11 – 29

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“I can handle this,” Rasha insisted at the front door of Glory’s house five minutes later.

“Rasha,” Jasmine said, firmly but kindly. “You are literally swaying as you speak. You haven’t slept all night. It doesn’t make sense to subject yourself to more of this, so long as you have any better option.”

“And I assure you, this is a much better option,” Glory added with a smile, coming up behind him to lay a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I’ll loan you the best guest room, right next to mine.”

“I am just so sick of being the weak link around here,” Rasha whispered, clenching his fists. If nothing else, it helped him straighten up and hold his posture.

“Whoah, that’s enough of that kinda talk,” Tallie declared. Having been the first to the door, she now turned and pushed back through the small crowd which had formed in the foyer, elbowing Layla aside with more energy than was necessary. She wrapped her arms around Rasha in a hug, the top of his head barely coming past her shoulder. “You’ve had a shitty night, that’s all. We’re not refusing to let you help; that’s the whole point of this, Rasha. We’re gonna need you soon, and for that, you need to be rested up.”

He sighed heavily, though after a moment he un-clenched enough to hug her back—briefly. Then he pulled insistently away. “All right. I guess. Fine. But don’t be too long.”

“Pfft, what’s the worst that could happen?” Darius said airily. “All we’re doing is traipsing through the suddenly-freezing streets of the city where dwarven spies are plotting to ambush and do horrible things to us, to rescue our witch friend who they’re also going to be ambushing, when we have no idea where the hell he even is. This is a Sunday stroll through the park! Really, Rasha, you’re not gonna miss anything.”

“Whose idea was it to give him talking privileges?” Ross wondered aloud.

“And on that subject.” Darius’s aspect suddenly sobered considerably and he turned to level a finger a Layla. “You are not coming. So let’s get the tantrum and the shouting out of the way right now, because we really do not have time to stretch this out.”

“Honestly, Darius, you’ve turned into the most frightful boor,” she sniffed. “I can see I shall be forced to spend a great deal of time re-acquainting you with the concept of basic manners. Of course I’m not coming; do you really think I’m daft enough to place myself in that kind of danger? You’re the Eserites, here. I assume they’ve taught you something in that Guild of yours.”

“Huh,” he said, staring at her in evident bemusement. “That’s…strangely forward-thinking of you. Are you feeling all right, sis?”

“Feel free to take my carriage,” she said, ignoring that and turning to Jasmine, who so far was the only other member of the group she seemed inclined to address directly. “I would prefer that Talvers remain here, if it pleases our hostess, but Ralph’s uniform has sufficient bundling for the cold, and you may find him useful. Do try not to let him be hurt, but if you are attacked, don’t worry about the carriage. If agents of the Svennish government damage it, I can sue the embassy. I’ve been wanting a new one anyway, and Father has been most obstinate about upgrading to the enchanted variety.”

“I will try to keep all that in mind,” Jasmine said solemnly. Tallie rolled her eyes so exuberantly she nearly tipped over backward.

“And,” Layla added in a quieter tone, “I realize this is a lot to ask, but please see that my brother doesn’t take any needless risks. If it proves possible.”

“Oh, we’ll manage him,” Jasmine promised her with a smile. “Tallie and I have had some practice in the art. There are ways.”

“They’re called boobs,” Tallie added helpfully. “Yours don’t count for the purpose. I mean, or so I would hope. Nothing would surprise me to learn about you nobles.”

Layla sniffed once more, then turned up her nose and pointedly gave Tallie the cold shoulder. “I shall expect to see you back by dinner at the latest, Darius. If I have to chase you down again, I shall be most put out.”

“Well, you heard her, ladies and Ross,” Darius said cheerfully, opening the door. “We better get this done quick-like, or perish in the attempt. C’mon, chop chop.”

Outside on the front step, they paused, tucking hands into coat pockets.

“Brr,” Ross said, peering up at the sky. “Carriage sounds pretty good.”

“Yeah, that’s great,” Tallie said flatly. “Let’s all ride in warmth and comfort and make what’s-his-name sit up top in the cold. Doesn’t matter, he’s just a servant. You’d fit right in with the fancy crowd, Ross.”

“Stop that,” Jasmine said irritably. “Whatever your issue is with nobles, don’t take it out on Ross, of all people.”

“Also, his name is Ralph,” Darius added. “Which you know, and would have remembered if you wanted to make a complaint like that with any credibility. Now seriously, are we riding or not? Because time is going to be a factor, here, and this weather is not kidding around.”

Indeed, the typical cloud cover over Tiraas currently hung lower and heavier than was the norm, clearly threatening precipitation. Given the temperature, anything that fell from above was likely to take the form of snow or sleet.

“No,” Jasmine said slowly, frowning in thought. “No…I think we should stay on foot. To be approachable.”

“Approachable by who, for fuck’s sake?” Tallie exclaimed. “The only people we’re likely to run into who’ll care about us at all are the damn dwarves stalking us.”



“Think about it,” Ross rumbled. “All we can do is go to the Salyrite temple. Dwarves’ll know that; we’re likely to meet ’em. And if they ambush us…”

“Then we’ll see how much they enjoy the outcome of that,” Jasmine said flatly. “Stay on main streets, on public sidewalks, in full view. Ignore any verbal overtures; if they gives us an excuse to claim self-defense, we’ll take it. And any police who become involved will take our side.”

“I like this plan,” said Darius. “Right off the bat I can see half a dozen holes in it, but god damn I am sick of being the mouse in this game. Claws out, let’s do it.”

Tallie shivered and wrapped arms around herself. “All right, well, good, then I hope you’re all carrying the cash Style doled out for Pick’s job. Cos first thing we’re doing if we’re not gonna ride is stop and get some freaking scarves.”

