Possession 15.1

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The individual floorboards underfoot felt like the boards of a rope bridge, each one suspended but unsteady.  Not all of the boards were capable of supporting the weight of a human being.

One of the Behaims stumbled, one leg going straight through the floor.  I caught the man by the upper arm.

Callan’s age.  Related to the man that had killed Callan.

Though I was capable of holding him up, I wasn’t capable of lifting him back to a more secure position with one arm alone.  Another Behaim reached forward and grabbed him, and we lifted him together.

The sound of wood creaking under a great strain joined the tolling of the bell, as we followed the main group.

Someone was saying something, but the noise around us drowned out the words.

The abyss was building again, pulling down sections of the house that had lingered, clinging to the sides, one section of wall providing enough material to build six or seven walls, down here.

We climbed, and the environment all around us settled into place, crashing, cracking, splintering.  Bookcases tipped over and spilled out their contents, and small avalanches of loose wood, bricks, tomes, and stone found solid ground, dancing off unseen surfaces, careening this way and that, and settling into shapes that resembled bookshelves, sometimes only a stick caught between rocks or larger texts, with a book or two resting on it.  Each impact seemed to knock us down.  Sometimes an inch, sometimes a foot.

Above us, the opening to the town and the woods was only just visible.  The hole that the house had dropped into was roughly circular, and if I didn’t look directly at it, it cast the illusion of a great moon looming over us, albeit one so dark gray that it was far closer to being black than to white.

The meager light that reached us from above highlighted the others that were making their way down and around, on surfaces we couldn’t make out.  Light touching a bald head here, an outstretched arm there.  A little further away, a haggard woman stood with her arms spread, face turned skyward.  Soaking up even this pitiful indirect moonlight the way I’d soaked up the sun before.

“Oh man,” Evan said, and I could only just barely hear him over the cacophony of noise around us.  “Oh man, oh man, oh man.”

Hillsglade House had disintegrated and what had been high was now low, hallways sloped with only one wall and one floor, or a twist of plaster ceiling that cracked underfoot like so much ice when we let our feet linger too long.  The tumultuous movements of our surroundings weren’t smooth, but jerking, lurching.

A section of porch came down, apparently pulled from its perch when an Other tried to climb on it.  It struck a surface, bouncing, and the Other went flying in the opposite direction, head over heels.

No way, given trajectory, that it would come close to us.  It traveled left to right, a hundred feet ahead of us.

All the same, everything had purpose down here.  Everything played a part in wearing us down.

We moved along a section of broken hallway that swayed as though it were suspended by ropes, the midsection tilting left and right as our weight reached it. It was as if things were only barely held together, here, while the Abyss struggled to piece it together.  To either side, there was only darkness, and it was a darkness as dangerous as the void of space.  There would be little to nothing to catch us if we fell.

My eye tracked the section of porch as it disappeared into shadow.

Behind the bell’s tolling, the countless noises of things settling into place, I could hear the crunch.

Too perfectly timed.

“Heads down!”  I bellowed.

My hand found Evan, and I cast him forward, toward the others.

One Behaim woman was so startled at the noise of my voice that she nearly fell right there.  She twisted and lost her balance, arms wheeling.

I grabbed her, and I hauled her back.

A mass came careening down at a sharp angle, spinning end over end.  It struck the middle of the hallway like a great hatchet.

A gap formed and yawned wide in the same moment, as though the connections holding the hallway up were only attached at certain points.  We teetered away from the other half, until fifteen feet separated me and the Behaim woman from the others.

I could see Alister with his arm around Rose’s shoulders.  My friends, Evan.  The High Priest, Ellie, Christoff, and Kathryn.

The intention had been for Evan to help the others dodge whatever was coming.

Plumes of dust obscured the shadows to either side.

“Fuck you!” the Behaim woman cried out, nearly drowned out by the bell.  “Fuck!”

I blinked.

“I could have made it!”

No you couldn’t have.

“You might as well have thrown me over the side!”

“Don’t tempt me,” I said.

“What?  Say again!”

I didn’t clarify.

The ground swayed just a bit as Evan settled on my shoulder, returning to my side.

“Fly?” he asked.

“Can’t fly with a passenger,” I said, raising my voice to be heard.

Looking past the gap, I could see Rose pointing at the staircase at the far end of the ‘hall’.  Which was more of a bridge, and a dangerously tilted one.  Everyone on there was gripping something, and I wasn’t positive that the bookcases that lined the side like a strange railing wouldn’t simply break away at the most inconvenient time.

I motioned for her to go.  I’d have to catch up, but we couldn’t delay.

They lurched forward, moving diagonally to get from handhold to handhold and scale the incline.

Very carefully, I advanced down the decline that pointed down toward the chasm between the two sections of hall.  The darkness below matched the darkness that lay beyond the short and ragged bookcases on either side of the hall.

Except as I continued to stare, I could make out the same section of porch that had divided the hallway.  There was a platform, deceptively solid looking, and a criss-crossing mess of wood planks and rails from the porch, collapsed against some surface or another.

My eye traced the new route.  Down perhaps twenty feet, almost two stories, then forward, and a matching climb up to the platform the others had been on.

“No,” the Behaim woman said.  She was looking in the same direction, clinging to a bookshelf.  “No way.”

“It’s probably a trap anyway,” I said.  “Things here don’t cooperate.”

“They’re leaving us behind!”

She’s scared, I reminded myself.  She’s not rational.

“We need to goooo!” Evan said.

The abyss had an intelligence to it.  There was an organic flow to the way things happened, the why of it.  Obvious enough with the way it had showed me select visions.  There was a strategy.

The strategy here was simple.  Attacking me by forcing me to make a choice.  Leave her, or fall behind.

I smelled burning hair.

A scream echoed from below us, loud, close and forceful enough to momentarily drown out the Bell.

“The Barber,” Evan said.

“He’s coming,” I said.  “He’s letting us know.”

“The demon,” the Behaim woman said.  “Wards?  I can erect defenses.  Buy us time.”

“He can bypass most defenses,” I said.

“He-  No, I refuse to believe that!  Every problem has a solution!  If I manipulate time…”

She looked at me, head snapping around.

“Bridge!” the woman cried out, abrupt.  “Can you tear apart that bookcase?  I can freeze it in time.”

“That isn’t a perception trick?” I asked.

“You know?” She asked, staring.  She shook her head a bit, and our section of hallway reacted, swaying slightly, like a boat on water.  “It’s my personal reserve!”

I looked at the bookcase, touched it.

“Hurry!” she said.

“Things here don’t cooperate,” I said.  “It’s a trap.  Tear it apart and we might lose our footing.”

“Hurry!”

“Can you unfreeze?” I asked.  “Promptly?”

“Yes.”

“Freeze me,” I told her.  “Use me-”

I had to stop as a rumble made everything shake.

“-As a stepping stone!” I raised my voice to be heard.

She looked at me like I was crazy.

“Can you?  Do you need to prepare?”

She shook her head.

I wasn’t sure which question she was answering with that negatory gesture, but one hand now covered her mouth, and it looked like she was gagging.

Before things got too bad, then…

“Evan, help me, circle back and help her!”

“Got it!”

I spread my wings, and I leaped.  I worried the ground would break underfoot or tilt to the point of dumping her down into the darkness.

But I couldn’t turn to look.  I could only focus on covering the distance.

