16 – 20

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Sister Lanora approached to within three yards of them, near enough to close the distance at least somewhat and define a smaller space for their conversation than the entire grand sanctuary. The four priestesses of her escort trailed along deferentially but without any display of military precision, staggering to a stop when she did and milling into an uneven formation that didn’t even presume to match the two wings of mixed Avenists and Eserites flanking Trissiny.

The leader of the Purists hesitated, then nodded deeply in a gesture which slightly shifted her whole upper body, approaching but not quite becoming a bow. Trissiny inclined her head fractionally in acknowledgment.

An expectant silence hung, in which a constant soft murmur of speculation filled the temple, coming from both the mixed crowd of visitors and the Purist priestesses themselves flanking the opposite side. Lanora herself paused again, watching Trissiny closely as if uncertain how to proceed. The paladin just studied her, eyes roving across the unique attire of the Purists.

Finally, Lanora straightened her shoulders and opened her mouth, drawing breath to speak, but before she could form a syllable Trissiny cut in, her voice projected loudly enough to echo through the sanctuary despite the close quarters.

“Where did you get those swords?”

Sister Lanora was visibly surprised and hesitated once more, having to change track mid-thought. “They are one of the unique markers of our order, General Avelea.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to be evasive,” Trissiny replied in perfect calm, prompting a general increase in the surrounding murmur that caused Lanora to glance irritably at the crowd. “I assure, you, Sister, I know what a longsword is, and I can plainly see the role they are assigned in your uniform. I asked where you got them. Swords are not mass produced outside of the Five Kingdoms or the Silver Legions, and those are standard equipment for neither. The Sisterhood has not funded your activities. So much good steel, made to matching specifications, requires significant financial backing.”

“We…do have financial support, yes,” Lanora replied after another awkward pause.

“From whom?”

“Excuse me, General, but I know your time here is limited, and I wished to discuss matters of a more spiritual nature.”

“Certainly, once you demonstrate willingness to discuss in good faith. This attempt to conceal the source of your funding does not reflect well upon your intentions, Sister.”

More muttering at that, accompanied by a few audible chuckles. Lanora’s face tightened, and all four of her accompanying priestesses looked either troubled or annoyed.

“I’m sure you have noticed that our commitment to pure interpretation of Avei’s law is not popular,” Lanora answered in a strained tone. “Like most who have the resources to engage in philanthropy, our backer is vulnerable to political currents and prefers to remain anonymous.”

“Ah,” Trissiny nodded, “clearly you cannot disclose a name in public, then. So I assume, naturally, that you have disclosed this backer’s identity to the High Commander, in accordance with Sisterhood doctrine and custom.”

“That isn’t required by doctrine,” Lanora said testily.

Trissiny raised one eyebrow. “That’s a ‘no,’ I take it.”

“We receive communication via lawyers and bankers,” the Purist said, now in open annoyance. “They are quite determined to ensure their privacy. There’s nothing I could disclose.”

“And you did not find that at all suspicious?” Trissiny asked sardonically.

“On the contrary,” Lanora shot back, “I was gratified at the evidence that our devotion has supporters even outside the Sisterhood itself. If, indeed, our support is from someone other than an Avenist. Frankly, I suspect she may simply be using anonymity to move free of the Sisterhood’s politics. After all, Avei’s faithful have always been well-represented among the legal profession.”

“Gratified,” Trissiny said, still projecting from the diaphragm but lowering her voice as if speaking to herself, a useful trick she’d picked up from Style. “Yes, I’m sure you were.”

Lanora scowled at the titters which ensued from half the sanctuary at that. “With that out of the way, General, I have concerns of my own that I—that we—wish to discuss with you.”

“That’s mostly a dueling weapon, isn’t it?” Trissiny said, lowering her eyes to the sword at Lanora’s waist and nodding her head once. “There are formation fighting tactics which incorporate use of the longsword, but they aren’t Legion standard these days. I am impressed, Sister, that you’ve accumulated this many specialists in exotic weaponry to your cause. Especially since your unifying philosophy doesn’t appear to have anything to do with a specific fighting style.”

“You seem strangely fixated on my sword, General Avelea,” Lanora exclaimed.

“Is it so strange?” Trissiny rested a hand on the hilt of her own short sword, her armor rasping softly as she shrugged. “It seems you have gathered to pursue a fundamentalist interpretation of Avenist doctrine. So, naturally, of course, you would never do something so disrespectful to the goddess of war as affect weapons you cannot effectively use as…some kind of fashion statement.” Her lips curled up in a wintry little smile which did not approach her eyes. “Therefore, you must all be highly skilled in the use of those unusual blades. Which, again, seems unconnected to your dogma. That is a powerful coincidence, Sister. Is it truly odd that I would take note of it?”

The muttering had grown ever more fervently anticipatory, and there was more muffled laughter now. This time, more of the Purists than otherwise looked openly uncomfortable, quite a few clutching the long hilts of their swords as if for comfort. Sister Lanora’s expression had gone rigid, and she had to pause and swallow before answering in a tight voice.

“Yes, well, we view them as…as a symbol of an older, more pure era of Avenist worship. We Purists gather like-minded women and teach the sword—”

“So you do train in longsword fighting?” Trissiny interrupted.

