Possession 15.6

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“Murr-” Ms. Lewis started.

Rose’s rifle swung around.  She slapped it against her left hand.  At the butt end, her right thumb ran along the inscribed rune.  The tip of the gun jerked, the aim correcting.  Centered on Ms. Lewis’s heart.  Rose’s eye looked down the sights.

With Conquest’s confidence surging through her, her hand didn’t waver.  Her breathing came easily, as she exhaled slowly, simultaneously pulling the trigger.

“Answer-” Ms. Lewis continued.

Rose fired.

Ms. Lewis dropped.

“You still had bullets?” Alister exclaimed.

“Always save one bullet,” Rose said, and her voice sounded disconnected, even to her.  “Rule of thumbs for diabolists.  Goblin queens and scourges too.”

“Chronomancers would do well to hold to that rule as well,” Ainsley murmured, not taking her eye off Ms. Lewis.  “There are horror stories, people caught in endless loops, or cornering themselves.  Immortality is scary when you might outlive the sun.”

“Let’s say it’s a good rule for most,” Alister said.  “Speaking of, was it- is she dead?”

Rose slowly shook her head.

Ms. Lewis arched her back a little, made a pained sound.

“What do we do?” Tiff asked.

Rose’s heartbeat was steady, not even agitated.  A part of her might have stirred at seeing someone in abject pain, but that part of her was pushed down, far and away.

Her thoughts moved easily, without panic or fear.  She pulled off the rifle and tossed it to Nick.  “Nothing.  There isn’t a lot we can do.  When and if she gets up, shoot her again.  In the meantime, just let me think.”

Ty spoke, “We can-”

“We can’t,” Rose cut him off.  “I can guess what you’re going to say.  Don’t say it.  Trust me here.”

Her mind was turning over the situation, coldly, calmly, methodically.

They could gag Ms. Lewis, but another one of the lawyers would appear to resolve the situation, the moment it looked like Ms. Lewis no longer had it in hand.  There was no guarantee they’d regain control of the situation if and when that happened.

If someone suggested the gag, and the lawyers realized she was stalling, putting off that option, they might simply cut to the chase.

The ‘chase’ being a measure of overwhelming force, brought to bear.  Making an example of the diabolist bloodline that reneged on the deal, so all the others might know not to make the same mistake.

This wasn’t a new problem.  She’d known for a long time that it might come to this.  Blake had been focused on the problems now, the fighting, the wars.  Rose had been looking to the future.  Researching, hoping to find the answers needed, the key to making it through this.

What if she sacrificed Ty?  Or Alexis?  What if she gave up the house?  What if she accepted the deal?  Her thoughts moving all of the various permutations, like so many different sequences of chess moves.

Every new piece of information, every new person or person removed was a new factor to be considered.

Even just in the past hour, within the Library, her thoughts had been turning over the possibilities.  What if a given opponent could be made an ally?  Could she use their strengths?

So much of what she had done had been to buy time.  Keep Blake at bay, because he was so very dangerous, and the time he cost her was just one of the dangers.  She’d used the Barber to stall future attacks.

All to put off this moment, or one like it.

They had only a few moments.  Minutes if they were lucky, seconds if they weren’t.  Until the end of Ms. Lewis’ next sentence.

Rose had to find an answer before it was all over.

Conquest gave her a measure of control over the others.  It kept things in their places.

Conquest gave her the ability to face this moment head on, to remain steady and unflinching, akin to how a mild tranquilizer might allow a sniper to keep themselves still.

“Where’s the witch hunter we left with you?” Rose asked.

“Didn’t want to get closer,” Peter said.

“Ellie, go get her,” Rose gave the order.  “Leave Christoff.  If you run into anyone, anything… if it’s hostile, whatever it is, tell them the diabolists are here.  It’s open season.”

Best way to get them here.  If things get that far, and if things get ugly, I can maybe point them at Lewis.

Ellie was staring.  She finally managed to get the words out, a protest.  “Why me?”

“You’re still here?  Go!” Rose shouted, and she pushed some Conquest into her voice.

Ellie ran, heading over toward the city.

Ellie was a scrapper, she was fast, and above anyone else here, she could probably squirm her way out of a bad situation.  Peter might have been better if that situation involved words, but Rose put better odds on Ellie surviving something like the manticore Rose’s contingent had run into earlier, or a gang of goblins.  Ellie could beg.  Ellie was most likely to listen.

Ellie was expendable.

Rose’s eye fell on the lawyer.  Rose was certain she’d landed a bullet where the heart should have been, but the lawyer wasn’t dying.  Hurt, but not dying.

The trick here was to balance things.  If she tried for a solution, it had to be a good one, because it was very possible that the lawyers or a collection of underlings might simply appear.  Better to set out the contingencies.  To open the door for a little bit of hope.

If anyone or anything was waiting in the wings, watching, that someone or something would be happy to allow her that hope, then extinguish it.

This was only about buying time.

“Alister,” Rose said.  “You got actual training in dealing with demons.”

“Which choirs do you want me to ward against?”

All of them,” Rose said.  “Tiff, Ty, Behaims, Jeremy, help him.  Knights, watch Lewis.”

“What do I do?” Evan asked.

“You and Green Eyes be ready.  When or if things get ugly, they’re going to get very ugly,” Rose said.

Alister started speaking, outlining what they needed to do, in terms of drawing diagrams.

“Given how fragile this area is, we protect against Ruin first,” Alister said.  “Chaos second, madness third… Fractal grid, outward pointing.  That covers the first and last.  We need a crest for the center, for fending off chaos.”

“What sort of crest?” the High Priest asked.

“Against madness?  I’d say the seal of solomon would work, but… that rules out too many other things,” Alister said.  “We need to cover more bases, if there’s a possibility of other Choirs.”

He drew his deck out of his pocket, one-handed.  He divided it into two halves, then merged the two halves, still with one hand, tapping it against his chest to get everything flush once again.

“Well?” Rose asked.

