Chapter 37

The thing about weakness was that there was absolutely nothing redeeming about it.

Everyone loved a good picaresca story, in Sacromonte. Tales of a roguish man of scandalously common breeding getting the better of his betters. Swindling greedy merchants out of their wealth, tricking vain ladies and pompous lords into humiliating themselves. And it was not a taste that ended at the borders of the Murk or even the Old Town. Infanzones, they liked the songs and poems about rats same as the rest of the city. Their smile, though, it had a bit of smirk to it around the corners.

Because they understood that the stories were just that, that when a witty wastrel won in the stories because life in the streets taught them to be clever it was just what people wanted to be true. In the world they lived in the clever rogues got caught, shot in the head and dumped in the canals. There was nothing meaningful about being poor and hungry and afraid no higher meaning to it. Weakness was not a trial with a reward at the end, it was just being weak.

And Tristan was weak.

He wouldn’t hide from that truth, that would just get him killed. He’d always need the edge: the poison and the dagger, the lie and the quiet feet in the dark. He’d always be the rat, scurrying around the boots of men. He’d almost forgot that, in these trials. He’d won too many petty victories, found too much respect in the eyes of others. He’d been awakened from that dream, though, and though it had been a rough awakening he was almost thankful Lieutenant Vasanti for it.

There was nothing like bargaining your treatment down to torture to remind you of your place in the order of things.

Yet Tristan had lived, bought his way out of the grave again, and now he must ensure that he would not be thrown back in it once his enemies had what they wanted from him. Once he was no longer useful and their reason for taking the finger off the trigger passed.

So in the dark before the other rose, after what little sleep he had stolen from his bruised and aching body, the rat scratched up a plan against the walls of his mind. What did he want? To live. To keep his crew alive if he could. Maryam first, then the others.

Under pale light he might have been ashamed of that brutal truth, but alone in the dark with the pain he felt not a flicker of guilt. It would wait until he no longer tasted blood in his mouth.

Second, Vasanti must die or be forced off the board. The old lieutenant must be put in a position where she could no longer come for him, not even if she burned all her last bridges to get one last swing at him. She had already tried to get him killed twice and her hatred of Abuela would have driven her to try again even if Tristan had not indirectly helped her slip a noose around her own neck.

Two wants was enough. More would be greedy, scattering his focus. So what was in the way?

The god in the pillar. Lieutenant Wen, who would not suffer violence against blackcloaks until it was dealt by the hand of the law. Vasanti herself, who was sure to sabotage him if she could – until she could do worse. Yong, who would turn on him if selling Tristan’s hide guaranteed getting to the third trial and keeping his husband alive.

Maryam? No, her own wants came after the Trial of Weeds. She was a help. Francho would murder to survive, and perhaps even for convenience, but so would most everyone Tristan had ever known. The old man’s contract would be even more important than Yong’s musket and Maryam’s Signs anyhow.

There were greater dooms looming in the distance, the Red Maw and his oath to Wen and whatever awaited beyond the Trial of Weeds, but these did not matter. One grave at a time.

Tristan turned in his cot, grey eyes open as he looked at the stone above him. He was not alone. Fortuna, sitting against the wall to his side with her dress like a pool of silk at her feet, kept him company in silence. Golden eyes under a golden crown he thought, taking in the sight of her for the span of a breath. Like a painting come to life. His eye returned to the stone, the claws inside his mind scratching at the walls.

He stayed like that a long time, his body a dull ache, until finally he saw how the pieces fit together. Only then did the rat close his eyes.

“To join the court of cats,” Tristan Abrascal softly sang, smiling.

Sleep snuck up on him.

In the small hours before morning, before the others woke, Tristan was handed a small cup of milky white poison.

It didn’t look that way when they sold on the streets. The black tea that the coteries served in their dens was as dark as the name implied and socorro tincture, that purported miracle drug that claimed to heal anything from the cough to impotence, was red-brown. Both of those were cut with other substances, especially socorro – which every charlatan and street witch from the Murk to the Orchard claimed to have a potent family recipe for. It all came back to the same plant, though: the poppy.

Tristan had seen the fruits of that bud hollow out too many men to ever trust it, but he made himself drink the extract anyway.

The thugs had left few visible marks during his talks with Lieutenant Vasanti, but he had been savagely beaten and his body still felt like it. If he was to be able to move the way he needed to, he would the pain taken care of. Hence, poppy extract. It would not make up for the sleeplessness lurking behind his eyes, yanking his thoughts one way and the other, but he would handle that himself. The few bruised, intermittent hours of sleep he had grabbed after making his plans would have to tide him over until he could collapse.

“I recommend against marrying the poppy to substances from your box,” the Watch physician said, stroking his sparse beard. “Though I expect you know better than that.”

“I do,” Tristan said.

There was nothing left in there but the bearded cat tincture and the medical turpentine anyhow, not after Vanesa’s last farewell. He had already moved the last vials to his bag along with the few medical supplies he’d wheedled out of the Watch, abandoning the box itself as dead weight. And to think mere days ago he had killed a man for that pile of broken wood. How quickly such worth was spent, though that should not have come as a surprise.

In Sacromonte, lives could always be had on the cheap.

The Watch doctor nodded a farewell at him, then packed up his kit and left. The thief rolled his shoulders a little, wincing at the sensation, then finally turned to meet the gaze of the other man present. The one he needed to bargain with so he might begin setting the board, and fortunately the one who had wanted to speak with him. Best to begin with that, if only to fish for leverage.

“You wanted a word?” Tristan said.

“Something like that,” Lieutenant Wen replied.

The Tianxi with the golden frames was, for once, not eating. He might have called that an ill-omen, were Wen not already inherently such.

“I am all ears, then.”

Wen studied him for some time, then sighed. He went fishing around the pocket of his vest, pulling out a bronze grandfather pocket watch tied to a chain. It was a simple but lovely piece, still ticking away dutifully. The thief stilled, for he had seen it before – most often during the Trial of Lines.

“That is Vanesa’s watch.”

“It is,” Lieutenant Wen said, and threw it.

Tristan panicked, but even dulled his reflexes were better than most. He caught the chain, then the rest, and sent a dark look the fat Tianxi’s way. Not that the watchman seemed to care.

“It’s yours,” Lieutenant Wen said.

He frowned, looking for the trap.


The watchman snorted.

“Because the old girl must have emptied your stocks killing that Aztlan tough,” Wen said. “He died quick and ugly.”

Tristan smoothed away his worry, painting confusion on his face instead.

“My stocks?”

The lieutenant sighed, taking off his spectacles to clean them with a ragged silk kerchief he dragged out of his sleeve.

“Alvareno’s Dosages is a required reading for Cryptics, you shifty little prick,” Wen amiably said. “I know a poison box when I see one.”

Tristan swallowed. There were only so many reasons for the lieutenant to know that.

“Are you…”

Wen had spoken contemptuously of Masks before, but that might have been to hide his tracks.

“Do you think I’d tell you if I were Krypteia?” Wen replied, amused.

A fair point, the thief mentally conceded. The Tianxi dismissed the notion with a wave a heartbeat later.

“I never cared for the cloak and dagger games,” Wen said. “I’m a good Arthasastra boy, we don’t partake.”

Tristan slowly blinked. As in the Arthasastra Society, the Circle of the Watch that trained diplomats?

“You’re a Laurel,” he said, not hiding his skepticism.

“Historian track, to be exact,” Lieutenant Wen amusedly replied. “Our society’s got the broadest remit of the entire College, Tristan, we’re not all translators and negotiators.”

Wen had seemed unusually well-versed in the history of the Watch. Besides, even if the man was lying it hardly mattered. Fingers closing around the watch, feeling the faint ticking beneath, Tristan bowed his head.

“Thank you,” he said.

The older man stared him down.

“She died well,” Wen said. “Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.”

There’s no such thing as a good death, Tristan thought. We all shit ourselves and get thrown in a canal when the rot starts to stink. There’s nothing noble about rot, Wen. It’s just the meat that used to be a person going bad. But the thought of leaving Vanesa’s watch in the hands of strangers seemed disrespectful, somehow, so he put it away inside his own pocket. There would be time to fasten it properly later.

“You’ve buttered me up properly,” Tristan acknowledged. “Shall we now tuck into the meal?”

“A poor choice of words, on an island with a history of cannibalism,” Wen noted, sounding amused. “But if you insist.”

Manes, was there anything on this island that didn’t eat people? It was bad enough Tristan was going to have to rely on the fact for his plans. The lieutenant, at last satisfied with spectacles that had been largely spotless when he began cleaning them, slid them back on. It made his eyes colder, somehow, for them to be framed in gold.

“Do you still intend to try for the lift?” the lieutenant asked.

It was phrased as a question, a choice, but Tristan knew better. Wen had extended him help and protection only in exchange for his sabotaging the aetheric machine above. If he went back on his word now there would be consequences. The maze is suicide for us anyhow, he thought. Yong, Maryam, Francho and himself was not fine enough a crew to make it all the way across even if they had some idea of a usable path.

“I do,” Tristan said, “but we both know that Vasanti’s new plans mean mine need to be adjusted. I have a concern.”


“You’re afraid that she’ll find the lift,” Wen stated.

Bait taken. I’m not, Tristan thought. She thinks she has the solution to the front gates and the last thing she needs is more dead blackcloaks. She’ll be religious about sticking to the tiles room and walking right back out.

“It would be the end of my plans,” Tristan said. “I need to take some precautions, Wen. And to do that I need access to the pillar.”

Wen frowned at him.

“There are only two stone keys to that door,” he said. “Vasanti keeps both on her.”

