13 – 20

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“All right,” Inspector Jaahri said in a weary tone, “one more time, then. Miss Sakhavenid found—”

“With all respect, Inspector,” Glory said, finally with open sharpness, “we have been over this six times now. It is neither a long nor a complex story.”

“I find that repetition helps weed out accidental little falsehoods that tend to creep into any narrative,” the Inspector replied, matching Glory’s stare flatly. “Or do you imagine yourself to be an expert on Imperial investigative procedure?”

“It is not procedure for you to have dismissed the entire house full of guests,” Jasmine interjected.

“Quiet, girl,” Jaahri snapped, shooting her a sidelong look.

“Each of those,” she pressed on, “was a potential witness and suspect, and I know you did not have time to interview them all in detail—”

“Sergeant,” the Inspector said loudly, “if that young woman interrupts me again, take her into custody.”

The tension in the room increased significantly, and it had not been slight to begin with. Glory and her staff for the evening had been gathered in the downstairs parlor at the insistence of the Inspector, along with Schwartz and Ami. The rest of the house had been cleared out, at Jaahri’s insistence, leaving them alone with eight Imperial soldiers, who had positioned themselves in a ring around the civilians. Their demeanor was cold almost to the point of aggression; they stared balefully at the gathered Eserites (and Vesker and Salyrite) as if expecting to have to break out wands at any moment. A rather peculiar attitude for soldiers to have toward a group of young servants whom they had not been informed were Guild apprentices.

Smythe was gliding smoothly around the chamber, offering tea to each soldier in turn, and being irritably rebuffed every time. Which, of course, did not ruffle his equanimity in the slightest.

“Why are your men not investigating the house, or the crime scene?” Glory asked, her tone again deceptively mild.

“Madam,” Jaahri said impatiently, folding his arms, “I will ask the questions, if you don’t mind—”

“I mind,” she interrupted. “In fact, I have had just about enough of this. It beggars belief that you would dismiss an entire house full of suspects only to sit here grilling those least likely to have been implicated in this crime.”

“Don’t presume that I know nothing of this matter except what I’ve learned here tonight,” the Inspector retorted. “I already have my suspects, Ms. Sharvineh, thank you for your concern. For instance, the late Mr. Treadwell was not a social creature, and in particular was last seen in seclusion due to an embarrassing misstep within his own cult. Someone exerted significant pressure to bring him out to this event…at which he was subsequently murdered. And as luck would have it, I happen to know already who did so.”

“You accuse me of this?” She raised one eyebrow, her expression artfully skeptical.

“I am not yet ready to make accusations,” Jaahri replied, tucking his notebook away in an inner pocket of his coat. “But I am well aware, Ms. Sharvineh, that there is an ongoing matter here, and that you have attempted to conceal the connection from me. This group of young people very closely matches the description of a group of Thieves’ Guild apprentices who were involved in the burglary of a temple of Avei, an event connected to Mr. Treadwell being reprimanded by his superiors in the Collegium. Now, it would seem he has been silenced.”

“Now, that’s real interesting,” Tallie snapped. “Since Schwartz and Ami weren’t part of—”

“Hzzt!” Ross grunted, driving an elbow into her side nearly hard enough to knock her over. Glory glanced over at Tallie, letting out a soft sigh.

“And that is an admission,” Jaahri said with grim satisfaction. “I believe you had all better accompany me to the barracks to discuss this further, in more detail.”

“She is right, though,” Glory said thoughtfully, holding up a hand to forestall Darius, who had straightened up and unfolded his arms at the Inspector’s last comment. “Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Talaari are not involved in that. Why would you see fit to detain them? Herschel is a guest this evening—the only one you did not dismiss. And I cannot fathom what connection you think my paid musician might have to the murder.”

“The fact that you know less than I is the reason this will be quickly solved,” Inspector Jaahri stated. “Sergeant, start gathering these people up, all of—damn it, will you go away?” he snapped at Smythe, who had offered him a canape. The Butler bowed in silence and retreated to stand by the door. Jasmine glanced at him once, pressing her lips together; Smythe’s act had effectively removed him from the soldiers’ consideration except as a buzzing nuisance, and now he had placed himself in control of the room’s primary exit, holding a tray which would serve as either weapon or shield. Clearly, these troops were not accustomed to dealing with Butlers.

“Hershel,” Glory said calmly, “what do you have for neutralizing enemies in a crowd?”

“You are on thin ice, Sharvineh,” Jaahri warned.

