11 – 35

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Kuriwa had her breathing evenly and counting backward from one hundred with her eyes closed, while the droned a soft tune in elvish and did something magically that made the air feel warmer. Shamanic touches aside, the process was not unfamiliar. She had learned meditative techniques growing up, and more advanced ones since being called by Avei. It was the depth of this trance that was a new experience; the Sisterhood’s mental exercises were meant to still the mind, control the breath, heighten awareness of the body. Practical things. Deep inner journeys were not part of Avenist spirituality.

She never managed to count all the way to one, though. The world faded around her, senses dissipating into darkness. Then she faded, until there was nothing.

When the shaman, at last, gently prompted her toward what she had gone inward to seek, she was not there to hear it.


The door burst forcefully open, and a hooded shape stepped through.

“Excuse me!” The caravan master, a foppishly-dressed man with a heavily waxed mustache, strode toward the entrance of his rented stable, arms outstretched. “This area is only for circus personnel! Don’t worry, the animals will be caged in the main tent for two hours before the performance—you’ll have plenty of time to view them! Do you have your tickets already?”

He stopped, eyes falling to the sword in the shrouded figure’s hand. It was an old and unprepossessing blade, scarred from long use and never particularly decorative, but the leather gauntlet holding it was reinforced by a plate of gleaming silver. The figure’s other hand, similarly gloved, reached up to open the cloak’s throat clasp and tug the garment off, and the caravan master swallowed convulsively.

The slight widow’s peak of her thick black hair emphasized the angularity of her face, and suited the fierce expression in her dark eyes. Even that, though, was not what made him pause. He had never seen it in person, nor hoped to, but he knew what the tall woman’s silver armor signified. Everyone knew.

“Why, my lady,” he said smoothly, executing a grand bow. “We are greatly honored by your—”

“Silence.”

He scrambled out of the way as she strode straight toward him, but she simply brushed past, heading toward the stalls at the opposite end of the stable without so much as glancing at the exotic beasts watching her from the improvised cages on both sides.

“Ah, your pardon, miss, ah, your, um…excellency,” the caravan master said, some of his bravado beginning to leak away. “The animals are only to be handled by specialized—”

“Shh.” A slim hand patted him on the shoulder and he jumped, whirling to face the new arrivals. The hand belonged to an elf, a man in a richly embroidered green robe, with raven-black hair tied back in a simple tail. Behind the elf walked a truly enormous horse, a heavy-hooved draft animal built like a stack of barrels, pure white and bedecked with more silver armor. “Best you keep a lid on it, friend, else you dig yourself deeper.”

“Rainwood!” the Hand of Avei barked. “Get over here!”

The elf made a sardonic face at the caravan master, then strode past him. The horse followed, pausing momentarily to aggressively snort in his face.

“It’s her,” the woman said softly, standing at the door of the stall. Inside stood a horse, a buckskin wearing a bridle and a heavy yoke such as would be attached to a plow. Both gleamed faintly with blue runes. The horse itself was even more remarkable, her coat a color akin to true gold rather than the tawny shade that gave buckskins their name. The black of her mane and tail, muzzle and legs, was true black, the color of a crow’s plumage, with peculiar highlights as if it, too, had thread of gold woven beneath the surface.

“Ohh, poor girl,” the elf whispered, sidling up beside her and reaching a hand into the stall. “Hello, Roiyary. It’s all right, pretty lady, we’ve found you. You remember me, right? And Dailah? We’re your friends.”

The mare had pressed herself against the back wall, head lowered and ears swiveling fearfully. She was thin, clearly ill-fed, her lustrous coat ragged. The unmistakable marks of a whip marred her flanks.

“Shastra is on her way,” the paladin said soothingly. “You must have known she’d come. We only got here first thanks to Rainwood’s spirit guides. Can you get those infernal things off her?” she added more sharply to the elf.

Rainwood narrowed his eyes. “Those are arcane, not infernal. Tricky…my craft could cause them to…well, explode.”

“Now, just a moment!” the caravan master blustered, striding toward them. “That horse is my property! I’m not interested in selling—”

He froze and fell silent the moment Dailah turned, aiming her sword at his heart.

“That horse,” she said icily, “is the summoned mount of the Hand of Omnu. You are holding a steed of the very Pantheon prisoner—and you have clearly abused her. If you wish to extract yourself from this situation alive, you will keep your mouth shut.”

“Whoah, wait a moment,” he said, waving his hands and not heeding the warning. “This is all news to me. If the mare really is—ah, of course, but I’ll take your word. I purchased her from a mage—”

“You had to know what a horse like this must be,” Rainwood said with his back to the man, still trying to coax Roiyary over to him. She simply stood, head hanging, as if too weary even to look at him. “It’s not impossible that a mage would do something as brazenly vile as this, but…you knew him?”

