9 – 14

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Trissiny hammered on the door for the third time. “Last chance,” she said flatly.

“I think if he was gonna come to the door, he’d have done it when we rang the bell,” said Gabriel. “Or at least the second time we rang the bell.”

“I believe his reticence is understandable,” said Shaeine. “After our previous visit, he doubtless has some idea what to expect.”

“I’m not sure I like the idea of barging in on a warlock who’s expecting it,” Ruda commented.

“I very much doubt this guy has anything to throw at us that we can’t handle,” said Trissiny, drawing her sword. “And as of now he has officially had his chance.” She wedged the tip of the blade behind one of the door’s iron hinges and began levering at it. Like most of Leduc Manor, the wood was rotted and the fixtures loose; progress wasn’t fast, but it began working free almost immediately.

“Um, I’m not sure you should be doing that,” Toby said hesitantly.

“An ax or crowbar would be better,” Trissiny grunted, “but at least I know this won’t break.”

A fiery glow washed over the manor’s ragged courtyard as Vadrieny emerged. The archdemon cleared her throat politely.

“Trissiny, if I may?”

The paladin yanked her sword free and stepped aside, allowing her up to the door. Vadrieny calmly sank her claws into the wood around its old iron latch, then ripped the entire thing free and tossed it aside. Immediately, the door sagged inward.

“Ah,” Trissiny said in satisfaction. “Thank you, Vadrieny.”

“My pleasure.”

She shoved through the door and into the ruinous entry hall, pausing to peer around.

“You feel it, I assume,” Toby murmured, coming in behind her.

She nodded. “No surprise. Even if Lord Sherwin hasn’t laid traps, this was home to a family of diabolists for who knows how many years.”

“Pshaw, bring ’em on!” Fross chimed, swooping in above their heads. “We took on a hellgate!”

“What do you think you’re doing!?” bellowed a reedy voice from the back of the hall. In the darkest, most distant corner behind the stairs, a door flew open and Sherwin Leduc himself stomped out, glaring furiously. “How dare you burst in here! Do you have any idea who—”

“Shut up,” Trissiny ordered. “We’re here to release your prisoner. Are you going to be helpful, or are you going to get hurt?”

“This is your doing!” he raged, pointing a trembling finger at Vadrieny. “I should never have let you in!”

“I’m done with you, little man,” she said disdainfully. “Now you deal with the paladins.”

“Through that door, then?” Gabriel said, circling around the rest of the group and stepping with care on the decayed floorboards. “Well, if he’s not gonna lead the way, I trust you two remember?”

“It is not far,” said Shaeine.

“Absolutely not!” Leduc shouted. “You thugs are not messing with my work! I have spent too much time and effort and money arranging this to have it all undone by a bunch of kids. I don’t care who you are!”

“You probably should,” Juniper remarked. She had removed her ring outside and now showed her normal coloring, not that it seemed to make much impression on him.

“Enough,” Trissiny said curtly, stalking forward. “Get out of the way.”

“You think you’re going to invade Leduc Manor without consequences, little girl?” he snarled. “I have means of dealing with interlopers. Don’t you dare take another step! You don’t have the authority—”

“I am the Hand of Avei!” Trissiny roared, flaring alight. Golden wings sprang forth from behind her, stretching into the cavernous emptiness of the hall and filling every corner with Avei’s radiance.

The entire building groaned as if its very stones were trying to fall down. There came cascades of sparks from across the walls and ceiling, and flashes of flame as invisible demonic wards combusted in midair around the room. Toby and Gabriel added their own blazing auras, accelerating the reaction of the manor’s defenses, and soon the whole place was filled with a haze of sulfur-scented fog. The sounds of splintering wood and breaking glass continued to echo from distant rooms.

The whole time, Trissiny didn’t so much as pause.

“You are keeping a woman imprisoned for purposes that don’t even bear mentioning!” she snarled, continuing on toward the suddenly ashen-faced Lord Leduc. “My authority ends where you muster the power to stop me, which I think you will find is nowhere!”

She casually slammed her shield into him, shoving him aside, and stalked right past. Leduc caught himself against the wall, staring in apparent stupefaction as the rest of the party trooped after Trissiny. Most gave him disdainful looks in passing. Only Fross dallied a few extra moments in the hall, conjuring up a cold wind to clear out the smoke.

“This way,” said Shaeine, slipping into the lead in the kitchen apartment and showing the others to the rear door that concealed the staircase. Vadrieny had to fold her wings in tightly to pass through, but did not retreat back into Teal. The three paladins dimmed their glows at a pointed look from the archdemon.

Moments later, the group was spreading out in the dark hall at the base of the stairs. It branched off to either side, but the room converted into Leduc’s elaborate prison stood almost across from the stairwell. Vadrieny stepped up to the door and spoke a few harsh syllables.

