12 – 55

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“I feel like I’m very bad at this,” Iris grunted, shoving stalks of tallgrass aside out of her face. “This is like the Golden Sea trip, but…worse.”

“How worse?” Maureen asked more softly. She was walking in front, creating a little furrow in the tallgrass, which helped Iris navigate, but also resulted in stalks constantly whipping back at her.

“I don’t know, I’m just grousing. Are you sure this is necessary?”

“I’m not sure o’ much, truth be told, not with regard t’this situation here. I know me tactics, though. What we’re doin’ is the general shape o’ the right thing. Just wish I could tell whether th’warnin’ got through, an’ how much good it did…”

“Well, we could tell if we went back to town…”

“Iris.”

“I know, I know.”

Maureen stopped, turning to peer up at her. “Can ye see anything? Any sign o’ progress?”

Iris turned, shading her eyes with a hand to study the distant town. They were moving around its periphery at just beyond the normal range of human earshot—at Maureen’s suggestion, close enough that the drow or other elves could find them quickly, but not near enough anybody—or anything—was likely to stumble across them by accident. Her view was impeded but not blocked by the tallgrass, which was just about eye height to her. The mountain soared skyward in plain view, of course, but Last Rock itself was little more than a collection of slate roofs.

“Not really,” she reported. “I can’t see people, or…anything. Just the tops of buildings. Um…wait, actually I have an idea. Can you find us a…is it called a clearing if it’s grass and not trees? Something relatively flat where I have some room to work.”

“Can I find us a clearing?” Maureen asked pointedly. “Pardon me fer pointin’ it out, but you’re the one with the view up there.”

Iris heaved a sigh. “Right. Sorry. It’s just…you’re good at tracking and wilderness craft, I thought you might be able to…I dunno.”

“I think you’re thinkin’ of elves,” the gnome said with a wry smile.

“Trust me, that’s not what I’m thinking of,” Iris muttered. “But anyway, while we’re stopped, surely this isn’t the whole plan? We can’t just run around in the prairie forever.”

“We could run around till it blows over a mite, aye, but that ain’t the plan, no. Just tryin’ to avoid blunderin’ into any beasties till we can figure out what’s what. I’ll admit we’re at a wee bit of a disadvantage in that regard, ‘less somethin’ really interestin’ happens in town…”

“Right. Okay. Then that brings me back to my idea.” Iris turned in a slow circle, seeing nothing but the town and mountain in one direction and infinite grass everywhere else. “Well, I don’t think anybody actually owns this grass, and if they do, I’ll just owe them an apology. We’re not gonna find a clear spot any time soon, I bet, so I’ll have to make one. C’mere, please, and stand close to my legs.”

“What’re ye up to, then?” Maureen asked a little nervously, obeying. She pressed her back against Iris’s side, where her head barely came up to her roommate’s hip.

“In theory, nothing that would hurt a person, but I don’t like to take risks.”

She breathed in slowly, deeply, straightening her spine and letting her eyes drift closed. After a moment’s concentration, Iris folded both her hands in front of her as if in prayer, and held that pose.

“Um,” Maureen whispered, peering up at her. “Is somethin’ supposed to—”

She broke off with a squeak as Iris suddenly dropped her left hand to her side and made a slashing motion with her right.

In front of them, a wide swath of tallgrass tumbled to the ground, neatly severed in an arc about an inch from the topsoil.

Iris opened her eyes, and then grinned. “Oh, that was even cleaner than I hoped! I’ll have to remember that one.”

“Remember? Y’mean you improvised that? I thought fae magic was all…rituals and components, aye?”

“Not all. There’s a big place for those things.” Iris stepped forward and knelt in the flattened space she had created, where the fallen tallgrass made a serviceable carpet. “But simple elemental work, such as using pure air like I just did…well, it’s more like building a relationship. Get close enough to the spirits, and they recognize you. Befriend them, and they’ll sometimes do you quick little favors.”

“Spirits, huh.” Maureen glanced nervously around, hovering at the border of the cleared space. “What sort? About how many are there, y’know, hereabouts? Helpful against demons, y’think?”

