14 – 5

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Trissiny privately thought that House Araadia’s ancestors would be disgusted. The current head of House clearly didn’t know what a perimeter was, much less how to maintain it; getting in had been quite literally a walk in the park. Specifically, the small private park which had a secret entrances leading both into the manor and the alley behind the estate. Once through the outer defenses—to apply the word very loosely—navigating the manor itself wasn’t any more difficult. It was unfair, she knew, to cast such aspersions when this was actually helping her, not to mention that she was getting inside using intel provided by an actual member of the Araadia family, and the path had been opened by agents planted within the family’s servants and secured by Thieves’ Guild enforcers by the time she even got there.

But still, it was the principle of the thing. There had been a time when a noble House was meant to be a defensible political unit; on paper, at least, they still had the obligation to protect those within their employ. Hostiles should not be able to just walk in. Hell, she, Gabriel, and Yasmeen weren’t even the worst of it; Toby had literally gone in the front door and bluffed his way through using sheer rank.

“And this is a feature common to ballrooms owned by Houses, or facilities which cater to them,” Yasmeen narrated quietly, leading the way to the balcony rail which overlooked the dance floor a story below. “An architect’s duty is to provide a grand public space where people can mingle and be seen, balanced with liberal access to private corners where they can disappear to canoodle and/or plot skulduggery. Wraparound balconies such as this aren’t the only way to achieve this result, but they’re a particularly efficient one, and thus popular. Note the position of the fairy lamps on the outer sides of the support pillars, and lack of any lighting on the balcony itself! This, coupled with these strategic climbing vines—not easy to cultivate indoors—and the high, outward-leaning rail, make it all but impossible for those below to observe those above, while we can see them with perfect clarity.”

Trissiny touched Gabriel on the shoulder, tugging lightly; he had gone right to the rail and been about to lean out over it. At her silent urging, he pulled back, giving her a wry look.

“The Guild has secured this spot for now,” Trissiny said in a low voice, “but the longer they keep people out, the more likely someone will notice and make an outcry.”

“That’s inevitable, anyway,” Yasmeen replied at the same volume, “given that this is far from the only spot they are pinning down. Timing will be the key; the pieces are already in motion, and you must move at the right moment. It will be best if your moment comes before the guests realize they are encircled by thieves, but it should work regardless.”

“There’s a Butler down there,” Trissiny noted. “Guild enforcers are not going to stand up to that.”

“He’s accompanying Lord Taveshin,” Yasmeen reassured her. “Lady Araadia doesn’t have one. Wilkes will only act to protect his client, not secure House Araadia.”

“How many of those women with swords know how to use them?”

“I would say roughly half. But really, it won’t come to that, I assure you.”

“Hm,” Trissiny grunted skeptically, studying the guests. It wasn’t quite as easy as the design of the ballroom was meant to make it from up here; the place was dimmer than it would ordinarily be, with much of the light provided by glowing illusory trees and vines which had been conjured around the walls, climbing the support pillars, and overshadowing the buffet tables. The effect was dizzyingly beautiful, but did no favors for visibility.

She looked up to find Gabriel watching her sidelong, wearing an amused little smile.

“What are you smirking at?” she demanded.

He shook his head, smile widening, and turned his gaze back to the scene below. “I’ve missed you.”

That was so far from what she had expected that she could only stare at him, mouth slightly open. At least he was no longer looking in her direction, or she’d never live that down.

“Ah, looks like Toby’s already struck out before we arrived,” Yasmeen murmured, pointing.

“Struck out?”

“Baseball term,” Gabriel explained. “Didn’t you play baseball growing up?”

“Ball games aren’t huge in Viridill. Martial arts and war games, mostly.”

“Let me guess,” Gabriel said, narrowing his eyes to peer closely at Toby down below, “that’s this Lark character I’ve been hearing about.”

“The same,” Yasmeen confirmed.

Oliver Lark was the Vidian cleric who was apparently a key player in city politics, and a large part of the reason for their intervention here. To judge by his name and fair coloring, he was of frontier stock; most of the nobles assembled below were local, the Calderaan being the same dark-haired and olive-skinned ethnicity as the Tiraan, by and large. Lark and Toby stood off to the side, conversing quietly, which meant that Toby’s first intervention with Lady Araadia had failed. Both of them stood out somewhat, being in formal clerical robes, Lark’s a dashing ensemble of black and white (Vidians did not have an official costume, exactly, but borrowed elements from other cults to create whatever impression circumstances required), while Toby wore plain and simple brown which contrasted powerfully with the glittering outfits all around him. Trissiny had never seen him wear robes before. In fact, he looked rather stately in them.

Unlike the last time she had crashed a high society party, she was just in her silver armor, not having bothered with a dress uniform. She wasn’t here to impress these people—at least, not favorably. The armor’s disappearance from the grove might worry Lanaera, which she regretted, but a shaman of her grandmother’s skill could doubtless verify that she was well; fae magic was good for information gathering, provided it was gathered by spirits with whom the shaman had a good relationship. Gabriel hadn’t dressed up, either, though he had at least brushed clean his dark green overcoat and combed his hair, for once.

Glancing at him, she did a surreptitious double take. When had he started carrying his spine so straight? She remembered him with a permanent awkward hunch. It made him look taller.

“Now, that’s the one we’ll want to watch,” Yasmeen said, stepping up to the rail, and pointing. “Lady Irina Araadia is the one in blue, with half her tits on display like a burlesque dancer. As soon as Velvet makes her move, you’ll need to make yours.”

“I see her,” Trissiny nodded. “And it’s really not necessary to shame another woman for either her body or sexuality, Yasmeen.”

“Trissiny, please! A little credit!” Yasmeen turned to her, putting on a faux-wounded look. “I am fashion shaming. Do you note, glancing about, that decolletage is not a widely used component of current styles? Clothing is communication. It is a powerful way to send a message, to express the very identity one chooses to cultivate. I know you are aware that the greatest effect of that silver armor is not its ability to protect you from arrows. It reveals a great deal about a woman if the only thing she can think to express is ‘hey, look at these!’”

“Heh,” Gabriel muttered, grinning. “Reveals.”

Trissiny gave him a long-suffering look. “And you almost got through a conversational mention of breasts without making an ass of yourself.”

“I know, right? Close save!”

“How dare you!” The shrill exclamation was loud enough to cut through the general pattern of lively conversation among the party-goers and drift up to the balcony above. In the sudden silence below, a path opened as socially-attuned aristocrats melted out of the way of Lady Araadia and the dark-suited figure of Velvet, the local Guild Underboss, who had appeared next to the tables and was in the process of selecting a canape.

“And that’s our cue,” Gabriel said, pushing back from the rail. “Wish us luck!”

“You don’t need it, my dears,” Yasmeen assured them with a smirk of pure mischief. “Just be yourselves.”

He gallantly offered Trissiny his arm. “My lady?”

