9 – 18

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“Nothing?” Trissiny shouted. “You cannot be serious! The Tiraan Empire can do nothing?”

“If you want to take this up with the Emperor, General Avelea, that’s your prerogative, though I can’t say I’d advise it.” Colonel Adjavegh was not a diplomatic man; the effort he was putting into being patient with his guests had become increasingly evident in his tone throughout the conversation, which had not helped Trissiny’s mood. “I, however, am required to follow the law. And the fact is, Lord Sherwin Leduc has not broken any laws.”

“He was keeping a woman in a cage!” Trissiny snapped, planting her fists on his desk and leaning over it. “His stated purpose—”

“Yes, we know!” Adjavegh interrupted. “Frankly, Avelea, we don’t need to hear it again! But the situation is entirely changed by the fact that Leduc’s alleged victim was a demon!”

“Alleged?!”

“No one doubts your word, General Avelea,” Major Razsha said calmly. She stood beside the desk, positioning herself as a neutral party between Trissiny and Adjavegh, with the other three members of her strike team seated behind her on the Colonel’s couch. “The issue, as Colonel Adjavegh has pointed out, is about laws. All crimes are alleged until a conviction has been rendered, which I’m afraid won’t happen in this case.”

“I have absolutely no trouble believing you, to be frank,” the Colonel said, finally displaying open asperity in his tone. “The Leduc boy has always been a weird little twit, even by the standards of his family. That he would summon a demon and try to brainwash it for sexual purposes, while gross in every possible way, seems quite in character.”

“Her,” Gabriel commented idly, “not it.”

“Yes, of course,” said Adjavegh, back to being overtly patient. Behind him, his aide coughed discreetly, which he ignored. “The point is, no actual laws have been broken. Leduc has all the relevant permits for his activities, both the hereditary permissions House Leduc procured years ago and his own. He’s actually quite scrupulous about keeping everything up-to-date with the Imperial government.”

“That’s characteristic of intelligent people who don’t want their business pried into,” said the Major with a humorless smile.

“Of all the adjectives I could apply to that guy,” Gabriel said, “’intelligent’ is way down the list. I swear he either has a death wish or an actual mental disability.”

“Again, that’s consistent with what I know of him,” Adjavegh snorted, “but lordlings always have a crew of buzzing lawyers and managers to be intelligent on their behalf.”

“Needless to say,” Razsha continued, “he did not have permission to summon a succubus. The Empire doesn’t give permits for that. But since by your own description he didn’t manage to do it, and any evidence of the attempt is long gone, I’m afraid there’s little point in pursuing that matter. There also aren’t permits available to summon a…what was it called again?”

“A Rhaazke,” said Drust from the couch behind her. His Strike Corps insignia had an orange background, marking him the warlock of the team.

“Right. The problem there is there aren’t any actual laws covering those, and you yourselves have indicated it was an accident. Since he apparently summoned the creature into an incredibly secure facility, it’s doubtful he could even be charged with reckless misuse of infernal magic.”

“Which is actually quite impressive,” Drust noted. “You can almost always charge warlocks with reckless misuse. They’re almost always guilty of it.”

“If Leduc had done this to any woman of a mortal race, Imperial citizen or no, I’d have him in a cell before his fancy lawyers could so much as blink.” Colonel Adjavegh folded his arms on his desk, staring pointedly at Trissiny’s fists until she got the hint and acknowledged it, removing them and straightening back up. “Hell, I could almost wish he had managed to acquire a succubus, since I could throw his skinny ass in a cell for that.”

“If he had acquired a succubus,” Toby said dryly, “he would probably be dead and she on the loose by now.”

“I said almost,” Adjavegh grunted. “The reality of the situation is that demons don’t get protection under the law. They can’t; it’s simply not possible to treat them as you would a mortal, they are too aggressive and unstable by nature. General Avelea, I think I can appreciate how this matter must place your priorities into conflict. Seeing that degenerate little twerp trying to forcibly enslave a woman of any race had to be even more galling than hearing about it is. But if there is one person I would expect to understand both the needs of justice and the need to apply different rules to demons than people, it’s you.”

Trissiny drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“What we can do is watch Leduc a lot more carefully from now on,” Adjavegh continued, keeping his eyes intently on her face. “A paladin’s testimony counts for a lot; I believe this constitutes probable cause. If you’re willing to give me a written statement I bet I can get scrying authorized. Since he didn’t get his succubus and, as you say, he suffers from an appalling lack of sense, he’s likely to try again, at which point I can stick the little shit in a dungeon to rot.”

“We’d be glad to,” Toby said pointedly, his eyes also on Trissiny.

She nodded. “Yes. Of course. My apologies, Colonel. You’re right; this is…jarring. I hate having seen the man do something like that and have to just accept it.”

“Well, I do appreciate you bringing this story to me,” Adjavegh continued, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands in his lap. “There are apparently several points that we need to discuss more urgently, beginning with this demon. First of all, I would like to speak with your archdemon friend; this whole matter is difficult enough to believe, coming secondhand. If it were anybody but you three coming to me with this story, I doubt I could make myself swallow it.”