“We need a Lord,” Alister said.  “Natural order.  Animals serve man, man serves his king, and the king serve the gods.  A good king, or a good lord, well, they serve order, they provide structure, and they serve man.

“And a bad king?”  Rose asked.

“Is worse than no king at all,” Alister said.  “Thing is, it’s not even worth discussing.  There is no Lord, and there’s no way we can officially declare one before the shit hits the fan.”

Ms. Lewis spoke, and every single pair of eyes and ears present turned her way.  “Someone taught you.”

“Yeah,” Alister said.

“Mm.  Rose senior,” Ms. Lewis said.  She touched her chest.  “It’s been a few long months since I felt proper agony.

“It would be very convenient if you died,” Jeremy commented.

“My continued employment supercedes death.  It’s a… consequence of dealing with beings that operate in the very deepest workings of reality.” Ms. Lewis said.  “Now, if I may call in a favor, Mur-”

Nick raised his arm.

The Knight to his right aimed and fired, cutting off Ms. Lewis before she could finish.

“Guns are underrated,” Evan said, brightly.  “Bang!”

“Learning to rate the bullets we have left pretty damn highly,” Nick said.  “Unless Sarah or some other help arrives, we’re down to only a few bullets.”

He raised his hand behind his back, out of Ms. Lewis’ sight.  He held up two fingers.

“Good to know,” Rose said.  Her mind was ticking over the options.

All the ways this could play out.

She sighed.

“Faysal,” she said.  “I humbly request your presence.”

The wind stirred.  Over in Jacob’s Bell proper, snow formed spirals and clouds as it was blown free of rooftops.

No answer.

“You complete and utter asshole,” Rose said.  “Faysal, I request your presence once more.”

She wasn’t surprised in the least when her request wasn’t answered.

“Faysal,” she said, and she allowed Conquest to take a greater hold, putting all of her authority as a practitioner of some heritage and the power derived from Conquest into her voice.  “For the third time, I ask for an audience!”

Her voice rang out over the city.

Before the echo even faded, she was thinking about the other options that were available to her.

“Murr, I ask your-” Ms. Lewis tried once more, still lying on the ground.

A gunshot rang out.

One shot left.

One side free to ask, with nobody of import willing to listen.  Another side trying to ask, held at bay with agony.

“We could run,” Evan said.  “Escape?  Or we could-”

“Evan,” Rose said.  “Please.  You have to let me think this through, without interruption.”

They have only so many resources, but one lawyer we can’t kill is enough for this problem, Rose thought.  We push it too far, or start proposing the wrong suggestions, and they might head us off the pass, and devote another lawyer or two.

Even the discussion of retreat was dangerous.

“How’s Blake doing in there?” Evan asked.

Green Eyes turned to look, glaring.

“Not good,” Rose admitted.

Not good.

Understatement, that.

The pessimism was a counterpoint to the fact that Evan cared.

The church was gone.  Conquest liked to frame things, to draw out the battlefields, so every scene we entered took its own unique form, tangential to what Rose was thinking about, and to what she was doing.

Not long ago, Conquest had been weaker, but better versed in this battlefield, and with far more experience in how these fights were fought.

Now that Rose was drawing on Conquest for power, that ‘weaker’ part was no longer a consideration.

More skilled, more experienced, more knowledgeable, and stronger.

Two dimensional, more inclined to wound and lord over the suffering than to go for the jugular, Conquest had weaknesses, but they weren’t weaknesses I could leverage right now.

If this landscape was a mosaic, each individual element meshing roughly with the others, cracks running through it, Rose’s side of the mosaic somehow felt brighter than mine did.

She’d never been homeless.  I’d spent long nights under the stars, or in shelters that turned the lights off at eight.  I’d spent time with Carl, in cabins I and others at the commune had built with our own hands.  Cabins that hadn’t had power.  Even then, toward the end, it had only been a few.

Conquest held me, forcing me to be the bludgeon that she used to knock down barriers, and they were darker barriers than Rose’s.  She tore down my superstructures, and my confidence with them.  She hurled me, and did it with enough force that she could collect me again before I’d recovered.  Forced me to fail at getting to my metaphorical feet, as scenes unfolded around me.

No speech, no taunting.

I had no throat that could be ripped out, no heart that could be punctured.  I was my heart.  There was no way to finish me off, except to grind me down.

Conquest, as it happened, was very, very good at grinding people down.

I struggled and was battered through scenes of pain, of seeing the others suffering at my behalf.  Evan’s rage at the idea of losing me, the pained looks of my friends, at realizing that they couldn’t share themselves with me.  That they had to keep me at arm’s length, and hide the most important things from me.

Rose’s suspicion, her anger, her hatred.  Her fear, above all else.

Me attacking people, me being bloody, me cutting down those I called monsters.

A me I hardly recognized, now that the Abyss had so little in the way of a grip on me.

I was stripped down, pure, defenseless, weak.

All of me was out here, exposed and raw.  An open book.

Conquest insisted on wearing my grandmother’s face.  A face I had seen in the course of two short meetings and a handful of encounters when I was a very small child.

The root of all evil I had dealt with.

The woman who had made me, set me up as a distraction, a pin to be bowled over.  Now Conquest drove that point home, setting me up, dragging me to my feet, though I didn’t quite have any, and then knocked me down again.

Conquest paused.  Letting me lie there.

I realized which memories and elements of my personality surrounded me here.

My friends, my old life.

Joel.  Joseph.  Goosh.  Tiff.  Ty.  Alexis.

It wasn’t the sights that surrounded me that made the scene bad, though they didn’t help.  People I cared about giving me looks.  Looking afraid.  Looking concerned.  Helpless.

No.  What spooked me was the fracture.

A thick black line, running through a whole tract of my life.  Scenes removed, or broken into pieces too small to make out.

Half of my memories and experiences with my friends had been cut away.

Not given to Rose.  Just… removed.

Lost to some dark place that only demons knew.

Useless to the creation of Rose, grandmother’s perfect heir, made for the destruction of the Thorburn line.  Too dangerous to give to me, because it might tie me too tightly to Toronto, or alter my priorities.

