16 – 52

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With a unified, resonating hiss that tore the skies, the two nurdrakhaan surged forward at a terrifying speed, undulating rapidly just like eels slicing through the water. Their disproportionately small crimson eyes narrowed to slits and their beaked jaws opened wide as they closed the distance in preparation for their attack, revealing multiple rows of serrated teeth behind the hard beaks themselves.

At this unmistakable aggression, the necro-drake’s momentary unease vanished as if at the flip of a switch. It forgot the warlocks who’d been harassing it for the last half hour; in a single beat of its wings which scattered stray wisps of inky smoke, it launched itself aloft and pelted straight across the prairie, low enough that the wind of its passing disturbed the tallgrass which remained in the wake of its battles with Natchua and the Wreath. Black smoke trailed behind like a comet’s tail and the chaos aberration let out its own eerie howl in counter to the nurdrakhaans’ distinctive hiss.

The massive creatures were separated by over half a mile, but the distance closed in a terrifyingly short span of seconds. At the last moment, the necro-drake beat its wings a final time, shooting upward in order to dive down at the nurdrakhaan, which were less agile in the air and, though they tried to correct, were unable to change course quickly enough to meet the skeletal monster with their menacing jaws.

With an impact that could be felt through the ground a mile distant, the necro-drake slammed into one nurdrakhaan from above, seizing its neck and driving it into the earth. The second demon overshot but swiftly circled back to where the chaos beast was savaging its flailing companion. Rather than attempting again to seize the necro-drake in its beak, it simply headbutted the skeleton at full speed, tearing it loose and sending it flailing through the air.

The necro-drake recovered itself quickly, turning and hurtling forward again, this time at the second nurdrakhaan. Both grappled in midair for a moment before the drake managed to seize the demon with its limbs, clawing at its side and repeatedly slashing at the three of its eyes on that side with its bony tail, while the nudrakhaan hissed in fury and thrashed about. It took the second demon several seconds to position itself properly to seize the necro-drake in its beak and rip it bodily clear.

All three knew nothing but attack. They thrashed and flailed, hurling themselves repeatedly against one another in mindless savagery, only the infernal bindings on the nurdrakhaan preventing them from attacking each other as well. Individually, they were at a disadvantage: the chaos beast was far more agile, both in the air and especially on the ground, and with not only fanged jaws but four clawed limbs and a tail, it possessed far more in the way of natural weapons. But there were two, and each time it managed to latch onto one, the second was there to clamp a massive beak onto its body, to smash it with an armored head or a lash of a flat tail.

In short order, the damage began to accrue—not merely on the landscape, which so quickly accumulated craters and massive gouges from repeated impacts of the huge monsters that a radius of several acres soon ceased to resemble a prairie. The combatants accumulated damage, as well, even the hardened hide of the nurdrakhaan acquiring rents from which seeped acrid black blood that smoked when it struck the ground. The necro-drake’s actual structure was brittle black glass, tenuously held together by ligaments of shimmering magic barely visible through its haze of smoke. It suffered greatly from body-blows which would have pulverized a castle. Its innate self-repair kept it alive, but only just; the sheer physical punishment it received from two colossal, unrelenting demons started to wear it down as none of the spellfire it had soaked up since arriving in Veilgrad could. It was a creature of chaos; much of that magic had misfired or fizzled on contact, doing little harm. The nurdrakhaan, their own inherent magic shielded by Elilial’s intervention, bypassed its defenses by the simple expediency of hitting it.

Repeatedly, unceasingly, utterly disregarding their own accumulating injuries. Demons did not know mercy or retreat. If they felt fear, it only fueled their rage. Not for anything would they stop.

Wisely, all the mortal warlocks observing this had removed themselves further as soon as the necro-drake’s attention was off them. Not so far as to be completely absent from the scene, but they could watch it far more comfortably from a distance of several miles. It was a clear day on the vast prairie, and not at all hard to see the three titans trying to pound each other to smithereens from far enough away not to be in the fallout zone.

The Wreath were too enraptured by the spectacle, and perhaps too exhausted as the adrenaline began to ebb from them, to even register surprise when darkness swelled in their midst and Natchua stepped out of midair.

“Everybody okay?” she demanded brusquely, glancing back and forth to get a quick headcount.

Embras Mogul had plucked a strand of brittle winter tallgrass and was idly chewing on the broken end, staring at the awesome spectacle in the distance.

“Lady,” he drawled after a pause, “do you have any idea how illegal that was?”

“A lot less for me than for you,” she retorted. “Hereditary privileges of House Leduc, law of expedient measures in defense of the realm… And that’s before the Throne weighs how much trouble there’d be if they try to come down on a very popular noble for saving an Imperial city. I might have to pay a fine.”

“Fine, nothin’,” he huffed. “You just went from Quentin Vex having a thick file on you to having your very own office at Intelligence of dedicated agents making sure he gets a daily briefing on what you have for breakfast. You’re gonna be someone’s job now, Natchua. Several someones. Ever hear the term Zero Twenty?”

A particularly furious hiss echoed across the prairie, followed by a howl of impotent rage as one of the nurdrakhaan seized the necro-drake’s ribcage in its jaws and arced through the air to slam it into the ground.

