Breach 3.3

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Now

The neighborhood was a nice one, as the local neighborhoods went.  Big houses, old-fashioned, with large yards.  Many, including the house in front of me, had additions or garages that came close to a small house in size.  It wasn’t up to par with the two million dollar homes in the better areas of Toronto, but it was the sort of place I could see myself living, somewhere down the road.

If I got that far.

It had always been a sort of ‘if I got that far’ thing, but it had been about money, before.  Now it was more the living part that was under question.

Cars were parked along the length of the street.  Families were leaving the vehicles.  The Behaims, with brown and black hair, leaning towards the stockier side, with a few who were fat.  The Duchamps, men and women, all blonde.

I looked at the card in my hand, then at the point where the people were converging.  A meeting at Laird’s house, it seemed.  I could see the spirits moving.  A rune was being used to ward off curious civilians, which meant I had to look otherwise occupied.

I stayed where I was, out of sight, trying not to focus too hard on them, while doing what I could to pick up details and information.  The connections that spread out from around them were ties of family, of home, of friendship.  Rays of light radiating out from each of them.  Connections to this town.  Others had connections to another, distant place, matching some of my connections, the ones I’d covered up with glamour.

They were from Toronto, I realized.  Others, those connections might be to Ottawa.  Out of town members of the Duchamp clan?

Huh.

I turned to leave, heading around the corner.  More guests had parked further up the street.  Two Behaim womenfolk helping an old man to make his way down the frozen sidewalk, supporting him from either side, and further up, a cluster of blonde kids milled around a mother and father.

Right now, I was the unassuming neighbor.  Brown hair, middle aged, unremarkable in every respect.

With my eyes on the map of connections between people, I could tell when I was relatively free of scrutiny, then bent down, as if I were fixing my boot.

Still bent over, I moved my hand under my hat to run it along my hair.  From dirty blond to platinum blond that had been lightened by age.  Another pass, to change it from wavy to straight.

I rubbed at my face, and worked in wrinkles, a ruddy complexion to go with the light hair.  Beneath the scarf I’d wrapped around myself, I added a mustache for good measure.  Bushy and blond.

I didn’t dare glamour up any connections to better the disguise.  Not with so many Duchamps around.  Not without some help or a tool of some sort.

I straightened, leaving the card on the ground.  Wouldn’t do to have a suspicious connection active.  The family with the kids passed me by.  I could see another car pulling into a spot at the side of the road, more Duchamps climbing out.  Teenagers this time.  Three girls.  Enchantresses, I had little doubt.

I couldn’t panic.  I had glamour, they shouldn’t see anything strange.

Where the other car had been small children, the process of getting out long and arduous, the three teenage girls wasted no time.  I fell into stride between the two groups, where I could be easily mistaken as a member of one or the other.

Somehow this fit me.  I could tap into my memories or my history, being a face in the crowd, and I could figure this out.  It was instincts, it was building, it was an art of a sort, and those were things I did pretty well.

There was a bit of recklessness in it too, which fit well with my current mental state.  What was one more thing where I didn’t have all of the information?  One more thing where I had to wing it, sink or swim?

I was quietly terrified, but I’d promised myself I’d do this.  Take control, act.

All of that, the quiet terror, the leap of faith, relying on instincts, it was what I’d been doing since meeting Rose.  I followed the family up the front steps, the teenagers right behind me.

“Hi, come in, welcome, welcome, hi Beth, come in,” Laird’s wife was talking to each new guest.  She gave me a polite, distracted smile as I passed through the threshold and into Laird’s house.

If I didn’t feel as panicked as I should, I told myself it was because I was going with the flow, adapting to circumstance.  I didn’t want to believe it was some deeper flaw.  Another, deeper element at play.

Earlier

“What the fuck are you talking about?”  I asked Rose.

Maggie and her father exchanged a glance.

“You haven’t noticed?” she asked.  “Both times, the ghosts reacted to my voice, not yours.”

“This is kind of important,” I said.

“It is.  I know.  But I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it.”

“When did you figure it out?”

“The lawyers.  They came when I said their names.  You were in the kitchen, and I said it, and boom, there they were.”

“I tried, I failed, and you succeeded,” I said.  “You just succeeded in calling…”

“Dickswizzle,” Rose said.

I glanced down at the goblin.  The size of a chimp, maybe, but generally flabby.  He was hard to make out, because his bristly black fur tended to blend into the area between the car and the snowbank.  His eyes stood out, widening as he heard his name.

I shivered a little.  I wanted him to stop looking at me, but I knew he’d react if I gave him any leverage.  He would be pieced together with the worst parts of animals and humans, including a predatory, maladjusted personality.  That made him somewhat more predictable.

“Dickswizzle,” I said.  Who the hell names these bastards?  “Fuck me, it wasn’t just the ghosts, was it?  When I went up to the room, the barber turned his back to me.  Rejecting me.”

“Barber?” Maggie asked.

“It’s a female line,” Rose said.  “That’s how Others see the Thorburn practitioner.  The simplest Others, the ones who can’t really think, or who think in an alien way, I think they look for the female part of it.  Ones like Padraic, they can maybe work their head around it.”

“If they even realize what genders we are,” I said.

“I think it’s more basic than that.  Something like Dickswizzle or the Barber looks at us, and they see something completely different from what we see.  Gender’s tied up in something intrinsic about our being.  I think.”

“Gender’s a mutable thing,” Maggie said.

“It is today, but Others are old fashioned,” Rose said.

“I’m still trying to work my head around this,” I said, shaking my head a little.

“You gave the goblin an order, but you don’t have the whistle,” Maggie said.

“No,” Rose said.  “But he does.  And we’re sort of one and the same.  By the letter of the law, the Thorburn practitioner is holding the whistle, and the Thorburn practitioner is giving the orders.”

“Yeah?” Maggie asked.  She lowered her voice as a group of kids approached from the direction of the school.  “That’s… complicated.”

She pointed, and we collectively moved away from the street.

“Am I even me right now?” I asked.  “As far as the whistle is concerned?”

“I hope you are, at your core, at least,” Rose said.  “There’s one possibility, that you’re the body and I’m the voice.  You can obviously do some material things.  Drawing circles, some shamanism.  Glamour, obviously.”

“Obviously,” I said.

“But our line’s supposed to have some power, some history, and maybe I got that,” Rose said.  “Maybe that’s why I’m here?”

“You’ve got the clout?” I asked.

“Maybe,” she said.

Which raised questions about the idea that she might be tapping me for strength or merging with me.  Would she gain clout, or borrow from my abilities over time?  Until she had all of the power?

“We have a lot to talk about, it seems,” I said.  “But not with company around.  Not when we only have a few hours to get ready.”

“You were making a move against Laird?” Maggie asked.

“Before anything else happens, I’m going to need answers,” her father said.

I met Maggie’s eyes.  She shook her head a fraction.

What was that ‘no’ for?

“I’m in trouble,” I told him.  I touched the pendant, “We’re in trouble.  A lot of that trouble has to do with some locals.  Laird Behaim among them.”

“The police chief,” her father said.

“Yes.”

He glanced at Maggie.  “You said this place was safe.”

“Relatively… relative to home,” Maggie said.  She smiled.

He gave her a very good ‘I am not amused in the slightest’ look.

I’m the one who’s really in danger, sir,” I said.  “I’m hoping Maggie is going to help me.  That’s all this is.”

“I don’t want her getting embroiled in fights.  She told me that she’d do this for defensive purposes, to protect herself and protect me.”

“I did agree to something like that,” Maggie said.

“I don’t want to get Maggie into a bad situation.  I only needed some help, and there aren’t many people to ask.”

“And… uncontrolled goblins are an appropriate sort of ‘help’?”  He asked.  He looked at his daughter, speaking to her.  “We’ve talked about what you’re doing with the goblins, we didn’t talk about lending them out to others.  You’re containing, trapping and controlling, so you can stop things before they start.”

“Right now, sir,” I cut in, “I’m trying to stop something.  It’s probably big, it might be ugly, and even though it’s directed at me, I’m not sure it won’t do any collateral damage.”

He looked genuinely upset.  One hand flew up to the zipper on his jacket, stopped, and then dropped to his side.  Fidgeting.  “This place was supposed to be safer.  More stable.”

“It is, dad.”

“I’ll rephrase.  It was supposed to be saferStable.”

“The more I think about it,” I said.  “I’m not sure any place is.  You find out about stuff like this, and… I guess normalcy is beyond your reach.”

“I refuse to believe that.”

“If there’s a way to get things back to normal for you guys,” Maggie told him, “I want to find it.”

“And you?” he asked.

“I don’t know.  I like it,” Maggie said.  “I like being able to protect myself against bumps in the night, see the underpinnings of things.”

“Even if those underpinnings aren’t pretty?” I asked.

“They are,” Maggie said.  Her face brightened a bit.  “It’s like looking at the workings of the human body.  It’s messy and gross and bloody and mucked up and imperfect, but there’s an art there.”

As if to punctuate the statement, Dickswizzle made a loud, wet, sputtering sound.

“You look at the cells through a microscope, it’s beautiful,” Maggie said.  “It’s the same with the balance of things, karma, and spirits.  Even if that balance and those spirits like to mess with us more than they help us out.”

“I feel like I’m going to lose you if you continue down this road,” her father said.

“I don’t ever want to lose you, or have you lose me,” Maggie said, sincerely.  “But I think stopping me from helping Blake is going to do more hurt than help, as far as us going down that road.”

Her father frowned.

“What do you need?” he finally asked me.

“I needed the goblins, which I just got,” I said.  “And now all I need is to know where Laird is.”

Maggie reached into her pocket and withdrew a business card.  “Like this?”

I could see the connection to Laird.

“That’ll do, thank you.”

Now

“Hey!”

The barked word startled me, as did the connection I felt.  The certainty that it was aimed at me.

I turned.

A cluster of men had gathered at one end of an expansive living room.  There was a minibar there, as well as a stylish wood-paneled cooler filled with ice cubes, beers standing within.

Kids milled around, some running, chasing others.  Adults were in clusters, with couches and chairs given to the elderly.

The men at the alcohol station waved me over.

I mentally prepared my story, best as I could.

Fuck me, getting into a situation like this when I couldn’t lie.

“What’s your preference?” one asked me.

I could see the connections that so many of them had to the alcohol.  Drinkers?

All six of them, I noted, were from the Duchamp family.

“I’ll take a beer,” I said.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” the guy who’d waved me over asked.  “First time?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“We’ve got a selection,” one of the other men said.  “Dark?  Light?  Lager?  Wheat beer?  Stout?”

“Lager,” I said.

“Ah, let’s see here… here.  One from England,” he said.  He glanced at me, bottle held up in the air, and I gave a nod of consent.

He cracked the top off and handed me the beer.  I tipped the bottle up, but controlled the amount that actually made it to my mouth.

“Only reason I tolerate these things,” the first guy confided.

“What finally got you to come?” one of them asked me.

I had had an answer ready, but I’d only just let my guard down a fraction.  The answer I managed was a neutral, “Seemed like something was going on, tonight.”

I drank, then rubbed a bit of moisture from my mustache.  Fun.  I’d never had a mustache before.

