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The gentler slope of the mountain was challenging but not too arduous to climb on foot, but that same angle made for a rather frightening descent when one was pounding down it on horseback at a full gallop. Nonetheless, Arjen’s every step was sure and unfaltering, even when he leaped over the switchbacking stone path that crossed the slope multiple times. He was, after all, no ordinary horse. Trissiny rode low in the saddle, keeping her body angled forward in defiance of the instinctive urge to lean backward against the slope, trusting her steed to manage the way and focusing fully upon the ephemeral sensation she was tracking.
She could feel it in the same subtle way as her customary ability to sense evil, a grating, tingling sense of alarm in the back of her mind. Now, however, augmented by Fross’s wards, there was direction to it. Trissiny could have pointed to each of the arcane wards set up in the streets of Last Rock, and could feel the connections between them. It was like a giant spider web, in a way; the links between the wards, and the threads of magic connecting them to her own divine senses, hummed when touched. Now, she was the spider, able to interpret those patterns of motion to pinpoint exactly where they were stemming from. That had to be an effect of the spell, since she didn’t have such powers of discernment ordinarily; she could barely sense magic, and had never been able to interpret patterns this way before.
The transition from slope to flat ground was jarring at the speed at which they took it, but Arjen handled it smoothly by gathering himself and leaping the last few yards, landing heavily at the start of the street that ran through Last Rock. It was evening, and despite the falling dusk, people were still up and around on the sidewalks; they all stopped what they were doing and stared at the paladin’s arrival. In fact, the number of them standing around suggested that her approach had been watched at least part of the way down the mountainside.
Trissiny wasted not a second before urging Arjen forward, charging down the street at a gallop. “Clear the way!” she bellowed, trusting the horse not to trample anybody. As it was, a few people who were unwisely still in the road had to scamper aside, a couple with shouted imprecations, which she ignored.
Demonic taint was like a beacon, searing at her subtler senses rather than her eyes. She could feel the incubus—assuming it was the same kind of thing that had disturbed her before; unlike Scorn, she wasn’t able to distinguish between demon species by aura alone. This time, though, she also had the network of wards pointing her onward. It wasn’t as if she could see the creature, not enough to make out its shape, but its presence, and its location, were given away completely.
It was up ahead, and on the move, zigzagging about the street as if dodging around people.
Trissiny and Arjen charged after it, the horse’s speed and straight course rapidly closing the distance. People saw her coming, fortunately, though they weren’t all equally adroit at getting out of the way. One man in the process of pushing a wheelbarrow across the road yelped at the sight of the mounted paladin barreling right at him and fled, arms over his head, leaving Arjen to leap over his barrow rather than waste precious seconds dodging around.
They rounded a corner, thundering down a slightly narrower side street, and at that pace reached the outskirts of the town in moments. She still couldn’t see anything in the roads, but she had felt the several ward points as she passed them, and could sense the disturbance leading her own. Up ahead, though, loomed the new Vidian temple. The demon seemed to be heading right for it.
Trissiny reined Arjen back to a canter, then gradually came to a stop, staring ahead through narrowed eyes. It was still there…but not fleeing, now. It seemed, instead, to be simply drifting. Still toward the temple.
Why would a demon head for holy ground? It made no sense.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doin’, young lady?!” a man shouted, stomping up the road behind her.
“My duty,” she said curtly, not taking her eyes off the fixed point up ahead. Something was wrong here… “Keep back. There is a demon nearby.”
“Demon…” The middle-aged townsman paused, peering around uncertainly. Several other residents of Last Rock crept forward behind him, a few within earshot and most giving her distinctly unhappy looks. “I don’t see nothin’ like that.”
“That’s why they’re dangerous,” Trissiny said.
Suddenly, the target ahead moved, zipping off around the side of the Vidian grounds. She started to spur Arjen after it, but then hesitated, sensing its course, and instead guided him the opposite way. Indeed, as she swept around the temple in a wide arc, the invisible presence in front slammed to a halt, having been attempting to circle around it and head back into the town. It abruptly reversed course, arcing back the way it had come, with Trissiny in hot pursuit.
“Clear the road!” she roared as Arjen rounded the amphitheater. This time, the townsfolk were quicker to obey.
“I almost feel bad,” Embras Mogul confessed, his cheerful grin belying the claim.
“Guilty?” Kaisa asked mildly, her tail waving slowly in the wind.
“Not so much that, as embarrassed,” he replied. “This is just more fun than it ought to be. Seems a little petty, doesn’t it?”
He made another smooth motion with his hands, holding them palms down and with fingers shifting in complex patterns, as if he were manipulating the strings of a marionette. Perched as they were at the base of the church’s steeple, it left him no hands free to hold his balance, but the use of infernal magic was, itself, a balancing act at all times. Embras was surefooted enough not to worry about a fall, but still leaned back against the steeple itself for safety’s sake.
