Damages 2.7

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Maggie glanced over the books.  First Famulus, then Implementum, Demesnes, and then Famulus again.

Rose was watching Maggie, but I had still taken the time to collect the medicine kit and a damp towel and bring everything into the living room with me.  More stuff in the way, a more crowded space.

I took my time disinfecting my hand, cleaning it up where I’d stabbed it.  The blood had trickled out and into the palm, collecting with the bits of rust and dirt where I’d reached into the trash can.

“Alright,” Maggie said.  “You’ve got good stuff, and I admit you’ve got me hooked.  You want me to be an unofficial ally, in exchange for free access to your books?  I’d be down.”

I glanced at Rose.  “Did you do any negotiating in the twenty seconds I was in the bathroom?”

“No negotiating.”

“We didn’t propose anything like that,” I told Maggie.

“Are you trying to pull a fast one on us, Maggie?” Rose asked.

“Nah.  I just figured I’d put it out there.  See if it got any traction.”

“You said you wouldn’t try anything,” I said.

“No bad intentions in my heart, really, but I’ve gotta get the best deal I can for me.”

I sat there, glaring at her, but she only smiled.

“This is exhausting,” Rose said.  “Watching every word you say, watching every word others say…”

I nodded.  I felt a bit weary myself.  Maybe having company when I was this worn out was a problem.

But an ally was an ally, so to speak.  Even if that ally was grubbing for any advantage she could get.

“I guess it’s not so bad when everyone’s not trying to take you out of the picture,” Maggie said.

“Guess not,” I responded. I looked my hand over, and then set to bandaging it.  I was collecting a lot of small wounds.  The cuts from the bird-skull things hadn’t yet healed, and I had sliced at my fingers once or twice to draw blood.

“You’ve got something I want, I’ve got something you want.  So… I can propose another deal.  You loan me out some reading material, and I promise not to kill you.”

There was a pause.  Maggie looked at me and Rose with a kind of expectant look on her face.

“You still have no bad intentions?” Rose asked.

“Huh?”

“Threatening to kill us if we don’t comply?” Rose asked.

“No!  No.  I worded that badly.  I mean, I’ll take the deal.  Agree to the ceasefire you proposed at the meeting.”

“Meaning that on top of the gift of reading material, we’d be giving you the other parts of that deal, with protection from whatever might come out of our grandmother’s books.”

“Darn straight.”

“That doesn’t seem very even,” Rose said.

“Supply and demand, my dear friend in the mirror.  You have a demand for not being murdered.  I can supply that demand.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” I said.

“Why not?  Look, you want lots of a product I’m offering, called ‘not being horribly killed’.  You want it badly enough that I can raise the price.  You benefit, because you get lots of ‘not being horribly killed’, I benefit because, hey, I get stuff.”

“No,” Rose said, “I’m pretty sure the two of us understood that.”

“And, on the plus side, if you’re wanting to put the squeeze on the other guys, then you can get them to panic just a little when you tell them there are only two deals left before they’re outta luck.”

“Three,” Rose said.  “If someone wants to take the deal where they can still come after us if they tell us who killed Molly.”

“I forgot about that,” Maggie said.  “You won’t have much luck.  Couple of the Behaim kids met me at school, told me that they’re going around, talking to everyone and making sure that they weren’t giving you information that might start something none of us want to start.  Most people are sworn to secrecy, at this point.”

“Most?  What about the others?” Rose asked.

I was sitting on the edge of the couch, elbows on my knees, hunched over.  I  met Maggie’s eyes.  “What about you?”

“The ones who swore to secrecy also agreed to go after the people who blabbed,” she said.

“Did you agree?” I asked.  I was getting damn tired of people who didn’t answer the questions they were being asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  But it doesn’t matter, now, does it?  I could tell you what happened, but then I’m probably going to wind up with some rather angry people coming after me.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I get it.”

“We’d do something similar in her shoes,” Rose said.

I grunted noncommittally.

“That’s her stuff, there?” Maggie asked.

I had to raise myself up off the couch a bit to see where she was pointing.  The duffel bag and pile of clothes was still on the floor just beneath the arm of the couch.

I collapsed back onto the cushions.  “Yep.”

“Didn’t really know her that well.  Saw her a few times.  She didn’t show at the council meetings until the last month, and I don’t think she was game.  Took her longer than it took you guys to realize you can go out and maybe not die.”

“We’ve had escorts, and promises of protection in one way or another,” Rose said.

“Still.”

“Still,” Rose said.  “It’s dangerous.  We’ve gotten hurt every time.”

“I’ve gotten hurt, you mean,” I said.

“Yes.”

“More than your predecessor did, oddly enough,” Maggie did.

“Did she do any of the practitioner stuff?”  Rose asked.

“She did.  Yeah.  She knew some tricks.  Mostly defensive.  Warding things off.  Knew the essentials of how to deal with every one of the creepy crawlies out there.  But knowing what you’re doing doesn’t make life easier when the Others scare the wits out of you, y’know?  You don’t think straight, you make mistakes…”

“I suppose,” I said.  I was trying to visualize it.

“Did you talk to her?” Rose asked.

“Once or twice.  She was kind of freaked out,” Maggie said.

“You didn’t try to help?” Rose asked.

“That’s… I dunno.  I’m not sure how I would’ve or could’ve,” Maggie said.

“I’ve been trying to put myself in the heads of the other locals,” Rose said.  “Yourself included.  I understand that they are scared.  I understand that our family has a history of meddling in pretty dangerous things.  But then I look at the difference between the Duchamp kids and the Duchamp parents, like we saw earlier…”

“Maybe better to not say anything there,” I commented.

“What do you mean?” Rose asked.

I rubbed at my eyes.  “Might be they don’t want their actions broadcasted or gossiped about.”

“I’m sworn to secrecy about anything I discover inside this house, aren’t I?” Maggie asked.

“You are,” I said.  “But betraying confidence, implicitly or otherwise, it seems messy.  Bad karma, maybe.”

“Point,” Maggie said.  “Change of topic then.  I don’t get a lot of what’s going on, politically.  I have to trade for every tidbit of information I get.  Even about the obvious stuff you read about in those books.  I’m kind of new here, though.  New to this, to everything.  I’ve only been at this for half a year.”

I nodded.  My stomach was burbling just a bit.  Maybe a factor in why I felt so drained.  I’d given up blood, skipped meals, missed sleep.  Those things had to be fundamental to personal power.

I stood up.

“I’m going to get something.  You want anything?”  I asked.

“Beer?”

“Something I can legally give you.”

“Nah.  I’m alright.”

I made my way to the kitchen.  “Can I ask, Maggie?  What’s your story?”

“My story?” she asked, calling out from the living room.  I glanced, and saw she had picked up Famulus again.

“You got started somewhere.”

“Didn’t we all?”

“No games, please,” Rose’s voice came from the living room.  “If you don’t want to say, you don’t have to say, but I’m on the same page with Blake about being horribly fed up with this doubletalk.”

Maggie didn’t respond to that.

Searching the kitchen for foodstuffs, I found some bread in the freezer.  A little freezer burned, and showing signs of what might be mold.

Well, no use wasting it.

I cut the mold off, buttered it, cut up the remaining chunk of cheddar and layered it between the two slices before throwing it in a frying pan.

Maggie appeared in the doorway, leaning against it with her arms folded, so she had both me and Rose in her line of sight.  “What do you know about goblins?”

“Ugly,” I said.  “Brutish, warlike, twisted, brimming with all sorts of emotional negativity.”

“That’s essentially it.  You know their weak point?”

“Iron,” I said.  “They’re creatures of nature?”

“Iron.  But they’re warriors, understand?  They use iron.  They make weapons.  They’re of nature, but so is snake venom, so is cancer, understand?  They’re the ugly bits.  The savage, primitive, visceral, neanderthal bits.  Once upon a time, it was pretty standard for goblins to give humans a hard time.  Steal unattended objects, suck a cow’s udders dry before the farmer could milk them, spread plague, tangle hair, gobble up anyone who got turned around in the woods and passed by the same place three times…”

I nodded.  I used a fork to lift the corner of the bread and see how it was browning.

“A few reasons they stopped.  The first is that practitioners started going after their leaders.  The dumbest, meanest, most savage of them got snapped up and jammed into objects or they got sealed, stuck in holes and covered up with rocks, yadda yadda.  And there aren’t many powerful goblins who aren’t kind of stupid and savage.”

Rose asked something I couldn’t make out.

Maggie nodded.  “Yeah.  There are some scary ones out there.  Even now.  Real monsters.  But I’m getting off topic.  The second big reason that the goblins stopped picking on humanity was that we went and got ourselves modern plumbing.  You know that bit, about how vampires can’t cross running water?  Water is life, it’s natural, and it naturally draws out the deathly energies.  Well, for goblins, metal does the same thing, and it takes a bit out of them when they pass over a place where metals are buried.  More so if that metal is charged with any power.”

“Pipes under the streets?” I asked.

“The flowing water gives it some basic elemental power.  They don’t like it, saps their energy when they do a little hop, skip or jump over the barrier.  So they lurk around the city instead of inside it.  In rural areas, other places where water service is more inconsistent.  Or smaller towns, where the local infrastructure taxes them a little less for getting from A to B.”

“Like Jacob’s Bell,” I could hear Rose.

“Yep.  Among other places.  Redneck scumholes are sort of scumholes because goblins hang around there, you know?  The little twits have their fun making paint peel prematurely, stealing a little money here or there, pulling stuff apart, making it so cars break down, and so on and so on.  People who wind up in slums and scumholes find it just a little bit harder to get out, when things refuse to pick up and run smoothly.”

Rose said something.  I only caught the tail end, “…fair game.”

“Open season,” Maggie agreed.  “Once you fall far enough through the cracks, you start losing the protections most of humanity enjoys.  The kid that locks himself in his room and never comes out, the antisocial couple, the poor schmo who loses his house and business.  If the goblins manage to help someone down that path, drag them down a little further, and some other Other doesn’t go after the unfortunate soul, they get to enjoy the reward.  Goblin SOP.  Standard operating protocol.  Making everyone’s bad days a little worse”

A memory crossed my mind.  Being woken from my sleep by a beating.  The mocking laughter.  Never seeing their faces, because I had to cover my head, because I had blood in my eyes.

One of them had called it off.  Let me limp away, crawl away when the limping proved too difficult.

They let me think I could maybe get to a busier street where I could beg for help, then kicked me one last time, hard enough to prove me wrong.

And another memory, one I had told Rose about, not long ago.  Being shot with BB guns.  The bruises, the way my arm had changed colors, and the fear I’d felt, wondering if I needed to go to the hospital.

There had been no laughter that time.  They had lurked in the shadows, firing until they had no more ammunition, watched me struggle, then feigned like they’d reloaded and were going to shoot me again, just to see me flinch.  I’d gone still for a time, and they had moved on when I looked up again.

Both memories had distorted.  Spend too long without revisiting memories, and they had a way of twisting.  When I remembered the laughter being a little too much, a little too high pitched from some, too deep from others, I’d told myself it was just my memory playing tricks on me.

When I remembered the mix of heights and body types of the ones with the BB guns, just one half-step outside the bounds of what one would expect from a typical crowd of people, I’d told myself the same.

Tricks of memory.  Easy to believe, especially when you didn’t want to think about it.

I didn’t like it.  I was already feeling like half a person, using the wrong soaps, being in an unfamiliar place, acting like someone entirely different in the heat of a fight, beating a woman -a something– to the point that she couldn’t move.  This was one more straw on the camel’s back, and I wasn’t sure what was going to give.

I grabbed my sandwich.

“…aren’t immortal,” Maggie was saying.  “They die like you or me.  But they breed.  I’d be really interested in reading a book about goblins, to see how that’s linked to their personal power, or see what keeps that in check.  I’ve become something of a goblin queen.”

“A what?” I asked.

“Someone works with spirits almost exclusively?  Shaman.  Work with time, you’re a chronomancer.  Fire?  Pyromancer.  The future?  Augur, predictomancer, something like that.  Work with demons, you’re a diabolist.  Work with goblins?  Goblin queen.”

“Johannes would be a goblin king, then?” Rose asked.

“Johannes is Johannes.  He works with anything and everything.  Others call him a sorceror, so that’s what I’m gonna call him.”

“Making you the resident goblin queen.  Is that by choice or happenstance?” Rose asked.

“Yes,” Maggie said.  “Former and/or latter.  You wanted to know where I come from?  I came from a place that was falling through the cracks.  And just like goblins might go after someone who’s slipped through civilization’s secure embrace, they’ll go after a location.  And it was bad.  Bad enough that not all of us made it out.”

“And even though goblins did this sort of thing to you, you’ll keep their company?  Work with them?” I asked.  My food sat on my plate, untouched.  I wasn’t that hungry anymore.

“Seal them, bind them, enslave them,” Maggie said.  “You gotta own the past, don’t you?  Own the bad parts as well as the good.  Let it make you stronger.”

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” I asked.

“Yes.  Exactly.”

“I always hated that phrase,” I said.  “No.  What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.”

“Weren’t you telling me the other day that you survived some bad stuff, and so you’ve got keener instincts?” Rose asked.

“I said something like that,” I said.  “I’m not sure I’m stronger as a whole, though.”

My eyes darted in Maggie’s direction.

I added, “Maybe we can have this conversation another time.”

Rose nodded.

As if it was some way of fixing the unease I felt, I picked up the almost forgotten sandwich and took a bite.

“I dunno why,” Maggie said, “But it’s kind of eerie seeing you two disagreeing.  I thought somehow that mirror girl was some sort of subservient vestige thing, but she’s got a real personality?”

“We’re not giving up too much information on that front, either,” Rose said.  “It’s kind of a sore point.  Sorry.”

Sore point?

“No prob.  I’m not going to tell you guys my whole story, you don’t have to tell me yours.  I gotta go soon, though.  School, promises.  If we’re going to hash something out, we shouldn’t waste time.”

“We could invite you back,” I said.  “Same rules.”

“I could accept,” she said, matching me in terms of how noncommittal I was being.  “We sort of dropped the first bit of conversation we were having.  Figuring out what sort of deal we were negotiating.  It’s not so bad.  Apply a little pressure, get one person on board.”

I really wasn’t up to negotiating.

Rose, however, jumped into it, “We’re giving you a fair bit.  Not to be rude, but you seem to have an awful lot of demand too.  For knowledge, for books.”

“I’ll live if the deal doesn’t go through,” Maggie said.  She left the other half of her statement unsaid.  We might not.

“You’re really big on the unreasonable bargain,” Rose said.

“I would say I’m really big on not getting the short end of the stick.  Had enough of that, thank you,” Maggie said.

“Throw us a bone,” Rose said.

“What sort of bone?”

“You’re taking knowledge out of our hands every time you walk off with a book, and you’re putting us at risk and some small inconvenience every time we accept you in, assuming you might want to do your reading here.”

“I was kind of hoping we could be friendly-ish,” Maggie said.  “Give and take, in terms of enjoyment of one another’s company.”

“I’m flattered,” I said.  I hadn’t meant it to sound as morose as it did.  I was tired.  Not functioning.

The food might have been helping, though.  I felt a fraction better, having eaten.  Even if it was stale bread and a bit of cheese.

“Let’s not count on friendship,” Rose said.  “Take the friendship out of the equation, and we’re the ones with the short end of the stick.  Having someone show up unexpectedly, occupying our time when we could be focusing on something else…”

“We need allies, Rose,” I said.

“We do,” she agreed.  “But let’s call this what it is.  Maggie wouldn’t be here if she didn’t think she could get something.  She’s going to take a bit of our hospitality, she’s going to make use of our books.  I’m thinking we ask for a little something each time.”

“A little something?” Maggie asked.  She raised an eyebrow, giving me a very deliberate head-to-toe once-over look.

“A small favor, a token gift, a bit of power, some knowledge…” Rose said, trailing off.

“As what?  Payment for access to a given book?”

“Essentially,” Rose said.  “Everything has a price, doesn’t it?”

Maggie nodded.  “It does.  So.  You get someone accepting your deal.  Nonaggression from me.  You get a little something any time I get your book.”

“Or visit,” Rose cut in.

Maggie made a face.  “You don’t like me very much, do you?”

“I like you fine,” Rose said, in what were maybe the least friendly sounding words I’d heard out of her mouth.

