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Dusk was falling as the students disembarked from Malivette’s ostentatious carriages outside their destination. It seemed few people in Veilgrad were anxious to be out after or even too shortly before dark, to judge by the lack of passersby in this central area of the city. Those who were out on the streets, though, stared closely at them, some pausing unabashedly to gawk.

“Why do I have the feeling they’re not enraptured by our good looks?” Toby murmured.

“It’s a safe bet people in the city know whose carriages these are,” Trissiny replied. “Why do I have the feeling this is going to lead to trouble down the road?”

“There are access tunnels leading from the manor to various parts of the city,” Pearl said, stepping gracefully down from the driver’s seat of the carriage. Somehow, incredibly, she managed this without disturbing her expensive dress. “The Mistress considered sending you out through those, but you were already seen entering the carriages at the Rail platform. It will come out sooner or later that you are staying with us.”

“Wise,” Shaiene agreed, nodding. “Whether or not our associations are approved of, attempting to hide them would only make us look more suspicious.”

Jade descended to the pavement and strolled over to her counterpart, speaking as she did so. “Remember, kids, Mr. Grusser is technically not a noble, and his official title is Steward for House Dufresne, but for all intents and purposes, he is the acting governor of this city and the surrounding province. He doesn’t stand much on ceremony, but the man is popular and good at his job—a suitable combination for a public servant. He should be treated with due respect.”

“Is that really a concern?” Juniper asked, tilting her head quizzically. “Do we seem like the kind of people who’d be rude to the man in charge?”

“Well, let’s keep in mind that Arquin’s been in there for a couple hours and be prepared to do some damage control,” Ruda snorted.

“I don’t think you give Gabriel very much credit,” Fross said reprovingly. “So he’s not very practiced socially; he is trying, and getting better.”

“Also, he’s not just some kid anymore,” Teal noted. “The Hand of Vidius can probably get away with a gaffe here and there.”

“There’s another thing,” said Pearl. Jade gave her a pointed look, which she returned. After a tense pause, she turned her face back toward the cluster of students and continued. “Mr. Grusser’s consort, Eleny Feathership, is not his wife and has no legal status. She is, however, as loved by him as any bride, and also quite popular among the citizenry. I suggest you consider her the lady of the manor, and act accordingly.”

“There it is again,” Juniper complained. “Why would we be mean to this guy’s girlfriend?”

“It isn’t that,” Jade said with a wry little smile. “You might be…surprised, however.”

“Less so now,” Pearl added. “The Mistress enjoys her little jokes, but I fear too much social isolation has blunted her sense of what’s good fun and what may be hurtful. You are not going in completely unaware, but that is all I will say on the matter. She did wish for you to have a surprise this evening.”

“I’m thinkin’ the fewer of those we have, the better,” Ruda commented.

“Are you just…going to wait out here?” Teal asked a moment later, when the students had started moving toward the door and their drivers did not.

“We should remain with the carriages,” Pearl said, smiling. “It discourages pranksters.”

“Is that safe, though?” Teal asked, frowning. “I mean… Malivette said there’d been two riots. People attacked her house.”

“The Mistress has a penchant for dramatic effect,” said Jade, rolling her eyes. “It was more like one long riot with two particularly busy spells. She had to go outside twice, but after her second…performance…I highly doubt anyone in Veilgrad will challenge her or us directly. Unattended carriages might be just too tempting, however. So, here we stay.”

“I mean no disrespect,” Toby said diplomatically, “and you surely know the city better than we… But if it comes to another riot or something even similar, well… You’re two young women in fancy dresses.”

“They will be fine,” Trissiny said from up ahead. She caught Jade’s eye and nodded. “Trust me. Nothing around here is going to threaten them.”

“Now, is this you knowin’ something we don’t,” Ruda demanded, “or are you just willing to throw the vampire’s pals too the wolves?”

“Do any of you actually know anything about vampires?” Trissiny asked.

“A little!” Fross chimed. “A…very little. I really need to hit the books and bone up on undead. I was not expecting that information to be relevant on this trip.”

“What do you know about vampires?” Teal asked Trissiny.

“If it lurks in the night and kills people, I’ve been trained to destroy it,” the paladin replied. “I’ll bring you all up to speed on everything I know later, though that research is still a good idea, Fross. My own intel is singularly focused, and we presumably won’t be destroying Malivette.”

“You had better move along,” Pearl said gently. “You’re expected for dinner; it won’t do to be late. Mr. Grusser might think we delayed you on purpose.”

