Damages 2.5

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The swordswoman wasted no time, stepping forward.  Bare foot on snow-crusted pavement.  I backed away; to do otherwise would mean standing still while the point of that giant sword would simply slide into my heart.

Ms. Lewis, however, stepped into the space I had just vacated.  She put her hand out, and as the blade approached her chest, she pushed it to one side.

“I’m supposing your master told you to kill or harm him,” Ms. Lewis said.

“What of it?” the swordswoman asked.  She had a strange accent.  Less like a person who had grown up fluent in one language and was carrying things over into the next, and more like a French, Russian, and one or two other accents were all layered onto one another, compounding each other.

“You shouldn’t harm me without her orders,” Ms. Lewis said.

The Other narrowed her eyes.  “I can do as I please.”

“Go ask,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Ask your master who I am, and whether you should carry through.”

The Other didn’t budge.  Instead, she made a face, and then quickly came to a decision.  She drew her hand back, ready to plunge the weapon through Ms. Lewis’ chest.

Ms. Lewis didn’t move.

The Other sniffed and transformed, wings unfolding and enclosing her in the span of a second.  She disappeared down the far end of the alley.

“Familiars can’t go outside their master’s orders?”  I asked.

“Master feels young,” Ms. Lewis said, taking hold of my arm.  She led me in the opposite direction the Other had gone.  “No older than thirteen.  You generally don’t get inducted into this world until you’re about that age, these days.  It means the familiar is new.”

“So you misled it.”

“Yes and no.  It shouldn’t attack me, but that’s independent of everything else.  Can you open locks?”

“Not a trick I know,” I said.

She drew a small notebook from her pocket.  She drew out an image.  An hourglass shape with a circle in the middle.  She drew a small pad of sticky notes from another inside pocket.  “Draw something like this, put it on the doorknob, and empower it.”

I did.  I copied it out, stuck it against the doorknob, and then stabbed the back of my hand with the pen.

“Fuck,” I said.  “Ow.  That hurt more than I thought it would.”

Still, I used the blood that welled around the injury site and smeared it across the image.

“You need a power source,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Blood won’t do for the long term.”

“I know,” I said.

The knob was rattling, internal mechanisms moving with excruciating slowness.

“I’d hoped for something quicker and more effective.  You’re weak, and that is going to hold us back, Blake Thorburn,” Ms. Lewis told me.  “Tell me, can you identify the Other we just saw?”

“Name it?  No.  Stick a label on it?  I could maybe say it’s a Faerie, but that’s only a guess.”

“It’s an accurate guess.”

“My grandmother didn’t like putting labels on Others, or so she wrote.  She wrote it was dangerous to do it, because they could lie or blur the lines, and making assumptions could get you killed.”

“Very true.  In this case, I think it’s a safe assumption.  You’ve read Essentials, I assume?  Standard reading for most new practitioners.”

“I have,” I said.

“Then you know what Faerie are weak against?”

I thought, but I couldn’t connect it.  “Something about raw iron, but…”

“Crude elements,” Rose cut in.  “Things that have been worked, refined, or crafted are less effective against them.”

“Which puts us in an awkward position,” Ms. Lewis said.  She was leaning against the wall by the door, scratching symbols into the metal with the needle.  “In a city, they thrive, because just about everything is worked and refined.  They find us interesting, and ennui is to them what death is to us.”

I was busy scribbling down another symbol.  I looked up to ask, “Is that something we can use?”

The doorknob clicked.  Ms. Lewis opened the door, leading the way inside.

When we were inside, I removed the paper from the one side, closed the door, locked it, and then stuck the other sticky note to the inside.  Again, I smeared it with a thumbprint of blood.

“Protection?” Ms. Lewis asked.

“I figured it might help,” I said.

“It might,” Ms. Lewis said.  “This way.”

We made our way down the hallway.

It was a residential building.  Maybe an bottom-of-the-barrel old folks home, judging by the smell.

“Sorry, but I gotta ask, is it really going to help?” Rose asked.  “He doesn’t have much power.  It might have been more useful to spend the time running.”

“Probably,” Ms. Lewis said.  “It also expended power.  A small drop of blood, but there’s a larger share of personal power invested in that than you might think.  Doing that too often is dangerous.”

I felt a sting of annoyance.  “Then tell me that.”

“It doesn’t really matter, and I want you to be confident more than I want you to be entirely accurate and efficient in what you’re doing.  You’ll be safer if you familiarize yourself with the tools at your disposal and act with conviction.”

“Okay,” Rose said.

“I want you to tell me if I do something wrong,” I said.  “Please.”

“Then I’ll tell you we should be talking strategies and tricks.  The first… have you learned to strengthen and break connections?”

“Yes,” Rose said.  “Some of it.  We did it to lure in the ghost.”

“And breaking connections?”  Ms. Lewis asked.  “Case in point, they’re tracking your every step.”

They were.  I could feel their eyes on the back of my head.  The connections were there, too, fuzzy on one end, to the point that I couldn’t trace it back to them, but unerringly focused on me.  The Other was making its way back to the alley, meandering.  No doubt looking for a trace of us.

“No, I don’t know how to break connections,” I said.

“Clench and unclench your injured hand.  Get the blood flowing from the wound.  Now, instead of supplying power to the conduit, you want to block it.”

If I’d had to draw a line parallel to the connection I was feeding, then to block it…

“I draw the line sideways?”

“Perpendicular.  Think of it as a wall or a dam to block or divert the river.”

I stopped, ready to bend down and draw the line.

But Ms. Lewis took my arm, pulling me along and keeping me moving.

“What?” I asked.

“Wait one moment.  This is about symbolism and effect.  A great deal of what any practitioner does is draw on the power of Others.  Connections, pacts, bonds, borrowed power.  You can be dull and methodical about it, but that’s only going to impress a specific kind of Other.  If you use presentation, however, timing, flair, showmanship…”

“It matters?”

“You do have an audience, after all.  It’s marginal as benefits go, but if I’m going to teach you, I’m going to teach you to do it right.  Gesture and statement can go along with power.  Saying the right thing, doing the right thing, they can add a modicum of power to anything you do, for very little cost.  Understand?”

“I… think so,” I said.

“Draw the line of blood a moment before we round the corner.  Take the stairwell, downstairs.”

There was a bang on the door, loud enough to carry down the hallway.

“We’re on the ground floor,” I said.

“I’m aware.”

“We’d be cornering ourselves, going into the basement.”

“Not if this works.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Then I’ll find another way to keep you safe as I’d promised.  Now.”

There was a bang on the door, and the sword speared through the wood.  It cut down in one swift stroke, severing the top three-quarters of the door from the lower hinge.

I bent down, using the blob of blood on the back of my hand as a palette, to draw one thick smear of blood across the top of the stairs, between us, the other, and where the two Duchamps were.

In that same movement, as I drew my arm left to right, I took a step down to the right, heading down the stairs.

“Good,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Everything you do has meaning, and informs your practice.”

Getting further away hurt the connection, as did rounding the corner.  Evasive actions.  Was it confusing the spirits, and thus making us harder to track, or was it the other way around, with the spirits recognizing that we were trying to slip away and acting in accord with it?

Whatever the case was, the effect was pronounced.  I didn’t feel their eyes on me any more.

I heard the door coming to pieces in the hallway above us, as we quickly and quietly descended the flight of stairs.

The basement.  The paint was old and the plaster on the drywall was still visible in spots.  There were no doors.  We passed by a room with washing machines and dryers inside.

I stopped at the foot of the stairs, reached into my back pocket, and withdrew one of the small bike mirrors.  I propped it up in the corner.  “Keep an eye on things?”

“Padraic could reach through to get me,” Rose whispered.

“I don’t think a hand is going to reach through there,” I said.

“The sword could.”

I heard a faint scrape.  Was the sword dragging along the floor?  I hurried down the hall to catch up to Ms. Lewis.

“No obligation, Rose,” I said.  “But it’d be handy.”

Rose said, “I’ll keep an eye out.  I can pop in and look, then come back.”

I nodded, realized she couldn’t see me from her angle, and said, “Thanks.”

To Ms. Lewis, I asked, “What are we doing down here?”

Ms. Lewis said, “For now, I’m hoping you’re learning.  Now, Faerie often use glamour,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Do you know what that is?”

“Like mirages,” I said.  “Things that aren’t really there?”

We passed a room filled with large, bulky equipment.  Vacuums, a pressure washer, steam cleaner…

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “The things they conjure up are there.  They’re fabricated, and it’s this affinity for things that have been crafted that helps the Faerie avoid being touched so easily by fabricated things.  With glamour, the Faerie might create an image of a flower.  It’s an image.  But as they put power into it, it gains substance.  As people see it and recognize it, they feed power into it.  Plant that flower in a garden, leave it be, and it will grow as any flower might.  It becomes a part of the garden, and the garden adapts.  It adapts to the viewers, becoming what they want and expect to see.  A two way street. Given opportunity, it becomes as much of a part of things as if it was always there.”

“Could you-” Rose started.  She stopped as we did – Ms. Lewis had peered into a room and stopped in her tracks.  “Could you do something like that to fuel a vestige?  To make the false copy more real?”

Ms. Lewis smiled a little.  “Theoretically.  But there is a fragility to it.  An idea is an idea, after all, and if you dismiss it or if you challenge the lie and win, then it is liable to fall apart.  This is in addition to the fragility a vestige already has.  I can say with conviction that this would do you more harm than good.”

“Oh,” Rose said.  A little disheartened.

