Sine Die 14.10

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I met everyone’s eyes in turn.  Rose, the High Priest, Alister, my friends.

Then Johannes’.

I wasn’t getting resounding support.  No voices echoing my suspicions.

“Proof?” Johannes asked.

I only shook my head.

“What I can’t decide,” Johannes finally said, “Is if you think you’re right, or if you’re just stirring up trouble, by your nature.”

“I’ve been through the metaphorical grinder since this all began,” I said, my voice low.  “Virtually everyone here has been my enemy at one time or another.  I’ve seen alliances form and be broken, marriages and families shattered and united.  It keeps hitting the same notes.  The line between enemy and ally is never as clearly defined as we think it is.  I’m a pretty good example of how labels don’t always apply in nice, clean-cut ways.  I can’t believe that, given all the time they’ve been around, that angels and demons haven’t found a way to cross wires or cross paths at some points.”

“You really believe what you’re saying,” Johannes said.  “You think my familiar is allied with demons?”

“I’m saying that he’s probably working with demons or a demon.  Different interests, but right now, right here, with so much at stake on a greater scale, I don’t think you can have entities like that in close proximity without having things get sucked into their orbit.  There’s just no way to deal with powers that vast in a safe manner.”

Johannes put two fingers to the bridge of his nose.  “Are you really going to dismantle what we’re trying to build here, out of sheer paranoia?”

“I might try,” I said.  “Is it paranoia if it’s justified?  I’ve faced down demons.  I’ve seen a demon working its way into the Abyss.  I’ve seen a man destroyed, the hierarchy of beasts and man overturned.  I’ve had my life taken from me by the fallout of two different demons doing their work.  Angels are apparently, according to an angel, only a step down from that.  I don’t know how much involvement your pet had in your decision to do this, but I do know that, according to the book that serves as Familiars 101, powerful familiars can eclipse the practitioner.”

“You may be underestimating how strong I am,” Johannes said.

“You don’t even factor in, Johannes,” I said, my voice hard.  “They operate beyond the bounds we do.  They destroy, and they create.  Those of us here, the humans, the faerie, the goblins, and whatever else, we’re only changing what they’ve left us to work with.  There’s very little we can do to even compete on their level.  A major, if forgotten god was only just keeping an even ground with what I was told was a moderate demon.  You want to tamper with the Barber, and you think anything is going to stop it?”

“Grandmother said that binding Barbatorem was one of her greatest accomplishments,” Rose said.  “Seeing other demons in action, if only briefly, just being around the Barber, I think I understand why.”

“I was hoping that you would get the Thorburn monster on a metaphorical leash, rather than agree with him,” Johannes said.

“I don’t,” Rose said.  “I’m not about to bind him in any manner, but I’m not going to agree with him automatically, either.  The deal sounds good.  There’s a lot more that’s at play, and, honestly, the deal fits in well with that stuff.”

Too well?” I asked.

I saw Rose’s expression change for just a moment.

“I don’t know,” she said, a little less confidently.

I turned away.  Couldn’t push her too hard.  I had to think my way through this.  Argue with my head more than my gut.  In the meantime, I had to hope that Rose could do the opposite.

If we could both find our way to the right answer, at the same time, maybe the shattered whole that was the sixth Thorburn grandchild, Rusty, Russel, Ross, whatever his name was, maybe he could figure out this situation.  He, we.

It wasn’t quite Mara’s words, but her sentiments lingered, the warnings, the mockery, the observations.

Rose and I were at odds with one another.  Not enemies, but still at odds.

If we could cooperate, so could the angel and demon.

I’d found my way to one part of the answer.

But there had to be more to it.

My eyes fell on one stack of books.  Grandmother’s diaries.

Had Rose read them?  How much knowledge had she gleamed?

Was her knowledge of grandmother’s plan or greater agenda influencing her decision here?

Alister spoke, “Jacob’s Bell is so damaged that I’m not even sure I’d want it anymore.  There’s too much mess to clean up.  I can’t speak for the others, but I helped build the junior council based on the idea that we didn’t want to wait until our parents vacated their seats before being able to take a hand in things.”

“Ironic,” the Drunk said.  “Coming from the new leader of the Behaim family.”

Alister flashed what he probably thought was a winning smile.  To people who didn’t like him in the first place, though, it was only annoying.

“Honestly,” Alister said, “If you want to make a deal of nonaggression, help us on our way?  I’m not sure I care what you do.”

“You’re marrying Rose,” I said.  “And Rose-”

“Will be protected,” Alister said.  “As best as we can.”

I clenched my fist.  “You’re not grasping what you’re up against.”

“I’m not stupid,” Rose said.  “I’ve met grandmother’s lawyers more times than you have.  I’ve put a lot of thought into them and how to deal with them.  I just faced them down, on my way here.  The barrier that Mara talked about?  That would delay my arrival?  It was them.  More than a little upset about the state of the house.”

I kept my mouth shut.

“If it weren’t for my engagement with Alister, I don’t think they would have left me alone.  They’re a big part of what I’m trying to figure out, moving forward.  Striking a balance, keeping them dealt with.  I honestly feel a lot more confident giving up the house, keeping the books, or as many as I can take, and moving forward with Johannes’ contacts and Alister’s family backing me.  I think I can get the lawyers to agree to it.  They just want the Thorburn family to keep going.”

She paused.

“What’s the alternative, Blake?” she asked.  “You say this deal is a trap, some great conspiracy by an angel, but what’s the alternative?  What do you propose?”

I clenched my teeth.

“Right,” she said.  “Maybe an unfair question to ask you.”

“By your own admission, you’ve been through a lot,” Johannes said.  “But don’t underestimate us.  If worst comes to worst, we’re not incapable.”

Trust me,” Rose told me.

There was an insistence in her tone.

I was almost instantly reminded of my own line of thinking.  The thoughts I’d had about how to communicate to Rose without influencing her instincts.

Was Rose doing the same thing?

Did she have knowledge that she was forced to hold back?  Putting her in the awkward position of having to communicate with me, getting me to play ball?

I looked back to grandmother’s diaries.

I stared at them.

Mara had talked about grandmother.  Grandmother’s plan and motivations were still a great big unknown for me.

“The good thing is that there’s no rush,” Johannes said.  “The bad thing is that I don’t think there’s an easy way to resolve this, and a deadlock is as bad as an inability to get everyone involved to cooperate.”

“We’re not about to get deadlocked,” the High Priest said.  His tone was serious, grave.

I didn’t participate in the discussion.  My thoughts were on grandmother.

Her plan.

What Rose wanted, or didn’t want, did it fit into Grandmother’s scheme?  Or did it subvert that scheme?

I glanced around.

Sandra wasn’t here.  Neither was Mags.  Faysal Anwar, too, was absent.

“Where’s Mags?” I asked.

“With the Duchamps,” the High Priest said.  “Who, thanks to your summoned crow, are in dire straits.  Sandra was very nearly killed by the backlash from her own contingent.”

“We simply set it loose,” Alexis said.  “We didn’t have time to give it more concrete instructions.  Things were rather serious here.”

“All the same,” the High Priest said.

“They have dibs on the Ambassador,” Alister elaborated.

“And your familiar?” I asked Johannes.

“Faysal is managing my domain,” Johannes said.  “Too many powerful agents that can’t be given too much free reign.”

I nodded slowly.

“Victory is in my grasp,” Johannes told me.  “The Behaims are strong, but not unbreakable. The Duchamps have fallen.  I’ve shown you all my strength.  If this were a court case, you could consider this my offer of a plea bargain.  If it were war, which it is, I’m offering peace.  There is no longer anyone in play that cares to have Jacob’s Bell.  Let me have it, let the others be, free to relocate if they see fit, and even if we are not creating or destroying as angels or demons might, we’re still creating a great work of change.  That has to count for something.”

“A new order,” I said, only speaking so I wouldn’t be left behind or ignored as the conversation moved forward.  My mind was still elsewhere.  “One of the other locals told me you wanted to create a realm where Others could reside.”

“Power,” Johannes said.  “But I would want that power to be untainted, and to attract the right types of Other.  I need this house gone.  Give me that, and I’ll share the power with each of you.  Even at one hundredth of the total share, you stand to gain much.  I can offer you that deal, Blake, but I think you’d appreciate having life again.”