“It depends.” Iris had reached into her pocket pulled out a vial of dirt, which she sprinkled in a careful circle about the width of a dinner plate, then began adding pinches of other things taken from smaller pouches also concealed in her dress, which clearly had bag-of-holding spells on its pockets. “Some places…old places or sacred ones, mostly…have their own spirits. Others…well, with elementals, they kind of don’t exist until you pay attention to them. A discrete elemental you have to sort of make, but less formal kinds aren’t so much an objective part of the environment, but kind of an expression of your interaction with it.”

“So…these spirits are inside yer own ‘ead…an’ ye still ‘ave to sweet-talk ’em.”

“I dunno about you, but the inside of most people’s heads doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Iris muttered. “Gimme a minute, I have to concentrate on this part.”

She closed her eyes, and began making motions with her hands that were reminiscent of a potter shaping clay on a wheel. Fittingly, the dirt circle she had cast on the ground began to rise and stretch, slowly forming itself into a shallow earthen bowl. Iris let out a soft sigh once this was done and opened her eyes again, then reached in and with great delicacy extended one finger toward its center.

Her fingertip touched a point in the middle, about the height of the brim, and ripples spread out from the empty air. Just like that, it was no longer empty, but filled with impossibly clear water, visible only where it shimmered from her touch.

“Now that is a right nifty trick,” Maureen said, creeping closer.

“That’s the easy part,” Iris muttered, shifting from her kneeling position to sit cross-legged on the ground in front of the bowl. “Now I look for information. This isn’t like arcane scrying; it’s not a machine that does what I tell it to. But I can ask it for answers, and get a sense for the general…shape of things. To answer your question, witchcraft is very good against demons. Asking about demons is one of the more reliable things; the spirits sense them easily, and don’t like them. Let me just focus for a little bit.”

Maureen studied her face, and then the gently rippling surface of the bowl, and then her face again. Iris simply frowned in concentration; the surface of the bowl continued to ripple, revealing nothing except, apparently, to its creator. The gnome opened her mouth once, then thought better of speaking, and took a judicious half-step backward to give her room.

“It wasn’t just the one,” Iris whispered, eyes fixed on the bowl. “They’re…all around the town. Encircling it. Except…” She suddenly flung one arm out, pointing. “There!”

Maureen followed her finger, and winced. “Um… You’re pointin’ at the whole shebang over there, Iris.”

Iris blinked, and looked up. “…oh. Right, yes. Sorry. I meant, there are demons around the town except at the point where the mountain’s base touches the outskirts.”

“Aye…stands t’reason,” Maureen agreed, nodding slowly. “I doubt the Sleeper wants t’risk gettin’ Tellwryn into the middle o’ whatever the hell he’s doin’ now.”

“Yes. And, by the way, speaking of the Sleeper.” Iris made an expansive gesture with both hands, and her bowl collapsed, disintegrating back into a ring of dirt, now somewhat unevenly distributed after its little adventure. Of the ephemeral liquid which had been in the bowl, there was no sign. “Witches and warlocks…well, all other things being equal, the witches usually have the advantage, as you well know, but for that very reason a powerful enough warlock can almost always tell when there’s fae magic being used in the vicinity. So if the Sleeper happens to be nearby and paying attention…”

“Say no more,” Maureen said, already moving. “Let’s shake a leg.”

“Right behind you.” Iris rose and set off after her, and in seconds they were again proceeding through the tallgrass, making a wide arc around the north of the town toward the point where it abutted the foot of the mountain. This time, the human pushed ahead and led the way, the better to be able to navigate now that they weren’t simply proceeding away from Last Rock.

“This is good,” Maureen said to herself as they walked. “Aye, we can work with this. We get t’where we’re not bargin’ into a demon blockade, an’ we can get a look an’ decide whether t’jump in or retreat again.”

“I’m not retreating any more,” Iris said grimly. “I think you were right, though, it would’ve been a mistake to tackle that ourselves, alone. But once we make the town, we can link up with the others. There are probably students down there, plus the Rockies and those drow. They aren’t helpless, and they’ll be even better off with us.”

“Aye,” Maureen said, frowning worriedly. She chewed her lower lip in thought, lost for a moment in her own worries. “Uh. Look, what if—”

Maureen, thinking rather than looking, walked right into Iris’s knee with a grunt. “Oof! What’s that about? See somethin’?”

“No,” Iris whispered. She had frozen in place, and now looked back and forth frantically. “I—no. Nothing! I don’t see…”

“What’re ye on about?” Maureen demanded, growing increasingly nervous.

