Back in my lab, it felt a little creepy to be working by candlelight. Intellectually, I knew that it was still full daylight outside, but last night had brought out the instinctive fear of the dark that is a part of being human.
Intellectually, working by candlelight makes you go blind.
I mean, seriously Harry? You’ve been in this basement this long and this is the best light you’ve got? I’m not going through my whole rant about lighting again, you don’t deserve it, but the fact is even if you stupidly refuse to invest in such modern technology as a tin fucking lamp, you’d have dozens and dozens of candles going instead to bring it up to halfway decent lighting instead. You simply can’t properly read handwriting in the dark. You’d need to hold it closer to your face, and closer, and eventually you can’t see two feet in front of you.
Possibly Harry’s nebulous magic healing powers will save him, but we just went over how healing the human body is super big deal magic, so it can’t be easier than just sustained magic light, especially when Harry chucks around fire like it’s no big deal. Plus it’s debatable if nearsightedness would count as “harm” to get reset because technically, it does come with the ability to focus close up on things other people can’t.
Michael and I had driven around most of the morning, collecting what I would need for the spell.
Also, this appears to be proving the hypothesis that ownership of items is the primary consideration for what gets hexed, and you could live a relatively normal life as a kept wizard of the mob. Come to think of it, the worst effects we’ve seen have been music players and desktop computers. Those aren’t just recent things, they’re also closer to communal objects. You don’t “own” a car radio in the same way you “own” a car, and nobody in particular really “owns” a work computer. That might mean that despite being much newer and also far more delicate, a personal laptop might actually survive proximity to Harry, especially if he stayed across the room and just said what he wanted googled.
I’d read through Kravos’s journal while Michael drove. Sick stuff. He’d been careful about listing out every step of his rituals, complete with notes on the physical ecstasy he’d experienced during the killings-nine in all. Most of them had been women or children he’d killed with a cruelly curved knife. He’d roped a bunch of young people into his fold with drugs and blackmail, and then thrown orgies where he’d either participate or else channel the energy raised by all that lust into his magic. That seemed to be standard operating procedure for guys like Kravos.
I wonder if this is somewhat of a lament that he couldn’t just use Shadowpants because he couldn’t get the plot to work with how Shadowpants died. (Possibly early drafts it just was Shadowpants?) It’s not just that this guy isn’t doing anything new, but the bit about “standard operating procedure” flies in the face of Harry’s utter bafflement at everything in the first book. It’s like we’re being told “look, just fill in the blanks with the first book guy who actually was a big deal”. And I don’t think we can just write this off as Harry having seen it once before and acting like he’s a pro now, since he’s talking about “guys”. The only other options is that since Shadowpants the city has been lousy with orgy-powered demon summoning as magic users start showing up all over and for some reason Harry never mentions it despite how much he loves bragging about being better than everyone else and despite the fact that if new rogue magicians were popping up every week that option should really be mentioned as possible culprits in this and the previous book.
I’m going to guess that everything will work better if we just accept that Current Orgy-Powered Demon Summoner and Previous Orgy-Powered Demon Summoner are the same guy.
Harry adds that yet another similarity is that this guy documented everything, because he is a responsible individual who knows experimentation and inquiry don’t suddenly stop being the best way of dealing with things just because it’s magic.
Also he wrote down the demon’s name. Harry explains that Magic is a lot like language: it’s all about stringing things together, linking one thing with another, one idea with another. After you establish links, then you pour power into them and make something happen. That’s what we call thaumaturgy in the business-creating links between small things and big things. Then, you make something happen on the small scale and it happens on the large scale, too.
When you say it that way, it makes sense that your name, a link that also is itself language, would be pretty important.
We then get a fresh explanation of the whole true name thing, which is halfway between a retcon and an actually clever explanation for something I hadn’t thought about.
People’s self-concepts are always changing, evolving, so even if you get someone to tell you their full name, if you try to establish the link when they’re in a radically different mood, or after some life-changing event that alters the way they see themselves, it might not work. A wizard can get a person’s name only from their own lips, but if he doesn’t use it fairly quickly, it’s likely to get stale.