“I’m only not smacking you because I want your hair still relatively presentable when we get down there,” she informed him, turning and making for the main stairs, in the opposite direction from the discreet servant’s staircase by which they had reached the balcony. He laughed, falling into step beside her.

The sound of the ongoing row faded as they descended the stairwell, then grew again when they were closer to the bottom floor. While on the stairs, Gabriel withdrew the twisted black wand from inside his coat and extended it to its full length, using the scythe like a walking stick. Somehow, the rhythmic thump of its shaft against the floor was ominous even to her.

The stairs came out at a landing where a grand hall led from the front of the manor, right before a pair of wide doors which opened onto the ballroom itself—or rather, onto a short flight of steps descending to it, giving those assembled within a perfect view of anyone entering. A stately-looking man in Araadia livery stood beside the doors, there to facilitate exactly that purpose. He was very studiously ignoring the loud spectacle of his head of House shouting at an intruder, but the sudden appearance of the two of them managed to surprise him visibly.

“General Trissiny Avelea,” she declared before he could challenge their presence, “Hand of Avei.”

“Gabriel Arquin,” he added right on her heels, “Hand of Vidius.”

The herald quickly marshaled his expression, bowed to them, and turned to face the ballroom. While Trissiny and Gabriel descended the stairs, his voice rang out, announcing their identities.

This, naturally, caused a stir—but a muted one, the party attendees’ attention being divided between them and the ongoing spectacle of the Lady of the House and her long-lost sister. That, of course, had been the entire point: arranging for the two paladins to corner Irina under circumstances in which she had no chance to seize control of the ensuing conversation. There was a time not long ago when Trissiny would have rolled her eyes and called Princess Yasmeen’s entire plan here a grandiose waste of time, but in the last few months she had learned a great deal about the importance of social maneuvering—and how the lessons of military strategy applied to it. Perhaps the most compelling argument for this gambit was how readily Velvet had agreed to it. A noble by blood she might be, but one did not become a Thieves’ Guild underboss without being hard-nosed and pragmatic.

“My tolerance was frayed to begin with, Cardassa,” Lady Irina was snarling at Velvet as they approached. “If you are going to disrupt my social life merely to taunt me, I will yet see you disowned and banished from the city!”

“I would honestly like to see you try to get me banished, Irina,” Velvet said with a light sigh. She had picked up some kind of delicate-looking puff pastry which glowed, tiny blue motes of light seeming to coalesce out of the air and form a scintillating glaze over its surface. “Are you actually feeding this to your guests? You’ve never seen someone suffering from mana poisoning, I take it.”

“Those were handcrafted by the— No, I will not be baited into another of these exchanges. Remove yourself from my house immediately, and I will spare you, one last time, the indignity of being bodily hurled into the street.”

“The guards are too afraid of me even to try that, and you know it. You’ll have to forgive my sister,” she added past Irina’s shoulder to Trissiny. “She’s still tetchy because I trashed her art collection.”

“The complete Fire Lilies collection by Avistaan of Anteraas!” Irina raged. “Those paintings were priceless!”

“Priceless is the same as worthless,” Velvet retorted. “Those paintings were neither. They were beautiful, and art is wasted on someone who values it only for how expensive it is. You keep doing things like this, Irina, despite my repeated warnings. A point is coming where I won’t be able to protect you anymore.”

For a moment, Lady Irina physically quivered, as if gathering herself to lunge at her sister. Instead, she drew in a deep breath, forcing herself back under control, and pointedly turned her back on Velvet, facing the paladins. Evidently she had heard their introduction, despite herself shouting over it; at any rate, her eyes flickered between them with no evidence of surprise. The fact remained, though, they had come upon her in the middle of a yelling fit, hardly befitting the dignity of a head of House.

Still, Lady Irina straightened her spine and inclined her head to each of them courteously. Dressed in a shade of blue which perfectly matched the arcane light that filled her ballroom, she was a beautiful woman in her forties, her face unlined and elaborate black coif untouched by silver. Younger than her sister, if Trissiny was any judge, which would mean Cardassa had abdicated the high seat of House Araadia. Or perhaps the socialite just devoted more effort to preserving her looks than the Eserite.

“What an unexpected honor this is,” Irina said with a tight little smile which did not entirely conceal the anger still simmering beneath it. “I hardly expected even one paladin to appear at my little soiree, much less all three!”

Trissiny raised an eyebrow. “Soiree?”

“It’s Glassian,” Gabriel explained. “Very trendy, so I understand. The lightworks are truly impressive, Lady Araadia. Keyed to a single spell lattice, I believe? Not very efficient, but it would give the caster a more total control over the whole effect. I see how that would be a benefit. Whoever did this is as much an artist as enchanter.”

“Ah—an enthusiast,” she said, smiling coquettishly at him, a little of the tension easing from her shoulders. “So little is known of you, Lord Gabriel. I am surprised to learn the world’s most famous Vidian is also something of a Salyrite!”

“It’s just Gabriel,” he said nonchalantly, picking up one of the glowing pastries and inspecting it critically.

“I understand all this is thematic,” Trissiny stated, deliberately keeping her tone and expression flat. “Something about a museum?”

“The Araadia Institute of Arcane Enchantment,” Lady Irina replied, nodding her head again, her face suddenly wary. “The founding of which is the event which this humble gathering has been called to celebrate.” Velvet snorted loudly, which Irina pretended to ignore, despite the reddening of her cheeks. “It will serve as a permanent exhibition of the productive science which has come to fuel so much of the industry of our great city. The cutting edge of enchantment, constantly updated and displayed for the edification of all citizens, and as a badge of pride for Calderaas!”

This brought a smattering of applause from the onlookers, which Trissiny talked right over.

“Yes, and I understand it’s going to take a substantial endowment from the Sultanate’s education budget. What was it those funds were earmarked for, before you came along?”

“Schools,” Velvet interjected before Irina could reply, casually tossing the luminous pastry from hand to hand and watching the light trails it made. “Eight new primary and secondary schools, to be constructed in the city’s poorer districts. Calderaas has been lagging behind the Tirasian Dynasty’s mandates on public education for two Emperors, now. Fucking Shaathvar has a more up to date school system.”

Trissiny turned an openly scornful glare on Lady Irina. “Really? Really.”

“Yes, I thought I saw where this was going,” Irina retorted, the pretense of friendliness gone from her own features now. “Your colleague made a far more persuasive appeal to my better nature, I must say.”

She glanced at Toby, who had stepped up to the group with Oliver Lark still in tow.

“I take it he overestimated your better nature, then,” Gabriel mumbled around a mouthful. “Toby tends to do that.”

“Tell me you aren’t actually eating that,” Trissiny said in exasperation.

“I’ll save you one,” Gabriel promised, swallowing and holding up the remaining half of his arcane pastry. “Seriously, lightshow aside, this is the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth that wasn’t yelling my name.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Gross, Gabe.”

