aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 46: To Talk Of Patience To The Afflicted

Why some people think the self is a prison escapes me.

Dawn, May 13, 2017
Ossining, NY

Commenters say Song of Songs 4:12 describes the imprisonment of the divine presence in the material world. “A garden locked is my sister, my bride,” it begins. “A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.”

The most famous prison in the Eastern Untied States is called Sing Sing, and Mark McCarthy was serving four consecutive twelve-year sentences there. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

“Look not upon me,” says the Song of Songs, “because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me.” Mark McCarthy’s cellmate was black, but the sun no longer looked upon him. He was in for life. “My mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” He’d gotten really drunk one night, then killed his brother in an argument over drugs. Now he slept, snoring like a freight train.

Mark didn’t sleep. He wasn’t very good at sleeping these days. The prison doctor had given him a wheel with seven scrolls of the Somnolent Name, but he wasn’t going to see the doctor again for a month. The old conundrum. Run through seven scrolls in a week and get no sleep for the following three? Or space them out and spend tonight listening to Moe snoring?

He knew the Somnolent Name. It was short, only fourteen letters. He could speak it. He could fall asleep right now. He could have the UNSONG agent in Sing Sing hear him and add another few years to his sentences. Four twelve-year sentences for killing four High Ritual Magicians. It was less than he’d expected. The judge had instructed the jury to take his past sterling behavior and apparently good character into account. No one had believed him when he said the past sterling behavior and good character indicated that he didn’t do it, that Dylan Alvarez had somehow infiltrated the American Board of Ritual Magic and then framed him for the killings. The evidence had been too overwhelming. The gun in Mark’s left pocket. The incriminating emails found on his account. His lawyer had tried in vain to convince the jury that Alvarez had planted the gun there when he hugged him goodbye, or that Mark and Dylan had roomed together in college and Mark had never changed any of his passwords. It was too far-fetched. Mark supposed even he wouldn’t have believed it, had he been a juror.

There was a thin line of salt outside his cell and some sigils drawn in chalk. The warden of Sing Sing had consulted with some of his remaining colleagues. How do you keep a High Ritual Magician locked up? No one had considered the question before, but some of the magic circles the Goetia used to bind demons got repurposed. Mark had never even tried to use his Art to escape. It just seemed too much like becoming the person Dylan wanted him to be.

A gap appeared in the line of salt.

It was the slightest change. If he had blinked at the wrong time he would have missed it. But a few inches of salt scattered, as if somebody had stepped on them.

The cell door began to open.

“Before me Michael. Behind me Uriel. On my left hand, Raziel. On my right hand, Gabriel,” Mark muttered, tracing lines in the air in front of him.

The cell door closed. Mark felt something touch him, grab him, constrict him, he couldn’t breathe –

“Mark! Mi compadre! Long time no see!” said Dylan, breaking the hug and his invisibility at the same time. He was wearing a ratty t-shirt that said THEY TRIED TO BURY US. THEY DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE LANDMINES. “What’ve you been up to these past few – ”

Mark lunged at him. He’d learned a lot about brawling during his time in Sing Sing, and now he always went straight for the eyes. No point in doing these sorts of things halfway. Poke a guy’s eye out, and sure, maybe that’s a year or two added to your time, but only if the guards can prove the other guy didn’t start it, and in any case people are going to think twice next time they want to bother you.

But Dylan picked up his boojumwood staff and blocked the jab. Mark felt a stab of pain run through his hand as it struck the solid wood. He clutched it to his chest and fell back onto the bed.

Moe snored peacefully.

“Mark! Is that any way to treat a – ”

Mark didn’t want to hear whatever annoying light-hearted prepared remarks Dylan had this time. He didn’t want to hear one of his monologues about how he was like a salesman, or a media executive, or a customer service representative, or whatever he was comparing himself to this time.

“You motherfucker,” he said – quietly, because bad things happen when you wake other people up in prison. “You did this to me. I had a family. Kids. I was happy. Have you come to gloat? Is that it? Fuck, if you didn’t have that staff I’d kill you right now.”

“Gloat?” asked Dylan. He managed to look genuinely horrified. “We’re friends, Mark! We went to college together. No one could be more horrified at your sudden change of fortunes than I!”

Mark thought for a moment. Dylan was always one step ahead of everybody. Try to kill Dylan, he’d have some backup plan. Try to call the guards, he’d have some way of getting away. Whatever he did would just make things worse. But God, he was annoying.

“I’m so sick of you, Dylan. It’s nothing I haven’t seen a hundred times before. Just tell me what you want. Please. No drama. No monologues. Just tell me what you want.”

For a second Dylan looked like he was going to complain, but then he laughed. “I want to remind you that the offer’s still open.”

“What offer?”

“Join BOOJUM, Mark. You’re a good guy and a good magician. We could use someone like you.”

“Holy shit, Dylan, you put me in prison for ten years and now you want me to join you?” Mark had really wanted not to let Dylan surprise him, let Dylan surprise you and you were done for, but this – really took the cake. He started to wonder whether maybe it wasn’t an act. Maybe Dylan really was crazy.

“Well, of course I put you in prison! Mark, remember back at college? You were in the Young Democrats of America club. The Young Democrats! When I heard that I cringed so hard my jaw almost fell off.”

“What does that have to do with – ?”

“Can I give one monologue, Mark? Please? Just one?”

Mark sighed, resigned.

“You’re…you’re a typical middle-class American, Mark. There’s nothing wrong with that. Middle-class Americans are great people, invented the light bulb, the airplane, and the cheeseburger. But you guys have this…this thing, where you think the world is basically fair. Sure, you hear about some poor kid who got beaten by his abusive parents, and you say yeah, that’s terrible, that’s unfair, but you think of it as this blip, a local deviation in the general atmosphere of niceness and fairness. So you hear more things. The Vietnam War. Race riots. The fucking Holocaust. And you’re always properly upset about them, and you hope that one day all of the nice people will get their act together and spread the blanket of general fairness over Vietnam, Watts, and Auschwitz respectively, and then those little fires will be all stamped out. You go to your Young Democrats club and debate over which little tiny tweaks in the system will fix whichever little puddles of unfairness remain. A little more welfare there, a few reforms in this or that law, and there you have it! The future!

“And the thing is, nothing can ever convince you you’re wrong. I can recite atrocities at you until I’m blue in the face, and you’ll frown at every one of them, maybe you’ll cry, but deep inside you something will be thinking ‘That’s too bad, I hope our generally responsible government and society fix it quickly.’ If I tell you the government’s hopelessly corrupt, prove my point with the itemized bank account statements of every member of Congress and a big line saying ‘BLOOD MONEY’ on each of them, that same part of you will be thinking ‘That’s too bad, I hope that our generally good electoral system leads to a better batch of candidates next time.’ Well, I grew up in – ”

“If this is going to lead into another damn story about your childhood in Mexico – ”

