10 – 31

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“Sure is takin’ his sweet time,” Joe muttered, pacing back and forth in the mouth of the alley.

Ingvar just glanced at him in silence before turning his head again to peruse the street beyond. Despite being a few yards distant, he had a better view of Veilgrad by dint of being perched atop a stack of crates against one side of the warehouse.

They had returned from the mountains to find the city stirred like a kicked anthill. Their inkeeper had been full of fanciful yarns about demons and chaos, which all three had taken with a pinch of salt. The other citizens of Veilgrad were not so easy to ignore, however, given how many were milling around in the streets, several even seeming to have formed protests in front of the governor’s office and the main Imperial Army barracks. All this the three of them would happily have brushed off and made their own exit from the city, save that whatever had transpired had caused a lockdown. The Rails were running, but there were checkpoints at all the city gates and in other places besides, and according to the least outrageous rumors they’d managed to get from irate passersby, Grusser was on the verge of declaring martial law.

For now, Joe and Ingvar lurked quietly in a warehouse district, avoiding everything and everyone as much as possible. Darling, being both the most city-savvy among them and the one with the highest political rank, had gone to see what he could learn. It had been two hours, and Ingvar had actually been somewhat impressed with Joe’s patience up till the last few minutes. City dwellers in general, he had observed, lacked the inclination and possibly the ability to be still and calm without constant stimulation. Joe, of course, hailed famously from a very small town, but he was clearly no country boy (despite his prairie accent and the cowboy affectations in his attire), and had never been on a hunt in his life. Ingvar wouldn’t really have expected him to remain calm and focused for hours on end while waiting to learn the fate of their plans to escape the city.

In truth, he might not have expected himself to manage it at Joe’s age.

For his part, he was glad enough of the chance not to talk, and had been grateful that Joe seemed to share his feeling. Darling, of course, had blathered on as blithely as always before leaving them; only after a few days of observing him closely was Ingvar sure he was covering the same unease they both felt. That experience—vision, dream, whatever it had been—had left the three of them with a lot more than a newfound understanding of wolves.

At least Ingvar found solace in mulling his new insights into the sacred beasts. Joe and Darling had little to think about but whatever hung between them, now. It was a very strange thing; Ingvar still didn’t know any more about the histories of these two men than he had before climbing the mountain, but was left with the feeling of deep comprehension and familiarity one usually felt only toward lifelong friends. Or family.

It had also not escaped his notice that Mary the Crow likely did nothing by accident, and surely had deep plans of her own, irrespective of his, Shaath’s, Darling’s, or anyone else’s. He was beginning to resign himself to the fact that they were going to have to talk about this at some point, if for no other reason than to prevent the Crow from casually manipulating them like chess pieces. It was a testament to how rattled Darling must be that he hadn’t already proposed it. The question remained, though, what she intended to accomplish by drawing the three of them closer together.

“All right, I’m gonna have a look around,” Joe said suddenly, peering out the mouth of the alley again.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Ingvar asked.

“Frankly? No.” The Kid glanced up at him, eyes just barely visible under the brim of his hat. “Very likely ain’t wise or necessary, but I’m losin’ my mind, here. Walkin’ helps calm a body down. I’m just gonna do a quick spin around the block, see if I spot anything useful.”

“Very well,” Ingvar replied, beginning to rise from his seat. “If you want…”

“You better stay here,” Joe said somewhat gruffly. “This is where the Bishop’s comin’ back to, when he does. Won’t be long.”

He turned and slipped out of the alley, vanishing around the corner before Ingvar could reply. The Huntsman sighed softly and settled himself back down atop his crate. Well, at least he wasn’t the only one disturbed and on edge.

And he had time alone, now, to think. Not that he hadn’t done plenty of that in the dark on the mountainside after they awakened from their vision quest, but, in truth, that had been mostly reeling from shock, disbelief, and a whole torrent of emotions that it had taken him the bulk of the night to process, at least to the extent of controlling himself. Ingvar had come to believe that Mary was firmly right: you simply could not rip the world out from under a person like that and expect them to bear up well. He would not have been able to accept it at all, if not shown in that careful manner, and did not think less of himself for that.

Which was the problem he faced going forward. The Huntsmen of Shaath were men of action; knowing something like this about the condition of his god and not doing something about it was unthinkable. But what? How? One thing was certain: Ingvar could not overturn centuries of flawed dogma on his own. But how could he possibly bring more Huntsmen to his side? He could hardly coax them one by one up into the hills to meet with the Rangers and be ambushed by visions. Even if the Rangers were willing, not everyone would react the same way, it would take centuries just to do… So many problems swarmed up from his mind to swamp that idea that Ingvar dismissed it entirely.

Not to mention that not every lodge would even listen to him. There had been some tense moments during the campaign against the Wreath in Tiraas that spring; only the presence of his brother Huntsmen from the lodge had warded off trouble from some others, and even so it had been a close thing. Not every Huntsman would acknowledge him a man, much less a fellow Huntsman. Why had he been called to this?

He stood, stretching his limbs, and climbed down from his perch to take over Joe’s duty of pacing up and down the alley. After a couple of hours he was stiff, but not badly; a hunt required far more patience than merely this. The lack of sleep was weighing on him more heavily.

Well, perhaps it was premature to worry about the future yet. He would definitely have to do something, but perhaps the remainder of this quest would give him more direction. Mary had not deigned to tell them their next steps before vanishing, but Joe had said that before she left (which was before Ingvar had returned to their campsite) she had confirmed they had more yet to do. Not to mention that once the actual quest was done, he had agreed to help her find out who had sent him those dreams and visions.

Could it have been Shaath? Ingvar doubted it, and not merely on Mary’s say-so. The god of the wild would not be eager to reveal himself in a position of weakness. And anyway, that came back to the same question: why him? Glumly, Ingvar had to acknowledge that he was possibly the worst conceivable choice for some kind of reformist movement.

