8 – 17

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The sun had not yet risen, but Squad Thirteen was getting ready for their day in the near darkness, only a single tiny fairly lamp with about the output of a candle illuminating their barrack. The Legion did not encourage luxury or indulgence of any kind on principle. There were brighter lights in the building, but no one wanted to risk the conversations that would result from the window being lit up. At the very least, it wouldn’t improve their already-strained relationship with the other squads of their cohort, and there was always the possibility of more official disapproval coming down.

Early mornings were quiet affairs. Aside from the tension hanging over all their lives, none of the five were really on joking-around terms with each other, excepting Farah and Casey, and even they seemed responsive to the terse atmosphere of the squad. Evenings were more relaxed, but it had already become their custom to wake up and suit up in efficient quiet; any conversation could generally wait until breakfast in the mess hall. Everyone was awake, dressed and in the process of buckling on armor when the door suddenly opened.

They swiveled in unison to stare, Casey having to catch her half-buckled breastplate as it tried to slide off, then leapt to attention as Captain Dijanerad stepped inside and pulled the door shut behind her. She paused, glanced around, and thumbed the switch that ignited the overhead fairy lamp before speaking.

“At ease.”

They relaxed, relatively, blinking in the sudden light.

“Morning, Captain,” Principia said warily. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“Orders, ladies.” Dijanerad’s tone was flat and her expression grim. “Today I took the precaution of getting early access to duty assignments, and I’m giving you advance notice. We have unconfirmed reports of women being abducted by Shaathist fanatics in Tiraan Province, west of the capital. Squad Thirteen is being sent to investigate.”

There was absolute silence. The fairy lamp overhead flickered slightly.

“Captain,” Ephanie said finally, “permission to speak freely?”

Dijanerad’s expression turned wry. “Granted, private.”

“That,” Ephanie said, “is a completely idiotic paranoid fantasy that doesn’t even make an effort to be realistic. No Shaathist sect has practiced wife-stealing in five hundred years, and if one were to begin doing some such backward thing, it would be in some remote province far from Imperial supervision, not a stone’s throw from the capital with both Imperial and Avenist forces absolutely everywhere. On that note, if this were going on, somehow, the Empire would have the culprits in chains almost the minute it occurred. And if we’re to stretch our credulity well past the breaking point and assume something like this even could be happening, despite all of the above, this assignment would be given to experienced wilderness scouts, not an understaffed neophyte squad without even a sergeant and no field experience. This is at best a ploy to make us waste a day stomping around the woods, and at worst, some kind of trap.”

“Are you about done, Avelea?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Dijanerad nodded. “On paper, ladies, this cohort is on active duty, experimental mission parameters or no. The practical facts of our situation are that squad assignments come down from well above my own head. I am, until we are cycled out to a real assignment, basically an administrative convenience, much as it irks me to acknowledge that. You are none of you to repeat this, but Avelea is correct. This is pure nonsense with a transparent ulterior motive, and it’s beyond my power to put a stop to it as it stands. I will be working on that, and I frankly do not expect this ‘threat’ to stand up to even a cursory analysis by Field Command, but unfortunately, by the time this is done, you will already be outside the city and beyond reach of easy recall.”

“Captain,” Merry said cautiously, “are you… That is, isn’t it obvious by now that our squad is being targeted for persecution? And considering by whom, is this really tolerable? I mean, can’t someone…” She trailed off helplessly.

The captain sighed. “Ladies, the alleged purpose of your activities here is to gain proficiency in the world of politics. Here’s a free lesson in that very thing: do not voice accusations like that unless you can first furnish proof, and second, defend that proof all the way through the process of a court martial. Making such statements about any superior officer, or any ranking member of the Sisters of Avei, would have swift and severe consequences.”

Merry twisted her mouth bitterly, clenching her fists at her sides.

“In any case,” Dijanerad went on, “I am here for a reason. As you know, duty assignments are handed out over breakfast, with details usually given at that time. I have reason to expect that you are to be sent out under light mobility protocols.”

Principia narrowed her eyes; the others widened theirs in horror. Light mobility protocols were customarily applied to scouts and other soldiers for whom speed trumped all other considerations. It meant they would carry short swords only, with no lances or shields, wear leather rather than metal armor and carry no provisions other than canteens of water.

