Histories (Arc 3)

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

“Back straight.  And for the love of god, stop sweating.”

“I’m sorry, Auntie,” Sandra murmured.

Her aunt stalked around her, fingers prodding, adjusting.  Raising the chin a fraction, moving the shoulders back.  When Sandra allowed her chin to drop again, the second adjustment was made using fingernails, in the soft flesh just behind the jawline.  She barely flinched, but she could sense her familiar bristling.

Sandra had a view of her auntie as the woman took a step back to look Sandra over.  They were all dressed elaborately in forest green, their outfit appropriate for a dinner party more than a formal dance or cocktail party.  Her auntie’s age had been obfuscated by a touch of glamour, so she might appear to be a woman in her late twenties.  Carefully masked.  Long term use and overuse with glamour led to complications.  As in all things.

Sandra herself didn’t have the benefit of any glamour.  She remained stock still as her aunt stepped close and adjusted her neckline.  Redistributing flesh at the top of the corset as if she were fluffing a pillow, until she was satisfied with the presentation.

It’s the eighties, and I’m wearing a corset.  There’s something wrong with this picture.

Nevermind the fact that her aunt was adjusting her assets as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Her aunt met her eyes.

“Don’t look so angry, Sandra,” the woman said.  She adjusted a strand of Sandra’s hair, tucking it behind Sandra’s ear.

“I’m not.”

“You look angry.  Missy, tell me, what expression does your cousin have on her face?  Tell the truth.”

It’s not like we have a choice.

Missy stepped away from the door to take a look.  Missy wasn’t nearly as made up as her mother or Sandra were, but that was intentional.  A very non-magical effect and tactic at play.

Missy took her time studying Sandra.  When Sandra shifted her weight in impatience, the movement prompted another half-dozen small corrections from her auntie.

Now, Missy.”

“You look pissed, baby sister,” Missy said.

Language.  We are guests,” the rebuke was sharp.

Missy looked suitably chastised.  Then again, she’d always been the best actress in the family.  Everyone found freedom where they could, and Missy had found hers in doing one thing while pretending to do another.

“I’m not angry,” Sandra said, as diplomatically as she could.  “This is the expression my face naturally settles into.”

“My sister should have corrected that,” her aunt said.  “No reason you can’t teach yourself to hold a different expression.  I hope this won’t be a problem.”

Sandra nodded, glancing down to one side before she reached out for Hildr.  In the form of a stoat, a short tailed weasel, her familiar hopped up to her hand and climbed up to her shoulders, clawed toes pricking her bare skin there.  She could see Auntie raise a hand, ready to adjust her posture and with fingernails, and quickly resumed the ‘perfect’ posture, now with her familiar draped over one shoulder.

Her aunt paused, verified that Sandra had found the appropriate position, and lowered her hand.

“There’s only so much I can do.  Give you a proper first impression,” her aunt said.

“Yes Auntie.”

There was a noise on the other side of the double doors.  Three heads turned.

No, he wasn’t coming through.  The connections weren’t there.

“Can I ask?” Sandra murmured.

“About?” her auntie responded.

“Him.”

“What about him?  We’ve told you who he is.”

“A hermit?” Sandra said.

“Inaccurate.  A hermit doesn’t live in the big city, with a coterie close at hand.”

“He doesn’t have any human contact with the outside world.”

“Nonetheless.  Try to think of him in a better light.”

“Why him?”

“It’s a gamble, Sandra dear.  A gamble.”

The three of them turned their heads as the connection strengthened.  This time, there was clarity, direction, a thrust to it.  Motive.

They were ready as the door opened.  Sandra smiled.

He arrived, but he didn’t arrive alone.

The bottle was the first thing to catch her eye.  His clothes were the second.  Rumpled, a gray flannel shirt over another shirt, jeans with the bottoms of the pant legs in tatters, over brown boots with gray dirt layered over the badly scuffed toe.  His dark hair was unwashed and long, his face unshaven, and not unshaven in a calculated way.  His neck was hairy.

His contingent followed.  Men and women, all appearing roughly ten years younger than him.  She might have described them as hippies, but there was nothing peaceful or hopeful about them.  Many were tattooed, dressed in blacks, browns and grays, with only a splash of color here and there.  Three women to every man, most attractive, but not always in a conventional way.

Not in the Duchamp’s way.

Under the artificial lights, the trickeries and shaping slipped, here and there.  A hairpin appeared to be a leaf in the false light, before the woman stepped into the light that beamed in through the uncovered window.  A curl of brown hair at the forehead showed itself to be a curved horn.  A woman paused, while one of her female companions caught up to her, leaping up to throw an arm around her shoulders, and Sandra could see eyes with red irises, clawed fingers, and a mouth filled with jagged teeth, dark red stains in the flesh around the woman’s mouth.

They collectively smelled like sex.  Not that Sandra knew from experience, but she had little doubt, and she could infer from context.  There was a thicker, skunky smell that she couldn’t pin down or infer from context.  They also smelled like warm hay, wine, fur, grass after a rain, and faintly, lingering in the background, they smelled like blood.

They were here, in so many senses.  Assaulting the senses, even.  The smells were so thick and varied she could taste them on the back of her tongue.  There was the view of them, their languid movements, the occasional flicker of their real forms that she could see in certain lights, if she was using the Sight.  There were the sounds they made, whispering and giggling amongst one another.

He was backed by his people, a contingent, very much alive and active.  Almost defined by activity.  They moved from one side of the group to the other, jostled one another, touched, surreptitiously groped.  Their every action and reaction amongst one another was an invitation or a response to an invitation.

Her auntie had gone to so much effort to present her body just so, but what did it matter?  He clearly didn’t care for appearances.  Why would he care for a nice set of breasts, modestly and carefully presented, when he clearly had all he could ask for?

Dominus Autem Ebrius,” Auntie said, smiling  “Forgive me.  I’d say it in Greek, but my pronunciation is atrocious.”

“Your Latin pronunciation is atrocious too,” he said.  “But I’ll forgive you your failings.”

There wasn’t a smile on his face.  Even as his group leered and smirked, offered sly smiles and teasing glances, he was stone-faced, very still.

“Very gracious of you,” Auntie said.  Her smile, Sandra noted, managed to stay in place, but the note of warmth was gone from her voice.

“I won’t pretend to be gracious,” he said.  “I’m not that guy.  But holding grudges and holding things over people isn’t worth my time.”

“I see,” Auntie responded.  “A wise way of looking at things.”

“Not many people who’d call me wise,” he said.

Auntie composed herself.  “I’m Nicole Duchamp.  This is Sandra and Missy Duchamp.”

“Jeremy Meath.  My friends call me Jerry, you can call me Jeremy.”

“I… yes.  Thank you for agreeing to the meeting.”

“Welcome,” he said, almost automatically.  “Only one of them I’m interested in looking at, isn’t there?  Waste of time to bring two, unless you’re not that confident in what you’re selling.”

“I’m confident she’ll do.”

“I’m not putting any stock in that confidence.  You’ll have to tell me which one am I’m looking at, by the by, unless we’re just going to stand here dicking about.”

Auntie used her hand to point to Sandra.  Apparently she’d decided to stop speaking, given how intent he seemed on arguing every point.

Jeremy looked at Sandra.  Nothing held back, no reticence.  His eye looked over everything from head to toe, taking his time.

A man in the crowd stepped forward a bit, with shaggy dark curls and a broad aquiline nose.  “She looks-”

“Shh,” Jeremy’s rebuke was quiet.

The other man stopped.  His eyes, however, didn’t leave Sandra.

When Jeremy met her eyes, Sandra smiled, just as she’d been instructed.

“Young,” he said.

“Nineteen,” Auntie said.

“Not really my type,” he said.  “Either of them.”

“If it’s about appearance, appearances can change.  The Faerie give us donations of glamour as payment for our services as ambassadors.  There would be more than enough, if you’d prefer a different body type, hair color, bone structure…”

Sandra felt her heart beat a little faster at that.

It was scary in a way that the red-eyed women with the sharp teeth weren’t.

“That’s not the kind of ‘type’ I meant,” he said.

“Is it a matter of style?  She’s adaptable, knows a little something about everything, she’s capable of holding her own in any situation, smart, and well learned.”

Jeremy tilted his head to one side, then the other, as if trying to see her in a different light.  “Yet you’re offering her to me?”

“We’re introducing the two of you.  The family will discuss it with Sandra later, but if you take a liking to each other, or if you don’t actively dislike each other, we could arrange something.”

“There aren’t many people I dislike,” he said.

“Perfect,” Auntie said.

“Which doesn’t mean I’m accepting.  Educated, you said?”

“She’s-”

“I’d like to hear from her.  Assuming the blonde has enough brains to speak.”

“I can speak,” Sandra said, biting back her temper.

“And?” he asked.  He’d asked it in a way that made it feel like he was making a point.

“And I completed a degree.”

In?” he managed the same tone.

She managed to avoid stuttering or stumbling.  It would only play into his hands.  He was shaping the conversation to put her off balance and reinforce the ‘brainless blonde’ idea.  “I majored in English, minored in theology.”

“At nineteen?”

“At nineteen.”

“Why English and Theology?”

“If you’re destined to grow up to be a scientist, you study sciences.  If you’re going to go all-in as a practitioner, you have to focus on the esoteric.  Symbolism, myth, ideas, and structure, among other things.”

“You’re not the only girl they’re marrying off, are you?”

She glanced at her aunt, but didn’t get any cues.

She met his eyes, then said, “No.  No I’m not.”

He stared into her eyes.  No glancing around for connections.  His way of looking at things sought out something else altogether.  “You didn’t choose those degrees, did you?”

“No.  The family set out several options, saying they would pay for my education and work harder to find a good match for me if I followed their plan.”

“Meaning you’re interchangeable.  If I wanted it, I could pursue this other one.  Which is it, Missy or Sandra?”

“That’s Missy, I’m Sandra.”

“So?” he addressed Auntie.  “If I asked, could I have Missy instead?”

“Missy’s my eldest daughter, my first choice for taking over the household.  A different case.”

“Ahh… a hierarchy.  One girl worth more than another.”

“I wouldn’t put it so crudely.”

He snorted, “I don’t care how you’d put it.  That’s the way it is, isn’t it?”

Auntie paused.  “Yes.  I suppose it is.”

“Where do we stand, little Sandra?” he asked.  “How do I rate?  How do you rate?  I take it you aren’t the smartest, most beautiful, most talented of them?”

“No.  But I have my strengths.”

“Don’t we all?  Meaningless words.  Don’t waste your time on them.  More importantly, you shouldn’t waste mine.  I’m not one for patience or delayed gratification.”

“Fine,” she said.

“Where do you stand?  Your family is whoring it’s daughters out in bids for power-”

Stung by the choice of words, Sandra glanced at her aunt.  The woman hadn’t flinched in the slightest.

“-and I’m asking, what am I worth, and what are you worth, do you think?”

Sandra collected herself.  “There are a lot of practitioners we could have contacted.  Out of all of them, my aunt chose you.”

“Very diplomatic wording,” he said.  “Still ambiguous.”

“Do the other practitioners you deal with speak so honestly?  I’m surprised,” Sandra said.

“I don’t speak with many, and no, they aren’t entirely honest,” Jeremy said.  “But I’m not being asked if I want to marry any of them.”

The word marry hit Sandra harder than she might have expected.  She’d grown up with it, had known it was in the cards a decade ago.

Her stride broken in the simplest, most minor way, she found she was further put off by the animal gazes, the smiles and smirks and the pacing movements that framed Jeremy Meath.

She looked to her aunt for reassurance and didn’t find it.

“The honest truth,” Sandra replied, “Is you’re seen as a gamble.”

He smirked.  “A gamble.  An incarnation of Conquest, with no conquest to be had, our Lord of Toronto is dying.”

“That’s a large part of it.”

“And you want to tie yourself to me, in hopes I’ll take the seat.”