The others clustered around, craning their necks to peer within. The cage’s occupant had sprung upright, grasping the bars, and now stared eagerly through them at the archdemon, babbling rapidly in the same rasping tongue.

After a momentary exchange, Vadrieny nodded and withdrew, leaving only Teal, who glanced behind her at the others. “Watch your step,” she cautioned. “I don’t think the sigils on the floor will hurt any of us, but I’m not sure I wanna learn what happens when you break a holy sigil with this many demon-blooded people in the vicinity.”

“Well,” said Fross, coming to hover above her, “depending on the circumstances and the deity in question—”

“It was rhetorical, Fross,” said Ruda.

“Oh.”

“Get away from there!” Leduc howled, barreling out of the stairwell behind them. “Don’t touch her! You can’t just come in here and do this! She’s mine, I can do whatever I like with her! I know the law—succubi have no legal standing under—”

“You unbelievable imbecile, that isn’t a succubus!” Gabriel exclaimed. “Are you daft or just blind? Look at her!”

“They’re shape-shifters, you twit!” Leduc snarled right back. “She’s just being obstreperous. I have this in hand, and you will not—”

“That should have been the thing that clued you in,” Toby interrupted, staring severely at him. “A succubus wouldn’t have told you ‘no.’ They essentially never do. She’d have accepted your advances and any terms you offered and immediately begun manipulating you and working around them. You’re a diabolist; you should know that, or you have no business trying to summon one.”

“He has no business trying to summon a child of Vanislaas under any circumstances,” Trissiny snorted. “No one does.”

“Oh, so here’s the big Avenist to make sure nobody has any fun,” Leduc sneered at her. “You can talk about justice all you like, we all know you just hate the thought of a man not needing women. What are you without that control? Just a whore priced out of the market!”

Trissiny whirled and stalked right at him at a pace barely short of a run, bringing up her sword.

“Trissiny!” Shaeine said firmly. “Justice.”

The paladin came to a stop, glaring at Leduc through slitted eyes; he had staggered backward against the wall, apparently realizing only belatedly what he’d said, to judge by the horrified look on his face. After a moment she drew in a deep breath and let it out in a long hiss through her teeth. “Right. You’re correct. Thank you, Shaeine.”

“I do believe,” Ariel commented, “this man is the dumbest nominally sentient being I have ever encountered.”

“And she hangs out with Gabe! That’s sayin’ something.”

“Thank you, Ruda, for your input.”

“Oh, don’t give me that look, Arquin. Difference is, you learn. Eventually.”

Juniper cleared her throat and took Leduc by the upper arm. “Hey, can I have a word with you upstairs?”

“June,” Toby warned.

“I’m not gonna hurt him,” the dryad reassured them. “I just want to talk. C’mon, this way.” She pulled Sherwin back into the stairwell, so abruptly he nearly lost balance.

“Hey—let go of me! I won’t want—”

“Yeah, I don’t really care. You can feel free to hex me all you want, if it makes you feel better.”

His protesting voice gradually diminished as they ascended the stairs.

“I…am gonna go keep an eye on that,” Fross said, fluttering over to the stairwell. “If you need my help with anything down here, just shout.”

“Will do,” Gabriel promised, then glanced at the stairs with a frown. “And Fross? Same goes.”

“Yeah,” the pixie agreed, then zipped through the door and up the stairs.

“All right,” Toby said, turning and stepping carefully into the prison room. “What’s the plan, here?”

The rest of them followed him in, and paused, the group stretched out along the walkway of planks leading to the cage. Within, the demon now stared at them in silence, still clutching the bars.

Trissiny slowly pivoted in place, studying the room. It was practically papered in holy symbols, interrupted only where the lights were hung and the fairy altars set up.

“Well, we can’t bring her out with all this here, she’d just burn,” said Teal. “I guess…step one should be taking down those altars? They’re feeding power into the sigils. From there… I dunno. Breaking them seems like a bad idea.”

“It is,” Trissiny agreed. “Gabe, Toby… Do either of you happen to know the ritual of deconsecration?”

“Wait, you can de a consecration?” Gabriel exclaimed. “Man…I am so far behind.”

“Not in this case,” said Toby, frowning. “I’ve never even heard of that.”

“I hadn’t either,” Trissiny murmured. “It wasn’t part of my education. After that demonblood shopkeeper in Tiraas gave me an earful last winter, I looked it up. I know the ritual to purge a blessing from an Avenist sigil. But if you don’t…”

“Merely deconsecrating the golden eagles in this room is unlikely to make a substantial difference, even considering Avei’s primacy of place within the Pantheon,” said Shaeine. “Even if Toby and Gabriel can do the same with their own sigils. That would leave most still active.”