“I am sending you out early,” Captain Dijanerad said grimly, “before you have a chance to hear of this. You are to depart before breakfast, and first report to the south gate, where you will be issued your detailed marching orders, as well as provisions and equipment for this assignment. That is at my order, and there will be no question of you facing responsibility for this deviation from your mission parameters.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Farah said feelingly.

“Can we request additional personnel?” Merry asked sardonically. “There’s a certain Private Covrin who I think could benefit from a long walk in the woods.” She glanced at Casey. “That’s not meant to be an ironic statement. She actually could benefit.” Casey looked away.

Dijanerad stared at Merry for a moment, then glanced around at the squad. Then, oddly, she stepped over to the narrow window near the door and glanced out at the parade ground beyond. Dawn was only just lightening the eastern sky; it was dimly gray outside, with no sunlight having reached over the walls of the temple complex yet. Apparently satisfied with what she saw, the captain turned to face them again, folding her hands behind her back.

“What I am about to tell you is never to be repeated outside this room, nor to anyone other than yourselves. Is that clear?” She waited for a round of verbal assent before continuing. “I received forewarning of your assignment today from Jenell Covrin, who appeared at my door with the paperwork. I told you before that I intercepted Private Covrin carrying your court-martial orders when you failed to report for duty at the Guild ambush. The truth is that she brought word straight to me, instead of taking the papers directly to be filed as she was ordered. And Locke, when Covrin escorted you to that out-of-the-way interrogation room in the temple sublevel, her very next action was to find and notify me, which is the only reason you were down there as brief a time as you were.”

She paused, watching their startled expressions with a raised eyebrow.

“Politics is a lot like war, ladies. You should never make assumptions based on incomplete intelligence. Never initiate hostile action in a situation you don’t understand. Never summarily dismiss a possible ally, nor attack someone just because they are a possible enemy. You’re all fresh enough from basic to still have the Doctrines of War rattling around in the front of your skulls. Remember: the only battle truly won is a battle avoided.”

The captain drew in a deep breath, and let it out as a sigh. “Among the equipment I have requisitioned for you are arcane beacons keyed to a scrying array which I have in my possession. Their range should be sufficient to cover the whole province—much farther than you will get on foot in the course of one day. With those, as soon as I have gotten this foolishness struck down as it deserves, I’ll be able to send scouts out to retrieve you. Until that time, I have to handle this very carefully. That we all consider this assignment a waste of time is irrelevant; until someone sufficiently high in the chain of command does, we’re all bound by it. In the absence of solid evidence that this will place you in some kind of danger, I have no prerogative to order you to disregard the assignment. I’m giving you the best advantages I can. Beyond that, you’ll have to trust yourselves.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Principia said quietly.

Dijanerad nodded, turning to grasp the doorknob. “I want you ready and at the south gate in five minutes, ladies, before somebody else can intercept you with any orders that will tie your or my hands. Goddess watch over you.”

With that, she opened the door and departed.


 

“This sounds like more than a minor set of inconveniences,” Sheyann observed as the two elves strode silently through the forest. “Does not the attention of this Basra Syrinx place her in real danger?” It was an old forest, but a long-settled one, regularly traveled by humans and home to relatively few animals, with almost no underbrush. Thanks to the Imperial foresters, the woods surrounding the capital more closely resembled parks than their wilder cousins in which elves made their groves.

Many of Sheyann’s kin and colleagues pointed to places such as this as evidence that humans could not be trusted, that they destroyed everything in their environs. In truth, she could not see this forest as damaged, but…changed. Environments inevitably reached a rhythm with their occupants, and this one reflected the power and dominance of humanity. They could reach an equilibrium with their surroundings, but only on their own terms. It both gave her hope, and made her even more fearful of them.

“If it were a simple contest between the two, I would feel no need to take an interest,” Kuriwa replied with a faint smile. “I don’t believe Syrinx truly comprehends what she is tangling with.”

“You sound almost admiring of the girl’s capabilities.”

“Principia has devoted her life to an ethically barren pursuit of frivolity,” the Crow said equably, “but it cannot be denied that at that pursuit, she is one of the best alive. No, the issue is not the contest between the two, but all the things connected to it. They each have strings tied to them which drag multiple influences into conflict. If anything, Principia is hampered by her need to accommodate her new responsibilities.”

“So,” Sheyann mused, “you wish to see whether responsibility will win out over the easy victory.”

