8 – 16

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Toby opened his eyes slowly, beholding the relative calm of the afternoon on the campus lawn. As usual, he’d been left alone to meditate. He liked doing so outdoors, under the sun, and over the last year the other students had learned to leave him be.

It usually brought him more calm.

With a sigh he stood up from his seat beneath the oak tree, the same one Professor Ezzaniel had ordered Gabriel to punch almost exactly a year ago. They had all been new to the campus and its peculiar rules and customs, all out of place, nervous, tense… Which was preferable to how he felt now.

“Funny, that looked like it should have been more relaxing. Something on your mind?”

Toby actually jumped very slightly at being addressed, but immediately mastered himself, turning to study the speaker.

He was an elf, and seemed familiar, though Toby could not recall having met him. The elves on campus were a mixed lot; this one had upright ears, marking him a wood elf, and wore Tiraan-style shirt and trousers with sturdy boots.

“Oh, just…this and that,” he said evasively, trying to clear the frown from his expression. “I’m sorry, I could swear I’ve seen you before but I can’t recall your name now.”

“You saw me briefly,” the elf said with a grin, stepping forward and extending his hand. “I was with a few of the other freshmen, coming from class.”

“Oh! That’s right!” Toby grasped his hand in return, smiling. “And now I remember, you were pulled away before we could speak. Another wood elf…a friend of yours?”

He winced. “Ah. Well. Addiwyn seemed to latch onto the idea that since we are both of the same race, and both somewhat ostracized from our kin, we should be the best of friends and perhaps more. Unfortunately, I do believe that girl is the single most unpleasant person I have ever met.”

“Ouch,” Toby said, grimacing sympathetically.

His new acquaintance grinned, a slightly lopsided expression that promised mischief. “I’m Raolo. Glad to know you.”

“Toby, and likewise.”

“But of course, you are the great and inimitable Tobias Caine!”

Now it was his turn to wince. “Ah, well… I think ‘great’ is really pushing it.”

“Well, how many paladins are there in the world, after all? Wait, don’t answer that, I know this one.” Raolo grinned. “Three. There are exactly three.”

“Yes, but I’m the most senior by at least two weeks,” he said solemnly. “That makes me the most boring.”

Raolo laughed brightly. “Well, I can’t argue with that logic. Guess I’ll just have to make do with you until I can work my way up to a more interesting paladin. If you’re so dull, though, why so gloomy? It takes some imagination to really suffer, I think.”

“That’s…oddly profound,” Toby mused.

“Something one of the Elders used to say. Which means, I suppose, I really ought to leave it back in the grove…” For a moment, Raolo frowned himself, glancing aside. “New place, new rules, and all that.”

“It’s certainly been an adjustment, getting my bearings in this place,” Toby said, glancing around the lawn. “It doesn’t help that Professor Tellwyrn’s idea of education is to keep everyone as off-kilter and nervous as possible at all times.”

“Should I be frightened?” the elf asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes,” Toby nodded solemnly. “Yes, you should. For what it’s worth, she makes a pretty solid effort not to get anybody killed.”

“Well…damn.”

“I have to admit I find myself nostalgic for the peace and quiet of the monastery on a regular basis.”

A shadow passed over Raolo’s face. “Ah, well… I don’t really have that problem. Getting almost killed should at least let me practice my skills a bit. Uh, forget a said that.” He grimaced, glancing away. “I seem to keep dragging up my problems in every conversation since I got here. You don’t need to hear about it.”

Toby shrugged, keeping his expression open and calm. “I don’t need to, no, and you certainly have no obligation to tell anybody your business. But if you keep finding yourself doing so, maybe it’s a sign you want to talk about it?”

Raolo looked uncomfortable. “Well…no shit. I mean… Dang, I’m sorry, that came out a lot harsher than I intended. Never mind, it’s just that I’m trying to find my footing here without making a pest of myself.”

“Admirable,” Toby said, nodding. “I’ll tell you what, though; as the Hand of a peacemaking god, there’s not much that’s more central to my calling than listening to other people’s problems. You ever feel the need to unburden yourself, look me up.”

At that, a slightly amused expression flitted across the elf’s face. “Do you offer therapy to everyone you meet?”

“…huh,” Toby said after a moment spent staring into space. “You know, now that you mention it, I more or less do. Wow, that must be kind of annoying for people, right?”

Raolo laughed again. “Well, it’s one way to make friends. How’s it work for you?”

“Eh… Well, you remember Ruda?”

“Ah, yes, the Punaji princess! Don’t tell me, let me guess. She punched you.”

Toby valiantly tried to repress a grin. “In my defense, not for that.”


 

There came a short, sharp rap on the door, and then it swung inward and Afritia leaned into the room, wearing a slight frown.

“Maureen,” she said, “could you come here for a moment, please?”

“Sure!” Maureen set aside her textbook and hopped down from her bed. “What’s up?”

“Follow me,” Afritia replied, ducking back out. The gnome trundled after her without further comment. Szith, Iris, and Ravana exchanged a look, then rose in unison and followed them.

The cause of the house mother’s concern was apparent as soon as they stepped into the stairwell, from the broken fragments of metal lying on the stone floor, though the frame of steel pipes comprising Maureen’s package-delivering apparatus remained intact and secured to the bannister down here. The gnome heaved a small sigh, but said nothing, following Afritia up the stairs. The house mother glanced back at them, her lips twisting wryly at the sight of the rest of the dorm trailing along behind, but did not rebuke them.

At the top, the damage was much more severe. A whole segment of the framework was in shambles, all but severed and ripped free of its moorings, pipes twisted and broken in a few places. Oddly enough, the bell rope connecting the door to their room had been left untouched.

The entire area was splattered with purple ink. It made a couple of sprays on the stone wall and practically soaked the stairs themselves. A few purple footprints were visible heading down, but they trailed off after several steps.