“Uh huh.  So you get the ceasefire from me, a gift of some small to moderate value for allowing me access to this house or access to your stuff.  Unless you waive it?  Like, if I have something really good, and you decide it’s worth a bit more than usual?”

“I think that’s fair,” Rose said.

“Good.  Um.  I get access to knowledge, as you permit, though I get something.  I get a guarantee, too, that you’re going to do something to keep your demons from hurting me.”

“To be frank,” I said, “I dunno how.”

“What Blake means is we’ll find a way.  You’ll have definite, distinct protections against anything we contract with.”

“Good enough.  You’re not planning on summoning anything bad, are you?”

“No,” Rose said.  “If we do anything, it’s going to be accidental.”

“You swear?”

Rose glanced at me.  I nodded.

“I so swear that we have no intention of summoning anything of the nature you’re talking about,” Rose said.

“Then promise you’ll protect me when and where you’re able, using the knowledge and tools you’ve got,” Maggie said.  “I’ll settle for that.”

Vague.  I wouldn’t have settled for that sort of protection.

I was too tired to look up, so I only gave a thumbs up.

“Should the deal go through, I promise that will be the case,” Rose said, again.

“Good enough for me.  Yeah.  That sounds pretty good.  Is a verbal contract okay?”

“No,” I said.

No?”  Maggie asked.

“No,” I repeated myself.  “No verbal contract.  We can hash it out in writing.”

“Written contract.  Isn’t that more dangerous?  Room for traps and loopholes?” Maggie asked.

“Not if we keep it simple,” I said.  “Which we can.  After I get a good night’s sleep and talk things over with Rose.  But the interior of my skull is feeling a bit slow, I’m tired, and I’m not focused.  Tomorrow, or the day after.”

Maggie groaned, flopping back in her chair.  “Yeah.  Except it never works out that smoothly.”

“I don’t think anything is going to change in the next day or two,” Rose said.  “I’m sorry, but I sort of agree with Blake.  We should be careful and deliberate in anything we do.”

“You don’t think anything is going to change.  What?  You want a chance to spy on me?  Run a background check on the local?”

“Are we going to start fighting?” Rose asked.  “Because that’s a bad sign, if we descend into animosity so readily.”

“Animosity?” I asked.  “Readily?”

“I’ve been reading too many of these old books,” Rose said.

“I don’t want to be animostic,” Maggie said.  “I just want power.  And everyone’s keeping it to themselves and making me pay out of the nose for it.  I get teased with it, and it never gets delivered in full.  Padraic, the North End Sorcerer…”

“Dangerous guys to be associating with,” I said.

Maggie was up and out of her seat in an instant.  “I don’t have a choice!”

Wrong thing to say, wrong time.  I hadn’t realized how upset she was, how its barely restrained.

“Not if I want to do something!  And I don’t not want to do something because I did that when I had to watch my old neighborhood go up in blood and fire!”

“Calm down,” Rose said.

Maggie switched to a more sarcastic tone.  “Oh, yeah, How often does that work?  Tell someone to calm down and they chill out?”

“I don’t know,” Rose said.  “But I think, given that this is Blake’s house, and he can ask you to leave at any time, and we do want to work with you, we’ll all be happier if this conversation doesn’t escalate into something ugly.”

Maggie deflated a little.  “Crumbs.”

“Well put,” I said.  “Do me a favor?  Take a minute, we can enjoy a bit of silence, I’ll try not to fall asleep, and we start again when we all have our thoughts in order?”

“I gotta head to school in a few minutes,” Maggie said.  “Don’t have a lot of time.”

“Please?” I asked.

“I’m really not a patient type, but sure.”

“Thank you,” Rose murmured.

Maggie collapsed into her chair.  I took my time getting up, cleaning off the plate and putting it away in the drying rack.

I debated coffee, checking the tin.  Just enough grounds to tantalize me with the possibility, but leave me short of a decent brew.

I settled for tap water, instead, and felt suitably depressed over it.

I set a glass in front of Maggie before taking my spot on the couch.

“Cool?” I asked.

“I’m alright.”

“Alright,” I said.  “You understand that we have to be careful?”

“Yeah.  And… I did use the moment of silence to think.  As apology for my outburst, and maybe a bit of incentive to get you on board…”

She reached behind her back, and she put a piece of intricately folded paper on the table.  She used a flick of her index finger to send it sliding across the table.

I didn’t touch it.  “What is it?”

One tidbit I was able to pick up these past few months was about Eastern styles.  India, some of Japan.  See, they aren’t big on familiars and implements and demesnes.  Well, the Western-influenced ones are.  But they prefer to remain hands off, delineate pretty severely.  Their preference is to contain, bind, leash.”

“Okay,” I said.

“We walk around with the metaphorical equivalent of a canine companion.  They work with us, they help us hunt or they get our food, they get the benefits of cozy mortal living, we get the benefit of their talents.  In the East, in the places I’m talking about, they prefer to leash the things.  They tie their dogs to trees.  Or keep them behind fences.  You get my meaning?”

“I think so,” I said.

“That right there is an ofuda.  Your metaphorical dog in a cage, and it’s not a big dog, but it’s still a dog.  It barks, it bites.”

“A goblin.”

“A little bundle of mean.  He’ll come out gnashing and snarling, so point him away from you and at whoever you want to hurt.”

I picked it up.  “Amassing a bit of a collection of trinkets today.  Hatchet with a ghost inside, a lock of a faerie’s hair, now this.”

“Yeah?”

I had to stand to move my sweatshirt and draw the hatchet from where I’d jammed the handle in by my hip.  I needed a better way of holding it close to me.

I put it on the table beside the slip of paper.  Still standing, I removed the lock of hair from my back pocket.  It was only after I’d withdrawn it that I realized I’d managed to get it all in and out of my pocket without losing any.  If it had been my hair, I’d be finding hair in my back pocket for weeks.

“May I see the axe?”  Maggie asked.

“Look, but don’t touch,” I said.  “And it’s a hatchet, not an axe.”

“Semantics.”

“Do you not live in this world?” Rose asked.  “Semantics are important.”

The phrasing made me think of Paige.

God damn, I needed to interact with a familiar face so badly right now.  Heck, even an unfamiliar face… it would make a world of difference to ground me, to give me a solid injection of reality and sanity.

“Admittedly true,” Maggie was saying.  “They are important.  And people who argue over semantics are still a pain in the bum.”

“You’ve got to explain how you lost the ability to swear,” Rose said.

“I don’t got to do anything,” Maggie said.  “Unless we arrange that deal, and you agree that tidbit of knowledge is worth the loan of a book.”

I could follow the conversation, but wasn’t quite feeling up to joining in.  I looked at the piece of folded paper with letters scrawled on it in ink, then slipped it into the little mini-pocket of my right jeans pocket.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

“Gotcha,” Rose said.  To Maggie, she said, “That sets a bad precedent.  You’ll be more inclined to hold details back just so you can sell them to us.”

I didn’t hear the rest, as I headed up the stairs.

I entered my grandmother’s room and paused, taking it in.

Nothing had changed since our conversation.  The bed was made, maybe a little dusty, everything was in order.  As though she had just left yesterday.

I could feel her presence here.  Not in a ghostly way, but in a general way.

I looked over the top of one dresser, where her old jewelry was arranged in boxes and on stands.  Modest stuff, not ostentatious.  Relatively little jewelry, all things considered.

My plan was to grab a fine chain, if I had to settle for the bare minimum.  Something stronger than cord or thread.  I didn’t have to settle.

A locket dangled from one of the racks.  Simple, unembellished.  Only a rectangle with rounded-off edges.  I had to move other necklaces to grab it.  When I popped it open, I found a sprig of some herb, dried up long, long ago, inside.

I sniffed it.

Lavender?  I could see my grandmother wearing it as a precaution against something specific.

I could also see her wearing it for the smell alone.

Very carefully, without touching it, I tapped it against the side of the dresser.  It wouldn’t do to poison myself with something I was misidentifying.

I made my way back downstairs, open locket in hand.  A classic container for a lock of hair.

When I reached the door to the living room, however, I found both girls looking in one direction.

The front door?

I went, then peered through the window.  A moment later, I opened the door.

It was Laird, in plainclothes.

“Hello, Officer Behaim.”

“Did you think I wouldn’t realize it was you?”

“I thought you might,” I answered.

“A declaration of war, Mr. Thorburn?”

“Call it what you will.  Retaliation?”

He sighed.  The lines in his face seemed a little deeper.  A tell?  Was he hiding anger or other sadness?  Or was he not a morning person?

“I’m disappointed,” he said.

“You sound like my dad used to, when you say that.”

“I’d hoped you would accept the temporary peace I was offering.  We didn’t have to be enemies in the strictest sense.”

“But I can be the dimwitted buffoon that you can abandon for the Others to get, after you’d promised me safe passage?” I asked.  “You can conspire against me at the meetings?  You want me to accept the meager kindness and peace you offer?”

“It would be smarter,” he said.

“That’s called shaking the hand you’re offering in friendship, while knowing your other hand is balled up into a fist and you can’t wait to use it to punch me in the balls.”

“Very colorful, Mr. Thorburn.  I’m not, I should stress, in a joking mood.”

“Oh?” I asked.  “Did I inconvenience you?”

“Marginally.  I’m more inconvenienced by the knowledge that we now have an ongoing dispute.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” I said.  “You fucked with me, I fucked with you.  We can leave it at that.”

“Leaving things be fails to resolve anything.  You’re dangerous.  Your continued existence puts my family at risk.  I no longer believe you’re going to abstain from the darker subject matters your grandmother freely dabbled in.  I have no reason to expect you’ll be as discreet or careful as she was.  Finally, we do need things settled before the paradigm here changes.”

It might have helped that I was as tired as I was.  I was disconnected enough that I was able to look like I didn’t give the slightest shit.

I saw his expression change a fraction, the lines deepening some.  “I’m forced to take action.”

“Action?” I asked.  The super-apathetic no-shit-giving attitude was still going strong.  “You put yourself in an awkward position, setting the bar at ‘killing me’ with our first meeting.  Now you’ve got to top that, which means jumping straight to fates worse than death.  But where do you go after that?  I mean, it’s hard enough threatening fates worse than death without sounding like a deranged fuckwit.”

“You’re not taking this seriously.”

“I’m tired,” I said.  “I’m not talking tired in the sense that I’m exhausted because I’m fighting for my life.  I’m tired in the sense that I want to go take a nap.  I woke up early to deliver that letter, and I spent some power along the way.”

I’d very nearly mentioned the fight with the Duchamp girl’s familiar, but I’d decided against mentioning that in case it got around and bit her in the ass, then bit me back on the karma front.

“Well,” he said.  “Far be it from me to keep you from your nap.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Is that all, then?”

“Two or so things, if I may?  First of all, you can expect me to respond.  It should be tomorrow, and you’ll notice it, even if the impact isn’t immediately clear.  I’m rather confident you’ll regret getting on my bad side.”

And here we went.

“That’s a shame,” I said.

“Second, I see you have a guest.  That would be… hm.”  He tilted his head a little, then spoke loud enough to be heard in the living room, “Maggie Holt.”

I heard noise.  Footsteps followed, with Maggie coming to stand beside me, hands jammed in her pockets to ward off the cold that was blowing in from outside.

“I wasn’t sure if it was clear,” Laird said, “But when my nephews met with you, they were supposed to hint that you should abstain from any contact with Mr. Thorburn and his vestige.”

“They hinted.  You could say I didn’t get it.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game, Ms. Holt.”

“I seem to,” she responded.

He took that in, taking his time with it, as he might digest a very profound statement.  His eyes found mine.  “Mr. Thorburn.”

“Can we wrap this up?  Unless your big plot to remove me from this world involves running up my heating bill.”

“I tell you this with no expectations.  I do not want or desire what you have offered in any deals you’ve proposed, and I have sworn not to accept any such offers.”

The words had a bit of substance to them, a care that woke me up a little from my general exhaustion.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Maggie Holt is the one who orchestrated the attack on your cousin, Molly Walker.  She had command of several goblins and ordered them to strike her and leave her alive.  She did it at our behest, in exchange for small favors, gifts of power and offers of knowledge.”

I was glad for that exhaustion.  It kept me from doing anything.

Maggie had gone very still.  Eyes wide.

“I see,” I said.

“You swore you wouldn’t tell,” Maggie said.  “Everyone did.”

“We swore we wouldn’t take his deal and give him that influence.  I’m keeping my word,” he told her.  To me, he said, “When it went as poorly as it did, we were upset.  The public had taken notice, and they had alerted authorities.  We fulfilled the letter of the deal, but did so by offering Ms. Holt the bare minimum we could.”

“Including a lesson on how to use… what is it, paper seals?  Japanese name or something.”

Ofuda would be along the lines of what Sandra Duchamp might know,” Laird said.  “I think that was what she offered Maggie for the murder of Molly Walker.”

“Thank you for clarifying that detail.”  I reached into the little pocket and retrieved the bit of paper.  “With all due respect, Maggie, I’ll be returning this.”

“It was a gift, freely given,” she said, not making eye contact.

“It’s a gift with my cousin’s blood on it.  Maybe in it, if the goblin in here is one of the ones who participated in the attack.”

She didn’t respond, which was answer enough.

“Take it, or I’m going to free it.  Hospitality be damned.”

She hesitated, and then she seemed to realize I’d just made a statement.  No maybes, no ‘I thinks’, no hedging.  I was going to follow through.

She took the paper.

“It’s complicated,” Maggie said.  “If I could have a minute to explain-”

“You can have five,” I said.  “Ten minutes, if you need them.  I’m-”

I stumbled over my words a bit.  A bit of emotion, slipping through the exhaustion, and a bit of exhaustion, winning out over my body.

I drew in a little breath, composed myself, then said, clearer, “-I’m eager to hear this.”

She stood there, silent, staring up at me.

“Okay,” she said.  “I thought I’d say that and you’d say no, but I could think it over and say something convincing later, but I can’t explain.  Not on the spur of the moment.  Like I said, it’s complicated, there was more going on.  I-”

“Maggie,” I interrupted her.  “You should be off to school.”

“I promised I’d go, I didn’t promise I’d be there the whole day.  I can stay, we can talk this over, hammer it out.  I don’t dislike you.  I meant it when I said I was entering with no ill will.”

“No shame?”  I asked.  “No guilt?”

“Not then,” she said.  “Some now, that I’ve gotten to know you.”

“You lied to my face,” I said.

“I can’t lie.  I’m a practitioner.”

“A lie by omission.”

“Doesn’t count, or we’d be lying every passing second.  Blake, she wasn’t even a person to me.  They talked her up, big bad diabolist who didn’t know what she was doing.  I only really talked to her after I ordered the attack, saw how she wasn’t doing anything except defending herself, and I realized what I’d done.  I tried to call it off, but it doesn’t work that way.”

I could remember being beaten, the people kicking me, using weapons… and the connection to what had happened to Molly made it feel doubly real.

Maggie chose that moment to reach out, and I grabbed her hand, crushing it inside mine, hard enough to hurt her.  I could see her reaction run through her entire body.  Pain, fear.

“I’m sorry,” she said, despite whatever else she was experiencing.  “That moment was when I decided I was done working with these guys.  I sorta kinda wanted to be your ally, make it up to your family, somehow.”

I shifted my grip on her hand, so I held only the fingers.

Karma, hospitality…

I raised her hand to my mouth, and I kissed the knuckles.

“Thank you for visiting, Maggie,” I said.  “I appreciated your company, even if I don’t, right this second.  I appreciate the information you shared, and the gift you offered.”

“I want to make this better,” she said, quiet.  “I’d really like a chance.  If not now, then later.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” I said.  “But first, I’d like you to look me in the eye and tell me that your visit here was more about making genuine amends than getting your hands on some more knowledge or power.”

She met me in the eye, then looked down.

“Can I say it was fifty-fiftyish?  That that’s an awful lot of wanting to make amends, when you’re as power hungry an idiot as I am?”

“I don’t think so, Maggie.  That’s not good enough.”

“Ff-f-f,” she struggled.  “Fluffernutter.”

“Fluffernutter,” I said.  “Please leave now, before I do something I’ll regret.”

“Yep,” she mumbled.  I waited while she stepped into her boots, zipped them up, and made her way out onto the porch.

