Histories (Arc 2)

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Friday

The bell tolled.

End of a day.

Metal on metal as locker doors banged shut.  Textbooks making surprisingly loud bangs, as they were closed.  Zippers whisked open and closed.  Voices babbled.

Maggie shut it all out, putting her earbuds in.  The various sounds were muted.  Fiddle, violin and drums stepped in to drown out the world.

The earbud was tugged from her ear.

“Mags!” Heather greeted her.  “Friend.”

Heather was smiling.  She was round-faced, but not fat, freckled, with hair dyed black.  The girl was one year younger than Maggie, in an earlier grade.  Sometimes good company, sometimes annoying.  Maggie’s gut reaction was that Heather was leaning towards the annoying side today.

“What’s up?” Maggie asked.

“That’s what I was going to ask you.  Got plans this weekend?”

“Going into the city to shop for clothes with my mom.”

“Aw, I’m jealous.  And I wanted to hang out.”

“Sorry.”

“Another day?  Tonight?”

“Maybe tonight,” Maggie conceded.

Heather smiled.

They made their way outside.  Two schools were placed side by side, grades one through eight at one building, grades nine through twelve at the other.  It was usual to see the kids from the younger school meeting up with parents in waiting cars.  The older high school students would be retreating to one of the areas out of sight of the school office to congregate and smoke.

That was usual.  Today wasn’t usual.

Parents were ushering the children away, getting out of cars to use their bodies and hands to keep the children moving in one direction, keep children from looking.

Some teenagers had lit up cigarettes as they left the school, fairly usual, but the usual spots at one end of the high school were empty and unoccupied, free of the curling smoke.

She turned around, approaching the end of the elementary school where people were alternately clustering and herding children away.

It was an art piece.  Grotesque, vile, violent.  At first glance, she saw it was a fat man, adult and naked, leaning against the fence, ass on the ground, legs crossed.  Torn to pieces, rigged up with chains, boards and nails, mouth yawning open as though his jaw were broken or something huge had been rammed through his mouth and throat to open it wide.  He smelled like shit and blood that had been sitting in the sun for ten minutes at a minimum, maybe as much as an hour.

At second glance, she could see it wasn’t really a man.  Meat, bone and other bits had been fixed together in a crude semblance of a person.  Nails, wire, and other boards held bits in places, and strips of meat had been wrapped to bind other strips in place.  A haphazard grid of wires and woven strips of meat held the intestines in place, where they had been balled up and left at the midsection.  Bits of the organs bulged through the gaps.

At third glance, she saw the maggots that were already starting to festoon the thing.  Whoever had worked on it had done so without the benefit of refrigeration.

She turned away, her stomach twisting.

It’s only art.  Just something for show, she told herself.

It didn’t really help to convince her.  It didn’t help with the children, the smallest of which were openly crying.

Maggie carefully kept her eye off the thing as she watched teachers and janitors emerge from the school, many carrying black garbage bags.  They hesitated a moment before closing the distance, to cover the thing.  One or two backed away, recoiling bodily from the smell of it.

The crowd shrieked, and the alarm on the teacher’s part scared the children, prompting a spate of crying and some screaming.

Maggie looked, and she could see the mock thing moving, the chest moving in, out, side to side.  Flies took flight from it as it jerked.

It was making noises.  High pitched squeals, more like those of a baby than a person.  Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth, clamped down over it in case she puked.

One teacher, an older, heavyset man, leaped forward, even as everyone else was backing away.  He clawed at the mass of meat, using his fingers.

A medium sized dog, it had been stirred awake by the first physical contact.  Bound in the middle of the meat thing, still alive, wire wound around its throat, propping it up to a standing position, the ends tying it to the fence.  It still wore a collar, the tags jingling against the fence as it struggled.  Blind, caked in filth, it fought against the man who was trying to free it.

Maggie turned away.  She didn’t want to see any more.

The location had to have been strategically chosen.  Out of sight of any of the windows, but in plain sight once the school had finished for the day.  That was all it was.  Art, aimed at scaring the most vulnerable people the sickos could find.

She wasn’t the only one leaving.  Parents were fleeing the scene with their children in cars.

She could see the expressions.  The anger on parent’s faces, the fear on the faces of children.

As she looked, she could make out one car.  A man, bedraggled, more like a homeless person than a lower-middle-class parent, was waiting to pull out onto the street.

The only person parked outside of the school who hadn’t picked up a child.

She pulled her phone from her pocket, bending down, and she took his photo.  No flash, no noise, but his head still whipped around.  He made eye contact with her.  No older than thirty, his eyes were heavily lined.  More like Maggie’s mental picture of someone who’d gone to war or someone who hadn’t slept in days than a parent.  Any suspicion she’d had were confirmed in that moment she made eye contact with the man.

He pulled out, almost as if he was in a hurry to get away, and she took another picture of his license plate.

He disappeared, leaving her with only suspicions.

Sunday

“What did you talk about?”

“Stuff,” Maggie said.  She shifted position so her legs were stretched out across the back seat.  “Dreams, her idea of family, my idea of family.  Careers.  Stuff I might do after school.”

“What are you thinking you might do after school?” her dad asked.

“I’m thinking I might have no idea.  I’ve been telling myself, you know, a few months left until the end of the year, then a year left until I graduate.  Then I’m done.  Now it’s like… wait, I’m going to University?  Three to six more years of studying?  I’m not that keen.”

“We’ve talked about the role High School plays in life, remember?”

Maggie sighed a bit.  “I remember.”

“The things you learn are a very, very small part of it.  You’re learning how to learn, and you’re learning how to socialize, how to deal with people and problems.  University is the same way.  Studying is a very, very small part of it.”

“I know.  I get that.  The rest of it is partying.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know, dad.  It’s a few years off.”

“It’s the sort of thing you need to think about in advance.  What do you want to study?”

“What’s easiest?”

Maggie.

The conversation was cut off as the ads stopped playing on the radio.  Her father turned up the volume on the car radio.

“…believed to be the work of a group of high school seniors, celebrating the end of their final year, taking the pranks and activities several steps too far.  When we inquired, the police stated they have no leads on culprits, but will be talking with schools in the area.  The police chief stated, ‘It would be fitting and appropriate, if we did prove it was the work of out-of-control students, to hold back their diplomas until restitution could be made.’  Other sources speculate that the spate of attacks has to do with the changes in environmental policy, which prompted the Ontario government to rehouse nearly two thousand residents…”

He turned off the radio.  “We’re into speculation.  Nothing more worth hearing tonight.”

“Still going on, huh?” Maggie asked.

“What a shame.  Cruelty to animals, attacking the elderly, scaring children…  when you told me about what happened a few days ago, I’d hoped it would be one isolated incident, that they would realize what they did went a step too far, and leave things be.  Or if it is people angry about losing their homes and workplaces, maybe that anger could get burned off.”

“But they’re getting more riled up,” Maggie said.

“They are.  Which means I want you staying close to home.  I’ll drop you off.  I’ll talk to some parents.  Maybe we can arrange a system, where you come and go in groups, each group can spend the afternoon at someone’s house, doing homework-“

“Oh god.”

“What?”  Her father asked.  She could see his smile in the rearview mirror.  “Social suicide?”

“You can’t kill that which does not live,” Maggie said.

“You have friends.”

“I don’t like my friends.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”

“You were just reminding me how high school is meant to instill lessons in all of us.  ‘People suck’ is lesson number one.  Weren’t you paying attention, way back then?”

“I was too busy being miserable,” he said.  “Way back then.”

“How to be abjectly miserable is lesson two,” she answered.

“Ahh.  See, I must have missed a lesson along the way.”

Maggie smiled.

“But, you know, one of the first lessons that University hammers into you is that you have to let go of the past.  Let go of who you were, and let yourself be who you need to be.  Let go of being miserable, let go of hating people.”

“Yeah.  I can see that.  Getting sloppy drunk, getting high, partying.  Artificial happiness and friendships.  It’s kind of like the inverse of the high school lessons, but it’s kind of messed up in its own way.  A good way.”

“I’m kind of hoping you find genuine happiness and friendship, Maggie.  I’m hoping you can unlearn all of the less happy lessons and retain the good stuff.  But yes, maybe you’ll need to unteach yourself some of the more cynical lessons you’re learning now.”

Maggie grinned.  “Lesson ten of High School is ‘sex is horribly overrated.’  I’m gonna look forward to unteaching myself that one.”

“Is that so?”

Maggie’s grin dropped off her face.

“Chris and I promised each other and promised you that we’d have an open dialogue about these things.”

Maggie flopped back in her seat, hitting her head against the car window.  “Regretting saying it already.”

“We want you to be happy and safe, and we have focus on steering you clear of any mistakes that are going to follow you for the rest of your life.”

“Oh god.  I haven’t done anything, and I most definitely haven’t had sex so awful it’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”

“I meant pregnancy, or illnesses, or-“

“Oh god,” Maggie said, again.  She looked to the passenger seat, where her father’s husband was unconscious, reeking of too much wine.  He and her mother had been borderline competing, towards the end of the night.  “Chris, wake up and rescue me.”

Her father continued, “If you’d like, we could make an appointment to get you some birth control-“

“Nope,” Maggie said.  She shifted position so she could cover her ears with both hands.  “Nope, nope, nope.  Done with this topic.”

In the rear view mirror, she could see her father’s smile.

“You jerk.  You’re totally messing with me.”

“If you want to almost give me a heart attack, making me believe you’ve been up to something, I can pay you back three times over.”

“Shouldn’t be allowed.”

“Oh, believe me, I’m not done.  Maybe I will call the other parents to arrange groups for safety.”

“You’re evil.”

“And we can see how badly we can embarrass you.”

“Oh god.”

“Pyjama pants with hearts on them, and dorky old-person music…”

“Mercy.”

“We have the power, baby girl.  Whatever you do to us, we can repay three times over.”

“That’ll change.  One day, I’ll be all-powerful.”

“You will be, when Chris, your mom and I are pushing seventy and rotting away in some old folks home.  By then, you’ll pity us too much to do anything too bad, and you’ll have kids of your own to lord over.”

“Mebbe,” Maggie said.  “You guys and mom in the same old folks home, huh?”

“Why not?  I can’t think of anything better, being with loved ones and friends, making peace with a life well lived…”

“Unlearning the last of the not-so-fun lessons life taught you,” Maggie said, closing her eyes.

“That’s a nice thought.  What sort of lessons are those?”

“I dunno.  Maybe some of the first lessons we learned are the last ones we unlearn?” Maggie asked, half asleep.  “Bashfulness, caring about what others think?  Being angry at people?  Worrying about what comes tomorrow?  Holding on to yesterdays?”

“Keep that up, and I’m going to second guess your angry teenager facade.  That sounds dangerously like faith in the inherent goodness of people.”

“Oops,” Maggie mumbled.

A piercing scream stirred her from the twilight of near sleep.  Sirens.

As her father pulled over, fire trucks and ambulances raced past them, the pitch and tone of the sirens shifting as they started moving away instead of coming closer.

Chris had been stirred awake.  The three of them didn’t make a noise as they pulled back onto the road and made their way down the main street.

Rubberneckers had slowed traffic to a crawl by the time they approached the scene.  Several homes were ablaze in a single fire, but in the chaos, she could only make out one of the families, standing on the other side of the street, huddled together in a group.

Three houses ablaze, one family of survivors.

Tuesday

“This sucks, this sucks, this sucks,” Ben said.

“Chill out,” Jeremy responded.

“It sucks,” Ben said, for emphasis.

“We know it sucks,” Maggie said.  “Doesn’t need to be said out loud.”

“At least we’re going to your house,” Jeremy said.  “I’ve got a game I’m itching to finish, and now I won’t get home for another hour or two.”

“If you think you’re going to play my games, you need to get real,” Ben said.  “My save files are sacrosanct.”

“I can tell this is going to be fun,” Maggie said.

“Your dad’s idea,” Heather said.

Maggie whipped her head around, glaring at her ‘friend’.

“What?” Heather asked, confused and wounded.

“Utter lies,” Maggie said.  “Complete and utter lies.”

“We know it was your dad,” Lor said.  “We don’t blame you.”

“Speak for yourself, Holy Lor,” Ben said.  “I blame her.”

“Yeah, just a bit,” Jeremy said.

“I like you, but this is kind of annoying, and your dad suggested it,” Heather said.

“You guys suck,” Maggie retorted.

“Yeah,” Ben said, “But we suck in private.  We don’t let our suckage leak out and mess up other people’s plans.  Like poor Jeremy, and his games, and my house being my house and not some random meeting place for a bunch of kids, like we’re six years old and on a stupid little field trip.”

“Yeah?” Maggie asked.  “I gotta ask, do you make sucking in private a regular thing, Ben?”

There were a few chuckles from the group.  ‘Holy Lor’ included.  Maggie allowed herself a smile, while Ben gave her the finger.

“I’ll take your silence for a yes.”

