16 – 44

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“Why, hello, Juniper,” the Boss of the Thieves’ Guild said pleasantly, wariness in every line of his stance. “Are you lost?”

“Nope, I don’t think so!” she said with as much good cheer as she could muster. Juniper had developed a habit of quiet and calm, helped along both by elven and Omnist meditative practices and a series of traumatic epiphanies that had overshadowed her sunny disposition, but at the same time, she had not failed to notice the difference in how she was often treated these days, as opposed to her first year among mortal society. It was easy enough to put on a smile and a chipper tone of voice; it helped to put people at ease, right up until the moment when it started to make everything worse. For some reason it really unsettled people when she did something scary with a smile. “These are Avenists, right? Those Purist jerks who’ve been causing trouble?”

Tricks glanced fleetingly behind her at the priestesses, two of whom were trying to revive their collapsed comrade. “All due respect, little lady, but this is a private function. Tell you what, how ‘bout we offer you something to eat and a discreet ride out of the city?”

“Oh, thanks, but I’m not really hungry.” There were several audible sighs of relief from around the courtyard, which she ignored. “So I see you’ve got your own thing going on here, looks like pretty important religious business, right? I wouldn’t wanna intrude or anything. I’m just gonna take these three back to the Temple of Avei, then. Don’t mind me.”

“The fuck you say,” Style snarled, stomping forward as Juniper started to turn toward the Purists. “Bitch, I do not care who or what you are, this is the fucking Thieves’ Guild. You do not walk in here and give us orders.”

“Style,” Sweet warned.

“I’m afraid we do have a religious imperative not to be pushed around, Juniper,” Tricks added in a more careful tone. “That, in fact, is the very reason those three are here to begin with. It’s simply out of the question to allow—”

“Yeah, I don’t care about that,” Juniper said blithely. “My friends—you know, the paladins? All three of them?—have been working hard to straighten out the political situation with the Trinity cults and restrain the Church, and what you’re doing here would throw a big wrench in that. So, you’re not gonna, that’s all.”

“That a fact,” Tricks said quietly.

“This reminds me of a funny joke I heard!” Juniper kept her sunny smile in place and undiminished. “Where does a dryad sleep?”

That brought her a few moments’ pause, in which the three Guild officers in front of her visibly reconsidered their position; Glory was gently but firmly shepherding Rasha back toward the other apprentices and out of Juniper’s easy reach. A steady breeze of whispering and muttering passed over her from the thieves on all sides, in contrast the silence in the center. Juniper almost never heightened her senses to anything near an elf’s while in a city, as the noise made it impossible for her to think, but she did customarily keep her hearing more acute than the human norm, and picked up a lot of distinct commentary.

“Don’t even think about it, they’re a threat level eight. Even the Army doesn’t dare…”

“…the fuck does she think she is, comin’ in here…”

“One of ‘em ate my grandpa!”

“Why is it in the city!?”

“By Izara’s bloomers, would you look at the rack on her.”

“Put that away, she’s actually Naiya’s child! You wanna cause a fucking earthquake?”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind that being the last thing I ever saw, know what I mean?”

“Fuck that, anything bleeds if you…”

“Screw this, I’m out.”

“Why do the pretty ones gotta be so scary?”

She kept her eyes on Tricks, still smiling, and pretended she didn’t hear any of it. Somehow, even the (technically) complimentary remarks weren’t exactly flattering, but Juniper couldn’t begrudge the humans their fear. Especially since she was about to specifically lean on it.

Apparently Antonio, even if he couldn’t hear as clearly as she, knew people enough to see where this was going and stepped in.

“In case there was some ambiguity,” he said in a carrying voice, “Juniper is a dryad. If you don’t know what that means, the short version is dryads are the demigod offspring of Naiya, impervious to most harm and strong enough to slap you into a spray of giblets. The only thing worse than getting attacked by a dryad is attacking one; if you succeed in hurting a dryad, you’ve just pissed off mother nature herself. Anyone who survives that gets to explain to the government what happened that caused half the city to be smashed.”

That only intensified the muttering, unsurprisingly, but at least the angrier voices abruptly went silent. Which wasn’t to say that the anger itself was gone, especially right in front of her. Tricks was now studying her through narrowed eyes, the very picture of a man rapidly putting together a plan, but Style took one long stride forward, close enough to lean in and plant one thick finger against the medallion Juniper wore on a braided cord.

