7 – 1

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“She’s evil!”

“Mm.”

“She’s a maniac!”

“Eh.”

“I sense a lack of solidarity, here,” Gabriel groused.

Toby finally looked up from his report, making a sardonic face. “Gabe, if you want to gripe, don’t let me stop you. Personally, I don’t find much use in it.”

“Look, we’ve had to do some crazy shit at this school,” Gabriel said, slapping his own report down on the table and narrowly missing Teal’s bowl of pudding. “But it was all craziness with a purpose.”

“You and I remember things very differently,” Trissiny murmured, still reading her own.

“Granted, the purpose was usually only apparent in hindsight, but this? It’s over now! We’re in hindsight territory, and it still doesn’t make any goddamn sense! Why the hell would she assign us a test that can’t be passed?!”

“If you think about it,” said Teal with a smile, “this whole pass/fail dynamic really only happens in academia. I see it as a good sign that Tellwyrn isn’t just teaching us how to be good students.”

“Besides, the logic of it is pretty apparent, at least to me,” Trissiny added. “It was an impossible challenge, but one that was still worth attempting. And we’re still being graded on our efforts; it’s not as if our essays were thrown to the wind.”

“I, for one, found Professor Tellwyrn’s commentary unusually insightful,” Shaeine remarked, eyes on her own report sheet. “Acerbic as always, but in depth and clearly intended to be helpful.”

“Well, I liked the assignment,” Fross added. “It was challenging!”

“It was impossible!” Gabriel complained.

“Um, yes, by definition,” the pixie replied. “It doesn’t get much more challenging than that.”

“Really, seems like only one of us is throwin’ a fit about this,” Ruda said, grinning. “Didn’t do so good, didja, Arquin?”

He huffed and folded his arms sullenly, crumpling his report in the process. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Ruda cackled. The others continued alternately to read over their reports and work on the remains of lunch in relative quiet. The atmosphere in the cafeteria as a whole mirrored that at the freshman table; somewhat subdued, as students studied the results of exams and finished meals, with here and there outbursts of dismay (mostly relating to the former) and exultation. Beneath the distracted quiet and the periodic upsets, there was a feeling of anticipatory excitement in the air. Classes were over, tests administered, and a few free days remained before the senior class’s graduation and the ensuing mass exodus of the student body for summer break.

“How’d you fare, then?” Gabriel pointedly asked Ruda, who had been busy eating, seemingly unconcerned with such trivialities as her grades. She had only just pushed away her empty plate and opened the folder in which her academic results waited.

“Not bad. Good marks. In Tellwyrn’s exam…huh,” she mused, studying the report sheet. “I passed.”

“Excuse me, you what?” Juniper demanded, setting down her spoon.

“What do you mean you passed?” Gabriel exclaimed. “Nobody passes the freshman history exam. That’s the point!”

“The assignment was to propose and defend a plan to achieve world peace,” Trissiny added, staring at her roommate. “If it could be done, it would have been done. How in heaven’s name…”

“Well, I got to thinking about what peace really means, and how it can be achieved,” Ruda mused, her eyes darting over her report and Tellwyrn’s commentary. “So I laid out an eleven-step plan to obliterate all sentient life on the mortal, divine and infernal planes. I got an academic award.” She turned the page. “…and a notice from Tellwyrn that I’ve been added to some kind of Imperial watch list. Neat! Wait’ll I tell Papa!”

“I desperately want to be surprised by this turn of events,” said Gabriel, shaking his head. “But…it just isn’t there.”

Trissiny grunted. “You don’t have to sleep in a room with her.”

A sudden, bone-chilling wail of agony tore through the room, catapulting students to their feet and all but physically turning them toward its source.

At the table currently occupied by the sophomore class, November Stark had bolted straight upright, howling in pain. In fact, her posture was so erect it was nearly unnatural, right up to the neck, beyond which her head lolled as if she were suspended from a noose. As everyone stared in shock, she rose still higher, till her feet left the floor.

A golden corona flickered to life around November, but an erratic, lopsided one, faltering in multiple places as if the power she was drawing on were being leeched away. In the glow, however, a shadow appeared. It was only a vague shape, but it roughly mirrored that of her own body, only larger. The discoloration, revealed where her divine glow exposed it, seemed to encase her like a cocoon, or to be trying to.

“Something’s got her!” Chase shouted, scrabbling among the silverware on the table as if looking for a weapon.

Tanq and Natchua both grabbed November by the legs, trying to pull her back down; almost immediately he went staggering back with a cry of pain. The drow gritted her teeth, clinging doggedly even as a more visible curl of shadow extended, wrapping around her upper body. All around the room, golden light sprang up as nearly every divinely-gifted student in the cafeteria called up power.

“Stop! No blessings!”