“There’s no harm in enjoying one’s work,” she said lightly. “Especially if one’s work encompasses an invigorating chase. Games are meant to be fun, after all. Now, if you unnecessarily taunted or abused your prey after finishing your hunt, that would be beneath you.”
“Quite so,” he agreed. “Not to mention, in this case, bringing me afoul of our agreement that the girl would be unharmed.”
“Yes, indeed,” Kaisa said solemnly. “There is that.”
“Well, I suppose there’s an element of satisfaction in the long history behind this moment,” Embras murmured, smiling coldly as he watched Trissiny chase the phantom demon trace he was puppeteering far below. “Eons of relations between our respective faiths end up either this way, or with swords and fire. I do believe I like this better. Dance for me, little paladin.”
The demon swerved partway down the street, abruptly diving through the doors into the Saloon. Arjen skidded to a halt at Trissiny’s direction, the paladin flinging herself from his saddle before he fully stopped and charging through the swinging doors.
It was a fairly typical night at the establishment, most of the tables occupied and with Jonas Crete currently plucking out a cheerful tune on the old pianoforte. Every conversation in the place abruptly stopped at her entrance, as did the music, and everyone turned to stare; she had burst in hard enough to make both doors slam against the walls to either side.
The presence was there. It had paused just in front of the stuffed grizzly bear, as if taunting her. Trissiny pivoted on one boot and charged at it, sword out, and her aura blazing to life.
Her blade cut a golden arc through the space where she sensed the demon, cleaving a slice from the bear’s belly in the process. A split-second too late; she felt she might have been close enough to nick it, and indeed it seemed to move unevenly as it fled, but move it did, fast enough that she had clearly not finished it off. The invisible demon skittered away toward the doors to the kitchen.
“Hey!” Jonas shouted, jumping upright hard enough to knock over the piano bench at the sudden damage to his bear. “Kid, what the sam hill are you doin’?!”
“Everyone remain calm and in your seat,” Trissiny barked, whirling to race toward the back door as fast as her boots could carry her. “There is a demon in this room.”
A babble of excited, frightened, and irate voices broke out at that.
“A demon? Where?”
“I don’t see no demon.”
“Keep yer head down, you idjit, the paladin knows her business!”
“Aw, shuddup, Carl.”
“Now, hold it!” Jonas shouted, rushing to intercept her as she reached the kitchen doors. “That’s off limits to customers—”
“I’m sorry,” Trissiny said curtly, grasping the door handle, “but I don’t have time for this.”
“Look, miss, this here’s my bar, and I got rules. You don’t have the right—”
“I’m very sorry,” she said. Finding the door locked, and not pausing to wonder how that could possibly work with the saloon obviously in business, she drew on pure divine light as Professor Harklund had taught, letting it fill and invigorate her, and slammed her armored shoulder into the door.
Trissiny felt the distinct electric shock of an enchantment breaking as the door burst off its hinges, and shrugged it off, charging through into the kitchen beyond. Jonas Crete followed on her heels, now shouting imprecations, which she also ignored.
There was a lot of arcane energy in this room, enough to slightly dampen her own aura; no wonder a demon would flee here. The usual fixtures of a kitchen were present, as was a lot of enchanting equipment at whose function she couldn’t even guess. Standing by the sink, a portly middle-aged woman whirled, gaping at her in shock.
Trissiny lunged after the invisible presence, which was making for the rear door. It turned at the last second, though, shooting sideways; she skidded to a halt and lunged around the island stove in the center of the room, seeking to flank it. The thing was faster than she, faster than anything merely biological possibly could be. It backtracked again, dodging around, her, and she pursued, her shield catching a pot full of something and sending it crashing to the floor in passing.
Jonas was still blocking the kitchen door; the demonic presence went back out the way it had come, apparently right through him, which seemed not to phase him at all.
“Move,” Trissiny barked, charging after it.
“That is it!” Jonas bellowed in pure fury, leveling an accusatory finger at her and seemingly unperturbed by the sight of an oncoming paladin. “You park your ass right there, girl, I am gettin’ the Sheriff—”
“MOVE!” Trissiny roared, golden wings flaring into being behind her. Jonas actually staggered backward in surprise, but didn’t get quite all the way out of the doorway. She had to catch him with her shield and shove him against the wall to push past.
The demon had taken full advantage of her momentary distraction to zip back out into the street. Trissiny went after it in a straight line, ignoring all obstacles in her way, which involved shouldering four men roughly aside and bounding onto and over a table, disrupting a poker game and multiple tankards of beer.
She charged out, whirling to pursue the presence on foot, and leaving behind a maelstrom of shouting and cursing.
“What on earth?” Teal asked, frowning. The sound of a galloping horse had been present only briefly, but the shouting which had followed had not died down. In fact, it had seemed to move around, to judge by the way the distant babble had waxed and waned. The students at their picnic had ignored it for a couple of minutes, but by this point, all of them had stopped eating and were frowning toward the end of the alley.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Sekandar said.
