15 – 58

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“Once again, ‘any moment’ is not technically incorrect, but it is overly dramatic,” Bradshaw said with the strained patience of a perfectionist having to continually clarify. “The most accurate description of the situation is that we do not know what the trigger for opening the portals is—yet. I recommend all haste, but not panic. Clearly, something has prevented the portals opening at least this long, and we are working to figure out what.”

“Haste but not panic is the right action in almost any circumstance,” Grip said in a deceptively lazy tone, eyes on the dismantled wand she was cleaning. “Including if, for example, there were twenty-odd demon portals in the city that might open any fucking minute.”

“Grip, play nicely with the other kids,” Sweet reproved. “Bradshaw’s doing us a big solid and these stakes don’t allow for any infighting. What is it you need from us?” he asked the warlock.

“Embras and the dragon simply want to stay in communication,” Bradshaw replied a little less testily. “Khadizroth did mention Mr. Schwartz as a possible assistant in his own efforts. He and the elf seem competent but they are trying to chase multiple leads at once and the aid of another shaman couldn’t hurt.”

“I say, that’s a point,” Schwartz agreed, reaching up to stroke Meesie, who had started squealing in alarm. “Though I’ll admit the prospect of working under a green dragon is both tremendously exciting and rather terrifying.” His familiar bounded onto his head and began gesticulating wildly, keeping up her shrill commentary. “Meesie agrees,” Schwartz added solemnly. “It’s also worth keeping in mind that we have, ah, something of a history. Given what happened last time our paths crossed his…” He trailed off, looking over at Branwen.

“I have found Lord Khadizroth an eminently reasonable being,” she said with a reassuring smile. “He is well aware of what happened that night and bears us no grudge over Ildrin’s actions.”

“Makes sense to keep the finger-wigglers on the same page,” Grip mused. “Well! If that’s how it’s gonna be, I’d like to come along. You, too,” she added to Jenell. “This is an invaluable learning opportunity.”

Jenell opened her mouth, apparently found nothing to say, and shut it. Her tutor grinned wolfishly at her.

“I am of course honored at the opportunity to serve as your personal taxi service,” Bradshaw said in an exceedingly dry tone.

Shook cleared his throat. “For what it’s worth, I agree with the Bishop about Big K bein’ more or less reasonable. He doesn’t flame-broil people who don’t create a need. You, Grip, run a very significant risk of creating a need if you park yourself in a room with him for five minutes.”

She rolled her eyes. “If you can hang around with this dragon without setting him off, Thumper, any actual grown-up with a shred of functional impulse control should be fine.”

He clenched both fists and she grinned again.

“Peace,” Sweet exclaimed. “What did I literally just say about infighting?”

“Right,” Shook agreed, deliberately relaxing and straightening his lapels. “Sorry.”

Sweet gave him a tiny sidelong frown as if perplexed by that, but Schwartz hastily continued the discussion before it could be diverted any further.

“On that note! Just logistically speaking, might it not be best to combine both groups entirely?”

“How about no,” Flora and Fauna chorused. Schwartz turned to them, blinking in surprise, and Meesie sat bolt upright in his hair with her head tilted.

“Actually, the idea has merit,” said Bradshaw. “It is not without issues, though. Syrinx is supposed to be specifically finding Darling and company, and neither Embras nor Khadizroth want her coming at us. Not to tell you your business,” he added directly to Sweet, “but I wouldn’t want her sniffing after you unless you’re accompanied by some heavy-hitters. Also, given the increasing uncertainty and the fact that blithely trusting Syrinx to hold up her end of a deal would be hysterically stupid, it may be a good idea for the two Bishops to try to mobilize whatever there is of their cults in Ninkabi.”

“What exactly are Izarites supposed to do about a possible demon invasion?” Jenell asked scornfully.

“Protect and heal people,” Grip answered. “A priest is a priest, when it comes to demons. There’s value in other talents than yours, apprentice. Do not open your mouth if nothing’s gonna come out of it but ego.”

“So…are you in favor of blending the two groups or not?” Schwartz asked Bradshaw.

The warlock tilted his head from one side to the other in a waffling motion. “Thinking on it, I don’t see how a complete blending is workable. But we may want to reconsider who to station where. And we should definitely try to keep both groups in contact.”

“We are not interested in being under a roof with Khadizroth the Green,” Fauna stated.