“When I said you could build this,” Afritia said archly, “it honestly didn’t occur to me to stipulate that it should not be filled with paint and explosives.”

“There were no explosives!” Maureen exclaimed. “C’mon, what would be th‘point o’ that? I’m not an idiot!”

Afritia shook her head. “Look at this, Maureen. Whatever this stuff is, it didn’t just leak out. It’s sprayed everywhere. What part of a simple metal framework should have had any components that would do this? And for that matter, what is this stuff, and why was it necessary?”

Maureen cleared her throat and shuffled her feet slightly. “It, ah, wasn’t strictly necessary for the function of the device, ma’am.”

Afritia raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a simple alchemical dye,” Ravana said smoothly. “Professor Rafe provided it. He also gave us a solvent which will remove it from any surface without causing further damage.”

The house mother grimaced. “Rafe. I should have known. How, exactly, did you convince him to give you this stuff? I’m fairly certain that whatever this is, it belongs on the list of substances students aren’t to be issued outside of class.”

Ravana smiled. “We told him it was for a prank. He handed over several bottles, and gave us extra credit in both of his classes.”

“That imbecile,” Afritia growled, rolling her eyes.

“An’ there were no explosives, see?” Maureen said, holding up a broken piece of pipe. The interior was entirely stained purple. “The innards, ‘ere, were just pressurized. Break ’em open an’ the ink sprays out. Simple. Just takes a li’l equipment an’ some extra elbow grease! Nothin’ dangerous.”

Szith took the pipe from her and held it up to the light. “This was severed with a bladed implement. An axe, I believe—see how this side is heavily dented, right at the cut? It was struck with significant force.” She turned slowly, pointing. “Considering how quickly this dries, whoever left those footprints was obviously here right when the spray occurred. And look at this spray pattern on the wall. It’s a single, wide splatter, with an interruption in the middle. Considering the positioning involved, I would say that break is perfectly sized to have been a person standing right in the spray.”

“Just as a point of edification,” Ravana said sweetly, “Professor Rafe assured us this dye would adhere to skin and hair as perfectly as anything else. We’ll just go get the solvent and get to work cleaning this up, shall we?”

Afritia stared at them in silence for a long moment, then looked away to the side, not quite succeeding in suppressing a smile. “Yes…you do that, girls. And later, if you’re asked, you be sure to tell Professor Tellwyrn I lectured you in a very stern voice about pranks and vigilantism in general. For now, excuse me.”

She didn’t turn to look as they all followed her back down the stairs. Afritia walked more quickly this time, heading straight into their room and toward the extra door at the back. The others clustered around Ravana’s bed as she opened her trunk and began extracting and handing out vials of an effervescent transparent liquid, but none made any pretense they were not watching the house mother.

Afritia rapped sharply on the door. “Addiwyn, come out here, please.”

“I’m not feeling well,” came a muffled voice from within. “Can this wait till later?”

Iris grinned with savage glee.

“Now.”

“I said I don’t feel well.” Addiwyn’s petulance was audible even through the wood.

“Young lady, I am offering you a chance to grasp at some dignity which I suspect will be sorely needed. If you are not out here in a count of five I will come in and get you.”

There came a muted thump, then a moment of silence, then finally the door opened a crack.

Afritia grabbed the knob and pushed it all the way inward. Addiwyn skittered back, but not in time to conceal the purple streak splashed across her face and soaked into her golden hair. She had at least changed her clothes; only her person was marked.

“Addy, honey, you don’t look so good,” Iris said, still grinning. The elf gave her a murderous stare.

“Oh, yes, laugh it up,” she sneered. “I’m sure it’s great fun to booby-trap the stairwell. It would serve you right if it was a visiting professor caught in your little trap—”

“That’s bollocks and you know it!” Maureen shouted, brandishing the broken length of pipe, which she had retrieved from Szith. “Look at this! Look at it! The purple stuff was fully contained inside—nobody would ever have known it was there unless somebody deliberately took an axe to the thing!”

“Well, that’s interesting,” Addiwyn said, folding her arms. Her smirk looked purely ridiculous with half her face painted purple. “You know your accent completely vanishes when you’re angry?”

“Enough,” Afritia said quietly. “Girls, you have cleaning up to do. Save some of that solvent for her to use later. You, miss, will come with me.”

“Oh, great,” Addiwyn sneered. “Another very fascinating conversation. Can I bring a book this time?”

“You’ll find I have limited patience for wasting my time on hopeless causes,” Afritia said flatly. “You declined to listen to me, so now you get to have a talk with Professor Tellwyrn.”


 

“So, no, attending the University isn’t exactly a point of pride in the grove,” Raolo said, leaning against the stone balustrade separating them from the one-story drop to the lower terrace. “Not in any grove, I would imagine. In mine, at least, it’s not exactly a mark of shame, but heck… That would be pretty redundant in my case, anyway.”

“Wow,” Toby said, leaning beside him. “That sounds… Well, honestly, rather hard to believe. It sounds like you’re quite good at magic.”

“I may have exaggerated my gift a little bit,” the elf confessed, grinning at him. “I’m very egotistical, I’m told. But, well, it’s the wrong kind of magic. Tradition is a huge concern to elves, considering most of our communities have people still alive who remember why the traditions were founded.” He idly held out one hand, palm up, and produced a small cloud of blue sparks, which began to dance in intricate patterns in the air.

“I don’t want to tread on any sensitive cultural taboos or anything,” Toby said with a frown, “but I have to ask… Why are elves so opposed to the arcane? I think Professor Tellwyrn is the only other elven mage I’ve even heard of, and I’ve seen hints that other elves don’t think terribly highly of her, either.”

“It’s because it’s too easy,” Raolo said, closing his fist and cutting off the display of sparks. He straightened up and turned to Toby. “This is another thing we don’t like to discuss with humans, but the hell with it. Do you know anything of how elvish metabolism works?”