There was a flash, and as the darkness settled once again, I saw that the hallway was gone.  Floorboards had tilted and fallen into the gap, and the gap itself had widened to about thirty feet.

I saw the woman on the other side.  She’d landed, then scrambled for safe ground before unfreezing me.

I was glad she hadn’t simply fallen through and left me frozen there for some indeterminate amount of time.

Evan soared back to me, giving me some more height, so I could safely land.  I practically threw my wings back out of the way, reaching out with one hand for a handhold.

“Good-” the Behaim woman started.

An object came flying through the darkness, striking her in the temple.  It might have been a bat, might have been a brick.

Her handhold gone, legs spinning out from under her as her body twisted with the force of the hit, she simply slumped to one side, slipped beneath the lowest shelf in a bookshelf, and disappeared over the brink.

“Wha!?” Evan spoke.

I was frozen, staring at the place where she’d been, the open space her body had passed through.

“No!” Evan said.

I started moving.  Climbing.  Hurrying to catch up with the others.

Aggressive.  The Drains had been slow, patient, deliberate.  The Tenements had been more like an adolescent, intelligent, but not above pulling the wings off of flies.

This was something else.  There was fury.  Chaos.

Was it the influence of those of us who were here?  An echo of Molly’s anger, of the war in Jacob’s Bell?  The demon?

I reached the staircase Rose and the others had gone up.  Shelves lined either side, leading up to a set of dilapidated rooms I could only see the underside of.  Planks loomed overhead, just low enough to be inconvenient, with books perched on them.  More makeshift shelves.

I turned to look back, and I could see the gap, one half of the library on each side.

Though it was barely illuminated, I could make out the Barber, my eyes fixed a few feet to his left, while I scanned him with my peripheral vision.

He was muscular, with scar tissue covering much of his body, suggesting lash marks, the rest of his skin bruised and ulcerated.

His head, though, was covered.  An animal’s head with a long nose, tufts of hair.  I guessed it was a horse’s or a mule’s head, pitch black, with teeth bared, the eyes pale.  Blood leaked from the base, trailing down his muscular shoulder and arm, all the way down to a pair of shears as long as my forearm.

The shears tapped against his knee.  Tk.  Tk.  Tch.  Two clicks followed by a sharper sound.

“Run,” Evan whispered.  “Run, please.”

Tch.  Tch.  Tk.  Tch.

The Barber hurled the shears.

I dodged, with Evan’s help.  Going up the stairs wasn’t an option.  Too slow, and if the shears were aimed at me, the walls on either side wouldn’t let me continue to move out of the way.  I’d simply be throwing myself further along the shears’ path.

I headed left of the door, one wing out, spread, to produce the wind that would stop my movement, fanning air away and pushing me back the way I’d come, before I simply reached the one corner of the hallway and crashed into and through the bookcase.  Knowing the abyss, I might have destroyed one wing in the process.

The weapon struck the frame of the doorway that led up the stairs, just a foot to my right.  Had he adjusted, predicted the way I’d move?

For a heartbeat, I considered grabbing the shears.

Then I saw the Barber reflected in the gleaming metal.  I swiftly backed away as much as I was able.

He tore his way free of the blade’s surface, and the entire hallway lurched with his weight as he set foot on the floor.

Bookcases toppled like so many dominoes, and the floor gave way, starting near the gap, the collapse gradually taking more of the hallway, steadily stealing away the rest of the floor.

He easily tugged the shears free of the wood, giving no mind to the floor or the bookshelves.

Passing through the door meant getting close enough to him that he could hug me.

I kept my eye fixed on the door, just to his left.  When he took a step forward, moving toward my line of sight, I was forced to drop my eye, staring at the floor between our feet.

I’d inadvertently moved back, and my shoulders pressed against the bookcase behind me.

I couldn’t smell like I should’ve been able to, but the air was thick with the Barber’s presence.  I could feel it winding its way through me, and the spirits that lurked within my body cringed and backed away, as if it were poisonous gas.

Tktk.  Tch.  Tch.  Tch.  His free hand opened wide, palm facing me.

The sharp sound repeated, over and over.  He wasn’t striding toward me.  He moved slowly.  Almost relishing this.

I planted my feet on the ground and pushed.  Bracing myself, pressing against the bookshelf.

It didn’t work.  Everything here broke so easily, except the stuff that I wanted broken.

I lunged, running for the chasm, the open space, the gap.

“Blake!”  Evan shouted.

He threw himself between me and the Barber.

If I’d had blood, it would have run cold.  I swatted at him, trying to knock him out of the way, force him to not do what he was trying to do.  I wasn’t successful.

Three steps in, my hand just finding my wing, gripping the part that I needed to grip to make the arm and hand a part of the wing’s mechanism, I was stopped.

The Barber had matched me in speed.

The shears had penetrated my midsection.

Evan flew around in front of me, perching on a shelf.

He’d helped me dodge.  There was only so much he could do against something like the Barber.  Getting me entirely out of the way had been too difficult.

So he’d nudged me.  Put me in a position where the shears, wielded like a knife, had punched straight through the gaps in my body and out the other side, piercing the wood of a bookcase.  Touching nothing.

“Um,” Evan said.

The Barber moved around, and I had to twist my head to the side to avoid looking at him.

A hand settled on the right side of my face.  The heel of the hand touched my jawline, the fingers reached just over the top of my head.  Calloused and otherwise scarred enough that the hard edges grated against the wood on the side of my face.

His thumb pressed against my chin, just below my bottom lip, and he squeezed.

Bone and wood cracked, both splintering.

The thumb moved to my cheekbone.  His grip still iron, though in a less advantageous position for raw power, he squeezed once more.

I felt pain, and I suspected my eye socket was almost on the verge of shattering, the eye popping out.

Evan cried out, but I couldn’t hear over the bell.

Abyss, help me, I thought.

There was no aid.  But my eye didn’t pop free.  Bone beneath my scalp fractured instead, and I very nearly slipped free of his grip, the blood or other head-fluids making his grip less secure.  A gorier version of soap in the shower.

He caught my neck before I could.

He pulled the shears free, and there was nothing I could do in the way of struggling.

Evan came for me.  All I could think about were the shears, and a bird that was flying right for the demon that was wielding them.

My thoughts were noise and that noise sang in response to the bells.  It was a reckless song, a mad song.

I reached up and I grabbed the shears.  I held them partially shut with my one hand.

Evan veered around, and he dove.

Under the floor.

The butcher tugged, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t keep my grip on the shears.  I could only hope that I’d cost him precious time.  Still gripping my neck, he twisted, and he stabbed.

The shears punctured the floor, all the way to the handle.

An aimed strike.

There were no signs as to whether he’d hit Evan or not, but Evan’s initial dive and movements hadn’t been ineffectual.  He’d flown past and under the disintegrating floor, and accelerated the destruction, jarring it.

A whole section of floor gave way, and the barber backed away, heading back toward the doorframe and stairs that led up to the others, dragging me with.

Oh, to have a second hand.

The nearest bookcases were to my left, and I had only a right hand.

I could draw the Hyena, but what good would that do?

I twisted, striving to grab at something, anything, but my feet were too high up off the ground, and there was nothing in reach to my right.  My head snapped sharply from far left to far right, until I thought I might damage branches or spine doing it, just trying to avoid looking at him.  Simply closing my eyes would be admitting defeat, giving up any and all chance of spotting some clue or tool I could use.