“I just don’t see the wisdom in this,” Schwartz protested. “Or the point, now. I mean, didn’t you only need to gather allies because you were trying to deal with the Bishop alone? And that’s changed now.”

Jenell sighed, her breath making a soft puff of mist in the chilling air. “Yes, fine, I am glad to have allies, but…that was never exactly the point, Herschel. You don’t understand the position I’m in. Alone is part of it; vulnerable is the worst.” She kept her eyes forward as they walked, the expression on her disguised face flat and grim. “There really isn’t anything I hate more than that. Always at someone’s mercy, unable to act, without resources. And even with you all working at Basra, I’m still in that position, don’t you see? All of you are out of my reach, except when I take extraordinary measures to have an hour to myself, like today. Even if I could contact you regularly… You answer to your Bishop and the College. Locke is about as responsive to other people’s plans as a feral cat. And Ami. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ami. But bards…are bards.” She finally shifted her head to look up at him, her expression still controlled, but not so much so that he couldn’t see the heartbreaking hint of pleading she was trying to suppress. “I need resources of my own, Herschel. Something I can use against Basra. Something. Anything.”

He drew in a deep breath, wincing. It was almost physically painful, seeing her reduced to this. “I hear you, Jenell, and I’m doing my best to understand your position. But…these guys. I mean, I rather like them all, myself, but they’re Eserites, and not even well-trained ones. They’ve got the independent spirit without all the skill. Don’t repeat this to any of them, but honestly, this group is not a good peg on which to hang your hopes.”

She let out a low, bitter laugh. “Oh, I know that, believe me. But they’re what I have to work with, and the facts of their situation mean they have hooks I can grab. Look, the point of sending them to the Finder’s Fee was to meet both Basra’s objectives and mine. I have to get them into Basra’s fold to keep her off my back; I need to do it in a way that carefully points out what a horror she is so they’ll be wary and I’ll be able to leverage them when the time comes. That’s a very delicate line to walk, Herschel, and if it was anybody but Eserites—or maybe bards—I’d say it was impossible. This is a really rare opportunity.”

“I still almost can’t credit it,” he muttered. “Why would Bishop Syrinx cultivate contacts in a place like that?”

“Well, she wanted mages she could call on for shifty, extra-legal work. It’s not like she could knock on Bishop Throale’s door and ask for a Salyrite to scry on Locke’s activities, now is it?” She let out another misty huff of annoyance. “Now I have to come up with a new plan. Basra has other contacts, but… Hell, I hope I haven’t burned my bridges with that group anyway. After sending them into what was apparently a trap…”

“It wasn’t your trap, and they all know that,” he assured her. “The mess in Glass Alley wasn’t your fault or theirs. I… All right, look, I can probably get them to meet with you. If you’ve got something useful to offer them, I don’t get the feeling they’re in a position to turn up their noses at it. But it’ll need more. That mysterious routine you tried last time isn’t likely to appeal again. Too much uncertainty already…”

“I know,” she said moodily. “Believe me, I know. All right, just… Please tell them you met me and that I’m interested in helping, all right? I will think of something else. I’ll have to, quickly. It’ll be tricky to speak with you again, I absolutely cannot be found talking to you or Basra will completely flip her shit, but I can get you messages at the Collegium, still. Right?”

“Uh, right,” he agreed, frowning. “But, honestly, Jenell, there are other considerations here besides you. Hasn’t it occurred to you that involving these kids with Syrinx is maybe kind of cruel to them?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said with grim amusement. “Those kids aren’t all what they seem. There’s one in the group whom even Basra won’t dare harm, and also won’t antagonize by harming any of the others. They might be the only people safe around her, at least for the time being.”

“Well, that isn’t mysterious at all,” he said testily. “Just once, I’d like to know the whole of what’s happening around here…”

“Wouldn’t we all,” she agreed, patting his arm. “I’m sorry, Herschel, I’d like to bring you into the loop, but there are secrets here that go way over even Basra’s head; spilling those beans could be more than my life is worth. Just…trust me, you’ll probably be safer with those apprentices than anywhere else, too.”

She stopped suddenly, both speaking and walking. Schwartz trailed to a halt, too, blinking at her in surprise, then followed her gaze up the sidewalk ahead of them. Immediately, he froze as well.

He had followed main roads to the Great Hall, but now, on the way back, he’d let Jenell set their course, which mostly consisted of less-trafficked back streets; she was somewhat justifiably paranoid about being seen by the wrong people, even in disguise. Now they were passing through a block of factories, down a wide side street meant to provide rear access to these buildings for delivery trucks. Even just after midday, there were no deliveries or anyone else about at present. With the heavy precipitation clearly imminent, even the nearby factories had shut down, their crackling antennae dimming to the occasional spark of unformed arcane residue. Tiraas itself was slowing down, as people who had not been dressed for the sudden cold fled into whatever indoors they could.

But someone had just stepped out of an alley directly in front of them, facing the two and just standing there. A short, stocky someone with a red beard.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Schwartz whispered.

“One of those dwarves?” Jenell murmured.

“Yes. At least I think—” He broke off, tensing, as the dwarf had started toward them. Schwartz reflexively stepped forward, planting himself ahead of Jenell and holding out his arm as if to block access to her, and only realizing belatedly how utterly silly that was, interposing his thin frame between the threat and the trained soldier.

Anyhow, physical force wasn’t where his strength lay. He snapped his fingers, and with a sharp pop and a tiny cascade of harmless sparks, Meesie appeared on his shoulder. She immediately bristled like a scared cat, chattering a tiny reprimand at the approaching dwarf.

“Good evening, Mr. Schwartz,” he said amiably. “And to your companion. Companions, I suppose I should say,” he added with a genial smile at Meesie.

“No,” Schwartz snapped.