And she was unlikely to share them even if politely asked. Fortunately for them there was no need to go begging.

“There are only two known keys to the door,” Tristan corrected.

They’d not found the stone button in his boot. The fat Tianxi blinked, then let out a startled laugh.

“You have a third,” he deduced. “So what is it that you need from me, then?”

“To get up there unseen,” Tristan said. “Vasanti means to hit the pillar come morning, so it’s certain to be under guard right now.”

“I could arrange that,” the lieutenant agreed. “Get my people in place, tell them to look elsewhere.”

He then narrowed his eyes from behind that thin lens of glass.

“And I will, if you tell me what you’ll be up to in there,” Lieutenant Wen said. “I won’t be party to attacks on watchmen, boy.”

Wen’s line in the sand. Wen’s lever. Learn what people love and you will know how to move them, Abuela’s voice whispered into his ear.

“I don’t have anything I can hurt the Watch with,” Tristan lied. “I only intend to jam the door with the broken lock.”

The lieutenant studied him, looking for the lie, but he wouldn’t find it. Tristan’s mind felt like a door without a hinge – every passing thing winding through, without regard to need or sense. The Tianxi might as well have tried to read a whirlpool.

“Sensible,” Wen said. “And the god inside?”

“Another concern,” the thief smiled winningly. “Which leads me to my final request.”

Lieutenant Wen cocked an eyebrow over his spectacles.

“This ought to be good.”

“I need,” Tristan said, “a human leg.”

And given how many watchmen had died fighting the god earlier, at least he could count on supply beating demand.

“You should have asked for an arm,” Fortuna opined. “It would have been easier to carry.”

Tristan duly ignored her. He’d glimpsed the leg he now carried wrapped in cloth earlier and noted it was half-charred, likely hacked off a corpse on the great funeral pyre the Watch had made outside the Old Fort – in the same place Inyoni had been burned. They must not have had enough wood to keep it blazing long enough for all the corpses to be turned to ash.

As the nearest woods were full of bloodthirsty cultists, this was understandable.

With Wen giving a few orders the thief’s path up the rope ladder was cleared and there was no one keeping watch on the stairs. Good. He could afford no witnesses for this. The last stone button unlocked the door, and once it popped open he hastily claimed the key back before shoving it into a pocket. No teeth sought to chomp down on him, so Tristan went ahead with the first part of his plan: tossed the leg out into the room.

“Dinner’s served,” he called out.

“Wow,” Fortuna muttered. “That got dark.”

He’d told Wen he needed the dead flesh to hide his scent, keep the god off him. The truth was that he needed it for the very opposite reason: he needed the god to come, and the smell of meat was his best chance at ensuring that.

“I need you to keep watch out in the tile room,” Tristan told Fortuna. “The moment it gets close, tell me.”

He would need to be able to close the door in a heartbeat when the god approached, as he doubted that offering of a leg would keep the deity from trying to eat him.

“I don’t want to be alone in a room with a dead leg,” Fortuna whined.

“You won’t be,” Tristan assured her with a winning smile. “There will also be a terrifying ancient god trying to eat us.”

“Ugh,” the Lady of Long Odds sniffed. “It better not get anything on my dress.”

Tristan opened his mouth, about to ask whether her dress could actually be dirtied – or cleaned – but then he caught the gleam in her eye and his mouth snapped shut. She was only trying to get a rise out of him. Not that she stopped afterwards, complaining about everything from the lighting being unflattering to the leg facing the wrong way, but at least she kept watch as he had asked.

The minutes passed, one after another, and his shoulders tensed. If he could not speak with the god, if he could not join that cat’s court…

But after more than half an hour had passed, the leg did what it was meant to.

“Company,” Fortuna warned, then cocked her head to the side. “Oh, that looks nasty.”

She fled into the wall a moment later as darkness slithered into the room on quiet feet.

Tristan pushed the door until it was but a finger’s breadth away from closing. He felt like a child closing the closet door to keep the monster at bay, but the monster here was not of his own making: through the thin length kept open he glimpsed the god moving, all slimy dark scales past a flash of yellow eyes. It was the teeth that had him shuddering in revulsion, though still startlingly human-like for all that each was the size of a hand. The god gobbled up the dead leg with nary a sound.

“It’s lost a leg,” Fortuna whispered in his ear. “Must have been salt munitions, it’s not healing.”

However slight her whisper, it was still heard.

“The vermin has learned unexpected tricks,” the god chuckled.

Its voice was smooth and lovely, almost like a singer’s. It made you want to lean in, to listen closer. Tristan grit his teeth. The Red Maw had not made a meal of him, neither would this lesser thing. The thief put himself together, breathing out and steadying his back.

“God of the land,” he smilingly said, “I greet you.”

The god – that horrid reptilian thing – laughed, laughed like a infanzona who had just seen a little monkey do a clever trick.

“Oh, Tristan,” the god crooned. “Is it a test you’ve come for, like those the shackled beasts below offer to you lost souls?”

It came closer, until its humid and fetid breath came like a whisper through the crack.

“Come closer and I shall give you a game, I promise.”

And the voice, the way it spoke, made it sound tempting even though it was utter madness sure to end in his death.

“I’ve a dislike for playing the games of others, I must confess,” Tristan said. “It is a bargain I came for.”

A mocking rictus that he only glimpsed, rows of white teeth over too-red lips.

“You need only come closer,” the god silkily said, “and you will have everything you need.”

Fortuna popped her head out of the wall.

“He’s lying,” she helpfully said. “He’s going to eat you.”

Tristan sighed.

“Thank you, Fortuna,” he replied.

“Just looking out for you,” she smugly said.

He suspected that if she had enough reach to pat herself on the back in that dress she would have. The god had gotten close, during that short distraction, edged in. He began to close the door and it froze. Ah, so it did want to talk. At least as long as eating him when he slipped up was on the table.

“I do not have a name to call you by,” Tristan said. “Would you care to remedy this, god of the land?”

“How polite,” the god drawled. “You may call me Boria.”

That word, that name, it rippled. Echoed. And when Tristan heard it, all he could thought was that he should step out. The god was tricking him, but it was wounded. Weak. And had he not beaten starker odds than this? It would be easier to bargain from there, and if it turned in him then his wits would be enough to… Nails dug into his palm as the thief breathed out shallowly.

Enough. Enough? Had he ever once in his life held enough in his hand that a victory had come cheap? He turned inwards, sharpened himself.

“You are,” he said, “a god of arrogance.”

Fortuna fanned herself, leaning against the wall to his side. She looked disdainful.

“The kind that dooms you,” she said. “Very specific.”

“Amusing, coming from the likes of you,” Boria laughed.

The goddess huffed up like an offended cat.

“Let us not lose ourselves in the weeds,” Tristan hastily said before she could throw a fit. “I’m not so sure you have the time for it, Boria. You have troubles.”

“Not even the touch of the Glare can still me forever,” the god scoffed. “I will return in full splendor and take my revenge upon those who dared to wound me.”

“Ah, but it may well be that the Watch comes for you first,” Tristan said. “They have discovered some of the secrets of this place.”

“And what is that to me?” Boria dismissed.

The thief did not answer that immediately. He would first, he thought, need to crack the shell. Just like eating crab.

“I thought you might the Red Maw for a time, did you now?” Tristan said. “Because of the tongue and that fearsome throat of yours. I only knew for sure it was untrue when I returned yesterday and heard the Watch had chased you off.”

Nothing so fearsome as the Maw could have been chased off my muskets, no matter how much salt was loaded into it. It had been confirmed later when he saw the projection of the machine on the other side of the pillar and how massive that entity had become.

“You spend my patience,” Boria warned.

“So I’ve since had to wonder about,” Tristan continued, unruffled, “why it is you’re here at all.”

The god did not answer.

“You’re not bound by the golden light and its rules while in the pillar, that’s true,” Tristan said. “But you’re not here by choice either, are you? You’re starving, Boria. I must have been the first piece of fresh meat you saw in centuries.”

Silence. The god watched him patiently, waiting for an opening. A way to gobble him up.

“The devils put you in here,” the thief said. “After they fiddled with the rules of the golden machine they stranded you inside the pillar and sealed the doors, knowing you’d be so fucking starved of fresh meat that you would attack anyone coming in like a good guard dog.”

This entire mountain, Tristan thought, had been turned into a sandpit for the Red Maw. The devils had created a makeshift seal by piling up gods atop the Maw and forcing them to feed on it through the rules imposed by the golden light, and when the Watch had evicted them from the island they’d sealed the doors behind them so the blackcloaks would not be able to accidentally undo their seal by tinkering with the aetheric machine.

And then, just to be sure no wily vermin would burrow their way to trouble, they’d tossed a starving god inside so it would eat whatever made it in.

Tristan went still as darkness billowed out, filling the entire room on the other side of the door until there was nothing at all left but dark and a great, unblinking poisonously yellow eye. It was close, so close he almost closed the door in a fit of fear. He mastered himself at the last moment.

“And it occurs to me,” Tristan said, “that these devils, they were meticulous. Paranoid almost.”

He met that unblinking eldritch gaze.

“That maybe they would have made it so there would a punishment for the guardian should the treasures within be stolen,” he said.

A collar for the guard dog, so to speak. The thief made himself smile bright and wide.

“But worry not, my friend,” he said. “For I have come to bargain out of the goodness of my heart to help you avoid such a grisly fate.”

Darkness thinned.

“And why,” Boria asked, “would that be?”

It was breathing in, as if tasting the air.

“The leader of those would breach the pillar is a woman who wants me dead,” Tristan said. “I would return the favor.”

 Darkness thinned further and further, until once more the thief saw the terrible creature before him.

