14 – 17

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Like many Eserites, Antonio Darling had a broad dramatic streak; he had also, apparently, had some Vesker training, to judge by his ability to project his voice at a furniture-rattling volume without seeming to strain it.

“What did you guys do?” Schwartz demanded, in perfect unison with Meesie, who squeaked unintelligibly but with precisely the same cadence.

Sister Astarian, who had slipped into the office behind them, now discreetly shut the door and then took Schwartz gently by the elbow. The priestess led him over to a corner of the room, where she leaned close and spoke in a low voice. His eyes progressively widened as she explained.

Meanwhile, Darling was just getting started. “What you kids did matters less than what you didn’t. Look, I’m the last guy you’re going to hear complain about someone standing up to power on behalf of the little guy, but these things have to be done strategically. You boys I can’t speak for and are not my business, but I know for a fact that Thorn has been specifically trained to plan ahead before launching an operation like that! Have you given the slightest thought to what would unfold after you waltzed out of that party?”

“A lot, in fact,” Toby said after a brief pause in which Trissiny seemingly failed to dig up a response. “At the time I accepted the reasoning we were given…but I’m not going to argue with any criticism. That was an awful thing to do to anyone, for any reason.”

“Mr. Caine,” Darling said with a sigh, folding his arms, “I think this conversation will go better if we’re all up front. I do not give a gently used fuck about Lady What’s-Her-Butt. The way the whole affair was described to me, it sounds like the real tragedy is that nobody finished drowning the wretched cow. I am here for entirely practical reasons, pertaining to the unholy mess you kids have unleashed.”

“Now, hold on,” Trissiny protested finally. “That was a sanctioned Guild operation! Underboss Velvet not only cleared the whole thing but participated and led it. If you’re going to take this up with anyone—”

“Oh, you’d better believe I have had words with Velvet,” Sweet barked, and began to pace up and down in front of the room’s desk. “The Calderaan chapter is hers to run as she likes—within reason! And anything involving fucking paladins is pushing the bounds of reason to the point that requires some additional thought, which in this case no one gave. But sure, Thorn, that’s as good a place to start as any. Let me just catch you up on events as they’ve been unfolding while you were off partying with the gods, beginning with Velvet and her crew.”

He stopped pacing and hopped onto the desk itself, where he began swinging his legs in an almost childlike motion while he continued, thumping his heels against the wood in an annoyingly arhythmic manner. “You see, kids, at issue here is the widespread furor that ensues when the Hand of Avei publicly does the most classically Eserite thing imaginable, with a full Thieves’ Guild backup. That sets people talking, raises issues both theological and political, and is generally a big ol’ boot to the bee’s nest. The operation, as far as it goes, was fine and a splendid success from a Guild perspective; Velvet unleashed the greatest terror she could get her hands on to nix a particularly glaring case of corruption and scare those responsible back into their holes for a little while. Rah rah, hip hip hooray, victory for the good guys, and so on. But the Guild also has to deal with the fallout of Trissiny’s involvement, and here’s the thing about that: Cardassa Araadia is a noblewoman herself and an Underboss in the most politically intricate city in the Empire. She knew damn well what she was doing, and she up and did it anyway. That is the kind of recklessness Boss Tricks can’t let pass without delivering, at bare minimum, a fierce chewing out.”

“Not to pour water on all this, but I still don’t see how that part is our fault,” Gabriel said. Unlike the others, he had seated himself in one of the room’s comfortable chairs and was lounging back at apparent ease. “Are we Velvet’s keepers?”

Darling glanced at him, the Bishop’s expression betraying nothing. “Patience, kiddo, we’re just getting started. Now, Velvet and Tricks butting heads would ordinarily not be more than a passing tension, but then your old buddy Webs decided to get involved! You do remember Webs, don’t you, Thorn?”

“Oh, no,” Schwartz muttered from the other side of the room. Sister Astarian stood nearby, listening with her hands folded, their brief conversation evidently finished.

“I’m almost afraid to ask, but…” Toby turned to Trissiny, raising his eyebrows. “Who is Webs?”

“A veteran member of the Thieves’ Guild,” she said, her own eyes widening in dawning horror. “He’s… The kindest way to put it is that he’s a theological purist. He doesn’t much approve of how Tricks runs things.”

Darling thunked both his feet hard against the desk. “And oh, he was just waiting for an excuse like this! He’s just barely begun agitating, so there’s no tell how far he’s going to push this, or even how far he can. Velvet is loudly on the record thinking Webs is a perpetually inebriated turd golem, so he’s not going to find an ally there. But the sequence of events involved, from one limited perspective, Velvet achieving a smashing victory against the nobles of Calderaas and Tricks calling her down for it, and Webs has a lovingly-nurtured network of people who listen to him, including a number who really ought to know better.”

“Hence the tag, I suppose,” Gabriel observed.

“Quite,” Darling said acidly. “And while we’re talking about rifts being rent in cults, Sister Astarian, I wonder if you would be good enough to take over for the next bit? I’m sure you are far more up to date on Avenist business, even despite my recent shouting match on this subject with Bishop Syrinx.”

Schwartz cringed; Meesie hissed, puffing up like an angry cat.

“Thank you, your Grace,” Astarian said, her calm demeanor a stark contrast to Darling’s barely-restrained ire. “One way or another, Trissiny, I had meant to speak of this with you before you left again. The repercussions within the Sisterhood are far more serious than it sounds like they were with the Guild. As the Bishop said, you acted in a very clearly Eserite fashion, with Eserite support, in public. This story has only begun to circulate, but already I have heard from some within both the Sisterhood and the Legion who feel…betrayed.”

“Oh,” Trissiny said in an unusually small voice.

“Make no mistake,” Astarian continued, wearing a gentle expression now, “this will cost you some support within the cult, but it is not all bad. Some of that was support you didn’t need. There are elements within the Sisterhood who have been offended by your Silver Mission initiative, for example.”

“What?” Trissiny straightened up, frowning. “Why?”

“Simple bigotry,” Sister Astarian replied, shaking her head and permitting a faint scowl to flicker across her face. “Oh, they’ll all pretty it up with just the right touch of disingenuous eloquence, but that’s all it comes down to: people with small minds upset by the inclusion of others. I have even heard complaints about your public revelation last year that you are a half-elf. As I said, the worst of the grumbling is of the sort which deserves to be silenced with a heavy boot. But, and this is important, not all of it. You have ardent support within the Sisterhood, as well, and it is from those quarters that I have heard the most shock and disappointment.”

“I see,” Trissiny said quietly, and began chewing her lower lip.

“A cult,” said Darling, “is like a vase, or a nation, or anything else in the world: if you strike a sharp blow to something which had cracks to begin with, it just might shatter. This is something any paladin should think about before they abruptly upend everyone’s expectations, no matter how good the cause.”

“Sound advice,” Toby murmured.

“Thank you, Sister,” Darling said, standing to bow courteously to Astarian, who inclined her head in return. He straightened and turned a baleful look back on the three paladins. “But we’re still just getting started, here. The next big backlash to this has come from Tar’naris.”

“What?” Gabriel exclaimed. “What the— Why would the drow care about anything we do?”

“You were probably not aware of this,” Darling explained, “it isn’t common knowledge. But the Thieves’ Guild has been working closely with House Awarrion and Queen Arkasia’s government to crush the trade in human slaves that still exists there. It’s slow and delicate work, due to the complex politics of the city, and our own minimal ability to act. The Queen and Matriarch Ashaele don’t want the Guild establishing a permanent presence there, and they definitely don’t want their young people—or anyone else—being tempted away from Themynra to join Pantheon cults. Especially ours. So our presence is small and carefully supervised. In essence, human Eserites are scary monsters the Queen can use to terrorize her non-compliant nobles with, when they do things she doesn’t like—such as buying and selling Imperial citizens. It works because she doesn’t overdo it. So guess what immediately happened when the hot news out of Calderaas was of Pantheon paladins and a bunch of Guild thieves busting into a noble’s own sanctuary and torturing her in front of all her friends!”

“Oh, shit,” Gabriel whispered.

“Well said!” Darling snapped. “The short version is that Tricks has pulled all our people out of Tar’naris until we get the all clear to return. Matriarch Ashaele is scrambling to get this under control, Arkasia is seriously reconsidering dealing with us at all, and the other Narisian Houses are exerting pressure on them both to back off. So, congratulations! The slave trade lives another day.”

Toby covered his eyes with both hands.

“But hey!” With a broad grin that failed to touch his eyes, Darling threw up his hands in a melodramatic shrug. “The news isn’t all bad! You kids have yourself a brand new ally, to judge by the fuss Ravana Madouri has started kicking up.”

“Ravana?” Trissiny croaked. “What is she doing?”

“To start with the backstory, she is doing, in a word, populism. In fact, Duchess Madouri has been working pretty closely with the Guild over the last year, to clean out the nest of corruption her father’s regime left behind. An awful lot of the law enforcement in Tiraan Province was in his pocket; she had to resort to desperate measures to drain that swamp. Namely, us.”

“I’d be careful,” Trissiny warned. “Ravana and I aren’t close or anything, but we’ve had enough conversations that… Well, don’t relax around her.”

“Thank you, Thorn,” Darling said with withering sarcasm, “but the Guild somehow managed to function for a few thousand years before you came along. Tricks is not fool enough to jump into bed with a creature like Madouri, no matter how hard she’s working to win over her population. This is a real good time to be a citizen of Madouris or the surrounding country, though. The little Duchess has cut taxes overall, invested in infrastructure and public amenities like school and hospitals, and launched a series of banking initiatives to finance loans for businesses at very favorable interest rates.”

