14 -27

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“Lil,” Izara said in a supremely even tone, “you are looking well.”

“Why, yes, Iz,” Elilial replied with lurid emphasis, “I am. No thanks to you, of course.”

Izara inclined her head very slightly, folding her hands demurely before her. “I was very sorry to hear of—”

DON’T YOU DARE

Elilial did not speak. Reality rippled outward from her in a shockwave very like the previous disruption which had merged the dimensions, and in it were words, and the full weight of her outrage and derision—and, yes, grief—pressing on the minds of all those present. The mortals without exception stumbled backward from the sudden impact of it, though no physical force had touched them. Izara, by contrast, remained perfectly serene in her bearing, despite the way her clothes and hair were blown back by Elilial’s fury as though she stood momentarily in a high wind.

“Nonetheless,” the love goddess said quietly, “I was. I acknowledge your grudge, and that you aren’t without a point…in a way. But I would not have wished that—”

“Not another word,” Elilial grated. “You’re more a hypocrite than any of them, Izara, and that is truly saying something. If you had a beating heart or a shred of empathy you would have stopped that, at the very, utterly least. More likely would have resisted them with me in the beginning. Or if nothing else, walked away like Themynra did.”

“You were never completely in the wrong, in your beliefs,” Izara said sadly, “but the situation has never for a moment been as simple as you make it out to be. I wish I could make you see that.”

“They’re called principles, Izara,” the other goddess sneered. “I wish I could make you understand that, just because the reality of the concept would probably shatter your consciousness. Trissiny, don’t make me laugh. I am really not in the mood for your slapstick.”

Trissiny had taken two steps forward and had sword and shield up and ready; at being addressed directly, she stopped, not relaxing in the slightest. “Slapstick. I’ve been accused of some wild things, some of them accurately, but that is a first.”

“I’ve never yet personally harmed a Hand of Avei,” Elilial said dryly. “The few who managed to stand before me I sent off with a pat on the head and some motherly advice. They hate that; the outrage is absolutely hysterical. I honestly think you might be the first one willing to share a spot of banter. Eserion and Vesk have really done a number on you, haven’t they?”

“Get back, Trissiny,” Izara ordered. “And don’t you start, either!”

Toby had stepped forward as well, on her other side. Both paladins were still a few steps behind the love goddess, but flanked her in ready stances, staring down the queen of Hell.

“Aw, look how protective they are,” Elilial cooed. “Ready to lay down their fleeting little lives to defend this delicate flower of the Pantheon’s gentility. How utterly precious.”

“It’s all right, children,” Izara insisted softly. “I am not in danger here.”

“Yes, killing a god is not such a simple matter,” Elilial agreed. “Power for power, this waffling little puff of pixie dust doesn’t approach a match for me, or I assure you I’d have snuffed her out without bothering to chitchat. Everything that need be said between us was done eons ago. No, to annihilate a god, you have to get…creative. To sever them from their animating aspect, or simply remove it from the world. Ironically, the Pantheon are far more dangerous to one another than I am—I, at least, care what happens to the people of this planet. Just ask Khar. Oh, but I forgot. I guess you can’t.”

“Mortimer,” Izara said calmly, still holding Elilial’s gaze, “I want you to take the paladins and get back to Ninkabi with all haste.”

“Invulnerable or not, lady, you can’t ask me to leave you here,” Agasti insisted. “Not that. I would far rather—”

“She is stealth and deception incarnate,” Izara interrupted, and for the first time there was an audible strain in her voice. Watching her, Elilial began to smile. “The rest of the Pantheon is not coming—they don’t know this is happening. I can protect you from her for a time, but you must go!”

“Always in such a rush,” Elilial drawled. “Let your boy show off his courage, Izara. After all, how often does the chance for a conversation like this—”

The goddess broke off and physically jumped, stiffening up. Slowly, she turned around, angling her body to finally grant them all a glimpse of the hellgate behind her.

From the barely-visible vortex another figure had emerged, his dark green coat and slightly unkempt black hair ruffling in the breeze caused by air pressure equalizing across the rift. Gabriel was returning his staff to the upright position when Elilial’s burning gaze fell upon him, and he greeted her with an angelic little smile.