“It makes sense,” Rose said.  “All that Faysal has asked for has been to be allowed to guide the demon to the Abyss, still within its circle, where it can most easily be dealt with.  Presumably by a greater power like a god.”

“Or an angel?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Rose said.

“An angel named Faysal Anwar?”

Johannes sighed.  “Paranoia.”

My attention fell on the diaries again.

I’d only read the opening.  I had only glimmers of an insight into who Grandmother was, otherwise.  A snippet here, mentioning Barbatorem, a detail here, from memory of dealing with family or visiting the house as a very young child, the brief conversation over the inheritance.

A child born into the Thorburn family, who swore never to teach her own children the practice.  A young woman who made a mistake, and saw innocents hurt for it.  A bitter, sly, arrogant old woman who derided her family as failures, and arranged her grandchildren in the wrong order.  Catching one by surprise, barbering the second, slighting Paige because she wouldn’t necessarily bear a daughter for the family.

“If you don’t have any more arguments,” Johannes said, “Perhaps you should stand back.  We can finish this discussion and deal without your input.  But you can’t filibuster our decision without actually saying something.  Not in a civilized process.”

“I’m not sure,” Alister said.  “The suspicions about your familiar’s motives might be a bit much, but… I’m wondering if we should bring him here to say his piece.  If only to reassure us.”

“He might complicate things,” the High Drunk said.

“He might,” Alister conceded.  I’d expected a rebuttal, a counterpoint.  He didn’t give one.  He’d been telling the truth when he’d said he wasn’t sure.

I made eye contact with Rose.  Willing her to somehow express or transmit her thoughts to me.  To share what she might know of grandmother or the larger plan.

Assumptions.  Thinking that enemies were going to stay enemies was dangerous.

But if I turned it around, looking at Rose, knowing that I’d once considered her a lonely ally when I had so many enemies, was the opposite true?

Grandmother.  The Lawyers.

Ostensibly allies, or at least willing to cooperate.  In practice?  Was Grandmother subverting them?

If I banished all assumptions, dismissed the obvious as a ploy, a trick to keep the lawyers pacified…

All power had a price.  Practice was akin to a currency, and we were in so, so much debt.

We could work for lifetimes, and possibly never be rid of it all.

In the beginning I’d wondered, very briefly, why we couldn’t game the system to get rid of the debt.  Spread it out among countless children, stagger it out, or figure out other means of breaking it down.

The lawyers were keeping us in this position.

Just desperate enough that we might take their deal, take an out, join their firm.

Putting ourselves in a position where we were contributing to a greater cosmic decline.

Was Grandmother working against that?  Was Rose?

How?

By looking like they were cooperating on the surface level, but…

But.  That was the key thought.

“I suppose silence is as good an answer as any,” Johannes said.  “Only speculation.  If everyone else-”

“Rose,” I interrupted him.  “I think I’m starting to get it.”

“Yeah?” she asked.

But I was only on the brink of putting it together.  The others were on the brink of making the deal.

It was a good thing fear wasn’t an emotion I really experienced anymore.  Panic could easily have taken hold of me, dashed the thoughts from my head.

How did one deal with an impossible amount of debt, when the debtors were striving to claim the funds?

Declare bankruptcy.

We, the children, were the assets.

Except bankruptcy didn’t work.  Didn’t make sense.

My eyes didn’t leave Rose’s.

“Rose?  We can do this without your permission, but I’d really rather not,” Johannes spoke, his voice calm.

Rose didn’t glance away from me.

“Rose?” he tried, again.

Not bankruptcy, but something simpler.  Something older.

Controlled failure?

“What gender is Kathryn’s child?” I asked.

“Male,” Rose said, without a moment’s hesitation.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Johannes asked.

I saw Rose’s expression change, just a fraction.

Everything, I thought, and I knew Rose was thinking something very similar.

Her chin rose.  Confidence?  Something else, maybe.

“Alister,” Rose said, still not breaking eye contact.  “A word?  In private?”

“You’re delaying,” Johannes said, exasperated.

“As you said, there’s no rush,” Rose said.

Alister glanced at Johannes, shrugged, then headed to Rose’s side.  The pair of them stepped past the people collected at the doorway and headed down into the hallway.

Buying me time?

I did what I could to use it.

Grandmother wasn’t a hero.  She wasn’t a good person.  She had sacrificed us, she’d set us up for failure.

But she’d done it with purpose.  A game of something like chess, giving up set pieces in a set order, to play a long game and hide the fact that she was intentionally losing.

Molly, the sacrificial pawn.  Rightly angry about it.  Too easily broken or swayed, perhaps.  Thrown to the wolves without time to prepare, absorbing the initial assault, forcing enemies to show their hands.

Rusty was second.  The division into Blake and Rose serving multiple purposes.  Intended to do just what it had, warning us, forcing us to confront the new reality immediately.  Catch the enemies by surprise.  Positioning us with the warrior buying time, while the true heir found her footing.

But… there was something more to it.

If Rose won, earned her survival, secured her position in this world, how was that a win for Grandmother?

Very simple.  Something the lawyers couldn’t act on until it was far too late.  If Rose carried on her position, kept going as the Thorburn heir, marrying Alister, settling into Jacob’s Bell, or leaving the house to fall and moving elsewhere with her new husband as leader of the junior council… time could pass.

Until no heir was produced.

One individual, cut in twain.  One given the desire, but not the ability.  The other left with the ability, but all of the trauma that would discourage the desire.

To the point of turning down the offer from the girl he loved, for a three-way.

I couldn’t guess what had been arranged for if we failed, if we died.  Kathryn was next.  And Kathryn had a little boy.  Again, not an heir.

Would Kathryn be cut in two, by the same sort of deal?  Or was the expectation, from the evaluation we’d been subjected to, that Kathryn would die or fail by some other measure?

Maybe the line of thinking was that Kathryn and Ellie would fail in a similar way to how Molly had.  Maybe, as she’d prepared other individuals with knowledge of how to deal with demons, she’d anticipated that they would destroy themselves, attacking Laird or Alister or someone and having the demon rebuffed, sent back to the summoner.  A demon, ready at hand, that was capable of bypassing the typical defenses.

Leaving the impulsive, stubborn, aggressive Kathryn and Ellie ill prepared for the rebound.

Rose probably knew the particulars.  She’d studied up, read between lines.

Rose would have, much as I was doing in this moment, come to the conclusion that she agreed with grandmother.  That we could let the debt rest with one individual, who couldn’t produce an heir.

There was more to it, I was sure.

Grandmother had had a plan, and she’d deemed that plan worth working with a demon, worth sacrificing one child.

Weighing the odds, she might well have thought that clearing the slate, in whole or in large part, even committing those wrongs to do it, was worth the many, many Thorburns who might die further down the road, or deal with demons as many of her predecessors had.

Damning herself in the process.

A full minute passed, after my thoughts came to rest.

Rose and Alister re-entered the room.

She and Alister both glanced at me, side-long, as she returned.  A fractional glance.

I gave her a quick nod.

I gestured toward Evan, who had come to rest on Ty’s shoulder.  Talking to Tiff, Ty and Alexis in whispers and murmurs.

Evan flew to me.

Some might say that calling your familiar in the middle of a meeting is like drawing your sword,” Johannes commented.

“I’m pretty harmless,” Evan said.  “Look at me.  I’m a bird, I’m a kid.  I’m dead.”

“All the same,” Johannes said.

Now who’s being paranoid?” Evan retorted.

“Shh,” I said.  I cupped my hand around him and lifted him to my left shoulder.

“Well?” Johannes asked.  “Your discussion with Alister…”

“Was about wedding arrangements,” Rose said.  “Wasting time.”

“Why?” Johannes asked.

“Blake?” Rose asked.  “We’re on the same page?”

“No,” I said.  “That may never happen.  But I think we’re thinking along the same lines.”

“Convince me,” she said, her voice quiet.

I glanced at Johannes.  He was rigid, jaw set.

He, I remembered, had a dragon and a giant at his beck and call.  He had genies.

If we upset him, if and when we disrupted his plan for a deal, we might be dealing with those soldiers of his.

“Do you remember what happened, why I went to the Abyss in the first place?”

“Ur.”

“But why, specifically?”

“The ties were cut.”

