loyal to her. Well, our queen, Srkhankhvrithz, she is one of these highest leewww…in charge. But the other Rhaazke, we serve a little lower, but still over the demons. Hell is not our home, we have always hated Scyllith, and the Lady Elilial gives us everything, so we are trusted servants,” she said proudly.

“So…Rhaazke are middleman administrators in Hell?” Ruda said, frowning. “What’s that got to do with you being able to sense through Wreath fuckery?”

Scorn shrugged irritably. “Obviously, we have powers given to do our tasks, yes? We served the Lady before the Wreath was made, and we stand closer to her. Humans are not permitted in Hell, but humans are also not trusted. Some try things, even some Wreath. Rhaazke must be able to hunt through their tricks, yes?” She grinned. “Not all Rhaazke have as many gifts, but I am noble bloodline, being trained for high service. This stealth the Black Wreath has, it is the Lady’s gift, and she decides where it does not work.”

“Fascinating,” said Ariel, slightly muffled under Gabriel.

“If that’s true,” Trissiny said slowly, “we have a perfect counter to the Black Wreath’s greatest weapon.”

“It also means Scorn’s right,” added Toby. “That would explain perfectly why the spell aimed at Trissiny caught her as well. If the concealment was a Wreath stealth that doesn’t work on her… It has to be them.”

“It also means we can beat them,” said Gabriel, grinning fiercely.

“Yes!” Scorn said, smiling back.

“Hang on,” Ruda interrupted. “Scorn, does the Wreath know Rhaazke can do this?”

“Not for them to know,” Scorn said haughtily. “If they know, they can sneak around it, yes? Then is pointless.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Juniper asked.

“She literally just explained it,” said Ruda in exasperation. “After Veilgrad the Wreath know we’ve got a Rhaazke. If they knew their concealment doesn’t work on her, they could compensate. But if Scorn is right, they don’t.”

“Which means,” said Trissiny, her eyes widening, “we have exactly what we need to outmaneuver them.”

“Yes!” Scorn cried, grinning broadly.

“Um,” Toby said, “you do realize that in order to capitalize on this advantage, you’re going to have to keep Scorn near you and…wait for them to strike again?”

“Oh,” Trissiny said, frowning.

“Yes!” Scorn repeated. “We will have fun! We go to classes and visit the town and when the Wreath moves again, we crush them!”

“…great,” Trissiny said weakly.

“Whoah, now, stop,” Ruda interjected. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we need a plan. First, this advantage has to be protected; we can’t let the Wreath learn that Scorn can see through their defenses.”

“Yes, very true,” Scorn said, deflating. “This is secret—Wreath is not to learn.”

“Also,” Teal added, “it’s not clear to me exactly how we can capitalize on this. If the Wreath is just making Trissiny sense the presence of demons that aren’t there, having Scorn sense them too changes…what?”

“Right,” Ruda said, nodding. “We need to come up with a plan.”

“To begin with,” Fross chimed, “I may be able to work out a spell to augment Trissiny’s senses—there has to be a way to track those signals more precisely, rather than just perceiving them. It’ll be really tricky for me to work with divine magic, though…”

“I know a spell for that,” Ariel said from under Gabriel. “Trissiny will have to cast it herself, but I can walk her through the process. After a few weeks of basic schooling in divine spellwork, she hopefully possesses the basic competence.”

“That sounds like a skill I would be interested in learning anyway,” Trissiny agreed.

While they carried on talking, Gabriel surreptitiously shifted, pulling Ariel out from under himself and gripping her by the hilt. Her scabbard hid the patterns of faint blue light that flickered along her blade as he ignited a charm they had worked out previously.

“Vestrel,” his voice echoed from the sword, silently but resonating through the dimensional medium in which the valkyries dwelt.

Invisible to the others, a black-clad figure approached him from behind, spreading one ebon wing protectively over him as she leaned forward. “Something on your mind, little brother?”