A simple savage cut, and yet so much finesse, so much care and precision into the systematic ruin of one human being’s life.

“I’m a spirit too,” Evan was saying.  “Why don’t you eat me, too, and then I can go help Blake?”

“There’s only so much room in me for spirits,” Rose said.  “I’ve already got Conquest and Blake bumping shoulders in there.  Too many more and I might split at the seams.”

“Hmph.”

If I split at the seams… Rose thought, but it wasn’t a thought that led to other ideas.

Rose could hear Ms. Lewis sigh.

The woman found her feet, slowly, halting, and then brushed snow and dirt off her pants leg and jacket.

Rose glanced at Nick.

Nick shook his head.

“Thanks for coming, Nick,” Rose said.  “If you wanted to run, now, I wouldn’t blame you.”

“A demon took people from me,” Nick said.  “In every sense of the word, they’re gone.  You were right, when you said an entire town might suffer the same fate.  You want us to run when there’s a chance we might be able to do something against some other demons?  Or some immortal bitch that thinks it’s a good idea to traffic with them?  I’m almost insulted.”

“I wouldn’t be insulted at all,” Peter said.  “Can I run?”

“You can,” Rose said.  “I don’t know how much good it would do.  If she gets me, she gets all the rest of you.”

Peter nodded.

He didn’t budge.

“Charge her?” Ainsley asked.

Rose shook her head.

“Murr,” Ms. Lewis said.  “As we agreed, please obey my summons.  I summon you to punish others for reneging on a longstanding deal.”

The air seemed to vibrate.  Things seemed to cross over, double images, and Murr crawled forth from the gap between images.

It was a mote.  The head was reminiscent of a skull, and the lower body looked as though entrails were spilling out, with an excess of bone splinters, and the hands were riddled with bone splinters until they’d become talons, but the general proportions were those of a baby.

Murr unfolded feathered wings and took to flying, a jerking, halting flight.

The images they wear are borne of our fears and thoughts.  They rise from the stew of mankind’s psyche, Rose thought, thinking back to the books.

A part of her had hoped the next demon they faced would be a major one.  That the lawyers might summon something that owed grandmother a favor.  An enemy turned back on the summoner was all the more dangerous.

Faint hope, that.  But she’d memorized pages.

“Surbas, as we’ve agreed, you will come to do as I bid,” Ms. Lewis spoke.

Surbas emerged.  Another mote, wingless.  Moving too fast to be seen, it disappeared into the shadows.

“Hauri,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Come.”

Hauri was larger than other motes, with a second head forming at one shoulder.  Wet, gruesome, bloody.

My friends present gathered together, stepping carefully over the lines of the diagram that had been outlined in salt, snow shoved back to clear the ground, leaving only driveway.  It formed a grid of squares, the lines marked down so some went over, some appearing to go under.  Symbols marked smaller spaces at set intervals.  The way it unfolded, a greater pattern outlined, the thing formed a kind of flower shape.  Maybe fifteen feet across.

Rose –and I– noted that the lines at one side were a little less consistent.  Too late to do anything about it.

“Naph,” Lewis said.  “Come, join the others.”

Naph was skeletal in a different way.  More a slimy skin drawn over a baby’s skeleton, there were no openings.  The eye sockets were simply skin sucked into a void, dull and empty, the mouth yawned open, skin straining tight enough to reveal individual teeth, just a hair away from splitting in a hundred ways.

Naph landed on a branch with batlike wings, then crawled along the length of the branch, slowly, each movement eliciting sounds.

The sounds were wet, sucking noises to the ear, but they elicited sympathetic feelings from Rose’s skin, as if each sound was a brush of sandpaper against her flesh, coarse, rough enough to leave her raw.

Rose had drawn on Conquest for strength, for courage, and for focus.

Each mote that appeared was testing even that resolve.

“This diagram,” Rose murmured.  “Which choirs does it protect against?”

“Ruin, Chaos, Madness,” Alister said.  “Should protect against the choir of Unrest, but-”

“That’s never guaranteed,” Rose finished.

“Obach,” the lawyer announced another name.  “Come!”

“Oh god,” Tiff said.  “Oh god no.”

The snow swelled, and it bubbled, each bubble lasting just long enough to freeze before the swelling of another bubble pushed past and broke it.  It made the snow look like it was ulcerating, some infected, cancerous thing.  The oily black sheen to some of the bubbles only helped the illusion, as if it were a cancer in the landscape.

Obach leaped out of the snow, jumping to the nearest tree.  Bug eyed, small mouthed, with flesh like that of a toad.  Fly wings flapped at its back, almost too fast to be visible, before stopping.

The wood, too, bubbled in an ugly way, only these bubbles were more like cancer.  Boils, cysts, manifesting with every second of contact, spreading.

The snow continued to boil, a spreading infection.

Surbas lunged in the shadows.  It ate and mid-leap, devoured a small animal that dashed out of cover, disturbed from slumber.  A small rabbit, perhaps, or a squirrel.

Bigger, moving faster, bounding just as the rodent had.

It squealed, and Rose was among the people in the circle who raised their hands to their ears.

Surbas disappeared into low foliage.  What might have been part of the house’s garden, before the hill inverted, dropping into the Abyss.

Something screamed, a strangely human scream, and Surbas leaped forth, snapping at air.

The imp, twice as large as it had originally been, bounded into a tree, and lunged at a place where the largest branch met the trunk.

It scarfed down a third meal.

Winged, it fluttered over to a larger branch, near Murr.  Mottled, sleek, with an infant’s face stretched into an inhuman shape with far too many teeth, a permanent smile.  With each blink, it wore a different set of eyes, the left eye not matching the right.

Shall I devour you?” it whispered, and the sound carried, the sharper sounds too sharp, like nails on blackboards.  “You can watch from the inside, while I use the best parts to devour all the rest.  Volunteer, throw yourself to me.  I’ll eat the first ones quick.  The ones later, I’ll eat from the fingers to shoulders, the toes to the crotch, I’ll eat the skin and then the juicier bits, I’ll make it slowwwwww.”

