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Much as the children of Vanislaas favored the subtle approach, there was a time and a place. With a renegade Hand of the Emperor bounding toward him at impossible speed, Fedora dropped all camouflage and shot skyward. No one was close enough to see the revealed bone-white perfection of his skin, his crystalline irises or blue-tinged hair, but the wings and tail would have made quite a stir, had anyone been watching. He ascended as fast as those wings could propel him—not specifically to avoid notice, though it would be a nice perk. He had more urgent matters on his mind.
The Hand, however, moved with equally unnatural velocity. Even as Fedora rocketed off the steeple, he landed on the roof of the general store and instantly bounced in a high arc toward the church. The Hand impacted the side of the steeple near its peak, almost exactly where the incubus had been standing, and kicked off again, pushing himself skyward in a wide parabola that would send him crashing back to the outskirts of town from a horrifying height, and stood no realistic chance of catching the airborne demon.
He flung one hand forward and up as he ascended, though, aiming right at Fedora’s rapidly-vanishing tail.
The wash of magic that burst forth was invisible, and mostly fae in nature. It quickly dissipated in the air; Hands of the Emperor were phenomenally deadly in close combat, but had little in the way of flashy magic to throw around. That fistful of raw energy was too unfocused even to qualify as a spell, and barely reached Fedora before flickering out into nothingness. What it did have, however, was sheer power, and “barely” was enough.
Vanislaad were limited to human-like forms in their shapeshifting, and one of the drawbacks of a human form was that nature had never intended it to fly. Fedora’s flight was far more magical than aerodynamic—enough so that when a wash of unfocused fae magic rushed over him, temporarily suppressing the power of his demonic nature, his wings abruptly discovered that they were trying to hold aloft a creature far too heavy and entirely the wrong shape for soaring through the sky.
He tumbled and flopped midair, cursing and frantically flapping his beleaguered wings like a singed moth. Fedora managed, after some struggle, to right himself and get rearranged into an awkward glide, but the fact remained he was going nowhere but down. At least he had enough wingspan to manage a descent that would put him down out of range of the town, and without forming a crater upon impact.
The effort so absorbed him, however, that he failed to realize his position relative to his pursuer.
Just as Fedora was leveling out his fall, the Hand came arcing back down from the apex of his final leap. The incubus’s midair struggles had shoved him far to the side of his descent, inevitably, but he craned his head as he fell, studying the angles.
Then he vanished as though slipping through a crack in midair. Instantly he reappeared, still falling and at exactly the same angle and speed, but now directly above the gliding Inspector. It wasn’t a precise hit—given the forces and speeds involved, that would have been truly uncanny—but it put him close enough to reach out and, as he passed, grab Fedora’s extended tail just above its spaded tip.
The demon let out another aggravated yelp as he was abruptly yanked downward. “Oh, how are you possibly—”
The Hand of the Emperor, not in a conversational mood, swung him around in a complete circle as they plummeted, releasing at exactly the right moment to send him hurtling downward at far greater than terminal velocity.
This time Fedora managed to right himself faster, largely through luck, and snapped his wings back out to their full extent. There was no possibility of another saving glide, however; he was heading down far too fast and at far too steep an angle. Curling himself into a defensive ball with the exception of the wings, outstretched in a desperate makeshift parachute, he came slamming down onto the roof of the barn which stood on the outskirts of Last Rock.
Onto, and through.
The incubus crashed through the timbers, bounced off the edge of the hayloft and hit the ground in an agonized heap, trailing bedraggled wings which flopped over him in a mess of snapped bones and ripped sails.
It took priceless moments for the pain to recede enough for him to think. The Vanislaad were among the least physically powerful demons, but hardy in their way; what did not immediately kill him would right itself in time, and far faster than humans healed. Not fast enough to get him out of the present danger, however.
What broke him from his reverie was a second impact, which caused the entire barn to shake and one corner to partially collapse as something hit it. Timbers and planks fell, luckily far enough from him not to add further injury, but the noise galvanized his attention enough to take inventory.
Broken…lots of things broken. An arm, a leg—no, both legs—wings completely out of commission. Ribs, apparently most of them. Not his spine, good; that wouldn’t paralyze him the way it could a human, but there was only so much muscle and tendon could do around a fractured core. Even luckier, he had avoided hitting anything skull-first. Fortunately none of his internal organs actually did anything—except, less fortunately, ache and bleed when subjected to this caliber of abuse.
After a momentary pause, the wreckage of the corner of the barn began shifting insistently, causing the whole structure to groan in protest. Hands of the Emperor were nothing if not physically hardy. That fall wouldn’t be good for anybody, but the bastard had assuredly been damaged less than Fedora, and would heal much faster.