Lanora’s eye twitched, but she managed to answer in an even tone. “Of course, General.”

Trissiny’s sword rasped as she drew it from its scabbard. “Show me.”

Her escort backed up, the Eserites and Zafi grinning in anticipation. Lanora and her fellow priestesses also stepped backward, suddenly looking alarmed.

“I… General, this is a sanctuary. I really don’t think this is appropriate.”

“Devoted as you are to purity of doctrine,” Trissiny replied with a pleasant smile, “I’m certain I needn’t do anything so condescending as remind you what Avei is goddess of. I have doubts about your intentions, Sister. Showing me that you treat the martial aspect of our faith with due respect would help a great deal in putting them at ease.”

Lanora swallowed visibly. “I… Obviously, I am not a match in martial skill for the Hand of Avei.”

“Don’t worry, Sister, I won’t hurt you.”

This time, a few of the laughs came from Silver Legionnaires, to judge by the snap of a sergeant calling them back to order.

Seemingly left with no response to that, Lanora finally swallowed again and drew her sword. Trissiny saluted her in the Avenist style, right fist over her heart with her blade held vertically alongside her face. Lanora started to do the same, then changed tacks and simply bowed. She then adopted a ready stance, longsword held before her in both hands at an angle.

Trissiny stood in a relaxed posture, sword at her side in one hand and with her shield still on her back. Quiet had fallen in the temple as the two squared off, their respective escorts backing further away from the incipient duel. Several heartbeats of silence passed.

“Well?” Trissiny asked finally.

Lanora pressed her lips together and took a step forward, raising the sword over her left shoulder. She strode into the diagonal swing she directed at the paladin, putting her whole weight behind the blade’s arc.

Trissiny’s entire body tensed and uncoiled like a striking snake; starting from an apparently loose stance, she shifted and met the descending longsword in a sweeping horizontal slash at head level. The colliding blades rang loudly through the temple and the force of it sent Lanora staggering past and to one side. Trissiny stood calm and relaxed again, sword already lowered before the priestess managed to regain her footing and turn.

The loudest chorus of open laughter yet followed, at least until Trissiny suddenly turned to face the non-Purist side of the room with a frown.

“That is not appropriate conduct for a temple sanctuary. Sergeants at arms, you may clear the room if due respect for Avei’s holy ground is not observed.”

Embarrassed silence ensued.

Trissiny turned back to the increasingly frustrated Sister Lanora, inclining her head. “Excuse me, Sister. Please, continue.”

Lanora’s mood did not seem improved by the apology. This time she came forward with less hesitation, switching to a one-handed grip and launching into a series of jabs and parries. Trissiny sidestepped and deflected, allowing the longer reach of Lanora’s weapon to push her in circles of constant retreat. Despite being strictly on the defensive, there was no question to the onlookers that she was not in control; she remained relaxed and upright in posture, using only desultory motions of one hand to respond.

“Enough,” she said finally, lowering her blade and not appearing to be bothered when Lanora’s descended to within inches of her face before the priestess could rein in her strike. “You disappoint me, Sister. That is just the Eagle Style short sword form. You seem competent enough, but that style is not at all suited to the weight and reach of that weapon. Have you truly not trained at all in its appropriate use?”

Lanora was red-faced and out of breath, though by the look of her at least as much from frustration as exertion. “We…are a spiritual order, General.”

“Mm.” Trissiny stepped back, turning to sweep her gaze across the line of unhappy-looking Purists on the other side of the temple, then abruptly pointed her weapon at one of them at random. “You. Step forward.”

The woman, a Westerner apparently not much older than Trissiny, widened her eyes and looked rapidly at each of the Purists standing to either side of her. The one on the left deliberately stepped away.

“Yes, you,” Trissiny said patiently. “Show me what you can do.”

“I…” she squeaked. “But, General, it’s…”

“It’s all right.”

“Does it really seem wise to duel bystanders with live steel, General Avelea?” Sister Magden interjected.

Trissiny gave her a sidelong look. “We are surrounded by divine healers, Sister, and a formal practice between skilled martial artists is far less dangerous than having over a hundred untrained incompetents walking around with deadly weapons they don’t know how to use. Indulge me as I reassure myself that the latter is not the case here. Come, Sister, time is passing.”

The hapless young priestess swallowed heavily, but finally obeyed, stepping forward and drawing the sword at her side. She adopted a ready stance like Lanora had, then in a deliberate motion that was practically telescrolled in advance, shifted grip to hold it sidelong at her waist and stepped forward in an attempted stab.

This time, Trissiny flowed smoothly into the attack, hooking her shorter blade behind the longsword’s large crosshilt and spinning in a maneuver which both yanked the weapon entirely out of the Purist’s grasp and evaded a bodily collision between them.

The sword flew two yards and clattered loudly to the temple floor, leaving it’s owner to stagger in a different direction.

“That was pitiful,” Trissiny said with open disdain. “Anyone with rudimentary Legion training could have avoided that.” The young woman hunched her shoulders and seemed like she wanted to collapse in on herself as she scurried to retrieve her fallen blade. Trissiny turned in a half-circle to again sweep her regard across the faltering ranks of the Purists. “Let’s try something less random, then. Who among you is the best duelist? Please, someone show me something slightly impressive.”