“Speak,” the god ordered.

The door closed, not even the barest of cracks open between he and Boria.  Tristan allowed himself to sag against the wall, shivering as if out in the cold, and closed his eyes as he forced his breathing to settle.

“Now what?” Fortuna asked, sounding curious.

In and out, until calm returned. Ten more breaths passed before the worst of the fear had left him, before he felt ready to speak.

“Now we walk to Wen again,” he replied, “so that the last piece is put into place.”

The trick to making someone give you something for nothing was to make it so that every other decision was worse.

It was not a surefire trick, of course, though what was? Sometimes the mark would refuse out of spite or make a worse decision because fear or anger. People were not the automatons of story, making every call with clockwork precision and choosing to mitigate damage rather than stick a knife in their enemy on the way down. Tristan, however, had rubbed elbows with Lieutenant Wen enough to get a decent read on the man. The fat man was a practical soul, more interested in results than means, and his moral compass was clannish as any coterie man’s: there was the Watch, then everyone else.

Tristan had crossed that line in the sand, so he made sure to lie to the man.

“I ought to have you shot,” Wen snarled.

Having a lie almost as offensive as the truth helped, in his experience. When you told a man you’d killed his wife he did not usually think to question whether you’d actually killed his children instead.

“It wouldn’t help,” the thief shrugged. “And it’s an opportunity, isn’t it? To do it on your own terms.”

The bespectacled Tianxi was furious but they both knew that nothing could be done. Or rather that many things could be done, but all of them were worthless. And Tristan, though eminently executable, was still more useful alive than dead. It was enough.

“An opportunity to clean up your mess,” Wen scoffed. “Now I need to speak with Mandisa.”

“Don’t let me keep you,” Tristan said, idly fishing out Vanesa’s watch.

Half past six, he saw after popping the lid. He carefully closed it.

“If you are gone long, this may well be our last conversation,” the thief added/

The lieutenant sneered.

“Are you giving me your sweet farewells, rat?” he asked. “I’m touched.”

Tristan nodded, to the man’s visible surprise.

“I cannot say meeting you was a pleasure,” the thief said, “but it has not been a misfortune. May you fare well in the years to come.”

He even meant it. Lieutenant Wen was a bastard and something of a bully, but his cruelty was shallower than his sense of duty. Had Tristan been part of his tribe, the lives that mattered to the man, then he might even have grown fond of him. A guard hound was loved by the house, not the street.

“You have been nothing but a heap of trouble,” Wen bluntly replied. “Rats always are, it takes us years to beat the Murk out of their bones.”

Then he sighed.

“You’re not unfit for the cloak, though, I will grant,” the lieutenant said. “And your work today will force a good, so prick your ears up.”

Tristan cocked an eyebrow, openly curious.

“When you find your path through,” Wen continued, “be careful if you emerge on the mountainside.”


“The hollows on the islands are divided up in tribes,” Wen said. “Those who dwell in the mountains are worst of the Red Eye zealots: they kill on sight and they’ve even scavenged some muskets with the powder to match.”

Which they must have taken from the Watch. By force, as the blackcloaks did not trade guns to the hollows. He let out a low whistle.

“Bold,” Tristan said.

“You don’t know the half of it,” the Tianxi grunted. “They know they can melt back into the mountain paths after, so they’ve even attacked the fort that serves as sanctuary on the other side. It got overrun about a decade ago, all hands lost. The higher-ups ordered a vault built underneath so there’d be somewhere to retreat to if it happened again.”

“I will be sure to keep an eye out, then,” the thief seriously replied. “My thanks for the warning.”

“I don’t need thanks,” Lieutenant Wen said. “I need that machine broken. Get to it, rat.”

It was darkly amusing that Lieutenant Vasanti’s stalwarts – numbering a mere eleven watchmen – ate breakfast early and had orders to ensure he was not allowed anywhere near the communal cauldron of porridge. Vanesa’s legacy, he mused. The Someshwari lieutenant ought to have known there was near nothing left in his poison cabinet, since she’d ordered it searched, so in a way it was flattering that she still would not allow Tristan near anywhere food she was to eat.

How resourceful she must think him, to be wary of his making poisons out of thin air.

By the time Vasanti’s crew was finished his own was up and ready. The four of them claimed a table on the other side of the kitchen, busying themselves with stilted talk and cups of grass tea until the blackcloaks were gone and they were finally allowed to fill their own bowls with slop. Tristan forced himself to eat two, knowing he would need the vigor. For all that the blackcloaks would be the ones taking the vanguard he did not expect an easy way of it.

It was only when he set down his spoon after the second bowl that Yong broke the silence.

“All right, I’ll be the one since no one else is stepping up,” the Tianxi said. “What in the fucking Heavens happened last night, Tristan?”

“Vasanti tried to scapegoat me for her blunder in the pillar,” he casually summed up. “She failed to talk the watchmen into having me hanged, so she had to settle for an interrogation.”

Interrogation sounded better than torture. Usually meant the same thing, in his experience, but sounded better. Maryam cocked an eyebrow.

“Which yielded?”

Tristan cleared his throat.

“Remund Cerdan, that villain, stole the brand and hid it before attempting to frame me for this hideous crime,” the rat said. “Once this became obvious, Lieutenant Vasanti and I divined the hiding place together and cleared my name.”

Francho toothlessly grinned, shaking his head as he chuckled.

“A terrible villain, that lad,” the old professor said. “And should this reprehensible character proclaim his innocence?”

“That’d be quite the trick,” Tristan said, “as I saw a rusty piece of steel two inches wide go right through his throat last night.”

It was highly unlikely that anyone had seem him dispose of the Cerdan but not impossible, so he had a second lie prepared just in case. Remund had survived his wounding on the way down but been unable to walk, so he had demanded that Tristan carry him. When refused, the infanzon tried to force him at the point of a pistol. When poor Tristan had tried to wrestle it away from him a shot was fired in the melee, putting Remund to rest.

Remund Cerdan had been a noble, so it was only natural for Tristan to be terrified of the consequences even if it had been an accidental death while defending himself. It was the only reason he had lied.

On the other side of the table, Maryam’s blue eyes were knowing.

“The tunnels past the wheel room, was it?” she said. “I heard Tredegar almost got cut as well, they sound almost as dangerous as a test.”

In the lantern light Maryam’s hard face and long tresses looked as if they had been carved by hatchet, like as not to cut any hand daring to strike those cheekbones. She was pleasing to the eye, Tristan thought, in the way that a good knife was: entirely itself even when at rest, a knife even before it cut. There was something curiously reassuring about that, about having that calm sharpness on your side.

On his side.

It was a small thing, he thought, what she had just done. Helping him sell a lie the others would only barely care about. But it had been unasked for, nothing bargained or offered, and she had done it without batting an eye. It was a small thing but she gained nothing from doing it – it implicated her needlessly, if anything – and that meant it was not a small thing at all. Tristan looked away, clearing his throat.

“My differences with the good lieutenant have been settled,” he said. “Moreover, she now delivers an opportunity: as Vasanti believes she can open the front gate, we can make our own move while she sets out through it with her crew.”

“He expedition might draw the god’s attention and clear our path,” Francho approved.

It would. Tristan had seen to that. It surprised the thief some that it had been the old professor and not Yong who talked of distraction, however. When he turned he found the Tianxi’s dark eyes narrowed and resting on him.

“Put your hand between your shoulder blades, Tristan,” Yong said.

The thief’s face went blank. Lies came his tongue, rich and plentiful, but not a single one they would believe. Three seconds passed, then the Tianxi sighed.

“You can’t, can you?” he said.

“I could,” Tristan said, which was true. “But would rather not.”

Even truer. The poppy milk had taken off the edge, but he has still been thoroughly worked over.

“They beat you halfway to useless,” Yong said. “We should wait until tomorrow to do this.”

His jaw clenched. The others noticed. Gods but this fucking exhaustion was going to be the death of him, it was like someone was painting his every thought on his sleeve.

“I have made arrangements that require precise timing,” Tristan said. “I’ve been given something for the pain, Yong, I will not slow us down.”

“Arrangements,” the Tianxi flatly repeated.

I cannot tell you, Tristan thought. You will betray me. Yong had told him as much when he had drawn his own lines in the sand. Another obstacle to dance around. It was tempting to say he would soon reveal the truth, but that was sentiment talking. Even that much might let Yong deduce that Vasanti was involved, decide that there was something worth selling there. And you’ll want to turn on me if you figure it out, like you did the infanzones.

So he gave nothing.

“Arrangements,” he simply said.

The older man’s face tightened with displeasure turning to the rest of the table for support. Tristan’s belly clenched, at least until Maryam shook her head.

“I would be more worried if he-” Francho broke into a cough, rasping out a breath before resuming. “If he wasn’t scheming something, Yong.”

The Tianxi’s lips thinned with displeasure, but he was alone in wanting to push the matter. And he did not have the leverage to force it, not when his only option should he walk away was trying the maze alone. It gave no pleasure to Tristan to watch the older man realize he was in a corner and there was little he could to about it.

“Sending soldiers out without telling them the marching orders is bound to get someone killed,” Yong bit out. “You’ll have to learn that lesson sooner or later, Tristan.”

Everyone was trying to teach him lessons, these days, the thief thought. It was getting rather tiring.

“I will not make empty promises,” Tristan said.

Little else was said, after that. His mind was elsewhere anyhow: now all that was left was to wait for Vasanti to open the dance.

Within ten minutes of the blackcloaks disappearing into the pillar there was a loud clicking sound, as if someone were working away at a giant lock.