I forget if Harry specifically said telling his name to people would eventually wear off or if I’m just remembering the soulgaze immunity wears off, but I’m pretty sure some reference came up before and I didn’t think much of it, so in that respect, wow, book, you actually thought of a cool thing I didn’t! Of course, it was definitely not a situation where a name had the same sort of shelf-life as a peach, so that bit’s a retcon. And it interacts badly with the fae thing introduced this book – fairy contracts are almost always verbal, so if name magic says you’re no longer Paul, the guy who made the contract, but Paul, the guy who has significantly reevaluated the wisdom of fairy deals, it seems that should automatically void it. (Maybe fairies could view you as “stealing” their rightful prey from them by using that person as the base of the new person you are now, and stealing fairy property probably opens you up to a different type of magical attack. And the only way to get out of it is to murder Paul, the guy who has significantly reevaluated the wisdom of fairy deals, by becoming Paul, the guy who is super into veganism now – or maybe that only works on one court while the other just shifts your crime to “killstealer” and continues to go after you for that. – but all of this is way too complicated to be a good idea in anything but a story actively focusing on fairy contract bullshit.)
But this didn’t come up in regards to fairies, it came up when talking about demons, which makes me wonder if the point is to give Harry an out for the fact he’s already given all but one of his names to a demon and so is out of bargaining chips. Harry can easily argue that the events of this book have already been life-changing, and I’m sure he could make a case about last book, and no doubt next book will also involve stuff he claims is the biggest deal ever because Harry always claims everything is the worst thing ever. He just has to avoid giving out his whole name at once and he’ll be fine.
Demons aren’t people. They don’t have the problem of having a soul, and they don’t worry about silly things like good and evil, or right and wrong. Demons are. If a demon is going to be inclined to eat your face, it’s going to eat your face then, and now, and a thousand years from now.
Alright, there’s a lot packed into these few sentences.
This feels like it should be a shift from last book’s explicit references to the opposition and stealing souls for hell, but it’s possible Butcher doesn’t see anything contradictory about things that are amoral and unconcerned about being evil also being the incarnation of pure evil. Pop culture demons tend to be more concerned with what the stereotypical behavior of demons is (pitchforks, deals, fire) than exactly what their motivations and personal moral culpability is.
So – demons don’t have souls. What do we know about souls? Humans have them, ghosts don’t. Animals do, because lycanthropes had animal souls, and it seems soul affects the physical world somewhat because that gave them their powers. The lycanthropes were human enough to soulgaze despite being defined around not having human souls. Terra couldn’t be soulgazed but we can’t know what that means because we never got confirmation she was a wolf wizard and not a nature spirit. Regular animals presumably can’t be soulgazed because Harry says it’s a human only thing, plus he never mentions needing to avoid the eyes of angry doggies – or maybe he wouldn’t, since it seems he only mentions his awesome soulfucking powers when it’s to tell us about how he’s just forced the other person not to meet his eyes, and since animals don’t know they’re playing alpha male chicken, Harry has to avoid their eyes instead. Fae can’t be soulgazed. I think Harry met eyes with the helldoggos, which would suggest either transformed humans count as nonhuman (which is a complete violation of everything about how fairies are supposed to work), Lea’s thing about the helldoggos being all her previous victims is just posturing and really they’re another fairy, or possibly, if you stay transformed long enough your soul eventually falls off (that’s more acceptably fairy – and there’s nothing contradictory about all her existing helldoggos being really old, because maybe she only picks very special people to keep as pets and obviously Harry would be special enough).
In conclusion, we have no fucking clue what souls are or how they work. But demons don’t have them and animals do. That actually makes They don’t have the problem of having a soul, and they don’t worry about silly things like good and evil, or right and wrong. written correctly: they don’t have a soul, and also, as a separate fact, they don’t have a concept of good or evil. That’s followed directly by Demons are. which suggests that souls and morality both allow for change (it could be both, but obviously animals can change without needing a concept of good/evil, which means you only need a soul for that, in turn implying that morality without soul also allows change).
