Counting Sheep – 9.3

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I prayed for the forces of Lugh to attack.  A timely assault, a good bombing.  Best if it hit the front lines, mostly stitched, but it would be an excuse to go, to run.

The Baron.

That meant the Duke was running the show on the Crown’s side.  It was the equivalent of me trying to deal with plague men instead of ordinary soldiers.  Elite, better at what they did, and very, very dangerous.

The Baron had less clout than the Duke did, but he had less reason to keep up appearances.  It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could take issue with someone and then slap them down.

Could we just run?  Bolt for safety?  I doubted it.  It would buy our survival in the short term, but end it in the long term.

I stayed where I was, waiting.  Off to the side, Jamie was peeling off the bandages and mask.

The camp was set where wagons with warbeasts could maneuver, at the crossroads of two major roads at the north end of Lugh.  The long streets provided little to nothing to break the wind as it swept through, stirring up the meager, wet snowflakes.  Actual human soldiers were few and far between, with the bulk of the army formed of stitched, with a small fraction being the handlers for those same stitched.

Dead wood made up the wagons, snow and darkness covered and dimmed any color in the surroundings.  The only lights were artificial ones, white, glaring, and flickering, aimed out toward the city.  The gathered soldiers didn’t talk and play cards, and were little different from the stitched.  It didn’t give me the sense that morale was low, so much as it gave me the sense that there wasn’t any emotion at all.  The living soldiers and handlers were little different from the stitched, especially with the hooded coats they wore.  They weren’t as vulnerable to the wet snow as the stitched were, but they were just as unwilling to get wet, given the climate.

A stark contrast to Mauer’s camp, which was all life, fire, and energy.

Jamie blew on his hands before rubbing them together, and gestured in the process, giving me a sidelong glance.  Plan.  Question.

Wary, I gestured back.

I didn’t have a better answer.  Nobles weren’t to be messed with, there weren’t many games I could play without risking my life and that of the Lambs.

Better to ground myself and be ready to play the more diplomatic games that came with any dealing with nobles.

They were people.  Very strange, unpredictable, powerful people, but people.  The usual truisms held.

He made his approach, and I had to steel myself.  The Baron Richmond didn’t look like a person at all.  Too tall, his features alien, but not in a way I could pin down.  His hair was too fine, perhaps, moving like gossamer rather than hair, moving in a very ethereal way in the wind.

He was dressed for battle, with a cape and pauldrons that wrapped around his upper body, concealing torso and arms, a helmet with gold tracing, and boots with the same.  The end of a scabbard was visible below the end of the cape.

He moved with a retinue, as if he wasn’t imposing enough on his own.  On either side of him were the twins.  His bastard sisters.  I had nothing against bastards, I was probably one myself, but for the nobles, those things mattered.  The Baron Richmond was disenfranchised by virtue of his lower status.  Too powerful to deal with the common people on any level, too low in status to wield any meaningful power.  The bastard twins were below him in status.  Were it not for their brother’s continued hard work, they might have found an early grave to assassins or other subtleties.

They were beautiful, I had to admit, wrapped in heavy coats, though theirs had albino wolf pelts around their otherwise bare shoulders, and were a stark, startling white.  Pale skin, pale fur, and white cloth that surrounded them and with the bare shoulders, suggested they weren’t even dressed beneath the overcoats.

They reminded me of Helen, if I imagined a Helen with more bloodlust, and the inability or an unwillingness to suppress it.  Their hands were all over their brother.

“Lambs,” Richmond said.

The alarm bells in my head were already ringing, but something about the look in Richmond’s eyes and voice struck at those bells with force enough to dash them to pieces.  The prey instinct, that part of my mind that unconsciously picked up on the little details, was screaming at me.


I wanted to hear gunshots behind me, an explosion, for bullets to start flying.  It would be reason enough to take leave.

“Lord Baron,” I said.  I bowed, being very mindful of position and decorum.  Not too far, not too exaggerated.  I couldn’t give him a reason.  He wants to hurt the Duke, and the Duke doesn’t dislike us.  If he can destroy us here and come up with any excuse at all, he will.

The prey instinct was probably picking up on signals from the Baron’s retinue.  The doctors that tended to the Baron and his sisters seemed to be bracing themselves, the sisters seemed too eager, their hands active as they each ran gloved fingers up and down the Baron’s arms, watching us with unblinking eyes.

The Baron spoke, “Straighten.  What are you doing here?”

“Errand for a friend of the Academy,” I said.  “We were looking for someone in the city when Mauer showed.  We tried to burn him alive, and he got away.  We caught wind of what he was doing, but by the time we had enough to report on, things were underway.”

“You failed to kill him,” the Baron said.  The word choice was weighty, ‘fail’ and ‘kill’, not emphasizing but putting them out there, leaving them to float about like snowflakes, for later perhaps, or to seize on at a later moment.

“My lord, we tried to position against Mauer while he escaped the fire and made his initial moves, we lost our teammates, and made our way in this direction, because we couldn’t reach him.  We ran into some plague men, picked off what we could between the two of us, Jamie got hurt, and that hobbled us further.  We came looking for you to report what we know about Mauer’s weapons.”

The Baron held up a finger.  I shut my mouth.

“Two things,” he said.  “You.  How hurt?”

“I’m recovering, my lord,” Jamie said.  “I’ve been treated, I’m unsteady on my feet, but I’m ready to serve the Crown if needed.”

The silence that lingered after Jamie’s statement was an ominous one.  The Baron still held his finger up.  He moved his arm, and both sisters pulled their hands away.

In an easy, practiced motion that suggested he had performed it several times a day since he was able, he drew his sword.  A saber, the blade patterned like damascus steel.

He pointed it at me.

“Second of all, when I say something, Lamb, I don’t expect to be ignored.  Mauers lived, I said, and you went on talking.”

“My apologies, my lord,” I said.  “I meant to expand on my answers, not to ignore you.”

“You failed to kill Mauer.  Because of that, he was able to gather people together under his banner, was it?  He is the man in charge?”

