aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 59: Clothe Yourself In Golden Arms

This is a reasonable approach for handling small problems, but it would be awkward if there were any that did understand, and seek God.

Evening, May 13, 2017
New York City

When she thought about it, Erica guessed it made sense for terrorists to hold dress rehearsals. Terrorist plots were complicated things where many different people had to do their parts right the first time. So it was reasonable to want to practice in some kind of low-stakes environment.

Less reasonable was Dylan Alvarez’s insistence on sitting in a director’s chair, holding a clapperboard, and starting out with a “Lights, camera, action!”. But placebomancy, she figured, was so closely allied to acting as to be another branch of showmanship.

“The Assassination Of Malia Ngo,” Dylan said. “Take seventeen. Our plucky young heroine Erica Lowry has, with the help of her mysterious friends, learned a Name that allows its speaker to become invisible at will. Our dashing and incredibly handsome hero, Dylan Alvarez, has rescued her and convinced her to use her powers for the side of g…of chaotic neutral. Our heroes are in a nondescript white van parked outside UN headquarters. Due to their sixteen previous dress rehearsals, they know exactly what to do. Lights, camera, action!”

They were in a Broadway theater, next to a pretty good mockup of the interior hallways of UN Headquarters. Alvarez had supposedly convinced a series of investors that his new play, “Unsong: The Musical” was going to be a fantastic hit, apparently even spontaneously breaking into some of the planned musical numbers during his sales pitch. As a result, he’d gotten the money he needed to rent a theater and create a made-to-order replica of their target. Erica had no idea when he’d done this. Yesterday? This afternoon? Months in advance, just in case? Maybe he was lying about everything and there was a mockup of UNSONG ready here for some other reason?

It was Clark, Erica, Mark, Brenda and Maduegbuna on stage. Erica spoke the Spectral Name for her four fellow assassins, and then they walked into the building unseen.

They were harnessed together; on Take One, unaccustomed to invisibility, they had all bumped into each other and ended up in a tangled mess on the floor, after which Dylan had pronounced them “super dead” and handed out the harnesses, which he had been keeping to himself the whole time. On Take Two, there had been flour carefully strewn over the floor, and Dylan had caught them by their footprints and summarily declared them “super dead” again.

(“Why the bloody bollocks would there be flour on the ground of fucking UN headquarters?”, Clark Deas had asked, only to be pronounced a “sore loser” by Dylan.)

Take three was angry dogs, who navigated by their sense of smell. Take four was tiny ball bearings placed on the stairs. Deas had glared at Alvarez, but hadn’t said anything, and it turns out that the glares of an invisible person are extremely easy to ignore.

And so on all the way up to Take Seventeen.

The invisible invaders, having snuck through the open doors of the United Nations, carefully checked the floor for ball bearings and flour dust. Dylan attacked them in a dog costume, and Erica pretended to speak the Beast-Tamer’s Name, causing the fake dog to retreat quietly. They successfully avoided Dylan-dressed-as-a-janitor running around in implausibly fast motions streaking water all over the floor. And for the first time in seventeen tries, they came to the office door marked “MALIA NGO, DIRECTOR”

At the head of their train of invisible people, Deas opened the door.

“Oh, what’s this?” said Dylan, sitting behind a desk wearing an outrageously large black wig. “My door seems to be opening of its own accord. I suppose I will just have to call for security and wait to be rescued like the poor little defenseless maiden that I…”

As he started speaking he grabbed an AK-47 from under his desk, and halfway through the sentence he jerked it up and made shooting noises. “Pow! Pow! Pow! You’re all super dead!”

“Ha!” said Clark. “No we’re not! I had everyone say the Bulletproof Name while we were still in the van!”

“My dear Mr. Deas,” said Dylan, “the AK-47 shoots twelve rounds per second. I am absolutely willing to grant that you were protected from one of them. But unless people have become much sturdier since the last time I used a firearm, eleven rounds is still more than enough to kill a man.”

“There are nine of us,” said Deas. “If it takes two bullets to kill one of us, she could only kill four of us a second. That’s more than enough time for one of us to react and shoot her.”

“That’s all nice and well,” said Dylan, “but, on the other hand, YEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEE”

Some sort of horrible noise split the air. The would-be assassins covered their ears with their hands, tried to run away. The whole train of harnesses bumped up against each other and they fell on the ground, visible and embarrassed.

“Dare I ask,” said Brenda, “what that is supposed to signify?”

“You may! I, Malia Ngo, have been described by those who have met me as having an aura of fear and terror about me. Perhaps creepy mysterious mind powers! And I ventured to assume that maybe she can direct that aura, like a weapon. Just a conjecture, but better safe than sorry.”

This time everyone glared at him.

“Or who knows, maybe she has a machine that makes scary shrieking sounds.” He flipped the switch again. “YEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEE!” Brenda Burns grabbed him, wrenched the machine from him, and turned it off.

“And if this happens, what do we do?” asked Erica.

“An excellent question! I happen to have consulted Lord High Magician Mark McCarthy on this very topic and the two of us have come up with some interesting ideas.” Dylan took off his wig, exited stage right, and came back with a bag marked RELICS. He dug through it, throwing various strange and unpleasant-looking body parts aside. “Mmmm….pancreas of St. Pancras…Saul of Tarsus’s tarsals…facial bones of St. Boniface…no, it’s with the secular stuff.” He took out a different bag. “Aristotle’s pupil…J. S. Bach’s well-tempered clavicle…aha!”

A vial of blood.

“This is the blood of Malia Ngo. You may be asking, how did you get the blood of Malia Ngo? The answer is much too gross for you to want to think about, but let’s just say it involved a bribed janitor, several bags of trash, and acute awareness of her monthly cycle.”

Everyone groaned.

“Come tonight, I will be placing a drop of her blood on a placebomantic opal amulet, which I will give to each of you. Whatever strange powers she may have coursing through her veins, through whatever means, these amulets will protect you.”