“The town! The mountain, it’s—there’s nothing there! Everything’s gone!”

“What?! How’s that possible? Lemme up!”

Iris, moving slowly, bent down, offering a hand. Maureen was far more nimble, and swarmed up the human like a squirrel, eliciting several grunts of protest before getting herself situated on Iris’s shoulders.

They were standing, alone, in the apparent middle of an infinite sea of golden tallgrass.

“Bollocks,” Maureen declared after a period of stunned silence. “No, this is…this is wrong. It can’t be like this. What do the spirits say?”

“They’re not the town gossip, I can’t just…” Iris turned in a slow circle, not minding the way Maureen grabbed her hair for purchase. “…oh, no. I just had a thought. Exactly…how close to the mountain is the Golden Sea?”

“No, no, that’s not it,” Maureen said, shaking her head vigorously. “I don’t think we were that close, but anyway, doesn’t matter. Remember ‘ow the geas works? We’re initiates o’ the Unseen University. Any time we’re near the edge, we’ll come out right were we can see th’mountain.”

“Unless it shifted us farther into the Sea…”

“It doesn’t! It doesn’t work like that! Professor Ezzaniel said!”

“Did you ever talk to the sophomores about their trip?”

Maureen started to shout something exasperated, but broke off, gritted her teeth for a moment, and replied in a calmer tone. “I did, yes, a couple times. Why?”

“They had trouble with centaurs,” Iris said woodenly. “When Teal and Trissiny told me the story…they said centaurs move the Sea. They’re warlocks. They reach through to the Darklands on the other side of the dimensional divide, and move that, and the Golden Sea shifts in response. They said it doesn’t like that, and retaliates eventually, but it works, at least at first.”

“Oh, kick me up the stairs,” Maureen groaned, pressing a hand over her eyes. “Yer thinkin’ a certain other warlock may’ve picked up that trick?”

“I also asked Trissiny about the hellgate incident last year,” Iris said, her tone growing increasingly grim. “The hellgate had to have been opened from both sides. The Darklands on the other side were shifted so there was a hiszilisk hive practically next door to the campus. The Sleeper has to have been the warlock who did that, so we know he can do this.”

There was silence, again, while Iris turned in another slow circle, just for hope’s sake. Nothing came of it; they were still surrounded by nothing but tallgrass, waving gently under the setting sun, stretching away to a perfectly circular horizon.

“Okay,” Maureen said at last. “It’s…it’s not all bad, then, aye? We can…we can ‘ead downhill, that’ll take us back outta the Sea eventually. No matter ‘ow far in we are. Yer a witch, I’m a gnome, we can survive outdoors fer a bit. We’ll come out near the campus. Most important, the Sleeper can’t get to us ‘ere. Nobody can navigate in the Sea. Even Tellwyrn can’t teleport in an’ outta here, Ezzaniel warned us about that, remember? Now which way’s downhill, can ye tell?”

“Maureen,” Iris said wearily, “someone can navigate in the Sea. We’ve already established—”

A sudden breeze blew over them, disturbing the tallgrass, and with it, a shadow drifted over the golden stalks all around, as if cast by a cloud scudding by overhead.

There were no clouds.

“Right. Yep. That’s on me, I’ll own that,” Maureen said glumly. “Just had to open me mouth.”

Another gust of wind blew, accompanied by another shadow. This time, the hissing sound of the air was accompanied by the soft, yet unmistakable, rhythm of breath. It fell silent, then came again, blowing a third sourceless shadow across them, and in the wind was a clear, sibilant laugh.

“Get down,” Iris said tersely. The gnome immediately pushed herself off, leaping to the ground. The moment she had, Iris dropped to her own knees, bending forward amid the tallgrass and working her hands stubbornly through the thick clusters of its bases, seeking dirt.

A deeper shadow fell over them. The sun was setting in the west, casting the sky and the grass around in deepening red; now, something suddenly stood between them and it, creating a small eclipse.

Maureen swallowed heavily. “Iris, I don’t think hidin’ is gonna work…”

Iris had screwed her face up in concentration, whispering something constantly to herself. Her fingers found purchase between the stands of tallgrass, sinking as deep as she could force them into the loam.