“I didn’t realize it works any differently than ours,” Toby admitted.

Raolo grinned. “We don’t process energy with our squishy internal bits like you do—it’s all in the aura. Everything we take in, food, sunlight, air, every source of energy, goes right to the aura. Elves don’t generally eat with any regularity; we tend to have large quantities at wide intervals. In fact, an elf with a highly charged aura can hold their breath basically forever. Don’t need air when we can recharge the blood straight from our personal energy stock.”

Toby blinked. “Wow.”

“So, related to that, we have a much higher capacity for storing energy than other intelligent races. Shamanism, now, is all about connection. You grow in power as a shaman by forming relationships with fairies, gathering totems and objects of power…all paths that root you in the world. It’s all very much in line with the elven perspective on our role in nature. The arcane, though… You gain power in the arcane by increasing your capacity to store power. Elves start out with a large advantage, there. Almost any elf has the arcane storage capacity of a professional wizard, even if they don’t know how to use such power should they try to gather it.” He shrugged.

“Why don’t the drow have mages, then?” Toby asked curiously. “I can’t see them turning down a source of power, but I’ve never actually heard of a drow wizard.”

“That’s just their genetic peculiarity,” Raolo said, “like how dwarves can use divine magic on their own, but no other races can, or how gnomes are the only sentient race that can’t interbreed with the others. Who knows why? Drow just don’t generally have the ability to grasp the arcane. Actually a few do, a handful every generation. I understand they’re basically treated like royalty down there.”

“I’ll bet,” Toby mused.

“There are old legends—old even as we reckon time—about the first origins of the arcane and why it shouldn’t be messed with, but that aside, it’s seen as cheating. As laziness, selfishness, and hunger for power. You start dabbling in the arcane, and you’ve basically declared your intention to go tauhanwe, at the very least.”

“But you did,” Toby said quietly.

Raolo sighed. “It’s just that… I’m good at it. It feels as natural, to me, as breathing. It’s a part of who I am. After growing up with lectures on the nature of being, I just can’t see how it’s fair to expect me not to be who and what I am. Y’know?”

“I think I do,” he said, nodding slowly.

The elf grinned again, his dour expression of a moment ago evaporating in an instant. “Well! I bet you’re good at empathizing with other people’s problems, after all. You are clearly a people-pleaser.”

“Now, what makes you think that?” Toby asked, amused. “Almost the whole time we’ve been talking, we talked about you.”

“And that is why,” Raolo said, prodding him in the chest with a finger. “I came upon you looking all tense and broody, despite being right out of a meditation. But a few minutes listening to someone else blather on about his problems, and you’re the very portrait of serenity! Simple deduction.”

“Well, I guess you’re pretty perceptive, then,” Toby said, now fighting a smile.

“Don’t feel bad, I also ensnared you in my trap,” the elf replied with a bow. “I am very clever. So let me ask you, Toby the Paladin, what would you do if you came upon somebody looking as glum as you were earlier? How do you fix that?”

“People are not for fixing,” Toby said, frowning. “Most aren’t truly broken. Everyone just needs a little bit of a boost, now and again, to sort themselves out.”

“Okay, well, the question stands. Put yourself outside yourself. You don’t know this Toby guy, but he’s clearly got a good, solid glum worked up. What’s your approach?”

Toby sighed, turning his head to stare out over the campus. “You can’t make somebody talk to you, any more than you can make somebody better. I guess… I’d just offer to listen.”

“Check,” said Raolo, leaning sideways against the stone rail and keeping his eyes on Toby. “Doesn’t seem to me like he wants to talk, though.”

“Sometimes people don’t,” Toby said with an irritable shrug. “Then you leave them alone.”

“Even when they clearly need to?”

“Yes. Even then. Besides, a lot of people have trouble opening up to people they don’t know.”

“And what about people they do?”

He sighed. “Well, there’s… I mean, yeah, if they…”

Toby trailed off, staring into space.

“I’ve got a feeling some of those people have noticed already,” Raolo said in a more gentle tone. “Bet they’d be glad to be supportive of you for once. I don’t need to know your history to conclude you’re the only who usually plays that role.”

“You know what?” Toby said, staring into space. “I’m an idiot.”

“I’m sure you are,” the elf said gravely, then winked when Toby turned to scowl at him. “But don’t take it to heart. We all are, at one point or another.”


 

“So that much is cleared up,” Ravana said lightly. “I think we all assumed it was Addiwyn behind these attacks, but it’s pleasing to have confirmation. Now we can decide what to do about it.”

“Need we do anything?” Szith asked pointedly. “She is being reprimanded by the University’s highest authority as we speak. The matter is being dealt with.”

“To assume that matters are simply dealt with is to confer imaginary and impossible powers upon authority figures,” Ravana replied. “One must consider the nature of the crimes and the person responsible. Were Addiwyn responsive to reprimand, she would likely have at least slowed her pattern after being lectured by Afritia. In reality, though, she proceeded immediately to her next attack. More to the point, we may be dealing with an individual suffering from a severe personality disturbance. It may be that even Tellwyrn can’t bring her to heel.”

Despite her dainty frame and uncalloused fingers, the young Duchess was working vigorously alongside the rest of them without complaint. Truthfully, it wasn’t onerous labor. The solvent had a pleasantly mild but antiseptic scent, and the purple dye dissolved apparently into nothing under its touch. They had simply to damp their rags with it and apply them to stained areas. By far the most difficult part of the job was making sure they didn’t miss any spots.

“The cause of Addiwyn’s behavior is an immediate concern,” Ravana continued, frowning pensively at the bannister she was currently scrubbing. “Her actions were at once absurdly juvenile and frighteningly cruel, and the context in which they occurred defies my understanding. Not knowing what motivates her, I cannot guess what she will do next. This leaves me quite unsettled.”

