aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 29: He Who Respects The Infant’s Faith

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
— Noël Regney, Do You Hear What I Hear?

October 2, 1978
Colorado

I.

Sitting in his car, Father Ellis contemplated the Exodus.

According to the aptly-named Book of Numbers, there were 603,550 men among the Israelites who fled Egypt. Add women and children, and you got about two million people going the same direction at the same time. If they’d all been in cars, it probably would have looked a lot like Interstate 25 did now.

Someone honked, apparently optimistic that it might affect the fifty-mile backup of cars that had been almost motionless for several hours. The priest sighed.

A knock on the passenger-side window. It was a little boy, eight or nine by the looks of him. You could never be too careful during times like these, but he rolled down the window anyway.

“Are you a priest?” the child asked.

Father Ellis was taken aback. He was dressed in perfectly ordinary clothes, and he was from up near Fort Collins, a hundred miles away.

“How did you know that?” he asked.

“I didn’t,” said the boy. “I’ve been knocking on every car here, looking for a priest. I need your help.”

Father Ellis looked the boy over. He looked foreign, maybe Indian, not the Native Americans who were so common around this part of Colorado, but Indian from India. But his hair was blond. In this light it even looked white. He’d never seen an Indian with blond hair. There were no Indians in his parish, but he’d heard some people from far southern India were Christian.

“How can I help you?” he asked warily.

The boy reached through the opened window, flicked the lock, opened the door, and sat down.

“I need your help with a plan. First we need to wait for my uncle. I am Jala. Hello.”

“No!” said the older man. “Get out!” He pushed the boy out as firmly as he could, but it was too late. The door had already closed. God. He’d heard of this scam. Now someone would be by to accuse him of kidnapping, and then threaten to take the case to court if he didn’t pay them hush money. All he had in the world was three hundred dollars he’d brought with him from Fort Collins for food and gas during the evacuation.

“You are afraid I am trying to scam you in some way. I promise I am not. I want to help you. I want to help everybody. But you would not believe me if I told you, so for now we wait for my uncle. Unless you want to fight me. Please do not try this. I have a weapon.”

Oh God. This got worse and worse.

Right on cue, an Indian man peered through the window of his car and saw the boy. He started banging on the window, shouting incomprehensible things, demanding Father Ellis open up. Before he got the chance, the boy opened the door.

“Hello, Uncle,” he said. “Get in the back seat. We are going to Silverthorne.”

“Look,” said Father Ellis, for whatever it was worth, “I swear, I didn’t do anything. The kid just banged on the window, then forced himself in, and wouldn’t go away. He said he…look, this isn’t what it looks like.”

The uncle stood outside the open door. “I’m sorry,” he told the priest, falling over himself to sound apologetic. “We are peaceful people. We do not want trouble. He is very strange. But…it is best to do what he says.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry! He is not my son! He usually stays with his grandmother, but we had trouble fitting the whole family into two cars. But when he wants something, it’s no use arguing with him. My wife and I have tried so many times, and it has never…Jala, you tell him!”

“I am always right,” said the boy. “It is hard to explain.” He gestured again impatiently for his uncle to get in the car. The older man shot Father Ellis an apologetic look, then got into the back seat of his car.

“I’m so sorry,” said the uncle. “I swear on my life, we are peaceful people. Good Hindus! We do not want trouble.” To the child: “Jala, must we do this?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“But the poor man – he doesn’t even know you. He wants to get to safety, just like – ”

“Yes.”

Defeated, the older man slumped down in the back seat.

It was an evacuation. The police, if there were any left, were otherwise occupied. He was old, and the man in the back seat was young and spry. And if the child had a weapon…

At least he had some idea what to do about a kidnapping. This just didn’t make sense.

“God,” he whispered under his breath, “Help me get out of this one okay.”

Meanwhile, the other two were talking. “Jala, where were you? Your aunt and I have been looking for you for hours! I cannot believe you slipped out of the car without us hearing you. Do you realize how dangerous…”

“You still do not trust me, Uncle. Not completely. That was why I had to slip out. I knew you would look for me. Aunt Samira will be well. She and Uncle Pranav will go the rest of the way to Santa Fe without us. We have work to do.”

“We’re not going to make it to New Mexico? Jala, this is unsafe!”

“Yes, Uncle. We must make it safe.”

“Why us?”

“Somebody has to and no one else will.”

The man sighed, the sigh of someone who is thoroughly beaten and knows he always will be.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated to the priest. “My name is Vihaan and this is Jalaketu. I live over in Boulder. Jala lives with his grandmother in Colorado Springs, but he was staying with us for the summer. He’s always had problems. His mother died in childbirth. He’s a good kid, though, I swear. We just cannot control him. He just…I don’t know.” He sounded totally humiliated, which under the circumstances Father Ellis supposed was reasonable.

“Father John Ellis. I…How old are you, Jala? Eight?”

“I am almost two.”

“It’s true,” interjected Uncle Vihaan. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen his birth with my own eyes, but he’s only two years old. He has some kind of growth problem. He grows too much. That is why we cannot control him.”

“There wasn’t enough time,” said Jala, apologetically. “I should be older. But I’m growing as fast as I can.”

Father Ellis considered his options. He could try to fight them off – no good, not strong enough. He could escape and leave the car to them, but then he would have no way to evacuate. Or he could just give in and let them ride with him. Then they would all get to New Mexico, and the two of them would leave him alone. Maybe this was how people hitchiked in India, by crazy children breaking in and their guardians claiming implausibly low ages for them.

That was it. They were probably weird hitchhikers. Would he have picked them up if they had been standing by the side of the road? Probably not. He was an old man, and cautious. But if circumstances had forced him into doing a good deed, perhaps he should thank God for the opportunity. Yes. That was it. Just thank God for the opportunity to do a good deed at no cost to himself.

That lasted right until the child announced that they would be taking the exit to the 70 going West, which was insane.

Father Ellis turned to him, spoke clearly but not patronizingly. “Jala, I am sure your uncle has already told you this, but Colorado is being attacked. By demons from Siberia, who took over Canada and now are invading the United States. They already got most of Utah and they’re crossing the Rockies towards us. We need to go south, all the way to New Mexico, to get away from them. That’s why everyone is evacuating. Going west wouldn’t take us away from them. It would take us right towards their army.”

“Father,” said the boy, “do you remember the story of Sennacherib?”

A moment of surprise. “That’s a very old story for a boy like you to know.”

“King Sennacherib marched with an impossibly large army to destroy Jerusalem. King Hezekiah believed he was doomed, but the prophet Isaiah told him not to be afraid, for God was with him. And the angel of God destroyed the hosts of Sennacherib, and Jerusalem was saved. Do you know the poem, Father? The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were streaming with purple and gold…”

“We are good Hindus,” said Uncle Vihaan, apologetically. “I don’t even know where he learns these things.”

But Father Ellis was intrigued. “I know the poem. It’s true that with God, any battle can be won,” he said. “But God doesn’t work to a human schedule. Remember, before God saved Jerusalem, he let Sennacherib destroy all of northern Israel. The prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah not to fear. But when we don’t have prophets with us, we have to do what we think is best. And sometimes that involves retreating.”

“I am…like a prophet,” said Jalaketu. “It’s complicated.”

“I’m sorry!” protested the uncle again. “We are good Hindus!”

“If you are a prophet,” said Father Ellis, “give me a sign.”

“It is written,” said Jalaketu, “that you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

“You are not the Lord,” said Father Ellis.

Jalaketu glared at him, as if about to challenge the assertion.

“We are good Hindus,” the uncle protested feebly. Then added “But I swear to Vishnu, Jala’s mother had never slept with a man when she gave birth to him.”

Then Jala sang. “KYA-RUN-ATEPH-NAHA-IALA-DEH-VAV-IO-ORAH”

The car’s gear stick turned into a snake. Father Ellis shrieked and jerked his hand back, actually jerked his whole body back and hit his head against the car door. If traffic had been moving they would have crashed for sure; as it was, they remained motionless in the gridlock. The snake looked around curiously, then coiled up onto the center console of the car and fell asleep.

“Oh!” said Jalaketu. “I’m sorry! I wasn’t expecting…I thought it would…I should have…I’m still kind of new at this. I’m growing as fast as I can, I promise. But you’ve got to help me.”

