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On a typically overcast, slightly muggy summer day in Tiraas, Basra Syrinx returned to her office to find it gone.
She came to a stop in what appeared to be an empty stretch of hallway in the Temple of Avei, revealing confusion only by looking deliberately up and down. No one was visible nearby; the only noises were from the other end of the hall, where it terminated at a balcony overlooking a sizable atrium not far from the main sanctuary. Most significantly, the door to her office was not where it always was. Nothing but plain wall.
Her expression finally shifted from its usual placid mask to vague annoyance.
Syrinx reached up to run her hand along the wall, then grunted deep in her throat and nodded, finding the frame of the door with her fingers. Slowly she ran her hand along the invisible shape to the latch, which she turned. It was not locked or tampered with and shifted as smoothly in her hand as always, but she did not push it open or step in yet. Instead the Bishop resumed her tactile exploration, dragging her fingertips up the doorframe and along the top.
She disturbed some kind of crunchy dust sprinkled along the top of the door frame. No—not dust. Crushed dried leaves.
“Mm hm,” Syrinx muttered aloud, gripping the golden hilt of her sword with her other hand and continuing to sweep the dust away. Then suddenly, with a soft gasp, she jerked her fingers back, shaking her hand. There was no mark of any kind on her forefinger, but that had sure felt like—
She retreated one step and ignited her aura, flooding the hallway with radiant divine magic.
Immediately the illusion collapsed, the crumbled leaves atop the door frame evaporating into oily smoke, and the tiny elemental perched on the center chattered angrily at her in protest.
“I thought this was an extraordinary effort for a novice prank,” Syrinx said wryly. “Mousie, isn’t it? You’re not the only one who’s bitten off more than they can chew today. Your little buddy Herschel is going to be up way past his bedtime if he means to start trouble with me.”
Meesie hissed at her, puffing up her fur.
Not for nothing was Basra Syrinx an admired blademaster; her sword cleared its sheath faster than most human beings could have visually followed, much less countered, and she swept the blade in a precise arc that would have struck down even that tiny target—had Meesie not been other than human.
Meesie vanished in a puff of sparks as the sword’s tip slashed expertly through her space. Those sparks, instead of dissipating in the air, streamed away down the hall, where they coalesced again into the ratlike shape of the elemental, now perched on the shoulder of Herschel Schwartz, who had been standing there the whole time—not invisible, but simply not catching anyone’s notice until his familiar drew attention to his presence.
“I had honestly given up, boy,” Syrinx said mildly, sheathing her sword. “It’s been, what? A year? And you’re only now getting shirty with me. Please tell me you’ve spent all this time making actual preparations and not simply screwing up your courage. Unless your whole plan is to disappoint me one last time.”
“You know, Basra, that’s your problem in a nutshell. You always go right for the throat. Maybe you should relax, learn to play around a bit. Have some fun with life.” Schwartz’s tone was light, deliberately so. It contrasted with the rest of him—stiff as a flagstaff, shoulders gathered in tension, fists clenched and eyes glaring. Meesie hissed again, tiny flickers of fire racing along her fur.
“This isn’t a chapbook and you’re not a hero,” she said flatly. “You don’t stand there and banter at me. If the next thing out of your mouth is a suitably groveling apology, I will give real thought to not taking a complaint directly to Bishop Throale and having you reassigned to a two-man research temple in Upper Stalwar.”
In answer, he grabbed Meesie and tossed her forward. The elemental landed on the floor halfway between them and suddenly took up much of the hall space, in a leonine form almost the size of a pony. She had, at least, enough restraint not to roar and bring every Legionnaire in the temple running, but bared her teeth at Syrinx and growled. Loudly.
Unfazed by this display, Basra narrowed her eyes, then flicked a glance at the recently-disguised door of her office before returning her focus to Schwartz, ignoring the hulking fire elemental entirely.
“No,” she murmured. “You wouldn’t dare attack me openly—and especially not here. You have far too much intelligence and not nearly enough balls. What are you trying to distract me from, clever boy?”
He’d been prepped for this, but Schwartz was no schemer or politician. He hesitated for a moment, betraying uncertainty, before jutting out his chin and forcing a facsimile of a cocky grin. “Oh, is that what I’m doing? Interesting theory. How willing are you to test it?”
The dramatic effect, such as it was, suffered greatly from Meesie’s sudden reversal to her normal form. It had been much less than a minute; the divine magic saturating the temple put her at a serious disadvantage. Which, of course, underscored the Bishop’s point.
Syrinx quirked one eyebrow infinitesimally, then turned and strode away toward the stairs down to the atrium.
“Hey!” Schwartz shouted at her. “Are you that willing to bet I won’t just shoot you in the back?”
She didn’t bother to inform him that people who actually did things like that rarely gave warning, but she did activate a divine shield. It was a low-energy glow hugging her skin, well below the power of a typical combat shield, but it would conserve her magic and almost certainly suffice for any fae spells done at her, especially in the temple.
Syrinx arrived on the balcony just in time to spot her own aide being escorted through a door on the ground floor below. This wing of the temple, just behind the sanctuary, was mostly offices; that one was behind thick walls with just the one door positioned to provide space for guards to defend it, and used primarily for debriefings and interrogations of a relatively polite nature. Flight or fight risks would be detained in the cells in one of the basement levels. Those loyal to the Sisterhood who had something sensitive to reveal were handled here, where there was ready access to the temple’s main entrance and the medical wing.
“Covrin!” the Bishop snapped, her voice echoing through the columned atrium. All those present, which consisted of the Legionnaires escorting Jenell Covrin and a couple of passing priestesses, turned and craned their necks up at her.
Covrin met Syrinx’s eyes across the distance.