Another breath of shadow washed across them. The laugh that accompanied it was deeper, huskier. To their west, only yards distant, only hidden by the thickness of the grass around them, there came the crunching thump of something very large taking a step.

“Iris,” Maureen hissed frantically, pressing herself against the human’s side and shaking her. “Get a grip! We need yer magic here!”

“Please,” Iris whispered, clenching her teeth as if in pain. “Please, please, please—”

Another step. Then another. The sky darkened, faster than the mere sunset could allow for. There came a deeper chuckle, accompanied by yet another footstep, laid down by something larger than a human, crushing a swath of grass beneath it.

“That’s not helping!” Maureen squeaked, jostling Iris as forcibly as she could, to no apparent effect. “Iris, please!”

“Please!” Iris echoed frantically, pushing her hands deeper into the dirt. “Please please…”

“Ohhhh, Maaaaaurrrreeeeeeeeeennnn…”

The voice was at once deep as a dragon’s and breathy, brushing lightly across them like another breath of the wind. It was followed by a rumble of deliberately sinister laughter.

Maureen’s squeal of sheer terror was muffled only by Iris’s shoulder, against which she had pressed her face.

Suddenly, Iris’s head snapped up and she opened her eyes. A desperate breath escaped her, and then a final whisper.

“Thank you.”

The world wrenched.

Maureen squawked as she was bucked right off the ground as if by an earthquake. Innate agility and early childhood training took over, and she landed nimbly on her feet despite her panic, quickly casting around for friend and foe alike.

She was, once again, alone. No sign of Iris, nor of the shadow falling over them.

“Oh, no,” she groaned. “Not—”

The approaching sound of hoofbeats coming at a flat-out gallop made her dive back to the ground with a wail, covering her head with her arms.

“Maureen!”

The horse skidded to a stop nearby, snorting, and at the familiar voice, the gnome raised her head again in desperate hope.

“Maureen!” Gabriel called once more, while Whisper whinnied and pawed at the dirt. “I heard your voice! Where are you? I can’t see a thing in this crap. Is Iris with you?”

“Gabriel!” She bounded upright and lunged in the direction of his voice. He was closer than she’d expected, and she found herself shooting directly underneath the horse. “Gabe! Down ‘ere!”

“Oh, thank the gods,” he said, swinging a leg over Whisper’s back and dropping heavily to the ground, staggering slightly on landing. “Are you okay? Are you alone? Did you meet any demons?”

“Never mind that, ‘ow’d ye find us? Didja ‘ave to come far into the Sea?”

Gabriel paused in the act of drawing Ariel to slash tallgrass out of his way, frowning at her. “What? Into the Golden Sea, you mean? We’re not nearly that close to it, the border’s gotta be half a mile north of the town.”

“The…” She stared up at him in dawning horror, then spun around. She was far too short to see any sign of Last Rock through the thick tallgrass, but the mountain itself reared up, unmistakable and unavoidable at that distance.

It took a long moment of silent staring for understanding to crash down on her.

“Oh, Iris. Oh, no.”


The witch straightened up slowly, her expression resolute and calm, and carefully dry-washed her hands, brushing dirt off her fingers without getting any on her white dress. In silence, she watched the Sleeper come.

One slow, plodding step at a time, he approached, his form blotting out the sunset. He towered over her, fully encased in armor formed of scintillating shadow, so thick it was effectively a second, much larger body. The bruise-colored figure would have been taller and burlier than Scorn. Spiky growths protruded from the crown and shoulders, like the natural defenses of some grotesque beetle. His eyes were two pinpricks of flame within an otherwise featureless mask.

The Sleeper stopped, flexing enormous, clawed hands at his sides. He was tall enough they were visible to her through the upper reaches of the tallgrass.

“Oooonnnly enough power to save one?” His voice was as obviously obscured as his body, and as melodramatic, hidden within layers of sibilance and reverberation. At least, after the first word, he seemed to give up on the deliberately drawn-out delivery he had used to taunt Maureen. “Noble. Brave. My compliments.”

“Fine,” she whispered, flexing her own fingers at her sides.

“Pleasant dreams, little witch,” the Sleeper mocked, ponderously raising one massive hand toward her, palm out.

The sleeping curse that had defied warlocks and archmages alike stretched across the space between them.

