Histories (Arc 15)

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His hands closed into fists.  They were covered in so many unhealed cuts and scratches that the simple action was a shuddering one, his fingers and thumb twitching with the pain.

The lights in his apartment flickered.  The kitchen was clean, but far from tidy.  Bags were filled with trash he hadn’t been able or willing to take out.  Days spent active, nights spent reading, accumulating the garbage.  He couldn’t even begin to guess how many days there were until the garbage was next picked up.

“You told me to tell you if I saw it,” Fisher murmured.

The practitioner nodded.

“I belabor the obvious, but it’s sitting in your kitchen,” Fisher said, only his eyes peering out and above the top of the practitioner’s coat pocket.

The practitioner nodded once more.

He had a simple table in the corner of his kitchen, with room for two stools.  The table was piled with books, candles, and an ashtray piled high with ash.  Many cigarettes had been smoked down to the filters.  Many of the others had been loose tobacco and rolling papers, with no filters at all.  Smoked until they’d threatened to burn his lips.  He tended to smoke those when pacing, so he could spit them into the sink, to be swept up later.

A figure occupied one of the stools.  Manlike, but far from being a man.  He was clothed, and the clothes were nice, with a black sweater that had yet to fade from washing or wear, a lambskin jacket, and straight-leg jeans tucked into calf-length boots.  His eyes, eyebrows, nose, cheekbones and chin were each so very carefully constructed and shaped.  The figure’s white hair, curly, too long, only accented the appearance.

But his teeth, as he smiled, were oddly brutish.  Not inhuman, but not straight, angled so that they suggested sharpness, or the idea of fangs.  They were too large for how delicate his features were, and they were white.

The figure could have passed for one of the practitioner’s friends.  Probably had, already.  He looked like the sort that traveled in the same circle, where being in a failed band and recreational drug use were not uncommon.

But the smile, here, with the lights flickering, was just a little too white, too feral, suggesting teeth meant for tearing.  The smile caught the eye and held it.

Cause enough for fear.  Maybe even terror and panic.

But two things served to push matters well past fear and into the realms of despair.  For one thing, there was context.  Weeks of the hunt, the chase.

For another, there was the shadow.  Though it wore the shape of a man, the shadow it cast was a shadow of something far, far bigger.  Something that shouldn’t have fit into the apartment.

Fisher ducked lower into the practitioner’s pocket.

As the figure breathed, the shadow mimed the movement, swelling, deflating.  Spices in the spice rack, many cannibalized for hasty and haphazard rituals, moved in time with the breathing.  The shadow swelled, and it pushed out, past the confines that shadows should be limited to.  The spices were tilted, touching the metal bar of the rack, then left to return to a normal position.  Tilted again…

The figure reached out to sweep up the rolling papers and box of loose tobacco with one hand, and the shadow moved simultaneously, on the far side of the room.  Bags of trash were gutted, torn open.

The smell of the trash filled the room.  More musty than rotten.  Wet paper and cigarette ash, old coffee grounds.

But there was rot in there, too.  There were maggots, freed to spill out like grains of rice from a bag, crawling for the nearest spot of darkness.

The practitioner didn’t care.  Even if he somehow survived, he rationalized, he’d never be able to return here.

The idea was borne of the same sort of sentiment that made people uncomfortable with living where murders had happened.  He couldn’t imagine willingly coming back to a place where he knew this thing had been.

It busied itself, hands moving in a practiced way as it rolled up the cigarette.

It picked up a matchbook from beside one candle, folded the match around back behind the book, and scratched it against the strip, all with one hand.

It drew in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.

Without even thinking about it, the practitioner held his breath, as the smoke reached his way.

Not that it truly mattered.

The entire apartment, even parts behind him, in the hallway adjacent to the kitchen, was moving in response to the spirit.  The thing that wore the appearance of a man breathed, the shadow that revealed what was behind the mask also served to hint at the truth, and blinds, spice bottles, trash bags and more all moved in response.

As though the kitchen were alive, the flesh of a living thing, an extension of the figure.

Making the practitioner the man that had unwittingly entered the belly of the beast.

“Sit?” the man at the table asked.

The practitioner shook his head.

Sit,” the man at the table said, firmer.

Outside, something crashed.  A dog started barking violently.

“I prefer to die standing,” the practitioner said.

The man at the table took a long drag on his rolled cigarette.  “Did I suggest I care what you prefer?”

“No, but I’m going to fight for it if I have to.”

“To die on your feet?  All of the things you could fight for, things you could beg for or actions you could take, and you choose this.”

“Have to take a stand somewhere.”

“If you say so,” the figure said.

Where one ankle rested on his knee, the figure let his foot fall to the floor, toe pointed at the practitioner.

It was pain in the same way that a tsunami was water.  Pain had flavors, and in one moment, the practitioner tasted all kinds.  Sharp sorts of pain.  Broken, crushing, burning, and loud sorts of pain.  An agony that defied description.  He hit the ground, hard, and the feeling of his chin hitting the tile from a five foot, five inch height, without arms moving to break the fall?  Only a drop in the bucket.

And underlying it all was the idea that it was a wrong sort of pain.  That something wasn’t operating like the practitioner’s past thirty years of experience had told him it should.

While he became aware of the welling tide of blood, his hands fumbled for traction.

One hand touched his leg, which was closer to his shoulder than his knee.  The flesh beneath the pants leg was oddly cool, and the stump leaked an awful lot of blood.  More than he would have thought fit inside.

He tried to get his bearings, struggling to operate before the shock set in.  When he opened his mouth, however, all that came out were huffs of pain.

A tiny part of him wanted to believe that this was retribution.  That it was karma in the vernacular form, eye for an eye justice.  A whipping for the criminal.  But that part of him wasn’t satisfied.  He couldn’t feel it.  As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t bring himself to feel sorry.

The figure wasn’t even looking at him.  The end of the cigarette glowed orange as the body perched on the stool inhaled.  Smoke leaked out between large white teeth.

The practitioner moved his hand, and the numerous scratches and cuts made themselves known, though the sensation of pain was so far removed from what he experienced now that it felt almost alien.

The practitioner reached out, and he touched one finger to the blood.

He started to draw lines.

“No,” the figure at the table said, still not looking.