Marshaling himself, he faded into invisibility and began scuttling away to hide behind a stack of straw bales. With one arm and two legs broken, this was utterly excruciating, but having pushed through the initial shock, he managed to embrace the sensation, forced it to sharpen his mind rather than fogging it. Pain wasn’t preferable to pleasure—at least, not to him, though he’d known incubi and even the odd mortal who felt otherwise—but children of Vanislaas sought out extreme sensations as a matter of course. If they went too long without feeding the itch, whatever stimulated the nerves could provide partial relief.
He managed to conceal himself behind both his native shroud of invisibility and the physical obstruction of the straw, which would hopefully buy a few seconds; he was sure the Hands had extra senses, though of what nature he did not know. Fedora carefully rummaged in the inner pocket of his trench coat with his un-broken hand. The bag-of-holding spell had, of course, shielded the contents from damage and yielded up exactly what he was reaching for. Bless modern enchantment; this situation would’ve been an immediate death sentence fifty years ago.
He reflected wryly, as he flicked off the cork and downed a vial of healing potion imbued with pure infernal magic, that he might have outsmarted himself here. All this ruckus would’ve already been resolved had he not persuaded Tellwyrn to hang back and watch rather than “saving” the day as per her distinctive idiom. Well, it had been the right call, and he’d outmaneuvered the Hand’s gambit. Now he just had to survive the son of a bitch long enough to tell her what she was up against.
Fedora took some tiny satisfaction from the groans that accompanied the Hand’s self-extrication. Precious seconds ticked by, in which they both rapidly improved in condition. The Hand’s innate magic straightening out the comparatively minor injuries he’d suffered, Fedora’s potion working far more rapidly on him. Rapidly or not, though, it was working on much greater damage to a much more fragile vessel. He’d no immediately useful basis of comparison to the Hand’s condition, but best to assume the man would be in better shape than he by the time he couldn’t afford to stall any longer.
That time was fast approaching.
Teeth gritted against the urge to gasp—luckily he did not actually have to breathe—while several bones shifted excruciatingly back into position, he took stock of his surroundings. No exits in the back half of the barn, of course. To reach either the front or side doors he’d have to go back out in the open. Was he faster than a Hand of the Emperor? In this condition, no. In his optimal shape…based on what he’d seen tonight, also no.
He’d just have to be smarter, then.
Easier said than done; brains couldn’t do much without usable options. Fedora quickly discarded extraneous details, fixing upon two of immediate importance: invisible or no, his crawl back here would have left a trail in the dust which the Hand would find sooner than later, and there was exactly one discreet exit from this position.
His arm and leg bones were in their right configuration but still somewhat fractured, which meant that while he could haul himself up the steep ladder into the hayloft, he could not do so in silence. Bracing himself on it and trusting his invisibility, he pulled his battered body upright, peeking over the strawbales and watching the Hand for his moment, already reaching once more into his coat pocket.
As he’d thought, the Hand paused in his pacing, bending over to watch the trail Fedora had left on the ground. That put him seconds at most from pursuing, but also gave the incubus his opening.
He withdrew his hand and hurled the vial he’d just grabbed over the man’s bent head, straight into the wrecked corner of the barn.
It was one of his favorite alchemical explosives: not terribly powerful, but extraordinarily clean. No fire, no light, not even heat or a puff of smoke, just a burst of pure kinetic energy when the vial broke and the solution encountered air. The blast sent broken planks tumbling again, and caused the whole barn to creak ominously. More importantly, it made the Hand whirl to face this new threat, giving Fedora time to scuttle up the ladder with the speed of a spooked squirrel.
He had barely enough mental wherewithal to collapse as gently and silently as possible when he reached the top. Kelvreth’s lashes, that had fucking hurt. Yep, the broken arm was well and truly broken again—and now the effects of his infernal healing potion were fading, so it was gonna stay that way for the immediate term. He didn’t dare take another vial; just the amount he’d already used was risky in the presence of a fae-attuned creature like the Hand. His legs, fortunately, just hurt. Like Hell itself, he thought authoritatively, but at least they were somewhat functional again.
Fedora lay stretched out, wings awkwardly flopping beside him while they continued stitching slowly back together—he might manage one more awkward glide tonight, but he wasn’t flying anywhere—and concentrated on listening and not breathing. The potion helped a bit but he still felt weakened by fae exposure. Or maybe it was just pain. The barn shuddered again due to something the Hand did, but the man was already on the prowl again. Also, there were sounds from within the town, rapidly approaching: footsteps and voices. Whether anybody had noticed them soaring through the air was unknowable at this point, but thanks the the Hand’s efforts at stirring up a mob, plenty of people were out and about to hear two man-sized projectiles plummet to the ground, and the state of this barn would quickly reveal where they had landed.
