Judgment 16.3

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“I’ll be honest,” Mags said, “I’m not the sort of ambassador or whatever that’s going to be super formal or do everything right.  Let me get out in front of everything and make it clear that I mean no offense, and, really honestly, what’s going on outside looks like the sort of thing that makes us want to get past the talking and get to doing.”

Rose couldn’t help but notice that there were a few nodding heads from among the Junior Council.  Mags might not have been the type to manage a diplomatic arrangement with a Faerie noble, but she could speak to the younger, more human demographic.

“Do we need to do any introductions?” Mags asked.  “Gut feeling, personal preference, there’s a few new faces.  Do we need to know who is present and what they’re capable of?”

“I think that would be a good idea,” Sandra said.  “I know and have met virtually everyone in this room, barring a few sitting at the edges or back of the room, but teamwork will be important, moving forward.”

“Uh, right.  Good.  That’s Sandra Duchamp, for those who don’t know.  She was leader of the Duchamp family, before she recused herself.  Most of you know her, as she said.  The rest of you Duchamps, please stand?”

The gathered Duchamps, in two or three separate groups split up over four rows, rose from their seats.

“Enchantresses.  In their number, they have a scattered assortment of practitioners of a bunch of different types…”

“Not nearly as many as we had, before incidents earlier in the night,” Sandra said.

She glanced at Rose, and Rose felt Blake stir.

Rose maintained her composure.  Chin up, eyes turned forward.

“Behaims,” Mags said, pausing while they rose and turned to face other members of the church.  Rose looked up at Alister as he stood.  Mags added, “Chronomancers, led by Alister.”

Alister raised a hand, remaining standing for a moment as others returned to their seats.

“Two of three major powers,” Mags said.  “Johannes isn’t here, and according to Sandra, that’s because he’s dead?”

“Worse than dead,” Alister said.  “He’s possessed.  The most powerful practitioner in Jacob’s Bell, along with his gatekeeper familiar, is now under the control of a demon.”

“Okay,” Mags said.  “That’s bad.”

She seemed momentarily at a loss for words.

“Uh,” she said, floundering a bit.  “We’ll get back to that in a second.  Other players.  Briar Girl, off to the side there.  Local hermit and nature mage.  We have the local assortment of monsters, both native and visiting, toward the back right corner there…”

“Eat spunk!” one goblin shouted, as heads turned its way.  A larger goblin reached between its legs and hauled it off the back of a pew.

“The two witch hunters who keep them in line and serve the council are Andy and Eva,” Mags said, gesturing to the pair, who were sitting in their customary positions, at the far left of the stage.

“Absent are Crone Mara, recently removed from power, and our local Faerie-in-exile, plural, who seem to want to keep their heads down.  Unfortunately.  Moving on to Toronto…” Mags said.

Skipping me? Rose wondered.

Was it because she wasn’t considered an ally, but an extension of the problem?

“I’m afraid I don’t know you.  If you could introduce yourselves, that would help,” Mags said.

“I believe we’ve met,” the Elder Sister said.

Mags shook her head.

Having been skipped in the order of things, Rose was reluctant to jump into the conversation.  It might have been easier to do if she could draw more on Conquest, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to lean on that connection so soon after Fell had eroded part of that connection.  Where drawing on Conquest before might have been as easy as drawing in a breath, it didn’t feel quite so natural now.

She didn’t want to test that and be wrong.  Not when it might affect her, or it might affect Conquest.  Too many people in attendance had relationships of some sort to Conquest, and might react badly to a sudden broadcast of Conquest’s presence.

He could stay where he was, largely dormant, even if it meant she didn’t have nearly as much power to draw on.

It was the sphinx who jumped to the rescue.  “The girl many of us were acquainted with was one of the local Faerie, as I understand it.  Wearing this one’s face.”

“Ah.  Yeah,” Mags said.

“My name is Isadora, and Paige, sitting over there, is with me.  She is a tool for me to express some of my power with.”

Rose could see that Paige had been put on the spot.  Her cousin hurried to stand and present herself.

Even as Peter whispered, “Even she knows you’re a tool.

Still smiling, looking proper, Paige managed a short, sharp kick at Peter’s shin.

He bit his tongue to avoid crying out in pain.

Rose privately wished one of the two had been able and willing to ignore the other.

“While everyone is looking this way, I am Jeremy Meath, High Priest of Dionysus.  My god’s favor is limited, tonight, largely spent.  I still hope to find a resolution.”

The introductions continued.

“I am the Elder Sister, Lord of Toronto.  You should know who I am.  These three women are elementalists in my employ.  This is the Eye of the Storm, a moderate elemental.”

“Emily Attwell, illusionist.  I’m part of the Toronto council for my own protection, as my father didn’t make many friends.”

“Diana.  Astrologer.  I don’t have a lot to bring to the table, but more because it’s fixated in Toronto.  I brought three arrangements, and a fourth to recharge another.  I’ve already used two.”

“I’m Nick, of the Knights of the Basement.  With the Elder Sister’s permission, we joined this conflict over the Lordship, as Rose Thorburn was very convincing in her explanation of how the city might be swallowed up by darker powers.  We’re novices, better with guns than with practice, though we prefer weapons and armor augmented with practice.”

“I’m the Queen’s Man,” another said.  “I’m well out of my depth.  I serve a spirit of patriotism for a place that isn’t here, my responsibilities lie more with gathering knowledge so others might deal with Others, but this isn’t a realm I can contribute anything to.  Not demons, never demons.”

Rose hadn’t paid much attention to the man, and it seemed it was for a reason.  He didn’t have much presence or power.

“If nothing else,” Mags said, “You’ve helped me launch into the next part of our discussion.  Rose?  Thorburns, allies of Rose?  Could you present yourselves?”

Oh, she skipped me so she could leave me until last.

She put more thought into this than I gave her credit for.

Rose stood from the pew.  Alister held her hand, giving it a squeeze before letting go.

The stares were so hostile, Rose realized.  They were scared and that fear sought someone to blame.

But, in the midst of that, there was something gratifying in having so many people stand with her.

At the very beginning of this, she’d been so alone.  Even if the memories were spotty, heavily and badly edited, she could connect the dots, and she knew the feelings of loneliness back in the beginning were real.

Even when she’d had Blake there, when she’d worked alongside him, she’d been entirely isolated.  Only a surprise kiss from Padraic had broken that seclusion.  If there was anything else, it had disappeared along with her memories of Blake.

Now, she could see, that Paige was standing with her.  Tiff had her back, while Ty wasn’t here.  She’d seen him come in, which meant he had to be lying down somewhere, hopefully bandaged or healed by some practice.

She felt bad that she hadn’t focused on him more.  Too distracted, too tired.

But Peter was standing with her, and Roxanne was too.  Christoff, Evan…

They shuffled a bit as they returned to their seats.  Rose was left standing.

“Am I wrong, or do you know the most about what’s going on?” Mags asked.

“I think I do,” Rose said.

Mags took a step to stage-right, away from the Altar, and away from Rose.

Rose took that as her invitation to approach.

She’d invited these people here to force them into a conflict.  All well and good when they had to decide between fighting the enemy and fighting her, but the enemy wasn’t here.

Blake moved around inside her, touching on different things.  It felt weaker than before, though no less uncomfortable.

This is the culmination of everything I’ve studied.  All of grandmother’s work.  A failure here would be devastating.

“Mags just introduced us.  Let me introduce them.  They are members of one of several groups that exist around the world, dedicated to diabolism.  They call themselves lawyers, and they sort of are in the activities they focus on, but that’s only theme.  There are others.  In each case, they’ve traded away their selves and souls to escape the consequences of their actions.  They wanted me to do the same.  In an abstract way, it speeds things along.  Gives more power to their side.”

The room was impossible to read, in expression and body language.  She had to dig for some context to figure out how to address them, and she dug for the academic.  Just as she’d needed to fine-tune every assignment to the tastes and moods of her teachers, she did it here.  They wanted answers, to know what they were up against.

Blake had given her the information, she only needed to convey it.

“As a group, they’re strong, but not so strong they truly want to go head to head against Toronto or other major groups.  Or they weren’t, until they got Johannes and the gatekeeper, Faysal.  They have monstrous power at their disposal, but they’re not inclined to use it.  They help others use it, and I think they work with demons to do it, but the dynamic there is too complex to get into, and I’d be making less educated guesses and statements than I’m making now.”

Rose thought of Ornias.  The offer Ms. Lewis had made only made sense if the firm had been in direct communication with demons.  Ornias might well have promised great power at a minimal price, if only the firm helped establish first contact with a new diabolist and gave him access to the world.

Every set of eyes and ears was on her.

