11 – 1

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The dim corridor emerged into brightness, noise, and general chaos, and Rasha did his best not to creep out into it as if expecting to be struck, which he more than half was. Given the kind of place this was, though, and the kind of people who were here, acting as if expecting a blow seemed like a good way to encourage one.

Well, as they saying went, if you couldn’t beat them…

“And here we are!” Kestrel proclaimed, striding forward and throwing wide her arms. “The heart and the brain of the Thieves’ Guild! This is where all the magic happens.”

“Magic?” he said hesitantly.

She turned to wink at him. “Just a figure of speech, love. Annnnd I think you’ll find the view’s better if you don’t skulk there in the hallway. Believe me, the time for skulking will come later. You’re new; don’t try to skulk without professional supervision just yet.”

Rasha pressed his lips together in annoyance, but stepped forward. In fact, he strode forward, as nonchalantly as he could manage.

An older man, presumably a Guild thief, passed them going the other way, and glanced at Rasha with clear amusement. He tried, and failed, not to blush. Luckily, Kestrel was again not paying attention to him.

“All this up here,” she proclaimed, gesturing expansively, “is none of your damn business, clear? On that side is the map room, which—now, try to stay with me, this is a bit complex—is full of maps. It’s used for meetings and planning jobs and various other sensitive things by the Guild’s upper-level muckety mucks. Stay out of there. Across the way there’s the counting room, where they—”

“Count?” Rasha offered.

She raised one eyebrow, very slowly. “Young man. Are…are you…sassing me?”

“I…don’t know,” he said nervously.

Just like that she was all smiles again. “Well, you should get in the habit. Half of everything said in these hallowed halls if backtalk and snark of one kind or another. Nobody’ll take you seriously if you can’t take the piss out of ’em. Anyway, yes, counting, that’s where the number crunchers crunch the ledgers wherein the numbers reside. Stay out of there, too. Past that is the central shrine to Eserion himself, visited only by the aforementioned mucketies and other various schlubs on the Boss’s express invitation. Extra stay out of there. Eserion’s a pretty out-of-your-hair kind of god, but he is still a god. You show up in his central shrine uninvited and you’re askin’ for the old bang zoom.”

“I don’t know what a good number of those words even are,” he informed her, turning to point across the huge pit in the center to the other side. “What’s over there?”

“You mean, where the lack of a door is to indicate that there’s anything over there?”

“Well,” he said uncertainly, “it’s just, I dunno… All this seems kind of symmetrical. So when there’s no door where it seems like there ought to be…”

“Smashing!” she crowed, slapping him on the back so hard he stumbled forward into the rail around the pit, experiencing an instant of vertigo at the thought of tumbling over it. “That’s the way, Sasha, keep your eyes peeled and watch for what doesn’t belong! Who knows, they just might make an actual thief of you eventually.”

“Rasha,” he corrected.

“’S what I said, dear. But yes, anyway, what’s over there is the record room. But it’s accessed through the counting room, which I’ve already told you to stay out of so there’s almost no point in adding to stay the hell out of the record room because you wouldn’t even be where the door is if you know what’s good for you, but just in case you don’t and get the urge to try tunneling through the wall, there, instead of that, don’t do that. Stay out of the record room.”

“How do you say all that without stopping to breathe?” he marveled.

“Practice, my precious little titmouse, practice. And starting pretty much nowish, you will either get in the habit of practicing or get bounced out of here on your cute little gagonza. Right, so, upper level! Your only reason for being up here is passing through. Do not go fucking around in any of these rooms. Y’see, the doors don’t even lock, mostly, so naturally curious apprentices try poking their noses in on a semi-regular basis, and what happens to them is far more effective than any lock at motivating people to stay out of shit they don’t need to be in. You still with?”

“Yes.”

“Is that ‘yes I understand all this’ or ‘I’m just gonna nod and smile until she starts making sense?’”

“…yes.”

Kestrel winked at him and ruffled his hair, at which he gritted his teeth and stepped back from her.

“What you want,” she continued, leaning a frightening amount of her upper body far too deeply over the rail to point into the pit, “is down there. C’mon! This way!”

