Breach 3.1

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

“Your name is Leonard Harlan.  Come.”

I had a small iron mortar and pestle in front of me.  I tipped it over, very carefully depositing the contents so they formed a straight line in front of me.

Two fires burned, one on either side of me.  Running through each fire, I had a ring of salt and a loop of chain.  I was grateful for the warmth of the flame.

“You made a mistake, Leonard.  The memory has faded to the point that nobody necessarily remembers, it was so long ago.  The doctors and nurses who witnessed it have left the world or left the city, your family all deceased.”

I picked up the folded page I’d laid across my lap.  I read it, taking my time.

Others were lurking around the area, but they hung back in groups.

The Briar Girl’s spies, more than an attacker of any sort.  There weren’t many Others who would be wandering the back of the property, and the circles I’d set out would help ward against them.

Even so, I was glad to have Rose watching my back.

I looked at the page.  My grandmother’s description of what had happened.  Outside of a microfiche of some newspaper article from years ago, this would be one of the last memories of what had happened to Leonard.

“I summon you, Leonard.  I know who you are, I remember your story.  I don’t know where you rest, but that place will have changed and moved on.  It will have forgotten.  The memories are here.  Let go and answer me.”

There was a long pause.

“You knew it would be a long shot,” Rose murmured.  “The last ghost you tried to call didn’t come.”

“Because it was closer to the North End.  It probably got swallowed up by Johannes.  This one shouldn’t be far.”

“There isn’t much tying Leonard down,” Rose said.  “Maybe he’s gone.  Reabsorbed into the ether, or whatever place memories go when they’re gone.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“We’re zero for three, Blake.  One ghost that’s apparently a slave to someone else…”

“One of the Duchamps, probably.  Or someone with a solid ability to manipulate connections, judging by the feelers they sent back in my direction.”

“Another that probably got swallowed up by Johannes’ Demesne.”

“Something like that.”

“And now another no-show.”

This one was a ghost grandmother had captured.  Leonard Harlan.  She’d bound him for a ritual, hence the notes, and he’d returned to his former haunting grounds when the ritual was done.

“Maybe you could stop?  Take a break, eat?”  Rose suggested.

“Soon.  I’ll eat to build up my strength, but I’m not feeling too hungry.”

“You’re not feeling tired either,” Rose said.  “That’s not a good thing.  That’s you being in such bad shape that you’re not registering your basic needs anymore.”

“I know.  I get it.  I’ll eat a full meal in just a few minutes.  I refuse to believe there aren’t any damn ghosts left in this town.”

“Lots of practitioners.”

“Who aren’t supposed to find ghosts of any worth,” I said.  “Too short lived, with a permanent expenditure of power.”

“That’s what the book said.  Maybe they’re gathering power in preparation for the shift of power.”

“Maybe.  But these last two weren’t connected to anyone or anything.  Hm.”

“Maybe strengthen the connection?” Rose asked.

“I think I’d have to.  I don’t want to overdo it, though.”

“Yeah.  Don’t use blood.  You’ve done too much of that already.”

I removed my left glove.  The locket was wound around my hand, the chain running between fingers and across my hand, holding the locket itself more or less in place.  It was uncomfortable, and the chain rubbed against the bandage I’d put over the self-inflicted stab wound, and the thing required constant adjustment so the chain wouldn’t rub the skin between my fingers raw.  Which was sort of the point; it ensured I couldn’t forget the thing.

It was, I was almost certain, a big factor in why the faerie hair I’d so neatly packed into the locket was growing enough to start slipping out, winding around the chain like climbing ivy.

I doubted it was as powerful as blood, but still, I used a small swiss army knife to snip the hair free, cut it up, and then put it into the small iron pot.  I grabbed some snow and squeezed it until the warmth and friction produced water, and ground up the moist hair with the mortar and pestle.

Some powdered herbs joined the mixture, and I crushed it up until I had a thin black-brown liquid.

I reached beyond the confines of the circle I’d created and I wiped away a section of the line I’d made.  I drew out a circle with the hair-ink, then placed the paper with Leonard’s history within the circle.

After some consideration, I put an empty wine bottle atop the folded paper.

The general idea was the same I’d used to set things up for the awakening ritual.  Adding something to the diagram.  In this case, an accounting of what had happened to poor Leonard.

“Fire’s getting low,” Rose said.

I reached for the firewood I’d stacked behind me and put a fresh log inside each ring of bricks.

“Leonard Harlan.  Father of Nathan Harlan.  Factory worker.  An unassuming man.  Leonard Harlan.”

How many reference points could I name, to give the connection more grounding?

“Leonard Harlan.  Killing himself with drink.”

I felt the connection appear.

“There we go.  Leonard Harlan, murderer.”

It strengthened.  I had something, and I could feel it growing in intensity.

He didn’t seem as strong as June had been.  That said a lot, because I’d used blood for power and weakened myself a fair bit in the time since I’d talked to June.  If June had been strong enough to penetrate the salt circle before, and I could barely feel Leonard, he was little more than a wisp.

An overgrown beard that splayed out, a receding hairline, a very tall face with a brow creased by worry.  He’d distorted quite a bit since his demise, I assumed.  Bug eyed, neck too thin, facial features out of proportion.  He had a bad slouch, and he carried a bottle, even as a ghost.

His eyes, when he met mine, were dead in a way that went beyond his current status.  The only thing I could make out in them was pain.

“It was a mistake anyone could make,” I said.

I felt the connection weakening.

“But you don’t want to hear it.  You don’t believe it, and it isn’t a part of what you’ve brought with you to… wherever you are now.  If I want a stronger connection, I need to validate you.  I’d have to call you a murderer, a thoughtless idiot, a drunk, a loser.”

Sure enough, those words alone were strong enough to clarify the connection.  I could see the spirits running along the ink I’d drawn out.

“I can’t do that, so I’m only going to say the truth.  You were a single father, without much help, without advice or support.  You worked and did what you could to ensure that your baby son was okay.  You cooked, did laundry, worked, washed him, and cleaned.  It was when you were cleaning that you killed your son.  Caustic fumes, maybe a mix of chemicals, and he was a baby that wasn’t even old enough sit upright.  He suffocated, right there, on your kitchen counter.  You damaged your own lungs, too, and some said that was why you never said another word.  But my grandmother wrote that it was more likely to be grief.”

I could smell something in the air, now.  Stringent, like strong urine or bitter vinegar.  The wind was still, but we were outdoors, and that helped, but I knew something was getting past the salt circle.

Where June had flickered from form to form as we’d walked her through her story, Leonard wasn’t capable.

All that was left of his ghost was a single drawn out moment.  Standing there, mute, staring off into space, lost inside his own head.

He coughed, a small, painful sound, then resumed his former position.

“Come with me, Leo,” I said.

He didn’t move.  I could see him fading, and I could see how disconnected he was from the rest of the world.  If I lost him, he’d be gone.

“Leonard,” I said.  His identity is tied to the full name, not any short form.

It helped, but not much.  The connection was weaker than it had been when he’d first appeared.  Leonard was too.

“I’m losing him, Rose.”

“Leonard,” she said.

I could feel her connection to him.  Was it stronger than mine, or was she piggybacking off of what I’d set up?

“Help me out,” I said.  “I can help you find peace.”

Leonard looked at me.  I felt like I was being drawn out, as if his eyes were a well that could suck me into it.  He was fading, but the smell he’d brought with him was getting more pungent.

I coughed.

“Leonard, come,” Rose said.

The smell momentarily tripled in intensity, and then Leonard was gone.

The bottle wobbled precariously.  I reached across the circle to catch it before it fell and cracked open on the patio.

Lacking a stopper, I put the folded paper in the neck of the bottle, jamming it in with one finger.

“There we go,” Rose said, very quiet.

“Welcome back to the family, Leonard,” I said.

I kept one thumb over the end of the bottle while I picked up the various items that now littered the inside of the circle.  Bags and bottles of herbs, the mortar and pestle, the swiss army knife, some scraps of paper and three books.

I left the cord of wood, chain, and the two small fires, making my way into the kitchen.