“You expect me to wear that after your description of where it’s from?” asked Clark.

“Get a life,” said Brenda Burns. “As if your body is any less disgusting.”

“Ms. Burns, as always, speaks a profound truth,” said Alvarez. “As always, while you are serving BOOJUM I expect you to make great and terrible sacrifices for the cause, lest our organization and all it stands for should YEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEE!”

“WHO LET HIM HAVE THAT FECKIN MACHINE BACK?” thundered Clark, and his hands were clenched in fists of rage.

Dylan shut off the sound machine.

“One more time,” he said, and climbed out of the model UN back into his director’s chair.

“The Assassination Of Malia Ngo,” said Dylan Alvarez. “Take eighteen. Having previously been defeated by ball bearings, a light coating of flour, small dogs, the janitor, a middle-aged female bureaucrat, and their own feet, the intrepid heroes of BOOJUM dust themselves off, wipe their own blood up from the floor, and prepare once again to save the world from the plutocratic tyranny of UNSONG. Lights…camera…action!”

They navigated carefully through the ball bearings. They trod around the flour. Erica spoke the Fluvial Name to deflect a swarm of angry bees, and they carefully avoided touching the jeweled idol that Dylan had placed just outside the elevator. For the second time, they came to the door marked MALIA NGO, DIRECTOR. Five invisible terrorists prepared their weapons. Clark, gun in hand, reached very carefully for the door.

A bolt of lightning struck the stage. Multicolored light blossomed in alien geometries. Five weapons in five pairs of hands melted into metallic sludge.

“I AM SOHU WEST,” said the glowing figure in the middle of the light, and the glow faded until they could see her, ringed by symbols and powers beyond their ken. “I MEAN YOU NO HARM. I HAVE COME TO TALK TO ERICA LOWRY. REVEAL YOURSELF.” A wave of hard light swept over the crew, settling on them, highlighting their invisible forms.

“Okay!” shouted Clark Deas. “I have feckin had it with this bollocks. I was quiet through the flour. I was quiet through the dogs. I was even quiet through the feckin ball bearings. But feckin Sohu West? This is completely ridiculous.”

“Mr. Deas,” said Dylan, rising from his director’s chair, “when you joined BOOJUM, you told me you were ready for anything. Shall I take it you wish to amend that statement?”

“I’m with Clark, actually,” said Brenda. “I appreciate what you’re doing, and the special effects are neat, but we’ve only got a few hours to train, and I feel like we need to concentrate on plausible threats. So far we’ve gotten ball bearings, dogs, and now Cometspawn, and we haven’t even dealt with, like, a normal platoon of security guards or anything.”

“My dear Ms. Burns, I already know you can deal with a platoon of guards. The point of this exercise was to test your mettle. In a real fight, are you going to stop what you’re doing and protest to me that what’s happening is ‘unfair’ or ‘implausible’? Or are you going to deal with whatever Nature can throw out at you?”

“I AM SOHU WEST,” said the scintillating figure amidst the storm of light again, insistently. “I MEAN YOU NO HARM, BUT I DEMAND THAT ERICA LOWRY REVEAL HERSELF. I COME BEARING A MESSAGE FROM HER FRIEND, AARON SMITH-TELLER.”

“The hell?” Erica asked Dylan. “I didn’t even tell you that name. Where did you hear about Aaron? And what does he have to do with any of this. I feel like it kind of breaks the realism, you know? Suspension of disbelief? Sohu West caring about Aaron is about as likely as her caring what leftovers I put in my fridge last week.”


“Look,” said Mark McCarthy. “Dylan’s obviously not going to listen to reason. The faster we get through this whole Sohu thing, the faster we’re getting out of here.”

“Okay, fine,” said Clark. “I shoot Sohu with my gun.” He pointed the melted metal stick at Sohu. “Bang. Bang.”

Sohu stared at him like he was an idiot.

“You can’t shoot the gun!” protested Dylan. “Sohu already melted the guns!”

“I use my backup gun,” said Clark.

“You have a backup gun?” asked Erica.

Now Clark looked at her like she was an idiot. He removed his backup gun from his boot and shot Sohu. The bullet collided with her shield of light, fizzled into nothing.

“Really?” Clark asked Dylan angrily.

Erica stepped forward. “I am Erica Lowry, friend of Aaron Smith-Teller. I represent America! I am not afraid of you! Speak, but know that we are BOOJUM, and even Cometspawn cannot make us afraid!”

“No, look,” said Mark McCarthy. “You can’t just make ritual magic happen by saying exciting-sounding things. You have to prepare it, you have to know what you’re doing.”

“You can totally make placebomancy happen by saying exciting-sounding things,” said Dylan. “I say the girl is doing a good job. Keep going.”

The glowing cloud around Sohu diminished in intensity. “I’m not trying to hurt you,” she said. “But your friend Aaron discovered a Name, and it spread through the kabbalistic link to his friend Ana, and then he realized it must have traveled through another kabbalistic link to you. It’s in your unconscious, waiting until you need it, just like the Spectral Name was at first. I need to get it. Will you let me into your mind?”

“Don’t do it,” said Brenda. “It’s probably some kind of trap.”

“Nah, knowing Dylan it’s probably some sort of stupid placebomantic metaphor,” said Clark. “Probably a Christ myth. Erica’s supposed to offer complete surrender, and then she’s going to come back more powerful than anyone could have possibly imagined.”

How is this helping us train for a realistic threat?” Brenda continued to protest.

“Okay,” said Erica. “I let Sohu access my mind.”

For a second, she stared into the Cometspawn’s eyes. Something invisible passed between them.

“You’re married,” said Sohu. “To Dylan Alvarez.”

“Do you guys think I should admit it?” she asked Clark and Brenda.

“I say deny everything,” said Brenda.

