15 – 69

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They proceeded one step at a time through the labyrinth of the cathedral and the spaces under it, every stride carrying them as far as they could move in a straight line before having to turn and navigate around a corner or obstacle. It was especially disorienting because this method of travel moved them straight through closed doors and other temporary obstructions; apparently only features which were permanently in place were actually real, here. Over the course of five minutes, Kuriwa led them on a dizzying descent through passages, stairwell, locked doors, and hidden chambers, long past the stone construction of the cathedral complex and deep into the living bedrock under Ninkabi.

Until finally, they arrived in a chamber awash in energy which refracted and scattered light so badly in this space that they could make out nothing of what was below. They were on an upper lip of stone surrounding a pit of what looked like a scintillating soup of gold and orange beams.

“Are we there yet?” Natchua asked.

Kuriwa gave her a look while leading the way off to the side where they could crouch behind a low wall separating them from the melange below. “I will open the way back to our plane. Keep silent while we take stock of the situation.”

“You don’t have to explain the obvious to me, for future reference.”

“I have learned not to assume that about the young, the infernal, or drow.”

She made another slashing motion, carving a distortion in the air, and they slipped through back into reality.

“—maimed, possibly permanently. The Dark Lady is unhappy, Mogul.”

“We’re all unhappy, Khrisvthshnrak. I dare to presume that you’re not planning to hold me responsible for the actions of paladins, since I know the Dark Lady wouldn’t do anything so silly.”

“Mind your words, human. Are your lackeys any closer to finishing their work?”

“You can see their progress as well as I. Do you want this done quickly, or do you want your forces to survive the passage?”

The two elves were still crouched on the same ledge, but the character of the light had changed from a morass of apparently solid illumination to a steady glow of pure gold. Right next to them was the corpse of a human in Holy Legion armor stained by the pool of blood in which it lay, with more of the same scattered along this upper balcony.

As one, they carefully raised their heads just enough to peek over the side.

The long, rectangular chamber was predominated by the hellgate itself. While hellgates in general were invisible fissures in the air, this one was encircled by a carved stone doorway, circular in shape and more than a full story tall. It was heavily engraved with sigils and runes, all of which put out the steady golden glow which lit up the whole room. More of the same shone from carvings on the dais upon which it sat; at each of the four corners of this rose an altar topped by a huge chunk of faceted quartz, which blazed with the brightest intensity of any of them.

All of it had been heavily worked over. Erratic cage-like structures of something black that looked organic in its organization had been placed over each altar, and all the carved symbols in the stonework which put off divine light. None were fully obscured, but the purpose of the growths to contain their magic was obvious.

More corpses were strewn about, both Holy Legionaries and a few priests in black Universal Church robes. Most had been unceremoniously shoved into the edges of the room. One corner was entirely piled with bodies in oddly nondescript brown robes.

Those present and still alive were either Black Wreath warlocks in their ash-gray robes or demons. The warlocks were at work on complex spell circles they were creating, both free-standing designs in cleared stretches of the ground and an ever more intricate pattern being crafted around the dais of the hellgate itself, doubtless to finish suppressing the divine effects keeping it sealed. Armored khaladesh demons stood guard while three khelminash sorceresses paced among them, supervising and adding occasional corrections.

Two more figures stood at the very edge of the dais, on the cleared path leading from it to the chamber’s door: a dark-skinned human man in a vivid white suit, and a towering, muscular Rhaazke demon with bands of metal encircling her forearms.

“I thought you said demons couldn’t get near this.” Natchua kept her voice below a whisper, barely a breath; no one but another elf could have heard it, even from right alongside her.

“They have worked faster than I expected, to suppress this much of the divine effect,” Kuriwa breathed back at the same volume. “This must be most of the Wreath who remain alive on this continent; they have been badly culled in the last several years. That man is known to me: Embras Mogul is their leader. I don’t know that demon, but Rhaazke are Elilial’s uppermost lieutenants and she seems to have some authority over him.”

Natchua grinned viciously. “Every head of the hydra, on one convenient chopping block.”

Kuriwa’s expression was more subdued, though Natchua thought it reflected much of the same dark satisfaction. She wondered what this woman’s grudge against Elilial was, but this was no time or place for such questions. “A pitched battle is not to our advantage. Whatever we do must cause massive damage to them in a single strike.”

