Bonds 1.6

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I paced.  The Demesnes text in hand, I walked from one end of the living room to the other, then walked back.

Another trip back and forth, and I stopped by the window, using the edge of the book to push the curtain back.  It was dusk outside, just past sunset, day two, and some of the locals had emerged.

If I didn’t know better, I might have thought the locals were trying to put pressure on me.  Men and women, some children, simply staking out the perimeter of the fence.  Some of them paced like I was doing, like tigers in their cell, while others were patient, smoking or holding phones to their ears.  A number of the ‘children’ were standing on the short stone wall, hands wrapped around the metal curls and spikes of the railing, eyes on the house.  Some talked, others were silent.

Most were normal enough I wouldn’t have looked twice.  A handful weren’t.  One little boy, separate from the others, kept scratching at his head, face, neck and arms, his fingers coming away black with his own blood, or so it appeared in the gloom.  I could see the gouge marks, dark lines cut into his skin, he would turn away, and they would be gone the next time I got a chance to see.  There was a woman with hair, hat and coat covering much of her face, but when I did get a glimpse, I saw only vague, black smudges where her eyes and mouth should be.  She held a cigarette up near her face, but never inhaled from it.  The others seemed rather intent on avoiding her, giving her a wide berth as she paced.

A car passed down the length of the road.  I tried to use the headlights to get a better look at the things, but the headlights revealed a mostly empty sidewalk, no Others but a small group of the ‘children’ that had hopped down from the fence and were simply walking as a group, heads covered by hats and hoods, hardly worthy of a glance.

My eyes had to adjust from focusing on the headlights.  The Others appeared from dark spots, and stepped out from behind the pillars that framed the gate.

I let the curtain drop, then resumed the pacing.  I’d read the same page five or six times.

“You’re making me nervous,” Rose said, startling me.  “You’ve been pacing the entire time I’ve been gone?”

Her hair was wet.  She’d left to go shower, but she still wore the same clothes as before.  Apparently she had running water, on her side.  That was interesting, considering there wasn’t necessarily anything for the pipes to connect to.

I’m nervous,” I said.  “I ordered pizza, but I didn’t think they’d come crawling out of the woodwork like this.  There’s a good ten or so out there.”

“Why did you order pizza?” she asked.

“Because I’m hungry?”  I responded.  “There’s nothing more than the most basic stuff in the kitchen, I’m going to go crazy or get sick living off flour tortillas, canned beans and tuna, and since I’ve got to figure out a way to keep myself supplied, I might as well start sooner than later.”

“Pizza isn’t supplies.”

“Pizza is a way of testing the waters,” I said.  “Will anyone in this town do business with me?  If I can’t order a pizza, I might have trouble getting groceries delivered.  If I can’t get groceries delivered, then I need to find a reliable, safe way of going outside.”

“So you put a pizza guy in the line of fire?”

“There wasn’t a line of fire when I called,” I said.  I looked outside again.  “It’s hard to keep track of time.  My sleep schedule’s all over the place, my eating schedule’s off track, and the days are short.  It’s dangerous, and it’s going to fuck me up.  Need to get back in the habit of sleeping at night and eating on time.  As is, I didn’t figure it would get dark so soon, and I didn’t figure they’d appear like this.”

“I know,” she said.  “Except I don’t even have the physical needs to gauge by, and it’s awfully dark in here.”

I peeked outside.

Two Others had joined the group.  One was very talkative, engaging with the eyeless, mouthless woman who had the cigarette, even venturing into the four or five foot bubble of personal space around her that the rest seemed to be respecting.

I reached for the phone.  Mind changed.

Bell Pizza.  What can I do you for?”

“I’d like to cancel my order,” I said.

You’ve already paid for your order.  The food is made and is on its way.  We can’t provide a refund.

“It’s fine.  Keep the money.  Just call back the delivery guy so he doesn’t waste his time.”

There was a pause.

I’m sorry.  We can’t refund your pizza, because we already prepared it.  It should be there in ten minutes or less.

He was feigning ignorance, with a touch of a bad accent, but he couldn’t hide the smugness.

“You’re being intentionally dense,” I said.

The guy on the other end hung up.

Fuck,” I said.

“So… now what?” Rose asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I doubt he’ll give me a fair hearing if I call back.  I don’t really know what to expect, here.  Even reading up on the basics, it doesn’t get into much depth about this.”

Rose nodded, “Essentials and Famulus were more focused on Other-practitioner relationships than general Other-human relationships.”

I could see her fidgeting.  I leaned forward.  “Earlier, you said you were nervous.  How does that work?  You don’t breathe any harder, since you don’t breathe.  Does your heartbeat pick up?  Does your body flood with the stress hormones, making you fidget?”

“That’s a no on every count,” she said.  I turned away from the window to look at her.  She elaborated, “My body’s always the same.  Stable, steady, there, but not doing anything except… I dunno.  Maintaining appearances?”

“But you get nervous.”

“My brain gets nervous,” she said.

“I’m not sure that makes sense, but okay,” I replied.  I looked down at the page I’d been rereading for the past twenty minutes, then tossed the book down onto the coffee table.

“You’re onto Demesnes,” she observed, craning her head to peer down.  “Me too.”

“It’s a fitting thing to read up on, here,” I said.  “Making your own sanctuary, while we have enemies gathering at the gates.  It seems like a pretty simple ritual.”

“Deceptively simple,” Rose said.

“Yeah, deceptively simple,” I agreed.  “You stake out the area, the magical equivalent of drawing out your borders and planting a flag, you say a few words, and you invite anyone, everyone and everything that objects to come and challenge you.  Trial by combat, riddles, placating them with deals, whatever you agree on.  The bigger the area you try to claim, the bigger the invitation you broadcast.  They each get to confront you the once, and the ritual ends when there are no challengers left, or when a set amount of time passes.  Claim a space the size of a closet, maybe get five to ten objections.  Claim a house, get fifty.”

“I’m thinking that’s one of the last things we want to do,” Rose said.  “When we have a familiar, and when we have an implement, so we have some ability to fight.”

“Except,” I said, “It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?  The demesne gives us a steady supply of power, with bigger spaces giving us more power.  It’s a sanctuary, and a place where we can bend the rules in our favor.  Right?  So we need a tool or a familiar to lay claim to as big a space as we can pull off.”

“Yes.”

“But we can’t infuse our tool until we have some power to infuse it with,” I said.  “Except…”

“That power would ideally come from the demesne,” Rose said.

I nodded, “Or the familiar, in terms of strength and shaping how the tool functions.  And we can’t start talking with Others about bringing them on board as a familiar until we have some established power already.”

“Necessitating a tool and a claim to some land,” Rose finished for me.  “Each of the three things requires the two others.”

I nodded.  “Or it necessitates a compromise.  We pick one front, we make it easy, like you suggested, go with the bare minimum.  Do one thing badly, use the leverage we gain to do the next thing in a mediocre way, and then use the two things to do really well with the last ritual.”

My pacing resumed, though I had my hands free, and I could stick them in the pockets of my wool hoodie.

“How do the others do it?” Rose asked.  “The Behaims and the Duchamps?”

“They have backup, I imagine,” I said.  “A mom and dad who are willing to sit in on a meeting with a familiar and vouch for them, or maybe even have a familiar arranged from early on or before the kid is born, things ready-made, a space set aside.”

“Magical trust fund kids,” Rose said.

“Basically,” I said.

“What about the North End Sorcerer?”

“What about him?”

“I take it you didn’t read the little black book from cover to cover?  Look him up.”

I shuffled through the tomes to find where I’d put the book. “I was going to read it later, after the major four were done, before the council meeting.”

“You don’t need to make excuses to me,” Rose said.  She had her own copy.  “Um.  Page thirty-two.”

I opened the tiny book.

Johannes Lillegard, believed to be an adopted name.  Practitioner.  The newest arrival in Jacob’s Bell as of August thirteenth, ‘ought-nine, he arrived at the council meeting of said date.  Johannes appears no older than twenty-five, but all facts suggest he claimed his demesne six or more years ago, a region spanning all of Jacob’s Bell, west and north of the hospital as well as the entire expansion north of the bridge.

I paused in my reading there, to ask, “The bridge?”

“The highway,” Rose said.  “It becomes a bridge where it passes over the marshland here.”

I pictured it, then stopped short.  “Wait, the commercial area north of the highway?  With the train station, the shops-”

“-The condos, the mall, the prefab houses, yes.”

“As his demesne?  The book talks about it in the context of rooms, of houses at the most.”

Rose didn’t reply.  When I glanced her way, she was nodding, a serious look joining the general exhaustion on her face.

“There’s a catch there,” I said.  “A drawback.”

“Oh, right, you’re only partway through,” Rose said.  “Demesnes are like trademarks.  Periodically, people are going to test them.  You need to respond, but you have the home court advantage.  The law’s on your side.  But if you claim something that broad, and if you can’t or don’t defend it when someone else puts one foot over the line, that weakens your stance.  But he’s defending it.”

“How?”

She pointed back at the little black book.

I read.

In conversation with Aimon Behaim and Sandra Duchamp, we mutually agreed that Johannes must have claimed the territory prior to the expansion appearing, though we’re unsure of when this might have been, for none of us to hear the claim or be able to respond to it, nor how he was able to do this at what might have been the age of thirteen or fourteen.  Mara has declined to answer any questions, being more taciturn than her usual,

Johannes seems to bear harsh wounds, no doubt tying back to his ambitious claim, with no use of one eye, one hand and one leg, though the tissues appear undamaged.  He bears a set of antique pipes as his implement, and has a Gatekeeper of the Seventh Ring (ref Astral Bodies: vol 3, and Prime Movers) as his familiar, named Faysal Anwar, which takes the form of a rather large Afghan Hound.

Note:
Johannes has made his second appearance at council meetings, February sixth, year two thousand and ten.  Occasion to expand my notes.  Arrogant, and justified in it.  Enigmatic.  He spends almost all of his time within his demesne, stepping outside only to defend his claim and attend occasional meetings.  This makes gathering information hard.  Favors manipulation of space.

Note:
Touching up all of my notes, for my soon-to-be heiress.  He is a manipulator, content to bait people and lure them to their doom.  Fitting, given the implement of choice.  He safeguards his demesne by making it a fiefdom, with neighborhoods held by Others and a handful of lesser practitioners.  Stay clear, this is a threat you do not need to face down.

I looked up at Rose.  “He’s powerful, then.”

She said, “He doesn’t have a family.  He had nothing given to him in advance, as far as we know.  But he managed something.”

“Okay,” I said.  “So there are obviously other options.  Approached directly, the situation is filled with contradictions and obstacles, but maybe there’s an oblique answer, like Johannes found?”

“Like what I was talking about with the witch hunters,” Rose said.

That again.  I shook my head.

“You’re refusing my ideas too fast,” she said, and the emotion in her voice caught me off guard.  She was irritated, upset.  “Have you even read up on witch hunting, Blake?”

“No,” I said.  “Have you?”

“I can’t.  I need you to rotate the mirror in the study.  Damn it, listen, there are things we can learn to do that don’t rely on familiar, implement or demesne.  Like Laird’s shamanism.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’m very on board with that.”

“But you aren’t on board with getting the protections witch hunters have?  If anything’s going to get us killed, it’s a knee-jerk reactions and making stupid assumptions.”