“Righto, then,” Ruda said with a shrug. “If you’re sure…”

Despite its foreboding outer walls, the general architecture within Veilgrad might be best described as “quaint.” It ran heavily to tall stone foundations and whitewashed walls braced by dark-stained beams. The structure to which they had been delivered was a particularly large specimen of the style, half fortress and half overblown cottage, and somehow it all worked. The elaborately carved window shutters and corner posts beautifully offset the grim towers of granite blocks; in some places, graceful wood-and-plaster walls rose straight from behind battlements which were obviously decorative rather than functional.

The building had been described to them as the administrative center of Veilgrad, encompassing both its city hall and the residence of the mayor, whom they had come to visit. Thus, they’d been brought to a rear entrance, where a small cul-de-sac made room for the carriages. Rather than climbing the broad steps to the hall’s towering front doors, they approached a much smaller, more cozy entrance, flanked by cheerful fairy lamps and narrow windows.

Toby pulled the bell; the door was opened mere moments later, revealing an older man in understated livery, his coat a dark purple offset by sober deep gray.

“Good evening, sir and ladies,” he said. “Welcome to Dufresne House. Please, come in; you are expected.”

He stepped back, bowing them through, and the students trooped in, gathering uncertainly in the hall while the servant shut the door behind them. It was warmly lit, fairy lamps shining through golden glass sconces; the stone floor and dark-paneled walls were decorated by a long rug and hanging tapestries. An actual suit of armor stood next to the door.

“This way, if you please,” the servant said diffidently, ushering them forward. “The Steward awaits you in the dining room with the last member of your party. Dinner will be served anon. Please, enter and be comfortable.”

It was a pretty short distance to the dining room, reached by a narrow side hall; they could already hear voices, one of which was laughing. The other was familiar.

“I still can’t believe it! A princess!” one speaker said, still chortling. “Right in the foot!”

“Well, I can’t deny it worked. Those horses got one whiff of demon and went haring off like…well, like they’d seen a demon. That doesn’t mean I’m ever going to let go of it, of course.”

“Oh, indeed, you should milk that for every precious drop. It’s not often you get something to hold over a woman; usually that goes the other way ’round!”

They’d begun filing into the dining room as he spoke, and at the last sentence Trissiny cleared her throat pointedly.

At the head of the long table, the man who had been seated there looked up and quickly rose to his feet, beaming in apparent pleasure at his guests. Beside him, Gabriel stood a moment later, grinning. Mayor Grusser was surprisingly young, somewhere between his later youth and earliest middle years; it was hard to say precisely. His Stalweiss origins showed clearly in his fair hair, pale complexion and square features. That was no surprise, the name having been a tip-off, and anyway more than half the population of Veilgrad were Stalweiss, most of the rest being Tiraan. Before the Imperial conquest, it had been considered part of the Stalrange. He was tall, but in addition to his relative youth, was also quite slim of build. Somehow his image didn’t quite match the title of his office.

“Everyone! Welcome!” Grusser exclaimed, enthusiastically waving them forward. “Please, please, everyone, sit, make yourselves comfortable—we don’t over-emphasize ceremony here. While you are my guests, my home is your home. I am Lars Grusser, Steward of House Dufresne and sort of the mayor by default of Veilgrad. And you are… Of course, please allow me to guess. Gabriel has been telling me the most hilarious stories—I feel as if I already know each of you!”

Their round of introductions was just coming to a close when another door at the opposite end of the room opened, apparently by itself. A pause fell, Juniper trailing off her apology for not being able to bring her pet (fortunately, she wasn’t positioned to see her classmates’ expressions), as everyone turned to look quizzically at the door. Those on the wrong side of the table couldn’t immediately see anyone present.

“Oh, heaven’s sake, Lars, why am I the last one to dinner in my own house?” a female voice exclaimed. “You could have sent for me—I thought they weren’t arriving till later!”

“Well, that was the plan, love,” Grusser said, smiling broadly and rising from his seat again. “But you know how Vette enjoys her little pranks. Fortunately Hans had more foresight than we, otherwise our guests might have been waiting a long time for dinner. Everyone, this is my companion, Eleny Feathership.”

Gabriel had already got to his feet, bowing courteously to the new arrival; the others respectfully stood in the next moments, most trying not to look confused or startled after Pearl’s warning.

Eleny was a gnome, scarcely more than three feet tall, with curly brown hair that fell to her waist. She wore a conservatively cut dress of red brocade, and smiled warmly up at Grusser as he fell to one knee beside her, taking her hand and placing a gentle kiss on her knuckles.

“Ah, yes, Vette’s jokes. You’re right, love, one of us really ought to have seen that coming. Well, here we are now!” She smiled broadly up at her guests. “Did I miss the introductions?”