Father Ellis’s mind went into high gear – no, scratch that, use literally any other metaphor – he started thinking quickly. He’d heard of such things. Kabbalistic Names. A few people had reported discovering them, old magic, returned to life after the sky had cracked. But none of them were public, and none of them as far as he knew turned things into snakes. The boy knew another Name, a Name nobody knew, he had independently discovered a new kabbalistic Name.

“I’m sorry,” said Jalaketu, “I should do something more impressive. But I swear to you. I want to help. I’m here to help. We can stop these demons. Save everybody. But you need to believe me. Somebody has to do it and nobody else will, so please listen to me and take the exit.” Exit 70 was right in front of them now. The traffic was beginning to move. “Please, Father, if you have any faith at all, get in the exit lane.”

“My gear stick is a snake,” said Father Ellis.

“Oh!” said Jalaketu, and he sang another word, and the snake was a gear stick again.

Father Ellis very gingerly put his hand to the gear stick, and when it didn’t bite him, he moved it forward. Then he sighed and got into the exit lane.

II.

The trip to Silverthorne had been fast and without traffic. Nobody was going towards the approaching demonic army. Nobody except them.

Father Ellis sat with Jalaketu on a wall on the main street. The boy had sent Uncle Vihaan to find explosives. Sent wasn’t exactly the right word; the boy had said he was going to find explosives, and Vihaan had declared there was no way he was going to let the boy anywhere near explosives, and if they needed explosives for some reason, he was going to be the one to get them – which had clearly been Jala’s plan all along. Vihaan was some kind of mining engineer and apparently good at these things.

“So,” asked Father Ellis. “Who are you?”

“My mother died during childbirth,” said Jalaketu. “I killed her. I didn’t know. I was too big. I was growing as fast as I could, because I knew there wasn’t enough time, but I didn’t realize. I only barely remember. I remember that I was very sad, and that I decided I must be more careful from now on, and never let anybody die again.”

He didn’t say “anybody close to me.” He didn’t sound like he meant it.

“Comet West is my father,” said Jalaketu. “My mother told Uncle Vihaan so, before she died. It talks to me sometimes, in my dreams. It loves me and it wants me to be happy. Sometimes it scares me, though. I think it is an archangel.”

Father Ellis didn’t know what to say.

“It says I must be Moshiach. It tells me stories from the Torah as I fall asleep. And other stories, too, from a big book that it wrote a very long time ago. And I try to grow as fast as I can, so I can understand them, but it’s never fast enough. This body is too weak. I want to walk into a fire and burn my body away and stop being human, and then I can be a comet too, and it will all make sense.”

“You said you were looking for a priest,” said Father Ellis. “Are you a Christian?”

“No.” Jalaketu smiled. “My mother was a Hindu, but Hinduism passes through the paternal line. My father, perhaps if he teaches me Torah then he is Jewish. But Judaism passes through the maternal line. I am nothing.”

“Christianity doesn’t pass through any line,” said Father Ellis. “It’s open to anyone who wants it. And I mention it because it has a lot to say on the issue of incarnating as a human. It’s hard. Really hard sometimes. But definitely very important.”

“That’s what my father says too,” said Jalaketu. “He says that I had to be human. But it is…yes. It is hard.”

Vihaan chose that moment to come back in Ellis’s beat-up Chevy Nova. The trunk was open and packed with ominous-looking boxes.

“Okay,” he said, pulling up in front of the other two. “Now what?”

“This is the part where it gets complicated,” said Jalaketu.

“Something else your father told you in a dream?” asked Ellis.

“Not…exactly,” said Jalaketu. “It’s something that I…hope will work.”

Oh God, prayed Father Ellis. Have mercy on us, your poor servants….

III.

Jala West stood alone in the middle of Interstate Highway 70, just outside Silverthorne. The mountains rose on either side of him like walls. This was the chokepoint. They would pass through here.

From the distance came a faint rumbling. An oppressive heat filled the air. The smell of sulfur. Hot winds began to blow. To the west of the valley, a red-black cloud came into view.

They had fought a series of battles with the Canadians and their American allies. Outside Calgary, the alliance had lost decisevely. From there the hosts of Hell had split in two. Half, under the demon princes Adramelech, Asmodei, and Rahab, had gone east to complete the conquest of Ottawa, New York City, and the American East Coast. The other half, under the command of Thamiel himself, had gone south and west, to root out American resistance in California and the West. They had gone as far south as Ogden, but the Mormons in Salt Lake City had resisted tooth and nail, and now there was a siege. The siege was not going so well for the demons, because supplies and reinforcements kept coming in on Interstate 70 from Colorado. Blockading the Interstate had just redirected the supplies onto a hundred smaller mountain roads the demons couldn’t follow.

Thamiel was not used to being resisted. He decided to take things into his own hands. A sortie into Colorado. Fort Collins, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver – all the big cities, lined up nice in a row – were to be taken out, completing the desolation of America between the Rockies and the Mississippi. The Mormons’ supply route would be removed. Salt Lake would fall.

So onward went the Hosts of Hell, onward along Interstate 70. They burnt Grand Junction, they razed Glenwood Springs, they demolished Vail. At last, beside the highest peaks of the Rockies, they came to Silverthorne, and there in the middle of the highway was Jala West.

The demons themselves had not yet taken physical form; they buzzed and seethed like a thundercloud of darkness covering the plains. But Thamiel marched ahead of them, alone as a visible figure. His suit was impeccable and his steps were inhumanly fast, and the whole mass of darkness followed in a wedge behind him. When he saw the little boy standing in front of him, he stopped.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Jala West,” said the boy.

“Run away,” said Thamiel.

“Tell me,” said Jala, “if this were a story, and the Devil and all his demons were marching against a peaceful nation, and in their way was only one young boy, wielding a sword made from a falling star…”

“You don’t have a sword made from a fallen star,” Thamiel pointed out.

The roar of a meteor split the sky, a fireball that briefly surpassed the daylight with the brightness of its passage. It came closer and closer, aimed straight at them, and Jalaketu held out his hand and caught it. A huge black sword with a silver hilt, almost bigger than he was. It was still fiery hot, and far too big for him, but he held it without fear.

“I do so,” said Jala.

Thamiel snarled.

“If this were a story,” Jalaketu continued, “and you were challenged by just one boy, wielding a sword made from a fallen star, here because he wouldn’t abandon his homeland – do you think it would end well for you? For the demon?”

“Are you going to ask for my surrender?” snarled Thamiel.

“No,” said Jala. “There is no surrender I can accept. If you left Colorado, I would follow you. If you left America, I would hunt you down. Even if you left the world entirely and returned to Hell, I could not allow this. And I cannot allow you to keep this army. It is too dangerous. Everything about this is dangerous. I should not have come myself; I should have found some way to delay you from afar. But I had to come. The Bible says you are the adversary, the tempter, who takes the measure of Man. But who takes your measure? I came here to delay you, but also to take your measure. And also to get something I needed. And also because I am angry. This is my home. I would defend it even if it were not, but it is.”

He drew a signal gun from his pocket and fired a flare. It streaked through the sky, a little anticlimactic after the recent meteor strike. The mountains echoed with the sound, but there was no other answer.

Then the demon fell upon him, wielding a bident whose cuts and slices were almost too fast for the human eye to follow. Jalaketu parried easily with his sword, the great sword Sigh, the sword his father had made for him, the sword which would always answer the call of him and his descendants wherever they might be. The air sizzled with the speed of their battle; the earth trembled with the force of their blows.

Then Jalaketu drew blood. Just a tiny bit, a glancing blow on the demon’s stunted forearm. It sizzled on the blade, etching weird damascene patterns into the steel.

“All right,” said the Lord of Demons. “Let’s do this the easy way.”

He gave a signal to the vast cloud that hovered above them, and all the legions of Hell flew down into the valley at once. Jalaketu just watched them come, holding his sword out in front of him, as if they were no more than a few approaching wisps of cloud.

Then the roar of the oncoming demons before him was matched by a similar roar behind him. Something greyish-white and colossal, so big that at first it was hard to identify. As it came closer, it took on more features. Water. Rushing water. A whole reservoir’s worth.

Thamiel was not impressed. “That was your plan?” he asked. “Blowing up the dam? You do know that demons don’t drown, right?”

