Bonds 1.7

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Damn it.

Very slowly, with exaggerated care, I closed the door.  My eyes were fixed on the outermost edge of the circle, my peripheral vision covering the shears and the interior, up until the closing door blocked my field of view.

I couldn’t say why the closed door made me feel more secure.  Whatever was supposed to be in that circle probably wouldn’t be stopped by a door.  But the fear I’d felt before opening the door had broken up into a general sense of disquiet.  My heart wasn’t racing, but was pounding, with very slow, heavy beats.  Absently, I grabbed my sweatshirt on the way down the stairs.

Rose was waiting for me on the third floor.  “Blake!  You idiot!”

I didn’t want to hear it.  “I can barely hear you.  Meet you in the study.”

I passed into the secret room, circled around to the far end and climbed down the ladder to reach the area with the mirror.

“What the hell were you doing?”

“I take it you read the letter,” I said.  I was almost relieved to have the distraction of a conversation with Rose.  I wanted to think on the circle, the possibilities there, but what the hell was I even supposed to do?  I couldn’t even think straight, let alone read.

“Upside-down, but yes.  You don’t go talking to demons or whatever elses without preparation.”

“It was prepared,” I said.  I turned the letter around, then tapped it.  “This was an emergency measure.  A ‘you’re-fucked-and-you-need-the-big-guns-now’ measure.  Grandmother outlined the key instructions.”

“You don’t go running off to check if you haven’t read about it in depth.  There’s material on this guy.”  Her voice was rising as she talked.

“I had to check,” I said, feeling more grounded.  Feeling a little more sure of myself, I said, “I was thinking it might have killed Molly.”

“What?”

“What Laird said… I had the impression this thing might have killed Molly, and that Laird was misleading us when he said he knew what killed her.  By saying that, he leads us to think the threat is from out there, and that way we have our backs turned when the threat from within comes after us.”

“So?  You read up on it, so you know what to say to it-”

“I wasn’t going to say a thing, if it was there.  No need to track the conversation if we don’t interact.  I only needed a glance, and that glance showed me that there wasn’t anything in the circle.”

“I- huh?  What do you mean?”

“A pair of scissors apparently penetrated a circle drawn on the floor.”

“It’s free?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “The door was locked, Molly didn’t use that key, unless the lawyer resealed it in wax when they reshelved the books.  It doesn’t fit.  Maybe grandmother betrayed her own rules and brought something reflective into that room and then positioned it to where it might interfere with the circle, before locking everything up, but it’d be crazy to do that.  If the thing can jump into our eyes, it can jump into the metal on scissors.”

“You’re right.  That doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t,” I said.  “Which puts me in the funny spot of feeling more sure that it’s in that room, than I was before.”

“I don’t know how you can jump to that conclusion,” Rose said.  “It’s better, now that it looks like it’s gone?”

“I don’t know.  Which is why we’re going to do a little bit of reading, now,” I said.  I felt more centered.  Somewhere between ‘explaining is the best way to learn’ and ‘misery loves company’, explaining to Rose had helped me to find my mental and emotional footing, clarifying my thoughts so I could argue them.  “Let’s meet Barba-whatsit.”

I found and picked up Dark Names.

“This is the sort of thing we need to read before you go to places like that.”

“Rose,” I said.  So much for that bit on emotional and mental footing.

“I don’t want to let this opportunity go by, because it needs saying.  First you go off with Laird, and I have to pull your ass out of the fire, and now you go-”

“Rose!”  I said, louder.

She shut up.

“We can’t do this,” I said.  “You second guessing me at every turn.  This arguing.  I’ve been through some shit-”

“So have I, in case you haven’t noticed,” she said, bitter.

“Nearly getting killed?”  I asked.

“I was there!  We’re connected, Blake.  You die, I probably die.”

“Before,” I said.  “Before any of this.  I’m talking about when I was seventeen and newly homeless and picking the wrong spot to settle down for the night, only to find out that a local gang thinks you’re staking out their stash or drop point or something, and you get beat down by a group of six or seven people?  Or having a group of teenagers with BB guns come after you because they want a live target and you’re pretty much subhuman to them?  The pellets don’t go very far beneath the skin, but one of them hit something, because my arm bruised purple from the bicep to my hand.”

“You never said anything about that,” Rose said.

“There were worse days.  Days I’m probably never going to talk to you about.  Or tell anyone about, even if some people close to me maybe put some of the puzzle pieces together.  I’m not aiming for pity here, I don’t want it.  I don’t want to use this for leverage to win an argument.  What I was going to say was that I’ve been through stuff, before any of this, and I made it this far with my instincts.  I can’t and won’t abandon them.”

“I’m going to be a bit of a bitch here,” Rose said.  “I don’t think your instincts are that good.”

“They weren’t good when I was first on the streets, either.  But I honed them, I stayed alive and mostly whole, I refined those instincts, found people I could trust, and with their help I got to a point where I was surviving on my own.  Which is something I’m proud of.  I can do the same here, but I need time to get a handle on it all.”

“We don’t have time,” she said.  “At this rate, you’re going to make a mistake, and we can’t afford mistakes.”

“Then helpContinue helping, please.  We’re the same, the only difference being that I walked a different path.”

“And you’re still walking it,” Rose said.  “It’s a lot to ask, for me to trust you as an extension of me, when I’m not sure I trust myself.”

“I’m going to ask it anyways,” I said.  “That you trust me, and that you trust yourself.  I’ll talk to you about this stuff more, but I need it to be a talk.  Don’t second guess everything I do, or it’s just going to become noise, and the doubts are going to fuck me up as much as anything.  I need cooperation, collaboration.”

“You want me to cater to your unique needs, but is there any consideration to mine?  I’ve been dealing… I’ve got the memories of dealing with our family for years.  It doesn’t exactly build up a team player mentality.”

“My experiences didn’t either,” I said.  Barring the last year or two.  “But I’ll try if you do.  Please.”

She was glaring at me, practically bristling with frustration.  I probably didn’t look happy either, now that I thought on it.

Without saying anything more, I turned my attention to the book, until I found the page.

No image.  Only text.

I looked up at Rose, and she was gone from the frame.  She reappeared, holding her own copy.  I could hear the thud as it hit the desk on her side.

“Page thirty-eight,” I said.

“Thank you,” she responded.

The being I have named Barbatorem is an entity falling under the classification Insolitus Nex.  This author does not believe in stricter classifications, and leaves it to others to label him a devil or goblin as they see fit.  It is difficult to impossible to guess as to his origins, but one can speculate that it came about after the dawn of human civilization, given the common elements and the trend in appearances.

The entity was first bound by this author on April 23rd, 1953.  The binding was a difficult one to tackle, with a little more than a share of guesswork going into the execution.  In the end, this author used an Ut Vires approach pointing to Contrarium methodology.  An abstract entity bound in a rule-defining diagram of geometric lines and Byzantine notation.  Twenty years after the fact, this author stands by her reasoning at the time.

Should another practitioner need to bait him again, know that this author used: a pile of festering boar carcasses, six feet high, each carved with his name when well into their state of decay, the decay timed using refrigeration to be roughly parallel; seven jars of burning hair, resupplied keep the flames perpetually alight; and the crest of this offering was an innocent and a virgin in the form of a one year old innocent, placed at the height of the pile.  For more on the reasoning behind this methodology, please see my other work, Dark Contracts, chapter four.

This author cannot say whether he was attracted to the virgin aspect or the innocent, but this author was nonetheless happy to have an option at hand to serve both purposes.  The child was unharmed and largely unaware of what occurred.

Given Barbatorem’s nature, this author would recommend another means of baiting him in the future, as he will remember, anticipate and adapt with each means used.  He agreed to be bound by the seal of Suleiman bin Daoud four months after the initial capture.  See the Others volumes, book one, chapter one, if unfamiliar with the seal.  The diagram this author used for entrapment, necessitating only one line to open or close, can be found on page five of this entry, followed by the means of summoning and the recommended diagram for imprisonment.

Signing Barbatorem to the Standard remains the proudest accomplishment for this author, at that particular date and time, marking her first feat in this particular field.

Those looking to interact with Barbatorem at any length should see about precautions against abstract entities in Classifying Others: Fiends and Darker Beings, chapter four, and the texts on means of attack and defense against Others, in Infernal Wrath, chapter two.

Rose was already looking up at me when I finished.  A bit faster than me when it came to reading.

“A baby?” she asked.

“Option at hand,” I said, as I turned the page to get a look at what came next, “I guess Uncle Charles or Aunt Irene get offhand mentions in the books.”

“I still hate them, but I’m maybe getting a sense of why they’re a little fucked up,” Rose said.

“This is the second mention of the Suleiman dude I’ve seen.”

“Suleiman bin Daoud,” she said.

“Want to do some side research while I get caught up on Barbatorem, here?  Look up the chapters in those other books, and maybe get some info on the seal?”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Working together?”

I nodded, then I looked up at the second floor, where the bookshelves line the walls.  I tried to remember, voicing my thoughts aloud as I pointed to each in turn.  “Types of magic, shelf one, shelf two.  I think it then focuses on Others, two or three shelves.  Can I turn the mirror?”

“Sure.”

I turned the mirror, so Rose had access to the ladder and the bookshelves in question.

I resumed reading.

