Bonds 1.5

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I’d expected a homey ‘small town’ coffee shop for Jacob’s Bell, but Laird guided me to a franchise instead.  A small crowd had gathered within, teenagers done with the day of classes and adults done with work.  Taking shelter from the cold.

I didn’t miss the sheer number of eyes that fell on me when I entered with the local chief of police.

“Hi Laird,” one of the twenty-somethings behind the over-lacquered wood counter said.  A narrow guy with an apron and a flannel shirt rolled up to the elbows.

“Hi James.”

A middle aged woman, lines in her face worn deep, otherwise fairly well dressed, asked, “Who’s this?  Bringing someone in for the wedding?”

One of two blonde teenagers at a table by the line said, “He’s not one of ours, and there aren’t any Behaim sorts with that hair.”

I touched my hair.  Wavy and dirty blond, in contrast to the straight blond hair these girls sported.

I could connect the dots.  Blonde girls… they might have been among the ones I saw while tossing and turning in bed, before waking up to all this.

“Wedding is a few months away,” Laird said.  “As for who he is…”

He turned to me.  Letting me make my own introductions.

“I’m Blake Thorburn.  One of Rose’s grandkids.”

There wasn’t any shock or surprise, no outcry nor any particular reaction.  I could see people shifting their weight.  The middle aged woman folded her arms, legs set apart.  A few people who’d been idly looking my way were staring now.

“Something’s happened to his cousin, Molly Walker,” Laird said.  “The RCMP are looking into it.”

“The Walker girl is dead?” James asked.

“Murder?” one of the blondes asked.

“She was savaged by something in the glade behind the box store.  There were bites, claw marks, as well as evidence of tools being used.  We’ll know more when the coroner gets back to us tonight.”

Tools?

“Oh my gosh,” a heavyset man at the far end of the counter said, going white.

“It was murder then?” the older of the blonde girls asked.

I wasn’t sure what color I was going, but I could feel a sick feeling in my chest.  The smells of the coffee were getting more intense.  Too intense.

I’d known she’d been mauled.  I’d known she’d been attacked, and that she’d been scared, but this was the worst bit of all.  Tools?  How did one use tools?

“Do you need to step into the washroom?”  Laird asked.

“No,” I said.  “But give me a second.”

“Someone was murdered?  In Jacob’s Bell?” the heavy man asked.

“We don’t know if it was intended as a murder” Laird said.  “At the very least, she was attacked, and she did die that same night, possibly from the cold or blood loss.  For the time being, it’s a good idea to stay safe, don’t stay out too late, and tune into tonight’s news.  I’ll be giving an announcement to fill everyone in.”

“And him?” the blonde girl asked.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of doubt about why someone might have gone after Ms. Walker,” Laird said.  “Others might come after him.  We were having a discussion regarding his safety, and we might talk about the house as well.”

“Are you selling it?” the employee behind the counter asked.

“Good Christ, James,” the middle aged woman said.  “His cousin just died, and you’re asking about that?”

“Everyone’s going to ask,” James said.  “People are in debt, and once that house sells, property values-”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” she said.  “I’m saying it isn’t the time.”

James frowned.  “Can I get you something, Laird?”

“Coffee, black.”

James had it ready in seconds.  “Blake, was it?  You want anything?”

“No, thank you,” I said.  I still felt a little ill.  Tools had been used?  What did that even mean?  Knives, scalpels?  Or hammers and saws?

Laird reached for his wallet, to pay, and James refused him.  The ease with which Laird accepted that suggested it was a regular thing.

“Corner booth?” Laird asked me.  I nodded.

The booth in the corner situated us away from any people.  Laird was in the lead, and he took the seat that placed his back to the corner, which meant I had my back to the rest of the room.  I sat down, hands clasped together in front of me for warmth, breaking the grip only long enough to turn around the napkin dispenser, so the reflective surface wasn’t facing the wall.

Rose wasn’t there.

Laird opened and closed his pocket watch.  I could see the interior, a backing that had enough openings to reveal the complicated inner workings.  The entire thing looked like it was made of gold and ivory.

He’d grabbed three little paper packets of sugar, and tore two open.  I watched as he tore them open, then emptied them.  They missed his drink entirely, forming a little dune onto the table, with grains dancing across the slick, not-quite washed surface.

He moved his cup, placing it onto the pile, and sliding it across the table.  When he lifted it, the sugar was left in a crescent shape where it had been dragged by the underside of the cup.  He emptied the remaining packet, a smaller pile in the center of the crescent, and then three lines, fanning outward, on the other side.  The edge of the paper packet helped give the three lines form.

Almost half of a typical ‘sun’, as a child might draw it, with the rays fanning outward, and a dot in the middle.

I could see the blonde girls turning in unison, glancing at Laird.

“A signal?” I asked.  My heart was pounding.  I had no idea what this meant.

“Just the opposite.  Keep an eye on the people.”

I did.  Twenty or thirty seconds passed, enough time that I almost spoke up.  Then people stood up.  The occupied booth nearest us emptied.  A group of people entered the shop, and situated themselves at the far end.

“That should provide a bit of privacy,” Laird said.  He sipped his coffee.  “We tend to learn a few tricks, because it’s expedient.  This one is a bit of shamanism.  Many of the circles here and there will look down on someone for dabbling.  It’s dangerous, and it leads to more mistakes.  It’s better, many say, to specialize, do one thing well.  The Duchamp family there seems to hold to this idea.  The Behaim family doesn’t.””

“And my grandmother?  I know she had an area of expertise, but the library is pretty comprehensive.”

“I think your observations are apt.  She may well have been a rare talent, helped by a generous heaping of time.  I chose to work, to have this be a definitive part of my life.  There were periods I was more serious about it, points where it faded into the background, and I raised a family.  I suspect your grandmother made it her life.  I find it impressive, if I leave the particulars aside.”

“Hard to imagine her like that.”

“I imagine you have questions.  About her, about all of this.”

“Lots.  Very few I’m comfortable asking.”

“You don’t want to show how little you know, perhaps.  I wouldn’t worry.  Most of us were novices in the beginning.”

“Most?” I asked.

“Most.  We have a local exception, even.  Others almost assuredly exist.  It is generally a bad habit to use absolutes, even outside of certain circles.  None, all, every, always, and so on.”

“Right,” I said.

“You’re in a dangerous situation, Blake.  The natural inclination is to be the cornered rat, to lash out, biting, in a frenzy.  One would understand if you wanted to throw caution to the wind and fight us.”

“Hypothetically speaking,” I said, “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”

He raised his heavy eyebrows.  “Besides the obvious?”

“Besides the obvious.”

“Do you know the reason we discourage people from owning guns?”

“Guns are dangerous,” I said.  A glance to the side indicated that some more people had come in.  A group of kids started to drift towards the empty tables near us, then changed their minds and headed for the door.  Taking their coffee and snacks to go instead of sitting in.

“Well, we’re talking about dangerous things.  Guns are more dangerous when in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use them.  Not to whoever poses a threat to them, but to themselves and to their loved ones.  It’s much the same here.”

“If I’m going to die anyways,” I said, “What’s the harm in self defense?”

“An attacker can take your gun from you.  The idea is the same here.  When we work, we’re dealing with outside parties.  If they don’t succeed in their tasks, your opposition can make a better offer, or simply frustrate them to the point that whatever you sent comes back at you, angry and blaming you for the failure.”

I nodded slowly.

He gestured down at the diagram in sugar.  “This idea recurs in any dealing with Others.  Always, there is a risk.  Here, I make a meager food offering, create a sign to indicate what I want, and draw from the reputation I maintain with local community spirits.  A bonus of my position.  The spirits play along, because they know it keeps people safer and helps to keep the community safe, and because they know I’ll make a better offering later, a habit I’ve established.  The end result?  They turn people away before they sit nearby, and we can talk without fear of eavesdroppers.”

“And these benign spirits can turn on you.”

“Always a concern, with any Other.  If something goes wrong, if I allow too many people to go out into the cold instead of sitting here and someone gets hurt, or if the business starts to suffer here due to a lack of customers, my credit with these same spirits might become strained, and they might take issue.  At the very least, I’d get less free coffees.  At worst, I might find events conspiring to take my position from me, or I might even get drawn and quartered in the streets.”

More grotesque imagery.  It made me think of Molly’s fate.

I leaned back.  “Wouldn’t practitioners be making those sorts of mistakes more often?”

“It happens from time to time.  A handful of occurrences a year, for a given area.  But these things are rarely sudden, and they can take a variety of forms.  As it’s rarely a single monumental mistake, errors like this tend to cause a long series of events that can be tied together, telling very plausible stories.  Building racism or intolerance in a sub-community, peaking in a mob assault.  A high-risk investor’s accounts bottom out all at once, causing financial ruin.  You’d be surprised at what’s believable, when looked at from outside, or how easy it is to let this happen.  One can unknowingly offend one subset of Others while trying to please another, or spend too much credit and overdraw their accounts.”

I nodded.  “And the… bigger events?  We were just talking about the equivalent of nukes.”

“Most areas are stable.  A lord or lords sit in power, well situated, unlikely to change more than once every fifty to a hundred years, if that.  In smaller areas, things are typically enforced within the community, and it’s too much effort for too little gain, to cross too many lines and take such risks.  The only places where you’re liable to see anything dramatic are places that are on the brink of great change, or places undergoing that change… places where people see an opportunity to seize greater status or better positions.  That change helps to hide things.”

“Like a girl being beaten and tortured in the woods might be explained away as a side effect of the Hillsglade House dispute,” I said.  My tone was a bit harder than I’d intended.  Though we were out of earshot, I could see the blonde girls glance my way.

“Yes,” Laird said, just as calm as he’d been before.  “Getting around to your question, things that are hard to explain away tend to end in people disappearing, rather than bodies being found.  The locals will then clean up, and they will be upset with the culprit for the inconvenience and the risk.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” I asked.

“I want you to trust me, Blake.  We may be enemies, but that doesn’t preclude trust and respect, much less an open dialogue.”

I glanced again at the metal side of the napkin dispenser.  Rose was still absent.

Laird finished off his coffee, then set it down on the table.  He opened his pocket watch, then closed it.

“I take it that’s your implement,” I said.

“And my familiar,” he said.  “After a fashion.”