“There is that,” Kuriwa conceded, “but when I spoke of strings, I referred to much more.” She frowned silently at the green depths ahead of them. The sun was only just above the horizon to the east, still partially hidden behind the hills which surrounded the River Tira’s deep canyon. The two elves, of course, had no trouble seeing their way. “Syrinx is connected to Antonio Darling, and to the Archpope Justinian’s ambitions, both of which concern me directly. Those connections involve other Bishops and their respective cults; Darling brings with him his eldei alai’shi, not to mention the tauhanwe he has gathered to his service. Or those working directly for Justinian, and the fraught relationships between all those. Then, Principia is linked to Eserion, and now to Avei, as well as to Trissiny Avelea, to Arachne, and to a few very interesting young women with whom she has been sorted into a squad. Aside from my personal interest in her, any manner in which she resolves her present difficulties will pluck strings whose vibrations I am likely to feel directly.”

“What a complex existence you lead,” Sheyann remarked.

Kuriwa shook her head. “I have been noticing something of late. Increasingly, in the last few months, matters which will affect the course of the entire world seem to hinge upon the actions of a relatively few individuals, clustered on this continent.”

“That certainly follows precedent. The Elder Gods ruled from here; the Pantheon have their own first temples here. Gnomes originated in this land, and the few elves to survive the Elder War had their groves around Naiya’s wild refuge. You know well how long we have assumed the next apocalypse would take place here.”

“I try to assume as little as possible,” the Crow noted with a wry smile. “And there have been multiple apocalypses of a smaller nature since the fall of the Elder Gods. Most of them centered on this continent, in support of your point. That is precisely what caught my interest. I have seen this pattern before. A great doom is coming, and always when one does, those whose actions will tip the balance begin to cluster together. To combine, or clash. It is wise to monitor their actions.”

Sheyann frowned deeply. “Hm. Trissiny, Juniper, Arachne… All were present and heavily involved in the events at Sarasio last year. They rattled even the most hidebound of my grove to take actions some would have thought unthinkable. And no sooner did we reach out to other elders did we find similar awakenings taking place everywhere.”

Kuriwa gave her a considering look. “I was invited to participate in some of these discussions.”

“I’m sure they were devastated that you chose not to attend.”

“I have not so chosen. I’m busy, Sheyann, as you well know. But no, I don’t intend to let these events simply wash over me. How go these negotiations?”

“With a speed that both inspires and frightens me,” Sheyann said quietly. “It is the Narisians who are the greatest hangup, of course. They, if anything, are among the most accommodating of those involved, but many of our own kind take exception to their presence. Yet if matters continue apace, we may well see concrete results within another year.”

The Crow shook her head. “So quickly. You understand what I mean? The pattern. The strings. The same few people, over and over. I advise you to pay close attention to these young ones, including Principia. Their actions in the immediate future could mean everything.”

Sheyann stopped walking, turning in a circle to study the forest around them. To her ears, the evidence of civilization was not too far distant, but it was at least out of sight. That, itself, served as a reminder that she did not know these woods.

“Where, if I may ask, are we going? I thought you wished to observe Principia in action. Have you been snooping aggressively enough among the Sisters to know where, exactly, she is being sent?”

“In fact, I have,” Kuriwa said with a grin. “However, we are not going directly there. Interested as I am in seeing how Principia fares in her challenges, I remain mindful of all these threads. What she is heading into now is something she may be hard-pressed to contend with. That is, without causing a great deal of trouble that may spread surprisingly far, through the most ephemeral of connections. I feel this is not the time for such disturbances.”

“And so, you are going to discreetly help her.”

“Discreetly, yes.”

“By not going to meet her?”

Kuriwa’s grin widened. “I’m sure you know she would not welcome my help. No, Sheyann; be ready to fade into the background. I am going to pull another string.”


 

“Well, I’ll say it if no one else will,” Merry announced, staring into the forest. Behind her, the rest of Squad Thirteen clutched their lances, grim-faced and most of them pale. Only Principia seemed unperturbed, though her eyes were narrowed in apparent concentration. “This is Syrinx upping the game, exactly as we were warned she would.”

“Could she really have moved that fast?” Farah asked uncertainly. “I mean… Could the Guild have moved that fast? It was just yesterday we spoke with Darling. It’s hard to imagine she’d have reason already to be coming down harder on us.”

“He was vague about how fast we could expect results on that front,” Casey pointed out.