The Purists shuffled about uncertainly and Lanora opened her mouth to make a retort, but before she could, Sister Magden stepped forward, drawing her blade in a smooth motion and settling into a ready stance that looked more practiced than either performance thus far.

Trissiny shifted to face her, and nodded once.

Magden flowed forward smoothly, launching a series of rapid jabs and shallow cuts that made deft use of the blade’s greater length, immediately forcing Trissiny to retreat and defend. Her performance was better than Lanora’s by far; the paladin was actually compelled to take a balanced stance and put her whole body into her movements. For half a minute it looked as if Magden was beginning to prevail, but then Trissiny suddenly swatted a thrust aside with a powerful parry and darted forward.

Grabbing Magden’s blade near the hilt with one gauntleted hand, she held it aside and stepped right up to the priestess, pressing her short sword against her neck. Magden froze in place, her eyes going wide.

Trissiny relented a second later, stepping back and nodding to her. “Now, that is much more impressive. Sister Magden is to be commended for her competence with your chosen weapon. For the rest of you, I cannot say the same,” she added sharply, again dragging a glare across the shame-faced Purists. “It is unacceptable that this is the best your entire order can do. It’s clear to me that far more of you than otherwise have absolutely no business carrying those blades. A sword is an implement of death, Sisters. Its sole purpose is to end lives, or thwart others who have swords in doing the same. To treat a sword as an accessory or trinket is a shameful display of disrespect to Avei’s principles.”

“We are a spiritual order,” Lanora repeated loudly, still flushed. She stepped forward as Magden retreated, now going so far as to point accusingly at Trissiny. “Ours is a goddess of multiple aspects, and we have made no secret that we are dedicated far more to womanhood than to justice or war. The Purists have formed and come here to address the seeping corruption encroaching upon the Sisterhood of Avei! And it is clear to me that our arrival is not a moment too soon, when even our own paladin stands in the Temple itself accompanied by Eserites!”

“I’ve noticed that some misconceptions about paladins have set in during their thirty year absence,” Trissiny replied, sheathing her sword. “Hands of all the gods, but most particularly Avei, have always been accompanied by comrades of other faiths, or even sometimes of no faith. It is reckless naivete to attack large scale problems with only a single, specific set of skills.”

“And you find the Thieves’ Guild to be better company than your own sisters?” Lanora exclaimed.

Trissiny half turned and looked very pointedly at Sister Azalea, Zafi, and the two other white-robed priestesses who had accompanied her in. Rasha covered her mouth with her fingers, not quite concealing a smirk.

“I’ve become quite familiar with the Thieves’ Guild in particular,” Trissiny said, turning back to address the room at large. “As well as making friends among Salyrites, Vidians… Even, to my own surprise, a Shaathist. About the Guild I can tell you that Eserion’s faithful include a few of the best people it has ever been my honor to work alongside, as well as several of the most irredeemably despicable. In the end, none of us are cloistered orders. We are called to act in the world, to protect people, strike down evil, and do what we can to make the world a better place. I will proudly stand alongside anyone who serves the Pantheon’s mandate to aid the people of this world. I will, if I must, tolerate the opinions of people with whom I disagree spiritually, so long as their actions do not flout Avei’s sacred principles or bring harm to the vulnerable. And this is what I expect every one of you to do, if you would call yourselves followers of Avei.”

“It is ever more clear,” Lanora grated, “that our arrival here is timely, General Avelea, if you are so obviously swayed by Eserite beliefs.”

“Perhaps you can point out to me exactly which part of what I just said is an Eserite belief, Sister?” Trissiny suggested with a wry smile. She paused a second for pure effect while Lanora stammered and the muttering and tittering began again from the onlookers, then pressed on before the Purist could regather her composure. “Or is the issue here that you think the Hand of Avei requires your personal oversight? The goddess watches my steps and has corrected me in the past. Do you believe you know better than Avei what she requires of her paladin?”

Lanora flushed even more deeply at that, going so far as to clench her fists, but this time she had a good enough head to steam to retort without having to gather herself. “Then perhaps you can tell us what Avei intends to do about the Sisterhood’s corrupt practice of aiding mentally sick men in the delusion that they belong among us?”

“Avei has never turned men away from her service,” Trissiny replied, her composure a stark counterpoint to the Purist’s rising agitation. “Did you know that before the Silver Legions as we know them today existed, their predecessor, the League of Avei, incorporated soldiers of both sexes? It would seem that what you seek is not a return to historical form, but the imposition of a newer one.”

“That doesn’t justify abetting delusional males in trying to transform themselves into women!”

“And who do you think you are, to decide who gets to be a woman? Your sheer presumption is astonishing.”

“Nature itself dictates that! We only seek to protect our Sisterhood from those who would twist its very foundations awry!”

“I didn’t really make the connection until you started ranting about nature,” Trissiny said, shaking her head regretfully. “If you truly believe the sole definition of womanhood is between your legs, I could almost think I was talking to a very confused Shaathist.”