Natchua narrowed her eyes in thought, then lifted her head again to peek over the edge and take in the scene before ducking back down. She glanced at the distorted line where their exit to the space between remained open. “Can you stifle all infernomancy in the room?”

“Simplicity itself, in other circumstances. The loose divine magic in here makes that more difficult, but they themselves have suppressed it enough that I believe I can manage. You have an idea?”

She nodded. “Here’s the real question: can you do that without suppressing my magic?”

Kuriwa gave her a sidelong look, and Natchua could almost see the gears turning in her head. Neither of them knew a thing about the other, after all. But in the end, neither had anything to gain by turning on the other, or they wouldn’t have made it this far.

The shaman produced what looked like an acorn from within one of her pockets and held it out. “Do not make a sound.”

Natchua accepted the nut, and immediately discovered why that obvious warning had been necessary. The instant it left Kuriwa’s fingers, it blossomed into a twist of vines that wrapped around her lower arm like an extravagant bracelet, producing thorns which plunged straight into her skin. Not a drop of blood welled up, apparently being consumed by the vine itself. She gritted her teeth against the pain, but at least that subsided after a second.

Kuriwa nodded once when the vines settled into place. “There.”

“All right. Keep this…uh, aperture here open. As soon as you’ve done whatever you do to banish infernal magic, I’m going to attack. I will try to hold their attention and without their magic I’m pretty confident I can handle them, but I’d rather not underestimate this lot, so stay on alert. You’ll need to finish the job if I fail.”

The shaman nodded once more. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

Kuriwa closed her eyes, inhaled slowly, and began whispering under her breath so silently that even Natchua couldn’t make out any words.

There was no sign from the elf of the moment approaching, but when it came, the signal was inescapably clear. The entire room seemed to shift as if tilting, and the color of the light changed, growing misty as if thickening. Immediately, warlocks yelled and staggered backward from their work where infernal spell diagrams began to collapse in showers of sparks and smoke.

Natchua stood up fully, gazing down on the panic, and noting with particular satisfaction the way the demons, even the Rhaazke, suddenly staggered as if drunk. One of the khelminash collapsed entirely.

She reached within herself for the familiar fire, the seductive whisper of the infernal, and it was there. In fact, in this state, she could tell the broad shape of how that bracelet of thorns worked, how it anchored her magically to the default state of the mortal plane while the whole rest of this room was suspended in the midst of being shifted somewhere else.

For a fae user, this Kuriwa certainly seemed to know a lot about dimensional magic.

Then Natchua shadow-jumped straight down into the midst of the chaos.

“You,” spat the Rhaazke, stepping unevenly toward her. “Meddling—”

She remembered Scorn, from the campus at Last Rock, both the sheer physical strength and her unusual magical aptitude. This creature looked to be bigger, likely much more experienced.

Natchua flicked her fingers, and a dark tendril of magic sprang up out of the very stones, coiling around the Rhaazke and lifting her bodily off the ground. Then slamming her into it, thrice in rapid succession.

“Young lady,” said Embras Mogul, seizing her attention. He held up both hands in a placating gesture. “I know it’s chaos up there. I’m not sure what I can say to convince you, but I will swear any oath you require that we are only trying to help. We didn’t do this.”

She turned to look pointedly at the big pile of bodies.

“Well, yes, we did that,” he said with a shadow of a grin. “Those idiots called themselves the Tide. They were organized by the Universal Church of the Pantheon, and they were the ones who built all those hellgates. Not us. We are trying to fix this.”

In other circumstances, despite everything, she might have let him help. But Natchua knew the demonic invasion was even now being massacred by swarms of fairies, and a counter-force led by the paladins was on its way to this very cathedral. The Wreath’s help was not necessary, even if she hadn’t just caught them in the act of trying to open this hellgate to admit more of Elilial’s forces.

So she just smiled. “I know.”

Natchua gestured with both hands, and the entire room swarmed with shadow tendrils, snatching up every remaining demon and warlock, including the two trying to sneak up on her from behind, whom she could only assume had never dealt with elves before. The tentacles whipped them disorientingly through the air, keeping each of their victims fully occupied and too dizzy even to protest, while they systematically hurled each one in turn into the breach Kuriwa had made.