Could the Huntsmen even be reformed? As they were now…they were the living binds of their god, it seemed. He still didn’t know what to do with that horrible knowledge himself. What could the whole faith possibly do with it, except…die?

The sounds of feet were soft and did not catch his attention; he’d grown accustomed to tuning them out during his time in cities. The figures suddenly blocking off the front of the alley, however, were another matter. Ingvar abruptly ceased his pacing, pivoting on one foot and smoothly moving his bow to his left hand and reaching toward his quiver before even getting a proper glimpse of the new arrivals.

There were two of them, both bearded men in the very familiar garb of the Huntsmen. An older man, the one who had been telling stories outside the city gate when they’d first arrived, and one of his younger compatriots. Both armed, of course, and staring directly at him as if he were prey.

Ingvar hardly had to consider the unlikelihood of these turning up by coincidence in this of all alleys to see what was up here.

There was a soft sound from behind him—very soft, but still deliberate, and he calmly angled his body and stepped back toward the wall to be able to look in the other direction down the alley without putting his back to those ahead. The third local Huntsman was just now stepping around the stack of crates on which Ingvar had been sitting. A useful high ground which he was suddenly regretting having given up.

“Well,” said the older man, fixing his stare on Ingvar. “I don’t know where you come from, girl, so I’ll grant that this may be a mistake. That garb is not a fashion statement. It’s not for women, and not for those who have not earned it. However they do things back home, wandering around the Stalrange like that is going to get you in trouble.”

The man stopped, staring at him expectantly and clearly awaiting an answer. His two comrades were equally still and silent.

Ingvar realized that if he wanted to prevent this whole thing from becoming a problem, he’d just been handed a way. Not that he was much of an actor, but how hard could it be to play the part of some girl from Tiraas with silly ideas about clothing? That was probably what Darling would do in this situation.

No. Absolutely not. He had worked and fought too long and too hard for his identity; it was not a thing to be thrown aside for convenience, or even safety. He’d been beaten and worse before, and survived. A man’s integrity was worth far more than that.

“You speak in error, brother,” Ingvar replied, pleased with the evenness of his voice. “I am Brother Ingvar, of the lodge in Tiraas, a fellow Huntsman. It would be appropriate for you to show some respect.”

The younger man’s expression grew visibly angry; the older simply narrowed his eyes. The third remained a presence in Ingvar’s peripheral vision, but he did not turn to study him in detail.

“Where’s your beard…brother?” the elder Huntsman said finally, curling his lip. “Do they shave in Tiraas, these days?”

“It doesn’t grow,” Ingvar said curtly. “A simple matter of inborn deformity, thank you for pointing it out.”

“No,” said the younger man in front, shaking his head. “Look at her face, the voice—you’re a butch specimen, girl, but still a girl. Look at her throat.”

“Whatever it is you’re playing at, you will not do it further,” the older man said flatly, taking a step forward. “These are sacred things you profane, girl. If you know enough of the Huntsmen to pretend that skillfully, this is no simple misunderstanding. And that means you’re courting consequences by coming here.”

“I do not have to endure this jibing from you, old man,” Ingvar retorted, baring his teeth in a snarl even as he fought for calm. It was not his first time in this situation. The beatings were never worse than he could bear. Where the hell were Joe and Darling? “I am a Huntsman of Shaath, and I earned that place the same as you did. I had to work twice as hard to be accorded the same respect. Take your insecurities elsewhere and cease wasting my time and Shaath’s with them.”

“You little—” The younger man in front started to surge forward, stopped when the elder barred his path with his longbow.

“All right, there’s a simple way we can resolve this,” the elder said, staring grimly at Ingvar. “And if we have been in error, you will have our apologies, and whatever reasonable forfeit you choose to name for the sake of honor. Remove your pants.”

Ingvar had an arrow half out of his quiver before realizing he was drawing it; he stopped before the two younger men had nocked arrows to their own bows, but just barely. At best, even if he was the faster draw, he could only shoot one…

“Shall I assume that’s what passes for humor in this city?” he grated.

“There’s a lot more to a man than what hangs between his legs,” the elder Huntsman said, “but that’s a definitive mark. If you have that, at least, I’ll be more willing to believe your story. If not, then you are in for a great deal of the discipline your father should have given you.”

“Touch me and it will be the last of what I’m sure have been a long line of mistakes,” Ingvar snarled.

The elder snorted. “These things are sacred; we cannot have people parading around as Huntsmen who haven’t the right. If we’re wrong, we’ll owe you for the indignity. But I don’t think we’re wrong.” His gaze sharpened further, and he drew an arrow of his own. “And I think you know it. Last chance…Ingvar, was it? It’ll go the worse for you if we have to take them off.”

“Well,” sneered the young man behind him, “once they’re already off, she’ll be in a position to—”

“If you even finish that sentence, pup, I’ll give you worse than I give her,” the elder snarled. “Men of Shaath do not debase themselves! Enough time-wasting from all of you. Get on with it, Ingvar, and let’s get all this ugliness over with before—”

A beam of light split the dimness of the alley, flashing straight over their heads. The Huntsman who had flanked Ingvar whirled, aiming his bow back the way he had come and backing up toward the others.

“My pa always taught me that a man fights his own battles,” drawled Joe, pacing forward out of the darkness. He really must have made a complete circuit of the block, or at least the building, to be coming from that direction. “And that a man doesn’t interfere in another man’s affairs. Always seemed like wisdom, to me… Till the day I watched him murdered in front of our house by six thugs who wouldn’t face an honest man head-on. So when I find my friend, here, bein’ cornered by three galoots in an alley… Well, with apologies to Brother Ingvar, I do not care what this is all about. It stops, right now, or I drop the lot of you.”