Vadrieny’s choral voice froze everyone, even as another shriek of pain tore itself from November’s throat. The archdemon flared her wings once, propelling herself forward; in a single, enormous leap, she shot across the cafeteria, planting her talons on the sophomore table and reaching out to grab November by the throat. Her enormous claws completely encircled the young woman’s neck. Vadrieny forcibly hauled November and her attacker closer, opened her mouth to fully display her complement of fangs, and screamed.

Everyone reeled backward, clapping hands over their ears; several of the elven students cried out in pain. After two seconds of the noise, the plate glass windows lining the south wall of the cafeteria shattered, followed by glasses and plates all across the room.

And then, another voice joined the screaming. Not as loud as Vadrieny’s, but somehow more terrible; it wasn’t so much a physical sound as a rending vibration through existence itself all around them.

The shadow faded to full visibility, and finally relinquished its victim. Drifting backward from the archdemon, it lost cohesion and shot upward in a cloud of smoke, vanishing into the ceiling.

Vadrieny broke off her cry, carefully catching November before the girl could fall to the ground.

“Healers!” she exclaimed, sweeping the mess of dishes and papers off the table with one clawed foot and lowering November to its surface. Natchua, who hadn’t let go the entire time, helped arrange her, quickly assisted by Hildred. Students began stepping forward through the mess of shattered crockery.

“Back up, all of you!” Professor Tellwyrn ordered, stalking forward from the cafeteria doors. “Clear a space there. Yes, that means you, Warwick. Move.”

At her furious direction, the students shifted back, making an opening near the head of the table on which November was now lying unconscious. Tellwyrn pointed there, and with a soft pop, Taowi Sunrunner materialized in the space. She had clearly been sitting down and staggered, but with characteristic elven agility regained her balance and straightened up, her eyes immediately falling on November.

“What happened?” she demanded, shooing Vadrieny and Natchua aside and bending over the fallen girl’s head.

“Gnagrethyct attack,” Tellwyrn said tersely.

Miss Sunrunner jerked her head up, staring at her in shock, but only for a split second, then was bending over November again, carefully running her fingers over the patient’s head and the sides of her neck.

“W-w-what?” Hildred croaked, ashen-faced.

“Gnagrethycts are also called priestkillers,” Tellwyrn explained, raising her voice slightly to be heard by all those present. Behind her, Vadrieny withdrew, leaving Teal looking shaken until Shaeine approached to take her hand. “They have the gift of transmuting divine and to a lesser extent other types of energy into infernal. A living insult to the Circle of Interaction. Miss Stark was extremely lucky today; about the only thing a gnagrethyct does not want to mess with is a bigger, meaner demon. All your blessings would only have killed her faster. Had Vadrieny not been here, we would be dealing with a corpse.”

“Where did it go?” demanded one of the soon-to-graduate seniors. Several students immediately directed their eyes to the patch of ceiling into which the gnagrethyct had vanished.

“A pertinent question indeed,” Tellwyrn said grimly. “I’m more curious right now about where it came from. Gnagrethycts do not bumble about the mortal plane indiscriminately. These are favored and rare servants of Elilial. There are only nine in existence—”

“Seven,” Teal interrupted.

Tellwyrn turned to stare at her, and the bard’s cheeks colored. “Um…sorry. Go on.”

“As I was saying,” Tellwyrn continued, finally tearing her piercing gaze away from Teal, “these are powerful demons which are very seldom seen. I have made my own arrangements to ensure that Elilial does not personally encroach upon this campus, which means that thing is here because one of you little bastards summoned it. And that means somebody has gotten neck-deep into something they absolutely should not have.” She panned a grim stare around the assembled student body. “Look, kids. I didn’t assemble the best and brightest destructive troublemakers in the Empire onto one mountaintop without expecting some seriously twisted shit to occur from time to time. I’m a reasonable woman—Avelea, if I turn around and see that you’ve opened your mouth—good. I’m a reasonable woman, and I’ll deal with this reasonably. Meaning, if the person responsible for this comes to me and explains what happened, how, and why, I will do what is necessary to clean it up without being a whit more vindictive than the situation absolutely demands. If, however, I have to chase down the culprit, she or he will be treated as a traitor and enemy to this campus and a threat to the students under my protection. People who fall under that description learn things about pain that none of you possess a sufficient frame of reference to adequately fear. Is that understood?”

The students stared back in silence, several unwilling to meet her icy stare.

“Yes, ma’am!” Chase said loudly, saluting. Tellwyrn gave him a sour look before turning back to the campus healer.

“Taowi, how is she?”