“You two have a good day,” I said, monotone.

“You too,” Laird said, smiling just a bit.

I slammed the door.

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289 thoughts on “Damages 2.7

    1. “More than your predecessor did, oddly enough,” Maggie did.
      Said instead of did?

      “Might be they don’t want their actions broadcasted or gossiped about.”
      Broadcasted is usually the past tense, with broadcast the present tense. Could be tiredness coming through on Blake’s part, though.

      Making everyone’s bad days a little worse”
      No closing period.

      “I don’t want to be animostic,”
      Misspelling, but possibly written as intended, given who is saying it.

      Very carefully, without touching it, I tapped it against the side of the dresser.
      I think the sense here is that Blake tipped out the sprig of herb, but that is not stated explicitly.

      1. I think “broadcasted” is acceptable here. The sentence uses the passive voice, so the past participle is used. Though I think “broadcast” would work equally well, since broadcast/broadcasted are used interchangeably as the past indicative/participle.

        Other examples:
        “They don’t want their cars flipped over”
        “They don’t want their money stolen”
        “They don’t want their reputations sullied”

    2. Blake should summon one of thoes demons that’s a giant dick, and tell it to shove itself up Laird’s ass. Sideways.

      Even though Maggie did the deed, this makes me hate Laird far, far more than her.

        1. Maybe he never actually swore the oath. Maybe he just worked some mojo in order to make others think he did.

          …. does it count as lying if you induce a hallucination?

          1. Yeah, presumably there was some fuckery there. He simply couldn’t function as he is if he sworeany of the standard police oaths.

            1. I simply have no idea how he’s even remotely coherent as a character. Mind you, as presented the magic system in this world us totally screwed. Am I the only one with a problem about the Cthulhu+ danger the fae present?

    3. Typos:
      – “Making everyone’s bad days a little worse”” -> ‘worse.’
      – “Spend too long without revisiting memories, and they had a way of twisting.” -> ‘have a way of twisting’
      – “I hadn’t realized how upset she was, how its barely restrained.” -> ‘how it was barely restrained’

    4. “Then promise you’ll protect me when and where you’re able, using the knowledge and tools you’ve got”

      I don’t know if this was a purposeful omission but she didn’t specify against what and it seems Blake and Rose just agreed to protect her against everything and anything for the rest of their lives when they are able and not just the things they summon themselves as was the topic of conversation.

    5. I’m on the same page with Blake –> same page ‘as’

      Making everyone’s bad days a little worse” –> needs period

      Oh, yeah, How often does that work? –> ‘How’ doesn’t need to be capitalized

  1. I think I just got the pattern to the gathered pages segments. How foolish was I to think that Wildbow would make and leave such a major typo! Of course, Wildbow never disappoints.

    I think I’m starting to like Maggie.

    In the words of Daffy Duck, “I hope you realize, this means war!”

    In the words of Ali Al-Sanchez, “This is gonna be fun. I’m talking war, on a gigantic scale!”

  2. Well, damn, Laird effectively killed that alliance in the womb. Who knows, maybe instead of all this politicking, Blake will bury the hatchet.

    Into their backs.

    Not Maggie’s though, she’s cool even if she did kill Molly.

    1. Yup. Maggie certainly is “cool.” Especially when cuddling with June. In all seriousness, Maggie rose to the top of my list of potential partners/mates for Blake. Granny Rose did say that the best mates have generally been bastards, after all.

        1. But Laird is on a level far past bastard. He’s. . . Laird! Also married with kids. I’m pretty sure those are lifelong pacts that Blake couldn’t get Laird to break anyway.

          1. I know it’s problematic, that why I wrote “if possible”.
            So then, how much of a bastard is just right, and how is marrying a horrible person not a terrible life choice? Grandma Rose was a rancid old cunt, so one probably shouldn’t follow all her “advice”.

            1. Not really a rancid old cunt, in retrospect. Firstly you have her own fucked up origins skewing her view, and even without that a lot of the horrible stuff she did can probably be explained away as the things she had to do to have an heir (which will presumably turn out to be important for greater reasons than just pissing off everyone else or keeping karma from sending the rest of the family to hell or whatever) despite swearing she would never teach the craft to her kids.

        1. I was under the impression that she is in her mid-late teens. Perhaps around Taylor’s age. I may be remembering it wrong. Imo, if you’re old enough send goblins to kill the new neighbor, you’re old enough to be someone’s partner.

          Besides, I’m pretty sure Blake is no older than 22-23(my own deductions. I could be wrong again). That’s not necessarily creepy. Even if he takes her on as a partner now and marries her in a couple years, it would still work. I’m pretty sure Granny Rose said he has until 25 to complete her list of things to do and get full ownership of the inheritance.

          Would that technically be short-term wife husbandry?

          1. Blake came off to me as around 20-21 but according to statements in 1.1 paige was almost 20 and a year older than blake, making him only 18-19. And id put maggie at 16-17

            1. That’s even better. I don’t know about Canadian law, but in most places in the US a girl can marry at 16. Some places even earlier. I don’t think Maggie is too young to be considered a candidate for Blake.

              Joanna. On the other hand. . .

        2. Yeah like others said I’m pretty sure Maggie’s 16 and Blake’s under 20. That might be called pedophilia legally, but of course it’s nothing of the type. Much less so than some forty year old millionaire having a twenty year old trophy wife. Plus I think we can say Maggie’s emotional maturity is probably much greater than most 16 or even 20 year olds given the necessities of her situation (small fish in a big pond, which tends to age people rather quickly).

    2. Due to the karmic debt Blake has inherited, attacks to their backs would not be wise. For Maggie & Laird — straight to the face.

    3. How is it you rationalize that Maggie isn’t scum? That she only intentionally beats people for rewards?

      “Can I say it was fifty-fiftyish?”
      Not “more than fifty percent”. And it’s just a question, she couldn’t say that it was as much as “fiftyish”.

    4. Maggie was a patsy. They set her up. She’s the practicioner who’s new, and naive. The one they can trick, and the one that if a later heir decides to extract terrible vengeance on, no one in town will miss.

      1. And besides dont hate the executioner (too much) hate the one who ordered it. Sounds like laird and sandra basically paid for her death

  3. Laird seems to feel rather entitled.
    He’s an old-school cop… The kind of thug who knows just enough to sound like he deserves the bribes he demands, who enforces the will of a mayor – or is a mayor – who wants to be lord of the town.
    In dungeons and dragons terms – it doesn’t get much more Lawful Evil than what he’s shown. He throws away others, even those who’ve done him no harm or aided him, for the sake of his benefit and the very small circle he cares for – and the rules are just there because one simply must have rules to properly squeeze use out of people.

    In the spirit of second chances, I’ve deliberately used the word ‘shown.’ Maybe he has a nicer side. Maybe he really thinks it’s just Blake… But then, Maggie seems to have had the same problems with him, short only the threat of death, no?

    1. I like your wording on Laird – well said.

      As far as redemption, I don’t see any reason Laird is going to stop short of Blake’s death, which is going to force a fight to the death on Blake. Disclaimer: my record for predicting Wildbow is crap.

    2. I’ve been thinking for a while it is very telling his implement is his watch rather than his police badge. (they do have those in Canada right?) Both can symbolize order. But the watch carries no connotations of Justice.

      I also wonder just what kind of oaths he promised when he became a police officer. Seems like arranging to have others killed violates the spirit.

      1. That could just have been pragmatism though: a watch allows for order and nifty time-based magics. A badge would just be order (though you might be able to eke some protection out of the “shield” association and possibly even some “one supported by many” mojo).

        And I thought his watch was his familiar. Possibly it could be his implement too, though.

    1. Obviously.

      Semantics are fun, aren’t they? I remember catching the “not ominous” line, and going something along the lines of “No, no, guys, stop! It’s funnier and safer to say ‘not subtly ominous'”. Seriously, you have to be somewhat pedantic for this to come easily, as far as I know. But if you have to be careful with your words every time you use them, it would probably be good for you to enjoy the experience.

      1. Yeah, Blake can arrange the barber to abstractly cut Laird’s spousal ties to his wife, and arrange the demon lawyers to procure a judge to officiate Laird and Maggie’s wedding.

  4. Wow. I think I’m somehow disliking Laird more than I disliked Armsmaster, and I really disliked Armsmaster (as a person. He was a good character for the actual narrative).

    I suppose the real challenge would be to somehow make Laird seen sympathetic.

    1. Armsmaster as Defiant, or just Armsmaster? Because there’s a pretty big difference there. I don’t think anybody liked just Armsmaster. Defiant was rather more sympathetic.

      And I have to agree with you about Laird. He is really an unlikable character.

        1. But Defiant isn’t ever not-known-to-be-Armsmaster, and Armsmaster wasn’t ever not-obviously-alive. The only thing it could possibly spoil is that he doesn’t remain unsympathetic through the whole story, which, um, happens a lot.

          1. If you know who Defiant is it obviously isn’t a spoiler. Defiant’s very existence is, however, a spoiler for Armsmaster. It comes down to how you phase things, I suppose.

            Its like if I said Khepri was misunderstood. Those who know Khepri won’t be spoiled. Khepri’s very existence is a spoiler for a character that shall not be named for spoilery reasons.

            Think about the children! While at this point it can be assumed that most here have read through Worm, that will not necessarily be the case in a few years when Wildbow is famous and some unsuspecting person binge reads Pact and it’s comments.

            1. Listen folks, if your reading Pact and you enjoy it go read Worm, you’ll probably enjoy it. It’s got superheroes, supervillians, giant monsters, Gorillas- Wait, no gorillas. Odd omission by Wildbow. But it had an insane Gecko in the comments section. Anyways Read Worm.

            2. But Khepri’s existence–or, well, the detail bits anyway–is a HUGE spoiler. (Don’t look up the word on wikipedia if you’re not done with Worm, kids!) But Defiant’s existence…. IDK, I guess it’s a character development spoiler, but it’s pretty mild and it’s one of those things where knowing it beforehand somehow doesn’t make it less surprising.

      1. That’s not true. I like him. He’s a crafty, smart, genre-savvy jerk of an antagonist.
        Also a family guy. These are likable traits.
        I also liked Armsmaster.

  5. Let’s see here. The goblins did it at the behest of Maggie who did it at the behest of Laird. So Laird is as responsible as Maggie. Hell Maggie actually tried to call it off and make amends. Sort of. Asshattishly. Laird continues his asshattish ways.

    You know, I think it would be about time to break out the Barber. Send a message.

    1. Laird has defenses set up for the Barber. I say summon Ornias. I’m not sure what defense there is to a meteor hitting your house. Perhaps casting holy, but that would end up killing him anyway so win, win.

      1. Eh, he said he had defenses set up for the kinds of things Blake would summon, but does he specifically know it’s the Barber? Because one of the Barber’s biggest traits (other than being an asshole, which I think is a general trait of all the types of things diabolists summon) seemed to be bypassing securities that would generally stop Others. Not to mention those protections don’t mean shit all when he’s out and about town doing his day job.

    2. Laird revealed Molly’s killer to prevent the possibility of Blake gaining any power/knowledge/allies & also to prevent Maggie from obtaining the same & becoming a factor that will upset the current power structure.

      Maggie was the hand that got Molly killed as directed by Laird, karmic payback will be Blake calling up Molly’s ghost to power the written contract that will enslave Maggie to the Thorburn line in return for library access for the rest of her life, eye for an eye, a life for a life, her life no longer her own to live.

      To screw Laird over, use the enslaved Maggie as a springboard to gather other solo practitioners into a faction that can put a wrench in all of Laird’s plans to force him to expand more power & resources until he breaks (the same thin he’s tring to do to the Thorburn heirs) .

  6. If I were Blake, I might be tempted to find Maggie’s dads and ask them if they knew she was a murderer. I wonder how much of the magical goings-on she tells them about.

        1. Self defense is killing, but it is not murder. Murder is unlawful and premeditated. Self defense is generally both lawful and unplanned.

      1. If Maggie’s worked out that the worst things parents can do are much the same as the worst thing anyone else can do – and they’re probably not prepared to resort to cold blooded torture and/or maiming – they may not be able to make her do very much.

        What can they offer or take from her, that a reasonable parent would be prepared to, to extract that sort of promise?

  7. You know if Blake is quick enough he could really screw over Laird and he can do it with a simple phone call to the Duchamps because I don’t believe he told them in advance that he was going to tell Blake who killed Molly. All Blake has to do is call them up and say “Laird told me how and who killed Molly this morning so that deal about telling about her death is off the table”. He doesn’t have to tell them that Laird didn’t take the deal and with the way it is worded they just might think Laird did and get pissed at him.

    1. That’s a very clever approach to take, honestly. Though I expect the Behaims and Duchamps are at the very least maintaining a facade of honesty. It would probably be resolved quickly, but momentary confusion in the alliance is better than none at all.

      And if I’m reading this part of 2.4 correctly it should even be a karmic bonus:

      “Being more honest means you stock up more goodwill with the universe and any others you meet. Borderline dishonesty is useful, lying by omission is better yet, and unvarnished honesty is better still.”

      Even if this is considered “borderline dishonesty” instead of “lying by omission” it should be a net positive.

    2. Good idea but not workable. Blake’s phone is not working. He would have to leave the house to tell the Duchamps or anybody else. What has happened and he’s not in any shape to leave the house right now.

      1. Except that you forgot that the Lawyers took up maintaining the property back in 2.4:

        “The money?” Rose asked. “Our allowance?”

        “If I may suggest we deduct the necessary expenses for the upkeep of the property?” the young lawyer asked.

        “No trick?” Rose asked. “If it’s not a trap, then yes.”

        “No,” he said. “No trick.”

        He pulled two envelopes from his suit pocket, checked them, and then tossed one onto the table.

        Okay, that was handled. Good. I picked up the envelope and pocketed it.

        Expenses to maintain the property would include utilities such as the phone and how much you want to bet that the phone started working right after he completed that transaction? I bet you that the phone stopped working because Blake hadn’t talked to the Lawyers yet and keep in mind that Granny Rose didn’t leave the house especially after she was bed ridden the Lawyers took care of everything.

          1. That depends. If there’s no actual damage, if the phone service was simply discontinued after Granny’s death, then all it really takes is phone company employee at a keyboard to pick a phone number and reestablish service.

            Everything else, such as selecting and testing wire pairs for assignment from the central office out to the house is automatic these days. If testing reveals a fault that cannot be routed around by selecting an inactive wire pair, that’s when a technician dispatched to conduct repairs.

            If the phone service was blocked due to magical means, then presumably the lawyers could “fix” that in a jiffy.

            1. Unless its AT&T. They disconnected my phone within seconds of a call (I said do it next Friday, which apparently means “right now” in AT&T-speak). Then they said they couldn’t reconnect it for 3 days.

  8. I think I will like Maggie. She was trying to give back what she recived for doing the “kill” she was asked to do? I think she can become much better if she found friends.

  9. I really want Blake to drop the fact that he is three syllables away from summoning ornias at the next council meeting. He could use the description that the demon lawyer gave and then ask laird if his defenses would hold

    1. That would be giving the game away. No, what Blake should do is casually drop the fact that he now has two separate last resorts at his disposal and why the f**k are you antagonizing him?

      1. Even if he gave away the fact that his new demon drops motherfucking meteors what could they do against the double threat of the barber and ornias? In hindsight maybe the witch hunters would just stand up and blow his brains out.

  10. The usual typing to clarify thinking…

    Metal pipes are going out of use – PVC and other plastics are the standard now. So, do goblins eventually come back into cities?

    Rose does fairly well bargaining – it happened again here while Blake was too tired to bargain effectively.

    And Blake just swore he had no intention of summoning demons. If the lawyers find out they will be unamused at best. At least it leaves the possibility open for him to change intentions.

    Blake just got back and had a short conversation. How fast did that letter get to its destination? That seems suspiciously fast.

    Damn, Laird’s first shot was right on target. Nasty twist, and that adds to this being a good read.

    The emotional health of a village relies on having someone everyone loves to hate – paraphrase from Barry Hughart (great author). Does the emotional health of a story rely on having someone all the readers love to hate?