“That’s very kind of you, Colonel,” Gabriel said sweetly. “A paladin’s life is service, after all.”

“We don’t speak for Vadrieny,” Toby interjected hastily, “but I can’t imagine she’d object. We’ll pass that to her today.”

“Thank you,” the Colonel said, nodding. “In the meantime, there’s the matter of what to do with this creature. Having an exotic demon running loose isn’t an option, obviously.”

“She’s hardly loose,” said Toby. “Our group is keeping an eye on her when we’re at the manor. As is Malivette, I understand.”

“You don’t know?” Adjavegh said, frowning.

“We came right here from Grusser’s house this morning; there hasn’t been time to fully catch up with the girls,” Gabriel explained.

“In fact,” said Trissiny, “Malivette seems even better at keeping her under control than we are.”

“That’s all well and good,” said the Colonel, frowning, “but from an official perspective…”

“Actually,” Major Razsha said, calm as ever, “from an official perspective a Hand of Avei’s custody is adequate; neither Army regulation nor Imperial law require anything further to keep a demon. The addition of two more paladins, to to mention the rest of their group, is just icing on the cake, as it were.”

Adjavegh gave her a dark look. “Thank you, Major.”

“My pleasure, Colonel,” she said with a faint smile.

In the ensuing silence, the other three members of Razsha’s strike team sprouted matching smiles, Toby half-turned to divide a warning look between Trissiny and Gabriel, and Adjavegh’s aide, Corporal Timms, raised an eyebrow, but did not otherwise break composure. This was not the first time since the paladins had arrived that the Major had subtly reminded the Colonel that the Strike Corps did not answer to him. That strongly suggested it was a running issue in this barracks, and one they would be better off not involving themselves in.

“I would still appreciate as much information as you can give me on this,” Adjavegh continued after a moment, finally tearing his dour stare from Raszha’s face. “These creatures are wholly unknown; we have enough troubles in Veilgrad without having unknowns running around. As it is, the information we have on this demon could be entirely made up by your friend, for all I know. That’s not an accusation, of course.”

“I know of Rhaazke,” Drust piped up. He shrugged when everyone turned to stare at him. “Not much, of course. They’re the stuff of myth and legend, but the basics are known, and consistent with what the paladins have already told us. Both physically and magically powerful, mentally and emotionally stable thanks to Elilial’s intervention, residents of the unreachable sub-dimension hellhounds come from.”

“If this place is so unreachable,” Adjavegh said skeptically, “how in blazes do you know of it?”

“Summoning a hellhound is sort of an ultimate quest for extremely skilled and powerful warlocks,” Drust replied with a smile. “It’s actually quite simple in concept and damn near impossible in practice: you have to go through a hellgate, perform the summoning in Hell itself, and come back with your hellhound. It’s been attempted by a number of people but achieved by precious few. There are also accounts by individuals who failed in their effort but made it back from Hell; those are usually the ones who fell afoul of the Rhaazke. According to the accounts, Rhaazke like poachers even less than demons in general do.”

“That seems like an improbable amount of trouble to go through for a pet,” said the Colonel.

Drust shrugged. “If you have a source of hellhound breath you can basically consider yourself richer than Verniselle’s bookie. Any well-read warlock can confirm the existence of Rhaazke, but nothing more about them except that they are even less to be trifled with than the other denizens of the infernal plane. I would give Simmons’s left nut to interview this creature.”

“I insist that you leave me out of your fantasies,” said Simmons, the cleric in their team. Drust grinned at him.

“It might be best if as few people as possible bother her,” Trissiny said, scowling. “She’s had a difficult time on this plane, as I’m sure you can imagine, and the fact of her origins means we don’t yet have a plan to send her back. The less she’s agitated, the better.”

“That, at least, I agree with,” Adjavegh said with a sigh. “This demon, she has a name?”

“It’s hard to say,” Toby replied.

“What, you didn’t ask?” The Colonel raised an eyebrow.

“No, I mean, it’s hard to say,” Toby repeated.

“It’s a name in Demonic,” Gabriel added. “Sounds like a mouthful of spitting and gargling to me, and apparently if you get it wrong you’ve declared a feud. We’ve just been letting Vadrieny and Malivette handle her; it’s not like she speaks any Tanglish anyway.”

Adjavegh sighed heavily, rubbing the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.

“In any case,” said Major Razsha, folding her hand behind her back, “the theory that Veilgrad’s troubles were chaos-related is one we’ve been seriously considering. In fact, it has been a leading theory, as the sudden presence of chaos cultists is highly correlated with such events elsewhere. I think we can now consider that theory confirmed.”

“You’re certain?” Adjavegh asked wearily, looking up at her from between his fingers.

She nodded, her expression grim. “The spell to summon a child of Vanislaas is nigh-impossible to botch; it is designed so that a Vanislaad can compensate for any errors from the other end if their attention is caught by even a partial summons. They are quite eager to have access to this dimension. More to the point, accessing the Rhaazke plane from here is utterly impossible. A chaos effect is the only conceivable explanation for that demon being brought by Leduc’s summons.”