“It’s not that I don’t like the idea of protection,” I said.  “But when someone says ‘witch hunter’, it makes me think of hunting things.  Fighting, instead of defense.  And I think that any of those protections we might use as practitioners are going to be found in books for practitioners.  It’s hard enough without overcomplicating it, sifting through all the stuff we can’t use for some tidbits we could find elsewhere.  Can we compromise?  Maybe focus on getting this wizardry crap down, and we’ll look at the witch huntery stuff later, as the side project it is?”

When I looked at Rose, she was frowning, eyebrows knit.  tapping her hand on some surface in front of her.

We were similar in other ways.  Prone to anger.  But something told me that Rose wasn’t one to actually show or exercise that anger.

Something to watch for, if she was bottling up her stress.  What outlets did she have to vent it, and how would she react if she couldn’t?

Fine,” she said, in that way that girls were so very good at.  She took a deep breath, then sighed.  Purely for effect, I imagined.  Calmer, she said, “We shelve that idea.  We can use trickery, deception, manipulation, to get our foot in the door, get one of the three major things we need.”

“Agreed,” I said.  “Harder than it sounds, because Others are naturally deceptive and are probably looking out for those tricks.”

“What else?  We could try marshaling forces, like he is.  We need a good rapport with Others to figure out who we might pick for a familiar, right?”

“There’s a problem with that,” I said.  I reached for the mirror, then stopped.  “May I?”

“Yes.”

I lifted the mirror from where I’d hooked it onto the bookcase, then carried it to the window, pushing the curtains apart.  I set the bottom end of the mirror on the windowsill.

There were five more Others than before.  All clustered around the fence.  The rest were still there.  Waiting.

Rose was turned away from me, so I couldn’t see her, and she was silent, leaving me to stand there, presenting our situation.

“That’s the issue, right now.  That’s the biggest complication we’re facing with the rituals, with life in general.  Someone’s done the equivalent of putting a price out on our head, or they said that the usual rules for going after someone in an inhabited area are on hold, for me, or for us,” I said, my voice low.  “We can’t conduct any rituals, because those guys are waiting to fuck us up.”

“That-” Rose started.

She stopped short as a car appeared, parking at the far end of the street, a sign perched on top.

This time, seeing the vehicle approach, I could see how the Others moved out of the way of the headlights.  Stepping literally into shadows, or stepping to a position where they were out of sight.  In the latter case, it looked like they were stepping out of my field of view, to where the fence or columns on either side of the gate were blocking my view, but I felt like they were doing it for everyone that might be looking.  Finding a universal blind spot.

A guy stepped out of the car, holding the insulated bag with the pizza inside.  He crossed the street, and approached the gate.

“Stop him, Blake,” Rose said.

“I want to, but how?”

“I don’t know.  Shout?”

I strode to the front door, hauled it open, and bellowed, “Hey!”

Others appeared from the shadows by the gate, a ‘child’ with his back to the stone column, glancing my way.  Further down the street, I could see the faceless woman with the cigarette appear behind the delivery guy.

He didn’t stop walking.  When he shouted back, I couldn’t make out the words.

“Stop!  I don’t want it!  Go back to the car!”  I hollered.

Again, I couldn’t make out his reply.

I watched as the Others closed in.

The ‘little boy’ who’d been scratching himself walked down the street, so short I could barely make him out over the stone wall which bordered the property.

He approached the delivery man head on, not moving out of the way.  When it looked like they might collide, the ‘boy’ hopped up onto the short stone wall.  His hand around the man’s wrist.

A moment later, so fast I couldn’t see it, the boy slammed the delivery guy’s hand down on the railing.  The man screamed, dropping the pizza, hand impaled on the spiked railing that ran along the top of the short wall.  He tried to pull it free, but the ‘boy’ still had a grip on his wrist.

“Hey!”  I shouted.  I stepped out onto the porch.

A girl hopped up, using the man’s knee as a foothold, grabbing the delivery man by the jaw.  She was more monkey than child as she swung up onto the wall.  The momentum of the swing brought his head down and forward, driving it into the top of the railing.

I could hear the sound it made on impact, which said a lot, considering how I hadn’t been able to hear his words.  There was no saying how much was the upper row of teeth breaking on impact with the railing, or the sound of the jaw breaking as it was wrenched down with a sudden weight of the not-little-girl.

The girl let go, walking along the top of the railing, her arms extended to either side, pigtails swinging, the grin the only part of her I could make out beneath the winter clothes, too wide, filled with very white teeth that didn’t match each other.

I could hear his continued screams, now more strangled than they’d been.

I felt cold, paralyzed.  Had I just killed a man, simply by inviting him here?

The faceless woman caught up to him.  Her free hand reached into the back of his head, and I could make out the fingers reaching out the front, moving just beneath the skin, closing together into a fist over one of his eyes.  She moved her hand, leaving the skin bound shut in a knot of flesh, and she closed the other eye in the same manner.

Another movement, nearer the mouth and throat, and the screams were cut off.

Knitting, molding his flesh, almost casually.

My concern was no longer that I’d killed the man.  My concern was that he might live.

“Blake!”  Rose’s voice, from the living room.  “You have to help him!”

I took a step forward, then stopped as the faceless woman continued her work.  Her fingers wriggled and crawled across the man’s scalp, just beneath his skin, burying his hair, reaching down to cover his ears.  Trapping him in his own skin, so his own flesh was a hood over his face.

“Blake!”

I thought back to one idle thought I’d had in the past hours.

The house was a sanctuary against Other and practitioner both.

I glanced around me, then very carefully took a step back through the door, past the threshold and into the house.

Laird had come to the front door.

“He’s dying!”

There were rules.  I couldn’t know which ones still held, here, which ones the locals had called off, while I was a problem.  But there were rules.

I remained where I was, watching.

She held the cigarette aloft, poised as if she might take a puff at any moment, while her other hand pulled free, then plunged into his chest cavity.

The muffled grunts and violent jerks he made in response were worse than the screams.

The talkative one kept chattering, nonstop, the ‘children’ making little sounds of amusement, laughing and cooing.  The others who’d joined in seemed content to watch, standing silently on the fringes.

I watched a car appear, traveling down the street from the opposite direction the delivery guy had come.  The talkative one practically leaped, taking hold of the faceless woman.  His momentum turned her around, and he leaned forward, simultaneously leaning her back, so they were pressed together, their bodies covering their victim.  I could see the talkative one’s face stop an inch from the smudged blur of hers.

The car passed, the headlights illuminating what the people in the car would see as two embraced lovers, kissing at the side of the street.  The remainder were hidden.  I watched as the car reached the end of the road, stopping at a stop sign.

“Blake, salt is a purifying material, cleansing.  It can work against certain Others,” Rose said.  “There’s a ton in the study, if you can’t find any in the kitchen.  Go and throw it at them!”

I didn’t move.

“Blake!  Please!”  She sounded desperate, now.

The car turned and disappeared out of sight.  The two Others broke apart, and the faceless woman clawed at the talkative one.  Vicious, angry, almost feral.  He gave her only laughs in response, as he ducked out of the way.

The faceless woman gave up and turned back to her victim.  I could see where she’d reached through his chest to grip the railing, fixing him to the metal.

Rose was screaming, now.  “Damn you, Blake!  Damn you!  God!  Fuck!”

She hit the mirror.

The noise Rose was making seemed to get attention.  The talkative one looked up at me.

I slowly shook my head.  I felt physically ill, all expression and utterances choked from me by the feeling of my heart in my throat.

But there was no fucking way I was going out there.

The talkative one said something to the others.

I saw the delivery guy lurch, tearing free in a mess of blood and ripped skin.  His dislocated jaw hung down his teeth a bloody ruin.

He laughed, and it wasn’t a human sound.

When he joined the ‘children’ in cavorting about, I allowed myself to believe it.  He wasn’t human.  He had never been.

An Other, joining the faceless woman in some psychological warfare.

I could hear them laughing, in the two or so seconds it took me to slam the door.

“It was a trick?” Rose asked, as I crossed the room to where I’d left the mirror in the window.  “They-”

I saw a movement immediately before Rose shrieked.  I grabbed the mirror, pulling it away from the window.

The little ‘girl’ with the toothy mouth and the pigtails peeking out from a hat that hid her eyes, hair and ears had appeared just outside the window.  She now scratched at the glass with long fingernails.

“They wanted me outside,” I said.  “The house is a sanctuary, the property isn’t.  Staying behind the railing like they were, it was meant to mislead us.  I might have fallen for it, if Laird hadn’t come all the way to the front door.”

“They’re clever.”

“The book warned us they were.”

“How sure were you?” she asked.  “That he wasn’t human?”

I didn’t answer.  Rose was staring at me, and I avoided her gaze.

Others were scratching and tapping on windows, now.  I heard a scrabbling, as if something was on the porch overhang.

“God,” Rose said.

“This is what Molly was dealing with,” I said, quiet.  My heart was still pounding, my mouth so dry I needed to try three times before I could speak again, but the fear and helplessness were disappearing.  I clenched my fist.  “All on her lonesome.  Hearing things just outside the house, all night.  Nowhere good to go for help.”

“We’re not in a great place either,” Rose said.

“No.  But we have each other,” I said.  “You had my back last night, with Padraic.  I might not have made it home in one piece without that.  Thank you, by the way, if I haven’t already said.”

“You have, twice, but it’s okay.  We’re figuring this out.”

I nodded.  My thoughts were going a mile a minute, but I had trouble saying just what the destinations were.

“What are you thinking?” Rose asked.

“I’m thinking…” I said, trying to sum it up.  “I think we’re almost ready.”

“Ready?”

“We’ve seen what kind of games the practitioners will play.  We’ve seen how the Others function, in part.  We have a sense of what we need to accomplish, and an abstract sense of how.  And maybe it helps a little that I’m a bit scared and a lot angry.”

“You want to awaken,” she said.

I nodded.  “Before the council meeting tomorrow.  Getting a familiar, the tool, and the demesne is something that can wait.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “I think we should.  You want to do it now, or do you need to eat first?”

“Two things, first,” I said.  “Eating isn’t one of them.”

I dialed the pizza place again.

Bell Pizza, what can I do you for?

“Hi-”

No,” he said.  “Not doing business with you.

“It’s about the pizza guy.”

We never sent anyone.  I asked a driver if he wanted to go, he said he wasn’t delivering to a haunted house.” 

The irony being this house was maybe the least haunted locale in Jacob’s Bell.

“I say it isn’t haunted, but it’s owned by you fucks, isn’t it?

“One of us,” I replied.

You’re Assholes, all of you, holding all the rest of us back.  You know my brother bought a place here, because this place was supposed to grow?  Except you’re not selling, and it’s losing value every year, needing more repairs.  You-

“I just wanted to check the pizza guy wasn’t going to show,” I said, but he was talking over me.

-off on the power, I think, bullies.  Knowing you’re driving the rest of us into ruin.  You want a fucking pizza?

“I changed my mind a while ago, remember?”

Fuck you.  Fuck yourself!  I already talked to the other pizza place.  Don’t expect a thing, until you’ve sold that place.  Fuck you.”

“Fine,” I said.  “It’s just pizza.”

But he’d already hung up.

It’s just pizza, I told myself.

“Fuck,” I said, as my annoyance bubbled to the surface.

“You can’t be surprised.  I mean, you knew people hated you here.”

“The woman at the coffee place was surprisingly respectful of the idea that I might be in mourning,” I said.

“Being a decent person and hating our guts isn’t mutually exclusive,” Rose said.