“Doesn’t sound like nothing from here,” Iris replied, her tone slightly nervous.
“Trissiny,” Shaeine said softly.
Ravana’s eyes cut to her, the Duchess’s expression growing guarded. “Pardon?”
“They are shouting about her,” Szith confirmed, “those I can make out over the hubbub. She… I’m not sure what she did, but it appears to have upset quite a few people.”
“Those were some loud hoofbeats,” Maureen agreed. “Coulda been that honkin’ great horse a’ hers, I guess. What’d she do ta mix up the locals, though? She’s one a’ the calmer sorts on campus.”
“That very much depends on the situation,” Shaeine said, shifting as if to rise from her chair.
“She is chasing demons!” Scorn exclaimed, actually standing up. “We must go help!”
“Stop!” Ravana said sharply. “Whatever she did has clearly agitated the residents; let us not add to the chaos.”
“Your Grace, permission to go investigate,” Finchley said crisply, stepping forward.
“Please do,” Ravana replied, nodding to him. Teal, meanwhile, had taken Scorn by the arm, attempting to tug her gently back into her chair.
“I have to agree with Scorn,” Sekandar said, frowning now. “If there is a demon in the town, and Trissiny is after it—”
“I’m not certain that actually is a demon,” Shaeine said softly, her eyes following Finchley until he rounded the corner. “I think… This may develop into a serious problem.”
She had hopped astride Arjen again to charge down a narrow side street, causing two women in bonnets to shriek and press themselves against a picket fence, one actually tumbling backward over it into someone’s yard, but Trissiny remained on target, ignoring all distractions. Following her quarry, she dismounted in another flying leap, landing in a garden and pursuing over another fence, around the corner of a house, and through a back gate which she accidentally knocked off its hinges in her hurry to get through. She did not stop to acknowledge the questions, demands and insults that came hurling after her.
Her aura blazed to life and she hurled a blast of pure divine energy forward, swamping the thing as it leveled out in a garden path and she got a clear shot at it. Indeed, it faltered, staggering drunkenly to one side and the size of its presence in her senses diminishing markedly. That was a horribly inefficient attack, however; the divine did not lend itself easily to such spells. She also couldn’t keep up the stream of energy for more than a second, and as soon as she was forced to let up, the demon strengthened again and zipped forward. In fact, it seemed almost to be pushed ahead by the force of her aura.
And this time, it shot right through someone’s front door into a house.
A second later she was after it, yanking the door open and charging in without hesitation.
“Stay where you are!” she barked at the astonished family sitting around the fireplace. “You’re in danger—head for the chapel as soon as I’m gone!”
She tore past them, into a cozy kitchen and out through a back door, which she left standing open behind her.
The next fence she had to vault hid an older man, who had been sitting amid a small stand of rose bushes into which she plummeted, relaxing in a rocking chair. She was forced to adjust course mid-leap, grabbing the fence with her shield hand and barely avoiding slamming her armored bulk into him. Unfortunately, this caused her to land right on a rose bush, and even more unfortunately, the demon put more distance between them, swerving around the side of the house and toward a street beyond.
“Sorry!” she shouted in passing, her aura flashing and healing away the multiple tiny scratches she had accumulated apparently over every inch of skin not covered by her armor. Roses did not make for a friendly place to land.
“My garden!” the man howled behind her, hurling his walking stick ineffectually. “You hooligan!”
Trissiny vaulted over the front garden gate, tore past the cottage and launched herself into Arjen’s saddle beyond, immediately spurring him forward and down the side street.
The demon seemed to be tiring; at least, it wasn’t keeping ahead quite as fluidly, now. Arjen kept creeping up on it, the invisible presence momentarily faltering and then regaining ground in little bursts rather than at an even speed.
Trissiny barely registered the sound of hoofbeats coming up from behind, not acknowledging the second rider until he pulled abreast of her.
“Trissiny, stop!” Gabriel shouted. “You’re going to cause a riot!”
“You can’t sense it?” she replied, eyes fixed on her invisible quarry. “Just follow me, it’s right there!”
“There is nothing there!” he insisted. “Listen to me, you’re being played!”
They rounded a corner, Whisper falling momentarily behind as they charged past the edge of the little town into open space. Up ahead, the marble columns of the small Silver Mission rose up out of the prairie, the Rail line stretching into the infinite distance behind it. Once around the corner, though, Whisper proved faster than Arjen, and Gabriel urged her forward.
A moment later, he actually guided his steed directly in front of her, turning sideways and forcing Arjen to skid to a halt to avoid plowing into them.
“Get out of the way!” Trissiny shouted in fury.
“Will you listen to me!” he bellowed back. “Trissiny, you have to stop, this is not what it seems to be.”
Her eyes widened, and she turned her gaze from him, peering around in dismay. “What—no! It’s gone!”