“I made all those up. My childhood in Mexico was fine. Right up until the Drug Lord took over. He got the mainland first. Didn’t make it to Baja. But we all knew he was coming. A guy came to town to warn us. One of the druggies. He’d run out of his stash early and gotten his mind back. Told us what it was like. Not to have control of your body. To be a puppet in your own head. Everybody panicked. My mother. She had a baby, she wouldn’t go. She told my father to take me and leave. We got in the car and drove to the border. It was all fenced off with barbed wire. There were hundreds of us there, people from all over the peninsula trying to get out. We screamed at the guards. They were California Republic men. Told them that the Drug Lord was coming, fate worse than death for anybody stuck there. They told us no hablo espanol. But they knew what we were saying. They didn’t care. They were safe behind their fence, our problems weren’t their problems. Well, my father wasn’t going to have any of that. He waited till night, then he took me a couple miles out, to the naked desert. Fished out his most precious possession, something he’d kept for an emergency like this one. An old scroll with the Cavernous Name. Don’t think that one’s even legal these days. Ripped it in front of me. The ground collapsed and the fence collapsed with it. We crawled through to the other side. Of course, we got arrested about half an hour later when Border Patrol came to see what had happened. Ended up in a detention center. My father, he was an alcoholic, he told them he was going to go into withdrawal, they just laughed and told him it was a nice try but he wasn’t getting any drugs. He went into DTs and died in front of me. Me, I was eight years old. I was there for a year. After a year, California government says in retrospect they shouldn’t have enforced their immigration restrictions so hard, declares general amnesty. But that’s what I think of when I think of the system being basically fair. I think of me and my father and everyone else I knew banging up against that barbed wire fence screaming that they were coming to violate our souls, and the guards just sitting on their tower doing guard stuff.”

“But – ”

“But what? But the Californians were afraid that the Drug Lord had people there at the fence and if they let them through he would take over California and millions more would die? Good point. Reasonable. Or were you going to say but prisoners probably claim to be going through alcohol withdrawal all the time in order to con the system out of some free drugs, and it’s hard to blame the guards for being skeptical? Also a good point! Also reasonable! And when UNSONG says that enforcing copyrights on the Names is the only way to protect innovation? They’ve got a good point too! They’re also reasonable! But somehow there are always happy well-fed people in nice houses who have reasonable explanations for why the system is just, and there’s always everyone else starving or dying or rotting in prison. Well, when I was eight years old I placed everybody’s reasonable explanations on one side of a balance, and a hundred people screaming in front of a barbed wire fence in Tijuana on the other side, and the explanations weren’t heavy enough, Mark. And I decided I am not on a debate team. If you want to argue all of the good reasons why you should have seven yachts and everybody else should starve to death, I will nod along pleasantly, admit that I cannot refute your points, and then, when I get home, I’ll mail you a letterbomb.”

“But you made that whole story up, because you told me freshman year that your father died before you were born, and also – ”

“And that, Mark, is why I had to put you in prison. I thought, maybe, after ten years in Sing Sing, you’d stop being so fucking Young Democrats of America, you know? As long as you’re a Lord High Ritual Magician and making a name for yourself and living with your happy family you were never going to get it. You’d try to be good, but you’d do it in your stupid middle-class American things-are-basically-fine-but-let’s-reform-the-tax-code sort of way. Well, now you’ve been in Sing Sing for ten years. So, tell me. Are you ready to pour petrol on the world and throw a match on it?

“The world didn’t do this to me, Dylan. You did.”

“I didn’t invent Sing Sing. I didn’t tell your wife to divorce you. I didn’t tell your kids to like their new daddy more than their old daddy. I didn’t beat you up three times in the exercise yard yes, I looked into your prison records, are you surprised? I didn’t kill your old cellmate with a makeshift knife right in front of you and give you such bad PTSD that you can’t get to sleep on your own, then patronizingly tell you that you can’t have more than a week’s worth of copies of the Somnolent Name because the budget is low and there are other inmates with real problems.”

Mark looked uncomfortable.

“So let me make you an offer. I break you out of this prison right now. Together we kill Malia Ngo. Then if you’re still angry, I give you a false identity, a free ticket to Europe, and you never have to speak to me again. Or you can sit here for another…hmmmm, twelve times four minus ten….thirty-eight years. Your choice, senor.”

“How do you know I won’t try to kill you as soon as I’m out of here?”

“As if you could.”

“Seriously, what’s the catch?”

“Catch? None. I learned the secret of invisibility yesterday, Mark. It’s got me feeling all…what’s the word…ambitious. I want to do something big. I need the right team. And the right Narrative. You, compadre, are both. Last living High Ritual Magician in the world, once my best friend, then my worst enemy, now my reluctant partner. Between you and Erica – ”

“Who’s Erica?”

“Erica, be a dear and show yourself to Mr. McCarthy.”

Erica coughed and broke her invisibility. Of course there had been another person here all along, Mark thought. And if he’d made any sudden moves, tried to attack Dylan in a way the latter couldn’t handle…for that matter, how many others were there? Since when had people discovered how to become invisible? Was that common in the outside world now? What could Dylan do with that kind of power – God, what couldn’t Dylan do with that kind of power?

But instead he just asked “What happened to your hair?”

“Style,” said the girl. “Style happened to my hair.”

“Miss Lowry is the newest member of BOOJUM – second newest, I should say, now that you’re on board. I wanted to see her in action – well, not literally see her, so I invited her along for her first official mission. Oh, and the best part is we can talk to each other with our minds!” He stared at Erica as if sending a thought to her. She started cracking up. “Some ritual she taught me, sacred kabbalistic something-or-other. Oh yes, Mark, things are starting to heat up. There’s never been a better time to work with BOOJUM.”

Moe gave a loud snort, then started kicking ineffectually in his sleep. “Don’t…” he murmured to no one in particular. “Don’t make me – ”

“I will join your organization,” said Mark McCarthy, “because it’s better than dying in prison. Then I will take your ticket to Europe and never talk to you or think about you again. But I want you to swear to me that you’re on the level.”

“Level as Kansas,” said Dylan.

“No. Fucking swear it. Say I, Dylan Alvarez, swear that I am telling the truth and that I don’t intend to hurt or betray Mark McCarthy and that I’ll help him get to Europe, and if I’m lying, may all my luck dry up and everything I’ve worked for come tumbling down.”

A magician’s oath. Reality works by spectacle and narrative. Swear a magician’s oath and break it, and the universe has it out for you.

“I swear it.”

“No, say the words.”

“So many words, so long, can’t we get just get out of here now and later we can – ”

“Say the fucking words.”

“I, Dylan Alvarez – oh, how should I remember how your stupid phrase went – I swear I won’t kill you, make someone else kill you, cause you to die in ways that may not technically count as ‘killing you’, betray you, injure you, emotionally devastate you, turn you in, use you as bait, fry your eyes in vegetable oil, feed you to an alligator, trick other people into feeding you to alligators, cause you to be consumed by an alligator in ways that may not technically count as ‘feeding you’ to it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, if by some bizarre fluke you make the terrible choice not to continue working with me, get you safely to Europe, or may my luck dry up and my head turn green and my liver explode and everybody die, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. So help me God.”

Then Dylan stared at Erica, and Erica started laughing again.

Mark stood up, stretched, started collecting his things. “One day, Dylan, you should teach that telepathy ritual to me. Let me show you what I really think about you. You might be surprised.”

Dylan laughed, slapped Mark on the back. “Only good things, I’m sure. Compadres para siempre, right? Anyway, half an hour in this dump is enough for me. Time to make like a guillotine and head off. Erica, remind me how the invisibility Name goes again?”

A few minutes later, three invisible figures walked right past the guard and left Sing Sing prison in time to catch the first morning train to New York.