“Fuck,” I said again, still annoyed.

“It can’t be that big a deal, compared to what just happened outside.”

“You took a shower just a bit ago,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Sorry to ask, but do you even get dirty, on that side?”

“No,” she said.  “Pretty sure I don’t.  Some dust, but I don’t sweat.”

“I’m guessing you needed to shower to enjoy a mundane comfort,” I said.  “Feel a bit more human.”

“Alright,” Rose said.  “Point taken.  Sorry about your pizza.”

I shrugged.

“I could do with more human comforts myself,” she said.

I nodded, “Something to figure out.  I’ll help any way I can.  But first-”

“Awakening,” Rose said.

I nodded.  “Meet you in the study.”

I took the stairs two at a time.

I’d opened the second secret door on the second floor, which made for a quicker arrival at the lower floor.  The room was far darker without the sunlight from above.

I twisted the knobs of the two lamps that sat on and beside the desk, respectively.  When the room was still too dark around the edges, I lit the oil lamps at the edges.  Each lamp illuminated a slice of the bookcases, cabinets or shelves to either side of them.  Where the lettering on books had been done in foil or a reflective material, the lamplight caught it, highlighting the scripts in a soft orange-yellow, while the books themselves remained dark.

By the time I’d finished, Rose had lit up the room on her side.  The light from behind her made the edges of her clothes and hair glow.

She held a wrought-iron compass, with a spike in one end and chalk embedded in the other.  I watched as she stabbed the floor, then walked in a circle, using the other arm to draw the wide circle in chalk.

She had the curved ruler that she used to measure the distance, then erased a spot.  She was reaching for the compass again when she looked at me.

“Blake?”

“You’re doing the ritual too?”

“If I can,” she said.  “Aren’t you starting?”

“I said there were two things I needed to do first,” I said.

“Phoning the pizza place and…”

I crossed the room, lifting a book free of a shelf, then walked back into Rose’s field of view.

No, Blake.”

I hefted the book.  Diabolatry, R.D.T.  The black cover was surprisingly flexible and soft, the lettering on the spine and cover were done in gold, catching the lamplight.

No,” she said again, as if saying it over and over again with increasing intensity might drive it into my head.

“What was it you said?” I asked.  “Stupid knee-jerk assumptions are going to get us killed?”

“I’m all for stupid knee-jerk assumptions when we’re dealing with that.  Laird said they were the mystical equivalent of nuclear missiles.”

“I’m not proposing we use them.  But I want to know what we’re dealing with.”

“Blake.  You know that moment in the horror movies, where you’re screaming at the actors?  ‘Don’t go up the stairs’, ‘don’t touch the glowing skull’?  Don’t read the book.

I frowned.

“What are you even thinking?”

“That the things outside were horrifying, the faceless woman, the pseudo-faerie we ran into.  So… why are these things so much worse?  What makes them ‘nuclear’?  We’re walking into that meeting, and I can’t help but think that everyone there is going to know exactly what’s going on here, and we’re going to be in the dark.  We can’t afford to look weak or stupid.”

“We are weak and stupid,” Rose said.  “We’re untrained, ignorant, out of the loop, and we don’t have any of the good stuff that practitioners bring to the table.  No tools, no familiars, no demesnes, no tricks or any of that.

“We can’t afford to let on how badly off we are.  Having one tidbit of info we can allude to, to scare the pants off them if we need it-”

“-Is liable to get us killed,” Rose finished for me.  “I get it, wanting to know just what we’re sitting on, but handling the dangerous goods is not the way to find out.”

I hefted the book, feeling its weight.

“Come on,” she said, lowering her voice to be gentler, “I compromised earlier.  Can you do the same?”

“Damn it,” I said.

“Is that a ‘yes’ damn it or a ‘no’ damn it?”

“Yes,” I said.

I moved to put the book on the bookshelf.  A flap of paper caught on the shelf, keeping me from sliding it into place.

When I pulled the book back, the paper dropped.  Fragments of dry wax and a small key danced across the floor.

Folded into thirds, it had been sealed into an envelope of sorts by wax.  The key had apparently been melted into the wax, only to be freed by the impact.

“Leave it,” Rose said.  “Nothing good comes of that.  Sweep it under the desk, ignore it.  Please?”

“I would,” I said, “But wax makes a seal, and that seal just broke.”

“That’s reaching,” Rose said.

“Okay, maybe,” I said.  “But tell me you can’t imagine a drawing of something coming to life and crawling free of that page.”

“Now you’re being manipulative,” Rose said, “Playing to my paranoia.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

Yes, I can imagine it.  Yes, are you happy?”

I wasn’t.  I picked up the page.  On the backside, there were only two words.

My heiress.

I turned it around.

My heiress,

If you’ve come this far, there must be a pressing need.  You’ve been driven into a corner, or the situation is otherwise dire.  I imagine time may well be paramount.  Remember that haste makes waste, and you must step with utmost care from this point on.

I’ve left you something, or perhaps it is more correct to say I’ve left you someone.  I refer to him as Barbatorem, making a small joke, as I tend to do, but he is an older one, bearing some status and a few stories from years past, with no name of any meaning that has survived the passage of time.  You should be able to find those stories and notes on that status in Dark Names, p. 38.

You’ll find him waiting in the tower room, which you will need the key to enter.  Staying outside the circle is first in your list of things to keep in mind, which I list here because there are no better places to put the warning.  I should hope such obvious things don’t need to be stated.

Cast aside all notion of manners.  Do not greet him, do not ever say please or thank him.  Do not ask him if he would or could do something.  Give him no food or succor.  There are older meanings in these things and they will either free him or give him power over you.  Sometimes it is very little power, and sometimes it is all the power he needs to achieve his ends.

Put aside all metal and reflective things before entering the tower room, and ensure the space remains dark.  He exists in a more abstract capacity, whatever physical forms he takes, and if his image is cast in a surface, he will exist in that surface, allowing him to step free of that surface and the confines of the circle.  For these same reasons, do not ever look directly at him, even for a moment, lest he be reflected in your eyes.  Rest assured, he will not ever step free once he dwells there.

He perceives the passage of time differently than we do.  He’ll be content to sit in the circle I drew out until the sun grows cold.  For him, the conversation is ongoing, and you’ll need to see the notes on his page in Dark Names so you can continue from where I, and each member of our line, left off.  Failure to do so may confuse or irritate him.  In any case, you can come and go, and he’ll see no difference in it.  He does not speak, which led me to use the shorthand for gestures you’ll find on the final page of his entry.  Please maintain those notes consistently, for those who come after you.

If you intend to deal with him, use one of the templates outlined in Dark Contracts, which I left to the right of the desk.  Page 15, 17, 29 and 77 are good places to look, if you find yourself in a hurry.  Do not improvise, for words must be chosen with utmost care.  The final third of the book has recommended terminology with examples, which you can insert into the templates as needed.  Do not trust Mr. Beasley or his firm for assistance.  They are, quite naturally, unreliable on this front.

Failing all else, keep your eyes on the painted circle, stay silent, and keep to the contracts found in my books.  You can consult my texts if you have any further questions.  I regret that I am unable to assist you here,

R.D.T.

“What is it?” Rose asked.  “The look on your face scares me.”

The look on my face?  I touched my face.

“You look like someone just died.”

“No,” I said.  “No.”

I moved to put the letter down on the desk, and it slid off.  I picked it up again, tried to put it on the desk, and the corner of the paper caught, bouncing it out of my hand and back onto the floor.

On the third attempt, I turned it over, examining it under the light.  Sky blue ink on white, barely visible, outlining a script that was reminiscent of the rune that Laird had drawn in sugar.

Holding it firmly in both hands, I set it down on the table, pressing it down in place.  It stayed.

A moment later, as I turned to make sure I’d put the book away properly, I generated a brush of air that sent the letter to the floor again.

Once disturbed, apparently, it was insistent on staying disturbed.

Experimentally, I tore it, a little tear to cross the sky blue symbols.  When I put it down this time, it stayed down.

“You’re scaring me, Blake.”

“She left something behind,” I said.

Something?”

“Something Other.  Fitting to her particular specialty.  It’s upstairs.”

No.”  Seeing Rose, I had a sense of how I probably looked.

“I need to check,” I said.

There was no argument this time.  Chances were good she was too stunned to say anything.

The black-painted key in hand, I made my way up the ladder, out the door to the top floor, and then up the staircase to the tower room.

I checked everything, then pulled off my sweatshirt, in case the tab on the zipper counted as reflective.  I swept my hands over my entire body to double-check.

The key clicked in the lock.  I let the door swing open.  When I moved my eyes, I did so with care, keeping to the periphery of the room, then inching closer.

The round window jutted out to my right, with a cushioned bench beneath for sitting on.  Once upon a time, it would have been a good spot for reading.  Now, it was shuttered and locked, with old books stacked on the bench like bricks.  A table sat to my left, stacked with papers that were securely weighed down.

The floor… I saw the circle, painted in white.  ‘Circle’ was perhaps an understatement, given the concentric circles and lines that sprawled across the floor, burdened with embellishment, scripts and geometric shapes, as well as other smaller circles hosting more of the same.

It didn’t take long for my eyes to see it.

A pair of shears, no doubt fallen from the table, impaled a line in the innermost circle of the diagram on the floor.

Nothing stood within.

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190 thoughts on “Bonds 1.6

    1. Wait…
      ARRRRRRRRRGGGGG!!!!!
      How did I not see that?!

      Also, this stuff is reminding me of the Bartimaeus Trilogy (3 books plus a prequel).
      If you haven’t read them, the only way for people to get magic in that verse is to summon and bind demons, who want to kill their summoners so they can get home. Interesting stuff.

      1. I immediately thought of the Bartimaeus Trilogy as well, and while I think that the styles of pact and the Bartimaeus trilogy are extremely different, I also think that anyone who likes the pact setting should try it.

        1. Thanks for name dropping that, hadn’t heard of the series before and read the first book last night. It was quite well written, enjoyed the world building. A very cinematic a book, which, as an exception to the norm, I’m saying as praise.

    2. WHY didn’t he read Dark Names or at least take it with him. Or show Rose the letter. If the Other escaped when Granny died, a few more minutes of double-checking and making sure that things are relatively safe is proooobably okay, or at least, not less okay than things already were!

      1. I believe the major concern here, given the parts about reflections and time, is that Rose may well be the Other in question…

        1. How does the time business fit? Didn’t Rose say she experienced time normally? Hence she’s able to read while Blake’s asleep (since she doesn’t need to)?

      2. Indeed. The letter stressed the importance of knowing the position in the conversation, at least; to go without that knowledge is foolhardy.

        Plausibly the ‘innermost circle’ itself is also an illusion. Rose could plausibly be bound as she is through a contract, unaware of her nature, though. In any case, there’s no way that shears–a reflective object, by the way–would even be there in the first place. Ah, and especially given that the presumably-only key was sealed in the wax, meaning that no one else had opened it… hmm.

        I liked the threshold matter, by the way. Also the info-dump avoidance by having Rose able to give critical information on demand, rather than having to feed all information to readers at once to prevent them being more in the dark than Blake is.

        At this point, my area of greatest curiosity is what a dog(/rat) familiar entails (and the implications for the one in the North). That’s something that one would want to immediately identify as a matter of course… hmm.