“Then I trust this is all you need to search Leduc Manor for that, at least?” Trissiny said sharply. “Being the most distinctive effect yet seen, surely that indicates the manor is the likely location.”

“That’s, uh, not really how that works, Trissiny,” said Gabriel.

“Indeed,” Razsha nodded. “If anything, this all but conclusively rules out Leduc Manor as the source of the chaos rift.”

“What?” Trissiny exclaimed. “How?”

“Think about it,” said Gabriel. “There were lots of infernal spell effects at work in that place. We fried a bunch of them ourselves. They seemed to be working correctly.”

“That is the long and the short of it,” the Major agreed. “One spell of Leduc’s going wrong due to chaos means there is a chaos effect active…well, somewhere. If it had been on the grounds, everything he did would have dramatically misfired. That would have drawn attention long since. No, the existence of a practicing warlock who’s had only one major misfire pretty conclusively means the source of chaos isn’t in or near the Manor.”

“Where, then?” Adjavegh demanded. “Can we narrow it down at all?”

“Not from this information alone,” Razsha mused, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “A single effect tells us almost nothing; the rift could be on the other side of the planet and cause that. Chaos is…chaotic. Unpredictable by definition. The other troubles cropping up in Veilgrad strongly suggest it is somewhere in the vicinity, though.”

“Chaos cults,” said Toby, frowning, “undead incidents, generally increased aggression in the populace…”

“Don’t forget the werewolves,” Trissiny added.

“They’ve always lived in the hills nearby,” said Adjavegh. “The Shaathists keep an eye on them; we had maybe one problem every five years up till now. No confirmed attacks yet since this started, but they’ve been howling non-stop, which means they’re transforming even though the moon isn’t full. It’s only a matter of time before there is an incident.”

“And other unknowns,” added Razsha. “People have disappeared in the mountains nearby, lately. That could be anything at all. No, the chaos is focused here. Unfortunately…that doesn’t even mean it’s located here.”

“Are you kidding?” Gabriel exclaimed.

“It probably is,” the Major clarified. “But I know of one incident of a chaos rift opening and, for some reason, causing all of its effects in a concentrated area hundreds of miles away.”

“I think I know the one you’re thinking of,” added Drust. “There’s at least one other. There’s a precedent.”

“Wonderful,” Trissiny growled.

“With some certainty that it is a chaos effect,” Razsha continued, “I can begin scrying protocols. You can’t find chaos directly, but it’s possible to use a straightforward search grid. Scry at locations in a pattern covering the region; odd are good any that attempt to target the source of the chaos will be disrupted, which tells us more precisely where to look.”

“That sounds time-consuming,” the Colonel said, frowning.

“It’s a standard search grid,” Razsha admitted, “so yes, it is. Less so than quartering the ground on foot, but still… Targeted scrying effects take time to set up. I’ll need to requisition additional personnel from Tiraas in order to do this on any kind of schedule. We’re talking about days to check the city, in the best case scenario. Weeks if we have to search the whole province, maybe more. That’s based on my best guess of how may scryers the Army will spare me.”

“You’ll be limited to arcane scrying for this,” said Teloris, the strike team’s witch. “I am not sending my spirits after a chaos rift. The risk to them is catastrophic.”

“I will also be sending people to search Leduc Manor on general principles,” the Colonel added with an expression of dark satisfaction. “Between your report on his activities and the occurrence of one chaos effect on the grounds, I believe I’ve got reason enough to stand up to an inquiry. May or may not find anything useful, but I highly doubt anyone is going to object to me keeping eyes on Sherwin bloody Leduc.”

“No one who matters, anyway,” the Major agreed with an amused little smile.

“You keep saying it’s a rift,” Toby noted. “Could it be something else? An artifact, a person?”

“Very unlikely,” said Razsha. “Not impossible—with chaos, nothing can be really ruled out—but those are vanishingly rare. Chaos usually comes from a dimensional rift. Its source is outside the dimensions.”

“You’ll keep us informed?” Trissiny said pointedly.

“Of course we will,” the Major said quickly before Adjavegh could speak. “With a matter like this, I definitely want as much help as possible.”

“We would also like to interview any of the chaos cultists you may still have imprisoned,” she added, fixing her stare on the Colonel.

“I don’t see the harm in it,” he said after a moment. “They’re not here, though. The Imperial prison is across the city.”

“Seems inefficient, doesn’t it?” Gabriel noted.

“Not really,” said Trissiny. “There’s some overlap between the functions of prisons and military bases, but they’re meant to do different things. And in the event of a mass escape, it’s not ideal for convicts to have access to military hardware.”

“I will send a message to the Warden authorizing you to speak with the prisoners in question,” said Adjavegh, half-turning in his chair to nod at Corporal Timms. “Paladins or no, that’s one thing you can’t just walk in and do without official permission.”

“We greatly appreciate that, sir,” said Toby.