“You,” Elilial said flatly, “Did. Not.”

“So! It doesn’t kill gods,” he said. “And now we know.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Gabriel Arquin!”

For all that he had appeared without any of them noticing during the confrontation, Vesk still managed to make an entrance. By the time everyone turned to stare at him, he had already struck a dashing pose and plastered on a big, insouciant grin. It helped that he punctuated his introduction by striking a triumphant chord on his lute.

“You!” barked half a dozen people.

“Me!” Vesk exclaimed happily. “And not a moment too soon, I see! Of course, that goes without saying. A bard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely—”

“I’m gonna punch him,” Trissiny announed, taking a step toward the god.

“Nothing goes without saying with this one,” Elilial added wearily.

“Whoah, now, okay, let’s all settle down,” Vesk interjected in a soothing voice, holding up both hands at them all in a placating gesture. His lute hovered in the air next to him where he’d let go of it. “We’re all one act of careless temper from kicking off entirely the wrong climax for this story. Blood, tears, and suffering, y’all know the drill. But it isn’t time for that yet. Each of these things must happen at the proper moment, otherwise it all goes right to hell.”

“I have found myself wondering, over the years,” Elilial said, glaring down at him, “whether I could begin the process of snuffing you out by getting you into one of your well-trod archetypal narrative paths and them yanking you right out of it by not doing what the story demands next.”

“Worth a try,” he said agreeably, with a little shrug. “Of course, that experiment will probably have to wait. I assume you’d much rather find out who murdered your children, and six other children in the process, not that you care about that.”

“Vesk,” Izara exclaimed.

Elilial shifted without stepping; one moment she stood in front of Gabriel and the hellgate and in the next had seized the goddess of love by the throat and hiked her bodily off the ground. All the paladins and Agasti immediately surged forward, but were just as quickly stopped by a force that was not physical, nor even perceptible, but inexorable all the same. Something was projected by the three gods, some pattern woven right into reality itself, and the mortals present could no more step out of the roles it demanded of them than they could have lifted themselves off the ground by their own hair.

“You do not know,” Elilial whispered, “how treacherous is the ground on which you stand, Vesk. You think you know, but you don’t.”

“Once in a while, antagonists find themselves at common purpose,” Vesk replied, his solemn expression contrasting with the playful strumming of the lute, which he still wasn’t touching. “That secret isn’t mine to keep, Lil, and I’m with Izzy on this matter: despite what you think, there are some lines I don’t care to see crossed, and some offenses that demand to be avenged. I’m willing to tell you. I’m wanting to tell you. I’m waiting to tell you.”

“If,” she growled, “I dance to your tune.” Her grip tightened on Izara’s throat, and the smaller goddess tilted her chin up slightly in response, still without struggling. All of them were beings well beyond the physical forms they now presented; the evidently mortal drama now playing out between them was a manifestation of something happening on a different level entirely. It was difficult to look at directly and impossible to look away from; pressure was building up from the exposure of human consciousness to something it wasn’t meant to experience. So far, all of the mortals held their ground, weapons and magics at the ready, but no one could make themselves intervene by even so much as a word of objection.

“But it’s such a simple few steps,” Vesk said, smiling, “and you do it so well. Come on, Lily, you have your own reasons for wanting everything to fall into place at the right moment. I’m not holding out on you; there are some things that can’t be rushed, and you know it well. You know the forces that can…inhibit the likes of you and I from doing what we wish. These delightful youngsters are assembling a key for me. A key to the ultimate lock. You know the one.”

Slowly and slightly, Elilial relaxed her fingers on Izara’s neck, though her eyes remained locked on Vesk. “You have finally lost it.”

“You can’t do this, Vesk,” Izara agreed, somewhat hoarsely. “It won’t work.”

“It won’t work the way it did for us,” he agreed. “Weren’t we just discussing timing? There’ll be no apotheosis for the kiddos, don’t you worry. The alignment isn’t here yet; the great doom is still coming. But it’s close. The lock can be opened. And there is much to be gained from the opening, with the right key in hand.”