The practitioner stopped.  It wasn’t that the words had power, per se.  Only that he knew the actions were fruitless.  He was only undertaking them because the past several days had made it habit.  Already, he was so weak that a word was enough to stop him mid-action.

The man who was now sprawled on the floor, bleeding out, didn’t reply or move.  By some reflex, he gripped one of his dismembered legs, clawed from his body by the movement of a shadow too substantial to simply drape itself against the wall.  A white-knuckle grip, as if he physically clung to life.

The figure glanced down at the man on the floor.

The smile widened.

“Mann, Levin, Lewis,” the man on the floor said.

The smile faded.

“Mann, Lev- Levin, Lewis,” the man managed, once more.

The figure that was perched on the stool took another drag of the rolled cigarette.

“Mann, Levin, Lewis.”

The front door opened.  The man who let himself in, unlike the figure in the chair, did not look like he belonged, nor did he look like he had any association with the dying man that lay on a floor covered in blood and crawling maggots.  He was thin, handsome but for a scar at the corner of his lip, his hair carefully cut, and he wore a suit.

The shined black shoes stopped before crossing the threshold to the kitchen, normally meant to bridge the gap between hardwood and tile, a cross-piece of wood now served to block the ever-spreading filth.

“Good evening, Mr. Mahoun,” the lawyer said.

“Good evening, Mr. Mann,” the demon on the stool said.

“What is a noble of your stature doing here?”

“I was called,” the demon noble replied.

“By him?”

“By our acquaintance here, yes.”

“He overstepped.”

“If the greatest free diabolist in the field were to summon the least of my kind, it would be overstepping,” Mahoun said.

“In a relative sense, then, he overstepped.”

“Yes.  In a relative sense,” the demon agreed.

Mann hiked up the pants of his suit, freeing the fabric enough that he could bend down, sitting on his heels, to get a better view of the limp form.  “I know of him, the face is familiar, but I don’t truly know him.  What possessed him to try to summon you?”

“The greatest of sins.”

“Hm. What for?”

“He summoned lesser demons to amass a small fortune.  A friend of his tried to take the money.”

“Angry, and arrogant.  A story I’ve heard often enough.  Though to go to such an extreme, that’s unusual.”

“Extreme anger, extreme arrogance.  He was quick to realize what he’d done.”

“At which point it was too late to undo it.”

The demon smiled.  It lit the second rolled cigarette.

“I have some of my own, if you have a taste for those.  It helps to get clients to calm down.”

“This is fine,” Mahoun said, through teeth that bit hard on the cigarette.  He leaned over, looking at the fallen practitioner.  “You’re aware that he’s dying?”

“Yet not permitted to die.  We can leave him as he is for now.  I’m not in a particular rush.”

Mahoun shrugged, an easy, casual gesture.

Mann spoke, “I have to wonder… how?”

“That answer is more complicated,” the demon said.  “Greater agendas.”

“When I hear responses like that, I can’t help but think of the choir of unrest.”

Mahoun smiled.

“We make a practice of keeping tabs on active diabolists.  A number of new clients have been in possession of texts written by individuals who we don’t have tabs on.”

“I’m not of the choir of unrest, Mr. Mann,” the demon said.

“But you turn men, women and children into monsters, savage spree killers.  You work over days, weeks, months, and years to prey on diabolists and turn them into crazed killers with a bloodthirst.  Ones that are liberal in using their knowledge to do their deeds.  Or, failing that, you find practitioners, and make them into the sort of depraved individual that wouldn’t hesitate to practice diabolism.”

Mahoun’s expression didn’t change.

Mann continued, “It’s a similar pattern to members of the Choir of Unrest, writing tomes themselves, under the guise of being diabolists.  A hard thing to ignore, when new diabolists crop up every other month.  Or when we’re being asked to distribute books.”

“You’d almost think you had me in the wrong choir,” Mahoun said.

“Almost,” Mr. Mann replied.

The demon took another long pull on the cigarette.  The entire kitchen reacted, as if an invisible beast was within, pushing against every surface.  The shadows were darker than before.

“Don’t concern yourself with what I do,” Mahoun said, staring at Mann with pale eyes.  “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

The words had weight.  Even if the demon noble wasn’t bound, there was a certainty to the words that gave them power.

“None of my business,” Mann said.  If he was scared or intimidated, he didn’t betray it.  “He is.  Will this be a problem?”

Mahoun gave him a dismissive wave.  “The end result is the same.”

“I have your permission?”

“Yes.”

Mann turned, saw a long rug in the hallway, and stepped aside, gesturing.  It moved, sliding into the kitchen.  A bridge over blood and maggots.

A simple trick, but not an easy one.  To simply order spirits about required a longstanding relationship with those spirits, or something similar.  One could do it readily in a demesne they owned, building a familiarity with the spirits there, but to do it anywhere meant that one had to be recognizable anywhere.  The equivalent of being a household name or brand among humans.

He crossed until he stood over the limp body.  He grabbed the man’s jacket and forced him over onto his back.  He slapped the man in the face.

The practitioner stirred.

“You’re not dead.  Barring extraordinary luck on your part, you won’t get to die for a long, long time.  Either I get you, or Mahoun does.  The best thing you can do here is force yourself to pay attention.”

The name seemed to force a surge of adrenaline.  The man’s eyes opened wider, alarm touching every aspect of his features.

“There we go,” Mann said.  “Now.  You called me.  You only have my attention for thirty minutes total, and you spent several minutes wallowing in your suffering.  Do you have a request, or did you summon me for another purpose?”

The man looked at the demon, then the lawyer.  “Save me.

“You are well beyond saving,” Mann told the practitioner.

“Get me away from him.  I’ve seen what he does.  My brother, my mother, my kid cousin… he used them.”

“That’s the least of what he does,” Mann said.  He glanced up at the demon.  “He was going easy on you.  Likely aiming to gradually step up what he did, keep it up long enough that you’d eventually realize, it was always going to get worse.  Break you with terror of everything your future held in store for you.”

“No,” the practitioner said.  He shook his head.  “He went after them, he made them wrong, let them find my books.  They let other demons inside.  Accepted them.  Other people stopped being able to even see them.”

Mann sighed.  The demon noble only watched.