Gasps rose from all around the temple, notably among the rows of Purists. Sister Lanora, previously flushed with anger, went absolutely white, stiffening her spine and widening her eyes in an expression of pure rage.

“But clearly, you are not going to heed any statement from me,” Trissiny continued, drawing her sword again. “Perhaps it is just as well. Even if I cannot settle this myself, I know who definitively can.”

The paladin knelt in place, reversing her grip to rest the sword point-down upon the temple floor and placing both her hands upon its pommel. As she bowed her head, a golden glow rose around her, quickly coalescing into the spreading wings of an eagle.

And then, the rising tide of voices was snuffed out as an overwhelming psychic presence descended upon the sanctuary. The light blazed to fill the room entirely, and within its deepest intensity, centered upon the kneeling paladin, the towering shape of a woman was barely discernible. To the eyes, at least. To the mind, Avei’s manifest presence was like the pressure of the ocean at its deepest part.

Every Silver Legionnaire in the room snapped to attention; almost everyone else sank to their knees in awe. Even the Eserites backed away, wide-eyed and entirely without their customary aggressive nonchalance.

“Purity is a nonsense concept.”

Avei’s voice was Trissiny’s, layered with harmonies as if a dozen iterations of the same woman were speaking, and filling the chamber with a physical weight.

“The very idea of purity has never been anything but a pretext for egotism. It is an excuse for the weak-willed to single out targets for their condescension, because to scorn a perceived lesser individual is an easier path to self-gratification than the hard work of becoming a greater person. Through cries of purity, the corrupt in positions of power distract their followers from their own offenses by directing justified anger against harmless and helpless targets.

“Worse, the slander of impurity has ever been a weapon against womankind. In every land, across the whole scope of history, weak and frightened men have called women impure for one specious reason after another. For their bodies, for their minds, for any expression of sexuality, simply for bleeding, for any excuse, men in undeserving power have declaimed that women are impure. They create preposterous rules, demanding that women remain pure by adhering to absurd strictures which deny them vital aspects of what it means to be alive. It has never been anything but a pretext for unearned domination. Purity is a lie.

“And you take purity as the very name of your beliefs? It is a fitting description of your utter failure of character. You who declare yourselves Purists are engaged in nothing but gatekeeping. You presume to castigate others for the imaginary offense of being unlike yourselves. You try to place yourselves above those who should be your sisters, simply because you are too insecure and frightened to see any more valid way to respect yourselves than by disrespecting others. This pale shadow of a spiritual doctrine is pathetic. But that you possess the hideous gall to pronounce the calumny of purity in my name is disgusting.”

The goddess paused, and through the bell-like tone of concentrated magic that sang in the background of her address, the sound of several women quietly weeping could be heard in the temple.

“I will not suffer this,” Avei stated. “Lanora Taveraad, in addition to your moral failing, you have made of yourself and your followers useful idiots to the enemies of your Sisterhood. Your presence here is nothing but a disruption and an invitation to division, at a dangerous time when above all your sisters require unity. Worse, you prove through this failure that you have no comprehension of the reality of war. Your entire career is a demonstration that you have no place among my people.

“The so-called Purists will disband and disperse. You will abandon your foolish doctrine, return to your disparate homes, and devote yourself to repentance. You will educate yourselves about the realities you have tried to deny. Perhaps, eventually, those of you who possess the spark of true character beneath your arrogant self-delusion will rise to become Sisters of Avei in more than name.

“But you, Lanora, I cast out of my Sisterhood. Let your fate be a warning to all who dare to perpetrate either evil or foolishness in the name of Avei. I will tolerate neither.

“All of you: cultivate courage, intelligence, honor, and compassion toward each other. Let there be no more talk of purity. She who preaches purity seeks only to control, and to deceive. Scorn and shun her.”

She fell silent, and over the ensuing few seconds, the overwhelming pressure of the goddess’s presence retreated, followed by the distant tone of bells, and the golden light. In its final departure, there was relative quiet in the temple as Trissiny rose slowly to her feet. Quiet, but not silence, as Lanora hunched where she had knelt in the center of the floor, clutching herself and sobbing.

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56 thoughts on “16 – 20

  1. Despite what I often get accused of, I do try not to get too political in the story. You can’t avoid politics entirely if you want to discuss anything of substance, because anything which affects the quality of people’s lives is inevitably political, and one of the things I love most about fantasy is its potential to discuss ideas and philosophies separately from the real world context in which we all live.

    Ultimately, however, I don’t think fantasy stories are a good venue for the assertion of explicitly political ideas. Every overt attempt to do so I’ve ever seen (looking at you, Sword of Truth) has ended up being…just kind of bad. It’s a delicate balance to walk: you have to be willing to explore dicey topics if your story is to have any weight, but it’s just not a great idea to try to promote a specific, modern belief system in particular detail.

    Fuck TERFs though.

    Liked by 20 people

    1. I tend to find that the problem of fantasy as a genre is that it usually assumes in a lot of economically, socially, and politically problematic things. Even before we get to the supernatural parts that often embed in many troublesome ideas (like the just world fallacy) there tends to be a lot of racism, sexism, accident-of-birth predestination and caste systems, appallingly uncritical presentation of feudalism, and easy acceptance of violence, killing, and even genocide.

