13 – 32

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The back door opened onto a perfectly ordinary kitchen, dim with the lack of any active fairy lamps or torches. There was both a modern arcane stove and an old-fashioned hearth, neither showing signs of having been in recent use. The apprentices crept through with all the silence their training had granted them, even Meesie perching still and quiet on Jasmine’s shoulder. It was hard to tell how intelligent the little fire elemental actually was, but despite her clear agitation over Schwartz’s abduction, she was able to follow orders well enough, at least once Jasmine had explained the necessity.

In truth, there was some cover for their movements, as Bishop Syrinx had evidently found someone, to judge by the raised voices echoing from somewhere in the house—both female, one hers. Tallie took the lead, gesturing for the rest to follow, and peeked around the kitchen door the way she had been taught: approaching it backwards, leaning her head to the side around the corner and presenting the smallest possible profile while glancing rapidly about with one eye.

She gestured them again, indicating that room was clear, and they slipped into a parlor that was just as ordinary in appearance, and just as dim. The only light came from the windows; a lack of drawn drapes suggested someone was in residence and awake (one of the signs a thief was trained to look for), but there remained no sign of the house’s inhabitants, aside from Syrinx’s confrontation.

They froze at the ring of metal upon metal, accompanied by a shout. Jasmine started to lunge forward, but Tallie seized her by the arm, and she restrained herself in response, nodding acknowledgment of the silent reminder. Tallie resumed point position, creeping up to the other way into the room, which had no door and appeared to lead into an entrance hall.

She paused at the sound of heavy footsteps, and then more scuffling and another shout much closer at hand—just around the corner, in fact. There came a thump and a shriek, and then the distinctive ascending sound of booted feet running up a carpeted stairwell.

Tallie peeked carefully around the edge again, then glanced back at the others and beckoned them forward as she stepped brazenly into the foyer.

They found Jenell slumped against the banister of a staircase, shield dangling from her hand and sword lodged in the wall nearby, with her free hand pressed to the side of her head. Blood seeped from between her fingers. Syrinx was just arriving from another direction, also carrying a bared blade. She gave the apprentices a single dismissive glance, then her aura flashed alight and she raised a glowing hand to touch Jenell’s.

“I suppose after having you do secretarial work for months on end, Covrin, it’s not fair to expect you to be able to stand up to a real Legionnaire in a fight. Hold still, you flighty hen, this won’t take a moment.”

“Hey, that’s a head wound,” Darius said, crowding up behind Jasmine and Layla. “Shouldn’t she go to an actual—”

“Boy, if I ever ask for your opinion, it will mean I am possessed by a particularly inept demon and I want you to shoot me on the spot.” Syrinx lowered her hand and her glow, already stepping around Covrin to peer up the stairs. “Heading to an upper floor is a quick way to corner yourself, unless… Whatever that girl is up to, I had better put a stop to it. Covrin, come.”

“Wait!” Jasmine said quickly. “Show us where that soldier was standing. The exact spot.”

There was a pause in which the other apprentices frowned in confusion, while Jenell cast a wary look at Syrinx as if expecting some kind of outburst, but after a second the Bishop nodded thoughtfully.

“Quite right, well spotted. Straight down the hallway here is a small library; she was standing in front of the bookcase with the bust of Theasia on one shelf. Come, Covrin, time’s wasting.”

Once again they parted ways, and in much the same manner as before: Syrinx charging ahead and dragging Covrin along in her wake, while the apprentices moved most cautiously deeper into the house.

“Psst,” Darius whispered as they filed into the library, which was roughly the size of a bedroom, lined with laden bookshelves, and actually lit with fairy lamps. “Anybody know what Theasia looks like?”

Tallie swept a stare around the room. “Well, we do now, since there’s only one bust of anybody in here. Her Majesty was a handsome lady!” She crossed to the case in question, which was heavily laden with books, apart from the spots kept clear by bookends to create display space for the small bust, a unicorn horn in its own stand, and a bottle full of thick liquid that glowed faintly and moved in a continuous slow swirl. “Jas, you’re thinking secret entrance?”

“Only thing that makes sense of this,” Jasmine replied, still hovering by the door. “If they’re really short on personnel, like if they didn’t have enough to post guards at all entrances of the house, they might have just posted one on the sole entrance to wherever they’ve gone. Then, if the guard came under attack and couldn’t quickly retreat through it, she’d logically try to run to draw the attacker away. Meesie, is Schwartz behind that door?”

Meesie squeaked once, and leaned forward off Jasmine’s shoulder to point straight down.

“Layla, you’re the best with locks,” Tallie said. “Can you find the hidden whatchamajigger?”

“Ah, yes, in fact I know a trick for situations just such as this,” Layla said primly, stepping forward. The pulled a book off the shelf, then another, and another…

“Are you just trying every book?” Tallie demanded, softly as Layla continued to build a stack on a nearby table.

“If someone knows a faster way, that would be delightful. I know locks, not secret bookcases.”

“Careful, there,” Darius warned, hovering around her worriedly. “This is a warlock’s house and that’s apparently the door to his secret basement…”

“So be wary of traps, yes,” Tallie said, “but…I don’t think this guy is home. If there was a warlock in residence, it stands to reason we’d be having demon problems by now, after Syrinx blew the hell out of his wards.”

