“When you say pests, or ‘help’, you wouldn’t mean, say, those imp things being pests and you helping us?” Peter asked.
“No,” Faysal said.
“Then you’re a complete and utter bastard,” Peter said. “What the hell right do you have, calling yourself an angel?”
“That would be a label others applied to me,” Faysal said. “Human invention.”
“I was under the impression that all Others of any given classification were of human invention, to some degree, conscious or unconscious,” Rose said. “Influenced, at the very least.”
The lead imp, Murr, growled at her.
“What?” Rose asked the imp. It was all she could do to keep her voice steady, without the benefit of Conquest. “Don’t like that idea, imp?”
“Did you want something, Rose?” Faysal asked. “At this point, I’m quite prepared to help Lewis wrap this up so these creatures can be put away properly. It’s less damage in the end. You went to considerable trouble summoning me; if you had a reason to do it, this would be the time to share.”
“Right this moment, I’m curious as to why you’re changing the subject from the topic of others being human-made. Or why you’re even asking when you could just help her and be done with it,” Rose said.
Faysal cocked his head to the side. “This isn’t making me more inclined to help you.”
Not thinking straight, Rose admitted to herself. To me.
I maneuvered through memories. It wasn’t hard to find the memories in question, as Rose was calling up the very same ones.
Two minds in one body, two minds free to pore over Rose’s memories and experiences.
I’d given her a portion of myself, an attachment to Tiff, Ty, Alexis, and to Toronto, with the idea that maybe, just maybe, she might be able to engage in actual teamwork. Not simply giving orders, but working with others.
If I had to, if I could figure out what she was striving to do, here, I could give her something else.
I saw grandmother. I saw Rose at the house, reading. Rose talking to the lawyers.
I entered one scene, and I could make out Rose, sitting in the armchair of the living room. It was empty, quiet, tracts of darkness surrounded her, but the scene that unfolded from the window was that of a complete city.
Rose in the mirror. Before I’d been eaten by Ur.
I looked over her shoulder, in a manner of speaking. I peered through her eyes, to read what she was reading.
Grandmother’s diary. One of many. A stack of no less than twenty stood beside her. Where anyone else might be concerned about a stray breeze or bystander knocking over the books, Rose paid it no mind. In her mirror world, reading while I was active in the real world, there were no external influences.
Here, in this memory, she was utterly and completely alone.
It made me wonder. Her new sense of friendship, how did it combine with her ability to hold it together here, without anything resembling human contact?
Or was that why there was so much damage, when two pieces tried to fit together?
She read with a dogged sort of determination. Now and again, she reached over and made a note with her pen. I looked over her notes as she did.
A textual silence, Rose had noted. The text spells it all out, regular updates. Undeniable, safe.
But, she wrote, and she stabbed the paper with the tip of the pen a few times, letting the ink blot out in vaguely circular shapes, it’s too convenient. R.D.T. the good little diabolist. She brings up thoughts of rebellion in abstract, then abandons them. Except they aren’t truly abandoned.
Textual silence. What isn’t written? What subjects, ideas and plans came up, but went unwritten, in case her enemies read her work?
She wages a subversive war against the lawyers. I may have to, if they keep up their pressure.
Who are my enemies? What rules do they operate by?
I turned away. I abandoned the scene. I suspected I could skim the memories, rush through them, pick across several in a fraction of the time that seconds and minutes passed in the real world. All the same, there was little to be gained by reviewing memories where Rose was only just beginning to pull ideas and strategies together.
I latched on to the idea of the list, Rose’s notes.
I followed it through several successive scenes. Some were fleeting, Rose picking up the sheet, reading it, putting it away. Others were longer. Rose doing more reading while I slept, or while I was busy with other things.
Only a few seconds had passed in reality.
“I did call you for a reason,” Rose said.
“Of course,” Faysal replied.
Rose’s mind flashed over a scene. Distinct and separate from what I was looking through.
The list. Rose writing a note.
