Sine Die 14.9

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The hag and the house.  Whichever one we left behind, we were screwed.

“Peter and Roxanne,” Rose said.

“It doesn’t matter,” the crone said.

“Evan’s getting them,” I told Rose.  “They’re headed this way.”

“We can’t leave Mara here,” I said.  “If you stay, I can go-”

“I would like a word with you, monster,” Mara said.  “Perhaps-”

“Well fuck you,” I said.  I turned back to Rose, “I can fly, I can get there faster.”

“You also carry a share of the darkest places with you,” Mara said.  “For a location teetering on a precipice, what would it mean, for you to be there, as something significant occurs, while your counterpart remains behind?”

Rose and I exchanged glances.

“You would work against your own agenda, tilting the city at a delicate point,” Mara said.

“I go,” Rose said.  “You wrap up?  Or we go together.”

“I’ll wrap this up, then I’ll follow,” I told her.  “I’m pretty sure I can catch up.”

“We can stick around here if we need to,” Alister’s female relative said.  “If we’re balancing the groups, like Alister recommended-”

“No,” I said.  “That’s a trap.  We don’t need manpower here, and if there’s something going on, you’ll need all the help you can get.”

“Okay then, just you Ainsley,” Rose said, even as she was backing away from the scene.  “Look after Blake.”

“Will do.”

Look after, or keep an eye on?

“Where do you want me?” Tiff asked.

“Come,” was Rose’s response.  As if she were talking to a dog.  “Knights, all but one of you with me.”

Tiff nodded.  Shotgun Nick communicated briefly with the others, then joined Rose.  Only one knight remained behind, a woman.

“Come on, Ellie, Kathy,” Rose said.  She paused.  “Satyr, Maenad, Ainsley, Sarah, stay behind, and he’ll have Green Eyes, Peter, Roxanne, and Evan.  I think that’s everyone we can afford to give up.”

I glanced at the Knight who was staying behind.  Sarah, by process of elimination.  She looked like someone I might have seen at one of the shelters.  Not homeless, but living at a point where she was perpetually down on her luck.  Thirty five or so, a puffy jacket with a plaid felt exterior, a hat that didn’t match, and stringy hair.  I respected her gun though.  It was a fairly large rifle.  A club hung at her hip, inscribed with something.

“I’m still exhausted from getting here,” Ellie said.  “We’re leaving again?”

“You wanted to come,” Rose said.

I raised an eyebrow at that.

“Except I’m turning out to be useless.  Peter went off and-”

Ellie’s voice stopped as Rose’s expression changed.

And set the fireWhich Mara doesn’t know about.

Ellie had an impulsive streak.  I was glad she’d reined it in.

“I’m not even doing anything,” Ellie said, and her tone was resigned.

“You’re staying alive,” Rose answered.  “And you’re helping, through your presence alone.”

“You’re telling me I can’t slip into a house where some family is playing sleeping beauty, grab a set of keys and take their car out of town?”

“You could,” Rose said, “But I don’t think it would go well, and neither Christoff or Peter seem willing to go.  They’re interested in this, in different ways.”

Ellie glanced over her shoulder, in the direction of the smoke.

“Ugh,” she said, but it was a ‘yes, I’ll go’ sort of ugh.  “The shit I put up with for my little brother.”

The bonds of family.  We’d all been through so much, and through all of the pressure, I was seeing glimmers of the real ties, beneath all of the hostility and ugliness that had been ingrained into us.

It wasn’t just them.  We were working with the extended family and the Behaims.  A few weeks ago, could I have imagined it?

Probably.

It still felt strange.

Rose and her contingent headed across the clearing, striding across and through the deeper snow.

Our forces were divided once more.  Rose didn’t pay attention to the balancing of the scales.  We’d moved past that.

Without stating it out loud, without locking it in with oaths and promises, we’d agreed that I would cede the fight to Rose.  In our tug of war over existence, I would let go of the rope.

They made agonizingly slow progress.  I knew I could fly faster, glide faster, especially now that the sun was up.

How ironic, to be a bogeyman, a creature of darkness and night, and yet to be limited in this way.

A taunt of sorts, after all.  I could only glide, and I was reminded constantly that I had to stay out of the light, away from civilization.

I’d told Evan that I didn’t see much of a future for myself.  That was a part of it.  Yes, I could fly with him, and we could travel over water so Green Eyes might join us.  But it would be at night, furtive.  I would always be flying with Evan as a crutch.

It wasn’t true freedom.

When I looked, Rose and her group were only just disappearing into the trees.  I would catch up.

Wouldn’t I?  I’d leave later, but I’d arrive around the time that they did?

I paced a little.

“If I went after them, would I be letting you go?” I asked.

Mara shook her head.  “I’m caught.  You’d be straining the limits of your own oaths, but I’m caught.  I’m ruined.  You would be giving up something greater.”

There was no sign of a lie.

Head games?

“Something greater?” I asked.

“Look at the pair of you.  Rose and Blake Thorburn.  Your heart sits at the center of your being, Rose’s head rests at the center of hers.  But the darkest places have taken your heart, and a working of the universe has taken your others head.”

“Riddles,” I said.

“If you pay attention, there’s more to it,” Mara said, “I hope you’ll be desperate enough to offer my release in exchange for a prompt answer.  If you wait, I’ll still give you the information and the lies you want, but you may well be late to arrive.”

I felt so restless.  A lose-lose.

“In this moment, bereft of a sound heart, your mind is the critical tool.”

“And the inverse is true for Rose?”

The young girl smiled at me.  Sly, humorless, almost mocking.

“You reached a truce,” the crone observed.

“Don’t want to hear it,” I said.

“Two spirits, two bodies,” she said.  “A ragged cut, so the twain shall never meet again.  Any connection that forms between you will be twisted and warped.”

If I’d made Rose into my familiar, or vice versa…

Just lie, Mara, I thought.  End this.  A few more lies, and we’ll be done.

But she knew it as well as I did.  She knew how anxious I was.  She insisted on stretching out as much as she could.

“You are what you are, creature,” Mara said.  “She is what she is.  By nature of your dissonant existence, you would not like what she does, once she has won.”

“You don’t know her,” I said, “and you don’t know me.”

“I have watched the Thorburn family since it set roots in Jacob’s Bell.  Since your ancestor first experimented with the darkest practices, and did great wrongs to her enemies, securing a place to live, a husband, wealth, and all things she wanted in life.  The cost of these things she bought was passed on to her daughter, who did much the same.  You have been bred to clutch, to grasp.  For existence, for material gain, for power.  It runs through your bloodline as hair or eye color might.  From daughter to daughter, the sons tainted by association.  Even as a distant bystander, there are only so many times you can watch things play out before you start to see the patterns.”

Patterns.  Reminded me of what Peter had said.

“And?”

“Think.  Why?  What does your grandmother gain?  What motivates her?  She should know what comes of dealing with dark powers as well as anyone in this town does.  The permanent damage done.  To let a demon free and give it the freedom to act?  All but the smallest and most elusive have been bound, now.  Some escape their confines, but they are soon bound again.  Were it not for your kind, we would be in little danger.”

I glanced at Alister’s relative.  Ainsley.

She looked tense.

“Your kind, diabolist.  Your bloodline and family.  The first diabolists did away with demons, bound and chronicled them, and they thought long and hard before exercising the power they had bound.  Yet the promise of power corrupted all.  Your grandmother knew all of this, and yet she made use of that power to make you.  Why?”

I saw the young crone smile just a little.

“Just tell me,” I told her.

“You know the answer.  Any who understand the practice do.  What is the practice, at it’s core?  The previous generations hold to their ways of managing it, but when you strip away the bark, the veneer, the skin-”

“This again?” I asked.

“When you strip away the surface elements, child, what is it?  The most fundamental rule.”

“Everything has a price,” Ainsley said.

“Yes.  It is a currency.  Your family saves it, Ainsley Behaim.  The Duchamps whore themselves out for it.  The Thorburns commit crimes for it.  The goblins make others bleed for it.  The Faerie recognize the way we give it a value it shouldn’t have, altering our own perceptions of it, and they take that a step further, extending it into all things.  I work for it.  Till the land for it.  I have endured for it, and have let it accrue over time, until there is no place to store it but all around me.  I spend less than I accrue, and I extend my existence.”

“At the cost of others,” I said.

“Cost?” the young crone asked.  “By seeking to end my existence, you have deprived this world of more than you have given it.  What cost, for all the knowledge I harbor?  For the stability I bring?  If all lived as I did, the world would never stop turning.”

I almost laughed.

“What cost?  Everything,” I said.  “You want to talk about the practice as currency?  What value is it, if it’s never spent?  You lock it away here, when a child brings possibility.  Potential.”

Mara smiled, a cruel, mocking expression.

I almost showed her the fire right then.

“You have no life, Crone Mara,” I said.  “You’re nothing, and you’re throwing away lives for nothing.”

“And who are you to throw stones?”

I shook my head, turning away.

“Currency, monster.  What was your grandmother doing?  What did she trade in?  What does she gain by taking an asset and throwing it away?  Going against everything she stands for to create you?”

“I don’t know.  You’re wasting my time.”

“No.”

The ground rumbled.  All around us, snow resettled.  A branch on a nearby tree dropped to the ground.

“I thought I was only skirting a lie,” she said.  “Not something I have experience with.  Hm.  Yes, I am wasting your time, Blake Thorburn, but there are answers to be found in what I am saying.”

I glanced at Ainsley Behaim.  Ainsley shook her head.  “I didn’t know your grandmother.  I couldn’t guess.”

“Neither did I,” I said.  “There were her diaries, but Rose discouraged me from reading them.”

Sarah turned, gun raised, and I followed her line of sight.

Green Eyes, Evan, Peter and Roxanne.

“Hey!” Green Eyes smiled.  “We did it!”

I smiled back.

Can’t tell her.

Can’t let her know that I’ve agreed to let Rose destroy me, forfeiting the deal.

Green Eyes practically tackled me.  She crawled on me until she’d found a perch, her chin resting on top of my head.

“My previous argument isn’t hitting home, let me try another path,” the crone said.  “Tell me, what do you want?”

“Peace,” I said.  “Freedom.  Change for a broken system.”

“What does she want?  Your counterpart?”

“Security, answers, solutions.”

“And, going back full circle to our earlier discussion, your grandmother?  What did she want?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “A legacy?  Continuing the family line?”

“She didn’t train her own children, did she?”

I shook my head.

“Hardly the actions of one who wants a legacy, to be so neglectful.  She threw you to the wolves.  She placed you in a specific order, why?  What was to be gained or lost?”

“I don’t know,” I said, again.

Peter and Roxanne finally caught up with the rest of us.  Sarah started recapping what had happened, off to one side, while Evan joined me, landing on my shoulder.

“Do you think your other knows your grandmother’s plan?” Crone Mara asked.  “These diaries you mentioned?”

I bristled.  “You’re trying to set us against each other.”

Evan roughed up his own feathers, sticking them up, as if to join me.  It would have been a nice touch, had he not been so adorable.

Mara shook her head.  “You’re not listening.  You’re against each other by nature.  Do you think it’s just a simple curse?  A compulsion to dislike one another?  I’m only informing you of what is already fact.”