Now…there was the fact the demon Harry summoned claimed being summoned was unpleasant and seemed to be getting cranky about how long the conversation was. Even if we assume that demons never gain brand-new feelings or behaviors, that still suggests they come with a natural emotional range. For humans, the name thing may not work if you try to establish the link when they’re in a radically different mood. If you try to summon a demon that’s been out for a good while, would that count as a different mood? Is this simply proof that demons can lie and the demon was just saying whatever it thought would get Harry off-guard?
And finally, If a demon is going to be inclined to eat your face, it’s going to eat your face then, and now, and a thousand years from now. This suggests a whole host of things!
How rigid are demons? Putting aside the second-book incident of demon getting frustrated and losing its temper, Harry currently exists because when given the choice of eating the person who freed it or the person who enslaved it, a demon picked the second. He also sees nothing weird about the idea of demon spawning a ghost that does things based on its death rather than the priorities it had for its thousands of years of life. So, I’m thinking “inclined” is default preferences. If a demon wants to eat people who summon it, it will always feel like that, but it’ll still behave differently toward different summoners as it gets to know them, like not instantly lunging at the ones who’ve shown they can hold a barrier. It’ll just never change its mind about thinking it’s great to eat people who summon it.
But that suggests demons are actually remarkably safe to deal with. Demons will always respond to the same stimulus the same way. If a demon lunges at you upon summoning it the first time, it’ll lunge at anyone who summons it the first time. If it agrees to a particular set of terms, it’ll always agree to that particular set of terms. If it mixes truth and lie, it’ll do so in the same pattern. Etc. Even if we assume demons are extraordinarily malevolent, individual demons should be solved problems by now. That’s why humans travel by explosion-power while thinking horses are kinda dangerous – the explosions always explode the same amount, thanks to being a physical law of reality, while the horses could always kick somebody.
Anyway – after establishing that names only work if you haven’t changed significantly between them and now…
I had Azorthragal’s Name. Even though it was a ghost now, instead of a demon, it ought to respond to the memory of its Name, if nothing else.
So sounds like it still works if you’ve changed significantly – so it’s not a binary works/doesn’t, but a continuum, but in that case, you’d think getting a name secondhand would still do something, but Harry’s been clear that human names are completely useless unless gotten directly from that human’s mouth. On the other hand, “the memory of” suggests that perhaps the name no longer has any of its traditional functions and what’s really going on here is Harry taking advantage of ghosts being weird echoes.
(Also, it’s interesting that despite swearing up and down human ghosts aren’t humans, he talks about the demon ghost as being the same creature transformed.)
Harry decides to do a standard demon summoning. He needs objects from people who interacted with the demon.
I’d gone by the station, and grabbed the hand-lettered nameplate Murphy had kept stubbornly on her office door until the publicity last year had driven the municipal politicians into getting her a real one.
Grabbed from where? This feels like it’s an incomplete thought. Murphy stubbornly keeping the original nameplate somewhere after the publicity gets her a proper one would make sense, or Murphy stubbornly keeping the original on her door even though she could’ve used the publicity to get one. But how was it stubborn to use the only nameplate for her door until she got a different one, and where is it now anyway?
grabbed the hand-lettered nameplate Murphy had kept stubbornly in her office after the publicity last year had driven the municipal politicians into getting her door a real one.
I think that’s closer to what it’s supposed to be.
Harry explains you don’t need candles/items/etc to do this, but he needs every +1 bonus right now since he’s still low on magic in some nebulous way that seems to have stopped applying. Except…if he’s not actually summoning a demon, and it’s not actually bound by its old name any longer, then why does he need to actually do a summoning spell at all – and will doing the summoning spell properly matter, if the energy to pull it is for a demon and the protective wards are for a demon and what he’s summoning isn’t a demon?
Right before he gets going Michael has the GALL to ask what he’s doing and point out they’re less than an hour to sundown.
If you can’t stop this thing now, I’ve got to go back to Charity.”
Uh, does he? So she’s still at the hospital, the hospital priest evidently’s useless, and they can’t call in any other priest to try to set down some wards? We know this thing couldn’t get into the church, so sacred stuff absolutely repels it. And if so, why have Michael hang out in the deathtrap of a hospital instead of insisting Charity goes home for the night? We’ve already established that they’re not going to act on suspicions of abuse.
