In Sheep’s Clothing – 10.17

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My grip on Lainie’s wrist was so tight that when she crashed to the ground, I could see the imprint of my hand, distinct and white, the skin around the finger-marks crimson.  I’d been pulling her along so we could get to the church as quickly as possible, and she’d hit her limit, stumbling, then being pulled down to the road, skinning her knees through her stockings.

Ahead of us, Mary and Chance remained where they were, looking back.

“Lainie?” Chance asked.

I looked from Lainie to the end of the street.  The largest church hadn’t been far from the train station.  That little detail mattered.

I was tense, and all of the emotions I’d been bundling up until now were binding together in that tension.  I had to hold back to keep from lashing out at Lainie.  I’d studied her as an individual, I’d known that she couldn’t run this far or this fast, that she didn’t have it in her to face the situations we were dragging her through.  I knew it wasn’t fair, and I wanted to tear into her and shout her down all the same.  I wanted to backhand her and drive some sense into her, or draw the gun and use it to provide incentive.

There were too many important things hinging on this.  We were close and a matter of seconds could make things very, very difficult.

“Please stand up, Lainie,” I said, and the soft, gentle, almost pleading tone I gave my words was as great a job of acting as I’d ever done.

“I can’t,” she said, between gasps for breath.  The words were almost a mewl.  If I hadn’t been expecting words, I might have interpreted it as a whimpering sound.  She wouldn’t look up at me.

“You can, and you have to,” I said, very patiently.  “Right now we’re about a ten minute walk or a five minute run from the train station, the same train station that the aristocrats and some nobles just left.  There’s a chance, a real one, that some people might turn the corner at the end of the street up there.  People who want to keep their distance from the noble, men with guns scouting the area to protect the people they’re assigned to guard, people assigned tasks or told to prepare accommodations.  If they turn the corner and see us, it’s going to make things very complicated.”

“I can’t,” she said, again.  There was a kind of defeat to the words.  The mewl was gone.  She was working on catching her breath, and the emotion was slipping away from her words.

I’d predicted she would be a problem.  I’d expected hysteria, not catatonia.  I suspected I had a very good idea of what her family and circle of friends were like, now.

Every second counted.

“Earlier, you were excited to be a part of this.  When all of this is done, with luck, you’re going to go back to your friends and family.  A bit wiser in what goes on in the background, maybe, more grown up in an unhappy sense,” I said.

I had no indication she was even listening to me at this point.

I dropped down so I sat on my heels.  I couldn’t quite mirror her posture or actions to get more on her level and find a way to communicate with body language, but being closer to her would help.

“Do you want this to be something you look back on with shame?  A black mark, something that sits with you for years, every time you face a bad situation?  The omnipresent knowledge that you broke the first time it really counted?  Because that’s a lie, and I want you to help me prove that’s a lie,” I said.  “I read people.  I’ve read you, and I know you have it in you.”

A lie.

“Don’t fall into this trap of fear and self-doubt,” I urged her.

There wasn’t a response.  No sound, no movement.

I was so focused on her I missed the first part of what Mary said.

“…how, Chance?”

“I’ve never seen her like this,” I heard Chance say.

I looked up at Mary.  “Go ahead.  Scout the area.”

“Are you sure?” Mary asked me.

“No,” I said.  I put a hand on my knee for balance, and I made a gesture.  “But it’s better than all four of us being out here.”

Agree, was her gestured response.  She wasn’t agreeing to my statement.  She was simply accepting the fact that I might have to do something Chance wouldn’t want to see.

She and Chance ran.

I turned to Lainie, studying her, watching for the slightest movement, of head or fingertip.  I looked at her clothes, trying to see if there wasn’t some clue to her personality that would give me a way in.

“At this point,” Gordon murmured in my ear, “You want to consider putting a bullet in her.”

The blunt, simple solution.

You always were a ruthless bastard deep down inside, Gordon, I thought.  When they put your brain together, how did they do it?  Did they include someone who was very good and enthusiastic about hurting others?  Someone you could tap into when the situation called for it, who lurked deep inside you the rest of the time, half-asleep?

Who else was there to ask?  Lillian?  She wasn’t talking to me.  A mental block was firmly in place, making it too difficult for me to pull a complete profile on her together, maybe.  Or I simply didn’t want to think too much about Lillian.

Jamie, then.  In the absence of Lillian, Jamie was perhaps the most moral of the Lambs.  I supposed it was because he remembered everything, including the blood on his hands.  It made for quite a burden, I imagined.

I closed my eyes a moment, thinking about him, that feeling when he lurked, as if he was always in the corner of my vision, not quite the new Jamie or the old, haunting me as he straddled the line between the two.  It was a recurring theme that came with him.  That feeling that he was always there.  When I had a question, he had an answer.

But he wasn’t here, and I wasn’t sure he would be, after.  With Gordon gone, Jamie was the one Lamb who depended most on his treatments to continue functioning.  Without going in and reorganizing his memories, depositing them and taking them back in, or whatever it was he did, he would fly swiftly towards a breaking point.  The result would probably be more horrific than the simple blank slate that had followed the loss of my best friend.

That was likely why I hadn’t jumped straight to Jamie, and why he didn’t emerge as frequently as some of the others might.  Jamie’s presence went hand in hand with a feeling of loneliness and loss.  It was hard to bear for long periods of time.  It left me feeling like I needed to get away, to surface for air, but it wasn’t air I gasped for.

In my mind’s eye, so vivid he was almost there, he crouched beside me.

I need to figure out how to get through to her.  I need a counterpoint to what Gordon is saying.

I heard Jamie’s matter-of-fact voice.  “What you’re telling her, about how she’d regret this for a long time?  That it would be a black stain in her memories, coloring things for a long time?  You might as well have been talking to yourself, Sy.  You hate hurting the young.”

