Judgment 16.10

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We watched as the Barber held the shears to one side.  The fire that leaked out of the exposed cross-section of the dragon’s head came out in tendrils and lines, and those tendrils and lines touched the metal, slower and more fluid than arcs of electricity, but conducting all the same.

The metal grew white hot, cooled far too rapidly as the tendrils grew hair-thin and disappeared, another reaching out to touch another part of the blades.

Drinking in power.

One foot still rested on a knee.  He dropped it to the ground, used the scissors to push himself out of the throne and to a standing position.

As he did, the ambient light took on a different cast as it touched his face.  Black veins crawled over and along a horizontal line that marked his face, like cancerous worms, and knots of the veins had replaced his eyes.  More marks covered his flesh where the Library had nicked, burned, scraped and scratched him.  Like maggots crawling through his flesh, but an oily black in texture and color.

The darkness of his expression was countered by the spread of Faysal’s ‘wings’, though the wings were more a fractal pattern than true bird wings.  They reached further, and the light they emanated spread across the tower’s top.

I realized I was backing up, responding to an unconscious impulse, and made myself stop.  A fractional movement of his head suggested he’d noticed.

He could see.

Damn it all.

Alright.  Alright.  Fuck.  How were we even supposed to approach this?

He wasn’t going for the jugular.  As the Barber, just the Barber, he’d chased, pursued without pausing, closing the distance.  He had tricks available, using those shears.

Everything he’d done here had been different.  Passive, standing back, laying traps, striking from oblique angles.

Like a practitioner.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Mags whispered under her breath.

“Mags,” I said.

“What?”

“Keep one of those goblins in reserve.”

“Okay?”

If the dragon cooks us, we might need more bodies, or a distraction.  It’s a pawn we can place on the board, if we need to.

Johannes wasn’t moving.  His shears were dangling from one fingertip.  A twitch of the finger could have made them drop to the ground.

If that happened, if we could simply kick them over the edge, that would be something.

It wouldn’t happen.

He was letting us make the first move?

“You are not Johannes,” I said.

The sheer emptiness of this place meant my words didn’t resonate.  My own voice sounded too quiet to me, even as I spoke in louder, confident tones.

“I reject your power and your claim to power.  You’re a twisted creature belonging to some other long forgotten realm and time, you’re not something to be recognized or respected.

I managed to inject a fair bit of vitriol into my voice.

The Barber didn’t move.  Faysal’s wings continued to rotate in the background, shining past the stone pillars and railings that ringed the tower’s top, the shadows sliding endlessly to the left.  The dragon’s smoke rose up in fine curls, from nostrils set too far apart, on a head split right down the center.

“You wear a human’s skin now, but even before that, you wore a form you drew from our heads.  You’re wearing a mask under a mask.  Your only power is the power we damn well give you.”

The opening salvo.  My attack, for lack of a better term.

“Blake.”

It took me a full two seconds to identify the speaker.  I almost thought it was one of my companions, my ability to intuit direction warped by the nature of sound, here.  But, even as I dismissed that thought, I thought it might be Faysal, behind Johannes and the dragon.

No, I hadn’t really grasped that he might actually communicate with me.  I was caught entirely off guard, even though I was staring directly at him.

Johannes.  The Barber.

“You talk,” I said, stating the obvious.

“I could always communicate,” he said.

The shears snapped closed, opened, closed again.

Tk.  Tk.  Tch.

He tilted his head to one side, as if trying to read and interpret me.  It wasn’t a comfortable position for a human.  He righted his head, and hair fell across his face.  He didn’t move it.

“You’re not Johannes,” I said, for the second time.

“I am,” he said, and he said the words with a confidence that matched and maybe even outstripped my own defiance.  “I’m Johannes, and I’m something older.”

Fuck.  Fuck, fuck, fuck.  I’d hoped to discredit, to attack him with words so I wouldn’t need to cross blades with him.  If I could have upset his position here just a bit before everything unfolded, it could have made a difference.  Maybe led to another thing, which could have led to another.

This started with unseating him from his position, destroying it.  Except he now stood at the dead center of the roof, I’d pushed, in a manner of speaking, and he’d resisted my efforts altogether.

Theatrics mattered, and he had stage presence to spare.

“Blake,” he said.  “Mags?  Paige, Peter, Green Eyes.  Listen to me.  It’s Johannes.”

“I don’t believe you,” Mags said.

Good, I thought.  I glanced at her, and her eyes met mine.  I offered her a small nod.

“I’ve seen out their eyes,” the Barber said.  “Their memories.  Their experiences.  I’ve seen how the world is put together, and what it is.  The world is meant to be consumed.  By resisting, we’re only making it worse.  We’re a horse with a broken leg, and the best thing to do is put it out of its misery, because it only gets worse from here on out.”

“You don’t sound like Johannes at all,” Mags said.  “He had faith.  He was optimistic, even if I didn’t like how he did things, he believed in humanity.  Establishing a system.”

Good.  Keep up the attack.

I did,” the Barber said.  “It was only yesterday.  Hours ago, even.  I had hopes and dreams and even a bit of hunger for power, to give me a personal stake in it.  And now?”

He spread his arms a little.

“I know better,” he said.  His words, like ours, simply ended with each utterance.  No bouncing echolocation, no warmth.  They were sounds made with our lips, teeth, tongues and throats.

Every response we gave him, I was genuinely terrified that that would be the provocation he needed to come after us.  To give the word to the dragon or Faysal.

“You said we’re a horse with a broken leg?”  I asked.  “Breaks heal.  I think I’m speaking for most members of humanity when I say that I’d much rather be alive than gone.”

“Yet,” he said, “The end approaches in fits and starts.  You might think that you want more existence, but if you truly felt it, if you believed it deep down inside, then that would tip the scales.  If humanity was truly on the side of creation and progress, he-”

The shears pointed at the angel behind him.

“-he would be winning.  He would be stronger than I am.”

Tch.  The shears snapped closed as he lowered his arm.  There was a languid nature to his movements that suggested that some of his internal makeup was a little bit demon as well.

“That’s disingenuous,” Paige said, speaking up.  She’d found her voice.  “There’s history to take into account.  It wasn’t so long ago we were all getting sick and blaming it on humors or miasma.  Human existence has suckedMy existence sucked-”

“And,” the Barber cut in, “I’m sorry to say that before the end of the night, it’ll turn out worse than you’ve ever conceived of.”

