Collateral 4.3

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Conquest turned his back, pushing a tree aside.  Where another tree would have been uprooted, his simply moved over the earth as if it were on rails.  The movement stirred cold air, and I flinched.

Rose stared up at him, then down at her hands.

“Hey, Rose,” I said, my hands in my pockets, my arms tight against my sides, trying to stay warm without being too hot at the same time.  “Let me start by-”

She heaved herself out of the snow, flinging herself at me with enough force to almost knock me over.  She wrapped her arms around me.

All of my fight or flight instincts were in high drive already.  Being grabbed suddenly didn’t help.

I would have hit her, but swinging a punch in self defense was different from trying to hit someone who was clinging so closely to me.  I would have had to deliver an underhanded punch to the gut, and… no.  The fact that it took me a second to get my bearings meant I had time to resist impulses.

It wasn’t helping, though.  It was a twist of a knife in an old wound, bringing back pain, shutting down my mental processing centers as every station went on alert.

She squeezed a little too hard, painfully, one arm over my shoulder, another at my side, head buried against my chest.  She was also warm, her heart pounding so hard I could feel it.

She was a real, physical person, here, it seemed.

A real physical person who was digging her nails into my back.

“Fingernails,” I croaked.

She didn’t respond, even if she did relax with the fingernails.  The intensity of it, coupled with the madness that surrounded us, was enough to rob us of any further communication.

“Fell,” Conquest spoke.  “See Mr. Meath out, then stand guard.  Nobody comes or leaves without my word.”

“I’d like to ask that you keep me updated, Lord,” the drunk said.  “On him and what you do with him.”

“I can,” was the reply.  “Why?”

“I have further business with him. In exchange for my continued cooperation, can I ask that he be kept within the city, for the time being?”

“You can ask,” Conquest said.  He seemed to consider.  “You take no actions to work against me in this endeavor.”

“Done.”

“That is all I need.  I will see to it.”

Why the fuck did Jeremy Meath have business with me?

Fuck, what did it even matter?

The nameless practitioner, who now had a name, glanced at me and Rose, and then left, Jeremy Meath and the small contingent of attractive men and women following.

I wanted freedom to move, but Rose was still clinging to me, and it was doing everything a hug shouldn’t.  Stirring ugly feelings of fear and unease, making me less calm, making me feel like I stood completely alone and adrift.

“Let go, Rose,” I said, quiet.

She didn’t move, holding me tight.

Rose,” I said, under my breath.

“Hm,” Conquest made a sound.  My heart nearly stopped.  Had I accidentally gotten his attention?

My eyes moved to him, and I saw him looking down, pensive, but not looking down at us.  He’d changed subtly, and was still changing.  The line between clothing and skin was fading, the individual elements that had made up his outfit and appearance were dissolving, while retaining the bits that still let me think he fit with the idea of ‘Conquest’.

He had overlarge hands, now, plated in iron and what might have been bone, or a very pale metal, effectively gauntlets, but I could also see smaller hands, grasping, scrabbling out as if they sought to claw their way free of his coat sleeves.  Or his rolls of loose skin.  Or chainmail.  Whatever it was that wreathed his arms, now that it was ceasing to be a coat.  I could see it changing, sloughing away from an endless source, taking on a new texture and form as it layered over itself.  Hot wax, melting flesh, layers of dust settling atop one another.  All those things and none of them.

His flesh was stretched taut around his face and neck, pulling his mouth into a hollow, perpetual grin.  Except his smile wasn’t really a smile, whatever label I might stick on it.  Like the eyes had been ‘painted’, the smile was symbolic.  Just looking at it put ideas in my head: the rictus grins of the defeated; the expression of a general who had just won the war, caught between the joy of victory and the dawning horror as he left the battle behind and came to terms with what he had done.  Twisted into a frozen mask that he wore.

His beard and hair were longer than they had been, paler.  He was half again as tall, so broad in the shoulders it was bound to be symbolic in some fashion, and his coat trailed around him like a cape, now, the tips billowing and snaking through the snow as if being moved by a wind that I couldn’t feel. His slaves were hidden by his coat in one moment, gone when the coat flapped open again in the next.

He held the rifle with its bayonet, but the weapon was sagging too, not falling apart, but drooping like the materials were at melting temperatures.  When he shifted position, the sun remained behind him, as if the corners of it were anchored to his shoulders.  A pale halo.

The painted eyes, at least, were gone.  There was only darkness there.

Taking him in helped to divorce my brain from the invasion of my personal space, and I managed to get my thoughts on track, taking in our general circumstances.

Fuuuuuuuuuck, I thought.

His little movements were making the landscape change, and I found myself adjusting my footing, to ensure I could move if I had to.  That was Rose’s cue to loosen the hug and look up at Conquest.

“Fuck,” she whispered, echoing my thought.

“The meeting didn’t go so well,” I said.

“You don’t think you’re understating it a bit?”

“I’m understating it a lot.  See, the thing is-”

The Lord lowered his weapon, letting the butt-end of it hit the ground, interrupting me.

The stones and snow had moved and resettled, in the wake of the impact.  He was molding our surroundings.

I glanced at the exit.  No way we could just run out.

“I did not mean to disturb you.  Take a moment to yourselves,” Conquest said.

“Really?” I asked, before I could stop myself.  “Why?”

“Blake,” Rose said.

I could feel the fingernails again, and that was excuse enough to push her hands away and distance myself.  She let me.

“Let’s not question his… generosity,” she said.

“Giving succor to the weak is a tool for control,” Conquest said.  He turned, and with a sweep of his hand, he dashed away the snow from the hilltop, leaving only flat stone floor.  I winced as trace amounts of the snow hit the walls and came back my way, stinging, cold, and wet.  Rose ducked her head down, and I used my hand to help shield her face.

Steam and mist were rising off of us and the newly exposed floor.  I wasn’t sure if it was the cold freezing the moisture in the air or the ambient heat evaporating it.  At the same time, the air was dry enough that I had to try twice to clear my throat.

The hilltop was now more of a dais, a raised, flat circle of cut stone.  The drop down the sides seemed more precarious now.

Conquest continued, “…Break a man utterly, and he may well adore you for the simplest things, like bread, water, and relief from torture.  He will hate you too, but one can control them while the heart is swayed by love, and chain them away in darkness when it is controlled by the hatred.”

“Doesn’t it kind of defeat the point if you tell them how you’re manipulating them?”  I asked.

“Not at all,” Conquest said.  “Allow me to demonstrate…  If you remain calm and quiet, I will allow you a moment to talk amongst yourselves.  If you do not, I threaten torments that would haunt you for the remainder of your life.  Which do you choose?”

“The former,” I said.

“And do you like me more, because I gave you the choice, rather than choosing the latter myself?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“This is the first step on a journey.  At the end of these journeys, I have turned men into beasts, groveling for my favor, debasing himself for my mercy.  You are fortunate, in a way, because you are an admitted novice, of limited use.  I will use you up for the little knowledge you have, and then I will kill you once that knowledge is exhausted.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, trying to get my thoughts together and sound confident.  “I’m not a good groveler.  I think I’d lose it or snap before I got that far.”

“I am very good at what I do, diabolist, for I am the embodiment of what I do.  See to your companion.  Be happy for the succor and choices I do give you.  We begin in a matter of minutes.”

He turned his back, striding down the length of the hallway-bridge, arms at his sides.  I watched as the landscape shifted on either side.

What are we beginning?” Rose asked, her voice a hush.  I watched her fold her arms tight against her body, moving restlessly.

“That’s what I was going to say.  I was understating it when I was telling you this didn’t go so well.  He wants me to summon something.”

“Something?  A something-something?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t agree, did you?”

“He’s not giving us much choice.”

“Fuck,” she said.  She seemed to turn the idea over in her head, eyes roving over our surroundings, then said, with a little more emphasis, “Fuck.”

“Well put,” I said.

“I don’t even know what to think,” she said.  “One second I’m reading, then…”

“Then this.  I know.  I was here, and I’m a bit stunned.”

“I’m cold,” she said.  “And hot?  I’m sweating, and it’s not because I’m scared.  The sweat’s making me colder.”

She was wearing a button-up blouse with a dark stone at the collarbone, and a very simple navy blue skirt that sat at the waist and ended at the knee.  Her shoes were an older fashion, too hard and black, with a single strap.  Grandmother’s clothes, borrowed from the mirror-verse.

But it didn’t really matter.

“It’s this place,” I said.  “It’s an extension of him, not a demesne.  It bends rules, to be generally uncomfortable.  To conquer us physically and mentally, by steadily wearing us down.”

“No, when I said I was cold, I meant I’m cold.  I haven’t felt anything except numb for… ever?”

“And you’re fragile,” I said, remembering.  “We don’t know how much damage this did, pulling you here, we shouldn’t risk you taking any more damage now.  I’d offer you my coat, but-”

“Please.”

“-It’ll only make you hotter.”

“I can deal with the heat.  I just… I guess I want more standing between me and the rest of this world.  A coat is pretty crummy armor, but I’ll take crummy armor.”

“Then you can most definitely have it,” I said.

I unfolded my coat from my arm, and I helped her put it on.  She didn’t slide her arms through the sleeves, but instead clutched at the opening with her hands, wrists crossed over one another.

“Thank you,” she said.

I nodded.

“Sorry about hugging you.  I only just realized.”

“It’s…” I started, I trailed off.

“What?”

“I was going to say it’s okay, but… yeah.  It’s okay.”

“Been a while since I had any human contact.  I just realized, and I wasn’t thinking.  It’s like I- I’ve been dealing with everything and there hasn’t been much support, and, even that…”

“I get it,” I said.

I did get it.  I knew what she was talking about.  To be alone and cut off for so long, and then be offered a hand… it fit with my own experience.  A drowning man could make a bad situation worse if he clung too hard to his rescuer.  A homeless boy might have to hold himself back, if an emotional connection was offered after years of loneliness.

“The jacket does help.  Thank you,” she said, again.  She wasn’t meeting my eyes.

I only nodded.

She looked so small.  Not that she was, but the coat enveloped her, and this landscape would have made the tallest man in the world look small.

I looked at the hallway bridge.  Our only exit, and Conquest was standing at the far end of it.

I had the locket, I had the hatchet.

Hardly enough to go up against this guy.

“I don’t think we have many options,” I said.

“Call the lawyers?” Rose asked.

“Let me clarify my earlier point,” I said.  “He wants to summon demons and whatever else to the world to leave whole areas devastated and suffering.  Introducing him to lawyers who have bosses that want the same thing?  Not a good idea.”

“We don’t have many allies.”

“We don’t have any,” I said.  “Maggie’s… sort of questionable, and she’s hours away.  The others people who were at this meeting aren’t on their Lord’s side, but they’re just as likely to murder us as help us.  Maybe more likely.”

“It’s just us, then?” Rose asked.

“And June,” I said.  “She’s… minor, but she’s still here.”

“Us and June, against an incarnation.”

“Did you… happen to be reading about incarnations?” I asked.  “Given where I was?”

“I was reading up on glamours,” she said.  “I’ve been getting through a book on glamour.”

“At least tell me you’ve picked up a few useful tricks?”

“Just theory, tips, ways to make it more effective.  Half of which I think you were doing anyways, by blithely going with the flow.”

“Until I crashed and burned,” I said.

“I read about that too.  But that doesn’t help us here,” she said.  She shifted uncomfortably beneath my coat.

“You okay?”

“Hot,” she said.

“Told you,” I said.  I snuck a glance at Conquest.  He had his arms raised, and the snow that was pouring down around him was gray.

“Fuck,” she said.  Rose turned around, taking it all in.  “Fuck.

“Don’t panic,” I said.

“You-” she started.  She stopped, shaking her head a little.  “You know when you’re in the dark for a while, and then you step outside into the sunlight?  Or you’re enjoying the air conditioning, and you walk outside and it’s hot?  It’s worse than it would normally be.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s like that, on every level.  Fuck.”

“But you’re out,” I said.

“I don’t know that I am,” she said.  “I’m… not there, but I’m here.  The rules are different.  There are spirits here.”

“His spirits.  I get that it’s a bit of a shock to the system, I do, but-”

“Wait.  Spirits.  Give me June.”

I glanced at Rose, then drew June.  I reversed her and passed her to Rose handle-first.

“Hi, June,” Rose said.  She had to adjust the coat to reach far enough, but she ran one hand along the blade, where patterns had been scratched into the metal.  Her hand was shaking, in the moment before she set it on the solid metal.