“Deny it!” said Clark. “Maybe she’ll keep some respect for you!”

“I deny being married to Dylan,” Erica told Sohu. But the Cometspawn had already floated over to Dylan’s director chair. “MIHAN-TAIG-SAROS-ATHTEN-GAHANOR…” she started. The Confounding Name. Dylan’s eyes glassed over briefly.

“There,” she said. “Pretty sure the Universe owes me big for that one. And you too.” She spoke the same word to Erica. “Be glad I don’t have time to deal with whatever else is going on here. But I got what I needed.”

“What?” asked Erica.

“The true Vital Name!” said Sohu, who turned to light and vanished.

For a second, all was quiet. Then: “That was the most feckin’ pointless thing I have ever had to sit through,” protested Clark.

“Just keeping you on your toes!” said Dylan. “I would say your preparation for a sudden manifestation of Cometspawn is a C minus at best.”

“Just glad to be done with this mess,” said Brenda.

“Done? My dear Ms. Burns, we have not yet begun to fight!” Dylan Alvarez sat down on the director’s chair again. “The Assassination Of Malia Ngo. Take nineteen. Having previously tested themselves against ball bearings, dogs, jeweled idols, and an immortal quarter-archangel eight-year-old girl seeking secret Names of God, the intrepid heroes of BOOJUM stop complaining, drop their grievances against their wise and exceptionally handsome leader, and prepare once again to save the world from the plutocratic tyranny of UNSONG. Lights…camera…” He pulled the noise machine out from underneath his chair. “YEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEE!”

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134 Responses to Chapter 59: Clothe Yourself In Golden Arms

  1. LHC says:

    This chapter came within a day of our talking about an in-universe Worm musical on the parahumans subreddit. NIEAC

  2. “WHO LET HIM HAVE THAT FECKIN MACHINE BACK?” thundered Clark; his hands were clenched in fists of rage

    From American Pie:

    Oh and as I watched him on the stage
    My hands were clenched in fists of rage

    This is right after

    So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
    Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
    ‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend

    Which represents Malia Ngo sitting on the AK47. The next verse is

    And as the flames climbed high into the night
    To light the sacrificial rite
    I saw Satan laughing with delight
    The day the music died
    He was singin’

    Which is a clear reference to Dylan’s reaction to Sohu’s appearance.

    • Dindane says:

      I don’t see how it refers? (Although I guess I’m still hung up on the “flames climbed high” = “a rocket ship” theory.) I think the part describing Dylan’s reaction is “No angel born in Hell could break that Satan’s spell.”

      • Rand says:

        It’s funny that Sohu is “an angel born in Hell” – but yeah, that whole verse is in this chapter:

        “Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
        My hands were clenched in fists of rage
        No angel born in Hell
        Could break that Satan’s spell”

      • Andrew M says:

        ‘Born in Hell’ certainly seems significant in the light of what we discover later. But I don’t see that Malia is in any sense an angel.

    • linkhyrule5 says:

      …. Dylan was singing?

      Like, man, I think this is easily the most implausible part of this theory :P.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hmm, the last verse you quoted actually makes me think of the third book’s cover: the flames in the background and Malia Ngo’s smirk. I think she might be Thamiel in disguise. And this time it’s serious. For one, that would explain why she can see invisible people. For another, the manner of speaking in which she talked to Aaron and Ana resembles somewhat the way Thamiel addressed diplomats at the United Nations: a façade of politeness, ostensibly presenting himself as an ally despite everyone realising the implied hostility and waiting for an opportunity for some backstabbing manoeuvre. Corrupting institutions beyond their original purpose, moulding them into instruments of evil until they become caricatures of themselves, performing a moral figure-ground inversion of the kind Scott talked about in his review of House of God, seems to be one of his favourite modi operandi (see the Hell on Earth interlude’s passage about lead factories, or the Madrid conference chapter). Nominative determinism also checks out: she is named Malia, which as the Obama interlude reminds us, refers to the concept of evil (not sure what that implies about the Obamas themselves, though) and the organisation is called UNSONG, which refers to the anthem of Hell. (By the way, this is terrible placebomancy on The Comet King’s part to name it that.)

      What? He wanted Uriel to kill him. I doubt it was just to go Briah and steal Sohu’s memory, or that he had to be killed in order to enter Briah at all; but he might need to be killed to get a new physical body. He had to go somewhere, and I don’t think he’d want to withdraw from Yetzirah altogether. There’s just the problem that UNSONG was founded/conceived no sooner than in 1996 according to the Eighties and Nineties interlude, so back in 1990, when he was trying to get Uriel to kill him, Thamiel might not have had a whole fleshed-out plan. Maybe just a vague idea of ‘corrupt a human institution from the inside instead of attacking it from the outside’. And of course, given that Uriel doesn’t respect the laws of chronology, we probably shouldn’t expect Thamiel to do it either.

      • nipi says:

        Id assume that in 6 years Thamiel has had to attend some meetings as himself. Although people might be glad if he didnt come in person it would still be suspicious. Then again thats probably everyones default attitude towards him.

        And if the body needed to be destroyed to assume a new shape there are surely methods for them to do it to themselves. When was the wrathful name discovered again? Or is there some kabalistic reason that wouldnt work?

      • Cniz says:

        I thought it was established that in order to kill Thamiel, Uriel had to use up a significant amount of the divine light – and that this was Thamiel’s goal in antagonizing him.

    • Macbi says:


      With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    Man, I gotta say, it’s going to be disappointing when Unsong is over. Like, what with how close to the end we are…

    (Potential continuity error: Erica using Names while invisible without any remark on her becoming visible as she does so.)

  4. Dindane says:

    “his hands were clenched in fists of rage” AND AS I WATCHED THEM ON THE STAGE (American Pie). I don’t know the significance of this yet, TOO EXCITED TO WAIT TO FIGURE IT OUT BEFORE COMMENTING!