“Take my silence for a fuck you, Maggie.  Any time I’m not talking, you can pretend I’m saying ‘fuck you’ every few seconds.”

“I’ll give that a try.  Ought to lighten things up.  I can’t help but notice you’re dodging the question about the sucking-in-private thing.”

“Fuck you,” Ben said.

“Now you’re being repetitive.”

“Fuck you and we’re turning right up ahead,” Ben said.  “Into the cul-de-sac.  My house is at the end.”

“Fancy words,” Maggie said.  “Is Ben Meredith getting uppity?”

“It’s a fucking cul-de-sac.  Do you know a better term for it?”

“A street?” Maggie asked.  “A dead end street, if you want to be extra specific?”

Or,” Ben said, “You can go fuck yourself, and I’ll call it what I want in the meantime.  Jesus Christ.  This whole ‘go everywhere in groups’ bullshit is annoying enough.”

Maggie only grinned.  The group turned right.

And Maggie found herself looking at the same car as before.  A blue beater she might have completely missed if it weren’t for the recognizable dent on the door.

Without thinking, she drew her phone from her pocket and took another picture.

The car door opened.

He was as she’d seen him before.  Thirtyish, with lines of weariness around his eyes, a dead stare, and scruff on his face.  He was wearing a v-neck t-shirt, gray, with a few smudges here or there, nothing blatant, but signs of dirt or something like that.  His jeans, by contrast, had even more stains.

“Oh shit,” Jeremy said, when he saw the man striding towards them.

Ben put himself to Jeremy’s left, interposing himself between the man and the three girls of the group.

“Girl,” the man said.  His voice was ragged.  “Who said you should take my picture?”

“God damn it, Maggie,” Ben muttered.

“Who said I couldn’t?” Maggie called out.

Why are you taking my picture?”

“I take pictures of lots of stuff?”

“You’re lying,” the man accused her..

“Okay, maybe I took pictures of you because you looked kind of creepy and you were just hanging around where someone hung some rotting sculpture off a fence outside a school?”

“Delete those photos.”

“You heard the nice man, Maggie,” Ben said.  “Delete the photos.”

“Why should I delete them?” Maggie asked.

“I’m asking you to delete the photos.”

“That’s not answering my question,” Maggie said.  “That’s restating the thing you just said in a different way.”

“Hey, Maggie, you ever wonder why nobody likes you?” Ben asked.  “This is why.  He doesn’t like you because you’re not deleting the photos while he’s still asking nicely, and we don’t like you because you’re not deleting the photos while the guy is asking nicely.  Seeing what I’m hinting at?”

“I like Maggie,” Heather said.

Ben scowled, glancing back.  “You like everyone.  You’re like a dog with no conception of strangers.  But let’s not get off topic.  Maggie was about to delete the photos.”

“I was doing no such thing, you lying liar,” Maggie said, not taking her eyes off the man.

“If you don’t delete those photos,” the man said, “There is going to be an issue.”

“if I do delete those photos,” Maggie asked, “Am I deleting evidence of someone who’s involved in this whole mess?”

The man glared at her.

Answer enough.

“Oh… oh no,” Holy Lor said.  “Really?  Oh no.”

“Give me the camera, and your life goes back to a semblance of normal,” the man said.

“Oh, see, now you’re negotiating,” Maggie said.  “I like negotiating.  Let’s hear a better offer, though.  I’m not convinced.”

“Give the nice man the camera,” Ben said, through clenched teeth.

The man spoke.  “If you’re smart, you give me the camera and leave.  Leave this town.  This is a dying place, and soon it will become a place of dying, of fire and violence and darkness.”

“Give the nice lunatic the camera,” Ben said, quieter, through clenched teeth.

“I’m still waiting to hear a better offer,” Maggie said.  “He’s awfully insistent, he’s got to have something to offer if he wants it that bad.  I want to hear the offer soon.  Going once…  Going twice…”

“This is not the way you want to play this,” the stranger said.

“Hey, Ben!”

A voice, from the nearest house.

An older man, wearing a plaid shirt and suspenders, was leaning over his railing.

“Hi, Mr. Richmond,” Ben called out, eyes darting from the stranger to his neighbor.

“You got a problem there?”

Maggie kept her eyes fixed on the weary looking man.

“Maybe,” Ben said.

“Hey!” Mr. Richmond called out.  “Step away from the kids!”

The strange man did no such thing.  He stepped toward Maggie and the kids.

Toward Maggie.

He grabbed for her arm, gripping it hard, and reached for the phone.

Collectively, the group fought him.  Collectively, they found him oddly strong.  He bodily shoved Ben and Jeremy away, then pushed Lor to the ground with enough force that she shrieked on impact.

Maggie kicked in his general crotchular region, but failed to land any hit that mattered.

When Mr. Richmond made his way down the driveway, however, and Ben stood up, ready to rejoin the fray, the man backed away, hands raised.

“Stay put,” Mr. Richmond said.  “I’ve already called the police.”

“You’re lying,” the man said.  “Phone lines are down.”

“Yeah,” Ben said.  “You do that?”

“No.”

“You stay,” Mr. Richmond said, stern.  “These kids are going wherever they were going, and you and me are going to stay put until we can have a chat with someone.”

“No,” the stranger said.  “No we aren’t.”

He turned to leave, striding away.  Mr. Richmond didn’t even try to stop him.

But the stranger puased and looked back.  His eyes met Maggie’s.  “You’re going to regret this, little girl.”

“I’m kind of a teenager,” Maggie said.  “Big girl, at the very least.  Little lady would do, too.”

“You’re a child,” the stranger answered.  He turned, walking back to his car.

He said something else under his breath.

“Wait, what did he say?” Maggie asked.

“He said you’re a child,” Lor answered.

“I heard that bit.”

“And you’re going to bleed, was the second bit.”

“Oh,” Maggie said.  “I’d thank you for clarifying-“

She paused, as the man’s car door slammed.  He pulled into the street, then disappeared around the corner.

“-But I’m not sure I’m that thankful.”

“We need to get in contact with the police,” Mr. Richmond said.  “Attacking a child, that can’t go unanswered.”

“Maggie thinks he’s one of the bad guys from recently,” Heather said.

“Then we definitely need to talk to the police.  Where were you going?” Mr. Richmond asked.

“My house,” Ben said.  “My mom’s waiting.”

“Good.  Go.  Stay there.  I’m going to see if I can find someone.”

“I love how everyone’s pretending we aren’t all one to three years off from being adults,” Maggie said.  “We can fend for ourselves.”

“I dunno about you,” Heather said, “But I’m kind of glad to have someone’s mom around, after something like this.”

“He hurt me,” Lor said.  She showed her hands, skinned and bloody.

Maggie frowned.  “Whatever.”

“Shouldn’t be hard to find a cop,” Ben told his neighbor.  “Sirens are going by every ten minutes, it feels like.”

Mr. Richmond nodded, glancing towards the street where the stranger had left.  “You kids take care.  I’m standing right here until you’re safe inside.  You lock the doors, now.”

“Yessir,” Ben said.

“Big Bad Ben, being all nice to the adults,” Jeremy commented, when they were out of earshot.

“It’s ‘Big Ben’, what people call me.  You added the ‘bad’ part.  And Mr. Richmond is boss.  He gives me money, just ’cause he doesn’t have grandkids to spend it on.”

“That sounds more like a pedo thing than anything else,” Maggie said, under her breath.

Ben shoved her.  “Hey.

What?

“You don’t fucking joke about shit like that.  Ruins people’s lives.”

“I didn’t say it to anyone who’d care.”

“You don’t ever,” Ben said.  “And you don’t say it about guys who just saved our asses from a crazy person.  A crazy person that might be setting fires and torturing animals.  I’ve known Mr. Richmond my whole life.  He’s nice, and he went out of his way to help.  You want to give me a hard time?  Fine.  But you don’t talk shit about my neighbors behind their backs.”

“Fine.  That’s fair.  You’re the guy that’s sucking in private.”

“That was funny once, Maggie.  You can’t milk it any more.”

“Milking it,” Lor commented, straight faced.

The entire group burst into laughter.  Some of it was nervous laughter, after the close call.

“The most prudish girl in school just made a funny!  A naughty funny!”

“I’m not the most prudish.”

“You’re close.”

Ben opened the door to his house, locking the door behind him.  “Mom!”

“Upstairs!”

“Group’s come by.  What can I feed them?”

“Anything but the carrot cake in the fridge!”

“Kitchen,” Ben pointed to each place in turn.  “Dining room, if you want to do homework.  Bathroom, if you need to-“

“Milk it?” Heather cut in.

There were a few chuckles, but she was forcing it just a bit.

“-And living room.  Consoles are off limits.  But you can watch the TV.”

“Great host,” Jeremy commented.

“When I invite you, you can do whatever.  But when Maggie’s dad invites you over to my house, you get only the… nuts and bolts.”

“Bare minimum,” Maggie said.

“That’s the words I was looking for.  I’m going upstairs.  I’ll be down in a bit.”

The group migrated over to the dining and living room.  Heather and Jeremy took the couch, while Lor and Maggie sat opposite each other at the table.

“Never thought we’d be sitting together like this,” Lor said.

“Yeah?  Why’s that?”

“Your parents?”

“My parents have no issue with you,” Maggie said.

“I meant, who your parents are, they’re… our families are very different, don’t you think?”

“I think I know what you’re getting at,” Maggie said.  “Are you wanting to make this a problem?”

“No.  I’m just-“

“Because we can make this about doing homework, fighting off crazy people, and passing the time as fast as we can before we can get back to our everyday lives, or we can make it about your family having an issue with my family.  Note how I’m stressing that.  Because my family has no issue with yours.  It’s one sided.  And if you want to keep pretending you’re all about tolerance and goodness, you’re going to have to reconcile that sort of thinking with this sort of acting.”

“I can get over it, Maggie.  I can look past what your parents are.”

“That’s great.  Good.  Grand.  Speaking of, I’m going to need to give them a call, let them know I made it okay.  Maybe scare my dad to death, if I mention a crazy man attacked me and then hang up before he can get details.   Because I’m so going to get back at him for this ‘going places in groups’ garbage he set up.”

“Phone lines are dead in this area,” Jeremy said.  “Asshats knocked down a telephone pole.”

Fuck,” Maggie said.  “Fuck.  Internet, maybe?”

“No phone, no internet,”

“Fiber?  Cable?” she prodded.

“No idea,” Jeremy said.  “I’m here because I live near-ish by, not because I’m friends with Ben.”

“We’re all here because of that,” Maggie said.  “Fuckballs.  I’m going to ask.”

She stood, then made her way back to the front hall and up the way Ben had gone.

Ben’s door, clearly marked with road signs, was closed.  She made her way to the end of the upstairs hallway.

Ben and Mrs. Ben were lying on the bed, face down.

A man was standing in the room.

Maggie felt her heart leap into her throat.  Didn’t fit.  Wasn’t right.  Could be an older brother, but why would they be like that?  Why would Ben and his mom be lying so still, there?

She backed away, then nearly jumped out of her skin as a hand pressed beneath her shoulderblades, an immovable object, stopping her progress.

A person, not much older than her, judging by the style of dress.  The face was hidden by a hood and the poor lighting in the upstairs hallway, but she could see some of the mouth, snaggle teeth.

The knife.  It moved, pointing it at her pelvic region.

Her front pocket.  The phone.

“So he’s your ringleader?” she asked.  “And he wants me to delete the photos?”

No escape.  The only routes she had available to her were a hard right into the bathroom, forward into the knife guy, or a retreat into the bedroom with the other guy.

“Phone,” the figure said.  She couldn’t peg the gender, but it sounded like a heavy smoker.

“Right.  I’d argue, but knife wins arguments.”

“Mm hmmm,” the figure said.  Drawing it out a fraction too long.  Somehow, for some reason, she pegged it as a boy.

“Are… Ben and his mom okay?”

“As okay as you are,” he said.  He sounded so normal.

“…That doesn’t answer my question.”

He stepped closer.  She could smell him now.  Like the meaty thing on the school fence had smelled.  “Tell me.  What’s the worst thing I could do to you, using this knife?  I do want you to think, then I want you to describe it to me.”

A dozen ideas flickered through Maggie’s mind.

She managed to keep her voice from tremoring.  “Cut something off?  Cut off a finger?  My nose?”

He shook his head.  “I’m talking about the bad thing that appeared in your mind’s eye, that you didn’t let yourself think about, not completely.  The real worst thing you imagined.”

Maggie shivered.

“What I’m going to do is worse than that,” he said.  “Something you can’t imagine.  Not yet.”

She moved, ducking into the bathroom.  He lunged, following, knife in hand, and she reached out to grab the bathroom door, slamming it into his body.

She reached for the only thing she could.  A drawer from the cabinet under the sink.  She pulled, and it came free.  Nothing inside but combs and hairbrushes.

Maggie hit him, swinging the drawer into his hand, into the knife that was sticking out, that he couldn’t move while she was pressing her weight against the door.