The dwarf stopped, a few yards still distant, and regarded him with a calmly curious expression. “Oh? No? Forgive me, but in my studies of Tiraan formality, I never encountered that response to a simple greeting. Is there some piece to this ritual I am missing?”

“The piece where you go away,” Schwartz replied. “I’m not interested, and I’m not doing this. Leave me alone.”

The dwarf heaved a sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know where all this obstinacy comes from. I do believe you’re spending too much time around those Eserites, Mr. Schwartz. All I seek, all I have ever asked for, is a simple conversation.”

“Well, you can—” He broke off at the sudden pressure of Jenell’s fingers on his arm.

“We’re alone here, Herschel,” she murmured. “No telling what or who is down these side alleys. And more information always beats less. If he wants to talk politely…do.”

Schwartz hesitated, glancing back and forth between her and the dwarf. Meesie growled a shrill warning.

“What an admirably sensible young lady,” the dwarf said, doffing his hat courteously to Jenell. “Forgive my presumption in pointing it out, but perhaps this is more the style of company you should keep. She does seem to be a positive influence.”

“Fine,” he said curtly. “Speak your piece and have done with it.”

“Very good,” the dwarf replied, nodding to him. “Really, my needs are simple. You were present at the interrupted exchange wherein my companions and I sought to acquire those devices which were then seized by the Silver Legion. The Sisterhood of Avei, unfortunately, is quite impenetrable, which renders them sadly beyond our grasp. Without that option, I have an all the more urgent need to learn what I can of the provenance of those devices. Our only lead is within the Thieves’ Guild.”

“Well, I certainly can’t help you with that,” Schwartz said warily.

“Oh, to be sure, I would hardly expect it of you,” the dwarf agreed with a pleasant smile. “But your young friends can. Eserites, you see, are rather hard on their would-be members. The majority of any group of apprentices to the Guild are going to wash out anyway, for one reason or another. The only thing I want of those young people is their help finding information to which I do not have access, and they may. I am prepared to compensate them most generously, even to the point of shielding them from the Thieves’ Guild, should the nature of our association happen to annoy the Guild’s leadership.”

“And you think you can actually do that?” Schwartz asked skeptically.

The dwarf’s smile widened by a hair. “The Guild has no presence in the Five Kingdoms. That is not to say they have never tried to establish one. Here, in the Empire, we are at something of a disadvantage in dealing with them. Where I am from, that state is decisively reversed.”

“Fine,” Schwartz snapped. “I’ll tell them what you said. Now good night.”

“Ah, yes,” the dwarf said, shaking his head regretfully. “Well, I’m afraid matters have recently become rather more complicated than that.”

“Of course they have,” Jenell muttered. Schwartz noted that she had offered no objection to his protective stance; if anything, she had edged more behind him. Not fear, he realized, at least not for her safety; she could face severe consequences from other corners if she were recognized.

“Your friends,” the dwarf said in a solicitous tone, “have embarked on an unwisely aggressive course. Specifically, it seems they intend to ask you, Mr. Schwartz, to use your particular skills to track myself and my associates. Now, it should go without saying that we take all reasonable precautions, but the nature of fae magic, as I’m sure you’re aware, makes it rather difficult to thwart. So many unknowable variables.” He shook his head. “This could quickly become a very disagreeable situation for us all. In the interests of everyone continuing to get along, I’m prepared to provide you with anything you reasonably request, in exchange for your assurance that you will not do them this favor.”

Schwartz stared at him, then turned his head to look at Jenell’s eyes. Meesie growled again.

He could see the same thought on her face that was ringing in his own skull. Foreign agents, the kind of people willing and capable to oppose the Guild, owing him a favor? What he couldn’t do with that. Odds are these people could manage to threaten even Syrinx’s carefully laid schemes.

Then Jenell’s expression closed down, and she shook her head almost imperceptibly. Schwartz gave her a tiny nod of agreement.

It was just too risky. They knew too little about these people. The whole problem with Syrinx was the multiplicity of parties and agendas involved, preventing them from knowing what was happening, what anyone was up to, what they could do without incurring retaliation. Adding another wildly unknowable variable to the mix could tip the whole thing into disaster.

“I am not,” he said carefully, “going to make you any promises. I do not trust you, and quite frankly, I don’t like you. Now if you will excuse us.”

The dwarf sighed softly. “Now, Mr. Schwartz, I’m afraid you are being both obstinate and disingenuous. That is tantamount to a declaration of your intention to inconvenience me, and we both know it. I’m certain you mother did not raise you to behave this way.” He smiled, again, just as pleasantly as always. “Of course, it must be hard, raising two children alone. I’m sure she has an easier time of things now, with just your sister to think of. And Melody will be of an age to move out on her own soon enough.”

Meesie burst into flames, screeching in fury. Jenell had gone pale, even behind the already-pale face of her enchanted disguise.

Schwartz, though, felt a sudden and total calm descend over him. Somewhere deep beneath it, his heart was thudding in his chest, but it was a strangely distant thing. Unbidden, his senses expanded, taking in the magic around them. The spirits, the currents of life, all the perceptions which made up the realm of the fae.

“Have you ever been to Athan’Khar?” he heard himself ask evenly.

The dwarf blinked. “Forgive me, but I don’t see—”

“I have,” Schwartz continued. “You should visit sometime. Just so you can appreciate how very much you don’t scare me, you contemptible little piece of shit.”

He snatched Meesie off his shoulder, the flames wreathing her not so much as singeing his fingers, and hurled her forward.

An explosion of fire occurred in midair halfway between Schwartz and the dwarf, and in the next moment, his quarry had been bowled over backward, a pony-sized leonine creature wrought from pure crimson flame landing on him.

Meesie opened a maw filled with fire-sculpted fangs and roared directly into the fallen dwarf’s face. The paw planted on his chest, already the size of a plate, flexed, revealing blazing claws which ripped five perfect rents in his suit.