“Weak,” Miss Sunrunner replied immediately. She had her eyes closed and one hand resting on November’s forehead, concentrating. “No worse than that, as best I can tell. I detect only the most minor physical damage, and no infernal corruption worth noting. This is a case without precedent, Arachne; not a lot of people have been attacked by gnagrethycts, and this is the first survivor ever, to my knowledge. I will learn more when she wakes, but for now, this seems very like a bad case of mana fatigue. The best cure would be rest.”

“Good,” Tellwyrn said tersely, nodding. “Commandeer any of these layabouts for any assistance you need. Falconer! Come along, I want a word with you.”

She turned and strode toward the cafeteria’s side exit, students parting before her in silence. Teal sighed, glanced nervously back at her fellow freshmen, and followed.

Behind and around the building, everywhere except for the glass-walled (and currently unwalled) south face looking over the lawn, ran an open-sided but roofed walkway, shady and pleasantly cool in the summer weather. It was also relatively private; along the western side, it overlooked a small drop to a decorative pond, beyond which was a sunken garden and then only the exterior wall of the University grounds, separating them from a plunge to the prairie far below. Tellwyrn led the way to the halfway point of this stretch of colonnade, then turned.

She gave Shaeine, who had silently followed, a long look, then grimaced, shook her head and turned to Teal. “All right, out with it.”

Teal glanced at Shaeine and then back at Tellwyrn. “Professor?”

“Falconer, my patience for nonsense is even lower than usual at this moment. That demon of yours is supposed to be amnesiac. First I find that someone has summoned one of Elilial’s own servants onto my campus, which not just any warlock could do at the best of times. And then you start spouting specific and hitherto unknown tactical information about the forces of Hell. Believe me, if there were any record on the mortal plane of two of the gnagrethycts having been lost, I’d have heard of it. None of them have been here in six centuries. Vadrieny’s memories starting to return would be a serious concern under any circumstances. Right now, it’s officially a problem.”

Teal’s eyes had progressively widened as she spoke. She shifted her gaze to the near distance, apparently focusing inward; Tellwyrn gave her a moment of quiet, crossing her arms and drumming her fingers against her sleeve impatiently.

“She…doesn’t know,” Teal said finally. “It’s like…common knowledge. Not anything with a personal meaning attached.”

“Mm,” Tellwyrn grunted. “In fiction, retrograde amnesia which deletes personal memories while leaving general knowledge intact is a common enough plot device. In reality, that’s something that technically could happen but pretty much never does, because that is not how brain damage works. Such effects generally only occur as a result of magical manipulation, where someone imposed them deliberately. So even if Vadrieny’s memories are not starting to spontaneously return… This isn’t a good sign.”

“I understand,” Teal said seriously. “But, Professor… Even if Vadrieny’s memory came back, it’s not as if she would suddenly return fully to what she was. She and I are too integrated… And even with the restored memory of her old life, the new one isn’t nothing. I don’t think it would be as simple as her just…reverting to a destructive demon.”

Tellwyrn sighed, turned, and began to slowly stroll along the colonnade. Both girls fell into step behind her. “That’s all well and good… But I’m left with the question of just who the hell has been summoning powerful demons onto my campus. It has to be an initiate of the University itself; the geas on these grounds would stop most warlocks and alert me to any powerful enough to beat it. Initiates necessarily occupy a blind spot, as I can’t come running every time a student casts a spell around here. For the record, Teal, I do believe you. However, until this matter is cleared up one way or another, Vadrieny has to remain a suspect.”

“I get it,” Teal said softly. “I guess I’ll…work extra hard to keep away from demonic influences then.”

“That is what you should do to deflect suspicion,” Tellwyrn said slowly. “But…I’m not sure that’s the most important priority right now. If Vadrieny looks to be regaining her past, for whatever reason, it’s probably best that this happen on her own terms, and yours, rather than according to the plans of whoever sent her here.”

“I cannot believe that having Vadrieny research demonology would yield a positive result,” Shaeine said quietly.

“Not demonology,” Tellwyrn retorted with some asperity. “Demonic history, though, is another thing. I’m sure you were told the basics by the Church, but we have things in the archives here that they don’t show to people, and even a few they may not have. I’ll instruct Crystal to help you.”

“That…actually, I think that would be good for her,” Teal said slowly. “We’re doing pretty well, making friends and connections here, but it’s hard for her, having no hint of where she comes from. I mean…someone could be missing her, you know? I don’t know how they do things in Hell, but surely even demons have families.”

Tellwyrn abruptly came to a halt and pivoted to stare at her, wide-eyed. Both girls stopped, Teal’s expression growing nervous under the elf’s uncharacteristic look of shock.

“Professor?” she said uncertainly.

Tellwyrn’s voice was quiet. “You don’t…know?”

“I, uh… What don’t I know?”

“I never imagined… You spent months with the Universal Church. You were personally examined by several deities. They didn’t tell you?”

“What are we talking about?” Teal demanded.