Then, she smiled. A cold, cruel smile, befitting Basra Syrinx herself—and the girl Jenell Covrin used to be before her “mentor” had (as she thought) beaten her into submission. Not acknowledging the Bishop further, she turned and strode through the door, which the nearest Legionnaire shut firmly behind her.
It was at that moment Syrinx registered that she was looking at Squad 391. Principia Locke turned from closing the door to give her the blandest, most placid smile she had ever seen.
The Bishop turned and stalked for the stairs, immediately finding her way blocked.
“Good afternoon, your Grace,” the dark-skinned young man before her said politely. “I wonder if I could have a moment of your time.”
She held onto her professional poise by a thread. “I’m sorry, I don’t have time at the moment. Excuse me.”
Syrinx moved to step around him, and he smoothly flowed aside to block her. Grunting in annoyance, she reached to shove him aside, and her hand impacted a hard surface which rippled with golden light, the shield dissipating immediately in a display of very fine control for a caster so young.
“I’m afraid I must insist,” he said, still in a courteous tone.
“Boy,” she grated, “do you have any idea—”
“I have many ideas,” he interrupted. “I’m Tobias Caine, and I require your attention for a moment, Bishop Syrinx.”
Basra went stock still, staring into his eyes. He gazed placidly back, awaiting her response, but she wasn’t really looking at him. Variables in this equation began to slot into place in her mind.
“I don’t have time for this,” Syrinx said curtly, and barreled right into him, flashing her own shield into place.
Toby was a martial artist and too deft on his feet to be so easily bowled down the stairs, retreating with far more grace than most would have managed in that situation, but the bubble of hard light surrounding her prevented him from making the best use of his skills, most of which relied on having something to grip in order to redirect her movements. He wasn’t without his own brute force methods, however, and before she’d made it two steps he conjured a staff of pure light.
Just like that, her divine shield wasn’t doing her much good, as Toby used his staff skillfully to poke, bat, and shove her backward, as if he were blocking a rolling boulder. This stalemate did not favor Basra; he was physically stronger than she and had vastly greater mana reserves; both staff and shield flickered whenever they impacted, but hers would break long before his.
“I realize you are impatient with this,” he said with infuriating calm while thwarting her efforts to descend as if this were all some sort of game. “But you need to think of your own spiritual health, Bishop Syrinx. Whatever happens next, the manner in which you face it will do a great deal to determine the outcome. Redemption is always—”
Basra abruptly dropped her shield and whipped her sword out, lunging at him.
As anticipated, instinct made him abandon his improvised jabbing and fall into a Sun Style defensive stance, which should have put her at a considerable disadvantage; his staff had much greater range than her short sword and her position on the stairs made it all but impossible to duck under it. That, however, was not her intent. Basra had trained against Sun Style grandmasters, which Toby Caine, for all his skill, was not yet. It took her three moves to position him, feint him into committing to a block for an attack from the right which never came, and then turn the other way and vault over the rail.
She had only been a few feet down the stairs; it was a drop of nearly a full story. Basra had done worse, and rolled deftly on landing with her sword arm held out to the side, coming to her feet barely two yards from Squad 391.
All six women were standing at attention, unimpressed by this. Locke, Shahai, and Avelea had composed features as usual, but the other three looked far too gleeful. Elwick, in particular, Syrinx knew to be more than capable of hiding her emotions. The fierce expression on her face boded ill.
“Step aside, soldiers. That is an order.”
“Mmmm,” Lieutenant Locke drawled. “Nnno, I don’t believe I will. Why? You think you’re gonna do something about it, Basra?”
“Lieutenant!” one of the two priestesses who had paused to watch the drama burst out, clearly aghast. “You are addressing the Bishop!”
“Am I?” Locke said pleasantly. “Well, if she still is in an hour, I guess I’ll owe her an apology. You just hold your horses, Bas. Private Covrin has a lot to go over.” She deliberately allowed a predatory, distinctly Eserite grin to begin blossoming on her features. “With the High Commander.”
Toby had reached the base of the stairs. Above, Schwartz arrived at the balcony rail and hopped up onto it, his robes beginning to rustle as he summoned some air-based magic. A subtle glow rose around Corporal Shahai.
Then another such glow, weaker but unmistakable, ignited around Locke. The elf’s grin broadened unpleasantly.
“Your Grace?” asked the second priestess uncertainly, glancing about at all this.
Basra Syrinx turned and fled.
Toby moved to intercept her, but Syrinx grabbed the shorter priestess by the collar of her robes in passing and hurled the squawking woman straight into him. Schwartz didn’t make it to the ground that quickly and Locke’s squad made no move to pursue, simply holding position in front of the office door. She made it to the atrium’s main entrance with no further opposition, bursting past two surprised Legionnaires standing guard on the other side.
Behind her, the office door opened, and it wasn’t Covrin or Rouvad who emerged to pursue her.
The main sanctuary of the Temple of Avei was crowded at that time of early afternoon, which meant there was an unfortunately large audience of petitioners from all over the Empire and beyond present to see their Bishop come streaking out of a rear door at a near run. This escalated into an actual run when she heard the pounding of booted feet behind her.
“You!” Basra barked at another pair of startled soldiers as she passed, flinging a hand out behind her. “Detain them!”
“Your Grace?” one said uncertainly, and had Basra been in less of a hurry she would have stopped to take the woman’s head off. Figuratively. Probably.
At that voice, in spite of herself, Basra turned, skidding to a graceful halt.
Trissiny Avelea wasn’t running, but stalked toward her past Legionnaires who made no move to intercept her as ordered—unsurprisingly. The paladin and Bishop weren’t in the same chain of command, but the rank-and-file of the Legions would have an obvious preference if their orders contradicted each other. Trissiny was in full armor, fully aglow, and golden wings spread from behind her to practically fill the temple space. Gasps and exclamations of awe rose from all around, but the paladin gave them no acknowledgment, eyes fixed on Basra.