“Uh, hold up,” Gabriel said, raising a hand. “Now, I’m no economicist or nothin’, but I think I see a problem there. How’s she doing all that and cutting taxes at the same time?”

“No, you’re quite right,” Darling agreed, “she’s ramped up expenditures and reduced her income; that can’t go on forever. In her particular case, though, it can go on for a good while. House Madouri has always been rich, what with its lands being around the Imperial capital. Right now it’s richer than it has ever been; her father squeezed the bloody life out of that province for decades, and Ravana has swelled her treasury even further by charging most of his old cronies with corruption and seizing their assets. What she is doing is betting on the long-term prosperity of her province by investing heavily. It’s a gamble that the revenue will raise her back into the black before she spends all her savings. A pretty good gamble, in fact! Fortunes in Tiraan Province are already increasing all around, and Falconer Industries is a tremendous asset for Madouris. And, of course, all of these programs have made her incredibly popular, which brings me back around to my original point. Ravana has spent this summer buying up every newspaper in Madouris, as well as hiring bards, Vidian actors, and some less aboveboard rumor-mongers, and been working to improve her image through those and other outlets. She’d be merely popular if all she did was make life easier for her people; she’s actively keeping them entertained while also running a primitive but pretty effective propaganda machine. That girl is a goddamn hero in that province right now.”

Toby had narrowed his eyes while he listened, and now interjected. “I’ve only heard of national governments doing things like that. Is it common practice for nobles as well?”

“No,” Darling said emphatically. “Nobles only regard other nobles as worth considering, and deal with each other directly. They have a built-in contempt for the people whose work actually supports them. But House Madouri’s name is mud, thanks to the old Duke, and Ravana has no allies of her own rank. She’s making her people her political ally, and her so-called peers have been sneering and laughing at her desperation all year. I’m starting to have a feeling she’ll have the last laugh. All this is relevant to you, though, because in the last few days, that little propaganda outlet has started working overtime to prop up the three paladins of the Pantheon as heroes of the common people.”

“What?” Trissiny practically shrieked.

“Oh, yes,” Darling said with a peculiar kind of grim relish. “The brave and selfless heroes who struck down the corrupt nobles—in fact, the vilest and most corrupt aristocrats in all the Empire! Oh, her papers and bards are milking it. To the point that she’s already drawn the outrage of every House in Calderaas; as I was leaving the city the hot new gossip was House Araadia complaining publicly about House Madouri’s insults. If Ravana doesn’t back off she’s gonna wind up in a feud with the Sultana.”

“But…why would she do that?” Gabriel, despite his almost plaintive tone, was frowning in the pensive manner he did when wrestling with a challenging mental problem. He turned to his classmates. “I’ve never had any indication that Ravana liked us all that much. Certainly not enough to…”

“Don’t look for personal feeling in the schemes of nobles,” Darling advised. “Look for advantage. I can see two obvious reasons: One, this ‘champions of the common man’ narrative dovetails beautifully with her established strategy of courting her populace rather than her fellow nobles, and if she’s willing to push it far enough to actually annoy other Houses it’s a hint that her ambitions may extend beyond restoring House Madouri’s name and prestige. And two, she has plans for you three, and wants you to no only be in an advantageous political position with a wide base of support, but be kindly disposed toward her. This should go without saying, but I will say it anyway because I’ve recently learned not to assume you three jackasses possess an iota of political sense between you: this reflects upon you. You’ve already put yourself on the bad side of a lot of Houses, and Ravana is putting you even deeper in.”

“We didn’t tell her to do that!” Toby exclaimed.

“It’s adorable how you think that matters,” Darling said dryly. “And that, by the way, is the biggest and broadest change you’ve just wrought. Listen, kids: the nobility know exactly what trash they are. Oh, they’ll go on about their privileges and rights and how the demands of their position require certain…you know what, I’m not even gonna bother summarizing the excuses. The point is, they’ll deny it, but they know. It is not an accident that they try to hide their shenanigans from the public eye and put on pretty faces when the likes of paladins are passing by. I don’t think you realize the magnitude of what you just changed. For all of history, a paladin was a wandering force of nature that most people would never encounter. If you were an aristocrat with something to hide, you almost always had warning they were coming, and a modicum of assurance that as long as you kept your worst impulses in check in front of them, they wouldn’t bother with you while there were demons and zombies and whatnot demanding their attention. And then you three came along.”

He hopped back down from the desk and began pacing again, his characteristic poise buried by obvious agitation. All five of them watched him in silence, not even Meesie making a peep.

“Now?” Darling continued. “Now you’ve changed the rules. Now it turns out that paladins might pop up absolutely anywhere, and stick their swords into absolutely anything. Do you have any idea how much the average aristocrat gets up that to would demand a stabbing from the Hand of Avei if they ever had to worry about encountering her? Fucking most of it. And now, suddenly, they actually have to worry about that.”

He stopped, turned, and glared at them. “Do you have even the faintest idea what you’ve done?”

“Um,” Gabriel offered weakly after a short pause, but Darling pushed on before he could say anything more.

“The Guild chapter in Calderaas has the physical means, the personal motivation and a divine mandate to paint the walls of their city with every drop of noble blood therein. Did you read any significance into the fact that they haven’t? It is because, children, the defining trait of being noble is that when someone stabs you, you can delegate the bleeding to a lot of bystanders! Put pressure on the nobility, and they’ll complain over their expensive wine while a whole bunch of peasants get crushed.”

Trissiny had to clear her throat before she could speak. “Princess Yasmeen thought a lot of those nobles would be interested in courting my—that is, the Sisterhood’s favor, after that.”

“Smart woman, that one,” Darling said flatly. “She sure played you three like a goddamn banjo. Yes, she’s absolutely right, some of them will do that. Others will double down, either to dare you to do something about it, or test your willingness and ability to intervene. Others will… Who the hell even knows? There are hundreds of aristocrats in the Empire, and you just introduced a whole world of uncertainty into all their lives. How they react to it will vary enormously by individual. The one constant is that whatever they do, it’s going to affect tens of thousands of people. People will be raised up by suddenly benevolent nobles, or ground down by vengeful ones. You don’t fucking know. You just rolled the dice will countless lives.”

The sudden silence hung over the room with a tangible weight. Only Toby was able to meet Darling’s accusing stare. After a few moments, Schwartz opened his mouth to speak, but the Bishop chose that instant to start again.

“So! To sum up: nascent schisms brewing in at least two and possibly as many as four major cults, the Narisian slave trade reinvigorated, the three of you trapped in an unwilling political alliance with a devious teenage megalomaniac, and vastly unknowable repercussions for uncountable throngs of citizens…and that’s after only three days. The stone you dropped has just barely fallen beneath the surface; there’s absolutely no telling how far the ripples will spread, or what’ll be kicked up when it finally hits the bottom. And that, my dear kids, is why you think carefully before you SHOVE PEOPLE INTO PUNCHBOWLS!”

“Yessir,” Trissiny croaked.

“Trissiny,” Schwartz said abruptly, “I need to talk with you, in private.”

“We’re sort of in the middle of something, Mr. Schwartz,” Darling said pointedly.

“Yes, your Grace, I know.” Schwartz met his eyes for a moment before turning back to Trissiny. “It’s important. Something I realized in the Tower, but I thought it could wait for… But from what you’ve just said, it had better not wait any longer. Uh, Sister, is there some place we could…?”

“This whole corridor is lined with offices like this one,” she said. “There’s another empty one just next door. I’ll show you.”

“Thank you,” he said politely, following her to the door. Trissiny looked at him, then back at Darling, who was staring flatly at her. “This won’t take long, I hope,” Schwartz added, pausing while Astarian stepped out into the hall.

“I…okay. I’ll be right back,” she said to the Bishop. “Don’t yell at them too much, this is mostly my fault.”

“I salute your self-awareness,” he said sourly, “however belated. Like I said, these two aren’t my problem.”

She made no response, just shutting the door behind her.

“Um,” Gabriel said hesitantly into the ensuing silence, “I realize we’re…well, you just said it. But since you’re here and all, your Grace, d’you mind if we pick your brain a little bit about…you know, all this?”

“The last thing I’m going to do is discourage you from asking questions or wanting to understand,” Darling said with a sigh, folding his arms and leaning back against the desk. “Go right ahead, I’ll answer whatever I can.”

“What have you heard from our cults?” Gabriel asked. “Is it…as bad as with the Guild and the Sisterhood?”

“I didn’t know how serious it was with the Sisterhood until just now,” Darling pointed out. “I don’t exactly have a direct line into Avenist business. What I know came from Bishop Syrinx, who is a tangled skein of schemes and rage on her best day. So I can’t tell you anything authoritative, except the very broad strokes.”

“The very broad strokes would be appreciated,” Toby said quietly. “You’re right, we should have given more thought to this.”

“Well, I’m aware that you are on a divine mission right now,” Darling said with a sigh. “It’s possible I’ve been harder on you than is entirely fair. But to be honest, I’d rather be unfair than risk you doing more shit like this in the future. If the point is made, though, perhaps I should refrain from chewing on Trissiny any further. This is an old complaint, though,” he added bitterly. “First it was Lor’naris, and then she and a bunch of other apprentices took it into their heads to intervene between the Sisterhood and the Collegium… But I digress. I rather suspect you two have less to worry about than Trissiny does. Particularly from your cults’ respective leadership. Toby, you’re probably fine. The stories out of Calderaas emphasize that you were there using the gentlest methods possible, and even if you had gotten violent, the Dawn Council is far too holy to stir themselves over mere politics.”