Damn it.

“There’s a reason you didn’t immediately take Gordon’s suggestion.  You don’t want to be that person.  Not if it isn’t absolutely necessary.”

There was another reason I hadn’t jumped to thinking about Jamie.  His presence tended to coincide with uncomfortably penetrating analyses of myself.

I stared at the top of Lainie’s head.  I waited, thinking fast, half of my thoughts preoccupied with the Baron and the upcoming confrontation.  I had to find a way to disable the man, and that was a hard thing to do.  I needed to get the drop on him, if that was even possible.

But I couldn’t do that without leaving Lainie behind.  Leaving her behind would mean someone could grill her and find out about Mary.

I saw as her fingers moved, lifting off of the road, then curled up, her hands twisting so she could make them into fists, the sides of each hand still against the ground to help hold her head and shoulders up.

It was movement, a suggestion she was interacting with the outside world.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I could see her tense.

“No, I’m not apologizing because I’m about to hurt you,” I said.  “I’m sorry because I pushed you too hard.”

I could see her relax.

“This is almost over,” I said.  “You don’t even need to do or see or say anything.  You just need to get somewhere safe.  Then this wraps up, I’ll make all the necessary threats to ensure you won’t say a word about my existence or my friend’s, and you go back to your family.”

Slowly, I saw her work up the ability to move again.  She wouldn’t look at me, and she moved at a glacial pace.

“I don’t-” she started, hesitating.

A part of me wanted to scream.  A calmer part of me was already prepared for the hesitation.  I finished her thought, touching her arm and hand, helping her to complete the movement with gentle assistance while I helped her continue her thought by talking it through.  “You’ve never seen someone get hurt before, let alone killed.”

She shook her head from side to side, an agreement.

“You’re right.  I’ve always worked to bury my thoughts about the people that people like the Baron Richmond hurt and torture.  You hear about the monsters as a kid and you wonder why people don’t do anything.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Please move faster.

“Ho!” the cry came from the far end of the street, not far from the train station.

A horrible fear gripped me.

It was a soldier with a uniform that screamed ‘elite’, and that soldier had a dozen people with him.

Three of those people were nobles, an adult and two adolescents.  A fourth was an experiment, head and shoulders above the adult, who was a good eight feet tall, at my best estimation.  The experiment looked to be all morbid, tumorous flesh, packed into a shell of well-tended cast iron, the flesh throbbing against the shell as if the entire beast was made up of giant hearts.  Digitigrade legs and a tail all styled after a bull’s, three sculpted breasts, two long, feminine arms, and a head, overlarge, gold rather than iron, with two faces, sculpted with four twisting horns.  One had a mouth that yawned open, the other a serene expression.  The imagery couldn’t be mistaken.  The noble had a pet, a vat-grown devil.

I lightly tugged on Lainie’s wrist.  I felt her resistance, and knew she was frozen in fear.  There would be no moving her, and I wasn’t about to leave her behind to tell the noble about Mary.

This is where it all ends, I thought.

The adult noble was the obese one I had seen before.  His body type could only be described as a cylinder.  Rolls of his chin disappeared beneath a huge ruffled collar, and his clothes formed a kind of drape that extended to his ankles, with war medals on his chest.  He’d chosen to look like this, or someone had chosen this aesthetic, and I immediately had an impression why.  He was a giant of a man, all size, and he radiated sheer, undeniable power.  He was a titan that I suspected the Duke of Francis would have felt small beside, decorated with alabaster skin and hair that was parted in the middle and curled at the sides, fine and like spun gold.

Yet for all that he made me think of an ogre, his eyes looked like they belonged on a fey trickster.  Almond-shaped, bright blue, and animated, they immediately locked onto me, supposedly a Warrick local, instead of on Lainie.

The boy in the noble’s company was his son, or some close relative.  The resemblance was uncanny, but the boy was not yet a giant.  Five times my size, easily, but not yet of his father’s height.  His eyes didn’t seem nearly so sharp.  He wore a vest and jacket with a long coat.

And the young lady… about my age, and undoubtedly a noble, was leaner than her guardian and relative.  Statuesque, with the man’s fey glittering eyes, yet with none of the apparent humor behind them.  I wanted to despise her by default, to hate her, and I couldn’t find a flaw to pick at, to latch on to.  Not overdone, but not so indistinct as to be lost amid all of the other worked beauties.  Her features were soft, her almond eyes green and cold.  Her costume, and I didn’t have a word for it otherwise, was black, half-dress and half-suit, with calf-length leather boots and a fine leather falconer’s glove on her right hand, though she had no bird with her.  She stood with one hand on her hip, body askew, glove hanging at one side, and she made it look natural.  Raven hair hung down one side of her head, exposing only the one ear, which had black jewels set into it.

She looked like the sort of noble I might have wanted to be, had I been one.  Whoever had decided on her aesthetic had made good choices, ones that I suspected made a great deal of sense, with attractiveness as a byproduct.  I suspected it all flowed seamlessly, in a way that made me think of the artistry behind Helen.  That design was almost enough to distract me from the situation.  The situation was bad.

I couldn’t run.  I knew it instinctively.  The devil would be on our heels.  If I tried, it would mean leaving Lainie.

I dropped to my knees.  Lainie was already halfway there.  Her head bowed as mine did.

“Elaine Dexter?” the adult spoke.  His voice was exactly as one might expect, as if the skies had opened and a higher power had spoken, words reverberating as if they rattled the walls.  The fact that the syllables were as deep and slow as they were made his voice sound distorted, akin to how I’d once heard an altered baby who had a crying scream of an adult.