There were about two dozen warlocks, and almost half as many demons. It took almost a full minute, even moving at the speed of elvish reflexes, to consign every last member of the Black Wreath to the twisted netherworld between dimensions. But the instant the final khaladesh soldier had been hurled through, the twisting in the air abruptly ended. With a final gesture, Kuriwa sealed shut the opening between planes, locking them in.

Natchua exhaled slowly, dismissing the shadow tendrils.

“When you said you were uncertain about taking them all,” Kuriwa called down to her, standing up behind the stone balustrade, “was that an example of drow humor?”

“Actually, I was expecting…more. My plan should have worked, but my plans never just…work. They’re the Black Wreath. Shouldn’t they have been able to come up with something?”

“Eh.” Kuriwa vaulted over the edge and dropped down to land lightly on the stone below. “Their reputation is overblown. By themselves, by the Universal Church and the Pantheon cults, all of whom benefit from making the Wreath seem terrifying. In truth, if you’ve ever encountered a Scyllithene shadow priestess, Elilinist warlocks are just not that impressive.”

She paused in the act of inspecting one of the dark growths massing over a corner altar to give Natchua a sidelong look.

“I’m not a Scyllithene,” she said irritably.

“I didn’t ask.”

“Yes, you did.”

Kuriwa smiled faintly, then stepped back and simply gestured with her hand.

All around them, the black tendrils began to burn away. What began with currents of her fae magic was quickly taken up and completed by the innate divine power of the place.

Natchua grinned broadly, staring with savage satisfaction up at the glowing hellgate portal. “I have to say… I didn’t expect to make it this far alive. Hell, I wasn’t so sure about making it this far at all. But it’s done. The entire core of the Wreath, Elilial’s main officers from Hell…”

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Kuriwa warned, watching the black brambles finish burning away. “Gods may be standoffish creatures, but Elilial will definitely notice this. And you just stuffed our escape route full of our enemies. This far underground, they may survive for a few minutes, but the demons will already have drawn that place’s inherent defenders. No one in the vicinity of Ninkabi is going in there for the time being.”

“Complaints, now?”

“It was worth doing,” Kuriwa said quietly. “Even if the cost…”

“This divine magic won’t interfere too badly with shadow-jumping,” Natchua said. “Now that the Wreath’s spellcraft is gone, I can get us back to the surface. From there—”

“From there, we should make for the paladins and their army,” Kuriwa said firmly, holding her gaze.

It took Natchua a second to catch on, but then she nodded. Given what might be after the two of them any moment, best to draw it away from her friends in the cathedral.

That, finally, caused her a pang, but she suppressed it. At least they would survive. In a way, that made it perfect. Natchua had fully expected to lead all of them to their deaths in this endeavor. If, in the end, only she and this odd shaman came to grief… Well, that was for the best.

“Hold onto your ears,” she advised, raising a hand and raising the shadows.

They subsided, leaving them in the great domed space of the cathedral’s main sanctuary, a gorgeous fresco dominating the ceiling above a ring of lovely stained glass windows.

That was all the time they got.

The shockwave bowled both of them over physically, and then the overwhelming psychic presence of a god-sized mind finished the job. She manifested in a tower of flames, looming over them at a height which dominated even the vast cathedral’s space.

An enormous hand seized each of them, hauling both elves aloft, and Elilial brought them both up before her face. At that proximity, her bared fangs were easily as long as Natchua’s leg.

“Kuriwa,” the goddess spat in a voice that made the whole chamber tremble. “I didn’t curse you nearly hard enough the last time. Ah, well, live and learn.”

“Elilial,” the shaman replied with amazing dignity, considering the situation. “It has been eight millennia; I suppose you’ve not learned, since we last met, to recognize that your actions have consequences, or that you bear any responsibility for them.”

The goddess brought the wood elf closer to her face, snarling so widely Natchua suddenly wondered if she intended to bite Kuriwa physically in half.

It was probably just a reaction to the emotional stress of the last half hour, but Natchua surprised herself even more than the other two by beginning to laugh.

When Elilial’s gaze fell upon her directly, the pressure of her simple attention was tangible, a force that seemed to be trying to blast away her mind like a typhoon striking a sandcastle. She only laughed harder.