“You want away?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll join my firm.  You’ll assist other diabolists, in large part.”

“Okay.  Please.”

“You’ll do this for, if I had to guess, somewhere between five and six hundred years.  We’d hash out the specific numbers at a later point.”

“Five-”

“As I said, you won’t get to die for a long, long time.”

The practitioner screwed his eyes closed, bracing himself against a fresh wave of the pain, but adrenaline still kept him conscious enough.  It wouldn’t last forever.

“Before you answer,” Mann warned, “There’s another cost.  That which is yours is forfeit.”

“Have… nothing.”

“You have a familiar.”

The practitioner’s eyes went wide.

“It would become ours, to use or give away as we saw fit.”

Fisher creeped out of the practitioner’s pocket, no longer caring about blood or maggots.  In the body of a toad, he hopped forward.  He spoke, however, with a more cultured accent.  “No.  We have a partnership, I have a say.  No.”

“You have a say, but you do not have the final word.”

Fisher turned to the practitioner.  “No.  Just say no.”

“Yes,” the practitioner said.  “I agree.  Whatever the time involved.”

Fisher froze.  “No, please-”

“I agree,” the practitioner said, again.

“I’ll draft up the papers,” Mann said.  “For now, let’s get out of here.”

He seized the practitioner, one arm around the man’s armpits, and lifted him easily.

The familiar stared.

“Another time, then, Mahoun.”

“As you say, Mr. Mann,” the demon said.

The familiar gave chase, if only to escape the presence of the demon.

Mahoun was still sitting at the table when the front door closed behind the lawyer and his new employee.

“There is a difference,” Mann said, “Between the various tiers of demon.  Imps, least, lesser, moderate, all the way up the hierarchy.  The simplest way to mark the distinction is capability.”

The new employee nodded.  He was dressed in a fine suit, now, and he had legs again.

“Speech is one such thing.  It’s an inverse of men.  We’re speechless at birth, we gain the ability, with increasing faculties, then if we live long enough, the ability to speak gradually leaves us.  Imps can speak because they borrow from men, they sup from the collective unconscious, and they sup from victims.  Demons of the noble tier can speak because they are… broad.  If they’re neither and they can still communicate, they may well have something of man.  A token.”

The new employee nodded.  He was trying to listen.  He had a new lease on life, now.  They walked down the street, and despite the fact that they wore nicer clothes than the people they passed, nobody paid them a second mind.

“Keep these things in mind.  We can’t have you making a mistake while you work for us.  Certainly not a mistake like the summoning of Mahoun.”

“I’ll try.”

“You’ll learn quickly or you’ll die,” Mann said.  “Come.  On the good days, you’ll be an errand boy.  This is a good day.”

The new employee hurried to keep up.

“The primary work we do is to help write contracts, and to handle certain summonings or arrangements.  You’re not going to do either for the first few hundred years.  The goal is to achieve these things safely, with minimal risk.  You can’t do safe, not yet.”

“I learned my lesson.”

“In a few centuries, you should look back on today, and you’ll realize how very little you’ve learned.”

“Yes sir.”

Mann frowned.  “Don’t think I didn’t see that in your eyes.  You think I’m an asshole?”

“No, sir.”

“I have been around for a very long time.  I’m aware of much more than you might think.”

“Yes sir.”

Mann shook his head a little.  “As you do good work, you’ll have less in the way of good days, but more opportunity.  You don’t need to eat or sleep anymore, we removed that need.  You would be well advised to study.  If you were to get an opportunity, you wouldn’t want to squander it, because it may be decades before you got another chance.”

“When you say opportunity, sir?”

“Early exit,” a woman spoke up.

The woman wore a suit, though with a short dress rather than pants, and her blonde hair was in a ponytail, a lock draped over one eyebrow with a strategic sort of care.

“Early exit is one opportunity that you’re competing for,” Mann said.  “You may not need to indulge in normal eating and sleeping, but if you ever think you might want to slack off in your duties, keep in mind that we have a number of other employees who don’t need to indulge either, and many are hungrier to get out than you are.”

“You’ll find that hunger,” the blonde woman said.  “After enough bad days, you’ll find it.”

The new employee glanced over his shoulder.  “You heard-”

“I’ve heard others get the same speech more times than you’d like to think,” the woman said.  “I’ve even heard a number ask the question you just asked.”

“She leads the pack, in terms of the next employee to take a name and a position at the head of the firm,” Mann explained.  “Like myself.  You would do well to listen to her.”

“Yes sir,” he replied.

“Look after him,” Mann ordered.  “I have things to do.”

With that, he was gone.

The blonde woman gestured, and they fell in step, side by side, walking down the street.

“Scared?” the woman asked.

“Slightly?”

“If you’re not terrified, you haven’t realized what you’re in for,” the woman said.

“I have a sense of it.”

“You did this to get out of a bad situation?” she asked.

“Yeah.  Yes.”

“How bad?”

“Noble demon.”

“Which?”

“Mahoun.  Mr. Mann said it went easy on me, but it really didn’t.”

She nodded.  “It didn’t.”

“I-”

“It didn’t,” she said, placing a hand on his arm.

“Okay,” he said, frowning.

“You escaped a noble demon.  The worst sort of end.  Now that it’s too late for you to realize, I’m free to tell you, you’ve jumped from the frying pan to the fire.”

“The fire.”

“How long do you have?”

“Five hundred and seventy-some years.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I know.”

“Not much time at all.  You could have paid off that karmic debt in a lifetime.”

“Not if I died.”

She shook her head.  “I have a lot to teach you.  How many demonic nobles do you think you’ll run into in the next five hundred and seventy-ish years?”

His eyes went wide.  “What?”

“I’m asking you to guess.  Because you will be crossing paths with them.”

He couldn’t speak.  Horror had stolen his words.

“Well, stay quiet like that while we’re here, and you’ll be in good shape.”

They reached the gate.  The blonde woman opened it.  She led the way up the winding driveway.

An old woman was already standing on the porch.  Rose bushes grew across the property, and trees hung over the older house.  She looked so normal.