“I, ah…” The caravan master’s eyes darted back and forth, and he licked his lips. Meanwhile, the white draft horse came forward and nickered softly at Roiyary. She finally twitched her ears in his direction, lifted her head, and whickered in response. “Well, you know, one meets all sorts… But, ah, yes, of course, I trusted the man, otherwise I would never have accepted his assurance—”

“And you had no hint that he wasn’t actually a mage?” Rainwood asked with deceptive mildness, glancing over his shoulder. “Are you in the habit of buying stolen property from the Black Wreath?”

The caravan master seemed to finally find his spine. “Now, see here! I am a victim of a bad deal; I’ll not be accused of such evil doings!”

“And what of the evil doings we can plainly see?” Dailah asked flatly. “All these animals have been visibly mistreated.”

“Look, lady,” the caravan master snapped, the mask of servility falling away, “if you’ve a claim to the horse, fine, I’m not one to argue with the gods. Consider her my gift, and we needn’t even discuss the cost of her upkeep, which was considerable. But I’ll not be told how to run my business, clear? I don’t tell you how to round up cultists, so don’t—”

With a bellow of fury, the white horse suddenly whirled, forcing Rainwood to leap nimbly aside, and charged him. The caravan master squealed and tried to flee, but for such a bulky animal, the draft horse was remarkably nimble. He reared and brought down his front legs, bearing the caravan master to the floor and landing on him with a sickening crunch.

“Thank you, Arjen,” Dailah said mildly, patting her steed’s neck. Arjen snorted in disgust and shook his head.

“That’s not helping me calm her,” Rainwood noted dryly, glancing down at the caravan master, who was screaming all but non-stop, trying to clutch at the pulverized remains of his right leg, which was a mangled pulp starting just above the knee. Arjen was a tremendously heavy creature and had hooves the size of dinner plates. “And she’s going to need to be calm if you want me to pry this thing off—it’s going to be very dicey, unmaking those runes without detonating it.”

“Easily remedied,” Dailah stated, taking two steps forward and planting a booted foot on the caravan master’s throat.


“You couldn’t just leave me alone?” he shrieked, hunching forward and bracing his hands as if holding a large ball. Purple lightning flickered between them, and a second later a bruise-colored stain on the face of reality formed in his grasp and flashed forward.

She was more than capable of summoning a divine shield which could withstand such a blow, but she simply twisted her body, letting the shadowbolt flash past without sacrificing her footing. Her tactics were not the only departure from the tradition of the Hands of Avei; instead of the customary armor, she wore soft leather breeches, vest and shirt in the wood elf style, dyed dark gray, with over that a white tabard bearing Avei’s golden eagle.

“I was leaving!” the man snarled, hurling another shadowbolt. This one she calmly batted aside, her hand flashing gold as it impacted the infernal blast, which then careened harmlessly into the sky. The paladin continued coming forward at a slow walk which could hardly have been considered aggressive. “It was over! I don’t want any more trouble—I never wanted any of this! Why can’t you let it go?”

“Why’d you do it, Aross?” she asked quietly.

“YOU KNOW WHY!” He lashed out with a whip of pure darkness; Laressa held up her forearm, and the weapon coiled around it, blazing against a shield of divine magic. Then, with a series of retorts like corn popping, it sparkled away into nothingness, causing him to stumble backward. “She was my daughter!”

“And you couldn’t let that go?”

The scream he unleashed didn’t even pretend to be human. Aross gestured, and streaks of black fire burst out of the air above him, peppering her in an infernal storm.

This time, she did call upon the shield, continuing implacably forward. The destructive magic sparked and smoked, making not the slightest impact on the sphere of golden light surrounding her.

She waited for it to subside before speaking again, quietly.

“And how many sons and daughters should now be let go, so you can leave quietly?”

The warlock froze, staring at her, wide-eyed. Laressa just gazed back, her expression open and faintly sad.

He let his hands, half-raised in another gesture of conjuration, fall limply to his sides.

“No one was supposed to get hurt,” he whispered. “I just… I just wanted her back, Laressa. Was that so wrong?”

“No.” She shook her head. “Any father would, Aross. You made a pact with a greater throzkshnid. You know what he did with the access you gave him to the mortal plane. And then there’s your part of the bargain. Did you really think you could reach across the planes to the realm of the gods without consequence? You destroyed a valkyrie. Be glad Vidius does not call Hands.”

The warlock’s face crumpled, and slowly, he sank to his knees, his thin shoulders beginning to shake. The paladin simply kept coming forward at her slow pace, pausing only when she stood right before him. Aross, by that time, had buried his face in his palms, his body heaving with quiet sobs.

Laressa sighed softly, stepped around, and settled herself down to sit at his side.

Aross managed to compose himself slightly after a few more minutes. “She—Ariel. My little girl. You won’t—you won’t punish her for this?”

“For what?” Laressa shook her head. “She’s done no wrong. The shock of transition will take her time to cope with. Compared to the divine plane, this world may as well be Hell. The Izarites are quite optimistic about her progress, though. But yes, Aross, you got what you wanted. There’s every reason to think she will go on to lead as long and full a life as anyone.”