“I’m gonna assume you’ve got some idea how faith works if you’re walkin’ around wearing the symbol of one, nature girl,” the chief enforcer grated. “Whatever else we are, we are a faith. Our central tenet is not getting pushed around by people with power. So unless you wanna kick off that local apocalypse Sweet’s talkin’ about, you’d better back the fuck off.”

She got quite a few mutters and several shouts of approval. Juniper just tilted her head, studying the taller woman with her eyes kept deliberately wide in an expression she’d been told made her look childlike and innocent, an idea she found bizarre in the extreme. Here and now, there was an obvious rebuttal to be made to Style’s statement, to the effect that pushing people around was the entire rest of Eserite faith, but getting into an argument here would defeat the purpose.

“It’s Style, right?” she said pleasantly. “You beat up Trissiny one time, didn’t you? Pretty impressive! That’s not gonna happen today.”

She planted her palm against Style’s sternum, and immediately the enforcer shifted the hand prodding at Juniper’s medallion to grab her wrist and attempt some manner of skillful arm twist, which was exactly as efficacious as trying to put a tree in a headlock. In the next second her grip was ripped free of Juniper’s arm along with the rest of her as the dryad stepped forward, straightened her arm, and pushed Style fifteen feet through the air. The chief enforcer crashed into the front rank of thieves, bowling the lot of them over and causing a general outcry around the courtyard.

With Juniper’s strength being a magical effect causing her movements to have the full weight of a tree behind them when she so chose, stepping forward into a movement didn’t add force as it did for most martial artists. On the contrary, Professor Ezzaniel had worked with her extensively to control her strength, mostly by controlling speed, on the principle that force was a product of mass and acceleration. If Juniper hit someone, she could reduce them to pulp. Learning to fight mortals non-lethally had been much harder, and the method they’d developed hinged upon smoothly accelerating from a dead stop after she had already made bodily contact. The timing was tricky, but Ezzaniel had drilled her without mercy until she could launch a watermelon across the quad from a standstill without bruising it through a combination of tightly controlled speed and smoothly increasing her own force mid-motion. Not that it was a perfect art; Style was going to have a badly bruised sternum, and possibly cracked ribs—not to mention whatever happened when she landed on a pile of people—but hopefully it would be nothing a good healer couldn’t fix in moments. And at least she still had ribs.

Obviously, the onlooking thieves didn’t like that one bit. There was a great deal of shouting; weapons were brandished and more than a few people actually stepped toward her, forestalled only by Tricks himself taking a step closer to the dryad, raising both his arms with palms out toward the crowd in a clear order for calm. He kept his eyes on Juniper’s as he approached, and after a couple of seconds, the spectators quieted enough that a mob was less immediately likely. The smell of fear predominated over anger, but Juniper knew that was no guarantee against violence. People in a panic were often more dangerous than people in a rage.

“All right, you’ve made your point, Juniper,” Tricks said once the noise had quieted enough that he could be heard throughout the courtyard without raising his voice. “You okay, Style?”

“Fucking,” Style wheezed, struggling upright and roughly shrugging off the hands that tried to help her. “…gonna…” Sweet had already disengaged from the confrontation, striding over to her and lighting up with a soft glow of divine light. He wasn’t so easy to dissuade, and based on what Juniper had observed of him, was probably aiming to prevent her from retaliating as much as intending to offer healing.

“Style also has a point, of course,” Tricks continued, his gaze holding Juniper’s. “You may be invulnerable, but you’re not alone. Those three you’re so determined to protect from the consequences of their actions are made of soft, squishy humanity. Not to mention that you yourself came here with somebody who I bet is a lot easier to bruise.” He finally tore his eyes from her face to look down at Sniff with a significant lift of his eyebrows, before focusing back on her and indulging in a faint smirk. “Didn’t plan this all the way through before you stepped in, huh?”

Juniper immediately dropped her own smile, ignoring the several indrawn breaths that resulted from her suddenly blank expression. “I guess not,” she answered. “You’re not wrong. And if you hurt my pet, I will tear off your right arm and eat it in front of you.”

The dead silence which resulted was broken only by soft weeping from behind her; the three Purists were not handling this drama very well, despite no longer being the focus of it. Everyone else was just staring at Juniper, with no sign that they didn’t believe her.

Teal liked to say that a threat was, in and of itself, an act of violence. It was Trissiny who’d told her the most effective way to leverage them, which ironically was with the least violence possible. People expected threats to be delivered with passion, and were far more unsettled to hear an offer of terrible harm spoken with calm detachment. Juniper didn’t really understand why, expect that humans inherently didn’t like unexpected juxtapositions. At any rate, the Eserite technique Trissiny had taught her was to make statements, not threats.