There must be a reason the lawyers haven’t seized control of everything. They aren’t all powerful. What is their vulnerability?
Same vulnerability as any diabolist. Everyone loathes them.
Rose reached for Conquest. There was something sure about the action, a kind of confidence to it that wasn’t artificial. The same sort of confidence needed to leap off a one hundred foot cliff.
The confidence required for an action of scale.
I got the hell out of the way, as Rose fed her power and self into Conquest, allowing the incarnation to have a greater hold on her.
Focused on self preservation as I was, I saw Rose seize some of the ties I’d given her. To friends. It was unlike her usual Conquest-afflicted self. A strange side of Rose. Reaching to that for reassurance? For a different kind of power?
When she spoke, it was with power, without hesitation. “In joint partnership with Alister Behaim, I would hereby like to declare, to your ears, and all who would hear it, that we hereby claim ourselves as sovereign Lord and Lady in Jacob’s Bell, with all associated rights and powers.”
The words vibrated, carrying.
Rose could see the connections forming, the connections breaking. Some were major in scale, while others were to very distant places and things.
Faysal’s head turned as he watched the aftermath of the statement, disappearing into the distance.
Rose noted Tiff glancing at Ty, wide eyed. The two were huddled together. Tiff mouthed words. They might have been ‘what the fuck?’
“Let it be known,” Alister said, giving his support to Rose’s statement.
Rose could see that where some connections had been flailing, grasping, like so many tendrils or reaching arms, they held tight after that.
“Though,” Alister said, just under his breath, “I wouldn’t have minded knowing about this beforehand.”
“I’m sorry,” Rose said.
“You’re aware this is suicide? The basic, fundamental idea behind this whole scene was that one side wins, consolidates its power, gets everyone else under their thumb, and then makes the declaration. Not, you know, declaring lordship when we’re down, out, and just a few steps from dying in five different, horrible ways.”
“I’m aware,” Rose said, barely moving her lips. Her eye fell on the nearest imp.
Even with Faysal suggesting an alliance, the imps were afraid to approach.
“You should be aware,” Lewis said, “That the only power you have as Lord is the power others give you.”
“Yes,” Rose said. “But Johannes is dead, and Sandra knows she’s lost. How many people out there are utterly unsurprised to be hearing this declaration right now, resigning themselves to the fact that the war is over? Is Briar Girl? Maggie? The hag? Are the goblins nodding themselves and remarking that they expected the side with demons and diabolism to come out on top? There should be enough people in Jacob’s Bell who can believe Alister and I have become Lord and Lady that the belief holds some weight.”
“Enough weight to matter?” Faysal asked. “You have no realm, your soldiers are few in number. The spirits, as an extension of the world as a whole, can see you and evaluate you. They know that you aren’t much of a Lord at all, and that counts for a great deal more.”
Rose didn’t flinch.
Theatrics, I observed.
Faysal sat a little straighter. “As bids go, this counts for very little. You strike me as one who will have a reign spanning minutes.”
“There’s more to it,” Lewis concluded, as an extension to Faysal’s thought.
“Yes,” Rose said.
“Not merely buying time,” Lewis said. “I can look at you and I can tell, your demeanor would be different if you were still racing to piece together a plan.”
“So tell me,” Lewis said. “Why shouldn’t I order the imps to attack you now?”
“Ask Faysal,” Rose said. “If he thinks about it, he should realize why it isn’t in his interests to let it happen.”
Lewis glanced at the angel, leaning slightly to one side to look through gaps in our amassed group.
“I’m so goddamn confused,” Peter said, under his breath.
Rose reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, giving it a slight rub. Reassuring.
“And creeped out now, too,” he said.
“You put power into your declaration,” Faysal said. “You made it known.”
“You manipulated connections. Ones tying you to Toronto.”
“Yes,” Rose said.
“You let them know,” Faysal concluded. “The residents of Toronto.”
Faysal met Ms. Lewis’ eyes.