Multiple yes or no questions, and I couldn’t answer one without answering them all, I doubted the Baron Richmond would let me give a lengthy answer.

“Yes, my lord.”

He nodded, took one step to bridge the distance between us, and seized me by the hair.  When he lifted, my feet left the ground.

“They don’t value you very highly, Lamb,” he hissed in my ear.  “Not you.”

I fought to avoid struggling, even as it felt like my scalp might rip off.  A struggle could mean accidentally striking the man, which would earn me a less merciful death.

Not that mercy was what I wanted either.  Mercy was too close to peace, and ever since that run-in with Sub Rosa, I’d been terrified at the idea of a peaceful death.  It was worse than even a painful, fit-wracked death as the poison took my mind.

I wanted to accomplish something as I died, but I didn’t want the other Lambs to suffer for it.  If I struck the Baron, then Jamie would die too.

Even if it wasn’t my Jamie, I couldn’t let that happen.

I’d never felt more like a child, faced with authority, unable to act.  I hated it, and that hate stirred all of the anger and frustration of earlier, of Jamie, of Gordon and Lillian being missing and the other Lambs being so far away.

“I don’t like the look in your eyes,” the Baron said, his voice quiet.

“My ap-”

The sword pressed against my lips, and the blade stung me as it cut.  I felt hot blood run down my chin.

“Shh,” he said.

My head throbbed like it was being hit with a hammer from within, with the combined pain in my scalp and the tension.

He moved the sword away from my lips, and raised it to my eye.  I could see down the length of it to the guard.

I didn’t see it move so much as my ability to see it was destroyed in a flash of pain, red, and darkness, and the tears that ran down my cheek were overlarge, too thick.  Vitreous fluid.

My pain tolerance wasn’t helping as much as I might have liked.  The whole of my focus was on keeping my eye focused straight ahead, at the handle of the weapon.  The less I moved my eye, the less damage that would be done.  Not that I was sure it mattered.  A small sound left my lips, despite me.

“Shh, I said,” the Baron murmured, “A child unseeing and unheard, is it?”

“You’re having all of the fun,” one of the Twins said.  It was all I could do not to look at her.

“My prerogative as the older sibling,” the Baron said.  He turned his attention back to me.  “How deep do I need to push this blade in, Lamb, before you look at me with the respect that I am due?  With your one remaining eye, I mean?”

“My lord,” I said.  My voice quavered, and I would have dearly liked to call it an act, but there was so much at stake, and it was already jeopardized by the loss of one eye- the quaver was real.  He’d shaken me to my core.

Pain and quick thinking went hand in hand where Wyvern was concerned.  In the midst of this situation, hurting in a way that counted, I found the words I needed to give him, “My lord, I’m yours.”

He pulled the blade out of my eye, then dropped me.  I landed in a heap, hands and legs on the wet ground, staring with my one eye at the toes of his boots.  I could see the fluids slowly trickling free of the eye.  Blood and other humors.

I remained where I was, prostrate, arms and shoulders tense.

“You’re ours, I suppose,” the Baron said, his voice calm.  “I did promise my sisters some amusement.”

“Yes, my lord,” I said, without looking up.  My lips were wet with my own blood.

I wanted to fight, I wanted to run, and I knew I couldn’t do either.

Damn him, I could run and never stop or return, if it wasn’t for Jamie and the other Lambs.

“Here,” he said.  “Let’s see.”

The tip of the sword, freshly wiped clean, appeared in front of me.  It touched my chin, then changed angle, lifting my chin up and turning my face up toward him.

“Shall I take your other eye?” he asked.

“As you will, my lord,” I said.  Don’t.  Please don’t.  Please.

Maybe he saw the fear.  He smiled.

“I’ll leave it be.  But that comes with conditions.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“If you dare to replace that eye, I will have you killed.  Don’t think you can sneak behind my back.  I’ll be sure to have others check on you, and servants passing through will pay their visits.”

“Yes, my lord,” I said.

“If anyone asks what happened to that eye – and I’ll be sure to have my servants and friends ask, I want you to tell them that you lost it because you’re an imbecile, understand?  No jokes or sarcastic wit, no trickery, none of that… nonsense that you Lambs seem to busy yourself with, over killing men like Mauer.  Make them believe in the utter stupidity that it took to try to gloss over your failure to perform your duties and then dare to look me in the eye afterward.”

“Yes, my lord,” I said.  The sword went to its sheath, and my eye went to his boot.

I could hear the distant battle.  Gunshots, explosions, and the horns in the harbor.

“He’s ours, you said?” one of the twins asked.

“Did you mean it?” the other asked.

“I meant it,” the Baron said.  “Do what you will with him.  I’m taking the other one back to my tent to question.  Don’t kill him, my orders about his eye have to stand for at least a few years more.  Break him, or take him apart, so long as he can be unbroken and put back together.  The doctors are good enough that anything short of plunging a knife into his heart will be fine, I imagine.”


“What a shame that we have to share.  I had my hopes up that we could have one each.”

In the haze of pain, my head still throbbing, I drew a vague series of connections between the thought of the heart, what the twins were saying, the blood that still dripped and trickled from my eye, and the sound of battle.

“My lord,” I said.

“A brave lad, you are,” the Baron answered, so quick to utter the words that it was as if he was pouncing on me.  “Don’t tell me you dare to ask for mercy.”

“We know where the other Lambs might be, my lord.  Or the general area.  We can signal them.  But we need soldiers to get that far in.  I’d say they might have other information, but I’m not sure.  It would, at least…”

I hesitated.

“I’ve been a member of the courts long enough to know when someone is trying to manipulate me.”

“My lord, It would mean that your noble sisters, miladies, would not have to share.

“Let’s pretend you’re not spinning a web of deceit in front of me.  What do you want for this?  Again, little Lamb, I stress that we’re pretending you’re not being canny.”

He was speaking through grit teeth, not because of any emotion, but more as if he was holding himself back.  I could imagine him plunging that sword into my back, just for the satisfaction of the act.

