While she waits for her session with her therapist, Alexa Harper, Accabish thinks back over what she knows about Sabek. The alligator headed angel looks alive but she could easily pick out taxidermy marks as well the human bones molded into his form. Perhaps they belonged to his victims? Or the sacrifices?
Alexa’s receptionist calls her in. The psychiatrist questions her about the stresses of her job, her friendships, and her family. To each, Sccabish responds with carefully prepared answers. Except about her family. Somehow the woman zooms in on her sorest point. As she parries Alexa’s questions, Accabish decides this will have to serve her purposes. The demon allows her frustration to show and requests a referral after her session. She makes a note to call tomorrow to cancel her sessions.
Later that afternoon, the demon listens in on Shaun’s session. The Stigmatic relates his dreams. He is floating on a warm river while four pyramids drift by. In his most recent dream, one of them appeared cracked. He feels safe however, unconcerned as he bobs along with the others. He can’t see them, only submerged logs. However he can hear gears ticking to life beneath him.
He does see someone. A dark woman away from the river. Somehow he knows she lies beyond the desert, outside of all of this landscape. They call her Lilith. She is manipulating events, altering paths, shifting the river’s flow.
Alexa switches him to twice weekly sessions.
Accabish considers this new information. The pyramids could be some part of the God-Machine’s plan, part of an occult matrix. The river could refer to the water way between Eastlake and the University. That would mean this mechanical brain would be coming online not in Yesslar Terrace but in the tunnels beneath Eastlake. That must be Sabek’s mission.
What do the pyramids represent, she considers. The cult was one. Is there another cult or facility at the University? In the Stanley Company? And is Lilith really involved? Accabish never thought the legendary first demon ever existed.
Putting those questions aside, she spends the next few days working on the new gossip webpage: picking a layout and selecting stories to launch with. Sebastian has an article already ready. She assigns a few more to her other reporters.
As she considers what she might contribute, Vince stops by to tell her about a problem. The IT expert informs her that the private server holding her sensitive research, research into the God-Machine, has been hacked. Someone is searching the files. The strange thing is that computer has no internet access and none of the storage devices they have used with it show any signs of malware. No one else even knows about the server.
As Vince begins to discuss the possibility of someone using acoustic methods to hack the machine, Priscilla interrupts him. She suggests he install a spike so they can trace the hacker next time they strike.
Later that week, Priscilla Webb attends a fundraiser for a new community center for inner city children. The journalist wanders the event collecting the latest gossip. In addition to the recent construction delays on a water overflow project, she learns of a sharp decline in vagrancy. Interestingly this has been noticed over a much larger area than just Eastlake.
Then Donna Angstrom pulls her aside. The sharply dressed bureaucrat sounds her out for exposing a dangerous group of individuals beneath the city. Donna admits to infiltrating this gang and seeing their murderous behavior up close. Priscilla mentions she’s heard something about that and mentions the rumors of alligators. Donna denies anything that crazy, saying the gossip is result of the ravings of an overstressed city worker.
The journalist can tell this woman intends to save her own hide. Priscilla makes it clear she will help but that she will need to interview the deluded city employee. Donna agrees. Throughout the conversation, the demon notes that Donna avoids exposing her teeth.
Curious Priscilla stumbles forward, dumping her drink on Ms. Angstrom’s gray dress. In her shock, the bureaucrat opens her mouth wide, revealling strangely sharp and crooked teeth. Accabish is sure Donna’s teeth were picture perfect a few weeks ago. But her supernatural instincts tell her that Angstrom is the weak link in the cult. She just needs to break her.
Priscilla apologizes and agrees to do the story. She just needs the right quotes.
Next day after meeting with Kenny Nguyen, Priscilla calls Donna. She explains that she’s not finding many other leads and none that are quotable. She really needs Donna to break this story. Eventually the demon wears her down. In the process Donna accidentally incriminates herself. Priscilla notes that information down for later but withholds it from her final draft.
Giving the byline to another reporter, Priscilla sets up this story to run with the relaunch of the gossip column. She also makes sure the ring has a five hour lead before the story goes live and that the police get an hour to act before it becomes city news.
Meanwhile Daemon spends the last couple of weeks tending to his cult. In particular he discovers that Sirguy447 recently joined the guild. He traces the account to campus and the computer of Bob Jenson, the janitor snooping into his mail. He informs the rest of the guild secretly. Let them send him down rabbit holes, he decides.
Then he turns his attention to Jabberwoky. His second in command has taken to keeping an audio dream journal. Unconcerned with her privacy, he listens to them. She describes floating down a river under warm sun. Pyramids sliding past her and a red glow surrounds her. She describes an urge to go somewhere, though she isn’t sure where.
Daemon chats with her. Familiar with his reputation for omniscience, she explains the dreams began after she went hunting for ghosts near Montlake. She noticed a weird red light while she was there, near the water’s edge. Daemon warns her against going back or following the impulse to go someplace in her dreams.
Elsewhere, Jenny Olson takes a new route on her morning jog. Passing near Green Lake, she pauses behind a tree and disappears. The Naturalist ambles out, cloaked in the guise of a generic homeless man.