Iris raised her own hand and caught it.

Out of thin air came form, as pure magic took on a shape, an impossibly complex structure of crystalline fractals the shade of amethysts. The curse immediately splintered and began to fracture as its non-infernal elements spun out of it suddenly frozen structure, arcane and shadow magic spinning away in little puffs of mist and light. The remainder shattered, dust and inert shards tumbling to the ground between the stalks of grass.

The Sleeper lost some of his melodrama in sheer surprise, rearing backward in shock and then having to stagger to catch his balance, apparently unused to moving so suddenly in that massive form.

Iris bared her teeth in a snarl. “Fine.”

He recovered, raised a hand again, and hurled a more conventional shadowbolt at her.

She slapped it out of the way, sending the blast of dark magic into the ground nearby, and flung another right back at him.

The Sleeper was less adroit in his movements; the bolt struck him dead in the center of his massive chest, though it had little effect on the thick armor. He staggered backward again, but recovered and gesticulated.

Tallgrass burst into flames as a summoning circle sprang up directly between them. The creature which rose up from it was a lopsided amalgamation of tentacles and pincers, covered in overlapping plates of chitin. It raised several limbs, each tipped with either claws or waving tendrils, emitted a burbling noise, and charged at Iris. The demon was almost as tall as the armored Sleeper; each of its footsteps shook the earth.

She made a grasping motion with one fist, seizing a handful of reality and wrenching a small hole in it.

A ripple of vibration and noise blasted out from the tiny rift, the ear-splitting sound of existence itself shrieking in pain, and a gout of absolutely pure and intensely concentrated infernal magic blazed forth.

The demon was adapted to infernal magic, of course; all its kind were inherently resistant to it. But nothing could have stood up to that blast of pure entropy. The creature exploded with the force of a bomb, not a single piece larger than a mote of dust surviving, most projected away with a speed that sent them half a mile before either combatant could blink.

The Sleeper hesitated only an instantly longer, then turned and bolted.

Shadows swelled around his huge form, but before they could thicken, another screaming rent in the fabric of creation spread open directly in front of him. Tentacle-like tendrils of purple shadow lashed out from the rift, grasping at nothing and sweeping away the energy of his attempted shadow-jump. More coiled around his huge limbs, then still more, all tightening, pulling… The impenetrable armor groaned in protest, and began to crack.

He let out a roar of sheer frustration, and a ripple of white-hot hellfire pulsed out in all directions, reducing a perfect circle around him to ash. The rift endured, pulsing angrily, but the tentacles of darkness were blasted away.

The Sleeper spun back around, drawing back one arm, and hurled an orb of blazing destruction in the direction of Iris.

She caught the pumpkin-sized fireball with one hand and chucked it dismissively over her shoulder. The impact behind her caused a shockwave that should have hurled her through the air, but it succeeded only in ruffling her dress. Her form was limned in shadow, not armored like his, but clearly protected with infernal magic, despite the well-known fact that infernal magic had no protective application.

The blackened ground around them served as a perfect arena for the two arch-warlocks.

The Sleeper took a step back, then leaned toward her, clearly uncertain whether to fight or flee.

Iris bared her teeth again, and raised her hands. Fire and shadow coalesced out of the air around her, streamers of it shifting forward, weaving into a pattern that promised carnage and unimaginable pain.

“Have it your way,” she snarled, and unleashed Hell.

 

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51 thoughts on “12 – 55

  1. Woah woah woah what? Iris? IRIS is a warlock? not the Sleeper obviously, But one of the two students who were caught by Elilial? But if that’s the case why was the Sleeper surprised?

    Is Iris a secret warlock? Not one of the two?

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    1. Hmm. The Sleeper was causing enough chaos to threaten Vadrieny. Her mother said she wouldn’t act against the warlocks herself, just let them self-destruct, and gods seem to mostly be good to there word.

      Maybe moma made a second arch-warlock to protect her little girl.

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    2. Remember the two students that became Warlocks happened when Gabe, Triss and Gang were the Freshmen and the Hellgate happened right at the end of their freshmen year, Iris wasn’t attending the school then so she can’t be one of the two. Now the real question is: Who was Iris asking please to and what was she asking for?

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      1. > Who was Iris asking please to and what was she asking for?