He nodded, staring at the ground before his bony knees and sniffling softly. After another long moment he scrubbed a hand across his face.

“I’m sorry.” The warlock swallowed heavily. “I…know it’s not worth anything. But I am.”

“I know you are, Aross.” She laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. “And it is worth something. I wouldn’t have bothered talking to you if I did not see the man you still are, under all your poor judgment and corruption. But this isn’t about you, anymore.”

He closed his eyes. “How many died?”

“Do you really want to know?” she asked with a sigh.

“Of course I don’t. But I… But I deserve to.”

“At least sixty.” He flinched, but she continued inexorably. “Raskthnod has been slain, but the cost was steep. And the thing that fallen valkyrie turned into proved at least as dangerous.”

He drew in a long, slow breath, then let it out. “I… I just… I could end it here. Easy enough to do, with my magic. Would…would that be enough? Would it make it right?”

“The man who killed Ariel perished before he could be brought to justice,” she said quietly. “Was that enough closure for you?”

Aross sighed again. “No. No, of course not. Of course you’re right. I…”

He trailed off, and after another long moment, Laressa squeezed his shoulder again, then stood. Aross lifted his eyes to her, and when the paladin offered him a hand, he clasped it, letting her pull him upright.

“Of course,” he said, scrubbing a sleeve across his eyes once more, then straightened his shoulders. “I understand. They all deserve justice. Let’s go.”


Jayanta jerked back on her blade, sending a pulse of divine power through it, and the links of the ak-tra shattered, fragments of sharpened metal flying in all directions. She was protected by her shield of divine light, but the headhunter was not so lucky.

Khraast howled in pain as her flesh was pierced in a dozen places by the shards of her own weapon. The orc reeled, stumbling to the ground. Groping blindly, her fingers closed around the haft of the spear she had dropped earlier in their fight. It was broken, now, but she held the end still tipped with a chipped obsidian blade.

The paladin’s boot slammed down on her fingers before she could bring it up, however. The snap of multiple bones in her hand was drowned out by her scream of pain. Khraast rolled toward her foe, but Jayanta kicked her viciously in the side, and then she could only curl up on herself, struggling to breathe.

Jayanta finally stepped back, staring down at her. Khraast lifted her eyes, glaring. For a long moment, the Hand of Avei and the last headhunter of the Rostnokh Clan simply regarded each other. Both were bruised, bloodied, sweat-slicked and breathless. But in the end, the paladin was still upright and holding her weapons, her injuries minor and already fading due to the torrent of golden light blazing from her. Khraast’s left knee was too damaged to hold her, her right hand was now a crushed ruin, and she was bleeding heavily from multiple deep wounds, most with fragments of her own ak-tra still buried in them.

This was decided, and they both knew it.

“So it is, then,” the orc rasped. “My clan is denied justice. I hope you take pride in this, paladin.”

“Justice?” Jayanta spat directly in her face. “You animals aren’t capable of grasping the concept. Your justice has been nothing but a trail of murder and destruction across the lives of all you encountered. Justice…is proportional.”

“Oh, spare me your thin righteousness. End it, if you have the stomach.”

She drew in a deep, long breath, squaring her shoulders. “You can only die once, Khraast. That wouldn’t be justice.” Jayanta stepped forward, a spear of pure light forming in her hand. “Justice you shall have, headhunter. You will live. As helpless as all your victims.”

The blade of the spear took Khraast’s left hand off cleanly, then blazed with divine power, healing over the wound before she could even scream. As the fallen headhunter gazed up at her victorious foe in horror, Jayanta let the spear vanish. An instant later, it coalesced again—this time as an enormous warhammer.

“No!” she gasped, trying to crawl away. She was in no shape to escape. Her left leg could barely be moved, and all her frantic kicking wasn’t enough to prevent Jayanta from bringing the hammer down again and again. Not every blow struck flesh, but she did not quit until both Khraast’s legs were broken in multiple places.

The paladin was now baring her teeth in an utterly savage expression of exhilaration. “If you humble yourself to beg,” she snarled, “perhaps I will leave you here to be finished by the coyotes. Othewise, you go back to Vrin Shai with me, to enjoy the long rest of your life.”

With that final pronouncement, she released the hammer, causing it to vanish, and threw out her hand, unleashing a directionless torrent of golden light. Healing energy washed over Khraast, knitting the flesh of her mangled legs and hand together—in their current, twisted state, bones shattered and misaligned.

Then, suddenly and utterly, the light vanished.

Jayanta stood, mouth open, looking frantically around her. The light surrounding her was gone—and so was her silver armor, leaving her in only her leather underarmor. Her sword and shield had disappeared.

“Wh—no! What have you done?!”

YOU WERE WARNED, JAYANTA.

Golden light rose around them again, this time from the golden eagle of Avei which blazed in the sky above.

THRICE, YOU WERE WARNED, the goddess’s voice echoed all around them. YOUR CRUELTY IS NOT JUSTICE. YOU DISGRACE YOUR SISTERS, THE HANDS WHO FOUGHT BEFORE YOU, AND ME. THIS IS YOUR FINAL OFFENCE. WHATEVER SHAME YOU BRING YOURSELF IN THE FUTURE WILL BE UPON YOUR NAME ALONE, NOT UPON MINE.