“You’re sweet to worry about my well-being,” Natchua said, “which is what I’ll have to assume is going on here since I know you are constitutionally incapable of giving a shit where you stand with the legitimate authorities. It’s the only thing about you I’ve ever been able to relate to. I gather, regarding my earlier question, you all actually are okay?”

“Do you care?”

He turned to her, raising his chin so as to meet her eyes without the wide brim of his omnipresent hat in the way, just watching her with an expression as neutral as his tone. In almost any situation that phrase would be a challenge, or at least sarcastic, but Mogul was strangely subdued. It was just…a question. One by one, the rest of the warlocks shifted their attention from the colossal thrashing taking place in the distance, turning to watch her with the same weary neutrality.

“Course I do,” Natchua replied, shrugging once. “We made a deal, and you did your part. You protected my city, so I protect you. Doesn’t mean any of us have to like each other, but I keep my word.”

Mogul made a broad, chewing motion with his jaw, shifting the tallgrass stalk to the other corner of his mouth, and then nodded once. “Yup. We’re fairly winded, but no injuries. That’s a little bit more exercise than we like to get on our operations, but you are dealing with professionals, here.”

“I think I’m getting a blister,” Rupi complained. “I’m gonna file for compensation from House Leduc.” Vanessa halfheartedly nudged her with an elbow.

“Knock yourself out,” Natchua grunted. “I have a steward now; he strikes me as somebody who could use a laugh. Thank you for holding that thing back, all of you. If everyone’s still shipshape, your part in this is done. Go rest up while I finish this.”

Another surge of shadow and she was gone.

“So, this may go without saying,” Embras announced, turning to the others, “but there’ll be no question of letting Duchess Bossypants get the impression she’s going to order us around.”

He was answered mostly by grins, though not entirely.

“Is it necessary to be defiant for defiance’s sake, Embras?” Bradshaw asked. “She just jumped to nearly within swiping range of that…mess. I don’t know if getting any closer is a smart thing to do.”

“You’re not wrong,” Embras replied, “but ask yourself how confident you are that a girl whose main strategy in all conflict is ‘hit it with the craziest thing you can imagine’ can actually clean this up, instead of inventing an exciting new way for it to be worse.”

Bradshaw sighed heavily.

“I suspect that common sense concerning Natchua will never be the easiest or most pleasant thing to hear,” Hiroshi said with a small smile, and then was the first to shadow-jump out.

They arrived in a staggered formation, materializing one by one over several seconds behind Natchua, who was holding out both hands toward the conflict between the three enormous monsters, which itself was uncomfortably close. She did not look up at them, but at that distance an elf could not have failed to detect their presence, even through the enormous noise of screeching, hissing, and earth-shaking impacts.

“Really?” she said in a sour tone, otherwise remaining focused on her work.

“Well, we’re not allowed to wage war on the Pantheon’s servants,” Embras said reasonably, “or you. Putting down demons and…I guess…other assorted creepy-crawlies is all we’ve got left. And surely you don’t think we trust you to handle this unsupervised.”

“Just don’t get in the way,” Natchua snapped. To summon the nurdrakhaan, she had used a scaled up version of the basic katzil summoning and binding spell—it had required exponentially more power and certain parts of the matrix were fiendishly complex in comparison, or anybody could have been able to do it, but the result had been a spell that worked more or less the same, including having a built-in mechanism to banish the creatures back to their own plane at will and familiar controls the caster could leverage to direct the demons.

After leaving them to soften up the necro-drake for a few minutes, she now seized those reins actively, not least because the chaos monster was softening them in turn and the whole idea was to finish this business as efficiently as possible. It took her a few false starts to get the hang of it; the process was very similar to the intuitive control she had over her own muscles, but there were inherent mental barriers against applying that to two entities separated from her physically, with very different types of bodies and startlingly simple nervous systems, and through whose senses she could not see directly. It was both intuitive and counter-intuitive, and it was not at all helped by the fact that she was trying to pin down a thrashing monstrosity which did not at all want to cooperate.

But in the end, the nurdrakhaan were huge, and bulky, and Natchua’s own personal lack of subtlety in her approach to life found a harmony with their simple minds and the task at hand.

One of the gigantic demons got a firm grip on the necro-drake’s long neck; under her careful control, it was light enough not to shatter the brittle glass of its “skeleton,” which would have just freed the monster and caused its self-healing ability to restart the whole struggle. Natchua directed that nurdrakhaan to bury its nose into the earth itself, pinning the necro-drake down by an inexorable grip right behind its head, exactly the way one would hold a venomous snake. This mostly denied it leverage, though there remained the problem of its four legs, tail, and wings, all of which could be used to push off from the ground.

She settled that by having the second nurdrakhaan curl itself up like a sleeping cat and sit on the chaos beast. That, ironically, took more doing, as nurdrakhaan did not normally touch the ground at any point in their life cycle and the demon had trouble parsing the concept. But Natchua prevailed, and soon enough the necro-drake was weighed down by an iron grip on its neck and the huge bulk of a coiled beast flattening it against the earth. It continued to struggle, but ineffectually. There was little it could do but twist its head very slightly from one side to the other, and claw helplessly at the ground with its talons.

“Damn,” one of the Black Wreath warlocks murmured from behind her, followed by a low whistle from another.