He opened the pocketwatch to show me.  As before, I saw the openings that revealed the inner workings.

After two seconds, however, other hands slipped out from beneath the hour, minute and second hands.  One went backwards, while the other went slow.  He rested the end of the pocketwatch on the table, and I could feel the steady tick of it being transmitted across the surface, akin to the beating of a heart.

“Implements can be familiars?” I asked.

“Unconventional, but a police dog was off the table, and I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life dealing with any Other that would need to take such a large and inconvenient mortal form.  Not that this one is so weak.”

“So… it’s talking to you?”

“It can, but just now it was doing me the service of telling me the time.  I can’t take too long, I’m expecting a call from the coroner and a meeting with Macguin,” he said.  “We might have some room for conversation before I go, but first I’m going to need to top up my coffee.  Can I get you anything?”

I shook my head.

“I was thinking we could talk about a deal.  Something to keep things safe and calm for everyone involved.  If we went that route, I could protect you and buy you time to find a way out, if one exists.  Maybe ruminate on that, so we can jump straight into the conversation at the first opportunity.”

“Sure,” I said.

He stood from his chair, empty cup in hand.

I turned in my seat to watch Laird join the line.  With the crude little diagram in sugar, there was a bit of a crowd at the other end of the coffee shop, with people gathering and waiting for their coffees at the one end of the counter, the general line, people finding seats and people coming and going.  Twenty or so people in all, but still a good number.

“I don’t trust him,” Rose said, the words distorted.

I glanced at the dispenser.  Sure enough, I could see her blurry reflection.  I murmured my reply, “I don’t either.”

Word had apparently gotten around.  People were glancing my way, gathering around Laird.  I withdrew my cell phone from my pocket and raised it to my ear.  I’d get enough stares without talking to myself.

Rose said, “I went to go get the little black book.  Dramatis Personae.  I’ve got others in a grocery bag.  I didn’t like how incomplete our knowledge was, so I did more digging.  Behaim’s Circle, a gender-neutral term for covens, specializes in chronomancy, with a secondary focus in augury.”

I could recall reading that, but I’d been skimming, to see where the real threats were, and my focus had been on Essentials.  “Chrono… time?”

“And omens.”

“Explains the pocketwatch,” I replied.

“The little black book says that grandmother thought the watch was a zeitgeist.  Not in the pop culture term, either.  A literal zeitgeist, a spirit of time.  Those are his tools, the means he uses, so if he’s going to try something, it’s going to work in a way related to them.  Both concretely and abstractly.”

“Keep going,” I said.

“With implements, the shape it takes is an indicator in how the practitioner works.  A wand is very direct, pointing to things, aimed at specifics.  A staff is more dramatic, cumbersome.  A fan might be more personal, an accessory, directing things inward.  Pens are focused on labels and premeditation.”

“It’s symbolic,” I said.  I watched Laird order his coffee.  “Abstract.  I can work with that.  I’ve spent enough time around artists, I think I can do ass-pull interpretations.”

“A watch.  It’s less direct than the objects Essentials gave as examples.  It doesn’t suggest anything particular.”

“It’s a… way of seeing how the world works on a fundamental level.  For someone who does the omen thing, I can sort of understand that.”

“Right.  But what’s he pulling here, if he’s pulling anything?”

“He might be getting more information out of us than we’re getting.  Which I wouldn’t mind.”

“I’ve got an ugly feeling,” Rose said.  “Like he’s playing us.  You know?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I didn’t take my eyes off Laird.  “It doesn’t feel like it’s just a little bit of information gathering.”

“No,” Rose said, very much on the same page with me.  “No, it doesn’t.”

“Something else, then,” I said.  “Time… I’m thinking about what he could pull on that front, but I’m not coming up with anything time related.  We don’t have any major appointments… no.”

I saw the blonde girls get up, and I tensed.  I couldn’t say what I was tensing up to do, but I wanted to be ready for anything.

They glanced my way, unsmiling, before stopping to talk to Laird for a second and then leaving.  Not long enough to plot something.

“He has other tricks up his sleeve,” Rose said.  “Having a focus doesn’t mean you can’t do something else.”

“He said he dabbled in a variety of things,” I said.  “But there’s too much we don’t know on that front, I’d go crazy trying to figure it out.”

“There aren’t many options,” Rose said.  “We don’t know much.”

Pocketwatch, familiar, implement.  Who was he, how did he operate?

A keeper of the peace, a police officer, a family man invested in community.  He was a figure, a pillar in the community.

I looked down at the pattern in sugar.

“What are you thinking?” Rose asked.

“I was thinking he could use those spirits from before to make these people lynch me.”

“Could he?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But… it doesn’t fit.  I mean, yes, he sort of lured me here.  But… he seems too orderly.”

“It could be a mask,” she said.  “A deception.”

“It could be,” I said.  “Except the watch is orderly.  Overcomplicated, maybe, but it’s orderly.  For a personal icon of who he is, for a badge, it doesn’t fit that the guy holding that item in particular would turn around and incite a riot.”

“True,” Rose said.

I could see Laird at the station at the far end of the counter, getting sugar packets, no doubt.  People had mobbed him, with questions about the murder, the house, and me, no doubt.

I spoke my thoughts aloud.  “A badge.  It’s a really nice watch.  Maybe there’s more to it?  Nuances?  It’s old fashioned, which ties into the whole ‘mucking with time’ idea.  It’s beautiful, attention getting, a status symbol.”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “How does that affect how he applies his magic?”

I glanced down at the diagram in sugar.

“Influencing crowds, people, and perceptions,” I said.  I stood from my seat.  “With time at the heart of it, as his primary focus?”

“If I read something like that in one of the books,” Rose said, “I’d buy it.”

I crossed the room to reunite with Laird.  I had to make my way through the local flavor.  Girls in ugg boots with vests and backpacks, no doubt commuters from Toronto colleges; too many flannel shirts; a couple of truckers in baseball caps who were blithely ignorant to the fact that the headwear was ill suited to the season; and some middle-aged women who looked like they’d smoked far too much.

“Hey!” Barista James called out.

I turned.

“Do me a favor?” he asked.  He jerked a thumb towards the door.  “Maybe clear out?”

Ah, the hostility that Molly had alluded to.  “Clear out?”

“Get going.  I’m going to kick everyone else out soonish, but those guys are actually buying stuff.”

I still felt lost, and it didn’t help that I was splitting my attention between James and my search for Laird in the crowd.  “Kick everyone out?”

“Closing,” he said.

I was no longer searching for Laird.  With that one word, he had my attention.  Very carefully, I said, “Early to close.”

“Small town,” he answered.  “Eight’s late enough.”

Eight.

My eyes searched the crowd.  The college girls, the truckers.  An entirely different group from before.

I’d just lost four or five hours.

Laird was nowhere to be seen.

He’d stranded me.

I pulled my hat and scarf from my pockets and had them on before I was out the door, taking long strides.

The light outside the window was a streetlight, not daylight.  As I glanced up at it, it seemed to decrease in intensity.  Almost as if it were apologizing for the deception, or as if the light was one of the last things to catch up with the new status quo.  It was night.

It wasn’t a jump.  It was a blurring.  Me, the other people, environment and all other things sort of sliding along to a new time at their own paces.  No comment was made that I’d been at the coffee shop for four or five hours.

The snow crunched under my feet.

I had questions.  He’d promised this wasn’t a trap, but… what had his wording been?

Could I even worry about that right now?  If he’d lied, it was on his head.  Either way, this was my situation to deal with.

People here and there were on the street.  A man, smoking, staring at me the entire time I walked down the length of one block.  A woman sitting on the porch, doing the same.

Cold looks.

Were any of them Others?  Practitioners?

I felt the hollowness of an empty stomach, despite the anxiety.  My mouth was dry.  Was my body belatedly catching up with me, in terms of the lost hours?

A man, bundled up in winter clothes with hat, scarf, jacket, slacks and boots all in black stood in the middle of the sidewalk, at the end of the block.  His eyes were fixed on the snowbank in front of him, his breath fogging with the slow, steady breathing.

He didn’t move at my approach.  Unnerved, I crossed the street, triple checking for cars.

“It smells like a rose,” a man announced, “It’s as beautiful as a rose.  I dare say it’s as fragile as a rose, once you get past the thorns.  But is it really our Rose?”

I turned.

Three twenty-somethings, if I went by appearances, were approaching me from behind.  I might have been off.  Each had alcohol in brown bags.

I recognized one of them from the vision.  He was the one speaking, his arms thrown out to either side, for the drama of it.

“Padraic,” I said.  The one who had been with the girl in the checkered scarf.

An Other.

“I prefer Patrick in polite company,” Padraic said.  “Good grief, little rose, where are your thorns?  You’re defenseless.”

They kept walking, not slowing as they drew closer to me.  I backed away a step, then another.

Behind Padraic was a beautiful, willowy young woman in a long black coat and a man with a very fine bone structure on his face, his fine brown hair expertly styled, shining with the snowflakes that had gently alighted on it.

I might not have given them a second glance, except their faces weren’t flushed with the cold.

“This rose has no eyes, which is only natural, but it’s usually sharper,” Padraic said.  I had to back away a step.  “It has been cast away.  Denuded.”

My instincts were screaming at me to act.  The problem was that they were telling me to do things that would make this go very, very badly.

When the woman spoke, her voice was almost more musical for her drunkenness, rapt in her fascination, “There’s a vulnerability, isn’t there?  Like seeing a king without his clothes.  A movie actress howls in fear, nothing held back.  A chieftain begs like a craven coward.”

“The beauty of a thing with all the protections stripped away,” Patrick said.  He pulled off his hat, holding it to his chest, as if in mourning.  His bright red hair was cut to a length just above a buzz-cut, carefully cultivated ringlets framing his face.

“Except the skin,” the other man whispered.

“Beautiful, beautiful,” the woman said.  “So fragile.  Won’t you dance with us?”

She reached out, and her smile was a timid one.  All the scarier because of how obviously calculated it was.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” I said.  I slapped her hand away.

The realization of just how bad that one kneejerk reaction was settled in so quickly I suspected I’d seen it coming.

But I didn’t like being touched.

“I’ve been rebuked,” she said.  The back of her hand found her forehead, face turning skyward.  Her playfulness belied the glitter of anger in her eyes, when she glanced down at me to gauge my reaction.