“No,” Sandra said.  “My family wants me to tie myself to you, in hopes you’ll take the seat.  I don’t play so big a role.  This is between you and them.”

He tilted his head, looking between her and her aunt.

“You wanted honesty,” she said.

“Okay,” he said.  He turned to her aunt.  “Why should I bother?”

“Because you might have reasons to pursue power,” the woman said.  “Maybe you want it for yourself.  Maybe your god wants you to.  It could be your way out of a bad situation, should you be in one or find your way to one.  Every powerful man has had a great woman behind him.”

Jeremy scoffed.

“Platitudes aside,” Sandra cut in, “If our husband proves to be a natural manipulator, a player of that game, we can play to their strengths.  We make them stronger.  If they aren’t, and you don’t strike me as someone who is, we can account for the weakness.  Shore you up where you don’t have the knowledge or experience.”

“Ah.  You would help me wage war against my peers, should the opportunity arise?”

“My family would help you win any wars against your peers,” Sandra said.

“Dangerously close to being a promise,” he said, “I didn’t miss the other meaning.  You might argue you have no part in the losses, instead of being indebted to help find the victories.  Nevermind.  What do you get?”

Auntie spoke, “Any daughters are ours.  We teach them our way, in addition to anything you teach them as you raise them.  We swear them to our manner of doing things.  We also get a share of your power.  One token offering, every three years.”

“You play a long game.”

“That is the nature of dynasties, Jeremy Meath,” the woman said.

“I didn’t plan to marry, nor did I plan to have children.”

“Plans can change.  You would dictate the nature of your marriage with Sandra Duchamp.  We know practitioners have different demands, and we can adapt.  If you don’t want to raise children, then don’t raise them.  You could sire them and involve yourself only as much as you wish.”

“Children and a small offering from time to time?”

“You could say that.  If you had no plans for leaving a legacy-”

“I do have plans, a shrine, and establishing a place for the subjects my god in slumber placed into my service and care.”

“But no legacy as far as a bloodline.”

He shook his head.

“Then you lose nothing.  You could raise one of your children to look after your shrine and subjects.  We have familial ties to Japan and the shrines there, resources you could draw on.  Through us, you stand to gain a great deal.”

“Assuming I care so much about what happens after I’m gone.  Earlier, I think I said I wasn’t much for patience or delayed gratification?”

“You did.”

“There you have it.  What does this cost me in the now?  A dreary, carbon-copy Barbie doll tied to me for life?”

He took advantage of the shocked silence to take a drink from the bottle, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“You insult me,” Sandra said.

“Yes.  I believe I did.”

“You insult us,” Sandra said.  “My family.  My sisters and cousins, my mother and aunt, who are doing the same thing I am now.”

He scratched at the back of his neck, and one of the women behind him reached out to scratch the spot with her clawed fingernails.  He stretched his neck out to one side to give her more room.  “Yeah.  Just a little.  You’re boring, and I hate boredom.”

Boring.

Hildr,” Sandra said, reaching out.

Her familiar darted along the length of her arm, four legged.  It sprung from her hand.

While it was still in the air, she brought her chalice from the pile of spring jackets to her hand.

Hildr touched ground, eliciting a rumble, sending Jeremy Meath stumbling back.

Sandra dipped fingertips into her chalice, wetting them, and then drew her fingertips vertically down.

Putting stored power into connections, feeding that power through Hildr for the added strength and connection to the earth.

The impact of Hildr’s landing and the added help of the manipulated connections served to bowl over the entire group of Others.  Jeremy Meath’s bottle crashed against the floor, the remaining contents and shards of glass spreading out from the point of impact.

“Sandra!” Auntie rebuked her.

“It’s fine, so long as she doesn’t attack,” Jeremy said.  He took his time finding his feet.  He had to half-walk, half-crawl to get back from Hildr, who loomed above him, breath visibly steaming.  “Point taken.  That was a three hundred dollar bottle, but I suppose good lessons should be expensive.”

Dark skinned, white furred, Hildr was more wart and scar than clean flesh where flesh was visible, her hair and fur were long and tied into braids as thick around as Sandra’s arm, the longest braids locked into place with iron shackles that could be used to dash a man’s skull to pieces.  Her arms were disproportionately long, with lines and cords of muscle visible even beneath the long, brushed fur.  All in all, she was of a size and bulk that suggested she could catch a charging rhino and wrestle it to the ground.

He looked the thing over.  “An ogre?  No.  Not an ogre of any type I’ve read about.”

“No,” Sandra said.  “A troll.  Scandinavian.  My family offered to pay for a trip, to reward me for completing my degree early.  I took the time to go looking.”

It took eight months, two more to successfully bind her.”

“There aren’t many trolls nowadays,” he said.  “They don’t hide themselves well.”

“Most have been hunted or bound already.  The ones who have remained are either exceptionally strong, or they are very strong and very cunning.  Hildr is more the latter.”

“I see.  And it takes an exceptionally strong and cunning individual to bind one that has survived alone these last few centuries.  I didn’t expect that of you.”

“There’s more to me, more to us, than you might see on the surface.”

“And a… stoat?”

“More fitting a form for a troll than you might think.  Foul smelling, tied to the earth due to their inclination to live underground, large for their species, predatory, with a voracious appetite.  Surprisingly vicious in a fight.  Not well liked.”

“I see.  Well, count me corrected.”

Sandra gestured, and even though her back was turned, Hildr obeyed, sensing the connection and moving aside.  She came to stand beside Sandra, who rubbed at the fur on her arm.

He dusted himself off, gesturing for his coterie to relax and back away.

Sandra stood facing him, cup in one hand, other hand on Hildr’s arm.

“With your main cause for complaint already covered, I assume you would be open to further negotiations?” Auntie asked.

“Send her to my place in a week.”

Sandra felt her heart skip a beat.  In her fit of pique, her pride and anger, she’d nearly forgotten what she was negotiating for, what she was proving.

Jeremy Meath would be her husband.

The three watched Jeremy Meath and his coterie retreat from the room, leaving them to show themselves out.

They gathered their coats, folding them over arms rather than donning them, and left the apartment.

“It’s your choice,” Auntie said, quiet.

Sandra looked at the woman in surprise.  “I didn’t think it was.  I swore oaths.”

“You did.  When you were twelve, when we’d built up your excitement for power enough that you weren’t looking to the future. It was the same for Missy, for me, your mother.”

Sandra exchanged a glance with Missy.  This was out of character, and it sounded like a dangerous admission.

Her aunt continued, “We deceive, and we tell ourselves it’s so our daughters can learn a lesson that will weigh on them all their lives, make them more cunning by necessity.  But what we’re really doing is manipulating them to get them into our power, and hoping they’ll come to learn the same thing we did.”

“Which is?” Missy asked.

“This is the only way we’ll survive as a family.”

“As a dynasty,” Sandra said.

“You get a choice, Sandra.  Do you want to marry him?”

No, not at all.

“You’ll marry me to someone worse as punishment if I don’t.”

“We reserve that for the girls who turn down good matches.  Jeremy Meath is… what he is.  It worries me that he wasn’t more willing to pick apart the deal or define terms.  Seeing you in there, I think we can find you better, if you want it.”

“But the family wants him?” Sandra asked.  “They want to take the gamble?”

“Yes,” her aunt said, and it was said in a way that suggested she already knew the answer she’d get.

Twelve years doing this, and she still felt out of sorts.  It was worse, if anything.  Which was the point, she supposed.

The landscape had been sculpted.  More a painting come to life than a real place.  Every tree and stone had been strategically placed, with the whole in mind.  The placement of every branch… it was art.  Sandra could stand virtually anywhere and see how the elements complemented each other, find hidden images and decorations in the layout of things.  She had taken art classes as her electives, she knew what to look for.

But it was hollow.  The beauty was forced.

Sandra sat patiently as her goblet was overfilled.  Wine spilled out, flowing along the outside of the goblet, down the stem and onto the gold-inlaid table, where it found grooves and drew a brief image before filtering out through holes in the surface.  The candlelight, even, seemed to play off the image.  A nude woman with her back arched.  Suggestive, heavy with implication and accusation.  No doubt entirely intentional, directed purely at her.

The Faerie at the table shifted position, their expressions placid and slightly interested.  She couldn’t help but feel as though they were silently mocking her for the spill.  Which they were.

But it was a fairly important rule, that one didn’t eat or drink here.  Even if it meant being mocked, pressured from every direction.

The entire place was a kind of pressure.  She knew the techniques at play.  Get someone hungry, get them tired, get them stimulated.  Create a need and then fulfill it, to build a kind of dependence.  Cults did it.  The Faerie did it better.

There was no reprieve, in the short term or the long term.  Everywhere she looked, everything she smelled or touched was art.  Everything she heard was music to distract the attention, or were exceedingly dangerous words that demanded it.  The simple scene of a patio with wine, crackers and cheese served in the center, a short ruined wall and numerous statues was a complicated piece of machinery, where every single thing around her was working against her or working for the ambassador.

One mistake was all it took.  Being here was a horror and an honor, because of it.  She was trusted to handle matters.

She pushed the goblet to one side, and Hildr grasped it and tossed it back with one singular motion.  The goblet crunched between teeth.

One of the Faerie in attendance managed to look horrified.

Another cleared its throat, saying, “Then, if we shall sum up the first part of our bargain, Aifric, Lachtna, and Gearalt will accompany you and guarantee safe passage to you and your Hildr, guiding you out of the Faerie and into your city and your world.  There, you’ll be able to pair them up with the young ladies you described, and they’ll enjoy an adventure in mortal form.”

“So we hope,” she said.  The wind was making its way through the grove of trees, and the rustling formed almost-words, as if a slight change in direction might make sense of it all.

Had one of the Faerie given a subtle signal to the trained wind spirits to cue the distraction?  Was it meant to distract her from something?

“We’ll need confirmation,” the Faerie ambassador spoke.  “Do you agree?”

Did she?

“Let us talk about that in a moment,” she said, deflecting the promise.  “There is another subject I must raise, and it’s hard to do so in a polite way.”

“Rest assured,” the Faerie to her left told her, “Mavourneen and I are some of the least polite Faerie you’ll ever meet.”

She was all too aware.  Riordan and Mavourneen were mercenaries in the court, known for their uncharacteristically brutal natures.  If the Faerie were all playing a complicated, multilayered and interconnected game of chess, then Riordan and Mavourneen made themselves out to be knights that any side could use to make plays.  Which wasn’t to say they weren’t making plays of their own, when nobody was looking.

They’d befriended her, offering her their services, which she had taken, because the wildernesses that stood between any Faerie-inhabited space tended to be dangerous, and she wanted Hildr in tip-top shape in case something happened.  She had already uncovered one planned betrayal, and she was already betting that this wasn’t only a cover-up for a deeper, more subtle betrayal that she wouldn’t uncover, but that the whole interplay with Riordan and Mavourneen and the ambassador was part of a greater scheme.  Each of the three could have practiced this play in various forms until it became second nature, and she was the latest fly to step into the web.

“My husband.  Four of his satyrs seem to have gone missing.”

“You’d like our help in locating them?”

“I’ve located them already.  I’ve been led to believe they’re in your employ, ambassador.”

“Are they?  My staff will have to answer for this.”

“I’ve heard tales that you were the one that expressed interest in it.  To have a different kind of danger lurking in the labyrinthine corridors around your tower, and a decoration at your evening parties.”

“Mad,” he said.

She sat back.  Hildr leaned forward, planting one meaty hand on either side of the surface, leaning over Sandra.

Sandra reached out to toy with one of the dangling braids and metal shackles.  “Mad indeed.”

“You asked me if you could come here, expressing good faith.  If you do violence-“

“I asked you to visit Toronto in good faith.  My husband and I didn’t expect to find ourselves missing four satyrs.”