A hefty thump sounded from directly above them, followed by scuffling, a muffled shriek, and then more footsteps stomping away. They all stared at the ceiling for a moment, then Layla and Darius resumed dismantling the bookcase.

“One problem I see with your theory, Jas,” Darius grunted, setting an atlas down on the floor as quietly as possible. “Posting a guard on this entrance basically revealed what it was. That doesn’t seem smart.”

“How many of their actions so far have been smart?” she countered. “If the warlock’s not here, this may just be Legionnaires; remember the Bishops were out rounding up other members of the conspiracy. Some Avenist personnel are trained in intelligence tactics, but most rank-and-file won’t—”

“And click goes the mechanism!” Layla said smugly, her hand on an economics treatise which had not come all the way loose. Indeed, she and Darius then had to back away as the half-unloaded bookcase swung silently outward. Behind it was a dark stairwell, descending in a steep spiral into the unknown.

“Okay,” Tallie said grimly. “Slow and silent, people. This has got to be the last leg of the journey. We get down there, we scout, we do whatever needs doing. We all know our strengths. Any fighting, Jasmine takes point, followed by Darius. Layla’s best with nimble fingers and a silver tongue, so you’re on any filching or sweet-talking. I’m a cat burglar; I’ll do any stealthy clambering around the situation calls for. We may not be able to talk once we’re down there without revealing ourselves, so keep your eyes open and watch each other’s backs. Ready?”

A chorus of soft affirmations followed, including one from Meesie. Tallie nodded once, then turned and stepped into the darkness.

Gauging distance by feel was among the skills Guild thieves learned, but it was one that required practice to develop judgment, which none of them had had. It was clear, though, that this stairwell went down below the level of a basement. Below that would be the sewer system, which made sense; the Guild used the broad tunnels when they weren’t flooding, as did various other troublemakers, but that very fact made it unlikely that a warlock would use a sewer space for any secret purpose. Somebody would likely come across it, and it would be swept clean by the regular torrential runoffs from Tiraas’s heavy rains which were the reason its sewer tunnels were so broad.

Then again, rumors of secret, sealed-off chambers hidden within the tunnel system were as old as the sewers themselves…

Jasmine walked second after Tallie, with Meesie on her shoulder; the elemental’s glow wasn’t bright, but it was the only light they had, and barely enough to find their footing in the cramped stairwell. Darius, bringing up the rear, had the least illumination and descended with one hand on Layla’s shoulder.

They decreased their already slow pace as voices began to sound from below. The words were garbled beyond comprehension by distance and echo, but if nothing else it was a sign that they were close. A minute later, the faintest glow of light appeared.

The group paused, Tallie turning to look up at the rest of them. Jasmine picked Meesie up off her shoulder, lifting the mouse to her lips and whispering a few almost silent words. The little elemental sat bolt upright in her palm, whiskers twitching, and then nodded once and quickly squeezed herself into Jasmine’s sleeve. Without her reddish glow, the paler yellow of lamplight from below was all they had to go on.

It turned out they were closer than they’d realized; immediately around the next turn of the stairwell, a doorway appeared. Tallie crouched next to it, peeking carefully out, and then dropped to crawl on her belly through the opening. The others followed suit, each as the one in front cleared a space for them, emerging from the stairwell into an underground chamber lit only by a single fairy lamp.

Finally, they had a stroke of luck; this place might as well have been designed to give anyone entering from the stairs a tactical advantage over the room’s occupants. In fact, judging by a few rusted chains still bolted to the walls, that might have been literally the case. It was laid out exactly like the Pit back at Guild headquarters, only a fraction of the size; a stone path ran all the way around the edges of the room, at the level of the entrance, with a single flight of steps descending to the cubic depression below. Crawling along as flat as they could get to peek over the ledge, they had a perfect vantage.

And of course, by the time they emerged from the stairwell they could clearly hear the conversation taking place, and listened while getting themselves into position.

“But it’s different if it’s someone you know?”

“Yes! All right? Is that what you wanted to hear?” Ildrin Falaridjad’s voice cracked and she paused before continuing. “I have worked with Herschel, and he’s a sweet—look. I didn’t decide to kill the gnome, nor did I do it, nor would I have approved of that! All of that was on Tanenbaum!”

“Or on whoever he got his orders from…”

“I am the liaison to his Holiness!”

“You’re certain you’re the only one, Sister?”

Tallie was the first in position to peek over the edge; the others spread themselves out to the right, avoiding the steps which would be the first place the pit’s inhabitants would look for intruders.

Ildrin had been pacing up and down in agitation, and now stopped to glare at the Legionnaire wearing sergeant’s stripes, who was the one arguing with her. Two other Legionnaires, both privates, were standing against the wall, looking nervous.

Both their missing friends were against another wall. Schwartz lay in an awkward position; he had his wrists bound together in front of him (a rookie mistake as they all had been taught; you tied a prisoner’s hands behind them, especially if they were spellcasters) and was slumped on his side, clearly unconscious. Ross sat next to him with his back to the wall, awake and apparently perfectly calm, watching the argument unfold. It was hard to take cues from that. Ross was always calm.