Wreathed in an awareness of the currents of magic around him, Schwartz felt the life force of the second dwarf who darted out of another alley behind them, sensed the enchanted objects he wore which made his approach silent.

He reached out through the link with his familiar spirits, finding them in total accord with his purpose. Upward he stretched with his mind, to the towering antenna of the dormant factory behind which they stood. Dormant, with only the faintest residual flickers of energy along its length—but even residual flickers along a four-story coil made a torrent of destructive power when seized and directed.

Lightning arced from the antenna, scarring the side of the factory as it snapped downward and blasted the approaching dwarf off his feet. He fell without a cry and skidded another yard across the pavement before falling still, smoking in the cold air.

Schwartz stepped forward, coming up beside Meesie, who was snarling at the pinned dwarf and demanding his full attention. He laid a hand on the seething flames that made up her mane.

“If you attack my family,” he said quietly, “you’ll find that my mother is even less afraid of you than I am, and considerably more willing to resort to violence. I’m assuming, here, that you think yourself in a position where you don’t have to care about the fallout of assaulting an Imperial sheriff, so you’d better think about what kind of woman is given that position in a frontier town. If you ever threaten my family again, though.” He leaned forward, holding silent until the dwarf tore his eyes from Meesie’s burning fangs to meet his gaze. “I swear on Salyrene’s name, I will make you beg before I finish you.”

Without straightening, he flung out a hand, grasping at the natural cold in the very atmosphere. Moisture congealed out of the air itself, solidifying into a cluster of horizontal icicles hovering beside him. With another thought, he called up a blast of wind, ruffling everyone’s hair and clothes and causing Meesie’s fire to flicker, and most importantly, sending those jagged shafts of ice at the mouth of another alley as fast as bolts from a crossbow.

The dwarf who had poked her head out around that corner, taking aim at him with a wand, fell back with a shriek of pain, pierced in five places by spears of ice.

“I’m glad…Lucy…suggested we have this talk,” Schwartz said, finally drawing himself back up to his full height. He had been within a hair’s breadth of addressing her properly, but Jenell definitely didn’t want her real name used here. He made a mental note never to tell her Lucy had been his first dog. “I think we understand each other a bit better, now. C’mon, Lucy, let’s get out of here.”

He waited for her to catch up to him, eyeing the snarling Meesie and the pinned dwarf as she passed. Jenell didn’t speak until they had moved a dozen yards further up the street at a long stride.

“You’re just going to leave her there?”

“She’ll hold him long enough for us to get away,” he said quietly, chancing a glance back. The dwarf, sensibly, seemed to be offering Meesie no resistance. “She can’t hold that form but for a few minutes. Shorter if anything damages her; if he pulls a wand and shoots her at that range, that’ll be the end of it.”

“Ah,” she said tersely. “And then she’ll reappear with you.”

He looked at her in surprise. “How’d you know that?”

“I remember. From Athan’Khar. That monster.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Imperial Square is just a few blocks up,” she said quickly, managing to lengthen her stride further. Schwartz, whose legs were longer anyway, had no trouble keeping up. “That’s public enough we should be safe; we have to split up there. Disguise or no, I cannot be seen with you.”

“I understand.”

Again, she looked uncertainly up at him. “What’ll you do next?”

“I should go…” He trailed off. Where? Back to the Collegium? To the Guild? Either of those places would be safe, assuming the Guild would let him in… He had to find the apprentices and warn them.

“Go to the Temple of Avei,” she said when he failed to produce an answer. “I’ll take a side entrance; you go in the front. You can get through the temple to the Legion fortress in the back. Warn Locke. She can get word to the Eserites without being in nearly as much danger as you.”

“Ah. Right. That’s good thinking.”

“I’m not just a pretty face,” she said grimly. “…you know, if you want some real certainty, you could have Meesie finish him off.”

Schwartz grimaced and shook his head. “No. I can’t.”

“Herschel, if things keep going the way they have been, I don’t think you’re going to have the luxury of being this squeamish.”

“I know,” he said curtly. “But it’s not just that. The bastard threatened my family, Jenell. He’s part of a group, and he didn’t just do that on a whim. They’ve researched me, they know who I’m connected to. I need one of them left alive to explain to the others what a very bad idea that is.”

They speed-walked in silence for nearly a minute before Meesie suddenly reappeared on his shoulder. She squeaked eagerly, bounding onto Schwart’z head and squirming down into a little nest in his hair, nose pointed forward. By unspoken consensus, Schwartz and Jenell both increased their speed until they were nearly running.

“After this,” she said after another long moment, slightly out of breath, “I’m even gladder to have you along, Herschel.”

“Thanks,” he panted, not bothering to try voicing his full feelings. Glad he was along? That made one of them.

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54 thoughts on “11 – 29

  1. The last few days, I’ve been having the early twinges of an incipient toothache. It’s a sign with which I am sadly familiar. Today they started steadily increasing in frequency and severity, indicating an infection beginning to set in.

    This is not really a surprise. The tooth was slightly chipped to begin with–not in a way that’s obvious to the eye, but my dentist warned me it made it more vulnerable to infection. I’ve had this happen a few times in the last few years, and I just had the teeth pulled. An extraction runs me $163, a fact which I know right off the top of my head, and isn’t that just a little sad. But what else could I do? Actually fixing the problem was beyond my means. It was only thanks to luck and the support of my readership that I was able to have it gotten rid of.

    Those were molars, though. This is a front tooth.

    I mean… I highly doubt my job is going to fire me if I show up with a gap-toothed Ozark smile. They will definitely not like it, they assuredly wouldn’t have hired me in the first place like that, and it’s not going to make anything for me easy around there. That is not a desirable look in a bookseller. But I’ve been there over a decade, my managers have repeatedly told me I’m one of their best people, and none of them are shallow. As long as I don’t find myself suddenly needing to find another comparable job, it shouldn’t break me or anything.