“Wedding thing,” one of the other guys said.

“Wedding thing,” I said.  I shrugged.  “I dunno much about it.  I’ve only been paying attention to things for a few days now.”

“Yeah?  You new to the family?”

“Sort of,” I said.  If you mean being here, disguised, included in the group.

“Wife?  Kids?”

“Neither,” I answered.  “I went my separate way from my particular family unit, not long ago.  Stuff came up with a cousin of mine, I came into town for her sake.  I thought tonight was a good occasion to see how all this works.”

“Eh,” one guy said.  “With the wedding coming up, it’s going to be a lot of awful speeches.  Not such a good occasion.”

“You know the drill for these things?” one of the guys asked me.

“I don’t know much of anything,” I admitted.

He leaned closer, lowering his voice, “They’ve got some secret society bullshit or whatever going on here.  Keeps things lively in a town this small, I think.  So we get good drink, good food, good drink-“

Good drink,” another guy chimed in.

“-And some long winded speeches, before they kick us out or stick us somewhere and see to their own business.  We’re nonentities, so the only real rule is you don’t get so drunk you cause a fuss, and you don’t poke your nose where it doesn’t belong.  If you aren’t attached, which you aren’t, you might even get some not-so-subtle hints about marrying in.”

“Marrying me?” I asked.  I affected a tone of voice and demeanor much like his.  “Nah.  I have an apartment.  I barely made a living wage, these past few months.  I don’t even know if my job’s going to be there when I go back.”

“You’d be surprised,” one of the guys said.  “Listen, ah, this is hard to say gracefully, knowing your cousin might be one of these girls.”

“What Adam’s getting at,” one of the other men cut in, “Is these kids get a metric fuckton of pressure from their family to marry certain people, walk a certain line.  Make connections, improve the family’s collective lot in life.  You get me?”

“Suppose I do,” I said.

“Well, some want out.  And the easiest way out is to get married before their folks marry them off.  Even if that guy’s twice their age, living in an apartment, with a cruddy maybe in the way of employment prospects, some prefer that choice to the alternative.”

“Yeah?” I asked.  I tried to put myself in the headspace of the character I was playing.  The lonely, estranged, less-than-successful uncle of some far-flung Duchamp connection.  “Twenty year old, wanting me, you’re saying?”

“Not unheard of,” Adam told me.  “But don’t fall for it.  They reel the kids back in when the grandkids come around, or your loving wife decides to come back on her own, and then you’re stuck coming to these godawful meetings and whatnot, stuck on the fringes.”

“And,” one guy groused, “It’s not like they’re your kids, you know?”

“Hear hear,” a few of the guys echoed.  There were some clinks of beer bottles and glasses of stronger spirits.  A few women glanced back at us, giving us annoyed looks.  Not so happy their husbands were openly drinking, it seemed.

“It’s a trap,” Adam said.  “Just do what you need to do for your cousin, but you walk away as fast as you can.”

“But… some twenty year old, and me?” I asked, again.

There were some chuckles.

“You keep saying girls,” I said.  “Do the boys run into the same thing?”

“You’re really new,” one replied.  “Yeah, the boys do run into some of the same pressures, but you tell me, how many boys are in this room, compared to the girls?”

I glanced around.  In the Behaim family, it was a fifty-fifty split, but the little Duchamps were all girls.

“I think I get it,” I said.

“More likely,” another one of the men said, “One of the widows is going to make a play.  Get their hands on you before one of the younger girls do, to remove you from the picture.”

“Or grill you,” Adam said.  “Get all the dirt they can, to make sure you’re a viable candidate for their daughters.  Descend on you like a flock of harpies if you aren’t, humiliating you.  And they’re good at the harpy thing.”

“Now I’m worried,” I said.  If they start questioning me in detail, I’m fucked.  This conversation is hard enough.  “Wondering what I got myself into, coming here.”

“Tell you what.  We’ll run interference,” Adam said.  “Buy you time to run.”

I smiled, then clinked my bottle against his.  “A fraction less worried now.  But it’s best if you don’t try to look like you’re running interference.  Maybe you could promise to step in if I can’t dislodge ’em?”

“I think we could do that… What’s your name, by the by?” he asked.

That gave me pause.

“Less I tell you guys, the less anyone can get out of you when they start asking the questions,” I said, quirking one eyebrow.  “I mean, you don’t really care, do you?”

He laughed.  “Not really.  Well said, well said.”

The conversation switched away from me, outside of the periodic question about smartphones or hockey.

It afforded me the chance to look around the room.  There were certain lines drawn in the sand.  The very young children of the two different families seemed to mingle, but as the ages rose, they seemed to segregate more into groups.  Very few of the adult Behaims were talking to adult Duchamps.  Outside of a few out-of-towners, the only real intermingled group in open discussion was…  Laird’s.

I’d spotted him, in a group with Sandra Duchamp and a few other members of the family.

How was I going to play this?  I couldn’t do anything if I was kicked out.  But if the group shrank down to only the practitioners…

How were they going to play this?  Did this family reunion factor into what he was going to pull against me?  An order of execution?  A massed army?

No, it didn’t fit their styles.  They weren’t aggressive.  They weren’t vicious, per se.

What, then, could a few dozen practitioners pull?

I saw Sandra Duchamp break away from the group.

I saw, too, the connections that formed between her and anyone.  She smiled, and did a somewhat poor job of smiling in a genuine way, greeting this person and that.

Heading in our general direction.

I could see it in the connection strength.  She was connected to people.  The one who sent out the invitations, or the orders.  If she focused her attention on me, there would be questions.  If I was lucky.  If I was unlucky, she’d tear right through the glamour as if it were tissue paper.

No.  I had to believe in the glamour.  Confidence.  The glamour was stronger.  Having an audience helped.  I’m stronger, I’m not that easy to break.  She won’t see through it.

I wasn’t entirely able to convince myself.

I took a drink.  Because the man I was pretending to be would drink, and I deliberately looked away, so she wouldn’t see that I knew her.  I definitely didn’t want her to see any connection.

She looked right past us.  No recognition, not even an attempt at recognition.  She paused to shoo one cluster of kids away from the fireplace, which was burning with a low flame.

No, her focus was shifting elsewhere as she moved towards our end of the room.  To the front hall-

The door opened.

There was a cry, a cheer that built in volume as more people caught on and joined in.

A boy in a suit, a girl in a knee-length dress and tights, each about twenty-five.  Holding hands.

“Hey!”  Adam called out, joining the cheer.  The other men joined in, and I joined in with them.

The bride-to-be smiled, but it was a polite smile, very small.  The groom didn’t change his expression in the slightest.

I allowed myself to relax as the evening progressed.  With so many unwitting bystanders around, there wasn’t much to be done.  There was no fucking way I was going near Laird.

Dinner was served, buffet style, and the various rooms of the house were soon filled with people eating. Most of the little ones sat at the table, the elderly ate in the living room, and the adults without children to feed ate standing up, holding their plates with one hand and using forks with the other, putting wine glasses, beer bottles, and glasses of soda on any available surface.

Ordinary.

I took it for what it was, eating genuinely good food for the first time in a week or so, and going back for seconds, just so I could take a different route across the ground floor and get a sense of what was where.

When I didn’t get a good enough sense of things doing that, I stopped by the kitchen for some salt.

Behind the kitchen, I noted, there were a set of double doors.    Closed, no doubt locked, with a sign taped down.  ‘No Entry’.  From the spirits that flowed through and around the paper, I had little doubt there was a rune there.  Less a deterrence rune, I suspected, than a rune that would punish prying Duchamps.

Or a prying Blake Thorburn, for that matter.

A space they didn’t want the ungifted to see was a space I very much wanted to access.

I had the goblins, stowed away in one pocket in paper and whistle form, and I had other tricks, but I doubted the glamour would hold up if I tried something and they started looking.

No.  This wasn’t an occasion for brute force.  I couldn’t put Maggie at risk, in any case.  The goblins were a last resort.

I needed to get inside that room, but Laird was the gatekeeper.

If I left the house, could I get in another way?

I thought of how Laird’s wife had been inviting people in.  Was invitation required?  If I left, would I be able to get back in?

Probably, but I didn’t like the other complications that were liable to pop up.  Were they alerted when someone passed the threshold?  Like the bell on the door of a twenty-four-seven convenience store?

Dressing up like Sandra Duchamp seemed like a horrible, horrible idea.

Even Laird’s wife… no.

I reluctantly left the kitchen.

Maybe if I found a mirror and had a discussion with Rose?

In a way, I was glad to be striking out on my own.  She wouldn’t be popping her head in, out of fear of being seen, and it was something of a relief to not have her second guessing me.  We’d hammered this out, agreed that infiltration would be the only way to stop Laird, and settled on this.

She was probably going crazy, waiting for a report or confirmation that things were okay.

I made my way back into the living room in time to hear the close of a toast.

“…for the betterment of our families, putting old grudges aside.”

“Hear hear!”

Uniting the two groups.

Oh man, it would be nice if I could split up that couple.

If some of the Duchamp girls were that desperate for a way out, could I dress up like the groom and get them somewhere secluded?

No.  Because the Duchamp girls weren’t pawns.

The problem here was that pretty much anyone and everyone who was a practitioner here was a stronger practitioner than me.  They would be on the lookout for shenanigans, especially if the groom was reported to be in two places at once.

Besides, they weren’t getting more than a few feet apart.  There was a connection between them, I noticed.  A crimson line of spirits stretched between ring fingers.

Was it like I’d read about in one of the books?  A tether?  A leash of some fixed length, keeping them together?

I felt my skin crawl a bit at that, and the crawling of my skin made my blood run cold, in turn.  I could almost let myself think that it was the glamour fading or breaking apart.

But the glamour was strong.

Desserts came out.

I knew I was running out of time.

Time, ironically, being Laird’s weapon of choice.  He and his family were chronomancers.

What were my options at this point?

Sticking a paperclip in a light socket, to blow the power?

It would only stall the inevitable, and it could still get them looking for me.

No.  There was no grand stroke I could employ.  Not until I knew more.

As dessert wrapped up, I saw the spirits shift.

The rune that had been drawn to keep neighbors from coming in had changed somewhat.

Adam’s wife approached him, their two kids following her.  “Can you take the kids out for a movie?  It’s going to be a big group thing.”

One of the men in the group gave me a telling look.  This was it.  The non-members were getting driven out, both overtly and subtly.

Adam glanced at me.  “Coming?”

Direct questions were so hard to answer.  “I’m not in the mood for a movie,” I said.

“Understandable.”

“But thank you for the company,” I said.

He gave me a little salute, and then ushered his kids off.

The small handful of people who were leaving were, with the help of the rune gently urging people to leave, starting to clear the house.

“Am I going, mom?” one six year old asked.

“Nope.  We’re staying.”

“But I want to see a movie.”

She had to hold him to keep him from joining the steady flow of people leaving.  He wasn’t immune to the rune.  “Stay and play with Leanne, alright?  We’ll see a movie this weekend.  We’re doing some important things tonight.”

“Aw,” he said.

“Go find your cousin and play.”

“Pee first,” he said.

“Alright,” she said.  “Go.”

He ran upstairs.

