OT: The Devil and the Tower

on February 19, 2013 in Other Tales

“Of course,” Samuel said, sounding suddenly weary, resigned.

“I’m hoping someone saw that,” the man said. “Actually, I’d really hoped he would have made some kind of noise on the way down, but I guess the lesson there is to never underestimate the fragility of the mortal condition.”

“You killed him,” Samuel said. “You killed him like he was nothing.”

“And speaking of him being nothing, you haven’t even drawn your sword,” the man said. He raised the pitchfork upright and then leaned on it like a staff. “Wasn’t he a friend of yours?”

“I would have fought you to protect him, and I’ll fight you now if I have to, but I’m not going to be goaded into fighting on your terms,” Samuel said. “I thought I made that clear after you took the pages from Jennifer’s diary.”

“Funny thing… I never actually had them,” the man said. “It was easier to have them destroyed than to get them to a place where I could get my hands on them, but I didn’t actually need to have them… I just needed you to think I did. I knew you were too stubborn, too prideful, to ever let yourself be backed into a corner. If you thought I was going to hold those pages over your head, you’d do something about it. And so you did. You see, you’ve been working on my terms the whole time.”

“Your plan… was for me to expose myself?”

“Yep,” the man said.

“Didn’t work out exactly how you planned, did it?”

“You think not?” the man asked. “Because you did expose yourself, sure enough.”

“They didn’t exactly drag me out of town on a rail for it,” Samuel said.

“Oh, that might have been nice, but things are rarely as easy as they can be,” the man said. “That’s why I like to keep things… flexible.”

“How did you do it?”

“Well, warded walls can keep a body out,” the man said. “I don’t have to explain that their protection ran out twenty or thirty feet below us, do I?”

“Of course not,” Samuel said. “I worked that out the instant I saw you.”

“If you were as clever as you think you are, you would have worked it out before ever coming up here,” the man said. “And then I would have had to come up with something else. Anyway, it would take an entirely different sort of ward to shut out my mind, and no one was guarding against that.”

“You possessed Jennifer,” Samuel said.

“I visited her,” the man said. “Left her some… suggestions, you might say. She’d be a tough nut to crack in general, but she was wound up about her little diary. She was fairly sure you’d try to take it, and also more than a little worried that you were right about it being dangerous. It just took a few pokes and prods in the right direction in the middle of the night, and she became her own worst enemy. I didn’t count on that hack you hooked up with managing to put quite a toothless and fluffy spin on your debut, but at least the truth is out there. That makes the next step easier, nearly inevitable.”

“If it were inevitable that the campus would turn on me, it would have happened already,” Samuel said.

“You think? Your late writer friend was right about this campus,” the man said. “It’s a grain silo waiting for a spark… or a trap waiting to be sprung. And your little friend Jennifer? That book’s not the only thing she’s been wound tight about, is it?”

“What did you do?” Samuel said.

“Hardly anything, I promise you. Why, she’s such a conflicted little soul. What she likes is clarity,” the man said. “Honesty. Forthrightness. It’s just not in her nature to believe in a thing and not stand up for it. Her girlfriend, for all that she’s a little rebel, she’s a smart rebel. That legal technicality your friend mentioned before he dearly departed from us? That wasn’t Jennifer’s idea, I’d bet you. And now the girlfriend is cooling her heels in the clink and Jennifer’s on her own, just her and several dozen of her closest comrades. What do you think is going to happen next, Cross?”

“Jennifer isn’t stupid, you beast.”

“No, she isn’t,” the man said. “She’s hurt and she’s angry. That’s better than stupid. But that isn’t your problem right now… your problem is that you went up a tower with the man who was responsible for outing you and he came back down a good sight faster than was healthy, with a bunch of holes in his chest. What’s that look like to you?”

“Desperation,” Samuel said. “Eugene was my friend, and the article was my idea.”

“Didn’t work out exactly how you planned, did it?” the man echoed. “And they’ll say that this is what happens when you trust a demonblood, this is what happens when you let their kind among ours. Look what happens to his friends. Look what happens if you let your guard down. Look what happens if you try to help one of them.”