    The people who paid Maggie picked an inexperienced weapon, probably deliberately. I bet they expected things to go wrong, or at an absolute minimum, knew it was a strong possibility. From Pratchett: “bloody hands at arms reach.” That probably insulated them from some of the karma backlash also – tell your weapon “only beat her up” and claim minimal responsibility when it goes bad. On the other hand, Ms. Lewis said that the best death that Blake could hope for was a violent, bloody one because the alternatives were worse (presumably spiritual damage/death). So, in a sense, the locals and Maggie both arranged the best likely death for Molly. Just thinking that way bothers me, but it fits the story.

    “I only really talked to her after I ordered the attack, saw how she wasn’t doing anything except defending herself, and I realized what I’d done.” So, Maggie was there for the attack, and Molly survived long enough to talk to her attacker but still died. I get that a goblin queen wouldn’t know healing, but that also means she did not, for example, attempt to get Molly to a doctor or hospital. And yes, being out of the house would be death anyway, but it would have given Molly a chance to stabilize before she had to go back to the house.

    Maggie appears to be white trash who is trying to come up in the world but hasn’t gotten rid of much if any of her bad habits yet. Similarities to Lacey perhaps?

    1. Your mention of pipes reminded me of a thought I’d lost: Vampires, and all that running water in cities. Same deal as Maggie described about goblins, I wonder.
      Then again, even for a weaksauce weakness, running water is pretty out there.

      1. And another late thought: Where is the family at? One would think at least his parents/Paige would have stopped by, talked about money/Molly.

            1. It was also mentioned then that Blake and the news about the inheritance was in the local papers. I think the parents will show up soon (in universe. as was mentioned, its only been a few days. I have no idea how long soon in universe will be IRL).

              Another angle for Laird to use against Blake, perhaps?

    2. She ordered the attack, then met Molly. The attack hadn’t happened yet.
      Kinda like setting a hitman on a target, he will wait for the target to be vulnerable.
      So when Maggie realised she was a huge tool, she called the order off, but goblins apparently don’t do refunds on those deals and still went after Molly.

      Maggie’s still friend material, it depends how much Blake can rationalise on his own. For some reason I doubt Rose could help him come to terms with that.
      At the same time, redemption==death may now strike at any time, and the most opportune timing would be when Blake finally accepts Maggie’s apologies and the situation is improving.

      Laird, expert smugomancer.

    3. There is a chance to get out of the oath Rose swore on behalf of her and Blake. The correct wording was: ““I so swear that we have no intention of summoning anything of the nature you’re talking about,” Rose said.” So, at that moment of the oath they had no intention to summon something unspeakable. The oath does not say that they will have no intention summoning something awful in the future. Laird used a similar backdoor when he screwed Blake over with the protection he offered. Might still be somewhat damaging for Blake’s karma but still better than losing the only bargaining chip he has.

      1. And, if I may point out, ROSE is the one who so swore… not Blake. And she can’t swear for things on behalf of him, so Blake can still summon those things without karmic backlash.

        1. That’s true, as long as Blake’s nod is not seen as some kind of statement. Hmm, the more I think about it, the more I think that a nod means nothing because the practitioner’s oath says: “My words are binding”. So yeah, Blake may get out of this.

        2. Are you sure? As I understand it, for most magical and karmic purposes Rose is Blake. For example, he’s a woman for purposes of the inheritance because Rose is a woman and Rose is him.

          Seems entirely likely an oath made by either of them binds both of them.

      2. It doesn’t seem to me to be “a way out of the oath”, and it doesn’t seem damaging at all. The oath was simply a way of saying ‘I’m totally telling you the truth here’, and then revealed that at this moment they totally aren’t planning on doing anything with demons. Rose must be speaking to the best of her knowledge about the situation, so unless she has misread Blake she is also speaking for Blake. It’s simply a way of assuring Maggie that they’re not the big, bad, evil diabolists they were built up to be.

        They really don’t like the idea of causing hellfire and destruction, and that doesn’t seem at all odd to me. Their circumstances may change and shift their intentions, but this swearing is explicitly about their current state of mind, so it won’t affect their future at all.

    4. He didn’t swear exactly, that was all preliminary as you recall that negotiation ending with Blake and Rose saying they wanted to sleep on it and write it out formally.

      So, I don’t think that counted.

    5. The way I interpreted Maggie’s lines was that She ordred the attack, but it was not carried out immdeatly. Say she told them to attack in three days. Then she actually saw that Molly was only learning the defensive stuff and wasn’t the whole “Drown the town in fire and blood” threat she was made out to be.

    6. I thought what was more important was the flow of water, not the construction material of the pipes.

      As far as I know, cast iron pipes haven’t been laid in decades. When a house I lived in needed a new waterline, the yard was dug up all the way to the neighborhood water main. I was surprised to see the main was some sort of greenish, plastic-looking material, and this was pipe laid back in the 1960’s.

      1. Metal imbued with magical power is the problem. And flowing water is one of the most elemental and basic sources of ambient magic out there. So water flowing through metal imbues it with the magical power that makes it a problem for goblins.

  11. I really hope Blake and Maggie make amends – possibly with the excuse that his reaction to Laird’s revelations was exaggerated for Laird’s benefit.

    1. No, I’m pretty sure it was honest. Blake is also tired and hurting, both mentally and physically. And he still took it better than most people. He didn’t swear he’d make her pay, or vengeance or anything.

  12. I’m really surprised that Laird outed Maggie. I had him pegged as a subtle guy, but his action there was extremely direct, and a bit dumb. He pretty much put up a big sign saying “Work with Maggie, because I don’t want you to.” It’ll be unpleasant at first, and what she did shouldn’t be easily forgiven, but this is a different world, and I’d give her some slack. Besides, it’d make Laird mad. If he usually screws up like this when he’s mad, pissing him off at every chance is a great idea.

    1. Eh, Blake was already about to work with Maggie, and it’s a little too soon to tell if Blake will be able to let this go.

    2. Laird outing Maggie provides several benefits to Laird, at least in the short-term.

      It kills the offer Blake made, so no one in town can take it up behind Laird’s back.
      It shuts down the budding alliance he saw forming between Blake and Maggie.
      It slaps down Maggie herself as an up and coming new power, keeping things in the old families.
      It helps to keep Blake off balance until Laird can bring in the big guns.

      But I do think if Blake can past the whole, “oops I killed your favorite cousin” thing, it would make for an interesting alliance. I can even see Blake marrying Maggie as a strategy. If there’s ever any real love, that might come years later.

      Of course, another classic strategy would be to marry one of the Duchamp daughters to form an alliance of two old families against Laird.

  13. You know it’s funny. Blake doesn’t want to summon any kind of Demon because they are ‘evil’. But from what we’ve seen so far i’m having a hard time believing the demons are any worse than the people he’s run into.
    That all being said I really want Blake to make up with Maggie, because it’s fairly obvious both of them are being shafted hard by the magic community.
    Anyway I eagerly await Blake tapping into his inner Skitter and doing to the status quo what a tire iron does to a kneecap.

    1. I don’t think it’s about demons being evil, but about them being the natural predator of humanity and thus super-dangerous and wanting-to-slaughter-you… kind of. If that makes sense, and if ‘natural’ includes ‘things from other planes/worlds/universes’.

      1. I see handling demons, gremlins, etc. as a bit like handling lions. As we all know, even expert lion trainers are sometimes attacked by their lions.

    2. “I eagerly await Blake tapping into his inner Skitter”

      Me too. So much. The thing with making waves, though, is that you have to learn how to ride them. Skitter had the benefit of not being Team Leader for quite some time, until after the Slaughterhouse 9 came through IIRC. Blake doesn’t have quite that luxury.

    3. I’m usually all for pragmatism but demons are really bad news. “Physically, he rends his victims, and the surgeon aspect becomes evident in how he inflicts the maximum damage possible without ever killing them,” It’s one thing to put a bullet in you enemies head, preferably from far away but it’s something entirely different to bestow fates worse than death upon them.

  14. So, you have to wonder, if weak little Maggie could kill Molly, and if Laird etc. wanted her roughed up, why did they need Maggie to do it?

    One possibility is that they wanted her aligned against the Thorburns.

    Another is that there was some sort of Karma calculus involved.

    Neither of those feel very satisfying, though.

    1. They weren’t thinking of an alliance against the Thorburns, they were worried that there might be a demonic failsafe for attacking Molly and they were using her because attacking Molly might have been a suicide mission.

    2. Maggie was a patsy, and a potential wild card. Laird didn’t want her actually allying with the Thorburtons, because she would grow in power a lot better with access to their libarary. At the same time if a later Thorburton heir does take her out in revenge, well no big loss for Laird.

          1. No, I’m just bad at remembering names, plus not the best speller. Put that together with sometimes being in a rush, and we get stuff like Thorburtons.

    3. I find it pretty ingenious that they succeeded preemptively to disuade the most likely alliance.

      Also does anyone else find it possible that maybe someone, someone that can manipulate connections and might be more experienced, gave the goblins an extra boost of aggression?

  15. I’m a little disappointed by how little slowly the plot is advancing, chapter by chapter. Other than that, I love it, and Maggie us awesome, even if she is a murderer.

    1. Agree on slowness. I’ve been waiting very patiently for all the setup, setup, setup, setup, setup to finally (!) be out of the way so the actual story can get moving….

        1. Put it this way: in worm, by this point in the story, Taylor was… Just barely having joined the Outsiders, still basically sure she was going to turn them in, still dealing primarily with tiny school related drama. So I would call that “before the story started”.

          Now in the case of Worm, it was an easier start because there was less exposition.
          Pact has been very, very info-dump heavy in these early chapters (the problem is being slightly alleviated by the interludes, which move the bulk of the info dumping away from the flow of action, which was getting to be really annoying). So for me, I’ll consider the story to have “really begun” when we’re spending less resources on the set-up of the rules of play and have actually started playing. A stage we’ve been slowly getting to but we’re definitely not there yet.

          Ie the action we’ve had thus far has felt less like playing a board game then like that bit during the instructions where you move the pieces around to give an example of how pieces might move during actual play.

          1. Before anything else: Outsiders? Really? I thought that died an ignominious death first few arcs of Worm

            I don’t think the pacing comparison is fair. In Worm, parahumans just got fully functioning powers. Yes, you could train them and develop better strategies, but the power itself didn’t change that dramatically (barring second triggers or powers affecting other capes’ powers). In Pact, power comes from tons more sources and can be dramatically changed in a variety of ways, especially the 3 rituals. In Worm, each cape had a very specific set of powers that each interact with the world in different ways, whereas in Pact practitioners can in practice do pretty much anything any other practitioner can do, so most of the powers-that-be have Blake beat in pretty much every category: perception, power, skill, experience, knowledge.

            Taylor largely functioned in fights by attacking people in their weak spots and abusing her strengths, which was especially potent with her incredible perception and fine motor control. Blake doesn’t really have the strength to win any actual fights with anyone, since he doesn’t have any strengths relative to his opponents. The only fight he’s been in he won by abusing Ms. Lewis’ knowledge as a strength to gain the upper hand.

            Also, it’s clearly meant to feel like an info-dump to Blake and Rose as well, since they’re just dropped headfirst into this world of ridiculous complexity, subtlety, and depth (again, in Worm the powers were the only real difference and they were incredibly well-defined)

            TL;DR: He can’t fight for realz yet, because he’d get crushed by pretty much anyone.

    2. “I’m a little disappointed by how little slowly the plot is advancing”

      I blame increasingly action-packed television and movies. Why does everything have to be BAM! BAM! BAM?

      Try watching a TV show or movie from 50+ years ago. Even the speed of dialog is typically slow compared to what we’re used to now. For even more fun, try reading a novel like “All the King’s Men.” You’ll claw out your eyes from descriptions running two pages that could be summarized in a single sentence.

      1. Again, I think the problem people are responding to (well at least it’s what I’m responding to) is the slow down in pace caused by info dumps.

        Well, also plot movement has been full of slow, tentative, thought-out moves. Barring the fight with the fairy. This makes sense because Blake has been thrown into a completely different world with rules that can screw him over very badly, and he doesn’t even know most of those rules though he’s learning. So there is definitely a “slow” feeling.

        I don’t expect it to last. Plot pace has been speeding up almost every chapter, and I expect there will also be a trigger point where a lot of buildup gets released and then it’ll just be runaway train from there.

      2. Radaghast!
        (no, seriously, older books were HORRID with pacing. 40 page long digression into 200-years-ago architecture, I am not kidding! )

        1. Horrid by contemporary standard, yes. We tend to be a lot more impatient nowadays and I’m not convinced that’s always a plus.

          One of the reasons Worm was amazing is that it had 1.7 million words to build up to a climax. Being long doesn’t automatically make a story good – Wildbow’s skill as an author was vital to making Worm what it was. But even the best author in the world can only do so much without a large enough canvas to fit their story.

  16. So Blake is now in a position to burn both Maggie and Laird or force them to lose power lying to fend off civil investigations.

    He has an admission from them both that Maggie was involved in the killing, and Laird knew about it if he didn’t orchestrate it.

    Honestly, I wonder how a statement like this would work at the next meeting.

    “I know my family has a karmic debt that is large. I intend to see about reducing that debt. I have no intent to act against anyone who does not act against me. Please raise your implement to indicate if you wish to accept a binding agreement to mutually do no harm to one another. Failing to raise your implement to accept a mutual agreement of no harm shall indicate that you are expressly indicating a wish to do me harm, despite my offer of no harm.”

    This forces anyone who had a desire to act against him to either lie, costing power, or offer a threat in the face of an offer of peace, which I would imagine would cost karma.

      1. Ah yes, replace wish, with intend. My bad.

        Also notice that it is a binding agreement to all others that raise an implement, not just between Blake and them.

        It’s simply a method to force enemies to lie, or take a karma hit for offering implied aggression in the face of his offer of peace. But it would only work if Blake was actually offering it in good faith. I’m not sure that’s possible now for him.

        1. It’s still a lie. Not raising their implement does not indicate that they wish to do him harm, only that they have not accepted a “binding agreement to mutually do no harm to one another”. There are a number of other reasons why they might not raise their implement.

          1. There are only two options here. You lift the implement, or not. If you lift the implement, you accept goodwill, and cause your power and/or karma harm if you break your word. Not raising your implement indicates an intent to do harm to one who wishes you no harm, which would be a karma hit.

            This isn’t Sesame Street. There is no “maybe”.

            There is a very strong precedent for this, even in our real world – it’s called a toast, and there is historical precedent for some very bad things happening to people who did not toast as they were expected to.

            1. Be interesting to see what happens in the next meeting. For one thing, to see how the voting breaks down. And to see if Laird tries to throw his weight around again with any execution votes.

            2. You might not raise your implement because you don’t wish to be bound to not do him harm at some point in the future if you feel like it. Keeping your options open. You might not do it just because you don’t like being manipulated.

              Just because Blake says that the meaning of an action is one thing, doesn’t make it so.

            3. Nope. It is not a “yes or no” question. You are just trying to frame it like that. Because opposite of A is “not A”, not some B. If raising an implement indicates desire to enter some binding agreement then NOT raising implement may indicate only absence of desire to enter that agreement, but not some “intent to do harm” or “intent to eat cheeseburger” or whatever. You can INTERPRET not raising an implement however you want, but that would be only your interpretation, because there are many good reasons NOT to enter binding agreements left and right.

            4. BrainFreeze, It is yes or no. If you have no intent on doing harm, then you raise your implement. This cover’s eating cheese burgers and not causing harm, just as much as it covers picking belly button lint and causing harm, or just being completely uninterested in the conversation, but not causing harm.

              Intent to cause harm is the Yes or No question. Everything else is irrelevant. It would need to be worded very carefully though. This cannot prevent people from defending themselves against real, immediate threats, or disciplining children, employees, or criminals.

            5. There’s a few flaws to this. First off, does Padriac have an implement? Where does he fall on this?

              The interlude also mentioned that the Chalice, as an implement, is often left at home. Going to a peaceful meeting, I’m guessing at least one of each of the Duchamps and Behaims won’t have theirs (maybe just the kids, who might not even have an implement yet). Assuming the declaration works like you suppose, this forces those individuals to “harbor ill intent” to him. Now, if you see your little sister go pale and not have an implement, are you going to raise yours and risk losing the power to defend her? Probably not. So that’s the two families against you.

              Johannes would probably have no problem declaring his ill intent.

              The native girl is already harboring ill intent to everyone else present.