 

Dinner was plentiful and good. The simple and hearty fare consisted of Stalweiss staples: sausage and cabbage soup, fried potatoes, wedges of spicy cheese, and apples for dessert. The only thing missing from the traditional spread was beer. Apparently Professor Tellwyrn’s drinking policy had been advertized ahead of them. Mayor or no mayor, Grusser clearly was wise enough to respect it.

Once over the initial surprise, the students found their host and hostess excellent conversationalists, skilled at maintaining a pleasant mood over dinner. Rehashing some of Gabriel’s stories provided them plenty of fodder; Ruda in particular chose to challenge his interpretations of certain events. Grusser sat at the head of the long table, Eleny at the far end, her seat specially designed to keep her at the same level as the rest of the diners. After the confusion and subtle menace that had marked their visit to Veilgrad thus far, it was altogether a blessedly pleasant evening.

Eventually, though, apples were being polished off, the efficient manservant Hans was removing plates, and finally the mayor leaned back in his chair, folding his hands on the table in front of him, and spoke in a deceptively casual tone.

“So! I understand you’ve been sent here to find and remove the source of the troubles we have been experiencing.”

Silence suddenly fell, the sophomores glancing around at each other. Eleny watched them all, her expression pleasantly neutral.

“First of all,” Toby began, “we greatly appreciate your patience, Mr. Grusser. Please understand the last thing anyone here intends is to step on your authority in any way. Professor Tellwyrn has a tendency to assign these…projects…without much regard for how people will be affected by them.”

“Well,” Grusser said with a wry smile, “my ‘authority,’ or lack thereof, is a sort of complicated matter. The political situation in Veilgrad is…unusual, and somewhat tense, but it has worked for us. At least until very recently. I will tell you this, though.” He leaned forward again, his expression growing intent. “I am only a few years younger than Malivette; I was but a schoolboy when she was attacked by the vampire and House Dufresne all but destroyed. I knew her, though, distantly. We did not really socialize, but my family have been stewards to hers for generations, and I was definitely aware of her. She was always such a bright girl, cheerful and fond of jokes. After that…” He sighed heavily. “Well. It was certainly to be expected that she would be full of darkness, given all that she had experienced. I only saw her once more before she left for the University. I recall thinking, at the time, that that was the face of a woman who truly, deeply hated herself, the world and everything in it.

“Then,” he continued pensively, “four years later, I was working as a secretary under my father when she returned. The darkness was still there, obviously, and I rather think always will be. But she was herself again. To the extent that it was possible, whatever happened at that school put her back right. She smiled and laughed again, had friends.”

“Oh, did she ever have friends,” Eleny said, grinning.

“Indeed, my dear, and that is the next point I was about to make,” Grusser said, nodding to her. “She came back with half a dozen classmates, visiting for the summer before going off to resume their own lives. At that time, my friends, Veilgrad was suffering a significant demon problem.”

“Demon problem?” Trissiny said sharply.

“The city had had one for a good many years,” he replied solemnly, “though it had escalated in the years since the fall of House Dufresne. By that point, people walked about armed; there were two known katzils nesting somewhere in the roofs, imps had a tendency to appear in the streets at night, and there was an incubus operating in the city, spreading chaos. He was the worst of all.”

“What was he trying to do?” Teal asked, fascinated.

“I am glad to say that the minds of demons are inscrutable to me,” Grusser said with a grimace.

“He wasn’t necessarily trying to do anything in particular,” Trissiny noted. “An incubus would attempt to destabilize whatever city he found himself in just on general principles.”

“That summer,” Grusser continued, his grin returning, “all of that ended. Oh, the University graduates were very subtle. I only know they were involved at all because of my father’s position; it was to us that they came for advice on navigating the city. Within a few weeks, the demons were just gone, and the next we heard, nearly all of House Leduc had been quietly arrested in the night by Imperial Intelligence and shipped off to trial in Tiraas.”

“This House was responsible for the demon attacks?” Shaeine asked, frowning in polite disapproval.

“No official confirmation of that was ever published,” Eleny said, rolling her eyes, “but it was an open secret from the beginning. Veilgrad started suffering intermittent demonic problems at the same time members of one of its two noble families started universally dying of sudden cancer in their forties, while nevertheless growing richer by means no banker could seem to track. Subtle, they were not.”

“Subtle enough to avoid official censure, at least until the University people stepped in and broke them,” Grusser said with obvious satisfaction. “The point of my story, friends, is that I have no objection to your presence or activities here. None. I don’t presume to know what happens at that school of yours, but Professor Tellwyrn clearly knows what she is about. As do her students. Now that Veilgrad is suffering from some unknown darkness—again—I have to admit being relieved that you are here.” He grinned, and winked. “Meddling.”