        Curious about whether Blake will claim as his Demesne the entire premises around the house, making it safe to go a little way outside (maybe with other added protections as well?) as well as being able to treat the house with all its books as though it were his Demesne without it actually being so (and without anything able to pass through the circle the surrounding presmises formed in any case, though there’s the matter of ‘above’)… incidentally, an issue is the question of why he can’t challenge the ancestors’ in-house Demesnes and undo them in order to claim the area for himself. Ah, and of course there’s also the matter of loading up all the books/demons/etc. and setting up his Demesne somewhere completely different, though there are probably far too many difficults involved to do that.

        Hmm. It feels as though Blake and Rose are both being unreasonable at times, but about different things. The symmetry works, I think.

        In any case,variously enjoying this fiction so far and looking forward to future revelations!
        [demesne]

      3. You know that moment in the horror movies, where you’re screaming at the actors? ‘Don’t go up the stairs’, ‘don’t touch the glowing skull’? Read the book that your grandmother tells you to before entering the chamber with the Other that you know nothing about?

        FFFFF–BLAKE YOU IDIOT. If I didn’t trust in the fact that Wildbow is a good reader, then I would be concerned for Blake dying.

        Unless this is where Wildbow reveals that each arc in this story is written by the next on the list of people to inherit the house and that the interludes will be Molly’s story, written piecemeal since she used the entire 4 months to set up various forms of assistance, back doors, and cheats for each of her relatives.

        1. If Blake is really dumb enough to treat that room as anything other than the live nuke it is, a good writer, IMO, would be totally within his right to kill him off for his stupidity. Of course, Wildbow has pulled off “F*** you I do what I want” twists well before, so I’m leery of trying to predict him.

          Not leery enough to stop, of course. =P

    3. Oldest trick in any prisonbreak, make thae guards think you’ve already escaped and when they open the cell to check, knock them out, steal their uniform and walk out from the front door.

        1. Man, imagine the look on the outside Others’ faces though! “What a moron, he came outside! Maybe he’s given up and is just committing suicide? Hahaha!. Wait. Oh, no. Oh you’ve gotta be — Run for your immortal lives!”

          I’ve been meaning to write a scene somewhat like that for one of my stories (using the loosest possible definition of ‘story’ here). Reads like a classic summoning/undbinding of some eldritch horror, right up until it breaks free and kills everyone present in a horrible way… except for the leader, who blandly remarks that he’ll have to hire new help, and devours the eldritch horror whole.

    1. The black cover was surprisingly flexible and soft, the lettering on the spine and cover were done in gold, catching the lamplight.

      Was left in italics. Was a description, not a thought.

    2. allowing him to step free of that surface and the confines of the circle For these same reasons, do not ever look directly at him, even for a moment, lest he be reflected in your eyes.

      Missing a period.

      Now, it was shuttered and locked, with old books were stacked on the bench like bricks.

      …Something about the ‘were’.

    3. “kneejerk” should have a hyphen. Knee-jerk.
      Also, from “The black cover” and onwards probably shouldn’t be in italics.

    4. They each get to confront you the once –> at once

      Johannes seems to b –> paragraph break, should be connected to last sentence

      it’s a knee-jerk reactions –> ‘a’ has to go

  1. Blake’s idea that going to a council meeting before doing half the necessary reading and prep work is in any way a good idea… remains charmingly naive.

    He’s not wrong that holing up and living on solitude and arcana (with beans and tuna) will do nothing good to him. He just doesn’t seem to have grasped that his other alternatives are so very much worse. It’s not necessarily out of character – young men are not often known for impulse control, even when not as provoked as Blake.

    No longer sure that ‘Molly’ is done with the story.

    Who else do we know in the story who has particular truck with reflections?

    The dog/familiar question remains.

    1. Let me think for a moment: ROSE! Rose walks between reflections.

      Anyway, the sheers (and the innermost circle) are a lie. Molly didn’t get to that point so she obviously didn’t bring the sheers in. Grandmother obviously didn’t bring those metallic sheers in. That leaves the demon.

      Unless of course, Rose is the demon and the sheers were part of releasing/creating Rose.

  2. Blake really should have read what your granny told you to read before dealing with that other. This may be a trick, in which case you’re in trouble, or this may not be a trick, in which case you’re very much in trouble.

  3. Yeah, Blake appears to be a bit too impulsive and overly-reactive to confinement and pressure. I smell a major Charlie Fox coming before Blake learns to control his impulses.

    On the other hand, nice work with figuring out the grounds/house distinction.

    Really nice hope whiplash there – offer a dangerous but quite powerful tool, with example contracts even, and then take it away.

    And commenter ‘notes’ rightly put their finger on something – a being who can exist in reflections has escaped, and then we have Rose. Is this just an example of how Others can have similar powers, or are we looking at a reforged old one here? I suspect Rose is not actually Barbatorem, but there may have been a bargain to the effect that Barbatorem created Rose under specific circumstances, in return for freedom.

  4. Well. . . That took a turn for the worst.

    I can only assume that soonish Blake and Rose will awaken and start doing awesome stuff. . . Like capturing that thing in the tower or using their dual nature for some epic double familiar action.

    Unless Blake inflicts a fate worse than death upon himself next chapter. Looking forward to Tuesday

  5. That moment probably would have been a lot more terrifying if I didn’t keep drawing parallels to Abridged!Alucard. I know Rose is probably a horrific demon, but I just keep imagining her trying to paint a car red with the blood of half a dozen goats. Hey, afterwards they can even ram it into the side of that pizza restaurant: cause fuck those guys.

  6. Interesting to see the North End Sorcerer with a familiar in the shape of a dog.

    Rose is creeping me out here. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea for Blake to turn the mirror and give her greater access to his grandmother’s library.

    If the demon -has- been unleashed, it has probably already left the house. If it hasn’t, the fact that it seems content to leave Blake alone is heartening.

    And…I really don’t like the fact that Molly survived on her own for four months before suddenly panicking and leaving the house’s sanctuary at night. There’s more going on here than we’ve been told.

  7. Well, that’s an ambiguous cliffhanger. I can’t tell if that’s anticlimactic or terrifying. Nothing as in “Well, darn. Now what?” Or nothing as in “A gaping rip in the raw fundament of physical reality.” Or maybe nothing as in “Crap! Babe escaped!”

    Of course, all three present a unique set of problems.

    On the subject of demesnes, looks like a lot of ideas just got jossed. While the idea of all libraries was a smart one, Blake obviously can’t handle challenges for each and every one, especially if they already belong to somebody.

    If the local Others are going to be stirring shit like this indefinitely to boot, Blake is gonna need some better curtains and some ear plugs too. At least until he has the power to scare them off.

    North End Sorceror: Sauron scary or just a misunderstood loner? The sort of person Blake should emulate, or the sort who needs to be put in the ground? Certainly made an impression on Granny, but that she didn’t suggest him as a husband is… Telling. You’d think someone that cold and powerful would be the precise kind of bastard she’d want to bring in. Also, not sure what a set of pipes might symbolize here that makes him so gnarly, but a specialty on the manipulation of space would explain how can so easily expand to such a huge demesnes. Also interesting that while Laird and Blake can’t have a doggy familiar, Jo can. Very interesting.

    Bets on a relationship between Babe and Rose standing at 2:1. Takers?

      1. I would like to point out, that Others can lie, at the cost of a temporary loss in power, its breaking an oath that they can’t manage.

    1. I’m guessing taking a dog as a familiar is similar to taking a ridiculously huge area: useful, but comes with a lot more danger than most can accept. I second the ‘Pied Piper’ notion for the pipes. Picking Jo out as a potential ally, since allying with Laird and his folks would suck and make the book uninteresting. Could also be enemy no. 1, but I hope not.

      I think Barba escaped, though it is puzzling. I also think it’s not actually big deal, since grams mentioned generations had been talking to him, yet she was the one that drew the circle.

      Don’t think Rose is Barba or in any way related, she can interact with any mirrors in an area, doesn’t need to jump from reflection to reflection-she-can-see – if the two were the same, Barba would not be stuck in the circle, could jump to any reflection in the house. Also Rose would be able to manifest, though admittedly she may be feigning ignorance on that point.

  8. Okay so, I just have to say. These people are idiots. And I’m referring explicitly to the others here.

    They have a guy with nuclear weapons available, and they’re pressuring him and doing psychological warfare, trying to kill him and turning EVERYONE in the town against him.

    Do they expect ANY result other than nuclear Armageddon? Because if they do? Morons.

    1. Well, they might (for example) expect him to make a mistake and get eaten by demons, or make a mistake and get in a position to be eaten by them, just like what happened to the last one.

      In this scenario, the nukes are pretty clearly hard to use or canceled out somehow by the other powers, since Molly does not appear to have turned the town into a smoking crater in the four months as an active practicioner before her death.

    2. They don’t really think like humans. I think they WANT him to start throwing around magic nukes, because it would be entertaining.

    3. These guys were clearly Others as opposed to human practitioners ( I believe there’s a difference between the two, yes?). THey probably don’t care a damn.

    4. As has already been said, I’m not sure they care. Others might not be affected by the nukes, as from Laird’s words, they’re pretty much immortal and have fun messing with humans.

      1. We know that the Others are in it for entertainment because they live a long time and are bored – at least that’s what Granny (right?) said.

        Do we know Molly ever awakened? I don’t recall any evidence of that. Did she even find the library? Even if she did, she was pretty darn clear about not wanting anything to do with it, and she was by herself; I could see her deciding to ignore the whole thing and pretend it would go away.

    5. The Others are according to Laird, very long lived mortals who get just as bored as everyone else.

      So basically, they’re bored and Armageddon is interesting. It’s like a whole race of Jacks.

  9. Dun dun dun!

    Either Barbatorem is fucking with Blake, hoping for the newbie to make a mistake or he did indeed escape ( possibly with some outside sabotage). The reflection thing linking him with Rose is undoubtedly significant but I am cautiously willing to say that it’s a red herring.

    I guess the North End Sorcerer is the guy with the talking dog that woke up Blake and told him to remember the visions.

    Also the pizza scene, was gut churning. Kudos to you, wildbow!

    1. Its outright confirmed. The dog did call the guy Johannes.

      Also, we need Dresdenverse refs. Zombie T. Rexes are the only familiar one needs.

  10. From the name and the specificity about how it can’t really communicate in words, I’d guess that the demon IS the shears. Either that’s the only way you can perceive it, or that’s one of the shapes it can take. Others are weird but based on humans in some way, but everyone’s scared of demons because they’re pure symbolism.

    1. This is so clever that, in my mind, it’s completely beaten the theory of the shears just being a trick to make him think that the Other had escaped. Kudos to you, am convinced.

    2. Wait, no. I actually… find myself disagreeing upon re-reading. The way it’s written is that the shears have “impaled a line in the innermost circle of the diagram on the floor.” – shouldn’t that be impossible if it IS the demon-thing?

      1. Probably depends on whether the context of magic bindings in this world is “this super elaborate set of circles is totally broken if even one line goes askew” or “you use that many circles precisely BECAUSE accidents happen and because the inmate will slowly worry away at them, so redundancy is important.”

        Of course in the case of redundant circles, there’s also space for, “Yes. The shears. I am very embarrassed about that. It was almost a catastrophe, but fortunately when they fell in it only severed the inner ring. That was sixty years ago… the only safe way to get them out and repair the circle would be to banish the inmate.”

      2. Pft. That innermost circle would be an illusion as well in this scenario. I do like the idea of the Other literally being the shears, though.