              Maggie may raise hers. Or not, she might just wait for the next Thorburn.

              But if you catch the drift, you run the risk of everyone declaring you an a wish to do you harm. This brings them from passive to hostile. Second-to-worst case scenario they call for an execution.*

              Now, that being said, what’s stopping Blake from using that same logic to state “Those who raise their implement offer themselves to peaceful, willing servitude to the Thorburn line for the rest of their natural life. Those who do not raise their implements thus indicate their will to die by the Thorburn demons as enemies of the Thorburn estate .” You can nitpick the phrasing, but I don’t think Fate is going to back up this kind of ultimatum. Blake speaks for himself, not others. I think those who act contrary to how they feel might get a bit of karmic debt from that, but I think Blake would get an equal amount as each of their actions indicates a lie on your part.

              *Worst case scenario is if Laird is the only one who accepts D:

            6. Bayushikazimi,

              There’s a big difference between claiming sovereignty over the thoughts and actions of others, and asking for a peaceful consensus.

              I have been thinking about it a bit though, and the logic of the idea doesn’t fit Pact because Pact’s karma is power based not based on good vs. evil. They could all simply tell the truth and suffer no karmic debt for it, because there was no power exchange as a result.

              Diabolists don’t have karma issues because they are evil, they have karma issues because they have easy access to beings more than willing to give them power, for whatever reason.

              Think about the benefits one can gain from dealing with the Barber, and the price it asks for them. That’s not the only price you would be paying. How much karmic debt do you get by cheating the universe for another 25 years of life? While suitably demonic, the prices Barber asks for it’s boons are not commensurate with their utility. I’d bet the karmic debt is onerous.

            7. Hmmm, yes, there’s a difference in severity so they may not work the same. But, what’s stopping, say, the entire Duchamp family from each making the same sort of deals with Blake to prevent him from using demons? Lots of little oaths, perhaps phrase them each differently so he runs out of loopholes in acting against them. Or, better yet, make him swear oaths that can be used to contradict each other, a la Cu Chulainn’s oaths to “never eat dog meat” and “never refuse to eat a homemade meal made by a beautiful woman” in Irish lore.

            8. No. Suppose I’m comparatively minor party, and some major player, say Laird, threatens me with retribution if I enter non-aggression pact with Thorburns. I myself have no intention to brawl with them, and perhaps even prepared to push back if Laird tried to compel me to active aggression. So I wouldn’t raise my implement or whatever, and instead opt to keep low profile, even though I mean no harm to Thorburns themselves.

            9. In effect Blake would be saying “you only have two choices: Agree to do no harm to anyone ever. If you don’t, you’re indicating that you expressly intend harm”. That is a lie because people who don’t raise their implement may be taking no such position.

              Consider this analogous statement: “Give me your car. Failing to give me your car indicates your agreement to give me a million dollars”.

              That statement is a lie because you can (and would) go “No, it most certainly does NOT indicate that, and it’s a lie to say that it does”.

    1. In terms of future problems, I will certainly expect a murder investigation will find it very convenient if Blake is involved with the “real” murderer.

  17. Starting to think that Laird isn’t as clever as he thinks he is. He’s had power/status/etc handed to him and takes a position of lording above others, but he always uses brute force negotiations, jerking everyone else around and then getting angry and upset when they jerk him around, etc. The game’s rigged for Laird, but he honestly could have extorted a fair deal from Blake not to tell him, or told Blake while Maggie wasn’t around and held off animosity from her.

    In other words, he’s squandering his advantages freely because he thinks he has a bunch. By contrast Blake has to make every move economical.

    In short, Laird isn’t half as dangerous as he thinks he is. He’s willing to play big and aggressively, but that’s all he has going in his favor. He likes to be direct and stockpile resources.

    In the process he just made Maggie into an enemy when he could have achieved the same result of separating Blake and Maggie without costing himself a resource. Given that Blake needs Maggie, it’s entirely probable nothing will come of any desire for vengeance, and the timing of Laird telling him leaves a reconciliation open.

    It’s entirely probable Laird did this out of anger. Blake dared to fight back so Laird immediately retaliated. He goes and warns Blake of incoming disaster even though this weakens his chances.

    I mean, Laird acknowledges that Blake has a ton of ‘nukes’, and then sets about provoking Blake to go after him. Given his connections, Laird could very easily have let someone else be the face of the anti-Thorburn movement. Sure Laird is confident in his defenses, but far better to not need defenses then have something like the Barber testing them.

    Unless of course, Laird is trying to make Blake focus primarily on him while the real threat to Blake comes from somewhere else entirely.

    1. “It’s entirely probable Laird did this out of anger. Blake dared to fight back so Laird immediately retaliated. He goes and warns Blake of incoming disaster even though this weakens his chances.”

      And he did something he shouldn’t have in his anger. He vowed to not take any deals Blake offers. Well Blake has been willing to bury the hatchet. (no, not June) Now that is not an option. You just locked this into one side or the other being destroyed Laird. That was not a good idea.

      1. Actually, he said “I tell you this with no expectations. I do not want or desire what you have offered in any deals you’ve proposed, and I have sworn not to accept any such offers.”

        The word “such” basically limits it to “any other deals like this“.

        Which is a shame, because otherwise Blake could weaponise it by manipulating Laird into a position where he’s disadvantaged if he doesn’t make a deal…

    2. Given that this is still very early in the story, we don’t actually know that Laird is the real one in charge. I’d put money on the alternative.

  18. Well, just like I could understand Armsmaster while disliking him, I can understand Laird while disliking him. I can even ascribe to Laird motives that make me dislike him less than I did Armsmaster. Namely, he feels that the diabolists are a threat to him and his, and he is putting himself and his own power on the direct line of fire because he trusts he can fend off whatever Blake can do to him, simply to protect what he cares about. It’s clear he could have gotten someone else to take the heat, if need be, and it would be safer for him personally.

    He’s not particularly smart about it, but just because we see things from Blake’s perspective, where he is an antagonist, doesn’t make him objectively a bad guy. If we were reading the story of Laird or one of his family, we’d probably see him in a different light.

    1. “So, Laird, have you stopped beating your wife?” Would make for a perfect opener at the next meeting after this stunt.

      Anyway, yeah, I’m with everybody else saying that Laird personally showing Maggie the undercarriage of a bus is gonna bite his kiester down the road. There were a LOT of ways he could have played this… And he chose one of the worst ones.

      As for being more sympathetic to people he isn’t trying to have killed? Well, probably. I’m sure that’d make for a fine interstitial. And could be real creepy too.

      Gotta wonder what his threat is gonna play out as though…

      1. Starting a meeting with a (likely) lie is probably not a good idea. Also, not knowing how to answer a question with the equivalent of mu would be pretty stupid for people who try to avoid lying and whose word is binding.

        1. Well, it wouldn’t actually be a lie since he didn’t make an explicit statement, but its likely that it would be seen through immediately. These people have experience with word games.

  19. You know, as much as I would like to be sympathetic to Maggie here, the most damning bit is her own actions. I’m sure she actually felt bad about what happened to Molly, but the start of this negotiation had her gaily chatting up how she was offering ‘not getting killed by her’ as a resource-something that is a lot darker now that we hear that it wouldn’t be the first Thorburn she’s killed.

    Moreover, she says she doesn’t want anything to do with the Lairds, and only does so immediately after she is horrorstruck that he didn’t keep her secret like she expected him to. “Everyone promised.” She said. And since Maggie wasn’t running around chatting people up to make that promise, that means she was relying on the Lairds to keep Blake from finding out about it.

    Feeling guilty or not, didn’t stop her from trying to push for the best deal in her favor. Back when she was a neutral party with no ties to either side, it was perfectly fine. When she’s trying to get the best bang for her buck pushing the brother of someone she killed and having no intention of owning up to it-makes her look even more craven.

    Maybe room for redemption later in her storyline, but right now she looks like a vicious thug-excepting money and favors to brutalize someone else, and apparently not showing a lot of remorse or need to make restitution after.

    1. But perhaps a lowlife thug Blake can use to survive. Even a substandard amount of remorse can be exploited. And allying with her despite everything would be a nice spit-glob in Laird’s face.
      She still deserves at least a severe beating, but compromises are looking necessary.

        1. Of course! And if someone somehow isn’t distracted enough, and decides to try to hurt Blake or Maggie, they could force that person to dance a magic dance.

        2. Oh, I would have thought that David Bowie’s package would have been the implement 😛 Not sure what it would say about Blake though…

  20. I neither like nor understand Laird. He straight up told Blake he was going to kill him, and he has the gall to be disappointed that Blake didn’t meekly accept execution?

    1. Well lets go back to Laird’s talk were he said he was America. He is. A lot of the bad traits. The stuff when you find out about it, if your an American citizen, makes you feel a bit ashamed. Stuff like starting revolutions in a smaller country so you can get a puppet goverment installed. The heavy handed, arrorgant America that thinks it knows best, and that there is no way doing something immoral to protect it’s interests can ever come back to bite it in the ass.

      And yes, Laird told that he was going to see the deaths of him and his whole family. And now Blake has bloodied his nose for it, and he has the gall to be upset? Blake didn’t declare war. Blake didn’t refuse every offer of peace. And Blake hasn’t had anyone killed. Yet.

        1. Or when you find out about stuff like Bay of Pigs, the Trail of Tears, the Japanese American Internment Camps, Why Panama exists, the Phillipene American war, etc. Those things you find out your country did that aren’t at all truth, freedom, liberty. It’s not to say America is the devil. No country can go through it’s history squeaky clean. It’s not that simple. I love my country. But to me that means you have to aknowledge the bad things, so as to not repeat them. They were mistakes, and mistakes should be learned from.

          1. Usually, what gets learned learned are:-

            Don’t get caught.
            When caught, neither confirm nor deny until the cows come home.
            If possible, make it legal to be unethical.
            Persecute whistle-blowers with a “Fair Game” policy while maintaining plausible deniability or making it legal to do so.
            panem et circenses.

    2. I think that he was just mitigating the potential karma backlash from stabbing Blake in the back. Remember, Laird seemed almost obsessive with the way he maintained his “balance of power”, leading him to do things like faking hospitality to bait Blake to a bad situation, asking Molly to do the dirty deeds instead of doing it himself. He seemed more at ease manipulating others to do his works for him even if it is well within his power to do so.

  21. Hold on. We know Maggie attacked Molly, but do we know for a fact she killed her?

    Beyond that, it seems like they tricked the newcomer into killing someone they convinced her was extremely dangerous, in return for getting an in with the local popular crowd.

    Yeah, as much as it sucks, I don’t think I hate Maggie at all. Poor girl was used by Laird and now that she was trying to make up for it, Laird ruins her chances at that, too.

    1. “We don’t know if it was intended as a murder” Laird said. “At the very least, she was attacked, and she did die that same night, possibly from the cold or blood loss.

      I do not think that Molly was supposed to die. Seems to me he paid Maggie to beat up Molly and thing got out of control.

  22. Getting away from what Laird and Maggie did, we learned a lot about Maggie this chapter. To me it seems like when she was younger she was one of those people tormented by Goblins. At some point they burned down her neighborhood. Then she found out about magic. Now Maggie wants power, but why? Well she wants to be the Goblin Queen. Because then Goblins, the beings that tormented her will be her bitches. She’s selfish, but at the same time, I see some seeds of decency in her. I don’t think she is incapable of empathy and caring for others.

    Laird the more you corner and torments Blake the more likely he will eventually have to resort to using demons.

    1. That’s what baffles me about the whole situation. They are forcing him to accept and use last-resort tactics, the barber and Ornias among them. Furthermore, they are haranguing him enough that he doesn’t have many first-resort options. Do they want him to go Carrie?

      1. I really wondered about Blake just asking everyone at the next meeting just what they are trying to accomplish. To ask them why they keep pushing him to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps instead of taking a different path and trying to pay down the family debt.

      2. It’s quite possible his enemies aren’t that smart. The Art Of War warns against leaving your enemy with no escape route. They think they can deal readily enough with him. And they are assuming he will not go for the worst case scenario for them. Which I think is alligning with Johannes.

      3. Well, some of the higher-ups seem to think that Blake will resort to demons anyway so better to strike first and ignore any attempts of him to get more power (i.e. peace treaties). Also, having a demon in you attic is no guarantee you can use it. From what we learned so far, a demon seems to be as dangerous to the conjurer as it is for the intended victim, especially if the conjurer is inexperienced. Plus, Laird seems damn sure that he has the ultimate anti-demon thing ever so he is not that much concerned.

  23. Hmm, it would take an awful lot of planning or precognition, but Laird does seem to be a chronomancer – does this give him the ability to scry the future with anything resembling accuracy?

    Try this on, see how it fits:

    Laird knows the order of Thorburn succession and uses it to help plan things.

    Laird and his allies convince Maggie to kill Molly, or leave her helpless after a terrible beating so the Others will come claim her, knowing that Maggie will probably twig onto the fact that Molly wasn’t the terrible evil person the rest convinced her she was.

    He expects that Maggie will try to make amends to the next Thorburn, for karmic purposes, and for knowledge purposes. So he shows up on the doorstep and blows that plan out of the water on purpose.

    The whole thing is designed to make Blake, the young male hothead, want to strike out at Maggie. I believe that Maggie is the plan Laird had to deal with whatever contingencies Rose left behind, at least as far as Blake is concerned.

    The idea of Maggie as bait to draw out Thorburn contingencies would have held true for Molly as well. In essence, Maggie is being used as a lightning rod to try to draw Rose’s countermeasures so that the rest of the town can act more aggressively.

    I can’t believe Blake is stupid enough to strike out at Maggie. Maggie was saying enough to make sense. He might never forgive her, but he might still work with her, very carefully. Their situations are not very much apart.

    If Maggie and Blake both realize how Maggie is being used, I could see them drawing together very easily.

    1. Laird probably is using precognition to bolster his moves, if it is available, but I am not sure that it was needed in this case.

      The old guard sees two new players – a goblin queen and a diabolist (Molly). Both classes are probably hated and feared because the primary power of both is destructive. An alliance between the two is one of the worst possible results – the goblin queen has infantry and the diabolist has artillery so the combination has nasty synergy. The old guard finds that Molly won’t talk to them much, but Maggie will, so they cook up a plan to make the goblin queen and the diabolist enemies by setting one on the other. The plan goes bad, as most plans that rely on fine control by a newby or by a goblin do.

      Blake enters the scene. The plan is still to keep the goblin queen and diabolist from allying. They think guilt (Maggie), some threats (to both), and some warnings (to both) will keep the two from getting together, but then Laird finds out that Maggie and Blake are actually talking. So he plays his strongest card to destroy the possibility of alliance. I agree that he probably expected a less tempered reaction from Blake, but he got his short-term goal, which is to stop them from talking.

      None of this really takes foresight, it would just take the practical experience of a long-term, knowledgeable practitioner.

      That being said, if Laird has precognition he is probably using it heavily, and I bet Laird’s counterstrike will be vicious. And, despite past history, Maggie is still one of Blake’s more likely allies.

  24. Oh, another thing…
    ““I dunno why,” Maggie said, “But it’s kind of eerie seeing you two disagreeing. I thought somehow that mirror girl was some sort of subservient vestige thing, but she’s got a real personality?”

    Interesting. Is that just because Maggie doesn’t know much about vestiges, or is it because Rose is not like other vestiges?

  25. I knew Maggie was bad news! But she is actually not nearly as bad as I was expecting. I like her. So far she seems to be the only possible candidate for marriage. Blake should go for it. I really don’t think he is likely to find a better candidate. Considering how thoroughly he is hated.

    1. I think it’s because most vestiges are malleable when being made and thus are made to be subservient and submissive to their creator, to ensure loyalty. That would soon become the norm for vestiges. After all, why wouldn’t you want them to be easily controlled?

  26. A Bit unrelated, but if Blake wants to call Ornias again does he need to say his name one more time or the full seven?
    In other words is there a cooldown?, because yikes timeless beings dunno might choose that how they want.

      1. i dont think its a ritual per se, most likely its a way to get ornias attention (some things just know when they are being called), and said attention will be lost after a while.
        in any case, Blake mentioned knowing ornias would come if he said its name another time, so he will know if the ritual has been reset.

        1. I think it’s all about forming a connection that the other can use as a teleport target/enter this world. Blake broke that connection using fairy blood so I think a full 7 times is needed.

