Possession 15.2

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The tolling of the bell picked up, and with it came the monsters.  Floorboards creaked and shifted, as if they weren’t all nailed down or supported, but we weren’t standing on rope bridges anymore.  Things were solid, and sounds in the walls suggested that they were still being built, moment by moment.  Deeper constructions, beyond the surface level.

Gunshots punctuated the chaos.  With each shot, it felt like the bell was rocking, as if the recoil of the guns was jarring the bell, moving it harder and faster.

I saw Nick toward the lead, patting pockets, reaching into his jeans.  “Need ammo!”

One of his companions pushed ammunition into his hand.

I could see dark shapes moving toward him, and sprinted forward, a little too rushed.  My hard wooden feet slipped on hard wooden floor, and I nearly fell.  I used my wing to brace myself, touched my hand to the floor, and covered the distance.

If I’d been a half-step later, I might have been too late.  He was only just finishing reloading now, as the attackers reached him.

I tackled the nearest one, driving him into his companion.  Evan flew away, to the far side of Nick, to push at a lost soul that was approaching with a makeshift spear in hand.

Ink black, because he was ink.  He hit ground, and the ink splattered in lines and loops, spelling out words, drawing images.

The images covered his companion, who wound up beneath him.  Not an Other, not quite, simply a lost soul.  The script spiraled out as if drawn by invisible pens, and there was a delay.

The lost soul moved, trying to crawl away, and where the lines had been drawn, skin split, blood gushing out as if by as many knife slashes.

The group was running, and in getting to my feet, hurrying to put myself between these two strangers and the tail end of the group, I was left behind.

The ink man grinned, and I could see ink-stained teeth and a black tongue in the lower half of his face.  His eyes were black pools of ink unto themselves.

His companion struggled to stand, fighting to hold his skin in place where it had parted.  He slipped on wet ink and his own blood, and fell hard.

The ink man reached out with one foot, and placed it on the lost soul’s chest.

The spiraling script didn’t only cover the surface, but ran through the man’s veins, spreading out from the largest to the surface of the skin.

Blood, bone, muscle, and skin all separated, cut to pieces by the script.

The gore itself ran red-black, colored with ink, and the blood spread out in turn, forcefully enough that a chunk of skull was sent spinning off to one side.  The blood penned out a story in red around the corpse.

The ink man smiled.

I touched the spot where my shoulder had connected with him.  The wood had been gouged, and splinters stood away from the wound.  The gouges had been inked black.

“It’s a shame you’re the asshole kind of monster,” I said, “Because I really miss my old tattoos.”

He spread his arms.  Ink dripped from the fingertips, knuckles and elbows.

When he spoke, it was through a mouthful of ink.  Spatters flew from his lips, and the words were muddled.  “Got to earn a place.”

“I don’t think the Abyss is going to kick you out.  You fit here.”

“Fit, yes,” he said.  “But my aspirations are higher.”

“Higher?  You want out?”

He only smiled.

I was aware that the others were continuing to leave me behind.  The butcher behind me was a problem I had to keep in mind.  I needed to resolve this, fast.

The tolling of the bell was growing quieter.  Slowly but surely.

I frowned, backing toward the others.

The ink man apparently took that for weakness, opting to charge me.

My wing stayed up, raised like a shield, blocking much of my body, defensive.

If he cut the membrane of the wing, I might lose the ability to glide, my flying-without-really-flying.

He might have realized that.  Being the sadist he was, he might have wanted it.  To take something from me.  The bogeyman, reducing things to their composite elements.  Recycling the world.

It was greed of a sort.  Greed I took advantage of.

I pulled the wing back and away, twisting my body as I drew and thrust with the Hyena in one movement.  A weapon he’d been prevented from seeing with the wing where it was.

He ran straight into it.  Changing course for him was as difficult as it had been for me to rush to Nick’s aid.  His ‘blood’ splattered, a large amount of ink, and it landed on my arm and hand.  It didn’t spread or soak in as ink should, but took form, carving out nonsense words.

Still impaled, he reached for my face.

I hauled the blade of the Hyena up and toward his heart and shoulder, dragging it through his flesh.

His hands dropped, and he collapsed.

I was quick to back away, as the script spiraled out like something alive, a hundred thin, razor-sharp limbs, ranging from curved to looped and to angular.

The script did its damage, tearing apart surroundings, taking bookshelf to pieces, and cutting floorboards in half.  The blood script that marked where the lost soul had died was swallowed up and dropped down to a lower floor.

I turned and hurried to catch up with the others.  I couldn’t see them, as they’d started to run up a staircase that spiraled up a great pillar of bookcases, as thick around as a house, and they’d already rounded a corner, but I could see the brief flashes that came with the gunfire.  There were Others swarming them, now.  Many could be just as bad as the one I’d just dispatched.

The tolling of the bell grew louder as I ran.

Not because I was drawing closer.  The sound of the bell wasn’t quite following the group.  I was heading toward the base of the staircase, and the others were ascending.

I slowed to a stop, waiting, looking up.

I waited.

I listened, as the sounds of the bell grew quieter still.

There was a scream, a man’s, and I tensed.  Now that they were high enough to have few options, the pillar was getting in their way.  Rearranging, or employing some trap.

I was getting a sense of how this place worked.

“Evan!” I roared the word.

The peal of the bell joined the echo of my cry.

They came out of the woodwork, some very literally.  They stepped out of shadows and crawled through gaps between and inside bookshelves.

Lost souls, one or two bogeymen.

The lost souls were haggard, very much not in tune with the theme of the library.  They reminded me of the homeless, but their skin and hair had suffered for going too long without light, their eyes were eerily large, as if they were trying to take in whatever light was available.  Many were looking furtively about, as if studying their new surroundings.

I recognized the one bogeyman.  The papercut girl from the library.  She’d been the one that had been turned back on us by the witch hunters.  Old fashioned clothes, old fashioned hair.  Where she’d been prim and crisp before, each page of her body was bloodstained, she worked to breathe, and she bent over as if in pain.

Her book was gouged, and blood leaked from it, a slow, steady drip.

Her expression was one of hate.

The other was a brute of a man with a cracked old leather tome for a head, a great paper-cutting guillotine blade in one hand, wielded like a sword.  He had hardcover books slipped into the breast pocket of his dress shirt and the pockets of his slacks, one smaller book tucked into a rolled up sleeve like someone might with a pack of cigarettes, and they fit easily.  He had a belly, but not to the point of being morbidly obese.  I could estimate him at six hundred pounds, easily, and it was more muscle and height than fat.  A literary ogre.

I remained still, only periodically turning to check my back.

Evan appeared.

“Blake!  Fly!”  he cried out.

His voice was the trigger that set the Others to moving.  Lost souls mobbed, and Bookbrain lurched into action.  The papercut girl hung back.

I turned away from Bookbrain, ran toward the nearest bookcase, sheathing the Hyena and preparing my wings.

The shelves became footholds, I ran up the surface, and drew the wings down.

Evan reached me, and he buoyed me up, just out of reach of Bookbrain’s swinging paper cutter.

A flurry of papers rose past me.  I felt the papers cut, and I recognized the papers for what they were.  Superficial damage, but she preferred the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach.

They collected into the papercut girl’s form, about fifty feet above me.  The girl perched on one railing at the spiral staircase that ran along the pillar, just a silhouette in darkness, but I could see the pale eyes staring down at me.

She leaped, and she didn’t fall so much as she floated.  Papers in the wind.  Unpredictable movements, her dress and blouse moving with a life of their own, all sharp angles, as if the were starched to a ridiculous degree.  Now and again, she shifted the orientation of the pages, and every page that formed her body fluttered, as if she were a living flipbook.

I evaded her, turning a sharp right.  She passed me.

A moment later, the pages all went horizontal to the ground, and an updraft caught her.  The pages folded, turning a sharp angle, and she snapped over in my general direction, a paper airplane flight.

The papers formed a real, denser body as she flew straight for me.  Injured book still in hand, she reached for Evan, missed, and wrapped her arms around my wing, crushing it against her body.  Her consolation prize.

Whatever I was, I still needed physics to fly, and a folded wing with a fifty-pound weight attached to it was the bad sort of physics.

I spiraled, and it wasn’t a good sort of spiral.  Not a slow one.  It was the sort of spinning descent that made it impossible to get my bearings in time.

Evan gave me a slight push, to counteract the drop, but it was a small thing compared to terminal descent.

I -we– crashed into the railing at the side of the pillar.  The papercut girl was scattered into thousands of individual bloodstained pages, and I was sent through the stairs, still descending, left to crash at a diagonal angle into the bookcases above the next set of stairs.