The Bishop inwardly cursed the learned political instincts which had overwhelmed innate survival instincts; she should not have stopped. As tended to happen when she was confronted with an overwhelming problem, her entire focus narrowed till the world seemed to fall away, and she perceived nothing but the oncoming paladin.
“Trissiny,” she said aloud. “You’ve clearly been listening—”
Those wings of light pumped once, and Trissiny lunged at her with astonishing speed, sword first.
Basra reflexively brought up her own weapon to parry, a divine shield snapping into place around her, and then two very surprising things happened.
First, Trissiny beat her wings again—how were those things functional? They weren’t supposed to be solid!—and came to a halt.
Second, Basra’s shield was snuffed out, untouched. Frantically, she reached inward for the magic, and it simply wasn’t there anymore.
Tiraas was no stranger to storms, but the clap of thunder which resounded right overhead was far greater in power than the light drizzle outside made believable.
“I actually thought you were too clever to fall for that,” Trissiny said, and despite the continuing presence of her wings, it was as if the avenging paladin had melted away to leave a smirking Guild enforcer in silver armor. “You just tried to call on the goddess’s magic right in front of a Hand of Avei who knows what you did. Congratulations, Basra, you’ve excommunicated yourself.”
Amid the crowd, more figures were emerging from that door at the back of the sanctuary. The Hand of Omnu, Schwartz… And all of Squad 391. With Covrin.
Of course. Obviously, Commander Rouvad wouldn’t go to a debriefing room for such an interview, not when she had a highly secure office to which she summoned people regularly. This entire thing… Syrinx realized, belatedly, how she had been baited and conned.
She filed away the surge of livid rage to be expressed later, when she had the opportunity to actually hurt someone. For now, once again she turned and bolted toward the front doors of the temple, past the countless witnesses to her disgrace.
The lack of any sounds of pursuit behind her began to make sense when she burst out onto the portico of the temple and had to stop again.
Another crowd was gathered in Imperial Square; while the figure waiting for her at the base of the steps necessarily commanded widespread attention, he also discouraged people from approaching too closely. At least the onlookers were keeping a respectful few yards back. Including a handful of Imperial military police who had probably arrived to try to disperse the crowd but also got caught up gawking at the Hand of Death.
Gabriel Arquin sat astride his fiery-eyed horse, who pawed at the paving stones with one invisible hoof and snorted a cloud of steam. His scythe dangled almost carelessly from his hand, its wicked blade’s tip resting against the ground. Hairline cracks spread through the stone from the point where it touched.
“There is a progression,” Arquin said aloud, his voice ringing above the murmurs of the crowd, “which people need to learn to respect. When you are asked by the Hand of Omnu to repent, you had better do it. Refuse, and you will be ordered by the Hand of Avei to stand down. That was your last chance, Basra Syrinx. Beyond the sword of Avei, there is only death.”
The crowd muttered more loudly, beginning to roil backward away from the temple. Nervous Silver Legionnaires covering its entrance clutched their weapons, bracing for whatever was about to unfold.
Behind Basra, Trissiny and Toby emerged from the doors.
Syrinx lunged forward, making it to the base of the stairs in a single leap. Immediately, Arquin wheeled his horse around to block her way, lifting his murderous-looking scythe to a ready position. Even disregarding the reach of that thing, it was painfully obvious she was not about to outrun or outmaneuver that horse. Any horse, but this one in particular looked unnaturally nimble.
She pivoted in a helpless circle, looking for a way out. The crowd was practically a wall; behind was the Temple, once a sanctuary and now a place she didn’t dare turn. Trissiny and Toby had spread to descend the steps with a few yards between them. One pace at a time, the noose closed in on Syrinx, the space between the paladins narrowing as the Hands of Avei and Omnu herded her toward the Hand of Vidius, and inexorable death.
Basra had spent too long as a cleric and politician to miss the deliberate symbolism. She could choose which to face: justice, death, or life. Tobias Caine was even gazing at her with a face so full of compassion she wanted to punch it.
She didn’t, though. Instead, Basra turned toward him, schooling her own features into what she hoped was a defeated expression—based on the way people’s faces looked in her presence from time to time, as it was one she’d never had occasion to wear herself. She let the dangling sword drop from her fingers, feeling but suppressing a spike of fury at the loss when the expensive golden eagle-wrought hilt impacted the pavement. Just one more expense to add to the tally of what the world owed her. Ah, well. After today, carrying around a piece of Avenist symbolism probably wouldn’t have worked, anyway.
Syrinx let Toby get within a few feet before bursting into motion.
His own instincts were well-trained, and though he still wasn’t a grandmaster, Basra’s martial skill heavily emphasized the sword. In a prolonged hand-to-hand fight, she might not have proved a match for Toby’s skill—and definitely not now that only one of them had magic to call on.
That dilemma was resolved, as so many were, by not fighting fair.
It took her a span of two seconds to exchange a flurry of blows, carefully not committing to a close enough attack to let him grab her as Sun Style warriors always did, all to position herself just outside the circle the three paladins had formed and push Toby into a reflexive pattern she could anticipate and exploit. Arquin was momentarily confused, unable to swing his great clumsy weapon into the fray with his friends that close or exploit the speed of his mount, but Trissiny—also a highly trained fighter—was already moving around Toby to flank Basra from the other side.
So she finally made the “mistake” that brought her within range of Toby’s grab, and allowed him to seize her by the shoulder and upper arm. And with his hands thus occupied, Basra flicked the stiletto from her sleeve into her palm and raked it across his belly.
