Collateral 4.1

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“We’re nearly there, Mr. Thorburn.”

I startled awake.

My heart rate had jumped into high gear with the sudden voice, the realization of where I was and what I was doing kept it going at the same pace.

“Do you have any questions, Mr. Thorburn?” my driver asked me.  He was a thirty-something man with a stylish, tidy haircut and a nice suit that fit him well.  He hadn’t said a word from the moment he’d shown up with the car, bags situated in the back seat with a new set of boots, three changes of clothes, a jacket, and a bag of toiletries.

I hadn’t asked how they knew my boot or shirt size, the waist and leg measurements for the jeans, or my brand of shaving cream.  I was happy in my ignorance, right now.  Happy to have nice boots on and know that the rubber boots I’d ‘borrowed’ were on their way back to the owner.

I tried to get my brain into gear.  I was tired, and my body was now apparently trying to get what it needed by force.  I was ravenous, my emotions more raw, and slumber had crept over me with a surprising speed and very little fight from me.  My head ached where I’d pressed it too hard against the window of the car as I’d slept.

Going by what I could see in the rear-view mirror, Rose wasn’t in the car with us.  I didn’t have her to turn to.

“I am under the impression,” I said, very slowly and deliberately, buying myself time to think while I tried to structure my thoughts, “that by asking questions, I’m agreeing to pay for the answers.”

“Some answers, yes.  But some answers come part and parcel with the bargain you struck.”

Fuck me, what were the exact terms of the deal?  I struggled to recall, but I’d been too busy looking out for danger, too tired.

“What answers are those?” I asked.  “Or is that cheating?”

“Right now we are engaged in a transaction.  As a client, a customer or a contractor, however you might want to look at it, you’re entitled to any assistance we can reasonably give.  There is no ‘cheating’,” he said.

“I see.”

“Before I say anything else, we have reached out to the Lord of Toronto on your behalf.  He does not know who you are, and views you only as a new practitioner who wants to abide by the rules.  He has agreed to let you return to your home and that agreement will give you some security.”

“Okay,” I said.  I couldn’t remember him talking.  Tired as I was, I was pretty sure any noise along those lines would have woken me up.  “That some kind of magical communication?  Lawyer telepathy?”

He turned his head and tapped his left ear.

Right.  Bluetooth.  Obviously.

He said, “The offer he made, does not mean that he is offering you protection.  If a resident of Jacob’s Bell or a local tries to hurt you, he won’t do a thing.”

“But he’s not going to come after me?”

“Not for the time being.  Others will be seen as presumptuous if they go after you in the meantime.  I would expect the least significant players and the allies of the Lord to wait for a cue or an excuse before they act.  When it’s convenient for him, he’ll reach out and arrange a meeting.  The meeting will decide his stance towards you, and any stance the lesser powers can and will take.”

“What does one typically do, for these sorts of meetings?” I asked.

“A token offering.  Deference.  Depending on the local power dynamic, the other powers may expect something small.  Respect will often do, and it will serve here in Toronto.”

“Any idiosyncrasies?” I asked.  “Who is the Lord and how should I approach him?”

“The Lord is an incarnation of Conquest.  He’s a sapient embodiment of a concept, and he’s been here for some time, in one form or another.”

“I wouldn’t imagine Conquest is a great fit for Toronto,” I said.

“It was, once.  The English presence in North America is young, and Others can be very old.  For some, it wasn’t long ago at all that we wiped out the Aboriginal people and took their land.  It wasn’t long ago that there was war over what European country would claim sovereignty over this land.  Toronto was a site in the war of eighteen-twelve, and Conquest continued to gain power after it was released, with immigrants coming in to reaffirm the invader’s claim to the land.”

“A living manifestation of conquest?” I asked.

“I would hesitate to say ‘alive’.”

“He’s the horseman?  One of the four riders of the apocalypse?”

“Yes and no.  There are other Conquests, who take different forms based on their history and the eras and events they drew power from.  For all intents and purposes, you can consider incarnations to be powerful spirits, often ones with human hosts or an attachment to an object of particular design, an implement without an owner.  Some agencies contrive to bring these incarnations into being to suit their devices.  Is there an agency invested in the apocalypse and Conquest’s part in that?  Yes, but not in the way you’re thinking.”

“What way, then?”

“The apocalypse is an idea with some traction, as are the four horsemen.  Some want to use that traction.”

“Ah,” I said.  “I think I get what you mean.”

“Such agencies want a narrative, and an Incarnation of Conquest arising from Toronto is a weak narrative at best.  If such things come to pass, speculation suggests that another, greater Conquest would find, best, and absorb all its lesser kin for strength before taking action.”

“And nobody’s about to remove the local Conquest from the picture, to keep that from happening?”

“There are bigger things at play, and an Incarnation isn’t a monster you defeat with a sword or gun.  It is an idea given life.  You support it and feed it through certain ideas, and you defeat it by taking the strength from that idea.  Most often, you accommodate them.  But anything powerful enough to become sentient and sapient isn’t something that’s going away anytime soon.”

“But if there’s no war-”

“He isn’t War, but Conquest.  Massed forces, takeovers, forced change.  He continues to find power in other ways. Yes, he prefers warfare and bloodshed, but he can draw power from the steady expansion of civilization into nature, from real estate, from business takeovers, government, law, and other small forms of tyranny.  As an Incarnation, he can invest his power.  Where Death might bring death to things by touching them, or Love might strike a couple through their hearts with a metaphorical arrow given form, Conquest can do the same.”

“So he’s like a god.”

“He is like a god,” my driver said.  “And we could go into a deep discussion of the common elements between gods and incarnations, the abstract versus the straightforward, but that’s outside of the bounds of your agreement with the firm, and I believe we’re on your street.”

I turned to look.  Sure enough, I was home.

Hopefully Joel hadn’t evicted me.

“In terms of safety, after I’m in my apartment…”

“I’ve got that handled,” Rose piped up.  “I think.”

I turned to look to my right, stupidly, then looked at the mirror.  Sure enough, she was situated in the back seat, next to where I’d be if I had a reflection.

There was a stack of books beside her, I noted.

“I’ll take you upstairs,” my driver said.

I gathered up the bags, while Rose grabbed her books in the mirror, and the driver opened the door for the both of us.

He had a book tucked under one arm.  I felt a moment’s trepidation.

This favor the lawyers were doing me wasn’t free.

“After you,” my lawyer told me, opening the front door of the building.

“Do I open the door to something ugly if implicitly invite you into the building?” I asked.

“No,” my driver said.  “Even if you did, it would be too late to do anything about it, as you implicitly invited us into the building when you asked for an escort to your apartment.”

I nodded.

“This is a stable area, Toronto is,” my escort said.  “I wouldn’t worry too much about trouble.  You know who your enemies in Jacob’s Bell are, and you should focus your efforts on those fronts.  You wouldn’t go amiss with a border around the apartment.”

“A border?”

“Something geometric.  There are two schools of thought in binding.  There is like binding like, and then there’s binding with the antithesis.  The former requires more raw power, but you generally won’t upset them so much.  I say generally, but some beings like conflict, and there are any number of other rules.”

It was kind of eerie, to see that the driver had personality.  Even to the point of geeking out about something.  I said, “I think I saw something about that in the Barber’s entry, in my grandmother’s books.”

“I read that.  Yes.  Good memory.  It’s easier to bind them with something that naturally opposes them.  In this case, you’d want something geometric and man-wrought to oppose beings that are more disordered and natural by their intrinsic natures.  Which is most things out there.  The more powerful they are, the more you’ll want and need in terms of protections.”

“Okay,” I said.

“That takes care of one of the local threats.  I might suggest a protective sign on the ceiling, for another.  And a ritual sprinkling of water at the perimeter of your apartment, on a regular schedule.  Doesn’t really matter how often, but it should be at a set time or set times every day, and you can’t miss a day or it won’t have an effect.”

My eye fell on the door to Joel’s apartment.  I really had to let him know I was okay.

But I focused on the man who was guiding me to safety.  “Is there an explanation for any of this?  Who or what it might be that I’m protecting myself against?”

“I’m already bending the rules by saying this.”

“Why?” I asked.  When he didn’t give me a response, I asked,  “Why tell me this?  You don’t have to help like that.”

“I’m new to this.  I’ve only been at it for- for a little while.  I’m bound to make mistakes.”

“Why did you pause there?” I asked.  “How long have you been at it?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve lost track of the years.  Smart phones weren’t a thing when I started, though, if that’s any clue?”

I nodded.  “More than five years, then.”

“Five years,” he said, nodding slowly.  He looked up at me, “You wanted to know why I’m sharing details?  I like you, Mr. Thorburn.  I feel bad for you, we haven’t exactly talked much, but I think you’re one of the good ones.  Me taking you for a one-and-a-half hour drive into Toronto, getting stuck in traffic?  It’s a nice break.  It puts me in good spirits.  I think they know it puts me in good spirits, and they divvy up jobs like this to keep the newbies sane.”

“During your centuries or thousands of years of enslavement to the firm,” I said.

“Yeah.  From the clients who aren’t so fun.  Clients who hoard and have places packed from floor to ceiling with knick-knacks and body parts, clients who deal in pain and suffering like a banker deals in cash, or who do things that would have turned my stomach, back when I had compunctions.”

“I see,” I said.

“You really don’t.  But you might,” he said.

“You’re assuming I’ll take the offer your firm is making?” I asked.

“I honestly don’t know if you will.  That wasn’t what I was saying.  There are a good few people out there who try dealing in the real powers, the scary ones your grandmother trafficked in.  Maybe a third survive, like your grandmother did.  Another third, they meet bad ends and they probably take people with them.  The last third, they get offered a way out, and they take that offer.”

“Like you did,” I said.

“I dabbled, I got in just deep enough to get into trouble, and get into debt,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the firm would like me to tell you the bill for the next deal you make with them.”

“The next deal?  They’re looking into the future?”

“Nothing so complicated.  This,” he said, handing me the book he held, “Is your payment for the supplies, the ride, the guarantee of safety and the arrangements we’ve made with the local Lord.  This is how you’ll pay us, the next time you make a deal.”

He handed me a piece of yellow paper.  Carbon paper.  I read it over.  A duration, a name, a two day duration, as well as notes made for any expenses being covered…

“An errand,” I said.

“Call it an internship,” he said.  “Carrying out the sort of job you would be doing if you accepted a deal with the firm.”

“Like you did, driving me,” I said.

“Very possible,” he said, smiling a bit.

“Or like one of the jobs you regularly do for the messed up ones, the real diabolists you and Ms. Lewis seem so damn relieved to get away from.”

“That is also very possible,” he said.

“So you don’t even know what the favor I’d be asking is, and you’re telling me how I’ll pay you back, in exchange?”

They are, yes.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I stayed silent, folded up the paper, and stuck it in my back pocket.  I stopped walking.

“This is your apartment?” he asked.

“It is.”

“There’s no particular rush to finish the book.  I believe the threat of a deal ignored and the impact to your karmic balance is enough incentive to follow through.”

I looked down at the book he’d given me.  Black Lamb’s Blood.

From the goat’s skull on the cover, the black leather and the script in shiny gold lettering, I knew it was a book on diabolism.  This was my payment for the services the firm had rendered me.  I had to read it, nothing more, nothing less.

“No traps?  No deceptions or situations where reading the wrong word will harm me or cause demons to leap out of the page?”  I already knew the answer, but I had to ask again.  The situation worried me too much.

“It is plain text, nothing more,” he assured me.  “You may or may not like what that text says, but I don’t think you’ll suffer.”

“It’s propaganda,” I said.

“Perhaps a little bit.  Your grandmother knew the author and was quite fond of her.  Had she been alive as the book was released, your grandmother would have paid for a copy to be delivered to her, and it would have a place on her bookshelf.  She would have no cause to warn you about anything inside.  It’s even one of the tamer books.”

I nodded, frowning.

A gateway book?  The thought made me think of some dumbassed campaign like ‘don’t do drugs, read!’.  Except books were more dangerous than drugs, in this world.

“Once you’re inside, I’ll be on my way,” he said.

I let myself into the apartment, feeling a secret relief when the key turned successfully in the lock, and I turned to face my escort.

“Goodbye, Mr. Thorburn.  Best of luck.  Remember what I recommended, protection-wise.”

“You seemed decent enough,” I said.  “Thank you for the tips on self-protection.  I hope you get more easy jobs.”