“Oh,” Alister said, under his breath. He turned and let his forehead rest on Rose’s shoulder, the only available surface he was comfortable using, without a wall available. “Peter? Given that we don’t have a proper blackguard with us, could you do me a favor and-”
“I don’t know what that is,” Peter said, interrupting.
Rose reached up to put a hand on the back of Alister’s head, patting it.
“Just- just do me a favor,” Alister said. “I can’t be sarcastic. In my place, give me a good one? Let me live vicariously through you?”
“I still don’t get what it is she just did,” Peter said.
“Faysal wants things neat and tidy,” Rose said, staring down the angel. “He wants us swept under the rug, so the demons can go back in their box and he can go back to angel business as per usual. In the interest of making that very hard to do, I’ve-”
“Declared yourself to be someone very important, to Toronto, for some reason,” Peter concluded. “Making things very messy, for Faysal.”
“And us,” Ainsley added.
Rose didn’t flinch, and didn’t take her eyes off Faysal.
“Brilliant,” Peter said, with every drip of sarcasm he could muster.
“Thank you,” Alister said, without raising his head. “I really appreciate it.”
“What are in-laws for?” Peter asked.
Alister raised his head to shoot Peter a look, just in time for Peter to clarify, “Cousin-in-law, anyway.”
Digging through memories, I’d found Rose musing on the last chapters of grandmother’s work.
Tonight I summon the demon Barbatorem. I have been the diabolist I was expected to be. In a week’s time, I summon my grandchildren. My children are useless, and it is largely my own fault. The grandchildren, left alone, will meet miserable ends, many claimed by dark powers. I have never liked using the demons, but I suspect few do. All the same, I hope that one set of Wrongs on my part will better this bloodline. I summon the first demon I bound myself, the first true step I took on this journey, and I use it to close this chapter.
Should it be used as a weapon, it may well be in pursuit of the likes of Laird Behaim, who I have never liked, even if I respect the man. We have talked so little, outside of council business.
If it should act as a deterrent, all the better.
But chances are slim to none that I have a grandchild that serves my exact purposes. Should it come down to it, I’ll be forced to create one.
Except the shears of the Barber, as is the case with any demon, cannot truly create. They only strategically destroy.
“Rose,” my own voice spoke up, but not from my lips. From memory.
Rose looked up suddenly, a little startled.
Looking through the gateway of the mirror, she saw Blake. Me.
Except it was Conquest, wearing my face. A face that hadn’t been mine since I’d become a bogeyman. Blake-as-human. A force that, from Rose’s perspective, was akin to Conquest, seizing her life, taking it over, perverting it.
Conquest hadn’t ever left. He was still here. Powerful, with Rose leaning so heavily on it. Now it was watching me.
“Conquest,” I said.
The scene around me had gone still.
“Not going to come after me?” I asked. I dared to turn away, poring over memories. Conquest followed.
“She’s the Lord of Jacob’s Bell, and I have my presence here,” Conquest said, in a voice that wasn’t mine. “I have what I want.”
I nodded. “You’re easy to please.”
“I’ll be more pleased by what follows,” Conquest said. “Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.”
“Rose is more a reader than I am,” I said. “But that strikes me as laughably hypocritical, if it means what I think it means.”
“I don’t deny that I am pride and suffering,” Conquest said. “I’m well positioned to know that a crown hastily donned makes for a reign of misery.”
“She’s not planning to reign for long,” I said. Minutes?
What can she do with minutes?
“More suffering, then, in a shorter span of time,” Conquest said.
“For her or for everyone else?”
“What do you think?” Conquest asked.
I looked up from the collection of memories to assess Conquest, but he was gone. Retreated elsewhere, to help Rose in his own way.
I turned my attention back to the task at hand.
Changing tacks. Rose apparently had the current situation in hand. We had to tackle the others.
Rose had read everything she could, helped by the fact that she hadn’t needed to sleep. If I looked at it that way, I had access to the Thorburn library, as it had once existed.