“Depends, really,” Principia mused. “Something like that, involving an inquiry within the Guild… It’s all a question of how motivated the Boss is. He could have the ball rolling in hours, get something together practically overnight if he really wanted. Or he could drag it out for months.”

“Months?” Farah whimpered.

Principia grinned bitterly. “I doubt it’ll be that bad. Truthfully, I’m not sure which side he’ll come down on. Tricks doesn’t much like me… But he’s an honorable fellow, in his way, and he’ll be feeling an obligation. I made a point, before enlisting, to arrange for the Guild to dangerously screw me over. They owe me a big one, and he knows it.”

“You are a piece of work,” Merry muttered. Principia winked at her, earning a sneer in return.

The fortifications of the border town rose behind them, but they were isolated enough here to speak freely. There was already early morning traffic along the road into the city, but the Legionnaires acquired only a few curious looks and no direct attention. The bridges extending from the gates of Tiraas landed in small towns clinging to the edges of the canyon; over the centuries of the Empire’s development, they had been built up, and heavily reinforced during the Enchanter Wars. Now, the border towns were themselves practically fortresses. This one sat within eyeshot of the protected forest rolling over the region’s low hills, though the trees were kept cleared well back from the walls.

Squad Thirteen stood on the edge of the road, staring gloomily into the silent green depths.

Ephanie sighed and re-folded the sheaf of papers containing their orders, tucking it back into her belt pouch. “Well, this is the starting point we’re given. From here, it’s just a matter of tromping through the woods toward the hills until we happen across the secret Shaathist extremists who unequivocally do not exist.”

“Safely away from witnesses,” Casey said darkly. “Anybody wanna take a bet what she’s got waiting for us in there? I’m betting it’s not gonna be anything as gentle as getting us in trouble with regulations.”

“Nobody ambushes an elf in the woods,” Principia said with a sly smile. Merry rolled her eyes.

“Syrinx will have planned for that,” said Casey, heaving a sigh. “She plans for everything.”

Principia shook her head. “She plans for everything she knows about. There’s a difference.”

“None of this is getting us anywhere,” Ephanie said. “We have our orders. The Captain’s given us the best chance she could manage. From here, we will have to make do ourselves, ladies.” She turned to nod sharply at them. “Remember your training, trust in each other and be ready to make the fullest use of your skills. Forward march.”

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31 thoughts on “8 – 17

  1. Welp, this is a short chapter. But, at least it’s not late! And I find I’m far happier with it than I feared I would be an hour ago. If you haven’t seen it, the difficulties I was having are explained in the comments at the end of last chapter’s thread.

    Eventually I took a midnight walk around the property, which always helps me think, and I found there were multiple tidbits of exposition in my “I need to work this in somewhere” pile, several of which directly impacted things about to happen and foreshadowed things more distant. Ultimately they fit this chapter without feeling forced, so I ended up killing two birds with one stone.

    All right, I’m off to bed now; work comes early. See you all Friday!

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    1. “arranged” to have the guild screw her over.

      DID SHE REALLY????? if she’s being honest there, good lord, i’ve underestimated principia almost as impressively as the guild themselves did ahead of me.

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      1. I mean… she did arrange to be overheard talking to McGraw after that whole kerfluffle in Last Rock, which then got Thumper set on her a second time, with a newly acquired succubus in tow no less. That’s a pretty solid screwing over.

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      2. Yeah, she arranged exactly how each piece of information got back to the Guild so that the Guild first did something stupid and damaging to her and then had to bend over backward to correct it. The leaders are lacking a crucial piece of evidence that would help them realize this – the knowledge that Peepers was primed and paid to report on Principia at exactly the right time. They might think differently if they knew that. Or they might not – if anyone appreciates a good con, it is the followers of Eserion.

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    2. My opinion: This is a web serial, not a Dickens-style publication. The way his stories were written fitted the periodic, size-limited nature of the medium he was writing for. You have more freedom – use it. Tell the best story possible, even if it doesn’t fit into the traditional writing mould.

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  2. I look forward both to Mary terrifying some poor ignorant pawn, and Squad 13 wreaking unexpected havoc through unexpected means on whatever Syrinx has planned. I’m guessing that there’ll be a smidgen of on the sly Diabolism from Casey and something out of the blue from Ephanie that paints her in a whole new light…. or at least that’s what I’m hoping. Also, who wants to take odds that they accidentally stumble across Andros while their wandering through the woods? He did tell Sheyann that he was about to leave town.

