A Long Road Chapter 5 Ficbit – Challenged

Ah, the Herald. Well, at least he wasn’t running. “Angry ghost!” Wei Wuxian stood straight, feeling at the roil of energy around them. Not just a human ghost, but all the malice and power of the dead tree’s yaoguai. Great. “I’ll draw her out so we can talk.”

Easier said than done. But will was enough to hold the ward, now that he’d shaped it. He bent his tunes to work-songs, field-songs; anything and everything to remind a spirit it had been human, it had lived. A snatched bit of the spinning-song he’d heard walking through the town in early morning….

Violet crackled. A whole rotted limb, tall as a tree, sailed through frozen air.

The ward rippled from the impact; held, even if his bones rattled. Behind the flute he breathed a sigh of relief. Good. Let it keep throwing wood at them. There were a hundred ways an angry spirit could murder, from choking the breath in their lungs to swallowing them in a sea of vermin. Chunks of dead tree? Impressive, but not a problem.

Sometimes he wondered how Granny and the others could bear to look at him. They knew what the Ghost Flute had done, before he’d been the Yiling Patriarch. They knew.

“Stop!” the Herald called over his tune, over the howling fury of wind and forest. “Mistress, please stop! I’m Herald Arvil; this is my Companion, Graya. We’re going to look after your son. We’re going to seek justice for you!”

Resentment crumbled; solidified again, reforming. Wei Wuxian eased into lighter notes, dancing around that spinning song. Anything that sounded local, that would remind the ghost this was her Herald. One of the people her country trusted to see true justice done.

Even if I have no idea how. He’s traveling with a living spirit, but that can’t be enough. The good aren’t always righteous, and just because someone’s evil, doesn’t mean what they did was wrong.

Though the spirit-horse definitely helped. That bright power was shielding all three behind him from any stray resentful energy. So long as he held the ward against physical harm, the child was safe. Let the Herald talk.

The ghost solidified out of the cold wind, tattered dress and all. “My baby.”

“He’s alive,” Herald Arvil assured her, as Wei Wuxian took the respite to breathe deep, and pick a few leaves out of his hair. “We’re getting a Healer. You saved him.”

“He’s mine!” Her eyes went dark, so dark; holes of night and shadow. She advanced on the ward, a tigress ready to pounce. “You’re taking him away-!”

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44 thoughts on “A Long Road Chapter 5 Ficbit – Challenged

  1. Ah yes, the dead don’t reason the same way the living do. Especially not when egged on my a yao. At this point the ghost and the yao are feeding off each other. And hey, this way Wei Wuxian has a positive example to draw off of for what Heralds do, and what Companions do themselves. So he won’t immediately freak out that a Not-Yao-Not-Horse is suddenly attached to Lan Wangji. Given canon examples of what happens when Yiling Laozu freaks out, this is only a good thing.

    So, how much vinegar would Lan Wangji be drinking if he saw Arvil and Wei Wuxian interacting? Before and after the “married to Embry” thing? (Before and after figuring out that Wei Wuxian is definitely Arvil’s type.)

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Isn’t it weird how hard the scary stuff is to write, sometimes? You know how the story’s going to end (I did with “Scylla’s Lair”), but getting it all on paper….. Part of me just wanted to run and hide! 😁😬

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh. I’m suddenly reminded of one of the Doctor Who Christmas Specials were an ordinary World War 2 British housewife named Madge finds herself on another planet in the distant future, confronted by three soldiers. She plays up tearful crying until they put down their guns in an effort to calm her, then pulls a Webley revolver (her husband is military) and tries to take them prisoner.

      One of the soldiers, an experienced type who can tell that Madge is really just a civilian, tells her that there’s nothing she can say that will convince him she’d ever be able to use that gun.

      Madge: “Really? Well, I’m looking for my children!”

      Soldier’s face: *OH SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!!!*

      Liked by 5 people

  2. If I understand correctly, ghosts stay around because they have so much resentful energy. Which is basically pure emotion and obsession. It makes sense that she is not very open to change if she is swamped with horror and anger and her obsession is to protect her child.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Arvil is kind of taking the wrong route here to reason with the ghost (not surprising, lack of experiance with the mindset). Because said being is less interested in justice (as the living see it) and more A: making people hurt because she was hurt and B: keeping her baby.