“You know who will be released if they do that!” Izara said urgently.

“Common cause, indeed,” Elilial added, giving her a grudging sidelong look. “Letting that thing out is absolutely out of the question. We worked too hard and sacrificed too much to make sure the monster couldn’t escape.”

“And so the monster won’t,” Vesk said, bestowing upon them all a placid smile which just begged for a slapping. “Because this must be done now, at the right time. Just before the alignment, when true escape is impossible, when there will be no gods present to provide fuel for the fire. When a few sufficiently gifted mortals—like, say, three paladins—can snatch their treasure from the beast, and yank out the key again before she can escape.”

In the silence which fell, the hellgate whistled ominously.

“Let her go, Lil,” Vesk said softly. “Let them go. Once they do what they need to, I’ll have your answer.”

“Oh, you’ll have it,” she said, narrowing her eyes to blazing slits. “But that does me no good, Vesk. I know very well what your integrity is worth. I will make you a deal, though.” A smile lifted one side of her mouth, and for the first time, Izara struggled weakly, lifting her hands to grasp Elilial’s wrist. “We will consider your champions the collateral. Send them in there with your key. If they survive, you’ll owe me the truth. And if I don’t get the truth, Vesk, I will claim them.”

Trissiny finally managed to emit a growling noise from deep in her throat. It was more than any of the rest of them could do. There was no force upon them, no restraint they could feel; the thing holding them back was subtle, ineffable, and felt almost like their own impulses. They stood, and watched, because in this drama they were the bystanders and could not go against their role.

“You’ve struck down brave Hands of the Pantheon before,” Izara said, her voice slightly strained by the grip on her neck—or rather, by Elilial’s grip on something important in her being which looked, to the mortal eyes watching, like a hand holding her throat. “You, and yours, and it’s never profited you in the long run. More will rise.”

“Exactly. I’m not going to kill them.” Elilial turned her eyes on Izara and grinned broadly. “You are. I will take them back to the domain you cast me into, beyond the reach of your power. And there I will tell them the truth. All of it. Everything you did. To the Infinite Order, to me, to those who worked and fought alongside us, to all the people of this world. To them. And once I’ve done that… I will trust their sense of justice. When that great doom comes and I return to claim what’s mine, it’ll be with three of your own paladins leading my armies. Have we a deal, Vesk?”

He raised his eyebrows, seeming unconcerned by her threats and Izara’s plight. “You’re that confident they would side with you?”

“That’s the ultimate flaw in this whole paladin thing, you know,” Elilial replied in a lightly conversational tone. “You two, at least, have better sense than to raise up and empower beings of pure, incarnate principle. You get by with being inherently sleazy and vague, respectively, and your followers don’t stand to lose much by following your asshole example. Maybe Vidius’s new pet would stick by his master; he seems a charmingly irreverent boy. But Avei’s? Omnu’s? Those raised and trained to honor justice, and life? You know what they will do when they learn the truth.” Slowly, her grin broadened into a vicious snarl, and the hand clutching Izara’s throat tightened. “All these years I have respected that unspoken truce. I could have done this at any time, simply abducted the Pantheon’s best servants beyond its reach and stripped away your lies. But you kept your hands off my daughters, and I showed restraint in return. Now, though? We’ve well and truly moved beyond that, haven’t we?”

“Vesk, no,” Izara rasped. “They aren’t yours to gamble with! They’ll never survive what you’re sending them into, and even if they do—”

“But don’t you see, Iz?” he said with a soft, plaintive sigh. “This is the price that must be paid, the suffering that must be endured. We’ve come to that point in the story. Without a cost incurred, it can’t progress. I have worked so hard, harder than you’ll ever know, to ensure the stakes are as bloodless as I could make them. There’s been no way to save everyone, but the kids have made it so far without paying for their success with the lives of their comrades. We need them all to live a while longer, and so the cost comes in the risk I can’t face for them, and the devil’s bargain they can’t even decline. Just because nobody’s died doesn’t mean there are no stakes. This isn’t that kind of story. Yet.” He turned his focus back to Elilial, and swept a bow, doffing his floppy hat. “We have a deal.”

