12 – 43

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Midmorning was a fairly busy time in Last Rock, so there were enough onlookers in the square to form a decent-sized crowd when the Rail caravan eased to a halt next to the platform. The town wasn’t a scheduled stop, so any Rail traffic was specially chartered—which meant the arrival of a caravan always heralded something interesting about to happen. It was fortunate that no one had had any forewarning, or most of the town would have shown up to gawk.

The caravan’s doors hissed open in unison, and showing no sign of the disorientation Rail travelers usually did, armed drow streamed out onto the platform. There were a few muted outcries from the bystanders, and a couple even reached for wands, but luckily everyone present had the sense not to act in rash haste.

The soldiers wore silk tunics under armor of scaled lizard-hide and plates that seemed formed of some kind of chitin, all of it close-fitting and dyed shades of red and green so dark that only under the prairie sun did they show any color to speak of; at night they would have simply looked black to human eyes. Each soldier carried a saber sheathed at the waist, and wore a wide-brimmed hat to shield their eyes from the sunlight. They took up positions clearly delineating a space adjacent to the parked caravan and stood at attention, putting their hands nowhere near their weapons and not acknowledging the townspeople.

A second wave disembarked, this consisting of four women in robes of the same red and green, these adorned with light gray sashes from the right shoulder to left hip, affixed by silver pins in the shape of Themynra’s balance scale emblem. Their robes had attached hoods to shield their eyes rather than hats. Showing no more sign of discomfiture from the ride than the troops had, the priestesses arranged themselves in an inner ring, with somewhat more casual postures, focusing their attention on the caravan rather than the growing crowd of locals.

Finally, two women emerged from the last compartment.

One wore robes with embroidery in House Awarrion colors, with a saber hanging at her waist—not a Narisian model, but one with a gold crosshilt and ivory handle—and a Punaji-style hat protecting her face, complete with colorful feathers. She stepped forward, glanced quickly around the square, then turned and bowed to the last person to disembark.

Matriarch Ashaele was dressed simply, in a plain robe of green with red trim. She had no head covering at all, leaving her snowy hair practically luminous in the sun. Even her eyes were not narrowed against the glare of the light.

It had been a swift and efficient discharge of personnel, but by the time it was over, an official response had already manifested—having been nearby anyway, as luck would have it. Sheriff Sanders approached slowly, glancing about with a faint frown but taking his cue from the Narisian troops to the extent of keeping his hand well away from his holstered wand.

“Excuse me,” he began.

The woman with the hat intercepted him, bowing politely. “Good morning—you are the Sheriff, I presume?”

“Sam Sanders, at your service,” he replied, seemingly relieved to have somebody to talk to, and doffed his hat respectfully.

“It is a pleasure. I am Nahil nur Ashaele d’zin Awarrion. We apologize for descending upon your town so abruptly, and will of course do our utmost to minimize the impact of our presence. My mother has business with the University, but while she attends to that, perhaps you could help me arrange facilities for our stay?”

Nahil deftly took him by the arm, turning and steering him back toward the town. At her movement, one of the priestesses followed, and four soldiers slipped out of formation to arrange themselves around her and the Sheriff in a clear honor guard, the rest of the squad neatly rearranging themselves surrounding their matriarch.

“Uh, sure, I’d be glad to help,” Sanders said a little uncertainly as he was skillfully handled, turning to glance back over his shoulder at the Rail platform. “Um, exactly how long are you gonna be in town? There ain’t a whole lot o’ room…”

“For the time being, we must…what is that expression? Play it by ear. I am very eager to speak with more plains dwellers, Sheriff; my Tanglish is decent, I believe, but there is such poetry in the prairie dialect! Tell me, what exactly is a ‘pig in a poke?’”

The rest of the drow started forward, moving in perfect sync with Ashaele as she made a beeline for the mountain—a path which would inevitably take them right through the center of the town.

In the shadows of the porch in front of the Ale & Wenches, one man started to step out into the sunlight, and was suddenly halted by a huge hand upon his shoulder.

“Wilson,” Ox rumbled, “don’t you even damn well think about it.”

“I wasn’t thinkin’ about nothin’!” Wilson protested with an air of wounded innocence.

“That’s pretty much the whole problem with your entire life. You stay the hell away from exotic guests ’till we figure out if they’re bringin’ commerce or trouble, an’ maybe even then. Clear?”

“You’re not the boss o’ me, Ox Whipporwill!”

“That’s the plain truth, an’ a point for which I’m downright grateful.” Ox’s bushy mustache shifted, the only sign on his face of a smile which did not touch his eyes. “How’s about we make sure it stays that way? By you not doin’ anything that’ll get your ass thrown in a cell for once.”

The two men were well within the range of elven hearing, but none of the Narisians acknowledged them, or any of the other conversations taking place nearby. At that moment, anyway, they had a more immediate distraction which demanded a response.

The drow reacted swiftly to the appearance of Professor Tellwyrn in the middle of their formation, right in front of the matriarch, by whirling toward her and bringing up weapons. They froze mid-swing at a slight movement of Ashaele’s hand. Tellwyrn, for her part, gave no sign that she had even noticed them.

“Matriarch,” she said gravely. “I suppose we can dispense with some of the pleasantries. I will of course take you to her. At the very least, I can bring you directly—”

“Thank you, Professor, but I prefer to walk,” said Ashaele, suiting the words with action. She resumed her even pace forward, forcing Tellwyrn to either step aside or be collided with. The soldiers re-formed their ring about them, those closest to the Professor now keeping eyes on her and hands on hilts.

“I of all people respect the value of pride,” said Tellwyrn, falling into step beside Ashaele, “but also of reason. I know you are unaccustomed to climbing mountains in this heat, Ashaele. Let me help; it’s the least I can do.”