The rest of our stuff was laid out on the small table below the window, the Valkyrie book open already to a relevant page.

With black painter’s tape, I began encircling the bottle, using the tape to draw out lines and patterns.  I watched the fires from the window.

“You don’t look good, Blake,” Rose said.

“You don’t know how close I just came to a sarcastic response,” I said.  “I know I don’t look good.  Why does this need constant restating?”

“I’m noticing it more.  You look bleached.  Even the clothes you wear, they look washed out somehow, faded.  Your hair and eyes are lighter, you don’t have the dark circles under your eyes…”

I ducked down to get a look at myself in the side of the toaster, the remembered I couldn’t.  I pulled some hair down in front of my eyes to see. Was my hair lighter?  It had been blond to begin with, but more the sort of blond that was tending towards brownish with adulthood.  Now… less so?  I might not have noticed if I hadn’t been looking for it.  If I had noticed, I might have dismissed it as a result of odd lighting.

I glanced back at the fires, my hands working with the black tape.  “Maybe.”

“You gave up a lot of yourself, when you gave up blood.  That power, it comes from somewhere.  From your substance.”

“Lesson learned,” I said.  “I’ll finish binding Leonard into the bottle, put out the fires, and then eat.”

“The fires seem like they’re more hassle than they’re worth.”

“I wasn’t about to freeze to death a second time,” I said.  “And I don’t mind having a nice barrier of iron, on top of that.”

“Maggie,” Rose said.

“Yes, Maggie,” I confirmed.  “Metal fed with power by way of the elements, to protect against goblins.  I’m assuming conducted heat counts.”

“I can’t imagine her attacking you.”

“Wasn’t long ago you were being the voice of reason, telling me to be careful in dealing with her,” I said.

“We talked to her though.  I’m more comfortable dealing with people when I know what they’re gunning for.  I spent a long time dealing with our family, with the schemes and plots.  Figuring out the why of it, you figure out their weak points.”

“Were you the type to attack weak points?”  I asked.  I continued with the tape, glancing up at the fires.

“Only when I had to.  Mostly, I tried to scare family away when they were getting too bloodthirsty.”

“Yeah?  What were you doing, outside of that ‘mostly’?”

“Panicking.  Lashing out.  You know what they say about a cornered rat, right?”

I thought of my brawl against the Faerie swordswoman, yesterday morning.  “Yeah.  I guess we’re the same, mostly, in that respect.  I don’t like confrontation, but I’ll do it when my hand is forced.”

Rose seemed to pick up on my line of thought.  “You handled it pretty well.  Both times, Faerie and the bird zombie things.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I couldn’t do that.  I mean, not in an up-and-up fight.

“How would you handle yourself outside of an up-and-up fight?” I asked.

“I did okay, before.  Now?  I dunno.  Not many chances to get into confrontations, in my private little mirror world.”

“It might be worth getting yourself prepared,” I said.  “We know some Others can reach you in there.  Padraic did.  Get yourself a weapon or two, to start with.”

“Blake-”

“And we need to figure out what your capabilities are.  What can you do, what does it cost you?  You awakened, right?”

“Why does it feel like you’re preparing for a fight, more than you’re preparing for fights in general?”

“Because I am?  Because we know Laird is making a move later today?  A kind of revenge?”

“Okay.  But Maggie was a concern, when you were setting up your circles?  With the chain?  Are you sure this isn’t a response to her?  To the betrayal?”

“It isn’t.  Not directly.”

“But there’s a connection.”

“Maybe,” I said.  I was about to rub my eyes, then stopped.  I still had spatters of faerie-hair juice on my fingers.  And my hands.  And on my wrists, beneath the cuffs of my sleeves.

The hair was my go-to power source for the moment, so I didn’t have to use my blood, but I’d splashed some when using the mortar and pestle.  Not something I had a lot of experience using.

Was there a book out there with a list of expected side effects from this sort of thing?  What happened if you got faerie ink in your eyes?

I set to washing my hands, pulling off my jacket and shirt, removing the hatchet from where I’d hooked it into my belt so it wouldn’t cut me.  I was careful to get all of the ink off with soap and hot water.  “Yeah.  Maybe there is a connection.  It feels more real than it did.  Rooted in what we were doing.  It’s not like I’ve seen Molly’s body, the idea of her being murdered was abstract.  Real, but abstract.  Now I know I’ve looked in the eyes of the person who ordered it.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “I get that.  But are you talking about looking Maggie in the eyes, or Laird?”

“I was thinking of Maggie when I said it.”

“Maggie’s the middleman.  She didn’t commit the murder herself.  And she did it because Laird pushed her to.”

I glared at Rose.  “Are you defending her?”

“No.  I’m not,” Rose said.

“It sounded like you were.”

“I’m trying to put it all in perspective.  It was goblins who did the deed.  Laird who put everything in motion.  Can you honestly say, seeing what Laird has pulled already, that you couldn’t have ever made a mistake like that?  If Grandmother hadn’t warned you what was out there?  If you weren’t vulnerable, with Laird going all-out?”

I finished washing my hands, drying them by running them through my hair.  “I don’t want to forgive her.  I think that’s fucked up, kind of, if I’m dismissing the death of someone I cared about so easily.  For what?  For an ally?  A bargaining chip?  Is it really worth surviving, if that survival requires that kind of compromise?”

“Okay.  I’m not going to ask you…”

Rose trailed off.

“What?”

“Your arms.”

I’d moved into her field of view.  I looked, turning my arms over.

It took me a second to realize what she was talking about.  I was so used to them, my attention didn’t tend to linger on them.  The tattoos.

The birds and the background colors were more vivid and distinct than they’d been the day they’d been finished.  Which was worse?  Rose being right when she had said I was fading in color, with the tattoos being that much more colorful by contrast?  Or the tattoos being infused with color by some outside means?

“You bit a Faerie.  Maybe you caught something?”

I moved my hand, so the chain and locket rattled a fraction.  “Faerie thrive on attention.  Why would there be any glamour affecting the tattoos?”

I could see Rose’s frown.

I looked, using the sight, and I could see the innumerable connections that spread out from me to the outside world.

Friendships… thin, barely perceptible.  I’d neglected them, I supposed.  Family bonds, some local, some not.  Magical bonds, and bonds of ownership, of home and emotional attachment.

Nothing that suggested a big, complicated working.  No conduit of power that could be feeding this strangeness into me.

“I don’t think it’s anything Laird did,” I said, my voice low, talking more to myself than Rose.  “The Duchamps… it’s more their style, maybe, and they’d be subtle about it, but I don’t think so.”

“No.  Doesn’t seem like something he’d do.”

Numb, I said, “Back when I first awakened, I saw my tattoos moving.  They were almost alive, then.”

“I don’t know, Blake.  I can start reading some stuff, but… I don’t know.”

Fuck,” I muttered.

“If I had to guess?”

“I’ll take a guess,” I said.  I didn’t take my eyes off the birds and branches that marked my arms.

“Maybe it’s just an extension of the idea before?  You’re drained.  You gave too much of yourself, at a time not long after we’d sort of fudged the truth?  Something could have filled that void.”

My blood ran cold.  “I’m possessed?”

“I don’t know.  I’m guessing.  We know any practitioner becomes a bit more Otherlike when they get into anything more than the surface level magics.  You’ve-”

“I’ve barely waded in the damned pool.  If it was that easy, every practitioner would be freakish.  Grandmother got into hairier stuff, and I didn’t see much that was unusual about her.”

My hands were shaking, as much a response to the thudding of my heart that rocked through my entire body as anything else.  My body was… it was supposed to be sacrosanct, in a way.  I was twenty; I was hardly expecting any big changes.  A scar here, a wrinkle there.  Not my tattoos turning against me.  They were supposed to be mine.  Good things, things I liked looking at, things that invoked memories of my friendships.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Blake.  Except-”

I looked at Rose.  She’d stopped.

“Except what, Rose?”

“Except… if you think of all of the things that set you apart from the typical practitioner…”

“The thing I almost summoned, the one the lawyer told me to call.  I almost called it.  I can still feel the connection now.  Weaker.  I probably wouldn’t have to call it seven times to get it to come… but maybe I’d have to call it more than the once.”

