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A note from Trollmore

We're back!  Covid has not slain me.  Thank you for your patience.

To celebrate the occasion, Godslayers is now on TopWebFiction!  If you like the story, go click "boost" to tell everyone it's awesome.

The lights in the conference room were dimmed, the consoles all dead except the one Abby was using to fill out the paperwork for the proceeding. Val sat to her right, twirling a stylus between his fingers. He didn’t have a tablet.

I sat awkwardly on the other side of the table, shifting nervously in my seat. It was approaching midnight local time—the only time I could get away from the estate without drawing attention to myself. I ineffectually stifled a yawn, causing Abby to yawn as well. Val gave me a sardonic look and kept his mouth resolutely shut. I was fairly certain you couldn’t actually do that, but the yawn never came.

“What, are you performing presence and absence meditations simultaneously again?” I asked.

“Val, what are you teaching her down there?” Abby asked, not looking up from the paperwork. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I’ll have you know my methods are peer reviewed,” said Val.

“Now I really don’t believe you,” I said. “There’s no way you think you have peers.”

Val smiled. His teeth looked sharp.

“Let’s get this over with and go to bed,” said Abby, slapping the console with a sense of completion. “Lilith, before I initiate proceedings, do you have any questions?”

My hands found each other in my lap. “What happens if this goes bad?”

“In the worst possible case, we crypt you,” said Val.

Abby smacked his shoulder. “I want to be clear that in order for that to happen, you would basically need to swear allegiance to the Therian pantheon while trying to assault both of us. The worst non-outlier case is where we scrap the op and re-evaluate what kind of mission roles are appropriate for you in the future.”

“Okay.” My voice felt very small.

Abby gave me a reassuring smile. “You did ask about what happens if things go poorly. They might not. They might even go well. I have full confidence in you.”

“Obviously not,” I said, indicating the room with a sweep of my eyes.

Val shook his head. “Deicide teams are by necessity a complicated system of overlapping relationships. This is protocol. Abby’s feelings have nothing to do with it. If you continue clinging to that sense of defensiveness, your performance in the hearing will suffer.”

“Thank you, Val, that will be enough,” said Abby. “I am officially beginning this inquiry. Subject is mission behavior of Eifni operative M9-30-0671, self-designation Lilith, while on deep cover assignment. Presiding, Eifni operative C4-57-5824, self-designation Abby, commanding officer. Also present, as witness, Eifni operative C3-93-5748, self-designation Val, technical officer. I have called for an inquiry per the powers and responsibilities vested in me by the Eifni charter as commanding officer. If there are any objections before we proceed, state them now.”

“Max,” Val said with a smirk. “If you’re watching, you owe me 500 luxury credits.”

Abby gave a resigned sigh. “That’s an automatic demerit.”

“How terrifying,” said Val.

“Dare I ask what the bet was?”

“On the record? Please.”

“We’ll do your inquiry next.”

My brow furrowed a bit as I stared at Val, trying to figure out what his game was. Blatantly ignoring protocol wasn’t really his thing. Was he trying to get me in trouble somehow? If anything, it seemed like the opposite was true.

Shit, was Val taking a fall for me?

Hearing no objections,” the commander said emphatically, disrupting my train of thought, “I will proceed. Lilith, the purpose of this inquiry is to address three decisions made in the field under crisis conditions. Your answers to these questions may affect eligibility for duty and may, in extremis, result in court martial. Do you understand the scope of concern for this inquiry?”

“I understand,” I said.

“First, records indicate you fired a pulser in view of civilians, representing a high-level breach of operational security. The fact of this event is corroborated by review of your personal comm feed, duly submitted as evidence for these proceedings. Do you have any defense of this action?”

I met Val’s dispassionate gaze, trying to imagine what he’d say here. Something that made Abby look stupid for questioning him, I’m sure. I wasn’t sure I could manage that.

“Uh, I do,” I said instead. “Can we talk about Kuril first, though?”

“Very well. Let the record show I am granting Lilith’s motion to table discussion of this decision. The second decision was the use of feedback therapy—also restricted for opsec reasons—in plain view of civilians, as well as recruiting a civilian to assist you in performing it. Do you have any defense of this action?”

“Okay, so first off,” I said. “Lirian’s got a pulser and she’s been using it on people. Everything I did is because of that.”

“Lirian is an enemy agent of the goddess of secrecy, who has been engaged in psyops and targeted intimidation by use of an antimemetic blessing,” Abby said to the console. “Continue.”

I cleared my throat, gathering my thoughts.

