Damages 2.1

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The pen scribbled across the paper.

Weapons.  A knife, a larger weapon if I could manage it.  A gun would be ideal but hard to find.  Different Others had different drawbacks and weaknesses.  Ideally I’d be able to pick up an assortment of weapons in a variety of materials.  The problem was, I wasn’t sure where I could get those things.

That raised several more questions.  I needed a better way to get information.  Internet.  I needed a way to buy supplies, if my cash reserve ran out.  Money.

I switched to another piece of paper, this one headed with the word ‘Needs’.  Beneath clothes and a brief shopping list of food staples that would last me a while, I added the two new points about internet access and needing to contact the lawyers.  I hesitated, then added other points.  Joel’s car and keys, which I had borrowed, needed to be returned, if they weren’t already.  Rose needed assistance.  I needed allies.

The council meeting was this afternoon.  Three hours before sunset and three hours after, I would be free from interference.  I needed a way to get some control over this situation.  Enemies at the gates, I’d phrased it.

I tried to write down everything I could possibly need or need to do.  Stumped, stalled, I put the pen down and stood from the couch, stretching my back where I’d been hunched over the coffee table.

The mirror beside me was empty.  My reflection was absent, as was Rose’s.  I saw only a living room where the books weren’t quite so scattered, where the shelves were full and no cardboard boxes sat beneath.  There wasn’t a pile of dishes in the corner where I’d left them on my side of things.  Oatmeal, again.  If I didn’t manage a good shopping run, I’d be moving on to wild rice and cans of black beans.

The house felt a little more claustrophobic than it had, before.  As large as the house was, it was old fashioned with a very closed concept, every room separated from other rooms by walls and doors.  Were it the furniture and furniture alone, I wouldn’t have a problem.  But Molly had made a long series of messes in packing up grandmother’s things, leaving the job half done, and her things were still here, untouched.  Navigating between furniture and over the boxes and piles of books made me constantly aware of the space around me.

When I had some time, I could do some tidying up.  For the time being, though, I had too much to do.  I settled for a breather.

I stood in the window, my back against the windowframe, helping to hold the curtains and sheers out of the way.

With my newly acquired second sight, I could make out the spirits that infused everything.  Just as I might focus my eyes, I could focus this sight.  I could train it.  According to Essentials, some practitioners would train their sight to focus on things better suited to their talents.  Imagery would take hold.

Spirits were the most basic and oldest option when it came to manipulating the physical world through the esoteric.  One object as simple as a pencil could have a host of spirits inside it, representations of the purposes the object had, its nature, its elemental makeup, ownership, and many, many other qualities.

Shamans, then, were practitioners who worked more or less exclusively with spirits.  They would be able to find and interact with more powerful spirits.  Not simply the spirit of one particular stone, but the spirit of all stones for an area.

I was thinking along those lines because I couldn’t help but wonder if what I saw was one of those shamans at work.

A boiling cloud of what might have been vapor, a haze, sat over the city.  It was as though stormclouds were rolling in, and they were doing it at ground level.  At times there was a fluidity to it, as though the nearby lake had swelled and swamped the area, waves rising and falling, only periodically allowing buildings to be seen, where they dipped low enough.

This wasn’t water or water vapor.  It was spirits.

I shut off the sight.

The scene I saw without magical aid was an ordinary one, a simple snowfall, with clouds in the proper places.  My view of the buildings was still limited, periodically obscured, but only by snow.

There were things outside, as there had been last night.  Daylight wasn’t safety.  It only meant that the Others without human forms had to stay out of the public eye.

I sighed.  I wasn’t big on plans.  I wasn’t the type to use lists or keep to them.  It helped to frame what I was doing in my head, but it wasn’t me.

Better if I figured out the high points I needed to hit and then winged it.  I’d figure out what I needed to shop for when the time came.

I sat down with what I saw as the little black book.  I filled myself in on the local practitioners.

When I got to the Others, however, I found the entries got a little more complicated and short form.  Latin classifications, short form that necessitated I look it up, measures and linking to reference material instead of explaining them outright.

Grandmother, it seemed, was more interested in Others than people.

“Rose!”  I called out.

There was no reply.

I made my way through the house, searching each of the mirrors.  I found her in the library.

“Rose,” I said.

She sat on the floor.  Her hair had pulled free of the brooch, and she was surrounded by books.  Damn, she looked worn out.  Not tired, per se, but like she’d been through the wringer.

“What do you want, Blake?”

“First of all, I want to make sure you’re okay.”

“Let’s say I’m not,” she said.  She carefully set books aside and climbed to her feet.  She didn’t seem willing to meet my eyes, biting her lip, thoughts clearly elsewhere.

“What can I do?”

It wasn’t a hard question, but it seemed to bother her.  “Survive the meeting?  We survive, there’s always room for things to get better.”

“I’m on board with that,” I said.

Why did it look like I was upsetting her more?

“Listen,” I said.  “I’ve done the reading.  The sections on the Others in the little black book are kind of dense, but I got the gist of it, and I think I can put names to most of the important faces.  I know the practitioners I’m up against.”

“That’s good,” she said.  “I read through all of that too.”

“I’ve also memorized a few of the basic sigils.  Driving people away, like Laird Behaim did in the coffee shop, moving things like I did with the mug, and protecting objects.  I’ve got salt and chalk if I need it.”

“I wouldn’t rely on that, if I was in your shoes,” she said.

I frowned, “Why?”

“The books say that generally, spirits aren’t that smart.  They’re more like small animals, in terms of their capacity to understand things.  Like animals, you can train or bait them.  In an area trafficked by people who use spirits a great deal, you can trust they’re going to listen.”

“This is that type of area.”

“But who are they listening to?  Remember how Laird said the spirits of community listen to him because of his role?  Out there, they aren’t just listening to you.  Their loyalties are divided.”

“I think I follow,” I said.  “What’s the end result?  What happens if they aren’t all in the same camp?”

“I think it’ll be slower, or fuzzier.  You might get nothing, or it might backfire.”

That took some of the wind out of my sails.  “I’m still powerless?”

“Powerless until you get enough clout to bully them or convince them to play along.  It might be that grandmother’s name gives you some of the oomph you need.  But if you reach for their help in a bind,” Rose said, “It’s going to be-”

“-a crapshoot,” I said, in the same instant Rose did.

I smiled a bit, but Rose didn’t.  Her eyes dropped to the ground.

I sighed.  I could hardly blame her for not being in a smiling mood.  Rose had her own concerns.  Ones I couldn’t even wrap my head around.  We didn’t have enough information on what she was or why grandmother had gone to the trouble of creating her.

Problem was, I didn’t know how to fix this.  When in doubt, the strategy was to empathize.  As a rule, people wanted their feelings recognized more than they wanted fixes.

“I can’t imagine how you feel,” I said.  It was the truth.  “You’ve been put in a horrible situation, with-”

“Don’t do that,” she said.  “Not if you’re using it like they taught it to you.”

“Huh?”

“Dad taught us that.  How to get on people’s good side.  Which may be something he picked up from grandmother.”

“Grandfather,” I said.  “It fits what we know of him.”

“Don’t manipulate me, Blake.  Don’t use strategies to deal with me.  I was raised the same way you were, up to a point, I know the tricks.”

“I do care, Rose.  I want to help you.  If I’m drawing from what I know to try-”

“Blake,” Rose said.  “It’s fine.  It’s done, you’re in charge, I’m the backup.  You want me to keep the criticisms to the most vital points?  Fine.  You want me to do the research and supplement what you’re doing, fine.  You win.”

“I don’t want to win.  I want us to be on the same page.”

“The same page?  You got the power, I got… this.  How do you have a partnership if things are this unequal?  Let’s face it.  Look at what happened to Molly.  Grandmother is willing to use us as expendable assets.  I’m nothing more than a piece in a greater puzzle.  I’ll serve my role, and the road ends there.  I’m the most expendable one of us.”

“I don’t think she made you as some expendable asset,” I said.

“I’ve been reading.  Everything referencing diabolists says they’re dangerous lunatics, except for the stuff that was written by grandmother and other diabolists.  The temptation to offer pieces of yourself for obvious gains sucks all of them in eventually.  The guys who unleash some of the worst stuff out there?  The guys who meet the worst ends?  They’re in the same category as her.  Our grandmother.  Over and over, they become monsters.  Literally, or generally monstrous people that might use their kids or grandkids as sacrificial pawns to get what they need.”

“I don’t deny that they’re fucked up.  But grandmother lived.  She hit the ripe old age of eighty-five, and I doubt you do that while messing with stuff like this if you’re dumb.  Besides, dumb people aren’t the type to spend the kind of power it takes to make a sapient being, only to throw it away like you’re talking about.”

That actually seemed to help.  Not that she looked happy, but maybe the way didn’t look so dark.

“There isn’t a book we can read to figure out why I was created,” Rose said.  Her eyes were still downcast.  “I looked at the earliest diary entries, and the most recent.”

“Anything useful in the most recent?”  I asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  Nothing.  The early ones… I sort of skipped past the earliest diaries, because a child’s writing is hard to read in big doses.  Some stuff on the relationships between the different groups here.  But if you’re looking for tips on where to focus our studies, we may have to look a bit further.”

“Relationships,” I said.

“It wasn’t all friendly or peaceful, though it sounds like there was more of an equilibrium a while back.”

“Like Laird said,” I thought aloud, “It’s starting to change.  If the house sells, Jacob’s Bell grows past a threshold.  It’s thrown things a bit out of balance.”

“You’ve got the two big circles joining in marriage, maybe rebuilding that balance.”

“Status quo for the Duchamp family, it sounds like,” I said.  Which was a reminder of the matter at hand.  “Listen, The council meeting starts in three and a half hours.  I wanted to check you were up for it.”

“I’m up for it,” she said.  She met my eyes, but that only made it clearer how worn out she was.

“Be careful,” I said.  “If you lie-”

“I know,” she said.  Nervously, she started fiddling with her hair, trying to get it sorted out.  “I might lose my powers, or be forsworn.  And I don’t want to lose any protections I might have, if things like Padraic can reach in here to get me.  Not that I have much else to lose.”

I nodded.

“Don’t worry about me if you’re not going to worry about yourself,” Rose said.  “You look as tired as I feel, and since you’re the one making the big decisions, like when to go out and-”

“Woah,” I said.  “Woah, woah.  You’re talking about this?”

“About going out with Laird.”

“I thought we weren’t fighting.”

I could see her expression change.  Barely restrained frustration, slowly but surely being covered up, hidden behind a mask.  “We’re not.  Nevermind.  I got carried away.  I’ll meet you downstairs in a bit, and then we’ll go?”

A big part of me wanted to argue.  To press the issue.  To air grievances and get things on a more even keel.  To convince her that I didn’t want her as a slave or a servant.

Except we had more pressing matters.  Better to find a way to show it to her rather than tell her.

“Sure,” I said.

The spirits parted.  I knew when it was time, because of the way the surroundings changed.  A moment of rest, where the snow wasn’t so hard, the spirits were settled, and an entire area was almost clear, in magical terms.  In regular terms, the snowstorm let up a touch.  It was dark, but that was more to do with cloud cover than time of day.

