aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 61: And Ololon Said, Let Us Descend Also, And Let Us Give Ourselves To Death In Ulro Among The Transgressors

He has a devil-may-care-so-let-us-make-every-effort-to-be-considerate-of-his-infernal-highness’s-feelings attitude.
Steven Kaas

September 20, 1999
Colorado Springs

[Content warning: Thamiel chapter. Sorry for short chapter. Story will pick up again next week as we move into final arc.]

Midnight falls in the Garden of the Gods, and Robin West stands alone beneath the cold stars.

She draws a circle on the ground, names various angels; not your better class of angels, but the sort of angels who hang around the seedier parts of Heaven and murmur about how they “don’t want no trouble” whenever the gaze of the Almighty falls upon them. She sprinkles the ground with various libations. Says some words in some languages that are not so much dead as not-talked-about-in-polite-company. Some more sigils.

A tall dark man appears in the circle. A crown of fire is on his head. His facial features are oddly indistinct. No matter how directly she looks at them, she cannot shake the feeling that she is seeing them through her peripheral vision.

“A woman,” he says, “young, but with sunken face. Hairless. Too thin. A terminally ill patient, driven to summon Thamiel, Lord of Demons, in her desperation.”

He paused a second for effect.

“…is what I would say if I were a moron. I am Prince of Lies, Robin West. Don’t ever try to deceive me.” He stepped out of the magic circle, strode up close to her. “These things don’t actually bind me, you know. The books of black magic say they do, but nobody ever thinks to ask who wrote the books of black magic.”

“I want to make a deal,” whispered Robin.

“Good,” said Thamiel. “I like deals. But just so you know, my BATNA is killing you, wearing your body like a suit, and slowly poisoning the lives of everyone you have ever loved until they scream for death.”

“You’d do anything to destroy my husband, wouldn’t you?”

“If you’re going to ask me to sell you my soul, I will have to cut off this conversation right here.”

“No,” said Robin. “All I’m saying is – if he knew I went into this willingly, it would break his heart.”

“I’m listening,” said Thamiel. Then, “Wait, no, I’m not listening, too low-bandwidth, I’m clawing the information directly out of your mind.” He grabbed her head and pulled, not quite hard enough to snap her neck. His hands were scalding hot. Robin screamed. Thamiel didn’t let go. Then, suddenly, he said “Interesting!”, and relaxed his grip.

Robin panted in pain and exhaustion.

“I am contractually required to inform you that you will lose your immortal soul and burn in Hell for all eternity.”

“I understand.”

“You really don’t,” said Thamiel. “You really, really don’t.” He mulled it over for a moment. Then he said “Nope. No deal.”

Robin’s shock was palpable. “What?”

“Too easy. You’re plotting something.”

“How could I be plotting something by offering you my soul for eternity?!”

“I don’t trust the Comet King. I don’t trust the people who trust the Comet King. And I definitely don’t trust the people whom the Comet King trusts.” He kicked a foot on the ground, and sparks flew from it. “How do I know you’re not trying to infiltrate Hell, use some kind of special Name once you’re in there to bring the whole place crumbling down?”

“The Shem haMephorash? You know my husband is the only person who can say that without burning up or going mad halfway through.”

“True, true. But something doesn’t add up. You don’t add up, Robin West. What are you plotting?”

He grabbed her head again with one hand, wrenched it back, stared into her eyes.

“Oh,” he said. “I’m afraid that’s not much of a plot. I’m not sure I would call it a plot at all. A hope? A wish? A desperate attempt to deny obvious reality?”

Robin tried to answer something, but couldn’t make herself speak.

Thamiel frowned. “But still, no deal.”

“What?”

“Offer me something else.”

“What else is left to offer?”

“Oh. Definitely the right question, there. Let’s see. I’ve got your soul. What’s left after the soul? Ah yes. The body. Make love to me, Robin West.”

She stepped backwards. “What?”

“You said it. I would do anything to hurt your husband. I want to grind him down and break his heart and rot his soul. So, make love to me.” He held out his arms for her, laughing.

“Fine,” she said. “But not like that. Show me your true form.”

The laughter stopped. “Really?”

“Really.”

“What would you possibly…”

“So that nobody will ever say I did it because I was deluded. I’ll do it, but show me your true form.”

