Judgment 16.6

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Evan landed off to one side with a muffled thud, snow rising and steaming around his talons.

“You didn’t set the town on fire, did you?” Peter asked.

“Nope,” Evan said, in his deeper voice.  He fluttered a bit to get to a point where he could walk by the side of the road, without being up to his stomach in deeper snow.  He was the size of a small horse, and continued to leave a trail of fire behind him.  “Flew around to lose them, but I flew over backyards and roads.”

“Good,” Rose said.  Her eyes were on the North end, several blocks away.  The morning light was more visible there, but it was more ominous than reassuring.  The light itself was dark, and the clouds thick enough to be almost pitch black.  It reminded her of magma.

The highway cut through the older area of Jacob’s Bell and Johannes’ demesne.  The periodic car zipped by, while trucks were more frequent, passing with a touch more noise, a glow of headlights and red taillights cutting through the haze.

Each person that passed was utterly oblivious to what was really happening in the town itself.

Rose looked back, toward the others.  Smoke mingled with the faint haze of morning mist, but the flames were visible, all the same.

She could only hope that the charms and enchantments that kept all this on the down-low would hold and keep bystanders out of this.

The same made it hard to impossible for those passing by to see the fine gaps and cracks that ran through everything.  An eighth of an inch at most, where the west and south facing walls of a building were supposed to meet, or where the sidewalk met the snow that layered the street.

“Sorry about your pussy,” Peter said, to his twin.

“Don’t,” Paige said, her voice sharp.

God,” Ainsley said, moving to Paige’s side, shooting Peter a look.  “Learn when to stop.  I know we’re feeling woozy, and we were already tired, before that, but… what she said.  Don’t.”

“Welcome to what I grew up with,” Paige said.  “He sees weakness and he’s on it like a starved dog on a haunch of meat.”

“No, that’s-” Peter started, bristling.  He stopped and composed himself.  “No.  I do mean it.  I’m sorry.  I just don’t know what to call her.  Really.”

“Isadora,” Paige said.

“Isadora,” Peter said.  “Okay.  I’m sorry about what happened to her.”

“Okay,” Paige said.  “Man, I do not like feeling drunk.”

Rose glanced to one side, and she could see how Paige was rubbing one side of her face.

“She might be okay,” Lola said.  “I… don’t know if I feel any lasting effects.  If we can bounce back, maybe she could recover?”

“I don’t know,” Paige said.  “I’ve only got a few weeks of all of this under my belt.  I don’t know anything about way too many things, and I’m usually a fast study.  That thing back there was the worst experience of my life, and it hasn’t exactly been all unicorns and flowery meadows.  I don’t have anything to compare to here.”

“Rose is the resident expert on horrible badness,” Mags said.  “Not that I want to distract, if you’re focusing more on the badness that we’re about to deal with than the badness we just dealt with, but…”

“It’s fine,” Rose said.

“Great,” Mags said.  “Because I’ve read that demons tend to do permanent damage, and if you could shed any light on what we were just dealing with, it would do a lot for my peace of mind.”

Rose looked around as she walked.  At the gaps.

They’d been part of the vision, except they were more permanent, persistent.

“The world is managed by spirits,” Rose said.  “Spirits are influenced by us and our will.  For most, it’s a pretty passive relationship.  Spirits don’t interfere or change things too much, and they follow set patterns.  People don’t influence them either, by that same token.”

“Okay,” Mags said.  “Practitioner 101 there.”

“Well,” Rose said, “I’m not liking the look of those gaps.  The demon did its thing, and the town started to come apart at the seams.  I thought at first it was the Barber, but I’m not so sure, now.  We can alter the makeup of the world, with sufficient will or expectation, and it’s subtle, and we’re pushing against the pattern or the will of others if we try to will the world to be different.  But if you have a demon alter that will or expectation, twist everyone’s minds to a specific purpose…”

“Breaking up the world?”  Lola asked.

“Or a part of it,” Rose said.  “They chose the demons they did for a reason.  One that could hurt practitioners by hurting their workings, another that debilitated and stalled us, while…”

Lacking the words, she gestured at the surroundings.  At the ripped seams and world left ajar.

“…Making it easier to do what they want to do,” she finished.  “So… I’m not ruling out that she could recover.  If doing permanent damage to our psyche was the point, then we’d know, I think.  But I do think it was trying to hurt the fabric of things, affecting us like it did.”

A part of her worried that the others would react badly.  That she might crush morale as she’d done back at the church.  But this group, perhaps, was more resilient.

Scared, but resilient.

They’d reached the last leg of the trip before the passage under the highway.

Mags looked down at the dip to one side.  The ground sloped down from the road, normally it would have been grass, but now it was only snow.  A short tobogganing hill at best.

“What happened to Molly?” Mags asked, all at once.

“Absorbed into the Abyss, I think,” Rose said.

“I owed her better,” Mags said.

“I sort of know that feeling,” Rose replied.

“Darn it,” Mags said.  “Hate knowing that there’s nothing left for me to do for her.  She’s gone, or mostly gone?”

“Gone, I think,” Rose said.  “But if you want to do something for her… we need to focus on this.  I don’t think the real Molly would want Johannes to win.  She wouldn’t want people to suffer any more than she did.  All that anger was just the Abyss speaking through her.  Let’s respect the real her.”

Mags huffed out a breath, then rubbed her hands together.  “Evan, do me a solid?”

“For sure,” Evan said.

“See that space under the highway?  Under the bridge?

“Yep!”

“Go there, and flame on, you know?  Not destroying the highway, just to light it up.  Kiss the walls and top with fire.  Yeah?”

“You say that like there’s a chance I’d say no!” Evan said.  He hopped forward, wings flapping.

Looking in his direction, watching him take off for the space under the bridge, Mags already walking briskly, broke out into a jog.  Rose could see Green Eyes, off to one side, previously blocked from Rose’s view by Evan’s bulk.

Was that intentional?  Was the mermaid stalking her, deliberately lurking?

I’m supposed to be a leader here, but… I’m not sure I’m there yet.  I need to figure it out before it matters.

“He was on your skin,” Green Eyes observed.