The oncoming wall of holy water crashed into the hosts of Hell with a bang and snuffed them out like sparks before a fire extinguisher. The whole massacre only lasted seconds. Jalaketu spoke the Ascending Name and hovered above the devastation, making sure that no demons were left, that not a single one had survived.

“I know,” said Jalaketu, to nobody in particular. And then, more solemnly: “And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, and the idols are broke in the temple of Baal. And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.”

Then he descended back to ground level and waded through the wreckage until he reached town.

IV.

Father Ellis’s old Nova drove down route 24 into Colorado Springs. The traffic was more haphazard now. Some people were still trying to evacuate. Other people had heard rumors that something had changed, and were trying to go back home. A few people didn’t know which way they were going. The 24 was empty; the 25 was a mess. When Ellis reached the junction, he gave up, pulled over, and stopped the car. The three of them walked out onto the empty highway.

“Never been here before, actually,” the priest said.

“My hometown,” said Jalaketu. “This is where it has to start.”

“Where what has to start?” asked Vihaan. “Jala, be careful.”

Whatever had to start, this seemed as good a place as any. The city center rose before them, a few buildings that toyed with the idea of being skyscrapers; the slightest hint of a downtown. Then the long ribbon of cars stretching either direction, honking, all of Colorado on the road. On one side, the stunning rock formations that a nineteenth-century romantic had dubbed the Garden of the Gods. To the other, the looming massif of Cheyenne Mountain in whose bowels the United States kept the nerve center controlling its nuclear armament. Towering above all of it, the sharp snow-capped ridge of Pike’s Peak.

Jalaketu spoke the Ascending Name and rose into the air. Then another Name, and the sky seemed to dim, like all the sunlight was concentrated on him and him alone. People started to notice. The honking died down. A few brave souls left their cars to get a better view. The windows on some of the buildings peeked open.

Then he spoke. His voice wasn’t loud, but somehow it carried, carried down past all the cars frozen below, into the buildings downtown, over the ridges and rivulets of the Garden of the Gods, and all throughout the city.

“I am Jalaketu West,” he said, “son of Comet West. Colorado is safe for now. It’s safe because I saved it. But not for long. Demons don’t die forever, they just disintegrate and rebuild themselves. And it’s not just demons. The cracks in the sky are getting bigger. The world is falling apart. I don’t know if I can save all of you. But somebody has to, and no one else will. So I am going to try. I need all of your help. If you follow me, it won’t be easy. You’ll have to have faith. But I will be worthy of it. I promise. In the Name of God, in whose Name oaths must never be sworn in vain, I promise. This is how it has to be. I am the Comet King. Bow. Swear fealty. Now.”

At first everyone was quiet, too flabbergasted for any reaction, and then they all started talking to each other. “Holy God,” and “He thinks he…” and “He says we’re saved?” and “How is he floating there?” and a thousand other questions and worries and exclamations and fears.

In the end, they were Americans, and they didn’t bow. But finally one of them, an old Korean War vet, gave a salute. Then another man saluted, and another, and soon the whole city was saluting him.

And Jalaketu laughed, and said “It’ll do,” because there were parts of him that were very old and far away, and other parts that were as American as apple pie, and truth be told he wouldn’t have bowed down either. So he laughed and saluted back at them, and then he lowered himself back onto the highway.

“King?” asked Uncle Vihaan, with a miserable look on his face, like he had always known it would come to this but had hoped it wouldn’t happen quite so quickly.

“Yes,” said Jalaketu. “And I’ll need advisors I can trust. Once you find Aunt Samira and get her somewhere safe, come back here so we can talk at more length. And you – ” he said to Father Ellis.

“Yes?” asked the priest.

“I’ll need your advice too.”

“I am just about the least qualified person to advise anyone on anything.”

“I need you to teach me what you were talking about before. How to be human. How to bear it.”

Father Ellis swallowed. “I’ll try,” he said.

And then suddenly the boy was all smiles again. “Let’s go,” he said. “Get to city center. I’m sure there are a lot of people there who will want to talk to us.” He skipped forward, almost gaily, his comet-white hair trailing behind him in the wind.

Vihaan and Ellis looked at each other.

“I guess all we can do is follow,” the priest said, and the two of them started after him.

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200 Responses to Chapter 29: He Who Respects The Infant’s Faith

  1. Pickle says:

    I guess I completely fail at having guessed the nature of Father Ellis.

    I still want some explanation for the number of cups at the Comet Seder, though.

    • Alternate possibility: Ellis and Vihaan are named so because they are kabbalistically equivalent to Elisha and Elijah. (Still unsatisfactory though, since we had a whole chapter introducing Elisha ben Abuyah if nothing else. Vihaan’s hindu, so I guess it’s possible he’s Elijah’s reincarnation, but I don’t think Elijah actually died.)

    • dsotm says:

      Ellis for Elija makes sense because Elija is supposed to announce the coming of the messiah

      Also Elija is credited with at least one massacre of idol prophets on a mountain range, assisting in massive demon-slaying in colorado mountains is probably close enough.

      Even better, later Elija has to confront and then escape the wrath of king Ahab.

      Vihaan appears to be dawn/morning in Sanskrit, donno where that fits in given that all associations with Lucifer seem to have been exhausted already.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      I’m reasonably confident that TCk is the incarnation of Enoch / Sandalphon. See here (https://www.reddit.com/r/unsong/comments/4jihni/where_the_angelology_of_unsong_comes_from_and/d3kipfj), and also note that TCK wants to burn away and stop being human, so that he can be like Comet West (probably Raziel), and also that “a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King”.

      Alternative possibility: Comet West is Sandalphon! This would provide an extra archangel.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        And of course by Enoch I meant Elijah. Enoch became Metatron, at least outside Unsongverse.

        I also note that Sandalphon is noted as being extraordinarily tall, even for an angel, which might fit with Comet West being Elijah/Sandalphon; but I think it is more likely he is Raziel.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          We do have confirmation of Enoch being Metatron, from chapter 23. Well, maybe not confirmation exactly. But explicit in-story mention of Enoch being Metatron, anyway.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            “NO. I AM NEIL ARMSTRONG. ELEVEN MONTHS AGO, I FELL THROUGH A CRACK IN THE SKY INTO THE EIN SOF, THE TRUE GOD WHOSE VASTNESS SURROUNDS CREATION. LIKE ENOCH BEFORE ME, I WAS INVESTED WITH A PORTION OF THE MOST HIGH, THEN SENT BACK INTO CREATION TO SERVE AS A MESSENGER. I AM TO SHOW MANKIND A CITY UPON A HILL, A NEW JERUSALEM THAT STANDS BEYOND ALL CONTRARIES AND NEGATIONS.”

            Is this the passage you mean? Enoch’s transformation to Metatron does seem to be fairly strong evidence for Sandalphon existing.

            Further question: is Thamiel the ascended form of a mortal? If so, which mortal? I don’t think the timing can possibly work for him being Acher.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Actually, I missed that passage! That confirms it more than the one I had in mind.

            We do know Scott excluded Sandalphon from being an archangel, substituting Uriel, for reasons that he said he doesn’t want to explain yet. So I expect Sandalphon to show up in some capacity. But I think Sandalphon probably isn’t Elijah in this story, or Elijah somehow isn’t Sandalphon yet, or else Neil would have mentioned him.

          • “is Thamiel the ascended form of a mortal?”

            Cain?

          • Guy says:

            More likely Cain and Abel. Thamiel is duality and strife; the head that speaks (and, presumably, does the decision-making) is Cain, while the creepy screaming, shut-eyed baby head is Abel. I don’t necessarily put a lot of stock into this theory, but I would favor Thamiel is both Cain and Abel over Thamiel is Cain.

          • Guy says:

            Actually maybe never mind. Thamiel being at least partly Cain would fit with him not being able to die in any meaningful way and his tendency to kill things, even things that shouldn’t be killable.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Addendum: TCK clearly *thinks* he is meant to be the Messiah. However, this chapter seems to show that TCk is not fully informed as to his own nature or destiny.