As the crowd thinned, I could make out Penelope and Jo.  The ones who’d tried to kill me, just yesterday.  The practitioners were the ones who remained.

I was lagging behind, and that meant more eyes that might start wondering about me.

But I couldn’t leave.  Not knowing that something was happening.

I waited until the general focus shifted to some more boisterous farewells for the bride and groom, and ducked upstairs.

Nobody followed me or objected.  That bothered me some.  Unmarried middle aged guy who lived in an apartment, waiting outside the bathroom for a young boy.  I even had the ‘stache.

What the hell was wrong with me and the choices I was making, for glamours?

More concerning was the fact that this was a gamble, and I didn’t like my odds.  There were too many things that might not work, here.

“Hey,” I mumbled.  “Fate gods, karma gods, whoever.  I’ve been trying to play fair, be nice.  I cut Mags some slack.  Can I cash in some of my chips?  Or at least buy some relief from the bad luck my family is due?”

There was no answer.  Obviously.

I heard the toilet flush, inhaled slowly, and then exhaled.

The door popped open, and I saw a chance.  He stopped in his tracks as he saw me standing outside the door.

“Did you wash your hands?” I asked, knowing the answer.

He looked momentarily guilty.

I put my hand on top of his head, moving it so his head turned toward the sink.  He obediently turned and went to wash his hands.

I plucked a hair from his head.

He stopped, looking at me.  “What?”

“Soap and water,” I ordered.  Playing up the authority figure role.  “And hurry, please.  I’d like my turn.”

He gave his hands the shortest, most perfunctory scrub he could, and then zipped downstairs.

I took my turn in the bathroom, closing and locking the door.  I leaned over the sink.  No reflection faced me.

“Rose,” I said.  “Rose, Rose.”

A moment passed, and Rose appeared in the pane.

“Are you sure you should call me?” she asked.

“No,” I said.  “But this is your chance to tell me if I’m being an idiot.”

“Are you being an idiot?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I crashed the party, no problem, but very little gain, outside of seeing the family units at work.”

I placed my fist against the wall, and pushed hard.

“What’s next?” she asked.

“Being a face in a smaller crowd,” I said.  I looked at the hair, and I could see the connection to its owner, like a vague shaft of sunlight filtered through the air in a dusty room.  Moving downstairs, slowing as he entered the living room.

Good.  It worked like I’d hoped.  I now knew I had a minute.

I grabbed my elbow, pushing harder.

“I sense… something,” she said.

“Yeah?”

“It’s like when I saw the… Feorgbolds or whatever they’re called?  There’s only darkness where the mirrors don’t let me see through, and I don’t dare show my face when they could look back at me.”

“No,” I said.  “Definitely don’t take that risk.”

“But I see something, almost.  I feel them.”

“The familiars are probably coming out,” I said.  “Maybe they’re doing some tricks to clean the dishes, I dunno.”

I pushed harder one last time, then changed hands to do the same for the other.

“Set the house on fire?” she suggested.

“There’s a thought,” I said.  “But no.  This many practitioners, this being their territory, the fire would go out if they asked politely.  I don’t think there’s anything I can pull, outside of poisoning them, that would do any serious damage.”

“Don’t poison,” she said.  “Being a guest means there are rules.  Even if the host has expressed an intent to murder you.”

“I know,” I said.  “And there are kids here.”

“Yeah.  Definitely don’t kill kids.”

I shifted my stance, bracing my knee against the sink.  I bent down to grab my foot with both hands, forcing my knee against the sink.

“What in the fuck are you doing?” she asked.

I stepped back, and I fell.  I reached for the towel rack for balance, then stopped before grabbing it, covering my head instead.  I didn’t want to make a racket by pulling it out of the wall.

I hit the ground, my head coming within an inch of the toilet.  If I hadn’t fallen at an angle, I might have knocked myself out.

I stretched my legs out in front of me.  One was almost a foot shorter than the other.

“You… look genuinely disturbing,” she said.

I turned myself ninety degrees and braced myself against the wall, pushing out with my longer leg.  With the exertion, I managed to squeeze it down to a matching length with the other leg.

“Blake… you need to go back to your regular ‘Blake’ shape.  It’ll root you better in this shape.  If you aren’t careful, it’s going to be time consuming or painful to go back to normal.”

“No time,” I said.  “I can deal with problems later.  Right now is what I want to focus on.”

I stood, and found the sink was at a level with my collarbone.

Bracing my feet against the floor, my head against the edge of the sink, I squeezed myself down just a little more.

I looked up to see Rose in the mirror, practically climbing over the sink on her side to look down at me.

I ran my hands over my hair.  Dark brown hair with just a tiny bit of curling to it.

“Your face,” she said.

“I know.”

I ran my hands over the face.  Away with the lines, away with the age, the larger nose and ears, the mustache.  I handled my throat, then my body and arms.

“Eerie,” she said.

I pushed up my sleeves.  Tattoos still there.  But the clothes…

The clothes had shrunk with me.  I hadn’t even thought about it, which would be a benefit of sorts.

My sweat, I realized, would be permeating the clothes.  Sweat with glamour-ointment on it.

Would that dilute it?  Make the glamour weaker?

No.  If the glamour was weaker, I wouldn’t have been able to compress myself down to a height of three and a half feet.

My hands were damp with the sweat of my exertion.  If I…

I brushed them off on the clothes.  It took a few tries to get the colors right.

“I’m done commenting on this,” Rose said.  “I have no words.”

I turned around, arms out to my sides  “Convincing?”

“Yes.  Definitely convincing.  If I hadn’t watched it happen, I wouldn’t have known.  I’m having trouble reconciling it even now.”

“Perfect,” I said.

“You realize, if you let this break, it’s going to recoil like crazy?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I realize.  Wish me luck.”

“Oh, believe me, I’m praying you have good luck,” she said.  “Please don’t get us killed.”

“Will try,” I said, smiling, an abundance of exuberance in my voice and expression.  “You keep an ear out, in case there’s trouble.”

As a six year old boy, I descended the stairs.

The hair pointed me to the boy I was replacing.  I spotted him from the other side of the room, playing with his cousin.

I ducked into the hallway, where the others were filing through the kitchen into the extension on the back of the house.  A few familiars had come out, and cats stood on owner’s shoulders, the air alight with various birds.

One accusatory birdcall, and I was done for.

Someone mussed my hair in passing.  I looked up and smiled wide, then ducked between legs to get away.  I didn’t want anyone keeping track of me, human or familiar.

Nearly sixty people in all made their way into the back room.  I was more focused on getting lost in the group than on the room itself, until people started settling on positions.

“I’m impressed, Laird,” a woman’s voice.

A whistle.

“Beatrice helped,” Laird said, on the other side of the room.

“Derivative, or-”

“My own invention,” Laird said.

“You used paint?”

“For the permanence of it,” Laird answered.

I could see bookshelves, each protected by a pane of glass with hinges and a lock.  The locks, I noted, each had a rune on them.

Nothing I could mess with.

As I made my way to the back corner, I found a foosball table covered by a tablecloth and shoved into a corner, the telltale handles sticking out.  A pool table sat a short distance away, similarly covered.

The crowd started to settle, and I dared a look at the room proper, peeking between legs.

A magic circle, if that was even the term.

Fifteen feet across, it was complex.  Diagrams inside diagrams, mathematical notation towards the center, astrological symbols at the outermost edges.

The hair told me that my counterpart was heading my way.  I reversed direction, keeping the crowd between us.

His cousin with him, they ducked under the foosball table, watching events from their new hiding spot.

Hopefully they wouldn’t cause a commotion and let someone realize that there were two little boys with the same face and clothes.

“Let’s talk about Blake Thorburn,” Laird said.

“The diabolist,” someone else said.

“You each have some idea of what the Thorburns involve.  Just yesterday, Blake Thorburn attacked my reputation, putting me and my family in awkward positions.  Sandra Duchamp was able to pull some strings, and things look like they will settle, but it’s clear Blake Thorburn isn’t on the same page as us.  He poses a grave risk to our families, to our place in things, and to this town.”

“He’s a novice,” Sandra Duchamp said.  “He’s new to this, and he’s finding his way.  Laird told me he was dealing with Maggie Holt, no doubt exchanging knowledge.  Laird did what he could to put an end to it, but the young man is desperate.  I wouldn’t bet on anything right now.”

“What can you tell us about him?”  one of the out-of-towners asked.

“The situation warrants delicate handling,” Laird said.  “He’s the equivalent to a keg of nitroglycerin.  Too much of a jostle, and he blows up, and he takes us with him.  I’ve made some initial forays into dealing with him.  Maximizing the karmic balance, in the hopes that any explosions are destructive to the Thorburn line than to us.  In every interaction, I perform an augury to ensure that it won’t lead to disaster, but the window for seeing these things is narrow, and I’m primarily looking out for the worst case scenarios.”

“Fire and brimstone,” an older woman from the Behaim family spoke.

“Exactly,” Laird agreed.  “Thus far, I’ve aimed to push him out of his comfort zone without pushing him too far.  Keep him off-balance.  Others made some forays, but nothing came of it.  I think we’ll need to stop that, to be safe.  Limit it to certain powerful Others, increase the bounty we’re offering for any killed Thorburn, and step very carefully with a plan in mind the entire way.”

There were nods around the room.

“Answering the question from earlier,” Sandra cut in.  “We did some readings.  A reading of Blake Thorburn drew the Fool card with the right hand, the High Priestess with the left.  A reading of his vestige companion drew the Hanged Man and Chariot, respectively.”

First of all, I resented that.

Second of all, ominous.

“We can assume that with his removal, the other Thorburn descendants will each have a turn as heir.  We’re already doing background checks on everyone involved,” Sandra Duchamp said.  “It would be interesting to possibly remove one individual from the line of succession before we get that far, to see if we can’t throw a wrench in the works.”

“But our paramount concern,” Laird said, “Is him.  He’s not as passive as his predecessor was.  We’ll all sleep easier when he’s dealt with.”

“Let’s not mince words,” a man said.  “You’re talking about his death.  About murdering him.”

“I was mincing words, as we do have children in the room,” Laird said.  “But no, I do not want either option.  Particularly now.  This is my proposed solution.”

Various people looked down at the diagram.

“You’d better explain,” Sandra Duchamp said.

“Of course,” Laird said.  “Bertram, would you?”

I heard rustling papers.

In the narrow segment of the crowd that I could make out, I saw people passing a pile of stapled papers around.  Each took one and handed it to the next person.

“I’m not sure I follow.  It’s been a long time since I studied any of this.  There’s no risk of backlash?”

“No.  We’re not targeting him,” Sandra said.  “He’s not even in our sights.  He spends much of his time ensconced within the house, where every demesnes has been turned inward.”

“If you’d each clear away from the diagram?” Laird asked.  “There should be room.  We’ll get prepared while you each look over my notes.”

As one, the crowd backed away to the edges of the room.  I found myself with my back to the glass cabinets.  I also had a better view of what was going on.

“Timothy, here,” Laird said.  He indicated an empty circle within the diagram.  “Rhea, here, please.  Grace, here.  Talbot, yes, right there.”

Fuck me.  This wasn’t just Laird pulling something with people looking in.  He was involving them.  A coven -a circle-, getting involved.