“She’s a bully,” Iris snorted from a few feet above, where she was on her knees, scrubbing dye off the steps. “Simple as that.”

Ravana shook her head without lifting her own eyes from her task. “Bullying occurs for specific reasons, according to specific patterns. It is, ultimately, about power. A bully will consistently place her victims in weaker positions, using her actions to emphasize how much lesser they are in power than she. That is the entire point. Addiwyn, though, might as well have been deliberately knitting us into a united front against her. She never tried to exercise any leverage or build a power base. It was just…lashing out, without pattern. Not consistent with any bullying I’ve ever seen. She would have tried to control the situation somehow.”

“So she’s a stupid bully,” Iris said disparagingly.

“Somehow, I doubt there are any stupid people of any kind admitted to this University,” Maureen noted.

“Having discarded that idea,” Ravana went on, “I considered the possibility that she might be anth’auwa.”

Szith stopped scrubbing the wall and half-turned to give her a sharp look.

“Uh, sorry?” Iris said, also looking up. “What’s that in Tanglish?”

“Unfortunately,” Ravana said ruefully, “it’s nothing in Tanglish. Human scholarship is lamentably behind the elder races in categorizing mental illness. The elvish word I just used literally means heartless. The dwarven scholars call it ‘social pathology.’ It refers to an aberrant personality which lacks any empathy or ability to connect emotionally with others.”

Iris snorted again, turning back to her work. “That sounds about right to me.” Szith slowly followed suit, a faint frown creasing her brow.

Ravana sighed softly, still wearing her own thoughtful little frown, though she straightened up and flexed her back as she continued speaking. “I am not ready to definitively rule it out, but… No, that, too, falls apart upon closer inspection. I have known several such individuals. The nobility, ever eager to conform to stereotype, tends to produce them at a higher rate than the general population.” She bent back to her scrubbing, continuing to speak. “At issue is that this is a severe personality disturbance. The primary concern of anth’auwa is always to hide what they are. They make a consistent effort to imitate normal social behavior; you have to catch them when they aren’t being careful to see the truth. Addiwyn has done precisely the opposite: she is surly and disagreeable whenever interacting with anyone, but at other times appears quite calm, even happy.”

“When have you seen her calm or happy?” Iris demanded, looking up from her task to stare incredulously at Ravana.

“She is hostile, erratic and probably emotionally unstable,” Ravana said dryly. “I watch her carefully. Don’t you? In fact, in just a few days I have observed that she quite enjoys Tellwyrn’s class, seems oddly fond of Professor Rafe and is even more suspicious of Professor Ekoi than the rest of us.”

“That is sayin’ something,” Maureen muttered.

“Not a bully,” Ravana mused, “not a heartless… Completely irrational and aggressive. It is very curious indeed.”

“So, maybe she’s just crazy,” Iris said disdainfully.

“No one is just crazy,” Ravana replied. “That is not how the mind works. Insanity follows patterns—a thinking person cannot be truly random in their behavior, though the pattern may be opaque to the outside observer. No… I don’t even see Addiwyn as insane, to be frank. Her conduct is generally that of a mentally normal person who is…doing something.”

“Doing what?” Szith inquired.

“That is the question, isn’t it?” Ravana said, staring thoughtfully at the rail she was scrubbing. “If I knew that, I suspect all of this would make perfect sense. That, ladies, is what I think we must determine, if we are to ensure our own safety.”

“’ere, now,” Maureen said worriedly. “Y’don’t think she’d actually harm us, do ye? I mean…sabotaging our belongings is one thing…”

“I cannot say what she might do,” Ravana admitted, “because I do not know what she wants. Right now, that she might harm us remains a possibility, as yet untested.”

“And how do you propose to find out?” Iris demanded. “You wanna just ask her nicely?”

“Asking her seems a good approach,” Ravana said, beginning to smile slightly. “After all, who else but she knows the answer? But I think we are well past the point of doing anything nicely. Don’t you?”


 

Sheyann slowly opened her eyes and smiled down at the translucent blue hare which had materialized on the rooftop before her. It had taken a good fifteen minutes of concentration to weave the magics just right. Hopefully this one would last longer than its predecessors.

The inn she had chosen was low, dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, though it was an amusing irony that she had come to think of a four-story structure as small. Its attached iron fire escape made a serviceable path for her spirit hare to reach the street below. The last three had generated some small outcry as they passed, but less than she had feared; apparently citizens of the great metropolis were accustomed to unusual sights.

Now, though, a few were gathering on the sidewalk opposite to see if another hare would come down from the roof. This would have to be her last attempt of the day; aside from her disinclination to put on a show for the locals, drawing too much attention here could lead to citizens or even authorities interrupting her work.

“You know whom I seek, little friend,” she whispered to the hare. “Find her for me.”

It stared up at her for a moment, spectral nose twitching, then turned and bounded onto the fire escape.

Sheyann settled back into a meditative pose, closing her eyes and attuning her senses to the hare’s. It made it to the street, seeking the faint traces of Kuriwa’s distinctive aura that she had instilled from her own memory.

There were muted cries of excitement from the onlookers as the hare reached the street, which both it and Sheyann ignored. Already she could tell this was going better, thanks to her fine-tuning; the last two had decayed rapidly under assault from all the loose arcane magic in the city. This one was more stable, existing in much less inherent conflict with its surroundings. It quested about for traces of the magic it sought, turned and bounded across the street…

And burst apart in a flash of light as it was crushed by a passing carriage.

Several cries of dismay and one loud cheer rose from the audience. Sheyann winced, opened her eyes, and sighed heavily in irritation.

“You might try asking down at the Shaathist lodge. Their spirit wolves and hawks seem to operate just fine in the city. Clearly they’ve mastered the method.”