The tall dark man began to melt. A misshapen figure, too-tall, with a second head on his shoulders, locked in a perpetual scream. The sound of buzzing flies.

“Your true form.”

“Any truer and I stop being in space-time. It’s this or nothing.”

Robin started to take off her clothes. The buzz of the flies was louder than anything she had ever heard before. Every tree in the garden wilted at once. The bright rocks turned black. The stars fled to the edges of the sky.

Robin West made love to the Lord of Demons.

When it was over, in between the waves of pain crashing through her body and the nightmare visions crashing through her head, he whispered “The day he returns. At sunset.”

“So soon? Can’t it be later?”

“You have nothing left to bargain with. Sunset. Expect me.”

And then he disappeared into smoke.

She lay there, in the Garden of the Gods, naked and alone, on the foul sulfur-scented dead grass, and it was not until morning that she picked herself up and returned to the palace.

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139 Responses to Chapter 61: And Ololon Said, Let Us Descend Also, And Let Us Give Ourselves To Death In Ulro Among The Transgressors

  1. Daniel Blank says:

    Typo:

    A hope> A wish?

  2. Anon says:

    Mahdalene, alleged wife of Christ, alleged prostitute, wife of messiah, where she met dylan

  3. Pickle says:

    Typos:

    A hope> –> A hope?

    he whispered “The day he returns. At sunset.” –> he whispered, “The day he returns. At sunset.”

  4. Pickle says:

    For those too lazy to google: BATNA -> Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, i.e. “what my default plan is without this deal.”

    In completely unrelated news, I need to curl up with a stuffed animal for like two hours.

  5. next week we move into final arc

    :((

  6. Roman Davis says:

    Garden of the Gods is apparently in Colorado and not in some mystical Sandman-esque dream space.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_the_Gods

  7. … and nine months later … Malia Ngo?

    If the Comet King grew up really fast …

  8. Carnival says:

    “But just so you know, my BATNA is killing you, wearing your body like a suit, and slowly poisoning the lives of everyone you have ever loved until they scream for death.”

    Anyone want to remind me what a BATNA is?

  9. stavro375 says:

    UNSONG has always walked a line between comedy and horror. But this is the first time, that I’m aware of, where a character’s basic motivation has been hidden from the reader.

    What does Robin want? TCK and Thamiel are in an obvious zero- (or almost-zero) sum game, so for Robin and Thamiel to make a deal either Robin wants something TCK doesn’t, or either she or the devil is acting tremendously irrational here. Torture from Thamiel and the not-cancer “BANTA” (Who knows what it is… and how Thamiel corrupted her with it) can easily sum up to rather bounded rationality.

    Maybe UNSONG is about to become a parable about how depression can force people to view the world irrationally? But of course, it’s also about to become a parable for AI risk, and nuclear war. Similarly, it seems that TOK’s secret identity is currently a superposition of Acher, Robin-as-corrupted-by-Thamiel, and TCK-trying-to-damn-himself. And TCK’s status in 2017 is a superposition of dead, TOK, and Captain Nemo.

    (The reference to “final arc” all but confirms the theory that the last chapter will be published this coming May. So the total number of interludes is a superposition of twenty-and-change, and there are two and a half months left, how can we be out of interludes already???)

    Maybe she wanted to the the

    • R Flaum says:

      My theory is that she’s trying to arrange for TCK’s defeat because said defeat is a necessary precondition for the arrival of the Moschiach ben David, who will succeed where TCK failed. What’s more, it kind of seems like she’s trying to set it up so that TCK’s defeat is just an emotional one, heartbreak, rather than death.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Maybe she wanted to the the

      In other words, maybe she wanted something that Thamiel’s going to cut her off before achieving?

    • Swimmingly says:

      BATNA is Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. It’s not a mystical parasite. It’s a promise of what happens if they don’t come to a deal.

      • Decius says:

        When the Prince of Lies tries to make a credible threat that improves his bargaining position, rational actors refuse to update on it.

        • Anon says:

          I can’t help thinking that a rational actor wouldn’t have started bargaining with the Prince of Lies in the first place.

          • Sigivald says:

            Winner winner, chicken dinner.

            (Someone more kabbalistic than I should do an analysis of that phrase.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Now I want to see Scott’s/Aaron’s/Ana’s analysis of “Guess what? Chicken butt.” Especially “Guess why? Chicken thigh.”

