10 – 30

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“It was simply an attack of opportunity,” Lord Vex informed the Imperial couple, who were both studying the newspapers laid out on their breakfast table. “Embarrassing Bishop Snowe won’t yield any significant dividends, and anyway she quickly regained control of the crowd. I’ve had my people in Vrin Shai keeping track of her whole group; one saw the opportunity last night and took it, which I approve. The significant aspect of this is that it demonstrates she is there on her own, not on assignment from the Archpope.”

“How so?” the Emperor inquired.

“She was unaware of the content of those newspapers,” Vex replied. “After the effort that had to have gone into placing the Archpope’s agenda into them, seeing stories run that so neatly countered it is a serious matter, and Justinian is too smooth to have failed to notice, or to be so easily tripped up. He would not permit anyone operating on his agenda to be so out of touch. Thus, Snowe is assisting Syrinx for her own purposes.”

“Hm,” Eleanora mused. “And what do you make of that?”

“It’s too early to tell anything definitive, or useful. At present, my general policy toward Syrinx is to leave her alone.”

“You considered it established that she was deep in Justinian’s camp the last time we spoke of it,” the Empress said sharply.

“Indeed, your Majesty,” Vex answered, “but we must consider why each of his inner circle are there. Snowe is personally and ideologically loyal to Justinian, Varanus speaks loyally for a cult which also backs the Archpope, and Darling is playing all factions against each other for his own purposes. He and Syrinx are the angles I will use when it is time to act against Justinian directly; that woman has no true interest in anything but herself. For that reason, I choose not to risk antagonizing her at this time. The recent trouble that caused her to be exiled to Viridill indicates she still has a vindictive streak.”

“With regard to that,” said the Emperor, finally looking up from the newspaper, “your report on the matter suggested an internal Avenist shake-up that might end with Shahai or Locke permanently fulfilling Syrinx’s role. Does that factor into your calculations?”

“Very much so, your Majesty. If Syrinx ends up retaining her position, it won’t do to irritate her; if she does not, it’s not worthwhile to invest in her. Frankly, I would prefer either of the elves you mentioned, but we will work with whatever resources are available. It is far too early to consider moving openly and aggressively against Justinian, but when that time comes, turning the cults against his Church will necessarily be a central aspect of the plan. Having the Avenists and Eserites positioned to strike at the heart of his organization will serve us well on that day.”

“It seems to me,” said Eleanora as she pushed aside the paper to reach for her teacup, “that getting these stories into the papers is a far greater victory than anything involving Snowe. This was admirably quick work, Quentin.”

“Thank you, your Majesty,” he said with a languid little smile. “And I concur with your assessment. Momentarily tripping up Bishop Snowe was merely one sign of our success, and one of the less important.”

“How did you counteract Justinian’s influence on the newspapers?” asked the Emperor, smiling thanks at Milanda when she stepped forward to refill his teacup.

“Justinian thinks in terms of power and force,” said Vex. “He has leveraged several factors to maintain a hold on the papers: their near-infiltration by the Black Wreath, the protection of the blessings the Church provided after that, and especially the financial benefit of their association with Bishop Snowe. A newspaper only looks monolithic from the outside, however, and the print media as a whole barely do at all. It is not in their nature to all point in one direction; there is significant infighting within each editorial staff, and deep rivalries between papers. A good many editors and reporters rather resent their reliance on Snowe, and virtually everyone resents having the Archpope dictate to them.” He smiled and blinked slowly, a distinctly catlike expression. “Intelligence services and newspapers have in common that we attract Veskers; as many as half my staff are affiliated with that faith. I am in a firsthand position to know that there is little bards hate more than being told what to say. Rather than trying to attack Justinian’s influence on the papers directly, I have simply had my people place the information we want disseminated in front of elements within the media whom I have identified as particularly resentful of the Church’s heavy hand.”

“Elegantly done,” the Emperor said with approval, picking up the paper again. “And these? The two lead stories are interviews with this Punaji weather-witch and the dwarven inventor. Surely that wasn’t all…”

“Indeed not, your Majesty. They were simply the two whose stories most quickly got out, which has as much to do with luck as anything I did. We targeted and nudged a selection of carefully chosen University graduates.”

“Among that crowd,” Eleanora pointed out, “there are likely several who saw immediately what you were doing.”

“I don’t doubt it, your Majesty. They can also see where their own interests lie; some may be curious enough to come to Tiraas, exploring these political currents, but I anticipate no hostile action toward us. Others will get their stories out there in the days to come, as they and various reporters follow the trails of breadcrumbs I’ve placed between them.”

“Is it your intention to replace Justinian’s hold on the newspapers with our own?” Sharidan asked.

“That would be quite difficult, your Majesty, and in my opinion also a mistake. As I said, it is not a natural state of affairs for every paper to tell the same story in the same voice. The great masses of people will think whatever they are told to think by whoever they respect most, but those who are clever enough to influence the game will have taken note of the recent spate of attacks on the University, and realized it signified an organized campaign. For now, it better serves our interests to re-assert the natural back-and-forth between differing opinions among the media. I will, of course, be taking steps to promote this theme among those who speak up on behalf of the University; I chose these candidates carefully to suggest it.”

“Yes, I noticed that,” Sharidan agreed. “Both of these seemed to go on at some length about how their noble-born and otherwise powerful classmates benefited from associating with commoners like themselves.”

“Indeed, your Majesty. A good propaganda campaign establishes a narrative; that’s why bards are so attracted to the business, I suspect. The story we are telling here is an egalitarian one about elevating common folk into heroes, and teaching the more highly-born to appreciate the lot of the common man. I am assisted in this in that it happens to be more or less true; it was probably not her intention, but Professor Tellwyrn has liberally seeded her student body with some rather humble voices, and their influence has been noted in the conduct of many of the University’s noble-born graduates. Nor did she invent the tactic. Your Majesties are aware that history’s more successful noble lineages, like the Punaji royal family and House Madouri, have always taken steps to keep themselves integrated with their subjects.”