I, in turn, was free to search out what she needed, while her mind focused on other things.
Trouble was, how did I identify just what she needed?
“Do you suppose we can wrap this up before the ones she called arrive?” Faysal asked.
“We can try,” Ms. Lewis said.
“Wait-” Rose started.
“Attack,” Ms. Lewis ordered, ignoring her.
As one, the imps screeched and howled. Voices of hell, madness, ruin, and worse things, guttural and high, they put everyone within the diagram off their guard. They launched themselves toward the opening in the diagram, where Surbas had fallen and scuffed the lines of salt and the scratches in the frozen dirt.
Alister reached out and caught Christoff by the neck, hauling him back toward the center of the diagram, before Christoff could walk on more lines.
Two-headed Hauri, speaking with two voices that overlapped to the point of making no sense, distorted. The imp broke into two parts, and the distortion touched all things near it. The trees, the shrubs, everything shattered, splitting right down the middle. All present could see that when these things were broken in the right way, the insides could be seen.
Inside of every thing, there was darkness, yawning, so black and complete that it threatened to consume everything.
People in the group were screaming.
Rose realized she was among them. Her arms hugged her body, as she felt the distortion touch her, threatening to break her in two.
Even with Conquest shoring her up, it was a terrifying prospect.
I’m broken already, she thought. It’s easier for me to break apart than it is for the others.
“Hauri, I order you to cease!” she screamed out the word, and with Conquest touching her voice, she managed to make it sound authoritarian.
But the imp didn’t listen.
Ms. Lewis held more sway.
The Knights were working together to fend of fanged Surbas and the two halves of Hauri, the former of which was taking an aggressive stance, lunging, snapping, while they struggled with Hauri’s distortion. Murr lurked, waiting, while stretched-skin Naph and Obach, cancer of the land, paced behind, ready to fill the gap as soon as Hauri or Surbas moved.
Hauri was the concern here.
If the lawyers had access to these imps, they were bound in some fashion.
Were they in books?
I darted through Rose’s memories, searching, hunting.
I found the memories of Rose perusing the tomes. Her expression was grim.
Paging through, trying to memorize, to study the enemy.
A part of me was gratified that she saw them that way.
Another part of me less gratified that one thought that had kept returning to her mind, then, was what to do about me, if there was anything she could use here.
Her eye passed over Hauri’s entry. The memory was there, ready to be summoned with the right prompt.
She gave him a moment’s more attention than she had given the others, because Hauri, get of Flavros, was a mote of duality, associated with Flavros’ triality. Where its master confused the establishments of one individual’s past, present, and future, crafting prophecies that tangled up lives, Hauri was not yet fully developed. It could only create dissonance. A conflict between what was perceived and what was, the notes speculated, or between what was and what wasn’t.
I needed to give this to Rose, except it was already hers. Buried, lost beneath panic and pain and dissonance.
Power has a price. Through payment, power.
I only needed a little, enough to let this one set of memories rise to the surface. But I also needed Rose to know to grasp it, to use it.
Instinct. Gut. That which had allowed me to survive while homeless. To get away from Carl. To fight.
Just a little.
“Hauri!” Rose called out, through the pain. “Get of Flavros! Imp of the second choir! Bound by Marissa De Roust! I name you and I order you be bound again! Stand down!”
Hauri hesitated, frozen.
The Knight’s machete cut one of his heads from his shoulders. The body fell, and Peter hurried to kick it well past the circle. The head landed out of Peter’s reach – he couldn’t kick it without pushing past other people, and he wasn’t about to put himself out there with the other imps still there.
Fanged Surbas lunged.
Tiff struck it out of the air with her bag, bludgeoning it and sending it flying well past the diagram.
The two imps in the background ran forward, ready to take over. Tumorous Obach and stretched-skin Naph. One with too much flesh, the other with too little, stretched tight over a tiny body.
The Behaims, Ainsley leading the pack, worked to bog them down, slowing their approach.
“The head!” Ty shouted. “Give!”