“Perhaps you can elucidate the political situation for us?” Shaeine suggested. “You spoke of two houses. Our hosts said that House Dufresne were your employers, yet you speak as if they are gone.”

“Yes, quite right,” he replied. “Well, to begin, Veilgrad has had two resident Houses since it first became an Imperial province. Houses Dufresne and Leduc arrived simultaneously, and in fact were instrumental in the Tiraan conquest and the subsequent campaign into the Stalrange. Now, however, both teeter on the brink of extinction, reduced to a single member each. In fact, the last member of House Dufresne, who officially holds the title of Duchess of this province, is legally dead. She is still up and walking about, however, and even the Empire has declined to try stripping her of her position. This…makes the matter complicated, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

“Wait, Malivette is the ruler of this province?” Trissiny exclaimed.

“On paper,” Grusser said seriously. “In practice, I handle all of her affairs except the personal. It is really the only way; the populace would never tolerate a vampire’s direct control over them.”

“Where did you think she got that giant mansion from?” Eleny asked, grinning.

“Dufresne, Leduc,” Teal murmured. “Those aren’t Stalweiss names. Nor Tiraan… If anything, they sound Glassian.”

“Just so!” Eleny said, smiling broadly. “You’ve a good ear for tongues. Aye, the history is actually quite fascinating. The earliest Dufresnes and Leducs in the region fled Glassierre due to some politics in the old country; when they came to this continent, they went right to Tiraas, presented themselves to the Emperor and offered their fealty. Well, Tiraas was at that time launching its conquest of this region, and these two were a godsend. Few of the native nobility wanted to risk their own assets against the Stalweiss and their Huntsmen, who were sort of legendary terrors at that time. And here came two brand new Houses from a cold country which was famous for its art and culture despite having to beat back constant incursions of its borders. Who better to conquer and civilize the Stalrange?”

“Sounds like they were on pretty good terms, then,” Gabriel noted.

“At that time, aye, they were,” the gnome replied, nodding. “But that was centuries ago. Ever since, with the conquest long accomplished…well, they were two big birds in the same nest, and fell to infighting as nobles always do. The rulership of Veilgrad and the province passed back and forth between them in the course of just all kinds of intrigues. Toward the end, there, it was widely known the Leducs were practicing some kind of diabolism; in fact, twice that there are records of, the Black Wreath themselves intervened to shut down some project of theirs. But they kept at it, and only House Dufresne, being rulers at the time, had the power to keep ’em in check. Then the Dufresnes were slaughtered in their beds by a vampire and the only heir turned, and the Leducs saw weakness. It got bad before it got better,” she added solemnly.

“She’s quite the historian, is my Eleny,” Grusser said, smiling fondly.

“Lars thinks I tend to natter on and bore the company,” the gnome said, returning his expression exactly. “But it is immediately relevant to the topic! The Dufresnes were wiped out by a vampire; the Leducs were mostly cleared out by the Empire after University adventurers…well, did whatever they did. The last of ’em died off in prison or in shame, most by suicide. There’s one Lord of House Leduc left, moldering away in that mansion, and he has no political aspirations. Then there’s the Lady Dufresne, who has to keep out of politics to avoid inciting a rebellion. That is why Lars effectively runs this province, despite being no aristocrat.”

“That seems…peculiar, if you will pardon my saying it,” Shaeine said tactfully. “Would it not make sense for the Empire to appoint you governor, Mr. Grusser?”

“Politics,” he said with a dramatic sigh belied by his amused expression. “You see, my friends, doing that would establish a precedent. Specifically, that a noble ruler can be removed for such a paltry reason as being totally unfit to govern. The Houses would never stand for that; it’d put fully half of them out on the street if it became Imperial policy.”

“That’s…really weird,” said Juniper, blinking. “I’m not much for law or politics, but wouldn’t that be a really good idea? I mean, for the Emperor to do. Why does he let them push him around that way?”

“On paper,” Grusser replied, “the power of the Silver Throne is absolute. In practice, there’s a lot the Houses could do to make Sharidan’s life miserable if they chose, especially if a lot of them were in agreement on it. He’s very good at keeping them mollified. Among other things, that requires some unfortunate compromises. The issue in Veilgrad is that with as much unrest as this region has suffered, removing a familiar face who is—if I may flatter myself—rather popular and placing another leader in the governorship would be risking serious unrest, possibly verging on rebellion. Thus, it’s in the Throne’s best interests to let the situation stand. He can’t place another House in charge, and he definitely can’t risk the wrath of the aristocrats by simply removing the resident House and putting a commoner in charge.”

“Emperors have done that, though,” Trissiny said, frowning. “Repeatedly.”