“Or Vannae,” added Flora.

The discussion continued, almost immediately veering into argument again and then back, while Shook discreetly wandered around the perimeter for the room to stand next to his own Bishop.

“Sweet,” he murmured, “can you spare a minute for a talk? In private?”

Sweet looked at him, raising his eyebrows, then shrugged. Saying nothing, he straightened up from his slouched pose against the wall and slipped out through the door. Shook fell into step behind him.

They were ensconced in a safe house used by the local Guild, on loan to Sweet for the time being by Ninkabi’s Underboss. While the argument carried on in the sitting room, Sweet led the way through the kitchen and down the short flight of steps beyond into a dusty but surprisingly well-stocked wine cellar, slapping a switch in passing that made a single dim fairy lamp come on.

“Thanks,” Shook muttered once they were both over the threshold. There was no door, but the distance and intervening halls muffled the conversation out front to a bare murmur. “This is… Okay, there’s obviously more important stuff going on, so shut me up as soon as something interesting happens. But while we got a breather I…” He inhaled deeply and self-consciously straightened his suit again. “I wonder if I could… I mean, you are a priest. I just wanna bend your ear in that capacity.”

Sweet leaned back against the wall next to the door and folded his arms, keeping his expression calm. “Well, you know we don’t have much of a confessional tradition, Thumper, but I fancy I’m a pretty decent listener. What’s on your mind?”

He took a few steps to the end of a wine rack, then turned and paced back the other way. The words were hard to dredge up, but he was keenly aware that this was an inopportune time; the clock was ticking, as assuredly was the Bishop’s patience.

“Spending a couple a’ years with Kheshiri around really fucked me up,” he said abruptly, straightening up and making himself look Sweet in the eye. “I’m… Well, she’s gone, and I’m better off, obviously. Been thinkin’ over a lot of stuff as I have time, getting a handle on how bad she screwed me up an’ trying to undo some of the damage. Khadizroth has helped with that.”

“I will just bet he has,” Sweet said mildly.

Thumper heaved a sigh. “I’m not a moron, Sweet. The dragon’s got an agenda, same as anyone, but in his case… Augh, that’s a whole other conversation. It’s just… Okay, well, first things first: you tried to help me out a lot back in the day an’ I pretty much blew you off. I been thinkin’ back on a lot of real good advice I’ve been given by several people, including you. Better late than never, I guess. So, before anything else happens: thanks, Sweet, for trying. And I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

One corner of Sweet’s mouth turned upward and his eyes softened. He nodded once, gravely. “You are welcome.”

“But what I keep comin’ back to,” Shook went on, turning his head to glare at the wall, “is that… Well, that. All that was long before Kheshiri came along and as bad as she screwed with my head, she wasn’t the start of it. I… Sweet, I’ve fucked up a lot. And looking back, I’m not even sure, a hundred percent, how much of everything I thought I knew was bullshit. I’m pretty sure it’s at least some of it. I dunno where to draw the lines. All I’m absolutely confident of is I’ve really fucked up.”


Thumper snapped his eyes back to him; Sweet was still regarding him with the same bland look. “Huh?”

“Why, specifically, have you habitually fucked up?”

He breathed in, slowly, and back out. The reactive surge of anger was not appropriate. It was a good question. Sweet was trying to help, just as he had years ago.

“That, right there,” Thumper said flatly after a moment. “I get too mad and I don’t handle it well. Better’n I used to, but… I, uh, also think… I absorbed a lot of Alan’s views about the world an’ I’m starting to think some of ’em may be kind of…incredibly wrong.”

“I’ll help you out a bit, since this is progress,” Sweet said evenly. “You have a long pattern of blaming everybody but yourself when you fuck up, Thumper.”

He inhaled and exhaled again. Then a second time, suddenly aware that the anger he was feeling was something he’d summoned, subconsciously, because it was easier to deal with than shame. “Yeah, I see that now. Specially the last couple years… I had it worked around in my head how the Guild had turned against me because of Keys’s lies, and… This thing with Justinian, I thought if I could get some results from him… I dunno.”

“Keys’s report from Last Rock was some seriously troubling shit, Thumper,” the priest stated tonelessly. “You wanna offer me some insight on that?”