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

“I’m thinking… no, I didn’t get much useful info out of the book on glamours.  But I did check out Valkyrie before I recommended it to you.  Binding spirits of the dead to objects.  Using their power… um.  I just need to remember how to do it.”

“Is this useful?”

“It’s… empirical data, one way or the other.”

“That’s not reassuring.”

“It’s what it is.  Unless you have better ideas?” Rose asked.

I shook my head.  “No.  Go for it, whatever you’re doing.”

“June,” Rose said, more authoritarian in tone, raising the hatchet overhead.  “Come forth.”

Rose swung the hatchet down.

Cold air blasted the two of us, and when the dust and snow cleared, June was on her hands and knees in front of us.

“What’s the plan?” I asked.

“Adjusting the temperature,” Rose said.  “June?  The cold of the cabin, with the door closed.  The cold of the room when you tried to get the fire going.”

“Hey,” I said.  “You’re-”

I felt it.  The cold air.  Unpleasant, biting at my exposed flesh.

You’re going to make it worse.

Except she wasn’t.  This cold didn’t exist in an eerie, impossible unity with the heat and dryness.  It was what it was, and it replaced the pre-existing weather conditions.

At the far end of the bridge, Conquest turned his head to look at us.

“Stop,” Rose ordered.  “Rest, like you did when you couldn’t get the fire going.”

June looked up, and the cold started to fade in intensity.

“Return,” Rose said.  “Firewood, remember?”

June disappeared into the hatchet, much as she had entered it in the first place.

Conquest was making his way back to us.  He was at no risk of falling from the bridge, because the bridge was essentially an extension of him.

“You’ve pissed him off,” I said.

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Thinking…”

The Lord had long strides, and he was able to move with confidence, despite the shaky nature of the bridge, the unsteady bits and the parts with weapons littering them.  When he strode forward, spears and swords were kicked free, to flip over in the air until they disappeared into the darkness below.

“Did you plan to piss him off?” I asked.

“I planned to study the effect on the area.  Which, if you’re right, is an effect over him.  Can it be influenced?  Can we arrest control over it?  Which is why we need to think and figure something out.”

“And?”  I asked, but it was too late to get an answer.  He was in earshot now.

We weren’t about to discuss strategies against him while he was here.

Wait, if this place was an extension of him… could he hear us all the way along?

That was a daunting thought.  Had we said anything damning?

Was that why he’d left us be?

He stepped past the threshold, and he brought the gray-black snow with him.

Volcanic ash, not snow.

“This will do,” he said, surveying the area.

I felt strangely okay, better than I had before he’d left.

It wasn’t just having had the chance to talk.  I felt okay because the weather wasn’t bearing down on me.

June had broken the effect, and the heat was taking its time to bleed back into our surroundings.  It was still cold, but it wasn’t cold and hot.

That said something.  I just wasn’t sure what.

“Can I assume you’ll cooperate?” the Lord asked.

“No,” Rose said, in the same moment I said, “Yes.”

We exchanged looks, annoyed with each other.  Saying no did nothing except give him an excuse to act against us.  The only option was to say…

“Yes,” I said, again, “You’re free to assume whatever you want, but I may rescind my agreement at any time.  I presume you’ll punish me at that point.”

“Then I’ll discuss this with you,” Conquest addressed me.  “What do you need, to summon a dark power to my realm?”

I thought, hard.  Not about what I actually required, but the nature of the question.

“A hell of a lot more courage,” I said.

“Fear of me will have to do in a pinch,” Conquest said.  “Do not be facetious.  You are in my realm and under my thumb.  I do not think you want to fight me.  In terms of resources, materials, time, and location…”

Maybe…

“Books,” I said.  “If I were to do this, I’d need books.”

Rose snapped her head around, looking at me.

“Which?”

“Texts from a building protected by a magic effect,” I said.  “With names, rules for rituals, words for the contracts…”

“There is no need for these things,” he said.  “You will summon the entity, and it will attack indiscriminately.  Let me change my question.  What is the bare minimum you require to bring one of these beings forth?”

Fuck.

I kept my mouth shut.

“You will answer, or I will punish your companion,” he said.

I glanced at Rose.

“You gave her your coat.  You’re attached to her.  I must assume you would be upset if she were disfigured or crippled.”

Fuck.

I clenched my hands at my sides.  The locket’s chain bit into the webbing of my hands.  But it wouldn’t be any use here.

“This is another step on your journey, diabolist.  You will do as I say, and you will do as I say hereafter.  Everything you do will reinforce my power over you.  If you obey, then you will continue to obey.  If one of you refuses, I punish the other, and that punishment resonates.  Accept what is, and this will be relatively painless for you.”

“Not so painless for the bystanders,” I said.  “The people you want to sic a demon on?”

“I am patient.  I am effectively immortal, and torture is a part of my power and domain.  Decide, one way or the other.”

“Can I have a private word with my colleague?” I asked.

“You’ve had your chance.  Decide, or perhaps I will make both of you suffer.”

So we did talk in private after all, or was this another word trick?  “When you say we’ve had our chance, do you mean here, just now, or do you mean in general?”

“Blake!” Rose called out.  “Not the fucking time to quibble!”

He reached down and picked up Rose with one hand, gripping her wrist and hauling her into the air..

“Hey!” I hollered.

“You aren’t grasping the gravity of your situation, diabolist.”

“I’m grasping it,” I said, “I’m trying to adapt to it, and that means figuring shit out!”

“The only adaptation I require is your bending to my will.  The only things you’ll want to figure out will be how to serve me.”

“Okay,” I said, “Fine!  Cutting past the shit and the figuring… you can hear anything in your realm, so there’s no real point to me whispering and conspiring with Rose, is there?”

He tilted his head slightly.

“Got any bright ideas, Rose?  Because I’m running pretty dry, here.”

“I don’t have a lot,” she said.

“Because the alternative is that cliche line like, hey, you know what’s at stake, so you’re okay with making the sacrifice, in exchange for my silence.”

“Fuck that, would you say that?”

“No,” I said.

“Neither would I!  Unless you’re saying that I’m a vestige, so I don’t count!”

“I’m not,” I said.  “I’m saying I don’t know what the fuck to do.”

“You obey,” Conquest said.

I envisioned it.  The flow of events, giving him Ornias’ name.  The summoning…  Conquest would become mightier, and as an Incarnation, he could deal with the fallout.  Probably.

No.  Wait.

“No,” I said.  “How does this play out?”

“I believe you are stalling, diabolist.”

“I am not stalling,” I said.  “Or I’m not just stalling.  I’m raising a legitimate concern.  You promised the safety of Toronto, its citizens, and the Duchamps of Jacob’s Bell.”

“Yes.”

“If I call something here…”

“It is sealed.  This is my realm, and I can contain an entity.”

“Even when you don’t know the exact rules?” I asked.  “The nature of the binding that’s required?  The special qualities of these beings?  I know of at least one that can tear through connections and enter a demesnes no problem.”

“They were bound once, they will be easier to bind again.  I can expend power, shape my domain into a prison.”

“Right,” I said.  “Except… I’m not sure the one I’d be calling has been bound before.”

He stared down at me with the black orbs in the midst of his pallid face.  He wasn’t smiling that horrible rictus smile, now.

“The one I’d be calling would be strong, and the people who gave it to me, well, I can’t guarantee that any being they put me in contact with was necessarily bound at any point.  From the description, this being could be one of the big names, someone who sits on a throne and bosses the others around.  Looking for a way to get here.”

“You can’t guarantee that is the case,” Conquest said.

“I can’t guarantee it isn’t,” I said.

“Which means,” Rose said, still dangling from his grasp, “That you’d need the books as much as we do.  Blake said he needed the books-”

She shot me a glance.

“I said I needed them because the extra rituals and precautions would keep me safe,” I said.

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “And those rules and precautions are probably necessary to keep you safe, Incarnation or no.”

“Unless you really want to get straight into a one on one brawl with a dude that fucks with stars,” I said.

He remained very still.

“Can you put me down?” Rose asked.

“I could break you for your impertinence,” he said, hauling her up until her face was level with his.  “To give me orders?”

His breath in her face was enough to stir her hair.

She had the hatchet, still, but… god damn, I hoped she wasn’t dumb enough to swing it at his face.

In her shoes, I probably would have, but I processed things differently than most, when it came to personal space.

“I humbly request that you put me down, sir,” she said.

He let go, and she dropped a few feet to the ground.  Not a horrible drop, but still alarming, and the stone underfoot was hard.

When she’d recovered, while Conquest paced, I met Rose’s eyes.  I could tell we were thinking the same thing.  If we could get him to enter the circle…

“I am older than swords,” Conquest said.  “Older than man.  I have existed in countless forms, evolving and changing.  I rise to power, fall, and then find another environment, shape, and host.”

“As Conquest does,” I said.

“Yet you think I’ll fall for a simple trick?  A petty trap?  Things such as these do not go unguarded.”

“Actually,” I said.  “We didn’t really leave any safeguards.”

“Your forbears,” he said.

“The standard demesne protections,” Rose said.  “We can give you permission to enter the building, I believe?”

“Your allies, your enemies?  I refuse to believe it would be so easy as that.”

Enemies, well, there was the rub.

He looked between us.  I saw the realization dawn on his face, as we couldn’t deny it.

“You toy with me,” he said.  He visibly changed, skin stretching tighter.  His face shifted to that rigid grin, teeth bared.  “I should mutilate you right now, so you remember the mistake of such insults.”

The fucking sky was changing in tune with his emotions.  Plunging us into darkness.  Black rage.

“If you’re immortal,” I said, “Then yes, there is a trap our enemies set before us, but it will barely affect you, while it could have some pretty grave consequences for us.  You can go, get the books, bring them to us, and we could summon whichever sort of being you required.”

“You’re scheming, diabolist,” he said.

“At this stage of things, I’m just scheming to buy us some time.”

“To work against me.”

“More to get the two of us out of this predicament.”

“That is enough impertinence,” he said.  He looked to Rose, “You, stay.”

A cage rose up around her.

“No,” Rose said.

“And you,” he said, looking at me.

Don’t fucking touch me,” I said.  I backed away a step, and I found a wall behind me.  The wall hadn’t been there before.  “I’ll come willingly.”

“Not when you see our destination.  You forget what I am.  If it’s a choice between your cooperation and your tears, dragging you behind me while you dirty yourself in fear, I’ll take the latter.”

A kind of horror hit me, right in the gut.

Not cold horror, not a chill.  Horror as in a horror, a nightmare, a beast that might lurk under a small boy’s bed, wrong and disgusting and bad, as a feeling, slithering around my insides.

Because I knew he was probably right.

Because when it all came down to it, push to shove, I wasn’t really much of a man.  Not when someone or something bigger and stronger than me had their hands on me.  Not when I was unarmed and certain there was nothing I could do.  I had precedent for that.

Once he grabbed me, I was as good as dead, because I’d stop thinking until I was free again, and there was nothing thoughtless I could do to get out of this situation.  I wouldn’t listen to reason, and it wouldn’t be me fighting like a cornered rat.  I’d maybe manage to lash out, fail, then I’d shut down one hundred percent.

“Fuck you,” I said, moving laterally along the wall to try and put distance between myself and him.  But the wall was his.  “Piss-poor excuse for an Incarnation.  What the fuck is an Incarnation of Conquest doing in Canada?”

“Stop, Blake!” I heard Rose, as if far away.

“I find it interesting, to see what is revealed of people, when they are broken down,” the Lord said.  “With things relatively stable here, it’s been some time since I had the chance.  You’ve defaulted to scheming, impertinence, then aggression.  But it’s only when the pressure is increased, your very being challenged, that we’ll see who you truly are.”

“Fuck you and your fucking philosophy,” I said.

“God fucking dammit, Blake!  I am not sitting on the sidelines again, while you cross another fucking line!”

“Then help!”

She did, or she started to.  She said something, but my focus was wholly, entirely on the Lord.

There was a crash, and I saw her, free of the cage, hatchet in hand, June at her side.

“If I’m to steadily break you down and reveal facets of your being, which of the two should I break first?  Your companion said kind words to the bound ghost.  Do you feel a kind of fondness for it too?  I could scatter her to the Ether with a swat of my hand.”

“You don’t touch either of them.  You don’t touch me, either.”

My hands were shaking.

“I can do both, and I can bend you to my will, acquire the powers I wish to acquire,” the Lord of Toronto said.