Ms. Lewis didn’t hold back,  “Glamour thrives on attention, on interacting with our senses and being validated.  A vestige is like gossamer, and any interaction does damage to it.  It’s a contradiction, and that makes for an exceedingly dangerous balance to strike.  Damage one element and it all might collapse.”

We had stopped at one doorway.  Ms. Lewis led the way inside.

It was a workshop, complete with a massive box of breakers, tools hanging on the wall, water heaters, and an old trash can filled with bits of concrete and plumbing.

I bent down and drew out a line of blood to break the connection again.  Their focus wasn’t anywhere near us, at this point.

Ms. Lewis continued.  “A glamour is most effective if it can insinuate itself into your subconscious.  The Faerie manipulate things to distract, to addle your senses so you aren’t paying attention to the fact that it doesn’t fit with reality.  You’re more afraid for your life than you are concerned with the ridiculous length of her blade, and the fact that she couldn’t possibly be strong enough to hold it.”

“You challenged her.”

“As your partner Rose already said, they’re weak against the unrefined, against crude things.  That includes attitudes.  Their court is one of dancing around subjects, allusions, games, masquerades, and complex plots that unfold over decades and centuries.  They shore themselves and their reality up with glamour, and they use these illusions-made reality to fool even themselves.  It catches them off guard when you are blunt.  It offends them on a fundamental level, because they thrive off of belief, real or otherwise, and they don’t like for those beliefs to be challenged.”

“And this one?” I asked.  “Any clues on what she’s about?”

“The swordswoman.  The Faerie go through trends, fashions of a sort.  Mixing notions, styles, and past ideas into new forms until they’ve run completely out of ideas.  Then they rebel, they overthrow the court, and a new season begins with a different foundation.  Light faerie versus the dark, for example, or a court with a true king and queen and a dynasty that they’ve glamoured up to extend back through the centuries.  The ‘duelist’ would be one idea that might have caught their fancy, as of late.”

“I’m not sure I get it,” I said.  “They’re just playing?”

Ms. Lewis used the tools to finish the hatchet.  “It’s a very serious sort of play, when you get down to it.  Dress it up in the glamour of possible true death, using a rapier can kill even Faerie.  Build up stories of an unbeatable duelist, fights for pride, fights for the idea of romance.  See what ideas and adventures emerge.  Something as brutal, violent and sudden as this is far more dramatic and interesting when the ‘death’ of one individual in a duel might throw two hundred plots into disarray.  A Faerie cannot afford not to watch.”

“She’s dangerous, then,” I said.  My eyes roved over the tools.  Anything I could use?  Crude, unrefined…

“She’s dangerous, though I should stress that she’s here.  She wasn’t so good she could become part of the story they were telling in the court.  It’s very possible she lost an important fight and walked away.  Or she broke a rule for this particular set of games and was exiled for her trouble.  It is very telling when a Faerie becomes a familiar.  Going out of her way to experience mortality, to form a bond with a person for decades, doesn’t it seem like a desperate grasp at occupying herself or filling her time?”

“She’s staving off boredom?” I asked.

“She’s most likely clinging to the last few scraps available to her.  It’s hard to say where this leads.  Some lose their minds, others throw away their minds, carving away their personalities and memories so they might start fresh..  Some defy the court and try to change the game in another way, trying to bring about a larger change, and they get banished when they fail.  The question is, why is this information important to you?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“That was an awfully fast answer,” she said, sounding a touch annoyed.  She handed me the hatchet, handle first.  “I explained a great deal.  Surely one of you two can pull something out of it.”

The pattern of the silver wire continued on with the pattern scratched into the metal.  Faint, but noticeable where the light caught the rough patches versus the smooth patches.  The silver wire in the grip didn’t dig into my hand.

It wasn’t nearly so cold as it had been.

“She’s trapped,” Rose said.  “At the end of her rope.  It’s… a weak point?”

“You’re thinking along the right lines.  Beg pardon, but Mr. Thorburn, I recommend you keep your third eye open.  Train that sense of yours.  They’re still looking for us.”

They were?  This wasn’t a hiding place?

I reached for a connection.

I couldn’t feel much at all.

“Not feeling it.  Might be that she’s gone, or I’m not doing fantastic, or my power’s weaker than it was.  Rose?”

“I’ll check,” Rose said.

I thought maybe I could feel her absence.  Another connection?  That was useful, in a way.

I could feel some connection to the Faerie.  I went out of my way to avoid feeding it in any way, lest I strengthen the bond.  I’d seen with the ghost June, that sympathy, saying the wrong thing, or anything of the sort could strengthen the connection in the smallest ways.

“Why did we come down here?” I asked.  “You haven’t really explained.  We’ve cornered ourselves.”

“Isolated places are almost always better for a practitioner.  Places where people don’t tread, where delicate things like ghosts and vestiges aren’t torn apart by passing people and their perceptions, and where you can bend rules and there are less people to see and challenge it.”

“But we’ve cornered ourselves,” I said, repeating myself for emphasis.

“If it comes down to it, I will give you a name, and you can call it.”

“A name that I wouldn’t regret calling?” I asked.

“I would take on the cost,” she said.  “I swore to keep you as safe as you allow me to.  Subjective as ‘safe’ might be, I would take the cost.”

“And would this thing I called then go on a rampage, murdering people or setting Jacob’s Bell on fire?”

“Some could, if you were of a mood for that sort of thing,” she said.

“Right,” I said.

As if to echo my thought, Rose reappeared, saying, “The Faerie just started coming down the stairs.”

“Our next few actions will need to be decisive,” Ms. Lewis said.  “I’ve told you what you need to know, I can answer questions.  Have I taught you how to fish, or do you need me to give you a fish?”

“I kind of wouldn’t mind just getting the answer,” Rose said.

“It would be more accurate to say I gave you the answer, and I’m waiting to see if you need me to walk you through it as well.”

“You gave us the clue?” I asked.

“I gave you several.  It’s up to you to decide what to do.  Or ask me for help.  Get in the habit of thinking out loud.”

“She’s faerie, she’s weak to crude things,” I said.  I was aware that talking about her was increasing the strength of the connection, but she was going to find us down here anyways.  To keep the ideas flowing, I threw out another comment, “She’s all dressed up in illusions.  Or illusions made real, anyways.”

“She’s arrogant, dressed up like a duelist-”  Rose said, as if my ideas had spurred her own.

“-And she failed,” I added.  “She hooked up with this kid in a familiar deal to stave off boredom.  She’s been cooped up in this bird form, and I doubt there’s a lot of opportunity to do her thing.  She’ll be eager.  Rushed.  Impatient.  She wants drama, and this is probably her best chance she’s had at it since she agreed to become a familiar.”

“Can you capitalize on it?” Ms. Lewis asked.  “Or leverage it?”

“We could challenge her to a duel,” Rose said.

I could see Ms. Lewis’ eyebrows raise a fraction at that.

“You mean you want me to duel her,” I said.

“She’s going to try and kill you anyways.  Might as well set some ground rules.”

I could hear the scrape of the sword against the floor.  When I spoke, I whispered, “Why?”

Rose hissed her words, “It’s an idea.  I don’t know why.  She’s proud, she wants something interesting.  Let’s give it to her and see what you get.”

We had only seconds left.

My eyes looked over the room.  The tools…

No.  I was looking in the wrong place.  The tools were things that had been made.

I looked to the trash can.  Filled with debris and broken things, yet to be hauled away and thrown out.  I started to reach into it, and saw how my hand was caked in the blood that had welled out from the wound.

Probably giving myself tetanus.

I reached inside, tried to find something, and came up with a handful of bent, rusty nails, rocks and splinters.

I kicked it over.

I made my way over the stuff I’d scattered along the floor, checking each thing I was stepping over while making sure I didn’t step onto a nail or a piece of metal that might pierce my boot.  I kicked some stuff out into the hall.  Two gross-looking pipes of different lengths, a pile of rust-caked nails, bits of crushed concrete and a shaft of rotted wood.

Hatchet in hand, I stepped into the hallway.  The Other had stopped at the sound of the impact.  A short distance up the hallway.

“Found you,” the Faerie said.  She held her sword so it dragged behind her.  “Slippery prey.  Hiding from prying eyes.”

Ms. Lewis stepped into the hallway as well.  She stepped around me, stopping just behind my shoulder.

“Three to kill,” the Faerie said.  She smiled, and the smile touched her pale eyes.

She still didn’t look real.  There were less wrinkles than I’d expect to see on a child.

“We challenge you to a duel,” Rose called out.

The Faerie stopped.  “I would sully my blade.”

I held out the hatchet, ready to use.

Her expression didn’t change in the least.  Did she not know how ineffective the hatchet would be against her, or did she know and was she exceptional at hiding her tells?

If she had spent centuries in some court of lies and illusion, I could buy that she was a good liar.

But she was impatient, proud…

“Are you reluctant because you’re scared of me?” I asked. Direct attacksI thought.  “I think you’re a coward.”

Never,” the Faerie said.  There was a flair of the dramatic to the word.  As if she’d timed the statement to play off mine, that her earlier reluctance was solely to enable this interplay.  “I’ll see you pay for that insult.”

A small oath.  I felt my heart skip a beat, hearing that.

But I was dead if I failed, whatever happened.  What did it matter if I raised the stakes?

Okay, dumb question.  There were plenty of things worse than death.  But everything had a price, didn’t it?  You couldn’t win something if you didn’t stake something.

“Then,” I said.  “How about a wager?”