“So do I, thank you.  Five hundred and seventy three years, four months, and four days to go, if I don’t make partner at some point.  I’m bound to get some of the easier jobs.”

His smile made it look like he might chuckle at his own joke.  Caught off guard by the sheer volume of years he’d presented, I couldn’t bring myself to match him smile for smile.

He gestured, tipping his nonexistent hat, and then turned to go.

Leaving me alone and relatively unprotected.

Move, I thought.

I headed for the dining room, which I rarely used for dining.  Set beside the kitchen, it served as storage for all the boxes and kits I had no space for elsewhere.

I found my toolbox.  A loaner-turned-gift when a friend’s boyfriend had gone overseas and decided never to return.  Actually two toolboxes stacked on one another, with two rugged wheels for all terrain at one side, like luggage, it held all of the bits and pieces I’d collected while working.

Top toolbox was tools.  Hammers, saws, awls, hole-punches and far too many screwdrivers.  Not what I needed.

The lower toolbox was knick-knacks and materials.

Three rolls of painter’s tape and… there, a drywall t-square which had been abused and coated with plaster to the point that I could barely make out numbers.

I ripped a section free, then went to work.

I set to drawing out a border around the edge of the apartment.  Turning the apartment into a magic circle, or a magic rectangle, whatever.

I wasn’t sure how far my tape would go, so I went the simple route.  The t-square let me quickly define triangles, which I taped out.  Triangles were a sturdy shape, right?  Architecturally sound?  Three points, three sides.

I was winging this.  Doing what I could.

Who were the other threats?  Laird?  I wasn’t sure what he’d throw at me.  Sandra?  That meant Faerie.

Too many possibilities to consider.  I’d collapse in a nervous heap if I considered all of the threats arrayed against me.

One thing at a time.  I was good at working mindlessly on a task.  I enjoyed it, even, being able to set my body to something repetitive and easy, while letting my mind roam.

Something crude I could use against Faerie.  Assuming the building didn’t count as something crude and roughshod, where could I get a natural sort of barrier untouched by human hands?

What other trouble could I run into?  There was enchantment, enchantresses.  If the Duchamps wanted to screw me over, they could do something with the connections to me.  One of them had already done something to sic Aunt Laura and Callan on me.  How easy would it be for them to attack me here and drive me out into the cold again?  Causing trouble for Joel until I had to get kicked out?

I moved my futon, dragging it across the floor, and set up the tape at the base of the wall.

Steadily, I made my way to the far right of the living room, taping as I went.

“Blake,” Rose called out, from the other room.

I stood, stretching where being hunched over had made my back kink up, and I passed by my bedroom to reach the bathroom.  There wasn’t any glass on the counter or the floor, but some lingered at the edges of the frame.

“Hey Rose.  We need to get you some mirrors.”

“He was playing you, you know.”

“The lawyer kid?”



“That’s what my gut says,” she said.  “All of that, even the information he gave you, it’s part of a long term scheme to win you over.  They’re obviously doing this with some strategy in mind.”

“Obviously.  Making me read the book, setting me up with a young lawyer I can identify with.”

“They’re looking forward enough to figure out what they’re going to ask you for next time, and letting you know now so you can convince yourself it’s not so bad, and maybe ask for help a little more quickly next time.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I get that.”

“You okay?” she asked.

“Tired,” I said.  “But I want to get at least one layer of defenses up before we go any further.”

“I’ve been bringing some books over, trying to do my part.”

“From the house?”

“Yeah.  No problem getting past the barrier.  I either don’t pass through the barrier, or I move so fast that being slowed to a fraction doesn’t make a difference.”

“Bring some books,” I said.  “Not too many, okay?  We know some Others can reach into the mirror, and besides, we don’t want to lose access to the books if we can’t get to this apartment again.”

“Shit.  Good point.  Maybe if I carry them with me?”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Did you hear that bit in the car?  About the safeguards we’ll need?”


“We’ll need a protective sign on the ceiling.  And this wasn’t his recommendation, but it’d be good to find a way to stay off the Duchamp’s radar, and deal with any Faerie they send our way.”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “I can get on that.  We’ll need something crude?”

“Mm hmm,” I said.

“And we’ll need-”

A sharp knock interrupted me.

“Conquest’s messenger?” Rose asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “That’d be a pretty fast arrival.”

“Go,” she said.

I went.

It wasn’t the Lord’s herald or anything like that.  It was my landlord.  Joel.  Heavy without being fat, bald, with hipster glasses and bushy eyebrows, he had a way of looking perpetually worried.

He looked especially worried right now.  With me.

“Hey you,” he said.  “I thought I heard furniture moving, and I couldn’t think of who it might be.”

“Just got back,” I said.  “You get your car back?”

He nodded.  “Police returned it.  I’m sorry it broke down on you.”

I shook my head.  Not your fault.

“What happened?  I did a search online, you were local front page news, there.  You inherited a house?”

“A very valuable house, yes.  And the town’s residents summarily evicted me,” I said.  “For all intents and purposes.”

“You look like you’ve been through hell.  It’s only been a week.”

“Has it?” I asked.  “Damn.”

“I can’t help but think of the pictures of U.S. presidents before and after they take office.  They look drained, aged by years.  You look like that.”

“Probably fitting,” I said.

“Some of the others have been asking about you.  They’ll want to see you, hear about what’s happened.”

My first instinct was to leap at the chance.  My second was to say no, to take the time to prepare.

“Great,” I said, going with my first and third instincts.  “I’m exhausted, though, I won’t be very good company.  If you want to invite people over, maybe we can keep it short, keep numbers down?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “We can definitely do that.”

“Also, I don’t have much, except what I had in the fridge.”

“When you didn’t show after a few days, I cleaned out the perishables, and I cleaned up your bathroom while I was at it,” he said.

Had it been anyone else, I might have been offended.  “Thanks.  Did you keep the glass?”

“It’s in a bucket under the sink, why?”

“I’m in a strange frame of mind,” I said.

“Does that include talking to yourself?” he asked.  When I gave him a look, he said, “Thin walls.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Talking to myself, I guess.”

“And taping up the floor?”  he asked, pointing down the length of my apartment hallway to where I’d abandoned the taping project.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I don’t know if I could explain, even.  Something for peace of mind.”

“I’m not judging,” he said, “But your reaction before you left, talking to yourself, this tape project just after you got home, the damage you did to your bathroom-”

“One mirror,” I said

“One mirror,” he agreed.

We let the silence hang in the air for long moments.

“I’d like to think I can roll with the punches,” Joel said, in response to my silence.  “And you know the others can too.  When Natty had trouble-”

“I know,” I said.

“We adapted.”

“I know,” I said, again.  “I hear you.  I’m thankful, but it’s mostly stress, and it’s me dealing the way I have to deal.”

“You’re not going to put paint on those hardwood floors, are you?”

“No paint,” I promised.  “Not if I can help it.”

“Okay,” he said.  “Lemme call up the others.  You want me to tell them to show for a specific time?  Have you eaten?  Should I bid them to bring snacks, drink, foodstuff?”

“I ate, but I could eat a live horse right now,” I said.  Against my better judgment, I added, “They can show whenever, bring whatever’s easy to bring.  Just let them know I might have to run.”


“Appointment, could happen at any time.  Five minutes from now, or a week, I don’t know.”

He nodded, then extended a hand, keys in the palm.

“Thanks Joel,” I said, as I grabbed my bike keys.  “You saved my life, giving up your car like that.”

“You shaved a year off mine,” he answered.  “Showing up like you did.  Freaking out when the lights died.  Take care of yourself, eh?”

“Eh,” I said.  “I’m trying.”

Joel left, and I took ten minutes to rinse off, get myself shaved and get presentable, changing clothes so I wouldn’t smell of sweat.  I stowed the diabolism book in a drawer of clothes, then set to getting dressed in the clothes the lawyer had brought.  Fresh outfit, minus the sweat and bits of Glamour.  Nicer than anything I owned, but it suited my style.


I pulled the locket from the pocket of my jeans and, after a moment’s debate, wound it around my hand as I had before.  Positioning it so the locket itself was bound in place, the thin chain uncomfortable.

I stuffed June Cleaver’s handle down my pants leg, so the side of the blade pressed against my hipbone, the blade itself pointing forward, and pulled my shirt down around her so it was covered.  Leonard-in-a-bottle found a spot on top of the fridge, out of easy reach.  But if I wanted him, I could hop up and grab.

I found blue-tack, and I found the bucket of mirror-shards, and I began setting them up, sticking the larger pieces to walls at Rose’s eye-level.

“Who’s Natty?”

I kept my voice lower, this time.  “Was a friend of the group for a while.  Split off when she dated and broke up with certain people, found another group of friends.  See her from time to time, no problems.”

“Were you one of the ones she dated?”

“No,” I said.  “I haven’t dated or done much of anything since high school.”

“Since before you ran away.”

I nodded.  “She started hearing voices.  Joel’s not-so-subtly telling me that if I’m in the same boat, well, precedent says they can deal.”


“Which is cool,” I said.  “Might be easier to let them think I’ve lost it, so long as I can assure Joel that the rent will keep getting paid.”

“I’m sorry, that you’d have to do that.”

I shrugged.  I put up another piece of mirror.  “How’s that?”

“It’s okay,” she said.  “Not great, but okay.  Is this wise?  Inviting people?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “No clue at all.  But I’m drained, and if I’m supposed to recover personal power, reaffirm my identity and refuel myself where I was drained, well, getting my bike keys back made me feel a hundred times better than any night’s sleep I’ve had this past week.  Maybe seeing my friends will help.”

“I can get behind it, if that’s your reasoning,” she said.  “Since I’m obviously not socializing, I can sit and read.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Please do.  But if you happen to want to look up from a book, and if you maybe want a bit of a clue about who I am and where I come from… at least now you can peek.”

“Alright,” she said.  “That’s… really nice of you.  But maybe we should get the defenses up.”

I looked at the unfinished border of tape.  I was tired enough I wasn’t connecting dots.  Doing too many jobs, leaving each one unfinished.  Getting ready, preparing things for Rose, the defenses, trying to get my story straight in my head, and talking to Rose.  It seemed so natural while I was doing it, but I was fucking up.

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Rose asked.

“Blake!”  The cry was followed by a squeal, or a ‘squee’, as the slang went.

Amanda.  My least favorite member of the group of my favorite people.  Which wasn’t to say I disliked her.  Only that she didn’t ‘get’ boundaries and I liked my boundaries.

I’d left the door open, and both Amanda and ‘Goosh’ had let themselves in.  Goosh was busy restraining Amanda with one arm around Amanda’s shoulders, so Amanda wouldn’t throw her arms around me in a violent, sudden hug.  If she did, it wouldn’t be the first time.  And if she did it with enough force that her head cracked into my ear, that wouldn’t be the first time either.

Goosh was a little taller than me, which put her above average height for a full-grown male, her blond hair cut short, cut badly, and tousled, her lipstick a little too red for her complexion.  She was also a perfect counterpoint to Amanda, in personality and frame.  Amanda, petite, was like the little dog that absolutely adored everyone and everything, her enthusiasm bubbling over to infectious degrees.  Goosh was more like the mama bear.

Where Amanda would crumple at the slightest criticism, Goosh would tear heads off.

“You’re a millionaire!”  Amanda said.

“Ah, you read the news.  No, I’m not.”

“Almost-millionaire!” Amanda squealed.

“Not even,” I said.  “I would be if I could sell the house, but I can’t.”

“Soon?  Eventually?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Hi Goosh, sorry about the show setup.”

“It’s okay.  I one hundred percent understand,” Goosh said.  “Joel told us about your cousin, my condolences.”

Oh yeah,” Amanda said.  “Shit, I’m sorry.”

I nodded.  “Thanks.  Your show went up without a hitch?”

“Small job.  I wound up hiring the Sisters.  Every time, I tell myself it won’t be so bad.  Every time, they convince me otherwise.”

I nodded.  I’d had to work with the Sisters several times on bigger projects.  Stage setups for a play, a framework for an full-room art installation… they meant well, but they were people who couldn’t take criticism, and who acted like they sought out reasons to be offended.  Worse, they played off each other.  Get one a little upset, she’d turn to her sister, who would build up that negative emotion until it reached a critical point.

Friend or enemy, you walked on eggshells around them, and you dealt with a minimum of one nervous breakdown or tantrum per project.  But they were one of the only resources we had on hand.

