11 – 30

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Of the four of them, only Ross had actually lived in Tiraas before apprenticing. That proved fortunate because he knew of an enchanting shop more or less on their route between Glory’s swanky neighborhood and the central district near Imperial Square where lay the primary temple of Salyrene; they had to detour by two streets, but in the end it proved better than Tallie’s original idea of finding a clothing store. Four personal heating charms ended up costing a lot less than four full sets of hats, gloves, and scarves would have. It was lucky that they found the shop when they did, as they were far from the only ones to have this idea upon the weather’s sudden turn. There was an annoyingly long line in the place, and they barely got there before the charms in question sold out.

That done, they proceeded in much more comfort on their way. Not a moment too soon—as they walked, the sky began intermittently spitting little puffs of snow.

Jasmine lectured them quietly as they proceeded. “The reason this opportunity is important is it may be our only chance to catch one of these people alone. I’ve been considering their situation, and I don’t think there can be more than a handful of them. If they’re an intelligence cell, those are kept small for a lot of reasons. The more people you have, the more likely your cover is to be blown.”

“You really did have the most fascinating upbringing,” Tallie noted. “Anyhow, based on what Glory said, would they really be worried about blowing their cover? Apparently they’re in good with the Empire…”

“The Imperial government has political reason to be somewhat tolerant of dwarves in general right at this moment,” said Darius. “That’s not the same as free reign. Jasmine’s right; a large cell gets noticed, and Imperial Intelligence would be all over any foreign operatives they spotted working in the capital. Sides, even if the Silver Throne is making goo-goo eyes at the Five Kingdoms right now, any kind of tussle between one of their intelligence services and the damn Thieves’ Guild will end up a huge mess for everybody, which they don’t want.” He nodded at Jasmine. “Thus, we can assume the Imps aren’t onto these guys yet, which means we can also assume there aren’t many.”

“Exactly,” she agreed, nodding back. “How many I couldn’t say, I don’t know anything about their operational doctrine. Likely not more than a dozen. Now, considering what they have to do here, the largest group will have been sent to intercept Scwhartz.”

“How come?” asked Ross.

“Schwartz,” Jasmine explained, “is a magic user, and thus a lot more dangerous to them. Dwarves are extremely hardy; they don’t have a lot physically to fear from us, since none of us have wands. He’s by a wide margin the largest physical threat to them. The reason this is significant right now ties in with these anti-tracking charms. Assuming they work, and considering Vandro’s motives I can’t fathom any reason he’d screw us over like that, the dwarves can’t locate us specifically. That means in order to prevent us getting to Schwartz, they’ll have to spread what few personnel they have between us and the Collegium. So if we find one, it’ll probably just be one.”

“Hm.” Darius frowned, rubbing his chin. “There are holes in that. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send their whole force after Schwartz?”

“They may,” Jasmine admitted. “They’ll be trying to be discreet, though—remember our previous points about making a mess in Tiraas and getting in trouble with Intelligence and the Guild. Brute force tactics don’t make sense in their position. They’ll be trying to put down him and us quietly.”

“Don’t like the sound of that,” Ross muttered.

“That’s why it’s important we stay together,” she agreed, nodding. “Silencing one dangerous opponent is a lot easier than silencing a group. What I would do in their position is keep their agents spread out but in communication—when one spots us, they’ll call to the others. From there, they’ll try to impede us from getting to the Collegium without causing an actual fight.”

“I hope Schwartz is okay,” Tallie said, frowning worriedly. “Witch or no witch, that guy’s kind of…y’know, bookish.”

“Not much we can do but get to him as quick as possible,” said Darius. “I don’t think Jasmine was done making suggestions.”

“Right,” Jasmine acknowledged. “The point is, we are going to have to go on the offensive here. Ross, you know the city. Assuming they probably don’t know where we are at this point, we need a place more or less between the Imperial Casino and the Collegium of Salyrene. Something…quiet, private, where there aren’t likely to be witnesses.”

“Can do,” he rumbled, lengthening his stride to position himself at the head of the group. “Bit out of our way from here…”

“How far out of our way?” Tallie demanded nervously. “The gods only know what’s happening to Schwartz right now…”

“He is a magic guy,” Darius said, patting her shoulder. “And we’re on the way. We can help by taking the fight to the enemy, now.”

“Not far outta the way, couple streets,” Ross added. “Weather’s lucky. Nobody’s gonna be outside if they don’t have to. Any place off the streets streets is likely to be quiet.”

“Good,” said Jasmine. “Then keep your eyes peeled for a dwarf showing too much interest in us. If we can manage to run across one of them in the absence of witnesses, we will pull them aside for a chat.”

“Uh…that’s kinda where this falls apart,” said Darius, wincing. “You’re gambling, first of all, that a trained intelligence agent will be spotted when they don’t want to be. And besides, what if it’s just some random dwarf?”

“Anybody out in this weather just hanging around is probably up to something,” said Tallie.

“Yes,” Jasmine agreed, “but Darius is also right. We may not even see one. They may fail to find us entirely. They might be on the ball enough to spot us and get their crew together before we reach the Collegium, in which case we run to the nearest public place—we are not going to try to fight a bunch of dwarves. If they just play dumb when confronted, there’s not much we can do; I’ll not be party to beating up some citizen on a hunch, and anyway, there’s a limit to how much damage we can do physically to a dwarf, unless one of you is carrying a wand I don’t know about. No, what I’m really gambling on is they’ll talk to us if we approach them. Rogrind has kept trying to get us into his service; considering what they want, if we suggest we want to talk, they’ll basically have to listen. And that will tell us they’re one of the people we’re after.”