“A prize to the winner?” she asked, in that strange accent of hers.  She smiled.  “I don’t think you know how good a swordsman I am.”

“You say that, but aren’t all Faerie liars?” I asked.  “I mean, lying is at the core of your being.  You’re just really good fakers.”

“I was going to humiliate you, mortal, but now I’m going to make it bad.  And believe me, I can make it bad.  I was the consort and protector to the High Queen’s Torturer.  The woman taught me a great deal.”

“So sayeth the liar,” I said.  I slapped the upper half of the hatchet’s handle into my other palm.  My heart was pounding, but that hardly mattered.  “I think you’re all just a bunch of idiot practitioners who started deluding yourselves so you could lie despite the rules.”

“Changing how you look at the world so the subjective changes?” Rose asked.  “It makes an awful lot of sense.”

“And it would make just as much sense if you made the fucking stupid mistake of using that glamour trick of yours to convince reality you can’t die.  Look young, be young.  Look like you can’t get sick, you can’t get sick.”

Look like no weapon forged by man can kill you, no weapon forged by man can kill you.

“You insult me, you insult my people.  Shall I take you to my Queen and tell her what you said, so she can devise an appropriate punishment?”

“I think you should take the offer for a duel,” I said.  “Or you might just be a sad, pathetic little excuse for an Other who’s more bluff than anything else, you’re hiding behind that ridiculous, flimsy looking sword, and the only way you can prove you aren’t is by accepting the duel and winning.”

If they thrive on belief and perception, can I attack her on that front?

She cocked her head a little, a birdlike gesture.  I saw her glance momentarily over one shoulder.

“I’m not trying to distract you from something else or throw some big plot at you,” I said, “As hard as that is to believe.  What I’m saying is what I mean.  I want a duel because I think I could win.”

“Enough.  What are the terms?” she asked.

“We duel you,” Rose said.  “Winner gets to claim a prize.”

“Careful,” Ms. Lewis murmured.

“Too late.  I accept.  For my prize, I will have your obedience, for one year, one month, one week and one day,” the Faerie said.  She smiled.  “I am sworn to Mademoiselle Duchamp, but I would still like to keep you in a place just outside this world, and with my spare moments, I could amuse myself with you.  Perhaps I could make the first day you spend with me worse than any day you’ve experienced.  I could challenge myself to see if I could do the same each day thereafter.”

“I think,” I said, “I might take some of your power.”

“Good,” she said.  She leaped back a solid fifteen feet, her feet skidding on the floor.  “Let us begin.”

“Ms. Lewis,” I said.  “Would you happen to know the name of that something nasty that might come if I called it?”

“Yes,” she said.  “Ornias.  He once placed stars in the firmament, but he now calls them down to earth.  Say his name seven times.”

“Perfect.  Ornias,” I said.

“Jesus penis fuck, Blake, no,” Rose said.

I saw the Faerie’s eyes go wide.

When a fucking Other who had lived and breathed deception for thousands of years was still provoked into giving away a tell, I knew I’d struck home.

Ornias,” I said again.

She dashed towards me.

Trying to stop me before I finished.

I clenched my fist.  I still held the nails, rocks and splinters I’d grabbed from the barrel.

Words and gestures had power, right?

“Take this!” I shouted, hurling the fistful at her as if I were throwing a baseball.  A left-handed throw, but still.

The sharp, heavy, coarse bits of debris were coated in my blood, from the wound I’d made with my knife.  Was there maybe a bit of extra power in there?  Was that expenditure of power why I staggered a little, as I released them from my hand?

I didn’t even get to see if it inflicted any damage or if it simply bounced off of her.  When I stood straight again, she had stopped.

Raising my hatchet, gripping it in both hands, I met her eyes.  It was too much to hope that I could see a glimmer of fear, a hint that my instincts were right.  Her face was unreadable.  She used one hand to brush gingerly at the tops of her breasts.

Ornias,” I said.

She went on the offensive.  Sword still behind her, narrow space, she still brought it forward, letting it gouge and scrape the wall, bending like it had when she’d pulled it from the scabbard.

I could envision it springing free, flexing back to its normal straight length, simultaneously piercing me.  Every bit of her body language pointed to that same conclusion.

Glamour would help things to that conclusion.

I hurled the hatchet at her, overhead, two handed.

She wasn’t in a position to hit it with her blade.  She was in a position to strike it out of the air with the butt-end of her sword.

I saw a flash of a smile on her face.  I’d disarmed myself.  She had her victory.

My focus, however, was on grabbing the longest bit of pipe that I’d kicked out into the hallway.  Moving towards her, bending low to grab it.

The thing was so rusty and grimy that the actual pipe itself was hard to make out.

The hatchet couldn’t be my weapon.  Ghost inside it or no.

Could this?

She’d stopped moving to strike at the thrown hatchet.  I had the pipe.  I tried to read her expression, to see if there was any glimmer of fear, any sign that this weapon could hurt her.

Nothing.  Her expression still held that faint smile that suggested she was utterly confident of her victory.  She started approaching me.

“Yes, Mr. Thorburn,” I could hear Ms. Lewis from behind me.  “I think that’ll suffice.”

With those words, the Faerie stepped back.  Her sword had somehow found its way in front of her.

The point leveled my way.

No reason to play fair.

Ornias,” I said.  “Ornias.”

She lunged, and I ducked into the room we’d vacated, hopping over the mess.  I landed awkwardly, stupid for such a little jump.

Ornias!” I called out, in her direction.

Damn me, I could feel it now.  Once more, and he’d come.

The Faerie entered the room, sword first.

“Blake!  What are you doing?”

Rose.

“Ambush,” I said.  There was a bit of a waver in my voice.

“Draw a line, then!”

I didn’t even think.  I ducked low, scraping the back of my bloody, gritty hand against the concrete floor.  Blocking the connection.

I immediately regretted it.  Would it matter, when we were this close?  Would it help obscure her perception of me?  I had to climb to my feet-

I staggered, dropping onto all fours instead.

Dizzy.  Drained.  I’d given too much of myself, for too little.

She’d entered the room.  Through my peripheral vision, I could see her hesitate, losing her forward momentum.

The stuff from the barrel I’d kicked to the floor.  I’d almost forgotten.

Before she could get her bearings, I managed to find my feet.

She would be harder to hit.  She was nimble, already setting her weight to spring back.

“Stupid, fucking, impractical sword!”  I hit the weapon instead.  As she leaped back, she couldn’t  move it out of the doorframe.  One downward swing, and the pipe struck the blade.

It broke in four different places along the length.

Nevermind, I thought, that it had withstood worse impacts over the course of this skirmish alone.

I looked at her, saw her staring at the short stump of a sword that still stuck out from the hilt.

She moved her free hand over, and I could see the blade growing, repairing itself.

Fragile?

I struck out at it.  Not fancy, no style.  If she was the stylish, fighter, I was the brute, the barbarian, the madman.  Swinging with little caution or sense.  Picking a target, then swinging at it with all the strength I could spare.

I hit the weapon, and I hit her hand.

She dissolved, breaking down into sparkles, specks, and dust.

A trick?  An illusion?

When?  Where?  How?

No, it didn’t matter.  I needed to bring her out of hiding, and I knew I had only one thing that would get her to.

Orn-” I started.

A hand reached around me, fingers jammed into my mouth.  Stopping me from speaking in the most base, simple way possible.

I bit, turning so I could see her.  In the doing, I wrenched the fingers I was biting, forcing her to partially bend over, arm twisting.  She still felt pain, apparently.  Quick and nimble as she was, there wasn’t a lot she could do once I had my teeth in her.

She still held the sword, and was drawing it back to thrust into my gut, delayed by the pain and imbalance I was causing with my teeth on her fingers.

I still held the pipe.  Except I was already bringing it around, driving it into the side of her stomach.

The weight of her falling down pulled her fingers out of my mouth.  I hit her prone body with the club.

I did it a few more times for good measure.  Hitting her sword-hand, head, shoulder, leg.  Meaty sounds.

“-nament,” I finished.  “Ornament.”

No fucking way was I ever saying that name a seventh time.

I dropped the club, staggering away.  When I dropped to all fours to throw up, it was equal measure exhaustion and revulsion.

Too many bad memories.  Fights that had gone very much like that one had, at the end.  Base, violent, ugly.

“I think I see why she might have picked you,” Ms. Lewis said.

“Blake was picked, then?”  Rose asked.  “It’s not just him being the second heir?”

“I already said too much.  Take your prize, Blake.”

I looked up at her.  She held a box in her hands.

“What’s that box you’re holding?” I asked.  I wiped at my mouth with my clean hand.

“Safety measure.  For your sake.  I did promise you would walk away unharmed, but for harm you brought on yourself, and that little brawl of yours could have gone either way.”

I closed my eyes.  Opening them took some effort.  Not because I was that tired, but because the way my head was swimming made me feel like I would like to keep my eyes closed and be still and quiet for the next few hours.

“I would hurry,” Ms. Lewis said.  “The others are outside, there is another familiar there.  They’ve called help, and the help will arrive within the next few minutes.  We’ll start running into the first of them as we leave the area, and if we get slowed down, the rest are going to catch up.”

I mumbled a reply.  I wasn’t even sure what I was saying.

“You okay, Blake?” Rose asked.

I could still hear that meaty sound of pipe hitting flesh.  I looked at the Faerie.

She was breathing, still.

“She’s not dead?” I asked.

“No,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Like most Others, the Faerie are very resilient, and she’s drawing a kind of power from her master as well.  Take your prize.”