“What are you insinuating, Raathi?” Ildrin demanded, glaring at the sergeant. Tallie gently nudged Jasmine, then tilted her head once significantly and received a nod in return. The Legionnaires were only carrying their traditional melee weapons, but Ildrin had a wand in her hands. In fact, she was twisting it nervously in both fists in a manner that would send anyone schooled in basic wand safety into a rage.

“I don’t mean to insinuate anything,” Sergeant Raathi said, meeting the priestess’s gaze without flinching, “but we need to face the fact that this situation is completely out of control. Tanenbaum was supposed to be here to tell us our next steps, but he’s not. You are supposed to be acting on orders directly from the Archpope, but he was just in a public pulpit yesterday denouncing people exactly like us!”

“His Holiness is wise, and clever,” Ildrin shot back. “Obviously, he had to deflect attention from—”

“And were you told that or did you assume it after the fact?” one of the other soldiers interrupted.

“Can it, private,” Raathi barked. Ildrin glared at the girl who had spoken, who shrank back against the wall, all the military stiffness leaking from her shoulders.

Tallie, meanwhile, had been instigating a series of nudges to get everyone’s attention, and now began gesticulating. She pointed at Jasmine and then Darius, and then to the stairs down to the pit, finally making a sign to wait. Tapping her own forehead, she indicated the far corner of the room, behind Ildrin, then pointed at Layla and made a couple of hand signals at which the girl in question frowned in confusion.

Jasmine nodded once, though, and Darius leaned close to his sister to whisper directly in her ear. He and Jasmine would draw attention via the main stairs; Tallie, being the most limber, would ambush Ildrin from above and behind and take that wand out of play, and Layla was to hang back until the scuffle got underway, the intervene in whatever manner opportunity provided to tip the balance. They had no way of waking Schwartz, but with the wand down Ross would be able to help. Hopefully, they would collectively be enough to fend off the Legionnaires.

“Insubordination aside,” Raathi was saying, turning back to Ildrin, “she has a point. Do you know what is happening, Sister?”

“I…” Ildrin trailed off, turning a helpless stare on Schwartz and Ross, and swallowed. The hair at her temples was slick with sweat. Again, she fidgeted dangerously with the wand, and both privates began edging away from the direction in which it happened to be pointed.

“Aimless grunting is not what I want to hear,” Raathi snapped. “Goddess, we just abducted an apprentice of the Thieves’ Guild! Arresting them was one thing, but this. Tricks will send enforcers after our families if we don’t have a plan to get out of this situation, and here you are, making goldfish faces and stammering!”

“I did not tell you to do that!” Ildrin shrieked. “What were you thinking?!”

“Well, we had to do something! He was following and—it’s done, now, regardless. What about the witch, Falaridjad? You said he fought off Athan’Khar monsters! I had exactly one sleep dart, and he’s going to be waking up in minutes. What then? He’ll demolish us! Unless—”

“I am not going to murder an unconscious boy!” Ildrin snarled.

“Then him murdering us, that’s all right with you?”

“He won’t,” the priestess insisted. “I know him. Hershel wouldn’t harm anyone who didn’t… That is, unless he was…”

“Was what? Threatened? Abducted? Tied up and drugged? Falaridjad, you’re supposedly in charge, here. That means you need to come up with a plan. If you’re not going to kill him, what are we going to do?”

“We could surrender,” suggested the soldier who had spoken out previously.

“Private, you will shut your mouth!” Raathi growled.

“Ya could, though,” Ross said suddenly.

Everyone paused.

Jasmine and Darius were in position, flat on the ground out of sight just behind the stairs, she whispering to the quivering lump in her sleeve. Tallie had just reached her spot behind Ildrin, creeping low along the wall, and was in the process of worming forward to peek over the edge again; Layla just huddled in the far corner, looking surly at not having something more specific to do. All of them froze, as did the abductors in the pit.

“You just…be quiet,” Ildrin said at last with an unconvincing effort at authority.

“The thing is, you’re all right,” Ross said. “I mean, all correct, I don’t think anybody here’s all right. This mess is out of control, an’ it’s not really any of your fault. Well, maybe not all of it.”

“Shut up,” Ildrin snapped, brandishing the wand. “The last thing I’m going to do is listen to you!”

He shrugged; Darius, Jasmine, and Tallie had all wormed forward to peek carefully over the ledges, watching for the right moment. They had to time this precisely, and Ildrin was the dangerous element here. She was agitated and playing around with a deadly weapon. Unless they neutralized her quickly…

“I think you tried to do the right thing at every step,” Ross continued, his voice oddly nonchalant. “Started out want’n ta be moral an’ stand for what you believed, right? Dealt with the problem in front of you the best you could, an’ then the next thing, while it all got more an’ more outta control, till you’re ass-deep in kidnapping an’ murder an’ don’t really know how it happened. I can relate, a bit.”

Ildrin and the soldiers were all staring at him now, apparently stunned into silence. The apprentices above barely dared to breathe. If he could talk them down, this could all be over in the most perfect outcome they could hope for.

