Bonus #46: The Light of Dawn, part 1

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This chapter topic was requested by Kickstarter backers Lanky and Akashavani!

“It’s a mess out there, milord,” the Silver Huntress reported, dismissing the spectral hawk which had just returned to her shoulder into mist. “Our forces are still scattered across the approach; some of the adventurers and light regulars have been able to go over the rocks, but most of the infantry are still pinned down in the passes. Friendlies are converging on the mountain from all over the east, there are contingents from Thacaar on their way from the west, and scattered smaller groups from multiple other directions, mostly adventurer parties. Everyone’s being harassed by demons, though. It won’t take long for the stragglers to be picked off at this rate, and even the bigger groups are drawing more attention from the enemy.”

He placed a hand on her shoulder briefly in acknowledgment and thanks, his scarred steel gauntlet peeking out from beneath the ragged sleeve of his brown robe.

“All according to plan at the moment, then,” he said, turning to Razeen. “You know what that means.”

“It’s all gone to hell on us before,” she replied, raising her chin defiant. “Yet here we stand.”

“Here we stand,” he agreed, shifting his head to look across their assembled forces. They had secured the best vantage in the region, a flat if slightly tilted plateau which looked melted, as if some awesome heat source had scoured away its once-jagged peak. Here in the Wyrnrange, that was likely to have been the case. With some twelve hundred troops forming a ring near the center of the plateau, they were not only the largest concentration of allied forces in the area, but had occupied the only tenable position overlooking the Mouth itself. That made them the target of a lot of demonic attention.

Not enough, though. Not yet.

The Mouth itself was no ordinary hellgate, but the cause of this infernal war. A simple set of standing stones, obsidian from the local mountains, it towered twenty feet in height and almost that wide, enabling the ingress of not only large numbers of troops from Hell, but sizable demons of types which had never before made it to the mortal plane. The allies had secured every minor hellgate possible, but the Third Hellwar would never come to a stop until the Mouth was destroyed and Elilial’s forces denied access to this world. Consequently, it was a heavily if sloppily fortified position, surrounded by a hasty construction of walls and towers, manned by swarms of demons and even featuring some primitive siege engines.

Even as he turned to look, a flaming pitch-coated stone came soaring toward them from one of the catapults and was blasted out of the air by one of his own mages, probably Vadigern himself.

They were being pressed, both by three columns of demons clambering up the plateau’s main approaches and by constant harassment from smaller ones which could clamber up the steeper sides of the mountain, to say nothing of the relentless pressure from above. The Silver Huntress, Ayavi, had already rejoined the mages and rangers in shooting down katzils and bhavghai which spat flame and acid against the shield their priests were trying to maintain.

“I will begin,” he said to Razeen, Vadigern and Rolof, raising his hands to the sides and already beginning to channel divine magic in an intricate working. “You all know the plan. I am sorry to leave our people to face this without my aid, but they must hold.”

Razeen Alshadai, the last living Hand of Avei, held up the crystal-tipped spear she had recently acquired in a salute. “And hold we will!”

“The men trust you,” Rolof added before turning to follow her back to the front, the dwarf’s face mostly hidden behind his thick helmet. “Do your duty, my lord, as will we all.”

Vadigern, ever a man of few words, just nodded to him and turned back around, raising his hands to hurl arcane spells at the swarming demons.

It was ignited quickly once he began, a feat of divine magic more complex than most upon the mortal plane could have achieved. A vast spell circle rose from the very ground around the defensive lines of the soldiers holding this plateau, three luminous rings of glyphs which rotated in alternating directions, and in all the area within, silver mist coalesced out of the very stone. This would help both repulse the demons and invigorate their flagging troops, but it was the lesser part of the purpose.

From the very center of the circle, the spot where he stood with hands upheld, a column of pure light burst up from the stone, soaring to a hundred feet in height, where it erupted into a radiance like the sun. The ankh, an ancient symbol associated with divine magic irrespective of faith, formed out of pure light in midair and hovered above his spot, casting golden light in every direction and filling the air with the pure, shivering tone of bells.

Immediately, a roar went up from the fortress surrounding the Mouth. Demons continued to stream out of the gate itself, but those clustered in and around the fortifications surged outward to attack.

The beacon would provide guidance to his scattered allies, while also drawing the attention of the enemy. Attention, and unrelenting assault. One of the few saving graces of conducting war against demons was the mindless aggression to which infernal poisoning made them prone; even a reasonably competent general could usually outmaneuver an enemy which knew no tactic but frontal attack.

