2 – 21

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Tazlith’s group exchanged a round of glances, Shook began creeping back to place them between himself and Tellwyrn, the three soldiers grinned in unison, McGraw very casually lowered his staff to point in the Professor’s general direction, and Principia said something in elvish that was, even to those who didn’t understand the language, unmistakeably a curse.

“I know what several of you are thinking,” Tellwyrn said, “and the answer is ‘no.’ This nonsense is at an end.”

Marks raised one of his wands. “I think we can take—”

She gestured in his direction and he vanished with an audible snap of arcane energy. In his place a small terrier reappeared at about chest height, yelping when it fell to the ground.

“What the hell?” Tazlith exclaimed. “What did you do?”

“It’s called a baleful polymorph,” Tellwyrn said serenely. “I do not like repeating myself.”

“You can’t just cast a baleful polymorph!” said Lorrie the warlock, her attempts at sententious diction gone in panic. “It takes a ritual circle, multiple spell foci, a huge power source…”

Ox cleared his throat. “That’s Professor Tellwyrn.”

“Oh,” the warlock squeaked, and fell silent, edging behind Tazlith.

“There will be no more acts of violence or general disruptive behavior,” Tellwyrn continued. “Those of you who are under arrest will go quietly with the Sheriff; the rest of you get lost back to your own business.”

“You wretched witch!” Miz Cratchley screeched, brandishing her still-smoking staff at Tellwyrn. “This is all your fault, all of it. This was a good, quiet town before you came along!”

“Except for Mabel, for whom we make allowances,” Tellwyrn said, waving a hand. With a soft pop, Miz Cratchley disappeared.

Sanders cleared his throat. “Ah, if you don’t mind my asking…”

“She’s safely at her home,” Tellwyrn said, “and that staff of hers is in your office. Not sure why I bother,” she added, giving him an exasperated look, “since I know you’re just going to give it back to her again.”

“That staff is an heirloom,” Sanders replied in the weary tone of a man who has had this conversation once too often. “Her husband carried it in the Emperor’s service. It’s also a valuable antique. She’d need to actually hurt someone with it before I can confiscate it.”

“At least have the enchantment stripped off. She’s gonna blow herself up one of these days, and then how will you feel?”

“The vintage enchantment is the better part of what makes it valuable. Damn it, Professor, some of us have to follow the laws!”

“Seems you two could use a mite of privacy,” McGraw said solicitously. “Shall we come back and finish this later?”

“Do you think you’re funny, McGraw?” Tellwyrn asked, turning to face him. She extended an arm and pointed at Rook. “The boy in the scruffy uniform there, he’s funny. You are a pain in the ass.”

“Well, to be fair,” said Rook cheerfully, “I’m also a pain in the ass.”

“With regard to our understanding, ma’am,” McGraw said politely, “I didn’t start this, and I did my very best to prevent it getting out of hand. As I’m sure you are more than aware, reasoning with high-strung youths just ain’t always feasible.”

“Do you know what Zero Twenty means, McGraw?” Tellwyrn asked mildly.

He subtly tightened his grip on his staff. “I’m afraid I do, ma’am.”

“If I may?” the mage with Tazlith said politely. He bowed when Tellwyrn turned to stare at him. “Mr. McGraw speaks truthfully. He made every effort to talk this down before someone intervened, apparently forcing one of Marks’s wands to discharge. It is, by the way, quite an honor to meet you, Professor.”

“Did they, now,” Tellwyrn said quietly. “That’s very interesting.” She shifted her eyes to look straight at Shook.

She wasn’t the only one.

“Anybody who wants to make an accusation had best have more than hearsay backing them up,” Shook said, glaring.

“Oh really? Should I?” Tellwyrn grinned savagely. “And why is that, precisely?”

“If you don’t mind, Professor,” Sanders interjected, “I would prefer to handle this. After all, a fine, upstanding member of the Thieves’ Guild like Mr. Shook here knows better than to resist arrest when he’s fairly caught. Ain’t that right, Jeremiah?”

Shook gave the Sheriff a share of his furious stare, which appeared not to faze him in the slightest.