“Yeah,” Rose said.

“He still is, a bit.”

Rose nodded, checking to see for herself.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to put words to why that might be the case.  Was it because Blake didn’t want to move, when every movement eroded the two of them?

Or because he didn’t have the strength?

Beneath the bridge, Evan flared with fire and light, flames reaching out to fill the space, fire filling the space, tongues of flame spilling out.

A half-dozen goblins dropped from hiding spots in the shadows, partially or wholly on fire.  Mags very carefully extinguished a patch of fire on the underside of the bridge itself before starting to put the creatures out.

It took a few seconds before Rose and the rest of the group were close enough to hear.

“-y darn time,” Mags said.  “Every time, you try to mess with me!  You little twits don’t learn!  I’ve shot you, I’ve frozen you, I’ve blown some of you up.  Do you learn?  Do you announce yourselves and stop trying to ambush me?  No.  But doing it on a day like this?  With demons running around?  That’s a special brand of twit.”

“Aaaaaah!” a goblin that was still on fire screamed.

Mags reached out with both hands, athame extended, other hand flat, then clenched her free hand into a fist.  The fire went out in the same moment.

“Aaah!” the goblin screamed, still smouldering, burned.

“Deal with it!” Mags said.  “Peckerbottom, I bind you.  You know the drill, standard rules.”

“Aaah!” it screamed.

“Nod,” Mags said.

It nodded, still writhing.

“That’s the most half-assed binding I’ve ever seen,” Lola commented.

“I’ve bound these little twits at least three times already.  Same rules every time.  If they can break the binding, I’ll be surprised.  Snotwit, I bind you.  You know how this works.”

“Uh huh,” Snotwit mewled.

“Spunkyfeets, Pissgag, Cuntwhistle, Stump, I bind you.  Stop whining and get to your feet.”

The goblins did.

Lesser goblins, Rose observed.  None any taller than waist height.

Mags saw Rose studying the things, “What do you think?”

“Having a few more numbers wouldn’t hurt,” Rose said.  “We only needed the smaller group to slip away.”

“That was my line of thinking,” Mags said.

“Can’t help but feel like goblins are more liability than advantage,” Lola commented.  “Never liked them.”

“Wait ’til I show you what I can do with my tongue,” Stump leered.

“If you even suggest anything similar to that, I’ll cut it off,” Lola said.

“He already had it cut off,” another goblin jeered.  “Why do you think he’s called Stump?”

The laughs and lewd comments from the goblins were a mishmash of sound.

“Any tips, going into the demesne?” Rose asked.

“It’s his place,” Mags said.  “I’m not sure what that means, now that he’s not… him.  He basically made it a xerox of reality, complete with occupants.  As they’ve worn down, he’s shored them up with magic from the pipes.  Navigation is going to be hell.”

“I can help with navigation,” Lola said.

“Good,” Rose said.  “Traps?  Tricks?”

“On my first visit, the demesne impeded me.  After I was invited, he made it easy for me to come and go.  Ambassador duties, passing on messages.  I don’t think it’s going to be friendly, this time around.  It might be actively hostile.  And, with everything that led into this, he’s got allies.  Underlings.”

“Genies,” Rose said, “among other things.”

“I’ve seen a genie,” Peter said, sounding a little smug.

“Why do you sound proud?” Paige asked.

“Well,” Rose said, “if you think of anything else, say the word.”

Mags nodded.

To Evan, she said, “Stay low to the ground, until we decide we need you.”

“Right-o,” he said.

She gave him a once-over.  “You’re smaller than you were a minute ago.”

“I’m leaking,” he said.  “Balloon with a hole in it.”

“Balloons with holes in them pop,” Peter said.

Evan’s eyes went as wide as saucers.

“I don’t think you’re going to pop,” Rose said.  “Come on.  Let’s move, before you deflate.  Lead the way.”

“Because I’m powerful!  And strong!”

“Both,” she said.  “But maybe keep it down.”

“I’m down!”

“You’re drunk,” she said.  “And you are being loud.  Dial it down a notch.”

“Dialed down,” he said.

She nodded, and he took that as his cue to lead the way.  Green Eyes hurried to move up to his side.

“Now who’s going to eat who?” Evan asked.  “I could do with some roasted sushi.  Hm?  Hm?  What do you say to that?”

“Sushi is raw fish,” Green Eyes said, already far enough ahead that she was barely audible.

“And?” Evan asked.

Rose ignored the conversation that followed.

She had allies here that would listen to her.  Paige, Ainsley, maybe Peter.  Then she had… Blake’s group.  Green Eyes and Evan.

Fitting that Mags, ambassador, was somewhere in the middle.

She didn’t trust Green Eyes to listen to her.  Even Evan was a question, in a way.

She held her right wrist with her left hand, tracing her thumb along a line of the faded, nearly-invisible etching of Blake’s influence, between her sleeve and her glove.

With the others, she passed into the demesne.  A place she’d seen before, even if she’d never entered it proper.

She wasn’t sure what she’d expected.  An extension of the Abyss?  A version of the library that fit Johannes?

The buildings were pale, but the light from above wasn’t from sun or moon.  It wasn’t from a Conquest-like halo of light.  There was no sky.  No atmosphere, no clouds, no barrier or dome separating earth from something that was far from being heavens.

It was a darkness so deep it felt like she might be picked up from the ground and sucked away into the wider parts of it, torn away and flung into the deepest regions of that absence in a heartbeat.

Great spheres broke it up, but they were small comfort.  They had a gravity of their own.  Not planets, not moons, but something else.  So close it felt like they might scrape past, and wipe everything here away.

One took up a third of the space above, touching on two sides of the horizon, shifting perceptibly with every moment.  It shifted with what looked to be static, like that from a television screen, but the edges were too crisp, the details too sharp, until she thought it might touch her, or reach into her eyes.

When she tore her eyes away, the afterimages of those tiny depictions made her think of bodies.  Humanoid.  People, creatures, maybe demons, moving across the surface, shuffling over and through and under one another, occupying the entirety of the surface, layered as deep as oceans or as tall as mountains.