I exhaled slowly.  The damaged shelves had pierced my body, trashing my midsection and my haphazardly repaired leg.  My head still hadn’t fully recovered from the brief skirmish with the Barber.

Yet, as I remained there, temporarily a part of the bookshelf, I could feel my body stirring to life, taking splinters of wood into itself, repairing that damage.

My enemy, too, was pulling herself together.  The impact had been nothing to her.

But the wound delivered to her book might never heal.

I could see the rest of this area, with similar pillars, differing in how they were climbed, the ground floor with its rows and columns of bookshelves, and the lost souls and Others that were milling about, yet to find an equilibrium.

Pockets of chaos.

I closed my eyes, and I heard the bells.

Was it even Molly anymore?

Was I even Blake?  Or Rusty?

“Are you dead?  Please don’t be dead,” Evan said.

“Alive,” I said, my voice a murmur.

“You shouldn’t keep doing this,” he said.

“I have to,” I said.  “Have to get the others out.”

I pulled myself free of the book case, and hopped down.  My landing was a crash landing, not helped by the state of my left leg.  It was only partially intact.

The papercut girl stood on a bookshelf that was as tall as a two-story house.  It swayed with her negligible weight, threatening to topple and take the other bookshelves around it like so many dominoes.

I turned to head up the stairs, and she took flight, dissolving into a flurry of windborne papers.

Intent on interrupting my forward progress.

Right.  Change of plans.

I turned, dropping one wing, steering myself toward the pillar. I landed, bracing myself with one hand and both feet, and was utterly unsurprised as the shelf under my feet gave way.

I found fresher footing.  My eye was fixed on the spine of a book.  The Killing of Angels.

I turned my eyes away.

“She’s coming!”

I braced myself with my wing and used my free hand to seize a candle.

“That’s fire, Blake!  Fire bad!  You’re made of wood, remember?”

I passed the candle into my mouth, biting into it.

“That’s fire very close to your hair and your head, Blake!”

I took flight, pushing off and away from the shelves.

The papercut girl was drifting, riding the currents of hot air that rose from innumerable bookcases with a lonely candle on every other shelf.  She saw me move and gave chase.  Arms became great collections of paper, broad.  Wings to match my own.  Only she could fly.  Her dress and hair moved in the wind, not rising, but only shuffling their flipbook shuffle.

I fought to ascend.  Both to catch up with the others and to stay above her.  But I needed Evan’s help, and she could fly with ease.

She matched me in height, and for a moment, we made eye contact.

I would have spoken to her, but I still held the candle, clamped in my teeth.

I charged her.  A bit of a dive, then rising.  She countered by moving skyward, then dropping.  Evading, doing the reverse of what I did.

As she was lower than me, I spat the candle out at her.

As attacks went, it was meager, pathetic.  It didn’t even reach her, and it was stupid to imagine the candle might have remained lit while one flew through the air.

She watched it spiral down, and looked up at me with a mean smirk on her face.

Her eyes widened as she saw me flying straight at her again.

She scattered, turning into pages, each one slicing past me.  Many slicing at the flesh of my face and eyelids.

“Evan, the book!” I called out.  “Thick clumps!”

He abandoned me.  Taking my ability to fly.

My instructions had been vague, short, nonsensical, but Evan and I were on the same page, so to speak.

He flew into the midst of the papercut girl, and I saw him flip over, hit hard by one flying piece of paper.

But he recovered, and he evaded the next attack.  Ironic, but he evaded the aimed blows better than the one that was very possibly incidental or accidental.

I twisted my face away from the attacks that still struck it, to little avail.

Evan, for his part, found what we were looking for.

The papercut girl couldn’t abandon her book.  Even like this, she had to carry it with her.  The book was supported by papers around it, a parachute or hang glider, hidden, masked.

Evan hit the book free of its protective sheath, sending it spiraling end over end.

I dove for it.  So did the papercut girl.

She reached it first, and rematerialized part of a body around it, torso, face, arms, but not head, not legs or stomach.  She hugged it to her chest.

She wasn’t in a position to move out of the way.  I folded my wing, Hyena extended, and touched the sides of her book with the toes of both feet.  I plummeted with it, touching the Hyena to the cover.

Her expression changed as the wind rifled through the pages of her head.  Fear.

“Swear.  Never harm another soul!” I shouted.

I could hear the bell’s protest.

She touched her hand to her heart.  To the book.  Her lips moved, but no sound came out, only the rustle of pages.

I kicked off, pushed away, sending the book through her paper body, scattering it.

Evan and I took flight.  I flew in lazy, gliding circles around the pillar, higher with each circle, counterclockwise to the stairway’s clockwise rotation.

I wanted nothing more than to catch up with the others.

But, for just one rotation, flying around the pillar, I worked only to glide.  To observe, to listen.

I saw the Barber on the ground.  Six stories down, but he was unmistakeable.  Cutting through hordes, reveling in the chaos.  A limb cut free here, a hand around an individual’s face while the scissors passed through to snip off a tongue.

He threw the gurgling Other to one side, and met another head on.

The black-feathered Other clawed at him, dug talons in and then twisted away, taking pounds of flesh in the process.  Yet somehow, with all the damage that was done, the Barber wasn’t any less.

I could see the body language of the Other and the observers change, as they realized that something was offWrong.

The Barber took that opening, stabbing.  And the Barber cut.

With one hand, the Barber tore.

I could see an entire crowd back away from the Barber, with that action, as if the tearing were so great an action it had a shockwave, capable of parting a sea of monsters.

The Barber’s arms remained extended out to either side, his body bloody, as the two halves rose.  A raven man that had been skinned and feathered.  A twisted non-human that was twisted, broken, a wretch even among the sad and desolate souls of the Abyss.

He didn’t move, nor did he drop his arms as each half lunged, attacking Others on either side of him.  It was only when the skinned birdman tossed a body his way that he let his hands drop, a two-handed grip on the shears, spearing the victim in the side.

He used both hands, angling the shears, as he starting to cut yet another victim.

My flight carried me forward, putting the pillar between me and the barber, blocking my view.

The bell was loud, down there.  It was loud above.

I was almost certain now.

“Up, fast!” I said, as I found a warmer air current.  I flapped my wings.  Evan joined me, and we worked to climb our way.

It didn’t take long to catch up to the others, even with the delay.  The staircase was steep, and flying beat already-exhausted legs climbing what had to be twenty stories.

Especially when the Others kept coming at them.  Lost souls worming their way out between shelves like so many maggots in a carcass.  Now and again, an Other would appear.

Several of the Knights had abandoned their guns, ammunition spent.  The ones that had guns were saving the bullets for the Others.

There were so many Others around them that the collected pile of bodies on the stairs was impeding progress.

I circled around, and landed on the outside of the railing, further up.

“Rose!” I called out, roaring over the noise of the bell.

A bullet penetrated my chest.  I very nearly lost my grip.

“Shit!  Sorry!”  One of the Knights called out.

Nick snatched the man’s gun from him and passed it to another Knight.

I touched the bullet wound.

Rose and Alister had rivers of sweat running down their faces, and it wasn’t hot.  They were dirty, spattered in blood, and Alister seemed lightly wounded, though he still managed to help Rose, one hand on her shoulder.

“Can’t stop,” Rose said.

Stop!” I called out.  “Stop making noise!

Ironic, that I had to shout out over the bell to say it.

She and Alister glanced at one another.

Behind them, Ellie screamed as a haggard old man reached between books on the shelf and tried to drag her closer.  Her back to the railing, she kicked the man in the face.

Ellie seemed to like doing that, as it happened.

The railing, in that same moment, gave way.  Karma?  Whatever it was, Johannes and a Knight reached for her.  Two baseball players going for the same ball.  Counterintuitive.  Both failed, where one might have succeeded.

I took flight, Evan helping.

As rescues went, it wasn’t graceful.  It might not have even counted as a rescue, given how crude it was.  I veered into her, slamming her back toward bookshelves and stairs.  It kept her from falling the entire way down to the ground floor and the Barber, but it was only about as graceful as my last collision with the shelves.  Except Ellie wasn’t the type to heal within minutes, she was meat.

We collapsed in a heap, and stairs creaked, threatening to break and drop us even further, as we reeled from the impact.  She was hurt, and I was very aware that I didn’t want to hurt her further.

I saw a set of red eyes peering between books.  No back to the bookcase here.

I shook my head.

The lower lids of the eyes raised, as if the cheekbones were rising.  Glee?  Opening its mouth?

A hand snapped out, tipped with black claws.

I grabbed it.

“The fuck!?” Ellie gasped.