        Also, from chapter 13:

        “‘NACHASH’ IS THE HEBREW WORD FOR SERPENT, BUT IT HAS A GEMATRIA VALUE OF 358, WHICH IS THE SAME AS THE HEBREW WORD “MOSHIACH’, MEANING MESSIAH. THUS, ALTHOUGH THE SERPENT INTRODUCES SIN INTO THE WORLD AND THE MESSIAH REDEEMS THE WORLD FROM SIN, BOTH ARE KABBALISTICALLY IDENTICAL. YOU ARE NOT LAUGHING.”

        “I THINK IT IS VERY SURPRISING THAT THE MOST DIRE THREAT TO THE WORLD IS PROPHESIED ALSO TO BE ITS REDEEMER. TAKEN TOGETHER WITH ISAIAH 53:12 STATING THAT THE MESSIAH WILL BE NUMBERED AMONG THE GREAT TRANSGRESSORS, IT PRESENTS A VERY UNUSUAL VIEW OF SIN AND REDEMPTION.”

        Realising that he isn’t the Messiah and that the Messiah will be a Bad Man seems like a plausible candidate for the cause of TCk’s depression.

  2. Mike says:

    So Comet West is an Archangel who tells stories from a big book it wrote long ago. Sounds very Razielesque.

  3. dsotm says:

    Climatic !
    Rex ex comēta.
    Sigh

  4. Yep. “Salt Lake City saved by a miracle-working baby from Colorado”. OTOH, that was obvious.

    I’m also reminded of “Armageddon” by Fredric Brown in which the apocalypse was prevented by a small boy armed with a squirt gun full of holy water.

  5. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ possessions,” Jala said.

  6. Dima says:

    “if this were a story, and you were challenged by just one boy, wielding a sword forged from a fallen star, here because he wouldn’t abandon his homeland”

    Did anyone else get strong Placebomancy vibe from this?
    (Also, the dramatic timing of the meteor sword and the holy flood.)

    • dsotm says:

      Someone here suggested couple of episodes ago that kaballah and placebomancy might turn out to be different aspects of the same thing – convincing the universe to go along with your idea of what it should do next.
      That would be a Penrose-Everett universe, MWI but with individual humans (and ensouled AIs ?) having the ability to choose which world to entangle yourself with.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think placebomancy is going to be the answer to theodicy in this ‘verse. As in: God doesn’t care about the well-being of humans. He’s just interested in neat narratives.

      • genetic conspirator says:

        Oh shit. Interpreting Thamiel as an uncaring evil-maximizer was much less terrifying.

        • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

          Really? I don’t think there is ANYTHING more terrifying than an evil-maximizer, holding their power level constant. At least if someone is trying to make neat narratives, there will be some good mixed in with the bad.

        • Hedr says:

          Maybe. It depends if the universe is a comedy or a tragedy. We’ve already got a marriage so…

      • From outside the book, it’s the right answer. Wouldn’t be surprised if it was the right answer inside the book too.

      • hlynkacg says:

        God is a narrative maximizer, Humans are “made in god’s image” because we are the animal that tells stories.

      • Subbak says:

        That would explain Brimstone Acres. It doesn’t make sense from an evil-maximizing point of view (maybe getting people to believe it makes sense, but not actually doing it, and people should realize this which mean they’re less likely to believe it. Also, before the Broadcast it couldn’t work as an incentivizer). But it completely makes sens from a neat narrative and Plot Armor point of view.

  7. stavro375 says:

    Passages that are probably going to be be important later:

    “We are good Hindus!”

    Not words one associates with the Messiah to a distinctly Jewish apocalypse with tinges of Christian theology (Enochian). And also whatever Placebomancy is.

    I want to walk into a fire and burn my body away and stop being human, and then I can be a comet too, and it will all make sense

    So THAT’S what happened to the Comet King. Probably. Hopefully.
    No, I’m reading too much into this. He was definitely killed by TOK because Unsong is pretty much Jewish Cyberpunk and there’s no way either it or the Comet King’s story ends well.
    (“After the Comet King’s death, the security situation in the midwest went to hell, in some places literally.”)

    the sword which would always answer the call of him and his descendants wherever they might be.

    We better see Sigh when (if?) Aaron makes it to Colorado. Unless the Cometspawn are all dead by then (which the probably are… “The Apocalypse began in a cubicle” and all.).

    “It says I must be Moshiach […] In the Name of God, in whose Name oaths must never be sworn in vain, I promise. This is how it has to be. I am the Comet King. Bow. Swear fealty. Now.”

    Meanwhile, the actual Holy Land is populated by about 3 million people, each of which will shortly learn that of all places God could dispatch the messiah, he chose some random agnostic backwater isn’t Jewish, that doesn’t even have an official religion, and that literally allied itself with the devil.

    I mean seriously, there’s “God works in mysterious ways” and there’s this.

    (For best results, look up “Light of the Seven” on youtube and play it while you read this.)

    • I want to walk into a fire and burn my body away and stop being human, and then I can be a comet too, and it will all make sense

      I wonder if this is what happened to Enoch.

    • Alan Robinski says:

      Well, the people in the Holy Land clearly don’t need God’s help as much as the random agnostic backwater whose corrupt President decided to ally the country with Hell. Of _course_ God would send the messiah there.

    • Finn says:

      Comet King sacrificing himself seems strong.

      Earlier, I was thinking about conventional ways that the Other King could have legitimately defeated the Comet King, and I don’t know how likely I would rate this now, but one possibility that occurred to me was the Other King somehow tricking the Comet King into saying the Mortal Name (a la Superman tricking Mxyzptlk, all-powerful wielder of otherworldly magics, into saying his name backwards).

      • boris says:

        I dunno, Aaron makes TCK’s fate sound horrible early in the book. An instant death is not that.

        The interesting thing is that we know TCK besieged Hell, and we know that TOK killed TCK. So did TOK originate in Hell, kill TCK, and take his territory? Maybe the TOK attacked Colorado Springs and forced TCK to withdraw from Hell and deal with him. But then, where does the voyage of All Your Heart fit in, chronologically?

  8. Ninmesara says:

    Some hardball questions for unsong’s readers:
    – If comet west can impregnate a human female, can he also impregnate a female computer with a soul, thus giving birth to a computer virus or something? Can Jala do it after his death (which seems to turn him into a comet or something)? Did Jala die on purpose in order to be able to impregnate a female computer?
    – Does the fact that Sohu has been turned into a child forever grant her magic Thamiel fighting powers? Does Uriel know this? Can she summon the sword of her father?
    – So… Holy water kills demons, the tunnel that leads to hell lake Baikal ,the largest body of freshwater on earth. Also, in hell gravity works the opposite way around, so i guess that we can bless the lake, re-open the tunnel and and cover hell with holy water. Given that we know hell’s dimensions, could anyone crunch the numbers to see if it is possible to cover hell with water about 10cm deep? (It’s late here, and I have to go to sleep)
    – Comet king, weird ethnicity, founded unsong; Malia Ngo, weird ethnicity, leader of Unsong. Discuss.
    – The Comet King has an archangel teaching him names in his sleep. Why did he found Unsong? To restrict the use of names (so that he can be more powerful than mere humans) or to encourage the discovery of newer names (so he can weaponize them against Thamiel)?
    – Who is the Other King, who has killed him who has bested Thamiel in single combat?