In practice, that was exactly what Lieutenant Vasanti’s watchmen were doing. Most the garrison still in the Old Fort gathered in the courtyard before the iron gate, or on a wall they could see it them from, and the four of them joined the throng. The metal tiles on the gate began to turn one after another in sequence, likely matching the tiles getting activated inside the pillar, and the machinery around them began to move.

It pumped and turned and ticked, until there was a deafening hum and lights lit up along the outer ring of the gate. Small pinpricks of light, which began slowly rotating. Like golden fireflies they hovered, getting impressed murmurs out of the watchmen.

Tiles began spinning again, but slower. As if a combination was getting felt out instead of known by rote.

“Vanesa, gods rest her soul, was convinced that the tiles were a way to command some hidden aether machine in the gate,” Francho said. “It appears she was right.”

Tristan’s heart clenched. He made himself nod.

“Pretty lights,” Yong shrugged. “What are they for?”

Instead of the slow, lazy clockwise rotation the golden pinpricks were now going back and forth in both directions by haphazard stretches.

“They’re not lights,” Maryam quietly said. “They’re stars. It’s the same as the pattern above our heads.”

The thief blinked in surprise. He had grown so used to the golden light of the aether machine above he had forgot what that machine actually was: an orrery, a mobile representing the movement of the stars of firmament. It was why Vasanti had astronomical equipment out on her bastion.

“And how does that open the lock?” he asked.

“The stars aren’t in alignment above and on the gate,” Maryam said. “But look at what’s happening with the tiles – Vasanti is adjusting them closer.”

Vanesa had told him, Tristan suddenly recalled, that she could not figure out what the machinery on the gate did because it was not like a clock, did not use a fixed unit of measurement. His fingers reached for the watch in his pocket, clasping the bronze.  Because the movement of stars is more complex than that of a clock’s arrows, he thought. But we use it to tell time as well, do we not? Stars set our calendars, in olden days.

“It’s a time lock,” Tristan breathed out. “Back before the devils broke it and shut it down, it must have been set to open at fixed intervals.”

Maryam hummed.

“Days of the year, as measured by the movement of the stars,” she agreed. “A grand, beautiful, pointlessly complicated wonder. “

“Antediluvian work in a sentence,” Francho drily said, then coughed into his fist.

It took another half hour for the Watch crew to match above and below, but when they finally did the lights winked out and the entire courtyard went silent – as if every soul had breathed in at once. The machinery between the tiles and the outer ring began moving again, but the dominant sounds were pistons withdrawing, latches undoing. Like a vest getting unbuttoned, the iron gate split open in the middle and slowly began to open.

Only for a horrid grinding sound to explode out.

Something prevented the gates from opening more than a foot and change wide, soldered bars of steel that fought against the strength of the opening mechanism until wheels and cogs began popping off and metal bent. The sounds were deafening, and as he covered his ears Tristan saw tiles begin spinning again. Vasanti was intervening. The gates stopped opening, remaining stuck with just a foot of space to press through.

The cacophony stopped.

“The work of devils, do you think?” Yong quietly asked.

“Seems likely,” Francho said. “They were the ones who wanted this place sealed forever.”

If so, then their last measure had failed. Though the small space would prevent the watchmen from bringing something like artillery pieces inside, the blackcloaks themselves would pass just fine. Unless that was always the plan, Tristan thought. To make it so that only a small force can enter, small enough their starved god can devour them without trouble. Only madness could come out of guessing at the intentions of devils, he reminded himself.

“It will be soon, now,” Tristan said. “We need to get you out of sight before she returns.”

Lieutenant Vasanti came to gloat.

It surprised him. Not because he had thought it above the old woman, but because he would have bet on her caring more about exploring the insides of the pillar as she had wanted to for years over browbeating a rat. He had not been wrong, only slightly off: it seemed Vasanti had some time to spare before her watchmen were ready for the delving, so she had decided to spend it looking down on him.

“Not a sign of the god we wounded,” she said. “It must still be licking its wound.”

A shallow smile from the weathered Someshwari.

“Sometimes all it takes is a sharp lesson before they learn their place, don’t you agree?”

The grey-eyed thief did not smile insolently and retort with a quip, or remind her the only reason she could get anywhere was that he had traded the brand to her. Even as a boy he would have known better. Instead he stretched his arm discreetly so that he would not have the fake the wince of pain on his face and looked away like she had beaten him. He did not answer.

“Nothing to say?” Vasanti pressed. “Should I go and ask your little friends?”

That he could not allow. He’d asked them to get out of sight in the first place so that Vasanti and her followers could not see their group was gearing up for a go at the pillar. At the moment she would assuming he intended to follow in the wake of her own expedition, unaware he still had a key to the other entrance. If she caught on, though… Best to give her something to bite down on instead. Pride was the most affordable of offerings.

“I’m surprised you can spare the time on me,” Tristan said, making himself sound resentful. “Are you not about to lead your crew into the great unknown?”

“So I am,” Lieutenant Vasanti smiled. “And it will be the find of the century – an aetheric machine of that caliber, untouched for centuries yet still functional? There are nations out there that would go to war to acquire such a thing.”

He made himself wince again, as if pained by her victory instead of simply pained.

“But you are right,” Vasanti said. “I have no more time to waste on the likes of you.”

She paused.

“Save, perhaps to give you a warning,” the lieutenant said. “Do be careful when you follow us down, Tristan. Accidents happen so easily when exploring dangerous places.”

With one last pleased smiled she walked away, leaving him to consider her back with a cold gaze. Had he intended to follow in her wake, that would have worried him enough for the calculations on some risks to skew a different way. Vasanti was not the kind of woman to be merciful in victory, he thought. It had not been a mistake to count her an enemy. More interesting to him was that she intended to head down.

The quick look he’d had past the iron gates had revealed two sets of stairs, one curving upwards and the other down, and he’d assumed she would be aiming up. Not his trouble, he decided.

He waited out there until Vasanti took her eleven loyalists past the gate, disappearing below, then finally joined the others by the armory. All were armed to the teeth, even Francho who now bore a pistol – that he barely knew how to use, but could at least fire the right direction if it came to that. Yong and Maryam both carried bandoliers provided to them at Wen’s order, as had been bargained for: paper cartridges containing powder and salt munitions, musket balls filled with Glare-infused salt. The bane of gods.

Three pairs of eyes came to rest on him.

“I hope you are not awaiting a speech,” Tristan said. “Yong’s the only officer here.”

“I gave a few of the yearly addresses at Reve,” Francho volunteered, coughing into his fist. “Shall I try?”

The thief paused, knowing this was a waste of time but too curious to refuse.

“By all means,” Maryam said, settling the matter for him.

Yong rolled his eyes at them. Francho cleared his throat.

“My eager young students, I share with you today the most important lesson of my long career,” he said.

He straightened his back, wizened rheumy eyes sparkling with wisdom.

“Tenure is the only thing that matters,” Francho told them. “Once you have that you can do whatever you want: they can’t get rid of you without a two thirds majority of the Masters and that is like herding cats, if cats could feud for twenty years about the variable declensions of irregular verbs in Cantar.”

Maryam raised a hand as he began coughing.

“Yes,” Francho allowed after it passed.

“Do you have any lessons that apply to our coming venture in any way?” she politely asked.

Tristan bit the inside of his cheek so he would not laugh, Yong looked faintly embarrassed to have ever known them and Francho duly considered the question.

“Do not get eaten by monsters,” the old professor finally replied.

“An ideal we all aspire to,” Tristan gravely replied, lips twitching uncontrollably.

Yong walked away, muttering something under his breath about ‘canal water’ and ‘brain fever’. They had to hurry and catch up when it became clear that the Tianxi would not, in fact, be slowing down.

So began their bold venture into the unknown.

They did not need to watch for blackcloaks keeping watch, as there were none: within minutes of Vasanti and her loyalists disappearing Wen had summoned the entire garrison to him, as Tristan had figured he might. They had a clear path the rope ladder, then through the room where the folded metal ladder no one had ever got to work still lay inert. Tristan took the lead near the locked door leading to the tile room, silently gesturing for Fortuna to have a look ahead. The golden-eyed goddess huffed, but she had her look on the other side.

She popped her head, and only her head, through the door to signify there was no sign of Boria. As if he’d needed a headache on top of everything else.

The thief made a show of only slightly opening the door after he unlocked it with the stone button, ‘risking’ a glance and then venturing into the room. He called back it was clear after, the other three following with their weapons out. None of them had ever come here before, so their eyes wandered – mostly to the wall filled with glyph-inscribed tiles that Vasanti’s crew must have earlier used.

Tristan himself paid it little mind, instead heading for the door with the broken latch that had nearly got him killed. Yong followed closely behind, musket already at the ready and loaded with salt munitions.

“The lift is that way,” Tristan said. “Quietly now, the hall is where I ran into the god the first time.”

Into the hall they went, step by step, until they found the door of transparent green glass they’d come for.

“Fuck,” Yong reverently whispered. “It really is a lift.”

Through the glass they could see the ropes and pulleys – all of it metal, dull and pale – that would pull up the small stainless platform on the other side of the door. There were no obvious controls for it, but they might be hidden from where this side of the door. The handle was easy enough to find: a simple grip carved into the glass, allowing the thief to slide the door into the wall. Tristan tested the platform with his foot and found it solid, then stepped onto it. A swift look around found what he was looking for.

“There it is,” he said.

A vertical stripe of cryptoglyphs carved in the wall, besides which three circular symbols of gold had been set into the stone. Yong, who had leaned in, nodded and withdrew.

“Francho,” he said, gesturing for the professor.