And, most importantly, to mean them with absolute sincerity. Which she did. To judge by the chilled silence now surrounding her, it worked.

Tricks, after a moment, dropped his gaze to her chest, and for a change he wasn’t looking at her cleavage, but the golden sunburst medallion resting on it.

“That’s not very Omnist of you, young lady,” he said softly.

Juniper shrugged. “Omnu doesn’t expect perfection. Everyone fails; you just can’t let a sin become a habit. You’ll only be the second guy I’ve devoured alive while he screamed and begged me to stop, and it’s been a few years. I don’t think that counts as a pattern.”

Now people were shuffling backward, pressing each other toward the walls to gain precious inches of space from her. Not Tricks, though; he just held her gaze, and she made herself stare back despite the surge of self-loathing she was now riding out.

Teal, Trissiny and Gabe all had various methods they’d been taught for controlling their emotions and putting on a performance; even Shaeine had described the method of Narisian public face, though that seemed proprietary to the drow and she’d never offered to teach anyone. None of that had made a lot of sense to Juniper. Instead, it was just her own faith by which she kept her own expression even, despite the feelings raging in her. Omnism was big on meditative disciplines, which Toby had patiently walked her through, and practiced with her. What she was doing here flew against everything she had so laboriously tried to change about herself, invoking her own savage propensity to violence as a means of coercing someone; remorse, shame, and grief clawed at her from the inside.

But she acknowledged them, and let them go. Feelings were just that; they did not require a response, didn’t even have to stick hard enough to change one’s expression. Juniper wrapped that hard-learned stillness around herself like a warm coat, allowing her emotions to pass over her unimpeded, including the pride she felt at being able to do this. Just a few short months ago, the practice had been frustratingly difficult.

At any rate, it worked. She could see in the minute shifting of Tricks’s expression that he took her calm promise at face value.

But, as the seconds ticked past and his eyes bored into hers, he still failed to back down. In his squint she interpreted rapid thought as he tried to reason a way out of this. Why was he being so stubborn? All around them, the other watchers had clearly decided she was not a fight they wanted; no one else continued to offer her any resistance.

Juniper finally tore her own gaze off the Boss’s to study one side of the courtyard and the thieves clustered there, and in noticing that they were all watching her and Tricks, she finally realized her mistake.

This was not, as she had first assessed them, a single pack, bound together by emotional closeness and common cause. Of course not, the Thieves’ Guild was too big an institution to be so united. It was more of a…watering hole, a meeting place of multiple packs and herds and lone wolves. She stood amid a meeting of different factions and isolated individuals, all with their own agendas. Personal devotion was the lesser share of what kept Tricks in power; he also could not be seen as weak, or they’d turn on him. She had inadvertently pushed him right into a corner from which he could not do anything except order violence that they all knew would be hopeless.

Well, shoot. The god had asked her to neutralize the brewing conflict, not ignite it twice as hard. Fortunately, her realization of what was actually happening immediately suggested a solution she could still enact.

“You Eserites.” Slowly, Juniper turned in a full circle, dragging her gaze around the room and studying the various thieves disdainfully in passing. “So scary. All the rich and powerful are just so intimidated by your… What? Clubs and brass knuckles? I guess it works for you. ‘Cause after all, you do work in your nice, safe, clean cities, where other people are the worst things you’re ever gonna see.” She completed her revolution, coming back to face Tricks, but let her eyes slide over him, turning again to regard the assembled thieves. “None of you have ever actually come face to face with a real monster, huh?”

She turned further, tossing her hair and staring around at them, this time in an obvious challenge.

From behind her came a muffled curse, and then scuffing footsteps. Unhurriedly, Juniper turned around to regard one of the thieves approaching her with a deep scowl, fitting a set of spiked iron knuckles onto his right hand. Just the sight of him told his story: he was taller than she and far wider, thickly muscled, with a twice-broken nose, cauliflower ear and a scar over one eyebrow.

She turned to face him fully and just stared as he came. In seconds, his expression faltered, and then his steps did.

Juniper made herself see, not a man, but prey. Taking in his size and build, the distribution of fat and muscle, she knew what the meat would taste like, how tough it would be to chew. How much energy it would give her, and how long it’d be before she felt like eating again. She knew the temperature of fresh blood, the smell of it. Where and how to exert pressure to deliver a quick death—or not to, simply incapacitate the prey so the heart kept pumping and the meat stayed fresher and more tender while she began eating.