The heart and brain of the Thieves’ Guild was a disappointingly stark space, as had been the drab stone tunnels which led to it, but that might have been partly the comparison with the Imperial Casino above. This part was at least large, though. The huge square room with the off-limits doors on its upper level was largely empty in the center, where the railed path around the second floor fell away to a smaller but still wide-open space below.

It was much busier down there, Rasha noted as he followed Kestrel down one of the staircases to the bottom. The area seemed to serve as a kind of gymnasium; only a few people were about at the moment, but there were dummies positioned in each of the corners, racks of weapons and other tools here and there, and several miscellaneous implements, most of which he couldn’t identify. One thirtiesh woman lounging against the wall with her arms folded appeared to be a full Guild member; she glanced up at Rasha and Kestrel as they descended, then returned her attention to the nearby apprentice who was attempting, apparently, to remove small bells from a dummy without making a sound. Another youth was administering a vicious beating to a padded dummy with a cudgel, while a third clambered about on a set of balance bars.

“Dormitories that way,” Kestrel said, pointing to the door on the right, beneath the map room. “Your new home, at least for a while. Practice rooms for various purposes up there—you’ll be getting to know those pretty well. Back there beneath the entry hall is the catacombs. Stay out of there.”

“Where am I allowed go to?” he asked irritably.

She leered at him. “Oh, you’re allowed in the catacombs, morsel. Just…stay out of there. Under Tiraas there’s a huge modern sewer system, a wide variety of old tunnels and vaults dating from way before there was even a city here, as well as a good number of natural caves. And, one hears, stuff left over all the way from the Elder Wars. The catacombs intersects with all that shit, and the layout’s a nightmare. I’m suggesting that you stay out because unless you’re with someone who very specifically knows where they’re going, you will get your ass lost. You might even find the bones of some previous apprentice who also wouldn’t listen to good sense. This being Tiraas, there’s a lot of moisture, especially underground, and bodies don’t keep well. You start to smell rotten meat, that’s probably what it is.”

“Noted,” he said, glancing uncertainly at the door she indicated. It was just a door, nothing ominous or special about it… Rather like the ones up top that he was also supposed to stay out of. It occurred to Rasha to wonder whether she was just having him on about all this. He’d gotten the impression from the thieves in the Casino that the duty of escorting a new applicant to the apprentice quarters wasn’t bestowed, or even assigned, so much as fobbed off.

“Now, through here is what you want,” Kestrel continued brightly, striding across the floor to the last doorway, which was double-wide and standing open, revealing a noisy, crowded scene beyond. “Cafeteria! Kitchens on the far side, but in here is where you’ll loiter, socialize, and so on. Apprentices eat free, but it’s slop.”

“Slop?” he exclaimed, following her uneasily through the doors.

“I jest, somewhat, partially,” she confided. “The food’s carefully designed to pack all of what a body needs and none of what interests the palate. Fruit and porridge for breakfast; fish, potatoes and steamed veggies the rest of the time. Pretty much no seasoning. Cheap tea, brewed weakly; no booze. The point’s to keep you alive and healthy and also encourage you to get your butt out there and not loaf around like this is some kind of school.”

“Isn’t this some kind of school, though?” he protested.

Kestrel nodded solemnly. “The School of Life, my young friend. Class of Hard Knocks. And you, you lucky little devil, just enrolled. Welp! Here you are. The other ‘prenties will show you what’s what, help you find a bunk and all. You picked a great time to come, it’s dinner and everybody’s here. G’luck!”

“Wait,” he said in mounting panic as she turned to go. “I mean—that’s it? What am I supposed to do?”

Kestrel stopped, came back to him, and reached out solemnly lay a hand on his shoulder. “All right, Pasha—”

“Oh, you’re just doing that on purpose.”

“—I will give you our first lesson as an initiate of the Thieves’ Guild. It’s fine to feel frightened, uncertain, weak, or whatever else you feel along those lines. But never.” She leaned in closer, her eyes deadly serious. “Ever let them see you feel weak.”

“Um.” Rasha gulped. “Who is ‘them?’”

“Everyone,” Kestrel said solemnly. “Everyone is them. That’s lesson two.”