He glanced fleetingly up at her with a small smile, quickly enough that his classmates did not notice, absorbed in their discussion. “What do you know about this new cleric in town?”

“Nothing, really. We don’t keep track of them all. Why?”

“There’s something going on. It’s too perfect, more priests arriving just as Bishop Snowe starts trouble with Tellwryn and the newspapers start carrying these tales. Are the girls too busy to do me a favor?”

“Never,” Vestrel said with a grin, affectionately brushing him with her pinions. They didn’t physically connect, of course. “We can spare the time to see what the new priestess gets up to when she thinks no one is looking. The Avenist, too?”

His eyes flickered at Trissiny, who was paying attention to what Toby was saying. “I don’t know… That seems wise, but also like it’d be stepping on Triss’s toes.”

“What she doesn’t know hurts nothing. And if a cleric of her faith is indeed trying to manipulate her…”

“Point taken. If you would, then.”

“Oh, this sounds like it’ll be fun!”

“Stop, back up,” Ruda said sharply in response to Juniper’s last objection. “Nothing just happens without context—just because we’re pretty sure the Wreath is behind these specific events does not mean we can just ignore whatever the hell the Church is up to.”

“Indeed,” Shaeine agreed. “Even if the Wreath are not responsible for the trouble presently being stirred up, trouble can be taken advantage of by anyone. We must not develop blind spots—everything going on here deserves our attention.”

“I’m still lost as to why the Church would attack the University, though,” Toby said, shaking his head. “I just don’t see any benefit in that. And in its own way, the Church is almost as inscrutable as the Wreath; Triss, Gabe and I can probably get some information from them, but you can be sure they’ll stonewall us about anything they’re doing with regard to the University we all attend.”

“Maybe not, though!” Fross chimed. “Can it hurt to ask?”

“Fuck yes it can,” Ruda said firmly. “If they’re playing games with us, letting them know we’re onto them will only make it worse. I can’t see the Universal fucking Church backing down from a challenge.”

“Well,” Gabriel said mildly, “keep in mind that just because we don’t know everything now doesn’t mean we won’t learn more.”

“How exactly are we going to learn more?” Ruda asked, exasperated.

He shrugged. “I’m pretty sure something will come up.”

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46 thoughts on “10 – 13

  1. Am i the only one hearing Scorn in a really thick Russian Bear Woman accent?


  2. I have no more respect for the Black Wreath. It is one thing to mess up and get detected by a demigodddess you had no reason to believe was at the school, it’s another thing to get detected by the class that you are trying specifically not to get detected by. Even not knowing about Scorn’s abilities isn’t excuse; they knew that they knew little about Scorn, and they didn’t set up any sort of backup misdirection or alibi, which is even worse given that the class is already suspicious of the Wreath from Veilgrad. They were relying solely on Trissiny freaking out and no one believing her. And even if Ekoi and Scorn weren’t present, and everything worked out according to plan, Arachne would intervene personally sooner rather than later and sort everything out. She’d have a number of options from increasing campus security from impenetrable to you get a migraine for looking without permission, tracking them done herself with high level magic, or calling in a favour from the Empire, who’d doubtlessly be fine helping hurt the Wreath, who are already enemies of the Empire. There is just no way this plan of Embras’ could have worked out well.

    Maybe he received super secret instructions from Ellial to purposely mess up the task, but in that case Ellial’s being stupid for violating her treaty with Arachne and not messing with her students. She might claim that she’s ‘technically’ not hurting Trissiny, but given that it was an handshake deal and not a legal contract that gets contested in court, Arachne wouldn’t and shouldn’t care. And if you’re a god, pissing off a godslayer is damn stupid thing to do.


    1. Do you know the Wreath’s goal?, if not how do you know that their gameplan doesn’t include being discovered in a what looks like a clever way to the target?
      I mean given that the Wreath are not idiots and they are completely aware of the sheer level of power this particular group has in multiple areas, why wouldn’t they plan to be discovered using that very discovery that looks like a failure to further a plan of some sort.