    It’s just…

    Okay, this is more than I’ve ever really shared, but the fact, is, I live in a trailer. Whatever you’re picturing is even more glamorous than the reality, I assure you. My front door is a piece of plywood. I have memorized the soft spots in the floor to avoid stepping on them. Only half the rooms have power. There’s no running water–I get mine from an outdoor pump and bring it inside in gallon jugs. That’s fun in winter. (It’s great water, though; the well on the property dips straight into an underground river. Naturally purified, no pollutants or fluoride or anything. Best water I’ve ever tasted.) The roof doesn’t leak (anymore), but the windows sure as hell do. Heating this place is a nightmare; in the winter my power bill averages five to eight times what I spend on rent. That’s not as apocalyptic as it sounds; rent here is a pittance, which is the main reason I say. It’s all pretty damn rustic, is what I’m sayin’.

    I digress. The point of that tangent is that for me to be worried about redneck stereotypes at this juncture is silly, almost to the level of hypocrisy.

    I don’t intend to be here forever. Not a moment longer than I have to. Someday, I plan to have all my teeth fixed. And my back, and my heart, and my bipolar disorder and the other dozen minor complaints I’ve been ignoring because health care is not in the budget. Someday. When I can.

    I guess it’s just vanity and pride anyhow. But I am having a really hard time with this. Really hard. Maybe it makes me shallow. I just don’t have much of anything but that pride, and a certain image of myself. I grew up in a lower middle class family and we’ve been downwardly mobile since the recession. There isn’t a whole lot left to my life, just my story and my sense of self, and I’m not sure how it’ll affect my ability to function if I lose one.

    Last time I had an exam, the dentist said fixing the tooth properly, depending on what she found and what had to be done, would run $2,000 – $3,000. Or, to put it more prosaically, two to three months income at my “real” job. So, yeah… The option really isn’t there.

    I’m gonna try some things. I’ve got a few ideas for some extra income, including two that aren’t completely crazy. If nothing else, you can get payday loans… Those are a goddamn trap and I’m glad to say I’ve only ever been that desperate once and made a priority of paying it off ASAP. Hopefully not that desperate this time.

    Early twinges, still, I’m not in active pain yet. I have a little time to come up with something. Maybe I’m just being overdramatic about the whole thing anyhow and should just go have it pulled. Ugh, even typing that triggered a tiny depressive surge.

    We’ll see.

    Whatever else happens, thank you all for reading my silly little story. You guys keep me going. If anybody feels in a position and inclined to make a donation, this would be a really good time, but I don’t want anyone to feel bad at all if they can’t or aren’t. I’m sure as hell not in a position to support the artists I’d like to, either. It matters to me more than I can say that you read. Please keep it up; I will do my best to make it worth your while.

    See you all Friday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This isn’t about vanity or pride. This is going to change how you look, how people react to you and that directly affects your self image. This is an important issue and something to worry about, so no, you’re not being shallow.

      I wish I could do more to help you than donate money. Your situation sounds terrible, like something happening in a third world country. If you lived anywhere else, all the immediate problems would be taken care of, pretty much for free.

      I’m not good with supportive words but I think you are aware that I’m a huge fan of this story and that I’m always looking forward to new chapters. You made me smile and laugh a lot, which is something I value highly.


    2. This is my first time commenting, even though I’ve been reading your story for probably about a year now. I just wanted to drop in to say you’re fantastic, your story is fantastic, and the days you release chapters tend to be the best days of my week 🙂


    3. I am not particularly familiar with the stereotypes commonly associated with rednecks, but going by my own perception, it seems rather difficult to question your mental capabilities considering you are creating one of the most brilliant works of fantasy I have ever read. Keep in mind that most people here are familiar with your work over the last years, and probably rather fond of it, so this should stand on its own quite nicely against the more general societal pecking order.

      I am tempted to offer advice on improvised solutions for insulation and similar small improvements, but it seems to me that if those things were possible, you would have done so already. So besides contributing a tiny bit, the only thing I seem to be able to do is that I think you are doing an amazing job writing this story, and going by the amount of brainpower needed for that, it is only a matter of time to find an opportunity to improve your situation. Hang in there.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. I hit the tip jar last night for the first time. I don’t know where you are, but since your vocabulary includes the phrase “Ozark smile,” I’m guessing you’re in territory similar to that described by JD Vance in Hillbilly Elegy. Based on the cold, you’re probably farther north as well.

      I don’t know what working at a bookselling shop pays, but unless it’s Amazon, the answer is probably “not much.” If you want to get in a better financial situation long-term, you may need to move to another part of the country where jobs are more plentiful. I’m in Texas and the job market is tight (lots of jobs) here. For example, until the price of oil dropped, the Wal-Mart out in Midland (west TX) was hiring starting at $13-$14/hr because they couldn’t get anyone at lower prices. Right now, the Dallas area is probably one of the better bets, followed by the Land of Weird, Austin (which isn’t quite Texas). Housing costs are going up and are likely more than the (rural?) area you’re in, but it’s still affordable if you can commute.

      Have you reached out to any publishers? You have enough material for 5-10 books (depending on wordcount), and even selling a few thousand e-book copies of each would be a big boost. You could probably e-pub it yourself, but a publisher would give you a lot more visibility (existing relationships, advertising, etc). I don’t know if you quite fit what they are looking for, but Castalia House seems to be a bit more intelligent about e-book publishing than some of the older F/SF publishers.

      I have really enjoyed this story and all the worldbuilding for how things work “behind the scenes;” I hope you are able to keep it up!