“Oh, how I wish that were true,” Toby said with a sigh, “but your point is taken. And appreciated.”

“Lady Gwenfaer,” Darling added to Gabriel, “has such a twisty brain I doubt anybody knows how she truly feels about anything—possibly not even herself. She’ll find a way to make all this work to her advantage, but I can’t predict what she might say to you about it. Vidians, fittingly enough, come in two basic types: you’ve got the actors, death priests, the folks running small country temples… You know, the salt-of-the-earth sort. Those are generally some of the most laid-back and approachable people out there. And then there are the career clerics, the ones who get themselves knee-deep into politics, and are as disparate and irascible a lot as the nobility. They’ll do whatever their individual situations mandate, which will be…unpredictable.”

“Hm,” Gabriel murmured. “What would you suggest if I, say, needed to quell the plotting and infighting in the cult, and generally bring them all to heel?”

“Pick a faction and commit,” Darling said immediately. “Do not try to take on the whole cult, they’ll eat you alive. Before launching yourself into a political battle, you need a base of support and sources of advice. I recommend you familiarize yourself with the various sects within the cult and decide which is least objectionable to you.”

“I’ve just had an idea,” Gabriel said, frowning pensively. “That thing Ravana is doing—”

Muffled by the intervening wall but still loud and clear, they abruptly heard Trissiny’s voice raised in a wordless scream of pure fury. A second later, a heavy thump resounded from the left wall of the room, making the books on that side shift slightly.

The three of them lost a moment in shocked stares, then both paladins bolted for the door. Darling followed them at a more circumspect pace. Sister Astarian was not in evidence outside, apparently having returned to her own duties after showing Trissiny and Schwartz to the other room.

Toby moved ahead in the hall and was the one to wrench open the door. He and Gabriel piled into the entrance, Darling (who was taller than either) peeking over their heads from behind.

Trissiny and Schwartz were face-to-face barely a foot apart; her sword was buried half its length into the desk along the wall behind her.

“Are you okay?” Toby demanded.

“Fine!” Trissiny barked, not looking at him. “Shut the door!”

“Uh,” Gabriel offered, “if there’s anything we can—”

“SHUT IT!”

They did.


“How could you not tell me?” Trissiny demanded in an agonized voice as soon as Toby had closed them in again.

“I should have,” Schwartz agreed immediately, nodding. “I really should, and I’m embarrassed it took the Tower of Salyrene to make me see that. But please understand—all this started with Abbess Narnasia warning me to plan carefully before acting, and then Principia doing the same, and finally Jenell herself demanding I butt out and let her handle Basra… And, well, I didn’t realize I’d let it all turn into procrastination. Hanging back, researching and trying to come up with something clever instead of…of doing what was necessary.”

“Oh, Goddess. Jenell.” Trissiny turned from him, pressing her gauntleted hands over her face. “I did this to her. Her father asked me to get her into the cadet program, and I pulled strings…”

“Don’t do that,” he said quickly, Meesie squeaking emphatic agreement. “You got her into the Legion, that is all. Nobody’s responsible for Basra but Basra.”

“And I knew she was messed up in the head,” she whispered. “Anth’auwa, the word is. Even Rouvad knew.”

“She did, did she.” Schwartz’s voice was suddenly a lot less warm.

“Goddess. She thinks she has Basra under control. I had my doubts about that, but I trusted… No, I didn’t even trust, I let her take responsibility for it. What was I thinking? That woman is such a vicious thing not a Sister under Avei’s banner would be surprised about this. I’m not surprised!” Her laugh held no mirth at all, only bitterness and the raw edge of hysteria. “Hell, this all makes more sense now that I know! Why have we tolerated this?”

“Life’s never as simple as just taking out the bad people,” Schwartz said quietly. “We all just…do the best we can. There are compromises that have to be made, and everybody makes mistakes. Look…whoever has some responsibility for this, and that’s a lot of us, that’s something to be dealt with…I dunno, in prayer, I guess. What matters right now is action, Trissiny. I said the Tower was what made me start thinking clearly about this, but what Darling just said in there has changed the whole issue. Apparently what you did in Calderaas rocked the whole Sisterhood back on its heels. If you suddenly show up in Tiraas and just stick your sword in the Bishop…”

“Oh, Goddess,” she groaned. “You’re right. This is terrible timing. But Herschel, we can’t let this go on any longer, you understand? I met Jenell Covrin, she’s a mean rich girl right out of a trashy novel. She is not a match for Basra Syrinx; that woman’s had plenty of time to work her tentacles into Covrin’s brain. She’s not going to take Syrinx down, whatever she thinks. And knowing all this, I will not tolerate that woman representing Avei’s faith any longer!”

“So…what do you want to do, then?” he asked helplessly. “I will support whatever it is. But I’m way out of my depth, Triss. If you think the right thing is to take her down and hope the Sisterhood survives it, I’ll back you up.”

Trissiny stood, staring at the wall, for a long moment. At least, she looked up at him again. “We’re both being blind. This isn’t our strong suit, Herschel, but we’ve got a resource we can use, here. Come on.”

She grabbed her sword and wrenched it out of the wood with a single yank. He followed her back out into the hall, and through the door into the other study. Toby and Gabriel had sunk into chairs; Darling was perched on the desk again, but stood upon their entry.

“Sweet, I need your help,” Trissiny said as soon as she’d shut the door.

“Saints and ministers of grace preserve us,” he groaned. “What the hell now, Thorn?”

“You’ve just finished emphatically making the point that I am terrible at politics, and I believe you. It’s important to know your own faults, after all. Well, I need to do something that’s going to have major political implications. I need guidance.”

He was watching her with pure wariness. “What, exactly, are you trying to do?”

“I am going to destroy Basra Syrinx.”

Gabriel and Toby both straightened up. Darling didn’t flicker so much as an eyelid.

“Why?” he asked quietly.

“Because I’ve just learned exactly how much of a monster she is,” Trissiny replied, meeting his gaze. “I had no idea it was this bad. She needs to go. The Sisterhood cannot have her in that position any longer. But…after the mess I’ve made already, if I just go in wings blazing and cut her down, there really will be a schism.”

“Have you considered not doing that?” he suggested evenly. “At least until you clean up after your last political mistake? Basra being a seriously warped piece of work isn’t news to anybody, but she’s been Bishop for years and the world hasn’t ended.”

“That option is not on the table,” Trissiny replied. “She goes. If you’re not going to help, then…I guess I’ll have to do my best and let the chips fall wherever they do. But I could really use your advice, Sweet.”

“You sure can,” he said, his shoulders shifting in a quiet sigh, and turned his head to gaze into the distance beyond the room’s wall. “For example, you just blurted all that to somebody who has gone out of his way to protect Basra’s political position, and needs her to stay in it.”

Her breath caught. “…why?” Meesie shrieked in fury and Schwartz had to grab her to prevent a tiny elemental attack on the Bishop.

Sweet looked at Trissiny again, his expression inscrutable. “Because she is the only other person in the Universal Church who knows what a piece of work the Archpope is, and has a willingness to keep him in check. Ah, what a tangled life I lead, having to be loyal to so many factions who only aren’t at each other’s throats because I’m standing between them… Stop making that face, Trissiny, of course I’ll help you. Ethics aside, this changes the whole equation. If Basra has fucked up badly enough to enrage her own paladin to this degree, she’s now a political liability to everyone who currently considers her an asset. And I’m just one of many people who’ll sleep better knowing she’s off the streets. I’ll be glad to have her off what’s left of my conscience, no matter what it ends up costing. All right, then.”

The Bishop rubbed his chin, now staring past them at the door, his eyes already distant. “Objective: take down the Bishop of Avei, in a way that doesn’t finish toppling the already-precarious Sisterhood of Avei or the Thieves’ Guild. Hmm…okay. Let’s see what we’ve got to work with…”

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93 thoughts on “14 – 17

  1. We’ve had some discussion, lately, about the lack of commenting on TGAB chapters compared to other serials; it’s a topic which has come up quite a few times over the years, and I recently had an epiphany about that.

    When I look back at recent chapters that have generated a lot of comments, I notice a theme. The incident wherein our three paladins reacted to an abusive of power with another abuse of power prompted quite the discussion. Before that, it was the Scion arc, and its revelation of what a tangle of hypocrisy and good intentions gone awry is Vemnesthis’s entire operation. It seems that while readers of most serials just want to discuss the story (reasonably enough), for whatever reason, TGAB readers want to talk about ideas. The pattern holds all the way back through the archives. If I really want to prompt a discussion, I just need to give you guys an ethical or intellectual dilemma to chew on.

    While my ego would obviously enjoy pages and pages of commentary, realizing this has made me appreciate my readers even more. Thank you all for supporting my story.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. Do not fear – come over to the commenting side! What you want also wants you! 🙂

        The comment sections of good webserials like this are the ONLY place on the internet where the warning “Do not read the comments” can safely be disregarded. The ONLY place that will uplift your view of humanity rather than drag it down into a pit of despair! Well, there may be a few others but this is very rare and precious. Don’t waste it.

        A little surprised Webb thinks commenting on this serial is sparse…seems to me about on par or more than most serials I read, and as mentioned the quality is quite high.

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    1. TLDR; the Gods are Bastards places ideas and interactions of ideas as opposed to the personal drama of the cast compared to most other serials I’ve read. This would naturally attract the sort of people that enjoy thinking about and discussing such concepts.