“Triss, I’m trying to tell you—”
She heeled Arjen forward around him, trotting in a circle in front of the Mission grounds and looking about frantically. “It was right here, but it’s gone! Just…gone. You made me lose it!”
“That is not all you’ve lost!”
Both paladins turned to face the speaker, a dark-skinned woman with her hair in a multitude of bead-decorated braids, wearing the white robes of a Sister of Avei and a thunderous scowl.
“Young woman, get in here this second!” the priestess snapped. “And you, too, boy. Now.”
“There’s a demon—”
“Enough!” Sister Takli shouted. “I don’t care what rank you have, you silly girl, you are causing a disaster! Get yourself off the street and into the Mission. Immediately, before you make this even worse!”
“Aaaand there we are,” Embras said in satisfaction, flourishing both his hands in an unnecessarily showy gesture as he snuffed out the spell mimicking a demon for Trissiny’s senses. “Brought to a halt at the Silver Mission, as directed. And now, I’m very eager to learn how you plan to extricate her from this fracas.”
He turned expectantly, then blinked his eyes in surprise. Where the kitsune had stood moments before, there was only the faint wind, leaving him alone upon the steeple.
“Huh,” he mused. “So that’s what that feels like. Vanessa’s right, that’s just irritating.”
“It’s not good,” Finchley said seriously. “The whole town’s in an uproar. It looks like she dashed through basically…well, everything. There’s people everywhere, all of ’em mad as hell… Your Grace, none of us have done civil disturbance duty, but it was covered in basic. This is exactly the kind of thing that can get really ugly.”
“I see,” Ravana mused. “How unfortunate… I believe it’s best that we keep our heads down for the time being. This will all be quieted soon enough; the Sheriff in this town is most admirably efficient.”
“What are you talking about?” Scorn exclaimed. “There is demon, Trissiny is chasing, people are in danger! We go to help!”
“There is a better than even chance that there is not actually a demon,” said Shaeine. “We discussed the theory that a false trace was being used to taunt Trissiny, remember?”
“She is not stupid,” the Rhaazke retorted. “If she does this, there is a real problem!”
“Maybe,” said Teal, frowning. “Remember what Malivette said? Hands of Avei apparently get…like coursing hounds, almost, around demonic energy. If she’s being manipulated anyway…”
The conversation broke off at a sudden swell of shouting from the town only a few dozen yards distant, the upraised voices obviously furious. They had stepped away from their table, toward one end of the alley, and now turned in unison to frown in the direction of the bellowing.
“This is too risky,” Moriarty said curtly. “Your Grace, I must respectfully insist that we retreat to the campus. We can’t protect you from an angry mob.”
“I am deeply gratified by your concern, Private Moriarty,” Ravana said, giving him a kind smile and placing one delicate hand on his arm. “And for future reference, that will be the last time you use the word ‘insist’ when addressing me. I cannot imagine we are in danger from—”
She broke off abruptly as Szith drew her sword and held the sinuously curved blade in front of her face, its edge pointed at the ground.
“Ravana,” the drow said in a tone just short of outright anger, “I will speak to you as a warrior and the daughter of a line of warriors going back millennia. Whatever titles you hold, you do not outrank your bodyguard unless you wish to die. He is entirely right; this is a ceremonial guard. They are not equipped or prepared to contain a riot. And if we are forced to defend ourselves against angry townspeople, the political repercussions will be an absolute disaster. We retreat—now. Do I need to carry you?”
Ravana stared up at her in uncharacteristically open surprise, blinking her eyes twice, before visibly gathering herself. “Yes. Well… Upon consideration, I believe I see your point. Forgive me, Private Moriarty. Ah…this way?”
“That leads to the prairie outside the town,” said Sekandar, frowning back at the opposite end of the alley. “We’ll be less likely to run into angry townsfolk there…but it’ll take a lot longer to circle around than the other way.”
“We are to run?” Scorn said plaintively. Teal reached up to pat her on the shoulder.
“Other way’s faster, but riskier,” Rook said tersely. “If we turn right here instead of heading out to the main square, then left, we’ll come out at the little square around the well. It’s a straight shot to the mountain stairs from there. Deeper into the town, though.”
“Most of the noise I hear is coming from the other direction,” said Sekandar, turning to Ravana. “I think it’d be better to take the faster path.”
“I concur,” she said, nodding. “Very well, let’s be off. Gentlemen, if you would?”
Rook and Finchley both saluted her, stepping to the head of the group as they set out, Moriarty waiting to fall behind and bring up the rear.
They moved in tense silence around the first corner, speeding up at another surge of angry shouting from behind them. Coming to a stop at the mouth of the alley leading out into the little plaza surrounding Last Rock’s central well, Finchley held up a hand to stop them while Rook carefully peered out.
“It’s clear,” he said quietly, then hesitated. “Ah…wait. Voices… Man, they’re passing by awfully close.”