“As individuals,” Rose continued, “They’re people who sold out humanity, in ways many accused me of doing.  They want to finish with their deal and their loss of self and there’s a fucked up pyramid scheme where they can shave years off their sentences by sentencing others.

“In life, most were depraved, dangerous types.  The sort we all fear when we think of diabolists.  They could end this almost easily, but they’d destroy themselves to do it, and they won’t do that.  I believe they’re motivated by a desire to keep their group operating, and I think that if they fail to meet expectations, the power that makes their group possible is going to revoke its favor, and them with it.  Self preservation is going to come to a head with the need to keep their positions secure.  Our problem is that they already have the means of doing that.”

“Johannes,” Mags said.

“Johannes,” Rose agreed.  “And through him, they have Faysal.  The Barber that possesses Johannes has a physical form while he’s inside the body.  We don’t need to worry about his abstract nature.  We do need to worry that he can penetrate most barriers and protections.  Even here.  Alister Behaim knew some measures, but they won’t work while the Barber has a body.  It can rewrite reality with its shears, an object possessed in an entirely different sense, and it can carve a person or Other in two, giving each half the traits it wants.  It has all of this, it has Faysal, who can carry it anywhere, it has Johannes’ Demesne, and it has, I’m very concerned, the ability to crown itself Lord and seize Jacob’s Bell.”

Oh, so many of them had known individual elements, but so very few had heard the whole story.  Only Alister and Tiff were really equipped to know, and Tiff might well have been ignorant of the implications of possession.  Even Blake had been in the dark about parts.

She could feel his agitation.  He wanted to act.  She suppressed it.

“They are our enemies.  In the broader sense, we are fighting against the end of all things.  Not everything, now, but everything here, soon enough.  If they get what they want, they will take everything we are, everything we hold dear, and they will defile or destroy it all in the worst ways.”

There were murmurs.  Paranoid looks at the shadows.

Leaders in individual groups were trying to reassure, or organize.  Some people were standing from their seats, unwilling to sit and listen much longer.

Rose glanced at Mags, hoping for a call to order.

“I can’t,” Mags said, then said, “My dads.”

Not refusing to call things to order, but hesitating at the call to arms?

Was that part of it?  Why they were falling into disorder?  Behaims and Duchamps, maybe, who wanted to go find their family or friends who had stayed back rather than come to the meeting?

All in all, a disaster.

Rose had meant it as a rallying cry, a call to battle in the sense that, if they didn’t fight, all was lost.  Because it was.

But, she realized, Conquest still had an influence on her, as did her lack of social flexibility.  If she needed to intimidate, to be arrogant, or be formal, she could.  She’d been made to.  Yet in trying to raise them up, she’d ground them down instead.  In trying to give them vital information they could use, she’d outlined too much too fast.  She’d destroyed their morale.

She’d forgotten how much one person could fear for their loved ones.  She’d felt so little of that fear herself.

I’m too cold.

She wished she could call on Conquest here.  Even knowing it would sit badly with the Toronto practitioners and Others, it would give her the ability to seize control here.

Blake shifted, the movement too acute to be anything but a response to the thought.

She didn’t trust it.  Even as spooked and out of her depth as she was, ill-equipped to organize an outright war, she still trusted herself more than she trusted the incarnation’s power.

Rose swallowed hard.  Speaking as if they weren’t actively breaking ranks, she spoke out, “Listen!  My grandmother studied this enemy!”

That got attention.  People did listen.  Some.

Isadora opened her wings wide.  More heads turned that way.

But the sphinx was merely stretching.  She sat her leonine hind end on the church floor, beside the pews, and squared her shoulders, attention on Rose.

Thank you, Isadora.

“My grandmother studied this enemy.  She noted a great deal of what I described to you.  She studied demons and the way this world is put together.  Trying to find an out, a loophole.”

“Did she find it?” Isadora asked, calm.

Rose felt Blake provide something.  She gripped the sides of the altar, head bowed, as the ideas settled into place.

“You can answer the question without fear,” Isadora said.  “I can suppress instinct, tonight.”

“She found a way out for my family, kind of,” Rose said.  “She studied karma, and she decided to use a demon to break the family line.  If all had gone according to plan, the line of diabolists and the karmic responsibility would have ended with me.”

The words were hollow, coming out of her own mouth.  Not easy words to say.

“Our enemy here put safeguards in place, trying to set things up so the title of Thorburn diabolist passed from one of us to the next, but I was intended to outlast the others.  I was made from the cut of the demon’s shears.  My counterpart was made to die, and I was made to last.  Until all the other Thorburns were dead, the lawyer’s safeguards having no living cousins to default to, with childbirth being largely impossible on my part.”

She stared out at the others.

“If I hadn’t, the family was positioned to self destruct.  Each heir worse than the last, armed with a demon while residents of this town were equipped with a means of turning that demon back on them.”

Ellie and Roxanne stared back at her.

“Everything was planned, and I don’t know the entirety of her plans.  I do suspect that she had Laird help manipulate Jacob’s Bell into helping those plans along.  Putting pressure on us.  Being actively hostile.  Positioning everyone else as enemies.  Setting individuals in her own camp so they’re engineered to fail.  All to mask what she was doing right under the lawyers’ noses.”

Molly.  Even Blake.

“What I’m saying is this: they can be outplayed.  They can be beat. If we play our cards right.  The kink in the workings, one that the plan couldn’t account for, was Johannes, and it was FaysalFaysal was too Other to grasp the plan or the implications, just like the group was too big and focused on the whole of their work to see what one old woman was scheming.”

Even as she talked, she was getting something of an idea.

“I think,” Rose said, “And I welcome any other ideas, but this is one… I think Faysal and Johannes are still kinks.  Still the key to bringing down their power structure here.  I won’t deny that they’re terrifying, or that stakes are high.  But they’re unsteady.  They’re likely just as scared as we are, if not more.  Even if they don’t show it.”

She raised a hand to adjust her collar, and her hand trembled, visibly enough that people in the back row could have seen it.

Idiot, she admonished herself.  Damn itCan’t show weakness here.

And don’t you try and tell me to relax by shoving a memory into my head, it’ll do more harm than good, she thought, pushing the idea at Blake.

There was no response.

“They’re unstable, and we know exactly where we need to hit them.  We know their weakness – their scope is too broad.  They’re too big to see the small picture.  The bulk of their weapons are so devastating they’ll only use them as a last resort.  They want us scared and stupid.  They show off the power and knowledge they have readily and easily, theatrically, to mask their weaknesses and make themselves out to be more than they are.  But if my grandmother had won, they might well have suffered a telling blow, or collapsed entirely.  If we win, we can destroy them, utterly and completely.  We just have to win smart.”

She let the silence hang.

Together,” she said.

This time, the silence was less strategic.  She waited, uncomfortable.

A bead of sweat ran down to the small of her back, as if to mark the passage of every long second that passed.  Cold against warm skin, dancing along her skin, touching minute droplets of moisture and tiny pale hairs, almost imperceptible to the eye, each touch provoking it to halt for a moment or changing direction.

She could see how tired so many of these people were, especially the locals.  The night had been endless, the wars in Jacob’s Bell and Toronto both had cut far too close to home for everyone present.

Nobody was speaking up to voice their support.  Even from her own camp, though she suspected there was a strategic reason for it.  If one of them backed her up, it would change the tone of things.  The others would have room to argue.

But, Rose realized, nobody wanted to argue to say that this was a bad idea, because they could get shouted down.

The atmosphere suggested that the next to speak would lose the argument.

One voice broke the silence.

“Penis!” a small goblin cried out.  “Peeeenissssssss!  Penispenispenis-”

One of the other Others at the back gave him a solid smack.

It did something, however, to ease the pressure.

“Well,” the Elder Sister said.  “I knew your grandmother.  I’m of the impression the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Rose was silent.  There was nothing she could say here that would position her better.

Turning it on me.  I can’t say I’m surprised, Rose thought.

“What you’ve done here, bringing us here to suit your greater strategy, it seems very similar to what your grandmother did with her own grandchildren.”

“In a sense,” Rose said.  “Is that really the concern here?”

“Isn’t it?” the Elder Sister asked.  “Your grandmother deceived you, and you admit she provided only a portion of the information.  She used some of you as sacrificial pawns.  If she made you to fulfill a role, and if it isn’t a coincidence that you’re as similar to her as you are, why shouldn’t we assume you’re not just as deceptive?  The type to provide only a share of the information needed, on a need-to-know basis?”

Rose felt Blake move, and it was an uncomfortable movement.  Close to the skin, touching the ribs.  Agitated, upset.

There was no good answer to that.  The Elder Sister wasn’t wrong.