      • stavro375 says:

        If it’s not a mystical parasite then how is it “wearing [her] body like a suit, and slowly poisoning the lives of everyone [she] have ever loved until they scream for death”?

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          He means that the best [for Thamiel] alternative to reaching an agreement with Robin would be for him to kill her, wear her body etc.

          Maybe it would be clear if Scott had spelled the acronym out and used the to-infinitive rather than the -ing gerund for the verbs?

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            And is -> would be, e.g. “But just so you know, my best alternative to a deal with you would be to kill you, wear your body like a suit”, etc.

          • A. says:

            Thank you for the explanation. I completely failed to understand what happened there even after Googling BATNA. There might be enough confused readers for that sentence to be worth rephrasing.

        • Deiseach says:

          Thamiel is telling Robin “you called me up, now you have to make a deal, because if you change your mind I’m not going quietly back to Hell, this is what I’m going to do”.

          And this, children, is why you don’t make deals with the Devil. There are no clever tricks to get around the deal by rules-lawyering, wordplay, or getting Daniel Webster to be your defence attorney.

          As Chesterton says in the poem “For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t keep his word”

          The Aristocrat

          The Devil is a gentleman, and asks you down to stay
          At his little place at What’sitsname (it isn’t far away).
          They say the sport is splendid; there is always something new,
          And fairy scenes, and fearful feats that none but he can do;
          He can shoot the feathered cherubs if they fly on the estate,
          Or fish for Father Neptune with the mermaids for a bait;
          He scaled amid the staggering stars that precipice, the sky,
          And blew his trumpet above heaven, and got by mastery
          The starry crown of God Himself, and shoved it on the shelf;
          But the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t brag himself.

          O blind your eyes and break your heart and hack your hand away,
          And lose your love and shave your head; but do not go to stay
          At the little place in What’sitsname where folks are rich and clever;
          The golden and the goodly house, where things grow worse for ever;
          There are things you need not know of, though you live and die in vain,
          There are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain;
          There is a game of April Fool that’s played behind its door,
          Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more,
          Where the splendour of the daylight grows drearier than the dark,
          And life droops like a vulture that once was such a lark:
          And that is the Blue Devil that once was the Blue Bird;
          For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t keep his word.

          • Anonymous says:

            If I ever meet a devil to which I could apply this advice, I’ll thank you.

          • Quixote says:

            To be fair, getting Daniel Webster as your defense attorney does canonically work.

            So once you get really good at raising the dead, then you can get DW ready and start dealing with the devil

            If only we knew a character that worked with necromancy…

          • teucer says:

            Fun fact: that story got cited once by a court noting where the Devil was most likely to be found, when ruling that it had no jurisdiction for cases brought against him.

          • David Marjanović says:

            Daniel Webster

            What happened to Noah Webster?

            Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more,

            Sounds like Eternal September.

          • teucer says:

            I would *so* read a “The Devil and Noah Webster.”

    • Aegeus says:

      I have a feeling that TCK didn’t try to damn himself. He’s too stubborn. He’s the person who knows that he’s the Messiah Ben Ephraim, the messiah who’s destined to fail, and still says “Maybe mankind will be good enough for me to save them.” He says that he’ll “break apart, but stay on the same trajectory.” I don’t see him turning evil to save the world.

      Robin is a little more ruthless, even if so far it’s been in a weirdly adorable way that makes her a good match for TCK. I can see her damning herself. And she’s talked to the Comet King about what went wrong with destroying hell, so she already knows that being evil for the wrong reasons isn’t good enough. She seems like the one who might gamble on the idea of the Messiah Ben David. And it’s a vague enough idea (and a terrible enough execution) that Thamiel might reasonably say “It’s not a plan, it’s just a hope.”

      So the only real question I have is, what happened to the Acher? His identity as The Other King seemed really solid until two chapters ago, so I don’t think that Robin became him.

      Hmm. What if the thing Robin asked Thamiel for is to bring the Acher back to life? He was an evil person who never went to Hell, someone dedicated to wrecking the Divine Plan. Thamiel would be interested in reviving someone like that.