Paige’s mouth opened and closed, the words she’d been about to form drying out and withering on her tongue.

Come on, Paige, I thought.

“It got better,” she said, but her forward momentum had dissipated.  “For so long, it was awful, flat-out toxic.  But it got better.  Humanity will keep advancing.  The broken bone will heal.”

“No,” the Barber said.  He fixed his dark non-eyes on her.  “Your life only got better because you left it behind you.  You threw yourself into the realm of Others, adoration of a centuries-old creature doomed to be among the last of her line.  You threw yourself into studying her and how to be useful to her, and you abandoned your human life to do it.  You’re a coward, Paige Thorburn.  You live for balance, truth, justice and order, and you are none of these things.”

Paige tried to hold fast, but the doubt still crept into her expression.

“If I was a coward, would I be here?”

“Yes.  Your particular brand of cowardice led you directly onto this path.  To go anywhere else or do anything else would mean you had to return to your old life.  I could spare you, I won’t, but I could.  You still wouldn’t last the night.  Where are you going to go, Paige Thorburn?  You threw it all away for a creature that’s now dead.”

Dead.  The word had a finality to it, a certainty.

She set her jaw, but the doubt had crept in enough that I couldn’t deny it.  The pain.

The Barber looked at me.  “You had the right idea.  Attack with words.  Establish the facts, then use them.  If the tables were turned and you were the enemy, me as the one who didn’t know any better, it’s what I’d do.  I can show you how fragile you are before I destroy you.”

“I know how fragile I am,” I said.

“You as a collective.  Humans.  Mortals and Others.  I’m trying and apparently failing to convey that this has all been decided.  I can see it, and I’m speaking out of the goodness of my heart, as Johannes Lillegard, because I want to spare you the disappointment.  You can’t deny that this is reality.”

“I damn well can,” I said.  “You pretend to know us all, but you’re badly underestimating Thorburn stubbornness.”

“Underestimating you?  I made you,” he said.

Something in his voice made Rose’s heart skip a beat.  An edge, a bit of a growl that did echo, responding to elements of this environment.

He went on, “You can’t tell me that all is well and that you have hope, when you’re planning to die.  You intend to give up your existence to someone you well and truly know is a sad, lonely, shadow of yourself, devoid of passion.  No.  You have no place to say anything to me.  If you try to win over any subtle powers that are listening, you’re going to fail badly.  You have no ground to stand on.”

Why the fuck did he have to be able to talk, damn it?

“You shouldn’t-” Green started.

“Green,” I said, cutting her off.

She shot me a look.

“There’s no rush,” I said.  “Don’t speak just because you feel you have to.  Consider your words carefully.”

“What you mean,” the Barber said, “Is you don’t want to give up an easy third point of debate.  If you challenge my perspective and I firmly establish that a third person has no grounds to make the challenge, I benefit.”

“There is that,” I said.

“He has no faith in you here,” the Barber told Green Eyes.

“That’s not true,” I said.

“Challenging me?  Prove it, then,” he said.  “The Barber is sworn to the Seal of Solomon.  Johannes is a practitioner.  If you would mark us as liars with a meaningful show of faith, we’ll be disadvantaged.”

He was right.  The more meaningful the show, the greater the disadvantage.

But there was no meaningful action I could make that wouldn’t disadvantage us more.  I could walk away, head down the stairs, and let her fight the Barber, I could give her the Hyena.

He’d already anticipated this much.

I spoke, instead, “When all of this is over, Green, I’m counting on you to look after Evan.”

“Paltry, as displays of faith go,” the Barber said.  He didn’t even flinch.  ”

“It’s good enough for me,” Green Eyes said.  “I’m counting on him making it through this, and not dying at the end of the night.  Even if he hates me for what I have to do to make it happen.  He’ll be able to look after Evan himself.”

“I think that sentiment is enough answer to why you have no grounds to challenge me, you and Blake are birds of a feather, after all,” the Barber said.  “Mags, I don’t think I even need to say anything to you, after the long conversations we’ve had.  That only leaves Peter.  Unless you think a goblin would be a better voice for humanity.”

He said Peter with such contempt.

I didn’t agree with the Barber, but I wasn’t the one he needed to sway.  He was answering my attempt to challenge his legitimacy and now he challenged ours, and I was betting he was winning over anything that was listening.  I hesitated to call them ‘spirits’, but they were.  The building blocks of reality were tuned into this conversation.  The words chosen, the way they were presented, and the effects they had were all factors.

He’d declared that victory for his side was inevitable, even if we won here.  Humanity was instinctively helping his side, and each of us here had no ground to stand on if we wanted to say otherwise.

Except for Peter.

“It’s not like I really got to know you, but I don’t remember you being this big of a dildo when you weren’t playing host to some scissors-demon,” Peter said.

“Petty insults.  A small mystery, how I didn’t lose my faith in humanity before the demon opened my eyes.”

“Fuck that,” Peter said.  “Petty insults are an art.  So is talking out your ass, and you’ve acknowledged that.”

“I can see straight through you, Peter Thorburn,” the Barber said.  “Backward and forward.  The benefit of an eye for ruin and having a practitioner’s Sight at the same time.  Don’t even pretend that you have any faith in humanity.  You dwell in the darker recesses of it, and you know deep down inside that when your charm fails you, you’ll plunge deeper still, to your own detriment.”

“Ouch,” Peter said, unflinching.  “But who the fuck are you to decide that this is about the now?  Because I think that’s the demon talking, not Johannes.  There isn’t a single person here on this towertop who doesn’t look back at yesterday and think about how much it sucked.  Sure.  I might dwell in dark recesses of humanity today, but maybe I get to enjoy a certain girl’s more pleasant-”

“Ahem,” Paige cut in.

“-tomorrow,” Peter said.  “Even if it’s not for ourselves, necessarily, we’re all looking forward.  Bumps in the road or no, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think there was something better in general, later on.  Right?”

“Right,” Mags said.

Paige was nodding, as was Green Eyes.

“Damn straight,” I said.

The Barber looked us all over with a level gaze.

His eyes met mine.

I reaffirmed my grip on the Hyena.

Was this where he uttered a command to Faysal?  Or threw the shears to close the distance?  We’d answered his challenge, so to speak.