“In fact I’ve got just the thing!” Schwartz replied, while Meesie bristled on his shoulder, chattering at the Inspector. “Cooked it up after our last go-round. You know, the one where we trounced a contingent of Svennish intelligence agents?” He cast a pointed look at Jaahri, who hesitated in the act of opening his mouth again. “Controlled chain lightning. I can cast it to arc only to targets I designate; a quick and clean way to clear out a room of mixed hostiles and friendlies. I’d sort of rather not, though. Lightning has a tendency to be lethal.”

“Are you aware that threatening a duly appointed agent of the Silver Throne is a crime, Mr. Schwartz?” the Inspector grated.

“Are you aware of the penalty for corruption for officers of the Emperor’s law?” Jasmine asked quietly.

“That does it,” Jaahri snapped, pointing at her. “Sergeant, arrest that one. Now.”

A man wearing sergeant’s stripes glanced at Jasmine, then at Schwartz, and swallowed. “Sir…”

“Did I stutter?” the Inspector asked incredulously, rounding on him.

“A thought occurs to me,” Glory said idly, inspecting her flawlessly manicured nails. “We know that poor Mr. Treadwell was involved in a conspiracy which has been pursuing these apprentices. All of us had been operating on the assumption, however, that this was strictly a matter among the cults. I confess it simply did not occur to me that there would be enemy agents among the Imperial Army. And yet, I am stymied as to why else you would choose to dismiss most of the possible suspects from investigation, Inspector, or how you would know to include Mr. Schwartz and the bard in this…net, of yours. Tell me, what do you think will happen when I bring my own influence to bear upon you?” A feline smile uncoiled itself across her lips. “I am not, as I suspect you know, without powerful friends.”

“You have managed to say the worst possible thing available to you in this circumstance, Sharvineh,” Jaahri said. “You are all under arrest, and I strongly suggest you comply voluntarily. Resisting his Majesty’s—”

Smythe interrupted him by clearing his throat loudly; the Butler, in fact, was in the process of slipping back into the room, having ducked out while everyone was distracted. Jaahri whirled on him, reaching into a pocket of his coat, and one of the soldiers actually drew a wand. Smythe ignored all of them, directing himself to a point in midair near the center of the parlor.

“Bishops Darling and Syrinx to see you, madam,” he intoned, stepping aside.

They paced inside in lockstep, both wearing their formal Church robes and tabards, but both moved with the graceful stride of a pair of leopards, their eyes snapping to Inspector Jaahri as soon as they entered the room. Even the ecclesiastical uniforms did not detract from the effect; these were plainly here as Eserite and Avenist, not Church officials.

“Oh, now, don’t let us interrupt you, Inspector,” Darling said in an uncharacteristically flat tone.

Behind them, three more women strode into the parlor, immediately fanning out to assert full control of the exit; Flora, Fauna, and Jenell Covrin also stared coldly, making a point of watching the assembled soldiers.

“Yes, by all means,” Syrinx growled, fondling the ornate hilt of her sword. “Finish your thought.”

Akhatrya rapped on the wooden door frame even as he stepped into the room without waiting to be invited; the palace seneschal enjoyed certain privileges as well as responsibilities, and being on hand to assist the royal family whether they sought him out or not involved some blending of the two. It was late, and this wasn’t strictly his responsibility—any number of lesser servants could have seen to it—but he made a point of keeping an eye on any of the family who were under unusual stress, or acting out of the ordinary.

Both conditions applied to Princess Zaruda this evening.

She did not commonly choose to spend time in her father’s office, or any place predominated by papers and books. Neither did the King, but Rajakhan never shirked his duties, no matter how tedious he found them. It was a safe bet, however, that when the King did not need to be actively poring over documents, he would be elsewhere, and so Ruda had had the office to herself all night. She’d spent the evening having clerks bring her a variety of textbooks, financial records and copies of several treaties. Now, Akhatrya entered to find her hunched over an open volume of conversion tables, muttering to herself and tracing one fingertip across a page as she read.

“Would you like anything, your Highness?” he asked diffidently.

“Think I got everything I wanted, thanks,” Ruda muttered without looking up.

The seneschal smiled faintly. “Good. I meant more in the way of food or drink, however. Perhaps a pillow?”

“It isn’t that late,” she said, finally lifting her eyes to frown at him. The office had two narrow windows looking out across the battlements at the harbor, which showed nothing but darkness at this hour. It was not dim, thanks to the fairy lamps.

“Very good, your Highness,” Akhatrya said, bowing. “I am, of course, at your disposal, should you have questions about anything you read.”

She was already frowning at the book again, and absently shook her head. The seneschal waited another moment before bowing again, despite the fact she was no longer looking at him, and turning to go.

“Hey, Akhatrya, wait a second.”

“Your Highness?” He turned back to face her, folding his hands in front of himself.

Ruda almost grudgingly tore her gaze away from the columns of figures she was studying. “Let me pose you a hypothetical.”