“I mean, not the kidnapping an’ stuff, that’s outside my area,” Ross continued. “But…doin’ your best and it all goin’ to hell anyway. I’ve been there. The private’s right. Sorry, miss, didn’t get yer name,” he added to the soldier. “Maybe you just gotta stop and realize what a mess you’re in, and… Y’know, stop. I think we’re in a thing now where doin’ anything more will just make it worse for—”

“All right, enough, shut up,” Ildrin said suddenly, gripping the wand again and holding it up. Behind her, Tallie tensed, preparing to burst into motion if she had to. Not that she could move faster than a lightning bolt… “Just…stop. You’re just trying to confuse me. We’re working on behalf of the Archpope. He is right, we are in the right, and this will work out. His Holiness has a plan. We just have to…to stay the…”

Ross grunted, then moving slowly as if to avoid spooking a skittish horse, began standing up.

“Stop it!” Ildrin said shrilly, pointing the wand directly at him. Sergeant Raathi rested a hand on the hilt of her sword, but didn’t otherwise move. “Don’t you—just sit down!”

Disregarding her orders, Ross finished straightening, and took one step, placing himself between her and the unconscious form of Schwartz. He held up his hands, palms forward, and spoke quietly.

“Look, lady, I dunno your story. But just from listening to you, I can tell you’re better than this. You just wanted to do the right thing. Well, everything’s a mess right now, but… It’s time to do that. You gotta stop.”

“I—you don’t…” She had the wand clenched in her fist, pointed straight at him; it quivered from the tension in her arm. “You’re just… You sit down, and be quiet. I will shoot!”

“No ya won’t,” he said quietly. “You’re better than that.”

Ildrin emitted a strangled noise that might have been part of a sob, then squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away. She did not lower her hand, though. Ross watched her face, while Jasmine and Darius watched the tip of the wand in mounting alarm.

The priestess was distracted but wouldn’t lower the weapon; Tallie rose smoothly to a crouch, gathering herself to pounce like a cat. Hesitation could be fatal, and there would not be a better opportunity.

But in doing so, she brought part of her body above the edge of the pit. Raathi, watching Ildrin from the side, caught the motion and turned toward it, letting out a yell and drawing her sword.

In the dim, enclosed space, the flash of lightning rendered everyone momentarily blind; the crackle of the wandshot, ordinarily no rival to a real thunderclap, was absolutely deafening.

The apprentices moved, though, blind or not, several with anguished yells. Darius lost his footing on the steps, slipping painfully down them and fortunately not tripping Jasmine, who had leaped straight off the edge. Tallie flung herself from the rim of the pit, but with her eyes closed, missed Ildrin, who had skittered back amid all the noise.

They landed there and froze again, Ildrin having backed up to stand next to Raathi, and turned the wand on them.

“Freeze! Everyone stop right there!” she screamed. Tallie crouched with her arms spread, clearly preparing to spring at her, but obeyed. Jasmine, though, ignored the order, rushing to Ross’s side.

He had fallen back against the wall, partially on top of Schwartz. His clothes smoked faintly.

“You bitch,” Darius snarled, his voice half-choked. “You fucking—”

“No,” Ildrin cried, turning her stare on Jasmine and Ross. “I didn’t—no, that’s not, I wasn’t… Oh, goddess.”

“It’s a little late for prayers, Falaridjad,” Basra Syrinx stated, striding into the room from the staircase above. She descended the second flight of steps in three long bounds.

“You!” Ildrin shrieked, turning the wand on her.

Basra lit up, a golden sphere snapping into place around her, and in the next moment a wandshot sparked against it harmlessly.

“I suggest you cut that out before you make this any worse for yourself, Ildrin,” Basra said flatly. She strode across the pit floor, apparently unconcerned with the wand being fired at her, and knelt next to Jasmine, the light surrounding her brightening further. “Give me space, girl.”

“Is he…” Layla’s face appeared over the rim of the pit above, but she couldn’t finish the question.

“You—all of you—you just freeze,” Ildrin stammered, clutching the wand in both hands now. Tallie started forward, then halted as the weapon was turned on her.

Basra let out a soft sigh, and the glow about her diminished. “…damn. There’s nothing I can do here.”

“No,” Tallie shouted, turning to her and seeming to forget for a moment about the wand trained on her. “No, it’s… People get shot by wands all the time, and walk away. You’re a priestess, you can…”

“Lightning is unpredictable,” Basra said evenly. “It might give you a mere burn, or nerve damage, but if it strikes the heart, or the brain…”

“No!” Tallie protested again. “You have to do something!”

“Vidius himself can’t fix this,” the Bishop said, shifting to kneel over Schwartz. She began lightly slapping his face. “Come on, Schwartz, it’s time to get up. What did you do to this boy? You’d better hope you haven’t left two bodies in your wake today, Falaridjad…”

She paused when Meesie came skittering out of Jasmine’s sleeve to perch upon Schwartz’s head, pointing up at her and chittering furiously.

“Two,” Ildrin whispered.

“Put. The weapon. Down.” Jasmine rose slowly to her feet, fixing her cold glare on the priestess.