  5. LHC says:

    Oh, wow, I think I laughed more at this chapter than any one so far.

    Starting with “YEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEEYEE!” I’m apparently not very sophisticated.

  6. stavro375 says:

    I… you… what?

    An actual Cometspawn showed up in the middle of Dylan’s stageshow, and he acted like the whole thing was part of the plan? Was this a dream sequence?

    convinced her to use her powers for the side of g…of chaotic neutral

    A rare moment of self-awareness from Dylan. But I’m surprised that someone so intent on being the Dashing Hero would admit this out loud. (Not that I think it will change anything.)

    (Scott Alexander: Resolving loose plot threads since 2017)

    • I thought Dylan’s reaction was totally in character. No way is he going to admit that he wasn’t 100% in control of the situation.

      • Yeah. Seriously great character moment for him.

        • Marvy says:

          I begin to realize that his defeat of the Board of Ritual Magic was no accident. He is good at winging it, and he must have practiced hard.

          • Deiseach says:

            I don’t think Dylan “wings” things. I think he prepares meticulously, including running trials like this one, and including using methods of forecasting the future like astrology, I Ching, throwing the dice, reading the tea leaves, you mention it he’s tried it.

            Dylan may give the appearance of “I’m a leaf on the wind, I’m so unpredictable, me!” but I think he keeps very tight control of everything that’s going on and leaves as little as possible to chance. Looking like you’re unpredictable and might do anything is great for keeping your enemies off-balance, but really being “look, a squirrel!” distractible is not going to keep you alive and thriving very long if you’re running a terrorist group.

          • nipi says:

            I think he is trying to convince the world that they have prepared for everything so nothing can go wrong. Its all placebomancy.

          • stavro375 says:

            In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.

          • Fender Gender says:

            I don’t think Dylan “wings” things. I think he prepares meticulously, including running trials like this one, and including using methods of forecasting the future like astrology, I Ching, throwing the dice, reading the tea leaves, you mention it he’s tried it.

            Dylan may give the appearance of “I’m a leaf on the wind, I’m so unpredictable, me!” but I think he keeps very tight control of everything that’s going on and leaves as little as possible to chance. Looking like you’re unpredictable and might do anything is great for keeping your enemies off-balance, but really being “look, a squirrel!” distractible is not going to keep you alive and thriving very long if you’re running a terrorist group.

            In other words, HPMOR!Dumbledore.

    • holomanga says:

      The secret to being a good placebomancer is to never, EVER admit that you don’t know what you’re doing.

    • Deiseach says:

      The things he’s done means he can’t really claim to be on the side of good, that would be a flat-out lie and would damage the Narrative. To keep the favour of Reality, Dylan has to dance around words and present what he’s doing in the best possible light, hence “chaotic neutral”.

      And he’s very good at subtle shades of meaning and twisting words and making them “mean what I say”, which is why he’s so good at placebomancy:

      “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

  7. dsotm says:

    So Sohu is aware they are planning to assassinate Malia Ngo but seemingly doesn’t care much ? Also not confounding Erica as well is kinda sloppy.

    • Thanks for mentioning this. I’ve edited to clarify that she Confounds Erica.

      I don’t think they mentioned at any point when Sohu was around that they were planning to assassinate Malia, and remember that Sohu just got what might be literally the most important discovery ever and the thing that will save her nation and the world, and this is top priority for her.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yeah, I’d just assumed she was ignoring it due to it being small potatoes by comparison…

        • Deiseach says:

          She may assume that Malia and UNSONG are too well-prepared for this rag-tag group to handle, and if they try it they’ll end up dead (or prisoners of UNSONG) and doesn’t care that much about what happens a bunch of terrorists trying to carry out an assassination.

          Or she may mention it when she gets back (hey Aaron, by the way, your friend Erica is going to try to assassinate Malia Ngo) and she’ll let the other Cometspawn decide what to do, since that’s the kind of political affair her sister is handling (as ruler of what’s left of the Comet King’s realm, and its alliances and agreements with other states and state entities).

          • Murphy says:

            makes sense. I mean, she knows that group assassinates people semi regularly, including a president and she apparently could take them out if she felt like it and had 10 minutes free after lunch some day.

            I don’t see why she should care more about the leadership of UNSONG than about the US president.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Heck, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Sohu decides it’s totally fine for someone to assassinate Malia Ngo, because she knows something about Ngo the rest of us don’t.

      • dsotm says:

        “You’re married,” said Sohu. “To Dylan Alvarez.”

        So she knows they’re BOOJUM which are well-known as a terrorist group and the set is an Unsong HQ model with a door with Malia Ngo’s name on it, the priority of the vital name can explain why she’s not doing anything right now but it would be weird if she didn’t care about it at all or mention it later to the other cometspawn, on the other hand it rings well with the preoccupancy habit of her teacher

      • nipi says:

        I dont think Sohu would stop them. I mean Aaron has told the Cometspawn that there is something very wrong with Malia.

        Im more surprised that Aaron has not asked her to pick up Ana.

        I wonder how Sarah will feel about Ana. I mean she was there when she became conscious. And at the very least she was in some of the photos.

      • Joe Knapka says:

        Having just reloaded the page to be sure, I did not finish the chapter with the impression that Sohu had Confounded Erica.

    • Anon says:

      After confounding Dylan, Sohu says “Pretty sure the Universe owes me big for that one.” This could be about erasing the vital name from his mind, or it could be about preventing some other disaster that he was going to cause, like assassinating Malia Ngo.

  8. My guess was wrong. I thought Maduegbuna would be a p-zombie (the existence of p-zombies must be an instance of Chekhov’s gun) and that the Vital Name would be found when Erica re-souled him by accident.

  9. grort says:

    This was great.

    Sohu probably should’ve confounded Erica too.