I was on the move the moment the coast was clear, but I didn’t go to the meeting.

I headed for the downtown area, backpack empty, pockets full.  Everything I could think I might need on hand.

Fireplaces and stoves.  No.  Dollar store?  No.  An old-school ice-cream shop complete with the benches and the tall glasses for fondues and ice cream floats.

I settled on a general mens store.

Knives were on sale, but I didn’t like the idea of using them.  Too short a reach, against the sorts of things I would be fighting.

I did like the look of the ice picks and hatchets.  Prices on the picks hit the hundreds, while I could manage a hatchet for as little as forty.

Wooden baseball bat, a touch less expensive.

I added the weight of a loop of chain to the cart as well.

Then I stepped into the corner of the shop where they handled bicycle stuff.

Cheap side-mirrors were about four dollars for a pair, round mirrors about six inches across.  I checked that I could see Rose inside and grabbed twenty.

I think she might have actually smiled, when I glimpsed her.

I did another circuit of the store.  There were rifles and guns, but those started at a hundred and fifty dollars, and I had little doubt they’d stop working in a pinch.  Many Others would be immune or too hard to kill with a regular gun.  In terms of cost benefit, I’d rather have more mirrors.

If I couldn’t get a gun at this point, the bow and arrow set stood out as a tempting alternative.  It helped that there were Others who were vulnerable to wood and not metal.  There were problems in terms of cost, though.  At ninety dollars minimum, it was just outside of the range I was willing to pay.

And, when I thought about it, it would be hell to practice if my movements were limited to the interior of Hillsglade House.  It would take too long to learn.

I had basic weapons for self defense, plus a few tools, which would have to tide me over until I got further in my studies over the magic stuff.

When I approached the counter to pay, I got stares.  It made me wonder if the process of awakening had changed anything about me.  Or if they were enemies.

I made my way to the next store.  A general catch-all bargain shop, a little better than the dollar store I had passed.  Expanding beyond the one pair of jeans would go a long way for my sanity.  So would having decent soap and shampoo.  Even different laundry detergent would help.  I grabbed all of the toiletries, a few spare t-shirts, a sweatshirt and added a thirty dollar pair of jeans, just so I had something besides underwear to wear in a pinch.

It made me feel better, knowing I had the stuff, feeling the weight of it in the shopping basket.  It left me roughly twenty bucks to get food, but I could stretch a little money a long way on that front.  I was happier having permanent things, new things.  Even if they were cheap shirts for 75% off.  If I had more money in general, I would be a shopaholic or a hoarder.

When I headed to the front of the store, a young boy got in my way.  Just past the brink of entering adolescence, pale and brown haired.

My first thought was Other.  The memories of the things that had attacked the fake delivery man were fresh in my mind.  It wasn’t.  Very much human.

“You’re Blake, aren’t you?”

I nodded.

“Do you recognize me?”

I nodded again.  Molly’s younger brother.

When he didn’t say anything, giving me a death glare, I said, “Christoff.  Hey, listen.  I’m sorry about your sister.”

“Why are you sorry?” he asked.  “Did you do it?”

God damn, the way he could say it as if I had…  with a hardness in his voice?  That had to have been something that the family had imbued in him over the years of fighting.  Something he would have picked up.  It was the kind of accusation that had enough weight to it that even an innocent target could be put off balance and made to consider the question.

“No, Christoff.  The police already cleared me.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.  Did you kill my sister?”

“No,” I said.  Not unless murder by omission is possible.  “I didn’t.”

I could see Callan approaching, giving me a bit of a wary look.  His mother wasn’t far behind.

Callan was almost thirty.  His mother was forty and looked ten years older, by the condition of her skin and hair, her arms full with a bundle of shirts with superheroes on them.  I couldn’t help but see Aunt Irene as the type of person who had faced hardships every day and had emerged just a fraction weaker from each crisis.  Worrying about money and work and all of that tended to eat you up inside.  I knew, even if I had lived it for only a short time, what that was like.

All that said, it didn’t mean I was a fan of her as a person.

Callan frowned as stopped behind Christoff, putting his hands on his little brother’s shoulders.

“I was just saying to Christoff,” I said, “I’m sorry about Molly.  You have my condolences.”

“But you still didn’t waste any time in taking the house,” Callan said.  His glare matched those of Christoff and my aunt.

“Ah, someone told you?”

“It’s in the papers,” he said.  “Every day, talking about Molly, talking about you.  Who’s the new heir, that sort of thing.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice in any of it,” I said.  “I don’t want the house or the baggage that comes with it.  At this point, I’d be pretty happy give up all the money and walk away from all of this… without anyone getting hurt.”

“But you’re living there,” Callan said.  “So you must want some part of it.”

“It’s complicated,” I said.

“Your parents said you were homeless.  I bet you fucked up, and this is the only place you have to live.  Squatting in my sister’s house before her body’s even cold.”

I expected his mother to rebuke him, to respond to the callous comment about Molly.

She was cold before she died, I thought.

What I said was, “She was one of the very few family members I ever liked, honestly.  She was a friend to me.  I meant it when I said I’m sorry.”

“She wasn’t your friend,” Aunt Irene said, and her voice had that accusatory hardness that Christoff had picked  up.  Her eyes narrowed, an expression to match her tone, “Every other second I look at you, I wonder how you’re responsible.”

How, not if.

“You keep saying you’re sorry, and I believe it a little less each time,” Callan said.  “Tell you what.  Go.  Don’t ever fucking talk about my sister again, just go, and we won’t have a problem.”

I didn’t say anything, out of concern it would be taken as binding.  Instead, I circled around to walk past him.

He took a step to the side, getting in my way.  “I didn’t say pay and leave.  I said leave.”

“You said go,” I said.  “I’m going.”

“Not this way,” he said.  “Not with this shit you need to keep squatting in my sister’s house.”

Heads were turning.  We had the attention of every shopper and employee in the store, now.

I thought of Rose’s recent surrender.  I didn’t agree with it.  It wasn’t what I wanted… but I didn’t want an issue here, either.

“Fine,” I said.  “Let me give the basket to the cashier-”

“Don’t be an asshole,” Callan said.  “Go put it all back on the shelves and racks.”

I dropped the basket.  “No.  But I’ll leave, without buying, without incident.  You win, Callan.”

He smirked, but when I turned to go around him, he reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, maybe to slow me down so he could get in my way again.

I shoved him, hard enough he stumbled three steps back.

Before anything further could happen, I headed for the doors.  More for his sake than mine.  I wasn’t forgetting the consequences of missing the council meeting, as I thought that.  I was-

The sound of running footsteps made me stop.  The expressions of the cashiers to my right clued me in.

I reacted, half-turning, bringing my arm up.  The arm wasn’t in position to deflect the worst of the hit, but I was more or less ready as Callan did his damndest to sucker-punch me.  It hurt, but it was only pain.  No disorientation, no loss of consciousness.

My retaliation was automatic.  I hit him, fist to face.  He reeled, bending over to the point that I thought he was going to do a somersault.  But I was already swinging the follow-up strike, waist-level.

He hit the ground, rolled onto his back, and he didn’t get up.  His mouth was open, lip split, and he stared, blinking hard, looking in a different direction each time he opened his eyes.

Fuck, my hands hurt like a bitch.

Employees came running, as well as one or two male customers.  I backed away, hands raised.

But when they reached us, two employees dropped to their knees beside Callan, and the rest of the intervening bystanders put themselves between us, forming a protective half-circle around Callan.  Six of them, and another fourteen or so bystanders.

“He hit me first,” I said.

“You shoved him,” a man said.  He looked fifty or so, but had a walker, oddly out of tune with his age.

“That’s not how it happened and you know it,” I said.

The man said, “I know you’re that guy in the Hillsglade place right now.  You selling it anytime soon?”

“No, the contract-”

“Then I think I know what we’re telling the police,” he said.  He looked around, and slowly, each other member of the small crowd started nodding in agreement.

Too coincidental.  Too much fuckery, for this to happen now.  I switched to my other way of seeing.

Nothing stood out, no strange glows or images that weren’t supposed to be here.  No Others were in the area.

When I turned to more basic elements, I could see how active the spirits were.  Nothing too unusual, though this was my first opportunity seeing how the spirits traveled back and forth between people, maintaining relationships.  If I unfocused a bit, they almost looked like ribbons or cords, connecting people throughout the area.

Three of the ribbons stood out from the rest.  Too straight, too narrow.  They were like spears that had penetrated Callan, Aunt Irene and Christoff and plunged into me.

Forced connections between us.  Too direct to be natural.  Someone had aimed them at me.

Fuckery.

There were rules, though.  No interfering with or attacking anyone else in the time leading up to, during, or after the meeting.

Had this been done beforehand?  Had things been set up so that they’d get in my way at the first available opportunity?

Or had someone found a loophole?

I wasn’t sure I had a chance to debate it.  A cashier was dialing on the phone, her eyes on me.

In that moment, I saw Laird enter the store, not in uniform, but wearing a long coat, cheeks red from the cold.  He surveyed the situation.

“Mr. Thorburn,” he said.

“Officer,” I said.  “Pretty prompt response to a call that hasn’t been made yet.”

“Are you getting smart with me?” he asked.

I shook my head.  “Only stating the truth.”

He gave me an appraising look.  “Yes.  I imagine you are.  Katie, you can put the phone down.  He’s right, there isn’t a point.”

“He had a few harsh words for the fellow there,” the guy with the walker said, “Then shoved him, they exchanged blows.”

“That so?” Laird asked.  He surveyed the room very slowly.  His eyes settled on Katie.  “I’m asking.  Is it, Katie?”

She looked at the crowd.

“Katie?”

“No, sir.”

“No.  I didn’t think so.  I’ll tell you what.  You guys go on about your business, and I’ll see that Mr. Thorburn gets to his destination.  Deal?”

“Yes sir,” a few nearby people mumbled.

“Mr. Thorburn?” he asked, giving me a sharp look.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“I don’t think I heard that clearly enough,” he said.  His stare was a level one.

Right.  He wanted to play this game.

I wouldn’t be buying clothes, toiletries or groceries, it seemed.

“I’ll go with you,” I said.

“Good,” he responded, smiling.

We went on our way.  I hadn’t turned off my second sight, and I saw how the spirits were shifting.  People were milling around the area, which was more like an extended strip mall than a true downtown, but the spirits diverted them from taking one side street.

We turned down that street, and were soon joined by Andy and Eva.  The witch hunters.

“I assume they aren’t bound by any neutrality rules,” I said.

“No,” Laird said.  “But if they wanted to kill you, they could enter your home and murder you in their sleep.”

The girl smiled, giving me a look.  Confident, brash, if I remembered right from the vision.  Her brother kept his eyes straight forward, watching the ground for slick patches and lumps of snow he might stumble on.  He was burdened down with bags of stuff, while she strutted.

I’d read up on the locals.  What had the little black book said?  They were witch hunters in service to Jacob’s Bell.  Killing or punishing any Other or practitioner who strayed too far from the rules and made life inconvenient.  Half of their payment came in the form of hard cash.  Half was in either trinkets they could use on their job or knowledge.

We approached a church.  The area was desolate.