Two more great spheres had collided with one another, and fragments stretched between them, with trails of dust or smaller fragments extending between.  One was marked with faint glows that suggested the same expanse of magma she’d observed in the clouds over Jacob’s Bell.

It was a setting, she instinctively knew, that was familiar to demons and gatekeepers, and very few others.  A setting that predated things.  Or a setting that would be.

Far removed from humanity.  From this ghost town lit by that crackling static of a planet covered in moving bodies or the faint red glow of the burning wasteland sphere.  It made for a mottled, red-tinted moonlight at best, but more frequently the light provided that shifted away from the eyes, as if it were shy.

The town was disordered.  It was the best way to put it.  Things weren’t in their proper places.  It conjured up images of a ruin, but the buildings themselves weren’t ruined.  The buildings were crammed together, and with everything else pushed away or left untouched by the faint light.  At worst, there was only more of the absolute darkness.

“Any pursuers?” Rose asked.

Her voice sounded so empty here.  As if any and all suggestion of an echo or sound bouncing off the surroundings and back to them had been removed.

“Yeah,” Lola said.  “At least one of the lawyers.”

Rose nodded, unsurprised.  “The runes didn’t help, huh?”

“They got us out of there,” Lola said.  “But whoever or whatever he is, I get the impression he or she is on us like a bloodhound.  Some sort of trinket or demon or familiar.  If I had to put it to words… it’s that moment where a rabbit realizes it isn’t going to get away from the wolf or the hawk, captured, frozen in time.”

“Makes sense they’d have someone to track others down,” Rose commented.  “The lawyers have their debtors and fugitives.  I’m not the first to try to escape the consequences.”

Man,” Peter said.  “If this is escaping consequences, I don’t even want to know what facing them is like.”

“I’d try to divert or do something subtle,” Lola said, “But I don’t feel like it would be useful.

“Let me, then,” Ainsley said.  She lifted a lighter to her candle, and tried and failed to produce a flame on four concurrent tries.  Each failure prompted a faint shift in her expression, leaving her with a deep frown by the end.  The look didn’t change when the fifth try produced flame, lighting the candle.  She let wax drip across their path, reached into a pocket, and pressed a piece of wood down.  Rose leaned forward and saw that she’d impressed a seal into the wax.

“Seal?” Rose asked.

“That should shake our bloodhound for exactly two minutes.  I just wish my lighter hadn’t been so finnicky.”

“Candles need oxygen to operate,” Lola said.  “Maybe this place operates by different rules?”

“We need oxygen too,” Paige added.  “What happens if it takes that away?”

“We have oxygen, let’s not set any self-fulfilling prophecies in motion,” Rose said.

There were some nods.

“Green Eyes?”

The mermaid was at the front of the group with Evan, peering forward, head periodically moving to scan the surroundings.  When she looked back, Green Eyes’ namesake eyes glowed a pale green with the light from the pseudo-moons above.

“It’s quiet here,” Green Eyes said.  “Sound doesn’t carry like it should.”

Rose couldn’t help but notice that voices sounded strange, too.  Too sharp around the edges.  As if sounds weren’t diffusing or breaking apart enough.

“No danger?”

“Can’t tell, not really.  Smells aren’t traveling like they should either.  But there’s death, and blood.”

“Blood and darkness,” Mags said.

“Faster we do this, the better,” Rose said.  She hadn’t forgotten that the others were dealing with demons.  A minute was fine if it meant getting their hands on some goblin cannon fodder or if they were making sure they understood the basic rules of a new landscape, maybe delaying or shaking a pursuer.  But waiting for waiting’s sake made her feel like she or someone else might lose their courage and outright lose the ability to press on, or that those precious seconds might cost someone on the outside their life.

She’d anticipated the abyss, or a shifting landscape where buildings themselves barred the path or formed walls.  Nothing moved.  There was no sound, and this place didn’t steadily wear against them or fight them.

Up a segment of fire escape, onto a rooftop of an adjoining building, then onto a jumble of cars that had been shoved over to one side, each member of Rose’s group walking carefully on the rooftops.

“Is that a genie?” Paige asked.

“Yeah,” Peter answered for her, his voice hushed.

Paige shot him an annoyed look.

They continued along the slanted and sloping rooftops, stepping down onto the ground itself.  Peter offered a hand to Ainsley, then Paige, then Lola, in turn, offering them something to steady themselves against in case their feet slipped.

Rose and Mags were already on the ground.  They approached the genie.

Eviscerated, the genie was stuck in a standing position.  Hollowed out, chest and stomach torn open, its jaw had split at the chin, as if it had opened its mouth too wide, venting from within.  Its remains were scattered around the open parking lot.  The source of whatever impulse or push had moved the assorted cars.  Scorch marks etched the pavement, leaving sections of it glassy.  There was no blood, no gore, only the shell of a form and signs of an outpouring of energy.

Not a one minute walk away was a giant.  Sitting cross-legged, hands folded in its lap, its shoulders slumped forward, head tilted so it faced the ground.  Even sitting, its head reached as high as the roofs of the two stores on either side of it, each one three floors tall.  The face had burned away, the skull shattered, revealing just how thick the bone was.  Far thicker than a human skull.  The interior of his head was only dark.  The fragments of the skull and wisps of scorched flesh littered the hands, lap, and surrounding pavement.

Man,” Evan’s voice cut through the silence.  “Why does that bother me so much?”

“Giants are nearly extinct,” Lola said.

Man,” Evan said, again.

“He’s his own tombstone,” Ainsley said.  “In a place like this, he won’t ever change from that.  Wind won’t erode him, microbes won’t eat him.  He’ll just sit there, until this place is gone.”

“Fucking assholes,” Mags said.  “Fuck them.  Even clueless idiots like me know you don’t mess with the giants.”

“Cause they step on you,” one of the goblins chimed in.

“Because they’re fucking giants,” Mags said.

Rose shot Mags a curious look.

“What?”

“Wasn’t aware you could swear.”

“I can, but I’ve decided not to.  Stay as close to my old identity as possible, even if it means embracing the bad.”

“Ah.”

“Looks like he was a cool dude,” Evan said.  “Just sitting and chilling and facing his death like a boss.”