“Blake!” a guy greeted me from the door.  He was black, hair cut short to the point it was barely a shadow on his head and wiry, and he didn’t try to hide or take shame in his body type.  He wore a suit jacket that was a bit tattered and skinny jeans with gray smudges on them.

“Hey Ty,” I said.

I was right, it was right.  Friends, familiarity, faces I knew.  I felt more at ease.

More like me, even with that big fat ‘practitioner’ piece jammed in the middle of the puzzle that was me and my identity.

“Beer?” he said, holding up a case so I could see over Amanda’s head.

“Beer!” Amanda’s eyes lit up.

“Fridge,” I said.  “Should be lots of room.  Thanks.”

Goosh let go of Amanda so Amanda could go get beer and talk to Ty.

“While they’re busy,” Goosh said, stepping closer, without intruding into my personal space.  “Want me to run interference?  Fill people in on anything, so you don’t have to keep answering the same question?”

Did I?  Yeah.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m not a millionaire, not like that.  I’m stuck looking after a house that I can’t sell, a house that a lot of people want me to sell.  And it’s ugly.  There was talk, I’m pretty damn sure, down at the police station down there, that my cousin’s death wasn’t an accident.”

“No,” Goosh said, her voice a hush.

I shrugged.  “Like I said, I don’t know.  But for now, I’m laying low.  I’ve got to go back in a few weeks, maybe sooner, to wrangle some stuff.  I-”

“Hey, Blake,” Tyler interrupted me, from across the room.  Amanda had attached herself to him.  “What’s the tape thing?”

“It is what it is,” I said, too tired to come up with better.  “I was doing that, it was sort of meditative, I stopped halfway.  Was going to do all around the apartment.”

“Can I finish it?” he asked.

“Yeah, if you use the t-square to get the lines perfect,” I said.  “And if there’s enough tape, maybe you could do triangles inside of triangles?  If there’s enough.  It’d look ugly if only half was done.”

And it would disrupt the border’s effectiveness.

“Eyeballing it, I’d say there’s enough tape.”

“Go for it,” I told him.

I heard him tearing tape free from the roll.

Hooray for artist friends.

“You’re going back, you said?” Goosh asked.

“And I’ve got stuff to wrangle here, and… I dunno,” I said.  “Honestly, my life’s been turned upside down, and I barely even feel like me.”

“You know we have your back.”

“I wouldn’t want to involve you, get you embroiled in the ugly parts of it.”

“I don’t think many of us would mind.”

“I think you would, once you got the full picture.  A lawyer I was speaking to… she told me that she thought I was a goner.  The police chief hates me and my family, biggest most influential families have it in for me, a lot of people want the house sold so the town can expand, and I couldn’t even go shopping without getting in a fight.”

“So you get more bodies on the ground.  They’re not going to go after you if you’re in a group.”

“Wanna bet?” I asked.  “They hate me.  For no reason.”

“Heyyy!” someone cried out, behind Goosh.

“Hey Joseph,” Goosh said, smiling.

I couldn’t match Joseph’s enthusiasm, but I did smile, and it wasn’t forced.

“The carpenter resurrects, only it takes him a week,” Joseph said.

“Says ‘Joseph’?” Goosh asked.

“I’m more a handyman than a carpenter,” I said.  “And I’m not middle-eastern.  But I’m damn glad to be back, whatever I am.”

“No worries,” he said.  He bowed his head, presenting a plastic container.  “I humbly offer cupcakes as a token of worship.  You saved me from diabetes, because I was totally going to eat the entire tray myself.”

“Beer and cupcakes,” I said.

“You don’t want?”

“I’m not having beer,” I said.  I had to fight to avoid being negative.  “And I am more than happy to help save you from diabetes.  I’d love one.”

“I am having beer,” Goosh said.  “And I’d love one too.”

Joseph cracked open the container and provided each of us with a cupcake.  I wasn’t sure what the figures on the top were.  I supposed they were video game characters, but I hadn’t really played a video game in years.

“Lemme fill you in,” Goosh told him.

I took the opportunity to break away, taking it all in.  Amanda and Ty working on the tape, Goosh talking to Joseph.  More people coming in the door, waving at me, before listening to what Goosh was saying.

I took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.

I felt at ease.

Standing in the corner, the mirrors lining the walls to either side of me, I nibbled on the cupcake.

“I’m jealous,” Rose told me.

“Sorry,” I murmured, holding the cupcake up so people couldn’t see me talking to myself.

“I don’t really have friends.  You have this.”

“A lot of them are odd,” I said.  “Some are more acquaintances than friends.”

“I don’t even have acquaintances.  But you have connections, ties.”

“I hear you,” I said.  “But I meant what I said.  We’ll get you out, and maybe I can introduce you to my friends and acquaintances.”

“That’d be nice,” she said.  “Are you worried?”


“Getting them involved.  If some Other comes in…”

“Don’t even talk about that,” I said.  I took a bite of cupcake and waved at Joel as he made his way in.

I glanced at Rose, and I saw her staring at the group.  She was barely blinking, her eyes on the people who were coming and going.

I looked, too.  Used the Sight to make sure that there weren’t any connections to things that there shouldn’t be connections to.  No objects on their person that might point to something odd.  Sure, they could hide it if they wanted to, but short of Laird trying to do to me what I’d done to him, I had trouble imagining a situation where one of my friends would be an Other or practitioner in disguise.

“You think it’s likely?” I asked, after I’d swallowed.

“The families are going to be mad.  Behaims, Duchamps, the bit players who wanted you dead.  Maybe Mara, maybe Johannes.  I don’t know.  They’ll send trouble your way, somehow.”

I nodded, taking another bite of cupcake.

“You need a third win.  Three strikes, Laird’s out.”

“You don’t think he broke my streak, pulling this?”

“Different battlefield, that.  But in terms of public perception, in terms of the murder, and reputation?  He’s struck out twice.  One more time, you’ve got him out.”

“I feel like I need to make a bigger play than I have, to make it count,” I said.


I saw two more people enter.  One strange looking girl I didn’t recognize.  Her eyes were small, her nose broad, shoulders drawn in.  I looked at the connections, and she had a very odd connection to me.  Nothing like any of the connections I had to my friends.

She stopped at the edge of the cluster where Goosh was, on the other side of the apartment.  She only opened her mouth to say something small, maybe ‘hi’, and then Goosh pointed.

Her eyes fell on me, and I saw the connection fill in.

It had looked odd because there had been no recognition.  She knew of me, recognized me, but she didn’t know me?  I didn’t know her?

My hand went to my waist.  The hatchet.

Why the hell was she in my apartment?

She broke away from Goosh’s group, very awkwardly making her way through the crowd, avoiding eye contact, apologizing for every accidental bump.

Then I saw the person who had brought her, and it made sense.

The shortest person in the room, faint red dots of acne at the edges of her hairline, despite the fact that she was two years older than me, and the telltale bumps where she’d covered other spots with makeup.  She wore her jacket indoors, and I wondered if she did it because it made her look bigger than she was.  Her black hair was in dire need of conditioner, and the winter hadn’t been friendly to it.  I suspected it had been wet when she’d left her place and it had frozen.

I liked the little flaws.  I could somehow look at an attractive girl, someone like Amanda, or that Penelope Duchamp girl, and on some basic level, they didn’t rate as high in my estimation.  They didn’t look interesting, their dark blue eyes didn’t have more of a hold on me because I spent every second I looked into them wanting to study their faces and figure out what it was that made me find her attractive despite the imperfect details.

She knew everyone, everyone knew her.  She held her friend’s hand.  Her girlfriend’s hand?  Led the girl to the futon, where people automatically made room for the pair.  She smiled easily, but went out of her way to cover her teeth with her lips, bit down to keep her lips in place, even, as she turned her head away to hide what she was doing.  When she laughed at something Joel was saying, she almost doubled over, in part because she was really laughing that hard, in part because it meant nobody could see her face.

I was relieved to see that she was safe, her friend was safe, and they weren’t part of this whole business with Others and magic and whatever else.  A glance at their connections told me they were safe.

“Blake, you going to stand in a corner for the entire night at your own party?” Joel asked.

“Was thinking,” I said, approaching the gathering of people at the one side of my living room.

“Think less, drink more,” Joseph told me.

“I’m not drinking tonight,” I said.  “Already said.  I might have to run.  I’m all tied up in this bullshit drama that’s been going on this past week and a bit.”

“Are you going to be able to manage?” Joel asked.  “I know people.  Lawyers, mostly tied up in renter’s rights and tenant-landlord disputes, but it’s not a big jump to real estate.”

“Real estate’s only a bit of it,” I said.  “It’s fine.  I’ve just got to handle my own stuff.”

“Goosh was saying you didn’t sound fine about it,” he said.  “You sounded pretty down.  You still sound down.”

“It’s-”  I very nearly said ‘it’s fine’, but it wasn’t, and a lie here among friends was still a lie.  “I am.  I’m going to strive to avoid being a wet blanket, though.”

“If you need to vent, or gripe-”

“I do,” I said, “But I also need to pretend I have a semblance of a normal life, and I don’t want this to be a pity party.”

“Come on, give us a taste of the griping.”

This from the shortest girl in the room, smiling wickedly even as she tried not to smile.

“Leave him be, Alexis.”

“A taste?” I responded.  “I’m seriously wondering if someone’s going to try to kill me.”

I saw the shock on their faces, the stunned silence, but for Alexis’ sputtering coughing.

“When Goosh said you’d said your cousin’s death wasn’t an accident, I thought you meant it was a suicide,” Joel said.

“I’m almost certain it wasn’t,” I said.

“Because of the house?” Joseph asked.

“Because of what the house is, and power plays, and… I don’t even know all of the motivations at work,” I said.  “But I’m spooked.”

“You should talk to someone,” Joel said.  “Police?”

Police are part of the problem.  “I’m waiting for a word from someone on the subject of my personal security.  Local guy, knows who’s who, can probably point things in the right direction.  Or leave me fucked.  Which is why I might have to run any minute.”

There were nods.

“Whatever you need to do,” Joel said.

Still coughing a bit, Alexis asked, “Hey, Blake, can I smoke?”

“You most definitely can not,” Joel said.

“Who’s bright idea was it, inviting the landlord?”

“The landlord invited you,” Joel replied.  “I have a hard enough time resisting giving you noogies, don’t tempt me by being a brat.”

“Give me a noogie and you die,” she said.

The brief silence that followed was pointed and awkward.

“Sorry, Blake,” she said, wincing.  “That was in bad taste.  I haven’t even had a drink yet, so I don’t have an excuse.”

“None needed,” I said.

“Go out on the balcony,” Joel said. “Have your smoke.  You’ll be less irritable.”

“It’s cold out there,” she groused, but she stood.

“Want company?” I asked.

“Yeah.  But before I go… Blake, meet Tiffany.  Tiffany, Blake.”

“Hi Tiffany,” I said.  I offered my hand for her to shake.  She shook it.

My surface impression was that she was the least ‘Tiffany-ish’ Tiffany I’d met.  Shy, awkward, quiet.  I usually associated Tiffanies with blonde cheerleaders.

“I really like your tattoos,” she said, looking at my arms.

I smiled a bit.  “I do too.”

“Color’s odd,” Alexis said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You get them touched up?”


“You’re sure?”

“I haven’t had a chance to get a decent bit of shopping done this past week, let alone go to a tattoo parlour.”

“Damn,” she said.  “That’s going to bug me.”

I opened the patio door for her, and she hurried through, with me right behind her.  I shut it quickly before the people inside could get too cold.

The snow had piled up on the balcony outside my apartment, in uneven heaps, packed against one side.  I took the spot that left me standing in a foot of snow, so she would be clear.

She lit the cigarette, used her jacket to wipe the railing of snow, and folded her arms over the top of it, resting her rather pointed chin on the back of one hand, cigarette in mouth.

“Tiffany seems nice,” I said.

“Yeah.  She does splatter paintings.  Mostly figures.  She’s good.”

“Is she homeless?  Or was she?”

“Lacks a home, but not homeless,” Alexis said.  “Bad time of it, back there.  Abuse.  You know you don’t repeat any of this.”

“I know,” I said.

“Never had family, never had friends.  So no, she didn’t have a home, even if she had a roof over her head.  She’s in the building, now.”

I nodded.

“She saw a picture of you, on my phone.  She thinks you’re devastatingly handsome.”

“I’m not,” I said.

“You’re not.  But you’re handsome.”

“She thinks I am, which is apparently what’s important,” I said, so I didn’t have to agree.  “Are you trying to set me up with her?”