Tellwyrn shook her head slowly, still staring at her. “Teal, I… I’m sorry. It was never my intention to keep it from you… The thought simply never crossed my mind that you hadn’t been told. The Church has buried a lot of records, but it’s not unknown. It doesn’t make sense; they had to expect you would find out sooner or later. I thought even Trissiny might know, given her upbringing…but I guess not, if you’re still in the dark. That girl can no more keep her mouth shut than she could punch the moon.”

“Professor,” Shaeine said sharply, “the dramatic suspense grows excessive.”

Tellwyrn pulled off her spectacles and polished them on her sleeve, dropping her gaze from Teal’s. “Vadrieny is a known figure, Teal. She’s been on the mortal plane before, and made quite an impression every time. I’ve not personally encountered her before you came along, but I was alive for quite a few of those incidents. We know exactly where she comes from, and who she is.”

“What?!” Teal exclaimed, stiffening. “You do? How can… Wait, the Church knows this?”

“The Church, the Wreath, the Empire… It’s sort of classified, but not very. Kept out of the general public’s eye, but any Nemitite in a central temple could probably dig up the records if you asked them.”

“How is that…” Teal trailed off and she swallowed heavily. “They never said a thing about it. Well, who is she, then?”

Tellwyrn stared at her in silence for a moment as if gathering her thoughts, then sighed and put her glasses back on. “Vadrieny is one of the seven daughters of Elilial.”

It took Teal a long few moments to close her mouth, swallow, and manage a whispered reply. “What?”

“This is beyond ridiculous,” Tellwyrn muttered, frowning into space. “Especially after you were sent here. What the hell is Justinian playing at? He can’t possibly have expected it would be kept a secret from you forever.”

“She…has a family?” Teal asked, her voice trembling. “You said seven daughters? She has sisters?”

Tellwyrn looked back at her, then closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. “Ugh… I really am the worst possible person to deliver news like this…”

“Just spit it out!” Teal snapped.

The Professor sighed. “Teal… We’ve identified all the attack sites. Seven occurred simultaneously, Vadrieny’s possession of you and six other identical attempts. You…were the only one who managed to integrate the demon.”

“No,” Teal whispered. Shaeine stepped close, wrapping an arm around her.

“I have since had personal confirmation from Elilial,” Tellwyrn said quietly. “The other girls perished. The demons, too, in the attempt. Vadrieny…is the last. I’m sorry.”

Teal pulled roughly away from Shaeine, hunching forward and clutching her head. The sound that emerged from her was not one a human throat could have produced.

“Love, please.” Shaeine said urgently. “You are not alone.”

Vadrieny emerged in a rush, claws gouging deep rents in the stone floor. Her wings fanned out behind her, barely missing Shaeine. “Please,” she rasped. “I need…just let me…”

The demon clenched her teeth, then suddenly threw back her head and let out a long wail of anguish. In the next moment, she had staggered to the side, out from under the roof, and shot skyward.

Shaeine clenched her fists at her sides. “I don’t disagree, Professor,” she said tightly. “You are the worst possible person to deliver news like that.”

Tellwyrn sighed again. “She’ll be all right.”

The drow slowly turned to stare at her. “In what possible manner do you think she will be all right?”

“Do not get snippy with me, miss. I didn’t say it would be quick or easy. But yes, she will heal. People do, you know. And she’s not alone. She’ll be less alone when she calms down enough to talk with you about it, but even now, she has Teal. I have faith in them both.”

The Professor turned and set off toward the front of the building, her forehead creased in a frown.

“You do?” Shaeine asked quietly, following. “Just moments ago you were suggesting she was guilty of summoning demons.”

“Look at it this way, Miss Awarrion: I can either have faith in Teal, or put her down like a rabid animal. Which would you prefer?” Tellwyrn shook her head. “Anyhow, as I said at the time, I don’t seriously consider them suspects in this, though they logically have to remain such on paper. Neither has the aptitude for such skullduggery. Vadrieny has always been something of a brute, and Teal… Well, I’ve rarely met a bard so straightforwardly ethical, let me put it that way.” Abruptly she stopped, lifting her head. “…do you feel that?”

The ground shook from the impact of Vadrieny landing a few feet away, in front of the cafeteria.

“Well,” said Tellwyrn, “that was fast. Feeling any—”

“No,” the archdemon said curtly, “but my problems are not the center of the universe. There’s something you need to see.” She pointed one long, curving talon skyward.

Tellwyrn stepped out from under the roof, turning and craning her head to look. Shaeine followed suit, even as she pressed herself against Vadrieny’s side, wrapping an arm around her waist. They weren’t the only ones there; students had begun to trickle out of the damaged cafeteria, several already looking upward. Most of the rest did likewise, to see what so commanded everyone’s attention.