Barbers were once surgeons, in addition to their other roles.  The red on a barber’s pole is a reference to bloodletting.  Barbatorem is both, a warrior of sorts, acting with surgical precision on whatever target he is directed at.  A recurring theme in earlier stories suggests that he was sent against the summoner’s enemies, almost always powerful figures, and he brought them to ruin in the worst ways.  He does not seek out mischief with those who summon him, but he takes advantage if one is offered.  For this reason, he is a reasonably safe entity to summon if one takes care to follow instructions.  He serves as a better deleterious sending against an enemy than he does as a boon-giver.  This author and three acquaintances have summoned and used him without issue.

Barbatorem, before being sealed, tended to visit small settlements and sites of war, either during or after the altercation.  Given his nature, it is hard to get eyewitness reports that corroborate his involvement in events.  The unawakened tend to note a stench of rot, blood or burning hair, or a crude but exceptionally sharp and sturdy cutting instrument found in the aftermath of a grisly event, invariably lost a day or two later.

Physically, he rends his victims, and the surgeon aspect becomes evident in how he inflicts the maximum damage possible without ever killing them, though the methods change as his form does.  He will mend the damage with an expert level of care that exceeds typical modern standards, if it means keeping the victim alive.  Despite the blood shed in this process, his victims typically die by other means like starvation or dehydration, unable to move under their own power or communicate a request for aid, due to a lack of limbs, missing tongue and teeth or a lack of working sensory organs, and the isolation that follows an attack.

On a more abstract level, Barbatorem deals a deeper form of damage that is hard to encapsulate in this text.  Rather than state the myriad ways he might harm his victims, this author would suggest a few key points to note, suggesting the wider variety of feats he can accomplish: It is believed that he can sever his target’s ability to access any higher plane, forever and irrevocably denying them whatever good things might await them after death, and he can remove any ability a practitioner has.  He can pass into a demesne without needing permission, though he cannot enter an ordinary home owned by a non-practitioner (see Classifying Others, chapter four).  He can evade barriers and typical practitioner’s defenses.  This in mind, he obviously serves as a suitable weapon if directed at a practitioner.

Barbatorem takes no one shape, but tends to favor a particular form for several years at a time before unknown events prompt a change.  Previous forms include: a bipedal sheep, largely bald but for sparse patches; a bloated man disfigured to a monstrous point by lash-wounds; a pair of children hand-in-hand; and a legless man on a horse.  In every form, however, he carries a bladed instrument of some kind.  He has been known to carry scissors, clippers or shears in more than half of the recorded cases.  Death, mutilation and a lack of hair figure into each form in one way or another (see descriptions in individual entries for notes on these fronts).  Ergo, the barber reference.

“The shears are a part of him,” I said, more to myself.  A glance in the mirror showed me that Rose was on the floor above, a book resting on the railing as she turned a page.  Did he leave them behind?  Would he?

Barbatorem is mute, making dealings hard.  He will see a contract up to seven times before refusing all further contracts.  In this event, one can dismiss him and summon him again, but it must be to offer something else.  In a dealing, he will offer expert skill in medicine, in exchange for enough blood to make the practitioner pass out – take care to avoid spilling any on the circle.  He will offer to extend a practitioner’s natural lifespan by half-again or by twenty-five years, whichever is less, at the cost of the practitioner forever smelling blood, rot, and/or burning hair.  He can offer to ensure that one’s blades never dull, in exchange for enough of the practitioner’s flayed skin to fill two cupped hands.

There were two diagrams drawn out in black, with measurements along each face, and a ritual for summoning him.  The rest of the pages had stories.  Mutilated men driven to madness, without a thing left.  Limbless, suckling fruitlessly on the teats of livestock.  Blind men frantically scratching out endless letters to loved ones lost to this ‘barber’, using stones on cobblestone, using their fingernails when no tool was at reach, then their blood, and then the uncovered bones of their fingers.  That last one was a practitioner that tried to bind him and failed.

I reached the last page.  Lines were drawn out, with words, followed by a shorthand cipher.  ‘I have changed the contract.’  ctuvag  ‘I have changed the contract.’ cvtuaa.

“So?” Rose asked, behind me.

“He has to be in the circle, still,” I said.  “Or I wouldn’t still be here.  Apparently we can’t sense him until we’re awakened, which might explain why I couldn’t see him.  This guy’s spooky.”

Rose nodded, solemn.  “The bit on abstract entities is basically elaboration on what’s in the note.  The bit on attack and defense only matters if he’s loose.  There are a lot of charts.  Describing what aspects to pay attention to, what elements and objects are most effective.”

“Blood, burning hair, rot,” I said.

“Not like that.  Like in Essentials, malignant Others are going to react to purifying substances and patterns, like salt and running water.  Fresh wood against dead things.”

“Iron against things that are born from nature,” I said.

“Right.  But he’s not entirely physical, so you need something prepared in advance, meeting a few prerequisites at once.  Like, this isn’t the right answer, but drawing out a pattern on a baseball bat and hitting him with it.”

“So you’re working past the abstract bit,” I said.  “No, I get it.”

She lifted another book, turning it around so I could see a painting of a brown-skinned man with a funny little golden hat and a magnificent beard.

Rose explained, “Suleiman.  Sorcerer king.  He was the first practitioner who really worked for the betterment of mankind and actually made headway.  He established rules and contracts, and he systematically worked to challenge the biggest, baddest Others out there that he could, then used them to help get others.  It brought about an age where humans could stop being the playthings of Others and start developing as a civilization.”

“Okay,” I said.  “And the seal?”

“A formal acknowledgement on the part of an Other, that they won’t interfere with mankind without excuse, they’ll obey certain rules, and the practitioners will leave them be.  Typically an Other bears some symbol or token of this bargain.  Over time it’s gained a power of its own.  Being sealed physically alters the Other, but it also affords them certain protections against us.”

Essentials alluded to that same deal,” I said.  “It was pretty vague.”

“It was because it is,” Rose said.

I glanced at her, waiting for elaboration, but she only shrugged.

“We know what Grandma was dealing with now,” I said.  I didn’t add ‘which I wanted to do in the first place, before you stopped me from reading that book.’

Instead, I said, “We can’t know if he’s inside that circle or not without awakening.  Which we need to do anyways.”

“On to the next part of the game plan?”

I nodded.

“My circle is drawn out,” she said.  “Want help?”

I didn’t, but I was happier if she was on my side. “Please.”

Together, we walked through the steps of drawing out the chalk circle.  Circle first, then measuring it out so that there were five circles at set distances around that circle, the line running through the middle of each before I carefully erased each with a damp cloth.  One symbol in each little circle.

Another circle, larger than the last, around the entire thing, with six circles at set intervals.  I carefully set out each one.

And then a third, bounding the others.  Seven circles.

“You’re a lot quicker at this than I was,” Rose said.

I shrugged.  “You’re faster at reading.  Next?”

“Cabinet,” Rose said.  “Bottom shelf, far left.”

I opened the cabinet.  Bottom shelf, far left… the space as empty.

I looked back at the mirror, shaking my head.

“They were on my end.”  Rose lifted a bowl with crystals in it.

Once she showed me, I was able to find it.  Bowl, crystals… ah, and a bag with other components, middle shelf, off to one side.  It was all clustered together.

Each circle on the innermost and outermost ring got a little gold-rimmed bowl.  I spoke aloud as I got each set up.  “Crystal… myrrh… oil… spice…”

“Holly and holly berries,” Rose said, at the same time I said, “raw iron.”

We exchanged glances.  I stood up and checked my book.

“Why?” Rose asked.  “Mine says holly.”

I approached the mirror, book held out.  We each held our books out so her book was almost a reflection of mine.  Sure enough, the text, the symbol for the inside of the little circle in question and the art for the token were all different.

“Grandmother?” Rose asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I get that Molly would have moved the components, but… I don’t think Molly altered the book.”

“The question is, what do we do about it?” Rose asked.  “Do we each do a different ritual?  Do I do your ritual, assuming it’s right?  Or vice versa?”

“If it’s sabotage,” I said, thinking aloud, “Which of us was sabotaged?”

We sat there for a good minute, thinking.  Rose flipped through her book as I flipped through mine, as we searched for more discrepancies.

It was the only one we could find.

I hated doing nothing, being stalled like this.  It was in the quiet moments that I felt like trouble would start breathing down my neck.

I turned to the bags, searching them.  Not the contents, but the bags themselves.  Holly… Iron…

The Holly bag had a different knot.  Tied tighter, more neatly.  Full.

“Let me see your ingredients?” I asked.  “Show me the ones you haven’t touched?”

Rose did.

Her iron ore nuggets were tied the same way my holly was.

“Molly used the iron,” I said.  “I think I will too.”

“Blind faith?” Rose asked me.

“Grandmother…” I said, trailing off as I struggled to find a way of putting it, “I didn’t get the feeling she’s actively trying to fuck us over.  It’s more… collateral fuckery.”

“Collateral fuckery,” Rose echoed me.

“She’s not going to sabotage us, and I can’t think of anyone else who could or would.”

“You want to trust the woman who summoned a demon that’ll jump into our eyes, and left it in the attic for us to use if we needed?”

“I don’t want to.  I think I have to.  I won’t force you to do anything,” I said.  I got the lamps around the edges of the room and brought them closer to the circle, before using them to light tall candles.

“I’ll do the holly, then,” Rose said.

I could hear the faint sounds as she dropped individual berries in her bowl.  My nuggets made a clatter.