  11. Typo thread!

    “Staying outside the circle is first in your list of things to avoid,”

    This either needs to be “Straying inside the circle….avoid” or “staying outside…ensure”. As written it’s a commandment to enter the circle.

    ““I say it isn’t haunted, but it’s owned you fucks, isn’t it?“”

    I think this is supposed to be “owned by you fucks.” Did not compute on first read.

    Also, um, given the name, I’m thinking Barbatorem is the shears. You know, like a barber’s shears? She did say the name was a joke. I still agree with the idea of the relationship between Rose and Barbie, probably that Barbie was used to help make Rose, but given Padraic’s recognition of Rose as a Rose it seems unlikely that she’d actually be Barbie.

    1. More typos:
      – “They each get to confront you the once” -> ‘at once’? ‘one by one’?
      – “If anything’s going to get us killed, it’s a knee jerk reactions” -> remove the ‘a’ before ‘knee jerk reactions’
      – “When I looked at Rose, she was frowning, eyebrows knit. tapping her hand on some surface in front of her.” -> ‘eyebrows knit, tapping’
      – ‘”No tools, no familiars, no demesnes, no tricks or any of that.’ -> Rose’s line has no closing quotation mark.
      – “and the confines of the circle For” -> Missing period.
      – “The round window jutted out to my right, with a cushioned bench beneath for sitting on. Once upon a time, it would have been a good spot for reading. Now, it was shuttered and locked, with old books were stacked on the bench like bricks.” -> 1) ‘with old books were stacked’; 2) two ‘it’ without clear referents, i.e. ‘it’ could refer to the window, or the bench, or the room, which makes the quoted passage hard to parse.

      Possible errors:
      – “When it looked like they might collide, the ‘boy’ hopped up onto the short stone wall. His hand around the man’s wrist.” -> The second sentence may be missing a verb.
      – “as it was wrenched down with a sudden weight of the not-little-girl” -> ‘the sudden weight’
      – “She held the cigarette aloft, poised as if she might take a puff at any moment, while her other hand pulled free, then plunged into his chest cavity. The muffled grunts and violent jerks he made in response were worse than the screams.” -> ‘she’ and ‘he’ may have wrong referents since the paragraphs above involved Blake and Rose, not the Other and her victim.; ‘plunged’ -> ‘plunged it’? And if so, does she plunge her free hand or her cigarette into his chest cavity?
      – “His dislocated jaw hung down his teeth a bloody ruin.” -> Missing comma after ‘down’?
      – “Thank you, by the way, if I haven’t already said.” -> ‘said it’?
      – “You’ll find him waiting in the tower room, which you will need the key to enter.” -> ‘which you will need to’ = strange phrasing

      1. “They each get to confront you the once” is an English phrase. Not a typo.

        In the bench/window scene, the both instances of “it” refer to the entirety of the previous description, and is not a typo.

        The scene with the cigarette-smoking woman makes grammatical sense and while it has potential for unclarity, it is easy enough to parse.

        The “Thank you, by the way” line is correct in its entirety.

        Some dialects of English have different patterns. These are all examples of where a dialect that a character possesses influences their and the narrator’s voices.

    2. ““I say it isn’t haunted, but it’s owned you fucks, isn’t it?“”

      I dunno, it could also be a bit of black humor, implying that the house seems to own them more than the other way around, and Blake and family are haunting it.

      I admit it is easier to read if you change it to owned BY you fucks however.

  12. Honestly, all these weird rules are doing for me is calling to mind a strange, arcane game of tag. I await the coming of the Lava Demon, who will force Blake to jump from couch to couch and railing to railing!

  13. Oh ho, barbatorem roughly translates as beard and is the root of barber. The shears being Barbie’s home theory is definitely a strong one. Rose, a punist. Almost as bad as a mime.

  14. Well, the letter says Barbatorem can step free of the circle via reflective surfaces, but that he won’t leave that reflective surface if it’s Blake’s eyes. It doesn’t say anything about the consequences of having a demon in your eyes. Maybe Blake could make it work?
    I’m being way optimistic here, I’m guessing.

  15. Lots of great lines in this chapter, though I’m not happy about Blake’s impulsiveness. It’s going to get him killed or worse, and deservedly so.
    And I agree that the magic circle isn’t broken; it’s just one more trick by an Other.

    Favorite lines:
    – “My body’s always the same. Stable, steady, there, but not doing anything except… I dunno. Maintaining appearances?”
    – “Each of the three things requires the two others.” -> Munchkinism! Especially when we hear about Johannes’ demesne later :).
    – “Magical trust fund kids”
    – “My concern was no longer that I’d killed the man. My concern was that he might live.”
    – “The irony being this house was maybe the least haunted locale in Jacob’s Bell.”
    – “Being a decent person and hating our guts isn’t mutually exclusive”
    – “I’m all for stupid kneejerk assumptions when we’re dealing with that. Laird said they were the mystical equivalent of nuclear missiles.”
    – “Do not trust Mr. Beasley or his firm for assistance. They are, quite naturally, unreliable on this front.” -> Devil lawyers?^^
    – “Seeing Rose, I had a sense of how I probably looked.”

    1. “Do not trust Mr. Beasley or his firm for assistance. They are, quite naturally, unreliable on this front.” -> Devil lawyers?^^<<

      I am sure you meant devil ADVOCATES.

      Yes, that was pretty bad.

  16. Blake noooooo. Why would you not at least browse through the stuff your grandmother specifically told you to read before you went anywhere near the thing? If it’s there it’ll still be there in half an hour’s time, if it’s gone it’s not going to get any MORE gone.

    And the first section of this with the pizza delivery guy and the others was… very well done. I shouldn’t have read this just before bedtime.

  17. Well, that’s going to be quite a bit of a problem.

    Also, you totally ruined my appetite for pizza. Thank you, really.

  18. Here’s hoping for that Blake’ll become a major badass in the arcane. There’s just something oh so satisfying about watching the other characters freak out about how powerful the MC is (even if it usually a ruse).

  19. Wildbow, I’m getting the feeling you like putting your characters against impossible odds. As I understand it, Blake currently is about to be an almost human being who cannot lie and cannot gain any of the main powers available to him. Meanwhile, the entire town despises him for having a power of metaphorical nuclear proportions, while he does not, according to his current understanding, have it. In other words, in order to not die, he will have to be almost as badass as, well… you know who.

    Also, if Barbie is making himself look like a pair of shears or is a pair of shears in his natural state, if Blake looks to closely at what he thinks are an ordinary pair of shears, he will find himself mind controlled. That would be more deceptive and dangerous than just making the illusion of some shears, and because Wildbow always seems to go with the deadlier of two evils, I’m betting the shears themselves are Barbie.

    1. Clarification: Most of the town (including the actual pizza shop owner) hates Blake and his family because they’re holding up development of the town by being unwilling to sell the house. WE know they have an exceptionally good reason for not selling, but that’s hella hard to explain to the mundanes…

  20. Predicting Wildbow is an exercise in frustration, as I have already learned, but there is some fun to be had thinking about things. So, the whole Barbatorem situation has many possible interpretations (many of these overlap, just trying to put together ideas):

    Possibility: Blake just gained a pair of demon-possessed eyeballs, because he was stupid enough to look into the circle when the instructions pretty clearly indicated that Barbatorem could have more than one form (and the name Barbatorem could indicate shears). Analysis: Immediately jumping into one of the biggest possible f***-ups is possible, but seems a bit over the top right now (narrative argument). The actual text evidence is consistent with this. We shall (perhaps) see. The only possible advantage of this is that weaker Others and practitioners would be scared away … but the stronger ones would be desperate for control.

    Possibility: Blake’s status as an unawakened means he can’t even see Barbatorem. No image = no reflection. Analysis: If so, he avoided possessed eyeballs, but he still apparently has fewer protections than an uninitiated human, so that “immunity” is temporary because if he stays in the room he will screw up in one or more of the many other ways that are possible when dealing with Barbatorem.

    Possibility: Barbatorem is free. Analysis: The known evidence works for this, but who could possibly get into that tower and break the circle from the inside? Molly comes to mind, but she would have had to be desperate. Then again, something panicked her enough to leave the house. But in that case, Molly wouldn’t have neatly packed the letter, key, and (broken) seal back up into the book, and, according to RDT, the lawyer couldn’t be trusted to do this either.

    Possibility: Barbatorem is free. The shears are an insult by whoever freed him, i.e. a multiply-forbidden object that is also a pun on the situation. Analysis: See above about who could have done it and cleaned up. Finding there is someone willing and able to release a demon is a way to heighten tension, but it seems to be too much of an escalation.

    Possibility: Barbatorem is the shears (thanks, other commenters). See demon-possessed eyeballs.

    Possibility: Barbatorem is deceased or otherwise effectively banished. Analysis: No. A major demon just gone? No.

    Possibility: Barbatorem was released by bargain in order to create Rose. Analysis: The evidence is contradictory. It appears that RDT set up Rose as a cheat for the “only females” necessity (no one else would have bothered and the paperwork was in place). But RDT did not update her notes on Barbatorem to match. So, Barbatorem may have been used to create Rose but it does not appear that the release (if it happened) was the grandmother’s doing.

    Other possibilities exist of course.

    1. “But in that case, Molly wouldn’t have neatly packed the letter, key, and (broken) seal back up into the book …”

      It’s a creepy magic letter that just jumped out of the book. It’s plausible that it packed itself up when Molly died, to wait for the next heir to read the book.

    2. RDT said the lawyers couldn’t be trusted to help in wording deals with Barb, but it is possible that cleaning up that wax-sealed key is part of their deal with RDT to prepare for new heirs.

    3. This post is really interesting.

      I do disagree with your final analysis, though, as I believe that Rose was creation is related somehow to the demon’s release (assuming that it was released, of course). The reasoning gets stretchy, so prepare yourself.

      First off, when was Rose jr. created? It’s implied that she was created after Molly died. Not immediately after she died, but some time after; when the lawyer was at the house. This implies two things: that Rose’s creation wasn’t magically linked to Molly’s death and that the lawyer did something to bring her into being.

      Secondly, when was Blake added to the list of inheritees? It’s stated, in the first chapter, that Rose sr. only chose the heiress after meeting all of them on her death-bed. It’s also implied in that chapter that Blake was added due to his ‘with all due respect’ comment. On top of that is the fact that all the letters were addressed to the ‘heiress’, or something similar, with no allowance for the inheritee to be male. All this led me to believe that Blake was added while Rose sr. was on her death bed or afterwards, which would then lead me to question if she would be able to do the, assumedly, difficult ritual that created Rose jr.

      Thirdly, what are Rose’s powers? She can jump from reflection to reflection, but only near Blake or in the house. This is similar to one of the Demon’s powers, the major differences being that it can only jump to reflections it’s reflected in and that it can leave the reflections. If I were to assume that Rose IS the Demon, I wouldn’t be able to explain the first change in powers. However, the inability to leave the reflection can be explained by the demon having sworn an oath not to leave the mirror. This would match up with how drained she gets when she tries to leave. I admit it’s a bit of a stretch.

      Fourthly, what do we know of the Demon? We know three things, beside its powers; it has been with the family for generations, the lawyer is not to be trusted in dealings with it and it is unbelievable. The first thing could be the reason behind only females becoming heirs; perhaps when the Demon was captured first, it swore to protect the male heir or something similar and it is weakened until it does so. The second makes me very suspicious of the fact that the lawyer was there when Rose ‘woke up’. The third could explain why, if it is Rose, she can lie as the demon could predate the agreements made.