“Yes, Lord Infante,” Lainie said.

Infante.  That put this man around the ninth, tenth, or eleventh place from the throne, though it was always hard to tell, with new births and deaths that weren’t spoken of.  My memory of these things was bad to begin with, but I thought of two possibilities for who he might be.  Either the Lord King’s second grandchild or husband to the youngest child of the king.

His voice boomed, “I had a glance of you once, when you were still on your mother’s breast.  You became frightened at my voice and squawked, interrupting me.”

“I-I have heard the story, Lord Infante.  I am dearly sorry.”

He laughed, and I imagined, had he had a normal voice, it might have sounded warm.

“Not to worry, dear child.  I have a good recollection for people and events, and I don’t use it for nursing grudges.  Stand, now.  Look me in the eye.  Let me see how you’ve grown.

“Yes, Lord Infante.”  Lainie did as she’d been asked.  I remained kneeling.

“You’re hurt.”

“Yes, Lord Infante.”

“What happened?”

“An incident, Lord Infante.  The locals have monsters assigned to watch each family, the monsters became riled.  The- the-”

She stuttered.  It was as if the man was so intense that weak things simply crumbled around him, and Lainie wasn’t feeling strong.

“Alright, child, alright.  Shush,” the man spoke.  “Now tell me, who is this rapscallion that is keeping you company?”

I tensed.

“Raps- my Lord Infante, I-”

“Shush, I told you, there’s no need to worry.  You’re keeping the company of someone who has had droplets of blood fall on him from above, landing on his back, with very full pockets and clothes that belonged to someone else.  Any of these things might be fine on their own, but they add up to quite a picture.”

I wondered if I could stab Lainie and run.

“Boy.  Stand.”

If I was going to run, it had to be now.

I didn’t.

“Yes, Lord Infante,” I said, standing.  I was very aware of how small I was compared to even the shortest of the nobles present, the falconer.

“You’re a killer,” he said.

“Yes, Lord Infante,” I said.  I was growing to hate the words ‘Lord Infante’, but I was willing to take Lainie’s cue on this and say it every time I spoke, just to be safe.

My admission of being a killer had the noble son’s piggish eyes and the Falconer’s green eyes fixed on me.  They were, at the risk of overstating it, mildly interested now.

“Honest, aren’t you?”

“I’m not usually, but here, yes, Lord Infante.  If I didn’t tell you, I think miss Elaine Dexter here might.  With all respect due to her, she is having a very poor day.  With a man of your… stature, I feel it would be bad form to be caught in a lie.”

“Very wise, very wise.  You don’t strike me as a very poor killer, boy.  Are you an exceptional one?”

“I’m trying to be, Lord Infante.  Today will decide it one way or the other.”

“Hmm.  Trying is a weak word.  Who is supposed to die at your hand today?”

“The Baron Richmond, Lord Infante.”

That actually seemed to surprise the man.  He stopped for a moment, and then let loose a laugh so loud I worried the Baron would hear it, some distance away.  It made my ears ring.

“At the poor man’s engagement announcement?  I’d thought you might be one of his, hired to pick off some lesser noble.  I was going to ask you which one, and buy you off if it was one I wanted to keep around.  But this?  This is something different.”

“Yes, Lord Infante.”

“Who hired-  No, no, I don’t imagine anyone hired you.  You look wrung-out enough that you might have abandoned the job if it was simply about money, and you’re too young to understand money as it stands.  This is personal.”

I swallowed.

“Why the Baron?  No, hold, don’t tell me why.  I don’t want to know your petty reasons, and I can imagine what the answer would be.  Let’s see if you have an answer for me.  This event, this narcissistic cock-wag of a show, what is he doing it for?”

I paused, thinking.

“If you take more time than it takes me to draw a breath to give me an answer, boy, I will personally twist you into two pieces and hand you over to my elite guard with instructions to put each half in a different outhouse.”

“Lord Infante, he hoped to lure in others that stand between him and the throne.  In the recent skirmish in Lugh, he found out about guns designed to kill nobles, and secured an alliance with the man who made them.  The Duke of Francis-”

“Is left with half of a brain.  A vegetable in a pretty package.  I’m aware.  This neatly explains how that came about.  The attack is arranged for later, then?”

“I’m not sure he anticipates it for sure, Lord Infante,” I said.  It was hard to breathe around the man.  I was caught now between responding as fast and concisely as I could and being crushed by his voice, while being tense and prepared to bolt for it in some dim attempt to survive if he saw reason to hurt me.  “He might hope it will happen, but if it doesn’t, then he still gets to meet and greet his peers and know they’ll likely die in the months to come, as the guns see use.”

I was leaving Candida Gage out of this on purpose.

The man’s silence was imposing.  Beside me, Lainie drew in a shuddering breath.

“Will I find reason to regret letting you go?” the man asked me.  “Be honest.”

“Lord Infante, I can’t say for sure.  But I know one thing for certain.  There isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t think the world is a better place with the Baron Richmond removed from it.”

There was a momentary pause.  Something felt wrong.  I shifted my weight, ready to bolt-

The Infante’s son lunged.  As fast as any Ghost, despite his mass.  His hand hit me like a cannonball.  I flew back, and I jerked short, as his fingers had grabbed my shirt-front.  Lainie shrieked.

“The sound you made when you were a small child was nearly the same, Elaine Dexter,” the Infante spoke.  “Boy, you almost had me, and then you had to lie to me.”

I didn’t fight.  I knew it wasn’t a use.  I had my gun tucked into my pants behind my shirt, but I doubted it would hurt the son of the Infante.  It wasn’t worth trying.