“Wait,” said Darius. “So…we have to walk up and speak politely with them first?”

“Usually a good first move,” Tallie said, grinning.

“So we’re not gonna ambush a dwarf, drag ’em into an alley, and beat the crap out of them?” He pouted and stuck his hands in his pockets, slouching. “I never get to have any fun.”


“This is it,” Jasmine murmured some time later.

“Yeah,” Darius said tersely. “We all pretty much saw it.”

The snow was still light, but far more consistent, now. Tiny flakes drifted steadily down from the increasingly heavy cloud cover, so far not accumulating beyond a thin layer of white, windblown dust, but it had sufficed to send everyone indoors who didn’t have good and specific reason to be out. In a city like Tiraas, a lot of people had such reason, but Ross had led them two streets distant from one of the main avenues, and suddenly they were for all intents and purposes alone.

It was a narrow street, not wide enough for two carriages to pass each other, the buildings lining it old and towering an average of four stories above. It was clean, and while stonework was chipped and some window glass bore cracks, nothing was boarded up, burned out, or falling down. A relatively poor neighborhood, but not a rough one. The buildings were quite close together, spaces opening between them only every three or four structures. Lights burned in multiple windows, but mostly through drawn drapes. Nobody wanted anything to do with the weather.

Then again, considering it was clearly a working-class neighborhood, most who lived here probably had someplace to be, considering it was just past noon.

“I think we may be disappointed,” Jasmine said quietly, glancing back and forth as they made their way up the sidewalk. “Spreading agents out to intercept would require lateral movement—these buildings don’t give much opportunity for that.”

“I think we may be disappointed for entirely different reasons,” said Darius. “Seems to me the most efficient solution to all their problems would be to use the rooftops. They can move around and spy on us without risking themselves. The Guild does it.”

“Great,” Tallie muttered, glancing furtively at the tops of the structures on all sides of them.

“Well, it was a thought,” Jasmine said with a sigh. “Come on, let’s just get to Schwartz, then.”

“Hold up,” said Ross, slowing his pace.

They followed suit, shifting position to see past him—and in Tallie’s case, over his shoulder—at what had caught his attention. Buildings in this district were mostly reached by short flights of stone steps, which created little nooks on either side of them. Just ahead, one of these occurred right next to one of the street’s rare side alleys, which contributed to their failure to see a four-foot-tall person clearly standing and waiting just ahead in the alley’s mouth.

“Well, shows what we know,” Darius muttered.

Leaning calmly against the wall of the alley and watching them come was a dwarven woman who was clearly also using heating charms, to judge by her lack of head covering. Her dirty blonde hair was tied back in a bun, and she wore a heavy, padded coat which could have concealed any number of implements.

The four apprentices trailed to a stop, staring at her.

“Never seen a dwarf before?” the woman asked wryly.

Tallie barked a laugh. “Oh, we have. But you know all about that, don’cha?”

“You thieves,” the dwarf said, shaking her head. “So put upon. How awful that your planned life of victimizing others is being interfered with.”

“Well, this is a new approach,” Darius commented. “I remember what’s-his-ass as being pretty polite.”

“Professionalism requires one to deal respectfully with all manner of unsavories,” the woman replied. She hadn’t moved at all, her posture apparently relaxed, but the four of them remained stiff and alert. She had hands in her pockets, and there was no telling what they might come out holding. “It’s one thing when you’re being sweet-talked into hopefully providing a service. Now, apparently, you fancy yourselves on the hunt, which changes matters. I’ll be frank, a mutually beneficial and cordial arrangement is still on the table and still much preferred, but I’m under much less pressure from above to be nice to a gaggle of junior predators.”

“What is it about dwarves and thieves?” Darius wondered aloud.

The woman smiled thinly. “You’re pretty far gone if you have to have it explained why someone who’s not a thief would have a low opinion of them. Right, here it is: we have mutually just about run out of patience for one another, and I don’t have a boss looming over my shoulder to shmooze you, so I’ll spell it out. If you’re willing to do the right thing for what I suspect will be the first time in your lives and help us out against the syndicate of criminals and marauders who will probably toss more than half of you out on your ears before you manage to fully join, you’ll be well compensated. I don’t just mean money—you can be protected from Guild reprisal and provided for as necessary. We can help set you up in whatever kind of life you desire. Not to lay about in luxury at our expense forever, but a helping hand to get established can make all the difference for someone willing to work.”

“Listen, you little—” Tallie broke off as Jasmine held up a hand.

“I sort of want to hear this,” she said. “Go on, I think you had more.”

“Indeed,” the dwarf agreed. “What we’re asking of you doesn’t even involve hurting anyone or stealing anything. All we need is intelligence. What you know about the origins of those weapons—and if you’re as in the dark as you claim, your help in getting that information. You have access to the Guild’s inner workings, the ability to talk to people who want talk to outsiders, and that is all we need. This really is an extraordinarily generous offer, and an uncomplicated situation.” She sniffed disdainfully. “I can put some of your stubbornness down to you being young. But fighting so hard not to do the right thing the way you are… Frankly, it won’t break my heart if you decide this has to end badly for you.”

“Badly for us, she says,” Darius sneered, stepping forward. “You don’t seem to have noticed how badly outnumbered and alone you are here, shortcake.”

“Am I?” the woman asked sardonically.

“Shortcake?” Tallie said, raising her eyebrows.