“You’ve given us good information.  I understand you’ve worked hard to move away from the path that was laid out for you, and I believe you think you’re working to good ends.  But, all that said, you very recently called us out for not recognizing those demon-made vestiges for what they were.  You.  A demon-made thing.

Rose was still.  Too scared to even tremble.

“You, a creation of a demon, brought us into this.  You’ve turned a bad situation into a worse one.  We’re dealing with powers so vast that they simply consume all they touch, and all you’ve done is add more wood for the fire.”

An all-out offensive, then.

“What would you have done?”

“What we have done,” the Elder Sister said.  “Left it be.  Minimize the damage.”

“As you did with Ur, the demon in the oil factory?”

“Yes.  As we did with the demon there.  As we will continue to do.”

“Even if people get consumed?  Stumble into the factory and get eaten?”

“We have more wards up than before.  Very few will slip past.  Are you going to tell me that your method was better?  How did that turn out?  I can’t quite remember.

Rose grit her teeth.  She drew in a breath, and the Elder Sister spoke before she got a chance to give a response.

“We did the same with the Hyena.  We sealed it away to languish in obscurity until an opportunity to deal with the problem presented itself.”

Evan took flight.

“No!”  Evan said, loud.  “That is a bad, bad answer!”

“Evan!” Mags said.  “Let’s not-”

“You jerks,” Evan said.  “I thought it was Conquest who ordered it, but you’re okay with that idea!?  What’s wrong with you!?  You let me die!”

“-Agitate things,” Mags said, trailing off.  “Enough!”

The order didn’t help.

Mags suddenly stepped closer to Rose, who backed away a step at the movement.

The ambassador reached beneath the altar, picked up a length of pipe with a strap attached, then aimed it at the ceiling.

She jerked the pipe, and it fired off, a sudden, explosive sound.

Plaster and bits of wood rained from one spot at the side of the church.

“Order,” Mags said, calmly.  “Evan, little man, come here.”

“But-”

“Here.”

Evan winged his way over to Mags, who put him on one shoulder.

“Elder Sister?” Mags said.  “Do I have that title right?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want?  What course of action do we take, right here and right now?”

“We minimize the damage,” the Elder Sister said.  “The sorcerer has a powerful demesne.  It’s a grievous loss for humanity as a whole, but I would approach the opposing forces and try to negotiate a resolution.  They don’t want this conflict, nobody but the Thorburn Diabolist has committed to it, and we can try to secure a total or partial release of everyone else here, along with a promise that the demon stay within the demesne.  We seal it within, we evacuate and condemn Jacob’s Bell so there is no town for the demon to claim Lordship over, and settle it at that.”

“And everything goes back to the way it was, with them winning just a little,” Rose spoke.  Her voice was soft, but the church was quiet enough to let the words carry.  Acoustics helped.

“Any option you propose, including an attack, the Elder Sister said, “Is going to see them winning a great deal more.  Even if you win, we collectively lose, because we’re simply feeding more of reality to the metaphorical flames, as soldiers in an ongoing war.”

Fear was going to win, in the end.  Fear drove individuals like the Astrologer to nod her head at the Elder Sister’s words.

Fear made the sphinx want to avoid this conflict altogether.  A rare creature who put great value on her own ageless life.

“Okay,” Mags said.  “Okay.  That’s one side.  Rose, what do you want?”

What did she want to do?

A heavy, heady question.  One Rose had already answered, in abstract.  Take out Johannes, hit the lawyers where it hurt.

But in terms of battle plans?

“I want to invite Ms. Lewis or one of the other lawyers inside,” Rose said.  “She’s not stupid.  She knows what we want, and she’ll hit us right there.  She’ll offer you exactly what you asked for.  Escape.  Freedom.  Concession.  But if you want to know what I want?  I want her to ask, and I want her to hear a no.”

“You want us to fight in a war no sane individual would take part in,” the Elder Sister said.  “One with permanent consequences, reaching well beyond simple life and afterlife.  A dozen or two dozen lives lost, a few more pieces of reality carved away, permanent damage to creation.  All to gamble that you can keep them from taking the sorcerer and demesne.”

Rose nodded.  “Damn straight.

“Then why don’t we see?” the Elder Sister asked.  “Both of our plans start at the same place.  We talk to the enemy.”

“You want to talk to her, let her make her proposal, and see what people decide?”

“I know what I’ve decided,” the Elder Sister said, offering a small smile.  “If the others want to decide one way or the other when the time comes, then that’s up to them.”

Talk to the lawyer, let her offer a way out, then see who went with.

“I don’t think that’s the way to go,” Mags said.  “Um.  Does anyone have another plan?  Suggestions?”

There were a few exchanged glances and murmurs.

Nobody voiced any reply at all.

“Actually,” Rose said, meeting the Elder Sister’s eyes.  “It might be.”

The Elder Sister raised her eyebrows, genuinely surprised.

“Two concessions,” Rose said.

Concessions?  You brought us here, why should we concede anything?”

Mags stepped forward, “Wait.  Let’s hear them first.  If we disagree after the fact, we can talk that out.”

“Fine.”

“First off, this is all or nothing.  Either everyone that can retreats, and I work with those who stay to try and kill Johannes and keep them from gaining power, or we all fight, and you help to create an opening for a strike.  Going halfway doesn’t achieve a thing.”

Rose frowned, then continued, “I know you’ve made a decision, but I’m worried you’re making that decision for others.  Conquest showed that’s very easy to do.  You have influence, given where you stand.”

“Ironic, coming from you.  At the head of the room, Conquest’s power visible to anyone who looks.”

Rose shrugged.  She didn’t trust her hands enough to make any other gesture.  “We let everyone present decide on their own, if and when the question gets asked.  You don’t get that ball rolling, you can’t be the first one to accept.”

“The goblins too,” Mags said.  “They don’t count, they can’t count.  If you little bastards fuck around here, I will hunt you down, I will bind you, and I will make you wish a demon had gotten you.”

“Fuck you!”

“You know I’ll follow through!” Mags said.

There wasn’t another shouted epithet, which Rose took as assent.

Rose nodded slowly.  That’s one problem out of the way.

“That’s a heavy concession,” the Elder Sister said.

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “Because if you don’t make it, if you just take the offer right away, you automatically win.  We all know it.  One person leaves and we’re weaker.  More people leave, and the ball gets rolling.  But that’s not a meaningful result.”

“What’s meaningful about your result?”

“That’s the second concession I want,” Rose said.

“The second?”

“Just… let me explain.  People are scared.  Let me… try to make sense of it all.”

“To convince them?”

“Not directly.  I’ve already made my argument, you’ve made yours.  I just… like I said, my grandmother studied how things work.”

The Elder Sister spread her arms.  “I reserve the right to stop you.”

Rose nodded.

She drew in a deep breath, and sighed.

“According to my grandmother, the demons already won, a long, long time ago.  They devoured the vast majority of the universe, and that’s why the planets are so relatively small, compared to the sheer amount of nothingness.  It’s why we’re so very tiny, in the grand scheme of it all.  But these things we erroneously call angels surged in strength, they spun out a complete universe from the scraps, and on select scraps, or on a select scrap, they prepared life to emerge.”

Rose glanced out over the room.

“It would be easy to say that the universe is an unending repetition of creation and death.  That this has happened before and it’ll happen again, and this is the heartbeat of the universe.  But in looking at the history of this world, both the clear history and the one behind the curtain, something stands out.  Us.

“We’re another force.  And we’re only still emerging.  We’re change.  We’re an equal to them.  We just don’t realize it yet.  All the Others took our faces and our personalities, or fragments of them, and Faysal’s kind and the demons did the same.  We’ve evolved so quickly in so short a time.  Faysal saw it in Johannes, as he tried to change the system with his new way of dealing with Others.  He tried to harness that.  Now the lawyers are doing the same.”

She let the words hang.

She could have explained, could have elaborated, but that would have violated the deal.  Would have verged too close to an outright attempt to sway the others to her side.

We’re capable of change.  Will you embrace that, or hand that power over to them?

“Does anyone have anything to add?” Mags asked.

There were murmurs.  A question was asked, but Rose could barely hear it.  About protecting others, one way or the other.  Some Behaims and Duchamps had family, tucked in their beds.

“Do what you think is right,” Mags said.

“Okay, that’s settled,” the Elder Sister said.  “How do we invite her in?”

Rose’s throat was dry.

“We just say her name.  Ms. Lewis.  To Ms. Lewis alone, we give permission to enter, for peaceful negotiation.”

The door opened.

Blood pounded in Rose’s ears.  Blake was writhing, anxious, restless, eager to act if he needed to act.  Maybe if he didn’t.