“More abstract things for the middle ring,” I said.  Rose gave me directions to find each object she’d already set up on her side.

A dagger.  An hourglass.  A dreamcatcher.  A small silver skull.  A coin.

“Which catches you up to where I was,”  Rose said.  “I got stumped.  A rose, and something personal.”

“Kitchen for the former,” I said.  “I can’t help with the latter.”

“We need the token offerings for the Others.  I’ll need a mirror in the kitchen to get that stuff, with the rose.”

It wasn’t a fast process.  Molasses, milk, vegetable matter burned into a clean ash, honey, meat, and alcohol.  I plucked a rose from where it sat in water.  A touch limp, but it didn’t matter too much.

“My food is looking pretty sad,” she said.  “Am I going to offend them if this milk isn’t any good?”

“Did it go bad?” I asked.

“No, but I’m not even sure it’s milk.  It could be an illusion.”

“It’s the thought that counts, right?” I asked.

“I’m not so sure,” she said.  “Not here, with something like this.”

I put the wine aside for later before going upstairs, my arms full.  Everything went into a bowl, except the rose.

The basic stuff in the inner ring.  The dagger, hourglass and all the rest in the middle ring… leaving me with one empty circle.  The personal touch.

I hadn’t brought much with me.  I could probably dig a paintbrush or something out of a cabinet, but… it didn’t feel like that was exactly it.

I checked my pockets, and I retrieved my keys.  Joel’s keys were still on them.

I felt the weight of them in my hand.  They weren’t my motorcycle keys, which would have been my first choice, but… they sort of fit.  Keys opened doors.  There was a freedom.  They represented ownership, protecting things, and the fact that my friend’s keys were on there…

I didn’t like to owe people things.  It was why I tended to insist on some reciprocation, paying back the woman who’d given me a drive here.  Giving Joel my bike keys for his.  I felt it was important to acknowledge those debts.

It would do.  The keys found their place in the empty circle.

I set out the food as well.  One offering to each bowl, for the outer ring.

“Oh, this next part is fun,” Rose said.

I checked the book to see.

Clothes off.

“One at a time, or both of us at once?”  Rose asked.

I didn’t know.  But when I opened my mouth to say so, I felt myself leaning one way, and pushed myself the rest of the way.  “Both.”

We stripped down, then sat in the center of the circles, backs turned to each other, with the mirror between us.  I had to get up again a moment later, to get the book and lay it across my crossed legs.

Then the ritual itself.  Looking around, I was aware of how dark the room was, with the oil lamps closer.  I’d heated the wax on the bottom of each candle before fixing it to the floor around the circle, and reached for one now, along with a pair of tongs.

Incense, lit.  Metal ore, heated.

Metal ore, heated some more.

Okay, it took a while to get to the point where I could see the heat in it.  I quickly set it down, quiet, and moved the candle out of the circle.

This was it.  I glanced over my shoulder, and I saw Rose, the edges of her shoulder, hair and face lit by the candles and lamps.  Our positioning made it hard to see anything else, which was sort of the point.

I nodded a little.

We began in unison, reading the text.  There were three translations for each line, one in a foreign language I couldn’t place, one spelled out phonetically, and another with the English translation.

Our voices faltered some as we stumbled here and there.  For the first four or five lines, one of us would reach the end before the other, pausing a fraction to let the other catch up.

We finished one line, almost chanting now as we sounded out the syllables with a kind of rhythm.

The circle moved, the bowls sliding across the floor, the diagram moving beneath them.  Putting another bowl in front of me.

Another line.

Again, the circle moved before me.  I didn’t even dare look back at Rose.  We’d found a stride, now, and the words were flowing more easily.  The space outside the circle seemed to darken, as my focus on the inside of the circle deepened.

I was in the ‘zone’, so to speak.  My eyes passed over the phonetic guide, but my peripheral vision caught the English words transcribed below, and the meaning became clearer.  Not the entire meaning, but the big words, the emphasis.

These were the little things, the fundamental things.

The bowl of incense slid from its position in front of me, but it slid down and to the right, as if it were sinking into the floor.  I didn’t look, convinced that I’d lose my stride and break the illusion if I did.

The dagger slid into place.

There were no words in the book to recite.  I could have sworn they’d been there before.  The silence rang, heavy.

“War,” I said, if only to keep the momentum going.

I could hear Rose behind me, taking my cue.  “War.”

The circle moved, giving me a sense of relief, and a view of the hourglass.

“Time,” I said, in unison with Rose.  Something we didn’t have enough of, something dangerous, foremost in our thoughts, with its association to Laird.

The dreamcatcher, a hoop with a network of threads within.

“Dream,” I said.

But Rose was speaking at the same time, and she said, “Fate.”

The circle moved.  The little silver skull.  Deceptively small, no doubt valuable.  It glittered in the light.

“Doom,” I said.

“Death,” Rose said.

The coin, an old one, from an era before coins had been pressed with exact images.

“Fortune,” I said.

“Ruin,” Rose said.

The lifeless rose.

“Family,” I said.

“Myself,” Rose said.

Then the personal token.

Somehow, this seemed more meaningful.  Weightier.

I wasn’t being presented with a surprise, something to associate an idea to.  This was something else entirely.

“To everyone and everything that’s listening,” I said.  I heard Rose start speaking behind me, but my words drowned hers out.  “To me, and to nobody in particular, I’ve gotta say, I didn’t choose this.  I’m doing this for family, to respect them as they were in the past, when my cousins were also my friends, so the others don’t face what Molly did.  I’m doing it to respect stuff in the present, because even if I dislike my cousins, I don’t want them to have to face this situation and get killed off.  I’m doing this for the family that comes in the future, so my kids and all our descendants don’t have this debt hanging over our heads.  Above all, I think I’m doing this for my real family.  For the friends I made who gave me support when I needed it most, so I can demonstrate what they taught me.  Past, present, future, and… more abstract.”

I thought for a second, and then I said, “And I’m doing it for me and Rose.  Because I won’t be trapped like this, and she shouldn’t be either.”

The circle passed on, carrying the keys forward, more like it was going down a spiral staircase I sat in the middle of, than around in a loop.  I couldn’t even see the floorboards, now.  Only the lines and bowls.

I could hear Rose behind me, still talking, as if she were very distant.  “-than a vestige.”

The circle stood before me.  Honey.

I looked down at the book, and I started into the phonetic pronunciations again.

Each of the dishes passed by me as I recited the lines.  More than ritual, I was getting the sense that this was a means of breaking bread.  Leaving gift baskets for the neighbors to let them know you were in town.

The circle carried the dish onward.  There was only the line.

I kept reading.  More words.  I could pick up the English more easily, now.

My word is bound and binding.  I ask you respect it as such.

My actions are my own, but have an equal amount of weight.

So I pledge.

The line shifted, until the white line was no longer encircling me, but crept towards me, like the divider in the middle of the highway, with my bike veering off course.

The ‘divider’ hit me, passing under my knee, then my legs.  It was a matter of seconds before it was passing directly beneath me.  A quick glance behind me showed me that it wasn’t carrying on.

Darkness, one straight white line, and me.

More lines appeared.  From the other circles that had disappeared, from other directions.

My legs shaky, I stood.

I nearly fell as a line coursed forth from high above and caught me in the shoulder.

I was glad I hadn’t fallen.  I wasn’t sure if there was a ground beneath me to catch me.  My feet weren’t on solid earth.

The lines were larger, more meaningful, and I could see further.  I could see the circles attached to each line, like planets in orbit around things I couldn’t make out.  A system all around me, that I was now a part of.

I felt like Rose must feel all the time.  Being there, but not quite alive.  My body was only there because my sense of self required it.

I opened my eyes, and I came back into my body.

Chalk lines crossed the floor, the circles still evenly spaced around them, but they had expanded, decentralized from around me.  The lines now intersected at points, and the spaces between bowls were five to ten times as far as they had been before.

The bowls, as a result, were scattered around the room, each upright.  The incense still smoked, but the bowls that had held food were empty.

I was standing, the book on the floor in front of me.  I reached down to see if there were any other instructions, and stopped.

I could see birds, flapping their wings, against my skin.  They moved, and the branches they were on bobbed lightly.  The watercolor background shifted.

“You okay?” Rose asked.

I started to speak, and then stopped myself.  I had to be careful.

“I… may be seeing things,” I said.  I glanced her way, and saw her sitting in front of the mirror.  Her legs were bent, knees almost up to her chin, arms around them, protecting her modesty.  I turned and stepped around the desk, where the furniture would protect mine.  I grabbed my boxers and jeans and pulled them on.

I heard a page turn.

“The book says you need to learn to manage your extra senses.  If you don’t, they can swallow you up, and you won’t find your way back to reality.”

“I think I remember.”

“It suggests techniques, but you have to find what works for you.  Closing your eyes, but not moving your eyelids.  Or try refocusing them, and find that point you reach to where you’re trying to refocus your eyes but you’re doing something else.  It becomes as natural as anything else about your body.  Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy.”

The bowls were still moving, I noted.  The lines still drifting.  One bowl made a ‘clink’ as it reached the wall, tapping the foot of one cabinet.

“How did you do it?” I asked, as I buttoned my jeans.

But Rose wasn’t in the mirror.

I looked around me.  There were other things that were catching my eye, now.  The lettering on books glittered a bit too much here and there, where the light caught it.  The script on the letter I’d torn stood out in bright blue where I’d torn it, while the other half remained nearly invisible.