He drew in a deep breath, straightened up and pushed his shoulders back deliberately. “All right. Thanks. But…still, and all, what am I supposed to be doing?”

She winked, taking a step back from him. “Lesson three: in any situation, first step is to figure out what you should be doing, all by your own damn self. If I may offer some advice, though, a good first step would be to get some dinner. May as well enjoy a meal on the Guild; odds are good you’ll be gone this time tomorrow.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” he said sourly.

“Aw, Tosha,” she cooed, shaking her head. “Didn’t you think it was a tad peculiar you could just walk into the headquarters of the Thieves’ Guild, asking how to join up, and immediately be shown to the apprentice quarters, no questions asked?”

“Well, actually—”

“This is a game of elimination, little friend. When I say you probably won’t last long, don’t take it personally; it’s a general ‘you.’ As in ‘you apprentices.’ Don’t worry, it’s not all as scary as I’m obligated to make it sound! You’ll get the hang of how things are run quickly enough, and end up deciding for yourself whether this is for you. It’s not for everyone, or even most people.”

“Don’t call me little,” he said irritably.

Kestrel grinned. “And with that, I leave you to make friends.”

She turned and sashayed right back out, leaving him alone in the bustling cafeteria, watching the only person he knew here walk out on him. Granted, he’d known her all of ten minutes, but that tiny familiarity was all he had to cling to.

Make friends? He didn’t know if he’d be any good at thieving; why did he have to start with something he knew he was bad at?

Slowly, Rasha turned to study his new environs. The room was longer than wide, rectangular tables lined with chairs and organized in two long rows with an aisle down the middle. Against the far wall were doors into the kitchen, and open windows looking in on it, through which food was apparently served. The room was somewhat less than half full, but that was still easily two dozen people. Most, he judged, had to be apprentices; the Guild had no uniforms and he’d never heard of Eserites wearing insignia, but most of these people looked on the young side. Here and there he saw others, individuals who were older, or better-dressed, or simply had a more worldly quality about them. Fully initiated thieves? Or maybe he was just projecting meaning that wasn’t there…

A sigil he’d never seen before was painted on each of the side walls, in the center of the room. Though stylized, it was clearly a fist, wearing a ring with a large jewel, clutching a curved dagger in a reversed grip.

Well. He was here, and it was a cafeteria, after all. Despite the nervousness slowly churning his insides into jelly, Rasha was hungry. He took another deep breath and started toward the kitchens on the far wall.

“Hey, get a load of this, guys,” drawled a man a few years older than himself, turning around on his bench to grin at Rasha as he passed. “Who ordered half a Punaji?”

The others sitting near him chuckled sycophantically. Well, two of them did; one girl gave the speaker an annoyed look, another boy smiled kindly at Rasha, and the other two just ignored it all, tucking into their food. Altogether, not the worst reception he’d ever had in his life, even considering how much he hated being reminded of his height.

Other, even worse receptions had taught him the importance of first impressions. He stopped, turned to face the speaker directly, and spoke, trying for an unimpressed tone (experience had proved he couldn’t pull off “menacing”).

“Do you think you’re funny?”

The young man was a type he’d met too often: tall, broad-shouldered, not bad-looking, surrounded by people. Square features and a nose that had been broken at least once. Rasha more than half expected to get a fist in his own face for daring to talk back.

The boy just grinned easily, though. “Oh, c’mon, it was a little funny. Not opening on Saturday night at the Golden Dome funny, but I think it deserved a chuckle.”

Heart pounding, face kept as firmly even as he could manage, Rasha shook his head slowly from side to side.

He was astonished by how pleasing it was when a couple of those at the table actually laughed for him.

“Everyone’s a critic,” the more assertive boy sighed. “Haven’t seen you before, kid. You’re new?”

“They are playin’ my song!” a new voice proclaimed, and Rasha spun to find a tall, strikingly pretty girl with sandy hair tied up in pigtails bearing down on him. “Newbie! Welcome! Come join us!”

“Uh,” Rasha said uncertainly, edging back and trying not to stare. She really was very attractive—and very tall. Her chest was basically right at his eye level. He wasn’t so great at handling girls even when they weren’t aggressively approaching him. Which, now he thought of it, had never happened before.