“You don’t know what you’re meddling in, boy,” the elder growled. “This is a matter for the Huntsmen of Shaath.”

“I literally just got finished tellin’ you how I don’t care what this is,” Joe replied, glancing at Ingvar and raising an eyebrow. “Doesn’t listen very well, does he?”

“We haven’t known each other long, but I’ve already noticed that,” Ingvar replied. Part of him hated himself for the relief flooding through him at the Kid’s reappearance. It was a very small part, however, and he was learning that it wasn’t a voice which bore listening to.

The elder Huntsman slowly eyed Joe up and down, from snakeskin boots to leather duster, tigers eye bolo tie and ten-gallon hat, all in black, and curled his lip disdainfully. “Have you ever been shot, boy?”

“Nope,” Joe said in deadly calm. “Not once. But I been shot at more times’n you’ve laced up your boots. Name’s Joseph P. Jenkins, of Sarasio. You mighta heard of me.”

That got a reaction. The two in front exchanged a glance, eyes widening; the one in back had drawn even with Ingvar, now, and was trying to divide his attention between the two of them, a reversal Ingvar couldn’t help enjoying.

“Nonsense,” the youth in the front huffed after a moment. “Naturally a liar would be friends with a liar. Any idiot can claim to be—”

Joe didn’t even bother to draw his second wand; he simply made what seemed to be a dismissive and almost effeminate flick of his wrist, and his weapon hissed softly as it spat three needle-thin beams of light. All three of the local Huntsmen leaped to the ready, placing arrows to their bows, and utterly failing to draw them due to their bowstrings being severed.

“Now, I don’t know how you pictured this ending up,” Joe said calmly. “Religious issues ain’t legal justification for roughin’ somebody up in an alley; it’d be jail at the very least for the lot of you after all was said an’ done. But me, now… You havin’ stated your intention to assault my good friend, here, I’m legally justified in exercising lethal force to drive you off.”

“Some things,” the elder said softly, glaring, “are worth suffering for.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Ingvar replied, earning a truly furious scowl.

“Of course,” Joe drawled in the same even tone, “it’s well within my abilities to pick the fleas outta your beards at this range. There are all kinds of ways I could disable you. So when I say that if you force this issue I will kill the lot of you assholes dead, I want you to understand it’s on account of how personally I take this matter.”

“I think you’re bluffing,” the former rearguard said, a quaver in his voice now that earned him contemptuous looks from the other three Shaathists present.

“Dead doesn’t necessarily mean dead quickly,” Joe continued, holding the oldest man’s stare with his own. “You ever see what happens to a man with a hole burned through his femoral artery?”

“Do you really have such cruelty in you, boy?” the elder asked, his tone soft and seemingly genuinely curious despite his hard expression.

“I’m the goddamn Sarasio Kid,” Joe snapped. “I despise violence, cruelty, an’ most of the other things I am very good at. Now gather up your saggy machismo an’ get the hell outta here before I start gettin’ impatient.”

They locked stares for a long moment, then very deliberately the elder Huntsman turned to study Ingvar again.

“You expect me to argue?” Ingvar said disdainfully. “I would defend any brother Huntsman against even a superior foe, unless that Huntsman had just been busy making a fool of himself and our faith. Get moving.”

The man snorted, then made a sharp gesture which prompted his two younger compatriots to come stand, scowling, at his shoulders.

“You can evade the consequences of your behavior for only so long, girl, before—”

“No.” In a single fluid motion, Ingvar had his bow drawn and an arrow aimed right at the elder’s heart. At that range, the longbow would have put a shaft almost clear through him. “You came here for the sole and specific purpose of sullying Shaath’s good name with your stupidity. You will leave with nothing. Not even the last word. Now walk, before I decide I want your pants.”

The two younger men glared, and the elder shook his head. But when he turned to go, they followed, after giving Ingvar a final round of sneers.

They waited until all three were long out of sight before Joe sighed softly and holstered his wand. “Welp. Sorry for buttin’ in like that, Ingvar; I still ain’t too clear on Shaathist doctrine, but I know a man an’ his battles are an important thing.”

“I hope those three didn’t give you the impression that most Shaathists are too stupid to accept aid from a friend when it’s needed.” Ingvar drew in a deep breath and let it out, just now taking note of the adrenaline thrumming through his system as it finally started to ebb. That was going to be an irritating comedown. “Thank you, Joe.”

“Don’t mention it,” the Kid said with a shrug. “Truth be told, I shouldn’t’ve been gone in the first place. I get stir-crazy for five minutes and you almost get jumped by the locals. What a town.”

“Would…” Ingvar hesitated before finishing the question. “Would you actually have killed them with…unnecessary cruelty? Or were you just bluffing?”

“I make my living at the card table,” Joe said with a faint smile. “Bluffing’s another of the things I don’t like but am very good at.”

“Really?” Ingvar glanced over Joe’s suit; he was no student of fashion, but one didn’t have to be to observe that the Kid had expensive tastes. Tigers eye wasn’t a pricey stone, but that was a large piece. “You paid for all that playing cards?”

“Yep. Point of fact, I was hoping to find a game of hold ’em somewhere, if we stop long enough in a place that ain’t trying to kill us. Darling’s already had to talk me out of trouble in Tiraas; dunno why I thought winnin’ at the Thieves’ Guild’s casino was a good idea.”

Ingvar had to crack a grin at that, but just as quickly let it fade, turning his head to stare out at the mouth of the alley. “And…thank you. For never asking.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw Joe shrug awkwardly. “Figured as soon as you wanted to explain it, you would. Other folk’s business is their own.”

He nodded. “I’m just…well, you saw all that. The reaction is fairly typical. I can’t afford to assume anyone will understand.”