She was not good at putting on false faces, but Juniper had a real one that could be a thing of horror. A street soldier like this man possessed an animal cunning of his own, instincts that enabled him to sum up people at a glance; they were enough to warn him, when she held those thoughts in the forefront of her mind, that he was not looking at a person. Meeting her utterly dispassionate gaze as it weighed him, he found himself staring into the eyes of an apex predator, and by pure instinct, stopped approaching.

“Uh, Rowdy?” said another voice from across the courtyard, “I really wouldn’t. This may be a good time to mention that dryad was at Ninkabi. Hey, it’s me, Thumper!” he added irritably in response to a round of scoffs from nearby. “You think I’m gonna forget a woman who looks like that? Seriously, I saw her kill a baerzurg demon by punching it. Y’know, one of those big armored ones that’re, uh…invincible?”

Slowly, the now-unnerved looking enforcer began to edge backward. Juniper turned to find that Tricks had also retreated to join Sweet and Style among the crowd. Because she’d accomplished her goal, buying him the opportunity to do so. He hadn’t backed down from her; the entire Guild had. Not one of them was in a position to call him out for it.

Movement caught her eye. Between two heads in the crowd was suddenly Eserion’s face; the god mouthed Thank you, then vanished in a shift of the throng.

Juniper heaved a sigh, shook her head, and turned to stare at the Purists. “Well, all right then, now for you.”

“Please don’t!” one shrieked, covering her face with her arms in a singularly counterproductive survival strategy, while one of her compatriots screamed wordlessly and the other just wept.

“Oh, shut up,” Juniper exclaimed, giving vent to her exasperation. After the last few minutes it felt good to just express what she was actually feeling. “I’m not gonna eat you! If I wanted you dead, why would I go to all this trouble? You three are going back to the Temple of Avei so Commander Rouvad can do some justice on you. After the crap you jackasses have been doing, that’s probably gonna be no fun at all, but it’ll be a lot better than what you were about to get here. Or what would happen if it was up to me. But it’s not, that’s the entire point. You get real justice, from somebody who’s authorized to actually hand it out, and you’re not gonna give me any sass about it. Right?”

All three of them quivered and stared at her mutely, and she sighed again.

“Okay, here’s how it is: dryads aren’t build for sprinting, see? So if you try to run away from me, I’ll have to have my friend here chase you down, and that’ll be a problem for you. Sniff, show ‘em your claw.”

Sniff paced forward, causing the trio to edge away from him, but they wisely stared at the proto-bird as he, fanning his short wings for balance, balanced on one leg and extended his other foot toward them. He had birdlike talons—mostly. One of his claws was considerably oversized in relation to the others, and murderously hooked, a natural weapon designed to rend flesh.

“Thank you, Sniff,” Juniper said primly. “His species evolved so that if they’re chasing something down, it’s to kill and eat it, see? He’s not good with catching things, exactly. So if you try to run, it’ll end with you lying in the street in a puddle of your own entrails. And if you make me have to explain that to the police, I’m gonna be really annoyed! We understand each other?”

“Thank you!” the least rattled of the priestesses blurted. “We won’t—you’ll have no—we’ll go— Uh…thank you.”

“Good.” Juniper nodded once and slipped her enchanted ring back on, changing her coloring to a Tiraan average. She wasn’t built like most Tiraan in the face or figure, but it seemed the majority of humans didn’t look beyond coloration when casually sizing each other up.

She strode past them to the big double doors that apparently opened onto the alley beyond, leaving Sniff to hover around the terrified Purists. Herding wasn’t something she’d trained him to do, exactly, but Sniff was extremely smart and their druidic bond enabled him to pick up on a lot more of her intentions than a normal animal; she trusted him to help chivvy their prisoners in the right direction as needed. For now, Juniper stopped in front of the gates. They were heavy, solid, and locked.

“Any of you wanna help me out here?” she asked, turning to look over her shoulder at the assembled thieves. The crowd was already smaller as some of them had started to sneak off back into the Casino. Those remaining just stared at her, offering no response. “Well, okay,” she said with a shrug. “It’s not my house.”

Juniper had to spread her arms fully to grasp one of the doors, sinking the fingers of one hand into the crack between the two and the other between it and the wall. But with that done, all it took was bracing her legs and pulling. The wood groaned in protest for a moment, and then with a terrible clatter the lock burst open. She’d pulled from both sides, though, and when one of the upper hinges was ripped out of the stonework, she decided to just run with that instead of trying to swing the damaged door normally. Another yank ripped it fully off, leaving the other now-unsecured door to swing a few feet open.