    Another complaint:
    – When will we get more of that juicy, juicy plot set in the present? I miss it…

    • stavro375 says:

      Some hardball questions for unsong’s readers:
      – If comet west can impregnate a human female, can he also impregnate a female computer with a soul, thus giving birth to a computer virus or something? Can Jala do it after his death (which seems to turn him into a comet or something)? Did Jala die on purpose in order to be able to impregnate a female computer?
      So the Name that Aaron discovered only works when Comet West/TCK is paying attention? Interesting theory. Explains why it fizzled.
      – Does the fact that Sohu has been turned into a child forever grant her magic Thamiel fighting powers? Does Uriel know this? Can she summon the sword of her father?
      I agree that we’d better see that sword when Aaron gets to Colorado. but The Comet King doesn’t have magical Thamiel fighting powers because he’s a kid, but because he’s a master Placebomancer (as Dima mentioned) and he comes up with ideas like “stop the army of demons by having a priest bless and entire reservoir, and then blowing the dam.”
      – So… Holy water kills demons, the tunnel that leads to hell lake Baikal ,the largest body of freshwater on earth. Also, in hell gravity works the opposite way around, so i guess that we can bless the lake, re-open the tunnel and and cover hell with holy water. Given that we know hell’s dimensions, could anyone crunch the numbers to see if it is possible to cover hell with water about 10cm deep? (It’s late here, and I have to go to sleep)
      I’m going to assume that Lake Baikal has been drained. Although this seems like a great way to kick off the siege of Hell.
      – Comet king, weird ethnicity, founded unsong; Malia Ngo, weird ethnicity, leader of Unsong. Discuss.
      Malia Ngo is TCK in hiding. Just like The Other King, Captain “I’m Nobody” Nemo, and President Bush.
      – The Comet King has an archangel teaching him names in his sleep. Why did he found Unsong? To restrict the use of names (so that he can be more powerful than mere humans) or to encourage the discovery of newer names (so he can weaponize them against Thamiel)?
      The original function seems to have been punishing gangsters with Names. It was corrupted after TCK and its original director died.
      – Who is the Other King, who has killed him who has bested Thamiel in single combat?
      Where did “bested Thamiel” come from? TOK killed the Comet King in single combat, but here TCK doesn’t best Thamiel so much as convince Thamiel to use non-single-combat means.
      But my guess is “kabbalist even smarter and pragmatic than TCK, and who’s probably being aided by Thamiel”.

      Another complaint:
      – When will we get more of that juicy, juicy plot set in the present? I miss it…

      • dsotm says:

        Here’s another one:
        Having been apparently taught kabbalah by Raziel directly, why would Jala send Sohu to study it from Uriel ? Is he the next best source available ?, Is he better, having discovered a more systematic underlying order ? did Jala hope to wield an influence over Uriel through her ?

        • Guy says:

          I don’t think Jala is being “taught” per say. He’s getting kabbalah uploaded into his brain as fast as Comet West can send it, because it’s too late to give him a proper education (a major theme of this chapter is that Jala, because he is late and/or rushed, is not giving himself time to learn how to be a messiah properly). I think he probably sent Sohu to Uriel so she would truly master the kabbalah as its proper human champion. Perhaps his other children were sent to learn the other magics that power the sails of Not a Metaphor?

      • Would holy steam kill demons?

        • Ryan Beren says:

          Probably not. It should, of course, in a mathematical universe. But that universe is breaking down and being replaced by a narrative universe.

    • lunatic says:

      I was speculating that CK founded Unsong after catching Metatron and learning the … uhhh … ultimate name. When he learned caused him to believe that names should be restricted. Is there anything in the established timeline that contradicts this?

      • dsotm says:

        That could work, but Scott wrote that unsong was founded tri-laterally by the US president, TCK and Hell so it could be more like a nuclear disarmament agreement – Hell would stop trying to conquer US and US would control the proliferation of names.

        • Didn’t he say it was just the president and TCK? I don’t see TCK making a disarmament deal with Thamiel.

        • dsotm says:

          Right, the tri-lateral meeting was in the context of a peace treaty maybe ?

        • stavro375 says:

          From chapter 14:

          When the President and the Comet King had worked together to convince the United Nations to fund UNSONG

          Hell was not involved. Hell is part of the UN, but I assume was expelled sometime after invading the USSR. And Canada, And the USA.

          • They seem to have been let back into at least some form of diplomatic relations – remember that president Cheney had a meeting with Thamiel. (This was later though, presumably after Jala’s death).

      • Galle says:

        Yup. UNSONG was founded in the early 90s. The Comet King didn’t go on his quest to find Metatron until 1997.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        The fact that the result of UNSONG is to divert *more* resources into theonomics by oovercompensating the first discoverers of Names.

        My money is on it being a clever hack to put the full power of Capitalism into finding Shem HaMephorash ASAP, at the trifling cost of exacerbated Earthly poverty for a few decades.

        • Alan Robinski says:

          The cover art and the All Your Heart chapter imply that TCK already knew the Shem HaMephorash before he died, so he probably didn’t need to create UNSONG to help find them. Unless this was his first plan, before meeting Metatron, but then he got them directly from God after creating UNSONG. Also, a previous chapter said that TCK knew all of the Names.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Also, a previous chapter said that TCK knew all of the Names.

            Where is that said? I don’t recall that.

          • It said he had “gazed upon adam kadmon bare”. Some people (me included) assumed that meant he knew all the names, but Scott explicitly said on the reddit that it just means “had an unusually deep understanding of Kabbalah”.

    • Yossarian says:

      – So… Holy water kills demons, the tunnel that leads to hell lake Baikal ,the largest body of freshwater on earth. Also, in hell gravity works the opposite way around, so i guess that we can bless the lake, re-open the tunnel and and cover hell with holy water.

      Man, that’s totally the most Dwarf Fortress solution to Hell’s existence that I’ve ever heard of. I have even tried to implement it with my dwarves, sadly enough, as Thamiel said, demons don’t drown, and dwarves don’t have any priests to bless the water… Though one thing I’ve noticed during that particular experiment, that if you flood Hell with massive amounts of water or lava, it is really hell (hehe) on your computer – too many liquid flow calculations to perform. If Uriel’s machine works anywhere like our computers, he might be quite unhappy about the users performing that particular action. )

      • Galle says:

        The most Dwarf Fortress solution to Hell’s existence is to invade, kill all the demons the old-fashioned way, and then grow mushrooms.

      • Aran says:

        that’s totally the most Dwarf Fortress solution to Hell’s existence

        I’ve started Project “Fuck Thamiel”. A top secret attempt to funnel holy water down Lake Baikal and into Hell. I’ll kill those demons. I’ll kill all those fucking demons. -(Boatmurdered, Part 19)

      • Murphy says:

        As with literally every new mechanic discovered, the first thought of a good dwarf fortress player is “how can we weaponize this”

        If people can weaponize the breeding of fluffy-wamblers then easily produced liquid that can dissolve daemons is no kind of challenge.

        Mist generators everywhere loaded with holy water.

      • PDV says:

        A friend of mine declared victory in Dwarf Fortress after he dropped about 20 layers of stone – and a full city wide – into Hell, where it killed everything, and then crashed the program and left the save corrupted.

    • “The Comet King has an archangel teaching him names in his sleep. Why did he found Unsong? To restrict the use of names (so that he can be more powerful than mere humans) or to encourage the discovery of newer names (so he can weaponize them against Thamiel)?”

      Possibly to stop the rapid depletion of the reservoir of divine energy? Presumably if fewer people use Names, less of the divine energy is used, and the universe gets to Not End a little longer…

      IDK, I may have misunderstood that whole mechanic. But that was my theory.

  9. 75th says:

    Jalaketu “I am nothing” vs. “Captain Nemo”‘s “I’m nobody. I’m with nobody”?

    • Ninmesara says:

      I realle, really hope that captain Nemo (actually they should have called him Odysseus) doesn’t happen to be an Indian with white hair, which the narrator has forgotten to describe 😉

      • dsotm says:

        Shouldn’t they have called him Ahab ?
        Also I would expect Jala to be instantly recognizable, but maybe there will be a plot point about him insisting for his appearance to remain unknown once he came of age, whatever that means for him.

      • 75th says:

        Yeah, I tossed that comment off the moment I finished the chapter. I guess there might be an Incognito Name, but eh

      • gbear605 says:

        Especially since Nemo in 20,000 Leagues is Indian…

  10. LPSP says:

    Scott delivers on the question front. It’s a virtue as a writer to address the readers with the same pen stroke used to further the plot.

    The Comet King is a Nephilim by all accounts. I wonder if he can grow very large, either by exerting power or just over time. Also, after I talked a bunch about Asmodeus recently in the Chapter 20 thread, Asmodei turns up as a Prince of hell. Interesting.