He lifted his head, again taking stock. Good, he was slightly less cornered now. There was a wide loading window up here, with a sturdy bar extending outward conveniently lined with rope. Why the hell would—oh, lifting hay bales into the loft, of course. If he was going to stay out here in the sticks he needed to familiarize himself better with prairie life. More immediately important, that provided a neat exit. He could also go over the front edge of the hayloft, back to the floor and out one of the exits; the Hand would soon find his trail again, which would lead to the ladder, which would keep him facing away from the front of the barn.
That would require split-second timing, speed he wasn’t sure his battered legs were up to, and would put him out facing the town, right in time for whatever crowd was coming to get here—depending on how Maru was doing, possibly under the effect of mob-maddening Vidian jiggery pokery.
Yeah, that really was not a choice.
Moving as fast as he could without compromising stealth, he stood and crept to the window. Its bottom was even with the floor, which luckily meant one less thing to climb. More importantly, the coast was clear. Fedora grasped the rope with his good arm and hopped out.
Only instinct honed by centuries of cat-and-mouse games like this one saved him.
Before he had consciously processed the noise below him, he’d reflexively yanked upward, hauling his feet and tail out of range of the Hand’s grasp as the man hopped from below. Fedora swung all the way up and landed atop the beam in a crouch; both legs screamed in agony, but they held. For the moment. One was quavering, though, and he knew another maneuver like that was going to send him to the ground.
He peered over the side of the beam; the Hand of the Emperor glared up at him. Clever bastard hadn’t followed his trail at all. To get out here he’d have needed to exit the barn from the side and circle all the way around…which meant he had anticipated Fedora’s reactions and plans in detail, right in the moment.
Well, that was good and fucking ominous.
They stared at one another in silence for a moment, and Fedora was again pleased with himself for cultivating such a disheveled appearance; it neatly concealed the fact that he himself was physically a wreck. The Hand wasn’t so lucky, his usually pristine black coat being torn half off him. Even the fringe of hair surrounding his bald head was sticking out in all directions like a bird’s nest.
Fedora thought as fast as he’d ever thought in his life. Then, powering through the howling pain, he first straightened up and darted forward along the beam, then instantly pivoted and shot back the other way, bounding onto the roof of the barn.
He had a clear shot to the mountainside from the barn’s rear, but that would put him in the position of trying to outrun the Hand on open ground, which he was in no shape to do; his wings weren’t up to flying again, either. This way set him back facing Last Rock and all its hazards, but the poorly-planned little town made a neat obstacle course even before all the construction going up on multiple sides.
Of course, that unwise maneuver immediately caused one of his legs to buckle, exactly as he’d feared it would. Fedora managed to land on the sloping roof, barely, and it was all his frantic scrabbling could do to stop a calamitous slide right over the side. He managed to land on top of his right wing, further ensuring its uselessness—and adding to the pain, of course, though that was a drop in the bucket at this point.
Gritting his teeth, he forced himself upright, stepping carefully on legs which blazed with agony at every step, turning to make for the front of the roof and the town. Maybe he could jump as far as a nearby rooftop, and probably break his leg again, but he had to do something and there’d be only seconds before—
Fedora stopped, staring. The Hand was already standing on the roof, right at the front edge, straddling the very peak.
“Y’know what?” the incubus said aloud. “Just, fuck you, that’s all.”
“Treason,” the Hand said flatly, taking a measured step forward, “applies to citizens of his Majesty’s realm. Despite the fact that you are absent without leave from your sworn duties and in league with an enemy of the Empire…” His lip curled in a contemptuous sneer. “Well, no one should really be surprised, should they?”
Fedora shuffled along the edge of the roof, making slowly for the peak even as the Hand made slowly for him. He couldn’t betray his intentions by glancing down—the moment he moved with any speed, the man would be on him like a pouncing cougar—but if he got to the center of the roof it would be a straight drop back to the protruding beam below. And probably more broken bones, and then he’d still have to make it to the ground and somehow away…
Well, at this point, his every desperate gambit was just to survive a few more seconds. Chain enough of those successes together and he’d be golden.
“Intelligence, of course, anticipated this when they brought you in,” the Hand continued, pacing toward him. “It was not merely expected, but planned. Eventually, when you were no longer worth keeping, it would be necessary to put you down. I suppose Lord Vex will be disappointed that he doesn’t get the satisfaction himself, but that’s what he gets for failing to keep you under control in the first place.”
He was at the peak. Tallest point of the roof, making the drop even worse; in hindsight, maybe he’d have been better off just dropping straight to the ground from a lower height. Orange lamplight illuminated the far edge of the barn and the Hand’s silhouette, signaling the arrival of Last Rock’s citizens.