      Liked by 1 person

    5. In all seriousness DD, you’re not as poor as you may feel/think you are.

      Specifically, you’re sitting on assets that you’re not monetizing. The web serial we all come to read isn’t available as an e-book. This is unprecedented. With the exception of Wildbow (whom you are in contact with) every other web serial author has opened some form of revenue channel in an effort to turn their efforts in money.

      Why and/or When?

      Please help us understand.


      1. One more thing – I’m not a finance whiz. That’s not my field.

        I’m sure smarter folks will be willing to come up with a financial model that allows them to pay now and share in your future earnings.

        This product will sell. You can’t convince the folks that read the comments section otherwise. We’re fucking hard core 🙂


  2. I have never commented before, but I would like to let you know that I love your story and hope that you know that your story is not silly and has always been something I could look forward to. Thank you for this amazing writing and I hope that no matter what you find happiness in knowing that I am one of many who love and appreciate your work.


  3. damn. Im going through the tooth thing myself, tooth by tooth, so I know how bad that sucks. ive got a couple missing front. And they aren’t noticeable unless I want them to be. its not as bad as you think!


  4. On chapter notes, GO HERSCHEL, ITS YOUR BIRTHDAY, GO HERSCHEL! you can only push someone so far…


  5. Patrick Rothfuss wrote: “three things all wise men fear; the sea in storm, the night Witz no moon and the anger oft a gentle man.”
    You just delivered a beautiful example of what happens if you push a gentle person just a tad too far.
    Thank you for this amazing story. I, like many other people, look forward to every update.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Toothache and loosing teeth are rough, it’s your own body that’s changing… I don’t think it makes you shallow, either – if how he looks matters to Brother Ingvar, why shouldn’t it matter to you? I guess a partial denture would be similarily expensive? (On the issue of money, I think people would probably pay for the convenience of ebooks even if the chapters continue to be free online.)

    Now that I have a job for the first time in my life, it’s a good time to donate. I always wanted to do that – your story is one of the best I know (as I keep telling people^^), there’s just so much to like:

    – the unique, detailed and intricate setting (western, fantasy, science fiction, steam punk?)

    – the continued insistence that violence ISN’T the best way to solve your problems, that things are connected, and that (most^^) characters actually try to solve their problems other than by brute force

    – at the same time IF there’s action, there’s Action!

    – the actually diverse cast – the first time Maureen encountered the steps to the well I had to laugh out loud about the sheer genius of thinking about accessability in a fantasy setting!

    – the great writing of the mentally ill, so many of Rasha’s reflections resonate

    – the (mostly) great nuanced handling of social issues (information gained from torture and effectiveness of submission from Lor’Naris citizens are pretty much my only quibbles so far), instead of “shoot the bad guy, save the day”

    – though what may actually be my favorite thing about this series is that I keep learning/understanding things about life, whether it be Gabriel explaining to Juniper in Tiraas why “asking about asking” is a good idea, Principia & Co incorporating different perspectives/angles about feminism, or Ravana explaining to Scorn about rulers and strength – there are a lot of fish out of water who need things explained to them, and I really appreciate the insights they gain – and every time I reread it so far, I find something new^^

    All in all, thank you for writing! I hope you can continue for a long time or find a way to do so, best of luck to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey, i hate to hear that you’re going through a tough time, just sent $500 usd to you, hope it helps. I would rather this not be used for a donation chapter, if you get funded by other means, that’s great, otherwise you should take a break, you deserve one. also wanted to say this story really is one of the best i’ve ever read, and it really helped me during my depression as it gave me something to look forward to when i didn’t really have much else, so for that i cant thank you enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I read this habitually and frequently, both when it comes out and when I’m having trouble concentrating and need to focus on something. It’s quite incredible how good it is. I think your readers want to hear about problems like you’re having now. I’m passing you some money.

    Thank you very much for writing this.


  9. The situation sounds horrible but I’m not able to give anything as I’m a college student at the moment so I don’t have extra to give. I’ve managed to get through college without student loans by getting all my bills as low as I could and these two blogs are full of advice on how to live frugal enough to manage that



    I don’t know if any of there advice is applicable but the first lived on 7000 a year in a number of countries including USA so some of there advice might help you get out of the financial hole you seem to keep getting kicked into.(really hope your luck improves)


  10. I really feel I ought to some up with something more profound and reverent to say at this juncture, but I’m kinda stuck on “holy shit.”

    Last night I posted the chapter and then my comment above about my current situation. I then spent an hour chatting with friends on Plurk and catching up with my webserials (Wednesday is Practical Guide to Evil day, most important day of the week), and went to bed. I slept late; between a general lack of rest this week and recent stress, I needed it.

    Then I awoke, checked my email, and found a new $1700 in my Paypal balance.

    Everybody, I just don’t have words. I’m a writer, and I seriously, I can’t manage to express what I’m feeling here. This isn’t even the first time readers have helped me out of a jam this way; you guys have propped me up through two (three? They’re blurring together, which is absurd) previous health crises and the demise of my last car. Somehow, though, I don’t get used to it. Thank you. I really cannot thank you enough, which is one of those almost cliche sayings you don’t fully appreciate until you’re in a situation like this where means of human expression fall short of describing the gratitude. You are all amazing and once again, you have really saved my butt.

    Money is still tight in general, because I can’t afford to start spending what’s earmarked for a specific need, but this gets me close enough to the goal that I’m pretty sure I can stretch the rest of the way there. I’m now in a position to schedule an exam with my dentist and find out the current situation exactly and get a treatment plan and cost, because that would now be action toward a goal as opposed to the waste of her time and mine that it would have been at this time yesterday. Based on what she quoted me last time, with this outpouring and a couple of weeks of frugal living, I think I can cover it. If the situation is worse (and it is, but I don’t know whether or not that’s going to affect what she physically has to do), I may have to scrape up some more resources. In what I tentatively think is the most likely outcome, by early next month when Patreon pays out, I should be able to have this fixed. That’s not a hardship; it’s still just twinging, not giving me significant pain.