“You’ll come with me,” he said.  “You’ll work for me.  Perhaps I’ll alter you.  Elaine Dexter, as well.  For working willingly beside someone like this, who would hurt a noble, I can’t allow you to return to your parents.”

“No!  Lord Infante!”

I couldn’t breathe with the fat fist clutching my collar.

Mary was going to either try and fail to complete the mission, and the Lambs would be splintered, or she was going to miss the window of opportunity and come looking for me, before returning to the others.

Perhaps that would be best.  She wouldn’t find me.  Things wouldn’t lead back to her, hopefully.  She could return to a more normal life as a Lamb.

No?” the Infante asked.

“He held me hostage, Lord Infante.”

I managed a nod.

“Ah, the scoundrel agrees, then.  But you could have said no, Elaine,” the Infante said.  “You could have willingly gone to the grave rather than aid in a plot that put a noble’s mortal life at risk.  Even a lesser man like the Baron Richmond is a higher value life than yours, you can’t deny that.  You’ve wronged the natural order.  That can’t go unanswered.”

I couldn’t speak.  Fabric threatened to tear.  I suspected that I would die the moment it did, because he would seize my actual throat instead, and crush it like a small child might squeeze gruel between his fingers.

I reached down as far as I was able, and I reached for my boot.  Between the fingertip of my middle finger and the fingernail of my index finger, I caught the very pommel of the knife I’d slipped within.  I hauled it out, moving my hand to catch the length of the handle against the base of my hand, and I had a grip on the knife a moment later.

The Infante’s son’s eyes moved down, looking.  He smirked.

The knife plunged, digging into my thigh.  I let go of it, letting it drop to the road, the clatter of it drawing a small amount of attention.

My vision was going black.  I’d already been tired, hurt, and exhausted, and it wasn’t taking much.

Touching my fingertips to the blood, I brought one arm up, and I drew on the sleeve.


The darkness threatened to overwhelm me.

“Let him breathe.”

I was released.  I coughed, sputtering, and dropped to my knees, where I coughed more.

“You don’t believe you lied?” the Infante asked.

I shook my head.  I wondered if the lack of a proper answer would end me.

“The Baron doesn’t have anyone who cares about his existence?  You forget about his sister.”

“Dead, Lord Infante.”

“One is, I know, but the other- ah.”

I nodded in agreement with his realization.


“Yes, Lord Infante.  I did it alone, using my hostage and a hostage doctor dressed up as an experiment.  Elaine can confirm.”

I didn’t see the look or his indication for Elaine to speak, but I heard her voice.  “He did, Lord Infante.  In the town hall.  He killed the Baron’s doctor, and then the Twin.  U- used a knife, and fire, and gas.  The body burned.  The Baron doesn’t know, we don’t think.”

She was talking too much, making what was largely truth sound like a lie.

“Then I sincerely apologize, little scoundrel.  I gave the order too quickly.  I suppose I should send you off before I make another mistake.  Go, and fulfill this noble goal to make this world a better place by removing one more heartbeat from it.”

It put a bitter taste in my mouth, to hear my goal described as noble.  Worse, it almost felt as though one of the few redeeming parts of this task I’d set for myself had been stripped away.  The fact that it was for Lillian remained, but it no longer felt like the first mission I’d set for myself.  It felt like I was doing the Infante’s bidding.

I almost turned to go, and then I glanced at Lainie.

“I think I’ll keep her with me,” the Infante said.  “She’s young, and she hasn’t yet had the modifications necessary to be in my company for extended periods of time, but I’ll find other things to do with her.  As I said, she committed a wrong.  I may consent to the Baron’s death, but it’s not for her to say.”

I could see the emotions fly through Lainie’s eyes.  The terror, the defeat, and then renewed terror as the scope of her fate sank in.

“Lord Infante,” I said.

“I already know what you’re going to ask,” the man said.

“I would like her assistance in completing the remainder of my goal, if you would be willing, my Lord.”

I’d hoped never to utter the words ‘my Lord’ again.

“Do you not think she deserves punishment?” the giant asked me in his heavy voice.

“Lord Infante,” I said, glancing at Lainie, “I think the punishment will come about on its own, with no need of your help or mine.”

She looked between me and the Infante, clearly confused.  Her whole being was focused on the present and her current fate.  She couldn’t see how things unfolded from here.

“Shall we make a bet of it?” the Infante asked.  “If I revisit Elaine Dexter and her family some time from now, and I don’t think the punishment sufficed, I’ll remedy things then.”

“I think that is fair judgment, Lord Infante,” I said.

He nodded.  “Then go about your business.  I came this way to visit the Church, which I found curious, and to see what sort of town a little man like this Baron might have wrought.”

“Then we have the same destination, my Lord,” I said.

“The Baron is there?” the Infante asked, his eyebrows raising.  “Then I will skip the church for now.  I expect I’ll find your body or the Baron’s there when we come back this way?”

“I hope for the latter, Lord Infante,” I said.  “But yes, I would expect so.”

He smiled.

His son and the girl gave me sideways glances as they and the Lord carried on past Lainie and me.

The moment his back was to me, I bolted, running, once again with Lainie’s wrist in my grip.  There was no resistance from her.  Getting away from the Infante was excuse enough to move and move quickly.  Each running footstep made the stab wound on my leg throb.

“What-” Lainie started.  She stumbled, as if moving and speaking required too much coordination.  She was still in shock.  “What- punishment?”

Punishment.  The Infante had laid it out clearly enough.  It would sink in, once she thought about it.  If he visited her family and found that she hadn’t faced grim enough measures, then he would handle it himself with her entire family at stake.  Perhaps he would check in and retaliate against her family, a scene for her to find or later hear about, and have that be the punishment.