Juniper trotted over to the wall and leaned the towering wooden gate against it, then turned around, dusting off her hands.

“Well?” she said imperiously, staring at the cowed Purists, and pointed at the opening she’d just created. “Go on. Out.”

They hesitated, and then Sniff hissed loudly from his position at their backs. A moment later, their odd little group was leaving the silent Thieves’ Guild behind.

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57 thoughts on “16 – 44

  1. I’m enjoying the growth were seeing in all the characters. A non-clueless dryad is exceptionally terrifying and effective!

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Yeah. But I like juniper in general. Every aspect of her character is fun to read. A scene like this or the scene when she was eating the dude in her interlude, no matter where in her arc she’s been she’s been so fun to read about. I also really liked her little quip about being not very Omnist. Omnu is the peaceful God, and as Toby is learning, sometimes you have to be forceful to keep the peace. Plus, she’s just a follower, not a God bound to a specific idea. She can break the omnist mold if its holding her back and causing her harm to be omnist.

      Liked by 8 people

  2. Given how much of a clusterfuck that situation was to begin with, I think Juniper handled that rather well. Could it have been done better? Probably. Could *Juniper*, specifically, have done better? I doubt it.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. It’s some great progress since Puna Dara where her reaction to someone refusing to stop proselytizing in an Omnist soup kitchen was to tear their arm off.

      Sounds like she’d still have the same reaction to her familiar being killed, though, which is weird since I thought that event was the main driver behind her Omnism.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Tbf there is a huge difference between being annoying and killing their companion/pet. Not to mention it would set a bad precedent if people think that they can kill something that belongs to Juniper without in some way being punished for it. The man that she killed was already suffering some major injury due to Jack (that was the rabbits name right?) that he’d just killed, making further violence unnecessary but if I remember correctly Juniper killed the guy by dismembering him rather painfully and letting him die from those injuries. Here she threatens to rip off Tricks arm, and nothing more than that, so this is actually further proof of her growth. (And honestly Tricks is seriously losing his touch if he thought that threat would actually work.)

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Google- I don’t think the threat was meant for Juniper. Everything Tricks did after she spoke up was a performance to avoid losing face, so to speak, with the Guild.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Haven’t seen June shining this well in a long long time…

    On a serious question though, what DO you do in case the dryads become actively hostile? If say a bunch of them are approaching a city with clear hostile intentions ( merely a hypothetical), what would the govt or the crown do? Cause it seems like dying through being the entree or dying though earthquakes and tornados….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Magic sleep and ditching them under some tree on a hill, and teleport them half way across the world are both options that have been presented in story.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. You teleport them away, or something along those lines. You trap them in (probably magical) nets, you sedate them, or put them in sleep spells. You take measures to remove them, without harming them.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Most dryads aren’t as focused and driven as Juniper, so distractions might work pretty well. Another commenter outlined some stuff mentioned in story, but again, I think distractions would work since dryads are so… whimsical.

      Liked by 2 people

    4. Most dryads don’t wander into cities without a reason, they don’t like it there.

      They also have very simple needs which can be catered to without any violence. Food, sex whatever… easily supplied and then dryad wanders off.

      Let’s not forget that they are also quite intelligent and can be reasoned with… and are also not very fast, so you can run away if you have to.

      If all else fails, mind magic, sleep magic and/or teleportation are viable options. Maybe illusions would work, too?

      Liked by 2 people

    5. It’s the Azure Corp that take care of that. The dryad is teleported as close to the Deep Wild as possible. Because they tend to be less focused than Juniper, generally it is enough to make sure they will not cause problems for s as long time.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I figured out my problem with the way the Thieves Guild sometimes operates. It’s supposed to be “we don’t let the powerful push the powerless around”, but occasionally -like here- that’s twisted to “we don’t let powerful people push US around”.

    Its a fine line they walk between being a necessary evil, or becoming the powerful bullies in question, and this little stunt was entirely over the line. Juniper was doing exactly what an Eserite is supposed to be doing. I hope Style at least will figure that out, because this is exactly what its like to be on the other end of her shtick.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Consistently throughout the whole story, Eserites have had by far the strongest reaction to anything that hurts Eserites. They didn’t threaten to kidnap a Drow’s family to rescue human slaves, they did it to rescue an Eserite human slave. The only Eserite who cared about what was happening in Lor’naris was Lakshmi, but when she was attacked they declared war on an entire imperial army regiment.