“I can put feelings aside,” I said.  “I can’t believe that Rose is going to become the worst sort of diabolist.  She’s not going to summon demons.  She’s not a bad person at heart.”

“Does she have to be a bad person for her to do the antithesis of what you desire, deep down inside?” the crone asked.

She began working her way to her feet.  I tensed.  Sarah aimed a gun at Mara.  Green Eyes hopped down to the ground, tense, ready to pounce.

But Mara was only standing, wobbling a little with her ankles bound.

“Careful,” I said.

“I’ll take no physical action against you.  I can no longer practice.  All I have is knowledge and words.”

“Knowledge and words can be dangerous,” I said.

“Yes.  The point I was working to lead you to,” Mara said.  “The power of words.  They have a currency.  When we use the practice, practitioner or other, we use words and language to communicate to other parties, to barter and exchange that power.  You reached an accord with your other using words.  I watched it, and I sensed it, I saw the power that decision held.  Now, where do you imagine the danger lies, now?  Do you imagine a great melee?  Johannes and his gatekeeper against your companions?  Bringing their allies to bear?”

“That would be awesome,” Evan said.  “Bad with people getting hurt, but awesome.”

“No,” Ainsley said.  “Going by what you were saying, Mara… the danger lies in Johannes’ words?  Not a fight?”

“Picture it,” Mara said.  “The monster’s other half gets the security and answers she desires.  Johannes gets power.  The High Priest gets his lover, without her family or duty as part of the bargain.  The lesser members of the Thorburn cabal get to leave, to put this all behind them.  The junior council can start anew with Alister at the helm, without the burdens of the generations that came before, and even your grandmother may get what she sought.  A victory for all involved.”

At that last statement, there was a tremor, a reaction from the environment at the lie.

Far milder than before.

A milder lie, or…

No.

“Mara, that was a lie, wasn’t it?”

“A victory for all involved,” Mara said, again.

Our environment reacted, but it was almost imperceptible.  The same statement.  It wasn’t that it was no longer a lie… she’d burned herself out.

Our ability to use the environment as a lie detector had failed us, just as she’d dropped the critical detail.

Where did the lie rest?

“Tell me,” I said.

Bargain with me,” she hissed the words.

She was too calm, too collected.

I reached across the circle, and I grabbed Mara by the collar.

I saw the smallest glimmer of fear in her eyes at the contact.

She felt just a little bit more mortal than she had.

One arm extended in straight in front of me, still gripping the collar of her coat, I marched her away.  Further from the trees.

I let her turn around.

Behind me, the smoke still rose from her ruined home.

I could see the facade crack.  The genuine fear.

“No,” she said.  “No, no!”

Her hands clutched at my wrist, trying to pull away, to move toward the fire.  “What did you do!?”

“Arson!”  Evan said.  “The house, and all the little dolls, burning!”

He sounded so cheery.  I suspected he was trying to feign a good mood after the earlier discussion.  Faking it, so Green Eyes wouldn’t suspect anything.

“I need to-” Mara said.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Peter declared.  “Something in your kitchen burned like lighter fluid once the fire got that far.”

“It’s been burning for a while,” I said.  “If you want to go there, to try to salvage something, you’ll tell me.  I imagine every second counts.”

The fear that seemed to cross over her features was almost inhuman, her eyes too wide, cords standing out at her throat, where it was visible just above the collar of her jacket.

I almost thought she’d die right there, from the shock.

“Mara,” I said.  “If you want to salvage anything there, you’re going to need to give me fast answers.”

“No,” she said, and her voice was hollow.  “There’s no salvaging this.  My tie to it is broken, the land’s tie to me is broken.  Without my claim, my power, there’s nothing to stop this place from joining your city in being claimed.”

“Except me,” I said.

She shot me a look.  For a moment, I thought there was a gleam of hope.  She saw a distant way out.

Then it faded.  Dashed away.

She laughed.  It sounded just a touch unhinged.

“Mara.  Who loses?  Who is this targeting?  What’s the plan?”

If Rose can stall, or get control of things, if I can arrive with the right knowledge…

“Wrong questions,” Mara said, watching the smoke, breathing hard, halfway between a pant and a laugh.  She met my eyes.

Her expression had changed.  Seething hatred.  No longer the cold, patient rage we’d been treated to before.

She spoke, “But I’ll answer the question, all the same.  Everyone I mentioned gets their wish, except you.  Everyone, I believe, will come to quickly regret it.  Even the Sorcerer.  They’ll only get a mockery of what they sought.”

Mockery.

Everyone.  Rose included.  My friends.  No solutions or security for Rose.  No escape for my friends, nor a chance for them to return to their lives.  Johannes would lose power, and Alister’s junior council, what, would fail?  Be subverted in purpose?

She continued, getting more agitated with each passing second.  “You, monster, you won’t even get a mockery of a wish.  Nothing in the outcome will resemble anything you desire!  You want freedom?  Change?  I can’t see any way this unfolds where you have either.  You’ll endure a monotonous, broken, endless existence, without a moment’s peace.  You come on my land, you intrude on my life, and demand answers of me?  Let this be your penalty, the suffering you are due!  Pray for death!  Pray for an untidy end, because nothing more awaits you than a bottomless well of misery!”

She was moving, and with her ankles bound, she fell into the snow.

I let her, and watched her laying there.

“How can she know all this?” Peter asked.

“She’s been around for a very, very long time,” Ainsley told him.  “I wouldn’t put anything past her.”

“But,” I said, and it was very possible my words were informed by my hopes, that this was a manipulation, a trick.  “Mara can lie.  She might pay a consequence, but there’s no guarantee that we’d be able to tell.  Any of this could be misleading, or an outright fib, to send us running down the wrong path.”

I looked down at Mara.

She’s different from the Faerie.  They revel in social games, they revel in the ability to manipulate, the schemes, the distractions.  Lying and social games are as natural to them as breathing.

But Mara… her immortality had been spent on routine, on doing the same thing over and over again, rarely interacting with people.  Even the vision I’d had of her interaction with the little girl she’d replaced, it had been cold, distant.

Mara could technically lie, she could work around the practice.  There would be bad karma involved, but she had the ability to spout lies.

But as a liar, well, it wasn’t one of her strengths.

“Shit,” I said.  “Scratch that statement.”

She was telling the truth.

“Satyr, maenad, watch the crone,” I said, raising my voice.  I was already turning to run.  “Peter, Roxanne, Sarah, Ainsley, Green Eyes, move!”

“What?” Peter asked.  “We just came all this way, and that’s after-”

“No time!” I said.

Just like his sister.

My wings extended straight behind me as I ran, taking the harder path.  Over rocks, between trees, ignoring the clearings.

It was easier to go out than to come in.

I saw a rock, leaped up to it, then jumped.  Evan carried me up.

The others were following, lagging behind.  They didn’t move as quickly as I did.

The crone had said that Rose needed to follow her heart.  This was the pivotal moment.

Johannes wasn’t going to Hillsglade House to fight.  He was going to offer a deal.

Logically, rationally, everyone present could well find it an enticing deal.  Everyone gained something.  Those that didn’t stand to gain anything had been dealt with in various ways during the day.

Logically, rationally.

Rising above the trees with Evan’s help, I flew in a lazy circle, eyes on the ground, searching for Rose and her group.

They weren’t in any place the sunlight touched.

They were already inside.

What did it mean to be too late, when this was a battle fought with words?

The crone had told me that I needed to use my head to get through this.  Rose needed to follow her heart.  To put calculation aside and trust her instincts.

Rose’s end of things seemed to make sense.  She had to put the compelling arguments aside.

Me?

I needed to figure this out.  To think forward, to think backward.  To exist beyond the now.

Almost experimentally, high enough off the ground that a fall might have dashed me to pieces, I turned over.  A sharp bend of each wing, catching the air, a barrel roll of sorts.

Turning my face and chest skyward, facing the sun.  Wings spread, Taking in the warmth.

One last time.

Evan caught me, nudged me, and I righted myself, stomach again facing the ground.

A twist of my body, a fold of the wings, and I plunged into the darkness and the night, wooden feet scraping on ice, salt, and pavement.

I heard a yowl, not so far away.

Distractions.  The barrier Mara had talked about?

No, I was still too combative in mindset.  What danger was a monster, compared to the right words in the wrong ear?

My allies hurried to follow, entering the darkness behind and below me.  Roxanne, a bit shorter than the rest, was slowing us down.

I dropped out of the sky and landed.

My hand pulled free of my wing just in time to block the barrel of Sarah’s rifle, before it could point at me.

“Shit,” Peter said.  “Scary, you dropping in like that, just after it all suddenly turns back to night.”

He leaned over, panting a bit.  Sarah seemed even more out of shape, despite being the gun-toting ‘Knight’.

“Gotta catch my breath,” Peter said.

“I’ve got to go,” I told him.  “Timing matters.  I’ve got to get ahead of this deal, convince them not to take it.  If I head out leaving you guys behind, our chances should get better.”

“Not far from where we ran from a dragon and a giant,” Roxanne said.

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “But-”

“Go,” Peter said.  “You told me to ditch you before, you were dead weight.  Now we’re the dead weight.  Fly.

“I can spend power,” Ainsley said.  She wasn’t breathing as hard as Peter was.  “We’ll be right behind you.”

I turned and flew.

A dark form against a dark, unlit sky, joined by a small bird.  The wind sang through the gaps in my body.

A deal.  One that encapsulated all of the ones in attendance.  A trap.

It was as I glanced back at the trio that it started to click.

A path they might take, in striking the deal.

Green Eyes had been a threat to me, once upon a time.  Polite, conversing openly, she’d nonetheless lurked and hoped to catch me and eat me.

Peter and Roxanne were relatives, but they weren’t family.  Not until tonight, when they were making sacrifices, taking risks.  Prior to all of this, they had been the primary antagonists in my life.

Fell, the Hyena, June, the Duchamps, the Behaims, the High Drunk, they’d all had their tries at killing or maiming me.

The line between enemy and ally grew so blurred.

When I thought of classic enemies and allies…

Gears started turning in my head.

Enemies became allies…

Hillsglade House seemed to appear from the darkness.  I shifted the angle of my flight, reoriented.

My feet skidded on the ice of the short path that lead from the long driveway to the front door.  Coarse salt scraped between my feet and the wood of the steps.

The texture of the doormat felt strange underfoot.  I didn’t wear shoes or boots.  My feet were wood, a rough approximation of the individual components of the foot, all worked into one another.  The coarse mat was almost pleasant, scraping salt and accumulated snow from the gaps and the cracks.

R.D.T.  Stenciled images of thorny vines.

The door was unlocked.  I pushed it open.

The ground floor was empty, but tracks of moisture, sand, and salt marked the hallway, distorting the bloodstains that painted the floor and surrounding walls.  They led up the stairs.

“Where are the bodies?” Evan asked.

“Fed to something, maybe,” I said.  “Or thrown into the basement to be cleaned up later.”

“Not it!” Evan said.

“Shh,” I said.

The landing of the stairs was even worse.  I saw bits that hadn’t quite been cleaned up.  Ends of fingers or ears or little blobs of gristle, worked into the space between the floorboards and the wall.