“As I attempted to explain to Tobias,” Lady Irina interjected in a tight voice, “the administration of a society demands a more complex, more nuanced manner of thinking than does traveling the land and smiting demons. One must consider the intricacies of the situation, and especially the future, and determine what best serves the interest of all Calderaan.”

“Mm,” Gabriel grunted, licking his fingers. “Big, fancy museum’s a much more prestigious thing to have your name on than a handful of elementary schools.”

“Not to mention,” Trissiny said grimly, “that it benefits a certain element of society more than the masses who work in that element’s factories.”

“I do say I am surprised at this level of attention,” Irina snapped. “Are there no open hellgates, no ongoing plots by the Black Wreath? Is our entire Empire, the very world, so blessedly free of evil that you three are at liberty to crash my social events? I have never heard of such a thing as three paladins intervening in a simple budget allocation. I must beg your forgiveness if I seem less than sympathetic, madam and gentlemen, but following on the heels of my sister declaring that harassing our House is her warped Eserite idea of protecting me, I am even less receptive to the appeals of religious people than your frankly inexplicable priorities would leave me ordinarily.”

“It makes sense, though,” Toby said in a quiet voice which seemed to balm the mounting tension, “if you understand how Eserites think, my Lady. If you persist in acting in a way which demands punishment, she protects you by taking it out on your possessions rather than your person. I don’t endorse that view,” he added, nodding politely to Velvet, “but understanding is the beginning of all compromise.”

“Regardless,” Irina said stiffly, “the discussion is academic. The matter is done and settled, hence this event to celebrate, which you all have now thoroughly ruined. I hope that fact brings you some satisfaction, because that is all you shall get from it.”

Lark diffidently cleared his throat. “With the greatest respect, most honored Lady, that is not necessarily so. The allocation of funds is the result of, as you know, many influences. It has been my honor to lend the weight of the Church and the cult of Vidius to your cause, but circumstances being as they are…”

“You would not dare,” she whispered.

He gave her a gentle smile and an ostentatiously helpless shrug. “In all aspects of my work, my Lady, I endeavor to navigate the complex currents of Calderaan society to achieve the end which seems, to my imperfect perception, the best for the city overall. Just as you yourself so eloquently explained. Clearly, the open opposition of every living paladin is a factor which changes a great many other variables. I am forced to reconsider my position. As, I fear, will be others present.”

“Well, look what a reasonable fellow you are,” Gabriel said lightly. “And here I was planning to threaten you with my scythe and everything.”

“Yes, so I assumed,” the priest replied, the smile fading from his face. “Your performance at the temple in Last Rock is already legendary, Gabriel.”

“Lark,” Irina hissed, “you intransigent little eel.”

“I am impressed that you are courageous enough to brazenly oppose the three primary gods, my Lady,” he said, bowing deeply to her. “I am a man of far lesser inner strength, myself.”

She bared her teeth at him, then abruptly whirled to glare at Velvet. “You planned this.”

The Eserite shrugged and finished chewing, having finally taken an experimental nibble of the mana pastry. “Credit where it’s due, little sister: this actually is delicious. But really, the glowing? Blue sugar icing would have been thematically adequate. You wouldn’t keep finding yourself in these embarrassing situations if you knew the meaning of restraint.”

Irina had to draw in another deep breath, this one wavering audibly, to gather enough calm to apparently work past an aggressive urge which would surely not have ended well for her. Instead, the turned slowly back around, and sketched an impressively sarcastic bow in Trissiny’s direction—a maneuver made risky by the unusually low cut of her bodice.

“Well, then, I congratulate you,” Lady Irina said icily, straightening up again and tilting her chin back to stare down her nose at Trissiny. “I only hope no one was sacrificed to summon a demon while you were slaying the vile threat of my political aspirations. Since you care so deeply for the plight of the working class, I will take the liberty of directing the laborers who would have been contracted to build a proud edifice to the Sisterhood of Avei for work. Are you satisfied, now?”

“No,” Trissiny replied, and punched her in the jaw.

It was a simple right jab, but Lady Irina dropped like a bag of turnips. It was a good thing she had decided not to haul off and throw her whole weight into it; that might have killed the woman.

Naturally, pandemonium immediately erupted. Screams and shouts rang out, accompanied by more than one metallic hiss of a sword being unsheathed. Trissiny had noted on the way in that only about half the women present wore Imperial-style gowns; others were in more traditional Calderaan costume, which included bejeweled shamshirs belted over their baggy trousers. Cavalry swords, to be sure, but she had seen enough Narisian fighting to know that a person with a long saber didn’t need to be on horseback to be exceedingly deadly.

Trusting the Guild enforcers to do their jobs, she ignored all the hubbub and bent to seize Lady Irina by the hair with her right hand. The noblewoman had been felled but not rendered unconscious, and was in the process of woozily getting to her hands and knees; she had enough presence of mind to shriek in shock and agony at being unceremoniously hauled upright by her scalp.

On the buffet table was a large crystal bowl of punch. Blue punch, which put off a faint, scintillating light—whether from the liquid itself or the glowing patterns being traced across its surface by some enchantment on the punchbowl, she couldn’t tell and didn’t care. Trissiny dragged the hostess bodily over to the table, shoved her face into the punchbowl, and held her there.

“Her Ladyship is correct,” she said, projecting from the diaphragm to cut across the hubbub, and ignoring the bubbles rising from the punch and Irina’s hands frantically scrabbling at her gauntlet. “This is beneath me. I resent having to come here and deal with this nonsense. It’s not as if there is nothing in the world more urgent and better suited for my skills. But at the end of the day, a paladin is called to serve an ideal—in my case, justice. And injustice is injustice, whether it is dealt by a bunch of smirking vultures conniving in a back room to cheat thousands of people out of the benefit of their tax money, or some warlock trying to summon a demon he can’t hope to control. The difference is that warlocks rarely suffer the delusion that they won’t face consequences.”

She hauled Irina’s face up out of the punch, in the process upending the whole bowl. It tilted, teetered, and finally rolled off the table, shattering upon the marble mosaic floor and splashing arcane-tinged punch across Trissiny’s boots, though she was already liberally speckled with it after Irina’s struggles. The Lady choked, gasped, and sprayed blue droplets everywhere as she fought to breathe, but impressively given her condition, she managed to shout (albeit in a somewhat gargled voice).

“G-guards!”

“Ah, yes,” Trissiny agreed far more clearly. “Guards?”

More gasps and shouts ensued, and now the gathered aristocrats began clustering together in the center of the ballroom, away from the perimeter, where two dozen Thieves’ Guild enforcers had begun melting out of the shadowed alcoves and servant entrances, grim-faced, shabbily-dressed, and visibly armed. The kept their weapons at their sides and made no move save to block anyone from fleeing. Still, this situation could explode into violence very easily; there were, at Trissiny’s quick count, nine women now holding up swords, and all had placed themselves around the perimeter of the gaggle of aristocrats, facing down the enforcers. She noted that every armed person was female, and she could tell at a glance which were potentially a problem; some held up weapons that were clearly nothing but expensive costume props, literally quivering. Even they hadn’t hesitated to the fore, though, and they were the minority. More than half were stone-faced, with correctly braced stances and practically radiating menace. Clearly, the nobility of Calderaas lacked neither spine nor skill.