“It’s a universal ritual,” said Trissiny. “Should work on anything. But…”

“Uh, yeah,” Toby said worriedly. “I don’t know what would happen if three paladins scrubbed the blessings off a bunch of sigils of every god, but I doubt it would be much better than just breaking all these.”

“Azh’khthash mavhtchaar!” the demon said impatiently.

“Oh, keep your pants on, we’re working on it,” Gabriel retorted.

“She’s not wearin’ pants,” Ruda said helpfully.

“Look,” he snapped, rounding on her, “if you want actually do something useful, what about that sword of yours? Mithril blocks magic—it could neutralize the sigils.”

“You want me to go through this room individually poking every one of these goddamn things?” she said dryly. “That’s great, Arquin. Sure, why not. I didn’t have anything else planned for this fucking year.”

“It probably wouldn’t take more than a few hours,” said Teal, rubbing her chin. “And…well, our other option is to carefully and respectfully move each of these out of the room.”

Trissiny shook her head. “I have to say this is a dilemma I never expected to face.”

“Okay, hang on,” said Gabriel, closing his eyes.

“Uh, hey,” Ruda said, “can you nap on your own—”

“Ruda, be silent,” Shaeine said flatly. Ruda blinked and turned to her in surprise. “He’s reaching out to his deity. At this point, we should welcome any option.”

“Right,” Gabriel said, heaving a sigh and opening his eyes. “Okay. Got a solution. I can shadow-jump her out of the cage and into the hall. It was safe for Vadrieny outside the room, so she should be fine.”

The others stared at him, Trissiny and Shaeine having to crane around their classmates to see.

“You can shadow-jump?” Trissiny finally demanded. “Since when?”

“Gabe,” Toby said, frowning, “you haven’t been studying infernal magic, have you?”

“Little known fact,” said Gabriel, “but shadow-jumping isn’t actually infernal magic. It’s a kind of shadow magic, which can in theory be done by any of the four schools, but the infernal is easiest. Anyway, no, I can’t just do it at will. But it’s something Vidius does upon request for his most…uh, senior priests. If he considers the reason worthwhile.”

“And he considers this worthwhile?” Trissiny frowned, turning back to peer at the caged demon. “I have to say I’m…surprised.”

“Hey, if you want to know why a god does something, I can’t help you,” Gabriel said wryly. “He did say last spring that he was interested in seeing if demons are worth more than just target practice. And, I mean, he’s no Avei, but the guy has a basic sense of fairness. This shit right here would be unacceptable even if she was an aggressor. Considering she was basically kidnapped…”

“All right,” said Teal, “I’d better try to explain it to her. Excuse me…”

She very carefully edged past Toby and Trissiny to the front, approaching the cage. The demon watched her flatly. That close, the contrast with Teal made it obvious what a physically powerful specimen the prisoner was—she towered head and shoulders above the bard, and was far more muscular of build than any woman any of them had seen before. Aside from the spiked iron bracers, her only garment was a leather wrap that encased her from just below her arms to just above her knees—it left a lot of her skin on display, and every inch of that was laid over bulging muscle.

“Hhthrazhkin duon,” Teal said carefully. “Vreskin hrazth ag szhagsnad.”

The demon, incongruously, grinned widely and snickered. Teal sighed heavily, running a hand over her face.

“Are you telling her jokes?” Ruda demanded.

“No,” Teal said in irritation. “It’s just… Vadrieny’s feeding me the words, but they’re hard to form. My pronunciation…isn’t great. If I could just let her out to do this it’d be a lot easier, but last time the sigils…”

“You’re lucky you have that Talisman of Absolution,” said Toby. “Or you both could have been seriously harmed.”

“Yeah,” Teal agreed, turning back to the demon. “Talk amongst yourselves, I’m gonna try to explain things. It could take a bit to get it right.”

“I’m not surprised,” Ruda said in a quieter tone as Teal carried on rasping at the demon. “That whole fucking language sounds like a cat horking something up.”

“I’ve always wondered about that,” Gabriel murmured. “It seems weird. Most demons have the same basic kind of vocal apparatus we do, right? I mean, the sentient ones.”

“They do,” said Trissiny, “and it’s neither weird nor a coincidence. Demonic is a constructed language; it was designed by Scyllith. The goddess of cruelty.”

“It’s not just the pronunciation,” Shaeine added. “The Scyllithene dialect of elvish is influenced by demonic. The accent is only subtly different, but grammar and word order is all turned around, and not in a pattern that seems consistent. Admittedly, though, our exchanges with our Scyllithene cousins are rarely verbal.”

They all turned to watch for a moment as Teal fell silent and the demon began speaking; her voice was deep and made the guttural tongue seem to fill the room. Several of the sigils rattled very softly against each other.

“So, about shadow-jumping,” Toby said quietly. “Care to go into a little more detail on that, Gabe?”