“It’s true?” Tazlith whispered. She glanced down at Shook’s hands; he tucked them back into his sleeves, but not fast enough. “You stole her rings, too? You said we were protecting her.”

“Oh, shut up, you dimwitted sow,” he snarled. “She’d be dead twice over by now if not for me.”

“Everything was going fine until you blundered into town, dumbshit!” Principia snapped. “Now look. Good fucking job, Enforcer.”

“Yup,” Sanders said. “Looks like everybody’s coming down to the office. Boys, if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate your help a while longer.”

“You kidding?” Rook replied, still wearing a grin. “This is fantastic! Most excitement we had at our last post was when they sent us a shipment of bad beans and Moriarty had the runs for a week. Well, until that thing we can’t talk about.” He staggered, having been elbowed hard from both sides by Finchley and Moriarty.

“Shook’s getting charged,” Sanders went on grimly, then pointed at Tazlith. “Also you, missy, since I know for a fact you’re the organizer of this motley troupe. Whatever your intentions, you need to learn a thing or two about law and order, and why you don’t take them into your own little hands.” Tazlith looked absolutely stricken by the unfairness of it all; mouth hanging open, she couldn’t even formulate a response. The Sheriff continued, moving his pointing finger around at those assembled. “The rest of you… I’ll wait till I’ve heard the whole story from all participants before I decide if it’s worth charging anybody with anything. Um…and that fellow who’s now a dog…” He glanced helplessly at Tellwyrn.

“He’s fine,” she said dismissively. “He’ll revert in about an hour, none the worse for wear. You might give him some water, though. This climate is rough if you’re wearing a fur coat.”

Marks yapped furiously at her.

“And her?” Tazlith demanded shrilly, pointing at Principia. McGraw wasn’t visibly aiming a weapon at her, but the elf still held herself as still and small as possible. “Apparently she’s a thief, too!”

Sanders heaved a sigh. “Being a thief is a crime. Being a member of the Thieves’ Guild is not.”

“What?”

“The Guild is the organized cult of Eserion,” Tellwyrn explained, smiling faintly. “You can’t just outlaw the cult of a god of the Pantheon.”

“And as usual,” Sanders said in annoyance, “Prin is sitting pretty in the gray area between what I’m pretty sure she’s done and what I can prove she did. Apparently all she’s guilty of is getting threatened, stolen from, and kidnapped.”

“I would just like to say,” Principia remarked, “fuck you all. Every last one of you in particular. I’m certain you each knows exactly why.”

“Which just leaves the man of the hour, here.” Sanders turned to face McGraw directly. “Kidnapping. Threats of murder. That’s more’n a slap on the wrist.”

“With the greatest possible respect, Sheriff, you are something of a redundancy here,” McGraw said politely, then tipped his hat in Tellwyrn’s direction. “Professor, I’d take it as a kindness if you could suss out just where we stand. Makes quite the difference with regard to what I do next.”

She shrugged. “If you didn’t cause the trouble, you didn’t cause the trouble. You start messing with the Sheriff and matters will be different, but if all the harm you’ve done is to Principia… Well, I did specifically exempt that from any promises of retribution, didn’t I?”

“Wait,” Prin said, stiffening. “You fucking what?”

“I told him I didn’t care what he did to you,” Tellwyrn replied, grinning nastily. “Are you surprised? Offended? Do you think that’s in any way unfair? Grow up already, Prin.”

“Oh, you absolute unutterable bitch!”

“My, my, gendered insults between women. And in public, no less! What would Trissiny think, I wonder?”

Principia fell silent, but her face went scarlet with rage.

“On the subject of gray areas,” Sanders said, “out here on the frontier I sometimes have to make a decision between observing the letter of the law and keeping the general peace. If the good Professor doesn’t care to step in, and considering I don’t fancy havin’ a shoot-out with you in particular… And since I’m also not excessively perturbed by crimes committed exclusively against Miss Locke, here, I might be amenable to lettin’ all this go.”

“You fucking WHAT?” Principia screamed.

