13 – 51

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The sun set on a city overtaken by festivity. The Punaji so loved a good storm under any circumstances that they were frequently followed by parties, but as soon as this one had faded, hundreds of citizens had descended upon the Rock, quite a few carrying weapons. Even Naphthene’s fury had not been enough to stop the spread of rumor, and it seemed widely known that the castle was under attack. The King himself had addressed the public quickly.

From there, a celebration was all but inevitable. It was a political move to solidify the Crown’s standing in the aftermath of having beaten an enemy, but also a very necessary release of tension which the city badly needed. Soon all of Puna Dara seemed to be partying, though the festivities were centered on the Rock, where the fortress doors had been opened and food and drink brought out into the courtyard. Cracked doors, lightning burns and broken masonry only served to accentuate the celebrant atmosphere; Punaji most enjoyed a party when it felt particularly earned.

The noise and hubbub served another purpose: it provided a distraction and cover in which the Rust could be carefully locked away. Ayuvesh continued to be cooperative and the rest of his people followed his lead; the King and Queen weren’t greatly concerned about them attempting to resist or break out. Rather, it was important for their sake that they be put out of the public eye and securely held, so they did not become the target of vigilantism. Not a small part of the relief spurring the city-wide festival night was due to the removal of the Rust from the streets. Some of its un-augmented members, those driven out of their dockside warehouse headquarters, remained unaccounted for, but a lot of the survivors of Milady’s rampage had been found and brought to the Rock, where it would be determined if they were to be charged with anything.

Of the Imperial spy herself, there was no sign. The royal scouts who investigated the warehouse did report very strange tracks left in the drying blood, which remained unexplained until Ruda happened to mention them to Schwartz.

“You brought a fucking sylph into my city?!” she exclaimed moments later.

“Aradeus is a friend,” he retorted, “perfectly trustworthy. And he was extremely helpful! If not for him bringing us up to speed on the situation here, I doubt we would have made it to the Rock in time to assist the defenders!” Meesie, as usual, squeaked agreement, nodding her tiny head from her perch on his shoulder.

“That’s true enough,” Trissiny added with a smile. “We’d probably still be out scouting. Of course, we didn’t realize when we ‘ported out here in such a hurry that you lot were on site.”

“Oh, sure, it’s only the most infamously dangerous kind of fairy there is, but hey, you’re a special kind of witch! You can keep it under control!”

“Every part of that is more wrong than the preceding,” Schwartz said irritably. To begin with, he had been somewhat overawed by Ruda, who despite standing a head and a half shorter than he tended to fill a room with her personality—not to mention that he’d never encountered royalty before. The effect had faded quickly once she started talking, and cursing. “First of all, sylphs are merely incredibly strong, nearly invulnerable and prone to violence.”

“Fucking merely!” she snorted.

“Which,” Schwartz continued doggedly, “doesn’t even place them in the top ten most dangerous fairy species. More importantly, you do not control a fairy, especially one like that. Aradeus, as I said, is a friend, and I have learned to trust both his judgment and composure. And oh, look, I was right! He helped, he left, and you wouldn’t even have noticed had I not told you he’d been here.”

“Boy, are you talking back to me?” Ruda demanded, folding her arms. “I’ll have you know I am the fucking Princess in this country.”

Behind her, Trissiny was busy ruining the effect with a broad grin.

“Yes, well,” Schwartz said stiffly, “I guess that explains why you so badly needed to be talked back to.”

Ruda narrowed her eyes to slits, and managed to keep that expression for almost five seconds before giving up and letting out a laugh. To Schwartz’s amazement and Meesie’s shrill annoyance, she punched him on the shoulder. “I like this one, Boots! We should take him back to school with us.”

“Ah…well, I’m afraid my secondary schooling is complete,” Schwartz said, a little bemused, “and Last Rock has no graduate program as yet. But I wouldn’t mind visiting, sometime. The things one hears about that place…”

“Aren’t the half of it, I guarantee.” Ruda glanced to the side, and sighed. “Aw, dammit, made eye contact with Mama. Scuze me, I’ve gotta go pretend to be a civilized person for a few minutes.”

She grabbed a random bottle from the nearest table while sauntering off toward her parents, tilting it up and taking a long swig.

“She’s making a good start on it,” Darius observed.

The Rock’s banquet hall was laid out with raised sections along both sides, reached by stairs and partially hidden behind colonnades, clearly designed to facilitate private conversation during large gatherings. Trissiny and her friends from Tiraas had quickly gathered there, being themselves in a much less festive frame of mind than the rest of the gathering. Singly and in small groups, her other classmates had come by to catch up. Ruda was the last, and by that point Tallie and the Sakhavenids seemed to be slightly in shock.

“So…” Tallie ventured after a moment, “what’s that Boots business?”

Trissiny gave her a deadpan look, lifting one eyebrow. “What boots?”

“Oh ho, so it’s something she doesn’t want to discuss.” Tallie grinned wickedly. “I wonder which of your adventure buddies I should shmooze to get the details? Hmm, I bet that Gabriel guy would fall for the ol’ fluttering eyelashes trick.”

“Ah, ah, ah!” Layla held up a finger. “Down, girl. Dibs, remember?”

“I will not hesitate to dunk your head in a sink until you drop that,” Darius informed her.

“So, you’re planning to visit Last Rock, now?” Principia said casually, strolling up to them from the banquet floor below. “I only caught the tail end of that conversation.”

“You can hear every conversation in the room,” Trissiny stated flatly. “And now that we know which one you were listening to, I have the funniest feeling you could quote the entire thing back to us from beginning to end.”

“Rapid memorization is a neat parlor trick,” the elf said with an unabashed grin. “But sorry, I’m a little rusty. It’s been a good few years since I actually attended a party. Shame, too, the Punaji throw a good one. So! You two still getting along well, I see,” she said casually, lounging against a pillar and glancing from Schwartz to Trissiny. The position she had chosen placed her shoulder to the others, at whom she had not even glanced.

Darius cleared his throat. “We’re here, too!”

“Well, I’d like to think I’m a useful sort of person to know,” Schwartz said, frowning at Meesie, who was cheeping in inexplicable excitement. “So are the apprentices, here—all of them. Besides, when you’ve been through something hairy with someone, it tends to form a bond.”

“Oh, I am well aware of that,” Principia said, her tone suddenly very dry, and turned to the others. “So tell me! Have you lot noticed any sparks flying between these two?”

“Excuse me?!” Trissiny barked. Tallie burst out laughing so hard she had to slump against the wall.

“Uh, no,” Darius said primly. “Come on, she’s like my brother and Schwartz here is pretty much the living incarnation of a book. I think it would make me physically ill to picture that.”

“Now, see here!” Schwartz exclaimed, while Meesie laughed so hard she had to grab his ear to avoid tumbling off his shoulder. It somewhat spoiled the indignant pose he was trying to put on. “This ‘Aunt Principia’ thing you’ve been trying out with me is wearing a little thin! Just because you knew my father does not give you the right to meddle in my personal business! Besides, as you well know, I’m already—”

He broke off, blushing. Tallie, whose laughter was just beginning to settle down, was set off again and this time Darius had to catch her. Layla, uncharacteristically quiet, was studying the rest of them with her eyes slightly narrowed.

“How did you know his father?” Trissiny asked. “Was he involved in Guild business, too?”

“No, nothing like that,” Principia replied lightly. “Anton was a skilled enchanter who had a prairie boy’s disregard for other people’s rules. I met him looking for someone to do some barely-legal charm work that was beyond my skill, and kept him in my address book for more after that worked out so well. Got to where he’d accompany me on a little adventure now and again. This was long after ‘adventuring’ was a respectable pastime, so we didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was. Also, he was your father.”