      In conclusion, putting all these assumptions and deductions, together with the assumption that the Demon has been released, I have three possibilities as to how it happened:

      1) Rose sr. wanted to put Blake on the list of people who would inherit the house. She asked Mr. Beasley if there was a loophole she could exploit to put him on it. Mr. Beasley says yes, but neglects to mention that that mean releasing the Demon. When he finds out Molly has died, he goes to the house, releases Barbatorem and creates Rose jr.

      2) Same as above, but Barbatorem becomes Rose jr after swearing to not leave the mirror until a certain time and to adopt the memories of a female Blake.

      3) Molly asks Mr. Beasley what powers she has and she finds out she has the power to change the order of who gets the house and adds Blake to the list. What she didn’t know was that Barbatorem was only trapped/weakened as long as there wasn’t a male heir. When she dies, Mr. Beasley goes to the house and legally puts it to Blake’s name. Barbatorem is released and becomes Rose jr. (Yeah, I know it’s a big stretch)

      tl;dr: If the demon’s gone, it’s because of the lawyer.

  21. I’m less convinced after this chapter. Blake is behaving in a startlingly non-genre savvy way for Wildbow which is making me wonder if he’s not the real protagonist at all, but an early chapters proxy. The sheer complexity of the arcana is problematic because any such system tend towards a lack of internal consistency, which contextually is problematic to say the least.

    I think that it’s obvious that Rose is not on his side, too convenient and too seemingly helpful to narratively fit the crapsack universe that we seem to have. She was clearly trying to get out of the house again. I need to check that she hasn’t done anything that implies she can look out of Blake’s eyes.

    I wonder if we’re going to see Barbie as the protagonist in the end?

  22. Blake, I hope your dumb ass dies. It’s 2013. It doesn’t matter what genre of story is being written; a youth in 2013 will be genre-savvy if it’s anything other than a romcom, though they might end up being wrong-genre-savvy. Blake, however, has no excuse because the Harry Potter books have been out for years, and even if he’s never read them, he’s heard of them.

    Repeat after me: THE ELDER DEMON WILL EAT MY FACE IF I DO SOMETHING STUPID AND I AM PRONE TO STUPID SO I NEED TO AVOID THE ELDER DEMON UNTIL I GET MY HEAD SORTED OUT.

    I sympathize with Rose more than Blake. I really hope there are other Awakened who refuse to deal with Blake for being an idiot, but are happy to deal with Rose for being as she is.

  23. As others have said: the shears make no sense as an accident. Maybe barbie was intentionally freed by Rose original or Molly. Most likely an illusion.

    Rose exists in reflected surfaces. Is Rose a diabolic other (possibly barbie working a deal for original rose)? If so does she know it? Maybe this is why she’s so set on no diabolic research. The witch hunter thing is kinda strange. I agree its worth researching, but she seems unusually set on it. Plausibly just a ‘human’ nature though.

    Here’s a short plan to solve the chicken and egg problem he has.

    Negotiate a contingent familiarship with a powerful Other. The familiar status would be contingent upon Blake successfully creating a powerful demesne.
    Create the most powerful Demesne he can. Fill the whole property or more.
    Defend against all challenges with the (possibly dead man switched / provably out of his control) threat of nukes. Remember his back is against the wall – death apparently guaranteed. I think he could be fairly convincingly desperate on that front. Tell me again why the others want to terrify and psychologically torment the guy with the nukes?
    use the powerful familiar and demesne to create a powerful tool.

    The first one could be delayed if he can’t succeed at such negotiation before owning a Demesne.

  24. Okay, finally caught up! Hello Wildbow, hello everyone! Started reading Worm in December, after being referred by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Looking forward to see where you will be going with Pact, Wildbow!

    Since Barbie doesn’t have a strong sense of time or people, based on Granny’s letter, it can’t really plan on surprising “the newbie” as some has speculated, can it? From it’s perspective it probably wouldn’t know that there is a new heir (a Rose is a Rose is a Rose). Of course, this kind of trickery could just be a common thing. Maybe Molly let it out? But then she would have to have put the letter and the key back in place before she died, and that seems unlikely.

    Blake is so insanely reckless, something HAS to go wrong. I almost think that this is just a prelude, and Blake will be making a small misstep that will shape the rest of the story (such as giving Barbie access to his eyes reflection). I am pretty much just waiting for that one fatal mistake, now. Taylor had a plausible reason (in hindsight) for making it through the worst possible situations and pulling off insane plans. I hope Blake doesn’t make it through the same impossible situations without a plausible in-universe reason, as it would detract from the story for me (plot-armor). His luck has to run out sometime (unless, of course, Rose is magically enchanting him with super-luck, or something).

    It’s interesting how the Blake-Rose dynamic is evolving. Feels like they are taking on a Warrior-Scholar relationship.

    TYPO:

    “Diabolatry, R.D.T. The black cover was surprisingly flexible and soft, the lettering on the spine and cover were done in gold, catching the lamplight.”
    ^ all of it is in italics.

    1. I agree with the “can’t plan on tricking the newbie” part, however if symbolism and appearances are how he communicates, a sliced line would pretty clearly mean “LET ME OUT ALREADY”
      In which case all ‘Barbie is the shears’ theories are valid

  25. Blake hasn’t thrown all caution to the wind, given his care with clothes before entering. My bet is that shears equal demon barber, one way or another, and that Blake hasn’t looked directly at them. He’s already cottoned onto one round of trickery, I expect him to survive this round with only modestly horrifying missteps.

    On the other hand, if Rose equals Barbatorem equals shears, perhaps Blake will be possessed by Rose, a.k.a. grandma’s plan this whole time.

      1. I am wondering if his cousin actually died, or she got scared and tried to opt out and run.
        Rose told him she was dead, but she has lied intentionally already just to show she could. I don’t remember anyone saying the body found WAS his cousins, only that they think it is her and that she is missing.
        Nobody has pestered him about coming to the funeral, and I have a hard time believing his family wouldn’t take every opportunity to harass him over things like that.

        1. “I am wondering if his cousin actually died, or she got scared and tried to opt out and run.”

          Emphasis mine.

          Given the sheer number of Others surrounding the house in this chapter, I would be very surprised if she got further than the front gate, let alone to a position where she could fake her death in a manner that would allow her to opt out and remain alive.

          1. Oh, I don’t think she made it, just that she may have tried.
            With so many other factions after the house and what it represents, its not such a stretch that one of them might have grabbed her to question, and left a corpse made to look like her so nobody will be coming to her aid.
            The body was identified by the RCMP officer, not the sheriff. In fact, the sheriff seems to go to some lengths to not identify who the body is.

  26. Man, I love fading web serials. It’s like your favorite TV show, but twice a week and way more than 26 episodes.

    Loving the way this is going. I do worry that Blake is a bit too impulsive. He’s not really acting rationally and I think that will turn out poorly for him.

  27. I am quite certain that the shears are Barbatolem, based partially on the fact that “barba atolem” roughly translates as “beard related entity” in Latin. At this point, the major question up for debate is whether Blake believes that the shears are Barbatolem. The final phrase “nothing stood within” seems intentionally vague, and could indicate any number of things. The most glaring assumption is that it is referring to within the circle, however you never know what Wildbow is going to pull. Assuming that the phrase means “nothing stood within the circle,” it appears to indicate that not only does Blake not think the shears are alive, but that he hasn’t even considered this idea. Alternatively, we can argue the meaning of the word “stood” and claim that shears don’t “stand”, they rest, or they sit, or whatever. A shadow of doubt is cast on this theory by the reference to the shears being “impaled” in the floor, which could be referred to as “standing upright” on the floor.

  28. Gaah, this makes me eat my fingers.

    Don’t walk into the fricking reactor room without reading about nuclear power, dooon’t.

  29. I’ve read most of the comments now and am surprised that I seem to be the only one coming to these conclusions.

    First, Barbatorem is, as the note says, one of the old ones. I believe it was stated earlier that most of the Others today were of the verbal tactician variety since all of the brutes had been hunted down or tricked away. What if Barbatorem was one of the brutes who had been sealed away long ago. Tricked into his imprisonment. When I read his name, Barbatorem, the first thing that comes to mind is Barbarian. Point is, I don’t think that this is a trick.

    Second, Rose and Barbatorem both being tied to reflections certainly seems like quite the coincidence. It is possible there is a connection there, but, I’m leaning in a different direction. It seems to me that this is a tool used by the author. This prevents Rose, (easily the smarter of the two MCs), from sitting in on any meeting with Barbatorem. It’s a way to build the atmosphere for those meetings. Blake won’t have Rose to bail him out if a meeting goes awry like it did with Padraic.

    Thoughts?

    1. Sorry to break your illusions,but old does not equal stupid,it equals even smarter.The brutes died due to natural selection,which would mean only the smart ancients survive.The older you are,the more threats you have faced,the smarter you are.

      Of course,he could be a stupid demon trapped there since ancient times,ones of the caught variety,but unlikely,given the fact the house is not dated fromm B.C.

  30. Its almost a given the shears are Barbie’s home/prison.

    My question is… What on earth does Blake intend to DO? No mention is made of him reading the how-to book despite pretty firm cautions to do so. He doesn’t know to communicate with the demon, so things are gonna be pretty awkward. Especially since he hasn’t awakened yet.

    I know, I know, I said Blake was acting too genre savy earlier, and that he was acting a bit too calmly under pressure. But now he really is giving into suicidal panic here. Everybody is calling him out on this. You test our faith Wildbow. I hope its worth it.

    As for Barbie him/her/itself… Ready made familiar and implement right there. That uh… That could be pretty scary. Go for it.

  31. The key was sealed in wax, and was knocked free by the impact, so it seems reasonably safe to assume that Blake is the first one in the room since his grandmother. There are many ways to fake that detail if someone wanted to, but that seems like a stretch.

    The shears — between the name of the demon (latin for barber?), the fact that he resides in reflective surfaces, the fact that he may be able to change shape (“he exists in a more abstract capacity, whatever physical form he takes”), and the fact that there shouldn’t have been any shears in the room in the first place, all add up to him either being the shears or being in the shears.

    Which is bad news for Blake, since he looked directly at the shears. Then again, the grandmother said to keep his eyes on the painted circle, so if looking at the shears embedded in the painted circle were enough to screw him, that would be pretty bad advice. So maybe there’s a subtlety.

    (Also, can Rose exist in the shears? Maybe she existed in the shears, then Barbatorem existed in her eyes, and now she’s possessed? That seems like a mechanical stretch, and something the grandmother would have thought of when making Rose.)

    I don’t think there’s enough information yet to gauge whether the fact that both Rose and Barbatorem exist in reflections means they’re related. Reflections may just be a recurring theme, or it may be a plot device to keep Rose out of the room when Blake talks to the demon. (Also, it seems relevant that the demon can be reflected in Blake’s eyes, yet Rose has never mentioned this.)

    Even if Rose is a possibly-malicious outsider, her actions so far suggest that her goals roughly align with Blake’s. She probably wants him alive, based on her actions (she’s had lots of opportunities to try and get him killed in deniable ways), which already makes her one of his best friends.

    Rose’s unusually strong desire that Blake become a witch hunter might be part of her personality, or might hint at deeper motives. Maybe she wants him alive but weak? That would also mesh with trying to steer him away from demons. And if he gets too strong she’ll try to kill him and see if she can convince the next one in line to stay weak? Of course, the simplest answer is just that she’s scared of demons and looking for loopholes in the situation they’ve found themselves in.