She could see the weave of connections at play, she could pluck, pull and break connections if the situation demanded it, but some connections were false ones.  Others were bait, strands that were sticky enough she wouldn’t be able to free herself if she tampered with them.

“You act above your station,” he said.

She couldn’t help but feel she was following a script.  No doubt the Faerie ambassador had stolen people before, had played out dozens of permutations of the same scene, learning to account for all the possible variables.

She gestured, and saw the Faerie’s eyes go wide.

Hildr lifted the metal patio table, tearing it from the ground, where it had been worked into brick and tile, alternating patches of grass and flower, in a very strategic and stylized ‘ruin’ layout.

The female troll pushed the table’s edge against the ambassador’s throat, toppling him backward in his chair.  The table was held down, pinning him.  It was large enough and heavy enough that if the troll saw fit to let go, it would pass through the Faerie’s neck and likely sink a short distance into the ground.

‘Her’ mercenaries were standing, now, a distance away, hands on their weapons.  One with a sword, one with a handgun.  They seemed a little out of sorts.

“They were not yours to take,” she said.

“He had no claim to them,” the ambassador said, voice strangled.

“His god did.  Dionysus gave a contingent of his servants to my husband for looking after.  If those satyr are not returned, the god will be very upset.”

“We can bargain.  I’ll pay you generously for the creatures.  My generosity is worth more than a dead god’s wrath.”

“Not dead.  Some still worship him.  My husband included.  Dionysus remains a god who can make his displeasure known.  You crossed us.  Me, my husband, my husband’s god.”

And here was the conundrum.  The tangled weave.  Killing the ambassador was easy, relatively speaking.  But even a low-ranked Faerie like this ambassador was embroiled in a thousand different schemes.  The Faerie were very invested in their houses of cards, and they felt a genuine kind of upset when they couldn’t see things through to the epic moments that had been decades in the planning.

That upset had a way of finding the individual who upset the house of cards.  Worse, it fed into what the Faerie really wanted.  A break from the pattern.

When that happened, they tended to get creative.

“Arms and legs only,” she said.  “He lives.”

“Wait!” the ambassador cried out.  “I can-“

The table came down like a chef might use a knife to dice a vegetable.  Wrist, elbow, shoulder, ankle, knee, hip.  The impacts were heavy enough to toss the Ambassador into the air like a rag doll, but the table still struck unerringly at the key points.

The Faerie screamed.

Touching her implement, she found and extinguished the torches and candles around the patio.

“We’re here to protect you,” Mavourneen said.  “There’s no need to extinguish any fire.”

They were so good at lying.  It took her a few seconds to figure out how they might be misleading her.

“The satyr,” she said.

The ambassador, huffing for breath between screams, turned his head.  She saw the connection he’d previously masked.

“I suppose that concludes our second piece of business,” she said.  “Returning to the first subject… the three Faerie I was going to introduce to the Duchamp children.  I assume I have permission to invite them?”

“I…” he huffed, he paused to grimace and grunt.  “Hereby grant you and your troll safe passage… along with Gearalt, Aifric… and Lachtna, to exit my realm uncontested.  Those who sat at this table and those named, will face no trial, tribulation or trickery by my hands.  I promise”

“Include the satyrs,” Riordan said, growling the words.

“…I name the satyrs… unf… to be included… in the deal,” the ambassador reluctantly added.  He was red-faced now, and sweating bullets from pain alone.

“Let’s go,” Riordan said.

Sandra didn’t budge.

“A problem?” Mavourneen asked.

Too easy.

What was the trick?

“No,” Sandra said.  “Not good enough.”

“Your way is clear,” Riordan said.

“Yes,” Sandra said.  “So is Hildr’s.  So are the Satyrs, and the Faerie who are going to see the children…”

The Faerie had been very clear about who was free to leave.

Why?  Why be so specific?

Was there anyone who was ready to leave, who hadn’t been named?

Someone here, who mattered on some level, who, by the wording, hadn’t been sitting at the table?  Had her husband sent someone or something to keep an eye on her?

It took a few long moments of heavy consideration before the answer dawned on her.

It wasn’t a good answer, the sort that made things make sense.  Just the opposite.

When she spoke, however, it was with the practiced ease that the Duchamp family had instilled in her.  “No… let’s be more general.  Promise me that, until sunrise, everyone is free to depart unmolested.”

The ambassador stared up at her.

Hildr hefted the table.  It didn’t seem to be enough, so she stepped on the Faerie’s sternum.  The added pressure made his arms shift, which renewed the pain of the shattered joints.

He had to huff for breath before he could speak.  “I so promise.”

“Promise you won’t artificially manipulate the sun’s rise or fall,” she said.  “It’s your little kingdom here, I don’t know what rules you can make or break.  We get at least twelve regular Earth hours, without tricks.”

“I would have to disable too many-” he was cut off as she shifted her weight, jostling him.  He screamed again.

“Try again?”

“Yes.”

She turned to leave.  The mercenaries fell into step on either side of her.

Of course, they were a problem unto themselves.

“I’d appreciate it if my words could find their way to certain ears,” she said, to one of them, or both of them.  She wasn’t entirely sure.  “The Duchamps bring a lot of benefit to certain groups in the Faerie.  We have longstanding relationships, and it would be a shame to end it because the ambassador was careless.  If another Faerie of rank were to reach out to fill the void the ambassador has left, it would be very much appreciated.”

“We can get word out,” Riordan said.

“Thank you,” she said.

She spread her arms, then swept them together.

Hildr did the same, reaching out to either side, then drawing her hands together.  Except she seized the two mercenaries’ heads along the way and cracked them together.

Sandra paused to examine the fallen mercenaries.  “They’re alive?”

Hildr nodded.  She could speak, but it was often easier and clearer to gesture.

“Then let’s go.”

She found the connections to the Faerie and tugged.  Easy enough; they were waiting for her.

She manipulated the connections between herself and the lost satyrs.  A standard connection formed a straight line.  She loosed it, giving it slack, and let the currents the spirits and other forces of the world were traveling carry it out.

Ariadne’s thread.

Once she found the right elements, she gave it more structure.  The line formed a path.  A guiding line between her and the Satyrs in the labyrinth.  A traditional maze was little problem, but this was a maze meant to confound intruders who might surreptitiously explore the ambassador’s realm for a few hours every week for centuries.  There were twists, turns, down stairs, up stairs, Escher devices and portals that could lead to entirely different areas.  There were also denizens.

Some would kill you.  Others would be like the satyrs.  Creatures of sexuality, fertility, and animal instincts.  Satyrs could take in these traits to be lighthearted and simple, warm sources of raw affection.

That hadn’t, Sandra knew well enough, been what the ambassador had wanted them for, as creatures lurking in the maze.

All things had their darker sides.

The three Faerie and the satyrs found her at roughly the same time that she found the exit.  They had been twisted by glamour, the uglier aspects of their nature exaggerated.  They smelled bad, now, had hunched backs, twisted, furtive faces.  Their horns were far larger, wicked.  Natural weapons.

They would go back to normal, given time.

“Any others I should know about?” she asked.  “Stolen property?”

“No,” one replied.

“That’s no ma’am.”

“No, ma’am,” he said.  He didn’t look happy about it.  He looked angry.  Slighted.

As creations went, they were simple.  Two dimensional.  It was so easy to change them.

She led them through.  From a holly-encrusted gate to the big city.  No heads turned at her sudden appearance.

In downtown Toronto, the satyrs took different shapes.  Even there, they were different from their usual.  Where they might be handsome, flirty young men in their teens and twenties, unabashed in their attraction to any woman they saw on the street, they now looked like the sorts one might cross the street to avoid.  Not because they were large, but because of the menace they radiated.

It wasn’t a long walk to the condo.  She let herself in.

The statue was easily two stories tall, sitting in the center of a pond of deep red wine.  Food, fresh, sat at its feet.

Littered around that pond were the various servants of Dionysus, gathered in heaps and piles, using each other for pillows, where there weren’t enough blankets and cushions strewn on the floor.

“Stay,” she ordered the satyrs.  Without checking to see if they’d obeyed, she picked her way carefully through the assorted servants.

Satyrs, boys and men, smiled up at her, some reaching out, as if she’d fall into their arms.  The fur on their legs was soft, the curls of chest hair and chin-scruff inviting.

Fifteen years, and they still tried.  Fifteen years, and she still imagined herself giving in.

The nymphs were what the satyrs were, in a way, holding to an ancient ideal of womanhood and female sexuality as the satyrs held to manhood and male sexuality. There were differences, but the simple description served.

She’d discovered a maternal affection towards the nymphs over the last decade, but there were more uncomfortable implications in their makeup that still rubbed her the wrong way.  The fact that they ‘played’ with her husband wasn’t one of them.  Such was a partnership with a cultist of Dionysus.  No, it was the fact that the ideal beauty as of 200 BC was… younger than was appropriate.  Or legal.  Not distressingly so, but still true.

But appearances were only that.  She knew as much.  Technically, most of them predated the bible.

The bacchae, on the other hand, were living allegory, the dangers of drink given form.  Alluring on the surface, they had adapted better to modern convention and ideas of attractiveness, and they had changed in terms of the dangers they posed as well.  She wasn’t fond of them the same way she harbored a reluctant fondness for the other beasts, but she understood their place in things.

Her husband sat at the top of the stairs leading up to the burgundy pond, a bottle sitting on a step between his knees.

“You’re back,” Jerry said.  He slurred his words slightly.  “Any trouble?”

She sat down beside him.  “Some violence, was nearly killed three times over just before I left, that I could tell.  I cut right through any other murder attempts by dealing with all Faerie I could get Hildr’s hands on.  That, and all of the trouble that comes with stepping into the Faerie’s realm.”

“Did they have the satyrs?”

“They did,” she said.  “I’ve brought them back.  They’ll take time to recuperate and return to normal.  Right now, they’re hazards more than anything else.  They’ll need to be kept separate from the rest.”

Jerry nodded.  “Thank you.  It’s appreciated.”

“How was the council meeting?”

“I’m very nearly drunk and physically spent,” he said.  He gestured at the servants.  “They’re drunk and spent, and you know how much effort that takes.  Make of that what you will.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice soft.  She felt her heart sinking.  A slow drop, as she took in the magnitude of the statement.

Jerry Meath walked a fine line as a cultist of Dionysus.  To be inebriated was a part of his worship, but to be drunk senseless, it was the sort of vulnerability that the bacchae preyed on.

For him to be ‘very nearly drunk’ was the equivalent of another man being in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.  Treading a dangerous line.  He usually played things safer, smoking and eating things he couldn’t overdose on, things that wouldn’t rob him of too much in the way of faculties.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Ah, right.  You haven’t heard.”

“Heard?”

“Some men in service to a far less entertaining god have done something very ugly,” he said.  “Just a year and nine months into the new millenium, our Lord of Conquest gets his second wind.  Our city and our nation has already committed forces.”

“No,” she gasped.  “Every time.  We were close.”

“I don’t know what will come of it, but for the time being, he’s keeping his throne.  I’m sorry.  I don’t think your gamble paid off.”

“We’re fifteen years into our marriage,” she said, “And you still haven’t learned to distinguish between my family’s interests and my own.”

“You’re not interested?”

“I am, but not so much as you like to imagine,” she said.  She reached out and put a hand on his knee.

Odd, that a man who worshipped a god like he did could never allow himself to be drunk, and the only physical contact between them would be perfunctory and strangely disappointing on both ends.

But then, that was the trap, wasn’t it?  The price?  She’d known right from the start that she would never be able to live up to what he enjoyed daily.  She was only human.

They played different roles in each other’s lives.

His hand settled on hers, gripped it.  It was the smallest contact, but she could see how his body language changed.  Easing.

That was what she offered, such as it was.  To be a man was a lonely existence.  Friends, family, they couldn’t reach out to share feelings or find refuge.  Even with the chilled and complicated relationship between her and her family, she had always been able to seek out a measure of support from them.