“Let’s not gamble on that.”

“Of course not,” I said.  That would be something.  Accidentally summoning a horrible demon into the world.

“And… that wasn’t what I was getting at, Blake.  There’s an Other you do have a strong connection to.”

“Which?”

“Me.  We’re connected.  Maybe… maybe you filled that void with some of the vestige.”

“I’m not sure I like that,” I said.

“No,” Rose said.  “That’s bad on a lot of levels.”

“A lot of levels,” I agreed.

“A vestige is like a house of cards.  You take out one piece, and it folds into itself.”

“And if you didn’t fold,” I said.

“No,” Rose said.  “And I get what it could mean.  Us being enemies.  You fighting me, because I’m moving in?  Taking over?”

“Involuntarily,” I said.  I very nearly made it a question.

“Yes.  Involuntarily.”

I looked down at the tattoos.  I had to admit, I was relieved to hear her say it.

“Let’s not pretend this is a surprise.  Grandmother wanted a female heir.”

“I guess it isn’t a surprise,” Rose said.  “If this is what’s happening.”

I gripped the edge of the table, staring at the surface.  Cognitively, I knew I should be finishing the bottle, that I should be preparing against Laird.

Emotionally, though…

“Rose,” I said.  “We’ve been cooperating more, haven’t we?  We’re more or less on the same page?”

“More or less.”

“Tell me, straight up, that you aren’t my enemy.”

“I- I’m not your enemy, Blake.  But please, can we not do this?  Demanding proof, I don’t want to get into something this emotional and sensitive if you’re like this.”

“Like what?”

“Fragile?  No, that’s the wrong word.  You’re… perched in a precarious spot.  Where a push or a pull could send you over the edge.”

“I’m… feeling more grounded, actually,” I said.  “Can I trust you?”

“I don’t like this, Blake.  You’re implying you don’t trust me, if you have to ask.  I’m not so weak that my feelings would be hurt, but this is the sort of attitude that builds resentment.”

“Please get the fuck over it,” I said.  Still staring down at the table.  “This is how this stuff is played, isn’t it?  Oaths and truths.”

“But if you start second guessing me until I start making statements, it’s only one small step to second guessing those statements, thinking about the wording…”

“Can I trust you, Rose?”

“Yes, Blake.  We’re connected, maybe to a dangerous degree.  Your survival is mine.  Like Maggie said, I harbor no ill will against you.  I’m your ally.”

“And you’ve never harbored ill-will against me in the past?”

“I’ve… I’ve hated you, honestly.  I’ve been angry at you.  I can’t answer that question.”

“Have you ever conspired against me?  Sabotaged me?”

“No more than you have against me.”

“That is not an answer,” I growled the words.  “Fuck, Rose, that’s the sort of non-answer that makes me paranoid.”

I heard her take a deep breath, sighing audibly.  When she met my eyes, she looked angry.  “No, Blake.  I have not sabotaged you or conspired against you in any meaningful way.  No way except the little things you’re already aware of, like trying to get you to read that dull ledger of deaths.”

“Okay.  Thank you.  That’s what I needed to hear.”

“Why, Blake?  I thought we’ve established this stuff.  What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking the stakes are high and they’re getting higher.  Laird’s about to mess with us, and he seemed confident that it would be a real problem.  I know, now, that there’s no way I can be strong enough to tackle all of this alone.  That’s part of the reason I was quizzing you.  I need to know for absolute sure that you’re in my camp.”

“I just wish you hadn’t had to ask,” she said.

“That’s not a reflection of you.  It’s this situation.  I’d be a fool if I trusted anyone.  Maggie proved that.”

“You can’t harbor resentment like that.  We have enough problems without grudges.”

“No.  Not resentment.  Just… caution.  Listen, Rose.  I hereby swear-”

“Stop,” she interrupted me.

“No.  I hereby swear that I’m going to help you, in exchange for your loyalty and support.  We’re going to find a way to get you out of that mirror world.  I will make sacrifices if I have to, short of actually standing by to let any transition happen.  I so swear, to you, and to anything that hears.”

I could feel a connection forming.

“You did not need to say that,” she said.  She looked visibly upset.

“I’ve already said something similar.  But I need you to feel, in your heart, that I’ve got your back, that I’m an ally.  I won’t expect reciprocation.”

“Damn you, Blake.  How am I supposed to not say something?  Yes.  I will help you.  I will do what I can to protect you from whatever’s going on with you, good or bad.  I swear.”

“If you can’t, if this is really a one way street, can you do me a favor?”

“I think I could.”

“Pass on word to my friends.  Let them know I’m gone, and that I was thinking about them.  They’re really the only family I’ve ever had, and I kind of owe them a great deal.  Not in a mystic way, but a very mundane, very important way.”

“I so swear,” she said.

It sounded a hell of a lot more like a heartfelt oath than the one she’d just made.  I exhaled slowly.  The relief I felt was palpable.

There were some horrifying things out there, but the thing that had weighed on me, lurked in the back of my mind, was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to cover that one base.

In a way, the threat of being replaced was less scary than death, however torturous the transition might be.  Because if I were replaced, at the very least I’d be remembered by Rose.

I picked up the bottle, and started getting the tape down.

When I finally broke the silence, “This ‘cannot lie’ thing is a weakness, it’s a drawback, a complication, a mess of traps.  But it’s also a tool.  You can achieve a lot with just words.  Swaying people, making an alliance stronger.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.

Odd, that she seemed so diminished, when I felt more energized.  Was there something to that?

I continued, “…and even for ourselves, knowing the words have a certain weight, an oath is a constant reminder.  It shapes how we think and how we’re going to handle things.  Heck, oaths have held a lot of weight in the past, when they weren’t arbitrarily magically binding.”

“You’re wanting to shape how we think?”

“I’ve made an oath.  I’m going to hold to that, because I have to.  We need the goodwill it gets us with the universe, for one thing, and I can’t afford what it costs me if I don’t follow through.  Anything I read, now, I’m going to view in the light of your situation.  Maybe, hopefully, you’ll do the same for me.”

“This isn’t how I would have done things,” Rose said.

“The time for being careful is done,” I said.  “We tried doing what you’ve done in the past.  Lashing out, trying to scare them off.  It’s not working.  I’ve gotta tell you, there weren’t many times where it came up, but I’ve been here.  Dealing with some freak who wanted to rob me, when I was on the street, dealing with the family.  There’s a point where you have a chance to act, and it’s a choice between fight or flight.  Experience has taught me that the only real way out is to absolutely destroy the other motherfucker.”

Rose didn’t have a response to that.

My hand hurt where the locket’s chain was rubbing against the skin, as I made the repetitive loops and tears in the tape.

I finished, and then grabbed a can of spray paint I’d liberated from the cabinet in the library.  I sprayed the bottle, top to bottom, and then stripped away the tape.

“There you go, Leonard,” I said.  I moved the hatchet next to the bottle, and pulled my shirt and jacket back on.  “Leonard, June.  June, meet Leonard.  You two should know we’re going to war.”

“War,” Rose said.  “Absolutely destroying our opponent?”

“Best we can,” I said.  “And we start by making the proverbial deals with devils.”

“We promised we wouldn’t.”

“Proverbial, Rose,” I said.  “Proverbial deals with devils.”

“I don’t follow.”

I pulled the chain tight around my hand, securing the locket in place.  Was the hair just a fraction of an inch longer than it had been when I’d cut it from around the chain?  I pulled my glove on over it.  Uncomfortable.  Perfect.

Bottle in one had, hatchet in the other, I opened the door, stepping outside.

The last logs I’d thrown onto the fires had burned down into coals.  I’d neglected to pay attention to them.  Nothing too serious.  I kicked snow over the smouldering logs until they were fully quenched.

I picked up the chain, gingerly avoiding the bits that had been in the fire, as I gathered it into a loop.

“Blake?  Please don’t tell me you’re going to call out a name you shouldn’t call out.  Because I can’t think of a good reason for you to be outside, after saying what you did.”

“I am going to say a name I probably shouldn’t,” I said, “But not like you think.”