No.  She couldn’t go home again.  She couldn’t look back.  She couldn’t reach out.  It would either be the catalyst that saw her and her family utterly destroyed, or it would mean finding out things that would destroy her.  Both were equally possible.

I would have to find a way to tell her, but that time wasn’t now.  I was approaching the church.  My fingertips went out to brush wood where a fresh mark had been carved.  I changed direction.

Now that we were close enough, I could hear shouts.  I could make out the words.

“…a shadow!  A flash of dark hair at the window, was it!?”

The Baron.  Drunk on power and confidence.

The voice was loud.  “Come to me, Lamb!  Come to me!  My soldiers will let you through.  If you came for the Lady Gage, then come, or I’ll open her throat!”

I felt Lainie hesitate, and shifted my grip on Lainie’s wrist so I held her hand, somewhat more gently.  It helped urge her forward.

The Infante had taken everything from her, and she didn’t know it yet.  Hearing the Baron speak, knowing the implicit threats his words carried, facing this scene, possibly my last act as a Lamb, I knew that Lainie’s imminent situation mirrored my own.

Closely enough that I had to wonder if it was on purpose.

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76 thoughts on “In Sheep’s Clothing – 10.17

  1. Lord Infante is great. He’s got that casually monstrous thing the Duke had going, not necessarily outright sadism like the Baron, but he’s got less of that competence going-but he knows it and doesn’t care.

    I’m interested in his son and the girl. The way Sy read her, as the kind of Noble he’d have wanted to be, slippery and well-designed and beautiful as a side effect, that’s intriguing.

  2. For those who don’t follow along by other channels, am currently wrestling with a sales tax issue with Patreon. Have been exceedingly distracted this past week as a result. Things are looking like they’re more handleable now, but was and still (to a fair extent) remains exceedingly spooky.

    I like to think I’m very disciplined and good about accounting and covering my personal and business taxes, but this is something separate, with separate accounts and filing, having to do with how sales tax works in Canada. A way to phrase it would be that the tax system hasn’t yet caught up with how some businesses like Patreon work in the modern age, and it was looking as though I might slip through those cracks. Another way to put it would be that the gov’t was saying I need to do ___ or face severe penalties and Patreon was (initially) saying they couldn’t give me the help I needed to do that.

    So yeah, spooky.

    Things are looking up, now, Patreon seems to be in my corner though they aren’t making promises nor have they produced anything just yet, I’m looking into hiring an accountant if I can find one that isn’t supremely busy this time of year, just to get answers to questions, and I’m more optimistic than I was. But Patreon saying “We’ll try to help” doesn’t mean that things will work out for sure, so am still very eagerly waiting for (and checking every few seconds for) emails from one of two patreon guys, the accountant, or some other contacts.

    Which is all a roundabout way of saying I’m sorry for extending the arc a teeny bit more than I might’ve otherwise planned, and I’m sorry if I made some obscenely bad typos or wrote an obscenely bad chapter. I caught myself putting the completely wrong word in some spots, along the lines of putting relatives instead of relationships or Impala instead of Infante. Hoping to both get things more under control & wrap up the arc early next week.

    And before people suggest a break, I have to cut them short and say with 100% conviction that not writing on the regular would guarantee a crash & burn, not forestall it. That’s just how I function.

    Just bear with me!

    • Yeah, no. I think the chapter was upto snuff. Worry not, for I, at least, was entertained.

      And truely, what more could one ask for?

      Methinks I like this Infante. Truely a noble to set standards.

    • If THIS is a “obscenely bad chapter” to you, then you, Sir, have some sick coping mechanisms right there. Seriously, no worries: The last few chapters had me on the edge of my seat, just as usual. 😀
      Also: Tax regulations, lawyers and probably piles and piles of forms? Don’t know about you guys in Canada but if that happened to me over here in Germany with our insane bureocracy, I’d consider my life to be over. 😡 I hope you can resolve this issue as fast and smooth as possible… Best of luck to you!

    • I noticed some fatigue/burn in the latest chapters, yes. It’s good to learn things will improve after your taxes problem are solved.

      That does makes me wonder how Canada’s system takes patreon into account compared to other systems (being French myself). Aren’t donations tax deductible or something?

      • To charitable organizations, sure. Since this it published online at nominally no cost to us, the assertion could be made, but it’d be tenuous and I doubt it ability to hold up in court. There’s also things like Gift taxes, but the Bow mentions Sales Tax, by which I’m assuming means the GST/HST. I have no idea how that works. IIRC Patreon charges patrons in the EU for the VAT and pays it in place of the creator.


    • I understand that this would be taxable as income, but they want to add a sales tax sale on top of that to you? I thought Value Added Taxes were supposed to be handled by Patreon from patrons to the relevant tax authority.


      • You are aware only a lawyer would add a TINLA notice, right ? Kinda defeats the claim.
        Gotta love that stuff.

        • I think it’s only that a lawyer would be OBLIGATED to do so. I mean, anyone can assert that their statements aren’t legal advice; why wouldn’t they be able to?

    • It might be going pretty long (is this the longest arc yet out of all 3 stories?), but the quality is still there, IMO. It doesn’t feel like the Conquest arc or anything. I’m so excited to see the resolution!

    • If you hadn’t said anything, I would have guessed the opposite. This chapter has been so good that this is like one of those “ah, but I am not left handed” moments where you’re so good that when you’re fighting with a self-perceived ‘weak’ hand, you’re still strong!

      When you do get this sorted out, I hope you can post about it. As you’ve said, the taxes for these newer things like Patreon haven’t quite sorted themselves out yet, so if you divine the proper way that would make sense to share, please consider it.

    • Good luck, hope everything gonna be alright. Your country is not the only one with slow adoption of new and interesting schemes of e-commerce and that lacks clarity of laws. Perhaps that’s just the way any government work.