When I reached the second floor, I saw that the doors to the inner library were open.  Floorboards had been torn out and splintered, set ajar so they fanned up and out like so many spikes.  The space around the gap twisted, and a hole in the ceiling and the floor above us suggested that it had all been torn open.  A glimmer of funhouse mirror architecture.

People had gathered.  Eyes turned my way.

A maenad glared.  The High Drunk, just to her right, gave me a dispassive look.

I could hear voices in the next room.

Rose had been too late.  Not in terms of a great fight, some trap, or other issue.

Johannes had talked to the Drunk.  Won the man over to his side, or at least set the tone.  Dictated all that came after.  Rose could hardly arrive and attack when the High Drunk was standing by, having a civilized discussion.

I moved through the crowd, and saw the library, devastated, every book knocked from its respective shelf.  They had been salvaged, moved into stacked piles, but it was so little, so late.

Rose, Johannes and Alister were all present.  Ellie, Christoff and Kathryn stood off to one side with Ty, Alexis, Tiff, and the Knights.

Alexis met my eyes.  I could see her as she’d been when she’d died.  Corvidae’s glamour.

I could see the betrayal, the agreement to keep my nature a secret from me.

I loved her and I couldn’t bear to look at her.  I wasn’t sure that would ever change.

“Blake,” Rose said.

If I told Rose, would that ruin the intent?  Did she have to reject this deal by her heart, not by logic and argument?

“Johannes explained what he’s doing,” Rose said.

“Mara kind of told me,” I said.  “She thinks this is a mistake.  I don’t even know what it is, but she thinks this is a monkey’s paw”

“Mara isn’t the most trustworthy source,” Johannes said.

“Her home is burned, her power base destroyed, and she’ll live out the rest of her natural life without being able to draw  on her hag powers,” I said.  “She wanted to taunt me, told me that I couldn’t stop this from happening.  Please.  Rose.  Anyone.  Help me prove her wrong.”

“It works,” Alister said.  “It’s a solution.”

“Blake,” Johannes said.  His voice was low, smooth, calm.  “It’s been a long road, getting this far.  In a way, you helped bring it to bear.  You fought long and hard, and now it’s time to stop fighting.  Put the sword away for good.”

I touched the Hyena at my hip, just to remind myself it was there.

“My familiar can give you a body again,” Johannes said.  “There’s nothing tying you here.  All you need to do is stand down.  Leave your weapon in its sheath.”

“And then?” I asked.

“A controlled sink.  We transplant a portion of the town to the Abyss.  We send the demon upstairs with that section of the town.”

“Or,” I said, “Rose can banish the demon.  There’s no need to give up the town.”

“If banished, it can be summoned by another diabolist,” Alister said.

“If we send it elsewhere,” Johannes spoke, “My familiar can strike at the demon.  There are old, forgotten gods in the Abyss.  He can put this demon right in front of those gods, and they can kill it.”

His familiar.  I noticed Faysal Anwar wasn’t in the room.

“I know about the gods in the Abyss,” I said.  “I met one.”

Johannes smiled.

“It was losing,” I said.  “Slowly, but surely.”

The smile faltered.

“Gods range in power,” he said.  Picking up right where he’d left off.

“I can’t say for sure,” I said, “But the one I saw was maybe the same size as the moon.  Or his head was.  I don’t think you can pull that off, resting in the Abyss, unless you have plenty of power.”

I closed my eyes.

This was the pivotal moment.  The argument.  I needed to figure it out, challenge the idea.  Break it down.

The idea from earlier had sat with me.  A niggling suspicion, an ugly idea.

How many times had I seen enemies turn into fast friends or allies?

Expectations were the enemy.  My instincts were the problem.  Assumptions and simple labels were ruinous here.

I spoke the words, knowing that being wrong could ruin me, at this most critical point in time, but I had to show confidence and state it clearly, or it just wouldn’t do.

“Faysal the angel and the Barber aren’t adversaries in this,” I said.  “We’re playing right into Faysal’s hands.  He’s the threat.”

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210 thoughts on “Sine Die 14.9

  1. Screwy holiday celebration timing and travel arrangements meant I wrote a lot of this over the course of last night, finishing at about 7pm, because I just had so much to do today, and there weren’t many other options. Sorry if it’s a little bit sloppy at points.

      1. She wasn’t even mentioned during that Interlude. She was, however, one of the Toronto volunteers, specifically the one performing the candle ritual.

    1. Faysal is thinking of the greater good. If he succeeds he ruins 3 evil families and Johannes and drops a demon into the abyss. He’s an angel and a familiar to a terrible, terrible person.

      1. I’d say this probably goes against the claim that Faysal and Barbie aren’t adversaries. It’d be silly for Faysal to plan to kill Barbie and Barbie not being any wiser about it.

            1. Harsh competition for best village… in Canada?!?

              I will revive this memetic mutation. Just you see. Soon everyone will be asking “…in Canada?”. 😉

          1. “Uh, Mr. Johannes? You’ve got a call from the Duck Knight?”
            [Johannes, loaded with about twenty-four different firearms and wearing aviators, turns to look at messenger spirit]

            “I’ll, uh, tell him you’re busy.”

            I waffled back and forth over whether to cast Johannes or Sgt. Faysal Angel as the Sgt. Angel, but in the end I felt like the second was stretching the roles too far just for the sake of a not-very-inspired pun. 😉

    2. I’m thinking that he is doing something that when all the factors and effects are tailed up is good and which people would prefer he kept doing. Just not the people actually in the town.

    3. If this is true… then exterminate. EXTERIMATE THE INHUMAN FILTH. CLEANSE. PURGE. KILL.

      CLEANSE ALL ANGELS AND THEIR SLAVES. KILL ALL DEMONS AND THEIR WORSHIPPERS. CLEANSE. PURGE. KILL.

        1. Yes. Perhaps you should consider embracing the Greater Good of the Tau Empire. Also our basic troops get more than a T-Shirt and Flashlights.

        2. The Empire of Man series (by David Weber and John Ringo) is also pretty great. That said, let’s hope Jacob’s Bell isn’t about to crash land on a death world full of all kinds of horrible fauna.

    4. anwar does mean luminous……
      also if demons are ruin and angels are creation, creation isnt necessary good as life isnt necessary good, cancer is life…… choking ivy is life, poisonous animals are life.

          1. LoL, the “If she really really likes you she won’t devour your flesh until after you’re dead” thing kinda rules Green Eyes out. She’s adorable but she’s not, by any measure, good.

            Even Evan isn’t really that good anymore with his “I will happily peck out the eyeballs of anyone you consider a monster” attitude.

            1. The problem with you people is that you think “good”means “Saint by our standards”.

              Evan is a pretty good guy,whre justice system does not exist,vigilantism becomes a must.

              Green Eyes….you talk as if cannibalism is an inherent sin,I see nothing wrong with devouring the already dead other than societal conventions.Killing that other woman ,yes,I can accept as a strike against,but cannibalism?overall,despiteflaws,she is on the “good”end of the spectrum.

              Blake…Blake grates with Wilbow’s previous protagonist somewhat.For The previous one,all evil actions were a question of “efficiency (sometimes shortsighted) vs absolute morals”,so she had her pie of grey actions.Blake,on the other hand,is almost a saint.Nearly all his ambiguoous acts (maybe excluding awakening his friends,but he did so with very ample warning,so its not really evil even if it is not unselfish)were selfless actions that created bad results due to his nature (be it his half of a whole nature,his bad karma nature or his boogeyman nature)or actions his nature compelled him very strongly to take.And the clincher?he fights against these natures,and he is winning.With half an excuse,he trusted Rose despite always having nagging doubts.He made the world better despite having a bad karma,unti his then unknown halfman nature screwed him against Ur,because he was compelled to fight him.He always negotiates first as a boogeyman,despite having very few feelings other than anger,and when he is forced,he finds someone whose killing will make the world better….yes,it may be rationalization sometimes,but every human does it,and most would have gone full boogeyman by now.He does not want to kill Rose.He strives to use his mind instead of his instict

              Blake is a straight hero who fights even against his nature to do the right thing ,and who only even failed because of said nature.He is white,not even grey,its just that he has not only human faults,but less that a whole human’s qualities plus an empty space fulled by boogeyman nature,causing some of his actions to nevertheless slip into grey territory.If he was not so disadvantaged of nature compared to everybody else,he would be a saint.

            2. Telling other people what they’re thinking is really quite rude. And no, I wasn’t calling for anyone to be a saint.

              Reread what I said about Green Eyes. Eyes: The issue isn’t that she eats dead people – it’s that she’s very casual about eating live people. The only people off the menu seem to be ones that Blake has specifically excluded or ones Green Eyes has gotten to know. She’s a predator.

            3. Sorry,it was kinda rude,but I was tired of the good guys getting their every action invesigated by a microscope and called “non good”or “jerks”

              And green Eyes seems more like a carrion eater who sometimes kils for reasons and eats the body,rather than a downright predator who kills sentient people to eat.She never killed anyone just to eat him.Remember,she didn’t eat Blake once she saw him.Yes,she prefers humans,and she is casual about it,but she never kills something sentient without an excuse,even her bird morsel thing was prolly because of her nature rather than because she would have acted on it without Blake.

            4. Good guys should be held to a higher standard than bad guys. Meeting a higher standard is what makes them heroes.

              Green Eyes was planning to drag Blake to his watery death when she first met him. We could debate whether she’s primarily predatory or carrion-eating (I still think the former) but either way, she’s far from averse to chowing down on whatever handy morsel comes her way.

              And we have no reason to believe that she wouldn’t have happily eaten Evan had she not been told he was off-limits. Like you said – it’s her nature.

            5. But but but

              She backed down once Blake showed her he was sentient,not before

              We have no reason to think she would,other than her nature

              Blake is proof that a human can fight effectively with his nature,at least to an extent-perhaps he has to let a few things go using rationalizations to vent it,but overall he can do the good thing .Her carrion eating only of sentients is prolly Green Eyes rationalization to her nature.

              Also,I understand higher standards,but the standards are downright unreachable sometimes.Blake is,as I analyzed,a saint only heldback by a nature he fought admirably.Green Eyes and Evan are still basically good,Sure,both boogeymen could be claimed by their nature in the future,but that doesn’t make them evil.

  2. I think I like this story, with its twists and turns and such enough to up my donation as a Christmas gift.

    Though it is getting a bit repetitive for me that every story I read on angels seems to have a twist where angels turn out to be evil.

    1. i hear you man, though considering how this universe works it wouldnt make sense if the angels werent at least indifferent towards humans considering it has been hammered that demons destroy and that the world is slowly crumbling to bits. and that the current universe is just the leftovers of whatever the demons did to what was before.
      is ovbious that the angels are not healing as fast as the demons ae destroying

      1. The angels presumably have things they embody, so they should care about humans to at least a similar extent as say, fae or goblins do. Sources of amusement.

        1. Thus they should be destroyed by the point of a torch. Like the goblin and the animal faerie. And especially the worthless bogeyman. Kill. KILL. Hate. HATE. HATE. HATE. HATE. EXTERMINATE. KILL.