I closed my eyes, exhaling, and then opened them.

But for the chalk lines and bowls in strange places, the room was normal.

I reversed the process.  Eyes closed, inhaling, eyes open.

Again, there were the hints of life.  I could see something faint, like dust motes, spraying lightly where the room ended and the hallway began.  As though the space warping effect was creating a kind of friction between spaces.

When I focused on the motes, they stood out in my vision, and I could see more of them in the room.

I cupped my hand to catch one.

It turned, doing a small somersault before darting between the fingers that tried to close around it.

I did what I’d done before, but I didn’t close my eyes.

The effect faded.

I turned it on again, but without doing anything with my breath or eyes.

Natural.

I checked to see if Rose had appeared, verified she hadn’t, and picked up the book.  I finished the chapter, rereading the bit on being awakened and the sight.  Now, as agreed on by men and Others, long ago, I’d see what was normally hidden from people.

Practitioners fell into categories, depending on their focus.  Some carried on this route, learning ways to influence the world that were naturally in tune with their bodies and will.  Some practitioners manipulated spirits, getting them to obey or infusing them into objects.  There were some who dealt with Others.  Many cultures, a long, long history of arts being invented and refined, it made for a wealth of possibilities.

I felt more equipped, now.  I couldn’t do anything but see, but I felt calmer, without as great a weight on my shoulders.

That would inevitably end when I got to the council meeting.

“Rose?” I asked.  “Are you getting changed?”

I approached the mirror.

Her diagram was still on the floor.  It hadn’t scattered like mine had.  It was still in place.

I realized I hadn’t checked what her personal object was.

I searched the outer rim.  Coin, skull, dreamcatcher…

“I don’t think it worked right,” Rose said, stepping into my field of view before I could spot it.  She was dressed, now.

“What?” I asked.  “You didn’t?  Why not?”

“It did something.  I…”

“What?” I asked.

She looked upset, met my eyes briefly, and then looked down.  “I… felt something, when I pledged my word.  I can see things.  But I don’t think it worked for me like it worked for you.  I may have fucked up.  Pledging something in exchange for nothing.  Losing the ability to lie, and getting nothing in exchange.”

“How can you be sure?” I asked.

“I’m not.  But… nothing ate my offerings like they did yours.  Nothing moved, as far as I can tell.  I… don’t think I can see anything on this side, because there’s nothing really to see.”

“Let’s check,” I said.  I walked over to the desk to put the book down, stepping over the dagger.  I flipped through it.  One page with an image dominating half of it.  A symbol was outlined, with arrows suggesting directions for drawing it.  A spiral, drawn from the outside in, then a triangle, with one point at the center, all as one motion.

“First workings?”

I heard her flipping through pages as well.  “Yeah.”

“Shamanism, movement,” I said.

“You have to spill blood,” she said.

I bent down to get the dagger, hesitated, and then cut the tip of my middle finger.

“Jesus,  Blake.”

I drew out the sign on a cup that was being used to hold pens and pencils.

When I looked, I could see the motes floating around and through it.

I gestured, a flick of my hand, and they reacted.  The cup jerked about two inches and crashed to the floor.

When I walked back to the mirror, I saw Rose there.

She gestured, and the book she’d chosen didn’t budge.

“Try something smaller?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, quiet, “because it’s not blood.  I’m not offering anything worth taking, and there aren’t any spirits here to listen and obey, are there?”

“There are other options, maybe?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, again.  “I don’t care anymore.”

“Careful what you say,” I said.  “Our word is binding.”

Her voice sounded like it was on the brink of breaking with emotion.  “Good night if I don’t run into you before you go to bed.  I’m going to take a bit to myself.”

I wanted to say something to console her, but I wasn’t sure what.

“Rose,” I said, but she was already gone.  I turned the mirror, following her, and she startled a little, almost stumbling as she nearly walked into a wall.

“What?”  She asked, clearly annoyed.

“I’m going to check on the barber again, if that’s okay?  I won’t say or do anything.  I just think it’s good to check.”

She nodded, mute.

“Sorry,” I said.

“I know you are,” she responded.  She smiled back, a tight, joyless expression.  “You can’t exactly lie now, can you?”

With that, she stepped out of my field of view.

I shucked off everything, as I’d done before, and opened the door to the tower.  This time, I looked, using the sight, keeping my eyes trained on the floor, using only peripheral vision to take in the circle.

It was still empty.

I felt a quavering in my stomach, a kind of fear.  He’d seemed so vague, in the books, but now that vague thing, capable of inflicting unspecified horrors on me, it was free?

I stood there, eyes on the floor, thinking.

When he appeared, it was so sudden I very nearly looked out of instinct.

He was crawling out of the shears.  Out of the reflective surface, and into the middle of the circle.

A brown-skinned man, his pale hair scraggly and long, inconsistent here and there, more baldness than hair.  He was old, wizened, with a potbelly, and spots all over his skin.

I couldn’t get more specific details without looking at him, and I wasn’t about to look.

An old Middle-Eastern or Indian man, malnourished to the point that his stomach was swelling.

He bent down, hauling the shears out of the ground.  I could see the painted circle the shears had penetrated disappear, as if it were only a coincidental light effect the shears had cast.

He sat down, his back to me, bony rear end on the hard floor, and then plunged the shears into his leg, like a gardener might stick a shovel in the dirt so it would stay upright for when he needed it.

Barbatorem leaned over, resting one narrow arm in the space between the two arms of the shears, forcing them open and gouging his leg open wider.  A foul stench filled the room.

He wasn’t acknowledging me.

Which I was fine with.  I eased the door shut, eyes still fixed on the floor.

There was a council meeting to prepare for.

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114 thoughts on “Bonds 1.7

  1. Poor Rose. I feel like to her this is a confirmation of her status as ‘unreal’, and that has to hurt. Good on Blake for not breaking the circle because of the scissors, too!

  2. Phew. Blake is not the moron we thought he was.

    Frankly it’s surprising in retrospect that no one guessed that he’d just close the door.

    The awakening cutscene is cool.

    1. Agreed. She performed a different-but-similar ritual, it only stands to reason that she’ll have different results even if she succeeded. (Though it kind of occurs to me that she might have been supposed to use Blake’s blood, which is her blood but real.)

      So, reasons I don’t think she failed:

      1)If she was going to get nothing, why bother giving them different rituals? It’s a Chekov’s gun. If she just fails, there’s no narrative payoff down the road when she realizes she did get magic.

      2)The two of them already have such a power imbalance, with her stuck on the other side of the mirror, that to make it even more lopsided would really harm their dynamic. If we had all of the Undersiders, having one underpowered girl wouldn’t be a big issue, but Rose is the only girl we’ve actually seen since the first chapter.

      3)Magic that affected her side of the mirror would be pointless. Why should she want to pick up an object in the mirror realm with magic–what she needs magic for is to affect the real world.

      4)She’s already shown that she can affect the real world if she expends……….magical energy!

      5)So much of the inventiveness of Worm was in the non-physically oriented powers, the powers that don’t show up in most superhero comics. Tattletale, Nice Guy, Imp, Contessa, Coil, the Number Man/Harbinger–the Thinkers and Strangers had the most unique and memorable powers, IMO–or at least their prominence in the story was highly memorable and one of Worm’s strengths. So in a world written by Wildbow, non-physically-focused powers are essential to 1)survival and 2)being interesting.

      I recognize that most of these are extra-textual. But even so.

      So the question would become: where will her talents lie, how will she discover them, how soon, and will she be able to draw on any of the books and knowledge that have been prepared for her and Blake or will she have to go it alone/figure everything out from scratch? Will she be able to possess/switch places with Blake? Will having taken holly–someone said it was suggestive of blood?–mean that she can incorporate a physical form in the real world? Will she get mental/emotional/illusion/information magic? Will she just be able to shatter reflective surfaces more efficiently?

      1. You know, I read this, got the feeling no one else was out “there” (“there” being wherever Rose is, which explains her lack of immediate power, and immediately thought she should claim everything in her world as her domain. Not sure how it would work out, but it would at least give her a (potentially large) power source.

          1. She said there wasn’t any power on that side….but if that meant that no one challenged her claim, then she might be able to use the other aspect of desmesnes–to tilt the rules in your favor. I’m not sure on the specifics this would take, but a low- or no-power ability to warp the rules anywhere on her side of the mirror could be extremely useful.

        1. That is brilliant. If there are no spirits in her world to work shamanism with, then there’s also no spirits to argue when she claims everything illuminated by a reflective surface in the entire world.

      2. I have to laugh at your description of Stranger powers being memorable. I agree with basically everything you said, though.

    2. I think she touches on the reason why she seemingly can’t do anything: there’s no magic/energy on her side. Maybe no Others either. She is awakened, there’s just nothing there.

      I wonder if maybe there would be magic in the reflection of Blake’s demesne when he gets one.

  3. So he picked keys, which he mentions represent freedom and Rose is trapped. Well, I’m glad there’s a good chance they’ll find a way for her to get out of the mirror soonish.

    1. Well if she gets out of the mirror, I guess that’s a start on the marrying a man bit. Hey wait, would it be weird or not if Rose and Blake hook up? I’m going with weird.

  4. Interesting.

    Long stretches of book text, which is difficult to do well and difficult to avoid, given the (apparent) utter necessity of knowledge. Handled well today.