“You know, don’t you?” he asked, the question abrupt.

Know?

“When all’s said and done, the Abyss will spread, and it will swallow all things.  It’s the next step in humanity’s progress.  Left untouched, things will advance, progress and change until they tumble over a cliff.  That is what waits for humanity as a whole, in the interim.  The things you call demons wait beyond even that point.”

“That was about the sense I had of things,” I said, reminded of why I’d suggested that Rose take a bogeyman as part of the group.  Take Green Eyes.

“Then-”

“It’s fine,” I cut him off.  My own gaze was just as level as his.  “I’m not worried.  We’ll find a way to make it work.  I’ve gone out of my way to reject tradition, the ties of the past that bind us.  Why the hell would I let anyone dictate the particulars of the future?”

“Why indeed?” the Barber asked.  “The practitioner you’re currently possessing would do well to keep that in mind, when she considers how faithful you are to the promise you made her.”

I felt Rose react.  A sharp movement, too fast and violent, as she did the equivalent of snapping her head around, paying full attention.  It tore something.  Created a schism.

I tried to open my mouth to protest, but there was a disconnect between the parts of this face that were mine, and the parts that were Rose’s.

I’d left him an opening.  He took it.

He was backing up.  He snapped his fingers, and he pointed with the shears, a sweeping gesture.

The dragon roused.  Suddenly alert, hostile.

I could see the energy building up deep within its body, flowing and flaring at points along the length of its torso, around lungs, up the neck, toward the mouth.

Mags was throwing a piece of paper.  Paige, Peter and Green Eyes were ducking toward the stairwell.

I tried to follow suit, and I felt the disconnect between my wishes and the body’s actions.  The damage done with that pique of doubt on Rose’s part slowed me down, and I knew it was enough of a break that I wouldn’t be able to get to the stairwell.  Couldn’t run back to try and use the pillars or railings that ringed the tower top, and didn’t trust them besides.

The Barber’s dark gaze didn’t break, as he faced me down, the energy crackling and spitting out to fill the ‘v’ shaped gap between the two halves of the dragon’s head.

A pillar rose out of the middle of the rooftop, just behind him.

Control over his demesne.

The only option that remained.

It’s because I believe in changing destiny that I’m walking this road, damn you!

Rose got the message, processed it, and seemed to realize she was holding me back.  I had control again.  I rushed in his direction, Hyena in hand, as the fire reached the dragon’s bisected mouth.

Two focused streams, one to my left, one to my right, the space between them filling with swirling, erratic gouts and curls of superheated flame.

The only piece of cover available was the one the Barber had given himself.  With no other choice, I was heading straight for the Barber, even as the flame closed in to my left and right.

I swung the Hyena, because there was no other choice, here.  Too close in proximity, and this scant amount of cover from the flames wasn’t enough to be shared.

The shears caught the Hyena.  Almost immediately, I realized that I wasn’t strong enough.  He twisted the weapon, and twisted me over to one side, at the same time.

Forcing me in the direction of the flames.

My grip was only a one-handed one, my weapon a broken one, while his grip was two-handed, the individual blades each as long as my forearm.

I was losing this contest of strength, perilously close to the fire that now formed a skewed ring around the tower’s roof, curving with the pillars and railing to flow behind me, simultaneously blazing to my left and right.

Still, a one-handed grip meant I had one hand free.  My own grip on my weapon was enhanced by the spikes.  Still holding the Hyena, I twisted around, my back to the Barber, and moved to his left, driving my elbow back and toward his elbow.

I hit his upper arm instead.  The shears were jarred, the blades closed, and the Hyena was forced out the upper end.

Our weapons no longer pressing against one another, I was given an opening, while simultaneously threatened by the fact that the shears were right there, and I had no idea what he was about to do with them.

Someone was screaming, male but still a high pitched, ragged sort of sound.  It wasn’t me.  It wasn’t the Barber.

I dropped to one knee, anticipating that he’d thrust the shears at me, instinctively knowing I was off balance enough that if he simply threw his body at mine, he could send me stumbling into the fire.  Being low to the ground meant I was harder to move.

But he was more deliberate, careful.  He didn’t thrust blindly.  He had all the time in the world to decide where he’d put the shears.  As my knee hit rooftop, he was already poised, shears drawn back, slightly parted, thrusting them at my neck.

I swung the Hyena around, but I didn’t manage to put them in the way of the Barber’s weapon.  The shears were knocked up and to one side, instead.  They grazed cheekbone, temple, scalp, and ear, carving away wood and bone that marked my claim to that part of Rose’s face.

I cut at him, in turn, a halfhearted backhand slice at his midsection, given how I needed to move my weapon-wielding hand anyhow.  I saw the line appear, red, raw.

It closed instantly, knitting together with those black, leech-like masses.  Just as the Barber had been damaged but never actually hurt.  Never debilitated.

But, as efforts went, it perhaps made him a fraction of a percentage point less Johannes, a bit more Barber.

My damaged hand, cut by the shears earlier, went up to catch at one of his wrists.  I seized him, and he didn’t seem to care.  His eyes were elsewhere, looking over and past me.

I saw his lips move.

White light consumed him.  My hand closed over nothing.

Faysal.

The screaming I’d heard earlier was getting louder.

It was Mags, her goblin in tow.  A goblin, short, fat and wrinkled, was clad entirely in armor that looked like it had been made with some sheet metal clippers and liberal time spent in a junkyard.  It had a shield that was taller than the goblin was, and both a hunched-over Mags and the goblin were taking shelter behind it.

“Hot!” the goblin screamed.  “It’s hot!”

They reached the pillar.  The goblin positioned the shield so it added to the cover the pillar provided.

“Where is he!?” Mags shouted, over the goblin’s whining and the roar of the flames.

“Faysal moved him!”

I didn’t catch Mags’ expletive.

“Hot hot fuck me it’s hot!”

“Shut up!”

“Why didn’t you use him earlier!?” I called out.

“He’s a coward!”

“Fuck you!” the goblin retorted.

The dragon’s fire was more like napalm than a simple continuous blast of fire.  Where it moved through the air, it made for thick licks of fire.  Where it touched the rooftop, it spattered, making stone burn with all the eagerness and enthusiasm that wood or paper might.

It wasn’t stopping.

It wasn’t stopping, and I was almost certain that the Barber wouldn’t leave it at that.