“No,” Tellwyrn whispered. “Damn it, no.”

It was a very standard sort of day for the region—clear, but windy, with puffs of white cloud scudding rapidly across the sky. Except that now, they seemed to have halted in their course and begun to swirl around a central point directly above the University, rather like water going down a drain. The broad spiral of white vapor was already wider than the mountain, slowly revolving and shifting in size as more clouds were caught in it.

Professors Rafe and Ezzaniel stepped up next to Tellwyrn, having evidently been inside the cafeteria. Ezzaniel remained silent; Rafe muttered something in elvish.

“Yeah,” Tellwyrn agreed quietly, then placed a fingertip against her throat. In the next moment, her voice boomed across the entire mountain, audible in every room on the campus. “All students and faculty will immediately assemble on the lawn outside the cafeteria. This is an emergency. Do not use any kind of teleportation, nor attempt to access any bag of holding or other dimensional storage. There is an effect active over the mountain which makes any kind of portal magic extremely dangerous.” She removed her finger, turning to the two professors, and spoke in a normal voice. “You two, get down to the town pronto. Emilio, go to the scrolltower office and contact the Empire. Hold nothing back; we need help, immediately. Admestus, speak with Sheriff Sanders, have him pass the word on to the mayor. Last Rock needs to be evacuated. Within hours, as soon as it can be done. Go.”

“Evacuated?” Ruda demanded stridently, stomping up to her as the two men nodded and dashed off toward the stairs down the mountain. “What the fuck is the big crisis? What’s going on with those clouds? Is that swirly thing dangerous? Doesn’t look like any storm I’ve ever seen; a cyclone would be moving a hell of a lot faster and this isn’t typhoon country.”

“That swirly thing,” Tellwyrn said grimly, “is the result of air pressure equalizing across a rift between two different atmospheres. As for why it’s dangerous, Punaji, look at the expressions of any of your classmates who can sense infernal energy. That, kids, is a brand-new hellgate.”

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40 thoughts on “7 – 1

  1. Okay! Obviously, there has been a change of plans. I had intended (as I mentioned) to have some bonus chapters between the two books, but when it got right down to it, they just weren’t ready. The events of Book 7 were something I’ve been planning in detail from the very beginning of this story; the ideas I had for the bonus chapters weren’t properly formed. And when it came down to time to write, I just didn’t have enough time, due to the aggressive schedule set by the extra donation chapters.

    Which brings me to my next point.

    First of all, I’m adjusting the way Patreon contributions are counted toward extra chapters. My original plan was that each new pledge would count in that amount toward the sum for that week, but after some unexpected generosity, that began to seem unfair. So, starting this week, the Patreon pledge amount divided by four will count toward the weekly bonus goal. Right now, for example, one fourth of the monthly Patreon pledge is $59.25, which blows the previous weekly donation goal out of the water.

    That’s the second announcement; the details are on the Extra Chapters page, but for now the weekly donation goal has been reset to $75, with the stretch goal for a second extra chapter at $200. I think I can safely leave it there for a while. I don’t mind (and in fact rather like) doing one extra chapter per week, but two is going to exhaust me. That should be a comparatively rare thing. I’m going to stick with my plan of moving the goals forward when the secondary goal is reached.

    In other news, my writing time will be further limited from the other end, as I’m getting extra hours at work which I really can’t afford to turn down. They had been diminished recently, and the company just switched from manual scheduling by store managers to having it done by an AI, which I’d been figuring was going to cut me down even further. I was already getting more hours than company policy dictates can be given to someone at my pay grade, and thought that automating it would bring it back into line with policy. Instead, it’s actually giving me more work. Between car bills and upcoming dental bills, I really cannot afford to turn it down.

    As a further development, I now own two cars. What was wrong with my Tracer, it turns out, was a fuel supply problem, not the transmission. Jury’s still out on exactly what the issue was and how to get it fixed, but if it ends up being that I can keep that car, I’m going to. It’s a LOT more fuel efficient than the Dodge Intrepid I’ve been driving, which is a serious concern given the commute I have. If the Tracer turns out to be saveable, I can hopefully sell the Intrepid for enough to have it fully fixed up. In the meantime, I have twice as much car as I need, one uninsured because I cannot make payments on two at once. So, back to scrambling to pay bills as usual, woo.

    All right, I think that’s everything for now. Thanks, everyone, for reading and supporting my little story. See you Wednesday!

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      1. Either they were an early bird who got out just as the deliberately-created gate started to open, or somebody messed up a simple summoning.

        I doubt annoying Tellwyrn quite like this is what Elilial was after doing (if only for Vadreiny’s sake), so one or all of the fledgling warlock idiots is behind this.:/

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  2. More reactions later, but damn, book 7 starts off with a bang. That sort of explains what the two students given all of the knowledge of infernal magic have been doing with their time. It did seem suspicious that nothing had been heard from them for a while.