Not so with men, with Jerry.  It was only with a girlfriend, with a wife, that they could invest themselves.

He had all of the nubile, willing women he could ask for.  An abundance, even, but he had no validation, and for a long time, he had been in freefall.  He had allowed himself to believe he didn’t need anyone.

That was where their marriage had begun.  In the end, she’d found that all he really needed was a touchstone.  Once she’d centered him and given him an outlet, he’d come into his own.  From there, they’d worked their strategies, divided tasks between them.

Now he believed it was all for nothing.

“I’m here,” she said.

“I’m not sure what that means,” he said.  “We were going to make a play.”

“We still can, sometime, somewhere.  But I’m okay with things as they are.”

He looked out at the landscape of white tile strewn with burgundy blankets, pale flesh and body hair.  “Really?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I won’t ask if you love me,” he said.  “I don’t think there’s a point.”

“We work well together.  Balance each other out,” she said.  They’d never had infatuation, but again, how could he?  How could she offer intoxication of emotion and spirit that his god couldn’t?  “We’re better together than we are apart.”

“This… it’s not what a marriage is supposed to be.”

“So?”

“It’s fragile.”

“Let it be fragile, then,” she said.  “Weren’t you always the one who lived more for the present than the future?”

“Fifteen years spent plotting demands a kind of vision for the future,” he said, glowering a little.

“Even so,” she said.”

He seemed to deliberate for a few long moments before he asked, “What’s the point?”

She didn’t have a ready answer for that.  She had an answer, but it was a hard one to bring up.

She sat with him, instead.  A distance separating them, but the simple holding of hands more meaningful than all of the joys that his servants could bring him.

Sandra was almost certain.

Still, that one note of uncertainty was enough to make her nervous.

“Something came up, while I was tracking down your Satyrs,” she said.

“A good something or a bad something?” he asked.

“That’s the question,” she said.  “But you asked what the point of us was, didn’t you?”

That sort of something?” he asked.

“The Faerie figured it out before any of us did, I think,” she said.  “They wanted to let a select few individuals leave their domain.”

“And?”

“I think there was one more member of the group I wasn’t aware of at first, they wanted me to leave her behind.”

Her?

She touched her stomach.

He looked, then his eyes widened.

“Those bastards,” she said.  “I might have a bit of mother bear instinct in me after all.  I was more vicious than I should have been.”

He smiled a little.

“I’ll handle the child as I have everything else,” she said.  “But there’s meaning in bringing life to the world.  I have no idea how they might react.”

“The nymphs and satyrs should be kind to innocents,” he said.  “The bacchae won’t be, but I can make arrangements.”

“I can’t imagine bringing a little girl up in this environment.

“If it is a little girl,” he said.

She went quiet.

“I do know the trick your family employs,” he said.

She frowned.  “Sorry.”

“It’s fairly common knowledge now.  Even as disconnected from things as I am, I know that much.  Ask for custodianship of the girls, ignoring the fact that you intend to bear nothing but.”

“I might have mentioned it, but-”

“No,” he said.  “There was no need.  That’s not what we have.”

“Openness and honesty?”

“Having to ask for forgiveness,” he said.  “I trust you do what you have to, and I think you trust me the same way.”

Sandra nodded.  She fidgeted.  “Gods, the idea of childbirth scares me.”

“I can imagine,” he said.  “If it helps, a blessing from my god can allow you to enjoy drink throughout, with no harm to the child.”

“Through the labor too?” she asked, smiling.

“Of course,” he said.

“We’ll need to make space,” she said.  “As nice as your… personal temple is, we’ll need a more suitable location for a baby.”

“That can be arranged,” he said.  He stood.

He took her hand, and led her down the shallow steps.  Together, they stepped over and around the piles of naked bodies.

“What about names?” Sandra asked.

A whisper.  “A boy’s name.”

Sandra stopped cold.  She turned and saw a nymph reclining, a lazy, sleepy smile on her face.

“What?”

“A baby boy,” the nymph said.  “Swimming in warm darkness.”

“Not possible,” Sandra said.

But when she looked, Jerry wouldn’t meet her eyes.  He stared down at the floor.  Not guilty, but lost in deep thought.

She let go of his hand.

“How?” she asked.

“My god is a god of drink, of madness, of hedonism and sex,” he said.  “And he is a god of fertility, in his way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I suppose that wins out over the working your family has crafted,” he said.

“No,” she said.  She reached out, clutching him.  “Undo it.”

“It’s done,” he said.  “And it will no doubt be done over and over again, should we make the attempt.  My god’s will, it seems.”

“You know they won’t let me keep it.  One boy, and the line is broken, the working unravels.”

He nodded.  When he stepped away, she could feel the gulf between them widening.

“I don’t-” she said.

“My god and his brethren are fond of their tragedies,” he said.

“Hello?”

“I wasn’t sure if your cell phone would still be in service.”

“Always.  It’s been a long time, Sandra.  Five years?”

“Seven.”

“Seven years.  You only call when you need something, these days.”

“I wish it were different, but-“

“But it’s what it is,” he said.  “No asking for forgiveness.  We do what we must.  It was a fragile connection, and it broke.”

There was a long pause, as the two of them wrestled with the irony of their reality.

“Someone’s coming your way.  You’ll know him when you see him.”

“What do you want done?”

“I need him to not come back.”

“I’ll see to it.”

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

Advertisements

201 thoughts on “Histories (Arc 3)

    1. It took eight months, two more to successfully bind her.”

      Either missing a quotation mark at the beginning or has an extraneous one at the end. Given it’s in italics, it’s most likely an extraneous one.

    2. jawline
      More commonly jaw line.

      Nevermind
      Never mind

      millenium
      millennium

      “Her?”
      Two opening quotes instead of an opening and closing quote.

      “Can I ask?” Sandra murmured.
      “May I ask?” Permission, not ability. Often misused, so perhaps written as intended.

      “Jeremy Meath. My friends call me Jerry, you can call me Jeremy.”
      Can/may

      “Where do you stand? Your family is whoring it’s daughters out in bids for power-”
      Is “it’s” “it is” or the possessive of “it”? Author’s choice – no well-defined usage, but I more commonly see the apostrophe used for the contraction.

      It took eight months, two more to successfully bind her.”
      Does not need the closing quote, if it is an internal thought.

      “Let us talk about that in a moment,” she said, deflecting the promise. “There is another subject I must raise, and it’s hard to do so in a polite way.”
      Reverse usage of “it’s” from the previous.

      “Even so,” she said.”
      Extra quote.

      “I think there was one more member of the group I wasn’t aware of at first, they wanted me to leave her behind.”
      The comma would read better as a period.

      “I can’t imagine bringing a little girl up in this environment.
      No closing quote.

    3. “Dominus autem ebrius”: Why is the autem there? Dominus ebrius by itself would be the drunken lord, which makes sense, but I can’t figure out why autem would be there; there doesn’t seem to be anything to contradict or add to that would make the conjunction make sense.

      1. Other options are “The master of the drunken house;” “The master of the house while drunk;” and “The master of the house, however drunk”

        1. The first is not an option owing to the case of ebrius, and I don’t believe the second is the right sort of ‘while’ for autem. The third, or “The lord, but drunk,” are perhaps possibilities, though autem is also not that sort of ‘however,’ and autem hardly ever occurs as the first word in a clause. This also seems a bit insulting for something that is apparently supposed to be ceremonial.

          It is possible that autem is meant as an autem strengthening an interjection (see sense 9 here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dautem ), but in that case we would expect some sort of interjection, eg “ecce dominus autem ebrius.”

    4. …There’s only so much I can do. Give you a proper first impression,” her aunt said…

      Should this be [There’s only so much I can do, to give you a proper first impression.” her aunt said.]

    5. It took eight months, two more to successfully bind her.”
      I don’t think there’s supposed to be an end-quote here.

  1. “My god and his brethren are fond of their tragedies,” he said.

    So beautifully true… And precisely what she ought to have expected, entering into a joining of any sort with those associated with Greek deities. You play by their rules, or get smote. And they love to see both.

      1. “Elves are awesome. They provoke awe…. No one said elves are nice. Elves are bad.”

        The inimitable Pratchett speaks wisdom, as always.

        Besides, if Jerry takes the time to talk with Blake and wave off that lens of “diabolist” the people of Jacob’s Bell had screwed to their eyesockets he’d be very able to make Blake want to stay in Toronto for ever. But that won’t happen because massive karma debt.

        1. I keep for getting that massive karmic debt means Blake pretty much just can’t have good things randomly happen in his favor.

            1. Self inflicted. They got one new source of power, and look how almost all of them used it. Badly. Even if they were trying to be good guys, they weren’t smart with their gifts. Taylor was just one of the first with both sufficiently functioning mind and ethics who got enough power to make a difference.

        1. Except for Rexdale of course. Unless your idea of a party is really cheap tiger shrimp at that Chinese supermarket at Martin Grove.

    1. He’s not a male maenad; those don’t exist. He is some sort of priest, follower, disciple, etc. of Dionysus

      1. A maenad (IIRC) was a female Dionysian cultist, he’s a guy, I thought it was close enough. Is there an actual term for that (besides “Disciple of Dionysus”)?

    2. Whelp lets hope that Jeremy never did become the lord of Toronto. And that the lord really was fond of Granny. Because goddamn, the amount of fucked Blake is in just keeps going up it seems.

  2. If I’m understanding this right, Sandra just called her old husband in order to put a hit out on Blake. This’ll be interesting.

    1. She was clearly asking him to make Blake’s time in Toronto so wonderful he’ll never want to return.

  3. Well. . . I guess we know who the Lord of Toronto is. Good chapter. Good arc. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

    Also, there’s possibly a 12 year old male Duchamp somewhere (probably Toronto)?

      1. Well they stated that
        “Some men in service to a far less entertaining god have done something very ugly,” he said. “Just a year and nine months into the new millenium, our Lord of Conquest gets his second wind. Our city and our nation has already committed forces.”
        So I read that as 911 happened. This causes things to shift. Gods and others connected to war begin Waxing in power. So if he’d been a follower of Aries Jeremy would have gotten stronger. Since the Lord of Toronto is associated in some way with Conquest (Makes me think about the Horseman there) goes from dying to full power. Well I may be wrong there.

        Too bad, we could have had a century of drunken partying. Though I don’t drink.

    1. Sorry? I thought that her boy was the little boy Blake impersonated. She said seven years, and they broke up when she was pregnant, so the boy would be seven.

        1. That is how I read it. It is the reason for the seeming divorce/separation of the Sandra and her husband. This is the kind of writing that gives Wildbow’s characters a depth that I find compelling, an uncomfortable mix of complications that only helps to suspended disbelief.

          Such a long time till Tuesday, I need one of those pocket watch demons.

          1. Probably separation rather than divorce, what with the ol’ till death do us part oath.
            Although, an abortion may be enough… respects the letter, if not the spirit.

        1. Also, after thinking about it, I think the boy Blake impersonated was younger than seven. Don’t know why I thought that.

      1. With regards to the timing, I read it this way. Sandra realizes that she’s pregnant in around September 2001. The story is currently in early 2014. I figured the 7 years would have been the last time they talked. So sometime between 2001 and 2006/7 Sandra and Jerry had something happen between them to cause them to separate.

        I do see the abortion implication, but I could also imagine some child being rejected and abandoned by the mother and/or tension because Sandra could now only bear males (which don’t seem useful to the Duchamps) as the reason for the split.

        1. Also, doing some math, if Sandra was 19 when she first met Jerry, which occured in 1986 (2001-15), then that meeans she born in 1967, making her 47 as of 2014.

  4. hm, let’s hope that Jeremy plans to detain Blake in Toronto through liberal use of the nymphs. That would certainly inspire and interesting bunch of fanfiction.

      1. The Lord of Toronto is still Conquest (wasn’t one of the Four Horsemen Conquest before being supplanted by Pestilence?). Nine eleven gave him a bolster to prevent from fading into obscurity.