“Sandra, I need you at the ‘crown’ point.  Isabelle, the ‘sword’.”

Two circles, I thought.  I was frozen.  What could I do?

“Clustered so close together,” Sandra commented.  She was almost shoulder to shoulder with Isabelle.

“That’s the realm.  The space.  See page four.  If you could stand with your backs to each other, please… yes, good.  Cordelia, you’re the cup.  Anne, the coin.  Gail?”

“Tome.”

“Yes.  And, almost done, we have Layton, Donald, and myself, for the stations here, here, and… here.”

He stepped deliberately into the last open space.

The Behaims arranged around the edge, the Duchamps in a tight circle in the middle.

There was a respectful silence.

Fuck me.

Maybe I should set the house on fire.

“Finally,” Laird said, dropping to one knee.  He drew his pocketwatch out, then tapped it gently on the circle, like someone might if they were cracking an egg.  “I’ll need your help, my friend.”

Light flared, reflected off the open ‘door’ of the watch, and when it passed, a stooped, sun-wizened old man stood before Laird, practically wrapped around the staff that was keeping him standing.  Hair slicked back, no beard, his eyes pinched to slits by the wrinkles and folds of his face.

The old man advanced, teetering, using the staff for balance.

When he reached the center of the circle, he tapped his staff’s end against it.

In the doing, the old man folded like a house of cards, collapsing into the space where the staff met the circle.  Reflected rays of sunlight flashed out, much as it had with the lid, racing around the length of the circle at different speeds, and he plunged into the space.

I felt a shudder.

Heard a thud.

Another thud, then another.  The vibrations continued, in time.

The diagram was moving.  An ellipse, pointed at either end, whatever I was supposed to call that, was making its way around the edge.  The various people standing on the circle began moving, glacially slowly, but moving.

I saw the movement of another ellipse.  Like the hands of a clock.

The thuds were a ticking, as if we were in a great clocktower.

“With one stroke,” Laird said.  “We can remove the entire Thorburn family as a threat.  I’ll get us started.”

He began chanting.

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171 thoughts on “Breach 3.3

    1. “to not have her second guessing me” -> ‘second-guessing’
      (That typo occurs a lot. Maybe I’m wrong with my correction? But googling ‘second guessing’ yields exclusively the hyphenated version.)

    2. “I’ll rephrase. It was supposed to be safer. Stable.”
      Based on what Maggie’s dad was saying previously, he probably meant “… safe. Stable.” However, still could be written as intended since people do make that sort of mistake in conversation.

      Pocketwatch and clocktower are more usually pocket watch and clock tower.

    3. Possible continuity problem:
      The Behaims arranged around the edge [of the circle], the Duchamps in a tight circle in the middle. [shortly] When he [the zeitgeist] reached the center of the circle, he tapped his staff’s end against it.
      No mention of how the zeitgeist got through the circle of Duchamps. Did the Duchamps part for the zeitgeist? Did he walk incorporeally through them? Admittedly, a minor flaw, if any.

    4. One more:
      “in the hopes that any explosions are destructive to the Thorburn line than to us”

      Perhaps “more destructive to the Thorburn line” or “destructive to the Thorburn line rather than to us”.

    5. Possible error of intention:

      “It was supposed to be safer. Stable.” Maybe you wanted to have that say “safe” instead of “safer”? Either way works, obviously, but the italics on “safer” makes it seems like it was meant to change to “safe” in the same way that “More stable” became “Stable”.

      Missing “more”:

      “in the hopes that any explosions are destructive to the Thorburn line than to us.”

  1. Great chapter! I really enjoy Blakes machinations with Glamour. So interesting to read about – particularly his ‘knack’ for it and the bewilderment of the onlookers. Glad to see Familiar de la Laird!

    Only complaint is that i’d rather there be less notation on his self-doubt of the Glamour when it is used. However, I’m sure it’ll serve its purpose in due time.

  2. It’s interesting that Blake is supposed to be married, and now we learn that some of the Duchamp girls may be desperate to marry out.

        1. But what about Blake/Maggie?

          Although Penny telling the kids how she met Blake would be funny.
          “There he was all covered in dirt and blood, half his own, half your aunt Jo’s familier, the blood not the dirt, trying to convince me he wasn’t an evil monster.”

    1. Something just occurred to me that it might be trivially easy (if suicidally insane) to redirect it into himself – and have the spell take out the Duchamps instead of the Thorburns.

  3. Interesting choice of familiars. Birds and cats for the chronomancers and enchantresses, eh?

    I wonder what Laird is trying. Huge symbolism with time. Can he speed up time for an entire bloodline, kinda like that one Endbringer from Worm? Someone joked about how Blake should use ‘familicide’, OOTS-style, on the last chapter… seems like Laird is trying it instead.

    1. If he sped up time to the Thorburn family then he would definitely have Blake in his sights. So he must be doing something else with time. Like affecting the time of everything But the family? After saying he isn’t targeting Blake directly, Laird says “He spends much of his time ensconced within the house, where every demesnes has been turned inward.” So I’m guessing he might be doing something fancy to the property.

      1. Time manipulation like that causes inconsistencies in causality – paradox agogo. I’m pretty sure Wildbow isn’t going to go there. I’m not sure what the target is though, maybe the house? Let it fall apart and disintegrate? Mucking about with time is dangerous in the extreme narratively because it makes deus ex solutions almost unavoidable.

  4. What do you people think of the tarot readings? I assumed that “Right Hand” would be the upright meanings of both and the “Left Hand” would be the reversed, but what do you think?

      1. Ok, from my comment to Landis and this information, it seems Blake is as he is now, and then a strong woman will take control in his life.

        For Rose: She is seemingly powerless, but she will take control (presumably over the Blake-Rose relationship). That is, in future arcs, she will be making the decisions, not Blake.

      2. I don’t think that makes tons of sense in context, though. The High Priestess is about stillness and wisdom and being receptive instead of active; holding the secrets but silent in front of the temple. …..That really doesn’t sound like where Blake’s going, at all. RDT as the High Priestess: totally believable, but if Blake’s headed that way it’s a loooooooong way off. The reversed meaning makes way more sense.

        Chariot for Rose could mean winning the battle of Blake, but the implications of the card–as control, force of character, force of will–aren’t really right for Rose, either.

        1. Right now he is the fool, impetuous — stepping off the cliff with nothing to catch himself.

          The High Priestess is mysticism, future-seeing — many things that are appropriate to this genre. It’s a promising card to pull for Blake.

          Hanged Man — the person stuck, who cannot do anything. Stasis. But perhaps pulled for “This Situation Alone” — where Rose cannot do a thing to stop the Fool from being foolhardy.

          Chariot is a card of motion, of will, of desires harnessed. Also bodes well, and probably not reversed. But it is the most cryptic of the cards, and wildbow may have a different meaning in mind.

    1. From wikipedia: “The Fool is the spirit in search of experience. He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world. The sun shining behind him represents the divine nature of the Fool’s wisdom and exuberance, holy madness or ‘crazy wisdom’.”

      This seems to be an accurate, nontrivial description of Blake’s approach to practitionership.

      The High Priestess, according to a badly written wiki, may be associated with a powerful feminine influences and support currently being in force for the querent. I assume this would refers to Rose Thorburn senior, but that reading feels like a stretch. On another site I found this, which is in accord with the first card “This is a time to rely on your intuition and your inner knowledge, rather than your conscious mind or intellect.”

      From a keen.com article: “If The Hanged Man represents you in your reading, you are being advised by the Tarot deck to surrender, to change course or to let the universe solve a situation without your input.

      If this card instead represents someone in your life, you are being informed about manipulations that may be taking place and the overall strategy of a person with whom you are engaged in a battle. The insidious nature of The Hanged Man card personifying someone else in your reading is that you often do not realize that this person is your enemy. The inherent helplessness and seeming victim status of The Hanged Man as illustrated by the card is, fundamentally, a mask about the reality of the situation and the person behind it all.”

      The second paragraph is in accord with Blake’s doubts about Rose, but the reading was about her, so…

      Also from Keen: “Are you in control? Did you just win big? Have you finally reached a new level of accomplishment? Are you being handed control of a big project? The Chariot is the Tarot card most associated with victory and control.” – They just discovered that Rose seems to have power in areas where Blake does not, and I think it was in the comments of the previous chapter I read someone speculating that to make mirror-Rose and make the Universe accept a male heir, Rose transferred what makes the Universe consider someone a person from Blake to mirror-Rose.

      So, as foreshadowing goes; this is interesting.

      1. I think that given that Blake is apparently incapable of properly dealing with any spirits other than Rose, he really only has one option for his Familiar: Rose.

        1. I’m still putting money on the chance that Rose has to take Blake on as a Familiar.

          Rose’s Vestige supposedly draws from Blake to exist. A Familiar draws on a Practioner as part of the ritual I think (hinted at in the books/familiar chapter).

          It might also draw a line in the “universe’s” eyes between the pair of them and stop the gradual takeover of Blake by Rose if it creates a cycle of energy rather than a one way drain of Blake.

          That separate identity might even give Blake the ability to interact with spirits that he currently lacks. I’m not sure if that would turn turn out to be a blessing or a curse though!

        2. But Blake CAN interact with some Others, just not the more abstract ones who can’t seem to recognize him as a separate entity from Rose. The barber is off the table as his personal familiar for this reason, unless he somehow gets Rose to negotiate him into recognizing him though that seems unlikely, but he can get a more intelligent Other as his familiar. Of course, the barber isn’t off the table for Rose, and given his ability to transfer between reflective objects that might have interesting implications given her situation.

    2. Blake is definitely the Fool and The High Priestess seems pretty much his opposite, so that seems like as good a theory as any (my tarot book’s reversed meaning section: “A change from stillness to action. Defending, or seeking out, what is rightfully yours.” yeah, that fits). The Hanged Man is an interesting choice for Rose–I can see the “bringing together of opposites” and the “reversal of normal values” parts, ok–and a reversed Chariot as a “weakening will. doubt, but also openness to sharing, or working with others” makes sense.

      1. Someguy said: “Right Hand represents the current person, Left Hand shows the direction.” So I think wildbow is foreshadowing here… The High Priestess can mean a powerful female influence on his life in the future, and the Chariot for Rose’s future indicates that she will be that influence.

          1. It seems plausible to me, based on my limited knowledge of tarot. Also so after I googled it. There is plenty of references to card placements pointing to different places in time but I found no references to placement meaning you should read the reverse meaning of the card. If google can be used as an indication as to what most people believe, then it is more likely that wildbow believes this than that.

      2. High Priestess is the card of intuition and inner wisdom. Which Blake has, right now, though he doesn’t know a damn thing. Which is why he pulls the fool, where he will become the high priestess.

        Blake is expressing his Yang with the Fool, but his Yin is the High Priestess.

  5. What to do now? Release the goblins, disrupt the ritual, and hope the backlash lands on the casters rather than the disruptors? I can’t imagine Blake sitting by and letting the ritual happen…

    1. No need to set the house on fire when setting off the fire alarm would do. Never use magic to do what can be done mundanely, its a waste of power and it demeans the spirits you’re working with.