It sent his perceptions and expectations in the complete other direction from the horror he’d experienced prior.  He found his words slipping from his mouth.  “I- You told me to be quiet, but is she…”

“A diabolist?  Yes.  She’s a respected diabolist, in many circles,” the blonde woman said.  “We would very much like to recruit her.  If you were to cost us the chance, you could give up hope of ever having a good day with us again.  I’m sorry, I have to warn you, so you aren’t surprised.”

The woman on the porch suddenly seemed a hundred times more ominous.

“She has five lifetimes worth of karmic debt,” the blonde woman said, “To put things into perspective.”

“So, at five hundred and seventy-five years per…”

“More than that,” the woman said.  “Much, much more.  But she wouldn’t ever join us.  Too canny, to ever think it was a good deal, or to put herself in a situation where she would need to ask for the help.  With luck, however, we could reach out to her grandchildren.  Now hush.”

They’d reached the porch.

“New one,” the old woman said.

“I’m consistently surprised by how much attention you pay to us, for someone who is so set against joining,” the blonde woman said.

“No secret knowledge here,” the old woman said.  “He has that look about him.”

“He does.”

“Scared, but not scared enough.”

“I’m trying to go easy on him,” the blonde woman said.

“Oh?  That isn’t necessarily doing him a favor.”

It felt so strange to be talked about.

“Mann is going to send him into the deep end soon, I imagine.”

“I imagine,” the old woman agreed.  “Can I offer you two anything?”

“No thank you,” the blonde woman said.

“Come in.  You brought the book?”

The blonde woman produced a tome with a black leather cover, but no markings on the front or side.

“Good workmanship.  Would you place it in the library?  The door is open.”

“I’d have to bring him.”

“You would not,” the old woman sounded indignant.  “I intend to grill him for information while you’re gone.”

The newcomer opened his mouth, then closed it, a little surprised.

“I think that would be frowned upon.”

“It would,” the old woman said.  “But you’re going to let me do it all the same.  If I’m ever going to join-”

“Which you won’t.”

“Which I most likely won’t, I would do it with my eyes wide open, and all available information at my fingertips.  You’re going to do it because it means there is a chance.”

The blonde woman frowned.  “You have a few minutes.  I’ll take a moment to peruse your library, if I may?”

“Please do.”

The younger woman disappeared inside.

The old woman’s face took on a stern cast.  “You will not waste my time, understand?”

The newcomer blinked.  “Yes?”

“You’re going to tell me everything about the people you’re working for.  If you don’t, or if you don’t produce anything satisfactory, then I’m going to say you displeased me.  They’ll hear you out as to why, little will happen to me as a consequence, and you’ll be punished all the same.  These people you work for?  Their punishments are dire.  Understand?”

“I… think so.”

“In exchange, I’ll give you some advice.  It will go a long, long way toward making the next few centuries or thousands of years more tolerable.”

He nodded.

“Talk.”

“Um.  I don’t even know where to start.  That woman, she’s-”

“Soon to become one of the named members of the firm.  ‘Partner’, if you want to buy into the lawyer theme.  Describe her.”

“Describe- she’s nice?  Strict, but she’s helping me out.  It’s hard to see why she’s a diabolist.”

The old woman frowned.  “Ah.  I see.”

“She was saying I picked the wrong path.  I probably did, but I don’t see why.”

“You’ve condemned yourself to… how long?”

“Five hundred and seventy-ish years.”

“You should try to forget the number.  You won’t be able to, it’s one of the few things you have, now, but you should try.  Listen to me, I want you to pay attention, you stupid little man.  Whatever you were escaping?  You’ve condemned yourself to five hundred and seventy-ish more years of it.”

“I was escaping a demon noble,” he said.

“And you’ll see a number more before your time is up,” she said.  She sighed.  “You’re useless to me.  Everyone around me is useless.”

“Useless, ma’am?”

“You don’t know nearly enough.  That you even think that woman is anything resembling nice or good?  She’s about to become your absolute superior, second only to the powers they serve.  She didn’t get there by being kind or nice.  She didn’t do good things when she was a diabolist, before.”

“Neither did I.”

“It’s an entirely different scale,” the old woman said.  “I’ve never heard of you.  Contrast that to her… for history to reconcile the kinds of things she did, it might well have had to invent something akin to the Black Death, to sweep it all beneath the rug.”

“I don’t understand.  The Black Death?”

“Something like the Black Death.  I suspect she’s older.  She’s not insane, which means one thing.  She very likely enjoyed it.  Her politeness, the veneer on the surface, it’s a mask she’s trained herself to wear, for this role.  Don’t give her cause to remove it.”

He nodded, mute.

“I’ll tell them to send you my way again.  They’ll know why I’m doing it, in large part, that I want to dig for information, but they won’t care.  They’re too big, and I’m only one cog in the machine.  When we see one another again, you’re going to give me better information.”

He nodded.

“Now,” she said, “One of your next few tasks will be grim.  I know that they sent the last two to the apartments in Hamburg.  The place was taken by demons, a transfer of property, demesne, to demons.  The diabolist is still inside, and will be for a long time.  When you go, it will be bad.  It will continue to be bad, each time.  They want to use this place as a whip, the threat of it will make you work harder…”

Levin straightened his tie.  Several other junior partners and employees of the firm joined them.

Lewis was there, past the fence, at the border of the hole to the Abyss.

Looking past her, the practitioner could see the Thorburn girl from the mirror.  Looking inside her, at the mess of connections, he could see something rattling around inside.  Years with the firm had given him cause to learn to quickly identify possession with his Sight.

Barely even connected them to the old woman, he thought.  But here, standing where I did six years ago, so close to where I talked to the old lady, hard to shake it.

“Motes,” Levin said, just to his left.  The old man’s voice was gravelly.

“Looks like, sir,” the practitioner responded.

“Her sadism will be the end of her,” Levin said.  “She’s even holding them back.”

The words were reminiscent of the description of Mahoun.  Ramping up.

The collected group backed up a touch as they approached the scene.

“What a grotesque lot,” the sphinx spoke.

“Petty insults?” Levin asked.

“You seem poised for a war,” a woman spoke.  Her ring burned when viewed with the Sight.

“You seem to be under the impression that this will be anything but one sided,” Levin said.  “Lewis?  Please.  There are things to look after.”

Lewis nodded.

“Murr,” she said.  “Please.”