      Except helping someone become the Messiah, even if they’re an evil anti-Messiah who is destined to destroy the Comet King, would be a pretty dumb thing for Thamiel to do. And yeah, maybe Thamiel simply underestimated the probability of The Other King becoming a threat, but, as the placebomancer knows, if there’s a million to one chance of the heroine’s plan succeeding, it’s guaranteed to happen. And Thamiel knows narratives. So why doesn’t he think Robin’s plan has a chance of success?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Hmm. What if the thing Robin asked Thamiel for is to bring the Acher back to life? He was an evil person who never went to Hell, someone dedicated to wrecking the Divine Plan. Thamiel would be interested in reviving someone like that.

        Huh, this is not a bad idea. But, a thought — this is after the Other King’s initial death, right? Maybe she asked for the Other King to be resurrected? (The two could coincide, but that’s not the point here.)

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Problem with this idea: Before his reappearance, the Other King probably wasn’t considered that big a deal, so there would be little reason for Robin to ask for that unless she knows something secret about him.

    • Walter says:

      I believe she wants to motivate TCK to destroy Hell. She believes that his feelings for her will inspire him in a way that his feelings for humanity do not. The thought of her suffering eternal torment will be a goad that will spur him to destroy Hell, which increases the odds that he succeeds. Increasing those odds is worth her sacrifice.

      Thamiel, reading this in her mind, is nonplussed. As far as he knows, TCK is doing all he can to destroy Hell. He doesn’t think that there is a ‘higher gear’ that he can kick things into, and is willing to take Robin away once he confirms that the only thing going on here is her attempt at motivation.

    • Deiseach says:

      The not-cancer is a trick Robin tried to pull; went on a crash diet, shaved her head, looked desperate (which she is) in order to fool Dylan and perhaps try and fool Thamiel that she’s dying and is turning to anything and everything to save her.

      That hasn’t tricked Thamiel, so what is she up to? Plainly it has something to do with getting into Hell – either something with such a big pay-off she is willing to go to Hell for it, or by getting into Hell she hopes to open some means from the inside for The Comet King to get through (because of the nature of the marriage bond? I’m getting a vague sense of quantum entanglement – that even if The Comet King is the only one who can say the Shem haMephorash, he can do it via her on the inside).

      Some way she’s still relying on the Harrowing of Hell, which is why I think (a) Thamiel thinks it’s a vain hope and (b) he gets her to willing, knowingly commit adultery. After all, if she’s counting on the marriage bond to connect her and The Comet King, “in heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage” and that probably counts for Hell as well, and by breaking her marriage vows and having sex with Thamiel, she is weakening her bond with The Comet King and (in a way) making Thamiel her ‘husband’ too – see the way SCABMOM works as ‘kabbalistic marriage’ joining a whole series of people together.

      I think Thamiel is right and whatever she is trying is not going to work, because she really doesn’t know what she’s getting into and what she’s giving up. “I didn’t mean it! It was only sex!” doesn’t count when it’s “you knew it was adultery and you did it to get what you wanted and too bad but you broke one of the Commandments and, by the way, married me”

      (Warning: all nuptial theology here subject to ‘off the top of my head’ and ‘not official church doctrine as far as I know’).

    • Maybe UNSONG is about to become a parable about how depression can force people to view the world irrationally? But of course, it’s also about to become a parable for AI risk, and nuclear war.

      I doubt all of these, because that’s really not Scott’s style. Scott doesn’t make parables. Instead, he takes the structure of parables and sacrifices it in order to tell a story that makes you think. For example, from here

      I predict half the people will think I’m arguing against vaccination, half will think I’m arguing for mandatory designer babies, and a rare few wonderful people will understand that raising awareness of cases where our intuitions conflict is its own reward.

    • Mayaskos says:

      BATNA stands for Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. It’s what Thamiel would have done if no agreement was reached. Don’t summon Thamiel people.

  10. LHC says:

    Wondering if she got pregnant.

  11. R Flaum says:

    “If you’re going to ask me to sell you my soul, I will have to cut off this conversation right here.”

    This was something that bugged me about A Girl Corrupted, the way everyone just assumes the Devil is the Devil of just that world. I kept expecting the revelation to suddenly drop that he was the Devil of Earth as well.

  12. Amy says:

    her face was sunken, her head hairless.

    He grabbed her head again with one hand, grabbed her hair with the other, wrenched it back

    ?

  13. bv says:

    augh. poor Robin.

    • Taka says:

      Robin West is possibly the single most convincing argument against Utilitarianism I have ever encountered, and that makes me sad in several ways.