I shoved my wing into her lower face.  The closest I could approximate to a finger pressed against her lip.

“Shhhh,” I whispered.

I dug wooden fingers into the flesh of the Other’s wrist, sharp, intended to hurt, and as it gave me leeway, I twisted the arm, bending it backward, forcing it into the shelf.

I heard the moan and growl of pain.

My fingers sank in to the first knuckle, blood welling around them.

The Other screamed, long, loud.

The scream was interrupted as something else behind the bookshelf seized it, tearing it away so quickly and so suddenly that only part of his hand was left in my grip.  The ring and pinky finger, and a bit of the upper palm.

The noise in my head got louder.

Ellie was staring at me.

I joined her in looking at the piece of hand, then quickly tossed it back, over the railing.

I climbed off Ellie and gave her some assistance as she found her feet.

Looking where the Other had attacked from, I saw the spines of books.  Gibberish, running ink, scratched spine, and a book titled The Lies Rose Has Told You.

I took hold of the book, then pushed it past the bookshelf, into the dark void beyond, where monsters seemed to dwell and stew, ready to emerge.

“You okay to move?” I whispered.

“Have to be,” Ellie said.  “No way I’m staying behind like Kathy did.”

I nodded.  I flexed one wing, and I wasn’t sure I liked the structural integrity of it.  It had been lightly damaged, and being this high up, I wasn’t sure I wanted to try to fly and fail.

I opted to ascend on foot, instead.  Staying closer to Ellie.

We were a full story down from the others, now.  We were quiet on the ascent, but we still moved as fast as we were able.  Ellie was clearly hurting, wincing, moving with a limping sort of gait, favoring her back, but she didn’t complain, and there was something dogged about her persistence.

“You keep doing this,” Evan said.  “Jumping on the grenades.”

“I think the Abyss knows it,” I said.  “It keeps encouraging me to.”

“Well stop!  Because the guy that’s made of wood is the guy that’s gotta stay behind with the fire and the demon?  That makes no sense at all!”

Quiet!” I hissed, “We’re in a damn library!”

For a moment, he seemed stunned.  He blinked.

“It’s like you’re trying to die,” he said, his voice almost a whisper.

“I’m not-”

“You’re making it awfully hard to keep you alive.  I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to say it before you do something else that’s stupid, but you keep playing with fire?  Dragon, demon, The third time counts.

“Faysal, maybe,” I said.  “Dunno if he has fire, but it could be angelic, light, energy…”

“Fay-  No.  You’re not getting it, you nincompoop.  We do this as a team.  We kick his butt and you live, and then we figure out where we go from there!”

“Shh,” I said.  “I’m not disagreeing.  But shhh.”

I saw him bob his head in a nod.

Ellie spoke up.  “What are you talking about?  Kathy just got magicked or something and we’re so supremely fucked, and you’re seriously thinking this could turn out okay?”

“You’re not?” Evan shot back.  “How can you get through something like this if you don’t believe you can?”

We’d just reached the tail end of the other group.  They’d stopped where they were, and were taking a breather.

Sure enough, now that the were being quiet, the influx of Others had stopped.  The Library was relaxing.

But I could see every head turn skyward as a rumble shook the entire area.  Books fell off shelves here and there, and one tall bookcase toppled, forming an arch with another tilted bookcase.

“We make noise if we move,” Rose said, her voice low, still carrying well with that Conquest voice she had a way of tapping into.  “But if we stay still, we sink.”

“Lose-lose,” Alexis said.

“It’s the way the Abyss works,” I agreed.

There were screams from far below, a rumble as something shifted into place elsewhere.  Candleflames throughout the Library swayed, very nearly going out.

“Flying’s the way to go,” Evan said.  “Minimal flapping, find the hot air…”

“We don’t fly, you little moron,” Ellie spoke.  “Why am I just now realizing I’m arguing with a bird like it’s normal?”

Johannes spoke for the first time, after his long period of silence.  “Don’t let appearances deceive.  The angel Faysal is powerful enough that only a god or a demon might pose a challenge.  This bird…”

“Is awesome,” Evan said, with confidence.

“Evan is one of the individuals here most qualified to speak on the subject of perseverance,” I murmured.

The High Priest nodded.  He sounded so weary, but he was one of the oldest people here, not counting the two remaining Behaims who weren’t named Alister.  He sounded so calm as he asked, “He’s earned the right to be optimistic, hm?”

Evan piped up, “Damn straight.  I survived for a long time, being hunted by a monster, and I kept up hope until the day I died, and you know what happened after I died?  Still hopeful.  So if you think you can change my mind about us being able to get through this, you’re going to have to do better than the wolf-goblin-hyena thing did, you’re going to have to do better than a personification of Conquest did, and you’re going to have to do better than all the other practitioner schmoes did, along the way.”

Schmoes?” Alister asked.  One of the schmoes.

Something moved in the bookshelves behind Evan, just at my shoulder.  He hadn’t raised his voice that much.

I wasn’t sure I liked that.

“Kathy died, like Callan died,” Ellie said.  “Like Molly died.  One of the… other people didn’t come back, after that bridge got cut in half.  I don’t see how you can be this confident.  This place is…”

“Liable to grind us up and digest us,” Johannes said, his voice low.

I caught a glimpse of his, as we ran between bookshelves as tall as buildings.  He looked haggard, strained.  His long hair was sticking to his head with sweat, and the candlelight glittered in his eyes.

“I wanted to help you,” he said.  “Faysal said we met when Molly Walker died.  I think my approach to you was the same that it was to Rose.  A refuge for a vestige, a kind of peace with a diabolist.  As much as that’s possible.”

I thought I detected a faint ringing with his words.

“Shhh,” I reminded people.

“That plan changed,” Rose said.

“Not by my choice,” Johannes said.  “In the midst of all this, I still had to maintain my own goals.”

“Past tense,” Alister observed.

“Yes.  I’m not sure what the future holds,” Johannes said.  “I’m inclined to hope it’s merely a short, brutal, violent end.  Not the-”

“Barber,” Alister finished.  Then, as an afterthought, “Don’t look!”

It was hard not to, when we were making the connection, when we wanted to see with our own eyes.  I hurried to throw my hand over Ellie’s eyes.  She had diagnosed impulse control problems.

Alister pulled Christoff close with a bloodstained hand, the boy’s nose shoved into Alister’s armpit, facing away from the demon.

On a distant pillar, the Barber stood on a balcony.  The ruined bodies of lost souls lay at his feet, arms twitching, grasping for something that wasn’t there.  Hundreds of feet away.  Walking to him might have taken two to four minutes, if we’d had a bridge.

He’d just been on the ground below.

We were utterly silent.  Even the sounds below seemed muted, now.

The Barber snapped the scissors closed, producing a sharp sound that carried all the way to us.

Tch.

He didn’t move, even as a body at his feet clawed at one of his legs, groping, trying to climb up, plead.

The scissors opened and snapped closed again.  Then again.

Tch.  Tch.  Tch.  Tch.  Tch.

“Those measures you were talking about,” I spoke to Alister.  “For stopping him?”

“Not like this,” he said.  “I need time.  Open space.”

I didn’t respond.  You’re not liable to get either, down hereNot unless the Abyss wants to tease you.

Tch.  Tch.  Tch.

“Shoes off,” Rose said.

“Shoes?” one of the Knights asked.

“Keep them, but don’t wear them,” she murmured.  “Anything that might make noise, leave it behind, or put it away.  We-”

Hands snapped out from the bookshelf at her eye level.  Grabbing her by the head and throat.  One covered her mouth, the other clutched her windpipe.

She was hauled off to the right, away from stairs, still gripped by the mouth and neck.  The arms knocked books from the shelves, and those books rained down on the rest of us.  One struck Johannes rather soundly.

Rose’s legs struck Alister, nearly knocking him down the stairs.  Only a chance catch of the railing saved him.

She dangled at the corner of the pillar, strangling, her toes ten feet up from the nearest stair.

Alister and I both climbed, though I was slower, my wing serving poorly for the task.  Alister on Rose’s left, me on her right.

I stabbed the wrist of the hand nearest me, the one that had her throat.  The other hand caught at her nose and lip, threatening to tear away skin if she happened to drop while the fingers were in place.

Rose clutched at me, and I folded one wing around her.

Alister touched a silver chain to the other hand, then, seeing it react, he encircled the wrist, pulling it away.

Rose managed to catch herself.  She was facing outward, the nearest horizontal surface the stairs that were ten feet below.  If she dropped, it would be so very easy for her to simply hit the stairs and keep going forward.  Over the railing.  Dropping to the ground as if she were falling from a rooftop.