Several of them drew breath to protest as Natchua stepped forward toward the pile of monsters, but ultimately decided against bothering to argue with her. They did catch on, eventually.

She strode up until she was less than her own height distant from the necro-drake’s nose. It snapped its jaws at her, its attempts to lunge forward carrying it only a few inches, which were immediately pulled back. Even the impact of its teeth were practically a thunderclap at that proximity.

“You’re not very smart, are you?” she asked aloud. “I suppose there’s no point in asking you to explain yourself. Do you even know who sent you here, to do this?”

It parted its jaws to scream in helpless fury, trying to twist under its attackers. The question was rhetorical, anyway; now that she finally had the luxury of examining the necro-drake up close, Natchua could tell at a glance that it had no sapience. She was not versed in chaos magic, save for Professor Yornhaldt’s warnings that it was an inexact science at best and incredibly likely to backfire. Chaos did not submit to containment and could only with great exactitude to coaxed to flow in certain directions. From an academic perspective she could appreciate the incredible skill that had gone into this creation.

Not that that was going to stop her from smashing it until barely fragments remained.

More to the point, regardless of one’s own magical specialty, one could always discern the presence or lack of a mind in a magical creature. Magic was information, and so was thought; a discrete intelligence was a raging bonfire within the flows and currents of whatever spells shaped a being. This one’s barely constituted a flicker. Modern arcane golems were more intellectually sophisticated.

With time and care, she could undoubtedly have examined the necro-drake in enough detail to discern its weak points, the flaws in its component spells which would cause it to collapse if struck in just the right way. Whether she had the time was debatable, but she sure as hell lacked the inclination.

Natchua summoned the shadows to her, held both her hands forward, and poured pure shadow magic into it.

The idea had come from Kheshiri, the way the succubus had laboriously suffused her own being with shadow magic to better illuminate and control her own component spellcraft. It had taken her months, though. Most people thought shadow magic was limited by the paucity of the long-dead magic fields whose remains it was collectively composed of. Natchua, though, knew a trick.

You had to both recycle the shadow magic continuously—something that would not occur to most practitioners because none of the four primary schools could do that, given how they interacted with sapient minds—and augment one’s supply by reaching for the shadow residue held in other dimensions, a skill available only to warlocks, as drawing power and creatures from Hell was all part of their stock in trade, and no one else’s.

Shadowbeam was a spell that rarely saw the light of day, so rare was the warlock who suspected it existed, much less knew the method. Its base effect was similar to the garden variety shadowbolt, except in a continuous stream rather than a single discharge. In this case, Natchua prolonged its duration significantly by dimming the components of the spell which added its kinetic force and neurological pain. She simply cast a steady stream of bruise-purple darkness straight into the necro-drake’s face.

Shadow magic poured into it, flooding its aura, filling the spaces between its component spells and causing them, as it had with Kheshiri, to stand out in stark relief to her subtler senses. Natchua still could not make heads or tails of most of what she saw, but doing this, she could more clearly discern the presence of chaos. She felt it, trying to seize and twist the massive inflow of shadow magic, and being actively countered by the direct effort of the goddess now looking over her shoulder.

From Elilial she sensed nothing directly, but knowing the Dark Lady was watching so closely regardless made her equal parts angry and uneasy.

More to the point, she could finally discern the source. It was an incongruously tiny thing, for such a powerful creature as it inhabited, but there it was: the merest sliver of absence, pushing against all the magic around it. She could get a vague sense of the way the necro-drake’s component spells had been ingeniously balanced against that constant pull and one another to float around that tiny seed of chaos without being drawn in or destroyed, while all other magic done at it would be instantly countered. All magic not aided by the hand of a god, at least.

It was just one little speck, embedded in the skull, right between its chaotic eyes. One minuscule source for all this horror.

She started to reach out with one of her shadow-tendrils to extract the thing, then thought better of it. Instead of a scalpel, Natchua summoned a hammer: a burning, entropic spear of infernal power, which she hurled straight into the center of that chaos spark. Guided by Elilial’s own protection, it struck true, smashing right through the will of chaos to twist reality around itself.

That careful balance of spells was suddenly not so carefully balanced at all. In a chain reaction taking barely two seconds, they failed, imploded, and burst, spraying fragments of shattered black bone in every direction—save straight forward, as Natchua pushed against the explosion with a shockwave of her own power. Both nurdrakhaan dropped, the one holding the necro-drake’s neck diving straight down and half-burying its head in the soil, the other thumping to the earth. Around them washed a pulse of pure darkness which immediately dissipated, the vast well of shadow magic with which she had suffused the monster rushing out and back to its source now that it had no spell matrix to inhabit.

Natchua took two steps backward, and reached out with her mind to nudge her two demon thralls. They rose up from the ground in silence, leaving her to examine the scene. Where they had pinned the necro-drake there was nothing but a shallow crater, with flecks of broken obsidian strewn outward in all directions. No taint of chaos or infernomancy remained among most of the wreckage, but she could still feel that tiny shard, somewhere. Natchua frowned and started to kneel down to look closer. That had to be found and dealt with, urgently. It shouldn’t be too hard, now that she had time to work…

Then an entirely new kind of roar split the sky, accompanied by a rapidly approaching beat of wings. Several of the gathered Wreath yelled in alarm, and Natchua shot back to her feet, turning to face whatever the hell was happening now.