The noise in my head was getting worse.  Chaos, noise, blood, pain.  I felt like every chip of bone that was dancing against my brain or whatever things surrounded my brain was producing a dozen televisions worth of maximum-volume static.

My dangling wing scraped something.  The chain at my middle.

I reached down, and pulled it free.  The barbed wire caught, as if the goblin was spiting me.

Bringing one leg  up, I managed to hook my toes on the end, and kick it down and away.  I let it spool more.

It caught.  We simultaneously jerked, the Barber’s retreat from the gaping maw of the abyss temporarily halted.

He tugged me, and the tiny hooks that had latched on wood broke or bent.

Change of tack, then.

Still holding the end of the chain, I quickly reached down, and grabbed more before it could fall.  A loop.  I threw the loop over the Barber’s arm, then reached under and caught the end.

Rusty bits of metal and hooks of barbed wire caught on his flesh.  It parted like burned plastic wrap, immediately oozing pus and wriggling things I couldn’t make out in the dark.

I tugged harder, but the damage remained superficial.  I’d wanted to set the metal into his flesh, or verify if he could be hurt at all.

The chain ran along my right leg, and I struggled, while the Barber dragged me, to get my foot in the right position, the chain against the long side of it.

Timing-

We reached the stairway.  He paused to reach forward and shove one section of bookshelf away.  His frame was slightly too large for the narrow corridor, lined by books, on either side and above.

I kicked out, kicking the chain, so it struck the doorframe and neighboring bookshelf.

It wasn’t a firm wrap, certainly not a knot or anything binding.

But when he ascended, pushing again to destroy surroundings and make room for, himself, the chain around his arm bound him to the doorframe, and he was momentarily halted.

He hauled his arm to one side, hauling me with it, my body striking the bookshelf, and links broke, though the barbed wire only stretched a fraction.

It put him in an awkward position, facing down to the bottom of the staircase.

Until he reached out and clasped the chain.

Passing some kind of energy into it.  Or taking something out.

The chain disintegrated, and I could hear an echo of a goblin’s scream, in the noise it made as the pieces scattered.

Tk.

Evan flew past.  A reckless dive, a perpendicular direction to the angle of the stairs.  Veering wildly just as he reached me, passing me, to fly off into the empty void.

A shove.  Pushing me down.

Branches on either side of my neck broke away as they scraped against the Barber’s fingertips and thumb, and I was driven face first into the stairs.  Barber to my right, bookcase wall to my left.

I pushed myself back and away.  Off to one side, into empty darkness.

Void, shadow.  Nothingness.

I turned over in the air, still reeling, thoughts distorted, before I remembered to unfold my wings.

Evan joined me.

“Little hero,” I said.

He might not have heard me, because he didn’t respond.

The Library was still coming together all around us, but for the time being, it was a twist of architecture suspended in shadow.  I couldn’t know for sure if anything lingered in those shadows, or if there were any buildings or features, but the flying seemed unimpeded.

Far below, now, I could see the Barber, ascending the long staircase, periodically destroying what was in its way.

Further up, much further up, I could make out the others.

Rose had recruited a bogeyman.  A pale man with newsprint on his skin and a great paper-cutting knife.

They were making headway.  Covering ground.

The barber, shears in hand, covered half the distance between himself and the others, traveling into a broken picture frame, then stepping out of it.

Catching up.

I got to a point where I was just above the others just as the Abyss decided to step in their way.

Light flared, showing around the edges and bottom of a set of double doors, leaking through a window.  It was as if the tunnel and door had always been there, without the light.  Which it hadn’t, but the darkness played tricks.

The main group was tense, ready for trouble, when the doors opened.

Children.  Boys and girls in private school uniforms.  Gaunt, pale, their eyes more dark shadow than eyes.  Some held flashlights.

One threw a flashlight forward, toward the others.  It hit wooden floor and span violently.

On each pass, the beam briefly illuminating the group of students, there were a different number.  Seven, six, seven, three, six…

On the final turn, there was a woman, following the group.

Horn-rimmed glasses, a corset taken to some terminal extreme, leaving room for only spine, and floor-length dress that didn’t reveal her feet.  She didn’t walk like she had legs.  She flowed forward as if she were carried aloft by beetles or impossibly tiny, quick feet.

She was talking, making grand, sweeping gestures.  With each gesture, the children around her flinched.

Teacher, students.

Was there a section of the Abyss that was a school?

Newsprint-face, now the students and teacher.  The Abyss was pulling together Bogeymen and Abyss-residents with a theme.

I did what I could to land as gently as possible.  I didn’t want my landing to make the floor start breaking down.

The teacher collected a book, lifting it free of the shelf.  She opened her mouth to speak, gracing us with a view of something that looked more like the inside of a worm’s gullet, studded with hooks and teeth, then raised a finger.  Wait.

Everyone but the teacher was knocked clean to the ground, many sprawling precariously close to the edge, as things moved.

Great pillars and blocks of stone rose from the abyss.  They were dark gray and black, but they were textured enough that I could see the dappled tone, the cracks, the doorways and tunnels that marked the surfaces.

One pillar struck the underside of the platform, and only quick moving on Ty’s part saved Tiff from falling.

Evan flew over to help the rescue operation.

The teacher remained rooted where she was, looking down on us all.  I eyed her, wary, but speech was impossible, and even standing was risky, as the Abyss insisted on shoring everything up.

Ty and the others managed to rescue Tiff before the renovations continued.

With the last set of rising columns and slabs came bookcases.  Returning that which had fallen, adding more.

A bookcase with a glass front rose to our right, breaking the bridge that led to the Academy.  It continued rising, a regular bookcase beneath it, then folded on some great hinge, right over top of us.  A candleabra that had been on a shelf fell, flames flickering as wax pooled against the glass.

A ceiling.

What had been a rope-bridge setup of rooms and stairs and countless bookcases was now becoming confined.  Narrow.

The bell took on a different tone, now.  Not so loud, but each toll seemed to pass us like so much wind, just piercing enough to make people wince, angling their heads to reduce the blow of it.

“Where’s Milly!?” a Behaim said, eyes wide.

“Couldn’t-” I started.

“You left her behind!?”

I shook my head.

“He tried,” Evan said.

“Says his friend?”

“Tut tut,” the teacher cut in, flowing forward to put herself between the two of us and the Behaims.  “Arguing.  Arguing has to be punished.”

The children that accompanied her cringed.

“No,” Rose said, her voice sharp.  “We’ll take Evan’s word for it.  And you…”

She pointed at the teacher-Other.

Shut up.  I don’t know what you are, I don’t care, you don’t scare me, and I refuse to let you waste our time.”

The teacher blinked, a little put off by that.

The kids were cowering even more, now.

March,” Rose said.

“Barber’s coming,” I said.  “Twenty seconds to a minute away, I’d guess.”

“Then march faster,” Rose said.

The others started to head up the stairwell.  The walls were so close on either side that they had to go single-file.

By some signal I didn’t catch, the teacher sicced her children on us.  They ran forward.  The ones that had flashlights were winging the lights left and right, and it made for something of a strobe effect.  Tricks on the eyes.

Again, the uneven number of kids, from one moment to the next.  All gaunt, all hollowed out, the color sucked away.