      Take my opinion with a grain of salt; my sample space is atrocious as I’m not active in any other serial discussion threads. That being said, I think the major difference between this serial and most of the others on Top Web Fiction and Royal Road (the fiction forums I currently use, please suggest additions) is that those are primarly personal dramas. We follow the main charachter and experience the world through their eyes. Any filosophical arguments become very reductionist and/or practical because the idea of most serials is to follow the main charachter’s train of thought rather than exploring their ideals. The Gods are Bastards, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clear main charachter, but rather a set of charachters with differing ideals. The story seems to be more about the interactions and clashes between these ideals than any of the charachters fronting them.

      Case in point: Trissiny’s entire story is of how she tries to reconcile being the mortal agent of a god – embodying very specific ideas – with her own personality and limited operational space and trying to decifer how to implement those ideas in practice.

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    2. If you really want to stir up longer term discussion, anointing a thread on an actual forum would do wonders. For example, Wildbow’s ‘Worm’ has had one of the most active series of discussions on the Spacebattles forums in the site’s history for a work that is not actually posted to spacebattles itself.

      I daresay that kind of discussion medium helped propel it to its current level of popularity. I attempted to make a thread for TGaB on spacebattles a while ago, but it would likely work a lot better if you registered and made one yourself in the Creative Writing forum.

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      1. My only interaction with Spacebattles has been when links from there have shown up on my stats page and I went to check them out. Actually a few people have made TGAB threads on SB over the years, and it never ends well.

        It begins well enough, with some honestly interested discussion… And then the Forum Regulars come. People with high post counts, and whose contributions to the discussion consist of pooh-poohing whatever is being talked about, often for the most specious reasons imaginable.

        I’m not saying TGAB is above criticism; it’s a story marked by deep flaws. But I’ve noticed that the Venn diagram of “criticisms originating uniquely from Spacebattles” and “criticisms that are so wildly ludicrous that if they didn’t reference my characters by name I wouldn’t know what story they were talking about” is a pie chart.

        Like the guy who found Sharidan and Eleanora’s relationship too unbelievable to keep reading, because in a fantasy story with supersonic trains (lacking seatbelts) his immersion-breaker was a man treating his lesbian best friend with basic humanity instead of raping her. Or the one who chimes in whenever TGAB is mentioned to complain that the story is misogynistic because all the male characters are perfect and all the female characters are flawed, which is so wrong in so many simultaneous ways I don’t even know where to start. Some of you may remember a year or so back somebody posted a twenty-paragraph screed in the story’s comment section complaining about a whole laundry list of things about TGAB which occurred only in his head and not in the story itself; he came from Spacebattles.

        The first time I got links from SB, I went and asked in the WFG forums whether developing a presence there was a good idea, and Wildbow himself advised me not to, saying he had done so but now made a point to distance himself from that community. He described it as toxic and weirdly hostile, which I didn’t really understand at the time but have come to. SB is way too fond of invective and condemnation for my taste. They appear to be the hipsters of fandom, motivated chiefly not to enjoy whatever is under discussion but to be seen being too cool for it.

        So sure, it’s a popular forum and I wouldn’t mind courting a little attention there, if somebody can advise me on a good strategy for having actual conversations and avoiding the “It Came from Spacebattles” monsters who only want to kvetch and attack things. Or, hell, convince me that’s not a major pillar of that community.

        Otherwise, I can do without the stress.

        Liked by 8 people

      2. @Webb: “[…] the Venn diagram of […] is a pie chart.” I was cackling at this. One of the funniest comments I’ve read in a long while.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I had some fun there with the roleplaying crowd a few years ago. I ran a “you are a new zerg hero” litrpg and read along a few other ones. I stayed far, far away from the fan fic sections because of all the trolls there.

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    3. “If you support plans within plans,”
      If finally You only use Stories under planned plots, open rapport triumphs Pleasent lies and nasty surprises. Without identifying, through hopeful inspiration, the needs of the People, labors advance nevertheless stops.

      I support prose within prose, so I support plans within plans.

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    4. I’ve never much been one for discussions, so I rarely comment, but yeah, that seems pretty accurate. A lot of what goes on in your story revolves around ideas and perspectives, so it’s only natural that it would attract readers who are more interested in those things.

      Also, it’s long enough that new readers will have a fair way to go before approaching any of the recent comments. There are always more readers than you think.

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    1. Quite.
      Funny though… we’ve seen Vidius and Omnu actually play chess (Chapter 1-20). Vidius probably is quite shrewd in his own way. However, Eserion and Vesk have been playing… something else entirely (Chapter 10-34).
      And I tend to believe that this is an indication of just how much of a different level they’re playing. Chess, a game with defined pieces and rules vs. their Card game, where everything seems to be in flux and the rules are whatever you can convince your opponent that they are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, that’s a really interesting way of looking at their outlooks towards the world and dovetails nicely with the way their cults seem to be operating.

        Eserites are consistently the most alert and aware of the true state of the world re Justinian and the gods etc. (Sweet is anyway, and Eserion appears to be encouraging him). We know less about Veskers, but throwaway comments seem to suggest that they have doctrines about self-reliance and humanism that are similar to those of Eserion. And, of course, Vesk and Eserion are thus far the only gods shown to be suspicious of Justinian.

        Vidians, on the other hand, are renowned for being tricky and ambitious but don’t seem to have any interesting in going against the status quo – even if said status quo is ultimately bad for them (Justinian plotting behind even the gods’ backs, Elilial on the move etc.) And potentially to combat that, Vidius is introducing a new player into the game – one whose defining characteristic is being unpredictable and whose divine mandate is to challenge the status quo. I’ve gained the impression that Vidius is shrewd and probably as clever as the chessmasters already mentioned, but traditionally has had no interest in furthering any agenda beyond what is best for himself and his cult – in essence, manipulating around the status quo. Perhaps by calling Gabe he’s started to move away from chess and towards the more chaotic, realistic version of politics Eserion and Vesk are aware of?

        The game Eserion and Vesk play is so much more reflective of the real world – everything is chaotic and at the end of the day the rules are only there if you convince your opponent they are. It’s more realistic of Tiraan politics than chess, which is more like a battle. In politics there are no set rules and Eserion and Vesk seem to have understood that best.

        Or I’m just reading way too much into the merits of made-up cards games vs chess, which is also entirely possible.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. I’d like to watch two gods play chess.

        I feel like Eserion would play something like the English opening, or even something really out there like Bird’s opening. I can’t decide if he’s likely to be into hypermodern tactics; from what little we know, Khar probably would have been though.

        Vidious seems more likely to prefer staying close to the standard 1. e4 e5 tree; Ruy Lopez, the Italian game, all those boring positions. That’s why he needs Gabe to try different things, so he’ll maybe eventually stumble on to the next Sicilian defense.

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    2. I honestly don’t think Vesk had such a specific plan. He wants an adventure that achieves a few broad goals and helps the paladins gain valuable experience. He also wants to be entertained by the shitstorm he started and as such is less likely to know what would happen.

      I do find it quite telling that the Veskers haven’t been taking advantage of the sudden shitstorm. If he knew it was coming he would probably have bards across the world proclaiming a new age of adventure

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  2. Hopefully the lesson will finally stick with Trissiny this time: think carefully about everything you’re going to do before you do it. Lor’naris was way before her character development and the thing with the Collegium and the Sisterhood was…not ridiculously stupid and driven by principle and a desire to do good. This was far stupider. Admittedly I never considered all of these consequences either and vastly underestimated the dangers nobles could pose, but Trissiny probably should have. Though what the paladins really need is one who’s actually good at politics, it’s not entirely fair to expect Triss and Gabe to make those kind of decisions considering their general personalities and skill-sets.

    Incidentally, it’s intriguing to get examples of when nobles can actually be dangerous. So far the politicking and maneuvering in this story has been almost entirely the realm of the Church or the Throne itself, Ravana aside. I’d sort of settled with the impression that the Throne is where all the power lies and that the nobility are mostly just a token body. Possibly because my usual fantasy fare is far less modern in its setting and so I mistakenly plastered more of our own modern societies onto TGaB. It’s good to see my perceptions corrected.

    I liked that explanation of Gabe’s cult, it made their endlessly confusing cycle of ‘Reich and Gwenfaer are ruthless manipulators but Val seems lovely and no one has pointed out the discrepancy yet’ a lot less confusing and more interesting. If for some reason Gabe chooses the career clerics over the apparently nicer ones I will be severely disappointed. Seems unlikely he would, but one can’t help but worry.

    I’m also very excited to finally see Syrinx get her comeuppance! I’m so glad it’s going to be through politics and not just Triss stabbing her because that’s just so much more satisfying. This was a really masterful set-up of the plot, tying strings together so that everything can happen the way it needs to and it’s not at all contrived. Just…wow, really impressive.

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    1. I think Darling was a little unfair here. Sure, what the paladins did was rash and without considering the wider consequences but very few people could predict those anyway.
      Waterboarding a noble in Calderaas leads to slavers in Tar’naris gaining more power? Who could have known?
      The Media using the occurence to further the goals of their patron? How is that the paladins’ fault?
      Trissiny losing support within her cult for acting as an Enforcer is nitpicking, that’s her role within the Sisterhood, too. People who feel surprised, shocked or betrayed about that probably had some idea about what the Hands of Avei are supposed to be like that doesn’t fit into reality. Or did they forget that their goddess wanted a -new- Hand because the old ones didn’t work in the current society anymore?