The skull-headed imp acted.

Figures stepped out of the shadows, one after another.

Each one provoked a reaction.

A man in white, carrying pistols.

“Malcolm,” the little girl of the group said.

A tall man, thirty-something.  It got a reaction from the Thorburns.

A man with a policeman’s jacket, square-jawed.

Others joined the ranks, one-by-one.  Four figures were utterly black, head to toe, without features.

“Tricks,” Rose Thorburn the younger said.

“No,” the one the child had called Malcolm said.  “I’m sorry.”

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137 thoughts on “Histories (Arc 15)

  1. Typo thread:

    Levinn’s name switches between Levin and Levinn. I believe it’s supposed to be Levinn, but don’t quote me on that.

  2. Fell and Laird are back? Hurrah?

    So Ms. Lewis is a sadist? I guess there’s a fine line between giving your enemies almost a chance to help them and giving your enemies almost a chance to revel in breaking them down.

    1. Oh c’mon it was pretty damn obvious, the moment someone from an Occult Law Firm seems sympathetic or nice, it’s obvious they’re EVIL and setting you up for something beyond gruesome.

    2. Nooo! Sadism in villains is a death flag. I’m fine with villains meeting grisly ends, but not if they lose in a Conquest-style manner, causing their own defeat.

      Please don’t make Ms. Lewis’ inevitable defeat be due to some petty human emotion she should have outgrown centuries ago.

        1. Molly was already on her way to minor godhood; IIRC the Sphinx is more powerful than Conquest was at his prime; she and Paige may have spent part of the time since the Ur desaster preparing against the Thorburns; the Sister is Lady of Toronto and may be able to extend her claim to Jacob’s Bell, which could give her powers similar to those Conquest displayed when altering the city with the help of the Eye. And then there’s Faysal, who may not have had any chance in a 1v1 against the Barber, but should at the very least be stronger than a mote.

          Blake was able to defeat a mote by himself, so the current situation doesn’t seem particularly hopeless yet. The problem is that the lawyers can bring as much force to bear as they need. Oh, and Murr’s apparitions will already lead to some issues…

      1. You know the nature of Others (including ancient practitioners like Mara) – they become distilled essence of themselves over time. No reason Ms Lewis should be exempt.

  3. It was interesting to learn about the lawyers, but this does seem to say that Ms. Lewis is much more of a one-dimensional character than I’d hoped to see.

    1. Yes, I’ve been interested in the lawyers since the beginning. Hope we get some idea what they really want. I find it hard to believe it’s some simple-minded “end of the world” kind of thing, that just doesn’t make much sense. Some of them are apparently -very- old, would they really be all about working to end existence? I’m not buying it. I also agree with you about Lewis, would be very disappointing.

      1. Some of them are apparently -very- old, would they really be all about working to end existence?

        If ending existence included ending your own punishment, would you consider it?

    2. I’d argue that throwing your old identity under the bus to save your skin and wind up going through many, many decades of mind rape is not conducive to well-rounded, healthy psychologies. The wearing of carefully constructed, 2D masks and becoming them to cope is likely to be a major survival tactic. 😐

    1. Levinn rose through the ranks awfully fast. I wonder if Grandma Rose helped him for her own reasons? Or if someone else did? It’s strange that Ms. Lewis, who was apparently such a big deal, took so long to reach that point; yet Levinn did it in only six years.

          1. But the “Unreliable Narrator” is applied consistently, so the practitioner never had a name.
            I found the last part about the figures emerging form the woods more confusing.

  4. Of course granny Rose had a mole in the Firm. Why wouldn’t she.

    Also what on earth did Murr just do? Laird? Fell? How did it get them? What kind of strange and horrible new power is this, and why was she holding it back as if it were somehow worse than the everything cancer?

    There are no happy answers to these questions.

    1. Laird had a splinter connected to The Factory/Urr in his corpse, Fell had generations and a lifetime of connection to C-word… How was this suppose to end well again? (-_-)

      1. What did Malcolm have to do with demons that would lead him there ? Conquest isn’t demonic, else Isadora would never accept it as leader.
        I don’t see it.

        Laird: stabbed w/ demonic woodpick
        Charles: used as offering to summon a demon
        Malcolm: ???

    2. WAG time, Murr is choir of madness and it pulled things that would deeply effect its enemies out of their psyches and is now going to beat them with them. The Knights get their missing members, Thorburns get the Tall Man, Fell for Miss Fell. Though it does kinda fall apart when the Astrologer, someone incredibly fixated on her teacher, didn’t get one.

    1. I read it as the consequence of what she did made Reality create the Black Death to reconcile the wounds dealt to it by her.

      1. I read it as she’d need to die a number of deaths equal to the victims of the black death, preferably of the plague, to balance the karmic burden. Though reality making the plague to cover what she did would be pretty hard core.

    2. Something like the Black Death, at least. Not the Black Death itself, but the same sort of scale would be required to explain it and conceal the truth of the matter.

        1. How could Charles be 30-something? He’s older than Blake’s father, so realistically he has to be around 45 at least. It’s probably Callan.

    3. Hm. My interpretation was that the scale of the devastation that she caused was so great that in order to explain it the history books would need to describe it as an event similar in magnitude to the Black Death.

      That is, there is some monstrous event or calamity in the history books which is actually just the cover up for what she did.

  5. Is Levin the practitioner? When he calls for the firm, he states Mann, Levin, Lewis. I don’t see how that would make sense if he had not yet joined.

    1. No. Practitioner doesn’t have a name yet. He gave up his identity when he became a partner.
      When he states “Mann, Levin, Lewis”, he’s just calling on the firm, the same way Rose and Blake did way back when.

      When Levin is seen fixing his tie, Unnamed Practitioner is there next to him.
      It’s confusing I know, but he isn’t Levin.

    2. No. It seems that the wording there makes things confusing, but the practitioner is still just “the practitioner”.

      Also, it might have made sense anyway: Mann, Levin, Lewis may be more like titles than actual names. When a member of the firm becomes a partner they may take one of the names, supplanting the previous owner. Lewis and the Blonde Woman may be the same person – unclear.