I saw the woman with a blur for a face pause outside, waiting for a man to hold the door open.  She was the one who’d molded the other who’d pretended to be a delivery driver.  I saw her deliberately put the little ever-lit cigarette out before entering.

A church wasn’t my first guess for a meeting place.

Inside, Laird walked me to the front, where his family sat in the front row of pews.  He paused, bending down to talk to his wife, and I walked on, my eyes taking it in.

All eyes were on me, in turn.  It made for a kind of pressure.  Like all of the bad parts of public speaking without the ability to say something and give off a better impression.

Behaim Circle, chronomancers.  Demesnes situated in scattered residences across the city.  I was familiar enough with them.

Sitting in the aisles opposite the Behaims was the Duchamp Coven.  According to the little black book, their line was purely female, and their craft was taught to women only.  Easy enough, when any Duchamp woman would give birth girls only.  A large family with strong ties to many of the surrounding areas, the family had earned a measure of prestige and power by marrying off their daughters and cousins to others in Ontario, Quebec, and the Northeastern States.  Enchantresses.

What were enchantresses?  Essentials had filled me in on the basics.  They would be focused on altering relationships.  Influencing people, influencing things.  An object could have its owner reassigned, so it might find its way into someone else’s hands, or be tethered to a location, so it would continually end up there.  On the higher end of things, people could be altered, with an enchantress literally stealing someone’s love.  On the very high end of things, familiars could be claimed by an enchantress that didn’t already have one, among other general bends and twists in more fundamental rules.

In short, they were the most likely culprits for sending Aunt Irene’s family my way.

A middle-aged aboriginal woman sat alone, and nobody sat near her.  Mara Angnakak.  She straddled the line between practitioner and Other.  When Jacob’s Bell was first settled by colonists, she was already here.  The notes had marked that she was very reserved, but she harbored a horrendous amount of hatred for the rest of us.  Grandmother had written out suspicions that she was illiterate; arguing it would explain why her talents seem to be limited to what she could teach herself.  Centuries of such teaching and experimentation, but limited nonetheless.

Being a practitioner inevitably meant losing a bit of your humanity and becoming a bit more Other.  My new eyesight was a part of that, one step along what could be a long journey.  Mara Angnakak had nearly finished that journey before stopping.  Or she had to have, if she was that old.

She was here before Europeans came to Canada and chances were good that she intended to be here well after we were gone.

A girl slouched in a seat.  Her familiar wasn’t in its mortal form, but was ethereal, with all of the mass of a grizzly on the front end, and a tail end that looked like that of a fish, the features an incoherent blend of different animals and plants, different features being emphasized as I looked longer.  Her stick tapped the floor with no rhythm at all.  She’d seated herself nearer the Others at the back than the two big families.  I recognized her as the one who’d been shouting at the rabbit.

She would be the Briar Girl.  No other name.  A recent addition to the local population, as of six years ago.  She apparently lived full-time in the woods and marshes behind Hillsglade House.  Grandmother’s suspicion?  She had contracted with a familiar too powerful for her to handle, creating something that was less a partnership than a practitioner dominated by the spirit.  The bear-thing would be the familiar, the stick her implement.

Johannes, the sorcerer from the north end, was already sitting, but he’d chosen to sit among the Others, near the back, rather than anywhere near the two families.  His dog sat beside him, a breed that could easily look silly, given the chance, but it managed to look noble.

It helped that the lights behind the dog seemed somehow brighter, the rest of the room darker by contrast.

Others continued to appear, and it seemed as though they had been arriving for a while.  They avoided the pews and stood around the edges.  Where they clustered, their bodies blocked the wall-mounted lights behind them, and the room darkened.

I found an empty row and sat.  I put the backpack down on the pew beside me and fished out a pair of bike mirrors.  I adjusted the zipper, and zipped up around the prong where the mirror was supposed to fit into the bike handle.  It stuck up, facing forward.

Easily an hour passed before the influx of Others started to taper off.  My mouth was dry, my heart pounding, my face hurt where I’d been hit, and my hands hurt more.

Above all else, I was realizing what I was up against.  These weren’t pages in the little black book.  They were enemies of mine.  Virtually all of them.

A lot of them would kill me.

A good few would probably do worse things than kill me.

This wasn’t quite what I had expected.  I’d expected a few practitioners.  Not everyone.

“Blake,” Rose whispered.

“What?” I asked, leaning closer.

“Don’t tell anyone that I did the ritual,” she said.

I nodded.

Keep cards up our sleeves.  That was how we needed to think.

But we couldn’t be wilting flowers, bowing over if someone so much as looked at us the wrong way.  I could do that for Callan, but not here.

A woman from the Duchamp family was talking to Laird, off to the side.  She might have been the one who was talking in the vision I’d had.  Not the oldest Duchamp woman here, but she had a kind of presence.  They both cast glances my way as they talked, making me the obvious topic of conversation.

I went out of my way to look like I wasn’t terrified.

All of these people were my enemies.

Beautiful Rose,” Padraic purred.  “Both of them, here.  A good night, I’m sure.”

He’d entered alongside his two regular companions, two other companions of similar attractiveness, and Maggie Holt, the girl with the checkered scarf.  She was a teenager, making her slightly younger than the Briar Girl, and her eyebrows made her look perpetually angry, helped by a swift, graceless manner of walking.

She sat to my right, across the aisle.  Padraic and his group sat around her, instantly and automatically settling into comfortable seating positions that could have doubled for poses.

“Padraic, as usual, is the last to enter,” Laird said.  “We can begin a little early tonight.  Please, Mr. Thorburn.  You’re at the center of attention.  Would you please step up to the front and introduce yourself?”

Every set of eyes in the room

“Say no,” Rose said.

“I said I’d run impulsive plans by you, right?” I asked.

“Blake?”

“Mr. Thorburn?” Laird asked, his voice ringing down the length of the church.

“If I had a way to divert our enemies from us and to each other?” I asked.  “Yes or no?”

“Blake, you can’t expect me to-”

“Blake Thorburn, grandson of Mrs. Rose D. Thorburn, Diabolist of Hillsglade House,” Laird said.  “I would like a response.”

Making someone repeat themselves, in some cases, would make them look weaker.  Laird was getting more intimidating each time he spoke.

“Yes,” she said.

I stood.

There was no murmur of conversation as I walked down the aisle.  There were hundreds here, but most were Others, and they were all exceptionally good at being quiet.  Goblins, disgusting to look at, as though they were distilled versions of human ugliness, squat and all of them armed with weapons forged together from scrap.  Ghosts, etheral and exaggerated in appearance, forever marked with their causes of death, twisted by an imperfect recollection of what they looked like and who they were, before.  Faerie, in myriad shapes and forms, and spirits.  The other half of the Others were impossible to identify.

Funny, how many others with the appearances of children were around Johannes.

Andy and Eva sat on the stairs to the right of the stage, facing down everyone.  Like bailiffs or guards, a reminder to keep the peace.  The other set of stairs was blocked by the crowd.  I stood at the very end of the aisle, and gripped the railing.

In the midst of the faces, of the twenty or so members of the Duchamp coven and thirty-ish members of Laird’s family, all of the Others, I had to search to find the tiny round mirror that Rose would be peering out of.

“I’m Blake Thorburn,” I said.  “I doubt you really care about that, or about who I am.  I imagine Molly Walker did her own speech here.  I can’t even guess how she handled it, or what she said.  I’m an obstacle for you to remove, to get power.  I know this.  I know you might see me as one number on a countdown clock, with prosperity waiting when there’s nothing left.  When there are no successors.  But you need to know, that thing so many of you are terrified of?  That I might learn enough to summon something problematic?  It’s already summoned.”

I could see Laird react to that.  A shift in the crowd.  Some of the kids went pale, in the Duchamp family.

Johannes smiled.  Mara the immortal, for her part, didn’t say or do anything.  Most Others didn’t seem to care one way or another.

“Not my choice.  I also didn’t choose the arrangements my grandmother put in place,” I said.

I was thinking of Rose, but I didn’t need to elaborate on that.

“Some of you have been baiting me, trying to get me to retaliate.  I don’t know why, but I imagine there’s something at play.  I’m not going to do what they want.  I’m going to make you guys a deal.  I’ll make three deals.  If you approach me and offer a ceasefire, an agreement you won’t attack me or help anyone who might, if you make a good offer, I’ll take the demon off the table for you and yours.”

I could see people exchanging glances.

That was a maxim, right?  A rule of war?

Divide and conquer.

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176 thoughts on “Damages 2.1

    1. Indeed. It seems like a good strategy, at least for the crap hand he has been dealt, but who knows? We need a hell of a lot more information on the other players if we are going to make accurate guesses.

      Also, Blake seems less and less like a stupid protagonist here. He’s just someone who’s way out of his depth, who’s doing a lot better than I would. The general hatred for their family by the normal townspeople is also suprising in how extreme it is.

      And now for a crazy guess: Briar Girl becomes an ally in hope of learning something from Blake about how to control her familiar/demon.

      1. The hatred seems to be half magical fuckery and half understandable frustration of a dying community who thinks that selling the mansion will help the town.

  1. About the only hand he had to play.

    Next up, seeing how ersatz North Korea can extract canned food shipments from the concerned community, and at what point he’ll have to demonstrate that the threat is empty… or real.

    Johannes smiling may simply mean that confusion among those opposing him is always welcome.

    Still deeply puzzled by Laird, unless he wanted this kind of out-and-out destabilization to happen. That opening period of naivete was more than long enough to do something lethal – as Molly learned – wasting it on harassment is a surreal violation of the maxim to do no small harms.

    Don’t yet know enough about the players to predict the ways this could ripple, but do believe that dominoes just started falling. Depending on story pace, could see this play out at every Council session for years, or have a novel’s worth of story before the next.

    1. I think Laird is trying to straddle the fence. If Blake turns out to be a major player, he really wants to be on Blake’s bad side. But if Blake goes belly-up like Molly, the last thing Laird wants is to be seen as fraternizing with him.

    1. Grammar: Easy enough, when any Duchamp woman would give birth girls only.

      would give birth to girls only.
      would birth girls only.
      would only give birth to girls.

    2. “general mens store.”
      missing ‘.

      “I’d be pretty happy give up all the money”
      missing ‘to’.

      Some pronouns don’t fit together sometimes…

      “Weapons. A knife, a larger weapon if he could manage it.
      (…)
      Ideally I’d be able to pick up an assortment of weapons in a variety of materials. The problem was, I wasn’t sure where I could get those things.”
      The shift to first person feels a bit off, and I don’t see an easy way to fix it that also fits the intro line. :/

      “if they wanted to kill you, they could enter your home and murder you in their sleep.”
      Shifts from second to third person. Easier to fix, I guess.

      1. That last one could be correct the way it is. “They could… murder you in their sleep”, meaning it’s that easy for them.

    3. Hrm. I’m not actually sure if this is a typo or not, but… “A knife, a larger weapon if he could manage it.” – shouldn’t that be “if I could manage it”?

    4. Time paradoxes!

      1.1 says “Her voice was clear. Not an old person’s voice. Certainly not a ninety-year old’s.”

      While 2.1 says “She hit the ripe old age of eighty-five, and I doubt you do that while messing with stuff like this if you’re dumb.”