Given the choice of accepting my support or Alister’s, she chose Alister.  A grim expression on her face, she managed to get turned around, and she made the climb down.

I kept my wing extended, sheltering her.  I wasn’t sure it would make a difference, given it’s general lack of fingers but there was only so much I could do.

There wasn’t a lot of room on the stairs themselves.  I paused, not wanting to rock the metaphorical boat, while Rose got to her feet.  Others were pulling off boots and shoes, laces tied together, hanging them around their necks.

“Can’t talk too much,” Rose whispered.

I saw her eye flicker in the direction of the bookcase.

Can’t openly discuss how to work against the Abyss in front of the Abyss, I thought.  The abyss liked its lose-lose situations.

I found a space to climb down to, and found myself in the midst of Ty, Alexis, and Tiff.  My former friends.

They looked so worn out.

Mara told me they wanted a way out.  Escape.  I don’t blame them.

I had to hope that there was a way to get them what they needed.

They’d gotten into this for my sake, and then I’d been removed from the equation.

Ty cupped one hand over one side of his face, shielding his eyes, and then pointed.

I very carefully followed the angle of his finger.

The balcony.  The broken lost souls were crawling away and over the railing.  They moved like damaged spiders, shifting around at a glacial pace, leaving bloody handprints and footprints here and there, making whimpering noises that carried through the relative silence.  The Barber was gone.

Shit,” I said, under my breath.

I looked around, and I couldn’t see the demon.

Shit.

He shouldn’t have been able to climb that pillar so fast.  But he could.  The question was, where was he?

“Did anyone look at the barber?” I asked.

Something behind the bookcase moved.  Books rocked in place, and a candle flame went out.

That movement got people’s attention more than my question had.  I wondered for a long second if anyone had heard me speak.

What was there to be said?  Even if they had, would they tell the truth?

Well, yes.  It was one of the rules.  Even the Barber was bound to keep to his word.

Except the Library strongly discouraged communication, apparently.

I could see the restlessness of the others.  The fear.  They were on their last legs, and the Abyss was getting to them.

Not knowing where the goddamned demon was was a pretty good reason to be afraid.

“Go,” Rose whispered.

She led the way.

The others climbed stairs with socks on.  They weren’t running anymore, and that meant our progress was slower.

A stair creaked.  Large black birds flew up between the individual stairs, pecking, scratching.

Then they were gone.

Even elsewhere in the Library, it felt like things were settling down.

The ones who hadn’t gotten the point were starting to get picked off.

I was at the tail end of the group, letting my wing mend from the fall with Ellie.  I looked out over the railing, watching for any sign of the Barber.  Blood, smells, movement, violence…

I looked at the group, searching for signs.  Possession?  Was the Barber occupying one of them?

I looked at Evan, even, sitting on my shoulder.  Not the most obvious target, but if I was doomed to have an ally turn on me…

The faint shuffle of feet on steps changed in tone.  My head snapped around, looking up.

Rose and Alister had rounded a corner, and now they were out of sight.

It was a good twenty seconds before I reached that same place.

The pillar stopped.  We’d reached the top.  The roof of it.  As though it were simply a narrow, horribly tall building, with books on every face.  A library turned inside out.

The roof was flat.  Just the open space Alister wanted.

At the far end, I could make out a stairway.  It led over and outward, to a tangle of tree roots.  At a certain point, the stairs stopped, and the tree roots became the path.

There was snow, there were trees, dense and twisted, joining ruined walls and spiked railing.  There was ice, and here, where they wasn’t taken apart by the heat of the candles and the entropic nature of the abyss, there were falling snowflakes.

What had been the base of the hill, now the edge of a crater.  The path out of the Library.

The ‘roof’ was like the cover of an oversized book, bound in something tougher than paper, harder than leather.

Sitting dead in the center, spearing that cover, was a scuffed pair of shears

“No,” Tiff said.  “No.  No.  No.”

Ellie had her hands clenched into fists.  She was trembling.

I could see the look of complete and utter defeat on Johannes’ face.

The Barber had beat us here.  Now he waited between us and the way out.  Waiting for us to come to him.

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147 thoughts on “Possession 15.2

  1. Well now Blake, time to do your thing and charge! He’s managed to last a bit once. Maybe he’ll manage to buy some others a chance to escape. (Nah, they’ll probably hafta approach the problem sideways to get past ‘im)

  2. I found fresher footing. My eye was fixed on the spine of a book. The Killing of Angels.

    Well that’s helpful. The Abyss seems pretty happy to hand out favors to people who give it things.

    1. Whoohoo, I called the name correctly! Also, the live bait plan is actually working. The Barber is just sitting there while the way out is slowly closing behind him. Dropping the library of demonic lore may have backfired, but it’s also possible that book was a monkey trap where stopping to read it means they wouldn’t find a way out in time, or just a cruel practical joke where the cover page says “Volume 6 of 7.” It could really go either way with the Abyss.

      1. It was also only visible for an incredibly short time during the battle with papercut girl. It was the abyss taunting him more than anything.

        1. I think he had enough time he could have grabbed it. It might have been legit, the Abyss seems to approve of Blake’s performance as a collector and helped him out with the wings. And seeing an angel of pathways bound or destroyed on its very doorstep and maybe even hurled within is something The Library would undoubtedly love. The only question is whether it would like that more than bringing Blake’s hopes to miserable ruin. I think that would be down to a photo finish.

          1. For everything the Abyss gives you, it takes it takes somthing from you. Something important. What would it be this time? His face, torn away by paper cut girl because of an opening which is created by him paying attaintion to the book? Evan, ripped to shreads because he tries to defend Blake AND the book? His Wings, because the book might as well be heavy enough prohibiting him to fly?

            And everything the Abyss gives you ultimately benefits the Abyss.
            Grabbing that book, reading it, might as well give him what he would need to kill an angel. But where does an angel go when it is killed? Is it cast down into the Abyss? Does it fall, like the demons did?

            I can imagine and understand… and that horrifies me… the motivations of the non-person of the Abyss. It has a purpose, not necessarily a goal, and had more time than imaginable to refine its methods, effectiveness and the workings of itself.
            Its power is not limitless, it works with what is given to it, and it was given much this day.

            1. Like Blake said, the Abyss is lose lose. What it gives you is never worth the price, but it tries to make it look like it’s less of a loss than not taking what is offered.

            2. Price paid is that an angel dies. Meaningless to Blake but to the abyss, value beyond words, a huge shift in cosmic level balance.

    2. The Abyss just seems right happy to give people what they want sometimes. I wonder how less messed up people would fair in the Abyss assuming a goblin didn’t eat them or something? Green Eyes seems pretty well adjusted actually. She wants food, friends, and T.V. Heck, the Witch in the Drains made a life for herself she was happy with.

      I still say the Abyss is cuddly it just has crappy neighbors and self-destructive guests mostly. Case in point, in the real world you don’t spontaneously develop the ability to breath underwater by drowning a long time. You also freeze to death. Nor can gaping head wounds be fixed with yarn.

      1. I very much support this point. Abyss is hostile to rigidity and lack of change, but if your willing to strip you legacy cruft away, get to the core of your being, whatever it is, and adopt a new configuration fit for the testing environment — Abyss is downright helpful.

        1. but it’s not helpful to you, it just forces you to adopt its ways, which means not really being yourself. and when you grow to perpetuate its mission, then it gives favors, maybe.
          but the fact still remains that you’re no longer yourself, and more just an infinitesmal instance of the abyss

          1. And then Green Eyes was in The Drains, which was patient in breaking you down, and her circumstances were immediate the moment she fell into the water. If her previous lover hadn’t came around and the Abyss hadn’t gave her a handy pair of gills because she needed it….

            1. And keep in mind that she only got out because Blake got a favor from a certain angel. The Abyss does not let things go. It spits out boogeymen, but they always return eventually. And remember the chain guy? Sometimes they bring more.

    3. “My eye was fixed on the spine of a book. The Killing of Angels.”

      Pretty useless & practically screams “Obvious Trap!”, “How to Kill Demons” would be worth more for Blake & Co. to risk life and limb for.

        1. There is already a band called “How to Destroy Angels” they’re actually really chill and have some very soothing vocals.

  3. Oh, interesting. The Barber being mute and alone is actually to his advantage here. He’s just as incapable of lying as he is of telling the truth, he doesn’t have to communicate with the allies he doesn’t have, and as such he won’t ever be dragged away by the scary things hiding behind the bookshelves. Not that they ever could, but still.

    Blake and crew, in contrast, need to communicate with each other or risk getting separated and lost/killed, which not only makes them easier to track down but also makes the environment itself attack them. What fun. What joy. … They’re all gonna die, aren’t they?