“Well, this is already going better than our last conversation,” Ashaele said calmly. “Perhaps you should abysmally fail to safeguard your charges more often, Arachne, if that is what it takes to squeeze a drop of respect from you.”

Tellwyrn simply looked at her, sidelong, wearing a lack of expression that would have done a Narisian proud. By the time they passed from the square into Last Rock’s main thoroughfare, she had returned her gaze forward. They continued on in a chilly silence which belied the prairie sunshine.


“These are—”

“I recognize everyone,” Ashaele said smoothly, interrupting Tellwyrn’s introduction as they drew to a halt outside the chapel. At some signal from her, too subtle to be noticed by anyone not looking for it, the priestesses and honor guard had shifted formation to proceed behind her, so that none stood between her and the chapel, and those now clustered outside it. “Most I’ve not met, but Shaeine greatly values her friendships, and has spoken at length of each of you.”

Toby and Gabriel bowed to her; Ruda swept off her hat, simply nodding respectfully. Scorn and Juniper glanced uncertainly at them, while Fross just hovered, showing none of her usual frenetic movement.

Teal stood slightly apart from the others, face impassive. She was pale, and her eyes visibly reddened within dark pits that told of sleeplessness, but at this moment at least, she carried a reserve that would have done any Narisian proud.

“They’re a good group, all things considered,” said Tellwyrn, folding her arms. “Actually, this is the first time I’ve found any of them skipping classes. Under the circumstances, I’m inclined to let it slide.”

Ashaele simply looked at her, a hair too long for it to qualify as a glance, and then proceeded forward toward the doors. The students shifted out of her way, Juniper after a moment’s awkward hesitation.

“I would like to see my daughter in privacy,” she said calmly.

“Of course,” Tellwyrn replied. “The chapel’s wards ensure that even for elvish ears. Back away, children, this is not a show.”

“I, uh…ma’am…” Gabriel trailed off, swallowing painfully. Ashaele paused on the chapel steps, then reached out and touched his shoulder for a bare instant. He gulped again and shuffled back, giving her another bow.

“Teal,” said the matriarch, “accompany me.”

“Teal,” said Tellwyrn quickly, “you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel is necessary.”

“I realize, Professor, that diplomacy is far from your strongest skill,” Ashaele said quietly, standing on the top step and staring at the closed doors, “so I shall assume that was not deliberate. To give you the benefit of my own expertise, insinuating that I might harm one of your students is an insult.” Slowly, she turned to fix an impassive gaze on Tellwyrn. “One which a person in your position would be well advised to avoid.”

“It’s all right, Professor,” Teal said softly.

Tellwyrn glanced between her and Ashaele, nose twitching once, then shook her head. “As you will. I’ll be right out here, Teal.”

Ashaele turned her back.

Teal slipped forward and unlatched the door, giving it a push, then stepped back to bow the matriarch through. Ashaele slipped into the dimness of the chapel without another word, and Teal followed, pausing only to close the door behind them.


The campus chapel was laid out like a standard prairie church, though built of stone rather than the planks which were more common, and devoid of Universal Church iconography. Even the gods were represented only as figures in the stained glass windows, with none of their sigils displayed. There was no choir loft and only a low dais with no pulpit; no preaching was done here, the space being used only by students for individual prayers and meditations. It was kept dim as a rule, the fairy lamps left dark to allow the colored illumination of sunlight through the stained windows, contributing to its peaceful atmosphere.

At the moment, the pews had been moved and rearranged, pairs positioned face-to-face and with deep cushions added to form impromptu beds, on which lay the students suffering the Sleeper’s curse. Each had been carefully tucked in with thick handmade quilts donated by the citizens of Last Rock.

Ashaele paced quietly down the center aisle. She gave a bare glance to the profusion of flowers and trinkets piled around Ravana, and paused only momentarily to look down on Natchua, remaining otherwise focused on her destination. In only seconds, she stood beside the bed of pews on which Shaeine lay.

The matriarch stood, her back to the entrance, beside which Teal stood like a guardian. She bent slightly to lay her fingertips against Shaeine’s cheek. The curse was thorough and the sleep profound; only to an elf was the victims’ breath audible.

For a long moment, there was silence.

“Please explain how you allowed this to happen.”

Teal’s flinch was only the barest twitch of her left eye, which Ashaele could not see, with her back to the door. Vadrieny’s outrage howled within her, though. It quickly subsided at Teal’s silent plea.

“The campus was under widespread attack,” she answered quietly, her voice slightly raspy from fatigue and long hours of crying. “The Sleeper targeted multiple groups of students, including Shaeine and I. We were with three others, including Szith. Demons attempted to herd us into a trap, but Shaeine formed a plan to outmaneuver them. We entered the music building, which to the Sleeper should have been a dead end, but she led us to the roof and had Iris—a classmate who’s a witch—form a ladder of vines to escape down the back, and directed Vadrieny and I to counter-attack the demons and prevent them from observing her ploy. It…nearly worked. Shaeine insisted on being the last one down. The others escaped as she planned. We…Vadrieny and I…returned to help, and found her asleep on the rooftop. Unresponsive.” She paused to swallow heavily against the lump forming in her throat. “Just like the others. The Sleeper outmaneuvered us.”

Ashaele gazed down at her daughter in silence. After a pause, Teal opened her mouth to speak again, but the matriarch’s soft voice cut her off.

“When Shaeine brought you to visit us, Teal, I was favorably impressed. As an applicant to join House Awarrion, you presented yourself quite well.”

“For a human,” Teal finished softly, too tired even to sound resentful.