He’s playing a role.  He’s trying to hold on to Johannes, avoiding doing anything that could jeopardize this claim to a demesne that he might be able to use.

What would Johannes do?

If the pillar fell, we would lose all of the cover we had.  The flames could keep coming, and we’d bake.  I’d combust, by virtue of the heat around me.  We might well suffocate before anything else.

Both were possible even if he left the pillar where it was.

But he had no reason to leave the pillar where it was.

No reason, except to keep us here, waiting for the dragon to run out of fire.

The others?

“We have to go back!” I shouted.

“Back!?”

“The others!”

Mags seemed to get it.

The goblin didn’t.

“Go!” Mags ordered.  She gave him a kick in the rear end.

He did go, and very nearly left before I could join them, with me throwing myself past the licks of accelerant-fueled fire that danced in the gap between shield and pillar.

It wasn’t a long trip to the stairs, but with my focus on the fire, the dragon, the shield, and positioning myself exceedingly carefully in the midst of it all, joining Mags and the goblin in taking a zig-zagging path, I did my utmost not to let myself burn or walk on any patches of ignited ground, I very nearly missed it.

I’d guessed wrong when it came to the Barber’s goal here.

The railing rose, the space between the top of the railing and the floor of the roof grew thicker, with curls of metal and stone filling in to become a wall.

Ringing the tower, sealing everything in.

Turning this into an oven.

Four enemies to fight.  Demon, gatekeeper, dragon, and the tower itself.

“Keep going, protect the others!” I shouted.

“What!?” Mags asked.

But I was already changing course.  Separating from her.  The intensity of the fire got worse as I stepped further from the shield-bearing goblin.

Pieces of wood at my back ignited.  One foot did as well.

I could feel Rose’s flesh sear and burn, and it was a pain unlike just about anything I’d ever felt.

But I reached the railing, staggered into it, and cut at it with the Hyena to chop at a piece of it, pushing myself through the biggest gap.

It now shielded me from the fire, giving me avenue to pause.  Hanging on with one hand, I used the Hyena to hack at myself.  Cutting away wood where it burned, too generous in how I cut, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything.  I left Rose’s foot as it was, seared by licks of the flame.

I climbed.  Up the exterior wall, onto a pillar.

The fire had stopped, and had perhaps stopped some time ago, but the flames remained intense, burning as if they consumed fire for fuel, endless, roiling, dying out in one place even as it surged in another for no apparent reason.

Looking down, I couldn’t make out the others.  They’d retreated into the stairwell, and the fire danced above them.

In the midst of the fire, I could see the Barber.  He was joined by the dragon, which moved awkwardly, its entire form and function altered by the way it had been parted.

I was twelve feet up, twenty feet away from the Barber.  Armed with only a broken sword.

We weren’t equipped to win this fight as it stood.  There were too many heavy hitters.

I stabbed the Hyena into the pillar’s top for leverage, in case he tried something.

The Barber saw me, using the Sight.  Or he sensed the offense to the demesne he sought to control.

I was ready for him to move up here.  A fight with a burning rooftop below and a fatal drop to the street on the other side.

He ignored me.  He used his shears to cut at the flame, severing it like he might paper.  A swat of the tool, another cut, and he created a path for himself, the dragon right behind.  Moving perpendicular to me, as if inviting me to come.

No, he was forcing my hand.

He was leading the dragon to the stairwell.  From there, all he had to do was fill it with fire.  The others wouldn’t be able to hold it off.  They just weren’t equipped for it.

Have to remove a threat.  Can’t do anything about the angel, the Barber is too careful…

My eye fell on the dragon.

Fuck me, I thought.  It was really my only chance.

I found myself running along the top of the wall, following the route they were traveling.  With the circular nature of the roof, we naturally converged.

I leaped, with all of my strength.  I flew, for lack of a better word.

No longer breathing fire, readying for its next blast, the dragon was focused on the stairwell, the Barber was focused on me.  I couldn’t touch him.  He’d meet my blade again, and he’d move away if he felt threatened.

I landed on the Dragon’s wing, tumbled, and only just managed to grab the dragon’s shoulder to stop myself from falling off to one side, at the base of the wall.  The fire there was only part of it.

My goal lay elsewhere.  With the leverage the grab had afforded me, I hurled myself over.  Into the v-shaped gap where the dragon’s body parted.

Into the divide the Barber had made.  With white-hot burning scales on either side of me.

I stabbed the part that looked most like a heart.

I saw the dragon wither, staggering away.

It made for a feeling of victory, however fleeting and tinged with the other danger that was moments away, but even that feeling faded fast.

As I turned, I saw that the Barber had answered my stab with a cut of his own.  He’d finished cutting the Dragon.

Now whole, its sickened and dying half killed by my sword, the Dragon rested against the wall.  Patches of flame surrounded me, and the Barber faced me, weapon at the ready.

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77 thoughts on “Judgment 16.10

  1. Should someone eat the dying half of the dragon to get stronger or use it for Sympathetic Magics to manipulate the living half to attack the Barber?

  2. War drums. War drums are Blake’s theme.

    Also I don’t think springing from discussion to action is a good sign for a debate. It’s conceding that you can’t keep up the dialogue and instead need to lean on the abundance of might to defeat the paltry group that’s invaded your home.

    The Barber is going to make a mistake. It’s in the very way that the combat is stacked. He’s in the middle of his castle, surrounded by his strongest forces. With numerous tentative ties to them, almost like a videogame boss. Any one of the numerous soft target’s takes a chunk out of his legitimacy. The pipes. The Dragon. The flesh. Each is vital portion of power that, if impacted, seesaws the balance he’s developed.

    If he was going to win, he’d have done it by now instead of fumbling all over his feet like a drunken child. Honestly? A plucky group of survivors stumbling out of a mess of a fight with three other demon’s equal the The Barber, directly into the territory that he commands with his will? If he’s not won already, then his position is gravely tenuous and claims he tries to make about “the way of things” should be taken with a deluge of salt.

    Also. The abyss taking the entire town would mean it snags four major demons, numerous minor demons, several lawyers, and whatever else is out there. It’s positioned for a checkmate of glorious and completely believable proportions.

    1. As I undersand, he cut the dragon in half and gave the already dying part its weaknesses, thus Blake’s strike made it tougher.