      2. I suspect Faysal and the Barber are pulling a Aziraphale & Crowley with both having their interests aligned to fuck over humanity.

        Which brings me to a point:-

        Just because most Others have been bound by the seal of Suleiman bin Daoud does not mean that they have stopped seeing humans as food, why would angels be different?

        1. Hmm, what could Faysal WANT?
          A nasty though cooked up in my mind: Faysal makes gates, forges connections, lasting connections. Sinking the town into the Abyss, likely builds a two-way connection, if Faysals powers are in the mix. So he most liklely the goal is not not to sink a part of the city into the Abyss, the demon included, but to enable something from down there to come UP.

          My speculations rage among fallen/forgotten God (capital G intended), fallen angels, or something in that vein.
          If Blake is correct, and Faysals goals align with the barbers, then the Barber gains something from being pushed into the Abyss.
          He and his scissors… could he cut something free that is imprisioned down there?
          A fallen angel/demon/god?

          In theory, Faysal could even faciliate the Barber to severe his Familiar-connection with Johannes, freeing him for the endgame.
          But what is that? Some Rrevelation-style apocalypse?

          Ironically, I was cooking up some Fanfic ideas for Pact, with the ultimate hidden antagonist being an angel… figure.

            1. In my idea, the antagonistic angel works on ending his eternal agony, for he is Atlas, tethered to the Sky and Earth, seperating them.
              And since he, as an angel, cannot destroy, only create, he tries to faciliates demons to do this.
              The setting I am not sure of, but currently I am leaning towards the middle east, around the end of the 11th or 13th century. Yes, the crusades.

          1. Faysal may very well have “good” intentions, like mentioned before, just not beneficial for the people in this town.

            Or, depending on how far his reach goes, this world. 😛
            There was in-story speculation, that demons operate on an universe-scale, not just earth, so angels might do the same.

            I don´t think it is an accurate guess, but maybe supernatural things like demons are drawn to intelligent life like moths to light or like hungry beasts to a good meal (it might be more interesting/valuable for them to subvert/destroy life than lifeless planets).
            Earth might well function as a honey trap for demons.
            If Faysal can somehow bring a lot of demons from the Abyss to the surface and then isolate earth from the rest of the universe by cutting the portals to the Abyss, those demons might be stuck on earth and the rest of the universe has to deal with a few monsters less.

            1. We don’t know that it is Ornias. We just know that something really monstrous went by and that the lights dimmed/went out at the thing’s passage. The way I interpreted it, with the absolute silence that came when the lights went out, even the scenery didn’t want to attract the attention of whatever it was.

    2. I don’t think it’s so much that angels are evil as it is that Faysal isn’t a normal angel. He did, after all, submit to a familiar bond.

        1. … putting a familiar in a form that was, at root, created by Man with his bare hands to be subservient and a hunting tool and companion?? I think I see several possible GENRES of wacky hijinks stemmable from that. No, let’s keep putting them in cats and ferrets plz.

          –Dave

    3. Have you read your Bible? Being brutally righteous and ruthless in their enforcement of God’s (often arbitrary and petty) law is hardly a modern development.

      Angel’s sentenced Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction because they could not find ten people in an entire city that they considered good.

      An angel (with a flaming sword no less) barred Adam and Eve from paradise forever because they ate a piece of fruit.

      Angels are arguably ‘good’ for a very righteous, inflexible definition of ‘good’.

      If you are of an imperfect species that doesn’t meet their standards like, say, human, on the receiving end of their righteous wrath you may have trouble appreciating that distinction.

      1. To be fair,on the first point,the definition of “good”was pretty flexible,mercy,and a small mercy supported by customs at people noone would see as villains,seems like a pretty good indicator,and God went down from 50 to 10 to let his follower find them.

        And on the second,well,they were barred from re entry,this is no different than a vicious guardian dog,not really evil or rigid,just with a specific purpose.

  3. also the next chapter stands to tie so many loose ends and balance or fix so any things as far as anything can be fixed in this world AND is going to be through discussion rather than fight, next chapter is going to be AWSOME

  4. I’m not too surprised. Demons are fallen angels in the Bible, right? And that comparison to Lucifer Mags made about Johannes felt very fitting.

    What I want to know is whether Johannes is at all aware of the nature of his familiar. That and well, Grandma Rose’s grand plan. It’s going to be cool as hell to see Blake try and win using his words instead of violence and possibly Rose using her heart to beat the crap out of someone? I mean, hey, a role switch would be awesome to see.

    1. now that you mention it, it would makesense for gran rose to know about the true nature of angels by dealing all the time with demons

  5. Blake specifically said that Faysal and Barbatorem aren’t adversaries in this, which sounds scarier the more I think about it. They should be polar opposites, incapable of finding any common ground ever. Like faerie and goblins, only more so. What the fuck is Faysal pulling here? Can anyone remember which choir he was?

    Sending a demon into the abyss also sounds like a worse idea the more I think about it. Ur was TRYING to crawl its way into the abyss. Why? What did that forgotten god stop it from doing? Eating all of abyss? That part of the story raised some serious cosmological questions, and I’m reminded of all of them. My gut feeling here, though, is that the abyss is an important part in the normal functioning of the universe, and letting it be destroyed would be a bad thing.

    1. Faysal’s Seventh, opposing Unrest, while The Barber is in Third, Ruin.

      Suddenly it seems like a very bad idea to use Faysal in a chaotic war with many conflicting factions.

      1. Faysal’s classification seems a bit more confusing than that, though.

        Back in 1.06, no mention of ‘choirs’ happened:

        a Gatekeeper of the Seventh Ring (ref Astral Bodies: vol 3, and Prime Movers) as his familiar, named Faysal Anwar,

        We have no idea what Rings indicate, if they’re a synonym of choirs. a Gatekeeper might even be a specific subtype of third-choir angel?

        And creating paths and gates certainly sounds more like the ‘structural’ domain of the third choir, than it sounds like it belongs to the seventh choir of…peace, or whatever.

        I should have gotten the attention of a entity of the third choir, who oversee structure,

        But Johannes makes it sound like he specifically isn’t of the third choir.

        1. Creating paths is how Faysal functions, but it’s not all he is. Barbatorem works by cutting off people’s reflections. It leads them to ruin, but there isn’t anything INHERENTLY ruinous about how he does it. It’s not the method that determines which choir an angel of a demon falls in, but the end goal.

          Anyway, I was looking for a list of the demonic choirs (in order: dark, chaos, ruin, madness, the feral, sin, and unrest), and while looking I found this bit in 4.x:

          “…Agares. A duke among the seventh choir, one that brought great beings low. A corrupter and agitator. He could compel a king to march to war, or stop that same warhost in its tracks.”

          This makes unrest sounds like CHANGE, most of all. Destructive reordering of structures. Which would make Faysal, if he is indeed opposed to the choir of unrest, an embodiment of the status quo. Which is what Blake’s been fighting against for a while now. All dem pieces coming together. 🙂

          1. Yeah, I just caught that while rereading:

            “You, monster, you won’t even get a mockery of a wish. Nothing in the outcome will resemble anything you desire! You want freedom? Change? I can’t see any way this unfolds where you have either. You’ll endure a monotonous, broken, endless existence, without a moment’s peace. You come on my land, you intrude on my life, and demand answers of me? Let this be your penalty, the suffering you are due! Pray for death! Pray for an untidy end, because nothing more awaits you than a bottomless well of misery!”

            That’s what Faysal is up to. He’s going to send the Barber to break something very important. No one gets what they want because what they want requires change. Faysal isn’t just planning to have an outcome where the town doesn’t change, he wants an outcome where nothing ever changes. For anyone.

            1. He might actually be intending to destroy the very concept of change. Mara implies that if the plan is completed Blake won’t even be able to die.

              And the thing is, I can see why. It’s right in what he was saying when he talked to Blake; angels are outmatched by their opposite numbers. They’re losing. He pulls this off and nothing ever changes? Reality just turned from a long slow slide into a demon victory into a draw that can never be overturned.

              As for why The Barber would go along with this plan? He’s Ruin, not Darkness or Unrest. He doesn’t want to destroy the universe or throw it into constant turmoil, he wants to break it. In this plan, he breaks literally the entire universe at once.

          2. More than nothing inherently bad about the Barber, cutting something into reflections is awfully similar to how DNA replicates.

    2. IIRC, “Maggie” made small deals with gremlins and goblins to both their advantages.

      The human enemies took longer than them to do the same. ;P

    1. Why care? That which is stagnant should be processed into compost, used then ignored thereafter. Anything else is a waste of time.

  6. To let a demon free and give it the freedom to act? All but the smallest and most elusive have been bound, now. Some escape their confines, but they are soon bound again. Were it not for your kind, we would be in little danger.”

    Who called it? I called it. Sort of.

    1. Actually, I don’t get this quote. Mind explaining? The first part makes diabolists look good for trapping the demons and cleaning them up. The second makes them look bad? “Were it not for diabolists we would be in in little danger”, which seems to imply that diabolists are not needed and that they are actually more dangerous.

      1. Basically, since the demons have pretty much all been trapped and bound already, people only have major demon problems because diabolists keep letting them out. It’s not that it’s bad to use diabolist knowledge to bind up demons, it’s that someone already did that and now major demon problems occurring independently are rare enough to be handled by nonspecialists. All practitioners know the principles at play in binding Ur, and the only diabolist knowledge that’s really helpful for that is identifying the choir and its associated attributes so they could find the opposites to use in the binding.

        1. Of course, this appears to be a total lie. Toronto had two demons neither properly bound. Pauz was simply festering, growing and warping the world. Ur was not only chewing up a god, but brewing her motes, escaping her bindings, AND was damaging the outside world by slicing connections and radiation. Not only that Ornias was more or less walking around unbound, and the demons have the fracking LAWYERS working for them.

          1. No, no, you see, Ur and Pauz are minor demons. They are the “smallest and most elusive” that Mara’s talking about. Now, Ornias is wandering around in the Abyss, but importantly as I have previously noted Ornias is the first demon sealed in the Testament Of Solomon. He isn’t in a circle, but he is not free. The Lawyers probably fall under “elusive”, but I’m not sure they’re actually free to act except to fulfill bargains.

            Meanwhile, the potentially universe-shattering threat here? If RDT hadn’t bound the Barber in the first place sending him to the Abyss wouldn’t even be on the table. Granted, Faysal has door powers and could potentially go wherever he is when not summoned, but there is presumably some reason Faysal didn’t do that before anyone here except Mara was born.

            Basically, I think that Rose could take the library and write up an explanatory brochure listing the Choirs and their associated attributes and containing basic warnings about abstract demons and reflective surfaces and the like, and it would be maybe four pages long and contain enough information that any Behaim adult who read it could fight Ur and Pauz and the like. And if that’s all the information anyone in the present had (well, maybe with a two-key lock on a library of more detailed information just in case) they could solve those problems and Barbarotem and Ornias and co wouldn’t even show up.

            The problem isn’t that non-diabolists can’t fight demons. There weren’t any who fought the incest demon in Black Lamb’s Blood. The problem is that it’s a “who will bell the cat?” situation. Everyone involved agrees that they should be dealt with and many are qualified to do so, but they don’t want to be the ones to deal with them.