“For anyone.” A faint edge appeared in Ashaele’s tone—borderline inappropriate for any Narisian, but a matriarch could get away with a lot. She straightened and turned her head to put her face in profile from the door, regarding Teal sidelong. “I would not diminish the strength or prestige of my House by holding any prospective member to a relaxed standard. For House Awarrion, in the current political climate, a human as my daughter’s consort would be a curiosity, but a prestigious one. A Tiraan-trained bard, too, would bring us great prestige. Vadrieny also represents a tremendous asset—even if, as you insist, she does not fight aggressively. Nor do we, as diplomats, but I’m sure the utility of an ambassador who is functionally impervious to harm or imprisonment is plain. Your own status and education make you an asset, as well. Such a union between my House and Falconer Industries would be potentially bumpy, there being no precedent for such a thing, but in most possible outcomes, greatly advantageous for both. Even in your ignorance of our culture and customs, I see favorable potential. You showed me a greater willingness to learn than even most Imperial diplomats, and your unfamiliarity represents a useful…malleability. Potential that I could shape in a direction of my choosing. And…” She shifted again, to resume gazing down at Shaeine. “My duty as matriarch supersedes my duty as a mother, but the fact that my daughter adores you is hardly insignificant. If for no other reason than that Shaeine, from her earliest years, has always been a gifted judge of character.”

She turned fully around, folding her hands and gazing at Teal.

“For all that, only one concern has led me to reserve judgment. One which weighs more heavily on me as a mother than a matriarch, but is not without importance to both. There is you: first and sole daughter of a greatly powerful family, famous and wealthy beyond the imagining of most Narisian nobility, coupled with a nigh-unstoppable power in the form of your demon counterpart. And there is Shaeine: a third daughter, in practical terms a spare. Heral and Nahil both have daughters of their own, securing the matriarchal line against my own death, and are both groomed for the necessary administrative positions in the House. Shaeine, before it was decided that she should come here, was to be a House priestess—a minor position for one of her hereditary rank. Were your family another House of Tar’naris, Teal, in the union between you, it would be she who went to live with your family, answerable to your mother. Subordinate to you.”

“The comparison…isn’t exact,” Teal said after a moment.

“I am well aware. But politics aside, there remains the fact that the force you represent overshadows her. As a mother, I do not wish to see my child trailing passively in anyone’s footsteps. As matriarch, with responsibility both to the health of House Awarrion and the diplomatic interests of Tar’naris, I must be wary of setting a precedent in drow/human relations which will not serve our interests. All this has made me leery of this union. But this.” She shifted her head infinitesimally, its faint tilt to the right indicating curiosity. “What you tell me now…strongly implies that between the two of you—between the three of you, in fact—Shaeine is the dominant personality.”

Teal stared at her, blinking twice, gathering her thoughts before replying. “Matriarch… I’m a bard. And Vadrieny…in her own words, is more weapon than warrior. Something of a blunt instrument. Shaeine and I don’t think or relate in terms of dominance. But in most regards… She is the one with the political education, with the experience. And, I have to say, a personality with more innate wisdom. Vadrieny and I have both become comfortable following her lead. The dynamic between us feels natural. And it’s served us very well.” She hesitated, then swallowed again. “Until…very recently.”

Teal drew in a deep breath and lowered her eyes, her fists bunching slowly at her sides despite her efforts to cling to what she could manage of Narisian reserve. Vadrieny’s barely-contained rage and agony pulsed within her, fury feeding on fury in a cycle that grew ever harder to control.

“The Sleeper is a student here. They have to be. It’s a small campus and a small community; this is someone who knows us. Someone who’s observed us and has a grasp of how Shaeine and I relate. This wasn’t an accident or an attack of opportunity, this was very carefully planned. You asked how this happened: it was done by someone who understands our relationship, and used it to get to Shaeine.” She drew in a long breath through her teeth, which elongated subtly as she did so. Her hands un-clenched, lengthening into ebon claws, and sparks of fire danced behind her eyes. “The Sleeper is not going to get away with this much longer. Tellwyrn is closing in on them. Others are getting involved, including the Empire. No warlock can escape this kind of pursuit for long. And when we know who has done this, I am going to personally tear them into small pieces and make them eat each one.”

She broke off, squeezing her eyes shut. Despite Vadrieny’s presence flickering through, the words had been entirely her own. The archdemon’s consciousness flowed around her, clutching her for comfort against the pain, even as their anger resonated.

Caught in her inner battle, Teal hadn’t heard Ashaele move, and when the matriarch’s arms slipped around her, the shock brought her inner battle to a standstill, even Vadrieny freezing in confusion. Claws and fangs vanished, leaving Teal physically herself again.

Ashaele held her close, pressing Teal’s face gently into her shoulder with the hand cradling the back of her head.

“As matriarch, I recognize this union. You are consort to my own blood, welcomed by House Awarrion as its own. We embrace you, daughter.”

She gave Teal a final, gentle squeeze, then pulled back to hold her by the shoulders and study her face. In the interim, it was as if Ashaele’s own expression had come alive, showing finally her own weariness, her worry, and despite that, a warm smile.

“How are you, Teal?” she asked gently, with open care and concern.

Teal could only stare up at her for a moment. “Um. Aside from the obvious?” She glanced past Ashaele’s shoulder, at Shaeine’s bed of pews, then back to her face. “…confused.”

The drow’s expression shifted toward wryness. “I see. Shaeine has been coaching you in our customs, or so she told me. I trust you do understand the significance of formal adoption into the House? This is the closest parallel we have to your custom of marriage.”

“Ah, yes, that we discussed. In fact, it was one of the first things she taught me,” Teal added, a faint flush rising in her cheeks. “But it takes more than a year to absorb an entire culture.”

“Quite.” Ashaele nodded and stepped back, gently taking one of Teal’s hands and leading her up the aisle, toward Shaeine’s sleeping form. “I presume she has taught you things as she thought of them, or as they came up—it’s understandable that this one might not have occurred to her yet. It isn’t commonly invoked, but it is traditional for courting couples to have their adoption expedited in the case of a sudden…bereavement. Death, illness, injury, even imprisonment. Provided the matriarch in question had no specific objection to the union, in most such cases she would acknowledge the loved one immediately. It is a way to help build and strengthen bonds throughout our society, as well as serving the individual adopted by providing the comfort of family—and the protection of House—at a time when such is most necessary.”