And all of the stitched soldiers in the area would watch it happen with dead eyes, and the soldiers would look away and tell themselves that I’d done something to deserve it, because that made life easier to live.

The Crown and the Academy made monsters like this, and it made rules and hid things that kept these monsters from seeing true justice.

“Mercy, my lord.  Less, in any event, if you would be so kind.  I lost my best friend a year ago, and I just lost my eye.  I’m not a fighter, I’m a manipulator who seems to be surrounded more and more by people he can’t manipulate, and I manage, I do good work when I’m able, but the drugs I take, I pay for them in agony.  I’m so tired of hurting, my lord, please.”

He didn’t answer.

“Brother,” the Twins spoke in unison.

“I know what you’re going to say.  He’s play-acting, at least in part.  I hope you realize that, you two.”

“I realize,” one of the twins said.  The other added, “But he’s clever enough to make a good offer all the same.”

Something in the distance screeched.

“I think attempting to manipulate a noble warrants the worst sort of punishment,” the Baron said.  “The Duke of Francis thinks this child’s manipulative play is entertaining, and it reminds him of home… but when I’m reminded of home I want to spit.”

“Do you know what else warrants punishment, dear brother?” one twin asked.

Underestimating a noble.  If he thinks he can try something against us, exhausted, soaked through, bleeding and missing an eye, then why don’t we oblige him?  If he’s asking, he doesn’t even know what the two of us are.”

That last sentence sounded so amused that it alarmed me.  Despite myself, I looked up, shooting a look at the twins.

It was, perhaps, that glance that won the Baron over.  He smiled.

“You two, a regiment of soldiers, and the boy in cuffs.  If you two die despite that, I get your estates and holdings,” he said.

“They were yours to begin with, brother.”

He made a sound, dismissive.  “I’ll keep this one.  You take that one, let him try what he will, then round up the other Lambs if you can.”

The twins smiled.

“I can’t find the place on my own, my lord,” I said.  I looked at Jamie.  “I need him.”

The group turned their eyes to Jamie.

“You’re the one with memory,” the Baron said.

“Yes, my lord.  I know the area and the layout.  I remember where we last saw them and know the locations they might be in.”

“Then he stays, and you go,” the Baron said.

That caught me off guard.  With the pain and distraction, I wasn’t thinking straight, and I’d let myself fall into an obvious trap.  Baron Richmond wasn’t a great contender in the political arena, but he didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t have a ready answer, and I couldn’t have voiced it anyway, without it being more manipulation and weaker footing for me and for us.

I looked at Jamie.  Hesitating too long could-

“When he said we know where they are, my lord, he was telling the truth,” Jamie said.  “I know the landscape, but he knows the other Lambs better than I do.  He knows where they’ll be, inside that area, how they’ll hide, how to signal them.”

It was a perfect answer, better than any that came readily to my mind, prompt and undeniable.

The Baron smiled.  “As you wish.  Both of you in shackles, then.  You’ll accompany my sisters.  If something happens to them, then I’ll consider it your responsibility.  If one falls to a bullet, then every single orphan in that orphanage you call home, what is it called?”

“Lambsbridge, my lord,” Jamie said, without inflection.

The Baron dropped to a crouch, still looming over me.

He put out a hand, and the hand covered one side of my face.  The thumb settled in the ruin of my eyeball.

“I’ll feed those orphans bullets.  Try poison, I’ll answer with poison, violence with violence, a scratch with a slit throat.  If you give me cause to worry for my sister’s well being, then the sweet little doctor-in-training who you want to rescue will have to sit in a chair and watch her parents die, understand?  This game you’re playing with me?  It’s a high stakes one.  Everything and everyone you care about is now on the table.”

“Yes, my lord,” I said.  How had he known about Lillian?

A lot of little things didn’t add up in what he knew.  Select details, he seemed to have picked up on, like Jamie’s memory, and that we had a young lady doctor here, yet he had passed up chances to lord his knowledge of details about me or Jamie.

Because we were his eyes into seeing the group.

The letter we’d written to Mary.  Jamie had asked for my input, what to say, he had done the writing…

Everything took on a different tone, in light of that.

We were doomed in an entirely different way, if he had that one damning source of information.  I’d said so little and yet he had to know we knew about the situation with Mauer.  I’d let myself be caught in a lie from the start.

“I think you do understand,” he said, taking my sudden understanding of the current situation to be a very different sort of enlightenment.  “Give him the care he needs to keep from blacking out, but don’t give him new blood.  If he’s lightheaded and stupid because of the blood he lost, it’s his own fault.”

His doctors descended on me.

Gauze, bandage, scalpel, all in the vicinity of my face.  They didn’t even seem to care that I was alive, as they took turns taking away my eye, sealing it shut with something, and then putting bandage over top.  A leather strap crossed my head at a diagonal, holding the pad of bandage in place.

It took perhaps two minutes.  Then, in a moment, they were stepping away, picking up the bits, pieces, and tools, and retreating back into a position behind the Baron.

I picked myself up off the ground.  I was lightheaded, but not so much so that I couldn’t function.

The twins had closed the distance, and stood a matter of feet away.  One reached out to touch my face, around the bandage.

“Lead the way,” she said.

“Before I do, my lady,” I said, “My lord.  You should know that the Reverend Mauer has four primordial beasts.  He has more scattered around Lugh that are less viable.  We disposed of two of the worst ones.  The four-”

“I know how things stand,” the Baron interrupted me.  “This is not news to us.”

I closed my mouth.

“All you’ve told me is that you failed to kill two out of three of the damn things.  That kind of behavior makes it much harder to extend you any mercy or leniency at all.”

“Yes, my lord,” I said.  Then, as gracefully as I could, to make it clear I wasn’t snubbing him, I bowed, segued to turn my attention to the Twins, and obeyed their instruction.  Leading the way.