He didn’t let go, didn’t grunt or give any indication he was in pain as she swung a wooden bludgeon at him.

His weight shifted, and the door moved with enough force that she stumbled back.  Stronger than he looked.  On something?

She searched the area, looking for something she could use as a weapon.  A towel rack… but if she pulled, would it come free?

She lifted the lid off the top of the toilet, nearly dropping it.

It wasn’t a fight like on TV or in the movies or in the books about superheroes.  Not an exchange, no trade-off, nothing like that.  It was ugly, stupid, nonsensical.  One of them would swing.  The person they swung at would be seriously, maybe even lethally wounded, or the swing would miss.  If the swing missed, they’d be leaving themselves open for one equally serious, equally fatal wound.  A skull cracked open, a knife in the belly.

She had to alert the others.  A noise?

Two thoughts connected.  She hurled the toilet lid through the bathroom window, a crash, a noise that might give the others some clue something was wrong.  She jumped, feeling a hot flare of pain where the plate glass cut her side on the way through.

A one story fall was less scary than a knife.  Glass was less scary than the knife.

A thousand people with knives was less scary than the knife, when it was that guy holding it.

The landing hurt, but it didn’t hurt in a way that kept her from finding her feet, running.  She held her side.

Dead end street was a more appropriate label, she thought.  Praying that he wasn’t coming after her, that she wouldn’t get a knife in the back in broad daylight.

She reached the main street, waving, trying to get the attention of a car.  Removing one hand from her side, she used her bloody hands to get someone’s attention.

The rest was a blur.  Shock winning out over anything rational.

Thursday

No school.  No phone.  The sirens seemed more frequent now.

It didn’t fit.  Nobody seemed willing to admit it, that it was bad.

Two days of intermittent visits to the police station.  Giving them the photos, getting the sense they didn’t care, that they were filing it away in the same folders and drawers they stuck all the ‘old crank’ stuff.

There was only fear.  Concern that their place would be the next one.  Chris was worried, and it was why Chris didn’t want to leave.  Didn’t want to rent a car and leave with what they could pack up, like so many people were.  The houses that were left unattended were soon occupied by others.  By the drug gangs or the crazed seniors or whoever those people were.  When the parties and general vandalism were done, the houses were torched, and oftentimes neighboring houses were caught in the blazes.

She hadn’t had any clarification on what had happened to the others.  To Ben and his mom, to Lor, to Jeremy and Heather.  She’d tried calling them while her neighborhood still had working phone lines, but all she got were dial tones.  Her dad reassured her, told her they had to be okay, or they would have heard something.  Chris said they had probably packed up and left to be safe.

Were others joining in?  Was it a cult thing?  Was it out of towners?  There were more grotesque decorations in places.

It was getting worse, and nobody seemed to be connecting the dots.

They always heard sirens, but the police weren’t doing anything.  They hadn’t done anything about what had happened at Ben’s place.

It was the worst.  Being powerless, not knowing.

She felt physically sick, wallowing in it.

Doubly so when she let herself slip.  She never stopped that constant, internal mantra, that Ben and his mom were okay, that the other kids had escaped the house.  But sometimes she slipped, and she didn’t believe what she was saying.

“Do you know how long we looked for this house?  How long we took to find just the right place?  A place the three of us could live?  If we leave it behind, we’re not going to get it back.”

“If we don’t leave, we’re just being penned in, waiting for another kind of disaster.  Have you looked at Maggie?  I don’t know what to tell her.”

“Tell her to be strong.”

The voices continued, from the other side of the wall.

Not so long ago, they’d talked about dreams.  About possibilities, passions, about what could be.

All she knew now was that she had a direction, not one borne of any of that passion or possibility, but of the process of elimination.  She could never, would never let herself feel like this again.

Monday

“Don’t go,” Maggie said.

“Someone has to,” her dad said.

“You go on this neighborhood watch thing, and you’ll disappear.  Something will happen, and you won’t come home tonight.  People will tell themselves things.  We’ll tell ourselves things, but we won’t believe it,” Maggie said.  She was pleading now.  “Dad.  You know what’s going on.  People are blocking off streets, and we tell ourselves it’s to protect ourselves from them, but you know they’re the ones doing it.  They’re blocking any path we could take to drive out.”

“It’s hysteria,” her dad said.  “People overreacting, and a lack of communication.  That’s why tonight will be good.  A big group, talking with one another, figuring out how things stand, what the priorities are.”

“Convincing each other of the lies,” Maggie said.  “Reassuring, when we need to be doing the opposite.  Digging for the truth at the heart of all this.”

“Maggie, calm down.”

“I’m not going to calm down.  Not when you’re going to go out there and you’re not going to come freaking home!”

She had tears in the corners of her eyes.

“Then bring me with you,” she said.  “Bring me with you, and bring Chris, and we go, together.”

“No,” Chris said.  “If we leave the house empty-”

“Chris,” Maggie said, wheeling around.  “Come on.  Please?”

“It’s dangerous, leaving the place unoccupied.  It’s like they’re watching.”

“I’d rather lose the house than leave you alone, Chris.  Please?  Pretty please?”

“Maggie-”

Please, papa?”

“Now you’re playing dirty,” Chris said.  “I haven’t heard that one in a long time.”

She couldn’t bring herself to speak around the lump in her throat.

“We go to the meeting, then go for a short patrol?  Make sure there’s no fires nearby?  All together?”

She nodded, relieved enough she let out a bit of a sob.

They left the house as a group.

The meeting was at one house in the neighborhood.

The first set of speeches were very much what she’d expected.

“Lock your doors,” one of them was saying.

Ben had locked his doors. 

“Leave lights on.”  

If you have power.

“Stay in touch with your neighbors, and let them know where you’re going and if you’re leaving.”

And brush it off with excuses and justifications if they disappear and don’t leave a message.

“We think they’re lurking in the area where all the occupants were displaced.  Angry locals who didn’t want to leave, who had all of their services shut off.  Teenagers and drunks, who got carried away once they got started.  Any day now, the police should have a handle on this.”

“Where are they now?” someone asked.

The discussions went on.

No real answers.  Nothing definitive.

Maggie looked back just in time to see a man make his way in through the front doors.

The ringleader?  The stranger with the blue car and the weary eyes.

She clutched the two hands she was holding as hard as she could, ducking her head down.

Her dads looked, and she indicated with a tilt of her head.

“It’s him.  The crazy guy who attacked me.  Who sent those guys to Ben’s house.”

“This will all blow over,” the guy at the stage was saying.

Every time the man had shown up, there had been something.  The grotesque art show, the invaders at Ben’s house…

“You’re sure?”

Yes, I’m sure.”

She looked, and she saw him staring right at her.

She watched as he beckoned.

With her dads, she stood from her seat, and they left the meeting.  By the time they reached the front door of the house, the man had stepped out.

Outside, it was dark, and it was quiet.

“Delete the photos,” the man said.  “Now.

“What are you doing here?” Maggie’s dad asked.

“Damage control,” the man responded.  “Please.  The sooner you do it, the better for both of us.”

Uncertain, Maggie said, “I can’t tell if that’s a threat, or-”

“It’s reality.  If I explain, I endanger you.  I could tell you I’m not your enemy, but I suspect-”

“I wouldn’t believe you,” Maggie said.

“I know,” the man said.  “I got that sense.  What I can tell you is that you’re nearly out of time.  As it stands, you may not make it out alive, even if you delete the photos and leave this city now.”

“It’s dangerous out there,” her father said.

“Very soon, it’s going to be dangerous here,” the stranger said.  “Within minutes.  You should leave now, on foot. The cars are sabotaged and you can’t use the roads.”

Maggie withdrew the phone from her pocket.  She set to deleting the photos.

“Good.  That buys you time.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked.  “If you’re not the bad guy?”

“Helping.  Failing to help, too.  Right now, I’m trying to decide.  Do I let things hit rock bottom, or do I fight now?”

“What’s the difference?” Maggie asked.

“If I wait until a handful survive,” he said, “Then try to save them, when I know they’ll believe the truth, I might save more than if I go in front of that house full of people and lie.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“If you’re lucky, it never will,” he said.  “Go.  Take nothing, keep nothing.  But go.  And pray they haven’t ferreted you out.”

“Why were the photos so important?”

Go.

Chris was the one to jerk into motion, driven to move by the force in the stranger’s tone.

With every block they walked, taking shortcuts between houses, they saw how bad it was.  Cars had been taken apart and left dismantled in the road.  Houses were burned husks.  There were pools of blood on the streets, largely dried, flies clustered on them, flying into the air when they drew near.

“Psychological tactics,” Chris muttered, at the cars.  At the pools of blood, he said, “Animal blood.  There are farms nearby.”

Maggie wondered if he believed it.

She wondered why she couldn’t believe it.

It all came back to those photos.  To the stranger…

Her thoughts were interrupted.  Figures stepping out of the shadows.

They hadn’t made it.

When she looked, she found they were surrounded.

How could so many of them be so sneaky?  How could they walk in near silence for minutes, and not hear a single scrape of a footstep?

The people formed a ring around them.

Too many were too short, too young, too fat, too tall.  Almost none were normal… and those ones looked the most wrong when she looked too close.

She settled for staring down at the road at her feet.

“What… what’s going on?” Chris asked.

“I think you know,” her father said.  “It’s… not normal.”

Which summed it up.  Normal rules didn’t apply.

Maggie clenched her hands.

“Wee birds,” a woman’s voice.

Maggie turned her head.

“You had him a moment ago, the slippery man,” the voice continued.

Maggie looked, and she saw the figure in the crowd.  Some of the people parted to give her a better look.

The woman’s teeth had been filed down to points.  She wore contact lenses that reflected funny in the light.  Her entire facial structure… implants?  The shape of her ears?  The too-pugnacious nose  Surgery?

Maggie couldn’t come up with excuses as fast as she noticed all the things that didn’t fit.  Too much, all together, that made the buxom woman look wrong in a way that simple makeup and cosmetics couldn’t manage.

Her feet were a big part of that.  More like a lizard’s.  The fingers on her hands were too long.  But the most noticeable thing was her hair.  It was wet, soaked crimson, and only a blood-soaked headband kept it out of her face.

She toyed with a skull.  Not a bleached skull.  It was dark, with bits on it.

All of the illusions and self-delusions fell away.

“Oh.  God,” Maggie muttered.

“You had a tie,” the woman said.  “To him.  You know the one I’m talking about.”

Maggie thought of the man.

“Yes.  Him,” the woman said.  “You met recently, he confided in you, you know what he looks like.  That is enough points of reference.”

“Who is he?” her father asked.  “What’s going on?”

“He’s slippery one,” the woman said.  “He’s lurking, trying to spoil our fun.  Hunting me.  Because I found a way to cross through your cities.  Bridges of bones.”

“I don’t understand,” Maggie said.

A man’s voice cut in.  “Her kind can’t walk easily inside modern cities.  She found a way, and she’s been waiting for a chance to use it.”

The stranger.

“I was just about to look for you.”

“I know,” he said.  “I’m sparing you the trouble.  You’re letting them go.”

“Giving yourself up.  Are you worth so little?”

“I warned them.  The largest group I could find.  I told them how to fight you, and they’ll think I’m mad, but maybe they’re scared enough to listen.  But some of their sins and their mistakes are my sins and my mistakes too.”

“Ah.  You’ve given them all your luck and fortune.  All of your slipperiness.”

“I’ve tried.  And now I’m hoping you’ll let this family go, and promise to stop for three days and three nights.”

“You’re worth so little now.  Luckless, feckless, sad little wretch.”

“Blood is power, and I do have some power.  You’ll bathe in it, you’ll make some of that power yours, as you have with Faerie and Hags and all manner of other things, and you’ll be even more fearsome, when next you attack.”

The woman smiled, showing her pointed teeth,  “Or we could keep doing what we’re doing.  I’ll find others like you in time.”

“Others like me will come after you.  Stronger people.  This is the best option you’re getting.”

She considered, head turning this way and that, as if she thought differently with her head at different angles.

“Break him,” she said.

Her subordinates attacked, grabbing the practitioner, pulling his arms out to to either side, making him kneel.  Maggie turned her head before the makeshift weapons came down on his arms.

She still heard the sounds, the strangled scream.

The bloody-haired woman prowled forward, bending down near the broken stranger.  Deftly, she pulled things from his pockets.  A short wand, a set of large, fat gold coins, a piece of chalk, a book, falling apart, with symbols on the cover.  Each fell to the ground, pages of the book coming free with the impact, the coins ringing impossibly loud in the scene.

The woman turned her attention to Maggie and her family.

“Which one?”

“No,” Maggie said.  “All of us.  Let all of us go.”

“If I were to let two of you go, which two?”

“Them,” her father said.  “My daughter, my husband.  She… Chris will give her better support.”

“No,” Chris said.  “N-no.”

“You can take her to her mom.”

“Let them go,” Maggie said.  “Please.  I- you can’t take my family.”

The voices overlapped.