Indeed the sound of furious shouting was clearly running adjacent to their route now, close enough that the orange flicker of torchlight was visible against the walls of the other side street opening onto the well yard.
“Go,” Ravana said quietly, having finally picked up the soldiers’ urgency. “We can’t hide here; make for the other side.”
The group moved in unison at her order, stepping out into the yard and making their way rapidly to the right, where the mountain loomed up beyond only a few more buildings.
They made it halfway before a dozen people burst into the square from the opposite side, two carrying torches, and all shouting.
Both groups came to a stop, staring at each other.
“Aww, shite,” Maureen muttered.
“Hey, you!” the man in the lead shouted, stalking toward them.
The interior of the Silver Mission was laid out somewhat like an Avenist temple in miniature, but with more informality. The white marble was softened by rugs and wall hangings, the windows were plain glass instead of stained, and there was no statue of Avei nor weapons displayed. Padded benches were set along the walls, and rather than a dais at the back of the main room, there were doors into the other rooms at the rear of the structure.
Trissiny looked quizzically around, still tense and on edge from her chase. “Where’s Sister—”
“Out trying to clean up the mess you were just busy making,” Sister Takli snapped, “along with, no doubt, Father Laws and the Sheriff. What were you thinking?”
“I was pursuing a demon!” Trissiny shot back. “That’s my calling!”
“You tore up half the town, damaged who knows how much property and accidentally assaulted at least two people that I know of, and that’s just what I know from listening to the shouts and talking to the young woman who fled here in a panic after you apparently demolished the Saloon!”
“Nothing’s demolished,” Trissiny said, affronted. “It was barely—”
“Well, you scared the waitress there badly enough that she fled to the Silver Mission,” Takli retorted. “She’s now hiding in the back, thanks to you. Trissiny, running through a town shouting about demons is bad enough even if you manage to do it without smashing through people’s property and kicking them out of your way!”
“What would you have done?” Trissiny shouted at her. “Just leave everyone in danger from a demon attack because it’s not convenient—”
“It’s called grand strategy!” Takli roared back. “You know this! You’ve had the finest strategic education the Sisterhood can provide—or so I thought! There is more to your calling than just destroying unclean things. You are part of something much greater than yourself, and your actions have consequences that reach far beyond yourself. Do you have any idea how much damage you just did? To the Sisterhood, to the University? To the Church, even? The Hand of Avei stampeding through a town like a madwoman is not acceptable!”
“How dare you lecture me!” Trissiny snarled. “Who are you, anyway? I wasn’t called by the goddess herself to have to explain myself to some—”
“If you are going to act like an undisciplined child, General Avelea, I will treat you as one! Either go for that sword or sit yourself down and take your medicine!”
“HEY!” Gabriel shouted.
“WHAT?” both women snarled in unison, rounding on him.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said, “and I’m also sorry to drag us back out there, considering as mad as everyone is bound to be at you right now, Triss, but according to Vestrel there’s something happening on the other end of town that we had better go deal with.” Seemingly unfazed by their glares, he drew Ariel and turned to stride to the door. “Now.”
“What the hell is wrong with you kids!” Wilson shouted, stomping right up to the group and pointing an accusing finger at Ravana, who stood between and somewhat behind Rook and Finchley. “You think you can just do whatever the hell you want in this town?”
“Pardon me, sir,” she said calmly, “but perhaps you have us mistaken for someone else? We were having a quiet dinner until just minutes ago.”
“Oh, sure,” he sneered. “Walk around with your nose in the air all you want, but as soon as folk start tellin’ you off for it, suddenly you don’t know nothin’ about any trouble!”
“Wilson, calm your ass down,” a man in the group behind him said in exasperation. “Them kids weren’t anywhere near the ruckus; you know which one done it. It’s not like she ain’t distinctive.”
“They’re all alike!” Wilson raged, pressing forward and glaring at Ravana, who merely regarded him with a curious expression. “Well, I don’t aim to—”
He broke off, finding himself staring at the tip of Finchley’s staff, the soldier having stepped directly in front of him.
“Sir,” said Finchley coldly, “if you want to pick fights with paladins, that’s on your head, but I’ll have to insist that you step away from the Duchess.”
“Duchess, bah,” Wilson snarled, curling his lip. “I’m just about done takin’ shit from snotty brats I wouldn’t hire to wipe my boots.”
“You are addressing the sitting governor of Tiraan Province,” Moriarty said sharply, pressing through the students to join the others. “Back away.”
“I don’t see you makin’ me!”
“Wilson, you idjit!” a woman exclaimed. “Boys, don’t pay him no mind, you know how he is.”
“Ma’am, this is a different matter,” said Finchley, not taking his eyes off Wilson. “We are on duty, protecting Lady Madouri. You all need to disperse. Now.”
“Now, you just hold your horses,” another man said, stepping forward with a scowl. “Ain’t nobody here doin’ any harm. You got no call to order us around in our own town.”