    Sooner or later Arachne is going to figure out where they got the knowledge from and she and Elilial are going to have words.

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    1. Well the two student could have been not using their power and be wise. If they were wise they wouldn’t have tried to summon a demon in the first place but still, they will be going out with a boom.

      The chapter is really nice, some calm time with the group wich contrast very well with the second part where things fall appart.

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  3. Typos:

    It was only a vague shape, but it roughly mirrored that of her own body, only larger.
    her body
    (reflexive pronouns only if subject and object are the same)

    Reactions:

    You know, I wonder if the “an eleven-step plan to obliterate all sentient life on the mortal, divine and infernal planes” is a hint as to the later plot.

    “a notice from Tellwyrn that I’ve been added to some kind of Imperial watch list”
    That and Gabriel’s reaction to it got a smile.

    A golden corona flickered to life around November
    Since when is she a priestess? I don’t remember that.

    So, certain people in the world have known forever that Vadrieny is the daughter of Elilial, and haven’t bothered to inform Teal/Vadrieny. That certainly sucks. And it is interesting that the lack of knowledge was in front of the readers the whole time and no-one that I know of claims to have caught it – I certainly didn’t.

    The same can be said about the odd form of amnesia that Vadrieny has – it was in front of us but missed. It is an indication of a diabolical mind (in the general sense, not indicative of Elilial) that someone went to the trouble to have a backup plan if incompatible summonings didn’t kill the hosts and archdemons.

    So, even big bad Arachne on her own ground cannot stop a hellgate. Arachne may have to get in line to torture the people responsible – this event is going to send Arachne careening around like a combination of a pinball and an atomic weapon, which is going to piss off and frighten a huge number of other parties, who are going to want to have their own word with the responsible parties. Really, did those two pissants decide that since they weren’t going to survive that they were going to screw the world on the way out?

    Oh, and Embras is going to be most displeased with the idiots who did this. And he at least has a better than average chance of finding them.

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      1. Wasn’t it in the Fross special chapter? I think Tellwyrn said Fross was a bit like November who was a bit like a Gnagrethyct.

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    1. Concerning November:


      “What are you talking about, converting fae magic into arcane?” the half-elf scoffed. “Even I know my Circles of Interaction better than that. Even Ezzaniel does, I bet. Converting pressurized oil into fire is more like it.”

      “Do you suppose this is a latent trait of pixies that no one’s discovered before?” the dwarf asked thoughtfully.

      “I can’t credit the idea,” said the Arachne, shaking her head. “Witches who have pixie familiars tend to be of the more ambitious sort. Someone would have noticed and made use of it. No… I don’t think pixies are secretly the gnagrethycts of the fairy world. Far more likely we’re looking at an outlier. Sort of like our November.”

      We’ve all known that Vadrieny is Elilial’s daughter and that Teal doesn’t know. I had assumed this was done for her protection because being fused with a demon is serious enough, no reason to add arch-demon and demi-goddess to it.

      The amnesia was explained in detail by Teal and Vadrieny. Teal’s body couldn’t contain the demon, so the demon shed everything but her name to fit in. The result wasn’t in anybody’s plan, they were supposed to die and only survived by sheer luck. I’m sure the river into which they fell played a little role in giving them time to figure things out before Teal burned to a crisp.

      We don’t know how hellgates work. We know they can be used to travel between planes but we do not know how they are created. It’s possible that Elilial isn’t responsible, not even indirectly with the two newly minted arch-warlocks. Maybe the gates have existed since before the current pantheon became gods. Maybe only Scyllith can create them. We don’t know.

      If the student warlocks got all the knowledge from Elilial, it is likely they now know about Razz’s school and went there for training/advice. I don’t know what they’d hope to gain from summoning a very rare and powerful demon to attack a student or from opening a hellgate. They are students of Arachne, which means they aren’t stupid. Sure, they made a mistake but if that didn’t wake them up, then they were too stupid to ever being admitted to the university in the first place.

      We shouldn’t forget that Elilial doesn’t want a war with Arachne, that she doesn’t like to involve innocents and that the story is called “The Gods are Bastards”. You know, the gods who insisted their new paladins go to Last Rock in the first place?
      Attacking the students is one of the worst ideas ever and almost everyone in the world knows it. Even some random bandits in the Golden Sea knew it.

      Blaming the new archwarlocks/students for the current mess seems too convenient. If they are responsible, then there is much more going on than “let’s go out with a bang!”
      Opening a hellgate above the university seems too petty for that. For all we know, hellgates can’t be closed once they are open so that would screw over the university in a huge way.
      It technically would work for Elilial’s promise not to harm the students though. I just don’t see how anyone could benefit from pissing off Arachne, the Empire and probably half a dozen mortal organisations.