“The rose is usually better at the verbal jousting,” Patrick said.  He swayed a little, then caught himself with a hand on the woman’s shoulder.  She reached up to lay her hand across his, as if it were all choreographed, an act.  “It’s brutish to fall back on physical violence.”

“It’s almost insulting, to see a creature that so resembles us, acting so basely,” the woman said.

“It is, isn’t it, Ev?  An affront.”

His male companion stepped around me, alighting briefly on a snowbank that my foot would have plunged into, before coming to a stop just behind my left shoulder.

When I looked, Patrick was to my right, back to the wall.

“But moods do shift so dramatically from generation to generation,” Patrick finished.  “It adds a liveliness to the proceedings, breaks the patterns we so easily fall into.  It’s why we love you, my rose.”

I wanted to cut in, to speak, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  The confusion of being cast five hours into the future wasn’t helping, nor was being surrounded.  It was all I could do to avoid a repeat performance that would get them really offended.

“I’m sorry for that,” I said, looking the woman in the eyes.  “It was crude.  I regret it.”

“Then will you let me touch you?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

She pouted a little.  “You’re afraid.  That’s okay.  You’re so small, so fragile.  A petal adrift in the wind, that will soon dry up and do nothing more than feed the bugs and return to the earth.  I can fix that.  Give you life, like you’ve never imagined it.  All of the best things you could ever experience, in tastes, touches, music and song.”

“It’s like cheating,” Patrick said.  “We both know there’s nothing good waiting for you at the end, my rose, not while your bloodline has this weight pulling it down.  You and your children and your children’s children, all down the line, there’s only one place you can go.  But we can give you the paradise you and yours are denied.  Two, three centuries.  Sublime things, everything you thought you might enjoy, and everything you never even considered.  There’ll be so little left of you when it’s all done that it won’t even matter where you’re going.”

“I can flense your skin,” the other man said.  “But without pain.  The movement of air as someone enters the room will have you arching your back, whimpering in anticipation.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline,” I said.  I couldn’t hide the tremor in my voice.  I felt more than a little backed against a wall, here.  It wasn’t just being surrounded.

Patrick wasted no time in seizing on that weakness.  “Are you sure?  No more fear, no concerns.  If you’re worried about the bloodline, I’m sure we could round up someone to make it happen, allowing you to do your duty.  You can be as specific as you like, whatever your preferences in body, hair, personality.  Keller here might even enjoy hunting them down.”

Keller.  The male companion, almost avian in features, with the bone structure, the gaze.

Somehow, it was easy to imagine him as a hunter.

“We can even make the birth painless.  An exercise in joy, rather than pain, without blood or sweat or tears,” Ev said.  “Something beautiful that could be the centerpiece for a party.  Architecture and dances and music, all around one singular event, with a moment of crescendo-”

This rose is male,” Keller said.  “Men don’t give birth.”

“Male?” Ev asked.  She gave me a closer look.

I was pretty sure no humans had made that mistake since I was five or so.

Patrick, for his part, mused, “I forgot that detail.  I’m sure we could make it happen.  Do you want to try, my rose?”

I took advantage of the momentary confusion to cut in, “I have other obligations.”

“Well,” Patrick said.  He shifted position, coming damn close to brushing up against me.  “That leaves us with a problem.  You’ve offended Ev, and decorum demands that things be made right.  If you won’t accept our invitation, then how will this be resolved?”

“It’s all right,” Ev said.  She wobbled a bit, and then stepped to one side to lean against the wall.  She took another drink from the bottle.  “I’ll settle for him giving me his apologies.  Perhaps a kiss on the cheek?”

My heart thudded in my chest.

A kiss?  Was there a trap here?

“No.”

It wasn’t my voice.

Rose.

All three of the strangers backed away from the wall, until they could see the window where Rose was reflected.  With the curtains drawn, the streetlights reflected her well in the glass of the window.

“Ah,” Patrick said.  He glanced between us.  “I like this.”

“We can’t take your deal, Essylt.  I hope we can arrange something else,” Rose said.

“We can, we can.  But first, I must insist…” Patrick hopped up onto the four-inch window sill, taking a knee, somehow without falling or touching the glass.  He reached through the glass and put a hand on the back of Rose’s neck, then drew her forward, his head passing into the window to plant the lightest of kisses on her forehead.

He hopped down, giving me a plain view of a very startled Rose.

Ev, or Essylt as Rose had called her, looked between Rose and I with a somewhat drunken amusement, her movements languid.

“Whatever happened?” Patrick asked.  “Now we have two roses, but they’re so vulnerable.  Thornless.”

“It makes you just want to break them,” Ev said.  “So you can have those last beautiful moments all to yourself.”

“And a mess,” Rose said.

“Messes can be cleaned up,” Ev said.  “Memories are forever, and forever is a very long time.”

“Hear hear,” Patrick said.  He, Ev and Keller each tipped their bottles back to drink.  Patrick licked the corner of his mouth.

“The breaking will have to wait,” Rose said.  “Until we’ve resolved this issue of Blake’s manners.  I’m afraid he can’t give you his apologies.  It’s too high a price.  If he needed to make amends to someone else in the future, what would he do?”

“But that’s half the fun,” Ev said.  “Watching the dance that follows the exchange.”

“We’re in an awkward spot,” Rose said.  “We didn’t intend to be out after dark, but Laird Behaim pulled a trick on us.  He promised us his protection while we were in his presence, and then he disappeared on us, and turned the hands on the clock forward.”

“A rose is safe in the company of other mortals, and a rose is safe in daylight, but a rose with both is safest, and a rose without bereft,” Patrick said.  He drank a bit more.

“I don’t think we’re safe even in crowds and daylight combined,” Rose said.  “It’s  a bad time.”

“An eventful time,” Patrick said.  “A shame.  We’ll have to leave.”

“Will you?”  Rose asked.  “There’s still a topic of us needing to make amends.  What if we promised something?  Not a deal, but to consider a deal, at some point in the future?  It leaves the door open to your staying.”

Patrick seemed to be oblivious to the question, as if he hadn’t heard, but I couldn’t help but notice how still the other two were.

“The problem with that,” Patrick said, “Is my merry little band here is forbidden to make deals.”

“You were dealing with Maggie Holt,” I said.  “Weren’t you?”

“That,” he said, raising a finger.  He let his arm drop, “Wasn’t one of the things you saw.  I’m positive.”

“But?” I asked.

“But yes,  Little Maggie and I, we were breaking rules, my lovely rose.”

“You could break rules with us, too,” my counterpart said.  “If you took our offer, and if we considered your offer and found it sensible.  We’ll even throw in a promise to keep your secret.”

“That is a deal I’ll take, then,” he said.  “You aren’t awake, so I’ll take you at your word.  Disappoint, and I’m sure we’ll find a suitable punishment.”

“We’ll endeavor not to give you a reason,” Rose said.

“Then I’ll take the debt this Blake owes my Ev, and make it my own.”

“I can think of ways to make you pay that,” Ev said.  “Fox hunting?”

Patrick made a face, but he didn’t respond.  Ev smiled again, a shy smile that rang false.

“Carry on, then, little roses,” Patrick said, as Ev brushed her hand over his short red hair  “We’ll be in touch.”

I turned to go, feet crunching in the snow.  Rose was to my left, reflected in the windows where the lights weren’t on.

It took me five or ten minutes to get my heartbeat under control.

“Thank you,” I said.

“I’m glad to do something,” Rose replied.

“Damn it, just how much reading have you done?”

“None, for them.  I had a minute to read their entries in the little black book, but I was winging it.”

“Good winging.”

“I hope so,” Rose said.

We rounded the corner, and the house was in sight.

Another person’s footsteps fell alongside my own, as I approached the crosswalk.  He stopped when I stopped.

I looked and I saw Laird.

“You bastard,” I said.

“Oh, I’m a little bit of a bastard,” Laird admitted.

I clenched my fist.

“I’m also a cop.  I did agree to escort you home, though I didn’t say from where.  It’s your choice, whether you want me to escort you back and leave you alone, or escort you back and then haul you to the police station.  It’s not, for your information, a safe haven.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets.

“Then why didn’t you arrest me?” I asked, my voice still hard with anger.  “If you wanted to leave me hanging out to dry, for Others to pick off?”

“Because I was telling the truth.  I was interested in learning more about who you were.  Whether you were someone who could become dangerous or if you were someone I could trust to be passive for as long as we needed you to.  It may come down to picking you off until we get one of the young ones.  Roxanne, I believe?  Twelve?  Or even your little sister Ivy, if Roxanne is uncooperative.”

“And the talk of a peace treaty?”

“I never promised anything concrete, I only expressed an interest.”

“Saying you’d trust your daughters to someone like you, if positions were reversed?”

“To someone as strong as me.  If positions were reversed, I wouldn’t know any better than you did, by definition.  I double checked beforehand.”

“And the promise about there being no tricks?”

“I said it wasn’t a trick.  Which it wasn’t, at the time.  I came up with the one while we were talking.”

Why wasn’t Paige in this position?  She’d love this quibbling over semantics, if nothing else.

What if I attacked him right here?  What if I denied him the chance to escort me back & fulfill his oath?  Would he be forsworn?  Would he lose his power?

He opened his watch, then closed it.  His breath fogged heavy around him as he sighed.

“You have protectors,” he cut in.  “The exiled prince, Padraic.”

“I didn’t ask for protection.”

“It would be fleeting, whatever the case,” Laird said.  “They’re distractible.”

I didn’t want to engage him in conversation, but curiosity niggled at me.

“Faerie?” I guessed, eyes straight forward.

“Once upon a time, they would have fallen under that label.  I think they’ve dallied in the very courts that have exiled them now, as a matter of fact.  They even have some of the same tricks.  But classifying Others is a dangerous thing.  Better to call them what they are.”

“Which is?”

“Men and women who are desperate to entertain themselves over the course of a very long, long time,” he said.  “They get bored as easily as you or me.”

We reached the gates, and started treading up the driveway to the house.  We were silent up until I reached the door.

“If it helps,” Laird said, “The reason I decided to have you walk most of the way back alone was because I suspect you could be dangerous.”

“Yet you make yourself my enemy by tricking me.”