Total silence descended on their alcove like a hammer. Tallie’s lingering chuckles were cut off and she stared at the elf; only Layla didn’t look visibly shocked, nodding slowly with a thoughtful expression. Schwartz and Trissiny gaped at Principia, then at each other.

Meesie gathered herself, then leaped from Schwartz’s shoulder to Trissiny’s, where she reached up to pat her cheek, squeaking affectionately.

“Funny how things work out,” Principia mused, now wearing a little smile.

“Funny,” Trissiny choked.

“Funny ironic, not funny amusing. I spent the longest damn time puzzling out how to tell you that. I even went out to visit Hershel’s mom, see what she said.”

“You did what?!” Schwartz screeched.

“And after all that,” Principia said with a sigh, “here it is, just dropped into the conversation like a wet fish. But hell, I do know what tends to happen when two attractive young people go through a few life-or-death situations together, and that needed to be nipped in the bud.”

“There was nothing to nip!” Trissiny exclaimed.

“And now there won’t be,” Principia said placidly. “Back in the day, adventurers were an oddly interrelated but private group; you’d see the same dozen or so people over and over again, go through hell and back shoulder to shoulder with them, and then go your separate ways without really learning anything about their lives. And it was like that for enough generations that various people’s kids would run into each other… Well, I’ve actually seen long-lost siblings accidentally hook up more than once. That kind of misunderstanding is only funny when it happens to people I don’t care about.”

“Every time we have a conversation,” Trissiny stated, “I feel like I gain a little more appreciation for you, and a lot more for the woman who actually raised me.”

Principia grinned. “Well, I’ll take what I can get.”

“Yes, that’s the story of your life, isn’t it?”

“I’m already nostalgic for this morning,” Darius said, “when the paladin thing was the big shock. Gods, what is it with you? Paladin in two cults, related to elves and bloody dragons, friend of royalty, and now you’ve even got a mysterious orphan brother. Knowing you is like being in a fuckin’ opera. How long are we gonna be peeling this onion?”

Trissiny heaved a sigh. “I wish I knew. Two years ago, I was an orphan. It was much simpler.”

“Well, that’s a hell of a thing to say right in front of your mom,” a man remarked, strolling up to them and casually rolling a coin across the backs of his fingers. “Hey there, Prin. Heck of a party, isn’t it?”

“Uh, hi,” Principia said, straightening up. “Wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Her face showed clear surprise and uncertainty, an unfamiliar expression on her given how she avoided revealing weakness. The others glanced between her and the new arrival uncertainly; she wasn’t alarmed, clearly, just startled.

“Nobody ever expects to see me!” he said grandly, tossing the doubloon back and forth between his hands. “That’s rather the point, don’cha think?” He was, like many members of the Guild, a very unremarkable person, dressed in slightly shabby clothes, with long features, shaggy hair, and a complexion that hovered somewhere between Tiraan and Punaji.

“This was a private conversation until very recently,” Layla observed. “Lieutenant Locke, would you care to introduce us to your acquaintance?”

“Yes, Lieutenant,” he said with an amused grin, “how’s about you make the introductions? And then you kids can just follow me. Strictly speaking I only need her Paladinship, here, but I bet the rest of you will wanna come along.”

“Come along to fucking where?” Darius demanded. “Who is this clown?”

Principia cleared her throat. “Hey, keep it in your pants, kid. This is the Big Guy.”

There was a beat of silence, broken by Schwartz drawing in a deep, sudden breath.

“Wait, wait,” Tallie protested. “I must be remembering wrong. I thought Big Guy was what they called the god.”

“They do it because I hate the term ‘god,’” he confided, winking. “It’s one of those words that just encourages people to place too much stock in it and not do for themselves. That is not how I want you lot carrying on, see?”

“Yes, Tallie, you’re correct,” Principia said warily. “Big Guy is what they call the god. And stop making faces at me,” she added in annoyance to the divine subject of her faith. “You also don’t like people to pussyfoot around and not call things what they are.”

“Ehh…except in certain circumstances, but fine, I’ll grant you that,” Eserion replied cheerfully. “Now come along, kids! We don’t wanna be late. It’s rude to keep people waiting, don’cha know.”

They followed him through the corridors of the Rock in awed silence, a marked contrast to the god himself, who chattered on amiably at the head of the group. Principia strolled at his side, seemingly un-intimidated and bantering right back. Periodically they would pass soldiers or castle servants, but aside from a few curious looks, no one troubled them. Eserion’s outfit was as scruffy and out of place as the three apprentices’, and Schwartz as always drew stares in his Salyrite robe with a ratlike fire elemental on his shoulder, but it seemed Trissiny and Principia in uniform lent the group enough credibility to pass unchallenged.

The general course they took led upward and in, and through corridors that grew increasingly rich the longer they went on; the Rock was a militaristic fortress through and through, not given to excess or indulgence, but the farther they walked, the more frequent tapestries, carpets, and ornamental touches became. Finally, Eserion brought them to a wide door in the center of a currently unoccupied hallway, threw it open with a grand gesture, and swaggered inside. The rest followed with a bit more circumspection.

It was a bedroom—a very large and rather lavishly appointed one, whose décor ran heavily to old flags and weapons. The group barely glanced around at it, though, being more focused on the people waiting for them.

Style was pacing up and down with even more than customary annoyance; on their arrival, she turned to face the door, folding her brawny arms and glaring. Boss Tricks was busy rifling through a chest of drawers and scarcely glanced up at them. Bishop Darling stood near the foot of the huge four-poster bed, juggling three brass wine goblets. Empty ones, fortunately.

“Uhh…” Darius leaned around Trissiny to stare. “Is this one of those things where I’m supposed to ask the obvious questions to move this along, or is it a ‘shut up and listen’ kind of thing?”

“Lemme see if I can guess the first two!” Darling said airily while Eserion shut the chamber door behind them. “This is the personal bedroom of the King and Queen, and we are here for the same reason all of you are: because the Big Guy felt our presence was important.”

“Yeah,” Style snorted, “because none of us have any fucking thing important to be doing right now!”

“Oh, un-clench ’em for half a second if you can manage, Style,” said the Boss, pulling out something crimson and silken from a drawer. “This is the only vacation we’ve had in years. Why, Anjal, you saucy vixen!”

“You cut that shit out immediately,” Style barked, crossing the room in two strides and smacking him upside the head with nearly enough force to bowl him over. “If you’re gonna steal, steal—otherwise, keep your greasy little fingers out of a woman’s underwear drawer. That is creepy as fuck, Tricks.”

“Gotta side with her on this one, Boss,” Sweet added. “And not just because I’m more scared of her than you.”

“All of you, put that crap back where you found it,” Eserion said. “You, too, Sweet. Anjal and Rajakhan are good sorts, the kind of leaders we should encourage, not punish.”

“Excuse me?” Layla raised a hand. “What, if I may ask, are we doing in here, then?”

“It’s tradition!” Eserion proclaimed, turning to her with a broad smile. “This ceremony is always held in illicit quarters. There’s not much in the way of sacred ground for the Guild; we perform this rite someplace illegally broken into.”

“Uhh…rite?” Tallie hadn’t stopped peering around since she’d come in. “What rite?”

“A graduation ceremony,” Principia said softly.

“Indeed!” Tricks said, still rubbing his head as he ambled over to join them. “For obvious reasons, it’s usually just the apprentice and trainer—but hell, this is a special circumstance. I guess the Big Guy figured it was an appropriate occasion to make an exception and bring family and friends.”

He nodded across the room, and they turned to behold a fourth person waiting, a tall woman in an Imperial Army uniform with no insignia. Despite her imposing height and figure, she was surprisingly unobtrusive, standing still in a shadowed corner and observing without comment.