“What?  What do I take?”

“Go with your instincts.  I might take the heart, in your shoes, but I’m not in your shoes.”

“Just carving the damn thing out?” I asked.  “To do what?”

“Eat it.  But it hardly matters.  Let’s hurry on our way.”

“No,” Rose said.  “The agreement was that we would duel the Faerie.  What if I challenged her now?”

“She’s not able to accept,” I said.

“She already did,” Rose said.  “So… if I declare it’s my turn… can I take a prize?”

“That’s sketchy,” I said, “And it feels like it’s begging for heaps of bad karma.”

“Some,” Ms. Lewis said.  “But you reaped some as well.  The question would be whether you could defeat someone who is already defeated.”

“Oh,” Rose said.  “Right.”

“I’m not saying it’s impossible.  It’s very doable, actually, but it requires time, and it requires you to come up with other ways of defeating her than physical.”

“I don’t understand,” Rose said.

I ran my hand through my hair.  “She’s talking about torture, Rose.  Torture the Other I just bashed until you beat her on some mental or emotional level, then claim a prize.”

“I don’t- how can I even, being inside the mirror?”

I ignored her.  I grabbed a piece of the broken sword, weighing it in my hand.

Sharp edge.  Good enough.

“If the Faerie can reach you, we could theoretically pass her hand or arm into your realm,” Ms. Lewis said.  “A tight fit, but if we broke the hand first…”

“No,” I said.  “Sorry, Rose, but no.”

“I don’t- I don’t want to.  I’m bothered we’re even talking about this.  I didn’t think I’d have to do something.”

“S’alright,” I mumbled.  I squatted beside the fallen Faerie.

“What are you thinking, Mr. Thorburn?”

“I’m thinking we give her back.  Is it doable?”

“It is.  Invoke the duel, make an argument, give off the right impression, a degree of fear…”

“Maybe,” I said.  “If it’s alright, can I use you to scare them?  I’m kind of done with that for right now.”

“As you wish.”

I nodded.  I reached down and cut away a lock of hair, then jammed it into my back pocket.  I tossed the piece of broken sword aside.

“Hey, Faerie.  If you’re paying any attention, turn into a bird, and I’ll see about giving you back.”

There was a long pause.

A broken flutter of wings, and the Other was a chickadee.

I picked her up as gently as I could.  I headed for the exit, stopping to get the hatchet and stowing it away in my jacket.

“Sorry, June,” I murmured.  “Thanks for the distraction.”

As I passed the line I’d drawn at the top of the stairs, I could feel connections unfolding around me.  Not between me and the practitioners, but between me and everyone else in the building.

A door slammed somewhere.  I could hear footsteps.

I used the Faerie’s blood to break the connection and buy myself time.

Emerging outside, I headed to the end of the alley.  I had to break more connections that were attaching to me from every direction.

Two girls.  One eleven or twelve or so, was sitting on the car hood, bundled up in a winter jacket, hat and blanket.

The other, twenty, was leaning against the driver’s side door.  Smoking.  But for the age gap, they were very similar in appearance.

They recognized me, and the older one stepped away from the car.  A canary sat on her shoulder, spreading it’s wings.

“Letita!” the younger girl called out.  Recognizing her familiar.  She moved the blanket.  What the fuck was she wearing?  Shiny skintight leggings?

I could see the fear in her expression.  Her hands clutched a golden plate that had been sitting in her lap.

No.  A small shield?  What did you call a shield like that?  Her implement.

She’d barely hit puberty, and she already had an implement and a familiar?

The older one didn’t attack.  She was staring at me.

“We dueled,” I said.  My voice sounded a little hoarse.  I wondered if I’d fall again here.  “Your… Letita and I did.  I won, I took my prize.”

“And?” the older girl asked.  “My turn?”

She didn’t look eager.  But she looked like she might be willing.

“It could be,” I said, but I raised my good hand, to stop her before she could do anything.  “But I want you to know two things, before you make that judgement call.”

“What two things?”

“First off, this woman with me is one of my grandmother’s lawyers.  She’s staying hands off, but she probably will intervene if it comes down to it.  She would have, if Letita here had taken the upper hand.  You get my meaning?”

“I felt something,” the little one said.  “Building up in fits and starts.”

“I called out a name,” I said.  “Letita might tell you that.  Six times out of the seven times I needed.”

“It felt bad,” she said.  Her eyes didn’t leave Letita.

“I’m telling you right now.  I had no intention of saying the name the seventh time.  I so swear.  I only needed to push Letita to act, use her impatience against her.”

The two nodded.

“The second thing I want you to know, is that we had every right to challenge her two more times and take two more prizes.  We didn’t.  We fought, I won, and I took what I’d earned.  Now, if you’ll allow me…” I said.  I very slowly approached.  I extended my hand, the little bird inside.  “…I’m giving her back.”

Once she took the Other from my hand, I backed away.

“You didn’t have to do that,” the older girl said.

I ignored her.  “Now, my question is, are you going to cause me more fucking problems, or are you going to let me get on with my day?”

“We were told to stop you,” the little girl said.  “You’re dangerous.  You don’t even realize how dangerous you all are.  We’re supposed to do anything and everything we can.”

“Hush, Joanna,” the older girl said.

“Well?” I asked.

“I should give my life to stop you,” the girl said.  “Joanna doesn’t know everything, but she’s essentially right.”

“I’m not talking about the past, or any of that,” I said.  “I’m talking about this, right here, right now.  Are we going to have a problem?  Do I need to handle you so I can deal with your family too?”

Somehow?

I must have looked less threatening than I had since I was little Joanna’s height.  Haggard, swaying on my feet, a little roughed up and dusty, hair a mess.

She reached into her pocket, and I tightened my grip on my hatchet.  On June.

She retrieved a phone.  She dialed and raised it to her ear.

“Mom?”

A pause.

“I know.  I see them.  But look at where he is.  He’s right in front of me and Jo right now.”

Another pause.

The connections around me were filling with power.  A spider web of interactions, waiting for something to start drawing the snare inward.

“Let him go, mom.  Tell Auntie to pass on the message to the cousins as well.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She raised a hand, one finger extended.

“I’ll explain later,” she said.

Another pause.

“No, you won’t like the explanation.  Call it a favor to me.  Call it- fuck, mom, listen- mom!”

Another pause.  She shut her eyes in frustration.  Her breath billowed out in a white fog as she sighed.

“Mom!  Fine!  Stop- stop and listen, don’t call it a favor, then.  Call it a repayment of the favor you owe me for taking Jo to her six-in-the-damn-morning dance lessons for the last half a year.”

I could hear her mother’s voice this time, faintly emerging from the phone, three paces away from me.

“Yes mom, I know that means I can’t whine about having to take her anymore.”

“I need to get back home before Ms. Lewis’ break ends,” I said.

“No, I don’t think that hell on earth is balanced out by six months of early morning car trips and boring waits in the gym.  But maybe ask me in half an hour.  Unless you want to take her today?  Since you already happen to be up?”

She smiled a little, as her mother responded, then hung up.  Her cheeks were flushed red with victory and the cold as she looked me in the eye.  “We’re even.”

“Thank you,” I said, again.  Weren’t thank-yous dangerous?  Or was that just with barber demons?

“I’m Penelope, by the way,” she said.  “My friends and family call me Penny.”

I felt something wet on my lip.  I thought it was maybe a snowflake, but when I rubbed it off, my finger came away crimson.

Blood.  Not mine.  The Faerie’s.

I spat it on the ground.  Spit and trace amounts of blood.

I looked up to see her looking a bit disgusted.  “Okay.”

I left Jo and Penelope behind as I went to go deliver the letter, Ms. Lewis one step behind me.

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155 thoughts on “Damages 2.5

    1. Thank you, Landis963.

      I thought, but I couldn’t connect it. Something about raw iron, but…”
      Missing an opening quote.

      “Are you reluctant because scared of me?”
      … because you are scared …

      She held her sword so it dragged behind her.
      Three spaces after this sentence.

      I very slowly approached. [shortly followed by] I backed away.
      Continuity problem?

      1. She was fucking twelve, and she already had an implement and a familiar?

        I believe it was mentioned earlier that she was thirteen by Mrs. Lewis.

        The sharp, heavy, coarse bits of debris were coated in my blood, from the wound I’d made with my knife?.

        The question mark shouldn’t be there.

        Dress it up in the glamour of possible true death, [with a rapier can kill even Faerie], build up a story of an unbeatable duelist, fights for pride, fights for the idea of romance.

        I think that should be “with a rapier that can kill even Faerie”

    2. Things that have been worked, refined, or crafted are less effective against them.

      I have noticed Wildbow not using the Oxford comma (serial comma) before because I actually prefer it. Here, it is used. I know even the “purer” pro- or anti-serial comma writers occasionally change up to correctly indicate the timing of spoken words, so it isn’t a hard and fast rule either way, but it is a change from prior writing.

      1. I was wrong about the consistency, now that I thought to go back and check. Apologies, Wildbow. I don’t know where that impression came from – I will plead tiredness.