          2. Keep in mind that it’s what Mara thinks is true, not neccisarly what is true. Throughout history there have been countless things that people would swear up and down is true. Only everyone was wrong. See the thing is the Demons aren’t mindless. They are smart, and they can play the long game. Pauz was a minor demon. But I would bet at some point so was Ur. In Toronto nobody wanted to deal or they were unable to do so with the problem, and so it festered and grew. Think about it. A call to RDT and Ur likely would have been bound and dealt with. Diabolists are needed to deal with that, but because they are so feared and hated they end up having to rely of diabolism to get anything done. You need someone who has the ability to deal with demons when they do get out. Because that’s the thing about something eternal. It will get out, as it’s prison won’t be as eternal.

            Of course you’ll always get the diabolists that will summon and release demons. But that means you’ll need the other kind even worse. If you have arsonists, you need firefighters.

            1. Actually, RDT apparently went to Toronto on multiple occasions and apparently did not bind Ur. The problem was more one of lack of will. The binding itself was straightforward, standard practitioner stuff: Ur is associated with darkness and destruction and therefore vulnerable to light and creation. Bind with opposites, force to give name, impose Seal, banish, and you’re good. No need to know a list of demonic names and how they might be summoned to pull that off. The major demons are probably a good bit trickier, of course, but people just need to know how to fight the specific major demon they are presently concerned about.

              I’m thinking if I were Lord of a well-organized city I’d run something a bit like the SCP format. Somewhere in the city there is a very heavily guarded library of demonic lore managed by Isadora or similar who opposes demons, has sworn to limit their use of the knowledge, and couldn’t summon if they wanted to. It is used to produce a one-or-two paragraph summary per major demon of how to fight them, and these are then locked up as well. When a demon problem actually occurs, someone finds it in the archives and distributes the associated instructions. Everyone can know how to fight demons without anyone being in a position to summon them. Problem solved.

              Toronto obviously couldn’t manage that, but they didn’t handle their goblin problem either and everyone knows goblins.

            2. “A call to RDT and Ur likely would have been bound and dealt with.”

              You know, someone had to bind Ur in the factory. Perhaps they did?

            3. Yes yes, get someone trustworthy to guard the more detailed information, monopolize it in the hands of someone or something that pretty much exists to hate demons. Like an angel. Maybe one of the 7th Choir, opposite of unrest would be cooperation/harmony right, ideally one who can instantly open paths so the information can get where it’s needed fast.

              You all see where I’m going with this.

  7. So, anybody else remember how way back when, Grandma Rose’s notes said not to let your familiar take the form of a dog? I suspect we’re going to find out why in short order.

    1. I thought that was for diabolists, not practitioners in general. Dogs are Mans’ best friend; the guardians against the dark; our enemies tamed into our allies.
      Rose’s was a cat. They enter our house, enslave us, force us to obey their every whim, and enjoy it. Now, which do you think is more appropriate for demons? (Also potential explanation for Faysal. A wolf tamed into a dog by Johannes. And how do you know if the wolf is truly tamed, or is just faking? At least with cats you know the balance lies with them.

      1. Heh. But seriously, dogs being good is hardly a universal conceit. Look how often dogs are used as a derogatory term. Calling someone a dog is a mortal insult in some cultures. Even in modern English, calling someone a dog or various related terms (cur, mongrel, bitch, etc) is always with a negative connotation.

        Packs of wild, feral dogs were a problem in a lot of places a few centuries ago. As such, dogs also have fairly strong archetypes of being baby-stealing, traveler-attacking, cowardly-tactics-using, unclean, flea-bitten carrion-eaters. Their instinctive dominance games within a perceived pack structure were likely often misconstrued as a tendency towards treachery that belied the supposed ‘faithful dog’ stereotype and led to phrases such as ‘biting the hand that feeds them.’

        With so much nasty symbolism behind the image, and considering how much the spirits in Pact value symbolism, it’s not surprising that a familiar being allowed that form would have bad connotations for its intentions.

    2. Grandma Rose warned them not to let their familiar take the form of a dog or rat because Johannes would take control of them with his pipes if they did.

  8. So Faysal is /人◕ ‿‿ ◕人\ ? Granting everyone exactly what they wish for with the consequence of it being exactly what they want least?

    The possibility of Faysal’s goals being a deal made between the Angels & Demons is high, then there’s also the absolute certainty that the Demons have a way to screw the Angels with the absolute fulfilment of the deal.

    1. I dunno. It’s quite possible the Angels are planning to screw the Demons in the end. What is absolutely certain is that the Humans wind up the most screwed.

  9. I find it particularly fascinating that Mara said… well, here, I’ll quote:

    “Look at the pair of you. Rose and Blake Thorburn. Your heart sits at the center of your being, Rose’s head rests at the center of hers. But the darkest places have taken your heart, and a working of the universe has taken your other‘s head.”

    However, we know that the Rose was given the heart when the two were divided.

    What does this mean?

        1. As I recall it, Rose said that the book said that when a woman is split the female half has the heart. But Blake/Rose were apparently spit from a male, so that info could be incorrect. I’d be inclined to believe that Mara was right, that Blake is more emotional and that Rose is more logical.

          1. No. She said when a man is split the female half gets the heart. I remember because I wasn’t sure it was relevant and not misleading at the time (it was thought at the time that the original was female).

    1. The word heart is used in an entirely different sense here from when the Barber’s cutting was being described, I’m pretty sure.

      But the practice is tricky with word games, so who knows.

      1. But the practice is tricky with word games, so who knows.

        Exactly what I was pondering. Mara’s in-the-know enough for the distinction to potentially be relevant.

    2. Blake’s heart is at the center of his being, whatever his heart is made of. Doesn’t necessarily have to be their predecessor’s heart.

      That’s my guess, at least.

      1. That’s how I’m leaning, too — perhaps it’s because he can call it his own instead of having had it given to him; he had to build it up on his own.

    3. I think we still don’t understand something about the Blake/Rose split. Rose said (we can assume she wasn’t lying to Blake at this point) that when a man is cut, the female half gets the heart. But it is clear from Mara’s speech and both Blake’s and Rose’s characters that Blake is the one with all the heart. This, along with the experience with Carl and the “only female heirs” business, makes me think that they were originally a woman, and that when a woman is cut, the male half gets the heart, which explains Blake. This is my working theory, although it doesn’t seem like this difference will be all that relevant at this point. We’ll see!

      Looking forward to more reveals about Faysal. 🙂

      1. Actually Rose said the book said that. It’s been pointed out that the written word can lie, and the book may not be fully trustworthy. Also at that point Rose was convinced that A: she had the “heart” and B: the original was a woman.

        1. Well,if Blake is like a nobody from kh,he might not have a heart when created,but that doesn’t mean he couln’t grow a new one.Perhaps same ggoes with soul.

        2. I don’t think written word can lie. I could be wrong, though, after all Blake and Pauz verbally swore to follow everything written in their contract, as well as signing it.

    4. I think Mara meant that Blake tends to think with his gut and is emotional, whereas Rose is more logical and uses her head more than her gut. However, Blake’s instincts have been corrupted by the Abyss and Rose’s head has been corrupted by Conquest, so Rose needs to listen to her gut and Blake needs to use his head to survive.

    5. What happened to Blake’s heart, anyway? He carved it out of his chest and shoved it inside the effigy he made to escape the mirror, but Mara seemed to think that she’d need to give Blake a new heart before she could give him a heart attack.

    6. “Look at the pair of you. Rose and Blake Thorburn. Your heart sits at the center of your being, Rose’s head rests at the center of hers. But the darkest places have taken your heart, and a working of the universe has taken your other‘s head.”

      However, we know that the Rose was given the heart when the two were divided.

      What does this mean?

      OK I scrolled down a ways and nobody mentioned this, so here goes (I just know an identical explanation will be right above mine once I post…):

      It’s a metaphor. Blake relies on his emotions, his instincts, his morals; the metaphorical heart of a human. They are his core, a huge part of his identity and how he interacts with the world, and thus they “sit at the center of [his] being”.

      OTOH, Rose is the opposite. Logical, practical, the planner, coldly emotionless if you’re being harsh; these things embody the metaphorical brain (think Spock), and they are the core of her identity and her method of interacting with the world. Thus her “head” (logic) “rests at the center of [her being]”.

      However, Blake’s emotions have been corrupted by the Abyss (“the darkest places”) and his bogeyman nature, and Rose’s logical faculties are being tainted by Conquest (“a working of the universe”, aka an incarnation), and both are being influenced by Barbatorem’s cut (also possibly “a working of the universe”).

      Mara is saying that if they’re going to succeed, Blake is going to have to use his head and think things through with logic (rather than his positive impression of Faysal), while Rose will have to use her heart and ignore Johannes’s compelling arguments, trusting her instincts that something is very wrong.

  10. Awww, I like Faysal. I was hoping he an Blake would get along.

    And here Blake goes screwing Faysal over just because he’s been secretly using his connection manipulation to set up some villianous faux victory.

  11. WHAT.

    In hindsight, it makes sense. Faysal never actually put his original task on hiatus, he just took an alternate route to victory. He was so darn nice with his deals because he knew he wouldn’t actually lose anything in the end, and being generous would give him more bargaining power to get what he wanted. The dog really was the mastermind the whole time.

    I really should have expected Johannes to try bargaining instead of fighting. Yes, he has a whole lot of raw power, but every time we’ve actually seen him he’s demonstrated a marked preference towards talking with people over pushing them around. We’ve mostly seen him ‘win’ by making mutually beneficial agreements. Or at least, beneficial to the extent of his own knowledge. Might be part of why he has so much power to call upon in the first place.

    And then the Barber… can’t say I really could have expected that one. None of the characters ever tried communicating with him (at least, not as far as we’ve seen), so his motivations remain unknown. Of course, if they had then Blake and Rose’s identity may have become immediately apparent. Eh.

  12. So, wait, does that mean that Barbatorem was the one that was sinking the town? Or is it just because the house specifically is sinking and it’s super convenient and lets everyone defang Rose?

    1. Presumably Faysal is doing the sinking, since he can open doors to the Abyss apparently at will, and the plan is for him to send the house to a specific location in the Abyss. The Barber probably wants to go wherever he’ll be sent to, or at least go anywhere he might wind up unbound.

      1. Ah. Right, because we found out that Johannes is sinking Jacob’s Bell. All as a lead-up to this offer, I guess. It’s a pretty good one, too. Put the whole town in mortal danger and offer a solution, so that people listen to you. Then offer them a peace where everyone gets what they want.

        1. With the added advantage that if they don’t take the deal he can just let the town slide and still win, just not as much.

          Honestly, I can see why everyone was up for this plan. The description sounds very much like it should work; the god fighting Ur was notably strengthened by one worshiper praying and while far beyond humanity is probably not the biggest deal in the Abyss. Johannes also has a sufficently superior negotiating position that it’s clear to everyone he can just back out, so everyone knows they can’t push back too hard and will take any terms that have them in a better position than the start of the war.

          Presumably, the problem is that Faysal has promised that he’ll dump Barbarotem in front of something that can kill him, not something that will.