Each word was like a razor blade sliding along a sensitive place.

“The one you eat first has to watch.  Maybe it’s better to go later,” Murr spoke, and the voice was more feminine, smoother, out of sorts with the jagged bone appearance.

“Who knows how the mere mortals think?” Hauri asked, bobbing in the air, flapping periodically to stay aloft.  The smaller head sniggered.

“These mere mortals are trained in dealing with your kind,” Ms. Lewis said.  “You would do well to not give them a chance to think.  If I’m reading the diagram right from where I stand, it protects against the choirs of Unrest, Chaos, Madness and Ruin, though I think the mote of Ruin could push through the section to the left, right there.”

Hauri sniggered, both heads, not synchronized.  It made for a hard to place, uncomfortable feeling.  Hauri dropped out of the air, wings folded, and began to pace around, to just the point in question.  It hobbled a little, working to keep it so that both the normal head and the conjoined sub-head could keep the group within the diagram in sight.

“Nothing to stop the choir Feral?” Surbas asked.

“No,” Lewis said.  She turned her attention to Rose.  “I’ll replace them as they die or get bound.  I’m sorry.  You would have been better served by sticking to your one-bullet policy.”

“Probably,” Rose said.

There was relatively little cover, beyond the ridge.  Some shrubs, some stones, and pieces of the house that had fallen down the hill rather than into the Abyss, before the hill ceased being a hill at all.  Chunks of driveway stood out now and again, and there were a few scattered trees.

Now the imps were pacing, moving without rhyme or rhythm, only looking for openings.  Some paced clockwise, some counterclockwise, while others hovered.

Surbas disappeared behind one piece of cover.  He didn’t re-emerge.  The fanged imp from the feral choir, taking essential qualities from everything it devoured, casting away the rest into nothingness.

Quantity over quality, Rose thought.  But still enough.  Every imp a different miserable end, waiting for us.

For others.

“Evan,” Rose said.  “I need you to make a break for it.”

“Oh,” Evan said.  “A break for it.  Past fangs and skull-bits, and two-heads, and mister tumor and stretchy-skins?”

“If we don’t catch up with you, then you need to assume we’re gone.  Let others know what happened.  The lawyers will like that, and I’m hoping they’ll like it enough to let you do it unmolested.”

“You want me to leave you to die,” Evan said.  “To these guys.”

“No,” Ty said, under his breath, his voice cracking a little.

“Yes,” Rose said.

“Well I’m not going to,” Evan said.

“If Ellie met up with Sarah,” Rose said, “Then we need to warn her off.  They were too slow.”

“Really?” Evan asked.  “Tell me you’re not making stuff up to convince me.  Because if they’re not here yet and Sarah wasn’t that far away, I’m thinking they aren’t coming at all.”

“Evan,” Rose said.  “Go.

She pushed a little Conquest into her voice.

Conquest, in the meanwhile, smiled.

“You lose too,” I told Conquest, as Conquest strode toward me.  Seizing me, and picking me up from a landscape built piecemeal from sections of my apartment, from the art installations I’d worked on, and the places of my friends.

Memories of people who might well die in the worst way.

“If Rose dies, you die,” I said.

“I’m only a sliver,” Conquest said, simply.  Wearing grandmother’s face, speaking in that infuriating way grandmother once had.

“No!” Evan’s cry reached out.  “No!  I’m not just going to do it because you say so!  That’s now how this works!”

Conquest frowned.

Evan.

Ur had severed my connection to Evan, so he was no longer my familiar.  A bond still remained.

I’d taken Evan into myself, and I’d smeared Evan’s blood on my chest, while fighting the goblin king and his weapon-collecting goblin pet.

Evan had stuck by me.

If any Abyss-stuff had seeped into me, I had to hope some Evan had too.

I took advantage of the moment of weakness on Conquest’s part, and I fought back.  I tore free of Conquest’s grip, and staggered.

Then, opting to attack before Conquest could regain her footing, I lunged.  In the doing, I very nearly forgot that I lacked arms.  I imagined for a second that I had my wings again.

Odd, that wings I’d had for part of one very long night were more connected to me than my arms.

But I was a mess of spiritstuff, a fragment of a person.

Just like Conquest was a sliver of something greater.

I lunged, I shoved Conquest back, and then I tried to fly.

In practice, as things ceased to have any geography to them, I merely kept my distance.  I backed away from Conquest, and I worked on regaining my footage.

Conquest pursued, but now that I wasn’t so battered, reduced to something small, I could put everything into scale.  I removed myself from Conquest, flowed away from her grip.

The incarnation was stronger than me, occupied more space than me.  We warred for our share of a space inside Rose’s being.

I’d drawn strength from Evan just being there.

Now I touched on other things.  Memories of my bike.  Of warm moments with friends.  All the things that made me Blake.  I consciously willed those things to become part of my identity again.

And, swelling just a bit, I began to push Conquest back and out.

“You said you needed a chance to think,” Peter snapped.  “Well?  Where are the fruits of that labor!?”

“Not now, Peter,” Rose said.  Her eyes scanned the surroundings.

“When, then?  After we get torn to chunks or worse by hell babies!?  Or-”

Ainsley put a hand on Peter’s arm.

Peter clammed up.

“If you’re doing something, you’d better do it fast, Blake,” Rose said.  “Because I don’t know how long we can hold up.”

How long I can hold up, Rose thought.

As if to give voice to that thought, Surbas leaped from the shadows.  Nick twisted around, swinging his machete at the imp.

A flap of wings, and Surbas changed direction midway through the air.  He landed on the diagram, and intentionally smeared the lines.

Two-headed Hauri approached, waddling, squirming, hauling itself forward with its front limbs, rather than walking.  Ty, hand bloody, used his finger to draw signs in the air.  Matching lines appeared in the earth.  Hauri collided with the edge of the diagram, the lines pulled together just in time.

Rose wanted to send Evan away.  Evan resisted, and Rose couldn’t fathom why.