“The Madouris are simply more careful than most aristocrats about inbreeding,” the Empress said with mild distaste. “They breed their children with the same care they do racing thoroughbreds. Still, your point is well-taken.”

“How do you intend to proceed?” the Emperor inquired, pausing to take a sip of tea.

“For the time being, as is,” said Vex, folding his hands behind his back. “Though I am observing and managing it somewhat, the rest of this campaign will be an organic process of the University alumni I contacted coming forward and adding their voices to the debate. More direct action may become appropriate depending on what the Archpope does, but for now, things proceed satisfactorily. However, there is the other matter about which I asked to speak with you. An opportunity has unexpectedly arisen to rap Justinian’s knuckles far more sharply.”

Sharidan and Eleanora exchanged a glance, then leaned froward in unison. “Do tell,” said the Emperor.

“First thing this morning, I received a communication from Professor Tellwyrn. Much to my surprise, she was, in fact, relaying a message from Gabriel Arquin.” Again, that feline smile spread across Vex’s features. “I believe your Majesties will like this.”

“What is this stuff?” Trissiny asked warily, frowning into the cup of thin black liquid Ruda had just poured for her. A large pot of the stuff sat next to the plate of sandwiches on their breakfast table, filling the air with an unfamiliar but delightful scent.

“It’s called coffee,” Ruda said cheerfully. “And it smells a hell of a lot better than it tastes. But it’s a powerful stimulant that makes black tea look like water. I figured some of us would be grateful for the boost, since some of us were up late knocking over and then fixing up the town, before Arquin requested everybody meet for an early breakfast.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Gabriel said, wincing. “We need to have a pretty important discussion, and as soon as possible… But by the time we got back to campus last night, everybody was pretty dead on their feet. And also, not everybody was present.”

“I note you did not invite any of the freshmen,” Shaeine observed.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “and we may wanna bring them up to speed, depending on what we decide here. But I thought, for now, it’d be best to keep this between us.”

“Hlk!” Everyone turned to stare at Teal, who was in the process of setting down her cup and making a face. “…sorry. It’s not the first time I’ve had coffee, but it always takes me by surprise. I mean, that smell, and then it tastes like a mud puddle under a salted turd factory.”

“I like it!” Scorn proclaimed, holding out a suddenly empty cup. “Almost like home! You are too afraid of strong flavors in this world. More, please?”

“Uh…” Ruda eyed the towering demon up and down warily. “I’m not sure that’s a great idea…”

“It’s probably fine,” said Fross. “She’s got a lot of body mass, and anyway the kinds of adaptations that make creatures resistant to infernal corruption also makes them less susceptible to mind-altering stimuli in general, so Rhaazke likely have a high tolerance.”

“By the same token,” said Ruda, “I’m not sure I want to see a Rhaazke on a coffee high.” She poured Scorn another cup, however.

“I’m really sorry I wasn’t there to help, Triss,” said Fross. “I sensed it when the wards were triggered, but something was really off about… Oh, uh, I guess Gabriel should go first, since he asked for the meeting. But this may be urgent, too, so we should talk about it before we go to class.”

“Duly noted,” said Gabe, who had touched neither his sandwich nor his coffee. He folded his arms on the table, drew in a deep breath and let it out as a sigh. “All right, well… I guess I have to start by apologizing. I did something pretty stupid. And we came scarily close to somebody getting hurt because of it.”

“Note the lack of gasps following that confession,” Ruda said dryly.

“Ruda,” said Toby, frowning at her. “Quit. Okay?”

“Fine, fine. Spit it out, Arquin, how bad did you fuck up this time.”

Gabriel tightened his mouth for a moment, then raised his eyes to look at all of them. “Okay, well… The truth is, I’ve been keeping information back from you. I know more than I’ve let on about what’s happening around here.”

“Why?” Juniper asked, frowning.

“Mostly because…I thought some of you would be mad about how I was getting it. I’ve, uh, asked the valkyries to follow people around and report on what they were doing.”

“What?” Trissiny exclaimed, her eyes darting nervously about. “Follow people? Us?”

“No, no!” Gabriel said hastily. “None of you, don’t worry. But, um… The two new priestesses in town. Lorelin Reich and Sister Takli. And…the Black Wreath warlocks who’ve been messing with us.”

A short silence descended, in which they all stared at him.

“Annnnd,” Ruda drawled at last, “the excellent reason we’re just now hearing about this would be…?”

“It’s not an excellent reason,” Gabriel said glumly, “it’s a dumb one, and I only did it because I wasn’t thinking it through. Yesterday I went to talk with Val about it, because I really didn’t like keeping things from you guys and it was weighing on me even though it had seemed like the right thing for a while, and… Well, he kind of pointed out that by controlling information I was trying to control the group. Which…was a shitty thing to do. I was just afraid somebody would do something abrupt and get hurt, and didn’t stop to consider what a jackass I was being by making assumptions like that and having the gall to manipulate you. So… I’m sorry, everyone. That was stupid as hell. I didn’t mean any insult or harm, I just messed up.”

“Okay,” said Ruda with a shrug. “Apology accepted. What’d you learn?”

Everyone turned to stare at her.

“Um, what?” Gabriel asked uncertainly.

Ruda raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I see how it is. Ruda’s the temperamental one who cusses everybody’s ear off over the slightest thing, right? So that’s what you’re expecting here.”

“Uh, that’s kind of true, though,” Fross pointed out.

“Fine, you want details?” Ruda planted an elbow on the table and pointed at Gabriel. “You, Arquin, are a dumbass. You never think this shit through and you’re always fucking up one thing or another. But here’s the deal I’ve noticed about you: it’s never malicious, and it’s always an exciting new way of fucking up.”

“That’s fantastic, thanks,” he muttered.