      1. Huh…I may be confused here but wasn’t it said that yeah we don’t know The Wreath’s goal in general, but that this whole fake succubus presence was Embras’ ploy to make Triss & co question the situation at hand, the goal of all the different players (specifically the justinian vs Arachne battle) etc. A little wake-up call of sorts. Because if I’m not mistaken, then this ploy worked perfectly, maybe a tad too perfectly but still, because that’s exactly what they did. If it works for The Wreath’s goal in the long term or not that’s another question, which is exactly Bradshaw’s worry.

        PS: Long time lurker, first time commenter here ! Amazing work D.D. your serialis easily my favorite !


      2. Given the reservations of the other members of the Wreath involved in the whole “Poke Triss With Stick” plan, this is all Embras being too damn cocky for everybody’s good. Again. <_<

        He did the same with his Bishop-poking, earlier. All his Bishop-poking. 😛

        They guy can throw interesting spanners in various works that often uncover very surprising things, but the effects tend to be double-edged… particularly in the short- to medium-term. I can see why Lilly likes to have him, but it's not healthy for those around him. :/


      3. Actually Embras told us his goal back when he first proposed screwing with the Paladins: For the Paladins to learn the The Trinity’s biggest secret.

        “Think of it, Bradshaw. What would happen if the Trinity’s paladins learned their great secret? Would they strike them down like they do everyone else? How would they cover that up, in this age of printing presses and telescrolls? And the other option is even more intriguing!” 10-3

        Also as pointed out by others this is all Embras doing not the Wreath as a whole and I got a good idea why: He knows or at least thinks he is in hot water with Elilial.

        In this chapter Scorn lets it be known that Elilial doesn’t trust humans, even the Wreath. Then think back to the beginning and what occurred there, it was the attempted possession of all those girls by Elilial’s daughters that Embras screwed up getting all but one killed. Then he went Bishop poking and was warned by Elilial that if he didn’t back off, Darling was going to humiliate him and of course he didn’t listen to his Goddess. Then we have the latest adventure where Embras didn’t complete his goal and get one of those staffs, so by now he has to be thinking that Elilial is not going to be to pleased with him with all those failures. Keep in mind Elilial did that thing with two of those students to distract Arachne from her and the Black Wreath and what Embras is doing right now will yank her attention right back onto Elilial, which will not endear Embras to his Goddess.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Unless there’s been some crazy millenia long insanely huge cover up going on, I do know the Black Wreath’s ultimate goal: Kill every new god except Ellial. Shorter term is just to make Ellial happy. And even shorter term was mess with Trissiny, and that plan seemed to imply that it’s meant to stay secret for at least a little while longer, especially since the consequences for being discovered range from having to go deep undercover to dying at the hands of Arachne to suffering Ellial’s wreath for alienating Vadrieny with their scheme.

      I suppose they do get some credit for making the students suspect Justinian, but they were already on the path of suspicion for what happened with the jackalope. And since the Church actually is up to some mischief, it seems likely that an investigation by the students would turn up some further information, rendering the tricks the Black Wreath pulled almost irrelevant. It sped the process up a bit, but it’s hard to judge just how much. Especially since the jackalope trick is doubtful to be the only thing fully employed members of the Church were sent to do, so the students would be suspicious on par with what Embras accomplished next time the Church agents tried something.

      This wouldn’t be a catastrophic failure on it’s own, but it’s the latest in a long line of defeats. A line of defeats that probably stretches longer than just current TGaB, since of all of the Wreath’s history, they haven’t won a single war against the mortal races and they haven’t killed a single god. And given that the end game is approaching and the Wreath didn’t even manage to enact the trump card of having Ellial’s daughter possess mortal girls to give an advantage, I can’t see the Wreath ever recovering from the current failures.