“In the meantime,” said Major Razsha, “please tell every magic-user in your party—which I gather is most of you—to be extremely careful. Chaos causes magic to go wrong. I’ll expect any sharing of information to go both ways.”

“Of course,” Toby said quickly. “The more of us are working together on this, the faster we can sort it out.”

“Right,” the Colonel said more briskly. “If there’s nothing else, Timms will escort you out. Give me an hour to notify the prison; after that you should have no trouble there. Make sure at least one of you three are part of any group sent to interview the cultists. The Warden isn’t going to open his doors to just any gaggle of exotic teenagers.”

“We’ll send you a message at Dufresne Manor if we learn anything constructive,” added Major Razsha. “You can reach us here.”

“We will,” Toby promised. “Thanks for all the help, both of you.”

Timms was already at the door to the office, holding it open for them and standing impassively at attention, an inescapable hint. Trissiny paused to salute the strike team before following the others out.

“I cannot believe that little toad is just going to get away with this,” she growled to herself as the corporal led them through the barracks.

“They’ll be watching him,” Gabriel said comfortingly. “That guy is just dumb enough to try his scheme again, no matter what Juniper said to him. This time, hopefully the Empire will catch him at it. I get you, though,” he added more thoughtfully. “It would be really satisfying if we could just go back there and punch his stupid face a few times.”

“You hold him, I’ll punch.”

“It’s a date,” he said, grinning. “You’ve probably got a better arm, anyway.” Toby sighed heavily.

“The laws exist for good reasons,” said Timms. “Unfortunate that those good reasons result in a rich bastard getting away with something vile, but that tends to be the case.” She paused at the front doors of the barracks, turning to them with a smile and idly rolling a doubloon across the backs of her fingers, in stark contrast to her stiff bearing in the Colonel’s office. “All systems are corrupt—that doesn’t mean you abandon the systems, just that you sometimes have to work around them. Be sure to visit us again, General, gentlemen. Especially if you want help doing that.”

She made the coin vanish up her sleeve, saluted them, then turned and strode off back the way they had come, leaving the three paladins staring after her.

“All systems…” Gabriel frowned. “I’ve heard that somewhere before. What’s that from?”

“That,” said Trissiny, still staring after the corporal, “is one more complication here. I’ll explain when we meet the others back at the safe house.”

“Yeah,” Toby said slowly, “we need to catch up with everyone on how the demon’s doing, anyway. Thanks for coming straight here, by the way; I expected you to at least bring Shaeine along.”

“I think Triss had the right idea,” said Gabriel. “The three of us have some standing with the Army, and the Colonel didn’t enjoy having our noses stuck into his business anyway. The less he has to deal with the others, I think, the better.”

“We have a lot to talk about when we all reconvene,” Trissiny said, turning to go. “I still haven’t told everyone about the night I had, either.”


 

It was warm and peaceful, rather pleasant. Strange, then, the sense he had from the moment consciousness began to return, the feeling that something was wrong. He felt groggy, but not unhappily so. More or less as one should feel after awakening. Which was odd, as he was normally quite alert upon rising.

His eyes drifted open. Stone ceiling overhead—this wasn’t his room… Oh, right. Svenheim. He was studying…

“Well, there he is! Morning, sunshine.”

Memory crashed down upon him all at once, and Yornhaldt sat bolt upright in bed.

“Easy, there!” cautioned the man seated on a stool at his bedside. “Glad you’re feeling chipper, old fellow, but you got quite a dose of katzil venom. Luckily my man Bradshaw pumped you full of antivenom almost immediately, or you’d be doing a lot worse. You know how it is with infernal poisons—the longer it has to work, the nastier the lingering effects. There you go, take your time.”

He did just that, finding himself in no immediate danger. The speaker was unfamiliar to him: human, Western, apparently in later middle age, of a gangly build and wearing a white suit with a matching flat-brimmed hat pulled down almost over his eyes. The other men in the room were more familiar to Yornhaldt. Another human stood by the door in a gray robe; Yornhaldt had seen his face only momentarily, but it had stuck in his mind, considering the man had just jabbed him with a syringe.

In the far corner of the room was the dwarf who had attacked him, bound with cords and chains, from which glyphed ribbons of paper hung. Well, that made sense; one didn’t try to imprison a magic-user with strictly mundane methods. The dwarf glared daggers at him, but didn’t try to speak. A tightly-bound strip of cloth held a gag in his mouth anyway.

They were in a bedroom, unfamiliar to Yornhaldt and generally nondescript. There were no personal touches of any kind; it had the aspect of an inn room, neat but starkly plain.

“All right,” he said slowly after a moment. “This is altogether surprising. Does someone mind filling me in?”

“Gladly!” said the man in the white suit, his grin a gleaming slash in his dark face. “My name is Embras Mogul; I have the honor of leading Elilial’s followers on the mortal plane.”

“I see,” Yornhaldt said neutrally, glancing between Mogul and the other warlock. He wondered what would happen if he tried to call up a spell. Probably something swift and bad for his health.