“I always appreciate reasonable exceptions to silly laws,” McGraw said mildly, stepping around from behind the apoplectic elf. He held his arms wide, grinning disarmingly. “Course, I’m honor-bound to point out that if you did choose to make an issue of this, and I did defend myself, well… I’m pretty sure that’d cross the line drawn by the esteemed Professor, here. Might be small consolation for having half of Last Rock leveled, but you could go down in history as the man who helped bring down Longshot McGraw.”

Sanders strode forward, straight at him. McGraw didn’t back down by so much as an step, and the Sheriff didn’t pause until his nose was a bare inch from the other man’s. He kept his voice low, but in the sudden stillness, the mild wind of the prairie wasn’t enough to prevent his words from being clearly heard by everyone present.

“Get the hell out of my town, McGraw.”

They locked gazes for a long moment, utterly still. Then Longshot McGraw very deliberately stepped backward, nodding politely.

“Fair enough, Sheriff. D’you mind awfully if I loiter on the platform, there, till the next caravan arrives? It’s a long stretch of nothin’ between here and…well, anything at all. You get to be my age, and the thought of hiking through the prairie for weeks just ain’t as exciting as it once was.”

Sanders held his gaze for another long moment, then turned away. “Ox, me an’ the boys’ll take this lot down to the jail. Kindly stay here and make sure Mr. McGraw gets safely on the Rails. He so much as sneezes, blast him.”

“Sheriff,” Ox said, nodding grimly.

“Feh,” Tellwyrn said, making a dismissive gesture with one hand. “Half the morning, wasted. If I have to come deal with this again, everybody dies.” She vanished with a quiet pop of air rushing in to fill the space she had occupied.

“Least one good turn came outta this,” Sanders remarked loudly to Finchley as he and the soldiers began herding Shook and the adventurers down the street at wand point. “Membership in the Thieves’ Guild isn’t a crime, but it does constitute probable cause. So much as a butter knife goes missing in this town from here on an’ I get to search Prin’s rooms as a matter of course. Should make several things easier.”

“Well,” McGraw said ruefully, “this’ll be a blot on the record, I suppose. Guess I’ll have to go give back some money, soon as I get to Tiraas.” Turning to Principia, he tipped his hat politely. “Ma’am.”

She watched him stroll over to the Rail platform and lounge against one of the pillars holding up the awning there, taking out a cigarillo and lighting it with his staff.

For a heartbeat, all was quiet.

Then Principia Locke threw back her head and let out a long, wordless scream.


 

Admestus Rafe swam slowly up through the most delicious dreams. As reality began to coalesce around him, he found it just as agreeable, full of splendid warmth and softness. He opened his eyes, finally, just as gentle lips were withdrawn from his own. For a second, all he was conscious of were the big brown eyes inches from his, and the warm, curvy weight resting across his body.

“Hey, it worked!” Juniper said cheerfully.

“Waugh!” Suddenly lucid, Rafe scrambled backward in panic, throwing her off. “No! Bad! Student! Arachne will eat my liver!”

“Mornin’, sunshine!” Ruda said cheerfully from just above him.

He paused to take stock. They were in a covered wagon, trundling along; to judge by the light filtering through the openings, it was early afternoon. Fross flittered around the interior, Ruda sat on the driver’s seat just behind his head, Juniper was…well, right there. Toby and Shaeine were still laid out, unconscious.

“I wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it,” Juniper said, then yawned hugely. “I mean, basic healing, yeah, but drugs are so much more…complicated. But apparently I can sorta…take it on myself? Sort of. Not, like, the drug, but some of the…badness of it?”

“You can suck drugs out of people?” Fross chimed. “Neat!”

Ruda cackled. “Word around campus is she can suck the enchantment off a battlestaff.”

Juniper yawned again. “It’s not easy, though. Been a rough day… I’m gonna…” She listed over onto one side and curled up, asleep before she finished her sentence. For the first time Rafe realized there was a large hole in the side of her dress, its edges burned black, and the flesh underneath it appeared to be covered in some kind of bark.

“What happened to her?” he asked.