“I understand,” Trissiny said loudly, tightening her grip on Lady Irina’s hair but allowing the coughing noblewoman to slump across the now-stained table. “It’s not so simple as that, or so you tell yourselves. There are a thousand compromises to be made every day, deals to be struck to get anything done. A more privileged position means greater responsibility, and why should you not enjoy the prestige and luxury that makes it all tolerable? Really, I do understand. It’s not even that the basic premise is wrong. It only becomes a problem when you take it too far.”

She drew her sword, causing an overall increase in tension. Two shamshir-wielding women turned to face her directly, blades upraised, and Trissiny couldn’t help feeling a trickle of approval. Backed into a corner, they were still willing to cross swords with a being they had to know could demolish them all with little effort. This group was far from useless; Calderaas might even be in good hands, so long as they took to heart the point she had come here to make.

“Three paladins didn’t come here because of Calderaas’s education budget, or Araadia’s museum. We are here because this has become a pattern. Because you, the lot of you, seem to have forgotten some important facts. Not one of your lives is more fundamentally important than the meanest laborer stacking crates in one of your warehouses. You are certainly not invincible, or impervious to repercussions.” She emphasized her point but wrenching her fist in Irina’s hair, twisting the woman’s neck and eliciting a scream which made several of those before her flinch. “Noble blood spills just as easily as any other, and runs just as red. Remember that, and recite it to yourself next time you find yourself contemplating cheating masses of people out of a basic necessity so you can enjoy another luxury.

“Because I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, I care about your privileges even less than you care about the fates of the poor. The difference between us is that I actually can shrug off any vengeance you try to impose. Remember that, and don’t make me come back here. Because the next time I have to come and carefully unravel the intricate webs you weave…”

Abruptly, she hauled Irina upright again, spinning her to face the crowd, and drove the pommel of her sword into the woman’s sternum. Irina’s shriek was cut off in a whoosh of expelled breath, and she tried to double over on herself—impossible, due to Trissiny’s grip on her hair, but she did cross her arms over her midsection, which was the point.

The ancient sword had a visibly scarred blade; it wasn’t nearly as dull as it looked, but Trissiny still channeled light into it, making the blade glow like the sun and honing its edge to a razor’s keen, before slashing it deftly through the inch between her fingers and Lady Irina’s skull.

Irina collapsed to the floor, weakly sobbing, the sodden mass of her once carefully-styled hair remaining in Trissiny’s fist.

She kept it aloft for a moment before tossing it into the puddle of punch and crystal shards.

“I won’t.”

The oppressive silence was marred only by the broken whimpering of the party’s hostess. Trissiny roved her eyes slowly across the crowd, taking the time to directly meet the gaze of everyone present who didn’t flinch from her stare, a trick taught to her by a Guild enforcer back in Tiraas. A lot of them glared right back. Fine; she didn’t need them cowed into submission, just aware of their limits.

Finally, she turned her back on the group. Toby stood nearby, Lark having beat a judicious retreat; he looked tired and mournful. For some reason, that irritated her. Gabriel was leaning his rear against the table over which she had so recently thrown Lady Irina Araadia, his arms folded and the haft of his scythe tucked into his elbow with its wicked blade gleaming above.

“Anything to add?” she asked dryly.

Gabriel shook his head, straightening up. “Threats are the province of war.”

Taking his scythe in hand, he casually swept it through the air overhead. A blue spark ignited along the blade, as if it had slashed through something invisible, and suddenly the room was plunged into dimness as every illusory vine and tree in the place winked out. This, finally, prompted more gasps and small shrieks, though not enough to drown out Gabriel’s finishing statement.

“Death…just happens.”

Toby turned and bowed toward the assembled aristocrats, hands folded before his midsection. “Thank you kindly for the hospitality. It was a lovely party.”

All three of them turned and strode toward the doors, Trissiny flanked by the boys. They walked without speaking, their footsteps unconsciously falling into a matching rhythm. Not a word was said until they had passed beyond the great entry and the wide-eyed herald, into the more well-lit hallway beyond which led to the manor’s front door.

“So that thing cuts enchantment, even?” Trissiny asked finally.

“Nothing doesn’t die,” Gabriel murmured, eyes ahead.

Toby heaved a sigh. “I can’t make myself be happy about this night’s work.”

“Yeah, well, you should.” They all slowed, turning in surprise, while Velvet caught up with them. “That was the whole point of you going in first to ask nicely, Caine. Next time an Omnist makes a polite request of any of those people, they will damn well listen. Now that they know they don’t want any of what comes along after. Believe me, that’s for the best. The whole world can’t be run by people like me and Thorn; if a society is kept in line by nothing but fear, it’ll tear itself apart. You may not like how I do things, but I really prefer if people like them listen to people like you before I ever have to become involved.”

“You sure you just wanna leave?” Gabriel asked her. “Seems like your sister could really use a friendly hand right now…”

Velvet shook her head. “She’s already never going to forgive me for the part I played in that; every second I stick around and witness her humiliation will only make it worse. This business has effectively neutered House Araadia’s political ambitions for a generation, I hope you realize.”

“Sorry,” Trissiny said, not trying overly hard for a sincere tone.

Velvet didn’t exactly smile, but the look she gave her was sardonic and not at all reproachful. “They’ll get no sympathy from me. Aristocrats are like church bells: expensive, pretty, and only useful when regularly struck. You did a good thing here tonight, kids; ugly, but necessary. If Yasmeen is able to come up with a play like this, she’ll make a hell of a Sultana when her time comes.”

Gabriel cracked a grin at that, but Toby just sighed.

“Well. I suggest we all move along before our welcome wears out any further. No offense meant to Calderaas, Velvet, but I find I am suddenly eager to find the Princess, collect our trinket, and get out of this city.”

No one had any objection to that.

 

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61 thoughts on “14 – 5

  1. Kickstarter approved and up!

    So that’s done, and the chapter got done, but today was altogether less productive than I’d hoped. I spent the first half of it inexplicably dizzy and having intermittent headaches. Not sure what that was about, but it went away eventually.

    Back to the grindstone this week. I have more designs I mean to polish and add to the store, and hopefully more non-TGAB writing work to get done. I’m pretty nervous about the future, but not gonna meet it lying down.

    Thanks to all of you for your support of various kinds over the years. It’s always worth mentioning when I find myself asking for material aid that I appreciate all readers who aren’t able to offer it. Just the fact of someone enjoying my little story helps keep me going.