Joe sighed softly. “Truth be told, Ingvar, I can’t rightly say I do understand. The whole thing doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. But I reckon you’re the expert on your own life, an’ I don’t recall anybody puttin’ me in charge of you. It’s the simplest damn thing,” he added, a scowl forming on his face. “Just let people alone to live their lives. The longer I live, the more places I see, the more it seems that’s the hardest thing in the world for a whole mess o’ folk. An’ I just cannot wrap my head around that.”

“That much I never questioned,” Ingvar said thoughtfully, still gazing out at the street beyond. “Some things are sacred. Some things have to be defended. I always knew why the Huntsmen fought against accepting me. Even when the traditions are wrong… Traditions matter; they tell us who and what we are. I guess I should start giving a lot more thought to which traditions deserve to be upheld, since it seems almost all of mine may not make that list.”

“Maybe that’s the difference,” Joe mused. “Where I’m from… Your family, your friends, the land that supports you, those things are sacred. Everything else’s just part o’ the world.”

Ingvar whirled suddenly, sensing another presence, and had his bow half-drawn again before he identified Darling lounging against the crates he’d been perched upon earlier.

“Well, don’t stop on my account!” the thief said cheerfully. “You two were having quite a moment, there.”

“How long have you been there?” Joe demanded.

“I caught the tail end of that little stand-off,” Darling confessed. “Well handled, both of you.”

“Coulda used your help,” Joe said pointedly.

“Nope.” Shaking his head, Darling straightened up and ambled forward to join him. “I make my way through life by talking my way out of trouble. You two have only known me when I’m on the top of the world, relatively speaking; you’ve no idea how many times I had to get my ass handed to me to get up here. There’s a certain kind of macho man who can’t be charmed down, and who takes the attempt as a call to violence. You just met three of them. Trust me, boys, you took exactly the right approach there, the only one that would have worked.”

“Well,” Joe said in disgruntlement, “while I don’t enjoy threatening people, maybe it’ll make them think harder before they try that next time.”

“That’s not how it works, Joe,” Darling said, placing a hand on his shoulder, and Ingvar wondered if the thief had always spoken with such an undercurrent of weary sadness or if he was just more attuned to it now. “That kind of bullying is about power. Come on, if this were some kind of real Shaathist inquisition, they’d have brought more; instead, it was those same three guys. You can bet they do stuff like this all the time. A bully is looking to make himself feel bigger by making others feel smaller; if you cut him down to size, you’ve just made it that much worse for the next person who catches his eye.”

Joe closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “I just… Man, can’t we have one clean victory?”

“I meant what I said,” Darling replied, squeezing his shoulder once before letting his hand drop. “You handled that the right way. Sometimes, you just don’t have good options. Maybe a trained Izarite could get through to someone like that, but… All I’ve ever been able to do is teach ’em who not to screw around with. It’s sad, but it’s life.”

“Anyway,” Ingvar said, making his tone deliberately brisk, “what have you learned?”

“Right, back on point,” Darling agreed, nodding. “Well, the good news is the city’s not actually locked down; the military presence is just trying to keep order. We can get through the gates and onto a caravan, no problem. It’s going to take longer because we’ll have to stop and identify ourselves to soldiers, not to mention dealing with the lines of everyone else doing the same, but we’ll get there. Worst comes to worst, I pull rank, but frankly we’re three out-of-towners leaving with our business done; I doubt they’ll make it necessary.”

“Did you manage to find out what’s got the city so worked up?” Joe asked. “Is there a danger?”

Darling sighed, and for some reason looked distinctly annoyed. “No, there’s no danger. What happened is somebody summoned an incubus out there on the prairie a mile or so outside town.”

“What?” Ingvar exclaimed, reflexively reaching for his quiver again. “That’s what you call no danger? A child of Vanislaas loose in the city—”

“Easy, there, I’m not done,” Darling said soothingly. “The demon’s dead; it was found hacked to pieces half a mile from the summoning site.”

“Why would someone do that?”

“Hm,” Joe mused, rubbing his chin. “Last year in Onkawa, someone used incubus flesh as a reagent in an illusion spell. Caused quite a ruckus at the time, but the technique’s been commented on in all the enchanting journals. I wonder how many of the Vanislaads that’ve been summoned in the last few months ended up right on the chopping block.”

“Well, I can’t make myself mourn that,” Ingvar snorted. “Maybe it’ll make them more leery of answering summons. Why is something like that having such an effect on the city, though?” he asked Darling. “You’re right, it sounds like there’s not an active threat.”

“Well, the problem is twofold,” Darling replied, tucking his hands in his coat pockets. “You have to keep in mind where we are, and what happened here just a few weeks ago. Veilgrad’s still recovering from a major chaos event. As disasters go, it was minor; a handful dead, dozens injured, lots of property damage. It was the nature of the thing that matters: the dead rose and rampaged through the city. That kind of horror leaves aftereffects on everyone who survived it. The people of Veilgrad have exactly zero patience with metaphysical bullshit right now. And the second problem is that the brain case of a military commander in the city, some clown named Adjavegh, is trying to keep a lid on this thing. Which, since the rumors are already out, is purely counterproductive. If he’d just get out in front of it, tell the people exactly what happened and that it’s over… And I’m sure he will very soon; if he doesn’t see sense, the Empire will land on him, and he’s got to have advisers telling him this already. But for now…”

“For now,” Joe said slowly, “we’ve got a populace who’ve been traumatized by a mass raising of the dead, and rumors about demon summonings and incubi loose in the city. Yikes.”

“Exactly,” Darling agreed, nodding. “We’d best get ourselves moving while the moving is good. What with the Imperial Army’s current presence, Adjavegh has enough authority to dictate some policy, and right now Grusser is too occupied trying to keep everyone calm to lean on him. He’s got his hands full dissuading people from doing something irrational like rioting, or extremely rational like abandoning the city en masse. Oh, and posting guards on Leduc Manor, because of course people have tried to form a mob up there. Luckily they seem to be avoiding Malivette’s place. Apparently they tried that during the last troubles and were…dissuaded.”