I had to tell her why, and I couldn’t quite speak.

I had to pay a price, in the end.

I stared down at the sprawl of memories, individual facets that made up me, facets that made up Rose.

Reaching out, I seized cherished experiences.  Cherished parts of me.

Tiff, Ty.  Goosh, Joseph, Joel.

Alexis.

Far too few in number, as experiences went, half of them simply gone.

Rose had surmised that I’d been built to gather others around me.  Rose had been built to sit lonely in the tower, whiling away the years.  But everything had gone to shit, and now Rose was incapable of dealing with this current problem without a crutch.  Without Conquest.

Handling the memories made me even more in tune with myself.  Reaching out to Rose’s memories of them, to the small, few, scattered experiences she had with friendship, they helped too, showed me glimmers of smiles or gut feelings of being in a group and feeling included.  She had so few.  Only enough to tell her what it was, in abstract.  Not to give her any true experience.

I couldn’t hold on to any, if I wanted this to work.

Not of human camaraderie, anyway.  I held on to Evan, and to Green Eyes.

I gave her the rest.  Pushed them onto her side.  Dumped them.  Hit Rose with it all at once.

All while squeezing Conquest out of her head.

A hundred memories might have flooded into her head, in that instant.  Gentle ones, angry ones, helpless ones.  Warm ones.

I very much felt the lack, giving them up.

I saw a full third of the memories fall by the wayside.  Consumed by the fracture, the damage.

I felt the loss there, too.  I could remember having the experiences and emotions, even if they no longer had a place in my heart.

Rose’s hands shook as they went to her shirt.  She clutched her coat there.  “Can’t.”

“What?” Alister asked her.

“I can’t do it,” she said, under her breath.

He put an arm around her shoulders, hugging her close.

There were tears in her eyes.  “Fuck, Blake!  He’s…giving me a taste of what I never had.  I can’t do it alone.”

“What do you need?” he asked.

“What I tried to do before.  I need the group.”

“What did you try before?”

“Faysal,” she said.  “Faysal…”

“Faysal,” Alister said, joining in.

Nick swung his machete at the feral imp as it crept closer to the lines, clearly intent on messing them up.  It took to the air, going over the machete.

The high priest clubbed it out of the air.

Again, the imp steered itself to land on the diagram.

“Faysal!” Alister said, joined by his cousin this time.

Others picked up the cry.

Summoning an enemy.

The imps moved toward the gap in the diagram, a failure in the protective symbol.

There was a flash of light, and the imps scattered, retreating a solid twenty feet.

Faysal, wearing his dog form, sat at one side of the circle.  Opposite Ms. Lewis, who stood on a shattered section of driveway.

“You can stop,” Faysal said.  “I’m here.  Hello, Lewis.”

“Faysal Anwar,” Ms. Lewis said.  “You don’t mean to interfere, I hope?”

The dog shook his head.  “If anything, I’m willing to help, if you’ll agree to dispose of these pests.

Ms. Lewis smiled.

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109 thoughts on “Possession 15.6

  1. Sorry it’s a touch late. Got zero winks of sleep last night for seemingly no reason at all, and my landlord had ordered renovations in prep for someone else moving in below me for the duration of today. Don’t know yet how that affected the chapter, but I do know I didn’t like the ending and had to rewrite it last minute. Finished at the wire and then WordPress got bogged down and decided to be stupid. Could have dealt with one thing in a timely manner, but it was sort of a convergence of events and stresses. Haven’t yet had a chance to skim for initial typos.

    Urgh. Off to go wind down.

      1. He shook his head, so he means to interfere. He’s willing to help, although he didn’t say who. Whatever his plan, it behooves him for her to agree to remove unspecified pests… The imps?

      2. Potential ambiguities:

        1. “If anything, I’m willing to help,” doesn’t mean “I’m going to help you, Ms. Lewis.” He could be willing to help Rake and friends, or himself. On that note, “willing to help” doesn’t mean “intent on helping”, it just means that he hasn’t rejected the possibility.
        2. “… if you’ll agree to dispose of these pests.” could mean he wants her to get rid of the imps, not Blose and crew.
        3. No outright assertion that he doesn’t intend to interfere (just shook his head, which could be a “I can’t believe you’d even think that” gesture, not a rejection).

        Of course, I have an awful track record with this sort of thing. Wildbow works a few levels above my clumsy rules-lawyering.

    1. Depends. Who is he willing to help? How? Why? Despite the relations between the Thorburns and demons, there should be some proper demons Ms. Lewis can summon that wouldn’t owe the Thorburns anything. Ideally she’s sandbagging, and he’s come to help her make a clean break from the firm (she doesn’t seem too awful, though she is manipulative) if she gets rid of the imps. That’s way too happy an ending for Wildbow’s writing, but we can hope anyways.

      1. Could just be trying to minimise “radiation”. Summoning something major has a cost in corruption. Easier to deal with that corruption (to the self) with motes.

  2. Hmmm. 2 possibilities:

    The first, Ms. Lewis is really a good guy. She’s been helping Blake/Rose from the beginning and even now is only summoning notes to buy them time. Faysal recognizes her intent and wishes to help the group but needs the motes dismissed first.

    The Second, Faysal is actually Evil. He works with Demons and wants to eliminate the abyssian survivors.

    Of course, there’s always the “Wildbow Happens” option where it ends up being something completely unexpected.

  3. Wow. I was running around the house shouting to myself “Fucking Damn it! No Good things last in Wildbow Land!” And then Blake realizes Rose needs his friends more than he does, and goes and sacrifices his memories so she can have the perspective to win. And he keeps Green Eyes and Evan as his only friends.

    That is….As far as symbols go? That’s powerful.

    Also, the ambiguity of “these pests” could apply to either the demons, or the gang. Which is funny.

  4. Well, if there’s gonna be a wire for it to be down to, this has gotta be it.:(

    I’m wondering why the needed bullets to keep Lewis quiet. Couldn’t they use a stick or something? I guess she can teleport and would leave if they tried to physically touch her so they needed to shoot her so she couldn’t react?