“Oh, that’s an old slur,” said their new acquaintance, rolling her eyes. “Something dwarf women get accustomed to having thrown at them in human lands. It’s a handy way to distinguish the sexist, racist, objectifying twits from anybody worth talking to.”

“You ass!” Tallie exclaimed, punching Darius in the shoulder.

“I am extremely disappointed in you, Darius,” Jasmine said, frowning.

“Really not necessary, man,” Ross added.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Darius exclaimed. “Fine, I will apologize for my terrible rudeness to the little shit who’s been threatening our families, but after she either spills the beans or I’ve kicked the crap out of her. Fair enough?”

“Excuse me, you what?” the dwarf said with disdainful amusement.

“Yeah, back on topic.” He rounded on her, clenching both fists. “We’re not telling you shit. In point of fact, since you’re here, you can now reveal where you’re keeping yourselves in the city, your names, anything we can hand over to the Boss so he can track you down.”

“Generous,” she snorted.

“Not that we particularly want you tracked down,” Jasmine added. “Just that you leave us alone. And since you seem disinclined to do that, a little incentive to leave the city entirely won’t hurt. It was you people who brought this to this point, not us.”

“Well, good talk,” the dwarf said, straightening up her posture. “Answer’s no. Your funeral. Now, then, get out of my way.”

“All right, fuck this,” Darius snorted, and punched her in the face.

He had to bend down awkwardly to do it, but it was a pretty good hit. A moment later he reared back, hissing and shaking his hand. The dwarf had been rocked backward a few inches by the blow, but hadn’t even taken her hands out of her pockets. A very faint red mark on her forehead was the only sign it had happened.

“And that,” she said pleasantly, “is assault, my lad. Or in other words, a believable pretext for self-defense. Thank you for—”

A black blur whipped past them, shoving Tallie aside, and slammed into the dwarf, who this time let out an aborted squawk and went tumbling over backward into the alley.

Grip straightened, keeping her eyes on the fallen dwarf, and held up her right hand, showing the iron knuckles through which her fingers were laced. They glowed with arcane runes and had four ugly, screw-like protrusions in a row along the business end.

“Much as I prefer to let apprentices learn from their mistakes,” the enforcer said curtly, “time is wasting, and you kids are just embarrassing yourselves. Honestly, what was your plan here? You were going to beat her down for information right in full view of the street? Did you actually think she was alone?”

“Well—” Ross began, but at that moment, the dwarf started to surge back to her feet, and Grip pulled her other hand out of the pocket of her black duster. In it was a shortened wand, which she leveled and fired point blank. One flash of blue light later, the dwarf instantly collapsed back to the ground, this time twitching.

“Whoah!” Darius exclaimed.

“Boys,” Grip snapped, “drag her into the alley. Quickly, you idiots, we can’t do this out here on the street!”

“How did you find us?” Jasmine demanded. Darius and Ross had already hopped forward to obey the enforcer’s command.

“I’ve been following you,” Grip said, stepping into the darkness of the alley after the others. “Come along, quicklike. I let that singularly pointless conversation stretch out that much because I was busy neutralizing the other agent who was preparing to land on you from behind. Here, you.” She tossed a coil of tightly-woven cord to Ross. “Tie her hands together with one end, tightly, throw the rope over that fire escape and pull her upright. Just enough so she’s stretched out, toes on the ground. Fast, she’ll be coming to shortly.”

“What is that thing?” Tallie asked in fascination.

Grip smiled unpleasantly, holding up the short wand. “Shocker. Acts directly on the nervous system. Non-lethal, unless you go way overboard, but rather painful.”

“Not to mention highly illegal,” Jasmine said sharply.

“No, Jasmine,” the enforcer said condescendingly. “Flesh-melting potion in a spray bottle is highly illegal. This is just illegal. Can you two buffoons possibly move any slower?”

“Do you wanna try?” Darius snarled, fumbling with the end of the rope he was wrapping around the dwarf’s hands while Ross patiently waited with the other, having already thrown it over the fire escape. “Forgive me, this is my first time stringing somebody up!”

Grip just grunted.

“What exactly are you doing here?” Jasmine demanded. “You surely don’t think I’m going to trust you after—”

“After what?” the enforcer interrupted, grinning. “After I threatened your little friends here and you decked me?”

“Whoah, wait a sec, you what?” Tallie demanded.

“I don’t call people down for doing exactly what I want,” Grip continued, ignoring her and staring fixedly at Jasmine, “so I let it slide at the time. The point of that was to make you stand up and fight, and get past that silly idea you were nursing about being some kind of non-violent thief. But really, kid, you have got to be less easy to goad. A momentary application of common sense would tell you there’s no way a ranking Guild enforcer would actually harm apprentices just to make a point to somebody. It’s okay—you’re new. You’ll learn.”

“She asked a good question, though,” Tallie said. “Why are you helping?”

“Seriously?” Grip gave her a disdainful look. “Fuckers harassing our apprentices, and you ask why I’m helping? I realize you’re having political issues right now, but the Guild will not stand for this horseshit. The Boss isn’t currently able to act overtly. Never, ever assume that Tricks is so much as inconvenienced by such as that. About damn time, boys. And not a moment too soon.”

Ross grunted, holding tension on the rope that was keeping the dwarf strung up by her hands. She was rousing, eyes flickering. They came back into focus, her gaze landing on Grip just as the enforcer smoothly stepped forward, sank to one knee, and slammed her enchanted knuckle into their captive’s midsection. All the air was driven from the dwarf in a burst.