      If the paladins had known about and considered all the consequences and implications, then they couldn’t have acted at all. And doing nothing might have been an even worse choice.

      So what’s the actual outcome? A lot of bad press, some good press that’s maybe bad for them and consequences for Narisian slaves that are so far removed from their actions that I hesitate to assign any blame.
      Meh, they’ll get over it. They’ll need some coaching in how they are going to establish themselves but I don’t dislike the direction they have been taking so far.
      If people influence the gods, then the gods get to influence the people through their human agents, too.
      They are trying to do better and if that means the paladins will collide with outdated customs and traditions, well… stuff tends to get broken during revolutions.

      If they want to take Basra down, they need to consult Principia first. I’m sure she already has several plans floating around in her mind, one of which could be adapted and used. Even if not, she’s a valuable resource for exactly those undertakings.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm, you’re right in Darling having probably been too harsh on them, and the stuff in Tar’naris and all that was definitely something none of them could’ve predicted. I guess that’s maybe the lesson though, that things happen that you can’t predict and they should take that possibility into account before leaping into action. If the paladins decide they don’t actually care about the political ramifications of their actions that’s their choice but the issue here is that it seems like they didn’t think there’d be any.

        The stuff within the Sisterhood Triss definitely should have copped though. That she didn’t is a sign that she’s never quite got over her naivety or the opinion that the Sisterhood is fundamentally apolitical and good-hearted. The bigots within it are a different order, but for someone who grew up in the heartland of Avenist territory, she seems to have completely forgotten how the Sisterhood feels about things – she herself had a huge problem with Eserites originally, but then completely forgot that other Avenists probably did too. Her apprenticeship and initiation into the Guild was pretty secret, so your average Legionnaire or Sister probably doesn’t even know it happened, or that Avei’s gunning for a new kind of paladin, and Triss should have realised how betrayed they’d feel if she went and acted incredibly Eserite out of the blue.

        And to be honest (and this is maybe just me being harsh) if Gabe wants to bring the Vidians to heel he should have thought about this too. I guess he was just screwing around like he’s supposed to, but the whole point is that half of them are hugely political and very tricky to control, so if something he does is to have ramifications politically he should think about it. And go and do it anyway if he decides he doesn’t care, but at least have an idea of what will happen.

        Like you say it’s probably not going to be disastrous or have any huge earth-shattering complications beyond stuff like the slaves in Tar’naris which is hugely out of the blue, if they can fix all this. And the damage control alone is going to be a good lesson. At least this way if they go and do something like that again, they’ll hopefully think about what could happen as a result and have a plan in place to counter that.

        Also yes, completely agree that Prin needs to be brought in to deal with Basra. It could be a great mother-daughter bonding experience if nothing else.

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      2. Has Triss been told of the slave trade before now? I thought that came up while she was away (she might have heard somewhere else, though). I’ve kind of been wating for her to go ballistic when she found out about it and start clamping down on it in whatever capacity she could. It could potentially help with the Tar’naris situation if they started pressuring humans to release drow slaves (we know this trade exists from that one side arc, and Darling would know) at the cost of angering the nobles more. Though, considering that would be more agression, it might not help.

        Triss could also embrace the whole “holy avenger” theme and start dismantling corruption and injustice in all organizations, as long as she makes sure to control her public image. She is going to take down her own bishop, but she would need to target all the other cults and the imperial goverment as well to gain public support. It would be risky (and probably not worth it), but it could work. She would probably also have to establish an organization to help her cope with the sheer amout of work it would entail (possibly a cross faith initiative).

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      3. I do not think Sweet was being unnecessarily harsh. What I do think is that he’s missing the clarity of explaining the principle of unintended consequences, and how those tend to scale proportionately to the size, disruptiveness and unexpectedness of an action. This explains in both abstract and concrete terms why it is preferable to use smaller, more common, and less disruptive means to accomplish goals, in most cases. By itself, applying that one tool for judging consequences would limit their problems greatly.

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      4. Daemion:

        Trissiny didn’t lose so much support within the Sisterhood because she attacked a noblewoman. She’s facing a crisis because she’s working hand in glove with Eserites, and most Avenists view the Guild as little better than demon worshippers.

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      5. I don’t think he was unnecessary ibis harshness at all. Not only are they paladins and therefore can take anything he dishes out,but they are also third year students of miss Spider Priestess Yells At Dragons herself. He is just defaulting to the teaching style he knows they are most used to.

        There is also the fact that the fate of the world is going to be in their hands so they better stop fucking up real damn quick

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      6. I suspect Jenell has something in the works too that this may interfere with. Trissiny is underestimating her to think of her as the spoiled rich girl they met at the party. Can’t say whether it’s realistic or not pitted against the sociopath Bishop but Jenell has refused several opportunities to get away from Basra so she must be pretty confident.

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  3. Ooooooh thank god (the gods?) we are going to deal with the Bishop. Also, I missed Sweet, glad to see him 🙂

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  4. Hooray(?) nepotism?

    One thing I’ve always envisioned is IF Jenell Covrin & Schwartz ever get together, the conversations after their backs are turned in socialite parties would be:-

    “I don’t get it. Schwartz is so nice. Everybody likes Schwartz. What the hell does he see in HER?”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I vote for Principia as the new Avenist Bishop! I’m pretty sure it’s heavily implied she’s the Hand of Eserion, which makes it even more hilarious.

    Also, I’m not sure Sweet is teaching the right lesson. He hammers on the consequences, but leaves the real lesson unsaid. People with so much power should be hesitant to exert it if they cannot predict the consequences.

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    1. So you’d condemn them to inactivity instead? Or restrict them to “slay monsters, win wars, have adventures” but stay out of politics?

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      1. There’s a difference between inactivity and ‘going in Wings blazing, Divine magic flaring’. What Sweet is trying to teach them is to pause and consider the consequences of their actions. Not that they shouldn’t act.

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      2. @Daemion: Well, they seem to have the monster slying and the adventuring down.

        In all seriousness though, they could potentially try to purge the most corrupt elements of society. Though they would need major support in order to do that effectively, and the consequences for faliure would be dire. They would lose credibility, influence and potential allies, in addition to the toll on the general populace.

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      3. @cc-pVDZ The price of failure would be dire, but realistically it would be dire for whatever battles the paladins want to fight. And if they did it right – borrowing advice or help from, among other places, one Ravana Madouri and other allies like Prin and potentially Sweet – there’s no reason they would lose credibility or influence by trying to better society. The Guild would definitely support them. If Triss plays her cards right and manage to stop the Sisterhood from turning against her, they’d probably help. And they definitely have the potential to get other cults on their side. Not to mention the possible allies they could have if they used the connections they’ve made at the University.

        And generally speaking, people who aren’t political, or nobles, or overtly religious, don’t particularly care who does what about society as long as they’re let go about their lives in relative peace – if the paladins get their press right and actually do manage to improve people’s lives, they might even be popular. It would be messy, but so is any fight. Right now they’re not ready to take something like this on, but if they learn to think and to minimize collateral damage better then they certainly have a chance.

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      4. @Ash: What would it mean that they failed? It would mean that they have been stopped from exerting pressure on whatever group(s) they decide to tangle with. That would loose them credibility: They tried to change something and failed. That would would reduce their credibility when they claim they could do something in the future. It also reduces their influence, as less people would be willing to risk supporting them. How much they are hurt by a defeat would depend entirely on the manner of their defeat, however. In worst case, they loose public support and the supportof their cults and become more or less isolated and politicallt incapacitated. More realistically, they just escalate hostilities with one or two factions and deepen the fractures in their own cults.

        That being said, there are still reasons to try an agressive approach. If tehy could establish a precidence and gain public support, they could potentially set themselves up as an independent authority. In onrder to achieve this, however, they would probably need to coordinate closely whith all the cults and the imperial goverment. govermental backing would be particularly beneficial, as they would grant a lot of legitimacy to replacing nobility, a lot of potential resounces to achieve it and a stable solution after the fact. The emperor probably also has a vested interest in reducing the power of nobles (and other groups) to increase his own.

        Huh, it seems this turned into an argument for going full police state… Might wantto sit back and think about the long term consequences and potential alternatives.

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      5. @cc-pVDZ
        Define corrupt, define purge, define support, define failure. Real life is endlessly complicated, and the reason there are so many ‘corrupt’ people and behaviours around is because they are useful, desirable, or even life-and-death *necessary* to someone. Also, the unintended consequences of upending entire systems of social and political interaction are huge, and easily can be far worse than tolerating the problem in many–or perhaps even most–cases.

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      6. @anonymous coward: I’m going to give some loose definitions, as that was what I had in mind when I wrote that. Yes, that does mean that there is a lot of room for interpretation of my arguments.

        Firstly, corrupt: In this case i was merely trying to refere to the type of behaviour the paladins were punishing in the art-gallery-incident. Embezzlement, extravagant fouvoritism, slavery, unnecessary cruelty and the like. Stereotypical “bad noble” behaviour.

        Secondly, purge: An attempt to remove something. In this case, I ment an attempt to remove unwanted personel frompower or to reform their behaviour to fit with whatever norm.

        Tirdly, support: Access to resources and/or contacts, or in the very least absence of resistance.

        Lastly, failure: This is parially covered in my last post, but here is a summary and clarification (hopefully :P). Failiure in would mean that actions taken don’t have intended consequences. If the goal is to reduce or remove a set of behaviours in a group of people, a faliure would mean that significant parts of that group retains the unwanted behaviour. As such there are degrees of faliure depending on how much of the unwanted behaviour remains, and how much the actions taken reduces future influence on the target group or other groups. In short: How close to the goal did you get and how much harder will it make other goals in the future?