Ildrin swallowed once, heavily. “Sergeant… Soldiers. Weapons up. We’re already—”

“Falaridjad,” Basra warned, “I know what you’re thinking, and you are wrong. You have no idea the danger you are in right now. Lower the weapon.”

“Already have blood on our hands,” Ildrin said, her voice firming by the moment. “If they all just…disappear down here—”

“Absolutely not!” roared the more outspoken of the two Legionnaires suddenly. “That’s enough of this. Sister, lower the wand.”

“Private,” Raathi shouted, “I am not going to tell you again—”

“Go right to hell, Sergeant!” she snarled back, drawing her sword. “This is insane! That boy was talking the only sense I’ve heard in days, and now…” She stepped back from the others, bringing her sword up. “No more. Your Grace… Orders?”

“I suggest you step away from the murdering traitors while the stepping is good, private,” Basra said dryly.

“Raathi, swords up,” Ildrin said, baring her teeth. “It’s us or them, now.”

“I don’t…” The sergeant trailed off, swallowed, and raised her weapon. The remaining Legionnaire looked on the verge of panicking, but did the same.

Ildrin turned the wand on Tallie. “I’m sorry it had to be this way.”

“It didn’t, you unmitigated cunt,” Tallie hissed.

Then Jasmine stepped right in front of her, placing herself in the path of the wand.

“I’ll tell you again,” she said coldly. “Drop that weapon, or I will take it from you.”

Ildrin swallowed heavily. “I really am,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Once again, the burst of light was blinding. But this time, it didn’t stop.

The glow of divine light blazed from her, annihilating the presumptuous lightning bolt and putting Basra’s aura to shame. Dimness was banished from every corner of the room by Avei’s light, and yet it was strangely gentle to the eyes. Though it was as if a miniature sun had risen in the chamber, they could all see plainly through it.

Golden wings extended upward almost to the edges of the pit from behind her. The silver armor materialized out of the air, first as simple lines of light and then hardening into metal and leather. The shield, marked with the golden eagle, appeared in the same way on her left forearm, and last, the ancient sword of Avei coalesced in her grip.

Trissiny shifted to point it straight at Ildrin’s heart. “DROP THEM.”

Raathi and both privates instantly did.

“…oh,” Layla said softly.

Ildrin had not dropped the wand, but she slowly lowered her arm, the weapon dangling loosely from her grip now. The expression with which she stared at the paladin of her goddess was lost, desolate.

“I…didn’t mean…any of this.”

“I don’t care what you meant,” Trissiny snapped. “Now there is only justice. Put down that weapon and face the consequences of your actions with some honor, for once. I will not tell you again.”

She took one step forward, still glowing, and the golden wings shifted, arching out behind her.

Ildrin closed her eyes for a moment.

Then she opened them, and raised her arm again to aim the wand at Trissiny. Her grip, suddenly, was perfectly steady.

“Don’t do it,” Trissiny warned, shifting to a combat stance, shield partially upraised between them.

“I…can’t,” Ildrin said quietly. A strange little smile hovered about her lips, though tears began pouring down her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I’m just not strong enough. If everything I believed was…”

“Falaridjad, don’t you dare,” the paladin barked, shifting forward. “Drop it and—”

Lightning blasted against her, having no effect. The bolt sizzled out a foot before it even reached the shield. That didn’t stop Ildrin from firing another, and another yet behind it. Her face was calm, resigned, and still streaked by fresh tears.

“Stop it!” Trissiny bellowed over the vicious crackling of electricity.

“Sister, stand down!” Raathi pleaded.

“I’m sorry,” Ildrin said again, “but I won’t.”

Then she turned to aim the wand up at Layla.

Trissiny, apparently unencumbered by the metal she now wore, uncoiled like a spring. She was too far distant to effectively rush with her shield, but Ildrin was just barely within the range of her sword, fully extended.

The tip lodged in her throat just below the chin.

Blood poured as if from a faucet, quickly staining her white robes, and then the ground around her as she stumbled backward to slump against the far wall. Raathi retreated, staring down at the dying priestess in open-mouthed horror.

Silence finally descended, cruelly, forcing them to listen to the wet rattle of Ildrin’s last breaths. Even had either of the remaining Light-wielders wanted to, that was beyond their skill to heal. Too much blood lost, too much of it pouring into her lungs, the wound itself a total disruption of a delicate piece of anatomy. A random burst of healing light would only consign her to die more slowly, and in more pain.

Basra shook her head. “A coward to the very end.”

The armored paladin simply stood in the middle of the room, staring at the floor with all eyes on her. The sword she held in a firm grip, pointed down. Scarlet blood dripped slowly from its tip.

The remaining apprentices had gathered themselves, now, and crept hesitantly forward.

“Jasmine?” Tallie asked uncertainly. “…Jas?”

Layla softly cleared her throat, reaching out to lay her small hand on one silver pauldron.

“Trissiny?”

Trissiny drew in a sudden, heavy breath through her teeth, threw her head back, and let out a wild, piercing scream of pure, helpless rage.

“WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER!” she roared, stepped forward, and viciously kicked Ildrin in the chest.

The priestess only slumped sideways, already beyond feeling it.

“You’ve got some things to deal with,” Basra said calmly, “but right now, you need to suck it up, soldier. Grieving has to wait until the battle is done.”