They could hold for a while, having turtled up as thoroughly as possible without actually erecting field fortifications. Their front ranks consisted of the regulars from Stovolheim; dwarves were some of the best heavy infantry in the world, being tough, nearly immovable, and usually possessed of the very best armor and shields. Unfortunately, fighting demons changed a number of calculations, and he had blundered immediately upon adding the dwarves to his forces when a wave of hthrynxkhs had simply vaulted over the dwarves and torn into his archers. Waves of ikthroi and baerzurgs had likewise piled against the Stovol troopers until they were buried by sheer weight. Now, he had them positioned with second ranks of lighter infantry behind, mostly from the League of Avei and the Sorashi Chosen, both to counter such tactics and to surge forward whenever a gap was opened in their lines. Priests were placed at intervals among the second ranks with orders to conserve their magic for shielding against spellfire and delivering unfocused bursts of divine energy to break up massed demon attacks. The rest of the priests stood back in the innermost ring, offering healing and maintaining the shields that kept them from being swarmed from above, interspersed with the archers, mages, and witches who were holding back aerial assaults and intermittently focusing fire on especially large demons which reached the front lines.

It was a tested and true formation, but they were now in the open, isolated from support, and facing what had to be at least six times their number, with the discrepancy growing by the second as more demons streamed through the Mouth. They simply could not hold forever. Of course, the plan did not require them to, but it did call for the defenders to stand their ground under unrelenting assault for an indeterminate time, until they were under the maximum possible pressure and the Mouth’s fortress was emptied of its host.

And his part in the plan, for now, was to stand there and let them. The beacon did not require him to actively maintain it, though he did have to protect the working from attack by warlocks. That took little of his attention, however. For the time being, he had to watch the movement of the demons and let his comrades fight and die while he stood there doing nothing to aid them.

He added this pain to the list of grievances he planned to throw at the Dark Lady’s hooves at the end of this.

The distances involved were not small; it took nearly twenty minutes for the wave of attackers which surged out of the Mouth’s fortress to swarm up onto their plateau from the passes between the two rises, and less than half that for the redoubled efforts of the demons already converging upon them to be broken by their divine-augmented turtle. That at least gave the front ranks a breather, though the pressure from above never let up and in fact grew worse as time went on. Andior’s recent gambit had deprived the demons of most of their sapient fliers until more could be brought through the Mouth, leaving only the katzils and bhagvai to provide them air support. Those, of course, were both dumb animals and demons, so when taunted by the blazing divine sigil they streamed in steadily from miles in every direction. The pressure they exerted wasn’t nearly enough to break the defenders, but it was constant.

Fortunately it was beginning to taper off by the time the main wave impacted the dwarven lines.

And still the fortress was not emptied. Still columns of howling demons poured in through the Mouth.

As the attackers hit, they were given a reminder of why gambits like this were necessary, why demons could not be assumed to be mindless brutes. Timed to coincide with the impact of the horde upon the defending lines, two of the khelminash flying fortresses revealed themselves.

They preferred not to become targets until they had engaged an enemy. The relatively small fortresses that could be brought through the Mouth seemed to have limited power, and the warlocks piloting them could not maintain their Cloak of Shadows while doing anything aggressive. Now, one of them began reaching out through subtle flows of infernomancy to probe at his beacon. Those were easy enough to deflect, and despite their caution they inadvertently revealed which was behind it, as the other fortress opted instead to pelt his northwestern lines with spells.

The priests shifted to put up stronger divine walls in that direction and he focused his attention on the other fortress, so far doing nothing except effortlessly deflecting their efforts, while also watching for a sudden attack from them; the khelminash were lucid enough to exercise actual strategy, and it wouldn’t have marked the first time he had seen them draw off priests in order to hit them from behind their divine shields. There was still the third fortress that he knew had come through the Mouth, which was still cloaked somewhere in the vicinity.

Not that he could have done anything, had they chosen to attack. He had to stand, and wait, and not reveal himself until the time was right.

The mob manning the walls around the Mouth was finally thinning out. Their reinforcements through the portal itself had not abated, but he had already concluded he would have to act before they did. It was the fortifications that posed the problem; the infernal wards and counter-spells in them were enough to threaten even him. They could be dealt with, but not while he was dealing with all the other demons. For now, he just had to get them out from behind their walls and exposed.

The khelminash fort assaulting them listed and began to drift away as it was hammered by arcane spellfire from Vadigern and his fellow mages, and its inherent magic began to falter until more judicious pressure from the witches in their ranks. Both began to retreat, the damaged one drifting downward as it did so. Damned khelminash; they just couldn’t throw their lives away like all their vile brethren. It was a blessing that they were rarely seen on the mortal plane.

To the surprise of probably everyone involved, it was the second fortress which was destroyed first, even as the damaged one drifted out of range. The barrage of arcane fire that pierced its walls came from off to the northeast; clearly some of the allied forces trickling in were heavy hitters, and not too distracted by all the demonic harassment to contribute to the battle. The fortress’s hellseed core collapsed in an explosion that sprayed chunks of stone in all directions, felling friend and foe alike within the range of its fallout.