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156 Responses to Chapter 46: To Talk Of Patience To The Afflicted

  1. person says:

    >Anyway, half an hour in this dump is enough for me.

    Best. Line. Ever.

    • Warren Peace says:

      Huh? Am I missing some hidden meaning? I thought it was just a rather crass way of talking shit to Mark.

  2. I just hate Dylan so much. Like, I guess Thamiel is technically more evil, but Dylan’s the only character in this story that makes me want to punch him.

    Also, I translated the Unsong version of Hallelujah to Hebrew (I was done with the original version, and was on a roll). I’m not completely happy with the third verse – anyone have any suggestions?
    (For some reason actually posting the quoted version isn’t going through)

    • Sunday says:

      Thamiel is unspeakably evil, but Alvarez is a dick and probably too much of a dick to be safe from the power of narrative.

      • AxiomsOfDominion says:

        I don’t see what the hate for Dylan is about. He’s fine. And his speech is totally spot on in my opinion. Witness the way centrist liberals talk about Trump voters. I mean sure some of them are white nationalists but most of them have just been screwed by Clinton/Clintonomics. Sanders wouldn’t have thrown away the rust belt like that. I hate to go political but Dylan was talking about politics so it seems fair.

        • linkhyrule5 says:

          The problem with Dylan is that he puts a hundred lives he can see over a million lives he can’t.

          And no matter what fiction may tell you, no, that is not heroic, that is not good, and while it is understandable it’s the sort of “understandable” that gets you sad nods and “he just made one dumb mistake” as the nice policemen pack you away in Sing Sing for forty-eight years.

          • AxiomsOfDominion says:

            Dylan has only been killing individuals, though. What millions is he killing? Plus we only assume those things. American Capitalism is way more likely to be damaging millions/billions in its current form than a change would cause.

          • By the same measure, what hundreds is he saving? What capitalism is he bringing down? His actual effects on changing the world seem to be limited to the people he directly harms.

          • Deiseach says:

            The problem with Dylan is that he is a lying liar. Why did he frame Mark? Because he needed a patsy for the murders. But then he starts letterbombing senators, so he’s plainly planned to set BOOJUM up as “We’re the ones killing you and we will continue to do so until you accede to our demands”.

            No, he puts Mark on ice in prison until he can find a use for him. Mark is plainly a better ritual magician than Dylan, and Dylan might possibly just need him some day. And since Mark of his own free will would tell Dylan go boil his head if he asked him to join BOOJUM, then make his life miserable enough that he has no choice but to say ‘yes’ when Dylan comes to ‘rescue’ him.

            Dylan doesn’t care about what he says, apart from the whole burning everything to the ground. He’s lied before to Mark about where he comes from, his father, etc. He’s plainly still lying about the fleeing to the border part. At this stage, I’m not even convinced his name is Alvarez; it could be O’Kelly and his bad Spanish signifies he’s playing a part.

            The only thing Dylan cares about is himself. He invented placebomancy to be the Big Head Cheese magician of a branch of magic no-one else practiced. I think he murdered the Board of Magicians as much out of jealousy as pragmatism; yes, they stood in his way. But they were also the high mages while he was just another wizard. And his old friend Mark was one of them. No wonder Dylan set him up for the fall.

            He’s a jealous, angry, destructive nihilist with a talent for weasel-words which means – as we see in his oath, where he skips the part Mark put in about “I’m not lying” – that you can’t trust him for a second. He wants to destroy everything just to be the one who did it.

            No, I don’t like Dylan, and I don’t think he has any greater plans or started out with good intentions that got warped. He’s an evil clown.

          • Dach says:

            Extremely late reply, but this quote has me thinking of more sympathetic ways to phrase this question. Imagine someone else far, far away. Someone you’ve never met, who has in turn never met you. They’re weighing the lives of the hundred people closest to them against all of the rest of the world- you, me, everyone we know, and so forth.

            You’re not alone- everyone else is playing these sorts of games. The costs and benefits of widespread adoption of different “life evaluation” strategies are overwhelmingly dominated by people who place you on the side of seven billion and change. The fact that people make this judgement the way you’re suggesting has and will directly kill many of the people closest to me, you, and everyone else.

            Dylan doesn’t seem to be a good guy for various reasons- his cause is meaningless compared to others in the setting, and he suffers from the bad optics of being shitty on the small scale.

            But, consider: the end goals of the passable Utilitarian strategies in this universe involve steps like “Destroy Hell!”, “Resurrect everyone who has ever died!”, “Everyone lives in omnipotence-powered Paradise forever and then!”, so dying doesn’t really seem to matter outside of the context of Humanity just dropping the ball.

            Speaking of, how should Humanity avoid dropping the ball? We probably want to avoid failure cases like “Man damns all of China to eternal agony to save his close friends and family”. This is fucking embarrassing.

          • Masked_Discombobulator says:

            The fundamental problem at the heart of all this is that it is entirely possible for a complex system to weave an armor of narrative around itself falsely.

            This is true of the dominant systems of society. Which are very good at paying expert debaters very well to justify them. Which is exactly why you should be suspicious of their arguments, because of course those arguments will be convincing, they cost enough!

            It is also true of the revolutionaries, who are good at coming up with an emotionally convincing reason why it just doesn’t matter that there are arguments for doing XYZ, the system is fundamentally evil and screwed and needs to perish in flames… Because such arguments are quite convincing, because we live in the kind of society where the last paragraph is also true.

            Both sides accuse the other of having a fundamentally twisted and invalid perspective. The Man accuses the revolutionaries of having no perspective and being willing to cause harm for nothing. The revolutionaries accuse the Man of being blatantly self-serving, more concerned with maximizing the profits and gratification of the elite than with whatever the system is nominally supposed to be doing. And of deliberately ‘holding hostages’ by creating a situation where there’s no possible way to fight the Man without collateral damage, than blaming anyone who fights back for causing the collateral damage.

        • Abram Thau says:

          The thing with Dylan Alvarez is, well, he’s an almost archetypal example of “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole”.

        • He seems to channel the worst parts of Straw Eliezer Yudkowsky* – the thinking “here’s a hard problem that people have been approaching for a while. We need a complete paradigm smash in order to break it.” Straw Eliezer applies this to physics (once physicists realize rationality, they’ll be able to solve quantum gravity in half an hour!). Dylan applies this to politics.

          *Actual Eliezer seems self-aware enough to mostly avoid this.

        • Sunday says:

          Clever monologues about why killing people is totally kosher are not, classically, made by people who survive the book. His radicalism isn’t the problem; I don’t even mind Erica that much. The problem is that he’s a bad guy both in the sense of being a guy who is bad and, increasingly, a bad guy. He’s a compelling villain! It’s even possible to nod along when he’s denouncing the system. But he’s clearly on the wrong side of a number of tropes.