    The different ceremonies in the books is meaningful. Of what, I’ve little idea as yet, save it definitely indicates that trusting even a truthful Rose’s research is a bad idea.

    I suspect the abbreviations will have more meaning later.

    Currently contemplating a fetch-based mythology explanation for Rose.

    Ceremony was solid, echoing backward and (hopefully) forward in the story.

    1. It was especially interesting that on “our” side, Blake (and Molly) used iron, while Rose used holly berries. Iron, a metal, known for durability, magnetism, and ability to ward off the supernatural. Holly, a plant, symbolic of divine blood (in Druidic tradition, the menses of their Goddess, in Christianity, the blood of Christ).

    1. Hers was different, though. Her concept matches were different from Blake’s. The lifeless rose, for instance, was keyed to “Family” by Blake and “Myself” by Rose. Whether or not that has anything to do with why it went awry or not is up for debate though.

    2. But she was. I agree with an above commenter in that she isn’t going to be able to really affect things on HER side – what should be happening is that she affects things on the ‘real’ side; Blake’s side. Speaking of which, how does Rose perceive Blake’s world? I assume it’s brought up in an earlier chapter, but I forget now.

    1. I think your dismissal of Rose as Barbatorem is too soon. We have no explanation yet why the awakening did not work for her.

      Also – scissors/shears are actually two blades, mirrored.

      I still think Molly might have been payment by Grandma to Barbatorem, in some way, to create Rose. She was certainly willing to risk her family in the past when she summoned him, using a child, presumably one of the family’s children, maybe her own.

      If that’s the case, and Rose is actually the soul of Molly, reshaped, she might have gotten no powers because she already awakened before she was killed…

      1. The idea of Rose as the creation of Barbateom, or Grandma having used it’s power in her creation is awesome! I wonder if Rose will be able to live in the reflection of Blakes’ pupil.

  5. Blake’s backstory explains a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing how he self-sabotages based on his trauma. Well, does more so than he has already, at least.

    1. Hmmn, had to live on the streets. Doesn’t like being touched. Things happened that he thinks he’d never be willing to talk about to another person. Oh, some bad shit definitly happened.

  6. And things just got serious. Seriouser.

    Can’t wait for the council meeting.

    And is it really that difficult to realise that Suleiman bin Daud, a king that bound demons, is none other than King Solomon the Wise, son of David? Kids these days, no respect for the classics :).

    1. Actually, I thought that they were talking about Suleyman the Magnificent, an Ottoman ruler who took over a bunch of land. Or he might have been Safavid. But I think he was Ottoman.

      1. Nop. In Arabic tradition Sulieman bin Daud is always jewish/biblical Solomon. Suleiman the Magnificient was Suleiman bin Selim

  7. Uuh doesn’t that mean that the circle was part of Barbatorem’s body and Blake was looking intently on it? Let’s hope it was just an illusion^^.

    btw. loved the ritual. Soo how long until Rose goes bodysnatcher on Blake?

    I wonder is Blakes tool is gonna be keymaker (ala matrix) …a teleport power I can live with that xD

    1. Naw, He wasnt a practitioner when he was looking at Barbatorem the first time, so I dont think it counts. Also, Im pretty sure he was still taking care not to look at the thing directly.

  8. Guys, Rose can still lie. Remember, lying just removes your power for a while. She doesn’t have any power in the first place, so she can lie all she wants. Same for breaking contracts. It just doesn’t matter. I also wouldn’t be surprised if she can do some bits of magic, or at the very least manipulate magic that Blake sets up. She can already shatter mirrors, after all. Who knows what else is possible. Also, maybe she could do the ritual again, but use iron this time?

    Will Blake bring a giant mirror to the meeting? We’ve already established that Rose is better than him at words, AND she can lie (as I’ve already established), so she could be rather useful.

    I suspect the meeting will end up being another test of Blake. He is the prime new attraction in this town, so I can only assume they will try their hardest to see what sort of person he is. So how should Blake respond? Well, first of all, he should avoid doing whatever Molly did (or didn’t do). If I had to guess, I’d say that Molly was quiet and scared and did very little magic.

    What else do we know? Well, Blake is a barrier sitting between everyone else in that meeting and great riches. Johannes is likely to want Blake dead sooner, while the others want him dead later.

    Given Blakes nature, I suspect he will be loud and angry and will seize whatever magical firepower he can lay his hands on. My prediction is that Johannes will urge Blake’s aggressive stance on and pretend to be Blake’s ally, in an effort to alienate Blake from the rest of the town. Once Blake is quite isolated and alone, he plans to stab Blake in the back.

    1. To be honest I’d be much more interested if Blake takes a non-magical approach as it seems to be less likely to be anticipated. The existence of guns does not mean that a bow and arrow can’t kill, if you will.

    2. There’s more to Johannes than we’re aware of, and he did already somewhat save Blake’s life to get him to the house. Whatever the hell his plan is, I think Johannes needs Blake in that house, rather than any of the others.

  9. More evidence that Rose is a reflection of Blake and that they have an impact on one another. Blake awakened. Rose did not.

    Also, see below:

    You don’t go running off to check if you haven’t read about it in depth. There’s material on this guy.” Her voice was rising as she talked.

    “I had to check,” I said, feeling more grounded. Feeling a little more sure of myself, I said, “I was thinking it might have killed Molly.”

    Aaaand… I just realized something. Grandma said that it was good to marry an asshole (paraphrased) Maybe this is because marriage is a bond that somehow works like the mirror bond, and marrying an asshole has the effect of making the practitioner more reasonable and likely to think their actions through to all potential futures before acting?

    Perhaps we’re seeing a parallel type of bond here between Molly and Blake?

    Perhaps Molly has to create a desmense within the mirror before there is any magic for her to use, before the others will even recognize that there is anything there to be interested in?

    Heh, Wildbow, I hope that you are enjoying writing this, because I’m surely enjoying thinking about it.

  10. Then again, Grandma might have suggested marrying an asshole because if it got right down to it, you would have fewer problems sacrificing an asshole spouse than a nice person spouse, if you had any humanity left.

    1. I suspect that it’s more that you need someone to manage the legitimate business while you manage the spiritual, and it might as well be someone that would be severely hampered by developing an inability to lie, thus discouraging them from awakening and becoming competition. Also, they can go routes you can’t-the “witch hunter” thing Rose suggested.

      1. Sure, it could be something mundane and boring like that, but from what I’ve seen of Grandma, having a husband as a disposable tool, should the need arise, would be a significant plus.

  11. I really like the text excerpts. I’m a sucker for world building. I also really like the way magic works; it’s difficult to write magic that is ordered enough to not feel random, but random enough to not feel like implausible science.

  12. I’m getting more and more curious about what the rules are for Rose’s world. In particular: she can manipulate things on her side of the mirror, changing them from how they are in the real world, but:
    * How is the initial state of the room on her side determined? Does she see a room as it was the first time she saw it, or as it was when she was first created?
    * Do rooms “reset” if the mirror is removed from them?
    * How far away from Blake can she get? Can she enter other practioners’ demesnes?

    Depending on the answers, there might be room for some interesting shenanigans.

    1. *1: in this scene, Blake notices that Molly left the awakening ingredients in a different spot than it is in Rose’s world. From that I think her world ‘dates’ from Rose-senior’s death.

      *3: earlier, the lawyers told her she could jump from/to reflective surfaces in the house and around Blake only. Maybe true, maybe not… and maybe she’ll learn a trick or two to do it anyway.

      1. If her world is untouched since some point in the past, then that’s a huge advantage even if she has to stick around Blake. E.g. he goes into a room, she can poke around a copy of that room from months ago before anybody bothered to hide anything from him. Stuff like that.

  13. I think Blake’s approach is growing on me a bit, even if it seems reckless. One way to look at it is that if everything goes smoothly, the “normal” outcome is that he’s going to be killed painfully. So he has to take risks if he wants to survive.

    It would obviously be better, given infinite time and resources, to read up as much as he could on everything strange and scary before interacting with it in any way (e.g. Laird, Barb), but one could also argue that he’d end up sitting in his Grandma’s library reading books until one of his many enemies found a way to kill him like they did Molly. I’m not sure that this is a situation that rewards extreme caution.

    I think that this particular choice to go check on the demon without knowing anything about it or even being awakened was stupid (especially because he didn’t even want anything from it), but I think that not reading about demons at all or trying to become a witch hunter (like Rose wanted to) would be even more suicidal in the long term.

    (Speaking of recklessness, I think that Blake is not nearly scared enough of Rose. She’s a spiritual double who exists in a mirror, neither of which have particularly happy mystical/mythological pedigrees. Worse, she’s worried about the nature of her own existence. If I were Blake, I would be worried about her going to desperate lengths to become “real”, especially lengths that involved sacrificing or possessing her real counterpart.)

  14. I’m not convinced by this chapter; it feels less developed, less… matured than I’m used to from Wildbow; very precocious high-schooler rather than the measured, original writer that we’ve come to know. Now, that said, We need the magic to be recognisable culturally so that we can have some semblance of understanding what is going on, so I suppose that it is understandable, but this is a low-point for me I’m afraid.

    Blake is behaving very oddly; his reasoning will probably become clearer; there are hints and allusions to this point, but he feels rather puppet-like at the moment; doing things because the author is pulling strings rather than for reasons that we can understand within the narrative. He’s making intuitive leaps that are straining credibility. This is well and good, but some clarity in the next couple of chapters would be really helpful.