Thumper looked away from his eyes again, crushingly aware it was simple cowardice and unable to summon up the strength to do better. “Keys…irrespective of anything else, has always been an insufferable piece of shit and you know it. I’m not gonna cop to anything she said until I hear the full details of it.”

“Well, that is not the response of a man who’s done nothing wrong,” Sweet retorted, and Shook just barely managed not to flinch. “So that tells me what I need to know. The fine details are Style’s problem.”

“I’m…I’m trying to do better, Sweet,” he said helplessly. “I’ve fucked up, I know it. I just…I want a chance to make things right, if I can. How do I get outta this, and earn that?”

Sweet’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. Then straightened up, shaking his head. “If that’s where this is going, Thumper, I don’t have time for it.”

Shook felt the betrayal like a stab in his chest. “But—”

“Has it ever once crossed your mind that there are things you just don’t get out of?” Sweet held his stare, and this time he found he actually couldn’t look away. “You crossed a line with her, Thumper. It’s a universal line everybody in every civilization in all of history knows not to cross, and you did it anyway. There is some shit that is just not excused by a bad upbringing. And then you ran instead of facing the consequences like a man. What you’re asking me now is to keep not facing consequences, and whatever progress you’ve made, that shows me it’s not enough.”

Shook finally lowered his eyes, fully occupied by the plummeting feeling inside himself. Sweet wasn’t done, though.

“I always approve of anybody trying to improve themselves, but in your case, the appropriate time for this was a decade ago. And especially before you interpreted an enforcement mandate as an excuse to get handsy with a fellow Guild member. Redemption is for the bards, Thumper. It’s a pretty story device that works well enough for made-up people in imaginary stories, but in real life? Nothing that’s done can be undone. Actions have consequences. Everybody fucks up and we’ve all got blood on our hands; character is measured by how you face responsibility. And you are still trying to duck out of it.

“You wanna man up, finally? You need to make peace with the fact that the consequences of your actions may be extremely final, Thumper. Facing them might not be something you come out the other side of. And you especially need to internalize the fact that this is what you’ve chosen. If you still don’t have the wits to see how you’ve created your own situation, or the guts to take your medicine…”

Sweet shrugged again, and turned to step into the stairwell.

“You can try running again. Gods know it’d be less paperwork for us. I can’t promise how far you’d get, but it might be far enough. There’s big shit going down, Thumper, and everybody has more important things to deal with than you. It’s your call. But if you’re really serious about doing better, then you know what you have to do. If you’ve got it in you.”

He climbed the stairs in silence. Thumper saw his legs hesitate at the top before he finished ascending, and returned to the others.

Shook turned his back to the doorway. His fists were clenched so hard his nails were cutting into his own skin. Breathe. In, out… Calm. Except this time there was no calm there. He was fighting a losing battle with the anger.

No, he realized, not with anger, not anymore. Sweet, with a few piercing sentences, had managed to take even that from him. Nothing Khadizroth had taught him had left him prepared to cope with shame.

The footsteps on the stairs behind him were softer. Oddly, for once in his life, Shook couldn’t find it in himself to care who was creeping up on him from behind.

“I think that was partly the situation talking,” Branwen Snowe murmured, stepping up into his peripheral view. “I have never known Antonio to be deliberately cruel.”

A bitter laugh tore itself from Shook’s throat, and not just because there were obviously things about Antonio she didn’t begin to imagine. “Ah, hell, ain’t his fault he’s right. I mean…well, you know what I mean. I guess you were listening in on most a’ that?”

“I apologize for intruding on your privacy,” she said with evident sincerity, reaching up to rest one hand against his upper arm. Her blue eyes were soulful and kind; in that moment he could almost forget the dozens of tiny signals he’d picked up over the last few days that Snowe was as cunning a creature as Syrinx in her own way. “Priestesses of my faith experience the emotions of others much the way you do smells in the air. Except I can’t just hold my nose, so to speak. It’s impossibly difficult to be around someone who is in as much pain as you are and not try to do something about it.”

For whatever reason, the conversation was helping. Maybe it just gave him something other than his own inadequacy on which to focus. Shook ran through another breathing exercise, then unconsciously smoothed a hand over his hair. “Yeah, well. Thanks for your concern, Bishop, but I figure I’m all confessed out for the time being. ‘less you have a wildly different interpretation than Sweet did…”

Still gazing up at him, she shook her head slowly. “I’m not going to contradict anything he said. Ironically, an Avenist would have told you much the same; I’ve always been amused by how similar your two faiths are beneath the surface. I do have my own set of biases, though, Mr. Shook. I’m an Izarite.” She laughed softly. “Not a very good one, but still.”

