As Accabish breaks from editing the latest articles for the Slog, she considers how the ring might remove the sewer cult as a threat. She runs over the events the Naturalist described verbatim in the early hours of the morning. While the cult was connected by their beliefs and a desire to serve Sobek, it was the cult leader that kept them unified. Without him, the group would splinter.
She decides to pay a visit to city hall later that afternoon.
The demon finds Sgt. Spencer at her desk, looking at her own reports. The officer keeps a careful eye on the security monitor. As Priscilla Webb, Accabish tells the officer about a potential threat to Donna Angstrom. She shows Spencer a drawing of the cult leader and suggests that he has been making threats involving the bureaucrat.
Convinced that he might be a person of interest, Spencer runs the face through their database. As they wait to hear back, the pair talk a bit about other threats to Donna.
Then Kenny Nguyen storms out of Donna’s office. As he leaves grumbling, Spencer explains the head of animal control is normally quite relaxed. She confides she heard him shouting about alligators in sewers recently. He told her that the authorities won’t take him seriously. Spencer thinks he is simply stressed since one of his employees went missing.
The report on the sketch comes back. Unfortunately the man doesn’t appear in their database. Spencer says she will show it around the precinct.
Back at the office, Priscilla has the Slog’s IT person, Vince, look for the man. The young technician moans it is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
The next morning however, Vince informs Priscilla that he managed to locate a man who might be the cult leader in a paper from 2007. He shows her the photo. He’s younger and healthier looking but it could be him. He appears at a protest over layoffs at a recently bought supermarket. Accabish sends the photo to the Naturalist who confirms that it is the man they are looking for.
As Priscilla, she arranges to meet the former owner’s widow, Christine Morris, for lunch. She explains she is doing an article on the fate of local mom and pop businesses in the Seattle area. Mrs. Morris agrees to talk.
Over lunch, Accabish learns a lot about the supermarket and its troubles. She makes a particular effort to learn all she can about the employees who lost their jobs: their names, stories, and contact information. Christine doesn’t have a contact number for Daniel Montgomery but she does recall him. He had been with them for six months when the store closed. Both of his parents had died while he was in his teens. He was only 18 when the store closed and he lost his first job.
As she returns to the office, Priscilla gets a call from Sgt. Spencer. A colleague from the department recalled the young man from a few years back. The youth had the misfortune of being mugged and robbed in the same week. She confirms his name was Daniel Montgomery. Spencer suggest he might be among the local homeless and offers to send his photo to the city shelters.
Several days later, Spencer gives her a few more bits of information. Daniel has been staying at an Eastlake shelter. The shelter people relayed that he managed to get off the streets briefly a few months ago with a job with a Windermere family, the Boltons. something went wrong he ended up back on the streets again.
Accabish decides to contact the Boltons to learn more about Daniel. The father claims he was lazy, a thief and sex offender, but Accabish reads between the lines. The Boltons have a college age daughter. She decides Daniel and the girl must have been too friendly.
She contacts the shelter and arranges to volunteer there, planning to meet him before the cops confront him.
That evening, she doles out soup to grateful people. One of them is a dark man with scaly skin. Daniel thanks her for the food and even takes her up on a second helping. Convinced she has the right man, she puts in a call to Joseph.
Meanwhile the rest of the Ring coordinates a raid on the cult’s meeting location in the sewer. The Naturalist hunts for a disposable cover for Joseph. After several days of careful observation, the demon locates several people who might give up part of their lives for the right deal. But only Jillian Day fits the profile it is looking for. The elderly African American woman lost her house and savings in an insurance scam. For the past few years she’s lived on the streets.
Under the guise of Dorian, the Naturalist gives Jillian a dollar while she panhandling. She soon notices the phone number and note claiming that the person on the other end can solve her problems. She calls and arranges to meet the Naturalist under the Ship Canal Bridge. The Naturalist dons a facade and cuts a deal with her. It offers her a job and shelter for her experience on the street. It also offers a more permanent solution but sensing something suspicious about the well dressed man, she declines, taking only the lesser offer. She signs away part of her life for a month and the Naturalist secures the new paper thin cover.
In the life of Jenny Olson, the Naturalist discovers that John, her husband, has been flirting with a barista named Jackie. Using its supernatural powers, the demon continues to record John’s activities from the nascent adultery to how he plans to teach his kids to program. For now he is none the wiser.
The Weaver meanwhile focuses its free time on unravelling the mysteries of the various gadgets it has. The demon learns the final secrets of the rod, how it works and its creator: the mythical first demon Lilith. Turning to the strange goggles with salt orbs in the place of lenses, it finds that they were forged from a demon’s eyes. The gadget confers the power to sense things without sight though the controls will require more work to decipher.