    And am I correct in guessing Molly is being repurposed as some kind of security system for the Library? That’s just too funny.

    1. Well the library seemed to react to the sound of his shears. Not that it mattered much.

      Wonder if he can snik out Shave and a Haircut on those?

  4. I guess it’s Time for A!sister to be the hero. He should show Barbie the power of Love! Bind the monster with the chords of Love shared between himself and his fiance.

    The fight scenes (especially the first with Sir Inkalot) seemed kinda gorey and hard to follow in this chapter to me. Of course, I may just need to sleep.

    Yeah Evan! Talk some sense into Blake. Make him less suicidal!

    1. All this talk of binding and chords and things between two people… Against a demon that is the manifestation of cutting/tearing/separating as a purely destructive act?
      Nope.
      As a thought exercise, what elements COULD bind the barber?

      1. Things are bound by their opposites. Barbarotem is a being of division and destruction and so would be bound by unity and creation.

        1. When Granny Rose bound him, it was with “rule-defining diagram of geometric lines and Byzantine notation” — in other words, order for order’s sake, rules that create more rules.

  5. Why would the Paper Girl hate Blake? I thought they had some chemistry together. Was it because of the Bell? Did she hear about his relationship with Green Eyes?

    1. She offered him fair a deal (from her perspective), and he replied by permanently mutilating her. The wound in her book is his fault.

      1. He told her twice that he didn’t want his friends hurt, that he didn’t want them to die. On the third time, he acted. She should have listened.

  6. The definition of a happy ending for this story is actually pretty binary:

    Evan is happy, ending is happy.
    Evan is crushed or dead, ending is sad.

    The fate of every other character and the world doesn’t actually matter to the happiness of the ending other than what impact it may have on the above binary.

      1. I’d like for Green Eyes to make it through too. Though I really worry she’s going to get barbered.

        Huh, barbered is a real word? Learn something new every day.

  7. Wow, I read this with my hand to mouth, sitting back on a few pillows on my couch, which seems like it would be a really relaxed position but I was actually feeling incredibly tense the whole time. I was spellbound. 🙂

      1. Especially when the Others kept coming at them. Lost souls worming their way out between shelves like so many maggots in a carcass. Now and again, an Other would appear.

        Several of the Knights had abandoned their guns, ammunition spent. The ones that had guns were saving the bullets for the Others.

        There were so many Others around them that the collected pile of bodies on the stairs was impeding progress.

        Alternating between using Others as a general term and to mean something specific makes reading this a bit awkward. Maybe use ‘bogeyman/bogeymen’ for “an Other would appear” and “saving the bullets for the Others” and then leave the rest alone.
        The same thing crops up in a few other places

    1. “I caught a glimpse of his, as we ran between bookshelves as tall as buildings.”
      “caught a glimpse of him”/”caught a glimpse of his face”

    2. The butcher behind me was a problem I had to keep in mind. I needed to resolve this, fast.

      The Barber’s eviler-twin ‘the butcher’ returns again!

      torso, face, arms, but not head,

      Not a typo, but I’m confused how there can be a face, but no head, without specifying just what surface the face is actually on instead of a head.

      Ellie spoke. “Why am I just now realizing I’m arguing with a bird like it’s normal?”

      Wait… Shouldn’t an unawakened person be entirely unable to even hear Evan’s voice still, just like during the conversation in the (non capitalized) library?

      I caught a glimpse of his, as we ran between bookshelves as tall as buildings.

      Other people pointed out ‘his’, but, continuity-o?: They aren’t running between bookshelves right now. They’re all standing still and talking until Rose says “go”. And aren’t they on the stairs of one of those shelf-skyscrapers anyway, not between giant shelves?

      There was ice, and here, where they wasn’t taken apart by the heat

      where they weren’t* taken apart

      Sitting dead in the center, spearing that cover, was a scuffed pair of shears

      Chilling as shit. But missing the period the end of this line.

      1. Wait… Shouldn’t an unawakened person be entirely unable to even hear Evan’s voice still, just like during the conversation in the (non capitalized) library?

        I think the other/human distinction gets fuzzy in the Abyss.

  8. Come on Blake! Screw that demon’s shit up! And while you’re leaving the Abyss, say something cool like “I didn’t like your haircuts, Barber.” or “Now reflect upon your actions.” or “You shouldn’t have horsed around so much.”

    I wonder what would happen if Blake scratches the shears so much that they don’t reflect anything anymore? Sort of like he did with the Hyena.

        1. “He went out with bangs”
          “In the nick of time”

          Truly, the possibilites for puns are endless. Blake needs to defeat the Barber nine times or something so he can use all of those.

          1. Yes, but with the Barber defeated what would be left for the story? Would it become a [puts on sunglasses] slice of life?

            You know, I would totally read a slice of life about the adventures and misadventures of Blake, Green Eyes, and of course Evan.

    1. Well, you can say that with the Barber finally entering the action this story… grew the beard.
      (••)
      ( •
      •)>⌐■-■
      (⌐■_■)

  9. I am a bit confused about Fay’s plan. He sunk the house because the people he needed were there (Rose, Alister, Johannes, Blake…). But doesn’t the Thorburn family count? What about Peter and Roxanne? They are still important connections to the house that might keep it up. Maybe that’s why our gang still has time to escape. I guess Fay just dropped the house and hoped for the best.

    I’m also a bit confused about how Others have and feel emotions. Blake can clearly feel, but in a somewhat detached, inhuman way. Is it just that way for him, or does that apply to everyone? Because the deep hatred coming from Paper Girl would go against that.

    I’m sad Blake didn’t pick that Angel Killing book. It’s a trap, obviously. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s the solution? Yes, Blake should have picked the book. The book is important. We need the book. Book. Book. Book……

    Uhm. Miscellaneous commentaries. Saying that the Paper Girl crushed Blake’s wing to her body was confusing. It made me think it was totally wrecked. Barbie reminds me gur Raqoevatref, fcrpvsvpnyyl gur svefg bar (Yrivnguna, jnf vg?). Guvf vf orpnhfr bs gur gbhtu, vzcbffvoyr gb qrfgebl zhfpyr ur vf znqr bhg bs. And Evan is the best little thing ever ❤ Fire Bad! (Except in the context of becoming a phoenix)

    1. I don’t think Peter and Roxanne (and Paige and Ivy?) alone are going to have a strong enough connection to hold the house up, not with the metaphorical weight of all the people who just got thrown down into the abyss.

      Also Blake’s detachment seems to at least partially come from a lack of a human body, but he was seriously struggling with the whole bogeyman rage against Rose thing back when he first got out of the abyss.

      Major kudos to Evan for maintaining hope. I’d think he was becoming the incarnation of perseverance, if he wasn’t obviously too awesome for that.

      Also for some reason the ambiance of reading about the Abyss and rot13 cyphers make me think of Lovecraft. cu’atyhv ztyj’ansu Pguhyuh E’ylru jtnu’anty sugnta

      1. I went to Rot13 to decypher that, then I felt silly because I realised that it probably was in whatever ancient language is used in the story, then I looked at the screen realised that it was cyphered nonetheless xD

      2. Uh. The language of the Great Old Ones is apparently the one language that still sounds exactly the same after it’s been though Rot-13.

      3. To me it seems like others are both “deeper” and “narrower” than humans. Depth in this case is how much they embody specific concepts. Faysal understands pathways in a way no human can. Width however is their ability to experience and generate things. A demon can only destroy for example, but humans can both create and destroy.

    2. “I’m also a bit confused about how Others have and feel emotions. Blake can clearly feel, but in a somewhat detached, inhuman way. Is it just that way for him, or does that apply to everyone? Because the deep hatred coming from Paper Girl would go against that.”

      Bogeymen feel what they’ve allowed themselves to feel – Blake abandoned his human fear behind when he realised his inhuman nature in the Drains. Some other bogeys probably give up different emotions, or more of them. Most of them keep anger and hatred, though, because it’s just so easy to power up through those.

      Other Others, we don’t really know much. We’ve had a tiny snippet from a goblin’s first-person perspective which didn’t reveal much. Probably not representative of the whole, either.

    3. Faysal’s plan of allowing the Barber to tear the Thorburn bloodline, and thus the binding placed upon him by said bloodline, to pieces, does seem to require somehow catching Peter and all the innocents in this, too.

      But the house is already lost. It’s not exactly gonna get fished back up from the Abyss now, is it, unless it’s in the form of a house-bogeyman (bogeyhouse?). It’s already been transformed into the Library.