Grip had already pocketed the shocker, and now moved with a swift and well-practiced efficiency that put Ross and Darius’s efforts to shame. She produced what looked like a leather collar with a large rubber ball in the middle from her pocket; the device’s purpose only became clear to the apprentices when Grip roughly stuffed the ball into the dwarf’s mouth and buckled the strap behind her head, entirely gagging her.

“Do you always carry stuff like that around?” Darius asked, fascinated.

“Wait a moment,” said Tallie. “How’s she supposed to answer questions if she’s gagged?”

“First of all,” Grip replied, standing back and watching as the dwarf struggled to breathe through her nose, “that’s to stop the screaming. This is a residential neighborhood; to say nothing of any other reinforcements this one has coming, screams will send people to the police, and police will result in a big waste of everyone’s time. Second and more importantly, kid, you do not hurt someone to get information. Doesn’t work. They’ll just parrot whatever you want to hear.”

The dwarf hadn’t managed to straighten up fully from the stomach blow, despite Ross holding her upright; it resulted in her feet dragging limply on the ground. She had raised her head enough, though, that her wide blue eyes were fixed upon Grip’s face, and the psychotic grin it now wore. Blood trickled from the wound the enchanted knuckles had made on her forehead.

“You hurt someone,” Grip said very softly, “to make a point.”

She flexed her fingers in the iron knuckles once, and then struck the dwarf on the cheekbone with them. The captive could only manage a muffled squeak of pain as she was rocked to the side. Grip backhanded her coming back the other way, making a nearly matching mark on her other cheek.

“You know what really pisses me off?” The enforcer continued to work, methodically driving her augmented fist into various parts of the dwarf’s anatomy, occasionally applying short jolts with her shocker for emphasis. The whole time, she lectured her victim in a calm tone while the apprentices stood around, frozen. “Aside from the obvious territorialism, I mean. Anybody gets upset when you attack the younglings in their organization, that’s universal. No, in particular, after listening to your little speech, it’s obvious that you think you’re better than me. Than us. And that offends me, you hypocritical, insignificant hock of ham.”

She paused, pacing in a slow circle around the dwarf, who now hung limply by her wrists, emitting soft groans. Ross still held the rope, though he looked increasingly horrified.

To judge by the sound that resulted when Grip kicked the dwarf in the lower back, her boots were also steel-lined.

“Consider what I am, and what you are,” the enforcer continued, coming back around to the front and casually zapping the dwarf on one limp foot in passing. “We’re in the same business, you and I: doing bad things for a good cause. After you’ve been running around, stalking kids, threatening their families, you contemptible wart, you really don’t have a pedestal on which to set yourself. No, your only claim to virtue is what you represent.”

She grabbed a handful of the dwarf’s hair to haul her head upright and casually jabbed the iron knuckles right into her chin just below the gag. The blow was carefully not hard enough to break teeth, but blood gushed from the lip smashed against them.

“And what do you represent? You silly bitch, you’re a government agent. Any kind of nationalism is nothing more than taking credit for what you haven’t accomplished and despising people you don’t know. There’s nothing more narcissistic than believing one place is better than any other because you were born there, especially since your birth is in no way your doing. You’re a slave to a hereditary monarchy—people in power because of the happenstance of their own birth. Your entire life, your whole reason for being, is nothing but a series of coincidences.”

She paced in another full circle, back the other direction, around the now-sobbing captive.

“That’s enough of this,” Jasmine snapped, balling her fists.

“You shut your mouth,” Grip said curtly, without looking at her. Coming back around to the front, she actually knelt on the ground before the dwarf, gazing up at her bloodied face. There she just waited in silence, until the woman lifted her chin slightly, opening her eyes to stare at her.

“Ah, there it is,” Grip whispered. “It’s a very expressive look—of course, I’ve seen it enough times to interpret it just by habit. ‘You’re a monster,’ it says.” She shrugged, smiling blandly. “Well, yes, that’s quite true—and equally true of you, as you well know. Me, though? I stand for something. I act in service to a moral authority which I have chosen, one which justifies certain transgressions. In particular, against people like you. Because oh, yes, this would not be happening if you were not also a monster. An enforcer of Eserion has no business with anyone else. You may think me evil, and you’d have a point.” She grinned outright. “What’s your excuse?”

Grip stared into the dwarf’s eyes for another long moment, then abruptly stood. Her captive twitched at the sudden move, but Grip merely reached around behind her head to unfasten the ball gag and pull it off.

The dwarf coughed, spat blood, choked on a sob.

“You…animal,” she gasped, lifting her head weakly. “There was…no point. We don’t resist torture. Could’ve…jus’ asked.”

“Oh, gods,” Tallie whispered, backing up until she was pressed against the wall.

“Aww,” Grip drawled, folding her arms. “Imagine my embarrassment.”

“You—wait.” Jasmine stared at her in horror. “You knew that?”

“SOP for dwarven government operatives,” the enforcer said, smiling pleasantly. “A professional, you see, researches her opponent before engaging them.”

“Why?” Jasmine snarled, taking an aggressive step toward her. “What was the point of this?”

“The point, child, is that an individual who sees no moral problem with threatening innocent bystanders in order to get her way will now carry a vivid memory of what happens when someone stands up to her.” Grip met Jasmine’s furious stare without flinching, without much expression of any kind. She turned her head to nod pointedly at the dwarf, now a mess of sweat, tears and blood. “I told you. We don’t hurt people to get information. We hurt people because some people, kids, need to be hurt.”