“Who’s that?” Darius stage whispered to Tallie, who shrugged.

Trissiny and Principia both came to attention, but the woman shook her head at them and raised a hand. “At ease.”

“So…graduation?” Layla asked, turning back to the Boss.

“Indeed! The question is…for whom?” He grinned at them and perched on the edge of a dresser. “Here’s where we stand. You kids have been around for about the length of time and learned about the level of skill we mandate for apprentices. Somebody who hasn’t picked up a permanent sponsor for more in-depth training at that point is usually required to either join the Guild as a full member, or leave the apprentice program. Style says your progress is such that if you want to be tagged and join up, we’ll allow it today. But! I’m sorta giving away the surprise, here, but while we were putting our own house back in order after you lot poofed off to Puna Dara, Glory announced her intention to take you on as apprentices, if you were all willing.”

“Wh—all of us?” Tallie demanded, blinking. “But she’s got an apprentice. Hell, Rasha’s a perfect match for Glory. I dunno what the hell she’d want with any of us.”

“It’s not traditional,” Tricks agreed. “And that tradition does exist for a reason: a single apprentice gets more focused attention and a better education. Glory’s argument, though, was that you lot are good kids and good prospects for the Guild, and the reason you haven’t been picked by anyone is politics not your fault and beyond your control. I happen to think she’s right on all points, there. And besides.” He winked, grinning. “If there is one thing we are not, it’s excessively bound by rules.”

“Not totally unprecedented, anyway,” Style grunted. “Especially with this one, recently.”

Sweet did not quail under her stare, but shrugged. “Hey, my girls come as a set. I don’t think I’d have had the heart to split ’em up, even if I thought that was remotely possible.”

“That leaves us another case, though,” said Eserion, his expression finally serious. “Our girl Trissiny isn’t fated for a long apprenticeship with a full Guild member. And after the events of today, putting her back in with the general pool of apprentices is…probably not the best idea. So that brings us to this crossroads. Style, you are the closest thing she’s had to a trainer, in your capacity as overseer of the general apprentices. It’s up to you to decide if she’s ready.”

Style stepped forward, eyes fixed on Trissiny and her expression unreadable. The rest of the group instinctively shuffled away, clearing a space for them to regard one another. Principia stepped over to stand next to Sweet, gazing at Trissiny with the intensity of someone barely controlling a strong emotion.

“I’ve had to fill this role for a lot of prospects, over the years,” Style said. “Mostly little fuckheads who couldn’t cut it with a real sponsor. There’s always a reason; we’ve had a few I just barely considered worth keeping in the Guild, but also some who were just plain unlucky, like you little bastards. Shit happens; some folks just don’t get a fair shake. This…is one of the second kind.” Eyes still locked on Trissiny, she nodded slowly, and folded her arms. “Her skills aren’t great, but she’s always impressed me with her eagerness to learn more. A good thief never lets up on that; practice doesn’t end when your apprenticeship does, that’s when it gets started in earnest. No, the only question was always her attitude. I understand she came to us specifically in search of our mindset, our philosophy. It takes some good self-awareness to realize you need that kind of change, but even so, I spent a while doubting she was ever gonna get that through her head.”

She paused, narrowed her eyes for a moment, and then, incongruously, grinned.

“But fuck me if she didn’t manage it. What’d you learn, girl?”

“Don’t call me ‘girl,’ you big ape,” Trissiny shot back immediately, earning a round of grins and chuckles from the senior Eserites present, including the one she’d just insulted. “I’ve learned a lot… But if you’re asking about the big questions, mostly the skill of watching, planning, thinking. Acting through maneuver instead of force. Supposedly I learned that lesson growing up; the Sisterhood takes it as an aphorism that war is deception. All conflict demands strategy.” She glanced aside at the uniformed woman, who just nodded in encouragement. “The Guild made it real to me, though. And…that’s given me perspective, too. At first I thought I’d come here to learn a new way of thinking, but really, what I needed was to truly grasp the way I always should have been. I was brought up to think the Guild and the Sisterhood were at cross purposes, but I’ve come to understand how very alike their aims are. And these differing ideas about how to reach those aims aren’t an accident. Both orders have their blind spots. It’s inevitable; there’s just no escaping that.” She paused, then smiled. “All systems are corrupt. And that’s why we have a goddess of war and a god of thieves in the same Pantheon; so we can watch each other’s backs. Society needs justice, and sometimes, justice needs help from the shadows, because where there’s a system, there’ll be someone who’s found a way to exploit it.”

Style nodded, her eyes glinting. “Yeah, you’ve done fine, kid. Now, there’s no litany or ritual, here. Almost all of the Guild’s actual rituals are performative—things we do to remind everybody else that we’re here, that we’re watching, and that they’d better not fuck up around us. This, here, is about you; nobody benefits from either trainer or apprentice reciting lines memorized by rote. You have to understand who and what we are as Eserites, and you have to express that understanding in a way that’s true to your own identity. As your trainer, I judge you ready—or ready enough. Are you ready to swear your oath to Eserion and his Guild?”

Trissiny nodded deeply. “Whatever happens here, even if you’d decided to throw me out, I plan to live my life fighting of what the Guild and the Sisterhood believe.”

“Good. And what do you swear?”

She straightened up, resting her left hand on the pommel of her sword. “To fight whoever needs fighting, to protect whoever needs protecting. To uphold the spirit of justice, but to recognize that laws don’t have all the answers. To watch closely, and think carefully, and do my best to act in the right way to achieve the results I need. I have already sworn to oppose corruption and evil in all its forms as a soldier. I’ll promise you, now, to always remember that I am an enforcer. That standing against the darkness isn’t always enough; sometimes, you have to make sure the darkness is too afraid to make the first move. That, I will swear. The darkness will fear me.”

Style tilted her head up, regarding Trissiny down her long, twice-broken nose. One corner of her mouth twitched slightly in the ghost of a lopsided smile. “Eh… It’ll do.”

Principia lost the battle, letting a huge grin of fierce pride spread across her face.

“What’s her tag, Style?” Eserion asked.

Style studied the paladin thoughtfully for a long moment before speaking. “Kid, you have been an unrelenting thorn in my ass from the moment you marched into my Guild. Until you have to be responsible for a whole organization I don’t think you’ll ever realize how truly obnoxious that is, having somebody underfoot who just never fucking stops. I’ll admit, there were times I was strongly tempted to try and beat that out of you. But that stubborn, irritating persistence isn’t a flaw—it only looked like one because you had some stupid ideas cluttering up your brain. We’ve made a start on fixing that, enough that I’ve come to trust you’ll still work to keep fixing it. And meanwhile, I trust that you’ll keep doing what I saw you do today: never fucking stop. You won’t win all your battles, and no matter how much power you’ve got to swing around, there’ll always be someone you just cannot take down. But what I know is that you won’t be walked over. Every son of a bitch who tries to stomp on you is gonna hurt for it, and hurt every moment that you’re digging at them. That’s what I expect from you, Trissiny: win or lose, you will never let the bastards forget you’re there, or walk away without paying.”

She paused, then nodded deeply and intoned in a suddenly sonorous voice. “Kneel, Trissiny Avelea.”

“What?” Trissiny frowned. “Kneeling doesn’t sound like—oh, screw you, Style.”

Sweet let out a delighted cackle; Principia’s grin widened to the point that it looked painful.

Style just smirked. “You’d be surprised how many fall for that. Ah, well, I guess it was too much to hope for. Welcome to the Thieves’ Guild in truth, Thorn.”