“More likely he just wasn’t fast enough to defend himself,” Lola said.

“Cool dude!” Evan said, and his voice shifted enough from one syllable to the next that he looked to be well under the influence of the drink, still.

“Sure,” Lola said, in the tone of someone who had dealt with belligerent young sisters or cousins before.  “Let’s go with that, then.”

They left the giant behind, moving further into the city.

Rose had anticipated a maze, but as hard as the going was, there was little chance to get lost.  There were more ups and downs than lefts and rights.

They made their way down from the roof of the gas station, to neatly sorted piles of rubble.  Each pile was roughly the same size, and each pile was equidistant to the next.

It was telling, and it got the gears turning in Rose’s head.  She stopped, and she turned, looking.  How had things been laid out, when she’d been atop the gas station, or on the rooftops, earlier?  She tried to draw a mental picture.

“Rose?” Mags asked.

Rose realized the group was threatening to leave her behind, as she looked.

“It’s a diagram,” she said.  “He’s laid it out as a diagram.”

The other practitioners turned and looked for themselves.  The non-practitioners looked restless, drawing closer to the group.  Peter, Green Eyes, and Evan.

The observations and ensuing discussion were interrupted.

Crush you,” the voice whispered, but it was a deep voice, not unlike Evan’s present one.  It was a voice that could have boomed if it wanted to, if this place allowed.

Weapons found hands.

Rose wasn’t surprised.  She’d anticipated trouble, and a part of her was glad to find it.

She held the machete that the witch hunter had thrown to one side.  Ainsley had her candle, Lola and Mags had knives.

“Break you,” the voice said, closer.

It moved between two piles of rubble.  Quick, given how large it was.

It was big, but not giant big.  Comfortably in the order of hundreds of pounds.  Fat, neckless, not unlike Midge in general proportion, the resemblance stopped there.  The mouth was a slash across its face, ragged, filled with misshapen teeth, the eyes dark recesses, filled only with shadow.  Rose was suspicious that if she had a light and the opportunity, she might have peered into those recesses to find beady black eyes.  Better suited for darkness than light.  Textured like callused flesh or a mole rat.

Ogre, Rose thought to herself.

One of the old creatures Johannes was so fond of surrounding himself with.

“We saw what happened to the others,” she called out.  “He hollowed them out, tore them to pieces.  All the Others that followed him, before.”

“Sacrifices,” the ogre said, a little louder than before.

“To?  For?”

“Crack it all to pieces!” the ogre bellowed, spreading his arms wide.

“Unmake it!” a second ogre bellowed, at a matching volume, from the opposite side.

Rose turned, and she saw the resemblance.

The Barber had cut, and these two ogres had once been one.  Now they were his.  Cut in a way that served him.

There would be no help from them.

In a low voice, Ainsley murmured.  “I can use the candle to bind one.  I can’t use it to bind both.”

“Open the gates!” the first ogre cried.

“Ruin to all things!” the second howled, louder than before.

Rose was already running, hurrying to catch the others.

The second ogre hurled something.  It might have been a concrete block.  He threw it underhand, like a human might throw a softball.  It sailed.

Lola managed to deflect it with a gesture, a stone in her free hand.

“Crack the walls!”

“Let darkness bleed through!”

The loud cries were stirring attention.

Now they had company.

Broken, cut, distorted things.  The Barber’s creations, sheared into shapes that pleased him.  They emerged from buildings, and they flowed from windows, or appeared on rooftops.

They moved, shuffled, and crawled with little noise.  Only periodically did one whimper.  Rank and file, in the service of other things.  A hunchbacked figure, cut with the shears.  A gaunt figure.

Things, if she was judging the ogres right, which had been predisposed toward destruction before, made into something worse with a careful cut.

They ran, and the hordes closed in.  Evan used his flames to drive them back and leave trails of flame that guarded the flanks.  Green Eyes went after one leader that strayed too far from his group, biting into his shoulder and neck, then scrambled to escape the hail of thrown objects and weapons.

But Rose felt her progress diminish.  She wasn’t moving slower, but her strides covered less ground, all the same.

She turned, walking backward, and she saw the pursuer, the possessed lawyer, with a demon hound at his side.

Chanting, gesturing.

Binding her into place, so the hordes could get her.

Rose drew and aimed her unloaded gun, pointing it at the lawyer.

He stopped trying to bind her, saying something to protect himself instead.

The binding that was leashing her to one place still lingered.  Each step was less effective than the last, as if she were walking up an icy slope, sliding back a distance with each step she took.

“Ainsley!”  Lola cried out.  “Get Rose!”

Ainsley threw pins in Rose’s direction.  Each pin traveled a measured distance, stopping at the cardinal points around Rose’s feet.  Faint lines marked a binding, etched into the street.

Ainsley blew out the candle, and blew away the binding.

They’d still lost their head start.

The Barber’s creations were closing in.

Too many for it to have touched each with the shears.  The cut was some effect the demon had worked across his domain, to alter vestiges.

Standing against them was akin to trying to withstand a tidal wave that looked to crush her against the beach.  Except they were far more brutal and savage.  Far less kind.

“Give me names!” Lola was saying.

Mags provided them.

“Now!” Lola said.

Mags cut Lola with the athame.

In a flash, they were moved.

Shifted to a building interior.

As a group, they collapsed.

“I’m No good to you now,” Lola said, looking down at her palms.  “Did all I could.  Pulling us along a connection.  That lawyer found us, he’ll find us again.”

“You did good,” Rose said.  Whatever you did, it has to be better than that.

I know you’re there,” Mags said, quiet.  “Come on out, guys.  If you’re still okay.”

Rose found her way through the building interior.  Blades, like great shears or kniveblades, punctuated the inside of the building.  Each was stained with blood.

Not like the abyss had been.  Not a trap, or a way of attacking the residents.  They’d been a singular, decisive cut.

Rose saw vestiges emerge, untouched by the barber.  Ones that had dodged that strike.

“There we are,” Mags said.

They were children, partially hollow, broken and occupied by other things.

Rose couldn’t look straight at them.  It struck a little closer to home.

She looked outside the window, instead.