      Basically, Eserites claim to fight corruption but there’s very limited evidence of them ever doing that. Remember when Sweets arranged for demons to invade Tiraas and 11 people died so he could have a single conversation with Elilal?

      I liked this chapter a lot because the story generally tries to present Eserites in a positive light and that doesn’t work for me.

      And no, I doubt Style will learn anything from this. She can’t afford to, for exactly the same reason as she beat the crap out of Trissiny.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. It’s human nature to react more to in-group harm than out-group. I’ve yet to believe a case of literally anyone ever succeeding in beating that, despite claims otherwise. Eserites are clearly not perfect, and they acknowledge that “all systems are corrupt”. We also have seen examples of them keeping the powerful in line.

        I also find it ironic that you’re seemingly considering this the “real” example of them when even their own god is acting against them and it’s been explicitly stated that clearly someone (likely Justinian) is manipulating them.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sweet making his Offering of Cunning was not the major goal of the operation. It was destroying the Wreath in Tiraas and the Church. The audience was a side benefit.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. To be fair, Styles getting bodied like that probably stopped other Eserites from outright attacking Jun. It set her high on the pecking order with a minimum of harm and could have saved some lives as a result.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. I get your point about the Eserites, but i also feel like they have had an at least halfway decent reason for doing so every time we see them go all in: Threats only work if the other person thinks you will follow through.

        The problem is not with a single person going after a single thief. When that happens things are allowed to play out because that is only fair. When the entire Guild goes after someone it is because a group has attacked them.

        Lakshmi was attacked by The Army, which has enough manpower and resources to crush the Guild in an actual fight. Applying mental pressure on the rank and file after that was a reminder to the higher-ups that that fight is a bad idea all for everyone.

        The Guild isn’t in the business of handling international politics, which is what is required to stop the Drow from keeping human slaves. But the entire Drow society had to be made aware that kidnapping and enslaving an Eserite would not be tolerated. Without that fear of consequences they would have no reason not to do so.

        Even the stuff that is happening in this chapter makes sense when you just look at it as “a group of Avenists attacked a Thieves Guild apprentice”. Like Tricks said, you can’t let an institution go after your most vulnerable members. Once that starts to happen you lose the base for the next generation of Eserites and the Guild dies a slow death over a couple of years/decades. Tricks is wrong in how he is handling this, but the initial instinct is sound.

        Something to try to remember when thinking about the groups in this story is that we are seeing them in the most extreme cases, usually from the view point of exceptional people.Seeing the Guild go about its business and not have anything new or exciting happen would be interesting world building for a single interlude, but would be a Boring Story if we got a full arc of it.

        Liked by 4 people

      5. @Jordan

        Beating that? No. Also, any group or individual that did would cease to exist, eventually outcompeted by those that do otherwise. The world isn’t good enough at coordinating to make that possible to sustain.

        What we have done is construct elaborate social fictions to make the in-group bigger, or build more layers of ever-larger in-groups. The founders of most world religions try to define all the faithful, or all humanity, as their in-group, knowing they’ll fail to get others to abide by that in practice, but it’s still amazing we have countries of hundreds of millions of people that mostly peacefully coexist.


      6. The incident at Falconer Industries was them acting to fight corruption.

        Admittedly it turned out the corruption had been faked to get them to do that. But that wouldn’t have worked if they didn’t act against that sort of thing.

        Flora and Fauna dropping on the apprentice who was getting pies by intimidation is another example.

        And the Esserite Drow slave. He was in Tal’Naris as part of the Guild campaign against slavery. IIRC he helped get Ravoud’s sister out before the Esserites got ambushed by Justinian’s people and they absconded with her.

        Or you could look at Principia’s career, that apparently is heavy on this sort of thing.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. In defense of the Eserites, because I do generally like them, we can put that down more to capability than philosophical failure. They just don’t have the power to flatten all hierarchies, take down all those who abuse power. Their first priority has to be self-preservation to continue their work in the long term. They’re a fairly obvious fantasy parallel to real world militant workers’ unions, and just like them they have to focus on in-group solidarity to provide the strength to get anything else done.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. >I’ve yet to believe a case of literally anyone ever succeeding in beating that

        Increase the size of your in-group.


  5. I’m still confused on what exactly triggers Naiya’s anger. Juniper’s been attacked lotsa times without Naiya doing any retaliation.


    1. Naiya wouldn’t have reacted to this. Naiya doesn’t really know what happens to Juniper ever since Avei blocked her connection to Naiya in the Crawl. The Thieves don’t really know that, though.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. She was hurt only once and Naiya retaliated. Total party kill.