Ingvar cleared his throat. “Yes, about that… Where, exactly, are we going next? Did Mary see fit to tell you anything before vanishing again?”

“Ah, yes,” Darling said, nodding and glancing at Joe. “Well, most immediately we need to head to a town on the southwestern edge of Calderaas just above the Green Belt, called Fersis. That’s the nearest place we can reach by Rail. After that… It seems we’re going to visit the elves.”

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39 thoughts on “10 – 31

  1. Okay, we’re back. Now two chapters behind, which I will hopefully be able to make up sometime when my life is less ridiculous. I’m having a serious pain spike right now–just in time for me to get no sleep before work tomorrow, yay! But at least it abated long enough for me to finish the damn chapter. God bless antibiotics.

    A few points from the previous chapter’s discussion:

    – Yes, McGraw is black. He’s a westerner, which in this setting means black.

    – The ethnic Tiraan are more Middle Eastern in appearance. Linguistically they’re based on a blend of Persian and Arabic influences, and have a corresponding physical aspect.

    – The Thieves’ Guild does not force people into prostitution, nor profit from prostitution at all. Brothels in the Bastardverse are rare, because the only clientele are people who aren’t welcome in a Temple of Izara. You have to be QUITE the asshole to get banned by Izarites. Actual prostitutes, therefore, are uncommon, and the profession is even more dangerous than in the real world, and taken up only by those with no prospects. Eserites can usually be found hanging around what brothels exist, but mostly to protect the sex workers from their clients and employers. The Thieves’ Guild isn’t always so altruistic and many of its members are cruel and acquisitive, but there are always true believers who’d rather spend their time humbling the haughty and defending the weak.

    Any faith has its hypocrites and its saints both.

    Anyhow, I’m off to continue surviving until my appointment with the oral surgeon on Wednesday. And that’s just an exam, because he’s never seen me before and has to look at what’s going on before deciding how to proceed. No idea yet when this will be actually fixed. And now to go not sleep because jesus fuck this hurts somebody shoot me


    1. i figured out the brothel situation specifically because i was so damned confused by the strangeness of how flora and fauna became members of the cast that it ate at me in the backbrain quite a while until the izarites started getting some attention, and then i realized what was underpinning that setup to make it so unlike how real sex workers operate(d) in the first place, even in the general timeframe the story derives its inspiration from. initially it was the kind of thing that felt aggressively ludicrous, like the worst kind of prohibitionist trope just plopped into the narrative as a throwaway bit of backstory trauma, which irked given how well-laid out everything else around it presented itself as being.

      it’s one of those places in the early chapters where the slow-burn introductions to the world and its setting as a way of easing us into the tiraan environs works against it rather than in its favor, i think, and i say that as someone who nevertheless thinks you’re rather too hard on book one for being that way.

      as always, best wishes for as speedy a recovery as can happen, pain meds are our friend, and take care of yourself!


      1. Flora and Fauna intentionally let themselves be possessed by insane ghosts so they could take down a dragon. After their ambush failed, they lost their reason to live (and/or continue their quest for vengeance) and the spirits dragged them to Tiraas, the seat of their hated enemies. Sooner or later the elves’ self control would have broken down, the headhunters would have gone on a killing spree and eventually they would have been wiped out.

        Flora and Fauna were aware of that and just didn’t care anymore. They were as close to being broken as you can get.
        They were also two young, clueless elves wandering into a large city, trying to survive. They never learned a trade, they had no friends and no money… and probably an urgent need for shelter and food. What were they supposed to do?
        And then, when everything seemed lost… Missy comes along and offers them a way out. All they have to do is pleasure a few clients. It’s just sex, everyone does and they’ll even get paid for it. What’s the harm?
        They agree and it is worse than they could ever imagine. Now they are in debt to Missy (who btw is not affiliated with the Thieves Guild), they have to perform in a brothel that caters to kinky clients whose needs can’t be seen to in an Izarite temple and they realize they have been tricked into this situation.
        Unlike the other girls, they had the means to do something about it.


  2. Man there’s some trouble brewing in this empire. I wonder how much of it Justinian can be realistically said to have a hand in. Seems like more fodder for his cause either way.

    Also good luck with the teeth, I feel your pain there.


    1. Yeah, teeth pain is the worst.
      You know, I’m still wondering about Aspin. My guess is it will be Juniper curing her in the end


  3. This chapter was basically a better-executed version of a scene that appears in a lot of novels (not even limited to fantasy), but the last time I pointed that out it was that scene with Ruda getting hassled at the party and I wound up having to eat my words, so I’ll just preempt that and say I expect one or more of those Huntsmen to come back for further character development at some point.

    Also, this is one of my favorite bits of dialogue in the story yet:

    “Just let people alone to live their lives. The longer I live, the more places I see, the more it seems that’s the hardest thing in the world for a whole mess o’ folk. An’ I just cannot wrap my head around that.”

    “That much I never questioned. Some things are sacred. Some things have to be defended. I always knew why the Huntsmen fought against accepting me.”

    YES YES YES. Tolerance is great and it’s fine if you hold it to be the highest value, but if you genuinely cannot understand why some people hold the sanctity of some things higher than tolerance then the conversation is not going to go anywhere.

    TGAB occasionally has all the ideological subtlety of dropped anvil, but even when it’s plummeting towards your skull at terminal velocity it always takes time to clarify that the other side also have reasons for acting the way they act or saying the things they say. Some of my favorite writers have taken on very complicated issues, written with flair and humor and intelligence, and completely failed to make sensible points because they lacked this basic insight.