  14. R Flaum says:

    I’m trying to decide what I think of the introductory quote. On the one hand, as the absolute ruler of Hell, one of the most powerful beings in the universe, I’d think the Devil would be a majesty, not a highness. On the other hand, he’s usually called the prince of Hell, not the king of Hell. On the third hand, his besetting sin is pride, so I’d expect him to insist on the highest possible title, not humbly accept a mere “highness.”

    • The term “prince” originally carried a meaning synonymous with “king,” and only later became subordinated. In some countries/languages it still hasn’t been subordinated. Thamiel may be very prideful, but apparently he is also a stickler for tradition.

      • David says:

        See also The Prince.

      • chelofthesea says:

        More specifically, the two are from different origins. ‘Prince’ is from L. princeps (“the first/highest ranked/most important”), but later applied to senior senators (princeps senatus, “First/Highest/Most Important of the Senate”) and eventually to emperors as Augustus adopted the style Princeps Civitatis (“First/Highest/Most Important of Citizens”) as part of his general program of keeping the senate’s social status despite their subservience to him. By this Imperial use it picked up the connotation of “ruler”, which is the sense communicated down through Old French to modern English.

        King is old German, and derives from the Germanic word for the chief of a clan. It didn’t acquire its higher modern sense until Europe politically unified again at the end of the Dark Ages and such kings started to have substantial regions of control.

        The reason for the distinction between the two is that a principality eventually became a term applied to a *small* territory, with princes subservient to kings and their larger kingdoms. Sons of kings (by tradition and birth) were given particular principalities to rule, which resulted in standard titles for the heir apparent (“Prince of Wales” in Britain, for example) and thus the secondary meaning of ‘Prince’ as ‘son of the King’.

        • David Marjanović says:

          Princeps Civitatis (“First/Highest/Most Important of Citizens”)

          No, “of the state”. “Of (the) citizens” would be civium.

    • Decius says:

      He would be fine with any title which outranks a Lord.

    • Deiseach says:

      Thamiel can only be Prince of Hell because Heaven and Hell are not two equal and opposite entities (yin and yang); God is the ultimate, sole and only King, Thamiel (or any other demon or devil) is always a lesser to that. Thamiel may wish to be or consider himself to be a rival to God (we don’t know; he may see himself as fulfilling the role of the “prosecuting attorney” and so part of the governance of the Earth as in Job) but there are some truths that even the Prince of Lies cannot lie about, and his position in the metaphysical hierarchy is one of them.

      • Sam Goodman says:

        A bit of a bone to pick here: Biblical God is NOT “the ultimate, sole and only King.” Rather, He is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords (see Deuteronomy 10:17 as an example). Heck, the Bible even explicitly references other gods, such as Ba’al. While the biblical God does reign supreme over all other gods and kings, the existence of those other entities is never questioned.

  15. R Flaum says:

    It’s kind of weird that Thamiel uses a delicate term like “make love,” right?

  16. Yossarian says:

    Man, that’s the most disturbing devil scene I’ve read since the Nadine and R.F. thing in The Stand…

  17. Al says:

    Well, it’s f***ing Thamiel.

  18. anon says:

    Why the fuck.

    No, literally, why the fuck? What’s the point of sexing up the lie-lord?

    • Decius says:

      Fanservice.

      • Haugmaug says:

        Awwwwwyeahhhhh, I’m totally wanking myself silly over the unbridled eroticism of “Robin West made love to the Lord of Demons”. Thank you Scott for indulging us fans with such a cornucopia of textual lust.

        /sarcasm_with_more_than_a_little_irritation

        • Wertsir says:

          You’re telling me that the thought of Thamiel’s two melted heads screaming in unbridled agony as he climaxes, and thousands of flies sensually crawl and bite upon Robin’s skin in only vaguely-consensual torment doesn’t turn you on?

          What are you, some kind of freak?

      • Cinz says:

        More like fan-disservice. I was quite repulsed by the scene, as I’m sure many readers were, as well as Robin herself. It seems to me to mostly serve as yet another reminder that Thamiel is not some charming scoundrel (as some perceive Dylan, for example), but the most evil and despicable creature in existence.

        Of course, if the theory mentioned above that Thamiel impregnated Robin turns out to be true, then there is more significant plot relevance to the act.