She casually reached out to ruffle the dwarf’s hair; the woman tried weakly to duck her head aside, too exhausted to make much effort.

“And now, our new friend will tell us where the rest are.”

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31 thoughts on “11 – 30

  1. Running a bit late, sorry. I actually have quite a bit to say pertaining to the previous discussions, but it’s quite late now, and I need to be up early anyhow to call my dentist. Long author update in the morning. Check back later for details!

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    1. On the flip side, I really DO like Grip. She’s levelheaded, has a purpose to most things she does, and actually does care for people, in her own twisted way.

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    2. Grip is Eserite philosophy incarnate bundled together with a certain pro-activeness. She does nothing without a purpose, and in her mindset, what she does is always the right thing.
      This is what both the truly great heroes and the most despicable villains are mode of.
      Btw: This is one of the central messages of the Practical Guide to Evil.

      On a side note, I think Grip was hurt, at some point in her live. A turning point. She has a deep motivation and loyalty to her cause and “craft”, which lets me assume she grew into it when she was at a very low point in her live. She was hurt by a monster, the human kind. And witnessed on her own that the only way to fight monsters, by being a monster.
      She did not simply adapt Eserite philosophy, she was reborn into it, moulded by it, to emerge only when she was, something else. An enforcer, a thief, a dark knight.

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  2. Good morning!

    Okay, just got off the phone with my dentist. Appointment is 9AM Wednesday, and that’ll be to actually do the work. She pulled my chart and doesn’t need to do another exam, so that’s a plus. This is going to end up running about $2700, all told. The reason it’s so high is because of the way these particular teeth are positioned she has to work on three at once. She also wants to do two fillings at the same time on teeth adjacent to those, which would raise the cost to about $3000; she said that if they aren’t done concurrently, when they finally get done later they’re not going to match proportionally. I don’t really understand why that is, but after some discussion we tabled the matter till I’m in the office and she can point to stuff and explain what’s what, this being harder to do on the phone. I’m not in a position where I can be too picky, so unless I’m persuaded of the importance of this, I’ll probably pass on it. Best news is she’s willing to take payments, so I can put down what I have and deal with the rest as possible. If it’s just the three teeth necessary to fix the broken one, I can finish paying for that with my Patreon payout in November. If I decide to do the others, it’ll have to be smaller payments over more time.

    So, on to TGAB news! Right now, on the Extra Chapters page, you’ll see an absurd balance. As I said in the comments on the last chapter, the donations which flooded in (thank you all so much) ended up just short of $2200, of which $625 was specifically earmarked by donors to not count toward an extra chapter. I’ve established a practice of honoring that request, so I took it off the total applied. And well, at the current donation goal, this guarantees chapters for three weeks. Possibly longer; in the face of this much generosity, I’m considering stretching the rules because I hate to feel like I’m cheating anybody. Usually, the donation target changes if it’s hit (then it raises) or missed (then it lowers) three weeks in a row, with the change reflecting the amount of difference between donations and goal, and any overage carrying on to the next week. What a huge sum like this would mean is three weeks of guaranteed chapters, followed by the target shooting up to $1500 which is not going to happen for one week, much less thee, so after three weeks of Fridays off it’d drop back down. And hey, that’ll give me a chance to make up the missed chapters, so right now we’re looking at five weeks of guaranteed TGAB on Fridays, minimum. As I said, I’m considering stretching that further. That is a lot of money, especially for someone in my position, and I absolutely want you all to get your money’s worth.

    So, the future! In the last chapter’s discussion, several of you chimed in with questions, concerns, and suggestions for how I can monetize the story better. As was pointed out, I am indeed sitting on assets here that I’m not leveraging. I’ve had some plans for a while, and this seems like a good opportunity to go over them. Some are things I’ve mentioned before, some not.

    It’s necessary to begin by explaining the single greatest hurdle in this, which is doing the initial work. Be it writing extra content, formatting and editing things for ebook publication, doing art, it’s time and energy spent on creative endeavors, and by the end of this sentence I’ve already started to hate myself for describing that as a hurdle. I’ve thoroughly internalized the Midwestern (which if you follow the genealogies is basically German once removed) culture which produced me, in which work is sacred. The worst thing you can be is lazy; if you’re not working, you’re wasting everyone’s air. That’s the mindset I’ve always carried, and it’s also at the center of my greatest problem with TGAB, which is that this is creative work and that means what I can do is limited.

    It’s a brain chemistry issue: bipolar disorder and depression. If I push too hard, I burn out. This is a constant source of frustration to me, because I had to learn the hard way not to keep doing that. I’m not burning out NOW, my mind says, so surely all I need is to just buckle down and do the work! And then I put in hours a day five days a week and next thing I know I’m having a major depressive episode that handicaps my efforts for months. Some of you remember this happening with my first attempt at a donation schedule, which was three guaranteed chapters per week and an extra on any day where donations met a goal. That damn near killed me. I hate this–I really can’t describe how much I hate it. I think of the likes of Stephen King or Nora Roberts and how much work they do per day, and despise myself for my laziness. But if I don’t respect that barrier, I harm myself.

    That’s the bad news.