“Relax, I’m not gonna bite you,” she said cheerfully, coming to a stop and thrusting out a hand. “I’m Tallie!”

“Um, Rasha,” he replied, gingerly taking it. His hand was immediately clasped in an impressively firm grip and pumped twice.

“Umrasha! Good to know you! Welcome to the ranks of evil!”

“It’s just Rasha,” he said more firmly, extracting his hand. “And…evil?”

“She’s just trying to goad me into a philosophical debate,” the young man who’d accosted Rasha said lazily. “Tallie happens to think I’m gorgeous when I’m angry.”

“Eat a dick, Darius,” Tallie said without apparent hostility. “In fact, eat a bag of dicks. Anything’s better than accosting the newcomers like some kind of two-bit cliché.”

“Y’know, I was just going to do that,” he said sincerely. “I couldn’t get a good recipe for a bag of dicks, though; your mom’s house was closed. Which probably means it’s a national holiday and nobody told me.”

“There, y’see?” Tallie said to Rasha, cocking a thumb at Darius. “You can’t say he’s not self aware. Very slightly funny, this one.”

“It’s not kind to judge people by their looks,” Rasha heard himself say.

Everyone at the table howled with laughter, including Darius, who managed to give Rasha a thumbs up. Tallie grinned hugely.

“Oh, you’re gonna get along here just fine,” she promised. “All right, though, come with me! I’m adding you to my collection.”

“Excuse me, you’re what?” Bemused and feeling an odd mixture of remaining nervousness and striking gratification at the warm reception he’d surprisingly received, Rasha nonetheless didn’t struggle or protest when she took him by the arm and began leading him to another table on the other row.

“It’s what I do!” she declared, pulling him along. “For I am Tallie, collector of newbies!”

“Uh…how many do you have in this collection of yours?”

“You’ll be the second,” she replied, winking at him. “Me, now? I have been here for a whole week! Well, almost a week. Well, tomorrow it’ll be almost a week. So I know my way around! You may consult my wizened old wisdom at your leisure.”

“Oh…kay.”

“Jas!” Tallie bellowed a person who was now only a few feet away, sitting at the table to which she had brought Rasha. “Guess what! I brought you a new newbie! Now we are three! This is Rasha!”

“Jasmine,” the new woman said in a dry tone, also extending a hand to Rasha. She looked to be his own age, maybe—Tiraan by her accent but Stalweiss by appearance, being tall (not as tall as Tallie, though it was hard to tell with her sitting down), with pale skin and narrow features. She had hair a plain chestnut brown and wore a battered but well-fitting leather duster over her shirt and trousers. Actually, between that and the boots, it wasn’t quite a Punaji style, but close enough to abruptly remind him of home.

“Don’t mind Jas,” Tallie urged him even as she all but forcefully propelled him onto a bench. “She’s a woman of few words; it’s not personal. It all works out, though, I will not hesitate to talk your ear right off!”

“I, um, sort of got that impression,” he admitted, and she laughed, patting him on the back as she slid onto the seat next to him.

Jasmine gave him a speculative look, then turned around on her bench, stood, and walked off. Rasha clamped down on suddenly hurt feelings. What, did he smell? Did she have some kind of problem with Punaji? Racism by humans against different groups of humans was unusual and mostly considered pretty stupid, but he’d heard that it happened, especially in big cities like Tiraas.

“So, how much’ve you been shown?” Tallie asked, either not noticing or just not reacting to Jasmine’s sudden departure. “Got yourself a bunk yet? Got any gear to pack away?”

“I…uh, no, and no,” he replied, turning back toward her. “I was shown down here by a Guild member named Kestrel. She pointed out all the doors and just…sort of ditched me here.”

“Kestrel,” Tallie mused. “That sounds like a tag, not a name. Unless she’s got really dippy, artsy parents. Did you know, according to Jasmine here, the Falconers named their daughter Teal? I mean, come on. Who does that?”

“Who are the Falconers?”

She stared at him. “Who are… You serious? What rock have you been living under?”

“It’s called Puna Vashtar,” he said sourly, and she laughed again, patting him on the back.