      Or he could just start up the radio to Rickroll them to mess up their timing and cadenses since the spell is based on chronomancy and relies heavily on timing & rhythm.

      Blake must also make sure to do so while using another disguise, no need to waste a perfectly good cover suitable to infiltrate the enemy camp.

      1. They have alcohol, which I assume is now unattended. Why settle for setting of the fire detector when you have perfectly good molotovs just waiting to be made?

  6. Oh, man, this is going to be hilarious.

    They mentioned that they’re using the demesnes of the Thorburn House to their advantage in the spell, in the assumption that he’s inside the house, when in fact he’s actually in their house. Additionally, if it’s trying to kill the Thorburns through their familial connections to him, it’ll backfire because currently the only connections he has are to the Behaim family!

    Man, I cannot wait until Saturday. XD

    1. Interesting idea – it does seem possible that the working will turn on on the Behaims and Duchamps.

      What kind of idea would take out all of the Thorburns at once? I suppose we will find out.

      1. You’re missing a possible point.

        To destroy a bloodline’s claim to power can be done in different ways.

        One is to destroy a bloodline.

        Another is to destroy their power base. Given how Blake is not targeted, how apparently putting a wrench by offing prospective heirs is not the target of current working, and that the house was mentioned… I strongly suspect the working is meant to prevent anyone from taking over the house and the treasure trove of knowledge hidden inside…

        Like cursing it so time there passes a hundred times slower than outside, and putting Blake’s decision to have a simple 8-hour nap into an entire MONTH, with change, for those outside to scheme and prepare. But that;s just one option.

  7. An ominous chapter indeed!

    The ‘voice’ part is quite interesting–for the goblin case, can it only be used by a practitioner? Is Blake only a practitioner by right of his bloodline, and would it have been impossible for him to awaken without being a member of a relevant family? How does a bloodline get /started/, the first person awakening? I thought that the female part was that some Others recognise all sufficiently-related people as though they were the same person, but was it that a portion of the practitioner power can only be used by a female Thorburn..?
    (In any case, possibly a good dynamic for the two of them, especially given Rose’s greater adeptness at using words.)I can’t believe it took me this long to realise that the hair’s power is what I’d envisioned the Mask implement’s power being earlier. So very wonderful! also, can’t wait until Blake has a reason to take on Rose’s form

    The hair has a risk of doom once lost somehow, but I can’t clearly remember whether there’s something that makes an Implement unlosable (through its ritual). If so, then it might be a wonderful thing to bind to oneself as convenient power source + Mask combined. (Speaking of which, curious about what sort of replacement power source Briar Girl would have offered for it, though likely a less useful or otherwise inferior one.)

    1. Anyone that does the awakening ritual may be a practitioner it seems (look at Maggie fro example). More likely is that Rose senior did something fancy to trick the Universe to allow a male heir to the family (like transferring Blake’s personhood to mirror-Rose, as someone speculated under the last chapter I think).

  8. Is it worth mentioning that this is a donation chapter made possible by donations? (in case people didn’t know).

    I know Wildbow doesn’t like to toot his own horn but he has recently started a patron account so we can donate regularly with less hassle.

    http://www.patreon.com/Wildbow

    It would be nice if a few more of us readers were able to give him a better and more stable income so he could concentrate on writing and not being a starving Artist.

    Cheers

    1. Appreciated that you’d toot my horn for me, Drew. Thank you.

      I always got annoyed when people would nag or harp on about how they were starving/sick/needed to pay bills, so I go out of my way to not do that.

      I did actually have a steady-ish (as in: not fluctuating much at all) income for the past few months, but I think this (February) is about the point where more people have stopped reading Worm and I haven’t quite got the readership for Pact yet, so it’s a little tougher. If 2013 is an indication, though, I might expect the income from the writing to dip as we lead into tax-time and then pick up in April/May.

      Patreon is still experimental, and if things pick up there, I could see about working in more/better donation bonuses. I do definitely appreciate all the support, and I do want to repay that kindness with stuff you guys would enjoy.

      For now, I’m going to aim to just keep writing, keep taking criticism and learning, and keep working in the background to get Worm hammered out into a good shape.

      /salute.

        1. Isn’t the worm Seasone one edit/rewrite cycle estimated at about 2 years? (if things go smoothly). Wildbow will still need quite a bit of early fan support till at least then if we want to see a budding author flourish.

          I’m hoping Season one of PACT goes on for about that length of time as the hand over to his third project will probably suffer an expected drop in readership till it finds its grove. That would make the publishing worm income pretty important if he is going to make it.

          Nothing is certain in life and I want keep reading about these great sagas that Wildbow weaves. Only way I can have any effect on that is if I bring some kind of support.

          Let’s not just be bystanders and see if we can get bonus chapters every 2 weeks

          🙂

          1. I hate that because I use my phone/tablet for reading I also tend to use it to type comments…

            I don’t believe I have managed to type a single thing without errors yet!

          2. I dislike rewrites. I am okay with typo-fixing, and slight editing to make a scene flow better. It messes with my headcanon, though.

  9. Well, the elf hair ink glamorfication is totes OP, huh? The Bs and DS are either stupid, way overconfident, or just lazy, because I can’t see how a quick sweep of the Sight would fail to notice that one boy is not like the otherwise.

    And uh, is Laird’s familiar Pater Chronus? Boo boy.

    1. I expect the glamor to backfire in a serious way, although it does make sense that the most powerful use of a faerie beaten in a duel is for deception. It’s possible every kind of magic is overpowered in its own context.

      1. Also, it struck me: the reason things are going so well for him in the infiltration is because he’s used Glamour to assume the form of a member of the Duchamp family, and with it, he’s assumed their positive karma as well.

        I fully expect the spell to backlash on them horribly; since Blake is currently a member of the Duchamp family, the spell will most likely target them instead of the Thornburns, and since the Duchamp and Behaim families are allied, throwing a spell around to try to kill them off will doubtlessly tank the Behaim family karma. Betraying kin like that is one of the worst crimes in antiquity, and most likely one of the worst crimes here, as well.

        1. More particularly, he’s currently masquerading as one of their children. It would be most unfortunate for the families to magically nuke their own children.

    2. because I can’t see how a quick sweep of the Sight would fail to notice that one boy is not like the otherwise.

      The Sight can’t pierce glamours or it would be trivial to deal with Faeries. Just turn on the sight and suddenly their massive sword is actually a pen-knife and their unearthly beauty is actually “not even at five-too-many shots of absinthe”.

      The Sight appears to work by seeing connections, the functioning of the spirits. Glamour partially deceives the spirits and gets stronger as people buy into it. The way to unravel a glamour, I would think, would be to find the connection that was buried by it and feed power into it.

      Remember that Blake has kept his tattoos so as to tether himself to his original form. That gives him a way to be revealed, too.

      1. youd think that when doing large potentially destructive rituals itd be SOP to check over everyone in the vicinity and make sure noone around you can mess with the ritual.

      2. Well, what about a kid with no connections to anyone? Aren’t the manipulators of relationships? He should probably stand out, but he did ask to cash in some good karma, that would make him slippery.

  10. Oooh. Not good.

    I notice that at least one Behaim seems to find the idea of ‘murdering’ Blake slightly distasteful.

    I was wondering the other day – is it common knowledge that the Thorburn line goes through women? Because as far as I remember none of the practitioners have seemed at all surprised at Blake being male.

    1. Well as large as the Beihams and Duchamps are, I would imagine there are some differences of opinion. And some who noticed how with Molly “rough her up” ended up meaning brutally murdered. Funny, you’d think somebody who’s skilled at auguery should catch that.

  11. Gotta get going, so short comment for now, longer later.

    Blake has serious guts. Even desperate and covered in glamour, that had to be hard to do.

    I really can’t figure out what is going on. Laird isn’t targeting Blake, he probably isn’t targeting the house (he knows there’s a demon there and he is careful about not letting it loose), but he somehow expects to take out the entire Thorburn line. Is he targeting the property? That would invite attack from Briar Girl. He did mention the Thorburn demesnes, is he somehow degrading / destroying them? Taking out RDT’s library would cripple both Blake and all future Thorburns.

  12. Comments:
    – I’m still not happy about the Maggie-and-Blake scene – as I said last chapter, it’s way too amicable and Blake reacted too well toward the goblins – but I loved the rest of the chapter.
    – Speculation on Laird’s ritual: His specialty are time powers. He says he neither desires Blake’s death nor his murder right now. But Laird still says this ritual is enough to remove the entire Thorburn family as a threat. -> Let’s assume Laird also knows about Rose senior’s time limit of 5 years for Blake, e.g. maybe practitioners can only affect the world in general up to 5 years after their deaths, or that’s a known rule for dealing with the lawyers, or something. Then Laird could be trying to wind time forward for someone or something so Rose senior’s 5 year time limit is violated. If that succeeded, wouldn’t all Thorburns lose their inheritance, and therefore be removed as a threat? (Though now that I think about it, that might result in the lawyers/devils getting the property, as Blake told Briar Girl. I’m not sure about the rules here.)

    1. The relevant lines from chapter 1.03:
      – “know that you may lose custody of the property if you do not address these tasks”
      – “You will be asked about your progress with some frequency, and failure to make sufficient progress in the next five years will see your rights and access to this house terminated.”
      – “See our bloodline to the end of the fifth year with less of a debt than we had at the start of your custodianship. I’m hoping you can see this through until the end of your lifetime, but I can only focus on these next five years and hope you are on the right road.”

      (And unrelated to this, the section also says “Make no major deals or bargains. Until the end of the custodianship, you’ll need to run any major deals past Mr. Beasley (including the three major rituals).” -> I wonder whether Blake’s deal with Briar Girl counts as such a deal.)

    2. I don’t think he’d be knocking it up just five years though. That would get rid of Blake, but not rid of all the other Thorburns.

      1. I assumed Rose senior’s lines “See our bloodline to the end of the fifth year” and “I can only focus on these next five years” implied that she could only exert influence for the next 5 years after her death, i.e. that it would be a total time limit for all Thorburns. But maybe it’s as you said, and my interpretation is wrong.

  13. WTF? Why this glamour is capable of bypassing demesne defenses? I mean if it was that simple, I think Blake would be dead already. Or maybe it is so rare and crazy to get your hand on glamour that no-one bother to check it?

    But.. Duchamps know that Blake has it. They know he can figure out with books or ask lawyers how to use it. It seems like major idot ball here.

    1. The faerie familiar sustained numerous wounds in the fight with Blake. Even if the two Duchamp siblings noticed the missing faerie hair in particular, they might not have spread word about that due to fear of embarrassment. Apart from the siblings and their mother (who they called after the fight), the rest of the two families might not even know about the fight, let alone about the hair.
      And I’d guess the glamour didn’t bypass demesne defenses; being invited into the house did.

    2. He was invited in. Blake even notes it when he’s considering leaving, that being invited in might have been why he could get in at all. He hasn’t shown a great deal of magical knowledge thus far, and without Briar Girl telling him how he wouldnt have known how to make an effective glamour and the only people that know about him taking the hair(which is super-charging his glamour) are Rose and the lawyer. Wasn’t the familiar unconscious when he took the hair? If so couldnt report it back to her master.