      All Faysal seems to want is to ensure that every connection the Barber might have to this world is destroyed, ideally by the Barber himself in his shortsighted bloodlust, so that he can’t possibly ever climb back up from the Abyss.

      It would be great if his plan weren’t doomed to failure. I wouldn’t trust the Abyss to keep the Barber down, or for the radiation from him to be contained properly by it.

  10. So, umm, what happens if Rose takes out Conquest’s mirror, and uses it to reflect the image of the shears?

    Blake always thought Conquest was weaker than he seemed, but he sure didn’t seem weak when he was fighting personally He one-shotted the Hyena if I remember right.

    There’s also the possibility of just giving Conquest to the Abyss and hoping it’s happy enough with the gift to help them get past the demon.

    Of course there’s no possible downside to either idea, right?

    Don’t look at me like that, Blake.

    1. As differences in power levels go, the Barber does not fit on the same scale with Conquest or the Hyena, unless its logarithmic.

      Of Note: Conquest did not deal with the Hyena before, even if it claimed a territory in what was technically “his”, which must have stung.
      Also, we never saw Conquest kill the Hyena, it was killed off screen.

    2. Conquest definitely was weaker than he looked, but that doesn’t say very much because he looked very strong. In a straight up match Conquest would probably have been a serious contender for the Lordship of Toronto, just not the winner.

      1. Ah, but remember, Conquest is an embodiment of one aspect of humanity, and we’ve already been told that humanity is winning in most ways… Remember Faysal’s musings.

    3. Hunh. Only good can come of that, I think. Either Conquest gets cut, which would be great, or the Barber gets reduced, which would be great. I honestly don’t see Conquest winning completely, but if he did win then Blake at least knows that Conquest is actually all bluster, so he should be easier than the Barber.

      1. No, I think that would only end badly, with Conquest becoming Slaughter and Mastery. And the combat dopplegangers that have been spun off in the Abyss seem to fight their maker’s enemies.

        Or Conquest could get a pet demon. That would not be pretty either.

    4. I’m pretty sure we’d end up with a possessed Conquest in that case. Conquest being possessed by Pauz was a bad enough scenario, throwing Barbie in there instead could only come out worse. The last thing we need is Barber’s slicing and dicing working at long range instead of just melee, or whatever other nonsense would come of that fusion.

  11. Rose managed to catch herself. She was facing outward, the nearest horizontal surface the stairs that were ten feet below. If she dropped, it would be so very easy for her to simply hit the stairs and keep going _forward_. Over the railing. Dropping to the ground as if she were falling from a rooftop.

    This is an example of why I love that Wildbow writes in first person. It’s more subtle than I expected, given that Blake has been becoming more and more overtly Other since at least arc 9, but this subtlety also has its appealing moments, like this one.

  12. People, don’t over think it. The Abyss offered him the book “The Killing of Angels” because it would have a terrible price, certainly. However that price may not be a price Blake would pay; we’re busy thinking of Faysal as a bad guy when he’s actually just an antagonist. The price paid would be the death of an angel, a huge price from any outsiders perspective but one certain to bring about a huge amount of change.

    1. Also, doubtlessly a massive blow to the karma for doing so. Remember, it’s about Right and Wrong, not Good and Evil, and angels are practically personifications of Right.

      1. Oh the price is pretty obvious. Blake gets the book but loses it to the Barber. The Barber picks up the book, reads some of its contents, and kills Faysal. The Barber then struts out of the Abyss and into the real world, causing untold amounts of devastation as he goes while any information on how he was bound ends up tossed in an inaccessible nightmare realm. Grabbing that book while the primary threat is right there is about the worst trap possible.

    2. Besides, the angel isn’t the problem here. If they actually manage to reach the angel, it will have been by escaping the Abyss and the Barber, at which point they have no reason (beyond revenge) to fight Faysal.

  13. Ok so i had kept up with this up until Blake got destroyed. I stopped reading from there cos it felt like a physical blow deep in my gut. I honestly didn’t know that his death was temporary cos this book on a whole seemed a lot more dark than Worm (And that’s saying something). But this came up in my emails and i decided to just Ctrl F “Blake”…

    So guess what you have another dedicated reader 😀

  14. This was just a cut above the rest! Nice Chapter 😀
    I like how the Bard just appeared in this, to be useless. Or crapping his pants.
    And pls Rose, release Conquest! Let Barbie use his wondertwin powers of DOOM! on him.

    1. I just thought of that Conquest thing, came here to post it, and saw someone had beat me to it. 🙂

      On the other hand, I hope Barbatorem doesn’t carve up Johannes, not only because he’s a likeable character, but also because so long as Faysal possesses Johannes, the Barber might reach Faysal through that link. (Similar to how Conquest’s imperfect binding influenced them.) Normal angels are bad enough; we so don’t need a corrupted one.

  15. Oooh man. I hope whatever Alister’s countermeasure is, it’s a really good one.

    I’m hoping even more because if Blake and co’s ass end up being saved by a Behaim, I will never stop laughing.

    I suppose the silver lining here is is that the abyss monsters apparently haven’t spilled over into the real world.

  16. I’m wondering, at this moment, if the Barber isn’t a whole lot more than he seems to be.

    Say you have this race of really boring creatures of chaos, living in chaos. No form, no function, the boredom or perpetual randomness like static.

    One being randomly gets this wild idea to turn to cut itself in half, but when doing so, it tries to pull most of the randomness to one half of itself, creating an imbalance.

    Barber and the first Angel are the result.

    Thrilled with his new discovery, and even more chaotic than before, Barber finds other chaos beings and splits them like it did itself, learning as it goes, splitting them in subtly different ways. Different tiers. It’s not really creating things, it’s breaking them.

    The demons and angels recognize that they are two halves of the old chaos beings, but do not wish to die or lose their independence by re-merging, so they do not interact directly against one another.

    The Angels mostly create and the Demons mostly destroy. But when the Angels finally create what they would consider an artificial intelligence, humans, demons attempt to turn the humans against the Angels rather then simply destroy them, because using humans as tools causes the Angels more pain.

    I’ll be a little disappointed if Pact ends up having a hidden-in-plain-sight character central to the very nature of the world, like another book I might mention, but won’t. As the same time I won’t be that disappointed. 🙂

      1. Faysal told Blake that he didn’t think angels and demons were direct opposites. And IIRC his Histories chapter gave another story for how demons may have come into being.

    1. If that’s the case the Barber would be the Engine of Creation. Especially if you slaved him to a Templar. Make a Angel/Demon. Have the Templar kill the demon. Repeat 777 times. Enjoy the new legion of angels.

  17. Let’s see… Hostile envroment trying to impede them as much as possible… Swarms of mooks getting in their way… Must make successful save rolls on both surprise attacks, and on not reading any books… Dropped into situation without many of their best gear… Being chased by a monster that is way above their level. Damn Faysal is a killer DM.

      1. Ellie, when she’s got her game face on, is rather good at ripping into the rules and finding interesting ways to interpret them…

        But, right now, she’s panicking and doesn’t have Peter around to steady her. 😛 (But, Blake might do at a pinch, given he’s saved her bacon in a way she can’t misinterpret.)

        1. Not beat, I don’t think. Delay. Buy time to escape. Which is what makes the Barber being between them and the exit such a bad thing.

  18. im gonna hedge my bets, and say Faysal’s Plan is going to collapse on itself(without even trying to guess specifics), simply because he coudnt be bothered to Minimize Collateral damage. in short, he stuck a whole bunch of humans, which his kind have trouble predicting precisely, into an extremely hostile environment with a Creature that makes Meangle look like a kindly old grandpa, and they know that unless they break out, they are worse then dead. optimistically they all die, and the Barber gets free anyway. worst case he tries to stop them form escaping ot prevent the Barber getting loose, and the barber starts carving our favorite angel into little fragments.

    1. oh, additional: calling it right now, Jo is still braindead/possesed and he’s being used to monitor the gorup

      1. Most definitely. He managed to interfere with catching Ellie and thus delay the group in a way that didn’t attract any suspicion and otherwise has been subtly inconvenient.

    2. My money is on the binding succeeding but at least some of the practitioners making it out somehow and coming back for revenge

        1. In this case, Faysal has set himself up for retribution. After he set them up for certain death or worse, killing him would be fair play and probably not result in a karma hit, but a hefty bonus for taking him down…

          1. And bring the demons one step closer to winning. The whole problem here is that while he may be an antagonist, and not on the side of the humans, he is on the side of the universe. Blake & co have to win against him to survive, but he’s a different type of threat than Mara.