“Well, don’t worry about it, I can look forward to educating you in just all kinds of irrelevant crap. But yes, anyway, accommodations! We’ll getcha a place to sleep after dinner. You comfortable with girls around? The dorms are coed.”

“…cowhat?”

“Co-educational,” she clarified. “The hottest new trend in institutions of higher learning, apparently. Lads and ladies together in the same living space. It’s scandalous! So, of course, the Eserites have been doing it since before it was fashionable. But yeah, anybody sleeps anywhere in the dorms. Jas doesn’t much like having boys around, but I’m good with whatever.”

“I, um.” His face was burning. “I’m not…picky. Uh, I grew up around women. And, men sort of… I mean, they’re kind of…”

“Oh, believe me do I know what you mean,” she said, giving him a commiserating look.

He very much doubted it.

“Here.”

His attention was drawn by the arrival of a plate of food, which Jasmine had just set in front of him. She settled back into her own seat on his other side, giving him a smile. “Sorry if I presume too much. I find a good meal helps a lot to get your legs under you, though. It did me.”

“Oh!” he said, surprised and pleased. “Oh, I mean… Thanks! I appreciate it.”

“The food here’s really good,” she added, picking up her fork again. Her own plate was almost emptied.

“Ugh.” Tallie made a face. “Really bland, is what you mean.”

“Really good is what I mean,” Jasmine countered without rancor, or any emotion at all that Rasha could tell. Actually, so far she seemed like the least excitable person he’d ever met. “Filling, nourishing, and lots of it.”

“Why are you so boring? How are you so boring?!”

“Yes, I enjoy getting to know you too, Tallie,” Jasmine said with faint wryness.

Rasha let them chatter over him, tucking into the food she’d brought. Both were right; it was wholesome and Jasmine had given him a big enough serving of potatoes, broccoli and fish that he doubted he’d be able to finish it all, but to someone accustomed to the generous spicing of Punaji food, it was all but tasteless. Fortunately he was really hungry.

And with his nerves having subsided somewhat, Rasha found he was feeling far better than he would have expected for it being this early in his adventure. So far, the thieves were just…well, people. Not that he’d expected them to be anything else, but Eserites were whispered of with admiration and fear in equal measure, with an added note of confused envy among the Punaji. It was actually a little surprising to find that nobody was a monster or legend, at least as far as he could tell. Kestrel had certainly had both brass and style, though. Maybe it was something they taught.

Hopefully. If that were the case, he could look forward to learning it.

“What’s that?” he asked during a lull in the conversation, pointing at the emblem painted on the wall in front of them. “I’ve never seen that symbol before.”

“Ah! And you never will again!” Tallie replied, grinning broadly and seeming to immediately forget her growing argument with Jasmine. The other girl let it go just as quickly, tucking back into her dinner, which Rasha found rather peculiar after the example set by his sisters. “That, my new friend Rasha, is the holy sigil of the cult of Eserion, and apparently this is one of the very few places it’s displayed.”

“They don’t…display their sigil?” he asked, frowning.

“That’s pretty much how they do things,” she said. “This has got to be the least cult-like cult I ever heard of. I love it, personally, but it’s a little disconcerting. But yeah, they have hardly any rituals to speak of, they only keep the sigil around in a few ceremonial locations, only the tiniest handful of inducted Eserites are actually priests—apparently being a thief who uses divine magic is rare and a very particular career path that keeps you off the streets and in the clubhouse, which they don’t seem to like. It’s all pretty weird, religiously speaking, but very practical. Crazy practical, for a religion.”

“You’ve been involved in a lot of religions?” Jasmine asked mildly.

“Well, I’ve been railed against by various preachers from one end of this continent to the other,” Tallie replied breezily. “I get the impression they mostly take themselves way too seriously.”

Rasha snuck a glance at her. One end of the continent to the other? She was barely twenty, if that. He repressed the urge to ask, though. Personal histories were a topic he would prefer to avoid.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s a beautiful story,” Darius interrupted, sliding into the bench directly across from them. “But more importantly: business!”

“I’ll give you the business,” Tallie threatened cheerfully.

“Promises, promises, and yet I still sleep alone,” he replied with a wink. Jasmine sighed very softly through her nose. “Really, though, focus for five minutes, I’m being serious. You guys up for a job?”