    • John Galt says:

      ^

      This. – There is no plan where interacting with the PURE evil facet of God is a good idea, let alone sleeping with him. (That should be the sort of thing this instantly drives you completely insane, gives you 57 kinds of cancer, causes animals to run from you in terror, and angels to smite you where you stand.) This is next level WTF that no amount of meta-analysis is going to clear up.

      I’m sure Scott has reasoning behind this scene but it’s going to have to epic for me to swallow this bit as anything other than, “Off-the-rails-WTF”.

    • dsotm says:

      It’s really in-character – if you wanna save an unbounded number of future people from individually-infinite suffering and sexing up the devil is the way to do that it would be singer-unethical not to – even if your plan only has a tiny chance of success.
      And if you’re the devil and the divine order does not provide you with a guaranteed path to victory you might as well make sure that as many as possible of your loss scenarios require the wives of your arch-enemies to have sex with you.

      • Luke Somers says:

        > even if your plan only has a tiny chance of success.

        Don’t forget to subtract off the chances that this screws things up and the magnitude of the screwup

  19. Shoefish says:

    Obvious biblical analogues to:
    Eve, tempted by the snake (somewhat reversed here), then caused the fall of Adam.
    Lilith, who after leaving Eden copulated with/married Samael.

    • Gyndroid says:

      Yeah, the Eve thing seems especially at play here, and Robin is aware of it–she doesn’t want anyone to ever claim it was because she was deceived, whereas Eve claimed the serpent deceived her. I’m going to go with Robin had a plan, and it wasn’t an entirely crazy one, given that she knew how much was on the line if she thinks she might be the mother of an entire paradigm shift in how humans interact with sin.

      • Taka says:

        Robin is the sanest Utilitarian the world has ever seen. Horrifyingly sane. She most definitely has a plan, but unless she’s really damn good at lying, the Devil doesn’t think it will work. We can only hope that she somehow knows better than him on this.

        • Wertsir says:

          If you were smart, any plans you made against the Devil would be thought of exclusively in Aramaic.

          Of course, most people are also incapable of choosing the language of their thoughts, so that might be difficult.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Why the shift in tenses between the 4th and the 5th paragraph?

  21. Holomanga says:

    I love how this is written as if Thamiel is himself a genre-savvy protagonist dealing with a demon. He’s scared!

    • Sigivald says:

      “Wait a minute! You’re not supposed to want to make a deal with me!”

      – Zappa

    • Simon_Jester says:

      “I don’t trust the Comet King. I don’t trust the people who trust the Comet King. And I definitely don’t trust the people whom the Comet King trusts.”

      And in this line, we discover that Thamiel is not merely clever.

      Thamiel is smart.

      • Quixote says:

        Smart enouph to know what’s smart. But maybe not smart enouph to do what’s smart. He goes along with Ronin’s plan in the end (with additions)

  22. Murphy says:

    ok…. so the comet king can’t get into hell because his motives are too pure…. Robin needs his motives to be impure, in standard damnation related mythology does wanting to rescue your wife from hell count as pure or impure? It seems less pure than things done with the goal of helping billions of strangers but it’s also not something done entirely for yourself…

    • Ryan Beren says:

      The Comet King and Robin would both judge it as impure and know that each other would judge it as impure. So possibly that would count.

    • MugaSofer says:

      As I’ve said before, we saw waaaay back when the Comet King was trying to persuade Sohu to come home that – as he put it –

      If anyone harms you, even the littlest cut or scrape, I will come against them as fire and night. I will destroy them and their people, uproot everything they have built, wipe them utterly from the Earth. And I will do this even if they are the only archangel capable of running the universe, and they have nobody to replace them. What is best for the world is that I not do that.

  23. Peter D says:

    A hope? A wish?

    Reminded me of “A fearsome joy, a fervent wish”
    Also, the title of the chapter – I seehow it connects to the events on a superficial level, but are there deeper connections? For example, Ololon->Robin/Lola?
    Finally, Robin must be banking on “there is a crack in everything” and Thamiel is banking on the probability of exploiting such a crack to be very small.

  24. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    Is it weird that I not only don’t find this chapter disturbing but actually find it quite tame?