“Oh, my fucking gods,” Darius snarled. “Lady, don’t you ever stop—”

“She’s right,” Trissiny interrupted, turning around. “And don’t bother arguing with this one, Darius, it’s a waste of time even when she’s not right. We still have work to do, here. The innocent and the guilty, the living and the dead, all must be dealt with. And then,” she added, curling her lip in a snarl, “I am going to go find the one responsible for all this, and deal with him.”

“No, you are not,” Layla stated, glancing at the other two apprentices before returning her gaze to Trissiny’s. “We are.”

 

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35 thoughts on “13 – 32

  1. A happy holiday to everyone.

    I’m still lagging behind. I feel fine now, and I had a good holiday, but it didn’t leave me as much time for writing as I’d hoped. So this is Friday’s funded chapter and Monday’s is still coming. I’m gonna shoot for Wednesday on that.

    This was not an easy one to write, obviously. It sounds harsh to say, but I think I feel worse about Ildrin than Ross. He was always such a quiet presence, and we hardly got to know him. Ildrin, though, has been trying to do what she thought was right the whole time, and from her very first appearance has been manipulated or bullied by people against whom she stood no chance at all.

    But this is the point we’ve come to. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: TGAB is never going to be as bloody as is the current trend in epic fantasy, simply because I write what I want to read (which is what I’d recommend any writer do, as it’s the only way to be assured your heart is in the work), and I don’t want to read darkness and death. If I wanna see that, there’s always the news. But things in TGAB are gathering, and though you can be assured most of our friends won’t die… Anyone can. Some will.

    Just this morning I had to delete a comment placed on the very first chapter of the serial, complaining about this fact and posting multiple spoilers. And by the way, I’ve no objection to criticism, but for heaven’s sake don’t post spoilers in early chapter comments. That’s the most common complaint I hear about the story, the lack of character death, and well…I’ve been clear about that. This is the story I’m writing.

    If that means you don’t like TGAB, that is totally fine. If you do like TGAB but don’t like that about it, also totally fine. I’m a big believer in people reading what they enjoy and nobody is obligated to like anything. Some people seem to like the story, and I’m going my best to keep true to the vision with which I started it.

    There won’t be a lot of chapters like this one, but this won’t be the last.

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    1. Well I think this chapter is a bloody fantastic one and I need more time to finish processing everything because this chapter was… so much.

      Happy holidays!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Major character death is a single way to achieve major character consequences, which this story already has. Avei’s judgement of Juniper was a much bigger development than someone dying in combat would have been, for example.

      Liked by 5 people

    3. I feel worse about Ross because we didn’t get to know him. What little we knew of him always hinted at really interesting things hiding just beneath the surface, and I was really looking forward to getting to know him better. Ildrin’s story, on the other hand, couldn’t have ended any other way, sad as it was. Her take was done, while Ross’ was only just beginning.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Figures Triss would have her cover blown here. I knew as soon as Basra showed up it was gonna happen. Did not expect two deaths though.

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    1. I didn’t. I was pretty surprised that she lost it here, when she didn’t really need to at all. She was just being emotional, the exact kind of thing the guild is supposed to be training out of her. I mean I get it, but it was a mistake nonetheless. I thought she’d be saving that reveal for a situation where her hidden powers or the reveal itself would be the difference in the fight.

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      1. Her cover wasn’t blown until Ildrin fired on her and caused Avei’s Protection to flare up on it’s own. Triss was trying to talk her down after she shot Ross.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Shit. Just…
    Poor Ross man
    And seeing Ildrin’s breakdown, she was always such a pitiable character
    I’m just feeling lots of things right now

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    1. Physically? She can try but will most likely be stopped by the gods themselves. Might just be something simple as Avei shutting off the divine light for Trissiny.

      Legally? No way.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. She could prolly call upon Avei’s judgement, tho. If she can do so with a demigoddess, she can also do so with the Archpope.

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  4. Hello, y’all !
    I’m depressive, and one of the numerous ways my illness affect me is insomnia. I’m saying this for context, because I’d like you to appreciate what it means when I say that your story helped me to wake up in the morning and to sleep at night. So, ya know, thanks for that. And the reaaally cool story and characters !
    *Goes on to complain to everyone that I finished my achive binge and now have to wait for the next capter like everyone else*
    Also, not a native english speaker, so sorry for eventual errors and such. (And if one of you spots one, please point it out to me ?)
    Hope you’re all doing well~

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  5. I honestly don’t understand, why Ildrin had to die here, aside from plot convenience. Ross death, I can buy it, he had enough naivety to stand before a weapon, a cornered and desperate person behind it and was shot for it. I can’t understand why Tris didn’t just rushed Ildrin while all attention was on her and she was litterally immune to her wand. Worst case scenario, she would’ve had to kill Ildrin. You do not negotiate with murderers, when they do not possess a threat. And what about shields? She did learned about light manipulation, she was the best student, iirc. Why couldn’t she put a shield between Ildrin and others, if she, apperently, didn’t want to take a weapon of murder from the murderer. ANd if she believed that Avei’s priestess will not kill on purpose, if she gave her excuses like she was scared, and she was startled, she didn’t mean it, why didn’t she runned the second she started shootting anyway? If she started seconds earlier, she might’ve pushed her with a shield. For such a trigger-happy person, she strangely indesisive when it matters. Like she started playing a role, or wanted to intimidate her with all the slow walking and invulnerability, but why do you try to intimidate a cornered, scared person, that already killed once and got her whole live ruined?
    It doesn’t make scence to me. and it’s the only thing that bugs me, everything else is perfectly logical, but I feel like Ildrin’s death only served a purpose of protecting Archpope’s secrets until the BIG REVEAL further down the plot and it irritates me that for the story that purposedly tries to stay away from murders for the sake of popularity, first time it breaks it’s rules in any meaningful way, it goes to this.