At that, he raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Whaddaya mean, not good? How come they made you the Bishop, then?”

“There’s a reason the Brethren don’t much care for politics,” she said softly. “Izara’s way is to do what good you can, right where you are, for whoever you can immediately reach. Me? I have always been a…big picture person. I believe deeply in the power of love, in how much the world needs more of it. I’ve never been able to content myself with the needs of the moment, though.”

She smiled, an expression so warm and caring he actually found himself believing it. Her small fingers gently squeezed his bicep. “I think, Mr. Shook, you might be an authentically bad person.”

It was truly amazing how much that actually hurt.

“I don’t say that lightly, or about many people,” she went on seriously. “Antonio was not wrong, about responsibility and justice. But I can’t make myself think that is the most important thing. However flawed you are, Jeremiah… I believe you are becoming aware of that, and earnestly trying to do better. And to me, that is what’s important. It’s not my prerogative to speak for anyone you may have hurt. In the big picture, though, I consider the good a person can go on to do more valuable than any punishment that can be levied against them.”

She closed her eyes, shook her head slightly, and let out a tiny huff that was just a shadow of a rueful laugh. “The Guild, the Sisterhood…not many will see it the way I do. But I hope that’s worth something to you, at least.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm was a choice. Surprisingly, he found it more within his grasp now.

Gently, he removed her hand from his arm and stepped back. “Right. Cos I’ve got all these forces circling that’ll take me down, but maybe with you I can still be spared, is that it?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean—”

“Look, your Grace, I already know you’re smarter than you like to appear. I also know you’re hard enough to come all the way out here to try to kill a former colleague of yours. None of that’s a criticism, mind you, because frankly I think it’s a goddamn shame we still haven’t managed to put a knife in Syrinx’s eye. But enforcement is as much about drama and manipulation as force. More so.” He gave her a humorless little smile, noting how blank her face had gone. “Due credit, it was a good recruitment pitch. An’ cos I like you, I’ll offer some free advice: don’t try that again on another Eserite enforcer. They’ll all see through it, an’ some’ll take offense.”

Thumper took a step back from her and inclined his upper body in a shallow bow.

“You really are more than meets the eye,” she said with a rueful smile. Gods, she was still doing it.

“I thank you for the kind words, Bishop. Dunno how sincere they were, but it helps nonetheless.”

Again, that gentle expression. “If I wanted to lie to you, Jeremiah, I would have spared your feelings.”

“Well, then.” He nodded, and turned to head for the stairs. “Best get back, there ain’t much time for screwin’ around.”

Thumper kept his gaze fixed straight ahead as he climbed back up into the kitchen and turned toward the living room and the still-ongoing argument therein. A thought had just occurred which put a little of the steel back into his step.

Unless they all had some very good luck very soon, this city was likely to shortly be filled with a thousand screaming, hell-crazed reasons not to have to go back to the Guild and grovel for Keys, Style, and Tricks. He was aware this was still a cowardly way of thinking, but it was cowardice he could meet with a wand in hand and blood under his nails, and right at that moment, that sounded like a compromise he could accept.

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43 thoughts on “15 – 58

  1. That’s one knocked off the backlog!

    I’m not usually one to give hints about future developments but people have been expressing concern about this in the comments so let me just assure y’all that I share Sweet’s opinion of redemption stories. Character development is interesting, but only when it comes with a full and believable suite of consequences.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That is most definitely a concept of redemption I can get behind, and I think a wonderfully interesting and thought provoking place for Thumper’s arc to have ended up.