Anyway, Harry yells at Michael for worrying about his family when Harry’s trying to work here, because he’s already forgotten his claim that caring about family and friends is what separates humans from demons. In fairness, Michael’s yelling from upstairs because he won’t come down into the sinful basement of non-Christian magic.
He could tolerate it, but not approve of it.
Because as a paladin, he’ll lose his fancy spells and saves if he actually sees his party member do things he’s supposed to object to, but being in the room above because he knows Harry’s doing that is kosher.
picked up the knife in my right hand, and a handful of water from a bowl on my left.
Now for the three steps. “Enemy, mine enemy,” I spoke, slipping power into the words, “I seek you.” I passed the knife over the copper circle, straight down. I couldn’t see it, without opening my Sight, but could feel the silent tension as I cut a slit between the mortal world and the Nevernever.
“Enemy, mine enemy,” I spoke again. “I search for you. Show me your face.” I cast the water up, over the circle, where the energy of the spell atomized it into a fine, drifting mist, filled with rainbows from the surrounding candles, shifting shapes and colors.
Now for the hard part. “Azorthragal!” I shouted, “Azorthragal, Azorthragal! Appare!” I used the knife to cut my finger, and smeared the blood onto the edge of the copper circle.
Feeling rather meh about the spell, gotta say. Not really sure how it would be better, just not pleased with what we have. I guess part of it is that it feels like the elements aren’t quite working with what we’ve had before – the chant is odd and all the other spell components appear to be stuff that should be wrecking the circle. With the fairies, he put the stuff in first, then activated it. Here, he’s doing a spell by “cutting” the circle, then throwing stuff over it which should weaken the circle, then sticking his hand into it to put blood on top of the circle, which should also break it.
Maybe doing it in the opposite order – smearing blood to make a second circle, then cutting with the knife to open a hole inside the circle, then using magic to activate the double circles.
The spell quested about in the Nevernever, like the blind tentacle of the Kraken scouring the deck, looking for some hapless soul to grab. It shouldn’t have happened like that. It should have zipped to the Nightmare like a lariat and brought it reeling in. I reached out and put more power into the spell, picturing the thing that I had been fighting, the results of its work, trying to give the spell more guidance.
So. A regular demon summoning is serious fucking business. Victor, blessed be his industrious soul, had to use storm magic to get enough oomph to summon his demon. Now, we know Harry has a bullshit level of overpoweredness going on, and even after getting his magic guts eaten of course he could do something like summon a demon, but here we see even with the summoning fucking up, Harry can take a near instantaneous spell (that takes incredible energy for that short time) and when it doesn’t hit, he just keeps the spell running and pours more and more power into it.
” Appare!” I shouted, forcing will into my voice, reeling back in on the spell. “I command thee to appear!” I slip into the archaic at dramatically appropriate moments. So sue me.
I’d rather sue your editor. Harry just made fun of the ghosty for theeing all over the place and now he’s talking like it. The only excuse for this would be if what that attack really did was merge essences.
Anyway, because Harry can never do anything wrong, we need idiot ball conflict as a stand-in, so Harry’s phone rings and Michael picks up and chats and then comes over to tell Harry to come up and talk and Harry’s all NOT NOW and Michael’s all but like, phone? important? geeze? Bear in mind that the reason Michael isn’t coming down is because he knows Harry’s doing icky magic, but at the same time, he doesn’t realize Harry’s busy with icky magic, so now Harry has to hold a conversation while engaged in a battle of wills.
Distressingly, this appears to just be intended as a comic relief interlude. I feel like in the previous two books this’d lead to Harry actually losing his grip on it, but here, even when given a way to completely absolve Harry of any of the failure, he still pulls through. The thing thrashes about and Harry just pours still more power, and more, and more, from his infinite sue stockpile.
“Who sent you!” I said, hammering on the spell and the Nightmare, with my will. “Who has compelled you to harm these people? Hell’s bells, you will answer me!”
“No one,” the Nightmare snarled. Its struggling redoubled, but I grabbed on tightly.
And then I felt it-a third party, intruding from the other side. I felt that cold, horrible power that had been behind the torment-spell on Micky Malone and on Agatha Hagglethorn’s ghost. It poured into the Nightmare like nitrous into an engine, supercharging it.