Maybe the Hand would refrain from physically tearing him apart in public? No, a Hand could legally do anything he liked, and with Fedora’s wings still on display they wouldn’t even object… He tried to shapeshift, which brought nothing but another spike of pain. Probably the combination of fae magic, physical trauma and infernal medicine, in that order.
Would Tellwyrn bother to summon him back from Hell? That wasn’t in his contract… He had a suspicion she didn’t value his services nearly that much just yet, especially not after how displeased she’d been with this night’s work.
The Hand was almost close enough to grab now, and smirking, which was somehow the worst thing tonight. It was bad enough getting outmaneuvered, without the asshole rubbing it in.
“You probably thought you were going to get away with it, didn’t you?” The man twisted his mouth, baring teeth in a truly unsettling expression; there was a grin in there, but also a sneer, and still that smirk, all beneath eyes too wide and with pupils too narrow. The insanity could practically be smelled at this distance. “Now you know otherwise. Nothing defeats the Tiraan Empire.”
“In the Enchanter Wars, pretty much everybody did,” Fedora said sweetly, and “accidentally” twisted his foot on the edge of the roof, flailing his arms for effect as he plummeted. Well, if this was how it ended, at least he got the last word.
The Hand lunged for the edge, then immediately skidded to a stop, staring in disbelief as Fedora bounced right back up, still spinning and flailing. It was an open question which of them was more startled.
Then the big, soft thing he’d impacted ascended above the rooftop, and the Hand actually stepped back, glaring in consternation. Fedora came down again, bouncing once more, but the next time on his descent he managed to catch one of the blimp’s ears on his way toward the ground, and clung there, dangling and trying to ignore the blistering pain in his shoulder.
It wasn’t even the size of the smallest zeppelins, but the huge balloon could have lifted a carriage easily. More distinctively, it had four tiny paws along its rim, a fluffy striped tail hanging from the rear…and an enormous grin facing the Hand, which Fedora was now dangling close enough to see up close.
Maru opened his mouth, puckered his giant lips, and blew possibly the biggest, wettest raspberry anyone had ever heard.
Exactly like a rubber balloon with the air being let out, it produced a blast of wind which sent the Hand of the Emperor tumbling all the way back across the barn’s roof, and the tanuki balloon with its battered passenger shooting away in the opposite direction on a crazy course that bounced them what felt like halfway across the sky and back.
Given Fedora’s condition by that point, it was hardly a surprise that he lost his grip.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS?!” he shouted more at the universe than at Maru as he found himself plummeting out of the air for the second time in the last few minutes, this time without the benefit of working wings.
Then he was grabbed again—by the collar, now, rather than any portion of his anatomy. Awkward as that was, it was still a step up from his recent treatment.
Fedora craned his neck to peer upward, finding Maru grinning down at him. Back in his normal-sized raccoon form, now, and hanging from what appeared to be a bamboo-and-paper parasol painted with Sifanese calligraphy, which somehow kept them both floating aloft.
“If you find this excessively uncomfortable,” the tanuki suggested, “I could return you below to try the diplomatic approach. Your new friend could greatly benefit from the lesson you just learned about premature monologues.”
“I know what you’re doing,” Fedora accused. “You think you’re too cute for anybody to get pissed at you.”
“Oh, is that what I’m doing?” Maru’s grin widened. He had an awful lot of white, needle-like teeth. “What baffles me the most in all this is how your hat is still on your head.”
Fedora grinned back, reached up, and carefully extracted a long hatpin, holding it aloft for him to see.
“Ah. A fashionable ladies’ accoutrement, is it not?”
“Also a serviceable improvised weapon, and two make a decent set of lockpicks. Never underestimate a fashionable lady, bub.”
“A shame you did not get the chance to use it on our associate down there!”
“And don’t think I wasn’t gonna! If he’d—”
It said something about the night he was having that the sudden disappearance of the entire world was far from the most shocking transition he’d experienced recently. The empty sky vanished from around them, replaced with the domed roof of Helion Hall, and Fedora found himself unceremoniously dumped to the floor, where he lay in a disgruntled heap. Maru lit neatly atop the little table which made the centerpiece of Professor Tellwyrn’s personal little patio, accessible only by teleportation.
“I sincerely hope you two are pleased with yourselves,” she grated. “That way somebody is!”
“Now, now, give the fuzzball a break,” Fedora suggested, raising his least injured arm to hold a finger aloft. Gods in bloomers, he hurt everywhere. “This is a college town, and a magical one at that. I’m sure Maru’s performance will just go down as the new student prank to beat. Hell, Chase Masterson was in town, I have no doubt he’ll take credit when nobody else steps forward.”