“I am at your service.”

“Suppose you worked for a King or Queen who wanted to change the standard of measurements we use from the common system to the dwarven system. How would you advise them to go about implementing that?”

He hesitated for a moment, thinking. “Well… In honesty, Princess, my first recommendation would be not to.”

She drummed her fingers once on another book, staring at him. When she said nothing further, he continued.

“Forcing changes in people’s way of life from the position of the Crown is always tricky, Princess, and should be done as sparingly as possible. This is true for all rulers, but most especially for those governing a people as free-spirited and prone to defiance as the Punaji. Any hint of heavy-handed action without a clear and specific purpose will agitate the populace. That, in particular, would impose costs upon everyone, most especially merchants. Converting from one system—any kind of system—to another is always a difficult transition.”

She let out a soft huff, and turned her head to scowl at the dark windows. “If there’s one thing I would expect of Punaji, it’s not to carry on following a mindless tradition when there are better, more effective ways. Especially a tradition that it turns out was created by the Elder Gods for the specific fucking purpose of holding people back and making our lives difficult. Akhatrya, have you ever looked at the tables of dwarven measurements? It’s all so…efficient. Everything’s derived from a base measurement designed to be specifically useful. Everything scales in neat increments of ten—no figuring or fumbling involved, if you can damn well count you can do shit it takes a trained accountant to handle now. No wonder the dwarves switched over. If they can do it, why the hell can’t anyone else? Why not the Punaji? What the economy alone would save in the long run is more than worth the hassle of converting!”

“If only people saw life in terms of neat costs and rewards,” he said wryly. “Your Highness, I have not been party to your political education. Are you aware of the systems of government used by the dwarves?”

“Mm, not in much detail,” she admitted. “I could probably tell you more about Tiraan or Sifanese or Arkanian politics than the Five Kingdoms. They’re pretty insular an’ they bend over backwards to accommodate us whenever we do business; I’ve mostly learned how to show ’em proper manners when they visit and leave their inner workings alone. Hell, even the Sifanese are less standoffish about people getting into their internal business.”

“I see,” Akhatrya said thoughtfully. “Are you acquainted with the concept of socialism?”

“No, but I like it already,” she replied, grinning. “Sounds cuddly.”

“It’s an idea which is implemented, in one form or another, in the governing policies of each of the Five Kingdoms,” he explained. “Basically, the core contention of socialism is that nothing which is necessary for life should be the subject of personal profit, for anyone. Food, lodgings, and medical care, for example, are all provided to all citizens equally by the state. The different dwarven nations have varying standards of what is necessary; by and large, they are all more highly organized at the state level than any human nation, and their governments provide a very wide range of services compared to ours. They have elaborate public education, for example, all the way through the university level, and state-sponsored arts, museums, scientific research, loans of business capital… Obviously, this necessitates a very high level of government involvement in all aspects of life, and is funded by a heavy income tax, levied progressively according to individual wealth.”

Ruda stared at him in blank silence for a long moment.

“Well,” she said at last, “that’s not quite the dumbest fucking idea I’ve ever heard, but I respect it for trying.”

Akhatrya grinned. “Consider this, though. Even with most of their economies in shambles and gross domestic products flatlined at best for the last ten years, the Five Kingdoms have universally low crime, almost no unemployment, and zero homelessness. Most societies in the state of economic vulnerability they currently suffer succumb to further related maladies, notably outbreaks of disease. No such thing has happened in the Dwarnskolds. They suffer some privation, but they do so equally. The strong do not prey upon the weak, and society itself endures without leaning upon its most vulnerable members.”

“Akhatrya, it sounds like you like this cockamamie scheme,” she exclaimed. “You can’t possibly be thinking of trying something like that in fucking Puna Dara! We’d have a revolution within five fucking minutes!”

“And that,” he said, nodding, “is exactly my point. I heartily approve of you studying the ways of our neighbors to learn from their strengths, Princess. But never forget that we are not dwarves. We are not even Imperials. We are Punaji, and not every useful idea that exists in the world would be useful to us. Some, though they might indeed prove to be assets, are simply too far from the core of who we are. The people will not tolerate anything they see as an attack upon the spirit of our nation.”

She turned again to frown at the window, but this time the expression was more thoughtful than disgruntled.

“The spirit of our nation,” Ruda said quietly, “is already under attack. A long, slow one that we can’t seem to do anything to halt. There’s no room for a pirate nation in the world as it’s shaping up. We already depend on the Empire’s goodwill to prevent one of the other naval powers of the Azure Sea from invading us, and isn’t that a constant fucking insult. Sooner or later, we have to either change who we are, or…give up. Forget who we are, be absorbed by Tiraas like the Calderaan and the Stalweiss and the Onkawi and…” She trailed off, and swallowed heavily. “Gods. I hope Mama and Papa are gone before it comes to that. I don’t want them to have to see it.”