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  4. Somehow my first thought in response to a new hellgate forming over the university is “Elilial’s probably just planning to enroll some new infernal students.” This theory seems wildly improbable, but I still like it, and will hold to it until it is thoroughly disproven (possibly within the first paragraphs of the next chapter)

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  5. immediate reaction upon reading that last line? – Well… *all-caps expletive*.

    Seriously, though, this is going to be the best part of the year. I can only hope that the Darling Company and the trio that Tellwyrn’s had bunking with Toby and Gabe get good B/C plots to go along with this (possibly directly interacting dealing with this since this seems like the kind of thing that Justinian would send the Bishops Four at). Another interesting result of this could be that Flora/Fauna get outed in some fashion, with Darling having to play the fool to keep from losing his position.

    Actually, the more I think about this, the more clear it becomes that this big end of the year she-bang will likely draw in basically every group that we’ve got running at the moment – The students and the RVB trio, Darling Company and the Bishops Four, the Dragon Conglomerate, the Wreath, Justinian Company (Kheshiri’s group), and maybe even an appearance by the Pantheon where they reveal a few unknown Paladins (including some that didn’t know it was coming like Gabe?)….. Yup, I’m hyped.

    Now the question of the hour – is the university about to become battle-camp for the remainder of Trissiny and friends college years or are Tellwyrn/Lil going to reach an agreement about that thing staying closed in order to keep things relatively nice-nice between the pair? I don’t know…. but I’m excited.

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  6. Just a quick note, everyone: the donation goal for the first extra chapter has been met! I’m still struggling with my work schedule and have to spend the morning today on the normal Wednesday update, and the evening at work. But I have Wednesday off to write, aside from a dentist appointment in the morning (which hasn’t stopped me before). First extra will be up Thursday.

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  7. (I posted this on the wrong chapter initially. Mobile sites.)

    Webb’s internet is down, and the chapter will be delayed until the internet gods shine upon him again.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Since we are unfortunately delayed for our fix (going into withdrawal here), I put together my thoughts on who opened the hell gate. They are formatted as a police procedural initially, i.e. means, motive, and opportunity, plus some extra stuff. Feel free to chime in / agree / tell me where I am smoking something, but note that this is intended to be a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” exercise, not an exacting evaluation.

    Means: massive amounts of magic, preferably infernal
    Good possibilities: Arachne; Elilial; Scyllith; Razzavinax the Red; the Wreath as a whole; major demons; large groups of Scyllene drow
    Lesser possibilities: Pantheon deities; the two idiot students (knowledge is not immediately power); other dragons; adventurers; headhunters; (unknowns, e.g. other students)

    Means: extremely rare knowledge of infernal gate magic
    Good possibilities: Arachne; Elilial; Scyllith; Razzavinax the Red; the two idiot students
    Lesser possibilities: some Wreath; some major demons; some Scyllene drow; some Pantheon deities; other dragons; adventurers; Kheshiri (Thumper); (unknowns, e.g. other students)

    Motive: reason to open a hell gate
    Critical points: Anyone with any knowledge, the two idiots included, must know this will get multiple parties, Arachne foremost, insanely pissed off, and anyone found guilty will have an agonizing near-eternity to deal with. So they are either bat-shit insane, can’t recognize risks, or suicidal (and have a way to destroy themselves rather than get caught). Also, this will cause massive disruption and presumably deaths, to the point that no-one could clearly win, so there is complete lack of empathy or restraint shown here.
    Good possibilities: None – none of the current players has a clear reason to do this
    Lesser possibilities: Elilial (her actual game isn’t what she presents; revenge for killing her daughters); Pantheon (casus belli); Scyllith; the two idiot students (cover?; screw the world motive?); some Wreath; some major demons; some Scyllene drow; adventurers?; headhunters (screw the Tiraan empire may over-ride the other motivations); adventurers (a good fight?, more recognition?, go out with a bang?); Kheshiri (Thumper); (unknowns)

    Opportunity: can set up what is probably complex, fixed-site magic under Arachne’s nose
    Good possibilities: Elilial (if she wanted); the two idiot students
    Lesser possibilites: some Wreath; (unknowns)

    Other considerations:
    Follow the money. People lie, situations can be interpreted multiple ways, but the money doesn’t lie (unless it is used to frame someone, and then, if you can really follow the money, it still works). The problem with that idea is that there are no obvious winners and everyone seems to lose – there’s no profit to be had. But flip the question: who loses? Everyone at first glance, but more specifically, who loses most? Then the answer is clear: Arachne. She is kicked out of her power base, under suspicion for incompetence at a minimum, suddenly has every major player butting into her turf, and will likely still try to meet the obligations she has taken on (primarily taking care of her students). The follow-up question is: who has reason to shit on Arachne?
    Good possibilities: no-one obvious
    Lesser possibilites: the two idiot students; anyone Arachne has crossed previously, including the Pantheon (but usually her enemies are dead); anyone who wants to keep Arachne occupied for the near future; (unknowns)

    So, all-in-all, the only people showing up in all groups and evaluations of potential are the two idiot students. I favor the theory that the two idiot students deciding that their biggest problem was Arachne, either by themselves or after being influenced by something they were stupid/crazed enough to listen to. So they arrange to distract Arachne and knock out her power base in the most blatant way possible.