        Good old Jerry is just a private citizen, ready to show Blake the hidden wonders of the city.

        1. Yeah that’s what I’m wondering. You know someone said Blake should end up coming back like Napolieon from his exile..

          Oh hell who are we kidding. The lord of Toronto will probably be trying to kill Blake too.

          1. Oh, he (probably) won’t come back like Napoleon. He’ll come back like an RPG character that was done with early game hopeless boss fights.

            In short, with nukes. Or things that should logically be more terrifying than nukes. He’s going to pull a Skitter.

  5. Huh. Had not expected that. I’ve had kind of a skewed view of Dionysios since I read a book a while back. Forget the title but it was by Bentley Little. That was… Kind of a head trip when you are 14. This book was messed up, lemme tell you, and a darn good source of inspiration for how gnarly a cult based on the god of drunken debauchery can get.

    Interesting look at the Duchamps too.

  6. “Just a year and nine months into the new millenium, our Lord of Conquest gets his second wind. Our city and our nation has already committed forces.”

    That would be September of 2001, in case you didn’t catch the reference. Speaking of gods, I’m kinda surprised the world isn’t currently ruled by a god of tech. Hephaestus, I suppose. Or perhaps a god of knowledge. War and murder aren’t what they used to be.

    Also: the Blake situation just keeps getting worse and worse. If I were him, I start seriously considering the lawyers deal. At least get an idea of what it would cost.

    1. Well, technically the 3rd millenium started on January 1st, 2001. What with the 1st starting on year 1, due to the lack of year 0.
      So… might want to fix that ?

      1. I was thinking the same thing. I think Wildbow gets a pass this tine because that was dialogue by an almost drunk Jerry.

    2. We have new gods now.

      ‘I’m the idiot box. I’m the TV. I’m the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I’m the boob tube. I’m the little shrine the family gathers to adore.’

      ‘You’re the television? Or someone in the television?’

      ‘The TV’s the altar. I’m what people are sacrificing to.’

      ‘What do they sacrifice?’ asked Shadow.

      ‘Their time, mostly,’

      -from American Gods by Neil Gaiman

      1. (Was in response to “Speaking of gods, I’m kinda surprised the world isn’t currently ruled by a god of tech. Hephaestus, I suppose.”)

    3. Actually, Minerva is the god of technology. Remember, in elementary school, learning she was the goddess of War, Wisdom, and Crafts? There were two kinds of wisdom back then. Dakis, which we think of as ancient crone/wizard style wisdom, and Metis, which we think of as cunning or, less pejoratively, creative wisdom. This was an element in most mythologies, and each culture’s Pantheon reflected how they viewed their geeks.

      The norse saw their geeks as being evil, or at least very dishonorable, and so their god of cunning, Loki, was as close as you can get to a devil. The native americans respected their geeks, and so respected their cunning animal spirits (usually the fox or the raven), but they generally didn’t have a notion of technology, so they hadn’t paired together cunning and crafts in a single technology god.

      The greeks had, though, which explains Athena’s wisdom and crafts attributes. But what about war? Wasn’t war the domain of Ares? Well, we’ve all met an Ares or two. If you look throughout the myths, Ares is portrayed as incompetent, bumbling, and evil. He let himself get locked up in a bronze statue for a couple decades. He was personally disarmed by Odysseus (a protégé of Athena, as it so happens). Ares’ offspring are what we’d today call psychopathic serial killers, some of whom were killed by Heracles (another protégé of Athena). The greeks saw there being two different kinds of ways of waging war. In school, this is generally taught as offensive vs defensive, but it’s more than that. Ares wages war through brute strength, large armies, etc. Athena wages war through cunning, and superior technology. Check out her shield, Aegis. A symbol of defense, sure. But it has a Gorgon’s head on it, so anyone who looks at it is in serious danger of turning to stone. I’d call that cleverness paired with craftiness, ie technology.

      (The ideas in this post come from Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon).

  7. Oh Wildbow. You just had to go (what I presume to be) all historical on us and make the Nymphs all young. Now I feel like a creep for requesting a fan drawing of Jerry and his posse.

    In all seriousness though, could the childlike Others that Johannes was hanging out with be related to Pactverse Nymphs?

        1. You know, if there were any disgusting, chauvinistic man-pigs around here, one of them would use this as an opportunity to make some kinda horrifying comment, like: “If there’s grass on the pitch, it’s old enough for fuck-ball.”

          Good thing there aren’t any of those reprobate crypto-pedophiles around, isn’t that right, ladies? 🙂

          [Puts on an old dress that’s been retro-fitted to look like a Catholic priest outfit]

          Yea, verily & forsooth! For didst Our Lord and Saviour, the Lamb Chop of Gawd hisself, not speaketh on this very matter? And lo, he didst sayeth:

          “Let the little children come on me, and do not hinder them from coming (and I will be coming in a minute, too), for the heavenly sexy time of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Legal, 10:14)

          Everyone knows that the Gawd Squad – and us legitimate Catholic priests in particular – just love kids and can totally be trusted to be alone with children. Gadzooks! For be it not those Pagan heathens and diabolic Diabolists, who fiddle kids in the appropriate way? TV says so, ergo it must be true.

          Now, kneel before me. It is time for you to receive the holy sacrament. Open your mouth, kids. Reeal wide, that’s it. And here comes the body of Christ… [ZIIIPPP]

    1. Johannes bears a set of antique pipes as his implement. My idea was the Pied Piper, who stole away human children. The problem with that is, as we learned from Blake’s experiment with glamour, anything that takes the form of a child may be influenced that way. So I think he has power over children of any sort, but I don’t think the satyrs, nymphs, and bacchae count because, sort of by definition, they are into more adult games.

  8. wow, Sandra Duchamp is bad ass. I really like her. It seems like she isn’t obsessed about power the way Laird is, which is cool.

    And I want a troll. 😀

      1. An “idiot” who graduated from college at 19. Yeah, she’s really dumb for not going in for the double major. Sure.

      2. As I understand it, she chose her course of studies long before knowing specifically who her chosen Beau would be. Even at the point she actually met Jerry it seemed like he wasn’t a lock-in as far as the family was concerned…

  9. No reason the childish Others have to be Nymphs, they could be lost children, horrible demon possessed children, Damien clones… the list of supernatural children is really without limit.

  10. Few random thoughts, then off to bed.

    “You know they won’t let me keep it. One boy, and the line is broken, the working unravels.”
    But now, perhaps, RDT has shown her by example that a bloodline that is female-based can take on males. Although RDT’s method might not work for them.

    Sandra is powerful and pulls no punches. Her previous appearances in this story have been overshadowed by Laird, but holy sh** she is a heavyweight on her own.

    The Duchamps plan on taking over the world. Connections everywhere based on marrying off the daughters. No wonder the non-practitioner guys at the Behaim/Duchamp get-together were talking about the pressure put on the family.

    1. If Gods are powerful Others, dealing with them is a pain in the rear; The Olympian pantheon is filled with Jerk Jocks and Alpha Bitches, the Nordic Pantheon can’t be trusted since Odin will screw you over with false flag operations & the like to create more conflict as he presides over war, the Chinese Celestial/Infernal Bureaucracy has to be paid with outrageous bribes just to get them to do their jobs (of which I only know of 2 deities that are clear of corruption).

      1. the Chinese Celestial/Infernal Bureaucracy has to be paid with outrageous bribes just to get them to do their jobs (of which I only know of 2 deities that are clear of corruption).

        Hey, that’s not entirely true, at least if you’re badass enough to punch them all in the face! You know, like this guy:

        1. Chinese Celestial/Infernal Bureaucracy, begged Buddha to take Sun Wukong into the Buddhist pantheon so technically he isn’t part of it.

  11. I like how this makes us feel so much sadness and attachment to the character who will probably be the big bad of our next arc.

  12. Wildbow you ASSHOLE! I hate when you do this whole “breathing life into dickish characters” thing. Hmph. I refuse to admit how awesome this was. pouts like a child

      1. Honestly, Sandra seems less evil in general than Granny Rose did. At this point I’m banking on there being a very good reason to oppose the Thorburns at every turn outside of Laird’s selfishness.

      1. Well I don’t know if you’ve read game of thrones, but this is kind of similar to when Jamie Lannister gets a chapter after you had hated him before, and you end up liking him instead. So I’m holding out for Lairds chapter to be a similar parallel to the Cersei Lannister chapters, which make you hate her even more, something you’d never think possible.

        1. Hey, I’d probably like Cersei. Of course, I’m basing this of of well written fanfic and the fact that I liked Jack Slash and Mannequin, so I may be disappointed. It’s fun to watch complete monsters. They’re so interesting.

  13. Odd. Sandra is handling this instead of Laird, and seems much more reasonable about it. Admittedly, we’ve seen almost nothing, and Laird’s MO was to put up a reasonable front in one direction while being a horrible person underneath, but…

    What if the bad karma is just /that bad/? What if Blake’s presence as the one active practitioner in his cursed family just twists everyone around him into nasty caricatures of their most horrible traits just to screw him over a little bit more?

    Hmmm.
    That can’t be quite it, though… Because Maggie and Briar Girl and the Duchamp sisters show that people are capable of being reasonable while interacting with Blake. Laird is as he is – he’s not just a mask for Karma who bears no fault for his actions.
    Perhaps he thought he could get away with all the horrible things he did, so long as he could represent it as opposing Blake – but he can’t afford a third loss that might actually reveal how far he’s willing to go if he thinks he can get away with it?

    Hmm.

  14. So does Laird know Sandra’s doing this? Because we never got the vibe from Laird that he wanted Blake just gone outright, more that he wanted to hem him in and get him mixed up in all this shit for whatever reason.

    I’m guessing the main reason for the Behaim-Duchamp cooperation is that the Duchamp’s just want the Thorburns to go away, so Sandra is trying to make sure that sticks behind Laird’s back. There’s also the fact that Blake represents something Laird can use to curry favor in the community by presenting as an enemy and undermining Sandra’s control in the process.

  15. A very dark chapter, but still brilliant. I think there’s no doubt that Blake and the Duchamps will be enemies now. Then again, knowing Wildbow’s writing, I for one wouldn’t be too surprised at an alliance far later on.

    1. The Duchamps remind me of old Austria. A common saying went: “Other countries might wage wars but you, dear Austria, just marry.” Nice choice to show us an example where this policy can go wrong.

      1. …and then Austria goes tan refuses Serbia’s complete and utter capitulation 100 years ago… Serba then bent over backwards to appease the suddenly archddukeless Austria Hungary..

  16. It’s also mentioned here by Sandra the third method of getting a Familiar by forcefully binding it instead of coming to a mutually beneficial agreement or getting possessed.

    Bonds of Possession is extremely hard to break while a mutually beneficial agreement is impossible to break by an outside party; now just wait until Blake becomes skilled enough to break the connection between Sandra & Hildr…. Trollish payback is gonna be sweet.

  17. I haven’t been commenting much on the latest updates because while enjoying the story I didn’t have much to say.

    But I just need to comment on how great this chapter is. Sandra is impressive and sad, though shitty childhoods seem to be a must for practitioners. Am I the only one who found the scenes in Faerie sort of funny?

    Jerry was also an intriguing character and it seems we’re gonna see more of him. Sacrificing your ability to enjoy the pleasures that constantly surround you is a nice twist.

    What a great line: “My god is fond of tragedies”. Yup. And when he actually appears in said tragedies he sure as hell doesn’t act like a god of parties.

    1. Am I the only one who found the scenes in Faerie sort of funny?

      They struck me as sad. Like a guy doing a comb-over long after he lost the battle who gets belligerent if you mention it. The Faerie try so hard to do something artistic and interesting, to inject some variety in their lives and they fail badly enough that a mortal can’t help but notice. Sad, but a dangerous sad.