The sigil vanished, and with it, the light.

“No,” Jayanta whispered, staring wide-eyed at the sky. “No! NO! I WAS FAITHFUL!”

Despite everything, Khraast managed a hoarse, coughing laugh. “H-you…were right. Justice…is…proportional.”

Jayanta fixed her glare on the fallen orc, a snarl twisting her features. “Oh, really. Well apparently, justice is no longer my concern.”

She fell bodily upon her, hands clasping around the orc’s throat, and squeezed…


“Enough, Trissiny.”

Her eyes snapped open, and she looked around in confusion. It had been like a dream…like three dreams, herself only an observer with no body or single perspective. Now, though, she was herself again—in her armor. Though she couldn’t see her hair, she knew it would be its normal blonde.

They stood on the porch of a humble log house, facing an expanse of flat plain bordered by towering, jagged mountains. In the middle distance, a herd of wild horses thundered past.

“The memories of your past sisters aren’t normally accessible to you,” Avei said with a small smile. The goddess wore an Imperial Army uniform, lacking any insignia and clearly well-worn. “You can only see such things by reaching through your connection to them—which is me.”

“I’m sorry,” Trissiny blurted. “I would never disturb you over—”

Avei placed a hand on her shoulder, smiling. “I am not disturbed, Trissiny. Far from it. This quest of yours is part of the purpose I have in mind for you—to be a new kind of Hand. For that very reason, the past doesn’t hold the answer you need. Press forward, Trissiny; find a new path. The answer you need is already in you, not in ancient history. Seek in another part of your soul.”


Then she was walking along the plain, toward the horses, alone. A single step shifted the world around her—suddenly she stood in the mountains. The next step brought her into a golden prairie with tallgrass waving at her eye level, and with the next, she stood in an ancient forest.

There, she could walk forward, peering about at the cool green depths, listening to birdsong and the nearby sound of running water. The trees…

…were not trees. Glanced at carelessly, they were towering sentinels holding up the canopy high above, but when she looked closer at one, it was suddenly a wooden statue of an elf, carved in exquisite detail. If not for being wood, it could have been alive, so precise was it.

Trissiny studied the calm, narrow face of the woman for a long moment, then turned to study another tree. Under her direct gaze, it was also an elf.

She walked slowly through the grove, peering at each elf-tree as she passed. Something told her, even though the carved figures had none of the colors of life, that each of these individuals would have black hair.

Finally, she found a face she recognized. Principia’s wooden countenance was set in a rakish grin which looked quite comfortable on her features. In fact, a few of the elves she had passed wore similar expressions, which were rather at odds with the staid reputation that elves in general had. She stood, studying Principia for long minutes, but the statue had nothing to tell her, it seemed.

The next one was also a woman, this one with a more serious expression, garbed more traditionally in a simple dress. Hesitantly, Trissiny placed a fingertip on the woman’s wooden forehead.

The statue did nothing.

With a sigh, she shook her head and continued on.

“Who are you?”

Without alarm, she turned back, finding herself face to face with the last statue—now alive, fully colored, and staring at her with naked suspicion. A tomahawk was in the woman’s hand. And she did, in fact, have black hair, tied back in a practical braid not unlike her own.

“I’m…on a journey,” Trissiny replied vaguely. The answer seemed appropriate. She didn’t feel entirely…herself.

The elf stepped toward her, eyes narrowed. “You are…truly here. Why are you here?”

“What’s your name?” Trissiny asked. “Is there something you’re supposed to teach me?”

One corner of the woman’s mouth quirked sideways in a smile that was reminiscent of Principia’s. “I see. Child, these are dangerous magics you are meddling with. I don’t know what books you have been studying, but you should not venture into the dreamscape except under a shaman’s guidance.”

“I am under a shaman’s guidance,” Trissiny said. “I’m looking for an answer I supposedly already have but don’t know it.”

“Then you should look within,” the woman said firmly. “You are traveling, girl. This isn’t your mind.” She paused, glancing around. “Well…partly. But I am not a figment you created. My name is Lanaera. I am a shaman among my people, and I do not much care to have my own dreams encroached upon by random humans. How did you even find me?”

“I don’t…know.” Trissiny glanced around. This situation seemed like it ought to be rather upsetting, or at least exciting, but she felt a calm that verged on lethargy. “Kuriwa said…”

“Kuriwa!” The elf strode forward, grasping her by the shoulders. “Kuriwa sent you here?!”

“Avei said I was reaching through connections,” she mused absently. “I see… I guess I did it again. I’m sorry to have bothered you, ma’am. Since you seem to know more about this than I, is it possible you could help me go back?”

The elf was gazing at her, wide-eyed. She blinked once, then a smile blossomed on her features. “Kuriwa, and now Avei. Trissiny?”