“You know where I come from.  You’re the one who got me from there to here.”


“You know I have… hang-ups.  You probably know better than anyone.”

“Yep.  I know.  I have some too.”

“It presents an obstacle,” I said.

“She and I have obstacles too.”

She and I?  “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Just putting it out there.  We’re beautifully fucked up people, and sometimes it’s only the fucked up sorts who’re going to understand, you know?  She has a thing for you.  I know you had a thing for me, not so long ago.”

“Now I’m really not sure what you mean.”

She puffed on her cigarette.

“I’m not a therapist or any of that.  But she needs to break out of her shell, and this is the first thing I thought of.  I’m doing the relational equivalent of banging stones together until stuff works.”

“You want us to… bang?”

“I want- yeah.  That sums it up.  It’s up to you, with your hang-ups in mind, obviously.  Knowing you’re going through a lot of crap.  But if it’d help you unwind more than it wound you up, that’d be cool.”

“Me and her?”

“And me,” she said.  “I figure she needs a bit of hand holding, and we’re reasonable, adult human beings.  We put jealousy aside and… it’s so dark I can’t make out your face and I can still tell you’re blushing.”

I did what she was doing, folding my arms on the railing, except I rested my forehead against my arms.

“Fuck, aren’t you cold?  Do you need to go inside and get a jacket?”

“I feel cold,” I said, “And my face is hot, and I feel awkward, and all of that’s a hell of a lot better than I’ve felt this past week, feeling numb and terrified.”

“Well, if you say it’s good, it’s good,” she said.  She puffed, looking out over the city.

It dawned on me that I wasn’t within the boundary of tape, but that wasn’t enough to drive me inside.  Being here was good.

“If I didn’t accept the deal, would you find someone else?”

“Probably not.  I’d figure out another way to get her more comfortable with people, break her pattern.”

I nodded.

“You’re thinking no?” she asked.

“Hang-ups,” I said.

She nodded.  “Damn.  But you know yourself best.”

“I want to, I-”

“You don’t need to apologize or explain.  I know where you came from.  You know where I came from.”

“-I still like you,” I finished.

“Ah… crap.  Now I feel like shit, offering you that, knowing-”

“No,” I said.  “Putting it on the table.  So believe me when I say I want to.  If circumstances were different, I’d take that leap.  I’d trust you to… if circumstances were different.”

“But they aren’t, and I’m piling more garbage on your plate,” she said.

“It’s fine,” I said.  “The offer is appreciated, on a lot of levels.  Maybe another time, if things somehow quiet down.”

“I dunno, knowing how you feel about me makes it weird.”

I turned to look at her, and I could see her in silhouette, smiling, holding back her laughs.

Not hiding her fucked up teeth from me.

I elbowed her, and she elbowed me back.

“Say the word,” she told me, “and it’s a done deal.”

“For once, it’s a deal I’m happy to have on the table,” I said.



“You really okay?” she asked.

“In terms of the big picture, I’m less okay than you can imagine.  And-”

“You impugn my creativity.”

“Even with your amazing, brilliant creativity and your amazing tattoo abilities, I’m less okay than you can imagine.  But this, right here, talking?  It helped.”


I stood, stretching, and nodded, “Yeah.  But I’m also cold, so I’m going back inside.”

“I’ll be in in a minute.”

I nodded, turning to the patio door.

Rose’s reflection, faint, was visible there.  She was pointing, looking deadly serious.

I let myself back into the apartment, and then ducked into the bathroom.

“There are nine people in the apartment,” Rose said.


“I watched people come in the front door, trying to commit names to memory, figure out who your friends were.  Nine people came in.”

“And?” I asked.

“Ten people in all, if you count Alexis out there on the balcony.  Every time I count heads I see nine, but when I go from person to person and count names, the total comes up eight, and I can’t find the person without a name.”

I nodded, stepping out into the apartment.

I did as Rose had done.

Joel, Goosh, Ty, Joseph, Amanda, Nick, Tiffany, and Stephen.

Then I counted heads.

Nine people, spread out through the apartment.  Ten if I counted Alexis, smoking on the balcony.

I used the Sight, and I found the man with no name, sitting on a chair he’d turned around at the end of the dining room table.  Older than anyone but Joel, light haired, wearing a white coat.  A polished, silver-platinum gun rested in his lap, where he occasionally picked it up or turned it around.

I approached him slowly, then leaned against the table.

“I didn’t want to interrupt anything,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Is now a good time?  The Lord would like to see you.  The other local powers will be in attendance.”

“Just give me one second,” I said.

He nodded.

“Tiffany?” I asked.

She looked up at me.

“How much for one of your paintings?”

“Two hundred?” she asked.

I thought of the allowance the lawyers had given me.  “I’ll pay you five hundred for your best one, but I need one now.”

“Y-yeah,” she said.

I looked at Conquest’s messenger, “We can pick that up on the way?”

He nodded.

Tiffany at my side, oblivious to the man with the gun, we strode from the apartment.

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

232 thoughts on “Collateral 4.1

  1. Thank-yous:

    Thank you to Walter, Oliver, Stuart, Alex, Deep, Maurico, Matthew, Benedict S, Markus, Christopher, Lewis, Shaun, Hazel, Sean H, Ryan, Jeremiah, Fergus (both times), Clare, Soule, Siddarth, Andrew, Nathan, Leo, Dejan, Ethan, Simo, Thomas B, Brian P, Johannes, Michael S, Gerald, Walter, Cart, Shaun S, Derick, Taelor, Jonathan, Abigail, Deyvid, Robert, J.T.B., Matthew, and T5.

    Extra big thank-yous go out to Conall, Aaron, Elijah, Mikail, Christoph, Andrew B, Jason A, Michael B, Mark K, Matthew F, Michael W, James W, Gianni, Benedict H, Gabriel E, Daniel D.

    And thank you to Patreon subscribers. I’ve added the Patreon amount to the total as well.

    Two chapters added to the queue.

    Gonna try to be more active in the comments and quicker with the updates, was kind of a mess this past month, with being sick, a bit of travel, and that sort of thing. I’m hugely super thankful to you guys for rallying behind me, and I hope I can keep giving you the kind of writing you’ll enjoy.

    Expect a chapter this Wednesday.

    1. “Do I open the door to something ugly if implicitly invite you into the building?” I asked.
      missing an “I”

    2. Out of curiosity why was I just listed as Soule (At least I assume that’s me considering it’s my last name)? Also since this is my first comment I should probably mention how much I love your work and I really wish I could afford to give more each month. I’m currently doing National Service so I make very little. Probably didn’t need to mention that last bit but I felt I needed to explain.

      Also I feel like I should mention that if you ever feel the need to take a break due to working yourself too hard, most of us would (probably) understand. The only reason I mention this is because the sheer number of words you put out a week is nothing to sneeze at. Combine that with working on getting Worm in to a publishable state and you have quite a lot on your plate.

      Don’t get me wrong, I would miss my bi-weekly pact fix, but I would definitely understand if you need a break.

      1. Paypal listed you as Soule something, instead of Thomas Soule. I did think it was odd, but there have been stranger first names among my contributors

        I generally go with first names just to preserve anonymity, while still making it clear who I’m thanking (including the first initial of last name if it’s a common name).

        I have taken a bit of a vacation before – I got some extra chapters done, spent a week without really writing anything, and then jumped straight back into the swing of things. It hurt more than it helped. I mean, okay, it wasn’t much of a vacation (in a cabin with my mother, brother, his then-one year old & fiancee) but it threw me out of whack, broke my stride and resulted in the worst arc (IMHO) of Worm.

        I know it’s a symptom of being a workaholic, but taking a break causes me more stress in the end than it relieves me.

        Weeks where I can just write are good weeks. Weeks where I write and real life conspires to screw me over are less good weeks. But weeks where I don’t write? Damn it, I want to do this for a living, and not doing something concrete to work towards that goal feels awful.

        1. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s being a workaholic if you genuinely love what you do.

          Noone ever goes “Demmit, you’re pursuing your hobbies far too vigorously! Stop being such a hobbyholic!”.

          (And, I realise that’s an oversimplification, but…)

    1. “Something geometric. There are two schools of thought in binding. Like binding like and binding with the antithesis.

      Flows strangely, I think there’s an extra like in there.

    2. “I saw two more people end.” — should be “enter”


      “Was thinking,” I said — Blake’s manner of speaking works, generally, but this one feels unnatural.

    3. It wasn’t long ago that there was war over what European country would claim sovereignity over this land.

      I did a google search
      Google (proper noun, brand name)

      Against my better judgement
      That one gets me all the time.

      Tupperware (proper noun, brand name)

      go to a tattoo parlour
      parlor (British spelling, maybe?)

      Never mind. Although the single word is coming into use more.

      Is there an agency invested in the apocalypse and Conquests part in that?

      Steadily, I made my way to the far right of the living room when I heard Rose, taping as I went.
      Sort of hard to read. Would be clearer as:
      Steadily, I made my way to the far right of the living room, taping as I went, then I heard Rose.

      I saw two more people end.
      I saw two more people enter.

      1. @Unmaker.

        You’ve guessed correctly. We British do use the letter ‘U’ a lot in our spellings. Parlour, honour, armour and colour are all words that things considered, spring immediately to mind.

        1. You’re a British guy called Morgan? Any relation to Piers, or do you prefer to be associated with the Captain? 😉

          1. Ah, ’tis only an online handle. I created it many years ago as a WOD WTA Fianna Garou character (UK Fianna Galliard, A former Royal Engineer) and I liked it enough to re use (unlike the character), I will also be using it as my writing name once I get to the 50,000 word starting point and survive a certain archive project.

            as for being related if I was, give me the Captain any day. He’s the one who want leave a sour taste in my mouth. As for Piers. I think Stephen Fry summed it up best. I’ll let you go find that one out for yourself though.

            To be fair to you i should let you know that My real name still manages to be Celtic in origin anyway and it’s ‘Iain’ (sic)

            P.S I know why PG has slightly more skilled surrealism,he’s got his initials further up the alphabet….

            1. Stephen Fry? You mean, his Uxbridge English Dictionary definition of “countryside”?

              PS: If you’re setting up foreshadowing for a big reveal, where your surname turns out to be ‘Banks’, then… Touché, sir.

      1. “Bit players” being the third item in a list, not an appositive referring to Behaims and Duchamps.

    4. “Who’s bright idea” should be “Whose bright idea”
      Who’s = who is; whose is the possessive form.

    5. “maybe you could do triangles inside of triangles” – i believe the first “triangles” should be something else, but no clue what. Diamonds?

      1. Well if the smaller triangles are upside down you’ve got no problems in drawing triangles inside triangles. I used to make a game on how many recursive triangles I could make.

        1. Blake shoulda told his industrious and creative friend Taylor… err, Tyler, to do a Seal of Solomon pattern. Surely, that must be one of the most potent geometrical magical patterns, and it’s basically just two triangles overlapping to form a six-pointed star.

    6. The comma after “made” below can be removed:
      The offer he made, does not mean that he is offering you protection.

    7. “He handed me a piece of yellow paper. Carbon paper. I read it over. A duration, a name, a two day duration, as well as notes made for any expenses being covered…”

      “duration” is used twice.

    8. “He handed me a piece of yellow paper. Carbon paper. I read it over. A duration, a name, a two day duration, as well as notes made for any expenses being covered…”

      Duration is mentioned twice.

    9. Typos:
      – ““Do I open the door to something ugly if implicitly invite you into the building?” -> ‘if I implicitly’
      – “a framework for an full-room art installation” -> ‘a full-room art installation’
      – “light haired” -> ‘light-haired’

    10. When he’s counting heads, he mentions a “Nick.” Nick does not show up elsewhere in this chapter.

    11. “Do I open the door to something ugly if implicitly invite you into the building?” I asked.
      Should be “if I implicitly”

  2. So Blake has to read some Diabolist literature to pay off his debt to the lawyers. Interesting.

    So I guess we’re about to see Toronto Conquest in all its glory.

    Can Blake empower an idea into a spirit? Can he use that as his familiar. It would be kinda awesome if he literally starts wielding the power of friendship.

  3. So how come the driver knew to the day how long he had left to work for the law firm but not how long ago he started? That’s a bit weird…

    I hope the Conquest likes paintings though, non-magical art seems a bit… mundane as an offering. Or maybe Blake’s going to do something with it before he offers it. Otherwise he might as well buy an expensive bottle of wine or whatever, and he wouldn’t have to ostensibly show his firends he his buying something overpriced.