  10. Quixote says:

    I love this chapter. I was laughing out loud as I read it. Everyone assuming Sohu is part of the act is amazing. A lot works very well

  11. Quixote says:

    Also everyone vote for Unsong

    In this context you vote absolutely* makes a difference


  12. Yossarian says:

    Man, Alvarez is fecking awesome. To be able to sit through the appearance of Cometspawn in the middle of his installation and act like it is all going according to the plan must have taken a good amount of self-control (or just not giving a crap). Though he must have been prepared for it – something real GOT to show up in a performance staged up by placebomancers.
    On a side note, I kind of expected that Sarah confounded Erica too, and they would have to hack into Countenance and get the last test Name that Aaron spoke, then add the “MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH” part. Oh well, this is even more awesome though.
    On another side note, maybe while Sohu understood that they were planning the assassination of Malia, she didn’t mind that they do it. Way I see it, while UNSONG was created by the Comet King, if Malia is, in fact, a demon, we could consider UNSONG to be an organization that was originally Comet-aligned, but then got infiltrated and subverted by the enemy. After all, from what I get from the timeline, Malia must have gotten her nice cozy director’s chair after the Comet King died and the Cometspawn were too preoccupied with picking up the pieces.

    • I didn’t think of hacking Countenance until readers brought it up. In retrospect, it’s a great idea, but I already had this part written and this way works too.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Hm, I was thinking they don’t particularly care who heads UNSONG. After all, its director when The Comet King was alive was apparently pretty ineffective…

      • Yossarian says:

        Maybe that sort of ineffective director was what the Comet King originally had in mind – low on the whole police brutality thing, pushy enough to somewhat decrease the unauthorized use of Names, persecute the criminal gangs misusing the Names and (somewhat) increase the profits of theonomic companies, yet soft enough so that in the end the Names get spread through the population, giving a higher headcount of knowledgeable Name-users who could be instantly authorized for use of any Name neccessary in case of emergency like demon invasion or some other catastrophic event. Malia, on the other hand… her methods remind me of Thamiel’s policies we saw in the Hell on Earth chapter.

    • Deiseach says:

      Forget Malia Ngo, I think Dylan is Thamiel in disguise.

      He knows too much (if he’s in a position to not alone be able to create an accurate mock-up of the interior of UNSONG but get some of Malia Ngo’s menstrual blood, he could have run an operation against them before now) and he was too unaffected by Sohu’s appearance, especially as one result of the practice runs he put the team through meant they thought she was just another one of his tricks.

      I imagine Dylan not alone uses methods of forecasting the future (from judicial astrology on up or down) to see the likely results of his actions, I think he’s setting the team up as sacrifices so their deaths will get him power.

      Yes, that would put him on the wrong side of the Narrative as far as Reality goes, but the members he’s selected – an actual terrorist, the creepy interdimensional guy, Erica (who has apparently no qualms about murder, which is what political assassination is) – seem like an attempt to turn what will happen into Poetic Justice, that they will have deserved their deaths as the fruit of karma.

      Except Mark, and I think Dylan is trying to manoeuvre him into being the Judas of the piece by breaking the oath he swore (not trusting Dylan, trying to escape without keeping his part of the bargain). Even if Mark and/or someone else survives, that might be just about enough to spin the Narrative to keep Dylan on the right side – or the power he would get from the blood sacrifices is enough that he wouldn’t have to care about that anymore.

      I don’t trust him, I don’t like him, and he makes me prefer Malia Ngo, unsettling aura of despair and fear and all.

      • Quixote says:

        I had thought Dylan could have been many people in disguise, TCK, TOK, etc. But if Sohu reads his mind and edits it then he isn’t one of the great powers.

        • Peffern says:

          I didn’t realize the kabbalistic significance of “TCK, TOK” until I saw it spelled out like that, so thanks for that, I guess.

        • Rand says:

          But if Sohu reads his mind and edits it then he isn’t one of the great powers.

          Well, he could be Gaia impersonating a Second Foundationer impersonating the Mule impersonating “Dylan Alvarez”.

          (Or, if you prefer, he could be a HPMOR-style Occlumens.)

          But (given no evidence of this stuff) I’d prefer in context that reading Dylan’s mind implies he isn’t Thaumiel.

          It would be a good plot twist, though.

    • gradus says:

      What if Malia really IS on their side, though? I mean, do we KNOW she tortures people? She was actually pretty polite to Aaron. Unsong was founded by the Comet King and appears to basically just be law enforcement. While their politics might not be egalitarian, we haven’t actually seen them do *evil.*

      • Yossarian says:

        Well, while we haven’t seen Malia torture people onscreen, she does give out this particular 1984 vibe, and O’Brien was quite polite to Winston Smith (not Aaron Smith-Teller, though) during their conversations as well.

      • Yossarian says:

        (*Malia and UNSONG in general)

  13. DancerWithout says:

    “They were harnessed together.”

    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.

  14. For about a paragraph and a half *I* thought Sohu was another gambit of Dylan’s

    • Marvy says:

      I kept flip-flopping. My first instinct was “real”. But when Dylan acted all chill, I thought I’m wrong. My mistake was forgetting the immortal words of Mark McCarthy: “If he [Mark] was going to survive this, he would have to think like Dylan. The problem was, Dylan was insane.

  15. vashu1 says:

    Parts with Dylan are the best. We need a separate book series, telling all about his life.

  16. YumAntimatter says:

    Take all of my LOLs. Take them all. (This chapter did literally make me laugh out loud.)

  17. Yossarian says:

    — the AK-47 shoots twelve rounds per second
    –If it takes two bullets to kill one of us, she could only kill four of us a second

    A bit of a math error here, or is Deas already taking into account that some bullets might miss?

    • Marvy says:

      Probably math error, but his point stands: it would take 1.25 seconds to kill them all, which is plenty of time to react. Actually, it’s not enough time, but whatever.

    • Anonymous says:

      It takes two bullets to kill an unprotected member. With the Bulletproof Name, that makes three bullets each.