This still doesn’t actually get the damn thing loose, because infinite sue stockpile. But at least the plot has finally caught up with the obvious “there could be a third party involved” aspect. Maybe by the end of the book Harry will consider that maybe the creepy cold necromancy magic could have some relation to the vampire party.
Before the sun can finish setting, Harry binds it (with yet more power) to kill him before it hurts anyone else.
I felt the spell lock, felt it settle around the Nightmare like steel coils. I couldn’t keep it from getting away, I couldn’t forbid it from the mortal world altogether, but I could damn well make sure that the only person it could mess with would be me. “Now let’s see how you do in a fair fight, asshole.”
It eats your guts is how. Then cracks your head. It’s not like it was actually trying to avoid Harry.
Harry then simultaneously magic-stabs it and releases the spell, and somehow that sends it back and injures it instead of leaving an unbound summoned ghost-demon to rampage on Harry’s squishy human form.
I collapsed forward, to my forearms, wheezing and gasping for breath, my muscles shaking. I’d hurt the bastard. It wasn’t invincible. I’d hurt it. Maybe nothing much more inconvenient than the cut on my finger, or a slap in the face, but it hadn’t expected that.
Bull fucking shit. This book opens with you mangling ghosts. There has been nothing to suggest anyone thought the monster was impossible to harm, and Harry just engaged in fisticuffs over in the cemetery with it, which would’ve been a much saner time to be shocked that hitting it works.
Harry goes up to tell the paladin that the code-violating stuff is no longer presently happening so they can go back to hanging out. He explains the binding and is naturally super smug about it.
“Doesn’t that mean it’s certainly going to try to kill you? No torment, no sadistic tortures-just flat-out mayhem and death.”
I nodded, sobering. “Yeah.”
No. Harry’s also the only person who’s any threat to it. Michael couldn’t do much even before losing the sword when it can pop in and out of reality, and now he can’t harm it even if it does helpfully take physical form nearby. It just can’t torture Harry by harming those around him and let’s face it, it really hadn’t shown much interest in doing so before. The only attempt to target an unrelated person was with Charity and that was almost certainly focused on Michael.
Now, the fact Harry’s shown he has the ability to do this to it might make it decide he’s too dangerous to keep playing with, but I don’t buy that it’ll be so sad it can’t attack random people it’ll forgo playing with Harry a bit.
Harry then points out what I think it’s supposed to be more poor-me-noir-badass: “But hell, I’m already in water so deep, it doesn’t matter if it gets any deeper. Let the Nightmare and my godmother duke it out for who gets to be first in line.” but I think would work better if it was wholly sincere – he’s terrified of both of them, their goals conflict, and whoever comes out the victor will be weakened enough that Harry has a better chance beating them in turn. He also says that Michael would’ve done the same.
“Yes,” Michael said. “But my family is well provided for.”
While Harry doesn’t have a family to disappoint at all!
Also, the whole afterlife thing, but the fact a demon was trying to get Harry’s soul last book means Harry has cause for equal certainty about his current afterlife trajectory.
Harry instead thinks that he’s not planning to get killed. Dude, Michael just inadvertently made a great argument for why dying right now would be a good idea, at least consider it! But instead he tells Michael that even without the sword and without Harry’s magic power, that he clearly still has infinite amounts of, they can still do this, so long as Michael still has ~faith~. Would be more fun if Harry was planning to use Michael as a magic battery. We know Harry’s faith-related spells get stronger or weaker depending on that, suggesting that just as Harry can pile more magic on to buff a spell, adding faith should mean it takes less magic to accomplish the same thing. And if he was using that to do the summoning and stuff, it’d help explain why he demanded Michael be here all this time instead of just hiring a taxi as well as why his supposed lack of power no longer matters.
“So what’s the plan, Harry? What are we going to do?”
I got up and went to the mantel over the fire, but what I needed wasn’t there. I frowned, looking around the room, and spied it on the coffee table. I bent down and plucked up the white envelope, taking the gold-lettered invitation Kyle and Kelly Hamilton had delivered.
“We’re going to a party.”