“Wait,” Rose called out.  “I’ll tell you what you want to know.  All of it.”

“Your words have no weight, mirror-dweller,” Conquest said.  He didn’t take his eyes off me.

“My words are those of a Thorburn descendant, with all of the power of a daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter.”

“Words with power, but nothing I care to hear.  I’ll take what I need to know from him.”

“The barrier is one that slows time.  You’re immortal, it’s insignificant to you!” she cried out.

“Significant enough.  Time is always a valuable commodity.”

You can’t tell him, I thought.  Don’t tell him you can go and get the books, or we’re all fucked.

Then I cursed myself for even thinking that.  Because I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t blurt something out in panic.

He was everything I couldn’t deal with.

“Can you knock down the barrier?” Rose asked.

He half-turned to look at her.  “Potentially.  But I’m wondering why I shouldn’t send one of you to fetch the books and return to me.  A few months or years of your time are meaningless to me.”

“If too much time passes,” Rose said, sounding a thousand times calmer than I felt, “We lose ownership of the books.  They pass to the next heir, and you lose the advantage of having the Thorburn diabolist in your grip.”

She was skirting the truth, and he was buying it.

“Fine.  I am a patient being.  I will figure out a way to negotiate a path through the barrier, and torture each of you in the meantime.”

It kept coming back to that.

He had us, he knew it, and at this point, anything here was him amusing himself.

“If we don’t give permission to enter the premises?”

“I think you will,” he said, with confidence.

His focus was on Rose, and I could actually think.

We had no bargaining chips.  Nothing on the table.

No, we had one little thing.  Twice now, June had damaged the environment.  Breaking the cage, and dispelling the heat for a time.

It had been almost easy.

What else?  I had to pull together all of the little things I’d noticed.  What didn’t jibe?

I’d called him out on the strangeness of him leaving Rose and I to talk.  Why had he done it?  To give us succor and manipulate us?

No, it had been strange that he’d even explained that.  I’d called him out on that too.

Why had he done it?  To change the landscape?  To change it so it snowed black?

What had been the point of that, when he could have started squeezing us for what he wanted right away?

“We could compromise,” Rose said.  It sounded feeble, even to me.

“I am not one for compromises.  I take everything I want.”

“The idea of conquest is rife with compromises.  Cities get annexed, puppet governments and political figures stay in place, a broken populace can still riot, a-”

“I know what I am,” he said.

I wanted to signal her, to push her to keep going, but I couldn’t do it without potentially alerting him.

I could only use what she was inadvertently giving me.

Think.  Why had he taken the time to adjust the area?

Did it require constant maintenance?  No.  I didn’t get that feeling.

But maybe he’d wanted to strengthen it at the core level, in anticipation of the arrival.  He’d been fairly confident he could control a creature that had already been bound, which fit, given that he was Conquest.  Or a Conquest.  But maybe he hadn’t been entirely confident.

With that thought, other things fit into place.

“Then compromise with me!”  Rose said.  “With us.  Why torture us to death when you could have all of our power?”

“Because I take everything I want.  I can torture you within a hair of death and have your power at my disposal.”

The conversation continued, but I was thinking, scrambling to put everything in context, and I didn’t even hear it, now.

During the discussion with the other local powers, he’d stayed in the background, had remained mute, except to cut in and occasionally stop the discussion.

He’d only acted to seize at the opportunity I presented, making a hell of a lot of enemies along the way.

And, I couldn’t help but note, again, he’s a fucking Incarnation of Conquest in Canada.

I’d just invaded the Behaim household under the cloak of glamour.  Why the fuck was I putting so much stock in appearances?

If I stripped it all away, if I looked at everything he’d said as if he had no power at all…

This bastard was the fucking Wizard of Oz.

A small, insecure, relatively powerless being, and a whole lot of pretending.

Maybe a dangerous amount of pretending, if he didn’t actually have the power to follow through on the threats he was making, when he said he could do horrible things to us.

I was panting, still trying to get my body and thoughts under control, while my emotions had the helm, but there was a note of triumph in that mess of emotions, now.

It wasn’t a realization that won this for us.  We were still in his domain, he still had power, and not everything was appearances.  If I’d realized this, one of the other powers had to have a glimmer of the same idea.  Chances were good they knew.  They had other reasons for backing off, and many of them weren’t small fry.

But it was one series of thoughts that shed light on the monster under the bed and made it just a bit less scary.

It was a desperate monster we were dealing with.  One that was tormenting and scaring us because, maybe, it was clutching for power where it could find it, even if that meant threatening hostages.

“Is-” I started.  He turned, focusing on me, and I momentarily lost my train of thought.

Easy to think something, but hard to act as if it were true.  Which fit with what Rose had been saying about my glamour, not so long ago.

“Is… there another option?” I cut in, as Rose was about to speak.  “Is there another option that might allow us to show you all the respect you’re due, Lord of Toronto?  All due supplication?”

“You grovel after all,” he said.

“I suppose I can,” I said, eyes on the ground.  “It beats the alternative.”

I knew what he wanted, now that I had a sense of him.

If he wanted the scraps of power he could obtain, then I’d give it to him through obeisance rather than tortured screams.

“How are you imagining you might show me respect, diabolist?”

The first thought to cross my mind was the deal the lawyers had offered.

“A favor?  Favors?” I asked.

“I have subordinates.”

“Surely a Lord as great and powerful as yourself must have use for expendable assets?”

“You offer your lives?”

“I offer to risk our lives,” I said.  “But I beg for tolerance.  We’re new to this, our repertoire is limited.  We’ll need time to prepare for any task.”

“Again, you scheme, you plot.”

So close.  We were so close.

“I ask your forgiveness.  When dealing with one as great and powerful-”

“Your flattery is painfully transparent, as well.”

“Can we call it awe, instead?” Rose jumped in.  “We were talking about what it meant, to be Conquest.  Surely awe is Conquest’s due.”

“You take turns trying to manipulate me,” he said, and there was a note of anger in his tone.

“What other choice do we have?” I asked.  “In this, you can see our surrender.”

“Can I?  I ask, do I?”

In me, no.  I was only just starting to fight.

I wasn’t one to pray, so I merely closed my eyes and hoped.  Hoped Rose would-

“Yes,” Rose said.  “I don’t like it.  Not even a little bit.  But I don’t see another choice.  I guess we’re surrendering.”

“Then we have the groundwork for a deal,” Conquest said.  “I will find a way to shatter the barrier and access the house.  You will give me access and lend your presence as the Thorburn heir to command the beings you summon.  You will also do me three favors.  Do them in any order, but I expect one done a day.”

“What favors?” I asked.

“Doing what diabolists do,” Conquest said.  “There are three entities in my domain that I have not yet bothered with.  Two are lesser, and one is problematic on other levels.”

“Entities being…”

“Being the sort that diabolists deal in.  A human twisted by a mote of diabolic power, left in the wake of a being that passed this way long, long ago.  A twisted goblin that even other goblins steer clear of.  And an abstract sort of devil, not so powerful that it is worth the trouble of binding it, unless you have an expendable diabolist to attempt the deed.  I want each bound, captured, and brought to me.”

Okay, fuck.  A little more than I was expecting to have on my plate.

“We accept,” Rose said, “With the proviso that we may need some things, and some more information.”

“Hold on,” I said.

“We surrendered,” she said, and she sounded angry.  Or frustrated, I couldn’t tell which.

“You’ll have some limited resources and information.  Do you accept, diabolist?” Conquest asked me.

Fuck, this was not what I wanted to deal with.  I’d hoped for simpler errands.  Less delineated errands.

This threw a wrench into things.

“Why do you even want them?”

“Because power over others is achieved in steps, through footholds,” he said.

“I guess I have to,” I said.

“I’d like to hear a yes.”

Fuck.  I’d cornered myself.

“I will strive to carry out my end of the deal,” I said.

“It is nearly midnight now, outside of my domain,” he said.  “You have from midnight to midnight to accomplish one task.  The same goes for the next day, and the next.  By then, I should have the means of accessing your house, or we can negotiate for further errands to buy you a stay of execution, in a manner of speaking.”

“Got it,” I said.

“And I’ll need a certain guarantee.” he said.

He turned his hand over, and a metal cuff dropped halfway to the ground, where it then dangled from a chain.

Fuck.

“What guarantee?”

“If you want to leave my domain to carry out these errands, you’ll wear it,” he said.

I felt that ugliness worming its way through my gut once again.  Horror, nausea, unease ratcheted up to eleven.

I looked at Rose, and I saw her expression change.  Concern?

How wary did I look?  How green around the gills?

“We accepted,” I said.  “We had a deal.  A compromise.”

“No, I had your surrender,” he said.  “If we don’t still have that, then I don’t see a reason to let you leave.  Twenty four hours can pass, I can say you failed to carry out your end, and punish you accordingly.”

Fuck.

But there was no way I was letting him set his hands on me.

I couldn’t really surrender, not like that.

As if on an impulse, Rose stepped forward, extended an arm, and forced the shackle shut around one wrist.

The chain disappeared, and her arm dropped to her side.

The connection, however, between her and the Lord, took an entirely different shape.  A connection that wasn’t a cord, but a chain.

“I wanted the diabolist.”

“Through me, you have the diabolist,” Rose said.  “There’s a strong connection between us.”

Conquest deliberated for a moment.

“I tire of this.  Begone, both of you.”

“Both of us?” Rose asked.

“You’ll have what you need to begin the hunt in a few hours.  Take the time to sleep, in the meantime.”

With that, a door rose from the ground.

Couldn’t leave anything behind.  The hatchet, Rose…

Rose and I both walked to the door.  I grabbed her hand, then for safety’s sake, I grabbed June too.  In my hurry to leave, I pulled her behind me.

As we passed through the doorway, I felt Rose’s wrist crumble in my hand.

When I looked behind me, there was no door, and there was no Rose.

When I looked in front of me, I saw a parked car.  Rose stood in the window, where my reflection should have appeared, faint.  Wearing my coat.

She raised one wrist, showing me the shackle and the seemingly endless chain that trailed off to some far-distant point.

I looked at the car, trying to get my thoughts in order, but emotion boiled to the surface.

I kicked, hard, denting the door of the car.  Then I kicked again, this time striking with enough force to dislodge the mirror from the side of the car.

Ow.  My foot.

I picked it up.

“Jesus, Blake.”

“That did not go according to plan,” I said, as I strode away from where we’d been dropped off.

“No kidding.  Can- can you keep that mirror steady?  You’re not leaving me much space to work inside.”

I tucked it under one arm.

“Better.”

“I’m sorry, for all that,” I said.  “And thank you.”

“For what?” she asked.  I wasn’t sure which that was in reference to.

“For… everything there.  It was a clusterfuck, I fucking nearly melted down, and I only managed because you bought time.  And that shackle…”

“We support each other, eh?  It didn’t look like there was a snowball’s chance in hell that you were going to accept that.”

We walked in silence for a few seconds.

“Let’s not bring up hell, okay?” I asked.

“Right.”

“You did a fuckton of the supporting there,” I said.

“But you found a way to get us out.  That gives us a chance.”

“I didn’t plan for us to be dealing with demons and scary-as-fuck goblins,” I said.  “I would have negotiated, but you jumped on it so fast-”

“I started to read Black Lamb’s Blood,” Rose said.

Those fucking lawyers.  Giving us the book, having things play out like this.

“What the fuck could that book say that would make this a good idea?” I asked.

“Its not a good idea,” Rose said.  “But… I saw an out, and I knew you hadn’t read it, so you wouldn’t see it as an out.  So I jumped on it.”

“Meaning I need to read the book,” I said.  “On top of everything else.”

“It’d be a good idea.  But… we’re getting away from the main topic of conversation.”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Yeah.  You said you didn’t plan on errands dealing with demons.  What did you plan on?”

I debated for a minute.  I could tell her that I didn’t think Conquest was nearly as strong as he let on, I could tell her that Conquest was insecure, desperate…

“Blake?”

“I’m not sure what I can tell you while you have that shackle on you.”

“You think he can hear?”

“Just by the look of it, I’d guess it’s more so he can bring you to him whenever he wants.  And if he tortures you for information…”

I trailed off, and Rose apparently didn’t have anything to say in response.

“Fuck, I shouldn’t have let you wear that.”

“What’s done is done,” she said.  “If he tortures me for information, at least, can you give me a good reason to keep my mouth shut?  Tell me your plan is good enough that rescuing me is a possibility?”

“It’s not great,” I said.  “But it’s a start.”