She took two steps to loom over him, leaning over to accomplish the feat of staring at him over the rims of her spectacles—not easy to do, given their respective positions. “And what do you have to say about your perching atop the bloody church like a self-important gargoyle?”
He found a new reason to wince. “Ah. So you were watching.”
“In fairness to Murgatroyd,” Maru said diffidently, “that is somewhat redundant, is it not? Gargoyles by nature, almost by definition—”
“Urusai!” she barked. Maru subsided, a satisfied little smile lingering on his sharp muzzle.
“So it wasn’t as clean as anybody woulda liked,” Fedora grunted, finally forcing himself into a sitting position. “Aaaiee—yow, that hurts! Fuck, I feel like the china shop after the bull got through…”
“You engaged a Hand of the Emperor in hand-to-hand combat,” Maru observed, “and are not dead. Nor even dismembered! All things being equal, I believe that counts as a resounding success.”
“What he said!” Fedora agreed quickly, pointing at Maru but keeping his eyes on Tellwyrn. “Look, Prof, this was messier than I hoped and I know it goes against your grain to hang back while other people do the heavy lifting, but we won tonight! The kids are home safe, the enemy didn’t get to make a spectacle of you, which had to’ve been the bulk of what he was after, and we succeeded in turning the scheme around on him. Now he’s got nothing to show for it, you haven’t shown your hand, and we know who our enemy is!”
“A Hand of the Emperor,” she said more quietly.
“The same one from before,” he replied, nodding. “My official connections with Intelligence are cut off, but I keep my ear to the ground. There was plenty of rumor about the Hands going wonky a few weeks back, but it’s widely known they’re stable again. Except…they seem to have missed a spot. That guy was not playin’ with a full deck.”
“Even I know Hands are famed for their discretion and efficiency,” Maru added. “This one cost himself a victory by engaging Murgatroyd in a futile display of wordplay. Really, standing around on the cusp of his victory and making a speech instead of finishing the job. Can you imagine anyone being so unutterably foolish? Not to mention cliché.”
“I know where you sleep, fuzzball,” Fedora warned.
The tanuki turned to him and bowed. “I am very flattered, but you are too tall for me. Also, Tellwyrn-sensei, there is more. This Hand is working with a Vidian priestess, Lorelin Reich. It was she who used her arts to stir up the town against the students.”
Tellwyrn drew in a deep breath through her nose. “Reich. Back in Last Rock. Well, well. Just when I could actually use Arquin for once, and I’ve sent him off to Puna Dara.”
“It might not hurt to let yourself trust the kids a little more,” Fedora said, starting to rise. He changed plans halfway through, easing himself into the little chair she kept by the table with a wince. “Nnnnf… But yeah. Szith made a damn fine show of herself tonight. I tolja she would. That girl’s been training to be a noble’s bodyguard since she was big enough to pick up a sword. If there’s one person up on this mountain who can be relied on to extract somebody from a mob—”
“All right, point taken,” Tellwyrn said impatiently. “Not unconditionally agreed, but you can stop harping on it. We had better deal with what’s coming next.”
“Yeah,” Fedora said, frowning. “Yeah… There’s a downside to victory. It narrows the enemy’s options, forces them to move faster. I’m afraid we may not have as much time to prepare, now. Now that we know who he is, whatever that Hand does next, he’s gonna have to do soon.”
“Sir, I’ll take responsibility for this,” Lorelin said formally, folding her hands behind her back. “When that creature engaged us, I instructed Mr. Carson to hold it at bay while I kept concentrating on my own task. That was a mistake; it was far too much for him to handle. Maybe if I’d dealt with it, I could have resumed focusing the crowd and prevented it from intercepting you later.”
The Hand gazed at her in chilly silence for a moment, then transferred his look to Fred Carson, who flinched. He hadn’t fared nearly as badly as the Hand himself, whose clothes were still in tatters; Fred’s coat was a mass of scrapes and rents from the creature’s tiny claws, though Lorelin’s healing had washed away his actual wounds and hopefully neutralized any fae nonsense that might have lingered on him. Even she was somewhat disheveled after scuffling about in the toolshed. The sole fairy lamp in the basement in which they met was an older model, and cast a flickering light that did none of them any favors.
“Do you know what that thing was, Reich?” the Hand asked finally.
Slowly, she shook her head. “No, sir, I don’t. Some manner of fairy. I’ve never heard of one that looked like an overlarge raccoon.”
Fred swallowed heavily. “N-no, sir. That is t’say… I mean, I ain’t seen it myself, but I’ve heard from my trips up the mountain that Tellwyrn’s got a critter like that workin’ for her. I…shoulda thought of it. Plumb didn’t occur to me till after it’d left us. S-sorry.”