    1. Given the temporal weirdness that magic permits, it wouldn’t surprise me if the contract is set to his subjective time. If he’s run into something like Laird’s shenanigans-field since he started, his subjective time is going to have desynched from “Earth-Time”.

    2. Have you ever seen a retirement clock? They aren’t terribly uncommon. One rarely ever sees a employment history clock though.

      One is a reminder of the way out, the other is a reminder of how long you’ve been trapped.

    3. 1) He might not have know how long had passed in the mortal world, often being out of it, and may have been a bit coy in his answer to seem younger/more Blake’s age.
      2)That one Lady with the “dog” familiar was given a bottle of liquor. So mundane items that are well done make sense as a minor offering. Of course, it would have been better if Blake had agreed to help “conquer” Tiffany’s fear/Tiffany, but what ever.

    4. “Hello, Mr. Toronto Lord Conquest, Sir! I’ve brought you this present, which is a painting of, err… Well, it’s abstract, very modern, so, umm… It looks a bit like someone’s kidney exploded onto the canvas, which is kinda conquest-y? Right?”

      [Crickets chirping]

      “…Hoo-kay, so. Moving on. It’s a very exceptional piece, hope you’ll enjoy it. It was painted by a friend – well, friend-with-potential-benefits, really, she’s currently having an open relationship with a girl that I’ve had a massive-yet-semi-secret crush on, ever since she saved my ass. So, y’know, it’s a peace offering, because I just realized that holeee crap I just presented you with an item that holds a potentially huge connection, as in: magical Connection, between me and a person that I care deeply about, which means that it could be used as leverage in casting spells on me. I mean, this could turn out to be a major vulnerability for me, big time. Good thing it’s in your hands, eh, Lord?”

      [Lardo and Duchamps leap in through the window, dressed as Team Rocket, and snatch the painting]

      “Yoink! We’ll just go and, err, get the painting evaluated for you, Lord!”

      [Blake goes:]

      1. Pencil Monkey, would you by any chance be related in any way to, let us say, a small reptile with, ah, certain mental pathologies?

        1. The results of my investigation into the matter are as follows:

          Pencil is basically Megaman. He killed PG and stole his power. It appears, though, that Pencil has redirected much of that power into the creation of fan drawings and comics, thus leaving him with only a portion available for wit every few chapters.

          Pencil should be considered armed and dangerous. If you ever comes across Pencil, make no sudden movements, for fear that you too may lose your power.

    5. Don’t forget that the offer comes with giving up pieces of yourself. It’s possible he had to give up detailed knowledge of how long he’s been working there, but the firm is required to show him how much longer he has to work there at all times. I’d be certain to put that in the contract with any such beings, just to try to avoid any “moving the goalposts” shenanigans that wouldn’t involve actively screwing with my head.

      And now I’m blanking and can’t remember how feasible mind-modification is in the Pactverse magic system.

    6. Hopefully the subject matter of the painting is suitable. I can just see it now:

      “Oh great and powerful Lord Conquest, I gift thee this fine painting of… two children hugging? Well crap. xO”

      1. Conquest: No, don’t you see? One is clearly crushing the other and absorbing his life essence…. I LOVE IT!

  4. Bit confused on the count here.

    “Joel, Goosh, Ty, Joseph, Amanda, Nick, Tiffany, and Stephen.

    Then I counted heads.

    Nine people, spread out through the apartment. Ten if I counted Alexis, smoking on the balcony.”

    Where does Tiffany fit into this?

      1. I can totally read. Yup.

        Well. That’s embarrassing. And I reread it twice when I couldn’t figure out the math.

        Suppose I’ll just mention that I spend the last 6 hours of every Monday and Friday watching the clock and hope that a bit of ego stroking makes up for it. You’re one of the best writers I’ve ever read.

        1. Aw shucks, now I feel bad that I edited your comment to hide my dumb mistake.

          No, you were on target with the typo notification. Thank you, Khan.

  5. Oh no! This isn’t good. We meet Blake’s friends and I like them so far. I think something horrible is going to happen to them.

    In a sorta unrelated note, is the word collateral ever used outside of the term “collateral damage?” I’m not trying to be witty or snarky, that’s a serious question. I can’t think of another time that the word is used (though that may be because it’s late).

    1. Collateral on a loan — i.e., something of value you offer to secure a loan; if you default on the debt, you lose the thing. That’s the other common usage.

      1. That sounds right. I suppose that’s what happens when I comment early in the morning. My brain’s lack of working properly may mean that it’s time for sleep.

        1. Ya, I believe all the chapter titles are legal terms (and particularly contract law unless I’m mistaken). Of course, in true Wildbow style, he slips in a double meaning if he can.

          I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on ‘Breach’. Obviously Blake breached Laird’s sanctum but I’m sure there’s a breach of oath in there somewhere too…

    2. It is used all the time in loans. You put up collateral for loans.
      Google definition: something pledged as security for repayment of a loan, to be forfeited in the event of a default.

    3. In the sense of loan collateral, sure. A guarantee of repayment, or the loaner takes the collateral and sells it. That’s precisely how auto title loans work.

    4. collateral descendant n. a relative descended from a brother or sister of an ancestor, and thus a cousin, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle.

    5. Not a common usage, but it’s also an anatomical term. You have collateral ligaments in your knee. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were other jargony uses, like in maths or architecture or something.

    6. In the US Navy a Collateral is a secondary job that you take on in order to support the command in addition to the regular work you would be required to do according to your rank and position.

    7. “Oh no! This isn’t good. We meet Blake’s friends and I like them so far. I think something horrible is going to happen to them.”

      Honestly, this type of stuff is the only instance in which we can safely predict Wildbow’s writing.

    8. Lots of people have mentioned collateral with loans, which we’ve already seen some of with Joel and Blake’s bike keys (has he gotten those back?). Another definition less likely to rear its head is its use in Call of Duty: killing two or more people with a single bullet.

  6. This was a nice moment of quiet and hopefully Blake will give a good impression to the lord of Toronto. It’s nice to see Blake let his guard down with someone.

    The lawyers are so insidious in their dealings that every little thing seems to further their agenda. At least they gave Blake nice clothes.

  7. I was worried about the move back to Toronto, but the chapter was great! Would love to see a gathered pages from the Diabolist book for an upcoming interlude!

  8. Well, he’s got one favour from the lawyers and all he needs to do is intern for them. Which he’ll probably suck at so other than the propaganda value this is a total loss for them. Now, thinking of things he could do with that favour
    1) Destroy the Reputation of Laird. Have a lawyer show up and ask Laird questions in court that have no answer that leaves his rep intact. (No pleading the fifth in Canada if you aren’t on trial!)
    2) Have them protect his demesnes when he claims it.
    3) Murder the fuck out of Laird and his various allies.
    4) A doughnut. With sprinkles.

    Also it occurred to me recently: In America at least (no idea about Canada) birth records are public. Furthermore people tend to reflexively frown at methods for skewing gender. (At least in the newspaper editorials), wouldn’t it be just awful if the Dumchamps had their family tree with all girls published?

    1. I like your thinking, but given the forced balance nature of this universe, Blake will probably pay what the next favor is worth, one way or another. I personally would be quite careful about what I chose for the next bargain.

      Of course, given the nature of events, the fix is probably in. They probably know the next major threat to him and have prearranged methods to deal with it, thinking that he will call them when the threat hits.

      1. Or it could just be that the price is variable enough that they could use it as payment for just about any favor that he would be likely to call in.

      1. OK, for all of you who are reading #4 and going WTF, it is an in joke from Butcher’s Dresden series. Anything more might constitute a spoiler.

        1. I thought it was a reference to the Treehouse of Horror episode from the Simpsons where Homer sells his soul for a donut.

    2. If they were skewing it towards men then it would be a PR nightmare. But since its girls they would be able to slip away from it rather easily.

      1. Not if you play up the black widow bit,
        at the very least, the men get clued in on the Duchamp scheme.

      2. Considering that the only ways publicly known to control birth genders that far back (before IVF) were abortion and “witchcraft,” I think it would be bad regardless.

  9. how much of a power boost do you get if you conquer fate & derail the plans others have laid out for you?

  10. I will have more reactions later, but for now:

    So, Blake’s friends are definitely not practitioners. Oh well, that was just a guess.

    This is such a completely different scene than anything in Jacob’s Bell that it is almost a shock reading it. Nice to know that Blake has some true friends.

    … and someone made the Jesus comparison. A bit more apropos than was perhaps intended, even if some of the details are off. More son of the devil than otherwise.

    Somebody tell me, is a pick-up party like that normal among artists?

    1. Seems pretty normal for the demimonde.
      I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash to see it in Rent,
      and that’s the type of gang Blake has.

    2. “… and someone made the Jesus comparison. A bit more apropos than was perhaps intended, even if some of the details are off. More son of the devil than otherwise.”

      OMG! Blake was compared to JC?! This fits totally with the calculations! Look! [Pulls out huge wad of crumpled paper with endless scribbled notes]

      See here? If you take Blake Thorburn’s initials, BT, and shift each letter 8 places ahead in the alphabet (remembering to loop back to A once you pass Z, and skip W, which definitely wasn’t used in Biblical times), look what you get! B become J, and T becomes C.

      JC! 😮 It all fits! IT ALL FITS! ÏA! ÏA!

      [Curls up in the fetal position and gibbers quietly in a corner:]

      “But Blake turned, and said unto Barbatorem: Get thee behind me, Satan! Thou art going to have to push the car, for thou savourest not the things that be of service stations, and hath neglected to refill the gas tank. Blr blr blr…”

      1. If Blake wants to mess with Jeremy at some point in the future, he should reverse one of Jesus miracles. Wine into water, you know it would be hilarious.

        Jesus is about what Blake needs for a familier at this point.

        1. If he picks a urinal spirit as his familiar, he’ll be able to turn booze into yellow water, no problem. [Badump-tishh] 😉


    Second: My waaaay early theory about taking a t-square as an implement rises from the grave, stronger than ever, rejoined in the idea of taking the complex as his desmane. Familiar is still up in the air.

    Third: Unless it’s a critical failure in regarding the subject matter and Conquest’s taste, I doubt he can reasonably refuse the gift of a painting, mundane or no. A cheap velvet Elvis reprint or a Dogs Playing Poker poster, maybe, but this is actual, capital A Art. I doubt it’ll present a problem.


    Ok. I feel better now.

    1. Uh… that comment’s way inappropriate considering that Blake has made numerous references to some sort of awful experience and hangups about physical intimacy. And claiming that men have to be obsessed with sex is offensive even without that.

      Also, maybe some people can refer to having sex with a girl as a ‘conquest’ and not have it come off as creepy, but you are evidently not one of them.

        1. Eh, I can’t win with some people. My humor can have a decidedly inappropriate bent on occasions, with no regard to established characterization or the feelings of others. Nobody has to like it, though it would be appreciated if they did.

          Ces’t la vie, etc.

        2. Just because it’s lighthearted doesn’t mean it can’t be sexist shrug

          I mean, it’s pretty clear Meister intended the comment as a joke. It’s just a joke rooted in sexist ‘Your masculinity depends on how many people you fuck’ and ‘women are prizes to be won’ attitudes that need to quietly die.

          1. Would it be inappropriate to start a betting pool for the inevitable Blake/Alexis ship? 😉

            Ooh, and we’ll need to vote on an official name for the ship, too. Blalexis? Blaxis? Alake? Alexlake? (Eww, maybe not the last one. Sounds like Ex-Lax.)

          2. For what it’s worth, am personally really hoping that Alexis shows up again, & have fingers and toes crossed for a relationship between her and Blake. It would actually be more viscerally satisfying without the threesome element, although that particular element would no doubt make for lots of lovely plot complications.

            Alexis’ description of being non-classically attractive – not despite of, but because of her physical flaws etc. – the back-story between her and Blake (she’s one of the few people he trusts enough that he’d be willing to have a relationship with her), her intelligence/cunning/street savvy and indomitable spirit (which is a polite euphemism for ‘balls of steel’), the way that Wildbow managed to subtly (and not-so-subtly) frame his writing so it became obvious that Blake’s attention was inexorably drawn to her, the moment she walked into the apartment… There’s so many factors that point in favor of her and Blake being ‘star-crossed lovers’… or some other hokey romantic crap. With feelings, and stuff. (Cough) 😳

            Umm, Alexis would also make a strong potential ally for Blake against the perpetual shitstorm that is his Practitioner life, assuming he’s willing to risk someone who’s clearly extremely near and dear to him.