    3. Typos:
      – “Maybe an bottom-of-the-barrel old folks home” -> “a bottom-of-the-barrel”, “old folks’ home”
      – “The connections were there, too, fuzzy on one end, to the point that I couldn’t trace it back to them, but unerringly focused on me” -> ‘Connections’ is plural, so ‘I couldn’t trace them back to them’ (which sounds strange)
      – “between us, the other, and where the two Duchamps were.” -> ‘the Other’
      – “A two way street. ” -> ‘two-way street’
      – “these illusions-made reality” -> ‘these illusions made reality’? or ‘this illusion-made-reality’?
      – “If she was the stylish, fighter” -> ‘stylish fighter’ or ‘the stylish, the fighter’
      – “One eleven or twelve or so, was sitting” -> ‘One, eleven or twelve or so,’

    4. Awkward paragraph: She drew a small notebook from her pocket. She drew out an image. An hourglass shape with a circle in the middle. She drew a small pad of sticky notes from another inside pocket. “Draw something like this, put it on the doorknob, and empower it.” -> “She drew”, “She drew”, “Shew drew”, “Draw”.

      Unclear passages:
      – The beginning of this chapter (roughly until the familiar disappears) felt somehow awkward to me.
      – “Master feels young,” -> The master of the familiar, I guess. Why does Ms. Lewis even know this is a familiar, rather than a normal Other?
      – Blake and Ms. Lewis suddenly open a door with a spell, but there had been no mention of said door (or the corresponding building) before.

    5. Continuity glitch: “The sharp, heavy, coarse bits of debris were coated in my blood, from the wound I’d made with my knife.” The latest cut was made with a pen; the one before that was a fingertip cut by the hatchet. Unless I missed another cutting?

    6. letting it gouge and scrape the wall, bending like it had when she’d pulled it from the scabbard. –> this would flow a lot better if you put something before ‘bending’ — ‘the thing bending, for example. It would also make the sentence a lot clearer.

      she was the stylish, fighter, –> first comma isn’t supposed to be there.

  1. The Faerie seem interesting. Weird way for power to work. Blake seems to be pretty capable in a fight too. I’m thinking Lewis was sufficiently entertained during her break.

  2. Blake is great at first impressions.
    Calling Ornias name six times? That was horribly reckless.
    Seems Blake will have to get a new power source, as using his blood to pay leaves him too vulnerable.
    This chapter was fun!

    1. He has a power source now, if only a limited one. He took some of Letita’s power, in the form of her hair, as a prize, remember?

    1. I’m actually a bit annoyed that he didn’t swallow it. Blood is power and it could do him good to take that into himself with intent.
      There’s symbolism in spitting it out.

  3. “We had to stop you,” the little girl said. “You’re dangerous. You even realize how dangerous you all are. We’re supposed to do anything and everything we can. Mommy said so.”

    That’s interesting wording. Not “Don’t even realize” but “do realize” and “you all.”

      1. They may have been referencing the town meeting. He did imply that he’ll use the barber as a weapon.
        But it was the comment on hellfire taking the town that really caught my attention.

  4. I think Blake lied a shitload during that fight. Unless he actually believed every single thing he said about faerie. In particular, “I think you should take the offer for a duel,” and “I’m not trying to distract you from something else or throw some big plot at you,” sound like lies. I doubt Blake believed it was in her interest to accept the duel and he did sort of have something up his sleeve.

    1. Well Mrs. Lewis would have done something if fairy hadn’t accepted the duel, so it may have been in her best interest, and the threat of the demon was a distraction, but the duel in and of itself wasn’t a distraction or diversion.

    2. Of course he wanted her to take the duel. It was the best chance he had. And he wasn’t trying to distract her, or throw a big plot at her. He didn’t have time for a big plot, and he wanted her attention focused on the duel, not elsewhere.

    3. Of course, the Faerie should take the duel. Its the right thing to do since it helps Blake survive in an unjust world. How is that not what you should do? Secondly, he wasn’t trying to distract the Fae, he was trying to get out alive. Similarly no big plot.

      All of those things pass the truthiness threshold.

  5. Typing uses different parts of the brain, helps me think about this chapter …

    Fu** me, magic is partially about showmanship. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – since magic is about symbolism, showmanship can be a part of that. Interesting follow-up: studying stage magic or acting could improve your real magic.

    Dammit, Ms. Lewis, this “I won’t use my power” … “I will protect you” thing is giving me whiplash. I guess this is sort of not-lying as long as she uses other powers or artifacts, but it is darn sure misleading as … hell [double entendre intentional].

    Kudos to Meister for calling Blake’s opponent as a familiar and Other in comments last chapter.

    Aha, Wildbow starts showing his inventive nature – the refined/crude nature of faerie is an interpretation of them I don’t believe I have run across before. The interpretation of changes of court as changes of the fashionability of certain ideas is interesting also.

    Welcome to D&D – disbelieving an illusion (glamour) removes some of its power.

    Blake says many, many things to goad the faerie besides the name. “I think you’re a coward.” “I mean, lying is at the core of your being. You’re just really good fakers.” “I think you’re all just a bunch of idiot practitioners who started deluding yourselves so you could lie despite the rules.” And several more. How many of those count as lies? Is he exhausted in the end because he just whittled his power down with partial lies (things he doesn’t fully believe) himself?

    The Ornias gambit has a serious downside – does the summoning work if he ever says the name seven times? If so, he has set himself up for danger based on a repetition days, months, or years later. On the other hand, good work figuring out something that can goad his opponent into rash action. And then … “I had no intention of saying the name the seventh time. I so swear.” First oath? But a careful one, stating his past intentions rather than binding himself for the future.

    Mrs. Lewis would take the heart and eat it. The “demon” part of demon lawyer is showing through there.

    Boy, are all practitioners parents of the year? Send your kids out against the supposedly dangerous diabolist.

    Yeah, rather unfair when twelve-year-olds (thirteen?) have familiars and implements. Magical trust fund kids indeed – kudos to whoever came up with that phrase.

    The ambivalent attitude of the other Duchamps is odd – why not just attack the obviously weakened opponent? Possibilities: offering the familiar back constitutes a nonaggression deal; the kids don’t seem to be into the feud as much as the adults; Blake did mention the lawyer as a possible threat; and Blake’s oath said he “had”, past tense, no intention of saying the name again … but that doesn’t bind his future actions and he is one utterance away from calling down the heavens. I guess that does sound like enough to get them to back off.

    Blake semi-wins this one, with what appears to be only recoverable costs (karma, power, and blood loss). I am sure it will get worse for him quickly, but it feels good just the same. And … he has another implement of power – Letita’s hair. But how much power does it have as opposed to, say, a heart?

    1. About hair and heart – I don’t think the difference is in the quantity of power, more likely in purpose. What you can and cannot do with that power. It is declaration about who Blake is, maybe even more so than returning a familiar.

    2. “Send your kids out against the supposedly dangerous diabolist.”
      Nah, Penelope was driving Joanna to her dance lesson. They noticed Blake was outside his house and decided to attack him because it’s pretty much ‘the right thing to do’ in-universe.

      1. From the conversation Penelope had with her mom at the end it seems like the Duchamps are under standing orders of “If you see a chance to take him out, take it.”

    3. I’m also wondering if he has to actually call Onias or just use the name in conversation (“Hey, remember that time I faked the faerie out by pretending to call Onias?” Onias appears and glomps him).

      I don’t think Blake lied there. The third one started with “I think”, so as long as he genuinely thinks that, he’s good. The others do seem to be true based on what he knows of fae and glamour – it is fundamentally faking, which is a form of lying.

  6. Uhm, quick meandering question. But if coarse and ugly things harm the faerie then how do we explain the goblins? Supposing that they are the same type of Others as the faerie of course.

  7. It’s interesting that Penny was being friendly at the end, and that Blake wasn’t interested (I guess he probably wanted to get out of there). He definitely needs to figure out what saying “Thank You” etc. implies (for instance, was he implicitly accepting the notion that they were even?).

    My best guess is that the kids were assuming he would get out of the attack somehow (his lawyer was there and he apparently knew how to summon something terrible), so they’d rather balance out the karma of him giving back the Faerie by calling off an attack.

    I’m excited about the hair. Symbolically, a lock of hair from a defeated Faerie feels about right, especially in the context of a duel.

    1. Penny is an enchantress. The whole family is, I think? Any sort of emotional attachment to them can be dangerous to their enemies, from my understanding. Including dislike. Just because she was acting friendly certainly didn’t mean she wouldn’t twist that emotional attachment later if Blake had accepted it. The safest way to deal with Enchantresses would seem to be to remain emotionally neutral as much as possible.

  8. Also, it’s interesting how normal the Duchamp kids are. Driving younger siblings to the gym, being disgusted at the sight of blood, etc.

  9. I am very curious about the implications of that generation gap in the Duchamps. It could be just a basic intra-family power play, or it could be indicative of a more pervasive difference of opinion. It seems clear that neither of them have internalized “Thorburns are bad, don’t give them any leeway.” The older girl should know what’s at stake, and the younger must have been given at least basic information on the powers and purposes at work here so that she wouldn’t make awful mistakes. Although judging by mommy’s reaction, I believe this counts as a mistake.

    Another thought, Penny said her mother could look and see exactly where Blake was. Why didn’t she before? How sanctioned was Joanna’s move against him? Why didn’t Penny send her familiar after him? Surely she and it are more powerful and would have a higher chance of success. Perhaps it was a trial mission for Joanna’s new familiar. Full marks for a soundly thrashed first try haha.

    Bat your eyelashes and make friends with the girls, Blake. Maybe try to exploit the gap between the girls and their parents. Even if they’re wearing shiny leggings.

    1. Penny said her mother could look and see exactly where Blake was. Why didn’t she before?
      You need to concentrate on connections and power them to pinpoint people. She’s apparently not scanning the town 24/7, which is good.