    Now, on to plans. Ebooks are and have always been part of the plan, both in terms of collecting and publishing volumes of current writing and adding additional stories in the Bastardverse as ebooks only. Two of those extras are already planned; the idea was to have one occur in between ever gap in volumes. I just need to find time to write them without triggering a mental collapse. There’s also writing involved in the idea of assembling collections, because I want there to be extra content in those, stuff you don’t get in just the main story. Because honestly, based on what I’ve learned from talking to other serialists, that’s about what it’ll take to make ebooks sell in any significant quantity. People don’t line up to pay for what they can get for free. Those would be just short stories, not too much extra, but it has to be done in advance. And then there’s the editing and formatting–not onerous, I remember it just taking a few hours to do Rowena’s Rescue. Some cover art will have to be obtained, though, and that’s trickier. I did my own art for my currently published ebook above, and it sucks.

    I am stymied by the established danger in trying to increase my output, but one thing I’ve always wanted to do and want to do even more after your generosity last week is have extra content available for Patreon backers. Both because that’s an encouragement for more people to sign up, and especially because my patrons are hugely important to me and I want to do something extra for them. I haven’t been able to work out a way around this, though. An extra chapter a week, it has been established, is damaging to my mental health and thus to the serial (let me just reiterate how much I haaaaate this fact. Mental illness sucks).

    The other idea I have had and want to get started on is merchandising. Interestingly, this is the single most common monetization strategy of webcomics and serials don’t seem to really do it. It’s easy, in this day and age; you just set up an account with a print-on-demand service like Topatico or CafePress, submit your designs, and then people can buy your stuff. I have specific philosophies about merchandising, though. I think there is a difference between selling and selling out; there is no ethical problem at all about making money from something you do, but I am offended by the notion of peddling cheap crap which is little but an excuse to ask for money. So it would have to be merchandise that people would actually want, things that would be cool to own for reasons beyond telling others you’re a fan of the story.

    I think TGAB is actually very well positioned for this. The idea I had for a first foray into merch is cult shirts: a T-shirt with a cult’s sigil and iconic slogan. The cults in TGAB representing philosophies as they do, I think this could produce some cool designs that people would enjoy and like to wear. I have in fact had specific requests for an “All Systems Are Corrupt” shirt, and when I raised this idea with the Plurk crowd, a Circle of Interaction T-shirt was also requested.

    What about you? Thoughts on this? Good idea, terrible idea? I’m curious if there’d be any interest in such things.

    All right, that was all the things I wanted to talk about that I can think of; if more occur to me later I’ll add them. Right now I’ve gotta get some breakfast in me and get off to work.

    Thank you, once again, for everything. I love you all.

    Like

    1. First time commenting. I really appreciate the way you talk about your mental illness. As a Midwesterner with mental illness, it took me a really long time to come to a realization about how much I can work (not the same realization, but different mental illnesses equal different ways of coping), and not hating myself for what I saw as laziness took even longer.

      Even more, I really admire your writing. I’m not sure how to phrase this, but I really admire how you can make clear how institutions effect the lives of individuals without being bogged down in minutia or turning towards a black and white morality. It’s the type of writing and story that I have been searching for in fantasy for way too long.

      P.S. I would absolutely love a shirt that says “All Systems Are Corrupt”!

      Like

    2. I wouldn’t be so quick to curse your mental illness; yes, your limitations suck and are understandably frustrating. Would you be the same person without them? Could you have written this story without working around those limitations? It’s arguable whether ideal!Webb’s story would be better or worse, but to me that question is as good as meaningless.

      *Many* things that are classified as mental illness could have been considered forms of intelligence, in a different context. But they don’t help (and usually hinder) living in and contributing to society in the narrow set of ways that are accepted as “normal.” I’d even say the Midwest work ethic you mention is one of the main culprits of making “different” into “wrong.”

      (Brief personal background: when I was 18-19 I did a bunch of well-known drugs affecting the release/reuptake of seratonin, then never again after that. I am convinced this caused brain damage that has made me slower and stupider to some degree. Yet I don’t regret it, because the experience of it has been sufficiently beneficial, which I believe outweighs any negative effects [or, possibly it’s because of the aforementioned drainbramage]. I regret the effects listening to those 30,000 watt soundsystems surely had on my long-term hearing more than anything. Nowadays they make concert-earplugs now that attenuate volume but still let you hear the entire range, for less than $20. Wear them, kids!)

      I think the cult-branded tee-shirts are a fantastic idea! I wouldn’t hesitate to buy/wear Eserion’s. I’ve actually seen Unseen University shirts for sale online, which I nearly got even knowing it was probably referencing the OTHER Unseen U. from a story I haven’t read. I’d suggest offering more than one design per cult, wherever possible, so everyone can find a design that really works for them personally. And I can think of a dozen great ideas for Vesker shirts, maybe for, uh, Gabriel’s god, focusing on duality. I’ll think of his name right after posting obviously, but the ying-yang symbol isn’t copyrighted😉

      Like

    3. It seems to me that if you want to do extra work, like editing an e-book or drawing a cover, then you will have to take a break with the main story. Take a week off and write short stories instead. Or edit a book. Or draw something.

      The time and energy you can invest into TGaB is limited, so you have to manage your available resources. Once you can actually make a living through your writing (something we all hope will happen), you’ll have more time and energy for all this.

      Don’t compare yourself with established, famous and wildly successful authors please. They usually do not work every day as you do, they don’t have to deal with your brand of bad luck and they have editors and sometimes even staff. Of course they can be more productive, their entire life is built around writing.

      Also, I don’t think you want to take Stephen King’s approach and write most of your books on drugs, neglecting everything else in your life and almost self destructing.😉

      I think you’re underestimating just how much you write. You started about 2 years ago with TGaB and your only other work is Rowena’s Rescue. I don’t have a word count for either but I’m sure we’re at least approaching 2 million words here.