    Webb, I’m glad you’re feeling a little better and I hope you take your time paying back those bonus chapters, because if you accidentally kill yourself with work the world will have lost something truly great. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Is there a chance off us seeing the vision quest from Darlings and Joe’s pov?

    that was one of my favourite bits off writing in this book and i would love to see more off it.

    I also wanna see the main crew take this vision quest even though i know that it is unlikely to happen

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t remember if this was brought up before, but this chapter leaves me wondering why can’t Ingvar take hormones or the magical equivalent so his physical appearance would better match his gender?


    1. I don’t believe it was brought up, but if I had to guess, those things are expensive, and a Huntsman doesn’t bring in a lot of disposable income. And I doubt the Empire has an universal health care system of any sort, given that in reality universal health care was mainly implemented during the Great Depression and after WW2, neither of which have a Bastardverse equivalent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are several faiths dedicated to helping people, for example the Izarites would probably spend some divine energy because it would make the recipient happy.

        The question is, does something like that even exist?


      2. I’m sure it exists, fixing hormone problems is exactly the type of thing fae magic is great at, the question is how high level it is. I’m guessing it’s high level enough that the Izarites aren’t willing to spend the resources to help just one person.


      3. Principia and squad spoke about choosing sex through potion I think, and apparently it is also possible to temper the sex of newborn with powerful fay magic.


  6. “Darling’s already had to talk me out of trouble in Tiraas; dunno why I thought winnin’ at the Thieves’ Guild’s casino was a good idea.”

    What a bunch of hypocrites. They hold that those who are too rich for their own good and don’t protect their wealth deserve to be stolen from, but were the Sarasio Kid to try and “steal” from them by playing by their own rules, they’d beat him up or the like? An argument could be made that the Thieves Guild would not really do anything to him and Darling was just using words to protect the Guild’s profits, but I think it’s more in Darling’s personality to throw challenges at the Guild as possible to keep them sharp, as long as no one gets seriously hurt.


    1. Yeah, the Thieves Guild are totally hypocrites. It’s cropped up *a lot* that most of them aren’t nice Robin-Hood-style people, and even the ones that are (Darling, for example, seems to genuinely believe the Eserite code), still aren’t great.

      The Guild won’t hurt you…as long as you pay their fees and don’t piss them off (which is very easy to do) and don’t get in their way. The Guild helps elevate the common man…as long as he’s useful (notice how there’s a lot of poor people in Tiraas?). The Guild helps prevent worse criminals from moving in…but won’t snitch on any of their members who do worse-than-theft crimes themselves.

      Remember how the Guild spent several days intimidating those soldiers who were just following orders?


      1. That was for exactly 24h, as a warning only.

        The Guild isn’t a monolithic organization, it’s a cult filled with individuals. Some are more faithful than others.

        The common people usually don’t have anything to fear from the Thieves Guild because they do not go after poor and working class people unless they do something to deserve it. They do not elevate them either.

        The past days I’ve seen some very opinionated comments about the cult of Eserion and so far I avoided the discussion because all I can present as counter-argument is my own opinion… but now people are talking about things that aren’t even in the story or worse, run counter to what we’ve seen so far.

        Reminds me of the tv tropes page, where someone made an argument for the Bastardverse being a “Crapsack World” on the basis of the misinterpretation of an out of context comment, despite all the evidence disproving the trope… and now “the legions of Hell are waging war on heaven using the mortal plane as a battlefield” … which isn’t even remotely true.

        Same thing is happening here with the Thieves Guild. People are jumping from one conclusion to the next and suddendly a legally recognized cult within the Empire is a bunch of murderers, robbers and rapists? Really?

        Of course they aren’t perfect, they are basically organized crime… but within limits. Especially the organization part seems to change every 50 years or so. They don’t go around and assassinate people either, that’s for the rare occasions when they have no other choice.

        Are they hypocrites? Yep. But not too a large degree. It’s more about having “All systems are corrupt” as their mantra but then insisting everyone fills out their paperwork on time.

        They steal from the rich, the arrogant, the mighty… to humble them. But even then they treat it more like a game. Remember how Andros mentioned he had to visit the casino several times and ask for his personal items back? They gave them back, too.

        … anyway, I don’t know where those extreme ideas come from, most of them seem exaggerated, if not entirely made up.


      2. @Daemion It doesn’t help that in large part we’re seeing only the best and worst parts of the Thieves Guild. I get the feeling Prin, Darling, Flora, and Fauna are essentially shining examples of the Eserite ideal, and Thumper is one of the most evil members of the Guild there is. And while there have been some scenes with other members, it’s been a pretty small amount. But that’s just a feeling, we have no where near enough data to determine whether the Thieves Guild deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth, deserves government prosecution, are actually doing a service to the world, or are amazing saints. I’m of the opinion they deserve government prosecution, but again, that’s just an opinion that I don’t feel is backed strongly.


      3. “The common people usually don’t have anything to fear from the Thieves Guild because they do not go after poor and working class people unless they do something to deserve it”
        Well we saw them extorting merchants, and i’m pretty sure the common burglar and thief isn’t robbing heavily guarded noble houses.
        The main problem is, usualy the bastarverse is trying to take fantasy elements and make it realist. Reallisticaly, criminals can’t really make regularly money from stealing the rich and the one that deserves it. Most people with fortunes keep it because they take steps to conserve it. And people who knows they could be targeted by the guild will likely take precautions. The money must come from somewhere else.

        “They don’t go around and assassinate people either, that’s for the rare occasions when they have no other choice.”
        We are following Darling, Fauna and Flora who may have the biggest bodycount of the mortal cast so I may be a bit biased, but when you have a whole section of enforcers dedicated to intimidation, torture (they talk about breaking members…) and violence you can be pretty sure that death will follow.