        This seems pretty clear – either the Golden Sea itself, or some spiritual entity that’s part of it. Possibly she is being possessed by one now, which could explain infernal magic.

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  2. You do have to ask yourself though, considering the quality of talent in the Uni, be it temporal or spiritual, what would a mediocre witch be doing there? Clearly Iris was more than just a mediocre witch since before she entered it. Now we get to find out just how much more.

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    1. I am pretty sure we had it confirmed in the chapter where Elilial meets Tris and co. for the first time. However, I don’t know that we had it confirmed that all of the girls being possessed by the demons died [going to have to go re-read those tomorrow, I guess]. I suppose it is possible that instead of sharing her headspace like teal did, iris was able to vanquished archdemon and absorb her power (which to Elilial would probably be quite upsetting, hence why Arachne wouldn’t have mentioned it back then, even assuming they both knew).
      Or Iris could be like November and Fross: We already know of someone who converts something into divine energy, and someone who converts fey into arcane. Why not someone who can convert infernal into fey or vice versa? In fact, that would give a nice symmetry of having one magic converting student per year.

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      1. Decided not to sleep, found that Arachne’s precise words (in chapter 4-3) were “I know, now, Vadrieny was the only survivor.”
        We also know from the prologue that Arachne had only discovered the fates of four of the demon/girl pairs prior to the start of the first year of the story (three fatalities each, with Teal and Vadrieny obviously surviving).
        I imagine I wasn’t the only one who read chapter 4-3 and assumed that all three other possessed girls had died like June did. However, for all we know there could be three girls running around Tiraas who have incorporated the power of the archdemons without actually managing to keep them alive (though my bet would be that if Iris is indeed another of the posessees, she is the only other one to survive)

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      2. Yup. Or, more specifically….we know Fross, who is a supposed-to-be-not-particularly-sapient fae-construct in origin, can mix it up as well as think circles around most people. And, “Iris” is a flower name… :/

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    2. Elilial you magnificent bastard!
      You fake kill your own children leaving only one with the “too perfect” type of amnesia to make it seem like it all went wrong.
      You lie to everyone, including the Black Wreath, make it seem like the gods screwed you over – it’s not like anyone will simply ask them if they did or that they will admit such things anyway.
      After that, you can have six demigoddesses walking around under fake names doing whatever they wish with only dust remaining in their gravestones – something that could easily be faked.

      Hell, pun intended, Teal was probably the riskiest part of the entire thing as she had to embrace Vadrieny and is the only one who doesn’t have a clue about what is really going on, but as Elilial says in 4-3:

      “It was perfect,” Lily whispered. “Flawless. It had been worked on for years, decades. Everything set up in advance, everything just so. Those girls were selected with the greatest possible care, each a perfect match. They’d have bonded fully, innocent mortal spirits with archdemons, and by the time the full plan had unfolded, the world would have changed its mind about me. The Church’s pillars knocked out from beneath it, the Pantheon’s lies held up to the light. And someone interfered.”

      The goddess was the first to look away. “How is she?” she asked quietly.

      Tellwyrn slowly eased back in her chair, suddenly weary. “As well as I can say, considering how rarely she comes out? Actually, quite well. Teal is a good influence on her, I think.”

      Lily nodded. “Teal Falconer is only of the most exceptional people of this or any age. I’ll never be able to fully repay her.”

      Well fucking played Elilial, well fucking played.

      (Or I’m mad and the entire explanation is wrong, who knows)

      I wonder, how Iris is going to explain the situation when Gabriel shows up.

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      1. Interesting guess, but I’m not quite convinced that’s what’s going on here. In that type of situation, wouldn’t she just switch to her demon form if she had one? Being immune to infernal magic and capable of flight would certainly be advantageous in that situation.

        That doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of course. If the archdemon arrived with her memories in tact, it would likely be capable of making her host into a powerful warlock.

        I’m excited to see how this turns out. I really wasn’t expecting that big of a surprise out of Iris.

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  3. It is always a good day when a new chapter arrives. Every now and then however you manage to deliver a chapter that leaves me gasping for breath at the end. This was one of those.

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    1. That’s what i want to know. Real Tellwyrn in disuise, maybe? Never said Tellwyrn cant use fae magic after all, and she is bound to have some relationship with sea after all this time. How else would she be able to teleport someone out of it but begging it if she cant do it normally?