“She got shot,” said Ruda.

Rafe bit back a curse. “Oh…hell. Who’s dead?”

“Just the fuckers that did it. All’s well that ends well an’ all that shit.”

“Whew… I guess Naiya was in an uncharacteristically reasonable mood. Last time I heard about somebody shooting a dryad, it was killer bees and wasps from one horizon to the other.”

“Let me get you caught up,” the pirate went on, still in that cheery tone. “The nice people who gave us dinner drugged us with magic cornbread. It was damn good cornbread, almost worth the drugs. Beans baked right in and a cinnamon glaze, I gotta remember that… Anyway, they were gonna steal our shit, dose us with memory-altering magic and leave us somewhere. Except Fross, who was being made into a lamp.”

“Excuse me, I’m an arcane sciences major! That bottle was only warded against fae magic. I would’ve gotten out eventually.”

“Yeah, but not before the rest of us were goners. I still saved all our asses.”

“That’s right, you did!” She buzzed down to hover in front of Rafe’s face. “She did! Ruda’s very smart.”

“Also good-looking and a goddamn terror in a fight,” Ruda said merrily. “So yeah, yadda yadda, yadda, they knocked us out, I’m awesome, and now here we are and I get to make fun of you, Professor Big Heap Alchemist, for getting drugged by cornbread.”

“I beg your pardon,” he said stiffly, “but I’m a genius, not a deity. Do you know how many tasteless, odorless and basically undetectable compounds can be cooked into food to knock people out? No, you don’t, and neither do I, because that’s just about the simplest thing there is to do.”

“Oh, please,” she said, grinning over her shoulder at him. “’Bella, get the special cornbread.’ They might as well have been twirling their fucking mustaches. Honestly, how the hell any of you so much as buy breakfast without getting swindled outta your goddamn pants is beyond me.”

“You ate it too,” he said irritably, getting up. It wasn’t easy with the lurching progress of the wagon, but he needed to check on Toby and Shaeine.

“I was hungry, and I don’t get drugged. Just one of the many benefits of being Punaji. It’s pretty much all benefits, for the record.”

“And how did you know they weren’t going to just feed us poison, if you’re so smart?”

“It’s called tactics, chucklenuts. Trissiny might be the military expert, but when it comes to knocking people down an’ taking their shit, we’re in my territory. They had staves, see? Practically pointed at us. If I’d made a stink about the cornbread, they’d’ve just shot us. Contrariwise, the fact they didn’t indicated they didn’t want us dead. So I played along until an opportunity came up to turn the tables. Which, inevitably, it did, and here we are. You’re fucking welcome, by the way.”

“What, you want a medal? I’ll see to it Tellwyrn passes you for the exercise, anyway.”

“Eh, that’ll do for a start,” she said airily. “I expect everyone to go on at length about the glory that is me, by the way.”

“You savor that, kiddo,” he said, grinning. “Now you have a taste of what it’s like to be Professor Rafe every day!”

Ruda’s smile faded; she glanced back again. Rafe was bent over Toby, holding a small vial under his nose.

“Ooh, is that smelling salts?” Fross asked, fluttering close. “Will that wake him up?”

“No, no, I don’t want to just pump drugs into them without knowing what we’re dealing with. I’m just working out what they got dosed with. Then I can apply the right counter-agent without risking a bad interaction. Actually, could you fly a little closer? I need to watch how this changes color and you’re the only light in here.”

“So,” said Ruda, turning back to face forward again. “What’s with you, anyway?”

“Me?” Fross asked.

“No, him.”

“Nothing’s with me,” Rafe replied, showing signs of his old bluster returning. “Merely the extravagant and vigorous splendor that is my stock in trade!”

“Cut the bullshit. You spent most of last night practically silent. Well, talking about like a normal person does, which for you is practically silent. Then you got your ass drugged, and you can make excuses all you want but we both know that’s a sign you fucked up. I bet you’d have seen the trap coming if you’d been paying attention. So, spill.”