    3. they’re always called man lewis and levin and they are always three, but those three change as contracts end and underlings are promoted

  6. So who are all those people? Does it take dead? But why them? Is it for oath breaking of some form? Who is the 30ish year old? And the ones in black?

    1. Thorburn reactions…I’m betting this is Charles Thorburn, Rose’s firstborn who she used as bait for Barbatorem and who has been conspicuously absent from the story.

        1. Depends. He might have died young, with this shade retaining that youth. Although I don’t know why they’d remember him in that case.

      1. Strange,I do not get how Magneto belongs in this category,unlike the other 2 he is nice because he is well intentioned according to his justifications (at least according to some authors)not because he needs to be for his plan (Aizen)or he uses his justification as an excuse and needs to hide his face for his plan (Kirs)

        1. Well, Ms. Lewis gives off the impression of a lion (to me anyways). Proud, confident, and strong willed. She’s someone who lets her actions speak for her, but has no problem using her words when needed. She is practical, sharp-witted, and uses in her mind enough force to get the job done. She’s more of a force of nature, not exactly evil but destruction and death does follow.
          In that regard, she’s a bit like Aizen and Magneto.

          Both make great leaders and act with an air of dignity that makes you go “If you were a good guy, you’d be friggin amazing”, before realizing they are just one or two tweaks to their ideals away from actually being the good guys.

          I agree with your points about magneto, but Ms. Lewis seems similar (not nice, per say, but acts in helpful ways that can’t be automatically written off as lies or just acting for the sake of their plot).She can achieve a lot of the same things by being less friendly than she was at first. She could come off as a lot more ruthless in her first impressions and is smart enough (and powerful enough) to make it work to achieve the same things. But she said so herself that she really wishes things didn’t have to reach the level that they do. As someone who can’t lie, she would have preferred if things were tidier, if the thorburns gave up what they needed, the firm got what they wanted, and the world was worse off as little as possible.
          She even said to have liked who blake was as a person, on top of personally coming down to tell him that he’s stuck in the abyss.

          She isn’t evil for the sake of being evil, like most demons seem to be. She’s more like a natural disaster/lion with sentience. Magneto comes off as that in a lot of his interpretations.
          Aizen…. eh, him to a lesser degree. His way of viewing the world is much more similar to hers than magneto’s is.

          And kira…. Well, any similarities he has to her were only when he was acting. Who he was and how he thought don’t really seem to resemble Lewis. The plotting and scheming, and epic ability to plan- sure. But everything else? Eh, I’m not too convinced. I mean, yes, I see why someone would say that, but I just don’t feel he fits as well as the others. I wouldn’t even have considered Lewis as giving off a vibe similar to kira as a possibility if it wasn’t suggested in that earlier comment I replied to- never would have crossed my mind.

  7. “Four figures were utterly black, head to toe, without features.”
    I don’t get it. If they are utterly black without features, how is anyone recognizing them?
    Wouldn’t they just be faceless black beings with familiar clothing?

    Why did Fell’s niece apologize?

    Holy crap, unrest sounds a LOT worse than ruin and Darkness. I mean, writing their own books to trick people, controlling them, possessing them, and using them to summon even more? It’s like evil fae, which is saying A LOT.

    The only dead person I know that can cause a reaction from all the present thorburns is Callan. In which case- HOW THE FUCK did they get his soul????
    Also, Fuck Laird, still.

    1. Why did Fell’s niece apologize?

      That was Fell, not his niece. The wording was “the one the child had called Malcolm”.

    2. There’s the ones people recognize and also some others. And whatever’s up, I don’t think it’s soul theft even if it’s not exactly a trick. The Shepard is rather possessive.

    3. The Knights of the Basement, I think. Remember, they lost people they could no longer remember because of Ur. If the demon is using connections to make it seem like it has their souls, drawing from the sadness in their hearts at the losses they don’t know they have like Faysal did to find bits of Blake’s Self…. well, there you go.

            1. I thought you needed to be sworn to the Seal in order to be bound, as hauri or whatever it is, is, and how I assume Murr is as as well (being summoned and all)

  8. How old are Blake/Rose again? Part of me was thinking maybe the summoned other would be Rusty or whatever, to really shake them. But then I thought 30 was too old, but I could be wrong.

    1. 20 during the first part of the story. IIRC they had a birthday either during the Toronto war or during the time Blake was discovering himself in the abyss.

  9. How could RDT so be so confident about Ms. Lewis’ past identity when lawyers completely discard their identities upon entering the firm? Presumably, Ms. Lewis herself doesn’t know about her past, so how could anyone else?

    And I don’t (want to) buy the sadism angle, if only because of Ms. Lewis visiting Blake in the Drains. She didn’t even have to heed his summons – he wasn’t a proper Thorburn anymore etc -, and did it purely out of courtesy.

    And because, as I mentioned above, sadism is a death flag, and if Ms. Lewis has to be defeated, I really really really don’t want to see it happen for such a stupid reason.


    And I also don’t want to believe it because to me, RDT has lost all credibility several times over. Throughout the story, I thought RDT may have done things for the greater good, but her plan was horrible and her actions utterly disproportionate to what ended up happening. At this point, I’m almost convinced she would have done less harm by joining the firm and forfeiting the Thorburn property to the lawyers.

    I mean, consider what happened instead: the Thorburn library is in the Abyss, Jacob’s Bell is ruined, the Duchamps are ruined, the Behaims are powerless, Johannes (who could have made a real positive difference in the world) was sacrificed to demonic possession, a major demon is in the Abyss (and there’s no guarantee he’ll remain captive – Ur is weaker and his power was almost equal to that of a forgotten god), and now the lawyers sent a gazillion demons anyway.

    A final point: We don’t know why RDT had grandchildren in the first place, instead of ending her line in her generation. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her hands were forced on that point.
    But look at how the Thorburn debt to the lawyers was actually resolved: by dropping the house into the Abyss. RDT should have done that herself, instead of using this ridiculously convoluted plan.

    1. Barbie isn’t major. Just in the middle. Ur is bottom rung demon. Pauz is a mote, not even on the radar.

      Seriously, we haven’t seen any kind of serious high-level demonic action. We’re pretty much as ignorant of the horrors they can enact as the practitioner depicted here.

