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Ingvar yielded to their pleading, since they at least managed to do it without descending back into shouted insults at each other, and so the conversation was taken to a more private venue. Brother Nandu was just as happy to offer them a quiet place to hold their discussion, where Tholi and November would incidentally not be within range of any of the monks going about their business in the temple. The chamber offered was a small prayer room, with a tiny round window opposite the door which projected sunbeams onto the floor, and stone benches lining both its longer walls. It was a little cramped with four people present, but not uncomfortably so. It was, additionally, located clear on the other end of the monastery and featured thick walls and a thick wooden door doubtless intended to provide a meditating monk with silence and privacy, which coincidentally would serve just as well to shield everyone else from any yelling which broke out within.
Four people because Aspen so blithely assumed she was included that nobody bothered to contradict her. Brother Nandu gently shooed away the surly monk who had met them on the road, and Rainwood accompanied them, chattering on about catching up on the news. Tholi frowned when Aspen strolled into the cell with them, and got as far as opening his mouth to comment before Ingvar caught his eye.
“Very well,” Ingvar said as soon as he had shut the door behind them. “Here we are. Now I want to hear those explanations. Starting with you, Tholi.”
“Excuse me,” November exclaimed, “but I was sent here on a divine quest, which I am sure is more important than—”
“So, nothing would happen if I just clobbered her, right?” Aspen said cheerily.
They all turned to stare at her, November going white.
“I mean, if I understand what people tell me about Imperial law,” the dryad continued. “How it basically doesn’t apply to me. So, if I was to get tired of someone mouthing off and punched her through the wall, nothing important would actually happen, right, Ingvar?”
“Several important things would happen,” he said patiently. “To begin with, a human being would be dead, which is a serious matter as we have discussed several times. Our hosts would be horrified, and I would hope you would not do them the discourtesy of making them clean up such a mess. Also, just because the Empire doesn’t claim dominion over dryads does not mean they wouldn’t do anything if you murdered an Imperial citizen. In particular I think our own mission is better off without drawing that kind of scrutiny.”
“Ah, I see,” she said gravely. “Okay, thanks. Anyway, you were about to talk, Tholi?”
November swallowed and edged away along the bench until she was bunched into the corner. Tholi gave her an openly amused glance, but at least refrained from any active needling. That was probably the best behavior Ingvar could hope for, from either of them.
His expression quickly sobered when he turned back to Ingvar, though. “Things have been getting…strange at the lodge since you left, Brother. That’s why I came looking for you: looking back, that’s the moment that it started getting serious.”
“Strange in what way?”
“With every passing day we feel less and less like Huntsmen,” Tholi said, now frowning deeply. “At least to me. And…I’ve kept my mouth shut about it, mostly, because I know I’m young to the brotherhood. And also because when I have said anything, I either get told to mind my place or brushed off because nobody has the time to educate me. That’s the thing, I remember when brother Huntsmen did have the time to educate each other. You in particular, Brother Ingvar, bopped my nose at least twice a day when I was a youngling, but you always explained. The younglings growing up now… They’re being taught to obey, not to understand. I feel like I’m the last Huntsman raised to actually grasp what being a Huntsman means.”
“What’s happening to the lodge, Tholi?” Ingvar asked quietly.
“Well, we hardly ever see Brother Andros anymore, he’s constantly down at the Cathedral or doing something with the other cults. Much more than he used to, even—it feels like it goes well beyond him being Bishop. There are strangers in the lodge all the time, Church people and others I don’t know. The Archpope keeps sending that Snowe woman with the jugs and the slimy blond Eserite around, and the both of them are wrapping Huntsmen around their little fingers like… Well. At least that rabid Syrinx woman has been gotten rid of.”
“Bishop Syrinx?” Ingvar said, raising his eyebrows. “Not that I’m surprised, but what happened to her?”
Tholi sneered contemptuously. “Apparently even the Avenists had enough of her. The way I heard, it came out that she was molesting Legionnaires. The Hand of Avei herself came to Tiraas and whipped the shit out of her right in the middle of Imperial Square, and good on her for it, I say.”
November was practically shaking with some repressed emotion; Ingvar gave her a level look, concluded that she was continuing to repress it, and opted to leave well enough alone. “Interesting. Well, go on. The Church is meddling in the lodge?”
“It’s worse than that,” Tholi said, frowning again as his thoughts returned to the matter. “Men are coming and going in a way I don’t like. Huntsmen do less hunting now, rites have become more and more infrequent and they keep being sent to do things with other cults, and on secretive missions…”
“What kind of missions?”