            Also: How many people think that Blake will (at least consider to) marry Joel, as a means to fulfill the lawyers’ contract?

          3. I believe anything described in such over the top, grotesque hyperbole is not only meant to be read humorously but also ridicules the whole notion of “your masculinity depends on how many people you fuck”

        3. Why are threesomes so enormously popular, anyway? Two guys plus one girl makes sense, or three of a kind, but two chicks and one Richard is not gonna cut it. Have you actually tried it, Meister? How does it work? Most guys have enough trouble pleasing one woman – two at once sounds positively daunting.*

          Although, this provides a segway to a very important point: Blake’s Familiar. Totally gonna be an earthquake spirit, or a cell phone spirit, or a Parkinson’s disease spirit. Anything that shakes and vibrates. And his implement shall be a dildo.

          Just you wait, he’s gonna give those nubile two vixens a drubbing that’ll ROCK. THEIR. WORLD.

          In the butt.

          Because, y’know. Wildbow is renowned for writing stories where the female characters are two-dimensional fan-service sex kittens. 😉


            1. Indeed? Do they manufacture fine products in brass? Kettles, cauldrons, and sundry kitchen utensils, perhaps? Everyone loves a nice pair of jugs. 🙂

            1. “Don’t forget: Blake is a girl too, at least legally. >:?”

              Huh? Where did that cheesy music come from? It sounds almost like… ‘bow-chicka-wow-wow’? And why is Blake dressed in a school girl uniform, all of a sudden?

          1. Tsk tsk, you assume the guy has to be the centerpiece.
            You just lean back and enjoy the show,.. and then start helping out xD

            Ack now you got me thinking about the incarnatation of .

            1. Blake notices Rose looking speculatively at him.
              “I’m just surprised. Not many men would turn down a Threesome.”
              “Oh come one, we’re not all horny ass perv- oh shit.”
              Ominous latin chanting begins filling the apartment, as the lights all dim, and a figure made of pure darkness appears.

              But lets talk a little bit about Alexis. It seems that she and Blake have feelings for each other, but I’m not sure they are the same sort of feelings. Alexis clearly knows what Blake feels, but she and him are not in a romantic relationship. She may be with another woman. And I don’t know if she’s trying to hook Blake and Tiffany up or trying to get them worked past their issue with physical intimacy with some hardcore special training. In some ways it seems like a maternal affection from her, but in others it seems like she might be avoiding commitment. I don’t really know at this point what what Alexis character is like. We’ll see how it develops. Or if she gets stuffed in a fridge.


              Pfft. That joke is so last week. Like, totally. Ancient news, right?

            3. “We’ll see how it develops. Or if she gets stuffed in a fridge.”

              NYAARGHNONONONOOOOO! Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare even suggest that Alexis gets refrigerated! 😦 She may be Blake’s only chance at having a remotely normal and caring relationship with a real girl with girly parts, and she’s a great character, at that. Wildbow, please don’t listen to this guy. You would never dream of killing off a character who’s super-likeable and popular with the readers, would you?


              …Erm, that is to say: you wouldn’t dream of doing that – because it’s such a hackneyed, over-used plot device, offing endearing female characters to make the readers go: “Whoa! Anything can happen in this story! That’s so scary, yet immersive!”

            4. Well, I don’t like fridging either. I feel that the whole killing off characters for cheap shock value, and to show anyone can die is not the best writing. Fortunatly Wildbow works well with character deaths, and gives them an actual sense of tragedy beyond “aren’t you shocked someone died!?”

            5. “Ack now you got me thinking about the incarnatation of .”

              Incarnation of what? You can’t just leave an unfinished half-sentence dangling like that! INCARNATION OF WHAT, DARNIT?!

              Gnnn! You’re making everyone feel… ‘blue’. Y’know, sad. Because they want to know what you’re referring to. Plus, all that repressed anxiety is turning them into Smurfs.

    2. Obviously it’s a Chekhov’s Gun for Mr. Dionysius Priest’s appearance. Either he’s going to (try to) snare them with magic, or one of his Satyrs is going (try to) take advantage of them, or something to that effect.

    3. Well, it isn’t a conquest if it’s a one-night stand that ends up tragically for Blake.

      On the other hand, Others do view things a bit old-school. People might consider sex “conquest” in the “knowing a person” sense…

      I mean, sure it’s still sexist and offensive and wrong, but this is the universe where preteen-looking nymphs think they can get PC sex in the 21st century.

      1. I had the impression the nymphs were in their mid/early teens. She did say they weren’t young enough to be “distressing”.

          1. Also note: English girls got married at 14-16. Shakespeare was making fun of the Italian rep for maturing young

  12. So, is history going to repeat itself? Is one of Blake’s guests going to pick up the book and use it, causing him problems until he gets the book back? How much damage will it cause?

    1. How would that be history repeating itself? I don’t remember people taking Blake’s books before.

      1. RDT went to the boarding school and lost a book that caused the non-practitioner who used it to lose her mind. RDT lost it because she didn’t secure it properly. The local lord told RDT to recover the book.

        1. Ah, I wasn’t thinking about Granny Rose. Considering how that ended up for all parties involved, having that happen would be a very bad thing indeed.

        2. Blake KNOWS these people. He could tell them to stop, and they WOULD.
          They are Friends, and friends watch each other’s backs.

          1. The likely worst case with his friends finding the book isn’t taking the book, because that would be obvious and, as you said, fixable. The likely worst case is one of them looks and does something before Blake knows, e.g. tries one of the rituals for amusement (maybe even at the party while he is gone). Or incorporates magical designs into their artwork. Or does performance art based on a ritual. Or writes something based on stuff they read.

            As a less damaging but still sticky situation, finding a clearly diabolic book that Blake hid is going to raise questions. Given the crowd, it will probably be just questions instead of condemnation, but Blake wants to keep people in general and his friends in particular away from that crap.

    1. oh, god no. That’d be Sun, or Three of Swords, or half a dozen other freaking cards.
      Chariot is journey, chariot is balance, chariot is direction.

      1. I don’t actually know anything about tarot, but all of the Google results I scanned associated the card with things like victory, power and/or conquest. Those aren’t correct?

        1. You’re letting this particular story guide you.

          here’s a better graf:
          “What does this all mean? It means a union of opposites, like the black and white steeds. They pull in different directions, but must be (and can be!) made to go together in one direction. Control is required over opposing emotions, wants, needs, people, or circumstances; to bring them together and give them a single direction, your direction. Confidence is also needed and, most especially, motivation. The card can, in fact, indicate new motivation or inspiration, which gets a stagnant situation moving again. It can also imply, on a more pragmatic level, a trip (usually by car), a vehicle – in the repair shop if the card comes up reversed – or a message.”

          Note the harmonization and opposition with the Hanged Man, who is stagnation incarnate.

          The Chariot is Chie’s card — the athlete, the tomboy, and the defender.

          As the wiki says, don’t simplify this card. If you feel like it can be resolved into one word, look again.

          simplifies down to Vice or Temptation.

          The chariot isn’t nearly that easy of a card.

          1. I don’t know, I’m not seeing evidence that the chariot doesn’t mean “war, a struggle, and an eventual, hard-won victory” (as the Wikipedia page puts it), just that it can also mean other things, too. Which I’m sure is the case for all tarot cards.

  13. Also, Blake knows that Jacob’s Bell is trying to set up a Lordship, and that the residents there are trying to hide it from Toronto. Could he use this to his advantage?

    1. Judging from the way pracitioners interacted so far I guess that “Conquest helping Blake against Laird” will translate to “Conquest making Blake’s like a iving hell while trying to torpedo Laird’s plans”

  14. So we know that Sandra’s husband, or ex-husband, whatever, wanted to be the Lord or Toronto, but that didn’t happen, possibly because Greek God Shenanigans with fertility and whatnot drove Sandra away from him to preserve some huge working of the Duchamps.

    Now Sandra is working with Laird to set up a lordship in Jacob’s Bell.

    Two points of attempted lordship connected to Sandra and the Duchamps. Blake only knows about one of them, but he’s probably going to meet Sandra’s Ex, soon, who may or may not make the earlier history known in small talk. Even if he doesn’t speak to Blake, the whole Greek God Shenanigans bit might end up giving Blake what he needs to make connections. Because the Greek Gods love their Drama and Tragedy. Even if they have to abuse their followers to get it.

  15. This chapter has easily been my favourite so far. It gives an excellent idea of just who Blake is, in a way that I haven’t had the chance to see yet.

    I’m very much looking forward to the next update.

    1. I agree very much with this. One of my ongoing criticisms has been that we still don’t have a very good feel for Blake and his life before/outside Jacob’s Bell. Borrowing a car from Joel was it for the previous three arcs. This chapter alone has done a lot to redress the balance.

      1. Really? Fantastic! 😀

        (Picks up ‘phone, presses speed dial)

        Hey, Lardo? Guess what – we’ve got a volunteer for a threesome! Bring the t-square and industrial wood chipper, he likes it rough and kinky. 😉

        …But seriously, was actually expecting people to go all “STOP GIVING WILDBOW IDEAS! WE HATE LARDO AAARGHNARGHNAARGH!” 🙂

        1. “Bring the t-square and industrial wood chipper, he likes it rough and kinky.”

          Which is ironic, because if you use a t-square as a sex toy, that would surely make things more straight, instead of making them kinky. 😉

      1. As someone else pointed out, it is almost inevitable that someone will make a fan drawing of Lardo where he goes Ozymandias: “I already performed the ritual. 35 MINUTES AGO.” 😈

    1. Wow! Not quite how I imagine Laird but good nevertheless. Bonus points for fan comic continuity.

            1. Right on cue, a giant Venn diagram materializes with a ‘poof’ sound. It bears two circles, one marked “Barney Stinson”, the other “Cpt. James Tiberius Kirk”.

              The overlap between them is labeled: “Banging all the chicks, including the green alien ones”.

        1. It started off as just a portrait of Blake with his back to Rose in the mirror, with no particular scene in mind. I added stuff like the background and the blood later, which makes it more like a scene I guess.

          1. So would you like to draw a scene about the story, or would you prefer to draw an original (and/or parody) scene using Pact characters?

            Feel free to draw some more. I pay generously in Pact Points for public fanart.

            1. Chanting: (Parody! Parody! Parody! Do parody! Parody! Parody! C’monnnn, parody! You know you want to. Do. Some. Parody! Pactrody! Atrocity! Trytoshockeveryoneinthewhol-city!)

              Nudge, nudge.

              Wink, wink.

              Not that there’s any bias, here. 😉

      1. Hoody hoo! 🙂 Keep it coming. Soon, Wildbow will have no choice but to implement a Gallery section on this site. And then, the final stage of The PlanTM will be at hand! 😀

        Err, pardon? What plan, you ask? Well, umm… That’s obvious, surely? You see…


        (…Is everybody gone, now?)

  16. Why is Blake getting Tiffany involved in this? That seems like it’s going to end badly.

    It’s so nice to see Blake having some actual support (and he finally ate something, even though a cupcake is hardly the full meal he promised Rose he’d have). But I can’t help but worry that one of them is going to end up paying for it.

    I also almost forgot that the whole ‘can’t lie’ thing applies to mundane interactions too. Can’t even say ‘I’m fine’ to your friends.

    1. A link. if you’re showing respect, you show it by symbolically pledging fealty. Here he takes from his “domain”, and gives to the Lord.

    2. He’s not really getting Tiffany involved, he’s just buying an expensive painting from her so he has a suitable gift to give the Lord of Toronto.

    3. He needs a gift for the Lord, so he was thinking that her best painting could make an appropriate gift. Probably also thought that buying the painting would help her out, since she just found out she’s not in a great situation.

        1. He got that excuse as soon as Rose noticed the extra person. He didn’t need to bring Tiffany along if that were all he needed.

  17. What? Blake actually got to his apartment without being (literally) gangbanged by an army of Jerry’s satyrs? Wildbow is clearly trying to clear his karmic debt. Too late, Worm is already posted!
    At any rate, my two cents say “the other local powers” are somehow calling a vote for execution and convincing Conquest to play along.
    And I can’t help but think Leonard-in-a-bottle will be useful against the Dionysus whorshippers, somehow.

  18. Wildbow, I’d just like to say thank you for writing these amazing stories. You’re amazing at what you do and it’s greatly appreciated by all of us.