      Not sure if this means she lived past eighty-five or up to eighty-five, but it’d make more sense if you changed it to ninety. (Otherwise she’d have started her diary at the age of three).

      1,6 says “The newest arrival in Jacob’s Bell as of August thirteenth, ‘ought-nine, he arrived at the council meeting of said date.” and “Johannes has made his second appearance at council meetings, February sixth, year two thousand and ten.”

      Neither of these dates coincide with possible council meetings(Assuming the second saturday of each month). These dates should be changed to August 15th, 2009 and February 13th, 2010.

    5. A knife, a larger weapon if he could manage it.
      First-person perspective. Should be ‘if I could manage it’.
      Joel’s car and keys, which I had borrowed, needed to be returned, if they weren’t already.
      Blake has not yet returned the keys, so why was there doubt about whether or not they were returned?

      1. Maybe, like, the mother’s forty nine, and the son’s twenty nine or something, that way there’s roughly twenty years between them. And a teen pregnancy hasn’t been ruled out yet.

        1. “His mother was forty and looked ten years older”
          I’m getting a very clear impression from that line by itself that she is 40 years old.

          1. That confused me too, initially, but there’s a younger boy present and I think she’s his mother, not Callan’s.

    6. (Sorry, I didn’t have the time to remove typos already mentioned by others.)

      Typos:
      – “Weapons. A knife, a larger weapon if he could manage it.” -> ‘if I could manage it”
      – “Listen, The council meeting starts in three and a half hours.” -> ‘Listen, the’
      – “I settled on a general mens store.” -> ‘men’s store’
      – “until I got further in my studies over the magic stuff” -> ‘of the magic stuff’
      – “Callan frowned as stopped behind Christoff” -> ‘as he stopped’
      – “At this point, I’d be pretty happy give up all the money and walk away from all of this” -> ‘happy to give up’
      – “But if they wanted to kill you, they could enter your home and murder you in their sleep.” -> ‘in your sleep’, unless the witch hunters have really weird powers
      – “She was the one who’d molded the other who’d pretended to be a delivery driver.” -> ‘other’ -> ‘Other’
      – “Easy enough, when any Duchamp woman would give birth girls only.” -> ‘would give birth to girls only’
      – “arguing it would explain why her talents seem to be limited to what she could teach herself.” -> ‘seemed’
      – “Every set of eyes in the room” -> There’s no end to the sentence.
      – “Funny, how many others with the appearances of children were around Johannes.” -> ‘Others’

      Possible typos:
      – “The house felt a little more claustrophobic than it had, before.” -> Remove the comma.
      – “Were it the furniture and furniture alone, I wouldn’t have a problem.” -> ‘wouldn’t have had’; imo the sentence is currently in the wrong tense
      – “Latin classifications, short form that necessitated I look it up, measures and linking to reference material instead of explaining them outright.” -> ‘measures and links’? Not sure what ‘measures’ refers to here. Measuring instruments? Something like ‘kilometers’ for practitioners?
      – “A moment of rest, where the snow wasn’t so hard, the spirits were settled, and an entire area was almost clear, in magical terms.” -> ‘where’ -> ‘when’ (because a moment is a point in time, not in space)
      – “I grabbed all of the toiletries, a few spare t-shirts, a sweatshirt and” -> ‘sweatshirt, and’
      – “my first opportunity seeing” -> ‘to see’
      – ” The notes had marked that she was very reserved” -> ‘remarked’?

    7. There are two pet peeves of mine from reading Worm and reading this story. I’m a massive fan of your writing and I absolutely loved Worm and when that ended, I felt that I’d never like another story as much, ever, but here we have a contender. A fantastic bit of writing I must say.

      My only peeves are:

      1. You use the word “sapient” when I think you’re trying to use the word “sentient”. They mean different things. Sapient means wise and old, etc.
        Sentient is more about being self-aware, conscious and intelligent.
      2. You haven’t used it in this story yet, but in Worm, I cringed every time I read it and I must have read it about a hundred times:
        “benefit of a doubt”.
        This is wrong. It’s “benefit of the doubt”. I know it’s trivial but I had to make the comment about “sapient” so I thought I’d shoot two birds with one stone here.

      Anyway, absolutely love your work. You’re a fantastically talented writer and I truly envy your gift.

    8. I’d be pretty happy give up all the money and walk away from all of this –> to give up

      Every set of eyes in the room
      Easy enough, when any Duchamp woman would give birth girls only. –> to girls only

      etheral –> ethereal

  2. So. . . Does Pact refer to a) the deals that the practitioners make, b)Granny Rose’s vow for her children, c) The future deal Blake (and/or Rose) will make with the evil can’t-look-directly-at-it thing living upstairs (I’m bad with names), d) its like worm and refers to something we haven’t seen yet, or e) other?

  3. I loved how Blake was wondering whether people were staring at him for supernatural reasons, instead of because he had a baseball bat, a chain, and twenty small mirrors in his basket. It really expresses a lot about his tension.

      1. Yeah, now I’m going to practice baseball on my baseball field. Inside my mansion. The one I’ll never sell. Because. Suckers.

    1. Don’t forget the ax and the ice pick.

      Seriously, Blake, /we/ know why you need that stuff, but to an outsider you totally look like a serial killer right now.

    2. well, unless all his getup is generally ‘acceptable’ compared to weirdest of weird bunch over that gathering. Dude, there’s like, goblin, fae, and all the freakiest whatnot all bunched down to a single motherdamning church,,,

  4. Blake appears to have finally started to find his footing. I like how he’s trying to make more of an effort with Rose, especially after he kind of bulldozed her into submission.

    The townspeople are really starting to irritate me though, in the same way the bullying trio in Worm did. I’m hoping that, unlike Taylor, Blake will do something to get those fuckers off his back. No wonder Molly was so miserable.

    1. Small town politics can be incredibly vicious. Old grudges linger, and bad blood can last for generations, even though it seems unbelevably stupid and petty to outsiders. That said the Townspeople have done some stupid things.

      First off, there is no faster and surer way to make someone an enemy than to treat them as though they already were.

      Second don’t pick fights with people you don’t know. You simply don’t know how they are going to react. They know Blake has the equivelent of WMD’s. What they don’t know is how much they can push him before he starts firing them off.

      A man with no hope is a man with nothing to lose. Again, someone with the equivelent of a ton of nukes. Do you really want them to feel so trapped that they decide “If I’m fucked, then everybody is fucked!”?

      The Others might not be able to tell him apart from his forebearers that well, but the mortals can. So they really should try to not turn a potential ally into a enemy.

      1. That smalltown thing is no joke. I’m third generation in my county, eighth in the region, and half the fights I got into in school were basically with another family in the region because my great grandfather stole their great grandfather’s girl. Goes the other way too though- My ancestor saved my best friend’s ancestor’s life in the first world war. I wonder if these townsfolk are banding together not just because they hate Blake’s family, but because they trust each other from generation’s of positive association.

  5. Y’know, I look at the chapter and I immediately get the impression that Blake is too focused on being a billy badass as a solution to his situation, a closer reading tells me that holy shit, Blake is heading straight for an ass whuppin’.

    Though I doubt it’ll be someone overpowering him. Chances are he’ll come in badassed up to the nines and done in by cunning instead.

    So, how many people granny’s assessments of the other sorcerers will turn out to be misleading bullshit that will get Blake in trouble I wonder?

    1. Hrm, I strongly doubt Granny left any misleading stuff in her library. Misleading can border on lying, and she wrote that stuff when she was alive. Plenty of danger to Blake here, she wouldn’t need to add to it with carefully constructed partial truths. Simply not saying anything at all about them would be nearly as effective, and no risk of loss of power.

  6. I really like the depth this world seems to have, from what we’ve seen so far. I get the feeling that this kind of politics is going on everywhere, just about all the time, and throwing someone new into the mix just to see how it shakes things up is going to be interesting to watch. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing what Blake ends up with as a familiar and implement (I’m already assuming his Demesne will be the house, but I may be wrong about that.)

    1. Its been stated that previous generations of Thorburns have already claimed the various parts of the property as Demesnes and that he will have to choose a location off-site.

      1. It’s been implied as such, but if he’s got the oomph, he might be able to override previous claims. If he saves his Demesne for last, perhaps?

      2. The entire house has been claimed, but nothing was said about the property it sits on. Given that the property around the house isn’t a haven, I think it can be presumed it hasn’t been claimed.

      3. Hrm, but you have to defend your Demesnes, and his dead ancestors can’t do that, so there should be no problem with him simply claiming the house. It is already proof against Others, as demonstrated in the pizza delivery incident. Probably due to it being a mortal dwelling, which generally in most magical universes, has a threshold that spirit beings can’t cross easily without permission.

    2. I thought it said a majority of the house was taken, not all of it. Then, there is always the dig down under the floor boards and make your own space idea.

      1. Most of the house would probably not include Barbie’s room. That’s probably not something you want in your demesnes, able to challenge you whenever it feels like it. Keeping it inside the threshold of your house is bad enough.

  7. At this point I’m dead certain that the faceless woman is a Totenmaske. The whole thing about molding flesh is just too spot on for her to be anything else. Which means if she follows the rest of the themes for Totenmaskes, that she can take on the forms of those she feeds from.

    1. Is it bad than any time I see “faceless woman”, my brain auto-corrects to “faceless old woman who secretly live in your home”?

  8. Maybe its just me, but I get the feeling a straight razor might be an incredibly appropriate tool, if only for the connotations it has amongst Others and practicioners.
    Cause, y’know, a barber’s favorite tool since the past forever.

  9. Blake really needs to read The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries if he really wants to engage in a campaign on short notice.

    1. And the evil overlord list. The classics are classic for a reason.

      It’ll be interesting to see if Johannes actually takes Blake up on the deal. There’s a big risk he becomes something like the Coil of this story. Or maybe the Han Solo?

      I also must say that Blake’s plan does have a chance of backfiring. Everybody is rightfully scared of what he might send against them… But entering a truce under such conditions is a big fat admission of weakness. The political structure can’t abide such a thing. !Troll Johannes aside, there’s every chance the two Duchamps and Behaims, as the two largest and, presumably most powerful, factions can easily announce the same deal and utterly screw Blake over.

      Too little is known about the loners to say how they’ll take to the deal. It seems Mara just hates everyone, so she could tentatively join in the chance on driving people away… Or not, just because.

      If Briar Girl really has been… Subsumed, if that’s the right word, then it just depends on what the heck the deal is with her familiar. With nothing known beyond it being a pretty heavy hitter that can outsmart a young girl… Nothing can really be predicted.

      I rather doubt the wonder twins (Andy and Eva) have any reason at all to support Blake in the least, and he may very well have earned some enmity, considering its their job to, if not keep the peace, than at least keep a full blown magic war from brewing. Because, ya know, it ain’t that big a leap of logic to conclude that’s exactly what’ll happen if people do start allowing themselves to be divided. Not saying Blake can’t protect himself if he has a bunch of mirrors for Rose to keep watch through and sleeps in the library, but professional mage killers are a real bitch to have as enemies, I’m sure.

      Hmm… More things to ponder. A delightful read, wildbow. I do so love these opportunities to stretch my brain.