    As a genre, it is very hard to avoid clichés and Wildbow is certainly avoiding some of the obvious ones, but it remains to see whether his spectacular flare for the superhuman format can be replicated here. It’s shaping up interestingly, although I’m itching to see Blake (or possibly Rose) do something that is completely outside of genre expectations, like deciding that the rules are not to his liking and either (being crude) taking the nuclear option, or taking himself and the house out of the equation; his life was functional before all this happened to him so it’s no net loss to simply destroy the house and the library, then leave the district; his stated level of self-containment seems eminently suited to this path. As the saying goes, the first step to winning a war is to fight the battles you want to, not the ones the enemy demands.

    There is no evidence to support Rose being anything other than an extension of his own ego, so losing her isn’t a loss because unless I’ve missed something, he hasn’t invested in her, she is not integral to his mind-space. Keeping hold of it all in the context of what is apparently going on would be an example of irrational escalation and/or the endowment effect. Indeed to quote Richard Morgan (as Quellcrist Falconer), “There are some arenas so corrupt that the only clean acts possible are nihilistic.”

    Indeed, I think this is what I’m really waiting for. Worm was wonderfully genre breaking in the way it handled superpowers and how they interacted – mind and master over brute strength. I’m just impatient to see how things get shaken up here.

  15. Typo thread.

    Typos:
    – “The door was locked, Molly didn’t use that key, unless the lawyer resealed it in wax when they reshelved the books.” – ‘the lawyer’ and ‘he’ or ‘the lawyers’ and ‘they’
    – “You second guessing me at every turn.” -> ‘second-guessing’
    – “because my arm bruised purple from the bicep to my hand” -> ‘biceps’
    – “Don’t second guess everything I do” -> ‘second-guess’
    – “resupplied keep the flames perpetually alight” -> ‘to keep’
    – “I nodded, then I looked up at the second floor, where the bookshelves line the walls.” -> ‘lined’
    – “Bottom shelf, far left… the space as empty.” -> ‘was empty’
    – “I don’t think it worked right,” […] “What?” I asked. “You didn’t? Why not?” -> ‘It didn’t?’ or ‘You don’t?’

    Possible typos:
    – “using their fingernails when no tool was at reach” -> ‘in reach’
    – ““We know what Grandma was dealing with now,” I said. I didn’t add ‘which I wanted to do in the first place, before you stopped me from reading that book.’” -> Not sure that sentence works – ‘which I wanted to do’ doesn’t seem to refer correctly to the previous sentence or scene.

    1. “He does not seek out mischief with those who summon him, but he takes advantage if one is offered.”
      One mischief? Doesn’t make sense.

    2. Latin typo thread! Latin use in works of fiction is something that often irks me, as short of authors like MR James, the Latin is often either meaningless or at least grammatically incorrect in numerous places. I should note my knowledge of Latin is far less than I would desire, and is primarily classical, with my knowledge of medieval Latin being even more limited. It may be that I’m missing things here entirely, especially references to other works or the genre in general (though I am quite confident on insolitus nex, unless it is intentionally wrong). If I am, I sincerely apologize.

      “Insolitus Nex”: The noun and adjective don’t agree on gender here: nex is feminine. I assume the intention is “unusual/strange murder/death.” In that case “Insolita Nex” would be grammatically correct, though usual word order would suggest “Nex Insolita.”

      “Barbatorem”: While this is a proper name, it’s concerning for two reasons:
      – The -em suggests an accusative case. This is very unusual for English usage of Latin, which is almost always in the nominative.
      – On the word “Barbator”: “Tonsor” would be the classical word for barber. For medieval, Du Cange seems somewhat uncertain as to the use of barbator (see http://ducange.enc.sorbonne.fr/barbator, though the dictionary is in Latin), thinking it might refer instead to actors playing bearded evil spirits in the case he considers. The Reed Anglo-Latin wordbook, however, does list Barbator as barber: http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/cwl/cwl.all.html#B , and this may well be the most relevant to the setting. If this continues to bug me, I can go to the library and look it up in the DMLBS.

      In short, Barbator would seem a much better choice of name, maintaining the connection to the English “barber” while not being very oddly in the accusative.

      “Ut Vires”, “Contrarium”: These are presumably abbreviations of longer names for the methods, and so I can’t comment on their correctness without having more context.

      Also, skimming through earlier chapters for Latin issues:

      “Implementum”: If this is meant to be something along the lines of the noun “implement,” I might suggest “instrumentum” instead. Implementum is in Du Cange (http://ducange.enc.sorbonne.fr/implementum), but is there as complementum / accomplishment / something that completes.

      1. For Barbatorem, remember that he was named by Grandma Rose. I suspect she thought up the barber joke, then felt that such a being deserved a Latin sounding name and so mashed up something vaguely Latin.

    3. “I reached the last page. Lines were drawn out, with words, followed by a shorthand cipher. ‘I have changed the contract.’ ctuvag ‘I have changed the contract.’ cvtuaa.”

      The second ‘I have changed the contract’ should probably say something else.

    4. “It was prepared, –> I was prepared

      with a little more than a share of guesswork going into the execution. –> with little more

      resupplied keep the flames perpetually alight; –> keeping

    5. I reached the last page. Lines were drawn out, with words, followed by a shorthand cipher. ‘I have changed the contract.’ ctuvag ‘I have changed the contract.’ cvtuaa.

      -‘I have changed the contract’ for both cvtuaa and ctuvag?

  16. I’m liking Blake less and less. I’m disappointed the story didn’t punish him for his mistake. Yes, he shut the door immediately afterwards, but he still risked something without even the chance to gain anything – as he finds out when he reads the texts afterwards, he couldn’t even see Barbatorem until he was awakened.
    Some of the best scenes in Worm come from people really suffering the (often predictable) consequences of their actions and mistakes. (Random examples: Coil, Doctor. Pretty much everyone.)

    And the dynamic between Blake and Rose is worrying. It’s frustrating to see Rose so clearly win an argument with Blake, yet nothing changes because he’s the protagonist while she’s stuck in a mirror world and can’t really act. He exploits the asymmetry of their situation without admitting it to himself.

    Also, Blake may take pride in his instincts, but he misunderstands when instincts and intiution work well, and when they fail. See e.g. here (3 paragraphs): http://rationality.org/faq/#intuition. Since he’s acting impulsively out of anxiety and has hardly any experience with the fantastic side of the world, his intuition can be expected to fail him.

    And when Blake mentions his trauma as a non sequitur to what Rose said before, I find it hard to empathize, considering he became homeless by choice. He fled from his horrible family, yes, but he put himself in mortal danger.

    ###

    Story speculation:
    – Blake and Rose are so different that I’m questioning the assumption that Rose is, in fact, Blake’s female version.
    – Since Rose seemingly gets the short end of the stick in this chapter again, I expect (hope) her ritual did in fact succeed; it was just a different ritual from Blake’s. Perhaps her mirror powers have increased?

    1. More notes:
      – Since the books in Rose’s and Blake’s worlds don’t match exactly, Rose’s ability to read more books than Blake has less utility: until they pinpoint why and when the books differ, they can never be sure Rose provides information which is accurate in Blake’s world.
      – “he can sever his target’s ability to access any higher plane, forever and irrevocably denying them whatever good things might await them after death” -> So there’s a heaven as well as a hell. Or something analogous.

      Particularly great ilnes in this chapter:
      – “A baby?”“Option at hand,”“I guess Uncle Charles or Aunt Irene get offhand mentions in the books.”“I still hate them, but I’m maybe getting a sense of why they’re a little fucked up,”
      – “I didn’t get the feeling she’s actively trying to fuck us over. It’s more… collateral fuckery.”
      – “Sorry,”“I know you are,” […] She smiled back, a tight, joyless expression. “You can’t exactly lie now, can you?”

      1. His severance abilities is speculated,though,based by the wording,so maybe higher planes are speculated/unaccesible to the living.

    2. Since Rose seemingly gets the short end of the stick in this chapter again, I expect (hope) her ritual did in fact succeed; it was just a different ritual from Blake’s. Perhaps her mirror powers have increased?

      ME TOO. Gah, poor girl. I see his point about how her caution is starting to become so much noise, but jfc he could’ve chose a less bully-ish way to go about that conversation.

      I am, however, ever more supportive of this idea that she’s his mirror image mentally/emotionally(/magically?), rather than just physically, and I wonder about the implications of that. Can they do spells together? Can she manipulate the results of his spells? Did some of her character traits get taken away from Blake, so they are both really half-persons–a displacement of his caution, kindness, and rationality–who will have to find some way of linking themselves (and their magic supply) in order to become whole and not keep making mistakes? I could see this becoming a major source of angst.

      Oh! Also, theories (not-obviously) disproved this chapter: that Rose was made with Molly-parts (her world predates Molly’s awakening ritual), and that Molly died un-awakened. So mirror!Blake could have been set up a long time ago, during their childhood, and only activated when he became the heir. (and thus the personality traits could go all the way back to when he was a kid and screwed up his entire life.)

      IDK, the sooner this Blake-riding-roughshod-over-Rose ends, the better. argh.

    3. I agree with you on two points:

      Street smarts doesn’t translate to practitioner smarts. Street smarts are essentially one kind of expert system and many examples have shown they go wildly off track when applied to areas that are not of their expertise. Despite this, his belief in his intuition might work for him is if it allows him to get moving, because he has a lot he really needs to do and being paralyzed by indecision and fear is not helpful.