The circular lines had shrunk, pressed in from all sides. There they had stopped, the lines having retreated to leave the outermost edges of the divine spell circle beyond their feet, which created a blessed ground that weakened any demons which approached. That gave the defenders the chance to firm up, but inevitably they would be pushed back again. If the line broke entirely and demons swarmed into the center it would be all over, but it would not come to that. Should that seem imminent he would take action early to prevent it, even at the cost of denying them a decisive victory over the Mouth’s fortress. So long as the allies survived in some form, they could continue to fight. There just weren’t enough left from the shattered kingdoms outside the Wyrnrange to reinforce them again. If the forces here were lost, the world was lost.

He could tell the moment was near. The walls were all but emptied, only a relatively few stubborn and/or clever demons remaining in their shelter. Still the fortress gates were open and providing a path for the constant stream pouring out of Hell to join the offensive. Elilial must have just massed another sizable force on the other side of the Mouth, preparatory to invading. They just wouldn’t stop. Already the demons’ numbers had nearly doubled since he had launched the beacon, even with the constant attrition they suffered from piling against his defenses.

Then they faltered.

Immediately he cast his vision upward, linking his consciousness to the beacon itself to gain a bird’s eye view of the area. From there he could see the many groups of mortals converging on their position, having been freed to move by the distraction the beacon provided; almost no stray demons were bothering with anyone else when so enraging a target blared a challenge at them.

More importantly, he was right: the flow of forces out of the Mouth had slowed. Whether they were truly running out or had paused temporarily for some logistical reason on the other side, he did not know and did not wait to find out. Much more of this and his lines would begin to buckle. This was the moment.

He re-oriented his perception to his body, and in a swell of magic, launched himself straight upward, soaring up to almost twice the height of the beacon itself. For a bare second he hovered there, a figure in battle-scarred armor beneath a cowled robe of plain brown. Probably none but the still-hidden third khelminash fortress even noticed him.

At least, until he revealed his other form.

Colossal golden wings spread over his armies, and he poured magic into the beacon. A pulse of pure divine energy flashed out from the circle in all directions, bodily sweeping back the demon tide and burning many of them to ash. It gave his beleaguered lines a breather, but more importantly, it put the frontmost ranks of demons far enough from his own people that there would be no friendlies caught in his next move.

With a roar that echoed from mountain to mountain to the horizon, Ampophrenon the Gold descended upon the exposed demon hordes in an apocalyptic fury of fire and Light.

Plunging downward, he pirouetted neatly on one wingtip, whirling in a tight circle above the ring of his defending forces and spraying the demons surrounding them with a constant stream of fire. Dragonfire in its un-augmented state was one of relatively few heat-based magics that burned through infernal defenses on its own. Demons favored fire themselves, and stood up well to arcane and even fae variants. He, though, had long since so infused himself with divine energy that it was a major component of the flame he breathed. The fire he exhaled across the demons was so fierce and so anathema to them that they did not burn so much as dissolve. Nothing but dust was left to stain the rocks.

To their credit, whoever was leading the demons reacted swiftly, bolstering the defenses around the fortress. Infernal magic did not provide shields as such, but more power swelled in the wards until the sheer infernal energy radiating outward from the walls took on an almost physical force, dispersed through an array that skillfully mirrored the layout of the fortifications themselves. It wouldn’t do anything to actually strengthen the walls but would bolster the demonic defenders and pose a threat to anyone trying to assault the keep.

He couldn’t spare a second to do anything to counter it. His desperate gambit had bought him a single window in which to annihilate as much of the enemy’s forces as he could. Nearly all were outside the fortress’s protection, and most had converged to make a single, conveniently massed target. He would not have time to hunt down stragglers; it was now or never.

Ampophrenon spun in wider circles, spraying streams of divine flame in three more passes before he had burned away the entire forces encircling his on the mountaintop. More demons were clustered on the approaches, and he diverted himself to dive onto each, blasting every path in its entirety with a wide spread of fire to cleanse it of demon filth. Some at the edges might have survived; there was just no time to be meticulous.

Maneuvering in midair at the greatest speed with which he was able, it was the work of moments to clean off the approaches, and then he set to work on the main body of demons.

Spells and missiles peppered him as he descended, but nothing this rabble could throw would pierce either his hide or his magical defenses. He had to track back and forth against this much larger horde, pivoting repeatedly to scour them off the face of the earth. Again, he prioritized speed over thoroughness, but even so, an army that had to have been sixty thousand strong disappeared to ash in minutes under the force of his fury. Almost before he knew it, he had created a scorched but clean reach of stone where there had been a hellish army leading right up to the outermost wards surrounding the fortress itself. By the time he got there, he had already enjoyed the rare sight of massed demons trying to retreat. They wouldn’t flee from anything they could fight, no matter how hopeless the odds, but even the demons could plainly see they were contending with a force of nature.

And still, he was free to rain destruction on them. Banking away from the painful burn of the magic radiating out of the fortress, he considered whether the extra moments he had somehow been granted would be better spent making another pass to clean up any surviving demons or unleashing an attack on the Mouth’s defenses themselves. He surely didn’t have much time before—

She was moving at well over the speed of sound; even his reflexes barely saved him. He was able to put up a strong enough divine shield that the impact wasn’t instantly catastrophic, but she still smashed through it and got a grip on his neck, even as the force of the hit sent them both tumbling half a mile away.