“Conquering Emperors have done that,” Grusser corrected her with a smile. “The Tirasian Dynasty stitched this Empire back together after the Enchanter Wars through diplomacy and subterfuge. Sharidan has the backing of the military—no Tiraan Emperor lasts long without it—but he’s not willing to use that against his own people except at great need, and the Houses know it. No, the situation here is undesirable, but stable. Politically speaking, that is. If the escalating issues in this city aren’t brought to a halt, though… It’s impossible to say what might happen.”

“Thank you for explaining all of this, Mr. Grusser,” Toby said thoughtfully. “This answers a number of questions I had about Malivette and her position in the city.”

“My pleasure!”

“So, the question now is, what’s our plan?” Gabriel said, looking around at them.

“First things first,” Eleny said briskly. “Coming here was a good start; you should also check in with the other political powers active in the city. The Omnist temple, the Huntsmen, the Universal Church parson and the Imperial barracks.”

“That would take days if we did it sequentially,” Shaeine observed. “I propose dividing our forces.”

“Yeah, pretty obvious who should go talk with the monks,” Ruda said, winking at Toby. “And of course, we should definitely send Trissiny up to the lodge to chat with the Huntsmen.”

“Is…is she joking?” Eleny asked in a tone of fascinated horror.

“Yes,” Trissiny said firmly. “If Ruda suggests anything tremendously stupid, you can be sure she is joking.”

“Aw, way to ruin my fun, Shiny Boots,” Ruda said, grinning.

“There’s another thing,” Grusser added seriously. “I presume that you will be wanting to look into the known threats facing the city after you have introduced yourselves to the potential stabilizing forces?”

“Any starting points you can suggest would be very helpful,” Toby said.

“Well…” Grusser sighed. “With regard to that, there is one prospect who stands right between the two categories. Or, rather, in both, at least potentially.”

“A known power…and a known threat?” Fross chimed. “Both? That sounds dangerous.”

“I mentioned there is a surviving member of House Leduc,” Grusser said grimly. “Lord Sherwin keeps to himself, which in all frankness is the best thing I can say about him. I have nothing to prove it, otherwise I would hand him over to the Empire—or, could I contact them, even the Black Wreath—but it is an open secret that he is carrying on his family’s traditions. All of them.”

Trissiny scowled deeply. “You mean…”

“Aye, afraid so,” Eleny said with a worried frown. “You see why it’s a hardship, not being able to brush aside the nobility, here. Why no other noble House has tried to finish them off and seize their territory, when they’d normally be on two critically weakened Houses like vultures on a corpse. The last nobles in Veilgrad are the vampire…and the warlock.”


 

The carriages trundled back up the road to the isolated Dufresne manor in total darkness. Each had lanterns dangling from all four corners, old-fashioned wrought iron fixtures housing modern fairy lamps; they proceeded in their own moving island of cheerful light. It was dimmer in their interiors, which were illuminated only by small lamps that cast a faint but warm glow, just enough for their passengers to see one another. It would probably have been impossible to read by, had any of them been so inclined.

It was a quiet ride, at least for the first leg. Aside from being tired—and full—all of them were processing the various revelations of the day, and contemplating their next steps.

“They seem like such a perfect couple,” Teal said suddenly, breaking the silence. “They were so in sync.”

“Indeed, they appeared to be very much in tune with one another,” Shaeine replied, placing a hand over hers on the seat between them.

“I wonder why he doesn’t just marry her,” Teal said pensively. “Is…interracial marriage that taboo in the Empire?”

“Maybe. Dunno.” Ruda shrugged. “That’s not the issue, though, either way. It’s all about politics.”

“How so?” Trissiny asked.

“C’mon, isn’t it obvious?”

“Ruda,” she said flatly, “I know you are socially adroit enough not to say things like that by accident. You’re not Gabe. Is there a reason you wanted to make me feel stupid for not having your political education?”

“Aw, I didn’t mean it like that, Boots,” Ruda said, affectionately jostling her roommate with an elbow. “You’re right, I’m sorry; I’ve got some bad conversational habits. Nothing personal meant. On the subject, though… The political situation in Veilgrad in a nutshell is that the resident nobles are a menace and a hardship, the Emperor can’t remove ’em because of what it’d mean for the nobility everywhere, and the current acting governor needs to stay in place to keep this very uneasy population from outright revolting. So he can’t be replaced with another House. With me so far?”

“Succinctly put,” said Shaeine.

Ruda nodded. “Well, there’s a simple solution to all of this. If Lars Grusser marries into a House, Veilgrad would get new nobility, which would pacify the Houses, and he could remain in power, which would pacify the populace. He can’t marry Eleny; he has to hope for a political marriage. It’s sad, sure, but…that’s politics. It’s an old and not uncommon story. C’mon, Teal, I bet you know a bunch just like it.”