      How sanctioned was Joanna’s move against him?
      Very. Remember, karma’s a bitch.

      Why didn’t Penny send her familiar after him? Surely she and it are more powerful and would have a higher chance of success.
      Considering that Joanna told Letita to kill Ms Lewis, she seems quite arrogant. I’m guessing she’s a bit of a spoiled child and wanted to get all the glory, and didn’t foresee Blake bargaining his way out of fighting Penelope like that.

    2. I’m thinking the LAST thing he wants to do is make friends with powerful enchantresses, considering that their powers are all based on manipulating relationships…

  10. “You even realize how dangerous you all are.”

    I believe the intent of this is something along the lines of:

    “You even realize how dangerous diabolists are.”
    “You even realize how dangerous you diabolists all are.”

    It’s a stumbling point of reader comprehension there, using “you” twice with different meanings in the same sentence, with no clarification, and the reader has to figure out what meanings to assign to them both.

  11. Great chapter! Blake is badass.

    I would like to see reactions of local practitioners when they learn that Blake won duel against sword-Fearie without implement or familiar.

  12. The beginning of this chapter felt a bit awkward, but the fight against the Other was pretty impressive.

    And I love the notion that you use flair and showmanship when casting spells and performing rituals, not as a necessary component, but just to be impressive.

    I wonder whether Blake will ever accidentally say something sounding like “Ornias” again. Would something like “…b_orn. I as_ked…” count?

    And Penny, that older Duchamp sister, is awesome.

    Great lines:
    – “You need a power source,”“Blood won’t do for the long term.”
    – “I’d hoped for something quicker and more effective. You’re weak, and that is going to hold us back, Blake Thorburn,”
    – “They find us interesting, and ennui is to them what death is to us.”
    – “A small drop of blood, but there’s a larger share of personal power invested in that than you might think.”
    – “I want you to be confident more than I want you to be entirely accurate and efficient in what you’re doing. You’ll be safer if you familiarize yourself with the tools at your disposal and act with conviction.”
    – “If you use presentation, however, timing, flair, showmanship…”“It matters?”“You do have an audience, after all. It’s marginal as benefits go, but if I’m going to teach you, I’m going to teach you to do it right.”
    – “A glamour is most effective if it can insinuate itself into your subconscious. The Faerie manipulate things to distract, to addle your senses so you aren’t paying attention to the fact that it doesn’t fit with reality. You’re more afraid for your life than you are concerned with the ridiculous length of her blade, and the fact that she couldn’t possibly be strong enough to hold it.”
    – “Some lose their minds, others throw away their minds, carving away their personalities and memories so they might start fresh.. ”
    – “And would this thing I called then go on a rampage, murdering people or setting Jacob’s Bell on fire?”“Some could, if you were of a mood for that sort of thing,”“Right,”
    – “It’s up to you to decide what to do. Or ask me for help. Get in the habit of thinking out loud.”
    – “We could challenge her to a duel,” Rose said. “You mean you want me to duel her,” I said.
    – “There was a flair of the dramatic to the word. As if she’d timed the statement to play off mine, that her earlier reluctance was solely to enable this interplay.”
    – “I think you’re all just a bunch of idiot practitioners who started deluding yourselves so you could lie despite the rules.”“Changing how you look at the world so the subjective changes?”“It makes an awful lot of sense.”
    – “Ornias. He once placed stars in the firmament, but he now calls them down to earth.”
    – “Dizzy. Drained. I’d given too much of myself, for too little.”
    – “No fucking way was I ever saying that name a seventh time.”
    – “She’d barely hit puberty, and she already had an implement and a familiar?”
    – “Mom! Fine! Stop- stop and listen, don’t call it a favor, then. Call it a repayment of the favor you owe me”
    – “No, I don’t think that hell on earth is balanced out by six months of early morning car trips and boring waits in the gym. But maybe ask me in half an hour.” -> So amazing…

    1. wildbow already mentioned Solomon and Furfur, so obviously we’re going to see a lot of familiar names.

      I find interesting that Ornias is his first real ‘connection’ with demonkind, like Solomon. He barely checked on Barbatorem, so that one doesn’t count.

      1. Interesting. Read that Wikipedia article on the Testament of Solomon. Two things I noticed. First, Solomon was a Diabolist. Secondly, his downfall came when he broke a vow.

        1. I wonder what happened to his ring? He seems to be the only person we’ve heard of who could deal with demons while denying them access to the world rather than helping them back into it.

          1. That’s actually a standard Kabbalah trick. Used to show how great and good a Tzadik is. Pinning Satan up a tree, things like that.

  13. Ok, I’m a little confused by the end. Did Blake start bleeding Faerie blood? Did Penny or Letita give Blake a kiss that was rejected? Was it somehow residual blood from the duel?

    In other matters (see what I did there), it would be interesting to see Blake lead a revolution between the the new and young generation of practitioners on the one side and the older, more experienced generation on the other.

  14. “I could still hear that meaty sound of pipe hitting metal. ”

    I’m guessing this was supposed to be ‘pipe hitting flesh’.

    I like how Blake thinks he doesn’t look threatening, when he’s staggered out of the building covered in blood, probably with a manic expression, saying things like “Are we going to have a problem? Do I need to handle you like I did this Faerie?” I’d feel pretty threatened.

    1. I agree. Blake doesn’t seem to always realize the impression he gives to others.

      “People are staring at me as I buy a cart full of weapons and mirrors. They must be practitioners!”

    2. Yeah, he’s pretty much exuding the air of “barbarian not to be messed with”
      … along with barbarian, about ready to Fall Over, and still not to be messed with.

      Putting his back to a wall is a Bad Idea.

  15. Great chapter.

    Fairies being vulnerable to crude elements is a nice spin on the cold iron weakness. It avoids having uber powerful beings getting scared by a bunch of nails (I’m looking at you Jim Butcher).

    Nice bluff and quick thinking Blake. I presume Ornias is some kind of fallen angel, what with the stars in the firmament and all that.

    The Duchamps girl were funny.

    1. Meh. Metal allergies exist. The faerie legend wasn’t built on nothing.
      (and its very circumscribed locality speaks of an actual group of forest-dwelling people).

  16. Nice chapter, it was really fascinating to finally see magic in use, it helped me tremendously in understanding it more.

    Basically, magic feels like storytelling in real life. The more in tune your actions are with what you are trying to accomplish, the more a scene resembles a well written chapter in a book (“I turned around the corner distracting the connections trailing me so they smashed into the wall, loosing my scent”) the more powerful your magic is.

    Karma is basically reader sympathy. You would never cheer for a guy beating a woman with a pipe. However, in this case, the guy is just your down on your luck underdog, valiantly challenging an evil sword chick to a duel to prevent said evil bitch from harming his friends. (“It’s me you want, leave my friends out of this!”). Targeting the local cop and his family? Shitty move but hey, the cop is a mean bully and his children are creepy devil spawns so go for it! (Yes, I know, this comparison can be sketchy but imho it is still a good way to describe the Karma concept).

  17. Missed one-liner opportunity thread?

    Missed one-liner opportunity thread.

    “Clap your hands if you believe, beeyotch!” Ka-pipe to the face

    “Orn- Oh, I di’nt!”

    After hearing Letita’s plans for torturing Blake should he lose “Oh yeah? Well, if I win, you owe me a box of Pecan Sandies”

    “I DON’T BELIEVE IN FAIRIES!” Ka-pipe to the face

    And I’m spent.

    1. Apart from that joke being old, it would probably be counted as a lie. Since, you know, he’s saying he doesn’t believe in something that is standing right in front of him.

      1. It’s a coherent possibility for him to not believe in something standing right in front of him, though it’s a very difficult mental exercise.

        1. Not at all. I don’t believe in desks and I’m sitting at one. To believe in something in the sense generally meant is nearly impossible if you have evidence for it actually existing.

      2. Technically, he doesn’t since he’s been taught that you shouldn’t place Others in categories?

        He seems to actually believe that Faeries are some sort of self-deluding practitioner.

  18. Wow! That was one awesome chapter! I really, really enjoyed this practical hands-on lesson from the lawyer. And we get to see what Blake might become, once his survival instincts and intuition is attuned to the rules of magic. Once he had the background knowledge on faeries and could see the weakness, he was pretty damn impressive.

    It seems like the attack wasn’t really planned, the two Duchamp sisters probably just saw on opportunity and acted on it. Nice touch with how ordinary they seem. Not sure if the small tension with mama Duchamp and teen Duchamp was just a part of their ordinariness, or if it was more than that.

  19. Ya know, it’s pretty ironic that the family who’s hat is controlling relationships appears somewhat dysfunctional.

    Of course, decades of politicking and mind games just to ensure your line’s survival probably would mess up any family. And their could perhaps be a family oath to not whammy each other. Maybe.

    Anyway, I refuse to believe Blake won’t be charged for this on-the-job training session. Lewis was WAY too helpful and far too keen to downplay her coaching. Blake owes her personally now, big time, and I’m thinking that was her game all along. I’ll need to check her wording to make sure though…

    1. On the other hand, the lawyers have stated that they would want to recruit him if he got powerful enough. This would be a relatively effective way to give him a push in the right direction. As an added bonus, if he does join and works his way up to where he can replace one of the three, she can probably count on being the one to get the early release.

    2. Re: dysfunctional – If the family is used to dealing with relationships by flinging magick at them, their own relationships might be messed up, since presumably that won’t work well in the family, and they might never have learned how to relate in normal ways. Ex: Teela Brown seeming graceless.

