Nat considers its plan as it approaches the coffee shop. Through Dorian, the demon had learned of Jackie’s good intentions. Of course there was also the troubling fact that she wasn’t human.
Daemon looked through Jackie’s paper thin background: minimal identification, some of it faked, an accident report from 6 months ago, and a few odd credentials like a doctorate in chemistry. It sounded like another demon. But the rod revealed fewer connection to the Naturalist’s old employer than most of the mortals on the street.
Nat glances into the shop’s window, admiring the blond hair and rugged good looks of its current facade. They seemed to work for Jackie as well. That and his charm let the demon get close to her. Hopefully close enough to make John jealous.
Nat enters and orders his drink. As he flirts with Jackie, he tries not to glance at John seated a table away.
The widening of the barista’s eyes behind her wide rimmed glasses alerts him however. Nat spins around before John can clear his throat.
He quickly makes some innocuous comment to Jenny’s husband before drawing him aside. Out of earshot, he quietly notes a married man shouldn’t be romantically involved with the staff.
John rubs his ring and looks down.
Nat softens his expression. He apologizes for being so direct. Quietly he adds, “Man if you are ready to cheat then you are ready to leave. If the relationship is that bad then you owe it to yourself to end it. Things don’t get better just because someone tries a little bit. It just drags it out. You are better off ending it and moving on. Let her move on. Then be that guy.”
John sits down and fiddles with his glasses for a moment before nodding absently. Nat moves on, grabs his drink and slides a card to Jackie. “In case you are looking for better work."
The next day John confronts Jenny about her drinking problem and explains that he is leaving her. As he walks away, Jenny cries and sobs. Behind its cover the demon is surprised to feel real sadness and loss.
A few days later, there is a knock at the door. Jenny answers and finds Jackie waiting for her. The barista explains she wanted to check in on her.
As the pair talk, Jenny admits, “I am not the same person he married. I changed after the kids were born. I struggled with thoughts of suicide and I started drinking. I love them and him, but I am not sure if I am in love with him. Even though it hurts, this is for the best.”
In the following weeks, the Naturalist allows John to take the kids. It stipulates that Jenny gets them for a minimum number of days per year. She refuses to set any specific days but agrees to schedule them in advance first.
“First…I might go away for a while, to a private clinic,” she explains. “Second, I plan on getting a sales job where the hours won’t be set. This way I can do some daytime events with them, and maybe pick them up from school in case they are sick or something.”
During this process, the demon finds time to pull her young son aside. “Our life is going to change a bit,” it explains, “but that is ok. I don’t love you or your sister any less. Everything I am doing, I am doing for you. Take care of your sister.”
Meanwhile Accabish looks over the week’s gossip stories and leads at the Slog. Kenny Nguyen seems to be missing. He never got back to her reporter.
She ignores it and focuses on a juicy item from the gossip hotline. Donna Angstrom was seen stealing a fish from a local koi pond. She quickly verifies the source and lets her staff run with it.
On the drive home, she listens to the tapes of Shaun Wykes’s sessions. In his dreams, others have joined him in the waters. He describes one, a man who resembles Daniel Montgomery. He dived deep into the river where the ticking continues to grow louder. Curious the demon heads to the bus depot.
A bit of persuasion allows her access to the security tapes and reveals that the cult leader returned to Seattle the day before. He looks worse than ever, with a waddling gait and thick scaly skin. He took a bus headed for Eastlake before disappearing.
The next day the demon heads downtown to visit the Eye. Passing through the glass and steel structure, she notes the numerous security cameras. At the front desk, she asks to meet the head of security.
She is led to a small clean room. Electronic eyes watch every corner of the space. In the center, a handsome woman sits behind a steel desk. Priscilla Webb introduces herself and explains she wants to talk to her about a cybersecurity issue. “Jane Eyre” feigns ignorance until the demon pulls out the device Rhodes had been handling.
The Eye leads Priscilla to the relatively unsecured roof. The demon explains that it is being blackmailed. An infected thumbdrive was used to hack the building’s computers. Since the Eye spends much of its time possessing the structure that code also affected its systems. Now the hacker is forcing it to work for him or else he will shut it down.
The demon explains the hacker communicates via letters and packages. It was able to trace the material to a nonexistent printing firm called Kobyashi Publishing. The address is fake, just a door bolted onto a wall. It knows of real a P.O. Box however and gives it to her as well as the details on other devices it has helped spread over Seattle in the past few months.
Later in the week, Accabish stakes out the P.O. Box, watching an older white man pick up the mail. She sends his license plate number to her investigators and then follows him to a storage depot. While he goes inside, she learns his name is Liles Barber, an unemployed paralegal. She receives information on Kobyashi Publishing from her team. The firm is a shell company with ownership ultimately being in Liles’s name.
After a few hours Liles leaves. The demon talks to the retail office and get a spot next to his.