“Yeah…several of them are among a bard’s standbys.” Teal sighed, turning to stare at the darkened window. Thanks to the interior lights reflecting on the glass, they had virtually no view outside. Not that there was much to see, anyway. “I don’t favor tragedies, myself.”

Shaeine scooted closer and leaned subtly against her shoulder.

“That leaves out another party, though,” Trissiny said, frowning. “Suppose Malivette doesn’t want to give up power?”

“Malivette doesn’t have power,” Ruda said. “She’s only Duchess in name, and everyone knows it. Besides, Malivette strikes me as a weirdo even apart from the undead thing, but I didn’t have the impression she’s in any way stupid. She has to be aware of all this, if she’s not actively in on it. The fact she allows the matter to stand is basically a tacit endorsement of the idea. Unless, of course, there’s more going on that we don’t know.”

“That much is a virtual certainty,” Shaeine murmured.

They froze as a long, mournful howl echoed through the mountains. It hung in the air for long moments, eventually trailing off in a descending note. Moments later, it was repeated from another direction, and then more voices sprang up. Soon, the howls sounded from all sides, carrying on like an eerie choir.

“Wolves,” Teal said softly. “How pretty.”

“We’re prob’ly safe in here,” Ruda noted. “Very few animals will come near an undead. The horses are like…wolf repellent, I bet.”

“Those are not wolves,” Trissiny said quietly. She had twisted her belt when she sat, so her sword was in her lap rather than jabbing into the cushions; now she held its hilt tightly. “This city is in very serious trouble.”

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20 thoughts on “9 – 6

  1. Ugh, almost a day late. I really feel terrible about this, especially since this was a funded chapter. I’m very sorry, guys.

    So this is the third consecutive Friday chapter funded, and as such, I’m bumping up the donation goal by the average amount of the last three weeks’ overshoot of the mark. That, from what I was told, is how Wildbow does it, and as a general rule, imitating Wildbow’s policies has served me well. Seriously, I ought to send him a fruit basket or something.

    I actually was hesitant in this case to do it, as this chapter was up late. In fact, the last Friday chapter was also late. And that fact is what made me decide to go ahead; it’s a sign, to me, that I’m pushing what I can reliably crank out. I’m busier and more stressed than I was at this time last year, and I need the prospect of a weekly breather now and again to keep centered.

    This week we overshot the donation goal by all of seventy-five cents; the previous two weeks it was over ten dollars each. That’s an average of just under seven, which is a weird number, so I rounded it down to five. New weekly donation target is $105. It’ll change whenever there’s a three-week pattern; if it’s met three weeks running, it rises, if it’s not three weeks running, it falls, in both cases by the average of the difference.

    By and large I think the incentive program is working as intended. The goal is for a chapter to be a reasonable prospect but not a guarantee. And given the trouble I’ve been having the last couple of weeks, I’m honestly sort of hoping for a Friday off. The absolute last thing I want is to reach a point of burnout.

    And of course, please feel free to chime in with any questions or comments about the donation program. I want it to be transparent and fair, and I’ve had excellent feedback on readers before that’s helped it be both.

    As always…thank you, all of you, so much. My donors and Patreons are hugely important; you guys are the reason I’m doing as well as I am in life right now. This is the first winter I can remember that I wasn’t seriously worried about how I would survive the season. All of you, though, are a gift to me. Never feel bad if you can’t donate; it means the world that people like what I create and come here to read.

    Everybody have a safe and happy weekend, and I’ll see you all Monday.

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    1. Perhaps it’d help to have the donation deadline a day before the bonus chapter goes up, too? that way you’d have some guaranteed headroom, this last-minute stuff seems really stressful and hard to plan for.

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    2. Ok, first of all… don’t feel bad for being late. This was pretty much my fault entirely, I knew it was late already and I actually had a post written already, in which I said that you deserve a day off and that I’d donate next week… but then I really wanted to read a new chapter… ok, maybe blame yourself a little for writing the fiction equivalent of crack.😉

      As hoarous already said, you could move the deadline to a time that allows you plenty of time to write the bonus chapter… or you could adopt Drew Hayes’ approach, which is that bonus chapters go up the next viable Friday. (http://www.drewhayesnovels.com/bonuschapters)

      I think most readers of TGaB would agree that we prefer quality chapters from a well rested, healthy author over something he rushed out while being stressed and busy. If that means waiting a few hours or days, then so be it.

      That being said, you continue to write excellent fiction and while you are sometimes not entirely happy with the result, that’s because of your own high standards. Compared to most other fiction authors out there you’re doing a great job. You have talent and you are able to write those long chapters within hours, which is simply amazing.
      So far you avoided all the pitfalls of writing fiction (like Mary Sues), your story is internally consistent and I don’t think you ever had to retcon anything.

