6 – 9

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“Don’t advance,” Trissiny said quietly. “Any deeper into the room and we can be surrounded in an instant.”

“Excuse me, point of order,” said Ruda. “Didn’t you just launch a religious initiative to open up your cult to demonbloods?”

“Demonbloods,” Trissiny said, her voice rising slightly. “People, native to the mortal plane, with souls, like Gabriel.”

“I would love to not be involved in this, Triss…”

“These are the real thing,” the paladin went on fiercely. “Their existence is a state of perpetual war with our kind.”

“There are a good many ‘kinds’ represented here,” Shaeine observed.

“You know what I meant!”

“Do you think they know we can hear them?” Xsythri asked, turning to look up at Melaxyna.

The succubus drummed her fingernails once on the arm of her throne. “Let me tell you a story, children. Once upon a time I aggravated Arachne Tellwyrn and found myself with the choice of being stuck down here, sent back to Hell or blasted to atoms. This was the lesser evil. While I have done my utmost to thwart her intentions with regard to my fate, it is not lost upon me that if I actually managed to wipe out one of her student groups she would come down here and find extravagant new ways to ruin my day.”

“Isn’t that the whole point, though?” Ruda asked. “I mean…you’re a dungeon boss. If Tellwyrn put you here, it was with the expectation you’d try to kill us, and then we’d kill you.”

“Yes,” Melaxyna replied with a feline smile. “Hence thwarting her intentions. The Descent, my dears, is an instanced soulbound sub-dungeon. Do you understand what that means?”

“Um, no,” said Gabriel. “But I bet Fross does.”

“I sure do!” the pixie all but shouted, buzzing around in frantic circles above their heads. “It means there is a theoretically infinite number of Descents existing simultaneously, but experienced separately by each individual or adventuring party who enters!”

“Ah, but that rule applies to guests,” said Melaxyna languidly, raising one finger. “Those of us who are consigned to be fixtures of the Descent experience all of those realities. Our souls are bound to this place and we perceive all that happens in the various convergent realities, simultaneously.”

“Damn,” said Gabriel with a whistle. “What’s that like?”

“Bloody damn confusing,” Xsythri said.

“Demons don’t have souls,” Trissiny growled.

“Two kinds of people don’t know what they’re talking about,” Melaxyna said sweetly. “The ignorant, and the religious. The first group, at least, will sometimes accept correction. To continue my tale, Tellwyrn’s intention was to have me experience being killed and looted, over and over, often at the same time, while the Descent granted me a kind of twisted immortality. Had I understood the implications before being banished to the Crawl, I’d have just gone back to Hell.” Her flawless lips twisted in a sneer. “Tellwyrn isn’t as smart as she likes to believe, however. While she has a disproportionate influence on the running of things around here, that is because she has cultivated a positive relationship with the Crawl itself. The Crawl is the ultimate arbiter of all our fates, and it is amenable to making accords with other individuals, if approached the right way. I have laboriously built up such an accord, cementing my status as Boss here, and ultimately earning…an exception. Level 2 does not enjoy the sanctuary status of the Grim Visage, but it is outside the dynamic of the Descent. We all exist only once, in this place and time; all travelers through the Descent who pass this way converge in one reality and can interact. That is, until they proceed to another level. It’s a slow day, kids; you’ll usually find other adventurers coming through.”

“Wait, other adventurers?” Toby frowned. “The Crawl is supposed to be sealed except to University students.”

“At the top, yes,” the succubus replied with a shrug. “There are whole societies down here. The goblins and naga are quite organized, with other smaller groups in various nooks and crannies. Then, too, there are occasional Scyllithene drow who worm their way up from the depths, and once in a while a party of very lost gnomes. The Descent was designed to be a loot farm; it’s one of the only consistent sources of fresh resources in the Crawl. It never gets exactly crowded, but we’re rather popular. The point of all this, children, is that I am not asking for your trust. Only for you to acknowledge that I respect my own self-interest, and keep my subjects in line.”

Xsythri made a rude noise; Melaxyna ignored her. “You are safe here. Everyone is. Yes, the residents of Level 2 are all dangerous beings, to a greater or lesser degree. You may regard them as a sort of civilian militia. No one is going to do more than take your coin, and that only in exchange for fair value, but the whole population will descend on anyone who causes trouble.” She smiled again, grimly.

“That’s nearly a threat,” Trissiny said.