“Oh, I remember you, little one,” Elilial purred. “I dearly hope you enjoyed your precious little prank, Natchua. That was the last pleasure you are going to have in what I intend to be a very long existence.”

“You know, it’s all about the ability to manage expectations,” Natchua cackled. “It’s not like I was ever going to kill you or anything! But I hurt you, Lady in Red. Ohhh, yes, I did. Me, the little nobody you tried to use up and throw away. I wrecked your day good and proper, and now you get to spend the rest of your long eternity dealing with it.” The laughter welled up again, wracking her so hard she might have fallen had the goddess’s fist not been holding her arms pinned to her sides. Even so, it didn’t stop her from choking out a final sentence. “I win, asshole!”

One of the stained glass window was smashed to powder by a huge streak of fire which slammed into Elilial like a descending meteor. In the next moment, both elves were dropped. Natchua didn’t quite manage to sort herself out in midair enough to avoid a painful impact on the marble floor, but she was buoyed at the last instant by a cushion of air which smelled of moss and autumn leaves.

She couldn’t even spare the attention to thank the shaman for the rescue, staring up at the spectacle of Elilial staggering backward and trying to throw off the burning shape now savaging her with enormous talons. Finally, she succeeded in hurling her away.

The archdemon landed right in front of the two elves, spreading her wings as if to shield them from the goddess.

Elilial bore ugly scratches across her arms, face, and upper chest, oozing a black ichor that evaporated into smoke before it could drip far. Those cuts receded almost immediately, sealing back up as if they’d never happened. Seeming to ignore them, the goddess was staring down at the interloper with a stricken expression.

Vadrieny contemptuously flicked her claws, scattering droplets of ichor which hissed away to nothing in midair.

“So,” she said. “You can bleed.”

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50 thoughts on “15 – 69

  1. My heartfelt congratulations to TGAB readers Mickaël and Odile on the birth of their son, Gabriel! I am very touched that my story has made such an impact on anyone’s life that they would choose to honor it in such a way. Here’s hoping the young paladin grows to be wiser than his namesake!

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    1. I’ve heard of damning with faint praise before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone condemn a person so thoroughly with faint *optimism*.

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      1. Be fair, Gabriel has a strong tendency to actually learn from his mistakes. Do you honestly claim that wouldn’t put him at least in the upper half of the human species with regards to wisdom?

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    1. Thats the true contest here – what family meeting is more awkward, Elial and Vadrieny, who is in a relationship with a vesker and a themynrite, or Gabrial and Jonathan, who is back together with his mother and also, well…Natchua.

      Make your bets now!

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  2. Oh shit. I didn’t think Elilial could actually be harmed by anything that was not one of the Gods. Cool to know that Vadrieny has talons sharp enough for that. And I didn’t think Elilial would actually respond this quickly, although killing off a whole cult justifies that.

    For a moment there I was worried Embras was going to have more time to spin his stories, but Nat just yote him into the space between spaces (what a useful trick, right?). I’m just a bit disappointed that it wasn’t Sweet who got to deal with Embras for a final time (or is it truly final?).

    Is Kelvreth actually hurt forever? That’s what it seems to be. And Kuriwa is quite prejudiced, it seems. We could say Trissiny from the start of the serial got this from her, then? Hehe

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    1. Gods in this setting seem to be substantially beyond physical harm at the personal scale if I remember Gabe’s attempt with the scythe poke right. Perhaps what makes Vadrieny capable of hurting her mother is not so much the nature of her claws and physical existence as the fact that she is Elilial’s daughter.

      “Natchua, is it?” Kuriwa mused. “You really are a splendid example of your people.”
      Natchua narrowed her eyes. “That wasn’t called for.”

      A better question is whether Kuriwa is a bigot. Her opinions were directly formed and informed by her experiences with still-living Narisian drow people, including their royalty. She is bitterly remembering the opportunistic manipulation, infighting and selfishness she encountered on her way to the underworld in search of a cure for Elilial’s curse, if you check that part of the side-story archives. On one hand it is clearly prejudice as we can see in the etymology itself. On the other hand, the limits of human memory and cognition (look up “Dunbar’s number”) mean it’s practically impossible to completely avoid it and difficult (I.E. mentally costly) to even try. We even tend to get worse at it as we age too, because of the way the human mind gradually loses the ability to notice, learn and value new things that conflict with what we already believe. Ultimately it’s a problem that calls for social solutions because we are all individually incapable of not being prejudiced. That is also difficult, costly, and fully capable of making more problems than it solves if we don’t do it well enough.