      As I noted previously, they have apparently missed the fact that mortals have started creating new ideas at a rate greater than any one of them cannot possibly learn.

  18. OK, so we know that Gods exist, or that there are Others who have at some time invested a great deal of time and effort to “be” gods.

    I nominate Blake to become a disciple of the Mayan god Acat

    1. Why not just find a god with more belief that fits his role as a diabolist, that is to say :BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD.

      Or better yet become a cultist of wildbow

      Blake: great wildbow chooser of the slain, executioner of genoscythe, black pig father of a thousand bad asses and more malicious a fate decider then the Greek gods of old purely for the entertainment of eldritch beings sitting beyond four walls, I beseech thee to offer the help of your champion, she who mindf***s all to deal grievous testicular harm to Lardo. Though I am presently strapped for cash I offer you the conversion of my allies, isn’t that right rose?

      Rose reading worm: Blake, why would you recommend a story to me where the main character probably dies in the first chapter? Bugs agains a F’ing dragon, that’s way one sided!

      Blake smirking knowingly: yes, yes it is one sided.

      1. I offered up the Mayan god of body art because of Blake’s love of his tattoos.

        The Mayans did a lot of sacrifice, and even some human sacrifice.

        Even the demons in the Pactverse would probably be stunned by some of the feats of violence discovered by people perusing their combat logs or world history in Dwarf Fortress. Blood for the Blood God indeed.

        1. Yikes, now that is an imaginative hell.
          “Make stone blocks, you are not allowed to do anything else. Yes even if your working area is covered to the ceiling with finished blocks keep blocking!”
          “Why am I constructing an eloaborate lava flooding mechanism for our living area?”
          “I am not a vampire!! let me out of my room! I just like to collect bone bracelets”
          “I am your doctor but it seems we’ve run out of yarn to close your gaping wound, so sorry”

      2. @ eccentrichatxsalesmen

        “Wildbow, vanquisher of Psychopompous Gecko, Wildbow who did not attempt Nanowrimo month cos taking that long to get to 52525 words that way would have slowed them him down to less 1/4 speed…

        so beseech I,,ShawnMorgan veteran archive binger creator of ‘Operation Word yoink.”

        …and now for something completely different.

        1. I know you’re just kidding, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s a number of Wrimos who set much more challenging goals:100k, 250k, 500k. A handful every do a million words in a month. (They generally allow for it to be over more than one novel).

            1. Everyone willing to sacrifice their time, sanity, madness, security, and questions to worship it in the first place would find the minor inconvenience intriguing. Worse, they’d see it as the blessing it is…

  19. Forgive my rambling here, but unless I’m not remembering details correctly, do we not have a major hole in the story now, not including the internal problems from the time-trap last chapter?

    We have it from Word-of-God that Faery can re-write history after the fact, which means the entire satyr thing makes no sense since the ambassador, if he had an ounce of sense, would have retconned the incident, as many times as needed to avoid the solution Sandra presented.

    Unless the Duchamp talent with connections is transtemporal in nature (which it is seemingly implied as being not the case – see Laird’s ritual) then nothing that happens in Sandra’s timeline from that Event (capital deliberate) makes sense because it shouldn’t have happened if the Fae are to make sense. If they don’t make sense then the whole fight with the swordsman is problematic (although it is anyway, for exactly the same reasons). Either way Blake’s experience now doesn’t make any coherent sense either because Sandra’s story frames part of his experience.

    Then there’s Laird’s time-ritual that still makes me scratch my head because it doesn’t seem to make sense as described.

    1. Do you have a reference for that WOG? Are you sure it is actual past events modification and not just our perception of it. Time Travel is generally OP and wildbow steered clear of it in Worm, presumably for that reason.

    2. It seems like retconning stuff takes the full force of the fairie court. If all of Fairie needs to get together to retcon reality into believing that a dynasty extends into the past, then I really doubt that’s the kind of thing a Fae ambassador can pull off on a whim.

      And besides, glamour falls apart when someone knows it’s not true. I’m pretty sure that trying to steal something and then retconning it so that it was always yours is an exercise in futility when a practitioner specializing in connections knows you stole it.

    3. 2.05:
      “The swordswoman. The Faerie go through trends, fashions of a sort. Mixing notions, styles, and past ideas into new forms until they’ve run completely out of ideas. Then they rebel, they overthrow the court, and a new season begins with a different foundation. Light faerie versus the dark, for example, or a court with a true king and queen and a dynasty that they’ve glamoured up to extend back through the centuries. The ‘duelist’ would be one idea that might have caught their fancy, as of late.”

      I agree with Sengachi – I got the impression that it took an entire court to do something that large. Also, based on the story, there clearly is a realm of Faerie where they can do miracles but I bet their influence in the real world is probably limited. Glamour is not time travel – it covers up and changes the current existence, which means changing current records and even memories, but that doesn’t mean that it rewrites past existence.

      What parts of Laird’s attack puzzle you? He created a ring of slowed time around the house. Based on Blake’s quarter experiment it might have an exclusion for non-awakened humans, or at least be hidden from non-awakened humans. But practitioners who go in will take weeks or months to get to the house. Once inside they are probably OK, but then they have to go out. In the mean time they miss all sorts of critical deadlines.

      1. I’m confused by the time trap because Blake could still see the coin and not see it red shifting. When he was looking with mundane sight he didn’t see the effect, but as a Practitioner he could, which confuses the hell out if me. The thought experiment that struck me was if Blake puts a hand into the effect area, but is holding on to a mundane, does Blake’s hand slow alone, does Blake slow but the mundane not (which would be very very strange) or is the mundane then effected? Then, also, there is the temperature issue, in that the carbon dioxide if nothing else should be freezing out on the interface of the effect, unless the air in Blake’s lungs is somehow different qualitatively to air breathed by a mundane.

        I didn’t read the retcon ability as needing the whole court, although I rereading I see what you mean. You’re probably right.

        1. Well, for the redshifting my headcannon is that this universe is a case of “Magic works as it should work”, which makes sense because it is enforced by Other who either started out as human or were created by human belief (otherwise, how would the anhtropomorphism make sense?). The others don’t know about the speed of light, so it’s not affected by the time-slow effect.

          For the “what happens without the sight on”, I have no idea but it could always be like some sort of glamour: if reality can’t disguise itself as if the time-slow ring didn’t exist anymore, then it becomes visible.

        2. I have to agree that there are a number of practical problems that make it unclear how the time zone works. I am going to assume that the field somehow alters the underlying metric of time instead of just affecting molecular speed. Niven did a story about a time slowing/speeding field (“Arm”, one story in The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton). He pointed out that, while things may appear consistent if you are wholly in or out of the field, interesting things happen at the interface. If part of you is slow and the other part isn’t, doesn’t that interfere with blood flow and coordination? Moving from the fast to slow areas should show noticeable resistance, as the parts of you entering slow areas are no longer moving the same speed as the rest of the body. These problems occur no matter how gentle or sharp the transition is, but are more obvious if the transition is sharp. If you assume the field adjusts and only affects beings and objects as a whole, then Blake can defeat it by holding onto a rope that extends outside of the field.

          I could go on, but ultimately such things are powered at least partially by suspension of disbelief.

          The whole setup reminds me of an idea I had (may not be unique) that I am never likely to actually use, something I call the Shield of Silence. Basically, the Shield keeps magic away from normals not by big effects, but by an accumulation of small effects. People are more disinterested in areas where magic actually happens; they forget to bring cameras or cell phones, forget to use them, or accidentally have bad settings that mess up the shots; memories of magic degrade and warp faster than normal memories; records of magic do the same or change to seem unreliable; the actual results change slowly to look like other things, i.e. mage battles start looking like fires resulting from lightning; etc. The whole point is that an accumulation of small changes can often cover up things more effectively than one massive effect can, especially if the changes affect both physical records and memories.

        3. My thought, based on the first trick Laird played on Blake, was that it isn’t time that has slowed, but Blake’s PERCEPTION of it.

  20. Simply brilliant chapter.

    Now we have answer to one question: are there angels? Because if Pactverse is consistent in metaphysics then there is Host of God. More people believe in Angels than in God.

    And God himself… when half-dead rotten rotting carcass of god like Dionysus can suspend powerful workings then I am not sure what Trinity and its worshipers are capable of doing. Neil Gaiman dodged this topic in “American Gods”, but.. Wildbow would you be more consequent and involve Spanish Inquisition into Pact? ;->

    Also: why on earth incarnation of Conquest is living in Canada???

    1. There’s an implication that Ornias was once an angel, what with him setting the stars in the firmament before coming to his new role of tearing them down.

      As for Conquest: he came with the colonials?

          1. Good point!:D Still, Africa is beautiful too and has tons of bloody conflicts to add…

            Maybe Conquest is bound to remnants of the British Empire? It would be ironic in a way…

    2. There’s heavy implication that Johanne’s familiar is an archangel. Gatekeeper of the Seventh Ring (with references to a book about Astral stuff) sure sounds like an angel.

    3. I have to say that dealing with living religions in a magic/willpower/belief based story is always something that I find comes closest to destroying the internal logic of a bit of fiction. Jim Butcher just manages to kind of pull it off but only by making it clear that the reader should not look to closely and that “Theatre logic/dramatic licence” underpins the series.

      Wildbow’s fiction seems to have a more Slice of Life logic that is mirrored reality, flavoured by Superhero Comicbooks. With the way Worms plot had its Godzilla rating start to shoot through the roof this could easily deep six a story if threads are weighted to heavily. I wonder if writing in the serial format will make it difficult not to write into a corner when dealing with any of the big modern religions given magic power, to the detriment of the story.

      I’m very interested to see how Wildbow maintains internal consistency in this area while still leaving the essential aura of mystery (and authorial flexibility) that stories need.

  21. If the Lord of Toronto is Conquest, and he enjoys/thrives in war and conflict, then he and Blake should be a perfect match.

    Imagine this partnership, Conquest tags along with or trains Blake. Because of the horrible debt that his family owes, Blake is constantly engaged in conflict. There’s an entire town that basically declared war on him. With eac inevitable conflict, Conquest is made more powerful and, in turn, grants Blake more power.

    This could be very good for Blake indeed.

    1. Oh wait, keeping with the four horsemen theme, apparently Conquest refers to the White horse. I assumed it referred to the Red one.

      I take back my last post. This is bad for Blake. Very very bad.

      1. Why? Blake could make another metaphorical deal with devil and get his training and protection in exchange for doing his best to conquer Jacob’ Bell.

        1. I’d have to imagine that the rider of the White horse would be likely to straight out kill demons and diabolists on sight.

          I don’t know enouh abot Wildbow’s interpretation (or if it may just be some other Other having nothing to do with horses). Perhaps the plan could still work with the Pactverse Conquest.

          1. Why would he have problems with diabolists? They’re the horsemen of the apocalypse, they aren’t good people. Conquest is often identified as the Antichrist himself. Not to say that villains are all one big happy family, but I don’t see why he’d hate diabolists more than anyone else.

  22. Hmm. I wonder if escaping to Toronto ‘counts’ for something. In which case this is strike 2, after running away from his family.

  23. We’ll have to see what kind of method Jeremy uses to keep Blake from returning. Murder would be the most permenent solution, but others may be attempted.

    Is it just me, or are the members of the Duchamp families kinda missierable because of the whole Dynasty thing?

  24. Well, an almost-Lord of Toronto who is rather fond of all manners of ibtoxicating substances? I wonder wher Wildbow got THAT idea from… Rob Ford anyone? 😀

    so I’m confused now. I thought Penelope and Jo were Sandra’s children but that’s clearly not possible with the timeline. Are they Missy’s? Did Sandra remarry and/or have other children? She would have divorced Jerry and got an abortion at 34, so there wasn’t much time left.