“Triss, come on,” Toby exclaimed.

“There’s no nearly about it,” Melaxyna replied, interlacing her fingers and resting her chin upon them. “It’s a threat. I’m hoping you turn out to be sensible enough not to provoke me to act upon it. So far, no group of Arachne’s students has done anything so pointlessly rash. You, paladin, are close to the most irritating guest we have had.”

“Remember that group with the priest and the vampire?” Xsythri asked brightly.

“I said ‘close to.’”

“And then there’s Admestus…”

“Xsythri, shut up.”

“Just so we understand one another,” Trissiny said coldly, “any attempt by your population to ‘descend’ on us will result in you needing a new population.”

“Trissiny,” Toby said firmly, “there does not need to be a fight here. Please stop picking at her.”

Melaxyna rose, snapping her wings once, and descended the steps from her throne. She stroked one of the hellhounds in passing. “There is that,” the succubus said, continuing to pace slowly forward. “A Hand of Avei is not a thing lightly dealt with. I, myself, am a schemer rather than a fighter, hence my status as second-weakest Boss of the hundred in the Descent. And then there’s that dryad; really, she’s a lot more of a game-breaker than you are. No, I don’t believe we could take you, not even close. I’m afraid the very gift that keeps Level 2 separate and coherent also makes us vulnerable. Dead, now, is dead.”

She came to within a few feet of the group, folding her arms under her impressive bosom, and stared Trissiny in the eyes. “Therefore, if it appears that you intend to destroy everything I have built up here and end the lives of the people I protect, I will simply trigger the destructive runes I have placed over every inch of the floor and collapse this entire level into the one beneath it. According to my spellcrafter, the force of that should break Level 3 as well, dropping the lot into the next one down. Any of you who survive the fall would find yourselves buried in rubble with three levels’ worth of severely irate monsters, and good luck to you. Do we understand one another?”

“Perfectly,” Trissiny snapped. “You remain true to your destructive nature.”

“Okay, so!” Gabe said brightly. “On to shopping, then? I for one can’t wait to see what’s available down here. The vendors in the Visage weren’t even up yet when we left.”

“You know what?” Melaxyna tilted her head back, still studying Trissiny’s face. “…no. I don’t believe I care for you arrogant little monkeys.” She turned and strolled away toward her chair, folding her wings tightly against her back. “Behind this throne is the door to Level 3. You may come and go freely, but that’s all. Consider yourselves banned. There will be no business or interaction for you, and I’ll thank you to leave my citizens alone.”

“Now, hold on,” Teal said soothingly. “There’s no reason we can’t reach an understanding…”

“Teal, leave it,” said Trissiny. “We’re better off.”

“Well, you heard the lady,” Xsythri said, folding her shelled arms. “Off you go.”

“Wait,” the bard insisted. “Just wait. You need the custom and frankly we need the resources. Not to mention any source of information and allies.”

“We do not—”

“Yes, we do, Trissiny,” Teal said in exasperation. “Will you please give it a rest?”

“I’m done with this conversation,” Melaxyna said, turning back to stare flatly at them. “And with you. Be gone.”

“Now, look what you did,” said Ruda, prodding Trissiny in the side with her fist. “You went and hurt her feelings.”

Teal drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “All right…fine.”

She took four paces forward, away from the group, and erupted in hellfire.

Vadrieny’s wings were wider in span than Melaxyna’s; fully extended, they seemed to fill the central open space, stretching so that her pinions nearly brushed the ceiling. She stalked to one side, her talons rasping against the stone floor, and angled herself to keep the succubus and the students both in view.

The effect of her appearance on the residents was instantaneous and remarkable. Melaxyna and Xsythri, with identical expressions of wide-eyed shock, immediately fell to their knees, gaping up at her. The two hellhounds went into a barking frenzy, spitting puffs of fire in her direction. All around the room, demons either knelt or fled and hid themselves behind whatever cover they could find.

“I have absolutely no patience for any more of this nonsense,” Vadrieny declared, her choral voice echoing in the long chamber. She pointed one saber claw at Melaxyna. “If you presume to be in charge here, stop acting like a brat! The children of Vanislaas are supposed to be clever, not prone to throwing tantrums when insulted. And you,” she added with obvious exasperation, swiveling to point at Trissiny, “grow up.”

“Excuse me?” the paladin snapped, reflexively resting a hand on her sword.