“It is pretty fuckin’ fantastic, and shut your grumblehole till I finish. You make new and different mistakes because you don’t repeat the old ones. You learn. Annoying as it frequently is to clean up after you… Hell, you’re doin’ constantly better and you try. Can’t fairly ask a lot more than that of anybody, now can we?”

“Not for the first time,” Shaeine observed, “Ruda’s viewpoint is surprisingly insightful. I cannot say I don’t somewhat resent your actions, Gabriel; I had thought that by this point there was more trust between us.”

“I’m sorry,” he said miserably. “I’ll make it up to you, somehow.”

The priestess gave him one of her warm little smiles. “I am sufficiently confident of that to let go of the matter and trust it will happen.”

“Agreed,” Toby said firmly. “I’m glad you’re doing better, Gabe, but seriously. Do not try something like that again. Failing to share information in dangerous situations is what gets people badly hurt, or worse.”

“Yeah,” Gabriel said, nodding. “Agreed. Again, I’m sorry.”

Another lull fell; several of them shifted to look at Trissiny, who was staring fixedly at Gabriel. She finally glanced aside, meeting their glances, then shook her head and spoke in an oddly quiet tone. “Ruda’s right.”

“Well,” Gabriel said with a hesitant grin, “thank—”

“What did you learn?” she interrupted.

He broke off, staring at her, then blinked and cleared his throat. “Right, well… Okay, there are two things that I think are important. First of all, the Wreath have been a little careless because they’re used to stealth magic and shadow-jumping away. The stealth can work on my girls, but valkyries can actually follow a shadow-jump, which I don’t think the Wreath knows. They’ve been watching conversations that took place where the Wreath thought they were in private. And apparently, they don’t mean us any harm.”

“That is difficult to credit,” Shaeine observed.

“Not very so,” Scorn disagreed, gesticulating with her again-empty coffee cup. “We have here Vadrieny and Teal, yes? They are very important to the Wreath. Not to be trusted, these warlocks, but they will not do harm to us on purpose. Manipulate us, yes.”

“That’s…pretty much the long and the short of it, actually,” said Gabriel slowly, giving Scorn a thoughtful look. “What they’re trying to do is goad us into chasing them so they can lead us into learning things about the Universal Church.”

“That does fit,” Toby said pensively.

“It worked,” Trissiny muttered, staring at the table.

“Here’s the thing, though,” Gabriel went on. “I think Tellwyrn is allowing this.”

“What?” Juniper frowned heavily. “You’ve gotta be kidding. You know how Tellwyrn gets when people threaten her students!”

“However,” Shaeine countered, “if they are specifically not threatening us, and in fact trying to help us learn something…”

“Oh, I could totally see that,” Fross chimed. “I mean, c’mon, think about the things she has us do. We keep getting sent into politically volatile situations to try and fix them, not to mention dangerous stuff like the Crawl and the Golden Sea. And these are supposed to be educational excursions. Tellwyrn wouldn’t be shy about letting the Wreath play around with us, as long as she had some control.”

“And she does,” Gabriel agreed. “Specifically, she’s got Professor Ekoi riding their tails. There was a bit of a lull before last night while the warlocks tried to figure out just what Ekoi was and what to do about it. It seems they actually managed to speak with her, though, and apparently reached some kind of agreement, because…” He trailed off, wincing. “Well, then there was last night.”

“So,” Teal said, frowning deeply, “we can consider this…a University-sanctioned activity?”

“How utterly typical,” Trissiny growled.

“Tellwyrn, it sounds she is a good teacher,” Scorn observed. “The world is not easy, even a soft one like this. Best to learn hard things in hard ways, while there is someone to watch over and keep you safe, yes? Then when you go out to the world, you are not surprised by how hard it hits.”

“I believe that is Tellwyrn’s educational philosophy precisely,” said Shaeine.

“Let’s back up for a moment,” said Toby. “Gabe, you said the Wreath are trying to lead us by the nose into something about the Universal Church?”

“Well, that’s the other thing,” Gabriel said grimly. “You remember our last discussion about this, after Bishop Snowe’s little stunt? We decided the Archpope was being sneaky, but he was probably a lower priority than the Wreath. Well, Vestrel and her sisters had been keeping tabs on those two new priestesses, as I said. First off, both of them are Universal Church loyalists, sent here specifically by Justinian.”

“How certain are you of that?” Trissiny asked quietly.

“Takli has a magic mirror,” he replied. “It’s connected to another one in the Cathedral in Tiraas; Aelgrind actually watched her communicate with a handler back there. Aside from that, though, she hasn’t done anything; her assignment is to try to bring you around to the Archpope’s side, Triss.”

“Really,” Trissiny said, scowling. “And she thought yelling at me would accomplish that?”

“Under the circumstances, I could see that being a valid opening move,” said Shaeine. “You grew up in the military, Trissiny; I would assume that being spoken to sharply about your mistakes is not an unfamiliar experience for you. A campaign such as that would take considerable time. She probably expects to build a relationship with you over the course of months or years.”

“Creepy,” Juniper muttered.

“Yeah, Takli’s… Honestly, that may be creepy, but it worries me less,” said Gabriel seriously. “The real problem is Lorelin. Guys… In all honesty, I think the Wreath has a point, here, in that she’s worse than anything they’re doing.”

“Here,” Toby said firmly. “Whatever she’s done may be worse than they’re doing here. Never forget who the Black Wreath are or what they’re capable of.”

“Yeah,” Gabriel said ruefully, “I think that may be part of what tripped me up. I wanted to wait and see what they and she did, and I thought you guys would insist on going after them directly…”

“Oh, for fuck’s fucking sake!” Ruda burst out. “Arquin, what did this woman do?”

“Right, sorry,” he said, grimacing. “Well… At the higher levels of Vidian formal casting are varieties of misdirection and emotional influence that are almost like fae magic. I’ve just barely started studying this stuff; I’m nowhere near being able to do it, but I know what it is. Well, Lorelin has an apparatus set up in her private chamber that lets her extend her influence over the whole town.”