The Hand finally shook his head. “This was not your fault, Carson. Nor yours, Reich. We were simply…outmaneuvered. It happens.” He reached forward to lay a hand on Fred’s shoulder, ignoring the flinch the gesture prompted, and gave him a light squeeze. “You have served your Emperor well, never fear; sometimes, we simply don’t win. What matters is learning from defeat and applying the lesson. Next time it will be different. For now, Carson, go home, get some rest. I will need to call upon you again soon.”
Fred’s departure was accompanied by much bowing and stammering. He had barely shut the cellar door behind him before Lorelin turned to the Hand and spoke.
“Sir, I have to ask. By designating the gnome as the primary target, were you trying to avoid setting off a major confrontation?”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean…a dangerous one. Something that could have caused major damage to the town and not involved Tellwyrn.”
“Talk sense, Reich,” he snapped. “That Masterson boy is possibly the least dangerous thing on that mountain, and not even the most annoying.”
She stared, her Vidian mask of control slipping slightly to permit surprise to peek through. “You…don’t know…?”
Lorelin swallowed. “I assumed you were… Well. I have no up to date word from my contacts in Intelligence, as you ordered, but I was briefed on the situation unfolding in Last Rock. Your first mission here, and Fedora’s, in response to the Sleeper outbreak. Sir… There is something you should know about Chase Masterson.”
39 thoughts on “13 – 19”
I know someone who is already shipping Maru and Fedora.
Oh she’s got big balls, and he’s got big ball, but that racoon has the biggest, balls of them all!
I got the alert for this literally the second I read the last word of A Practical Guide To Evil. Nice timing
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Some nice crunchy action here. Things are picking up in Last Rock.
The advertisements keep moving me away from the story.
Ads on the site? I’m using an adblocker so I don’t see them… That’s a WordPress thing, unfortunately. I can’t shut those off without buying a domain name and paying for hosting.
Something for that: make a bookmark with URL:
When you click it it’ll get rid of the WordPress ads.
I don’t run an adblocker because I want to support people, but that goes out the window the moment an ad scrolls the window or plays a sound without me telling it to.
Ads? I don’t run any adblocker software and I’ve never seen an ad on this story
So the Archbishop wants the ex-Hand to think that Chase is the sleeper… That had been my assumption, but I distrust him so much I am now willing to give Chase the benefit of the doubt.
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Dammit, I can’t decide if I believe Chase is the Sleeper or not. I’m inclined towards not, but he’s one of the best candidates of the upper year students. Him and Natchua in particular. But also fuck the Church with a rusty grindwheel, I trust them even less.
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It’s not as if Chase is an out-of-nowhere choice. I mean, they had to be named characters. And it was suspected that the other sleepers cursed Chase to keep him from interfering.
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I still think it’s too easy and obvious if Chase was the Sleeper. Connected to them? Maybe.
Still, there should be -something- special about Chase or he would have never found his way into the university in the first place.
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I mean, remember that there are two of them that got Elilial’s “gift”. With Chase as the first target, I’d believe he was the other of the two (maybe magically bound to secrecy).
Chase as the Sleeper? I don’t buy it.
Chase being set up by Justinian so that the Hand will go after him and piss off Tellwyrn sufficiently enough that she’ll retaliate in a dramatic fashion, thereby eliminating the hand and continuing his work sullying Tellwyrns reputation? That, I will buy.
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Well Mr. Webb, this was an enjoyable chapter, and I even give you a B+ for realistically depicting lock-picking. You can’t actually pick a pin & tumbler lock with two hatpins, a friend and I have tried. Not unless Murgatroyd had a way of magically altering one of them. Still though, you at least knew that lock-picking requires TWO tools, which puts you above most writers. Even Wildbow consistently got it wrong with Sy in Twig.
The problem with hat pins is making one into a pick. You can make a workable tension wrench with one easily enough. But the pins aren’t usually thin enough to work as a pick, and they can’t be bent into a useful shape with just a pocket multitool. A battery powered dremmel would do it, but we figured that’s not a realistic tool to have on you.
If anyone is interested, I make all my own lock picking tools myself, and you can too if you have a good dremmel. Hacksaw blades make a perfect material for the picks/rakes, and the metal insert you can pull out of some windshield wipers is perfect for making your wrench. My tools are indistinguishable from factory fabricated ones 🙂
You make a good point, but…
I guess we could assume that the locks used here are probably simpler than what’s used in our world.
Most goods will be handcrafted or at best manufactured, it’s unlikely that they have real mass production yet. We’ve seen a factory for toasters but that was an arcane product.
Who knows how advanced purely mechanical products are, especially considering the fact that modern materials like plastics, titanium and aluminium are still unknown?