    Stay tuned!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aww, thats it? a five dollar level for the ebook? You know what would be cool? 50 dollar items , be a minor background character in a future chapter. See if you can get an artist for the cover or of characters, and offer prints?

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  2. Gabe and Trissiny are such a good pair, now that he’s gotten more serious as a Hand of Death and she’s less stuck up after her time in the Guild.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eh, I really don’t like this pairing, but that is primarily because the “opposites attract”-thing is so fucking trite. I spent the first few books dreading a quick and unreasonable romance as seen in way to many other works, so I guess the relationship is still tainted by assosiation. Given the history and chemistry between them, though, I guess a romantic development is reasonable, and I’m sure I’ll learn to love it if it happens.

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      1. @Big Brother: True, you never did 🙂 I’m sorry to have misinterpreted your meaning. I just see the signs everywhere because I’m looking.

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  3. “Aristocrats are like church bells: Expensive, pretty, and only useful when regularly struck.”

    Thank you, thank you so very much for this quote.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. For all that TGAB technically isn’t done in a visual medium, this chapter was visually stunning. Excellent showcase of your cinematic style, Webb, well done.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Beating and humiliating people isn’t “fixing” anything. Trissiny came in, she publicly abused and hurt someone who had less power than she did, and then she talked about how you can’t run a society on fear alone. When was the last time she convinced anyone rather than ordering or scaring them into doing what she said?

    Gabriel didn’t talk to his fellow Vidian; he just swaggered in with a scythe and expected Lark to be scared. It worked, of course, because paladins are scary. But if fear is the only tool you have, then you’re a bully, not a religious leader.

    In the short term, it’s often possible to simply beat people into compliance. The long-term consequences of that kind of behavior are unpleasant. Meaningful change is hard, slow, and complicated, while punching bad people in the face is easy. Out of all three paladins, though, Toby is the only one who tries to actually convince others, while Trissiny and Gabriel are perfectly happy to hurt them until they do as they’re told.

    Paladins have the power to do whatever they want. With that power comes the responsibility to consider their actions carefully. Everyone in that room saw one of their peers publicly beaten and humiliated, and they knew that Trissiny could have done the same to any of them. That kind of action inspires fear, but it also creates hatred and resentment. Even if they aren’t in a position to act on those feelings now, there’s no guarantee that they won’t have a chance in the future.

    Once you have a reputation for public brutality, no one will ever listen to what you have to say again. They’ll nod and agree to whatever you tell them, but a society run on fear is one where everyone says what their superiors want to hear, not what they actually believe. If Trissiny actually wants to be an effective paladin, she can’t afford to terrorize people into unquestioning compliance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I disagree. She’s not enforcing general public good with threats. She’s enforcing consequences for those who previously had none.

      The rich and powerful aren’t doing this shit because they don’t know better. They’re doing things they know are wrong because they benefit, they have the power to get away with it, and because no one can call out their justifications as the lies they are. And the problem with social dynamics centered around gaining power is that selflessness results in having less power and losing the game. So as long as nobles can benefit from such corruption they *will*, because those who do not will cease to have power.

      The paladins have now broken that dynamic. It is no longer in the noble’s interests to be so blatantly corrupt. Problem solved. (Well, partially ameliorated).

      But yeah, as Toby found out tonight, kindness is pointless when noble’s own self interest lies in being corrupt and they have literally no reason to do the right thing. To make them do better, corruption must have consequences. Consequences like three paladins crashing your party and beating the shit out of you.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. sengachi:

        Doing things that you know are wrong because you benefit, because you have the power to do it, and because everyone is too scared to call you out? Pot, meet kettle.

        There was no due process, no formal legal punishment, just a public beating. The only lesson today was “Powerful people do what they want”. Trissiny has more power, so she can hurt Lady Araadia publicly, and everyone has else has to do what she says.

        When you have a hammer, every problem ends up looking like a nail. If you get used to publicly beating and humiliating your enemies, then that’s how you’ll solve problems. Enforcing your will through terror is often immediately effective, but you soon lose the ability to do anything else.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alexander:

        Several of her predecessors thought that they were the personification of Justice. They were mostly noted for needless brutality and unnecessary wars. It’s worth remembering that the most successful paladin of Avei was a former pacifist who sought to solve problems with words rather than blows.

        Trissiny should never have gone to the Eserites. She should have apprenticed with the Veskers, who understand the value of stories, or the Omnists, who work to help people rather than simply breaking them into submission. The Eserites taught her how to be a better enforcer, but she needed to learn how to solve problems without violence.

        Since her only experience is with two cults that rely on violence and intimidation, those are the tools she uses. Once she had the self-awareness to realize that she needed to be more than a thug, but now she seems to have embraced the idea that a paladin’s role is to beat bad people into proper behavior.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Some problems can only be solved by violence. In specific, the problem of rich people who feel like their wealth and station make them immune to repercussion. The theft from the public good and the negative impact on the poor is a far greater violence than a small public beating.

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      4. Alexander:

        The French Revolution was an important and complicated event. The Revolutionaries had many accomplishments that changed the world for the better, and all of those successes were ultimately undermined by their reliance on terror as a form of government.

        As a result of that decision to employ terror, the French Revolutionaries killed each other, the Revolution collapsed, and France fell into the hands of a strongman general, who reinstated slavery and reversed many of the Revolution’s improvements.

        If Trissiny and Gabriel wanted to abolish aristocracy, that would be a meaningful change, though it would be difficult to accomplish. If they wanted to use their powers to put individual aristocrats on trial for abusing their power and remove them from office, that would be a good way to reign in the worst excesses of the nobility.

        What they did in this chapter, though, is violence without change. They didn’t win any hearts and minds, and they didn’t alter the system; the aristocrats still have power, and they’re still greedy, vicious people. They’re just terrified.

        Trissiny stole the worst aspects of the Revolution while ignoring the changes in people’s beliefs and the structure of society that made the world a better place. Terror is not a magic wand that you can use to fix things.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. JUSTICE. eye for an eye. tit for tat. She isn’t the Paladin of Social Progress and Khumbaya. She’s the Paladin of “You fucked over an innocent, now you get yours. ”

        Also, the point isn’t to reeducate the nobles. The point, long term, is to reassure the public that someone WILL step in if the nobles step too hard on them.

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    2. i’ll c/p what i said in an only lightly related discussion on this chapter among my friends here also, as it seems relevant:

      for the kind of crime against humanity she was perpetrating, a lightly scuffed reputation, a little punch, and an ugly haircut is getting off practically scot free.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I disagree. Lady Araadia got her house invaded by beings of incredible power, who procedeed to beat, humiliate and terrify her in a way specifically calculated to crush the core aspects of her identity (her beauty marred by cutting off her hair, her social connections shown that she is powerless to stop such a thing and assailed through the put-downs on her party), thereby crushing her life’s work (the status of House Araadia). No one lifted a finger to help her, and she herself could do nothing to stop it. I would not at all be surprised if she spends the rest of her life having nightmares about paladins, and unless she’s a particularly strong person (which seems unlikely) she’ll have worse than that.