“All right, well…” Gabriel scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I know you guys have only taken Yornhaldt’s basic classes, but in the actual arcane degree program….uh. Let me think how to put it. Fross is better at explaining these things…”

“Allow me?” Ariel suggested. “Shadow magic refers to any classification of spell that does not belong to one of the four schools on the Circle of Interaction. There are few such, but they do exist—for example, the source of vampires. Shadow-jumping is one such type of spell. Its magic cannot be accessed directly by our methods, and requires an intermediary use of Circle-compliant magic. Doubtless it was easier to access before the Elder War, but many of the rules were changed with the fall of the Elder Gods and the creation of the divine and arcane energy fields.

“In essence, it is an issue of power. Infernal magic has a naturally corrosive effect on physical reality, and so when manipulated in the right way is useful for boring a hole between two places, which is the essence of what shadow-jumping is, and activates the effect. With the other three schools, there is just not enough energy. An arcanist can simply teleport far more cheaply; a cleric could not handle the requisite amount of divine power without being incinerated by it. And by the time a witch gathered up enough totems of power and fairy allies to perform such a feat, she could have just walked there. Thus, shadow-jumping is commonly only done by diabolists. The only exception is when a deity intervenes to do it for a follower, as is apparently the case with Vidius and his senior priests and now Hand. I didn’t know that either,” she added somewhat petulantly.

“You’re a pretty good lecturer, Ariel,” Toby said, grinning. “You could almost teach a class yourself.”

“I have often thought so. Not that Professor Ekoi sets the bar very high.”

“Hey, I like Ekoi,” Gabriel protested. “I mean, when she’s not sticking her claws in me. She’s funny. Sly, I mean, not goofy like Rafe.”

“Okay,” Teal called. “I think we’ve reached an understanding here. Gabriel, you need to touch her, right?”

“Right.”

“She’ll allow it, as long as you’re respectful.”

“Dear gods in the sky,” he said, wide-eyed, “I just need a grip on her arm. I’m not gonna grope her.”

“I understand that, Gabe,” the bard said patiently, “but you need to consider where she’s been and what Leduc’s been trying to get her to do. Her tolerance is understandably low.”

“Ah… Yeah, point taken.”

He carefully eased past the others to join Teal at the bars.

“Schkhurrankh, vzash’ke Gabriel,” Teal said. “Gabriel, meet Schkhurrankh. Don’t try to say it; I’m having a hard enough time, and the slightest mispronunciation of someone’s name is basically demanding a duel in her culture.”

“How the hell are they not all dead?” he marveled. “Uh, hi there…ma’am. Nice to meet you. I’m Gabe; I’m a friend, promise.” He gingerly slipped one hand through the bars, holding it up toward her face. Schkhurrankh peered at it, then tilted her head, frowning down at him.

“Gabriel, she is hardly going to sniff your fingers,” said Ariel, “and I dearly hope she doesn’t understand the implication.”

“Uh, right!” he said, quickly lowering his arm and gesturing toward one of hers.

“Let’s be moving back toward the hall,” suggested Trissiny. “Leave them space to arrive, but…”

“But it’s best if we’re around when she’s out of that cage,” Teal agreed. “I think it’s best if Vadrieny’s there, in fact.”

As they filed out the door, the demon finally took Gabriel’s arm, wrapping her enormous clawed fingers around his wrist and leaving him to do the same with hers.

“Vladskhaar n’zud, tzukhlunth,” she warned.

“Somehow, I don’t even need that translated,” he said. “All right, hold on to your… Uh, you know what, never mind. Here we go.”

In that brightly-lit room, the swelling up of shadows around the cage was so visually wrong it was disconcerting; the simultaneous deepening of the darkness in the already-dim hall outside seemed much more appropriate. Gabriel and Schkhurrankh re-materialized in the center of the hall, just as Trissiny stepped out of the prison room, the last to arrive. In the next moment, Vadrieny emerged from within Teal, adding her orange glow to the dimness.

Schkhurrankh drew in a deep breath, her powerful chest swelling, then let it out as a deafening roar, whirled and began slamming her fists into the stone wall. Craters formed immediately; dust shook from the ceiling and more and more fragments of stone were sent flying, prompting Shaeine to shield herself and Ruda behind silver spheres. Toby held up a hand to protect his eyes; Trissiny was armored and Gabriel durable, and added no magical effects. All three paladins were reluctant to flash any divine magic at the towering demon. She was grinning in exultation as she systematically pummeled the stonework, as if punishing the manor itself for daring to have imprisoned her.

“Um,” said Toby, “not that she doesn’t have every right to be pent-up, but I have no idea whether this is a load-bearing wall…”

“Ashask zsakhar!” Vadrieny snapped, and Schkhurrankh immediately stopped, turning and bowing low to the archdemon.