“Do you want to make this about force and strength?” Vadrieny shot back. “Fine. You have tried that with me exactly once, Trissiny, and got slapped across the quad for your trouble. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out how much of a chance you don’t have against me,” she added, turning her glare on Melaxyna.

“I would never,” the succubus said hoarsely. “Forgive me, lady, I had no idea you were…”

“Excuse me just a moment,” Vadrieny interrupted her. The two hellhounds were still howling and snarling at her. She took two steps toward them, her talons sinking right into the stone of the floor with a crunch, leaned forward and let out a deafening scream, baring the full complement of her fangs. Melaxyna cringed; Xsythri clapped her hands over her ears. Trissiny reflexively surrounded herself with a bubble of golden light.

When Vadrieny’s scream cut off, there was complete silence. It held for a second, then both hellhounds whimpered and scurried off to hide behind Melaxyna’s throne.

“Much better,” the archdemon said, nodding in satisfaction. “Is everyone through behaving like squabbling children? Good. We will have a nice, civil interaction from here. We will be treated just like any other group of guests, and you, Trissiny, will behave yourself and not make our presence an undue burden upon our hosts. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly,” Melaxyna said, nodding vigorously.

“Well?” Vadrieny prompted, staring at Trissiny.

The paladin drew in a breath and let it out through her nose in a huff. “Fine.”

“I suppose that will do,” the archdemon said dryly. “Honestly, I shouldn’t have to tell you this.”

Ruda cackled and slapped Trissiny on the back. “You just got your manners corrected by a demon, roomie. I bet Avei’s so proud!”

“Ruda,” Toby said firmly, “can we all just stop, please?”

Vadrieny grunted in response to that, then receded. Fire and claws withdrew, leaving Teal standing alone. She shook her head once, stepped back over to the group and prodded the shredded remains of her sandals with a bare toe. “Well…nuts.”

Shaeine strode forward, reached out and entwined her fingers with Teal’s, smiling a hair more broadly than she usually did in public. The bard smiled shyly back.

“Who are you?” Melaxyna asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s a very long story,” Teal said with a sigh. “I’d rather not get into it.”

“Um,” Xsythri said hesitantly. “How…is it you didn’t know what a hethelax is?”

“I didn’t,” Teal said. “Vadrieny corrected me as soon as I asked.”

“So…you’re…two of you in there?”

“Xsythri!” Melaxyna snapped. “Don’t interrogate the..” She trailed off, looking warily at Teal. “…her. Anyway, we have guests, as we just agreed. I believe they need a tour.”

“Me?” the hethelax whined, hunching down in place. “Now?”


“Well, now I regret having the strongest stomach in the group,” Ruda grumbled. “Here we get real food and I have no more room for it.”

“Yes, your life is such a burden,” Gabriel said solicitously. “Will it make you feel better to fucking stab me?”

“It did last time,” she replied, grinning.

“Are you ever gonna let go of that?” Fross asked.

He huffed and crammed a strip of bacon into his mouth. “Don’ see why I shoul’.”

Trissiny watched them sidelong, the porkchop sitting on her plate untouched.

“It’s safe,” Toby said quietly from across the table. “We would sense it if it were demonically corrupted. Look, see?” He extended a hand over her plate, shining a soft light on her food.

“Knowing it’s safe and feeling safe are two very different things,” she muttered, but picked up the bent fork provided and began sawing off a piece with its edge. This took some doing; the utensil was hardly sharp, and the meat was quite tough.

“Of course, we do a lot more commerce in other kinds of meat,” their host said cheerfully. A sshitherosz demon, he resembled a skeletally thin man about four feet tall with wings and an elongated skull, and had a habit of climbing on furniture like a monkey. “Lots of snake and lizard! Which is actually quite good, not so heavy as this. But cave boars are plentiful in the Descent, and in my experience you surface folk do well to start off with something more familiar.”

“How are boars plentiful?” Juniper asked. Despite the full breakfast she’d eaten, she had tucked into the proffered pork without reservation, apparently not sharing Ruda’s limited capacity. “There’s no sun! I mean, they could eat mushrooms… I don’t see how an ecosystem can even work down here. Not with large animals like boars.”

“Subjective physics, remember?” Fross said brightly. “The rules are different in the Crawl.”

“Hmph,” the dryad said. “Some rules are there for good reason.”