They were quiet for a minute while he fiddled with his reagents. Fross buzzed around as if uncertain where she wanted to hover. Ruda didn’t prompt him again, and had just about decided he wasn’t going to answer when he finally did.

“We’ve lost students before, of course. C’mon, the kind of people Arachne recruits? You little bastards are one of the better-behaved years I’ve seen in a while. You just don’t throw the Empire’s most powerful weirdos onto a campus together and then send them out against real-world threats three times a semester without having fatalities. But… I’ve never lost someone before. Having a student I alone was personally responsible for get…” He broke off, stuffed a vial back into his belt pouch and took out another one, not looking at her or Fross. “It’s…something to deal with.”

Ruda nodded slowly. “I think I get you. Man… I didn’t even like her. But she was part of my crew, and…now we don’t even know if she’s gone or not. I’m still wondering if there’s even anything I need to deal with, never mind how the fuck I’m actually going to deal.”

“Yeah.”

“So, get the fuck over it.”

He twisted around to scowl at her. “Excuse me? Real sensitive, Punaji.”

Ruda kept her face forward toward the horizon, but spoke loudly enough to be clearly heard. “That’s what leadership means: everything is your fucking fault, and you don’t get to whine about it. You just keep at it and do the job. Instead, you got into your little funk and walked all our asses right into a trap.”

“If you’ll recall,” he said pointedly, “Professor Tellwyrn reminded everyone that I’m along on this little shindig in an observational capacity. I’m not the one giving orders.”

“Bullshit. That went over the side when you shouted Trissiny down for doing her fucking job and giving us advice on dealing with the centaurs. Which, by the fucking way, was good fucking advice and we probably wouldn’t be in all this shit if we’d just followed it. You took the job, so do the job.”

He scowled and turned back toward Toby, gently lifting the boy’s head and tipping a vial of thick fluid into his mouth. Seconds later, Toby coughed weakly, his eyelids beginning to flutter.

“Well, too late now,” Ruda said lightly. “No sign of the mountain yet, but the kidnapping assholes thought they were gonna get to the edge of the Sea by the end of today. Fuck if I know, I’m just figuring they understood how this place works.”

Rafe had no answer for her. He simply occupied himself tending to the others.


 

The mountain at Last Rock cast a long shadow. Unlike its sudden vanishing when they had first headed out into the Golden Sea, it appeared in a geographically normal fashion upon their return, giving the students hours to prepare themselves for their homecoming. It was hours spent mostly in conversation; even after everyone had been fully brought up to date on events, they found comfort—even Shaeine—in just talking.

Consequently, it was a tired and quiet group who drew their captured wagon to a stop at the foot of the mountain.

Professor Tellwyrn stood alone, waiting for them.

Toby had been handling the oxen; Ruda didn’t actually know anything about steering them, and had simply been sitting up front for the view, Juniper having given the beasts their instructions. He took time to stop and pat both animals as the others filed down from the wagon, Juniper still yawning and rubbing her eyes.

“Well?” Tellwyrn said simply when they had finally assembled in front of her.

“Teal,” Shaeine said, “and Gabriel?”

“Are fine. In their respective rooms, as far as I know, worrying about you lot.”

“We scored us a free wagon, and a small fortune in gemstones,” Ruda said.

“Actually, not such a small fortune,” Shaeine corrected.

“Whatever. It’s our plunder, won fair and square. The two demony types get a cut, too. Everybody, otherwise I wouldn’t feel right takin’ my share. And nobody who has any sense better come between a pirate and her booty.” She glared over at the others.

“Miss Punaji,” Tellwyrn said wearily, “three of your classmates—including you—are heirs to massive fortunes and don’t need gems. Two are paladins who have no attachment to worldly wealth, and two are fae who don’t even participate in the economy.”

“Everybody gets a share,” Ruda repeated stubbornly. “Sell ’em, donate ’em, chuck ’em down a well, fuck if I care.”

“Right. Anything else you’d like to report?”

“Professor,” Toby said quietly. “We…lost Trissiny.”

“Really,” she said dryly. “Have you checked your pockets?”

There was a moment of stunned silence before Ruda responded. “Is that a fucking joke to you?!”