“So, like, as long as she’s out there, people in the Vitares household are going to get pulsed. And since we’re one of her big targets, one option was to pressure them to kick Markus and I out of there. So when I demonstrated feedback therapy, I was stopping her from using the pulser as a terror weapon. And now everyone’s going to be really happy I’m on their side, because I know how to wake them up from the nap. Oh, actually! Uh, immediately after waking up, Kuril offered to adopt me. So I think my results speak for themselves.”

“And do you have anything to say about the fact that you’ve damaged the effectiveness of a key Eifni technology in the long term?”

I gave her a look of betrayal, but she didn’t react. Val just watched me. I was on my own here.

Val had said that these teams were a system of overlapping relationships. Abby wasn’t pulling her punches here, which wasn’t a good thing to do as my friend and mentor, but maybe that was what she had to do as team leader. That was the trouble with being so many things to each other—you couldn’t be them all at once. You had to compartmentalize.

I let the betrayal fall off my face, smiled slightly, and nodded the way Val did.

Abby beamed at me. I had never seen her look so proud. Val nodded in approval. I realized that this was what he was trying to tell me with that stunt in the beginning. Pure, liquid happiness shot through me. I’d done it. I could do it. I was still figuring out what it was, but dammit I could do it!

Suddenly, I wasn’t on trial any more. I was playing a role for Maxwell and anyone else who was watching this. This was just another layer of my cover. I was getting it.

Alright, console people, you want to come after me? Watch out. I bite.

“No,” I said. “I didn’t damage shit. The other teams are dead, or holed up like us. If there’s a long term, it’s either gonna be us or an invasion fleet, and the invasion fleet isn’t going to be fucking around with nonlethal weapons. But if it’s just us, and there’s pulsers on both sides, I’m making sure my side can deal with them. I made the right call.”

“Temporarily,” said the commander. “Once that information leaks out, the playing field is even again.”

“If we get Markus those laurels in the meantime, it doesn’t matter,” I said. “Eifni said the point of an advantage is to spend it to win. It doesn’t matter how good your cards are if you don’t play them.”

“Thank you,” said the commander. “Would you like to revisit your use of the pulser at this time?”

“Yes. Lirian had just stabbed Roel. She was in a lot of pain. The pulser helped alleviate it.”

The commander tapped her fingers on the table. “That’s not a tactical benefit.”

“You wanna go there? Of course it is,” I said. “Remember the whole adoption thing? The lady who made the offer just heard I saved her fifteen-year-old sister from unnecessary pain. Because guess what, if it turns out later I had one this whole time, questions are gonna get asked.”

“Questions will be asked now,” said the commander. “How are you planning to explain your possession of this device?”

I hadn’t really thought that far ahead.

“I am still refining my strategy,” I said, as if formality would make the lack of a good answer any better. “It has been four hours since the event, ma’am.”

“Give me an idea of your thoughts.”

“Lirian’s got one. That makes it not weird for me to have one. Maybe I stole it from her?”

A moment passed, the commander’s drumming fingers the only noise in the room.

“So you admit,” she said slowly, “that you took action without having a prepared strategy in mind.”

“As you said, ma’am, it was under crisis conditions. I trusted in myself and my team to design an appropriate strategy after the fact.”

The commander regarded me.

“Tell me about your attachment to the Vitares family. Particularly Roel.”

“I like them and they’ve been nice to us. Roel stuck up for me in a stressful situation the first time we met. Is there a point to this question?”

“The third decision involved a blood sample collected from Lirian,” she said, ignoring me. “Technical officer, can you explain the use of such a sample?”

“The simplest use is setting up a direct line to her soul for surveillance purposes,” said Val. “With some preparation, we might use it as a pointer to the idea of her, allowing us to subvert or erase her identity and suborn her for counterespionage. The physical DNA could be used to clone her body, allowing an operative to impersonate her. The list goes on. It’s a versatile asset.”

“Lilith, you made the decision to destroy that sample against direct orders,” said the commander. “Replacing it will be difficult or impossible. Do you have any defense of this action?”

The look in her eyes was more than a little vicious. But not because she was being vicious, I reminded myself. She was presenting viciousness. Telling me what I needed to defend myself against. So I struck back with equal force.

“Apologies, commander, but those orders would have jeopardized the mission,” I said. “Due to local superstitions, collecting the blood was socially untenable. My position in the family and thus Markus’s sponsorship was at stake. Had I retained it, we would have lost our local support, and the mission would have failed. I’m sure you would have rescinded those orders yourself if you knew. Due to my decision, Lirian is still in play, but Markus still has a sponsor. Additionally, maintaining my cover allowed us to turn other elements of the city against Lirian. The Oathkeepers might take care of her for us.”