“I would say that I am, along with my circle, the least of your worries.  I’m sworn to do no direct harm to others, and I won’t.  My family is interested in securing our position, and we’re thus interested in having you, or one of you, secure in this house, until the North End Sorcerer is unseated.  You can’t afford to have your back turned to the others while you deal with me.  I’m also best equipped to deal with the sorts of things you might send after me, if you deign to go that route.  I’ve been preparing against Rose for my entire life.”

“And now you walk away, after this?  We’re supposed to be civil?”

“In your position, knowing what I know, I would,” he said.  “I would also make haste and awaken sooner than later.”

I managed to hide my shock.

He tapped his eye.  “We can see things at work, once we awaken.  Tell your companion I said hi.  There’s no need to hide.  Council meeting is in two days.  For three hours prior and three hours after, there is a ceasefire.  I hope to see you then.”

I stepped into the house, then slammed the door.

Rose was waiting in the living room.  “Hey.  We came out of it okay.”

“Not okay enough,” I said.  “That could have gone far worse.”

I kicked the footstool over.  It crashed against the grill that protected the fireplace, making a very dramatic sound.

“You can’t get so angry,” she said.  “Be calm, we approach this with strategy and a level head.”

“No,” I said.  I grabbed one of the books from the coffee table.  “Anger is good.”

“Good?”

“It keeps us moving.  You read the book on implements, I’ll read up on familiars when I’m done Essentials.”

“Okay,” she said.

The quiet outrage kept me reading through the night.

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

152 thoughts on “Bonds 1.5

    1. “Everyone’s going to ask,” James said. “People are in debt, and once that house sells, property values”

      I’m assuming that it’s supposed to be ‘ values-“?

    2. “It keeps us moving. You read the implement book, I’ll read up on familiars when I’m done Essentials.”

      done with, I’d imagine?

    3. Extra spaces:
      “I chose to work, to have this be a definitive part of my life.”
      “My family is interested in securing our position”

      Other errors:
      “I leaned back. “If it were that possible, wouldn’t that sort of thing be happening more often?”” -> ‘that likely/probable/whatever’; ‘that possible’ sounds like ‘that dead’, i.e. strange
      “With gradual build up” -> buildup
      “With gradual build up a long series of events that can be tied together, very plausible stories are told.” -> Missing verb? Or is the ‘that’ too much?
      “With implements, the shape it takes is a indicator in how the practitioner works.” -> ‘an indicator’
      “A watch. It’s less direct than the examples essentials gave.” -> Essentials
      “He swayed a little, then caught himself with a hand the woman’s shoulder.” -> ‘on the woman’s shoulder’
      ““They’re distractable.”” -> ‘distractible’

      Unsure whether these are grammar errors:
      “There were periods I was more serious about it, points where it faded into the background, and I raised a family.” where -> when
      ““The movement of air as someone entered the room will have you arching your back, whimpering in anticipation.”” -> Mixup of tenses: ‘entered’ vs. ‘will’
      “and we’re thus interested in having you, or one of you secure in this house, until the North End Sorcerer is unseated” -> A comma might be missing after ‘or one of you’.
      “You read the implement book” – implements?

      1. Very comprehensive reply, I made changes across the board. I think the only thing I left alone was ‘points where it faded into the background’, since it’s speech.

        Very much appreciated, Mond.

    4. After two seconds, however, other hands slipped out from beneath the hour, minute and second hands. One went backwards, while the other went slow.
      Three becomes two – mentioning three watch hands implies three new hands, but then only two of the new hands do anything and the wording makes it clear there are only two new hands.

    5. Ivy’s here, wyrm, Gecko, Gecko2 Monkey, who else? Well, typos:

      “We don’t know if it was intended as a murder” Laird said. –> there was abmistakebhere but I don’t remember which :p as a murder?

      “It’s a bad time.” –> double space

      awaken sooner than later –> sooner rather than later

      when I’m done Essentials.” –> done with

  1. Laird is extremely puzzling.

    A failed assassination attempt I could understand.

    A false friendship I could understand – many of the best ways of lying involve speaking nothing but truth, so no true bar there.

    But this? This has only guaranteed suspicion and enmity, and a push toward action. Which, if that were Laird’s desire, would be understandable as something superficially undesirable, but actually serving some other purpose.

    And yet, some of his unqualified statements were about his desire that there be no disruption, that the house and its secrets stay passive. But his actions provoke the opposite.

    Why?

    Certainly, Laird kept his word, in the literal sense of it… but people are not like Faeries. Where an Other might simply accept that as honorable behavior, a person will know that they had been willfully deceived. At the least they would prepare. At worst, seek revenge.

    Either way, figure out how to arrange a dead-man trigger to bring down hell – quite possibly literally – on the enemies list. And while Laird’s sworn to no direct harm, that means – as shown – nothing useful. If foreswearing direct harm gives him tools to take advantage of direct harm directed at him or his… maybe that’s a reason to provoke, an indirect attempt to take control of the resources he fears. But there’s less than no evidence for that.

    Which only leaves Padric as a possible explanation from the facts so far. Within Laird’s power to have arranged that? Yes, absolutely. To his advantage?

    No way yet to tell.

    1. The only thing I can think of is a test. See how Blake (and Rose) react to the things he put in their way, so he can get cues as to how they will react in future. If they don’t take pains to become unpredictable, this may be part 1 of the downfall of the Thorburn family.

    2. Remember he has to tell the truth, then read the end again. He’s not talking hypotheticals. There is a bit of wriggle room in the way he words some of what he says, but some of it is very clear and unambiguous.

      He’s TRYING to make Blake paranoid and scared. He’s trying to either push Blake back into the house, or get him dead outside it so that someone else who will be sufficiently paranoid to take precautions sufficient to protect themselves against things they do not yet understand.

      If Blake survives and learns, well, maybe the relationship can be salvaged. Remember the power of truth. A few unequivocal statements telling Blake what he was doing after Blake learns more will probably blunt any hatred that this might have created.

      Notice what Blake does when he gets back to the house, and what drives him? I’d say that Laird figured out what pushes Blake’s buttons pretty quickly, and pressed the right ones.

      Here’s where I’m drawing most of my thoughts from:

      “I would say that I am, along with my circle, the least of your worries. I’m sworn to do no direct harm to others, and I won’t. My family is interested in securing our position, and we’re thus interested in having you, or one of you secure in this house, until the North End Sorcerer is unseated. You can’t afford to have your back turned to the others while you deal with me. I’m also best equipped to deal with the sorts of things you might send after me, if you deign to go that route. I’ve been preparing against Rose for my entire life.”

      Wildbow, I know it’s unfair to compare the beginning of Worm to the beginning of Pact after all the time you spent learning on Wurm, but the start of Pact has the start of Wurm beat hands down. I’m putting up a link to Pact over at Symbiote now, since you have a page set up for it.

      1. I find it somewhat depressing when people say the opening of Worm was weak or that it needs to be “edited to the same quality as the later chapters”. For me (and a number of friendly acquaintances who are writers*), the opening-to-middle was the strongest part of the work. The last act certainly dealt admirably with the change in pacing and scope that it had to accomodate, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s testament to wilbow’s ability as a writer that it wasn’t worse. But in my opinion, wildbow’s real strength is his ability to write engaging characters and get you into their heads, and the street-level, character focused opening of Worm was the best at this.

        *(Though I would not be as negative as for example havocfett on SpaceBattles.)

        1. The beginning of Worm was weaker than the beginning of Pact (IMHO). Don’t read what I wrote as a criticism of Worm, read it as approval of his growth as a writer that allowed him to start Pact in a way I feel is much stronger than the beginning of Worm was.

        2. Agreed. The opening of Worm was awesome. It became something else roughly halfway through, which was its own kind of high-quality epic thing, but I wonder if I would have stuck with the story for all million-plus words if it opened the way that it was in the middle.

          The “street-level, character-focused opening” was special, and it hooked me in for the long haul. I’m a little frightened at the idea that the things I love about it might be edited away.

          1. Oh man. Oh man.
            And hear I was naively assuming that what would be edited away is the more tedious parts of the end (aka: the bits I skimmed through (I KNOW SACRILEGE))

            I mean there were bits of the beginning that could be trimmed too (look, at one and a half million words…….) but towards the end there were some entire chapters that didn’t seem to have a point.
            (I think there was a bit of rush to end game which also affected things)

            By the way, I have several friends who refuse to read non physical books and so I am waiting very impatiently for publication of the first volume so I can give them all a copy and get them hooked)

        3. Agreed.

          As for Pact, Laird did something that could have really backfired there. If Blake was a bit more like me, well….

          If you have a heap of nukes at hand, and no tolerance for betrayers, and nothing to hold you back, well, even if Laird’s family can protect itself, there is the Town Council meeting, a chance to say “I’m going to nuke everybody at random, because of Laird’s actions.” Then, do it.

    3. You are assuming that Laird is both smart and rational. However power, knowledge and even survival doesn’t necessary mean smart. He could survive until now by luck and/or been sociopath and/or it’s been some political compromise. There is a lot of dumb people in positions of power for a long time in real life. Even assuming him being generally smart he still could be subjected to irrational mood swings, he may even embrace and using it.

  2. Nice, new site. How permanent is the current page layout, you think? It does feel a bit white, think I’d personally prefer to have some other color as a background for the text.

    I’m not that familiar on how wordpress does things, but have you thought about adding “Message of the Day” kind of a box on the site? Somewhere where you could do quick posts on anything relevant to the story/site, schedule related, other news, point out interesting comments, etc.

    1. I agree, the stark white of the background is a little…off… to my eyes. The cream of your other site isn’t as bad.
      I am liking the story so far. You have a definite flair that I find very engaging and I anxiously await the next installment.

    2. As for background color, i’d suggest mild gray-white #EEEEEE hexadecimal color code, rather than this stark white #FFFFFF. As for text color, it’d be done nice in #222222. Believe me, that color combination is perfect for website that is geared toward intensive text reading.

  3. I like the wordplay here.

    So as I understand it, Everyone in Blake’s bloodline is a “Rose.” A Rose protects itself with thorns as Blake shall protect himself after being awakened. I like it.

    Also, I vote for Blake’s familiar to be a smartphone or paintbrush.