    3. Gotta disagree. It doesn’t matter if someone knows who led them on a path, so long as they take the path. It might have long-term repercussions, but they still walked the path.


      1. @Club I’m a tad bit confused. Who is the ‘someone’, ‘who’, and ‘path’ you are referencing?

        And this is Embras’ failure primarily, not the Black Wreath, but those two terms are somewhat synonymous since Embras leads the Black Wreath. The invasion of Iraq isn’t considered just a bad idea by President Bush’s part, it’s considered a bad idea by the USA as a whole too.


    4. this doesn’t seem to be the main plan of the black wreath, or even their go to plan. this seemed like a spur of the moment plan, the kind you make when you see an opportunity with relatively low risks and next to no effort to do.
      they noticed an adversary (the pope) poking a hornet nest, well grand standing in front of one anyway. so they were like hey it would really suck if someone poked that nest in a menacing way that makes them all swarm over that guy.
      and so they poked the nest with a really long stick and then dove into a pond to just make sure none of the nasty little buggers went after them if they did notice who really did the poking.
      no real effort exerted for the maybe chance of getting a rival covered in hornets or some annoyed and pissed off hornets that can’t retaliate back because they are already gone. keep in mind these hornets already hate your guts anyway.

      this was an attack of opportunity that cost nothing but a little time, fits their style real well. it failed but was decently executed despite their lack of information.
      Bishop Darling on the otherhand. i lost respect for his plan making and execution skills a while ago. he is a bored cat in personality that makes his plans to fail just so he can keep chasing the mice later for entertainment. lets embras go, likes to play cat and mouse with the pope when he could be actually slapping him down with some prep work and bringing in the government into his schemes.I have no confirmation but I’m pretty sure he knew where the chaos artifact was and sent the team to the wrong place just to see what happens when the pope gets it. It’s not that he can’t be competent its that he chooses not to be out of boredom and curiosity. really cant stand him


      1. If I continue you’re metaphor about the Black Wreath and the hornet’s nest, it’d be like if the hornet’s have noticed the Black Wreath in the pond and are planning to sting like hell. Ekoi has detected them and has already done some limited vengeance, and I suspect that there’s a lot more of it to come. The students have just found out about the Black Wreath, and are planning further vengeance. If it WAS minimum risk, I’d have no issue, but it was.

        As for Darling, this is more of a matter of personal taste, but I don’t see anything wrong with him. He let Embras go because he doesn’t have a big problem with the Black Wreath. Sure they’re trying to kill the gods, but it seems unlikely they’re going to succeed. And given how incompetent Embras is, Darling would probably be doing them a favour if he arrested Embras. Then it does work in his favour to help Embras because the Black Wreath does work to keep demonic influence in the world to a minimum. Plus, the MAIN reason stated that he released Embras was to get a meeting with Ellial. And he did get that meeting, and while it didn’t go as well as he hoped as he didn’t learn the real reason Ellial was kicked out of the pantheon, he did learn that the gods would smite him just for knowing.

        And I took it at face value when Darling said he messed up. I mean, he had to manipulate his group into going to the Badlands, so if he wanted the Pope to get the artifact, it’d be as easy as not sending his group to do anything.


      2. completely disagree with where you took my metaphor jeray.
        these hornets hate the black wreath before they did this, so it doesn’t really matter if they hate them now, the goal was to get them stirred up about the pope, which it surprisingly did. second they shook ekoi off when they hit the pound (the city, probably intended for pursuit) and the hornets (the students) didn’t even consider them until a day after ekoi. they accomplished their goal, pointed them in a direction to go sting all the while slinking back into whatever hole they crawl out of in the morning with no hornet stings.
        darling however is incompetent, the getting an audience with ellial was stupid and unnecessary and only resulted in potentially sating his curiosity. he is a bored cat. embras was an actual threat to the city and the world at large. his capture could have resulted in tons of information. by torture, drugs, or even magic. a very good portion of it may be lies and false information, but some of it would have been true. the fact they have to kill themselves rather than get captured means they KNOW there is a way to get them to talk and give up the information. the only reason i can give to letting embras go is in old saying. to know you have an enemy you can beat only makes the important victories you need to win all the easier, sad thing is embras has beaten darling before so getting rid of him might result in an easier opponent to beat.