        That seems a slightly disproportionate response to an apparently not-at-all-out-of-the-ordinary case of corruption for which she was not tried, had no chance to defend herself, and could not have predicted would result in this punishment, thereby violating basically all the basic princples of a fair criminal trial.

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      2. I disagree.

        Lady Araadia was attacked by three creatures of unfathomable power in her own house, where she should be safe. Then, she was systematically denied some of the apparent core aspects of her personality (her beauty, her social connections, her position as a woman of taste), as a prelude to a near-death experience combined with deep personal humiliation, all of it resulting in the destruction of her life’s work (House Araadia’s prestige).

        I would be amazed if she doesn’t end up having nightmares about paladins and punch for the rest of her life. It wouldn’t surprise me if she ends up being seriously psychologically damaged, PTSS or something along those lines. People have been broken by less.

        All this was inflicted on her without any form of trial, without her position being seriously considered, by a someone neither appointed to nor trained for this position, and without her being able to predict this would result from her actions, thereby violating basically every principle of a fair legal system there is.

        Seems a bit much for some run of the mill corrution, don’t you think? I mean, a few years prison and a large fine would be proportionate, when inflicted by a duly appointed magistrate in the course of a fair trial. But this? Completely disproportionate, completely unfair, and in my opinion, completely morally wrong.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. I agree. This felt like the kind of heavy-handed brute force that Tellwyrn (and the Thieves Guild) has been trying to stop this class from doing.

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      1. Not at all. They, but Trissiny most of all, have learned a lot since that episode in Tiraas.
        The point is to learn when to step in and how, and exactly why – as in, what the result and the consequences will be.
        Back then they blundered, and it almost escalated way too far. Now, they’ve gone to make a point, with exactly the right people, in a fashion which will resonate troughout the Calderan society.

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    4. Bear in mind that they’re not actually trying to convince anyone there that what they’re doing is wrong for any moral or philosophical reasons — Trissiny herself said that the only problem she has is when they take their excesses too far. The aim was more to get across the point that they aren’t free from repercussions purely because of their nobility. I personally disagree with how it was done, but it was effective because Trissiny and Gabriel’s aim was to intimidate those present. Toby will likely consider it ineffective because he prefers to persuade people and lead them to genuinely believe in what he thinks is right — if that was the overall goal then yeah, the violent approach wouldn’t have worked in the long run, but I don’t really think that’s what they were going for.

      There is something negative to be said for Gabriel’s burgeoning reputation for brutality even amongst his own cult, but given all the stuff we’ve heard from Gabe about the whole purpose of Vidius calling him, that’s quite possibly what they’re both going for.

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      1. Ash:

        Moral reform would involve convincing aristocrats to value the welfare and education of ordinary people more than their latest extravagant project. Structural reform would involve taking budgetary decisions out of the hands of hereditary aristocrats and allowing the general population to vote on school funds.

        Both of those are meaningful solutions. What Trissiny and Gabriel did was walk in, terrorize the people in charge, and then leave them in charge. They’re not better people, and they still have power, but now they’re scared of paladins.

        Fear is not a reasonable basis for a society or a government. Once you rely on terror as a method of getting your way, it becomes increasingly difficult to use other forms of persuasion, since people are just going to assume that you’ll hurt them if they don’t obey. The next time Trissiny enters a room with people who disagree with her, they’re going to be very careful about saying what’s on their mind.

        Liked by 1 person

    5. You’re focused too much on power and not enough on purpose. Yes this was Trissiny and co. exercising their muscle, but nothing of what happened in this chapter was for the benefit of the paladins, which is the difference between their exercise of power vs the aristocrats. “What about due process, or legal ramifications?” It wasn’t illegal for the money to be moved from funding schools for the poor to funding the museum – there would never have been legal ramifications. Extra-legal enforcement of Justice is literally the divine calling of Trissiny. “The only lesson learned today is ‘powerful people do what they want'” – I would argue that the lesson learned is “the earthly manifestations of the fucking Gods themselves are willing to stand up for the disenfranchised and call down the powerful”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Silynt:

        This story is called “The Gods are Bastards”. I don’t think that we should assume that the Gods themselves are perfectly good, and we have direct evidence that several of Avei’s past paladins were murderous racists or terrifying blood knights with no regard for innocent life.

        Plenty of paladins before Trissiny had good intentions, but they convinced themselves that their calling gave them the right to terrorize everyone they met. They weren’t very successful. The most accomplished Hand of Avei was a former Omnist, and she got things done by winning hearts and minds, not just hurting people until they obeyed.

        The system is broken, so it needs to be fixed. That’s going to be hard, and it’s going to take a while. But Toby and Gabriel could have solved the immediate problem by having a quiet conversation with Lark and making it clear that the Big Three want to see those schools funded. No threats of violence or public beatings are required, and Lark can claim that his conversation with the Paladin of Omnu inspired him with love and concern for the poor.

        If Trissiny wants to know why so many of her predecessors were feared and hated, she only has to look at her own behavior. Everyone in that room detests her now, even if they’re too scared to show it. If she goes around like Judge Dredd, insisting that she is above any matters of law or due process, then her career as a paladin will consist of beating people into compliance.

        Liked by 1 person

    6. TLDR; The paladins achieve very little with these sorts of displays, but then they are not relly supposed to.

      Both sides of this argument has some good points. On one hand, this was at best a stop-gap measure to stop this particular noble and perhaps a few in the room from doing something similar again. It will not be lost on perspective corrupt nobles that there are only three paladins, and that they only seem to deal with what is right in front of them. They don’t make people want to comply with their morals, they make them not want to be cought not complying. This means that the paladins’ influence is tied to their geographical location. On a side note, I suspect that imperial intelligence also has an interest in keeping corruption somewhat low, and given their vastly superior resources and positioning, they arre vastly better suited to root out corruption. That they didn’t interfere more heavily with this particular case might be a sign that they don’t care about corruption, or that they judged this particular case (or region) not worth the fallout of interfering.

      On the other hand, this sort of display is exactly what paladins are for. They are ment to punish transgressors against their gods’ morals in a public fashion to serve as example for the people. Case in point: Vidius more or less tell Gabe that he chose him as paladin in order to browbeat and intimidate his own cult. Hell, even Toby had this epiphany: Omnists ask for peace, while the Hand of Omnu insists by any means necessary. They are stop-gap measures to help in specific cases and exemplify the deity’s morals.