“Am I helping?  Are you telling me the particulars?”

“You are, and I am.  Between running these errands of his, binding the demons and the Über-goblin, we’ve got to wrangle a mutiny, and get some of the other locals and powers on board for unseating Conquest from his throne.”

“That’s it?” she asked.

“That’s all I got,” I said.

“That’s not a very good plan.”

“I know.  It’s only a start.”

“Fuck.”

I know.”

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

218 thoughts on “Collateral 4.3

    1. Tight writing this time, I only found one:

      Conquest was making his way back to us. He was at no risk of
      Cut-off sentence.

    2. “By then, I should have the means of accessing your house, or we can negotiate for further errands to buy you a stay your execution, in a manner of speaking.”

      Not sure what needs to be fixed with the way it was written. A few options:
      buy a stay of your execution
      buy you a stay of execution
      buy you a stay of your execution

    3. “we can negotiate for further errands to buy you a stay your execution”

      Should probably be “a stay of your execution”.

      Brilliant chapter, looking forward to the next as always!

    4. By then, I should have the means of accessing your house, or we can negotiate for further errands to buy you a stay your execution, in a manner of speaking.”
      –stay of your execution.

    5. “The others people who were at this meeting aren’t on their Lord’s side”
      Should be “other people” not “others people”.

    6. “We don’t have any,” I said. “Maggie’s… sort of questionable, and she’s hours away. The others people who were at this meeting aren’t on their Lord’s side, but they’re just as likely to murder us as help us. Maybe more likely.”

      Should be ‘other’ rather than ‘others’

    7. “At the end of these journeys, I have turned men into beasts, groveling for my favor, debasing himself for my mercy.” -> ‘debasing themselves’

    8. He reached down and picked up Rose with one hand, gripping her wrist and hauling her into the air..
      -two periods.

    1. I’m fairly certain Conquest would kill him on the spot for his presumption, especially if the justification (given how the nameless practitioners went after Blake for a $200 painting) was flimsy enough.

      1. Hey, they are the greatest contribution Canada has given the world in the casual family dining industry. How many competitors do you think they’ve crushed over the decades?

        And maybe Conquest likes their burgers. I’ve heard of weirder things.

        1. …If I were Conquest, I’d drop any practitioner dumb enough to offer me a gift card down into an oubliette where I can peel apart their secrets at my leisure. Assuming I didn’t just turn them into a pasty spot on the ceiling.

  1. It’s all glamour. Conquest is running on glamour- that’s why he had to explain himself, otherwise the glamour would break. That’s my theory at least.

    Your description of Conquest was really vivid, and Blake’s emotions came through very strongly here. Very well done. Conquest was terrifying, until I realized it’s mostly just a facade, and then I found myself picking through the past stuff and finding the weird little incongruities that hint at it.

    I find I like Blake more as a character having seen some emotional responses now. It’s interesting what sets him off, and it makes sense, given his past.

    One note- Blake asks her not to mention hell, and then immediately says something “as hell,” which seemed odd to me.

    1. Not everything runs on glamor, guys. That’s mostly a Fae thing. There may be similarities, but glamor runs on what the audience believes, while this whole thing with Conquest runs solely on his own power. By successfully dominating people, Conquest gets power so that he can do what he is doing, but without him willfully sculpting and maintaining things, it wouldn’t be their to begin with.

      1. I don’t deny that he does have some power, but I think a lot of it is showmanship. I think the odd thing is all the rationalization and explanation he does. He actually does very little apart from threats and posturing. You’re right that it’s not specifically a glamour, but I think the principles are the same.

        1. It’s not glamour, but it’s similar, in my opinion. Conquest is an incarnation; an idea given life. Because of this, he runs on belief.

          It’s very similar to glamour, I think, but subtlely different as well, as I’m hoping Wildbow will show us. 🙂

          1. A certain Master of Whisperers from a certain book/tv series has some specific things to say about how power works:

            “Varys smiled. ‘Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.’ ‘So power is a mummer’s trick?’ ‘A shadow on the wall,’ Varys murmured, ‘yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.'”

            1. Interesting. I can’t find the quote, but didn’t Cersei have a conversation about power with Littlefinger that went a slightly different way? We know some of Conquests power is posturing, but the real swords supporting him may still be enough to utterly crush Blake.

            2. Aharon,
              the sharpest blade is brittle (yes, literally). Blake needs to remember that the battlefield here is his own mind.

          2. More specificly he wants them to believe he is great and strong. Conquest runs on, well conquest. Like Blake says, he’s Conquest in Canada. Even the conquring he’s able to do is probably pretty pathetic compared to say, when the Mongols were running roughshod over everything in their path. Things are fairly stabilized right now. Nobody is doing widescale conquests and domination. And that is what this particular incarnation runs on. The other Conquests Fell mentioned last time? I don’t think this one really can use them, or he wouldn’t be so weak. I think this particular Conquest is like a washed up athlete who is still stuck in his glory days.

            Incarnations are very much shaped by human belief and ideas go out of style. Hell poor Conquest isn’t even considered one of the horsemen of the apocalypse much anymore. He’s stuck because by his nature he can’t be anything else, but he can’t quite apply the idea of himself to newer things. He’s stuck in the colonial times. If he were able to adjust to say corporate conquest, he’d be in a nice suit, overseeing the aqquisistion of his newest company, and his realm would be an office full of cubicles inhabitied by people who’s jobs have broken their wills.

  2. What were all the inconsistencies? I noted the lack of combative behavior (heck, the suspicious lack of behavior, period – how many lines did that nameless practitioner have compared to Conquest?) during the previous chapter, and the trip upstairs designed to disorient, intimidate, and off-put, and the fact that June – a mere bound spirit – was able to screw with the AC. Also, I think we all pegged the incongruity of an incarnation of Conquest living in Canada as opposed to, say, its southern neighbor.

    1. I should add, as we saw them in the text of the previous chapter. Blake does a pretty good job of spelling them out here during his epiphany.

  3. Blake has landed himself in a situation not too different from the one he had in Jacob’s Bell. He has to get allies to help him take down the biggest dog in town while he still tries to figure this practitioner shit out.

    Same war, different battleground, I suppose.

    I can’t wait until Blake returns and makes Laird regret ever forcing him to leave town.

  4. Alright.
    A). Fuck.
    B). Actually, on second thought, not bad. At least we have a bad guy that is honest about his nature. Also, we may see the Duchamps and co. get their comeuppance, and that will just make me giggle. I think that I miss Taylor’s off the wall planning and on the ball thinking, and I can’t see Blake pulling anything as close to what she did, as her power offered a sense of anonymity and intelligence gathering. I think that the bargains, some of them… like Barbie’s, are actually a pretty smart investment. Honestly, I am just rambling on about Blake not having the power to be able to pull of this demon, practitioner and goblin hunting. You know, thinking on some of the options for advancement. He has cold and disguise, and I suppose some sort of poison, but… I am looking forward to his solution to the things. I see dickswizzle making an appearance. Also, where is his implement and familiar? I would imagine something soon, and that may form some kind of solution… It seems he is running on empty here, and he is not going to take these guys without any evocation I suppose. Actually, I just thought holy water may be a useful solution. Anyway, probably typed too much. Night.

    1. He does have a deadline for getting one of the big three. Implement, Familiar, or Demesne within the month, was it? Any of those would be an automatic increase in power.

      1. I know there’s a snowball’s chance in Hel (heh) of this, but the sphinx as his familiar would be effing -cool-. Not sure their personalities really match, though…

          1. Depends on what edition of Tarot cards is used, doesn’t it? Some of them have a dude in a chariot pulled by a pair of horses, some feature a dude in a chariot pulled by a pair of lions, some of them have a dude in a chariot pulled by a black spinx and a white sphinx, and-

            …Oh. 🙂

            1. Yeah, and going by that, Blake gets a cat, a raven, or an owl. (I like raven, actually. bit of both American and Norse myth, that)

        1. “I know there’s a snowball’s chance in Hel (heh) of this, but the sphinx as his familiar would be effing -cool-. Not sure their personalities really match, though…”

          LIST OF THINGS THAT BLAKE CAN NO LONGER SAY, EVER.

          1) The O-word. You know, the one that sounds like, umm… Aroused donkey. ‘Horn’ minus H, and then ‘bias’ minus B.

          2) The M-word. The one that rhymes with ‘can’, and ‘ran’, and ‘(very short) life span’. Because if Isadora hears him say it, she’ll gut him from groin to sternum and wear his intestines like a fancy hat.

          3) Anything that sounds remotely sarcastic.

          …Still, it’s not as long as Maggie’s list. 😉

    2. “Also, where is his implement and familiar? I would imagine something soon, and that may form some kind of solution…”

      According to the notes in Granny RDT’s Demesne, in the second interlude chapter, it appears that Practitioners can potentially bend the fabric of reality pretty much to their every whim within their demesne.

      Sounds like Blake should prioritize getting his own demesne, and try if he’ll be able to give Rose a corporeal form within that area. After all, Conquest could easily do it, and he’s apparently not as awesome as he wants to appear.

      Rose might not be able to walk outside, at least not without going back into the mirror dimension, but it’d give her the opportunity to enjoy some creature comforts – especially with the whole ‘reshaping reality to your every whim within your demesne’ bit. Blake could pretty much whip up any kind of living area for Rose, to suit her wishes. It may be a gilded cage, since she’ll still be bound to Blake, but it’s bound to be loads better than living in a bike mirror.

      If Blake invited some of his friends to visit (the regular, relatively harmless, non-Practitioner kind), Rose would even have a chance to interact with people other than Blake. As several other people have pointed out, Pact really needs some more upbeat chapters where Blake & Rose get a chance to catch their breath(s), and where the readers get an infusion of something that isn’t Blake’s constant slow spiraling descent into the Karmic garbage disposal of his life – or to paraphrase Drhoz (http://drhoz.livejournal.com/): “The South Ontario Shit Vortex”. 😉

      1. On a related note: perhaps Blake should hold off on claiming a demesne for last, and start with a familiar and an implement. He could follow his strategy of using each power-up as leverage, i.e. getting a wimpy familiar that won’t try to boss him around (too much) and then drawing on its power to attain a better implement. Finally, he could combine his familiar and implement to claim a decent demesne, which would seem to be the best choice (at present) for recharging Rose’s Vestige fuel reserves – and himself.

        1. I’m really not sure that that would be the best order for this.

          One of the things about the Big Three that bugs the everloving crap out of me (though I understand its value as a plot point) is the apparent permanence that seems to come with them. Familiars were referred to as “a long-term commitment” in the least, but were also likened to marriage and (I could have sworn) there was a passage in the Pages that stated that Familiars could be kept alive after death via the bond, possibly making it eternal (2.06). Implements play a little more coy, but then we find out that those who “rush into” picking it “find they’ve crippled themselves,” which is not what you would expect someone to say if they could discard or reform their implements (2.06).

          Demesne, on the other hand, we know to be more flexible. There are still aspects of permanence to them (“Once it’s taken, it’s taken, right?”) but by the same chapter, we know that Briar Girl wants the woods for her demesne, and…we don’t actually know that she already has one in the woods (3.02). Herm. So perhaps my point–that the demesne should be first, because it can at least be expanded later on–is incorrect. Does anyone have any additional information on that front?

          Oh, and I hope that I italicized the right way; I don’t like to experiment when I can’t edit the posts (which clearly has nothing to do with the subject matter of this post :P) but I didn’t want to ask when the information was freely available as well.

          1. According to my understanding, the familiar is a lifelong bond. The two are partners, so hopefully they are in sync and work well together. Depending on the nature of the familiar, after the practitioner dies, they can be together in the after life, but that bond is no longer the famulus bond, as in the case of Annabelle (I think) and Tromos.

            I believe the inplement could cripple a practitioner because it’s permanent and effects how a) others view him and b) how he interacts with the world.

            I was under the impression that the desmense, once selected, is basically forever and can’t be changed.

            I don’t know what you were going for, but from my perspective, it looks like your italics worked out.

            1. Ah, found the quote about familiars and death: “Your familiar won’t die like they otherwise might, but they might borrow a chunk from you to keep themselves going, if they want” (2.x). Which is still vaguer than I’d like–would they die, but differently, creating some sort of Other shade? They can choose to die normally, or otherwise? Would this keep them alive, assuming that their practitioner has enough power?