      Let’s compare that with another author from Missouri. Jim Butcher, who started in 2000 and has published The Dresden Files, Codex Alera and The Aeronaut’s Windlass. Even including all the side stories and stuff he wrote for anthologies, he’s “only” at ~3.4 million words. In 16 years.

      Another 2 years at this pace and you’ll have caught up to him. One more and you’ll have written more in 5 years than another author in 19. Basically, you’re 4 times faster than him. And the quality is at least the same, if not better.

      If you want more proof of just how productive you are, then let’s do some math.
      Let’s say an author releases a 150k word novel once a year, which is already really, really fast. That means on average he writes ~411 words a day, which equals 2877 words a week. You write ~12k words every week. Again, 4 times more.

      It is not your fault that you’re more efficient. So please, don’t feel bad about days when you don’t write… you already did so much the other days, you deserve some time to relax and look after yourself.

      Merchandising is an excellent idea, as would be placing some small ads on this site.
      🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I definitely think that the merchandising is a good idea!! The cult t-shirts would be fantastic, but would you consider also doing some with the circle of interaction on it, or symbols for the different types of magic?

        Obviously, start small and work up to it as you feel comfortable, but yeah. Also, as has been said but I would like to reiterate; you are amazingly productive, creative and considerate. You are someone who is unique insofar as I can tell in that as a writer, so many of your concerns are about meeting your readers wants and needs. And that is fantastic, especially as I as a reader benefit significantly from it. But please make sure that you don’t try so hard to cater to and show gratitude towards your readers that you harm your health, mental or physical! I know that personally I’d prefer you to rest or even take a scheduled break if and when you need to or are working on other things🙂 I know I’ve said this already, but I thought it could stand repetition.

        I hope everything works out for you and thank you so much for being such a fantastic writer🙂

        PS: if you look up online for ‘how to’s on gaining income from a blog, I’m sure lots of the tricks there including advertising on the pages etc might be able to help you out!

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Cult coffee mugs? I don’t normally wear tee shirts, but I love coffee.

      A map poster would also be awesome, especially if you can get it done by an artist.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Something with Tellwyrn. Maybe this scene:

      >If you actually are overweening enough to send someone to try to ‘retrieve’ Natchua from this University before her time here is up, I will first reduce whatever agent you employ to a greasy smear of ashes and regret, and then I will come after you in Tar’naris. I will walk right into your House, put you over my knee, hike up your robes and spank. Your. Butt.”

      >All Narisian reserve lost, Nassra gawped at the furious Professor from inches away. “Y-you—”

      >“I what? Wouldn’t? Can’t?” Tellwyrn grinned psychotically; it was a far more disturbing expression than her previous snarl. “I did it to a Hand of Avei, right in front of her army. The Sisters have never forgiven me for that, but what they haven’t managed to do is avenge her, much less prevent me from doing it in the first place. You think your House can protect you?” Tellwyrn tugged her closer, till their noses were actually touching. “Laurel Aselstyne spent the rest of her career as a punchline. Care to guess what your political prospects are after you bring that down on yourself?”

      Could be some modificaiton of this quote: “I will first reduce whatever agent you employ to a greasy smear of ashes and regret, and then I will come after you in Tar’naris. I will walk right into your House, put you over my knee, hike up your robes and spank. Your. Butt.”” over a drawing of Tellwyrn spanking The Hand Of Avei, with all the gods in the background looking very angry at her, and Ellial standing off to the side looking smug.

      I’d pay for that on a mug.

      Like

    6. Your writing is a job. Do what you have to to make it successful. If that means going down to one update a week for a time, or even no updates, we’ll just have to suck it up.

      As I might have mentioned, I’m a construction worker. I do a lot of out-of-town work. I know people who can’t. Either they can’t handle being away from their families or their families can’t handle them being away. Does that make them bad construction workers?

      I can do 10-hour days for weeks solid, even with a commute. But doing 14+ hour shifts will make me dopey quickly. That means I can’t work shutdowns to standard, which are among the most profitable work available. I’ve known people who look down on me for that. I’ve noticed that the majority of them are strutting, cocksure jackasses whose work isn’t to standard themselves. The guys whose work I respect just accept that you’ve got limits.

      Liked by 1 person

    7. The first time I’m saying anything here. I’ve been enjoying your work for quite a while, and I started backing you on Patreon a couple of months back. About the art thing: You’ve got quite a lot of readers, and I’m assuming there will be a couple of artists among them. It wouldn’t surprise if you could gather up a little team of people to produce some nice looking cover art for free.

      I draw and use Photoshop quite a lot as a hobby, and I wouldn’t mind helping you out for example. Probably not as good as a professional artist, but it’s a start.

      Liked by 1 person

    8. If you can swing it without loosing money, one thing I would like is to have an audio version of this serial. Audible seems easier to publish on then other options based on a writer I follow being unable to publish a series of books anywhere else (until the books sold).

      It would also be adding value to the story without too much effort on your part (I hope!), because many people just don’t have time to read, but can listen to an audio book while they work, and it may also bring in new readers.

      I don’t know what the costs are however.

      As for art, commissioning some shouldn’t be more than $50 based on what I’ve seen on the Internet. And a good cover brings people in.

      Like

      1. Audible looks very doable. Especially through this site called the Audiobook Creation Exchange. They sell audiobooks through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

        Production cost can vary wildly, depending on the talent. I went and listened to some of the auditions that were available. Looks like there’s some fairly professional stuff for $50-$100 per finished hour. Some really amazing people for $200-$400 per finished hour. Additionally, one could just split royalties instead of paying up front, more on that in a second.