After a moment, Akhatrya stepped quietly over to the desk, and reached out to lay a hand upon her shoulder. It was not strictly appropriate, but the Rock was probably the least formal of the government palaces in all the world. They were, after all, Punaji.

Ruda heaved a sigh and cleared her throat, turning back to regard him with a freshly incisive expression, and he let his hand fall, stepping back.

“We’re already the Five Kingdoms’ biggest trading partner, though,” she said. “Everything they make and wanna sell overseas comes through Puna Dara. Since the Narisian Treaty they’ve vastly increased the business they do that way instead of selling to the Empire, too. There is no possible way Punaji merchants aren’t already familiar with dwarven systems of weights and measures.”

“That is true,” he allowed. “Most have found it profitable to endure our neighbors’ little peculiarities. And if the systems are indeed as superior as you say, there may well be some who already favor them.”

“So, getting back to my original question.” Ruda leaned back in her father’s chair, staring at the far wall, and propped her (thankfully clean) boots up on a copy of a tariff agreement with the Kingdom of Stavulheim. “How to implement that, while still respecting the independent spirit of the Punaji. Since the precedent’s already there, I think we could begin by encouraging the use of dwarven standards without mandating them. Go slow, go careful, gradually get the population more acquainted with ’em an’ make sure there’s widespread acceptance before starting to switch actual government practice. Hnh, I much prefer to get shit done, but I guess you’ve gotta take your time when dealing with the egos of tens of thousands of people.”

“The safe way is the slow way, as a rule,” he agreed, smiling again.

Ruda looked back up at him, grinning. “So! You like my general strategy, then? Anything you’d add?”

“Well,” Akhatrya said, “you asked me what I would do, hypothetically, if I served a monarch who insisted on pursuing such a course. In that situation…yes, I think I would proceed much as you describe. And I also would offer thanks to the gods that my people were in the hands of a wise Queen.”

Her smile actually faltered, and the princess cleared her throat, averting her eyes. “Ah… Yeah, well, I guess—”

Both of them stiffened as an alarm bell began tolling outside the fortress, quickly followed by a second, and then more.

Ruda swung her legs back to the floor and bounded up, crossing to the window, where she pressed her face against the glass, peering out at the darkened harbor.

“What the fuck?” she exclaimed after a brief moment, then whirled and dashed for the door.

“THINK!” Ayuvesh thundered, his voice booming from the walls of the cavern.

The group actually hesitated, which was just as well for the sake of diplomacy; Vadrieny had already burst forth, both Huntsmen had bows drawn, Gabriel was brandishing both scythe and saber, and even Toby had shifted to a ready stance.

“You servants of the Pantheon are always so quick to turn to violence,” the leader of the Rust continued, bestowing on them a mocking smile from his perch atop the walking machine. At the touch of his fingers upon the chair controls, it took a lumbering step backward, then shifted, awkwardly turning itself to face them at an angle. “Really, it’s not as if I don’t know who the lot of you are. Would I actually want to start a fight with you, here, in our own sanctum? Knowing it would cost the lives of many of my comrades, and incalculable damage to our home and resources? No, no, children, rest assured, I was not challenging you to battle.”

“Y’know, for a guy who talks so much about how put-upon he is,” Fross chimed irritably, “you spout a lot of what are really easy to take as threats.”

“This is a misunderstanding,” Toby said firmly. “I honestly have no idea what’s happening, and I have no qualms at all about telling you anything you want to know about the woman who stole the screen off your gateway. I can’t even say for sure if she’s the reason for this—”

“I would be willing to put money on that,” Gabriel growled.

Toby shot him a quelling look. “But we certainly have no attachment to her. Her behavior was not exactly friendly.”

Ayuvesh regarded him sardonically while he spoke, then lowered his gaze to study something set amid the controls on the arm of his mount’s seat. “Hummm. And yet, I find no indication of someone apart from you lot creeping around…” He paused, frowning. “And yet. A screen was remotely activated, and its position is currently unknown. So…perhaps.”

“Perhaps is a starting point,” Toby said soothingly, holding up both hands. “Look, we’ve already established that none of us here wants anything to get more violent than it already has.”

“Ah, yes, so we should now lay our cards on the table,” Ayuvesh said bitterly. “As you did when you mentioned this mysterious woman as soon as you entered.”

“Honestly, man, what would you have said?” Gabriel asked in exasperation.

Vadrieny turned on him with the same tone. “Are you under the impression that you’re helping, Gabe?”

“Not usually,” he muttered.