We were stopped at the perimeter, shackles affixed, my hands chained behind me with restraints that a Bruno couldn’t crack.  A small squadron of soldiers, without any orders that I could hear, fell into step behind our group.  The twins were on either side of Jamie and I.

Into the city, wading into war.  The twins weren’t even dressed for a fight, and they didn’t seem worried in the slightest.

The one to my left caught me by surprise, approaching in the blind spot left by my eyepatch, reaching out, and touching my head.  Her fingers seemed to find every point my scalp hurt most, where I’d been lifted by my hair.

Beside me, Jamie looked my way.  The twin to his right was touching him in a similar manner.  Very tactile creatures, they were.  Ones I had absolutely no read on at all.  All I knew about them was that they were low ranked nobles of the lowest caliber, known for their inclination for sadism, preying on the people in the fringe villages and towns where the Crown held less sway, giving the Crown control over those places using fear.

Swear yourselves to the Crown and offer yourself up to the Crown’s full control, and those nobles will never prey on you again, the unspoken promise seemed to be.

Bend the knee, stare at my boot with your one remaining eye, and perhaps we’ll leave you in one piece.  Perhaps.

Jamie’s eyes flicked to one side.  I followed his gaze, and looked behind him to his hand.

Calm, was the gesture.  Also the gesture for tranquility, for tranquilizers, for enemies who were vulnerable because their focus was weak.

None of those last points applied to me.  I was as focused as I’d ever been.

It was only in my attempt to calm myself down that I realized I was clenching my fists.  Stupid, an obvious tell.

I didn’t calm down, even breathing deep and turning my thoughts to the task.  The anger shifted to a cold anger instead of a hot rage.

I had no idea what my two enemies here were, exactly, but they’d alluded to being something I wouldn’t expect.  All the same, I knew what I had to do.

I was going to go back to Radham with all of the Lambs I could salvage.  That was priority number one.  In Radham, I was going to get a new eye.  That was the second priority.  To make that happen, I would have to kill or destroy the Baron Richmond, the Twins, and any witnesses.

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109 thoughts on “Counting Sheep – 9.3

  1. “It was worse than even a painful, fit-wracked death as the poison took my mind.”
    Sy’s eventual fate with use of the Wyvern formula? Or is there something here I’m missing?

    • Considering Sy is the stress-test for “just how much Wyvern can we pump into a kid, and for how long, before he breaks?” I’m pretty sure that he’s pretty sure that’s how it’s going to end.

      • They stopped using him as the stress test for Wyvern when he was drafted to become a Lamb. But, yes, that does seem to be his eventual fate, if he survives that long.

  2. “I would have to kill or destroy the Baron Richmond, the Twins, and any witnesses.”

    I think more than one commentor figured out this was coming. The question is: did the Duke set this up?

  3. Well, I do believe the Baron has picked on the wrong kid.

    Side note, guess who didn’t make the enemies roster? If you’re gonna be an enemy of the lambs at least get your own chapter first. That makes you reoccurring.

    Baron won’t reoccur.

    • To be fair, he already reccured. He _is_ reccuring, right now.
      It could be said that last time he wasn’t the Lambs’ enemy, per se, but I think that’s inaccurate. He argued for their execution as possible traitors, after all.

  4. Well, then. This… Come on, guys. This can’t end well, can it? Sy can’t just go around killing royalty without suffering some loss. Even if the Duke fully intends Sy to kill the Baron, he would probably do something to Sy because how dare he, right? Besides, the Duke does like the Baron.

    I am NOT at all excited about this arc and I don’t want to see how it ends.

    By the way, I still have whipped cream left, Wildbow :V

    I think the Baron would do more than slap someone down. Like, I don’t know, fucking stabbing a sword into someone’s eye. Holy shit, Sy… I feel terrible for him. He’s gotten hurt many times before, all right, but never in such a disabling manner, and in such a humiliating manner. I hope the Baron dies by the hand of the Twins, somehow. Let him experience true horror.

    • How did you come to the conclusion that the Duke likes the Baron? I got the opposite one. Sure, he groks every angle his cousin comes from… But, I don’t think that extends to liking him or his sister’s very much. At all.

      • From the Enemy chapter (sorry for wall of text ^^”)

        He didn’t have to busy himself with [the Twins], but the people who worked for him did, and it was so much trouble to go to for a pair of bastards.

        But he liked Richmond and so he tolerated them for the time being. When Richmond was near the time he would go back home, the Duke might bait the sisters into a trap, having them kill someone they shouldn’t, just to remove one of them from the equation and see how the other crumbled. If they were as incautious and mad enough to fall into the trap, the family would be better for their removal.

        The Baron was a snake of a man, and everything about him completed that particular picture. […] Richmond was as dangerous as a snake too, but that was all the more reason for the Duke to enjoy his company. He imagined it was how ordinary people saw the world. Didn’t life seem so much more like life with that breath of danger […] Yes, the risk was very low, but a natural wariness kept the mind sharper.

        This doesn’t mean the Duke wouldn’t want the Baron dead at some point in the near or distant future, but he really gave no indication of that. He explicitly states he likes the Baron, and he is thinking about the time when he returns home, not the time when he dies.

        • I don’t take that at face value, at all — his viewpoint is warped. The Duke also quite liked and appreciated Avis. For a given definition of “liked” and “appreciated”. And, that was fun for her… 😛 I think you have to push hard to get him to actively dislike you… if he’s even capable of it.

          But, I’d not say his “like” is akin to anybody else’s. And, that he mistakes what he thinks he feels. :\

        • I dunno, while he does like the Baron, this feels a lot like an Uriah Gambit to me. At the time he deployed them, they didn’t know anything about the primordials except that they existed; they could have been another spore plague or something else that simply can’t be killed with a sword. A threat that he might have neglected to mention to them, come to think of it, since they’re not in biochem warfare suits. This would be an extremely dangerous mission even if they were liable to instantly become Sy’s best friends.

          The thing is, I suspect the nobles are institutionally arrogant enough they’d assume betrayal or deliberate sabotage if one of them died in the normal course of events fighting normal people. But the primordials are well-known to be so dangerous just one of them killed twelve nobles. So this is a perfect chance.