They both left to give the old man the time and privacy to use his contract and learn how to work the lift. They walked a little further down, staying close to the walls and keeping an eye on both sides of the hall. Maryam was keeping guard by the door with the broken latch in case anyone form the Old Fort intended on following them in.

“I thought the god would be lying in wait for sure,” Yong admitted. “We are the easier target.”

Now was the time to tell him, following the plan, but the thief still hesitated. It did not go unnoticed.

“Tristan,” Yong slowly said, “what did you do?”

He had to tell Yong now, he knew. He would have to ask the crew to wait here, and they were not going to agree to that unless he gave them a good reason for it. It’s too late for you to sell me out now anyway, the thief thought. It wouldn’t do you any good. Vasanti is too far and the end of this trial so very close. It should tip the balance his way.

“It’s not here,” Tristan said, “because I told the god when Vasanti would go through the front gate.”

The Tianxi went still, as if he’d been slapped, but Tristan had no regrets. Even with Yong along, it was a near certainty they would die if they fought the god. Tristan had, therefore, ensured that Boria would be elsewhere.

“Wen will kill you,” Yong quietly said. “Slowly. He’ll hunt you to the ends of this island if he has to.”

The words were an afterthought, compared to the disappointed look in the man’s eyes. Like he had misjudged Tristan. The thief had known it was coming: Yong had left the infanzones when he believed they were using the leftovers as bait, during the Trial of Lines. Now Tristan had done even worse, not even leaving the matter to chance.

“Wen would have been an issue,” Tristan agreed. “So I lied to him, told him that the god cornered me and I had to bargain that information so it would let me leave. He is preparing to ambush the ambusher as we speak.”

Wen had been furious that Watch lives were put at risk, of course, but recognized that Vasanti and her men would likely have been attacked anyway. All Tristan had done was forewarn the god, and in compensation he had given Wen something the man wanted: a reason to relieve Lieutenant Vasanti from command. After the fat lieutenant drove off the god with a counter-ambush, he would be able to call Vasanti reckless and argue she was out of control. Risking Watch lives for her pride.

He would then be able to pull the entire garrison out of the Old Fort, getting them out of the line of fire before Tristan broke the golden aether machine and the gods of the maze were freed of the rules keeping them leashed to their shrines – and unable to hurt mortals outside of the tests. But the timing for all that would be delicate, which was why he was telling Yong this in the first place and would soon tell the others.

“You made a deal with Wen,” the veteran said.

“I did,” Tristan said. “And it involves waiting to take the lift until-”

Maryam leaned through the doorway.

“Shots,” she called out. “I can hear them echo from further down, through the wheel room where Tristan almost died. I think the Watch ran into the god.”

“That,” Tristan finished. “Waiting until that.”

In a matter of moments, he thought, Lieutenant Wen would rescue the other watchmen and drive away Boria.

“Francho,” he called out. “How are we doing?”

A long coughing fit was his first answer. The second was more promising.

“I need Sarai to make a Sign,” the old man said, “but I believe I have found our answer.”

He did not even need to gesture for Maryam to come running, she had been listening in. They all went to stand on the stainless platform, Francho muttering his instructions to the pale-skinned woman as she frowned at the golden inscriptions.

“There were a lot more shots sounding below than there should have been given how many people Vasanti took down with her,” Maryam casually said.

“A question I’ll answer as soon as you get the lift moving,” Tristan replied.

“Well,” she said, “if you insist.”

She traced her finger over the topmost symbol, teeth gritted as she did, and a faint streak of darkness glimmered wherever skin touched gold. Sher withdrew her hand the moment it was finished, like she’d been burned, and black smoke wafted off the gold.

From the tip of her finger as well, until she wiped it off on her tunic.

“Did it-” Yong began, mouth closing when the platform shuddered beneath their feet.

It began rising after, perfectly soundless and at what felt like a brisk trot. The stone around them was smooth and identical, however, so there was no telling at what speed they were truly moving.

“Answers,” Maryam prompted.

Tristan gave them, same as he had with Yong. What he’d told the god, what he’d told Wen. Neither seemed irked at his tactics – Francho, if anything, looked pleased. After that, at least he told the crew what it was that Wen had asked in exchange for the salt munitions.

“He wants us to break the aether machine,” Tristan said. “That way the Watch will be forced to attempt to kill the Red Maw instead of continuing the trials.”

From the corner of his eye he caught the first break in the stone walls. A green glass gate leading into a well-lit room, the glimpse barely a second long.

“That is madness,” Yong grunted. “The maze might be failing, but it is still the only thing keeping the Maw at bay. What if it spreads out of control?”

“It has had centuries and not spread more than a mile or two into the seabed,” Francho said. “Even if it consumes every speck of life on the Dominion, how far can it really go? It will simply be one of a hundred blockaded islands in the Trebian Sea.”

Another break, this time for another side, and Yong saw it too. They shared a look, both wondering whether it was a sign they were getting near the summit.

“You think the Watch will starve it out?” Maryam asked, sounding surprised.

“It would not be the first time they were forced to handle a god this way,” Francho shrugged. “My concern is that if we act too early the gods of the maze might attack the Old Fort while watchmen are still in it. That would earn us a shallow grave.”

“Wen is to lead them out,” Tristan reminded him.

If he can convince the others to side with him against Vasanti,” Yong noted. “He’s right, that is not a sure thing.”

“Waiting too long would be dangerous,” the thief said. “Whatever made the god desperate to attack intruders will turn it against us when it realizes we are heading to the summit. We have some time, but we cannot afford to-”

Green glass exploded from behind him scattering against his coat, and all Tristan saw as he turned was a flash of red. His spine, it was going to hit his – the thief hit the floor, warm spraying all over his face, and there was a scream. A woman’s scream. Maryam had pushed him down, and the hand that’d done it was still on his hip.

Missing two fingers.

Boria’s tongue withdrew with a wet slurp before the lift’s rise could cut it off.

“Fuck,” Tristan said, “Maryam, I need to-”

Move,” Yong shouted, firing his musket past them.

Tristan hit the deck as green glass burst again, the god letting out a scream of hatred as Yong’s salt shot hit flesh. He scrabbled on the ground through shards of glass until he had his bag in hand, ripping out bandages.

“Reloading,” the Tianxi calmly said. “Cover your wall.”

“Maryam, give me your hand,” Tristan hissed. “You’ll bleed out.”

“Fuck,” she cursed, and slammed the mutilated limb into his lap as she fumbled with her pistol.

She shot into glass a moment before it exploded, a massive hand clawing at the stainless floor and trying to rip out Francho – who threw himself to the side, screaming as the glass shards cut into his skin. Tristan forced Maryam’s hand up and tied a tourniquet on the fingers. She’d lost her little and ring finger down to the bottom phalange. To save his life.

How did someone even out a debt like that?

“Francho, aim your fucking pistol,” Yong snarled. “Now is not the time to fall apart.”

The old man was trembling so badly he could not hold the gun up, Tristan saw as he rose to his feet. He drew his own, helping up Maryam, and grit his teeth. The same stone walls that had seemed like a haven now seemed sinister, like the muzzle of a gun. There was no telling when Boria would strike, or from where. How is it even keeping up with us?

Glass burst behind them.

“VERMIN,” the god snarled.

Tristan shot, but it went wide and Francho slipped on the glass as he tried to flee Boria’s searching hands. The old man’s feet was caught and Tristan cursed as he threw his useless pistol at the god, to his complete surprise hitting it right in the eye – it yelped, releasing Francho, and as Yong landed a shot to drive it off Tristan dragged the old man back.

“My pistol,” the old professor panted. “Take my pistol, I can’t-”

The thief took it, not having the heart to admit he might be an even worse shot than the old man. At least he could hold it the right way. The four of them stood together, clustered and fearful, as the lift continued to rise. Five breaths passed, then ten, then twenty.

When thirty had passed, one of them spoke up.

“Tristan,” Yong said. “Did I go mad, or did I see you throw your pistol at it?”

“I was improvising,” he replied defensively.

Maryam’s forehead fell against his back, his friend laughing convulsively.

“How are you feeling?” Tristan asked her.

She snorted, voice still taut with laughter.

“Like a god ate two of my fingers,” she informed him.

“Going against the single piece of advice I gave you,” Francho noted.

A heartbeat passed, then they were all howling with laughter. It wasn’t even that funny. It was just a release of tension, though none of them dared to take an eye off their wall. As the last chuckles began to peter out, the platform between them shuddered again.

“It’s slowing down,” Tristan said, almost disbelieving. “Are we…”

“We must,” Yong said.

The older man did not even try to hide his relief.


His gaze swept around and he found the source of the whisper: Fortuna, standing in a corner. She gestured discreetly. He cocked an eyebrow.

“Tristan?” Francho asked.

“Not now,” he said, then lowered his voice. “What are you pointing at?”

Fortuna, again, moved her chin oddly. Up, he realized, She was pointing up as discreetly as she could. Ignoring the worried gaze from Francho, he flicked as tactful a glance up as he could. He could see the top of the lift, he realized. Where their rise would end. There was even a glass door. But why would Fortuna – a second door, this one open. Leading into a room without light, so he had thought it part of the stone wall at first glance.

He met Fortuna’s golden eyes, cocking an eyebrow. She nodded back.

He swallowed a curse, knowing that if he said anything Boria would hear it. Its hearing was sharp. Yong was looking at him as if he were mad, but the others had been told – or put together – that he was speaking with his god. Tristan put a finger to his lip, then gestured up at the dark doorway. It took three heartbeats to make himself understood with a pantomime that couldn’t easily be seen from above, and they were just about to end their trip the thief grit his teeth and shot into the dark.