  27. Laird: “The public had taken notice, and they had alerted authorities [about the attack on Molly].”

    The vote at the last practitioner meeting, called by Sandra, was for “Flagrant use of one’s practice in public, acting against the local powers.” Was that a vote on the results of the attack that Maggie did on Molly? It would explain why the Behaims and Duchamps did not vote – the hypocrisy would probably be enough to trigger karma backlash.

    And speaking of karma and hypocrisy, how the heck does Laird manage to remain a policeman? Let’s see: paying for an attack on Molly, covering up a assault and possibly murder, probably covering up multiple other crimes, threatening people, misuse of his office, conspiracy, etc. I am beginning to suspect that he never actually took a police officer’s oath, because I can’t think of any actual officer’s oath that he hasn’t managed to forswear.

    1. He likely has a way of interpreting his oath of office so that he can squeak by. And he may very well be spending karma too. Depending on how much his family has accrued, he may have good karma to spare.

      Also, how much of the work has he given to his family and the Duchamp’s? He may be the mastermind, but he could be compartmentalizing responsibilities to minimize the cost to any individual. Especially for himself.

      1. He must not have sworn it because oath breaking isn’t about karma I think, it was said that it will leave them forsworn, not weakened.

        1. Er, forsworn is weakened, isn’t it? That’s the whole point of the ritual of Awakening: you gain the power to see the unseen, and to invest your power into workings, at the cost of being less protected from unseen forces, and being bound by your words. Lying costs you power, and breaking an oath costs you even more, with the possibility of losing your power entirely depending on the severity of your oathbreaking. That’s why Rose Senior was forced to not train her kids in magic; doing so would have cost her power, and likely loosed the demon she kept locked in the atic, among other things.

          1. I believe Forsworn means you loose not just your power (possibly permanitly) But also all protections from hostile others, even the ones set up for the unititated. So even if someone were sitting in the middle of their demense, they would be screwed if they became Forsworn.

          2. I was thinking forsworn was more along the lines of you lose your power and all protections, basically you’re fucked

  28. You know, Blake has to talk to the Barber now and decide who to kill.
    Also, he may need his lawyers soon since he will be accused of Molly´s death.
    My guess is that the librarian opened the letter and gave it to Laird instead of going to the other authorities, this town is so f… that it is quite possible.

    1. Killing is the thing the Barber doesn’t do. If Blake ever does end up using it, then he will want to be very careful on how he uses it. Cripple them horribly may sound appealing, but some nice tactical severings of ability to use magic might be better.

  29. It occurs to me that even if Blake actually did understand where Maggie was coming from or was still on board with the alliance, it was probably to both of their advantage for him to act like Laird’s plan worked and they were on the outs.

    I’m thinking he was too tired to be that clever, but allowing Laird to believe he’d driven a wedge between them was probably the right plan, so long as he hadn’t. If he had, less advantageous, but oh well.

    1. Even if he was too tired, there’s still time to figure it out and then pretend that he was faking (or partially faking, anyway). I’m crossing my fingers.

    2. His anger is appropriate — and appropriately theatrical.
      Gains Laird karma–for honesty,
      and loses Maggie karma — for not wanting to make amends.

  30. The thought occurs that Blake isnt actually a Diabolist…yet. He’s still free to choose a different path…..one that’s perhaps not been seen before?

    Now, so far we have seen that the magic that the practicioners employ is primarily parasitic in nature – drawing power via begging favours or syphoning it off from other sources. Presumably this covers the bases of white/dark magic in this senario?
    True black magic would thus be represented by the summoning of diabolic entities and bargaining with them for their services. Therefore, with the exception of prayers/priests/divine powers, the only common magical archetype we have yet to see is green magic; i’m not entirely sure how that would be portrayed in this setting though, given that it is generally portrayed in fiction as directly controlling and manipulating the power/forces of nature without a third party intermediary.

    1. Yeah. At this point, Blake has only shown himself to be a necromancer. I’m still hoping Blake becomes a FF styled Blue mage. Then, what doesn’t kill him actually would make him stronger.

  31. “The ones who swore to secrecy also agreed to go after the people who blabbed,” she said.

    Laird might have been careful about what he swore, but I wonder if everyone else was? They might be able to get someone to go after Laird on account of that oath.

    1. Wording is important here. It depends on if they swore to go after anyone who took up the deal. Remember that Maggie was shocked that Laird got around his oath. She may have equated taking the deal with telling Blake about Molly’s death and so assumed they were promising not to blab.

      1. Well, yes, that’s what I meant by “Laird was careful about what he swore, but maybe not everyone was.”

        In any case, if he could manufacture a situation where Laird was unable to respond, he could say something to the effect of “oh by the way, the whodunit offer has been taken. Thanks to Laird for the information.” (After getting some other patsy to repeat the information and take the offer, ofc. Or having Rose or June take it.)

  32. “No cunning, hostility, tricks, traps, lies, deceptions, distractions, violence or any of that intended.”- Maggie Holt, Damages 2-6

    It appears that Maggie lied. Surely she intended to deceive Blake about Molly’s death, or at least distract him from it. By that point, it would have been in her mind for Blake had already said that he was just in a fight where he almost lost his life.

    1. Eh, I’d say she didn’t expect it to come up and expected she could just be vague and he’d drop it if it did come up. A tiny lie at most.

    2. Remember the truth scales – Brutal honesty is best regarding karma, but lies by omission and misdirections don’t count as much as full-blown lies.
      She probably hoped he wouldn’t ask her about Molly at all (which is what happened).

      If Blake had asked “did you kill her”, she could have answered no – she didn’t kill her personally and didn’t even want her dead at that point.
      If he had asked “are you responsible for her death”, then she’d have been in hot waters.

  33. well, i hate laird far more than i hated armsmaster, especially this early in the story
    simultaneously i can see how from his side all he’s doing is being harsh to a terrible person (bussing maggie would fall in the same category)
    my ability to understand notwithstanding, i still want to see him taken down a notch– but i’d rather it be by him being proven really, humiliatingly wrong then by him being physically harmed. i.e. I’d love to have Blake massively show him up in public in some way or another.

  34. With all the new information in this chapter I think Blake should have Maggie make lots of Ofuda for him as part of her restitution. They would be an extra edge in any challenges he has to face and it wouldn’t take any time away from his priorities to make them. Particularly when he has to defend his claim to a demesnes.

    He may not like her right now but she is a resource he could sorely use. Written contracts are definitely the way to go as she has shown she is a conniving snake. I really doubt her claim of 50/50 guilt since she originally tried to get everything she wanted for nothing in return.

  35. I’m fascinated about one question here. When a Practioner says something untrue, but they believe it to be true, whether by sophistry or ignorance, it seems that this isn’t a truth problem, except for sometimes, but no clear rationale for when and why. Wildbow is generally exceptionally careful about the details, so I think the truth thing isn’t quite what it appears to be…

    1. Well, it seems like it HAS to be “what they believe to be true” rather than “what is true” because if it was the latter, you could use that to figure out truths (like, “___ is trying to kill me – no? okay. ____ is trying to kill me. Not them either?” so on and so forth until you ‘figure out’ the real person).

      In which case I wonder if you could ask someone else, or cast a spell on yourself, to forget something for a time period. …Kinda like how the bad guys get around Veritaserum potions in HPMOR.

  36. Someone mentioned something above about Laird and his secular oaths of office, that he may not have taken them.

    That would be a pretty darn sneaky way to mess with Laird if he had managed to get into office in his secular position without taking an oath.

    Try to arrange for him to take the oath publicly. Find evidence that he had never taken the oath, or never completed it. Or convince authorities to make a minor change, which would result in Laird needing to swear the oath.

    1. Either that or Laird’s concept of serving the public and keeping the peace are so twisted around from what the normal interpetation of the oath is that in his mind he is upholding it faithully.

  37. Wildbow, you sneaky, sneaky person.

    You have introduced another Saint/Dragon/Defiant combination. Maggie (or Laird?), Molly, and Blake.

    A slightly different theme to the hate triangle interaction, but well done!

    The good/bad thing is that now I’m pretty sure that this is not going to be resolved for quite some time.

  38. Few things…

    Now how long before Johannes brings his offer to the table? At some point he’ll be making his own move.

    Just what does Laird have in store for Blake? It doesn’t seem like it’ll be anything too direct. Honestly I would see Blake dealing with a direct magical attack best. And will it even be magical? Or will Laird attack by mundane means? That could actually be the worst.

    Okay lets review Blake’s relationships with the various other powers.
    Behaims and Duchamps- Firmly against him. This is the main group trying to get him killed. However their may be an oppourtunity for subverting the younger generation. Penny was willing to call off the hounds, so to speak. I presume that it’s because Blake was merciful to Letita, and because he hasn’t done anything too diabolical yet. It’s also possible that they are having doubts because of what happened to Molly. However to keep that going, he can’t get to far into the demon summoning.

    Maggie- Even with Molly’s death, she still seems to be the best option for an ally Blake has. That’s actually pretty sad.

    Crone Mara & Briar Girl- I don’t think that there is anything Blake can offer Mara. As for Briar Girl, what she wants grandma’s will won’t let him give her. Both may become hostile, but not as immediate as the Behaims and Duchamps.

    The Witch Hunters- Uh, yeah. The sister is just waiting to have an excuse to cap Blake. The brother is less bloodthirsty. But they work for the town, and right now the town is the Behaims and the Duchamps. They are not allies, but they probably won’t come after him without the right kind of provocation. I suspect laird if he’s smart will try to manipulate Blake into that kind of provocation.

    1. Mara wants knowledge, but unlike Maggie, isn’t greedy for it.

      Johannes may be waiting to see who Blake is before even considering a move —
      unlike Maggie, he has relatively little need to move quickly, or far.

  39. Another thought just occurred….

    It’s all about symbolism and semantics right? That’s what the Lawyers told him…
    So, if it’s all about symbolism then if grandma Rose has the barber – a prety powerful diabolical entity when all’s said and done – trapped in the attic (Tower room). Then what the hell did she stash away in the cellar/under the house?!
    You cannot get more symbolic than confining a deamon to “hell” afterall. Methinks that potentially the barber is merely the more obvious of her fallback strategies…..

      1. Although she apparently thought her heir would be pretty despearate before even finding the letter. Also Barbertorum is a bet less dangerous in a way than the other demons to deal with. He won’t actively seek out mischief, but will take the oppourtunity if it presents itself. So he won’t try to trick you, but will pounce if you trip.

  40. So, can we possibly get to the point where the MC actually dies?

    Because we’ve spent fourteen chapters so far of him having the hell kicked out of him and Laird utterly destroying him socially, mentally and physically, with absolutely no successful responses.

    He’s also seriously quite an idiot. The smart thing to do, and I’m not talking machiavellian smart here, just ‘mildly intelligent’ smart, would have been to ignore Laird, make an ally, and walk off having just turned Laird’s gambit on its head.

    The results would have been exactly the opposite of what Laird was hoping for.

    He’d have made an enemy out of Maggie, Blake would have an ally, and he’d have proven that he’s a little hard to manipulate.

    Instead, Laird wins again.

    Blake just isn’t smart enough or mean enough to actually survive in this absolutely cutthroat setting. He isn’t perceptive enough and he isn’t paranoid enough, and oddly enough he isn’t DESPERATE enough.

    He’s going to die. Absolutely. I’m finding it nearly impossible to imagine a way other than blatant author Fiat for him to not die. The fact that he still trusts Rose is a good sign of this. She’s clearly expressed on several occasions that she’s angry and unhappy that she’s technically subservient to him, she’s also desperate not to die.

    Its very clear to me, that at some point. Possibly soon, she’s going to start looking for ways to escape from Blake. Possibly as his expense. The betrayal is almost inevitable, because she IS desperate and unhappy enough, and so far, she seems smarter. This is of course assuming that she’s what she appears and not something much more horrifying.

    Shrug The quality of writing is extremely high, as I’ve come to expect from you, but so far, I don’t like blake, and literally every single other character you’ve introduced so far aside from Blakes original landlord who just gave him his car with no questions asked, has been a complete and utter asshole. And in most cases, utter monsters as well.

    Willing to butcher their way through an entire family of children, and worse.
    There just isn’t a likable cast, there isn’t a single character that I as a reader can relate to, or empathise with, aside from blake, who so far seems to be… not exactly brilliant.

    But who do you root for when your entire cast are awful people? At this point, as a reader, I actually really do want blake to release a smorgasbord of hellish nightmare creatures from beyond the outer edge of infinity to consume the town, because while I’m sure there might, somewhere in the town, be a person who isn’t an asshole… well, you haven’t introduced them to us yet.

    In worm, people could do awful things, and be flawed people, but they were PEOPLE.
    All I’m reading about in this are monsters and children (some of which are monsters).

    Anyway, I complain, but I really do enjoy Pact. I just want more sympathetic characters, we’re seeing all the worst of humanity here, and absolutely none of the best.

    1. And that, my dear Fantastico, is why when and if Blake survives, the payoff for the readers will be so high. After all of this, if Blake is somehow able to come out on top without Wildbow pulling something out of his but (which he won’t for Wildbow writes well), it will be quite satisfying.

      1. Uh, but the issue is, that I don’t particularly like blake. He isn’t smart, he isn’t charismatic, he isn’t even particularly desperate yet, and he keeps making stupid mistakes that I, as the reader, look in on and go ‘Oh my god, did you seriously just do that?’, and its not even the advantage of the readers perspective.

        So basically, I don’t particularly like him, I don’t hate him, but he’s a bit of an idiot. Combined this with the rest of the cast being horrible people, its the story of one guy who I don’t particularly like, getting his ass kicked by a bunch of people I REALLY don’t like, and possibly getting revenge back later. (Assuming he doesn’t go the completely unsatisfying route of just forgiving them, which I wouldn’t put past him).

        Meh. Writing is top quality, but the characters are honestly letting me down here, compared to the amazing chatoic moral spectrum of worm, we have the entirely lawful evil cast of pact. Its dull.

        1. If you sit a novice in front of a chessboard at a chess club and they have never played before, they are going to have a very poor showing before they understand the rules. Once they understand the rules, they are still going to have to learn the tactics, so they will continue to have poor showings for a while.

          That’s the situation Blake finds himself in. He’s been dropped into the middle of a game far, far more complicated than chess, being played with deadly stakes, and he’s having to learn the rules as he goes along.

          Not smart? No. Blake is ignorant, not unintelligent. There is a very large difference between the two. He’s also a teenager or in his early 20’s who has had a very hard life, where some of the rules he learned to live by are not meshing well with the new rules he needs to learn to survive.

          Right now, it’s a measure of his intelligence that he’s still alive.

          1. I agree that Blake is ignorant and not unintelligent. The decisions he has made so far haven’t necessarily been wrong. I don’t think we’ve seen him fully rested, fully powered, and not being caught off guard since he’s awakened yet.

            It will be interesting to see how he adapts. If he is killed horribly, can the next heir call him as her ghost companion?

            1. There are people that would be very angry at you for saying that. However I’m not one of them. I enjoy chess, but can understand why some don’t, because, quite frankly, I suck in the end game. Somehow. I’ve been told by people much, much better than me that I my early and midgame performance is very, very good, but I start to lose it when about half the pieces are out of play. There’s something I am just not seeing as the game gets simpler, which just seems weird. I might have to fiddle around on some chess again though, been 20 years since I last played. Who knows, with all the other things I’ve learned in that time, maybe I can do a decent end game now 🙂

    2. Personally I’m looking for some unconventional Other to show up. We’ve seen those who lurk in the shadows, preying on the weak, the affably evil ones who have fun with humans to kill time. I’m hoping there’s enough leeway that at least one of them will flip the tables turn-ways.

      To put a parallel with Worm, although I know I shouldn’t since this story will not follow the same recipe on purpose, there were asshole heroes and moral villains.
      So far the cast of Pact has a narrow gamut in that regard.

      1. Blake seems to me to be a less certain protagonist than Taylor. By witch I mean he’s not as sure what he’ll do, what he’s trying to achieve, and quite frankly who he is. Note that he has no clue what has meaning for him for implement, what would be compatable for Familier, and no place he feels would be a good demense. Taylor always had something she was trying for. To make Brockton Bay better for example. She always had someone she was either strongly connected to, or trying to connect to, her father. And quite frankly she was at her weakest when those things were at their weakest. Well not saying more because of spoilers. By the way is there anyone reading Pact who hasn’t read Worm?