“A job? Hell yes we are!” Tallie exclaimed, straightening up.

“Whoah,” Jasmine said firmly. “What job?”

“Wait, job?” Rasha said doubtfully. “Aren’t we just apprentices?”

“There’s no classes here, Rasha,” Tallie explained. “Well, except with the priest who teaches Eserite philosophy; we’re all expected to spend time with him and learn to his satisfaction. But no, you learn at your own pace, here. You want a lesson in something? Then you gotta find a ranking thief or senior apprentice and get them to teach you.”

“What?” he demanded, blinking rapidly.

“Networking,” Jasmine said laconically. “We’re supposed to build connections, build reputation. You need those to acquire actual working knowledge of thieving technique—which you need in order to impress people enough to spend time on you.”

“So the hard part is getting started,” Tallie went on, nodding. “You gotta get somebody’s attention somehow to get any education. Then you get more training, which you turn into more rep, which makes people more interested in training you, and so on all the way up. And there is no sitting on your ass. You’ll meet Style and Lore later; they’re the main ones watching apprentices. If you just languish here and aren’t building connections and learning stuff, they throw your ass out. So yeah, Rasha, getting the chance to do an actual job your first night here is a godsend.”

“I mean, a job, though?” Rasha said doubtfully. “What are we supposed to do? I don’t know anything about thieving—I just got here!”

“We’re all new,” Jasmine said dryly, turning back to Darius. “Hence my question.”

“Yeah, yeah, if we’re all done bringing the fresh meat up to speed,” he said sardonically, “it’s simple stuff. There’s a trade going down, and my very good friend Pick needs warm bodies. That’s it; bods to fill roles. It’s just lookout duty and carrying heavy shit. A dog and a mule could do it, but he’d need one of each and apprentices are less expensive to replace, so we get the honor. Pick wants about half a dozen people and I said I’d get some.”

“Your friends over there not interested?” Jasmine asked, half-turning in her seat to glance back in the direction of Darius’s table.

“Okay, I’m gonna level with you guys, because I respect you,” he said solemnly, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table top.

“Funny how you start respecting us after she starts asking the hard questions,” Tallie commented.

“Not at all, that’s what makes me respect you. Look, I asked my friends first; all of them have ins of their own to pursue with established Guild members. Pick is Guild, fully accredited and on his own… But he was raised from the general pool.”

“Eh.” Tallie grimaced. “Well, that’s not prestigious, but it’s not bad…”

“It’s worse that that,” Darius said. “He was thrown back into the general pool after pissing off his sponsor.”

“Whoah, whoah, wait a second,” she blurted, her eyes widening. “Is this Randy? Grip’s lost apprentice?”

“Yuuuup,” Darius drawled, giving her a meaningful look.

“What are you talking about?” Rasha exclaimed.

“The ultimate goal of apprentices here,” Jasmine explained, “is apparently to get a sponsor. You can graduate to full Guild membership on your own through the basic skills they’ll teach apprentices in the general pool; it takes…what, half a year?”

“That’s about right,” Darius confirmed.

She nodded. “But what you want is to get the attention of a full Guild member to sponsor you as a personal apprentice. You’ll spend a lot longer before graduating, but not only do you get much more in-depth training, you have plenty of opportunity to build connections and reputation before you’re even there. Sponsored apprentices enter the full Guild far better off than general apprentices.”

“Listen to her go,” Tallie said proudly. “I had to explain all this to her yesterday!”

“I explained it to you last week,” Darius said pointedly.

“Apparently an apprentice is also useful to have around,” Jasmine added, glancing aside at them. “Which is a big part of what motivates Guild members to spend time training us, which doesn’t pay them anything. They’re also looking for connections, and especially an apprentice of their own.”

“But yeah, this was a whole scandal,” Tallie said, turning back to Rasha. “Grip’s apprentice was caught shaking down shopkeepers by the Bishop’s apprentices, and Grip ripped him a new one and dropped him. Nobody else would touch him after that; he barely passed trials to join the Guild as a full member, and he’s still way behind the pack. Poor bastard’s as badly in need of building rep and connections as we are, almost.”

“Worse,” said Darius. “We’re blank slates.”