    1. Blake’s familiar should be a bird, I think. He chose that tattoo for a reason. His implement… Either of your suggestions might work, but they carry connotations that I’m not sure fit Blake. The smartphone, for instance, would be information gathering and long distance communication, leading to a base of telepathy, but Blake doesn’t feel like he’s the sort of person to carry something like that around all the time (A normal cellphone, though?). The paintbrush, on the other hand, is a tool meant for daubing paint onto a surface, possibly leading to illusions, but is much more creative. Blake is the handyman for a group of artists, and doesn’t put much stock in his own ability to create. I’d say a construction tool if anything, but I’m having difficulty in escaping the “wand” imagery of using a hammer, wrench, or ruler as his implement.

      1. I’ll throw in my guess of a mirror for an implement. For the familiar I have no clue beyond the already suggested bird perhaps.

      1. The familiar is stated to be an Other, and Rose probably isn’t an Other, or at least, isn’t willing to be so easily identified as one.

        1. Depends on how you interpret other, I suspect. I interpreted it as ‘magic, sapient, not human’, which Rose /would/ qualify under as far as we know.

    2. His familiar should be an orang-utan to help guard the books in the Library, opposable thumbs & toes will come in handy for various tasks as well.

      1. oook.

        So it’d be cool if there was a link to the table of contents at the top, like the drop down on parahumans? Only cause I read via mobile phone, and the most recent chapter doesn’t have a last/first chapter link at the top…

        It’s not a deal-breaker but it would save a lot of scrolling. (I nose the TOC is at the bottom of mobile displays but. .. the chapters are long and my thumb is a jerk.)

    3. Another poster on the old Pact site mentioned that his instrument should be a multi-tool, which I had to agree with. Let’s look at the fit:
      1. Blake is already a handyman, so it is already a personal fit.
      2. Blake’s grandmother was a multi-talent. Choosing a multi-tool means he is following in her footsteps, which should give the opposition something to think about.
      3. It follows both the specialization and generalization route – a person who specializes in being a multi-talent can do amazing things. Renaissance men can be quite powerful.
      4. It is sort of a statement: “anything it takes to get the job done”.

  4. The site looks nice, by the way. I like the header, a blood red magic circle fits well.

    The chapter itself was good, I’m really liking the group of three Others. Whimsical enough to seem very strange to us humans but you get the sense there’s a logic behind their action. I continue to like Blake and Rose, their dynamic gets better each chapter.

    The magic is going to be really interesting, from the little display in this chapter it’s obvious Wildbow is as creative with magic as he is with superpowers.

  5. The large font is kind of disconcerting, compared to Worm, but that’s really a minor complaint.

    On to the matter of the story. I get the feeling that Blake (and the audience) will be tasked to look everywhere at once, because not only is Laird Behaim a force to be reckoned with, we have Padraic, Essylt, and Keller, and we have the Duchamp family. Not to mention, deals. Deals everywhere.

    Looking forward to where this goes next.

    1. Re: the site. Everything seems physically bigger compared to Worm’s site. The title, the header, the font, the comment section. It’s like looking at the site through a telescope.

      You may want to consider shrinking stuff down to a more manageable level and adding negative space on both sides.

        1. On a cell phone, definitely. (That’s where I’m writing this comment from, incidentally) On a computer screen? Oversized. IMO.

            1. I think it looks fine now, but that may be placebo effect going on. (Which probably says something about the concern in the first place…) Did you reduce it after my comment?

    2. The council meeting coming up soon will be interesting. At the very least we’ll find out who ( and what) the major players are.

  6. This was good. I’m wondering if /Rose/ could become Blake’s familiar, although I’m not sure if she’s powerful enough for that to be beneficial. Something to consider, at least.

  7. Ah, but, the large font is sort of offputting, Wildbow. It’s better than a tiny font, but it’d be easier for me to read if it were a tiny bit smaller.

  8. Wildbow, are all of your stories in the same multi-verse? Is there an alternate, unpowered Taylor or Casper somewhere in Pact world?

  9. The three Others are appropriately creepy. I like the fact they can barely distinguish between generations – makes them feel very in-human.

    The new site is nice, black on white is a good choice I think. Some of the people I tried to get to read Worm wouldn’t because they couldn’t stand the white text on black background.

  10. Love it. Was so excited to hear Pact was being continued- it’s my favourite by far, although I love Boil too! I see you have quite a preference four letter titles? Still haven’t figured out why you called the first one Worm. Am I just really stupid or is it supposed to be abstract or something?

      1. Earlier, I recc’ed this to a friend that wanted to read Worm, but didn’t have time to read 1.7 million words. They are unspoiled on Worm, and I doubt that they are the only one using this serial as a jumping-on point to wildbow’s writing. So, please, don’t spoiler Worm for them in the comments.

  11. Laird, you cheating bastard. And time manipulation is a neat trick. I liked how the lamplight seemed almost to apologise as its light shrunk.

    Laird apart from his specialisation seems to be a jack of all trades, which is frowned upon in their “profession”.

    And we met some exiled faeries. An exiled prince, no less. I still want Padraic to be St Patrick.

  12. Laird’s interpretation of his promises is sort of a stretch. In particular, his excuse that “If positions were reversed, I wouldn’t know any better than you did, by definition.” seems thin, because in 1.4 he said “Knowing what I know, if positions were reversed, I would trust my own daughters, who I care about deeply, to the care of someone of equivalent power.” The first part of that sentence seems to indicate that he’s using his own knowledge for the judgment, rather than Blake’s, although I suppose another interpretation is that he was saying “Knowing what I know about what you know, …”

    (Also, I note that later in 1.5 he uses the same phrasing again but shifted over a bit: “In your position, knowing what I know, I would,”.)

    I guess the rule is “if there exists an interpretation of the sentence that isn’t a lie, the sentence isn’t a lie” (or maybe “if the person speaking the sentence doesn’t believe it to be a lie, it isn’t a lie”), both of which seem crazy exploitable.

    1. He said he’d trust them to the care of someone of equivalent power, not to him specifically. And he would trust them to himself, because he loves them and knows it. He doesn’t love Blake, or really care about him in any sense but the abstract ‘poor bastard, sucks to be him’ sense.

      The way he explained the loophole afterwards is confusing, though, I agree.

    2. I think the correct interpretation of “Knowing what I know, if positions were reversed…” is that the “I” in the first part is the position-reversed version. In other words, “You’re an idiot. If I were you, I’d be an idiot, and being an idiot…”. Yes, he’s being a dick, relying on careful and misleading phrasing. He should have gone into PR. I’d like to see him deny cooperating with the NSA. 🙂

  13. “I studied for and earned my position and I maintain it in good conscience”, my ass. At the very least he’s going to sit by and allow a succession of people including a 12 year old child to be murdered. That’s got to conflict with his oath if he took one.

  14. Feedback: I found the following passages unclear:

    “Someone was murdered? In Jacob’s Bell?” the heavy man asked.
    “We don’t know if it was intentional,” Laird said. “At the very least, she was attacked, and she did die that same night, possibly from the cold or bleeding out.”
    -> I can’t parse that situation. Someone was attacked, and died, and Laid says they don’t know if it was intentional?! Do they mean to ask whether it was premeditated murder or homicide?

    “With the crude little diagram, there was a bit of a crowd at the other end of the coffee shop”
    -> Is that referring to Laird’s shamanism?

    “He reached through the glass and put a hand on the back of Rose’s neck, then drew her forward, to plant the lightest of kisses on her forehead.”
    -> I can’t visualize that scene. It makes it sound as if Padraic pulls Rose out of the mirror, except that seems not to have happened.

  15. Wonderful. Here we see the first impression of how this city operates. What will Blake choose for his awakening, I wonder?

  16. This was excellent, and I am really looking forward to following this as a serial, rather than Archive Bingeing it like I did with Worm (twice in a row).

    RE: Rose being Blake’s familiar, I don’t see how this would give him any advantages that he doesn’t already have with her just hanging around.

    1. Yes, unless it would somehow empower her, it’d only be an option if Blake were playing ‘safe’ like Rose wanted.

  17. A mirror could be a cool implement – it’s got all kinds of powerful associations: reflecting back spells on the caster, reversing things, revealing things, introspection…
    Though there’s something to be said for the humble wrench – getting a grip on things, adjusting easily, twisting things, usable as a blunt instrument in a pinch…

    Another option could be to find out what implement+familiar Rose had, and deliberately choose something very different, so those who prepared against her, like Laird, are less prepared against Blake.

    Does an implement have to be a discrete physical object? Or can Blake choose something abstract like “any mirror I’m currently looking at” or “the number 3”?

  18. I feel like Laird is on thin ice with his “not a trick” prevarication.

    Laird gives Blake a flat declaration “this is not a trick”. He then claims it wasn’t a trick “at the time”, but then he changed his mind.
    To me, at least, a “trick” would be any intention contrary to his implied guarantee of protection. That means he didn’t intend to break it, but also that he didn’t intend to change his mind about breaking it, didn’t intend on changing his mind about that, and so on ad infinitum.

    Basically, he’d have to have had a genuinely spontaneous change of heart between Blake’s house and the coffee shop, which I find rather unlikely. Technically possible, I suppose, but still unlikely.

    In other words, figuring out if something is a lie is hard

    1. I may be completely off the mark but I think that Laird using the “at the time” loophole is significant when you consider that his specialisation is time manipulation.

  19. Multiple different thoughts:

    A lot of commenters are complaining about Laird’s behavior, and for good reason – he does come across as a manipulative bastard, offering information and help and then throwing Blake to the wolves without warning. However, If Laird was shadowing Blake and was ready to step in if needed, at a minimum to provide a mortal witness, then a lot of his promises look a lot less compromised. Then it looks like a motivating trick rather than a death-by-faerie attempt.

    I do agree with Chiro that Laird being a police chief and knowing who murdered Molly and knowing that multiple people, including a two year old and a twelve year old, are set up to die is really hard to reconcile, especially given his “in good conscience” statement from the previous chapter. I can’t think of a good explanation for that – it seems too close to being forsworn.

    It looks like Rose isn’t going to be as much of an advantage as it first appeared because everyone seems to know she exists and some can apparently interact with her. However, the “run back to the library and look things up” trick is quite impressive, even though it hasn’t been obviously useful yet.