    1. “Let him go, mom. Tell Auntie to pass on the message to the cousins as well.” 2.05

      Auntie was probably Sandra, given that Auntie was the one who could call off the cousins. There are a lot of Duchamps in the dynasty and we haven’t been introduced to all of them yet, but Penelope’s and Joanna could be Missy’s.

  25. ” Her auntie’s age had been obfuscated by a touch of glamour, so she might appear to be a woman in her late twenties. Carefully masked. Long term use and overuse with glamour led to complications. As in all things.”

    Blake is so screwed.

    1. I read that more as “experienced practitioners know better than to do what he already did and suffer as he is,” rather than a foreshadowing of doom to come. But perhaps Rose won’t be able to get into the library, or the glamour books (that she hasn’t already read) won’t be in range of her mirrors, and it is alerting us to some danger in the future.

      Actually, wait. Did he leave the hair inside the mansion, or was that among the things that Disckswizzle brought him? (I only just realized how fortuitous it was that Rose sent the little bastard to get that stuff when she did.

      1. I think he keeps the hair with him at all time, since he must take extra precautions so it’s not forgotten. Am I wrong?

      2. I’m not sure if Blake has the hair on him. He does, however, have his old glamourized skin with him. If need be, he could use that for glamour.

  26. I think this is a pretty good chapter to point to for when you want to convince someone to read Wildbow’s stuff. Here we have him going the extra mile to humanize and even give us sympathetic traits to root for in an antagonist for whom a lot of other writers would be content with getting us to boo and hiss at, and, in respect to this kind of character in particular, turn into a problematic stereotype based on the writer’s ex-wife or something.

    I find myself having less and less regard for works that try to cajole me into rooting against the “bad guys” these days.

  27. “Some men in service to a far less entertaining god have done something very ugly,” he said. “Just a year and nine months into the new millenium, our Lord of Conquest gets his second wind. Our city and our nation has already committed forces.”

    WTF?

    So, the Lord of Toronto is somehow powered by war (presumably war that he’s at least peripherally involved in, since the wars of the world do not always turn upon the axis of North America), and the clusterfuck in the aftermath of 9/11 gives him the power to maintain his position. Sounds like a swell guy.

    What’s interesting here is the comment on the attackers-men in service to a god. Last I checked, most mainstream Islam hates Al Qaeda, so perhaps it’s as much a matter of personal belief as anything else, but still! This implies that the Judeo-Christian god exists in this setting. Is it active? The reasoning behind the absence of the old gods is that they’re sleeping due to lacking followers, but this one has something along the order of 3.5 to 4 billion followers worldwide. So…how does this lead into the existing status quo? Is it bound by oaths not to interfere?

    Also, this is confirmation of the involvement of practitioners in war. The city, specifically, committed forces, in an organized fashion. Previously we had mention of Aimon Behaim as a soldier. There were probably local practitioners in the countries they invaded, who fought back-which implies that this was somehow hidden from the numerous normal people that would have been exposed to the information, in a level of dedication to covering things up that’s simply insane. Do people like Al Qaeda have access to practitioners, and if so, why aren’t they using them openly? It becomes increasingly difficult to believe that the governments of the world have no knowledge of this, so why are practitioner communities semifeudal messes that vote on executions? Is democracy a sham to entertain the masses while practitioners run things behind the scenes collaboratively?

    Urban fantasy is weird.

    1. In regards to the Abrahamic deity, if it actually exists in the Pact universe, I doubt it interferes with normal humans much if at all. Most Others can’t do much to the ignorant masses, and even when they do it’s not noticed for what it is.

      One other problem the Abrahamic god may have though is that his believers are so varied in what they actually believe about him and what he wants that he’s not focused enough of a being that he can do much. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Mormons believe different things about their deity, and even among the big groups there are sects with widely varied beliefs. The universe likes balance, so having too many worshipers could be just as bad for a god as having too many.

      As to Al Qaeda having practitioners, I rather doubt it. They are fundamentalist and would view the use of magic as sinful and blasphemous. That of course doesn’t mean practitioners couldn’t help fight them – for instance they could hunt down leaders by following connections.

    2. It seems likely that the disciples of Gods of mainstream religion would be the most batshit insane infidel-hating hard-line orthodox you can find. No “this is supposed to be an allegory” or “adapting to modern morals”.
      So yeah, I expect practitioners to be more on the lines of Al-Qaeda or the Spanish Inquisition (yes, I know, that means I expect the Spanish Inquisition…) than liberal priests with a modern reading of the gospel.

      I also expect that we won’t get to see Islamic fanatic practitioners onscreen, at least not until we’ve had more screentime with Christian ones (which I’m not even sure we will get), because this is a political can of worms.

      1. You seem to be assuming that fanatical and hardline are the historical stance of Allah/Islam My understanding is that the batshit insane fanatics are a fairly modern phenomenon. The Ottoman Empire was fairly tolerant of other beliefs (though Islam was, of course, seen as the true one). It was also the major leader in science and culture. There’s not much need for the iron fist when you’re on top of the world. And no need to be radicals when you’re the establishment.

        I’m thinking radical Islam probably only really took off with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Western Domination of the globe and the ensuing comparative poverty, etc.

    3. “The reasoning behind the absence of the old gods is that they’re sleeping due to lacking followers, but this one has something along the order of 3.5 to 4 billion followers worldwide. So…how does this lead into the existing status quo? Is it bound by oaths not to interfere?”

      I point out that there is another, distressingly simple option right in front of us: If the status quo is pleasing to them, then interference is unnecessary.

      On progressively brighter notes:
      There is also the possibility that they are uncaring or otherwise apathetic.
      Alternatively. given that demons are apparently quite nasty and have some sort of big Other or set of Others trying to get into the world, they could be spending a lot of their time enacting and strengthening bindings.
      Finally, it’s possible that they are active, and God just moves in mysterious and subtle ways in the modern era. Fewer Maenads and gender-swapping workings (Tiresias had a strange life sometimes) but more slightly-mysterious bits of sudden luck or inspiration.

    4. Perhaps the God of Al Quaeda or Boku Haran or Priest Feliciano (a christian one for balance) is not the same God as for the other followers. If this is the case, the Abrahamic Gods may be a bit weaker because they are many.
      But our dear author has really a complex problem here, dealing with magic and symbolism and not involving Gods is difficult. Involving Gods that your readers actually worship is not easy either.
      I understand that this is fiction and that an eventual “act of God” seen here is not offensive since it is a fictional God, but not everyone is so understanding.

  28. It occurs to me that gods could have been early practitioners. Associated with animals, frequently a signature weapon, almost always a special domain… It fits the bill almost exactly. There are incongruities, but that could be attributed to certain facts being lost over time.

  29. My emotions are telling me that this is so far the saddest chapter of this story. My heart is broken in so many places for so many characters all at once. I hate you, Wildbow. And for your ability to make me hate you so, I love you all the more. I have a very hard time picturing a happy ending for this story. I cross my fingers.

      1. I suppose that’s true from a certain point of view. I won’t say anything else because of spoilers, but I hope things work out for Rose.

      2. Wildbow, not Wildblow.

        Can I ask that we not discuss stuff here that would affect people’s reading of Worm? I’m removing bits from posts above.

          1. Well, for starters we can shy away from Worm spoilers. For the second course we can pad the donation counter (which I note is 300-some dollars away from a new bonus chapter). And for the main we can continue discussing in an appreciative but calm and inquisitive manner the story which he is currently writing essentially for free whatever his current Patreon stipend is.

            1. So, if I understand correctly, it would be appropriate if I asked whether Blake could train up an army of fairys (spelling intentional). I could then remark about the humorous image of Blake surronded by hundreds of Tinkerbells fighting Nymphs (and other Greek mythology things).

              Btw, with html 5 I believe you’re looking for the del tag.

            2. I wonder what their relative strengths are. Specifically, I wonder if a swarm of fairies (as opposed to Faeries) can wield box cutters.

            3. Read as far as “Changes” (Book 12) & do it soon, BEFORE someone spoils it.
              The Audio books read by James Masters are a treat and makes it easy to do chores while enjoying fiction.

              Changes really shows the true beauty of planned long form fiction. It is hands down one of the best bits of authorial tradecraft I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

              [Dead Beat (Book 7) is my favourite Novel to reread though, it is catnip for geeks]

            4. Zombie dinosaurs will do that. I know I squee’d when I got to that scene for the first time.

  30. So do all pantheons exist? Are they tiered?

    I think a good partner/familiar for Blake would be Loki. Both experience an undeserved amount of hate and both are quite clever. Also, perhaps Loki could impart some shapeshifting powers to Blake.

    1. Loki did kill Balder during what was essentially a prank. And Loki would never consent to being a mere familiar for Blake. A divine patron, maybe, especially if Blake promises to make his travails as interesting as possible, but never a familiar.

      1. Remember though, that the familiar is (supposed to be) a partner, not subservient. Loki still probably wouldn’t do it, but its not like Blake turning him into a servant.

        1. Seems to vary. If I understand correctly, Anabelle and Tromos are partners, but Briar Girl is her familiar’s bitch and Sandra seems to have captured her familiar and forced it into a subservient role.

  31. If god strength is more rooted in the number of believers than god vs. god duels old polytheism style, I think their “godly wills” end being shown in followers being caught up in the followers’ weaves and unconscious magic.

    That means less praying for successful meteor drop on your enemies and more “the longer you stay here the longer our society can from strength of belief pluck at your connections’ strings” like one dynasty-trained Sandra can find, break ties, and physically alter the satyrs. Influencing at-pregnancy gender doesn’t really take much power, unless there are more examples?

    The more I think about it, the more I see this universe’s view of gods as artificially generated glamour rather than actual Others- the more people believe the stronger they get. That’s either good or bad for Blake, but it does mean practitioners can fairly choose their own religion without being seriously UP (underpowered).

  32. There are Others that seem to be at least partially powered by belief/worship. Call them deities or deific. This chapter basically says this flat out and Tromos in his interview compares belief to eating and sleeping for him. This is major problem with respect to keeping the Pactverse relatively balanced because, if deities are powered by belief, then modern gods should be ridiculously more powerful than older ones (seven billion belief sources, split many ways, compared to approximately 250 million in Biblical times, split many more ways). There are many possible answers. Some of the ones I can think of are:

    1) Only the practitioners provide much in the way of power. This is at least partially consistent with this chapter. Otherwise, Bacchus would be quite powerful just based on college parties alone.

    2) The worship has to be directed, i.e. aimed at the deity. In which case the Abrahamic deity, Buddha, and the Hindu gods should be head-and-shoulders more powerful than most others. Also, how does this allow a general conflict to strengthen the Lord of Toronto? It seems unlikely that the response to 9/11 was to worship him. Neither of these seem to be the case. Therefore, the evidence for #2 seems to be generally negative.

    3) Modern deities are ideas, not deific Others. This is consistent with the Abrahamic deity or Buddha or the Hindu gods not being blatant powerhouses. But, if the deific Others saw this happening, why didn’t they stop it either by active recruitment or, well, killing people who didn’t worship one of them? Also, why would Jeremy talk about “Some men in service to a far less entertaining god have done something very ugly”? Is it possible he is mistaken?

    4) Belief ties deities to the world, but they exist elsewhere also. This sort of agrees with some of Tromos’s statements and statements elsewhere about there being other planes of existence and at least one afterlife.

    Except for #2, there is no strong weight of evidence for or against most of these. My arguments against #2 have flaws also. For now, insufficient evidence, but the problem is big enough to deserve some attention. Recommended reading in the same vein: Pratchett’s Small Gods, Gaiman’s American Gods, and Cook’s Petty Pewter Gods.

  33. In regards to modern gods being totally OP due to the billions of believers they have, I would point all of you to two of my favorite books: Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

    In them, the point is made that after a while, even the most popular, powerful of the gods begin to… Calcify, like a primitive shelled cephalopod. People begin to believe in the institution, rather than the god. Worshipers go through the motions, but they aren’t actually worshipping. The faithful have faith in that they are right, rather than in their god. The devout believe, so very hard, in something they cannot understand and would not approve of if they actually could.

