The top of the pillar was bright compared to the rest of the library. Smoke rose from innumerable candles, lighting up the surroundings below us like a distant, quiet, grim little city.
Up here, on a largely featureless square of land atop a great book-covered pillar, faces were comparatively easy to make out. The bells that were audible were distant, closer to the ground. The snow that came down was light, a layer of snow just thin enough that one could leave a footprint in it, but a breath of air might have scattered it.
The pillar was akin to a building, and the dimensions were similar, albeit a little narrow for the building’s height, but we were limited to the outside. Only Abyssal things lay within, just past the relatively thin veneer of shelves and books and stairways.
As though we were fighting on the surface of an egg.
There were no signs of the demon’s footsteps.
For a moment, I wondered if it were a trick. A deception. I’d nearly been fooled twice tonight, after all.
But the shears that impaled the center of the rooftop had a weight to them. Everyone present seemed to sense it. We were deer in headlights. Frozen, afraid to move. Afraid to make a sound. I didn’t even feel fear in the conventional sense, and I was virtually paralyzed.
Escape was only a short distance away. A hundred feet, if that, to reach the bridge to the real world.
Rose’s eyes, I noted, were on the stairs. She was frozen, just like me, but unlike me, she wasn’t immune to the fear and panic. She dealt with it all the same.
Alister stood right at her side, his arm touching her shoulder. She shared a glance with him.
It wasn’t a pairing of love. It was a pairing, all the same. He’d helped her make the first step in reaching out to me. That counted for something. Helping her on her way to being better.
She was improving by building something, while I only made headway by tearing things down. Ultimately the reason I was deferring to her. Because even if the tables were turned, I wasn’t sure I could trust her to make the sacrifice.
She met my eyes.
Now, in this moment, were we supposed to coordinate without communicating? Even the addition of one Other to this tableau could be catastrophic. A distraction for our side, an opening for the Barber.
We’d been created to destroy one another, and our interactions had frequently been poisoned ones, more so as time went on. Now we were face to face with every Practitioner’s worst nightmare, and we had to swim against the current.
Rose reached out, touching Nick’s gun. She steered him around, pointing the gun at the stairs. She pointed to other Knights, and directed them to do the same.
She gestured to the Behaims, then pointed.
Spreading them out to either side.
Leaving her, Alister, the High Priest, Johannes, and my friends all at the top of the stairs.
I was reminded of a chessboard. The rooftop was square, and the way things were spread out, we had Behaims in the rook positions, my friends, Johannes, and the High Priest as the knights and bishops, admittedly odd-numbered, and Alister and Rose as the king and queen. The Knights and my cousins weren’t on the board, but instead lurked at the edges along the rear and one side of it, guarding or otherwise watching the stairs. Many of the Knights had knives or machetes on hand. Ellie and Christoff were only an extra set of eyes.
The Barber sat in the middle, yet to take form.
I saw Rose take in a deep breath, exhaling without noise.
There were no pawns. No Others, satyrs or maenads had survived this trip to the Abyss. Too fragile, perhaps.
No pawns. Only me.
Ty had dropped to one knee, and had a pad of papers out, which he was scribbling on.
Still, the Barber didn’t move.
The Library maneuvered itself. Not on our side, nor the Barber’s, it still made its small play. A rumble, a shift, a distortion in surroundings. A set of low groans, as if the Library were alive, and it wasn’t content.
The path beyond the bridge grew longer. More of a descent.
The pillar shifted. A five degree tilt to one side.
Books fell everywhere, spilling to the ground.
With the noise came Others.
One of the Knights cocked their gun. I could read the tension on them as they looked down.
Company, coming from below.
Looking over to the side, I missed seeing what Alister was doing.
But whatever it was, it ended with him raising one hand.
His ring gleamed in light.
The timeless knight emerged.
Alister immediately dropped to the ground. He brushed away snow and scratched into the surface of the roof with chalk.
This was his maneuver, his trick. He had a means of binding the Barber. The rest of us were supposed to buy him time.
With the first touch of chalk to roof, the Barber reacted.
An arm lurched out of the one face of the blade. Shoulder, head, torso and all the rest followed. That it was a massive beast of a ‘man’ that was appearing out of a window no wider across than the breadth of my hand wasn’t even a factor.
I saw the others react, eyes averting.
The fear was so thick on the air I could taste it, but I couldn’t partake of it. It wasn’t for me to have. Only the Barber.
Tk. The shears clicked together.
Someone was gagging, struggling not to make noise, and only choking themselves. They coughed. It might have been Ty, or the Behaim rose had positioned off to the far right.
The sputtering cough, a sharp sound, rang in the general quiet.
A scream, not distant enough for my comfort, answered the ringing. There was noise.
Something big, on the side of the pillar.
Whatever it was, it was making noise enough to draw others. By the rules here, the other denizens of the Library would be attacking it, but the noise suggested it was drawing closer. It wasn’t slowing down, even while under attack.
I couldn’t take my attention off the Barber. We had to trust the Knights and the Behaim on the far end to deal with it.
I hoped they could deal with it.
The Barber advanced. Alister’s suit of armor rushed forward to meet it.
Lance met shears. There was no noise at the impact, but I was forced to take a step back.
The Barber pushed, the armor didn’t budge.
The armor pushed, and the lance inched closer to the Barber. Sparks flew as it grazed the shears.
The lance’s tip penetrated flesh, just at the Barber’s collarbone. Blood welled out.
The Barber lunged in my direction, letting the lance tear through flesh and bone. It didn’t heal, but the wound closed, so broken, jagged, bloody bits met other broken-up bits and they held together.
The suit moved, putting its empty left hand out to block the Barber’s path. The barber continued past, letting the armored hand clutch it, pulling a pound of flesh free.
The suit spun, turning its back to the Barber, extending its other arm, lance in hand, to attempt once more to bar the path. To delay.
The Barber was so close to me.
We had to distract, to delay. Buy Alister as much time as he needed.
I put myself in the Barber’s way, before it could duck under or around the timeless armor’s weapon. There wasn’t much space between me and the edge of the roof, but we couldn’t let the demon reach the others.
The Barber reacted to my presence, and I shifted my weight, my toes and the balls of my feet digging hard into the surface of the book.
He stabbed the shears in my direction, but I was already pushing myself back and away.
Tch. Metal snapped closed a foot from my face. The metal-on-metal sound rang in the air.
I let myself fall from the pillar, and I could see the effects of just that noise. Things were climbing free of the bookcase, and among them was a massive worm made of a series of overly obese humans, most with their respective heads shoved into the nether regions of the humans ahead of them. Here and there, there were ones that had it backward, mouths stretched wide to a macabre degree, teeth sunken into the shoulders and back of the one behind them, a limb or two jammed into the one ahead.
I saw the head, albeit from behind, and it was spread like a cobra’s hood. People had been slashed and clawed open, and limbs and heads were shoved into wounds, with bits pulled free and wrapped around for structural support. Some of the ones there weren’t so obese. Others had been drawn and quartered, butterflied, but still lived.
It was moist, covered in filth, with mucus and spittle and blood leaking here and there and streaming down the length of it. That moistness was largely what let it flow so freely from the bookcases.
Legs and arms worked to grip the ones behind and the ones ahead, futilely clawing at flesh to try and reduce the strain on neck and shoulders, or the pull on their own nether regions. Of the ones that didn’t, many twitched and flailed, some held weapons, others held books.
I folded one wing, and made the sharpest turn I was able before recovering.
It didn’t make much noise, aside from the sound of its extended lower body sliding between shelves, the periodic knock as a leg or arm struck something.
It collapsed onto the Barber. Almost a lunge, almost a dive, but mostly just blindly, violently falling into position.
The entire pillar wobbled.
Even if the Barber made noise, the Library would act. That was good.
I flew, circling the pillar, tracking the movement of the great worm, watching the head, looking for a sign of the Barber.
Any time he disappeared from view, I had to wonder. Had someone looked? Had one member of our group made that split-second decision and looked directly at the Barber, trying to see if we’d won? If the way was open?
Circling the pillar, I could see that the Knights had dealt with the massive thing that had been crawling up the side. Fingers were still attached to a section of the staircase, but they’d been severed from the hand. I could make out a crater far below where it had fallen, floorboards cracking around it.