The Knights fired their guns.  The muzzle flashes only made for more bursts of light.  The Knight aimed at one, fired, and in the moment of the flash, was hitting open air between two children.

“Stop shooting!” Nick called out.  Too late.

When their number crashed into us, there were two dead Other-kids on the ground, and ten kids clutching and clawing at us.

I put the Hyena to one’s throat.  I’d hoped to stop it, but it only continued to press forward, until it ran itself through on the blade.

Ellie, for her part, displayed a remarkable enthusiasm in kicking one child down the stairs.  Not surprising, but remarkable.

Kathryn, for her part, despite being stronger, was struggling.

Rose gestured, her palm already bloody, and sent two kids sprawling.  She stepped on one’s throat, then stepped on one hand when it tried to claw at her calf.

The newsprint man fought, tearing apart and getting torn apart in turn.  The teacher reached out to him and dug claws into the underside of his chin, penetrating the softer tissue there.  He dropped, flesh sizzling around the wound.

The teacher moved while we dealt with the kids.  It felt like every time I turned around, they’d found some excuse or occasion to multiply.  Not a lot, but there were roughly thirteen here, and that was four more than before, if we ignored the one that had been kicked down the stairs.

“Books,” the teacher said.  “Oh, how I have missed a good book.  I do think I’ll enjoy this relocation.”

“Do you?” Rose asked.

The teacher hugged a book to her dangerously pointed breasts.  “Heaven.”

“Hell,” Rose said.  “At least for certain types.  Look inside.”

I could see concern on the teacher’s face.

“Rose,” I said.  “Barber.

“I know,” she said. “But-”

The teacher shrieked.  She dropped the book.

I saw Rose lean forward, peering down, squinting against the poor, mottled candlelight.

“Oh,” she said.  “Yeah.  Very few books in here are readable.  The ink runs, or it’s in a lost language, or something.  The rest, near as I can figure, are filled with things you want to avoid.”

The teacher’s mouth gaped.  She turned, clutching for more books, pulling them from shelves, dropping them on the floor so they landed open.

I approached the teacher from behind.

The children didn’t stop me.  Whatever control the teacher exerted, be it fear or some kind of puppeteering, she wasn’t exerting it now.

I cut her throat with the Hyena.

“Did you think it would be any different?” I asked.

“Go!”  Rose said.  “Go, go!  Careful, don’t get jammed in!”

The children were gone when I turned around.

Rose and I lingered, Alister standing off to one side.

“I need time,” Alister told me.  “Rose knows, but… I’ve been taught things we might be able to use to block Barbatorem.  We just need, I don’t know, five minutes?  Ten?”

“You have-” I started to say.

I stopped short as the air that passed through my lips came with a taste, one that was filling the room.

The rank smell of the Barber, soup-thick in the air.

I heard his footsteps.

“-Seconds,” I finished.

“Avert your eyes!”  Rose called up the stairs.  “Try not to look back!”

She gave Alister a push.  He headed up the stairs.

“Go,” she told me.

I didn’t waste time.

For her part, she was right behind me.  Holding her rifle, she aimed it at the ceiling.

Glass shattered.  The candle fell, and the light nearly went out.

Reaching into her coat, she pulled out a string of pouches.  She tossed one into the middle of the room.

The flame erupted.  Oil, or some kind of accelerant.  Filling a room that was all wood and books.

“Won’t work,” I said.

“I know!” she said.

I turned, pushing Alister lightly, but there was a jam, and the single-file line had halted.

I could see the Barber appear in the doorway, lit from below by fire.

The flesh burned, and it smelled like rancid meat and burning hair, but he didn’t react with pain.  He didn’t slow or stagger.

He was dragging someone or something with him.  A body, held not with his hand, but skewered with the shears.

Using both hands, he held the body as he waded through the flames, so it wouldn’t burn.

The boy Ellie had kicked down the stairs.

The barber cut him in half.

One half almost disappeared before it touched fire.  It screamed and thrashed for a moment before it disappeared like the other children had.

The other thrashed too, but it was a gibbering, screaming, violent thrashing.  Bloody, flayed, rasping, almost breaking itself in a struggle to reach down and get at the Barber.  Its expression was wide, and the expression so twisted and manic that I thought its skin might split, pulled back and away as far as it was.

A girl, dressed in a scorched, ripped private school uniform, drenched in blood.  No longer a half, but a broken whole.

The jam further up cleared.  I grabbed Rose, and gave her a push, squeezing past her, and I grabbed a book.

“What are you doing?”

“We already decided I would die tonight,” I said.  “Run!”

The barber threw the child, over the flames and at the stairs.

There was nothing to her but fury and violence.  Pain and viciousness.

The child grappled me, clutching, tearing.  Her own fingernails tore free of the beds as she scrabbled, scratched, and clawed.  She found a grip on one of the bones of my forearm, and I felt something crack as she pulled.

Only one of her own fingers.  But she’d clawed away wood and twigs, too.

I did what I could to keep her at bay, keep the damage minimal, but I had only one hand, and I was focused on holding on to the book.

I caught the motion of the Barber in the corner of one eye.

I moved the book to intercept.  It slammed against one shelf, and I braced it there, as the shears slammed right through it, handle-deep.  Even with the bracing, I was spun around, and nearly fell on the blades of the shears.

The Barber was reflected in the blade.

I felt him starting to emerge.

Underhand, practically trampling the child, very nearly falling into the flames, I hurled the book underhand, down the long staircase the Barber had emerged from.

Wing extended, one hand catching a bookcase, I kicked the mirror-child loose, into the fire.

She screamed with pain and rage and madness, and I turned, running, taking stairs three at a time.

From a narrow staircase to a sprawl.  Bookcases six stories high, pillars with nothing but books and balconies and bridges extending from them.

The bell was louder here.  Others practically crawled on every surface.

We had a number of skilled practitioners, a priest, we had several Others.  We could do this, if we could just keep moving.

But we’d stalled.  Somehow.

I saw Rose with a gun to Kathryn’s head.

Kathryn wept, lying on the ground, propped up with her one good arm.

“Move!” Rose said.

But Kathryn didn’t budge an inch.

“Rose,” Alexis said, “It’s not going to work.  You can’t force her.”

“We can’t leave her behind,” Rose said.

“Leave me behind,” Kathryn said.  Her voice was a croak.  “Please.  Just leave me.”

I looked back over my shoulder.

Stepping closer, trying to see what had happened.

Kathryn lay across a sprawl of books.

Children’s books.  More square than rectangular.  The scrawled figure on the covers and the open pages bore a striking resemblance to her.  My eldest cousin.

I picked one up.  Saw Kathryn flinch.

It was open to the last two pages.

But, Big Bad Kathy told herself, even if my son doesn’t love me, and even if my husband hates me so, I love myself.  I do, I do!

I glanced at Kathy.  I looked down at the last page.

I do, Big Bad Kathy lied to herself.  I do, I do, I do.

Kathy had met my eyes.  They weren’t eyes anymore, but scrawls.  Crayon scribbles.  A tear leaked from the corner of one.

I looked down, at the stairway where the Barber was no doubt making headway.  I looked up, and I saw how far we still had to go.

“She’s gone,” I said, wincing at the noise in my head.  “Do like she wants.  Leave her.”

There was reluctance, the token hesitation, but there was no protest.