    • Hey Wildbow, I wanted to give you some advice regarding sales tax and services like Patreon!

      One thing you can ask from Patreon is for a breakdown of where the revenue is coming from, which is something they should have. Donations from foreign jurisdictions (such as the US) for instance are non-GSTable sales, and as long as you have a record of what is GSTable and what isn’t, you don’t have to pay any GST on those amounts! So for instance if 50% of your amounts received from Patreon were from Canada, and 50% from the US/Elsewhere, and you 40,000, you would owe GST on the 20,000 that came from Canada only, nothing for US. A similar thing happens for donations, if you are receiving donations in US currency (before converting to CAD of course), not GSTable.

      Additionally, if your expenses are VERY low, or are primarily from places liek the US where you don’t get to CLAIM GST, you want to file an election for the quick GST method.

      A brief example

      20,000/1.05 x.05 = 952.38 of this amount is GST, 19,047.62 in Income
      2000 in GSTable expenses = 95.24 in ITC = 1904.76 in Expenses
      = 857.14 GST owing, 17,142.86 in Revenue on GSTable amounts

      Quick Method
      20,000 x.036 = 720 GST Revenue = 19480
      20,000 x .01 (max sales, 30,000) = 200 ITC, Expenses = 2,000
      GST owing = 520 GST Owing, 17,480 in Revenue
      While you are paying taxes on that additional 338 dollars, it is generally cheaper than paying GST. Taxes in Ontario are 15.5% for businesses right now I believe (federal + provincial), meaning you pay 52.39 in additional tax, but save around 490 dollars total.

      I also highly recommend you set up a Corporation, running your small business income through your personal tax return is horrid, because of the additional 9.9% in CPP you have to pay in taxes, which grossly inflates your taxes owing, as you pay 20.5% I believe in Ontario on your personal taxes on the first 41,000 in income. By running it through a corporation, you get a favorable tax rate, bypass the CPP tax, and can issue yourself more favorable tax dividends. Of course this will affect retirement as you aren’t contributing as much to CPP. So if you want to play a long game, it depends on how your finances look, and what you need now vs later. I’m of a mind that the money is worth more now than it will be later unless you’re a high income earner, but that’s a personal choice.

      Of course if you’ve already done any/all of this it doesn’t matter. Hope things go easier for you, I love your work! Discuss GST stuffs with your accountant if you have one!

      • The SNAFU I’m running into is that I reached out to Patreon and they’ve said that they can’t give me the details on where the payments are coming from. I was told that if I can’t determine this (which patreon donators are in Canada & which province they’re in), I can’t continue using Patreon as an income stream. Thus my current headache. Patreon is now working on short & long term solutions & were supposed to get back to me today re: their talk with the CRA, but that’s all up in the air.

        Did some brief reading up on the quick method and it doesn’t look like it solves the issue, though it looks like the numbers might be better if I go that route. I feel like I can tackle that if I can just get the info I need.

        Being able to duck the CPP could potentially be a huge boon, yeah, it is sort of a ridiculous thing (I’m paying in as the business and as the individual who works for that business, sort of?) and I think I can put the money to better use in the short-term. Becoming a corporation is a pretty heady and bewildering task, however, and my head is already spinning with everything that’s going on re: the HST. Something to consider for the near future, once the HST thing is resolved.

        Am waiting on a response from an accountant, but the ones I’ve reached out to in the past week have been busy and up to their gills in dealing with the May deadlines for nonprofits. The earliest appointment I could get was the 21st, and that’s too late, considering the deadlines I’m dealing with from the CRA.

        Good and interesting information overall. Thank you, Candy.

        • I work in the States as an incorporation consultant. I’ve been lurking since halfway through Worm, and I’m a huge fan. If there are any questions you have about corporations, I will be happy to help.

        • Hi Wildbow! I’ll look into this as well, it looks like you can make an argument that you don’t have to pay HST as all collections and payments come from a US based company, but I’m a bit unsure that will actually be the case.

          The “quick GST” method is great, but the rate does depend on province (I gave an example from Alberta, it might be best to consult with an accountant, who will usually do initial consultations for free.) from a quick look it seems for Ontario it would be 8.8% instead of 3.6%, still significantly better than 13% though. Quick method is just a tax strategy, first we need to figure out if you even need to remit HST.

          Setting up a corporation is not that difficult, but I can understand why you would want to wait until you resolve your current issues first. That CPP is painful, and yes you’re paying both sides of it, which is quite painful.

          The CRA deadlines are not super absolute, and they are usually understanding of such issues. Do the deposits from Patreon come in USD and are converted to CAD? If so, argument that the income is from US and thus not subject to GST/HST. A second argument in your favor is that you are not providing anyone a specific item in exchange for monetary return. Everyone is giving you money, but nobody is receiving any taxable supplies from you. You’re writing regardless of whether they give you money, and people can give you variable amounts of money.

          Personally one item you can do is to register for GST, look at your site visitors (what percentage comes from Canada/certain provinces) and temporarily assume that % of your donations comes from Canada. You can correct it in the future if necessary, but if the CRA is really hounding you about it, that’s an option to start things for now.

          Frankly I think your strongest argument (and you may have to talk to CRA or have an accountant talk to the CRA for you) is the fact that you provide no taxable supplies, as nobody receives anything SPECIFIC from you for this. Your income is not from sale of goods, products or services to anyone specific and as such would not be GSTable. No book is being sold, nothing is being delivered to individuals, there’s just this, and the price is not set for it, it’s just whatever people want to give.

          I hope this helps! I don’t know if you get my email addy if you have future questions but I don’t want to post lengthy tax stuff here as this isn’t tax comment section, I do love your works though! I’m busy as well but I’ll help in any way I can!