To the Barber’s tower.  To the gateways that surrounded it, fabricated by Faysal Anwar, and to the teeming horde that stood between them and it.

Had the way been clear, it would have been a ten minute walk.

But as things stood, she was far less confident than ever.

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106 thoughts on “Judgment 16.6

    1. ““I’m No good to you now,” Lola said, looking down at her palms. “Did all I could. Pulling us along a connection. That lawyer found us, he’ll find us again.””

      Unnecessarily capitalized No.

  1. Honestly, this has gone better than they had any right to expect. They went into an area where a demon gets to set the laws of physics without any countermeasure for that and yet are still alive.

    1. Agreed. A few arcs ago, it was assumed that it would take the combined forces of the major players to have a chance to succeed in a siege here. Now that Barbie has given everyone an Evil Twin, it’s looking even more unlikely for this small group to make it put alive.

    2. At least it is still one step below a god, imagine a demon god in the pactverse… the closest thing I can think of is Azatoth.

      1. Demon’s aren’t below gods.
        While your average demon might be weaker than your average god, I have little doubt high ranking demon nobles would be able to kill/mangle lesser gods.

        On the subject of gods: We know that worship makes gods (and other things?) stronger. Shouldn’t that mean that their is a mega-powerful Christian/Muslim god out there? Even if there wasn’t one before Christianity/Islam, it seems like to me that the sheer volume of belief should have brought them into existence.

        1. The serial Reject Hero had a great explanation with the Abrahamic God being very much a passive one, and that with the exception of one incarnation manifesting on earth Millenia ago, it would not be interceding again for a very long time.

        2. I mean with all those worshipers it should be super powerful. A head the size of a moon! A god of light and creation. Like that one Blake found in the Abyss. That Ur was gnawing on.

          Tinfoil hat theory: The god of light in the Abyss is the JeudoChristainMuslim god and being kept down by a pack of demons. Only Ur was mentioned because she later gets bound and eats them all.

          1. No, the god Blake found in the abyss wasn’t particularly strong as far as gods go (in my opinion at least), mainly because it had been forgotten for a very long time.
            Ur is a minor demon, I have trouble imagining that a minor demon could actually threaten a god with over two billion followers, in much the same way that throwing a mote at a demon duke would be laughable.
            The god that was found in the abyss was there because it was forgotten, or (more likely in my opinion) it dragged Ur down into the abyss with it when it still had worshipers to keep Ur bound.

            @Tibor, yeah, that does sound pretty reasonable. I could imagine the Christian god just ignoring everything going on on earth pretty easily (even if it means the destruction of earth).

        3. This was discussed in the forums a while back. A theory that made sense to me is that, while billions of people believe in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God, there’s a lot of disagreement about the specifics of his nature. There are almost as many beliefs as there are worshippers. It’s likely that there are a whole bunch of conflicting versions of that God, just like there are a bunch of conflicting versions of Conquest.

          There’s also a big question mark over what ‘worship’ actually means. Jerry’s commitment to his God is massive. How many of God’s followers truly have faith and worship in the way Jerry does?

    3. The Barber is probably still consolidating territory, killing those it can, and driving those it can’t kill off. There were a lot of creatures in Johannes’s demesne, so it probably took time to work, especially for some of the more powerful ones. I know the creatures in the demesne owed Johannes favors, but I doubt they were to the level of “stand still and be killed”, so the more powerful creatures probably fought to some degree.

      1. Actually, he seems to be done consolidating territory within the demense. Given that the tower is surrounded by portals, I think he is now working to expand. Still, I’m not if that actually stops him from turning the air into fire to deal with them.

        Maybe it would disrupt the ritual diagram. Which I also have an extremely bad feeling about.

  2. I liked Peter and Mags in this chapter. Peter shows wit even in his sincerity and Mags proves to be an effective Mrs. Bowie.

    Mags reached out with both hands, athame extended. . .

    When did Mags get her Athame back? Last I checked, Maggie had it.

    1. She also got a knife from Sandra. She could have bound it to her in a similar manner to get either a new implement close cc enough to her old on or even to get the original one back by solidifying the connection. Or something.

      That, or “Lola” somehow “found” it and gave it back because demons trump side games. 😛

  3. I think Blake has lost his sentience. I get the feeling that he either exists no more as a separate, thinking entity from Rose and the two are now (again) simply one twisted Individual, or he has regressed to the level of a common spirit, able to observe and react but only in simple ways and without complex thought. Between fighting off Conquest and feeding himself to Rose, I think it’s the logical conclusion.

    1. That kind of bothers me, actually. I feel like Blake had a lot more personality than Rose does, partially because we knew more of his backstory, but also because he seemed to do things his own way a lot more often.

      1. To be fair to Rose, she didn’t have a body or Other powers for the first 2/3rds of the story. She even had to address her lack of agency. She was also separated from Blake for about half the story so we didn’t have a chance to see Rose shine. Once she got a body, she pretty much immediately took charge of the situation and did a lot of stuff, but we only got to see some of it thru Blake’s perspective, which was distorted by the abyss.

      2. It’s not really that she has less of a personality, from a lesser backstory, than hers is easier to infer. They are mostly the same until like middle school, where early in the story it seems Blake gets pushed away while Rose stays. Don’t really need to outline how her loneliness was, and the few exceptions were explained, whereas every difficulty of Blake is out of the ordinary, needing elaboration on friends, hobbies, and fears.

        On her character, I have a sympathetic dislike for her. Her apparent psychopathic tendencies, it is something to sympathize with. Not knowing how to handle ‘friends,’ was noted, when she wrote that she could abuse those connection, but not necessarily should. Totally missed the point there with massive rationalization, the parents trying to be warm, ultimately using her. The few times in conquests lair, immediately latching for someone. Can’t quite recall what she said afterwards. It’s the manipulation from not understanding friendship that I hate, even if it feels like out of fear. She often feels bad about it, yet doesn’t really account for it in deciding things.

        The history that makes up Rose, is taken from a more mundane life, needing few explanations. The complications of Blake’s life stems from things that make him relatable, friends, hobbies, fears, whereas the simplicity of hers makes for a complicated character where motivations are concerned.