  19. I think I see how the Universe is out to screw Blake over now:-

    He’s going to be interrupted at critical junctures he’s in, making him lose out in some way. His first Binding (June) was interrupted by the arrival of the lawyers and cumulated with Lewis finishing it for him. His first impression on a one to one basis with the Duchamps was interrupted by the drop of Faeire blood on his lips. Now his first attempt at erecting defences are interrupted by the arrival of his landlord & neighbours. This is all going to cost him down the line, especially the interruptions for the binding & the raising of defences.

    1. Hmm, that’s an interesting thought. So, from now on, anything important he does will be interrupted halfway through . . . . That’s probably why he feels so drained.

  20. bit of mental derping around, but what happens to Rose(Blake) if;
    She stands between two mirrors (Roses to infinity?)
    Is reflected in a parabolic mirror (can she “focus” now? or does she get smaller)
    Is reflected in a convex mirror (she is now larger? whatever she picks up is larger?)

    1. Based on the descriptions in the story, Blake appears to have lost his reflection, whereas Rose can walk around in a mirror-universe that (presumably) only Blake and other Practitioners and Others can perceive. Blake wouldn’t be affected by any funky mirror stunts at all (at least not to his own sight – regular Muggles/Sleepers/Mundies/non-magical people are probably still able to see his ‘mundane’ reflection). Rose would probably appear distorted in a convex or concave mirror, but it most likely wouldn’t damage her; reflections function like gates between her world and the ordinary world, so a distorted mirror would be like a looking through a warped window, for her.

      1. mmh I guess, but I assume objects Rose picks up and puts somewhere else also loose their reflection.

        I just think there should be some trickery available with good old optics.

  21. It’s good to know that Blake still has a chance to win round 3 against in Attack on Reputation.

    Imo Blake’s been pretty impressive so far, considering that the entire story (minus flashbacks and Granny Rose’s prelude chapter) has only been a week.

  22. So am I the only one worried that the man might not be someone serving the Lord? He never said he was, Blake just assumed. Though I figure the next chapter will begin with Blake checking his credentials.

    1. Good catch. The actual quote was “Is now a good time? The Lord would like to see you. The other local powers will be in attendance.”

      But that could mean either “I am her to escort you to see the Lord” or “I am here to divert you from seeing the Lord so that he becomes pissed and does nasty things to you.”

      And of course, this could be a normal backed up by a practitioner’s don’t-notice-me spell, meaning even the given statement could be a lie.

      In other universes you would use Occam’s Razor, meaning if he looks more like a servant of the Lord than anything else he probably is, but this is the screw-with-Blake universe, so your idea has merit.

    2. Unmaker’s right, that was a good catch. I was just thinking that he might tell the Lord how long it took Blake to notice him as a disparaging assessment, or that “countable but unnamed” was not the limit of his power in this regard and thinking that it was would leave an opening in Blake’s defenses—and here you point out that we don’t even know that he’s not there to screw Blake up from the get-go. Damn.

  23. This was such a great chapter! Meeting his friends really goes a long way towards defining Blake. Just as Blake mentions, he is being reminded who he is. So much sympathy, god damn it!

    Before this chapter, it was just Blake and Rose. Now the danger suddenly feels much more real, with all these friendly faces connected to Blake. I really hope things are going to work out but I fear that they won’t. The emotional investment just got much higher for me. Brilliant job, Wildbow.

  24. I really enjoyed this chapter. It’s a good setup for a new arc.

    The lawyers seem to like getting their hooks into Blake with small prices. Ms. Lewis goes with him and helps him out when he delivers the letter, and the price is ‘trust’. Now they give him a diabolist book to read, a resource he doesn’t necessarily want, and it’s not even ‘that bad’ of one. The cost this time is ‘temptation’, a small step down the path of diabolism. And next time is likely to be similar, some job that’s not too bad that makes it even more tempting to go down the diabolist path. They are devious, those lawyers.

    Blake’s friends seem quite nice. It’s good to see that he’s able to finally recharge his batteries a bit. It’ll be interesting to see how this thing with Tiffany plays out in the long run – may not work out since Blake needs to marry someone who is a suitable lifelong ally.

    And finally there’s the arc title – Collateral. It could be collateral for a loan, in which case we have to wonder what it will be and whether it’s actually Blake that will pay it. Alternatively, it might be collateral damage. I can’t wait to find out.

  25. “I ate, but I could eat a live horse right now,”

    He really should have included a “feel as if”. This is the one place where the silly grade-school distinction between “simile” and “metaphor” could pay off.

      1. “I ate, but I could eat a live horse right now,”

        I dunno, that’s like saying I could jump over the building right now, or some such.

        I suppose he didn’t say he could eat the whole thing, still. Blake really needs to get control over what he says, because if a sufficiently powerful trickster hears him say something like that, Blake’s going to lose some power.

    1. “I’m so tired I could sleep for a day.”

      It’s karma-approved. There’s no oath or promise to sleep for a day, and it doesn’t mean you can’t wake up then nod off again. Same reason, you can start eating a live horse, but there’s no promise to do so.

      1. Have you ever tried to “start eating a live horse”? I really don’t think I could do it. And whatever “eat a live horse” means, it probably doesn’t include cold storage and a stove, which are pretty much the only ways I can think of to make finishing the job even possible.

        Hmm… I guess if it’s a newborn, and you’re allowed to go bulimic, it might, just, barely be physically possible to start the job while it’s living, and finish before it rots. Mentally… well, if it were life and death, again, OK, but just barely. In any case, it’s a serious stretch, and while the karmic backlash wouldn’t be huge, it would be better to just not say shit like this.

  26. My totem of ultimate power has twenty sides and little fate changing sigils written on all twenty…

    Sidenote. Played A D@D PC with the ability once per day for me as a player to tell the DM “You rolled a one.”

    ,,,,Now imagine a fae with a similar power to once per (insert time period here) To say. “No, this is how it really happened.2 and change fate to match

        1. It’s a shame it doesn’t have its own website, where people can spam the author (and the fellow readers) with fan drawings. Giving the fans an opportunity to splurge their gushing fan-gasms somewhere that’s connected to the site, usually encourages more people to do fan doodles. Not sure if there’s any for HP&N20, except for this one:

          Oh yeah, there’s also that Christmas drawing of Milo, Harry, Ron and Hermione discussing the (non)existence of Santa Claws. Have been meaning to upload it for, oh… two years? But keep postponing it. 😳

  27. I allready thought Dionysos at the repeated beer offers (probably good he didn’t accept). But the threesome/orgy thing can hardly be anything but Sandras ex’s influence.

    1. I don’t think so. Even with magic involved I don’t think that’s something that could be arranged so quickly, and it would take time for Jeremy to investigate Blake. However, I would say that it’s certainly something that Jeremy might be able to take advantage of if Blake agreed to it.

      1. Besides, Sandra didn’t exactly give Jerry any details, just “you’ll know him when you see him.” Presumably, Blake’s not going to divide and conquer the Toronto council like he tried with Jacob’s Bell. That would bite him in the ass in so many ways it’s not even funny.

    1. Me too. Most captivated I’ve felt so far in the series. Maybe it’s the addition of Blake’s friends? Anyway, looking forward to the Thursday update.

  28. I’m not sure if I find the fact that karma is essentially an in universe explanation for plot progression brilliant or easy, but damn it’s amazingly fun to watch.

  29. I’m somewhat surprised that no one has mentioned what we learned about deals, and how that will affect what he has to do about Leanne and his promise to show her if she keeps his secret (assuming that she hasn’t already told, something I only believe because that makes for a better story—normally I would assume that they wouldn’t let up on her until she shares everything she knows, so perhaps they ferreted out that he owed her a promise somehow?).

    “the threat of a deal ignored and the impact to your karmic balance”

    So he can’t just decide to not renege on the deal and be fine—he won’t be forsworn, but he will rack up negative karma, and that’s one of the last things he needs right now.

    Good to know. Thanks for seeing our questioning in the comments and addressing it in story proper, wildbow 🙂

  30. I have an idea about a defence that Blake could use. He could add a little bit of Leonard-in-a-bottle to a drink, some soup, or the like. If my calculations are correct, doing that should give the food some noxious qualities. I would assume that consumption would end in death.

    Blake has a supply of intant poison on his fridge.

      1. Now it makes even more sense for Blake to make the wish that Quite Possibly A Cat suggested! 😀 (See above.)

        SCENE: Jacob’s Bell, early morning.

        Laird Behaim opened his front door, and noticed something odd. Somebody had left a parcel on his door step, but hadn’t rung the door bell. His Practitioner’s survival instincts were well-honed from a lifetime of fucking other people over mercile- …err, serving his community, and he prepared his Anti-Demon Countermeasure Technique, and shook his arms and sleeves to free up his wrists¤, before he picked up the package.

        There was a note.

        Dear Lardo Behasshole,

        Here’s a gift for you.


        Laird turned the note over with his gloved hand, checking for any eldritch booby traps. There weren’t any. There was, however, an addendum.

        PS: A dead drunkard’s ghost tea-bagged the present. You should totally not eat it.

        PPS: No, seriously. You should DEFINITELY NOT EAT IT. I am going to emphasize that so much, it’ll totally absolve me from any Karmic debt that would otherwise be incurred if you ate it and promptly dropped dead, that’s how much I’m warning you NOT TO EAT IT.

        Laird sneered at the scribbled ‘warning’, expertly repressing his urge to burst into a clichéd villainous guffaw. ‘Mwa ha ha’ was such a hackneyed phrase, and the Thorburn youth’s amateurishly blatant attempts at subterfuge were equally laughable. Did he really expect that Laird wouldn’t be able to see through such a flimsy ruse? These and sundry derisive thoughts bobbed through Laird’s big, fat fatty fat-head, while he casually tore the wrapping paper off the package. His Second Sight had already revealed that the package itself was harmless, and there was no way that Thorburn’s so-called ‘gift’, whatever it was, would pose any conceivable threat to La-

        The package was open.

        Inside it, still wafting with the faint, yet succulent aroma of having been freshly baked scant few hours ago, was a single doughnut.

        It had sprinkles on it. (Although some of the sprinkles looked vaguely like wrinkly old ghost pubes.)

        For a long moment, Laird Behaim simply stared at the lethal pastry.

        “…DAAAAAAAMN YOOOOUUUUUU, BLAAAAKE THOOOORBUUUUUmmph!” he bellowed, as his trembling hand reached into the box, unbidden, and automatically scooped up the savory morsel and crammed it into his pie hole.

        “Mmmph. Chmff. Gniam. MYYYYY OOONLYYYYY slurp WEAKNEEESS!” screamed the corrupt Chief of Police, and promptly dropped dead.

        ¤Which, as anyone who’s ever cracked open a Terry Pratchett novel knows, is the wizarding equivalent of reloading a pump-action shotgun.

    1. I don’t get the impression that you can use ghosts piecemeal – they’re power, but not a power source since they don’t have a method of renewing like the fairy hair locket. You might be able to recharge them with another power source depending on the type of item they are bound in, like June in the hatchet, but I think LIAB seems like a oneshot item and once he’s out he’s out. Also, LIAB is gaseous poison, not liquid.

      There’s a way around that though, and I think it’s how Blake is going to beat Jeremy. A bit of glamour on the bottle could make it look very much like a full bottle of expensive alcohol, and if Jeremy takes a swig…

    1. Blake has some nice friends. Love him wanting to introduce them to Rose some day. Heck it’d be nice if he could introduce Maggie to them someday.
      “Everyone I’d like you to meet Maggie Holt. Maggie Holt everybody.”
      “Hi, nice to meet you. Blake always made you sound so… Fudgemakingly… Awesome.”
      “Oh, and Maggie can’t swear.”

  31. It seems like a really bad idea for the lawyers to tell Blake the price for his next favor before he even asks for it.

    “OK, do me a favor and take my family’s karmic debt on yourself. Let me know when to report for my internship, thanks.”

    1. Pretty sure dicking over an ally like that would incur him a great deal of negative karma personally, even if it’d resolve the seven lifetimes of negative karma his family’s incurred.

    2. “Of course, sir. We need you to go to a place of our choosing, delivering an object of your choosing, arriving at 12:00 AM Halloween night, and enact this ritual. No, we will not be telling you what it is. Need-to-know basis, and Interns don’t need to know. Good night, sir.”

      Yeah, as if the chances of that backfiring aren’t enormous.

      1. Turns out the internship is cleaning Lardo’s dirty underwear. Which, thanks to temporal manipulation, has accumulated over about 40 years waiting for Blake to take care of it.