    Also, I totally expect either an anti-christ-like being or a true messiah(in a hoisted by his own petard/son hates his father for hurting his mother kind of way to come from this unholy union, but with the final arc upon us, it seems unlikely for it to be a new character and I’m not sure any existing characters fit the bill.

    • Indubitably says:

      It’s not weird. I’ve not found any of Unsong disturbing so far (great, but not disturbing). I’m always a little surprised when people have strong reactions to these kinds of chapters – didn’t a lot of people get here from Worm? Like with the S9 and the freezer scene and all that?

      • anon says:

        I kind of have an antipathy toward the idea of even giving Worm a chance, albeit not for reasons related to this.

        • gecco says:

          Care to elaborate?

          I’ve given Worm a try through the first chapter (“arc”, I think it’s called) up to the interlude. I found the writing pretty mediocre, I was kind of surprised that Scott had praised it so strongly.

          • Luke Somers says:

            It gets better

          • Indubitably says:

            It takes a little while to set up, I admit. My favorite parts are a fair ways further in. But I’d say it’s well worth sticking with.

          • Peter D says:

            I had the same reaction to the first chapter(s) but decided to give it another try after seeing so much praise for it elsewhere. While there are some jarring things throughout (such as characters pausing to engage in lengthy explanatory monologues in the middle of battles) overall it is a remarkable work. A good editor could polish it to perfection – if any could find enough time (it is HUGE!).

          • Murphy says:

            I only got into worm on my second attempt. I started on the first chapters and found the main character just… repellent. Utterly wet but I’m glad I pushed through. it gets so much better.

          • teucer says:

            My second full read convinced me that she’s supposed to be slightly repellant. I think you’re supposed to start off identifying with her and then later be shaken by the fact that you ever did.

          • Really? Why? She seems pretty decent overall – she does a few things wrong, especially at the start, but I don’t see how you could get all the way to “repellent”.

          • gecco says:

            I don’t see how you could get all the way to “repellent”.

            You are trying to set up a joke about insects here, aren’t you?

      • David Marjanović says:

        I’m always a little surprised when people have strong reactions to these kinds of chapters –

        Some (many?) people have very vivid imaginations. It borders on hallucination for some, like the one who stopped smoking by imagining to smoke – she says she could feel the imaginary cigarette between her fingers!

        Also, it probably helps to be an atheist. If you come at a devil story wondering if it (or some part of it) could be true in the end, that must be horrible…

        • Anon says:

          Also, it probably helps to be an atheist. If you come at a devil story wondering if it (or some part of it) could be true in the end, that must be horrible…

          Not a problem for a studied Christian, either. I find myself quite unworried after shouting “SOULS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!” at the monitor sometimes. Also, “FAUSTIAN BARGAINS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY.” If you make a deal with the Prince of Lies, he’s still lying and is not bound to deliver on his end. His main incentive to deliver is probably getting other people to see it so they’ll make deals with him too – and then kill you ASAP before you can repent. If you made the deal in secret, he’ll probably try to kill you without even delivering. Not that the human end of the contract is any more binding: you can’t “sell your soul” in literal terms. You can quite handily damn yourself, though, by being the sort of person to attempt selling your soul.

  25. Hunter says:

    Mmm, I think I got it!

    What’s the Grand Reveal for theodicy, why does God allow suffering, particularly the suffering of Hell?

    The hint is in the commentary on the demon country, that the citizens aren’t blamed for being in bad circumstances, but rather, the world is tested and found wanting as they stand idly by.

    So it is with Hell. This is the purpose, the opportunity for good to be done by the rest of the world.

    Is it enough to justify all that suffering? Ah, but what suffering? Uriel revealed that P-zombies are real in this universe, and such are the souls in Hell.

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      What about suffering outside of Hell? Are people temporarily turned into p-zombies whenever anything bad happens?

      I’m not convinced the concept of p-zombies actually makes sense though, regardless of how the universe operates. Basically I think Uriel is wrong when he says east Africans are p-zombies. The reason being that, basically, crackpot amateur philosophy time- anything that can act sufficiently enough like a conscious person must necessarily be doing the computations required for a person to exist somewhere.

      Of course, as no human has stayed in Hell for any length of time and left, Hell could just be a big lie, no p-zombies required, but that still leaves the question of suffering on Earth.