    Well, seeing a lawyer get shot over and over again was entertaining enough. Rosequest is hardcore.

    1. Also, if it looked like they actually stood a chance instead of them desperately stalling, the lawyers would just teleport in another lawyer. Plus they would have to leave the diagram.

    2. The thing is, they couldn’t keep her quiet. If they did, then the other lawyers could’ve decided she wasn’t able to handle the situation herself and stepped in to assist. And then they’d have two or three lawyers to deal with.

      Basically, any plan that was guaranteed to work was guaranteed to fail. Which means now is absolutely the time for a Blake plan.

      1. I like that Pact has grown, and Blake has grown as a protagonist that people say a “Blake plan” in the way they used to say a “Taylor plan”. I remember at the beginning, noticing others in the comments, as well as myself, being disappointed in Blake’s planning skills, but the fact that he has grown so much is indicative of Wildbow’s mastery over the craft of creating protagonists. That Blake and Taylor are both so different, but both so interesting, and intelligent as characters is great to me.

          1. Taylor Plan: Hey, what the hell are you doing, that’s craz- oh I see it now.

            Blake Plan: Hey, what the hell are you doing, that’s craze- NO, NO, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!

        1. Blake certainly has changed. I’m not sure I’d say he’s grown, at least in regards to planning. Blake’s planning and decision making was (and kinda still is) notoriously bad. He has magically good instincts, but actually looking ahead and planning, still a massive disappointment.

          I’ve seen Blake’s plans fail. I’ve seen Blake make big, quick decisions. The closest thing to a plan was the Duress/Execution arc, where methods and goals changed mid action for Blake.

          Wildbow does have the skills, though. Characters are interesting and intelligent.

          1. I would also say that change is the main motif behind Pact. Not only is Blake fighting to change the status quo of both in Jacob’s Bell (and to some extent, Toronto), we also see Blake hiimself change physically and mentally. We see changes happening even in the secondary characters, like Maggie Holt relinquishing her old name and adopting the name Mags. We see changes even on the character’s alliance. Finally, even R.D.T.’s speech from the interludes makes a lot of reference to change.

            1. The really fun parts are when something itself doesn’t change, but new information changes your own perspective of it.

  5. Once again, the power of Love and Friendship pull through! More practioners need to have friendship as the focus of their practice with Love as the power source.

    Can Evan be the official Pact mascot? He just continues to be great.

    This chapter read a lot better than the previous one IMO. Something about it feels smoother or clearer.

    1. seems fairly traditional: i curse you to [horrible fate here] unless true love(statistical impossibility but makes the spell easier/stronger if you add loopholes)

      of course you can use friendship to turn people into frogs, its magic

  6. So when did the Knights go from being afraid of the prospect of fighting Ur and the Hyena to being on a crusade to save a distant town from the threat of a Demon? Something doesn’t add up. Did Rose compell them to come with her Conquest voice?

    1. Is it so surprising to decide that, since you’ve lost so much, the least you can try to do is stop the bastard taking more from others? After all… if you try and succeed, you get revenge and nobody else gets things wiped like you did. Or near enough.

      1. Yes. Calling it now, these are actually fae pretending to be the Knights. The idea that something could possibly destroy them is exciting to them.

        1. I don’t think so. In Toronto, Padraic didn’t participate in Blake’s futile fight against Ur, and from my perspective, he did it out of fear.

          And in the first council meeting, Padraic stressed that he was worth more than humans because of his longer lifespan. I really don’t see him trying to die.

  7. Goddammit, Faysal. All you had to do was open a few portals. You’ve dumped an entire city into the Abyss, what’s a few motes and a summoner?

  8. So… Blake’s lost his humanity, his ability to feel feelings, his body, and not his memories. I’m not sure there’s much closer to rock bottom he can get. That said, I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong soon enough.

        1. At this point there won’t be anything period. There isn’t much left of Blake at all, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Evan and Green Eyes get given up at some point.

  9. Faysal is referring to the motes as the pests. His presence is going to allow Rose and co to renegotiate with the lawyers instead of a head on fight that they’re doing here.

  10. Typo train. Choo choo:

    “That’s now how this works!” not
    “regaining my footage” footing

    Nick still had a shot left:
    _”“Murr, I ask your-” Ms. Lewis tried once more, still lying on the ground.

    A gunshot rang out.

    One shot left.”_

    Unless I am reading something wrong, he didn’t use that last bullet between then and when he shook his head.

  11. Faysal you big mother fucker.

    I am not sure if he is trying to help the group. I am certain he doesn’t care about them. He might care about screwing with Ms. Lewis, which might have as a consequence helping our protagonists, but he did promise to not interfere. I of hope that he actually doesn’t plan to help them, I think it would be more interesting, but it makes sense as others have pointed out.

    I can’t get the idea of my head that Murr is a kitty. Murr purr purr. Meow?

    I must say, Rose was a total bad ass. Loved her line of always saving a bullet. And Ms. Lewis was super sassy with her retort about Rose having to save a bullet.

    As I mentioned above, unless I misread something, Nick still has a bullet. I don’t think he would be saving it for himself though, it wouldn’t fit with his speech about not running away from the demons.

    Do snipers actually use tranquilisers? Can’t find any references for that.

    Overall, I thought this was an amazing chapter.

  12. All I got from this was friendship is magic. But it looks like the Thornburn Voice can be empowered by people echoing it. Seems legit.

    Ms. Lewis is surprisingly fragile for the evil lawyer corp’s power level. I expected her to be able to take a bullet. I guess they let you keep your humanity to a pretty large degree? They don’t even take your soul forever. That seems like a really good package deal especially compared to eternal torment in Hell.

    I hope someone remembered to grab the Hyena. I recommend sticking it in Ms. Lewis’s heart on general principal.