      3. @Club The students and Arachne hate the Black Wreath MORE now. Arachne only goes after the Wreath if they do something particularly bad, like making innocent girls combust or interfering with her students. If the Wreath were to say focus all their efforts on getting agents within the Church so when the time was right, the Gods would lose an ally and it would give Ellial an advantage, Arachne would have no reason to target the Wreath.

        The students hate the Wreath more now too. Maybe before they could still manage to come to an uneasy alliance if they have mutual short term goals, like what happened with stopping the chaos cultists in Veilgrad, but that’s not happening now. It’s one thing the students to be told ‘the Black Wreath is evil, don’t hang out with them’ it’s another thing to be targeted by the Wreath. Earlier in the story, one of the reasons described for why so many people join the Wreath is that the Church make them out to be evil and cruel monster when they’re actually nice people, so people question what else the Church could lie about. If the Wreath WAS genuinely helpful with the students, that’d get the students questioning the Church AND it would earn goodwill. Instead the Wreath screws over the students at Veilgrad, which didn’t even work ultimately, and the Wreath pisses off Trissiny. While the goal for second scenario was accomplished, that would have likely happened anyways do to what the Church is doing with the Revival, and it may NOT have worked if the Church wasn’t doing the Revival.

        Then there’s the matter of Vadrieny. By targeting her friends, the Wreath is only putting more distance between themselves and Vadrieny. Vadrieny considers the Wreath a tool to be used carefully, since they do offer some loyalty, but she does not consider the Wreath allies or people she’d want to help. I doubt she’s particularly eager to meet her mother after how her cult has acted either, and given Ellial’s talks with Arachne, Ellial still loves Vadrieny.

        The Black Wreath didn’t completely slink off, no physical harm done, anyways. Ekoi, while in Calderaas, pretty much highlighted every location where the Black Wreath has a presence, and put the scent of one of the more loyal succubi everywhere too.

        As for Darling… what do you want him to be doing? Satisfying his curiosity seems to be a valid motivation to me. He doesn’t want to have vast personal power. He’s not going to be a wizard or anything similar that can kill a dozen people in a minute if wanted to in terms of personal power. In terms of resources, he doesn’t want that much more. That brings paperwork, and he doesn’t want paperwork. He isn’t particularly interested in a romantic relationship at this point, and he already has what is similar to a fatherly relationship with his apprentices. Given that he serves the Thieves Guild, he’s pretty morally ambiguous, so helping others just for the sheer sake of charity is out of character. Attempting to bring down the two major systems on his continent, the Church and the Empire, would only earn him very powerful enemies who are currently very powerful allies to him. He doesn’t want any information the Wreath has to offer, they don’t offer any significant threat to him, the guild, or his apprentices, so he has no reason to utterly crush them. Plus competing with Embras is exactly the type of fun he enjoys, a battle of wits with someone comparable but just slightly below him. So, to repeat myself, what do you think SHOULD be his motivation?

        You say that Embras has beaten Darling before too, but… when was this? The primary reason I don’t respect the Wreath, and specifically Embras, is that they’ve NEVER beaten anyone over the course of the story, and Darling was personally responsible for two of those defeats, the one at the small town where the four bishops were clearing out the cell of Wreath agents, and the one at Tiraas where many loyal Wreath agents were captured.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. @Daemion I’m not sure if they HAVE ever been that powerful of a group. It could very well be just propaganda. They’re the perfect group for that kind of propaganda too. They’re scary demon summoners who serve a fallen god. They’re archenemies of the Church, one of the most powerful organizations of the planet- at least in the past, if you still believe their power has waned recently. The Church then adds to that propaganda by actively advertising how scary and powerful the Wreath is.