“Don’t know.” Tholi shook his head, looking frustrated. “I guess I’m too young. And also I haven’t been happy about the way things are shaping up; that probably contributed to me being cut out. But the Huntsmen in Tiraas are becoming agents of the Archpope’s agenda. Like, brazenly. It feels like Justinian leads us as much as Veisroi does. The Grandmaster had already sent away every Huntsman from the lodge who might challenge him for the weakness and brought in men from other lodges who’ll support him. You saw that happening when you were still around, Brother.”
“I do remember the trend,” Ingvar murmured. “I trusted the Grandmaster to have a plan and the good of the Huntsmen in mind, though, and Brother Andros to check him if he went too far.”
“Well, I think your trust may have been misplaced, Brother Ingvar,” Tholi said grimly. “Since you left it’s been getting worse. Veisroi has moved on to chasing away anybody who raises a voice to protest what’s happening, and surrounded himself with bootlickers. Men who like power, and politics, and see following him and the Archpope as a way to get them. And Brother Andros hasn’t said or done a thing about it. I wasn’t close enough to know why—he might be fully behind the Grandmaster, or maybe Veisroi and Justinian just keep him too occupied to protest. Either would explain him being gone all the time. When I left… Well, I was starting to get pretty firm hints that I’d be better off moving to a different lodge, anyway.”
“I see,” said Ingvar, frowning. “I’m sorry, Tholi. You deserved better than that. It doesn’t explain why you are here, though, or how you knew I would be.”
Tholi’s expression brightened. “I was led here, Brother! I heard that before you set off on your vision quest, you started to have dreams telling you to go, right?” He paused just long enough for Ingvar to nod in confirmation before pressing on. “Well, I have too! I…honestly tried to ignore it for months. I’ve never thought of myself as some kind of spirit-speaker—I just wanted to embrace the wild and hunt alongside my brothers. You know, find a good wife, provide for a family. A simple life, that’s what I felt I was heading toward. But every night I had these dreams, too vivid and always clearly remembered when I woke up. They didn’t feel natural. I kept seeing…” He hesitated, glancing at the window. “…guides. Birds leading me west. Sometimes they talked, and told me to find you. When I started to see wolves as well, always urging me west, and the men at the lodge were starting to freeze me out anyway, I gave up and left. I guess sometimes the spirits don’t care if you’re not attuned to them. If they have a task for you, they won’t let up until you get off your butt and do it.”
“I can relate to that,” Ingvar said wryly.
“And I was right!” Tholi unconsciously gripped his bow in both hands, gazing avidly at Ingvar now. “I found you, Brother! The spirits led me here, to some backwater at the ass end of N’Jendo where there’s no reason I could’ve expected to find you and you didn’t even know you were going to be. It has to mean something! Doesn’t it?”
“Isn’t that kind of exactly what happened to you, Ingvar?” Aspen prompted.
“Kind of exactly,” Ingvar agreed. “Well, who knew. All right, November, you’ve been patient. What’s your story?”
“As I told you,” she burst out with a sudden force that suggested she had been struggling to contain herself while Tholi talked, “I was sent here on a direct mission from Avei herself!”
“Avei,” Ingvar said, not troubling to disguise his skepticism. “The goddess personally told you to come find me?”
“Well, she also ended up here, after all,” Tholi said somewhat grudgingly. “Not that I think much of this brat, but that’s obviously…not insignificant.”
“Oh, you’re right about that,” said Ingvar, still studying November thoughtfully. “I’m just trying to make sense of it. Gods rarely reach out to people in person. I doubt if anybody but Trissiny Avelea and Farzida Rouvad have heard directly from Avei in the last decade.”
“Well, I can assure you I did,” November snapped. “It’s not the sort of experience I could be mistaken about. Furthermore, Professor Tellwyrn herself validated my quest and gave me the semester off for this. Whatever else you may think about Tellwyrn, she knows the gods as well as anyone does.”
“I do have a lot of respect for Tellwyrn,” Ingvar acknowledged. “A very impressive woman, and more sly than she likes to appear.”
Tholi shrugged. “I guess the girl’s a priestess of Avei, after all. And clearly something is going on that’s getting the attention of gods and spirits.”
“She’s not a priestess of Avei,” Aspen said.
“What?” Tholi frowned at her. “No, I saw her using divine light, she’s definitely a priestess.”
November opened her mouth, but Aspen blithely chattered over her. “No, I’ve been sitting here remembering. I pretty much forgot all about November after we left Last Rock because she wasn’t all that important to me, but I do remember Juniper talking about her while we were there. She’s an Avenist and kind of a bitch about it, but not a priestess—she’s a mutant.”