The mad hobo lurks near the mansion of John Stanley for an hour. Hiding in plain sight, he spots two people of interest drive up to the four story Victorian structure. The elderly woman and the richly dressed man share a family resemblance. The demon guesses they must be Gloria and John Stanley Junior, the old man’s children.
The targets acquired, the Naturalist returns to Jenny’s life. Over the next few days she uses her rare breaks to scry the Stanleys, slowly uncovering their leadership and relationships. John Senior remains in full control of his faculties, even as his withered body is stuck in bed. Despite being in his 50s, John Junior continues to drive fast cars and chase fast women. He handles the day to day operations of the construction company. Gloria runs the family bank and generally defers to the others. The demon spots the eldest brother, William, only once but the arguments and black looks are enough to tell him he is on the outs with the rest of his clan. Much closer to the old man is his grandson, Damian, who works with someone or something called the Surveyor.
Daemon decides to do some digging on his own. Activating his internal circuitry, he scans the internet, rapidly picking out the important details. He finds a suspiciously fast rise to wealth and influence. Originally a dirt poor family of British immigrants, the Stanleys moved from being factory workers to contractors to owning their own business. Now approaching the upper echelon of Seattle society, they seem surprisingly competent and lucky. Looking between the lines, Daemon sees the signs. Strange tattoos, metallic eyes, odd health ailments. All signs of Stigmatics. The whole family is a God-Machine cult.
At the same time, Joseph begins to feel more limber, his wounded leg healing slowly and naturally. Bob continues to be nice to him. His coworker seems intrigued by the demon’s strength. He continually asks how he moved that broken dumpster last fall. Was it a secret technique? Super powers?
Joseph waves him off for another night and heads into the downstairs bathroom of the Sociology Building. As he starts to mop, he hears the clink of claws on porcelain. Turning he spots an alligator the size of a large dog impossibly crawling out of a toilet. It pulls itself onto the bathroom floor and under the walls of the stall.
The demon extends its form through its cover. Joseph’s muscles become literal hydraulics and strange scars cover his skin, remnants of a thousand of wounds. Invigorated, he snaps the handle of his mop and charges the beast.
He stabs the beast with the sharp end, wedging it between two scales. The alligator thrashes and snaps in his direction.
Joseph drops the stick and grasps the alligator’s head with his bare hands. The reptile and the demon strain mightily sliding along the wet white floor. The animal struggles for leverage while Joseph attempts to move it to the wall.
Finally, the large man lifts the creature’s head up. He smashes it down on the sink, cracking it open. Pieces of porcelain skitter across the floor, mingled with its blood.
As it recovers, he dives down on it, pounding his elbow into the beast’s spine. It snaps back once last time. He knocks the jaws aside and straddles its back, pummelling at the scaly neck until he smashes a shard of sink into its spine with a loud crack.
The animal shivers a couple times on the floor before going still.
Joseph gets up and fumbles for his phone.
He calls the Naturalist and tells him what happened. Before he can call the police, Nat tells him to call his supervisor instead. It is more natural, the other demon says.
Joseph thanks him and calls his supervisor. Putting post adrenaline shakiness into his voice, he tells Bill Johnson about the attack. His boss tells him to wait for him there.
The demon arranges the scene to look less incriminating, including stabbing the stick into the creature’s neck. Then he goes to wait outside.
He runs into Bob.
“What happened?” the man asks, before looking into the bathroom. “Is that a gator?”
As the other janitor pokes and prods the creature, Joseph does his best to look appropriately freaked out.
Bill soon arrives and expresses similar shock. He sends both of them to the Physical Plant and calls campus security. He finds them an hour later and gives them the night off.
“But be back tomorrow!” he tells Bob.
The demons all meet at the Baudelaire for the first time since the bus incident. Joseph fills them in on the events at the university. A quick internet search reveals no other reports of attacks on campus. Daemon has his cult double check that but it looks like Sabek targeted him specifically.
The next night, Joseph finds the matter cleaned up. Bill knows nothing about an alligator and only recalls an incident with a feral dog. As their boss leaves, Bob leans over to Joseph and says, “I’m pretty sure I recall an alligator.”
While Joseph keeps a low profile, Jean keeps working on the new contract at Adamant Technologies. Friday afternoon her near sighted coworker across the hall comes over. Haltingly the thick-set man tells her someone was here looking for her. He precisely describes the intruder from his height and weight down to the exact length of his curly red brown hair.
Cory Coulson, the Weaver decides and thanks Dr. Walters for his help. It decides to keep an eye out for him and alert security if he returns.
Later as Jean walks home, she spots another intruder. This one, a girl wearing a pink hijab, is standing directly in front of the entrance to the demon’s bolthole. Jean freezes and watches as the girl, no more than 17, paces back and forth looking for something. The mortal can’t see the entrance but somehow knows it is there.
The demon approaches and asks, “what are you doing?”
The pale brown girl hesitates before explaining she was just looking around. She turns to leave, glancing back once. Her eyes focus on the exact spot of the bolt hole entrance.
Jean discretely follows her for a few blocks until she reaches a bus shelter.