She couldn’t even hear Ms. Lewis’ footsteps, or the initial words the lawyer spoke.  A greeting.

She could process the words that Mags asked, see lips moving, just as she’d anticipated.  She knew what they were saying, but she couldn’t wrap her head around it.

“…would like to offer an out, to those uninvolved parties,” Ms. Lewis said.

The silence that followed was louder than any tolling bell.

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144 thoughts on “Judgment 16.3

  1. And where are the Faerie in all of this? Danger or not, this has to be the most action they’ve seen in a long time, so they would be drawn to it like moths to a flame. So, my bet is they are here impersonating other people.

    Now there are some Others I wouldn’t mind seeing fed to demons.

    1. From what we saw earlier with Isadora and Madraic, immortal/long-lived Others tend to get the hell away whenever demons are involved.

      Action packed sure, but way too much risk. The fact that Padraic schemed his way into an open conflict against a Lord but didn’t even stay on the sidelines when Blake went against Ur shows his priorities.

  2. This stuff about the demons are the most evil thing evar!!

    To be honest, do any of these idiots even know anything bout thermodynamics, how no matter what you cant get everything back in energy, how the universe will decay itself demons not needed, every time we use a machine we make it come closer and such.

    1. Demons have the capacity to completely obliterate matter and energy, in direct violation of conservation laws. They also move further up the threat list because practitioners and Others seem to be able to violate thermodynamics and angels apparently can create matter and energy.

      1. The abyss also completely breaks it by creating a bunch of matter to make the library bigger, it seems practitioners make a lot of stuff from nothing which again violated thermodynamics

        1. I thought it ported similar places it already had over. Those would have fallen in normally; still not creating matter and violating thermodynamics.

          1. Yes, the Abyss’s purpose seems to be to break things down and distribute their energy and substance elsewhere, a relatively positive force of entropy and change (compared to, say, demons). In this case it just moved that primordial unformed energy and matter elsewhere within itself, to shape the Library.

    2. It seems likely to me that in the context of Pact, the slow heat death of the universe is the demons at work. Slowly wearing away, spreading out the things that are so far apart and so cold that they wear away to nothing. Until all is a meaningless uniform nothing.

          1. The article description isn’t necessarily right 🙂
            As for the question, I guess it would only to make both realities emptier somehow.

    3. how do you know that the second law of thermodinamics isnt a demon of the abstract choir?
      its has been stablished that the laws of phisics work largely because we have an entire civilization that keeps it working, but an universe that has such a things as the abyss is clearly not a universe actually run by science

      1. “its has been stablished that the laws of phisics work largely because we have an entire civilization that keeps it working” when was that i don’t remember that…..

          1. I believe what he’s saying is “when was that stated in-canon, I don’t remember reading that” – because neither do I.

    4. How do you know that the big reason for thermodynamics being as they are isn’t a big demon maw at the edge of the universe?

    5. Our thermodynamics are probably the only way the universe could stabilise itself after the initial Feast that left it so empty.

      1. The laws of physics get revised as we gain better understanding of the universe. Finding out that their are horrifying demons trying to eat everything kinda counts as a pretty big discovery, and thus greatly alters the laws of physics.

  3. Heh. The Goblins were funny. They really relieved the tension.

    I find Rose’s exposition intriguing. She seems to believe the lawyers to be much smaller andnweakef than we were (I was) led to believe.

    Nee Sama had some good points. I’d advice to go with her plan if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t trust the lawyers.

    1. I think it isn’t so much that they’re smaller and weaker than we’ve been led to believe, but that we’ve been thinking of their motivations and actions like they’re demons and not practitioners. They’ve got lots of power on tap, just like Rose and Blake had when the library was intact, but they’re actually on the hook for paying the price of using it and so they don’t.

    2. Yeah… they seem an awful lot less omnipotent when you consider that they’re probably working for someone and not actually running the whole show themselves. Now they seem less like the big bad guys and more like the enablers of other big bad guys. Still a huge problem, but wiping them out wouldn’t necessarily solve all the problems so other, more immediate threats would normally take priority over them. Except there aren’t currently any other threats, unless they suddenly stop backing possessed Johannes and puppet Faysal.

      1. Taking the Lawyers out is actually very useful in the long run. For one thing it lessens the hold the Demons have on the world, and lessens their ability to draw in new diabolists.

        1. I think Rose is talking about discrediting the lawyers, convincing their demonic superiors that this whole ‘utilize the worst diabolists’ scheme isn’t worth it. Handing the lawyers a decisive defeat at the hands of what is basically a ragtag bunch of misfits should be enough to convince the demons to pull the plug. At which point no more tempting with propaganda, no easy way out that encourages recklessness, no slowly giving the demons more footholds in the world. Well, at least not due to the lawyers.

  4. What ever happened to Mr. Beasley? He was mentioned in 1.3 as an ally that could serve as an advisor but was never heard or seen from. Could he be the key to turning the tide of this conflict?

    1. What if Mr. Beasley is that one diabolist practitioner who summoned the noble Mahoun? He’s the one grandma Rose “planted” into the firm.
      Mentioned in 1.3, described in 15.x, yay.

    2. He wasn’t mentioned as someone who could be trusted. He was just someone who was involved in administering the lawyers’ interests in the succession. He would be willing to do some things, but would extract a price, same as any of the other lawyers.

      1. He was mentioned as Blake/Rose’s sole ally. They were instructed to go to him specifically for guidance when making big decisions.

        Rose/Blake have dealt with the demonic law firm (consisting of a bunch of literally nameless people and 3 partners who do have names), but haven’t reached out to Mr. Beasely.

        I’m just curious about this thread that seams to be sticking out but not pulled.

  5. Is it me or does being a practitioner kill off all empathy in the humans, just box away the demon let it be someone else problem.

      1. I’m thinking no, or people would be doing it. I would guess that inflicting sufficient damage to a demon would force it to withdraw back into the Warp to wherever they are when not summoned, or disperse it for a while until it reformed while poisoning the area like fallout’s nastier big brother.

        Totally destroying one would be within the purview of the Choir of Darkness and thus rather rare.

        1. I wonder if it’d be possible to force one to stop being a demon, though; if, when it was still bound by the Thorburns, one of them had ordered it to turn its shears on itself to carve away all the malice and desire to harm things it possessed – to carve away the portions of it that make a demon, while leaving any portions of itself it might have used to become an angel, I wonder what would have happened.

          Because, when you think about it, the Barber’s powers could certainly be used as a force for good, if it cut clean and true, to allow it to cut away the bad parts of things to allow the good to flourish, to allow it to cut someone in twain to create a pairing that would work together to bring about growth and change rather than inevitable conflict and death.

          1. I think you would get a very minor benevolent spirit that is pretty screwed up and a slightly weaker but much more horrifying demon that isn’t bound anymore by stuff like the Seal of Solomon or other restrictions of convention. Then the latter rips apart the former and then you’re screwed.

            1. Not everything the Barber cuts goes into one of the two pieces. Some of it’s simply gone, as Blake saw when he looked at the memories he had of his human friends. If you had the Barber cut itself apart to make itself into an angel, you’d order it to destroy as much of its demon-nature as it can when it cuts, in order to make the non-Angel part of the Butcher as weak as it can be (and in any case, the Angel-part would get its hax shears).

          2. Except the other part still exists.

            Also, I think that cutting into something that brings growth is against it’s nature. And by that I mean he’s unable to do things that way, not just unwilling.

            1. It’s a Demon of Ruin – and how could you Ruin a Demon worse than by turning it into an Angel? 😉

        2. There’s destroy in the sense of taking the component matter and energy of something, and straight up making them not exist anymore, like the choir of Darkness does, then their is destroy in the sense of altering something so much that it can no longer be considerered what it was. So if a demon gets hit by something that makes whatever a demon is made of stop being a demon, and say turn into something like non demonic butterflies and rainbows, we could call the demon destroyed.

      2. I’m sure it is. As far as I can tell, there aren’t really any absolutes in the Pactverse. Any power can be countered by a superior power (eg. the Hyenas anti-healing can be countered by a much stronger healing, Ur’s connecting breaking can be protected against or stopped by sufficiently strong and knowledgeable beings, the abyss’s powers can be temporarily negated by the act of a god, ect). Now, that isn’t to say that anyone we have seen is capable of such an act, but I’m sure that out there their is a weapon or a demon or a god that can kill even greater demons permanently.

        Now, since it isn’t really being done, I assume its nearly impossible, or simply not worth the cost, but I have little doubt that its possible, in the same way its possible to permanently kill a boogeyman or a soul (except obviously much harder for any demon past mote).