Sheyann lifted her eyes, showing no hint of surprise on her features, to behold Kuriwa herself seated on the inn’s currently inert chimney, smiling down at her. She was dressed in soft buckskins, like a plains warrior. When had she started doing that?

“Or,” Sheyann said evenly, “you could explain the method yourself, as I strongly suspect you have it down.”

“On the other hand, I’m sure you would work it out yourself quite quickly, were you inclined to continue experimenting,” the other shaman said lightly. “What brings you out to seek me, Sheyann? This is a most peculiar place to find you. Virtually the last I would have expected.”

“I could say the same.”

Kuriwa shook her head. “I have always gone where the trouble is. You, though, seldom stir from your grove unless there is an apocalypse brewing.”

“Fair enough,” Sheyann said wryly. “Arachne and I need your help.”

Kuriwa straightened up slowly. “Arachne…and you? Now I begin to be worried. Is the world actually ending?”

“We consider that a lesser probability,” Sheyann said, folding her hands into her sleeves, “but I am not yet prepared to conclusively rule it out.”

“Do tell.”

“The short version is that we have two injured dryads on our hands. Juniper is mostly well and in fact making greater progress toward being an emotionally stable, responsible person than most of her sisters have ever achieved. She is, however, grieving, and has a blockage placed in her aura by Avei herself, which seems to have lead Naiya to believe she is dead. That brought in Aspen, who currently is severely traumatized and began to transform before being fixed in a time-altering spell by Arachne. She remains thus, in a secure room at the University. And she is the only one who knows what Naiya thinks and plans to do about this.”

Kuriwa narrowed her eyes, but made no other sign of distress. “Naiya is not the patient sort. I suspect her plans would have become clear already if she had any.”

“Ordinarily, I would concur. Juniper, however, is living proof that she can act with more agency and subtlety. Arachne had to spend some time campaigning for it, I understand, but Naiya sent her out specifically to learn the ways of mortals, as a first step toward making peace between them and the fey kingdom. With regard to this, at least, Naiya is not only able to act with more discretion than usual, but highly motivated.”

The Crow sighed, shaking her head. “And Aspen is with Arachne. Frozen in time? That sounds typical of her.”

“In that it is overbearing, inefficient and undeniably effective?” Sheyann said dryly. “Yes, that’s Arachne all over.”

“What do you think of her at present, Sheyann?” Kuriwa asked, watching her carefully.

“Arachne is one of the things that worries me least about the world,” Sheyann replied. “She remains mostly in her chosen place, training young ones. Training them as tauhanwe, to be sure, but I have noted that she teaches them how to think, not what to think. She stands as a living impediment to other mortal powers, and her presence serves to strongly discourage destructive influences. All in all, and aside from being an arcanist, she would be the very picture of a respected Elder if she were not such a tauhanwe to her core. Rather like someone else I could name,” she added with a smile.

Kuriwa returned one of her own. “That much is a relief, then. I’ve not had any interaction with her since she vanished into the Wild, and none with that school of hers. This assuages some of my worry.”

“You trust my judgment on the matter?” Sheyann asked with mild surprise.

“I have frequently disagreed with your judgment, Sheyann. When have I ever disparaged it?”

She acknowledged this with a nod. “Fair enough. For now, can we count on your help with the dryads?”

Kuriwa frowned pensively. “Hm. In your opinion, how likely is it that Naiya will take violent action?”

“In my opinion, not likely at all. Plans or no, she isn’t patient, and as you know, she has little ability to act on the world directly, except in just the kind of dramatic assaults we fear. Those are brief in duration and highly localized, though. I think if she were going to react, she would have by now. This is, of course, nothing but opinion. Naiya’s mind is unknowable.”

Kuriwa nodded. “Good. Yes, of course I will lend any help I can; this issue is clearly serious, even apart from then need to be of aid to the dryad in question. But if it is not an immediate urgency, Sheyann, I am monitoring a situation here in Tiraas that I hate to leave unattended until it reaches a conclusion.”

“Yes, your human friend Darling,” Sheyann said disapprovingly. “You are surely aware he has two eldei alai’shi in his custody? I see no way that can end in anything but catastrophe.”

“Actually,” Kuriwa replied, “he has kept those girls stable longer than any previous headhunter has ever been, and even taught them to be happy and somewhat well-adjusted.”

“You’re not serious.”

“Entirely. I consider him worth preserving for that alone. But no, that is a long-running affair, and anyway, it is business. My immediate concern is a family matter.”

“I see. I won’t pry…”

“Oh, I don’t mind if you pry,” Kuriwa said with a slight grin. “In fact, you would be welcome to watch, if you wish. It appears that Lanaera’s daughter is actually doing something constructive with her life.”

Sheyann raised her eyebrows. “Principia? Headhunters, dryads and apocalypses are one thing. That I will believe when I see it.”

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35 thoughts on “8 – 16

  1. I hate the missed Fridays… Not because of the money, but it messes with my sense of rhythm. I noticed this on the previous missed week, too. Coming back into the writing, I felt kind of rusty and off-kilter. Well, on the other hand, the respite is also very good for me; both times I came back to it calmer and refreshed for having had a break, and I’ve made some progress on other projects, too. Guess I’ll just have to work out a happy medium.

    Book 8 is nearing its climax and conclusion, and I thank everyone for sticking with it! While I’ve very much enjoyed certain parts of this, it hasn’t been my favorite book by far. The pace is rather plodding. While I do believe this is what the story needs, I’m increasingly hyped to get on to Book 9, which will be much more action-oriented.

    Anyhow, see everybody Wednesday!

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    1. So question, when an amount carries over, does the Patreon split auto add to it as the Patreon money is split over all 4 weeks of a month?

      For example, if I was donating 200 a month through Patreon, and no one else donated, the first week total would be 50, but would there be a bonus chapter the second week, or would the total remain 50?