Almost disappointing, she thought, how fragile a paladin was. Hurling him bodily into Trissiny was pathetically easy at that point, and in the ensuing confusion of shouts which followed, she dove into the crowd, instantly putting herself beyond the reach of Arquin, unless he wanted to trample a whole lot of bystanders, to say nothing of what that scythe would do to them. He probably didn’t. Even as the helpless sheep failed to do anything to stop her in their witless panic, paladins always had to take the high road.
Basra shoved through the throng in seconds, pelting right toward the only possible sanctuary that still awaited her: the Grand Cathedral of the Universal Church.
“Toby!” Trissiny lowered him gently to the pavement; he was bent over, clutching his midsection, from which blood had already spread through his shirt and was dripping to the ground at an alarming rate.
“No light!” Toby managed to gasp as Gabriel hurled himself to the ground beside him. “Not even an aura!”
“He’s right, stomach wounds are amazingly delicate,” Trissiny said helplessly, finishing easing Toby down so he could sit upright. “It may need a surgeon, if you accidentally heal something in the wrong place… We need healers here!” she bellowed.
“Keep to the plan,” Toby grunted around the pain, managing to nod to her.
“You do your job, soldier,” he rasped, managing a weak grin. “After her! Triss, we’re surrounded by temples and gut wounds take a long time to do anything. I’ll be fine. Get moving.”
She hesitated a moment, squeezing his shoulder.
“He’s right,” Gabriel agreed, taking up her position to hold Toby upright. “Go, Trissiny!”
“I’ll be back,” she said, and released him, rising and plunging into the crowd after Syrinx.
Help really did come quickly. Barely had Trissiny gone before the Imperial police were enforcing a perimeter around the paladins, and a priestess of Avei had dashed up to them. She knelt and gently but insistently lowered Toby to lie on his back, whipping out a belt knife to cut away his shirt so she could see the wound.
“Seems so excessive,” Toby grunted to Gabriel, who knelt there clutching his hand. “Coulda spared a lot of trouble if we’d just told her the plan was to let her get into the Cathedral…”
“Well, yeah,” Gabe said reasonably, his light tone at odds with his white-knuckled grip on Toby’s hand, “but then she wouldn’ta done it.”
“Oh, right. Inconvenient.”
“You need to hush,” the priestess said in exasperation, her hands beginning to glow as she lowered them to the wound. “And try to hold still, this will hurt.”
Trissiny managed to moderate her pace to an aggressive stride as she crossed the threshold into holy ground. The two Holy Legionaries flanking the door turned to her, but she surged past them without even so much as a sneer for their preposterously ornate armor.
The timing of all this had been very deliberate. A prayer service was in session—not a major one, so the great sanctuary was not crowded, but people were present. Most significantly, the Archpope himself stood at the pulpit, presiding. Justinian liked to stay in touch with the common people, more so than did many of his predecessors, and thus could often be found holding public appearances such as these rather than delegating them to priests. A mid-week afternoon service just didn’t command much draw, however, and the room was filled to barely a tenth of its capacity.
At the moment, nobody was getting any praying done, by the looks of things. Basra Syrinx was no longer in evidence, but her recent passage was obvious, thanks to all the confused muttering and peering around. At the head of the sanctuary, the Archpope himself was half-turned, regarding one of the rear doors into the Cathedral complex with a puzzled frown.
The ambient noise increased considerably when the Hand of Avei strode down the central aisle, sword in hand, the side of her silver armor splashed with blood.
“General Avelea,” Justinian said, turning to face her with a deep, respectful nod. “I gather you can shed some light on these events?”
“Where is Basra Syrinx?” she demanded, coming to a stop even with the front row of pews. It was downright crowded up here, most of the parishoners present desiring to be as near the Archpope as possible. The first two rows were entirely filled, with people who came from the world over, to judge by their varied styles of attire. Just to Trissiny’s left were three Omnist nuns wearing the heavy cowled habits of the Order of the Hedge, a tiny sect which had no presence in the Empire.
“You just missed her,” Justinian replied. For whatever reason, he continued projecting in exactly the tone he used for conducting worship. As did she, making their conversation clearly audible to the room. “She passed through here in apparent panic, demanded sanctuary, and retreated within. Toward her office, I presume. What has happened?”
“Syrinx will be removed from her office as Bishop the moment the formalities can be observed,” Trissiny replied, her voice ringing over the astonished murmurs all around. “She has been cast out of the faith by Avei herself as a betrayer, abuser of the trust of her position, and rapist. Moments ago she compounded her crimes by mortally assaulting the Hand of Omnu. I demand that she be handed over to face justice!”
The muttering rose almost to the level of outcry before Justinian raised both his hands in a placating gesture. Slowly, the crowd began to subside.
“I dearly hope Mr. Caine is being tended to?” the Archpope said with a worried frown.
Trissiny nodded once. “He isn’t so fragile, and healers were at hand.”
“That is a great relief.”
“Yes,” she said impatiently, “and so will be his attacker’s prosecution. Will you have your Legionaries produce her, your Holiness, or shall I retrieve her myself?”
“Justice,” he intoned, “as you know better than most, is not a thing which yields to demands. These are serious allegations, Trissiny. Gravely serious. This situation must be addressed calmly, rationally, and with full observance of all necessary formalities. Frustrating as these things are, they exist for excellent reasons. We cannot claim to dispense true justice unless it is done properly.”
“Please do not lecture me about the core of Avei’s faith, your Holiness,” Trissiny retorted in an openly biting tone, prompting another rash of muttering. “Justice is Avei’s province. Not yours.”
“And yet,” he said calmly, “Basra Syrinx has claimed the sanctuary of this church. I cannot in conscience fail to respect that, on the strength of mere allegation. Even from a person of your own prestige, General Avelea.”
“Am I to understand,” she said, raising her voice further, “that you are refusing to turn over a criminal to Avei’s justice, your Holiness?”