Trissiny pursed her lips. “…I am never going to be able to escape thinking of you talking about your ass, now.”

“Remember, this is your very identity we’re talking about,” Eserion said. “Your trainer plays an important role in this, but them picking your tag is a tradition, not a law. If you really hate it, you’re entitled to decide how you’ll be tagged.”

“No.” Trissiny nodded at Style, her mouth twisting up in a slight, sardonic expression. “No, you know what? I like it. Thorn. Yeah, I think that suits me just fine.”


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87 thoughts on “13 – 51

  1. Thorn! Absolutely perfect. Also, good on you, Prin, cutting off any Luke-and-Leia awkwardness at the pass. It’s interesting seeing the difference in her reaction to Darius sassing Eserion, in comparison to Merry sassing Vesk a couple books ago.

    I am still laughing at the continued adventures of Gabe’s raw animal magnetism vs. his actual personality

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Ha, fair enough, I’m not trying to pigeonhole 50.8% of the US population and 49.6% of the Earth’s population. But it’s true often enough to be a stereotype, or at least a joke in good taste, right? As always, one can apply the stereotype to any particular individual at their own risk.

        In my experience, @hoarous below is correct to say that women (at least the kind I’m interested in knowing, an admittedly small slice in the overall pie chart) actually want a nice guy who respects them (don’t we all). Many are self-aware enough to understand that about themselves. That’s a bit harder to make into a joke, though. I’m open to any suggestions! xD


      2. As a haphazardly girl-aligned being, I can hazard a guess that Gabe’s lack of being actively dangerous to the girls who pursue him is probably a more appealing trait than any hypothetical danger his ancestry might represent. He’s a paladin, which is archetypically “on the good guys’ side”; and he tends to avoid any sort of aggressive posture towards the women he interacts with, likely from habit honed by the fact that all the most volatile and dangerous people currently in his life are women. Also he learned the sex from a still-feral-at-the-time dryad. No better way to learn how to respect a lady than knowing that she might, if provoked too hard, accidentally flip out and tear your limbs off.


      3. That comment about a dryad capable of ripping your limbs apart is interesting and pretty spot on. The idea manifested in the non-fantasy real world for me as “I want to date a girl who’s strong and confident enough to leave my ass, if she thinks there’s a better option, or being single becomes a better option.” Relationships have been remarkably more rewarding since I explicitly figured that out and made it a goal xD


      4. I wasn’t actually making a generalization of all women; just about Gabriel himself. To be honest, though, you probably want to tread lightly around jokes about women or other groups around here–TGAB has a very diverse readership.

        For the “women like x kind of men” sort of jokes in particular–most people who are female-passing are probably familiar with having this kind of stuff used to justify dudes not taking our decisions about our dating lives seriously, because “she doesn’t really know what she wants”. If you’ve had the pointy end of this kind of humor jabbed at you often enough, it stops being funny and starts to seem hostile, even if, as I’m sure in this case, it isn’t meant that way.

        Also, fuck wordpress’s confusing interface, I had no idea you could reply to comments more than two replies deep in a comment thread. How are you doing that?


  2. Trissiny is my favorite.

    I think I’ve said it here before, but it’s been a while and bears repeating. Watching her grow has been a blast and I’ve loved every page of it. Welcome to the Guild, Thorn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. More in-depth thoughts.

    Loving the way establishing shots aren’t a thing anymore. This way transitions aren’t so confusing when there isn’t a logical link between the previous scene in this plotline. Keep doing that.

    But a minor complaint here in a otherwise mostly excellent update.

    Her face showed clear surprise and uncertainty, an unfamiliar expression on her given how she avoided revealing weakness.

    Sorry, but this is a bad sentence. It’s telling the reader what to think. Not to mention it reads horribly.


      1. @Daemion what would you suggest as a more constructive way to make the same point?

        I don’t think it’s optimal to just declare “this is Bad Writing,” but in the context I thought it was fine enough. Apparently you don’t agree 😉


      2. @Warren, you weren’t addressing me, but per neuro/AI guided learning principles previously discussed, my stance is: don’t leave negative feedback at all. But if you must, suggesting an alternative direction goes a long way. “X is bad” is the most information-poor form of feedback of all, even given the assumption that the speaker has the expertise to be mentoring the learner. Even “y is better than x” is of limited utility, frankly.

        That said, less condescending wording would also be a plus.

        @Daemion, I’m not convinced picking fights about it is a better approach.


      3. ^and also, honestly, I feel like this one is a matter of opinion. It’s like any other rule of thumb. Remember how in elementary school they told you, “said is dead”? And then you end up with dialogue tags like, “Ron ejaculated loudly”. It’s all a matter of what calls attention and what passes below the threshold of salience, and that’s necessarily going to be different for every single reader. Even for an individual reader, on reread! The style guide sort of heuristics should frankly be taken with a grain of salt, since there’s always going to be people who are annoyed by certain things even when other people think it’s the only correct way to do it.


    1. Maybe if you want to point the idea out without outright telling the readers, give it as a line to someone in the scene. Possibly have Eserion point out while surprise and confusion is the point, it’s not like Locke to actually *show* it to people?


    2. Actually, if you read with an eye to perspective, it’s notable in this case that Schwartz is the only character we get any real internal state information on. That sort of language is a hallmark of third-person limited perspective.


      1. That means it’s a failure on some level, since it’s not clear. Not to mention Schwartz doesn’t know Principia that well. And it isn’t consistent with the cast all ‘instinctively’ shuffling away. That’s third person omniscient.


      2. That means it’s a failure on some level, since it’s not clear. Not to mention Schwartz doesn’t know Principia that well. And it isn’t consistent with the cast all ‘instinctively’ shuffling away. That’s third person omniscient.


      3. @randomhuman I mean, a failure to *you*, specifically; the differences between the various types of third person are, I think, generally a sub-threshold nuance and probably not going to consciously register to most readers. Not everyone is going to look at “x character seemed…” and immediately go, “hey, narrator, you punk, don’t tell me what I should think!” It’s a matter of personal taste, yeah?


      4. Wow. Okay. Where you do get off talking about condescending language?

        Third person limited, third person multiple, and third person omniscient are all very clearly defined with different rules. They are that way because switching between them causes confusion. Just because people don’t consciously note the differences doesn’t mean they don’t get disoriented and slightly lost. Let me ask you, does Schwartz know Principia well enough to know her common expressions? This is important, because their entire relationship changes depending on whether he does or doesn’t.


      5. Well, alright, I told Daemion not to pick fights, but you seem determined; I’ll try to keep it civil nonetheless. I don’t actually know anything about you or your prior knowledge, so I’ve been default addressing you at a layman-friendly register. It appears your background in this topic is more advanced than that; that’s good to know, so I’ll adjust.

        That said, Schwartz has had enough exposure to Principia to get a decent feel for her temperament. Is he qualified to judge whether a particular expression is out of character for her? Probably not, but what matters is whether or not *he* thinks he is, and we’ve seen for ourselves that Principia is very good at making people think they have the measure of her when they don’t.

        Yes, there are rules to third person limited, or third person dramatic, or third person omniscient, or what have you. Once you get to the fine points, however, these categories are simply post hoc descriptors culled from the historical study of the prior corpus of Western literature (and I do mean Western lit, specifically; the way pronouns and verb conjugations work in non-Indo-European languages is frequently different enough that these descriptors can become basically nonsensical outside their natural habitat. In Chinese, for example, on top of there being a literary convention to omit the subject of a sentence for artistic effect when it can be inferred from context, it’s also not uncommon for people to refer to themselves in the third person, which makes translating poetry especially difficult.) There is no final authority on the specifics of any of it; beyond the basics, it’s all style guides, conventions, and schools of thought, and anyone who’s ever tried to submit long-form writing to more multiple publications is familiar with the headache that comes with reconciling that sort of thing.