      1. Given what he’s dealing with, I think any plan has a chance of backfiring. However, doing nothing is riskier. The current status quo is inevitable death for Blake, and this plan has a number of positives for it. You can say he’s showing weakness, but everyone already views him as weak since he’s a complete novice at this. The possession of a demon is a formidable weapon that gives Blake leverage, and they probably can tell he’s awakened so they know he’s not lying. They also don’t know what kind of demon it is, and given the sheer variety of Others they wouldn’t know what defenses they’d need to put up to stop it should he send it against them. This ultimately puts him in a position of strength. Also, the witch hunters who keep the peace have less of a reason to go after him since he’s offering peace instead of declaring war, though of course knowing he has a demon may counter that.

        1. Also, agreeing to make only three deals is brilliant – he’s basically given everyone a time limit. If they take too long deciding, then three of the other groups might get in on it first. Whoever gets the deals will have to give him something, which may involve an alliance. That means his remaining enemies will have more than just him to contend with, which may give them pause.

  10. Thus, Thorburn gave the congregation an offer they couldn’t refuse, and probably the most badass sermon I’ve ever read. Has to read it aloud, though I can’t stop smiling as I try. That was some “say my name” grade dialogue.
    Pity about the failed shopping. In Blake’s shoes I’d be getting pretty bitter at those townsfolk by now. If he’s willing to shell out enough money, though, I’m sure some airdrop delivery directly to the chimney can be arranged.
    Perhaps more realistically, it might also be possible to arranged for the marshland to be drained and construction allowed there. Obviously the house, and therefore the hill can’t be removed, but it’s something.
    On second thought, the house probably could be moved, as there doesn’t seem to be a basement, so you’d just have to do some digging and put it on some wheels: Extreme house moving. Cool stuff.

    1. I read that as 3 parts of a deal. Not only 3 deals. That I’ll not attack you, no helping anyone attack me or attack me yourself, and you give me something in exchange or benefit.

  11. Eighty-five is a pretty decent old age… if you don’t have access to a demon that can grant you an extra 25 years in a pinch (for a tradeoff that’s simple enough you’re willing to list it for your grandkids). Did RDT do enough other bad things that her natural span would have only been 60 without the deal, did she avoid taking it, or did she take it and deliberately cede back some of her time?

    Presumably her oath to leave her children untouched is not borne by her heir. Due to how messed up his family is, Blake may be missing the fact that there’s very little stopping him from learning something simple but obviously magic, getting his family together, showing them his trick as proof, and laying out everything that’s going on. “Look, Grandma really was a witch. Like, not in an insulting way. This town is full of magical maniacs planning to kill us all one by one and if you guys don’t get on side, the monsters that killed Molly will come for you when they’ve gotten me.”

    Given all the things going on in town and the precise timing of her demise, I wonder if RDT saw something coming that she just couldn’t deal with herself, even with a couple more decades of life. She’d boxed herself in with oaths, and a partly-trained heir with more freedom to act would still be able to handle it better than she could.

    1. “Did RDT do enough other bad things that her natural span would have only been 60 without the deal, did she avoid taking it, or did she take it and deliberately cede back some of her time?”

      Maybe she paid, say, 20 years to make Rose.

      Maybe that means Rose will die in 20 years.

    2. We can’t be sure yet to what extent ignorance is a defense, here. It’s noted that the simple and ignorant people of the world have some sort of defense (presumably this is why magic is not known, because without it the Others would be freed to prey as they wished, restricted marginally less), and in the case of people like the witch-hunters the Others must be able to work some sort of retaliation or self-defense. Given the price on Thorburn heads that apparently exists for Others in the vicinity of Jacob’s Bell, I’d be wary of introducing them to that world. It might just strip away what’s keeping Blake’s relatives alive and able to go out to the grocery store to harass their possibly-murderous cousin.

    3. That is an interesting point on RDT’s age at death. It has been implied several times that there is an afterlife, and the afterlife for the Thorburns is not pleasant, so it makes sense that she would have taken a life extension offer that had painfully gruesome but clear terms of payment.

      As far as the timing of taking the life extension offer, given that she knew she would die before she called the family together, and that this was (probably) before she inserted Blake into the succession, that means that any life-extending or life-shortening deals were made prior to the beginning of the story.

      I also like your thinking on the family, but I think such an attempt is doomed to failure. His family is clearly not predisposed to believe him and he can only do minor tricks – the greater powers are partially or fully hidden from non-practitioners. So his family is not likely to believe that anything he shows them is more than stage magic and will react badly to what they perceive as a fraudulent attempt to manipulate them.

      1. Yeah, that’s the crazy irony of what RTD did. In her drive to keep her family free from the touch of magic during her lifetime, she had to play increasingly severe head games with them that meant they were totally unsafe after her death due to their own dysfunction. She had a pretty big batch of descendents (seemingly bigger than her own ancestors), and if they were all awakened and trained at this point, they’d be a major player in town instead of reliant on their ignorance for what little protection it implies.

        But even with that ignorance, I think that there are some things Blake could do that wouldn’t read as simple tricks. Starting with, “Hey, come visit; bring your own mirror.”

        1. Solid point on the mirror trick, although … have we ever seen a non-practitioner see Rose? Or notice that Blake is missing an image?

          1. I don’t think we’ve had the opportunity yet. Let’s hope that’ll be cleared up sometimes soon. Blake WAS able to see Rose before his awakening though, but as a counterargument one could say that he’s special seeing as she’s bonded to him, for lack of a better word.

      2. But seeing as Rose Sr. died exactly on the stroke of midnight and knew of it I am almost dead certain that she was cursed by somebody. Perhaps the same somebody that killed Molly. And the same somebody who sent those bird mask Other motherfuckers after Blake on his way to Jacob’s Bell. Heck, it could be the same people who made Blake’s relatives hate him magically much.
        Also why the hell did Rose Sr. go out of her way to create Rose Jr. just so she could have a male heir. What’s so special about Blake? Maybe a male heir is necessary to locate and/or defeat this mysterious Somebody? Maybe this is the main plot of the story? Discovering who Somebody is and killing him to death?

        1. Or maybe it was the result of one of her deals. Tot years of earthly power and then get taken at the strike of midnight is a classic. Think of Faustus.

  12. Did Blake just commit to give a a get-out-of-Rose-free card to anyone who makes him an offer, whether or not it’s sincere, and whether or not they make a deal that gives Blake anything?

    Also, did Blake just make a big decision for Rose without telling her what it would be first? :X

      1. Also keep in mind they can’t lie, and they really can’t break any oaths they make. Doesn’t mean they can’t decieve though, so make sure to run everything by the lawyer. Still an agreement of “I don’t try to kill you, you don’t make a demon sever me from the afterlife” is a start.

  13. “Don’t tell anyone that I did the ritual,” she said.

    On the Rose-is-evil theory, maybe she wants to keep it a secret because half the practitioners there would go, “Omg! You’ve done what!? Let’s all band together to slay her before she devours the world!” if he brought it up.

  14. I assume he will put the offer of marriage on the table, to dangle the house and fortune to the other families. If his grandmother was able to divide her own family then it might be easier to divide other families using the same method.

    1. I like this idea – it gives him a bargaining chip that may well be as valuable or more so than Barbatorem. The real trick is: power in Thorburns descends on the female line and Blake has to marry a male so there is no way the outside family can get into the succession.

      I realize there are many possible loopholes: Blake can marry a “male” the same way he is “female” enough to inherit the power; technical bastards might be part of the succession; adoption of a female into the family might be an option; etc. However, right now those are serious hurdles and any outsider is unlikely to believe that Blake will live long enough to actually pass the power onto them. Also, right now Blake does not control the succession – RDT and the lawyer do, so he would have to survive until the property was fully legally and magically his to be able to reasonably attempt this bargain.

      1. Did I miss something stating he had to marry a man? I thought that was just confusion on the part of the one Other in that one conversation just because they’re not so good at telling apart different kinds of mortals.

        1. In a document Blake found Rose Sr. had made out to her heiress she specifically stated that Blake had to snag a husband within five years. It’s uncertain at this point if Blake will have to follow the word of the letter or the spirit of the letter but so far the former seems to be the norm for what is necessary to survive, not the later.

          1. It’s one of those things he’d have to talk to the lawyer about. That document might not have been made so much for him as for his cousin. Or Grandma just didn’t figure he’d last long enough for it to matter.

  15. I did write a lengthy response to this chapter, but despite efforts to the contrary it came over as flamebait. In summary, I wish I could get a grip on Blake’s reasoning, why he is less genre-savvy that seems easily explicable. Enjoying the story thus far.

    1. I think he’s going for “the more unpredictable I am, the less likely I am to be tricked.” He is after all trapped in a desperate life or death situation.

      1. I just don’t understand why he’s doing it; he’s displaying appalling endowment bias and seems to be behaving counter to his described traits by accepting the inheritance at all. It’s worryingly like the George R R Martin problem of having characters do things that are wildly out of character just go drive the plot forward. I think Wildbow is a rather better storyteller than that, but I’m really straining to understand Blake’s motivations.

        1. I was given to understand that if he didn’t accept the inheritance that he would be gruesomely killed. I’m not seeing any conflict with his character in selecting the course of action most likely to lead to survival.

          1. I don’t remember that detail; I’ll have to go back again and re-read; I took it as a no recon thing; if you get involved at all, then you are in all the way. I still think his best course of action is to use the house as an endowment for a major university’s anthropology department. Get as much observer action in the area. Given that there appears to be a real fear amongst the Others about Inquisitions and discovery, that would seem to be the trump card; Barbator is a minor threat compared to that – and since Blake has no life-style requirements for magic, then dropping the asteroid on the magical society doesn’t even inconvenience him particularly.

            That of course is also the story I would most love to read; the aftermath of the loss of magic in a world like Pact’s – how the former arcane badass characters have to function in a world that maps onto ours.

  16. There are stories where I go: “Wow, if I was in the protagonist’s shoes, I would be really hard pressed to stay alive.” Then there are stories like Pact, where I go: “Holy cow, I’d be soooooooo dead in the most gruesome fashion imaginable if I was Blake.” Seriously, the threats and pitfalls presented in this world are nasty and “tricky” doesn’t even begin to describe them. Excellent work, Wildbow, it’s a real pleasure seeing the story unfold.

    1. To be fair we’ve met very few Others who have a full conversation with Blake, giving us a glimpse of their personality. For all we know Barbie may be into crude jokes and the color pink.

  17. I have a bad feeling about this plan.

    I’m wondering what the deal is with the witch-hunters. It says they’re in service to Jacob’s Bell? The town itself?

    Who employed them and who pays them? It must be someone who knows about all the magical goings-on, but has no stake in any of it, right? A non-practitioner?

    1. Personally, I’m fine where they are.
      As freelancers, they could do a hit and run strikes at every opportunity (like these), which would have ended up badly for Blake/Rose.

    2. I think the witch hunters think of Jacob’s Bell more as their territory, hanging around and being hired by the practitioners that live in the area.

  18. Enjoyed the chapter. Didn’t I remember something in the first chapters about the lawyers being able to supply him things, or arrange for them to be supplied?

    Is Blake allowing his self-reliance to blind him to the fact that the lawyers his grandmother had on retainer can help him?