      This ties into why the gods call paladins in the first place: To anchor their personality. Since they consider themselves above mortals, the fact that their paladins act that way is not a concern. What is a concern, is that the paladins must act to uphold the deity’s core personality. The paladins must act in accordance with the deity’s morals, and must try to inprint the idea of those morals into the minds of the public. It doesn’t matter much if the public actually follows these morals, they just need to associate them with the deity in question (I’m assuming that deities with paladins are still somewhat affected by public opinion, and that a strong public impression of what a deity stands for helps with fostering new paladins).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. cc-pVDZ:

        I think that you’re right; the primary purpose of a paladin is to anchor their core identity. If the paladin happens to do good things, that’s a nice bonus, but the real goal is to maintain the deity’s personality.

        The issue is that Avei’s paladins are radically different from each other. There was one racist murderer who really hated orcs, one coldly practical mass murderer who stopped a zombie plague by killing everyone, and an ex-pacifist who sought to avoid violence whenever possible. I don’t see how all three of these paladins could be in accord with Avei’s personality when they all took such different approaches to being the Hand of Avei.

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      2. I think the purpose of a paladin varies according to the deity they serve. Of course, their fundamental purpose is to prevent a god being unduly influenced by their followers, but visible Hands have different roles.

        Traditional hands such as those of Omnu and Avei (and possibly Salyrene, though we haven’t seen one of those yet so I can’t say for sure) appear to embody concept more than personality. Way back in Book 5, Tellwyrn said that concept trumps personality when it comes to gods — if you are truly sorry, Avei will forgive you because one of her core concepts is justice, but according to Tellwyrn that’s radically different to Avei’s personality. Imo that’s why Laressa, Trissiny, Shahai, and the other hand whose name I can’t remember all went about their jobs so differently — if their job was to represent Avei’s personality they’d have been the same, but as they represented concepts they all interpreted the ideals of justice, war and protecting women differently.

        That said, Gabe certainly doesn’t appear to represent all of Vidius’s concepts. I may be missing something, but it appears to me that he’s only really focused on death so far. Sure, he had one conversation with Val about the masks, but it doesn’t look like he’s taking very well to that side of Vidian doctrine, which…seems to be the point? A lot of this is murky and I probably haven’t interpreted all of it right but it seems like Vidius wants a decidedly non-Vidian paladin. And while there are huge similarities between Toby and Omnu, and Trissiny and Avei are alike in many ways, Gabe and Vidius are way different on a personality level.

        TLDR; paladins embody concept not personality.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Ash:

        Thanks, that makes sense now. If each paladin represents a different aspect of the goddess, then they don’t have to connect to Avei the person.

        I wonder which aspect Trissiny represents? It’s probably too early to tell.

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      4. @Dylan: The paladins don’t all represent their deities’ personalities perfectly. The gods choose paladins that share some aspect of their personality to preserve that aspect, or they could possibly choose a paladin that they wish to become more like (Vidius and Gabe).

        @Ash: Aspect trumps personality when interacting with the gods. The gods choose paladins to shape public opinion on their personal opinions and to protect themselves from the influence of that image. The aspects ar the core of their being, and thus very dificult to change. The personality, on the other hand… look at poor Shaath.

        On the problem of the difference between all the previous Hands: Firstly, the gods are not omnicient. They choose people that they think will embody their ideals and personality. It doesn’t allways work out, and in the most extreme cases, tha paladin falls. Secondly, there appears to have been multiple simultaneous paladins for the gods that actively called them. Thus no single one of them needed to perfectly capture the personality of their god (this is not really the case currently, unless they have hidden paladins). Thirdly, it would seem that the gods actively use paladins to tweek their own personality. Wat sortof person embodies Avei will therefore change with Avei’s perception of what she wants to be.

        @-Tyrael-: As I stated in my earlier comment, the sort of approach that our three paladins chose in this chapter will not have lasting consequenses for anyone but the woman they attacked unless the paladins become much more active in hunting corruption. The consequenses for being cought by a paladin might be dire, but the chance is negligible. The guild tactic of revenge only “works” because the guild is everywhere and finds out about most things.

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    7. You might be overthinking things just a bit. Would it be better if they didn’t have to resort to threats to get the result they intended? Of course, but as far as I can tell, a lot of the nobles really seem to think they are above punishment because of their status. Showing them they arn’t was the most effective method they could use given the limited amount of time they have. True social reform be better in the long run, but that’s a goal that requires decades of work, not really a realistic goal when they will only be around for a few days.

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    8. Alexander:

      Trissiny and Gabriel believe that their power gives them the right to determine what the “public good” is and to physically abuse anyone who opposes them. I often disagree with other people about the best ways to spend public money, and I sometimes feel they are being selfish and harming others. But I don’t physically assault them for being wrong, or even for being awful.

      If someone makes a decision to cut educational funding, that could be grounds for removing them from office. It isn’t a reason to beat them, because hurting someone like that is sadistic, barbaric, and harmful to civil society.

      A society where powerful people are free to hurt anyone in any way they choose is a bad society. The greater violence here comes from the idea that some special individuals should be above the law, and that these tyrants have the right to assault and terrorize “bad” people without due process.

      It’s tempting to imagine that we can just give absolute power to a “good” leader so that person can deal with all the “bad” leaders. Unfortunately, that’s how totalitarian societies get started. Absolute power corrupts, and there’s no power more absolute than the right to inflict harm on others without any kind of law or check on your violence.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A society in which the nobility steal from the common people to line their own pockets isn’t a civil society. Perpetrating a society wide embezzlement that keeps the common people from education, from hope, keeps them poor and dependent on the nobles to survive, THATS sadistic and brutal.

        Viva La Guillotine!

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  6. Hey! I just backed you on Kickstarter 😉 I do not have any experience on using it as a creator, but maybe having a short paragraph decriving your wonderfull world and a link to the prologue of book 1 could help you get some interest from people that do not already know your story…
    (In other words: For insider the page is super OK, but with some relatively small changes, you could use the campain to also muster more reader 😀 )

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I 100% agree with the above comment (though money is tight, so I can’t contribute right now). The page is great if viewers being linked to it from here, but Kickstarter has a few places where you can just browse campaigns, and it’s a good idea to at least direct anyone who stumbles upon your campaign here so you can get new readers out of the deal.

      Like

    2. That’s a good idea, thanks for posting it. I’ve never used Kickstarter before and I’ve been assuming nobody but readers would be at all interested in this anyway, but a little promotion on the page can’t hurt.

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  7. Great chapter!! I loved the character interactions (Yasmeen is rapidly becoming a favourite). The shifts in the relationships between Trissiny and Gabriel and Trissiny and Toby are very interesting to watch. Trissiny’s a woman of duty and her role as paladin is really important, so I could see her growing closer to Gabe than Toby because of their more similar opinions on how to deal with obstacles — namely, neither of them seem inclined to try diplomacy in earnest.

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    1. Well, Gabe will try diplomacy. It just… isn’t his strong suit, so when it inevitably fails he falls back on what he’s better at.

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  8. Interesting discussion. Sounds like the paladins themselves had some mixed feelings about this. I assume this is the favour Yasmeen requested of them in return for access to Gretchen’s necklace.