She barely spun in time to catch it; dragons could move with impossible speed when they wanted to.

An enormous golden form descended from the sky like a diving falcon, seizing one of her captive nurdrakhaan in his claws and bearing the hissing demon to the ground. At the edge of her awareness, Natchua could clearly hear familiar voices shouting her name, but she had no time to listen to that.

With Elilial’s laughter ringing gleefully in her head, she lashed out in sudden fury.

This time the shadowbeam carried the full force of its unmodified base spell, and with all the loose shadow magic still lingering in this area, it had enough impact to bodily rip the gold dragon off his target and shove him physically into the sky like a blazing comet. Dragons might be the universal masters of magic, but the shadow schools were a wild card against which few casters could be prepared, especially for exotic spells like the shadowbeam which hardly any would ever encounter. She sent the dragon hurtling a good three hundred feet straight into the sky before he gathered himself enough to counter her attack with a rock-solid shield of divine light, and then a pulse straight back at her with ran right down her beam of shadow magic and dissolved it.

Natchua allowed that, only holding onto it long enough for the divine attack spell to be soaked up by her shadowbeam before striking her directly. She only needed a few seconds to do the needful, anyway.

Not for nothing was the banishing spell worked right into the summons and control matrix, ready to be activated at an instant’s need. One should never bring forth demons without the ability to put them back down. Both nurdrakhaan seemed to dissolve from their heads backwards as the fiery collars of light suddenly raced down their sinuous bodies, dissipating past their tails. Behind them sounded a pair of thunderclaps, staggered by less than half a second, as air rushed in to fill the void left by the two huge creatures being returned to their home dimensions.

That was all the time it took for the dragon to be back.

This time, instead of coming at her with fire and claws the way he had the nurdrakhaan, he landed on the ground right in front of her, lowered his head and roared in fury, a show of surprising restraint she attributed to those same three voices still shouting desperately at her and him both.

“Wait, wait, Lord Ampophrenon, she’s a friend!”

“It’s all right, stop attacking, both of you—”

“Natchua, no!”

Instead of whatever no was supposed to mean in this context, Natchua shot straight upward on another pillar of conjoined shadow tentacles holding her by the legs, till she was at eye level with the towering divine beast. He bared his fangs fully, emitting trickles of acrid smoke, his luminous citrine eyes narrowed to furious slits.

Natchua drew back her hand and slapped him hard across the tip of his nose.

Obviously, that did nothing physically to the dragon—in fact, her own hand hurt quite a lot after impacting his surprisingly hard scales—but he blinked, shook his head and snorted, apparently out of sheer surprise.

“What the hell is your problem?” she bellowed right into Ampophrenon’s face. “You show up immediately after a crisis and the first thing you do is attack the people who just solved it? Who raised you?”

“She did not just do that,” Rupi said in an awed tone from behind her. Natchua wondered for a moment what any of the Wreath were still doing there, only belatedly realizing that the unpleasant tingle at the back of her neck was a divine working spread across the area. One quick mental push revealed that the dragon had blocked shadow-jumping, no easy thing to do. But then, he was a dragon.

“Everybody stop!” Trissiny shouted, finally clambering up Ampophrenon’s neck from where she’d apparently been seated and grabbing him by the horns, a position from which she could command both his attention and Natchua’s. “This is clearly a misunderstanding! Natchua, could you not be yourself for five minutes until we straighten this out?”

Behind her, Gabriel slid off Ampoprhenon’s neck and tumbled gracelessly to the torn-up prairie below, followed by Toby, who landed beside his sprawled friend with catlike agility.

“Well, look here,” Natchua spat, “a dragonload of paladins. Exactly what I needed half an hour ago.”

“If you think we coulda got here faster, I’d like to know how,” Gabriel complained, getting to his feet and dusting dirt, ash, and shards of necro-drake off his coat. “Gods, what a mess. What’d you do this time, Natchua?”

“Your job is what she did, boy,” Embras Mogul commented, and Natchua very nearly turned around and pegged him with a shadowbolt for his trouble.

Ampophrenon the Gold shifted his pointed head to look directly at the leader of the Black Wreath and all his assembled followers, then snorted again.

“I sense the taint of chaos here,” the dragon rumbled. “Am I to understand that you put it to rest?”

“No thanks to you,” Natchua retorted.

He bared his fangs at her once more. Each was longer than her forearm, and he had a lot of them. “You, a spellcaster, destroyed a threat most notable for its imperviousness to magic? You will explain yourself, warlock. Explain quickly, and for your own sake, explain well.”

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54 thoughts on “16 – 52

    1. If you were to say that someone as pushy, rude, and unnecessarily hostile as Puff is being here could use a refresher about what is and is not reasonable behaviour, then I’m with you on that much. I’m not so sure that encouraging a flying murder bus to interpret, act on, and react to aggression physically is the best idea however. Perhaps encouraging him to use words like a reasonable adult may be a less dangerous and destructive approach to handling his anger issues?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It still kind of is a secret. Even the Wreath don’t know the full deal. I think by now the Good Gang know that she was given buttloads of infernal knowledge by Elial, but Natch and El are the only ones who know where El is getting her stability from.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “What the hell is your problem?” she bellowed right into Ampophrenon’s face.