“Nothing to hold me up,” I said.  “Jacob’s Bell is the same.  This house is the same.  Connections matter.  Everything we’ve dealt with to this point, they’ve proven how much those connections matter.”

I glanced at my friends.  My hand still at my shoulder from where I’d lifted Evan up, I gave him a poke.

He pecked at my finger just before I let my hand drop to my side.

“Yes,” she said.  “And the lack thereof.”

“The whole reason the house was worth money, is it’s connected to other things.  Briar Girl’s forest, the marsh, the town.  It’s tied to our family.  You want to sink it?  I’m thinking it’s going to get pulled into the Abyss, and as if it’s tied to everything around it, it’s going to drag other things with it.  One of those things might well be me.  If I took the deal, it would be me, minus the Otherness.  Just a human in the Abyss.”

“Me too?” Rose asked.

I spread my arm and my partially-folded wing.  “And Alister, because he’s tied to you?  Drawn into a dark place, where there is only unrest, never a moment’s peace?  It could pull in every prominent figure that’s tied to this city.  That’s why Mara was so terrified that her house was gone.”

Alister turned to stare at Johannes.

The High Priest did as well.  Sandra had strong ties to the city.

“With your collective consent?” I asked.  “Johannes could empty the city of everyone and everything prominent, and leave the remainder of Jacob’s Bell intact.  All he would need to do to expand his reach into what remained.”

Johannes shook his head slowly.

“All I’ve ever wanted was to better the relationship between man and Other, as Solomon did.  Even with all the ugliness, I believe this world is better with magic in it.  I swear to you, none of what he says was ever my intent, or more than an inkling in my mind.”

“But,” a voice spoke from the hallway, “It was mine.”

The dog strode into the room.

People gave it a wider berth than a simple white-haired dog might have merited.

“The demon would have had its way with all of you, freed of its confines, able to prey on you, until the Abyss caught it once more.  A firmer, longer-lasting binding than any that man could achieve,” Faysal said.  “The Seventh Choir of angels exists in abstract.  We cannot and do not typically win direct confrontations.  The demon gets what it desires, to undo the working that binds it to man’s word by taking the Thorburn family and associated individuals to pieces, and I achieve what I desire, stopping it in the longer term.  Worth cooperation in the short term.”

The room was still.

“Well,” Faysal said, “That plan is spoiled.  How unfortunate.  It would be much tidier than this.  Still, with most relevant parties here, we can get started.”

“Faysal,” Johannes said.  “By these pipes-”

There was a distortion.  A folding of space, complete with brilliant light.  Faysal disappeared.

“Damn,” Johannes said.

The entire structure distorted, the walls sucking in, as if by an immense pressure, then ballooning outward.  Glass and wood cracked.  As floorboards and sections of ceiling twisted, light shone through.

The light was soon marred and masked by the smell of putrid meat.

I could smell burning hair.

“Run!  Out of the house!”  Alister cried out.

A small grace that the wall around the door had been blown open.  The crush of bodies might have jammed all traffic, trapping us within.  We were able to make our way to the hallway.

“Metal objects,” Rose cried out.  “Anything reflective.  Hide it!  Don’t look directly at it!”

“How are we supposed to fight it!?”

“You don’t!  It will destroy you!” she said, her voice high, imperious, altered by Conquest.

The smell was growing thicker.

I saw Ty hold his hand to his mouth.  He’d thrown up, caught it, and now blocked his mouth.  Rounding the stairs, he spit the mouthful to one side.

A fraction of a second later, the stairway and the rest of the house collapsed.

The noise was akin to an entire city folding in on itself.  There wasn’t a sensation that wasn’t amplified a million times over, every inch of me that vibrated was shaking like it would simply tear into splinters and sawdust.  Bone threatened to crack.

All light went out.

When everything stopped moving, we were in a heap.

The stairs that had led up now led down, haphazard, some only attached on the one side, others broken, some three feet below the stair that had sat next to it.

The house had distorted, and now sat warped.  Bookshelves lay along every wall, largely empty, and even as I watched, script appeared on the spines, as the words were being penned in on the blank spines of books.

Water and dirt flowed in along the sides, streaming along the surfaces, turning what had been conventional novels into sodden messes.

A library? I thought.

We had light.

I stared up.

I hadn’t expected this.

We were at the bottom of a great depression.  But there was sky above us.  Clouds swirled, dark, but not quite pitch darkness.  Somewhere off to the side, a light was shining, lighting up the falling snow.

Lying on her side, Rose reached a hand up, and caught one of the first snowflakes to reach all the way down to us, a hundred or more feet deep.

There was a rumble, as if responding to the thought.

We dropped by another twenty feet.

“Snow,” Rose spoke in a whisper, as the snowflake melted against her palm.  “That means-”

“The time effect,” Alister said.  “The floorboards broke.”

The bell started to ring again.  Violent, discordant, never with a pattern.  It, Molly was angry.

At the edges of the darkness, shapes began to move.

Called in from nearby sections of the Abyss by the peal of the bell.

As the snow had reached us from above, the smell reached us from below.

Even with my inhuman nature, it was almost enough to steal all sense from my head, to leave me reeling helplessly.

I heard a scrape.  Metal against wood.

Footsteps, heavy.

“It’s coming.  On your feet!” Rose said.

“We’ve been in the abyss before,” Ty said.  “Blake too!  Listen to what he has to say!  He knows how this place works!”

One snowflake, however, didn’t move.

Distant, at the edge of the Abyss, I could see it.  But it was humanoid.  Impossible to look straight at, as space distorted around it.

The dog.  The angel.

“Faysal,” Johannes said.  He’d collapsed onto his back, and he looked hurt.

Between a rock and a hard place, I thought.  With monsters all between.

“He says ‘stay’,” Johannes said.

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206 thoughts on “Sine Die 14.10

  1. So this chapter wound up being a bit shorter than is my habit recently. Part of that is just me trying not to rush the conclusion as I sort of did with Worm, and part of it is just that, well, this chapter was way freaking harder to write than I’d anticipated, as I wanted to pull stuff together. Part of it is just that I was recently sick and I had to write one chapter early to free up my ability to travel and see family for a late Christmas this past weekend, and any ‘vacation’ tends to break my stride some.

    Hopefully it came out okay. It marks the end of the arc.

    As I was too sick to write one Thursday bonus chapter this month, I’ll be writing an extra in January. I’m estimating 20 more chapters in total, or two arcs, and I figure that’s just shy of two more months of story (11 in Jan, 9-10 in Feb, one epilogue chapter), but as I do want to not have the story fall flat on its face at the finish line, I’m going to let it take as long as it needs to take. Then it’s straight on to Twig.

    Thanks for reading! Hope everyone had a good holiday. I did.

    1. In the words of a certain midwife mid-job, it’s time for the final stretch! I look forward to the fulfilling and graceful conclusion to Pact, as well as Twig.

      But if Pact will be ending soon, does that mean we won’t be able to buy any Evan plushies?

    2. The final two arcs are Severance and Termination, aren’t they? Because I can’t believe those titles haven’t been used yet unless you’re saving them for the end.

    3. Don’t feel bad. Yeah it was a short chapter, but some chapters don’t need to be long. Short can work very well, and I think this is also a transistion chapter, and it feels like the chapter accomplished what it needed too. Besides it’s also bad if the chapter gets stretched out more than it needs to be.

    4. Even though it was shorter than some other chapters, it still wasn’t the shortest you’ve done. 😉
      So don’t worry about it and keep up the awesome work! =D

    1. Hm, so I guess it’s not as large-scale and grand a plan as I had thought. Also, guess now we know why people don’t summon angels much: they might be on the side of good but have a very broad view of what constitutes expendable assets.

      Guess this also explains the demon-Abyss connection. They’re actually locked in. Ur is attempting a jailbreak.

      Also, did Faysal drop the entire town? Because if Molly came with them, I’m thinking he brought the entire town.

      1. Honestly, dropping the scale back down a bit does do a fair amount of answering to “Why is Jacob’s Bell’s events going to be massively important”. In this case, it isn’t all that important, except to the people in town, other then the fact that a demon would be getting sealed along with it.