      Blake’s trauma is real to him, but it doesn’t give him the rights to override sensible judgement. He should not be able to win an argument with “I have been brutalized” unless the argument is about that very point. The world is unfortunately not just – Blake did not automatically gain anything from his bad experiences and to act as if he did without any evidence other than that of having the experiences is a fallacy.

      1. It is worth noting that the magic system in this Universe seems to involve an unusual amount of interaction between conscious or semi-conscious creatures, often in situations with at least some information asymmetry. I think that literally all the magic we’ve seen has involved some sort of interaction (Laird’s zeitgeist, the spirits used to ward off customers or move the cup, the awakening ritual which involves offerings).

        I think that “street smarts” might be exactly what Blake needs in his situation, since that probably involves a lot of useful skills like:
        * Rapidly figuring out what people/others want and what they’re about.
        * Making good decisions quickly even when there isn’t nearly enough information.
        * Not getting discouraged in bad situations (or just emotional resilience in general).
        * Being able to deal with fucked up situations without freaking out (e.g. not running out to “save” the pizza man with a bag of salt).

        1. I’m hoping that Blake at least instinctually realised that something was off about the whole pizza guy thing. Otherwise he’s an idiot. He knew the pizza shop owner was messing with him, and while he could have been deliberately sending a norm to his doom, the likelier implication was a ruse…

    4. Blake live not in our world, but in the magical one. His intuition could be real and tangible thing in that world. And Blake well could be asshole. Protagonist not necessarily a knight in shining armor…

    5. But he did use his intuition in something he was trained at:sensing danger.

      Also,he might have a magic intuition considering the story.

  17. Well, there goes my double powered idea.

    Does this mean Blake. Could have a key as his familiar. It could, perhaps, be used to unlock things normally unavailable to him. With enough power and practice, Blake could become a “key-master” of sorts.

  18. I mostly felt a disconnection in the story during the ritual. Rose’s initial guiding Blake through the steps made sense, but then Blake started to know things I don’t remember him reading up on, right at “More abstract things for the middle ring”. I guess he read it up from the book, but I found it disorienting.
    The ritual itself was pretty cool.
    Characterization wise, I get the sense of two strangers who are trying to work together under stressful circumstances. I can certainly sympathize with the frustration and friction between Rose and Blake.
    So many strategic options to consider for the war. Mirrors, knives, demons… it seems impossible to consider every possibility and option.
    Looking forward to Tuesday.

  19. I’m a bit spooked by Rose’s association choices compared to Blakes:

    War – War
    Time – Time
    Dream – Fate
    Doom – Death
    Fortune – Ruin
    Family – Myself

    I guess it makes sense though. The coin would remind her of the “ruin” of her family after Grandma’s inheritance game. And her bullying (as well as her name) would make her say “myself” to the rose.

  20. Many thoughts, primarily used to put my thoughts into order:

    OK, say maybe Blake wasn’t an impulsive idiot with respect to Barbatorem, but it still seems irrational.

    “Insolitus Nex” Google translate puts that as Unused Murder.

    And RDT wins mother of the month for putting (presumably) her infant on a pile of rotting boar carcasses surrounded by burning hair.

    RDT considers capturing Barbatorem her very first demon binding and is proud of it.

    RDT believes in higher planes, other things practitioners or perhaps just humans go to after death.

    Barbatorem can casually penetrate demesnes and “typical practitioner’s defenses” and can “remove any ability a practitioner has”. That makes him a scary, scary weapon against the typical practitioner. Nukes indeed.

    And we get a little more history. Humanity used to be a plaything of the Others, before Suleiman bin Daoud started getting them to play nice.

    So the mirror realm has differences that Rose has not caused, starting with object placement, but the difference in texts has huge implications. How long will it be before Rose gives Blake helpful advice based on her texts that turns out to be wrong based on his?

    Dagger = war; hourglass = time; dreamcatcher = dream/fate; silver skull = doom/death; old coin = fortune/ruin; rose = family/Rose

    Perhaps Rose’s awakening failed because the didn’t choose her own interpretations of the seven objects. Perhaps it failed because, if the various things are offerings, Rose is at best offering cheap knockoffs since they are mirror images. Perhaps it failed because she used holly instead of iron. Perhaps it failed because there are no powers in the mirror image to witness it.

    Blake’s tattoo is moving in his enhanced sight. Does that imply it has some form of power?

    Blake seems to adapt quickly to turning on/off the sight. About time something went right for him.

    Thus starts the alienation between Blake and Rose. He needs to repair that quickly before the gap widens.

    And Barbatorem is still there, meaning Blake still has a tactical nuke and instructions on how to use it. Many kudos to the commentators last time who said the inner circle was an illusion.

    1. “Insolitus Nex” Google translate puts that as Unused Murder.

      When I do it it says “Unusual” rather than “Unused”, which makes much more sense given his strange nature.

  21. I mirror Roses concerns.
    She must have gained something, I wonder what exactly.
    I like how things are going. Is Wildbow going to "break" this genre as he did to some extent with superheroes? I don
    t care.
    Really, what I like about Wildbow`s writing is here: careful world building, complex characters and good action scenes.

  22. So Suleiman Bin Doud…. I wonder if Lemegaton is legitimate in this universe, or has any meaningful status.

    Odd to see the demon still there. The mirror powers are dead ringers for Rose and Rose being unable to awaken (because others already are awakened) would fit perfectly. Guess we’re not getting any easy answers as to what Rose is any time soon. If Rose is an other and already had some kind of awakening, or was already bound to the rules, then lying earlier may have deprived her of power for the foreseeable future.

    They also really should have checked a few other random rituals, at least the demesne/familiar ones, to see if hers were all different or if something was rigged for this one specifically.

    1. Something happened. I believe she implied that she could see stuff on the other side. “I… don’t think I can see anything on this side, because there’s nothing really to see.” That doesn’t make any sense unless she can see stuff on Blake’s side. Which means checking the other rituals for change is probably good. If there are differences, I suspect they are supposed to be there. That means that those rituals have been modified for Rose too.

  23. I wonder of Rose can choose all reflective surfaces as Demese and what happens to her if she is between an infinite mirrors effect.

    1. Well, she can choose whether or not to move into a mirror, she isn’t forced in – so I guess nothing. She wouldn’t be visibly reflected from the opposing mirror until she decided to go to it. I imagine it would be like Blake looking into a mirror (and not seeing his reflection)

  24. Some others were talking about the whole marriage thing again, and I realized that while granny has been a major postmortem player… Granpappy hasn’t been mentioned much at all. I think about the only thing that might surprise me about his life and death is if he died peacefully in his sleep of utterly mundane causes.

  25. Ooh, intense! I love the way you’ve built the universe. I must say, though, I’m still not loving Blake. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific beyond that he doesn’t appeal to me in the same way many of your other protagonists did. Maybe he needs a good friend to ground him or something, maybe it’s the fact that he’s all alone except for Rose all the time, but he just doesn’t draw me in.

    1. Gotta agree so far – they just aren’t hooking me in like Worm’s characters did.

      I’m kind of hoping the “Rose and Blake are two halves of the same person” theorists are right, because that would explain it.

      Still, early days yet. 🙂

  26. Oh, moving tattoos. Neat.

    I see that Blake’s handyman skills continue to be useful – it would take me hours to draw that diagram because I would meticulously measure every line and circle but still somehow end up 5 centimetres out by the last one and have to start over.

    I have to side with Rose on this argument. Blake is being stupidly reckless and “Don’t tell me when I’m about to kill us all, because if you do that too often I’ll get desensitised!” is not a smart approach.

    I kind of assumed that the Awakening book told Rose to use different things because it changed itself based on who was reading it/who was doing the ritual. But I guess if Molly used iron like Blake that’s less likely.

  27. Thank you to Joshua, Matthew, Tobias, Keah, Ryan, Alan, Dmitry, Nathan, Michael, Andrew S, Rene, Rob, Jannis, Lewis, Jason, Felix, and Scott, for their donations.

    Big thank yous go out to William, Alex, Daniel, Gerhard and Patrick R for their generous donations.

    Updating the ticker now.

    1. Hey Wildbow,

      On the topic of donations, here’s something I think you might be interested in. Firstly, while I have yet to read Pact, I did read Worm and enjoyed it very much. That being said, I’ve come across a thing recently that might be of interest to you. Have you heard of Patreon? It’s kind of like Kickstarter, except it’s set so that people can automatically donate a set amount with every piece of new content (aka, chapter), you release. I’m sure there’s no shortage of people willing to chip into this if you set up an account: there’s even a milestone system included, which I’m sure you can integrate your current “donation milestone for bonus thursday chapters” system into. It certainly would get you a more stable income platform for your writing.