        Arachne, Mary, and all the dragons, individuals who’ve been around long enough to see what the Wreath can accomplish, don’t consider them huge threats currently either. They’re all content to just let the Wreath do whatever they want, as long as it isn’t directly affecting their personal goals. Razzavinax helps the Wreath with his academy, and given that he doesn’t seem like someone who’s eager to mess up the status quo and get rid of the gods, I don’t think he considers them defeating the gods a real possibility. They all consider the Empire a vastly bigger threat, and something that needs to be dealt with much more than the Wreath. This may because the Wreath has always been inept, and except when Ellial personally takes leadership, they don’t accomplish much.

        There have been multiple demon wars. The Black Wreath lost all of them. When pitted directly against the other big organizations, when they go all out and bring across many demons, they still lose.

        As for them needing to be successful to still exist after thousands of years… I disagree. Whenever they take large scale losses like they have recently, they just need to lie low for a while and build up their membership. Given that their magic is specifically designed to avoid detection, if they aren’t trying to influence the world and are avoiding leaving any traces, I doubt even Ekoi could track them. Then they can focus on recruitment when the heat dies down, maybe Ellial will go and recruit some people personally if the Wreath is hurt too bad, and BOOM! back to terrorizing the world at full strength a few decades later.


    5. I agree with you completely, obiously there might be more to it, but at the moment it looks like the allegedly extremely competent weath, are in truth completely incompetent. Feels to me like its simply lazy writing, which is bound to happen, as much as i enjoy the rest of the story and characters.


      1. This feels like France. Long history of successful military campaigns but all everyone remember is the last big defeat and their surrender, even if they had no other choice.

        The Black Wreath has been active for thousands of years and overall has been quite successful (otherwise they wouldn’t exist anymore). They are a small group at its core, going up against everyone else.

        So now they lost a few times? That doesn’t change who they are though.


  3. That was honnestly a very important chapter just for the peek into Gabriel’s competence. He is growing into a full fledged epic hero “à la” Drizzt. So many tools and allies around him, Go Team Gabe 😉 !

    To be the devil’s advocate, the Black Wreath could hardly be blamed to not think that a full blooded demon would be hanging that close to an Avei’s Paladin … They are good but still human.


    1. Yeah, Gabriel is showing assertiveness, power, and competence – people who didn’t know him before might actually start to respect him. He’ll always be Ruda’s verbal and physical pincushion, though.


    2. Yep, and remember way back at the beginning, Tellwyrn’s advice to Gabe was to learn to make friends who are loyal to him, because an array of powerful allies willing to go to bat for you is really the only defense a half-human beserker demon has in this world…

      In Book 1, Tellwyrn noted that she could kill Gabe on a whim, and as a 0-20, face no consequences whatsoever (maybe an angry letter from his dad, certainly an upset paladin of peace, but a hand of Avei Toby is not). Now, even as a 0-20, if she killed Gabe unjustly, she would have a small army of diversel and formidable beings pissed off and coming for her. Does she have an answer for a pissed off Valkyrie? How about for a dozen or more of them at once?

      Even if she could not only survive but WIN a fight featuring a simultaneous assault from the Valyks, the two remaining hands, a pirate, pixie, drow cleric, and TWO demigods (one dryad, one demon) as the opening gambit, it wouldn’t be a clean win for her. Even if she could do it all without even being injured, I can’t see her coming out ahead in the subsequent political fuckshow. Losing her university would be the least of consequences for her to face. And that’s assuming Last Rock and the Calderaan Province still exist after that fight!


  4. Excellent chapter! I like it when protagonists show competence and also admit that they don’t know enough to act yet.

    Embras started this whole thing to suck up to the paladins somehow… and I really hope his plan is more complex than “healing” Trissiny from her mental instability because that’s just too flimsy to work.