        • After a quick talk with my managing partner, he suggested that because Patreon does not give you a list of where your sales are coming from, all your income is being issued from a company in the US who is not obligated to collect GST so therefore you would not be obligated to pay GST/HST on the monies you receive. If you heard back from Patreon or the CRA I would be very interested to hear it.

  3. First time I have ever sat up waiting for the chapter… I hate how hooked in I am right now though. I want to keep reading! Why can’t your beautiful thoughts just appear on the page!

  4. Typo thread!

    Elaine was already halfway there.
    -This is before Lord Infante mentions the name Elaine, so I think you probably meant Lainie at that point.

    • Meet the new Target, same as the current Target.

      On the other hand, this can work in Sy’s favour now that he can honestly say/imply to his “noble” targets he was sent by one aristocrat to kill another and bounce around “The ton” like a killer PONG ball until “le beau monde” is visibly covered in their own blood, guts and shit.

      Too bad Sy isn’t in England, watching him hitting Almack’s during the Season to sow chaos there would be amusing.

    • I don’t get the impression that any noble is severely missed. Seems like every dead noble is one less target on your back or one less rung in the ladder.

  5. Ahehehe. So we do get an explanation about Lord Infante’s body type. Interesting. See, the nobles are always an act, and every aspect of them says /a lot/.

    The son was five times higher than Sy, and the father was even higher… Uhm. Assuming Sy is, what, 1.5 metres… Holy cow.

    • Five times Sy’s size, not five times his height. Size is Height * Depth * Width. Assuming similar proportions, he’d just be about 1.7 times Sy’s height (the cube root of 5). We also know that he’s shorter than his father, who is in turn “head and shoulders” smaller than the experiment they have with them, who’s eight feet tall. Since 1.5 meters * 1.7 is a bit more than eight feet, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t have the same proportions as Sy. 😉

  6. >Either the Lord King’s second grandchild or husband to the youngest child of the king.

    Okay, that lets us narrow down who that would be. Given the time period, the King should be King George V; he only had one daughter: Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood, in which case this guy would be Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood. She was only the third child of six, though maybe that could be chalked up to Sy’s memory. Looking it up on Wikipedia, it looks like King George’s grandchildren would all be small children at this point; the eldest is Princess Mary’s eldest son, George Lascelles (b. 1923), followed by his younger brother Gerald (b. 1924), followed by Prince George’s daughter Elizabeth in 1926 (who would later become Queen, in our timeline), and then Margaret (b. 1930).

    Of course, it’s possible that the Twig universe’s medical technology kept King Edward VII alive for longer; in our timeline, he died in 1910. In that case, the King’s youngest daughter is Maud, Queen of Norway, and her husband is King Haakon VII of Norway. Obviously that’s not him, otherwise she’d be calling him “King”, rather than “Lord”. King Edward’s eldest son died without issue, so his eldest grandchildren came from his second son Prince George, whose eldest two sons were Prince Edward and Prince George (both of whom would become King in our timeline).

          • I remember seeing a, and I quote, “Petit Oiseaux” at an exhibition in Switzerland as a teen. This “little bird” left an impression, as it basically looked like 1) getting airborne would be unlikely and 2) if by some miracle it managed it, the crater upon landing again would be huge. And, 3) this was a *small* copy of the larger, original sculpture. I giggled for hours and couldn’t stop myself. XD

      • Why would you shut down this speculation?

        If it looks like you’re basing this off the actual royal family when you’re not, you seem more clever.

        • because it’s not about seeming clever.
          I’m glad I won’t get sucked down the european royalty wikipedia rabbit hole.

        • Maybe superficially, but when you start applying the Fridge Logic, it’s just the opposite. This world deviated from ours at least a century before in-story “now”. Given the slim odds of getting any particular person in the genetic roulette of conception, and the cascading effects of those changes in the population, this far – four or five generations – past the split, no one should be the same as in our world. Much less the nobles who have been extensively overhauling their biology.

    • Wildbow’s disclaimer aside, I’m not sure why you would assume that everyone would marry the same people and have the same number of kids in such a radically different world. Many noble marriages are based on political considerations, and the politics here are nowhere near the same. How relevant is Norway in a world where England controls almost everything?

    • Has it ever actually been confirmed that the Twigverse!nobles are even descended from the original, pre-divergence nobility? For all we know, Marry Shelly returned to England at the head of a Frankenstein army and declared herself queen.

  7. So, the Duke became a vegetable. I’m a bit disappointed, I hoped he wouldn’t be taken out of the picture yet. But he may be healed, so let’s wait for it.

    The nobles are always interesting. Lord Infante seems to be yet another caliber of noble. But always so casual when murder and plots are concerned, even when it’s against another noble.

    But Laine becomes now a permanent member of the group after this? Somehow the lambs need to be replaced for Sy.

    • Hard to say who controls what information flow, and from where to where, and if anyone had motivations to mess up that information.

      The Duke may be worse off than a vegetable, or better off. We will see.

      • If the 10th in line hasn’t the right information, I doubt anyone has. But let’s see if he stays a vegetable. Half a brain is still enough for the Academy, I believe.

        • I have no doubt the Academy could give the Duke’s body a new mind, but it wouldn’t be /him/. The patterns and information which made up the Duke are gone.

    • If Lanie survives, Sy will either send her off to the Mice or accompany her wherever. Where Lanie goes, Chance will probably go. And of course Emily has no home left to go to if she survives the night. She’ll have to get back in touch with her boyfriend, though-that can be the new squad’s first quest!

      Sy being surrounded by mostly-moral aristocrat kids instead of child soldiers like himself could produce some interesting outcomes.