      1. Ur was assumed to be a minor demon, because at the time they didn’t know it was bound and couldn’t come up with another reason anyone would survive it (without the correct protections, which the Knights didn’t have). In the Histories chapter Isadora notes that it is far vaster than she thought, and after escaping the Drains Blake only refers to it as a moderate demon, not a minor one. Thus it’s in the same tier as Barbatorem. Your right he haven’t seen any major demons yet, though. We might not ever, simply because there would be no way for the protagonists to survive the radiation, much less the demon itself.

    2. They discard their identities, their names, not their past.

      Also, joining the firm is ALWAYS worse for the person in question. It’s better to face a noble demon than to join the firm.

      P.S. What happened to the practitioner is similar to what happened to Maggie Holt. Made a stupid deal because of ignorance. He WOULD have been better off without calling the lawyers.

        1. What worth is a name without a past to give the attached identity context? Think about what Blake and Rose have been going through trying to deal with who has what proportion of which bits and what each has been missing to see that in action. 😐

        2. Remember Mags as Scarfgirl? She lost her name and large parts of her identity. She didn’t lose any memories though, nor were any of her past actions unmade.

          1. There’s a difference, though: Mags’ name and identity were stolen, not destroyed. That’s also why she was later able to reclaim parts of it from Padraic, or at least stop him from claiming any more, with her adapted demesne ritual.

            I’d assume recruitment by the lawyers would have rather more… permanent effects. Think of the Barber: A third of Blake’s and Rose’s former identity was lost irrevocably, and more was lost when Blake passed on his memories of his human friends to Rose.

            1. I’m not so sure their names and identities were destroyed. Given the fate of the practitioner’s familiar, (“Ours to use or give away as we wish”) it’s quite possible the firm can redistribute those things as well, perhaps gifting particularly worthy motes with them so that they may go about causing havoc in the guise of known human beings.

        3. The way I think of it is like Agent J from Men in Black. He is no one to the world, but he still remembers what he has done.

          As far as how RDT can figure out who Ms. Lewis is, she can probably piece together scraps of information. A stray clue there, a mention in a book elsewhere, and few dozens of thousands of people dying here, a plague over there. It’s not as though their actions disappeared, and a small scrub practitioner isn’t going to become leader of the company.

          1. small scrub practitioner isn’t going to become leader of the company.

            then again couldn’t having never heard of them potentially be a mark of a highly skilled practitioner/diabolist? seems like you’d hear about people on a scale like that mostly through collateral

            1. A good diabolist who’s name was never heard of wouldn’t join the firm. If their name was never known, wouldn’t that mean that their karma was good enough that the universe didn’t conspire to eliminate them? Therefore, a diabolist would only join the firm when their karma was so bad that it seemed like a good option. Someone who could lay low wouldn’t even join the firm.

    3. In defense of Granny: She is a horrible person, but most of the things you pin on her would have happened either way, or you are looking at them with hindsight bias.

      You are complaining that the house ended in the Abyss, then you are suggesting RDT should have dropped the house in the Abyss. And she most likely couldn’t. It was an angel who did it, and who planned it. Besides, the Thorburns are still filled to the brim of karmic debt and there is no reason to believe that the contract signed with the lawyers isn’t still valid.

      The Thorburn library and demon ending in the Abyss was, anyway Faysal’s plan and would have most likely happened one way or another. Johannes being sacrificed was Faysal’s plan, not RDT’s. Duchamps, Behaims and Johannes would all have lost a great deal of power in the ensuing war for lordship, but how much they’d have lost is arguable.

      Finally, giving all of her property to the lawyers, including the bounded Barbie, is probably worse than letting all that stuff free in the Abyss. The Abyss does not have the same goals as the lawyers, and whatever the demonic lawyers can do is worse for everyone than anything the Abyss can do. So maybe a couple of boogeymen learn some diabolist tricks and yet another demon is free to roam around the world, but at least new diabolists won’t be created and there won’t be a new, incredibly powerful and smart diabolist in the ranks of the evil demon company.

  10. Hmm… That line ends up a bit weird:

    “You’ll learn quickly or you’ll die,”

    Dying (and escaping from the centuries of demonic servitude) sounds like a cheap escape route.
    Shouldn’t Mann threaten him with pain or suffering instead of death ?

    1. Something tells me that dying on the job is not a step up… Not when you’re dealing with some of the things they’re dealing with. At best, it’s probably a step sideways. 😛

  11. I don’t understand why joining the firm should be worse than becoming the plaything of a greater demon. In the first case you face many horrible things during the next few centuries for reasons that ultimately spread the Wrong. But you still stay functional and you still get to communicate with people and you are not in constant pain or going completely insane. And you even have tangible goals to look forward to.

    Judging from what we’ve seen even minor demons being able to do to a person I don’t see how becoming the plaything of a noble demon for who knows how long (even if it is shorter than a century).

    I mean one is a horrible and immoral job with no free time ever and the other is I Must Scream. I’d always chose the former.

    1. I guess the job involves a lot of I Must Scream. Sure, what we’ve seen on-screen is mostly the nice part, but when you’re called because a Noble Demon is bored and wants to torture someone for a week, well…
      And the week after that, you are tasked with making it so some innocents end up being tortured by the same demon, and you still do it because you can’t bear the thought of that horrible torture being applied to you for even one more second, and then you can hardly live with yourself, and so on…

      1. I think part of the problem is that everything we’ve been shown of the firm is relatively nice. We’ve seen them mostly interact with the Thorburns and with each other; even if they keep saying “it’s a fate worse than death, fool!”, it’s hard to really accept that when we actually saw the fate that he was suffering before he joined.

        On top of that, we see him six years later, and… he doesn’t seem that broken up. I mean, compared to where I’d expect him to be after six years in Mahoun’s care? No comparison.

        I also agree that no matter how terrible his service is, the knowledge that it will end eventually makes a huge difference. Part of what made Mahoun’s torture so terrible was the knowledge that it would get worse forever; no matter what the firm does to him, he knows that he can escape in the end.

        (It’s not clear what happens when your term of service ends — do you just die? Do you get to leave and stay alive, resuming normal aging?)

  12. So what I’m wondering is, why did the demon chop off his legs? Clearly it had some other agenda it was already pursuing that was much more subtle and crushing than a home visit…
    Was it planning on crippling him and then continuing on? Had he actually managed to become a nuisance?