Ampophrenon roared in outrage and pain, tossing his head as he fought to turn his wild horizontal fall back into a glide. She ignored all this, clawing and biting at his scales like a maddened badger—a flying badger whose talons could rend steel and who shrugged off all but the most overwhelming magics.

He took no chances with half-measures against this one. The dragon pumped his wings once, shooting straight upward, then rolled over in midair at the apex of his ascent and beat them again, hurling himself toward the ground at the greatest speed he could manage.

He hit the side of a mountain back-first, throwing up the most resilient divine shield he could manage right at the moment of impact, crushing her beneath the overwhelming force of his Light and the unyielding rock below.

The rock gave before either she or the Light did. In fact, the impact made a sizable crater beneath them, but she was crushed even deeper into the stone. At least the blow dazed her enough that she let go, and he was able to hurl himself forward and away again, leaving what must have been half the mountain to crumble atop her.

Ampophrenon shot across the air to the nearest mountainside, where he landed on all fours and nimbly spun to face his attacker. Already she was clambering out of the wreckage they had made of the mountain.

The dragon spread his wings, roaring a warning at her.

Vadrieny fanned her own, and screamed right back, a brain-clawing sound that made the very air shiver in pain.

The detestable little brute was clad in the only armor that could stand up to the kinds of abuse to which she subjected it, and even so it was already ragged and beginning to fall apart. That would be adding insult to injury, but the sheer insult of dressing herself in dragonscales was unmatched to begin with.

She gathered herself, crouching to lunge across the gap between them, and Ampophrenon blasted her with a concentrated stream of Light-infused dragonfire, pounding her bodily back into the crater.

It was an open question whether enough of that over a prolonged period could have really harmed the archdemon, but this was not the day he got to test it. Almost immediately he broke off his attack and shot upward, evading another sneak assault.

Azradeh was generally more circumspect than her sister. Her approach was not nearly so fast or violent, enabling him to dodge her, but also giving herself wiggle room to adjust her dive to avoid piling face-first into the stone. She wheeled away to join Vadrieny, and he took the opportunity to retreat.

He did not actually know whether he could defeat two archdemons alone; he had not had the opportunity to face off against one. Most of the seven were too careful to risk themselves against the relatively few foes who could actually threaten them, and they kept a firm grip on the rest—like Vadrieny, who lacked the sense to retreat from danger and only wasn’t dead already because she obeyed orders from her elder sisters.

Regardless, this was not the time. He was not merely a warrior of the Light, but a general, and there was too much at stake here for him to go haring off in pursuit of one or even two targets, no matter how significant.

Apparently, Azradeh agreed. As Ampophrenon soared back to the mountain on which his forces were assembled, two much smaller figures flew in a wide arc to avoid him as they returned to their nearby fortress.


As it turned out, the forces massing beyond the portal really were depleted. They continued to trickle forth, but at nowhere near the previous rate. Slowly the fortress’s defenders were replenished, but in one fell swoop Ampophrenon had annihilated the bulk of what was meant to be another wave of invaders sizable enough to overrun yet another kingdom. It had been cheap in military terms, given what it had cost him in the lives of his own troops, but even this victory did not end the war. There was still the Mouth itself, and breaking its defenses would not be a small task.

The beacon remained lit, and over the next hours, the scattered forces of the mortal allies converged on the flat mountaintop even as the demons slowly bolstered their own numbers again. The remainder of Ampophrenon’s own troops were among the first, and he inwardly cringed at their numbers; fully half had been lost to demon attacks on the way there. Splitting up his army among the scattered adventurer teams to disguise their strength had worked, insofar as it had baited the demons into overconfidence and ultimately cost them their entire invasion force, but the butcher’s bill had been even more than he feared.

Not only his own army had answered the call, though, and the allied encampment swelled with each passing hour.

Adventurers there were aplenty, of course. They weren’t much good in massed combat, but Ampophrenon had found their chaotic approach a useful counter to the even more chaotic methods of the enemy; demons and adventurers didn’t take orders well and might do just about any fool thing. The gangs of wandering, heavily-armed malcontents and loners at their worst made a serviceable distraction enabling him to execute actual strategy against the demons, and at their best proved instrumental in pulling off surprising victories. The best adventurers, after all, were known for succeeding when by all rights they should not be able to. Without performing an actual head count, he estimated close to two hundred had gathered. He would definitely find uses for them.

In terms of actual soldiers, he gained a force from the Western tribes almost two-thirds the size of his own spellcaster-backed infantry. They were light and agile, able to cross the forbidding mountains with good speed; mostly spearmen, archers, a few swordsmen and a dedicated corps of shaman, with the added benefit of a smattering of priests. Three separate parties of Rangers had arrived, forming an additional seven hundred troops, as well as a surprising contingent of elves under the leadership of an Elder called Sheyann, whom Ampophrenon had not met but knew by reputation.