“Over there by the door,” Mogul continued cheerfully, “is Bradshaw, who came to your rescue in the library. And this chap, well, we haven’t got much out of him just yet. That’ll come in time, of course, though frankly I believe we can deduce all the relevant particulars from the situation.”

“Can you?” Yornhaldt asked warily.

“Well, let’s review, shall we?” Mogul tilted his head back so his eyes were finally visible beneath his hat, and winked. “Here we have the good Professor Alaric Yornhaldt, probably the single most inoffensive person affiliated with the University at Last Rock. You’re a man without enemies, a moderating influence on your peers and widely beloved by your students. As such, not only are you unlikely to be the target of a personal attack, but anyone using you to get at Professor Tellwyrn would be far too screwy in the head to mobilize a careful strategy like this one. The vengeance that would descend upon such a fool would be apocalyptic.”

“You flatter me,” Yornhaldt said carefully, “and in fact may be overstating the case. Arachne has managed to antagonize a number of very unstable people. One might argue that’s the inevitable result of her being in their vicinity.”

“Ah, well, perhaps I indulge in a bit of hyperbole,” Mogul said airily, waving a hand. “You take my point. We can assume with some certainty, then, that this is not a personal matter. Especially since we have a much more likely motive! You’ve been looking into some very particular and very hidden knowledge, my friend—alignments, histories, powers and secrets that all point toward the culmination of the Elder Wars eight thousand years ago. The greatest mystery of the modern world: apotheosis. A person who’d been following your efforts might conclude you were trying to puzzle out how to make a god.”

There was silence in the room for a long moment, Yornhaldt staring mutely at his smiling host.

“Or, I suppose, unmake one,” Mogul finally mused. “There was some of both going on at that point in history. Either way, I can think of few organizations that might take exception to your research, and none of them are local. The dwarves are admirably self-motivated folk, I find, not overly concerned with gods and religions. There’s the Order of Light, of course—in fact, they’re headquartered not far from here! But that theory is busted by the fact that this fellow,” he pointed at the bound dwarf, “is not merely a cleric, but a holy summoner. The Order, being generally sensible people, do not mess about with demons, and in fact put a swift stop to that foolishness wherever they find it. Go on, you can say it, I promise I’ll not take offense.”

“No need,” Yornhaldt demurred. “I flatter myself that I’m well-read enough to know the Wreath don’t deal with demons indiscriminately.”

“Splendid!” Mogul grinned broadly at him. “So we’re looking for someone interested in suppressing inquiry into the origin of the gods, who uses divine power to control diabolic forces and isn’t affiliated with the Kingdom of Svenheim, who gave you specific permission to root through their archives after this. Someone who, furthermore, is confident enough in their own power to risk the wrath of the great and terrible Tellwyrn if it means shutting you up. Do correct me if I’ve missed a candidate, but that seems to point at no one but the Universal Church of the Pantheon. Anything to add, there, friend?” he said, turning to the prisoner. The summoner simply transferred his glare to the warlock, making no attempt to speak around his gag, nor signal a desire to.

“That’s…a theory,” Yornhaldt acknowledged. “I trust you’ll pardon me if I don’t take your word for it.”

“My dear fellow, I would be sadly disappointed if you did. You’re a man of science, after all—you seek your own answers. There are few things I admire more.”

Yornhaldt glanced once more between Mogul and Bradshaw. “Putting that aside, there seems to be another pressing question. Why would you, of all people, help me? Even if it was the Church behind this, I see no motive here besides ‘the enemy of my enemy.’ Which, if you’ll pardon my saying it, doesn’t seem to justify going to this kind of effort.”

“Why, it’s quite simple,” Mogul said, smiling blandly. “We want you to succeed.”

“You do?” Yornhaldt blinked.

“My people have had eyes on you almost from the beginning,” Mogul informed him. “It was only a matter of time before someone cottoned on to what you were after and tried to put a stop to it. Pursuant to that, Professor, it appears you’d achieved something of a breakthrough just before this regrettable business kicked off. Not to tell you how to run your affairs, but I will suggest this is an excellent time to head back to Last Rock and share what you’ve got so far. Once Tellwyrn is in on your findings, the cat’s out of the bag—there’ll be no further point in anyone coming after you.”

“I will take that under advisement.”

“Do,” Mogul said, rising and stretching languidly. “Anyhow! I’ve taken the liberty of making some preparations for you. Your suit, I’m sorry to say, was rather the worse for wear after your little misadventure. We’ve got a replacement hanging in the wardrobe there, for you. Not a tailored fit, but it should suffice. You’ll find your shoes in there as well—those were fine, fortunately. My people also rescued your books and papers. Both those you were carrying, and those you’d left in your rooms. Sorry for the presumption, but it was very likely somebody would try to destroy them.” He leaned over and patted the nightstand. “In the drawers, here. They have not been tampered with, though I fear your rather obscure filing system might have been disrupted by the simple act of moving them.”

“They were all over every surface,” Bradshaw noted with a smile. “Even the bed. Anyway, there’s another matter.” He reached into his robed, pulled out a bottle, and almost immediately dropped it.