        That said, it occurs to me there might be a misunderstanding at play here—in general, once a TGAB chapter is posted, aside from minor typo correction, it’s pretty much finished. Leaving this kind of feedback doesn’t really accomplish much beyond kicking the anthill, as I’m sure you’ve discovered.

        An aside to Webb—I actually do enjoy the establishing shot at the beginning of this chapter, and the subsequent narrowing of focus. I find it pleasing to see written works borrowing from the conventions of cinema, comics, and other visual media. You can probably guess why.


      6. @hoarous can you please comment all the time now? This is amazing, thank you!

        The typical Western idea of perspective is a foundational concept for me. While I think most people who’ve thought about it should deduce on their own that third person limited, omniscient etc. are post hoc descriptors, the idea of them being nonsensical in another language context is not something I’ve ever considered; it’ll be some time before I’ll really understand. To grok the idea and its range of implications may or may not even be possible for a monolinguist; I fear it’s similar to studying basic Newtonian physics without learning the calculus behind it. It’s the difference between reading your phone’s owner’s manual and reading the circuit diagram it’s based on (or reading the operating system code, for any software peeps here xD)


      7. Right, but is this Schwartz thinking that this is an unfamiliar expression, or is this the narrator stating it as fact? You believe the former, so for the sake of argument I’ll believe the latter. I believe the latter because, in addition to never hearing any internal monologue for the vast majority of the chapter/update, and despite this being a climax to Trissiny’s arc, there’s no way he would know what the entire group is thinking. Yet he does:

        The group barely glanced around at it, though, being more focused on the people waiting for them.

        This could arguably just be observation and extrapolation, although it doesn’t read like it to me. Too matter of fact, too certain. But this is pretty unambiguously not to me:

        The rest of the group instinctively shuffled away

        This is the trademark of third-person omniscient, where the narrator is external but tells us about the characters’ thoughts and feelings.
        You, hypothetically, believe that ‘Prin showing uncertainty and surprise is unfamiliar to him‘.
        However, I believe that ‘Prin doesn’t show surprise and uncertainty often, period’, for the reasons above. Both are entirely different readings. I don’t think this can be called the good kind of ambiguity, where we can debate over the deeper implications and subtext like is happening below for the Thieves’ Guild.

        I don’t think this can be called the good kind of ambiguity. This is just the result of unclear communication. Those rule sets and guides exist for avoiding exactly this. I don’t expect Webb to go back and change the update, no, but the hope is that future updates keep criticism in mind, even if he doesn’t act on them.


      8. So, to summarize, if your position is that the ‘sub-threshold nuance’ of third-person is unimportant and subjective, then… I don’t believe it.


      9. No worries, and thanks for the tone clarification. I’m getting the impression we’ve been reading you as being more hostile than you, perhaps, intend.

        My point isn’t actually that sub-threshold is unimportant; it’s that it has different impact on different readers. This particular passage bothered you, but it didn’t bother me, and it seems it didn’t bother the majority of the rest of the audience either, judging from the overwhelmingly positive reception to this chapter. (Also, I read the second scene as being from a more neutral perspective than the first, being a somewhat wider shot than the ending of the first scene.)

        Honestly, my point is actually that negative feedback isn’t particularly useful: in the first case because it’s typically highly subjective; in the second case because it’s extremely information-poor. I posted a primer on the scientific reasons why a few chapters back, but as a summary: it’s largely matter of simple mathematics. You can conceptualize complex skill acquisition as a physical space, with each approach represented as a number of branching decision paths. Positive feedback can prioritize a path; negative feedback can deprioritize one. Whereas the former may or may not be the true optimal path, the latter disencentivises exploratory behavior, which interdisciplinary results have pretty much unanimously shown is crucial to depth of understanding. Which is to say: the decision path prioritized by positive feedback will yield worthwhile experience, whereas the elimination of decision paths by negative feedback only encourages decision paralysis. Again, this is borne out in fields ranging from machine learning to neuroscience to animal behavior. Negative feedback is certainly the purview of an editor, but, again, posted chapters of TGAB are already beyond that point.

        Frankly, this is just one of those things where general education just seems to drop the ball. Constructive criticism, that is. Most people come away with the idea that the only really substantial feedback is negative feedback, and that you only give positive feedback to “cushion the blow”. But the science shows the opposite—positive feedback is the real heavy hitter in skill acquisition, whereas negative feedback is barely distinguishable from white noise.


      10. Alright I think we’re speaking past each other. My issue isn’t annoyance at the non-standard language. Everyone is affected even if they don’t notice or care, because the issue is unclear language. The author’s intent is not accurately conveyed to the reader, creating discrepancies and misinformation.

        Also are you arguing that writers don’t take past advice by editors into the future?


      11. All language is unclear! 😉 It’s one of the two major driving forces of linguistic evolution.

        But, more seriously—“unclear” is subjective. Anything with any degree of subtlety to it is going to pass under the radar for some portion of the audience—note, for example, the way not everyone caught that the woman in uniform here was Avei.

        I’m not saying that writers don’t carry forward editing advice; I’m saying the future utility of that advice is far more limited than you seem to think. That sort of feedback is, by necessity, highly situational, and the degree of generalizability is strictly limited.


      12. @Warren, welcome to comparative linguistics, where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter!

        Anyway–in the case of Chinese specifically it’s a lot like, you know how in English, you can omit the subject in the imperative case because it’s inferred that it’s in the second person? You can do that basically anytime in Chinese. Chinese is very old, and decided a long time ago that it wanted to minmax itself so that the grammatical structures were as austere as possible, and so you get shit like sentences with implied subjects and predicates that don’t have verbs. This sort of thing is what makes translating it so difficult. My mother once convinced me to help her translate a book of poetry into English; I am definitely not trying that again while sober.


      13. Leaving things to inference has some value, as it has a greater impact if the reader figures it out themselves. What value does what we’re discussing have?

        Also ‘only positive feedback helps people improve’ is something I find hard to believe, especially when we’re talking about writing. After all, the field is full of people who’ve never improved precisely because they’ve heard only positive feedback. Such writers don’t seem to improve. George Lucas might be the most famous example. Not the only one, though. Just go to fanfiction.net. From your explanation they should be the most innovative in the world!

        But they don’t do different things, they just keep on doing what they’re doing. How do you improve if you get praised no matter what you do? Why would you do things differently in the first place?

        I mean, your position appears to be that negative feedback is unhelpful no matter how valid.

        Positive reinforcement helps more than negative reinforcement is what I’ve read, after all, I don’t post a lot praise, but only because I don’t have so much time. and other people post a lot of gushing. But if that’s your argument, this is the first time I’ve heard of pointing out errors getting referred to as punishment.


      14. @radomhuman and any time something is left to inference, some percentage of the audience will miss it. That’s the nature of it.

        Well, I did major in cognitive science with a focus in paycholinguistics at Carnegie Mellon, and I spent some years working for a lab studying skill acquisition. I do have some inkling of what I’m talking about. Perhaps I should have lead with that.

        You assume the agent has no internal impetus to change. Given no feedback, do you remain static? Do you fail to learn a skill if you don’t have someone telling you what to do every step of the way? The driving force behind skill mastery is what’s referred to as “exploratory behavior”: which is to say, dicking around until something happens. Feedback is used mainly for course correction. An agent trained too much on negative feedback—and bear in mind, this is true of everything from AI to animal behavior to actual humans—becomes risk-averse, and therefore less exploratory, and therefore slower to learn. That’s the true tradeoff of negative vs positive feedback. Feedback is mostly useful to let the agent know if their current behavior is actually hitting the mark or not, and positive feedback is entirely sufficient to that. This is what drives those deep learning algorithms that have made AI so powerful in these past few years; it’s also the answer to Chomsky’s “poverty of stimulus” paradox in developmental linguistics, if you’re familiar with those.