      3. Johannes’ plan was to dump Barbatorem in front of a bunch of gods (in the Abyss) and have Faysal use their power and support to permanently kill the demon. Whether this was actually possible is up for debate, as Faysal was misleading his ‘master’ and had no plans to directly confront the Barber, as he wasn’t a fighter and had already made a deal with the demon.

    1. I think it’s more a matter of pragmatism. There’s basically no hope for Jacob’s Bell and the battle’s unwinnable. It makes sense to try to limit the damage and survive instead of foolishly charging into conflict. If they charge, they basically are imitating Blake, and we know how well that turned out.

      1. The big problem with negotiating like this is that the Lawyers still have Faysal and his power to move things from any given place to any other place with disconcerting alacrity. That is a problem which most definitely needs to be dealt with, and soon.

        1. No need to involve a crime. I simply consider my life and in this scenario, fate, far more valuable than the lives and fate of people I don’t know. I’m sure that most people inside the chapel feel that way, and I would dare claim most people would feel that way.

          It’s not a question of empathy or lack thereof. Thinking that way does not mean I am incapable of caring for my fellow human. It’s a question of self-preservation.

          1. But they seem to not even care in situations where they could win easily like with the hyena surely the practitioners could have overpowered them easily.

            1. Ah, well. That’s a pretty good point. Still, it doesn’t mean practitioners lack empathy. It’s common for people to not try to take responsibility, and rather hope for other people to solve a problem, even if they very well could. The bystander effect comes to mind even if it doesn’t apply to this.

              It IS very, very shitty that the Lord of Toronto does not take responsibility for that, given that it’s part of a Lord’s duties. But it still seems to me like a very human thing to do.

            2. Basically, what I imagine a practitioner (or me, at least) would say: “why do I have to do this? I’m no hero; I didn’t sign myself up to be a hero. And if I capture the Hyena, then what? I’m not going to try to capture or destroy all the countless monsters. They WILL keep coming (thanks to the Abyss). I have my own problems and life to deal with. If someone wants to destroy the Hyena, they are more than welcome to do so”. It’s not the most sound of arguments, but I wouldn’t fault this person for being bad or apathetic.

              It’d be neat if there were some sort of practitioner police or task force, though. But I think the density of practitioners is too low for that.

          2. Um, I dont follow. My understanding of the bystander effect is that it is an example of human beings not being as empathetic as we like to think we are, and being ok with doing something that goes against countless others’ desires for self-preservation in order to fulfill your own desire for self-preservation is one of the most strikingly un-empathetic or anti-empathetic actions that you could possibly take.

            One could surely say that these people are doing things that are very common for humans to do. However, saying that does not stop me from also saying that the ‘common for humans to do’ things that these people are doing are some of the more sad, disgusting, and irrational parts of humanity.

            1. The bystander effect isn’t about taking adverse action at all, or necessarily self-preservation at all. When it comes down to it, it’s diffusion of responsibility. When there’s only one person there, someone should do something translates into I should do something. If there’s a bunch of people, they can each believe that someone should do something without taking the responsibility upon themselves. It’s not because individuals who notice bad things are especially heroic, or because groups are sad or disgusting. It’s just a fact that people feel less specific responsibility to act if others are also capable of acting.

    2. To be fair to the Elder Sister, there’s no way she could’ve known Urr was ready and preparing to reproduce. It’s not like she’s a diabolist or anything, so she can’t be expected to be well versed in demon physiology (or the lack thereof). Her “fix” for the Hyena was good enough in that the Hyena admittedly would’ve been a whole lot more dangerous if it had access to anything other than humans and a few stray faeries, and it was already dangerous enough to where it could’ve stood a chance against all of the Sisters with a bit of luck. But sealing a demon appears to be the standard method for disposing of them, so she at least got that right.

      The real problem is that she doesn’t think it’s really possible to beat the Lawyers in a fight, so she doesn’t want to risk any lives attempting it. And on that note, Ms. Lewis already demonstrated that even killing them doesn’t count as a temporary solution so much as “slightly postponing a horrible death by demon spawn”. If you told me you were trying to beat an enemy that you tried to stall by, and I can’t emphasize this enough, shooting it through the heart each time it got back up so you could buy yourself just enough time to erect a hastily-made defense to hopefully protect yourself from an unspecified number of infinitely variable fates worse than death, and the defense you came up with had to omit certain possibilities by the necessity of its design, I’d kill myself before you could even try to convince me that it might be a good idea. Because death would be the best possible outcome in that situation if the plan failed.

      But that doesn’t mean I agree with her, I can just get where she’s coming from is all. Elder Sister doesn’t seem to realize that the problems she’s trying to sweep under rugs are the sorts of problems that just get worse and worse until you’re finally forced to confront them, and by then it’s far too late. And the karma gain from actually killing or defeating a demon has to be, like, exponentially greater than anything we’ve seen yet.

      1. It seems they ignore the part where demons just keep getting stronger over time, i mean they left urr to rot and it gets stronger, i mean how did the crone get stronbgr, she was left alone and got to repeat her feedback loop over and over, so either you deal with a mote now or let it get stronger and get a urr.

        1. If you keep giving up inches, eventually you’ll find you’ve lost miles. They don’t realize just how dangerous a threat demons, and the lawyers actually are. They think that this is something they can just stuff away and pretend it won’t get out. But demons aren’t stupid. Leave them alone, even if trapped and they will get stronger. Even a relitevely minor monster like the Hyena got Evan, and who knows how many more victims. Urr is EATING the Abyss and getting ready to spawn, and just has to wait for the building to collapse. So it’s not trapped and bound, it’s nesting. At some point they are going to wake up and realize that the demons have gradually got them surrounded.

          1. They don’t realize just how dangerous a threat demons, and the lawyers actually are.

            I’d argue that it is because the group has an idea of how dangerous demons are that they want to keep their distance. It’s pretty reasonable, too. Very few people know how even to defend themselves and most that do learn fail or become part of the problem. It makes absolute sense to distance oneself from a toxic problem that can’t actually be overcome with what’s at hand.

            (Most) Practitioners aren’t Super Heroes with the responsibility to protect the world. Some are like Ty and Fell’s niece who were brought in by others and now have to practice to survive. Others, like the Elder Sister, do take advantage of their abilities, but still work to help in a smaller scale.

            It is unreasonable to expect humans who specialize in things like illusions (novice), fire (small scale from what we’ve seen) and information gathering in Europe to voluntarily face off against beings who distort and destroy the very universe, beings that can make centuries of enslavement seem like a more merciful option than facing them. To expect otherwise is to expect them to make unneeded sacrifices and bring more pain to those that love them.

            1. Let me rephrase that. It’s more like they don’t realize how insidious the demons and lawyers are being. They’ve gotten everyone thinking it is utterly futile to fight them and best to avoid it and accept the losses. But this only means that the future generations will have to deal with an even worse situation. But it’s not something that can be fought on a city by city scale. They are loosing ground bit by bit, and while this generation might have a place to stand, at some point a future one will not.

              They demons and lawyers have managed to get it so everyone is afraid. And this fear works to their advantage. They are eternal. Their victory is assured. All you can do is buy some time and not suffer an unimaginably horrible fate yourself.

              There is something Faysal mused on in his History chapter. That a city of humans might be able to take him out if they all worked together. And that’s another big thing. There is no willingness to work together against a threat and deal with a problem unless they are sure they can win, or their is no choice. And that doesn’t make for a good allience.

              What Rose realized is that Humans are the agents of change. And thus the possiblity arises that what has always been will not always be. They may not want to be the ones that take the risk, but sooner or later someone has to or the universe is demon chow.

            2. They’ve gotten everyone thinking it is utterly futile to fight them and best to avoid it and accept the losses. But this only means that the future generations will have to deal with an even worse situation.

              I suppose I would counter by saying that the second sentence doesn’t devalue the first. Even if the demons will eventually become a bigger problem for everybody, entering a futile fight won’t really change things.

              From the practitioners perspective, Toronto doesn’t really have a reason to believe they have a chance. The Knights tried facing Ur, a lesser demon, and ended up losing (what is assumed to be) quite a few members and half a foot. All of the major Toronto Players banded together to try to defeat her again, only to have a massive failure. The only person saying that there is a chance is Rose, the demon creation that could unwittingly be working towards humanity’s destruction.

              From the reader’s perspective, we have the words of Rose, Johannes and Faysal’s thoughts to indicate that humans are powerful and have the potential to win and stuff like that. Johannes (and Faysal) is now under Barbie’s control. Faysal even thought that loss was inevitable.

              I guess it boils down to whether or not you believe Rose, believe that the humans have a chance to affect change. From what I see, it seems that the group doesn’t have a chance to win.