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    1. Justice is a social construct: It requires acceptance of, and adherence to, a common standard or else all you’ve got is revenge, feuds, tyranny and haggling. Trissiny was giving Ildrin a chance to surrender, and answer to the Avenist standard of rejecting murder of noncombatants that she was nominally supposed to believe in, observe, and honour. That whole confrontation from the moment Ross started speaking was about trying to talk down the person with the gun and get her to accept responsibility for what she was doing.

      As we saw, it didn’t work out because she had already made the choice to flee responsibility for her actions a while ago in swearing loyalty to Justinian to get out of punishment for what she did in Athan’Kar (probably at Justinian’s instruction). She continued in that mold by accepting directions to do all these other things that would violate any normal code of ethics. Her combination of selfishness and a lack of integrity made her a convenient tool, distraction and patsy for Justinian to use and sacrifice like this.

      If there’s a person to blame for it, it’s Syrinx. She knew who Ildrin was more or less, had strong and valid suspicions of what she was doing, why, and who for. She’s a pretty high-functioning sociopath and probably had decent guesses about Ildrin’s motivations too. What she should have done is command the other soldiers to disarm Ildrin and take her into custody for kidnapping, murder and conspiracy. Even if they wouldn’t have done it, that would’ve been a pretty good distraction for someone else to sneak up on Ildrin and disarm her. On the other hand, maybe even Syrinx wasn’t expecting Ildrin to have the desperate motivation–and loyalty to Justinian–to commit suicide by paladin. I have to admit, she didn’t seem to have a lot of backbone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wrote about it. You give a person a chance to surrender before she kills and starts shoting at you too. Some people can’t be negotiated with, can’t be afforded to negotiate with. When you got a person with a weapon that gives you an openning, and being distracted by a Hand of Avei is a pretty wide as opennings go, you go for it and incapacite her, talk after. Ross trying to talk her down is admirable, but stupid. Standing in front of the gun is so much more of both. Like, I can understand that they do not have an analog to terrorists, but you do not act proactively in hostage situations, you do not try to stand up to them or persuade them. So much people died, uselessly, because they wanted to be heroes.

        It didn’t worked out not because she tried to clear herself from responsibility by the “i just fulluwed tha orders” excuse, but because she was cornered, scared, and desperate. The cornered rat bites. You can’t push someone into the situation where there is no possible good outcome, and expect them to not do anything reckless and stupid. Trissiny had the upper hand and the ability to resolve it without more casualties. Instead, she waited to the last possible moment, and killed one more person, who, while not by any measure is guiltless, should have at least had a shred of compassion.

        I don’t understand, why she didn’t pushed her with the wall of light, like she did with Grip, Why she didn’t use shields to render her harmless. Why she didn’t act sooner, why she sprung to kill moves so rashly. I mean, there’s no indication that Ildrin had armor, why didn’t she try to take out her wand, or arm, or attack in torso, where the damage could be mitigated? Ildrin’s death just seems so forced and unnecessary. Tris had so many ways to end it without resorting to murder, but she didn’t, and I don’t understand why. I honestly think, that she is to blame for Ildrin’s death, not just cause she actually stabbed her in the throat, but because she almost purposedly avoided any means of resolving this, that does not involve murder. I have less problems believing that she died to not reveal all Archpope’s secrets prematurely, than for any meaningful reason.

        Also, I don’t blame Basra for that at all. I don’t know, how you managed to miss that part, but soldiers did not listen to her and her orders, aside from the “most outspoken” one. She had a personal grudge with Ildrin, so her direct involvement would only push the situation closer to a violent end. All things considered, she only would’ve made the matter worse. The Hand of goddess stand much more chance at persuading her godesses followers, then someone who, alledgedly, worked not for the Sisterhood, but the Church. Not to mention that for soldiers, someone with actual military rank is far more sound than a glorified civilian.

        Also, it’s possible that she does work on Archpope, she is in his close circle after all. We already got hints, that some of his more usefull pawns avoided the blame by being on the other side and speaking against the Archpope. Stands to reason that the fact that Bishops are so involved is partially to escape the heat.

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      2. Remember that she has also been trying to get over the idea that Avenists are inherently good. She might have believed that Ildrin will realized that she’s wrong if confronted with the Paladin of her religion. Hence the “WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER!” because this really broke her trust in the goodness of Avenists.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Ok, that’s reasonable. She tried give her last chance, that attempt failed the moment she started shooting again. She burned Basra’s house, despite not having any direct evidence against her, she does not strike me as someone so trustfull in Avei priestesses, and Basra can use Avei light, she’ll attempt to let a murderer and kidnapper continue to shoot. She all but encouraged her to switch targets, with all this slow approach and visible invulnerability, and I don’t want to believe, that she did this so that she had an excuse to kill.