        And, it sounds like he collapsed the house into the abyss, but there’s still a ‘connection’ between the abyss and the real world, and Molly’s call is pulling the ‘higher level’ others out of the abyss to the house. Probably nothing intentional that she’s doing, but its the same effect that its had on Others before.

      2. I’m thinking he only dropped the house, evidenced by the fact that he needed these specific people in the house for it to work. They’re hearing Molly’s bell not because she got dropped, but because the line between the Abyss and normal world isn’t quite absolute this time.

        I think Faysal’s original plan was to release the demon while everyone was unaware, let it prey on them, and then cleanly drop the house into the abyss. But since everyone got wise to the plan early he had to brute force it. Just collapse a big hole and hope for the best.

        And now we got a nice big hole to the Abyss that the things in there can cross through, with the fucking bell to encourage them. I bet Johannes feels like a fucking moron tight now, I hope he does.

        1. Yeah, that could be it. I wonder if Faysal has a plan to close the hole. Then again, he very well might not need one; the Abyss likes bogeymen going out to act as agents, but it’s not going to be very happy if people can just walk out. Pretty soon it’ll arrange to draft something big to serve as warden.

          It might even pick the Thorburns and associates.

          1. Or we might find out that Faysal isn’t as clever as he thought either. If the Abyss has demons locked in it, I’m sure they’d be willing to use that hole to get out, especially if their is just a minor angel in their way.

            1. Well, he’s got to have some reason to think that The Barber isn’t going to just walk out as soon as he gets bored tormenting the bait. But since he needed to arrange this whole thing instead of walking into a council meeting one day and saying, “Hey guys, I’m an angel and have a plan to dispose of that demon. I’ll need the Duchamps to help me if you don’t want to wind up demon chow” I suspect there’s a time delay involved. So it’s going to be a race between the Abyss and demons in the adjacent sections.

              He may also be counting on help from the people he just dumped down there. A good chunk of them are sufficently civic-minded they’ll want to keep demons from getting out and in any case they’re between the demons and the exit. Also, it’s a bunch of fairly quality practitioners in The Library. If they go into the lower levels they might find The Howling Of Demons by Abdul Alhazred, and at least one of them probably knows Arabic.

        2. I really hope that the next chapter is a Johannes Histories so we can get a look at how incredibly dumb he’s feeling right now. But him discovering that he’s considered expendable for the greater good is pretty sweet, really.

  2. This is a lot like Worm, now that I think about it – the one character whose goodness I never really questioned was the big bad all along.

      1. “Honestly,” Alister said, “If you want to make a deal of nonaggression, help us on our way? I’m not sure I care what you do.”

        It took a lot of restraint not to say PACT of nonaggression, didn’t it? 🙂

      2. Not quite what I meant. I definitely see how the Barber is benefitting from this, but it seems to be the Faysal’s plan that’s screwing over all the major characters. And he seemed so nice!

  3. Poor Johannes. All he wants is to make the world a better place. It’s a pity the good guy gets betrayed.

    Can Blake count everyone falling into the Abyss as his sacrifice? He should get a power up for fulfilling his promised roll as an Agent of the Abyss.

    Isadora, Andy, Maggie and the Inquisitors could be really helpful, right about now.

    Next Episode of Pact: Carl vs Barbie!

    1. If destroying her house did drag Mara along, I think he gets to count that. Dunno about the rest of them, but she should cover his offer.

    2. Poor Johannes just wanted to peacefully resolve things so he could go back to torturing children for profit. Well, maybe Faysal will continue to maintain the operation in memory of whichever pieces the Barber leaves of him.

      1. Johannes is the closest character Pact has to a hero (with a babe). He works for peace and is fair. He takes Others that would be a danger to humanity and satisfies them with his own creations. Fake people are given so that real people don’t suffer. Unlike other Practitioners, Johannes doesn’t even operate by enslaving Others or Enemies. He makes deals and reasons like a civilized person.

        Johannes is probably the most selfless, Good, Right, good, right, effective and heroic (named) character in Pact.

        1. His ‘fake people’ are made from little bits of real people, though. I believe he mentioned that the children who walk through his domain come out feeling a little bit diminished each time.

          1. Just as much to the point, his “fake people” are no less real than our main character, who I think we all know and love. The fact that their not “real” doesn’t mean they’re not real.

            1. So I had an interesting thought a while back, and this seems like a good place to share it. In Pact, nearly everything has an element of intelligence, of emotion. It’s interesting, and it’s a crucial part of the story. But boy does it muddle ethics.

              If everything has emotions, intelligence, and can be communicated with, is it immoral to eat these things? To use them for your own benefit, as a tool or even bound slave? Where does the line get drawn, where someone becomes a person and worthy of rights as such? Goblins, the Fey, intelligent elementals like the Eye of the Storm? What about karma spirits and ghosts? What about things that used to be human, like bogeymen or some incarnations?

              Now most people would say that all of these are people, and should be able to pursue their desires as long as they don’t interfere with the desires of others. However, that’s a human perspective on morality, and clearly isn’t shared by, well, any of the above examples. Should human morality overrule theirs simply because we’re more numerous? Further, definitions of what constitutes a person worthy of rights are probably wildly different as well. For a Fey anything immortal, heartless, and clever. For a goblin only them-self. Who even knows with karma spirits.

              In light of all this, Johannes’s callousness regarding vestiges is a lot more understandable. Any line drawn is going to be largely arbitrary, and ultimately depends wholly on the one drawing the line. Johannes has clearly divided things into human and Other, and vestiges just don’t make the cut.

              Finally, it’s clear that Faysal has been influencing Johannes far more than he thought. This can probably be seen in his generosity, fairness… and definition of “acceptable losses”.

          2. Well, he’s got a first class opportunity to feel what it’s actually like to be sliced and diced…

            As has everybody else who has been quick to deny Blake (or even Rose) full personhood. 😛

        2. Given that Blake was one example of such a “fake” person (albeit more powerful / more complete), I wouldn’t necessarily call that “good”.

          That said, I agree that in the utilitarian calculation might well be that he’s doing far more good than harm (depending e.g. on the specifics of the vestiges), in which case he’s certainly doing better than (almost?) anyone else in the story.

          And as a side-note: If Mags learns of this outcome, she’ll want to kick herself. It turns out Johannes was to be trusted, after all; and she was only going to swear loyalty to him, not to Faysal. Instead, her actions revived Molly and set in motion the whole Jacob’s Bell finale.

          1. Of course, by a similar utilitarian argument, he’s doing more good by having his life sacrificed to bind the Barber permanently. Live by the greater good, die by the greater good.

            1. In a parallel to the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, Faysal’s plan won’t work now that he’s explained it. Therefore, no, Johannes isn’t doing more good by being sacrificed this way.

              Besides, angels apparently don’t care about anything humans might consider “good”; they care about winning the fight against demons, no matter the cost. Whereas Johannes cares about humans winning against Others, and is willing to sacrifice others, but only up to a point. At the very least, depending on the specifics of how much pain his creation of vestiges causes, it may be more ethical than what the Jacob’s Bell council did with the goblin truce.

          2. I’m pretty sure those Vestiges are considerably less “real” than Blake. Though still not fake enough that torturing them is fine. The ethics of running the hunting ground vs. having the Others who hunt there run around attacking non-Vestige people are certainly a complex issue.

        3. Except the fake people can only exist by the real people losing something, remember? Mags commented that all of the real people who lived in the mirrored version of this were less themselves for having had their vestige self created, that Johannes had taken that bit from each person.

          1. I remember the situation being that people who had a vestige taken from them went away from it feeling diminished and depressive. If we extend Johannes’s plan to it’s logical conclusion this would be happening to everyone to provide vestiges for the scum to play with. So a new society based on the mass restructuring of society, exploitation of labor, and institutionalized cruelty where the average citizen lives a dreary, diminished life and the monopoly of force rests in the hands of a single central leader.

            Wow, that sounds awesome, why hasn’t humanity ever thought of something like that?!

            1. Johannes thought he was doing the better comprimise there, basicly giving the nasty others bits of people rather than the whole thing. I see what he was trying to do, though I don’t agree with it.

            2. I don’t believe it was Johannes’ plan to do that everywhere. Based on Jacob’s Bell it seems like he intended to set up ‘theme parks’ in villages and small towns to entice Others away from the major population centres like cities.