“Ohhh, I don’t think I like where this is going,” Fross whispered.

Gabriel nodded grimly. “It wasn’t specifically meant to harm, just to aid in Justinian’s propaganda campaign. The effect she’s been trying to put into place is meant to make people more emotional, more susceptible to manipulation.”

“So,” Teal said slowly, “for example… If a paladin went chasing a demon through the town, people who might otherwise take that in stride…”

“That fucking asshole,” Ruda snarled. “A priest is supposed to serve people! You don’t fucking do that to a whole town full of people!”

“I say we go right to Tellwyrn with this,” said Juniper decisively. “Last Rock may not be exactly her domain, but that could affect the students, too!”

“Actually, I already went to Tellwyrn,” said Gabriel. “The scrolltower office was closed last night, and anyway, I thought it as a little sensitive for public transmission… So I asked her to get a message to the Imperial government.”

“That is an excellent idea,” Shaeine said approvingly. “Whoever else is affected by this Lorelin Reich’s actions, that was an abusive and highly illegal magical effect to place over a whole town full of Imperial civilians.”

“Sorry for not including you guys in that,” Gabriel said hastily, “but I wanted to get it done as quick as possible, and everybody was already off to bed at that point. And yeah… I want to go down there and punch her teeth in as much as everybody else, but in this case I think it’s better to do it properly. Tellwyrn agreed. She was, uh, much less condescending than usual about it.”

“I think you still should do something,” said Trissiny. “Or say something at least, before the Empire takes over. You’re the Hand of her god.”

“True,” Gabriel admitted, frowning in thought.

“Um, I think I have something to add to that,” said Fross. “Okay, Trissiny, this is about what I was going to tell you—last night when the wards went off, the signal was really strange. It was a false demon trace, like we suspected, but there were elements to it that looked peculiar.”

“Dangerous?” Trissiny asked, frowning.

“Actually, no, not that I could see. That’s why I didn’t come help; I know you can take care of yourself and I didn’t think you were in any danger. It seemed more important to figure out what was happening, because there were layers to that spell that were clearly aimed at more subtle effects.”

“What did you learn?” asked Shaeine.

“Well!” The pixie bobbed up and down twice. “First I recognized an energy signature in the spell matrix that really jumped out at me, because the only place I’ve ever seen before is in Juniper’s aura.”

“Wait, what?” the dryad exclaimed, straightening up in alarm.

“Specifically in the block in your aura. It’s a frequency that relates somehow to Avei. See, I don’t detect divine magic directly but its presence can be inferred from how fae and arcane energies are changed by it. Took me most of the night to unravel this and study it properly, but I’m pretty sure what I found is… Okay, there’s that energy signature, right? Only it’s set up with a disruptive counter-frequency.”

“Wait, you’re saying the Black Wreath has the ability to disrupt my connection to Avei?” Trissiny exclaimed.

“Oh, no, absolutely not, that’d never work. You could maybe do that to a priest, but if you did it between a deity and her paladin, Avei would notice and step right in, which is exactly what the Wreath doesn’t want. No, it doesn’t try to sever your connection to her, but… Um, for want of a better term, agitate it. It really puzzled me, because it seemed like what it would do is diffuse her influence more broadly through your own aura. I don’t really know the specifics of how you’re linked to her, but that seems like, if anything, it would make you more in tune with her, not less.”

“Of course,” said Scorn, shrugging when everyone turned to look at her. “The Wreath, they are wanting to get a reaction, yes? Well, Trissiny is a trained warrior—maybe not crafty, but also not stupid. So if they can make her more like the big angry goddess and less like the soldier, maybe she is more easy to manipulate.”

“That’s…absolutely horrifying,” Toby breathed. “Have they always been able to do this?”

“Surely not,” said Trissiny, her eyes wide. “It has to be a new spell. I mean, if the Black Wreath could do that… Someone would have noticed before now.”

“How, though?” Gabriel asked. “Think about it. Detecting this required them to be doing it in proximity to a custom made divine-arcane fusion detection ward, under the direct attention of a mage who, being fae, is naturally sensitive to emotionally manipulative magic. How many times do you think those circumstances have lined up? And quite frankly, almost nobody gives Fross credit for being as smart as she is; it probably wouldn’t even occur to them that she could isolate and figure out that element in their spell.”

“It would be an extremely sensible spell for the Wreath to employ,” Shaeine said quietly. “Virtually no warlock is anything resembling a match for a paladin, particularly one of Avei. Yet, Hands of Avei have fallen to the Wreath in years past, usually through trickery. Any measure that could make a Hand more susceptible to their ploys would be immensely valuable to them.”

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Trissiny whispered.

“And that is why you don’t turn your back on the Wreath,” Toby growled. “Whatever their intentions right now, they are still capable of doing things like this. They must absolutely not be trusted.”

“Yeah,” Ruda agreed, “but the fact remains… After these events, we pretty much can’t deny that the Archpope is also on our enemies list. Him and them, they’re apparently after the same thing: they want control of the paladins.”

“Bring them,” said Scorn, raising her chin. “Everybody bleeds the same!”

“It’s not as simple as that,” said Shaeine, nodding to her, “but at the core of that sentiment is truth. We must be prepared to contend with anyone and everyone who means us harm.”

“Uh, guys?” said Juniper hesitantly. “I know it’s kind of anticlimactic and I hate to break this up, but…we have class. We’d better get moving or we’ll be late for Tellwyrn. And she barely needs an excuse to be a jerk anyway.”

Gabriel sighed and slid off the bench. “Yeah… Well, needless to say, we aren’t done talking about this.”

“Agreed,” said Toby, rising as well. “We know what we’re dealing with, now; we need to decide on a course of action.”

They got to their feet with some stretching and groaning—it had indeed been a very long night for several of them.