    Also: it appears the top lawyers are in the thousands-of-years-old range. When did they come from, I wonder… Also, where do they go when they leave?
    More importantly, how did somebody set up this firm in the first place?

    1. At first I wondered how the firm would’ve been founded, but it was probably the result of a deal between diabolists and a demon noble.

      1. Presumably, between the original Mann, Levinn, and Lewis and the demon Beelzebub. Assuming of course that the “Mr. Beasley” that Darth Granny mentioned in her letter to the damned is in fact him.

        1. Except we saw Mr. Beasley in the very first chapter.

          an Indian man in an immaculate suit.

          Which is odd, given the whole, no lawyer has an identity anymore except Mann, Levin, and Lewis, thing, that was established later.

    2. That’s the really terrible part. Mahoun didn’t come there to chop his legs off. Mahoun chopped his legs off because he refused to SIT.

  13. Does the last part of this interlude happens right after the conclusion of chapter 15.7 ? Also, I am a bit confused: when Rose and the others encountered Ms Lewis in the last chapters, Levin and the firm imployees were never referenced. Are they out of sight except for Lewis?

    1. Yeah, the last part happens right after the previous chapter. And they were out of sight, and then approached, as expressed by this line “The collected group backed up a touch as they [Levin and the Practitioner] approached the scene.”

  14. Here Rose has 5 life times of karmic debt but in “damages 2.4” the lawyers says that Blake has seven lifetimes with of debt.

    We know Rose needed to borrow considerable power to do whatever she did to enact her plan. It looks like it might have been worth two lifetimes of debt. I wonder if that was just the cost of splitting Blake/Rose exactly how she wanted or how else she spent the power.

    1. Blake’s actions seem to have burned quite a chunk of that debt off. The Abyss might have convinced him that all he did before Urr messed him up was pointless… But, that little nugget of info strongly suggests it was actually being a little creative with the facts. 😐

      1. No, Rose Senior had five lifetimes six years previously, so two got accumulated in that timespan. Setting this up was apparently expensive.

  15. Haven’t properly commented yet, oh no!

    Uhm. Fell. No… :< Wait, I know. The power of love can cure Fell! Right?

    I have a little theory as to the shapes / people who have appeared. I think that they are possibly those that the Thorburn group and allies have lost or killed in their battles. They have been brought back to torment them.

    And here is a scary thought which I haven't seen mentioned before. The Black Lamb book (not sure if that's the right name) put diabolism in a rather nice light. Diabolism helps humanity because it keeps demons in place. Diabolists are the only ones who dare deal with the scary monsters no one else approaches. And I totally bought into it. I am sure many did.

    I think it is very likely that the aforementioned book was written by demons of Unrest in order to recruit more diabolists. This also fits with the words Mara said (I'm paraphrasing) about diabolists' help being a false blessing. And that's not good.

    I'm so stoked for the next arc!

        1. Black Lamb’s Blood was written from a perspective that implied a male author (judging from the Gathered Pages), but the author was described as “she” when the lawyers brought up the book in conversation in a later chapter.

            1. 4.01, the lawyers’ chauffeur: “Your grandmother knew the author and was quite fond of her.”

              4.x, the text of Black Lamb’s Blood: “I was… doing the thing seventeen-year old boys … do when locked in the bathroom.”

            2. @Landis

              Oh, you didn’t have to look that up for me, but thank you very much! That’s a very nice catch. Heh, maybe the author is gender fluid? xP Or it’s a gender fluid demon :3

  16. sighs another Generic Psychopath hiding under a Verneer of normality the Firm cant really be as powerful as everyone in-universe Believes if that’s how low their Standards are.

    1. I’d like to believe Ms. Lewis has fooled everyone into believing she’s secretly a sadist while actually working to undermine the firm in whatever limited capacity she can…

      On the other hand, all lawyers are recruited former diabolists, so that’s a mark against anyone in the firm.

    2. They keep each other in line. Think of the Imperial Court of Orlais, or King’s Landing, except the emperor/king is a demon. Paraphrase of a relevant DAI line: “[The Firm] is selfish. But that ambition you decry breeds its own strength… Those who rule never fear treachery from the rest of the world. They have already faced far worse.”

    3. I’m… not exactly sure how Ms Lewis being a psychopath would indicate that the firm is less powerful? It certainly doesn’t appear to have been at all detrimental to her doing an effective job.

  17. Check: Is the woman visiting Rose along with our nameless diabolist Ms. Lewis, or someone else? Other commenters are speaking as if she is Lewis. When our practitioner summons the lawyers, he names Lewis as one of them, i.e. she is already a partner at that time; wheras Mann speaks of the woman visiting Rose as the probable next partner, making her someone else.

    1. “When our practitioner summons the lawyers, he names Lewis as one of them, i.e. she is already a partner at that time”
      No, not necessarily. As I understand it, only the top three lawyers have names. If they need to be replaced for whatever reason, their replacement receives their name.
      (And, as we’ve seen with the spirit shenanigans one of them performed, they also receive the clout of the name.)

      So the blond nameless practitioner eventually became Ms. Lewis.

      What I’m less certain about is why Ms. Lewis is supposed to have been that past named diabolist, given that lawyers lose their names upon joining the firm etc.

    2. It’s not certain, but I think at the time she was visiting RDT, she was the next Ms. Lewis. Earlier descriptions of the firm imply that it’s always Mann, Levin, and Lewis, but they aren’t always the same people.

  18. I expected Possession to be the end of Pact, but apparently not. And apparently we’re getting an excellent look at MLL.

  19. Let’s count the ways this arc’s title was a pun!
    The Abyss successfully claimed possession of Hillglade House, several practitioners, and the Barber. It also tried to complete its possession of Blake, and got a claim on possessing Rose. Rose is possessed by Blake and Conquest. To help her, Blake sacrificed possession of several memories. The lawyers wanted possession of the house, or failing that the Thorburn heir, but nobody else wants them to have that possession. Finally, Rose and Allister claimed possession of Jacob’s Bell, but gave it away. I’m leaving out the Histories chapter, anyone else want to find important acts of possession there?

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