    Narratively, it seems way too early in the story to seriously screw Blake over, so I would guess that he either:
    * He comes out of this fine, partially by luck.
    * He comes out of this with a metaphorical rap-on-the-knuckles to teach him to be careful.
    * He comes out of this with serious problems (e.g. a demon in his eyes) that can be turned into advantages with careful planning.

    I think it’s very odd that Blake went straight to this room to check, without making any preparations. This is doubly-true since he was so unwilling to go outside the house where the Others were earlier. Either this is a personality flaw (quite possible), an uncharacteristic mistake that he’s going to get smacked down for so that he doesn’t act that way in the future (moderately possible), or he made the connection between Barbatorem and Rose both existing in reflections and wants to make sure they aren’t the same person without telling Rose/Barbatorem his concerns or waiting for her to plot something.

  32. On a different topic than the thrust of the comments:

    Blake and Rose are looking for a way to cheat, to get around the chicken-and-egg problem of demesnes/familiar/implement.

    It occurs to me that, while not 100% ideal, they have the advantage that they can claim two of each. Which means they can scale up each time, a lot higher than they’d be able to otherwise. It does still leave one of them getting the short end of the stick, but the other one becomes substantially stronger.

    1. In particular it occurs to me that people may find it difficult to challenge Rose. She can claim that entire dark space as her demesne. Then she can make a super charged implement. Then she can get a extra badass familiar. Then Blake can magically trust fund his way through all this crap.

      1. Doesn’t she have to leave her demesnes to defend it?

        I don’t think she can step outside her demesnes. That’s not certain though. Not by a long shot.

        See here:

        “Johannes has made his second appearance at council meetings, February sixth, year two thousand and ten. Occasion to expand my notes. Arrogant, and justified in it. Enigmatic. He spends almost all of his time within his demesne, stepping outside only to defend his claim and attend occasional meetings. This makes gathering information hard. Favors manipulation of space.”

        That doesn’t mean Rose’s demesnes couldn’t be useful. She might not have to defend her demesne if it’s within an existing demesne.

        Perhaps Johannes is actually someone else’s equivalent to Rose, in a different reality, and he claimed this huge area while his mirror was within the demesne of his Blake counterpart?

        Perhaps awakening allows him to interact with people?

        The whole “No people” on Rose’s side of the mirror thing makes this a long shot, but we don’t know why there are no people on Rose’s side. We’re really not 100% sure that is the case. Maybe she’s in a coma.

        Heh, can’t want for the next chapter.

        1. Well, she could claim “everywhere on this side of the mirror except the hall closet”. But:

          1)My guess is that leaving his territory to defend it is a tactical choice rather than a necessity. e.g. “Oh look, someone’s setting up an trebuchet on the far hill and all I have are melee weapons. Guess I’d better run over there before they finish.”

          2)Some Others can enter the mirror-realm–e.g. Padraic. So while she could almost certainly claim a much bigger area than she might be able to otherwise, there are still limits.

          3)Assuming that the “can’t enter the house” thing works against challengers, the ideal solution would be to put a large, convex mirror at the top of the house, and claim that as her demesnes. It would reflect a huge area yet only be physically tiny and inaccessible. …Though it might be hard to acquire such a thing. Maybe a disco ball?

          4)There’s no telling whether the other side actually collects mana or not.

          5)If it doesn’t, but desmesneses are defined by language (as others have suggested the North End Sorcerer might have done), she could potentially pull something like “everything reflected by this mirror,” defend it in a tiny room, and then move it to the top of the house/a larger room/etc. Though this would beg the question of why other people haven’t tried it.

          1. To one-up your disco ball mirror munchkinism: If Rose and Blake could somehow access the genuinely big mirrors, there are some interesting options.
            Like this: http://gizmodo.com/5929711/the-largest-mirror-in-the-world-is-also-one-of-the-most-beautiful-places-on-earth or this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2309334/Worlds-largest-telescope-gets-ahead-look-13-BILLION-light-years-away.html

            That said, I think Rose’s ability is limited to areas reflected in the mirror, so if there’s insufficient light to illuminate the mirror, it doesn’t grant her, say, a demesne covering a significant portion of the visible universe.
            And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Rose isn’t immune to Others.

  33. Alright finally.
    I’m on board.
    Took till this chapter but fine I’m sold I like the story. It’s different from worm and that’s good (I loved worm but you said you wanted to branch out)

    I am thoroughly sick of the info dumps, even though they’re plot justified they’re very dull to read, but I sincerely hope they will taper off as the story progresses. Which means rose will have to expand out of her current plot-dump-device role, but that will only be a good thing.

  34. “For him, the conversation is ongoing, and you’ll need to see the notes on his page in Dark Names so you can continue from where I, and each member of our line, left off. Failure to do so may confuse or irritate him. In any case, you can come and go, and he’ll see no difference in it. He does not speak, which led me to use the shorthand for gestures you’ll find on the final page of his entry. Please maintain those notes consistently, for those who come after you.”

    Blake, Blake, Blake. You are going to face a Demon, after being given instructions like that, and you are not following the instructions.

    I detect a great deal of pain and supernatural debt in the near future.

  35. After re-reading the dream sequences in 1-1, I can’t help but feel that Johannes is either a demon, or intentionally let himself be possessed by one. If Barbatorem perceives time differently, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume other Others might view space differently; this would help explain why the scene with Johannes was the one that seemed the most ‘off’ to Blake.

    Having just finished re-reading Worm, this time reading most of the comments, I am sure that my prediction is going to be something to look back and laugh about, but I think I’ll go on record predicting that good old grannie’s plan in making mirror Rose is a way to let Blake be possessed by Barbatorem while still being in control (I mean, she tells him to look exactly where he seems to be).

  36. Great stuff so far, loving the occult horror angle, and Dammit Blake! Don’t look directly into the circle! You were just told this.

  37. Commenter Ray on the previous chapter came up with an interesting loophole:

    “can Blake and Rose have separate familiars and tools …”

    I extend that to demesnes. So, there is the possibility of a six-step power ladder instead of a three-step power ladder, leading to higher potential in the top brackets. One creates a weak tool (for example) which the other uses to create a slightly stronger familiar, which the other uses to create a moderate demesne, which the other uses to create a strong tool, which the other uses to create a powerful familiar, which the other uses to create a massive demesne.

    We know how Johannes manages to hold onto a massive demesne (vassalage, basically), but how did he create one without local powers being invited to test it? This is a bit of a stretch: Perhaps he is only obliged to announce challenge to anyone who can actually get to the property? He can affect space, so maybe he scrounged up enough power to warp space so that the property was temporarily out of touch with the world and claimed his demesne from the few powers that could access it while it was out of contact. This would drop the number of challengers down to something reasonable, at the expense of making sure the rest of the challengers were either quite powerful or specialized against his abilities (or both).

    1. I was thinking Johannes did something similar to what you suggest, though perhaps not quite in the same manner. The others (and by extension, the practitioners) seem to focus on wording, rather than intent. Perhaps Johannes claimed a tiny area at first, being careful to define his demesnes by landmarks at its boundaries. If he chose an unassuming area, he might not have had to face any significant challengers. Once he grew his power, he could presumably use his spatial abilities to relocate the landmarks, while never ‘changing’ his demesnes (thus not inviting new challengers). By the time anyone realized what he had done, he would already have drawn enough power, and gathered enough vassals, to be set in place.

    2. I was thinking Johannes did something similar to what you suggest, though perhaps not quite in the same manner. The others (and by extension, the practitioners) seem to focus on wording, rather than intent. Perhaps Johannes claimed a tiny area at first, being careful to define his demesnes by landmarks at its boundaries. If he chose an unassuming area, he might not have had to face any significant challengers. Once he grew his power, he could presumably use his spatial abilities to relocate the landmarks, while never ‘changing’ his demesnes (thus not inviting new challengers). By the time anyone realized what he had done, he would already have drawn enough power, and gathered enough vassals, to be set in place.

      1. Seems likely he could do so to claim a large space, but to claim a large well of power? I dunno, seems pretty inconsistent in some ways.

  38. Another interesting thought – Rose was probably repurposed rather than created from nothing. So, what was she repurposed (reforged) from? With Molly dead, her spirit is handy … which keeps outside hands off of a Thorburn, at least for one more cycle.

    Or maybe that’s one of the points: it is easier to have some legitimate claim when taking over property. So maybe RDT set it up so that when Molly died no-one could get their hands on Molly’s spirit so as to limit the authority of counter-claims as much as possible.

    Maybe Blake could make a deal – on the condition of my death, you get my body and/or spirit until the last heir is dead or the property claim is established solidly by someone. In return, you agree to non-aggression with all members of RDT’s line and give me some power/advice here and now to set up a decent tool/familiar/demesne. … and I am already thinking of ways that could go bad, but it is still an idea.

  39. My two cents. I would like to point out that the North End Sorcerer is currently the closest thing Blake has to an ally. First, he has offered his help to Blake. Secondly, have only Lairds implication that he is an enemy. With him being a newcomer there wouldn’t be generations old blood feuds or whatever the Family has done to get so many enemies…

  40. Are Others allowed to lie? Because, if the people theorizing that Rose is the Other are right, then she’s done an awful lot of lying….

    1. No, Others don’t tell direct lies, nor Awakened magic-wielders. I personally believe Rose was created as part of a pact with an Other, so she’s not ‘human’ as we think of human. She’s a reflection of Blake, in more ways than one? A mirror implement could be powerful…

  41. I am trying to remember back to each occurrence of emotion, and Rose and Blake have opposite reactions.

    In the beginning when she tells him about Molly’s death, she panics and he’s calm

    When ambushed by the birdmanthings she’s panicked and he’s calm

    Coming back from Laird’s little trap, he’s panicked and she’s calm

    Coming while watching the pizza guy, she’s panicked and he’s calm

    While discussing the greater demon, she’s cautious and he’s not.

    She lives in a mirror.

    They very rarely ever agree on anything, unless there is no emotion involved.

    I think Rose is more tightly linked to Blake than I originally thought.

    Can anyone think of an example of both of them having the same emotional reaction to something?

    I’m wondering – after Blake is awakened, is he going to find that Rose is already his familiar, that good old grandma set him up with a step up just like he and Rose were thinking other families might do?

    1. A very interesting point. I had commented on Rose’s inconsistent behavior but without realizing there might be a good reason for it. So, running with your good idea …

      Someone set Rose up to be an opposite in gender … was it an accident that it seemed to produce other mirror/opposite effects, or was it deliberate? If the panic/calm, thinking/blanked out dichotomy holds, that is actually a powerful effect, because it guarantees one of the parties will be relatively sane in a crisis.

      Then there has to be a serious downside to Rose’s existence (probably more than one). Otherwise having a second mind / pair of eyes that doesn’t sleep, can study, and stays calm if you panic sounds too much like an advantage and every practitioner that had the power would do something similar. Maybe the downside is the power it takes to forge such a being, i.e. the requirements are too high for most. Maybe she is his opposite because her existence was forged from him and he lost something. So he awakens and finds he has about half the base power that he should, or something similar.

      I don’t think RDT gave any of her relatives an advantage. She fairly clearly expects them to pull their own weight, so I am assigning low probability to Blake finding out Rose is his familiar. Especially considering the rules as given require awakening before any other uses of power.