“Why would you do this to your own kind?”

“You aren’t my kind,” the man said. “If I had kind, they’re a bunch of mostly feral idiots on the other side of a planar abyss, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m one of a kind and a kind of one. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just a human with a couple of dangerous extra features. You can’t be allowed to roam free. You can’t be allowed to get in my way.”

“I’ve never had any intention of being in your way,” Samuel said. “I’ve never wanted anything to do with you, one way or the other, but I promise you I’m going to be quite the thorn in your side from here on out.”

“You’re already a thorn in my side,” the man said. “But if your friend the cliche-monger were still with us, I’m sure he would tell you that a thorn is an irritant. This is me, plucking you out.”

“You think you’ve won?”

“There’s no way off this tower for you except through me,” the man said. “And if you thought you could beat me, you’d have drawn that sword. We’ll just sit tight until someone notices our Mr. Harlowe, and then I’ll vanish, leaving my friend here behind for folks to draw the appropriate conclusion about you. It’s inescapable.”

“You’d be better off just killing me,” Samuel said.

“Oh, probably, but this way’s more fun,” the man said. “Safer, too… there is such a thing as a lucky hit. Plus, if I can make things bad for demonbloods…”

“Aren’t you worried about the effect that will have on your breeding program?”

“I like my progeny to be a little scattered and scared,” the man said. “Can’t have them thinking they can turn to anyone else for help and support, can I?”

“You realize that your whole plan falls apart if people just reach the other obvious conclusion,” Samuel said.

“What’s that?”

“That I simply survived an attack by Eugene’s killer.”

“What could you possibly say that would convince anyone of that?” the man asked.

“…nothing,” Samuel said after a pause.

He lunged forward, taking his hand off the hilt of his sword and swiping out at the pitchfork. The man easily moved it out of the way of his hand and lashed out, scoring a bloody groove across Samuel’s cheek.

“Thank you for that,” Samuel said, reaching up and touching the wound. “I was going for a defensive wound on my hand, but I suppose a facial wound is more visually compelling.”

“They’ll just think he inflicted it,” the man said. “In a struggle over the fork, maybe.”

“No, they won’t,” Samuel said, backing away. There was not a trace of desperation in his voice, just a flat denial that the man visibly found unnerving.

“You must think you’re a real silver-tongued charmer, boy, but you came up here with your friend and he’s been slain by a demon’s weapon!” the man said. “There’s not a thing you can say that will save your skin, and you know it!”

“I told you, I’m not going to say a thing,” Samuel said.

“You think silence will save you?” the man said. “That’s rich. Raised by a clown or not, I can’t believe you’d be that naive.”

“No… silence won’t save me,” Samuel said. “But unconsciousness might.”

He didn’t give the man time to absorb his words or react, he was already moving as he spoke. He grabbed the balcony’s railing with both hands and flipped over, launching himself downwards headfirst with a boost from his supernatural strength. There was nothing forced or faked about his scream of terror on the way down.

The man followed him to the balcony’s edge, reaching out an arm even though it was far too late to do anything. No magic he could conjure to break the boy’s fall could reach within the protected confines of the walls.

He looked up and out over the grounds… already people were moving towards the bell tower, some of them moving quickly. He saw faces turned up towards him and realized how neatly he’d been trapped. The first arrivals on the scene would know that Samuel hadn’t been alone with Harlowe… two men flung from a tower with a third figure still standing up top? It was obvious. He couldn’t pretend to be a random human who’d also been attacked by the demonblood… that lie would expire the moment he was expected to descend the staircase. He couldn’t let himself be caught up on the balcony at all. He’d have to slink out the way he’d gotten in, and his vanishing act would only bolster the impression that he’d been the attacker.

He grudgingly had to hand it to the boy… the whole thing was downright diabolical. Even though Samuel’s single wound was minor and there was no chance he’d be killed or even injured in the painful fall, no one would believe that he’d thrown himself off the tower when there was a mystery man to take the blame. Even if the pain didn’t knock him out, he just had to play possum until someone shook him and he’d evoke sympathy instead of mob rage.