“And this is the person for whom you want to do a job,” Jasmine said disdainfully.

“Listen to her,” Darius said, grinning at Tallie. “’For whom,’ she sez. Talks purtier’n a twenty-doubloon whore.”

“Knock it off,” Tallie said curtly as Jasmine’s jaw tightened. “She’s got a good point. Is it smart to get tangled up with…Pick?”

“Look, this is how it is,” Darius said more seriously, leaning back and spreading his hands. “If you’ve got any better options, then hell yeah, go for those and don’t get close enough to Pick to get his stink on you. But I don’t, yet, and I know you three don’t. It’s a foot in the door, is all. We’ll be able to say we did an actual job and didn’t fuck it up; we can parlay that into status that’s actually useful if we’re smart. You in?”

Tallie sighed, but nodded firmly. “Yeah, we’re in. Only people I’ve managed to get training from are Flora and Fauna.”

“Don’t volunteer me for things,” Jasmine said sharply.

“Oh, come onnnn,” Tallie whined. “He’s right and you know it. A job, Jas! It’s rep just lying out to be picked up!”

Jasmine sighed. “…all right, fine. I’ll go.”

All three of them turned to look expectantly at Rasha.

“But,” he said helplessly, “I just got here!”

“Yeah,” Darius agreed. “That’s kinda the point. Weren’t you listening?”

“I…but…” He sighed. “Oh, what the hell. Count me in.”

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32 thoughts on “11 – 1

  1. I worked at the bookstore all day today. You know what else happened at the bookstore? The new Harry Potter book launched.

    There’s tired, and then there’s this.

    In other news, TGAB has passed one million pageviews, and I seem to be developing kidney problems.

    Life goes on.

    Like

    1. THAT is out?! ok… I need to be in touch with the world a little bit more…

      Alass, traitorous kidneys, acting up against their master! Punish them! Or, as it seems to be the wiser course of action, get a good doctor to do some good ol’ doctoring to them. Hope you live in a country of good socialized healthcare. (like, you know, Canada or Germany)
      The fear of scientifically proved medicine will, hopefully, make your kidneys behave again.
      Gute Besserung.

      Like

      1. Yikes. 15K in Germany, as an employee, would be enough to qualify for healthcare (anything above 450€/month, in fact). If your main source of income is art/writing, then there is a special insurance called “Künstlersozialkasse”, which incorporates health insurance, pension fund, and social insurance. Their dues are significantly smaller than if you are a “normal” self employed.
        Just saying…

        And, well, I really hope you get better

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    1. If Triss is Tallie, then Tricks and Style did a miracle with her. It was my first thought too until Jasmine was introduced.
      Jasmine is a flower/plant, just like the Trissiny (in this story), so that would match. Her general behaviour is totally Triss-like and her hair is -not- blonde, which was expected since it was said it would need to be dyed the last time we saw her.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. also her not-amused reation after being (jokingly) called a whore fits quite well with avenist philosophy. The rather reluctant closed-mouth stance seems to support this theory as well.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. What if more than a week has passed since the last chapter? What if Triss already has a month or two under her belt and Pick is up to the sorts of things that got him in trouble with Flora and Fauna before, and this time Triss is the one who catches him at it? And ends up with a trio of newbies following her around like lost ducklings because of it? Just as a reminder that no good deed goes unpunished?😉

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    3. This chapter suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. Otherwise, a whole lot of nothing happens to a bland character for an entire chapter.

      Like

  2. Well, Jas does seem a lot like Triss-trying-to-be-undercover-badly (reactions, referencing Teals name would be a cover fail, etc), but if so then I’m wondering who Tallie is that she got training from Flora and Fauna..seems likely she’s someone we ought to recognize. Not necessarily the case, it just seems a bit more likely than a complete new insert w/ connections to existing chars. Principia’s little friend seems most likely, idk. Although I understand the reasoning for staying mum, if Jas is Triss, I wanna see her not explode trying to stick to this strategy of less-said; Triss has about the worst impulse control, as far as her mouth, when anything shocks, offends, or seems wrong to her. Well, no matter, it should be fun! And, really, I just can’t see Triss doing the blarney routine Tallie has going w/o a complete personality transplant plus strong drugs.