“Gabriel,” Trissiny said quietly, catching his sleeve as they stepped into the rear of the line that straggled off toward Helion Hall. “Did you really think I would charge face-first at the Wreath if you told me this was going on?”

He winced. “I really wasn’t thinking in conscious terms, Triss. I’m sorry, nothing personal was meant—it was just a knee-jerk reaction. And it wasn’t just about you!”

“The rest of our class is two pacifists, two fairies, a diplomat and a competent combat strategist,” she said woodenly. “If you thought somebody was going to fly off the handle and do something violent, that pretty much leaves me, doesn’t it?”

“I didn’t—”

“And you didn’t even have to think about it,” she added, staring ahead at Toby’s back.

“Triss,” he said miserably, “this isn’t a reflection on you. I was an idiot. Please don’t be mad…”

“I don’t…think…I am,” she murmured. “I’m honestly not sure what I think. I’m…honestly not sure I’d have any right to be mad, after last night.”

There was a small rooftop terrace at the edge of Helion Hall’s large central dome, where a little round table and chair were attached to the stone roof. No stairs or other access led to it, which was hardly a barrier to many of those who dwelt on this campus. It was a signal, though: Professor Tellwyrn did not desire to share her private breakfast nook. Fortunately, most of the students never even learned it was there, otherwise a good many of them would have taken that for a challenge.

She sipped the remainder of her tea, watching the sophomore class trickle toward the building from the terrace below.

“I am extending a great deal of trust, Kaisa,” she said quietly.

“So you are!” Ekoi replied cheerfully, stepping out from behind her, where she had definitely not been a moment before. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed. I’m so proud of you!”

“I’ll accept certain risks as necessary,” Tellwyrn said bitingly, “but let’s keep the recklessness to a minimum, shall we? Last night was probably the first time in all of history that dragging Mabel Cratchley into a problem actually helped it.”

“That’s because of the dragging, Arachne,” said Ekoi, perching on the edge of the table. “You always drag people, or push them, or threaten them. If you do it properly, people will do what you want without once suspecting it wasn’t fully their own idea.”

Tellwyrn shook her head. “I am still not sanguine about this. Whatever assurances were given by this Mogul character, or Elilial herself, tolerating the Wreath’s presence here is an invitation to disaster.”

“Not, I maintain, if we manage them with care. Arachne,” the kitsune said more gently, “this will work. You’ve made progress with Trissiny, but, in truth, you’re the wrong person to reach her; you are just too much like her. I have been guiding young minds longer than you have existed—at least, as far as we know. Believe me, I know how to get through to her.”

Tellwyrn sighed. “All right, it’s not as if you haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt. But when Avei comes stomping down here to throw one of her divine fits about me letting the Wreath play with her paladin, you can talk to her. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a class.”

She vanished with a soft pop of displaced air, leaving behind the empty teacup.

Kaisa shifted her body to peer down at the approaching students, her tail waving eagerly.

“It’s a date.”

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51 thoughts on “10 – 30

  1. I had this really vivid dream where I was watching the special features on the TGaB DVD. Specifically, an interview with Forest Whitaker on his role as Longshot McGraw. Which was doubly weird, because I always sort of pictured Morgan Freeman playing that part.

    It’s an idle fancy of the subconscious, though; there will never be any such film. Not that I’m not ambitious enough or arrogant enough to want to see my work adapted, but this story is just not filmable. It’s too huge and convoluted (even after the editing and slimming down that it needs anyway) to work as a movie series, and the magic system would break the SFX budget if it was shot as a TV show. Game of Thrones works because it’s low fantasy; TGaB magic is extremely flashy. Just getting the gnomes right would be a CGI nightmare.

    I actually had the thought a while back that the only adaptation offer I would take seriously (yes, haha, note the overweening arrogance of me in even considering it) would be a pitch from an anime studio. In that particular medium, TGaB’s long form would actually fit quite well. Its balance of action and humor and occasionally bawdy tone would also be familiar to that audience.

    Next time, on Things That Will Never Happen…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would pay good money to see Forest Whitaker as McGray. I don’t think I’m going to be able to picture him as looking like anyone else now…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Quite a lot of people in this story are black, pretty much everyone with Tiraas ancestry is.


    2. Ever since I started listening to the Dresden Files audio books, pretty much everything I read is narrated by James Marsters. Yes, even when the character is a woman. Especially then.


    3. Of course you.saw withacker, Freeman is too expensive :p

      Still, agreed, this would do very well as an animal with say 6-8 episodes pr book.


  2. So all those people who were complaining about Trissiny being reckless and out of character now have their explanation, which is good. Mind control is such a scary thing to me, and I really pity Trissiny here, especially since she seems to taking it as a personal failing.

    On a completely unrelated note, I think I just figured out the single biggest thing that is inhibiting my personal enjoyment of your story: there are no factions that I sympathize with. I like individual characters, but every single faction, from the cults to the Empire to the Narissians to the Wreath, is either repugnant to me or incorporates repugnant (again, to me) practices. It’s interesting how well you’ve done the Grey and Grey Morality, but it does make me unhappy that I can’t cheer for anyone to come out on top because I honestly feel that any of the groups we’ve seen winning this would result in things becoming worse.


    1. You realize this is a vote that the Eserites ‘win’ and keep everyone else from power-tripping too far? I personally find it funny that the anarchist muggers, pickpockets and con artists union is the closest this world has to morally uncompromised people truly working for the common good.


      1. Eserites are clearly not anarchist, they have a clear structure with central authorities, force everybody to join or have “problems”. They practice murder, extorsion and if the early chapters of flora/fauna are a hint, forced prostitution.
        They are the most morally compromised group we have yet seen and that’s saying something when we see the empire unleashing demon on their cities and the universal church mindcontroling an entire village.

        Again, the only group we have yet to see doing something really bad is the wreath.