    I’m also guessing that the bit with Mary and Sheyann got a bit of a face-lift after the lovely head-clearing walk? It seems like the place where that kind of thing could best be done.

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    1. If it is Andros the Squad is about to interrupt, I don’t think he’ll be all that happy with his fellow Bishop for being used in her game when he finds a little more out.:/

      I think Syrinx isn’t just underestimating the girls and their ties, but also the Shaathist contingent.:/

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  3. So, hey, I drew some fanart.

    … I tried to post this just now but had some technical difficulties, not sure if my first attempt made it through. If it’s stuck in linked-post-approval limbo and I’m just adding another to the queue, then my apologies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hot damn, that is fantastic! Everybody look at this!

      I mean, you’re clearly a skilled artist, but the detail here! You got everything right! Man, thank you, I needed that boost.

      May I have your permission to save a copy and post it here on the site?

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      1. I’m glad you like it!😀 feel free to repost or whatever you like.

        I might color it later, but I figured I’d share what I already had on account of running out of steam, haha. This is probably the highest number of figures I’ve ever drawn in one image.

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    2. This is really good and one can immediately recognize the characters. Awesome. Thank you for drawing this.😀

      Would you like to read a detailed critique of your work or is “awesome” enough?🙂

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      1. Ok, this is just my own personal interpretation of the characters and doesn’t detract from the fact that your drawing is awesome.

        Ruda: 100% perfect. The feathered hat, the gem studded rapier, the coat, the bare midriff… she looks exactly as described in the story and how I imagined her.

        Trissiny: So much detail, it’s incredible. That breastplate looks great. From what I gathered from the story, Trissiny keeps her hair in a braid according to legion regulations. Her sword is old and looks that way and I think the shield isn’t quite as big. Trissiny’s armor might be too heavy in this drawing, I think she wears medium armor that looks exactly like a legionnaire’s except for being silver. Probably without the pauldrons and armored legs. I love that you got her thin and a bit gangly appearance right… at least that’s what she would look like if she took off the armor.

        Juniper: She’s described as having a small waist and large breasts, which is very noticable since she’s wearing a tight, sheer dress. In my mind she looks like a classic pin-up girl, only with golden skin and green hair. Curiously, it has never been mentioned if she’s wearing shoes or not. I think you captured her really well. Since her coloring is her most striking feature, it is difficult to draw her in black&white but you managed it.

        Teal/Vadrieny: Again, a difficult task because of the flame hair and wings. Teal is described as wearing a three piece suit without the tie, this matches your drawing if she removed her suit jacket before transforming. I believe her feet should look differently, as it is they are adding too much height and that wouldn’t work with some of the scenes in the story. As I understand it, Teal’s feet get transformed into claws but they don’t become full avian feet. She becomes a little taller but not that much.

        Gabriel: Spot on. That’s exactly how I imagined Gabriel, coat and everything. The wand he uses would look more like a gun though. He would also wield it in his right hand, with the left hand resting on the sheathed sword. I can see why you changed this up for this pose and perspective though. You drew a saber, I imagine Ariel would be more like a longsword, being able to fit into a sheath and all.

        Shaeine: Again, spot on. Petite size, robes, long, white hair… exactly as I imagined her. While everyone else is showing emotions, she is not. She almost never uses her hands when she uses her divine magic for shields but I can see why you included that glow, she needed to do something active in the drawing. I believe she would either have her hood up or wear her sun glasses. For some reason I don’t think Shaeine would show her legs like that… the robe is probably a bit tighter and longer. That’s just a guess though.

        Fross: Difficult. She’d just be a white ball of light to the naked eye, so of course you had to dim that to show Fross herself. I think dragonfly wings have all the same size, there is no larger or small pair. I could be wrong though.

        Toby: He looks like he doesn’t want to be here. Seeing that the group is rushing off to a fight, I can understand that. You got the hair exactly right. His staff would be looking differently though. Think more of a broom handle (just a bit thicker and longer) and less of a gnarly wizard’s staff. Like a spear without the head.