“Yes, that’s me.” Finally, as if the elf’s touch was helping to ground her, the wariness she ought normally to feel in such unfamiliar surroundings began to rise. “Do I know you?”

“I should have known you,” the elf said, and to her amazement, pulled her forward into a hug. Trissiny just stood there in her grasp, uncertain what to do. It only lasted a few moments, though, then Lanaera pulled back, smiling at her in apparent delight. Her expression quickly sobered, though. “I see. You don’t recognize my name? Well…I suppose that should not be a surprise.”

“I’m sorry,” Trissiny said carefully. “Um…”

“I,” said Lanaera with a slightly sad smile, “am your mother’s mother. I am so glad to finally meet you, child.”

“Oh,” Trissiny said, blinking. “I, um… Wasn’t expecting this.”

Again, Lanaera smiled, and her expression was still sly and sardonic beneath its happiness. With that smile, the resemblance to Principia really stood out. “You should not stay here long—you are not prepared for this kind of traveling. Honestly, did you not follow your instructions?”

“I wasn’t given any instructions!” Trissiny protested. “She just… Helped me get here!”

“That unbelievable ass…” Lanaera rolled her eyes. “But that’s Kuriwa all over. Making everyone but herself do the maximum amount of work for any scrap of insight they seek. All right, listen. When you are able, please come visit me in the real world. My grove is close to the human settlement called Port Nonsense, in northeastern Calderaan Province. The nearest Rail terminal is in Saddle Ridge; you will have to travel overland from there. The Imperial road comes directly to the town, and the signs are clear. There are regular stagecoaches if you don’t have your own transportation.”

“Excuse me,” Trissiny said, frowning, “but did you say Port Nonsense?”

The shaman grinned. “It lies right on the edge of the Golden Sea; the first human settlers seemed to find the Sea’s name ironic. I have always enjoyed the joke. Trissiny…if you are going to mix yourself up with Kuriwa, there are things you should know. More things than I can tell you here. The fact that she sought you out—I assume you did not go looking for her—shows how important it is that you be forewarned.”

“I see,” Trissiny said slowly. “Well…thank you. Um, this may be awkward, but… I think I would appreciate even more some insight into Principia.”

Lanaera’s face fell into grim lines. “I see. You have…a relationship with her, after all this time?”

Trissiny heaved a sigh. “Well, I have refrained from punching or arresting her. Whether that’s a relationship…”

The elf chuckled bitterly, shaking her head and finally taking a step back. “It’s as much of one as she manages with most people. Yes, Trissiny, I would be glad to help you understand her…to the extent that I do. My daughter is not entirely her own fault. Some people simply should not have children. She is one… And unfortunately, so was I. Well, regardless. You will come see me?”

“I…” Trissiny hesitated only for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I will. I can’t say when, though. My time is not entirely my own.”

“Of course.” She smiled sadly. “I have known a number of paladins over the years. When you can, though. And I would advise you not involve yourself too closely with Kuriwa until you have learned more about her. She will not deliberately harm you, but she tends to lead people into…complication.”

“I don’t think I need any more of that,” Trissiny agreed fervently, earning another laugh.

“As glad as I am to finally meet you,” Lanaera said more seriously, “this place is not safe. I’m sure Kuriwa has laid protections over you, but brushing the dreams of other shaman like myself is the least of the risks in wandering here. This realm is used by the fae, and many of those will attack you on sight.”

“Wait!” Trissiny said. “I—I keep getting lost. First I reached out through Avei, and then this… I’m supposed to be looking inside for something.”

The shaman tilted her head. “What do you seek, Trissiny?”

“Reconciliation,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “Yes, that’s the word. I am trying to broaden my skills beyond what Hands of Avei have used in the past—the world is growing too close and too complicated to just lash out with a sword anymore. I’ve been training with the Eserites, but…”

“Yes, I’ve met Eserites,” Lanaera said quietly. “If you meet the wrong one, it is easy to come away with a low opinion of the whole breed.”

“I’ve met a few very good ones,” Trissiny said with a sigh, “but some…who disturb me more than my encounters with the Black Wreath. And yet…”

“Why, in particular, did you seek them out?” the shaman asked. “I think your goal is extremely laudable, but the Thieves’ Guild seems a counterintuitive choice for an Avenist seeking to expand her horizons.”

Trissiny hesitated again before answering. “Well… There was a training exercise Professor Tellwyrn sent us on.”

“You really have stumbled upon the worst elven role models,” Lanaera murmured, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. Please go on.”

“We went into the Crawl, which I suppose you’re heard of. There’s a place down there which shows… Um, possibilities. I was never entirely clear on how it works. But it gave me a glimpse of who I would have been if I’d been raised by Principia. A thief, not a soldier. And… I left with a memory of her, of the woman I could have been. Her mindset, her attitude, the way she reveled in cleverness and had exactly the traits I’d need to contend with the Wreath and…and politicians in general, I’m finding. I can’t recall her skills, though.” She shrugged helplessly. “It was an example I had, one that was me, at least in a sense. I…guess I’m not making any sense, am I?”