        It’s ironic that she says Blake is unpredictable when his motivations are more on sync with most of the characters in the story and, I would wager, most of the audience. Noticed how Blake felt Conquest at most decisions he didn’t understand? With the recent explanation she uses that for, no matter how she explains it, fear, seems to back that, and hint more explicitly at her friends, hobbies, and fears. Friends, alone, that loneliness, manifested badly. Hobby, using creativity, multiplying by zeroes. That fear, manifest in self harm masked as self preservation.

        When taking characters and ordering them on the sanity of their background, she had amongst the most normal backgrounds. When listing the characters by deviation from what is ‘normal’ even without magic she is amongst the most messed up.

  4. Can someone please remind/explain to me what the plan is? Why is Rose leading the group in Johannes’ territory? What’s the immediate goal here? What does she expect or hope to accomplish by doing this?

    1. They’ve got to break the Barber’s hold over Faysal in order to move from being totally screwed to only mostly screwed. How exactly she intends to pull that off is spectacularly unclear.

          1. “I have a Plan!”, extends a folded piece of paper
            “This reads P L N.”
            “I admit, I have three quater of a plan…”

  5. Ainsley seems to be straightening Peter off, but his sarcasms meters are still through the roof. Don’t you dare scare Evan :<

    Spunkyfeets, Snotwit… you must have so much fun coming up with those names 😛 It must suck to be Mags, having to always, every single time, demonstrate dominion and superiority or get attacked otherwise.

    So the time trick pulled off by Alister is wearing off? And people haven’t escaped the city yet? I’m surprised at how clueless people can be x3

    1. I would not put it off Peter to be pretending to be under the “bad boy is redeemed by the power of love” trick, because he’s just the kind of asshole that would, you know?

      1. I think it’s more that he’s realized that if they don’t hang together, they shall assuredly all be hanged separately. I don’t think there’s been any deep inner conversion that’s going to turn his life around and make him act completely differently after all this is over.

      2. He doesn’t strike me like the kind of person that would manipulate someone they don’t know for the fun of it, rather than obtain any benefits. I don’t see how getting involved with Ainsley might benefit him here or elsewhere. But hey, maybe I am putting too much trust on him. We all know how fucked up the Thorburns are.

        1. He still thinks the whole “magic is real” thing is awesome, It just sucks balls that his introduction happened in a Wildbow story. But, if he somehow walks away from this intact, he’ll probably appreciate having an in with the chronomancer chick with a powerful extended family. Certainly better than trying to learn anything from his own toxic brood.

    2. given goblin names…was the one who traded her the method to bind greater goblins for her ability to curse just fucking with her by preventing her from saying their names and ever using that knowledge?

      1. No, not all goblin names are (inherently) obscene, and I suspect less obscene ones go with power. The most powerful one we’ve seen named is Gallowscream, and there was the only slightly rude one from the beginning of Signature, who was one of the greatest in Jacob’s bell (south of Johannes’s).

  6. The question that comes to mind for me right now since the Giant is dead is, “Where the FUCK is the dragon?” & “What the hell did the Barber do to it?”

    1. My Vote for Horror Awesomeness: Split in smoke-form-dragon and lightless-ember-dragon, sitting left and right of Barbies throne, with a heavily mutilitated dog-Faysal at his feet.

  7. Nobody complimented Wildbow yet for this pretty impressive and graphic description of “a” demon realm! Kudos, Wildbow.

  8. This story has messed with causality before this. Wildbow knows where he is/was/will be taking the story (at least the broad overview). How many people would bet that some of the characters that we’ve seen are about to have been (proper grammatical tense is a little tricky when causality is messed with) divided by the Barber’s shears? Who does Peter fight the most with? Is this why the Thorburns will have always been so messed up?

    Sure, when the Barber cuts someone, they get cut right then, not back in the past. But what does that feel like to the person? I would hazard a guess that the person’s memories are also divided, that the individual person feels like they’ve always been divided. Since the story is told from individual people’s points of view, if their memory is divided, then we might see the future cut, but it will appear (from an in-character point of view) to have already happened long ago.

    So, simple litmus test. Who talks but isn’t acknowledged by other characters? Or appears to be in slightly different places with one person being completely superfluous? What sort of fight club clues can we glean that might suggest that a person is about to have been divided by the Barber? (And, in passing, when you rewatch Fight Club, there’s a heck of a lot that’s unexplained like, “If he’s just one person, why aren’t people reacting more weirdly — what’s actually going on in this scene in real life?”)

    1. I really don’t think it works that way. When Blake and Rose got cut, they both got part of the actual memories and proceeded to automatically spackle over the gaps. They knew nothing about the other until they met after being divided. Also, we know from Possession that the cuts don’t retroactively alter the memory of other people.

      There were retroactive memory alterations with Blake and Rose where other people remembered only one of them at a given time, but that clearly didn’t happen with the things he was splitting in The Library. The circumstances must have been different with RDT’s plan.

      1. Exactly, both Blake and Rose thought that they’d “always” been like what they were then like after having been split by the Barber. People who see the Barber’s splitting (like in the library) know that a creature has been split into two, but if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to see it, or if the Barber splits something in two and nobody is around to see the splitting, how much of that new dual personality does reality rush to fill in? For instance, is Peter’s antipathy towards Paige really that of a twin, or are they now one person who’s about to be split by the Barber, perhaps operating in concert with a different demon?

          1. Or maybe “super lawyer Paige” was in Toronto, but after she gets split she then remembers being in Toronto while Peter remembers never having left and everything staying pretty much always the same… which sort of seems to be what he remembers? And he doesn’t seem to actually have a heart.

            1. Eh, no. Peter was in Jacob’s Bell doing all the stuff he’s been doing since Malfeasance simultaneous with Paige being in Toronto with Isadora. It is of course theoretically possible that the memories of every character we’ve gotten a viewpoint from have been completely rewritten, but not by the Barber. As we’ve seen with Ur and Blake’s art memories, the patch job on demonic damage is incredibly crude and fails under scrutiny. No one would be able to definitively recall being able to account for Paige and Peter at the same time.