Later that week, she rents some tools and cuts through the wall in the night.
Inside she finds stacks of packing material, a printer and typewriter, and a burn basket. Within the charred papers she discovers fragments of missives from Barber’s employer as well as to do lists where he refers to them as “The Concern”. The Concern’s correspondence consists of orders to send packages, write letters, and otherwise handle their communications.
Early in the week, the Ring meets to discuss their current work. Joseph still needs to eliminate the Prismatics for his contract while the Weaver hopes to forestall the cancer caused by the dye in their T-shirts. The Naturalist for its part wants the weapon Joseph has been promised in payment. So the Temptor decides to wrap this operation up itself.
That evening, in the guise of an elderly Hispanic woman, the Naturalist approaches a member of the gang. The woman rubs her cross as she remarks that his shirt looks like ones from ”that recall.”
“What recall?” he asks.
“The one for all those cancer cases,” she explains.
The man hurriedly doffs his shirt. “Shit! I’ll have to tell Seth. We need some new colors.”
The Naturalist refers him to a local print shop that will make them some Tees cheap. She also learns that the sister of their last leader bought the shirts from some guy called Jerry.
A few days later (and many shirts dumped in the trash), an Amazon box is dropped off at an empty apartment in Joseph’s building. He grabs the small but hefty package and opens it in the safety of his living room.
Inside he finds a weapon that looks like a marriage between a hedge trimmer and an arc welder. According to the crumpled instructions, the device emits a blast of blue energy that eats through organic and inorganic material with equal ferocity.
That night he heads for Dorian’s bar, evading the men in dark cars and that pesky sorority girl with the blond hair.
Once inside he quietly nudges the package to Dorian without anyone being the wiser.
Later that night, the Naturalist advises the Weaver to use a disguise as a government official to distribute its cure. With some effort the demon’s plan works, further limiting the potential damage of the T-shirts.
Midweek, the ring meets to plan their next step. The Naturalist suggests they convince Madison that Sabek is giving the cult a raw deal. Then they can offer her a better deal: more occult knowledge with less sacrifice.
As they wait for Daemon, the Naturalist and Joseph argue about whether they can trust trading the cult off to someone else should Madison make a pact with them.
“I do this regularly,” Nat says. It goes on to explain that it doesn’t want a cult for itself, feeling it is too much work.
The Weaver meanwhile makes a logic leap. The agent turning people into alligators is most likely waterborne. The demon makes plans to obtain a sample from sewer.
Daemon arrives and hears the plan. He is fine absorbing the cult. The two Tempters fall into shop talk as Joseph slips off. Nat asks if it is wrong to promise intangibles (like video game benefits) in exchange for real sacrifices by the mortal. Daemon points out that MMOs are as real as anywhere else, darkly pondering the potential to exile people to the Tenemos realm of WoW.
The Naturalist suggests a message to Madison and Daemon relays it to her phone.
“I can offer more with less sacrifice,” it sends.
Then they wait.
The next night, the Weaver convinces a local drunk to lend it some of his life. Donning some overalls and its new facade, the demon ventures out into the rain.
As the Weaver reaches a manhole cover, it spots a suspicious webcam nearby. The demon heads for different sewer entrance but finds it observed by another cheap camera.
Not willing to wait another night, the demon retreats to a safe distance and hacks the camera, causing it send an endless loop to whoever is watching.
The Weaver enters the alleyway and pulling a crowbar from its bag, wrenches the manhole cover open with an awful clang. An old woman passing by stops and glares at the Weaver’s facade. She mutters something and peers closer at the rough looking man’s ill fitting suit. She starts to call 911.
At the same time, the Weaver feels Jean’s Cover shudder as someone somewhere uncovers evidence she isn’t human.
“I slipped,” the Weaver says, fishing an official badge from its pocket.
The shiny new identification mollifies the woman who tells the demon to be quieter next time before walking off.
The Weaver quickly descends into the sewers and gets its water sample. Once back at the lab, Jean checks her email and phone but no signs of what risked her cover are apparent. Focusing on the sample, the demon quickly determines that it was right. With knowledge of the chemical and supernatural composition, it devises a counter agent should it be necessary.
The next day Madison agrees to meet the ring.
Daemon uses the rod to check that the park they’ve chosen is clear of angelic interference. As he watches from the edge of the greenery, the dark haired woman heads for the bench at the center. Her aura is a thick purple but clear. He senses a mind free of magical manipulation but also containing a furtive greediness.
A few minutes later a bland looking coed sits down beside her. Nat turns to Madison and offers her occult knowledge, independent wealth and the continued leadership of her cult in exchange for information.
The cult leader tries to learn who she is making a deal with and what they want but the demon carefully sidesteps her questions. Reluctantly she agrees and signs the pact.
Nat asks her where Thomas is buried.