    • dsotm says:

      Nephilim is plural so he would be a Nephil
      And while Scott does do a great job our questions are not exactly unexpected or unpreidctable 🙂

    • I’m still skeptic on this:

      Firstly, Jala just suspects his father’s an archangel. But the descriptions we’ve had of Comet West sound nothing like any of the other archangels. (It’s also probably not Metatron, since then Jala wouldn’t have gone seeking him with the All Your Heart.) It might be a modified form of an archangel – maybe Raziel underwent a transformation when going beyond the cracks, like Neil Armstrong.
      Secondly, the angels had Nephilim allies in the original war. Nothing suggested they had the kind of power that would allow them to face Thamiel himself, or even help all that much.
      Thirdly, it just doesn’t quite seem to fit. Archangels generally challenge Thamiel directly. Sending in a son instead of intervening directly just doesn’t seem like archangel style – they’re not like Oogway. And besides, they tend to lose when they face off against Thamiel (the war was mostly lost. Uriel kinda sorta managed to drive him back for a bit). I don’t see how an archangel’s son could challenge him when archangels themselves could not.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Raziel seems like he could be a bit different from the other archangels. But it’s not clear whether there’s any real reason to think that Raziel is Comet West in the first place.

        • Galle says:

          The reason to think that Raziel is Comet West in the first place is pretty straightforward:

          * Jalaketu says Comet West is an archangel.
          * The only remaining archangels are Metatron, Raziel, and Uriel.
          * Uriel isn’t Comet West.
          * Metatron isn’t Comet West.
          * Therefore, if Jalaketu is correct, then Raziel must be Comet West.

          • Alternative (unlikely) theory: Comet West is some form of Gabriel, who underwent some sort of weird transformation since his last meeting with Uriel.

          • Bassicallyboss says:

            @Coment King
            Seeing as Gabriel is often the angel that shows up to tell humanity important things, and considering that we don’t have certain knowledge of his death, I’d say it’s not terribly unlikely. I’d still say it’s less likely than Raziel, though.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Archangels can surprise you; look at Uriel. Some kind of transformation is quite possible, but the fact is that a major power (high-ranking archangel) disappeared into space and now a major power just appeared out of space, and there isn’t that much in slave in this universe.

        I think we were supposed to have already figured out that Comet West is Razor, and Jala’s “archangel” comment was meant to basically spell it out.

      • LPSP says:

        I wasn’t expecting the Kung Fu Panda reference at the end there.

  11. The air sizzled with the speed of their battle; the earth trembled with the force of their blows.

    Then Jalaketu drew blood. Just a tiny bit, a glancing blow on the demon’s stunted forearm. It sizzled on the blade, etching weird damascene patterns into the steel.

    Well, now we know why Thamiel didn’t want Sohu’s father showing up when he fought Uriel.

    • dsotm says:

      Why does the devil have blood though ?
      More importantly – does he have knees ?

      • Hedr says:

        He’s a facet of God, so he’s probably mostly humanoid.

        • Alan Robinski says:

          Isn’t he related to Satan and the angels? They don’t have knees, as implied in Stars Threw Down Their Spears and that one chapter where someone wonders how Pirindiel sits on chairs.

  12. The Pachyderminator says:

    Typo thread.

    “The Assyrian came down like the wolf from the fold” should be “the wolf on the fold.” I’m thrilled to see this poem in the story, and I want it to be right.

    • Angstrom says:

      Additionally, there is a reference to “Exit 70” which is very different from the exit onto I-70. (I paused between sections to look up a map for dramatic effect and got very confused.)

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      Not a typo per se, but…

      Calling highways “the [number]” is mostly limited to California, as far as I know. Certainly, in Colorado, nobody says “the 25” except recent immigrants from California or adjacent areas.

      Interstate highways here are generally called “I-[number]”, as in, “I-25 runs from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.” Other highways are called “highway [number]” or just “[number].” So reading:

      “The 24 was empty; the 25 was a mess.”

      was very jarring, given that we seem to be seeing Father Ellis’ POV. Since he’s from Fort Collins, it would instead be:

      “(Highway) 24 was empty; I-25 was a mess.”

      and similarly for the reference to “the 70.”

      Of course, if it’s still Aaron narrating like it seemed to be a while back, the Californian convention makes sense, however out of place it sounds.

      • Sean says:

        Even with Aaron narrating it’d still be a little bit out of place. Adding “the” to freeway names is mostly a SoCal thing. It’s one of the fun tribal affiliation things that comes up in SoCal vs NorCal arguments, alongside “hella.”

      • Ryan Beren says:

        I can attest that referring to highways by number – the 5, the 10, the 183, the 360, etc – is also ordinary in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Texas.

        • And I can attest the opposite for Texas – I never once referred to a highway as “the ” in my life until I moved to California. It’s always “head down 59, then exit onto 45” if we’re leaving off the full names.

    • Daniel says:

      “I need you to teach me what you you were talking about before”

    • I think decisevely needs to be decisively (unless this is another AmE/BrE difference I’m blundering into).

  13. The Pachyderminator says:

    Half, under the demon princes Adramelech, Asmodei, and Rahab, had gone east to complete the conquest of Ottawa, New York City, and the American East Coast.

    Adramalech was a Mesopotamian god similar to Moloch. The demon Asmodeus is the antagonist in the deuterocanonical (i.e. Jewish religious literature written in Greek and part of the Catholic biblical canon, but not the Protestant and not, I believe, the Jewish) Book of Tobit. It’s worth noting that the name does not derive from the Latin deus.

    But…Rahab? The woman who helped the Israelites capture Jericho, was an ancestor of Jesus, and AFAIK is universally well spoken of in both Jewish and Christian sources? Why would a demon be named after her?

  14. Kamet – he makes the text feel clean!
    Comet – his sword is mighty keen!
    Comet – he likes your ka-tet;
    So have your ka-tet follow Comet, today!

  15. Slade says:

    I am from Silverthorne. It is a very small town and it makes me unreasonably happy that is played such a large role in this chapter.

  16. Blue says:

    So why is this a chapter, and the New York section an Interlude? Not a criticism, I am genuinely curious what factors differentiate the interludes and chapters, especially in this plot-parallel series of updates that seems to be chronologically explaining the backstory.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The interlude’s first letters don’t contribute to spelling out the Explicit Name? 😛

      • Alan Robinski says:

        It says in the caption to the cover illustration of book 2 that the Explicit Name starts with tav.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          You mean book 1. But, regardless, I’m not sure I get the point of what you are saying. To be clear, I’m referring to this observation by TR. The chapters’ initial letters contribute; the interludes’ don’t.

    • I think the difference is that this chapter is about a main character, as well as providing backstory.

    • Galle says:

      The Battle of New York is pretty cool, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not really important HOW Hell’s eastern forces were routed, just that they were.

      The rise of the Comet King, on the other hand, is one of the most important events in this world’s history.

    • It’s worth noting the differences in their approaches – The rabbi’s response to NYC being saved was to treat it as an interesting anecdote and move along; for Jala, it was just the beginning of something much bigger.

  17. TeaMug says:

    As a Coloradan, I promise you that there is no such thing as “the 70”. We call it “I70” (pronounced “eye-seventy”).

    I an less certain about “the 24” and “the 25”, but still pretty sure that it’s “Route 24” and “Route 25” instead.

    • But was this also standard in 1978?

    • TheWonko says:

      Not Route 25, since it’s an Interstate, so it just gets I-25, like I-70. As for Route 24, most people who (like me) have to drive through the “junction” of the two more than once a week calls it Evil.

      Everyone else just calls it “the road you take if you’re going to Manitou”.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      You know, as a Coloradoan, I rarely ever hear “Route” anything. It’s usually just the number (“take exit such-and-such onto 24, and then…”), but if it’s given a title, it’s usually “highway.” Even for roads that are officially designated Routes, like U.S. Route 287.

  18. Dirdle says:

    This is almost too anime for me.

    j/k, I love it.

  19. Utilitaria says:

    I’d like to ask, again, why warfare has apparently gone back to the 19th century. Even without nuclear weapons and with unreliable air travel, the whole US industrial base on a war footing can do a tremendous amount of damage, especially to an infantry army using wave attacks. Rocket artillery can kill everything for square kilometres from hundreds of kilometres away, tanks and IFVs could mash their way through the deamon hordes discorporating rapidly if ordianry bullets work. There’s also barbed wire, incendiaries, cruise missiles and all sorts of other stuff. Was it just a matter of the US expending all their ammunition and advanced vehicles and then another horde of deamons returning to outnumber the last?