The bloody-haired woman approached, placing her hand on the cheek of Maggie’s father.  “You argue best.  I believe you, when you say you’d sacrifice yourself for them.  You love them that much.”

He shuddered, bowing his head, unable to maintain eye contact.

“You, I’ll let live, then.  You’ll feel the lost most.”

“No!”  Maggie cried out.  “No!”

And, somehow, it was that idea, her dad, alone, that fed the emotion into her shouts, more than any self preservation.

“Take them to pieces, slowly.”

“No!”  Maggie shrieked.  “No!  All of us live!  All of us!”

“Her first.  So the adults can watch.”

Maggie had to raise her voice to be heard over her fathers.  Her voice was so loud and high it was ragged.  “I’ll do anything!  Just let us go!”

“Anything?”

“Just- just let us go.”

“Agree…  Let me think.  You’ll experience what you experienced here, twice more.  The rule of three, to make this stronger.  Perhaps it will be me again.  Perhaps no.  But you will experience blood and darkness and fire, like you experienced it here.  If you agree, it will be so.”

This?  Again?  Maggie hesitated.

“Yes?  No?  I am impatient.”

“I said anything,” Maggie said, defeated.  “I- I think I meant it.”

“Then keep walking, child.  Walk with your parents, and wait.  Twice more.”

Maggie stepped forward, and she saw the goblins part, stepping out of the way.

Then she stopped, and she walked over to the stranger.

“Fool,” he muttered, through the pain.  “Fool.  She was to rest.  She had to agree, or she had to finish here, and once she rested for three days, three nights, she would have to sleep centuries before acting again.  Now she can keep going, come back with your oath.”

Numb, Maggie picked through the things the woman had taken from the stranger.  Coins.  The wand.

“The wand- no.  Won’t help you.”

She picked up the book.  Symbols, magic circles, script.

“No.  Walk blindly, pay no attention to this, forget.  It’ll make things easier, when the blood and darkness come, next time.  Your power is the oath’s power.”

“I’m not looking away,” Maggie said.

She picked up the book.  She’d need a way to stick it all together.  She hugged it to her chest.

Nothing stopped her or her family as they walked free of their town, leaving it all behind.

Two months ago

“Yes, I do actually know a thing about prophecies,” Laird said.

Maggie frowned.  Her ice cream was melting.  She licked the biggest dribble from her hand.  “And?”

“And it’s up to you.  We can manage this, or we can leave it be.  It could be bloodier, darker, more dangerous, with each repetition of the three, or it could be quieter, a controlled chaos we can both benefit from.”

“What do I have to do?”  Maggie asked.

“Her name is Molly Walker.  That will be the first part.  The only part of any importance, to you.  You can leave the remainder to me.”

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

248 thoughts on “Histories (Arc 2)

  1. So. Wasn’t loving the ‘gathered pages’ thing. Trying something a little different.

    More interlude-y, yet focused on the past, recent and distant.

    Hope it ‘takes’.

    As an aside, I’m still figuring it out, but I’ve got something up with Patreon. If you want to donate via. an over-time subscription rather than one-time payments. I haven’t set up any goals or subscriber bonuses yet, but I’m open to ideas.

    Thanks for reading, and thank you for your support.

        1. I may be in the minority, but I actually rather like Blake.

          He’s a little…bland, maybe? Or something? But the parts of his personality that have poked through (intuition, spontaneity, not standing still) seem to work well with the universe he’s in.

          1. I agree. I like Maggie and Blake both.

            Maggie is trying to grow, learn, and fit in, with very little help.

            Blake is trying to grow, learn, and is not being allowed to fit in. So he’s going to make himself a place, or die trying.

            1. You also just hit a wall of in depth material for Maggie. Blake has been rather drawn out with “little” drive in comparison to this.

              If Wildblow had shoved all of Blake into one sitting instead of having to set tone/mechanics/interactions/etc. then I imagine he’d come off better than he is reading at the moment.

          2. I like Blake too, I am glad to read a male character from Wildbow this time around 😀
            I LOVE female characters but Blake has space in my heart and head too n_n

      1. I liked this story more than the Gathered pages, but I disagree about Maggie being more interesting than Blake. Sure, we got Maggie’s entire backstory in a clear way we can relate to, but Blake as a character still seems more interesting.

        1. Yeah, but you should probably wonder what they would be like if their positions were swapped. Blake actually has more natural advantages than Maggie does, frankly. Maggie just has a better nemesis. And had a nicer mentor. For all ten minutes he was around. Blake, against the Blood Queen, should be able to just get the Barber to bash her face in. Maggie, on the other hand, is busy playing Blue Mage just for survival skills, maybe not even thinking of revenge. Like with Taylor the more fun perspective, and the metaphorical horse to watch, is the one without much starting power but even less to lose. If they’re smart, they end up as some of the most dangerous people around. If they’re dumb, they die really early, and you never see them onscreen.

      2. I like Maggie more than Blake, but I don’t think that’s what made this chapter so great?

        The biggest thing is that Maggie has ties to other people–to her friends/frenemies at school, to her dads, to her mom–and lives in a community–that town that got destroyed. Blake………has Rose, the lawyers, and enemies, and his relationships with the lawyers and Rose are….strained. Taylor emerging from isolation into friendship with the Undersiders was what made the beginning of Worm work so well as we got through the exposition. ….Blake really needs friends that he likes, something to care about beyond his own survival, and we need the human connection to the story and the ‘aww’ moments.

        The second–and IMO less important–thing is that a lot happened very quickly.

        1. Hell, even in A Song of Ice and Fire, the defining work of “OH GOD I HATE EVERYONE WHY WHY WHY IS EVERYONE EITHER EVIL OR DANGEROUSLY NAÏVE,” every character I can think of has at least two friends they genuinely like, and several more they talk to on the regular. And Taylor’s journey was grounded in tons of positive relationships–with Tattle, with Grue, with Golem, with Bitch, with her dad, with Sierra and Charlotte, with Defiant and Dragon…..stories are fundamentally about relationships, and Blake doesn’t have many.

          1. Although I have to say that I think Wildbow actually plots better than George R R Martin, who by the end if book 5 has killed so many key characters that the survivors are having to move at superhuman speed and act totally out if character to get the plot moving….

            1. GRRM is simply going to kill more people, which will simplify things dramatically.
              Oh, and one of the characters (you know which one) killed in Book 5 was simply a fake. But you knew that.

      3. I think Maggie’s significantly cooler as well. Hmm… maybe you could switch PoV characters!

        Or maybe I’m a terrible writer and am giving terrible advice. Well, I am a terrible writer. And your are an amazing writer.

        And things that are new tend to get a “shinnny” vibe from them. So that might be it too.

        Look the point is you probably know better than me.

      4. I agree, to an extent.
        In case of Blake, the comment below about his lack of good relationships is probably part of the reason why I often find him somewhat lackluster – he doesn’t even have enough people for verbal banter!

    1. Long time reader, first time commenter. I think?

      @Wildbow, I think Pact is really interesting so far. If you do future interludes, are you going to go more with Histories or Gathered Pages? I’d just like to say I really enjoy both formats. Histories, for the classic Worm style interludes.

      I feel like “Gathered Pages” was a great way to get into the background stuff, but also lent a lot of interesting insight into how Blake and Rose see/interact with the world. They’ve mostly got to go on the books, right? And having excerpts from their books (I love the idea of a text book about bizarre magic rituals/practices) felt really immersive to me.

      I’m sure whatever you go with will be awesome though. Keep up the great work!

    2. I actually like very much the ‘gathered pages’. I feel reminded of WATCHMEN, I love having pieces or pages of documents that exist in the fiction worlds.
      Awesome work, Wildbow. Thank you so much for writing!

    3. I like Blake, I like Maggie. I don’t need to read another protagonist Action Girl, and a male that’s in a different social situation is in my opinion, a great change of pace.

      1. Wait, so your objection is that you’d have to read multiple stories where the protagonist is a woman? Seriously? The other reasons have been valid, but this one doesn’t seem to have anything to back it up.

  2. I don’t know what exactly it is, but every time Laird shows on screen I get this >:C face. It looks like he introduces himself to every new practitioner on the block, finds what they want, and exploits it.

    But those Others were creepy as hell, and frankly I don’t blame her for grabbing at any straw she can.

    1. Is it a horrible thing to admit, that between the guy’s obnoxious personality, bureaucratic superciliousness, and the fact that Laird ~ Lardo (Damn you, cerebral auto-correct!), every time that Laird appears, it feels like Blake should go “Newman!” in his best Jerry Seinfeld-impersonation? 😉

        1. And Padraic shall be known as Paddy.

          His fate will be quite brutal, involving a naming copyright dispute with Paddy McGinty.

          (If there’s any Drhoz fans [http://drhoz.livejournal.com/] out there, you know who McGinty is, and what he does to his enemies.) 🙂

    2. Bottom feeder, he looks like he preys upon the new and unconnected to improve his personal position without offending anyone or building any karmic debt..

  3. Maggie’s stock just keeps on rising! She’s seriously becoming my favorite character. Ball’s in your court, Blake!

    “It wasn’t a fight like on TV or in the movies or in the books about superheroes.” This. . . amused me.

    1. Yeah. Definitely liking Maggie. Maybe because she has the Taylor-ish vibe. Action chick. Figured stuff out on her own. And, damn, poor nameless practitioner sacrificing himself.

      1. What does it say about a) the story and/or b) the character, that the only selfless and truly heroic (seeming) character so far is a nameless practitioner who is killed off in a character’s backstory.

        1. The story: Being a practitioner, like being a parahuman, inherently sucks crude dangly things.

          The character: He concluded that he was doomed, and wanted to spit in the eye of those who were to bring about that doom.

          1. The story: if you live in a wildbow-verse you are likely to die horribly and it doesn’t matter if you have cool superpowers or not.
            The character: he could easily just turn back and go away. He had enough karma (luck and fortune) and he was slippery enough and unsignificant enough to do it.

        2. wait a moment wait a moment wait a moment….

          I suspect something like “sacrificing yourself for a chance that a trio of strangers, one of whom was just recently a threat to your very existence by keeping stolen photos of you on her phone, will survive a goblin invasion” would leave you with some positive karma.

          Now of course you’d be dead and unable to enjoy that spare karma, but as we know the laws of karma allow at least negative karma to pass on to your legally-designated heir. How about for positive karma? How about for an heir “in knowledge” who picked up the book of magic in your possession?

    1. “Several homes were ablaze in a single fire, but in the chaos, I could only make out one of the families, standing on the other side of the street, huddled together in a group.”

      The “I” should presumably be “she.”

        1. Yes, sort of, but not to the point that you would distinguish them in the same piece. And, they wouldn’t typically be mixed. I suppose if you had some sort of classical-folk fusion it might make sense.

          Anyway, it stood out to me as odd.

          1. To me it says she’s listening to bluegrass AND to “european classical”…
            Though it could just mean she’s listening to J-pop.

    2. Also not-exactly a typo:

      “Her subordinates attacked, grabbing the practitioner, pulling his arms out to to either side, making him kneel. “

      We know he’s a practitioner, Maggie doesn’t. If the narration is in her voice it’s a problem–and if not, “crotchular region” is.

      1. “and she saw the goblins part, stepping out of the way”
        Same deal here. Maggie should have no idea at this point that they’re goblins, unless she made the jump in logic without us knowing.

    3. Typos:
      – “Any suspicion she’d had were confirmed in that moment” -> ‘suspicions’ or ‘suspicion she’d had was’
      – “and we have focus on steering you clear ” -> ‘have to focus’
      – “second guess” -> ‘second-guess’
      – ““if I do delete those photos,” -> ‘If’
      – “It’s one sided.” -> ‘one-sided’
      – ““He’s slippery one,”” -> ‘a slippery one’
      – “pulling his arms out to to either side” -> ‘out to either side’

      Possible typos:
      – “A thousand people with knives was less scary than the knife” -> ‘were less scary’?
      – “The knife. It moved, pointing it at her pelvic region.” -> ‘pointing at’? The knife can’t point itself.

      1. Also, there are two spaces between ‘nose’ and ‘surgery’, which I missed until Ctrl + F only found “nose surgery” in the comments.

    4. the stranger puased –> paused

      The too-pugnacious nose Surgery? –> no sentence end before ‘Surgery’

      You’ll feel the lost most.” –> the loss

  4. I really liked this chapter. This makes the world seem more expansive somehow. Good fiction should be like Chinese garden design,, where even if the space is limited, you’re never allowed to see the walls.

  5. Typo thread, I guess.

    “but in the chaos, I could only make out one of the families” => change of subject from “Maggie” to “I”

    “someone hug some rotting sculpture” => “someone hung some rotting sculpture”

    “But the stranger puased” => “But the stranger paused”

  6. I figured the arc would end at 2.7. After that cliffhanger, I was expecting a gathered pages segment and to be left feeling. . . blue.

    As is often the case with Wildbow, however, my expectations were dashed and I am left more than satisfied.

    Looking forward to arc 3.