      • That’s my point, and I don’t believe Lainie will go with the mice. The Lambs will maybe drop out of the current story, but Sy is already recruiting a new squad of companions for whatever follows.

  8. I suspect the Dynasty that rules the Crown is distinct from the Dynasty that ruled the British Empire either circa 1820(around the time of the implied divergence point) or circa 1920(around the time of the story’s main timeline). Assuming the Crown Dynasty is even of British descent, it seems likely it’s founders had access to Wollstone’s research and the resources to use it to make first generation war beasts and overthrew The British Royal Family and British Parliament and then continued to lay dominion over the larger British Empire, most of Europe and reclaim the American Colonies.

    It’s also possible the Crown isn’t even of British origin, but present a British Empire-like facade to the Crown States of America due to the psychological impact of being subjugated by those you won independance from(Afterall, what could be more crushing to the American Spirit than to be so completely defeated by the Brits after the high of the American Revolution and the War of 1812?).

    Makes me wonder if history is part of the Academy or Pre-Academy curriculum and what a time line of the Post-wollstone period from a Twigverse History textbook would look like(and how it would compare to a timeline of secret history only the nobles are taught). Makes me wish Twig had Gathered Pages Interludes like Pact did.

    • That could explain why we have “lady Baronets” instead of the more accurate “Baronetess” if they’re just faking.

  9. In the grand scheme of things, Sy’s story in Twig is relatively small scale. His struggles have largely not affected the Crown or the Academy much so far – we see him outclassed by the Duke and not even close to overcoming Infante. If Twig is ever going to progress to a climax with the collapse of the Academy or the crown, Sy is either going to need to get some major physical upgrades or get much better connected.

    Then again, the story itself might not be so grand. Maybe this story is about the development of Sy and the Lambs as characters, with the Crown and Academy as a constant invincible force looming in the background. We have yet to see any of the immediate monarchy fight and with how strong lesser nobles are, it can be assumed that they are pretty OP. After the immediate goal of killing the Baron, I really have no idea where the story is going. Will Sy join up with Fray and Mauer? Will the rebellion succeed? Or will Sy simply try to find stability for the Lambs? Twig is only halfway done and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    • His manipulations can change the course of strategy and politics, you know. Potentially. They did have some impact in Lugh. Not everyone has to change things by fighting.

  10. Wildbow appreciation thread!

    I normally just lurk, but wanted to say that even the chapters that Wildbow sees as not optimal, are top tier entertainment. I’m really enjoying the build-up to the baron bossfight.

    You rock, Wildbow. I really respect your work ethic and your creativity and I wish you good luck with the tax stuff and your creative endeavours.

  11. Baron Richmond is somewhere around 65th in line for the throne. It may have been talked about later, but when the Lord Archduke and that castle died, the Duke went from 35 to 20. This may mean that the Enfante is the closest person to the crown we’ve seen, and if he’s tg grandson of the King, means he’s full-on royalty. I’m not surprised that sy doesn’t recognize him due to his terrible memory, but I’m impressed at his calmness or recklessness dealing with him. Then again, if the Duke was second the whole time this is old hat.

    Either way, I’m guessing that families THIS high up don’t bother with modifications to make themselves look conventionally pretty, since they don’t need physical beauty in order to impress people.

    Does anybody remember where specifically the Duke was in succession?

  12. Also, Jamie’s voice being Sy’s conscience to push him to do the right thing which he wanted to do anyway was adorable.

      • It’s actually really interesting because we’ve been told that Sy reflects others morals, that he’s not heroic or villainous himself but those are traits he picks up from others around him…but here, alone, when his only influence for a day has been Mary, he makes the decision that he doesn’t want to kill Lainie and only then does he call up a hallucination of Jamie to justify it. It’s one of the first big moral decisions he’s made on his own, and he needed to trick himself into it.

  13. First time poster, long time reader, here. I love your work, man, you really have to make it a priority to publish something. Its great we get to read the stuff on the cheap, but you could be sitting on a lucrative career. Really looking forward to seeing where Twig goes.

  14. I’m thinking that this next Enemy interlude will be either Lord Infante, someone close to him…or Jamie. We haven’t gotten his perspective yet, after all, and we know the Lambs are likely to be sent after Sy.

  15. There is still the matter of the missing first born children. Perhaps the Baron arranged for them to be happy and healthy… until such time as he dies, and then the children die in agony. The Baron would know that Sy was coming for him and would also know Sy’s protectiveness of children, so that’s the sort of screw job the Baron would arrange. Of course, this is a Wildbow story, so something as simple and straightforward as that probably isn’t the whole story.

    • The firstborn children are literally the firstborn, the giant monsters Simon (the doctor) disguised himself as. The Baron takes them and has his team of doctors (including the ones Sy captured) modify them into… that.

      • Actually, from 10.10:

        “The children weren’t being made into firstborn. A test of the firstborn’s blood would likely reveal that there was no relation between the monster and the family they had been assigned to. At best, the similarities had been designed, added for the psychological impact.”

  16. I finally caught up. Through Worm, and Pact, and now Twig. I’m finally here. Oh god why do I have to finally be here. On this chapter of all chapters too!

    At the same time, this is awesome! What a chapter to catch up on! Wildbow, your stuff rocks!

  17. I too have been spoiled by catching up on the completed works. This serial stuff thing is excruciating 😀

  18. I heard Jamie’s matter-of-fact voice. “What you’re telling her, about how she’d regret this for a long time? That it would be a black stain in her memories, coloring things for a long time? You might as well have been talking to yourself, Sy. You hate hurting the young.”

    Goddamm that’s powerful.

    Loving Lord Infante. I like him, maybe as much as , tho no one could replace that old half vegetative

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