Though they’d dealt with the big one, it had stirred innumerable little things into action, and without their previous target to pursue, they’d turned on the Knights.
The fight to hold them at bay was grim, quiet, and tense, both combatants left with little choice but to fight with everything on the line, but still unwilling to risk making noise. Movements were furtive, with more feints and false lunges than actual attacks.
I didn’t see Ellie or Christoff.
But they weren’t the problem.
I circled the pillar, rising.
Alister was still working on his diagram. He was using the leeway to draw more of the diagram, even though the worm’s body continued to slide across the middle of the rooftop like a macabre train on tracks. Rose remained exactly where she was. Imperious.
Ty reached out to me, holding a slip of paper in hand.
I flew down, passing him. Unhooking a thumb from my wing, I snagged it, pinching it in place.
Runes. I thought I might have recognized them. One of the first I’d learned.
I opened my mouth to speak, and no sound came out.
I’d nearly reached my starting point, where I’d begun my circle around the top of the pillar, when Evan saw it.
I followed his line of sight, as his head turned.
The Barber was gone. The shears weren’t.
As the ‘train’ ran along its tracks, the shears were periodically bumped and kicked, sent sliding across the roof, dancing along a trail of blood, piss, shit, and mucus. The length of the worm blocked the others from seeing the Barber. He was on the far side.
With the Knights at one side of the building, the shears were gradually moving toward them. All the Barber had to do was emerge and drop down onto them.
I dove, and Evan flew with me. Evan gave me a push, extra speed.
I landed early, landing in a kneeling position, because I knew my one foot wasn’t wholly intact. I had to grab the silence rune in my teeth to free my hand.
My shins skidded on that same track of blood and mucus that had helped the Barber on his way. I drew the Hyena, winced as a stray arm from the worm struck me, nearly knocking my aim off, and swiped my blade at the shears.
Not aiming to damage them, but to strike them, send them flying over the edge. To give us room. Time.
Between the moment my arm started to move and the moment the blade touched shears, the Barber manifested. Flowing into existence with a cloud of noxious air, the nose of his horse’s head pointed at the ground, shaggy mane hanging down to either side, blood dripping from the base where the horse’s neck draped over the human portion.
The Hyena’s blade hit shears, and the presence of the Barber’s hand on the shears meant they didn’t budge a hair. He didn’t raise his head.
I dragged the blade across the shears, hard, aiming to score the metal, to damage it.
He caught me by the sternum, fingers digging into and through the ribcage.
I stabbed him in the side of the throat with the Hyena.
No more effective than the lance or the fire had been.
The demon rose to a standing position, and he brought me with him, still holding me by the ribcage.
There was no help like this. Not with the worm’s passage keeping the others from even clearing seeing me, let alone acting. A blur.
He brought the shears my way, and I brought the Hyena up, driving the blade into the ‘v’ of the two long blades.
To my right, the worm slowed. It wasn’t a clear slowing, not slow motion, nor was it a simple loss of forward momentum. It stuttered, and flickered, a bad video image, skipping ahead from moment to moment.
The individual bodies that made up the one hundred or so segments were obese, maybe three to five hundred pounds each, but where they’d been moving past too quickly and too unpredictably to see past before, they were now moving at a crawl.
Time magic. Not true time magic, but a trick of perception.
Which still worked wonders, even if it was being used to assist. As the forward section bucked and twisted, a heavier section dropped to press along the roof. I could see over the ‘worm’ to the main group.
Alexis was saying something, but the words had no sound. She held a silence charm.
I could see the shape of her lips, but I couldn’t make out the actual words.
She pointed a rod at me and the Barber. It was wrapped in paper and charms.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Barber wasn’t going to be affected by much.
Which left me as the only viable target.
I realized what the words had probably been just as the lightning struck.
The visible flash was brief, easy to miss. There was no explosion, no crackle of thunder. Both the sender and the target were carrying runes of silence. All I felt was an awe-inspiring impact, and the curious sensation of my chest being torn to pieces.
I dropped from the Barber’s grip. The Hyena slipped from its position between the blades of the shears, and the blades snapped closed. Given where I was and where the shears were, I knew that they’d closed awfully close to my own forehead, or just over the top of my head.
In trying to scramble back, I felt the lack of structural integrity. I knew right away that I couldn’t fly. If I could glide, it would be with Evan’s help, and it would be a steep glide. The front half of my torso had been largely blown away.
My eye fell on those shears.
I brought my wing in front and hooked it around my front, for protection and in hopes that if I started to fall apart, my wing could help hold me together.
With my free arm, I reached out, and I stabbed the worm.
Blood and mucus sprayed out, spurts, as the blade caught the passing flesh. The spray was in slow motion, stuttering, discordant.
The Barber didn’t flinch. Didn’t treat it as anything unusual. Blood sprayed and spurted to cover him.
Covering the shears.
Evan moved, flying close, and gave me a nudge.
Putting me just out of the way as a passing arm carrying a stick swung by. Had it hit me, it might have clobbered me and sent me flying into the Barber’s grasp for a third time.
The timeless armor, on the left side of the roof, hopped up onto the moving worm, riding it toward us. Holding the lance in one hand, it leaped, bringing the lance down in conjunction with forward momentum.
The Barber moved away, bending low, the shears slashing at the surface of the roof.
Once, twice. A triangle-shaped cut
The lance came down, stabbing it, but it hardly seemed to care.
The timeless armor landed on the sliced section of roof and froze in place. Unmoving. Tilting forward as though it were going to fall, then stopping, mid-tilt.
The action had cleaned a part of the shears. Again, I stabbed the surface of the passing worm. More spray, more spatter.
The shears were dirtied once more.
As forms of attack went, it was mild at best. The shears got bloody in the course of the Barber’s day to day.
But so long as they weren’t reflective, I could hope that the Barber couldn’t enter the shears. So long as the Barber couldn’t do that much, it was more limited in mobility.
The Barber paced toward me. I backed away. I was still damaged. Still hurt, I reminded myself.
There. Behind the Barber. Movement. I thought it was Others, or more lost souls. It wasn’t.
Ellie had climbed the face of the pillar, opposite the main group, climbing up so she was right next to the bridge. Her head and shoulders were visible. I saw her eyes widen as she saw me. Saw the violence, the gore, the worm, and the group on the far side.
She started to look toward the Barber, and I made a quick, violent motion.
The Barber stopped, watching me. Not understanding.
Ellie resumed climbing.
She bent down, and she gave Christoff a hand, blocking his view with her body.
I watched as the two of them ran the length of the stairs, along the roots, and into the middling ground. The outside of the Library.
Out. Free and clear. Or as close as one could hope to get.
Would the angel stop them? Would they wait?
I shook my head a little.
I was squaring off against the Barber. The worm separated the others from me. The timeless knight was incapacitated by its own design.
But we were buying time, weren’t we?
Alister was drawing his diagram.
I just had to keep him occupied.
The Barber swung the shears around in a circle, one finger in the loop of the handle. The blood and gore was sent flying. Cleaning the blades with the force of the spin.
I flinched every time the point came around in my direction. If he let go, let them fly forward… I probably wouldn’t be able to dodge. But if I could, it would be over.
It was worse because I couldn’t watch it directly.
The noise in my head momentarily got worse. I was struck with a vision of me clawing my own eyes out. Letting the Abyss provide replacements.
Eyes the Barber couldn’t occupy.
No, I thought.
The Barber’s head turned toward the others. To Alister in particular.
He let the shears slip from his finger.
The shears went straight up, like an arrow loosed from a bow.
His head turned toward me.
Then he disappeared. Into the shears. An indeterminate distance in the air. Maybe even not in the Abyss anymore.
I couldn’t speak while I held the rune.
The rune was a tool. Something I could use. If he came back-
No. No guarantees. Even if I knew exactly where he was going to run, no guarantees.
I let the paper drop. Evan caught it.
“Take cover!” I roared the words.
The shears dropped. The Barber had already emerged.
The members of the group had backed to the corners, were gripping shelves and stairs and railings. All at the edges. I stabbed the floor with the Hyena, and I gripped that.