Typical. He needed heavy infantry and divine casters, so of course the gods had sent him a bunch of the finest scouts and archers in existence. No time did he waste on complaints, however. War was not chess; one maneuvered against circumstance as much as against the enemy general.

There were some real boons among the late arrivals, however. Sheyann herself was a significant asset, even in comparison with other elven shaman. Three more Silver Huntresses had turned up, as well as an actual Huntsman of Shaath, and two Dark Riders of Sorash. His forces also gained some significant arcane firepower; Andior Caladaan was not dead, as Ampophrenon had feared, but arrived looking somewhat the worse for wear and no less pleased with himself for it. Like most Hands of Salyrene, he could be a trial to deal with, but as he had been the one to singlehandedly bring down that khelminash fortress, Ampophrenon was inclined to let him strut a little. Sheyann’s party also brought the most surprising arrival yet, a powerful high elven sorceress who spoke with an accent the dragon couldn’t place, and also seemed to be slightly crazy.

“Wow,” the woman introduced to him as Arachne said, gazing at his towering golden bulk with a childlike expression of glee. “Are there any more like you at home? A few of these and we will maybe spank Elilial right where the sun does not shine!”

Standing right behind her, Sheyann sighed and shook her head, but did not intervene. Ampophrenon decided to assume it was a serious question.

“None who can be here in time to help,” he said, keeping his powerful voice to a courteous low rumble. “My brethren are unfortunately difficult to persuade that Elilial’s depredations are any concern of theirs, and even those with the sense to lend aid… Several have already fallen. Ramandiloth, Syranorn and Khadizroth are aiding from a distance, assaulting the Dark Lady’s forces elsewhere to help buy us this opportunity. What you see,” he added, straightening up and sweeping one wing to indicate the assembled mortal forces, “is what we have to work with.”

“Hm…maybe not so much, to attack Hell,” she observed.

“That’s not even on the table,” Razeen replied, leaning on her spear. “Our mission here is to stop the invasion, not launch our own. The portal must be destroyed.”

“And for that reason,” Ampophrenon said, nodding first to her and then to Andior, “the arrival of powerful mages is most welcome. We will sorely need experts in portal magic. I am grateful to see any help from the high elves; you alone are more than I expected.”

“High elves?” The woman blinked at him in apparent confusion, then turned to peer over the heads of the surrounded soldiers at the mountain range beyond. “Well… I guess this is as high as I have ever been. I have spent more time under mountains than on top, now that I consider on it.”

Ampophrenon stared at her. Sheyann caught his eye, made a face, and shook her head again, so he decided to leave that alone.

“What is your plan, exactly?” Andior interjected. “Because despite the difference in its scale, that is still fundamentally a hellgate. We can probably disrupt it by destroying it physical housing, but that will only destabilize the rift and then I have honestly no idea what will happen. To truly close it we must have someone working on the other side.”

“Ah,” said Arachne, “so my idea was maybe not so wrong, yes?”

“And who would you propose to abandon in Hell?” Razeen demanded. “Would you do it?”

“I have not seen Hell,” the elf mused. “Could be interesting. Demons are not very good company, though. How close is the least far hellgate from here? Maybe I can walk back that way.”

“I…wasn’t seriously asking…” The Hand of Avei looked a little unnerved by the sorceress’s apparent willingness to sacrifice herself.

Arachne frowned at her. “Then why do you open your mouth? This seems like not a right time for jokes.”

“Peace,” Ampophrenon rumbled. “Tensions are inevitably high in this situation, and we have gathered together many who would not voluntarily seek one another’s company. Remember our need, and why we have come here to stand as one. There is no time for infighting.”

“Well said, Lord Ampophrenon,” Sheyann agreed. “The question remains, then. How can we prevail?”

“I have a plan,” he said gravely. “But it is unconventional, and risky.”

“Your unconventional and risky plans have brought us this far,” said Razeen.

“I have just confirmed that there are two archdemons leading the defense of the Mouth’s fortress,” he continued.

“Three,” the taciturn Huntsman, Torol, interjected unexpectedly. “Arvanzideen is prowling these mountains.”

“Four,” Sheyann corrected in a quiet tone. “We have recently encountered Invazradi as well.”

The dragon nodded. “Four, then. Even better than I had hoped.”

“Better?” Arachne blinked twice. “More archdemons is more good how?”

“It is better,” he said, “because we do have someone on the other side who will shut the Mouth for us. Elilial herself.” He paused to let the murmuring at this subside, and chose to ignore Andior’s sudden delighted grin. “I will ask her politely to cease hostilities and close her portal. And she will agree,” he growled, drawing back his lips to bare rows of glittering fangs, “because she has previously betrayed her only true weakness. If the Dark Lady wishes to see her children again after this day, she will submit to the Light.”

“Ah,” said Arachne, nodding sagely. “So we are all going to die, then.”