“Does this run against the oath you just made to me?”

“No,” I said.  “Not so much.  But I think maybe, just a little, you can hold to your oath, by trusting me here.”

“Do you trust yourself?” she asked.

“Eighty percent, maybe?” I asked.

“Then I’ll strive to match you with eighty percent trust,” she said.  Her tone was deadly serious.

I stretched my arms out to the sides, then shouted at the top of my lungs, “Briar Girl!”

My voice rang through the area.

“Briar Girl!” I screamed, again.  I could feel the connection, now.

The Others at the periphery of the area reacted.  Some retreating, some drawing closer.  Messengers and warriors.  Plant and animal spirits, elementals, and dark, gnarled animal things with an overabundance of teeth and claws.  I couldn’t help but think of the poem Jabberwocky or the hunting one.  Bandersnatches and whatevers.  I only knew about it through acquaintances.  No doubt I’d run into references in my grandmother’s books.

“Briar-”

A bird landed in front of me, a storm of wings and feathers.

Black and white, instead of a beak, it had a very human face on a tall head, pale, with features reminiscent of one of the statues on Easter Island.  Exaggerated, stern, any eyes hidden beneath the shadows of a heavy brow.

“Thank you for answering,” I said.

“What are you doing, calling me?” the thing asked, speaking in her voice.

“I want to deal,” I said.  “I know what you want, you know what I want.  We’re going to talk sooner or later, so let’s talk.”

“Follow the homunculus,” she replied.  The bird-thing turned to prepare to fly away.

“I’d like a promise of protection,” I called out.

“Too bad,” the thing replied.

“Blake, this doesn’t strike me as the wisest course of action.”

I set off after the homunculus-bird.  “You want to play this safe, to be cautious, to deliberate and pick the best course of action.”

“Ideally.”

“Then we’re in complete and total agreement.”

The Others around us parted to let us through.  I didn’t miss the fact that they were closing ranks behind me.

“You’re not making sense, and you’ve got me genuinely worried.”

“We’re in agreement.  I would love to be logical and rational about all of this.  But so long as we’re playing this safe and making steady, deliberate, smart moves, we’re never going to catch up.  We’ve established this.”

“Yes.”

“And even in controlled attempts to change things up, put Laird in a bad spot, we’re still in a disadvantageous situation.”

“I know.  Yes, I agree.  I don’t understand this, though.”

“Let’s say you’re playing chess against someone who’s got more pieces on the board and decades more experience than we do.  How do you win?”

“You don’t,” Rose said.  “Unless you cheat.”

“We already tried cheating,” I said.  “Getting him in trouble, risking his job.  He’s apparently planning a response tonight.”

“Change the game, then,” Rose said.

“Again, we tried that.  There’s no winning.  Not really.  So what I’m proposing is pretty simple.”

“Do tell,” Rose said.  “Also, you do know that we’re being followed?”

“We’re surrounded,” I said.  “But she wants to deal badly enough that she’ll hear us out before she murders us.  Nevermind that.  Our analogy here.  I’m proposing the pigeon strategy.  Knock over all of the pieces, shit on the board, and then strut around like we’re the victors.”

A brief period passed.  I could hear something growling nearby, fighting another member of its kind.  Already fighting over who would get first dibs, no doubt.

“Can I ask you a genuine question, Blake?”

“Of course.”

“Have you lost your mind?  I don’t mean that in a funny way.  I mean it in the sense that being really truly crazy is really truly sad.  Have you, I don’t even know how to phrase it…”

“Am I lost?” I asked.

“Lost… maybe.  Like being six and getting separated from mom and dad in a crowded place, experiencing that stark horror of not knowing where you are or that you might not be able to ever go home?”

“Yeah.  I get what you mean.  Aren’t we both lost, in that sense?  Hasn’t it been that way for a little while?”

“I guess it has,” Rose said.

“We can’t rise to their level, not like this,” I said.  “We have to bring them down to ours.

I trudged through the snow, while the homunculus-bird circled back to keep me in sight, allowing me to follow.  The cold was so brutal it went straight through my boots, and made my skin physically ache where it was exposed.  My hands were getting cooler, too, where I had them out of my pockets, holding bottle and hatchet.

The Others were following.  Just out of sight, as we moved through trees.  We reached a downhill slope and our progress slowed by half, my legs plunging knee-deep into snow.

“That happened to you too, huh?” I asked, to distract myself.

“Hm?

“Being six, getting lost in a crowded place.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  We do have some shared memories, huh?”

I nodded.  “Apparently.  Maybe because mom and dad were careless enough they had to screw up a few times before they started keeping better track of us?”

There was a pause.

“Once,” Rose said, quiet.  “They only lost me the once.”

I gnawed on my lip for a moment.  “Fuck them.  They lost me three times.  That I can remember.”

I could hear Rose laughing, on the other side of the mirror I wore.  A kind of nervous laughter, or a laughter borne of relief.

Could she see them?  The Others that were lurking in the very fringes?  If she could only see what came through the mirror, they wouldn’t be in her field of view.  Taller than most, moving effortlessly through the snow.

We reached a clearing.  I thought I maybe recognized it from the vision I’d had.

The Briar Girl sat on a fallen tree with branches still sticking up from what had once been the upper end.  Her feet were buried in snow, and she was sitting in snow, but she didn’t show the slightest sign of discomfort.

“Bad manners,” Briar Girl said, “Coming into someone’s space with a weapon drawn.  Two weapons.”

“We’ll put our weapons away if you put yours away,” Rose said.

The Briar Girl let go of her rabbit to raise her hands, showing them empty.  Her fingers were exposed in fingerless gloves.  The rabbit remained in her lap.

Rose continued, “The homunculus, I recognize that word.  Manufactured life.  You made it.  A lot of these Others are tools, aren’t they?  Hand crafted Others?  They’re weapons as much as that hatchet is.”

“Well said,” Briar Girl responded.  “Fine.  I’ll send my creations away if you put away your weapons.”

“With all due respect,” I said.  “I’m not putting my weapons away until you’ve dismissed every Other here, creation or not, and you’re not about to do that.  Can we skip the niceties and accept that you’re not being very hospitable, so I’m going to be a terrible guest?”

I could see the Briar Girl deliberating.  She stroked her rabbit.  Her familiar.

The thing was whispering.  Not speaking, per se, but I could see it communicating, speaking a language only it and its master could understand.

The Others that had been flanking Rose and I while I trudged through the snow were drawing into the clearing, gathering around the Briar Girl, her court and congregation.

I heard a sound from Rose, as one collection of the Others arrived.  Dressed in layered, bleached skins, each wearing an oversized bird skull atop its head.  They stood in a neat row behind the Briar Girl, one shorter one perching on a larger branch of the fallen tree, legs bent.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“To offer you a deal.  You want property.”

“Yes.”

“I can’t offer this to you.  Not yet.  It’s not mine.”

“I know this,” the Briar Girl said.  “You’re useless to me.”

“I’m more useful to you than any of the ones who come after me are liable to be,” I said.  “You want a share of this land, you can’t establish a demesne because it’s technically owned by another person.  Can’t stake out the territory to even begin making the claim.”

“I know all this,” she responded.

“In a few years, I could give you a share of land.”

I bent down, drawing out a square, one and a half feet by one and a half feet.  “I’ll give you that much land, for letting us leave alive, if I live that long.”

“You insult me.”

“No,” I said.  “I’m opening negotiations.  We’re going to work together.  You’ll do favors for me, and I’ll give you parcels of land, so you can expand that square.  I’ll do favors for you, and you’ll give me things I need.”

“I could kill you,” she said.  “Kill the next one, and the next one, until your line ends, and nobody has claim.”

“Devils have claim,” I said.  “If our line ends, lawyers could take it over, since the have partial or complete custody even now, and that means it probably passes into the hands of immortal Others.  Devils could get a foothold into the world, and it’s a big foothold.  You probably won’t even recognize this place.”

I saw her eyes narrow.

“This is your only option.  Best deal you’ll get.  Any chunk I give you is a chunk they can’t take.”

“And what do you want?” she asked.  “To live?”