  9. Wow it keeps turning out that Failsal messed up things so much worse than we realized. Now Barbie is getting ready to do some really big ruining.

    1. Such a beautiful, wonderful failure. Such an epic miscalculation. Faysal made his huge power play to slightly inconvenience the demons. If his plan had been a complete success, one demon would have been permanently removed from their side. From what I understand, that would have changed absolutely nothing. Faysal’s best-case scenario was an utterly insignificant victory in the grand scheme of things. Whereas his worst-case scenario may not have been getting bound, the appearance of the lawyers was a certainty. So he took this huge risk for a pointless gain.

      Do you know what that reminds me of? It was the same kind of lunacy that made Blake fight Ur for no reason, which ruined so much as a result.

      To be fair, Faysal wasn’t the only one to screw this situation up. If RDT wanted her heirs to lose, why the hell did she leave them a bound demon? We readers may not have realized beforehand how dangerous demonic possession could be, that possessing the right person could give Babratorem such a huge power boost, but RDT probably would have known the dangers of possession. So why the hell didn’t she banish him after she’d used his services?

      1. This was addressed quite recently in an excerpt from her diary. The demon could be used as a threat to keep away attacks from the neighbors so it helped the illusion that she was arming her successors to succeed. On the other hand, if they actually tried to use it there were people in the town who she trained to turn it back on them, hastening the failure that she’d actually planned.

        1. Something I don’t understand… How could RDT know that in case of such a failure, the heir wouldn’t take the lawyers’ deal ?

          1. I wondered about that initially – you’d think Rose would have considered taking the deal, if only to screw with the one who used a demon to cut her original into pieces -, but apparently RDT chose her heirs in such a way that that wouldn’t happen. I don’t know why Molly didn’t take the deal, even in her final moments, but neither Blake nor Rose would ever take it, and even the other heirs are the kinds of people who wouldn’t take the deal.

            What I don’t understand at this point, though, is why Paige was made the last heir in line. Originally it was presumed to be because she was a lesbian – unwilling to have children, or even incapable of it. But Rose later revealed that the whole point here was that RDT wanted her line to end, and that IIRC Rose herself can’t get kids, either.

            1. Paige was too obvious. If she’d been higher up the list the Lawyers would just have arranged her death so one of the others would take over.

            2. neither Blake nor Rose would ever take it

              You seem to forget that eventually, Blake did breakdown and try to sign up with the firm. (Un)fortunately for him, he didn’t have anything to offer and was refused. I think Rose has always been much more against using or associating with demons than Blake, the actual Diabolist. I wonder if that was intentional on Granny Rose’s part for the sake of The Plan.

            3. Because Paige was quickly pegged as the best practitioner of the lot, quibbles about teams notwithstanding. Also, Darth Granny wanted her line to fail. Such an exemplary candidate as Paige “I love semantics” Thorburn in the running needs to be placed so that anything she does will bring about the demise of the line. And oh look, she’s a lesbian who was repeatedly described as RDT in miniature, including by our erstwhile protagonist. She lives? Good luck getting her to produce an heir, and if she does, good luck getting her to acknowledge said daughter. She dies? Game Over lawyers, better luck next time.

      2. Faysal’s best-case scenario was an utterly insignificant victory in the grand scheme of things.

        I’m pretty sure Faysal expected that. He holds the sad belief that the universe is doomed in the grand scheme of things. The hope was to just delay the inevitable for a little bit.

        Unfortunately for Faysal and our heroes protagonists, Blake, the incarnation of messing up plans and making things worse, messed up his plan and made things worse. Because of Blake, the plan was accelerated with Johannes becoming a victim to the abyss. That, of course, opened the dog up to Barbie control as we’ve seen.

        1. We could also wonder what Faysal knew, and we dont, that made him think that the gain was worth the risk.

          I think we can safely assume that Faysal has seen and experienced a LOT. 10000 years since humanity gave him consciences and 3000 years since Solomon makes for a wide area of experiences. It never occurred to him that it could lead to trouble to lock his master in the Abys( I dont think he intented for Barber to cut the master-familiar bond, it seens to ill-advised to entrust such a delicate matter to a creature that has tricking you encoded in it’s very being, and he want’s to lock sed being and throw the key ; also the Abys has a plan, it is an activ player in the grand scheme of things, not a static one)?

          I think that Faysal has an ase under his sleev/paw 🙂
          Or some crucial information we do not possess it’s going to smite our characters in the face soon enough.

          P.S. English is not my first language.

        2. Where Faysal truly looks like a moron is when he possesses Johannes right before the end, realizes that Johannes will willingly sacrifice himself (so Faysal doesn’t have to make him do it) and doesn’t make Johannes take off the pipes! Seriously, that is brain-dead levels of stupid. “Oh good, now my master is going to be possessed while holding the one artifact capable of controlling me.”

      3. re: “would have changed absolutely nothing”

        he said it should have bought a couple millennia of time iirc. given that the entire purpose of angels doing anything at this point is to lose more slowly and buy time by your logic they shouldn’t do anything ever.

        …and same goes irl. fuck global warming the sun is already starting to burn out. why bother

      4. Faysal’s plan was to send the demon to the Abyss. There is no reason to believe the lawyers would have shown up, they don’t care where the demons are or what happens to them. It’s not like Barbie was at risk within the Abyss. They showed up for Rose, who was, clearly now, trying to get away from making a contract with the lawyers. Then, the lawyers took advantage of the opportunity (Johannes being possessed by Barbie, and maybe Faysal present thanks to Rose) to take control of Faysal.

        The only problem with Faysal’s plan, the only reason he was captured, is that he never considered that a demon could take control of him through Johannes, and that the lawyers would take advantage of this. Or at least, Faysal never acted soon enough to stop this from happening.

        1. Given that Faysal actually knew the lawyers, and has encountered them in the past, he fully should have expected them to show up. And the lawyers actually did show up immediately before the meeting in Hillsglade House where he pulled his betrayal; it’s not like they were acting remotely in secret.

          His whole plan boggles my mind. Faysal himself demonstrated the ability of rescuing beings from the Abyss, and yet he thought a demon could stay imprisoned there?! How could Faysal, of all people, consider the Abyss a perfect prison?