            More importantly, Faysal is way too useful to kill. He saved Green Eyes from the Drains. While he probably can’t do that for free or all that often, it’s still one of the most amazing powers we’ve seen in Pactverse, and one that could make a permanent difference (if Faysal can be somehow convinced to upset the status quo in this way).

            A Worm analogy: Killing Dinah or Tattletale because their information-gathering powers threaten you would be a colossal waste. Using them would be a far superior option. (Unfortunately, much like those two, Faysal’s power probably makes it really difficult to capture him, though it may be possibly to convince him.)

  19. I’m really starting to dislike Blake and his suicidal desires and lack of any feeling of self-worth. Rose is a cruel, self-absorbed, arrogant, selfish bitch, and she has wronged and fucked over Blake on so many levels so many times. Somehow, through all of that, Blake has decided that SHE is the one that should live? That the world would be better with HER than HIM?

    Rose needs to die horribly. She’s the most unlikable and unsympathetic character in this entire story. Even the Faysal is more likable than Rose, and yet I’m supposed to believe that Blake is prepared to commit suicide to save her?

      1. Except he could have just let her die. If she dies, he gets everything, doesn’t he? Because they’re both just vestiges of the original, and if he’d died back when Rose was in the mirror, as was Rose Senior’s plan, she’d have gotten everything. All he has to do to get his friends and his life back is to let Rose die, or to inconspicuously help her death along a little.

        Besides that, why would he even want her to live anyway? She almost killed HIS friends. The only reason his friends are still alive is because he escaped from HER imprisonment. She would have pulled the stunt she did even if he wasn’t there to protect the house, and then everyone would have died. He keeps risking his life to save her, when he knows for a fact that if their positions were reversed, she wouldn’t be risking her life to save him.

        1. “All he has to do to get his friends and his life back is to let Rose die, or to inconspicuously help her death along a little.” Would he now, though? The Abyss literally has its hooks into him — he was only able to avoid losing the last of his flesh by promising the Abyss a bigger prize later.

          That option to regain what you’d lost is a very attractive one and likely why most people that the Barber has cut have fought with their other half. But I don’t think it’s a real option. I think things were set up with Rose to gain what Blake would lose when Blake died, but I think that was an attempt to stop the complete loss of those connections — I don’t think it ordinarily works like that.

    1. Rose appears as unsympathetic for numerous reasons – Blake is the POV character, they started out with different information, she suffers from bad karma, and she was tainted by Conquest. In a parallel universe, Pact could easily be written with Rose as protagonist and Blake as ‘the most unlikable and unsympathetic character’.

      On that note, I’m disappointed that Rose gets to do so little in-story in comparison with Blake (the comparative lack of diabolism in a story named ‘Pact’ is so weird on a gazillion levels), but I don’t agree with your assessment of her character.

      On that note, the most unsympathetic characters in Pact, for me, were Conquest (Bond villain stupidity), Fell’s ancestor (who doomed his bloodline, when he could have chosen death instead), and Rose Senior (who doomed her bloodline, when she could have easily ended it by having no children). Not to forget any time a Jacob’s Bell council member is all like “Diabolists must die!” and everyone agrees. Laird’s and Jeremy’s insanity in the face of diabolism very much included.
      No, Rose doesn’t even make the top 10.

      1. Rose was made by Rose Senior (who IS on your list of most unsympathetic characters) to be as close to a clone of Rose Senior as possible. Rose Senior took the original person, stripped away everything integral to their character and personality, and replaced it with little more than memories of familial infighting and wanton ambition, to make the kind of pragmatic diabolist that she wanted.

        As for unsympathetic characters, I can sympathize with Conquest. He was a simple Bond-villain character by virtue of his very nature. He couldn’t be anything else really. I can feel sorry for him, pity him, and understand why he does the things he does. I don’t think he’s a bad person, because he’s not a person. Rose IS a person, and she’s objectively a bad person.

        1. Umm, you’re kind of contradicting yourself there. If you can’t consider Conquest a bad person because he’s a construct rather than a person how can you consider Rose a bad person when she’s a construct rather than a person?

          1. Rose was made by a person to be a person. She may be artificial, but so is Blake to an extend, and she’s supposed to be a person and the story treated her as a person. The reader is expected to be sympathetic or empathetic to Rose, not to think she’s a terrible human being. I’m not sympathetic towards her, and I do think she’s a terrible human being.

            Conquest wasn’t a main character and he wasn’t treated sympathetically. Conquest just sprung into existence as a result of an area being saturated with a particular concept. He was a thing, an object, an obstacle in the protagonist’s way, he wasn’t a fleshed out character or a person. I hardly think the two are comparable.

            1. To quote your own words: “Rose Senior took the original person, stripped away everything integral to their character and personality, and replaced it with little more than memories of familial infighting and wanton ambition, to make the kind of pragmatic diabolist that she wanted.” How is that a person any more? How is that anything but a person-shaped Other embodying a particular aspect of existence, just like Conquest?

            2. That’s my whole point, actually. Rose is made to be a person, and she’s treated by the story as a person, and the reader is supposed to see her as a person, but she isn’t a person. She’s a thing. She doesn’t have any desires of her own, she doesn’t have any memories that she can call her own, all she has driving her is the ambition of a dead woman, and yet the reader is supposed to be rooting for her over Blake?

              She’s a one-sided construct, a callous and conniving facsimile of a real person, very similar to Conquest even, and yet she’s also one of the two main characters. That’s what I’m complaining about. She should be an antagonist, an obstacle for Blake to overcome on his journey to become whole again.

            3. I’m not sure where you got the idea that the reader is supposed to be rooting for Rose?

              One of the key themes of Pact has been how hard it is to pigeon-hole people: most of the major characters in this have been friends, enemies and allies at various points. Rose has been an antagonist and an obstacle at points. We’re not necessarily supposed to be rooting for her. But we’re at the point where Blake realises that his antagonism with Rose has been manufactured and that their goals aren’t mutually incompatible. That antagonism is one of the obstacles Blake has to overcome to achieve his goals. That doesn’t make Rose a hero or even a friend.

              Personally I don’t believe Rose is even one of the ‘two main characters’ – for me, that would be Blake and Evan.

            4. I have no idea whatever it is you’re talking about. I stopped reading this story when Blake decided to sacrifice his life for Rose’s. I don’t care what happened after that point, whether or not Blake really gave up and let himself die. He lost the will to live and decided that Rose deserved life more than he did, and I stopped caring about him at that point.

            5. So you’re not only commenting on a chapter you havent actually read, you haven’t read the arcs leading up to it either? o_O

              That seems kind of pointless.

              And BTW, everything I discussed happened before the point when Blake decided to sacrifice his life to save Rose’s, so you should still understand what I’m talking about.

            6. I did read this chapter. I’m pretty sure it was the last chapter I read, and I only read it out of morbid curiosity.

              You say that one of the key themes of Pact is how you can’t pigeon-hole people, but that’s exactly what Blake does to himself. He ignores his actions and his intentions, seeing himself as corrupted and violent. He somehow took his violent past actions to mean that he’s just a warrior construct built for conflict and that he couldn’t exist in a peaceful world. That was the point where I gave up almost all hope in this story, and the last of my hope vanished when this chapter came out and none of my fears were addressed.

              Also, their goals ARE incompatible. She cares about herself at the expense of everyone else, he cares about his friends at his own expense. If he dies, he’s leaving his friends behind. His friends have a twisted and misdirected attachment to and trust towards Rose, and she doesn’t care about them. She abused that misplaced trust once, and she’d do it again. She didn’t give a shit about his friends, she just wanted to save herself, and if Blake hadn’t escaped from the mirror Rose had trapped him in, he and his friends would all be dead and the house would be totally lost all because Rose was selfish, short-sighted, and antisocial. He was the only thing that stood between Rose’s selfishness and his friends’ demise. For him to think that his friends would be better off without him is just stupid.

            7. If you’ve read this far, then you’ve read as much as I have (more or less – I’m one chapter further ahead now).

              You seem to be taking Blake’s word as gospel. He’s been mistaken before and he may well be mistaken now.

              That said, he has some valid points about being corrupted and violent. His first reaction to most problems is to attack. Blake’s approach has been to slit throats and threaten demonic Armageddon. Plus he’s a mutant tree-man – he has little chance of a normal life when all this is over.

              I think you’re being a little bit harsh towards Rose. Remember that everything we’ve seen her do is through Blake’s perceptions and he’s predisposed to distrust her. Rose being selfish and not caring for Blake’s friends is seen through that filter.

              If she were as horrible as he believed, she would’ve tried to destroy him when she captured him. She had every reason – he was destined to destroy her. Similarly she saved Evan when she had no reason to – it cost her energy and she had no idea whether it’d be a good investment. It was a kindness. Seriously, go back and read the story watching Rose’s actions separate to Blake’s filter/interpretations of them and she’s pretty reasonable.