It wasn’t so long ago that warded locks were common in our world. I’d fully expect them to be almost the only type of lock being used here. Why go for something more complex and complicated if you can lock doors with magic if you need more security?
Warded locks can be easily opened with hatpins though…
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This, in essence. You cannot open a modern lock with anything but a key or specialized tools; locks of this era are much easier to jimmy.
Due to all the anachronisms an exact correlation is tough to pin down but the Tiraan Empire at the time of this story technologically corresponds to the Western world somewhere between the American Civil War and World War I. The gadgetry of the age is vulnerable to much less impressive tools than hatpins.
Fair points, thanks for the clarification!
Fedora is an incubus. If anybody can get their grip to do interesting things to a hat pin, it’s a shapeshifter who can monkey around with their tendons, muscles and bone length. 😉
Don’t forget what we learned when we found out that one student was an Infernal savant…every student at the Unseen University it extremely gifted in some manner that makes Tellwryn wants them to have them associated with her university. Sounds like we are going to find out soon why Chase, being the buffoon that he is, is even attending.
Chase has always been way more dangerous than he looks, regardless of what tricks got him enrolled in the first place. Or any he’s picked up since, for that matter.
He thinks outside normal boxes as his default. Underestimating what that means will get him running rings around you. And, setting you up to be murdered by dryad, or whatever else strikes him as funny.
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I haven’t really read through the Sleeper chapter comments in a while, so I don’t know if people have made this prediction yet. I think the female arch-warlock could be Cailwyn, as far as i can tell she is only named by Tellwyrn in 3-5
“but I am not going to permit the girls of Isaac Gallery to summon an incubus. I know you can hear me, Cailwyn. Tell your roommates to put that book back and drop this foolishness before I have to make them.”
The fact that Cailwyn is the only one that can hear Tellwyrn probably means she is an elf.
In 5-4 when the male asks if the coast is clear she jokingly says:
“…no. No, I just rolled some dice and the omens portend that Tellwyrn has left the campus.”
playing up the elvish shaman stereotype maybe.
One discrepancy I have seen is that Elilial and everyone else says the the students tried to summon a Greater Djinn
“…well,” said the man after a moment. He and his companion both had wands out and aimed at her. “That sure doesn’t look like a sshitherosz.”
And later Elilial says:
“Oh, if you only knew how right you are,” she said, smiling broadly. “Now, we don’t need to go into the details of what you wanted with a sshitherosz demon. To be perfectly frank, I’m not interested.
The only theory i can come up with is that saying they summoned a Greater Djinn was a halfhearted attempt at a trap maybe to trick them to say they were summoning a sshitherosz not a Greater Djinn.
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Great research on the earlier chapters. I would say Cailwyn is too obscure to be a good candidate, but that quote from 3-5 is pretty damning.
Who does the “she” from 5-4 refer to? You just said Cailwyn was only named once…
Have sshitherosz demons been mentioned anywhere else in the story? Do we have any information about what they are and what they can do? Knowing what the two students wanted of the sshitherosz could shine much light on who they are.
Sorry about that “she” refers to the female student that the male student was talking to.
I like Cailwyn for it because she and her dorm were planning to summon an incubus already so theres some precedent for demon summoning.
As far as i remember sshitherosz demons are said to be spellcaster demons that try to trick demon halfbloods into turning into warlocks.
In 5-4 Elilial says :
“Here you are, precisely like every lazy fool who’s come before you, looking to take extremely hazardous shortcuts to whatever it is you want and utterly failing to comprehend the cost.”
Possibly the students were summoning the sshitherosz to obtain infernal spells.
Heres something from 5-6 of Gabe talking to Elspeth( the half demon shop keeper in Tiraas)
“How…many times were you approached?” he asked warily.
She smiled, a small, bitter expression. “Also only once… But in my case, because I was foolish enough to fall for the first opportunity that came my way. A sshitherosz demon, name of… No. It doesn’t matter now, he’s dead.” She glided around behind the counter, seating herself gracefully on the recently vacated stool. “That is also sadly common. The favorite tactic of the sshitherosz is to recruit warlocks from among the young, naïve and ambitious; a battle of wits between a teenager in a desperate situation and a trickster demon is generally a foregone conclusion. For half-demons… Our entire lives are desperate situations. Rejected, threatened, constantly running away, trying to hide what we are… We are easy prey for someone offering power, and a sense of belonging.”
I think the demon that sold BBQ in the Crawl was also a sshitherosz, though I don’t think this information helps any.
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Seems like every week for the last six months or so I’ve thought “this is the week I’m gonna start doing Wednesday chapters again!” And then that doesn’t happen. The biggest part of this is that Tuesday is when the new books come out so it’s an incredibly busy day at my day job, and I come home exhausted. This was a major contributor to my starting to slip on Wednesdays back when that was part of the regular update schedule.