    The tattoos have been mentioned twice now. Can tats be an implement? There are some serious practical difficulties with that, but if implements can be stolen or kept from a practitioner then there are also some advantages. What would that say about Blake and his uses of power?

    Many, many kudos to Wildbow for not writing the same story a second time. I sincerely hope he is one of those rare authors who can successfully perform a genre-switch and this looks like a good start.

    Rose’s behavior seems inconsistent. In particular, she claims to be unable to think during danger, but seems to get through the Patrick incident fairly well. She claims to be an ally, but tries to get Blake to do something that would likely break the grandmother’s requirements (the with-hunter bit). I am having a hard time stating other inconsistencies, but she seems a bit off to me.

  20. This sequence may indicate an exploitable vulnerability:

    “You were dealing with Maggie Holt,” I said. “Weren’t you?”
    “That,” he said, raising a finger. He let his arm drop, “Wasn’t one of the things you saw. I’m positive.”

    But Blake did see Padraic dealing with Maggie. Blake came up with the last name himself (a bit of a puzzle there) and the name was confirmed by Laird. So Padraic was either flat-out lying (highly unlikely, given the circumstances) or very wrong. Either one indicates a possible weakness. It is not clear how to exploit this.

    1. Laird told Blake Maggie’s last name.

      Blake saw Maggie and Padraic in the vision, but not specifically making a deal. He indicated his suspicions that they -were- dealing with each other, however, which Padraic confirmed.

      1. Thank you for the clarification on who introduced the last name. I missed that on first reading. And I missed that Blake asked about Padraic’s deals with Maggie and was answered. But he did know enough to ask, and knew Maggie’s last name, which must have alerted Padraic that Blake had picked up extra information somewhere.

        Nevertheless, this still seems like a fringe area. Even though Maggie and Padraic’s interaction is brief, it is clear that small exchanges are going on, or, at a minimum, being discussed. So small exchanges don’t violate the “forbidden to make deals” rule. And whether or not they can follow through, Padraic’s party makes several offers to Blake, so offering isn’t the same as making deals. However, both of those are very gray areas. Exchanges can come at any level on a multidimensional sliding scale, so what level is considered an allowed exchange and what level is considered a forbidden deal? As for the offers, what if Blake had said “I’ll take it for nothing”, effectively turning an offer into a deal? Would Padraic then have to swear off the deal (if confronted, that is)? I know Wildbow can’t answer these without spoilers, and I suspect I know the answer anyway: nothing is a forbidden deal until discovered by someone with the authority and power to enforce that definition. That is certainly what Padraic’s admission of bargaining with Maggie implies.

        But that opens another whole can of worms. That implies that the high-order rules like the truth/oathbound restriction are enforced by an being/organization with something approaching omniscience (otherwise oaths could be broken without problems while in true privacy), omnipresence (otherwise some instances of oath-breaking would be overlooked), omnipotence (otherwise beings with too much power could break oaths whenever they wanted), and intelligence (otherwise the enforcer could be tricked). So either this is somehow a gestalt enforcer created by the spirit and will of the community as a whole, or there is indeed a higher level of Other that acts as the enforcer. Given the type of world this is, either of those entities can be bargained with, but the price is probably … excessive.

        1. Well,it could be a semi intelligent law of physics that only cared about doing his job,and had arbitary powers a la “a sense for these things it protects and omni powers only when its motivations are affected”.Such a thing cannot be bargained,can be avoided by not breaking its rules (it seems the rules have a word but not a spirit,so omniscience is not really needed),and it prolly couldn’t be bargained with.

        2. I suspect that rather than a single being enforcing these standards, it’s more like the Endbringer truce in Worm. If you screw it up, you’ve just lost all standing and everyone comes after you. Probably worse than a death sentence when you’re ageless and most or all of your entertainment and power comes from interacting with others (no pun intended).

  21. I really like how you writte, i am looking forward to this year of literature alingsside you : D

    Small question

    ¿What about unintentional lies?

    Say where i to believe there is cat in the box but there is a dong in reality will my soul explode or not?

    1. Since the standard definition of a lie is an intentionally false statement, an unintentional lie doesn’t exist; saying something false when you believe/think it’s true is making a mistake, not lying.
      If it were classified as a lie, then you’re better off never opening your mouth to speak, since basically anything can be rules-lawyered into a false statement.

      1. … comes out of pun shock after reading katrikah’s comment.

        I think the bastard in question is Wildbow and you left out the “magnificent” part.

    1. I guess the basic Idea is that while others life for ever, because they get bored just as easily as humans, nothing can hold their intention for ever, additional they mostlikely have doen most interesting things already because of their long lifes and might have to worry less about securing their lifes.
      They seek mainly entertainment, of any kind, the main source beeing intelligent life and it quirks (aka humans) and plots and intrigues, also involving humans.
      Making us their main source of entertainment, which can get unpleasant fast.

  22. Hi Wildbow. I’m here, on your new site, waiting for my comments to be approved. Now, my contribution:
    I think that Rose seems to be the smart one, making Blake sorta… useless. So it would seem. Is this going to be one of the partnerships where it’s like: Okay, I’m the brains and the information, and you’re the… existing one. ?
    Also, I want to see where Blake’s anger takes him…

  23. “Council meeting is in two days. For three hours prior and three hours after, there is a ceasefire. I hope to see you then.”

    I just realized that there might be some shenanigans with the three hour rule, since Laird can manipulate time in unspecified ways.

    Then again, presumably he could also pull time shenanigans on the other members of the Council, so I would guess the other attendees have probably patched up any loopholes in whatever mechanism they use to enforce the ceasefire.

  24. As the guy who raised the multi-tool implement as a possibility, I confess there are concerns regarding that route.

    I trust wildbow won’t afflict Blake with “Super Twilight Sparkle syndrome” but almost any other author could. If your special talent is ALL the special talents, the cheese-to-drama ratio swings dangerously far out of balance with the merest nudge. There certainly are ways around it, but they are pretty obvious. Red Imaging means that despite all the nifty tricks he can do, none of them are all that powerful. If he gets into a fight against someone who’s tool is a sword, cheating is the only option. It becomes a question not of if Blake will win, but how.

    Alternatively, raw power and its efficient use is the main worry. Using completely arbitrary and hypothetical power levels, that multi-tool has an average power rating of 3/10. It would be way too easy for powerful specialists to throw up a barrier with a power rating of 6/10 or an illusion with a depth of intricacy needing a 7/10 to even hope to pierce it.

    Of course, Taylor melted the genitals off a metal skinned dragon-man in the second or third chapter, and only became more impressive from there. I just don’t WANT a sex-swapped Taylor 2.0. Blake has to distance his modus operandi away from “surprise punch to the testes because you totally underestimated me, you jerk.”

    What might be real fun is for Taylor to double down as a Malconvoker and put all his points into Summon Bigger Fish. The reason you do not screw with the Thorburns is because they WILL summon Beelzebub on your punk ass if they aren’t hearing “Sir” or Ma’am” enough. Make the campaign about convincing people that if they really don’t want crap to hit the fan, then they shouldn’t mess with the septic tank to begin with.

    Also, while an orangutan familiar would be a nifty shout out, I’m beginning to think it may not actually be the way to go. Laird implied there were real problems with familiars possessing a mortal form. Their death or dissipation being an obvious conclusion. Form and function appear fundamentally connected here, and while orangutans are typically characterized as wise, the librarian thing is just an in-joke that I’m not sure the metaphysical world would understand. The house seems to have its own protection, and Rose serves a librarian ably enough. Alternative ideas… Require more thought than I can devote to the subject at this time.

    1. If Blake does go the multi-tool implement route, there is a way he can specialize with the resources he has at hand; since Grandma’s book collection is pretty comprehensive, he can specialize in spell breaking/counter-spelling every school of magic and becoming a Magus Killer, fighting like a Witch Hunter without being one.

  25. The way the characters kept referring to ‘Rose’ suggests it’s an archetype among the family, meaning Rose, Elizabet, Frances, Esther, Ruth, and possibly several others literally repeat over and over with the same personalities and styles of fighting. That means the whole town already ‘knows’ Blake and is ready to anticipate his every move. However, Blake is clearly very different from Rose. I think the old woman pulled one over on the powers that be, beyond just the cheating a male heir into play thing. He’s got a chance

    1. Nah, I think you’re overthinking it. Considering that Thorburn family seems to have a rose motif (being called Rosine in the previous draft), it probably means just that – scion of Thorburn.

  26. A theme I’ve found in most of your writing so far, is that authorities aren’t trustworthy. You rarely make them out and out villains, but they’re always untrustworthy and they always Quibble, Armsmaster, the PRT in general, now this Policeman and before this, the University.

    From the conversation with the policeman, its clear that nothing anyone says, no matter how they say it, or what they say is trustworthy. With that degree of verbal gymnastics its literally impossible to ensure honestly. And english is an impossible language to avoid verbal traps in.

    Take this sentence.

    “I never said she stole my money.”

    Depending on which word in that sentence you emphasise, it has a different meaning. That means that is has 7 different meanings. And that’s just one of the infinite variety of traps the english language can spring on you.

    Clearly, his best bet is to never talk to anyone except when absolutely required, and basically ignore anything anyone says to him. I don’t mean don’t trust it. I mean IGNORE it. If the policeman shows up again, no matter what he says, ignore it. Because no matter what anyone says, its a trap.

    He could show up at the door in a panic and say ‘I swear that people are coming to get you right now, and if you don’t run, you’re going to die.’

    And his actual meaning could be ‘Your relatives are coming to get you for the funeral, and if you don’t excercise you’ll die at some point.’ and it would be absolutely true, and then the MC would leave his house and die.

    He can’t trust ANYTHING. No matter how absolute, no matter how well intentioned it seems. In that case, his best bet is to completely ignore all input, and make his own judgements with no external influence at all.

    Also, I really hope that policeman dies. Painfully. He’s corrupt, untrustworthy, and willing to let innocent teenagers die horrible painful deaths without batting an eyelind, in fact, he’s willing to help it along.

    If this is the kind of person his grandmother had for enemies, no goddamn wonder, as a complete outsider, I look at that kind of person as an enemy.