“No,” Lanaera said thoughtfully. “No, in fact, this makes things much more clear. It does not mean the Guild is the best source for the knowledge you seek by far…but I can see why it would draw you, and this was not a wrong course of action. One must choose a starting point, after all. The Eserites, if you can learn to stomach what passes for their ethics, know exactly the skills you wish to learn.”

“That’s it in a nutshell,” Trissiny agreed, nodding. “And it’s my sticking point. I can’t get past…the things they do. Their attitude about it. And I can see what I came here to learn in some of them, but I keep being frustrated because they want me to be a warrior.”

“You are a warrior,” Lanaera said with a smile. “It’s not surprising they would perceive it. Thieves by nature are attuned to their surroundings.”

“But that’s not the point of this!” Trissiny exclaimed.

“I believe, now, that I understand,” the shaman said, regarding her with a gentle smile. “Well. I believe I can help you—somewhat more directly than Kuriwa. I do not share her philosophy that no one should have what they don’t earn in the most arduous manner possible. What you need, Trissiny, is a guide.”

“You can guide me?” Trissiny said, suddenly eager in spite of herself.

Lanaera shook her head. “Not to what you seek, granddaughter. But I can send you back within yourself, with some additional safeguards to prevent you from wandering free of your own soulscape again. Given the things to which your spirit is tied, it should hardly be surprising that you keep doing so. And more to the point, you already know the guide you need. Close your eyes.”

“Are you going to make me count back from a hundred?” Trissiny asked wryly, but did as she was told.

The elf let out a soft laugh. “No, that sounds like a measure to induce a trance. You’re already in one, child. Now…let me just give you a nudge.”

Her hand on Trissiny’s forehead was gentle and cool. Except that suddenly, it radiated a sense of enormous pressure.

“Be safe, granddaughter. Come see me when you are able.”

And then Trissiny was falling through blackness.


She landed in a crouch, sword and shield in her hands, and straightened slowly, peering around. This place she recognized. The huge octagonal chamber, the mist-filled hallways… This was the place in the Crawl which dragged fears out and held them up to the light.

“Oh, great,” she muttered.

“Well, it’s nice to see you too.”

Trissiny whirled to face the voice, reflexively raising her shield, but the girl now in front of her just grinned and stuck her hands in the pockets of her fitted longcoat.

“Oh, that’s a nice how-de-do. You came looking for me, remember?” Triss Locke winked at her. “So let’s see if we can’t get you straightened out, eh?”

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50 thoughts on “11 – 35

    1. Out of curiosity, was anyone else thinking of the Avatar : The Last Airbender parallels for the first half of the vision quest?

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      1. Now that you’ve said, yes there are parellels. But I’ve seen something like that before. Wheel of Time had visions of past lives, too… and it’s far from the only fantasy novel that does.

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  1. This chapter is awesome!

    So many interesting details. New info about the divine plane, about the world and the past…
    … and I’m happy that Trissiny is connecting more with her family.

    Not to mention, this chapter is funny, too.

    Now I’m counting the time until Monday to read the conclusion to Trissiny’s journey.
    😀

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    1. Ok, let’s recap…

      The Hand of Omnu gets a mount, too.

      Laressa was badass and a pretty cool Paladin.

      The memories of all Paladins still exist and can be accessed despite all of them being long dead. Which means that everything they ever did or said was recorded in the transcendental field that belongs to/is Avei. Gods really are information. That also means that Trissiny can never have any secrets from Avei. No privacy. Ever.

      Trissiny can visit the divine plane, as soul at least. Or Avei brought her there?

      Avei fulfilled her dream of building a small house in the country and raising horses. Yay.

      The forest of elf trees represents her family and her connection to them. Question is, what exactly is it? A shared mindscape? At first I would have thought it’s a fae realm where only shamans can enter normally… but then there wouldn’t be a tree statue of Principia there. Does this place show every Crowblood that has ever lived or only the currently alive? Does it only show the elves or the halfelves, too? Are there trees for Zanzayed and Trissiny?
      Do all the elves have something like that? Something that connects them and possibly connects them to the world?

      Triss Locke is Trissiny’s guide… that fits. Their conversations are bound to be hilarious.😉

      Liked by 4 people

      1. You missed one: orcish headhunters have a sense of humor so central to themselves that it comes out even when they are beaten and near death.

        Incidentally, that orc reminded me of a character in Rowena’s Rescue, Webb’s book available on Amazon for $1. That could be a good thing to read while you wait for Monday!

        I think a lot of readers inherently lack sympathy for Orc-kind, because Tolkien!orcs are evil and disgusting. If you read RR, you might get a better sense of Webb!orcs. We don’t know much about the events leading up to it, but Athan-Khar is a crime against life itself that we don’t even grasp the magnitude of yet.

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      2. We only know that SOME memories of Paladins still exist and can be accessed. Perhaps only those times when the God is paying particular attention to the Paladin are saved – or maybe they are moments said God found memorable for whatever reason. Or it could be what you said, of course – but we certainly don’t know that for sure.