“I…see,” Teal said slowly. Ashaele squeezed her hand once, then pulled her closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. After a moment of stiffness, she relaxed against the taller woman. A moment longer, and even Vadrieny calmed in the embrace. “I will do my utmost not to disappoint you.”

“I have little worry about that, Teal,” she said without hesitation. “I was quite frank with you; from our first meeting, I judged you a suitable mate for Shaeine, if a surprising choice. Now that I understand your situation a bit better, my last lingering concern is assuaged. This is the right thing for us all, and I’ve no doubt you will be an asset to our House. But with that established, regarding your threat toward the Sleeper.” She squeezed Teal gently, rubbing her shoulder. “You will do no such thing. In this matter I am speaking to you as both mother and matriarch, and I expect to be obeyed.”

Teal froze. “I—but…”

“You are part of a drow House, now. You know very well we are not savages, Teal. Vindictive we are indeed—but in the proper way. This is about more than you and Shaeine and the Sleeper, more than her other victims and Tellwyrn. This is a clash between civilization and barbarism. I have studied Tellwyrn’s explanation of these events closely, and this Sleeper’s motivations are obvious to me. She is a young fool with unearned power, blindly asserting it. The Sleeper represents an idea: that the strong dominate the weak simply by virtue of their strength. That she is allowed to do what she will to others simply because she is able to. This is the opposite of the purpose of all civilization, Teal. If you catch and kill her, you eliminate one threat, but you grant her the moral victory.”

“I…forgive me, mat—mother. I can’t find it in me to be concerned with moral victories right now.”

Ashaele pulled her even closer, leaning her own head against Teal’s. “Be concerned with them, daughter. They are what define you. Aren’t you the girl who tamed an archdemon through the power of love? Don’t rush to an action that will plague your dreams forever, Teal. Besides, there are greater things at stake than our feelings. We must not simply strike down the Sleeper. We will apprehend, try, convict, and duly punish her. She will be dragged before the gaze and the full force of civilization, and made to acknowledge her own impotence and insignificance against it, before being crushed beneath its heel. That is justice, distinct from retaliation. These are the principles to which Shaeine has dedicated her life. We will give her no cause to be ashamed of us when she wakes.”

She moved her arm, taking Teal’s hand and into the improvised bed, laying it atop Shaeine’s own hands, which were folded at her breast. Both of them gently twined their fingers about the sleeping girl’s.

“And I,” Ashaele finished in deadly quiet, “will settle for no lesser revenge.”

After a silent moment, Teal leaned into her again, and once again, Ashaele rested her temple against the crown of her head.

“Yes, mother.”

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70 thoughts on “12 – 43

  1. “If you kill a killer, the number of killers in the world remains the same.” – Batman

    Come on, you didn’t really think I was going to kill off the adorable lesbian couple? Surely I’ve proved by now that a dumb, tired, offensive old trope in my story is staring down the same fate as an endangered snow leopard in Dr. Moreau’s basement.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. You know, it had not actually occurred to me that you might be Burying Your Gays. Any number of awful fates had occurred to me, the sleep curse among them, but you’ve been so consistently excellent in this regard that I wasn’t worried for a moment you’d go with that particular trope.

      🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Seconded! I wasn’t worried at all, and it’s been wonderful to realize I *don’t* have to have low expectations of an author and brace myself for the cliche lazy maneuvers so many give into (not that I should judge, since their writing is 100% more effective and productive than mine at all). Thanks for the great story, as always, Webb.

        Like

      2. well, I didn’t even know this was a trope. Makes me think I chose wisely in the past, but maybe its more because I tend to read the sort of books where *everyone* dies.

        Amazing chapter, dear Webb. Not only the tension around Shaeine, but the Matriarch as a character – I feel like while she has played some role before on occasion, we’ve never gotten an insight into her thoughts like this. Your depiction of drow society is my favourite, by far.

        On top of that, the casual parable of justice and civilisation, because that’s par for the course in literature, right? I might’ve been bragging about non-terrible reading choices earlier, but I still know plenty of full-length books about a similar motive that don’t manage to discuss the things you just laid out in a single chapter.

        Thank you for making my day 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Didn’t realize it was a trope so actually, yeah, I did. The reveal in this chapter was slightly ruined by someone saying ‘has’ in regards to Shaeine but that might have been purposeful. If not, I’d suggest an alteration of the line in order to make the actual reveal a bit more heavy.

      Otherwise a very powerful chapter, one I am grateful followed only after a couple days instead of a weekly pause. Hrrrm… I wonder if upping a schedule during tense situations can bring more readers. Probably not many sites that even consider doing that so I’ll have to look at other media for research.

      Like

    3. I’ve always wondered about someone killing a killer leaving the number of killers the same. Surely, if someone were to kill a LOOOOT of killers, the number can only dwindle. Doesn’t remove anything from the justness of the initial thought, but I’ve always been fascinated by true hard core vigilantes, there is a kind of implacable logic behind their motivations.

      And as always : thank you for a truely excellent chapter !

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree regarding the sentiment of justice, although the first thing that comes to mind when I read the Batman quote is this retort:

        “When you let a killer live, the number of killers in the world *also* remains the same.”

        Only the killer gets more experienced, and may kill again.

        So doesn’t it kinda become a moot point?

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      2. Batman’s meaning was: If he kills, then he’s never going to stop, he’ll turn into a worse monster than the villains and who’s going to stop him then?
        Bruce Wayne is fully aware of how broken he is, how close to the edge he stands.
        If he went ahead and started killing, he’d slowly lose his inhibitions. It wouldn’t just be villains like the Joker who’d die, every criminal would… and probably quite a few bystanders as well.