The Barber arrived, smack-dab in the center. Cutting through one section of the great worm of human flesh. The forward section and the rear section flew apart with such force that nearby structures and pillars were destroyed.
The impact brought with it a ringing that might have deafened. A gong, a crash of a bell being broken.
Our pillar flew apart, cracked down the middle, all down the sides. In places, the stairs held it together. In others, it was shattered at the bottom but intact at the top, or vice versa. A split log.
Gaps separated individual chunks and sections of roof.
The ringing continued, and it didn’t abate.
Looking over the edge, I could see the movement.
Every Other in the library now came toward us.
Creaking, cracking, a section of shelves broke away, and crashed into a nearby structure. Others used it as a bridge, crossing to us.
Speaking was impossible, with the noise of the bell.
My own head was filling with noise, worse than before. The split in my skull from the Barber’s grasp ached, making itself acutely known.
Even fighting back was impossible, like this. I could make out Tiff touching the silence charm to her ear. She grabbed Alexis’ wrist and forced Alexis’ hand up to make Alexis do the same.
Johannes, I noted, was helping one of the Behaims. Where they’d been on the stairs before, they now dangled, the stairs themselves at a forty-five degree angle. Too many surfaces without handholds. He offered a hand, supporting them so they didn’t have to rely on the individual rails.
The Barber tossed the shears forward, entered them, exited them, as if he were passing through a door, a trick of the dark.
Did it again. Crossing the roof toward all of the others.
Alister was talking, trying to shout instructions. He and Rose were perched on an edge, with the High Priest nearby.
I saw Rose point skyward, talking to the High Priest. To Jeremy.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw the timeless suit of armor. The section of roof, ironically, had moved at a tilt, putting more secure ground under the armor. I turned to Alister, but he was too preoccupied to notice, and the noise of the bell was deafening, making it impossible for me to communicate the fact to him.
I moved, skipping over the fractured roof, over gaps that allowed glimpses of those things that stirred within.
Nearly invisible in the shadow, an eye larger than I was peered through one gap, watching me as I crossed. Iris swelling, then abruptly narrowing. By the dimensions of it, whatever it belonged to had to be so large that it nearly filled the entire pillar. A body in a narrow coffin.
The first of the Others were reaching us. Among them, perhaps the most vicious of them, were the ones the Barber had made. A bird without flesh, human beings broken until they resembled spiders, crawling and skittering forward on shattered limbs, no doubt howling, but impossible to hear in the chaos.
The Barber still moved toward the others. A halting progress, zig-zagging, from one bit of secure ground to the next.
I saw Alister’s eyes go wide as the Barber approached them.
A Behaim threw up a ward, a protective shroud of some sort. The Barber simply swept the shears sideways through it, dashing it to pieces. Too little, the wrong element.
The shears closed on Alister, and there as nothing he could do about it.
I followed, four steps behind the Barber. I lunged, and the ground crumbled under my feet, very nearly costing me the leverage and distance I needed.
I wasn’t close enough to put the Hyena between the blades, nor was I strong enough to do anything to the Barber.
I was close enough to put the Hyena between the handles of the shears. The only thing that matched the jarring of the handles stopping, blades on either side of Alister’s throat, was the pounding, impossibly loud noise of the bell.
It was a momentary interruption.
I opened my mouth, shouted a message. The words were dashed to every realm of the Abyss by the noise around me.
I reached out with my wing instead. I touched Alister’s hand.
He lowered it.
With the very tip of my wing, I touched the ring on his hand. The Behaim family ring.
I moved my wing to the side, pointing at the armor with the tip.
The suit of armor moved in that same instant.
Rose clutched Alister, and she pulled him down and away. They slipped backward, and they dropped five feet before landing on their backs on a section of stairs, almost out of sight. The High Priest was right behind them.
The Barber kicked me, and the shears snapped closed. The sound of the shears cut through all the rest of the noise, clear and sharp.
He stepped down, landing on the stairs, and wood creaked, threatening to give way.
If only we were so lucky.
I started to follow, but a hand reached through the crack below. An iron grip held me in place.
I bent down to slash at it, and something tackled me from behind. Other hands reached up to seize me.
The timeless armor marched past. Giving chase where I couldn’t.
My progress was halting, struggling. There wasn’t one person we’d brought with us, Ellie and Christoff excepted, who weren’t now dealing with three or four serious Others and maybe two lost souls. The Barber’s creations were tearing through the rest, and very quickly closing the distance. We were on the stairs that spiraled up the exterior of the building, with most of the group at one corner, the southern face of the building to their right, with the Barber’s monsters ascending the stairs, clawing through all the rest, and the Barber at the western face to the left, cutting off their ascent. The timeless knight followed the demon, but I doubted its ability to achieve anything. It was more an immovable, indestructible object than a demon slayer.
And here I was, standing over it all, helpless, damaged and broken.
For most of the group, there was no way up, no way down except falling.
What followed was an impact that nearly matched Barbatorem’s fall. One I’d experienced myself.
Not so long ago, at Hillsglade House.
A smiting, perhaps. Something on that scale.
An act of god.
The High Priest had made a move, clutching a horn in one hand.
The impact hit every Other excepting me and Evan. Many were sent flying from the exterior of the building, joining a practical torrent of books.
Their screams and howls cut through silence. The ringing had ceased.
The Barber was left attempting to catch its balance.
The timeless knight appeared behind it. I could see the strain on Alister’s face, the focus.
He controlled the knight. The knight stabbed with the lance, driving the Barber back and over the railing.
The demon fell. Disappearing into the shadows below.
“Come on!” I shouted. My voice was so quiet in the stillness, the ringing it provoked so mild.
If I brought Others to me, then so be it. Better me than the group.
I saw a lost soul clamber over the edge of the roof, coming for me, and I kicked it loose, letting it fall.
The others were ascending the stairs. The high priest was barely moving, head bowed, horn in hand.
Vines, I observed, were tying things together. Sections of building were being brought together as the vines tightened their hold.
The Library groaned, as if resettling, and some vines split.
Resisting our influence.
But vines made it possible to cross certain areas. People were hurt, they’d been clawed apart, scratched, battered. They’d fallen.
We had most of our number. I couldn’t see one of the four Behaims that had come down here with us. One was named Alister, one had been lost on the bridge, back when this started, and one, apparently, had been lost in this chaos just now.
I couldn’t see Alexis. I had to look over the group twice to see.
I had so very little blood, only in my face, and my face was damaged, with thin branches crawling across the skin there. All the same, I felt the blood run cold, practically draining out of me.
The realization that Alexis was gone was paralyzing. It froze my head in place, leaving me unable to look at Tiff and Ty, because I might see their expressions.
In my stunned state, I didn’t even see it. Not in time, at any rate.
The group was busy crossing the cracked, desolate top floor of the pillar, making their way toward the bridge back home, which was being restored with vines, and they were watching their flanks.
An object flew through darkness, spinning end over end. Shears.
The demon emerged from them, soundlessly, without flash, impact or fanfare. It came with its stink, and a sense of foreboding. I joined many of the others in wondering just where it was coming from, in going tense, being ready for a fight.
Until I saw the hand, reaching skyward, from the midst of the group, toward the rear.
“Scatter!” I bellowed.
The demon didn’t flourish. He merely brought the shears down, toward the high-priest’s back.
Alister saw, and Alister threw his left arm back, over the priest’s bent head, and put it out, sticking it into the path of the shears. His right arm pulled the priest forward.
The shears crunched through bone and muscle with virtually no difficulty.
There was no blood, for blood loss could kill, and the Barber wasn’t about killing. He was about ruin.
He stabbed a Knight in the back, the shears closed, and then hauled them open, opening the wound wide.
I ran forward, pushing past the other members of the group that were fleeing, running.
I managed to put myself between the others and the Barber.
He moved the shears, and I moved the Hyena, trying, failing, to position it where I might be able to keep those blades from scissoring closed.
I saw his arm move. Stabbing.
“Stop!” Rose ordered.
The Barber hesitated. I couldn’t block the shears, but I could strike at them with the Hyena. The impact and the way it sent me moving to the right was more what saved me than any deflection. Barbatorem was far stronger than I.