              Do you happen to recall any substantiation for the concept that the bond cannot break, beyond “a connection forged between them and fed with power to be made permanent,” which at least implies that power could be withheld from the bond to make it temporary (2.x)? And after death, could one or the other choose not to renew, or would that have to be a mutual choice? Would the surviving member able to “remarry,” so to speak? That one example with the Lord* seemed more like the exception than the rule, but both case studies seemed to be outliers…which contain useful information, to be sure, but knowledge of the normal versions (like we saw with Sandra, another helpful example showing what appeared to be the end result of famulus-by-force, at least by implication) would also be helpful.

              I have to say, I didn’t like the whole Rose-as-familiar idea when people first brought up, but looking over the Famulus chapter really does make it seem more sensible. She’s already bound to him for life (by appearances), the flow of power could go both ways, “most deals allow familiars to go back to their regular form” and we know that it can be modified, which might mean that it could grant her corporal form while still letting her in that handy-dandy mirror world; she wouldn’t bring any new power, I don’t think, but it’s possible that it would stabilize her, which would keep her from draining Blake’s power, still a net gain in power. And it does seem that Others can increase their power by consuming the power of others, which opens…possibilities.

              Yeah, the permanence was what I was getting from that line, and didn’t like.

              Not even expanded outwards? That seems so…ludicrously limited.

              Yes, thanks, the italics did work 🙂

              *Which was something else again. That story made it sound as though she was ready to become Lord, and didn’t have her familiar yet. That seems so radically different from the perceptions we seem to be getting from the story, of “Get it! Get it now, Blake! Hurry, before you die!” Which I guess is a function of everyone trying to kill him, but still. If he gets all three now, it seems like he would be crippling himself later, for all that it would allow him to survive until later.

      2. It did knock the appeal of a Demense up for me. The biggest problem is I don’t think Blake would want to make his in the house, but at the same time, it isn’t as useful to him if it is in Toronto.

        1. It all depends on how much Rose and Blake are able to wrangle the laws of reality in their putative demesnes. If Rose turns out to be able to claim her own demesne, then Blake could claim his apartment, and Rose could try to grab a parcel of space in the Thorburn estate. Since Rose is already able to travel freely in the mirror world, and bring items (i.e. Blake’s jacket) from the outside world into the mirror, it would open up for some interesting possibilities. For example, if Rose could step out of the mirror into the physical Thorburn mansion inside her demesne, and Blake lets her do the same trick in his demesne in his Toronto apartment, and Rose can take Blake with her when she goes into the mirror – why, suddenly that Time Dilation Ring around the Thorburn mansion isn’t a problem anymore. Thanks for the magic moat, Laird. 😉

      3. The big problem with going Demesne first is that it appears to be the one that requires most power to pull off (with Familiar a close second) – you have to be strong enough to deal with any challengers. So short of any trickery to dodge that requirement, demesne probably can’t go first.

        Honestly, implement-first seems the way to go. It’s the most attainable and it gives you a power boost to in obtaining the other two.

  5. Thoughts:-

    A human twisted by a mote of diabolic power, left in the wake of a being that passed this way long, long ago.
    A twisted goblin that even other goblins steer clear of.
    An abstract sort of devil, not so powerful that it is worth the trouble of binding it, unless you have an expendable diabolist to attempt the deed.

    4.”I want each bound, captured, and brought to me.”

    I’m thinking that to do this efficiently Blake needs to bind and capture them in the order of 3, 2, 1. Then brought before Conquest but not in surrender but in rebellion by feeding the twisted goblin to the “abstract devil” and the result fusing with the “mote” and finally the end result sicced on Conquest.

      1. nvm, he doesn’t need to present them in between. And therefore, we have an opening. However, I’d do them in order. The mote. Then the twisted goblin, who feeds on the mote. Then the abstract devil, who merges with the survivor. Then bind it with the Famulus ritual. >:) Then Profit.

        1. Remember how Rose had to deal with Dickswazzle and the pain in the orifices it was? Using the twisted goblin as the base will only result in a weapon that is difficult to control when precision is necessary for Practitioners to survive.

          My preferred order of the “abstract devil’ as the base is ’cause its still abstract meaning Blake/Rose can probably shape its development to fit them, feeding the ‘twisted goblin’ to it to grant it a more robust body that can withstand fusion with the “mote” as a power source.

          The “mote” should be done last because even fragments of older powers would be as complexly dangerous as Conquest, the “devil” first since being abstract, it should still be young & relatively stupider.

          1. “There are three entities in my domain that I have not yet bothered with. Two are lesser, and one is problematic on other levels.”

            I wonder which one is the “problematic” one?

            1. I wonder what the Devil is an abstract of? Actually I wonder how good Devils really are for Conquest. Aren’t they by nature beings of rebbeliousness?

            2. Isn’t rebellion, almost by definition, something that should be conquered? Okay, tamed is probably the better choice of words but Conquest seems to include taming too and he clearly likes it.

            3. “I wonder what the Devil is an abstract of? Actually I wonder how good Devils really are for Conquest. Aren’t they by nature beings of rebbeliousness?”

              If Pactverse ran by D&D rules, devils would be Lawful Evil, and therefore more focused on “Sign on the dotted line, please, and would you like to pay with your immortal soul, or…?”

              Demons are Chaotic Evil, so they would be more “Fuck it! Rape their houses and burn their women! Burn it! Burn it all to the ground! Partayyyy!”

              😉

      1. Although Conquest claims excellence at conquering things that were already bound, so that could backfire something fierce.

    1. Why do you think it’s possible to combine them? I’m not sure that demons can possess, or eat motes of power. Do you have a source that says they can do somthing like All Your Powers Combined?

      1. Lewis suggested that Blake cut out the Faerie swordswoman’s heart and eat it to gain power remember? Since Practitioners become more Other the more power they gain like Crone Mara and Others are by nature predatory it can be assumed that they prey on each other when no Practitioners are available for power to slow down degradation mentioned in 2.0X

        1. Also remember the spirit that possessed Vic? It’s a nature spirit. A predatory one. The hawk, the wolf, the fox, the wild cat, all bundled up into one thing.

          1. Right, thanks. I remembered the spirit takeover, but I thought possesion might only be for spirits. Went back and found –“For these same reasons, do not ever look directly at him, even for a moment, lest he be reflected in your eyes. Rest assured, he will not ever step free once he dwells there”.
            Scary.

  6. I just got something.

    All those ghosts on the bottom floor. Bound to trophies, itching to reach swords that are strategically placed just out of reach.

    What happens once they get loose?

    1. I’m going to guess that he “scatter[s them] to the Ether with a swat of [his] hand.”

      I mean, if he could honestly say that about June, professionally bound to another, then I have to imagine he would be able to do the same to the ghosts that he personally conquered.

      Might be an idea for some havoc, though.

      1. Well.. if someone were to become a Valkyrie that someone might find a large repertoir of pissed off ghosts very convenient xD

      2. But if Conquest derives power from them, power that he uses to take care of other unpleasantries, then unbinding them might make for some very interesting havoc. Remember that he’s primarily a fraud with just enough personal power to ward off the major players here in Toronto. Attacking his power plant might be a good place to start, especially if he’s distracted by Rose or someone.

  7. Theory: Conquest intends for Blake to break an oath to him and so to put Blake in his power so that he can inflict better torments. This is why Blake has one day for each task – he’s supposed to fail at least once.

    1. Blake promised to strive to uphold his end of the deal, he didn’t say he would actually succeed. As such he adheres to his oaths so long as he tries. Failure just means he has to agree to other errands since it’ll take longer.

      1. Or, failure to bind the target du jour gets him killed stone dead. Especially since he has to make a good-faith attempt at the binding.

  8. This could actually work to Blake’s advantage. Conquest clearly wants these tasks done badly enough that he’s willing to negotiate with Blake, to some extent. Suppose Blake comes back and says, “I checked out that beastie you want bound, and I can honestly say I probably won’t be able to do it with my current level of power. However, having a strong demesne, familiar, and/or implement might change that.” If Conquest can be persuaded that having a more powerful diabolist in his grasp is to his own advantage, imagine how having the active support of the city’s Lord will affect Blake’s ability to claim and defend a respectable demesne! Nor does Conquest’s assistance seem wholly out of the question: Blake previously stated a desire not to deal with demonic beings, so helping him become a scarier diabolist could be seen as forcefully conquering his scruples.

  9. I find this chapter more amusing than anything for some reason, probably because of all the snarking and banter. But it did progress the story…

    That being said, Blake should realize that even a weakened incarnation of a concept can wipe him out. Do Not Taunt The Cthulhu.

          1. At least Blake has a chance of defeating the Toronto Conquest. It’s not like he’s dealing with the Brockton Bay Conquest, who’s most likely a curly-haired brunette with glasses and a bug fetish. 😉

            (Worm spoilers? Probably not, considering the amount of ‘Skitter = Awesome’ hoo-rah chanting that people get away with in these comment threads.)

            1. …Hold on just one New York minute, sports fans. What was the original description of Conquest, again?

              “His other arm was outstretched, resting against one knee, hand open, with large green beetles crawling around the palm.”

              Okay, that’s probably nothing to be worried about. He’s still just the Conquest of Toronto. This will probably not become an issue at all. 😦

            2. I mean, just because she has them as a layer of her costume and has probably made more descendants with her power than Yakko, Wakko and Dot combined, it doesn’t mean she cares about them.

              …I mean it’s not like Bugs Bunny would have many supporters. Right? OhnoI’vecreatedamonster.

            3. Anything mentioned besides the mysterious acronym can be found in the cast page, unless they’re really obscure background characters, and their powers can be guessed from their names. To reiterate: in my original post it was Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, replaced by who I presume to be Wildbow with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, and Bugs Bunny was replaced with Bugs Bunny. I find it irritating that this was done without telling me, and humbly request that I be contacted if he does anything similar in the future. Really, hijacking someone else’s attempts at humor (and making them seem differently crazy) is not amusing. Please don’t.

            4. I try to remove them where I see them. Stuff gets flagged and it’s a really big hassle to do. Please don’t waste my time by putting up spoilers I’d just removed, and if you see something egregious, please just comment on it.

            5. Wildbow, thank you for finally replying. That was not my nicest move, I was just upset that my comment was edited without warning and that the spoilers were both trivial and would only make sense to people who had read that far. I apologize for making a hassle for you, and would like to post a copy of my original comment, with a large spoiler warning. Will this work?

            6. Please don’t. It gets to be a hassle and it still raises flags via. my dashboard/setup that I have to click through and filter or not filter. I’d rather the comment section not be a minefield for readers who happen to be skimming through.

            7. And, in closing, I would just like to apologize for my part in this. Far be it from me to willfully detract from your writing. I hope this ends well for all involved, but suspect that the closest approximation would be for me to drop the subject. Frustrating, but I can handle it. Bye.

            8. With the names of Echidna, Nilbog, and Breed, I summon thee! I must assume that WordPress is acting up, because I tried to flag one of those egregious spoilers in Execution 13.1, and I don’t think the spoiler flag works there because there wasn’t any “your comment is awaiting moderation” line.

  10. Two things I really liked about this chapter: Blake actually has some short-term achievable goals, albeit scary ones. And Blake’s emotions actually impacted his behavior. Both very nice things to see.

    I used to play Mafia (the party game) a lot, and every scene seems to feel a lot like playing that: everyone being super careful with what they say all the time, and pouncing on any hint of weakness. I can’t even fathom trying to act that way all the time. I really wonder whether experienced practitioners have lives outside of being complete jackals to one another. Doesn’t seem like a very desirable existence.

    1. That example in the demesne book about the overly-vaginal druidess mentioned that she had a nursing job and outside friends. Also there’s the fact that we’re seeing a newbie practitioner who’s inherited a metric f**kton of diabolist blues. I’d think someone in a much more stable position would invite a lot less jackal-ness.

        1. She turned her Demesne into a giant womb, for Merlin’s sake! What manner of abode for a Practitioner of the arcane arts is that, hmm? All squishy and gooey, filled with unmentionable fluids and… Yech!

          No, it’s much better to stick with the established classics, the traditional wizard’s stronghold: a tower! Tall and mighty, a proud erection that thrusts its majestic girth into the very skies! Ungh, yes! A rock-hard edifice, throbbing with power! Ohhhh, yes! Yes! Yesss!

          …Umm, what’s that puddle down there? Ah, ehh… Why, it must’ve been that confounded vagina-centric druidess! Dripping her foul, un-wizardly secretions all over the place. Ahem.