        Overall: I love the dynamic poses, the emotions you convey through the drawing and the detail in the character’s appearance. Colors would only add to that… they’d help to define Juniper and Toby better and they’d add more contrast and detail to Ruda, Shaeine and Teal. Gabriel and Trissiny would benefit the least from it but it would allow you to add a few more details like the glow surrounding Trissiny’s sword. There’s not much you can do for Fross though, she’d stay a buzzing shape surrounded by a bright white light.
        This is still amazing artwork and please don’t feel discouraged by me being nitpicky. I’m working with guesswork and my own imagination here, so this is merely my opinion. Webb said you got everything right and he’s the final authority on his own characters.

        Thank you again for drawing them, we really needed some pictures of the characters.
        🙂

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      2. My only quibbles relate to stuff I haven’t made explicitly clear in the text: drow ears are a bit shorter, and Trissiny’s armor is more Greek hoplite than European cavalry knight. Neither of those is any reflection at all upon the art or your attention to detail, because damn, I am blown away.

        So many things in there are just exactly right that I can’t believe you picked up on. The eagle sigil on Trissiny’s breastplate, the style of Gabriel’s sword, Toby’s hair, the fact that Fross has a shape under the glow (I think a lot of people miss that), and Vadrieny is just perfect. Her talons are exactly right.

        I’ve been just staring at this pic off and on all day, so many details are so perfect. Seriously, thank you so much for doing this.

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      3. Oh gosh, thank you both! @Daemion, don’t worry about bruising my ego, you’re being a lot gentler than “critique” would often imply in an art setting😉

        I did make a lot of choices in the service of visual drama, yes–the shape of Shaene’s robe and casting gesture being one of them for sure, and I was afraid if she’d had her hood up she wouldn’t have been as recognizable. Similarly, neither Ruda nor Gabe have belts for their swords over their coats, even though they should; it would have hampered the billowing of their coats and detracted from the overall drama. I figured the relatively minor textual inaccuracy was worth the added visual punch, haha. (By the way, you can definitely sheathe a curved sword! I was specifically modeling Ariel mostly after latter-era Chinese dao, which is the kind of sword I have the most experience drawing.)

        I was actually debating between a Greek or medieval European armor set for Triss when I was drawing this–on the one hand, her sword, though never named as such, seems to be described more or less as a xiphos; on the other, I’d taken Ruda’s “Shiny Boots” nickname to be referring to sabatons. I made a guess, and ended up guessing in the wrong direction. Won’t be too hard to change, though, relatively speaking, since the torso can remain more or less the same–the eagle sigil is definitely one of my favorite parts of the picture, I was really happy with it haha. But no mail on the arms, and just greaves (over boots instead of sandals?) rather than full leg armor, and vertical leather panels instead of the lamellar stuff about the hips, yes? I’m also guessing–if the rest of Trissiny’s equipment is mostly Greek-like, her shield should probably be circular rather than escutcheon shaped?

        Vadrieny’s feet were mostly a matter of inference–a bird’s entire leg is fundamentally different from a human’s in that, on the human, the bones that comprise the main part of the foot are the analogous (homologous? I always get those terms confused) structure to what is actually the last segment of leg on the bird. To transform from one to the other you’d have to do something anatomically strange in one of two ways starting from the ankle down, and the description of how Vadrieny runs in her bonus chapter made me think it was in this direction. Anyway, I feel that this is the path of least biological improbability, insofar as fantasy transformation goes; there’s an evolutionary connection between the two configurations this way.

        I was fairly confident about Toby’s hair! It’s described quite clearly in the text more than once. What I was uncertain about was his clothing–the only description I could find of how he dresses is “casual”. I’m taking the fact that no one has commented on it as a good sign… I almost stuck him in a monk’s robe instead😛

        I’ve been enjoying this story immensely since I got here a few weeks ago, so it was more or less inevitable that I draw something for it. Thank you for your writing, Webb🙂

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    3. This is awesome! I really love Vadrieny’s wings and talons, and how Juniper is running ahead in just a sundress.

      Art-wise, I really love it! Especially how the girls have different body shapes, and how dynamic all the poses are.

      Detail-wise, you have almost everything! One thing that I did notice is that Toby’s staff is more of a wizard’s staff, rather than a quarter staff. A quarter staff is usually a regular cylindar that’s thin and smooth. And it’s not held like a polearm. One other thing is that Shaeine should probably be wearing her glasses, if only against Vadrieny’s and Trissiny’s glows.

      Other than those small things, everything else is spot-on! My favorite parts are Trissiny’s armor and Zaruda’s hat.

