Cecelia’s Quest 1
And now for something completely different.
Cecelia is Celia. Threadbare has had some obvious twists – Anise being Amelia was the one that was really easy to guess and also really wanted me to be surprised by it anyway – but I’m pretty confident that “Cecelia = Celia” is too obvious even for this story to think it’s a “reveal.” Like, King Melos is her father, and hopefully this book doesn’t hold its audience’s intelligence in such contempt that it thinks adding one extra syllable to a name is enough to get readers thinking “I guess he must have a different child that we don’t know about.”
So, Cecelia’s sparring with some knight. She’s got a bunch of skills at levels like 57 and 48, which makes her significantly stronger than Threadbare, who’s still muscling through the 20s even on his best skills.
The sparring match is going pretty well for her.
The black knight hunched over. Blood spattered the floor, and she shifted her eyes away as she rose. She stood there, bashed her sword into her shield, waiting.
From the sidelines, King Melos shook his head. He gestured for his attendants to leave, then beckoned. “Come here, Cecelia.”
Until Melos dicks her over for no reason.
Cecelia Ragandor-Gearhart saluted her foe, then turned to her father.
Noise behind her, as armor clattered, and she whirled around too late.
Realization crashed into her at the same time the black knight did, bowling her over and hammering her down to the floor. Father had called to her, but he never actually stopped the match!
Gods damn it, father.
You might be thinking this is leading to one of those interminable “never take your eyes off the enemy” ‘lessons’ which is actually a lesson about how your instructors will sometimes abuse the meta-structure of a sparring match for giggles, and then pretend that a situation like “your instructor calls the match off in a non-standard way” could somehow be a battlefield situation you need to prepare for.
“You lost,” her father explained, clanking over to her and placing his hands on her shoulder pauldrons. “You lost when you stopped hitting him. He wasn’t down. You needed to follow up, to end his threat.”
If you were thinking that, you are completely correct. Gold star.
She ran a gauntleted hand through her short-cropped ginger hair. “Do I pass muster?”
Her father pursed his lips, blew air out through his teeth as he thought. “Walk with me,” he decided, putting his arm around her shoulders and guiding her away.
“That’s a no, then?” She said, feeling her heart sink.
Five years I’ve been stuck in this castle. Five years, and I might have just blown my chance at getting free—
—no. No, it wasn’t freedom. It was just another set of chains.
But at least these would be chains she’d built herself.
I can’t tell if the book is intentionally being vague because it’s hoping to make a mystery out of what Cecelia’s motivations are, accidentally being vague because it doesn’t notice that Cecelia’s motivations are unclear, or if I’m just tired and missed something. Either way, I have no idea what Cecelia thinks of Melos. Does she consider him an enemy whose thumb she has to wriggle out from? That’s what this passage suggests – “another set of chains” implies she thinks of Melos as an enemy, not just someone who’s approval is hard to obtain – but elsewhere she talks about wanting his approval. If the narrative was more clear about what this “chance at getting free” is and what its conditions are, it’d be way easier to suss out why Cecelia feels this way.
Then a flicker of motion caught her eye. Down the corridor, just under one of the tapestries, a green glow danced and flickered. “Oh! That thing again. I’ll go get the wizards.”
“What—” Melos turned, hand on his sword and froze in horror. He stared at the flickering light, and Cecelia watched as her father, the mighty figure who had been the anchoring point in her new life these last five years, the indomitable King of Cylvania, trembled so hard his armor shook.
Then we get smacked with another mystery, although at least this one is a mystery to our viewpoint character, so we’re not having important emotional context obscured for the sake of an unhealthy obsession with twists and reveals. How is it that people keep thinking that betting your story on a big twist is a good idea in a world where M. Night Shyamalan exists? The object lesson in why you shouldn’t do that is both well known and like a decade old.
At Melos’ instruction, Cecelia leaves him to deal with the glowing green thing and instead goes to the barracks to talk to the knights. So apparently, though confused, she’s not concerned enough about what’s happening that she won’t go about her business like nothing’s going on. While here, she muses about how her father told her not to get too attached to any of these people, because they might die for her, and she responds that she wants to know them well enough to be someone worth dying for.
Usually it went one of two ways when she stood up to him. The first way was solemn, shameful disappointment that depressed her for days. But that time it had gone the second way, and he’d been proud.
Which, again, this is really weird in context of earlier quotes where she acts like she’s been imprisoned by this guy. Is this Stockholm Syndrome, or was she just being melodramatic about “a new set of chains” earlier? Does she have a good reason not to blame Melos for how she’s confined to the castle? Cecelia is our viewpoint character, I should not have so many questions about her knowledge and motivations! If I’m asking questions, it should be questions that Cecelia is also asking.
Cecelia talks to the knights about build optimization and it’s not super clear to me how important these guys are gonna be. Three different knights are named, and one of them is a former assassin while the other two seem pretty interchangeable. I guess they may end up being our Dark Side party.
There’s a cut here to Cecelia piloting her fifteen-foot steampunk mech armor, and then Anise calls her up to the dungeon tower for a test, and it’s pretty much exactly as jarring as that in practice. We go from the cut to a few pages of Cecelia just using the mech and then Anise is there telling her to get out of it, and it’s not really clear why we needed the scene in the mech. That can’t be the most efficient way to introduce the concept that Cecelia has a mech.
Smiling, Anise Layd’i raised her hand and waved.
Cecelia stomped back, brought her armor’s components down one by one, and stepped free of the cockpit. Soaked in sweat, uncaring, she hopped down to glare at the demon who wore her dead mother’s face. “What?”
“Aren’t you eager to get to your test?” Anise smiled, blandly.