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    2. Ellial probably could have shrugged it off if she really wanted to, but I’m betting she feels understandably guilty for what happened to her daughters. She might feel she “deserves” it. It’s also quite likely that, as she’s the goddess of cunning, this appearance of weakness is a deliberate manipulation.

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  3. Poor Elilial having a daughter that is essentially brainwashed into being her enemy (by losing her memories and then being influenced while improssionable by the mind in whose head she is), would suck.

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    1. You do have to take in account that it caused the death of Shaeine, who Elilial promised not to include in her plots.
      I really want to know what Arachne’s reaction will be.

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    2. Elilial’s daughter is dead. Her memories and experiences, everything that makes her a person, were irrevocably destroyed.

      Vadrieny is an entirely different person who inherited a body and a name from Elilial’s daughter. However, her parents are the Falconers, not Elilial.

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    3. I don’t think she’s been brainwashed into anything. If she had been, she would be a pawn of the Church more than anything. Her not liking Elilial I would attribute to Teal’s love for life (she is a pacifist, after all), which passed over to Vadrienny, and Elilial’s plot having killed Shaeine, even if momentarily. None of this is due to brainwashing.

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      1. If you remove someone personality and then form a different one you have brainwashed them (or killed them if you go with Dylan Tullos’s interprotation). Nobody intended to brainwash her the incident was supposed to kill her and the rest was just two people dealing with living in the same body, doesn’t mean you can’t call changing someone personality by destroying their mind and rebuilding it differently brainwashing.

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  4. I am still wondering why Elilial assembled her top people in one place. This is the opposite of her usual MO, as she usually keeps her agents divided and hidden from each other. Elilial has never won in open warfare, so I don’t know why she would be willing to send an army into Ninbaki, endangering her troops, her senior lieutenants, and most of the surviving Wreath.

    Elilial has to have a plan that would justify this level of risk. Right now, though, I can’t imagine what she could hope to gain that would be worth the kind of losses she’s already suffered.

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    1. Sleight of hand? Every eye is focused on Ninkabi, so maybe she has a move in Tiraas? Or now everyone will *know* the Wreath is ‘destroyed’, but who is to say if she can’t pull them out of the between area. Or, the true long con, none of her other daughters are dead, and now all eyes will be truly off her until her final move? Or, the long long con, she has been on the Pantheons side this entire time to prevent a final return of an elder god in this next ascension.

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  5. This was very satisfying even if I still don’t get Elilial’s role in this world or story. She doesn’t seem to be a local proxy for the Christian devil and while she seems to be locked in a battle with the pantheon they doesn’t seem all that interested in vanquishing her. As for the divine interventions to help the world, Elilial and her religion seems to do just as much or as little as the pantheon cults do. The wreath does banish demons and uphold the separation of the realms.

    I understand and accept both Natchuas and specially Kuriwas grievances and this chapter was cathartic in addressing them, well done!

    However Scyllit seems a much better match for a devil figure and Elilials like Embras roles are just confusing.

    A well the future may make it clearer and until that day I eagerly awaits every post from you. Thank you very much for your work Webb.

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    1. I read Elilial as approximately being a version of Loki that mostly stays female (as far as other people know). Sorry I didn’t pick and choose an example from your preferred comparison mythology, but I defend my choice on the basis that as a pantheon-based mythology the Asatru roster is a better fit to compare against.

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      1. Theoretically it’s a religion, even if it acts more like a hierarchically organized insurgency movement. People end up in those for all sorts of reasons, but it’s rare for it to happen because of a sober, objective and well-informed appraisal of the costs and benefits involved. Should we talk about the ways, “born into,” and, “converted into,” usually involve attempts to limit the individual’s information, options, and ability to consider those rationally and without compulsion?