  11. Hmm, nice twist with Conquest. Still he can’t be all bluster, especially in his reality, because then, as Blake noted, his vassals would have overturned him easily. And we know that it took fifteen years of careful plotting for Jeremy and Sandra to “come close”.

    Am I the only one who thinks that the goblin that is more twisted than most might be Maggie’s goblin queen?

    And I’m really liking, shall we say, the “visual effects”.

    1. “A twisted goblin that even other goblins steer clear of.”

      The goblin queen was commanding, or at an absolute minimum, coordinating with many other goblins.

    2. I’m wondering if it’s a hollow figurehead deal. Diana and/or Isadora run the show, but let Conquest sit on the throne ‘cos that’s where challengers tend to aim their sights…

  12. I just want to know what Jacob’s Bell is doing now, I mean in their shoes I would be pretty much panicking.

    They get Blake out of town great victory! 10 minutes later the incarnation of conquest knocks down their barrier.

  13. This might just be me seeing things where there aren’t any.
    But Conquest and Blake seem to mirror each other a bit.
    Both are feared for their reputations and what they ‘could’ do despite the fact that they have very little actual power.
    Both get around this by using deception, misdirection, and tiny shows of force that make them seem bigger than they are.
    Both respond to their enemies by trying to break them completely.

    So with that all in mind I have to ask. Can Incarnations be familiars? Because if so I think we have a perfect match for Blake should he manage to conquer Conquest somehow.

    1. The mere idea is too terrifying to comprehend – a diabolist with the incarnation of conquest as his partner? Remember that familiars affect their master greatly(“I mean, I probably won’t ever marry. Or have friends. Anyone who interacts with me too much has bad dreams. But I’m at peace with that.”); Blake will have no choice but to summon the darkest beings with Conquest at his side.

      1. Hmm. Odds that if Blake does turn Conquest into his Familiar, it’ll be by turning that shackle he put on Rose back on its would-be master?

  14. Sorry for bringing real world politcs, but it is nessessery. I mean Iraq was total failure and in Afghanistan what was going to be the “good war” turned into bleeding wound without chance of success. Shouldn’t Conquest be weaker than ever if he staked his claim to power on this conflicts?

    1. It is stated pretty firmly that military success is not the only source of power this incarnation can tap. Whenever there is a competition, where a participant will lose something forever, when there are real stakes at risk, is what powers conquest. Every time there is a hockey game, regardless of who wins, he gains power.

      Not much, which is why nobody here. And now Blake, believes he isn’t as powerful as he implies. But… Powerful enough that its a bluff nobody has seen worth calling. Yet.

    2. The Iraq war started on 20 March 2003. Baghdad fell in 09 April 2003. There were cities that resisted thereafter, making the actual end of the active phase unclear, but essentially the government fell with the fall of Baghdad and the vanishing of Saddam Hussein. From the probable point of view of Conquest, taking over a sovereign nation in 21 days is a success, not a failure.

      The Afghanistan was started on 07 October 2001 and and Kabul fell in 13 November 2001. Thirty-six days, also probably a success in Conquest’s viewpoint.

      And, as Meister pointed out, Conquest gains power other ways. As long as Canadian forces were involved, the occupation or both countries was probably feeding Conquest also. As should be obvious from Conquest’s reaction to the revelation that Blake is a Thorburn, the incarnation does not care about the cost to others, he cares about what feeds him.

  15. This is not going to end well for Conquest. He just sent Blake on a quest to find 3 powerful entities and have them “bound, captured, and brought to” him. He didn’t specify for Blake to transfer ownership of these bound entities.

    If everything goes according to plan, this will end with Blake having 3 new bound entities and all of Toronto’s major players rebelling against Conquest.

    If the pattern continues as it has so far, this plan will blow up in Blake’s face. I’m not so sure it will this time, because Blake needs some actual victory and strength. Otherwise, I honestly can’t see Blake surviving for even another week.

    1. Or more specificly Conquest didn’t say to counquer them. He may be planning to break them himself… Or he may end up bringing three dangerous enemies right into his lair, who aren’t helpless.

      I also wonder… do you suppose Barbie can cut chains?

      And yes Blake needs a signifigant win that doesn’t immediatly get negated by something making things worse. I’m starting to get a little apathetic at times to be honest.

      1. The Barber probably could cut Rose’s chain. The problem, however, is 3 fold.

        Blake doesn’t have access to Barbie. He can’t go to Jacob’s Bell, let alone the house
        Rose is back in the mirror world. She’s the one with the chain. In order for the creature to cut the chain, a reflective surface must be brought to him with Rose. The moment that surface comes, however, he is free to escape.
        The cost. Even if Rake somehow got over the first 2 issues, from Granny Rose’s description of possible costs, it wouldn’t be good for them.

        A friendly Duchamp on the other hand. . .

        1. Apparently either WordPress or html 5 has a dislike for numbered lists. The previous comment is supposed to be seperated into 3 points addressing 3 problems. I’m sure you all can figure it out

          1. WordPress trims ol, ul, and li tags from replies – tried this already myself. I tend to preface list items with dashes, which get the point across: —
            Haven’t tried many other characters, but most keyboard characters other than the and sign, less than, and greater than are probably OK.

    2. Conquest believed he could handle a major demon in his own domain, as long as said demon had been bound, i.e. subject to conquest the idea, at least once before. This is what he is doing with Blake – Blake does the first binding, which injects a little conquest (the idea) into the being he is binding. Then Conquest can take it from there. This is also, from Conquest’s standpoint, a great proof of ability both of his new diabolists and of his own ability to bind more powerful beings.

    3. He still needs to allow Conquest to access the house. Also, Rose promised to tell Conquest everything he wants to know. Contingent on Conqs’ waiting.
      “You will give me access and lend your presence as the Thorburn heir to command the beings you summon.”
      Any idea what lend your presence means? Is there a semantic loophole in that Conquest did not say “lend to -me- your…” ?

  16. A bit late but why did Jeremy abstain?

    If Conquest is not as powerful as shown, doesn’t killing Conquest & Blake & making allies on the way be the best thing ?

    ..Jeremy confuses me

    1. Just because Conquest relies on showmanship doesn’t mean there’s nothing concrete. If Blake is right, he might not be the all-powerful god in his own domain that he sells himself to be but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be a difficult opponent, even for well established practioners. Remember Jeremy was plotting to remove Conquest for several years and he was apparently succeeding, with Sandra’s help, before Conquest got his second wind. He probably knows about The extent of Conquest’s ability and limitations better than most.

      1. It’s also entirely possible that the other powers don’t realize that Conquest is once again dying. He may know the local powers well enough to hide the fact that he’s dying since they’ve seen it happen before, and he’s slipped with Blake because Blake is a novice and he didn’t think Blake would notice.

    2. If you’re doing a yea or nay vote, and one side votes yea, those who vote nay are automatically in conflict with the yea votes. If you want to oppose conquest, give him nothing to conquer and his power dwindles. Which means if there’s a vote, it needs to be unanimous.

  17. Did Blake ever return the paper goblins and the whistle? He asked to borrow goblins, but Maggie just gave then to him, so I don’t think he’s obligated to give them back. If he still has them, however, that’s at least a little power.

    Also, what are the chances that the goblin he has to bound is secretly David Bowie in disguise?

    1. Hmm. Yes. That would explain why Conquest requires assistance. No mere incarnation of an abstract concept can possibly withstand the might of THE BOWIE.

  18. Blake should make some more glamour ink and give it to Alexis to tatoo him with. I can only assume that if the tattoos are on his hands, he will be able to change reality by waving his hands over stuff.

    Also, the 3 entities don’t know anything about Blake, right? If that is the case, this is the perfect opportunity to glamour himself up into a being stronger than what he is. The entities would have no reason to doubt, so the glamour should stay strong. While he’s at it, he should glamour up some amazing armor and weapons.

    1. The glamour tattoo sounds like a bad idea to me. The next time he is forced to shed his skin of glamour it might actually take his real skin with it. [sarcasm]But that can be fixed with more glamour![/sarcasm] Even the demon lawyer cautioned against taking glamour for granted.

      1. One of the big problems with Glamour is that if the thread is spotted, and pulled, it all comes apart, and the Glamours user is screwed. Remember what happened when Blake realized how impossible Lettita’s sword really was? It broke apart.

    2. Glamour by humans is best used for infiltration, exfiltration, theatrics for spell-casting, one-shot expandable forgeries (see Brian Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul), dramatic entry & exit.

      Besides Blake’s Origin is Duality and not Sword like Shirou Emiya.

  19. I’m starting to like this serial. I actually prefer it to Worm, in some respects. That said;

    1) Blake could, at any time, swear upon his power and his hope for salvation and rebirth (or The Darkness That Eats All Things – YMMV) that he shall never use Diabolism for the benefit of his enemies. Conquest can’t force him to break such an oath because breaking it would rob Blake of power and thus remove his ability to use Diabolism in the first place. And Conquest can’t actually punish him for it because he’d be losing effort and time for no benefit – and losing is contrary to Conquest’s purpose. The only way Conquest could benefit from Blake would be to become his ally instead.

    2) “Conquest” is not actually The First Horseman. He is a single one of a multitude of individual incarnations that each reflects a part of and claims to be The First Horseman. He is also, to judge from how things are going so far, a rather minor or failing such incarnation – that’s why he’s desperate for power and how a relatively minor ghost could break his hold on a portion of his own domain.

    3) “Conquest” is a rather small concept in the grand scheme of things. It is not a base concept and it is largely dependent on the concept of ownership, which is barely as old as the human race and a mutable one, being subject to the laws and beliefs of mortals. Were I a practitioner, I’d be far more worried about facing Ornias. Sure, he may have been bound to help build a certain temple once but most practitioners are nowhere near the level of the guy who did that binding. And Ornias is old enough to have seen humans crawl out of the mud yesterday, not to mention he’s more or less actually immortal – which incarnations of Conquest apparently aren’t.

    4) Blake shouldn’t bitch about all the crap he has to face. Each ugly situation he faces is a little bit of his balance getting more even. Lots of people have their entire lives ended or changed by a single instance of mortal peril, and he’s facing such practically daily. If he can keep that up for a couple of years, his balance will start going into positives again.

    1. Lemme start off by saying welcome to the fray, Ereshkigala. I do remember you from Worm. Glad you’ve caught up with us.

      Preferring it to Worm in some respects is ideal. Every story should shine in its own ways.

      Honestly, if I can learn enough & improve enough to get over that ‘first album’ syndrome (produce a great first album/season/book and then utter tripe) I’ll be thrilled.

      On point three – I’ll note that he hints at one of his roles in nature, with the creatures he holds in his hand.

      1. Hmm, he held beetles in his hand, right?

        Necessary destruction, like insects eating rotting things? Perhaps the need of predators to stop the herbivores from overgrazing?

        Yeah, I’m shooting wild.

        1. The beetles were green. Ancient Egyptians used scarab beetle amulets made of malachite to represent the death/life circle, the concept of rebirth and transition, and in some cases necessary conflict. They’re associated with Osiris.

          The chained people in one hand may directly reflect ownership, conquest. The only indirect symbolic meaning I can think of is Revelation 20:1 when the Angel of The Bottomless Pit comes down with chain in one hand and binds the Adversary for “a thousand years”.
          Of course, if this “Conquest” is actually the Angel of the Bottomless Pit then Blake’s situation would be like him being bent over and bound with chains in the tracks and one of those Japanese bullet trains coming up real fast – no lube. Only, you know, a great deal worse.

          Except that this Conquest guy doesn’t look nearly badass enough for that. Blake and friends could totally take him.

          1. The two chained people at his side reminded me strongly of the imagery of the devil arcana–

            The people can TECHNICALLY free themselves. They just either don’t realize they can, or they don’t want to.

          2. Oh. That “Cycle of Rebirth” thing is bad. Are we being stupid in assuming that Conquest’s specialty is only in conquering? Just like how Death might be good at killing and have tricks for being killed, what if Conquest is good at conquering and has tricks for being conquered? After all, a conqueror doesn’t control the conquered forever; eventually either the conqueror becomes conquered or just falls apart. It’s usually a vicious cycle.

            Perhaps on 9/11 someone tried to oust Conquest. So when Jeremy said Conquest got his second wind, it didn’t mean that he was just rejuvenated by the war, it meant some idiot tried to conquer Conquest and wound up refueling him. The rest of the major players are trying to play along while they wait for him to fall apart, the only safe way they know of defeating him.