“You are to understand the law of sanctuary,” he replied. “It is observed by all faiths within the Universal Church.”
“Excuse me, your Holiness.” From the front pew near the Omnist nuns, another figure stood, wearing white robes with a golden ankh tabard. Bishop Darling inclined his head diffidently to the Archpope, but also spoke at a volume which was clearly audible through the sanctuary. “I have, personally, defended and protected Basra Syrinx from the consequences of her actions in the past, in pursuit of what I believed to be the higher good. I know you are aware of at least some of this. To that extent, I may be inadvertently complicit in anything she has done now. But a line has been crossed, your Holiness. If she has so violently erred that her own paladin has come after her in this way, I strongly advise against involving the Church in this matter.”
“You know the value I place on your council, Antonio,” replied the Archpope. “But I question whether this setting is the appropriate venue in which to discuss matters of this severity and complexity. General Avelea, would you kindly agree to join me in private to continue this conversation?”
“Some matters do deserve to be discussed in public, your Holiness,” Darling said before she could respond. “I speak in my capacity as Bishop. The Thieves’ Guild stands fully behind Trissiny Avelea in this matter.”
The murmuring swelled again, and once more Justinian raised his hands for quiet. As soon as he had achieved it, however, and before he could take advantage, another voice intruded.
“I concur.” Bishop Varanus rose from the pew next to Darling, towering half a head over the Eserite and turning his fierce, bearded visage on Trissiny. “Basra Syrinx is a rabid animal, and always have been. We all know this, and as Antonio has said, we all share guilt for whatever she has done. We have all failed to do our duty in getting rid of her, and now we see the consequences. Honor demands that this be addressed—now, and not later. In this one matter,” he nodded to the paladin, “the Huntsmen of Shaath stand behind Trissiny Avelea.”
“The Brethren of Izara stand behind Trissiny Avelea,” said yet another voice before the noise could gather too much, and despite her own diminutive appearance, Branwen Snowe could project her voice easily through the hubbub. “Basra is a deeply troubled person. I would prefer that she be offered some manner of help, if any is indeed possible—but if she has offended so severely that her own cult demands justice, this is clearly a matter of the safety of all around her.”
Beside Snowe, an old man with white hair rose slowly from his own seat. Though he looked frail, Sebastian Throale spoke clearly and as powerfully as anyone. “I am only passingly acquainted with Bishop Syrinx and have no personal opinion on this matter. But Trissiny Avelea has personally earned the trust and respect of my own cult—not a small thing, nor easy to do, given the relations we have historically had. If she deems this the right course of action, the Salyrite Collegium stands behind her.”
“I’m not gonna lie, I am astonished that this is even a question,” piped yet another individual, practically hopping to her feet in the pew behind Throale. Bishop Sally Tavaar, all of twenty-six years old, was widely considered a joke by everyone except her fellow Bishops, all of whom were too theologically educated to be less than wary around a bard who acted the fool. “That woman is a detestable cunt and always has been, and you all know it. It’s about damn time somebody did something about it! Only reason nobody has is everyone’s afraid of her, and you all know that, too. It’s just plain embarrassing that an avenging paladin is what it takes to deal with this. The Bardic College stands the hell behind Trissiny Avelea!”
“If I may?” Bishop Raskin was actually new to his post and not a widely known face yet, but he made a point of fully bowing to Trissiny. “These events are not a total surprise. The Hand of Avei has worked closely with those of the other Trinity cults, and I had some forewarning that events such as these might transpire. I have the assurance of Lady Gwenfaer herself that we have nothing but the greatest respect for our fellow paladin, and the Order of Vidius stands firmly behind her.”
Beside him, a slim woman with graying hair rose and inclined her head solemnly. “My colleague speaks truthfully. Omnu’s faith stands behind Trissiny Avelea.”
By that time, stunned silence had descended upon the Cathedral. It was allowed to hang in the air for a moment longer before Justinian spoke.
“Anyone else?” he inquired, slowly panning his serene gaze around the room. Trissiny and the assembled Bishops just regarded him in turn, as did the astonished crowd. It was not every cult of the Pantheon, but it was most of the biggest and most influential. More importantly, it included several which agreed about nothing, ever. This show of unity without the active encouragement of a sitting Archpope—in fact, in defiance of one—was all but unheard of. It might actually have been the first time a Shaathist Bishop ever publicly endorsed a Hand of Avei. Justinian simply continued after a short pause, though. “Very well. I hear and thank you for your counsel, brothers and sisters. Rest assured, your opinions I hold in the utmost regard, and this will weigh heavily on my deliberations on this matter. Those deliberations must occur, however; it is no less than conscience and justice demand. For the moment, sanctuary will be observed.”
“Are you actually serious?” Trissiny burst out. “You would really—”
“Did you believe,” Justinian interrupted, staring evenly down at her from his pulpit, “that aggressive demands and political maneuvering would be enough to eviscerate due process? Is that Avei’s justice, Trissiny?”
It was probably for the best that she had no opportunity to answer.
The entire room full of worshipers turned to stare at Jenell Covrin, who came striding down the central aisle in full Legion armor, trailed by Squad 391.
“Come out and face consequences, Basra!” Covrin roared, stomping right up to stand next to Trissiny. “It’s me, Jenell—your little pet. The one you thought a victim!”
“Young lady,” Justinian began.
“I did this, Basra!” Covrin screamed. “I’ve been gathering every secret you tried to bury. I brought them to the High Commander! I BROUGHT YOU DOWN! You can hide from the paladin, but you can’t hide from the truth.”
“Private,” the Archpope said more loudly, “this is not—”
“I DID THIS TO YOU!” Covrin roared, her voice all but rattling the stained glass. “For everything you did to me, I WON! And if you want to try settling it one more time, you’re gonna have to come out and face me. You’ll know how to find me, you bitch! Until then, I. FUCKING. WIN.”