She held his eyes for a moment, simply to make her point, and then abruptly released both Izara and the world. The indefinable pressure holding everyone in place lifted, and immediately all three paladins charged her.

In the next moment all went bowling over like ninepins. She hadn’t so much as gestured.

“That’s an option, you know,” Elilial said pleasantly, turning to sweep a smug little smile across them. “Let’s say you succeed at the insanity your patron, here, is about to drop you into. Then there are two outcomes: either he keeps his word and I get to learn what I need to drive a stake through the rotten heart of the Pantheon…or he doesn’t, which I would say is about fifty-fifty odds, and I get you. I’m the goddess of cunning, ducklings; this is what I do. Any way it shakes out, I win. But there is, of course, one alternative. If you want to arrange it so that I lose, all you have to do is die.” She grinned broadly down at them. “I’m sure you will have no trouble finding an opportunity. Oh, it won’t be so bad! Paladins automatically get seats in the best part of Vidius’s little hive-mind heaven. And your gods won’t really need their laboriously-trained paladins when that great doom hits in a few years, now, will they?”

“So help me,” Trissiny grated.

“Oh, don’t be boring,” Elilial admonished. “Every Hand of Avei blusters and makes threats she can’t back up. What happened to being your own woman? You were off to such a promising start just a moment ago. Oh, and Gabriel: don’t forget your baggage.”

Stepping over to the hellgate again, she plunged one arm into the vortex momentarily, then pulled it back out with a struggling khelminash demon gripped by her hair. Gabriel actually let go of the scythe to catch the woman as Elilial tossed her in his general direction.

The queen of Hell, meanwhile, lifted one hoof to step back into it, her half-disappeared leg an eerie sight where it vanished into the scarcely perceptible swirl of the new hellgate. “One way or another, kids, I’ll be seeing you soon. And just to show you all what a good sport I am, I will do my part from my end to close this exciting new escape hatch you’ve so thoughtfully provided for me. After all, it’s not as if I need any more help to get my way in the world. Ta ta…for now.”

Ducking her head, she slipped back through.

Behind her, the swirl diminished under the combined stares of Izara and Vesk, until with a final soft puff, it vanished entirely into the air.

There was silence.

“What?” Gabriel said, picking up his scythe and grinning at them. “No hug? It’s not every day a guy comes back from Hell, y’know.”

“I cannot believe,” Toby said, staring at him, “you tried to stab Elilial in the back.”

“That motion could hardly have been described as a stab,” Ariel said. “He poked her. In the butt.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Vesk repeated, grinning insanely, “I give you Gabriel Arquin! But, ah, anyway… I suppose you’ll be wanting a few questions answered.”

Trissiny had taken two steps toward Gabriel, sheathing her sword and looking very much as if she did intend to hug him. But at that, she abruptly changed course, crossed the distance to Vesk in three long strides, and punched him hard in the stomach.

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44 thoughts on “14 -27

      1. I think that relationship has become… indefinitely estranged. Some might think that presents an opportunity for Gabe, and he does have a notable interest in… experienced ladies. To paraphrase the sage words of the legendary philosopher:

        He wants ’em real thick and juicy
        So find that juicy double
        Gabriel’s in trouble
        For trying to go deep in that bubble

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    1. Well, he’s already thrown shade at most of the pantheon. The only way he could escalate from there was by goosing the queen of Hell.

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  1. Yyyyeah, can’t blame you there, Trissiny. Just because Vesk is a god of narrative, doesn’t mean he gets to just yank people around and make deals of this caliber on behalf of other people without their input. Especially if it was him preventing any of the mortals from speaking up due to narrative role, which seems likely based on the choice of prose. I’d punch him too if I thought it’d do anything other than hurt my hand. (…I am not a fit person and have never learned how to throw a proper punch. So sue me.)

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    1. I don’t think it was due to narrative role, the narrative in this world isn’t a power that exists.
      It was simply one or more gods exerting their influence over reality that stopped the paladins cold.