    Thus, even as a religion goes from power to power, a god may wither and waste, holding on to the merest fraction of genuine, sincere believers, priests, or cultists that the lay masses are only periferally aware of, if at all. Thus, it is possible the God of Abraham and the Book may be only somewhat more powerful than the gods of antiquity. Perhaps more so, since I’m sure scale is a thing to bare in mind, but certainly no longer capable of the good old fashioned fire and brimstone smitestravaganza. Those subtle miracles on the other hand… Sure.

    Complete change of subject:

    Regarding familiars and the like, I must say I am… Unimpressed with the people who keep saying Blake should get this god or that demon. Quite unimaginative, and it would probably break the story. Dionysus is NOT Jeremy’s familiar. I doubt anything with a given name and identity in the public domain would stoop to partnering with a mortal. Remember, the familiar has to get something out of the bargain too, or has to be forcefully bound to the Practioner’s will. Blake getting a partnership with Loki would be roughly equivalent to getting into a plot with the Joker.

    No good could possibly come of such a thing.

    I DO want Blake (and Rose!) to get familiars. I do NOT believe Rose qualifies as familiar material, as she is not, strictly speaking, an Other. She is an autonomous arcane construct. There is a difference.

    Please, I mean no insult with these statements. But I do think Wildblow (hah, couldn’t resist) can do a lot better than resorting to the obvious. None of us would be here if he couldn’t.

    1. But, but. . . When life, the universe and everything else is trying to kill you (and your entire family), you need some massive power boost to survive.

      I don’t think we’ve seen enough of the Pactverse to make actual, reasonable guesses and predictions about familiars. Even though I do think we finally have enough the basic groundwork to get an idea of how this world works, with the exception of faeries (and that one psycho goblin lady) we haven’t seen too much interaction with intelligent Others. In my mind, this means that we have to draw upon outside sources and mythologies to make a guess.

      I had the idea of Blake partnering with a skunk spirit (for both are scrappers that you don’t want to put into a desperate position), but I figured with all the Jerry antics in this chapter, talking about something regarding mythology would be more appropriate (for a comment in this chapter).

      Funny thing is, I thought similar to you about Loki. Can you imagine having a (legit) partnership with the Joker! That would be amazing! It fits with Blake’s “chaos” approach.

      Just my 2 cents.

      1. When life, the universe, and everything is actively turned against you… You aren’t getting a powerful familiar like an actual god. It’ll just kill you, or get you killed, depending. Forcefully binding a (high level) troll took Sandra days of work and nearly killed her. She was raised from birth as a Practioner and had every possible advantage.

        A lone troll using its wits and raw might. Emphasis, here.

        Compare a GOD, a being of divine power, who has such a level of might in its given sphere people worshipped it to curry favor and and assuage its wrath.

        Yeah, totally gonna slum it with a newbie. Or lose.

        Now, I get that Blake does need power. But first, he has to make the best of what he does have. He needs to start making lemonade, before he can expect any kind of a break. He does need friends, he does need resources. Luckily, he’s got a cool 20ish mill. That can buy a lot of friends.

        One thing I’m amazed Blake hasn’t considered is just buying his way to safety. “Hey, Laird, Johannes, Sandra, I got a million for each of your families if you just leave me alone. I so promise to make no intentional move to harm the city or its inhabitants, other than in genuine perceived defense of myself or others, if you do agree to leave me be.”

        Best wording I can come up withafter a minutes thought. Better phrasing ideas?

        1. But Laird has vowed not to take any deals. Also, does Blake really have millions? I was under the impression that the millions were simply in the value of the house (which Blake can’t sell). If he does have millions, that’s at least one bit of bartering power at his disposal.

          1. No, Blake does not have millions. He has property that is worth millions that he can’t sell for five years. His monetary assets amount to whatever minor savings he has in the bank and his monthly allowance from the lawyers.

          2. Personally I would’ve already been using that to troll Laird. “Oh hi, Laird. I’ll donate lots of money to the school fundraiser if you agree. Oh wait, that’d be a deal, right? Never mind.”, “Hey Laird, trade you this donut for your sandwich? Oh wait, that’d be a deal. nm.” 😛

        2. It took months for Sandra to bind Hildr to her will, and it probably took a similar amount of time to set up that Faerie contract thing the other Duchamps have. And he will have the 20 mil when he turns 25, which brings us into “bird in hand vs. birds in bush” issues. These will not stand up to the dangers that diabolists pose simply by existing (remember what the Duchamps told Joanna and Penny, how Laird talks up Blake’s threat level), those they can summon (remember that Ornias is a few repetitions of his name away from exacting a horrible price on everyone in the county at least), and those that they have already summoned (remember that Blake’s opening salvo was “Granny already summoned a demon, who wants me not to sic it on them?”).

  34. Since no one has mentioned it – the “One boy, and the line is broken, the working unravels” restriction is a way to take the whole Duchamp family down. Immensely difficult to do, but a one-shot win against the Duchamps, although the exact details are of course unknown. Possible methods:

    Glamour up a boy Duchamp. Infinitesimally small chance that would work. If it were that easy it would have already been done.

    Make a pact to change a Duchamp to male. Technically possible, given that Padraic said he could make Blake pregnant, but immensely difficult – essentially a malicious miracle.

    Mess with circumstances to produce another male Duchamp, but hide its gender from the mother (and other Duchamps) somehow until it is too late. Technically possible but ridiculously difficult, considering you would have to pull off two miracles instead of one.

    Create a Duchamp version of Rose. If Rose makes Blake sufficiently female to inherit, then perhaps a male Duchamp vestige would be enough to force disinheritance. Most likely method, but still highly difficult.

    Trick a Duchamp into adopting. Do legal bindings equal magical bindings? Very, very unlikely.

    Necromancy and/or resurrection – bring back the male Duchamp fetal spirit and give it a body. If that isn’t enough to count as a male Duchamp being born, figure out how to give it a surrogate womb and birth. Let’s see, would Rose volunteer if that were enough to bring down the Duchamps? (Rose says “Let Blake carry it if he wants the Duchamps beaten that badly.”)

    1. PennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPennyPenny!!!

      *regains composure

      Perhaps Blake could marry Penny and pull a Jerry with her. When the child is born, the mother will be shocked to find a baby boy.

      The problem here is that the Thorburn line is also passed between females (with the obvious expensive loophole). If it only takes one male to destroy the Duchamp line, they could have a daughter afterwards.

      Is there resurrection in the Pactverse? It would probably come at a price Blake isn’t willing to pay. Also, I don’t think a necromatic fetus spirit would count as a child borne to the line, if they are anything like the ghosts of this world. What I’m trying to say is, the idea of implanting undead fetuses into Penny (or any Duchamp we’ve met so far) squicks me out for some reason, so I would hope the solution would not be that.

  35. If Blake’s familiar winds up being the Wendigo’s Asshole, the world will die laughing.
    [yes, in legends, it talks and acts autonomously]

  36. Tbh the major question raised here is whether Jeremy sends the nymphs to do it “kindly” or just goes for the bacchae

  37. Also, if anyone could help with the TV tropes page that would be greatly appreciated – the Character sheet in particular is severely underpopulated.

  38. Should we assume that the Japanese branch of the Duchamps make contracts/人◕ ‿‿ ◕人\to become Puella Magi?

    1. Not in my setting, no. For the record, Puella Magi exist across the entire world. Obviously.

      /sanctimonious comic book guy tone

      …I’m such a dork.

  39. I don’t know. A troll is kind of a lame familiar. When they aren’t talking in Jamaican accents, they’re too busy skewering hobbits or getting killed by goats. Goats! I can understand a troll being killed by goatse, but a gruff billy goat? That’s unacceptable.

    bind her.” Shouldn’t have those quotation marks there.

    Ah yes, the needy cult thing. When it comes to sex, they sometimes like to do something called lovebombing. I know what you’re thinking: me jumping out an airplane wearing nothing but a parachute, socks, and cleats. That would certainly be a lovebomb on an atomic scale. And I don’t mean Little Boy either…ladies.

    No, what they do is offer sex. Lots and lots of sex. To some extent, they basically prostitute their members. It’s also called “being a fisher of man” from when this one Christian sect did it and justified it using a bible verse. Think about it this way: they might hook a man into joining the group, or they might get a baby out of the deal. In either of those cases, the cult has fresh blood.

    The Faerie court. Not much to care about there. They have their illusions and all that, but for all the power they possess, it becomes meaningless due to the ways they use or don’t use it. They have all the makings of chaotic beings, but none of the soul. They are order of the worst kind, a Cold War of chess pieces, each side waiting for the first pawn to drop so they can play out their drearily rehearsed little gambits and strategies. And people allow it because they’re afraid of creativity. Psh. Creativity, in those kinds of critters?

    There’s not a faerie alive prepared to have someone appear suddenly and shove a hand up their rectum, then rotate them 63 degrees on a random axis.

    I promise” Like Sandra Duchamp after she’s been passed around the mountain trolls a few times, you desperately need a period there.

    Now, Dionysus, I kinda like him. Interesting fellow, somewhat. Big on getting women drunk and letting them tear people to pieces. Very much associated with the wild, so not someone the Faerie want pissed off at them.

    Well I should certainly hope most of them predated the bible. Thing only came together in the form we’d recognize during the Middle Ages. The thing’s not even 2,000 years old as a canonically assembled collection.

    “Some men in service to a far less entertaining god have done something very ugly,” he said. “Just a year and nine months into the new millenium, our Lord of Conquest gets his second wind. Our city and our nation has already committed forces.”

    Oh, so this took place on 9/11. Yeah, this guy would see it as a far less entertaining god. Islam does not allow drinking alcohol.

    You know, I will give the Faerie points for their cleverness about the baby. That was actually pretty interesting. Hey, if I visit, can they keep any benign growths in my colon from leaving with me? Seriously, those guys could make a fortune.

    Man, nymphs. That had to be awkward for Achilles, getting armor from his mom, who happens to be the wet dream of anyone who has wet dreams about young girls.

    You messed up a little bit there, Pencil Monkey. Come on, a priest outfit when trying to get young girls? Young boys, maybe, but not young girls.

    Nah, for young girls, you need a van and some candy, or maybe even an ice cream truck. “Uncle Touchy’s Soft Serve Sea Salt Cone. Lick it and love it!”

      1. Considering the generally male-friendly nature of most religion, most of them wouldn’t condone a de-dicking. The lone exception I can think of is possibly Zeus, but that was a very specific bit of daddy-issues there. And only if he went for too big a cut.

  40. I accidentally read this before the third arc, but it’s still interesting. A bit unrelated to…well…anything Arc 2 or before, not sure about the bit I skipped over.
    Still, interesting.

  41. Wow… I am beginning to deeply worry about Blake and Rose! after reading more about the people they is facing…

    Great Great Wildbow!

  42. Hey. Hey, Wildbow.
    STOP.
    I can’t deal with this. Sandra, not an Alpha-Bitch? A sympathetic character, again! All I’m gonna say about that is what’s been said: There sure as hell better not be a my-childhood-sucked-feel-sorry-for-me interlude for Laird. Because Laird is a dick. Come on, you can leave at least one person in your story as an unsympathetic dick, right? Make Lardo your Jack…no. Not even Jack.
    YOU CAN’T DO THIS. I love it too much to hate it. I…I don’t know. The mix of actual emotions your writing evokes in me, though? I love it.

    Okay, so aside from worshiping the authors and casting Taylorish doom upon their enemies…what are they even supposed to do now? Sandra’s got Jerry after them, and no, no, he is not going to show them a good time. Though I really wish he would; he sounds like a chill dude.

  43. Ok,just thught of these,and thought I’d post it here before I forget it,but….

    If Worm characters have alternate selves here…does that mean Genoscythe,the Eyeraper is still alive in Pact?

Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s