“Well, then!” Gabriel said, wiping his palms against his coat. “I guess that’s the hard part taken care of.”

“Think so, do you?” asked Ariel.


 

Leduc’s apartment was still unoccupied. They finally found their reluctant host and the fairies all the way out in the collapsing entrance hall, where Fross was slowly drifting around the ceiling, laying patches of ice here and there for some reason. Juniper and Sherwin were seated side by side on the bottom of the once-grand staircase. Strangely, he was slumped forward with his face in his hands, and she had an arm draped around his shoulders.

Before anyone could even ask, Schkhurrankh let out a furious roar and charged at them.

Vadrieny lunged, but was a hair too slow. Juniper, however, managed to stand and place herself in front of Leduc; she caught the charging demon with one outstretched hand and very calmly threw her back.

Schkhurrankh went flying across the room, slamming against a the far wall. Beside her, the boards that had been covering the window collapsed, along with a good chunk of the stone wall itself. The demon sat there, blinking in astonishment.

“Oh,” Juniper said, wincing, “oops. She’s not as heavy as she looks. Is she okay? I really didn’t mean to hurt—”

The demon brayed again in wordless outrage, bounding to her clawed feet and beginning to lunge forward again.

This time, Vadrieny got there first, seizing Schkhurranh by the throat and whirling her around the slam her back against the wall. An entire segment of it collapsed, showering both demons with falling masonry; the whole building groaned in protest, part of the roof caving dangerously toward the new depression.

Sherwin and the students, with a chorus of yells, skittered away to the opposite side of the room, with the exception of Fross, who dived at the collapsing section, spraying out water that instantly froze. In seconds, she had propped up the falling masonry with ice, temporarily halting the collapse. It was hardly a permanent solution, however; aside from the fact that it wouldn’t last long, the ice added more weight to the already beleaguered masonry.

The two demons paid this no mind, any more than they did to the stone and rotted timber that had smashed down on top of them; both were yelling at each other in demonic. It was a peculiar sight; despite Vadrieny’s impressive mane and wings of fire, she was physically a good bit smaller than Schkhurrankh. Despite this, she held the bigger demon in place without apparent effort. In fact, the Rhaazke didn’t seem to dare struggle against her, contenting herself with words.

“I…I should go apologize to her,” Leduc said miserably, wringing his hands.

“That would be an incredibly bad idea,” Toby said firmly.

“That appears to be the only kind he has,” Ariel commented.

“Now you want to apologize?” Trissiny demanded, rounding on Leduc. He flinched back from her, hunching in on himself and dropping his gaze.

“We’ve been having a talk,” Juniper explained. “I think I made him understand why what he did was wrong. Sherwin isn’t malicious; he’s just naïve, entitled, repressed and was in denial about all the rest of it. We worked through that and made a real breakthrough!”

“That,” Shaeine said carefully, “is so impressive as to defy believability. Mental healers work with patients for years to make that kind of progress, Juniper. He is quite possibly scamming you.”

“Nah, he’s not quick-witted enough to do that.”

“Hey!” Leduc protested weakly.

“Well, you’re not,” the dryad said reasonably. “Remember what we discussed about acknowledging your faults? Anyhow, Shaeine, most mental healers can’t tell every detail about a person’s sexual identity and desires by their scent. Since this whole messy business is bound up in his sexuality, that pretty much told me everything. Also, most mental healers don’t physically restrain their patients from leaving until they listen. Even so, the poor guy really does mean well, he just—”

“The poor guy?!” Trissiny shouted, practically spitting with rage. Leduc gulped loudly and edged behind Juniper.

“Yeah, the poor guy,” the dryad said firmly, meeting Trissiny’s gaze unflinchingly. “He should be held responsible for this, Trissiny, I am not arguing that. But come on… I refuse to believe that mentally healthy people do things like this to each other. At the root of all evil is pain, or ignorance. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean we don’t see justice done.”

“W-wait,” Lord Leduc said tremulously. “I-I thought…”

“Sherwin,” Juniper said in exasperation, “you kidnapped somebody, imprisoned and tortured her, and were going to rape her eventually. Now, I’ve got more empathy than most for somebody who did something that awful out of ignorance, but come on. There have gotta be consequences. You may not believe it now, but I promise you need to face them if you’re ever gonna straighten yourself out. I’ve been there.”

Leduc let out a soft squeak and seemed to wilt in on himself even further.

Across the room, Schkhurrankh’s tone had become pleading rather than enraged. Vadrieny was no longer gripping her by the throat, but had her clawed hands on each of the larger demon’s shoulders, and seemed more to be holding her up than holding her back.

“Excuse me,” said Ariel, “but why are we restraining her? Letting the sexually deviant warlock be killed by the demon he abused seems both efficient and equitable. Poetic, even.”