  7. So, on the subject of Laird’s police oath and whether he is forsworn.

    Point the first: We know damn well he’s going to twist it if he can.
    Point the second: Some oaths can be grammatically interpreted to refer only to the duties and powers of a police officer acting as a police officer.
    Point the third: He’s been acting pretty informal with Blake and Maggie, no? I bet there’s an ‘off the clock’ pun in there.

    With a poorly designed oath, it is possible that he is beholden only to direct orders, the letter of the law (even if a court would find him guilty of breaking the spirit,) and his powers exclusively as an officer and not as a practitioner and 7.5/10 asshole.

    There are a couple spots of brightness here. Firstly, the oath could be a really good one, that doesn’t allow him to violate the spirit of the law even off the clock by its explicit wording. Secondly, remember that partial dishonesty is still not exactly a karma positive – certainly, if he is twisting the law while theoretically serving the law, he’s probably not getting much karma for being a police officer. Maybe as a source of order, but not as an officer of justice.

    Oh, and lastly, if Blake can somehow get past his horrible karma to get Laird’s superior to ask the right questions, I’m pretty sure there’s almost nothing Laird can do but plead the Fifth and refuse to self-incriminate – and Laird has been setting this small town up so that they don’t pay too much attention to formalities like that, most likely. It would get in his way if people were simply allowed to plead “Not Guilty” when he wanted them gone.

    My previous disclaimer yet stands – Laird may show a side of himself that doesn’t make me want to vomit all over his best suit. And then maybe set it on fire in front of him.

      1. They can. Section 13 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms involves the rights against self-incrimination, according to Wikipedia.

        1. As I understand it, as a layperson with an interest in Canadian law, it works out quite different than in the US.

          A witness who testifies in any proceedings has the right not to have any incriminating evidence so given used to incriminate that witness in any other proceedings, except in a prosecution for perjury or for the giving of contradictory evidence.

          In Canada, someone who testifies in a trial must answer all questions they are asked, but if, for example, they admit to a crime, it can’t be used against them. I believe the same thing is true when you testify to Parliament. The idea is that it is important to get the truth out so the right decisions can be made.

          In a criminal trial, the accused decides whether to testify. If they don’t, no adverse inference can be drawn from that. In a jury trial (in Canada, the accused can choose between trial by jury or judge), the prosecution is not allowed to comment on the accused not testifying if they choose not to.

          Additionally, certain witnesses can’t be compelled to testify in Canada, such as a spouse of the accused.

          (I’m not a lawyer and could be mistaken about all of this, but this is my impression from documenting a criminal trial in the Superior Court of Ontario.)

          1. Well, I feel very, very foolish for using ‘the fifth’ as I did.
            In my defense, it was idiomatic… But still, it was silly of me.

            And it is VERY interesting to know that Laird could be compelled to testify truthfully in a trial where he was not the accused.
            Again, he doesn’t seem the sort to have tried to influence the town to accept the letter and spirit of the law as sacred when he’s usually the one directing any lynch mobs likely to arise.

    1. Laird’s oath should be, under the Police Services Act [1]:

      I solemnly swear (affirm) that I will be loyal to Her Majesty the Queen and to Canada, and that I will uphold the Constitution of Canada and that I will, to the best of my ability, preserve the peace, prevent offences and discharge my other duties as (insert name of office) faithfully, impartially and according to law.
      So help me God. (Omit this line in an affirmation.)

      or

      I solemnly swear (affirm) that I will be loyal to Canada, and that I will uphold the Constitution of Canada and that I will, to the best of my ability, preserve the peace, prevent offences and discharge my other duties as (insert name of office) faithfully, impartially and according to law.
      So help me God. (Omit this line in an affirmation.)

      That’s a pretty restrictive oath.

      [1] http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/regs/english/2010/elaws_src_regs_r10268_e.htm

      1. That depends.
        You could make a good argument that exterminating this whole family of diabolists IS “keeping the peace”. And he is using methods with no fallout to the mundane population.

        1. “I will, to the best of my ability, preserve the peace, prevent offences.”

          No matter what way you possibly look at it, conspiring to pay people to beat other people is not preserving the peace.

          If looked at in a very stretchy way, it might be creating a lasting peace, but it’s certainly not preserving the peace.

          Even knowing about it and not taking action against it immediately puts himself into the position of an oathbreaker.

          I strongly suspect he never actually took the oath. A glamour or some falsification occurred. Someone else took the oath for him. Something. But he didn’t take that oath. Or the oath of office for law officers in Pact Canada is terrible.

      2. Viewing this from the perspective of “How would a nasty sort try to twist the letter of this to allow murder” I think Laird is probably arranging all of his crimes in his off-time and making sure it’s ‘not his job’ to deal with them.

        However, that leaves four major things he’s ALWAYS sworn to – he must be loyal to Canada (and perhaps to the Queen,) he must uphold or be loyal to the Constitution of Canada, he must preserve the peace, and he must prevent offences. His mode of operation implies that, yes, he does work to preserve the peace. His loyalty to Canada and its Constitution (and possibly the Queen) is likely not his strongest point.

        However, being sworn to prevent offences is interesting indeed.

      3. Thank you colah for looking that up.

        “discharge my other duties as (insert name of office) faithfully, impartially and according to law.”

        Oh, holy f***ing crap. Biggest loophole in the damn universe. Which law? If it is karmic or practitioner “law” then Laird can do exactly what he has been doing and be rewarded for it karmically because he is following both the letter and spirit of his oath. I still think he might not have sworn the oath, but with that interpretation the oath he is not only able but encouraged to attack those with bad karma.

        1. I wonder if Karmic law differentiates between oaths and affirmations. I know civil law doesn’t, but possibly distinguished by the karmic lords.

      1. Pre-awakening, as post-awakening he has the compunctions against lying and forswearing. And unlikely, unless the Behaim coven starts training their families much later than the Duchamps we saw a few chapters ago.

    2. snorts not likely. he feels someone who used to be a petty thug running on a VERY long power trip, playing at being a smooth manipulator. i bet ya the cracks in his facade will start showing in the end.( his apparent solution to anything that threatens to knock his little pet town of kilter is to have it brutally murdered). outta curiosity, how DO you overcome the bad karma of orchestrating multiple murders? i mean ,i doubt he only started after Blake’s grandmothers death, so im pretty sure he has a pretty high kill-count, so either he’s found a very effective way of offloading the responsibility ( i doubt the universe really cares who ACTUALLY does the deed, if you order someone killed), or despite his posturing, he’s teetering on the edge of falling.
      Also, if Psycho gecko is hanging around i…think i..might regret saying this but you…uhh… never welcomed me to Worms comments section… braces for impact

      1. That would imply that he worked his way up and stayed a thug. I see him more as the entitled rich kid who grows up thinking himself above others and thus becomes a powerful thug. His family seems to be one of the few long time powers of Jacob’s Bell. He was probably groomed into what he is now.

        I’m not sure if he is receiving bad Karma for his murders. In fact, if they fulfill an oath (which he probably made against diabolists and newcomers), he may actually be receiving good Karma.

        Sorry about the Gecko thing btw. It appears quite a few want him here. I say we form a party and hunt him down.

          1. What’s the deal with Psycho Gecko anyway? A lot of people talk about him, and he comments…strangely, but I can’t help but feel like there’s more to it, and WordPress comments suck enough that I’m not even willing to go browse the legendary Worm comments section to find out.

            1. PG had a habit of leaving… unusual… messages, welcoming all newcomers to the Worm comments section.

              He was also, at one point, writing a rather entertaining story of his own about his namesake in the comment section. (After sufficient encouragement, he launched the story in its own blog “World Domination in Retrospect”).

              The Worm comments are imposing, but for me they were a big part of the reading experience…

    1. Sucker bet. It’ll probably be for Round 2, though.

      Hopefully that bitch of an Other will be sucked into a jet engine or something, though. They’re weak to iron that’s infused with elemental energies, and if water flowing though pipes counts, a jet engine certainly would as well, and seriously, photos of what happens to someone sucked into one are not for the weak of heart; the end result is like mincemeat.

      1. I believe that second round was Molly’s death, that Laird somehow helped Maggie to ‘redirect’ that bloody and dark thing from herself to Molly.

      2. You’re taking bets, eh?

        Hmm… Ms. PsychoGoblin spreads carnage and then strikes a Faustian bargain with a small child, who becomes HUGELY motivated to become powerful enough to defeat the PsychoGoblin upon said PsychoGoblin’s promised return… And this is a Wildbow story…

        Alright, who wants to bet $5 that Ms. PsychoGoblin is really Jack Slash in drag? 😀

            1. His mother?

              Does that mean Jack’s real name was actually Norman Bates? ‘Cause “Slash Motel” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. 😉

              WORM SPOILER

              …Was Oni Lee blond? He certainly got a chance to bleed out in a bath tub. 😮

      1. Suggestion for Wildbow’s next interlude chapter: PsychoGoblinQueen & Barbatorem goes on a date! Nothing fancy, just a trip to the local coffee shop. With the city burning outside the windows. And people screaming out their last breath in the streets.

        Waitress walks over, holding a tray with two cups.

        “Alright, who ordered the skinny mocha, and who ordered the Blood & Fire?” she said with a fake smile plastered on her tired expression.

        Queen Gobbo takes the coffee, and Barbie nabs the other mug; the one with gouts of flame and acrid smoke billowing from it.

        “Oh, hold on,” the waitress said. “There’s a hair in your drink, let me get tha-”

        Barbie waves her off, and takes a deep whiff of the smouldering lump of human scalp floating in his mug.

        “It’s fine,” said the Queen, grinning like an axe murderess. “He likes it that way.”

        1. Barbie picked up a packet of artificial coffee sweetener, and neatly sliced it in half with his shears.

          “Oh, you savage beast,” gasped the Goblin Queen. “I love a man who takes what he wants.”

          She bashed her eyelashes at the bald demon, running a flirtatious finger around one of his oozing sores.

          “I hope you’re not bashful about sleeping arrangements, ’cause I’m horny as-”

          She was interrupted by an even larger demonic shape, towering over her as it turned its torso around to peer at them from the neighboring booth.

          “DID SOMEBODY SAY MY NAME?” said Ornias, Slayer of Stars.

          The Goblin Queen sighed.

    1. Cell tower being knocked over? Her parents using the landline & not having reception indoors?

      IDK, a bit of a plot hole as written but trivial to address.

    2. Cell towers have generators as backup, but if power is out long enough, they will run out of fuel. If they are far from a real city or major highway, they might have very few towers able to provide service, perhaps only one.

  8. I’m seeing a pattern here with Maggie’s promise and granny Rose’s childish tantrum vow to not educate her children. Dumbass kids make stupid promises, and others suffer for it.

    Seems to me there’s a consistent moral to this story: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
    Also that sarcastic people deserve to get dragged away by goblins and raped with knives, but that hardly counts since it’s just common sense.

    1. The difference: Maggie had no way of knowing how binding and restrictive an oath in Pactverse would be, while Rose did. Also, Rose’s ‘childish tantrum vow’ restricted her, but since she upheld it, it will also have yielded her lots of positive karma.

    1. No, that happened in a different town. When Maggie was speaking to Blake she mentioned a dark past which got her started on this road and this fills in the details.

  9. Nice. Poor Maggie. She was pretty much suckered punched by Laird ( gee, what a surprise).

    On the other hand it does put a bit of perspective in all the politicking. According to pretty much anyone, what Blake could unleash would make what happened to Maggie’s town look like child play.

    1. Hey pretty good. Maybe do one of Blake and/or Rose? A bit embarrassing to admit… But I don’t recall them getting much in the way of a physical description.

      1. Hmm, no. Blake’s hair was described in the chapter where Lardo lured him into the coffee shop. (Dirty blond curls, as opposed to the paler blond hair of the local sorcerer clans.) Not sure if Rose was ever described. Which can be a plus or a minus, since it leaves the main characters’ appearance open to interpretation.

        Rose sporting a stonkin’ big mohawk, anyone? 😉

        1. Rose would have to be fairly conservative; her memories say she was groomed by RDT to take over the Thorburn estate. She’s also wearing RDT’s clothes, since that’s all she has available to her in her mirrorverse.

      1. Glad to hear the readership & fandom is approving, so far. 🙂

        This drawing was based on the descriptions up to and including the end of the Council meeting, where Maggie’s scrapbook and dirty leggings were introduced. (Fits with her character, that she’d be less focused on her own physical appearance, and more on practicality etc.)

        Sorely tempted to do a new version of Maggie Holt the athame-wielding neophyte Goblin Queen, now that we’ve gotten to know her a little better. 😀

        1. I just hope that this doesn’t have the same effect as… what was his name? Krustacean, or something?… as his drawing had on characters in Worm. NO DEATH SKETCHBOOKS ALLOWED!

          1. Does that mean a Letita + Maggie shipping pic is worth 44 points? Or is the market value affected by shipping expenses? 😉

            1. Letita/Maggie 44 points. +10 dual character bonus. + 20 likeable character bonus. +20 shipping (likeable characters) bonus.