“Let me lay out for you some other things we have established,” Ayuvesh continued, again manipulating his controls. The walker retreated further, even as the other members of the Rust scattered to man various pieces of machinery, or disappear into side tunnels. “None of us are eager to volunteer information—perhaps understandably. You kids have a tendency to perceive threats in every little thing, and respond with the promise of your considerable capacity for brute force. I, on the other hand, respond to threats by…rearranging the playing field. The best way, I find, to avoid getting into a pitched battle is to make the process so uninviting that no one seeks to offer you violence.”

“Like you did to the Silver Legions,” said Juniper.

“You seem to think that was an extreme response,” Ayuvesh said grimly. “What’s more reasonable, when presented with a large, threatening force, than to remove that force from the board, as gently as possible? But you lot aren’t a Silver Legion. You have a lot more firepower, a lot less restraint, and not half the logistical hurdles involved in doing anything. Carefully incapacitating you isn’t really a prospect, I suppose. So I must, if we are to continue these discussions, somehow ensure your good behavior. I wish I could think of a less regrettable way to do so. Truly, I do.”

He pushed a lever and the walker turned to face one of the walls, which was already shifting into motion, its innumerable machine parts whirring and shuffling like a colossal swarm of ants. Metal arms extended from dozens of points, each bearing view screens of various sizes, and began fitting them together into a single, huge display, its image clear despite the lines of connection running across it and its wildly uneven edges.

The cobbled-together screen showed them an image of the city harbor under the moonlight. As they watched, the waters began to stir.

“I expect you kids to be respectful, henceforth,” Ayuvesh chided, “for the sake of Puna Dara.”

Ruda burst out of the fortress doors onto the battlements, racing for the foremost tower which extended into the harbor with Akhatrya right on her heels. It was chaos, but organized chaos; soldiers dashed alongside them, moving themselves into proper order, as more assembled in ranks in the Rock’s main courtyard below.

The princess and the seneschal reached the tower, troops hustling out of their way, and tore up its steps to the platform on top, where Ruda pressed herself against the crenelated wall, staring incredulously out over the harbor.

Ships were moored, but there was fortunately no active traffic at this hour, and thus no vessels were lost in the disturbance. The spot near the center of the bay, which alternately bubbled as if pressed upon from below and descended into a whirlpool, abruptly exploded, spraying water as far as the docks.

The thing that rose up from within was titanic, a thick, sinuous shape plated in irregular metal over its coiled scales. A row of metallic spikes ran along its spine, with lengths of wire connecting them and giving off sparks and arcs of lightning which danced across the surface of the water. Most of the massive sea serpent’s head was original flesh and bone, but its wedge-like lower jaw was entirely metal, and its right eye had been covered over with a huge patch connected to the plates and spikes climbing up its back. Into this was set a tremendous green fairy lamp which cast a sickly glow across the whole harbor.

Giant sea serpents did not come this close to the shore, they very rarely breached the surface and definitely did not vocalize. The augmented monstrosity finished showing that it did not respect any of these rules by throwing back its head and emitting a mighty roar which had a distinct undertone of metal scraping against metal.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Ruda roared right back, turning to Akhatrya and pointing accusingly out at the beast. “Look at this! This is what happens when I leave those assholes unsupervised!”


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39 thoughts on “13 – 20

  1. Big news!

    I have had a very productive week; I’m already several chapters into my secondary writing project. For the longest time I’ve resisted the idea of starting something else, as writing has grown progressively harder and slower over the last few years; I figured I’d just exhaust myself faster, trying that.

    As it turns out, though, my recent theory was right: the burnout is TGAB-specific. Once I directed my energy elsewhere, I’ve felt incredibly reinvigorated. Honestly it makes me feel kind of disloyal. TGAB has been very good to me. But I guess if you do something without a break for years on end, you start to grow tired of the thing no matter how much you love it.

    So, I am going to try something different.

    For the next few weeks, things here will continue as they have, but I’m going to keep plugging away on Project 2. When I have the first book done, and have edited it the way I’ve always wished I could with TGAB and never had the chance, I will begin posting it serially; I think three chapters a week is a good pace, especially given how slow this story has been in recent months by comparison. If things go well, I should be able to start that within another month or so, and you’ll have a second serial to read!

    This also gives me the opportunity to do something else I’ve wanted to for a long time: offer a bonus to my Patreon supporters. Thus far I’ve not had any goodies to give away (I still intend to rectify that, I haven’t forgotten), and working without a buffer I haven’t been able to offer early access to TGAB chapters the way other serialists do. Publishing an already-complete book with a large buffer one chapter at a time will fix that. I play to make each chapter available to Patreon backers a week earlier than to the general public. It has bothered me for a long time already that I haven’t had bonus goodies to offer these supporters, and I’m quite excited about being able to change that. I’ll feel much better giving something in return for the patronage.