    Was that pun intentional? 😅

    Liked by 6 people

  2. This is going to be complicated for Natchua to explain.
    Well … kind of. Part of it is relatively straightforward (Hand of Elilial, thus divine protection against Chaos), it’s the explaining how she got there.

    On the upshot, they’re presumably far enough away from Veilgrad and any other possible witnesses that the public story can maintain the secret of Natchua’s Paladin of Elilial status, which she’ll probably want to do. Vex and the Imperial government will probably want to keep that secret too.
    The official story can be that she (and the Wreath) pulled the Chaos dragon golem (whatever they decide to describe it as) away from Veilgrad and towards the incoming Paladins and kept it busy long enough for them to arrive.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Which, to be fair, is what Natchua should have done in the first damn place. Why did she even do what she did, unless it was her intent to be outed at the Hand of Elilial?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, she did work under a lot of pressure. Both time- and otherwise. She couldn’t know how long it would take the others to arrive, or indeed if… also, she’s not the type to rely on others too much if she doesn’t have to. Protecting Veilgrad is HER job after all.
        The whole situation certainly worked for Elililal’s advantage.

        Liked by 5 people

    2. You are completely misreading the situation. Puff is asking things he has no right to ask, on a lot of levels:

      -The dude was late, when Natchu helped. Just shut up.
      -Natchua is a noble of the Empire, Puff is a dragon from the conclave, and I don’t think the later have the right of interogation of the former
      -He can’t back up any threat he would come up with, like “tell me, else, I will kill you”
      -And maybe more importantly, he is violating an adventurer’s taboo (It wasn’t described as such in GaB, but it’s something common enough in this kind of universe): You don’t fucking ask an explanation on what the trump card of another party is. If they want to tell you, fine, but that’ all.

      Basically, Natchua can just answer “No. What will you do, now?” and he is screwed.
      Or just say “it’s a difficult trick hard to explain”. Natchua may tell Trissiny/tobby/gab about the fact she is a Paladin, but it would be a grave mistake to do so in front on a known enemy of Elilial, and more importantly, it’s not his fucking business.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Yes and no.
        On the one hand, you’re entirely right. He’s asking for a lot.

        On the other … infernomancy is decidedly vulnerable to divine magics. So he probably actually does have the power to insist on an explanation, or at the very least, it’s entirely reasonable for him to think he does. And, frankly, this isn’t a fight Natchua (or any warlock) wants to have – about the only worse matchup would a green dragon or one of Naiya’s daughters.
        And this looks hella suspicious. Also, Chaos fucks with magic … yet she’s claiming to have solved a Chaos problem through infernomancy.
        Also, there were literally two nurdrakhaans here just now.

        Again, this looks incredibly suspicious, and he doesn’t have a good opinion of warlocks to start with. It’s probably better than even odds that he thinks she’s somehow responsible for the presence of Chaos in the first place.

        He just got here.
        He doesn’t know anything about the situation or those involved, except “Chaos” and “here be warlocks – and probably incredibly hazardous ones, since they summoned two fucking nurdrakhaans”.
        He doesn’t know that this is Natchua, Duchess Leduc, about as benign and benevolent as warlocks get, who was protecting her people from the Chaos dragon golem.

        Natchua pretty much has to give him some kind of explanation, especially since she’ll want to tell the Paladins some of it anyways – the Chaos dragon golem is, after all, a serious problem.
        Also, the Chaos shard/seed is still present and needs to be dealt with.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. That’s the point. Maybe in a fight, Puff would destroy her (but no, Infernal magic isn’t specifically vulnerable to divine, they are just opposed), but Puff can’t afford for it to be a fight:
        -The paladins wouldn’t let him anyway.
        -It would make dragons looking like extremely ungrateful in general.
        -It would terribly strain the relationship between the conclave and the empire.

        Yes, what Natchua did is suspicious. But unless they believe she started all this, if she doesn’t want to answer because it’s her secret (and it is), they can only let it go, because if Puff doesn’t, it will start a huge shitstorm and everyone, starting by his fellow dragons will land on him.

        I’m not saying she won’t tell them next chapter, but Natchua has the choice. If she refuses telling them, there is nothing they can do about it.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. I’m pretty sure Natchua and the Wreath are Ampophrenon’s prime suspects right now.
        So … he’s perfectly willing and able to throw down.
        Remember, as far as he knows, he’s looking at a drow warlock and a bunch of human warlocks (he may or may not recognize them as Black Wreath) who summoned two fucking nurdrakhaans and are standing right next to a Chaos incident. Oh, and the drow warlock claims to have solved the Chaos problem (which is inherently antithetical to magical solutions without the active protection of a god). And let us not forget that the drow warlock hit him with an incredibly rare combat shadowmagic spell – he certainly won’t.
        That’s suspicious as hell by any kind of measure.
        No, even with hindsight, and *knowledge that he doesn’t have*, he probably wouldn’t get in that much trouble if he just ate the lot of them and asked questions later. The Empire would most likely just brush Natchua’s death under the rug of “she’s a spellcaster who got too close to the Chaos dragon golem while drawing it away from Veilgrad, fortunately having bought enough time for the Paladins to arrive via the assistance of Lord Ampophrenon”.
        His reactions here are entirely justifiable. And, frankly, the main reason he didn’t just alpha strike them out of existence before they even knew he was there is because there were two fucking nurdrakhaans that drew first strike priority.
        “A whole bunch of warlocks standing over a Chaos incident” is grounds that nobody, except perhaps Justinian, is going to legitimately question an aggressive response to.