“And you’re certain this had nothing to do with your attachment to the family, whose adoption offer was contingent on sacrificing that asset?”

“I was prepared to turn her down,” I said, the model of a perfect soldier. “The tactically advantageous decision was otherwise.”

“What other assets are you willing to sacrifice to maintain your emotionally comfortable cover?”

This one. This one I knew the Val response for.

I smirked at her. “What a stupid question. Whatever it takes to see the mission through.”

Val raised an eyebrow. Abby’s face was blank.

“That will be all,” she said. “This inquiry is concluded.”

I slumped back in my seat. I almost asked how I did, but in the wake of the epiphany that’d been carrying me through the hearing, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do that. I blinked sticky eyes and remembered that without all the adrenaline, my body really wanted to be asleep right now.

“You’re growing up,” Abby said softly.

“Aw, come on,” I said. “I’m an adult where I came from.”

But the protest was pro forma, and I was grinning like a maniac underneath it. Val stood up and walked for the door, pausing as he passed me.

“You did well,” he said, offering his hand. I shook it.

“By the way, what did you bet Maxwell?” I said. “Was there even a bet in the first place?”

“What a curious question,” he said. Vivid green eyes flashed with mirth. “Goodnight, ladies.”

I turned to Abby. “I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but I, uh, don’t really get how any of this works.”

“Watch,” she offered. “You’ll pick it up. We all did.”

She hugged me. Just for a little while, I let myself rest in her arms.

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A note from Trollmore

I'm sure Lilith becoming more Velean isn't going to have any consequences.

Hey, I just wanna say thanks for all the support.  The story's seen a lot of growth for all that I've been absent for a couple weeks, and we're past or about to hit a lot of cool engagement metrics.  Y'all are a fantastic audience.

If you'd like to read two chapters ahead, you can subscribe to my Patreon.  Otherwise, come join us at the discord!

Finally, special thanks to Angel-tier patrons Soliliquy Collective and Me for their support.


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About the author

Trollmore

Bio: A psych nerd and philosophy shitposter who occasionally writes things.

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Comments(17)
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PodVon ago

TYFTC! Glad to see you didn't need to flash...

 

Sea Change ago

Eifni said the point of

Eifni is a person and not a demonym?

    Trollmore ago

    She's paraphrasing from The Road of Spears, which is attributed to "Eifni Voriksson," the individual credited with the destruction of the historical Velean pantheon. I believe it was first mentioned in Lancer 2.4. The Eifni Organization is the institution that the godslayers work for, and is sometimes referred to by the shortened form "Eifni." Presumably the organization is named for the person.

bufubobbins ago

I'm sure the institutionalized mental compartmentalization / dissonance / borderline cultivated multiple personalities have no adverse consequences for the soul xD

    Raszhivyk ago

    Had the same thought when Trollmore said she was becoming more Velean. Combatting gods/etheric bullshit must make your mind/soul a refiled and compartmentalized maze after a while. This entire chapter seems to imply they're operating as multiple personas at any given time, with some kind of meta level through-line of self identity tying it all together so they don't just shatter into a mess of conflicting identities.

      jfw01 ago

      > # Eifni operative M9-30-0671, self-designation Lilith
      > # Eifni operative C4-57-5824, self-designation Abby
      > # Eifni operative C3-93-5748, self-designation Val

      Everyone choosing their own name seems like an important part of either Vealean culture or the Efini Organisation, depending on its scope.

      This goes to the status of the name 'Morgan' in another chapter. I wonder if it's also an important part of coping with the compartmentalized maze.

       

saithorthepyro ago

You see this is why I talk about how Veleans need to suffer a defeat at earth's three gods of comedy!

But great chapter, can't wait for the next one!

Raszhivyk ago

Hmmm...so Velean's take metacognition to the next level I guess. Was this review not just measuring her responses/battle readiness on the normal layer, but even how well she's adjusting to switching personas and learning to disassociate from attachments/pretend to disassociate? Lilith becoming more Velean does sound a bit terrifying.

UnleadedJacket ago

Edit suggestions:

And since we’re one of her big targets, one option was to pressure them to kick Markus and Ime out of there.

Thanks for the consistency in Lilith's grammar

Gaelen1227 ago

I’m pretty sure that the local pantheon’s win condition is subverting enough of the team to prevent the invasion fleet from being called and pretending that the infiltration is proceeding indefinitely.

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