So this “test” is something Cecelia has to do in order to get out of the castle, in case that wasn’t clear from earlier excerpts. Moreover, though, Cecelia never knew her dead mother. So she is either picking up this “demon wearing her face” thing from Melos or else the idea was seared into her mind during that one encounter five years ago and has yet to be dislodged despite the fact that she is otherwise apparently loyal to Melos now.
It was dark in here, and empty, save for a pile of rags in the corner of a far cell. As she watched, they stirred, and an old, weathered face lifted up from the man lying under them. A white-bearded, unshaven face, bald-headed with bushy eyebrows.
A familiar face, that she hadn’t seen in a long while. “Mister Mordecai?”
“Celia? Celia girl?” Mordecai leaped up, and in a flash grabbed the bars. He was nearly naked, save for dirty, torn trousers, and thin, so thin, with ropy muscles straining under his withered flesh.
So, you can probably guess that the test here is shanking Mordecai.
She weighed her freedom against the old man’s life. Old man, sick and wasted, thin and ragged from starvation and suffering. An old man, mind broken, barely anything left of the strong, confident scout she’d once known.
He’ll die here anyway.
It would be a mercy.
They’d just keep torturing him.
These thoughts and more trembled through her head.
And finally Cecelia picked up the dagger.
So, the main plot still suffers from a serious lack of stakes. Were Threadbare here, he could stuff Mordecai’s soul into a golem and the worst he’d experience would be a minor loss in quality of life. And if the narrative particularly wanted it, he and Melos could be trusted allies of one another within five pages, as soon as any incentive to work together at all, even a completely temporary incentive, was provided.
But Threadbare isn’t here, which means this turn of events has successfully raised those stakes that the previous chapter-
Ha ha, just kidding, she breaks him out. And that isn’t even the weird part. The weird part is that after returning from the prison tower, she notices her chamber doors are locked, and the only other route is through the courtyard.
And there Cecelia found the knights waiting. Everyone in her training squad by the looks of it, and Sergeant Tane too. Seven Knights, ringing the courtyard, fully armed and armored, drawing blades as she approached.
“This is your test, girl,” her father called from the battlements, the demons in his armor glowing and active, hellblades whirling around his head. “There are no rules! Fight for your life!”
This “no rules” shit always bugs the Hell out of me. If there are no rules, then there is no win condition, and since it’s a test, there’s no actual military objective, either.
But it gets way worse than that, because this is how the fight starts:
And then, a knight went sailing backward, helm crumpled. Mordecai stood where he’d been, camouflage fading, grinning. “ello there Melly. Long time no see!”
“You son of a bitch!” Melos roared, then froze in horror as Mordecai whirled, and tossed his dagger at Celia… who stretched out a hand, and smiled.
“Animus Blade!” She shouted as it passed her head, and swung into a low orbit around her. “No rules, father! No rules!” She reminded him, and charged the remaining knights as Mordecai whooped and laid about him, fists falling like hammers.
So, what the fuck? Was her test to kill Mordecai, or to win a fight when she’s terribly outnumbered and under-equipped? If Mordecai escapes, is Melos really going to count that as passing the test, especially one that doesn’t have an explicit win condition? And if Mordecai doesn’t escape, then Cecelia has squandered his chance to do so in order to advance her own interests. Is the narrative going to notice?
Now, as is often the case with this kind of thing, Threadbare does give us answers – just in the wrong order.
The king removed his helm, and stared down at her. “What are you talking about?”
“Trying to get me to kill Mister Mordecai like… that…” She blinked. “Wait. Anise said…”
“Anise?” The King frowned. “What’s she done this time?”
Realization crashed in.
Anise had never SAID that killing Mordecai was the King’s test, or that she’d lead Cecelia to the test. She’d let Cecelia form her own conclusions. Shaking, the girl leaned against the wall.
Okay, but shouldn’t she have noticed that there were two tests, and they didn’t seem particularly related?
In any case, Melos doesn’t catch on to what Cecelia thought the test was supposed to be, despite the fact that she said flat out “trying to get me to kill Mister Mordecai.”
“It’s to do with that senile old scout, isn’t it?” The King said, hopping off the wall and floating down, as the demons he wore carried him gently through the air. “Of course he’d seek you out, and try to get you to escape with him.”
Dude, no. She just said that Anise had tricked her into thinking that Melos wanted her to kill Mordecai. Clearly Anise, not Mordecai, is the instigator here. At minimum, she may have informed Cecelia of an escape in progress and told her to kill Mordecai. Being that Cecelia clearly refused, in that she instead used Mordecai to her advantage in the actual test, it doesn’t really matter that Melos has no reason to believe she sprung him from his cell in the first place – she was still willing to facilitate his escape.
It had been a hard life, in the castle. A hard life, hearing about the foes that bedeviled her father and tried to bring chaos to his kingdom.
But now she could sally forth, and meet them with steam and steel. Like her father, she would do what she must, and bring peace to Cylvania.
So, apparently she is in fact a mostly converted Sith apprentice who fight for Melos and opposes his enemies. Just not so much that she’s willing to kill Mordecai. Fair enough, she was eleven when abducted so a good deal of her formative years happened under Melos’ direct tutelage, so it makes sense both that she’d convert and that she wouldn’t be willing to murder an old friend over it. It’s still the kind of thing that would’ve been best off being made clear from the very beginning, instead of being coy about exactly what kind of “freedom” Cecelia was chasing. Like, I guessed that Ce/celia might end up a Sith apprentice loyal to Melos before this book even started, so it really wasn’t much of a shock that Cecelia’s driving goal is to end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.