      This is alluded to when Dylan talks about 11 bullets being enough.

      I think there needs to be an explainunsong like explainxkcd for these kind of things. Just the author’s notes isn’t always enough.

    • Cake&spoon says:

      Nope. They had the bulletproof names, protects them from one bullet each.

      • Yossarian says:

        Ah, so he meant that it takes two bullets to kill a teammate plus one to get through the Bulletproof name? I see now.

        “Getting shot in the head with an AK-47 is a bitch. Getting shot with it in the torso though – weak, dude, this shit only brings me down to about 40 hp”

        • Lambert says:

          Statistically, the survival rate from a single bullet is 80% if you get to a hospital within 2 hours.

          • Aegeus says:

            If you’re a wanted terrorist fleeing the scene of a murder, you might have a little bit of trouble getting safely to a hospital.

            I’m amazed the survival rate is that high, though.

  18. B_ Epstein says:

    Why why why would Sohu tell them about her goal?

  19. Simon_Jester says:

    I’m just going to say, this chapter was really, really funny. Definitely Dylan Alvarez’s best moment. Sohu was very, very Sohu with her extreme, casual power and, well… let’s just say that it shows that she was raised by Uriel.

  20. Eric says:

    “Some sort of horrible noise split the air.”
    “maybe she can direct that aura [of fear and terror]”
    I did a double take, because this reminded me of the description of the anthem of Hell in Chapter 5. But that would imply that Malia Ngo can direct Unsong

  21. Anonymous says:

    Nitpick (and it’s really, really nitpicky this time, because the thing’s not really canon): some time ago, Scott posted a list of Names to /r/unsong, and it used a different name for what is called here ‘the Beast-Tamer’s Name’.

    Though that raises a question: who actually gives names to… well, Names? (No points for answering ‘Scott’.) Is there a systematic method to derive the names of the Names (a bit like systematic names of chemical compounds)? I also vaguely recall one incident in which a character learned a new Name and then another character knew without having been told by what name to refer to that Name (I can’t recall the details now). And how come some of the names of the Names are so non-descriptive (who gives a name like ‘the Wrathful Name’ to a nuke)?

    And relatedly:

    “You’re married,” said Sohu. “To Dylan Alvarez.”

    Wait, so SCABMOM is marriage after all? Normally I’d shrug it off and say ‘marriage is just a word/social construct’, but in this novel this emphatically can’t be a satisfactory answer. The list of Names I linked above suggests that it is; SCABMOM is listed as the Nuptial Name.

    • Deiseach says:

      Wait, so SCABMOM is marriage after all?

      “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments” 🙂

      When you’re messing around with rituals involving words (Names) that not alone describe True Reality but affect it, you can’t get away with “oh, Such-And-Such is just a word/social construct”.

    • Shoefish says:

      I feel bad about saying this, especially in the Unsong comment section of all places, but your’re giving too much significance to names of Names.

      I think it’s reasonable to expect that naming things, like anything else that involves coordination, is effed up, and in the unsong-verse possibly doubly so.
      So there’s probably a correct kabbalistic derivation of a Name’s name since Names can somehow be extracted through the Torah and misc revelations(IIRC). Also the company that patents a Name probably names it, or maybe they only give a brand name to the Name and there’s still the kaballistic Name’s name. Hey, Do we have generic Name scroll producing companies?

      Anyway, I won’t be surprised if there’s a committee somewhere on the naming of Names which everyone ignores. (the Nominative Name Nomination Committee? N.A.M.E is an Association for Maximal Efficiency?)

      And then there’s the general public, which throws everything out the window and insists to call the Awakening Name the Coffee, Zapper, or Buck’s.

    • Daniel H says:

      Re: knowing a Name’s name:

      I don’t think Ana has ever thought the phrase “Spectral Name” to Aaron, at least not while we were watching. Somehow all the characters call it the same thing.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “No, look,” said Mark McCarthy. “You can’t just make ritual magic happen by saying exciting-sounding things. You have to prepare it, you have to know what you’re doing.”

    I see what you did there.

  23. Rachael says:

    I love the list of relics.

    • belatedEpiphany says:

      That was the part that seemed the most unreal to me. He’s got a literal sack of relics that he reads off as a series of bad puns. Dylan really channels Bugs Bunny sometimes.

  24. Vadim Kosoy says:

    So, Sohu confounds Dylan and Erica so they don’t know the Vital name. But, Dylan is still linked to Erica who is linked to Ana who is linked Aaron who is linked to Sohu. Can’t the name flow back through these links? Or, can Sohu severe them somehow?

  25. Droid says:

    Is it supposed to be “Magdebuena” (as in Ch 53) or “Maduegbuna” (as in this chapter)?
    Or maybe the spelling is unstable, like the Berenstæin Bears. Disconnected from the planes of reality and all that.

    • kechpaja says:

      I think (don’t quote me on this) that “Madegbuena” makes more sense if the name is supposed to be Igbo (and he is introduced as Nigerian, so that’s what I’d assume). The represents a coarticulated consonant rather than a consonant cluster, as consonant clusters are not allowed in Igbo ( I don’t think would ever occur in an Igbo word.

      • kechpaja says:

        Part of my comment got mistaken for HTML and removed. It’s supposed to say “The ‘gb’ represents” and “I don’t think ‘gd’ would ever occur”.

  26. Zim the Vixen says:

    I’m not sure how Dylan expects this plan to work. If they use any names, they are bust. Wouldn’t you expect that Unsong would have in their HQ a bazillion agents with names tattooed on their necks, waiting for anybody to use them?

    Laughed out loud at the whole Sohu scene.