“Living is nice,” I said.  “But right now, I want to utterly destroy the Behaim and Duchamp families.”

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

Advertisements

153 thoughts on “Breach 3.1

    1. “If our line ends, lawyers could take it over, since the have partial or complete custody even now,”

      Should be “they have”?

    2. Typos:
      – “Too short lived” -> ‘short-lived’
      – “drawn out moment” -> ‘drawn-out’
      – “if you start second guessing me” -> ‘second-guessing’
      – “one small step to second guessing those statements” -> ‘second-guessing’
      – “if this is really a one way street” -> ‘one-way street’
      – “Hand crafted Others” -> ‘Handcrafted’

      Possible typos:
      – “wandering the back of the property” -> ‘wandering around’
      – “We talked to her though.” -> ‘to her, though’

    3. “Stringent” should be “Astringent”, and the new entry in the ToC is missing a linebreak – this is surprisingly cohesive and compelling for a product of exhaustion, though!

    4. “I think I’d have to. I don’t want to overdo it, though.” => Tense issue. Should probably be “I think I have to. I don’t want to overdo it, though.”

      1. Actually that’s legit. “I’d have to” is short for “I would have to” indicating hypothetical future action.

        “I don’t want to overdo it” indicates current feelings about the proposed action.

        English is fun. 😀

    5. “We have to bring them down to ours.“ <– backward double-quote mark
      “If our line ends, lawyers could take it over, since the have… <– should be “since they have…”

    6. Consistency check – immediately after painting the bottle top to bottom, he pulls the tape off and soon afterward carries it and the axe elsewhere – however, the paint is still wet, and either option is likely to destroy the painting pattern.

    7. ALL THE TYPOS

      wasn’t even old enough sit upright. –> to sit upright

      but I’ve been here –> been there? Might be correct, but am doubting

      Bottle in one had, hatchet in the other –> one hand

      “They only lost me the once.” –> once or the one time (i think)

      since the have partial or complete custody –> since they

    8. “If our line ends, lawyers could take it over, since the have partial or complete custody even now.”
      Should be “since they have”. Possibly should be “the lawyers could take it over”, as well.

  1. And so it begins. I seem to recall a similar resolve regarding a certain bug-controlling admin and a certain timeline-splitting mob boss?

  2. Today was brutal. Didn’t get to sleep until five (ringing in my ears & dog with nausea), was woken up early (for me, after a bad night’s sleep, eight o’clock) by a family friend who insisted on coming by before her work to pick up a piece of furniture, and barely ate, after lunch, because the Pizza Hut pizza I ordered took four and a half hours to arrive (ordered at 6:30, after several calls it was delivered cold at 10:45). Wrote from nine until midnight, will be up a bit for typo fixes, I think.

    Hoping the chapter is comprehensible. My eyes were drifting shut as I typed, at points, even with copious amounts of coke & tea. I’m expecting some dumb mistakes in there.

    1. the Pizza Hut pizza I ordered took four and a half hours to arrive (ordered at 6:30, after several calls it was delivered cold at 10:45).

      Well, at least it was free, right? 😉

    2. If you’re going to write chapters like this when you’re miserable, we may just have to see if we can’t keep you miserable… This chapter has me waiting on the edge of my seat for Tuesday, seriously it’s fanta…. er…. I mean it’s awful. Go cry yourself to sleep and write us some more you magnificent bastard.

      1. If Blake is going to “utterly destroy” both families, what happens to Penny? She seemed like a potential wildcard.

        Also, I like the subtle acknowledgement of the fan discussion in this chapter. So Blake probably won’t accidentally summon Ornias. Its also interesting to see the differing viewpoints between Blake and Rose on the Maggie/Laird situation even though they are allies.

        I really like Blake in this chapter. He should lose his mind more often.

        1. There are three sides in this war, as I see it. The family Thorburn and their allies, and the Behaim-Duchamp coalition. The family Thorburn (with Blake and Rose as its sole central members) wishes to destroy the Behaim-Duchamp coalition as institutions. On an individual, case-by-case basis hopefully he can grab more, Penny and Maggie among them. Also, I bet you anything Johannes steps up for round 2.

  3. Yes. Yes. Good. Things are Goddamn picking up! Alright, so this is really obvious and i’m stupid if i’m missing something, but is the bottle some kind of poison? Relating to the suffocation? Anyway, well written, loved the pigeon analogy and I’m liking that we have a her- main character that gets how to mess someone up and that it’s necessary. After the interludes, I’m liking getting back on track in this kind of way. Starting big conflict, to cause as much damage as possible and see your enemies driven before you, yadda yadda yadda. But, now i’m impatient for Tuesday. Damn.

    1. “Alright, so this is really obvious and I’m stupid if I’m missing something, but is the bottle some kind of poison? Relating to the suffocation? ”

      Sort of, the bottle represents the alcohol that he drank after killing his son…

        1. “Cast aside all notion of manners. 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.”

          That is for dealing with Barbatorem, and presumably true when dealing with all of the older ones. When dealing with the more modern Others it seems better to be polite and hospitable, so it depends on the age of the Other. So, you have to decide, is Manitou a more modern Other or one of the ancient ones? Given the name, I would guess older.

            1. Thanks, but I’m modern. It is Unmaker in the sense of the Titanomachia of ideas presented in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

    2. The pigeon analogy is from a quote about debating creationists (though it really applies to anyone who refuses to listen to evidence):

      “Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”

  4. Blake’s plan is distressingly wise, I think.

    Blake has said a few things that I would NOT count as truthful (“Any chunk I give you is a chunk they can’t take.”) but I don’t think he made any actual lies. Huzzah!

  5. Oh yeah, and [sincerity] Thank You Rose for defending Maggie. Laird’s the real threat here, Maggie’s just his latest pawn.

  6. Woah, he wants to destroy everyone in the families? I’m thinking he’ll at least let the kids live. If lying gives you bad karma, killing a child has got to be so much worse.

    1. No. He wants to destroy the families, the organizations. The groups and the collective entities. I mean, he’s probably not thinking about it in precisely those terms, but that is what he referenced. He’s probably not also thinking about murdering children. And it’s a want, not a statement of intent. Wanting someone to die or suffer or lose big every now and then is far far removed from picking up an ax. And this is only negotiations after all. He didn’t get her to agree to do something that awful.

    2. The Universe doesn’t really distinguish between family members. If retaliating against Laird for the unprovoked attack is good karma, it probably applies to his heirs as well.

      Basically the Universe is a jack-ass.

          1. Point, but that’s because the debt was incurred as ‘the head of the Thorburn household’ and he inherited that, ah, honor.

            1. Possibly, but I think “Rose” incurred the debt, not “The head of the Thorburn household” per se. (“Rose” here meaning “the person Padraic addressed when Blake met him”) The only thing that needed to happen was a simple case of mistaken identity (Note also the “Laird, Aimon, Lame Airhead” discrepancy).

    1. Of course it’ll backfire. We have several months to go yet. What is interesting is not whether it will backfire, it is how the backfire occurs, and who’s standing within the blast radius when it does. (and what sort of scathes they incur from said backfiring, because this sort of thing never leaves people unscathed)

  7. Not many reactions to this episode.

    So, Rose and Blake are possibly merging. Interesting.

    Patching things up with Rose. Plus, but a small minus in that he had to force the issue with an oath.

    Being stubborn about Maggie. Small minus.

    Stop playing the opponent’s game and go on the offense. Big plus.

    And his method of “negotiation” with Briar Girl is interesting also. The primary advantage is it gets karma points for blunt honesty. “This is the best deal you are likely to get – you should take it.”

    I can’t wait to see what he and Briar Girl do. I hope he has a plan.

    1. Depending on wording after a while he might be able to leverage deals he’s /already/ made with her for emergency support. “If I die here, the arrangement on the three acres you’ve already traded for goes up in smoke.”

  8. So the birds were Briar girls… Those were the things that just happened to attack at the same time Molly died. Oh and Briar Girl’s plan was to kill all the whole family. When you take that with the deduction Blake made way earlier about them wanting a kill that looked like an accident? And how Laird never said, Maggie killed and she never gave a kill order?