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      1. The way I have it figured now, the Patreon pledge amounts are a kind of constant, and don’t roll over at the next week, while one-time donations stay on the tally until a Friday chapter is earned.

        The point is to encourage said donations. Patreon donors are by far the lion’s share; one fourth of the monthly total is more than half the weekly goal. It would be a guaranteed chapter every two weeks at minimum if they counted twice.

        Basically, in order to make donations at all relevant, I have to either count them only once or increase the goal substantially. I am very reluctant to increase it at this point, since it’s at what seems to be a good level: since the goal’s been where it is, we’ve made it more often than not, but it’s not a guarantee, which is exactly what I was aiming for.

        As always, questions and ideas on any part of the system are always welcome.

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    2. i was not expecting addiwyn to turn out to actually be the culprit – as i rambled about when i was fussing over “BUT WHO IS IT” and now has been noted in the narrative, there just isn’t any explanation handy as to why she would do this in this way, as of yet, but now that it’s clear that she is, the “why” is obviously next on the list of things to explain or uncover.

      whatever it is, she’s certainly not put her classmates in much of a position to puzzle it out for themselves. that’s a whole lot of hostility and not at all a whole lot of attempt to aim it with any care …

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  2. I’ll both agree and disagree with your assessment of bullying. There are several species of bullies, and the kind that enjoys power is just one. Another is the person who uses it as a method of social climbing. There was a study out of UBC a few years back – here’s a ref

    http://news.nationalpost.com/health/are-babies-born-bullies-ubc-study-shows-infants-learn-social-stratification-as-early-as-nine-months

    Short version; approval of people who force others towards social norms is INSTINCTIVE. Which means you’d have to train it out of people, and I doubt most are aware enough to recognize what they’re supporting.

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    1. Training it out of people to me seems a backwards approach in that it tries to negate an instinctive trait that is probably closely tied in with the same social instincts that allow for empathy and personal identification(“I am x”, in the case of the study “I am <someone who prefers a certain snack"). The better approach to me seems to be encouraging the expansion of ones circles of empathy to all life or all consciousness, so that you can see other sentient beings of whatever sort as similar enough to oneself in being a conscious, sentient being in the universe just like oneself is so that one can go from there to be able to appreciate the differences and how the universe we are all living in is enhanced by those differences. This is obviously a higher level of the combination of cognitive empathy and general cognition than a nine month old baby would be able to have-a baby will obviously have immature social instincts-but it can be learned and possibly taught when one is somewhat older.

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    2. “approval of people who force others towards social norms is INSTINCTIVE.”
      Oh boy, given whose university they are at, and the way Arachne chooses the students and faculty, that’s an impulse that is likely to get punished.

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  3. Excellent chapter.

    Toby is making a new friend… and perhaps more?
    All elves could be good mages if they simply stopped ignoring their talents? Well, that sounds like an excellent way to become useful and relevant to the humans, which would help the elves to integrate into the empire instead of being stomped down by it.

    Addiwyn is finally revealed as the culprit (as if we didn’t know already) but her motives are as unclear as ever. Ravana’s analysis isn’t giving me any ideas either.
    What’s the deal with Maureen’s accent anyway? Is she only pretending to have it?

    My initial assumption that Principia probably isn’t Kuriwa’s daughter because of the timeline turned out to be true. So Mary is her grandmother? Interesting. Even more interesting is that Sheyann knows about Principia. Does Lanaera live in Sheyann’s grove, too? Small world in either case.

    @Webb: Don’t be so negative.😉 If you say that a book isn’t good, then that will influence opinions, meaning you won’t get the truth from your critics.🙂
    I don’t really see the point of the new students yet and I am still waiting for some loose ends from the hellgate incident to be tied up (Ariel, Toby’s unusual divine energy burst etc) but in the end it doesn’t matter if that happens now or later… as long as it happens before the story ends.
    Principia’s storyline is a tiny bit boring because while a lot of stuff happens, the story isn’t moving forward much and the surrounding speculations are a bit frustrating. Still, that’s most likely an effect from having to wait for the next update and not an actual problem with your writing. Re-reading TGaB is a different experience after all.

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    1. Grandmother? The only thing that has been directly stated about that, besides Mary’s statement here about Principia’s mother, is:

      Rouvad: “I can do research on my own, you know. I’m well aware that black hair occurs in only one elven bloodline.”
      https://tiraas.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/8-2/
      And the whole related conversation was a mild confirmation of that statement.

      So, Mary and Principia are related, but that doesn’t mean that Mary is Principia’s direct ancestor, nor does it imply any specific number of generations between them. Unless there is other evidence, Mary could be Principia’s great-to-the-N aunt, or perhaps a cousin many times removed.

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      1. Mary is at least 8000 years old. If black hair only occurs in one elven bloodline, then that means Mary is the ancestor of them all. Unless you want to entertain the idea of there being yet another 8000+ year old elf with black hair around?

        That means Principia is a direct descendant of Mary and most likely a close one, too. 1284 years ago Mary stated that she has a child, which could have been Lanaera. Principia is only 500 years old (if I am not mistaken) but that could work out for elves.

        Great aunts, cousins etc require a fairly large family and if such a family existed, then elves with black hair wouldn’t be rare. Unless they are all hiding somewhere, which is very unlikely.

        Rouvad wouldn’t be so concerned about Mary’s reaction to Principia’s hypothetical death if there were a dozen generations between them. Also, even if each child only had a single child themselves (how likely is that?), that would still lead to a bunch of black haired elves being around because they are all immortal. There is no indication in the story that this is the case. Almost everyone who meets an elf with black hair can only think of either Mary or Prin.