      2. There was no FORCED prostitution IIRC… Flora and Fauna signed up for a gig they hated and were ill-suited for. Once they were enlisted, so to speak, then yes, their madam reasonably demanded that they work. But no one put them into the situation but themselves

        Liked by 1 person

      3. We haven’t seen it in narrative yet, but it’s been stated on good authority that they feed traitors to demons and force their children to watch. They also started multiple wars and their goal is to murder the gods. The gods may be bastards, but there’s been no evidence so far to suggest they deserve to be killed.


      4. “But no one put them into the situation but themselves”
        That’s quite debatable. Note that forcing people to do something doesn’t need to be done with force, psychological coercion is a thing.

        “They also started multiple wars”
        They started 3 wars more than 3000 years ago if I remember well. Since then nothing. If we see their act nowaday, like the chaos crisis, they were the one who acted in a way that would minimize casualty, the pantheon church, not so much.

        “it’s been stated on good authority that they feed traitors to demons and force their children to watch”
        Note that being betrayed tend to get them executed and/or tortured by Tiraas.
        Not that i’m defending the practice. Note that the pantheon also killed family of Elilial cultist in front of their children.

        “The gods may be bastards, but there’s been no evidence so far to suggest they deserve to be killed.”
        To be honnest, Elilial seemed to have turned against the pantheon after she was bannished and emprisonned. We really don’t know who shot first in their war. If the goddess of judgment turning her back on the pantheon is a hint, Elilial may be in the right.
        Also lots of ancient people seem to think that Elilial was one of the god that made the less victims amongst the people when she was intervening.


      5. Ee…ee: So you’re saying that Flora & Fauna were psychologically coerced into prostitution? Can you back this up in any way from the text?

        I get that “psychological coercion” is a concept that exists, sure. But it simply doesn’t apply here. Do you seriously believe that there is an Eserite (even a group of Eserites) in the world that could really coerce two headhunters to do ANYTHING, psychologically or otherwise? No Eserite short of the Big Guy himself could bind even one headhunter to his will.

        But perhaps you didn’t mean F&F specifically. Is there evidence of the Guild forcing ANYONE at all into prostitution? One, I don’t think there’s anything anywhere in the text even hinting toward this, and two, doing so would be completely counter to Eserite philosophy as I understand it. The vast majority (if not the totality) of things you describe as immoral (stealing, murdering, etc.) are done to specific targets for discrete reasons, usually using theft as the tool to take the rich and arrogant down a peg. Murder is used even more sparingly, IIRC it’s confined to psychopaths and a few specific individuals whose crimes are deemed flagrant enough to justify it. It’s not like they just steal and kill and prostitute willy-nilly, for kicks or whatever. The Guild is quite deliberate about these things.

        Needless to say, I think I would have followed Eserion if I lived in this ‘verse (while marrying Bard, as long as I’m fantasizing about this), but I’m not misrepresenting the Thieves Guild on any point here, to the best of my understanding.


      6. They said so themselves :
        “That woman snared us into…into utter debasement. ”
        Then again, you could say they agreed but consider they were fugitives in a bad situation with intense pressure to fit in. That’s the problem with this kind of establishment, for each truly consenting people in it you have at least 2 or 3 that are there because they have no choice.

        “Do you seriously believe that there is an Eserite (even a group of Eserites) in the world that could really coerce two headhunters to do ANYTHING”
        Physically? No. Psychologically? Yes, as much as they could coerce anyone else.

        “Murder is used even more sparingly, IIRC it’s confined to psychopaths and a few specific individuals whose crimes are deemed flagrant enough to justify it”
        Hem, the bishop sent his apprentices on a rampage.
        The guild has a reputation to disappear the concurence or anyone that didn’t show “respect” (and by that they seem to mean fear according to darling own words with the empire marshall).
        They commonly practice torture, their enforcer being known to apply violence.

        “I think I would have followed Eserion if I lived in this ‘verse”
        Eserion is followed by thieves, burglars, con artists and criminals. Seriously, we have a god of misdemeanor, it’s in his portofolio and you would follow him? That’s only my opinion and maybe I have some professional bias but in itself pledging yourself to a god whose main activity is considered universaly detrimental to any society seems a bit like a problem in itself.
        The fact that the pantheon tolerate such a god who apparently act against anyone trying to suppress the thief problem is sufficient in itself to put them in the bastard category.
        How do you do to build a society when you have a divinely enforced guild of thieves whose excess you cannot reign in for fear of bringing a god on yourself?

        Also the author stated that they are the mafia.


      7. Also note that the “bringing down the haugthy” is very selective. They didn’t care about Tar’naris until one of theirs was involved. The empire conspiracy in which Principia got caught? They acted from Draling own word because on of their member was attacked and then went after the marshal they didn’t bother her hierarchy was does it change? Was does it bring? They didn’t balance the empire power, in every case they were moved by revenge.

        Also imagine you have been victim of a thievery. How would you feel? The guard would know who did it, but cannot really move against the guild or hurt it’s member, or pressure them too much. So you are leaving here, knowing the only thing that can protect you from the guild is their goodwill, that’s terrorizing,depressing and a very unsafe position to be.


      8. What person hasn’t been victim to a thief at sone point? I often point out that here in the US, life would be better without our police system, dealing with any criminal element myself (since a thief can only steal what you have in your wallet, while the police have no such limitation). So if I could choose between this world, with police and no Thieves Guild, and one with the Thieves Guild but no corrupt police or other senseless, random criminals? Holy shit I’ll take the world with the Thieves Guild to regulate crime faster than you can say Boss Tricks!

        I don’t remember the line beginning with “that woman snared us…,” so I can concede that one (but I would suggest your idea that 2/3 of the ladies were forced to prostitute has to be based on some personal bias not seen in the text. After all, every girl besides our elven twins seems perfectly happy when interacting with Darling). I would also note that the “rampage” Darling sent the girls on was sorely regretted as a major mistake. Webb focused on their regret more than he did the actual killing.