    1. It is a bit worse than that. If you have taken logic, the proposition “If A then B” is true if B is true no matter what the truth value of A is (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_table, under Logical Implication). So in any setting where truth is testable and/or enforceable (and this universe seems to qualify), the statement “If you kill me you will die” is true as long as the “you” of the statement is not absolutely immortal.

      That brings up a trick I always, always, always wanted to do when gaming in such a universe but never managed to, so I will cast it in terms of this universe. So, a practitioner or Other is trying to kill Blake, he says “upon my oath, anyone who kills me or orders my death will die”, and Blake still retains his power. Unless the opponent recognizes the loophole (die how soon an by what means), what the opponent thinks is that Blake set up a deadman switch nasty enough to take out anything that kills him. This is best used as sparingly as possible because someone will eventually recognize the loophole, but the impact may be quite high under the right circumstances.

      Complex logical propositions are really hard to determine the truth value of quickly unless you have a good mix of training, practice, and natural ability, so similar tricks are much easier to play with complex logic, but the ability to do this with a simple if-then statement is a largely unrecognized cheat.

    1. He should just open a Hell Gate under the town already, just – leave it ajar. And then arrange it so if he has an accident, if he doesn’t check in on it regularly (maybe make himself the Hell Gate), it busts right open. Just as insurance.
      Also, he should keep a lawyer at hand if anyone in the game comes around to chat.

  27. Double post goodness now that I’ve considered the Familiar situation and have nothing else to deal with besides over thinking this story.

    Fact 1: Familiars do not need to have a “mortal” animal form. They can be a spirit of a given concept. Laird’s Zeitgeist proves this.

    Fact 2: Words rule the world, and while Blake is no slouch, he is not prepared for the professional VGL (Verbal Gymnastics League) as yet. This is a decisive weakness.

    Fact 3: Contracts, agreements, and oaths are, at one and the same time, literally binding, and not worth the paper they are printed on due the high level of skill in the VGL.

    Problem in short: Rules lawyers own this town, and our boy is totes magoats in over his head.

    Proposal: Get an actual Spirit of the Law as Blake’s familiar. Preliminary research indicates that such a figure was present in Greek… Culture? And was known as Nomos. Problem is, he was more a hat of Zeus than a discrete entity, so if that held true here… Good luck, Blakey.

    Possible alternatives include Themis and the Lady Justice herself, Dike. All also slightly problematic. Someone more versed in Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic, or some other language may be able to come up with a witty name instead, because I’m turning up bupkis on “spirits of law” that aren’t comparatively major players.

    Concerning Form: Much depends on what inspires the name and source of this familiar. If we go Greek, an owl would be appropriate as a symbol of wisdom. If we wish to be a bit more sinister and dark, a vulture would work nicely. Breaking from the birds, snakes would suit that as well, and while a shark would be quite appropriate, I must question is utility and feasibility, unless its form need not be totally physical or conform to the source animal’s biology. Or physics. A ghost shark. A… Goblin shark?

    If humanoids are permissible, perhaps something based on John Harvard, of Harvard university? Alas, Yale is a bulldog, so that’s out. Brown university’s mascot is a bear, which would be unwieldy unless miniaturized.

    Perhaps a devil in a nice suit would suffice?

    Concerning Implents: The pros and con’s of the multi-tool have been covered. Much depends on how tightly a Practitioner’s theme must be held, I figure. If the tool and familiar must complement each other, then a pen, perhaps a classic quill type, would best suit the rules lawyer, bargainmeister type. To serve in drafting agreements, in communication, and persuasion.

    Alternatively, scales, to weigh intent, measure worth, and judge character.

    Perhaps a gavel, to compel obedience, smash obfustication, and deliver on consequences.

    Of course, those symbolize what Blake might want, should he go that route. None of them much represent him, methinks. His cousin, the one going to law school, yes. But he is a dropout and amateur, if skilled, handyman. Hence the appropriateness of the multi-tool.

    However, there is another tool handymen use as well. The carpenters square. They have many different uses, depending on the model, most are marked as a ruler, and may include bubble level built into it as well. Many of the uses for the scales would apply to the square just as well. And there is an added bonus in that they are used for crafting projects and drafting plans, precisely the sort of thing Blake needs to do.

    Crud. I have way too little to amuse myself with. Meister, out. For now.

    1. Or he could just call up Paige and put her on retainer. Esp. Once he gets the house into better shape as a home base. It’d be simpler than building his entire magic persona around that.

      1. She’s a huggle. Involving her in any meaningful capacity would be against the rules, unless he initiated her as a witch hunter. Which he can’t do until he awakens and gets an implement and a familiar.

        So… Yeah.

      2. @Meister. What rules would those be? And why exactly should they apply?

        The Masquerade only works so long as those who dissent can be silenced. Blake clearly can’t, as he’s the narrator (and while Wildbow is not above pulling a fast one on us, the curse of the undead narrator should still apply).

  28. I like the new name. English-Scandinavian. The “burn” bit – biorn, “warrior” – sounds a good bit like bjørn (bear), but I’m sure that’s incidental. A bear would make a cool familiar, but I’m sure Blake/Rose prefer(s(?)) something more subtle.
    And if Blake or Rose turn out to be good at comebacks, we can call them “Thor-burns”.

    Found the exchange with Patrick and Co. a bit weird. “It leaves the door open to your staying.” – what, staying here on the street and negotiate apologies? I’m not sure what Rose was talking about, or if it was even supposed to convey otherness. Also makes me wonder if Rose was just as lost and just said things, hoping they were the right things, or if she does know more than she lets on.

  29. [I totally forgot to congratulate you on the launch of the new site, wildbow! I gather my ‘constructive criticism’/nitpicking was somewhat useful, but criticism has a negative connotation, constructive or otherwise. To balance that, here are my favorite lines in the new chapter:]

    “I want you to trust me, Blake. We may be enemies, but that doesn’t preclude trust and respect, much less an open dialogue.”
    “I’ve spent enough time around artists, I think I can do ass-pull interpretations.”
    “You and your children and your children’s children, all down the line, there’s only one place you can go. But we can give you the paradise you and yours are denied.” -> Embarrassing: I only realized in this chapter that if a story contains devils, there’s obviously a hell, and possibly even a heaven.
    ““Male?” Ev asked. She gave me a closer look. I was pretty sure no humans had made that mistake since I was five or so.”
    “I’m afraid he can’t give you his apologies. It’s too high a price. If he needed to make amends to someone else in the future, what would he do?””
    “Why wasn’t Paige in this position? She’d love this quibbling over semantics, if nothing else.”

    Also, Rose did well in this chapter. I approve.
    I guess she’s a difficult character to write, given how her circumstances force her into passivity. (Also, given that it’s surely a trope, I wonder how likely it is that Rose and Blake will temporarily switch places at some future point in the story. And if so, from whose POV would the story be written at that point?)

  30. I’m thinking more a spirit of knowledge/intellect than one of law for the familiar, someone who could help parse the word games and research needed things, though Law is fairly appropriate for that too. Alternatively, get a trickster spirit cunning enough to run rings around the other players and trust that being your familiar makes him firmly in your corner.

    If the implement needs to be a symbol, probably should go with something dual-natured to reflect the existence of Rose. If this is to be a symbol of his and how others will judge him, either something relatively passive to placate the other players, or forceful enough to scare the hell out of them. A knife perhaps, dual-natured in being both tool and weapon, speaking to power and control and perhaps even reflecting Blake’s desire to cut through all the BS. Or a letter-opener for something that combines the symbolism of the knife with a rather mundane utility and another link to the written word.

    How small can a focus be? Could he make, say a button or a shoelace his focus for a symbolic connection that isn’t obvious to others and will make them wonder what they hell?

  31. Since I am a bit of a knowledge-loving person, here’s one possible set of rituals, crossed with a bit of “don’t do anything the enemy expects”:

    Implementum: Book (better: computer). Concentrate on learning and storing knowledge. Practitioners and Others will look down on a newbie claiming knowledge as a tool, Blake and Rose together are probably faster learners than just about any single person and Rose has already demonstrated the “fast library look-up” trick more than once. I don’t think any practitioner or Other around misses the point that knowledge is power, they just won’t expect a newbie to be good at it.

    Famulus: One of the many possible associates of deities of knowledge. My personal preference would be to cheat like hell and act like I created a raven of Apollo but actually try to pull off one familiar in two bodies: Huginn and Muninn. Never show more than one at a time and it might be a while before people caught on. In the mean time, use one for spying while the other was used for distraction. Not to mention that ravens can talk (I know, apparently many familiars can talk, but having the right form probably makes it easier).

    Demenses: Here’s where things get tricky. The whole house is taken. Blake could build something on the lot and claim it, but unless he is really good at building or willing to let a lot of workmen on the lot (not), he is at best going to claim a shed. If he tries to claim anything off the lot he makes himself vulnerable when trying to cross the intervening space. And I bet that if he tries to claim something just next to the lot but not legally his, there will be a major fight. So, don’t claim a space, claim an idea of a space: any library (better: any store of knowledge). I am betting that spreading his demense out like that lowers his overall potential, but with the upside of spreading it out: public libraries become places of power and temporary refuges; his grandmother’s library becomes partially his and potentially allows him to borrow some of its power; he has power even in enemy libraries, if he can access them, and it gives him additional power to force that access; if he can extend the definition to any deliberate store of knowledge, computers and databases open up to him; and Rose (or him) hauling around enough books might create a sort of traveling demense. Not to mention the mindf*** potential for enemies who are wondering where the livid hell his demense is and why he can raid knowledge from and have power on their turf. Note that this seriously complements his implement.

    1. I like this idea, except for the ‘all libraries’ idea. I’m sure more than one practitioner worldwide has claimed specific libraries as their domain, and I feel like such a conflict of claims would end badly for the weaker claimer, ie Blake. perhaps he can claim local libraries?

    2. You off-handedly mentioned a shed as his demesne, but I have to say, that sounds awesome.

      He’s a handyman, and a shed would have an insane amount of tools for him to work with. If that’s his place of power, he’s suddenly ridiculously versatile.