        If you are determined to hang on to some idealized vision of the intellectual superiority of being a harsh critic, then I suppose I can’t stop you. But, to be clear, current science says that it’s not actually useful.


      15. But leaving things to inference still has some purpose. What purpose do perspective errors serve?

        This is of course why fanfiction.net writers are such quick learners. According to your theory they should in fact be incredibly innovative and pick up things very easily. Yet they’re not. They make the same mistakes over and over, actually make them more and more, and the good bits stay the same at best. Why? Your theory doesn’t seem to fit the observed data for actual writers. You’re also making a big assumption: that you’re the only one giving feedback. (And of course that its valid.)

        How do writers even know if they’re doing something wrong?

        Do you think the entirety of the current system we use to teach people, i.e grading in nasty red pen, is ineffective and should be overhauled? That’s what you seem to be describing here. If not, what’s the difference?


      16. @randomhuman oh! No, no, I’m agreeing with you with regards to inference. My point is that you’re part of the segment of the audience that missed the point this time.

        Have you ever actually followed an individual ff.net writer? I know quite a few professional writers who got their start there. They’re doing pretty well. Also, people leave. It’s like saying “I get older, but college freshman always stay the same age”.

        Actually, since you mention it, this is a current hot topic in education policy! Pretty much everyone who knows anything about it is aware that the current system is geared towards operational efficiency rather than student success. The reason why things are the way they are is partly just because it’s more or less how it’s been done since the 18th century, before they believed in things like science and hygiene; the rest is due to standardization. Teachers talk about “teaching to the class” as opposed to “teaching to the test”; this is, broadly, what that means.

        Natural learning behavior in both humans and animals actually manifests as play. That’s what the sensation of “having fun” actually is: it’s your neurochemistry rewarding you for engaging in skill acquisition. However, it’s unbelievably difficult to implement this on a large scale. The biggest hurdle, aside from bureaucracy, is the fact that it requires a great deal more individual attention per student than we can currently afford. There have been some experimental schools that have had some—very expensive, mind you—success; the other place where you see it get good mileage is in special education, where students tend to require a lot of individual attention anyway so it isn’t much difference in investment (for example, “floortime”, one of the current cutting-edge therapies available for autistic children). “How do we update schools in order to implement scientifically sound teaching strategy without breaking the bank” is probably the issue in education policy, behind “teachers need to be paid better.” It really isn’t easy. To give you an idea, having the majority of students’ break time fall over the course of consecutive months in the summer (as opposed to spaced out over the course of the year) has been known to be bad for learning for… pretty much always, actually, and we still haven’t managed to change it. Do you know why it’s even there? So that students can go home during harvest season and help out on their parents’ farms. That’s how long it’s been. So it’s a bit of an uphill battle, making improvements to public education.

        Anyway, with regards to this—“Your theory doesn’t seem to fit the observed data for actual writers. You’re also making a big assumption: that you’re the only one giving feedback.”
        The nice thing about science is that it’s designed to compensate for things like that. Let me get some citations for you:

        machine learning: http://papers.nips.cc/paper/6501-deep-exploration-via-bootstrapped-dqn.pdf

        animal behavior:

        developmental psychology:

        education policy:

        These are varying levels of layperson-accessible, for which I apologize. But, you know, this principle is on the level of accepted fact in these fields.

        If that doesn’t convince you—look, ok, it’s scientifically almost completely useless to roll up to a writer and tell them why you think they suck, but if you don’t care about that, then consider at least that it’s also pretty rude. Some content creators ask for harsh critique—in which case, go ahead, because they might even listen to you in that case. Webb, however, hasn’t asked. You are getting this content for free. The very least you can do is have a little courtesy.

        Anyway, I think I’m going to leave it at this, unless you have something genuinely interesting to add.


      17. Alright it seems I’m still miscommunicating here, so sorry if this is a bit strong:

        1. For the topic about perspective: My point was that a lack of clarity should serve a purpose. And if that uncertainty wasn’t an intentional effect then it’s an error by definition, and should be fixed.

        2. How does one know what they’re doing wrong? ‘Spontaneous self-initiated actions have con­sequences, and observation of these is supremely educational’. Has evolution somehow provided him with representations of the world, and rules for how to act? I doubt this very much.If not pressing the clicker and pressing the clicker gets the same result, if one gets praised regardless, then are you getting feedback at all?

        3. I don’t disagree that overly harsh feedback is unhelpful. My point was that you seem to draw that line absurdly close. ‘Don’t leave negative feedback at all’. I called out a single sentence, hedged my words, and explained why I thought it was bad. I’ve posted on the quality of TGaB many times, even drawn heat for it. If ‘This is good, but there are areas of improvement in X’ is apparently unhelpful, then all feedback will look the same. Moreover, you’ve also stated you believe feedback from even editors is unhelpful. If that’s so, then see 2.

        4. I see you entered the term clicker training for the animal psychology google books cite, so it seems you completely missed the point I made earlier about the difference between reinforcement and feedback. Talking about what someone did wrong isn’t a punishment of any sort. See 3.

        And a commentator has no means of ‘rewarding’ the author either. In both positive and negative comments we merely state our opinions on aspects of the book. (Unless it’s just “This is great” or “This is bad” which is the most ‘information poor’ type of comment anyway.)


      18. If it will help settle this debate, I’ve never found negative feedback useful, or done anything in response to it.

        All negative criticism tells me is that somebody didn’t like something, which honestly is white noise. Everybody dislikes something; if you’re going to post content on the internet one of the first things you learn is to ignore complaints. Most of them are empty, a fair number are totally irrational, and an awful lot reveal a lot more about the complainer’s mindset than anything they’re complaining about. It becomes habit very quickly, glossing over negative criticism. I think a person who did not develop that habit would have a hard time functioning emotionally online.

        People telling me what they like about the story has done a lot to shape it, though. I do not change my plans in response to requests, ever–my story, my vision, etc. But hearing the things that people enjoy and want to see more of causes me to to think about those things further, and the more I contemplate a given story element, the more likely it is to rise in prominence; I write what I think about, in short. A concrete example is Ingvar’s emergence as a key protagonist. He was originally thrown in as a side character to explore the nature of gender relations in this world and the Shaathist cult in particular, but response to him was so positive I found myself mulling his story and goals to the point that I ended up putting him in a much more key position in the plot.


      1. You know, if your complaint is that my criticisms aren’t constructive, then you should know that this is the literal opposite of constructive.


      2. Leaving aside that negative criticism should only be presented if the author/artists specifically asks for it…
        … maybe try to be more detailed and objective? I’m not sure “horrible, bad, failure” is the tone you were aiming for.

        I’m just saying, the perceived tone of your posts may be distracting from the point you were trying to make.

        Anyway, hoarous already discussed this already, there’s no need for me to get into it as well.


  4. One thing I always like about this story is how much stuff isn’t explicitly stated, but can be easily figured out if you know what’s going on.

    > He nodded across the room, and they turned to behold a fourth person waiting, a tall woman in an Imperial Army uniform with no insignia. Despite her imposing height and figure, she was surprisingly unobtrusive, standing still in a shadowed corner and observing without comment.

    > “Who’s *that*?” Darius stage whispered to Tallie, who shrugged.

    Betcha $5 we know *exactly* who this is.