      • I think the Duke doesn’t like Baron Richmond so much as what his presence does to his state of mind. In a hypothetical scenario where Sy disposed of the Baron and his creepy sisters in a way that’s subtle enough for him to not be executed on the spot, I could actually see the Duke replacing his late relative with Sy. Not as a noble but as a source of lingering danger around him. Just for the fun of it and the strain it would put Sy in.
        I really can’t imagine the Duke mourning the Baron like Sy did with Jamie… Or the Duke mourning at all, for that matter. D;

    • >Sy can’t just go around killing royalty without suffering some loss. Even if the Duke fully intends Sy to kill the Baron, he would probably do something to Sy because how dare he, right?

      They’re not Royals, they’re Nobles, and there’s a rather large difference between the two. As for what’s going to happen to him afterwards, I half expect that the Duke might decide that it’s time for Sy to get an upgrade or two. Without any painkillers. We know that he got his upgrades in multiple stages, after all.

    • Sy can go around killing royalty if he can blame it on someone else. And it’s not like there will be any witnesses left alive to disprove him.

        • I think the Lambs will be able to elude retaliation so long as they feed the nobles and witnesses to the primordials. Their capacity for killing nobles is well-known and it won’t be officially suspicious.

          On the other hand, if they die in any other way the Lambs are probably going to get it regardless of whether or not it’s actually their fault.

          • Hey: how is it the Lambs’ fault if the dolt didn’t pause to take in what kind of primordial was running loose? (He even said he knew exactly what he was facing — if that turns out officially wrong: his bad.) Tough nuts: he got in over his head and they killed him. Woe. *melodramatic expression of loss while tucking real events under the carpet*

            They have witnesses to back up that they tried to explain… and, got the torture-game experience before info could be exchanged. 😛

          • Yeah, that’s why it has to be primordials. Or alternately when Sy debriefs he opens with “I speak without fear of contradiction” and blames the primordials. Tricky part is that the Baron himself isn’t accompanying them and tops the target list. Unless he’s obliging enough to feed himself to a primordial (which actually might happen; they do apparently fly and he is exactly that stupid) the Lambs will have to arrange for his section of the front to be overrun.

        • Remember the last Enemies chapter and the Duke’s interaction with his doctors.

          He’s not wasteful. If he wants the Baron to die (which seems likely), it’s because the Baron and especially his sisters are so crazy that they’ve become a liability to the Crown.

          Sy isn’t like that. If he can kill the Baron without leaving any evidence, I think the Duke is likely to see that as evidence of his value, not as a reason to eliminate him. Obviously having the Duke’s attention at all has its own risks, but I don’t think he’d just kill Sy out of hand. (Not in the least because he has to recognize that this would probably cost him the entire Lambs project, which has so far been pretty useful.)

          He’s not the kind of guy to waste a valuable resource purely because of pride or propriety.

          • Honestly, the precedent seems the most problematic part. The Duke sparing the Lambs for killing someone he wanted killed- which they don’t seem to know, unless I’m recalling it wrongly- would be problematic at best. Royalty isn’t that far away from the nobility.

          • I’m inclined to say that he’ll probably let them get away with it even if he suspects so long as no one else suspects. But if other people think the Lambs were responsible he will find it necessary to make an example of them, to discourage other betrayals and to dispel official inquiries about his involvement.

        • The problem is, a primordial eating the Baron might end up being one of those bad things. What if they can mimic the traits of things they eat? And Sy feeds it three somethings with a whole lot of top-of-the-line, super useful traits? Sure it’d be a convenient way to off the nobles, but it might result in an even bigger problem. They should probably avoid giving all three to one and spreading them out among three or even four different primordials, to keep the chances of beneficial mutations as slim as possible.

          And if Sy accidentally makes a primordial go full singularity, the Duke may get super pissed at him. And that would be bad.

    • It really can’t end well, sy has no idea what the twins and the baron are actually capable of and he wants to kill them, probably his most formidable foes so far, and any witnesses in a way that doesn’t raise suspicion in the middle of a war zone with very large time constraints?

      You’d think the war zone part of it would be a plus but it’s really not, it’s just more elements sy doesn’t control and doesn’t have full information on.
      Plus Gordon’s half dead somewhere so even if he finds them he’s got himself, Jamie, Lilian and a hobbled Gordon to accomplish all of this, a team that struggled against the flipping fishmonger.

      • I think keeping some of the witnesses around would be beneficial. After all, they have seen Sy and Jaime try to report… and how that went. If the Baron is horribly wrong on a number of things, well… who’s to say he didn’t make up the damning letter others might have thought he spoke of just to have an excuse to play with the Lambs?

        And, got himself idiotically dead by Primordial because he put pleasure before business…

        • Well, the Duke read the letter himself. Also, any witnesses might have heard about the punishment and the nobles might require it to stick just to make a point even if the Baron gets himself killed stupidly.

          • Who says the Duke has read the letter? If it was taken directly to the Baron upon arriving in the area, nobody else probably knows what exactly is in it — just that it was from one set of Lambs to another.

            Or, if the Duke does know: why would he openly admit that? Play the game well enough with finesse and elan, and he’ll likely just bury it if he does find it.

            It’d be a shame to ruin such a lovely thing… while giving a few knowing pointers about form. 😉

      • Nah, the warzone helps a lot. The Lambs can’t kill the nobles head-on, but the warzone is swarming with things that can. Sy just needs to arrange for them to be caught in a major rebel counter-attack. This would be tricky if the nobles were less colossally arrogant, but they’re liable to stand and fight in scenarios where they can’t win.

        The hard part is that they want to keep the Duke from killing them in retaliation, and probably don’t want the containment perimeter to collapse entirely, so they probably can’t feed him to the primordials

  5. Can you say Typo? TYPO! Say it with me! TYPO! One more time, come on, let’s go! TYPO!

    leaving them to float about like snowflakes, for later perhaps, or to seize on at a later moment.
    -> Ahm. Same idea repeated twice?