          • Autolykos says:

            Tempting fate every day two times before breakfast does end badly for most bad guys in most stories. But Dylan is also a very strong contender for the best Karma Houdini – which is not that surprising, considering how placebomancy works…

        • Marvy says:

          Dylan is making the same mistake he accuses Mark of. Quote: “If I tell you the government’s hopelessly corrupt, prove my point with the itemized bank account statements of every member of Congress and a big line saying ‘BLOOD MONEY’ on each of them, that same part of you will be thinking ‘That’s too bad, I hope that our generally good electoral system leads to a better batch of candidates next time’…I will nod along pleasantly, admit that I cannot refute your points, and then, when I get home, I’ll mail you a letter bomb”

          So the question is: how is killing one person at a time going to change anything, when you just admitted the system itself is broken? You send a letter bomb, the system will replace them with someone else who is equivalent. You think you’re sending a message? It’s getting lost in translation!! Dylan thought he’d get Mark on is side by putting him in prison. But: “the world didn’t do this to me, you did!”. In this case, Dylan was able to explain, no, it wasn’t just me, it was partly the world. But usually, he doesn’t get that chance, so his messages tend to be lost in translation. For instance, he wants to kill Malia Ngo. He might succeed: as Mark told his colleagues all those years ago, do not underestimate Dylan. Or he might fail: she seems pretty formidable herself. But even if he succeeds, so what? UNSONG will find a new leader, UNSONG will not disband. If he kills her, it changes no one’s opinion of either UNSONG or BOOJUM.

          I’d love to see Dylan get into an argument with Simeon.

          • Nemo says:

            Dylan didn’t put Mark in prison to change his mind, he scapegoated him. Now that Dylan has a use for him again, he’s changing the narrative. Changing the narrative is kind of his whole modus operandi.

          • Murphy says:


            Why would he need a scapegoat? He has no reason to cover it up except to fuck with mark. He’s already wanted and if anything would want to be known for taking out powerful mages.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dylan thought he’d get Mark on is side by putting him in prison. But: “the world didn’t do this to me, you did!”. In this case, Dylan was able to explain, no, it wasn’t just me, it was partly the world.

            Dylan knows damn well the system is broken and that ‘the world’ will do this to Mark, and he sets him up for it anyway. That’s the part where I don’t believe a word out of his lying crap-weasel mouth.

            He relied on the system being screwed-up enough to send Mark to prison for a long time for a crime he didn’t commit. If Mark is acquitted, Dylan has no leverage over him. If Mark gets a short sentence and his life doesn’t go to hell, ditto. This is the equivalent of “I want you dead, but if I try killing you myself, I may get caught and tried for murder. So I’ll set things up so that Jealous Crazy Murder Jones has a reason to kill you, and when he does, hey – it wasn’t me that did it, it was Murder Jones!”

            I kind of want to see Dylan go up against Malia Ngo, because I think she’d eat him without salt and spit out the bones. Which he probably knows, so that is why he is gathering patsies and catspaws to take her on for him.

            I also kinda think Dylan wants to take over UNSONG himself or at least bend it to his purposes. It has a lot of power, and Dylan likes power when he’s the one wielding it.

          • Marvy says:

            Re: Deiseach: I will happily say nasty things about Dylan, but no way does he want to take over UNSONG. He wants it gone. That’s one of the few things coming out of his mount that I do believe.

        • Jared says:

          If the Drug Lord started taking over Mexico, I’m sure President Trump would raise compassion over strategy and instruct ICE to allow Mexican refugees through, even when any child could be an agent of the Drug Lord, just as President-elect Trump advocates allowing Syrian refugees in, even when any child could be an agent of ISIS. And just as you find Dylan’s speech “totally spot on”, I trust that in 20 years you would find a Syrian terrorist’s speech “totally spot on” if he attacked the rust belt indiscriminately as payback for allowing his parents to be murdered by Assad’s forces because of some “reasonable, good point” like “we needed to prioritize cooperation with Russia over the lives in his city, since tension with Russia could threaten the entire world”.

          • The Mexican drugs are more analogous to a fatal, highly contagious disease than terrorists.

            In 2001, terrorism might have looked like a fatal, highly contagious disease. Today, it just looks lame.

          • AxiomsOfDominion says:

            Yeah but I was a Sanders supporter so what do I care what Trump would do?

          • Sanders was also pretty anti-immigration…

          • AxiomsOfDominion says:

            Sanders had a specific position on immigration. But he was calling for refugee resettlement pretty strongly. And for refugees in much less danger than the Drug Lord refugees.

            Also his primary concern was guest worker provisions and wages and he didn’t support deporting child refugees like Clinton did. He’s not open borders or anything but he’d hardly wall off the gates given the situation listed in the story.

          • Jared says:

            Oops, my bad. A Trump supporter who liked Dylan’s speech would be a complete joke.

            However, to a Sanders supporter who liked Dylan’s speech, I would say that sealing the borders against the Drug Lord resembles a quarantine against a plague, which I would expect Sanders to support. Even Sanders would not think that all suffering in the world must inherently have some culpable party we can point at, and therefore we must lash out until someone else figures out how to stop the suffering on our behalf.

            I suspect you understand this but think that Dylan is right enough of the time for it to be worth it. However, I do not.

          • AxiomsOfDominion says:

            Well I mean we’d probably keep these people from dispersing among the general populace wouldn’t we? We had an ebola quarantine. We don’t seem to be taking Zika seriously enough. We haven’t locked up people with AIDS either. Also if you keep them off drugs they get out of it.

          • nipi says:

            I have to agree that its not analogous to terrorists. The main difference is that you can get all those druggies clean.

            Stick them on an island. Sink anything that tries to leave. Regularly take a batch of people from the island, put them in solitary and monitor them until the effects have worn off for sure. Rinse and repeat.

            Theres no easy solution like that for potential or actual terrorists.

          • Masked_Discombobulator says:

            While in all fairness, none of the disasters in the world that happened during the Trump administration were actually as bad as the Drug Lord taking over Mexico in this story…

            Note the prediction that President Trump would be motivated by humane considerations to let large numbers of refugees into the United States in the event of a major crisis in a foreign country.

            The prediction does not seem very likely in hindsight after an actual Trump administration and its actual policies towards refugees.

            This suggests a major mis-estimation of Donald Trump.

        • Steve says:

          His speech was pretty much the same as the Joker’s, from The Dark Knight. Sure, it was compelling, but what directions was it compelling toward?

          • AxiomsOfDominion says:

            People take the same idea and go different ways. Look at Christianity. Just because the Joker espoused the same idea doesn’t necessarily imply anything about Dylan.

        • Galle says:

          Dylan has a point in his speech, but on the other hand, he’s also a tremendous jackass who refuses to take responsibility for anything.

        • Warren Peace says:

          Witness the way YOU strawman a majority opinion. ..everything’s always so neat and clean in your head, until you begin to remember all the millions of details you forgot about, then go on ignoring because it makes it so much easier to feel self-satisfied. How lovely

      • Lambert says:

        He’s playing Russian roulette with Chekhov’s gun.
        I wonder what’s going to make his head turn green and his liver explode.

        • Sunday says:

          He’s playing Russian roulette with Chekhov’s gun.

          This is great.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Now that Malia knows that there are scary invisible people after her, she has issued spraypaint cans to her bodyguards tnat might explain the green head. The explodnig liver is brought to you courtesy of nefarious nefazadone, obviously. Or maybe just a well aimed bullet.

        • nipi says:

          Im pretty sure his revised oath was full of loopholes.

          For example: “if by some bizarre fluke you make the terrible choice not to continue working with me, get you safely to Europe”
          If it isnt by bizarre fluke the oath doesnt apply.

          • gradus says:

            oh it’s way worse then that.

            The oath starts “I swear I won’t kill you, make someone else kill you…get you to Europe.”

            He straight up says he WON’T help him escape.