“That is enough,” Justinian said flatly. “Sergeant at arms, please escort this young woman from the Cathedral.”
“Squad, form up!” Trissiny snapped. Instantly, the six members of Locke’s squad pivoted and snapped into a wedge, blocking off the aisle from the Holy Legionaires who had started toward them from the doors. They very wisely slowed as the Silver Legionnaires formed a menacing phalanx bristling with lances.
Four more Legionaries were approaching from the front of the Cathedral, but also did not get far.
“Grip! Duster! Ninetails!” Darling barked.
Instantly, the three Omnist nuns on the front row surged upright, hurling away their voluminous robes to reveal armed women in scuffed leather. All three Guild enforcers flowed into place in a triangle around Jenell and Trissiny, staring down the heavily armored Legionaries, who also came to a nervous halt.
“Come on, Covrin,” Trissiny said quietly. “Nothing else we can do here…for now. We will have to finish this later.”
She half-turned to meet Justinian’s eyes.
The Archpope nodded to her once, and smiled.
71 thoughts on “14 – 32”
Ha. Haha! Hahahaaaaa! I understand that we’re not done with Basra and that Justinian isn’t either, but damn if it isn’t good to see her excommunicate HERSELF. It’s rare to see a villain’s downfall be so symbolically, karmically, and viscerally satisfying.
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Well, I can’t tell if Justinian was just outmaneuvered or not here. We know he want’s to be the ‘villain’, for whatever reason, but he also doesn’t want things happening too fast.
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His position is reasonably defensible to the general public, if not to the churches, he was standing up for the principle of due process and rule of law, against the demands of some very powerful people, it’s easy to spin that in a positive way. Also reinforces the idea of the Universal Church as a separate entity from the individual cults, which he’s been doing for a while with the Holy Legion, etc.
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On the other hand though, Trissiny was presumably demanding imprisonment pending trial, in a neutral venue, not a summary execution. And it does leave him in an uncomfortable future position: if he releases Basra, that shows weakness, and if he doesn’t, then he’s protecting a rapist. Not sure what his future plan is there. Perhaps he intends for her to “die” in a “failed escape attempt” that doesn’t leave a body?
Ah shit. Corvin is now Justinian’s pawn. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Justinian still has contingencies in play.
I’m 99% sure Covrin’s appearance was planned and scripted. They knew how the archpope would play this and went along with it.
Seriously, if Triss had simply walked past him to drag Basra out of her office… who could have stopped her?
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Is it possible that both Justinian and our paladin heros both got what they wanted out of this? The kids all but outright stated they wanted this confrontation, and Justinian does seem like an “all roads lead to victory” type.
Sweet and likely also the probable hand of eserion were both involved in the planning of this. It’s likely that Justinian will win every battle along the way until he wins himself into a corner where he can only lose the war.
I wouldn’t bet on Darling against Justinian. Keep in mind that no one actually knows Justinian’s endgame; it’s very difficult to keep him from reaching his goal when you don’t know what it is.
Justinian also seems to be the kind of “greater good” villain who would be willing to sacrifice himself to change the world. He might set Darling up for a “win” which defeats the Archpope and allows his plan to move forward without him.
This entire chapter was beautifully written. Oh, did Basra finally fuck up in the worst possible way.
Well we finally got the smackdown of Syrinx we wanted. And did Principia use her Eserite paladin powers too?
Principia has that necklace that enhances someone’s ability to channel the Light, especially if they’re related to the Crow.
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All Eserites has the power to use the Light (they just rarely do) so it probably wasn’t any paladin powers. Then again as Billius points out it could be that with the help of the necklace she’s channeling Avei and not Eserion. Or making it look like that just to poke at Basra 😂
Eserite priests have the power, not all Eserites.
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Oh, my bad 😅
I’m inclined to think it’s Kuriwa’s enhancer, or at least that she thinks it is. We’ve not had explicit mention that Prin actually is the Hand of Eserion; it’s been quite heavily implied, but it’s also quite clear that Eserion isn’t in the habit of letting his Hands (or analogues thereto) know what they are, and they may not have the same powers as other paladins do.
She could even just be a ‘priest’ (in the sense of a member of a cult who’s been given access to divine magic) and think it’s just her drawing on the light as normal – which it also could actually be.
Wow, Vesk really is good. The whole thing is exactly what you’d expect when the god of bards gets the thieves guild’s help to arrange a storybook (chapbook?) ending for a truly bad person. It even stays exciting the whole way through to see where the maze they’ve laid out will lead next, even though the end is obvious from the start.
Brief spelling correction: ” the value I place on your council” should be “counsel”. It’s correct later on in the chapter, so I imagine it was just a typo.
That was so satisfying.
This was so satisfying 😌
Also, new Bishops! I wonder if they’ll have bigger roles in the future. 26-year old and the bishop of your entire faith (at least on that continent), that’s one heck of an achievement.
You where way too enerving to the fucking bards, thats also a an acomplishment.
At first I thought that bishop was the weird and creepy bard who was trying to sleep with Tellwyrn when she was extorting Vesk, but she was called Kelsey. This bishop is named Sally.
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The Universal Church can’t handle Kelsey. Once it’s time to apprehend Justinian thats when they’re gonna send her in!
Jokes aside, Kelsey as a bishop would’ve been an amazing surprise 😂 She probably would’ve cornered the paladins afterwards and demanded an in depth description of “life as a protege of Tellwyrn”.
The phrase “played like a fiddle” comes to mind.
But who’s the player and who’s the fiddle?
JUSTICE RAINS FROM AVEI
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I mean, more accurately, “JUSTICE RAINS FROM AV-AGGGGGH!”