    Mauers lived, I said, and you went on talking.
    -> Mauers? Mauer, perhaps.

    • they might have found an early grave to assassins

      Was this correct as written or did you mean “as assassins”? If you meant killed by assassins, I’d change the “to” to “from”.

      They were beautiful, I had to admit, wrapped in heavy coats, though theirs had albino wolf pelts around their otherwise bare shoulders, and were a stark, startling white. Pale skin, pale fur, and white cloth that surrounded them and with the bare shoulders, suggested they weren’t even dressed beneath the overcoats.

      I have no clear mental image of how they’re wearing these coats. Are the coats tied around their waists like people might tie a sweatshirt or something around their waist? I don’t know what’s going on here.

      Whew! Go, Sy, I love your ambitious take on life. Whether or not you succeed in that ambition…

      • The gathered soldiers didn’t talk and play cards, and were little different from the stitched. It didn’t give me the sense that morale was low, so much as it gave me the sense that there wasn’t any emotion at all. The living soldiers and handlers were little different from the stitched, especially with the hooded coats they wore.
        -x2 ‘little different from the stitched’.

      • What do you mean, “entirely not unexpected”? This is as inevitable as the sunrise (yes, Laplace, yes, this is inevitable), because the Wildbow Forumula (earlier said here by one of the readers) states “make the situation look bleak, make a narrow escape for most of the characters (survival rate decreases as the story progresses), make things unimaginable worse, repeat”.
        “Unexpected” is, say, a happy syllian ending. Both immortal, sane, ruling the world wisely.

        Tormenting or/and killing a Lamb or two? Sure, it has been too quiet lately, anyway -_o
        Having Sy’s mind transferred into that “ideal body” and then gone insane? Hmm, now that I think about it, it sounds like a perfect final arc… mad Sy, slaughtering the other Lambs left, right and center…
        …or, even better, swap Sy with Lillian in the above scenario.

        • OBJECTION

          bgure Jvyobj jbexf unq n unccl raqvat obgu sbe jung jnf yrsg bs gur jbeyq naq gur cebgntbavfg. Lrf, va obgu pnfrf, vg jnf abg “orpbzr xvat bs gur jbeyq, unir n ybg bs sevraqf, unir rirelguvat lbh rire jnagrq” raqvat, ohg vg jnf unccl rabhtu sbe uvz/ure gb or unccl. Naq vg jnf rabhtu sbe zbfg bs gur fheivivat punenpgref gb or unccl, be ng yrnfg gb xrrc yvivat nirentr, qrprag yvirf.

          Abj, V nz abg fnlvat Jvyobj jba’g oernx cnggrea: ur pna oernx cnggrea, naq ur qbrf oernx cnggrea. V nz whfg fnlvat, gurer vf ab cerqrprag sbe na haunccl raqvat.

          • All the same rot13, just in case.
            Crefbanyyl V qba’g pbafvqre gurfr raqvatf unccl. Ovggrefjrrg ng orfg: ng yrnfg bar cebgntbavfg fheivirq sbe fher (Jbez), naq gur bgure vf frrzvatyl nyvir, fubhyq gur rcvybthr or haqrefgbbq gung jnl. Gnlybe jnf frcnengrq sebz ure sevraqf, Tehr vf fhccbfrqyl qrnq, ab jnl guvf vf n unccl raqvat sbe zr. Jvyqobj zvtug unir svavfurq gur fgbel sne jbefr bs pbhefr, ohg abcr, gung vf abg n unccl raqvat, vs lbh nfx zr.

          • gungf jul V fnvq uncclvfu naq sbe gur fheivibef. Oynxr tbg jung ur hygvzngryl jnagrq, GUR JBEYQ FHEIVIRQ NAQ, NETHNOYL, ORPNZR N YVGYR ORGGRE, Gnlybe xvaqf tbg jung fur jnagrq ba gur ortvaavat, n unccl, abezny, yvsr, gur fheivibef nyzbfg havirefnyyl tbg orggre yvirf, gur raq bs gur jbeyq unf orra niregrq jvgu eryngviryl gb Qvanu’f cebcurpl fznyy pnfhnygvrf, naq uhznavgl erohvyqf fgebatre guna orsber.

  6. Wow. I look forwards to it. I also look forwards to Lillian’s reaction to his lost eye. I did not understand the revelation at the end about why the Baron knows things about the Lambs.

    • He knows the things because he read the letter. The letter also indicates that the Lambs knew about the primordials, which exposes Sy as lying to the Baron. Now that Sy knows that Baron knows, he knows that the gloves come off and Baron has to die.

  7. Academy good, makes cool things. Heal me.
    Crown bad, allows scumbags, kill he!

    Sy seems to be more of a Spear than a Firebrand.

    • Well what has the Crown ever contributed to the world? Heck as far as Sy is concerned the Nobles might even be in the way of that “Better brain” Sy dreams of

    • Nah… Sy finds out the Twins are nice people, egged on to madness by Richmond. He convinces them to kill Richmond, and join the Lambs, as they’d have more of an opportunity to fun, and the evergrowing roster would benefit from two high level experiments. (Given the breadth and depth of Noble Enhancements, it’s hard not to think of them as experiments.)

  8. Considering that I’ve been reading Wildbow for going on four years now, I thought I had reached a limit on being frightened by a chapter. I haven’t been scared since [Pact event]

    The Baron abruptly taking Sylvester’s eye for daring to look him in his got me.

  9. So, the Baron basically told Sy that if he ever sees him with more eyes than assholes, he’ll shove one into the other, right?

    • Nah, their thought process was more like “Oh noes, we are no capes. If capes are in charge, we won’t be! Gosh, what on earth shall we do…”
      Maybe not initially, but the guys in charge that Taylor met gave me that vibe. ^^

      • I think they were actually just trying to avoid normal people feeling like an oppressed underclass.