Saturday night, Joseph finally gets the work detail for the new Anthropology building. Working carefully through the building, he eventually finds what he is looking for. A large stone tablet the size of a dinner table rests in Dr. Brooks’s lab. As he sweeps around it, his eyes trace the outline of a strange serpent pictured within, a perfect match to the bulb filament they found in the sewers. Other parts of the diagram seem to indicate it as a light source or perhaps a religious item.
He invites the ring to the bar again the next night and relays his findings. When he describes the red glow of the sewer light, Daemon suddenly realizes the connection to Jabberwoky’s dreams. He informs them that another such bulb is located in Montlake. They decide to investigate.
The demons know that Montlake is a nice suburban neighborhood with a very NIMBY-ist attitude to development. They have a neighborhood watch and don’t approve of vagrants. So they decide to acquire some new facades to shield their cover identities from any angelic activity.
Daemon checks the IPs of local WoW players until he finds someone he can sell a maxed out character to in exchange for their job for a day. He has one of his cultists deliver the contract for him.
Joseph outsources his identity to the Naturalist. The pair also agree that the Saboteur will acquire a gadget to keep the Tempter safe. In exchange the Naturalist begins work on a replacement cover for Joseph. For now, he uses his usual methods to locate a local jogger and obtain part of his life for a night. He has some difficulty but eventually obtains an appropriate if overweight identity. For himself, he trades for the facade of a scrap metal collector.
The Weaver spends part of a day finding the right target, specifically a kid with a bike. At the library as Jean, it encounters an upset teenager who with some coaxing tells the demon about her abusive father. It takes careful note of the girl’s name and situation and convinces her Jean can help. For now the child won’t have to worry about her father for a week. Later maybe it can fix that problem permanently.
It doesn’t take long to find the red light softly illuminating the dark waters. The jogger and scrap collector wait until no one else is in sight. Daemon takes lookout while the Naturalist gives Hunter a boost up to the lamp.
The Naturalist grunts as the heavier man reaches up for the bulb and carefully pries it loose. In the gloom, the Weaver pulls a replacement bulb from inside the girl’s jacket. Hunter exchanges the God-Machine Infrastructure for the still warm replacement.
Daemon hisses over to them as the sound of poorly chanted Coptic emerges from the houses nearby. “Cultists!”
The girl rides off on her bike before the approaching gang arrive. Meanwhile Hunter puts the replacement bulb in its place.
The mob mutters darkly about these hoodlums. Nat jokingly complains to Hunter about being put up to a prank while Daemon suggests they are just harmless mischief makers.
Some of the residents suggest calling the cops but another member, scaly and bowlegged, suggests they feed them to the waters.
The ring bolts, each taking off in a different direction.
Disorganized, the mob attempts to follow them. Daemon escapes, quickly dismissed by the others as a member of the community. Hunter, despite his bulk, also makes it away easily. Nat struggles for a few minutes but eventually outpaces the out of shape mob.
As they catch their breath outside the limits of Montlake, Accabish’s warning arrives via text. The Naturalist responds and arranges for them to meet at the Baudelaire. Joseph taps the eggplant shaped bulb for some Aether while the Weaver lends the Naturalist some of its supply.
At the bar, the ring discusses their findings. Hearing of Jabberwoky’s dream, Accabish reveals her own information. She avoids revealing her source and no one asks her for it. The four pyramids might refer to four cults or pieces of infrastructure. They have found two. Could another lie in the University?
When talk turns to the Montlake cult and their connection to all of this, the Naturalist excuses itself and heads to the bathroom. As the others snidely joke of its cover’s seeming weakness, the Tempter’s eyes turn cloudy as it turns its gaze to the leader of the mob.
It finds the unwholesome man taking a warm bath while a small TV shows Lawrence of Arabia. “Dan!” a shrill voice calls up. “Did you eat all the fish sticks?”
As Dan submerges himself, the surprised demon returns its focus to the grungy bathroom. It washes up and returns to the others.
The Naturalist relays its findings, suggesting that perhaps the cult is slowly turning into alligators. They speculate if the effect can be countered.
Accabish asks if the name Lilith means anything to the others. Most only have a hazy knowledge of the legendary first demon. The Weaver reveals that it has something more tangible: a gadget created by Lilith. The demon shows them the rod and describes its powers. The ring decides that they can use it to scan the University of Washington, aided by Daemon’s refined senses, and thus locate any cult lurking there.
It takes the demonic student a few days to canvas campus but Daemon eventually uncovers a good lead. In addition to the Registrar’s office and few art installations (and his own cult), the main center of God-Machine influence involves the Phi Sigma Rho house. He steals the identity of a sorority member, gets a facade of the proper gender and slips inside.
Following the trail illuminated by the rod, the demon discovers a door hidden behind a bookshelf in the sorority library. It senses Aether welling up behind it. The electronic lock presented a minor challenge but the sound of approaching students puts an end to the mission. Daemon hides the traces of the investigation and ignores the suspicious glares of the sorority sisters on its way out. The demon does bump into one of them on the way out, hoping to steal her identity later and with it the privileges to visit the secret room.