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    1. Let’s not forget that “Jas” is described as having noticeable boots – given that one of Tris’ nicknames is “boots”, I’d be shocked if it wasn’t her.

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    2. eh, after checking the cast I was apparently thinking of Peepers, who’s already got a tag and is too far along in her career presumably. So idk who Tallie is…maybe a complete new entrant like some of the others.

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  3. The Thieves Guild has always been an interesting part of this world. Stealing is illegal and the Empire wants to catch and punish thieves—but here’s this organization fostering and creating thieves which the Empire has to treat with respect and kid gloves because it answers to one of the Empire’s gods, and to attack it is to go against Eserion. But from what we’ve seen the Thieves Guild doesn’t take this for granted—while they are all about general intimidation, they also try to keep good public relations by targeting folks who deserve being taken down a peg, and not just going after random working joes or targets of opportunity.

    I can believe that a cult that prioritizes self-reliance the way Eserion’s does would call for those who would join it to show those qualities from the very beginning—but I’d assume there is a bit more supervision than we are seeing to keep apprentices in line to make sure they don’t do boneheaded things to upset the delicate balance described above. I guess that’s probably Style and Lore’s job…

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      1. Yup.🙂 And, it probably won’t be the most obvious candidate.

        I’d peg Darius, would-be master of crass (but, you’ll have to go some to beat the inadvertent stumblings of Gabe, mate). He has “found” a potential job for them to sink-or-swim on, after all.😉

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    1. >they also try to keep good public relations by targeting folks who deserve being taken down a peg, and not just going after random working joes or targets of opportunity.

      I don’t think that’s a public relations thing. That’s a church doctrine and many followers ignore it.

      Harming/inconveniencing the people in power is also the exact opposite of what you’d want to do for public relations since those people have the cash and connections to make it look like they weren’t the ones in need of being taken down a peg.

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    2. I don’t think the authorities treat thieves especially nicely. Their role is to catch and punish criminals, it’s the job of the thieves to avoid that. If one gets caught they only have themselves and their lack of skill to blame.

      I also don’t think that Eserion has a huge following, it takes a certain mindset and most people don’t have that. So if there are ~200 members of the guild in a city with tens of thousands of people, then that’s plenty.

      After all, the Thieves Guild relies on income through criminal activity and if there are too many thieves at work, then they would never get anywhere. Yes, the Guild probably has a couple legal businesses, they run a casino and they probably get donations… but the bulk of their income has to be taken from others.

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  4. On reread the “job” stinks more w/ each read. But, if it does (inevitably) go sideways it may provide other chances to shine…we’ll see!
    And yeah, taking the name of the prior paladin as a cover is about Triss’s level of subtle.🙂 That’s what she’s there to learn, after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “and/or some of the “newbies” are plants”

      Well Triss is named after a tree, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything (just joking 🌲). Since Tellwyrn has already been seen using a plant within the class younger than Gabe, Triss, Toby et al., it’s hard to say whether Webb would go that route again. If there is one, I can’t explain why, but my money is on Tallie.

      I’d bet the farm on something going wrong on this job of Pick’s (whether by accident or betrayal), and Tri—err, Jasmine saving the day in a dramatic fashion. She’ll probably modestly defer as much credit as she can to her new friends (maybe to cover up the fact that she was slinging divine magic around), but at the end of the day the threesome will be the most sought after apprentices in the guild.

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      1. Now that I think about it (sorry, hope I’m not totally thread-jacking here), it’s kinda surprising Tellwyrn didn’t object to Triss’ plan, considering her reaction to meeting Flora & Fauna way back toward the beginning, when the then-freshmen class was on their Tiraas field trip. She pulled up some golden armor from somewhere, and IIRC threw at least one twin across the train station into a wall, hard, then refused to explain anything and told the students not to investigate. I believe even Webb said that was the first time we’ve seen her ready to truly go all-out. It was a pretty badass scene.

        I g

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      2. Ug. I guess Triss didn’t tell Tellwyrn exactly what she was doing? I don’t know if Triss is even thinking about that yet, but when she meets F&F as Jasmine, I expect all three of them to recognize each other immediately.

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