    • Utilitaria says:

      Space travel clearly still works and I’m assuming explosives do, or guns wouldn’t fire. But all bets are off since this isn’t a world that follows the ‘universal fire’ type rules about consistency. I would retool all the US’s ICBMs to carry conventional explosives or kinetic buckshot, i.e. like Iran’s ballistic missile program, start building big artillery guns to deal area damage and other things. The way these wars turn into slow standstills seems consistent with advanced technology suddenly failing; does it turn into some kind of trench warfare style slog?

    • Utilitaria says:

      If aircraft still work at all, which I think they do at this point in the timeline, the USAF could use its supply of B52s to incinerate huge tracts of land and carpet them with high explosives. We know that a famous landmark spitting fire can inflict enough damage to kill hundreds of thousands of deamons, so they can’t be much less vulnerable to incendiaries than humans. How would they react to white phosphorus and fuel-air explosives?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Wince we’re at it, why can mormons resist while the combined Canadian and US armies were defeated? Is it due to the fact that mormons are more resistant to that effect when demons suck joy from the air around you and you run? Or is the entire world running on story logic alone? It seems to me that warfare against the demons should turn into something akin to The Salvation War instead of this.

      • stavro375 says:

        New York was saved by a devout rabbi. Colorado was saved by the devout messiah. Interlude כ tells us that in parts of Russia, devout Marxists-Lurianist still resist Thamiel. And in Salt Lake City the devout Mormons alone can hold the line against the devil himself. None of this is a coincidence. Only the religious can wage war against hell and hope to win. Neither the USA nor the USSR have official religions, and while military chaplains do exist I doubt that they have any real impact on the culture or organization America’s or Russia’s armies.

        It seems to me that warfare against the demons should turn into something akin to The Salvation War instead of this.

        The Salvation War was the story of rationalism overcoming religion, technology opposed to tradition. In it, demons and angels operate under the laws of physics as we know them. As I recall, their abilities are justified by technobabble of varying scientific validity.
        Unsong never pretended to obey this premise. The laws of physics as we know them have been repealed; the universe is no longer made of math, and it inner workings are now governed by theology. Like most military equipment, the M60 Patton main battle tank was optimized to function under the old laws of physics; we must be careful when assuming how effective technology is in the new order.

        • Utilitaria says:

          I’m fully prepared to believe this, if it’s actually mentioned in the text. Maybe it’s very simple to magically disable guided missiles, tanks, artillery, rockets or even armoured cars whenever they’re used for military purposes, because Kabbalah. The thing about all broadcast TV and computer video failing to work is at least as odd. But I feel like we should get a WOG on that because lots of modern technology works efficiently and has adapted to the new post-physics world (e.g, computers used to discover names of God, high speed trains, cable cars, assault rifles)

          • Utilitaria says:

            The difference between simple error and world building is whether we have to work out the answer from nothing or it actually shows up, and by the looks of things Scott just hasn’t thought throw just how powerful post-WW2 conventional weapons can be

    • Walter says:

      Demons don’t embody until they decide to. They are just mist before then, what would the Americans be shooting?

      • Utilitaria says:

        Maybe the demons take on mist form, rush to melee range and then embody only when they’re mixed in with enemy troops. That would explain why the fighting usually takes place between mobs of infantry, unless the US is prepared to bomb the demons and their own people.

        • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

          This makes a lot of sense, except that it would make the victory of the Golem of Liberty more puzzling. Surely she would be killing as many friendlies as demons if they were all mixed up like that.

          Or maybe her magical attacks can get them in mist form…

  20. Yossarian says:

    So, about the whole “world is breaking, and Thamiel is out to eat our brains” theme. Uriel once tried to stop Thamiel from taking over by turning everything into math and cutting off the divine light. It worked, but only temporarily. Now, I wonder what would happen if one were to go the other way around, as in, completely flood the world with the divine light. Say, one makes a crapload of rockets (probably, wouldn’t need really expensive ones, because you wouldn’t need to use too much of the extremely precise machinery to guide them to a stable orbit or land them on another celestial body, just powerful kinetic missiles pointed upward. The Motive Name might be of particular help in this situation). Then, you shoot all the rockets up at once and finish breaking the sky, so the divine light floods everything, and everyone dissolves in it and basically goes back to Ein Sof. Then, even if Thamiel, being made of klipotic stuff, survives, he might not have anyone left to torture, as even the sinners aren’t that God-resistant and will probably dissolve into the Divine. Sounds like a plan Comet King might try, considering the quote where he was thinking of moving the Moon in order to stop the tide cycle. And if you look at this plan from the utilitarian viewpoint – you abolish the place of infinite suffering at the cost of some finite human lives (and possibly not even that – maybe they will all go to heaven after being dissolved by Infinity).

  21. Madbranch says:

    The title is Blake’s (the author must really like him with all the references). The line continues as “triumphs over Hell & Death”.

  22. Aran says:

    The oncoming wall of holy water

    So a single priest can sanctify an entire lake’s worth of water in moments… and I wonder how long the blessing lasts. Will it stay in the water cycle and turn a tiny fraction of the world’s water permanently holy? Or does holy water have a half-life? Could a coordinated effort turn all the water in the world holy at once, thereby making rain a deadly weapon against Thamiel’s army?

    • Jack V says:

      Do we know “moments”? If they needed to prep the explosives for the dam, wouldn’t they have a similar amount of time to bless the water, or more? Or did I miss a reference?

      • Aran says:

        Yeah, “moments” is probably inaccurate. But he couldn’t have had more than a day or so, and Dillon Reservoir (which isn’t named, but it’s the only one near Silverthorne, CO) has a volume of 310 million cubic meters.

        That suggests that if there is a limit, it’s ludicrously high, on the order of millions of cubic meters of water per hour.

        • Arandur says:

          Mormons who hold the Priesthood of Melchizedek can bless “a container” of olive oil in constant time, whether that be a bottle or a vial. It may not be related to volume or mass, but to the idea of a contiguous contained body.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      Well, since the Unsongverse is undergoing a transition between (1) running on math and (2) running on theology. In the former, holy water has no powers. In the latter, my guess is that the relevant timeframe of holy water is now “in the time when thou shalt be broken by the seas in the depths of the waters thy merchandise and all thy company in the midst of thee shall fall.” [Ezekiel 27:34]

  23. TR says:

    Father Ellis is John Ellis (which is funny in itself) … so might also be John from Not A Metaphor?

  24. Anonymous says:

    Then Jala sang. “KYA-RUN-ATEPH-NAHA-IALA-DEH-VAV-IO-ORAH”

    The car’s gear stick turned into a snake.

    I see what you did there.

    • Aran says:

      The Aaron/Pharaoh reference, or is there something else?

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      I don’t, but I like the way the narrator gives us readers the Name that turns gear sticks into snakes but omits the Name that reverts them to normal.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t; care to share the joke?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think this is a case of this phenomenon.

        • Anonymous says:

          Basically yes. But also:

          ‘NACHASH’ IS THE HEBREW WORD FOR SERPENT, BUT IT HAS A GEMATRIA VALUE OF 358, WHICH IS THE SAME AS THE HEBREW WORD “MOSHIACH’, MEANING MESSIAH. THUS, ALTHOUGH THE SERPENT INTRODUCES SIN INTO THE WORLD AND THE MESSIAH REDEEMS THE WORLD FROM SIN, BOTH ARE KABBALISTICALLY IDENTICAL.

  25. Murphy says:

    huh. So holy water is like the ultimate weapon against demons and can be produced in almost unlimited quantities by christian priests.

    Does the holyness survive state changes? Does holy steam and holy ice still have the same power?

    either way misters just became like the ultimate weapon. You could trivially create massive clouds of liquid that’s utterly harmless to humans and deadly to demons.

    Or just bless the pacific and atlantic oceans. Let the water cycle do the rest. Make all rain holy water.

    • Yossarian says:

      >>Does the holyness survive state changes? Does holy steam and holy ice still have the same power?

      Does the holyness sustain itself through chemical reactions and transfer itself to the other elements participating? ‘Cause you could then decompose the holy water to holy hydrogen and holy oxygen, then use the holy hydrogen to produce holy ammonia, then use the holy ammonia to produce holy nitric acid, and then you are up to making holy grenades and such )

    • Arandur says:

      Here’s how it works intuitively in my mind. I don’t have any sources to back this up, and my intuition is based at least partially on Mormon theology, so it’s likely to be incorrect.