      Come to think of it, that list is stuff that’s often a problem in the contemporary world too.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Human rights shouldn’t be a political matter (in that people disagree on whether they are necessary – the implementation is indeed political), and last I heard trans rights are human rights.

      I thought the conflict was solved pretty well! Thanks for the chapter 🙂

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, if memory serves. Beyond that, picture a bunch of people acting just like the Purists in this arc, minus the swords, and you’ve got the idea.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. “nothing but gatekeeping”
      The term has only become a negative thing in the modern world in the past few years, its meaning tarred due to the behaviour of a disturbing subset of people. For an extremely long time before that, it was considered a necessary occupation, and generally viewed in a positive light.

      I am not certain it makes sense to use it with negative connotations, in the context of your universe. By which I mean, consider using a different word, because it broke my immersion/suspension of belief.
      Or work it into the consequences/fallout of Trissiny’s actions, so that it has logical reason to be a slur from now on.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This isn’t a historical fiction. This is a fantasy set in the future, and their language is continually reset to match our own because of the whole thing going on with the Golden Sea portal. It makes perfect sense for their language to use our connotations.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I think it makes sense in the context, actually.

        A gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something, they are the ones who assess who is “in or out.” and hold the right to deny people entrance to somewhere, which is what the Purists were presuming to do.
        They thought themselves to be capable of judging and deciding who should have access to the Sisterhood and their services, pretending they were the ones who had the true interpretation of Avei’s commands and thus styling themselves the “gatekeepers” of Avei’s Cult and wanting to keep transwomen out of it, despite not having the right to do that.

        At least that’s how I interpreted Avei’s statement of “You who declare yourselves Purists are engaged in nothing but gatekeeping.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I agree with your dislike of ‘gatekeeper’ as a negative term, & I refuse to consider it so, IRL, but I disagree it shouldn’t be in the story, the influx of ‘anachronistic/from ‘the Real World terms is absolutely supported within the story framework

        Like

  2. In the short time of my life radical changes in it and the progression of time have shown me things I never would have contemplated as a younger man. The extraordinary uniqueness that belongs to each and every person is something special.

    Political or not, people who use the differences they see in others to pass judgement are despicable. A person should not be judged on any basis but their character, not their race, culture, skin color, identity, sexual orientation or gender.

    Celebrate each-others differences, respect them, appreciate that we live in a world that allows to meet and engage with people who live radically different lives than our own.

    Anyway, I appreciate your message here Webb. Too often people get lost in their own political leanings or echo chambers to really understand or be introspective. I’m guilty of it too.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Kind of feel bad for Lanora here, even though her beliefs are despicable people tend to hold said beliefs because they think they are right, and being cast out by her goddess for doing so must hurt, probably as much as it hurts being informed by said goddess that her beliefs are wrong and misguided.

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    1. Indeed. Especially when it seems as though she has no chance to repent.
      That idea itself is terrifying – that there is no means by which we can become better and redeem ourselves.
      In the end, while I doubt we’ll be seeing much more of her, I hope Lenora is able to find peace and grow into a better person, the same way I would hope for myself or anyone else who has made such a mistake.
      It’s such a pleasure to read about characters whose stories resonate with you, especially when you know that said characters are not the focal point of the story. I really appreciate the care taken by Webb to flesh out the world and its people.

      Thank you for the chapter.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Well, I can see both paths in front of Lenora. Either bitter enemy of everyone alongside Basra, or she actually learns, questions her doctrine and reasons of her backers and digs deeper. Then she either dies or returns to sisterhood with a cache of information.

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  4. Well, doctrinal conflicts are easily resolved when your goddess can be asked what she thinks.

    It was not a very subtle solution, but undoubtedly efficient. I wonder if Justinian will be able to use that in his schemes.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I don’t know if this universe works on tropes the way something like the Practical Guide to Evil does, or if it temporarily does when Vesk gets involved, or what. But if it does work on book logic, I imagine that Justinian getting the Gods to interact more with the mortal world makes them more vulnerable.

      The more diffuse and distant a God, the more untouchable they are, and conversely, if you can tempt a God into staying consolidated while you slip the knife in, I imagine that the wound would bleed a lot more.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. And here is the moment Justinian braces his elbows on his desk, folds his hands in front of his face, let’s the light of his office reflect off of his orange-tinted glasses, and speaks, “All according to keikaku*.”

    *: Keikaku means ‘plan’

    I can’t help but think that this is exactly what he thought she would do. She did this exact thing against Basra. I am beginning to wonder if Justinian’s plan is to actually fracture each religion, force each institution to swiftly deny each growing faction or let them fester and grow into larger divisions. Bereft of their previous spiritual guidance, each religious subsect will then wander, adrift, looking for any new guidance.

    “How terrible,” he will say to them. “For the gods in this day and age to cast out their most devout followers. Come in, please, you will have sanctuary from these troubled times in the halls of the Universal Church. I feel as though I would be remiss in my responsibilities were I not to share a bit of a secret with you. The gods themselves can be swayed by the views and beliefs of their paladins, believe it or not. A bit of a mistake, that, making paladins out of children so easily influenced by these subversive, cultural enemies, allowing for themselves to be poisoned. The tragedy of the gods weighs so heavily upon my mind, these days… but there is nothing we can do about it, I’m afraid. Please, use whatever resources the Universal Church has at its disposal to help heal the spiritual wounds you have so unjustly suffered.”