    These are exciting times, friends! Stay tuned for further developments!

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Greatly looking forward to this new serial. Whether Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Science Fantasy, it’s gonna take my time just like TGaB does.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I support Releasing the Mecha-Kraken!!!

    Im also glad to hear you feeling invigorated about writing again.

    (and since this is my first time commenting despite lurking for some time, allow me to say thank you for letting all of us read your story.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. High taxes; a reliance on income taxes (as opposed to business or trade taxes) having some unfortunate consequences; a ton of red tape; lifestyle options other than cookie-cutter being difficult to pursue; vulnerable to corruption; and presumes an educated and involved populace. Lots of things wrong with socialism.

        That’s not to say I’m enamored of the unchecked capitalism that’s being advocated in North America right now. Frankly, I think that Scandinavian style socialism would be preferable to the neo-liberal policy of putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse.

        Neither the USSR or China came close to the ideals of socialism or communism; they were poorly thought out command economies governed by fascism that transitioned to junta-ism.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Having lived under both Western European style socialism and Singapore-style capitalism, I have to say I found that socialism offers more freedom, less corruption, less red tape, and more opportunities to pursue deviant lifestyles.

        Collectivizing food distribution, as the dwarves are stipulated doing in-story, might be going a bit far though. But I guess it might make sense in the context of an underground-dwelling culture, where food production would be a high intensity affair such that a small cartel of producers could easily establish a corner in an unregulated market.


  3. I don’t think these contrived cliffhangers work as well as you’re imagining.We seem to cut away before the resolution of each scene, only to eventually come back to another setup by the time we’re back on the same group. Meanwhile the reader is left to guess at what happened and the writer is forced to add otherwise pointless expository statements to explain what should have been its own scene. Next time we see Jasmine and the gang, they’ll probably be talking about various things the bishops said and did, or maybe the gang will be in the hot seat with the bishops instead of the inspector & forced to accept Syrinx’s help and interference. That’s fine and all, except the important parts of the story are in these bits we skipped, and can’t unskip.

    Now the easy argument to make is that if we stayed with all of these details, the plot would barely move, and that’s true. The wheel of time series had this same problem for largely the same reasons. (Yep, comparing you to Robert Jordan. I hope you hold him in high enough esteem to see this as a compliment) That sluggish plot effect in both stories is a result of splitting the party in several ways, and following the story of each individual as though each of those individuals is the lead character while the others have to wait. Skipping from action to action scene doesn’t help that. It moves things along, but leaves the storytelling behind.

    Every good way to regain control of the story and plot pacing is to decide whom the story is actually about, and focusing on that person, while giving the others an occasional summary chapter. Is this still about Jasmine’s growth in the direction her mother always wanted? great, let’s focus on her. Is it a story of the Punaji princess fully in her element for once? Let’s go with it. Or is the whole story whatever happens to be going on around Tellwyrn? Then go with that one. As it is right now, I can’t tell if I even guessed the point of those 3 plotlines or if they’re just some waffling that happens to be going on until enough real-time years have passed to bring Jasmine back to Last Rock.

    Please just pick one plot line to follow, and do executive highlights for the others. This fragmented style is not doing a service for any plotline, and neither is it doing so for the overall story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The story is about a world, not an individual or group. That is why it has multiple perspectives, always has, and always will. That’s the kind of story this is. I am always baffled by people who complain about this, as if I invented this particular age-old tradition of high fantasy. How does someone read thirteen books into a story and then want its fundamental structure to abruptly change?

      I’ve already decided the next book is going to focus on a smaller cluster of plotlines, leaving others to be addressed in the book after. That worked quite well in Book 11, which has been my favorite so far.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree, this format is a classic and works. There’s simply no other way to show progress in multiple story lines at the same time. Sure, you could dedicate each chapter to one group of protagonists but that would only shift the position of the “cliffhangers”.

        This is far better than ignoring 75% of the cast just so that someone sees more of their favourite.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I actually thought it was very clever how the different plotlines weave around each other, and the evil author leaves us at cliffhangers in each one….;-)

      Liked by 2 people

    3. While I agree with your point on cliffhangers and the story seeming sluggish every once in a while, I think that could be solved with better planning and / or snappier writing. The multiple PoV’s are an integral part of why I like TGaB as much as I do, but the story seems to be stuck in Four Lines, All Waiting atm.

      I’d maybe like more time at once with each group, without devoting whole books to them at once? Say, a few chapters on one topic so some progress is made, cutting off at a point where we don’t need to know every detail about that plotline for a while in-story and moving on to another group (tangentially) related to that plotpoint.