      A priest can bless a container of water, to turn it into holy water. The priest’s ability is predicated upon that phrase “container of water”. The water needs to be held in some sort of vessel, or something that is close enough to a vessel to pass muster — you need to convince the universe that this water is intentionally contained. A man-made lake, created by a dam, works. The oceans don’t work — both because they are not bounded by man-made structures, and because although they are technically finite in volume they are metaphorically infinite.

      • J says:

        Do any of the various rationalist surveys ask how many people were raised Mormon? I wonder how many of us there are.

      • Murphy says:

        I think this can still work. Bless every reservoir, bless every water treatment plant.
        Any problems with deamons? Run your tap and throw the result over them.

        Tanks could be designed to spray a thin mist of holy water around them constantly, something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV7piq7i1T4

        I’m guessing that in later chapters we’re going to need to find out why holy water is so highly restricted rather than being literally on tap everywhere. Sure it gets angels high but that seems a small price to pay. They remain healthy and don’t seem to get evil as a result or anything.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Tanks are called “tanks” in English because that was the codename the UK gave to their own ones in WWI (changed from the original proposal “water carriers”), so that the enemy wouldn’t know what the British were talking about when if they intercepted communications about them.

          This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

    • Aran says:

      either way misters just became like the ultimate weapon.

      This made me remember a plant mister used for that exact purpose in Good Omens.

      (Also, a decade later, I just finally understood why it’s called a mister. It’s “mist”-er, not Mr.)

  26. Quixote says:

    A Portrait of the Comet King as a Young Man

    I love it.

    • Hedr says:

      He’s two.

      • TR says:

        “He’s two”

        I think that may be true in more senses than one: I have a hypothesis that the Shem HaMephorash does to the speaker what God did to himself in creating the world, i.e. withdraw himself and split into two, with one of the splits (Thamiel-analog) being evil. TOK is the evil split-off of TCK.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Ooh, that’s an interesting hypothesis…

          • Chrysophylax says:

            A very interesting hypothesis, but I’d like to see rather more support for it. Amongst other things, it seems unlikely that TCK would speak such a name without better preparations, e.g. having Uriel standing by to overwhelm and imprison or destroy the evil twin.

            TR, please present the evidence that has lead you to this hypothesis, along with the evidence against it.

  27. B_Epstein says:

    “Christianity doesn’t pass through any line,” said Father Ellis. “It’s open to anyone who wants it. And I mention it because it has a lot to say on the issue of incarnating as a human. It’s hard. Really hard sometimes. But definitely very important.”

    “That’s what my father says too,” said Jalaketu. “He says that I had to be human. But it is…yes. It is hard.”

    Did TCK die intentionally to save all humanity somehow?

    • stavro375 says:

      No… he fought The Other King in single combat and lost. Double-check the chapter that introduces the crew of Not A Metaphor . Jalaketu West’s defeat opened the path for The Other King, a very Bad Man, to conquer much of Mexico and the midwest.

      • B_Epstein says:

        Ana says there what is already common knowledge:

        “Poor Other King. Overextended himself by conquering half the country, killing all who opposed him, defeating the Comet King, and ruling with an iron fist for fifteen years.”

        This is perfectly consistent with TCK sacrificing himself for some long-term plan. No need for it to be common knowledge. Obviously, such a sacrifice would be highly appropriate from a kabbalistic point-of-view.

        Also, no single combat mentioned.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          The single-combat bit is mentioned in Chapter 22.

          I’m pretty sure that Ana’s quote there is intended to be sarcastic.

  28. Blue says:

    So, what does TCK mean by “And also to get something I needed.” ?

    Also does the timeline mean that Comet West conceived of this plan shortly following the Broadcast? Or is there anything else interesting to the timing of that, that helps explain CW’s motives?

  29. Decius says:

    If reservoirs can be blessed, can any body of water? Can EVERY body of water be turned into holy water? What removes the Holy property from water? Evaporation, almost certainly.

  30. Nadav says:

    I’d like to pause and look at the slightly more subtle things going on here on the symbolic level, if only because these are things I often miss and I like reading commets that point them out:
    1) The demon army descended on Colorado along the I-70. In the first chapter, Aaron claims that the number 70 has a kabbalistic connotation of despair. The I-70 is also the road that the despairing Coloradans took while fleeing their homes. The number 70 is tied to both the Babylonian exile and the Exodus.
    2) The demons couldn’t take Salt Lake. Salt is traditionally considered to be an effective demon repellant; thus a circle of salt is impenetrable to demons and evil spirits, and throwing salt over your shoulder drives them away.
    3) The whole chapter is supposed to be analogues to the Exodus story in one way or the other. Thus the fleeing Coloradans are compared to the hebrews escaping egypt, and Jala turns father Elis’ stick into a snake to prove himself a prophet. The Coloradans are apparently fleeing from a desert ( country) to a desert, making a giant indescisive U-turn like a people lost. Also, considering the dissolution of the US and Jala’s speech, it is possible that the Coloradans’ exodus will lead them, too, to establish a new and self-governing kingdom after uniting under a charismatic leader and following the laws he will give them.

    • Nadav says:

      Oh also Moses’s interpreter and helper, his older brother Aaron, is mirrored in Jala’s uncle Vihaan. Does that make Thamiel the hard-hearted king who refuses to let the prophet’s people go, and chases them only to have his army destroyed in a miraculous flash flood?

    • Daniel says:

      Nice. In esoteric interpretations of the Tarot, 70=Ayin also represents The Devil.

  31. Timothy Scriven says:

    If there were any question (and there wasn’t really…) about the Other King just being a bad-ass normal, it’s pretty much dispelled now. He’s definitely something big- what is he?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yeah, that’s a good point. The Comet King held off Thamiel himself when he was two years old.

    • yt says:

      He HAS to be somehow related to Acher (“The Other One”). Nothing is a coincidence.
      Either Acher is the Other King, which would make sense because Acher didn’t go to heaven or hell and nobody knows where he went, or The Comet King had the same reaction to Earth’s injustice as Acher did and became The Other King.

    • Anonymous says:

      Crazy prediction: Father Ellis is The Other King.

  32. Greg says:

    It was speculated here that Comet West might be Raziel, and reading this chapter it occurred to me that there’s more evidence than has been mentioned here.

    The main point (which was around all along) is that, in the ritual in Chapter 8, we noted that the traditional place of Raphael – on the left / west – was replaced with Raziel. Scott confirmed that this was intentional and said last chapter that cardinal directions are especially important in Unsong.

    And here Jala says that he thinks Comet West is an archangel, and when we first saw Comet West it was a giant human form, which would seem to confirm.

    So, for what it’s worth, I’d bet that Comet West = Raziel.

    • Greg says:

      Oops, I somehow missed the above thread that discusses this very issue. The cardinal direction evidence from Chapter 8 appears novel.

  33. Anonymous says:

    There’s one thing about Comet King that everyone seems to be overlooking: his struggle to be human. Here already, being (technically at least) two years old, he finds his humanity a burden. By 2001 The Comet King is cracking badly. I think his defeat may have something to do with it; maybe it was because he lost his will to live?

  34. The coment king says:

    You may be cool, but you’ll never be “Comet King quoting poetry while hovering over the Devil’s shattered army after defeating the devil in a duel” cool.

  35. linkhyrule5 says:

    “If this were a story,” Jalaketu continued, “and you were challenged by just one boy, wielding a sword made from a fallen star, here because he wouldn’t abandon his homeland – do you think it would end well for you? For the demon?”

    Typo here, probably. Should be “falling star”. At least I assume that was intentional. It was certainly awesome.

    • The coment king says:

      Why? Shouldn’t it be a fallen star once it reaches the ground?

      • linkhyrule5 says:

        It never did, though :p. That’s kind of the cool bit – it was made from a star while it was falling, before it ever touched the ground. Making a sword from a falling star is a lot more impressive than making as word from a fallen star.

  36. 57821 says:

    Does anyone else feel like the “good Hindu, swear to Vishnu” stuff sounds really stilted? I don’t know any Hindus so I have no idea, but it seems like Hindu words pasted into Christian patterns and maybe not an accurate representation.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      I found it funny.

      Maybe he’s using Hindu words in a Christian pattern because he’s talking to a Christian, and would use an Islamic pattern if he was talking to a Muslim, etc.

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