“We do grow some vegetables, using alchemy,” said the demon chef. “But, you know…species native to Hell. Lots of inherent infernal corruption; they don’t tend to agree with mortal digestive systems from this plane. I’ll tell you what, though, if you can find me crop seeds, plus sun crystals and soil, I will fork over every scrap of everything in my possession. I bet I can persuade Mel to do the same.”

“Good bloody luck with that,” Xsythri muttered. She was lounging at the end of the table while the students ate, being as ostentatiously sullen as she could.

“That wouldn’t work in the long term,” Juniper noted. “Soil needs fertilizer… And plants need pollination. You can grow them indoors, but it’s really tricky.”

The sshitherosz blinked his beady eyes. “Um… Seeds, sun crystals, soil and a book on agriculture,” he amended.

“We’ll keep our eyes peeled,” Ruda promised.

“This is really generous of you,” Teal said again, smiling at the cook. “I hope it’s not too much of an imposition.”

“Pshaw!” he waved a long, bony hand dismissively, then hopped up onto the sign (lettered in unreadable demonic script) over his grill, grinning down at her. “Not often we get such exalted company! Just so y’know, your ladyship, I really can’t afford to splurge more than once, yeah?”

“I would never ask you to,” she said firmly.

“What the hell are you staring at?” Xsythri burst out, grabbing everyone’s attention. “Never seen a hethelax before?”

“Sorry!” Gabe stammered, his cheeks coloring. “Um, yes, I have, but… I mean, not a female. That is, well, I guess I did once, but I don’t remember… Uh. My mother was a hethelax.”

She snorted. “Well, don’t look at me, kid. I’m glad to say I’ve never been that desperate.” She straightened up, at least partially; she appeared to have a habitual hunch, keeping her knees and elbows slightly flexed, as if the joints didn’t extend fully. “Are you lot about done abusing our hospitality? We’ve got other stops.”

“Damn, lady, what crawled up your butt?” Ruda asked, producing a bottle of ale from within her coat and pulling the cork free.

“Eight rude interlopers and an invisible VIP,” Xsythri said curtly.

“Okay, well, let’s be fair, here. Trissiny’s the only one who was trying to start shit up.”

Trissiny, now chewing a mouthful of stringy pork, glared at her but didn’t attempt to speak.

Xsythri shrugged; her armored plating making a soft rasp. “The boars come from Level 3. Smithic here will pay you to haul more back for us. C’mon, there’s really only one more thing worth seeing.”

“Aw, but we’re all tired from our adventures!” Ruda said merrily. “How much is it to get beds at you very charming little inn?”

“Ruda, enough,” Toby said quietly, pushing his plate back and rising. “Fross, would you be so kind as to preserve the food?”

“You got it!” The pixie darted across the table, hovering momentarily in front of each piece of meat and making them vanish.

“Hey!” Gabriel protested at the sudden loss of his bacon.

“We can finish up next time we halt for a break,” Toby said. “Our guide seems to be in a hurry. I think it’d be better not to ruffle anyone’s feathers more than we have.”

“Well, well,” Xsythri said dryly. “A polite cleric. Now I have truly seen everything.”

“Clerics are usually pretty polite, aren’t they?” Fross asked.

“Not to the likes of me, firefly. Ready? Good. C’mon.”

She strode away, not waiting for them. The students straggled to their feet and trailed after her.

In the far corner of Level 2 stood the big metal arch, linked up to a ramshackle variety of magical equipment, unmistakably a portal of some sort. Beside it stood the hulking form of a baerzurg, a bronze-scaled behemoth with no neck and a head sunken into its upper torso; at their approach, the demon turned from fussing with a rack of control runes and stood patiently watching them.

“This is our real bread and butter,” said Xsythri in a bored tone. “I’ll let Khavibosh explain it to you.”

“Welcome, guests.” The baerzurg’s voice was deep and very hoarse, with wet, raspy sounds underlying each syllable as if his mouth hadn’t been designed for speech. “This is our portal. It can be used to send travelers to any level of the Descent. Not to bring people back, however; it only operates one way.”

“Hey, sweet deal!” Ruda exclaimed. “We can skip right to the end of this horseshit and get Tellwyrn’s box!”

“No,” said Khavibosh. It was hard to read emotion in his voice, if indeed there was any.

“Nothing’s ever that simple,” Toby said fatalistically.