        2. Almost everyone. After all, the sacrificial Fool doesn’t count, thanks to his short-term nature. 😛 Never mind the fact he’s been changing at a rate of knots and may not actually be what everybody assumes he’ll be. 😐

          Wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a Barbie-built sting in the tail should people try screwing either Rose or Blake over. Including them trying to. 😐

          1. Actually, the bargain Johannes offered includes stuff for Blake. It’s just that Faysal has alternate plans, and they give everyone else twisted parodies of their wishes and just outright screw Blake.

            1. And? Screwing people over is still screwing them over, even if you hide it behind seemingly advantageous concessions. In fact, it’s worse. 😐

              Now, from Faysal’s perspective, this doesn’t count as major (people and their associated Others are such random engines for change and entropy: limiting the overall damage is obviously beneficial in a purely objective sense, whatever the short-term inconvenience… Including using an “adversary”), but… I’m not sure his perspective isn’t horribly warped.

  13. This neatly wraps up pretty much all the questions I had about Johannes’ actions and the cards:

    1. Why do the cards say he’s not sinking the town but Mara says he is? Faysal is sinking the town, and his real plan doesn’t line up with Johannes’, so the cards give results that indicate that Johannes knows who is sinking the town and is going along with it as opposed to masterminding it.
    2. Why send the giant and dragon to attack instead of stay back and defend? Leaves everyone weaker and reminds them of just how much firepower he’s got in case they don’t make the deal
    3. Why leave his demense if people can’t stop the slide without breaching it and it’s basically invincible? Negotiations; people won’t willingly enter his demense to negotiate without an extensive pre-negotiation for safe passage in, through, and out, but he can run home easily if things go sour
    4. If he wins running out the clock and is in such a strong defensive position, why not just run out the clock? Presumably, there’s going to be some prep work for the controlled drop, and at the very least it’ll take some time to move everything people want to keep out of the house. We don’t have the exact terms of the deal, but it may put him at least somewhat in charge and at the very least everyone else is going to be in the mood to listen if he comes by to make a deal for their help again. He therefore wants them to keep as much power as possible because it’s going to be kind of on his side.

    It does raise the question of how he knew Alister would do the timefreeze, but he handed a chronomancer a time limit. It’s entirely unsurprising that Alister opted to cheat by delaying it. Plus, the outcome where his rivals get sucked into the Abyss is still one where he wins, so it’s not like guessing wrong would have cost him much.

    1. I’m still not sure at this point that Johannes knows that Faysal is behind the town dropping into the Abyss. He may well still just trying his best to leverage/improve the situation.

  14. Ur is sinking the town. He ate out everything below it. The god may have slowed him down but i doubt it stopped him. Thats why Ur was eating his way into the abyss. Dear God if im right.. This is horrifying.

  15. If the Barber can carve away bits of you, of your personality, of your gender, of all sorts of abstract things that you wouldn’t think could be split off, could he carve away the power from a god?

    1. Probably. I suspect that the people he leaves destroyed, unable to practice, cut off from the higher realms, damned etc. are people getting all that stuff cut away.

  16. So, to add my two cents, I think the whole conversation about Faysal and Barbie fighting it out at some point is wrong. If I remember correctly, and I could not be, Faysal himself mentioned that angels and demons weren’t polar opposites in the chapter where he meets Blake. And just because they are called angels doesn’t mean they have the good of humanity in sight; labels are dangerous after all. They might just be very persuasive. After all, how could such a helpful, nice Other want to hurt you?

    Also, I am very excited about this chapter. I thought today (yesterday night) was Thursday xP Found this by accident. And man, what will be revealed next chapter? I hope that it is something that makes sense in retrospect. I wonder how Blake even arrived to this conclusion, given that we all have seen the same things Blake has, yet I can’t begin to imagine what led him to the conclusion Faysal was the bad guy.

    In any case, fantastic chapter! Thank you for working so hard Wildbow.

    1. Oooh. So Faysal is the third party they were all talking about. Where did that idea that there was a third party come from anyway?

      Also, man, the end is coming so quickly. I was expecting another arc where they fought Johannes, but by deciding to talk things over, the end of the story has been moved closer.

        1. Yes, because someone is powering Molly, causing the town to slide, and generally up to no good, but the cards show that it’s not Johannes, the Behaims, the Duchamps, or the Thorburns. Nobody thinks to check Faysal independently, why would they? He’s Johannes’s familiar, any plan they were working together would be read by the spirits as done by both of them, even if Faysal did the heavy lifting, and so a reading of Johannes would still reveal it. And because it’s obvious and it’s the way the world works, nobody even thinks to ask “But what if his familiar is betraying him? What if Faysal is acting independently, on his own agenda? What if the angel, who’s so nice and generous, (and basically an incarnation of positive karma?)* doesn’t have humanity’s best interests at heart?”

          *Don’t know if angels are incarnations of positive karma, but if they were they would always leave a good impression in the same way Rose always leaves a bad one due to her negative karma. Perfect for going unsuspected.

          1. Hmm, actually the whole Benevolent guy might have been foreshadowing: because he has good karma no one can put together the pieces or find out the nefarious things he’s done. Then we have a mysterious force behind events, that no one can figure out. Maybe because it has really good karma?

  17. 🙂 Favourite line:-

    ‘Evan roughed up his own feathers, sticking them up, as if to join me. It would have been a nice touch, had he not been so adorable.’

  18. This makes sense. The idea that Johannes was off to make a mutually beneficial deal to save the town and end the bloodshed is much more in line with his character than him trying to sink the town. Johannes may be the only good guy.

    Blake keeps making these bold statements that the commenters assume to be true. Blake better have some proof or good reasoning next chapter (or a Barbie/Doggie History). I really hope that Blake’s “instincts” actually being a precognitive power becomes canon and stated in the story, because all these bold thoughts and statements that only this monster that existed for a few months seems to realize is getting a little past the level where I can suspend my disbelief IMO.

    If Johannes believes Blake, we may finally get to see him in Acton outside of his realm.

    Where is the Briar Girl? Has she been shown at all since The Long Night started? Is she in the Junior Counsel? She could probably be useful.

    The scary part about dealing with Barbie is that he can escape into reflections and past defenses, right? Blake needs to give up his eyes and have a long “discussion” with Him. We haven’t seen Barbie’s side of the story yet. That, or Blake should just kill him.

    1. Blake’s reasoning is easy enough to follow, I think. Mara truthfully said Johannes was sinking the town and that everyone, Johannes included, is going to get screwed. Faysal is linked to Johannes and has door powers, and thus is very probably the one specifically doing the sinking, which will be sending the Barber into the Abyss. That is presumably what screws everyone. Faysal is very old and an Angel. It is thus highly likely he can size up relative power levels of demons and gods accurately and will not accidentally screw everyone over. Thus he is doing it on purpose.

  19. I must say. If Rose ends up killing Blake, I might just despise her forever.

    If there is anyone here who deserves to live, it is Blake. He was worked for his survival. Now, yes, he was indirectly screwed many people over. But that is in many ways the fault of others; like Granny Rose.

    Blake has worked hard to change the world for the best and, if whatever the outcome for Jacob’s Bell is good, it will be all thanks to Blake, who has sacrificed his whole life to achieve it.

    And we have Blake being noble, offering Rose to end his life… He truly does not deserve to die. If he dies, it must be his decision and not Rose’s.

    And yes, I am well aware that Rose et al. Have also given up a lot. But not nearly as much as our kid turned vestige turned boogeyman. So yeah. Rowe, don’t you dare touch Blake unless he tries to hurt you first. And Blake, don’t attack her without a good reason.

    (Ps. Sorry for typos. I am on my phone)

  20. My main concern about this entire chapter is that we came SOOOO close to hearing the ONE question I want answered more than anything, but it was dismissed and disregarded by that last line by blake, the other characters, and even the readers.
    the question is, of course- Why in the LITERAL HELL did RDT Do all this and go against her morals of not using demons?!!?! WHYYYYYYY did she make blake/rose? What was her goal and intent?

    So close…. and yet so very very far…

    Wait so …. does this mean if the deal goes through that blake becomes the barber? Mara mentioned him drifting, not being free, for eternity and monotomy, with no change. Barber has been theorized to have been living since well before the creation of living creatures, and it has been said that mankind doesn’t really change…. I know there are tons of other clues to blake being the barber but I really really don’t want to believe it. SOMEONE TELL ME I’M CRAZY!

    1. Yup, you’re crazy. It makes sense that having been “created” by the Barber that Blake would have a lot of related symbolism attached to him, a sort of stylistic flair. There’s been nothing to indicate that the temporal shenanigans necessary for Blake to become the Barber are in any way possible. If time could be rewritten like that then the angels wouldn’t be losing because entropy would be reversible. Instead the best the angels seem to be able to shoot for is unending stagnation.

    2. With this latest revelation I suspect Faysal played her for a fool, convinced her there was some drastic threat on the horizon that required desperate measures to defeat so she’d call in The Barber. During Histories 12.x she and Liard alluded to some sort of looming major crisis.

      As for why she’d break her own morals in the process, Mara explained that. In the end, every diabolist knows that they’ve got plenty of power at their call, so long as they’re willing to pay the price. So eventually they pay it.

    3. Thorburn heir must be female

      Lots of male grandchildren that will do nothing to protect the bloodline

      Apply Barber, secretly add them to the list of heirs retroactively

      Let male half die fighting the battles

      Congratulations, number of heirs before the line is extinct just approximately doubled!

      Callan, Christoff, Peter, and all the rest of the boys were secretly in the list right after BlakeRose. Russell certainly wasn’t publicly on the list before the Barber went snip-snip, after all.

      1. Huh. Weird.
        Still though, she didn’t really care about continuing the line. Not really. She barely left anything for them. She could have easily said “oh hey, the next part of my will reading will be to the grandchildren and only them. Everyone else, get out” the proceed to tell them, force them to awaken, and indoctrinate them before she kicked the bucket.
        But that’s of course if she only wanted to continue the line and had no other motive. Which she did. I just have no idea what it is

  21. Hah! Angels and Demons are playing for the same team. Ornias didn’t “fall”. Ornias built the stars to knock them down.

    1. I suspect it’s more complicated than angels and demons playing for the same team. Specifically, I think they’re split into at least fourteen teams, and it is entirely possible for an angel team and a demon team to cooperate. If Faysal had been from the Choir Of Structure, he probably wouldn’t be teaming up with a Choir Of Ruin member. Well, maybe he’d have a plan that involved sending Barberotem somewhere else to become someone else’s problem forever and the Barber would rather go there than stick around

      Come to think of it, we haven’t found out why an Angel got sent after Johannes in the first place. Maybe Faysal wasn’t sent.

      1. Hmm, Johannes did say that based on his activities an angel of Structure should have been sent. He assumed Faysal was sent instead by mistake, but maybe no angel was ever sent to stop him: Faysal chose him, pretended, alluded, and misled about his purpose and goals, pretended to be convinced by Johannes and become his familiar when that was his plan all along.

    2. Creation and Destruction aren’t truly oppisates. After all destruction makes room for new creation. It’s destruction and preservation that truly oppose one another.

    1. Gibson: You want me to replace the villain with a dog? I mean nobody will know what’s going on.
      Homer: They will if you set up that the dog is evil.