    Blake dun goofed.

    1. “Metal fed with power by way of the elements, to protect against goblins.”

      Does that mean goblins would be weak against a taser (metal wire with electricity running through it)?

      1. If that’s true, more than plumbing, every city has a power grid (either airbone or buried) that would make it pretty draining for goblins to intrude.
        First sign of Maggie’s prophecy happening could be a blackout. Wait for it…

      2. Speaking of electricity, I wonder if there are ‘modern’ spirits. Everything apparently has spirits associated with it, so there should be spirits of electricity, of telecommunication, maybe, or the internet.
        Would be interesting if someone decided to work with those spirits instead of boring old nature spirits.

        1. Internet spirits are notoriously crabby. Every though they have is in microseconds.
          it takes Sooo Long for people to communicate with them.

          (also, they’re inventive and tricksy things).

  9. All this talk about lying makes me wonder (not sure if anyone has asked this): what happens when a practitioner says “I’m lying right now”? Do you get a paradoxical loop of power loss?

          1. Hmm. I think I may have put my finger on part of why I’m finding it so hard to get into Blake as opposed to Taylor.

            Taylor had a tendency to get into scrapes and survive by being exceptionally good at coming up with innovative approaches to utilise the resources available to her.

            By contrast, Blake’s plans seem to just come out of nowhere. Partly this is the situation – where Taylor had to deal with a string of problems, Blake is surrounded by one big, oppressive problem. It makes his actions seem like flailing at the inevitable.

            But more than that, since his problems don’t have the immediacy that Taylor’s did, there’s kind of a disconnect. Blake has guts, but it’s all feels kind of floating in limbo.

            I’m thinking again that a little more of Blake’s history might’ve been helpful. The beginning of Worm gave us a good feel for Taylor in the first couple of chapters. Blake is still kind of a cypher. He does stuff but is he just driven by simple self-preservation or something more? Who is he?

            I have enough faith in you as an author to read on, and I’m sure it’ll be great. But when you get around to reviewing and editing this, please give serious consideration to the question “Why should I, as a reader, care less what happens to this ‘Blake’ guy?”.

    1. What should happen is nothing – the statement cannot be determined as either true or false, so it should not affect karma.

      But most of the spirits don’t seem to be that logical or intelligent. So everyone guessing that something gets pissed at the practitioner sounds like the likely result. (Unless dealing with faerie, who love complexity and ambiguity.)

      But this begs to be tested. And you can do that by amplifying the results:

      The next sentence is true.
      The next sentence is true.
      … (many, many repetitions)
      The next sentence is true.
      This sentence is a lie.

      So, have you told many, many truths or many, many lies? That effect ought to be big enough to be blatantly obvious. Perhaps the practitioner evaporates in a puff of logic?

  10. I wonder if anyone’s ever used something along the lines of a museum to cultivate Glamour. You get hundreds of people coming through paying particular attention to specific objects. Also, with a constant supply of new people its hard for the glamour to slip into the background or become routine.

    1. Well, it may be possible that actual majority of museums are based around objects made of glamour. It may even be the museums’ real purpose.

  11. Forget hitting the Behaim-Duchamp wedding, doing that WILL only get you tons of negative karma; hit the nuptial chamber once the marriage is consummated, then cast Familicide.

    1. potential for catastrophic overkill, depending on what level of relation the spell works on. in a worse case scenario, think about what happened when V got drunk on the dark side in The Order of the stick ( using an identically named spell) the amount of overkill and targets only tangentially related to the subject was most distressing.

  12. Blake is taking insane risks again. By all rights, his actions should get him killed. But I do understand his point, i.e. that inaction will get him killed as well.

    Great lines:
    – “His eyes, when he met mine, were dead in a way that went beyond his current status. The only thing I could make out in them was pain.”
    – “Where June had flickered from form to form as we’d walked her through her story, Leonard wasn’t capable. All that was left of his ghost was a single drawn out moment. Standing there, mute, staring off into space, lost inside his own head.”
    – ““Welcome back to the family, Leonard,”” -> Sounds like a line in a mafia movie. How very appropriate.
    – “You look bleached. Even the clothes you wear, they look washed out somehow, faded. Your hair and eyes are lighter, you don’t have the dark circles under your eyes…” ““You gave up a lot of yourself, when you gave up blood. That power, it comes from somewhere. From your substance.””
    – “Not many chances to get into confrontations, in my private little mirror world.”
    – “I’m trying to put it all in perspective. It was goblins who did the deed. Laird who put everything in motion. Can you honestly say, seeing what Laird has pulled already, that you couldn’t have ever made a mistake like that?” -> Good point.
    – “I don’t want to forgive her. I think that’s fucked up, kind of, if I’m dismissing the death of someone I cared about so easily. For what? For an ally? A bargaining chip? Is it really worth surviving, if that survival requires that kind of compromise?” -> I’m glad that option was addressed.
    – “My body was… it was supposed to be sacrosanct, in a way.” -> I understand that feeling only too well.
    – ““And I get what it could mean. Us being enemies. You fighting me, because I’m moving in? Taking over?”“Involuntarily,” I said. I very nearly made it a question.”
    – “Yes. Involuntarily.” “I had to admit, I was relieved to hear her say it.”
    – ““But if you start second guessing me until I start making statements, it’s only one small step to second guessing those statements, thinking about the wording…”” -> A valid point. I didn’t think about that so far, but Maggie’s lies by omission made that very clear.
    – ““Fuck, Rose, that’s the sort of non-answer that makes me paranoid.””
    – ““I just wish you hadn’t had to ask,”“That’s not a reflection of you.” -> Unintentional (?) mirror pun!
    – “It sounded a hell of a lot more like a heartfelt oath than the one she’d just made. I exhaled slowly. The relief I felt was palpable.”
    – “In a way, the threat of being replaced was less scary than death, however torturous the transition might be. Because if I were replaced, at the very least I’d be remembered by Rose.”
    – ““This ‘cannot lie’ thing is a weakness, it’s a drawback, a complication, a mess of traps. But it’s also a tool. You can achieve a lot with just words. Swaying people, making an alliance stronger.”” -> Yes, and that’s among the best aspects of the setting.
    – ““Leonard, June. June, meet Leonard. You two should know we’re going to war.””
    – ““Do you trust yourself?”“Eighty percent, maybe?”“Then I’ll strive to match you with eighty percent trust,” she said. Her tone was deadly serious.” -> Brilliant.
    – ““you do know that we’re being followed?”“We’re surrounded,”“But she wants to deal badly enough that she’ll hear us out before she murders us.”
    – ““Nevermind that. Our analogy here. I’m proposing the pigeon strategy. Knock over all of the pieces, shit on the board, and then strut around like we’re the victors.”” – …
    – ““We can’t rise to their level, not like this,”“We have to bring them down to ours.“” -> Reminds me of Taylor’s attitude towards dealing with the Nine.
    – ““Once,” Rose said, quiet. “They only lost me the once.” I gnawed on my lip for a moment. “Fuck them. They lost me three times. That I can remember.””
    – “Can we skip the niceties and accept that you’re not being very hospitable, so I’m going to be a terrible guest?”
    – “I heard a sound from Rose, as one collection of the Others arrived. Dressed in layered, bleached skins, each wearing an oversized bird skull atop its head.” -> Ooooh. That makes this negotiation insanely important.
    – ““Devils have claim,”“If our line ends, lawyers could take it over, since the have partial or complete custody even now, and that means it probably passes into the hands of immortal Others.”
    – ““And what do you want?”“To live?”“Living is nice,”“But right now, I want to utterly destroy the Behaim and Duchamp families.””