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    1. I could actually see it being those two. The Wreath and Lil (I suspect) want to be too subtle at the moment for something like this. It’s been made pretty clear that Scyllyth, for all that she’s a heavy hitter, is pretty well bottled up in the Underdark (or the DD Webb equivalent who’s name escapes me), so unless the status quo has majorly changed there w/o notice, I’d say she’s busy for now. And Arachne’s immediate response – “Call back-up” – would indicate that it isn’t her; if it had been, she’d have had some form of pre-prep ready.

      Another unknown where the two students are concerned – what did having all that knowledge dumped in their head do? For all we know, the process of assimilating all of that could’ve warped their mindset appropriately to lead them to thinking that they can handle the consequences for this.

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    2. I like this theory. The two idiot students also had the access necessary, as Arachne pointed out earlier only an initiate of the university can practice magic freely, she’d know about anyone else the moment they start.

      My reason for thinking it wasn’t the students is mostly a gut feeling. It’s too obvious to be true… and I don’t see how they’d profit from it in any way.

      Counter theory: Maybe the ritual to open the hellgate wasn’t performed on university grounds, maybe it was opened from the other side. Or perhaps someone flying in the air above was doing it.

      Crazy theory: Vadrieny did it. Either subconciously because she wants to go home or she got a part of her knowledge and power back. In the latter case she is holding Teal hostage in her own body.

      Yet another crazy theory: Someone (presumably the gods of the pantheon) sabotaged the demonic possessions of Elilial’s daughters (goal of that plan is still unclear) and got six of them killed. What if those rituals were sabotaged to steal the power of 7 archdemons? What if someone now wields that power and used it to open a hellgate?

      One more: Maybe the hellgate is benign and exists far up in the air for a reason, so that only fliers can traverse it. Maybe it’s a way for Vadrieny to visit home after class and for mom to visit the university for the parent-teacher-conference.😉

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      1. “What if those rituals were sabotaged to steal the power of 7 archdemons? ”

        Ah, a new idea (to me at least). I like this one – one of the things we have heard more than once is that power doesn’t just go away, that killing a god allows you to take the power of said god. So killing 6 archdemons ought to allow for a lot of power transferred.

        Counter-arguments:
        These deaths have been investigated by Arachne and Imperial Intelligence, at a minimum. Especially Arachne would recognize the sort of ritual needed to transfer power from a god because she apparently did it herself. But we haven’t heard anything like that. (Odd idea – maybe she fed the leftovers of her original god-kill to the Crawl, which is why it likes her.)
        Similarly, sabotaging Elilials’ daughters’ summonings was done subtly. You would think that the necessary steps to steal power would be more complex than those necessary to just screw up the summonings and would therefore be more difficult to do, given the secrecy requirements.

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  9. That could also be an accident. The two idiots students may have tried something powerfull and complex, messed up due to the lack of practical experience and opened the gate by accident.
    I imagine if you try something insanely complex with lots of little details, even if you know how to do it, you may still make mistake(s).

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  10. Update!

    The internet sattelite that services his area is having some problems.

    Webb says:
    “I feel awful about letting everyone down. And just when I started taking donations, too. Hopefully will have internet back tomorrow.”

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    1. Life happens. It’s not his fault and he has no reason to feel bad about something outside of his control. It’s not like the update is going to be missing, it is merely late. No harm done and we should be able to withstand the withdrawal for a few days.😉

      It might be useful to look into an alternative internet connection though. The donations should help with that. Although as I understand it, he lives in a trailer in the middle of nowhere, so getting cable might not be possible at all.

      Thank you very much for giving us an update.🙂

      Like

    2. ah, sorry to hear that. Living in a remote rural area myself, I feel his pain and hope his internet problems resolve quickly.

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  11. I did find it odd.. Tellwyrn’s delivery kf the news seemed pretty tactful to me, i don’t understand why shaeine broke her reserve to scold her for it.

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    1. Gotta say, I had hoped November was one of Lilie’s warlock, since that’d have made fun sheningans with Trissiny. Won’t be so lucky tho, looks like. The 2nd year drow looks like she’s off the hook too.

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