        And re: your point about selective enforcement of the ain’t-haughtiness principle, OF COURSE it’s selective! They’re not maximally efficient nor perfect in any other way, and obviously they can only do something once the situation is brought to their attention.


      9. “What person hasn’t been victim to a thief at sone point”
        Well, not only are you speaking to one but I really don’t get your point. Thievery is common so it’s ok?

        “I would suggest your idea that 2/3 of the ladies were forced to prostitute has to be based on some personal bias not seen in the text”
        You can safely assume that and the number aren’t from any study it was more of a figure of speech.

        “I often point out that here in the US, life would be better without our police system”
        Well I’m french and even if the police here isn’t perfect I prefer to know she exists. There are neigborhoods were the police doesn’t go much. Those are not happy places.

        “since a thief can only steal what you have in your wallet, while the police have no such limitation”
        Yes, because credit card aren’t a thing nowadays. Neither thieves breaking into your home and taking anything of value.
        Also police usualy has trouble acceeding bank account or goods in homes and taking them for themselves. But perhaps it works differently in the US and police enter everyday a random house then empty it of anything of value just for the fun of it.

        “After all, every girl besides our elven twins seems perfectly happy when interacting with Darling).”
        I reread the chapters, and no, they weren’t happy with the managment, they were quite happy the twins mudered the former madam.

        “I would also note that the “rampage” Darling sent the girls on was sorely regretted as a major mistake. Webb focused on their regret more than he did the actual killing.”
        Oh, if they regret killing a hundred person then it’s all good, how could we hold them accountable…
        Also, they only regret killing the priestess of Nemitoth.

        “no corrupt police or other senseless, random criminals?”
        Corrupt police is criminal by definition. And senseless and random criminal? Like Principia who stole and con for fun (some of her con were against bad people true but on the whole she must have hurt directly or directly lots of innocents)? Thumper the violent rapist? The twins who mass murdered people? The apprentice who extorted from shop and only got caught because he went to the favorite shop of the twins and didn’t recognize them?
        Or Darling who ordered the murder of people and helped unleash demons on the capital city?

        “OF COURSE it’s selective! They’re not maximally efficient nor perfect in any other way, and obviously they can only do something once the situation is brought to their attention.”
        The point of law enforcement, is that it’s not selective. You call the police, I’m pretty sure that even in the US (where you tell me they are worse than thieves) they are going to come and try to help if you say you are getting beaten.
        Note that a few thieves knew about Lornaris situation before the students acted.
        Note also that in Lornaris and the anti dragon case the thieves striking against authority said they were involved because one of them was hurt. That’s why the guards were surprised, usually the thieves didn’t care..

        read this on the late :
        “dealing with any criminal element myself”
        Yeah, sure, you are gonna deal with the mafia yourself, or track the thief that sells the stolen good in an other city/state on your own. Or remove the international illegal traders of weapons/drugs/people/organs(…) yourself. Or track the internationals terrorist organisations?


  3. “I have been guiding young minds longer than you have existed—at least, as far as we know.”

    ..is this supposed to be a fox goddess saying she may not be as old as a supposedly 5000-year-old elf (I think it was 5000 “officially”?) —or is it only meant to be read that way, but the fox goddess is really saying she is certainly old but not as old as one of the original gods? ..meaning Arachne.



    1. Well in the bonus chapters for Arachne (Along came a spider) her first appearance was as a full grown elf with no memory yet amazing arcane abilities, enough to subdue one Elilial’s children…..and arcane is supposed to lose to infernal. So the inference is that she was old when she first appeared several thousand years ago

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Arachne’s first recorded appearance was 3000 years ago. From her name and unique weirdness Mary assumed she was somehow connected with the vanished elder goddess.

      My personal theory is that Arachne is “only” 3000 years old as a person but parts of her are much, much older.


    3. I am very glad someone else noticed that. I think it is because she might be Lloth, but the kitsune (and Arachne) is not sure. If she is that missing elder God, she is some form of it that removed its memories, or access to its powers, or something like that. That would also explain the “purpose she fulfills”, being an elder God and thus providing the arcane spells


    1. If that secret the Black Wreath want the paladins to learn is one that could hurt the gods, then a confrontation is all but inevitable. Avei is going to show up sooner or later anyway.


  4. I think the biggest reveal so far is that neither Arachne nor Kaisa know all the circumstances around Arachne’s ‘creation’. This is something Arachne, a person who is almost certainly in the top 100 most powerful people in the TGaB world, and Kaisa, another person is almost certainly in the top 100 most powerful people in the TGaB world, don’t know despite wanting to. And Arachne has been searching very hard for this information for the past three thousand years.

    I wonder why Arachne hadn’t been building up a stash of oracles instead of the Pope in hopes of figuring out the situation. She’d be able to get a lot of them, a lot of very powerful ones too, so they’d probably add up to some useful information. Especially with permission to use time magic, something that the Pope may not have.


    1. Unless she came across one quite early that translated to, “Sorry, hon. No can tell you — none of us can without breaking something so fundamental, even you wouldn’t stand for it even at your most pissed off.” :/


      1. That’s certainly a possibility. Then ascension would have actually been a means and not an end, and the real goal was discovering her origins, presuming that godhood would allow a work around.


    2. Yeah, that was the first big thing I noticed in this chapter. Arache is who knows how old. Problem is that statement includes Arache and the gods, and even something as old as Niaya’s first creations.

      Whatever the hell she really is, I suspect the apotheosis is going to have very, very big effects on her. And I’m not so sure she’s going to be able to tell it no.


  5. I am again running behind, all. Was up all night–as in ALL night, zero sleep–with a toothache. The blinding agony has since subsided to a nagging nuisance, but between the distraction of pain and sleep deprivation, I am not at my best right now, and haven’t been all day. Earliest my dentist could see me is tomorrow morning.