      Damn shifty-eyed dog!

  22. Okay, so this basically implies that Faysal and the Barber have been playing everyone. Now I’m wondering just what “everyone” includes. The only major character here whose agenda we can’t guess is Alister. He’s involved in Rosalyn’s big plan, the one that necessitated the creation of Blake and Rose. If Faysal and the Barber are working together…could it be that Alister is, also, as part of Rosalyn’s big plan?

      1. That’s just what she wanted him to think.

        We’re about to have Faysal’s plan explained. The plan explained now is always less clever than the plan that hasn’t been explained yet.

        1. I would not be surprised if Faysal is being Out-Gambitted by Rose Sr.’s master plan. Impressed, but not surprised (and let’s be real Wildbow will impress us regardless).

      2. I agree with snowf. Granny Rose warned in the books not to mess with Johannes, and I think she might have warned about Faysal on the side about not having dog familiars. I am not sure if her huge plan has all but collapsed by now, but I don’t get the impression she was playing into Faysal’s plan, and that Blake was somehow able to see that.

        1. I dunno, it seems like there would be much better ways of handling this if she knew from the beginning. I mean, quite possibly she does need The Barber and thus couldn’t short-circuit the entire plan by not summoning him in the first place or banishing him upon prepping the heirs, but relying on Blake managing to figure it out at precisely the right moment seems like a reckless gamble unless she has substantial precognition, and Rose and Alister don’t seem to know unless it’s a triple-cross that just got ruined by Blake’s big mouth.

          She warned them that Faysal was dangerous, but I don’t see why she wouldn’t give Rose a more specific warning.

          It seems more likely to me that Blake stumbled onto the plan at the very last minute courtesy of interrogating someone RDT never talked to and the more overt final phases.

  23. What I don’t understand is why Jacob’s Bell is so important. It’s just this dinky little backwater burgh in Canada. I get that it’s important to the humans who live there, but it just doesn’t seem to have earned its role as the setting for a cosmic showdown. Why do the Others care so much? Are big cities just too inhospitable to a lot of Others, so a small town with a big past ends up being the flashpoint? I’m fine with this being like a Twin Peaks-esque ‘small potatoes’ supernatural war, but everybody is acting like the goddamned universe is at stake here, I don’t get it.

    1. A lot of the Others have ties to the town.

      It actually didn’t look like there was a cosmic-scale event incoming until just now. Before, everyone was just worried about the town that they happen to be in getting wiped out. But a demon and angel are apparently teaming up, and it is highly unlikely they are planning to open a fast-food joint. Admittedly this would not be the first story I’ve seen involving angels and demons cooperating at a fast food joint, but I don’t think it’s happening this time.

      Jacob’s Bell has a very powerful and established diabolist family, which is fairly uncommon. I’m not sure if the two are actually coordinating, but Faysal presumably needed a diabolist to summon The Barber, and the war means he very nearly got away with everyone just letting him throw a hunk of town containing a demon into the Abyss. Can’t be too many towns that have powerful diabolists and a local political situation that would let him get away with it.

      He could potentially have told someone else how to do the summoning, but if an angel is teaching someone how to summon a demon that would raise all sorts of questions. And it would appear that getting a large enough door open to the right part of the Abyss is a rather time-consuming process and it helps if a messy fight between practitioners has left the innocents running scared.

    2. How so? I mean, most of them are fighting because it’s their town, or because they were paid to do so by people who think that. Johannes is the only one that’s thinking on a larger scale, barring maybe Alister, and he’s doing it in the sense of “If I get really powerful by doing this, I can set an example for others to avert future catastrophes.” The Abyss is pulling the town down because that’s what it does, and various Others are taking the opportunity for a quick snack. The Barber is there because it’s bound there, and Faysal is there because it wants to be there. The stakes, barring Faysal’s plan being something appropriately catastrophic for the team-up of an Angel and Demon, are small scale as far as the world is concerned.

      1. (Mobile account) maybe it’s just the commenters, but it feels like the universe is in for a smack-down and it doesn’t make sense to me is all. RDT had some crazy plan for reforming magic, not just Jacob’s Bell, right?

        1. I got the impression that Rosalyn’s big plan was similar to Johannes’ in concept, in that it would be making a change and having the effects ripple out in a time of localized chaos.

          From what we know now, the Barber might well be the most accessible and powerful demon left, since Rosalyn didn’t banish it or leave it somewhere safe instead of binding it in the attic. To go back to Laird’s belabored political analogy, it’s an old Soviet nuke that’s poorly guarded and vulnerable to seizure by an interested third party. If there’s anything big coming, it’s because Faysal is taking advantage of that.

        2. Well, yeah. It is either Blake’s or RDT’s plan to change magic, to change the status quo and how things like Solomon’s seal are supposed to work. And while Jacob’s bell is a little town in the middle of nowhere, Canada, it has attracted an immense amount of power. There is Johannes, there is one of the most powerful demons, there is a presumably powerful angel, there is a lesser god, there is a twenty thousand year old hag. To a lesser extent, there is a family of great manipulators in JB and also a family of great chronowizards (I made that word up and I’m sticking with it). So the whole idea is that if Blake can somehow achieve change among the chaos that is happening and among such powerful parties, it should stick for good. At least in JB.

          1. But there’s been nothing indicating that JB is unique or special, so I just assume that stuff like that is going down everywhere. Again there isn’t anything wrong with that, but the overall tone of “saving the world” just doesn’t seem to fit with the setting. Especially given what we saw in Toronto. The Hyena doesn’t get to be a god-killing blade and a mid-level goblin at the same time unless something more is going on than we know about with Blake, JB, etc., for instance. If something like that was just hanging around Toronto who knows what kind of powers are out there? I’m not ruling out future reveals obviously (we’ve all read worm) but we haven’t seen any evidence that JB is special yet.

            1. I’d say that there isn’t stuff like this going on everywhere simply because most places are in equilibrium at any one given time. JB just isn’t right now. In the same manner that you don’t see wars all over the world at the same time, but only a few places, which need not be special in any way.

              As far as why the Hyena is so powerful, well, Corvidae isn’t thaaaat powerful. He was called a very powerful spirit, or the lesser of gods. But I guess the Hyena might be somewhat OP anyway.

              As far as what kind of powers there are out there, I have always wondered how the entire human race isn’t dead by now. But as you mention, there might be other forces in play. And practitioners tend to keep the Others in check, in the same way diabolists keep demons in place.

            2. I think JB does have a higher density of heavy hitters than most places, but not necessarily for a specific reason. Well, Corvidae added the Thorburns into the mix and they’re quite possibly why Faysal came along. The Behaims and Duchamps seem to be relatively big deals, though. Still, it’s not like every Lord in Canada has sent observers.

            3. You wonder why the human race isn’t dead? Look at how much stuff has fallen into the Abyss. Look at the size of the Tenements. The amount of crap in the drains. Seriously its an endless series of drains with endless falls, large enough to hold several villages.

              Look when you count up the stuff that’s fallen and the stuff that’s not the picture isn’t a good one.

    3. Demons seem to go after the small potatoes. Do their work tearing up reality, piece by piece. Pauz ruining neighborhoods. Ur, slowly chewing up that abandoned industrial area. The attacks on the Abyss. The Barber works in wars.

      Hell the mighty lawyers even prefer to work in the shadows. They do their damage by passing out books. What’s so important about Jacob’s Bell? Its another piece of the world to destroy.

      But more than that the plan seems to be feeding gods to the Barber.

      1. I’d argue against using Ur as an example. The only reason it is chewing up that warehouse is because it is bound there, not because its sights are set so low.

    4. I get the feeling that it all ties into the theme of change. Jacob’s Bell is evolving. It’s a big-ish town about to expand and grow into a small-ish city. In maybe a decade or so, I can picture it being about as big as, say, Dublin, or Hobart now.

      It’s very much an anti-Brockton Bay, where everything is slowly going to shit.

      What attracts all the Others, though? My guess is mostly Johannes. The newcomer. With him he brings a feeding ground. And also, the established power balance is being disrupted, just like that, and everyone is vying for the Lordship, so all the various factions are bringing out their big guns(except for the Thorburns for obvious reasons, and Johannes for less obvious ones, but pointed out in one of the comments up there).

    5. I’m just curious about who Jacob was, because his Bell seems to have Power on a massive scale; it can apparently assist in turning ghosts into minor -gods-. And it’s lying there on the mantel, ringing in the background until everyone’s used to it…

      –Dave

  24. Feysal is going to dump the Barber in front of Ornias.
    Then Ornias is going to do what Blake did, and use the huge path opened up by the fall of Jacobs Bell to climb into the real world.
    An unbound major demon of the First Choir with the Barber as support. They proceed to erase everything they can, bring us that much closer to an end to the conflict. I think that’s what Feysal is aiming for and what he spent all those centuries meditating on. Assuming he’s an angel of opposing Unrest/Peace like has been theorized, he’s helping the Demons destroy everything, thereby ending all conflict forever.

    1. So far, we’ve all pretty much assumed that angel=good, demon=bad. But what if angels and demons are just another class of Other? So angels just happen to be Others who derive power from structure/order/etc. It is possible that Feysal is just apathetic about humans alltogether, and we mistakenly assumed that as an Angel, he was an ally. RDT did warn us about this after all….

      On an unrelated note, has anyone considered the possibility that the cut between Goblins and the Fey was made between the Barber’s shears?

  25. Can I just add that in the diaries and the books about the barber, they specifically say that they aren’t sure whether to classify the barber as a demon, and labeling it as such is dangerous? A diabolist said NOT to call something a demon. Just sayin- the whole “angels and demons are working together” kinda seems odd when the readers of RDTs books were warned not to call it that…

    1. Actually considering what his power does it seems far more like an act of creation. It creates two individuals out of one. Neither of the individuals is quite complete, but they are more than they were before. If the comment a bit above about the creation of goblins and fey are correct entire races of others might have been created this way. Also since we are NOT supposed to label things angels or demons, the various choirs being in such perfect opposition becomes suspicious, maybe they are twisted reflections instead. The barber maybe neither demon nor angel but a reflection of the universes ultimate destructive principle: change via self annihilation.

    1. neither Christoff or Peter
      neither Christoff nor Peter
      but it was used in conversation and in-story characters are allowed to use poor grammar

      What is the practice, at it’s core?
      its
      Wildbow has been consistent in using “it’s” as “it is” and “its” as possessive.

      Wings spread, Taking in the warmth.
      Wings spread, taking in the warmth.

  26. A piece of possibly-relevant backstory: “Ornias. He once placed stars in the firmament, but he now calls them down to earth. Say his name seven times.”

    That’s the description we get of Ornias. Sound like a fallen angel to anyone else? And if they can fall… if demons are themselves fallen angels… well, I’m going to be very happy if that winds up being relevant.

    1. Of course, that begs the question what if “falling” is just a part of the natural order of things. If Ornias is the Angel of putting stars in the heavens what becomes his purpose once he’s done that? To pull them down again, perhaps?