              It is foolish to take on a task reasoning, “someone has to do it. Otherwise it’ll be a big problem”, when you know that you will be unable to accomplish said task (especially if you know you will take damage during the course of the work). That’s why I’m not going to try to eliminate Ebola tonight. I have a rudimentary understanding of biology and it would unreasonable to expect me to accomplish that tonight.

            3. I don’t know that the loss is quite so inevitable as they think, particularly with Rose and Alister in the room. Demons are strong in many ways but weak in others. Over the timeframe of the battle, they can be bound and repelled pretty effectively with relatively simple measures. It’s got to be done right, and it’s very difficult to deal with all seven Choirs at once, but their very power makes them easier to deal with, because they’re inherently opposed to and thus repelled by fundamental things. I am also unconvinced that they’ll be able to actually write a deal airtight enough to act as an effective quarantine, and if they could set up wards that would actually confine anything that might be summoned there, then they can jolly well just win this battle outright.

              Their big problem is Barber!Johannes, who is apparently shielded from his standard set of specific countermeasures and can walk through general countermeasures. Furthermore, he’s got Faysal, and it is highly unlikely it would be possible to ward an area against Faysal and the Choir of Unrest simultaneously. The practitioners need to kill the Johannes meat suit or at least take out the pipes.

              That said, I still think what they need to do is put out a call for help and possibly do Lordship abdication hot potato to encourage people to answer. Faysal makes this problem everyone’s problem in a more immediate sense than normal, and there’s got to be enough firepower in the world to put down this particular incursion.

            4. Actually, come to think of it, while it’s presently lost to the Abyss, the Behaims did have the timeless armor. The one that did this:

              Lance met shears. There was no noise at the impact, but I was forced to take a step back.

              The Barber pushed, the armor didn’t budge.

              The armor pushed, and the lance inched closer to the Barber. Sparks flew as it grazed the shears.

              The lance’s tip penetrated flesh, just at the Barber’s collarbone. Blood welled out.

              One of the practitioner families successfully created an entity that stood up to the Barber, blocked its shears without taking any damage, and overwhelmed it in a raw contest of strength. Demons clearly are not as absolute and unbeatable as they are perceived.

            5. That’s true. You have to wonder demons really are so undefeatable, or it’s simply because everyone believes they are. We’ve seen some evidence that belief shapes others in this universe. And of course if something is never attempted because everyone is sure it will fail, then of course it can never succeed. The best way to be undefeatable by you enemies is to convince them they could never defeat you in the first place.

            6. Well I’m still trying to articulate and figure out exactly what I want to say as of yet, so not every arguement I have

              No body expects a single person to cure Ebola in a single night. However we do expect organizations like the CDC and World Health Organization to exist, and to do something. We do expect that funds will be given to research teams to try and find better treatments. We expect something more than “Ebola can’t be cured, lets put up some roadblocks hand hope it doesn’t spread.” This isn’t just about demons either, but the way practicioners seem to act in general.

              First off their is little actual unity. Practicioners are like street gangs or tribes, and they constantly bicker and do their little power plays even in the face of a greater threat. Each lord is really only concerned about their own city. Their is no equivelent of the WHO or UN or anything, as far as I can see.

              Next we have their reactions to even fairly minor threats. I’m talking the Hyena here. Dangerous, but as we’ve seen no demon. He’s basicly the equivelent of a man eating bear. Now imagine if the mayor of a town responded to a man eating bear near a residental area by putting up some keep out signs. Then a kid gets eaten, and their response is “Next time we’ll put up more signs”. What would your response to that be? But hey, we can’t expect the Mayor to try to kill the bear, that’s not what he can do. But oh, wait you know what he can do? Hire a big game hunter. And we’ve seen at least one person who is well suited to dealing with a goblin like the Hyena in this story. Spikedick. The guy who had a goblin familar who Blake rated as more powerful than the Hyena. So their are people out there who can deal with problems like the Hyena. And while Spikedick is probably an asshole, he was at least not one of the Duchamp husbands who wasn’t on the kill list. And I would assume he isn’t the only option.

              I had some more, but this post is long enough as is.

            7. What it seems to be is basically the same reason global climate change hasn’t been dealt with nearly as much as it should. Most of the people there know that letting the demons claim territory and make progress will end in the destruction of the universe… eventually. Not in their lifetime, probably not even in their grandkids’ lifetimes. Why should they risk their lives, risk their family’s security, risk their fates when the problem won’t bother them? The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons is the process I was thinking of.

              Of course, the longer the problem gets put off, the worse it gets, until by the time it’s both immediate and everyone’s problem it’s far too late to stop.

    3. Because locking a problem away for others to deal with it rather than risk their own livelihoods isn’t something non-practitioners would ever do…

    4. To be honest, I don’t think very many non-practitioner humans would act any differently. Look at almost every looming-but-not-imminent world crisis we’ve got, and how many people are taking direct action to stop any of them in their tracks. (I think zero people are actually making an attempt to reverse climate change, for instance.)

      Moreover, almost everyone in the story is involved in a game of political intrigue for the rulership of Jacob’s Bell. (or Toronto) Most of them are politicians. Half-hearted measures to mitigate problems so they can then ignore them and concentrate on discrediting rival politicians is pretty much their standard MO.

    5. They have a huge ammount of “not my problem” “I do things myself” and “That’s just the way things are”going on. It’s a combination that makes them very unlikely to work together if they don’t have to, or to stick their necks out.

      1. You hit the nail on the head here, the avoidance complex just makes things worse, reminds me of the bickering in game of thrones. The seal of solomon compels other to do things, I wonder i the ritual that makes practitioners make them compelled to bicker i mean they did mention the Behaims have at least 2 versions for their own family.

  6. “According to my grandmother, the demons already won, a long, long time ago. They devoured the vast majority of the universe, and that’s why the planets are so relatively small, compared to the sheer amount of nothingness. It’s why we’re so very tiny, in the grand scheme of it all. But these things we erroneously call angels surged in strength, they spun out a complete universe from the scraps, and on select scraps, or on a select scrap, they prepared life to emerge.”
    WMG time: Pact-verse Demons destroyed many iterations of the Worm-verse Entities’ homeworld. The entities can only access the universes in which their planet was not destroyed, the universes the Demons dan’t gotten to yet. Magic is theorised to have originated from Demons, if I remember correctly, which could explain why it doesn’t exist in the Worm-verse. Therefore, Worm and Pact are part of the same Multiverse, but they probably will not be able to communicate or crossover.

    1. Spoilers!
      The Wildbow Canon has already been confirmed to be shared multiverse.
      I like your theory. It sounds plausible.

      1. However, it’s a funky one where every four-letter story is mutually fictional. Worm’s mention of the Maggie Holt series, Blake’s mention of Weaver Dice, Peer’s mention of an evil god that closely resembled the entities from Worm.

  7. Ms. Lewis… Not sure if the sadist was the best person to invite. But I guess any lawyer would have offered the same thing.

    Not much to say besides that this chapter was great. And I wonder if making a deal with demon lawyers would classify you as a diabolist. Should we shun the Elder Sister et al. for dealing with diabolists? It’s what they did to Blake after all. Oy, Rose. Tell them about Ornias. Now they will all be diabolists.

    1. I think you have to deal with demons directly to be considered a diabolist. Otherwise all of Jacob’s Bell, most of Toronto and probably a large amount of practitioners all over the world would be diabolists already.

  8. I’ve made one of the first fanfictions of Pact, Rectitude, where the Barber is the hero of the story and Demons are the only good beings in a world of darkness. This chapter re-iterates my assessment of the moral goodness of demons. Firstly they’ve reduced the density of stars and planets in the universe, increasing the chance of life due to less stellar collisions and less supernovas and such. Second, the lawyer is instantly there trying to free people.

    From the prior chapter, I have no moral issue with the demons resurrecting dead people and promoting life. Yay demons.

      1. I like that that is the one and only flaw in my theory that demons are the good guys.

        My main objection would be the assumption that demons and angels are inherently cross aligned. We only believe that because of cultural assumptions- in Faysal’s chapter nothing was said about demons being bad. In many mythologies destruction and creation are both important and good forces.

        1. So, how do you explain the things that demons were reported as being up to in Black Lamb’s Blood? Without dismissing it as propaganda, of course.

          1. Killing the gods. I have no issue with that, the gods are clearly malevolent.
            Creating a supersoldier army via incest. No actual pain, pedophilia, or non consensual sex was described.
            She had fairly negative experiences with demons and devils and had a negative view of them. This is common of practitioners, who often seek to use demons for evil purposes.