Her eyes widen. After a moment she starts talking, her voice heavy and low. After the sacrifice, Thomas’s remains were taken away. But when she and Alexandra helped move the Groetnich into the tunnels the Stanley Company built, she saw his sarcophagus.
The demon has her draw a map for them. As they conclude their meeting, the student gets a message on her phone from Daemon.
“Welcome, you are now level 1.”
With a target located, the ring readies their plan to infiltrate the sewers and desecrate Thomas’s body. Daemon, alerted to the cameras, attempts to hack them and traces them to their source. Unfortunately he springs a trap that cuts off the connection, leaving them in the dark about who placed them there and the full breadth of their network.
Joseph secures a facade and Daemon rigs his phone to maintain an open connection. Daemon assures him that he will teleport in if he needs help. He also makes sure the phone will vibrate to alert Joseph if he is losing signal.
Meanwhile the Naturalist visits the Black Iron Coffee to seed rumors to distract Ping Wu or anyone else who might expect the attack. While there, it runs into Mr. Nostalgia. While the “hipster” hints at his encounter with Accabish, Nat tells Nostalgia that it is worried about an associate called Hunter.
The Naturalist explains that it has concerns about Hunter’s mental health. It claims it normally works with the Saboteur via facades and has heard he and a demon called Lilith are planning on killing Sylvia Woodard.
Mr. Nostalgia recognizes the name of the University board member and reveals he has also heard rumors about Lilith. She’s considered something of a dangerous upstart taking on a famous name. He promises to let others know to keep their heads down in case of any repercussions.
The plan now in motion, Hunter heads for the sewers. As he descends he pushes his demonic form through his thin cover. His eyes glow, turning the gloom into day. His skin turns to mirrored shards hiding him from sight and his limbs move with incredible strength and speed.
Map firmly in his head, the demon slips through the waters and tunnels, passing slumbering alligators and venturing into the deepest portions of the facility. Along the way he passes a bloody shirt in the water. The name Kenny Nguyen is visible on the tag.
Hunter skirts a long gallery filled with massive columns, half submerged in briny water. At one end the demon spots an elaborate pillar covered in alien hieroglyphs. As he rounds the massive stone, he thinks he sees a shadow moving around the opposite side. Cautiously he sneaks to the large stone sarcophagus nearby.
Hunter looks at Thomas’s burial spot, his phone vibrating weakly in his pocket. Glancing around he notices a figure by the pillar. Wires and cables emerges from the stone and the silhouette, connecting the two together.
The demon sneaks up behind the familiar figure, dropping the phone on the sarcophagus as he goes. Shedding its flimsy disguise, the gold lion that is Hunter bites down hard on the neck of the “woman” in front of him.
As blood pours from her throat, the demon Ping Wu screams. Instantly the tunnels echo with the movements of hungry reptiles.
Back at campus, Daemon and the Naturalist listen in growing horror. “What does he think he’s doing?”
The alligators slosh out of the waters towards the demons. Unseen by all, Daemon phases in next to the sarcophagus, already transformed into his avatar.
Hunter body checks Ping, sending her stumbling toward the creatures’ waiting jaws. At the last moment she transforms, spreading her ebony wings and taking to the air.
Glaring down at him she commands him to freeze. He feels his muscles tightening in place but shakes it off with sheer will.
Daemon hides and watches as something yanks Ping out of the sky. She struggles, flying just over the snapping jaws of the alligators before disappearing down a tunnel. Meanwhile the rest of the beasts pull themselves onto the damp concrete and waddle towards the remaining demons.
Hunter runs over and with a mighty heave knocks the stone lid off the sarcophagus. Instantly Daemon springs into action, slicing off the mummified head with his bladed arm and grabbing it.
As the alligators close in, Hunter’s body glows with increased heat and power. One lucky beast gets a bite in but his wounds begin to instantly repair.
A sneaky gator slips up behind Daemon and chomps on his arm. As sparks shower the creature, it recoils in pain. The demon shouts “Pawned” before disappearing in a cloud of 1s and 0s.
Alone, Hunter flees.
The demon races down an unfamiliar tunnel, moments ahead of the hungry alligators.
He finds a dead end.
The beasts close in.
The demon turns his assault rifle on them, murdering all four in an instant.
Elsewhere Daemon reappears in front of the Naturalist and tosses it the mummified head. Nat complains this will give it nightmares. The pair of demons discuss whether Hunter will survive.
Back in the sewers, Hunter creeps back to the gallery and the familiar lines of his map. The alligators focus their eyes on him and growl hungrily.
Minutes later, Hunter crashes through the sewer tunnels, batting away snapping jaws and keeping one step ahead of the press of scaly bodies. Clambering up a rusty ladder, the demon burst into the damp night, sending the metal cover flying. He disappears into the gloom.
Hunter finds a pay phone and calls the others. Nat directs everyone to a new bar and they debrief him. After a couple weeks of laying low, it becomes clear Sabek has left, probably to report his failure to the God-Machine.