“Now, just a minute!” November burst out.
“A…mutant?” Tholi frowned quizzically.
“Yeah, she’s a whatchamacallit, an anomaly. She can use divine magic without a god’s help, like a dwarf. Juniper also said most of her classmates find her annoying, she’s in love with Trissiny Avelea, and is pretty mediocre in bed.”
November went scarlet and began physically shaking. Tholi impressed Ingvar by not overtly piling mockery on the young woman’s humiliation, though clearly his discretion had improved only a little since they had last met. The young Huntsman turned his back, but either couldn’t or didn’t bother to stifle the shaking of his shoulders.
“Aspen,” Ingvar said flatly, “we have talked about this. People have the right to privacy, especially with regard to romantic and sexual matters. The fact that you can sense things they’d rather keep quiet means you have a responsibility to keep such knowledge to yourself. I know your sister Juniper understands and practices this; there is no reason you can’t.”
“Right,” she said with a sigh. “Sorry, Ingvar.”
“Don’t apologize to me,” he ordered. “I’m not the one you offended.”
“Oh, okay then.”
Aspen smiled brightly, placing her hands demurely in her lap, and looked deliberately innocent.
He stared her down. “Aspen.”
“Oh, all right,” the dryad said with poor grace. “Sorry, November, that was rude of me. I won’t do it again.”
November answered with the red-faced silence of someone who did not trust her own voice.
“Tholi, act your age,” Ingvar said disapprovingly. “Laughing at someone else’s misfortune is childish and unbecoming a Huntsman of Shaath. Putting all that nonsense aside, Ms. Stark, what was it exactly that Avei ordered you to do?”
“To find you.” November was still red-faced and trembling, but clearly grateful for the change of subject. “Avei said… She said that you are undertaking an important quest, Huntsman Ingvar, something that greatly concerns the entire Pantheon, and that you would need help. She commanded me to find you and help you in any way you need, and told me to come to this location to meet you.”
“Avei said that,” Ingvar muttered. “That’s… I’m not questioning your word, November. After all, if you were lying or wrong I don’t see how you could have ended up here, looking for me. But it’s a lot to take in.”
“For me, too,” she mumbled.
“Hey, Tholi,” Aspen said suddenly. Ingvar looked up to find the dryad staring at Tholi with an almost predatory interest and Tholi himself looking uncomfortable and shifty. “You said you dreamed about birds leading you here, right?”
“What birds, exactly?”
He shrugged. “You know, just birds…”
“Yes, but what kind?”
“Crows.” Tholi glanced over at November, then finally met Ingvar’s eyes, and finished with visible reluctance. “And… A golden eagle. I didn’t… That is, at the time, I didn’t think it could possibly… Well, a bird is a bird, and dreams are just… Brother Ingvar, what is going on?”
Ingvar stepped over to the window, staring at the mountain beyond. “First this…frankly incredible quest. This whole time I’ve been thinking there was no way I could do this, just because it would require a kind of shift from within the Huntsmen that… And yet, it sounds like the Huntsmen are already suffering the beginnings of what could become a schism if it isn’t mended. And now… Now, another god of the Pantheon takes an interest. The absolute last one I would have expected. Well.”
He turned around to face them, nodding once. “Very well. You two are not the help I would have summoned for this task. Then again, if I’d been the one handing out cosmic assignments, I would not have nominated me for it, either. We must trust that the gods know something we don’t.”
“Of course they do,” Aspen said reasonably. “They’re gods.”
“Gods are creatures with agendas,” Tholi added, “just like anyone. I’m not so sure I like the sound of running around doing Avei’s bidding.”
“I’m pretty sure Avei doesn’t want you trying to do her bidding, either,” November sneered.
“Are you?” Ingvar shook his head. “You may both feel differently once you hear what is actually happening. All right, where to begin…”
24 thoughts on “15 – 7”
It’s a shortish chapter… I was originally planning to move on to the next scene as well, but that would have made it a pretty long chapter, and I was flagging mentally. I’m doing better, but still struggling a little to get the story out. I don’t want to risk a burnout or triggering another depressive episode. Ideally I’ll have something meatier for Monday.
Meanwhile, I have a side project I’ve been working on for a while, in small bits here and there. That should launch soon, possibly this weekend. Stay tuned.
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I am curious about this side project of yours. I didn’t see any news, but I don’t follow you on other social media (besides Patreon). Is it live? If not, where is it going to be announced when it is launched?