Kathy only hung her head.

“I’m sorry.  I wish I could help, but can you just…” I hesitated, reaching.  “Not be here, when the demon comes?”

Kathy didn’t respond, but moving slowly, she did pick up her books, and she hurried off in another direction.

“Don’t read the damn books!” Rose warned the others, as we moved onward and upward.

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157 thoughts on “Possession 15.1

  1. Hoo boy. The Library is mean. The other sections radiate general badness, are filled with nasty residents, and send the visions, but The Library is actively and openly rearranging its internal structure to deliberately screw specific individuals. I wonder if that’s going to be a permanent thing, or if it’s happening because its internal layout is a work in progress and it’s taking some time out of finalizing it to spice up the grand opening.

    Also, the private school teacher of fear is making me thing of the Tokiwadai Dorm Mother. “Becoming a Bogeyman on class trips is strictly forbidden.”

    1. Even if the layout stablizes, I think our new contender for worst place in the universe has a good thing going with its personalized books of self-loathing. And it’s got a terrifying demon on its very first day!

      Also interesting to note: we now have confirmation that The Barber doesn’t make retroactive dopplegangers by default, even from the perspective of non-dopplegangers. The Rose swap was almost certainly entirely thanks to Ur.

            1. I wasn’t able to find a link but on reddit wildbow described his personal hell.
              It was a carnival and the overriding theme was being lost in a crowd.
              It was very much in line with the abyss.

            2. Found the quote:
              An endless festival. Narrow streets laid out like a labyrinth, so crowded with other lost souls that you can’t go anywhere without bumping into others, being shoved, or having people in your face. The raucous, rhythmless non-music is so loud that your vision wavers, the taste of sweat and bodily fluids so heavy on the air it almost chokes you. The festival doesn’t end, there is no rest. If you watch where you’re going, you step in potholes or mud, and if you watch your feet, you get shoved, slammed into nearby walls and other people. If you somehow manage to watch both, well, everyone is masked, yourself included. If you aren’t careful to look past those masks to the details that are still visible, you might miss the partygoers who are monsters or other inhabitants of hell, not mere lost souls. If they find you and choose you, which they inevitably do, it gets worse, because they put you in the spotlight, and they make an event out of you.
              You can find things, clothes and possessions that can help you mask the smell or weather the more intense periods of heat, rain or cold, but if you show a moment of weakness, others will claw them from you. It’s a great grindstone, a desperate, endless, churning mass of bodies that hammers your every sense and builds up meager hope only to tear it away, wearing your Self down to a nub.
              At the end of the day, though, those are all mere details. Strip all those little details away, and the ‘hell’ is that you’re forever alone in a crowd.

          1. I imagine there is probably a resturaent in the abyss. Hell probably more than one. I imagine there is a family resteraunt and a family resteraunt with killer animatronics.

            I’ve also known enough people who’ve worked at Wal-Mart who say that is their idea of hell.

      1. The Library is coming down with a demon inside and a bunch of books on dark things. I think that helps make it extra nasty.

        I also wonder if all the Abyss was originally so mean. We know that angels seal demons in it. And we know demons give off a corrupting radiation. So maybe the Abyss wasn’t always as awful, but got warped into being nastier by the demons.

      2. Which complicates things, because now we have to figure out how the other Thorburns have memories of both Rose and Blake, and perhaps at what point the two were split.

    2. I assumed the Library was so dangerous because someone was insane enough to drop a diabolism library into the Abyss.

      And here I had been worried that the knowledge of the diabolists was lost, that all this power had been wasted, without Rose getting the chance to perform even a single act of diabolism. Which would have been an extraordinary pity.

      Instead, the power of the books just transformed into a different form. I’m satisfied with that :p. (Now imagine a practitioner like the Duchamp scourge who summoned parts of the Abyss into reality. Someone like that could summon books from the Library…)

  2. Guys, I am halfway through and I am scared to read much farther. This is messing with my heart in a way I don’t appreciate and I am so scared for Evan right now it hurts.

        1. It was a book or books providing a precise and detailed description of how she was a terrible person and saying she was delusional about her self-loathing. The resultant breakdown made her start turning into a bogeyman, starting with scribbles for eyes. She’ll probably become a crayon bogeyman if left to fester.

        2. Same way it gets to everyone else. It broke her down. It was with words this time, telling her just exactly what is needed to break her.

          I do, Big Bad Kathy lied to herself. I do, I do, I do.

          And she saw what she read was true, and accepted that truth.

          No one really loves you, not even yourself. No one cares about you, not even yourself. The all are using you, manipulating you, even yourself.

          The Abyss brings out the worst in everyone.

            1. And, a gun to the head wouldn’t force it: that kind of realisation has to come from within. 😐 Sad to say, Kat could have used a little of Peter’s sarcasm at just the right point. He might have jolted her out of the dangerous mind set. Unless the Abyss is now wise to him: it lost Roxanne to him, after all… so, the Academy may have contingencies it could use the Tenements couldn’t. Words are its bread and butter. -_-

      1. Her mom was a teacher… English, if my memory does not fool me. But seriously. That was mean. Don’t EVER tell poor little Bug Girl. .__.’

        1. Course at this point saying Taylor Herbert might be justified. I mean sheeit, situations bad enough to warrent bugs everywhere. Just trick Barbie, Faysal, and the Abyss into saying “I can take her” and watch the fun begin.

            1. V guvax Gnlybe nyernql zrg ure irefvba bs gur Nolff jura fur checbfrshyyl jrag sbe gung “yriry 3” punatr.

        1. Uh oh… Faysal has a famlier bond with Johannes, and he’s definitly using right now. If Barbie gets a hold of Johannes… I would not be surprised if he can use that bond to get a hold of Faysal.

    1. “Underhand, practically trampling the child, very nearly falling into the flames, I hurled the book underhand”

      Doesn’t really need both “underhand”s.

  3. I’m trying to think of something to comment on but all I’ve got right now is “(internal screaming)”…

    …Okay, I’m calmer now.

    Well, at least now we know what it looks like to outsiders when the Barber cuts someone in half. Also, “Possession” being the arc title does not seem to bode well for Johannes. Where is he again?

    1. “Possession” being the arc title does not bode well for Blake & Rose with both being extremely vulnarable to it; It bodes less well for the Thorburn Estate given how badly Rose manages the houses’ upkeep and how soon the Lawyers will take “possession” of it as a section of the Abyss.

  4. The bad news is that they’ve lost two people already.
    The good news is that neither of them was to the Barber!
    Blake even went toe-to-toe with it, and didn’t get destroyed. All things considered, this is going great.

      1. Hey they weren’t Evan or Green Eyes, so that’s something. Of course they were also probably the prelude for the real massacre, so…

          1. Peter, Roxanne, Green Eyes, and a couple other people stayed at Mara’s when Rose headed back to the house. They went back later, but being ground-bound and all they didn’t get back before Faysal dropped the house.

  5. ….Okay, I gotta say, you have officially creeped me out Wildbow. I just got through Marathon-ing Ghost Hunt (Great Anime, by the way) and the freaking Vlad impersonator ghost didn’t freak me out this much.

    Congrats. I’d give you a cookie, but I seemed to have lost them in my panic to get away from all reflective surfaces.