        Also Pact is less action packed than Worm. We’d had major fights that lasted several chapters. So at least we know Taylor was getting better at punching out her problems. Blake has had shorter fights.

        That said it is moving fairly slowly. It would be nice if Blake could get at least one person who is both capable of helping him, and not trying to use him in some way.

        1. I think Wildbow is making Blake an anti-Taylor, being a protagonist that’s more impulsive & relies more on instincts than Taylor so that he can “write against type (?)” instead of creating a Taylor clone.

        2. Taylor also had a firmer grasp of her world when she started. She knew about powers long before she triggered, and even after she did she spent months figuring out the basics of what she could do and making her costume. She also wasn’t constantly under siege by forces out to kill her in the beginning, all things considered, so she had some time to do planning in between battles. She also evolved quite a bit throughout the story.

          Blake on the other hand started out completely ignorant of the world he’s been thrust into, and has been under constant threat ever since. He’s only barely getting a foothold, and primarily he’s still in the phase where he’s having to react to what’s being thrown at him which doesn’t give him much time to make long term plans. Once he’s had a chance to better position himself and his immediate situation isn’t so fluid, I’m interested to see what the difference will be when it comes time for him to take the initiative.

    3. I agree almost completely on the major points but I have a different interpretation of many of them. What I consider the mitigating factors are (somewhat unordered):
      — Even if you are naturally intelligent it is really hard to act intelligently when you are constantly tired, attacked, have a continuous power drain who also argues with your decisions occasionally (Rose), and are thrown into a completely new and hideously dangerous situation. People who respond well to that sort of thing are extraordinarily rare. From my perspective, a person who responded perfectly to such a situation would be less sympathetic because I would have a hard time empathizing with them – I don’t act well in pressure situations, so it would be hard to put myself in the place of someone who did. I would still cheer, but not have as much sympathy. The tradeoff is listening to my inner voice yell every time Blake makes what appears to be a mistake.
      —The above argument also applies to perceptiveness.
      — I would also find it hard to sympathize if Blake was meaner to everyone all the time, although I agree that many of the people there seem to deserve it.
      — Agreed on the not-sufficiently-desperate part.
      — Paranoid (the clinical definition) gets him killed. Clinically paranoid people take as few actions as possible because they see any action as making things worse. Inaction kills in this situation. Paranoid enough to put in fallback options where needed is hard to do in the same way that it is hard for him to act intelligently or perceptively in this situation.
      — As far as allying with Maggie, if he did it right then and there, Laird would know and make further efforts to block it. So his best bet was to appear to blow off Maggie and contact her later without alerting Laird. I hope he does it (and forces significant concessions out of her too).
      — I am with you on Rose – I expect Rose to look for ways out. I expect this to rebound on both her and Blake, especially if she actually tries.
      — There is an in-world explanation for the local reactions – karma. Bad karma pushes practitioners and Others to react badly to a person. Call it lampshading, but at least the explanation is consistent. But…
      — We have already seen hints that not all of Jacob’s Bell are irredeemable assholes (Penny and to some extent, Jo), and Wildbow is a master of making even the worst look better when seen from a different perspective. Think RDT’s diary. And…
      — Remember Laird’s comment as to what he would do to his own family if he knew Barbatorem would reach them. Remember Ms. Lewis’s comment on violent death versus the other options. It appears that, in this world and situation, if the locals give Blake and family a violent death without spiritual harm, it is actually one of the preferable outcomes. This is detestable to modern standards and ethics, but unfortunately consistent with the more archaic practices that abound here.
      — As far as the Crapsack World situation, well… Worm. Which I really liked, or I wouldn’t be here.
      — As far as how the character survives this Crapsack World, (Worm spoilers, somewhat) it was revealed later in Worm why Taylor had advantages versus other parahumans and that reveal was consistent with prior evidence. So, something similar could be working here also. But yeah, at the moment, it looks like Blake should be dead shortly. The gloves are off – Laird will hit Blake from an unexpected direction and will strike to kill (figuratively or literally).
      — (Worm spoilers, somewhat) The two main problem Blake is facing that Taylor did not are: 1) No experienced practitioner is vulnerable to anything Blake can throw at them. In Worm, Taylor came up with bug uses that took down much objectively stronger opponents; in Pact there are no such weaknesses (yet known). 2) Taylor had some degree of anonymity in Worm and therefore could do hit and run tactics, which is exactly what lower-powered types should do against objectively superior opponents. In Pact, with everybody being able to monitor relationships and especially with the enchantresses being supernally good at it, that is not feasible. So the fights here will be less intense and will always have immediate consequences because of these factors. Also, supers were more open in Worm and had (apparently) a greater range of power levels, so the fights should be fewer and less devastating in Pact than in Worm, but if you start out from the perspective of Worm it feels like a slow start.

      And finally (yeah, I tend towards long-winded), thank you. One of the things I judge stories on is how much they encourage me to think (more=better), and your post did the same.

      1. so the fights should be fewer and less devastating in Pact than in Worm

        [SPOILER] Also in Worm everyone was being magically manipulated toward conflict anyhow, it wasn’t actually organic there….

    4. He’s also seriously quite an idiot. The smart thing to do, and I’m not talking machiavellian smart here, just ‘mildly intelligent’ smart, would have been to ignore Laird, make an ally, and walk off having just turned Laird’s gambit on its head.

      The results would have been exactly the opposite of what Laird was hoping for.

      No, the smart thing to do would’ve been to do that AND what he did. If it was clear to Laird his scheme hadn’t worked, Blake and Maggie would both be in substantially more danger–and now, when the two of them inevitably become allies anyway, they have the option of surprise.

      (What with having the Duchamps on Laird’s side, any known alliance is going to be prodded into infighting anyhow. For the very same reason, a secret alliance would be difficult, but the only way he’ll be able to keep an alliance with anyone is by keeping it a secret from them.)

      1. PS. I think “Thank you for visiting, Maggie . I appreciated your company, even if I don’t, right this second.” is about the single most perfect response that could’ve been given under the circumstances. Makes it clear where he stands without closing any doors.

    5. Re: Blake’s “idiocy” in this chapter, I think he managed to handle that revelation incredibly well given how completely drained he was at the time. He expressed (justified) anger to Maggie without being excessive about it.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Laird was hoping he’d take out Maggie then and there so the council had an excuse to frag him.

      So far he seems to be doing a pretty good job of walking the middle path. At this point he’s neither letting people push him around, nor lashing out mindlessly.

  41. I like most of this chapter. But the fact that Blake and Maggie both let Laird see their interaction is totally insane. I don’t care how angry Blake is, or how much he wants to show Laird he’s not afraid; he can simply shut the door and spend the 60 seconds it takes for him and Maggie to say what they need to, then open the door to let her out. Even without the wider issues of magic and people wanting to kill him and forced honesty, it’s just not normal for X to deal with their relationship (friendly or hostile) with Y while hostile Z looks on. In fact, I felt had to re-read several times because I was shocked that Laird could simply watch without being a factor or getting mentioned in any way.

  42. More importantly, in keeping with the country route.

    Laird has established himself as America. Big, powerful, occasionally corrupt and throws thier weight around America.

    Blake is North Korea. Unpredictable, dangerous, seeking nuclear power and someone to be feared North Korea.

    TO continue this rampant political game, Johannes is China. A large power that is sometimes looked down upon by their Western colleagues but someone with enormous resources to bring to bear.

    Maggie is Afghanistan. A little minor power that got used at one point by America to do thier dirty work for them and now is riling back against America’s heavy handedness.

    Any others?

    1. I think ,ethics wise and relation wise (no nation has the power imbalance Blake has,as no nation has monopoly of nuclear weapons)is more Cuba:an comparatively good country forced to act mean due to America boycotting it,and causing it tons of problems.

  43. This is my attempt at a spirit since we don’t know the rules they follow nor their capabilities. I hope you all enjoy. Sorry if the name doesn’t translate well, used a website.

    Yattsu-ude-kuikorosu: Eight Armed Devourer

    History: Despite the Japanese name, this spirit is not native to the land, simply named there in an attempt to give Practitioners power over it. Yattsu is a very old spirit, with its earliest theorized appearance to be around 250BC.

    Description: Even though size is relative and mutable amongst spirits, Yattsu towers over most in its natural form. Its form is best described as a mash of ogre, snake, and human. It has no legs, instead a snake tail as thick as an oak and twenty feet long, the scales a matted brownish-green. The most noticeable feature is the fact it has 8 monstrous arms erupting from its torso, each as thick as a normal man. In the palms of its hands are mouths the incessantly whisper words of paranoia and greed. On top of this mound of muscle and scales rests its disturbingly human head. Greasy, brown matted hair hangs down over its face, obscuring most of its features outside of its massive mouth containing brick-like teeth. Wide eyes stare past the tresses of its hair, darting back and forth constantly.
    Spheres of Influence: Yattsu is a spirit of obsession, consumption, greed, and paranoia. It desires not only worldly possession but abstracts of it. It prefers to trade in emotions above all else, coveting pure love more than anything.

    Capabilities: Yattsu is an insidious spirit, working much more subtly than something of its magnitude implies. It can induce obsession, greed, and paranoia into humans, feeding off their growing desires and fears. It prefers to work slowly; building up emotions in a person until the human is alone with the thing he or she covets most, cutting itself off from the outside world. Sometime this is simple as a child locking itself in his room with his favorite toy, not coming out for days, or it can be a man kidnapping a desired woman and locking her up in his basement. The degree of paranoia and obsession grows to such a staggering degree that the person who Yattsu is influencing sees no other way to keep its desire other than to consume it entirely so it will always be a part of them. When the human is done with its grisly meal, Yattsu saps all the obsession and paranoia away, leaving the human alone with the aftermath of what it has done. The sheer size of Yattsu should go to show how long this has been going on and how powerful it has become from it.

        1. でも”8つ”は全然名前にならないよ。。。

          Generally speaking I think it’s best to not name something in a foreign language unless you a)speak that language fluently, b)there’s some compelling plot reason it has to be named in that language, or preferably, both.

          FWIW, if you’re working on learning 日本語:
          Counter for arms is 本, so 八本(happon) not 八つ(yattsu/yatsu)

          BUT idiomatically what you would actually refer to is the number of hands, not arms. 千手観音 (senjyukannon) = Thousand-armed goddess of mercy, Kanon. I’ve never heard it said, but my guess for 八手 would be for hasshu instead of yashhu or hatte (though you could say yatte just to trollololol).

          As written that’s “8 armed devouring”–to turn it into devourer you’d want to go to kuikoroshi. (similar to korosu -> hitogoroshi killing -> murderer)

          1. (Also, like, there’s probably something wrong with what I wrote, too. My Japanese is alright but I’m still in that “I know enough to know I don’t know” stage, not true competency.)

    1. I will give an explanation for the name and use of Japanese since it has become a sticking point with people. While the Spheres of Influence and capabilities were something I just came up with on the spot, the description and name were already made from a previous incarnation. Awhile ago I was helping a friend brainstorm monsters for an RPG of his. The game took heavy inspiration from the Bleach anime, especially from the Hollows, hence the name being in Japanese.

      While writing it up, I was actually looking for a translation of the name into something other than Japanese since I thought it might come off wrong. Tried Arabic and Germanic but those didn’t come close to working so I stuck with original name.

      As to the reason why in history is simply says “Yattsu is not Japanese in origin, simply named there” was because I did not know enough about Japanese spirit lore to definitively call it a Oni or a Yokei or the like since I did not know it fit with that description.

      Since we only have a few actual named spirits so far, the demon, the nightmare dog, the faerie, I did not know how most spirits were named. All of this was a shot in the dark at attempt at something interesting and unique.

      1. I think people, including myself, are reacting to the name because “using a foreign language for cool factor alone” is a trope associated with a lot of bad writing. And it’s not really right, to label your own thing with someone else’s culture, just to grab the cool factor. I mean, people can argue A LOT about the difference homage and appropriation, and I don’t especially want to get into that, but…..

        If people are only going to react to the name when you name a spirit in a language you don’t speak, well, that’s information to use the next time you think of a name for something.

    2. My turn to make a spirit

      The Nex
      (This spirits true name has been lost to the annuls of history and now only goes by its current title.)

      History:
      In primordial times he was a power onto himself and feasted on the souls of countless mortals. Following Solomon’s Binding he was forced to ferry souls to their afterlife in order to maintain a fraction of his waning power and holds an intense hatred for human practitioners, often leading them astray in acts of petty vengeance.

      Description:
      Like many ancient spirits he cannot be classified by modern means, in the elder days he was as far above the gods as they are mortals. Now, with his power sapped, he takes the form of a giant grim easily the size of large war elephant.

      Spheres of Influence:
      The Nex has maintained its old domain of the realm of death and destruction. However, as his hatred festered he has gain the status of a spirit of vengeance. Those who seek his assistance in a feud would be wise to remember the adage of digging two graves when seeking revenge, as his reputation is often the source of such stories due to his nature of turning on those who order his services.

      Capabilities:
      Despite his loss of power, he is more then capable of dealing with any mortal and all but the strongest Other. As a spirit of destruction he works with little subterfuge preferring to use his superior power to annihilate anything in his path, this does not mean he is not capable of deceit and has been known to have tricked even the wisest of gods with his cunning stratagems.

  44. I think that regarding Molly’s death and Maggie’s confessions, that the town’s practitioners’ intentions wasn’t originally to kill Molly and then every Thorburn heir after.

    At first I think that they only wanted to hurt her a little bit as a warning against following in her grandma’s footsteps. But they went too far and killed her and now the second heir’s pissed at them (in their opinion) and has already summoned a powerful demon that even Laird has admitted to be able to deal out fates worse then death.

    I think that what they are doing is to both guard themselves against his (perceived) revenge schemes and deal preemptive strikes against possible fall back options that grandma Rose had left behind (which Barbatorem is, basically).

    1. Maggie did say how “They talked her up, big bad diabolist who didn’t know what she was doing.” Now let’s not forget what Jo said. That he didn’t even know how dangerous he was. But then Penny had a different reaction. I suspect the Bieham and Duchamp kids have all heard that a million times. But then we have the horrible out of control diabolist getting killed, on accident by some goblins. If she was such a loose cannon threat, why did that happen? Why didn’t she say a name seven times, even as she was being tourtured? Suddenly you start having doubts like Maggie did.

      Also lets not forget there is more going on here than just someone taking up the role of Diablolist in the family. Jacob’s bell is on the cusp of a huge amount of growth. The Thorburn property is right in the middle of it, and worth consideribly more than 20 million. Even without magical stuff that is something people would kill over. With it… Laird said some things that make me wonder. Just how big a population center do you have to be to have a lord? And even without the Duchamps screwing with it, Blake would be disliked for not selling out and letting the town grow, even though he can’t.

  45. I just tilted my head a bit and looked at this from a different angle.

    It’s possible that Maggie is still working with Laird, actively.

    Look at her wording and his when they speak about the warnings she was given, and then for a few lines afterward. Why would Laird not take the warning to her directly, and pass it through his cousins instead. Maggie is low hanging fruit for a power deal, exactly as she says she is when visiting Blake. She was also grubbing really hard there for someone who had any remorse. But she was born poor in the world, and she’s poor in power as well. Pushing for every advantage is not unexpected.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Laird and company offered her a second deal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she took it. She wouldn’t even have to lie about her motivations.

    At the same time, Blake seemed to trip her up when he said he DID want to hear her side of the story. She was expecting him to reject that.

    So Maggie might actually be working with Laird now, but be having second thoughts, again. She may have even believed Blake was as much of a danger as they said Molly was, considering that Blake’s first act in front of the last meeting was to try to split the town using fear and his grandmother’s legacy of power.

    Maybe this time around she learns that Laird and the rest are wrong, before she kills Blake, or puts him in a position where other practitioners or Others could kill him.

    We need a Laird interlude, and a Maggie interlude. Maybe we’ll get one, next year some time 😛

  46. Comments:
    – What a great revelation. Incidentally, just one chapter ago, Blake thought that “At this point I was willing to settle for an enemy pretending to be a friend.”. I wonder what he thinks now?
    – So Molly did indeed die accidentally.
    – Incidentally, in Blake’s vision in chapter 1, Maggie was outdoors in a snowy field. Was that the time when Molly died?