        @ironvalei:
        I don’t feel too sorry for the Wreath here myself. They’re lying, manipulative, genocidal assholes. A fair appraisal of how sympathetic they are would not ignore all the death, damage and destruction that is happening in this invasion because they and Elilial decided that opening up these hellgates was too good an opportunity to miss. Trying it also shows that their supposed mission to prevent and contain demonic incursions in the mortal world is a PR lie. Embras Mogul is probably in too deep to try to leave, but any of the other Wreath who survive this shitfest or hear accurate stories about it would only be sympathetic if they quit Elilial’s service in disgust.

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      2. It hasn’t occurred on screen, but apparently betraying the Wreath gets you and your family painfully executed by demons, and lesser offences put you in a position to be culled by suicide mission. Which has occurred on screen, more than once. There are likable people in the Wreath but as a group they define ‘nasty revolutionary organisation’ pretty well.

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      3. @AVR:
        True enough that quitting Elilial’s cult isn’t going to be easy even at the best of times. If they were ever going to try though, then the time that most of the leadership and senior, active, warlock forces of the Black Wreath got killed, injured or captured is absolutely the time to do it.

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      4. We don’t know everything that’s going on, and Embras and co. were actively working to close the hellgates alongside Darling and co. before all this broke out.

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      5. @fionag11
        We’ve just covered this with Syrinx promising that she can do a better job informing the authorities about what’s going on than Darling and Snowe: Don’t trust what operators like the Wreath (and Justinian) are doing that they let you see to be the full story of what they’re up to.

        It also doesn’t make a lot of sense for Elilial to send demons through all those gates in order to cut them off on the Hell side of things. All she really needed to do to cut them off is clear the space around each of the spots where those corpse-altars potentially open up in Hell so nobody could open them. That’s not what she did, so therefore she was up to something more than just, “Trying to help.”

        Maybe that something else was trying to murder these “Tide cultists” that Justinian seems to be responsible for. In that case I would have a little sympathy for Elilial and her Wreath operatives getting hurt, humiliated, killed or worse if their big bad plan was to stop the cultists from doing it again. Still, if there is one thing we have learned from watching Justinian’s other plans unfold, it’s that engaging them naively without knowing what else is going on is like betting on a shell game with no ball under any of the cups. I say Elilial earned that defeat and slash on the nose (and more and worse besides that) for getting suckered into being an ignorant fall-girl in Justinian’s big, shiny distraction. Is she the goddess of cunning or a moron?

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  6. I just can’t stand Natchua. What a self-centered, spoiled, wretched person. Elilial rescued her from certain death, maybe worse, because she decided to summon a major demon with zero preparation. She then curses her with enormous power – obnoxious, sure, but again, she was DEAD otherwise. Natchua takes that personally and goes firing off to use her powers to get revenge. In so doing, she takes advantage of all sorts of people.

    Frankly, this ridiculous relationship with Gabe’s parents only makes sense to me if it’s Stockholm Syndrome. I find it all appalling. Gah!

    Yeah, Elilial & the wreath are tough. They do some good things but are murderous bastards. Let’s not forget, this all started with them possessing innocent girls against their will with archdemons. Sure, they were supposed to live, but the essence of who they were would have been destroyed. That’s just plain evil.

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    1. Fwiw Natchua has become one of my favorite characters. You have to remember she is very young, especially by elvish standards, and was basically raised in what was, to her, the pit of hell. Although Elilial theoretically did save her from her own summoning, it’s not too much of stretch to see how she could resent her as being the cause of harm to people she cared about (via Chase), and the cause of her being kicked out the only place she has enjoyed living (Unseen University). I have enjoyed in particular a broken person finding purpose, support, and something of a center. Also, every chapter with Natchua is hilarious, and her supporting cast of demons is very enjoyable to read :). Re: her relationship with Gabe’s parents, my take is that it was exactly what Hesthri wanted as her way to gain control of the situation, and Jonathan and Natchua kindof just didn’t protest too hard. I’m not 100% sure how genuine Hesthri’s feelings for Natchua are.

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      1. Fair enough – and that’s a fascinating take on Hesthri’s behavior. Maybe I’m just an old fart who’s baffled at the thought of a middle aged person having any kind of serious relationship with someone 25 years younger (and particularly not realizing the person is that much younger).