        Did this make it clearer?

        On another note, I completely agree that no-one is completely useless or only useful to themselves. This is especially true for people in positions of power. At the very least they have to be useful to the people that could remove them from power, for obvious reasons (keys of power). Most people have excellent reasons for the actions they take, or at the very least excuses. Most people also try to be “decent” human beings most of the time.

        I also agree that radical societal change are dangerous. From our own history we’ve seen a lot of revolutions turn into bloody civil wars and counter-revolutions that last for years, for instance. Given Thorn’s display, however, I don’t think we can rule out that that is a possible route for her and I would like to think about the viability and consequences of such an approach.

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      7. @cc-pVDZ
        Vigilante violence doesn’t really work as a solution to much, because of how it adds violence to situations in which the fault is too much violence to begin with (structural or otherwise). That’s something Sweet was pointing at when talking about how many of the Tiraan aristocrats would see the punchbowl incident as cause to increase their own oppression and/or other scheming. A stable and viable solution to the situation means shifting the system away from one which puts too much power in the hands of feudal aristocrats: The problem is unchecked authorities abusing their power. I think adding another layer of unchecked authorities to unpredictably act against the previous layer (like paladins randomly showing up to beat up some abusive nobles but not the others) would just make things worse as people respond with fear, suspicion, and opportunism.

        My own biases are telling me the Tiraan Empire is overdue to have its version of the French Revolution go kill some tyrants, but one would have to be remarkably naive or indifferent about how much suffering that caused and how well it worked in the real world to suggest it as a good idea. It may, potentially, be a candidate for the least bad idea capable of working, but I would not call it a good one. I suppose the Tiraan Revolution could make for an interesting story full of drama and action though, and thus be a literary good idea? I don’t know, I’m grasping for justifications for violence here, and mostly not finding any besides, “It’s entertaining.”

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      1. If I remember correctly, Bishop in the Avenist traditions of management is a disposal method for getting rid of disruptively ambitious people to go be someone else’s problem.

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      2. And yet Nandi Shahai was appointed Avenist Bishop temporarily.

        And still hass two sets of tags, bothe as Bishop Shahai aand with her first name.

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      3. @coward — that’s nothing specific to Avenists, it’s actually an age-old trick. Basra is a good example though.

        IIRC Woodrow Wilson had a comparable rise. He ran for President of the US because his colleagues at Stanford (where he was also president) wanted to be rid of him, so they encouraged him to run, and it worked.

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      4. You’re both right, but what I was getting at is that if Rouvad wasn’t reserving the position for Syrinx she probably has a list of comparably problematic folks she’d rather get rid of that way than Shahai. Locke might head the list right now, to name one.

        @The Warren Peace NFL Report
        Key words, “Falling upward.” It is a very common management technique, which may be somewhat overused. (Perhaps it’s 100% overused?)

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    2. Principia already has a job: She’s creating the First Legion. From scratch. In total secrecy. She has no time to be the bishop.

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  6. I’ve thought it before but never commented: there’s a problem with treating Narisian society like a human one. A major part of the reason for social change in human society is the cycling of generations. For elves this takes far longer if it happens at all.
    Because of this, many of the drow, including the more respected and powerful ones, spent most of their lives living with a general humans-aren’t-people assumption in society. And until most of them are replaced by their descendants who are used to thinking of humans as equals, things like the slave trade will continue.
    How exactly this replacement should happen is difficult to decide. Honestly, I think the Empire needs to deliver an ultimatum, whether it is a threat of war or just cutting off trade. Really though, drow society should be punished not just for the current slave trade but for the past one. The reason cultural guilt doesn’t really make sense in the real world is because the people who actually did wrong have died, and that’s a major difference here.

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    1. @Rustndusty: I completely agree that the slow population turnover is the cause of the slow cultural shifts in Narisian culture. I don’t agree that it makes sense to blame the entire society for the transgressions of the few. Many drow may have been alive during the conflict with the humans, many may have directly or indirectly participated in slavery and other cruelty before the treaty. to blame the entrie society, however, is equvalent with claiming there can be no redemption for a transgression committed before the transgressors even knew it was wrong. Also, demanding punishment of all involved in pre-treaty cruelties would be completely infeasable. In a relatively small, hightly authoritarian and highly family centered culture like Tar’naris, demanding punishment of the type that would satisfy human laws for a sizable porion of their higher ranked members (position is correlated to age) is essentially a declaration of war.

      The Empire does have some options to pressure Tar’naris, though. Firstly, they are helping on the front lines against the deep drow. Threatening to withdrawing support from this defense on accout of the risk of enslavement of the soldiers could be an avenue of attack, but that would also weaken the empires defence against the deep drow. Also, depending on how central to the alliance this defensive pact is, it could be taken as a straight declaration of war.

      Secondly, Tar’naris’ agricultural caverns are supplied with artificial light courtecy of the empire. This is a major economical boon for the city. In turn, Tar’naris supplies the empire with ores. In addition to the other exports from the empire to Tar’naris, economic sanctions seem to be a viable option. The empire’s economy would take a hit from going back to trading with the dwarves, but as far as I know, all trade from Tar’naris would need to traverse imperial territory. How severe sanctions could be enforced before the treaty collapses altogether remains an open question. A problem with this approach is mentioned in passing in one of the side arcs. Nahil, one of Shaeine’s sisters, remarks that trade has boomed since the treaty, and seems to imply that the drow involved in the slave trade don’t understand that they are endangering said trade boom. This might be simple to rectify with a public proclamation or some sanction, but it might also be indicative of a more deep-rooted inability to see the balance of power and their own blame. In that case, sanctions will only worsen relations between Tar’naris and the empire.

      Thirdly, and more speculatively, the empire could try to leverage Themynra herself. As the goddess of judgement, she might take issue with the shortsighteedness and poor judgement shown by those that use the justice system to enslave innocents and aggrevate the empire. The paladins might mange to contact her and plead their case.

      Lastly, the empire could threaten war. This is generally a bad idea, as it leaves no room for escalation. Direct military force is a great threat to have looming in the background, but once you use that threat, all negotiations become an ultimatum. once war is decleared, significant losses must be incurred by at least one side before peace can be re-established, and such a conflict would put a strain on relations for many generations of humane (as the drow veterans would live a long time). Dusing hostilities, the epire would also lose all ability to influence Narisian culture and poilitics and their perception of humans. The empire would therefore be much better served by escalating using the other tools at their disposal before using brute force tactics.

      One question remains: Why, seemingly, hasn’t the empire reacted more strongly to the slave trade? They apparently try to extract the victims diplomatically, but nothing more broad or official. I think the main reasons would be the scale of the trade and the economic benefits of the narisian treaty. if the number of slaves is small and the economic benefits are great, there is little incentive to put strain on the treaty. In addition, since there is also some human trade in drow slaves, an interventionist policy might raise some akward questions for the Tiraan dynasty. It is convenient to let the Guild deal with the situation.

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    2. The critical opening step would be first recover & repatriate Drow slaves in Imperial lands from their captors (Nobles) for propaganda and diplomatic “moral high ground”.

      Then seek to engage in a diplomatic “victims exchange”(?). The point of it being to rescue and rehabilitate ex-slaves. People are important, ’causes’ are just empty words in the face incompetence and powerlessness. Save the people first.

      Of course Slavers are people too and need to be saved from their ingrained anti-social tendencies. I recommend rehabilitation through “spider-box” therapy.

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  7. Some Notes of God, pursuant to current discussions:

    The Narisian slave trade is numerically tiny, which is why the Empire doesn’t consider complaining about it worth upsetting an ally. Just on the numbers of people affected, it falls on both sides within the acceptable margin of losses for two very different societies experiencing friction. Very few Narisians are rich enough to participate, and the humans taken annually are in less than three digigs.

    The big concern for both sides is the risk of slavers taking someone important and creating real anger in the Empire. Randos are not encouraged to just wander into Tar’naris; every human there is either in the employ of the government or attached to a major business interest, and every one snared into slavery is a potential diplomatic crisis. Only the Eserites are upset by it on principle; House Awarrion and the Empire are concerned with preventing an event that could snowball politically until it endangers the treaty. It’s only a matter of time until that happens, and there have been close calls already.

    Slavery is entirely illegal in the Empire. Keep in mind that the only indication we have that a trade in drow slaves exists was from the mouth of a Thieves’ Guild enforcer threatening Tazun with taking his sister. The rule of thumb is that any illegal evil you can name, some noble somewhere does for a hobby; undoubtedly somebody has drow chained up somewhere, but it’s significant that there has been no indication this is a societal-level problem.

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    1. D.D. Webb:

      This is an excellent example of why Avenists are not cool with Trissiny working with Eserites.

      For all their flaws, the Sisterhood does not allow its members to use slavery as a threat, and they go after their enemies directly, rather than targeting people who are close to them. The Guild, on the other hand, uses threats of murder or slavery against people’s relatives to force compliance to their demands.

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      1. Avenists aren’t cool with Trissiny working with the Eserites because they’re predominantly lawful good, whereas Eserites are either chaotic good or chaotic neutral depending on your opinion of them and the Eserite in question. Because Eserites are generally criminals and Avenists are generally law enforcement, there’s a natural tension there. It seems to stem more than anything from a misunderstanding the Eserites have never bothered to correct (and probably couldn’t correct, given the Avenists’ low opinion of them).