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    4. Yeah, sorry for getting so worked up a couple of chapters ago. It did seem very unlike you to kill off a lesbian character like that, but I’ve been surprised by supposedly progressive writers before and it’s made me a bit paranoid. Don’t worry, I won’t be making the same mistake again! I can’t tell you how relieved I am that Shaeine lives, this is one of my absolute favourite stories so it would be be a shame to have that kind of a blot on its record (not to mention she’s a great character obviously).

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    5. This is not meant as a reply, but the damn comment box isn’t at the top of the comments section like it normally is so I’m having to leave a reply to your comment when it’s actually got nothing to do with your comment. Sorry about that.

      I just noticed that someone has left a major spoiler in the comments section of the table of contents page. I tried leaving a spoiler warning twice, but both times it posted below the spoiler comment instead of above, and I’m not sure why. I posted it as a reply to the comment above the spoiler comment, and the spoiler comment was a comment in its own right and not a reply,so I thought it should have posted above it. I hope I’m making sense? Anyway, I’d really appreciate some help to either post a spoiler warning above the spoiler, or remove the spoiler comment.

      Like

      1. I appreciate your sharp eye and effort in calling that to my attention! Actually, though, I don’t consider the comment in question a spoiler. The person wrote “technology and magic collide,” which at this point in the story brings to mind Infinite Order shenanigans, but honestly it’s a fair description of what’s been going on in TGAB from the very beginning. Magitek is a very central feature of the setting, which is at a roughly nineteenth century level of technology, using magic instead of steam.

        Whether the poster intended that as a spoiler or not, I left it alone all these months for a good reason. It doesn’t really spoil anything, and serves as a good basic description of one of the story’s central themes.

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  2. Also, I feel like I now really *get* the Drow in your story. I mean, I understood them before, but this was a new level of insight. This scene was an excellent way of demonstrating the ideals at the core of their culture.

    (Also, I just realized I haven’t ever said thank you for your work. I’m so sorry it took me this long, thank you *very* much for the work you do. Your writing is amazing and engaging and it’s always delightful to read. Thank you for sharing it with us).

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I am so glad she isn’t dead.

    Also add me to the list of people that didn’t think you were going to kill her off because of her sexual orientation, that never even occurred to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I never even considered you might be utilising that trope, but killing the absolutely best main character choice for increasing the drama and power of the story… without removing some new and critical story elements? Yeah that I can see.

    Can’t kill Ruda cause that would introduce a whole storyline requirement of Puna Dara retribution and the story isn’t going that way as far as I can see.
    Can’t kill a Paladin partially simply because they are Paladins and likely to be stupidly hard to kill also Gabe is a very new and story important Paladin.
    Can’t kill Juniper because Juniper and hell would that cause a real stink when her Mummy wakes up pissed off.
    Can’t kill Fross mostly because she is, while an awesome character, not really human enough for the readers to care as strongly.
    Can’t kill Teal\Vadrieny because Vadrieny’s death would also open up a real can of stink when her Mummy gets pissed so teals safe enough since attached (otherwise killing the cute lovable bard? Long and proud history.)

    So as a relatable, not world changing (hell the Matriarch said it herself ‘third daughter’ and she’s a priestess not a Paladin) and very tightly tied in (as in multiple characters have very strong reasons to get all drama driven) Shaeine was the best and as far as I can see only real choice without introducing excessively complicated storylines which haven’t already been started.

    Just how my reasoning went 🙂

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    1. I’m really getting the vibe that Tris is gonna be the first to die. Sure, she was the first of the group we met, and she’s gotten the most focused story time, but that’ll make it so much more bitter to see all the changes and lessons be for naught.
      Either that or Fross D.Va bombs herself to save the gang at a later point.

      Like

      1. I don’t think anyone will die, at least not permanently. Or if they do, it’ll be close to the end of the story.

        Like

    2. I beg to differ. Fross is epic! Size of a hummingbird, intellect worthy of ignoring Mensa, common sense bigger than she is by several orders of magnitude and enough idiosyncratic power to flatten many well above her weight class. Also, a heart of gold.

      What’s not to love?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Teal says: “The Sleeper targeted multiple groups of students, including Shaeine and I.” She’s a bard. Language is her profession. She should know better. She should have said either, “… amongst whom were Shaene and I”, thereby putting the phrase “Shaene and I” as predicate of the verb to be and thus into the nominative form, or alternately, “… including Shaeine and me” because the verb to include puts its predicate into the accusative form. (For example, had Shaeine not been a target, Teal would have said, “… including me”.)

    Yes. One does not have to be a Sir Galahad (or even a Commander Vimes) to be Lawful or Good; one can even be a Narisian drow. What I find personally interesting is that the Narisians are not less alien or fey than a Gygaxian drow. I use the language of D&D specifically because they are “drow”, not “dark elves”. Recall that Gygax was a rather terrible scholar; when he imported dark elves from Norse myth into D&D, he used a variant of ON “dverge” to name their race—a word that means “dwarf”, in fact—rather than the correct ON “svartalfr”.

    Still, other than Natchua, we have met no drow who fit Arachne Tellwyrn’s characterization of “the worst caricature of a surly drow”. (Bonus #3: Hero.) Most of them seem less surly than extremely introverted. I am wondering whether there are lots and lots and lots of surly ones far off-screen.

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    1. As a bard, she knows that the way she said it is better than the way you said it. She speaks Tanglish, not latinized English.

      Verbs can take other verb phrases as transitive objects, this happens all the time. You don’t need to stick a preposition between them (note that your example still has a second verb “were”), and saying “amongst whom” is basically always going to sound stilted and wrong unless you’re speaking some very archaic and very formal English, and this really isn’t that.

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      1. Tanglish is English, as is made obvious in the story. The particular error Teal makes is discussed here amongst many other places.