        Infernomancy is more vulnerable to divine magic, or perhaps divine magic is more effective against infernomancy, than vice versa. They’re opposed, sure … but the Circle(s) of Interaction aren’t equally balanced.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. I’m going to echo Javvies on this, he’s pretty justified in being suspicious. By the time he arrived there was only a few things remaining:

        -the black wreath, who are all wanted criminals regardless of their supposed ‘redemption’. And despite the traumatic incident they went through really should face justice for all the things they’ve done
        -two demon dragons, which even one is incredibly difficult and dangerous to summon let alone two
        -a warlock who apparently just finished a chaos event

        Considering spellcasters can’t normally do that, usually the most reasonable explanation is that she started it in the first place. The other option being that she is an infernomancy wielding paladin. Needless to say, both options make her look incredibly guilty. That he didn’t do more is either a testament to his restraint or the trust he has in the other paladins.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. If they are 100% retarded, yes, they may think that Natchua is behind this chaos event. >If they stop to think about it like 3 sec, they will quickly realize the following facts:
        – Natchua is actually helping and has no reason to do something like that, even for “more glory” or some asshat reason like that.
        – Natchua has no relation to chaos events prior this one.
        – The paladins raised the stacks with a certain archbishop the previous night.
        – The said archbishop has in his possession a crane of a chaos dragon, and guess what, something which look like a chaos dragon appeared.

        I mean, come on, a 5 years old would understand who is behind all this. It doesn’t mean they can prove it, but for them to believe Natchua is related to this? It would be beyond stupid.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m not saying the Paladins think Natchua is at fault. Depending on how much they know, they might or might not be surprised at how effective she was against the Chaos effect. Actually, I think … Trissiny at least was asked by Natchua about being a paladin, so she might know about Natchua being the unwilling Hand of Elilial, and thus about her eligibility to divine protection against Chaos.

        I’m saying Ampophrenon, the gold dragon, who has no idea who Natchua is, nor does he know what happened before he arrived, is entirely justified in being incredibly suspicious.
        Look at it from his perspective – unidentified Drow Warlock, two summoned Nurdrakhaans, more warlocks (he might recognize Embras Mogul as Black Wreath), Chaos, the drow Warlock claims to have successfully been dealing with the Chaos (normally completely impossible), and the drow Warlock also attacked him with an incredibly rare bit of shadowmagic.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. She doesn’t have to explain anything yet:
      “Idiot, I did not deal with the chaos, I only smashed the skeleton golem creation built around it until it broke. The chaos spark is still here! Someone needs to find, contain and deal with that mess before we have the luxury of sufficient safety to address your blundering, ill-timed, and misaimed hostility!”

      Liked by 2 people

    4. I think it’s more likely that she hits him with a “I don’t need to tell you shit” answer, impressing him with her audacity and cementing more tensions and rivalry to come.

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  3. Oh, dear god please let there be some silly super infernomancy trick that lets her teleport away ANYWAY, despite his blocking of traditional shadowjumping. Hell, she doesn’t even need to teleport away, just trick them into thinking she did somehow. Elly would be behind that 100% – she might even help!

    It’s one thing to tell the scary dragon “No.”

    It’s another altogether to tell him “No.”and then vanish in a way that explicitly highlights his lack of power over you.

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  4. Maybe Natchua’s last statement should have been No, thanks to you,” She was about to deal with a spark of chaos that was left when he interrupted. Better not forget about that before everyone starts arguing and explaining…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I have to wonder if there is anyone around who actually knows how to clean that mess up besides elder gods. Vidius is a plausible candidate for it, and Arachne is as likely as anyone else mortal to have built an effective magical mop and bucket for cleaning up chaos, but solving it may just be beyond anyone currently on the scene.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Well, now we get to learn how seriously these dragons are taking the idea of diplomacy and interacting as a nation (of sorts), with other nations. Though as an aside, one thing I’ve been wondering about is what sort of talks have been going on with the Empire about the nature of sovereign territory. Are any dragons that settle within lands controlled by the Empire to be considered subject to its laws, including taxation, even if the dragons themselves are not considered subjects of the Empire? There’s only something like two dozen dragons in the Conclave, right? So maybe they will come up with something where the dragons are all considered as some sort of diplomat, with some sort of curtailed notion of diplomatic immunity. I dunno. Dragons previously were treated as Zero 20 entities, I think, so if anything being able to bargain with them collectively at all may be a step up for the Empire in some ways, so long as the dragons themselves aren’t making particularly onerous demands out of the blue.

    Anyway, this is where Natchua (in some universe, anyway) says I’m a duchess of one of the Empire’s noble houses, I’ve (as every paladin with you here knows) publicly taken on a duty as a defender of Veilgrad, and you’re “accusing” me of acting as such. You’re literally a diplomat in the process treating with the Empire—if you have some sort of complaint about me, go take it to them, but please also make sure to include the fact that you attacked and threatened a noble in the course of her protecting imperial interests and citizens, it’ll be less embarrassing for you if they don’t have to learn that later from me.