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      1. If it was Tellwyrn, I’m not sure she would’ve begged, she would’ve just sent Maureen away. Also, Iris seemed reluctant/angry at being forced to use infernal magic. If this was a Tellwyrn trap, she wouldn’t be mad that the Sleeper got caught in it. (She could be still pretending to be Iris, I guess.)

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  4. I got the feeling that Madeleine might be somehow connected to Iris. A talented female warlock infatuated with Gabe, there are parallels.
    Even though there is no connections if Gabe witnesses this it will remind him how Madeline hid her identify as a warlock from him.

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    1. Iris hates demons and warlocks. Read the 52 again

      “Well, what do you suggest?” Iris hissed.

      Maureen swallowed. “Back away fer now.”

      “I don’t run from demons!”

      and

      “This is personal for you, isn’t it?” Maureen whispered. “Not just the Sleeper, but…demons. Warlocks.”

      The human bared her teeth. “They live only to destroy. It should be personal for everyone. You need to listen to Trissiny on this subject, when she comes back.”

      “Well, talkin’ o’ Trissiny, she’s a strategist. She’d never endorse lungin’ into a trap or doin’ the reckless thing. We’re not gonna let him win, Iris, an’ that means not doin’ what he wants. Come on. Step back, an’ we’ll come at this from another angle. One ‘e won’t expect.”

      Iris hissed in pure frustration, but allowed the gnome to tug her gently away from the shelter and deeper into the tallgrass, leaving behind the demon at the edge of a crowded square, on which the drow were already quietly surging into motion.

      Iris hate the Infernal. Also, she didn’t start pulling her Warlock magic out of nowhere, she ASKED to use it first. As I said, I think Elilial realized she went to far with the Archwarlocks she created earlier, that they were a threat to Vadrieny.

      But she was trapped, said she wasn’t going to hurt them and gods don’t seem to lie. Probably because they work at seeming honest to their followers and then are bound by those expectations. So she creates a third, but chooses someone who hates the Infernal, someone hurt badly by it. And she places limits, they can only call upon it under certain circumstances. They have to ask permission or beg a favor or something.

      And so Iris is placed here specifically to counter the two Archwarlocks without Elilial being made a liar.

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  5. I always thought it was kinda weird for Iris was accepted into the university what with her being such a mess, apparently having no important connections. I was starting to think there was something more to her. I never expected her to be a badass though.

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    1. We knew she was a VERY unusally competent witch for her age–that kind of talent alone might have been enough to satisfy the “too dangerous to be allowed to wander around unsupervised” part of the entry requirements.

      She was already kind of badass, she just didn’t have the attitude to back it up before. Now the Sleeper’s gone and pushed her buttons, she’s mad enough to be badass… with unexpected infernal magic thrown into the mix to confuse the rest of us!

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  6. Crazy theory: maybe Iris is a demigoddess, daugther of a certain Elder Goddess that has been much mentioned but little shown.

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    1. … huh. You know, everyone’s been talking about how Ellial might be connected to Iris, but yeah, she’s not the only source of Infernal magic out there.

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  7. I think Iris is Ellilial’s daughter, time sped from “Danny”. She’s at the Academy to get enough training and ties to have a legitimate chance of being allowed to inherit the throne without a fight.

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    1. But Iris seems to legit hate demons and warlocks. Like, I suppose there’s a rebel against mommy thing, but I just don’t see it.

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    2. Wow. This is my favorite theory, even though it’s sure to be just as wrong as all the other guesses. Because let’s face it, all any of us can do is guess wildly now.

      My thinking is that Iris IS the other Sleeper, giving us a sleeper v sleeper showdown. That’s the only way I can parse her saying “fine,” twice, then “have it your way.” The two sleepers had a disagreement about something. Maybe Iris only wanted to Sleep people who deserve it, but her male counterpart was going after anyone.

      Mild, caring little Iris being a sleeper kinda feels right somehow.

      I realize this idea has holes. Didn’t someone say the sleepers are sophomores or older? Are we certain about that?

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      1. I think you might be on to something there. I mean, there are holes, but besides the “Tellwyrn overlooked one of Vadrieny’s Sisters who are iirc not known for their subtlety and she managed to sneak into the university right under Arachnes nose, for some reason”-theory I can’t think of an other explanation.