        “I get the feeling Prin, Darling, Flora, and Fauna are essentially shining examples of the Eserite ideal”
        Principia seems a better exemple : the few crimes we know she has done, were against rich and arrogant people, desecrators. We never really saw her actively hurting someone underserving (but then she has been a criminal for a long time so she must have slipped sometimes). From what we know shed didn’t wound or kill anyone directly either (beside poisoning the student, but again, it was physically harmless).
        Darling, Flora and Fauna are sympathetic to their friend, but they from the point of view of modern society they are complete monsters (murder, extortion, theft, conspiracy, torture, letting demons on a town…).

        “Remember how Andros mentioned he had to visit the casino several times and ask for his personal items back? They gave them back, too.”
        Andros is a bishop of the Shaathist church attached to the universal church. They probably gave it back for the same reason they gave Trissiny’s purse back when stolen. Darling said it himself : they don’t want to piss of important people.


      4. @jeray2000:
        There won’t be any government prosecution of the Thieves Guild. They are a planet spanning cult of a pantheon god. Even the Empire would suffer greatly if they went against them.

        Gambling is illegal in Tiraas. Still, the Thieves Guild is running a casino and everyone knows about it. That’s telling. 😉

        No, we didn’t see them extort merchants. We saw one apprentice doing so and it was immediately made clear that this behaviour is inacceptable. Not only are you using a single occurence as proof for the entire Guild, you’re also ignoring context.

        The Thieves Guild runs a casino and probably owns several legal businesses, too. Yes, I’m fairly sure they get protection money, too. What you haven’t noticed is that they aren’t going after small stores barely scraping by, they go after wealthy ones that can afford giving them a little something. They aren’t out to ruin people for profit.

        Again, Flora and Fauna aren’t typical Guild members and what Darling had them do was explicitly -not- Guild business. He’s playing his own game here and assassinating corrupt members of the Church is not standard practice for Eserites.
        No, death does not follow. Read the relevant chapters again, it’s being explained several times that killing someone is a waste in their eyes.

        Why do you insist on extrapolating from a sample size of one? You just don’t do that, that never works out.
        Instead look at all the other Eserites, too. What about Tricks, Style, Grip, Keys, Webs etc? Do they give you a vibe of being evil?

        They don’t want to piss off important people? Then why steal from a bishop in the first place? Humbling important people that deserve it is what the Thieves Guild does. They went against the Marshall, too.


    2. @Eerevaenshee Darling’s actions are only bad out of context. With context, which we do have, we know he was only committing evil actions to take down the corrupt Church and to take down the evil Black Wreath. You may still be of the opinion Darling is a bad guy, but there’s lots of room to rationalize that he’s a good guy.

      @Daemion I know the Thieves Guild will never get government persecution, but I think that’s what they deserve. The vast majority of its members deserve to go to trail before a judge and jury, get convicted, and sent to a prison to be reformed. In a perfect world, their members would turn themselves in, get prosecuted, and get sent to an excellent prison system like Sweden’s.


      1. “Why do you insist on extrapolating from a sample size of one”
        We are in a story, in a story you can’t really have focus on many character, in real life I would agree that statistics even on a thousand person don’t always allw for extrapolation, in a book it’s pretty much what you have.
        Also in your exemple on extrapolation, Fora and flora weren’t against taking protection money (pastries here), they just said it should be done with more tact. So we are not exactly extrapolating from a sample of one here.

        “which we do have, we know he was only committing evil actions to take down the corrupt Church and to take down the evil Black Wreath.”
        Debatable seeing that he contacted Elilial to get the Wreath point of view. Also you are assuming the Wreath is evil (the universal church really seems corrupt).

        “You may still be of the opinion Darling is a bad guy, but there’s lots of room to rationalize that he’s a good guy.”
        Well, that may be a professional bias but I just see a big list of crime with no state of necessity.


      2. Ah, now I understand. Jeray2000 is arrogant AND closed-minded! (S)he believes that whatever moral code they believe in is Objectively Right, and everyone should agree with their beliefs no matter what. Never mind that the characters in this story live in a wholly different world than we do! Just because they have an actual God communicating with them, that’s no excuse for not doing whatever Jeray thinks should be Right!

        Just look at this quote:

        “I know the Thieves Guild will never get government persecution, but I think that’s what they deserve. The vast majority of its members deserve to go to trail before a judge and jury, get convicted, and sent to a prison to be reformed. In a perfect world…”

        In a perfect world. IN A PERFECT WORLD.

        I can imagine Jeray’s perfect world, and it’s BORING, filled with all Mormons or something, and anyone who disagrees to “go to trial… get convicted… and sent to prison.” Why? Because they DISAGREED WITH JERAY, THE one and only moral authority.

        Holy crap is that not the most arrogant thing possible? It’s one big heap of forcing one’s beliefs on others! (S)he might as well say “the orcs deserve what they goti Athan’khar because in Tolkien’s books I believed that orcs are pure evil, therefore everyone should believe that too!”

        Seriously, what’s the difference between what you actually said, and that?


      3. @The Warren Peace NFL Report Just going to get some mostly irrelevant stuff out of the way first. One, please refrain from name calling, it brings down intellectual debates. I’m not offended, but it’s distracting. Second, I am male, for future reference.

        Now onto the actual debate. I’m going to quote myself.
        “I think that’s what they deserve.”
        I’m stating an opinion. I’m not objectively stating that they must go to prison, I’m saying I believe most of them likely deserve to go to prison, and there is room for me being wrong. That is why I ‘think’ it, not ‘know’ it. Obviously I don’t think I’m wrong, otherwise I wouldn’t have this belief, but there is room for it.