            2. “Letita/Maggie 44 points. +10 dual character bonus. + 20 likeable character bonus. +20 shipping (likeable characters) bonus.”

              So that’s… hang on, where’s the calculator… 44 x 10 x 20 x 20 = 176,000 Pact points! Woo-hoo! 😀

              …Oh wait, those aren’t multiplication signs, they’re plusses. 😦 Man, this chair is starting to lean sideways really badly. Should probably do something about that.

      1. Was this close to making a “Good thing Maggie’s smokin’ hawt, then” remark, before remembering that she’s still a teenager, which means it would be sexual harassment of a fictional character AND statutory ass-hattery towards an (imaginary) minor. Ground best left untrodden, really. 😮 😉

        1. Well. . . Maggie was a junior in highschool at this time. That would put her between 15-17. We know she’s still in school. Perhaps this is the same year. Perhaps she has to repeat grade 11 due to the whole “hometown burned to a crisp” thing. She may be a senior now.

          with this in mind, Maggie must be between 15 and 19 years old. What is the age of consent / to get married in Canada? You may actually be fine Pencil.

          1. You must be at least 18 years old to be married in Ontario by licence or under the authority of the publication of banns without authorization or parental consent.

            If you are 16 or 17 years old, you may marry if you have the consent in writing of both parents. Other restrictions may apply.

  10. I think that pretty much nails it. No way the hit on Molly was intended only to hurt her. Sure, Maggie might not have known that it would tun out so bad but Laird must have known. No way that “blood and fire” translates into Mrs PsychoGoblin giving Molly a stern talking to.

    On a related note: Anyone else seeing Mrs PsychoGoblin as an example how a powerful Goblin Queen looks like and what might await Maggie? It would be so fitting for twisted, there-is-no-thing-like-free-lunch Pact-universe.

    1. I am curious as to how/if dealing with goblins alters one’s mind… Is Mrs PsychoGoblin more than a physical end result? I’m going to be upset by that. A lot. Asumming it happens, ’cause it will, ’cause Wildbow has a P.H.D in Horribleness!

        1. Of couse! Madam PsychoGoblin is a twisted Dr. Horrible:

          Anarchy that I run
          It’s Dr. Horrible’s turn
          You people all have to learn
          This world is going to burn,
          burn (yeah its two R’s, h-o-r-r yeah right) burn!

          It all fits now.

          1. “Wait! Wait, you darn minions, let me put my goggles on first – okay, now you can commence with the goring and the maiming and arterial spray stuff.”

            SPLURT.

      1. I don’t know, it sounded to me like she could well have been one of those few remaining ‘significantly powerful/not idiotic’ goblins that’s still active, one of the “real monsters” as Maggie said.

        1. If the Goblin Queen was ever human, she long ago became an other. And she is smarter than the average goblin, and that is probably why her troupe is so dangerous. “Bone Bridge” that lets them travel past human cities without weakening? I suspect she ended up in charge of a lot more goblins than normally group together.

      2. Maggie is a troll at heart, based on her conversation walking back from school. She’ll get along with goblins just fine.

        Sure there’s concern about dealing with any Others, but what happens to the practitioner depends on what they choose to do with the power available to them. If Maggie is smart, she should be fine.

    1. I thought about that, too, and I am undecided. You could argue that PsychoGoblinQueen was just the Catalyst starting the blood and fire by killing Molly and thus bringing Blake to the stage, who will seriously fuck things up. On the other hand, the nameless practitioner said that the deal would enable PsychoGoblinQueen to operate in this world longer, so I guess that the blood and fire will always be caused directly by PsychoGoblinQueen. Since the power of Maggie will correspond to the power of the announced Blood and Fire, nothing really big happened because Molly is rather weak as a practitioner. Although, predictably, the lowest setting of PsychoGoblinQueen is not “roughing someone up” but “horrible death by mutilation”

      Hmm, now that I gave the discussion between Laird an Molly a third/fourth look it is not clear, wether Molly deployed the PsychoGoblinQueen or just some nameless Goblins….

  11. The bloody-haired woman approached, placing her hand on the cheek of Maggie’s father. “You argue best. I believe you, when you say you’d sacrifice yourself for them. You love them that much.”

    He shuddered, bowing his head, unable to maintain eye contact.

    “You, I’ll let live, then. You’ll feel the lost most.”

    “No!” Maggie cried out. “No!”

    And, somehow, it was that idea, her dad, alone, that fed the emotion into her shouts, more than any self preservation.

    “Take them to pieces, slowly.”

    “No!” Maggie shrieked. “No! All of us live! All of us!”

    “Her first. So the adults can watch.”

    Maggie had to raise her voice to be heard over her fathers. Her voice was so loud and high it was ragged. “I’ll do anything! Just let us go!”

    “Anything?”

    “Just- just let us go.”

    “Agree… Let me think.” The blood-caked woman stroked her chin, affecting a thoughtful air.

    “We want… a shrubbery!” She announced in a booming voice.

    Suddenly, the looming figures that were surrounding Maggie and her two dads leaned in closer to the small group, humming a dramatic “Dun-dun-DUNNN!” noise in perfect synch.

    “…A w-what?” Maggie stammered. The knobbly-faced woman’s face split into a horrifying grin.

    “Nee! Nee! Nee!” She cried, the other creatures immediately joining the unearthly chorus.

    Maggie and her two parental figures stumbled to the ground, screaming in pain at these nerve-wracking utterances.

    “We shall say ‘nee’ again to you, if you do not appease us.” The bumpy-lumpy-cheeked woman chuckled, cheekily.

    “Please, please! No more! We shall find a shrubbery.” Maggie’s dad pleaded.

    “You must return here with a shrubbery, or else you will never pass through this wood alive! Umm, city. Town. Hamlet?” The gnarly-foreheaded woman snarled. One of her cronies lumbered closer, whispering something in one of her Mr. Spock-esque ears.

    “One that looks nice.” She hissed.

    “O-of course.” Chris and Maggie’s dad were feverishly nodding their heads in agreement. Another of the frightening figures hobbled over to their spiky-eyebrowed leader, and whispered in her unoccupied ear.

    “And not too expensive.” She growled.

    Maggie’s two father figures were practically bouncing up and down with their nodding.

    “Now… go!”

    1. TWO MONTHS AGO

      “Yes, I do actually know a thing about shrubberies,” Laird said.

      Maggie frowned. Her ice cream was melting. She licked the biggest dribble from her hand. “Nee?”

      Laird jerked back in his seat, momentarily shocked.

      “Are you saying ‘nee’ to the chief of police?”

      “Um, yes?” Maggie glanced around the shop, checking for an easy exit.

      “Oh, what sad times are these when teenagers can say `nee’ at will to policemen. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress at this period in history.”

      “Did you say `shrubberies’?”

      “Yes, shrubberies are my trade – I am a shrubber. My name is Laird Behaim the Shrubber. I arrange, design, and sell shrubberies.”

      Maggie visibly perked up, sitting bolt upright in her seat.

      “Really?”

      Laird leveled a smug look at her.

      “Nee! I mean, no.”

      Maggie stuck out her ice cream-coated tongue at him.

      1. Did we find Pact’s Psycho Gecko at last?

        ( And I mean this as a compliment).

        But seriously, you win, good sir/ma’am. You win.

        1. Glad you enjoyed it, although you may want to stand back a bit; the honor of being compared to the esteemed Mr. Gecko is enough to go to anyone’s head, and- GNNN!

          Gasp Run! RUN! 😮

          HNNNNYAAAAHHHhhh…

          SPLAT of Monkey’s inflated ego exploding in a mushroom cloud of confetti and banana mush

          Pant… Pant… Oh look what fell out, a link to a collection of silly Pact omakes, if you’d like to read more of that stuff… Pant…

          http://www.rpgmp3.com/ipb/topic/7813-pact-outstanding-web-serial/

            1. Then In the style of a certain sci fi film, I shall attempt to find him..”wildbow 2: The wrath of gecko script ignoring has begun!.

              Coming soon: The search…; for Pyscho… Gecko! by William… Shatner.

        1. “You never told him? Never told him what was in the latter Dumbledore left fer him? I was there! I saw Dumbledore leave it, Dursley! An’ you kept it from him all these years?”

          “Kept what from me?” said Harry eagerly.

          “STOP! I FORBID YOU!” yelled Uncle Vernon in panic.

          Aunt Petunia gave a gasp of horror.

          “Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh,” said Hagrid. He leaned closer to the boy, to make sure he had his full attention.

          “Yeh’re a shrubber, ‘Arry!”

          1. Then we have George R.R. Martin’s Game of Shrubs

            The Wall is a 700 foot high, 1000 mile giant shrubbery.

            Daenerys “Thornborn” Targaryen, Mother of Topiaries.

            Conifers are coming

            When you play the game of shrubs, you either survive the maze, or you die.

            1. Wildbow: “Right, stop that! It’s getting very silly.”

              Everyone else: “What?”

              W: “It’s silly.”

              Ee: “What do you mean? You can’t stop it, it’s on the internet?”

              W: “That doesn’t make any difference to the reader at home, does it? Come on, get out. Out. Come on out, all of you. Get off, go on, all of you. Go on, move, move. Go on, get out. Come on, get out, move, move.”

          1. Alright, everybody! Line up right here for the queue to sign the petition! Step right up, step right up.

            Eh? What petition? Why, the petition to get Wildbow to rename his website: “The Psycho Gecko Fan Club Play-Pen”, of course. 😀

            If we can get 50,000 signatures, he’ll be forced to install a bouncy castle over the shark tank, as well.

  12. Remember Tromos & Annabelle? If Maggie gets strong enough to drain power from The bloody-haired woman, keep it & use it against her for round 3, could she bind & seal her away until a series of stupid & improbable events happens?

    1. Perhaps that’s her plan. She did read Famulus twice, after all. she may want to make Mrs. Psycho Goblin her familiar. . .

      Or she may want to gut and sacrifice MPG with her implement.

  13. Damn, goblins don’t mess around. Given a competent leader, they can bring down a town into total anarchy in about a week. The goblins’ leader will no doubt make another appearance later on – how Jacob’s bell will handle it should be interesting.

  14. Okay. well that answers one question: how in hell Laird could possibly be satisfying his oaths at all while getting people murdered in steamy blood.

  15. Ya know, if Maggie had told the entire story to Blake, right then…
    I think he might have understood. He seems civic minded like that.

    Can’t tell it later, it’ll just look like she’s lying. Score one for Laird.

    1. No, Maggie’s a practitioner and Blake knows that. She may look like she’s the Baron Münchhausen and it will not makes her words any less credible. He will be less sympathetic an willing to listen, though.

      1. Lying was a poor choice of words.
        The mere fact that Maggie wanted to tailor the truth about molly is a bad sign.
        This? this honestly seems, well, much nicer than any of the possibilities I had come up with.

        (Deux ex “hammertotheface”).

  16. I somehow managed to skip 2.7, made the final segment quite the shocker. I suspect that Laird had to pick up some negative karma with the whole having a newb unleash a weapon that he implies is less dangerous than it really is (anyone as versed in deception as he must be consciously aware that saying “It could be bloodier, darker, more dangerous, with each repetition of the three, or it could be quieter, a controlled chaos” is bound to lead someone to ignore the first condition in favor of the second.

    I wonder, if you are trying to minimize negative karma gains, does it help to deceive yourself with regards to your deceptions? I.e.: Does misleading someone because you convince yourself it is for the greater good have a better karma result than misleading someone because it will benefit you?

    1. It’s not you that you have to convince. Remember the motes that Blake saw during his first working? The ones lined up into stabbing weapons going through other people into him when he was at the drugstore? It’s them. It’s always them. And given their anti-Thorburn prejudice, he probably doesn’t have to work that hard. Plus Laird bribes them whenever he does a working, so that helps.

  17. Wildbow, you have outdone yourself with Laird. Never before have I read such an ass-hole of a character even Worm didn’t have Anyone that I would consider to be at Laird’s level of total dick-headedness. Congratulations.

      1. Saint was a misguided idiot and a tool. Strangely enough, while considering Dr Mother one of the most despicable characters in the setting, I wouldn’t really call her an asshole.

        1. Stupid me for implicitly assuming that EVERYONE here have finished reading Worm and then moved on to Pact, and that it would stay that way….

          1. That’s probably the case now, but just think of the next generation of Pact readers. How many will have found this story accidentally?

            1. Not archive comments section binging this time. Once was more than enough. Thank the gods for PG.having being around.

        1. Oh wow, you’re totally right. Laird is like some horrible, smug mixture of Tagg and Armsmaster. With a side of Faux-Reasonable-Authority-Figure.

  18. Awesome, awesome chapter. Wildbow again shows his ability to make supporting characters with awesome depth.

    Little bit confused with exactly what the bargain was that Maggie made, though.