        Since elves are immortal and there doesn’t seem to be much risk of them getting killed unless they place themselves in danger, their population should be growing exponentially. We know that there are young elves around right now and always have been, so in years an elven generation probably isn’t much longer than a human one.
        Even assuming that elves wait for a century before they reproduce, that would result in up to 80 generations for Mary’s bloodline. That’s a lot of elves. Math says millions. We know this can’t be true because a. the bloodline would have been lost over time, meaning Prin would be blonde and b. there aren’t even a thousand elves with black hair around, much less millions.

        3006 years ago Mary was ready to piss off Elilial by killing one of her daughters. How likely is it that she would have done that if she had a child herself at that time? I’d say very unlikely.

        We don’t know when Mary had children or what happened to them but we know she had exactly one by the time she played fairy godmother to a princess 1284 years ago.
        If there can not be elves with black hair that don’t descend from her, then at this point there can’t be more than a few (Mary’s child and their descendants, although I doubt those existed at that time). Principia comes around ~800 years later, which means she can’t be more than a few generations removed from Mary. Two or three seems most likely, although it might go as high as 4. That would mean there could be up to 16 descendants of Kuriwa around, assuming two kids each generation. That would still be “very rare”. Personally I think there are even less.

        We have strong evidence for Mary being the matriarch of the clan of blackhaired elves. We have weak evidence of Mary being Principia’s grandmother (or great-grandmother) but it is still the most likely possibility.

        P.S. I really need to create a name for those elves or find a good abbreviation. ^^

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      2. @Daemion

        “that sounds like an excellent way to become useful and relevant to the humans”
        Good observation. The first grove/group that adopts that attitude will go from “reservation backwater” to “center of a growing industry” fairly quickly. Of course, that will 1) probably make all the other groups upset with them and 2) significantly change the environment around wherever they live. But if they were successful, it would pull more groups after them. A sweeping change in elvish culture would result. Which implies that conservative elves might actually sabotage the first group(s) to do this.

        Re: Kuriwa’s bloodline

        Generally, I don’t see the world as black and white unless you are talking about formal logic or mathematics. Any evidence we have for anything allows multiple explanations; the trick is to estimate their relative likelihood. So I was pointing out an alternative, not arguing against your idea. And I think the alternative is still viable, even if it is a lesser likelihood that direct descent.

        “Mary is at least 8000 years old”
        She was ancient even 3000 years ago, when Arachne appeared (Along Came a Spider 3 and 4), but I don’t remember something that puts her around at the Pantheon’s apotheosis. Reference?

        “Unless you want to entertain the idea of there being yet another 8000+ year old elf with black hair around?”
        Yes, possibly, see both points above.

        “Great aunts, cousins etc require a fairly large family and if such a family existed, then elves with black hair wouldn’t be rare.”
        Elves are not overly fertile and deaths happen. I think every mature elf is very aware of the difference between unaging and immortal. Your commentary on there being few elves, even though there are plenty of younger ones around, basically implies a lot of deaths happened.

        “Rouvad wouldn’t be so concerned about Mary’s reaction to Principia’s hypothetical death if there were a dozen generations between them.”
        Mary might be attached to the only family she had left, especially if many of them had died.

        “We know this can’t be true because a. the bloodline would have been lost over time, meaning Prin would be blonde and b. there aren’t even a thousand elves with black hair around, much less millions.”
        You are assuming black hair is dominant. Most likely it is recessive or polygenetic, i.e. rare in either case. Mathematically speaking, every being in existence will eventually either become an ancestor for their entire race or have their bloodline die off – properties of breeding as a stochastic process. The latter is actually more likely (although this depends on a number of other factors). So a line that is petering out is more likely than one that is spreading. And if black hair is not dominant, unless Mary has kept exhausting track, then the only way she knows someone is her relative is the are a black-haired elf or are an ancestor of a black-haired elf.

        Back to my original point – I agree that Mary is likely the matriarch of the BHEs (black-haired elves), but other ideas that fit the evidence exist.

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    2. The only thing I can think of concerning Addiwyn’s motives is that she wants to be expelled, and was only saying it wasn’t her to make matters worse for herself in the long run. But if that were the case, you’d think she’d just leave…

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    3. The ‘formal’ law enforcement isn’t necessarily better than ‘criminal’ organizations, in either tiraas or here.

      “All systems are corrupt…”

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  4. I like that.
    “Apocalypse? Sorry; got something big of my own.”
    “Come off it! What’s bigger?”
    “Prin is being a responsible adult, and I’ve got popcorn.”
    “Hand me the butter.”😀

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  5. So, a perceptive, voluble, slightly manipulative, somewhat rebellious elf. Raolo reminds me of Toby’s first crush. Am I smelling romance here?

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  6. Very good chapter.
    But again, you have to leave in a crappy society to qualify 2 thieves/enforcer, who live from stealing and threatening others (not even counting Fauna having to be hold back by either flora or darling each time there is conflict), “well adjusted”. I know she means in contrast from the usual headhunter behaviour but it’s still…

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    1. I don’t think they have engaged in much criminal activity through the Thieves Guild yet. They are still apprentices in training after all. They stole some paperwork for Trissiny, that’s all we know about … and even that wasn’t sanctioned.

      I would be more concerned about them killing all those priests for Darling.😉

      What Mary meant here is that they aren’t insane.
      They aren’t exactly good people, with the mandatory hunting and killing of prey they need to stay sane.
      If they continue to only kill Vanislaav demons, then I think their initial killing spree can be forgiven. Almost all their targets were bad people anyway.

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      1. I didn’t put the killing spree on the list since that is more the headhunter fault than theirs, Darling probably has more responsability in this tha they do.
        As for regular criminal activities, we know they casually steal from storekeepers (and think of it as a service) steal from Trissiny, the army, are used to threaten people when Darling is nearby. And that’s just from the chapter we saw.

        also, is there any way to edit post?

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      2. They don’t steal from shopkeepers. The merchants may give them a freebie now and then as appreciation for keeping the worst criminals away from them but they would never ever take something from someone just getting by.
        They stole from Trissiny but that was more like a magic trick and they didn’t hide it. Darling told them off, punished them and gave Triss her money back.