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      1. Juno’s totally doing the thing everyone ends up doing in some video games, where you jump or dodge everywhere because it’s faster than just running😉

        Dagnabbit, I knew I was going to get something weapon-related wrong! I was expecting it to be one of the swords. I suppose I should have been imagining Sun Wukong or Aeris Gainsborough instead of Gandalf, huh? And here I was so delighted to draw Toby a wizard’s knob, haha.

        Thank you!

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  4. “gain proficiency in the world of politics. Here’s a free lesson in that very thing: do not voice accusations like that unless you can first furnish proof”

    Wrong, actually. So much of politics is innuendo and mudslinging. Arguably not good political process, but still.

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    1. It does help to have a means of making those accusations which won’t get you prosecuted for libel/court-martialed for undermining the chain of command, etc.

      Basra would surely know if Covrin had been acting against her that way by now. Seriously. If she does know and hasn’t deep-sixed Covrin then … maybe it wasn’t against her orders? How complex a game is Basra playing here and to what end?

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      1. It’s entirely possible that Basra is too arrogant to consider Covrin going against her. In her mind she subdued the recruit and owns her now. That Jenell isn’t cowed and obedient might not even occur to Basra.

        We shouldn’t forget that Basra is only a big fish in a small pond. She is nowhere near Darling, Principia or Ravana when it comes to proper scheming. Basra gave herself away quickly when she was working with her fellow bishops and no matter what her true intentions are at the moment, her schemes are crude and obvious. There is no way she’ll get away with it but she doesn’t care because she won’t lose her position. She’s protected by the fact that both the church and the Sisters need her.
        What’s going on here is a clear abuse of power, nothing more. Yes, she sets traps for the unwary but so far each one has been spotted long before the squad could stumble into it. The one time where they resorted to knocking Prin out cold was a result of them not being fully aware of all the facts.

        Basically… Basra is a real danger but that’s because she doesn’t care about rules and regulations when they don’t help her. She won’t hesitate to resort to murder if she thinks she can get away with it. This is far from the elegant schemes of a proper con man and if she was a member of the Thieves Guild, they’d be embarrassed for her.

        Her scheming is on the level of my sergeant in the army.
        We came back after a 30km hike in heavy rain, uniforms soaked from within and without and pretty much exhausted. He gave me the order to report to his office within 5 minutes, freshly showered, dry and in a fresh uniform (which had to be complete with all the contents of the dirty one) which was impossible to do, even if I wasn’t exhausted.
        When I said as much, he made it into a discipline issue and said he’d be waiting. 5min later I was still in the shower, into which he shouted that I was in real trouble now. To make the rest of the drama short: For my transgressions I was assigned guard duty on Christmas as punishment. The soldier whose place I took got the day off. Guess who was that soldier? Yep, my sergeant. The entire thing was so completely obvious that everyone knew it.
        That’s about the level Basra plays at.😛

        Liked by 2 people

  5. it’s been a while since we last heard from justinians other other secret doom squad. wanna bet its them, or some of them hiding in the forest, specifically thumper.
    @ hoarus
    thats some pretty damn good fan art, i couldn’t figure out who was juniper till i actually sat down and went through each character. I always imagine her naked, and more tree like.

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  6. Typos:

    hangup
    (usually)
    hang-up

    Reactions:

    Interesting, Dijanerad isn’t as hyper-competent as she seems, she has been getting inside information. This brings up a major question that I think another commenters hit: how long is Covrin going to get away with it before she gets caught? She’s an amateur playing a dangerous game with professionals and is significantly exposed. Another question: Is Basra aware already and allowing or encouraging it? If so, the reasons she would do that are not obvious.

    OK, I didn’t see the Crow getting involved in the machinations around Principia. That was not foresighted of me – Mary obviously watches her occasionally. Basra really isn’t going to like just how much of a Charlie Fox this scheme ends up in.