    Just a thought: it’s possible for characters to lose their development by being too goal-oriented. Not that I’m criticizing anything in particular about this story at this stage, but maybe it’s something to watch out for? The scene with the Duchamp kid bargaining over dance recital trips was great for giving us some context for those characters, but those sort of humanizing elements are just as important for main characters, too.

    1. The gobliness would visit a total of three Slaughterhouse 9-ian attacks on her and hers specifically. These would probably involve the mutilation and murder of the entire town, Attack 1 was finished in this chapter, and ended with the deal being struck. She’s now waiting on two more attacks at most. Laird promised some mitigation if she kills Molly Walker, and we don’t know if it’s happened or not. It is entirely possible that attack 2 was shunted onto Molly, which makes Laird an even colder SOB than we already know if true.

      1. Blake Thorburn was under sustained assault his only chance of survival was to summon the most dreaded entity from beyond. as soon as he frst spoke the name, Barbatorem and Ornias quailed….

        “Tay…”

        They doubleteamed Blake with everything they were worth…

        Sorry WB, This kind of thing was going to happen sooner or later in the comments section… jsut be gald I’m still busy yoinking individual words from a certain comments archive…

        1. You know those Goblins mistreated a dog. I think it’s a different Undersider that needs to be summoned. Too bad Maggie can’t say her name.

          So do the Maggie Holt novels in the Wormverse include things like her being a muderer? Or the other fairly dark stuff.

          I wonder, since Maggie Holt is popular in the Wormverse, are the Protectorate a popular comic book?

          1. i know but how much quicker will people see Tay and know straight away as opposed to Rac- and the second bit is a good question.

          2. Corrollary: Who else thinks that the PsychoGoblinQueen’s nickname should be Voldemartha? 🙂

            Re: Protectorate comic books – if so, can you buy colorful underwear with Eidolon’s picture on the front? And Assmaster on the rear? 😀

  19. This chapter doesn’t really work for me. Pact places a great deal of emphasis on the ignorance of both reader and protagonists and allowing us to know and understand the motivations of Maggie so quickly is kind of a let down 😦
    But I may be biased. Maggie isn’t a character I like (an unpopular opinion. Meh)

    1. Does Pact put a lot of emphasis on protagonist and reader ignorance? I just view it as, Blake is the naive newcomer and its early in the story thus requiring a bit of exposition. I don’t see Pact as a mystery novel (yet). I like this chapter. It provides backstory, character development, and allows the plot to keep moving.

    2. Maggie’s still a bit of a blank slate. Kinda like tattletale was — an enabler,
      someone who “cared”, but … someone whose motivations are “broad”.

  20. You know, I looked back at chapter 1.3 and examined the wording of the requirements.

    “5. Find a good man to marry. By this, I don’t mean that he should be decent and kind. Such may be a detriment. You will need an ally in this, and a man who can support you in more mundane matters will give you strength in this world. I reckon many of the best partnerships in the recent past came about when our family married bastards rather than gentlemen.”

    The requirement is “Find a good man to marry.” NOT “Marry a good man.”

    So there are two dodges:

    1) All Blake needs to do is perform a civil union for a couple, and he will have married a man, to someone else. Perhaps Maggie’s family might help with this?

    2) He could just find a good man to marry, then choose not to marry them. Finding them would be sufficient. Again, Maggie’s family might help with this.

    1. Well the lawyers already stated he didn’t actually have to marry a man. He would just get more +Karma that way. On the other hand He might want to avoid any relationships he wouldn’t be happy with, as it would be a ticking time bomb before something went off and made more -Karma.

      1. Which brings to mind how much karma Blake could net if he joins the clergy to excorcise ghosts, kick demon arse & perform marriages.

        Also how much negative karma everyone else would get if they attack him and how fast Laird could hit him with police harrasment (probably faster than you can yell Pedophile Priest!)

  21. Hmm, by this universe’s rules, say the name seven times and it the fiend from another world appears. let’s test that then…

    “Psycho Gecko, Psycho Gecko, Psycho Gecko, Psycho Gecko, Psycho Gecko, Psycho Gecko.Psycho Gecko…”

    Sits back and raises all sanity shielding. Both of it.

  22. Unlike previous interludes, this one left me with more questions than speculation…

    Can anyone be a practitioner, or is the fact that Molly keeps seeing that something else, something unusual is going on indicate that she has a gift? Really, who can be a practitioner?

    Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Monday … two weeks for a band of goblins to destroy a town big enough to have two schools (which is not that big, but still).

    “But the most noticeable thing was her hair. It was wet, soaked crimson, and only a blood-soaked headband kept it out of her face.” Variation on a redcap?

    “You’ll bathe in it [practitioner blood], you’ll make some of that power yours, as you have with Faerie and Hags and all manner of other things, and you’ll be even more fearsome, when next you attack.”
    These things take down Faerie and other Others? I guess the bluntness of goblins is a good counter for Faerie, but clearly Maggie was speaking from experience when she said there were real monster goblins out there. The goblin acts almost like a practitioner, keeping bargains and using various means to gain power. Is this natural or learned talent? Faerie clearly use something different than most practitioners do, but this seems close to what the worst of practitioners do.

    “Your power is the oath’s power.”
    Maggie, you power-hungry idiot. When you do gain power, you also bring greater havoc, and it will surround you! You might gain enough power to save your family again at the cost of many, many others. And you told Laird some of what happened, so his primary concern is going to be using up your curse before you become powerful enough to bring back something really awful.

    1. Prophecies are fun like that. Try to deny them, they hit you worse. But that doesn’t mean you can’t redirect them. For example, lets say a king hears a prophecy that this woman’s son will replace him as king. Okay, so you can take that as a sign that you should kill her, but you’ll end up failing, and a few decades later, the son is going to show up and be a little upset about the whole thing. Now lets say you take a calmer look at things. Hey, she’s single. And cute. And now that you get to know her, you really hit it off. So the King marries the woman. And her son will succeed him as king.

      In this case the prophecy specifies blood, and darkness, and fire. It may be the second time was indeed poor Molly. But that was not as severe as the first. Maggie can be the one admistering the Blood, Darkness and Fire.

        1. Laird said it could be quieter and more controlled. So maybe it was Molly, and maybe it wasn’t. But I don’t think it will take the same form all three times. I took it as meaning an act of violence that will haunt Maggie, and change her life forever. Molly’s murder seems like it might end up doing that.

          It’s like Endbringer attacks. If you say there are three of them, and you expect all of them to be like Behemoth, well you are in for a surprise when the Simurgh shows up.

  23. Many people have commented on Maggie vs. Blake… my two Lincolns are:

    Molly seems a bit into the alienated teen ideal but otherwise normal. This is somewhat different than we have seen her act like later on. And also, this does make her a more complex character, but at the same time it seems like many of her actions with others are just a big agglomeration of stereotypes. Blake seems to have more individuality, in the sense of uniqueness, than she does.

    On the other hand, this makes it harder to get into Blake’s head, because he doesn’t act so stereotypically.

    And to me, even with this, Maggie seems far less likeable than Blake. Blake is careful about reciprocity and not taking things too far. Maggie just grabs what she can get. And, because of that, she is probably digging herself a karma grave as fast as any diabolist.

    There are plenty of hints that Maggie can still turn herself around, but someone/something needs to give her a wakeup call.

  24. This chapter made me think about how much Grandma did for Blake. She set him up with a familiar in Rose and an implement in mirrors so all he has to do is pick a demesne, which will almost certainly have to be the in or near the house somewhere.

    So why Rose? Forcing a vestige on him that he’s too soft hearted to let vanish gets him up to speed on vestiges quickly and gives him a lever with Johannes.

    So why mirrors? We’ve seen from Johannes that vestiges don’t have to exist in mirrors, so why did Grandma trap Rose in one? Well we do know of a certain demon that is capable of leaping via reflections. If Blake has mastered reflections, it would probably not only have defensive connotations but might give him a way of controlling/dealing with the barber.

    So really the big question is that of his demesne. What can he claim? It’s been clear from the example of Johannes that the size of a demesne is direct proportional to the amount of power achieved from it. The swamps and bogs? How big is the land around the house?

    1. Hmm, what about claiming a demesne and using the barber as his bodyguard? Technically he is defending his claim by using an Other and you don’t have to have moral qualms – everyone trying to contest your claim is just asking for trouble.

    1. Nah Laird is more Alexandria ( blatant abuse of power/screw the rules I make them/respected pillar of the community etc).

      Johannes is Coil : powerful independent/ facade of affability but likes to indulge in torture for the heck of it etc.

  25. Wait its obvious. I can’t believe I hadn’t realised it yet. Psycho goblin queen. Who else do we know who starts with a psycho G? Its so clear….psycho gecko hasn’t been in the comments because he’s married to one of the characters! It perfectly explains why he hasn’t commented yet, she wanted to show how much destruction and carnage she could wreak on a wildbow setting without being overshadowed by crazy awsome.

    Also because some one mentioned it earlier:

    Skitter
    Skitter
    Skitter

    She rides upon her giant beetle
    The Brockton bay queen pin
    She stopped the possibility of lungs masturbation
    Until the healing factor kicked in

    It was a painful castration
    So let the curb stomp begin
    Becomes near divine , beat the S9’s course
    And Alexandrias still dead of course

    Skitter
    Skitter
    Skitter
    She’s… Gray?

    The undersides
    Will catch you unawares
    The air Alexandria breathes
    Will be her last skitter swears

    So make the skitter gleeful
    Or have arachnophobic nightmares…

    Its not a weak power
    So don’t titter
    Eh, you CAN’T take her
    Best not F**** with Skitter

    1. Yeah, best not F*** with Skitter
      And her tasty runner’s aaaaabs
      ‘Cause when she’s riled
      She’ll give you craaaaabs!

      *- Mike drop – *

      – Chirrupping crickets –

      …What? Brockton Bay’s by the beach, there’s always plenty of crabs around.

    2. Also: You think Psycho Gecko is married to Psycho Goblin? Girl, please. Clearly, he’s finally achieved his goal of Inceptionating Wildbow’s fiction, and becoming a character in the story. Just you wait, the next Goblin attack on Maggie is gua-ran-teed to involve giant robot zombie weasels with shoulder-mounted laser-guided Tomahawk missiles and shotguns packed with weapons-grade plutonium and rock salt.

      Notice all the comments about Maggie being a slightly over-the-top stereotype of a modern teenage girl? You know who else has portrayed a slightly over-the-top stereotype of a modern teenage girl? ELLEN. PAGE. (Who is also a very talented smart young actress with a charming personality, with adorable dimples, no offense to any Ellen Page fans.) That movie, Juno? Yeah?

      Now, notice how everyone loves to hate Lardo, the chief of puh-leeease? Guess which actor is renowned for being the object of near-universal animosity? Leo DiCaprio, that’s who. (No apologies to any Leo DiCaprio fans. You can say what you want, his dimples are not adorable.)

      Guess which movie has starred both Ellen Page AND Leo DiCaprio?

      Inception.

      MIND. BLOWN. 🙂

      (Takes off stylish anti-brain-ray tin foil helmet.)

      Remember, you can’t have Gecko without echo. (If you’re a bit dyslexic.)

      1. Your counter theory is very rational. But perhaps we need to go deeper. If the inception works then we must definitely assume (adjusts tinfoil replica of dead baby shaped hat) that an epic battle of wills took place within the centre of the wildbow mind. A battle that somehow resulted in the gecko bleeding through from worm to a story he has not yet heard of (or checked out how would I know) that if told could melt the minds of young impressionable kaiju(possibly explaining the simurghs combination of memetic bad assery and crapsack world god hood) that would have the geckos array of black comedy (not the racist kind) style technology and audacity against the crapsack world of badass within wildbows mind scape. Truly profit could be had with this soon to be rock opera that inspired Hasturs famous work, promising to be cooler then riding a black unicorn down the side of an erupting volcano and drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children, showing now at the straight razor cabaret for free!….easy payments of 10000 dollars. FOOL the spelling of free was intentional to lure you into a false state of hope.
        Also you can’t spell psycho without awsome ( if your a bit high.)

        1. A very cunning ploy, intentionally miffpelling the word ‘free’ as ‘free’, frowing out thalfe leadth; very cunning indeed.

          But in the immortal wordth of Thpiderman (from the Ftracthynfki & Romita Jr. era):

          “Hi, my name’s Spidey! I’m here to deliver a singing strip-o-gram, so come out and play, ’cause this thong is killing me. But what kind of thinger would I be without a killer thong, I athk you?”