    • gwern says:

      Detecting the spectral name would be a huge alarm and trigger a lockdown, but they can’t detect the spectral name because it’s new, that’s why it’s so useful. They could detect the bulletproof name, but arguably in such a building located near other government/diplomacy/UN buildings, everyone would be going around using that all the time as a matter of routine, so the false alarms would be unbearable. The beast tamer name would also be problematic, as many people in NYC might be using that on pets and strays and other animals. And no other names come up. The plan calls for them to use only the bulletproof name and the spectral name, so if they need to use other names, it’s probably a bad situation in which secrecy/surprise has already been lost and using the name is much more useful than not using it.

    • They can probably use known names from scrolls. UNSONG can’t detect most unknown names.

  27. boris says:

    Considering the fact that the SCABMOM can be chained infinitely and transmits information regardless of the strength of the connection, it seems terribly important that no one tell Aaron anything, ever again.

  28. Simon_Jester says:

    I just had a thought.

    If Dylan Alvarez really did obtain Malia Ngo’s blood the way he says he did, it strongly suggests Malia is human. Conversely, if Malia isn’t human, then…

    One likely possibility is that Dylan is completely bullshitting about having amulets with her blood that way (possible). The other is that Dylan is going to be very very disappointed- in which case he’s probably being manipulated by a third party into waltzing into a trap situation he is entirely ignorant of (also possible).

  29. hnau says:

    Dylan chapters are the best chapters.

  30. Arancaytar says:

    “Mmmm….pancreas of St. Pancras…Saul of Tarsus’s tarsals…facial bones of St. Boniface…no, it’s with the secular stuff.” He took out a different bag. “Aristotle’s pupil…J. S. Bach’s well-tempered clavicle…aha!”

    Killed me.

  31. Serimachi says:

    So, I’m confused about whether we’re supposed to be rooting for Erica and the terrorists here, or if we’re supposed to be hoping they fail, or if we’re supposed to be ambivalent. Of course, we know Ngo has an evil aura around her, so she’s probably evil, but do we have any other reason to want her to die?

    • Yossarian says:

      Well, she is an enforcer of copyright law. Isn’t that by itself more than enough?

    • Yossarian says:

      This scene came to my mind today and I couldn’t resist but share it:

      *enters Malia Ngo.
      – Hello, audience! My name is Malia Ngo, and I’m Evil with the capital E!
      *the audience sits, unconvinced
      – I am named after the abstract concept of evil, and I am probably a daughter of Barack Obama and I am a half-demon!
      *the audience sits, unconvinced.
      – I have an aura of supernatural wrongness and terror!
      *the audience sits, unconvinced.
      – I fecking enforce the COPYRIGHT LAW!
      *the audience sits, unconvinced.
      – Ok, fine, I’ll prove that I am evil! I will eat a kitten right now! Bring me the kitten!
      *two UNSONG goons enter, carrying a kitten. The kitten hisses and bites. They pass the kitten to Malia.
      *two UNSONG goons exit
      – Ok, I am eating the kitten!
      *Malia eats the kitten.
      *Om nom nom
      *Malia spits out the kitten’s bloodied tail
      – Ok, now you believe that I am evil, right?
      *the audience sits, unconvinced
      – Screw you, guys…
      *Malia exits.

    • Shoefish says:

      I think we’re supposed to be mostly confused & ambivalent about everyone except Thamiel.

      The representative for copyright laws managed to spar well against the only character that has strong opinions about them and the intellect to spar back.
      Aaron mostly bumbles along and tried to doom the world in the name of unrequited love.
      Uriel tries to do good but seems to run on a morality that doesn’t value human life half as much as we’d like him to.
      Dylan is funny but evil.
      Malia Ngo is mostly unknown.
      TCK stands out as heroic but we have slight reason to suspect his future/present.

      So the most suprising twist would be if it (convincingly) turns out Thamiel is pulling some sort of complex Batman gambit for the greater good.

  32. haplodiploidy says:

    I don’t know if anyone has compared you to John M. Ford yet, but this chapter reminds me of his novel “How Much For Just The Planet?”.

  33. JJR says:

    I’ve been having these thoughts roll around in my head for a bit.

    One of the important numbers is 10. There’s 10 vessels that transform finite divinity into a finite level, 10 colors, 10 celestial bodies, 10 Sephirot.

    But within this number there is another patter, a 3/7 split. Of the 10 vessels, only 3 remained intact when the flow of divine energy started, 7 broke.

    When we see Uriel channel the divine light to smite someone it is said of the 10 colors that 3 are those only seen in heaven and 7 of them are earthly. I would also point out that there are so called Immposible colors that can be seen if you manage to trick the eyes/brain into seeing 2 opposing colors in the same space. With 7 colors to work with we can get 3 opposing pairs and so see 3 extra colors.

    There are 10 celestial bodies. But how many of them are real, and how many simply projections on the crystal sphere. The Earth and Moon are real for sure, extending as the do into real space. I would argue that the sun is real as well, and is most likely the first vessel that brings divinity into the world. But that comes later.

    I don’t have anything to say about the Sephrot at this time.

    But, using the patterns we can start looking for more instances of such the number 3 for instance. There are 3 facets of God (Metatron, Neil Armstrong, and Thamiel) and there are 3 higher worlds (ATZILUTH, BRIAH, and YETZIRAH).

    And now we can start building correspondents between them. Metatron, holder of the explicit name the first vessel, and corresponds to the sun and Atziluth. Armstrong I would place as the second vessel, corresponding to the Moon and Briah. Thamiel then is slotted in as the third vessel and corresponds to the Earth and Yetzirah. I place him third because Aarons explanation here of the vessel system says that it was light flowing from the 3rd to the 4th vessel that caused it to shatter, and subsequently all the failure of the rest of the vessels. This would make Sataniel the one who was supposed to be the 4th but was shattered into demons by Thamiel. This then gives us our last set of correspondence. The 7 broken vessels, the angles who are not aspects of God, the world of Assiah, and Earth again? I stumble a bit with the planets because there should be 3 corresponding to 3 intact pots and 1 corresponding to 7 broken ones. On the other hand Metatron = sun and Armstrong = moon seems very firm in my mind. Perhaps hell counts as a separate planet and Thamiel actually corresponds to that? This would invert the order of the 3rd and 4th pot in celestial terms, maybe that is why pot 4 shattered. Number 3 stepped aside and let it get hit with the energy from number 2?