  4. “But you can’t filibuster our decision without actually saying something. Not in a civilized process.” Haha was this a dig at the US Congress.

      1. Got it from the Romans, and they only had to talk for 12 hours to filibuster something, we’ve had guys go for 20+. While I would agree that the “anything you want to talk about” method of filibustering is silly, and would much prefer if it was just “germane to the topic at hand” a la the UK, it’s not like we invented it.

        1. Yeah, but you don’t have to make a speech in Congress anymore. You can just declare your intent to filibuster and then not say a word.

          1. That’s because people in Congress now aren’t making idle threats when they say they’ll filibuster. So then you move straight to the step of, “Is it worth introducing this then sitting through a filiburster or should we table it until after other stuff is done that would be delayed by a filibuster? Or can we override the filibuster?” It’s like if a guy with a knife stares at you and says that he’s going to stab you. Whether or not he actually does, you have to react to his statement.

            That being said, filibustering has a long tradition of being used by the minority party. Democrats have filibustered more than Republicans, since Republicans have been the majority party longer than the Democrats. It was a mistake for the Democrats to change the rules when they were the majority party, because you know that a particular party will never stay the majority party forever. Now they’re going back to the minority party and they’ve removed one of their main tools, they reduced the power of a filibuster. It was a stupid move for some short term power that’s going to hurt them more long term.

            1. Because I can’t edit my previous post, the whole point of a filibuster is that the majority party can’t run roughshod over the minority party — they’re still somewhat equal. Then the Democrats set things up to allow them to run more over the minority party. And now they’re not the majority party anymore you can bet that they’re going to be complaining about that.

              Both sides brought out their own plans then lambasted the other for “not compromising” Both Democrats and Republicans would sorrowfully say that the other side was simply trying to have it all their way.

            2. That’s actually not even close to true. Look up “cloture votes” and “procedural filibusters”; it’s not a bluff, it’s not a threat, the procedural filibuster is simply the ability to call for a cloture vote and block anything from going forward without 60 votes, period, end of story, no need to stand up and talk about anything.

    1. Remember, though, it’s only the Senate where you can have filibusters. In the House, the Speaker controls all debate, and can effectively veto any proposed legislation by refusing to put in on the agenda.

  5. Seem the Abyss has a new zone, The Library. I’m guessing if they go down the stairs, rather than rotting novels they’ll get tomes of forbidden lore. Wonder what the long-term bogeyman population is going to look like.

    1. Trapped in a library with a horrible monster stalking them. A monster that can divide people into murderous doppelgangers without anyone else realizing it. Things MIGHT get a little hectic here soon.

      1. Guesses on which characters were originally a single person, but have been retroactively treated as two because Barbs is about to divide them? The witchhunters, obviously, but anyone else?
        I’m thinking Mara and Johannes.
        And all the Thorburn kids.

        1. … Oh boy.

          Mara and Johannes might be stretching it a bit. The witchhunters could very well be right, unless they normally operate in pairs. The Thorburn kids could definitely be a case, and the instant message chat could be a clue: wasn’t Peter sharing an account with Ellie? I almost shudder to think of how capable Peter could’ve been if he turned out to be only half a person.

          And we know Blake’s due for a third ‘betrayal by someone who looks like a friend’. This could be a definite problem.

          1. I was thinking Peter and Ellie, too, but now I don’t think so. The injecting Andy scene would make no sense if they were just one person.

        2. Paige and Peter? Officially twins, but rather at odds through circumstances apparently beyond their control… Equally intelligent, but with very different goals and motivations. 😐

          1. Don’t forget how Peter screwed over Paige re the inheritance at the very beginning of the story.

            Only problem with Peter = Paige really is that they’re both intelligent, analytical types. Blake and Rose contrast much more strongly.

            On balance I don’t think it’s likely. It would be kind of weird, for another thing, if the Barber splitting people sometimes put one in a mirror. That and the complete lack of foreshadowing makes me doubt it.

            1. In Blake and Roses case Barbie was also making it to order for Grandma Rose. She needed Rose in the mirror to help protect her.

          1. I’d say that Blake is pretty absurdly devoted to Rose, seeing as he hasn’t even tried to hurt her despite her repeated betrayals and general lack of goodness.

            1. her repeated betrayals and general lack of goodness.

              When has Rose betrayed anybody? What lack of goodness has she shown relative to the rest of the cast?

            2. Actually this chapter was rather nice. Rose and Blake managed to be on the same page, and actually trusting each other. Lets see if that lasts.

            3. Please quantify for me what “goodness” entails and how Rose lacks in it, and how this makes it a good thing for Blake to try to harm her.

      2. I was under the impression that the Barbers’ modus operandi was turning people into “yodeling potatoes” as it were.

        The worse news is that even if they manage to stay away from the Barber, they will still be fucked over by the Abyss as Faysal redirects all their paths out back in.

  6. Typo:

    Mara had talked about grandmother.
    My thoughts were on grandmother.
    did it fit into Grandmother’s scheme?

    Either all capitalized or none

    1. There wasn’t a sensation that wasn’t amplified a million times over,

      Double negative but acceptable given the 1st person nature of the story.

      Mentioned below, but to gleamed is not the same as gleaned

  7. cool, now everyone is going to work together, against none other than barbatorem. i think we really are in the last part of the story this feels awful familiar

  8. Well, shit. I hope the Mags, the junior council, and the knights are okay at least. It did say that the prominent people are being pulled in.

    On the other hand, ahahaha, fuck you Mara.

    1. I feel sorry for Mara.
      I mean, yes, everything that is happening to her is because of her own actions. It’s not even about the people she killed to sustain her life, she could have avoided this all if she’d just deigned to negotiate with Blake’s party instead of trying to murder them.
      But she couldn’t do that because that wasn’t what she was. She couldn’t change. She’s lived an insanely long time, and now it’s all over because she was completely incapable of dealing with the outside world and unwilling to even try. For that I pity her.

      I’m hoping she’ll survive and find refuge with whoever the new Lord of Jacob’s Bell ends up being, like Fell did. Keep on living forever. Maybe learn a lesson about humility and cooperation in the process.

      1. I would even go as far as to say that it is impossible for her to change, at least voluntarily. As part other, her nature is stagnation, the lack of change. So even if it were obviously in her best interest, I doubt she would even realise that was the case.

    2. They would have only been pulled in if there was consent. The deal was cut short, so the Duchamps are probably safe with the JC and Mags. On the other hand, Mara probably saved herself somehow.

  9. Huh. So Blake suspects that Rose is actually infertile, and cannot produce a blood heir, so even if she’s victorious then the line will end with her and the remaining Thorburns will go free. She would spend the rest of her life bluffing the lawyers and dodging subtle attempts on their part to create an heir or encourage adoption.

    1. Well, now that house and it’s entire arsenal is fucked she can well and truly tell the lawyers to fuck themselves this time. If they tried creating a foothold for demons it’d just end up the universe’s toilet.

      Y’know, assuming she escapes the horrible psyche splitting demon thing, the manipulative angel, the hordes of evil-ass Abyssal Others, and, like, get’s out of the Abyss at all.

    2. That’s what ol’ Rusty gets for his all-respect-due country matters…

      But, what a woman. Her diaries must hold some pretty interesting stories.

    3. For some reason, I read that more as the fact that by marrying Alister and becoming Behaim, it would no longer be a Thorburn heir, but a Behaim one. But I guess the children would have the blood regardless, and the Universe doesn’t really discern name-wise.

  10. So. It appears the Abyss has gained The Library. And it appears that Angels are at least partially responsible for filling the Abyss with those demons that are slowly grinding the Abyss down. And that Angels don’t in fact actually try and kill demons.

    You know I think they need to call Grandmother’s demon slaying, book writing, diabolist templar friend.

      1. I expect the answer is that they can’t, for at least some of them. First Choir almost definitely can’t because they’re specifically opposing the Choir Of Darkness. Seventh Choir is opposing Choir Of Unrest, so it’s probably somewhat difficult for them to kill directly.

        They can create proxies to do their killing for them, but I suspect that people wouldn’t be messing around with all this binding stuff if killing demons was really that straightforward.

  11. Awesome as ever!
    Maybe next chapter we finally get to find out how Johannes got his Demesne…
    Also really curious as to what Twig will be.