    1. People survive suicide attempts, don’t be surprised if he embarrassingly fails at his plan to die in action.

      Not only the Eserites have a mark out on the guy, but also the Avenists too. If he dies in the field before he can answer for what he’s done it would be disappointing to the Avenists especially. I can only imagine the burn if he tries to commit suicide by valor, only to be rescued by the Silver Legions, then arrested.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Just because Shook has become more likable outside of Kheshiri’s influence, doesn’t mean he’s not still a sexist, rapist asshole. That being said, for all that Snowe was manipulating him when she said it, she’s not entirely wrong: in situations as dire as this one, it’s more useful to let him try and redeem himself than it is to focus on punishment. But then, given that Shook seems all set to commit suicide by demon, perhaps that was Snowe’s intent all along: to manipulate him into removing himself from the table (and possibly even making himself useful in the process) so that they don’t have to worry about what to do with him afterwards. Interesting stuff here; I can never tell how much of what Snowe says is genuine and how much of it is bent truth or outright falsehood. Even Antonio is easier to read for me, though perhaps that’s just because we’ve seen more of him, and much of it from his own perspective.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. How many lives would someone have to save to get away with raping you and stealing all your money and assets? “Redemption by valor,” is nonsense used to convince guilty people to sign up for military recruitment in the real world. No matter how many people a person may save, or honours they may earn for their achievements, they must still answer for their crimes too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Though when answering for your crimes is frequently fatal anyway there’s a chance that enough people will reasonably try to avoid those consequences that you will create a criminal underworld. Not an Eserite one. Or outcast gangs, even outcast settlements, something of that nature. Or people regularly trying to go out with a bang and to take others with them.

        If there’s no flexibility and no hope in your law for too many people then the Law of Unintended Consequences is going to bite hard.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Note that I said “more useful”, not “morally correct”. Shook absolutely deserves punishment, or at least needs to be put somewhere he can’t hurt anyone else. That being said, under *these specific circumstances*, everyone’s got bigger fish to fry.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @AVR
        Yeah, if execution is what’s awaiting him then it’s fair to expect most people would want to avoid that.

        Even if it’s only imprisonment, crippling, or some other long-term punishment that usually still holds. You point at the fundamental problem of punitive justice systems: They may set up as much or more violence and crime as they prevent because they so strongly incentivize deception and other evasion of their action. Rehabilitative and preventative systems may work better to avoid those kinds of problems, but it’s arguable they haven’t really been tried at the scale of the massive, modern, nation-state scale yet. (Danish justice and prisons arguably are at least a partial exception.)

        @Crimson Doom
        Desertion by suicide when people need you is sabotage and betrayal. On the scene of a potential or actual hellgate powered by human death that may even directly cause many, preventable deaths. Maybe if there is a suicide mission to give him it would work out, but desertion by suicide is problematic, and it may be better to just eat his gun here instead of causing chaos in the field later.


    2. I think a lot of that is how much more of Darling we’ve seen. Snowe has maybe a fifth the appearances and even less words. Furthermore we’ve seen Darling when he isn’t presenting the Bishop mask, and I’m not sure we’ve seen Snowe without it at all.

      It’s been a long time, but I thought it was a threat of rape. And considering some of the other things we’ve seen the Guild do, a threat ranks pretty low on my personal scale of badness. Shook’s problem isn’t that he did bad things. I’m sure he’s done at least as bad on actual orders. His problem is that he did bad things to somebody who can actually fight back without an organization backing him, and then showed weakness by succubus.

      He was a (marginally?) Guild member in good standing before Kheshiri started twisting him, after all.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A threat indicates an intention to follow through, does it not? Especially since the Guild’s enforcer training includes “don’t make threats you’re unwilling to follow up on”. It’s not quite as bad as the actual action, but even threatening such an unjustifiable action is enough to condemn him in my eyes, even if it turned out that the threatened individual was more than capable of defending herself, because it shows that he was willing to do so and would have, had circumstances been different.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. @crimson doom

        Agreed. The biggest issue was that they gave him power of a fellow guild member and he immediately abused said power. A rape threat is bad, but he betrayed the trust of the guildmaster and the trust between cult members.

        An Eserite who abuses their power to abuse members below them…that’s not a good look.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. From what I remember Guild members make threats all the time they don’t plan to carry out for psychological effect. They are all about the presentation.


  3. If there’s no redemption then there’s no reason to try to be good at all, if all a person will ever be is who they were at their worst moment then there really is no point to any of it. Let the nihilists have the world in that case.