The Weaver also notices a man watching Jeanette’s home. When Jean tries to confront him, he speeds off. She notifies the homeowner association and trust them to handle it.
Joseph’s week is quiet. A few times he notices some men in dark suits shadowing him but otherwise the only thing that surprises him is Bob Jenson’s new friendly demeanor. The janitor seems to be covering for him and even got him off bathroom duty for the week, passing it off on the new guy. Joseph concludes that Bob wants something.
As the day of the mission arrives, the Weaver seeks out someone who can provide it enough material for a quick Cover. It finds a skateboarder kid and makes him a deal. In exchange for some cash, it will cover for him at school. The kid agrees and takes off for the day.
A street kid meets up with a homeless woman and a well dressed construction worker just after 1 PM that afternoon. Joseph in the guise of the vagrant tells them to call him Hunter for now. The demon leads them to the sewer entrance the cultist couple used last week.
Luckily they find the manhole cover already pulled aside in the alley. Waiting until the street traffic thins, Hunter slides into the shaft. The Naturalist follows but trips over the metal cover. As the loud jangle attracts attention, Weaver the street kid quickly follows the others down.
The trio find themselves splashing through six foot tunnels half filled with gray water. Small dark objects float past them as they try to navigate the dark labyrinth.
Something bounces against the Weaver’s leg. It shines a flashlight down. A bundled pair of pants floats past. A sock and a lost shoe drift after them. The demon reaches into its pocket and pulls out a pair of latex gloves.
Doning them, the teenager grabs the pants. No blood stains or other violence mar the intact pants. The demon plucks a wallet from the soggy clothes. In addition to a twenty dollar bill, a soggy free sub coupon, and a credit card, it find the driver’s license of Glen Jacob, an Eastlake local. Noting the details, it tosses the rest back into the sludge.
Back the way they came, the demons hear voices shouting down for them to come back. They push on and the Naturalist soon finds the tunnel that matches its memory of the path the cultists took to the meeting.
The passage slowly shifts as they push forward through the increasingly turgid and warm water. Along the tunnel walls, the ceramic tiles grow larger until heavy sandstone blocks replace them. Mold and later moss grow up the sides which expand outward and upward as they go. The now vertical walls appear covered in graffiti which on closer examination appear to be hieroglyphs.
They reach a large stone arch inscribed with solar discs and humanoid figures in profile. The Naturalist looks up, spotting a crocodile at the apex.
Then it slips.
Before the water can wash the demon away, the fragile seeming Hunter grabs the burly man and effortlessly sets him back on his feet.
Just beyond the arch, the space opens out more, revealing dry paths along each side of the waterway. They pull themselves up and take a look at the symbols decorating the walls. The Weaver explains they are gibberish. However mapping their path to the sewer maps that Daemon retrieved for them, it says they must be standing within an extradimensional space. They should be in solid stone right now and passed through what should have been a subbasement fifty feet back.
Deciding they are close enough, Hunter lets some of its demonic form through. Instantly the old woman’s eyes glow green and she begins to fade from sight.
They push on and soon see a red glow from around the next turn. The Naturalist informs them that the meeting location lies in a large chamber just around the corner. The demon extends its senses to detect any Aetheric resonances. Beyond a pool of Aether in the direction of the glow, they seem to be alone.
The Weaver decides to test one of the gadgets and rings the rod on the stone wall of the tunnel. Extending its senses, the demon picks out traces of Aether racing along the walls and glyphs, percolating out through the streams of water, and concentrated in three log sized objects just below the surface a few yards away. It alerts the others.
Cautiously they move on, staying as far as possible from the water. The chamber they find is empty with the glow coming from a rose colored bulb in the ceiling. The size and shape of an eggplant, it contains a snake biting its tail which functions as a filament. The Weaver notices a clear liquid collecting in the bottom of the glass. It removes a small screw from the base and collects the Aether that pours out. Hunter asks if there is any more. The Weaver calculates it should regenerate in a day.
As they look around, the sound of someone splashing through the tunnels comes from the way they came. A man’s voice calls to them, asking them to turn themselves in. Realizing the police are still following them, the Naturalist heads back to buy the others time to explore further and keep the cops out of danger.
The Naturalist manages to catch the pair of officers before they reach the full strangeness of the God-Machine’s Infrastructure. The men seem to believe the demon’s story about coming down here to find its lost friend, or at least the part about investigating alone. As they head back to the surface, the demon subtly directs them to the quickest route out.
The Weaver and Hunter push deeper into the tunnels, looking for the main Infrastructure.
Instead, they suddenly find six large alligators slowly encircling them. One pulls itself onto the path in front of them and growls. The creatures approach with uncharacteristic aggressiveness. The Weaver notes a tattoo on the lead reptile’s front limb. A second one has eerie blue eyes. A third looks almost piscine with webbed limbs and a narrow body.