  3. I wonder how part other one could be before they cannot be a practitioner or since there are variations in the practitioner ritual could a other become one through a variation.

    1. I am gonna use a fictional example here could one have say demon blood from dmc and still be a practitioner like say dante. or be like credo and be able to take human form.

  4. Is it possible to claim another’s demesne? In the absence of better claims? Because I’m thinking Blake or someone should try to wrest control of the demesne from the Barber.

      1. again whats the point were someone gets too other? i mean didnt blck already have branches starting to grow before he became a other or was his tattoos starting to reach or something.

  5. My guess is: Rose and Black going to merge with some help from the abyss and by that to prove that things a demon destroy can be rebuild, change permanently the rules regarding demons and the abyss, ans stop the end of all thing.

      1. There’s a gap between “stopping the end of the universe” and “everyone lived happily ever after”
        For starter they could die while doing that.

  6. Hm. The only way our protagonists could win this arc is if their enemies made mistakes after mistakes after mistakes. Some of which have already happened, and I don’t think there’s a good reason for it.

    Why did the hunting lawyer not call the firm once they discovered that Rose was going towards Johannes’ demesne? At that point, their destination was obvious. If that guy screwed up enough, the firm may not even know where Rose & co are right now.
    Similarly, why doesn’t Johannes / Barbatorem call the lawyers now? Escaping from the lawyers should be as futile as escaping from Worm’s Doormaker.
    Why does Johannes fight at all? To win, he just has to survive the night. With Faysal, the (whole) dragon and his superior ability to traverse his own demesne, he could easily waste time until his plan has come to fruition or his pursuers are dead. And this is the kind of thing Johannes should think of, given that he was Munchkin enough to make his tricky demesne challenge in the first place.

    Yes, seeing Blake win over and over against absurdly powerful opponents is fun and suitably dramatic, but some of his victories strain my suspension of disbelief. I’d prefer it if his opponents were less outright powerful, and instead smarter. HPMoR-level smarts are too much to wish for (though I recommend the guide at http://yudkowsky.tumblr.com/writing in any case), but maybe the antagonists could at least have their own abridged versions of the Evil Overlord list?

  7. [Repost due to failed formating:]

    Hm. The only way our protagonists could win this arc is if their enemies made mistakes after mistakes after mistakes. Some of which have already happened, and I don’t think there’s a good reason for it.

    1) Why did the hunting lawyer not call the firm once they discovered that Rose was going towards Johannes’ demesne? At that point, their destination was obvious. If that guy screwed up enough, the firm may not even know where Rose & co are right now.

    2) Similarly, why doesn’t Johannes / Barbatorem call the lawyers now? Escaping from the lawyers should be as futile as escaping from Worm’s Doormaker.

    3) Why does Johannes fight at all? To win, he just has to survive the night. With Faysal, the (whole) dragon and his superior ability to traverse his own demesne, he could easily waste time until his plan has come to fruition or his pursuers are dead. And this is the kind of thing Johannes should think of, given that he was Munchkin enough to make his tricky demesne challenge in the first place.

    Yes, seeing Blake win over and over against absurdly powerful opponents is fun and suitably dramatic, but some of his victories strain my suspension of disbelief. I’d prefer it if his opponents were less outright powerful, and instead smarter. HPMoR-level smarts are too much to wish for, but maybe the antagonists could at least have their own abridged versions of the Evil Overlord list?

    1. I don’t usually agree with your critiques, but I think this one is pretty fair. I knew not to expect a completely one-sided fight, because that would make for a pretty grim story, but I’m running out of in-story reasons why Blake and company should not have been snuffed out by now.

      That said, I’ll play devil’s advocate an offer my own list of possibilities:

      Regarding point 2: The Lawyers seem to want to help the Barber, but that’s as far as our understanding of their relationship goes. This is the first time we’ve heard the Barber speak – we don’t know him, his plans, or how he feels about them. Maybe there’s a reason he didn’t call them.
      Regarding point 3: Johannes/Barber has to be present to defend his claim to his demesne, both with his words and symbolically through fighting.
      Maybe the Barber bit off more than he can chew. He is trying to hold onto a demesne, as well as keep keep control of an angelic familiar. Faysal has done so many things wrong, but even bound in service to a demon he’s no lightweight – if Barber doesn’t remain ‘Johannes’ enough, Faysal could very well assert some control. Pull at the leash, so to speak. He ordered his master to stay earlier, which means that he’s capable of overpowering the practitioner.
      Every action that he takes that is out of character for Johannes is another piece of ammo he hands Blake to hammer at the pretense that he is Johannes. Johannes has never been a straightforward attacker, choosing instead to come at problems from odd angles. He’s also always been shown to try swaying his enemies with words before battling them, offering them an out or giving them the option of laying down their arms before fighting him.

      At the end of the day, it’s a lot of maybes and a lot of guesses, and more of a thought exercise than me actually disagreeing with you.

      1. Maybe if we get a histories chapter from barbar POV? also he is a demon of ruin things like structure and such are his opposite and maybe the demon lawyers are too structured to be well liked by him?

        1. The lawyers have worked with Barbatorem before, most recently by fulfilling RDT’s will to have him cut Ross in half. That also means they must have had a way to communicate with him. And in general, you’d expect the lawyer faction to understand demons sufficiently well that they wouldn’t screw up like this.

          And in this arc, the ones to rescue Barbatorem from the Abyss … were also the lawyers. Why the hell aren’t they working together now? I don’t know if it’s the lawyers or Barbatorem, but someone screwed up here.

          1. Why should they? Working with the lawyers most likely implies a kind of pact/debt. Perhaps the barber thinks he can win without their costly help?

            1. The lawyers and Barbatorem are supposed to work for the same side, i.e. the demons. And they seem to have the same goal. This is a mutually beneficial situation, so why not just cooperate?

            2. I don’t think the demons are exactly a monolithic force. Remember the big staredown between the Lawyers and that demon back in their Histories chapter. They’re allied with the Barber like Blake was allied with Pauz way back.

              Besides, right now the Toronto guys are battling the Lawyers.