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      2. The example is a bit of a straw man. It shows that subject position “You and me” is ungrammatical, but does not show the correct “Me and you”, instead showing the formally correct “You and I” which is acceptable in formal registers. Moreover, it names places where “You and me” is incorrect but not places where “you and I” is incorrect, which has no bearing on the matter at hand.

        What results is an easy logical fallacy that because one thing is correct, other things are wrong. But they can all be right, and context is not unimportant. Even the example is forced to specify exceptions, and that people don’t actually talk like that (Which is a bad sign for a language rule when people don’t talk like your rule – that means your rule is wrong! Language is defined by how people talk, not by outdated books, so the things lots of people say will always be correct, and in fact is the standard by which correct is measured.)

        But let’s pare back down to the issue at hand.

        In general, when speaking in a formal register (speaking formally) “you and I” sounds more correct to native English speakers. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that “you and me” has become ungrammatical *when speaking sufficiently formally* (and certainly only then).

        Your original argument was that “Shaeine and I” is not a legal to attach to the verb “including”. I state that this is false. If you want it to be “Shaine and me” your link possibly supports that claim, but I still disagree with it due to the formal register in which Teal is speaking. “Shaeine and me” would make the sentence inappropriately casual.

        By contrast, “amongst whom were Shaene and I” is *too* formal. It’s not just formal, it’s *pedantically* formal. Not the formal that people use to convey respect, the hyperformal that nobility uses to distinguish themselves from the common masses. It says the same thing with more words, which is almost always bad in communicative conversation due to the Gricean Maxims. If Ravana was speaking, “amongst whom were Shaiene and I” could be appropriate because she speaks court language natively, rather than Teal who is experienced with courtly speech but finds it distasteful. I would be out of character for Teal to speak that phrase.

        You started with the idea of “more correct” and I followed it. The alternatives are not incorrect, but they mean something different, and are less correct for the meaning Teal is trying to convey. The pragmatic information of register and formality are important too, not just the semantics of the words she chooses.

        In summary:
        “including Shaeine and me” is correct, but inappropriately casual.
        “including Shaeine and I” is correct and appropriate.
        “amongst whom were Shaine and I” is correct, but inappropriately hyperformal.

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      3. Would edit this correction if possible:

        Slight error on my part: The conclusion should have “including me and Shaeine” not “including Shaeine and me”. In this context (as in most, by frequency of use) the oblique pronoun wants to come first.

        The “you and me” is correct in other contexts like sentence-initial (I can’t think of a second so maybe just that?), as in the sentence “You and me are going to the store.” Yeah, I know that sentence is the example from your link, but in a conversation it works just fine.

        A: What about us?
        B: You and me are going to the store.

        This is a totally fine sentence. Another point to consider is that the rules of written language sometimes differ from those of spoken language, and although we are reading this story it is important to remember that Teal is using spoken language. I don’t think that’s particularly relevant in this case though.

        I also found the main point of my first post more succinctly stated in the comments of the English stackexchange post:

        “by definition, native speakers speak English perfectly, though they may speak it *informally*. […] this is the core of the distinction between descriptivism and prescriptivism. On this site we tend towards “enlightened descriptivism”, that is, we accept things in widespread usage by educated speakers as correct. Use of the oblique pronouns in subject position with conjuctions is widespread, though it’s not suitable for formal situations.” – JSBձոգչ

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  6. Great chapter. It becomes more and more important to figure out Teal’s lifespan now. Is she immortal? Or will she age and die like unpossessed humans? Or just age but never die? Because that’s going to have an impact on her relationship with Shaeine.

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  7. So Shaiene is not dead; even now, the Sleeper is not using lethal force. Its motivation may be to show off its strength, but it could, if malevolent, be using it to kill people in horrible ways. So to it is this still some kind of big prank? Don’t Tellwyrn and Teal’s threats of violent death seem out of proportion in response?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hot damn was that some good characterization! Specifically when Tellwyrn is about to introduce everyone and Matriarch Ashaele interrupts her. Had it been anyone else it wouldn’t have really mattered, but for the freaking Head Diplomat to do that shows everyone just how PISSED she really is.

    As far as the ‘bury the gays’ thing, that wasn’t even on my radar. If Shaine had died then it was to advance the story not to get rid of gay characters.

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  9. I gotta question the choice of sabers for infantry weapons.

    The drow live underground. I don’t know what the tunnels look like, how wide and tall they are on average, but I imagine they have to do a fair chunk of fighting in scarily tight quarters.

    Sabers are long weapons designed to be swung. Traditionally, they are cavalry weapons. I’d expect short-swords as standard weaponry. The Vietnam tunnel rats were armed with knives and pistols.

    Drizzit looks awesome, but I’m not sure how practical modeling your drow after him is. Hell, you outright call him a cliche in the first couple chapters.

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  10. First: awesome chapter. Teals anger brought tears in my eyes and it’s not the first time you caused this, Mr. Webb.
    Second: You have no idea how glad I am that Shaeine lives. I’m secretly a little bit in love with her…

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  11. I don’t really like this “she’s a lesbian, you can’t kill her off” thought process some people have, like, so what if she’s lesbian? Going by that logic you can’t kill Toby because he’s gay, you can’t kill Triss because she’s a feminist, you can’t kill Gabe because he’s a pariah, and etc.
    Really, if it’s for character/plot development, Webb can kill off Shaeine and should be able to without SJWs calling him a homophobe or a cliche writer.
    Shaeine or Ruda would be high-impact deaths, Flora, Fauna, Prin, Joe Jenkins, McGraw, Billie, Weaver, etc those would be medium-impact, and Someone from Prin’s squad or Triss’s thieves group would be rather low-impact.
    This is my assessment of ‘killable characters’ and is not definitive but my point is that I expected her death and thought it would be a very sad and very important fulcrum for Teal and everyone else. That’s it, no exclaiming that you can’t kill her because of this or that, it’s Webbs story to tell and I hope he never lets other people on the internet of all things dictate what he can and can’t do in his own story.