“My name is Rose Thorburn! I am of the Thorburn Bloodline, I am of the line that named you Barbatorem! You have been bound by my blood!”
Barbatorem hesitated once more.
Rose’s voice brought a ringing with it.
“Go,” Ty said.
The survivors were spreading out, forming a circle. Guarding Rose.
“I bind you, Barbatorem! As the Thorburn heir and diabolist, I order you to yield!”
Barbatorem backed away a step.
Rose was clearly tapping into Conquest. The confidence with which she spoke. The fact that she wasn’t cringing at the foulness that the Barber exuded, but instead advancing?
“By the seals to which you are bound, I order you away! Back!”
The Barber backed away once more.
There was shouting at the fringes as the Knights met with the first wave of Others that Rose’s words had called.
“Back!” Rose said.
Tiff had bent down to Alister’s side, and was helping to support him. His face contorted in pain, but he managed to crawl forward.
The Barber lunged, and I met the shears with the Hyena, twisted them over to one side. It felt like I was meeting a truck head-on, but it stalled him, kept him from gaining momentum. I dropped to one knee, precariously close to a gap, and fought to regain my footing.
“Away with you!” Rose cried out, her words ringing in the air. She gestured violently at the air.
The Barber backed away a step, in the same direction as the gesture.
I looked past him.
Alister’s diagram, shattered, spread out over several sections of pillar.
But the vines the high priest had called out were wrapping around.
Drawing the individual pieces closer.
The Knights, Ty, and the remaining Behaim were doing what they could to fight the Others. Too tired, too hurt, it was looking ugly.
As if to punish me for looking away, the Barber made a move. I only barely managed to keep the shears from taking a piece of my head.
“I compel you to be bound!” Rose cried out. “Remain here in the Abyss!”
I matched her words with a strike, a lunge. Battering the shears.
The Barber backed away, stepping into the still-broken circle.
The vines hauled the individual pieces of building together. One last pull.
“…the temple,” I heard the High Priest murmur, the end of a prayer. “From my demesnes to here. Let your actions here be a memory that speaks of your deeds…”
The cracks began to mend. Undoing the damage to the pillar.
“I compel you!” Rose cried out, but the words faltered.
There was a gap. Gaps. The circle didn’t mesh perfectly. The priest’s prayer was fixing the building, but it didn’t fix the circle.
I dared to glance toward the center of the roof. Sure enough, the damage toward the center wasn’t mending.
“I bind you to where you stand!” Rose said, doubt pushed aside.
But Barbatorem took a step forward.
“Thought so,” Rose said. “Only have so much clout. Had to use it well.”
“Good try,” I said, my heart heavy. “Damn it all. We set our sights too high.”
She smiled sadly.
“Why?” came a voice to the side. Ty’s. “The circle-”
I spoke, “The actions of a demon are permanent. What they destroy is irrevocably destroyed.”
Barbatorem walked over the lines of the now-useless diagram. I was the one backing away now, fighting to find secure places to step without letting my guard down.
Tch. Tch. Tk.
“I’d hoped for more,” Johannes spoke, with a strange cadence to his voice. “What a shame. I thought I might have to force it, but I think I can leave this up to you.”
“Damnation,” Johannes said. “Damnation.”
“Have you lost it?” I asked.
“Probably. I suppose this is where I say farewell.”
“Farewell?” Rose asked.
“This is all partially my fault, really. I suppose I should bear the brunt of it.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, looking over my shoulder.
Backing away, Johannes raised his head. But he didn’t look at me.
I could see something move in his eyes.
My head whipped around.
The Barber was gone.
“Do me a favor, if you please,” Johannes said, staring skyward. His eyes weren’t his anymore. He staggered blindly. “Tell that angel to go fuck himself.”
Black veins tracked down his face and neck.
“Gladly,” I said.
I slashed across his eyes with the Hyena. A red line, marring the reflection there. The veins continued to spread, and skin started to boil and flake away.
Then I gave him a push. Enough that when he fell from the edge of the building, he didn’t hit the stairwell on the way down.
I watched him fall, because I had to be sure.
His body hit the ground, almost impossible to see.
From a large crack in the side of the pillar, a great black hand as large as a house reached forth. It seized the body, and it dragged it into the darkness.
With no time to waste, I hurried to help the Knights in dispatching the lost souls that had clustered around them.
With my approach, however, they scattered.
The library rumbled, and in keeping with its rules, we were silent on the way out. Limping, wounded, missing pieces, and perhaps a little heartbroken.
I was acutely aware of Alexis’ absence.
The gunshot was loud, but it prompted no ringing.
I saw Nick’s expression, as he looked down at his Knight. The one the Barber had torn open. The pain had been too much. We’d had to stop walking, and the victim had begged for peace.
Nick had given it.
“Alister,” Rose said.
Alister shook his head.
“You got hurt badly too.”
“I did. It sucks. I- I lost my ring. I’m not sure what that means.”
Rose nodded. “And the pain?”
“I don’t think the cut was meant for me. The pain is… there. But not like it was for him.”
Rose gave him a hug. It was stiff, unexpected, and weird, without any real affection. Alister looked more surprised than anything.
Then he returned it, and he was able to offer something resembling affection.
“We’ve been walking a while, and we’re not making any headway,” Ty said. “We’ve got a lot of injuries. Should we stop and look after the wounds?”
“We’re close,” Rose said. “We feel close.”
“We’ve felt close for a while,” Tiff said.
I looked up. We were working our way uphill, but the trees were dense, and the uphill climb didn’t stop. We might as well have been on a treadmill. But as we walked, the Abyss was drawing more into itself. More trees, more marsh.
“Evan?” I asked.
He was with Tiff and Ty.
“Are you up to it?” I asked. “Scout?”
He nodded, wordless, and took flight.
We continued our trudge through snows and between trees. The sky remained dark overhead, the clouds roiling.
Evan returned. He led us off to one side. An angle.
The trees were denser here. A cage, a barrier.
“Blake!” I heard Green Eyes, from somewhere distant.
“Green Eyes!” I called out.
“Be careful! Remember what I said in the beginning! Our first meeting!”
But my cry wasn’t answered.
“Can’t,” Evan said. “Tried flying to them, but it just keeps going. Peter’s up there with Ainsley, the witch hunter, and Green Eyes.”
“A trick, a trap?” Alister asked.
I shook my head.
We were in the Abyss, but we weren’t. We were at the gap, a middling place.
What had Green Eyes told me on the first meeting?
Ways to escape the Abyss.
I felt something ugly well up inside. A kind of certainty.
Once I knew what I was looking for, it wasn’t hard to find.
Into thicker trees. I moved with an energy, now, a desire to find out that I was wrong.
“Blake! Don’t get too far ahead, we’ll lose you!”
I forged on. Evan at my shoulder.
I found the path. One that led from the library to outside. Sections of snow-covered driveway. Burned tree. Thick woodland.
A locket dangled from a branch.
I took it, and I opened it.
Dark hair within.
I tugged it free of the branch, firmly enough to break wood.
Three more paces found the fragments of metal, laid out in the snow.
One of the ways out of the Abyss, I thought. Gotta get past the Gatekeeper.
I put the Hyena down in the snow, and the broken edges of the sword lined up with the fragments of metal, like two puzzle pieces. I had little doubt they’d fit together readily.
Birds chirped in the trees.
When the others caught up with me, I was staring at a tree that had grown into a peculiar shape. It bent, providing a space.
Mara told me, I thought. That I’d lose the freedom I wanted.
I touched the wood. A chair. A throne.
The Abyss wants me to be one of the gatekeepers, and it’s holding the others hostage.
Last Chapter Next Chapter
148 thoughts on “Possession 15.3”
Say no to demons and yes to voting.
Johannes, you will be missed. This hero was probably the most sincere Good/good character in Pact?
Possession has been kinda gross so far. Something about the gore and monsters of the last few chapters (or my recent food poisoning) has been making me sick. This is not really a critism so much as an observation. I suppose it’s to be expected considering where the characters are. Perhaps a reread in the future once healthy will change these feelings.
Are we finally going to have the Epic Blake V Rose fight? I hope so. I want to see Blake mop the floor with them humans!
Johannes, you will be missed.