“That is not what we do,” Shaeine said firmly. “We will have justice, not more senseless violence.”

“Not all violence is necessarily senseless,” Trissiny said darkly, “but you’re right. Justice is all the more important when it is tempting to just dispatch the criminal.” She glared at Leduc, who had peeked around from behind Juniper at her. He squeaked again and ducked back into hiding.

“Excuse me, I hate to rush what’s obviously an important moment,” Fross chimed from above, “but you two are standing right under the part of the room that’s gonna collapse and this really is not going to hold it up much longer. Do I need to build a bigger ice brace, here, or can we move all this outside?”

Vadrieny looked up at her, then back at Schkhurrankh, and said quietly, “Thatznha. Shlvakhshka rhe. Zhtzi?”

The Rhaazke drew in a deep breath, bared her fangs for a moment, but then nodded. “Tzkhorsa lkhai.”

“I believe we are done,” Vadrieny said, finally releasing Schkhurrankh and stepping back. “Let’s get out of here before it all comes down.”

“That language is really interesting,” Fross said brightly, descending toward them. “That whole time I don’t think I actually heard you repeat a syllable. It doesn’t actually have grammar, does it? Kinda like the gnomish Patter, but with—”

“Fross!” Ruda exclaimed.

“Oh. Right. Escaping, yes, got it.”

They made their slow and wary way toward the broken door, keeping a careful eye not only on the damaged roof and rotten floor, but also on Schkhurrankh and Leduc, who had locked eyes from across the room. After a moment, he mumbled something, turned and scurried off into the darkness down another side hall. The demon snorted loudly and stalked the rest of the way to the door, not minding how the wood crunched under her talons. The rest of them followed much more carefully, but also quickly.

Outside, they regrouped in the courtyard, and apparently not a moment too soon. Behind them, half of the entry hall collapsed, the tinkle of shattering ice added to the roar of broken stone and fallen beams. It went on for long moments before stilling.

“D’you think he’s okay?” Juniper asked, frowning.

“That fucker has never been okay in his life,” Ruda snorted.

“Whether he is or not, this isn’t over,” Trissiny said firmly. “He has yet to face any meaningful consequences for what he did.”

“You mean, apart from collapsing half his house?”

“Ruda,” she said impatiently, “if he cared about that, the house wouldn’t have been in this state to begin with.”

“Also, it wasn’t half the house,” Fross added. “Pretty much just the front room. Still looks solid behind that.”

Schkhurrankh growled loudly and punched the crumbling remains of a gargoyle perched beside the manor’s front steps. It dissolved into a spray of gravel.

“Brilliant,” said Ariel. “Look what we get to babysit now. I hope everyone is pleased.”

“Shut up, Ariel,” Trissiny said wearily. “The problem now is getting her back to Dufresne Manor. Obviously, taking her through Veilgrad is not even a prospect. Gabriel…?”

“No dice, I already asked,” he said shaking his head. “Getting the imprisoned victim out of the cage was apparently worth divine intervention; facilitating convenient travel, not so much.”

“Deities generally prefer not to be called upon lightly,” Shaiene noted.

“Also,” said Ruda, “we came right here from Veilgrad, which means Malivette has no idea we’re bringing her another houseguest from an unreachable sub-Hell who doesn’t speak a word of Tanglish. So, that’s gonna be an interesting conversation.”

“So much for the hard part being over,” Toby said wryly, looking at Gabriel.

Gabe sighed heavily. “Come on, guys. What is it gonna take for you to stop listening when I talk?”

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29 thoughts on “9 – 14

    1. I was already grinning when I finished the chapter and the comment made it even funnier. This Leduc is such a weenie, it’s hilarious watching him get menaced.

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  1. Ignorant joking at the end aside, I found this chapter extremely interesting. It had enough wit to be entertaining, enough kick down the door (almost literally) action to be fun, is once again showing off Triss and her own aura (the wings are awesome), and gives them a problem that they once again can’t power their way through. I actually marvel at how you consistently find ideas like that with such a solid world already in place. We also get some building on the magical system which is incredibly intriguing.

    Actually, do you have any advice in regards to building a magic system. The way the story goes about it, it feels like you made actual laws for this reality with how everything interacts with each others. In the story I’ve been writing I’ve been pretty vague so far, so as to avoid touching on it till it’s more pertinent to the story, but I’m dreading a bit that moment when the character who can actually do magic is introduced. Any kind of thought process or outlining process you’d suggest looking into?

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    1. If you haven’t read Brandon Sanderson’s work, do so. Read all of it. His distant influence on TGaB is probably evident in that he’s the genre’s leading talent in creating unique magic systems and unique religions.

      Aside from that, the best advice I can give is something Orson Scott Card wrote in his book on how to write science fiction and fantasy. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it is to remember that magic is a way of doing something, not a way to cheat. It needs to be arranged so that there is a price–whatever spell you cast demands its cost, just as if you took the same action through mundane means.