Nick stepped forward, piercing the head with the machete’s tip, then stepped back, head skewered at the point.
“Tiff,” Ty said, grabbing the head atop the sword. “Hand!”
Tiff shoved her hand at Ty with enough force she might have knocked the wind out of him.
Huddled together, while the distractions had been ongoing, Ty and Tiff hadn’t been idle.
Scratched out in pen on the back of Tiff’s hand was a diagram.
Holding the head in one hand, Tiff’s hand in the other, Ty murmured something.
Where Hauri’s blood had spilled, the blood flowed out into lines. A sympathetic effect.
The two imps that had been lurking at the back reached the diagram, and they slammed into it. Slow motion, but not hurting themselves any less as a consequence.
Surbas snarled, and seized Naph, swallowing the imp.
We collectively watched in quiet horror as Surbas swelled. Though Naph had only weighed eight or ten pounds, Surbas grew by forty or fifty. His oily black skin failed to grow at the same rate, and started to split at the scenes. Blood leaked out from these fresh wounds.
Tatters came to hang from his mouth, as his fangs tore the skin that was trying to stretch over his mouth.
He cackled, a sound with sharp edges that threatened to slit eardrums.
Rose looked down.
Holding Alister’s hand, she led him over to the center of the diagram, and she used her feet to scuff the lines of the diagram there, where the seal of Solomon was marked down.
Surbas attacked once more.
It took three people, this time, just to stop his charge, each person stepping forward carefully, so as not to interfere with the lines that had been redrawn.
Claws flashed, swinging, and the High Priest blocked him with a gesture. Nick stabbed Surbas’ other claw, while the other Knight went for the throat, only for Surbas to bite the blade and hold it in place instead.
Rose drew a small knife from her pocket, and pricked her hand. She handed it to Alister as she let the blood drip.
Alister added his blood to the mix.
Replacing the sigil of solomon with the power of a Lord. Even a small, temporary Lord.
The choir of the feral reverse the natural order. Here, we reclaim it.
The diagram flared, and the imp was cast out.
“You did offer your help,” Lewis stated.
Rose turned her head.
“I did,” Faysal Anwar replied. “We didn’t finalize it.”
“In all our past encounters,” Lewis stated, “We never finalized it. I’ve almost forgotten why.”
“Call it bad luck,” Faysal said.
He rose to a standing position.
There was a flicker, like an image between two frames of a film, too fast for the eye to grasp.
Rose saw only the afterimage, a great wheel, with lesser wheels within it, a figure with seven arms, a motif of wings. Far larger than this dog that stood before her.
“Faysal,” she said. “Others are coming. If you let this follow it’s natural course, they’ll arrive one by one. You’ve seen what happens, when things are staggered like that. Just before you brought down Hillsglade House, Johannes did it to me. People arrive one by one, precedent is established, someone tries to take power, or there’s conflict. If you want stability, all of the individuals who are coming here need to arrive at once.”
“My kind,” Faysal said, “Is rather misunderstood. I am not good. I’m not even right. Order is-”
Rose’s thoughts flickered through notes.
Grandmother’s theories. Notes on other powers, on the structure of things.
“Order is the antithesis of mankind,” Rose said, interrupting. “Johannes and you tried to establish it, to weaken man’s dominion. A different rule of law.”
“Not because I am of Order,” Faysal said. “But because the alternative is to let man careen down his course, right into the growing dominion of demons.”
Ms. Lewis cleared her throat. Rose looked the woman’s way, but Ms. Lewis wasn’t trying to voice her own piece.
“If you attack, right now, if you wipe us out, they’re going to arrive. They’re going to see this carnage. They’re going to try and address this carnage. They’re going to investigate it. Maybe even go down there. What’s to say they won’t find the library, choice tomes, or the Barber?”
“What’s to say they will?” Faysal asked. “The world is full of possibilities.”
“It is,” Rose said. “But I have only one question for you.”
Faysal quirked his ears up.
“Why the hell are you still a dog?” she asked.