    The Eserites are a more squirrely lot, so his plans there could be a ploy just to flush out *their* paladin.

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    1. If it’s his plan, it failed here. There was very few purists, and they had little influence. Most Avenists didn’t like them, do I doubt it would cause a schism.

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      1. Remember that Justinian still kept Basra Syrinx around after she lost her status as a priestess of Avei, and all her political value. That may be explained by her still having value as an operator, but what if Justinian’s master plan requires heretics who’ve come into conflict with their former god? Trying to manipulate the divisions of cults into infighting that leads to some either being cast out or abandoning the faith would be an effective way to make a supply of heretics and apostates.

        I’m just guessing though. Without knowing more of what Justinian’s goals and plans for pursuing those goals all are, what I can point to is his pattern of gathering unconventional assets and all the misdirection juggling he’s been doing. I don’t know that either heretics or apostates actually are useful for Justinian.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It could have led to one, though. The Purists were organized, in greater numbers than they ever were before, and clearly working on something.

        Justinian is the kind of antagonist that wins even when they lose. Either the Purists helped to splinter or at least sow anxiety and discontent by working on their original project, or they contribute in other ways as declared heretics via forcing a goddess to mete out punishment.

        My guess, here, is that he is accumulating heretics who have been cast out with nowhere else to go to be personally loyal to him and the Universal Church, and for the heretics to feel as if they have been unjustly treated by the tyranny of the existing pantheon.

        Which, if you recall, is how the last batch of gods got taken out: by being deemed tyrannical assholes in desperate need of overthrowing.

        That’s my theory on Justinian’s play. If they aren’t branded heretics, they divide his enemies so they are easier to deal with. Eventually, though, they’ll be branded heretics regardless, and that’s when he swoops in to offer sanctuary and support from the Universal Church.

        Interestingly, Shaathism is a bit of an outlier because it seems like the main cult would fold into the Universal Church rather than the splinter group.

        And what would all of these people from all the different faiths believe in if not the pantheon? Well, the Universal Church is clearly better as it isn’t as unjustly tyrannical as their gods… and Justinian sure is a super swell guy, being the archpope and leading the Church itself… and this universe runs at least to some degree on faith and belief itself… see where I’m going here?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hmm… interesting theories. We’ve got Lanora, who was personally excommunicated by Avei, and we’ve got Branwen, who was personally disavowed by Izara. Then, there’s that one Vidian priestess who raised a bunch of trouble in Last Rock. I don’t recall Vidian personally coming into conflict with her — he simply sicced his paladin on her, and asked for a general house-cleaning — but it fits the same broad pattern.

      Maybe Justinian is assembling a band of anti-paladins?

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  6. Daaamn.

    There’s an appropriate level of force, there’s overkill, and then there’s calling down the goddess of your religion to excoriate and excommunicate one of her devoted (if misguided) followers.

    I get that this will have the effect that Trissiny wants, and will effectively end the influence of the Purists. That’s all cool. But… was level of humiliation REALLY necessary? Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lanora became suicidal after this encounter.

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    1. Sure but…what else are you supposed to do? She showed that she disregards evidence, reason, the doctrine, the commander, and the paladin. At this point there’s only one authority she’ll listen to and there’s no way of calling down the compassionate goddess of justice and feminism into a room of TERFS without something like this happening.

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      1. In our real world, where people believe in flat earth even after flying from California to China and from Spain to New York, even after a simple experiment with two sticks and some shadows that anyone can do with a little work, even while using GPS, even when astronomers predict eclipses with the precision of minutes, even when any captain of any transatlantic ship will tell them that they already traveled around the Globe, even observing the way that a ship disapears from view not all at once but the botom first than the top ….
        I doubt that if God came to Earth to tell them that the Earth is round they would believe.
        The same, unfortunately, may apply here.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. What else are you supposed to do? Talk to her in private, for one, so her humilation isn’t a spectacle for everyone to gawk at/gossip about for the foreseeable future. Give her the opportunity to back down and change course while also saving face. Of course, there’s no guarantee that would have worked either, and compassion is sometimes in direct conflict with the concept of Justice. Whether or not bigots even deserve compassion is debatable, but I think Avei just demonstrated her opinion on the matter, and I think she’s wrong. Even when standing up for trans rights, she manages to be a bastard about it.

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      3. What else are you supposed to do?
        Just about the arrange thing but when you’re done, you leave her something to live for. Anything.

        Avei just took away all of the people she associated with, and all of her authority. And those, she definitely deserved and needed to lose. She lost her mission in life, and was completely shunned by the one person (well, goddess) whose opinion she cares about, and everyone who follows that goes have been instructed to shun her as well, which eliminates pretty much everyone she might think of as an in-group.

        She’s lost her friends, her family, her religion, her job, her calling, her justification and everything else she values, all at once. She has literally nothing left.

        Give her something. A mission. A chance for repentance, like her followers got. Even a brutal physical punishment would be more merciful than what she got.