      Sorry if this sounded like a poor sales pitch, but well, I’m just hoping that Patreon really works for you, being a fan of your work. Websites over here, so I really hope you check it out if you haven’t already. http://www.patreon.com/

  28. The whole barbatorum-rose (potential) connection idea intrigues me, if the demon can exist in mirrors then rose is utterly fucked. On the other hand, we are not in possession of ALL of the facts yet, it is still possible that rose IS the demon. After all, couldn’t he have resealed the key, having just bloodied the living shit out of molly, and then got himself into a nice cushy position pretending to be a certain rose. Perhaps I’ve missed a point somewhere, but is there anything that says he can’t lie? For that matter, he could have been anybody, at any point in the story, just fucking with everyone, though given his apparent history of being a butcher, perhaps all of this is unlikely

    1. I’m doubting there is any connection. Rose is most likely something the grandmother set up so Blake has a loophole into being her heiress, especially considering Mr. Beasley apparently knows about her. (Mr. Beasley could easily confirm that’s a lie if he didn’t actually know about her, so no Other that somehow could lie so blatantly would use such something that easily seen through) Also, Molly was described as “mauled” whereas Barbatorem’s methods of murder are surgical – that’s a pretty good indication he didn’t kill Molly. He’s also described as not being a mischief maker, so if he got free and killed Molly he probably would have simply wondered off to do whatever he normally does when not bound or summoned rather than continue trying to mess around with Blake’s family. The letter also had a kind of spell on it, which would imply it protected it somehow. As such I find it very unlikely Molly even knew about Barbatorem, and never interacted with it in any way.

      As to him not being able to lie, it pretty much sounds like that regardless of whatever other varied restrictions Others might operate under the penalties for lying and oathbreaking sound like they are one of the few absolutes that apply to all of them. That’s not to say they can’t deceive people – misdirection through creative truth telling is obviously still viable as a means of deception.

    2. Allow me to propose a different connection:

      1)Barbatorem can exist in mirrors.
      2)Any magical being (presumably) requires magical energy to subsist.
      3)Rose claims there is no pre-existing magical energy in the mirror-realm.
      4)Therefore both Rose and Barbie can draw magical energy into the mirror realm
      5)Rose’s source exhausts her with merely the energy to break two “real world” mirrors.
      6)Barbie can manifest one of any number of physical forms, extend a person’s life by 25 years (at least), etc. This implies the ability to move a great deal of magical energy into the mirror realm.
      7)Rose could make some agreement with Barbie to fuel her with magical energy (in exchange for some really shitty consequence, BUT HEY).

      1. “Really shitty consequence” is probably a mighty big understatement. He wants several pints of blood to make you a good doctor, and a pound or so of your flayed skin to save you on blade sharpening.

        I guess the medical knowledge thing might actually be worthwhile, especially if it was Bonesaw level tinker-type knowledge. Bronze or iron age medical knowledge on the other hand… Not so much. Gotta know for sure what you are getting yourself into, though that applies to, you know, everything in this universe.

        We really need to figure out what’s going on with these club munches here though, guys. Johannes apparently shows that people only go when they wish to, but Granny made attendance mandatory. Why? What did Molly go through at these things over the last four months?

        Best I can figure so far, is that these are a great way to guage the local attitudes, since there is a pretty harsh neutrality policy and a complete cease-fire before and after them. Barring any traps you stumble into yourself, the assumption is that these meet-ups are second only to your personal demesne as safe spaces go, and that affords lots of time for wheeling, dealing, and observation.

        1. I’m pretty sure 99% of medical students would take the blood one. And plenty of people would accept the life extension. The flayed skin seems pretty crap for most people. That seems like it might cause permanent and serious damage.

          1. Yeah, the blood thing doesn’t seem too bad. Blood grows back. Although passing out in a tower with a bound demon you’re not allowed to look at seems rather dangerous unless you’ve got some help nearby to look after you until it does.

    1. Honestly I can’t really get behind the idea that Rose is his familiar. It just doesn’t fit the notion of what a familiar is – they are an Other that the practitioner has made an agreement with to be a familiar, not something other practitioners can inflict upon other practitioners. Blake never made a deal with Rose to be a familiar, she just “activated” and showed up in his life after Molly was killed. Also, the grandmother’s instructions to Blake still include getting a familiar, and indications are that you can only have one – that would be a pointless instruction if he already had one.

  29. Does anyone think the fact that we missed out on hearing Rose’s little Awakening monologue mean that it’s potentially plot-relevant that we’ll hear later in a flashback?

  30. I just followed a strange train of thought.

    If Rose is anything, she seems to be an Other of some sort. She also seems to be alone in her mirror world.

    If she decides to do the crazy thing and claim everything on her side of the mirrors as her own, and gets away with it, does she become a deity, because she is the first awakened creature there?

    Remember Rose, if anyone asks you if you are a god, say “yes”

  31. Couple of maybe typos:

    “resupplied keep the flames perpetually alight” should be “resupplied to keep the flames perpetually alight”

    “contract.’  ctuvag  ‘I” There is a double space on each side of “ctuvag”; I thought it was probably intentional, but decided to point it out anyway, just in case.

  32. Not gonna lie, I liked Skitter more than I like Blake, he’s kind of a douche. I’m sorry, but surviving as a homeless person by going off “instinct” doesn’t really mean that you’re qualified to jump into a world of magic and just go with whatever your gut tells you.

    I wish Blake was more like Harry James Potter Evans Verres from HPMoR (if you haven’t read this, do so, the author linked to Worm). Some rational thinking could go a long way in a setting like this.

    1. I have a feeling that pretty much anything wildbow ever writes again will be negatively compared to Worm. Such is the curse of starting strong.

      1. Nah. He’s set a high bar, but I have faith he’ll reach it again and exceed it. Honestly, this isn’t the story I would’ve chosen from the samples, but I don’t know what Wildbow has planned for it.

        At this point, I’m trusting that Blake’s apparent idiocy is either justified by the big picture or will be rectified by it. Or he will die. shrug

  33. Ha ha ha ha ha!

    Well, should be easy enough to trick Barbasol. You want a blade that never dulls? Fine, make you’re your deal for it, but make sure he knows that he made the deal for flesh only. He can get his pound of flesh, if he can extract it without any blood, since he finds that valuable as well. For some reason, I associate that sort of deal with The Barber of Seville, though I haven’t seen it.

    Woohoo! Naked alternate self times.

    Awww snap, mon, he be on dah Soy Sauce again! Dis be dat outrageous quay, eh Timothy? What, I’m the only one that read that book featuring a black stereotype stranded on an island with a young, blind, naked boy?

    1. Loki tried a similar trick, when he lost a bet with a couple of dwarves called Brok and Sindre. Thought he could weasel out of paying ’em what he owed ’em. He was almost right.

      Almost.

      Barbie might not be able to extract the flesh without touching your blood, or ligaments, or nerves, or sinew, or lymphatic fluid, or skin, or lanugo hairs, or that Monopoly piece that mysteriously disappeared when you were in the third grade.

      But he can still do anything he wants with that pound of flesh he’s claimed. Do you really want to take the chance that he may or may not keep your glans, and roughly a pound’s worth of anything attached to it?

      It’s a shame you can’t barter a piece of your skin, instead. Barbie might let you off with just a really awful tramp stamp.

      “What, I’m the only one that read that book featuring a black stereotype stranded on an island with a young, blind, naked boy?”

      You mean, Robinson Crewsucker? Our kindergarten teacher used to read that to us, all the time. Until the angry men in uniforms took him on a holiday, after they gave him a shiny new orange jumpsuit and a pair of bracelets, with a chain so you can’t lose them. Like the string on my mittens, look! Mr. Polanski was so happy about his new clothes, and the holiday and everything, that he never took them off, and that’s why he never came back, either. At least, that’s what our new teacher said. She’s nice. And her hair smells like flowers. Even when she’s asleep.

      Mmm. Flowers.

    2. Are you really going to challenge a greater demon to remove a pound of flesh without taking any blood with it? Let him have the blood. How much more flesh is he going to take from you if he squeezes all the blood out of the flesh he takes?

      The human body is mostly water. Blood itself makes up a not insignificant amount of your body weight. It’s not a large percentage, but it’s significant. I could see all sorts of creative ways for the demon to take his pound of flesh in very painful ways.

      If it were me? Let him take a pound and a half of my liver. One pound to pay for the deal, and the rest to pay for taking it cleanly in a way that will not prevent liver regeneration, and sealing the wound cleanly. The liver will grow back. And definitely, definitely count the blood in the flesh as part of the weight. Please.

  34. Just to record my thinking:
    Rose is an Other, and so valid to be a Familiar.
    The mirror realm that Rose lives in can be entered from the real world, so that could be his Demense.

  35. That awakening scene was intense. Beautiful. And wow, things saw only getting worse and worse for Rose.
    At this point, I am definitely hooked, even if it feels like Blake isn’t asking enough of the obviously important questions.
    For instance: We don’t yet know the apparent multitude of ways in which Rose’s life diverges from his. This could—no, probably will—end up being every important later on.
    We also keep learning essential things about Others and how magic here is supposed to work, only when Blake immediately needs them.
    And there are more, but I’m on my phone, and thus lazy.
    All this said, I’ve learned not to doubt your writing. This all very likely has been addressed a long time ago. But seeing as I’m Archive Bingeing til I get to the current chapter (8.1, wow, my break after Worm was long), I feel like I want to document my thoughts as I progress. So yeah, here they are. Sorry if this is spam.

  36. I cannot say it was mentioned yet, but there seems to be an error in the ritual:
    while the rose is implied to be in the outermost ring, it is named as second to last while the abstract things go in front of them, which in total make 7 elements, one too much for the middle ring.

  37. Hmmm….the first arc seems to intrduce all the important persons,as opposed to Worm’s that only introduced a few of them.

    Then again,knowing Wilbow’s loads and loads of chars,this might be a few of them.

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