“You may travel only to levels you have previously cleared,” the baerzurg continued. “We exist on the Crawl’s sufferance, and it chooses to enforce certain rules. Much of the impediment of your mission is simple travel time: the Descent is a hundred stories deep, and you must fully cross each level to reach the next stairs. It is unsafe and unwise to camp in the levels, even if you believe them cleared. You will have to travel back and forth, a trip that will grow quite unmanageable as you delve deeper, to rest and resupply. Our portal will remove half that burden. The Crawl permits this simple time-saving measure, but it does not allow cheating.”

“We don’t push its buttons,” Xsythri said flatly. “If we help people cheat, things start to go wrong.”

“Torches won’t stay lit,” Khavibosh rumbled. “Leeches in our water supply. Sudden infestations of bats.”

Xsythri grinned unpleasantly. “Rocks fall, everyone dies.”

“So,” Ruda said, “I guess bribing you isn’t really a prospect, then?”

“You have nothing to offer that would make the loss of our livelihood worthwhile,” Khavibosh replied.

“And it costs what to use the portal?” she asked.

“One silver coin per person.”

Ruda grinned. “Pixies ride free?”

“One silver coin per person,” the baerzurg said inexorably.

“Hm.” Gabriel rubbed his chin. “That waystone Shamlin had is starting to look real attractive. Between that thing and this, we could cut out travel time altogether. Set it to Level 2 and just zip back and forth.”

“We could even skip going back to the Visage!” Fross said.

“We will go back to the Visage,” Trissiny said firmly. “I am not sleeping here.”

“And who’s gonna buy the waystone, hm?” Ruda asked, turning to Gabe and planting her fists on her hips. “I don’t see you coming up with ten decabloons.”

“Well,” he grinned. “Of course, we’d have to owe you. But hey, we’re here to look for treasure anyway, right?”

“Maybe we can spare you a little coin,” said a voice from behind them. The group turned to behold Melaxyna approaching, her hellhounds flanking her. The succubus wore a grin and was bouncing an object in the palm of her hand. “The thing about waystones is they require both a skilled magic user and a great familiarity with the dungeon to make. They’re rare, sure, if you’re stuck gathering up leftovers like Shamlin is. Khavibosh, however, has the skill.”

“Hey, that’s really impressive!” Fross said. “I thought baerzurgs weren’t even intelligent.”

“FROSS!” multiple voices shouted. The pixie dimmed slightly, fluttering down toward the ground.

“What? What’d I say?”

“Baerzurgs are sentient,” Melaxyna said with a grin. “Most are…well, intelligent might be overstating it. The high-caste baerzurgs, though, the magic users, are as smart as anyone, and Khavibosh is definitely one of those. Thus, we can provide you a waystone for mere pocket change. Ten silver bits and you can basically cut out all the walking.” She held up the waystone, giving them a good look.

Unlike the smooth, pale stone Shamlin had shown them, it was glossy and black, apparently carved from obsidian. Diamond-shaped, it was composed of hard edges, and had a similar spiraling rune, though this one glowed a dull red-orange and was a series of straight lines and sharp angles rather than one smooth curve.

“That’s made from infernal magic,” Trissiny snapped.

“See, you’re just leaping to conclusions, now,” Melaxyna said smugly, bouncing the waystone in her palm again. “I know this because it is completely, entirely sealed. No magic leakage of any kind, and fully safe for anyone to carry without risk of infernal corruption. Your vaunted sense evil trick wouldn’t even register this stone.”

“It’s hard to tell,” Toby said carefully. “The room’s full of demons… It’s like trying to find one leaf in a forest.”

“I’ll remind you of my previous speech about how we do business here, then. It gains me nothing to trick or trap you, kids. This stone is made with infernal magic, yes, but causes no infernal radiation. It’s completely harmless unless you crack it open. Which… Don’t do that.”

“What would happen if we opened it?” Fross asked.

“Well,” the succubus mused, “you would die. And then some other stuff would happen, which you’d be in no position to care about.”

The students exchanged a round of glances.

“It sounds like a good deal,” Teal said hesitantly.

“Let’s think on it,” said Trissiny. “Clear a few levels, get a feel for—”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, we’ll take it,” Ruda exclaimed.


“I will take it, then,” the pirate said, grinning at her. “You may all use my waystone if you wish, just because I’m so generous.”

“It’s linked to Level 2,” Melaxyna informed them. “And that is not changeable. Trace the rune with a fingertip and you, and anyone holding onto you, will be brought back here. Just link arms when you’re ready to travel and have one member of the group activate it.”