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    1. I assure you, nobody tells me what I can or can’t write. If I avoid an offensive old trope, it’s because I’m offended by it, not because anybody yelled at me.

      I’ve never yet seen the term SJW used except to try to discredit someone ad hominem without having to engage their actual arguments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m going to reference another really offensive trope in regard to the way Shaeine was acting in 12-39; namely Possessive Lesbian. (TvTropes calls it Psycho Lesbian)

        From the way Szith was reacting, I’d guess that Shaeine referencing her and Teal’s relationship in public (apparently repeatedly) would be well outside of Narisian social acceptability. Heck, it would be pushing it in North American society that I’m familiar with, and somebody might get in his face about feminism if a guy talked that way.

        Was Shaeine feeling threatened by Maureen? Was she just enjoying getting a reaction out of Teal? Out of Szith and/or someone else? Some other reason?

        We know that Shaeine has made her point verbally with extremes in the past (Calling Ruda ‘boobs’) but I don’t see the point in this case, and it comes off as approaching the above-mentioned trope to me. Maybe it’s just in my head, I don’t know.

        —–

        I’ve always preferred ‘Miserable Agenda Pusher’ over SJW. Nothing inherently wrong with pushing a positive agenda, but the methods some of these people use are actively repulsive to the point of counter-productiveness.

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      2. Me, I’m just wondering how long until Lesbian Plot Armor becomes a trope.

        It’s already a bit predictable.

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    2. That thought process stems from this trope: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays

      It used to be common that gay/lesbian characters were killed off as if they didn’t deserve happiness.

      No one called Webb anything, please do not construct strawman arguments. No one demanded Shaeine’s survival. People simply expressed that they are glad that this trope wasn’t used.

      There doesn’t need to be a death at all, you can create tension and drama without it… as we have seen. You don’t have to copy George R.R. Martin’s style to go dark and tragic. Of course, the fate of all the characters rests in the author’s hands.

      Btw… please do not bring terms like “SJW” into a discussion, because after that there will be no constructive conversation anymore. It’s an attempt to devalue someone’s opinions and puts them on the defensive in a way that distracts from the original topic and that prevents anyone from continuing the conversation. (Quite similiar to Godwin’s Law)

      Liked by 2 people

    3. @Taelel… I couldn’t ‘like’ your comment because I don’t have a WordPress account, but I *can* tell you here how well you expressed your point and how strongly I agree with it. No author can or should be prevented from disposing of *any* of the characters they create in *whatever* way seems right and/or good to them — and as readers, if we dislike an author’s treatment of his/her characters, our option is to not read that author’s work, NOT to demand the author recant.

      And I understand the implications of this belief: It means John Norman (of ‘Gor’ infamy) may make all his female characters secret masochists longing for enslavement by men… and as the author, that’s *his* choice.

      It means the comicbook writer responsible for the issue of ‘Green Lantern’ in which Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend is killed and stuffed in a fridge can do that, too, because for that issue, they’re *his* characters.

      And it means that George R.R. Martin can have *every* *single* *person* in Westeros slaughtered, ravished or ruined at any moment, whether the characters are good or evil, gay or straight, man, woman, child or (large) furry animal… and most especially whether thay deserve it or not; it’s *his* call, because it’s *his* world and they’re all *his* characters.

      But writers must be free to write, even (or especially) when the readers don’t like what they’re writing. And readers are *always* free to not read anything by any given writer, just as *any* reader must be free to write (novels, commentary, rebuttals) in response to *anything* written.

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      1. No one is disputing that.

        Go back to 12-41 and read the comments, no one seriously demanded Shaeine’s survival. A few people wrote they hoped that she’s still alive and someone even mentioned that old trope and their expectation that Webb will not use it (because he usually subverts common tropes).
        In this chapter’s comments people expressed their happiness that Shaeine did in fact survive. Which isn’t strange or unusual at all, after all we readers are invested in the characters.

        That’s all. Taelel constructed a strawman argument with their post, acting as if there had been a crowd demanding that Shaeine can’t be killed *because* she’s lesbian (she’s actually not) and as if people had insulted Webb (no one did). The emotional (and obviously not serious) reaction of a few readers doesn’t constitute an attack on the author nor a demand to change the story.
        Which means Taelel’s entire post is based on something they made up.

        (In my opinion, the death of a main character would need a bit more of a set up and shouldn’t happen offscreen. So I was certain Shaeine didn’t get killed.)

        Is the author the only and final authority on a character’s fate? Of course. It can’t be any other way.

        I’m not saying this because I disagree with your point, because I don’t. This is more an addition to it: An author can kill every single character in their story but that doesn’t mean they should or that it is the best thing to do.

        Some authors use the death of a character as a cheap tool to produce drama, this only works a few times before the readers get used to it. After that they don’t get attached to characters anymore and that’s detrimental to a story. (A Song of Ice and Fire)
        I’d even go as far and call it a lack of creativity. There are so many other things you can do to increase the drama and tension in a story. To prompt character development or advance the plot.
        “His loved ones were murdered and it broke him. Now he’s out for revenge.” – Yeah no. If you want to write real characters, then that one is an oddity. Most people who break down do not snap and go on a rampage. That’s another trope. Most simply stop functioning. You can see that with elderly couples, often when one dies, the other follows soon.
        So killing a character to provide a pivot for another might not always be the best way to go about it.

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  12. Just what in the hell is Tellwyrn trying to do here? I very much don’t believe that she’s actually oblivious to her implications, as Ashele assumed. Was she just playing the role others expect from her? If so, why, to what end? Is she merely annoyed at the matriarch butting in in the middle of the chapter before she had a chance to wrap things up?