          • Deiseach says:

            Plus if, as I’m starting strongly to suspect, his name is not Dylan Alvarez, the oath isn’t binding anyway.

            Since Dylan manipulates the Narrative by being very selective and tricky with the meaning of words, I am now willing to bet that, whatever his name is, it is not “Alvarez”. Perhaps a granny or some further back ancestor was an Alvarez, but I doubt everything he’s said about himself up to this moment.

          • Marvy says:

            I don’t think he could get away with trying to exploit those kind of loopholes at this point. It has to be a loophole that’s sufficiently obvious that Mark would feel dumb not seeing in retrospect. Like “bomb squad” vs “bomb removal squad” level obvious. Otherwise he just sounds like a lawyer stereotype, which is the kind of thing he tries to avoid. I think he actually intends to try to recruit the poor guy.

        • Simurgh says:

          And everybody die. You can’t forget that part.

      • Murphy says:

        Ya, he seemed much more fun in the earlier chapters.
        I think it’s because his story was fake that flipped it for me.

        I can get behind a guy who burns the system because of his own personal suffering but a guy who burns the system for the sake of burning the system and then just makes up fake childhood-trauma horror stories to justify it really does feel like a much bigger asshole.

        Like how Magneto would be a much less sympathetic character if he related the story of his mother and the Auschwitz gates

        and then was just like “of course I’m shitting you” and it turned out that it didn’t happen at all, he just liked to milk the Auschwitz sympathy.

        • On the one hand, I agree. OTOH, this reminds me of what the Comet King said about his plan to have thousands of children – Does the fact that you personally can’t hear the screaming really matter? In some ways, Dylan seems like an insane terrorist version of Jalaketu (actually, he appeared soon after TCK’s death… huh.) He’s not crazy because he hears the screams personally, he doesn’t have to.

          Now I’m wondering if, assuming the “Jala fractured into pieces” theory, Dylan is one of those pieces.

          • Peter says:

            Also by that theory: Malia Ngo? I’d been wondering for a while about her ethnicity, in that weird ethnicity seems to be a hallmark of the West family, but all of the Cometspawn were accounted for. Also – Aaron uses the Vanishing Name to escape and ends up a prisoner of Jinxiang West, so the situation may have been more complementary than we first thought.

            So if Dylan Alvarez is off to kill Malia Ngo, and the speculation is correct, it gets interesting.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think he is The Comet King’s shard. The latter died in July 2001; the killing of the Archmages happened in March 2001. (At the same time The Other King had taken over Vegas… hmm…)

            Malia Ngo joined UNSONG in 2005, so… maybe.

            Of course, given that Uriel makes anachronisms all the time, the above may be completely irrelevant.

          • Peter says:

            I was thinking that maybe the shattering occurred prior to TOK defeating TCK – possibly around the time when he learns HaMephorash and then falls into a slump rather than triumphantly marching on Hell.

            This lets TOK be cometshatter, or formed from cometshatter and possibly other elements (like that Rabbi, the other one). On the other hand, Alvarez’s backstory goes back quite a long way, as witnessed by Mark, so I think that probably rules out him being cometshatter. Perhaps the commetshatter sort-of joins with you, boosts your powers, gives the more exciting aspects of your personality a boost… but I’m clutching at straws here.

          • Warren Peace says:

            Blake’s mythos contains each of his main aspects dying and coming back in a new and twisted form of their former selves (into orc, los, etc). The Jala ==> Alvarez idea has lots of merit

          • Warren Peace says:

            No shattering or fracturing is necessary

      • It’s possible that he knows that he’s the bad guy in the narrative sense and still thinks it’s worth it. Compare with Tarquin from OotS.

        • Autolykos says:

          Nah, he’s not big enough on the whole “living like a god” thing to qualify for that. I think he honestly expects to get away from Karma because he’s pretty good THE BEST at placebomancy.

      • Mengsk says:

        Nah man, he’s like the Team Rocket of the Unsong verse. He’s going to live forever.

    • gavriel ben yaakov says:

      What’s the source for the Unsong version of the Cohen song? I haven’t seen that yet.

    • Unmaker says:

      The problem with Dylan’s philosophy is that it is primarily destructive: he has no plans to build, only to destroy. He only organizes in order to allow for greater destruction. His targets may be deserving of destruction, but if he gets his way the current system will be rubble and there will be no plans to build something better from it. An entire society that followed his philosophy would self-destruct in record time.

      On a different note, the messiah who is supposed to fix this mess is supposedly both completely pure and completely evil at the same time. Seems impossible, but then along comes kabbalistic marriage. Do kabbalistically married people count as one for the sake of prophecy? Dylan in married to Erica, who is married to Ana, who is married to Aaron. Is Dylan evil enough; is Aaron good enough? In any case, kabbalistic marriage can allow for one “person” both good enough and evil enough to fit the prophecy.

    • Deiseach says:

      Is anyone surprised by now that Dylan is a liar? That story about how his family ran out of Mexico is probably as much a lie as anything; he may have taken it from someone to whom it really happened. Right now I wouldn’t believe him if he said grass was green. And I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about Erica; all that “we’re working for the good of all” disguised the female version of Dylan, it appears.

      Dylan is still trying to convince Reality that he’s not the bad guy here – it was the System that did it! And yes, the System is rotten, but this is like me shoving you off a cliff and then saying I didn’t kill you, gravity did.

      Dylan doesn’t take “no” for an answer, so when Mark tells him no, I’m not joining your little club, Dylan sets him up in a really bad situation so that when he offers him Hobson’s Choice, Mark will accept.

      It would appear that despite all his posturing, Dylan still needs a High Ritual Magician, or High Ritual Magic is still good for something he can’t do. For all his preaching about the corruption of every system and how it all needs to be burned down, he still thinks he’s going to come out on top, so that all I can hope is that he gets pulled down too when (if) it all collapses.

      Or that Thamiel will show up to drag him off, as in the 27th Canto of the “Inferno”:

      112 ‘The moment I was dead, Francis came for me.
      113 But one of the dark Cherubim cried out:
      114 “No, wrong me not by bearing that one off.

      115 ‘”He must come down to serve among my minions
      116 because he gave that fraudulent advice.
      117 From then till now I’ve dogged his footsteps.

      118 ‘”One may not be absolved without repentance,
      119 nor repent and wish to sin concurrently —
      120 a simple contradiction not allowed.”

      121 ‘Oh, wretch that I am, how I shuddered
      122 when he seized me and said: “Perhaps
      123 you didn’t reckon I’d be versed in logic.”

      • Susebron says:

        Dylan: “Hey, a bunch of people are falling off of cliffs and dying, I think gravity is causing this.”
        Mark: “It’s not gravity. Sure, people are hitting the ground with a lot of force, but that’s basically a fluke.”
        Dylan shoves Mark off of a cliff, and picks him up before he’s hit more than a few rocks.
        Dylan: “I didn’t make you hit those rocks, gravity did. Do you believe in gravity now?”

        • R Flaum says:

          I think it’s more like:
          Dylan: Hey, a bunch of people are falling off of cliffs and dying, I think gravity is causing this. We should get rid of gravity.
          Mark: Getting rid of gravity would also destroy the Earth. Maybe we should just put in guardrails or give people better safety trai–
          Dylan: Why are you denying that gravity is responsible for people falling to their deaths!?