Mogul dived across the room with astonishing agility, snagging the bottle before it struck the floor.

“Augh…thanks, Embras,” Bradshaw said, lowering his shaking hand. “Sorry.”

“No harm done, old friend,” Mogul said, straightening up and patting him on the shoulder.

“I say, is he quite all right?” Yornhaldt asked, frowning. He had noticed only then that Bradshaw had a persistent tremor in his left hand—luckily, not the one with which he’d applied the syringe.

“It’s just a spot of major nerve damage,” Bradshaw said dismissively. “A little souvenir from my recent stint as the Archpope’s guest.”

“I keep telling him to take some time off and let the healers do their jobs,” Mogul said, frowning at him. “It’s like talking to a particularly stubborn wall.”

“Hard to sit on my ass while the people who do things like this are sitting on thrones,” Bradshaw said curtly.

“Anyhow,” Mogul continued, pausing to pat Bradshaw’s shoulder again before turning and lightly tossing the bottle onto Yornhaldt’s bed, “that’s another supply of antivenom. A specific one for katzil bites, rather than the general anti-infernal Bradshaw gave you. The syringe is better of emergency doses, of course, but that can be taken orally. I’m afraid the taste is quite appalling; there was nothing to be done about that, sorry.”

“You should be fine, given some time and rest,” Bradshaw added. “Still, infernal venoms are tricky; you might have recurring issues for a few weeks. I trust a man of your education knows the symptoms of infernal corruption; be watchful for them. Take one teaspoon if you notice any, and no less than four hours between doses. I recommend you seek out a witch or shaman as soon as you’re able for a more comprehensive healing than we could provide. Avoid divine healers for now; exposing the light to any lingering traces of the venom can cause tissue damage.”

“And with all that out of the way,” Mogul said, striding across the room to the prisoner, “we’ll leave your fate in your own capable hands, Professor. Pardon us for rushing off like this, but there’s always so much to do, and not enough hours in the day! We’ll keep our eyes on you till you’re back at Last Rock, just in case someone decides to have another go.”

“I…ah…thank you,” Yornhaldt said weakly.

“Not at all, think nothing of it! As you pointed out, old fellow…the enemy of my enemy.” Mogul winked again and tipped his hat. “Never stop seeking the truth, Professor. The truth is what will set us all free.”

He casually gathered up a fistful of the captured dwarf’s coat, and then the shadows swelled up around them. A similar effect washed over Bradshaw, and a moment later, Yornhaldt was alone.

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31 thoughts on “9 – 18

  1. Ugh…still sick. Sicker. This has been a peculiar illness; at no point has it been in any way severe, but it refuses to get even a little bit better.

    I feel pretty good about this chapter. I’m gonna go crawl back into bed now and hope I don’t have to miss yet another day of work tomorrow. I think they’re starting to lose patience with me.

    See you all Friday.

    Like

  2. Well that isn’t unsettling at all. Is Tellwyrn trying to kill one of the Pantheon, or ascend back into it? And why does Ellial want her to succeed?

    On the chaos note: how far away from the Badlands is the town (the one the Sophmores are in; I forget its name)? Do we think Blackskull is the source of the chaos? Also, has Timms reported to the Boss that there’s some chaos running amok in her town?

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    1. well why Ellial is probably cointing on her either making enough chaos that she can use it or she is having one less enemy to worry about, though i dont think she is going to kill one, if she needed the death of a god she already killed one

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      1. Man, Embras really comes around. And he is quoting Maxim 29. ^^
        The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more. No less.

        Tellwyrn is trying to find out, what the summoning of Elilials daughters was all about and that Mr. Archpopes goal is ascenscion. Or the Ascenscion of the Human race as a whole.

        For me Elilials Plan isn’t clear yet and my guess it’s something completely different but exposing the secret to everyone to spoil the gods “kill everyone who knows” policy sounds quite juicy. Especially if it has something to do with a once in a eight thousand year cycle magical constellation thingy.
        Meanwhile crowning her eights child god-emperor/ess of tiraas ( the woman who became elilial wasn’t an eigth’s child by any chance ?😀 )

        Wow .. my sub-consciousness figured it out while writing ..

        YAI ME !!

        AND then Elan the Hand of Vesker Appears for a Grand Montage of Happyness.

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      2. Maybe the secret has more to do about what a god is than how to kill it.
        Some explanation may be that becoming a god is a process that would be frowned upon if people knew how to do it. Apparently divine energy is a hoardable ressource, seing as Tellwyrn made a remark about it in a ealier chapter. Adding that the race with the most gods is the one with the less natural divine caster.
        Maybe becoming a god involve some confiscation of otherwise publicly usable energy. They already pretty much link to general concept and redefine magic system…

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      3. @Juju

        And he is quoting Maxim 29.

        Not likely. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is the original saying: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_enemy_of_my_enemy_is_my_friend

        Maxim 29 is a deliberate alteration of that. My understanding of it is “go ahead and use your enemy’s enemies for what they can provide, but don’t trust them”, i.e. just because someone else is firing at the same target doesn’t mean they won’t target you too.