      Your first novel Rowena’s Rescue is at least as good as Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris and TGaB can keep up with the works of Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Robert Jordan, Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Direct comparisons are difficult but if I go by how much I enjoyed reading these stories, how much I want to read more about the worlds and the characters in them and how often I re-read the books… then yes, you’ve got a place amongst them.

      There are only a few web serials which can pride themselves on a similiar high level of quality and some of those only update once a week or less.

      I like how serious you are about your work ethics, how you always try your best to keep your promises and your entire attitude is commendable.

      Personally, I envy you a little. I have lots of ideas for stories, in my head I built the worlds, plotted out the course of the stories, created the characters… but putting it all into writing that makes sense to other people is really hard. I have trouble naming my characters and I just can’t get them to develop their own voices. They all sound like me. Also, being intentionally funny is beyond me.

      tl;dr: You are awesome, your story is awesome and you deserve a better life. Worrying about survival shouldn’t happen in a first world country, some of your hardships are inexplicable to me, nothing like that would ever happen here in Germany. I hope this trend of you doing better will continue and I’m going to throw money at you whenever I’m able to. Which is probably not as often or as much as the Patreons and other donors.

      Like

  2. Despite your struggle with it, this was one of my favourite chapters. I think it’s the return of the world building. The best part for me was always learning about this new, interesting world, but since it’s lately been plot progression, there hasn’t been much.

    As for the actual chapter, I’m curious as to what makes werewolves so dangerous. They almost certainly are very strong and very fast, but then, so are many demons and imperial strike teams seem to be able to deal with them just fine most of the time. I’m going to guess that they’re hard to detect, being that they can shift to normal human form, and that they travel in very large packs.

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    1. Traditionally, the danger of werewolves (beyond being killed by them) is that their bite infects you with lycanthropy. In many stories they are also highly resistant or immune to some sorts of damage, magic etc. and heal very quickly.

      It remains to be seen how werewolves work in this world… and even if there actually are werewolves around.

      Like

  3. Seriously loving this new chapter. I’m a sucker for new takes on old fantasy staples, and I’m eagerly awaiting your werewolves.

    This is the serial that convinced me to make a patreon account and actually start donating after all.

    Like

  4. Don’t care about the few hours late thing, myself. You gave us all a heads-up; what more could we need?🙂 And, the result was worth it.

    So far, my brain has been supplying Hammer Horror background music and emphasis chords in all the right places. This is a good sign.😀

    Like

  5. TGaB is amazing, and sometimes I get so caught up in the story that I forget that the author is a human that requires breaks. You provide wonderful entertainment faithfully for mostly three times a week, for free, and I would just like to say thank you.

    So, thank you very much for this chapter! I will continue lending my support to this serial, up till the final, epic conclusion🙂

    Like

  6. This chapter:

    House Dufresne? I wonder if there was an Andy once.😀

    Trissiny seems to know something about Malivette’s girls we don’t. Were they empowered in some way? The usual practice of creating ghouls to take care of the vampire during the daytime is rather distasteful and the girls don’t seem like Renfields… but I am sure they are far from helpless.

    The Stalweiss diet reminds me of something… if only I could remember…😛

    Seeing how half a dozen of them quickly, subtly and without collateral damage solved the demon problem a few years ago reinforces my belief that university graduates are all badass. Many of them are also of the nobility or even royalty, a few are supernaturally powerful… and they are all connected to each other through the university. If Arachne ever needs an army… woah.

    They never mentioned what happened to the vampire who turned Malivette. I wonder if it’s still around.

    I wonder if the warlock Leduc is even involved in the current chaos or if he’s a false lead.

    Werewolves? Or perhaps not? This is shaping up to be epic.😀

    Like

  7. “’Wait, Malivette is the ruler of this province?’ Trissiny exclaimed.”

    This line rather surprised me. After all, Jade had earlier told them “Remember, kids, Mr. Grusser is technically not a noble, and his official title is Steward for House Dufresne, but for all intents and purposes, he is the acting governor of this city and the surrounding province.”
    So we—and Trissiny–knew that A) Mr. Grusser is the effective ruler of the city, and B) his title is connected to House Dufresne.

    A little later, Mr. Grusser himself said “I am only a few years younger than Malivette; I was but a schoolboy when she was attacked by the vampire and House Dufresne all but destroyed.” Now, this is not explicit in stating that Malivette is a scion of House Dufresne, but it’s really close.

    So I find myself surprised at Trissiny. She should at least have realized that it is probable that Malivette is the official ruler of the area. I would’ve expected her reaction to be more like “Trissiny nodded, saying ‘Yes, that makes sense.’”