          1. And now to counter your thspidey song I give you the official worm theme song:
            Ask grey boy for a high five
            Let bone saw take you alive
            Ask jack slash to cut your hair
            Trust the heart broken not to make imp drop your chair

            Worm ways to die
            So many worm ways to die
            Worm ways to die
            So many worm ways to die

            Kick a dog anywhere near bitch
            Cause an enemy’s second trigger in a fridge
            Pole dance from a lightning rod near BEHEMOTH
            Pick a fight with lung when he’s the size of a mammoth

            Worm ways to die
            So many worm ways to die
            Worm ways to die
            So many worm ways to die

            Show shatter bird your hipster glasses
            Hear skitters coming and not move your asses
            Call tattletale stupid
            Exist at the same time as Khepri when she’s less then lucid

            Worm ways to die
            So many worm ways to die
            Worm ways to die
            So many worm ways to die

            Download the Simurghs song on iTunes
            Fight with Leviathan in a monsoon
            Say meh, I could take her to Taylor
            Say meh, I could take her to Taylor
            Say meh, I could take her to Taylor
            The last three are all the same but they’re quite definitely

            Worms easiest ways to die
            Worms easiest ways to die
            Worms easiest ways to die
            So many worm
            So many worm ways to die

            Be safe around death worlds
            A message from the eccentric hat salesmen.
            I am an Australian and hence can speak for death worlds.

  26. Whew, finally caught up with Pact. I’m grabbed, hooked, it has me now. It took me a while to really feel it but this chapter was the final harpoon in my hide. Eagerly awaiting Saturday, I can’t wait to see where this will go.

  27. Several people have speculated that Molly’s death was round 2. I can’t see it.

    “You’ll experience what you experienced here, twice more. The rule of three, to make this stronger. Perhaps it will be me again. Perhaps no. But you will experience blood and darkness and fire, like you experienced it here. If you agree, it will be so.”

    No matter what Laird (an experienced, accomplished truth-twister) told Maggie (a traumatized, though badass, teenager), Molly was the death of a single person Maggie wasn’t close with, not a personal, powerful experience of “blood and darkness and fire”, particularly not able to be described as “like you experienced it here”. If Molly was the start of round 2, I don’t think it’s over yet. She may not have been a part of the prophecy at all.

    Also, from the conversation between Maggie and Laird, I think it’s possible that Maggie was very directly involved with Molly’s death. One kill to hopefully lessen the degree of problems like she had last time? Yeah, that’s a deal to certainly consider. I would probably consider.

    I’m very curious what’s going to happen next. Maggie has a strong motivation to do anything she can to either keep Blake from unleashing Barbie or get herself under Blake’s protection with the deal he proposed. If Barbie is a nuke, Maggie is the one with the strongest desire to prevent a nuclear war… IF she hasn’t been too manipulated/corrupted by Laird and whoever else. We don’t know how long ago Maggie’s story was. A lot could have changed for her, as much as she started out good.

    Wildbow, I really like the shift from Gathered Pages interludes. Even though the information was interesting and useful, I found myself going into automatic textbook reading mode with them, had to reread to take it in. I’d rather find out how the world works by seeing things happen to more accessible characters.

    I think it’s time to go back and read from the beginning again, now that I’m getting the hang of the wordplay possibilities here. AKA do not trust Laird under any circumstances.

    1. Strongly agree with round 2 not being Molly’s death. The death of a whole town plus a practitioner (scruffy the goblin resister) does not equate to the death of one practitioner.

      Unless … Laird is going to orchestrate something apocalyptic for the rest of the family.

      1. I offer this possibility:
        Molly, maybe with someone or something like Mirror-Rose, is faced down by a bunch of goblins headed by a Queen.
        There is bargaining to try and get one of them to die so that the other can live, which fails.
        They are torn apart by goblins, the goblins drink their blood, and then they burn the body to hide the evidence.

        Blood, check, Fire, check, Darkness, check both literally (if it happened at night or in a dark place) and figuratively (murder, you know.)
        Most importantly: Maggie DID experience the same things again. And as was allowed for, it was someone else at the head of them – Maggie.

  28. Wow. Thank you for another amazing chapter, wildbow!
    Actually, I loved the Gathered Pages. They give the Pact universe such depth. Grandma was a very interesting character and it felt right to gain an insight into her mind and her story in this way. It feels more realistic to me that way, because the Pages are something that Blake is reading right now, with me, so I am still in the main story, in the head of the main character. It also emphasised, to me, the importance of the library and how the library can open Blake’s and Rose’s minds to the world and give them the knowledge they so sorely lack.
    To me Pact has a claustrophobic feel, because they are very much stuck in the house unless they want another action-packed day. The Gathered Pages gave depth and intensity and heightened the closed-in-effect and also the feeling of being in Blake’s shoes.
    However, I can see how they can ‘drag’ the story, since this is so much more action-filled than the pages.
    It is interesting -and probably necessary – to find out Maggie’s background and motivation, but a part of me is stamping my foot, demanding to know what’s going on with Blake and Rose.

  29. While Gathered Pages were alright, I definitely enjoy the fiction more than non-fiction of the verse.
    Also, I loved Maggie- possibly because of the faster plot, possibly because she has more relationships with other people.

    1. I think the pages are fine soon as they have stories in them.

      The first one was the story of RDT as a girl and the last one had stories in the form of case studies.

      I agree that, without those it would probably be a bit too dry.

  30. “Oh god,” Maggie said, again. She looked to the passenger seat, where her father’s husband was unconscious, reeking of too much wine. He and her mother had been borderline competing, towards the end of the night. “Chris, wake up and rescue me.”

    “Them,” her father said. “My daughter, my husband. She… Chris will give her better support.”

    I’m pretty sure ‘the husband’ part wasn’t typos, but was it really like i thought it was?
    OR in some part of english speaking country, the ‘husband’ definition is loose, pointing to no exact gender? Like ‘spouse’ or something like that…
    AND, i won’t be shocked if it really was as i thought it was; i’ve read Worm, one member of triumvirate is the model for this particular case

    1. She has two dads, who seem to be friends with her mom. Whether this came about through surrogacy, adoption, remarriage, a poly family, or some other circumstance is yet to be revealed. (Also whether mom made it out of the hellmouth alive. 😦 )

  31. Just realized – the way Scruffy the practitioner bargains with the goblin queen is very much in the style of RDT’s warnings on how to bargain with Barbatorem:

    “Do not greet him, do not ever say please or thank him. Do not ask him if he would or could do something. Give him no food or succor. There are older meanings in these things and they will either free him or give him power over you.”

    I wonder if it is because the Goblin queen is an older being like the demon or if they are the same type of being.

  32. Comments:
    – I’m still trying to read between the lines, guessing at how the life of non-practitioners in Pactverse does or doesn’t obviously differ from our world ( Endbringers in Wormverse). For instance, how often do towns just disappear for unfathomable reasons? And to grasp at straws, did the radio message about “changes in environmental policy” hint at anything?
    – Again, I love the dialogue.
    – Maggie is SO screwed. Wow. Did Molly’s unintended death fulfill part of Maggie’s oath?
    – Incidentally, considering Blake is in a similar boat, the two of them would have made great partners…if there weren’t the matter of Molly’s death. As is, things may still work out that way, but if so, the process will be painful.

    Great lines:
    – “No flash, no noise, but his head still whipped around.” -> Being able to sense connections is such an insane power for practitioners and Others…
    – “What are you thinking you might do after school?”“I’m thinking I might have no idea.” -> In case any readers here think the same, I highly recommend you check out the material on 80000hours.org.
    – “Social suicide?”“You can’t kill that which does not live,” -> And the rest of their dialogue about school is cute, too. I approve. Even a dig at the age of the parent, heh.
    – “I’m hoping you can unlearn all of the less happy lessons and retain the good stuff. But yes, maybe you’ll need to unteach yourself some of the more cynical lessons you’re learning now.”
    – “her father’s husband was unconscious, reeking of too much wine. He and her mother had been borderline competing, towards the end of the night.” -> Ooh, the family constellation is even more interesting than expected.
    – ““Nope,”“Nope, nope, nope. Done with this topic.””
    – ““And we can see how badly we can embarrass you.”“Oh god.”“Pyjama pants with hearts on them, and dorky old-person music…”“Mercy.””
    – ““We have the power, baby girl. Whatever you do to us, we can repay three times over.”“That’ll change. One day, I’ll be all-powerful.”” – Foreshadowing her hunger for power. Neat.
    – ““Keep that up, and I’m going to second guess your angry teenager facade. That sounds dangerously like faith in the inherent goodness of people.”“Oops,””
    – ““I can tell this is going to be fun,”“Your dad’s idea,” Maggie whipped her head around, glaring at her ‘friend’. “What?” Heather asked, confused and wounded. “Utter lies,”“Complete and utter lies.” “We know it was your dad,”“We don’t blame you.” “Speak for yourself, Holy Lor,”“I blame her.”” -> Beautiful.
    – “Maggie kicked in his general crotchular region, but failed to land any hit that mattered.” -> First, props for ‘crotchular’. Second, this is probably what would actually happen if one tried this without self-defense skills against an experienced assailant.
    – ““You’re going to regret this, little girl.”“I’m kind of a teenager,”“Big girl, at the very least. Little lady would do, too.””
    – ““I think I know what you’re getting at,”“Are you wanting to make this a problem?””
    – ““Right. I’d argue, but knife wins arguments.””
    – “A thousand people with knives was less scary than the knife, when it was that guy holding it.”
    – “Not so long ago, they’d talked about dreams. About possibilities, passions, about what could be. All she knew now was that she had a direction, not one borne of any of that passion or possibility, but of the process of elimination. She could never, would never let herself feel like this again.”
    – ““If I wait until a handful survive,”“Then try to save them, when I know they’ll believe the truth, I might save more than if I go in front of that house full of people and lie.”” -> Oh wow.
    – “Maggie couldn’t come up with excuses as fast as she noticed all the things that didn’t fit.”
    – “All of the illusions and self-delusions fell away.”
    – “But some of their sins and their mistakes are my sins and my mistakes too.”“Ah. You’ve given them all your luck and fortune. All of your slipperiness.”” – What the hell.
    – ““I’ll do anything! Just let us go!”“You’ll experience what you experienced here, twice more. The rule of three, to make this stronger. Perhaps it will be me again. Perhaps no. But you will experience blood and darkness and fire, like you experienced it here. If you agree, it will be so.”” -> WHAT THE HELL.

  33. Keep in mind this – curse-prophecies can be turned on their heads. Zeus was cursed that his offspring would off him? Nobody BUT his offspring will succeed.

    Similarly, Maggie. The second time will most definitely NOT be the end of her. And… Similarities attract, because connections are a thing in PactVerse. From a certain point of view, if Maggie does not orchestrate the third time all on her own, her being a Goblin Queen the way it was described in her own words, gives her a number of tools to deal with it when the darkness comes again. It is part of why she is not killed yet, too. Because anyone killing her is essentially going aganist the Psycho Goblin Queen’s will that is enforcing it. Maggie Holt’s Death Location, Body Resting Place, and Murderers are all going to be marked on the Psycho Goblin Queen’s To Do List.

    You know, I would not be surprised if Johannes will be involved in at least one of the Maggie’s incidents, if only by providing the staging ground.

    Laird… You know, I think that perhaps he is pushing Blake exactly because he’s… well, provoking that “controlled chaos” to appear. To provide a lightning rod for Maggie’s burden. And to declaw the diabolists. And it’s because he is sure of his protections that he is doing so.

  34. Two days ago I would have been very happy to see a poly couple in the story. Now, facing such big issues with one of my partners, it makes me feel so sore…

  35. 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 Rules of Proper Bodily Functions.

    1. Everyone up there was demanding your testimony regarding your marital status to a certain Psycho Goblin Queen. I myself would like to know for sure, because if you are indeed married, this cuts into my plan of a Maggie-marriage, Rose-familiar, June-implement, Barbie BDSM orgy. And that would be a shame.

      1. To my knowledge, I am not now, nor have I ever been, married to anyone. I have a short list of potential prospects though, including: David Bowie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Andrej Pejic.

        Thus, the only goblins I am regularly acquainted with are nose goblins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3bRmYDvQ7A

        I do have a tip for you though. It’s come to my attention that a card-carrying human named Nobby Nobbs has been hobnobbing with hobgoblins.

      2. Actually, in retrospect, I may have been married to the Goblin Queen, but only if she’s Eastern European. That was annulled, though, so legally I wasn’t married.

  36. I can’t help but get a bit of an Imp vibe from Maggie. Naturally, the backstories are very different, but the crude, inappropriate humor, bluntness etc… yeah.

    Agree with some of the other commenters that I miss the meaningful, positive relationships of Worm. Not just the relationships, actually – I liked worrying about Brockton Bay and hoping to see it flourish. Jacob’s Bell as a whole is just so terrible and hostile that I kind of want it to burn down so poor Blake can have a normal life.

    That aside, it’s still a very entertaining read, and I’m sure Wildbow will add more of those elements before too long. Or something similar in terms of emotional investment value that we totally don’t see coming!

  37. Hmm. I think you know how to write female characters a lot better than you can write male characters. The conversations are more dynamic, spontaneous, and fun.

    If I may suggest something: Write the story from a female character’s perspective, and after you’re done, change the name to a MALE as well as the pronouns.

  38. I suspect the goblin leader is a Red Cap, goblin-like entities who bathe their hats (or in this case hair and head-band) in the blood of the fallen.

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