            Although it still doesn’t answer what happens when you try to conquer him. You might just be captured, get possessed, assimilate too much Conquest (becoming Conquest rather than being possessed), die, become a ghost captive, etc.

            1. I’m not so sure Conquest get’s empowered if he’s Conquered. If that were the case, he’d be nearly impossible to get rid of. He’d win even if he lost. You can’t scheme against him, because if you succeed, then he won too. Don’t fight against him? You’ve given in to him, so he wins.

              I don’t think 911 was as good for Conquest as everyone thought. Yeah it didn’t take long for the capitals of Iraq and Afganistan, but with all the trouble that insurgents caused, can you really say the countries were counqered? Conquest is best served by the total domination, the utter subjugation of others, and their total destruction. He was going to compleatly dominated and destroy Blake. But how often do wars involving Canada end up with the forces Canada are part of doing that?

              This is just one incarnation of Conquest. And he’s stuck in the colonization of North America from hundred of years ago. Really I wonder how much he even got from WWII. Yeah the allies beat the Axis… And then helped them rebuild, and granted them independence! That’s the opposite of what Conquest says he’s about! That is not bringing ruin to a defeated enemy, that is helping a defeated enemy back on his feet.

            2. It would indeed be difficult to get rid of him. If you take his stuff, claim his power, and try to bend him to you encounter possibly-crippling side effects. But if you were to kill him and destroy everything that he owns and burn it all to the ground? That’s not conquering, that’s just destroying. Conquering involves spoils of some sort or power shifting from one party to another. As long as you avoid that, you’d be able to avoid conquering him and make your victory part of Death’s domain instead. The current political figures would be able to use him as a buffer between their local government and foreign powers. Toronto being a fairly peaceful place, I presume he’s mostly a figurehead except when he gets ahold of things that can cause mass conquest (ie a Thorburn).

              Also, doesn’t he state that he doesn’t consider willfully obeying to be necessarily a sign of conquest. I think this is why Jeremy abstained, rather than voted against Conquest.

              As for the 9/11 fiasco, I don’t know how good it was for him, but I know that without it he would not have become strong enough to oppose Jeremy and the Duchamps.

            3. @negadarkwing It could mean that Conquest is highly vulnerable to the power of meh. A bit like glamour unravels if you disbelieve it, Conquest might be weakened if you disregard it. “I will crush you like bugs and take all your stuffs!”, “Nah, I’m good. Hey, did you catch that new show last night?”.

      2. Also, I can understand hoping to not be remembered for “that one thing”.

        I remember Eco saying how he would get annoyed that people would only ask about “The Name of Rose” as if he never wrote anything else, if only because he thought that, as his first foray in narrative writing, he was not as good an author as he became later.

        I hope all of your works are well remembered. It seems that you’re going in the right direction :).

          1. And I’ll keep surviving your comments sections…

            I would say that you are being steered in the right direction. I would also say that PACT had a much stronger beginning.than Worm.

            i don’t know what will happen after PACT finishes But my two pence worth of advice would be to write something else different in style again… After which supers again to see how you do it that time.

            That said, only bother if, as you say, you;’re going to enjoy doing so. I hope this gives you some extra ideas to digest and extra options for enjoyable writing

          2. One of the things I miss about Worm that is somewhat lacking in Pact, is the sense of camadarie. In this world, everyone is an enemy. It’s tiring. Thinking about it though, it makes sense. Taylor was altruistic, her goal was to do the right thing, help everyone she could. Blake and Rose are under attack, their goal is suvival.
            It’s still tiring though.

      3. I’m aware I’ve been a bit critical of Pact. I won’t say that I think it’s perfect, but it’s definitely a different beast to Worm and has to be judged on its own merits. And on those merits it’s one of the best stories out there.

        Your choice of analogy is a bit worrying. The primary cause of “first album syndrome” is that a band produces a first album consisting of music they’ve been working on and thinking about and tweaking for years, then rush into a second album without allowing same time for the ideas to form and ‘compost’ and develop.

        There is NO way that Pact will be tripe, but you did rush straight into it after Worm. :/ Do you find that means you have less rich material than you did from a universe you’d been writing about for years?

    2. Blake swearing that he will never unleash demons doesn’t do much to endear him to the lawyers, who are his greatest (if not his best) ally at this point.

      I like the idea that there are multiple Incarnations of Conquest, and that better ones are elsewhere in places they are useful.

      Ornias has always seemed like a live nuke to me. Well, anything to do with diabolism has seemed like nukes to me (except the lawyers, which are more radiation poisoning).

      And while you do raise a good point that dangerous situations might help with the karma debt, there’s still the issue of “If you really work at it, you may be able to pay off 2 of your 7 lifetimes’ worth of debt.”

      1. You beat me to four of four reactions – agreed. My additional thought on the first point is that the lawyers basically want to make Blake an ally, either an employee (full-time, contractually bound employee = ally, usually) or a willing conspirator. So they might be pissed but they could still win by steering him into alliances that put pressure on him to use diabolist knowledge and abilities.

  20. Rose hugging Blake and Blake managing to not freak out about being touched might be the most heartwarming thing to happen yet in this story.

    Damn though something bad happened to Blake. I think if he ever actually tells Rose what it was, that’ll be the moment he truly, fully trusts her.

    1. “I did get it. I knew what she was talking about. To be alone and cut off for so long, and then be offered a hand… it fit with my own experience. A drowning man could make a bad situation worse if he clung too hard to his rescuer. A homeless boy might have to hold himself back, if an emotional connection was offered after years of loneliness.”

      well, I guessed they pretty much trying to keep the distance reasonably.

    2. Seems like Rose is in need of some more casual physical reassurance. Once they manage to get her a more permanent corporeal form, Blake should introduce her to Amanda, his overly-tactile hug monster buddy from chapter 4.1.

      And of course, Alexis is no doubt still in the market for a trustworthy Thorburn she can put on her Tiffany sandwich. 😉 How would Rose react, if she was offered girl-on-girl-on-girl threesome action?

      On a related note, let’s hope they manage to acquire a physical body for Rose before TCAF, so she can run around and terrify the people with ‘FREE HUGS!’ signs (who invariably turn up at every comic book convention). 😉

    1. This story does need more poutine and maple syrup. Mounties, hockey, and mooses (meeses?) too.

      A Mountie with a horse familiar and his badge as an implement would actually satisfy the stereotype requirements I’ve arbitrarily instituted nicely, though.

      1. He should also have a vast northern land as his Demesne, which is far enough removed from everything to be practically useless.

            1. Also, Johannes’ demesne is most certainly not “practically useless” – there was a passage in an early chapter where people were going “Wow, how did Johannes manage to swing that?”, possibly in one of Granny RDT’s diaries. Somehow, Johannes managed to snatch a large, reasonably valuable chunk of real estate in Jacob’s Bell.

              Plus: Johannes’ familiar is a dog, but it’s not a husky. If he were the Incarnation of Canada, he would need something that could pull his dog sled Implement. 😉

    2. Fingers crossed that Blake and Rose survive until May 2014, if only so they’ll get a chance to visit TCAF (http://torontocomics.com/), if only so they’ll get a chance to see what manner of weirdness can be viewed with the Second Sight at a comic book convention. 😉

  21. Thinking by typing:

    OK, this didn’t go the way I thought it would. And the only reason Conquest didn’t come on stronger is… Blake is probably right – Conquest is running heavily on bluff rather than power. Nevertheless, the change of pace from the frightening close of the last chapter was… odd.

    Or maybe Conquest has been influenced by the way conquest is usually done in the area. Not much torture, slavery, mutilation, etc. going on there. More threat, bribery, heavy-handed use of power, showmanship, etc.

    Blake’s take on the demon lawyers makes sense.

    June’s affect on the local area is interesting. Is it because ghosts are merely a collection of memories and ideas, and the local area is used to being molded by ideas? It is especially interesting to note that Conquest tried to trick June away from Blake almost immediately. That makes me suspect that Conquest knows about this problem and was trying to prevent it.

    “At this stage of things, I’m just scheming to buy us some time.”
    Snicker. Yeah, months maybe, if he could have tricked Conquest into the time-slowing field. But now Conquest knows, so that option is off the table.

    If they let Conquest into the house, what chances are there that he doesn’t spot the demon in the attic? Is Conquest smart enough to let the diabolists handle it or will he try something himself? Barbatorem has made many, many conquests, and been conquested himself (by RDT) so Conquest might think he has a useful tool there.

    “we’ve got to wrangle a mutiny, and get some of the other locals and powers on board for unseating Conquest from his throne.”
    He left out taking down Jeremy Meath. The fact that Jeremy acceded to Sandra’s request without bargaining indicated that he feels he owes Sandra big time. So if things happen in Toronto that Sandra does not like she will just ask Jeremy for additional help against Blake.

    1. Speaking of Barbatorem, I just got the little joke of RDT naming him so. “Barbatorem” is vulgar latin for “barber”, coming from “barba” which means “beard” in the same. First point of the joke, to barb means both to clip/mow and fit with barbs (spikelike appendages). Second point of the joke, before Henry the Eight changed the laws, barbers were regular practitioners of surgery as well.

      So the name “Barbatorem” both fits and is an in-joke. I wonder how well the demon likes it.

      1. Also, Barbatorem often manifests as a wizened old long-haired dude with oozing sores and bloody patches of bare scalp.

        You know, just like that popular kids’ toy: Quarantine Barbie. 😉

    2. But Blake doesn’t know about Sandra’s connection to Jeremy. He can suspect since Jeremy included the Duchamps in the bargain but he doesn’t know.
      Intense chapter.

    3. Something tells me that Conquest dealing with the Barber will end very poorly. “Oh I can totally trap this guy with shiny pair of manacles! (Which are actually part of me) Hey, where did he go? OH GOD WHY, HE’S CUTTING UP MY SOUL WHY GOD WHY? WHY DID I IGNORE BLAKE’S WARNINGS WHY!!!???!!!”

      Either that or we’ll end up with a Conquest Barber.

  22. ‘conquest’ is the goofiest and most annoying idea in the story so far. One of the strengths of worm was how painfully human some of the antagonists were. Conquest reads here like he’d fail the Turing test. he’s utterly 1-dimensional and is very likely to wind up being defeated through exploiting some acutely lame Weaksauce Weakness. It also sets a bad precedent for the story in terms of the rules of the universe. It’s already pretty nonsensical in that sentient others like the barber are apparently unbound by the rules of karma (torturing and pillaging willy-nilly) but now they can occupy roles set up by humans for humans? it was implied earlier in the story that a city’s Lord was more or less the governor of the local practitioner community. now the position can be held by a friggin IDEA? I’m disappointed. The ruleset for this magic system is taking too long to clearly establish, the foreshadowing is inadequate, and the protagonists’ refusal to consider utilising all the cool shit at their disposal (demons) is frustrating.

    I loved worm. Even though we’re several arcs deep, I still hold some hope this gets better.

    1. I concede that we are suffering heavily from a dearth of background info. I do kind of miss the assorted pages updates… But I get Wildbow wasn’t really feeling them.

      In truth, this is a weakness of the format. It’s hard to satisfy a lot of your gripes without just doing massive, story-stopping info dumps. I’m not saying you don’t make good points, because you do, and these things SHOULD be addressed… But I at least am content to enjoy the ride till they are.

    2. Apparently you’re still considering karma on a moral basis instead of what it is in Pact.
      You don’t lose karma if you do horrible things. You lose karma if you don’t honour your promises.

  23. Some of these other practitioners and others need to step up thee game. They shouldn’t allow people to make oaths on their own when demanding they do something because it’s a guarantee almost that the will try and weasel themselves some lee-way. Conquer them, demand they swear the oath you spelled out so there can be no trickery

  24. If I was Blake I definitely would have said “Screw it, Demons for everybody” by now. There’s only so much someone can take before that sort of thing seems like a good idea.

  25. @Karma:
    Here, Karma apparently has little to do with the axis of good and evil. It has more to do with the Order of the universe. It is more universal law rather than moral philosophy and mortal morality is irrelevant to it. Let’s take this hypothetical example;
    An evil person pushes someone off the top of a building, using gravity to kill them
    A good person jumps after whoever falls from a building, trying to defy gravity and save them.
    Gravity, being part of the order of the universe cares nothing for mortal morality. The evil person who adheres to gravity will accomplish his goals. The good person who goes against gravity not only will fail, but will be reduced to a ketchup smear upon the pavement below.