—Agreed. He realized the only way to beat Barbatorem was to use a sacrifice play and did it himself. This is horribly ironic – that act should have netted him a heaven of sorts, except Barbatorem can sever people from the possibility of a good afterlife, so it was a true sacrifice.
Possession has been kinda gross so far.
—Highest human and Other on-screen body count by far, along with some of the grossest monsters in existence and the Barber making things even more disgusting.
Are we finally going to have the Epic Blake V Rose fight?
—I think it is still Blake’s choice, and he has agreed to lose to Rose. So if he takes the throne, he can let them pass as his decision.
Dear Johanne’s. We will truly miss the opportunity to drag your carcass through the mud. To see your face as we burn everything you hoped to created. To turn your Soviet ass in Soviet ash.
But at least you died with some slight semblance of heroism.
I’m sure that his final regret was that there was nobody that he could compel into taking the sacrifice for him instead.
Also, Faysal’s line this chapter:
“I’d hoped for more,” Johannes spoke, with a strange cadence to his voice. “What a shame. I thought I might have to force it, but I think I can leave this up to you.”
Suggests to me that Faysal was planning on using him for that anyway if he didn’t feel up to it. I don’t think he had much of a choice there.
Indeed, but the fact Johannes didn’t need the push shows his heroism, however reluctant it may be.
Also, Johannes’ last words are his and his only. No peace for him though, probably for a good chunk of eternity. Not too sure how nicely Barbie treats his hosts.
When the guy who tortures the vestiges of children to death over and over again, feeding them to monsters for profit, is the good guy …. Yeah, you’re in a dark place.
The Pactverse is a pretty dark place. Though Johannes means were not good, I do believe his intentions were. Sadly you know what they say about good intentions.
Exactly Johannes wasn’t a good person, he only believed he was doing ‘the most good’ with his idea of a place for Others to be Others. it wasn’t good… but it may have been necessary.
Dunno,Evan and Blake seem equally good,if not better,Blake is just cursed .The knights and the Blakeguard are also not even close to non good.The Astrologer also is at least as good as Johaness.
Blake’s goodness has been fairly self-centred. He’s mostly about surviving and looking out for his friends and family. The Astrologer is nice but fairly passive and the Knights may well have been a major force for good before they got Urred. Now they’re still basically good but pretty reluctant to get involved in anything.
Johannes is a hero. At significant personal risk he started a project to make the world better for humanity as a whole and dedicated his life to it. It’s a shame that Faysal subverted his dream.
(This is significantly impacted by the whole “creating vestiges of children as chew toys” thing. I think we can fairly safe assume that Johannes at least believed them to be not real. That seems to be the standard understanding in practitioner circles).
Ok,I may admit he is more good than all of these people except Blake,assuming I forgive him for the vestiges,but that does not make him,as OP said,the most sincere good.
But,on Blake:His goodness is not centered on himself and survival,he just a)is,or at least was until growing as a person to cover the empty spaces,unable to plan long term,and b)without the time and resources even an angel chasedJohannes had.But a person who is even slightly evil would not:spare the enemy children,spare the enemies when he could,need the abyss influence to honestly kill a person,even a monstrous one,deny using his only resource for survival (demons)when survival is his foremost desire,attempt to fight his karma and negotiate,attempt to fight his Boogeyman nature and try solving most problems by negotiation (literally the only moral concession he gave to the Abyss is the fact sometimes people can be monsters,Johannes and most heroes from other stories would have given far more),disregard his hatred to Rose and GIVING UP HIS VERY FIRST MOTIVE AND BIGGEST DESIRE (SURVIVAL AND FREEDOM)TO DO THE RIGHT THING BY USING NEGOTIATION(caps because its the highlight of this whole comment on why Blake is pure good),risk his life multiple times for others (his biggest goof aganist Ur was due to altruism),makethe world a better place,if only not due to Ur,spare a faerie who tried to kill him,spare Duncan multiple times,negotiate with Alister twice,desire not to kill Laird even after all the shit he pulled him through (he only killed him instinctively),think about the demons in terms of innocents instead of in terms of Conquest,do the same with Conquest’s desires and his desire to fight him only failing to get a 10/10 on innocent saving due to his brainwash-created inability to plant long term….
the list on why he is pure good goes on and on,while everything slightly evil he ever did comes from what was functionally brainwashing,things based on inability via brain damage or jerk reactions due to it or accidents happening only due to spiteful karma,except perhaps the induction of his friends,which a)wouldn’t have turned that bad without Rose,b)was with very ample warning c)he felt guilt about afterwards. d)might still stem from his inability for long term planning e)was very human and very much not worse than assuming vestiges are non human.
The Wooden Man sitting on a Throne and acting as a Guardian of the Abyss is a pretty Epic Picture.
Not gonna work, Blake did promise Johannes a favour to tell the angel to “Go fuck himself”.
If Blake becomes the Threshold Guardian, then when Faysal tries to leave the Abyss, Blake take tell him “No”, and trap him in the Abyss.
Oh, Johannes… That’s a shame. You don’t pull a Tal Rasha, it never works out.
It did work for several centuries. That should be enough for this group to get a breather.
I just wanted to say I love the reference.
Poor Johannes. The Pact-verse is so dark and damnation is just at every corner.
The last few chapters have been amazing. Good work, Wildbow!
Is the Barber dead? And is Alexis dead? That’s what I need to know.
Also, the Abyss has good tastes in Gatekeepers apparently. Get the mofo who’s done the most damage.
Seems like Barbatorem is functionally defeated. Faysal did say that the Abyss would be capable of claiming him eventually. Blake certainly would have wounded him by cutting his reflection in Johannes eyes, and he did not exit the body before it was claimed by whatever thing is inside the pillar.
Seems like Alexis is dead or lost.
I don’t think so. There’s no narrative transition between Alexis being alive and well and Blake not seeing Alexis in the crowd whatsoever. Methinks this is an abyss trick.
Wildbow has built up quite a reputation for killing significant characters off-screen or with little fanfare (rare that a scene focuses on a character’s death). The writing is consistent with Alexis being actually gone, regardless of whether she died or was taken by the abyss.
Avoiding Worm spoilers here but … yeah.
If the Barber ends up possessing that “thing in the pillar”, aren’t they more screwed?
Johannes doesn’t have reflective eyes anymore. Barbie probably has to wait for something to free him from the meat puppet before he can embody again.
Probably will happen, in time.
Possessing it? I’m pretty sure it’s going to be possessing the Barber now. (Or at least his nastiest qualities…) After all, in the Abyss, you are what you eat…
Here’s to hoping we see the culmination of the Abyss’ love-affair with Blake empowering him as a gatekeeper to hold the evils in the Abyss at bay, strong enough to maybe even go toe-to-toe with the Barber.
The shears closed on Alister, and there as nothing he could do about it.
The shears closed on Alister, and there was nothing he could do about it.
” or the Behaim rose had positioned off to the far right.”
“from even clearing seeing me”
The last chapter link leads to 15.1, not 15.2
Also, link to 15.2 on the Table of Contents doesn’t lead anywhere.
The shears closed on Alister, and there as nothing he could do about it.
Should be “was” nothing, not “as” nothing.
Not a typo, but a possible editing error:
“The Barber backed away, stepping into the still-broken circle.”
When was the circle broken to begin with? It doesn’t appear to be in this chapter, yet this is (I believe) the first time the Barber approached Alister on top of the pillar. PRESUMABLY it happened during that attack when Blake stopped the handles from closing, but it’s not mentioned, and certainly not given the weight it gets later in the chapter.
I also don’t understand the significance of the other metal he added to the Hyena.
The only thing I can think of it to be is a part of the locket. But that’s not made clear.
(And also, I don’t really get thematically why the locket and the Hyena would fit together perfectly. If that is the case, further explanation would be useful.)
I just realized, Blake fulfilled his promise to the Abyss. He gave him an demon that’s older and far more valuable than him.
No he didn’t Johannes did, so Blake still owes the Abyss. Hence the Guardian position which if he accepts, will still force him to take someone as an offering in order to let the others pass.
Blake made the kill, and Johannes was still older and housing a demon. Price paid.
This. Though he still shoulda given it Mara.
Mara lost her house and with it pretty much everything she was for countless millennia. I actually expected her to turn up somewhere here in the Abyss.