      All other times people tried to hurt her and failed. Most never had the chance.

      Ninkabi aside, I don’t remember lots of times Juniper had been attacked.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. That’s because of Avei putting a block on Naiya’s connection with her, it was during the Crawl arc. Before that only a boar in the Crawl has managed to hurt Juniper without receiving immediate reprisal (from what I can remember). I’m gonna assume that it has something to do with the Crawl itself, it doesn’t stretch imagination that the Crawl could interfere with the various transcension fields enough so that Naiya doesn’t register that attack as something she needs to handle.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Even aside from the Avenic block, it clearly isn’t just any damage, but significant damage — serious injury that’s beyond casual shrugging off. Naiya’s not going to bestir herself anytime some large predator that she was arguing with tries to bite back.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m not gonna lie, it was immensely enjoyable seeing the Eserites being pushed around for once.
    Juniper honey, you’re doing a great job.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. And the fact that it was a con since Naiya knows squat about Juniper and her whereabouts just makes this better 😄

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Yeah, for Eserites even exposing your money is worthy of being stolen. I am glad they see what it does to be pushed.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well that’s perfectly justifiable to them. They’re upset at how that money was made, through the exploitation of the working people the Eserites try to defend. Beyond that, they have a pseudo-Robin Hood thing going on, obviously not exactly like him but not too different either.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Always awesome to see Juniper in action.
    Also, this whole scenario raises so many, /many/ questions about what Trick’s deal is. I’d previously assumed that there was some kind of interference from Justinian on communications between Esserion and the Guild, but now I’m almost wondering if the Big Guy isn’t cleaning house somehow. Maybe agrees with Webs about how over centralized the Guild is?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If it was just that, then Tricks would be gone already.

      I remember one tidbit from an early chapter… Sweet was surprised Tricks gets to talk with Eserion so often since that basically never happened when he was the Boss.

      Also, Eserion himself told Sweet to change postions from Boss to bishop and he had to know Tricks would be the next in line. Or if not, could have made that happen anyway.

      So Tricks being the Boss is most likely something Eserion actually wants for… reasons.

      And while Webs may have a point, I think it was Principia who pointed out that those things happen anyway and that it’s a cycle. Loose aggregation of like minded thieves turns into a strictly run organization and back every few decades.
      Which is probably one major reason she will never be Boss, even if her real accomplishments are made public: She’s immortal and thus the guild would stop changing once she’s got it running to her liking.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The thing is though, if Esserion’s problem is with centralization of power in the Guild, removing Tricks doesn’t necessarily do the job. There’s still a structure there for the problem to persist, and given that gods are potentially subject to ethical drift, the Big Guy might want to act against it directly but not be able to because a critical mass of thieves are ok with it.

        Alternatively he wants to block off an avenue of political development while maintaining the fiction that he’s mostly hands off.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. All we know at the moment is that Eserion has some complicated “plan” that involves Tricks and Sweet coming into conflict — but not right now. He needed Juniper to delay the conflict.

      This is presumably somehow related to Justinian’s plan that requires everyone on the entire planet to be Justinian’s enemy… later. Timing is apparently critically important, for some reason. I’m guessing it has to do with the moment when apotheosis becomes possible.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. @ben “There’s still a structure there for the problem to persist”
    And that’s probably why he explicitly mentioned timing to Juniper.


  9. …. :hushed silence, then a single voice, slowly joined by more and more. : “JUNE I PER! JUNE I PER! JUNE I PER!”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I really want to trust Tricks but man is that man seeming problematic these days.


    1. We’re missing too many details:
      -Why, did he really plan the job to snatch Shaeine and Teal’s dog? How the heck did he even know when and where they would be vulnerable for it in advance? The only words heard out of him on the purpose of that operation and the difficulties he expected are inconsistent to the point of him contradicting himself.
      -How did he get these Purist prisoners? Why isn’t he demanding that the Avenist leadership account for their actions? Why is he racing straight to executing prisoners that likely have a lot of embarrassing intel, less than a day after their capture, when the offenders in question aren’t even being accused of murder and their victim got away unharmed?
      -Why is he setting up an execution drama without notifying his senior staff and getting their buy-in or listening to their objections before it happens? Bad leaders make important decisions unilaterally, good ones make sure that they aren’t forgetting something important when they make big PR statements.