  6. I never really believed it when people said “Ur is only a moderate level demon compared to the Barber”. Ur could literally take away existence, and he’s just a moderate demon?
    Now that the Barber’s real capabilities come into the picture… HOLY SHIT THAT’S SCARY! How on earth do you lock away or kill a demon of this level?! (My bet is on the Hyena. Stab that mule-head in the shears Blake! You can do it!)

    Also, speaking of ways of destroying the Barber, could he be considered as a practitioner with an implement in the form of shears? Destroy that and a major part of his power is gone!

    1. Somehow, I doubt that the Hyena would do anything to a greater demon directly, which would truly bother it. Remember what Barber did to the goblin wire. The only reason Blake still has the Hyena is because the Barber isn’t concerned about it.

      That said, it might be a critical tool which might allow victory over (or successful avoidance of) the Barber in the end, but it’s not going to be an effective weapon to use against him directly, I don’t think.

    2. The impression i got from the Barber is less a mule and more of a Set animal or sha or Typhonic beast with its’ carnivorous teeth exposed.

    3. I think the Barber more or less is the giant scissors. And we all know how to defeat a giant pair of scissors right kids? That’s right a large rock. A fist might also work. But I’d go with a large rock.

      1. Hey, I’ve been saying Rock beats scissors for a while now. But if you want an alternative idea…

        What does Barbie do? He severs one individual into two. Both are less than the original. He leaves them ruined, without the potential the former had. Now what is there that takes two individuals, but can create another? A new being full of infinite potential? Time for someone to decide they don’t want to die a virgin.

        1. “I need time,” Alister told me. “Rose knows, but… I’ve been taught things we might be able to use to block Barbatorem. We just need, I don’t know, five minutes? Ten?”

    4. So what did the barbar do in this chapter?
      he killed a goblin weapon with a touch, split a bogeyman into 2, climbed numerous reflections what else….

      1. wish there was a way to edit comments, i still find Ur more dangerous but i am guessing we havn’t seen most of his capabilities yet.

      2. He’s also got quite a terminator vibe to him. Pursues relentlessly, not exactly rushing but not slow either, and destroys anything that crosses his path in varied fashion without exactly wasting time on it.
        Doesn’t seem to convey any emotion while fighting, even against one of his own creations. Doesn’t even target Blake/Rose specifically.
        Blake is merely pulling aggro on him anytime the others slow down a bit too much and he catches up.

        Unlike the stupid machine, though, he probably can’t die from a simple industrial press, or a molten metal bath. Or anything else.

        Run or die. Maybe he’ll switch to hide&seek later. Or peek-a-boo, to fit the chapter name.

    5. How on earth do you lock away or kill a demon of this level?!

      You eat him. Preferably Green Eyes would eat Barbie, but she’s not available right now. I guess Evan will have to do the honors.

  7. No. No. Fuck that. No! Possession is the worst possible title for this situation.

    Well, at least we see the makings of the Thorburn-Behaim feud being put to bed once and for all with how well they’re working together and how well Rose is accounting for herself given the terrible, terrible circumstances.

    1. I have this feeling that things are going to go seriously south for Rose. Her house has become The Library, and it’s going to want a Librarian. She’s always been the reader of the team.

      1. The Abyss wants a lot of things. I think it has an entitlement complex and needs a kick in the teeth.

        You might think that’s crazy because the abyss is part of the natural order and stuff. But I’m sure Cro-magnon man thought the same thing about the sabre tooth tiger.

        1. it’d be satisfying as all get to see the universe essentially f*** part of itself over to balance all the harm it regularly does to its inhabitants.

    2. You know assuming any of them get out of this in any shape to do anything. Odds of that are a little dubious right now.

      Basicly horrible fate worse than death with no chance of escape behind them, slightly less horrible fate worse than death with slim chance of escape in front of them. Except no, because the angel is going to sabotoge any chance of escape they have.

  8. Jokes on the lawyers – they get the property if it is mismanaged, and I think this counts, but property in the Abyss is what you call a low-rent neighborhood (and this isn’t even the Tenements). This is right along the lines of what RDT was planning – destroy the dangerous knowledge and make the property worthless, even to to lawyers. I don’t know if it is exactly what she was planning, but it is certainly along the same lines. The only big item left on the to-do list then is to destroy the entire bloodline. Say goodbye Thorburns!

    1. Not sure all those have been checked off. If anything, I suspect the forbidden knowledge is multiplying. Sure, many of the books are personalized psychological warfare, and much of the original wave was rendered unreadable by conditions, but there’s also books in ancient languages. And no self-respecting library of doom is complete without tomes of evil magic.

      1. I’m assuming that the books are at least somewhat safe in the Abyss, because Faysal dropped them there on purpose and I think he’s still working for the greater good. Maybe the idea is that between Barbatorem, the bogeymen and general Abyssal malice, it’s not going to be possible to browse the library while remaining sane and intact.

        I’m not really comfortable about having them down there, though.

        1. “it’s not going to be possible to browse the library while remaining sane and intact.” Oh yeah, let’s make sure the people reading the book of forbidden demonic lore become even more insane in the process, there’s no way that could possibly go wrong…

        2. That’s almost worse, because it all but guarantees that anyone who manages to piece together a working knowledge of diabolism with those books will end up crazy enough to use it.

      2. Worse thought: how long had that library had to soak up the general Thorburn traits of being a rules-lawyering, verbally dexterous bunch of trolling pains in the rear end even before it got a new lease on its ability to screw people over with its store of dangerous knowledge?

        No wonder Kat had no chance with it: the place knew just what buttons to push, even without extra Abyssal wiring. 😐

      3. I’d still bet that the books of bleeding are-you-sure-that’s-only-ink are as happy as Larry with being semi-free to torment. Particularly if that state suggests there were things sealed in the originals.

        1. Particularly if that state suggests there were things sealed in the originals.

          Laird implied as much in his first talk with Blake.

    2. remember, Ur is trying to EAT the Abyss. who says the Firm isn’t hoping to gain a foothold of their own down there?

  9. Ouch. I think that if any of the members of her family there had been able to tell Kathryn that they loved her, even if they didn’t like her, they would have been able to break the hold the Abyss had on her. It’s a statement on how badly fucked-up the Thorburn family is that none of them were able to do so.

    1. Like someone else observed, had Peter been there he would’ve had a good shot at turning her around with his knack for brutally direct love.

      “Of course we love you, you idiot. Hating the ones we love is the Thorburn way.” should do the trick.

  10. Bookcases six stories high, pillars with nothing but books and balconies and bridges extending from them.

    Anyone else reminded of Apocrypha from Skyrim’s Dragonborn? But with far less loot, of course.

    1. There are many such libraries. I was reminded of Mahora Academy, and it probably has ambitions of becoming like unto the Infinity Library.

    2. I was reminded more of the complete collection of the books listed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, with the Vatican Secret Archives’ worth of data and the sheer concentrated Unholiness of fanfiction.net’s pre-NC-17 era garbage.

      1. I don’t know if it’s quite as bad as Index’s grimoires. No one has glanced at one and immediately begun vomiting blood.

        Then again, the arc is young!

    3. Nah, Hermaus Mora is actually a pretty chill eldritch abomination. Assuming you aren’t dumb enough to try double crossing him in his own realm.

      1. However, both “The Doors to Oblivion” and Neloth’s dialogue imply that for mortals, visiting Apocrypha is a good way to go mad.