      The move itself is ballsy and I doubt anyone would expect him to make a move like this. There’s strength in ‘No one could possibly be stupid enough to try X’ when done well.

      1. Yes, Blake was invited in. Blake also made note about how he could not really take direct action against them in there as he is a guest… But I wonder if the families are about to receive a truckload of bad karma for conducting a deadly ritual against one of their current guests in plain view of said guest.

  14. Is it possible that the spell Laird is trying to cast is one that makes a certain line fade from existence (I think it was the grandfather clause or something). However the point above remains that it is idiotic or usually impossible to carry out depending on the circumstances.

  15. So many ways for this ritual to backfire! Especially if they assume Blake is holed up in the house and targeting the house somehow.

  16. It seems to me like Laird put a spin on his speech about Blake. He didn’t mention that Blake has shown a willingness to bury the hatchet, repeatedly. He plays up Blake as a threat.

    1. It really seems like he is nursing some sort of personal grudge here. I wonder if it has anything to do with the Behaim/Thorburn hookup that was mentioned in the journal pages from Rose Sr.

        1. Which was because he wanted him puppet and then killed?80% of people,including moral ones,would have released the demons on this jerk already.

          1. Eh, not saying Blake wasn’t justified in his actions.

            Just saying Laird actually does have some reasons to hold a personal grudge against Blake. It can be argued that Laird earned Blake’s attacks on him, but how often do people take that into account, really? That’s how we get into these idiot cycles where person A does B to person C so does D to person A do person A does E to person C, so person A… and before you know it you have literally centuries of grievances going back generations…

            1. I repeat,he was gonna kill him,no matter what he negotiated with him.

              That is not ambiguous,to do such a thing and expect no retaliation is ambiguous….the ambiguity being,are you brain dead,or simply stupid?

              Just from that,it seemed his enmity,which,I repeat,he wouldn’t negotiate even on unconditional surrender,came from before Blake was evena suvccesor of the family.

            2. Again, not saying it wasn’t justified from Blake’s perspective. Also not saying Laird shouldn’t have expected it.

              I’m purely saying it’s human nature to hold a grudge against people who attack you, whether the attached was justified or not.

              Add to that that people can disagree on justification. Laird seems to think “you’re a Thorburn” justifies a lot. Blake, funnily enough, disagrees.

    2. My crackpot theory is that Laird is RDT & Aimon’s son, and feels that the Thorburn’s knowledge/power should be his. Maybe the power used to go to the first born, but she changed the rules to make it so that only females could inherit the power. And Blake being heir would particularly tick him off because she found a way to sidestep the clause for her grandson. /tinfoil hat

  17. “You know what, Rose? I can even change size. I can be huge! Ooh! Fill the whole house.” Blake stretched himself, swelling in size until he’d completely filled the bathroom.

    “I can be teeny, small as a mouse.” He braced himself against the wall and compressed himself into the size and shape of a small boy.

    “Diablerie is my dish of tea. Ooh, it comes easy to me.” Blake crooned and twirled like a ballerina.

    “Is this really a good time to be singing to yourself in the bathroom?” Rose said, glaring plaintively at the obviously insane Blake-turned-black-man-turned-mustache-dude-turned-small-boy in front of her.

    “‘Cause I’m the magnificent, marvellous, mad Blake Thorburn! Marvellous, Rose! Marvellous, I’m marvellous!”

    Blake turned and whispered to Rose out of the corner of his mouth.

    “The Glamour is powered by belief, remember? If I’m going to be able to infiltrate the secret part of this meeting, I need every ounce of confidence that I can scrape together.”

    Rose looked somewhat mollified by this, until Blake proceeded to turn himself into a Gamorrean guard.

    1. And then Blake foils their wicked plan by turning himself into a tiny germ, a rare disease called malagolintomontorosis, and infecting all the Behaims and Duchamps. 😀

  18. While reading this chapter my heart was physically, litterally beating so fast that I could feel it in both my arms and the back of my head.
    The suspense is harrowing =]

    I can’t wait for 3.4

  19. Well, let’s see. Chronomancy on a high order. A major working.
    Comments about Blake and the house.
    Comments about taking the entire Thorburn line out of the picture.

    I suspect that Laird is planning on drastically slowing time down around the Thorburn House, while the rest of the world passes at the same speed. Remember that after six missed council meetings in a five year timeframe, Blake loses the rights to the property. The same will be true for the next Thorburn Heir, and the next. They enter the house, and get stuck in the “Time Trap” If time is slowed down enough in the house, all the heirs might miss six meetings when they enter the house at the summons of the lawyers, and there will be no more heirs left. If new heirs don’t enter the house, they are simply killed offhand because they are untrained and have no safe haven.

    So slowing time down around the house will prevent Blake from fulfilling his contractual agreement to attend council meetings. It will also prevent the rest of his family from fulfilling the same contractual agreements. They would never be able to use the house. The Others within the house (if there is more than one) won’t care. They don’t care about time.

    Laird likely has Others watching the house and telling him when Blake arrives and leaves.
    Blake entered the house, and has not left… Not unless you can see through his glamour…

    So as far as Laird and his Other spies know, Blake is in the house, because he was seen to go there after talking with Briar Girl…

    The big question here is this. Is Laird targeting Rose, or is Laird targeting the house? I don’t think there are any other valid targets for him to aim at which can be presumed to have a chance to catch Blake, – Rose is iffy since she’s not necessarily always next to Blake (remember the first appearance of Rose?). Laird is methodical. It’s got to be the house.

    So, what happens if Blake knows the house is trapped? He knows he can’t go in because he will be stuck in time if he does. He’s got the power of glamour hair, and a couple tricks. He has the lawyers and their money.

    The first thing to do would be to talk to the lawyers and find out how difficult it would be to simply speed up time inside the slowed down time field around the house. Then Blake could simply come and go as he wished, and Laird would suffer a huge hit against his credibility as a practitioner.

    If that’s not doable, he rents a hotel room, and mails a letter to Laird the next day, post marked the day after the time slow event. Inside: “Your attack failed miserably. If you do not want me to start saying names seven times, you will come to visit me at my house. Now.” Include in the letter a clipping of the front page of the daily newspaper for the day the letter was mailed, to prove that Blake is able to move into and out of the house still, since Laird never saw him leave before.

    So Laird assumes that Blake was somehow protected from the effect, and goes to visit the house. One of two things will happen. Laird believes that there’s a bubble of faster time inside the house as a result of his slower time, and Blake is using others to get allow him activity in the outside world, so he kills the slow time effect. Win for Blake. Or Laird thinks the effect is ended or removed, and enters the area around the house and spends ten minutes knocking on the door, only to leave and find that he’s missed six council meetings and lost his job because he was gone for six months. Definitely win for Blake.

    In the meantime, Blake hides in a hotel room with demon lawyer money and glamour.

    1. The house would look different to practitioner-vision if the effect was there vs. if it wasn’t. Laird would know. Either way, the fact that Laird’s targeting the house while he’s not in it will throw a giant monkey wrench into the working.

      1. Not really. Not if the target is the house. I think that’s why there is supposed to be no backlash here. They aren’t targeting a person. A person will “hopefully” be affected, but it’s an indirect affect.

        Now, if they ARE targeting Blake, then it gets much better. What happens if one of the Duchamps happens to notice that this giant working seems to be targeting a six-year-old Duchamp child? If the working is powerful enough to ferret out Blake within his glamour, there might be a whole lot of guest vs. host guest in the near future. Simply by being there at the right time, Blake might be the cause of massive karma losses amongst his enemies.

    2. I agree that some sort of time trickery that forces Blake to miss deadlines is likely (there are several deadlines, not just the council meetings), but the exact scenario here seems unlikely to me. As Possum559 below said, slow-timing the whole house for an indefinite time is big and noticeable, which probably means it is hell itself for power requirements and unintended consequences. One minor objection is, if they are watching the house consistently, sooner or later the watchers will report the random not-Blake guy that left the house without entering it and Laird or others, who do know about shape-borrowing and glamour, and know that Blake has access to glamour, are going to figure out what happened. Also, it seems unlikely that Laird would get caught in his own trap for long, or be unable to easily determine if it was or wasn’t working (connections are easy to see, especially if you made them).

      My best guess is based on the excerpts from the Demesnes book, which hints that untenanted demesnes that the the practitioner doesn’t deliberately keep powered up slowly lose power. If Laird can speed up that then he can remove demesnes from the Thorburn house, which sounds nice until you realize that means the library might vanish. Removing the demesnes might also break any protections that the house provides. Either one of those would hamstring Blake and all other heirs, hence the comment about removing everyone at once. Note that my guesses don’t have a high success rate.

    3. But if that were really Laird’s plan, why would he need the Duchamps? They specialize in enchanting, in connections. Since they’re clustered around the center circle, tightly packed in positions denoted by various implements (crown, sword, cup, coin, tome) I’m betting that they’re working to make sure he can’t draw power from anything he makes in that sanctuary. The chronomancy is to make sure the process (which given the elaborate nature of the setup is possibly quite lengthy even without Blake’s potential interference) passes by before the scary diabolist in his scary mansion can interfere. Of course, glamour’s put paid to that, but I don’t think they know that.

      1. Two circles were formed. Sounds ritualistic. We don’t know enough about ritual. Perhaps major workings need a lot of people who actually use different types of implements. Or maybe they just need a lot of people as a power source and one to guide the ritual.

        Don’t think we know enough here.

  20. “It’s like looking at the workings of the human body. It’s messy and gross and bloody and mucked up and imperfect, but there’s an art there.”

    You know, Maggie is just one demon blood pact away from having superhuman medical skills.

    1. Ooh, another parallel to Bonesaw besides the connection that both can’t/won’t curse.
      But once those parallels are out of the way, the differences between the two become rather hard to ignore, heh.

    2. Enough blood to make you faint didn’t sound like a bad deal to me when it was mentioned.

      Since Blake used smears of blood to power his rituals and wasted away like that? All of a sudden enough blood to make you faint seems like a terrible idea. A really terrible idea.

    3. Huh? … tracks back through the archives. Well damn, I read that as offering the use of expert skill in medicine, but the exact wording is “he will offer expert skill in medicine, in exchange for enough blood to make the practitioner pass out” so possibly he does give the bargainer skill in medicine. From previous RDT notes we know Others can give skill in Sumerian, so why not?

  21. An interesting chapter. Blake couldn’t even reach the lawyers… makes me wonder what would have happened with Ornias.

    He lost substance by overusing his blood. He uses glamour way too easily, which is likely linked. Rose is the effective heir and he swore to help her out.
    I’m seeing a path where he becomes Rose’s body and they willingly merge together, combining substances, unlocking abilities, and physically becoming the true heir. Probably sacrificing his ‘self’ in the process, possibly remaining as a ghost, or a figment in Human!Rose’s head. Best case, Rose gets some rad tattoos he lives within.
    Maybe.

    Only thing I’m sure of is, I’m going to enjoy finding out how wrong I am.

    1. I was just wondering about Ornias myself. I thought it was working for Blake, but now I’m curious what would have happened.