    1. “I don’t want to forgive her. I think that’s fucked up, kind of, if I’m dismissing the death of someone I cared about so easily. For what? For an ally? A bargaining chip? Is it really worth surviving, if that survival requires that kind of compromise?” -> I’m glad that option was addressed.
      Blake might want to be careful about being so snitty about forgiveness there. Can’t really take the moral high ground after you said you wanted to wipe out two families.
      ““Once,” Rose said, quiet. “They only lost me the once.” I gnawed on my lip for a moment. “Fuck them. They lost me three times. That I can remember.””
      Well I guess we knew who their parents loved more. Reminds me of a conversation in a Batman comic.
      “When my dad was mad at me, he’d lock me in the closet for days. What did your do?”
      “Shoot me.”
      “Man, I can’t beat you at anything!”
      ““And what do you want?”“To live?”“Living is nice,”“But right now, I want to utterly destroy the Behaim and Duchamp families.””
      Uhmm, I hope Blake isn’t jumping off the slippery slope here. Do you really want to destroy them? To kill every single man woman and child? That’s biblical.

  13. Blake didn’t eat after he promised he would (“I’ll eat a full meal in just a few minutes”,“I’ll finish binding Leonard into the bottle, put out the fires, and then eat.”). Not only not healthy, but given that it was worded as a promise both times, actually foreswearing himself.

    Blake probably needs to just damage his vocal chords and lose the ability to speak.

    1. “I’ll eat later.” is technically true – at some point in the future, Blake will eat something. “I’ll eat a full meal in a few minutes.” is more of a problem, but the wording saves him again – he can eat a full meal in the span of a few minutes at any point he likes, rather than eating a full meal a few minutes from when he said those words.

    2. They weren’t oaths. They were statements. That happened to be incorrect. At most Blake lied, and probably not even that. Suppose Newton was a practitioner. I doubt he would have lost power for his incorrect physics!

      1. It seems to me like Wildbow is going to have a lot of fun keeping track of what characters say so they don’t lie or break oaths with something you’d normally never even think about.

  14. Wildbow, Not a typo, but I think you meant “were vulnerable” not “weren’t vulnerable”

    “Can you honestly say, seeing what Laird has pulled already, that you couldn’t have ever made a mistake like that? If Grandmother hadn’t warned you what was out there? If you weren’t vulnerable, with Laird going all-out?”

  15. “Odd, that she seemed so diminished, when I felt more energized. Was there something to that?”

    Did Rose lie?

    1. Shortly before that: “It sounded a hell of a lot more like a heartfelt oath than the one she’d just made. I exhaled slowly.” Also, she seemed really upset about the idea of asking pointed questions and swearing oaths.

      I think the first less-heartfelt oath she swore (“Damn you, Blake. How am I supposed to not say something? Yes. I will help you. I will do what I can to protect you from whatever’s going on with you, good or bad. I swear.”) might have been stretching the truth a little.

  16. Enter obligatory running gag comments joke (I don’t have the will to type it out myself so I’ll leave it for you guys. Pencil? Anybody?):

    1. So Blake has an ice hatchet, a stench bottle and a seemingly unlimited supply of (weak) power. I’m sure somewhere in there lies a pretty good defensive trap against the mundane.

      1. Does he have a mummy that defends him? Wait, no, he’d have to be king of the hobos for that. I guess as a lord he only rates his own reflection.

  17. Good chapter. The arc title is ominous – something may be getting into the house, I’m thinking.

    Blake offering Briar Girl land for resources contingent upon his survival is brilliant. Going to total war seems like a good move – taking the initiative is important. He needs his enemies reacting to his moves rather than the other way around.

    1. Breaching the house property lines, breaching into a hole in his body, breaching into Laird’s territory or Laird/Blake/Maggie/Rose/Briar/Maggie’s fam breaching old contracts, these or any others will be wonderful to see on Tuesday.

  18. Man, I am enjoying this. I came in fairly late to Worm, but I’m here on the ground floor for this one. I can see the story evolving, start to finish. It’ll be a long journey, and I expect this to be a constant.

    1. I’m a johnny-come-lately to the works of Wildbow as well.

      I binge read Worm and it felt just like the tip of the iceberg when it finished the first season. The word count is damn impressive for a serial and well worth the bookmark every update. Most other serials I read have to be visited only once a month due to the little amount of content there is to read.

      On a side-note have people realized that Wildbow has an account at patreon.com?

      http://www.patreon.com/Wildbow

      It would be great if a few more of us could show a bit of support and get him up to a bonus chapter a month as standard with fixed donations. There is only 19 of us at the moment and I’m sure his loyal reader base is larger than that.

      Can’t wait till Tuesday.

  19. I’m not sure what’s going on with the tattoos, but I feel like they’ve been brought up several times in different contexts, which probably means they’re going to be important.

    I remember Blake mentioned them moving right after awakening (and right after Rose did a strange, just barely different ritual from the one he did.)

    It may be that Blake’s tattoos are going to be an important part of his power, or it may be that Rose is actually trying to invade him through them (after all, they’re a “part of you” that was added artificially by someone else), or it may be something else altogether.

    (Also, I wonder whether it would be possible to make one’s tattoos a demesnes? Blake lived on the streets for a while, and seems pretty at home in his own skin.)

    1. Given the desmesne suggestions from Desmesne, it wouldn’t be powerful enough to try. It gets power from the Others within it, remember. I still think it’s his best choice of implement, though. Assuming he doesn’t just use a key.

      1. I realize this is wildly implausible, but as a thought experiment, ghosts seem to be able to inhabit almost anything. Maybe he could claim his tattoos as a demesne and then let a bunch of ghosts live in them to power it?

  20. Well, cutting a deal with Briar Girl might make sense, but it still constitutes a big risk, especially since she’s not the senior member of her partnership. That little fact could mean that he should be dealing with her overpowered familiar, rather than her; deals with her might not be so binding as he might like. Trying to break the two families is an ambitious goal, especially the Duchamps, who are all about relationships, train their children early, and maintain unity. The Belhaims would likely be an easier nut to crack if Laird could be removed, but that’s no small challenge.
    As for choosing to avoid Maggie, it seems like Blake mostly would feel guilty about dealing with Molly’s killer, rather than feeling genuine anger or hate toward Maggie. An understandable reaction, especially since he doesn’t know her backstory like we do, and since he seemed to genuinely like Molly and regard her as a decent human being, unlike most of his family. Of course, Rose’s opinion and Laird’s obvious desire to separate Blake from Maggie may carry more weight in time.
    I do wonder what’s up with the tattoos…possession seems out, I think. It’s possible Blake and Rose are merging gradually somehow (Grandma Thorburn was pretty slick), and if so it would make sense for changes in Blake to be reflected in his tats, given how personal they are and how much they symbolize for him. The fact that they are changing and he feels his connections to his friends are weaker seems appropriate. It’s possible that they are reacting to him getting Faerie-hair stuff on himself in some fashion as well, since the hair is all about glamour and appearances and tattoos are by definition about altering someone’s appearance in a permanent way. At the same time, I think it’s extremely unlikely that Blake could accidentally destroy Rose or drain her dry. Creating her was theoretically a challenge, since she’s something unique so far, and I suspect that she’s difficult to eliminate.
    The Blake-Rose relationship continues to be a difficult one, with its built-in total imbalance of power and Rose’s inability to do much of anything beyond advising. I’m very much looking forward to see where that goes. While predicting Wildbow is generally folly, I’m confident she won’t just stay trapped in those mirrors forever, that’s for sure. Speaking of which…it’s interesting that Blake can no longer look in a mirror. I don’t think he’s ever seemed vain, really, so it’s not as harsh a price as it might be for someone more appearance-focused. At the same time, Rose still acts as a mirror of sorts, giving him a different perspective on himself. Still many mysteries.

    CG

    1. I don’t think Rose is the vestige. This would explain a great many things.

      No reflection
      Fading after overusing power.
      Only daughters can inherit.

      In short, I don’t think Rose and Blake are merging, at least not at this time anyway. I’d suggest that Blake’s problem is slightly more fundamental.

  21. Read this last night; read it again this morning.

    I am really liking the ghosts-as-objects-of-power angle, as well as the consistency and fore thought put into the Blake’s ‘prize’ of hair. It leaves me speculating what you (Wildbow) could have planned – or be planning – for the items.

    Also, I am thoroughly enjoying the little tid-bits thrown in about other characters and how far along they are in their Practition…eering. It helps with a mental scale and balance of power – as well as where that power is.

    All in all, keep it up!