    Did Rose never see that document? If she did, why has she not mentioned it?

    Or am I remembering wrongly?

      1. Found it: Bonds 1.3

        “After stipulations, there’s a section on stipend, with a regular allowance, notes on how often the lawyers can be called without incurring a debt.”

        Blake needs to figure out as many of the problems that he has that he can, and make one call to the lawyer and get as many answers as possible.

        After carefully reading the document detailing how often he can call the lawyers, and also determining whet their cost might be if he does need to generate debt, so he knows how deep the doodoo needs to get before he calls them.

        Sounds to me like he needs to set up a grocery delivery service from out of town, satellite and/or cellphone communications because the Others will certainly love playing with trees around wires onto the property. Surprised they haven’t messed with power cables, actually.

        Oh, and newspaper delivery, local papers, because the bigger papers probably couldn’t give a damn about what’s happening there if nobody is dying, but the local papers and flyers will likely have lots of potentially useful information. At least about mundane things.

        1. Agreed on the lawyer – the only way I see it is even reasonable that he hasn’t contacted the lawyer under the “how often the lawyers can be called without incurring a debt” clause is more pressing concerns. If he doesn’t do this soon I am going to think less of him, especially as it is stated that the lawyer is basically his only ally in town.

          Blake’s most obvious limitation as to outside services is money, but there are other problems. The pizza man incident shows it is a possibility that Others and/or practitioners can screw with the phone service – they basically hijacked it to set up the delivery incident. (Alternative: they hijacked the pizza worker’s mind for while.) I have wondered why the others and practitioners don’t screw with his phone, water, and/or power services. It would be easier to drive him out of the house if he didn’t have water or power. The “not messing with services” seems inconsistent given the pizza incident, but I am guessing that if Blake set up deliveries they would get interfered with until the company sending the delivery refused to deal with him.

          1. Teaching spirits to mess with infrastructure required for modern civilization might be one of those things that sane people don’t do, because if you teach spirits to fool around with your neighbor’s sewer lines or power lines, then it becomes that much easier for others to get spirits to do the same to you. Or perhaps the spirits, now understanding what these things do, decide that they want to play with them, making everyone miserable.

  19. I think Blake is doing more or less the right thing. If he does nothing, he dies eventually. If he tries cautious action, he’s going to be trying to beat people with vastly more experience and resources at their game – probably dies. The only option he really has is to go balls to the walls, which still isn’t a great chance, but he might make it through, or at least thin out the herd for the next person in line.

    I haven’t read all the comments up to this point, so this has probably been brought up before, but I think Mirror Rose, wasn’t made by Grandma Rose. I think she was made by Molly as an attempt to throw a curve-ball into the mess, after she realised she wasn’t making it out alive.

    While I got the feeling that Rose might have liked what she saw in Blake, when she finally met him, she didn’t really have time to set anything up, I don’t think.

    Molly on the other hand was in the house for months, and I doubt they cut her any more slack than they did Blake. So that’s months of trying to find something to climb out of that shit-hole Grandma dug for them. With a lot of motivation, and a hefty helping of desperation Molly might have tried some strange things.

    Hell, her death could have been a sacrifice to the Reflection Demon in the attic…

    Another thing I hope Blake remembers is that as a police officer, Laird almost certainly had to swear some sort of oath. Might be worth looking into what precisely the wording of it is, since it might shed some light on why Laird is acting the way he is.

    1. At least Molly’s parents and sibling could probably go to the store for her. Blake is going to eventually run out of food and other necessities since everyone seems intent on spiting him in any way possible.

  20. Oh boy. Delusions of grandeur, much, Blake?

    You’re not even sure if you can direct Barbatotem, and if anyone here calls your bluff instead of simply going with it on the off chance that it’s true, you’re pretty boned.

    1. Oh, yes it’s risky. But pretty much everyone in that room wants him dead or worse. He keeps letting them set the pace, he’s a dead man walking. I think what he’s hoping for is that this way some of them are going to think “Shit his Grandmother set something up. Probably something that wouldn’t be to difficult to send off. Maybe I should take him up on his offer…”

      Blake can’t try to sit back and convince them that he doesn’t want to use these demons and doesn’t want trouble. Laird already made it clear that won’t work. He has to either have something to offer them, or something to at least make them back off a bit.

  21. Why Blake is not running counter-propaganda campaign vs city? Like “I’m going to sell part of the lands at some point after it’s legally possible, but on condition that there will be good memory of my heritage left. People of the city should show friendliness toward my family and make acceptable memorial dedicated to it” All the question about specific should be addressed to lawyer. Lawyer answer them with long stretch of legalese no one can make sense of.

    1. But the house is sanctuary! And you may argue that Laird said that it wasn’t, but so far it’s been working fine. So he was probably just trying to trick Blake, maybe thinking as he said that the house wasn’t safe about Eva and Andy, who being normal if capable people could easily slip inside his house like any other burglar and slit his throat while he sleeps.

    2. Probably because either he’d end up forsworn (if he said that without such a “unless you shut up and like me” clause), or he’d come off as a passive-aggressive prick who’s even more obnoxious than they thought (if he included it).

      Like seriously that suggestion is a great way to become an arson victim.

  22. Blake’s doing the right thing here, or at least a right thing. Whether or not he can pull it off is a different matter.

    Divide and conquer. Or at the very least, divide and survive.

    I think it would be interesting if Blake manages to get the attention of the ancient one. If she is illiterate, I think that Blake would be in a position to offer her a great deal. Her hard won knowledge against his teaching her to read. Even if she has a learning disability, Blake might be able to figure out what it is and explain it to her so that she can fix it or compensate for it magically. Dyslexia probably wouldn’t be much of a problem if a spell of true seeing is not a challenge. But you have to know what dyslexia is, first.

    That might lead to a real alliance, rather than an agreement based on threats.

    1. Yes, but I find it more likely that Mara instead forfeited her ability to read in some sort of deal with an Other, so I don’t think it will be possible for her to learn to read. But maybe Blake could read out loud for her? But I can’t help but picture her as a woman with far too much pride to be read to as any other child in need of a bedtime story.

      1. It would fit with her hatred of us filthy Euro invaders, since that would be our writing she’s ditching, not hers.

        It’s possible that if she does any writing, she does so in the Cree syllabic created by James Evans, or Sequoyah’s Cherokee writing system. Though that’s a crapshoot on whether Mara identifies solely as whatever First Nations group she used to belong to, or she has a pan-aboriginal attitude a la Lung.

  23. Blake’s growing into quite the bad ass!
    I hope he and Rose will grow closer seeing as it was kind of sad how alone Taylor was. If the relationship is nurtured right then Blake will always have an ally at his side.
    Also, I wonder if when it comes to spouses if Blake will have to get a husband instead of a wife because it specifically says so in the document left behind by his grandmother, or if its fine as long as he just gets a wife.
    Crossing my fingers for some heart stopping action soon. You always write the most exciting fight scenes.

  24. The problem with this approach is the same problem with cold war deterrence. For his threat to have any bite he needs Barboretum to be fail-deadly, meaning that it has to be clear that if his enemies get out of line, he will use it. He needs to be willing to press the button that kills everyone, which will be a hard sell because his objective is to simply survive and not stop those dirty Reds.

    And if the other sorcerers don’t have nukes of their own, then they don’t have anything to assure MAD on their own part, so there’s no real deterrence here, they’re going to use whatever dirty trick they can to wrest the Barboretum from Blakes control.

    1. When one side has nukes, and the other side doesn’t? Well its not mutually assured destruction- its straight up blackmail. Sure they will try to find away to get the demon from being a threat to them. Which, funny story Blake just offered.

      1. When both sides have nukes it’s a stalemate. But when it’s only the one faction, the other side is going to resort to terrorism while the guy with the big red button hems and haws over whether that’s justification to blow the world up.

        This might keep people off Blake’s back in the sort term, but his situation is gonna get real tricky in the long term.

        1. They already HAVE resorted to terrorism. Straight from Molly’s death. What do you THINK were the bird-men with plausible-death-enacting agenda? What do you THINK were all those malicious “pranks”?

          Blake is not using blackmail. He informs of consequences of further terrorism.

  25. My usual writing to get my thoughts in order …. and written before reading the comments, so others may beat me to things.

    Blake has not neglected mundane solutions to defense. Good.

    “Oatmeal, again. If I didn’t manage a good shopping run, I’d be moving on to wild rice and cans of black beans.” OK, so he doesn’t lack for fiber in his diet. Still, it would be horribly ironic to be brought down by deficiency diseases if he manages to survive that long. I vote on a bottle of multivitamins.

    Hmm … spirits. This constitutes a “too many handles” area. If something as simple as a pencil has that many spirits there are many avenues to manipulate it and counter other manipulation. So spirit handling would work nicely if you are the only one doing the manipulation, the strongest one, or had a special relationship with the spirits but otherwise it seems like it could be countered too easily. As Rose noted, low level spirit handling in a hostile environment is probably a time waster at best.

    The spirit/snow storm doesn’t have any obvious links to any particular group, other than to note that practitioners and Others without obvious spirit specialties are less likely to use it.

    “I wasn’t big on plans. … Better if I figured out the high points I needed to hit and then winged it.” I hope Blake knows what he is doing. The vast majority of people are not good at winging it. At least he is making some basic notes to organize his thoughts.

    Blake has done his reading and started working on, well, workings. Another plus.

    At least Rose is not just moping. She is searching for answers. Unfortunately, the answers are likely to be hard to find and expensive when are found. They might have already blown their first solution – if Others can get into and out of the mirror world, Rose might be able to get out. In which case, she could have performed awakening in the world where it mattered. But that is most likely no longer an option. Can you do the ritual twice if the first failed?

    “Everything referencing diabolists says they’re dangerous lunatics, except for the stuff that was written by grandmother and other diabolists.” Sounds about right.

    “I looked at the earliest diary entries, and the most recent.” Ah, so we were sort of looking through Rose’s eyes last chapter. A Rose-perspective interlude or equivalent would be interesting … and frustrating as she can only interact with the main world by talking through limited channels.

    “In terms of cost benefit, I’d rather have more mirrors.” Two more pluses – thinking like that and leveraging his unusual resource (Rose).

    So, someone went out of the way to alienate Blake’s family from him even more. With family used as weapons, no wonder the family dynamic was so poisonous.

    That dynamic of “witnesses will work against you” is a damn good way of putting someone in jail quickly. That tactic alone could kill him by itself.

    … and Laird shows up again. He seems intent on shoving his way into the situation. But in this case, he may actually have lessened the problem. This continues a tradition of ambiguous actions.

    Andy and Eva, “witch hunters in service to Jacob’s Bell”. Great, the equivalent of local Mob enforcers, and unbound by neutrality rules or the limits that practitioners have.

    And we have more classes of practitioners and looks at the local talent. Time lords (groan). Enchantresses. Mara Angnakak, a mortal turned near-immortal by centuries of experimentation. Briar Girl, possibly dominated by a too-powerful familiar. Johannes shows up, but he should, given this is an interesting turning point.

    And Laird acts as a meeting manager. That position can be leveraged for power also, especially if no-one else ever takes the role.