  11. So the Abyss is trying to take all the crap its given and building something with it? And this place is extra hateful? I’m gonna guess this place sucks because of how screwed up Jacob’s Bell is right now.

      1. Could Rose use that somehow to claim the whole section of the Abyss as her possession?
        It IS made out of her families demesnes…

  12. Wildbow you… you meanie! Stop seemingly killing Evan but not really :'< My heart was pounding as I read those sections.

    I am quite enjoying the Academy. I almost feel bad for the teacher, yearning a good book, and finding only horror. And those little children were creepy as heck.

    I don't honestly understand how they are climbing faster than they are falling, even if it is a slow descent, but oh well. Is Molly going to become an evil school bell? Dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun. Classes have started. First course, you are disgusting and you should loathe yourself 101.

    I'm impressed that the Barber didn't outright kill Blake. I get the impression he was toying with him. I also get the impression the Barber was contemplating Blake, his creation, given his body language. Alternatively, he was spiting Blake.

    Why didn't the Barber go through the glass surface of the bookshelf with glass?

    1. He doesn’t travel by glass, he travels by reflections. It’s unlikely that the glass on the bookshelf could sustain an adequate reflection.

        1. Oh, I misread your post. Yeah, it’s unlikely that the glass could sustain an adequate reflection, maybe because of the low light conditions, but that isn’t very satisfactory xP

            1. I don’t think it’s an attempt. Blake thinks of the place the teacher originally came from as “The Academy”. I guess it’s one of the less creepy parts of the abyss, although I could see weird biology classes, hive mind students and boarding school from Hell.

            2. Blake is the one who referenced The Academy, but I think he was using that to refer to the place the teacher + schoolkids bogey team came from before entering The Library. Seems appropriate.

            3. The Drains, The Tenements, The Academy have all been coined by Blake. Though I’m not entirely sure if this place is the Academy, or it is where the teacher came from, as Aname pointed out.

            4. It’s definitely referring to the zone the teacher came from.

              A bookcase with a glass front rose to our right, breaking the bridge that led to the Academy. It continued rising, a regular bookcase beneath it, then folded on some great hinge, right over top of us.

              This zone is so far not named by Blake, but The Library fits the local theme and the naming convention.

    2. Remember, the Barber doesn’t kill. It may sever all your muscles and make you wish you were dead until you slowly die from exposure, but it doesn’t kill directly.

    1. i think the Angel allready did dump his puppet, and you are assuming that Johannes mind still exists/ he hasnt been driven insane.

  13. Getting a major Pyramid Head vibe from Barber here.

    By the way, I think I’m not getting something. Barber doesn’t emerge out of his reflection instantly; there’s a second or two between the moment when his reflection gets fixed on a surface and between him crawling out of it, long enough to throw the scissors away. So why doesn’t Blake just throw them into one of the empty spaces between the bookshelves? The Barber would fall, probably a long way until he hit the bottom, and it would take him some time to get back to the ground level.

      1. But if the Barber materializes while the scissors are already falling, he can’t do much except wait until he lands. Throwing things mid-air is a lot weaker than throwing them when you’ve standing on firm ground.

    1. I dunno man, would YOU touch the demon-infused scissors? Barbie doesn’t necessarily need to crawl entirely out of them, he could probably just reach out with one arm and grab you grabbing him.

    2. The Barber is a sufficiently abstract entity that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could selectively choose to ignore gravity, or sprout wings (like Blake did), or something.

      1. Okay, yeah, that’s a fair point. Enchantresses have been shown to do gravity manipulation, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he severed his connection to the ground and went zero-G. “The enemy’s gate is down” and all that.

    3. I think the time between when he’s committed to climbing out of a surface and when he actually emerges is just long enough to look away, drop the shears, and start running. If Blake took the time to make an aimed toss, by the time he actually let go it would be too late.

  14. So, what do we know about the Barber?

    • Rose Sr. bound it in a circle somehow. Rose must have the knowledge of how to do that, or she couldn’t have turned the Barber’s circle into a dead man’s switch.
    • Rose Sr. gave Alister some other knowledge about how to fight the Barber. Her plan was that any Thorburn heir who actually sent a demon after a Jacob’s Bell power would lose, which would ultimately end the Thorburn line. (Which is also probably why Rose doesn’t have Alister’s knowledge, despite access to the library.)

    • Neither “Barber” nor “Barbatorem” are his real name. In fact, similar to Ur vs. Rose, he erases his real / former name during each summoning process. This should make him much harder to bind.

    • And yet, he’s somehow bound to the Standard. In other words, despite his immense power, he’s in some ways more restricted than Blake. On the other hand, the Standard of Solomon supposedly also gives an Other some protections against practitioners.

    • Blake and Rose are the end product of Barbatorem ruining their former self. Similar to binding Conquest with e.g. Rose’s hair, they could probably use parts of themselves to create a new binding circle for him. Which would be a great idea if they a) had more time than mere seconds and b) the Barber wasn’t specifically able to bypass most defenses.

    • On a similar note, Blake mentioned at some point that he had some ideas on how to fight the Barber, which might include using Similarity (e.g. moving the Hyena to move the Shears off course), or knowledge based on when he himself was bound in the Thorburn library, all those chapters (and yet only a few days in-universe) ago.

    • Blake has numerous similarities with the Barber; he’s in the Abyss for the third time; and so there’s one transformation left. He might turn demonic, or angelic, or Wildbow might opt for a totally different option (like turning him into a minor god, similar to Molly-wraith and Corvidae). On the same note, Evan will probably transform somehow before the end. If the Barber doesn’t kill him first.

    • The lawyers will definitely make an appearance in the remainder of the story, and they are on the side of the demons. So the Barber isn’t necessarily alone.

    That last point may be the most obvious way in which Faysal’s plan could fail: the Barber may not be able to escape the Abyss without help, but he might very well get that help. Plus the lawyers can summon demons on their own, like Ornias. That’s bad enough, but maybe they can summon the Barber, too?
    In fact, that issue seems obvious enough that, now that I’ve thought of it, I can’t help but find Faysal’s supposed ‘master plan’ insane. Throughout the story, it was stressed over and over that you can’t just nuke the Thorburn estate, AND YET HE ESSENTIALLY DID JUST THAT. He picked a fight with the devil’s advocates. What the hell, angel?

    1. There’s no reason to believe the Lawyers can summon demons on their own initiative. They told Blake how to summon Ornias but didn’t demonstrate the capacity to do it themselves. And the entire point of doing this instead of just banishing him is to prevent him from being resummoned. Granted, that apparently didn’t work on Ornias, but demons are different. The Barber apparently requires a more elaborate summoning ritual to begin with.

      Also, he dumped the fallout somewhere else. He doesn’t care about the place taking collateral damage, so he’s free to inflict as much as he wants so long as it stays in the place which is famously difficult to get out of.

      1. Re: Faysal’s plan: My point was that barring exceptional circumstances, the lawyers will now be able to take control of the Thorburn estate (due to the malfeasance clause in the inheritance contract). Not all of which fell into the Abyss! The Thorburn estate includes the huge marshes which Briar Girl wanted to make her own, and as I understand it, only the house itself fell into the Abyss.