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      2. Yeah lol. The romance is almost like a fun twist on the vampire romance trope, where both Jonathan and Natchua thought the other was older and the immortal being is actually the younger one.

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    2. Maybe you missed that for Natchua the summoning scheme with Chase was more of a suicide attempt than anything else. She wanted to hurt and escape her abusive family, it was at best a halfheartedly serious attempt to acquire powers from a demon considering how inadvisable it is to rely on Chase for anything. Her driving fears were the social isolation and repressive slavery of norms and obligations she experienced growing up among the Narisian drow (as in, getting put back in the spider box for disobeying her family). Elilial’s intervention in that strikes me as something Scyllith might do: She took those problems, stomped on Natchua’s already inadequate hopes for relief, and made the fears worse.

      Hesthri’s attempt to recruit herself and Jonathan as expected company in Natchua’s bedroom makes perfect sense if you think of it as a reaction to noticing that Natchua is suicidal. I expect that her summoner is important for keeping herself alive and outside of Hell. Yes, they’re in an odd sexual relationship, but that might be mainly an excuse to be an intimately close suicide watch.

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    3. Natchua is rightly upset at Elilial.

      Being gifted awesome Warlock powers was not a nice thing or something she ever wanted, it marked her as a person of interest and a possible enemy for the entire world. She’s fully expected to go mad with the power, too. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and all that.

      Elilial might have saved Natchua’s life but she killed her future. Not even out of malice or personal reason, no. Natchua is just a throw-away distraction, to keep Arachne busy. She did nothing to deserve that. She’s just a tool and Elilial doesn’t care.

      As an archwarlock Natchua has very limited choices, in essence she’d have to find someone to protect her. So either she hides behind Arachne for the rest of her life, gets drafted into the services of the Empire or she’ll be on the run until she inevitably gets killed. And those are the good options.

      She could have handled it better at the time, sure. But telling Arachne was complicated by the fact that Chase is a psychopath who would have stabbed her in the back for ruining his fun (which he did then anyway). Not to mention that Arachne’s reputation is “kill it with overwhelming force and ask questions later”, which might make it a tiny bit difficult to open up to her if you’re one of the things she kills usually.

      Did she have to start a campaign of revenge? Perhaps not, but if you believe you’re going to die and without friends anyway, why not ruin the day of the person responsible?

      Her relationship with Gabe’s parents was coincidence… as far as such a thing exists when everyone is connected by transdimensional spiderwebs. Johnathan was probably the first person who actually cared about her and she developed emotions for him when her plan was to simply use him to get a loyal demon for her little army. Hesthri recognized that immediately and exploited it, sure… but I can’t say she has bad intentions there.

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    1. Best guess: Bait. Elilial slipped off somewhere to forward her plans while all the gods were focused on the invasion.(Its been stated she did this during the Hellwars as well.) As for what specifically she is up to here is my pet theory: She is planting her baby in Lakshmi. That is why the baby hasn’t been born yet; If Elilial gives birth herself then no one would recognize the child as the heir, but if everyone thinks the baby belongs to someone else its above suspicion. (This assumes Sharidan and Lakshmi slept together, which isn’t much of a stretch.) Elilial froze the embryo in time to plant in the first fertile woman Sharidan slept with so as to sneak the kid past everyone. In fact the Emperor and inner circle would probably jump at the chance to have an heir that is not hell-spawn that they will look past any issues with the new heir and inadvertently give Elilial exactly what she wanted in the first place.

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      1. Webb, If you are reading this, and this person is correct, don’t change anything. I loved it 😀

        That’s genius, btw. No one would suspect her of “transplanting” an embryo after the whole affair with the essence of the infertility plant.

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      2. Hah. I always assumed Peepers would have the heir because she was not exposed to the sylphreed but thought it would become “hide peepers from Elilial”. This is an interesting suggestion-the child would have to appear human to be emperor or empress. However, as we’ve seen just being the biological daughter of Elilial doesn’t guarantee loyalty to her…..

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  7. Never mind, I remember. She is a Guild member whose house Sharidan was hiding in for a reason I don’t remember, just before the Tide invasion of Tiraas thing.
    And that reminds me, I believe Rasha’s dad was recruited into the Tide – wonder if he’s among that pile of dead bodies 😦

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