          2. One essential thing to remember about the Lawyers is that they’re not demons. They’re diabolists. As such, they act like diabolists and wish to limit their use of their demonic allies and minimize their interaction when there is a risk of it backfiring on them

            1. I interpret things rather differently. All lawyers were diabolists who took the offer from the firm. The firm is led by (major) demons who for whatever reason can’t directly act in reality, and so act by proxy via their lawyer servant-slaves instead. If the lawyers prove themselves useless by failing too much, they’ll suffer very painful ends.

            2. It’s clear from the Histories chapter that they still possess agency. So they can still choose their own tactics, and they’ll want to avoid using demons as much as possible unless it’s absolutely necessary. So they won’t show up to help the Barber unless they think he’s going to lose, which they don’t.

        2. Also, Ruin is his nature. He could have kept the dragon whole and aimed it at everyone. But, it’s not in his nature to do that. Johannes was also a tinkerer, so it kind of washes, except whatever Barbie does, he’s got a chance of undermining himself, not just those he aims at.

    2. Theatrics.
      Barber’s plan involves using those portals to unleash literal hell upon the world. Blake challenged his claim to Johannes, which would hurt his ability to use these portals (as he’s already intentionally letting johannes win internal battles here and there so he doesn’t override him and lose the demesne and possible influence over the angel).

      You aren’t looking at this from the oppositions side. From our side, it seems really silly everything the barber and lawyers are doing, because we see blake’s goal is to beat them and think that their goal is to stop him. It isn’t, not exactly anyways.

      Barber doesn’t want to stop blake from stopping him, because he knows he can’t. Blake tried to challenge him verbally, and lost. Physically, lost again. And all in all, the only thing the barber is really doing is just stalling for time by distracting blake and his team, or “staying alive” as you say. He IS just wasting time, but he;s having fun with it. He can’t just keep running and running, because it’s supposed to be his realm, and he shouldn’t show weakness in it for the sake of theatrics.

      Actually, the Barber, and most antagonists in this series ARE HPMoR level intelligence. You’re missing one important thing though-this is a world where theatrics, declarations, and truth are insanely more important than the clever plots and deception tactics harry and his foe use. In this world, this is how the high-level players need to operate. In MoR, that isn’t the case, so more strait-forward logical reasoning is better than ass-pulling, bullshitting, and being a Bond Villain.

      Also, the lawyers don’t want to use all the power they have, for obvious reasons. Let the barber do his thing, take the risks, and be the target, while they do whatever it is they are currently doing. In the long term, they really don’t care what happens to this city, or to the practitioners, they just want to better their firm’s standing, which they are currently doing, and to get Rose, which they inevitably will.

      Lastly, the city is still highly connected to the Abyss, and that is influencing Blake’s karma greatly. Things are going to go his way to some degree because of this (or, at least go against him less). Does this go against normal suspension of disbelief? Yup. Is it the way this world works? sadly, yup.
      TR jr. doesn’t have karma in his world, so things don’t work like that, with random things happening in his favor that aren’t in any way the intention of some other high level player (including him from the future.)

      1. Sure, we can make excuses for why these actions by our antagonists are supposedly intelligent. But do you really predict the antagonists will win? I very much don’t, which is why I don’t consider their actions intelligent.

        In case of the lawyers, reasonable-seeming efforts aren’t enough. If they screw up, they’re demon fodder. Yes, they can’t bring unlimited amounts of power to bear. But they’ve already called several demons, and if they fail to fulfill their goal of killing Rose now, they’re in an even worse position than before.

        Re: Theatrics and Bond villains: I’ve said it before, but I outright disagree that Pactverse rewards Bond villains. Conquest failed horribly. So did Mara. Faysal did worse.
        As far as I can tell, the spirits in Pactverse treat Bond villains exactly like other stories treat them, i.e. they push them up and make them appear strong until the protagonist can defeat them in a glorious finale.
        Can you tell me one Pactverse villain that has behaved like a Bond villain and actually benefited from this?

        Re: Karma: I very much like the idea of karma, but I can’t use it to predict anything. Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: “An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.”

        I can never predict what will or will not generate good karma for Blake, or even how it manifests itself. For instance, I would argue that the Execution arc should have pushed Blake’s karma into the cellar, at the very least causing crucial Duchamp defections during Ms. Lewis’ appeal in the church sanctuary a few arcs later, which would have ruined everything. Or what about Blake forcing Mara to lie? I would have expected all of that bad karma to backfire on him.

        1. Keep in mind that making the villians too intelligent can be a huge problem. Too competent and the heroes cannot win. Normally your villains are more powerful, or have more resources. If they correctly brought them to bear, the protagonists die the moment the villain decides they need to die. An intelligent antagonist with a time machine would just shoot the hero while he’s on the toilet for example. Make your antagonist too powerful and too smart to mess up and your stuck having to either pull something out your ass, or have him hold the idiot ball. Yeah actual book Voldemort was a crazy idjit, but there was just about no other way for Harry to beat him as he was never going to actually be able to catch up in terms of power and knowledge.

          That isn’t to say antagonists shouldn’t be competent, but there is a difference between competance and infailability. David Xanatos from Gargoyles averted a lot of the cliches and flaws that make cartoon villains ineffectual, and he was the namer for Xanatos Gambit, but he still got outplayed or had things backfire on him.

          And lets not forget it’s perfectly realistic for the bad guys to loose because of stupid policies and actions by their leader. Look at some of what Hitler did for example.

          1. To clarify, I don’t expect or even need genius-level villains. But characters in Worm were better at coming up with unconventional uses for their powers. And I don’t just mean Taylor; I also mean e.g. Wards switching costumes to confuse the villains, Imp using her power for jokes, etc. I wish Pact villains were more genre-savvy like that.

            I don’t mind powerful but unintelligent non-human villains, either. But seeing the protagonists win against powerful humans because the latter behaved stupidly is dramatically unsatisfying. It may be realistic that bad people can make egregious mistakes, but when it happens in stories, it tells me that the protagonist didn’t deserve to win, the antagonist just deserved to lose. Conquest’s defeat against Blake was like that. Same with the Duchamp Execution.
            Blake can only punch so far above his weight class in this story because his human opponents give him opportunity after opportunity for no good reason. I wish he’d had less outright powerful but instead smarter opponents.

            In contrast, I’m fine with the way the Hyena was defeated: As a goblin turned instinct-driven beast, I didn’t consider its loss due to human stupidity. Similarly, the final boss in Worm was sufficiently different from humans that its exploitable weaknesses made sense to me.