        In this case Selim had been imprisoned and enslaved by a foreign culture and was desperate to get out – it’s not generally Guild policy to threaten people with slavery. But the Guild fosters a mentality of having a relatively unbreakable but pretty damn limited moral code, and doing whatever you can outside of that to benefit your situation. Given Eserion’s background (and given the proliferation of outsiders and outcasts in the Guild, I presume those of many of its members) that’s a mentality that makes sense to them, the morality of it notwithstanding.

        The Sisterhood and the Silver Legions are organisations dedicated to one of the most powerful gods there are, positioned incredibly powerfully in most societies and, feminism and egregious abuses of power aside, invested in maintaining the status quo. Therefore it mostly attracts women who haven’t been screwed over by society beyond the obvious factor of being a woman and living in a sexist culture. People who have been mistreated by a society tend to be far less trusting of organisations like that. One of the Sisterhood’s flaws is that it’s not particularly understanding of experiences which diverge from their own, which is part of the reason they consistently fail to understand the Eserite perspective.

        I’m not trying to defend everything the Guild has done here, but the Avenist-Eserite conflict doesn’t just boil down to the Sisterhood being in the right and the Guild being in the wrong. It’s more of a conflict between two very different mentalities and philosophies than anything else, both of which are valid, and from what I’ve seen those worldviews stem from differing experiences more than anything else.

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      2. It is also important to note that the rank and file of church of Avei largely views the Eserites as chaotic neutral at best and chaotic evil at worst and the leadership has done approximately dick to stop these beliefs. Given that they serve a moody god of justice who has condemned entire species of sapient individuals to wholesale slaughter simply due to their birth they unsurprisingly have the highest percentage of bigots within their ranks.

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      3. cc-pVDZ:

        I think Ash has the right idea. Webs is a terrible human being, but his theological reasoning is sound; Eserites should be working outside institutions to fix corruption, and the Guild is a great big organization.

        Right now Eserites have what Lincoln called “the freedom of wolves”. They have enormous power without any real accountability, and that leads to corruption and abuse. But if the Guild becomes less powerful and organized, it will be more dangerous and difficult to be a member. That means that people who want to join up for power, wealth, and status are more likely to find another profession.

        If Eserites didn’t have so much power, they would have to spend more time hiding in the shadows and living among the poor. Instead of bullying city guards with impunity, they would have to ask themselves whether their cause was truly important enough to risk their lives. They could return to their roots as rebels and dissidents, rather than sitting among the mighty.

        Avenists are supposed to be the organized, hierarchical religion. Let them do their job within the system, while Eserites focus on working outside it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. @Dyllan Tullos: A good point. As I’ve mentioned below, the conflict between the Sisterhood and the Guild can be thought of as a conflict of freedom of action vs accuntability, and it might well be that the Guild has to much power for the accuntability it gives its members to serve its self-proclamed purpose as a counterpoint to the powers that be.

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    2. Ash:

      Eserion seems to be a fairly cool person, and WoW is that he and Avei are good buddies. However, I can see why Avenists have such a poor relationship with Eserites, despite the friendly feelings between their patron deities.

      The Sisterhood is a flawed organization, and you’re right to say that they’re both heavily invested in the status quo and suspicious of people who don’t “fit in”. We’ve already seen how their discriminatory policies hurt people with demonic heritage, and they’re often blind to how problematic “law and order” can be.

      That said, no member of the Sisterhood would get away with openly threatening to enslave someone. And that was after Selim had escaped, and was safely in the army barracks; at that point, the only motive to threaten the sister with slavery was revenge.

      Those kind of threats seem to be accepted as a form of leverage for the Guild. During the Eserite confrontation with the city guard, they reminded the guards that they knew where their families lived and could get at them easily. The threats against the guards’ families were made by a high-ranking, respected Eserite, just like the threat of enslavement, and we have every reason to believe that they would have followed through if they needed to.

      Terror is one of the Guild’s most useful weapons. Time and time again, we see or hear of people immediately folding as soon as Eserites show up because they fear the Guild’s retribution. But you don’t get that kind of reputation without following through on your threats.

      No one would believe an Avenist if they told a city guard that they knew where their family lived and would act against them if the guard didn’t comply. However, every member of the guard finds it entirely plausible that the Eserites would hurt their families. This suggests that the Eserites have not only made such threats in the past, but carried them out.

      I think that puts them closer to the realm of “chaotic evil” than “chaotic neutral”.

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      1. I’d personally argue that any true Eserite gone bad would fall under lawful evil given that they’d still have their own warped moral code to follow, and that the chaotic evil ones would be those who don’t truly believe and are just in the Guild because it lets them get away with whatever they’re doing, but that’s irrelevant and I digress.

        I agree with most of what you’re saying, but it just strikes me as odd to focus on Selim threatening Tazun’s family with slavery, given that it’s just one guy being a dick. Not everything Narnasia does, for example, fits under the bracket of Avenism – it isn’t Avenism that suggested Trissiny had no need to learn how to use her brain outside of a battle, that was Narnasia deciding it. The actions of one person who isn’t explicitly representing their religion do not necessarily mean the entire religion is wrong, just like a Christian being a bad person doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on Christianity.

        One of the flaws of the Guild is that it tends to attract, well, awful people, given that it’s essentially a criminal organisation. Another one of its flaws is that its relative lack of structure means that the bad people it attracts have incredibly leeway and freedom to do what they want in the Guild’s name. And that facilitates, say, people like Selim threatening other people with slavery, but that’s not Guild policy or doctrine.

        There’s no way on Earth that threat of slavery would have ever been carried out by the Guild, of all people, but Tazun believed it because he’s Narisian and has no idea what Eserites are like, not because the Guild have a reputation for slavery above-ground. Selim said it because he’d just been enslaved and isn’t a particularly nice guy.

        I agree with you that the Guild’s use of terror should be condemned, but I genuinely don’t think we’ve any proof that they’ve ever gone through on their threats against people’s families. We’ve seen them administer horrific torture on people they think deserve it for whatever arbitrary reason, like Marshal Avelea, but as far as I can remember they’ve never actually touched anyone’s family.

        The reputation they have for being cruel comes from the fact that they are – but in reality only to people they think deserve it. If you heard about things like Avelea being tortured for no reason, Trissiny and Velvet’s display in Calderaas, or any Guild action against noble, it’s not a leap to believe that they’d hurt your family even without them ever having done that. It’d be naive to say that they actually never have, but the Guild varies wildly depending on the Boss that’s running it, so there’s no real indication that they have a policy of carrying through on those threats (as far as I remember. It’s such a large story I may have forgotten a time they did exactly that, but I don’t think so.)

        I’m not saying any of the things the Guild has done are right. Most of them are pretty obviously wrong. But I think it’s important to remember that Eserites have given us some of the best people in this story (Glory, Rasha, Triss herself), some morally ambiguous ones (Sweet, Style etc.) and some of the worst (Grip). So too have the Avenists – again, good people (Triss), mediocre ones (Rouvad) and awful ones (Basra). There’s a different between the Guild’s reputation, the Guild itself, and the individual Eserite (who can be better or worse than the Guild, depending). I think the rivalry between the two stems more from the Sisterhood’s perception of Eserites as lawless than anything else, and not from cruelty inherent in Eserite philosophy.

        TLDR: the Guild has a lot of awful things to answer for, but most individual Eserites are no better or worse than the individual Legionnaire, which is to say firmly average.

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      2. Ah, thank you for clearing that up, I’ll admit that I don’t know those bonus chapters as well as I should if I’m going to try and make a point out of them!

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      3. Ash:

        You make extremely good points. Also, you’re right about the difference between Grip (LE) and Thumper (CE).

        I think you’ve done an excellent job of describing my problems with the Guild. The lack of structure is key; the Guild protects its members from external law, but it doesn’t seem to have a strong system of internal accountability. So people like Rasha get to be nice and basically trustworthy, while people like Sidewinder get to engage in extremely harmful behavior because there are no clear regulations or structures to keep them in check.

        You said that criminal organizations often attract awful people. I would amend that statement slightly; organizations that operate outside the law tend to attract people who want to be free from laws. Nicer Eserites use that freedom to try to correct injustices that are shielded by law, or to help people who are unfairly persecuted by the authorities. Eserites who aren’t so nice…well, they don’t have to worry about the police, and they can get away with a lot before the Guild catches up to them.

        Eserite philosophy doesn’t make people cruel, but the Guild’s combination of power and independence enables cruel people to act with impunity in Eserion’s name. The members are generally all right, and they would be better off if the Church didn’t exist. Abolish the Guild, and let Eserites seek societal change as members of society, rather than giving them special status in an elite guild that stands above the law.

        On a somewhat related note, Schwartz finally made the right decision. It’s wonderful how well things can work when you actually report an authority figure’s crimes, rather than going along with a half-baked plan to thwart them personally. If he’d only done this earlier, before Trissiny caused a crisis in the Sisterhood, it would have been much simpler for the Hand of Avei to speak to the High Commander about the Bishop’s abuse of her subordinates.

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      4. I like that description of organisations outside the law attracting people who want to be free from laws, it makes a lot more sense than what I said. I’d disagree that abolishing the Guild would benefit all Eserites, though; societal change is far easier to achieve when those advocating for it operate on a larger scale.