    Shook’s a monster, but so are half the protagonists, the only real difference is Shook hasn’t got half their power and a bad personality. Tellwyn’s done far worse than he has, so has pretty much every dryad ever, if he can’t be redeemed then why can they?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The difference between Shook and the dryads is that Shook *knew* what he was doing was wrong. The dryads are guilty only of not realizing that the people they were eating actually *were* people worthy of respect, and that’s more Naiya’s fault for being the worst mother in fictional history than it is the dryads’ fault; Shook may have been misogynistic, but he *knew* that women were people and threatened to do one of the worst things you can do to a person *anyway*. They aren’t really comparable

      As for Tellwryn, yeah, she’s killed a lot of people over the years. But even if you disregard my personal opinion that just killing people isn’t quite as bad as raping people, again, intentions come in here, because IIRC Tellwryn has only ever killed people who at least arguably *needed* to die for the sake of a better outcome for everyone else. Whereas threatening Principia with rape serves nothing except Shook’s need for control and would thus (theoretically) devastate a life for literally no good reason. Again, they’re not really comparable.

      Redemption is all well and good, to a point, but I agree with Antonio that once you hit the point where you’re threatening rape, you’ve passed that point. Rape is one of the few things one sapient can do to another that is *never* justified. Sometimes theft is justified (depending on the target), sometimes killing people is justified (depending on the target), but rape is literally unjustifiable because you can’t rape someone with the reasonable expectation that doing so improves society or the lives of others. Once someone gets to the point where they’re threatening rape, and mean it… I’m sorry, but they have lost all right to redemption. They don’t get to show up one day and go “oh but I helped save the world, it’s fine now”, because then the message you are sending is that rape is *acceptable* as long as it’s committed by a sufficiently useful individual. I trust you see the problem with that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Crimson Doom:

        The difference between Shook and the dryads is that Naiya will nuke everything in the vicinity if one of her stray cats gets so much as a scratch. If it wasn’t for that protection, the Empire would probably have labeled the dryads as dangerous animals and issued orders to shoot them on sight.

        Tellwyrn could do far, far worse than Shook, and the Empire wouldn’t say a thing, because Arachne has the power to ignore their laws. If she was less powerful, they would have thrown her in a cell the first time she interfered with Imperial operations. Arachne and her students enjoy protection from the law not because of some abstract concept of justice, but because Arachne has the raw power to tell the authorities to go away.

        We pardoned German and Japanese war criminals after WWII because doing so was convenient. The Empire is on good terms with the drow, who are a hilariously oppressive and abusive society that traditionally raided the surface to enslave humans. The drow rulers who ordered those slave raids are still alive, but the Empire decided that good relations with Tar’Naris were more important than justice, so they get away with their crimes.

        Redemption is a spiritual matter, not an issue of temporal justice. Shook’s problem is that he committed awful crimes, but he isn’t an important or powerful person, so he has no “Get out of Jail Free” card.

        Liked by 4 people

  4. The question for Bishop Darling is how Shook was able to get away with being a terrible person for so long. The answer is that Shook was a Guild enforcer, and they’re allowed to do what they want without regard for things like “laws” or “public approval”. Shook was only accountable to the Guild, and we’ve seen that the Eserites do a terrible job of policing their own.

    Everything Darling says about Shook being terrible is true, and it allows him to avoid the fact that the Guild encouraged and tolerated Shook’s brutality as long as it was convenient for them. It turns out that a policy of “rule by fear” attracts the wrong sort of people as enforcers, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

    Bishop Darling has spent the entire series as a karma houdini, gleefully imposing consequences on other people while dodging them himself. I’m hoping that changes before the end of the webserial. One delightful possibility would be for Justinian to covertly inform Imperial Intelligence that Darling is sheltering two elven headhunters, which would bring every strike force in the Empire directly to his front door.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The guild is, as Sweet himself put it, a necessary evil.
      And not all people in it are actually devout Eserites.
      Probably time for some house cleaning, unless they already started doing it after it became clear just how badly they fucked up when they learned about Shooks activities.

      I think there is probably room for Sweet to get egg on his face, but calling imperial intelligence over two headhunters is probably an over reaction.
      And not just because of the damage those two would cause.


    2. Political expediency of the hierarchs is a strong factor in deciding what even is a crime, and it tends to also deccide who and what gets prosecuted. Consider that under most judicial systems theft in the nine figures USD is a lesser crime than premeditated assault, even though it can easily be as destructive as mass murder. Worse, the many frauds collectively of that level and bigger at the heart of the 2007-2009 US financial crash have yet to result in even a single prosecution in that country.