  20. Funny, I’m reading what would work best on a Fairy, and I’m thinking “Hey, drop a meteor on them. Can’t get more unprocessed than a rock that’s been floating in space since the dawn of the universe.” And what does the Demon Ms. Lewis suggest do?

    Penelope might have been acting quickly to repay a Karmic debt. Blake could have serously messed her sister up if he had taken more from her familier.

    So what happens if you say Candleja-

    1. While Ornias is very dangerous to faerie, I don’t think a demon who summons meteors is the best thing to have around when you are trapped in a basement. Somehow I don’t imagine it would be very discriminate in targeting.

      And if it ever gets summoned it is likely to be less discriminate because Blake just left it … blue. Teasing a demon with a partial summoning is probably a bad idea.

  21. Hrm. “I think you’re a coward.”
    Smells like a lie to me. Maybe tweak the wording a bit? Or do you intend for Blake to be lying here?
    “Are you a coward?”

    “A prize to the winner?” she asked, in that strange accent of hers. She smiled. “I don’t think you know how good a swordsman I am.”

    Female Swordsman? Perhaps a Duelist if you don’t like Swordswoman

    I noticed something else that I need to check on to see if others caught it, another post shortly if it’s not being beaten to death elaswhere

    1. I am not sure if the gender confusion counts as a mistake. If I recall correctly, all humanoid characteristics including gender are completely optional for Fae. They are “Its” not “hes ” or “she’s”.

      1. Glamour would probably tend to reinforce one or the other. Once a gender is described once for a fae, unless it says it changes, I’d think it would attempt to maintain the illusion, if it’s not reality.

  22. “I think I see why she might have picked you,” Ms. Lewis said.
    “Blake was picked, then?” Rose asked. “It’s not just him being the second heir?”
    “I already said too much. Take your prize, Blake.”

    Bullshit, Ms. Lewis. You didn’t say too much, you said exactly what you intended to say, in exactly the way you wanted it said.

    Ms. Lewis didn’t need to set any traps to know something like this would happen. Blake’s family karmic debt would attract his enemies like ducks to the feet of a kid scattering bread crumbs as soon as he left a protected area.

    Blake was lured out into danger, defended, taught a bit, and exposed to the utility of having the lawyers on his side.

    Blake’s seen the rougher side of life. ‘The first time is free’ isn’t going to be an unfamiliar tactic to him.

    It will be interesting when he realized Ms. Lewis is basically a drug dealer of knowledge.

    1. She didn’t say “I’ve said more than I meant to already” just that she’d said too much, implying there was some sort of agreement to not speak on the subject.

      The knowledge is all stuff he has in the library; it was only valuable due to it being cherry picked in context, which requires her active presence during conflict. A service Blake is hardly likely to purchase. Still, I think you were right about the drug dealer aspect in terms of her offering the name of a demon for Blake to summon.

      1. Ms. Lewis provided him with incredibly useful knowledge about the nature of glamour, as well as a really handy trick to unlock and lock doors, as well as how to break the ability of Others to track him so easily. She also warned Rose and Blake about trying to use glamour to empower Rose. These are all things she might have taught out of combat as well, and remembering how useful she was when teaching those things is going to weigh heavily on his mind when he’s having difficulty understanding something. Unless he figures out that she’s only trying to entrap him into greater debt.

        1. If she wanted him to see their utility so Blake would use them more often she would have done all the work herself. Every bit of knowledge she gave Blake is rather basic stuff – reading a book or two about faeries and glamours would give him the same information. Also, Blake has a very limited amount of time each month with the lawyers, so he couldn’t be dependent upon them anyways.

          More likely she wanted him to have a win to boost his confidence. If he’s confident, he’ll take more risks for the sake of becoming a more powerful practitioner. If he’s powerful, then he’ll be more interesting as a potential employee for their firm. At best for them he’s forced into a corner and accepts their offer, and at worst he manages to stay alive and fulfill the conditions of the contract they made with Rose Sr. Either way it’s a win for them. On the other hand, if he thinks he can’t win without their help he’ll likely end up dying which is not very useful to them.

          1. Also, and very important. Asserting her helpfulness is going to make it much less likely for Blake to swear that he will never join their firm.

  23. “Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
    Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
    Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
    Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
    Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
    Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
    The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
    No one ever said elves are nice.
    Elves are bad.”

    Anyway, Penny and Joanna don’t seem like bad kids, hope they manage to wriggle out of their family’s grip.

        1. ‘Mort’? If you’re looking for Terry Pratchett’s take on elves, perhaps ‘Lord and Ladies’ would be a better choice. Or some of the Tiffany Aching books.

          1. No, I meant Mort. It’s more the universe as uncaring and unfair, and Death’s character development that went from “There is no Justice, Just me.” to “What can the harvest hope for but the care of the Reaper Man?” that I got reminded of.

  24. One nice touch is that Blake made the fight ugly and crude, brutal without style. He changed the very fight itself into what Fairy are vulnerable to.

  25. “A small shield? What did you call a shield like that?”
    I believe you call it a Buckler. The Shiny tights aren’t that unusual either , since Jo was on her way to dance class. That said, it seems like the sort of out of place thing someone might notice.

    1. If Jo can keep a buckler with her as her implement, who’s to say that Blake needs a subtle implement. A littler girl carrying a shield around would seem a bit conspicuous, IMO.

      With this info, I think Blake should choose a blowtorch as his implement. He was a workman, and its a nice contrast to his frost hatchet.

        1. Also she’s got half the town watching out for her. Blake has half the town wanting to kill him, and the other half wanting to kill his entire family.

      1. The frost hatchet is minor; an implement is a seriously major choice. He shouldn’t let the hatchet influence his choice of implement.

        As far as the shield, it’s small, so she can keep it hidden in a purse.

    1. You’ve got your Godzilla threshold set too low. It’ll be something like the Pact equivelent of an Endbringer attack. Maybe some other demon is on the loose. And with things so bad that a demon you can get to fight for you can’t possibly make it worse…

      1. And then it turns out that a demon fighting for you does in fact make things worse, but it at least gives you a few minutes to catch your breath.

        1. Ornias is mentioned by name in the Old Testament. Ornias was the demon Solomon used to wrangle Beelzebub. Ornias will make Sodom and Gomorrah look tiny.

  26. Simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg. This would be frightening.
    I am curious, Pact seems to be more intellectual than Worm, here besides the usual discussion about good and bad, law and order we also get deals and whatnot.
    I wonder if the readership dropped since it is a tale a little more difficult to understand or, at least, to plainly understand.
    The number of comments is smaller than in the end of Worm, but this certainly is due to the fact that right now we only have speculation and the action is only heating up.

    1. “Simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg, simurg. This would be frightening.”
      The scariest thing is it might not be entirly implusable. Same Multiverse after all, and she can build devices to open potrals…

      1. And then someone starts saying “Skitter” over and over again. The Simurgh heads back into her portal while uttering the first words she’s ever been recorded verbally saying: “nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope”.

        1. Amusing, but if that would have worked, Simurgh would have failed to show up in the first place. Perfect pre- and post-cognition, after all.

      2. Simurgh isn’t actually her true name – that’s just what people called her. Though, with her abilities, it quite possibly doesn’t matter if you use the wrong name – she knows who you mean…

    2. I think the start may make a difference. Blake is slightly less relatable. Most people have experienced bullying to some degree – it is not hard to empathize with Taylor. However, only a minority has a family that is as totally fucked up as Blake’s is – and even fewer have been homeless. While Skitter becomes exceptional at a very fast pace, Blake is exceptional from the start.

      1. I disagree with the second bit, actually . To me it’s only really this second arc where Blake has started to hit his stride. Arc 1 he came across as making a number of stupid errors through being so hotheaded.

        I totally agree with the first part – IMO the story does suffer a bit from not giving us any hook into understanding who he is as a person and why. The story could possibly benefit from a brief prelude covering this.

        It didn’t help that the background information was ultimately supplied in a way that could be seen as Blake being self-serving by bringing up his background as an excuse for his behaviour.

        It took me a lot longer to start to like Blake than it did Taylor.

        And it’s still hard to like Rose, in no small part because we don’t know if we can trust her. :/ (Notice that she gave Blake bad advice in this fight, too…)

  27. I’m not sure if I’m reading this right, but the fae seem astoundingly overpowered here, but played weaker. The range of abilities stated puts them in the weakly god-like category, including but not apparently limited to: partial immortality, direct reality manipulation, post-hoc history re-writing, glamour, direct mass generation (mass-energy weapons are therefore a low-hanging fruit to them – akin to us throwing a stone). The Godzilla (or in this case Cthulhu) threshold just took an almighty leap.

    What’s even more alarming is that the Barber seems to be held as even more of a threat. Given that the fae as described could very quickly leave the Earth a cindered ruin, I dread to imagine what the Barber is actually capable of doing.

    1. Bare in mind that not every fae may have all of those powers, and that they may require substantial time and energy for all but the most minute effects to solidify. Also, consider that ennui is their real weakness. Boredom. Using too much power is brutish and uninteresting. Much better to set off a bunch of butterfly effects and watch them spin out than just, ya know, glamour a knife into somebody’s chest.

      1. I agree. In addition, if Letita was one of the most powerful of the Faeries, she probably wouldn’t be a 12 year old’s familiar.

    2. I’m not sure “played weaker” is quite the right term. God-like power that can only take the form of whatever collective lie the court can tell itself is actually pretty limited. Faeries are very old; they probably find it much easier to believe lies about swordsmen than to believe lies about how that rock is actually a pile of refined Uranium (if any of them ever managed to tell a story where they become Physicists for some reason and know what Uranium is).