      1. It would fit his experience nicely, but if it is going to be comfortable and workable it would need at least some of: powered lighting, heat, good insulation, plumbing, etc. And there’s a problem that the local powers-that-be will use to mess with him: in any established city there are all sorts of building ordinances as to what can be added to property. If the new structure is big enough or has enough amenities to fall under the ordinances then, at an absolute minimum, an inspector has to come by and approve of work done. Which forces Blake to let a stranger on his property and in his new soon-to-be demesne. Big problem. Even if his shed is minor enough not to require inspection, the town council may be able to force an inspection to “prove” it doesn’t fall under the building ordinances, which leads to the same problem. If you don’t comply with local inspections then the town can get a legal warrant to come on the property anyway, and maybe tear down the structure. Blake may be able to fight this using the lawyer, but the bottom line is he is not going to be able to throw up more than a small unpowered, unplumbed shed without running into local building regulations.

        1. All good points.

          Still, I like the idea of Blake setting himself up as a handyman for the local powers. It’d give him a chance to turn some enemies into allies.

          And I do very much enjoy the Almighty Janitor trope this would lead to.

  32. While the exact oath a police officers swear differ. They usually go something like this.
    (Sample Oath)
    I……………………DO SWEAR,, THAT – I WILL WELL AND TRULY SERVE – OUR SOVEREIGN COUNTRY AND STATE – AS A POLICE OFFICER WITHOUT FAVOR OR AFFECTION – MALICE OR ILL-WILL – UNTIL I AM LEGALLY DISCHARGED, THAT I WILL SEE AND CAUSE ­ OUR COMMUNITY’S PEACE TO BE KEPT AND
    PRESERVED – AND THAT – I WILL PREVENT TO THE BEST OF MY POWER – ALL OFFENSES AGAINST THAT PEACE – AND THAT – WHILE I CONTINUE TO BE A POLICE OFFICER – I WILL – TO THE BEST OF MY SKILL AND KNOWLEDGE – DISCHARGE ALL THE DUTIES THEREOF – FAITHFULLY – ACCORDING TO LAW.
    SO HELP ME GOD.
    It is more about keeping the peace and not so much about protecting people. So on that note no laird has not broken his oath a policeman. Still letting people die to protect the peace is a nasty thing to do. As for Blake’s tool I think his tattoos would be a great tool for him to chose.

  33. On tools and a place to call his own:

    While there have been a lot of different things suggested as a familiar, I feel they all ignore a basic aspect of his personality, namely the need to keep moving.

    In this vein, I feel he will chose to empower his motorcycle (once called the iron horse) as a personal familiar, and following that make the garage his personal place of power. Grandmother has already said all the places IN the house are claimed, so its not like he has a lot of choices there anyhow. He may chose to make either a monkeywrench (also called crecent or adjustable wrench) as a personal tool. Perhaps one with a large flat spot on the back so it can double as a hammer occasionally, and a longer than usual pry bar type handle.

    I suppose it is a type of multi-tool, of a practical sort.

    Just my thoughts on the story so far, and how while there have been a lot of very useful ideas, none of them seem to match his personality. Maybe Rose’s, or his cousins.

    I wonder, can Blake and Rose have separate familiars and tools and such.or do they have to share them somehow?

    1. Ooh, that’s genius. Now to see if Blake will think of that loophole. Or if there’s even a garage for him to take over.

  34. “No direct harm” is a loophole big enough to drive an entire herd of cattle through. Laird himself just demonstrated that to her. I’m really not sure what he was expecting to do with that little stunt. Unless he was trying to teach her “Don’t trust anyone, no matter how elaborately they attempt to prove that they have honest intentions.”

    Actually, that might be interesting if Laird is trying to be a trickster mentor of some sort. He gave Blake a tutorial on rules lawyering, and considering how fast he showed up, he was probably lurking around the whole time, watching that whole scene with Padraic in case he needed to step in.

    As for a tool, perhaps a hammer? A handyman’s tool, simple, blunt, intended for construction but easy to use for cracking skulls instead, and a great way to vent your frustration on fragile objects.

    1. “Her”? Blake’s a guy.

      As for your point, “No direct harm” is one of those loopholes that makes barriers puff away with the slightest bit of thought. Agreed that this was a Practitioning 101 pop quiz. That plus the “Principles of Shamanism” seminar at the beginning sets him up to be That Guy that Blake & Rose don’t really trust, but are forced to come to for help whenever he’s the lesser of however many evils are on their plate this episode – I mean “week.”

  35. “If positions were reversed, I would trust my own daughters, who I care about deeply, to the care of someone of equivalent power.”

    “To someone as strong as me. If positions were reversed, I wouldn’t know any better than you did, by definition. I double checked beforehand.”

    If we are to take this extremely literally (as he indicates we need to). This means that if Blake had chosen to stay at home then he would have made Laird a lier – a potentially big risk for Laird.

    “…then bring you back, as safe as I can manage…

    He apparently broke this promise.

    “I’ll make this as stress free for you as I can. Nobody will enter the house, if I can help it, which I can. I promise you this.”

    That’s pretty general. ‘As stress free for you as I can.’ That covers an awful lot of assistance (or drugging).

    So the problem here becomes: who exactly is deciding whether someone broke their word or lied. English simply isn’t a sufficiently deterministic language to make the conclusion obvious. Laird seems to be implying an extremely literal interpretation, but that still runs into the issue. See my examples above. Maybe it depends on whether the person believes they intentionally broke their word or lied (this also might explain why awakened people don’t accidentally lie or break their word all the time)? Or maybe there’s a oath keeping authority or daemon that the ancient Others set up to check these things. The actual operation of such would be important to understand. Regardless, the specifics of what telling the truth means is an important research topic for Mr Blake. I would also take to carrying around a recording device, so he can eek out every drop of information someone drops.

    I’m enjoying the story. Very nice start.

  36. A short mention of “courts” here, that has me wondering if Seelie and Unseelie are going to make an appearance. It doesn’t seem like it, but I can’t wait to find out.

  37. Couple of typos:

    “It’s  a” There’s an extra space between these two words.

    “I’ll read up on familiars when I’m done Essentials.” should be “I’ll read up on familiars when I’m done with Essentials.”

  38. Hullo.
    Sadly I can’t finish nor resume Worm till April, since I would likely go into a reading frenzy, wreaking havoc with my study schedule.
    Pact, though, I’m not as invested in yet, albeit I trust you will make it worthwhile for us once more, wildbow.
    Be that as it may, so far it reminds me of Harry Dresden, but that is likely due to the design of the world – urban fantasy, northern/cold climate, current era and sinister magic.

    A few technical questions, though:

    1) Could you add a kind of mailing list or something in that vein for those interested in updates in an eventual ebook publishing of your works? Not only Worm, though that would be currently on the forefront, but rather all your works. If I go by the schedule I am used by you and your announcement, Pact will finish March 2015, give or take a couple months.

    2) Really technical, but I have to ask: Is it possible to be notified of follow-up comments on a specific thread in the comment section? They way it was with Worm a notification on new comments would inform me of every comment on the chapter, regardless of the commenter started a new thread instead of replying. Thread in this sense means every instance a commenter writes a new comment at the bottom of the comments instead of replying to a comment, which would be part of thread of comment(s) being replied to. To give an example, the typo thread (as started by pandemonius ivy) in this chapter would all be a single thread, with this comment by me starting a new thread and every reply to it being considered part of this thread.
    I am sorry if I describe this inadequately and in a way that makes it seem as if you or another reader is ‘internet dumb’, I just want to avoid ambiguity.

    3) I hear patreon is becoming a thing, though it seems to be linked to extra content? I prefer flattr, but that’s neither here nor there…

    1. I would like a kind of numbering and layering of threads.

      Example:

      CHAPTERTEXT

      COMMENTS

      1.) 1st comment (thread)
      1.1) Reply A to 1st comment
      1.2) Reply B to 1st comment
      1.2.1) Answer to reply B to 1st comment
      2.) 2nd comment thread

      And if possible with the option to sort comments by date/time and in threads (like in the example above).

  39. Tools used on Molly?

    What time is it? Tool Time! I’m Psycho “The Tool Man” Gecko and with me as always is the man in the plaid encounter suit, Al Vorlon. See, for killing this young girl in the woods, we’re going to need more power.

    “No.”

    Oh, what’s the worse that could happen, Al?

    “If you go to Z’HaDum, you will die.”

    Fuck Z’HaDum right in its planetary asshole. I’m going to take this tile-cutting saw, stick a wrench on the bottom, tie a chainsaw to the side of it, jury rig a car battery onto it, and rig the battery to power a vibrator I am now shoving in my ass that features a rake attachment on the other end. More power! Alright, now let’s give this Molly one hell of a mauling, shall we?

    Cranks up the saw. Lights go out, the saw explodes, and I go flying backwards. Al Vorlon looks at the audience.

    “One moment of perfect beauty.”

    1. Phone call for you on line 3, Mr. Gecko.

      It’s the legal representatives from the “Will It Blend?” show. They’re wondering why you didn’t use their franchise for the Molly Thorburn “interview”, as you’d specifically promised (in the written and notarized contract) that you would.

      They’re also inquiring as to whether the twelve shipments of custom wand blender butt plug attachments you’ve ordered will be featured in a future feature, or if you’re going to refund the quote-unquote “very generous” discount they offered you in exchange for the agreed-upon product placement, which they believe you’ve failed to deliver.

      On a related note, the Blendtech lawyers also wish to speak with you about the check you’d paid with. It seems to have bounced. Out the bank, across the street, through a side window on a Greyhound bus and all the way to Albuquerque.

      [Blows a big pink gum bubble]

      Shall I put them on hold, along with your three ex-mothers-in-law?

  40. Goddamn the Others scare me here, the things Padraic and Ev and the rest offer…
    They are very very good at presenting you with choices. In Blake’s position I don’t know that I could say no to them.

  41. Okay, docking Blake points for “They glanced my way, unsmiling, before stopping to talk to Laird for a second and then leaving. Not long enough to plot something.” immediately after realising that Laird was a time mage. Really, Blake? I know you’re new at this, but c’mon!

  42. So, nobody else seems to have mentioned this one yet. Dog familiars appear to be very taboo. Grandma Rose said no dogs, and Chief Laird said he couldn’t have a police dog familiar. Why? Further, in the last dream the man had a talking dog with him. I’m assuming that was his familiar (on that note, is he the Sorcerer in the North?)? Is he defying the taboo, or is he the reason for it? I know at least one story (To Reign in Hell, a good read for those interested) portrays Beelzebub as a dog loyal to Satan.

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