    1. He’s a bogeyman, broken and tainted by demons and given a new body by the Abyss.
      She’s a ten thousand year old blood hag, forced to find new allies after losing both her magic and her home.
      Together they fight crime.

  12. Well. That escalated quickly.

    How’d Rose sr. trap Barbatorem, anyway? I’m recalling a description of a circle made of fire, but Aimon’s narration was pretty vague about a lot of details.

    I’m guessing that we’re about to see either what the involuntary binding of a major demon looks like, or a serious body count. Most likely both.

    1. Geometric pattern with a lot of attractive material in the middle, from what I recall. I think she also carved its true name into the binding, but it cut it off, forcing her to name it instead.

        1. It would be hilarious if it turns out their is an incredibly simple non-magical way to defeat the Barber. Now bear with me here. We know Barbie is more dangerous to practicioners. But somewhat less dangerous to muggles. Barbie is also very much a being of sharpness and shearing. In other words scissors. So to easily beat Barbie you need to hit him with a non magical rock. Because Rock beats scissors.

          1. On a more plausible and equally hilariously mundane note, he’s from the Choir Of Ruin and associated with breaking things. That means he’s vulnerable to fixing things. Doesn’t Blake have memories of being a handyman?

          2. Rock beats scissors, reinforced over tens of billions of repetitions over human history, to the point where it is the [i]unquestioned truth[/i]. This is the sort of power that might create a [i]god[/i], turned to naught but destruction aimed at one entity.

      1. “I think she also carved its true name into the binding but it cut it off”

        Ur ate its own name, and the Barber cut his off? Man, demons are cheaty.

        I bet all of the unbound ones have some way of circumventing bindings like that, or else they’d have been bound by now.

        1. Yep. Lured him in with eight(?) rotting boar carcasses, each with his names carved all over it, and a baby on top of the pile like a cherry on a sundae. The demon used his sickle (it was a sickle then, not shears) to carve the names off each boar in a frenzy, and as they were carved off they were erased from memory. Rose Sr. snagged the baby and bound it while it was busy doing that (and later named it Barbatorem). She didn’t know what specifically attracted the Barber, but she recommended changing the formula if it’s necessary to catch him again, because if the exact same one is used he will remember and presumably not fall for it.

  13. Blake’s interpretation of Rosalyn’s plan explains why Laird would be willing to cooperate with Rosalyn on this. The end goal is the destruction of the Thorburn threat, in one way or another. And his family can absolutely benefit from being the ones that turned back a mad diabolist and destroyed her.

  14. So let me get this straight. Granny’s whole plan was to stop the Thorburn bloodline? Talk about a Rube Goldberg! I know the lawyers would have gotten in the way of any explicit attempts, but this surely is far more complicated than one would expect. Go Granny!

    I must say, Faysal’s plan seems somewhat dodgy. So, the binding of the Abyss might last a few thousand years, whereas the binding of a person might last a few decades. So I can see why throwing Barbie into the Abyss is worth a few lives in his eyes. But… given how Faysal managed to bring everyone together to discuss peace, wouldn’t it be a better plan to help everyone become friends and have everyone help keep Barbie in check? I guess that has more failure points, but I have a feeling throwing demons into the Abyss isn’t that much of a great idea, either.

    And what keeps a demon like Barbie tied down to the Abyss? If puny little Blake can escape, why can’t a demon?

    It would also seem that, so far, Granny’s plan and Faysal’s plan had nothing to do with each other. While Granny dealt with the lawyers, Faysal dealt with sinking the town. I am not ruling out any future revelations, of course.

    I feel like I missed a lot, I wasn’t able to pay much attention to my reading. Something I really enjoyed was that we went back, in some manner, to Isadora’s analogy about a stone being tied to others. Except that the stone being cast away is not Blake but the house. And I love just how dramatic Blake’s visits to the Abyss have been. In a manner, it just shows how horrible that place is.

    I’m keeping my eyes peeled for when it is explained why Blake and Rose are both same-handed.

    1. Oh, and regarding the lawyers, I hope we get to know how they got involved. Who called them first? Did they understand the troubles involved? I find it hard to believe that the lawyers just decided to pester the Thorburn family until one of them accepts their deal.

      1. I can. The lawyers are opportunists, after all. And Rosalyn Thorburn carried a truly immense karmic debt. It wouldn’t even take too much effort, just the occasional favor cashed in to keep the Thorburns from rising above their means. Make themselves available, and just…wait. They’ve got centuries, at least, to wait.

      2. I want to know who or what is behind the lawyers.
        They are practicioner/diabolists with a lot of bad karma, who take the name of the firm in order to erase their debts and give demons a bit more of a foothold in return.

        But that sounds a lot like a deal or, well, a pact, not just some personal plan a trio of diabolists had one day.
        There has to be a party involved that makes them debt-free in return for their services, right?

        After all, if the lawyers give demons more of a foothold, they would just be amassing more karmic debt.
        Do more wrong things, in order to erase the debt you got for doing wrong things…
        what?

        So there has to be a catch or a powerful entity/party behind them, that take/redirect that debt.

        1. Maybe they figured out the karma smallprint, thus amassing enough positive karma through “charity” to balance out all the negative karma from new employees which bind themselves to the firm completely enough to become one with it, all the while exploiting all the loopholes to stay on top and also forward the agenda of whatever demonic entity strong enough to bend reality enough to make this all possible in the first place.

    2. Oh, it’s even better than just trying to end the bloodline. That’s the simple way out. She’s trying to break the pattern. That’s the significance of Kathryn’s child being male; the Thorburn Diabolist is always female. Blake’s situation was funky, because he was linked to Rose. A boy could be raised up as a practitioner and continue the line but get to ditch the bad karma and all the family deals. He’d also lose the accumulated family influence, but he’d still have the books and such.

      Paige is in last place because a gay heir is too obvious.

      But… given how Faysal managed to bring everyone together to discuss peace, wouldn’t it be a better plan to help everyone become friends and have everyone help keep Barbie in check?

      Timeframe. A century from now most of the people making the deal will be dead. Eventually their descendents are going to slip up.

      As for the Abyss holding the Barber long-term, it must be likely to be able to do so or Faysal wouldn’t be doing this. The Abyss could very well grasp demons much more tightly, drive other residents to attack them and even twist space against them.

      1. It’s also possible or even probable that Faysal made a bargain, contract, or other form of Pact with Barbatorem, and must at least try to uphold his end or be forsworn. And much as Faysal is shaping up to be a jerkass, a forsworn angel cannot be a good thing for the universe.

    3. Humans are flawed and short-lived. Given enough time, one of them would have blundered and let Barber out. His way gets rid of it much more thoroughly, but it has the side-effect of doing what Andy originally planned and killing all the older practitioners and family heads.

  15. I had something important to do today, but i’m sick so i can read pact instead!
    Great as always. I’m looking forward to reading more of this and also Twig!

  16. This will be Blake’s third visit to the abyss, and likely his third trial by the Abyss. He’s had a trial of the past, and one of the present (I’m countin the vision in the Tenements as a present trial, not sure about that). He should be due a trial of the future, and it will be interesting to see what the universe’s dispose-all can come up with.

  17. I kind of feel bad for Johannes. He seems to be the closest thing to a decent guy we’ve seen in practitioner terms. Only ones that haven’t been shown to have blood on their hands are the Knights and the newest members of the Thornurn cabal

    1. I’m pretty sure none of the Junior Council have actually killed anyone, and no, losing fights to Blake or being vaguely and tenuouy connected to what their families have done don’t count as blood being on their hands, the meaning of that phrase is quite specific.

    2. For one thing I see, Johannes will soon have blood on his hands from fighting others in person.

      Secondly Johannes will be also almost similar to a library of protection spells, and uses that he can relay to the Thorburn cabal.

      Thirdly it’ll be a nearly nil of survival or death in the Abyss.

      Some of my random thoughts of what’s going to happen to Johannes.

      As for Blake will he also finally create his own demense?

  18. I am just wondering how Blake got to this conclusion in the 1st place, angels and demons working together and such. Can someone clear it up for me?

    1. Blake’s instincts told him. He evidently reasoned that his prior experiences with allies turned enemy and vice versa would be applicable here.