“Pretty much,” Tellwyrn replied glibly. “I assure you, Trissiny’s fine and will be along presently.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Toby demanded.

“I keep forgetting you kids grew up in an era without paladins. Have you heard about the Stand at Stavulheim?”

“One Imperial legion held the city gates, alone, against an army of orcs for three days,” Shaeine replied. “Though the relevance of it to this situation escapes me.”

“The relevance is that that is the sanitized, politicized version taught by Imperial historians. I was around then, and I can hardly blame them for changing it up, as the truth is a lot less believable. It was two Hands of Avei who did that. Two. Against two thousand. And you think Trissiny was felled by a handful of centaurs? Please.

“Quite apart from that,” she went on, raising her voice over the comments that arose, “I am far from Avei’s favorite person; I assure you, if her brand new Hand had just gotten killed on one of my training exercises, we would be hearing about it. Also, she’s right behind you.”

They spun, Toby so quickly he nearly overbalanced, to look back at the Sea. Nobody was there.

“Are you just fucking with us now?” Ruda snarled, whirling back to glare at her, one hand falling to the hilt of her sword.

“A little,” Tellwyrn said with a smile. “’Right’ behind you may have been overstating it, but yes, she’s on her way, and making much better time than you did. Should be here in minutes. Trust me, you don’t argue with elven eyes.”

“You wear glasses!” Ruda shouted.

“Meanwhile,” Tellwyrn went on in a more grim tone, “we can discuss your performance, or lamentable lack thereof. To review: Upon being accosted by centaurs, your first move was to send your two most durable combatants away, hopelessly splitting your group and depriving the rest of their best defenders.”

“The centaurs’ war drums—”

“Miss Awarrion, do not interrupt me when I am chastising you. Then, you set out on a long, exhausting fighting retreat, with the inevitable result that your next most durable member—and also your best remaining counter to your opponents’ infernal magic—collapsed from fatigue. Honestly, how could you possibly have thought a tree nymph would fare well on a cross-country run? And finally, you apparently sacrificed your last magically-endowed fighter to the horde while the rest of you went blundering away to…” She trailed off, running her eyes over the wagon and oxen. “…all right, I have to admit I’m baffled how you got to a wagon full of plunder from fleeing for your lives from centaurs. It promises to be a good story, though. Probably not enough to redeem your grade for the exercise, but something.”

“Then how,” Shaeine asked quietly, “did you know we lost Trissiny to the centaurs?”

Tellwyrn tilted her head forward to stare them down over the rims of her spectacles. “Because, despite the fact that I specifically told you to follow Trissiny’s advice on combat matters, I know she didn’t tell you to enact this utterly hambrained plot. Which means you weren’t listening to her. You know what a paladin does when the idiot civilians she’s trying to protect refuse to see reason? She puts herself between them and whatever is out to get them. Ergo, here you are, sans paladin, and plus plunder. I doubt she’d have let you loot the corpses of whoever else you killed, either. Hello, Trissiny.”

They whirled around again; this time, Toby did overbalance, landing on his rump in the grass and staring up at the spectacle approaching them.

It was as if they’d appeared out of a fold in the ground—which was probably close to the literal truth, the Golden Sea being what it was. The horse was absolutely massive, an enormous, barrel-chested draft horse with a thick arched neck, blunt nose and feathered hooves the size of dinner plates. He wore silver armor over his neck, face and rump, and the golden eagle sigil of Avei was worked into his breast collar. Sitting in the saddle, dwarfed by the huge horse despite her height, was Trissiny. She was covered in grime and dried blood, but appeared as alert and unharmed as when they’d last seen her.

“Professor,” she said, nodding as she guided the steed to a halt next to them. For all his size, his hoofsteps were eerily quiet. “Is everyone all right? I passed these travelers’ other wagon a while back, and their bodies. It looked like they were eaten by wild animals.”

“No, that was me,” Juniper said brightly. “Hi, Triss! I’m glad you’re okay!”

“Hi,” the paladin said slowly. “…and you did that because…?”