As the beasts lunge for them, Hunter fires three times. Scaly forms collapse in pools of blood and the two demons fend off the survivors with more gunshots and thrown rocks.
In the aftermath, the soaking wet street kid helps the old woman, limping from a leg wound, out of the Infrastructure and quickly to an alternate exit.
The echoes of the gunfire reach the Naturalist just as the cops begin hauling the demon up the ladder to the surface. As one of the officers considers heading back down, the Naturalist quickly stammers that they should call for backup. They take him up to the street and head for their squad car.
One of them sticks him in the back of the car while the other radios for backup. The demon looks at both of them and uses its supernatural powers. The first remains a mystery to it but the demon sees a certain tension in the second, a desire for companionship not approved by his comrades in the department.
The Naturalist tries to convince the officer to let him go. He was just looking for his friend, the demon tells him. He just had an argument with his boyfriend and if he gets arrested, he’ll lose his job. The cop tells his partner to stay here and takes responsibility for bringing the Naturalist in.
The officer does drive the demon to the station but instead of bringing the Naturalist in, he gives the trespasser a stern lecture and warns him he’ll face a large fine if he tries that again. The Naturalist looks contrite and thanks him.
Elsewhere, Weaver hears someone trudging through the sewage near their exit. Hunter fades into the background, its mirrored skin blending into the brown tile.
An Asian American man in waders shines a light in the demon’s direction. Weaver shields its eyes and spots an animal control badge on his shirt.
“Kenny” warns the street kid that it is dangerous down here. The man waves a long control pole as he tells the soaking wet teenager there are alligators down here. They killed a friend of his, Kenny adds. The youth lies and says he hasn’t seen any gators. He wandered down here from an spillway.
Kenny leads him out, unaware of the mirror skinned woman trailing him or the silent presence hunting both the intruders.
The Naturalist calls the others and they arrange to meet in front of a bar. Looking to change covers quickly, the demon first finds a homeless man who might make a deal.
The foul smelling individual it finds is scrawling symbols into the cement with a shard of green glass. The Naturalist considers backing away. Instead the demon looks into his desires. The man seeks redemption in the eyes of his master, Terentius of the 11th circle, for losing a scepter. Cautiously from the safety of a nearby alleyway, the Naturalist manifests the copper tendrils that allow it to detect Angels. The man is merely human.
As Dorian, he approaches the beggar. He offers him the phone number of someone who can help redeem the beggar in exchange for his current state for a short time. Cautiously the madman agrees. A new facade in hand, he finds the others.
The Ring regroups and discuss the recent events in front of the bar. The crowds give the two homeless people and the teenage hooligan, most of whom reak of raw sewage, a wide berth. Then Joseph gets a call from Accabish. She explains that she has eyes on the cult leader and directs them to the homeless shelter.
They hurry over as quickly as they can.
The two demons with homeless facades enter a half hour later. Hunter’s old woman, still dripping with sewage, is immediately pointed to the showers. She reluctantly heads in. The Naturalist meanwhile meanders towards Daniel and sits down in front of him. Rocking back and forth in a fetal position, he delivers a rambling message from Sobek and how Daniel must go to the women’s showers.
As the cult leader sneaks into the showers, the Naturalist creates a distraction by screaming about fleas.
Daniel finds Hunter waiting for him. The freshly washed woman smiles at him. As he tries to excuse himself, she greets him and explains she has something to say. Displaying her inhuman strength, she mocks his god and tells Daniel to flee the city. Terrified by her display of power and the growing inhumanity of the old dark woman before him, Daniel flees. The demonic voice of Hunter chases him out of the shelter as well as causing everyone else to hurry from the building.
As the crowd spills out into the street, Accabish and the Naturalist notice a large Nordic man fall to his knees. Accabish manifests her angelic senses and spots the angel Sabek actively enrapturing the man, who clutches a large wooden cross. Realizing the threat, she causes the man to lose track of time. By the time the Angel realizes its new minion is befuddled the Ring has dispersed and doffed their facades.
In the aftermath, the demons make new plans. The cult has begun to destabilize but there are still the tunnels and Sabek’s mission to disrupt. The Naturalist decides to scout the house of the Stanley Company’s founder and learn what it can about them. The Weaver begins building a bomb to take out the Infrastructure under Eastlake or at least its core. Joseph will snoop around the new Anthropology building the Stanley Company constructed.
Privately the Naturalist visits the woman John has been seeing. As Dorian, it asks Jackie for a job application at the coffee shop while flirting with her and tagging her as a Living Recorder. The espionage on the nascent affair expands.