            1. So, the mind-rape isn’t a problem for you? Because I have trouble seeing anything that’s a result of someone messing with the way someone’s mind works as consensual (just as Nzl’f zvaq-encr bs Ivpgbevn jbhyqa’g unir erfhygrq va n pbafrafhny eryngvbafuvc, va nal ernfbanoyr frafr bs gur jbeq).

              The author of Black Lamb’s Blood was male, and the … ah, negative experience (which crippled his sexuality by refocusing it on his siblings, destroyed his family, and so forth) was the result of an attempt to stop a demon, not trying to use it.

              Pedophilia was not explicitly described, but was implied:

              She had collected inhabitants of a small town into a cult and church, and she had done it long enough that her initial followers had descendants. Mother, father, child, grandchild. All rutted on the floors and pews of the devil’s church in a grand, senseless, ceaseless orgy, the devil herself presiding above all in naked, Wrong splendor.

              There are so, so many other flaws with demons being morally good. Even if they are – even if their ultimate aim is something that you see as good – much of what they do would be (and is!) seen as immoral by most human systems of morality. The ends don’t really justify the means to people who can only see the means.

          2. The family and the boy (or girl) were probably attempting to kill the devil and her followers. If the incest demon’s main weapon for self defence was incest mind rape it’s understandable that they’d use that weapon when someone aggressively attacked them.

            It is very amusing to me that there is a paucity of incidents where demons attack innocents. For goblins you can easily show that they are attacking and annoying innocents from their tales where they attack innocents. For this devil, she was peacefully engaging in a peaceful orgy. I would strongly predict that Wildbow actually thinks of demons and devils as unethical and evil beings of course, but If it’s not in the story then it’s amusing to me in Rectitude to explore who the actual villains are.

            If something is implicit and not explicit that’s weak evidence for it existing.

            “much of what they do would be (and is!) seen as immoral by most human systems of morality. The ends don’t really justify the means to people who can only see the means.”

            Were I to quote Hel on this, the devil of incest in question in this story.

            “People have tortured and abused those they see as different or abnormal in sexuality since the beginning. They call us evil and sinful because we stop them seeking their favorite end of all, cruelty to those who are different. I’ve been called sinful for stopping parents beating their gay child to death for being dirty, for saving a pair of siblings from being lobotomized to cure their ‘illness’. I embrace the word sin now.”

            1. You’d have a better argument if literally every single time a demon (that wasn’t completely bound like Barber) appeared it hadn’t done something awful. Now, a lot of these could conceivably be passed off as self-defense that merely looked evil due to our incomplete understanding of the situation… but what about Pauz? A demon in his ‘natural habitat’ not defending himself from anything, and destroying the lives of every living thing in a large radius, rinsing and repeating an unknown amount of times (I think he said he had picked up 37 languages, so let’s call that the minimum).

              At this point there are only two ways to justify your argument can stand. Either Pauz (and others like Mahoun) are bad apples, in which case every single demon seen is either a bad apple or happens to look like one due to circumstance, which is rather implausible. Or, all those humans and animals somehow deserved having their lives destroyed and in some cases ended, which also strains credulity and/or morality to a rather extreme degree.

              Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to attack you and your story sounds interesting, but I don’t think you can justify saying it’s not contradicted by canon.

    1. I think its clear that the only good guy is the Abyss. First off, as far as I can tell people who end up in the Abyss died. Midge was said to have died, IIRC. Blake suffocated on smoke in the factory. It sounds like Green Eyes died of exposure or starvation in sewers. IIRC, the village at the water wheel were from a ship that sunk in a storm. The witch had a grave.

      Blake falls into the Abyss, and the only thing he wants is to get out and help his friends. Going so far as to summon the lawyers. The Abyss shows him a possible path in which Blake becomes a powerful monster eating super-monster who escapes, but Blake rejects that. Even so the Abyss sends him to the point in time when his friends need him most knowing that he will soon self-destruct.

      The second time they go to the Abyss the only dangers seem to be the other tenants.

      The third trip to the Abyss they are actively attacked, but there is a god hating on them. And in all honesty the Abyss was building a place for them to stay after falling into the sinkhole. If the Abyss didn’t like them it simply could have dumped them. Others appear to be sent to fight the demon as well.

      In the Forest the Abyss tries to keep them from leaving, but Jacob’s Bell was a bad place to be.

      And honestly the Abyss seems overall like a nice place considering its built out of places where something has gone wrong like in Jacob’s Bell or Maggie’s hometown. For starters you can knit head wounds with yarn. You can drop the pieces of humanity you don’t like. You can adapt and change to be anything. You don’t starve or drown. You might change, but compared to what normally happens when you get a gapping head wound? Or get hypothermia? Not exactly a huge issue. Some people do bring along baggage like Carl, but that’s not from the Abyss that’s their own issues they bring along.

        1. The despair must be because the Abyss will eventually, inevitably change and rewrite you whether you like it or not. Most people are very attached to their current configuration of Self and do not want to be unraveled.

        2. Nope, people don’t go to the abyss only when they die. Midge didn’t die, she was banished to the abyss. Similarly its strongly implied that if you stay inside your demnese long enough and it loses all connection to reality, you also fall into the abyss.

          While it is possible to argue that both Green Eyes and Blake died before they fell in, it is kind of implied that that isn’t the case. Blake got his connections eaten, and having nothing to support him fell in, and Green Eyes didn’t have any connections at all, and the world just let her fall through the cracks into the abyss.

    1. Should’ve let Evan call out Ms “Don’t-want-this-to-be-my-problem!” for sweeping radiological contaminants under the rug and exposing other people to fallout just to play pretend “For the Greater Good!”.

  9. So, a thought that came to mind when I was reading this chapter: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

  10. I’d have prefered a different development.

    Comments:

    I really didn’t like the implication that the lawyer organization will be destroyed if they lose here. That shifts the tone of this conflict too much for my taste, from ‘Oh my god we’re all going to die’ to ‘Let’s save the earth from the demons!’. Can’t they just stay an unstoppable force?
    And I find it really hard to belive that RDT could keep her plan a secret from the lawyers, yet lay it out in her diaries. The lawyers had lots of access to the library after RDT’s death, after all. They even prepared the library for Blake’s entry.
    A final note on this: Religious texts are ripe with people making deals with devils or demons, then reneging on their ends of the deal. And this is considered good, somehow. I see things rather differently: you know what you should do if you don’t want to keep your end of a bargain? Don’t make the bargain in the first place. Admittedly, the situation here is more complex because the deal was passed onto future children in the Thorburn line. But from the perspective of the lawyers, they are fully in their rights, both legally and morally, to demand restitution.
    The lack of animosity in this chapter was weird. For instance, Sandra calmly talks to Rose, rather than immediately trying to kill her? So what if the conflict involves demons? In that situation, they are out of sight, and could well be out of mind, when there are multiple sources of conflict right there in the room.
    For that same reason, I really hope Rose’s deal falls apart. Because the alternative makes no sense. So what if the lawyers win here and the earth suffers from demons in the far future? These people aren’t effective altruists or consequentialists; why should they care what will happen with the planet in the next few hundred years? In Worm, everyone fought together against threats to their immediate survival, and this made sense. Here, there’s an alternative that ensures their survival. So everyone working together would only make sense if they all suddenly turned into copies of the suicidal Blake.

    1. Oh come on, the formating got broken again? =( Let me try again.

      I’d have prefered a different development.

      Comments:

      1) I really didn’t like the implication that the lawyer organization will be destroyed if they lose here. That shifts the tone of this conflict too much for my taste, from ‘Oh my god we’re all going to die’ to ‘Let’s save the earth from the demons!’. Can’t they just stay an unstoppable force?

      2) And I find it really hard to belive that RDT could keep her plan a secret from the lawyers, yet lay it out in her diaries. The lawyers had lots of access to the library after RDT’s death, after all. They even prepared the library for Blake’s entry.

      3) A final note on this: Religious texts are ripe with people making deals with devils or demons, then reneging on their ends of the deal. And this is considered good, somehow. I see things rather differently: you know what you should do if you don’t want to keep your end of a bargain? Don’t make the bargain in the first place. Admittedly, the situation here is more complex because the deal was passed onto future children in the Thorburn line. But from the perspective of the lawyers, they are fully in their rights, both legally and morally, to demand restitution.

      4) The lack of animosity in this chapter was weird. For instance, Sandra calmly talks to Rose, rather than immediately trying to kill her? So what if the conflict involves demons? In that situation, they are out of sight, and could well be out of mind, when there are multiple sources of conflict right there in the room.