It is a side project, so there’s no set schedule and TGAB gets the first share of my time and energy. It’s bubbling along, though. Soon, hopefully.
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Huh. Avei being on board with plan “fix Shaath” is unexpected, but kinda makes perfect sense in hindsight. She can only benefit if Shaath and his followers become less misogynistic.
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Remember that Ingvar was having visions of Shaath being bound, however whatever Justinian did it is not only binding Shaath but the other gods as well. Anything that breaks the binding on Shaath would tend to be something that would help the others as well. Then there is the fact that when the gods became gods they started becoming more intune with their godly aspects and I expect this binding of Shaath is not what Avei would call just and is pinging on that aspect of her.
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I’d say Shaathists being less misogynistic would be a nice side benefit, but not necessarily the main goal. From what we’ve seen so far, even if the cults don’t get along, the members of the pantheon do. Avei might just be doing it because Shaath needs the help.
It is rather curious that Avei is sending November on this particular quest. Perhaps the way her divine ability works keeps her off the radar somehow? Not really sure what else it could be, truthfully.
Also, how would Juniper know that November is mediocre is bed? The other stuff would be easy enough to figure out, not sure how she would pick up on that though.
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Juniper slept with most of the students in the university back in her first year.
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Yes, how could June possibly have found out how good November is in bed 🙂 🙂 🙂
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Maybe as it probably has something to do with Araneid (as Shaath was bound with spider webs) they are sending someone who can use divine magic to deal with Scythlline drow and priestesses
Whoa. What if Arachne turns out to be the big bad guy at the end!
Like Shaath, Avei is bound too. All of the Gods are. Its possible she’s working to help her fellow God, but its also possible she’s working to save herself.
Finally, I’m up to date. Amazing story and a truly fantastic world! I wish you a very good and productive new year 🙂 and I am looking forward to find out what Elilials goal is.
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From what I remember of the group vision quest that Ingvar was a part of, part of the big revelation is that wolves don’t actually treat their mates the way that the Huntsmen do. Shaathists expect the women to be subservient to men, instead of partners.
If there is a chance to free Shaath and alter that aspect of his followers, Avei would obviously be on board. Andros mentions that Shaathists value strong women because it’s more meaningful for them to be dominated. It’s not that big of a shift to valuing strong women as partners instead. That would clear out the blatant misogyny of the cult while still leaving them with the core tenants and values.
It also sets up a nice little meet cute with Tholi and November. They work together while helping Ingvar and realize they have more in common then not, and once Shaath is actually freed it wouldn’t be unthinkable for November to hook up with a Huntsman.
However, so far November seems to just be a lesbian (though it is possible she’s bi and in denial about it).
It’s also possible that she convinced herself that she likes women because that is the Avenist stereotype. In the end it doesn’t matter.
Not every pairing needs to result in a couple. 😉
The huntsmen get basically everything wrong, including how dominance and submission work. Ephanie would have been perfect for them if only they were real instead of posers. Sure, there are some like Andros who are genuine… but most run on a wrong belief.
Will November ever stop being the universe’s butt monkey and/or chew toy? That’s the true mystery of the Bastardverse
She placed herself in that position. To change things, she just has to grow up and change herself enough to be taken seriously.
I’d also think that she can’t possibly be like that all the time, otherwise she wouldn’t have made it into year four of her education at the university.
“sent away every Huntsman from the lodge who might challenge him for the weakness”
Is that a typo or some Hunstman terminology?
It’s because the Grandmaster sent away everyone who could oppose him, this is a weakness in the eyes of certain huntsmen. A strong man relishes opponents instead, they help to keep him sharp and grow stronger. Also they are his brothers and could point out if he went wrong, as good friends do. By closing himself off from potential criticism and challenges he shows his insecurities and that is a weakness.
At least, that’s my interpretation.
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When I finally read Kuriwas truly amazing side story the comments were allready closed.
But I have some theories that I have to get out in the open because nobody thought if them.
First it is amazing that Arachne built her Fortress above the Crawl which is in fact the way down to Araneids Lab.
About Kuriwas revenge on Scyllith. I guess thst
That was somewhat fulfilled when Elilial and Arachne nearly killed Scyllit and thst moved her out of reach.
As for Arachnes existance. Lili has still access to Scylliths Toys. And her messing with them resulted in her starting the third hellwars, creating the giant hellgate and ejecting Arachne from Araneids Systems as a side effect. Which would explain why Arachne appeared in close proximity of the hellgate.
Now that the hellgates location seems to be the first big crossroad of the chapter I hope we will learn more.
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