“Oh, they drugged everybody and captured Fross and were going to rob and abandon us. And then they shot me.”

“Ah.” Trissiny nodded. “Very well, then. I’m just glad you all made it.”

“We made it?” Ruda said, gaping at her. “You’re glad we made it?! We—you were—we left you… How did… WHY THE FUCK DO YOU HAVE A HORSE?”

“Paladins get mounts,” Tellwryn said serenely. “Avei usually doesn’t bequeath one until the Hand in question has proven herself in actual combat. I guess the centaurs were an adequate test.”

“Less trouble than I expected, honestly,” Trissiny said. “Once I killed their leader, the rest scattered.”

“Yes, for all their size and ferocity, they really aren’t militarily impressive. Which makes it all the sadder that you lot got yourselves routed by them. Honestly, if anybody important had been along to see that, it would go down in the annals of tactical incompetence. I can’t believe you let them do this,” she added directly to Trissiny.

The paladin raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so they have to listen to me, now? Splendid. I want everyone assembled on the main lawn at six AM for drill.”

“You joke,” Tellwyrn said grimly, “but after this debacle I’m half-tempted to authorize that.”

“You got,” Ruda said slowly, as though trying to convince herself of it, “a fucking horse.”

“His name’s Arjen,” Tellwyrn said helpfully.

“How do you know that?” Trissiny demanded.

“There’s a limited number of celestial steeds in Avei’s stable,” the Professor said cheerfully. “These creatures are truly immortal, not merely ageless like elves. If killed on this plane, they just return to their divine point of origin, ready to be summoned again. This fellow has served the Hands of Avei for millennia. We’ve met before,” she added, raising a hand as if to pat Arjen’s nose. He snorted disdainfully and twisted his head away. “See?” she said wryly.

“Arjen, is it,” Trissiny murmured, leaning forward to pat his neck. He whickered softly.

“You know what?” Ruda said flatly. “I fucking hate you.”

Trissiny sat bolt upright in her saddle, gaping at her in shock. “What?”

“Can you just for once not try to fucking show me up?” She clawed a bottle out of her coat and took a long swig. “But,” she added, wiping her mouth on her sleeve, “I’m really glad you’re not dead.”

Trissiny stared at her, open-mouthed, unable to formulate a reply.

“All right, it’s been great adventuring with you lot, but I’ve had enough,” said the pirate. “Tellwyrn can tell us all how much we suck another time, I’m done with this horseshit. Anybody needs me, too fucking bad. I’m gonna be in town, and I will not be back till I’ve drunk my weight in the dilute pisswater that passes for beer around here and screwed at least three local boys. Concurrently if I can find enough of these hicks without too many goddamn hangups. Have a good fucking night, all.”

Still drinking from her bottle, she stomped off in the direction of Last Rock.

“Don’t get pregnant!” Tellwyrn called after her.

“Fuck you!”

“So!” Rafe said brightly. “How’ve things been back here?”

“Eh.” Tellwyrn waved a hand dismissively. “Nothing ever happens in this town.”

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20 thoughts on “2 – 21

  1. If you support Ruda gently pillaging the town, vote for The Gods are Bastards!

    So about halfway through the instance, the group completely wipes on trash mobs. Two MDPS drop party and the mage gets separated, then the druid goes OOM and gets KO’d while trying to run away. The pally (a retadin in prot gear for some damn reason) runs off to solo a rare to ninja loot the mount drop, the rest of the party wipes again on more trash before they finally score a little loot and run out. Then the rogue ragequits when the GL chews them out.

    What a buncha noobs.

    (If you understood none of that, don’t worry–you’re probably better off.)

    Just a reminder, 40 votes on topwebfiction.com gets you a bonus chapter!

    One more chapter of wrap-up for book 2. Which is perfect; there’s something satisfying about ending on a Friday.

    See you then!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this was the funniest chapter so far. I grinned and snickered through the first part especially – I hope writing it was at least as much fun. In the mid- to long-term, McGraw may have fulfilled his contract after all. With the “intervention” of a sorts put on Principia and the continued intensified attention of the local sheriff, Last Rock is going to get quite uncomfortable for her. I especially like how you have mixed practical law and practical politics – you can’t outlaw a cult of the pantheon, but a known thieves’ guild membership constitutes probably cause.