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      3. I already read Rowena’s Rescue. Three times. But don’t worry, I’ve got enough other things to read… I just want to know what Trissiny finds out about herself.😉

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I recall that there was some discussion when Ingvar, Darling and Joe went to the facily beneath the grove that Elves were intrinsically linked to the transcension fields. I suspect that grove of elf-trees is in some way related to that. A family transcension field, perhaps?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. a technical pref; anytime you change pov and don’t start out w/ a name or a clear description the reader is *freaking lost* for about a paragraph or more, then finds a name that (may) bring clarity to the prior text, then has to reread it…this breaks immersion, and just burns my britches. It may seem clever because *you* know who you mean, and “see” the scene…but we do not. Pet peeve. Otherwise good chapter. Obfuscation is trivially easier than clarity; any idiot can make anything arbitrarily obscure. On the other hand, only skill and effort can make something imaginary clear to a stranger. “There’s no such thing as excessive clarity” – me
    Just my $0.000002. Yes, I adjusted for inflation there.🙂 Sometimes (often?) clever tricks are the bane of good writing, specifically when a good author out-clevers themselves. Eh, again, pet peeve, just file it under “random rants” and move on. TY for a nice ongoing story. I’m rooting for Triss more than ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I have the same issue. It is not too irritating or anything like that, but still, sometimes I have to reread a paragraph just because of this. Though I should mention that English is not my native language, so you could blame that as well. (I read a lot in English, but somewhere on a subconscious level it is still harder to comprehend than my mother langueage… so maybe it shows at these POV changes?)

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    2. I can see that in a general sense, but I think it was handled correctly here. Trissiny basically got dumped into the middle of a dreamemory and would be just as lost as us readers until enough context clues popped up to figure out who and what she was seeing.

      This wasn’t so much a PoV change as it was a sudden scene change. Trissiny is still the point of view character, its just that she is passively watching a dream sequence here so it is hard to tell. Looking at it that way I think that there isn’t a real problem with those scenes

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Personally I don’t see the confusion. The break in the scenes is clearly marked with a line of dots and figuring out who the characters are is half the point/fun here.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. I generally agree with you, but I think that was the PURPOSE here, to confuse us, and therefore have us share in trissinys confusion at the triple dream

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    5. “Sometimes (often?) clever tricks are the bane of good writing”

      I’ve forgotten who it came from, but I like the advice “whenever you’re particularly proud of a sentence, erase it immediately. Otherwise you’ll end up contorting the rest unnaturally in order to preserve one sentence which probably won’t impress readers as much as it does yourself.”

      I suggested that to a friend who wants to write but is struggling to produce anything readable (for other people. HE loves his writing, just no one else does). He acknowledged my point, but was ultimately unable to part with his little pet loves; that’s about when I gave up on him ever improving significntly.

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  3. This was excellent. I really enjoyed these visions. I’m very much looking forward to the meeting with her gradmother.
    Oh, and Port Nonsense… awesome. ^^

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    1. I am more interested in how Zaruda would change. She is currently the least versatile member of their team, and didn’t get any powerups since the start of the story (Gabriel became a paladin/enchanter and got a magic sword, Juniper became a druid and started to learn close-quarters combat, Trissiny is currently undergoing a lot of new training, Teal+Vadrieny is about to become a Hand, Fross gets a lot of new utility out of just her magic studies, while Ruda has started the story as a pirate princess with an anti-magic sword and still is just a pirate princess with an anti-magic sword)

      While Toby getting a mount would certainly fit the same idea, he is already a divine caster, and can get a lot of new tricks just out of his magic.

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      1. I believe one point of this story is that martial prowess and ability to kick ass is less important than navigating society without making waves.

        Ruda already had a headstart here and she continues to improve. She’s the best in class and clearly very intelligent. She’s probably getting more out of the combat classes than Juniper, since she can actually spar with other people.
        There’s nothing the others have that she would need herself. Sure, it would be convenient for her to be able to summon a mount or to teleport but it’s not necessary. There are modes of transportation everywhere, from stage coaches to the Rails. Plus, she’s rich enough to employ a mage to teleport her if she wants to.

        If the class was an adventuring party, then yeah. Some of them would need better gear and/or upgrades. As I’ve said before, I’d give Juniper a huge two-handed sword to up her intimidation factor because otherwise some people won’t take her seriously until she rips someone apart. She does look like a cute girl with green hair, not everyone would recognize a dryad or understand how dangerous one can be.

        I can’t think of a reason to make Ruda a better or more versatile fighter. A weapon that ignores and pierces magic is pretty amazing already and for the rest… she can always get more enchanted items. You can buy them anywhere, really.

        Trissiny needs to be a warrior because she’s the Hand of Avei. But she recognized that this isn’t enough, so now she’s trying to learn stuff Ruda already knows. I think the story currently follows the person who needs an upgrade more.🙂

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      2. Grrrr. Ugh I hate typing on android.