      Where I am going with this is that traditionally in pre-democratic politics, the crimes of the mighty were something they only answered for by the loyalty of their subjects and what happens to them when they lose power. This is also true in nominally democratic systems no matter what we may like to think. What to do about it is as much a practical question as it is a moral one, because international politics itself tends to involve a whole lot of gratuitous fraud, spying, assault, theft, kidnapping and murder. The people actually doing it are mostly pet monsters kept by those officials, and not those officials themselves.

      Darling is a high bureaucrat responsible for committing those kinds of offenses for three different political powers. If he was not then at least one of them would think he wasn’t competent for the job, if not all three. Singling him out for blame ignores what a military force or a spy is and does. Horrifying though this is to contemplate, the occasional spirit-taming murder by Flora and Fauna may be a highly efficient ratio of incidental harm versus capability and intended harm when compared to more conventional military and intelligence assets. Try comparing it with the number of civilians killed in your average US drone strike on Afghan wedding parties to get at one or two “people of interest” and some “unidentified potential conspirators.” It’s a really good ratio by comparison, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “I want a chance to make things right, if I can. How do I get outta this, and earn that?”

    How is that not facing up to responsibiiity? Sure, Darling can say,Sorry, there’s nothing you can do at this point that will earn the Guild’s, or my, forgiveness. We’re not going to give you a chance to make things right, we’d rather see you dead. Fine, that’s up to them, and maybe understandable.

    But saying he’s not facing up to what he did is not right, because that’s what he just did.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He wants to make things “right”, but also avoid consequences.
      Part of responsibility is accepting those consequences, you don’t get to just turn a new leaf after all that Shook has done.


  6. This chapter doesn’t feel genuine to me, it seems like pandering to the people who were getting upset at Shook’s moral development.

    Meh, Dylan Tullos above me pretty much has the gist of it.

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  7. Within Shook’s rather blinkered view of the world what he was doing to Keys was perfectly fine, same as the dryads. If you’d allow one to earn redemption then there’s no good reason to deny it to the other.

    I’ve always regarded Shook as a rather tragic character, he’d basically been bounced from one master manipulator to another throughout the story, who, with the sole exception of Khadziroth, have made a point of bringing the more unpleasant facets of his personality to the forefront because it was useful to them at the time. From Webs encouraging his sexism as an apprentice rather than stamping it out, to Embras giving him Kheshiri at a time when he was vulnerable, to Sweet right now basically encouraging suicide, and obviously Kheshiri herself.

    Shook’s made one hell of a lot of bad choices, and those are very much on him, but looking at his story as a whole he far less fell from grace than was pushed.

    And all Shook seems to be asking is how he can fix the harm he’s done, or at the very least start trying to make the world better for his being in it, and he’s still being shut down.

    Let’s bear in mind that the Thieves Guild actively encourages a far worse strain of psychopathy in Grip than anything Shook has shown thus far.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. To clarify I’m not saying Shook shouldn’t face some form of comeuppance for what he’s done, but death seems a bit extreme. Something karmic that would allow him to improve as a person whilst being incredibly unpleasant would be the ideal.

      Like using the two Thieves Guild members with positions of prominence in the Cult of Avei to have him inducted into the Silver Legion. That would be just about perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Silver Legions are a little too sexist for that: Boys aren’t allowed in their club. There may be other reasons besides sexism for that too.

        I agree that rehabilitation is a far better ideal of justice than punishment. I also agree that the parts of Jeremiah’s story we’ve seen have involved situations that were anywhere from morally dubious, to morally hazardous, to outright morally disgusting.

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      2. *It won’t let me reply directly to the comment below so having to do it here.

        That’s why it’s almost the perfect karmic punishment in many respects, and the Hand of Avei could make an exception. For additional irony put him under Keys command, Locke seems like exactly the sort of person who’d get a lot of kicks out of that idea whilst also knowing exactly how far to push it.