    And even if they are taking her baby to a healer, they’re still taking him away from her.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Nothing really to add for my part, but it’s an interesting situation for Arvil and WWX to learn from.

    Off topic, but I recently got into an original XianXia story. Normally, the style wouldn’t hold my interest, but as this story is focused on subverting the tropes, more often than not. It’s called “Beware of Chicken”. Also on Royal Road, iirc.

    https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/beware-of-chicken-xianxia.910799/#post-73234961

    Liked by 2 people

  5. WWX: No we’re not. You can totally come along. You’d fit right in with the other ghosts.

    Ghost mama: Wait, what?

    Arvil: Wait, what?

    Graya: *Nonverbal not-horse equivalent of ‘wait, what?’*

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Unexpectedly, I have discovered that there’s an area where “the fantasy version” kinda torques me off.

    Lackey’s got another Elemental Masters book coming out in December, wherein it turns out that Annie Oakley and her husband were both only great sharpshooters because they had elemental magical powers.

    And it just astonishes me how much that _offends_ me. Because of course Annie learned to shoot in order to feed her family, just like a lot of other poor rural kids. And she learned by dint of instinctive math and good observation, as well as a lot of practice. There was absolutely no freaking magic, except the magic of hard work and necessity allied to talent and smarts. And mostly hard work.

    And yes, her real life biography, especially the sad backstory, is exactly in Lackey’s wheelhouse. Fine. But she was a real person, and she’s from around here from where my relations live, and she has some relatives still living (none related to me, as far as I know!). So I really don’t want to see a version of her backstory that is “sad pathetic child in danger saved by her magical Mary Sue powers.” Ugh.

    I am trying to be positive about this, because a lot of kids learn history from alternate history and fantasy. And the previous sharpshooter mage book wasn’t too horrendous. But I just foresee a lot of ways for this to turn out cringey, or for it to turn out a mockery.

    OTOH, apparently today’s pretend-feminists have decided that Oakley was evil and anti-woman because she wore stylish and comfy dresses in public, instead of being an “ally” and wearing bloomers or other horribly designed outfits. Because her wardrobe was totally their business to decree about, when they weren’t asked and weren’t around. And Oakley had a husband she loved, horrors! So at least Lackey will probably do better than that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. *Facepalms* You are not the only one this ticks off. I personally arranged part of my backstory for a superhero novel idea I’ve got so that the battle of Thermopylae is straight up human will, skill, and determination. Because I have opinions about Last Stands.

      I read about Annie Oakley as a kid, she was fascinating! And today’s so-called “feminists” don’t like her? Augh. Idiots. They probably think Harriet Tubman wasn’t “assertive enough”.

      …Oh right, Harriet would probably give them the vapors because she had a gun and knew how to use it. Oy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In the incredible case that you *haven’t* run into this song before–
        Vasc’s cover of Sabaton’s Last Stand (title cover for an album) has been on repeat in our house for months, now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. *Glees* Usually I get “Yeah, know this, thanks” so I’m utterly delighted you haven’t run into it yet!

        Both Vasc and Sabaton are awesome, so, in them with sharing the shiny. (….K, Vasc is cuter than Sabaton, but still.)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. “A singer from Brazil, covering a song created by a band from Sweden, sung in English, about a battle that took place in Rome (Vatican City) against German mercenaries.”

        Forget the UN. Power Metal truly unites us!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Going all meta… it really does.

        The basic themes are just so… they’re universal. Human. CATHOLIC. (old word meaning ‘everybody’, for those who go straight religion)

        Exactly why it came to mind when you mentioned VIEWS on Last Stands.

        It’s… Epic, as Vasc says. 😀 (Yes, I bought the “have an Epic Day” shirt. 😀 )

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That does really cheapen it.

      Would make it much more awesome if everybody assumed it was because of the Elementalism thing– but it was plot important that no, it really wasn’t. If she’d been vanilla mortal, she’d still have that skill, that she worked for, and the Elementalism maybe just made her life harder. (new enemies?)

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Look at the Percy Jackson setting, where in later books it eventually turns out every major/impressive historical figure was a halfblood of some sort… that is, the only way anyone in that setting is special or does great things is by having divine blood.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. *Nod* There’s a particular long-running Hakuouki fanfic that I really enjoy reading… but it likewise assumes the Shinsengumi all have some oni blood, which undermines the entire point of Hijikata’s canon philosophy.