    Now, for the fun game of the day: guessing what the heck the Squad of Doom (SoD) is getting into.
    —The mission is obvious BS.
    –>Implication: Basra (presumably) is unwilling or unable to spend the time/effort to make it more subtle.
    –>Implication: Basra thinks the results, even if it works, will not seriously affect her; otherwise she would make a deniable trap, not a screamingly obvious one.
    —The light gear requirements.
    –>Implication: Combat-oriented. The squad can deal with not having food, for a short while at least. Not having better armor and weapons is more serious.
    —“What she is heading into now is something she may be hard-pressed to contend with.
    –>Implication: Whatever it is is resistant to manipulation (Principia’s forte) and/or attacks on a level she is weak on, e.g. combat or magic.
    —Mary didn’t just subtly turn aside either Principia or whatever danger it is.
    –>Implication: More power and/or exposure would be necessary to interfere than Mary is willing to expend. Instead, Mary is going to bring someone else in. Typical of her MO.
    —“That is, without causing a great deal of trouble that may spread surprisingly far, through the most ephemeral of connections.”
    –>Implication: Principia (and the others) might be able to deal with the problem, but the result would be an unholy mess. Since simply getting killed would probably not cause too much of a mess (the squad are all mostly estranged from other people), this implies that other powers are already involved.
    —“Nobody ambushes an elf in the woods”
    –>Implication: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YouJustHadToSayIt

    A couple of other commenters suggested the Checkov’s gun of Andros’s comment about going out. On the face of it, I have to disagree. Andros has been portrayed as competent, so if he were doing something that would be worth “vanishing” the SoD he would put lookouts up and the SoD would most likely be intercepted before they saw anything damning. Otherwise, it makes sense: Andros does something that the SoD have to object to as a matter of policy, they tussle, and no matter how it comes out the SoD are out of politics (and maybe out of life). The only ways Andros wouldn’t put out sufficient guard are if he was told not to (high priest or his deity), he expected someone he trusted to provide security (high-ranking Shaathists or his deity), or there was no way for him to have lookouts, e.g. too secret to involve others. High-ranking Shaathists would think the same as Andros as far as security, so this leaves Shaath himself. So if it is Andros, he is in circumstances where he absolutely cannot involve others. Other possibilities: the SoD stumbles upon part of the dragonmoot, finds part of Justinian’s hit squad, or similarly runs across any of the other high-level powers running around. However, if that were the case, most of those powers would be able to stomp the SoD flat no matter what weapons they had.

    So, what do I get out of this: Andros is on the way to meet Shaath. The SoD interrupts and the price the SoD have to pay to get out of it is… Principia being named as the Hand of Shaath! OK, really, I don’t know, but some involvement of Andros makes sense.

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    1. The light gear requirement means that the squad isn’t immediately recognizable as Sisters of Avei. Which might be enough plausible deniability if someone was surprised by them and reacted in self defense. Which is now moot since they are wearing heavy armor that marks them as legionnaires even from a distance.

      I don’t think Andros is involved at all. We know the mission statement (Shaatists) is a red herring and I doubt Basra has any idea what Andros is up to you. He is very unlikely to help her with her schemes.
      Plus… he’d have lookouts etc. as you mentioned already.

      What I would expect from Basra is having someone ambush and kill the squad. That’s about as subtle as it gets with her. As long as she has an alibi and a connection to her can’t be proven, she’s safe.

      Unless Basra recently managed to get closer to Justinian she probably can’t use his secret hit squad but she might be able to convince Thumper and Kheshiri to go after Principia if she knows that they are available. Maybe get the Jackal in on it, too. I don’t see the dragon involved, that would be way too big.

      Mary’s comments on the situation imply that it’s most likely a combat situation that’s coming up… but it could mean anything really.

      My money is on Thumper and Kheshiri, who would be quite a match for five new legionnaires. … but I wouldn’t bet all my money, just a few bucks.😉

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      1. See now I’m wondering if maybe this is all to maneuver Prin into such a position that, like Thumper and Dizzy the Green Dragon, she has no choice but to join Justinian’s adventurer hit squad. After all, Basra is connected to Justinian, and we don’t know where her actual loyalties are for certain; at the very least, he can get her to do things simply because of his position of authority over her. On the other hand, outright killing her would also be in line with Justinian’s objectives, with the additional bonus of helping to get Thumper what he wants and influencing his loyalty. Either way, I guess what I’m getting at is–maybe Basra isn’t the one pulling the strings here, and it’s all on Justinian’s orders?

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      2. That’s a good point.

        If it’s Justinian pulling the strings then maybe Basra is doing a bad job on purpose because she wants his plans to fail.

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  7. I’m starting to think that maybe squad 13 is a trap that the silver legion command to give them an excuse for replacing Bishop Syrinx.

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