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Justinian is honestly the most infuriating person because it’s impossible to tell what his game is. Good writing, but holy shit I just want to know what he wants. Protecting Basra in the face of literally almost every important Pantheon cult nets him practically nothing, and if none of the major faiths care about sanctuary, then politically his defense of it is useless too. So what is he playing at and what is so important that it’s worth positioning himself as the enemy of so many powerful people to get it?
In a word, autonomy.
“Over time something permitted eventually becomes something mandatory,” is a useful phrase describing special powers/permissions/perks. A commonly known instance of this is how in North American society IT workers not only are permitted to avoid wearing formal dress in the workplace (with few exceptions), but in many cases if they do dress up in formal clothing people won’t believe that they are genuine, competent, IT specialists. Comparably, if Archpope Justinian wants to maintain the idea that he is allowed to act independently of a plurality of the constituting cults of the Universal Church, he has to actually do it or else the idea that he can will gradually wane and disappear.
Secondly, speaking up for the defense of due process is socially important. Get beyond a certain age and level of awareness of the world around you and everybody else knows of a case of someone that’s getting away with something criminal without facing punishment, right? But, the overall problem with circumventing or abolishing due process to deal with those cases of criminal people is that the undesired negative consequences of trying that are generally worse than not doing it. Anybody who understands clearly the lessons from history about police states will recognize this.
Lastly, Justinian is known to have a habit of gathering up people in vulnerable circumstances with no way out to be his trusted, loyal operatives working on secret projects. If he could disappear Basra out of a prison and into his service, he would.
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Yes Justinian, you go ahead and defend the rapist; that’s definitely a good way to remain the protagonist of the story. Idiot.
Due process. It’s not just a thing for people that you like.
You can argue that sanctuary is a dumb law, but it exists, and it can’t be set aside every time a powerful person doesn’t like it.
In this case, Justinian is acting as the protagonist by reminding the paladins and Bishops that the rules don’t just exist for their convenience. By refusing to back down in the face of threats, he showed that he has principles.
Of course, we know that Justinian is actually engaged in a long-term plot against the gods, and he would turn over Basra in a heartbeat if it advanced his plans. He must still need her, but I don’t know why; she was never part of his inner circle, and she’s incapable of loyalty to anyone except herself.
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She’s supremely predictable though, making her perfect for any number of Batman gambits 🙂
I am not sure if sanctuary rules should apply when the goddess of Justice is involved and when no unlawful harm is coming to Basra.
Right now she is hiding FROM justice, not being protected so justice can be done.
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I’m not sure how sanctuary works, but the other Bishops seem to feel that it’s a legitimate thing, even if he shouldn’t be allowing Basra to take advantage of it.
Justinian isn’t saying that he’ll never turn Basra over; he’s saying that he has to deliberate and make a decision. He’s also refusing to let paladins or Bishops pressure him into making a snap judgement, which would be admirable if it was his real motive.
I have no idea how this fits into his plan. As far as I can tell, Basra doesn’t know anything that Darling doesn’t already know, and she’s hardly a trustworthy ally.
I guess the laws are probably different in TGaB, but law enforcement, at least in NA, doesn’t actually have to obey religious sanctuary. They often do out of mutual respect and fear of political fallout, but it’s not actually required. Political asylum is a possibility, but a I wouldn’t think that applies here.
Makes me wonder what they all have planned for Justinian, since it’s not really a stretch to predict what he would have to do in that situation. It was obviously much to scripted to not have something in mind. Maybe they just want him to lose face?
We’re not dealing with the law though; we’re dealing with whether Justinian or our trio of Paladins is the protagonist in this story (in Vesk’s eyes).
As much as I’m really happy to see Synrix excommunicate herself and lose her position of power, I’m almost routing for Khadizroth to recruit her. Not that I’m hoping for her redemption. I don’t know if she’s beyond redemption or not, I don’t know quite how redemption works for people here or even if she’d be able to try to achieve it if it was presented. But more because he’s in the habit of picking up the discarded tools of Justinian and preparing to use them against him.
I don’t think even Big K wants her. He’s already got an insane killer, he doesn’t need a second one. Basra simply isn’t worth it, there’s very little she can offer anyone except for being a swordmaster. And perhaps knowing some dirt on people.
And he could really do without another schemer in his group. Having Kheshiri around is more than bad enough…
I’m sure Justinian’s got another shoe he’s just waiting to drop. They may well be supporting his plan.
Peter da Silva:
Justinian wanted this confrontation. If he didn’t, he could simply have let them arrest Basra.
Yeah, but why? This is a weird hill to die on. Maybe he doesn’t want her talking… but frankly he could just have had her killed before this point if that was the worry.
No, he went out of his way to make this inevitable it seems like, but there’s no obvious end game here. The Universal Church doesn’t derive it’s legitimacy from a system of law, it derives it from the support of the Pantheon. This is a constitutional crisis level moment here.
My theory is that Justinian wants a confrontation with the Bishops. He doesn’t seem to care about Basra herself, so she may just be his instrument for provoking a crisis within the Church.
Hmm…maybe Justinian is simply using the Universal Church as a conduit to be sacrificed? Emphasising the rule-of-law, subjecting itself and dragging the the Pantheonic Cults into it and through them the Gods so he can sue them for Apothesis?
I love Justinian maintaining his poise in a presumably unexpected position. That wry “anyone else?” was worth a million verisimilitude points for me.
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So there’s an enforcer with the tag ‘Ninetails’? She seems interesting. 😉
The Cat’o’ninetails is a brutal weapon XP
Or she’s a kitsune in disguise. We’ve had dryads popping up everywhere, why not kitsune? 🙂
“Basra Syrinx is a rabid animal, and always have been.”
have -> has
Is this a double plan? Not only is Syrinx brought to Justice, but Justinian also earns a black mark with Avei by helping someone try to escape judgement.