      As long as the magic isn’t like the genie’s in Aladdin, where a character just gets to do whatever he or she wants without regard for anything, it’s a workable system.

      Like

  2. Ooo, a third magic framework pre-God War. Shadow to go alongside Chaos and (our admittedly hypothetical) Order magics.

    I really like the description of Shadow Jumping compared to ‘porting. They’re essentially the difference between a Stargate and the teleport pads in Star Trek. Or a wormhole vs information transfer for those who may have missed one or both of those series.

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    1. Silver dragons could as easily be for shadow magic, which was the original reason we thought Order magic was a thing.

      TBH “order” as its own magic system sat right with me in the tgab setting, the chaos magic here seems more in line with dark matter/energy than the usual approach–which is to say, related to conventional magic in roughly the same way dark matter is related to conventional matter.

      Like

  3. Glimpses of the magic before the dawn of the gods… very interesting. It seems Ariel also doesn’t know about Mary’s way of traveling.

    Doesn’t Juniper have a ring that changes her appearance to that of a human? Would it work for Scorn or are they too different physically?

    Even more pressing is the question who else noticed all that power being thrown around and now a demon being loose. I am not sure the Imperials or the Huntsmen would accept a “Vidius said it’s okay!” from Gabriel.😉

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      1. Agreed, and thanks to the Circle of Interaction, something designed to work on a faerie is just about guaranteed to fail on a demon.

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      2. How so? The ring is arcane, it works for everyone. It’s not like it’s leaking its energies all over the wearer, so there isn’t an interaction in the first place.

        Anyway, I agree that the ring is probably not sufficient but maybe one of the arcanists present (with the help of Ariel) can overcharge it or something like that? Otherwise I don’t see how they are getting an obvious demon through town undetected.

        Although… now that I think about it… Vadrieny could just fly her out. She’s so fast, no one would see more than flames shooting up in the sky.

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  4. Typos:

    you can de a consecration
    you can do…

    if she was an aggressor.
    if she were an aggressor.
    (‘were’ is for subjunctive, but Gabe might not be quite that good at Tanglish)

    Reactions:

    Schkhurrankh? That name is going to get old quickly. And dealing with a rightfully enraged warrior demon with no knowledge of Tanglish is also going to be oh-so-much-fun, especially considering the provincial (literally and figuratively) nature of the locals. Hopefully they can find some worthy enemies, e.g. werewolves, and point her in that direction.

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  5. And I now have to go drive to work through a downpour. I don’t mind the rain–I like rain. But this is the third straight day of it, the soil can’t handle the burden and there are flash flooding warnings all over the place.

    I would just like to point out that this is the end of December. But no, I’m sure climate change is the concoction of crazed environmentalists.

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    1. I live in a town once famous for winter sports of all kinds. We had snow for two days back in November and that was barely enough to cover the grass.
      Christmas was warm, 16°C and sunshine. There are green meadows. It is supposed to get colder this week but I doubt we’ll ever see a real winter again.

      On the plus side we won’t need to repair the roads so much and cars should last longer without all that road salt, too.

      If I had spare money, I’d invest in companies selling climate control systems and appliances. Those will sell really well in the (seriously hot) future.

      Like

  6. Is it just me.. or is Ruda seeming way more sassy than usual in this chapter? Because, think about it: usually, she’ll make jokes or comments, but it’s just a part of her personality, and she is intelligent and cunning enough to know when NOT to push forward with her joking. Now, in this chapter, when they had a serious issue at hand.. she didn’t stop. She had to be told multiple times to cut it out. But she didn’t leave it alone. That’s just.. not really like her, now, is it?

    Chaos cults and influence of Chaos, perhaps?

    Also I’m really happy about Therapist Juniper. I think she could do very well in that line of work. What’s her major again? Because maybe she should change it to psychology. If there’s an adventurer-university version of it, anyway.

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    1. Now that you mention it, Ruda is being a bit anti-everything this chapter. If mithril works on Chaos then she should be protected; otherwise, why isn’t everyone affected? IMO a minor issue, unless it continues.

      Like

    2. A couple chapters ago I jokingly mentioned a fan fiction idea that featured our protagonists as the crew of a star ship. I had Juniper assigned as nurse/therapist… not just because she has a lot of empathy now but because she can cheat on a lot of things with her fairy powers. ^^

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  7. (further) Typos:

    Trissiny didn’t so much as pause
    (spell checker suggests ‘as’ much as)

    (one ‘typo’ I said earlier is not a typo, but a misreading on my part)
    Wait, you can de a consecration
    (is OK)

    against a the far wall
    against the far wall

    Schkhurranh/Schkhurrankh

    Shaiene/Shaeine

    (further) Reactions:

    Hmmm… So there are sources of magic other than the big four and Chaos, and they are generically called shadow magic. I wonder if that includes Weaver’s abilities.