            1. See, I strongly disagree that the reason why the Duchamps didn’t beat Blake in Execution is because they were stupid. They had three options: they could ignore Blake and let him pick people off, they could focus all their firepower on Blake and get eaten by the swarms of maddened Others, or they could fight the swarms of maddened Others and take potshots at Blake with any firepower they could spare, which is what they did. They lost because Evan is a great counter to their primary source of firepower and Green Eyes is made of armor and pointy bits and crazy-fast, and because intra-team relations were incredibly strained even before Blake started talking. And Sandra did actually manage to block him from completing the set of seven kills. Blake neatly forked her by forcing her to choose between keeping her credibility with the family and being able to keep the marriage powerbase running after winning the Lordship, which he had correctly determined she wasn’t going to do.

              I mean, the husbands and Duchamps could have ignored what Blake was saying and continued fully cooperating, which might have prevented the later kills, but what Blake was saying was true and everyone basically knew that. The husbands were understandably reluctant to entrust their safety to people they knew despised them and some of whom had actively marked them for death by the guy presently trying to kill them. And it still didn’t become a proper catastrophe until Corvidae and his limitless capacity to screw over everyone tangentially related to any situation he touches showed up.

        2. Why do you predict the bad guys won’t win? If I ignore the fact I personally always expect the “good guy” to have some sort of a “good ending”, and if this was real life, I would have Higher hopes for Ms. Lewis to repent and see the errors of her ways than Blake winning. His opposition has been playing this game for a hell of a long time (pun intended), against many others and Others stronger, smarter, and more magically awesome than any of the people in this little group.
          Hell, he doesn’t even know what most of his teammates can do, which is crucial to leadership and planning. One of which can’t do much of anything (specifically Peter, but you could argue the same for a few others, since he is the only one who actually stood his ground in the barber’s verbal-attack).

          Oh don’t get me wrong, I feel we’re on the same page when it comes to the lawyers. I’m assuming that their real end-goals, the ones they wish to preserve above all else, are elaborate and unknown currently, because I can’t fathom good reasons for 90% of the dumb things they do.

          Bond villains- uh. Well, first, the people you named are those who are highly reliant upon their shticks/their nature. Conquest couldn’t go against his, which blake attempted to use to his advantage (sometimes successfully). Same goes for Mara and Faysal, although he basically screwed himself on that regard.
          But take at someone who isn’t as stuck in his ways, who still used bond tactics- Laird and Alister (different reasons though).
          Laird was all about setting things up, and leaving the “hero” to die rather than outright killing them. He literally almost said his equivalent to “No, I expect you to die, Mr. Bond” at one point. Karma rewarded him greatly, and things surreptitiously happened to his bennefit. I’d even argue that this includes his death- according to Padiac, he had a good thirty-ish years of life left, while one of his sons had one, but set things up that if he died before his time, those years would go to his son.
          Alister was pretty bad in his own way though. He pretty much spelled out what he was doing, and what he was going to do. In his first confrontation with blake, he even told Blake that that’s what he was in fact doing, and how he was gaining good karma for it. Every time he’s involved, he’d almost transparent about his “secret plans” and says exactly what the “hero” needs to do to foil his plans. But then he adds at the end why the hero can’t or won’t do that, as the case with WILLINGLY GIVING his ring to blake, the antithesis of his fiancee whose very existence threatens her and him and the entire town’s.
          But he gains tons of karma by doing things like this. It’s probably why so many of the Behaims are willing enough to support a child becoming the head.

          I suspect your problems with predicting karma boons/debuffs stem from some confusion about what karma is, how it’s generated, or what it does for someone. I’m not entirely sure this is the case, but I haven’t had a single problem so far predicting what will or will not generate pos/neg karma for blake, and so far I’ve been fairly accurate. I don’t know why this is- if I’m just a good guesser, if I just think like wildbow in regards to karma, or if my understanding about karma differs from yous. No clue, not really. My guess is the last one, but I’m not sure.

          1. Yeah, if it weren’t for the Theory Of Narrative Causality, I would not be predicting our heroes winning this one. I mean, I’ve described how they can win; if they manage to kill Johannes, the Barber is vulnerable to anti-demon tricks again and has lost his Demense and Faysal will help them out. But, well, the correlation of forces is adverse here. If I were playing as the Lawyers in a strategy game, I would feel entirely comfortable leaving the Barber, the dragon, and Faysal to handle the situation. There’s no such thing as too much force, but right now they’re presently engaging the Behaim and Duchamp families, the few remaining Duchamp husbands, The Eye, the Elder Sister, Isadora (well, not anymore apparently), Emily, the Queen’s Man*, Eva, the Thorburn coven, the Astrologer’s remaining tricks, and the Knights

            *Yes, he is reportedly mostly a guy who knows stuff and not about demons, but the way Rose’s narration tended to overlook him makes me suspect something’s afoot.

          2. What dumb thing did the lawyers do?

            The way I understand it, they:

            1) Want to win with minimal force.

            2) Don´t necessarily want Rose dead.
            They want her as an example of what happens when you try to screw with the firm.

            3) They don´t have much of a timelimit to accomplish this.

            They carefully and slowly advance forward, only calling in more motes and demons when the old ones aren´t enough.
            They can use this tactic for as long as they want since they are not in a hurry.
            Demons were compared to nukes.
            You don´t throw around nukes if not necessary. You make sure the enemy knows you could use them. This is what the lawyers are doing right now.
            They show that they are willing to use their nukes if provoked, but they aren´t going to use more than they need.

            1. I am thinking they want to inflict a ‘And i must scream’ fate on Rose for going against the firm, if she is dead they cant do squat to her unless they can do necromancy.

            2. Here’s my confusion. If I had all the time in the world (so to speak), I wouldn’t continue pursuing at this time if it became too much of a hassle, and just try again later. Like ambush after they leave johannes’ realm. OR, if my goal was to get rose, and there wasn’t exactly a time limit per say, but I personally wanted it done sooner rather than later while the enemy was off balance, before they gathered their strength, I’d be a lot more relentless in my approach. Granted, still careful and not rushing, but faster than they are going, and I wouldn’t lose track of them as easily as they did.

              They are opperating in this in-between phase between the two main trains of thought, the “patient waters” approach (which uses paths of least resistance, since you have all the time you need), and “careful storm” (as fast as possible without lowering you carefulness).