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      4. I will grant you that it’s really straining the credulity that Justinian seems to be able to have so many schemes and conspiracies without getting much shit stuck to him. The more secrets you have, and the more people you have in on them, the more chances to fail there are. For a while the story has involved multiple tricks, schemes, and conspiracies of his per chapter.

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    2. Because Trissiny is a person, not a robot, and she just saw her friend die.

      As for the lack of divine shielding, I don’t know. Perhaps because it isn’t faster than lightning or because Trissiny was trained for years to respond with her arms rather than her magic.

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      1. I suspect things simply happened too quickly for Trissiny to save Ross.

        Ultimately Ildrin left Trissiny with no choice. If Trissiny was alone she could have subdued Ildrin without issue – but she couldn’t guarantee she could stop every random show Ildrin took before she took her down, and that was enough for her to decide to protect her friends.

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      2. I wrote about that as well. She is a rather trigger-happy person with a quick uptake on violence, especially if there are human lives at stake. The time she spent waiting for Ildrin to recognize her own invincibility and change target could’ve been spent running to her for a takedown.

        And again, no divine shielding, fine, I can believe that. But she did display an ability to shove people much better versed in combat with the wall of light. Which for all relevant purposes could’ve been used as a shield as well.

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  6. As I see it, Trissiny had no way to prevent Ross getting shot. She was too far away and even remote shielding (a skill she doesn’t possess yet) would have been too slow. She trusted Ross and, to a degree, Ildrin to work things out verbally, it looked like the situation was being defused without a need for intervention or violence.

    As for stopping Ildrin, she was too far away again. Everyone was. You don’t snuggle up to unstable people holding a weapon. The text makes it quite clear, even with a lunge forward Trissiny was only barely able to reach Ildrin with the tip of her sword. That means the distance was at least 4-5m, which gave the priestess several angles to aim at the other people present. Trissiny did move closer slowly, step by step as she talked, but it wasn’t enough to protect everyone. Shaeine could have wrapped Ildrin into a divine shield bubble but Trissiny can’t do that, yet.

    Ross tried what he thought was the best option to get out of the situation without anyone dying. He only acted to protect Hershel, he was probably aware that his own chances would have been better if he stayed quiet. As a hostage/kidnapee you don’t start arguments with your kidnappers after all. It was … kinda heroic. Too bad he didn’t know help had arrived already or he might still be alive.

    Ildrin was unstable already and then suddendly realized how far she had gone and that everything’s crumbling to dust around her. She probably was aware that even Justinian’s influence wouldn’t save her this time, not when facing a paladin. So she chose suicide by cop, as Basra said, a coward’s way out. Even worse, the way she died hurts and inconveniences other people.

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    1. More likely she realised just how much she was used by the pope as a patsy.
      And at this point they have no evidence of the popes involvement….only hearsay.

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    2. Yeah, I have no quarrel with Ross dying, it’s believable and understandable. For one, the deaths quite alike to his happen too frequently in real life hostage situations.

      She was too far away because she took her sweet time waiting to the last possible moment, instead of taking action. This is something that, for me at least, is wildly out of character. You do not snuggle up on person with gun, true, but if the weapon in question is watergun and you are surounded by Wicked Witches of the West, you, for one thing, should maintain said person aim on yourself, and nothing does that better than rashing ahead. Even if she couldn’t’ve created a shield, or a shield wast enough to cover all the targets, what about using, oh, I dunno, wall of light, or a spear of light, both clearly existing tools in her arsenal?

      She may had had chosen suicide, but my problem is not with her, but with how all possible ways to save her were circumvented to the worst scenario. It’s even worse, if she tried to suicide, and succeded.

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  7. When a character dies their story comes to an end. The only impact that they have is what the remaining characters take from how that character impacted them. We didn’t get to learn a whole lot about him, and now, we won’t, and that’s okay. Because we weren’t done with him it impacts us more, we wanted to learn more about(well maybe not wanted, but I certainly wouldn’t have minded, and we had hints) Ross and now he is gone from out lives.
    I think that it was a wonderfully written character death, and his final stand was wonderfully done. His death will have a strong impact on the remaining characters. For story telling purposes it was a ‘good death.’

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  8. Currently shooting to have Monday’s chapter done sometime Friday. I’ve got a touch of the depression and a much heavier touch of the virus of some kind. It’s hardly a disaster but I’m not feeling well at all here right now. I’m supposed to work tomorrow but unless I feel a lot better in the morning I will probably call in. That’ll give me time to finish the chapter, at least. Stay tuned.

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    1. Once you are feeling better, you need to get a buffer going if you are taking money from people for extra chapters.

      Otherwise you probably shouldn’t do that.

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  9. -still sick
    -still depressed (may be partly situational)
    -threw my back out toda
    -found a nail in my tire, gotta go get that fixed somehow

    Happy freakin’ new year.

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