      1. I think Ornias was definitly going to show. Not only did Blake feel it, but Jo did too. And I doubt Mrs. Lewis would give him a no show to defend himself. Did the ghosts respond to his calling them? It may be more that while Blake isn’t recognized as the Thorburn heir, he is still able to make connections to others, he just doesn’t have the family name behind it. Although that doesn’t explain Dickswizzle…

  22. How did I miss this chapter!?! Is this a bonus chapter? Its a good thing Subbak left that spoilery comment on the last chapter or I’d be behind come Saturday.

    With regards to the actual chapter, Laird plans on doing something subtle. He also plans on removing the Thorburns as a threat. My first thought was that he was targeting the family as a whole to make them non-fertile.

    On looking back, however, the Duchamps seemed to be representing various types of implements. Perhaps he is taking away their ability to use implements or do certain rituals.

    1. It is unusual for a bonus chapter to be a plot continuation, but Wildbow did say he had two coming before he put up the last gathered pages chapter.

      1. I thought the general rule from Worm was that bonus chapters could be part of normal narrative if it was in the middle or at the beginning of an arc.

        Interludes, P.O.V.’s and historical fragments would generally only be added at the latter end of an arc.

        I might be wrong though?

  23. I think you’re all thinking too concretely with Laird’s Chronomancy. =)

    While locking him outside of his house via a dome of total fast-forward/slow-motion is fun and all, I don’t think it would work (on the grounds of sustainability and the hell to pay of random consequences).

    The Duchamp Enchanters are involved as well. Ever go through a prolonged depression? Some people off themselves…

    I’m not saying they don’t, but I don’t see anyone knowing about the contract but the Lawyers and Blake/Rose. I also wouldn’t ever go around talking about defeats if I were a Practitioner. “If a newbie like the Thorburn kid can do it, So can I. I’m pretty sure I could use a Faerie Heart. to get my boss to care.”

  24. …let’s just hope this does not end with Blake knocking out and replacing the bride..

    Oh and is Blake impersonating the boy with 1 year left to live ?

    For now I subscribe to “make a time moat around the house”.

  25. It seems to me that it is not some kind of uber-time-trap, but defense that Laird promised as wedding gift. Duchamps inside, protected and all demons neutralized.

    1. I doubt it. Laird told Blake he’d notice it – if it was purely defensive for use against demons, then Blake would only notice it if he sent a demon after them. It also wouldn’t do very much good if the Duchamps were only defended inside Laird’s house, since they couldn’t know when Blake might send a demon. And it’s clearly chronomancy related, which might not have much of an effect on beings like the barber that have a different view of time.

  26. Laird, deceiving your family and family-to-be is rude. Alternatively, being deceived into actually believing the rot you’re talking about is weak, and you’ve played up the Big Protector persona far too hard for being weak to be acceptable.

    You’re supposed to be a CHAMPION, Laird! The righteous shield that deflects all harm! Right now, it looks like you’re the knife in the back – the only question is whether you’re doing it for yourself or if someone else is giving you orders.

  27. Finally, time to do more than short posts…

    Glamour is proving extremely, extraordinarily useful and easy for Blake. Time to check the price tag on that.

    This whole episode was more chilling to me than the life-or-death fights. I think that is the case because that kind of infiltration and the resulting potential for exposure and social debacle is something that bothers me personally – I really can’t imagine doing that sort of thing, life and death or not.

    Interesting exposition, with the non-cognoscenti in the family giving the newcomer the lowdown on how the family operates. Nice to know there is some possibly exploitable friction within the families. But the practitioners seem to buy that problem away with food and drink.

    She [Sandra] smiled, and did a somewhat poor job of smiling in a genuine way, greeting this person and that.
    That’s interesting – the master of relationships has trouble appearing genuine. I wonder if that indicates something.

    The bride-to-be smiled, but it was a polite smile, very small. The groom didn’t change his expression in the slightest. [later] Besides, they weren’t getting more than a few feet apart. There was a connection between them, I noticed. A crimson line of spirits stretched between ring fingers. [later] “…for the betterment of our families, putting old grudges aside.”
    Sounds strongly like a marriage of alliance rather than a love match. Well, there were hints of that. Old grudges, eh? Any way to stir those up?

    “And,” one guy groused, “It’s not like they’re your kids, you know?”
    What? The married-in non-cognoscenti think the kids their wives are having are not theirs?

    That bothered me some. Unmarried middle aged guy who lived in an apartment, waiting outside the bathroom for a young boy. I even had the ‘stache. What the hell was wrong with me and the choices I was making, for glamours?
    Response to the message board comments from last chapter?

    One accusatory birdcall, and I was done for.
    Reference to Litita, who should recognize a link to her previous power? She might find the mortal antics amusing enough to not say anything, though.

    “Sandra Duchamp was able to pull some strings, and things look like they will settle…”
    The Behaim-Duchamp relationship is just a little too cozy and powerful. No wonder Blake wants to mess it up.

    “I wouldn’t bet on anything right now [from Blake].”
    Yeah, like him sneaking in as a six-year-old kid under disguise by glamour.

    “… increase the bounty we’re offering for any killed Thorburn…”
    Bloody hands at arms reach (Pratchett quote). Oh no, we won’t touch him ourselves, we’ll just offer a bounty. Sounds like hypocrisy, more likely karma gaming.

    I saw people passing a pile of stapled papers around.
    Sounds like something he should get his hands on. Did any of the principles put a set down when they starting the working?

    I found myself with my back to the glass cabinets.
    So Rose could appear behind him and watch with at least some cover.

    “He spends much of his time ensconced within the house, where every demesnes has been turned inward.”
    “Clustered so close together,”
    “That’s the realm. The space.”
    Are they setting up a model of the Thorburn house and demesnes? But it sounds like the Duchamps are in a circle, which is not a model of the house. Could they be trying to degrade Barbatorem’s cage enough to release it? Are they trying to pull a super-powerful version of what happened when the Duchamps set Blake’s family against him? Whatever this is, it sounds like it will be interesting.

    1. “And,” one guy groused, “It’s not like they’re your kids, you know?”
      What? The married-in non-cognoscenti think the kids their wives are having are not theirs?

      I’ve read it more like that the parent (mothers) tend to think&say my kid instead of our kid.

      1. Any children are invariably girls with an astonishing resemblance to their mother. You can understand a feeling of being locked out of the loop on this one.

    2. “The bride-to-be smiled, but it was a polite smile, very small. The groom didn’t change his expression in the slightest. [later] Besides, they weren’t getting more than a few feet apart. There was a connection between them, I noticed. A crimson line of spirits stretched between ring fingers. [later] “…for the betterment of our families, putting old grudges aside.”
      Sounds strongly like a marriage of alliance rather than a love match. Well, there were hints of that. Old grudges, eh? Any way to stir those up?”

      Or they are being made to love one another. Or they are just nervous to be meeting all the extended families. Still a Red String of Fate? Wonder if anyone would see the barber being used to snip that? But still don’t think using the barber is entirely wise.

      “… increase the bounty we’re offering for any killed Thorburn…”
      Bloody hands at arms reach (Pratchett quote). Oh no, we won’t touch him ourselves, we’ll just offer a bounty. Sounds like hypocrisy, more likely karma gaming.”

      Yeah, plus Laird’s reassuring the one guy that it won’t be murder… Well lets say to steal someones boat and leave him treading water in shark infested waters. You tottally didn’t kill him the sharks did!

      “And,” one guy groused, “It’s not like they’re your kids, you know?”
      What? The married-in non-cognoscenti think the kids their wives are having are not theirs?”

      This combined with the part where they say the girls eventually leave and return home, it feels more like you don’t get to truly strike out on you own. Nobody leaves the family.

      1. “This combined with the part where they say the girls eventually leave and return home, it feels more like you don’t get to truly strike out on you own. Nobody leaves the family.”

        I’m sensing with my psychic powers a theme of overbearing, dynastic families, and the struggle to break away from them. Granny Rose’s manipulations of her family to keep their power alive, the Duchamps and Bechaims counting on their children as breeding stock and foot soldiers until they get old enough to take over.

        Makes we think that Blakes best bet isn’t feeding dozens of people he don’t know to the O-man, but putting a wedge in that generational divide and letting not only himself, but the kids of Duchamps and Bechaims break away from the crazy magic shit that was chosen for them.

        1. Yeah. I noticed that Penny and Jo are mentioned as being at the party, but no word of what they actually were doing or how they feel about the situation.

          Also, Blake seems to think (with good reason) much more negatively of the two than how I believe the audience thinks of them.

          1. “Blake seems to think (with good reason) much more negatively of the two than how I believe the audience thinks of them.”

            Does he? I mean, “they tried to kill me” is more of a fact than an opinion.

            Honestly, I think that his capacity to put aside grudges might be his most potent weapon against Laird. He’s gotta contradict Laird’s propaganda, which setting the house on fire wouldn’t help with.

        2. Lardo Behaim slammed his beer bottle into the table and half-wailed, half-burped his despair.

          “Waagh! That Thorburn is a menace! He’s come into town and started spreading his diabolical influence! He’s already started seducing our innocent children, our precious little babies, into the Dark Lord’s/Lords’/Lady’s/Ladies’/Whatever’s sway!”

          Cruella DuChamps, matronly matriarch of the clan of Enchantresses, sneered scornfully. Or perhaps she was smiling, it was hard to tell, with her.

          “Indeed! They’ve started listening to this dreadful “Roc and Troll” music, which is clearly corrupting their young minds even further. Not to mention the ghastly satanical clothing.”

          Lardo opened a bleary eye and looked at her, swaying in his chair.

          “You mean the t-shirts? Horrible! Simply horrible. Can you believe that my son – my son – said that he wanted a ‘life of his own’, and that I was ‘totally oppressing him, man’? Well, of course I’m a man! What kind of man wouldn’t arrange who his own children were to marry, years in advance?”

          The DuChamps matriarch swirled the claret in her long-stemmed wine glass – widdershins, of course – and glared into the middle distance. Her jaws worked, as though she’d just eaten Blake Thorburn alive and was trying to dislodge a particularly loathsome and vexing morsel of Blake-flesh from the space between her molars and bicuspids.

          “Pfah! That’s nothing. You should see the state of my grand-daughters. They’ve collectively started wearing…” she said, shuddering before uttering the next word.”

          “…Pants. And they’re reading books about something called the Suffragette movement.”

          Lardo fell off his chair in sheer shock, leaving a minor ass-shaped dent in the linoleum floor and knocking the wine bottle into the plate of leftover vol-au-vents.

        3. Next town meeting Blake should totally do this…
          “Hey ladies, I just want you all to know, I am single and on the market. And those of you from the Duchamp and Beiham families, just think about how big a rebellion marrying me would be. And I’m the bad boy. The one with the dark and troubled past, with a cruel future, that you all want to change. You know you’ve read it in your romance fanfics. And guys, don’t feel left out. We’re trying to get Rose here out of the mirror, and she’s just as eligable as me.” As I saw Rose’s “Really? Really?” expression I wondered if I laid it on just a little too thick.

      2. I believe the most precise term for this is Glorified Sperm Donor, that or the Duchamps women only get married for money,status & power while cheating on their husbands to bear children sired by Others.