        In other words, the lawyers might now have footholds in both the Abyss and the real world!
        And even if the foothold thing somehow falls through, if everything connecting the Thorburns with diabolism and the lawyers indeed fell into the Abyss, then the lawyers might still sue for breach of contract, that is, give them hell to pay.

        And the reason Ms. Lewis was unable to summon a demon when she accompanied Blake in arc ~2 was that she was off duty. When she encountered Blake again in the Abyss, she made a threat: “I’m sorry it has to end on this note, but if you follow me, I will speak a name and you will regret making the choice.”

        Granted, she doesn’t outright say that she’ll summon a demon, but that Blake will regret hearing her speak a name strongly implies it.

        1. I’m just seriously dubious of any theory that depends on us knowing more about metaphysics, demons, and paths out of the Abyss than the millennia-old metaphysical being of fighting demons by manipulating paths. His plan might fail, but I seriously doubt it’ll fail in a manner that stupidly obvious.

        2. “Granted, she doesn’t outright say that she’ll summon a demon, but that Blake will regret hearing her speak a name strongly implies it.”

          Well, it really only means that he’ll regret it. Perhaps the name would have been Rusty (or whatever) and Blake would have been filled with new knowledge about his past, without having first come to terms with it and decided to embrace it, which would lead him to forever attempt to “kick against the prick” http://biblehub.com/acts/26-14.htm or forever fight against that which would only injure him more if he attempted to fight against it. Perhaps hearing the name Rusty (or whatever) would have been the first step on turning him into the bat-winged beast of the Abyss, or worse. Point is, the name doesn’t necessarily have to be that of a demon.

    2. If lawyers could summon demons on their own, I’m pretty sure they’d just summon demons themselves instead of tempting practicioners into doing so. That way would be much more efficient.

      1. They also aren’t exactly a part of the world proper anymore. They need to spread the Demons influence as much as possible. Hence the defaulting on the property. If it goes to the lawyers they can use it to anchor a demon to the world. The books would also be useful, arrange for them to get put in that bunch of antique books some college interns have to catalogue or something…

        1. There’s also some really obvious stuff like posting the awakening ritual on 4chan. More clueless practicioners means more potential diabolists.

      2. I suspect the Lawyers can summon demons themselves but, if at all possible, would prefer to tempt practitioners into doing it for them so that they can avoid the hefty karmic beating that comes with it.

    3. Interesting thoughts, there.

      1) Rose jr.’s dead-man’s switch required just enough knowledge to put the circle into a constant state of degradation, eventually failing entirely without daily maintenance. She didn’t necessarily need to know how it worked, just how to slightly break it in a way that can be maintained.

      5) Binding Conquest with Rose’s hair worked because Rose had recently been freed from Conquest’s clutches, and freedom is his antithesis. Especially since she was freed from him specifically, indicating a violation of what he’s supposed to be an incarnation of. By that logic, if Blake and Rose were to use their hair or something to attempt to bind Barbatorem, it would have to oppose his nature in some way. It would need to involve an act of creation/unity as opposed to destruction/division, especially if it in some way inverted the application of his own power. This is just a guess on my part btw, based on what we know so far.

      6) You mean sympathetic magic?

      7) At this point, I’m only expecting Blake to turn more monstrous at the cost of what little humanity is left in him. And it’s going to be desperate, short-sighted, and ultimately leave him in a worse position than he started out in even if it does allow him to live for one more day. Maybe he’ll try reading one of the Abyss’s soul-crushing books of doom and hope something good comes up?

      8) I had somehow entirely forgotten that the Lawyers are technically on Barbie’s side here.

      Does Faysal know the demon lawyers exist, or are active in Jacob’s Bell? I know he probably should because he’s an angel, but if he lacks omnipresence and true precognition (since he apparently has to personally check up on something a year later to verify that everything is on course), I doubt he’s also omniscient or at the very least not capable of knowing everything about a place he wasn’t in for very long. And if nothing else, the demon lawyers probably have some kind of defense against angels, or they’d have had a much harder time operating the way they do.

      1. By that logic, if Blake and Rose were to use their hair or something to attempt to bind Barbatorem, it would have to oppose his nature in some way. It would need to involve an act of creation/unity as opposed to destruction/division, especially if it in some way inverted the application of his own power.

        Entertainingly, the two of them working together is, in and of itself, both in opposition to his nature and powers/acts AND an act of unity in the face of division.

        It would be incredibly, wonderfully satisfying to have Blake and Rose team up to bind the Barber. I don’t see it happening, though; this. is. Wildbow!

    4. It should be noted that Rose Sr. taught Laird and Allister the “return to sender” technique for demons. It remains to be seen whether that will actually work on a demon that (presumably) cannot escape the Abyss to attack its sender.

  15. Well, the Dresdenverse / Pact crossover is up to 7 chapters now, there should be one more before I’m done.

    Butters & Bob meet Blake & Evan

    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10888845/1/Knights-of-Broken-Swords

    The first chapter is in third person omniscient.
    The remaining chapters alternate points of view between Blake and Butters.

    I’m still working to try to get Pact added as it’s own category in the books section, and somehow Butters is not listed as a character in the Dresdenverse.

      1. It is over 43k words at 7 chapters. My chapters aren’t quite as long as Wildbow’s chunks, but they aren’t little bitty bite either. It will be ending on chapter 8 in any case 🙂

    1. Con crit here because I don’t have a fanfic.net account: Both Blake and Evan became much more stilted once they started talking to Butters and Bob. Both Blake and Evan got powers/knowledge that they didn’t have by the time of Sine Die, to wit: Blake can’t see connections, and Evan’s practitioner knowledge seems out of character for him to absorb (I don’t recall knowing many kids Evan’s age who could rattle off coherent speeches of that length of they hadn’t practiced them beforehand). I know those last two are necessary weasels to set up the scenario, but it was jarring. Someone who’s read past Turn Coat can comment further on the DF stuff, but the wendigo seems familiar enough that it’s an easy fit.

      1. First, I’ll beg forgiveness because trying to meld two different universes is rough.

        You are right. Blake no longer sees connections. I’m pretty sure I removed that. The one connection that he felt from the summoning diagram wasn’t really a connection, but it was close enough to a connection that that’s what he and Evan both called it. Evan still does see connections though, he needs to be able to see them to break them the way he does, because he selectively breaking connections.

        I also adjusted some of Evan’s earlier speech a while back to simplify it a bit, because I agreed that some of his earlier speech was too complex. I may have backslid a bit, and providing examples in reviews would be nice 🙂

        At the same time, Evan was a very thoughtful child when he was alive, surviving for quite some time while trapped in the woods with the Hyena. He might be eight, with some of the patience, speech, and control issues of an eight year old, but he learned to cheat at poker well enough that adult practitioners didn’t realize it. I suspect there was very little going on in Hillsglade house that Evan didn’t have his little beak pointed at in curiosity.

        All that being said, one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned by those indicating faults in the story was brought up by Wildbow in this current chapter. Blake doesn’t have a left hand. I had completely forgotten this, and so I wrote Blake with a left hand. Not changing it 🙂

  16. “Says his friend?”

    Man, people still manage to try and start a fight when the people involved literally cannot lie.

    1. Yeah. Practitioners seem to fairly quickly learn that a question mark to the spirits lets you get away with basically anything.

      “You are a total idiot” will get you dinged as a liar. “Are you a total idiot!?” will not.

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