      I like all the characters here, but I feel I satisfied at the end of a chapter a lot more than I used to. I don’t really have any professional tips on how to solve this either, but I think it’s worth noting and I hope I phrased this to be constructive and conveying the love I have for this story :p


      1. No I love the multiple PoV aspect that’s been there from the beginning. The issue here imo is just that too many of them are in a climaxed state at once.


  4. Has it always been Puna Dara? Could have sworn it was Puna Dura… or, at least, I was reading it that way… huh, weird.


  5. Well Ayuvesh is sure one grade a-asshole. I hope they put the smack down on him as quickly as possible! Toby and Teal have wayyyy too much bullshit acceptance.

    I also like Ruda’s plan for converting to the metric system. If we had started that 10 years ago we would be all done by now! If we could stop measuring cars by miles per gallon, the stupidest way possible, that would be great too.


  6. Project 2 is proceeding well; did a complete chapter today and got partway through another. While I am excited and want to have it finished, I’m trying not to overextend myself and push too hard; the last thing I need is a second source of burnout. I’m still hoping to have it ready to roll out before Christmas, ideally sooner.

    Meanwhile, allow me to solicit your opinions, dear readers!

    How many of you are familiar with the site Royal Road Legends, and what’s your general opinion on it? I ask because I am thinking of posting my next serial there rather than WordPress. The benefits of that are tapping into another market of well-connected readers, and the story in question is more video game inspired than TGAB, so I think it could be well-received there.

    That sort of touches on my qualm, though.

    RRL heavily favors a pretty unique genre called Lit RPGs, which are basically fantasy stories with all the trappings of video game RPGs. As in, characters accumulate experience, level up, gain new spells and abilities that way, etc. And in all honesty, this whole class of stories has always freaked me out just a little.

    You could say that a major point of TGAB is a repudiation of that very mindset, with its themes that life doesn’t work in convenient calculations and gaining more power isn’t a way to solve problems. There’s a part of me that thinks such stories are both preying on and encouraging some dangerous delusions, but there’s another part of me that thinks I’m just being a snob toward folks who don’t share my literary tastes. Which, obviously, is an unbecoming mindset in an author.

    And whichever of those parts is right, the initial fact remains that I benefit materially by branching out to new groups of readers, so even if I ultimately come down against RRL philosophically I may not find enough of an objection not to post there.

    At the moment, I’m just toying with the idea; I’m not even leaning heavily in one direction or another, much less close to a decision.



    1. I know the site because I used to read Moonlight Sculptor way, way back, but I didn’t even know there were other stories on that site. I agree with your thoughts on the genre, though; some well-done VRMMORPGs can be a decent source of escapist fantasy, but that stuff is getting both seriously oversaturated and, in some cases, kind of frightening. Well written, self aware stories in the genre can be a joy to read, but the fact that they are such a minority scares me.


    2. Most if not all of the stories there are pure power fantasy, and the audience there loves it. There’s no real way to be polite about this. Now a lot of stories are escapist to some extent, but in general a reader is looking for plot, character development, tension, themes. RRL readers, from what I can tell, want none of that. They want a level-up noise.

      You have the protag with articfacts, power-ups, mentors, romances(yes, multiple), mentors, contacts, legends, kingdoms, this stuff that one gets individually after multiple books, all keep just falling into their lap. Narratively they are all unearned. No villains or conflict that impede the protag in any way. This is the majority of RRL.

      Honestly, a normal story just isn’t what people look for there. If I want to be uncharitable, they want something that hammers down on a pleasure electrode button. Snobbish and elitist or not, I don’t think they’ll want what you’re selling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That was pretty much my impression exactly. But I wasn’t sure it was a fair assessment because I don’t read that stuff and can’t authoritatively speak on RRL’s contents for that reason. The few I tried to get through quickly bored me, mostly for the above reasons.


      2. I might play the devil’s advocate here, but RRL isn’t that bad, or if it is, it’s the same as all the others Novel hosting site, you have a disproportionate amount of crappy writing beacause you have a lot of young writers (or just bad ones).
        This kind of site is a great introduction to the web-novel, it grabs the audience with simple, power fantasy, escapist novels and then can introduce them to better ones, I know it happens because it’s how I began reading web novels three years ago. Began with Don’t fear the reaper, a cliche power fantasy that i can’t even bother to read again because of how bad it was, then I read a ton of better written, but still kinda bad stories and my taste evolved, I became more picky and loooked for better stories, ended on the web fiction guide. Today I still go on RRL to read the few good ones and follow the adventures of Catherine Foundling and countless others in stories written by talented authors.
        So sure the bad stories outnumber the good ones but for someone to say that “They wouldn’t want it” is better defined with word that are not to be spoken in proper company.