      1. Perhaps Rose is actually fully in control of her own emotions, and by altering her emotional state, she affects Blake.

        That might qualify as a down side, especially when Blake awakens and might be able to detect what she’s doing.

  42. Well, our dear author proves again that he is a specialist in creating a bad situation and then making it worse.
    Very well done.

  43. I’m pretty sure the shears are the captive other. No doubt about that.

    On another note, now that I’ve found the time to read the first chapters, it’s really nice to be reading this from the beginning.

  44. Started reading this earlier this week – I loved Worm, and honestly this series is shaping up to be even better so far. Can’t wait for more.

  45. I just realized what would be a great demesne – a rather gloomy tower hosting a former demon trap. Betcha there’s lots of raw power there, it seems highly unlikely that area was already claimed by anyone, and neither Others nor (apparently) practitioners would be able to cross into the house to challenge it. What could possibly go wrong with claiming your demesne from a former demon prison? [I just can’t even type that with a straight face.]

    1. The tower is part of the house and the instructions the grandmother left stated the entire house has been claimed by previous generations. Even so, there’s no guarantee that the house’s protections are applicable given that the ritual to create a demesne involves an open invitation. Anyways, that’s far too small scale…

      Barbatorem is certainly a good familiar candidate, considering that its being trapped gives Blake some leverage in negotiation. It is a powerful Other, and as a familiar Blake could use it to help make a really good tool or to claim a decent sized demesne. If he wanted to go on the offensive, then he should do the tool last as he’d want to put as much power in it as possible. However, Blake’s main long term goals are survival (preferably with minimal conflict, so currently defense oriented) and paying off as much of the family debt as he can, so having as large a demesne as he could handle is probably the best in the long term as it gives him a large area where the rules favor him and gives him a power base to pay off debts. And you know, while there isn’t any available space left in the house, Blake does own a rather large amount of land…

  46. Stupid Blake, very stupid. Don’t bother reading up on the bound demon or where your grandmother was in conversing with it, or even HOW to converse with it. I have a feeling things are going to god badly for the guy jumping all over the place when it comes to magical stuff. He hasn’t even awoken magically.

    I got clued into Worm from all the fanfiction that’s popped up, and blew through it in around a week. Awesome stuff wildbow, really looking forward to what you have planned for this.

  47. Just re-read this from chapter 1.1 (posted here to prevent spoilers from discussion after the quote):

    “When you first spoke to me, you said, ‘All due respect’. Did you mean it?”

    I didn’t look at her. “All due respect, you’re a festering old cunt? One hundred percent.”

    My thought when I read it first was “yeah, that wasn’t taunting Murphy, peeing into the wind, or anything like that,” but then I re-thought.

    Until Blake came up, everyone assumed only the female line carried the power and curse. While it is possible that RDT set up Blake’s insertion ahead of time, there is no prior evidence of it, and Wildbow tends to be fair about giving clues, obscure as they often are. So, the best guess is that Blake was added, and he would have been added because of his interaction with RDT – there is no other obvious reason. So, RDT added some fairly major legal and magical changes to her inheritance at the last minute. That cannot have been easy, so there were most likely strong motivations.

    One possible motivation would have been spite: there is no way she was used to being mouthed off to like that. Other practitioners may have hated her, but they were probably very careful what they said to her. The Others as a group are careful what they say. However, she herself acknowledged there was very little people could say that would shake her, which mitigates the spite aspect somewhat – if you can’t reach someone enough to move them then it is hard to motivate them.

    So I suggest that another motive would be a grudging form of respect. Her other family were a bunch of back-stabbing suck-ups, but Blake stood up to her. He was wrong in many aspects, he was insultingly rude, but he actually stood up to her. It must have been a novel experience, especially from within her family. Not only that, he actually won a minor challenge with her:

    “Look me in the eye, then, if you’re so honest, and tell me you don’t. That you don’t get some measure of glee or satisfaction out of this.”

    She looked me square in the eye.

    Yet she didn’t say a word.

    So perhaps she recognized someone who might stand up to supernatural threats like he stood up to her. Like it or not, that is part of what the family needed, so perhaps she recognized a minimum of potential there. Something motivated her to the effort of inserting him in line. And it may have already paid off, at least in part. Blake used his anger at the trick that Laird pulled to motivate himself to study as he needed to, probably in a similar manner that he used his anger at family politics to leave.

    Now, if Blake continues to act like an impulsive, genre-blind moron then his defiance is going to be useless because he will get turned into mental, physical, and/or spiritual hamburger, but that is a different matter than what might have motivated RDT to put him in the position.

    1. I’ve definitely been assuming that it was the second motivation. Further evidence: her desire that her heiress marry a bastard, not a nice person. Blake showed that trait.

      OTOH, you could also argue that she put them in ascending order of their likelihood to succeed, to give later arrivals more of a chance at things. Or at very least, ascending order of how much she wanted them to survive. I’ve little doubt she put Paige last because she wanted her to live, at least.

      ….Come to think of it, Blake really ought to bring Paige on board. I mean, he has to be strong enough to get her safe passage to the house first, but either she gets a head start at her chance, or he gets an ally, or both.

      1. I don’t think the grandmother cares about Paige’s survival in the grand scheme of things. Blake told his grandmother that Paige was the closest member of the family to being like her, and considering it’s heavily implied that she’s the one who got the family in heavy debt (likely to demons, with possible eternal consequences to the whole bloodline if it isn’t paid off) picking someone who was like her younger self who made very bad decisions would be a terrible idea.

        No, she didn’t put Paige last because she cares about her survival, Paige is last because she’s the worst possible candidate. Whatever character flaw Paige has, it was bad enough that the grandmother put a twelve year old and a two year old ahead of her. One personality only partially formed, and another that’s a complete gamble. If she cared about her grandchildren surviving, surely she’d put the innocent two year old in the least danger. So really involving Paige ranks among the worst things Blake could possibly do.

        I’m thinking that Molly and Blake were chosen first because they were the least greedy. They’re the ones least likely in the bunch to increase the family debt to Others for petty personal gain, and so they’re more likely to pay it off and get the bloodline off the hook.

        Also, the marrying a bastard thing isn’t a requirement, it’s advice. She’s advising picking someone based on their utility as a business partner rather than for their love and kindness. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but a ‘bastard’ may be willing to put aside emotions for the sake of doing whatever is necessary. Basically, she’s advising her heiress to marry Tywin Lannister becaus having that kind of help will be a pillar of strength.

        1. Furthermore, what are the odds Paige lied in order to seem like a better candidate? That’d be a deal-breaker right there. That plus Blake sticking by his denunciation of her makes him a better person for the job than Paige.

          However, not bringing her in as a consultant means that Blake doesn’t have someone well-versed in semantic web spinning to help him traverse the landscape he’s found himself in.

          1. “However, not bringing her in as a consultant means that Blake doesn’t have someone well-versed in semantic web spinning to help him traverse the landscape he’s found himself in.”
            Isn’t that Rose’s job?

            1. Rose is a female copy of him, with some background rejiggering. I’d say she’s no better at semantics than Blake.

          2. Ok, the reminder that Paige is good at semantics has caused my paranoia to add another frightening possibility to the list – what if Paige is good at semantics because she already knows about magic and is awakened? What if she’s among the people trying to kill Blake and the other heiresses? Seemingly unlikely, but not impossible.

  48. Looking through some of the comments about why Blake was chosen. Maybe I’m seeing too shallowly here, but I think Granny went out of her way to get Blake into the line of inheritance simple because of two things:

    1) He stood up to a greater power and challenged it. Her.
    2) He was truthful and candid, when dealing with a greater power, while challenging it.
    3) He depends on himself.

    He’s going to have to do #1 to survive.
    He’s going to have to do #2 to stay alive in the long term
    He’s less likely to create debt for the family if he depends on himself.

  49. O.o

    I just realized that Granny might have intentionally put Molly ahead of Blake, knowing she would fail, in order to provide payment of some sort to help “grease the wheels” for Blake. Connections between Barbatorum and Molly are running around in my head now.

  50. wow, wildbow, wow, i don’t know how many mindgame you’ve been playing on us, but this game of “is rose, in any chance, barba-whatshit?” is genuinely off the chart.

    I won’t dare to bet on any outcome, as what you’ve done on previous mindgame, the so called “the magicbullet”, only the optimist would’ve thought the main protagonist will stay alive after being shot like that. Probably you’d give something different this time? things that the pessimist could only think of? LOL

  51. I think the faceless women is a Totenmaske. They’re the souls of sinners. They have the ability to eat hopes and dreams. They can shapeshift. And most notably they can warp flesh to seal up the eyes, mouth, nose, stuff like that.

    1. Not so much dumb as internally incoherent. He’s making decisions without us seeing his reasoning so he either comes off as dumb or capricious. In Worm Wildbow really got around this problem from an early stage, and because that story didn’t rely on mind-games it didn’t cause problems. Here it’s becoming a really serious issue.

  52. It’s obvious what Blake needs to do for his Demesne challenge. Competitive haiku-ing.

    “Yo momma so dumb, wind whistles through her head, and calls dogs around.”

    Let’s see how many Others handle that.

    Ooh, or perhaps challenge them to some sort of pop culture game with answers dating back no further than 25 years. 25 seems to be a big number here. Sometimes tells me the Others aren’t particularly concerned about recent events like that.

    Also, personally, good job on not going outside.

    1. Please welcome Ornimuddafuckaphromprisonhoovillmaykyuhiscoquewarma, the Despoiler of Urinary Tracts, Viscount of Your Mom – he’s graciously accepted your challenge, despite having a very tight schedule, what with all those tight urinary tracts in people’s tights that need despoiling.

      Mr. Despoiler? Your response?

      “Your poem’s three lines
      Did not go five-seven-five
      Now bend over, n00b”

      Oh, dear! As your opponent has so rightly pointed out, your haiku did not fulfill the traditional requirement of having 5, 7, and 5 syllables in its three lines. Could somebody please fetch a gurney, or a wheelbarrow, and cart the, umm… less fortunate contestant out? Thanks, Pete.

      Well, that’s it for this week, folks! It’s all over, bar the screaming. Remember to tune in next time, on Celebrity Pee-Hole Invasion Poetry-Off: Magi-Canada Edition!

      1. Yes…as I neglect to tell all the demons I would negotiate with whenever I make one of my many haiku mistakes…I haiku freestyle. The man can’t hold me down. I’m free as a bird now, and this bird they cannot chaaaaaaange.

      2. Alternatively “head space”.

        But you may have noticed I have a problem sticking to nice, neat, and orderly. And with typos. It’s the trade off, you know. Typo demons. Ugly little things, but good if you need access to the universal blood type and aren’t picky about where it comes from.

  53. DEAR PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE : this passage was actually kinda scary when it was poster. Because we had no fucking idea wether Blake would enter the circle or not. This one of Pact’s defining moments, and I really like it, because it shows that Blake follows his instincts in a consistent way, whether they’re smart or not.

  54. BLAKE, YOU FOOL!

    That is all.

    Oh, no, one more thing: Thanks for that pizza scene. We reeeeally needed to see that. Goddamn, Wildblow, even at times like this, all I can do is smile. Excellent writing.

  55. You know what my mind says in this horror movie?

    My mind says “read as much as you can of whatever,you idiot,forbidden or nt ,and not fucking go anywhere if you are unprepared and not absolutely fucking forced.”

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