        Which is: Screw bloodlines! if we act like samurai with honor and swordsmanship, then we are samurai. If we fight like demons, and never give up, then we are the real demons.

        Darn it, I want more fiction out there where you’re not born special – maybe born with a knack or a talent, but you’re the one who works to hone it and succeed!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. There was a Harry Potter fic that I can’t fully remember that riffed on this idea, where Pure Blood wizarding culture kept on trying to claim every successful person with any sort of name-recognition ever was really a wizard/witch because muggles couldn’t possibly achieve any of that. It’s very on-brand for a supremacist group to try to claim that.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Or better yet, neither “you need to be special to do stuff that matters” nor “you’re only truly special if you avoid getting any of the special powers/bloodlines/etc and do it all through ‘hard work'” (which frequently is “just as much author fiat helping you, while hypocritically claiming it’s not actually getting help from a higher power”), but instead “you matter because you did stuff that mattered, even if that did need special powers to manage it”. This is something you do a good job of, allowing both those “born with” special powers _and_ those who had to work without special powers to matter.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh Lady Ghost no! Oh this is so sad! She did all that work, but she couldn’t have gone forever. Her son would have died if he stayed under that tree. Oh! I hope they figure out a way to help her!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yes, trying to catch up on Lackey/Valdemar from the library ebooks, because fanfic.

    Found out why Closer to the Chest was not in the physical collections of local libraries. Rips off Sayers’ Gaudy Night, which is fine but way too close to the model, in ways that make no sense to the worldbuilding. Also has a lot of explicit “the evil Judeo-Christian god and Bible in Valdemar,” coupled with bad anthropology of religions. Not the way to make library sales, if the librarians want that library levy to pass.

    OTOH, some really nice writing and worldbuilding. Uneven. Needs editing badly, but that is today’s tradpub fantasy/SF field.

    Anyhow… Really makes you think about how Valdemar is supposedly so darned egalitarian for hundreds and thousands of years, with divine intervention, and yet sexism and arrogant nobility are supposedly still a problem everywhere in the Valdemar timeline, and not just in isolated communities. And so on. The economy is supposedly great, but the poverty is unrealistically bad for a medieval city with a great economy. Nor do people leave for other towns or homesteading. And so on.

    Frustrating, because when she does the research, she is convincing. And her unedited mode is still pretty good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Re: uneven, there’s the bit of plot where shops are getting smashed up, and the merchant and craft guilds are worried, as well as the people in the neighborhoods. Earlier in the book, huge swaths of time are taken about related crimes being worrisome to the highborn, the Collegia, some religious orders, etc. But the merchant reactions are never really shown, although we are told about them a little, and the merchant guilds are satisfied within a line of dialogue. Because it’s the middle/end of the book.

      Um… no.

      So yeah, the book needed a second pass. File off more of the Gaudy Night serial numbers, balance the pacing, show more reactions even if it’s just in passing, and so on. Also, the main problem is that the villains have some pretty darned impressive powers and numbers, which are never really used to their full extent (powers) and never fully justified (numbers). If part of the revelations had been moved up a bit in the plot, by deduction, there could have been more of a cat and mouse game.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. *Thoughtful nod* One of the reasons I’m checking out Nirvana in Fire (seen through ep 5) so far is that the pacing seems to be very well worked out. There’s a good (but not wholly predictable) balance between little bits of slice-of-life, Dramatic Action, and tense court plot-counterplot-counter-counterplot. (I’ve counted at least 3 layers of stuff going on at once, and I may be missing things – reviewers glee about “this really rewards re-watching”.)

        I’m trying to get some of that pacing down in my head, along with the tight plotting – it’s a goal to strive for!

        (There’s an awesome mini-arc eps 3-5 where – among other things – Mei Changsu manages to free a specific child from palace slavery, see an unwanted competitor for a princess’ hand roundly defeated, and reveal to said princess he’d slipped in a ringer to take out any guy she really didn’t want proposing. That, and he manages to get the right info to the right people in time to head off a truly horrific fate for said princess – all while being a guy who can’t exert himself without desperate coughing fits.)

        Like

    2. “Valdemar is supposedly so darned egalitarian for hundreds and thousands of years, with divine intervention, and yet sexism and arrogant nobility are supposedly still a problem everywhere” – Yes, this. Cultures are supposed to change over time!

      Liked by 1 person

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