    3. Have you considered wattpad or fictionpress? I know of a few books that got popular enough on wattpad to be picked up by a publisher and mother of learning had some success on fictionpress

      or maybe you could post on more than one platform? it will probably be a bit of hassle, but if you want to reach the widest audience possible, that’s the way to go i think


    4. I know of at least one story on RRL without any gamy stuff. And i know of at least two authors there, that post their stuff at multiple loctions.

      Do as you like 🙂


    5. I know the site and was not favorably impressed by it but I have an alternative if you are looking for other places to post your stories:
      Finestories Online: http://finestories.com/
      SciFi stories Online: https://scifistories.com/?a=2
      Stories Online (SOL): http://storiesonline.net/

      SOL has all kinds of erotica as well as regular stories where Finestories is more PG-13 and SciFi stories online should be self explanatory. All are run by the same group and one registration gets you access to all the boards. They also have free and paid memberships and the Author picks where his stories go (Don’t know if the authors get a cut of a paid members only story).


    6. Can’t really comment one the RRL readership.

      If you want to see a litRPG done well, the recently started “Worth the Candle” (http://archiveofourown.org/works/11478249/chapters/25740126) is shaping up to be a very very good one.

      Generally, I think a litRPG should have good answers to the following questions, even if it can take it’s time to arrive at them:

      1) This premise is weird: why are things like this? (might want to keep this one a secret)
      2) Levels, exp, skills: how does this even work? How does the system interact with the “real” world – physics, psychology, and how does it work internally?
      3) How can the above be exploited? Big implications for world-building if it’s not only some portal people from Earth, but everybody using a game system?
      4) What are the problems with doing that? Practical, moral, personal, societal?

      So if you can think of interesting answers to those, the game system stuff can be sugary power-fantasy icing on a portal fantasy world with a weird magic system.


    7. My impression is that with your readership and high rank in the web fiction list you have already grown out of the need to publish on a website like RRL. A dedicated website suits you better, which you basically have on WordPress (arguably limited, but easy to maintain). Here you have control over theme selection, color, the header picture and the comment system, also WP has a functional RSS feed, which is important for readers like me. If you think you’d reach more readers on RRL, I’d consider it as a secondary publishing platform at most.

      I am looking forward to see your new work, as I value your talent for vast world building, character interaction and storytelling. Although also I am a bit vary about the genre. Technology is a part of modern life, but life is much more than technology. Stories that put life into an artificial reality (=technology) can be fun, but tend to get tiresome. Like when modern technology turns from being a useful tool to a dominating factor in a persons life. Even TGaB lost a bit of it’s fascination for me, when the “AI” system has been revealed as the base of it’s world.


    8. I’m planning on multiposting when i start serializing again. Royal Road DOES have non light novel litrpg stories, but it also has a shitty noise to signal ratio when it comes to internal marketing of stories.

      I’ve found (and people have shared numbers a few times over at the webfictionguide.com forums) that the different platforms tend to have their set audience, there are very few freaks like myself that frequent many. If you tie them all back to a single author web page / facebook/ twitter/ patreon, it increases your visibility imo.

      I intend on using my own wordpress install, inkspired, royal road, wattpad. Posted at the same time on each. (I will also sparingly comment on the 3rd parties, and subtly push people to the website, as all the best commentary will be there where I have archiving and control. )


    1. Needs some work on the breastplate. That cleft between the boobs is a major vulnerability… proper plate armor for women doesn’t have that bikini-top effect.


      1. You know, I keep hearing that. BUUUT… medieval jousting armor had all kinds of decorations and sculptures and fringes on the helmets DESIGNED to catch spears and swords. If the inside of the armor was designed to spread the blow over the torso, I would think curves that redirect , turning direct blows to glancing blows, might have a benefit?


  7. This was an epic chapter! Absolutely brilliant; I can’t wait for the next one, it’s driving me crazy. Having Basra and Darling and their respective menacing entourages arrive in your house and politely threaten is you ranks pretty high in terms of ‘terrifying TGAB occurences’.


  8. I’m looking forward to the new serial, whatever it might be.

    I’m not thoroughly familiar with RoyalRoadL, but my impression is that most if not all of the non-RPG portal fantasies there are also being posted elsewhere. It might be a good place to get a few more readers, but a bad idea to post only there.

    I’ve enjoyed a number of stories where players of tabletop RPGs — or in a few cases, video game RPGs — become their characters in the game. I’ve even written one. But in the stories of that type I prefer, the game is just just a way for the players to enter the fantasy world; the game mechanics have no correlation in the laws of physics/magic of that world. Stories where the laws of physics actually follow rules that only make sense in game terms really weird me out.


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