“Gentlemen, please,” said Ravana, attempting to crane her neck to be seen around the soldiers. “Let us all step back and calm ourselves; there is no need for any—”
“Boy, you get that damn thing outta my face!” Wilson snapped, grabbing the end of Finchley’s staff and jerking it sideways.
Instantly, two more staves were thrust directly into his face, both suddenly bursting alight with charged energy ready to fire; at that range, the static made his hair stand up.
“ON THE GROUND!” Rook roared with uncharacteristic ferocity. “HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!”
“You are under arrest!” Moriarty bellowed. “For interfering with a functionary of the Tiraan Empire and assaulting an Imperial soldier! These are military charges—any resistance can and will be met with deadly force!”
“Wait!” Sekandar shouted fruitlessly. “Men, stop!”
Wilson, meanwhile, had had the bluster apparently spooked right out of him. Wide-eyed and suddenly ashen-faced, he dropped to his knees, whimpering incoherently and placing his hands atop his head.
Behind him, though, the other townspeople were pressing forward, most of them glaring and muttering angrily.
“This is turning very bad,” Scorn growled, trying to push forward.
“Stop,” Teal ordered, catching her arm.
“I will not stand here and be pushed and yelled by these!” the demon grated, shrugging her roughly off.
With a burst of orange flame, Vadrieny emerged, seizing the Rhaazke by the shoulders. “Stop at once before you make this worse!”
“Oh, love,” Shaeine whispered mournfully.
“We’re under attack!” Wilson wailed, throwing himself face-down in the dirt.
A furious outcry rippled through the crowd at Vadrieny’s sudden appearance, complaints and threats jumbling together too rapidly to be discerned from one another.
“This is your final warning!” Moriarty shouted, leveling his staff at the crowd. “Citizens, you will disperse immediately!”
And then, at one edge of the group, a boy of about twelve stooped and picked up a rock.
Rook took aim at him with his own weapon, even as his face went sickly pale.
“Oh, shit,” he whispered.
31 thoughts on “10 – 28”
There are lots of wrong things you can do when confronted by the police or military. Grabbing their weapon is pretty much the wrongest.
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That rock may rival or exceed that level of wrongness depending on what you have planned for it. Excellent whirlwind of a coming together chapter.
I think it’s pretty interesting how even members of Avei’s faith don’t seem to know about the compulsion that the paladins have, although I suppose the large gap in time since the last one could explain that.
Also, hoo boy, there is no possible way this ends well. I mean, come on, people, you did literally, literally, everything wrong. Yeesh.
The last paladin was the daughter of the abess who also raised Trissiny. I’d be surprised if she didn’t know or forgot to tell Trissiny about it if her daughter was like this, too. Maybe this knowledge got lost a long time ago but I can’t imagine it never occured to anyone to wonder why the Hands of Avei were acting strangely aggressive around demons. Ah. Maybe because that’s how everyone used to deal with demons? Kill it as soon as possible and ask questions later?
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I think that’s a good assessment. One of the overarching themes of TGAB is the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the modern world.
It used to be okay to go rampage around killing demons, but maybe not anymore.
Demons aren’t so common that they turn up every five minutes in Viridill for the faith to record it, and paladins themselves may not realise they’ve got the itch as badly as they do when out in the world on their own — just as Triss doesn’t. Not knowing about the demon-tracking compulsion would be understandable.
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Triss might have been manipulated, but there’s no military that allows that kind of talking back, for so many reasons it’s not even funny, especially when you’re dealing with a known dangerous quantity such as firearms or, in this case, demons. Depending on how things play out we will learn if Triss’ rank is actually functional or purely ceremonial at this stage.
Even if this sister is right, no physical harm was caused, and the paladin clearly has better senses then her otherwise there would be no need need for paladins over priests. In this case, Triss has every right to see her demoted, punished and possibly even drummed out depending on the severity of Avei’s punishments.
Whether she actually can or not though? That will be interesting to learn and it will tell us a lot about what Avei’s military actually thinks of their paladin. Will it demoralize Triss if she learns her own position is purely ceremonial? Will she get angry? Or does she actually have this authority and will she finally be exercising it?
The Silver Legions are the military branch of Avei’s cult. We’ve seen from other chapters that while her clergy might be retired legionaries they are not part of the militant branch.
A paladin might be their god’s hands for acting in the world, But the clergy are the voice. So Trissany damn well better listen when they call her out for stunts Iike this.
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Also the sheer tactical stupidity in this chapter is astonishing.
Even given she was absolutely certain of it being a real.threat, you don’t act like someone who just got Paladin after so much time and training…
No physical harm? Go re-read the chapter and get back to us.
The sister was right to rebuke Triss; Triss was out of control, and her panicked, mad rush through town reflects incredibly poorly on Avenists everywhere, including on Avei herself. Even if there was a demon, that’s no excuse for her un-thought-out actions. She could more easily have calmly assesed the situation, THEN acted, after forming a plan. She deserves every bit of trouble she’s in.