        In Tiraas, no-one has heard of Maxim 29, but DD Webb has pretty much stated that Tiraan is much like English, including common sayings.

        The characters here use “enemy of my enemy” without using any of the parts of Maxim 29 that distinguish it from the original phrase.

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    2. Elilial and recent odd events convinced Arachne that something strange is going on and since neither the gods nor Elilial will just tell her, Arachne is doing her own research, using Yornholdt.

      Tellwyrn successfully killed one of the Pantheon – that has been flat-out stated by more than one knowledgeable party, including Arachne herself. Apparently the victim wasn’t a major god, but still. There are strong hints that she also tried and failed at ascension, although all we know is that she tried and failed at some ridiculously hard task that involves the gods.

      1. Elilial has said that anyone who knows why she was thrown out of the Pantheon gets killed by the gods automatically.
      2. Embras just flat-out encouraged this research.
      3. Justinian, whose stated goal is ascension of the entire human race, is blocking this.
      So, registered guess: the key to the whole mess is ascension. The Pantheon is blocking others from getting it, Archpope Justinian wants it (I suspect for himself, not the human race), this research is getting too close to figuring it out, and Elilial got kicked out because she wanted to share the knowledge (probably discretely), not hoard it. And the knowledge of how to kill a god is not as important because that has been accomplished twice by mortal means (once by Arachne, once by the Tiraan empire), but it is probably related.

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      1. My theory is that ascension requires the death of a god in some shape or form. Or some kind of process that extracts the power from the god. All that energy has to come from somewhere after all. If ascending was possible without killing a god first, then the current pantheon would have done it during their war against the Elder Gods, not after.

        Which would mean that Justinian is plotting to kill the current gods, something Elilial should support. Instead they are enemies… as far as we know.

        I’m missing at least two more puzzle pieces. Arachne’s true origin would be one.

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      2. @Daemion

        While you may be right, the conspirator in 8-9 said:

        “Tellwyrn by proxy investigating cosmic alignments. Getting close; has support from the Academy and government. First intervention circumvented. Please advise.”

        So one key part of the solution is alignments.

        And Tellwyrn, who is probably as knowledgeable as any non-deity on the process, has killed a god but (presumably) failed to ascend.

        So while death of a god may be a key, it isn’t the key that the various parties are desperate to find and/or hide.

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      3. Yes, it’s just one part… but it seems very likely.

        The cosmic alignment is such a traditional trope, I’m not sure Webb would use it without subverting it. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WhenThePlanetsAlign

        We don’t know what Arachne’s lifelong quest was… she spoke to all gods (and killed one), but was she trying to ascend? Or did she have another goal?
        Elilial could have used the knowledge of ascension to draw Arachne to her side 3000 years ago, if that really had been the focus of her mission. She did everything she could, made enemies and changed herself … only to fall short in the end. If allying with Elilial would have gotten her what she wanted, then she would have done that a long, long time ago.

        Btw… I don’t remember when the empire ever killed a god. I only remember they got lucky and killed a dragon once. Where is this from?

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      4. @Daemion

        Empire turned Athan’Khar into magical hell, killing Khar in the process, because he was too strongly bound to the land. Chapter 3-3, among others.

        Good point on Elilial/Arachne – if Elilial really had the secret and Arachne was trying to ascend or cause another to ascend, then Elilial could have bought Arachne’s loyalty long ago. Maybe Arachne is a high priest trying to resurrect her god…

        And yes, I also hope DD subverts the “cosmic alignment”, but it isn’t going to kill me if it doesn’t happen. Such things make a lot more sense in a fantasy environment than in a non-magical one.

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      5. Oh right, the Orc god! Thanks!

        Strange thing though… he’s the only non-human god we know about. I wonder why there are no elven or dwarven gods. Were there gnomish gods? I read so much recently, it’s all mixed up.

        Mary brought up a few interesting points, too. Read her “string theory” in 8-17 again.

        ***
        Kuriwa shook her head. “I have been noticing something of late. Increasingly, in the last few months, matters which will affect the course of the entire world seem to hinge upon the actions of a relatively few individuals, clustered on this continent.”

        “That certainly follows precedent. The Elder Gods ruled from here; the Pantheon have their own first temples here. Gnomes originated in this land, and the few elves to survive the Elder War had their groves around Naiya’s wild refuge. You know well how long we have assumed the next apocalypse would take place here.”

        “I try to assume as little as possible,” the Crow noted with a wry smile. “And there have been multiple apocalypses of a smaller nature since the fall of the Elder Gods. Most of them centered on this continent, in support of your point. That is precisely what caught my interest. I have seen this pattern before. A great doom is coming, and always when one does, those whose actions will tip the balance begin to cluster together. To combine, or clash. It is wise to monitor their actions.”
        ***

        There is probably a location of significance on the continent, something that is relevant for the ascension ritual, whatever it may be. Or a place (or place/time combination) where gods become mortal, like in The Dresden Files.