  26. Ninmesara says:

    It’s a shame this is 4 years too late to be the conception of Aaron… It wold be fitting :p
    (of course he would have been given up for “adoption” into a family so dysfunctional that the father bailed out at some point and neither the mother nor the father had the courage to tell him he was adopted)

  27. K25fF says:

    “Give me absolute control
    over every living soul
    and lie beside me, baby,
    that’s an order!”
    -Leonard Cohen, The Future.

  28. Yossarian says:

    But just so you know, my BATNA is killing you, wearing your body like a suit, and slowly poisoning the lives of everyone you have ever loved until they scream for death
    On the second read, I really understood Thamiel’s genius – he really does get what he wants, bargain or not: whatever it is that they’ve bargained, I bet in the end it leads to her death and poisons the Comet Kin’s life. So the only difference the bargain made is that Thamiel got to wear her not like a suit, but more like a condom.

    • Yossarian says:

      So basically he got what he wanted anyways with less need to micromanage? and, forgive me my horrible pun, with a cherry on top.

  29. Ryan Beren says:

    “The Shem haMephorash? You know my husband is the only person who can say that without burning up or going mad halfway through.”

    If there’s anyone willing to take that risk, it’s Robin.

  30. Roxy Lalonde says:

    Anybody else still waiting on a shirt? Afraid mine may have gotten lost in the mail.

  31. Anonymous says:

    [Accidentally left this comment in the wrong chapter and not sure how to delete it.]

    In Chapter 51, there’s this conversation

    > “I could travel to the opposite side of the world.”
    >
    > “No,” said the Comet King glumly. “I would probably just hunt you down.”

    Maybe going down is travelling to the opposite side of the world. My guess is that Robin offered her soul in exchange for nothing or for something unimportant. Her hope is that the Comet King will hunt her down and enter hell.

    But is that really it? Did she ask for something in return for her soul?

    And is this supposed to be when she leaves for hell?

    > The day he returns. At sunset.

  32. Nestor says:

    So I just found out about the eruv and I immediately wondered why I didn’t learn about it here, it seems like such an Unsong thing.

  33. Blue Knight says:

    If this whole thing ends up being in Tommy Westphall’s imagination, I’m going to be both extremely ticked off and somewhat impressed.

    https://thetommywestphall.wordpress.com/the-master-list/

  34. Sniffnoy says:

    I really don’t think short chapters are a problem. This is a good chapter! What’s annoying in chapters where nothing nonobvious happens. What happens in this chapter is definitely not obvious. 🙂

  35. Kolya says:

    I just had a theory – thinking back to chapter 14, Aaron was in the UNSONG facility with Malia Ngo, deep underground, in grave peril, and spoke the Vanishing name. This took him to a kabalistically complementary situation – in the Angels’ Redoubt, high in the clouds, in grave peril, with Jinxiang. So

    low:high
    peril:peril
    Malia:Jinxiang

    So what if the reason that Malia is complementary to Jinxiang is that they are *both members of the West Family* – because Malia is Robin?

    • Kolya says:

      Apologies if someone has already thought of this theory and it’s been picked over endlessly…

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Maybe Malia is The Other King’s daughter? (not fully serious)

    • R Flaum says:

      I think that Jinxiang is supposed to be complementary to Ana, not Malia. Remember that at the time he Vanished, Ana was breaking into UNSONG to rescue him. Thus, in both cases there was a woman breaking into a government (I consider UNSONG to be effectively governmental because of its police powers) facility to steal a thing that contains secret information.

  36. “She draws a circle on the ground, names various angels; not your better class of angels, but the sort of angels who hang around the seedier parts of Heaven and murmur about how they “don’t want no trouble” whenever the gaze of the Almighty falls upon them.”

    That’s just a perfect… Douglas Adams, or Terry Pratchett line. Dry. Funny. Jaded and removed.

    And then in the space of a few lines of dialog, everything gets much much too real, much much too immediate, and suddenly knowing witticisms seem…profane. Like, *actually* profane.

    This book continues to be really, really great.

  37. augurydefied says:

    Arriving super late, but it looks as if nobody else has commented on the echo of Hamlet in the phrase “naked and alone”. That’s exactly how Hamlet describes himself in the letter to Claudius which basically marks the turning of the tide of the play. It’s when he’s just returned to Denmark after surviving the assassination attempt at sea, and he’s about to finally commence his suicidal campaign of divine vengeance against the evil king.

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