    Great lines:
    – “Supply and demand, my dear friend in the mirror. You have a demand for not being murdered. I can supply that demand.” -> Especially amusing considering one Thorburn has already died by her hand…
    – “I was getting damn tired of people who didn’t answer the questions they were being asked.”
    – ““Still,”“It’s dangerous. We’ve gotten hurt every time.”“I’ve gotten hurt, you mean,”“Yes.””
    – “But betraying confidence, implicitly or otherwise, it seems messy. Bad karma, maybe.”
    – “No games, please,”“If you don’t want to say, you don’t have to say, but I’m on the same page with Blake about being horribly fed up with this doubletalk.”
    – “They’re of nature, but so is snake venom, so is cancer, understand? They’re the ugly bits. The savage, primitive, visceral, neanderthal bits.” -> Which she controls. Or thought she controlled.
    – “The second big reason that the goblins stopped picking on humanity was that we went and got ourselves modern plumbing.” -> Heh.
    – ““What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”“Yes. Exactly.”“I always hated that phrase,”“No. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.””
    – ““I’ll live if the deal doesn’t go through,” Maggie said. She left the other half of her statement unsaid. We might not.” -> Considering what Maggie knows, and how afraid she becomes once Blake finds out, this sounds like a lie. Fake confidence, at the very least.
    – “Maggie made a face. “You don’t like me very much, do you?” “I like you fine,” Rose said, in what were maybe the least friendly sounding words I’d heard out of her mouth.”
    – ““No,”“If we do anything, it’s going to be accidental.”“You swear?” Rose glanced at me. I nodded. “I so swear that we have no intention of summoning anything of the nature you’re talking about,” Rose said.” -> At first glance, that seemed like a dangerously stupid oath. Once they take the nukes off the table, they have essentially nothing left. But swearing that ‘we have no intention of summoning anything’ parallels Laird’s promise of protection earlier on, i.e. they can still change their minds later…even just a few minutes later, once they learn the truth.
    – “Tomorrow, or the day after.” Maggie groaned, flopping back in her chair. “Yeah. Except it never works out that smoothly.”” -> Right, it doesn’t.
    – ““I just want power. And everyone’s keeping it to themselves and making me pay out of the nose for it. I get teased with it, and it never gets delivered in full. Padraic, the North End Sorcerer…”” -> So that, plus the accident, make her a terrorist in Laird’s eyes. Fair enough.
    – “I don’t have a choice!”“Not if I want to do something! And I don’t not want to do something because I did that when I had to watch my old neighborhood go up in blood and fire!”
    – “I debated coffee, checking the tin. Just enough grounds to tantalize me with the possibility, but leave me short of a decent brew. I settled for tap water, instead, and felt suitably depressed over it.” -> 🙂
    – “May I see the axe?”“Look, but don’t touch,”“And it’s a hatchet, not an axe.”“Semantics.”“Do you not live in this world?”“Semantics are important.” -> Or read the browser title, Maggie! It says “Pact | Devils and Details”!
    – ““A declaration of war, Mr. Thorburn?”“Call it what you will. Retaliation?””
    – “I’m more inconvenienced by the knowledge that we now have an ongoing dispute.” “It doesn’t have to be,”“You fucked with me, I fucked with you. We can leave it at that.””
    – “The super-apathetic no-shit-giving attitude was still going strong. “You put yourself in an awkward position, setting the bar at ‘killing me’ with our first meeting. Now you’ve got to top that, which means jumping straight to fates worse than death. But where do you go after that?” -> Blake isn’t doing himself any favors here, but I approve of the sentiment.
    – ““Can we wrap this up? Unless your big plot to remove me from this world involves running up my heating bill.””
    – “Maggie Holt is the one who orchestrated the attack on your cousin, Molly Walker.” -> Ouch. I didn’t expect her murderer to be revealed so soon in the story, but the timing is, in any case, perfect.
    – ““Ofuda would be along the lines of what Sandra Duchamp might know,”“I think that was what she offered Maggie for the murder of Molly Walker.”” -> Hah.
    – ““Thank you for visiting, Maggie,”“I appreciated your company, even if I don’t, right this second.”
    – ““I want to make this better,” she said, quiet. “I’d really like a chance. If not now, then later.””

  47. Oh crap. The police are going to find out that Laird knows who killed Molly. And Maggie killed Molly. I think he’s going to get her arrested for murder. He can simply state something like “I didn’t tell Maggie to kill her, nor assault her, nor did I take a part in the act.” and the other officers will believe him without nitpicking that he wasn’t technically the one who gave the request and that he wasn’t technically part of the act. Maggie, on the other hand, is going to get torn asunder and is going to have a hard time concealing her Goblin Queen status while also avoiding any of the actual blame.

    1. Actually, Maggie may not have killed Molly. What Laird said was that “She had command of several goblins and ordered them to strike her and leave her alive.” During their little excursion, he told others that it appeared that tools had been used. Maggie’s actions may have simply put Molly into a position where it was easier for someone else to kill her.

      1. Well technically the Goblins killed Molly. I would assume there is some way they would keep Maggie from talking too much. There has to be for practicioners, otherwise they would not have stayed secret too long. Or…

        “Poor girl, talking about Goblins. Doesn’t that sound crazy to you?”

        1. Went back and re-read, so yeah it does sound like the goblins killed Molly. However, Maggie wasn’t at the scene since she had goblins do it. Laird is pretty inconvenienced because he can’t just turn Maggie in. There would be no forensic evidence linking her to the crime, and if she has an alibi it would be very difficult to prove anything. Most likely he’s going to have to use some magic to try to get the investigation to just go away, but given that using magic isn’t exactly free it’s certain to cost him something.

      2. That’s true. Still, she’s easily implicated in Molly’s murder, even if she’s not the only cause. I think it’d be enough to get her jailed, especially if she doesn’t know who finished Molly off or if she believes that her goblins did it (such as if Molly was still clinging to life and would have lived if Padriac hadn’t showed up, for example).

  48. Welp, Laird’s an asshole. Shocker. Personally, though, I think Blake can’t /not/ ally with Maggie. It makes too much sense.

  49. Blake grabbed his sandwich.

    “…aren’t immortal,” Maggie was saying. “They die like you or me. But they breed. I’d be really interested in reading a book about goblins, to see how that’s linked to their personal power, or see what keeps that in check. I’ve become something of a goblin queen.”

    “A what?” Blake asked.

    “Someone works with spirits almost exclusively? Shaman. Work with time, you’re a chronomancer. Fire? Pyromancer. The future? Augur, predictomancer, something like that. Work with demons, you’re a diabolist. Work with goblins? Goblin queen.”

    “Johannes would be a goblin king, then?” Rose asked.

    Blake narrowed his eyes, squinting at Maggie.

    “You remind me of the babe.”

    She looked at him, clearly bewildered.

    “W-what babe?” Maggie asked. Blake leaned in closer, poking her in the sternum with his index finger.

    “The babe with the power.”

    “What power?” Rose called out, looking even more confused than the teenage girl.

    “The power of… Voodoo!” Blake hissed. (An impressive feat, considering the total lack of sibilants in that sentence.)

    “Who do?” Maggie said, her nonplussed expression growing more flustered by the second.

    “You do.”

    “Do what?!” Maggie and Rose cried out in unison.

    “Remind me of the babe!” Blake yelled, and leaped on top of the dining room table. He started dancing and kicking his legs, singing loudly about “dance magic dance” and “jump magic jump”.

    “If they put a spell on me, I’ll call demons, set ’em free!” Blake cackled and hurled a bike mirror up in the air – a mortified Rose staring out from the reflective surface – while Maggie scrambled to catch it, barely snagging it with the tips of her fingers before it shattered on the hard-wood floor.

    Blake seemed to deflate, his shoulders sinking in on themselves.

    “Ughh… Sorry, I’m… Sorry, I think I must be more tired than-”

    He was suddenly interrupted when Barbatorem went cart-wheeling through the living room, disguised as a flock of blue-skinned bald eagle-men, deftly wielding shears and cutting off each other’s heads, tossing the severed noggins around like party favors.

    “…Yep. DEFINITELY too tired.”

  50. anyone else get the feeling that if almost every practitioner on the planet was murdered simultaneously, it’d be no great loss? something about being one in general seems to turn you into a sociopath, and i don’t mean the ones who lack empathy but are fully functional in normal society. also, i think Lard’s Lieing though his teeth about only being SLIGHTLY inconvenienced. his actions feel like a spoiled child lashing out in a tantrum.

    1. you know what i mean. maybe Psychopath is a better word? the whole having no moral qualms whatsoever about horrifically murdering a Teenager, and trying to do it again and again until an entire family line has been exterminated?

  51. Some potentially constructive criticism re: Laird. On the one hand, his portrayal as an entitled double-dealing but technically-honest…guy…looking out for his family seems to me to be pretty solid. Authentic as a display of human behavior, and for the framework of the story.

    What falls a little flat for me, seems less plausible and authentic, is his attitude wherein he immediately betrays Blake and Rose-that is to say, on the very first opportunity he has to betray them-and attempts to consign them to death or potentially fates worse than death at the hands of a mob; he does this, and somehow seems to expect Blake to take his offers of ‘friendly dubiously-restrained violence and unrestrained treachery’ and literally thank him for it.

    How does that work in Laird’s head? ‘This Blake, I need to squash him like a bug because he’s giving me trouble after I tried to kill him with a smile a few times. The nerve!’ He may very well be that entitled between his own ears, but he seems to adopt that posture even in conversation with Blake. How does Laird think that will possibly work? Unless, and of course this is possible, one of the branches of his plan is to anger and incite Blake with his transparent hypocrisy and treachery? If it’s that, then my hopefully-constructive criticism collapses somewhat. If it’s not, though, then I think his portrayal is in that sense problematic.

  52. I think two points are needed to be quoted.

    1) “Maggie Holt is the one who orchestrated the attack on your cousin, Molly Walker. She had command of several goblins and ordered them to strike her and leave her alive. She did it at our behest, in exchange for small favors, gifts of power and offers of knowledge.”

    2) “When it went as poorly as it did, we were upset. The public had taken notice, and they had alerted authorities. We fulfilled the letter of the deal, but did so by offering Ms. Holt the bare minimum we could.”

    “Including a lesson on how to use… what is it, paper seals? Japanese name or something.”

    “Ofuda would be along the lines of what Sandra Duchamp might know,” Laird said. “I think that was what she offered Maggie for the murder of Molly Walker.”

    So…

    Duchamps are enchanters? My. Consider this. The initial order for Maggie was to leave Molly roughed up, not dead. Consider this – Maggie according to Laird did order the goblins to strike Molly and leave her alive. Consider this – Sandra Duchamp is one who Laird thinks offered knowledge of ofuda for the murder of Molly Walker…

    Which might imply either that was her token payment. Or that she specifically asked for Molly to be murdered, as opposed to roughed up.

  53. No one said she’s responsible for the death. Just that she orchestrated the attack. Goblins don’t use tools.

  54. What the French, toast? You thought I wouldn’t find out about you and your little doo doo head cootie queen? Who are you calling a cootie queen you link licker?

    Dirty mouth? Clean it up with new Orbit!

    And now we have Wildbow’s non-cussing fetish. Wildbow’s fantasy is this: Japanese Catholic schoolgirl in uniform…saying “I want you to love me in the loving bum, you big legged son of a bench.”

    I have made people spew coffee over their computers, but now I have finally managed to make Wildbow spew something else all over his keyboard. Just remember, Wildbow, the smell fades eventually. You’ll want to use something a little stronger than water if it got on the monitor, though. Real thick, viscous, and all that. Smears more easily than it wipes away. Kinda like a politician in that respect, actually.

  55. Psycho Gecko’s Rules of Proper Bodily Functions

    Gonna tell you right now, it seems counterintuitive, but you shouldn’t keep your hand at your mouth when it looks like puke is on the way. All it does is get your hand dirty too, when the gunk gets flowing. Either you will that shit down by thinking about your throat, or you think about throwing up and go all the way. Make sure you’re somewhere good to puke, too. A sink isn’t horrible, but a garbage can is preferable to that, and a toilet is best of all. Grass is better than a sidewalk, that kind of thing too.

    If you’re really lucky, you’ll have an empty stomach. Not fun to puke up bile, but most of what’ll come up if you do that is mucous and spit. Trust me, that’s some of the easiest stuff to throw up out there. Maybe one step better is water. Hopefully water that is warm by now. Let me tell you, it’s freaky to throw up water that’s been in you so short a time that it’s still cold. I’ve been there.

    Now, if you have eaten things, you might be surprised at how some of it comes out. Hot dogs aren’t your friends. Trust me, that stuff doesn’t digest as easily as you’d think. Neither do pickles. Potatoes, specifically fries, could be better. Anything with too strong a taste won’t be fun, which includes pizza and Reese’s peanut butter cups. About the absolute worst you can run into is orange juice, unless maybe you drank grapefruit juice. But who drinks grapefruit juice when they could have something that doesn’t taste like distilled ass? Beer is on par with grapefruit juice, except for the fact that beer can actually relax you or even get you drunk, which some people see as a benefit, making beer healthier than grapefruit juice.

    Now, when you’re poised over your sink, toilet, garbage can, or wherever your chunks are blowing, it’s important to think about positioning. Most people are going to go ahead and put their head about as parallel to the ground as they can. This is a common beginner’s mistake. You’ll actually want to try and keep your nose higher up than your mouth. The reason being that it’ll slightly decrease the likelihood of your sinuses and nose being a vector for puke. If that happens, you’ll be smelling that puke for way too long, and you’ll constantly feel like you still have a chunk up there that needs to come out, which my psychologically goad you into puking again.

    Remember, vomit is 30% physical, 90% mental.

    Another reason why you’ll want to avoid throwing up via your nose is that it is a much worse experience. You think the acidic sting of orange juice is bad out of your mouth? How about if that sting is coming out through your nose and leaving behind pulp in your sinuses for you to have to deal with for days. Reese’s peanut butter cups don’t even sting coming up…unless it’s through your nose. Hope you like tasting all that chocolate again every time you swallow a little bit of mucous for the next day or so. Fun fact: the average person swallows about a quart of snot a day. That’s a gallon every four days. Go ahead, walk to your refrigerator, and take a good long look at that gallon of milk in there.

    By the way, you might want to have easy access to a sink, toilet, or garbage can before doing so, and remember Psycho Gecko’s Bodily Function Rules.

  56. Laird, you fluffernutter.
    I feel like Maggie is still going to be his greatest ally (after Rose, of course, assuming she’s not evul). They’ll get through this, he’ll marry her, have Rose as his familiar, and June as his implement. Cue magical foursome.
    You know you want to.

  57. A suggestion for when/if this gets turned into a book: “Molly” and “Maggie” are easily confused names. Unless it’s a plot point that they’re similar you may want to change one of those names in the rewrite.

  58. I am 75% sure Lard (note:mispelling on purpose)wants him to go nuclear for some reason.I would be 90% serious in a story when everyne could lie,but I remember him alluding to not wanting it and I am not in the mood to search exact words.

  59. You guys are so trusting! You bunches…Blakes!

    “Ofuda would be along the lines of what Sandra Duchamp might know,” Laird said. “I think that was what she offered Maggie for the murder of Molly Walker.”

    And everyone just assumes that Maggie learned how to make ofuda from Sandra Duchamp in exchange for the murder of Molly. But that’s absolutely not what Laird said! He only said that he thinks that Sandra Duchamp offered that knowledge to Maggie in exchange for murdering Molly. There’s no reason to think that Maggie took that offer — and, in fact, some very good reason (from previous statements) that Maggie did not!

    Reading between the lines, in fact, I would strongly suspect from the above that Maggie did not kill Molly, an probably did not even learn about ofuda from Sandra Duchamp.

    Also — my very first purchase in this universe? A frikkin’ tape recorder, so I could transcribe everything anyone ever said to or around me, and then re-read it four or five times to analyze it better.

    Also also? I’m really surprised that more people in this universe aren’t making use of the fact that almost anything can be expressed as a question, and that it’s very hard for a question to be a lie. Just get in the habit of framing everything as a question, and save the statements for times when someone really presses you to make one.

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