        Anyway my point was that M seems to be reading a very different story that just happens to have overlapping character names. Seriously, Juniper “just became” a “druid?” Uhh sorry guy, she’s a DRYAD, and always has been. I’m not even sure what you’re misinterpreting to arrive at that baffling conclusion…

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      3. I agree that Ruda hasn’t had any obvious powerups, while just about everyone else has had one.

        I think Ruda will remain like that, though, since she 1) goes adventuring and picks stuff up, 2) is fabulously wealthy and can buy stuff, 3) is smart enough to save her “oh no” items for emergencies, so her coat will basically allow her to always deus ex machina her way out of problems.

        I think Juniper has gone down in powerlevel, though. It used to be that if you hurt her then Mother Nature herself ripped you a new one, literally. Juniper doesn’t have that anymore, though.

        Anyway, what Ruda really needs is either 1) the strength/power to stand up to the entire Empire (which isn’t going to happen), or 2) some sort of political way to save her people.

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    2. I don’t know if the Ariel in the story is the same as Gabriel’s sword. Would you send a sword with an unchanging personality to get counseling with the Izarites?

      “There’s every reason to think she will go on to lead as long and full a life as anyone.” – That doesn’t sound like a sword either. Sword!Ariel wouldn’t be able to live a full life and it would basically be indefinite, not just long.

      To me it sounds like he tried to ressurrect his daughter with the help of a demon and it took dozens of sacrifices to make it work. A valkyrie came to put a stop to it but was changed and ultimatively destroyed. The daughter is fine and most importantly, alive. Sword!Ariel is technically not alive.

      He also said, “No one was supposed to get hurt.”
      Creating a talking weapon requires at least one sacrifice, mainly of the person who ends up -being- that weapon. Multiple sacrifices until you get it right, but only the one that works becomes the weapon. If his daughter had died, then he wouldn’t be able to use her to make the sword and if she was still alive before she ended up in the sword, then no further deaths are necessary. We are told she was killed before it all started though.

      Not to mention that Ariel was a very common name and why would Aross put his daughter into a sword and not into a doll or something like that?

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      1. IIRC talking swords are made by creating a copy of someone’s personality as they die so if it is the same Ariel she was originally killed to make the sword but it is just a copy and the real Ariel went to heaven until she was resurrected.

        Also nice Buffy reference Webb.

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      2. That could maybe work, but … I just don’t think it really fits.

        “The man who killed Ariel perished before he could be brought to justice,” she said quietly.

        Does that seem like the killer created a sword from Ariel?

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      3. Maybe the guy who killed her originally did it to make the sword….and Aross resurrected Ariel with that piece of her soul missing

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  4. Kuriwa had her breathing evenly and counting backward from one hundred with her eyes closed, while the droned a soft tune in elvish and did something magically that made the air feel warmer
    Change “the droned” to Kuriwa droned

    Wow. So, is Trissiny basically schizophrenic now? A guide is great, but when will she be able to reconcile with herself?

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      1. Even leaving off the actual psychological portion of it I don’t think she has an issue. I imagine Triss Locke as being more of a personification of potential. Not only is she not a separate personality, I wouldn’t really even consider her a facet of Trissiny’s actual personality. Instead she is something like an unrealized alternate version of Trissiny which can coalesce into a coherent form when Triss’ conscience tunes into a higher frequency transcendental field.

        Or, in layman’s terms, she is the ghost of a Triss that never was but might have been.

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    1. Incompatible since Trissiny mostly depends on divine power and that just doesn’t exist like that for the Squire. The closest they have for divine are the angels and just one of them is a pretty big deal.

      So basically… it would depend on where they fight. In the Bastardverse, Trissiny would win because Squire couldn’t rely on plot armor (or being protected by the story) and Cat has no counter to being slammed with the divine power of the Hand of Avei.
      If they fought over in Cat’s story, then Trissiny couldn’t access her powers (since there is no Avei) and it would come down to swordplay, dirty tricks and stamina. I’d give Cat the upper hand here.

      Ultimatively, it remains a bad matchup because both are linked to their universes and couldn’t even meet up easily, much less fight each other in their full power.

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  5. So something occurred to me reading this: All crowbloods have black hair… So why is Triss blonde? I know we could just chalk it up to her being a halfblood, but it’s such an unusual trait that is remarked many times to *always* occur.

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    1. I don’t think that it is “all Crowbloods have black hair” so much as “only Crowbloods have black hair.” That is to say: a black haired elf is a Crowblood, but some Crowbloods may have other colors of hair.

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  6. I know this is off topic, but I’ve been rereading, and I just now realized you had Vidian show an interest in Gabe way back during their first visit to Sarasio during the White Rider “lesson”. I feel silly for not picking up on that.

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  7. Short delay, sorry. Today has been ridiculous. Got part of a chapter but I need to get a few hours of sleep; I’m typing virtual gibberish at this point. I’ll try not to let this drag out any more than necessary.

    Also, happy Halloween.

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