          • Susebron says:

            “Gravity” here is not gravity, it is “the fucked-up-ness of the system”. Your analogy implies that it is impossible to have a system which isn’t utterly fucked up and terrible.

          • R Flaum says:

            Yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying.

          • R Flaum says:

            Well, actually, let me amend that: what I’m saying is that if you try to radically alter the system without carefully considering the implications, you’re likely to make one that’s much worse. Even if you had the power to eliminate gravity, it wouldn’t be a good idea, since gravity is what holds the Earth together.

      • Masked_Discombobulator says:

        Coming back to this a long time later and with some retrospective, I think “female version of Dylan” is a bit unfair to Erica.

        Dylan lies constantly and manipulates pretty much everyone he knows- Erica included. Erica has the same underlying beliefs about the fundamental injustice of the system, but she’s far less malicious and treacherous about her personal conduct.

        Imagine Erica first deliberately going out of her way to get Ana thrown into prison for more or less life, then showing up ten years later and delivering all the bullshit and manipulation and games that Dylan does. It’d be completely out of character, because she’s just not that much of an asshole.

    • Susebron says:

      Okay, apologies if this comes across as me being a dick, but: What? The only good reason to dislike Dylan is that he prioritizes a few people he can see over millions he can’t*, but all Dylan’s done is kill a few people whereas Thamiel is fucking torturing not millions, but billions of people in unimaginably bad ways for eternity. Which is an even worse scale of things.

      *and honestly this is just in that one particular anecdote, for the rest of his argument he’s significantly more correct than the position he’s arguing against, even if the actions he takes as a result of his views aren’t the best way to do what he wants to do.

      • Galle says:

        Thamiel admits he’s the bad guy and that the people he’s torturing in Hell are victims who don’t actually deserve their suffering. He’s incredibly dangerous, sure, but being angry at him makes no sense. It’d be like being angry at hurricanes or earthquakes. Thamiel is simply an incredibly evil aspect of reality. He needs to be neutralized, but there’s no particular reason why it needs to be personal.

        Dylan, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge that he’s doing extremely non-heroic things. Not once in this entire chapter does he express the slightest bit of remorse for what he did to Mark, and in fact he acts like he’s done Mark a favor. If Dylan was running Hell, he’d expect all of its prisoners to constantly sing songs expressing their gratitude for the horrific tortures he was levying on them.

        • Galle says:

          Another way of putting it is that while Thamiel is evil, he validates our idea of what evil is. Dylan refuses to play along with that and keeps trying to insist that no, actually, murdering three people and ruining an old friend’s life is a wonderful thing, and holy shit I just realized there are some interesting parallels between Mark’s situation and Job, but the point is, Dylan is the sort of person who we would like to repeatedly punch in the face until he admits that punching people in the face is wrong.

      • Warren Peace says:

        It’s easy to imagine a couple of people getting killed. It’s NOT POSSIBLE to imagine a million people being tortured for eternity. One causes an emotional reaction, the other doesn’t. Come on man, this is central to HPMOR!

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I just hate Dylan so much. Like, I guess Thamiel is technically more evil, but Dylan’s the only character in this story that makes me want to punch him.


      Dylan Alvarez claims to be motivated by compassion, yet when he’s confronted face-to-face by a man he wronged he mocks his suffering sadistically.

      The guy obviously understands the concept on an intellectual level. His various lies about his past tug the heartstrings and elicit sympathy from the people gullible enough to believe them. But we see quite clearly that he doesn’t actually experience compassion: it’s all just words to him, a sad story that can be told well or poorly.

      To put it another way, he’s the reason murder offsets wouldn’t work in practice. Once you’ve accepted that the ends justify the means it becomes very tempting to shop around for ends that justify whatever means you’d like to employ. If you want to crack eggs then just call the mess you’re making an omelette.

  3. Sunday says:

    So Erica is kabbalistically married to Alvarez now? Alright, I ship it.

    • AxiomsOfDominion says:

      I mean, depending on the security features between multiple marriages, why wouldn’t you do that? EVERYONE should be doing that. Especially in any sort of political or military situation.

      • Making a deep spiritual connection for tactical reasons seems like something that would inevitably go wrong.

        • Ninmesara says:

          It’s interesting that now that Erica is married to Dylan we no longer have access to her thoughts.

          Besides, I think that her life expectancy has just decreased significantly… I don’t believe Dylan wants to keep the telepathic link forever, and getting rid of the other end of the link might work. On the other hand, how do you kill someone with whom you share a telepathic link?

      • gavriel ben yaakov says:

        Afaik you can only kabbalistically marry one person ever, so choosing the right person is a big deal.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Well, there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn it off, so better hope they don’t betray you…

    • MH says:

      Weren’t we saying a few chapters ago that Erica could be the only person left who can still remember an un-Confounded version of the Vital Name? And now she’s telepathically linked to Dylan Alvarez. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong…

      • Sunday says:

        But Alvarez doesn’t care about names other than for very specific instrumental purposes. Using the Vital Name doesn’t seem like his kind of style.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Now that Aaron can rest for a while and get some error correcting books (and access t tnearmas, tne supercomputer), he’ll probably have the full name again in no time. Nah, just kidding. The other king will attack Cheyene mountain and it will go downhill from there :p

    • Deiseach says:

      They deserve one another.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Enjoy it while it lasts.

  5. Anonymous says:


    It’s ‘español’. Unless you want to convey their lack of proper Spanish pronunciation through that spelling. But even then, who’s a ‘senor’?

  6. gavriel ben yaakov says:

    Any reason Mark’s invocation to the archangels doesn’t match with the original Hebrew? The actual text is translated as “on my right, Michael, on my left, Gabriel, before me, Uriel, and behind me Raphael.” Replacing Raphael, the archangel associated with healing for Raziel, associated with secrets probably indicates something sinister. Reversing of the order of the names – Uriel goes from being in front to in back – is also interesting, but I don’t know what to make of it.

    • will408914 says:

      Probably just a coincidence. Everything is always a coincidence.

    • Wander says:

      Well, it has been established that what you actually say doesn’t mean anything as long as it looks proper.

    • Gazeboist says:

      It’s Unsong-correct. Raziel is implicitly Comet West, and has a western association. Mark is the only surviving archmage of the US, so Uriel is south of him, which places him behind Mark based on Raziel’s placement (this also puts Gabriel in the east and Michael in the north). I’m not sure why Mark says this as though he’s facing north, but he might just actually be looking north at the moment. Raziel is also on the left hand if Mark faces north, which puts him opposite Thamiel (the left hand of God, if we take Mark to be implicitly standing in Man’s position opposite God); this matches with Jala’s opposition of Thamiel. It doesn’t fit Uriel taking God’s role of guiding humans (and thus standing “before” Man), but it does fit his role of guiding his machine from behind the scenes.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I don’t know what the reason might be, but we do know that it’s deliberate on Scott’s part; see here in the Chapter 8 comments.

  7. grort says:

    When you ask someone to swear something, and they deliberately rephrase your proposed oath into something difficult to parse, that’s a super bad sign.

    Reading carefully, it sounds like Dylan could still safely make someone else betray Mark, injure him, or turn him in to the authorities.

    Can’t say I blame him for leaving, though. Quite a lot of outcomes are better than 38 years in prison.

  8. linkhyrule5 says:

    …. A singer is someone who tries to be good.