    This helps, I think, to explain why the system was allowed to shatter in the first place. Consider, if the impossible colors really do correspond to the higher realities and the intact pots, how does the world look if all of them had functioned perfectly? Well, it would mean that there is only one color (probably magenta) in the human world. The other 9 colors are only seen in the higher worlds. What’s more there’s no way to get at them. We can trick our brains into seeing the impossible colors by a clever use of opposing colors. If we have only one we cannot. This perhaps serves as a metaphor for an inability to access those worlds at all. In other words, a perfect world is flat boring and inescapable.

    Consider it from the other direction. Suppose Uriel and TCK were to find a way to put Sataniel back together and turn him into a functioning klipot. First things that happen are that they lose a color and another world is created above Assiah. t would keep Thamiel away from us, a good thing. But working with 6 colors we can now only recreate 3 of the 4 colors only seen in heaven. Sohu in this world can probably only reach Briah, and never Atziluth. In other words, we are shielded from Thamiel, BUT ALSO FROM GOD!

    I think it comes down to that. The majority of vessels designed to shield us from the divine energy failed and allowed evil into the world. But if the had not then creation would have been separated from creator forever, which is simply evil in another form. Where the break happened is where it needed to happen to give us some shielding but not cut us off forever.

    • David Marjanović says:

      which is simply evil in another form.

      Is it, though?

      • teucer says:

        I’m assuming it’s the opposite of evil, in an Aristotelian way. Pure evil is one end, good is in the middle, and at the other end nothing exists that is not God, IE we all get consumed by divine light. The binary chapter and Aaron’s take on Had Gadya offer weak support of this theory.

        • JJR says:

          Which chapter was that again?

        • JJR says:

          Thanks for pointing me to the goat chapter. It took me way too long to completely fail to Find it on my own. On thing I immediately notice. If we map the 10 elements onto the 10 pots in the flow of divine light. God leads to Angel leads to butcher leads to ox. But the third pot, the butcher, kills/shatters the fourth pot that is the ox. Which to me suggests further that the shattering was entirely intentional. It was not only supposed to happen, but it was supposed to happen where/when/timless-i- dont-have-the-right-word-for-it it happened.

          As far as needing evil to create anything that is not God, I sort of get that part. But it is an incomplete explanation I think. It doesn’t answer why God creates at all, or why God creates one way as opposed to another. If the system had not broken, I think the resulting universe would only be very slightly evil. And only in the sense that it falls short of God’s perfection. Start letting pots break and you get increasing levels of evil, but also corresponding opportunities to do good. So the badness is worse, but the goodness is better. Let too many break and the universe is simply annihilated though. So it’s a balancing act between too many and not enough to achieve some goal with creation.

          That is the why this instead of that. But still dies not answer the why at all question. I think the idea is to create something that is better than God. At the level that the world is operating at absolute evil is achieved in Thamiel and He’ll. But there is the corresponding possibility of achieving absolute redemption and goodness. In the Broadcast interlude it is mentioned that there is 10 times as much rejoicing in heaven for a redeemed sinner than for one who never needed redemption. Perhaps the same is true for God. God simply is maximally perfect in every way without effort. For something to achieve that state after starting from a flawed/broken one would also be better, perhaps, than simply existing that way since forever.

          If any of this makes sense.

      • JJR says:

        Being cut off from God is less than maximally good, it probably makes achieving maximal goodness impossible.

    • GoForth says:

      3 is the number of Religions and Books in of the Abrahamic Religions.
      Judaism is the root, the origination of the the Book. The Torah, or Old Testament, corresponds with Atziluth and Metatron, the source.
      Christianity is the second one, the New Testament, and corresponds with Briah, and Neil Armstrong, considering Armstrong’s message of peace and love on earth, and the Book of Revelations stating Christ, the center of the second book, would create a new Kingdom of God on Earth.
      Islam is the third, corresponding with Yetzirah , and is stated within it’s text, the Koran, that it’s prophet is the Last Prophet. Yetzirah is the last of the unbroken Limiters. The Thamiel connection I don’t get, though.

      There are also three facets of god described in the New Testament. The Father, corresponding to the light of the First limiter, Atziluth, and it’s associated Abrahamic Religion, Judaism. The Son, associated with the Second limiter, Briah, which is again, associated with the New Testament, and of course, Jesus. And finally, the Holy Spirit, which seems to correspond with the Third Limiter, and Thamiel.

      There’s three original humans, Adam, Lilith, and Eve. Adam is the first, corresponding with the First Limiter, and for some nice connections, also links it to Adam Kadmon, blueprint of the universe. Lilith, though created second is more closely associated with the Third limiter, because of her betrayal. However, I would intrepret this to mean the Second limiter overflowed through the third limiter into the Fourth limiter. And then there’s Eve, last of the original humans to be made by God, and the creator of… wait for it….


      She, of course, is Thamiel, who was the one to fuck up the entire system in the first place.

  34. Daniel H says:

    I just caught up, and I’m wondering: Is there a convenient place listing everything fans have figured out? I’m sure there’s a lot (in terms of both references and foreshadowing) I’ve missed.

    In the meantime I’m going to read up on the biblical Sarah and keep trying to find an m-s-s I’ve somehow missed in this story (I would barely believe Scott if he said there wasn’t one in the story, although it’s possible it hasn’t been introduced yet). Also, what m-s-s was there in Uriel giving new mathematical laws for how the world worked?

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  37. Dragonus45 says:

    I have such a deep unspeakable hatred for Dylan.

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