Worms always show up in places you least expect don’t they?
Poor Alexis, and the Knight, and Johanness… hell, even the Worm deserves my pity, because that is a fucked up way of living.
Fuck you Barber.
That was no worm. Somebody made the mistake of watching The Human Centipede…
Only grosser. Now there’s a feat!
Ha! Good idea slicing the eyes. Now the Barber is in Johannes, but he has no way out. Who knows how long that will last in the Abyss. Maybe the Abyss can break Barby down.
Also good on the Barber knowing how to use Jump. That level in dragoon definitely paid off for him. Blake I don’t think you should become a Gatekeeper. That would be silly. Plus what would you make them take back? Oooo! O I know, make them take seeds back, so they can plant Abyss Trees!
Anyone else think its funny that the two muggles are the ones that did the best in the Barber filled brawl? They are the ones that escaped from it all.
Another note: Evan and Blake are pretty boss if they stood up to the smiting that knocked the Barber over.
Final comment: Blake, remember how you undid what Pauz wrought? The magic (to fix demon damage) was in you all along! Also remember having the same handedness as Rose? You aren’t destined to destroy each other. And this wasn’t in this chapter, but for someone who “can’t create” your little act of creation held off a demon.
Presumably the smiting explicitly spared them. At least, that was my reading.
The smiting was aimed at Jeremy’s opponents, not his allies, I’m pretty sure.
First time commenting, and your writing never ceases to terrify me. The Barber is a juggernaut, and I suppose this is one of the only ways it could have ended. Each group is far weaker, the Behaims have presumably lost their entire well based on the loss of the ring into the Abyss, and Johannes’ (or Faysal’s manipulated) sacrifice. Blake has lost the person closest to him, and is now in the most likely state to be manipulated into turning traitor.
Somehow I doubt any happy ending could result at this point.
Additionally, the little bit indicating Johannes’ voice was wrong is extremely interesting. Assuming that it was Faysal talking, it could mean that the Angel was aware of what the Abyss wanted of Blake, or I am reading too much into those lines.
It isn’t a happy ending, but Blake as a Gatekeeper isn’t a very bad one. He gets to decide what leaves the Abyss, and spends the rest of his time stabbing anything that doesn’t meet his standards. He becomes Abyssal Immigration and Customs, sort of.
The Gatekeeper job is everything he’s sworn to accomplish, and the loss of everything he wants.
He’d have the ability to destroy monsters, assist those who don’t deserve their fates, and surrender the fight with Rose. All it would cost is his freedom.
And that’s the thing. Bit by bit Blake has had to give up everything. What’s one more little bit? But if he gives this up, is their really anything left of Blake Thorburn? Or will he just be a monster enforcing the will of the Abyss? Because the Abyss doesn’t care if you don’t deserve your fate, and all it does is break things down, or spit them out as monsters.
Yeah, none of the groups that started out trying for Lordship can claim it now. They’re all too broken. At this point some out of towner could just swoop in and claim it, and they wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it.
vote Evan for lord of jacob’s bell. “vote evan, because I’m just that awesome (nd nobody else can stand)”
LoL, Pizza guy for Lord of Jacob’s Bell! \o/
Though siriously, I’m not sure there’s much of Jacob’s Bell left to claim…
“It wasn’t a pairing of love. It was a pairing, all the same.”
LOL. Keep telling yourself that boyo.
Blake is clearly jealous. Only he can earn Alister’s love! They even had a wingtip-to-hand moment in this chapter. Unfortunately, Alister’s new lack of one arm will doubtless impede the inevitable tug of war.
Fortunately, as they’re originally one person, the obvious solution is for Alister to marry both of them. He can fit more than one ring on those long fingers of his.
Johannes has always been one of my favorite characters.
I’ll drink to your sacrifice, Sorcerer.
He died doing the right thing.
He really didn’t. O_O
On the assumption that demons are an embodiment of Wrong, then yes, Johannes died doing a Right thing, sacrificing himself to reduce the amount of Wrong that has a grip on the mortal world.
I think what was meant was that what Johannes did earned himself a fate far, far worse than simply death. True, he went in thinking he knew the price… But… [shudders]
He’s not dead, he’s just restin’.
Johannes, I’m sorry we ever thought you were the Big Bad of Pact.
I know right? Too bad! Here’s your perfect eulogy.
Hey Blake, I bet if you think very hard, you can think of a more suitable Gatekeeper that the Abyss might prefer…
I bet Conquest would love to be a Gatekeeper. He gets to sit on his ass and push Others around all day long, occasionally getting up if someone disrespects his authority. No politics, no compromises, just absolute control.
The question is if the Abyss would accept that. Is Conquest (a lesser incarnation of Conquest, mind you) a being of greater value than Blake, he who dares to thrice attempt escape from the Abyss?
I wonder what would happen to Blake (A boogeyman and thus a creature OF the abyss) if he managed to leave the abyss 3 times. That’d be an interesting thing.
I’m thinking escaping the Abyss three times is a good way of becoming an extremely powerful Scourge.
Incarnations are supposed to be nigh-unkillable, so that’s a huge point in Conquest’s favor. Rule of three or not, Blake can be brought down with a bit of gasoline and a well-placed match.
And if nothing else, Conquest can just eat boogeymen trying to escape for a power… up…
Okay, I might have found a flaw in this plan.
Conquest wouldn’t accept being a gatekeeper. It would mean that he has to surrender to the will of the Abyss, and such an act is fundamentally against his nature.
I suspect that this is much the same reason that demons are unable to leave the abyss. While demons could probably escape pretty easily if they change like the abyss wants them to, and helps it out, they are too stubborn (and immortal) to change their nature at all, and are thus stuck there until they can manage another means of escape.
Alister’s ruined arm…was he the target or collateral damage with the Barber aiming for the Behaim Family Ring, poisoning the Well or severing the connection between it and the Behaim Heads and ensuring that it would be lost in the Abyss forever or ruining the ring itself so no Behaim can access the Well again, rendering generations of sacrifices worthless?
And with that, every major power in the city is destroyed to the point that they can’t face a major threat or hold the title of Lord:
* Mara is basically helpless.
* Sandra’s family has lost their unity.
* Johannes is dead, and his demesne probably fell now that he died.
* Thorburns have lost their demesne and library.
And with all the foreign Others around, there’s going to be hell to pay. Toronto didn’t have it this bad….
Which means that the remnants are going to have to pull themselves together in an alliance that will have to directly confront the others of the town, and hopefully kill every single one of them.
I like they way you die Padraic.
All according to Corvidae and Faysal’s plans.
… That just leaves Mags, doesn’t it?
Or maybe Briar Girl if she were to want the job. Though I don’t think she does.
I believe the strike was directed at Jeremy, not Alister or his ring at all. And Alister made a point of saying that the ring tends to find its way back to the family even when lost. Assuming the Barber didn’t cut the ring’s connection to the Behaims (since as Alister said, the pain “wasn’t meant for him”), it all depends on if the ring can recover itself from the Abyss.
I dunno man, things that come back from the Abyss don’t come back right. It might find its way back to them, but will they really want it?
Given that injured arms seem to be a theme with those who get to use it… maybe not. That’s a trend the Abyss will likely cement to it. 😛
Actually, they pretty much used up the Well on the time spell. It would cost them the timeless armor, though. However, I doubt the connection got cut; Alister shoved his arm in the way to block a strike at someone else. The strike wouldn’t be targeting the ring.
OH MY GOODNESS! WILDBOW! Did you watch The Human Centipede? Is that the inspiration for such a wretched creature? That was one of the most disturbing creatures that have ever been described. Holy shit. To anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a film about a crazy doctor…. stitching humans together, head to rear end.
I liked how the Barbie stopped to think when Blake started moving in a manner it couldn’t understand. It felt very human. And I also like how he is a mad biologist, a bit like certain little girl. However, I am not clear at all what the Barber’s goals are. Does he want to destroy the Thorburns? Or does he want to rain havoc among humans? He could have just left at any point in time. And I’m not sure why he thought it would be a good idea to jump into Johannes’s eyes. To be honest, despite the fact that our protagonists had practically two diabolists on hand, they came with surprisingly little losses. I hope to see the Barber again.