      Even aside from that, would other practitioners around them believe that direct mass-energy weapons are reasonable? I got the feeling that their power weakened when they did unbelievable things (the sword shattered shortly after Blake pointed out it was grossly impractical). It might be that if they built a fancy weapon nobody else believed would work, it just wouldn’t work. (People would be skeptical since Faerie are very old, and have never done something like that before, and practitioners are probably even more intellectually conservative than people in general.)

      There’s also the question of motivation. Our existential threat is death; their existential threat is boredom. And nothing’s more boring than a story with a grossly overpowered protagonist.

      It’s also unclear how Karma plays into the limitations on Faerie power, if at all. How did they first get to be the way they are? What oaths are they under, if any?

      1. Problem Zededarian, how do aggressive tactics and problem-solving interact with the requirement of having to totally believe what you’re saying?

        You can’t use science and keep your illusion running, so that uranium idea is out. The next option would have to be using that emotion-based whatever that Fae already use.

        Actually, this brings up the idea that maybe the most dangerous fae are those who have been hooked into working with humans. No worse partner for a Fae than an imaginative megalomaniac who can dream!

      2. nothing iss more boring than a story with a grossly overpowered protagonist?

        I disagree

        3 words

        one punch man.

  28. Love the thoughts so far.

    Oh you two, soon you’re going to need a psychic link or secret code if you’re going to keep planning how to defend yourselves verbally; reverse monologued don’t work forever!

    “Records say this Fae is weak to X, can we lure-”

    threat adjusts attack.

    1. For practioners, yes, that is a real concern. Of question is just how locked into their nature the Others are. Its possible only the more powerful ones can adjust their attack.

      After all, they’ve survived so long with only a hammer, they may have forgotten what a screwdriver looks like.

  29. A proposal … for the next evolution of faerie. This will never happen, but it would be interesting.

    Faerie seek entertainment; boredom is dangerous to them. Inference: new things, whether they are ideas or objects, should be attractive to them.

    They love complexity and inter-connectedness.

    They can adjust their minds and memories. Inference: if they find something they are not now very interested in but that would meet their needs, they might be able to adjust themselves to like it.

    I think they have missed the point that the stupid, plodding, non-cognoscenti humans are now producing new, complex, inter-connected ideas at a ridiculous rate. That wasn’t true for thousands of years, but now there are dozens of specialties each of mathematics, chemistry, physics, engineering, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, geology, statistics, philosophy, … oh, just go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science and look at the list on the right-hand side of the page. And all of them inter-relate to at least some others and new entire fields are being invented regularly.

    If the faerie just turned themselves into a learning and research institution they would have interesting, complex ideas to work on for the foreseeable future. Academic people and institutions have all sorts of rivalries and relationships, so that faerie itch would be scratched also.

    Of course, doing any sort of unbiased observations or controlled experiments when your beliefs influence observable reality would be somewhat challenging, but I am sure there’s a way around that … I wonder if they can believe themselves into being unbiased observers.

    That leads to the idea of rationalist, experimentalist faerie reality benders. Frankly, that idea ought to be ranked up there with unfriendly strong AI for threat potential to the human race. So, maybe academic faeries are not a good idea.

      1. When you think about it, by the very nature of their powers, aren’t all fairies just weaker Haruhis? What does that make Blake?

  30. This all assumes they can read, and don’t think its boring. Some of those texts my ght work better as poison than energy, as they aren’t intended to entertain.

    If they discovered 4chan and reddit though…

  31. Addendum:

    After seeing the Superbowl trailer, it is imperative the Fae be kept ignorant of the existence of Transformers: Age of Extinction. We cannot permit them to try toping riding Grimlock into battle. The universe could not take the strain of so much awesome.

    1. But. . . I like awesome. Just hope they don’t see comb-over Jamie Foxx. I’m sure it would be fine as long as none were Denver fans.

      Now that I think about it, Pact takes place late 2013/ early 2014 correct? Fae upset over the superbowl could totally be an unexpected plot point in a few months.

  32. Bravo, loved this chapter:
    great lines like “I think I see why she might have picked you” and “No, I don’t think that hell on earth is balanced out by six months of early morning car trips and boring waits in the gym. But maybe ask me in half an hour.”
    world-building that I found very interesting/cool like the nature of the fae and the relationship between magic and others’ perceptions.
    and a really cool fight scene.

    One thing bothering me in the comments: Why does everyone seem to assume that the summoning works like “If you say this series of syllables 7 times total over the course of your entire life, then it will appear” rather than “If you clearly enunciate this name 7 times within a reasonably short span of time, then it will appear”?

    1. People are assuming that because A) Pact appears to big on using exact words.
      “Ornias. He once placed stars in the firmament, but he now calls them down to earth. Say his name seven times.”
      B) Its the safest way to think of it. If the readers are wrong, Blake can fake-out calling as much as possible. If they’re correct however, you get C) it’s more fun to think of a scenario where Blake accidentally or purposefully calls out Ornias for. . . Interesting results. There’s also D) something else that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

      Maybe I write better at midnight.

        1. And then Blake’s ‘reading’ session was rudely interrupted, when Rose appeared in the bathroom mirror:

          “Hey, are you done with the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum yet? There’s a really interesting passage on… Erm, Blake? What are you reading?” Rose screwed up her face in a disgusted expression.

          A furious blush was spreading on Blake’s face, as he scrambled to grab the glossy magazine that had fallen out from its hiding place, concealed behind a large arcane tome that he’d pretended to be engrossed with.

          “Well, umm… I’ve been cooped up in this house for ages, there are certain… urges, that need to be, umm… dealt with.” He excused himself lamely.

          Rose didn’t stay for the rest of his explanation, as she had already hurried out away to a different mirror.

          “Hey! You’re not offended, are you? I couldn’t help it, I’m horny as-”

          He cut off in mid-sentence, as the second interruption in as many minutes occurred; this time, however, the intruder wasn’t his incorporeal house mate. A malodorous blast of acrid brimstone filled the enclosed space in a heartbeat, as the bath tub exploded in a cloud of porcelain shrapnel. Shrouded in sulfurous smoke, a towering figure unfolded itself, its curved horns scraping the tiles on the ceiling.

          Lo! Ornias, Flayer of the Firmament, Sunderer of the Zodiac, had arrived.

          Blake scrambled away from the horrifying entity in a blind panic.

          “N-n-no fair! I didn’t say your name!” He screamed.

          The demon screwed up its horned visage in something that was no doubt meant to be a bladder-seizure-inducing scowl, but looked vaguely like a childish pout.

          “NUH-UH! NO BACKSIES. IT TOTALLY COUNTS!”

    1. Not to mention such terrifying entities as Omnomnomias, Devourer of Éclairs.

      No, seriously. Don’t mention his name. Especially not seven times in a row, with your mouth full.

  33. Yep, Faerie. Most notably weak against cold forged iron. Basically, iron cut into a shape as opposed to heated up and beaten into submission.

    Yep, blood. Pretty damn important. Life force and all that. Not sure how it stacks up to bone, but that might depend on if a person is alive or dead. Flesh is iffy too, I think. Now, what Blake needs to be doing is getting wasted. Not just any wasted. Chocolate wasted. Like with wine and shit. Good wine. Wine is magical. Better than powering spells with a Disney movie.

    Or he can start making some friends. I hear nowadays that friendship is magic too.

    Yes! Showmanship! Time for some big words. Latin. Hell, Spanish and French would even help. Ritual and farce. Mummer’s the word with me, though. Still, this is another good time to study wrestling. In this case, it might behoove him to take in the Dungeon of Doom. What was once used to try and take down Hulk Hogan in the past might now be useful for breaking a Fae in half. Is Blake Thorburn gonna have to choke a bitch? No, but it’d help.

    Let me tell you, though, if you want crude and unrefined, you got two major choices. Either you hit her with a rock…a big rock…or punch her in the nose. Or, just saying, this is pretty crude and unrefined…rip her dick off.

    Come on! I mean, think about it. The only thing that can stop a bad guy who wants to rip your dick off is a good guy who wants to rip your dick off. Wait a second, that’s not fitting right.

    He really should have snapped the Fae bird’s neck and swallowed some of her blood. I’m just saying. He said he thinks he might take some of her power, which is true at that time. Hell, if he took all her power, might get some good karma from it. After all, it’s dangerous letting a 13 year old run around with the power of a Fae in the palm of her hands.

    1. “Crude and unrefined.” Notices the previous two commentators and just grins… she’d be dust against these two if they put their minds to it…

  34. Jesus penis fuck, man, that was intense. Blake is now sufficiently badass for Arc 2.
    Your ingenuity shows yet again with the whole bit about refinement, and the part about showmanship. Now we get awesomely dramatic scenes justified by the plot! It’s this kind of stuff that makes you one of my favorites.
    Just, please, no eating hearts……okay, maybe just once. Would be pretty cool to see Blake become a berserker.
    Speaking of which…Arc 2 Blake vs. Arc 2 Taylor. At this point, Taylor would still dominate. If you manage to successfully make Blake even more badass than Taylor, well, you’re actually the only one I wouldn’t put it past.
    Good show.

  35. “If you pull too hard, too long, and it snaps, with violent consequence.”
    Should be “If you pull too hard, too long, it snaps, with violent consequence.”

    Really good story so far. You have an engaging plot and your world-building is both interesting and comprehensive.

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