    At the moment, I have a very slender fragment of a chapter with two hours to go till standard posting time. Honestly this is a chapter that on its own shouldn’t challenge me much because it’s material I’ve had planned for a very long time, but I’m just in a poor state to work at the moment.

    So I’m debating whether to put off posting till later tomorrow, post whatever partial thing I have done when the deadline arrives, or…it seems like there was a third option I was considering but damn if I can think of it now.

    Anyhow, more word soon; chapter eventually. My apologies for the inconvenience. If it makes you feel any better, I guarantee I’ve got it worse than you. With regard to this matter, I mean; I don’t know your life.

    More to come soon!


    1. A 3rd option: post a rough outline for 10-31 somewhere other than the page would normally be, and let us readers write a chapter for YOU for a change! You’ll be on the edge of your operatory recliner, waiting to see what comes next! Everyone can contribute but I think Cyrid (sp? The guy with the fanfic) should have final say over any disagreement. Then on Thursday you throw it all out and post what you were planning to in the first place!

      I honestly can’t tell whether this idea is quite brilliant or quite stupid.


      1. I like this idea, but it’d be better for a bonus chapter. An officially organized non-canon chapter about something or other with a bunch of fans working together on a google document, with security measures in place to prevent trolling, would be great fun.


  6. Okay, with further apologies, chapter is going to be delayed. Pain’s flaring up again pretty badly at the same time the fatigue is bearing down; I’m seriously losing focus and I don’t even have the first planned scene complete.

    Chapter tommorrow, hopefull, depending how it goes with the doc.


  7. Back from the dentist, and this is turning out to be a shitty day.

    Basically, the problem is with a wisdom tooth, and my dentist won’t do it; she referred me to an oral surgeon. I have an appointment there in a week for an exam; no word yet on when the actual extraction (because yeah, it has to come out) will be done. Meanwhile. I have a course of antibiotics to treat the infection which is causing the pain.

    Said oral surgeon is on my insurance, though, so this is merely painful and time-consuming; it shouldn’t be a major financial blow.

    Pain is spiking right now. Like, really bad. But it’s been coming in waves anyway, and should soon start to abate when the antibiotics have a chance to work. I plan to have the chapter finished sometime today, starting as soon as I can concentrate again.

    Thanks for your patience.


    1. As someone who got all his wisdom teeth removed, I can feel your pain. One of mine decided to crush the root of the tooth in front of it, which lead to a nasty infection inside of it. Pain kept me awake for 3 days nonstop (because it happened over a weekend of course), then the dentist hollowed out the affected tooth and rebuilt it from the ground up (which was a fun adventure story for another time). A few days later a surgeon removed the wisdom teeth on that side and a week later the two on the other side (cause why risk it?).
      The good news is that the entire procedure only takes a few minutes, you have to wait longer for the anesthesia to work than for the removal of the tooth itself. Stitched up and immediately cooled it down with ice… minimal swelling, almost no pain and after two days I could almost eat normally again. Plus, the antibiotic mouthwash was tasty. 😉

      You still won’t be in a great shape for a while, because those things take a toll on your energy. Antibiotics are going to screw you up for a bit, too.

      So take things slowly please. I know it sucks to have missed a chapter but you have limits. Those are three chapters a week when you are in good shape. Don’t try to force things when you are not.

      I understand, not writing when you “should” is not going to make you happy.
      You have given your word that you will write those chapters and that’s all I need. There’s no rush, write when you can. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Conserve your strength until the end. (And beyond, cause I bet this won’t be your last story to tell.)

      I’m reading several webserials with sporadic updates, I’ve been waiting for updates for some of my favourite fanfiction stories for months. I’ve waited years for George R.R. Martin, I’ve waited for Robert Jordan, I’ve waited for dozens of authors and I -never- told them to hurry up.
      Quality is worth waiting for. And really, what’s the delay of a few days compared with waiting almost a decade for the release of a novel?

      I worry about you. I know you can take care of yourself but… you really have the worst luck. All I can do is donate a little money, I really wish I could do more.

      Get well soon. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  8. Oh no! I’ve caught up reading! ;( Now begins the waiting for new chapters to be released.

    Luv the story, thanks! 😀


  9. All right, here we are.

    Antibiotics are helping; the pain is down considerably. I’ve had a hellish couple of days, spent mostly getting what sleep I could when I wasn’t hurting too much to do so. My diurnal rhythm is all borked now, but at least I’m back working again.

    Chapter will be up for Friday, but probably a little late; I’m still working and run into a bit of block. But this is just regular old writer trouble, not further crisis, so nobody worry.

    I appreciate all the words of support.


    1. Good. Don’t forget to stock up on yogurt. Or, other means to get your gut bacteria up to spec, if dairy is not your thing (probiotic suppliments can be worth it, but beware scammers). It’s one way to reduce antibiotic lag once you’re off the things. 🙂

      Also, yogurt post-eventual-tooth-pull is an easy eat. 😉


      1. I concur with said advice. I forgot to do that the last time I took antibiotics and spent three months with no anti-acid lining in my stomach.


  10. Typos:



    “The significant aspect of this is that it demonstrates she is there on her own, not on assignment from the Archpope.”
    Huh, so Branwen is irritating Basra deliberately? Really, what the heck? That shows a bit of a mean streak that seems unusual in an empath.

    “The two lead stories are interviews with this Punaji weather-witch and the dwarven inventor.”
    So, those plot threads have been picked up again.

    “However, there is the other matter about which I asked to speak with you. An opportunity has unexpectedly arisen to rap Justinian’s knuckles far more sharply.”
    Presumably Gabriel is informing on the Vidian priest who is controlling the town.

    “But when Avei comes stomping down here to throw one of her divine fits about me letting the Wreath play with her paladin, you can talk to her.”
    “It’s a date.”
    Yeowch, Kaisa is confident. Overconfident?


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