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46 thoughts on “Bonus #46: The Light of Dawn, part 1

  1. Bit of explanation on this one: One of the $50 backers on Kickstarter didn’t have a specific request and just told me to pick a topic on my own. But then after the drive wrapped up, someone else who had pledged $50 asked if it was too late to request a topic. Since there was a free space due to the above, we now get a backstory arc on Puff the Magic Dragon! So, double credit on this one.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. You know, the more I learn of Vadrieny and her sisters and how Elilial used them in the hellwars, the less sympathy I have for Elilial having lost them to whomever’s gambit when they tried to possess seven young women. I can’t imagine it would have ended much better for the possessed than it actually did — maybe even worse than the fiery death they endured instead — and bad for the world as well.

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  3. I always thought thought Elilial’s hypocrisy on that subject was breathtaking. She sent her daughters to the mortal plane by possessing seven innocent children, destroying their previous lives, invading their minds and souls with ancient forces of corruption and destruction, conscripting them into her personal pissing match with the Pantheon and then has the gall to complain when the gods fight back?

    Those girl’s previous personalities were effectively destroyed the moment the archdemons possessed them, Elilial has no leg to stand on there. The archdemons themselves were sworn enemies of the Pantheon engaged in an active campaign against them, no sane person could deny that they are legitimate military targets in what is, by Elilial’s own admission, a war.

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    1. We do not know what the plan was. It’s entirely possible that both personalities would have remained intact, after all the only survivor came from a sabotaged and failed attempt so she’s not exactly a good example.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Elilial turned Chase and Natchua into Archwarlocks, which she very clearly knew would ruin their lives. In fact, her description of what she was doing hinted that she’d done exactly this sort of thing before- mark someone as an Archwarlock and then watch them kill themselves in some inventive fashion that takes a lot of people with them.

        Ruining a stranger’s life for her own personal gain is not something she’s even remotely unfamiliar with. She’s done it before, she’ll do it again, she probably HAS done it again and we just haven’t seen it.

        Don’t get me wrong, most of the Pantheon are assholes, but they’re right about Elilial being an even bigger asshole. None of the Pantheon chose to start Hellwars, after all.

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      2. “Don’t get me wrong, most of the Pantheon are assholes, but they’re right about Elilial being an even bigger asshole. None of the Pantheon chose to start Hellwars, after all.”

        We don’t know if this is true. Keep in mind that when victors write their version of history they usually edit it at least a little bit. When human people retell our tales we often turn faults into virtues, minor wins and losses into celebrated victories, hated enemies into deserving victims, and the accounts of our worst excesses of moral and otherwise failings into shame-hiding silence.

        In addition, consider that people from outside hell try to keep it as a prison: Demons are summoned for temporary work-details, when they’re allowed to leave the hells at all without dying for it. Such a prison, if fully effective, would be indefinite imprisonment to Elilial wouldn’t it? Most people would object quite strongly to someone attempting indefinite incarceration upon them.

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      3. We’re talking about combining the minds and possibly souls of two sets of beings here. One set are all at least three thousand years old, enormously powerful and cunning, and inundated with infernal energy. The other set are teenage girls, apparently chosen for their kindness and empathy, but lacking in life experience or any skill with magic.

        What do you think the resultant individual would look like? Would it be a partnership, like Teal and the amnesiac Vadrieny achieved? Or would the archdemons simply overwhelm the girl’s personalities by the sheer weight of memories they possess?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. @Dresden 67
        Don’t get me wrong, by the standards I apply the thing Elilial attempted with that bonding/insertion of her daughters could reasonably be described as either or both murder and kidnapping of the seven ladies she’d targeted. Whoever or whatever else disrupted it either negligently or intentionally tried to kill the seven daughters of Elilial and those same women to prevent Elilial’s plot, and ended up killing at least twelve out of the fourteen ladies in question, and assaulting the other two with a deadly weapon. More generally, demon summoning shown in this series has been motivated by attempts to harm the demons, or to conscript or recruit them in limited ways that are expected to end with them back in the hells or dead. Demons present in the main world have been shown in morally complex ways, but mainly as violent, destructive and malicious antagonists.

        I would interpret all that as indicating that the vaguely-defined “both sides” of this disagreement between the gods believe that collateral damage *to get at the other side* is justified. We don’t have the full story of why on either side, for all we know Elilial has an equal or better case. Another possibility is that they’re all indefensible bastards that deserve to fry, and somehow I get a vague feeling this might be the real answer.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. @Horizon
        When she turned Chase and Natchua into Archwarlocks they were already trying to summon really powerful manipulator demons, almost certainly because Chase was bored and wanted to woo Natchua. She also later stated that Chase turned out to fuck up way more than she had intended, but it’s not the same thing as deliberatly choosing kind and emphatic girls and shoving angry archdemons inside them like a sock puppet.