    Again, thank you for your wonderful story.

    Like

    1. Well, I had a vague idea that Malivette is more important than she let on at first but until the “I am only a few years younger than Malivette; I was but a schoolboy when she was attacked by the vampire and House Dufresne all but destroyed. I knew her, though, distantly. We did not really socialize, but my family have been stewards to hers for generations, and I was definitely aware of her. ” part it was unclear.

      You are correct though, at this point everyone should have realized that Malivette is the Duchess but it’s easy for us to see it because we’re not getting an information overload and we’re not in the middle of things. The missing piece is Lars introducing himself as Steward of House Dufresne, which happened before they all sat down to eat. For Trissiny it was probably half an hour when she heard that bit of information, for us readers it was less than three.
      Without having that in mind, the connection is only implied and not stated outright. Malivette could have been from another noble family other than the Dufresnes if you only have the quote above to work with.

      Like

  8. Typos:

    more cozy
    (as usual, the spell checker likes)
    cozier

    more than half the population of Veilgrad were Stalweiss
    (tricky, ‘population’ is technically singular, as is ‘half’, but it reads better IMO to treat it as a plural)

    we, otherwise
    we; otherwise

    advertized
    advertised

    my family have
    (another tricky one, ‘family’ is singular, perhaps clearer as)
    members of my family have

    Shaeine/Shaiene

    Reactions:

    Sometimes the way to have a good reputation is for those around you to have worse ones. I wonder how much of Grusser’s positive rep comes from the contrast with an merrily insane vampire and a reclusive warlock. Eh, maybe I am overthinking it – he seems nice… but that is often easier than competent.

    @Daemion
    “sausage and cabbage soup, fried potatoes, wedges of spicy cheese, and apples for dessert”
    Daemion: “The Stalweiss diet reminds me of something… if only I could remember…”
    Farmer food, all stuff that keeps well also (if you pickle the cabbage). What idea do you have?

    We get to see werewolves in this setting! This ought to be fun… for the readers, not for the characters.

    Is Rafe sticking with Malivette? He is supposed to be observing student progress and the initial meeting with the (effective) governor is fairly important. Arachne could easily have loaded him down with scrying gear, I guess.

    Is DD seeing how far he can push things in the “classic horror film” look? We have a rural setting with ornate castles headed by a vampire and a warlock, mobs with actual pitchforks and torches, and werewolves providing both audio ambiance and threat. Really, only the trope breaking of the various parties allows this to exist without my eyes rolling.

    So, vampire companions get special powers. I would like a reveal of that later please.

    “She came back with half a dozen classmates, visiting for the summer before going off to resume their own lives.”
    This was or wasn’t an Arachne field trip? It was post-graduation (later text confirms that, see just below), so perhaps it was only suggested by Arachne, or perhaps pushing her students to meddle simply had that result.

    “Oh, the University graduates were very subtle.”
    I really hope Grusser is not expecting the subtle part from this bunch.

    “Veilgrad started suffering intermittent demonic problems at the same time members of one of its two noble families started universally dying of sudden cancer in their forties, while nevertheless growing richer by means no banker could seem to track.”
    OK, we know why the cancer happens. How does demon trafficking lead to wealth? Wealth can come from many sources, but demon summoning is not clearly tied to any of them, unless they use the demons for extortionary scare tactics.

    “twice that there are records of, the Black Wreath themselves intervened to shut down some project of theirs”
    WTF? The Black Wreath is supposed to be secret – even the ‘arrangement’ they have with the other sects to control stupid warlocks is so secret that four different Bishops had to have it explained to them (barely possible: those who knew both chose to violate it and not tell the others). Just how hard did the Black Wreath have to come down on the Leducs to make it into the official record?

    Why, precisely, are the Huntsmen not hunting the werewolves? That would seem to be in line with their doctrine and responsibility.

    Split the party! I nominate Ruda to go talk to the Huntsmen.😉 Actually, I nominate Ruda and Gabe – her to keep them off balance and him to play the actual diplomat. If nothing else, sect politics would make it hard for them to simply ignore him. Let’s see, that leaves Trissiny for the Imperials (official rank of General), Teal for Leduc (he ought to respect Vadrieny and Teal has experience dealing with nobles) and, uh oh, Juniper (plus maybe Fross) for the Universal Church. Well, the UC is being wimpy in this situation, so cheesing them off isn’t a big deal here.

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  9. Why doesn’t the steward just marry Malivette? I guess because she’s legally dead? Then he could get the title of one of the existing noble houses in the area without needing a new house to enter move in, and she’s already a friend who understands his relationship with Eleny.

    Like

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