I was wondering where Avei was during all of this. Surely she began paying attention somewhere during the chase, right? Surely she was cognizant of the actual facts of the matter, right? How does it serve her purposes to allow her paladin to crash around like a crazy bitch? [gendered language chosen deliberately]
My best guess is that she’s okay with letting Triss learn a lesson, as there weren’t any Avenists in town for her to hurt, and non-Avenists don’t warrant her consideration. Or maybe Avei herself is a psychopath like Syrinx.
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I’m hoping and assuming there’s going to be a better explanation for Triss hounding off after the demonic presence than “she’s compelled to hunt demons and now she can sense where it’s coming from so the sophomores just made the situation worse by helping”.
They’ve all specifically discussed that the pings she’s getting are false positive, deliberate Black Wreath teasing (10-13); she knows the rest of her group has her back–if nothing else, why wouldn’t she find and GATHER them before hounding off after the demon? Is she just picking up the idiot ball again?
Also, she’s had extensive anti demon training, so the fact that it’s “moving faster than anything biological should be” and seemed to “phase right through a person” should be a major, major warning sign to her even if she is on the prowl. She didn’t drop all her tactical knowledge when confronting Malivette. She doesn’t actually go crazy around incubus and succubus, compelled to chase and slay–though she did get rude, yes. So what provoked her to go after it?
My hope is that maybe she’s simply pretending, and deliberately springing the trap, or something like that. Because this is a whole lot of missteps that are uncharacteristically tactically stupid. The fact that we were plopped into the middle of the action without seeing what started it–and thus seeing Trissiny’s reasoning–makes me suspect (and hope) there is more to what she’s doing than the obvious, “she’s being stupid, rawr rawr raging smite evil crazy person”
Or am I missing something?
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coulda also been that hooking her into Fross’ demon sensing array overwhelmed her by effectively tying her directly into a ‘demon’
I believe Trissiny isn’t thinking clearly when her evil detection goes off, she goes into an instinctive, almost primal hunter mode and ignores everything else.
I think Kaisa chose to allow this to happen so she can teach Triss a lesson she needs, most likely how to handle these urges to hunt.
Why did I get the words “Silver Huntress” go through my mind? Although, paladins of Avei are more correctly modified gold ones these days…
Maybe not completely modified. <_<
Silver Huntresses existed side by side with the Hands of Avei, I don’t think the current paladin got anything new the old ones didn’t have (at least not from her patron goddess).
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I don’t think Trissiny is being stupid or over-reacting. Suppose it had been a real demon? Just because there have been fake traces in the past doesn’t mean she can afford to ignore her instincts from now on. That would be a pretty good trick – put out fake demon traces until everyone ignores them like the boy who cried wolf then send in the real demon.
Oh, I think if she has no explanation beyond “she felt a demon and there was no one around to stop her so she just went nuts after it”, then yes, she’s being very stupid, and I don’t think that’s unclear from the text. And I say this despite, or rather because, Trissiny is definitely my favorite character. She doesn’t JUST go nuts and fly off the handle around demons–I mean, Scorn’s a demon, isn’t she? She met demons in the crawl, and she hated them, but didn’t immediately fly off the handle into hunting mode. She isn’t compelled to kill literally every demon she comes across the moment she comes across them. Even in the biggest example to date she didn’t mount a horse and charge at Malivette. She kept tactical considerations in mind (namely, she doesn’t want to go to war with her, it would be a hell of a fight she’d lose unless Avei herself got involved) And in this case, she has extra reason to believe she’s being targeted with false pings, and the demon isn’t real. She wouldn’t simply forget that the moment that same ping starts tickling her senses even if she has a direction associated with it now.
So what pushed her over the edge this time? Was she simply alone, and had no friends to talk her down? I don’t think she’s that much of a mad dog, is she? Did Kaisa lend a helping hand in making it extra convincing? Or did Embras know Tellwyrn wasn’t going to be local and so he could really pull out all stops to make the ping positively radiate infernal energy? If it’s all the later stuff–well, that’s kind of Trissiny’s nature at this point. So fine, that wouldn’t be an idiot ball thing. But this might be somewhat problematic for Gabe, since had he told her earlier he absolutely had evidence the Black Wreath was sending fake demons at her, she would have been LESS likely to fly off the handle, which he’d tried to avoid by not telling her.
Where are Fross, Toby, and Ruda in all this?
Yes, suppose it had been a real demon. How many people were injured? How much damage was being done in town, before she showed up? That’s why she needs to STOP, and OBSERVE. Hell, even Syrinx showed that much forethought and restraint just a chapter ago!
Suppose it was a high ranking demon, one of the remaining priest-kilkers, perhaps. In this hypothetical, rushing in as she did would have gotten herself KILLED.
Really there’s no excuse for her actions. No matter how you look at it, Triss fucked up bad here.