        Her plans, from what she has said about them anyway, heavily revolved around the girls growing up to be kind and beloved, just giving pre-mindwipe Vadrieny a bit more than a decade of memories and an imprisoned/corrupted extra personality would be a complete and total disaster. Elilial is the goddess of cunning, I wouldn’t be surprised if she intended at least some of her daughters the less powerful person in the possession so that they wouldn’t fuck it up.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh boy oh boy oh boy
    Dragons are so damn cool (specially when it’s a goddamn Golden Dragon who’s powerful as fuck)! And I look forward to Arachne when she’s just appeared into the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Elilial is furious about the deaths of her daughters, but they were soldiers in a war. How many innocent children died in Hellwars? Elilial was happy to murder other people’s children, but she thought that her grown daughters were somehow sacred.

    I find myself approving of Justinian’s decision to kill them, even though he did murder the innocent children they tried to possess. Looking at his choice purely in terms of numbers, destroying the archdemons saved far more lives than he took.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, not to mention they weren’t exactly children anyway. They were all at least three thousand years old and had evidently chosen to fight for their mother against the Pantheon. They all killed people during the Hellwars, Vadrieny in particular is noted by several characters to have slaughtered thousands.

      You don’t get to willing join a war, kill countless people on the other side, then whine about it when they fight back.

      Like

    2. “How many innocent children died in Hellwars?”

      I mean…do you think that parents in the military don’t get angry when their children die? If what she said about her plans were true, this wasn’t really a hostile plan against humanity and her children were all assassinated at once. Your children go to war several times and kill people, and then when you figure out a plan to win over the hearts and minds of people to destroy your enemies more peacefully, someone shows up and murders your entire family.

      I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t give a damn about how hypocritical it was to be furious at that point.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. lordswedish:

        If you send your children to repeatedly invade the world and murder innocent people, you forfeit your right to be morally outraged when they die.

        Elilial can still be angry, of course, but her children died because she decided to use them as weapons against the Pantheon and the world. Despite all her rationalizations and excuses, Elilial is a mass murderess who has taken innumerable lives in her schemes and Hellwars. But the sons and daughters of other people didn’t matter to her; it was only when her own children perished that she suddenly realized that war has consequences.

        The pain Elilial feels is the same pain she inflicted countless times in her long war with the Pantheon. I suspect that her many, many victims would be glad to learn that the archdemons won’t be killing anyone else, though they would grieve for the deaths of the innocent children that Elilial planned to use as hosts.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m eager to see how Puff plans to pull this one off, seeing as he wasn’t sure he could take even one archdemon in a straight-up fight.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So this is probably a bit late to realize this, but I think just figured out what killed Elilial’s children and why Vadrieny survived.

    They fell afoul of the “mortals who know this piece of information about the gods die” failsafe built into the core of divine magic. Because, obviously, they know that information. And I’m guessing that at the moment they melded with their intended possessed bodies, they suddenly registered on that system’s radar (without standard Black Wraith protections already up and running), and were obliterated. Vadrieny survived because she lost her memory somehow and so literally did not know the information which caused her sisters’ deaths.

    So now the question is … how did Elilial not see this coming? Did she have protections for her daughters which were stripped away, and that defense-removal was the (successful) murder attempt she’s so angry about? Did she think her daughters wouldn’t be subject to it for some reason? Was she doing this to try to get around the failsafe somehow and failed?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I started binge reading TGAB this summer and I’ve just now caught up. I’m so in love with this story, and I’m recommending it to anyone who will listen. Please keep up the excellent work!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. According to Arachne and other characters, Elilial is more careful about avoiding collateral damage than the other gods but based on what we’ve seen I would actually argue the opposite.

    Throughout the series we’ve seen she has absolutely no problem with destroying innocent lives if it suits her goals, while as far as we’ve seen the Pantheon has actually a great deal of restraint. We don’t know enough about the events that caused the original split after the Elder War so instead I believe we should judge the gods based on their actions since then. What effect have they had on the world, what kind of worshippers do they attract and what have they actually done?

    If we look at Elilial’s effect on the world, the conclusions are fairly damming. First, in one of her earliest known actions, she banished Scillith back into the mortal world. According to Vesk this is the point when the conflict between Elilial and the Pantheon became irreversible and I can see his point. The gods had just won a war against the Infinite Order, freeing their people from millenia of slavery and torment. And what was the first thing Elilial did? She sent the Goddess of Cruelty back to the mortal plane, condemning countless millions to suffer under her rule, warping the civilization of the drow into one group that was turned into a self mutilating cult and another whose
    entire culture was forced to revolve around containing their insane cousins. The amount of misery and death this must have caused is incalculable.

    Then of course we have the Hellwars. Even assuming that Elilial had good reasons for each war the fact remains the she lead a demonic invasion of the mortal plane. It has been made exceeding clear over the course of the series that the vast majority of demons are fundamentally destructive beings driven to destroy mortal life whose mere presence damages the world around them. It is difficult to imagine a justification for unleashing them on the world, not just once, but several times.