Well, today I got sent home early due to illness. On the upside, more time! On the downside, this is not exactly a creatively fecund state. I mean, it’s not like I can do much beyond sit here, so I can at least type. But damn I’m worn out and also chilly and achey and slightly dizzy.
Still have vague aspirations of cranking out a chapter tonight, but…we’ll see.
Yeah, I give up. Feeling worse by the hour and I’ve only got a couple lines scrawled. I gotta go turn in.
Just skip the Wednesday chapter altogether, getting one Monday and possibly Friday is fine.
I’d also recommend that you take a break after this book is finished, for at least one month. You mentioned feeling a little burned out before and it’s evident that for all the good it does, writing this story also stresses you out to some degree. You’ve also become more critical of your own writing, which I can’t really understand since the overall quality hasn’t suffered in any way.
Writing such an epic story with so many characters and plot lines obviously will become slower over time because it becomes incredibly complex and you can no longer just write and see where it takes you. You know that. So yeah, 3 chapters a week weren’t going to happen this far into the story, not while you have a job and all the other RL stuff going on. And that’s fine.
This is just my opinion but I have a feeling that many readers would agree: Take your time writing this story and take care of yourself. Otherwise you might look back one day and regret it.
So my advise to you is this: Finish this book or find a good place in the story to take a break and then announce that you’re taking a month or so off. Name the day when the break ends and the next chapter goes up… and then write that chapter so it’s all ready to go.
Catch up on sleep, get your car/house fixed, cure your illness and then do something fun. Watch a movie, play music, paint, write something not related to TGAB… simply, relax. Maybe look into merchandising options or all the other stuff you talked about.
Point is, even if writing this story is important to you and you love doing it… you’ve been doing it basically nonstop for three years. You need a vacation… and maybe that’ll give you a new perspective or energy or motivation or whatever else you need to feel better about writing.
So far you’ve written ~421 chapters, which is roughly 2.7 chapters a week. That’s a great average. Who cares if you missed a few here or there? Don’t feel pressured to make the missing chapters up to us, there’s no point. There is no actual content missing in the first place and you don’t have a tightly planned schedule for when which chapter is being released either.
How do you plan to make them up anyway? Write more? That’s not going to work out at the moment. So just let it go. The story will now end a month or so later but I doubt anyone will be mad about that.
People have waited years for Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin to publish their next novel. I’m certain they can wait a month or two for you, too (especially since I believe you to be the better writer).
All my rambling aside, this is still one of my favourite stories and I really, really want to know what happens next. I want the side stories about Joe and the Golden Sea, and the one about Teal meeting Ravana, I want more of everything… but what I want even more is a healthy author who’s happy with the story.
You’ll have my support no matter what you do.
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The support means a lot to me. The problem with taking a vacation is that in about a year, the place I live is slated to be demolished, and I can only afford to live because I’ve settled in a place that deserves demolition. I need to be working more, not less; I need to have a significantly higher income in a matter of months.
I’m already donating to your Patreon, but I can’t spare more than a few dollars a month… I wish I could do more, but I can’t even offer a place to stay unless your coming to Belgium :_;
Oh, no worries at all; the support is greatly appreciated and it all helps! I was just clarifying my situation, not fishing for assistance. My philosophy on this serial is that I appreciate any support people choose to give and none of it is owed, as per the terms under which I started publishing online.
I only mention these things because my mental state is relevant to readers in that it can affect my output. When I’m stressed out and facing material difficulties, that’s worth being aware of as it can (and has) result in missed updates.
I don’t want anybody to worry; everybody’s got problems and I’m not suffering.
Maybe Wednesday isn’t a good target anymore? Change your goals to match reality, not reality to match your goals!
I think. Maybe? It’s not terribly ambitious sounding, but it’s not as if you’re not writing well right now. This is typically my favorite story every week, so I wouldn’t go changing anything just for the sake of change
What if chase and natua were the sleeper and the reason whyc hase was the first victim was because they were testing the curse then natua is pretending to sleep and causing mischief at night when noones checking the victims. It would explain why all the students were accounted for and not injured after iris. Also chase friend had an arrow injury after the battle with the huntsman. So maybe him? Idk. You would think the writer is leaving clues right?
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I think you might be on to something. Astral projection is another possibility.The “sleeping” students are also suspects.
Except that the sleeping students except for Natchua haven’t even been on campus yet when Elilial empowered the Sleeper. Unless we suspect Shaiene now?
Aha yes. So if Dee’s theory could be correct…Natchua has a grudge against the world in general and Shaeine in particular. So she actually has some motive.
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