    And the award for least sensitive goes to Arachne, but she’s had a lock on that title for what looks like a long time now.

    And I don’t do MMORPGs but I got about half that and the web filled in the rest.

    I look forward to the other wrap-up.

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    1. I like her also – she is very much a personable rogue. And her feelings for Trissany (relative? best guess: grand^x daughter) seem real. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve at least some of what happened.

      From the standpoint of story writing, we have been told she has been so much of a pain in the a** that she has pissed of multiple people and power blocks. But the only person we have really seen her piss off is Shook, and he had most of it coming. So the readers have seen her as a real person who didn’t do anything really bad so they are sympathetic, while the in-story characters think differently.

      Normally, the advice is “don’t tell, show” for writers developing characters but in this case there are so many characters that that philosophy would end up with the story becoming unmanageably large. Unless, of course, a disparity between reader and in-story reactions is what DDW is aiming for, in which case, spot-on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Prin is indeed personable, and meant to be sympathetic, which is far from the same thing as “good.” I’ll be very interested to see if anyone still likes her after the next book when you all find out what she did to piss off Tellwyrn.

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  3. I just had a thought that is only relevant to the current chapter (Arachne’s rant brought it up), but I am posting it here for immediacy’s sake.

    Arachne seriously needs to take the advice she gave Gabe. Who would raise a stink if someone harmed her?
    —The empire would be extremely relieved.
    —The gods whose reactions we know about would probably be relieved also.
    —Same for the cults whose reactions we know about.
    —Most of the current students dislike her. If her primary “teaching” tool is cutting criticism, most of the former ones probably do also.
    —The teachers would be upset, but they have other duties and don’t strike me as the vindictive type.
    —Demons would cheer. Elilial? Who knows?

    So Arachne has set herself up to fail in a similar way to what she criticized Gabe for. Gabe has some excuse for not having a few powerful friends since he is 18. Miss 3000 (?) had plenty of time to develop (befriend, train, or create) powerful friends but has apparently spent most of the time interfering in others’ affairs so bluntly that she hasn’t made friends. And part of that problem is that she has almost no-one to call her on her own bullsh**. Yornhaldt is the only person we have seen do it so far and even he can’t really restrain her if she chooses not to listen to him.

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    1. Tellwyrn has reasons for acting the way she does. They aren’t necessarily good reasons, but they make a certain amount of sense. And there are reasons she’s allowed to get away with it beyond the fact that she’s too powerful for most people to challenge.

      All that exposition is slated for farther along. In the meantime, she must simply be endured.

      Like

  4. I laughed, I cryed, I laughed so much i had a coughing fit and shit my pants.

    I kid, i kid. But yeah, this was awesome. The horse pulling away from her was the best.

    But seriously, you owe me new pants.

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  5. Hindsight is 20/20. If a fight was inevitable, then Tris’ plan to meet them with the whole party in the canyon was ideal. If a fight was avoidable, which it very nearly was, then Rafe’s plan was the safest. Yes it turned out bad but I don’t think anyone can point back and say it was wrong.

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  6. This was a really enjoyable and funny chapter. Absolutely loved Trissiny riding in on a horse, I can clearly imagine the looks on there faces.

    I really like Principia but her getting ignored and no one cooperating with her is funny as he’ll. I really feel sorry for her at the end there😦

    Glad mc graw got away. I like gentlemen villains. Especially when he was closer to neutral than evil

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  7. I nearly spat up what i was drinking when i read Rafe’s reaction to being healed/kissed by juniper. It was great and i feel like the threat of tellwyrn eating his liver for being intimate with a student is not something he came up with🙂

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  8. Doing a fresh re-read, and i have to agree with the comments here: great chapter! Everyone ragging on Prin just got funnier and funnier, even moreso with knowledge of later happenings.😄

    Lost it at sucking the enchantment off a battlestaff.

    Like

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