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      1. You honestly have to wonder, though. If he existed in reality, Vesk would be considered eccentric for his belief in the world being a giant story. In an actual story, though? He’s a walking breach of the fourth wall. And given that many of the movers and shakers of this world suffer from the disease known as “protagonism”, Vesk may very well be the most powerful of the gods, limited by nothing but narrative structure.

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  2. Jesus, Vesk is scary. He’s got some sort of cognitohazardous effect that makes people stick to a story, and it doesn’t seem limited to turning mortals into the audience for the three gods’ stage drama; Elilial was monologuing like hell (heh), and even though she does tend to do that normally, it was perfectly in step with Vesk’s dialogue. Maybe Vesk just has a capability to always speak in the most narratively dramatic fashion, but either way this chapter shows us that the power of narrative is fucking scary.

    Props to Gabe for still remaining his snarky self from the beginning of the serial while also being a no-fucks-given badass. He definitely owes Xyraadi an apology though; poor girl was and most likely still is quaking in terror.

    Also where the fuck was Vanislaas throughout all of this? Did Gabe fuck him up with his scythe, and Elilial failed to comment on his absence at all? Or was he just chilling in hell doing fuckall (sounds likely)?

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    1. “I’m the paladin of a death god. You really thought a single undead demon would be anything more than a speedbump?”

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      1. I doubt very much Gabe could lay a hand on the prince, not in Hell anyway. He’d be stopped before he even made a move.
        Just last chapter he demonstrated he can cast complex spells without showing any sign of doing magic. No matter how deadly a weapon is… if you can’t even get close enough to use it, then it doesn’t matter.

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  3. It’s chapters like this which remind me why and how much I fucking love this story. I’m so invested in this arc and I’m so excited to learn more about the nature of the TGaB world; it feels like we’re getting closer to the true core of this story than we’ve ever been.

    And it goes without saying that Triss and Gabe are the fictional loves of my life.

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  4. Props to Gabe for trying (unsuccessfully) to cut the Gordian knot. It’s just not time, I suppose.

    I wonder, given everything that Vesk has said, if the Pantheon wasn’t behind the death of the archdemons. If it was Justinian. This would be a way around whatever geas Justinian has laid on the gods, as he would be bound by his word, above and beyond an injunction to speak no ill of Justinian. To stop the bonding of the demons, the gods would have needed information on the inside. Information directly from Hell and its sub-planes. Information that the demons would not likely provide to the new pantheon, but might just supply to their old mistress, especially those still bearing a grudge against Elilial (whose name I will learn to spell eventually). Justinian then corrupts the possession spell, gets Lil to blame the gods (because of course she would) for violating the unspoken truce. Justinian gets his conflict between them which helps distract the gods from his machinations, making it so he really only has to contend with mortal interference.

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    1. While the motive to kill the archdemons still eludes me (as well as the benefit from having them around in human form), I suspect the pantheon isn’t unified at all. I mean, the trinity most likely is… and some others follow their lead, but I don’t think everyone would be on board with killing and escalating the war.
      Or we could believe Elilial’s insinuations and assume that the gods are all bastards who wouldn’t care if some mortals died as long as they stay in power.

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  5. Man, the Paladins are somewhat used to dealing with gods at some level (or at least their own), but poor Mortimer was probably completely unprepared for that (yet still wanted to jump in and protect his goddess).

    Also, 4 living people just witnessed the gods engage in a pretty heft spat and managed to live to talk about it.

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  6. Anybody know what piece of history Elilial is talking about (“If you had a beating heart or a shred of empathy you would have stopped that, at the very, utterly least.”)? It’s not her daughters, because Themynra left over it, and Themynra hasn’t been with the Pantheon for a long time. “Everything you did. To the Infinite Order, to me, to those who worked and fought alongside us, to all the people of this world. To them.” also sounds pretty ominous.

    Also, is it related to the “monster” (who’s a “she”) that Elilial talks about later?