Rose was bad-ass, what with the way she stood up to the demon. And I wonder how things must look from Green’s eyes. Is Blake’s proximity some sort of sensation she is having? Or can she see something like him?
The losses tonight… It’s interesting, how much Blake was hurt by Alexis’s loss despite having lost her already in a sense. I feel sorry for the knight, dragged into such trouble. And Johannes… Johannes…… I hope he can find peace. Fuck Faysal. And Fuck the Abyss for what it’s trying to accomplish.
You don’t have to have seen The Human Centipede in order to have read about its central conceit. And I, for one, don’t care to see it, but I know about it.
Yeah, Human Centipede details are not so much spoilers as public service announcements. “This movie has disgusting and disturbing imagery involving a chain of humans sewn mouth-to-anus. You’ve been warned.”
So, the Abyss has given him Glamour back, along with the ability to repair (and thus possibly resurrect) the Hyena. I wonder if Blake is going to put two and two together to give the Abyss a rather different Gatekeeper than it expected.
I’m expecting Blake to consult Evan for anything related to the Hyena. It would feel weird if he just repaired it without his agreement.
Or maybe that will be a sign that Blake accepts the job. Stay down there, force Evan to leave him. Sad bird in snow.
If Blake does fix the blade & takes the throne, isn’t the Abyss screwing around with a twisted parody of the Re-Forging of Narsil and The Return of the King?
Not just weird, but Wrong. Blake has sworn that Evan has say over what is done with the Hyena. It may be the case that Ur cut that connection, but if there’s anything left of Blake’s desire to be true to himself, Blake has to include Evan.
Blake could just sacrifice C-word to the Abyss, sealing him further into the Throne for extra irony, to fulfil the promise and pay a toll at the same time.
I like this option.
The problem is that if C-word becomes the Gatekeeper then how will our troupe get past said Gatekeeper and out of the Abyss?
Ooh. Good point. Even if Blake helps the others escape before enthroning Conquest, he himself wouldn’t be able to escape, which doesn’t help.
I’m kinda sad about Johannes…but not really. I never really liked him. I feel worse about that knight than about him.
Meanwhile, I am excited. Either Blake will be the gatekeeper, locked in one place for eternity, the ultimate punishment. Or something else will happen. Either way, this is the most excited I’ve been about a new chapter since pact began!
I dunno, aren’t we supposed to have an arc after this one? And I can’t imagine this arc only being 4 chapters.
Oh geez, I feel so bad for Johannes 😦 Faysal is such a dick for this.
I swear if Pact were an RPG it would be run by a killer DM. With some sort of hate on for Blake. Who is determined to either kill him or make Blake’s player abandon him. But Blake just barely keeps squeaking by on the dice rolls, but it’s not quite good enough that the DM can’t screw him over somehow on every victory.
Or maybe it’s more a “Hard, but Fair”-style DM who believes in Honest Rolls. He gives the group plenty of chances and hope spots, but they keep rolling the worst possible results.
That’s how my games usually end.
I still hope there’s at least something of a Bittersweet Ending. Or at least not a total Downer Ending.
I keep thinking the Abyss areas would make for some sweet videogame levels.
They could be straight out of Silent Hill.
Pft. Pact’s been surprisingly fair thus far – albeit with liberal use and abuse of disadvantage rolls. Worm was far worse in this regard. (Seriously, kaiju attack and then a roving band of serial killers strolls into town. I ask you the chances on that.)
Pact is ALL about Fair, in all the ways that Fair sucks for heroes.
Nah, the way I see it Worm was a combination of going off the rails, and the DM desperatly trying to find something Taylor’s player and the other members of the group couldn’t own. Maybe “Okay these gangs aren’t a problem anymore, maybe this monster… Oh shit it’s an end of campaign one, I am so sorry- What do you mean it’s okay, you’ve got a plan to take it down?”
To be fair, the latter was explicitly explained as a consequence of the former.
Weren’t runes powered by spirits? Like the one Laird drew way back in Bonds? If so, why would they work in the Abyss? I can’t imagine it having spirits benign enough to just do whatever the rune says.
Recall that Laird discussed giving a token offering to the spirits (sugar, back then). It’s not a question of benign spirits, but of barter. Perhaps the runes were drawn in some sort of valuable ink, so that invoking the rune paid the fee.
There still has to be someone to accept it. And, as I said, I don’t think the Abyss would stand for that. Fairness and equivalent trade don’t look like its defining qualities.
The Abyss is all about trades and trade offs. It offers power, survivability, and if the library is any indication, knowledge as well. However, unlike normal practice, you don’t get to pay up front and then claim your prize. In the Abyss, you get whatever you want first, and then give up whatever the Abyss wants to take afterwards. Aside from the denizens, the real threat of the Abyss is that you’ll end up owing it, and not enjoy paying off your debt.
With that in mind, using any spirit magic in the Abyss is likely to get those same spirits to cause problems for you in the long run.
The timeless armor is quite impressive; it seems like even demons can’t so much as scratch it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to use it in the future.
Also, Rose finally got to really pull out her diabolist powers.
When the Abyss gives Blake those “helpful” suggestions: “You know you don’t need to sleep anymore,” “There’s a way to give you a physical body again,” “I can give you eyes that Barbatorem can’t touch,” I can just imagine the entity in charge sporting a cheshire-cat grin.
I wonder if Barber-Johannes and Conquest-Rose are the possessions alluded by the title, and not solely those, perhaps. Or it could be possession as in whether you have something or not.
Blake is so going to be Rose’s trial for the right to leave the Abyss. She may wind up having to leave C-word behind, or I hope so.
Given Pact? All of the above.
1. Johannes’ ending was… wow. He fell from power so hard, so fast. His final moment was appropriately epic. But few characters in Pact more deserved to see their ambitions realized, so to see him fail to change anything about the status quo was still pretty crushing. We never even got to see him use his pipes! Did they drop together with him?
I don’t see Blake accepting the gatekeeper position, because the story can’t go for another 15+ chapters with Blake stuck without the ability to move… On the other hand, if Blake rejects the Abyss here, he might fulfill one of a myriad Rule of Three scenarios, and he can not afford to bring the Abyss against itself.
Poor Alister suffered Aimon Behaim’s fate, with his arm permanently ruined. On the other hand (no pun intended), does it really matter in the long run that he lost the ring? I thought all personal items like implements had a propensity to end up in their original owners’ hands.
Is the Barber really imprisoned for good? Possibly… but as I mentioned before, the devil’s advocates have yet to make their play.
What’s going to happen to Jacob’s Bell now? Blake (directly and by proxy via Corvidae) ruined the Duchamps (and if I were Sandra, I’d swear bloody revenge); the Behaims have spent most of their own power and their leader was injured by a demon; Johannes is dead which might imply that all Others from his demesne are now loosened onto the city; and so on and so forth.
Actually, now that I think about it, I suppose the Jacob’s Bell scenario was always about determining the new Lord of Jacob’s Bell, and there’s no reason to think this can’t still happen. Gaining the Lordship may be the only way of saving the town, if it’s still saveable.
Re: Faysal: As far as we can tell, his plan succeeded. If he has any sense at all, he’ll go far away now rather than be available for retribution. At this point, he has nothing to win and everything to lose.
Blood, fire and darkness: If Maggie wasn’t directly involved in it, did it really count? The exact phrasing was “You’ll experience what you experienced here, twice more”. The Barber and the Abyss would certainly count, but Maggie wasn’t involved with them.
If Johannes is dead, his demense would collapse and presumably result in some of its residents rampaging through the town. I’m not sure if getting possessed by the Barber counts as dead, though.
However, I would note that Jacob’s Bell has at least one goblin territory marker set up in it. I think Maggie’s Blood, Fire, and Darkness is en route now.
Ah, you’re right. Considering that the Barber is all about torturing people without killing them, Johannes probably isn’t dead. We can rest assured, however, that his fate will be worse.
I figured he might be transforming into the Barber now, or being assimilated by him, similar to what incarnations like Conquest do with some regularity. Even Pauz became more human-like as he took possession of people. And in RDT’s diaries, the Barber was said to change his appearance for unknown reasons, and this would be a likely case for such a transformation.