    Since when was the witch hunter named Sarah? Did Andy and Eva combine into a super witch hunter? Cause that would suck. I mean they pretty much have to be one person cut into two by the Barber, so they should be able to recombine right? Two people who compliment each other perfectly and don’t have the spiritual connections that Practitioners see? Anyone else find it suspicious that the Barber cuts people into halves and half of Blake is missing? No way that just vanished into the void.

    So the supposed Order is based on kings and the Divine Right to Rule. The “Order” that demons tear down. Does that mean that the Founding Fathers were actually some sort of demon or diabolist group?

    1. Ms. Lewis is surprisingly fragile for the evil lawyer corp’s power level. I expected her to be able to take a bullet

      She took multiple bullets to the heart. Fortunately she has Deadpool disease and is not allowed to die.

      Since when was the witch hunter named Sarah?

      Sarah is one of the Knights. She helped during the Attack on Haeg

      1. Derp, that makes sense then. I really hope none of the people who got Barbered end up permanently merging back together. That would be sad.

        1. Interesting Idea for a character in the pactverse:
          A Woman, aged, but her hands and fingers swift. Her tools are needle and twine. She stitches, she mends, easing the scarring of the world.
          Her assets are angels and constructs of cloth. (Yeah, channeling Parian a bit here…)

          She could give it a go to mend someone barbered. But I doubt the result would be a whole person.
          Remember the offer Faysal made Blake once: He could nurture his self until he would be almost human again.
          “Almost” is key here I think.

            1. No, it was a reference to one of Wildbow’s other concepts, a high fantasy story he entitled “Peer.” (Another of those concepts, Boil, is set to be next in line after Pact) Haeg Mora was a character who died in the trial version of the story. Pity, because she seemed much more interesting than the whiny lump who happened to be our viewpoint character.

    2. It makes sense for the lawyers to take damage and injuries much like a human. They are supposed to blend in. If one gets run over on the way to the courthouse, or shot by a crazed defendant, they’d not want their cover blown.

  13. It occurs to me that instead of wasting bullets shooting someone who cannot die, Rose & Co. really should have just applied Blunt Force Trauma via rifle butt to jaw repeatedly.

    1. As noted, killing her, or damaging her enough to matter, would only have the effect of the Firm sending reinforcements.

  14. At the beginning of the chapter, I really feared you’d kill off Ms. Lewis just like that. I’m glad that didn’t end up happening. She’s one of my favorite characters in Pactverse.

    Rose was great in this chapter. She finally got to do something! On-screen, to boot! Ironically, that could only happen because Blake was currently so diminished that he couldn’t steal the show, again.

  15. Huh. Way back, during the war-with-Conquest arc, I suggested that Blake use Pauz as a demonic katamari on Conquest’s forces in the comments. I wonder if Wildbow read that comment, and used it as inspiration for Surbas? It certainly seems to fit the idea of “demonic katamari”, and it’s the same Choir as Pauz.

    1. It’s funny, actually. I wouldn’t have thought that to be a trait common to the choir. How does it reverse order, or have anything to do with “feral”? Of course, if it wasn’t then that’d raise the question of why Pauz had it in the first place…

      The feral choir takes a few pages from megaman’s playbook, apparently.

  16. Hi Wildbow, Did you ever think about having your own website up on hosting services like Go daddy? If its technology that’s stopping you then I can help you with that. I am a web developer. Naturally we would first get Worm up there, then Pact and later Twig. Let me know if you think you would want something like that. I just checked the hosting on GoDaddy it’s around 3.99$ a month. Let me know if you are interested.

    https://www.godaddy.com/hosting/web-hosting.aspx?ci=9009 the link for hosting information.

    1. Hey anudeep,

      I have pretty strong feelings about things like SOPA and CISPA, and the fact that GoDaddy supported SOPA pretty much takes them off the list for possible hosts. I might be willing to consider other options.

      I’ve debated options for setting up my own sites with something more stable, but there’s so little time to spare, with all the other stuff I have on my plate.

      1. I completely understand about the time management difficulties. If it ever becomes something you want to focus on more though, I’d be happy to provide free hosting with access for you and whomever you wanted to assist with the web development.

      2. I would also like to volunteer my help. I’m not a professional web developer, but I have experience in creating and managing my own website. I would be willing to set multiple wordpress websites for you, each one for a single web serial. They could all be hosted in the same hosting account, but have different domains pointing to each one.

        I would also be willing to partially contribute to the monetary costs of the websites. It would be my way to help you out by keeping your websites online, instead of joining patreon.

      3. Also, I dont know if this question was already asked, but do you have a facebook page or a twitter account? It could be useful to inform readers about chapter releases, to announce new webserials, etc.

        1. I will look into other hosting services that aren’t supporting SOPA and CISPA then. I really think you should have a website of your own. There are a bunch of people who will volunteer in here am sure. I know its always a good policy to depend on yourself for all the work you do but you can lean on us. After all what are fans for 🙂

          As I have said earlier, your works are in a league of their own. I would love to see them on a platform that’s yours or more under your control. Lets see if we can get something that is perfect for you to maintain without too much effort. I will keep in touch and will keep you posted if there is something that I find will suit your needs without depending on anyone.

    2. Personally I use http://www.siteground.com/ they’re -vastly- better than godaddy in my experience (just with things like customer service; seriously, I had an issue on Christmas Day and someone got back to me within like 20 minutes of me posting a ticket… I felt kinda bad, but what can you do? Anyhow, I’m not incredibly tech-savvy so I just use wordpress for the actual site (dabbling in css… badly)

  17. Motes. She’s summoning a team of motes instead of one big demon, so that Rose and crew can’t just defend against any one choir. She’s like an evil pokemon master or something, yikes.

    A question: since Ms. Lewis is with the Firm instead of just some lesser diabolist, what are the odds that the motes she summoned have a degree of loyalty to her? She even seems to treat them with some respect.

  18. I’m REALLY hoping faysal is being his “abstract”-ness to help the gang all along.
    Because having an angel team up with the FIRM OF DEMON-USERS is way more of a violation to his angelness than helping a demon in order to banish it.
    I mean really, he never considered the gang pests, did he? I thought he only betrayed them in order to get rid of the barber for good- which he did.
    What in the actual fuck faysal!?