  9. Marvy says:

    Arithmetic question: Dylan killed the archmages in 2001. That was over 10 years ago. What gives?

  10. hnau says:

    I kept waiting for Dylan to say “Introduce a little anarchy”…

    • teucer says:

      Yes. Not sure why, but zero chance it’s an accident.

    • Cinz says:

      The story is already pretty old, but I’ve just seen it now (should really catch up on those microfics!), and man – what a roller coaster of a short story! I was laughing aloud at the beginning of the last sentence (“In a sense…”), only to become really sad by the end of it. For some reason I had expected Dylan to be satisfied with intimidating Darryl. In a sense, I really should have seen it coming.

      (Also, the pun was perfect.)

  11. Ninmesara says:

    Dylan is full of shit and clearly never meant to free Mark until he needed his help to kill Malia. Why would he need Mark of all people?

    Also, trying to kill Malia using the Spectral Name can only go well. If only the telepathic link between Ana and Erica was a little stronger, she might have received the crucial piece of intel that 1) Malia can see through the Spectral Name 2) Malia knows that Terrible Potentially Murderous Kabbhalistic Unitarians are in posession of something that makes them invisible and has probably implemented security measures to protect herself. I can think of several possibilities, namely pressure plates, guards with infrared goggles, sonar alarms, guards with inks sprays, ink dispersing “grenades”, guards with hearing enhancements (both technological and kabbhalistic), guard dogs, and maybe even some blind wraiths borrowed from the Other King. And this is assuming she can’t actually make her guards spot invisible people… Their only advantage is that Malia doesn’t actually have an invisible person with which to test her setup.

    The fact that the link is strong enough to transmit the name but not strong enough to transmit theis crucial bit of information raise (again!) suspicion of foul play and active eavesdropping on the SCABMOM link.

    I can’t also help but notice that Erica and Dylan are saying the names verbally, instead of writing scrolls which are easier to use in the heat of the moment. I hope they at least have the brains to write some names in scrolls so that they can use names while invisible (in klipot, of course, or else UNSONG will be in posession of the Spectral Name in case they fail).

    • Thecommexokid says:

      guards with inks sprays, ink dispersing “grenades”

      or may…my head turn green

      • Ninmesara says:

        Of course, it’s narratively appropriate.

        Besides the ink sprays, it’s logical to equip the guards with paintball guns. The’re extremely useful if you want to fire at someone invisible without being afraid of colateral damage among your own team. After the enemies are suitably visible again, you may switch to real guns for extra fun. That would explain a possible green headshot.

  12. Ninmesara says:

    No one had considered the question before, but some of the magic circles the Goetia used to bind demons got repurposed

    Can people actually bind demons in Unsong? It seems pretty useful.
    The main problem I see is that when the demon dosen’t want to be bounded he can just commit suicide and go back to Hell.

  13. Ninmesara says:

    Hm… the Drug Lord has a confounded version of the Vital Name he got from Ana, even if he didn’t get Aaron’s version… can’t he get a computer and some error correcting codes and find the name by brute force using his “friends who can speak names”? Is there something I’m missing?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Also, he has the Spectral Name, the Mistral Name and the Airwalking Name. There isn’t much he can do with them, though…

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later, but… Sure, he could probably get the Vital Name that way, but then the Vital Name would be in the hands of the friend, not just in his hands.

      The Vital Name is valuable enough (even if the theonomics are trying to suppress it when it’s in private hands, they’d presumably spend a lot of money to have it) that someone who was a friend of the Drug Lord might change their mind about their allegiance unless they are very firmly under the Drug Lord’s control. Which is of course possible if the friends in question are actually in Mexico and de facto his prisoners, I suppose.

      Similar problem if he gave the Spectral Name (in particular) to a “friend,” because then said “friend” could use it to just disappear and sneak away.

      When you’re more or less hostis humani generis, you run into problems like this trying to rely on an ally.

  14. Yossarian says:

    …or may my luck dry up and my head turn green and my liver explode and everybody die, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…

    Yep, so now we know how it all ends – Dylan betrays Mark, then Dylan’s head turns green, liver explodes, everybody dies.

  15. Anaxagoras says:

    I can see how Mark could have turned the oath situation to his advantage placebomantically. Spin it as the neophyte needing to do the exact right ritual to get the aid of a powerful entity who may be of use on the path to come. Something like, in response to Dylan’s second oath:

    “I am sorry, Dylan, but I may offer you only three chances to swear the oath, lest this opportunity pass from you. I would that I could assist you, but without those words, I cannot. Try, once more, one final time, and I pray you succeed, lest you travel on into what uncertain fate without my guidance I know not.”

    Anyone see counterspins Dylan could make to not be caught between making the real oath and ending up in a situation where he’s in big trouble for not having Mark?

    • Anaxagoras says:

      Hm, actually, although that may work at binding Dylan, it does seem likely to put Mark into an archetype where he dies to protect Dylan later on.

  16. Schmellow says:

    I hope the next Dylan chapter will be the chapter where we get rid of him (and get to know what was wrong with Malia Ngo.

  17. beoShaffer says:

    The world didn’t do this to me, Dylan. You did.

    In sense isn’t Dylan the world?

  18. Quixote says:

    This was a really good chapter. Some general awesomeness, the narrative advancing, and more of Dylan and Boojum. Dylan is a great character because he is so on point but so wrong.

  19. Blue says:

    To go against the rest of the comments, I really liked the Dylan monologue. Yes he is probably a liar and there are ways to debate him. But this sounds like an actual radical, and Scott did well on this ideological turing test. My estimation of how much empathy and understanding he has towards radicals in his other writing has gone up.

    • Despite disliking Dylan, I half-agree with you – I dislike Dylan because he’s very like a lot of real-life radicals I know and hate.
      Independently of hateing Dylan (because a hateable villain isn’t neccessarily a bad thing), I still think he’s the weakest part of this story (though this chapter did a lot to shore that up and bring him in line with the rest of it).

  20. Anders Sandberg says:

    “A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.” – Sing Sing apparently comes from the Native American phrase “Sint Sinks,” which roughly translates to “stone upon stone.”

    Of course, to sing is what a singer does, the actions of to trying to be good. So the first word of Sing Sing might be interpreted as an imperative: “sing!” Inmates should try to acquire the means to try to be, or do, good. What to sing as a singer? The second “Sing!” Which might mean the imperative is to get others to exhort to virtue, or join the choir of singers. Everybody should try to join the moral community.

  21. Susebron says:

    “Make like a guillotine and head off” is a great pun.

  22. Tina C. Beniac says:


  23. According to Official Foreshadowing, “And that would not bring about a nice messiah…”

    Could it be Dylan? In related news, Dylan’s actions struck me as suitable for an orc and then I recalled this is Blake’s universe.

  24. Peffern says:

    >But God, he was annoying.

    What do we make of this statement by Mark?

  25. R Flaum says:

    The whole thing about framing Mark was kind of odd, really. I mean, terrorists generally want people to know who’s responsible. I get that Dylan wanted to take Mark out of the picture, but there’ve got to be other ways of doing so.

    • Ninmesara says:

      I thought it was pretty odd too… The chapter where the murders are described ends with Dylan trying to frame Mark over the phone, but I though it was a practical joke just to mess with Mark a little. I never thought that Mark would actually end up in prison because of that.