        Royalties are pretty decent, it looks like. If one gives ACX exclusive audiobook distribution rights, they get 40% royalties on retail sales, or 20% if they chose to split royalties with the producer. If one wishes to grant ACX non-exclusive distribution rights, they get 25% of retail sales.

        Would not be a bad way to monetize TGAB.

        Sources:
        https://www.acx.com/help/what-s-the-deal/200497690
        http://www.acx.com/help/authors/200484540?utm_medium=author&utm_campaign=hiwtable

        Like

      2. Wait, spending $50/hour? That’s the exact opposite of the goal here! At that rate the story juat through today wound cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions!

        No, the model to follow here is the all-volunteer Worm audiobook project, which itself came out sounding very good.

        Like

      3. Note on my prior comment: I forgot to mention Webb would get $50 dollars everytime a TGAB audiobook is the first audiobook a new Audible user buys.

        I did not know about the Worm audiobook, that’s really cool. All volunteer would be awesome and could be done. That said, the Worm audiobook is free. It might be a bit more difficult to organize if Webb wants to sell the audio to ACX instead of publishing it for free.

        The books WOULD cost a pretty penny to produce at $50/PFH. Maybe Webb could do royalty share for the first few books until he has enough cash flow to pay outright for the production of the latter books.

        The main good thing about the audiobook idea is that it could make a bunch of extra money for a fairly low time investment (and no monetary investment if Webb chooses to do royalty share). Like FBT mentioned, with all the work Webb is already doing, Δ$/hr is a vital factor when it comes to monetizing TGAB.

        Additionally, it’s good business sense to get one’s work into as many different markets as possible, especially if it’s comparatively easy to do so.

        Like

  3. I think a line of posters for each cult would be good. You could probably use the same designs as you would use on the shirts.

    I’m not a big fan of wearing clothes with lots of writing/imagery, but I would definitely hang some posters around my apartment.

    I like the sigil/motto idea, and I think it would give you an opportunity to expand on the universe a bit- you’ll have to come up with mottos that really represent each cult’s philosophy.

    Like

  4. I think your work is a rich source of t-shirt/poster ideas, and I suspect I’d pick up a shirt or two if well designed. What is your hit count like—are there enough readers to make merchandise a real money maker?

    I also notice that I don’t see any advertisements on this page. I wouldn’t begrudge you some ad banners if that got you some useful cash every month!

    As someone above explained extremely well: you are a remarkably productive writer, in an absolute sense even if one doesn’t handicap you for having a Day Job. I would love to see things move in a direction where you made more from your writing than your day job, as perhaps with that much time freed up you could free yourself for some of the tasks you describe without it becoming so stressful as to backfire.

    Good luck!

    Like

  5. I think a lot of these ideas are entertaining, but likely to be a poor source of revenue, especially on a differential revenue per unit of time basis. You have a massive amount of well written fiction; ebook it.You may want to consider an major shift from web serial (which afaik has never ever made anyone rich) to a book series. Yes, it’s not what you intended. Most folks who’ve contrib’d till now have already read everything so far. So we’re not out anything. The question is how to monetize the work better going forward (esp new content, but also the massive wordcount to date). The (e)book model still works, after a fashion; it’s no longer the gold rush, but money can be made (w/ luck, persistence, and quality products). I’ve never seen anyone do as well w/ open access models (or even adding paywalls, subscriptions, etc) as many do simply selling the stories as books. Lots of ideas why that is, but it’s not worth flogging here. YMMV. In your shoes I’d give your existing faithful plenty of notice, then take down all but the first third of any book(s). You could roll out a book every quarter for awhile if my impression of your existing wordcount is halfway close. One book, ofc, wouldn’t make much; the network effect that (sometimes!)comes w/ a successful intellectual property base is the goal that might change your life. A few $k in donations won’t ever do that. You don’t need Rowling-level good fortune, just a nontrivial income. Your work is better than a lot of folks who make a fair bit of money; I hope you find a path to get paid better for your writing. Good luck whatever you decide, ofc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is a good, sober point about the ultimate total value of merch. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can get a one-time ~$30 from nearly every reader. Maybe only release one new shirt/poster per book, then never offer that design again? That way every reader is motivated more, and is more likely to buy more in the long run. Thanks for the inspiration FBT😉

      Like

  6. I’d buy merch. Doesn’t even need to have images on it. I’d buy a t-shirt that’s simply a black shirt with white lettering saying “All systems are corrupt” on it. A mug too, with either that slogan or even just “The Gods are Bastards”. Like you said, basic merch isn’t hard these days. Plenty of print on demand services. Start with just the various cult slogans (maybe with the god’s name on the reverse or above or below the slogan), and the story title, which wouldn’t require any image work at all and then work up to stuff with images.

    Like

  7. Thanks again for all your hard work. And I think you’re underestimating the quality of what you put out. And a loooooooot of people will like the gratuitous references to Sir Pratchetts works then stay around for the story and its characters in their own right. I know I did.

    As far as creating an income from your series I think eBooks will eventually be the best way to go. Just the amount of exposure alone on platforms like Amazon, Google and iTunes too if you can get it is huge. Even if each volume only goes for $5 it adds up. Of course I also think that merchandising is a good drip feed source of income in the meantime.

    Try not to stress yourself out in the meantime, as much as possible, and chip away at those goals as you can. Plenty of us here cheering you on as you go.

    Like

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