    Scyllith seems like a good possibility. Back in 10-34 (the big meeting of the gods in the Elysium), there’s this from Vidius: “I think it’s worth appreciating the source of her hostility. She blames most of you for being selfish and cowardly when she came to you for help. And she isn’t wrong, there.” about Scyllith. That seems like a better candidate. Toby also said “Scyllith is bound. Elilial stole her throne in Hell, and Themynra and her drow are keeping her imprisoned in the Underworld.” in 13-37.

    Another person who comes to my mind as a possibility for that is the spider-goddess (Arachne? Araneid?). Although that seems a bit off because this “monster” was dealt with back when Elilial was still working with the Pantheon, and Tellwyrn appeared long after that. However, I think my timeline’s a bit off, because Tellwyrn helped Elilian with Scyllith. Also, in the volume 3 epilogue, Tellwyrn says “To ask about a dead or almost dead deity, look for the living ones who have custody of her. If you want to know what happened to Araneid, ask Scyllith.”

    Of course, this might all just be foreshadowing with no hope of figuring it out from the information that’s been revealed so far, but it doesn’t quite seem like it.

    This is also further confirmation that the “Great Doom” is the same kind of event which the Pantheon used to create themselves, and does carry the possibility for Justinian’s schemes to create more gods (out of everybody even?) to actually succeed.

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    1. I think the conflict in question here is the schism 8000 years ago that lead to Themynra leaving and Elilial betraying the pantheon.

      As to who is the imprisoned monster, well… it’s most likely an Elder God or someone else who ascended with the current pantheon, maybe someone who grabbed an aspect that makes them very dangerous?

      Although on a meta level I don’t think it would make sense to introduce yet another antagonist, so it’s either Araneid or someone else from the Infinite Order.

      Arachne’s connection to Araneid is … unclear. Her name implies she’s the (last) high priestess of Araneid, but since we know the Infinite Order never pretended to be actual gods and there was no religion based on them personally… even that is suspect.

      Arachne’s first recorded appearance (see her 4th bonus chapter) is during the Hell War 3000 years ago, when she left the underworld after ruining Scyllith’s day and cooperating with Elilial and then later ran into Kuriwa and two of the archdemons. It is unclear if she existed before that but somehow I doubt it. At least not in that form.

      This immediately leads us to Arachne’s quest to speak with every god (which she managed), about an issue related to Scyllith, warping reality and her own existence, a story most gods regard as impossible.

      At this point there are lots and lots of questions and I look eagerly forward to finally getting some answers. ^^

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      1. I missed that Arachne’s thing with Scyllith and Elilial was before that bonus chapter, but it makes a lot more sense now that you point it out.

        Searching through past chapters, in 10-36 the caretaker says “Araneid. She was originally a biologist with an additional focus in social science, and to the very end was one of the most concerned and protective of the Infinite Order toward the surviving human populations, genetically altered or not.” Also, in 12-64, Justinian flat-out says “It falls to us to thwart Araneid’s return.” That definitely points to Araneid and Justinian being players in the coming web of events / main story characters coming together without dying (also from 12-64) / great doom / alignment, which seems to all come from whatever happened during the second ascension (8000 years ago, or a bit more now).

        Also, in 10-36 the caretaker further explains that this stuff about the ascended beings (currently living ones who adapted to accommodate the second ascension, that is) being diffuse and kind of trapped by the thoughts of their followers is part of what happened then. I wonder if the way they all decided (did they actually decide?) to do this is all/part of why Elilial split off. Definitely seems like Araneid might’ve decided to go a different route and stuff herself into Arachne instead of deal with that (or had it chosen for her).

        However, that doesn’t exactly point to Araneid as fitting in the role of the “monster” discussed in this chapter. Seems like she was trying to do the same thing the pantheon (“renegades”) was (helping all the people), although the fact that the pantheon choose to not work with her seems suggestive that they may have disagreed on how to do that or something. The pantheon and Justinian are definitely on different sides of the conflict, which means both of them being against Araneid too is less likely (although possible).

        Anyways, definitely glad to actually be getting some answers soon. Speculating about what they are ahead of time is so much more fun when you get to see how wrong you are afterwards. Be particularly cool if I actually got something right too, but I doubt it…

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  7. So. Not a light, fluffy pseudoquest for self-growth and Vesk’s amusement, is it? I knew it wasn’t. Nice red herring though.