The best or worst part of it was that he’d be implicating the man in attacking Eugene by framing him for attacking himself. Not that the man gave half a toss what humans thought he had or hadn’t done, but he’d been counting on coloring Samuel as a killer rather than a victim or a stalwart defender of his friend.

Oh, well, he decided as he faded out. Time to get out of here before the mewling horde gets a better look at my face.

The key was still flexibility. Painting Samuel Cross as a killer would simply have been the insurance policy on his other plan, already in motion. There would be plenty of opportunities for him to perish in what was going to happen in next, or take the blame for what followed.

And it wasn’t like he had to leave anything to chance. The walls were warded, but anybody could still walk up to an imperial mailbox and drop something into the post.

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57 Responses to “OT: The Devil and the Tower”

  1. zeel says:

    Hah, outsmarted him. I love this story line, but it kills me to know the end already, no matter what Sam dose he is doomed.

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    • Angnor says:

      It’s a tragedy alright.

      And agreed, it’s a wonderful story and some nice background contrast for the more current events.

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  2. Mad Nige says:

    Is the labyrinth constructed now to imprison the pitchfork?

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    • Mad Nige says:

      …indeed, is the destruction of the old campus caused by folding it up to form the labyrinth?

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      • Mad Nige says:

        Did we see The Man before Mack got trapped in the Labyrinth? Is, in fact, The Man trapped therein? Could Mack’s actions be being influenced to cause the release of The Man?

        Eagerly awaiting the next episode

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        • Angnor says:

          Not likely. He needs to feed yearly or so, and they know he’s been active since that time.

          I don’t think the labyrinth was created specifically for the pitchfork, either. It seems like too much work for just the one item.

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          • Sejemaset says:

            I could swear there are a few tales in various mythologies related to elaborate vaults being constructed for just one item, however I can’t seem to find any of the ones I remember.

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            • Stonefoot says:

              I can’t think of any specific examples, but it seems to me that ‘single item’ vaults are created for items much more powerful than the pitchfork.

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            • adsfadsfadfs says:

              especially how little people cared that mac brought it out and the way they let her keep the thing. definitely not constructed to hold it

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            • Ace says:

              The first that comes to mind is the story of the Minotaur, but as people have said, it does not seem likely fore this particular item.

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    • Rip says:

      No, the labyrinth existed on that spot before the university was built.

      Samuel could have brought the pitchfork into the labyrinth, though. I don’t remember; could Samuel have been the man that Mac freed when she won the pitchfork?

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      • Snuffa says:

        hmmm, how was it worded exactly? before the university was built or before the campus was built? as that would certainly make some difference…

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  3. Um the Muse says:

    There’s a small continuity error between this chapter and last. Sam drew his sword last chapter, but this time the characters act like he hadn’t.

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    • Silverai says:

      Yes, I noticed that and wondered about it too.

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    • Stonefoot says:

      Yeah, definitely a continuity error, but easy to fix. Samuel makes the point here that he would have fought to protect Eugene, but will not fight The Man in the current situation. So something as minor as changing the first line to “’Of course,’ Samuel said, [sheathing his sword,] sounding suddenly weary, resigned.” and a few minor adjustments to two or three later sentences, and it’s all fixed. And that’s a completely reasonable response for him to take, at that point in the confrontation.

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    • Ross R says:

      Actually – just checked the last chapter. It clearly says “his hand going to the hilt of his sword” – which is referenced in this chapter – “He lunged forward, taking his hand off the hilt of his sword by swiping at the pitchfok”

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    • Luke Licens says:

      Also, minor typo:
      “There would be plenty of opportunities for him to perish in what was going to happen *in* next, or take the blame for what followed.”

      Extraneous ‘in’.

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    • Yes, I thought I’d amended that line before posting the previous chapter, but apparently hadn’t. Fixed now.

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  4. Cadnawes says:

    What I find interesting is that this chapter clears up the man’s true nature. One could have argued before that he might have Mackenzie’s welfare in mind, even if he was a controlling dillweed about it. He reveals himself here, to someone he has NO reason to mislead, since Sam’s doomed and not considered trustworthy by society. Not that I think all of the advice he’s given Mack has been BAD, but any good she derives from it seems to be beside the point, based on what he’s said here.