    You don’t see that working so well either, uh?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah, that’s a common problem with old people: Even when they aren’t outright going senile they often get lost in how things used to be and forget to think and operate according to where and how things are in the present.

      The idea of Natchua and Puff filing a series of diplomatic protests against each other is an amusing idea though, because I have difficulty imagining which one would handle that more incompetently.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Natchua really gave up the diplomat’s game and the moral high ground when she slapped him. That’s her nature, though — impulsive, right up to the edge of disaster.

    Perhaps the *best* thing she should do immediately is point out that the chaos is still there and she needs to finish it off. She might ask Trissiny to ask Puff to stand down for a minute… but I’m not sure she’s thinking that rationally right at the moment. She’s likely to make a few more diplmatic blunders first.

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    1. I dunno, he was behaving like a thug about to attack, and she pointedly rejected the idea that was sane or reasonable in any way by making a physical rejection of it which literally hurt her more than it did him. The work of maintaining peace and order is often advanced by comparably symbolic gestures in the face of genuine threats.

      I grant that according to one interpretation of normal, western, legal codes what she did was strike the first blow against someone who had only threatened her up to that point. Still, Puff attacked her summoned creature without provocation and gave plausible indication he was about to lethally attack her as well, so at worst I could see her having given up just cause for complaint and compensation for smacking the armored dragon snoot. Puff the magic murderbeast was unabashedly and undeniably threatening her at a minimum, so I don’t think any reasonable interpretation of this incident would have him come out of it owing less than an apology or some other kind of penalty in acknowledgement of responsibility for threatening Dutchess Natchua Leduc.

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      1. No he definitely attacked first. That he hit her stuff instead of her doesn’t make it any less of an assault. He’s not a recognized member of law enforcement under any government either.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Indeed, but he was a concerned foreign citizen who just saw her interact peacefully with a bunch of terrorists that literally month ago tried to destroy a whole city. And she a powerful drow warlock who can summon nurdrakaans, so he has reasons to be concerned.

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      3. @Miles
        By most retributive or punitive legal standards it’s not the same. Threats, attempted attacks, and actual damage to people counts a lot more than the same against property, where property owners have not corrupted or distorted things in their favour at the expense of human (sapient?) rights. At best summoned demons count as property I bet, and quite likely they count as illegal or at least suspicious weapons. Accordingly, I doubt Ampophrenon attacking the nurdrakhaan counts as anything but a threat against Natchua, if even as that much.

        Perhaps having summoned a nurdrakhaan may even be considered a provocation, and Puff certainly seems to think so.

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  7. Now that the physical danger has passed, I am once again wondering what Justinian’s gonna do with this. Sure, the dragon didn’t go anywhere near where he wanted it to, but he’s also proven pretty adept at adapting to rapidly-changing events.

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    1. What makes you so sure that this isn’t exactly what he wanted? A major disaster threatened Veilgrad, killed civilians, interrupted the rail system, and pushed the religious schism threatening his legitimacy off of the front pages in the news sheets. Maybe he would’ve preferred if it showed up somewhere else first so that it could destroy a few towns and lead the three politically threatening religious figures on a wild goose chase for a couple more days first. Still, this was already pretty good for him and the major attack on a significant political center is likely to overshadow the schism news Justinian wanted to suppress more quickly and thoroughly than if the chaos skeleton had munched on a couple small towns instead.

      For the next day or two at least every reporter is going to be asking the three amigos more questions about the chaos attack than the religious schism aimed at deposing Justinian. Worse, if any of them complains about Justinian causing the chaos incident they’ll be damaging their own credibility since, “everybody knows you can’t control chaos.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. @Crimson Doom (assuming the response posted on a comment by moogleman below this was actually to the above)

        I do not imagine Justinian will be happy his little distraction ended up having its hard off switch pressed so quickly and firmly, no. Still, I posit that he was testing his relationship and control over Azradeh when he goaded her into interfering in the teleport delivery of the chaos skeleton and that it ending up where it did was within his plans and expectations. I’d imagine he believed it would still be a useful distraction against the three hands. The interference of a fourth hand that broke the skeleton golem before the three openly known hands even got close enough to start skirmishing with it may or may not have been something he was testing for as well.

        Justinian testing for unknown, reserve hands beyond the three known ones in this way makes a little sense, especially seeking out ones connected to Elilial that way. Even disregarding Natchua herself, The Black Wreath has been active in the area for a while. Either it works and you shake out an unexpected hand (which happened), or he gets to thin the numbers of her key believers, which would probably would make it easier for him to achieve whatever it is for which he’s been hunting down the other hands of Elilial.

        (As an aside, him wanting control over Elilial and Arachne may be suggestive of an allegiance or alliance to Scyllith.)

        Liked by 2 people

      2. @Konstantin von Karstein
        It remains to be seen exactly how much loyalty and fidelity Justinian has towards both the priestess in question and Scyllith herself. For all we know she could be a hand or avatar of the bulliest bully of all bullying, as opposed to someone at odds with the mistress of anguish. It remains to be seen whether he genuinely is working on his own agenda or if he’s been Scyllith’s sock puppet all along. When we get to the end and everybody starts reading from the beginning again everything will (probably) look so different, much like how the earlier chapters involving Chase already do.