        As I said, the result within the Avenists will probably everything she was trying to achieve. But a deity/follower relationship has no better parallel than a parent/child relationship, and I’m firmly of the opinion that parents should not be in the business of giving up on their children.

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      4. Avei is the goddess of justice. This was her judgment, and one hopes that she had reasons for it. We don’t know enough about Lanora to call it a bad judgment.

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    2. People who are actively bigoted tend to need radical events before they reevaluate their beliefs. In the short/medium term, this can come in the form of meeting someone and really liking them (romantically or not), to only later learn they were part of a group you despised, or some cultural shock. Having the goddess you used as the justification for hating some people and denying their actual afflictions come down and tell you you were wrong is a form of cultural shock, and we can only hope it’s enough. She could come to blame trans women for “corrupting” Avei, and that could work as motivation for her joining Justinian, but I hope not. As a priestess of the goddess, being a transphobic ass is something that warrants excommunication, because she should be better than that. I don’t think she’s excluded from seeking spiritual help from the Sisterhood afterwards, however, for dealing with her prejudices.

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    3. I’m gonna be real: who *cares* if Lanora becomes suicidal? She certainly didn’t care about all the people *she* made suicidal with her beliefs and influence.

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      1. You’re using the excuse, “She’s a monster that has probably done at least as bad to other people,” here to justify treating a person without compassion. Once people or cultures start making and using excuses to treat people poorly that historically tends to become a habit, an established custom, and then the list of acceptable targets expands. You may not see a problem in habitually smiting TERFs who want to smite other people, but that kind of simplistic, blanket condemnation backed by a desire to act punitively and violently upon it is exactly what this character Lanora’s problem is. Prejudice doesn’t cure prejudice, it only makes more prejudice.

        I won’t claim to have an easy, magical solution to the problem that avoids this issue. That said, the most promising lines of research on the topic I’ve heard of are about treating problematic behaviours while avoiding the fundamental attribution error of assuming all motivations and actions originate solely with singular bad actors. Instead, we should try to treat the conditions that lead people to do problematic things where possible.

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      2. I disagree. Nobody has the obligation to treat someone with compassion after they have so thoroughly failed to exercise any of their own. That’s just the consequences of what they have done coming back to roost. It’d be one thing if the transphobia here was mild (at which point compassion is a better tool for changing minds, as you noted), but it wasn’t: they have openly threatened at least one (and probably more) trans person in a public venue, and once you threaten violence against an already-vulnerable minority, compassion for the threateners ceases to be in any way a priority in favor of protecting the *actual* victims. Not everyone can be saved from their own misery, and I would much rather Trissiny focus her energy on protecting the people whose misery they *didn’t* bring upon themselves for being such profound assholes. If that means letting violent transphobes commit suicide, then so be it.

        (If your argument had been one of the ones elsewhere in the thread, however, pointing out that Lanora is ripe to be picked up by Justinian at this point, you could make a very good argument that Trissiny should help her not because she deserves it, but because she doesn’t want her real enemy to get anything out of this.)

        I also find your comparison disingenuous, because bigots of this type hate and have no compassion for people based on *who they are* and similar things out of the victim’s control, where I hate the bigots based on *what they do*, which is *absolutely* something they have control over. Once a crime hits a certain severity, it is absolutely right to hate the perpetrator of said crime: violence against vulnerable minorities may be on the lower end of that particular bell curve, but it still qualifies.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. @Crimson Doom
        The goal is less TERF bullying and not supporting institutionalized dehumanization, right? If you want a pragmatic argument not to descend into abusing the abusers, then here you go: The demonstrated history of successful treatment of addictive and criminal behaviours generally does not focus on punishment. Those criminal punishments in punitive justice systems usually only work as deterrents: Once the behaviour has developed you need to alter the person’s general behaviour and circumstances if you want to stop it.

        You don’t have to take my word for it, studies of rehabilitation to prevent resumption of addictive and criminal behaviour is ongoing, widespread, and written up extensively.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Look, if resources were infinite (or at least not strained), then I could get behind trying to rehabilitate abusers. If you have the resources to spare, why not, right? But that is not and never has been the case: time, motivation, and safety are all comparatively limited resources for everyone here except Avei, who has different limiting factors based on her godhood. Given that they don’t have resources to waste, I’d rather they spent those resources on helping the victims of bullies rather than spending it on said bullies since, historically, such people tend to double down on their bigotry rather than do even the slightest bit of self-reflection. Especially since in this case, Lanora unquestionably brought these direct consequences on herself by being a completely shitty person; it’s not Triss’s responsibility to rescue Lanora from the consequences of finally being faced with the undiluted truth of just how horrible she’s been.

        In short, my ideals include rehabilitation of horrible people *only* as an afterthought, after we’ve made sure they can never hurt anyone ever again. As long as Lanora is removed from positions of influence and isn’t allowed back in them until she shows tangible change, I don’t give a fuck *what* she does, because quite simply, her intended victims are more important than she is.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. > “I’d rather they spent those resources on helping the victims of bullies rather than spending it on said bullies”

        If spending resources “on bullies” actually prevents future bullying, meaning there are less victims to begin with, how is that a bad thing?