        That said, Eserites don’t actually advocate for an overhaul of society more than want to watch for abuses of power within that society so I suppose there’s an argument to be made for disbanding the Guild. Loathe as I am to admit it I think Webs might have a point when he says the Guild’s structure has run away with it – all systems are corrupt, after all. Perhaps there’s something to be said for a devolved Guild that works less like the mafia and more like Robin Hood and his merry men? Or even just a Guild that has less impunity to threaten and torture people. The law coming down on the cult of the god of thieves for stealing would be a bit ridiculous, but he’s not the god of torture and intimidation. That kind of thing probably wouldn’t work, but something along those lines is necessary.

        Also, yes, Schwartz did exactly the right thing. Before knowing Trissiny I can see how he’d have been leery of reporting this to the Sisterhood given that Basra was already getting away with everything, but after getting to know Trissiny I’m glad he realised the best course of action was to go to her. Not to mention that he’d have a very angry half-sister on his hands if he did actually go ahead with a vigilante vengeance scheme in her cult.

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      5. As you’ve suggested, the conflict between the Guild and the Sisterhood is mainly about accuntability versus bureaucracy. Both the Sisterhood and the Guild strive to combat abuses of power though focus areas vary), however the guild eschrews the Sisterhood’s authoritarian bureaucracy for personal freedom of action. The downside of that is that they lose the ability to oversee their members and hold them accountable. It’s basically a microcosm of the discussion of police authority we are having in the real word.

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      6. The ruthless streak in the Eserite cult goes right up to the top.
        Sweet himself threatened (maybe actually applied, can’t remember) torture and mutilation when dealing with a renegade Shaathist.

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    3. In Ruda’s rant about how the Punaji were being limited, she mentioned slave ships. Given the illegality of slavery in the Empire, where are those ships going from/to?

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      1. Also, as much as it was painful, I liked this chapter. Law of unintended consequences, etc.

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      2. There’s a drow port called Nathloss near Sifan, so maybe from there? It would depend on the timing though, because according to 6-34 it’s been barricaded by Sifanese defenses for several decades now, and I can’t remember how long ago Ruda’s story was.

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    4. We also had the bit where Chase offered to sell Natchua to a Shaathist Lodgemaster. And the Shaathists were upset that Arachne wouldn’t force him to complete the deal.

      Which says slavery is alive in the Empire.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He didn’t sell her as property, but promised her hand in marriage. For the woman affected the difference is a minor one but legally that wasn’t slave trading and more an arranged marriage.

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  8. You’re starting to lose me, personally. I’m honestly so weary of the main characters getting chewed out for being incompetent. There’s only so many growth chapters where they’re supposed to improve and get better without actually displaying any improvement or competency that I can get through.

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    1. I’d be very surprised if young adults in the middle of their higher education and faced with entirely new problems wouldn’t screw up at least a little. It’s inevitable. It would be stranger if they managed to navigate the currents of politics perfectly.

      Them making mistakes isn’t a bad thing in itself and their progress shows in the fact that they don’t repeat their mistakes.

      In a typical fantasy adventure the protagonists would learn how to fight, use magic and related skills. They’d gain better gear, defeat stronger enemies and find information related to their quest to defeat an ancient evil or whatever.
      Problem here is… this ain’t that kind of story though.
      This story is about the complex relationships between institutions, governments and people while navigating the changes impacting society as enlightenment and technology improve.

      Even people who should know better, like Darling and Arachne, made mistakes. It’s the more realistic result. You fail until you succeed.

      What I take away from the paladins getting yet another earful from a person of authority is that things are even more challenging as I thought and that there’s always another lesson to learn, even and especially from your failures.

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  9. Typo: “For example, you just blurted all that to somebody who has gone out of his way to protest Basra’s political position, and needs her to stay in it.”

    Should read: “For example, you just blurted all that to somebody who has gone out of his way to [\b]protect[b] Basra’s political position, and needs her to stay in it.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I feel like the lesson here is this:

    Reacting to polite, smile-while-they-starve-you evil with a violent boot is not always bad or an excessive use of force. But making public status-quo-changing political actions from a position of authority without consulting all available advisers, spending long hours in contemplation, and preparing extensively for the fallout is always a Bad Idea.

    You can’t paralyze your decision making process for fear of unintended consequences. Sometimes actions have butterfly effect consequences, like this one effectively restarting the drow slavetrade. You can’t not act for fear that your actions might result in something like that, or else people who are worried about collateral damage will never act and those who don’t will. Sometimes shit happens in the fallout. But if you might have been able to prevent it through forethought and care and you didn’t? Then it’s your fault.

    TL;DR: The paladin squad was very wrapped up in the morality and the ethics of their actions, and failed to realize that planning and forethought has an ethical weight all of its own.

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  11. While their methods were obviously not perfect, I still commend them for taking action. Darling needs to get off his high horse. It’s pretty easy to hand out critique in hindsight, but his wishy-washy neutrality hasn’t really helped anybody either. There’s obviously big societal problems that need to be addressed, and whatever methods the guild is using obviously isn’t enough. This way, they at least opened up the possibility of sweeping change. Yeah, innocent people might be hurt because of their actions, but I think more would have been hurt by letting the problem fester. I believe that’s at least part of why the gods called this new generation of paladins, because they also weren’t happy with the status quo.

    I think the whole ‘think before you act’ shtick is kind of overdone to the point where it encourages inaction. Take action and get yelled at or do nothing and no one will bother you. While I don’t think that’s what Webb is trying to encourage, it does frequently come off that way.

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    1. Tyrael:

      Trissiny just showed up with a bunch of enforcers from the Guild and conducted a joint operation. She didn’t talk to the High Commander or any other Avenist leaders beforehand, she didn’t consider the relationship between the Sisterhood and the Guild, and she didn’t think about possible consequences of her actions.

      So far, the only “sweeping change” we’ve seen has been the rapid deterioration of the Hand of Avei’s support in the Sisterhood. It turns out that most Avenists aren’t okay with their paladin deciding to buddy up with a Guild they distrust and despise. That wouldn’t have come as a surprise if Trissiny had stopped to think beforehand, but she just dived right in without a plan.

      Solving big societal problems is not something you do in a day. Intelligent revolutionaries make plans, think about structural reforms, and gather supporters before they declare war on the establishment. Trissiny has no plans, no idea about how to change the structure of society, and no organized groups of supporters except the Sisterhood, who are not happy with her right now.

      I said at the time, with no benefit of hindsight, that assaulting individual noblewomen was a terrible idea, and it fixed none of the underlying problems. I am not surprised in the least that I turned out to be right.

      Sometimes doctors need to operate to save a patient’s life. Sometimes societies require revolution in order to fix systematic problems that hurt huge numbers of people. Both doctors and revolutionaries have an obligation to stop and think about their goals and methods, rather than simply diving in and hoping for the best.

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      1. I think they get yelled out of proportion to what their actions warrant because they are students doing alarming things and people in authority have to maintain that they know better. Sharidan and Arachne for example have also done reckless things but who is going to yell at them?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Edit: I mean reckless things have have (potentially) both good and bad consequences. The people who don’t ever do anything are not in the story.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. You know, for a while now I’ve been wondering just what would happen if Trissiny invokes Avei’s judgement on Basra Syrinx, like how she did for Juniper back in the Crawl.

    And speaking as someone who’s been hanging out on Spacebattles for a good fifteen years now, that all sounds… depressingly familiar. It’s a place you have to make good use of the “Ignore” function to deal with.

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    1. We’ve seen many, many times that faith is strong, that belief in something can (if strong/pure enough, etc.) actually force a God to act a particular way.

      Well, what happens when you open a direct conduit to a God from a person who absolutely and firmly believes that they are right and who’s defining character trait is that they’re wrong enough in the head that they literally don’t have a single shred of self doubt or ability to not believe that they are 100% absolutely correct?

      Syrinx has mighty faith. And I think it could actually hurt Avei if Trissiny opens a conduit between Syrinx and Avei.

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      1. Well, yeah. That’s exactly why I was*wondering* what would happen, instead of clearly assuming it would work out perfectly.

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  13. Wait what could she have possibly just now learned that is worse than the time she saw Syrinx literally attempt to murder her mother?

    Also I feel like we’ve seem this thing where a mentor figure chews out the students for not thinking through all the consequences of their actions quite a few times by now. Not that it’s unrealistic, but as much as I love these characters growing and changing I’m getting a bit tired of the same rant over and over again.

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      1. End of Book 11, the showdown with the dwarves. Prin and her squad were in some kind of abandoned building and Basra ordered it to be bombed even though there was basically no tactical reason, Triss saw and confronted her about it but decided not to do anything for the mean time because she thought Rouvad was right about needing Basra for her political expertise.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. This might be a bit late and I don’t know if you’ll see this, but the whole discussion about Spacebattles makes me think that Sufficient Velocity might be more to your liking, Webb. SV has its fair share of flaws as well, but my experience with it is that the people who comment on stories there are far more likely to do so thoughtfully and insightfully (perhaps in part because the option exists for people to specifically rate a post as Insightful). I tend to think of Sufficient Velocity as Spacebattles, but better; if you haven’t already had bad experiences with it, you may want to give it a shot. I especially think the increased moderator presence would benefit you there; the mods are a little overzealous at times, but I prefer that to a more hands-off approach and I think that having them around to threadban people using bad-faith arguments would make your forum experience significantly less frustrating.

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  15. “and wants you to no only be in an advantageous political position”

    to NOT only be

    “how much the average aristocrat gets up that to would demand a stabbing”

    gets up TO THAT would

    “You just rolled the dice will countless lives.”

    the dice WITH countless

    Feel free to delete this comment

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