    “the fall of the Elder Gods and the creation of the divine and arcane energy fields”
    So arcane magic wasn’t available until the fall of the Elders? Since the “missing” Elder was presumably the source of arcane power, and she(?) wasn’t specifically attacked, did she give up her power deliberately? She certainly didn’t have to, based on the still-extant powers of Naia and Napthene (spell?). Many questions still, and few answers.

    “I can shadow-jump her out of the cage and into the hall.”
    So if the demon could shadow-jump, would she have gotten out already? Or is this only possible because a deity who is immune to the surrounding holy symbols is doing it?

    “Demonic is a constructed language; it was designed by Scyllith.”
    And it is the language of using black magic, most notably summoning, based on earlier conversations. That makes a degree of sense, but surely there are implications for language design being heavily tied into a magical system, just like some things are easier to do in some programming languages than in others.

    The group forgot a major question: the summoning for Schkhurrankh was clearly influenced by Chaos and they were going to look for the causes in the manor. But in the ensuing mess they forgot to ask, and Leduc is now hiding himself away even more, probably desperately trying to replace some of the infernal wards that were up.

    Like

    1. I understood Ariel’s explanation like this: Every magic not of the big four falls into the shadow magic category. No one can use those directly because the power sources don’t exist anymore or it’s an innate power or stuff like that. So by that definition, Weaver is using shadow magic, yes.

      Napthene (don’t make me look up the correct spelling please) is one of the new gods, not an elder one.
      There were three elder gods who survived the war: Naia, Scyllith and the Spider Goddess (who might or might not be Arachne in some shape or form). Naia supplies the world with fae magic, Scyllith does the same with infernal magic and no one knows where arcane magic comes from. No one even suspects the involvement of an elder god. The third one is lost, gone and forgotten… only a handful of ancient elves have even heard of her.

      To shadow-jump the demon would have to use infernal magic… which she couldn’t use since the cage siphoned it away from her. Leduc explained that part when she presented his hobby room to Teal and Shaeine.

      It’s entirely possible that Scyllith created the demonic races. She is the source of all infernal energy, she used to rule Hell and almost all demons are sustained by infernal magic. It would make sense to give her creations a language to access their magic. Or… because she’s the Goddess of Cruelty, she made a hideously difficult and cumbersome language just to torment everyone who’s trying to speak it.😛

      I understand why they dropped it. There had been no evidence for Chaos in the whole mess and they got a good explanation through Juniper’s talk with Leduc. They only have Ariel’s explanation, “A spell which has not only gone inexplicably wrong, but gone wrong in a way which is totally impossible… This is consistent with observed chaos effects. It causes magic to misfire in horribly unpredictable ways.”
      So while Chaos is the best (and probably correct) answer to the question, they won’t find any leads in Leduc’s crumbling manor.

      Like

      1. Maybe they wouldn’t have found any leads, but they didn’t look and had planned to. Lots of distractions, sure.

        You have to wonder why the language hasn’t changed. They do; try reading Chaucer some time. A language which actively tries to be a pain is asking to be unrecognisable within a century. Just because it’s a lingua franca isn’t enough, it’d fragment into a bunch of others, and being a special-purpose language (infernal magic) just means that like Church Latin it would remain intact for that special purpose while everyone speaks descendant languages for all others (the equivalents being the Romance languages in that analogy.)

        Like

  8. Well, I have had an awful day.

    It’s well past time I would be working on the chapter and I just got home. After not sleeping well last night and having to get up at 5 for my early shift, upon leaving work today my car wouldn’t start.

    I’m currently down $140 for towing and diagnostic fees and won’t find out what’s actually wrong with it till tomorrow. Tired, stressed, hungry, and chapter isn’t even begun.

    There will be a chapter, everyone, I promise that. But it’s almost certainly going to be a good bit late. I’m going to selfishly take some time to sit in my home and eat dinner before I get started. Sorry, I’m just burned out after today. Stay tuned.

    Like

  9. Probably wrong but calling it now:
    Juniper will be the Hand of Izara.

    The Izarites are therapists and mental healers with some small focus on sexuality. Perfect match for a certain dryad. There is the whole non-harm aspect, but the Hand of Omnu has already learned that pacifism does not mean total non-violence. Extreme strength, the ability to end a fight quickly, and the training to talk it out so it never happens again. Juniper/Hand of Izara.

    Might as well call the rest:
    Fross = Hand of Nemitoth
    Ruda = Hand of Eserion
    Shaiene = Hand of Themynra (sp?)
    Teal/Vadrieny = Hand of Vesk

    The ultimate class of heroes

    Like

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