    I wonder if she’s going to summon Urrs motes next….

    What happened to faysal’s brother who asked his help dealing with johannes?

    Please please please stop using your memories as fuel to talk to rose, blake. Make morse code or something next time!

    Are we going to see Pauz again?

      1. Well I don’t think any of these motes are from the choir of darkness

        Lol, underwear’s not clean because they feel fear, or because the human body defecates itself upon death?

    1. You raise a good point. Faysal was there specifically to put away the Barber and make sure whatever nonsense Johannes did couldn’t be replicated. Once both tasks were accomplished he left so the rest of the group could leave the Abyss. If he really wanted to get rid of them, he’d have stuck around and confounded their escape with excess routes that lead back in or something.

      We know angels can’t take demons in a fight, and we know Faysal’s choir is especially bad at direct combat. If he wanted to help, misdirection is really his only option, and it’s one he’s good at. He did keep that mote from breaking through their protections, so at the very least he didn’t want them to immediately die.

      Faysal might be an asshole who’s willing to sacrifice just about everything if it results in putting a demon away, but he’s an asshole with priorities. He wants to lock away demons, and he’ll do whatever he can to do it; the question is whether or not he can do it without tossing Team Rake in with them.

      Of course, this is entirely moot if he has in fact fallen. And there’s the other possibility that he masterminded absolutely everything up to this point, just so he could have the chance to seal away one of the Lawyers. I’m not sure which possibility is more terrifying.

      1. My hope is that by “get rid of these pests” he meant the motes, which, in my eyes, are WAY more likely to be considered “pests” to the angel rather than the humans who did not really thwart his plans, just caused them to change a little.

    1. Perhaps that is how Pact will end: Blake will become an incarnation of Charity and become the new Lord of Toronto, with Rose, Evan and Green Eyes by his side (maybe even with the High Priest).

  19. I find the narrative of these last two chapters quite interesting: the fact that Blake is a spirit inside Rose makes the narrative seem like it is being described in the 3rd person with Rose as the protagonist. It is only when Blake focus on Conquest or on the memory fragments that the reader is informed that Blake is still the protagonist and that the narrative is still described in the 1st person (i.e., from Blake’s POV instead of a detachted narrator similar to the interludes).

  20. The dog shook his head. “If anything, I’m willing to help, if you’ll agree to dispose of these pests.“

    This sounds pretty ambiguous to me.

  21. Guys, what do you think about making a Pact group chat? (and maybe a Worm one too?) I was thinking of Skype, but there may be other mediums. A neat place where us fans can discuss the plot, the characters, share fanart, silly stuff and jokes in a chat-way? I’d be very interessed in being part of something like that.

    1. An email group or forum would make more sense, but both have their downsides. Wildbow’s stated in the past that he likes the ephemerality of the comments pages, with every page standing in isolation, fading within a couple of updates.

      I’d be very sad if a Skype or other chat formed, because a lot of people wouldn’t be using it, and people who weren’t around at the time wouldn’t be using it, which means that the amount of shared zaniness would go down. Look at the TVTropes pages for Worm, and think to yourself what a shame it would be if all of the things from the comments never happened in a public space, but rather in private dialog?

      1. Oh, I never meant for people to stop posting their comments. I’ve been lurking around reading both Worm and Pact, never posting anything, and reading the comments was almost as good as reading the story itself. I consider them a rather important part of the reading… I just thought maybe having a chat group would be nice as well. I’m kind of shy, and chat groups make me feel a bit… uh.. safer in expressing my thoughts. I thought maybe some fans felt the same…

        1. Aw. Well, if it helps, I’m actually pretty much a teddy bear on the internet; on the gaming forum where I hang out, I’ve been referred to as “kawaii as fuck” and “one of the squishiest dorks to ever break a game so thoroughly they hotfixed it”.

          I’ve quite honestly never seen anyone be an asshole to someone else in the comments, except a little bit to Wildbow during the “trying out new stories” phase of things. We’re all united in what’s really important: shipping Blake/Green Eyes.

      1. Ellie was supposed to go after one of the witch-hunters rose left with them. Which was eva… but now rose is saying she met up with a Knight??

        The hell?

        1. After the Attack on Mara, the group split into 2. Group A stayed to take care of business. Group B we followed go to the house and then the Abyss. Sarah was a part of group A. Rose sent Ellie after a witch hunter. As I understand it, Rose wasn’t saying that Ellie had met up with Sarah. She brought up the possibility that Ellie met Sarah, who away from the group at this point, as leverage to order Evan around.

    1. I keep think that there’s something going on here. She’s only now being mentioned and barely get’s any lines.

      I think she’s either a fae, or for a crackier idea is Sandra under a glamour trying to do… something.

        1. She dropped off the map after the Duchamps disintegrated, but by Jerry’s word she apparently survived.

          Speaking personally, I wish her luck in… whatever it is she’s doing right now.

  22. Bit surprised that noone has commented yet that Murr, Surbas and (depending on pronunciation) Hauri all have the ‘Urr” sound in their names. Naph, who didn’t, is described as visibly different.

    Seems likely these are Urr’s three motes. The only thing I can’t reconcile is Surbas apparently being of the feral choir.

    It also suggests a link between LL&M and Urr, which is more than a little concerning…

  23. Jeez. All the stuff our heroes have fought, all the shit they’ve been through and survived, and this is the thing that feels like the end. Standing on a driveway to a wrecked house, huddling behind a diagram from three or four little baby demons while the big guns sit back and watch. It’s scary, but not nearly so much as it is frustrating– we’re not watching a car chase, we’re glaring at the ignition because the car won’t fucking start.
    It’s very appropriate, given that Blake’s key traits as a protagonist are the impulse to act rather than wait or plan and the will to risk or even abandon the future if it means surviving and safeguarding the present. He’s always been willing to grind away at his options for the chance at getting that one spark that lights the way forward, and now it looks like they’re all gone.

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