        My reasoning for why they do is because they steal from others. People work hard for their wealth, and the Thieves Guild take it. Working full time taking from others adds nothing to society, it only detracts. Maybe a small group traveling across the country humbling the rich could be good, only targeting the most corrupt upper class. But there are a very large amount of Thieves Guild members, all contributing virtually nothing to society. I also said they deserved to go to trial, so an official court that is not me will determine their guilt. If they really are innocent, then the court will determine it, and say they’re free to go.

        Stealing is more complicated if it’s a situation like you are starving and steal a loaf of bread, but this is not that situation. This world has a very solid support system if you want to do an honest living. If you’re in a bad situation, go an Izarite temple for some support, then once your better go find work in a factory. If your physically disabled and cannot do that, ask the Izarites for some extra help finding a job. There’s no reason anyone should have to turn to a life of crime except half-demons, and the Thieves Guild is not made up primarily of half-demons.

        And quite frankly, I think that if everyone in the world was a Mormon and agreed on the scripture, it would be a pretty damn close to perfect world. There would be no more wars, since everyone agreed on the big issues. Everyone would have a sense of kinship to each other, and would therefore be nicer. It would not be boring though, since there’s no reason art and friendly competitions wouldn’t still exist to create pleasure.

        Also, you said I’m close minded. I really don’t see how I am. If you feel you have a good solid argument why most Eserites do not deserve prison time, I am more than happy to hear it.


    3. I’m mostly just playing devil’s advocate here, because je-ray2000 obviously has an agenda (s) he is going to push regardless of facts (or a lack thereof).

      But how do you know Joe is playing by the rules? In RL casinos, card counting is explicitly against the rules. Are you suggesting Joe won through OTHER means?


      1. Card counting is not illegal, and in real life casinos, it isn’t explicitly against the rules, only implicitly. After all, it’s just something going on in your head, and aren’t actually altering what cards get placed down or the statistics. If they ban educated guesses, what’s stopping them for saying you’re breaking the rules if you decide not to go all in on junk in Texas Hold ‘Em? After all, you don’t know you’ll lose, but going by statistics, it’s very likely. Card counting is just taking that to a more extreme level.

        Casinos do ask you to leave if they suspect card counting is happening, but they let you keep what you’ve already won. I have no problem with the Thieve’s Guild doing that. Many people in real life do exactly what Joe does, professionally card count, and on of their problems is being kicked out of casinos. But it seemed to be implied that the Thieve’s Guild would break his knee caps or something if Joe tried card counting, and that’d be wrong.




    4. Pretty much even the faithful are bastards yeah, given that “humbling the powerful” helps no one and just ends up making the Thief fel good about himself, and obviously it’s very easy to pretend anyone is powerful and need humbling.


  7. . A bully is looking to make himself feel bigger by making others feel smaller; if you cut him down to size, you’ve just made it that much worse for the next person who catches his eye.”

    I’ve always felt that line does a mis-service to the analysis; there are several species of bully, operating with different motives, ends, and tactics. Declaring all bullies small people is a feel-good thing to say, but is not necessarily true.

    The one thing that always struck me was that bullying was a social activity. By tearing down or ostracizing an ‘outsider’, the bully gained social standing and authority. Hurting is merely a means to an ends in this case; the victim doesn’t matter except as an opportunity.

    A lot of it is probably tied to chimpanzee dominance and mating behavior, on an instinctive level we don’t like recognizing.


  8. I totally missed that Elias McGraw wasn’t white. I even remember seeing a mention of dark skin once but assumed it meant tanned. It did take slavery (or colonisation, in some cases) to spread names across that ethnic boundary widely, and for some reason it didn’t occur to me that the same could have happened in the Bastardverse.

    Ingvar may be the worst possible revolutionary in Shaathist eyes, but perhaps there’s some reason he got the vision which is related? He doesn’t seem a natural seer, but if the connection to Shaath is strengthened by being one of the few biologically female Huntsmen dedicated to Shaath perhaps that might explain it. Not so much if the vision is being sent by someone else … more data needed.


    1. McGraw is a westerner, which means black. A small problem with TGaB is that, given that the vast majority of its readers live in the USA, Canada, or Europe, most people will assume the characters are white unless told otherwise. But most characters aren’t white, if any I’m confused myself about it, and there’s no easy way to explain the ethnicity of characters in a world with an entirely different geography, especially since racism is more or less non-existent in this world, overshadowed by speciesism, and no one makes a big deal of it.

      If I’m not wrong, I think the races work like this:






      I’m not sure if the skin colour of other races, besides drow, have been mentioned. Dwarves might very well be purple, and no characters have mentioned it because that’s the norm.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love it when you guys discuss the lore, but please remember to treat each other with civility and respect. I want my blog to be a welcoming place; I’ve never had to delete or edit reader comments and would really rather that it never becomes necessary.


  10. Quick question: Did anyone introduce Wildbow’s fans to TGaB yet? I mean, directly linked to it in the comments of Twig?


    1. Not to my knowledge; at least, I’ve never had a hit from one of Wildbow’s sites.

      I’m not sure how well that would go over; thematically he and I are kind of opposite. He takes shallow genres and finds the darkness in them; I tend to bring out the humor. We both like our deconstructions, though.


  11. Typos:


    tigers eye
    tiger’s eye
    (although the first version does get used)


    “they were the living binds of their god, it seemed”
    So, Ingvar believes that Shaath is bound by the beliefs of modern Shaathism – feedback to a god does apparently exist. Interesting. And he feels obligated to correct it.

    Someone summoned an incubus near Veilgrad and cut it up. Where exactly is Kheshiri these days? It is getting hard to remember what some characters were doing when the cast numbers in the 100s.


    1. If I recall correctly, the last mention of her was when she was sent to the Dragon Conclave in Tiraas on Khadizroth the Green’s orders.


  12. Hi all, sorry I’m running a bit late. Finishing up the chapter now, then have to proofread it; should be posted within the hour, probably sooner.


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