      As it seems, Blake’s instincts seem to be magical, for they are right non proportional to the amount of solid info he has. That’s. Actually kind of amazing considering how bad a decision maker Blake has proven to be.

    2. It’s courtesy of his own experiences with betrayal and surprising combinations, plus Mara’s warnings. He knew from Mara that the deal was going to screw Johannes somehow* and so Johannes wasn’t the one actively planning to screw everyone. That left Faysal. Then Blake started throwing theories at the wall until he found one that stuck.

      *from what we know now, I think he’d stay up and get the town, but instead of getting the goodwill of the surviving members of the other families and keep growing his powerbase, he’d either get a reputation for shiftiness/weakness or have to ditch Faysal. He probably wouldn’t actually lose Karma, but people will look very hard for a trap in any of his deals. He could palm the blame off on Faysal if he wanted to make it known he couldn’t control his familiar and have everyone assume he was just a puppet unless he traded down.

  19. I’ve really enjoyed these last few chapters. They’ve been intense, sad, and full of twists- everything I’ve expected and hoped for from the ending of a wildbow story.

    But I can’t believe that it was the dog,

    I mean, it was the dog. What the hell.

    Love that closing line, though. Faysal has wonderful dialogue. He is such a snarker.

    1. Seriously, space-warping teleporting dogs are always a bad sign. Almost thought he’d possess someone too.

      No retconning this, either.

  20. The only good news here (maybe?) is that Evan is here to grant each of them 2 guaranteed escapes each (maybe??) with the 3rd they need to achieve under their own power (this is a must or they’re totally fucked).

    1. you haven’t burned any hair before?
      many people happen to do so at some point, and you don’t even need a fight with a dragon for that.

    2. it’s like the Bertie Botts every flavor dirt jelly bean — even if you haven’t actually eaten dirt, you’ll recognize the taste as soon as you eat it.

  21. Collected thoughts:-

    Man…Faysal is now embodying the ‘paved with good intentions’ thing as a Gatekeeper and a being that supervises travellers and forges paths isn’t he?

    Remember in 10.5 when he said “My motives aren’t angelic. I do believe our actions are necessary.”? Associating with the Barber…What’s to say the Barber’s Rot haven’t settled in and twisted his nature so that every path he forges leads to Ruin for himself and others?

    Faysal is likely to come out of this the biggest loser, joining the Choir of Ruin as a demon after all.

    1. Well, Rose senior sealed Barbie long before Faysal came to Jacob’s Bell (alongside Johannes). Right now is the first time he got released in decades. Faysal probably exploited this to use him as a tool with little to no backfiring risk.

      But, as we know, demons like to play long term while sealed, so we may be surprised by his train of actions now that he’s free.

      Better start getting body bags ready, though. My massive-gorn-redrum-sense is tingling something fierce.

  22. Little confused. What did faysal do? The house was dropped into the abyss right? Hence why ty said “here” when mentioning blake’s expertise. But what does the snow and the time-effect being dismissed have to do with that? And what about molly’s bell? The barber being freed while not in the abyss seems like a terrible idea

    Are they (a) actually in the abyss right now, (b) in some sort of in-between place where the bottom of the “depression” is in the abyss but the top/sky is still the city/real world, (c) in the abys with everything that has a tie to it, like molly and the spirits that were frozen due to the time effect, or (d) magical excuse #4, which is “it doesn’t make sense, don’t question it. Because MAGIC”?

    1. It’s B. Every time we see the Abyss it’s been people going into it. This is what happens when an actual place goes into the Abyss, it goes into a sinkhole that I assume closes up eventually.

      1. So when blake said he sees faysal at the edges of the abyss, he means that the “sinkhole” doesn’t really have “walls”?

    2. I’m pretty sure it’s a), but they got dropped through a portal which is still open. That’s probably why Faysal needed to send live bait; the Barber will be kept busy extracting horrific vengeance until the Abyss makes sure he can’t get out. The time effect was dismissed because getting dropped into the Abyss broke the floor that the time effect diagram was drawn on.

  23. Hm. I wonder how long Faysal has been planning this for?

    He’s said before that he does believe in what Johannes is doing, but it looks like this is outweighed by the opportunity to bind the Barber. What if he hadn’t been planning on doing this until Rose set up her dead man’s switch, making it clear that there was a moderate level demon in serious danger of being released and necessitating drastic measures?

    1. Must have been planning this since before the Jacob’s Bell Lordship fight, I would think. And that was probably set in motion by Grandma Rose’s death. So I think the dead man switch is irrelevant to Faysal’s decision to do this.

    2. I think he was setting up this scenario for quite some time, but Johannes wasn’t originally supposed to go with the house. He’s got a very strong connection to his demense and the relevant portion of the town and a weaker connection to the house, so he’d stay up while everyone else got dragged down with the house.

      However, Blake mucked the original plan up and Faysal couldn’t let Johannes leave and still pull off the drop.

    3. Also, just because Johannes is in the Abyss doesn’t mean his helpful and loyal familiar can’t carry on with the mission, maintaining the demesne, creating vestiges, and gradually sidelining Others.

  24. Soooo, why can Faysal betray Johannes like this? In a world where loyalty oaths are hard to impossible to break, and where angels in particular seem to respect all bargains they make (though their notion of what’s “fair” or “good” doesn’t much agree with our own), how is this outcome possible?

    This is the end of the arc, so we’ll probably get the interlude of Faysal or Johannes (or maybe the Barber?) next, where everything will be explained. But from my perspective, this is yet another outcome I would not have thought possible in Pactverse. Just swear your familiar to loyalty, damnit!

    (Yes, I know familiars can overpower their masters. And I wouldn’t even mind this betrayal if Johannes himself had been kept exempt. Then he’d be alive and only his plans would have failed, and this outcome would have been harder to ensure with oaths. But it should be unthinkable that your familiar can throw you to the wolves like this without you expecting it at all.)

    1. Can’t demons just laugh off bonds and oaths? Pauz was pretty blatant about fucking Blake over despite the latter’s best efforts to keep their deal free of loopholes. Angels, being the same but opposite as demons, might be the same way.

      We didn’t hear anything about Suleiman binding the angels to the seal of himself either.

      1. Well, Pauz managed to outfox Blake, and Faysal may be using a similar method. Blake managed to wrangle an oath that pretty solidly prevented Pauz from acting against him, but didn’t realize that the animals would attack when Pauz stopped controlling them. Likewise, Faysal hasn’t actually attacked Johannes or instructed anything to do so, he’s just moved him into a hazardous situation and arranged not to hear any orders to bring him back.

        1. So that’s a good point… If Faysal can tell Johannes to “stay”, why can’t Johannes respond with an order or loyalty-based request to bring everyone back?

          1. I would assume it’s a one-way link. Or Johannes either mucked up the phrasing of his bargain to only apply to vocal orders or opted to leave a general obedience clause out so Faysal could act on his own initiative, with Johannes counting on being able to use his own powers to enforce a binding in an emergency.

            1. That, or the binding used those pipes and the dog-shape as a focus. Fair enough if doggie- or even, probably, kiddie-shaped: no dice if Faysal decided to go and stay au natural. 😛

            2. The phrasing of the familiar oath from 5.4 isn’t really one that lets you tell them what to do so much as it is a formal declaration of alliance, with the practitioner offering the familiar stuff from the world of mortals and the familiar agreeing to some general things in return. Faysal is probably capable of still guarding the demesne, and the forces in the oath that the practitioner grants reprieve from and the familiar defends against are specifically “the forces that hold you.”

              What usually holds the relationship together is probably more a bond of mutually agreed benefit, supplemented by oaths if you went like Sandra and conquered a familiar for your own, or the rest of the Duchamps with their bargain-bin faerie familiars. Evan and Blake didn’t need anything more because they fit so well. Johannes probably figured that since Faysal agreed with him, he didn’t need any more guarantee of loyalty.

      2. Angels are agents of the system, literally. This is basically a vacation to him, one that’s drawing to a close earlier than expected. In the grand system, he can probably get away with it because his duties as an angel overwrite those of a familiar….

        And then you have to remember, a stronger familiar has a stronger position. Briar Girl’s familiar owns her after all….

    2. Faysal can argue, reasonably, that what he is doing is ultimately in line with Johannes’ goals and philosophy, just taking them a bit further. I mean, as people said above, Johannes was always all about sacrificing people and making a few suffer for the greater good — he just never counted himself in that number.