    Kaisa Ekoi is probably going to report her findings to Arachne, so keeping her out of the loop is not going to work. Although Ruda is correct, they need to solve their problems on their own, they can’t run to the cranky archmage every time.


    1. He told us what his plan was back in 10-3, it was the Paladins learning the Trinity’s Greatest Secret which is something that has been found out by mortals in the past and caused the Trinity to kill them. The whole point is to force the Trinity to kill their own Paladins and try and hide that or let them live and hope one of them doesn’t tell the world through the newspapers what the Trinity is hiding.

      “Yes, those paladins,” Embras agreed. “Think of it, Bradshaw. What would happen if the Trinity’s paladins learned their great secret? Would they strike them down like they do everyone else? How would they cover that up, in this age of printing presses and telescrolls? And the other option is even more intriguing!”

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      1. Yes! The demon scent is supposed to draw the paladins, or at least Trissiny, out on a chase, at the end of which will be some revelation about the nature and/or history of the gods. One which they would not believe if Embras just told them, so they must be led to find out for themselves. Which is, interestingly, the same thing Mary is doing with Ingvar.


      2. Yes, but to me there is a disconnect between “luring the paladins out on a chase” and “revealing the Trinity’s big secret”.

        Basically, Embras is not trustworthy and there’s nothing he could do to change it. He knows that, too… and so wouldn’t even try. Problem is, the paladins are students, they can’t just take time off to go on a vision quest and it’s highly doubtful that clues to the secret are hidden in Last Rock.

        So how exactly is he going to do this? He isn’t even trying to weasel his way into their good graces, he’s antagonizing them further. (Brilliant idea.)

        Oh, and he plans to keep the whole business secret from both Arachne and Elilial. Not to mention the kitsune, the middle management demon and the Trinity themselves.

        If there ever was a plan destined to crash and burn, Embras just found it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. But the dots aren’t going to connect as planned: the laid-out breadcrumb trail ain’t going to be followed by this lot without a lot of stick being applied — just ask the Crawl. 😛 And, it was always very unlikely to work. Embras should have taken on board how out-the-box the group can get and just gone with something with a lot fewer steps, so less could wind up exploding on him. -_-

        The others were right: to get what they were after, they should have taken a slower approach. Or, just a more direct one (direct, not necessarily honest — just dishonest enough to be given credence). 😐

        “I’m not touching you” isn’t a good game plan for anybody over the age of six. 😛


  5. I usually don’t read comments so figured I’d ask: Has it been theorized yet that Schkhurrankh’s whole dumb brute thing might be an act? Trusted servant of Elial ‘n all that.

    This speculation would naturally lend itself to the pondering of whether her getting integrated into the group was in fact chance or a rather complex gambit of Elial’s to use the randomness of chaos to justify getting someone trusted near her daughter.


    1. She isn’t dumb or a brute… she just doesn’t speak the language well, doesn’t know the culture and is used to getting her way in most things.


    2. I don’t think it has been discussed, and it’s an interesting idea. It would hinge on Leduc either lying successfully or being heavily fooled (bet on fooled), because he apparently summoned Scorn before anyone decided the students were going to Veilgrad. Given that some knowledge of the future exists, Elilial could have used oracular sources to place Scorn there.

      The end effect here is highly desirable from Elilial’s point of view: place a trusted agent close to the students in a manner that lets them trust her somewhat, even knowing she is allied with Elilial. From Elilial’s point of view, there is almost no better result.


    3. Think of Scorn as Shaeine without being able to speak the language and a much more combative idea of diplomacy.
      She is definitely not dumb or a brute, brutal yes but that is due to the culture she is from.
      As for pure chance landing her there, who knows. I’d suspect it to be unlikely but it may just be a story required handwave, to me anyway it doesn’t matter I like the character.


    4. Wow, you’ve got me on board! Elilial just has too much to gain here, it’s hard not to suspect that she’s plotting something like this.