    Ultimately, the worst thing about poverty is the lack of resources. This is what the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd do not understand; poor folks are as hardworking as anyone else, we’re just denied the bootstraps to pull. Without some kind of safety net, all it takes is one disaster, the kind of setback a rich person could shrug off, to sink your prospects for good.

    TGAB and its readers have been my lifeline through multiple disasters, and now another one. I do not mean to be overdramatic, but I’m baseline-depressive bipolar, and while it’s been a few years since I’ve seriously thought about suicide, I have to honestly say that if not for this story and you, the readers, I might not be alive right now. If not for this and you, the losses I’d have suffered in the last two years might well have been enough to completely unmake me.

    There really just is not enough thank you to be expressed.

    I want to repeat something I’ve had a tendency to harp on, but which is very important: there are none of you whom I don’t appreciate. I will be forever grateful to those who have donated, pledged, and materially supported me. But I am also grateful to every person who reads this serial. For someone like me, the fight in the end is largely internal. My situation is grim in some ways; I could fall into oblivion, but I still have the potential to rise out of my troubles. Having hope and a reason to press on makes an incalculable difference. You can’t know what it means that I have readers, that a few hundred people around the world stop a few times a week to immerse themselves in something I created. Even if you are not able to donate anything, I want you to understand that I love you and thank you for reading.

    I actually have more to talk about here: after some of the comments above, I want to make some notes about my situation, about my plans and the future of TGAB. Right at this moment, though, I’m a little wrung out (in a good way!), and also I’ve yet to eat anything today and I’m starting to feel the effects of that.

    I’ll be back with you in a bit, stay tuned! And once again, still inadequately, thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Nice to hear you’re doing better, Webb. I’ve been bingeing for a few weeks now (in still proud of figuring out this was posthuman stuff instead of regular fantasy as soon as Darling hang a lampshade on not recognising the word Elysium), so this is my first ‘real time’ chapter, so to speak.
      Student life is suffering, so I don’t have much to spare, but give me some time and I might find a few leftover euros to donate. In the meantime, this story has helped me through some pretty tough times, and I love you so much for that.
      So here’re some very warm greetings from a Belgian nobody, and I hope stuff works out for you a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. i dont get paid till midnight. Expect to see some more.

      And we aren’t “donating.” At least, I’m not. This story has given me more reading pleasure in the last six months than any four novels that I’ve dropped 2.99 to 9.99 each for. You’ve more than earned every last cent with your hard work and creativity.


  11. Every week I look forward to the days when a new chapter of TGAB is coming out. I am an avid reader of fantasy and consider this book to be among the top I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Looking forward to buying the books one day. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love your story. It has given me laughs at times I’ve sorely needed them. Entertained me when things seemed bleak. Surprised me out of a funk.
    The Murphy’s law you live under is powerful, and I hate that I can’t currently contribute, but I’m definitely cheering you on, even if I don’t comment much.
    I really wish I at least had something profound sounding to say here… Wakka wakka?


  13. Hey- also first time commentor. Your stuff is genius. The way you slice and remix tropes and the sheer amount of vision is amazing. I love it, I hope you continue for years and years, and i’ve signed up a monthly pledge in the hope that you get closer to doing this as the only job you need. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Just sent $30 your way. Wish I could spare more. No need to count it towards a bonus chapter or anything. Take a break and look after your health.


  15. So did Schwartz kill the other two dwarves with lightning and icicles? Because he said he needed at least one left alive…that seems to imply the other two aren’t alive, which would be surprising, as IIRC this story has so far avoided death of characters, most notably in the Team Darling vs. Team K scuffle, where Billie put the magic fire on the stealth elf hitman, can’t think of his name. I was surprised no one died then, but it was of course by design.

    In other news, I was thinking about how not terribly long ago I would have balked at the notion of an entire book featuring Trissany and no one else from her class. She’s come a long way, baby!


    1. He injured them at least… but he might not have killed anyone. The one hit by lightning could be just stunned and the one pierced by icicles might not be hurt too badly. They are dwarves after all, they are really sturdy.

      Also, we’ve seen quite a bit of death in this story. Starting with the prologue where Arachne ends up standing over a dozen corpses; to Trissiny killing a small herd of centaurs; to Flora and Fauna redecorating a room with the still steaming entrails of her victim; to Sarasio, where a lot of people died; to Trissiny and Ruda killing a bunch of soldiers in Tiraas; to Darling’s gambit against the Black Wreath, which got a lot of them killed… and that’s just what comes to mind without having to look it up first.

      Let’s not even mention Juniper’s murder of that one guy. Or F&F’s killing spree in Tiraas. Or Arachne forcing the Black Wreath guy into suicide to send a message to Elilial.


    2. Lightning man is dead. you don’t take enough juice to make you smoke and survive.

      ice bolt gal is currently bleeding out. even odds on her making it.


      1. Yeah, enough electricity to do that would kill an elephant dead.

        He wasn’t hit with electricity. he was hit with magic. it’s been heavily implied that you can get wands in raw magic or lightning calibers; both will screw you up, but that the effects are different.


      2. except that the arcs coming off the towers are electricity discharges caused by magic in the air. its been stated several times. (the scroll towers basically sound like giant arc gap radio transmitters)


  16. First commenter here as well. I have just caught up with this story not too long ago, and I wanted you to know that you’ve just earned another supporter! I can’t really write anything that the others haven’t already, but it is my opinion as well that this is one of the best web serials out there – and among those, definitely my favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. And now I’m sick.

    Woke with what I thought was a little cold and now the fever is getting worse and no longer responding to ibuprofen. Hey, though, very few tooth twinges today. So that’s probably not gonna become a crisis for a couple weeks and I can hopefully fix it before then.