Light flashed, revealing poisonous yellow eyes poised on them, and the god leapt down before the lift could dock into place.

He heard someone shouting – him, Yong? – and there was another shot, but the Boria was just too large and too heavy. It landed among them, Tristan getting slammed into the wall and hitting his head against stone. Dazed, he blinked as he heard shouting as Yong bared his sword. Francho shouted, choking on his cough, and Maryam was thrown right through the glass door by a flick of the god’s tail. His vision swam, eyes tearing up as all that came in focus was golden eyes. Fortuna, still facing him.

Holding a single golden coin in her hand.

“All in,” he croaked, and her laugh was the loveliest thing he’d ever head.

He saw the flash of gold go up, spinning, and the string in the back of his mind pull the furthest it ever had. The clock did not tick, this time. No, the debt was too large for that. It felt like the heartbeat of an ancient titan, right against his ear. Like thunder rolling out, and the string pulled so far back it came all the way around.

Fortune and misfortune in a single stroke: beneath their feet, the platform broke.

“No,” Boria screamed.

The god scrabbled against the wall, Tristan falling on its back. He clung to the slimy scales as the god struggled to drag itself through the doorway, but Yong had thrown himself through the broke glass door and Maryam was with him, dragging up Francho. The Tianxi aimed his musket down at the god, hesitating when his gaze dipped to Tristan.

Do it,” he shouted.

His hands were already sliding against the scales. Yong grit his teeth and fired right into the god’s hand, breaking its grip. It dropped.

So did Tristan, until his back hit a ball of solid Gloam.

Scrabbling desperately not to fall off, the thief hugged the curves as the god toppled past him with beastly howls of rage.

“Hurry,” Maryam snarled, “a rope, I can’t-”

But they had no rope. Instead Francho leaned over the edge, legs held by Yong, and as the old man trembled Tristan leapt across the gap – his fingers sunk into the professor’s clothes, ripping the cloth, and he shouted in fear but the collar stuck and then both Yong and Maryam were dragging them up. Up, up, as Francho’s clothes continued to rip around the collar and just before it came right off Yong caught him by his and dragged him over the edge.

They fell in a pile, bleeding and bruised and panting so loud they almost couldn’t make out the howling of the god until it no longer made any noise at all.

The summit of the pillar was as single cavernous hall.

They stumbled forward hesitantly, awed by the size and troubled by how utterly empty it was. There was nothing within save for a wide ring of stone seats, all facing the center of the room, and a shallow pit in the middle that could not be more than five feet wide and as many deep.

“Is it the wrong place?” Yong asked, sounding exhausted to the bone.

“No,” Maryam said. “There is… something here. The aether is too thick.”

It was Francho who found the answer by virtue of being the first to touch one of the stone seats. Lights flared, coursing out of the pit like a river in reverse and expanding into a massive riot of colors and shapes. Tristan swallowed, blinking away the headache he was getting just looking at it.

“I’ll leave that to you,” he told the old man. “I’ll find us an exit.”

It was not all that difficult to achieve as much, now that the flared lights chased the shadows out of the room. There were two smooth opening in the stone. Tristan traded a look with Yong as Maryam joined Francho by the lights, the two of them splitting the work. The thief’s ended up a dead end: it was, he found out to his mild amusement, a latrine. An absurdly spacious one with basins to wash your hands in, but a latrine nonetheless. Apparently even the Antediluvians had felt certain needs. Yong turned out to be the lucky one.

“I think this leads out,” the Tianxi called out, having doubled back.

Tristan crossed the room to join him, ignoring the moving lights and excited talk from the other two. Francho, he noted, was moving near one of the stone seats again. He could only approve of using the old man’s contract as a shortcut. He found a long, dimly lit hall when he joined Yong. Going in a straight line, it seemed to go on for long enough that outside the mountain seemed the only possible destination.

“That’s our bet,” Tristan agreed.

“And there’s that,” Yong added, pointing to the side.

The thief squinted, making out what the man was pointing at after a moment. Another green glass door.

“Another lift?” he asked.

“We’ve only seen the green glass on those,” the Tianxi shrugged.

The veteran leaned back against the wall, reaching inside his bag and producing a small tin flask.

Yong,” Tristan reproached. “Truly?”

“You sent men and women sworn to protect us right into the jaws of a god for a plan that did not even work,” Yong mildly replied. “Shut your fucking mouth, Tristan. I’ll drink if I feel like it.”

The thief rocked back, hurt but refusing to show it. That’d not been unearned, he knew. He’d been the one to first break trust. So instead of the sharp answer on the tip of his tongue, he walked away. There would be time to mend that bridge later, if they both lived through the night. He hoped.

Returning to the great hall, he paused in sheer surprise at what now stood before him.

What had been a largely empty hall was now filled with tall steles risen from the ground, more emerging or moving to the sides as Maryam tugged at ropes of silver light going into the mess of lights at the heart of the room. Which were not so messy anymore. Shapes had come into focus, outlining the island only separated in zones of different color connected by red furrows.

“Tristan,” Francho called out, then broke for a cough. “We figured it out.”

“Figured out what?” he warily asked.

“What the Antediluvians were doing here,” Maryam said. “Or something close to it.”

Francho beamed, rheumy eyes bright.

“The Red Maw transported raw aether,” the old professor said. “Centuries ago the island was divided into areas where certain plants and animals were installed-”

“It’s why so many lemures from different parts of the world can be found here,” Maryam cut in. “They drew on fauna and flora from all over-”

“And then the entity that became the Red Maw was to release the aether into those specific areas, presumably so that the Antediluvians could study the effects,” Francho cut right back. “Presumably there was another facility dedicated to study, but I believe this one was meant to control the Red Maw itself. Maryam, if you would?”

She tugged at the silver strings, steles rose and fell as the floor parted like water and the lights changed. A new image came into focus. It was, Tristan thought, a much finer version of the sight revealed by the small machine they’d got to work below. A see-through sight of the island from the side, only this one also outlined the pillar they stood in: it was a massive spear pointing downwards, with thin filaments spreading out near the top of the shaft all over the top of the mountain. One of them, Tristan noted, seemed to be the hallway Yong had found.

It led outside, he realized with excitement.

Then his gaze turned to the Red Maw and the excitement faded. The tip of the spear was right above a massive nest of red lines and a thick knot at the heart that had to be the god’s heart.

“See?” Francho said. “It cannot be a coincidence the facility reaches precisely there. I expect there is a way to force the Red Maw to begin feeding the areas aether again instead of hoarding it, perhaps using the same phenomenon that forced rules onto the maze. If we could only-”

The shot took him by complete and utter surprise.

He dropped to the floor, the other two scattering to take cover behind steles, but it had not been them that were shot out. Instead Tristan turned to find that Yong had dropped to the floor, and that walking right past him a bloodied silhouette advanced. Black cloak torn to strips and face bloodied, Lieutenant Vasanti raised a second pistol.

“Not a move, you little rat,” she snarled. “You, with the Signs – step away from the lights or the boy gets a new hole in the head.”

Tristan swallowed, reaching for the luck, but his fingers closed around nothing. He could feel anything, borrow anything. Manes, had he even seen Fortuna since he’d made the lift drop? He could not remember. Did I burn out my luck? He raised his hands, not daring move an inch under Vasanti’s steady gaze.

“Lieutenant,” Maryam said, “I do not know what angered you so, but there is no-”

“Shut up, girl,” Vasanti said. “You think I can’t see it? Wen coming right when he did, like he’d been forewarned. You planned it together, and I won’t get shot by that idiot in Three Pines while the smug asshole eats a fucking pastry.”

Tristan’s eyes flicked past the blackcloak, seeking Yong. Was he alive? He couldn’t tell from here, but the Tianxi was not moving. How had she even-

“You took a lift up,” the thief breathed up. “The other one.”

“I was right, like usual,” Vasanti laughed. “The closest way up was below, a maintenance room. I pressed on after the cowards left, proved my point. Beautiful work that lift, it didn’t make a sound – and the drunk was too busy drinking to hear me coming, anyway.”

The cheer went away.

“And I told you to fucking step away from the lights, girl,” the lieutenant said. “You don’t know what you’re meddling with. You think the devils left it all to a single god? There’s always another angle with Lucifer’s brood.”

From the corner of his eye, Tristan saw Francho hiding behind a stele and palming a knife. Discreetly he tried to shake his head, but the old man ignored him. Tristan urgently sought Maryam’s eyes and after a heartbeat met them.

Then Pandemonium broke loose.

Francho popped out from behind the stele, throwing his knife at Vasanti, who ducked out of the way and aimed right at Tristan. He threw himself to the side, cursing as he saw halfway through the movement he’d done it too early – her pistol was following him. Then Maryam ripped her hands off the lights after a curt gesture.

The lights shut down as Vasanti fired, light flashing and the bullet whizzing past him.

“Oh, you idiot girl,” the old Someshwari breathed out. “You shut down the whole thing, you’ll trigger

Though it was dark, Tristan could tell exactly what happened: every single stele blew up in the following heartbeat. Francho’s scream was snuffed out and the thief hit the floor again. The floor shivered, unseen rivers of aether filling it, and a second later dim lights filled the room again – so shallow he could barely make out shapes. Maryam lay prone on the ground, unmoving. He looked for Francho and did not find him, until he realized he had.

The bloody, burnt strands of flesh on the floor were all that remained of the man.

Swallowing, Tristan reached for his knife as his eyes sought Vasanti – but he found neither the blade nor the blackcloak. His blackjack, though still lay nestled against his side. He took it in hand. Was the lieutenant dead as well? Had she- his vision swam as he hit to the back of his head slammed him forward. He turned, striking blindly behind him, but Vasanti casually stepped out of the blow and struck him with the grip of her pistol again.