      Even with the emails (maybe even because of the emails; who the hell sends incriminating emails before committing four murders?), I’d expect Mark to be pronounced innocent…

      Also, it’s strange because Lin says: “Then everything went to hell when Alvarez killed the Council” in Chapter 27. This is a paraphrase, not his exact words, but it certainly gives the idea that it is common knowledge that Alvarez did it. This might be an inconsistency, unless it means that even with Mark in jail, he actually believed it was Alvarez who was guilty. In this case, he should say something like: “Even though Mark went to jail because of it, I’m sure it was Alvarez who did it”. It has the disadvantage of revealing that Mark is in jail some chapters early, but the current text is highly misleading.

      A big tangent, unrelated to the story itself:

      It’s curious that among all the wonderful names that have been discovered there isn’t a Truth Telling Name that forces the person who speaks it to either be silent or tell the truth (it makes it impossible to tell lies). It would probably be too disruptive, though. It would certainly revolutionize the justice system (unless criminals all confound themselves, but then confounding yourself would be taken as a symptom of guilt). It would probably revolutionize politics, as citizens would demand that politicians spoke the name aloud in situations where they’d be in their professional capacity. I believe it would revolutionize society as a whole, as everyone would demand the other party to speak the Name in sensitive situations.

      On the other hand, it would be bad for people in northwest Africa because unlike other people they wouldn’t be able to prove they were telling the truth by speaking the Truth Telling Name (because they have no souls and apparently can’t speak names). This might put them at a disadvantage in situations requiring trust.

  26. Peter says:

    That SCABMOM seems to going deeply polyamorous. The word “polymer” springs to mind – Aaron to Ana to Erica to Dylan, and now there’s the sarcastic suggestion of Dylan to Mark.

    So if we SCABMOM Aaron to Sarah, and ensoul THARMAS, and SCABMOM THARMAS to Sarah, and given that Names travel fairly easily along SCABMOM (see for example, things could get interesting. Apocalyptic, even.

  27. Jack V says:

    I kind of agree with both Dylan and Mark. Even if Dylan’s story is bullshit, lots of people DO die hammering on a border fence, and he’s right that people are complacent about that, and feel like life is fair when it isn’t.

    But also, I think the current system is *more* fair than average. If you burn everything to the ground and start over, I think things will be *worse*. I think it’s both “better than average” and “a very very long way from being sufficient”. If the government is doing something sufficiently bad just getting them to stop is enough to make everything better, then armed rebellion makes sense. If they’re on average better than the alternative but also pretty awful, then armed rebellion probably isn’t really going to help 🙁

    • Susebron says:

      I don’t know, how good is the current system in the UNSONG universe? I mean, Nixon straight-up allied with Hell, and things seem pretty bad in general even outside of that. It’s quite possible that things are worse than they seem.

      • Aegeus says:

        My read is that it’s very variable. If you live on one of the coasts of the US, you’re doing alright. Aaron and Ana had something we can recognize as a middle-class Bay Area lifestyle.

        The entire middle part of the US, on the other hand, is fucked. If you live between Colorado and Ohio, you’re a victim of the demons, the Other King, the Drug Lord, and/or the Wall Drug anomaly, and you’re probably living under some weird magical warlord like the Witch-King of Wichita.

        Given all this, it’s kind of implausible that the coasts have survived so well. Losing that much territory means losing the breadbasket of the US, along with a lot of industrial capacity. The coasts would have cities, but not the resources to supply them. But on the other hand, this is a setting with literal magic. The Fertile Name and the Motive Name alone can solve a lot of these problems. And cities have the most people, and people are the only resource a theonomic corporation needs.

        So my take is that this is a setting with massive wealth inequality. If you were hit by one of the bits of magical chaos that tore up the world, you’re in a third-world nation. You don’t have names or the resources to pay for names. If you’re living in a city, you’re papering over all of these problems with magic. And the price you pay for that magic is that ruthless capitalists will ex

        I’m not sure what conclusion to draw here. On the one hand, the greed here is seriously out of control. I’m not saying they need to go FULL COMMUNISM, I’m just saying that putting two or three major Names in the public domain would probably save millions of lives and stop the central US from sliding further into anarchy, and I can entirely sympathize with anyone who uses force to get that done.

        On the other hand, Simon made a fair argument that *none* of this matters if we can’t stop the machinery of the universe from collapsing around our ears and letting demons drag us to hell, and if the system to do that gives the CEO of Gogmagog enough money for his own private island, so be it.

        On the gripping hand, Dylan Alvarez is the last person I trust to accomplish the lofty goal of freeing the names of God for everyone to use.

  28. Eneasz Brodski says:

    <3 Dylan

  29. Sukil says:

    May someone explain this part to me?

    My father, he was an alcoholic, he told them he was going to go into withdrawal, they just laughed and told him it was a nice try but he wasn’t getting any drugs. He went into DTs and died in front of me.

    Also, please don’t use “n” for “ñ” (n tilde). It’s señor and español, not senor and espanol.

    • Quixote says:

      I had always interpreted that as an authorial choice to indicate that Dylan had poor pronunciation (and perhaps to make us doubt his stories about being from Mexico)

      • I don’t think so – Dylan’s accent has explicitly been mentioned as sounding mexican. (Of course, he might be faking it moderately well, and having trouble with those specific letters – they are what I’d find hardest if I tried to fake a mexican accent).

        • Thursday says:

          Enyes aren’t that hard to pronounce. (You can approximate it pretty closely with, e.g. “sen-yore” or “es-pan-yoll”.)

        • Wander says:

          Explicitly described as faintly Mexican.

        • Masked_Discombobulator says:

          Coming at this much later, one possibility (if Dylan really is a fluent Spanish-speaker) comes from remembering the context in which he says ‘espanol’ with no tilde.

          He’s not saying the word himself. He’s saying it in the context of it being a quote. He’s putting the word in the mouth of a (possibly fictional) border guard. Even if Alvarez himself would normally pronounce the word correctly, he could plausibly be saying:

          “Yeah, this guard (who I may or may not have made up)? Yeah, he was intentionally mispronouncing a basic Spanish word that even people with no Spanish usually know how to say. As a way to mock the Spanish-speaking refugees desperate to escape the Drug Lord.”

    • Susebron says:

      I believe DTs stands for delirium tremens, which is caused by alcohol withdrawal. It can be fatal, and it appears that in this case it was.

  30. Anonymous says:

    — @GapOfGods


  31. naath says:

    I’m sure this chapter is good and all but now I have a Prisoner’s of Love (the end of the Producer’s musical) earworm and it is All Your Fault.

  32. Nestor says:

    I have a hard time fitting a Vietnam war to prevent domino theory communism in a world where the Russians have been fighting Hell itself to the bitter end. Are the Chinese even communist in this reality?

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Things didn’t start to go crazy in this timeline until 1968, by which point the Vietnam War was in full swing, as were the antiwar protests. The breaking of the crystal sphere and the ‘Long March’ of anomalous physics while Uriel flailed around trying to sort things out probably did a lot to make the war irrelevant… But it would have had enough time to impress itself on American popular culture anyway.

      The Communist Party loses control of China in this timeline to a random peasant who finds the Name to turn the Terracotta Army into a bunch of golems, as I recall.

  33. Irrevenant says:

    Wait, did Alvarez just promise that if he goes back on his word everyone dies? That does not bode well…

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