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    2. He got all the Paladins away from the real action. That’s pretty much all that thing was ever going to do.

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  8. My guess? Whatever’s going on with Justinian, Lanora, Rasha and Eserion is happening right now too. And will distract everyone from this current clusterfrack when it happens.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. My hope is that this is where Natchua gets a last name. Very similar story to how the first elf with that surname acquired it.

    More likely than that is that this falls back to diplomacy

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I just came up with a theory
    Y’all remember the importance Vesk put on patterns? And also how he told the paladins after their “encounter” with Calomnar (the chaos god I mean, I think that was his name) that they didn’t need any particular lessons about the dangers of chaos after Veilgrad? This is the third time in this story the Wreath dealt with chaos in some form, what do you all think that the odds are that Vesk may have had a hand in this? Or rather, using these chaos events in order to further his own goals?
    The first time the Wreath very much ignored the chaos event, using it as a diversion while furthering their own goals. The second time they dealt with chaos it became a (violent) “lesson” in not ignoring chaos and the dangers it holds (and Vesk himself showed up during that event to negotiate with Elilial, showing that he very much knew what was going on there). Now the third time they encounter chaos they actively help against it…
    Hopefully they have now learned their “lesson” otherwise if they now take the source of chaos for themselves, while Natchua and Puff engages in their dick measuring contest, it wouldn’t surprise me if something really bad would happen to them. All while Vesk is smiling in the shadows…

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    1. I don’t think this is what Justinian wanted because it was Veilgrad and it got cleared up exceptionally quickly. Everybody else considers Veilgrad to be a helltown anyway, so since the casualties are remarkably low and the dragon only ever hit Veilgrad, the average citizen is likely to just think “Oh, Veilgrad got attacked by a chaos dragon, must be Tuesday” and move on with their lives. This doesn’t spread widespread panic about the safety of the citizenry because the citizenry just kinda consider occasional monster attacks to be part and parcel of living in Veilgrad; as long as the monsters stay in Veilgrad, you’re safe as long as you don’t go there.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I think your response somehow got on the wrong comment
        Wordpress 🤷🏽‍♂️🤷🏽‍♂️🤷🏽‍♂️

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  11. Can I just say what a BAD THING it is that Justinian was able to accomplish all of this with what is repeatedly made clear to us is the tiniest fragment of chaos? It’s presumably a tiny sliver of Belosiphon’s skull, and the skull is stated to be several feet long. If he can do something like this with something the size of a finger (which would be my upper limit on “tiny,” and much larger than I think the fragment actually was from reading; I read it as fingernail sized or smaller), imagine what he can do with the rest of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah. It’s not good however you look at it.

      On the other hand, I suspect that using a larger chunk would make things exponentially more difficult to keep from blowing up in his face before being able to deploy it.
      It was said that the spells were very carefully balanced around the Chaos effects to keep from getting affected, I suspect using a larger piece would make it far harder to balance the spell work.

      However … he doesn’t even need to use a larger piece, if he can manage to take chunks if it off to use, he can take more smaller ones – scatter them around Tiraas, or the palace, or Last Rock, or pretty much anywhere he wants to fuck up. Spread half a dozen shards around and that’s a massive mess.
      Or he creates multiple Chaos dragon golems and deploys them simultaneously or in rapid sequence. Though, presumably (hopefully) there’s a significant time and resource investment in creating the Chaos dragon golems that would make that sort of approach difficult.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah, someone able to reset Ampophrenon off of his glitched fixation on Natchua as a suspicious and dangerous problem he needs to solve immediately would probably help everyone concerned. Maybe not him though, Zanzayed may do a better job talking (mocking?) Puff down from his rage-on instead with his talents for humour and earthy perspective.

      If Zanza did it with a joke about how that’s the wrong place, time and way to romance Natchua it could be glorious.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m really sorry for how late this chapter is, and also for taking so long to post something there; I forget sometimes that everybody isn’t on discord.

    It’s still one of the worst periods I’ve ever had mentally and I am not functioning well. That makes creative work very slow. I am still working, never fear, everything is just ten times as hard as it should be and it hamstrings my progress — but I’m still at it! Chapter ASAP.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Don’t worry too much.
      It’ll take as long as it takes.

      Real life is not exactly the most conducive to anybody’s mental well being right now. And we all know it.

      This too will pass. It’s a temporary complication for you, you will get better. Maybe not necessarily as quickly as you’d like to, but does anybody ever improve as quickly as they’d prefer?

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  13. Ok it took me about a month, but I have read ever part of this story up until the present. this story is absolutely phenomenal. I’ve loved every second of reading it. the characters and world are rich and vivid, everything is just amazing. thank you so much for sharing this story, I love it. I hope you are having a good day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome. Congratulations on reading through and catching up.

      And condolences on having caught up – you now have to go through the waiting process with the rest of us for the next chapter, every chapter. You can no longer just hit next chapter whenever you feel like it, but the wait is worth it.
      On the other hand, The Gods Are Bastards is the kind of work that is conducive to binge rereading in an archive dive every now and then. There’s plenty of stuff that on a reread, with knowing stuff that gets revealed later, has an entirely different twist than it did on an original read.

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