He rocked back, teeth chattering.

“Fucking kids,” the lieutenant said. “I warned her the devils would have the damn thing trapped in case someone meddled with their work. The entire machine might be wrecked now.”

Tristan rosed to his feet, feeling faint, and brought up his blackjack. Vasanti snorted.

“I was killing men when you were in swaddling clothes, boy,” the old woman said. “I would have dropped you at your best – now I’ll get to make it slow.”

There was a sudden flare of light, something emerging from the pit behind them, and in that heartbeat Tristan moved. It took her by surprise: she fell for the feint, protecting her face as he landed a blow on her wrist and forced her to drop the pistol. She jabbed forward and he drew back, but then she did something strange with her footing – drawing forward and back, almost oscillating – and when he feinted she landed a blow against his jaw.

He spat blood, swinging at her temple, but she caught his wrist and flipped him. His back hit the ground and she struck him in the gut, sitting on his stomach as he desperately protected his face from another blow. She broke his guard and hit him again, baring bloody teeth.

“I told you,” Vasanti snarled, “that I would make it-”

The blade went through her throat. It was ripped out with a flick of the wrist, the old woman reaching for the open wound with something like surprise on her face. She was kicked to the side and fell, convulsing.

Three heartbeats later she was dead.

“You missed the spine,” Yong rasped out, standing over her cooling corpse. “And what do you know – rotgut makes for a very good painkiller.”

The Tianxi offered him a hand up and Tristan took it, the other man groaning at the effort.

“We need to get out of here,” the thief said. “I’ll take Maryam.”

“Francho?” Yong asked.

The thief shook his head. The ground shuddered beneath their feet again.

“Hurry,” the other man said. “I don’t like the way the floor keeps shaking.”

Maryam was unconscious and heavier than he would have thought, but her draped her across his back. It was only when trying to catch up to Yong that Tristan thought to look at the burst of light that’d almost let him turn things around on Vasanti. The shape were bare bones, all in pale yellow, but there was no mistaking what he was looking at. It was the pillar he was standing in, the spear pointed at the heart of the Red Maw. Everything keeping it bound to the peak of the hollow mountain was collapsing, as if sabotaged.

Vasanti had been right. The devils had left one last trap. If mortals dared to meddle with their seal, well, the structure maintain it was to have one last purpose: it was to be turned into a gargantuan spear to be sunk right into the Red Maw’s heart in the hopes of killing it. And if that weren’t enough, well, then the god would be buried under an entire mountain. That ought to slow it down some, surely.

“Fuck,” Tristan Abrascal swore, and began running.

32 thoughts on “Chapter 37

    1. Honestly, it went about as well as it could reasonably be expected to. Except for Francho, I totally reasonably expected him to survive )=

      Now I’m worried for Fortuna…


  1. Benjamin Huang

    Holy shit if the rest of this series holds to this level of quality then it will be easily better than PGTE.
    Hats off to you EE, that was the most cathartic and enjoyable thing I’ve read since Weaver;woven

    Liked by 2 people

  2. arcanavitae15

    Wen’s line in the sand. Wen’s lever. Learn what people love and you will know how to move them, Abuela’s voice whispered into his ear.

    Abuela left her mark on Tristan, and he’s someone willing to use anything to get what he wants.

    “Dinner’s served,” he called out.
    “Wow,” Fortuna muttered. “That got dark.”

    I love the interactions between Tristan and Fortuna, they’ll never get old.

    “The leader of those would breach the pillar is a woman who wants me dead,” Tristan said. “I would return the favor.”
    Darkness thinned further and further, until once more the thief saw the terrible creature before him.
    “Speak,” the god ordered.

    Tristan out here making deals with a God like the scheming badass he is.

    “Tenure is the only thing that matters,” Francho told them. “Once you have that you can do whatever you want: they can’t get rid of you without a two thirds majority of the Masters and that is like herding cats, if cats could feud for twenty years about the variable declensions of irregular verbs in Cantar.”
    Maryam raised a hand as he began coughing.
    “Yes,” Francho allowed after it passed.
    “Do you have any lessons that apply to our coming venture in any way?” she politely asked.
    Tristan bit the inside of his cheek so he would not laugh, Yong looked faintly embarrassed to have ever known them and Francho duly considered the question.
    “Do not get eaten by monsters,” the old professor finally replied.
    “An ideal we all aspire to,” Tristan gravely replied, lips twitching uncontrollably.

    Tristan’s crew is wonderful and I love it. This whole speech was hilarious.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great. Vasanti was dead at the hand of Tristan. She was a vengeful and overall awful person. She sidestepped the trap Tristan laid for her but still ended up dead.
    Not great. Francho is dead. I really hope that Tristan can get to keep his crew a little longer. They seem like they genuinely care for each other and I was hoping for a Found Family. Haizz.
    Somehow, I want Tristan to trust Yong and Maryam enough to tell them everything even if he thinks that they will betray him because I want him to believe that humans can care for each other and do stupid things for each other. It is wishful thinking on my part but being rational and reading about people being rational all the time is tiring

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Tristan really needs to learn how to trust people before he drove them away. Abuela feels like the Wandering Bard to me now. It is all the advices about using what people love and such.

      Tristan is so young, so very young and I think he would do a great thing in the future if he manages to survive and learn to leave his background behind. Growing up as a rat installed in him certain qualities that are useful in keeping him alive but also holding him back from being more than just a rat.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Pendatic Counter

      Vasanti died to Yong not Tristan. Francho was pretty much doomed to die getting them out. Narratively, his contract was basically set up to give Tristan the information he needed. His purpose in the story is done and like Vanessa before him, he is duly shuffled off the stage to demonstrate/raise the stakes.

      Tristan and Maryam are getting there. Yong and Tristan’s future conflict will be interesting. Yong got to the third trial, he can start thinking about his future past saving his husband. I really hope we get to see it next week instead of more of Angharad’s mentally deficient bullshitry. Cynically, we have Maryam’s information earlier that he isn’t being considered for the post trial opportunity. He could quite possibly die selflessly saving Tristan and/or Maryam. It’d be a very effective and emotionally impactful given that we care about him, but lessened by the fact that he made it to the third trial and saved his husband.


      1. Regarding the conflict between Tristan and Yong? I am hoping for a peaceful resolution – they have a heart-to-heart, Tristan sincerely apologizes, gets over his doubt, and lays everything out to Yong. They will then forgive each other, finish the Trials, and remain, close friends. It is overtly optimistic and unlikely but I am always hoping for the best.

        I hate it when people who genuinely care for each other quarrel and then never make up due to a lack of communication or opportunity. After what happened between Alaya and Amadeus in PGTE, I don’t think I want to see that happen again.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ewwwww re: your analysis of Francho’s death. That’s not how it works, there are so many other ways to achieve the goal you are talking about.


  4. CantankerousBellerophan

    Having seen the work of devils up close now, it is unclear why they are called that.

    The Antedliuvians appear to have been a classic manifestation of imperialism. All of their works function only for those learned in Signs. Forget making employment accessible to those incapable of such dangerous magic, they failed to even make the elevator accessible. They appear to have obliterated whatever the original ecology this island had in their quest to turn it into some twisted experimental array. Their energy delivery system, when left to its own devices, became a miles-spanning eldritch horror bent on consuming all things. The ruins of real ancient empires generally only remind us of their atrocities, this one became one in its own right.

    And yet the people called devils, the spawn of Lucifer, appear to have done their level best to clean up the mess and then prevent anyone else from undoing it. Tristan speaks of the plots of devils as madness-inducing, but it is the furthest thing from madness to seal away such a monumental danger. Were they truly mad or evil, they could have loosed it upon the world as they were driven out, instead.

    It is important to notice when there is a story you are not being told. This is clearly one of those times.


    1. I actually like the machine. Especially the detail about the stars because I think that they were just trying to recreate the night sky from the old world with what they can. Maybe they actually remembered the world above and miss it.

      Besides, Ancient Empires have been building gigantic infrastructures and altering the ecosystem for years. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The greatest irrigation structure in China was built by the Qin. The system makes the fields in Sichuan so fertile that people developed a laid-back attitude. The structure still served its function today. I am pretty sure several Roman infrastructures are still functional and in use. These are just examples that came to me first, surely other civilizations have structures like this also. Thus, I am kind of skeptical about the conclusion that the entire structure was meant to be some abomination experiment site. Maybe it was meant for something else. Just like how Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was not meant to destroy the surrounding area, it was meant to generate power for the country. It broke down.

      The same goes for the devil. They sealed up the entire place and buried it in a mountain of gods. Maybe, after the fall of the First Empire, the machine broke down and Red Maw become dangerous so the devils who came to the island or were living on the island have to step in and sealed it up. We should take note that the devil did not destroy the entire thing, just sealed them up. Maybe it was a lack of means to safely dismantle the machine, maybe there were some other uses for the machine. We simply don’t know.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Pendatic Counter

      Their tech runs on aether they very explicitly made tools to run it. Vasanti used the rod to control her lift. You’re complaining that working in a nuclear powerplant requires an education and access cards…

      “The devils had left one last trap. If mortals dared to meddle with their seal[…]”

      The implication is that the devils are immortal. We’re told previously that they prey on men. They had empire capable of stealing human built shrines and relics from their native locations and relocating them in their entirety to London, I mean an island in the middle of nowhere. You make the classic mistake assuming the evil empire profiting from destruction of the local empire is good. Ask the Poles how that works out. You are assuming benevolence without evidence. They are quite possible for making the mess and ensuring it remains a mess.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. CantankerousBellerophan

        But that is my entire point! We do not yet know what the Devils are! Are they a bloodthirsty empire meddling in the affairs of all others? Are they old inhabitants of Vesper-before-the-cataclysm fighting off human encroachment the same way the People of the Dark fight off that of the Children of the Radiance? Are they just humans maligned for their ancestry? That last one seems unlikely given the new information of a mortal/immortal dichotomy between them (though I will note the existence of a dichotomy tells us little of the exact nature of the difference), but it is still possible. All we know is what the humans of this world call them.