    1. You mean the vestigial copies of the sheaf of papers Laird was handing out? That would be useful – nice idea. And with Blake in front of the glass and everyone’s eyes on the ongoing spell it cuts down on the possibility of discovery. Of course, it might be so dim that she would have to take it elsewhere to read, but that’s a fixable problem.

      1. Very nice idea. 🙂

        Corollary: Is there a mirror image of Lardo’s super-complex diagram on Rose’s side of the looking glass? What would happen if she accidentally spilled something on the mirror diagram? Or scuffed it with her foot, or whatever she can think of?

        Since Lardo’s spell is targeting all of the Thorburn family, and it has already been stated explicitly several times that Rose counts as a Thorburn, would the spell still affect Rose if she ruined the part of the diagram that exists in her world? Would the spell fizzle if it can’t acquire a proper target? An “Error 404 – Rose Thorburn not found” type of thing?

  28. You know, with how Blake described his family in previous chapter, I think I figured a possible reasoning for Grandma Rose to send her heirs in, in this particular order. Specifically, if we assume she actually only considered Blake, Molly and Paige the “important” ones.

    Molly was the olive branch to the community. Mature, level-headed, and peaceful. She was an offering of courtesy, of “let’s start relationships anew” that she knew likely wouldn’t happen, buuut… Because Molly had no reason, and was not the character, to throw the next blow in the feuding of the town.

    Blake, the bold and audacious one. He’s the one to surprise her, I think. He’s also her first failsafe. Punishment for daring to throw away her offer of peace. The one she deemed likely to put a first, most important, blow aganist the community.

    Most of the others are ablative karmic shielding and the bringers of chaos, in their pettiness and such.

    And Paige, the one most like her, is her final failsafe for the family.

    1. “Most of the others are ablative karmic shielding and the bringers of chaos, in their pettiness and such.”

      Reminds me of a gag from Schlock Mercenary:

      Spying Robot: “I am ablative armor! My life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am ablative armor! My life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am ablative armor…”

      1. Speaking of: Given how… pragmatic… some of these practitioners are, has anyone else wondered if the ‘seven lifetimes of karmic debt’ thing could be offset by producing seven heirs in rapid succession and either sacrificing them directly somehow or setting them all to work on karma-generation schemes?

  29. So Blake apparently is very naturally skilled with glamour and has some ability with shamanism. Could he use that to get the real kids to interrupt the ritual? Perhaps make a rune to get the kids rowdy and loud. We know that the real 6 year old isn’t immune to those yet. His cousin probably isn’t either.

      1. It also assumes the kid was actually effected by the rune. The kid’s six years old and all his friends are going to a movie. Magic isn’t really needed to make him want to go along.

  30. Random Thought:-

    With Blake specializing in Post-Mortem Communications, when will he get the hooded all-black robes and the skull ring to match his faded pasty complexion?

  31. If Blake doesn’t at least THINK of Ornias again, with his enemies all in front of him, engaged in a ritual to destroy the power of his family, and perhaps kill them as well, I’m going to be very surprised.

    Karma might even allow it. After all, he is a guest… While he is being a guest, he is witnessing an attack against his bloodline being perpetrated by his host.

    I doubt Laird’s statement about no karmic feedback being involved in the ritual did not consider the possibility that Blake would be under Laird’s roof as an invited guest, and witnessing the event. Laird’s scrying the future should be just as unlikely to allow him to see Blake in his house as seeing him in the present, due to the glamour.

    There are so many ways this could go. It’s hard to stop posting ideas, but it’s time to kick out a bit of writing myself, so I’ll tear myself away from making some huge post.

    1. Nah, Laird specifically avoids paths leading to fire and brimstone because he’s expecting Blake to go for the nukes.
      Which makes him blind to glamour-powered infiltrations (and possibly goblin kicks in the rear). Wrong genre savvinness hard at work.

      1. Wonder if Laird is even bothering to see what would happen with the do not antigonize, or take up on his peace offerings paths would resault in. He was way too fast to decide Blake is going to be a threat and a danger.

  32. Tons of great lines in this chapter again:
    – “I was quietly terrified, but I’d promised myself I’d do this. Take control, act.”
    – “All of that, the quiet terror, the leap of faith, relying on instincts, it was what I’d been doing since meeting Rose.”
    – “If I didn’t feel as panicked as I should, I told myself it was because I was going with the flow, adapting to circumstance. I didn’t want to believe it was some deeper flaw. Another, deeper element at play.”
    – ““When did you figure it out?”“The lawyers. They came when I said their names. You were in the kitchen, and I said it, and boom, there they were.”” – Aaah! So that’s why Rose looked so terrified…
    – “it wasn’t just the ghosts, was it? When I went up to the room, the barber turned his back to me. Rejecting me.” – Ahahahah.
    – ““You gave the goblin an order, but you don’t have the whistle,”“No,”“But he does. And we’re sort of one and the same. By the letter of the law, the Thorburn practitioner is holding the whistle, and the Thorburn practitioner is giving the orders.””
    – ““Am I even me right now?”“As far as the whistle is concerned?”“I hope you are, at your core, at least,”“There’s one possibility, that you’re the body and I’m the voice. You can obviously do some material things. Drawing circles, some shamanism. Glamour, obviously.”” -> Obviously, indeed.
    – ““You said this place was safe.”“Relatively… relative to home,””
    – “He gave her a very good ‘I am not amused in the slightest’ look.”
    – ““This place was supposed to be safer. More stable.”“It is, dad.”“I’ll rephrase. It was supposed to be safer. Stable.””
    – “I mentally prepared my story, best as I could. Fuck me, getting into a situation like this when I couldn’t lie.”
    – “You know the drill for these things?”“They’ve got some secret society bullshit or whatever going on here. Keeps things lively in a town this small, I think. So we get good drink, good food, good drink-”“-And some long winded speeches, before they kick us out or stick us somewhere and see to their own business.”
    – “Well, some want out. And the easiest way out is to get married before their folks marry them off. Even if that guy’s twice their age, living in an apartment, with a cruddy maybe in the way of employment prospects, some prefer that choice to the alternative.” – Oooh, that’s interesting. Blake complained that these practitioner kids got all this support from their families, but apparently, some of them dislike their situation as much as he does.
    – “No. I had to believe in the glamour. Confidence. The glamour was stronger. Having an audience helped. I’m stronger, I’m not that easy to break. She won’t see through it. I wasn’t entirely able to convince myself.”
    – “The problem here was that pretty much anyone and everyone who was a practitioner here was a stronger practitioner than me.”
    – “Besides, they weren’t getting more than a few feet apart. There was a connection between them, I noticed. A crimson line of spirits stretched between ring fingers. Was it like I’d read about in one of the books? A tether? A leash of some fixed length, keeping them together?”
    – “Nobody followed me or objected. That bothered me some. Unmarried middle aged guy who lived in an apartment, waiting outside the bathroom for a young boy. I even had the ‘stache. What the hell was wrong with me and the choices I was making, for glamours?” – Haha!
    – “A moment passed, and Rose appeared in the pane. “Are you sure you should call me?”“No,”“But this is your chance to tell me if I’m being an idiot.”“Are you being an idiot?””
    – “Set the house on fire?”“There’s a thought,”“But no. This many practitioners, this being their territory, the fire would go out if they asked politely.”
    – “Don’t poison,”“Being a guest means there are rules. Even if the host has expressed an intent to murder you.”
    – “I stretched my legs out in front of me. One was almost a foot shorter than the other.” – This glamour is insane.
    – ““I’m done commenting on this,”“I have no words.” I turned around, arms out to my sides “Convincing?”“Yes. Definitely convincing. If I hadn’t watched it happen, I wouldn’t have known. I’m having trouble reconciling it even now.””
    – ““Wish me luck.”“Oh, believe me, I’m praying you have good luck,”“Please don’t get us killed.””
    – ““I’m primarily looking out for the worst case scenarios.”“Fire and brimstone,”“Exactly,”” – Oh wow.
    – “First of all, I resented that. Second of all, ominous.” – My bullshit interpretation: The Fool card implies he’s Fooling them with glamour…
    – ““Let’s not mince words,”“You’re talking about his death. About murdering him.”“I was mincing words, as we do have children in the room,”“But no, I do not want either option. Particularly now. This is my proposed solution.””
    – “There’s no risk of backlash?”“No. We’re not targeting him,”
    – He stepped deliberately into the last open space.” – I love this aspect of Pactverse, too.
    – “Fuck me. Maybe I should set the house on fire.”

  33. Art there, she said, Dickswizzle. ART! Not fart.

    Hey now, Blake, don’t be at all put off by the Fool card. That’s the best card in the deck. It doesn’t add or take away from any of the others, but it has a power all its own. The journey. The ability to walk off a cliff and not fall until you notice you should be falling. Sounds like a glamorous little trick, right?

    Personally, I’d be more concerned about being compared to a high priestess. Kind of a knock to the confidence when you’re already supposed to marry a guy despite being straight.

    Dammit, Matatoa Bobby Doomgex! You’re not supposed to be helping these assholes with a ritual to attack our main character. Wait a minute, I get it. I get it. Of course you aren’t involved in such an attack. Because, duh, this is clearly not going to kill him. Or destroy him. Or remove him.

    Carry on then. I’d say don’t forget to visit for the holidays, but I’m gonna put up a sign this year saying “Not at home to any anthropomorphized holiday spirits.”

  34. Art there, she said, Dickswizzle. ART! Not fart. You’re as bad as Dr. Nefario.

    Hey now, Blake, don’t be at all put off by the Fool card. That’s the best card in the deck. It doesn’t add or take away from any of the others, but it has a power all its own. The journey. The ability to walk off a cliff and not fall until you notice you should be falling. Sounds like a glamorous little trick, right?

    Personally, I’d be more concerned about being compared to a high priestess. Kind of a knock to the confidence when you’re already supposed to marry a guy despite being straight.

    Dammit, Matatoa Bobby Doomgex! You’re not supposed to be helping these assholes with a ritual to attack our main character. Wait a minute, I get it. I get it. Of course you aren’t involved in such an attack. Because, duh, this is clearly not going to kill him. Or destroy him. Or remove him.

    Carry on then. I’d say don’t forget to visit for the holidays, but I’m gonna put up a sign this year saying “Not at home to any anthropomorphized holiday spirits.”

  35. This…will not end well. I expect major chaos, and for Blake to come out on top, but to suffer yet more huge setbacks in power and such.
    Though of course, I realize the futility of attempting to predict Wildblow. We’ll just have to see.

  36. Ok,I dunno what Lardo (misspeling intentional)plans to do,but I know what I’d plan to do.

    Many people think time whamming him so his time limit for his responsibilities passes,or so that he losses a lot of time ,is a good idea.I digress,time sealing him by slowing down time,wil only work until somebody breaks the spell from outside,(and the demon lawyers will do so)and they do not know about his responsibilities.

    No,the most devious thing they could do is speeding time inside the mansion.Sure,it will give him some more time to trainwhile its active,but nobody will come fast enough to break it (unless he summons something,but evenif that something is the lawyers,it will cost him)and he will starve…encircling the house whilehe has dwindling resources inside is a very good idea,as he will eventually be smoked out,and they do not have to encircle it 24/7,if amonth passes per minute,he will be out in seconds,maybe 2-3 minutes at most,depending on his food stockpile.

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