Is Avei literally capable of criticising Justinian in any way? I’m sure she thinks Justinian is just perfect 🙂
So I skipped ahead and it takes this long for something to happen to Basra?
Wow, she really is protected by plot armour.
I bet Justinian is still around as well. The power of plot armour. So no new characters then.
Why are you still reading this if you have nothing good to say about it?
While I am a fan of the series, and continue to enjoy it, we are fourteen chapters in and almost no one has died.
Justinian’s survival is justified, since he is protected by his position as Archpope, the artificial “approval” of the gods, and his caution in using expendable cutouts to carry out his schemes.
Basra’s survival is mainly attributed to the fact that Corvin and Heschel both made bad life choices, but people don’t always do what makes sense.
The larger criticism is that this story has been going on since the fall of 2014, and only a small number of minor characters are dead. We keep adding more and more characters in each chapter, creating an enormous cast, yet everyone survives. This robs the work of a certain amount of dramatic tension, since we’re dealing with evil schemes that never kill anyone.
By introducing more and more permanent characters, you are limiting the amount of time we spend with each one, which limits our emotional investment. At some point, it becomes hard to keep track of the cast, and difficult to become invested in new characters, since we’re already overloaded.
Again, I like the series. I like the characters, I like their development, and I plan to keep reading until the end. I just think that a work this long tends to struggle with too many characters and too many plot threads, especially when characters don’t die and plot threads are usually left unresolved.
That was addressing someone else, but okay.
As I’ve said before, TGAB’s relative bloodlessness is a deliberate choice, and a rejection of the “darker and edgier” trend that has taken over mainstream fantasy in recent years. It does come with downsides, but this is the story I chose to tell, and the way I wish to tell it.
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While I like some dark and gritty stories, I have to say, that I very much appreciate this story for not being like that. I very much like The Gods are Bastards for being the way it is.
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If you skip ahead in a story, of course it will look like characters are alive because of some plot armor or deus ex machina style intervention. You are missing. Chunks of stuff that’s occurred that explains why the story has progressed or stalled in some plot lines.
Compared to Twig, this story has minimal, if any, plot armor. All I’ll say on that, Twig was great but yeah.
And since I can’t reply to the guy below, I’ll do it here. The lack of death has made the deaths we have come across much more impactful. When you have Red Weddings and so on, the story is cheapened into a game of “do I like this character? They’ll probably die then” which is what makes it impossible to become emotionally invested in anyone. Why bother? They’ll die because ratings, it generates buzz. Do you remember when people thought our favorite Drow was dead? If this had been another Martin fanfic style universe, that would have just been another minor blip on the radar by that point.
The fact that Webb has managed to keep this MASSIVE universe relatively untangled (despite araneid’s intentions?) Is really amazing. Instead of killing off characters when their arc stalls out or gets too complicated, he has been able to develop nearly all of the main cast (UU cast, imp city, the gods even to a degree despite their unchanging nature) and even some of the minor characters. Which is worth remembering. There are characters that aren’t touched too much because they are just supporting cast. Jasmine’s cohorts, Crystal, Flora and Fauna. Are they getting a ton of screen time? No. DI’d I find myself hoping for them to grow up big while they were main stage? Hell yes.
Sorry for the rant but it felt like Webb shouldn’t be the only one defending what he wrote. The little bit of writing I’ve done has shown just how much work this story must take to keep coherent, let alone as enterraining as it is. It needs some recognition and respect on that front alone.
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I have an issue with this chapter. A single one.
When Darling calls his enforcers to action, shouting three names (not even monosyllable ones) simply takes too much time in an emergency. I would have expected a shorter code word.
Also, where are Flora and Fauna? Already in the sanctuary, waiting?
The code word was Grip. Simultaneous action is impossible to really describe in text, but likely all three were moving at the moment darling spoke their names.
But it would have been funny as hell to hear Darling shout out “Pumpernickel!”
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Since it seems Justinian has something important in mind for Basra, given all the trouble he just went to, I’m now wondering whether he needs someone to deploy the skull of Belosiphon, since Basra is now desperate and sociopathic enough to do it.
Chaos is for idiots. Basra is a desperate sociopath, not an ignorant fool.
The only people who would deploy the skull of Belosiphon would be those who didn’t know what the skull would do or those who were so willfully dumb that they refused to believe that chaos is not a toy.
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Now who was it who just summoned the god of Chaos a chapter or two back?
Peter da Silva:
Summoning the god of Chaos was not our paladins’ finest hour. It’s somewhat understandable, since they were in a room with the goddess of cruelty, who can read their minds. But it’s still not brilliant.
As Arachne said at the beginning, chaos is not a tool. It’s a fire you can’t control.
However, Basra isn’t exactly a well-adjusted person, and she is utterly dependent on Justinian for survival now, doesn’t care at all about collateral damage, plus many of the people who’d be on the frontlines against a major chaos incursion are people she personally hates. So, there’s no guarantee that’s what Justinian actually has planned for her, but I’d consider it pretty plausible.
Two things I’d note. 1) The Paladins summoned the god of chaos partly out of desperation, but also partly because Vesk had all but told them that a) it would be necessary, and b) that he meant for them to come out of it alright.
2) My impression about the chaos skull is that either a) Justinian dripped it from orbit like a metaphorical shoe, or b) that he is going to release it while setting Basra up to take the fall for it. Especially if he could do so right smack in the middle of Tiraas.
Justinian’s got too many things set up in Tirass, including the moon-base gateway and Szaviss(sp?) the Scyllithine High Priestess for him to risk using the skull there, I think. Imo either Calderaas or Madouris would be the most likely targets, since they’re both major population centers that the Empire would have to go all-out in defending.
oh, and, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FUCK BASRA! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
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