        1. Blake smirked evilly.

          “I know exactly how to solve this,” he said. “Dickswizzle, I choose you!”

          Nothing happened.

          “Ahem… Rose, would you mind?” Blake said. The bike mirror misted slightly as Rose sighed.

          “Dickswizzle? C’mon, boy!” she called. The odious Other obliged, leaping out of the whistle, clutching his rusty trombone and knocking over the washing machine.

          “Alright, Dickswizzle. Start disposing of all these dirty undies. No, don’t stick them up your own butt! Go stick them up Lardo’s butt!” 😈

  32. Gonna be honest, I was slowly losing interest in Pact until this chapter. Blake’s endless stream of horrible predicaments and not knowing what the hell is going on has been gradually waring away at my morale. Collateral 4.01 is a nice change. New setting, new characters, and for once people who do not want to kill him. Of course, I expect things to go a little downhill from here, but that’s Pact for you.

  33. Hmm. Obviously Blake can’t do it at present, but if there is one thing a good Diabolist needs, its a cult. Look at Aleister Crowley and all his shenanigans for an example. Cultists and demons go together like rock stars and groupies, ya know?

    But for a twist, they could be GOOD cultists. Using their collected powers to bind demons and nasty Others while twisting their powers to Good. That’s actually what Crowely claimed he was doing, in point of fact.

    With their power and assistance, claiming a desmesne and getting a good familiar just became a lot easier. Taking the fight to the Jacob’s Bell-Ends also just became feasible, after they level up enough.

    It gives Blake literally everything he needs and let’s him really work on paying down that karma too. His buddies could be inducted first as witch hunters to act in his stead, and after they’ve shown they are fully on board and are prepared to handle the shit, he can help Awaken them fully… If that’s at all possible. Might not be.

    There’s also the argument that such a plan would be a bit TOO good, and doomed to failure, even if he did decide it was worth the risk of trying. Which he might not.

  34. Life is truly full of strange coincidences. Right after Wildbow introduces a follower of Dionysus, I find out that my Greek literature course will focus on the Bacchantae by Euripides…

  35. Really great chapter. Just…after so long of Blake not really having friends and having to be paranoid and mistrustful of everyone he meets, him finally being around nice, fun, people he can trust is great. Although I have a feeling something terrible is going to happen with his friends.

  36. So after rereading this chapter, I’ve just realizied that Blake is buying the painting from Tiffany, the girl he just met, and has her walking with him and mysterious invisible gun man. I don’t know if this counts as a nice move, because he’s opening a connection to her which may help her open up, or a jerk move because he could be possibly setting up manipulations of her feelings.

    If Blake were Lairdish, I would assume that he is taking Tiffany and her paintings because they have weak connections to him personally. Also, she would be an expendable asset to possibly be used for defence.

    Of course, Blake is better than that.

    (Excuse this comment if the syntax is weird or the mesage is incoherent. I’ve got distractions around me, so this may come out bad or redundant)

    1. He just knows that she’s a good artist and that he needs a suitable gift for the Lord of Toronto before he goes to meet him, so it’s just a matter of convenience. At most I’d say he might have an ulterior motive of helping out a friend of a friend in need by buying a painting, but this happened so fast that he wouldn’t really have had time to plan anything.

  37. Great chapter! Blake’s friends are fun.
    – I love how Blake’s tape defenses are completed by one of his friends. Seems oddly appropriate.
    – The line ““They hate me. For no reason.”” seems close enough to a lie to me that I wonder if Blake screwed up. After all, Blake knows perfectly well why they hate him. And in another occasion in this chapter, Blake even stops himself from saying ‘it’s fine’ because it would be a lie.
    – Considering Blake’s bad karma, I can’t see his friends remain unscathed. Combine that with the chapter title, and one of them might even end up as collateral for whatever deal he strikes with the Lord of Toronto…

    Great lines:
    – ““That some kind of magical communication? Lawyer telepathy?” He turned his head and tapped his left ear. Right. Bluetooth. Obviously.”
    – ““I see,”“You really don’t. But you might,””
    – ““Or like one of the jobs you regularly do for the messed up ones, the real diabolists you and Ms. Lewis seem so damn relieved to get away from.””
    – ““There’s no particular rush to finish the book. I believe the threat of a deal ignored and the impact to your karmic balance is enough incentive to follow through.””
    – “A gateway book? The thought made me think of some dumbassed campaign like ‘don’t do drugs, read!’. Except books were more dangerous than drugs, in this world.”
    – ““Five hundred and seventy three years, four months, and four days to go, if I don’t make partner at some point. I’m bound to get some of the easier jobs.””
    – ““They’re looking forward enough to figure out what they’re going to ask you for next time, and letting you know now so you can convince yourself it’s not so bad, and maybe ask for help a little more quickly next time.””
    – ““You look like you’ve been through hell. It’s only been a week.”“Has it?”“Damn.”” – This pacing got me in Worm, too. Amazing…
    – “Fresh outfit, minus the sweat and bits of Glamour. Nicer than anything I owned, but it suited my style. Eerie.”
    – ““Is this wise? Inviting people?”“I don’t know,”“No clue at all. But I’m drained, and if I’m supposed to recover personal power, reaffirm my identity and refuel myself where I was drained, well, getting my bike keys back made me feel a hundred times better than any night’s sleep I’ve had this past week. Maybe seeing my friends will help.”
    – “Amanda. My least favorite member of the group of my favorite people. Which wasn’t to say I disliked her. Only that she didn’t ‘get’ boundaries and I liked my boundaries.”
    – “I wound up hiring the Sisters. Every time, I tell myself it won’t be so bad. Every time, they convince me otherwise.”
    – “a minimum of one nervous breakdown or tantrum per project”
    – ““Want me to run interference? Fill people in on anything, so you don’t have to keep answering the same question?” Did I? Yeah.”
    – “I heard him tearing tape free from the roll. Hooray for artist friends.”
    – ““You know we have your back.”“I wouldn’t want to involve you, get you embroiled in the ugly parts of it.”“I don’t think many of us would mind.”“I think you would, once you got the full picture.””
    – “I couldn’t match Joseph’s enthusiasm, but I did smile, and it wasn’t forced.”
    – ““The carpenter resurrects, only it takes him a week,”“Says ‘Joseph’?””
    – “I humbly offer cupcakes as a token of worship.”
    – “I took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. I felt at ease.” – Nooo, don’t feel at ease, Blake! With Wildbow as your author, that’s just inviting disaster!
    – “[Short] of Laird trying to do to me what I’d done to him, I had trouble imagining a situation where one of my friends would be an Other or practitioner in disguise.”
    – ““You need a third win. Three strikes, Laird’s out.””
    – ““I’m all tied up in this bullshit drama that’s been going on this past week and a bit.””
    – ““It’s-” I very nearly said ‘it’s fine’, but it wasn’t, and a lie here among friends was still a lie.”
    – ““Hey, Blake, can I smoke?”“You most definitely can not,”“Who’s bright idea was it, inviting the landlord?””
    – “My surface impression was that she was the least ‘Tiffany-ish’ Tiffany I’d met. Shy, awkward, quiet. I usually associated Tiffanies with blonde cheerleaders.”
    – ““She saw a picture of you, on my phone. She thinks you’re devastatingly handsome.”“I’m not,”“You’re not. But you’re handsome.””
    – ““Are you trying to set me up with her?”“Sorta.””
    – “We’re beautifully fucked up people, and sometimes it’s only the fucked up sorts who’re going to understand, you know?” – Reminds me of Worm, and the sample chapters. The beautifully-fucked-up-ness of the characters remains an awesome constant throughout your writing, wildbow.
    – ““I’m not a therapist or any of that. But she needs to break out of her shell, and this is the first thing I thought of. I’m doing the relational equivalent of banging stones together until stuff works.”“You want us to… bang?”“I want- yeah. That sums it up.”” – Ahahahah.
    – ““Me and her?”“And me,”“I figure she needs a bit of hand holding, and we’re reasonable, adult human beings. We put jealousy aside and… it’s so dark I can’t make out your face and I can still tell you’re blushing.””
    – ““In terms of the big picture, I’m less okay than you can imagine. And-”“You impugn my creativity.”“Even with your amazing, brilliant creativity and your amazing tattoo abilities, I’m less okay than you can imagine. But this, right here, talking? It helped.”” — Ooh, Blake got his tattoos from the girl he likes. No wonder they are so important to him.

    1. The line ““They hate me. For no reason.”” seems close enough to a lie to me that I wonder if Blake screwed up. After all, Blake knows perfectly well why they hate him. And in another occasion in this chapter, Blake even stops himself from saying ‘it’s fine’ because it would be a lie.”

      It’s more a POV thing in my opinion. They hate Blake because of things his forebearers did. They hate him because of things he had not power over. They refuse every offer he made to end things peacefully. Before he even knew of their existance they had decided on his death, and nothing else.

      As for the fucked up ness of people… Well it’s not what happens to you sometimes as how you deal with it. There’s good fucked upness, and bad fucked upness.

      1. Hmm.

        It’s true that (most of) the people in Jacob’s Bell hate Blake, because he’s a Thorburn. So when he says: “They hate me, for no reason,” he’s not technically lying – they have no reason to hate Blake as an individual. If Blake had said: “They hate the Thorburn family, for no reason,” Karma would be coming after him with a wood chipper.

  38. Posting this at the eleventh hour (literally) because, if I am right, this may constitute a very minor plot spoiler. Note that my record for predicting the direction and/or details of Wildbow’s stories is lousy.

    When Blake met Tiffany he saw an odd connection that filled in when she saw him. He correctly guessed this was because she had heard of him but not met him yet. Now, who else will he meet shortly that meets that criteria? Jeremy. If Blake sees the same sort of shift in connections it should clue him in that Jeremy was told about him ahead of time. Blake has previously seen connections between Duchamps and Toronto, so that ought to clue him in as to the worst local threat.

  39. Tis a sad, sad day for our Blake. He had a chance at a threeway with a girl he’s had a crush on. And he must let it pass. It’s times like this that try a man’s fortitude, particularly his testicular fortitude. I imagine they were turning blue enough with just the hatchet down there, but after this the things are going to explode in a shower of icy splinters.

    This is when men have to answer the important questions about who they are. For instance…if he was doing the three way and had a mirror set up, like on the ceiling, could he see Rose getting it on with them instead? How much interaction with reflections of people can she pull off?

    And it’s nice to see Clint Eastwood make an appearance here. I guess it makes sense. The good, Blake. The bad, Duchamp and Behaim. And the ugly, Dickswizzle my nizzle and Tiffany’s teeth.

    What up in the hizzle, Dickswizzle?

    But seriously with The Man With No Name accompanying him, no wonder Blake had to pull out A Fistful of Dollars. For a Few Dollars More, who knows what kind of paintings he could get. Just careful he doesn’t get on the bad side of Tiffany’s muse.

    1. “And the ugly, Dickswizzle my nizzle and Tiffany’s teeth.”

      Alexis is the one with bad teeth. Tiffany’s dentures haven’t ventured into anything requiring censure.

      Of course, the Universe (in cooperation with the Thorburn Shitty Karma Fund) is planning to punch Blake’s teeth out, to facilitate smoother oral servicing. But that’s an entirely different matter.

  40. Okay, so, one, Blake has friends. And I love it.
    Two, and this has been stated…HE TURNED DOWN A THREESOME WITH HIS CRUSH. Okay, Wildbow. Okay. No, really, we get it.
    Yeah. I felt like anything but Jacob’s Bell would be boring as hell, but honestly, this chapter has got me pumped for the Toronto arc(s). Blake’s friends are fantastic.
    Wonder how long before they die.

    1. Yup. Lots of people know how long it is until retirement but couldn’t tell you how long they’d been working. I imagine that goes double for a job like demon lawyer…

  41. I’d have to agree with other commenters,this chapter does add much needed characterization.

  42. Just smidgen of very late feedback.
    Ty enters, and ” … he didn’t try to hide or take shame in his body type.”

    Except as the reader I have zero info on what type that IS, so I puzzle over options and get thrown out of story flow.

    I have no issue with not having elaborate descriptions of every one of his friends, but the wording in the quoted line draws my ATTENTION to the fact that I have little clue what Ty looks like beyond ‘black guy with buzz cut’. Or maybe … does wiry refer to his hair, or his build? Still unsure.

    That said, I think having a scene that really fills in details of Blake’s prior life & friends is wonderful, and helps me connect with him much more.


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