“I could be a gatekeeper, if it pleased you.”
“You could,” Rose said, “But that doesn’t answer my question. Give me a straight response.”
“They’re buying time,” Ms. Lewis said. “Shall I step in?”
“No,” Faysal said. “Please don’t.”
“As you wish.”
“Tell me, Faysal,” Rose said.
“You ask, but you already know the answer.”
“Because I am still a familiar.”
“You had to know this was possible.”
“That Johannes wouldn’t die? Or that he would die, but the connection would be maintained?” Faysal asked.
“Yeah,” Rose said. “I’m pretty sure he died, but he had an immortal thing inhabiting his body.”
“Yes,” Faysal said. “The demon has his flesh and being, and the Abyss has the demon, in turn.”
“Both abyss and demon have the pipes, which allow the piper to command children, rats, and dogs, among other things,” Rose said. “I imagine you want this situation resolved.”
“And you believe you can give me this resolution?”
“Fuck no,” Rose said. “But I think they can. Bring them here. Let me bargain with them. I swear, I truly believe this will create a better opportunity than letting this become a site of conflict.”
One by one, they appeared in flashes.
The Shepherd. The Astrologer. The Eye. A man I didn’t recognize. A little girl in white. Isadora the Sphinx, with Paige in tow. Paige was dressed nice, though her dress looked a little bit too much like a toga, what with the flowing white drapery, beneath her heavy coat. Her shoes didn’t look like outdoor wear.
“Paige? Bullshit!” Peter said.
Paige raised a hand in a short wave.
“Bullshit,” Peter said, quieter.
“If she’s alive, she’s okay,” Rose said.
“What the fuck do I care, about her being okay?” Peter asked.
A mite too defensively.
The Sisters were last to arrive.
Something about the tone of their arrival…
The Elder Sister smiled in acknowledgement at Rose, as if reading Rose’s mind. The new Lord of Toronto.
It wasn’t a pleasant smile.
The smile faltered as she eyed the imps, counting their number.
The four remaining imps were tense, and lurked, eyes on the new arrivals, moving through shadow, drawing closer as they searched for opportunity to attack.
Rose noted that Murr had yet to do anything. It made her uneasy.
It made me go search for Murr in Rose’s memories.
“It’s not a trap,” Rose said. “Only a bad situation.”
“I see. One you were in a great hurry to summon us to.”
“Yes,” Rose said.
“After the state you left Toronto in over the course of several days, I’m somehow not surprised this is what Jacob’s Bell looks like after a week,” the Elder Sister said.
“Thank you for saying so,” Rose said.
“You’re thanking me.”
“It leads straight into my next big statement,” Rose said. “We would like to abdicate my Lordship. Given the state of things, I no longer feel that Jacob’s Bell should stand as is. It’s not salvageable, and I would like to turn it over for Toronto to condemn. Remove the roads leading into here. Ward it from the eyes of the unawakened. Let it be lost and forgotten.”
“Yet, by turning it over to us, you make your problems our problems,” Isadora commented. “I can’t help but notice that you have… immediate, infernal problems at hand.”
“It talks?” Peter asked, under his breath.
“Our problems would include me, ideally,” Rose said. “I’ve agreed to be a scourge for the Abyss. Help me deal with things here, including securing the fate of this angel, Faysal Anwar, and you’ll have all the assistance I can render.”
“And if we refuse?” the Elder Sister asked.
“These problems might become big enough problems to be Toronto’s problems,” Rose said, gesturing at Ms. Lewis.
“You’re aware of what this means,” Ms. Lewis said. “My partners won’t simply accept a diabolist slipping our grasp.”
“I know,” Rose said.
“You’re bringing all of these others into it.”
Rose shrugged, unflinching. “They were always a part of it. They just turned a blind eye.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” the Astrologer said.
“It wasn’t. Now I’ve made it that simple,” Rose said.
I’m such a bitch, she thought.
I privately agreed, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever liked her more.