    And it just occurred to me. Professor Bohd must be related to Mack if the man hasn’t hounded her similarly.

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    • Anne says:

      Interesting conjecture that Professor Bohd is related to Mack and the MAN. So he came in through the Labyrinth or the dwarven mines?

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    • adsfadsfadfs says:

      only female demonbloods are tasty(and eaten by males to prevent breeding) and bohd has the wrong diet(implies other bloodline). has such a minor fraction of demon in her, and is mixed with djinn too. and he probably doesn’t object to females.

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      • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

        Well, female demonbloods also find each other tasty (see when Mack briefly encounters the female demonblood Mercy had enslaved in the Tomb of Horrors), but Bohd does have really diluted demon blood.

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      • Cadnawes says:

        I had thought the other diet implied a different bloodline but maybe that’s just the effect of the fact that she’s got a demon great grandparent or something rather than a parent. The thing is, if the man’s been operating in the region for what looks like centuries, and if Bohd’s a local, then she being an offshoot of his (rather ladderlike?) family tree makes sense to me. The folklore they’re finding implies strongly that the local lady demonblood population is the man’s fault.

        Being a female, she might not garner his animosity, but if this is the kind of treatment he shows non-related demon males then it kinda knocks the likelihood she’s NOT related to him down several pegs, given that this would eliminate a number of other ancestry possibilities.

        It should go without saying that this, as all speculation, is only that.

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  5. Readaholic says:

    @Cadnawes – agreed about the Man’s nature, but Professor Bohd has other nonhuman ancestry (Djinn), and the Man might be facing angry djinn if he messes with her. I doubt very much that he wants to attract negative attention from a wish economy culture.

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    • Stonefoot says:

      It’s also possible that her demon ancestry in sufficiently minor that he doesn’t consider it a problem. Certainly there’s room for speculation though.

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  6. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    The whole time I was expecting Samuel to go over the edge of the tower, but the way in which he did it was fantastic. It’s a shame I know he’s going to die in the chaos. And oh man, poor Jennifer. I guess this confirms that The Man’s equivalent of subtle arts extend to regular humans, too. Some type of possession, perhaps? But he clearly can’t possess Mack. Now I’m really curious what happened with poor Jennifer and her friends. Sounds like she’s going to start protesting for suffragism and lesbian rights very openly, which is going to lead to rioting… damn.

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    • Oranges says:

      Will Jennifer die,too? I vaguely recall something about campus riots starting AFTER several deaths related to Samuel.

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      • Gruhl says:

        Everyone assumes Samuel will die. And to be honest, I think he will. But… all we really know is that people in MU-present thinks the demonblood was killed. They are likely to be right, but it is not in any way a given.

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  7. Ganryu says:

    Something occurred to me while reading this. We’ve seen that The Man can influence people unrelated to him, and he wants to promote a hostile environment for demonbloods. Maybe he’s been mucking about in the thoughts of a certain Elven history professor.

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    • Sejemaset says:

      Based on the territoriality of demons and where that professor’s husband was when killed by a demon it is quite likely that he already killed her husband.

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      • adsfadsfadfs says:

        but wasn’t that eaten by gouls and kicked over a lantern?
        I got the feeling it wasn’t even supposed to be demons but she wouldn’t let it go

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        • Ermarian says:

          Well, the “demon-controlled undead” hypothesis has been thrown around quite a bit already.

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  8. Zathras IX says:

    The best defense may
    Sometimes be to take the hit
    Or even the fall

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  9. Stonefoot says:

    One additional point: The university grounds are protected by the wards (up to the height limit) over the entire area within the walls. That was by no means clear before this chapter. And it puts the kibosh on my “through the labyrinth” theory, since any such path would have come up within the protected area of the campus.

    The labyrinth is still an exceptionally interesting part of the university and likewise everything going on within it.