  27. Hmm. Alright, let’s try a subplot/loose end round up, shall we?

    • Obviously, Blake’s third visit to the Abyss and his third black fish.
    • Obviously, the whole thing with RDT’s grand plan, the splitting of Ross/Russel/whoever it was, which isn’t so much a subplot as much as an actual plot. I think.
    • Paige and Isadora. This might actually be tied up, but I don’t think it is.
    • Molly and Mags.The hell are they doing?
    • Blake/Green Eyes. He’s going to have to deal with the whole “btw if I step out of line Rose and Alister can kill me” thing at some point.
    • Ur… though I think it’s vaguely part of the main plot.
    • Conquest. Oh god damn this one is important. I really really want that dude out of Rose’s head.
    • The Duchamps. How are they dealing with being all but destroyed?
    • Mara. Somehow I think leaving her in the snow like that is… yeah. Even if she can’t practice. I really hope they just stumble across her corpse at some point or something
    • Fell’s family subplot! How’s the little girl doing?

    Am I missing anything?

    1. Padraic is still being a creep and pretending to be that poor Duchamp kid. I think he might be more of a Mags thing, though. Maybe she can stab him a couple times.

      What else? Well, the Thorburns might need a wrap-up to their problems, though I doubt that’s going to happen in the timescale of the story. Whatever happened to Duncan. What the hell Laird was thinking (this ties into the RDT plot, since they were apparently cooperating in Laird’s actions in making Blake and Rose’s lives a living hell). The Toronto Lordship (If the Sisters can hold it, if the Astrologer can rebuild, if Jeremy values the power more than the power he cost Sandra). Pauz. That one promise that Blake made to that Behaim child back in arc 3. If Eva and Andy are still alive, and what they’re going to do.

      Huh, that’s a surprisingly short list, all told. It seems longer when you’re not focusing on counting them.

      1. We’re forgetting the Goblin Queen, though that also could be a Mags thing. It’d be pretty hilarious if while we’re watching about ten to twenty people deal with this shit Mags turns out to have been dealing with the Goblins and the Faerie singlehandedly.

        And oh right, they left Mara behind. WTF ARE YOU DOING JUST SHOOT HER IN THE FACE.

  28. Typo thread for Null/Vull 9.3 (yes, I’m late): “the blank skittered away” -> plank. It wouldn’t post for that far back.

    Comments while still at that point:
    I’ve also caught that the memory Blake least wanted to relive involved getting raped while he was homeless, and apparently Carl was involved somewhere. What I want to add is that he’s repressing it SO strongly that I’m theorizing it’s not just hurt and pain involved … that at some level he got pleasure from it, and he’s DESPERATE to suppress that. More common than many people know, especially if there’s even a little bisexuality in his makeup that he’s also repressing. (I admit this may have been brought up in a previous comment thread, none of which I’ve read so far because I’ve been too busy clicking to the next installment as fast as possible…) Which ties right in with the “peace and good feelings coming from it being the most horrifying possible thing for him” at the end…

    And someone noted that Blake’s life changed when he Awakened, and again when he Fell into the void. And that triggered the association, for me, with Exalted sorcery – not one level, but three, each with its own initiation, each involving sacrifice, each more difficult than the last. If he survives and returns, he may be more Other than human, yes, but he’s also gonna have power available on a level he simply couldn’t match before, even without implement or demense (or a generally-known name; the inverse parallel with Mags is VERY interesting also.) I will read on!

    –Dave

    1. “What I want to add is that he’s repressing it SO strongly that I’m theorizing it’s not just hurt and pain involved … that at some level he got pleasure from it, and he’s DESPERATE to suppress that.”

      Of course. Sex triggers feelings of sexual pleasure — it’s a biological thing and you can’t stop it any more than you can choose to stop your heart from beating. That’s the hidden shame of rape, the thing that most people who have been raped struggle with, because no matter how much you didn’t want it to happen, no matter how much you may detest that it is happening, it nonetheless has some element of physical pleasure in it. Now someone might respond, “But so-and-so can stop their heart,” or something like that, but we’re talking about normal everyday run of the mill people here, the 99%.

      That element of pleasure, however, doesn’t in any way mean that a person necessarily identifies as bisexual, however, it simply means that pleasure is pleasure and even if an act is against your will and against your sexual identity, the body reacts the way it will react.

      It’s absolutely wrong to say, “If a male character who loves women found even a small measure of pleasure when they were raped, they must be bisexual” — rape is devastating enough without using the excuse of someone else’s actions to call into question a person’s own gender identity. That’s something which should be investigated without coercion.

      1. You may want to reread what I wrote then – there’s a reason I had “especially if there’s” in there. He’d have one set of reasons to repress it if he was straight and even a little bit insecure about that – and people actually SECURE in their sexuality are rarer than many think … and an -additional- set of reasons if he were ALSO already repressing some sexuality he didn’t want. Nothing I wrote was meant to imply “if he experienced pleasure it he wasn’t straight”.

        But very shortly after I wrote the comment above, I realized (on reading on) that I’d been reading things into the background that the writer hadn’t actually put there, which is on me, sorry. I do still want to know more about the time with Carl, because Blake still didn’t give us everything even in internal perspective, but we may never know.

        And now that I’m here I have to wait for more of the concentrated AWESOME ON FIRE that is this story. (I’ll note that Blake can now fly AND has been on fire, and we’re all lucky Evan didn’t notice those in juxtaposition at the time or we’d have the Most Jealous Ghost Sparrow Familiar Evar^Hn…)

        –Dave

        1. I’m very purposefully not responding to you individually, I’m just responding to some of the statements made. I’m not saying you’re a bad person for having brought this up, just that a mistake was made and we don’t need to continue talking about this.

          Is Blake repressing things for different reasons? Probably. Would those reasons be different depending on his sexual gender identity? Probably. Do we have any basis for making the determination of his gender identity based on the rape, what happened during the rape, and his reaction to it? No, we definitely do not.

          It’s just that yes, virtually every person who is raped experiences that bit of physical pleasure and virtually nobody wants to admit it because of what they are afraid it means — did they actually, in some deep part of themselves, want to be raped? it doesn’t in any way mean that a character is bisexual or homosexual or heterosexual, however. It just means that it’s really obvious to tell when a man is physically sexually excited and it’s really obvious to see when a man orgasms, and society tends to teach that when this happens it means the guy wanted it.

          The same goes for women. Remember that guy who said that in legitimate rape a woman’s body has ways of shutting things down? Yeah. Society teaches that just as people aren’t normally sexually excited by little children, and have to learn to ignore it if they are, so too should people be able to ignore that sexual excitement when they’re being raped. Except it’s different when you’re being forced to be sexually excited.

          It’s really hard for anyone to come to grips with the fact that they found some element of physical pleasure when they were raped, because the cold hard truth is that pleasure is, well, pleasurable. And it’s really hard to not like something that you like. Your mind is going to rebel at the fact because you shouldn’t like it, your mind doesn’t want this thing happening to you and your body, it doesn’t want to like it, that you body which you normally control (you tell it when to walk, when to talk, when to sit and when to stand), your body is now making these choices on its own and even when you’re mentally screaming at it to stop, the body is reacting the way it will react. And not only have you lost control of your surroundings as the other person rapes you, you’ve also lost control of your own body, of everything that you thought you were and are. You literally have no control over anything at that point — even your breathing will change on its own without your consent.

          So let’s not speculate on this. It’s a horrible aspect of rape and it has no meaning whatsoever. Whether a person is bi, hetero, homo, tri, monosexual or whatever, this aspect of rape doesn’t matter — it shouldn’t be used as a basis for determining anyone’s sexual makeup. It happened, we accept it, and then we ignore it and move on. 🙂

  29. I can’t find the quote, but in Mala Fide Blake said to Rose something along the lines of ‘I don’t know why people don’t work with angels more often.’ Rose replied ‘I think there is probably a very good reason for that.’

    Looks like we’ve found our reason. I’ve been trying to think of what it is without simply resorting to ‘They’re less powerful than demons’. This argument doesn’t really hold water because so is everything else, and that didn’t stop the non-diabolist practitioners. Additionally, Rose Sr thought that all Others came from demons, and presumably this included angels, too. Rose must not have thought too highly of the angels.

    Theories on the nature of angels I’ve come up with:

    1) Angels are beings of creation, not of good. For humans to thrive, we need a balance of creation and pruning, but the angels have no regard for the pruning aspect. Of course, this doesn’t properly account for the ‘All others are from demons’ theory.

    2) The angels are actually a tool for the demons. The most abstract demons, being more powerful than the most abstract angels, have found a way to get the angels to generate entropy, possibly by spending something more expensive than whatever it is they create. The angels may think they’re simply in opposition to the demons, but actually they’re being used by them.

    3) Angels fuck you over via creation. This might be intrinsically more difficult to deal with than demons fucking you over via destruction. Demonic fallout= scars in the universe. But angelic fallout? That could be like a cancer, as another commenter mentioned. It could spread and be impossible to contain without having your wits about you.

    4) Neither angels nor demons really care about their causes, so much as they care about enacting them. It might be that whatever demons destroy isn’t truly destroyed, but goes somewhere else as Faysal suggested earlier, but they don’t care because their role is to destroy. Therefore, they’re in no more opposition than the actors playing two opposing characters in a play are.

    5) Humans are chaos-friendly, not order friendly. Demons may actually prefer working with us than angels do because they know that they can destroy more that way, whereas angels may benefit more by working against us.

    6) Angels are harder to predict because of the nature of order. What demons want is obvious- destruction, ruin, loss, etc. There’s only so many forms these things can manifest as, and that’s what entropy is. A broken sandcastle looks like a broken sandcastle no matter how you break it, but an unbroken sandcastle is another thing entirely. What an angel wants may not be obvious at all, because you simply can’t comprehend which level of order they’re working at, or what they consider ‘order’ to be. What does the least orderly sandcastle look like? A pile of sand. What does the most orderly sandcastle look like? Mathematics may have an answer, but it’s harder to tell at a glance.

  30. What danger was a monster, compared to the right words in the wrong ear?

    Needs to be on the cover of the book when published.

  31. You kno what is funny?A few chaptersago,we were accusing everybody and his mom of being the mastermind,yet nobody (including me)thought of Faysal.At best,they thought pof johannes.

    1. Yup. Wildbow did a brilliant job of sneaking him under the radar as a suspect.

      A few people were thinking along the lines of “let’s not assume that angel = good” and even that Faysal was playing a game of his own with Johannes. But I don’t think anyone ever picked him for the big bad…

  32. A twist, not of shock,
    Though it brings a sense of awe,
    Not a swerve of mood.

    Rather, a puzzle piece
    Clicking into place with a
    Satisfying thunk.

    Not the first nor last
    Piece to take its place, this one
    Is nonetheless key:

    For twisted just right
    It clicks, and makes clear at last
    The greater pattern.

    So yeah, that’s my attempt at poetry. As my haikus strive to convey, this feels less like a shocking “OMG, I can’t believe it!” and more like a piece I didn’t know was missing has just been filled in perfectly (not to say I saw it coming, because man did I ever not see this one coming). The one thing Pact has been missing is a greater narrative, a plot beyond surviving and rebuilding. This twist… fits.

    And of course, hats off to Wildbow for continuing to amaze and entertain. [round of applause]

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