    My deep thanks for the donations that have continued to come in. I think, barring some unforseeable whatever, what’s been donated should be enough for the procedure. Haven’ logged into mypaypal in a few hours but it’s over 2K now. I really appreciate you gys.

    Very very sorry to do this, I feel awful about it coming RIGH after eveyone’s been so generous, but I’m only partway done with the chapter and hitting a point where I can’t cogitate. Even my typins is suffering (also not used to this new keyboard yet). I’m gonna go try an early and extra long nights sleep. Chapter tomorrow; since I’m clearly not going in to work, depending how I feel maybe two chapters tomorrow. MAkeup chatper is still owed and I don’t wanna get more behind.

    Life is just ridiculous sometimes, ain’t it? Thank you all for bearing with me so much. I’ll be right back, quick as I can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Take your time and rest up Webb. I don’t think you have a single reader who would want to get a chapter sooner if it meant affecting your health. You take all the time you need and I can guarantee we will all be here waiting for you when you are back to feeling better.


  18. When you get back to reading comments, I want you to know that I just spouted Eserite philosophy during a poitical debate, and had to stop, mentally backup, and realize what I’d done…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. well, it is obvious things in TGaBverse have nothing to do with reality…everybody knows none of our systems are corrupt. *sigh*

      I very much liked the Eserite take on revenge, its a thought I didn’t have that explicitly before, not sure if you folks know that feeling when you completely agree with an argument, but didn’t have it packed up in a neat package of words before.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh absolutely, oddly enough the well commented on practical guide to evil is similar. I’ve always been absolutely fascinated with the concept of story as reality, and feel deeply in love with Heinleins world as myth. The Vesker sense of reality and the Name Story link to in PGTE resonates with me deeply.


  19. Mate thank you so much for your work. If I try and say much more than that then I think im just repeating the comments above. I hope you figure out a way to support yourself with this as it’s obvious how much you enjoy it.
    Also I’m not sure if this is actually any use to you but http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au are a useful resource and do some good work.


  20. Well, that got worse before it got better.

    Fever’s broken and I’m feeling much improved. It’s been a pretty well wasted day; most of it I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t focus enough even to read, which I attempted off and on. Being sick is extremely annoying. But anyhow, once the symptoms started going away, they went pretty quickly. I’m a tad light-headed and my throat is still scratchy but I’m feeling hugely better.

    Of course now I need to get to bed and get actual sleep if I’m gonna make work tomorrow, which I had better do. Already missed it once because of this.

    I’ve got a small fragment of a chapter done. Will work further tomorrow after I’m home from my shift. May have it up tomorrow evening, or Sunday. I’m gonna do my damnedest to get it out this weekend and not fall any further behind.

    Thank you for your patience, and for everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t worry overmuch about it, I hope you’re able to use deadlines as a motivator without getting too discouraged if you sometimes don’t make it. After all, just noticed I missed the email for the most recent chapter of Mother of Learning. And I really ought to try this Practical Guide to Evil everybody here seems to love…


      1. Lol you just made me rush over thinking I’d missed something there. I find I tend to run in a lot of the same circles with the stories I read. I’m all caught up, though


  21. All right…I’m giving up. Two chapters behind, once again. I feel rotten about it, and I’m extremely sorry to disappoint everyone. This week is just…one of those.

    I just got back from work and I am bone tired. Never could get much sleep last night, I think I only managed about four hours. Between residual cold symptoms and suddenly much sharper pain in my tooth, I couldn’t drift off and stay off.

    The good news is the cold appears completely gone now. Not so much as a sniffle remaining. The bad is that I discovered why my tooth was hurting about an hour into my shift this morning when it broke the fuck off.

    My dentist is closed Friday through the weekends, so Monday morning will be my first chance to get there and set up an appointment. Meantime…guess I’ll just be gap-toothed for a little while. Make no mistake, dear readers, you are entirely my saving grace in this situation. The final donation tally was just under $2200, which along with what I already had saved should surely be enough to cover the procedure. I’ll have to live with a broken smile until I can get this dealt with, but thanks to your support, what would have been an intractable problem undoubtedly leading to a major depressive crisis is merely an embarrassing annoyance.

    I have to get some food and rest. I apologize again, and most particularly to the reader who donated with an earmark specifically for a Friday chapter. I’m very sorry to have let you down, and will make it up as soon as I am able. For the moment, this is your toothless author, signing out till Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You sure you want to spend those 2.2K on a dentist? Improving the insulation on your van so that you don’t have to pay nearly as much in heating bills, saving up money during the winter and repairing your tooth in march-april could be a better idea. You can smile without showing your teeth after all.


  22. I know others mean this too – please don’t feel bad about this! You haven’t disappointed me or anyone else; you are going through a very rough time and it’s important for you to rest and get better! I love your creation TGAB but I also by extension care about you, and even on a selfish level I’d rather you look after yourself so you are better able to continue the chapters later is preferably to you exhausting yourself now to try and not ‘disappoint’ us and therefore having to take an even longer break later. Life has decided to punch you a bit (and trust me, I know how that feels, and I’m so sorry I can’t spare any money right now to get to you!) and there is no shame in needing to take some rest to be able to gather yourself up so you can punch back at life. I hope things work out and get better for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. two other options –

    1)check around to see if there are dentists in your area who are open on the weekend. Some in my area will be open on the weekend for exactly this reason. I think they have a rotation.

    2) go to a clinic and ask for an antibiotic prescription. Your dentist might give you one anyway and tell you to come back when the inflammation has gone down; happened to me once.


  24. Uh. He’s not Guild and he assaulted 3 dwarves in a small alley without witnesses, after already having been arrested once recently.
    I could see them trying to pull the same thing as with Rash.


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