    “Funny, how many others with the appearances of children were around Johannes.” That is a hint of something. Too early to know what.

    “Johannes smiled.” That ought to scare the pants off of people. Johannes somehow gained great power at an early age, probably at great risk. He is one to appreciate similar tactics in other practitioners.

    And Blake uses a unique advantage to not-so-subtly remind everyone why f***ing with diabolists is a bad idea. But he does it not by threatening, but by offering mutual non-aggression deals which might put the camps against each other. A major plus.

    Now, does “I’ll make three deals.” mean he will only deal with three camps, does it mean he has two more surprising offers to go, or does it refer to the three clauses of the deal he mentioned (offer a ceasefire, make a good offer, then no demon)?

    1. I think because of whatever oaths Laird took as a police officer, he might not be able to turn a blind eye to a miscarriage of justice, like what was brewing in this chapter, or letting Blake take the blame for Molly’s death.

      The way I understood it, three deals referred to three types of deals. The ceasefire=no demon being the first, the others coming in the next chapter.
      I imagine the others might be something like “Agree to only use it for good, and I will share demonology with you,” which would sow distrust amongst them and also spread out the hatred that is now aimed only at him

      1. Meister, I took your comment as a joke, I see no evidence of prejudice, and Mayhem’s behavior is classic trolling (see my comment). Worm didn’t get much trollish behavior and when it did happen, it tended to go away quickly. I am sorry that you were apparently a victim and I invite you to stick around – most of us just want to appreciate Wildbow and discuss his work.

        And, for the record, the marriage/gender problem is a reasonable topic because it raises long-term issues with Blake’s survival and the future of the Thorburn family. And, as far as the treatment of it, one of the protagonists (Rose) started making reference to it using an oblique joke, so humor is reasonable.

        1. Meister’s joke is actually pretty offensive, making a joke out of body and gender identity as it does, so my sympathies lie with Mayhem, here.

          1. Everything can be offensive if you try hard enough to be offended.

            As long as joking about something is taboo,it means society hasn’t truly accepted it yet.If we can joke about people being tall,or short,or clumsy,or whatever,I see no reason why we cannot joke about other characteristics of them ,simply because society made them taboo.

      1. It’s a creative solution to a tricky situation, though I do concede it would be jerk move if Blake did that solely to satisfy granny’s dictates.

        But then, granny basically told him jerk moves are one of the few weapons he has, just like everyone else.

        Also… No. I’m not transphobic. Like… At all.

        1. Straight guys are not magically attracted to trans guys because they have vaginas, dumbass. And hopefully any trans guy he happened to meet would have the self-esteem to tell him to fuck off. I mean, seriously, Buck Angel’s audience? ALL GAY(/BI) MEN.

          Unless, of course, you actually meant a trans woman, in which case, doubly fuck you.

          1. Wow. I mean, I really had just originally meant the whole thing as a joke, with a flimsy justification as a thought experiment when you pressed the matter. I mean, I guarantee, none of that was serious in the least. I’m trying to avoid meaningless cliches and empty platitudes here, but I admit being a little lost on how fix things here.

          2. How does attraction fit in anywhere here? It most definitely would be a marriage of convenience, meant to find and use a loophole in the contract. Attraction has nothing to do with that.

            It’s also rather clear that Meister does not display any bias against trans people. He’s done nothing wrong, and does not deserve being insulted.

            1. Well, if it’s a marriage of convenience, and attraction doesn’t fit in, he might as well marry a cis guy, right? There’s no requirement to have kids, (and even then…….)

              I’m sorry, but someone who makes trans people’s bodies and identities into–by his own admission–a joke? AND THEN THERE’S THE JOHANNES/JOHANNA JOKE? Yeah no, you might want to reconsider what you think it means to “not show bias against trans people,” because I don’t know any trans person who’d read those posts and not come to the same damn conclusion.

              Besides, I mean, as much as I responded to his response with “yes, you are”? I really don’t care whether either of you “are” transphobic, what I care about is that Meister said multiple transphobic things, and then the both of you tried to silence criticism on the basis of Meister being ~~magically~~ not biased, despite the clear display of bias? Like, because he’s “not transphobic”, everything he does is, by definition, not transphobic, even when trans people tell you it is?

              Yeah bullshit.

      2. Mayhem you are relatively new poster
        … who starts accusation of prejudice over ambiguous language.
        … who then calls the person they accused a liar.
        … who escalates to profanity quickly.

        … and your choice of nickname is somewhat suggestive of intent also.

        This is classic troll behavior. So:

        I don’t believe you actually care about the topic you are talking about because that community does not benefit from excessive inflammatory behavior from its members or supporters. This forum does not benefit from inflammatory behavior either.

        So, unless your next post is an apology or retraction, I am going to ignore anything you post and, as a long-time commenter on Wildbow’s work and major donator to Wildbow, I invite other posters to do the same.

        1. I disagree with your assessment. Looking through Mayhem’s previous posts, including the one they left on the last interlude of Worm, they have a strongly favorable inclination towards topics which fall under the umbrella of social justice, and many of their issues with Worm involved the casual transphobia displayed by certain characters. It is my analysis that Mayhem was angered by Meister choosing to make a joke which was insensitive to trans* people, implying a number of negative things about them depending upon interpretation, and reacted accordingly according to their beliefs.

        2. Have to agree with Glassware (and Mayhem, of course). Even if he wasn’t being purposely transphobic, Meister’s joke was dumb and extremely tasteless.

          And appealing to posting history and amounts of donations? Really?

        3. Also, while I’m at it, I recommend against acting like a moderator or an elitist snob. The first, you aren’t. The second is annoying and pretentious and makes people unlikely to take you seriously.

          1. OK, very valid points (from AMR also) and I apologize to Wildbow and to you (plural). I will attempt to keep my posts on-topic in the future, and thank you for calling me on it (ouch).

            I still view Mayhem’s style of action as classic trolling, even it that wasn’t the intent. But it is now clear I handled it badly.

  26. Wildbow is really fond of main characters being perceived as the bad guys, isn’t he?

    Taylor = well meaning villain

    Blake = Diabolist who doesn’t want to have anything to do with the fucked up shit that is now his life

  27. While nothing is truly %100 original in fiction these days, the trope/character archetype remains interesting due to how rare it is. And let’s face it, Taylor knocked that out of the park. Some similarities are ok, in moderation.

  28. So I guess turning this into a drag comedy is right out then?

    Anyway, Mayhem, I’ve already apologized. I get its clearly a touchy subject for ya, for any number of valid reasons. If you really think this is worth carrying a crusade over… Um. Ok. Have fun with that.

    BACK ON TOPIC KINDA:

    Did some more digging because Xykon is like, one of the best villains EVAR. He once gives a brief speach explaining why he’s such a badass mofo in Rich Burlew’s book, Start of Darkness: “I ripped off my own living flesh so that I wouldn’t have to admit weakness. You’re strictly little league compared to that. That right there? That’s the difference between bonafide true Evil with a capital “E” and your whiny “evil, but for a good cause,” crap. One gets to be the butch, and one gets to be the bitch – bitch.”

    So that raises the million dollar question: just how far will Blake, the Practioner community, and the people of Jacob’s Bell go to achieve their ends? Many have shown an apparent willingness to kill, or to permit someone who hasn’t actually done anything besides be born to a particular family, die. Where is the line for Blake? Laird and the Behaims? The Duchamp family? And Johannes? How other are they willing to become?

    Just remember peeps: Don’t turn into a snake. It never helps.

    1. Doesn’t it? Jaffar was WINNING when he was a snake. The only reason he lost is he was duped in his arrogance and assumed a state of existence that banned killing for him, and gave him an obvious Achilles Heel.

      Now for non-reply-related opinions.

      I think one of the possibly-overlooked points on Diabolists is – they are the only owners of Nukes in the worldview of practicioners and Others. OF COURSE they are going to be villified, if only to prevent anyone else from grasping for that kind of power. It’s called preemptively leveling the playing field. There might just be Diabolists that are not dangerious lunatics, but nobody will be willing to believe that – it’s this big of a stigma, of prejudice.

      Next point I’d like to address. I concur with jaertin comment above – it’s quite possible that Rose-in-the-Mirror is Molly’s working. There is a point, that to have already-prepared place for Blake in the inheritance order, Rose Sr would have been the likely culprit though.

      As for Rose-is-Evil point… I would not be surprised if there were ways to, A) switch her and Blake so that he was in the mirror instead, B) pull her out of the mirror altogether and get her an identity, and C) go into squick (aka selfcest) and take option B even further, to ensure that one of points in Rose Sr’s rules-of-inheritance technically gets fulfilled.

      And I would not be surprised if she actually did work, in a way, to switch places with Blake (because it’s one of the only options she actually finds means to do). And he’d talk her down afterwards.

  29. The danger of turning into an Other as a practitioner is yet another interesting element of this setting. The Wormverse was brilliant because e.g. trigger events and Endbringers and the Nine and Cauldron ensured that life was fucked up for pretty much everyone. That also allowed for amazing degrees of escalation in the story and corresponding growth in the protagonist. Pactverse is shaping up to have similarly interesting features. Great job on that.

    What I found confusing:
    – I thought Blake sacrificed Joel’s car keys during his awakening. Did I misunderstand that? Otherwise, how can he return them now?
    – Is the one summoned devil really Laird’s ‘nuke’ everyone is afraid of? I expected something more along the lines of Cthulhu being locked in the basement of Hillsglade House. In fact, I still do. Barbatorem seems more like a targeted missile than like a nuke which allows indiscriminate large-scale destruction. Not enough to make everyone fear Blake, rather than Rose senior.

    Awesome lines:
    “Grandmother, it seemed, was more interested in Others than people.”
    “I’ve been reading. Everything referencing diabolists says they’re dangerous lunatics, except for the stuff that was written by grandmother and other diabolists.”
    “Then I think I know what we’re telling the police” -> Wow is everyone in that town pathetic.
    “Above all else, I was realizing what I was up against. These weren’t pages in the little black book. They were enemies of mine. Virtually all of them.””This wasn’t quite what I had expected. I’d expected a few practitioners. Not everyone.” -> Ouch.
    “I went out of my way to look like I wasn’t terrified.”

    1. In regards to the car keys, only the bowls that had food in them were emptied. The keys and other abstract items that were used were symbols for Blake to give his interpretation on – I would guess as sort of a way for him to give the spirits involved a way of getting to know him, but they weren’t things being given away. The food was an offering, something to entice them to come and give thanks for what he was being granted, so those were theirs to take.

      In regards to the demon, while Barbatorem might be more specialized towards aiming at individuals he’s still quite powerful. With the ability to get past normal defenses and walk into a demesne unhindered he could assasinate a faction’s leader or some other VIP and throw things into chaos. Also, there’s nothing to say he can only be sent to kill a single person. It may very well be possible to send him to kill a group of people. In addition to that, the other practitioners in town don’t know what kind of demon it is that Blake has at his disposal – there most likely are those that can affect a wider area. What they do know is that there is a demon and that his grandmother most likely hand picked it so it is presumably a powerful one. “Nuke” may not always be an appropriate analogy for what every demon does, but the implication that powerful demons are the equivelant of dangerous superweapons in the magical community is apt.