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    • adsfadsfadfs says:

      its in another campus anyway though

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    • King of GAR Johan says:

      This creates a rather large plot hole, actually, unless the warded walls are destroyed or the MU campus we know in the present is at a different location or something. If the wards generate a barrier across the entire surface of the walls and enclosed ground and at a certain height of enclosed air, how do monsters get in at all? Why are students cautioned to stay on the lighted paths at night, if those paths are within the wards?

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  10. John says:

    What odds will you give me that, when the riots break out, it’s our professorial Elven ‘friend’ who strikes the killing blow on Sam?

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    • Brenda says:

      Unlikely, as she would have brought it up at some point when she was ranting at Mack.

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  11. Ermarian says:

    He thinks fast, true. The eyewitnesses at least will be on his side.

    But the entire campus didn’t just see him fall, or see the man. That will be hearsay to everyone else – and you have to admit, if someone’s already predisposed against demon-bloods, it won’t help much.

    “Oh, so he fell – which everyone knows is harmless to a half-demon? After getting a scratch in the face? And a shadowy figure was briefly seen on top of the tower before fading away? Wait, isn’t this Samuel Cross an illusion major? Uh-huh.”

    And that will be that.

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  12. Alluvial says:

    Aside from the fact that she is djinn, she is also female. The man was threatened by a demonic MALE presence possibly screwing with his breeding program, iirc.

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  13. SurahAhriman says:

    AE, have you read Harry Potter and the Method’s of Rationality? The line about the Imperial Post reminds me of MoR!Harry’s comments about just owl-posting all the known Death Eaters magical hand grenades.

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  14. pedestrian says:

    Wow, impressive Alexandra.

    I like how you have been developing the Epistolary’s into a denouement of denouncement.

    Samuel’s character, when faced with two unsatisfactory disasters, found a third route of escape from Demon Daddy.

    If necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation is the evil step-mother of invention!

    for historical examples, see Kamikaze and Leonidas Squadron.

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  15. Don says:

    Everyone’s faith in prior ToM narrators being accurate about what happened regarding Samuel’s fate – or for that matter, almost anything – is somewhat surprising to me. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve seen plenty of proof that the powers that be are willing to lie, deceive, and outright bury the truth when it suits them. None of which addresses that the last casualty in any large battle is the truth; plenty of reality is obscured in the mess after a war.

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  16. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    I just remembered Ariadne’s line about Samuel being right in the middle of the destruction, “leading the charge.” Who wants to bet he went to try to stop Jennifer and winds up right in the middle of the chaos?

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    • Month says:

      Or, most possibly, it was her being an ass and remembering things as it suits her.

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      • Zukira Phaera says:

        perhaps six of one and half a dozen of the other. Perspective can be a persnickity beast

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      • Erianaiel says:

        We can not exactly call Professor Ariadne a reliable witness, can we?
        We have already seen from several stories that more closely involve elves that they do tend to exist in a plane that is somewhat orthogonal to rationality. And Ariadne, after the death of her husband, seems to have even less of a grip on sanity than most.
        Few people will have an accurate recollection of what happened in the chaos of a riot with buildings burning all around and people getting killed messily left and right. (that is why you need many many eyewitnesses who have had no time to make sense of what they saw to get a slightly more accurate picture of what really happened. Or lots and lots of cctv cameras of course). Ariadne’s recollection is extremely suspect because of her existing bias. She will see only what she wants to see, and will easily convince herself that she has actually seen what other people tell her they think has happened.

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    • pedestrian says:

      If I remember correctly, in the history of MU, there have been several outbreaks of mass violence. Implication made that more than one of these outbreaks were instigated by or against human/demon hybrids.

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  17. Winkrometer says:

    *Please* fix the continuity error with the sword being drawn / not drawn with the previous chapter. The inconsistency is killing me.

    Other than that, love the history.

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    • Verileah says:

      I think you are mistaken. Samuel’s hand went to the hilt of his sword but he did not have time to draw his weapon in the previous chapter.

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      • Winkrometer says:

        …Quite right! I must have misread it. Thanks. 🙂

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  18. Stonefoot says:

    The error was there, but has been fixed.

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