  8. I wonder if this was a bit of a leap for Shook, since the last I remember of his internal thoughts on this was “maybe at some point I should consider if I might’ve been wrong about something at some point in my life”, but god DAMN was it satisfying to read what Sweet had to say. I’m a little confused by the hypocrisy accusations in some other comments – has Sweet done bad stuff, absolutely, but we have a privileged view into the heads of these people and Sweet has always had, imo, genuinely good intentions, even when his methods are questionable. Thumper, on the other hand, has always been and is only recently considering NOT being a really scummy person who reveled in and saw nothing wrong with his scumminess. Obviously we can’t have a justice system that judges you based on how good your intentions are, but that’s just because a justice system isn’t able to know what your intentions were. Meanwhile as readers we do know exactly what kinds of people these are, so I’m quite comfortable considering the actions of Sweet and Thumper in very separate categories. Anyway, no one needed my opinion on this, but here it is 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d point out that Sweet had a chance to pretty much eliminate the Black Wreath and stayed his hand purely to satisfy his curiosity and is perfectly fine encouraging outright psychopathy as long as the person is personally useful to him.

      It would be far more accurate to describe Sweet’s internal monologue as compelling and charismatic rather than ‘good’.

      Which as far as I can see is Shook’s biggest crime, he has no personal charm and thus is easy to categorise as ‘villain’ despite the fact he’s surrounded by people that make his actions seem those of a saint by comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But eliminating the Black Wreath wouldn’t have been a good thing, this story has been very clear that they aren’t necessarily evil, and they do what they can to keep mortals safe from demons.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think Shooks biggest crime is atleast repeated sexual abuse of vulnerable people under his authority, probably also rape.

        Guild policy is to not give threats they can’t/won’t follow up on, and the threats he made to Prin did not speak well of him, nor has anything that has happened since then.


      3. Whether Sweet’s methods are justified is definitely up for argument, I’m not trying to woobify him or anything, but his ultimate goals are good (imo). Shook takes pleasure in his scumminess; getting to be an awful rapey bastard is a terminal value and reflection of his core beliefs and not an intimidation tactic that he reluctantly employs because he can’t see a better way to do things. For me that’s what makes all the difference.


    1. Is he really, or is he flopping like a caught fish on the hook looking for a way to escape? Many (most?) children learn how to fake feeling remorse and/or guilt when they don’t actually feel it, as a strategy to try and manipulate authorities to be lenient with them. He may also be acting under mind control from either or both of Khadizroth and Snowe.


      1. Well, the only way I know of to improve an abuser’s behavior (that I’ve ever seen in all the literature on the topic I’ve read) basically comes down to “put them in a situation where they lose social ties and have financial and personal consequences because of their behavior, and know it is because of their behavior, and know that altering their behavior is the only way to ever (possibly) change any of that”. So on that level there really is no difference between an abuser trying to escape punishment and an abuser becoming a better person. You make an abuser become a better person by making it so that that’s the only way they can escape further consequences.

        Except, the odds of success are still incredibly low, and one key part to the process is that the abuser has to accept consequences for everything they have done and accept the intensity and type of those consequences as dictated by those they have wronged and the relevant authorities. An abuser doesn’t do that isn’t on the path to improvement, but to eventual relapse.

        That’s what Sweet called out I think. Shook come very, very close to improvement …. but not close enough. He hasn’t crossed the threshold from trying to avoid the consequences of his actions to trying to avoid the consequences of his *future* actions enough that he’ll actually change.

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  9. It would seem to me that redemption only works if the person truly repents their actions for what they were. Shook is acting much more like he regrets the results, not the behavior – and refused to even state what the behavior was. But it’s amazing the movement he appears to have made in the direction of repentance, though he clearly isn’t anywhere near there yet (and may never get there).

    Sweet seemed to me to be forcing Shook to acknowledge rather than sidestep, if he can. Seems like really good Bishoping, honestly. I really liked this chapter. Also, Shook is a horrible person and someone should have just stabbed him ages ago. But yeah, repentance should be a thing if people can actually change enough. I just don’t think he can, he’s just regretting outcomes of his behavior.

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  10. Going to be a delay in Friday’s chapter. It’s been slow and trudging progress all day, probably the result of pushing two chapters out already this week. Depression brain continues to function at a minimal level. Still, I feel good about the roughly third of it I’ve got done already and I not only have a clear mental image of where this chapter is going, but I think it’ll pan out well. And we’re moving into the climax of Book 15, which I’ve been anticipating for a long time. The optimism helps pierce the fog.

    Tomorrow’s going to be a fairly hectic day for me, but I should have time to finish up and post the chapter, I’m hoping by late afternoon.

    Thanks for your patience.


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