  22. I’m just thinking about how he made ink from the fairy hair. Ink, tattoos, glamours . . . Thera have suggested that his device could be a tattoo, maybe he could make it from fairy ink?

    I’m not sure that I have a good enough bead on his character to say if that fits with his “style” yet, though.

  23. If i had to guess, I would say that Laird is going to make some move on the house. Maybe contest the will or something? That would effectively screw blake over and would also be very difficult for blake to contest.

    1. My guess is he will use his time-twisting trick again, but make it essentially permanent and target Rose. If Rose degrades faster then she drains Blake. If Rose is actually destroyed then Blake’s tenuous hold on the succession probably goes away because she is the most likely loophole that allows Blake to be female enough to enter the line of succession.

      This will inevitably result in Blake and Rose dealing with Johannes, because he clearly has expertise in maintaining vestiges well beyond their normal limits. Of course, the ones he maintains become a bit warped…

    2. I doubt he would contest the will. He (and more importantly, the rest of Jacob’s Bell) wants the house to be sold. No one can sell the house if the will is being contested.

      It would screw Blake over pretty throughly if he could get Blake barred from the property somehow but I just don’t think Laird wants to attract anymore legal attention, especially given the fact that Blake already made him a suspect in a murder investigation involving that same property.

    3. More like targeting the rest of the rest of the Thorburns to set them on Blake with witnesses, then have them killed while screwing with witnesses’ time perception to screw Blake’s alibi to frame him for the murder of the entire Thorburn family.

  24. Blake, you gotta stop doing this thing where you do something really reckless, and then explain what it is to Rose while you’re in the midst of doing it. Didn’t you kinda say you were going to ask (and value) her opinion on this sort of thing? It’s a bit difficult to do that when you don’t tell her what you’re doing until you’ve already done it.

  25. Breach… Breach… Breach… Of contract? Oooh. Much hay to be had there, but kinda hard to say for whom.

    I, like everybody else, am glad Blake is finally picking himself up in the last few chapters. A good character does struggle, and every minor victory is important, but as we saw in Worm, the big wins are necessary to keeping things going. Eventually Blake needs to get some friends going, and Maggie and GB are about the only ones he can hope to really deal with. I’m thinking Johannes is way more like Coil than Laird is, so I think any dealings with him will turn out inimical sooner or later.

    One thing Blake has been neglecting though, are the Others. He doesn’t have to deal with Barbie or other demons when Jacobs Bell evidently has plenty of… Other Others he can chat with. Padraic seems like a fine place to start. Curb stomping Letita may even have raised Blake’s stock with him a bit, knowing how elf politics can be. Ya never know. Too boot, while I wouldn’t make Padraic a familiar in ever, I think he’d be more than happy to stick some monkey wrenches in Laird’s schemes just for the lulz. I think Padraic would make for an excellent expy of Anonymous/LulzSec.

    I’d like to know a bit about any other Others of importance too. I’m sure most of the Chaotic aligned ones, the ones happy being a big fish in a small pond, may be one of Blake’s best tools in dealing with the Behaims and Duchamps.

    1. Breach of contract sounds good, perhaps including breaching an oath? Watching a practitioner break an oath would make for a really dramatic moment. Perhaps breach of defenses? If Briar Girl breaches Laird’s anti-demon defenses then suddenly Blake is in a lot stronger negotiating position. He could then reverse the “you want lots of not getting killed by me” crap that he is getting… assuming Barbatorem starts communicating with him or he appears willing to use Ornias.

      Speaking of breach in contract, Blake is taking the hatchet he promised to keep warm out into bitter cold. He better hope that promise counts as a lie and not an oath or hope that something else happens before June decides she has been lied to.

      1. “If you agree to help, my friend can hold you. Keep you warm. And you don’t have to fight all the time.”

        Maybe just holding the hatchet counts as keeping her warm? But he also might end up using her in a fight (although I suppose that wouldn’t be “all the time”).

  26. Jerden here, over from Worm (I’m slow like that).
    I’m glad I caught up when I did, because it looks like it’s about to get very interesting. PIGEON TIME!

  27. Hmmm… I finally picked up a measure of an allegory what the attempt to glamour-ize Rose would be like.

    Imagine, if you will, a room, where there is a table. On the table, there is a house of cards, and there is a plant – one that can supposedly envelop the house of cards by growing, without destroying it, with luck.. The room has a window, that is closed by a non-transparent external window shutters, and nothing else. No window glass or anything.

    Any attempt to help the plant grow would have to include opening the window shutters. Specifically, letting in both the light, necessary for the plant to grow, and the wind, threatening to destroy the house of cards.

    Vestige is not unlike a ghost, and attempting to, mmmm, alter it’s nature are akin to making use of a very fragile mould, a barely-stable impression in the fabric of reality. Man, this is one of times when ClockBlocker’s powers would have been handy…

  28. I don’t know if anyone else has said this yet and I was holding off until I had more arc titles but Now I am convinced that the titling is based on Law. I wish I could put it better than that

  29. Did Rose just become Blake’s familiar? Those oaths they just took sounded a lot like what i imagine a practitioner familiar relationship to be. The life long partnership, sharing the same goals, both gaining something from the other…
    Am I mistaken?

    So first time post at pact. I hope it’s going to be as awesome as Worm was. I discovered Worm kinda late into the story and it ended way too soon. So I’m excited to see what places this story is going to go.

    1. No. The familiar contract has a ritual involved, according to chapter 1.3. This was just the two of them making promises to one another.

  30. Hmm, I think Blake and Rose are probably missing some fundamental parts of their relationship still. We’ll see how this plays out.

  31. The ritual wasn’t specified though, so for all we know swearing an oath to each other could count for an archaic ritual. But yeah, it’s pretty out of there, and I would expect Rose and Blake to have read enough about the topic by now to not make themselves practitioner and familiar by accident.

  32. Harlan, old buddy! Wait, different Harlan. Not my fat news network exec that once served as my pet kitty cat.

    I think Blake is missing something pretty damn obvious here. Tattoos. Ink from outside that is kinda sorta maybe his body.

    I’d hate to see what would have happened if he’d ever tattooed “Mom” onto himself, but I think it’s a great time to use some fairy hair ink to get himself a naughty tattoo of a woman somewhere. Maybe on his upper back. Something to disgust his future husband just enough to keep pounding him a little longer. He’s got to start thinking more seriously about when he’s going to use those childbearing hips to squeeze out a little shit-covered butt baby. Got to keep the family line going, you know.

    Still, he’s getting armed here. He’s got a hatchet with a ghost girl in it ready to freeze someone, a bottle he can break to unleash a gas attack ghost that’ll damage lungs while also being a handy secondary weapon, and a Fae hair locket knuckleduster. A collection of starter weapons.

    I take offense to someone claiming that being crazy is sad. In some ways, being crazy is just being ahead of the curve. In others, it’s merely an enlightened state of being. I suppose it can be sad, especially for her, because it’s like a broken mirror.

    And now Blake goes after Briar Girl with a deal forged out of pure iwantium. It’s a common enough element, but highly desired, so rather hard to get.

    Oh, and I’ve ignored one or two typos on a couple chapters now, but here’s one somebody has missed on this one “since the have partial or complete custody even now,”

    Damn lawyers don’t even count as a “they” now.

  33. YES. YES. Blake is finally channeling Taylor. You knew this was what we wanted.
    Fantastic chapter. As someone above said, I’m glad that Blake and Rose finally cleared some things up, even if it had to be like this. Obviously, they still have a long way to go, what with Blake’s paranoia (and a possible inferiority complex?), but at least they finally addressed some of their issues. The illogical apathy there was killing me.
    But yessss, I am so stoked for this. I guess an advantage of Arcgive Bingeing is not having to wait for the great moments. But I’ll be happy to catch up.

  34. I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t more reaction to the reappearance of the bird-mask dudes here. Sure, Blake has encountered bigger and weirder problems since he met them on the road, but they were the first serious threat to his life that we’ve seen. Even if his reaction to seeing them again is just “meh, small potatoes now,” I’d expect to see that reaction in his internal monologue.

Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s