      5) For that same reason, I really hope Rose’s deal falls apart. Because the alternative makes no sense. So what if the lawyers win here and the earth suffers from demons in the far future? These people aren’t effective altruists or consequentialists; why should they care what will happen with the planet in the next few hundred years? In Worm, everyone fought together against threats to their immediate survival, and this made sense. Here, there’s an alternative that ensures their survival. So everyone working together would only make sense if they all suddenly turned into copies of the suicidal Blake.

      1. 1) I think it would just stop the local branch of the franchise. Temporarily (couple centuries, enough time for more desperate diabolists to sell their souls to mister Beastley over yonder).

      2. 1) I think it’s less outright destruction of The Firm and more like permanently welding weighted clothing onto the lawyers, reducing their usefulness to their Patron to nothing. The Powers in Jacob’s Bell can’t destroy the Lawyers but their Patron can.

        3) Considering that breaking deals as a Practitioner results in loss of power/karma, I think this is what Rose is counting on in order force them to fight you know “When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.” Which is exactly why the first thing Ms. Lewis did to counter that is to offer those present an out in order to not have to fight.

        1. Re: 1) Yeah, I understand the logic, I just don’t want it to be a viable strategy. It’s way too anti-climactic for a small town of practitioners to destroy an international cabal serving Lovecraftian entities.

          1. Isn’t that the point, though? I mean, that is their big weakness. The small things. The short term. It’s explicitely said that, by their nature, these lawyers are tied to the long term, the big picture. too much big power and thought, not enough small things.

            The small town full of minor-to-moderate practitioners is just what is needed to take them down, simply because they never considered that possibility before and aren’t really equipped to deal with it efficiently – or at least they weren’t until they got Barbhannes (Jobarber? Johber? J-Barb?).

            1. If that’s supposed to be their weakness, that’s too reminiscent of Coil’s shortcomings, for my taste.

              Besides, the firm may only care about the long term, but if clients demand it, the lawyers help them with arbitrary tasks, no matter how small. Like bringing Blake to Toronto or telling him about its Lord.

            2. there’s a difference between supporting their clients in arbitrary, small ways and actually being interested/focused on short term stuff and small things.

              we know, for example, that their higher ups don’t really bother with anything short of big name demons and diabolists, at all

      3. 2) I don’t think she ‘laid it out’ on her diaries as clearly as you may think. Probably just dropped a lot of hints or wrote in some kind of code, and made sure Rose (and probably Rose alone) would have the means to understand what she actually meant.

        4) Why would Sandra kill Rose on sight?

        5) Maybe not everyone wants ‘things to go back to how they were, with the lawyers winning just a little’… I’m thinking the Junior Council would probably object to that.

        1. Also, Rose has someone in her head feeding her relevant memories. Blake can just tear out his memory of getting the right conclusions, stick that in with the memories of the evidence.

      4. 5) it’s not the far future. can you imagine what the barber will be able to do with faysal and Johannes powers? no child will be safe ever again, anywhere – unseen shears cutting them, unearthly sounds enchanting them, and vital part of them taken to a place of living hell, where monsters and demons feast and dwell.

        1. In Pactverse, there are supposed to be other organizations which deal with such threats. Inquisitors, witch hunters, other angels (!), and the like.

          Besides, the same logic that made the Toronto practitioners ignore / quarantine Ur and the Hyena applies here, just as well.

      5. 4) The lack of animosity in this chapter was weird. For instance, Sandra calmly talks to Rose, rather than immediately trying to kill her? So what if the conflict involves demons? In that situation, they are out of sight, and could well be out of mind, when there are multiple sources of conflict right there in the room.

        Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, we’ve seriously misjudged these people because of our tight focus on a certain character that prevents us from actually getting the full measure of their personalities, and that they aren’t Chaotic Evil Sociopaths?

        Crazy idea I know 🙂

        1. Did you … did you forget arc 13? The one aptly named ‘Execution’? The majority of people in that church have excellent reasons to kill Blake, no matter what form he takes on.

          1. For once, the way everyone gangs up on demons and diabolists is working in Blake’s favor, even if they aren’t immediately present. Plus the church is sanctuary. Sandra’s not allowed to kill them.

          2. Why would they try? They have their nastier traits, but they’re not frothing idiots who will throw away an alliance against a very dangerous enemy just for the chance at revenge, and they could probably be convinced by Rose that the bogeyman is no longer a threat.

          3. What exellent reason?Only Sandra has a real reason,and were she to do that,she’d lose even more political power due to killing te man who revealed the truth.

  11. Another solution- obliterate johaness’s vestige-demesne.
    The only reason he’s so powerful, and considered the most powerful practitioner there, is because of that place. All his tools and whatnot are related to the deals he created from having his Other Wonderland.

    It would be really really nice if the Drunk could call his god to smite open a door for them, but I’m sure with all that power they can manage something.

    Or- more simply, just destroy/steal the pipes. Pretty sure faysal would want to get rid of the demesne once he’s free for the same reason.

    1. One thing that does work to their advantage is that Johannes’ stock of Others will still have their deals active, but they’re not likely to actually be particularly happy about the situation, and I gather that he didn’t go for demanding total obedience and has probably dipped into his stock of previously agreed-upon favors. So the Lawyers won’t likely be able to command his giant and dragon.

      Unfortunately, his followers likely won’t be able to attack Barbarotem and are unlikely to be able to escape to help elsewhere, because of the whole bit where the demesne rearranges itself so things can’t leave without permission.

  12. I think I’ve finally found the real connection between Worm and Pact.

    The final bosses are cosmic-level.

    …I am extremely satisfied with that. I’m sad that Pact is going to end, but it just keeps getting better!

    1. Actually, notsomuch.

      The lawyers are scary, Johannes is scary, Barber is scary, Faysal is scary, Johannes+Barber+Faysal is hella scary. But they still seem to only be mid-level threats in Pact terms. The Lawyers have access to worse but, as Rose has sussed, they would then be in debt to worse and they very much don’t want that.

      They’re a fearsome threat to the combined heavy-hitters of Canada’s largest city and a nearby town. Still a fair way short of cosmic.

      Wake me when Ornias’s big brothers start showing up. 😛

      Actually, I suspect Pact’s major hitters probably reside in Africa and Europe. What we’ve seem so far probably would be eclipsed by a suburb or two of Pact Cairo. 😀

  13. I think I figured out the Identity of the Lawyers’ Patron:-

    Marquis Naberius

    Naberius appears as a three-headed dog or a raven. He has a raucous voice but presents himself as eloquent and amiable. He teaches the art of gracious living. He has also been depicted as a crow or a black crane.

    Naberius is the most valiant Marquis of Hell, and has nineteen legions of demons under his command. He makes men cunning in all arts (and sciences, according to most authors), but especially in rhetoric, speaking with a hoarse voice. He also restores lost dignities and honors, although to Johann Weyer he procures the loss of them.

  14. So, Maggie says that Sandra has “rescued herself” from the position of head of the Duchamp family. Interesting. It seems that there’s been a bit of a commotion and a split, perhaps a changing of minds.

    1. Not rescued. Recused. As in she abdicated responsibility because she or whoever demanded that she recuse herself saw her as having a conflict of interest or was otherwise unfit.

      Though I suppose it comes back to the same point of Sandra breaking away from her responsibility to her family.

  15. Off topic but i had a moment of fridge horror, since solomon exists in this universe, Does the Beast of revelation exist? and if so what level demon is it.

  16. Okay, unless Rose was explicitly exploiting connections, her words shouldn’t have been enough.
    Seriously, given what their up against, a theory that no one else had ever tested/investigated before does not match up to the real threat of Pact Demons. I can’t buy that the little “we’re different” speech at the end there actually swayed anyone.

  17. Nobody was speaking up to voice their support. Even from her own camp, though she suspected there was a strategic reason for it. If one of them backed her up, it would change the tone of things. The others would have room to argue.
    But, Rose realized, nobody wanted to argue to say that this was a bad idea, because they could get shouted down.
    The atmosphere suggested that the next to speak would lose the argument.
    One voice broke the silence.
    “Penis!” a small goblin cried out. “Peeeenissssssss! Penispenispenis-”

    …Wait, did a goblin just help?

  18. There doesn’t seem to be a typo thread, but “recused” may be a typo. According to google, recuse refers to judges either removing themselves or being removed due to a conflict of interest. Sandra isn’t a judge, and her reasons for abdicating weren’t really due to conflict of interest in the sense meant by the word (personal stake in what’s supposed to be an impartial position, whereas Sandra couldn’t balance the conflicting interests of her two factions of supporters). Either there’s a broader definition I’ve missed, Mags didn’t know the word fully and this is intentional, or it’s a typo. Maybe supposed to be “excused”?

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