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  9. I wonder when we will learn about what, if anything, happened after Gabriel made his request to the elves. Did he get access to the compound and meet the Avatar? deafening silence on this so far!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “Seriously, lightshow aside, this is the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth that wasn’t yelling my name.”

    But was it in pleasure or in pain Gabe? I remember when Juniper said you almost bit her tits off.

    It was good line though.

    I don’t think Tellwyrn is going to be happy about this little stunt

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    1. I don’t think Tellwyrn will care. They did it at the instigation of the local ruler (or at least her daughter), and were careful to keep it in line – Toby even tried to be nice and simply talk her into listening, but she was entirely unwilling to do so.

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      1. This was exactly the kind of thing Tellwyrn would do herself but that doesn’t mean she’ll like it when someone else does it 😉

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  11. I think one thing we need to keep in mind is that the nobles have almost all the power while the rest of the population has none.
    This is an Empire, not a Republic. It is still more feudalistic than not, the growing bureaucracy notwithstanding.

    Yes, there is an Emperor and a Sultana… but they don’t have absolute power. The nobles still play a large role when it comes to making laws, executing them and judging people. On their own territory they are completely in charge, no one but the crown can go against them there. Not to mention that most of them are filthy rich, employ a lot of people and most likely run several businesses.

    In their daily life there are no consequences for them no matter what they do. They could probably get away with a lot of crimes if they needed to but they are sitting pretty within the confines of the law, helped by the fact that they created that place for themselves and can employ a lot of lawyers to make sure they are safe.

    Normal people… “peasants”… have no way to do anything about the noble’s actions. They probably can’t even protest without getting arrested.

    So how do you impose restrictions on people who always had free reign? Hope they’ll limit themselves?

    No, you need to demonstrate that a. there is a higher authority and b. that its in their best interest to keep their excesses in check.

    It might not be pretty but Yasmeen’s plan did that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Daemion:

      I entirely agree with everyone you’re saying about the inherent problems of a system where nobles have power and commoners don’t. There is no easy way to legally stop aristocrats when they’re the ones writing and interpreting the law.

      But the problem with aristocrats is that they’re a privileged class that has the power to make laws without consulting common people. The solution to that privileged class isn’t the creation of an even more privileged class of people who are above the law entirely.

      If commoners rely on paladins to protect them from aristocrats, who will protect them from the paladins? One of Trissiny’s predecessors was a bigot who loved torturing orcs, and another was infamous for starting a pointless and destructive war.

      In the long run, the only way for commoners to halt aristocratic abuses is to take power themselves. Any other solution just creates a new class of unaccountable super-aristocrats, and there’s no reason to believe that any “higher authority” will be more trustworthy than the aristocrats they have now.

      The answer to aristocratic tyranny is not to create a bigger tyrant.

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      1. True, but the commoners will only get any power in an Empire if the nobles hand it over to them. This is a slow, gradual process of which we have seen some hints already and it helps a lot that the current Empire is rather enlightened and fair, but there is little the common people can do to hasten it along.

        There are only 3 paladins (as far as is publically known), so it’s not like they could actually be more than a deterrent for the worst nobles. They can’t be everywhere and if they tried to impose their rules on upper society, they’d clash with the Empire.

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      2. Daemion:

        Commoners usually have to take power through violence, the threat of violence, or mass civil disobedience. I don’t think there are many societies where the aristocracy just hands over power without pressure from the lower orders.

        I’m also curious about how the Empire will respond. Trissiny just basically declared that she could beat a noblewoman of the Empire with impunity, and if I was part of the Imperial government, I’d be worried about the precedent that sets. If a paladin can assault a noble, what stops her from assaulting the Emperor? This wasn’t a problem when there weren’t any paladins, but now they’re back.

        There is an inherent tension between any system of secular government and any religious authority that wields worldly power. The Empire and the Church tend to be very careful about avoiding trouble, but there’s always the memory of the Enchanter Wars.

        What happens if Trissiny does something that the Emperor opposes? Would Imperial soldiers choose to obey their Emperor or Avei’s Hand? There’s enormous potential for conflict between Avei’s followers and the Imperial Army and between the Eserites and Imperial Intelligence. The cults won the last conflict, but the Empire is in a much stronger position than it was during the Enchanter Wars, and it’s only a matter of time before trouble breaks out again.

        The Empire is one nation, but it has several sets of laws and conflicting hierarchies, with no peaceful mechanism for resolving major conflicts between civil and religious authorities. I could easily see the next Imperial civil war happening when the secular power thinks that it is finally strong enough to reduce the legal powers of the cults.

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  12. Wednesday update:

    My brain is soup.

    A few weeks back there were some Wednesday chapters posted during the bonus arcs, if you may recall, and the common denominator of all those weeks was that for whatever reason I missed my Tuesday shift at work. There’s a direct and immediate negative correlation between that job and my creative ability, so that’ll be one of the nicest things about getting out of it for good: I see no reason I won’t be able to go back to Wednesday chapters every week. As opposed to things like tonight where I’ve had a meal and a nap and done everything I could think of to unwind and still can’t focus to the point this comment is taking stupidly long because I can’t even type coherently and have to backspace everything all the time.

    But, the good news! Holy cats, guys, that Kickstarter. It’s already 85% funded after just two days. I am flabbergasted; I only half-thought it was going to get funded during the entire month. You all blow me away. Thank you so much.

    I’m also really enjoying the debate in this chapter’s comments, which makes me feel a little better about leaving this as the front page until Friday. The issues grappled with here are pretty core to TGAB’s themes: the nature of power, and the ethical and practical dilemmas involved in using it. I also appreciate everybody for keeping it civil.

    tl;dr, life’s not perfect but it’s pretty good and getting better.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. And the pledge drive just crossed its goal!

    Per Kickstarter’s rules, it can’t be cashed out early; it will remain up until June 5. It seems I rather overestimated the time it would need to run! If anyone cares to contribute a $5 pledge during the remainder of its life, that nets you the free copy of the ebook.

    I am going to consider the possibility of additional rewards and stretch goals. Rewards are tricky because I haven’t a lot to offer, but I do have a couple of ideas in that direction. And it hadn’t occurred to me to set a stretch goal; I was only about half convinced this thing would work at all. Let me see if I can think of something that would be reasonable. All this, of course, is assuming I can still add such things at this point, I’ll have to double-check the rules on that.

    Thank you all so very much. I’m amazed by the support, and excited for the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Additional reward tiers, prints of the cover art, the aforementioned, be a minor character reward, you could also possibly throw in copies of Ebook of Rowena’s Rescue for people that pony up more than five?

      Stretch goal, easy two parter. First, you have to create a new tier at 10 bucks. Call it The Eserite Donation. Then, stretch goal at 3500, Book 2. everyone at 10 bucks or above also gets book 2, though obviously with a date further in the future.

      Like

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