I could be wrong, but I feel like it might also be at least partially due to the fact that this time she could not only sense the demon, but sense the demon precisely in the middle of a civilian population center…
I’ve no doubt that in the past, ‘major demonic presence detected in the middle of a bunch of helpless mortals’ was precisely the sort of situation that warranted Hands of Avei hopping onto their steeds and charging in to save as many lives as they could as quickly as possible.
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Why does it seem like every time Trissany fucks up big time, Gabe has some reason or another to convince himself that it was actually his fault? Ugh.
After reading the last scene again I have to say I’m disappointed in nearly everyone present. The townsfolk really should know better than taking an aggressive stance towards the students, they know they are a bunch of badasses. Hell, they use to bet on their fights! Not only that, many students are nobility, royalty or simply filthy rich so pissing them off is a bad idea, too. The university has existed for ~50 years, that’s at least two human generations. How can they still be this stupid and suicidal? Their bad example lead the boy to pick up a stone to throw. Yes, there’s the influence from Branwen’s speech and the newspaper articles but that should not override something they experienced for decades that dramatically.
I’m also disappointed in Shaeine. Her compulsion to solve everything diplomatically is standing in her way. Sometimes quick action is better, for example she could have simply thrown up a barrier between her group and the townsfolk. Problem not solved, but delayed long enough so that people can calm down.
Scorn gets an excuse because she is still not used to this plane but she needs to wisen up quickly. No matter what else she is, she’s big and scary to people. She needs to realize that townsfolk will react fearfully to her presence, so she needs to be more careful how she acts. Getting pissy and stomping towards them is exactly what she can’t do. Until she knows more and has more self control she really needs to obey her human friends in these matters.
Teal/Vadrieny know better than to flare up during tense situations but they still do it every time. I’m pretty sure Teal can use Vadrieny’s voice in some shape or form, that might be enough to get through to Scorn. And if that doesn’t work, an invincible human can still stop a demon just by being an obstacle. Just stand right in her way or tackle her legs or jump on her back and cover her eyes with your hands… do something that doesn’t involve an infernal show of flames.
I’m ambivalent about the three privates. Technically they are only acting according to regulations but their behaviour isn’t helping in this situation. Of course, they can’t be chill and relaxed when some idiot verbally attacks the sitting governor of a province whom they are protecting at the moment but going straight to lethal force… it might be a bit much.
Ravana and Sekandar are rulers or will be rulers one day, they should know how to deal with agitated crowds.
I will be very disappointed in Ekoi Kaisa if she doesn’t show up in the next few moments to stop the tragedy that is bound to happen if Rook has to fire on a young boy. It’s her fault this happened and while I still believe she has good reasons for and is still on the side of the student (she is a teacher after all), in folklore kitsune teach harsh lessons that often include the loss of reputation, life, property or sanity. I hope this will be a more harmless example.
I really hope Trissiny gets straight up fucking SMOTE for this one. Her bullheadedness has been a problem time and time again, and has made her my least favorite character despite WANTING to like her. It’s just so frustrating to read, time and time again, as she utterly FAILS to learn from making that mistake over and over again.
Hi, gang! Dropping a quick FYI that the Friday update is likely to be a little late. An hour or so, maybe; shouldn’t be deep into tomorrow. It’s two hours till my usual posting time and while I don’t feel blocked, exactly, progress is currently uneven and I keep having to pause and regather my focus or consider where I’m going next. The brain is a fickle beast.
Your patience is appreciated, and please don’t worry when the chapter (I’m pretty sure at this point that it will) fails to appear at midnight Central time sharp. It’s coming!
Thank you for the heads up. ☺
The agitatet comments give me a slight feeling that this chapter is highly anticipated 😇
not to phase him at all
Embras and Kaisa playing with Trissiny. To what end, exactly? The kitsune might do it for fun, as long as Trissiny isn’t harmed (Arachne would have a fit), and Embras is enjoying it, but really, what’s the point?
“Whatever titles you hold, you do not outrank your bodyguard unless you wish to die.”
Go, Szith! And exactly correct – when sh** goes down, the bodyguard can direct the Duchess.
Nice to see the privates actually acting like soldiers for once. I guess the extended leave hasn’t made them go soft yet.
Making Triss realise exactly why some her urges/instincts must be reigned in, I’d guess but… a lot of eggs are breaking that way.
Heh, that turned into a big clusterfuck, now i just want to see how Ekoi can clean this mess.
Lord. I cringed the whole way of the chase. The OTHER group getting stuck in the riot is even immmediatly worse than I feared.
Trissiny, you KNEW the demon wasn’t actually there, you have been told this, the fuck is wrong with you that you forgot.
There’s no excuse for this. None. You KNEW it wasn’t real, you were told, you can’t say you weren’t. It’s like your brain shut off and you ran around barking like a dog that had a steak waved in it’s face.
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