        Getting tough on crime only makes crime worse. I know it seems counterintuitive, doing things that seem to help bad people, but intuitive does not always mean correct. Getting softer on criminals is the best way to reduce their bad behavior.

        Bigotry and more general criminality do not necessarily come from the same places, but they’re similar enough that I think this is a fair parallel to make.

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      6. My experience with abusers is that you give them an inch and they take a mile. The only way to stop them from hurting more people is to prevent them from taking even an inch. I’d rather build a society that won’t take abuse than try and stop abusers from abusing; their abuse will stop working if nobody is willing to tolerate it or make excuses for it.

        More generally, I disagree that crime and bigotry are comparable in terms of how you should respond to it. Crimes usually aren’t a systemic problem so much as they are a *symptom* of a systemic problem. There is class inequality, therefore there is theft. There is misogyny, therefore there is sexual harassment. There is an autism stigma, therefore there are people giving their children bleach enemas. Going hard on crime is counterproductive not because going soft is always best, but because you’re only ever focusing on a symptom rather than spending all that effort solving the real problems. Bigotry *is* one of those real systemic problems and thus can’t really be compared to crime in terms of what factors shape it.

        Furthermore, the problem with crime statistics in this discussion is that the definition for what constitutes a crime for the purpose of those statistics you cited is malleable, depending on what the people in authority say it is. Take, for example, all the times police have killed innocent people, in ways that are morally indefensible but that they were never prosecuted for. Ideally, those would count as murder (which is a crime), but in a practical sense, they likely haven’t been factored into studies about crime and the best response to it because the system covers for them and makes sure they never face consequences. See also all the people (disproportionately black) who get arrested (and therefore wind up in crime statistics) for selling drugs that aren’t dangerous, just illegal (weed), or for doing the same thing that a white person could do without consequence (often also weed). The statistics are only ever clear about going soft on certain *types* of crime and don’t really address the problems of dealing with people who get away with crimes (or for forcing crimes upon the innocent) because they’re highly-placed in a hierarchy or simply live in a society that over-privileges them. So I reject even the premise of the statistics you cited, because odds are good the statisticians in question weren’t allowed or inclined to ask the questions they’d need to ask in order to address the greater inequality of the crimes that never get punished.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Well, it wasn’t a *mass* excommunication, but I’ll claim half right.

    As for Lenore, The Guild needs to snap her up before anything bad happens.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It’s interesting that actual training with the longsword doesn’t seem to have been part of the ‘Hidden Patron Support Package’ the Purists got. I suppose it makes sense if these women think they’re operating in good faith, since waving an excommunicated traitor in front of them kinda spoils that game, but it kinda makes me wonder at the strength and nature of the Justinian connection. Given how he’s been shown to operate the has to know that including that weapon will point a finger at Basra and thus him, so if he hasn’t gone the route of actually having her teach them (which would have provided an extra layer of legitimacy for Trissany to batter through), then I almost wonder if either these were a very low effort catspaw to pull attention away from something happening right this very second and not much longer, or if this is a third party trying to attract attention to whatever he’s doing.

    Of course this is TGaB. Given the number of 4D chess players operating in this setting I could be missing something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bear in mind that the “organized” purists haven’t been around very long. Even if they were getting training they haven’t had enough time to get good.

      Which does lend more credence to the idea that they were never intended to be a serious threat: whoever (*cough*Justinian) supplied them chose to arm them with weapons they could not actually use effectively.

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  9. I worry if this is like the time Trissiny called on Avei to stand in judgement of Juniper. Unlike when the paladins met Avei on their “let’s meet all the gods” quest, Avei seems to be speaking through Trissiny here…and maybe Trissiny’s ideas are influencing Avei in some way. That said, I agree with Trissiny & Avei here, fuck TERFs, I just wonder if she’s about to get chewed out by her goddess.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. With what’s happened with Toby recently, I don’t doubt that these are at least in some way Trissiny’s words being spoken by the goddess, though I’m not sure that either of them would be aware of that.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Avei is ABSOLUTELY being influenced by Trissiny. That’s the point of paladins, after all. But she is also absolutely speaking from prior experience.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Well….looks like Justinian’s Holy Legion just got another member…one who is totally going to blame Rasha for everything…

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    1. Eh. So what?

      A single ex-priestess, without Basra’s skill with a sword or scheming. A woman who if anything seems quite incompetent, not to mention blinded by her prejudices.

      Not exactly a high-value asset for Justinian.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Hey, y’all, chapter’s in progress. It’s not looking like I’m gonna make a Monday release, but I’ve got a fair bit of it done and I’m gonna aim to have it out before Wednesday. I’m trying to amp up my productivity and get back to having two free chapters a week, regardless of funding. We’ll see how it goes.

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  12. This was a military punishment, somebody needed to be made an example of for all the ladies to be persuaded to change at once. Public denunciation so there is no debate on the Goddess’ will, and harsh punishment to keep them from acting on their prejudice on their own times, keeping them from acting up during rehabilitation. They needed an example and the leader who also led a group in an attack (even threatening is an attack) in public is the obvious victim.
    Also Justinian may have engineered this to foment greater unity in the sisterhood as he clearly wants everyone to oppose him for his endgame.

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