    1. Damn, until you emphasized it, I thought it was someone else we met before in the Sisterhood that I couldn’t remember (didn’t occur to me that Prin would know HER on sight, which is why I thought it was someone else.)


      1. From the description it was obvious that it was Avei. What’s surprising is that she’d be here… maybe she really cares for Trissiny?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Its the only person who can pull rank on General Avaela.
        And I think Principia has met her before. If not she is smart enough to realize that even Eserion can’t Initiate a Paladin of another god without their consent.
        She had to be there.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It hasn’t been brought up in a very long time, but there is a fashion trend where people want to look like Avei, so I’m not surprised Prin could gather enough from context to identify her. Also, as Prin mentioned when her squad met Vesk, elves can see auras, so even if Prin wasn’t aware of what Avei looked like, the aura and other context would have clued her in.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Didn’t Principia see Avei when she was first trying to join the Legionnaires? The high commander was going to pass until Avei showed up to overrule her personally. Assuming the gods choose to look the same whenever they show up, she would recognize her from then.


      5. @tyrael so Avei really couldn’t have said no, if you’re on board with the “Principia as secret Paladin” theory, since it would mean Eserion had already let his Paladin Pal into Avei’s cult (how intimate would that be for them? Is it like banging?) And if you are on board with that theory, that line where Eserion refers ambiguously to “her Paladinship” must have been tantalizing!

        Personally I’ve never thought it likely that Eserion would pull that on Prin; OTOH his being a bastard is right there in the title, after all, so it’s not impossible. But it’s revealed later that he was referring to Trissany alone. If Prin was a secret Paladin, I don’t think he would have used that turn of phrase unless he truly wanted to refer to Triss AND Prin (on the sly). He did not mean them both; therefore, this is as close to a direct refutation (a literal WoG no less!) as we could have asked for. I don’t expect this reading to change anyone’s mind, but it’s how I see it 😉


  5. Great chapter! lots of cool stuff in there, probably the chapter with the most main characters in one place together to date, not even the dwarven car chase had that many, I think…
    But the most noteworthy thing, to me, is Eserion actually showing up in person. I was unsure if he was actually inclined to do that at all outside the elysium, since it seems to make the gods more vulnerable – and while the others (especially Avei) do like to occasionally throw their weight around, Eserion’s influence has been remarkably low-key so far, almost entirely restricted to talking to the boss every now and then. To be fair, playing with Avei’s toys might be extenuating circumstances, and it might just be that she demanded he show up in person, but it also continues a trend of increasingly direct divine appearances/intervention as we have seen from Vidius, Vesk and Izara and, during the battle in the courtyard, Omnu to some extent. Too many to be a coincidence, I think, so it makes one wonder what the pantheon are up to…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe they are finally realizing that their favorite Archpriest has been cooking something behind their backs that is beyond their awareness, so they need their Hands to start doing stuff on their behalf?


    2. A Great Doom is coming. The gods are aware. Our cast are (among) their chosen champions to stop it. It isn’t surprising that as events spiral towards the climax the gods are going to make their appearances.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve read this chapter three times and can’t see myself stopping, it was absolutely amazing.

    Seems to me Eserion is so far the one god we’ve seen in detail (with the possible exception of Vesk?) who’s really in tune with how his cult works. It’s been said that his hands-off approach with his followers lets him interact more in their lives and I think it shows in how casual his interactions with Style, Sweet and Tricks are and how they all generally seem to be on the same page regarding how the Guild works.

    I can’t see Basra getting away with the stuff she’s doing in the Guild (if theoretically she was plotting in a way that would work within the structure of the Guild rather than an army) purely because of the kind of self-awareness it has. Part of that is specific to Eserite doctrine, but I think it’s also a sign of a healthier cult. Not necessarily in terms of how moral one personally finds their doctrine, but in relation to how they operate within those beliefs.

    There seem to be far fewer doctrinal clashes between Eserion and his cult – compare that to the Sisterhood and especially the Vidians, and even the Izarites with the way Justinian’s carrying on. I imagine that considering their similarities in approach Vesk is much the same as Eserion, and it also seems like no coincidence that they’re the ones we’ve seen do the most to curb Justinian’s influence.

    Granted, Eserion and Vesk can operate in this way because of the nature of their cults; relatively unimportant compared to the Trinity and known for having gods who work like that. The Trinity are too public and important to have close relationships with their followers other than paladins, and any attempt to go undercover and influence how their cult works would be highly manipulative. Vidius seems to have the next-best idea; send a paladin, basically an extension of yourself, to do that kind of work, but whatever schemes he’s really got going on aside, I just don’t think it’d be work as well.

    Sorry to go on a long tangent about the nature of gods and cults, but I think I’ve mentioned before that this is one of my absolutely favourite parts of your worldbuilding! Still, to get back on topic; great chapter, I loved the character interactions, and this reminded me once again of how much I adore Trissiny and Prin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. eserion’s cult has its schisms and hierarchies to some degree just like the other cults and the doctrinal clashes to match – alan “webs” vandro wouldn’t have the opinion he has or be positioning himself in the way he is if they didn’t, because if there was no jarring discrepancy between how eserion wishes for his people to be and how they, as the thieves’ guild, actually operate, he wouldn’t be able to get away with being such an unpleasantly vile sort of human being and still be able to convince anyone he’s right that the guild’s grown complacent and palliative towards the imperial seat – but because he has half of a decent point there about a really glaring error in the cult’s current attitude, it means he can convince himself anyone pointing out his misogyny demonstrates he’s just control-hungry in his own right can’t see the forest for the trees.

      he’s far from the only sign of corruption eating away at what the guild could be, or should be – and far from the only one reacting to what they see as a sign it’s been corrupted. it just looks slightly different, in an eserite, because “all systems are corrupt” is an eserite watchword, not any other cult’s, and that means it’s a foundational tenet of their faith to always already be aware their systems will be.


      1. Oh yeah, the Guild certainly has its own fair share of disagreements and internal conflict, no doubt about that. But I’d still argue that it’s fundamentally a healthier cult than most others in the Pantheon, perhaps because of the nature of these disagreements. Debate is healthy and necessary for a cult to grow and change with the times; as far as we’ve seen the Guild tends to encourage debate to a certain extent, which is more than we can say for the Sisterhood.

        Certainly that’s in part down to their structures or lack thereof, but I think it goes beyond that to the relationship Eserion has with the Guild. He’s simultaneously hands-off and very involved in the running of it and the lives of his followers. I don’t think he steps in to solve doctrinal clashes or anything, but merely the fact that he tolerates them is a huge sign that he’s willing to entertain challenges to his authority. Of course he is, that’s entirely the point of the Guild, but it should be present in every cult even if their central tenets focus on something else. Even the fact that Eserion tolerates this kind of philosophical disagreement is a huge positive.

        We know from the whole Prin affair in Book Three and general discussions about how he communicated with Sweet and Tricks that he will step in to warn the Boss if there’s real danger of mutiny within the cult, as far as I’ve understood it generally he’ll mention it to the Boss.

        Compare that to Avei’s cluelessness about Basra, or Vidius’s about Lorelin Reich (that one’s debatable, as there’s a definite possibility that he was just leaving the whole thing for Gabe to deal with, but that seems to be Gabe’s entire purpose within the cult so there’s probably a need for it). Izara and Justinian is probably down to the whole Justinian messing with the gods thing, but even so, he was plotting well before he could manipulate them like that.

        Maybe this is just my personal opinions on religion coming into play, but if you’re a god, and if someone is doing things you think are wrong and they’re doing them in your name, given the nature of religion and worship you have a duty to stop them. Never mind debates about free will or anything; at the very least you should tell them that’s not what you want. If they’re genuine they should stop, if not they’re either mentally unstable or using your cult to their advantage. The former should be stopped and rehabilitated, the latter should be stopped and justice should be done. If we’re getting into specifics, the deity in question should inform their followers an leave them to decide how to deal with it – much as Eserion himself does.