        What’s interesting here is that the protagonists gather right before the finale. That means something or someone is influencing them. Is there some sort of destiny? Or are the gods behind it? Or the implied unknown faction that is responsible for the hellgate incident?
        Saying it’s because this is a story doesn’t work… well, unless it’s Name business in A Practical Guide to Evil.😉
        So what’s the reason behind it all?

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  3. This chapter is the perfect example for why the entire story is awesome. Nothing is as it seems at first, no one is truly completely evil and beating up the villain is not a solution.

    There are so many different groups and interests and plans at work… this will result in a wonderful confrontation somewhere down the line.😀

    Liked by 1 person

      1. According to everything we just read in this chapter… nope.

        Not to mention that the guy is the last scion of a noble house, is filthy rich and employs an army of lawyers. Beating him up would solve nothing and create all kinds of trouble.

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    1. Did someone say that no one is completely evil in here? Nah. I call dibs on Mr. Archpope. You don’t get much more evil than using all of humanity in your own personal quest for godhood.

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      1. If I had to pick an evil character, it would be him. However, it is pretty much a given that we don’t know his whole goal and we may not know his real goal at all.

        He is a major manipulator. The chance that he was up front with four people who just caught him trying to kill them are quite low. Most likely he lied his ass off about his intentions in order to mislead them and then bribed them with the oracles.

        It is actually worse if he was serious. As Mary said about his universal apotheosis plan in 4-21, “The reasons that would not work are outnumbered only by the reasons it would be a disaster if it did.” If this is his intention, then he may cause more disaster than an actual evil character.

        But yes, the balance of evidence says he is an intelligent, daring, and patient megalomaniac. He is apparently successful in multiple attempts to: transfer power to his organization, cause other power blocks to fight among themselves, infiltrate organizations, flat-out lie to the public, etc.

        In any case, that man seriously needs to have a fatal stroke. Soon.

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      2. The worst part is that he’s protected by the pantheon gods. So they are either in on his scheme or he’s good enough to mislead them. Or they are somehow bound to protect him even if he’s working against them.

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  4. BEHOLD!!!

    Finally, I caught up… ern, I mean nooo!
    Now I will need to wait along with the others.

    Anyway, I totally love your story. Thanks for sharing it. Now to try convincing my friends to read as well. Hopefully you can gain more readers.

    Like

  5. Typos:

    to to mention
    not to mention

    syringe is better of emergency doses
    …better for…

    reached into his robed
    …robes

    at least one of you three are
    at least one …is

    Reactions:

    OK, it sort of makes sense that if Chaos is extradimensional that it would be hard to locate and pop up in differing locations. So we can have one team working on chaos effects in Veilgrad and two other teams tussling over the skull in Risk.

    So, Corporal Timms, the Colonel’s aide, is Eserite. And is sort of blatantly inviting them to use that fact. How interesting. Makes at least a degree of sense – Eserites love to collect favors, and there are probably bragging rights for any one who can collect a favor from the Hand of Avei, or, for that matter, any Hand.

    Yornhaldt is OK! Yeah! And rescued by the Black Wreath!? The attacker was a holy summoner!? OK, we could have figured that out at least part way because the summoner was using divine power, not infernal magic.

    Embras continues to impress. Previously by magic and manipulation, but: “Mogul dived across the room with astonishing agility, snagging the bottle before it struck the floor.” Which means he has something on the ball physically also.

    Welcome, ironvalei, I like your intro.

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    1. Well, there is the whole pantheon saying the black wreath is evil. The pantheon being more numerous and powerfull is in charge.
      Also, the fact that they reprove irresponsible summoning isn’t common knowledge and the imperial intelligence seems to be happy to have a scapegoat when they want to unleash demons in their own city…

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    2. Partly they’re just the enemy, and enemies get dehumanised all the time. But partly they do some nasty things when the occasion suits. One such we know for sure about was setting up a bunch of girls to be possessed by Elilial’s daughters. That the girls weren’t supposed to die doesn’t mean that they weren’t supposed to be dominated and largely or entirely taken over by the much older and more powerful archdemons.

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  6. Hi, thanks again for the story, the world, and the connections to the real world!

    My theory for what Tellwyrn was trying to do for a few thousand years: bring back the goddess of “many arms and many eyes” (Arachne?), the goddess of arcane magic, the elder goddess not slain by the pantheon, whose fate is not known. Failing that I guess she’s looking now how to ascend herself (or have somebody else ascend who’s more suited to it?). That would make her a priestess of that goddess, though why a wood elf would serve a drow goddess isn’t quite clear to me…

    Elilial’s angle may be that the ascension is impossible, but that she wants Tellwyrn to research it anyway so she can discover how the Pantheon screwed over the many-armed-goddess (maybe feeding arcane magic off of her living, imprisoned body?), leading to the eradication of the Pantheon, a redistribution of divine energy to the humans (possibly November is due to Elilial’s meddling?) and a better existence for living beings. On the other hand, giving humans even more power may also be a pretty bad idea, as they are implied to move towards global destruction even now…

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