        Boivbhfyl, Qverpgbe Nyrknaqevn urefrys unq ab ernfba gb jbeel nobhg orvat qvfcynprq vs pncrf orpnzr qbzvanag. Naq Pnyqreba uvagrq gung gurl jrer npghnyyl cynaavat gb genafvgvba gb cnenuhzna tbireanapr, naq naljnl rirelguvat jnf frpbaqnel gb svtugvat Fpvba. Fb gur CEG jnf zber nobhg nyynlvat srnef bs n cnenuhzna gnxrbire guna npghnyyl fgbccvat bar. Ubjrire, guvf fpranevb vf cebonoyl jung fnvq srnef jrer nobhg.

        Nqqvgvbanyyl, tvira gung gurer’f na nygreangr havirefr ehyrq bire ol pncrf yrq ol n jbzna jrnevat oyhr, naq n Fvzhetu nggnpx ercbeg jvgu n yvfgrq gnetrg/pbafrdhrapr bs Havgrq Pncrf naq Jbzna va Oyhr, V nffhzr fur unq bcvavbaf ba gur fhowrpg. Naq abg cbfvgvir barf.

      • You’re right about Cauldron, but I was thinking about the PRT directors West, Wilkins and Armstrong from the Scarab arc. (Chapter 25.1)
        Gurl gbbx vffhr jvgu ehyrf naq erthyngvbaf naq orvat qvfborlrq zber guna nalguvat. Va na raqoevatre fvghngvba…

  10. I miss Helen and Mary. And I think Sy’s going to murder a bitch. Can’t wait until he meets up with Riley and they go on adventures throughout the multiverse.

  11. So, nobles.

    The Baron is seriously not impressing me here. He’s basically crippled a valuable asset for no reason; there aren’t that many one-eyed kids around and the Lambs are considerably less useful if they can be readily identified. That’s a bad idea in the middle of a war even if it didn’t provoke Sy to go full-on “No witnesses!” And why did he do it? I honestly can’t even tell. The provocation was apparently Sy’s response to “you failed to kill him” but Sy’s response was in fact directly relevant to that statement. And while it would have been very helpful for them to have killed Mauer, Jamie, Sy, Lilian, and crippled Gordon do not an assault team make, it wasn’t their actual mission, and they were under severe time pressure. As an intel unit, they could honestly have been forgiven for just returning to report, and they did seal a bunch of elites in a building full of explosives that they promptly lit on fire.

    As for the letter, I checked and it was written between chapters, but I’m not sure how it catches Sy in a lie. It apparently didn’t contain information about the primordials, so it can’t be that they didn’t have time to report in after discovering them. And Sy actually didn’t know about Mauer when they sent the letter; they assumed he was outside the city.

    If he’s doing it to hurt the Duke, that also makes very little sense because the Duke declared open season on three of the Lambs and presumably does not plan to get them back.

    Then there’s his response to the primordials. Unless they’re already dead and their ashes scattered to the winds, he doesn’t know exactly what he’s dealing with. That’s kind of their thing. I doubt he’s got even vague information on them, with the mess their communication networks must be; it would surprise me greatly if he knows they probably fly. Plus, you know, the Lambs killing two is pretty damn impressive.

    Hard to get a read on the Twins, though I am dubious of their intelligence given that they actually actively want to head out past the front lines and aren’t wearing biochem suits.

    “Underestimating a noble. If he thinks he can try something against us, exhausted, soaked through, bleeding and missing an eye, then why don’t we oblige him? If he’s asking, he doesn’t even know what the two of us are.”

    The Twins apparently believe they’re immune to manipulation, which in turn means they’re probably extremely susceptible. Maybe not the same way as normal people, but they aren’t omniscient and so can be tricked, and if they assume they can’t be manipulated they won’t be on guard. And again, whatever modifications they have they can’t possibly know they have an advantage over primordials, because primordials can be anything. Their enhancements are probably in some way connected to their duo thing, but it’s hard to say how.

    Overall, it seems like Jamie is the one they were instructed to retrieve; the Baron seems worried about his health and definitely isn’t required to retrieve Sy. Which in turn means that sending them out with Jamie is an incredibly stupid idea; the Duke wants him unharmed and doesn’t care if the others live or die, so they should ship him back to the field HQ and either go without him or leave the others to die.

    • Regarding the Baron, three possibilities immediately spring to mind:

      1) I’d say he probably has an ulterior motive we just haven’t seen yet, but considering he’s a noble it’s more like a guarantee.

      2) If open season was declared on all but one as-yet unstated Lamb, and Baron went open season on Sy… yeah. I’d say he’s risking Jamie as well, but considering the display the Duke put on against Avis I think being surrounded by three nobles might actually be the safest place for him, even in the middle of a warzone. Assuming Jamie is on the protected species list.

      3) He either really is that much of a stickler for proper recognition and caste displays, or he’s really, really good at pretending to be. Technically speaking, he stopped just short of harming Sy’s primary feature, and if anything beneficial at all came from it, it’s that Sy is now super focused to the point where even Jamie 2.0 isn’t throwing him off. If the Baron was aware of that dynamic and did this on purpose… that’d be horrifying.

      Regarding the Twins, I can only imagine they have some very, very abnormal modifications which they imagine will let them outmaneuver any human mind. If nothing else, they do seem able to communicate complex ideas without speaking, and possibly without even using gestures like the Lambs do.

  12. Yeah, this is probably going to escalate into “I have to murder the Duke because he suspects I murdered his cousin” to “I have to murder the Radham higher echelons because they know I killed the Duke” to “I have to murder the King/Queen because let’s face it, at this point I’m basically at war with the world.”

  13. So here we have a a bio-engineered soldier, betrayed by the leadership of his nation, losing an eye after being captured by a dangerous sociopath.

    Sy? Sy?! SYYYYYYY!

  14. I haven’t posted a comment in forever. But I think now’s the time.
    Go Sylvester. Even if the lambs were all to fall. At least they would fall doing something noble.

    Killing the blight that is the crown.