              I assume you’re talking about the time she left the house and sold herself into marriage to protect her friends and family? Because that is just as valid an interpretation. Especially since she clearly bargained for the safety of her circle as part of the deal.

              And remember that she didn’t know the Witchhunters were coming. She had every reason to believe that her circle had enough time to shore up the house’s defences during the day and bunker down overnight while she negotiated a ceasefire.

              Wildbow is very deliberately giving us a one-sided perspective on Rose and Blake has clearly been outed as an unreliable narrator.

              I don’t think Blake should give up (and my guess is he’ll come to the same realisation). But that’s actually a separate issue to whether or not Rose can be trusted.

            8. PS. I’ve read on a few chapters now (I’m up to 15.6). They give you a lot more insight into Rose and you might be interested in reading them if you haven’t already.

      2. the main reason i hate the Council so much is their Blatant hypocrisy.howling for the heads of Diabolists, when several of their Members are them themselves.

      3. the main reason why so many people find Rose SO unsympathetic(from MY POV< anyway), apart for intentionally being created to be the closest thing possible to a carbon-copy of her Sociopath of a creator/grandmother as possible, is that, simply put, she is CONSTANTLY going on about how Blake is trying to destroy her, and has repeatedly attacked him (at one of the WORST possible times, even!) while BLAKE has Repeatedly made a Conscious Effort to NOT go after her ( those times when he notes a surge of irrational anger and makes an effort to fight it down), and she's just aware of how skewed their Perceptions are as he is.Bottom line is they both know how damaged they are, and Blake is the ONLY one who seems to even be TRYING to fight it instead of following his programming like a good little robot.

        1. The thing is, we see Blake actively trying to fight it because he’s the POV character. I don’t believe Rose has completely gone in on killing him; she passed up numerous chances to do so. Even discounting when she was in the mirror, she only bound him in the library and after allying with the Behaims she did not arrange to get him set on fire. After the negotiations broke down, she didn’t summon up some hunter spirit to track and eliminate him. Blake looks like the more reasonable one because we get to see his reasons. If Rose were the viewpoint character, we’d be complaining about how that crazy Blake guy keeps endangering everyone with his positively insane plans he can’t be bothered to tell anyone about, deliberately undercutting Rose in front of her allies, and plunging headlong into becoming an Abyss monster. Rose looks like a bad person because our perspective is warped to show her in the worst possible light.

          I’ve mentioned this before; reading through the story one of my running questions was “Why does Blake hate Rose so much?” Up until Null, there was no visible reason for Blake to be angry or paranoid towards her aside from her being kind of grouchy. It showed itself mostly in little things, where he got jumpy whenever she summoned things, didn’t explain his plans even when there was time, and was just generally atypically hostile. For instance, at the first council meeting he went and made his big nonaggression for information offer without consulting her, and when she complained he didn’t apologize and explain that he came up with it on the spot and couldn’t exactly discuss it in front of everyone. Rose was also hostile towards him, but I was more forgiving towards her because she was stuck in the mirror.

      4. and Rose Senior (who doomed her bloodline, when she could have easily ended it by having no children).

        But then she wouldn’t have been able to indirectly, possibly, hopefully, save the world with a nudge.

  20. The Barber is the shears; calling it (as surely others did before). That’s why he doesn’t care about any damage done to his wielder (who- or whatever this is), and why Blake only saw the shears in the circle in HH.

    1. This is actually plausable. If I remember correctly one of the ways of paying off the Lawyers is by giving a demon a foothold in the world. A plot of land, or if I remember correctly Mrs. Lewis said a pair of shears… And the shears are supposed to be a constant for the Barber, but when Granny Rose first summoned him he had a sickle. So I propose that when RTD bound him, part of the agreement was that he’d be incarnated in the shears, making him more bound to the world than before.

      And throwing a rock at them becomes an ever more viable alternative.

      1. Considering the Barber’s apparent strength and how he flings those things around all willy-nilly, it’d have to be one mother of a rock to even leave a dent.

        But if Barbie truly is bound to his shears, then covering all the reflective surfaces in paint or something might screw up his connection to them.

  21. Holy crap. Full stop. S*** just got real. Realer than conquest and Mara and all of the other creepy f***ers combined. I cannot describe the emotional roller coaster this book has put me through. Love. It. So. Much.

    > >

  22. “Swear. Never harm another soul!” I shouted.
    I could hear the bell’s protest.
    She touched her hand to her heart. To the book. Her lips moved, but no sound came out, only the rustle of pages. If I read her lips correctly, she was saying, “I only have a face, you moron! I can’t talk!”

    And a bit of amusing hypocrisy: “I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to say it before you do something else that’s stupid, but you keep playing with fire?”
    Evan, didn’t you continue wanting to be a firebird after discovering that your best friend was made of wood?

    I find it odd how, when no one’s supposed to look at the Barber, Blake still knows enough about its position, surroundings, and actions to describe it well.

    1. Yeah honestly out of everything in the story, the one thing that strains my suspension of disbelief is Blake’s control over his eyesight. Now, I have ADHD, so my perspective (heh) may be off, but I don’t think it’s possible to not look at something that consistently, especially when you don’t know where it is.

      But hey, maybe Blake got all of Ross’s eye control.

  23. Eugh this doesn’t seem to make sense. Why is there a library in the abyss why do the others follow the rules of being quiet in a library? Why do they make more noise in stopping noise? Why is reading bad if everyone is trying to keep things quiet which in a library is for reading. Why do the others work together? Do the people in the drains kill people who make a mess or who clean depending on your definition. Why did the abyss add things next to a library?

    Why is the abyss below ground? Everything it represents makes one million more sense as space, falling through the cracks etc and the chaos it once was, cold and dark too . Under ground is full of matters and very bright and warm.

    You know what, you choose the wrong medium for this story. It should be a anime or manga. There’s tons of reasons why that fits better than what you’ve chosen

    1. The Library is the Thorburn library. The entire house got cast into the Abyss in 14.10, remember? And the Abyss corrupts and transforms whatever falls into it.

      In this case the whole ‘silence in the library’ thing is a manifestation and corruption of the common human association with libraries. The books are full of dangerous, forbidden knowledge ‘cos it’s the Thorburn library. Those books were dangerous and forbidden to begin with, the Abyss just dialled it up to 11.

      The Library, the Drains and the Tenements don’t necessarily work the same way. Each zone is created based on the raw materials the Abyss has available and the concepts associated with those materials.

      The Others aren’t necessarily working together as far as I can tell, just all taking the opportunity to prey on the newbies, who are hopefully easier prey than picking a fight with other experienced and time-hardened Abyss denizens.

      I don’t believe the Abyss is literally underground. Mankind has long associations with the underworld being beneath us (it’s even in the name!) so entering the Abyss feels like falling. But it’s almost certainly located in another dimension or similar. I seriously doubt that people would accidentally tunnel into it when digging sewers etc.

      Pact may or may not be better suited to a manga than a webserial but Wildbow is a writer, not a mangaka so he wrote his story rather than drawing it.

      I think that’s everything? Let me know if I missed any.

      1. Wait, so the Abyss converted the entire Thornburn house and populated it with others and all that jazz in like, 2 minutes? I know that it was reshaping and rebuilding with the materials but I’m a bit lacking in comprehension to how it creates the whole thing as a unified theme like that and then conveys it to all the others inhabiting.

        Like the big giant guy in the column, if the library only existed for the past ten minutes how did he get in there?

        The others look like they are working together since even know they are making lots of noise while attacking other people they don’t get in trouble for it. Like the paper girl is obviously making noise while moving around but no one is coming for her.

        Ah so instead of falling in it’s more like a portal that makes sense.

        Sure but since he choose to write it I figure he’d have done more to make use of what is possible as a written piece rather than as a visual novel.

        1. Well,I think it clarifies on this or the previous chapter (not sure which)that the Abyss calls boogeymen with a similar theme to populate this area because thats how the Abyss works.The teacher,for example,came from the Academy rather than sprouting from the Abyss.And there was some infighting between boogeymen,it was just that the easy victims and the crazy demon overshadowed it as far as their priorities went.

    2. “Why is the abyss below ground? Everything it represents makes one million more sense as space, falling through the cracks etc and the chaos it once was, cold and dark too . Under ground is full of matters and very bright and warm.”

      Remember the Abyss is all about melting or grinding down, to ultimately add that back to the universe (reforged). Just like tectonic plates being partially or completely melted and re-solidified in the Earth’s mantle.

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