Not for good, just for a long time. Faysal had speculated that the Abyss could hold Barbatorem for thousands of years.
Do we know for certain that demesnes are immediately voided upon the death of the practitioner? Recall that Blake was having problems finding an unclaimed part of Hillsglade House when trying to decide what to claim as his own.
Yes, I do believe that Faysal is now satisfied — the knowledge of demons has been cast into the Abyss and the moderate-tier demon has been sealed for a few millennia.
There wasn’t really THAT much fire (though plenty of blood and darkness), and I’m pretty sure Maggie has to experience it for it to count.
Johannes used a modified ritual. It was pretty explicit about the demense being voided on his death.
But who decides that Johannes is dead? Barbatorem supposedly doesn’t kill, but we don’t know what happens if he jumps into your eyes. If your body is taken over but retains its shape, can the spirits tell the difference?
As an example, perhaps the worst that could happen would be a fused Johannes the Barber (an upgrade from Johannes the Bard), able to use both demonic and practitioner abilities.
I don’t think possession ever counts as death, no matter how thorough.
It didn’t in Fell’s history chapter: Canfield was subsumed by Conquest, which I’d call even closer to death than possession (if, indeed, he was even possessed–the Barber is only stated to be inhabiting Johannes’s eyes), yet the spirits seemed to agree Joseph hadn’t witnessed Canfield die.
Hey fell a good lethal distance and was immediately snatched up by a presumably less than benevolent force. I don’t think it unfair to assume him dead.
3- I really wouldn’t be surprised if as soon as Rose left the Abyss the Lawyers show up to have words with her… I can’t imagine they will be happy about this at all.
And if Blake stays this time he is never leaving the Abyss again. Rule of three means third time counts more than any others. But I wonder if he manages to escape from the abyss this time, having a third win their what will happen?
In pact-verse, you should be very careful saying things like “never”…..
If he gets that third win he’ll be able to enter or leave the abyss at will, I imagine.
Unless something big happens on the third set of three.
3rd time counts much more than the first two and is often decisive enough for tries 4 5 and 6 to not matter or not happen… but the next big number is 7 and you can compound an effect with repetitions.(99 being 33 sets of 3 for example)
a 3rd win in a row makes him slippery but i doubt immune
2: I thought Alister used cards as his implement… anyway, his forearm was sliced by a demon, so there are good chances the ring will never come back on its own.
As a lost powerful artefact, it may show up elsewhere in the Abyss as ‘reward’ for working as a timey-bogeyman, like Blake retrieved the broken Hyena, the glamour hair, and now the complete Hyena.
7: I’m guessing we won’t actually see it. Mags’ story isn’t the focus. Xvaqn yvxr Fyrrcre naq rirelguvat jr rkcrpgrq gb frr ohg arire tbg gb.
Johannes has two eyes again?
I think he just was blind in one, but kept the eye (or had it regenerated). Nerve damage-based blindness can persist even with intact eyeballs.
Or it was glass, reflective enough for the barber to jump in.
What happened to that bird other, and Briar girl?
And more importantly, what happened with Ur’s Motes???
Lastly, what happened to molly’s bell?
The notes are just stock fuel for reasons we want Urr gone and probably not plot relevant. As for the rest (except for maybe the bird other) it will probably be addressed in the coming chapters.
if this psot goes right then, It’s good to be back.
So I’m not the only one to have been having trouble loading Pact’s site the last few days?
I actually tried to get a wordpress account to start my own project bu the damn thing wouldn’t let me sign in with this name tag. But a few times along i used the name tag Shrikefrosthands *(which was my D@D pc’s name) and i couldn’t disengage it. In the end, I deleted the wordpress acount and aint trying again until I have bettet tech skills
for some reason the library just doesn’t feel like the abyss…all the others have been shitty grinding places filled with lost souls slowly turning other as they trade away bits or become what you eat with a few top tier predators sleeping or roaming around.
…this has swarms of custom others far more radically changed than most we’ve seen all at the abyss’s command and it seemed less about wearing down and changing its residents and more about killing as many as it can.
for example why is everything not in our party compelled to enforce the silence in the library? its too quick too universal and too suicidal to be just people catching on that the abyss rewards it.
it feels less like bogy limbo and more like wildbow wanted to write “the hell level from a videogame”
The zones all have their own personalities. The Library is being particularly brutal, while The Drains were more slow and grinding even compared to The Tenements. It’s also called in thematic Others from different sections for an initial population, and nothing is familiar with the rules yet. The place will settle down eventually.
It’s using Molly’s bell to drive the residents to attack anyone who makes noise.
Basically, this is something of a land rush where a bunch of Others with some connection to books and a bunch of lost souls are running to claim an area or escape the section they’re in. The initial slaughter is going to thin them out, and once it settles down it’s going to be a lot more about grinding fear where one wrong move can draw predators and the books promise knowledge and power for a terrible price.
Agree. This place is still in flux. Populations are dense because the place is still small.
I don’t think everything’s compelled to attack noisy people though. I was wondering for a while if the reason they were stuck fighting so much stuff was because the Knights kept shooting everything they saw. They ran into a good amount of stuff in the other 2 venues, they just didn’t attack them and were left alone in return. I think it’s mainly only the things in the bookcases that are compelled to attack, the rest are just sort of directed their way and if they fight, they fight.
Of course, the bell doesn’t help
I found it highly amusing that the Others they were fighting were also trying to fight quietly once they figured out the rules.
As far as the noise thing, I think it’s less about compulsion to attack, and more like the abyss called forth Others with book-ish themes and Others that were comfortable lying in wait in the dark places, content to spend centuries not moving until prey came by and made enough noise (much like the “goblin” thing from the Drains, and like the giant from the tenements did). The abyss needs Others like them to keep the fear alive, make everyone on edge/on guard all the time, and to keep jump-scares (or jump-kills, as the case may be) to the maximum.
Both the book-themed Others in a Library-looking place and the more powerful “trap” others had a common interest of lots of noise = “kill me” sign. So, the other Others took up the hint to not make noise to keep the number of enemies to a minimum.
For example, the creepy school-teacher Other. When she first got there, there wasn’t really a library yet. There weren’t that many books yet and things were just being built. If she came later, she would have scolded the group for talking in the library more than just arguing.
The Library itself is enforcing it with the bell. It’s “louder” in areas where people are making noise, which drives Others, especially ones without strong loyalties, into a frenzy.
Oh that’s what was going on?
Question- does blake still have only one eye? I noticed once again mentioning the abyss taking his “Eyes”, but I thought he only had one, and the other was a bird-nest.
The abyss wants blake to be a gatekeepUR!
Was there a sidenote saying that Alister may have been split into more than one person?
“The shears closed on Alister, and there was nothing he could do about it. … I was close enough to put the Hyena between the handles of the shears.”
It sounded, for three paragraphs, as though Alister was cut, but then we read that Blake was able to stop the shears from closing completely. Perhaps Alister was only partially cut? Perhaps the stab to the hand completed a cut or something? Later we read:
“We had most of our number. I couldn’t see one of the four Behaims that had come down here with us. One was named Alister, one had been lost on the bridge, back when this started, and one, apparently, had been lost in this chaos just now.”
Is this one that was just lost one that was split from Alister? What has Alister lost?
If Blake remains as Gatekeeper, there may be a future meeting with Alexis.
“She was improving by building something, while I only made headway by tearing things down. Ultimately the reason I was deferring to her.”
Rose isn’t building anything for anyone but herself. She didn’t propose to Alister to save her friends or family, she proposed to save herself. She let herself be taken in so she wouldn’t be stuck in the house during the attack, and so she could come out of the whole mess on top of the corpses of people whose only mistake was trusting her.
Blake says he only made headway by tearing things down, but that’s only because the situations he was presented with warranted that response. Blake was always trying to build something better, but he just wasn’t allowed the opportunity to build.
On the bright side, Barbatorem is in the grips of the Abyss. On the dark side…remember what that place does to humans? I tremble to imagine what it would do to a demon.
Blake, the Gatekeeper. That’s…an interesting development.
What actually happened to the Barber’s shears when he possessed Johannes? He can travel through them, so unless they went with him somehow…