      1. Also bare in mind that Barbie is the one Granny suggested for use in a tight situation, as it appears to have been bound within that circle for an indeterminate period, depending on whether she let it go after contracting with it. It might have been there since she first summoned it back in the 50’s, or she placed it there shortly before her death.

        Either way, its hardly the only critter Granny would have had access to, just the most convenient to gift wrap for a newbie due to ease of containment and comparatively good tractability/lethality ratio.

        Its a given that if she had the resources and saw fit to do so, there are goetic demons she could have summoned to turn Jacob’s Bell into a smoking crater.

        Non-diabolists have a legitimate reason to be deathly afraid of diabolism, if wildbow is basing the Thorburn family’s system as heavily on it as he seems to. There is pretty much a demon for everything you might possibly want.

        Learn how to talk to birds? Check.

        Want the ability to make yourself invisible? Check.

        Make any woman you want fall in love with you? A lot of demons can help you out. Medieval summoners really had their priorities straight, on that account…

        Many demons can find hidden items, or teach you practically any skill you want, or give you next week’s lottery numbers. They can also start an earthquake, burn the forest down to ashes, or inflict the town with mega-malaria.

        Some demons can even teach Blake how to be a better Diabolist, teaching him languages, and giving him the gift of gab. He could start a bartering chain and turn some hair clippings into becoming president of the USA and marrying Scarlet Johanson.

        But, bartering is the weakness. Diabolism is not, generally, an improvisational art. To summon Furfur, Granny had to say a fairly complicated sentence while being beaten. She couldn’t summon him if mommy or daddy hadn’t already made previous arrangements with Furfur, and she couldn’t summon him until after she started bleeding. Without such a pact, she’d have been defenseless.

        Also, you have the costs themselves to consider. I don’t know how many boar carcasses are in a six-foot tall pile, but they would be rather beyond Blake’s ability to afford at present. Even finding a supplier would be a bit of a challenge these days. It is likely safe to assume most of the usual ceremonial knick-knacks are available though. Incense and perfume can be bought in bulk, and the various gold, silver, brass, tin, and lead accessories hardly wear out.

        People should read the ads goetia though. There’s a few sites that cover all the demons in it, and even a few scans or copies of it floating around online. Cool stuff.

        1. “the most convenient to gift wrap for a newbie due to ease of containment and comparatively good tractability/lethality ratio” Agreed. Also, clear instructions on how to handle and example contracts were included, although apparently they were scattered across several books.

          “there are goetic demons she could have summoned to turn Jacob’s Bell into a smoking crater” There are two assumptions here that I don’t think work in this world. First, Wildbow has a history of coming up with interesting and non-traditional powers. Therefore, I don’t think he will be closely following The Lesser Key of Solomon or similar works. I expect unpleasant and fascinating surprises in the demonology of this world. Second, we have several indications that smoking-crater-level workings are frowned upon and even opposed by Others and practitioners alike. Such an attempt is likely to bring a unified response from the community and, given how many practitioners and Others seem to be crammed into Jacob’s Bell, they might succeed in stopping such a working. On the other hand, we have gotten several hints that diabolists can get interesting powers from demons … if they are willing to pay the price. The problem is that demons are probably better for “deleterious workings” than for benefit giving.

          “To summon Furfur …” There is no indication that worked, except as a deterrent. RDT was not a practitioner then and therefore presumably had less ability to summon. And RDT said “Daddy said it sounded convincing and if it came to that and Furfur listend I would not be much worse off.” So it doesn’t sound like it worked and the only known effects (Pearl’s family running off) could have happened due to the threat alone.

          1. Grandma’s father understood people, even if he wasn’t a practitioner. Even if he was a complete bastard. He couldn’t know for sure that Rose wouldn’t actually summon something, but he knew for sure that if things got bad enough that she tried a summoning, the only thing that would save her is if she could scare the crap out of them.

  30. Loving this story so far. I feel we’re about to get into what’s known in the competitive pokemon community as “the plays”. I was half expecting Blake to reach out to the sorcerer, if only in a small way

  31. So, I just binged through all of Worm, and here I am. Goddamn, this waiting is worse than Homestuck. At least with Homestuck, we typically got updates every day.

  32. Blake’s still got to pick his implement, his familier, and his focus, and his specialty right? Everyone in town already calls him a Diabolist, but is there really any gaurentee that’s what he’ll go with?

    Laird showed us that a familer doesn’t have to be an animal, since his is in his watch. Anyone else think that a keyring, and Key’s would be interesting for the familier and implement? It’s small, not suspicious, easily concieled, and has interesting symbolism.

    1. That is if Blake actually has a choice. I wouldn’t be surprised if Granny Rose set up her library with a ton of things that will only be useful to a diabolist, and with no other guidance, Blake will have no other option but to follow that path.

      1. Possible. But if she was that determined her heir be a Diabolist, she would have put it in the stipulations. It also seems like a really bad way to reduce the family debt. Though Blake could very well end up being stuck taking it.

    2. Don’t underestimate wildbow’s tendency to turn rather predictable developments into twisty crash courses.
      Blake awakened, which is already an achievement in following the “casual path”. I doubt he will be able to proceed much further unhindered.

      The bargain shop event was merely an appetiser. The ride will be intense.

  33. My first thought, as far as how Blake might try to set them against each other, was that he would offer to auction off something; one or more of the “nukes” which were referred to in his prior conversation with Belhaim. That would probably have been disastrous; I think his idea is much less insane, though still very risky. That said, doing nothing would have been plenty risky, too. Right now, everyone else knows the rules, everyone else knows the game, and they’re looking at him like a tasty snack. Blake is like a boy holding a dragon’s leash; he’s not dangerous himself, but messing with him may still be a bad idea. If he can convince people that failing to take him out (or ideally, succeeding in taking him out) will just bring the roof down on their heads, that could buy him the time he needs to learn the rules of the game.

    The idea that Molly created Rose is an interesting one, but I’m afraid it’s a non-starter. It seems pretty clear that whatever Rose is and however she came to be, Grandma Thorburn made her in order to loophole Blake into the succession. That’s interesting to me, as is the fact that Molly was the only one ahead of him in line to inherit. Setting the thing with Rose up at all suggests that Grandma thought Blake was the right horse to bet on, but if that’s the case why put Molly first in line? As for Rose, I hope Blake manages to do a better job of integrating her into his life in the future. I find myself wondering if they might be able to trade places or something later on; perhaps she couldn’t complete the awakening because doing it once counted for both of them somehow? Having a two-in-one person could be very beneficial in a world where magic is governed by rules and things like truth compulsion are standard fare. Linked or combined minds might well provide a critical loophole(s) in the future.

    Grandma Thorburn seems pretty sharp, and as Blake noted she lived for a fairly long time. I don’t know what trouble is coming, but I think the only thing worse than following her advice to the letter would be for Blake to ignore it completely,

    Wildbow, just caught up on Pact today. I discovered Worm late and loved it, and this story has definitely engaged me. I was itching to get to it since you made the first post, but post-holiday stuff interfered until now. Of course, now I have to wait for installments of the story…drat my impatience!

    CG

  34. First of all the title somehow put me in mind of league of legends. Just a saying all my friends have.

    Also, interested to see what Blake just did. He may be pigeonholing himself, declaring that he will make 3 deals, and 3 deals only. But it also gives him a feeling of control. We haven’t seen their reaction, so there’s yet to see if he really gained anything from that maneuver or just got himself into a stickier situation.

    They may not even have known it was a demon that Rose (The Grandmother) Had contracted that was taking them out.

    Can’t wait to see the result!

  35. Listening to Blake consider guns (which are too expensive and too likely to be screwed with) and bows (too expensive and difficult to learn to use well–my experience definitely agrees with the latter, even at short range and without the stress of magical monsters) makes me wonder how practical throwing those hatchets would be. I haven’t ever really tried, but watching my brother throw hatchets at inanimate pieces of wood at point-blank range…
    Yeah, if any Others have ranged magic he’s screwed.

    Speaking of screwed…I can’t help but feel like Blake is overall. He’s a new person in this world, fighting pretty much everyone with basically nothing. And this kinda reduces my enjoyment. I feel like there isn’t really anything Blake can do to change things…although it results in payoffs when he finds ways to strike back. Like now, kinda.

  36. Looks like Blake’s going to have to do some enchanting of his own to get any sort of decent service around there. These people aren’t exactly lining up to have him marry their daughters. They’re being major dicks on a huge level, each and every one of them. Regular Joes and Magic Joes. No word yet on the G.I. Joes, which is important. They say knowing is half the battle.

    So he better break out the books and learn how to mindfuck his way into a new pair of underwear. If Blake does, then the world is his oyster. If he doesn’t, then the world is his anglerfish.

  37. I know I’m behind, but uh, so far your only two explicitly non-white characters are also Others or “straddling the line”. I think you should….think about that choice. Subconscious or not, it follows a pretty gross historical trend in dehumanization of poc.

    1. Sorry for the late reply. You probably are ahead enough in the story now to already be aware of what I’m about to say next, so feel free to just ignore me.

      So, first, this is based in friggin Canada. There are a lot of white people. It’s just how things work there. Having a large number non-white people would be waaay to strange for this stories setting.
      Also, as the story progresses, there are more non-whites, some of which have insanely important roles and most definitely aren’t evil or Other-like to my knowledge.

      So just take my word for it- it’s not a subconscious dehumanization or anything like that. Just some moderately realistic situations of the racial background this is set in.

      1. Find my comments in chapter 8 for a better explanation. 8.6 perhaps. Im not misguided or unfamiliar with the landscape. Not really insinuating much beyond the fact that representation matters. I think in a story that doesn’t even remotely follow plausible situations, it’s weird to suggest that diversity would just be TOO bizarre. Not the magic, but non-white people.

  38. Laird, what are you even doing?
    Also, wow. I’m actually impressed with Blake for once. It definireky won’t work out for him, but it’s a good strategy for someone who has nothing else.

  39. “I don’t deny that they’re fucked up. But grandmother lived. She hit the ripe old age of eighty-five.”

    RDT died in August 2013. That places her birth date around September 1927 to July 1928. The first entry of the diary in previous chapter was written in February 1931.

    When RDT was around 3 years old.

    I find it difficult to believe a 3 year old child, however smart, could write on a diary in such manner. Perhaps move her age up a bit?

  40. Context matters. There’s joking and there’s laughing at. You have to be very careful when dealing with topics much of society considers “weird” or “other” because even if you’re making what you feel to be a harmless joke, many people hear it as making fun of the group in question.

    Incidentally, I don’t think Meister was aiming to be offensive or even exactly making a joke. My immediate reaction to Blake’s obligations was to start trying to find loopholes, too.

    1. Thats exactly what I am saying,if society is sensitive about such things,it hasn’t truly accepted it,it feels the need to safeguard them more than necessary,retaliating against such jokes.Ergo,the thing has not yet become normal enough,since it needs to be safeguarded.

  41. Typo:

    “I didn’t have much of a choice in any of it,” I said. “I don’t want the house or the baggage that comes with it. At this point, I’d be pretty happy give up all the money and walk away from all of this… without anyone getting hurt.”

    pretty happy to give up all the money –
    OR
    pretty happy giving up all the money –

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