        Really, nothing they do is actually bad. Except for killing priests.

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      3. That wasn’t a freebie for keeping the worst criminals away. They explain it : they take whatever they want from shopkeeper their “ethic” command they make it reasonnable. Also when the twins tells her that she should make a claim she doesn’t want to. Everything in that paragraph show that she is wary of the guild, she’s demure, careful and “doesn’t want to be a bother” (chapter 4-1). That is classical protection racket, if you really want to keep the bad element at bay you join the police not the thief guild. The argument : “without us thief it would be worse” is only true when there is no real law enforcement. Tiraas has a decent police force and would most likely have less criminality if the thief guild wasn’t endorsed by the pantheon.
        Also, remember that the young apprentice they chased from the shop was from the same guild and used the same prerogative they did, he was just meaner about it.

        Darling wasn’t pissed at them for stealing, he was pissed at them for doing it to the living hand of the goddess of justice and from the army in a way that could leave traces.

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      4. Well, the term used to describe the shopkeeper interacting with the twins are : demure, carefull and awkward. She doesn’t want to make eye contact until fauna makes her. I don’t see the trust here.

        I also remember this : “Shopkeepers toss us freebies because we deter pickpockets and cutpurses”
        We know that the cult of Eserion as divinely enforced monopoly on this with the tithe system. That means eserites basicaly get a freebie for not stealing from shopkeepers.

        Remember that Fauna and Flora didn’t stop a random thief, they stopped a guild member from “abusing their privileges” which means they consider they do have a privilege in the first place. And what justify it and the freebie in this story? Preventing their own for abusing it. That’s circular logic and having a kind smile and a sad backstory doesn’t make it any less wrong.

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  7. Typos:

    th‘point
    (depending on how you spell the vernacular, it might be)
    th‘ point

    whom I seek
    who I seek
    (character speech, may be written as intended)

    Reactions:

    Elvish metabolism. Oh boy. That would drastically change huge parts of culture – think about how much of any normal day is spent getting food on time, and how much infrastructure that takes. The ramifications would make virtually every other part of their culture different than human culture in small or large ways, and that’s on top of the differences in history and thinking. It would also directly limit their technological growth somewhat – think about how many advances are because of the necessity of food storage, preparation, and transport.

    “gnomes are the only sentient race that can’t interbreed with the others”
    I suspect that makes inter-species dalliances with gnomes a bit more desirable since there is no possibility of bastards (in the geneological sense).

    Ravana is skirting one of the big rules of people management: Don’t try to change what people think, change what they do. That really is something they teach in management school. Now, it may be easier to change what Addiwyn does if they know the motivations, but changing what she thinks is probably beyond them, and likely to cause backlash.

    Addiwyn:
    —“quite enjoys Tellwyrn’s class”
    —“seems oddly fond of Professor Rafe”
    —“is even more suspicious of Professor Ekoi than the rest of us”
    —Ignores corrections from Afritia.
    —Tried to “be the best of friends and perhaps more” with Raolo.
    —Attacked things important to Ravana, Szith, Maureen, and Iris.
    Or, to put it another way, Addiwyn likes elves and half elves and goes out of her way to antagonize non-elves (drow included). My suspicion, then, is she is herself half or three-quarters elf and has internalized prejudice against “other” races or mixed parentage instead of rejecting it. Sort of like far too many people in history who have gone overboard on prejudice in order to distance themselves from a group that they are actually part of. Her reaction to Rafe is slightly inconsistent with that idea, but then again, Rafe generates unusual reactions from others all the damn time. There are other possibilities, of course, but that’s my best current guess.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Arachne via her glasses should have noticed a magical compulsion. Maybe Addiwyn’s being pushed to go to the Uni and trying to get thrown out is her rebellion?

        Whatever it is, apparently she carries an axe. Traditional tomahawk I assume, but a decidedly lethal weapon if she’s pushed.

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  8. Hey, gang. I’m hammerin’ away at tonight’s chapter, and I’ve hit a creative wall.

    At issue here is pacing, structure and the remainder of Book 8, which is heading into its climax. Just a handful more chapters to go on it, and most of them are pretty much planned out. The problem is, I have finished what I have for this segment of the story, and it’s…short. Stupidly short. Like, a third our normal chapter size short.

    My options are rather disappointing, here. I can try to squeeze in bits of upcoming chapters now, but that’s gonna mess a number of things up, timing-wise. I can try to find some more to put in tonight’s update, but honestly I’m having trouble thinking of anything that needs to go here, which makes that prospect sound to me like filler. Book 8 is slow enough without adding freakin’ filler. Or, I can publish it as is. All 1500 words of it. Every one of these prospects makes me cringe.

    This is my own failure; I feel like I should’ve planned this better. Right now I’m taking a short break from writing, which I hate to do with the deadline this close, but I need to clear my head and think about the options.

    The upshot of all this is the chapter is likely to be shorter than usual, or later than usual. Very likely both. I’m sorry about that. I just don’t want to publish something that isn’t up to my standards of quality, and I’m at a bit of a loss here how to come up with something that actually would be.

    Stay tuned.

    Like

    1. Since it seems like we’ll see a chapter this Friday, a short update today wouldn’t be that bad. It’s definitely better than filler.

      If the chapter really isn’t working for you, then you could skip the update today and post a longer chapter on Friday instead.

      I doubt anyone is going to mind waiting for quality.🙂

      Btw… maybe you should take a break between books and build up a buffer of a few chapters … that would satisfy both your needs for punctuality and quality. Unless you need the pressure of a deadline?

      Like

      1. The deadlines do a lot to help me focus, yes. And buffers, while a good general policy, don’t well serve my method. I started the serial with one, and it ended up being nothing but a reason to get out of the habit of regular writing.

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