      Additionally, we know that the reason Faysal agreed to become Johannes’ familiar was because Johannes didn’t use the pipes to control him during their contest. In retrospect, that takes on an entirely different meaning; we assumed that Faysal saw “honest” or something similarly praiseworthy, but it’s just as likely that he saw “sucker.”

  25. It kind of seems like Blake guessed and got lucky. He stated that Faysal and the Barber were working together, which I didn’t see coming and still didn’t see but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until this next page. Now we see that Blake said that, but still didn’t know how he knew it, why he knew it, why he’d said it. So then just as everyone was about to say, “Well, without further proof, screw you and your crazy idea” (and Rose may have known, but was apparently going to take the deal before Blake showed up so probably would have continued to take the deal, to keep up appearances), Faysal suddenly showed up and admitted everything.

    1. Well, it seems like they hadn’t realized the house might drag them down with it. Once the issue was raised, they realized that was a possibility. Even if they didn’t buy that Faysal was doing it, they were going to make arrangements to ensure it didn’t happen or call off the deal. If they left the house without making the deal, they might not get dragged down, so Faysal opted to swing by and drop the house.

      The visit and announcement was probably for Karma reasons. It’s not like it gave them enough time to actually do anything or gave them useful information they wouldn’t get as soon as he dropped them.

  26. Awesome chapter, although I found Faysals part in this chapter very clunky and cliché.

    The only thing I’m missing is a “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”.

    There’s absolutely no reason for Faysal to behave and expose himself like he did. It felt really artificial to me.

    1. I thought about precisely that earlier, but I just ignored it because… Pactverse is very cleverly or serendipitously designed to promote clichés and tropes that help exposition. The spirits are like an audience at the theatre and they want a good show. Faysal maybe didn’t expose himself with that in mind, but as an actor in the play, it’s probably just part of his nature.

      1. The Bond villain thing has been mentioned repeatedly, both in-story and outside of it. But I don’t think it’s true. Any antagonist who behaved like a Bond villain – or otherwise pointlessly revealed their plans – lost, typically sooner rather than later.

        For instance, Conquest certainly didn’t gain anything by behaving like he did, nor did Mara.

        (Re: Mara: Typical mix-up of priorities. She has a few main values, like survival and hatred of the invaders. Then she compromised on the former by focusing on the latter, and lost everything as a result.)

        I don’t expect things with Faysal to go any differently.

        1. Faysal showed up, told them he was going to dump them and the Barber into the Abyss, and then did it. Unless someone in the room actively wants to let the Barber out, we have already passed the point where telling them his plan reduces the odds of success.

          1. Faysal’s plan was that the Barber would torture the cast until the Abyss caught him. That won’t happen, so Faysal’s plan will fail. People may get tortured or even killed, but most of the cast will somehow return from the Abyss.

            1. Or Barbie will notice that nice big hole and decide he’d much rather have a whole world to torture than a hand full of people.

            2. It’s not like they weren’t going to try to escape from the Abyss if Faysal didn’t tell them the plan. Also, so long as the demon doesn’t get out, his plan succeeds no matter how many of the practitioners escape.

        2. I’ve thought for a while that the whole “the rules encourage Bond Villainy” thing is, in fact, quite deliberate beyond providing a good show to spectator spirits. Just because you can get boosts for playing the karma game doesn’t mean you completely escape the logic one. Even if you get used to tying cause and effect up into knots: all the better to trip you up with when you can’t escape a logic/ common sense hole you dumped yourself in playing by “The Rules”. 😛

        3. Acting like a Bond villain doesn’t mean auto-win, it just means you get a karma payout for the effort (and in some cases avoid a karma debit). It still comes with all the logical consequences of the action.

          1. Plus, Faysal is of the 7th Choir, the opposite of Unrest (I’m calling it Harmony). That’s why he’s always so polite, always so generous. It’s probably anathema to him to screw someone over without explaining to them first.

            Also, it’s not like he lost anything at all by warning them. The Jacob’s Bell practitioners weren’t just going to sit in the Abyss, they were going to try escape the second they felt its pull. He gave them, like what, two seconds extra warning? Being at the house probably let him sink it faster (proximity bonus); combined with the karma reward for telling them this far outweighs the ‘advantage’ they gained.

    2. Honestly, when you’re a teleporting angel dog in a universe where you get power and good fortune from doing supervillain monologues, the optimal route is somewhat different from what a normal person might think.

    3. Remember, Faysal can’t lie. The moment people started to give Blake’s accusation the slightest credence, his cover was blown; he lost nothing by taunting them a bit before tossing them into the Abyss, and presumably gained a bit because of how the spirits work.

  27. So, Uh, this whole “capture demons in the Abyss” thing.

    Doesn’t Blake remember what happened when he called for the lawyers while he was in the Drains?

    A demon lawyer came, and then left. The Abyss will not hold demons. They might stay there because they enjoy it, but they aren’t trapped there.

    1. Well, the lawyers are arguably some of the most powerful demons out there. Not so much because they have strength or power, but they have knowledge and connections.

      While I don’t doubt the Barber and other demons are smart, I find it harder to think that they would know how to escape the Abyss. But anyway, we all know all hell is going to break loose soon.

    2. Things escape the Abyss all the time, but even then some surprisingly powerful things remain stuck down there. I mean, we know of at least one god the size of a moon. Even when Blake managed to get out, it didn’t so much feel like he “escaped” as he “got let out on conditions”.

      The Abyss could probably do a darn good job of trapping stuff if it wanted to.

    3. Might be why Faysal needs to stall; it could take some time for the Abyss to properly grab them. Or the Lawyers might be exempt because they’re demonically bolstered practitioners rather than demons themselves.

    4. I suspect that leaving the Abyss is considerably easier if you entered by choice. Practitioners visit all the time to grab more bogeymen. It was implied that Crooked Hat might have LIVED in the Abyss. It’s not hard to get out if you know what you’re doing and can prepare at all.

      Also, different rules apply to humans and Others. Demons might be capable of destroying things so utterly that they might as well never have existed, but they can still be indefinitely contained inside a diagram drawn on a floor. I’m not sure if using a creatures specific weakness to keep it trapped is actually something the Abyss can do, but I wouldn’t put it past it.

  28. Generic comment, but I’m so excited to be up to date with a Wildbow book – read all of Worm a few months after it ended, then spent a while catching up with Pact, and now I’m here for the rest of the journey into Twig 😀 Now I just need to work out what to do while waiting for updates…

  29. I expected an interlude here. Also, I didn’t expect Faysal to just tell his plan when it was revealed. Pretty Bond-villain-esque, aside from the fact that he waited until his plan was about to succeed. Makes you wonder what Blake’s words could have done to stop this. Probably nothing.

    Also, there’s a sort of positive mention in this chapter: Good will triumph because evil is impatient, taking short-term gain over long-term profit. Of course, a lot of people will die in the meantime, but good will eventually prevail!

    1. Well, at least until every bogeyman leaving the Abyss gets a complementary mirror counterpart or three. And until the universe’s compost bin is completely devoured by Ur and its progeny. Plus either Ornias or one of his fanboys is wandering around draining power and breaking shit.

      It seems to me that the angels have fallen into the ‘out of sight out of mind’ trap. Just because the demons aren’t on Earth doesn’t mean they’re not gleefully hastening the death of the universe.

      Or to put a less critical spin on it, the angels are storing as many demons as they can elsewhere, allowing them to gang up on the remaining demons and destroy them. This makes it more of a race: can the angels destroy enough demons to tip the balance before the exiled demons destroy the universe’s source of change and renewal?

  30. Was really happy to see that Wildbow had given thought to an aspect I’ve been asking about for a while: Why didnt the Thorntons dig their way out of the karma hole by throwing lots of kids at the problem. Now we know.

  31. “In the beginning I’d wondered, very briefly, why we couldn’t game the system to get rid of the debt. Spread it out among countless children, stagger it out, or figure out other means of breaking it down.

    Surely it’s easier to just not have any kids? No heirs = no debt… I don’t really see how you could do the kids thing when you’re in a karmic hole that’ll mean that any attempt at having many children will just lead to their death or failure to conceive.

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