  15. This is reminding me of Pact when Oynxr syrrf gb Gbebagb naq raqf hc jvgu 3 nffvtazragf sebz Pbadhrfg.

    One of the bleakest and most unrelenting parts of the story, also one of my favorites.

    • With Jamie dead, Sy’s inability to fully accept unJamie, half the team gone and communications being intercepted, gordon dying, and lillian preparing to leave the lambs on her path to professorship, it certainly seems like we’re in the second act now.

      I stand by my theory that Sy will be well and truly alone to mark the beginning of the third.

  16. It seems to me that Sy has to contrive killing the Baron and the Twins at the same time, or maybe even the Baron first. If the Baron even has cause to worry, he might immediately send a runner off to deliver the message that sweet Mrs orphanage manager had to die, that Lillian gets to watch her parents die, etc. If Sy shows up with no Twins, things could go very bad.

  17. What was the lie?

    “If any of the rest of us write, we’re liable to get sentimental. Pen a letter to Mary? Let her know if she finishes her job early, she should come give us a hand. You can tell her we’ll do the same if she wants, but I don’t think this job is going to wrap up neat and tidy anytime soon.”

    That doesn’t signal to me anything traitorous regarding Mauer.

    • Exactly. The Baron jumped from “they’re in the area” to “they’re in the area while shit is starting” to “they’re in bed with Mauer” from that letter.

      With no actual proof.

      • Hopefully they don’t end up literally in bed with Mauer, although the extent of the ribbing Sy was getting from Gordon suggests that it might not be entirely off the cards.

  18. So, when it comes to the letter and why it is so damning, here is my interpretation:

    After talking to Drake and Emily, the Gang caught wind of the primordials. They decided to write to Mary for help and avoid the destruction of Lugh, rather than informing the Academy. I am not sure they would have had time to inform the Academy given how quickly everything progressed, but that is beyond the point. The Lambs should have informed the Academy and they did not. This shows that the Lambs allegiance isn’t towards the Crown (from the view of the Crown, anyway), and it might also irk our bloodthirsty Baron here.

    Furthermore, Sy lied, saying something among the lines of “as soon as we had enough to report on, things were under way”. They wrote to Mary BEFORE anything was under way.

    Finally, Sy said that he went to the Baron to report to him. Considering the above, that comes off as a blatant lie.

    • The thing is, here’s what the Duke said when he got the letter:

      He voiced his thoughts aloud. “The Lambs are in the city, on another errand. Interesting that they think their mission important enough to ask for help from another team on another job, but they didn’t think to tell their superiors. Or the Crown.”

      “Did they know about the primordials?” Richmond asked.

      “I imagine they did.

      So clearly the letter didn’t actually say they knew about the primordials. Easy enough to simply bluff and say they caught wind that something was up but didn’t realize it involved primordials and didn’t think it was serious enough to risk blowing their cover by contacting the Academy directly.

      For that matter the Duke might accept the truth: they didn’t submit an official report because they believed the other primordials were too underdeveloped to deploy and they planned to destroy them on their own because if they alerted the Academy then they’d burn the entire city while the Lambs could do it with limited collateral damage.

      • Well, that’s the thing. The Academy is supposed to burn the city. The Duke might not want that for whatever reason (did you see how giddy he was? Of course he wants to), but that’s what he is supposed to do. The Lambs are going against protocol.

        • Yes, but there’s the timing of that letter: the Lambs can very easily explain the “need more Lambs” thing by the sheer fact the place was gearing up for something… which made finding “Candida” a rather more difficult prospect then they had thought it would be… due to Gordon’s condition also depleting more rapidly than expected. This isn’t “alert the Crown” levels. By the time they learn what is stirring the April, the Lambs can, quite honestly, say they saw the signs that the Crown was already moving. And, they did their bit under the radar… until Dr Mass Production, they were doing well. 😛

          • Strictly speaking, they sent the letter at the exact point in time when they should have alerted the Crown by standard protocol. They knew primordials were in the city and had arranged to destroy one but hadn’t yet learned the Academy had been alerted already. They could, however, plausibly lie about the timing and claim they sent the letter then hit Emily’s team and moved on Mauer immediately, so long as the soldiers (who have orders for a massacre) don’t capture any of the very few people who know better alive.

            I suspect they might actually be able to get away with the truth, though. From what they knew when they sent the letter it appeared plausible they could locate and destroy all of the primordials, and the Academy wouldn’t want to burn a city they don’t have to because cities are expensive. They had reason to believe that all the primordials were months away from being an immediate threat until far too late to warn anyone. The Duke probably doesn’t agree with that decision, but likely wouldn’t have them executed over making it.

        • That seems like a colossal screw-up on Jamie’s part, to go from Sy’s, “Hey, send a letter to Mary telling her that when she’s done she should come help us out” to apparently saying, “Hey, Mary, there are one or more primordials in this city so come help us destroy them before the Crown finds out.”

          Maybe it’s because Jamie is new, or trying to get them in trouble, or something, but Jamie should have been able to write a letter to Mary asking for help without point blank saying something that would be horribly incriminating if anyone else read the letter.

  19. Playing Crown politics with the Baron? This will either end perfectly, or (more likely) it will end horribly, even by Twig standards.

    Given that Sy’s already running low on Wyvern, I fully expect him to slip up and get the Lambs, everyone they care about, and anyone who sold them pierogi tortured to death, all while he’s forced to watch with his replacement eye.

  20. It seems I was wrong on both how Sy would react to the Baron and who he was searching for.

    I’d call Sy Wrong-Eye, but I don’t know how many people would get the joke.

    • Most of the people here are somewhat story savvy. I drop obscure references left and right, and there’s always someone to catch em.

      And I am here to catch yours. Its even funnier because Sy obeys obvious villains in the hope of backstabbing em and creating a better world sometimes, despite the damage following them does.

        • I just activate notifications so that I notice when replies get made to my comments… or when any new commentts are made to chapters I’ve read, but thats just me being crazy.

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