          Later on, Faysal wasn’t completely surprised when he remained a familiar. In fact, that’s precisely why he switched sides and helped the Toronto faction appear simultaneously in Jacob’s Bell. So Faysal saw even this risk beforehand, and fully ignored it.

          Which gives us even more parallels between Blake and Faysal: Blake ruined Toronto by fighting Ur, while Faysal ruined Jacob’s Bell with his plan of imprisoning Barbatorem. Both plans were utterly pointless, since both demons were already imprisoned!

          As I said, those are truly epic levels of miscalculation.

          1. SInce RDT summoned, named and bound Barbie, which was apparently an incredible feat from an exceptional diabolist, maybe very few or no other diabolist knew of Barbie, and it’s existence could have been forgotten when it, and the Thorburns’ house and books would have been dropped in the abyss. Then, barring exceptionnal circonstances or the lawyers, it could have stayed in the Abyss for a log time.

            1. That kind of thinking would have made a tiny bit of sense if Faysal didn’t know about the lawyers – though from my perspective, an angel should find a better use for a town of practitioners than as demon food. But Faysal did know about them! And yet he still pissed them off.

              Also, to say something slightly tongue-in-cheek about the morality of the situation: The lawyers were entitled to the house in case of malfeasance. Faysal ruined the house to the point that they couldn’t use it anymore. In which case they were surely morally entitled to claim Faysal as a consolation price.

            2. I’d been assuming that as a Gatekeeper he couldn’t possibly be incompetent enough not to anticipate this given that it was possible and it had to be some kind of ruse, but that’s seeming less and less likely the longer it goes without him gloating over the wreckage of demonic ambitions.

              It’s still not entirely impossible; the diagram is presumably to summon something. Once it’s complete, another angel could seal the entire demense with the Barber, the other demon(s), and Faysal trapped inside. Still, using Faysal as the bait in that plan would be insanely risky because the Barber could opt to use him to go anywhere before the trap was sprung.

              Still, there is evidence in favor of the trap theory. Faysal did know the risk of the familiar bond and the pipes, but he released Johannes to get himself possessed without getting rid of the pipes first.

          2. yeah…it either feels demon-ex-machina tacked on to keep the escalation up or faysal will need to have some kind of “plans within plans” thing going here….its TOO stupid otherwise

          3. Not really the same thing. Ur’s binding was already notably weak enough that he could draw in victims and it was getting weaker over time (though nobody wanted to admit it). Additionally, Blake’s fight risked his own existence, but did not threaten directly the binding. And ultimately Blake did figure out how the binding could be improved (i.e. creative drawings) and informed others of this. Blake still made a mistake by acting against Ur too quickly, but the fight was a necessary one.

            Faysal’s plan (such as we know of it) involved breaking a working binding for the chance at an improved binding. With the a collateral cost of an entire town. And it didn’t work.

            1. When Blake was erased, Isadora flat-out said that Ur’s demonic erasure-influence reached outside its binding for a moment. Which makes it a perfect parallel. And the result of the Blake fight promised to make Toronto a perfect mess, etc. Though we didnt see that on-screen, it was heavily implied. (Which makes it weird that there was no apparent animosity among the Toronto brigade when they arrived in Jacob’s Bell.)

          4. Faysal might have done a risk assessment and simply dismissed the likelyhood that something like his current situation would actually happen.

            After all, Johannes getting possessed was not exactly a likely outcome if he hadn´t deliberately tried to sacrifice himself.
            Johannes could have died, escaped or Barber could have possessed one of the others.
            And willingly letting a demon possess yourself might be so counterintuitive to an angel that Faysal simply didn´t consider it.
            Faysal even had a bit of influence over Johannes, so he might have thought he could control such impulses if they occured.

            Or Rose could have died, which might mean, the lawyers would have lost this game right then and there.
            Even with other heirs in the line, there is no house anymore, so getting rid of the house and possible setting Rose up to die simultaneously would have basically eliminated the lawyers game in Jacobs Bell and they wouldn´t have come there anymore.
            This now is pure speculation, but that might explain also, why the lawyers were so fast on turning on Faysal when he didn´t seem to expect open hostilities from them. – In their eyes he took the first punch.

            Not saying there wasn´t a bit of an oversight or miscalculation, but Faysal might well have known about the risk and decided the opportunity was still worth it.

            1. Actually, Faysal specifically announced he was releasing control over Johannes immediately prior to the sacrifice. He clearly decided to let Johannes do that.

      5. Dude, let it go. Blake had promised to Evan he’d deal with monsters like Urr, he needed a rallying cause to pull Toronto together and he had every reason to believe that the firepower he had amassed was more than sufficient to deal with Urr. On the face of it, it was a pretty good plan, it’s just that Urr turned out to be more powerful and slipperier than anyone had anticipated.

  10. So what is Paige’s Practice? She studied under Isadora, but we haven’t really seen her practice other than seeing things. A Karmanancer perhaps? Pussy Whisperer? Game show magic?

    1. Well, all I know is that she is studying from the Karmasutra.

      (Ba-dum Tsh)

      I don’t think Paige has had the opportunity to practice proper, she has just been learning the ropes.

  11. Things are pretty bad when I’m starting to think that the Goblin Queen’s Fire and Darkness is going to improve the situation.

    1. The goblin queen only does rearrangement of particles,not true destruction like the demons,so even if it killed everything in the city,it would be an improvement.

    1. Hey it’s not quite as bad as the Sacred Grounds from Cave Story. Granted, our protagonists are even more poorly equipped that Quote after “a black wind blows through [him]”. Also, they can’t return to the save point at the start when they die.

  12. Two more great spheres had collided with one another, and fragments stretched between them, with trails of dust or smaller fragments extending between. One was marked with faint glows that suggested the same expanse of magma she’d observed in the clouds over Jacob’s Bell.

    It was a setting, she instinctively knew, that was familiar to demons and gatekeepers, and very few others. A setting that predated things. Or a setting that would be.

    THERE CAME A TIME WHEN THE OLD GODS DIED…

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