    And what is her pet tanooki up to through all this? I can see her ostentatiously mannerless facade being used as a tool to show Ashele what she expects to see, thereby ensuring she doesn’t bother digging any deeper, since she obviously already has her explanation right in front of her. Nothing else makes any sense. But to what end, Telly?

    Like

    1. Maybe Arachne was worried what Ashele might demand from Teal or perhaps that she’d blame her daughter’s mate for what happened.
      In my opinion, Arachne is just trying to protect one of her students from a potentially volatile situation. Maybe even from herself… it would be quite the incident if Teal lost control and Vadrieny exploded at a Matriarch.
      So she reminded her that she has a way out.

      Or maybe this is one way how some drow ensnare humans into slavery. Make them sign something while guilt tripping them… admittedly, this would be out of character for Ashele but Teal is quite the prize.

      I agree with you that one shouldn’t underestimate Arachne just because she’s blunt, direct and seemingly incapable of subtlety or tact. We know there’s more to her.

      The Tanuki is probably stalking the incubus and making sure he behaves.

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      1. Tellwyrn is almost certainly aware that Ashaele is likely to adopt Teal, being knowledgeable of Narisian customs. Depending on how much Tellwyrn trusts Ashaele, she may have been attempting to manipulate that situation to make the adoption more likely by pressuring Ashaele in a reverse-psychology way. Or she may be concerned that Teal isn’t ready for Narisian integration or that it wouldn’t be good for her (although that doesn’t seem consistent with her prior nonchalance on the issue).

        The more compelling argument though is that what Ekoi-san said still holds true: Arachne has played this role for long enough it has become a part of her. She can’t shrug it off all at once even if she wanted to.

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  13. I don’t know if this is a real theme or not (insufficient info), but a theory is that Mr. Webb’s manic chapters tend to move the plot forward, while his depressive chapters are far more likely to stagnate.

    This chapter isn’t the best example, since this was some important character development, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and I admit I’m pretty eager to see the plot progressing more.

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    1. I think so far every single chapter either advanced the plot or showed some character development. I honestly can’t remember any chapters where things stagnated. There aren’t any filler chapters. Granted, some mainly exist to set up the following action or contribute to the world building but that’s kinda important, too.

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      1. “Stagnating filler” is quite a strong statement, I was thinking an order of magnitude milder than stagnating, and toss the filler part out completely. But look at the first chapter when Mr. Webb was flying high, contrasted to a few before it. IIRC it was a particularly action-packed one, and for me, a guy who’s rooting for TGAB to hit its climax during the Trump presidency (when I need it most lol), that post felt like a breath of fresh air. (That might be an exaggeration to stress the point, I don’t even know, I’m going based on feelings and impressions here while making no effort to prevent bias)

        So with luck Mr. Webb might learn how to manipulate himself through the writing process better using this observation and others, whether there’s truth to it or not is almost secondary.

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  14. I’ve been chugging through this serial for months and finally hit the in-progress mark. I experienced a brief but harrowing existential crisis when I went for the “Next Chapter” link and found it missing in action.

    Anyways, just wanted to say thanks to Webb for the impressive level of skill and dedication on display in TGAB. I can’t even count how many times people have given me weird looks because some plot twist or line of banter made me cackle—friends, family, strangers in coffee shops; even my psychology class this one time (whoops). This tale’s earned a much-deserved place on my Bookshelf of Awesome, and I look forward to spending the next six months attempting to maneuver my friends into reading it.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Well, there we go, after about a week I’ve finally read this whole thing. For somebody who doesn’t like high fantasy or “people going to school” stories, I found this surprisingly compelling!

    My only issue is I can’t stop hearing Tellwyrn’s name as pronounced similar to llewellyn, t-wellin, took me until the backstory chapter to even read her name any other way!

    Now what on earth am I gonna do with all this free time…

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    1. A week? How in the hell…its not possible that you actually remember anything if that’s true. Even reading 18 hours a day I’m skeptical. You would have to take copious amounts of drugs to stay awake the entire week, preferably without seeing the sun, to accomplish this. I’m skeptical it’s possible, certain that it’s not healthy.

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      1. Does anyone know what the word count to date is? Wasn’t it near a million? Or was it half that?

        There are 604,800 seconds in a week. At half a million words, that’s a fraction more than a second per word, without breaks. Sorry but reading the entire series in a week is a ridiculous claim to make.

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      2. Does it matter? Just let them be, it’s none of your business if they read it in a week or not. Maybe it was 9 days, maybe they scrolled past some parts, who knows? Who cares?

        Instead of attacking them you could have welcomed them. One more reader etc.

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      3. Worm is 1.7 million words and I read it in under 3 days. Not that I would ever recommend doing such a thing, but it can be done.

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      4. @Peace: A saccade (the glance of the eyes between groups of words) takes about 200ms with IIRC about a 50ms delay to absorb the letters. So you’re grabbing a handful of words (we’ll say 5 for easy math) every 1/4 second.

        604,800 * (4 * 5) = 12,096,4000 words

        If we want to limit you to a full time job, 40 hours is 144000 seconds.

        144000 * (4 * 5) = 2,880,000 words

        Even accounting for the cognition delay (some people stop mid-read to think about what they’ve read) it is still easily possible to read this whole serial in a week.

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      5. Can be done easily. Normal reading speed is around 300 words per minute. Assuming around 600K words, you will need close to 2,000 minutes to finish. 2K minutes in a week is not too difficult.

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  16. First chapter this week will be midweek again, gang. I got a start on it today, but I had to go do the late shift at work. I was planning to finish when I got back, which was poor planning on my part. I’m worn out and stressed as hell. Need to rest.

    It might be before Wednesday; I was in a good groove, may finish as early as tomorrow.

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  17. Back from my evening shift. It was extra long, and Tuesday is new release/change all the displays day. I’m falling-down exhausted. Gonna hit the bed early and get up early. Chapter’s already half done, so I should have it ready pretty soon tomorrow morning. Sorry for the delay.

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