        So, to delve deeper into this, hypothetical scenario: The two arch-warlocks info-dumped by Elilial have a disagreement – methods, goals, whatever – and decide to part ways. the dumb, powerhungry one decides to stick around and piss off everyone, while the smart one disappears – I am unsure if anyone decided to not come back after the hellgate incident, or maybe the smart one was actually close to graduation and simply graduated. Either way, our second warlock decides to keep an eye on the rampant colleague and uses the disguise of Iris – either creating the persona somehow, or taking the place of an existing prospective student. There are still plenty of holes, especially the question “why not just give Tellwyrn an anonymous tip who the bad guy is so she knows who to disintegrate” but maybe there are other factors at play.
        Actually, isn’t Addiwyn a university graduate that got put back as a fake student for some unknown shady purpose by Arachne? And isn’t she in the same form as Iris? hummm…

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  8. Come on people. You are forgetting the obvious solution.
    Iris is a witch. Who is the only goddess of cleaning up, mother of demigodesses feared by heaven and hell, source of the fae and creator of the golden sea ?
    Who would you try to contact and beg for help after meeting no less than three dryads and a kitsune ?

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      1. Possibly. Except that Naiya (and witches in general) don’t use infernal magic. My guess is that she is channeling a spirit of some sort.

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      2. I reread.
        There is no Description of her using infernal magic by herself.
        The tearing of reality is more in line with chaos magic. Through which she releases infernal energy.. but she does not use it. Even the Description “unleashing hell” is not clearly connected to infernal magic.
        Fucking with reality and dimensions this way is barely in Elilials Power. An Elder Goddess fighting “fire with fire” just to prove a point. Why not.
        On the other hand. If she is possessed by a Valkyrie who was looking for her .. Vidius messed with the dimensions

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      3. I think that “The blackened ground around them served as a perfect arena for the two arch-warlocks.” is pretty explicit on the use of infernal magic.

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      1. They are, though that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a transwomen dragon, of course. Though considering how rare transgenderism is in humans and how few dragons there are, you would really be hitting it out of the ballpark on low odds.

        Which isn’t a no.

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      2. Oh right, I forgot that. I suppose taking a female form could be a camouflage, but I doubt Tellwyrn would have allowed a secret male dragon to live among the female students. OK strike down that wild theory 😉

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  9. WAIT. Wait a minute.

    *We* know there are two arch-warlocks. The *crew* knows there are two warlocks.

    Maybe the Sleeper doesn’t.

    Hear me out on this. Yes, the two of them both got catapulted into power together. They certainly knew one another’s identities. But Iris is a pretty put together person, with a hatred of the infernal, who really, really would not want to be an arch-warlock or be associated with another arch-warlock in any way. And the Sleeper is not a put together person, they’re arrogant, they’re aggressive, they like being an arch-warlock and want to throw their power around. They would not get along is what I’m saying.

    And possibly most important of all, *Iris doesn’t know Elilial told anyone about them*. So far as she knows, the Sleeper is the only person in the world who knows she’s an arch-warlock.

    I can see Iris pretty quickly deciding “I want nothing to do with this asshole, I want nothing to do with any of this and I never want to use these powers ever”. But she’s saddled with this dumbass who’s certainly going to get himself caught or blow his cover, and whom knows about her powers. Her secret is practically on a timer with this guy running around.

    Now Iris isn’t a cold-blooded killer and what with the efficacy of scrying she might not want to blow his cover to the authorities, even anonymously, for fear the information could be tracked back to her. So instead of killing him or outing him, she wipes his memories.

    So she’s been hoping that the authorities will handle this dumbass, so she doesn’t need to get involved and can just be a normal fae magic user her entire life, secure in her belief that once he’s taken down no one will be looking for her. But now that this asshole has wrenched her far beyond the reach and sight of the University, cornered her alone, and is trying to assault her, after just attacking her friend?

    Yeah I think Iris is just fucking done with this guy and plans to end him herself.

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  10. I suspect she made some sort of deal that she heavily regrets. Or perhaps she was the expiriment of some warlock, meant to be a follower or successor, ect.

    I’m really going to stake my bet on her channeling the spirit of the Golden Sea or some sort of ancient and powerful centaur spirit/godling.

    Liked by 1 person

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