      I’m not saying that isn’t Tricks, but he’s been making a lot of amazingly odd and/or bad decisions lately. If this wasn’t a relatively new thing he wouldn’t still be boss because there are some rather difficult to accept things in what he’s done in the last week. That presumably makes him acting like a belligerent, grandstanding fool into new and inconsistent behaviour. Even worse, someone acting like a belligerent, grandstanding fool is not someone to trust even if that is perfectly ordinary behaviour for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m really sorry for how haphazard the update schedule has been the last few weeks. I so wanted to crank out more content during the quarantine for people to read but I’ve been having a real bad time mentally; guess it didn’t occur to me that I would be affected as well, since I work from home anyway, but the isolation and disrupted sleep patterns reacted badly with my usual depression.

    I am also dealing with a case of burnout. Even when I can focus through the brain fog enough to write, it’s been a serious chore the last few chapters. I struggled hard to get this week’s two done; they took way longer than usual and writing just doesn’t feel good anymore. I’m finding myself dreading having to do the next one. I hate how ungrateful that sounds, but brain issues are what they are, I guess.

    So, I think, regretfully, these two may be it for this week. I’ll have another go tomorrow but I don’t think I’ve got another one in me right now. This book is nearing its climax and then end; after it’s wrapped up I think I’m gonna have to take a couple weeks’ hiatus to recharge.

    Thanks for sticking with me through all this. TGAB itself is drawing to its conclusion, and I find myself really looking forward to doing something else instead.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re putting together an entire fantasy novel of significant length and releasing it as a serial. I couldn’t imagine trying to do that with a project half as big in terms of cast size, setting detail, plot and setting development. The continuity difficulties alone would make that difficult, and you’ve been doing act structure and character arcs in this stuff too.

      At this point I’m seriously curious about how you keep the details sorted.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Is it worth trying to do some more NetherStar or something else rather than forcing your self here?

      “Because we’d all hate that.” says Misaka as Misaka with a complete lack of truth.


    3. You’ve created a fine piece of work here. Don’t push yourself because you feel you ‘have to’, do it when it feels right for you.


  12. So Juniper basically just came in and put on a live action morality play for the Eserites. The Boss, who was about to act poorly towards the Purists, who probably deserved it, got put on notice by a literal force of nature outside the Guild’s control, which is how they like to present themselves. That’s basically central Eserite dogma.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is pretty notable that he’s ordering executions for women who didn’t murder someone. It looks to me like someone’s got blackmail power over Tricks. Or, maybe Justinian figured out how to hack an oracle, and handed Tricks a tainted oracle that’s leading him to his doom with accurate but dangerously incomplete intel.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Re-reading and couldn’t find anywhere to report typos in chapters whose comments are closed, so….

    In 13-52, “Teal big her lip” should be “Teal bit her lip”.

    (and please delete this comment)


  14. The thing about Eserites is that they’re very, very brave when they’re beating some poor bastard in an alley or terrorizing civilians.

    Once they run into actual opposition, like they did when they tried to bully the Falconers, they tend to tuck tail and run away while desperately trying to save face. They’re not soldiers, like Aveists, and they aren’t actual rebels fighting an oppressive government. The Thieves’ Guild is a glorified Mafia that targets people who can’t fight back.

    Juniper can fight back. Styles likes to talk about the Eserite refusal to be pushed around, but the truth is that the Eserites are jackals. Most of them are willing to kill for their beliefs, but they aren’t willing to die for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I feel like folks wondering about Tricks are missing the underlying plot here. It’s been shown that the gods can’t think badly of Justinian because of some hoodoo he’s done. It’s also shown that the Eserites have been screwing with Justinian for a while and now have no Bishop in the UC. Then we have the revelation that Toby can force Omnu to do stuff.

    Justinian was then shown to just entirely disrupt the 3 Trinity gods at once.

    So, it follows that Justinian can force Eserion to get the Eserites to do stupid stuff to further his agenda. And this is especially true right now when Justinian has every reason to retaliate against the Guild. This isn’t Tricks being an idiot, this is Justinian holding sway over Eserion.


  16. I am still committed to having at least one chapter this week, and still optimistic for two. Right now as Tuesday comes to a close it’s not looking like I’m going to hit the Wednesday deadline. I’m really sorry for these schedule upsets. The depressive phase seems to be lifting but the creative burnout is still dragging me to a crawl. What I am absolutely not doing is giving up, but I’m operating at a sad trudge at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do not worry about ‘schedule upsets’ nobody wants/asks you to rush this. We wait as long as we have to and please dont beat yourself over it. Stay safe and take care of yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

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