              In the eyes of the lawyers, who have been doing this for God knows how long, and who have refined their moves time and time again, I can’t see why they are inbetween those two main schools, instead of sticking to one, since they currently have the weaknesses of both but not the strengths (at least, not nearly as much of the strengths as they would have if they just picked one).

              It’s rather silly to behave like this. Because we are outsiders, it’s easy to reason why they are doing what they are doing, but that’s only because we’ve already read it. If you told me a week and a half ago that the lawyers would be doing something like this, in THIS fashion, I wouldn’t believe you, because that just sounds like a silly thing for them to do, unless there was an even bigger plot involved.

              And back to my point, this only makes sense if there IS a bigger plot involved. Or, if there is some value or motivation that they must keep above all others, which impacts how they do things. Kind of like Padriac being nice to Maggie- it made zero sense to me, unless he was planning on using her and betraying her in the near future (which was EXACTLY the case), even though at the time, it made sense to most readers and to maggie herself.

            3. Eh, their hybrid plan seems to make sense to me. They do want to get this done soonish, but without using too much force. So they’ve been working to keep up the pressure but only call in new reinforcements when they’re getting bogged down. It’d be a bad idea to give the defenders a big block of time to call in an ever-increasing supply of allies. Granted, they maybe should have stormed the church, but I can see why they would rather not do that.

            4. Then the careful storm approach would make sense in that regard. Get it down soonish- but don’t fall under the whole “haste makes waste” thing

            5. “It’s rather silly to behave like this.” The lawyers are taking their time and making minor victories.

              One of their minor victories was taking out Isadora. What happened to her? Did the lawyers scoop her up? Did they feed her to a demon? Did they corrupt her? Did they kill her? Did they ignore her? Whatever happened to her, she’s not part of the group anymore.

              They’re making certain not to rush into any obvious traps and they’re slowly whittling down Rose/Blake’s group. True, the hellhound’s leash was cut, and that may have rebounded on a lawyer, but because two of them weren’t busy and were just slowly marching forward, they presumably had plenty of opportunity (at the cost of more time) to protect themselves from the rebounding tracking-hellhound.

              They’re going as fast as is prudent, because who knows if Mags buried some goblins under the snow or if someone with a shotgun is waiting around a corner with all their connections cut. They’ll just keep scouting.

              And there’s more that I could say, but I’ll have to post it as a comment to the next post to avoid spoilers.

    3. 1) The Firm is busy. They’re leaving this to the Barber.

      2) Busy.

      3) Leaving the tower lets Blake and company mess with the tower, which will disrupt his ability to be Johannes and control Faysal. Which is the entire point of the exercise.

    4. I tend to agree with you on this. Part of Wildbow’s writing is to make things very bleak, so that it is unclear how the protagonists can win until they actually do. As a point of coincidence, hpmor has something to say on this effect in the latest chapter (http://hpmor.com/chapter/108).

    5. How many posts in a row have you had to repost because of failed formatting? It seems like it happens once in almost every comment thread.

    6. 2) At this point I’m pretty sure the Barber has completely blown off the lawyers to pursue his own goals.

      1) Not enough info yet. Could be that they got caught up at the church. Could be that they’re reluctant to enter the Barber’s demense if he could turn on them. Could be that they just find it more effective to play “let’s you and him fight” then move in.

      3) It’s not Johannes, it’s the Barber. Others, and particularly demons, must act according to their nature. The Barber may play things carefully but I’m guessing most demons have trouble resisting an opportunity to get their hands dirty…

  8. Blake, blake blake. The dragon is now a vestige made from the barber, just like you and rose. Dragons initially are just animal-like elemental forces. Remember what rose said about her and you, about you both being really really vulnerable to possession?

    LEAVE ROSE AND TAKE OVER THE BODY OF THE DRAGON!!!!
    It’s really the only way to win. Then you’d be a humanoid tree-dragon of doom and awesomeness and can fly around with evan after you roast all your foes!

  9. Well seems demons are nihilists after all. Though the question is what do you do with the horse once it’s been shot? Butcher it for meat, and hide and hair? You got a lot of use out that horse. Leave it there to rot? You’ve fertilized the ground and fed the buzzards. And what about you? Stand around there? Walk into town? Buy a car? In short then what?

    And that is a question I don’t think Demons can answer. Because there is no then what for them. I’m sure it wouldn’t be start over. Demons are destruction, ruin, darkness, etc. But just those things. They are a those things in a far deeper way than humans can comprehend, but at the same time they are narrower than humans, in that humans can see and do more than a demon.

  10. I think that Blake messed up his chances of success when he didn’t bring Evan (although not bringing the preteen was probably the moral thing to do). Evan’s innocence might have been just enough to tip the scales in the favor of Blake–Evan’s beliefs in Blake are so strong that the Barber would have had trouble debating them.

    1. wasn’t the main reason the pipes though?

      so you’d win the debate…and then a weakened barber would make evan fly into his sheers and then the dragon’s mouths or something and blake’d probably shatter leaving a naked porous rose standing at the front of a battlefield

  11. “Underestimating you? I made you,” he said.
    This would have been a good chance to point out one of a few points, or even go Gish Gallop and throw them all out. The ones that come to mind:
    1. Johannes didn’t make Blake/Rose. Therefore, “Johannes” is admitting to not being Johannes, which he just said he was. So, he’s forsworn either way.
    2. Demons can’t create, they can only destroy. Barbatorem took bits from Russel that made him break into Rose and Blake, but he didn’t make Russel.
    3. Anyways, it should be obvious to anyone that the Rose and especially the Blake standing before “Johannes” aren’t the Rose and Blake that Barbatorem made. They’re smashed together, with bits of Conquest and bogeymen mixed in, not to mention changed by past experiences.

    Speaking of the Barber, he’s a clever and quick bastard. And now I need to wait for the next updates to see what happens. Curse you, wildbow!

  12. Ok,something I would have said:”You say you just wanna shoot the dead horse?If ad emon of darkness told me that,I would accept that it is his honest opinion,though I would still not agree.But what right do sick fucks like you,Barber,have to talk of mercy kills?You keep your victims alive in order to prolong their suffering,you are the opposite of mercy kill.That you would have such an opinion is laughable,as you are the very thing that embodies the opposite of such a concept.”

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