      Remember that the Wreath refused to do anything that might help Scorn return home. Did they give a straight answer there? Did Elilial instruct them to do nothing whatsoever for Scorn, then obfuscate their reasons for senting help bt pleading inability?

      Yes, commenter Gabriel, this is a very good theory, thank you for proposing it!


  6. Typos:

    Tellwryn (2)

    for awhile
    for a while


    Once again, Scorn continues picking up the language amazingly fast.

    We still don’t know the history between Ravana and Teal – Ravana was not one of Teal’s tormenters, so they had some other unpleasant history. Teal’s statements imply that she knows Ravana is a dangerous political operator, i.e. she may know about Ravana’s framing of her father for treason.

    Well, some very interesting world background there – the fact that Elilial made some high level not-quite demons and installed them as rulers, including everyone’s favorite (suc/in)cubi creator.

    “This stealth the Black Wreath has, it is the Lady’s gift, and she decides where it does not work.”
    So, if Embras or other Wreath are stupid enough to walk around in broad daylight, trusting their magical anonymity to work, they are in trouble around Scorn. But there’s a follow-up: is the anonymity of Vidius close enough to the same power that Scorn’s ability works on it also? That could happen if both Elilial and Vidius use the same effect and just power it different ways.

    Gabriel’s handling of Ariel is balanced – be a butt, get a butt. However… Ariel literally cannot help herself since that is the way she was made and she can’t change further, except to acquire more knowledge. So any punishment of her cannot actually change her behavior, which makes many of the normal reasons for punishment null and void: deterrence and rehabilitation won’t happen, retribution is blunted, and there is no restoration (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punishment). So the whole point of punishing Ariel is essentially denunciation and/or societal protection. Punishing her makes it clear that Gabriel doesn’t approve of her messages and reassures society that he has some control. But within the current group that makes little sense, because they know this already.


    1. Ravana’s history with Teal and Shaeine happened in the yet unwritten interlude of Shaeine staying with Teal’s family over the summer break. And that’s basically all we know so far.


  7. What is Scorn’s motivation for hunting the Black Wreath here? Yes she is friends with the sophomores, but doesn’t she have a higher loyalty to Elilial, and since the Black Wreath are working on Elilial’s behalf, by extension to them? I can’t see her suddenly betraying everything she’s grown up with without at least seriously questioning it.


    1. She takes her orders from Elilial, not from humans.

      When asked for help, the Black Wreath refused.

      She’s serving/helping an archdemon, a direct superior.

      I see enough motivation for her here. It’s not even betrayal since keeping the Black Wreath in check is part of her job.


  8. Hi, guys. Truckin’ along, here. I’ve had less time to work than I’d hoped this weekend, and also only just fought off the last residual sick. I’m running a wee tad behind. Chapter will be up, and not too late, but with an hour and a quarter to go till my self-appointed deadline I’m not sure it’ll make it under that wire. Stay tuned!


    1. Although missing deadlines is probably not a good practice in general, I’d wonder if something was wrong with you if you NEVER missed one. Besides, as bad things go, your personal brand of tardiness doesn’t even register. Your “late” posts are generally late by what, a couple hours?

      Quality writing >>>> strict promptness.

      Even if you were to go a week without posting any new content, I think the impact would be seen in your hits counter, not in your number of readers. I might adjust how often I check here for updates, going to what I think of as the the Jim Zoetewey/Drew Hayes schedule, where I’ll check in every month or so to catch up with the new content posted since my check in last month. There is nothing wrong with this; Drew and Jim are both amazing writers, and I am a huge fan of their respective stories. But in comparison to you and Wildbow, it takes them a lot more time to amass enough new material to approach a quantity that I consider a satisfying read.

      That said, I can’t imagine you suddenly changing your fundamental work ethic, not over any kind of long-term. So if you need to, remind yourself that it’s okay to be a little late sometimes, in fact it’s downright preferable to be late, if the delay provides you with the opportunity you needed to make a few key improvements, to your chapter!


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