    Finally we have her cult, the Black Wreath. Their primary and apparently sole purpose is to oppose the cults of the Pantheon and the gods themselves. Arachne points out that if they somehow succeeded in their goal they would soon fall apart because they define themselves by their opposition to the gods. They serve abolutely no constructive purpose in society. The Eserites, Vernisellites, Avenists, Vidians and Omnists all serve a role in the world. We may disagree with their methods or doctrines but they all seek to improve the world around them. The only role the Wreath serve is to restrict demons and infernal magic, but there are many other groups that can do that. Meanwhile they constantly sabotage the existing powers in the world with no apparent plan to replace them.

    All in all I would argue that if we can judge the gods by their actions, Elilial is the most Bastard-like of all.

    Sorry for the wall of text

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like your analysis except I’m not sure about this: “The only role the Wreath serve is to restrict demons and infernal magic, but there are many other groups that can do that. ”
      The high placed Black Wreath members we have met seem very dedicated to their goal, which I admit I’m not quite clear what it is, but they at least believe it to be vitally important and know something we don’t. We’ve seen enough to debunk the popular prejudice that the Black Wreath is just doing evil for the lulz. One of them was tortured brutally by the Universal Church. Which makes the Universal Church the evil one in my books.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right, that is the weakest part of my analysis. The Black Wreath clearly aren’t irredeemable monsters, though I would point out the Rite of Silencing, where the Wreath punish a perceived traitor by having them and their entire family eaten alive by demons while forcing the rest of the cell to watch. This isn’t exactly the policy of the good guys.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. “The gods had just won a war against the Infinite Order, freeing their people from millenia of slavery and torment. And what was the first thing Elilial did? She sent the Goddess of Cruelty back to the mortal plane, condemning countless millions to suffer under her rule, warping the civilization of the drow into one group that was turned into a self mutilating cult and another whose entire culture was forced to revolve around containing their insane cousins. The amount of misery and death this must have caused is incalculable.”

      To be fair, Scyllith was banished to the same place that Ellilial was. Perhaps sending her back was the godly equivalent of “you spit in my face so I’ll spit in your face”.

      “Wait a minute, you can’t banish her here, me and my followers are here! Look, if you can’t figure out another place to put her, I’m sending her back to you where she was.”

      Like

  10. Interesting that Arachne is seen as a patch on reality by an ascended wizard, and as a high elf by a dragon. We’re getting lots of tantilizing little nuggets in these interludes!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Some have condemned Ellilial for her actions here. Consider this:

    The infernal plane is full of corruption. We’ve been told that magic use has a price. We’ve been told that Gabe may reconsider when he sees what the price actually is. Perhaps the Gods are using the infernal plane as the dumping ground for the backlash of using magic, purposefully condemning all of the demons/devils/whatever in the Hells to that so that their corrupted life force can somehow balance everyone else’s magic use.

    Meaning: every time Tris flares a divine shield she burns a baby demon with corruption. Every second that Arial exists burns another demon, etc.

    Under that viewpoint, Ellilial’s actions would be more understandable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That viewpoint is standing on a nonexistent hill, is the thing.

      The infernal plane is full of corruption, sure, but that’s because it’s full of infernal magic, which causes corruption. Corruption that Demons are not directly harmed by, incidentally- it doesn’t burn them in the slightest.

      Furthermore, using Divine magic doesn’t make Infernal magic suddenly appear somewhere in hell, they’re only opposites because of the very arbitrary Circles of Interaction which were put in place by the Pantheon.

      As for Avei’s comment about the cost of magic, it was in the context of magical industry, and it doesn’t really make sense in the context of TGAB’s industrial technology. It doesn’t run on combustion engines, it doesn’t ruin the environment beyond ordinary light pollution and the occasional spot of glow-in-the-dark limestone. It runs on magic. Magical industry isn’t going to cause global warming.

      She might’ve been talking about how it’s got some sort of social cost, as though there’s a fucking problem with people living fuller, healthier, and overall better lives because they no longer have to live in squalor, but frankly that notion that life HAS to be difficult and a struggle is a deeply stupid one.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. As the comment above me said there’s really no evidence for what you’re suggesting. Infernal magic corrupts and warps everything in Hell because Hell was originally the personal plane of Scyllith and infernal magic is Scyllith’s personal transcension field. Infernal magic corrupts and decays everything around because Scyllith wanted it to. She became the Goddess of Cruelty for a reason. We also know that the rest of the Infinite Order used Hell as a dumping ground for failed experiments, which is where most demon species originally came from.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Doesn’t matter there’s no evidence. It’s a speculative theory. That’s how these things work. Besides, I think the point Bart was getting at is that there’s so much we don’t know that it’s probably a little premature to condemn Elilial. And there IS evidence supporting that.

        Like

      1. First you drink a gallon of kerosene. Then you have to set your throat on fire while you pronounce it. This will help push your vocal cords and soft palate into the proper position. Then just remember how you shaped you mouth every time you say the word.

        The remainder of the pronunciation is left as an exercise to the reader. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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