“Of course it’s linked to here,” Trissiny muttered.

“Lady, you got yourself a deal!” Ruda reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of coins.

Melaxyna studied her thoughtfully for a moment, then turned her considering gaze on Trissiny, then Teal. “I must say… Despite your several faults, you seem to be a trustworthy group.”

“We do our best,” said Toby.

“Mm.” The succubus tossed the stone to Teal, who, taken by surprised, fumbled in catching it, just barely avoiding dropping it.

“Hey!” Ruda protested.

“We will call that…a loan,” Melaxyna said with another catlike smile. “An investment. If Arachne hasn’t changed her pattern, you have three weeks, yes? Splendid. You may pay me for the stone before leaving the Crawl… Or.” Her smile broadened into an outright grin, her tail beginning to lash behind her. “If you can tempt Rowe out of his little hidey-hole and into my clutches, that stone, and anything else within my power to grant, are yours for the taking.”

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27 thoughts on “6 – 9

  1. If you support the fury that Hell hath none like, vote for The Gods are Bastards!

    Fifteen minutes late to post; my apologies, I was writing up till the end there. It was a rough and scrambled writing day, due to personal life stuff. At my day job I can show up and power through whatever’s going on, but when it comes to creative matters, anything that messes with your emotional state messes with your productivity and output. Hopefully the chapter’s okay! I got through the story segment planned for it, at least.

    So, on to stuff that you care about!

    The first year of TGaB is drawing to a close, both in-universe and out. Book 7 will be the last one before the students break for summer; it’s looking like that’ll actually be more than a year after the anniversary of the blog itself. We’ll see. Regardless, it’s not too early to start thinking of a little something to place between the years! I have bonus chapters planned for that–actually multiple connected short stories giving us a look into the history of a character everyone’s wondered about. But! I’m considering trying something a little more interactive, too.

    Over at Twisted Cogs, there’s a Q&A session with the cast of the story. Tales of MU did that several years ago. I kind of like the idea, and god knows there are no shortage of characters in this sprawling mess of a tale. What do you guys think? I enjoy the thought of letting readers involve themselves and I’m sure some of you have questions. Yes? No? Maybe?

    In any case, we press on. See you Wednesday!


    1. I’d personally prefer yet more interludes giving character development for various characters, because such Q&A sessions sound like they’d get pretty immersion-breaking for me, unless you were planning to do them in some novel/in-universe-situated way.


  2. I love the story in general, but one thing really aggravates me. Trissiny immediately loses all character development around demons WHENEVER she sees a new one. COME ON, YOU JUST MANAGED TO FINALLY NOT SPEND MULTIPLE PAGES AGGRAVATING A DEMON FOR NO REASON AT THE GRIM VISAGE< AND THEN YOU JUST LOSE IT AGAIN?
    I understand that Trissiny is supposed to learn to be more tolerant, circumspect, etc, but what bugs me is that she just for some reason doesn't. It feels like the author just makes her incapable of learning new things sometimes (see tiraas, bishop Darling's repeated requests that she managed to forget) and that contrasts very heavily with a story where no-one else is usually stuck holding the idiot ball to such a degree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I dunno- I think it would feel cheap if she was able to change that easily. Plus, her stubbornness is a pretty big part of her character.

      It’s also easier to rationalize her position if you consider the fact that she’s basically just racist. Sure, she’s accepted that one of her friends is half-demon, and she was very suspicious of, but not overtly hostile to the friendly demon working in what is a clearly respected establishment, but being surrounded by demons, on their turf? It’s hard to undo that kind of hard-coded stereotype. Still a bit racist, still scared she’ll get mugged. Replace the word “demon” with any ethnic, religious, or social group, and becomes pretty clear what kind of person she is. She’s come a long way, but still basically a bigot.
      Though I suppose she has a bit more reason than any actual bigots have to distrust them.


    2. She is currently surrounded by lots of infernal signatures. One or two at a time? She can kind of cope with, given a running jump (and still quite a lot of lip). More than ten? Nope.

      It’s not that easy to ignore red, flashing lights when you’ve been trained that a board lighting up that way means “invasion”. :/


      1. She’s the embodiment of the goddess of war who apparently has a thing against demon. She’s taking baby steps toward being more acceptive. Note that even Arachne which is pretty acceptive of everything different said in one of the earlier chapter that the church point of view on the demon was right…


    3. I agree on the feeling, but there are some mitigating circumstances.

      As for past history, she was raised in a very structured circumstances by a cult that is very inflexible on that issue.