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    1. The initial part was. But that was just to get them hooked for the part Vesk can’t do himself.

      If he really wanted he could have just handed them the key and told them what to do next.

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  8. This update makes me wonder… why are Toby and Triss so loyal to their gods? Or maybe not even them specifically. Why are the mortals in this universe so loyal to the divine in general? The gods don’t seem to be doing all that great by their followers–they’re like nobles hoarding power and magic instead of money. Did it ever occur to a paladin (historical or current) that maybe their god was not worth following? Or are they all brainwashed into thinking that their purpose is to serve whichever god chooses them? Triss seems to be getting there at least with Vesk. But why does Toby not think, wow, Omnu never talks to me, I don’t know if I really want to keep being his paladin, maybe he’s not that great of a god, perhaps not worth giving up my life to? Any anti-god (not just anti-Pantheon) movements out there?

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    1. For the same reason why even after realizing that the religion I belonged to was pushing me far beyond what I was willing to take anymore, I still identified as part of that religion for years afterwards: residual loyalty and cultural familiarity. When you grow up following a religion and genuinely believing in it, it can take a long time to acknowledge that it’s done wrong by you, and even longer to realize that perhaps it wasn’t ever all that good in the first place. Even worse when the religion teaches that if your god seems distant from you, it’s your fault, never his. Toby is a victim of thinking all his life that Omnu is all-benevolent, and is only now beginning to realize that the distance between them might not be his own fault after all. Trissiny, on the other hand, has had a cordial relationship with Avei for some time, and so is overall less dissatisfied with her religious experience, since most of the problems she’s having with her religion are more based on Narnassy’s black-and-white teachings than her experience with Avei specifically. Similarly, mortals in general probably keep any dissenting thoughts they may have about the Pantheon largely to themselves, since such thoughts sound uncomfortably close to Black Wreath philosophy, and of course nobody wants to be thought of as a Wreath sympathizer, or worse, a Wreath member. Good way to get ostracized or lynched. If instead they have a grudge against particular gods, they seem more likely to join the cult that opposes the god(s) they hate rather than form their own movement. If they hate Avei’s militaristic ways, they’re more likely to join the Izarites to make their stand than to make a clubhouse and say “No Avenists allowed”.

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      1. It was mentioned early in the story that the most members of the Black Wreath are mere dabblers, people who are in it for the thrill, who want to go against the gods in some small way. Only the inner circle are proper, trained warlocks. The others are good for some tasks, like manipulating a raffle so the correct person wins a certain item.

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    2. Actually, it was insinuated that Toby and Trissiny might turn on their Gods if they knew everything that happend. I assume that they are likely more invested in the ideals their gods represent than in the gods themselves.
      If it then turns out that even the gods not only fall short of these ideals, but have been involved in some most terrible things that betray these ideals; it may well be that the paladins might turn on them.

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  9. Okay, so I’m books and books late, but why didn’t Tellwyrn just duplicate the sample of hellhound breath they had with her Vernis Vault to cure the Sleeper victims?

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    1. The vault might not work with infernal gasses or maybe it never occured to her or maybe she thought she could unravel the curse herself, being -the- archmage.

      Her main objective was to stop the Sleeper, if she had a way to easily cure every victim, then the Sleeper would have escalated and moved on to leathal curses. They woke Chase up to get intel, they never intended there to be more victims.

      In the absolute worst case, if it had been extremely urgent that Ravana or Shaeine wake up, Tellwyrn could have rounded up her staff and other allies and gotten a couple hellhounds from Hell. It would have been a proper quest! ^^

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    2. The Vaults’ function hasn’t been explained in detail so there’s no reason anyone would know this, thus it’s a fair question. But to answer, each Vault can have one item placed in it per owner, and can’t be used for anything else so long as said owner is alive. Both of Tellwyrn’s already have things in them.

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      1. I’ll take that one step further and predict that bad things happen to anyone who tries to put anything they can hoard into them (candy, of course, is always treasured)

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