        Communication is important in any relationship, and in a deity-follower one especially so. No one should use the power of a god, but if you decide to then you really should be doing it right. Assuming that you’re inherently a better person because of your godhood is a bit ridiculous, and being aloof and mysterious is in my view a sign that you think that way.

        Please don’t take this as a defense of the Guild and their tactics or anything, because while I have a huge soft spot for their aims their methods can be pretty awful. It’s mostly just commentary on the nature of these religions.


  7. For a second there I thought Trissiny’s Guild tag was going to be Kneel, as in she’s relentless in her pursuit to bring justice and make transgressors Kneel in front of judgement, but Thorn is good too.


    1. Yeah, me too. I actually like Thorn a lot better because it has far more layers to it. The meaning style described; the flower double-entendre mentioned upthread; also—and probably metatextually since I wouldn’t expect it to be something that Style would know—it’s the name of a nordic rune that represents, among other things, both overwhelming physical force and unseen social forces, which is appropriate for the story in general and for Trissiny’s development in this book, and her new role, in specific.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Eserion’s Guild claims to be walking in his footsteps, but they really, really aren’t.

    Eserion was a rebel against the Elder Gods, an enemy of vicious and powerful tyrants. He fought against impossible odds, knowing that he might be discovered at any moment. If he had been caught, he would have faced a slow and horrible death. Despite the danger he faced, he chose to rebel anyway.

    The Guild is not composed of brave rebels. They live in a nice, comfortable headquarters in the middle of town, where anyone can find them. Guild members patrol the streets openly, unafraid of the city guard. For all the Guild’s talk about defying corrupt authorities, it’s quite clear that they are the authorities.

    Actual rebels have to be cunning and paranoid because the state could hunt them down and kill them. Eserion’s Guild is on good terms with the state, and they regularly work with Imperial Intelligence. They’re not even criminals, since their control of organized crime is accepted by the state; the Guild essentially has a legal monopoly on “illegal” activity.

    The members of the Guild aren’t rebels; they operate with the tolerance of the Empire and the other cults. They aren’t criminals, since they make no real effort to conceal their behavior from the law and show no concern about arrest or legal prosecution. They’re privileged, rich, and powerful, and they firmly believe themselves to be above any law except their own.

    The irony is that the Guild has become the kind of powerful, arrogant authority that they supposedly exist to fight.


    1. Thing is, instead of trying to abuse that power, for the most part they focus on preventing other people from abusing theirs. It’s not their fault they live in better times than Eserion did.


      1. Except for the time when they decided to go after the city guard by threatening their families. It was in the chapter where the students were trying to solve problems in the Imperial capital, and a group of particularly zealous guards were persecuting dark elves. The Eserites got involved, and they immediately started dropping hints about how they knew ALL ABOUT the families and loved ones of the city guards.

        I’d personally say that threatening the innocent is an abuse of power, but that’s the funny thing about Eserite doctrine. They’re great at seeing “corruption” in other people while overlooking it in themselves.


    2. Why do you assume the guild has to be rebels to follow in Eserion’s is footsteps, or that he even wants to be “honored” this way in the first place? I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. He’d be the first to get pissed off if his cult was copping his game just because it’s what they think he wants them to do. I’d say he wants them to develop and rock their own styles. I’d even bet he’s extra suspicious when someone coincidentally comes close, just to be certain they’re being true to themselves.


      1. What is the point of Eserion having a cult at all? It makes sense for Avei, since she’s all about military order and discipline. But if Eserion actually wants people do their own thing, rather than having to follow a particular path, then the best thing to do would be to have no Guild at all. Let everyone follow- or not- by their own lights, and do away with the hierarchy of a formal organization.

        If the Guild just wanted to be a privileged class of people, above the law, doing as they pleased with no regard for anyone but their peers…there’s already a name for that group. They’re called “aristocrats”.

        I don’t see the point in a so-called “anarchist” god having a formal Guild that maintains a monopoly on crime, regulates the activities of its members, and works closely with the state.


      2. The Guild doesn’t necessarily work closely with all states. They’ve been stated to do so with the Empire and the queen of Sifan. They were also instrumental in toppling a previous Imperial regime during the Enchanter Wars, which has been alluded to in the story several times.

        It depends on the state. As an institution, the Guild is meant to be a corrective measure to root out corruption. At the time in which the story is set, they are shown as on generally good terms with the Empire and antagonistic toward the Church, which shows where (they believe) the corruption lies.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. D.D. Webb:

        Everyone seems to have turned on the Empire during the Enchanter Wars. It’s the only time the Guild, the Sisterhood, and the Veskers agreed on anything.

        Who shall guard the guards themselves? The Guild is more powerful than any aristocrat, the Eserites have effective immunity from the law, and they feel free to go around threatening the families of city guards. “All systems are corrupt”, and the Guild is definitely a system.


      4. All true.

        Remember, nobody and no faction in this story is meant to be presented as The Good Guys. The Guild have got some deep flaws and some sketchy business in general.


      5. D.D. Webb:

        I appreciate your use of unreliable narrators and flawed protagonists. It makes it very hard to piece together the truth when everyone has their own biases and secrets, but that makes for a better story.


  9. So now if she really want Triss can call herself General Trissiny “Boots” Jasmine “Thorn” Avalea Locke-Schwartz, paladin of Avei and Thief of the Guild. (Yeah i consider Jasmine like her second name).
    That’s a mouthful and I am with Trissiny on this one : much easier when she was just an orphan.

    And Layla watch yourself 3rd time you are obviously salivating about a companion (once with Hershel and now 2nd time with Gabriel) I think you really want to keep going the romance/adventuring tradition that Principia talked about. And if you continue like that you will receive an invitation to Hogwarts sorry to the Rock because you are busy trying to check as many as possible of the criteria for nobles Tellwyrm gave last chapter (young, well-educated, adventure spirit, disgrace and/or rebellious noble, not the heir of a major house).


  10. I tend to skim over physical descriptions of people, noting the broad strokes and letting my subconscious pick a [usually] anime character from years ago who’s appropriate for them. (I mean *years* ago too, Samurai Champloo is one of the more recent ones to be fully integrated into my worldview. The Avatar Korra series is in there too, but that one mostly snuck in because I already had a lush framework [or schema] to fit it in =)

    Is Tallie especially innocent-looking? Like most people would be surprised she curses or is into being subversive in any way, maybe? Probably not exactly, because we’d be hearing about her using that as a tool, or downplaying that aspect of herself when it’s inconvenient, etc. That’s how she is in my head still, for now at least.


    1. To my recollection, she’s an impish blonde, and Rasha thought she was pretty.

      (You’re picturing her as Ty Lee, aren’t you.)


    1. I’m just happy we finally have more than a handful of comments.

      Compared to how many people read this story, we lack comments and votes.


  11. I truly loved this chapter.
    I had assumed that Triss’s time with the guild effectively ended with her being paladin outed.
    So to see her getting her tag, with the blessing and in the presence of Avei no less, and at the insistence of Eserion(!), was very, very satisfying. It was touching to see how much it meant to Locke too, that fierce pride.
    To see what she had learnt while with the guild made her a far better, more thoughtful and careful, hand to Avei.
    That she would own the role of enforcer of Eserion so well in her pledge was perfect, that it coincides so well with her work for Avei is no coincidence, as the two faces of the pantheon who really embody justice.
    I’m sure that the darkness will indeed learn to fear her, both as Thorn, and as Avei’s Hand.


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