      On a continual basis, she is linked to and talks regularly to a goddess who hates demons and has demonstrated less tolerance to demonbloods, specifically Gabe, that Trissiny herself has. God attitudes tend to radiate and it is probably much worse if you are that near them.

      And she has had less than a year’s time to change.

      So it would be sort of a miracle if she actually had changed her base reactions in that time. But yes, it is irritating to read.


  3. What i find odd is that the demon profess to fear the dryad more than the paladin, ok she’s very resistant to infernal magic but she doesn’t seem to have the offensive ability of Trissiny. From what we know she may not even have anything to bypass an hetelax invulnerability since she doesn’t seem to use fae magic to attack and being hit with a tree doesn’t seem that much of a problem for a specie which can survive being hit by a planet.
    We don’t even know if Juniper is that good at hitting people who are dodging a blow.
    With the fact that she has shown to be vulnerable to fire from a warlock or even to a shot from a common wand (the thing that is now mass produced) i don’t see how she, herself, is even seen as a threat. From what i understand the biggest problem in fighting a Dryad is pissing mom off.

    On that point, the party may be in some sort of alternate universe in a genius loci who shouldn’t be controlled by naiya so the fear of retaliation shouldn’t be as present, from what we know they had trouble in other genius loci like the yellow sea and as seen by Eililial being banned from our plan for so long, gods don’t seem to be able to interract that easily in other plan when they canno’t get there in person.

    On the other hand we have a paladin that pretty much can bypass any resistance the demons have, her mere presence can hurts them and she’s higly resistant to anything the demon could throw at her. Unless Juniper is keeping some serious firepower under her belt I really don’t get how she even register as a threat to a band of demon when there is a paladin nearby.


    1. We’ve had a demo that being punched by a dryad does in fact bypass (half) hethelax invulnerability. Which would worry anything which is used to being able to survive a fall from orbit. Succubus-made illusions might fail against her fae magic too, and even faster demons are going to have difficulty staying our of her reach when they’re in an underground complex and there are walls and stuff in the way. Sure, you can try and flame her to death but I suspect there’s some sort of answer to that (though possibly Juniper doesn’t know what it is, she’s relatively young and inexperienced.)

      Melaxyna’s presumably trying to use bravado to bluff everyone down. A dangerous tactic but it does reinforce her status with the other demons present if it works. Trissiny’s actions are slightly less offensive than when she attacked Gabriel in chapter 1-14, if she’d reacted to Mel now like she did to Gabriel then, Level 2 of the Crawl would likely be needing new denizens.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Juniper is outright the most dangerous thing most people in Tiraas will ever meet, short of Arachne or higher up the god-ladder. If only for the fact that killing her isn’t an option and restraint isn’t too handy either.

      Add to that the fact that Fey magic trumps Infernal… I’d worry about the Fey over the Paladin


  4. Typos:

    usually pork chop

    “Don’t interrogate the..”
    “Don’t interrogate the…”


    Melaxyna: “I aggravated Arachne Tellwyrn”
    OK, that explains her presence, but what explains the many, many other demons there? Individual arrivals that clustered for mutual support?

    “It means there is a theoretically infinite number of Descents existing simultaneously, but experienced separately by each individual or adventuring party who enters!”
    The gamer in me smells a possible exploit. If the “players”, i.e. the university students, can (1) have some idea of what’s ahead and (2) switch the version they are in, then a variation of save scumming is possible:
    A. Look ahead.
    B. Don’t like it? Change it and go to A.
    C. Clear the level style you like. Go back to A.
    This even works if they can successfully retreat from something nasty – they may be able to avoid it.

    The empire acts like succubusses are severely bad news, and yes, I know it is because they are psychopathic and very hard to corner. But she is the level 2 boss. The highest level must be insane. Of course, somewhere along the line there will be a “joke” boss or two and they might turn out not to be such a joke if they are provoked. Those interactions will be interesting.

    Melaxyna cringed; Xsythri clapped her hands over her ears.
    The difference points to a possible weakness of hethelax: sound, maybe?

    “You just got your manners corrected by a demon, roomie. I bet Avei’s so proud!”
    I am with Ruda, this is too good of a moment not to remark on. Snicker.