        Except we also know that to be unhelpful. They call the People of the Dark dehumanizing slurs as a matter of course. We know for a fact that they are just as human as every other member of the cast, but that did not prevent them from being called Hollows and spoken of in the same sentences as ravenous beasts. The fact that Devils are called that (and I hesitate to do the same, as we do not know what they call themselves or what they think of the human appelation) tells us nothing of their character. What does tell us something is their known works, which for now consist only of a desperate attempt to seal away a doom caused by the arrogance of the previous empire.

        On a more pedantic note, I knew someone would point out the existence of the runed tools when I spoke of the implicit ableism of Antediluvian design. The problem with that argument is both the existence of the ones we know of and their nonexistence everywhere else. The few tools available were found in a single room, and apparently for manipulating only a few of the devices. But there were no such tools in the elevators, nor is there noted to be a large supply of them, nor any other way of getting around the place beyond having such a tool or the skill to replace it. Now perhaps the Devils might have destroyed such tools in their attempt to seal the place…except the existence of the known ones demonstrates this was not their policy. The tools we have were left in situ by the previous occupants of the tower, who clearly had access to the room in which they were found because they left a hungry god in there too. Their policy, it seems, was to leave the tower functionally operational but physically inaccessible, with the tools needed to maintain it in place should they ever return to use them.

        As a result, we may safely assume that the tools found were the only ones originally in existence. No receptacles for missing ones are noted on the elevators, after all, and even if Vasanti got up her elevator using one that only speaks to a severe limitation of access to the Aetherically disinclined rather than outright denial. It isn’t as if these tools act as access keys for trusted individuals, either. If even novice Sign users like Maryam can operate the machinery without one, it is clear no concerns were had for operational security. It would have been designed differently were the intent anything other than denying access to all but the elite of their society.


  5. Pendatic Counter

    So 14 trail takers left. I think we can safely count on Angharad, Song, Tristan, and Maryam to survive while Cozme, Brun, and possibly Isabel are future casualties. Cozme is obvious. Assuming Brun actually is the killer, he has to be dealt with in some fashion, Lan seems the most likely cause. But Song deciphering his contract and/or price or his betraying Angharad in some fashion also seem like decent odds. Angharad being forced to kill Isabel fits in perfectly tonally; but there’s also plenty of room for Song to have to kill Isabel to save Angharad.

    That leaves Zenzele, Yaretzi, Ferranda, Yong, Lan, Tupoc, and Shalini. These are all harder to call. We’ve been giving a dangling thread of Yaretzi being more than she appears. But Yaretzi is a diplomat by cover/ training and we were LITERALLY just introduced to the Watch’s diplomat core in this chapter. Yong made it to the Trail of the Weeds so he’s a bit more of a wild card. Lan’s relevance is tied to Brun; it’s quite possible she gets killed like Vanessa, Francho, or Ishaan before her as her purpose disappears. Zenzele and Ferranda feel like potential redshirts too. Ferranda’s knowledge and narrative purpose is mostly gone besides her conflict with Isabel. Zenzele could stick around but he’s being tied to Ferranda. Alternatively, pretty much any of those could be expected to survive and join the Watch as way out of their problems. This lets them exit the immediate story to reenter as useful allies/ previously introduced characters later.

    There’s 6 figures at the top of the page, I’m betting it’s Tristan, Angharad, Song, Maryam, Tupoc, and Shalini. The first four are obvious. Tupoc is just such a magnificent slippery bastard that it seems likely he’s going to survive and Angharad will be forced to work with him the Scholomance. Plus he’s recommend to the Watch while Yaretzi is an unknown. Alternatively, it seems unlikely his getting grabbed by the Red Maw mountain cultists in the third trial after making his deal in first would be great poetic justice. Meanwhile, Shalini is unattached, has no future prospects, plays wonderfully off song, and needs the watch’s help with a contract that is incredibly useful for the author. Angry gods after using the contract is great for narrative tension and moving the plot forward. Plus this grouping covers all the major ethnicities (Sacromonte, Peredur/Malani, Tianxi, Triglau, Aztlan, and Ramayan) while any of the others would repeat/lack one.


    1. Someperson

      While possible, I’d be fairly surprised if either Isabel or Yong died.

      Yong is the first person Tristan teamed up with, so he goes back a long way. Yong is currently quite pissed off at Tristan, and while there are ways to transition that into his dying and Tristan feeling bad about it, it seems more likely that this is setting up future conflict between them, which requires him alive. Also, Yong is established as very tough and probably at least in the top 3 fighters in the group alongside Angharad and Tupoc, and so far it does seem like this sort of thing helps with survivability in the story.

      Isabel is… actually pretty much the same thing, but for Angharad. She is the first person Angharad really teamed up with. Angharad has recently learned about her contract, which again spells ongoing conflict and drama that requires Isabel to be alive. And unlike Yong dying, I’m can’t see how Isabel dying takes the story in particularly interesting directions, since that basically just short changes the question of how Angharad should behave around her. And yes like Yong she is competent and dangerous, although in very different ways. The story also keeps telling us that she has no intention of going to the end of the trials and actually joining the watch, and yet the potential obstacles to her doing so keep getting removed.

      Cozme… could go either way. Tristan will definitely try to kill him and might well succeed (it is still just one of the first steps in a much longer revenge against House Cerdan) but there’s always a chance Cozme escapes into the Watch, complicating everything because now he is protected by the rules of the organization that Tristan is also a part of.

      I really want Lan to live but would not be very surprised if ultimately she didn’t.

      I think Zenzele and Brun currently have the lowest average life expectancies of anyone.

      Zenzele because he’s behaving recklessly and lacks much tying him down to the story right now. Pragmatically speaking, the odds are against him.

      Brun because it’s basically an open secret at this point that he’s the killer. And unlike Tupoc, I don’t think Brun has that peculiar brand of charisma required to *openly* be a conniving and backstabbing piece of filth and not get killed for it. It has also been established that Lan watches people in the night, so if Brun tries to kill again and Lan catches him, that will be a very good way to bring matters to a head.


      1. Reader in The Night

        >While possible, I’d be fairly surprised if either Isabel or Yong died.

        Yong is the first person Tristan teamed up with, so he goes back a long way. Yong is currently quite pissed off at Tristan, and while there are ways to transition that into his dying and Tristan feeling bad about it, it seems more likely that this is setting up future conflict between them, which requires him alive. Also, Yong is established as very tough and probably at least in the top 3 fighters in the group alongside Angharad and Tupoc, and so far it does seem like this sort of thing helps with survivability in the story.

        Isabel is… actually pretty much the same thing, but for Angharad. <

        Oh god. Yong is Tristan's resident Angharad, Isabel is Angharad's resident Tristan.


  6. Someperson

    “Under pale light he might have been ashamed of that brutal truth, but alone in the dark with the pain he felt not a flicker of guilt. It would wait until he no longer tasted blood in his mouth.”

    Hey look it’s a bit of a title drop.


  7. Someperson

    I appreciate the attention EE has put towards thinking through the whys and the wherefores of the whole Trial of Ruins setup.

    There are few stories that actually bother to think of a good reason for why an ancient temple complex filled with functioning traps and trials and contests would reasonably be a thing that exists.

    And likewise there are few stories that seriously attempt to justify why these places always seem rigged to collapse if you touch the wrong thing.

    But both of these things are honestly pretty logically answered in this situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Henry

    I notice a few times Tristan using Maryam (as opposed to Sarai) when referring to her. But I was under the impression this was meant to be a secret? When did the group start to refer to her by real name?


    1. Pendantic Counter

      It mostly is still a secret. It’s possible Yong heard her tell Tristan her real name, the three of them were running from the monster together but it’s not clear how close they were all standing during that conversation. Tristan still refers to her as Sarai when talking to others, most notably Brun and Song back in Chapter 32. Francho initially calls her ‘Sarai’ in this chapter when he needs her to make the sign.

      It looks like Tristan slips during the stress of both them almost dying and uses her real name. Francho uses it after. If that was intentional on EE’s part, and it likely was, it is good humanizing detail for Tristan.


  9. Abnaxis

    ‘“You sent men and women sworn to protect us right into the jaws of a god for a plan that did not even work,” Yong mildly replied. “Shut your fucking mouth, Tristan. I’ll drink if I feel like it.”’

    Yong. My man. Beyond everything else Tristan has told you, you literally had a discussion with him before this even started about how he narrowly escaped a lynching to be tortured in a back room, by the exact same “men and women” he sent into the trap. I’m pretty sure the Watchmen broke their oath first by almost any definition.


    1. lysDexicsUntie

      Not to mention, while he did use them as bait, Tristan also arranged backup/reinforcements and a method to ensure they escaped after.
      But after his own unit was used as bait, left to die, and pretty much obliterated, with no plans for retrieval or information on their actual purpose Yong is understandably sensitive about the topic.
      Even with differing circumstances Yong can’t help but equate it with the battle that pretty much broke him.
      What makes it worse is he is fond of Tristan so seeing even a trace of the person he hated most (the General he killed) in Tristan’s actions is painful and feels like a betrayal.
      Emotions aren’t always logical.


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