    Shaeine strode forward, reached out and entwined her fingers with Teal’s, smiling a hair more broadly than she usually did in public. The bard smiled shyly back.
    And many, many demons made the mental note to not f*** with the priestess of Thymenra (spell?) either. But how does this equal affection from Shaeine? Vadrieny was the one doing the acting. Unless this is simply consolation for the loss of more footwear.

    “I don’t see how an ecosystem can even work down here. Not with large animals like boars.”
    “Some rules are there for good reason.”
    The continued irony is the dryad is a severe violation of evolutionary and ecosystem consistency rules, both in powers and personality, but Juniper continues to completely miss the cognitive dissonance, except for the eating people part. And no-one else seems willing to challenge her on the point either.

    “I’m glad to say I’ve never been that desperate.”
    A clear difference in attitude between succubi/incubi and hethelax. Of course, the cubi were once human and interspecies dalliance is deliberately part of their makeup, so that makes some difference.

    “Rocks fall, everyone dies.”
    Geeze, DD, are you trying to make work for our local trope documentor, or is this your version of making it easier? (There’s some tongue in cheek in that question, BTW.)

    “It’s completely harmless unless you crack it open. Which… Don’t do that.”
    “Well, you would die. And then some other stuff would happen, which you’d be in no position to care about.”
    Yet another exploit – the suicide bomb is of limited tactical usage, but if someone manages to block its primary effect, it becomes far more useful (let us out or die with us). Even better, rig it as a trap for the biggest nasty – just make sure to be several dungeon levels away at that point.

    Planning: three weeks to clear 100 levels. 100/21 = 4.75 per day (approx.) so they are already behind in a major way for the day. Charge!!

    As far as character QA, my reaction is “meh”. It shouldn’t lead to spoilers, and if I want to know about their personalities it is more interesting to read interludes or watch their interactions with others.


    1. “the suicide bomb is of limited tactical usage”
      Seing how the wreath both knows about infernal magic and seems very liberal with giving the life of it’s follower it could see some use in a frontal conflict (which doesn’t really seem to be their modus operandi but still…)


    2. There are probably ways to skip levels or take shortcuts. They didn’t have to fight once so far and it’s entirely possible that most challenges awaiting them won’t get solved with violence.

      Since the party consists of heavy hitters with strong backup, simply fighting their way through the dungeon would be too easy.

      It makes sense that they take a day or two to get their bearings and the necessary equipment. Once they are ready, they’ll probably do 6-7 floors in a single day.

      Or perhaps they never make it to Arachne’s treasure. Not sure what they would do with it anyway.


      1. “Not sure what they would do with it anyway.”

        That’s already answered:
        1) Guaranteed A.
        2) Bragging rights.
        3) Massively enchanted matched weapons.
        4) $$$$$ if sold.


      2. Oh, I’m aware of that… but in term of the story … what would they do with it? Gabe is the only one of them who actually needs money and none of them uses a sword/dagger combination, so they wouldn’t use it. The only one using a sword is Trissiny and she’s got a holy relic for one.

        The group has it quite easy already, nothing is gained from Gabe being able to throw money around. Although one could construct a funny story of him trying to sell the weapons and ultimatively losing them and any money. 😛

        They can complete this exercise/test and get good grades without making it down to the 100th level, so perhaps they won’t.


    3. About the Teal-Shaeine interaction, I liked how Teal seemed to be relaxing her absolutist pacifism here with the semi-threats that she was ok with Vadrieny making, and I think Shaeine might have been happy to see that?


  5. Noooooooooo! I’m caught up!

    Hello everyone, I’m a new reader. I started 3 days ago and now I’m here. 😦 this story is so good its eating my life.

    Thanks Webb for the awesome story!


    1. Aaand I just caught up too… Dang, I hate it when that happens. Thanks for the great read, I’ll be around, reading more when you write it.


  6. Y’know. I’m not religious, at all. Pretty much an avowed atheist. However this heavy handed brow beating of the religious stand in with demons taking the place of racism is getting tiring.

    All novels are, in a way, the authors soap box for their personal belief. Still, quite frankly i’d be more than happy for Trissiny to be proven quite frankly 100% right about these pre conceived notions at some point.

    Preferably after yet another round of brow beating.

    Really she’s the only main character this happens too, which i suppose points to the others not being given enough flaws i suppose. At least not that can be used as easily as “racism = bad”


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