    @ruleset of magic;
    The ruleset here appears odd and ill-defined. Have you considered however that the vast majority of “rules” for it are not rules at all but sufficiently powerful and widely accepted “pacts”, essentially social constructs with the effect of laws?
    There is no rule that most Others can’t use humans like playthings, doing whatever they want with them. There never was. Until a sufficiently powerful, sufficiently motivated practitioner busted his ass off using Others against each other until he had a big power base and demanded terms on the threat of all-out war between the now-organized practitioners and the disorganized, competing Others. And thus, now Others can’t simply attack non-Awakened humans for sport – because they’ve collectively agreed not to.
    As an example, consider the real-life human society. There is no natural law preventing you from stealing, or murdering indiscriminately or parading stark naked down a major street. But because there is a society formed of widely agreed-upon conventions and fallacies like “ownership” or “habeas corpus” or “modesty”, those social agreements effectively have the strength of law.

    As for the more powerful Immortal Others like demons that ignore those “laws” and kill and torture indiscriminately, chances are nobody ever forced them to agree to such laws because nobody ever could. It’s not as if any mortal practitioner could ever do permanent harm on an abstract demon. You can’t destroy them, or alter their nature. You can contain them but not permanently – Barbatorem would have been freed because sooner or later because something would have broken his circle without practitioners to keep watch; people wanting to develop the land might have torn down the house, a careless tenant could have looked upon him, the house would have eventually worn away after a few decades and so on and so forth.
    The only solution is banishment – cast them beyond reach of the physical world. That probably happened to the demons sometime in the past and, also probably, not by mortal hands. Thus their current attempts to have practitioners bring them back.

    And it is why it is a bad idea to try to summon them, however good you think you are or any advantages you might get. Take a Mythos cultist – when have they ever really benefited by serving the Old Ones?

    1. I wish there was a like button for this comment.
      Also, I wonder if it was conquests power or just his demense that let him pull rose from mirror world because if its demense Blake may be able to get her out eventually.

  26. So, conquest is basically running on flash/belief right?

    Which is like Glamour.

    Blake is good at Glamour.

    Blake needs a Familiar.

    1. Conquest runs on ideas related to his theme being put into action and succeeding, and right now he’s running on fumes. He’s dying again. Whatever power he derived from 9/11 is running out, and he has to resort to appearances to intimidate others into accepting his dominance because actual use of force probably costs him more.

      He’s also likely make a very poor familiar for two reasons. First, because of Conquest’s very nature he’s going to attempt to dominate the relationship – Blake has enough on his plate without having to constantly fight his own familiar for control. If Blake does force him into a relationship where he can’t take control, he’ll have been conquered himself which I think will weaken him even further. Second, he’s not a good source of power. He’s the type of being that has to be charged up periodically with conquest related acts just to stay alive, so Blake would have to charge him up with acts on the scale of a small war just to keep him at a level that he can draw power from him without killing him.

      1. Blake can do better defeating Conquest and have all of Conquests’ material assets/posessions transferrred to Blake, free all the ghosts of Conquests’ throphies to gain positive Karma points, then proceeding to cut out Conquests’ heart, eating half while Rose eats the other half and the possible future familiar eating the remains.

        1. First off, Blake can’t defeat Conquest by himself – in spite of the fact that Conquest is dying, he’s still too powerful for Blake to beat. That’s why he’s plotting to get the other major powers in town to throw a coup. Any spoils of war would be divided, and I doubt those powers would give much of anything to Blake since they’re doing all the work – he’s already getting his freedom out of the deal anyways. But even if he could…

          Conquests material assets and possessions are largely worthless trophies rather than objects of power. The ghost like beings bound to them are ultra weak, and there are centuries worth of them. Blake would have to spend months just to sort through it all to find a few useful objects.

          Blake wouldn’t get any good karma from releasing the ghosts. Why would he? Because it’s a good deed? Disabuse yourself of that notion. Remember, in Pact karma has nothing to do with good and evil. It’s about right and wrong. Specifically about being right and wrong. Blake has not stated or sworn anything in regards to releasing the ghosts, so he would gain nothing from doing so. Even if he did decide to make such a vow, it would also be stupid of him to do so, since it would be another time consuming task. The small karmic gain wouldn’t be worth the loss of time.

          As to eating Conquest’s heart, I don’t think it would have the same effect as eating a faerie’s heart. Faeries can generate some amount of glamour from mere attention, and that’s a rather cheap way to get power. That makes them a good source of power, which is why they make good familiars and why that lock of hair is useful. On the other hand, generating conquest energy is more difficult, hence why Conquest is dying. By the time Conquest is defeated, there may be nothing left to eat… if eating him would be effective in the first place, given he’s a very different sort of being from a faerie to begin with. Best not to eat power sources whose effects on you aren’t known.

          The good news though is that Blake probably will get some resources out of this little adventure. At the very least he’ll likely get to keep the three things he’s going to bind – the man twisted by a mote of diabolic power, the twisted goblin, and the abstract lesser demon. The first is a possible servant for Rose, the second might be something that Maggie might be willing to trade for, and the third could be a familiar candidate since it’s not too powerful. Additionally, the shackle on Rose may be a useful artifact that they get to keep.

          1. “The small karmic gain wouldn’t be worth the loss of time.”

            It might be worth it, if he promised something small, something that he was about to do, anyway.

            Dinner time at a Practitioner’s house must be fun. Instead of saying grace, they’d preface every meal with: “I solemnly swear to finish my dessert,” and look forward to the tinny ‘Ding!’ sound of a small, yet non-zero amount of good Karma trickling into their account. 😉

            1. “But Mommy, I’m full!
              “You will finish this pie, and you will like it!
              child sadly continues to eat as tears run down her face.

            2. Honestly I’ve thought about that – stating that you’re going to do something you’re about to do. Honestly I doubt you get much karma for that, and there’s the possibility the universe doesn’t like it when you abuse the system so flagrantly. In Blake’s case, he’s already got so much bad Karma so the universe is likely to see to it that his dessert is poisoned but would somehow let him know so he’ll have to either forsake a vow or eat the poison dessert. Heck, anyone who got into such a habit could easily be made to fall for such a trap, which is probably how the universe punishes people abusing the system.

            3. “But Mommy, I’m full!
              “You will finish this pie, and you will like it!
              child sadly continues to eat as tears run down her face.

              “I’ve made a promise, too,” said the mother. “I promised to be a bad parent!

              Practitioner parents must have a hard time raising children, when they’re almost totally unable to lie, fib, obfuscate, and use any of the motivators that regular parents have access to, like Santa and the Tooth Fairy etc.

              On the other hand, they do live in a world of magic, so the truth might not be what people immediately expect…

              “Mommy?” said little Timmy. “Is Santa Claus weally weal? All the kids at school say he’s just a convenient hoax paw-petchoo-aided by majow cow-po-wations, to incwease theiw wevenue by man-ee-pulatin’ pawental guilt, and BWAHAHAHAAAA!”

              “Oh, he’s real alright,” the mother said grimly. “And worse: he’s in league with the elves.”

              (Blatant rip-off from Harry Potter and the Natural 20 – the original scene is even funnier, if you’ve heard of the Drow: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8096183/16/Harry-Potter-and-the-Natural-20)

          2. Releasing the ghosts has nothing to do with karma, and much more with keeping Conquest occupied until it’s time for the backstab or coup de grace.

            1. I think he’d probably notice Blake liberating a bunch of his ghosts in his realm. It might be something to do while he’s otherwise busy fighting the other powers though, as acts of liberation might weaken him.

  27. So I’m guessing that Collateral refers to Rose, who is effectively a hostage to ensure that Blake does the favors.

    1. That was my understanding as well, which I like -so- much better than her being left behind, not least because of that whole “what you leave behind is lost” rule. It had seemed strange that one of the two main characters would just be sidelined like that, so I’m glad that that’s not what happened.

  28. Too bad that Conquest doesn’t know Blake can’t do any summoning/binding stuff at all and Rose has the summoning power.

    There’s a reason Blake is “The Fool” while Rose is “The High Priestess”

    1. No, Blake is both “The Fool” and “The High Priestess” while Rose is “The Hanged Man” and “The Chariot”. These represent what they are now (Fool and Hanged Man, respectively) and what they will become (High Priestess and Chariot) should they survive.

      1. It is also what they are becoming. At the time of the reading, it was the future… but now is later. Blake is developing his spiritual eyes, his ability to divine true meaning through intuition. (see his clues on the sphinx, and his innate understanding of Conquest).

  29. Does the Toronto Conquest remind anyone else, just a teensy little bit, of King Radical from the Dr. McNinja webcomic?

    http://drmcninja.com/

    Not so much for the whole “I will mutilate your butthole mercilessly with this stick wrapped in barb wire, because it’s fun!“, but more for his fashion sense. 😉

    “Oh, you’ve decorated this place in accordance with Feng Shui. How nice.” [Yawns] “But you know what this place really needs to bring the decor together? Velociraptors on dirt bikes!” 🙂

    1. So. . . Blake should get a unicorn familiar. Then it could turn into a motorcycle! And Blake rides a motorcycle! A perfect fit.

        1. In that case. . .

          If Blake is gonna go all valkyrie on his enemies, he should bind some Nasaghasts. They would probably be more useful than June or the LIAB anyway.

        2. However, everyone is trying to mess with Blake. Even the pizza delivery guy is out to get him. Hence, since minus times minus equals plus, and two wrongs make a right (or is it: two rights make a U-turn?), if Twilight Sparklelord entered Pactverse, he’d probably end up being the nicest, cuddliest, most reliable buddy-buddy that Blake could ever hope to be friends with, forever and ever. The end.

          Altogether, now:

          There’s no way that could possibly go wrong. 😉

    2. If Conquest is King Radical, would that make Laird Axe Cop? I mean, it’s established that in Axe Cop universe getting something’s blood on you turns you into that something (see: Flute Cop into Dinosaur Soldier), which sounds a lot like Glamour.

  30. Comments:
    – I like how the chapter describes Blake’s reaction to his boundaries being violated.
    – The conflict in this chapter was amazing.
    – Oh, and Rose became the Collateral, rather than my initial guess (i.e. one of Blake’s non-practitioner friends).
    – “Easy to think something, but hard to act as if it were true. Which fit with what Rose had been saying about my glamour, not so long ago.” -> Could Blake use glamour to make himself into a person who couldn’t experience fear?
    – I wondered whether Conquest could claim abstract things people left behind in his domain. Would it be possible to e.g. leave behind (and then lose) your courage, fear, or whatever?

    Great lines:
    – “She was a real, physical person, here, it seemed.”
    – “I wanted freedom to move, but Rose was still clinging to me, and it was doing everything a hug shouldn’t. Stirring ugly feelings of fear and unease, making me less calm, making me feel like I stood completely alone and adrift.”
    – “as if they sought to claw their way free of his coat sleeves. Or his rolls of loose skin. Or chainmail. Whatever it was that wreathed his arms, now that it was ceasing to be a coat.”
    – “Taking him in helped to divorce my brain from the invasion of my personal space, and I managed to get my thoughts on track, taking in our general circumstances. Fuuuuuuuuuck, I thought.”
    – “Giving succor to the weak is a tool for control […] …Break a man utterly, and he may well adore you for the simplest things, like bread, water, and relief from torture. He will hate you too, but one can control them while the heart is swayed by love, and chain them away in darkness when it is controlled by the hatred.”
    – ““Doesn’t it kind of defeat the point if you tell them how you’re manipulating them?”“Not at all,”“Allow me to demonstrate…” – Awesome.
    – ““I am very good at what I do, diabolist, for I am the embodiment of what I do.”
    – ““That’s what I was going to say. I was understating it when I was telling you this didn’t go so well. He wants me to summon something.”“Something? A something-something?”“Yeah.”” – Awesome.
    – ““I don’t think we have many options,”“Call the lawyers?”“Let me clarify my earlier point,”“He wants to summon demons and whatever else to the world to leave whole areas devastated and suffering. Introducing him to lawyers who have bosses that want the same thing? Not a good idea.”” – This is unexpected, too. I thought Blake could always escape by summoning devils for the first time, or by making deals with the lawyers, but obviously, this situation prevents it beautifully.
    – ““But you’re out,”“I don’t know that I am,””
    – ““Is this useful?”“It’s… empirical data, one way or the other.”“That’s not reassuring.”“It’s what it is. Unless you have better ideas?”“No. Go for it, whatever you’re doing.””
    – ““You’ve pissed him off,”“Okay,”“Thinking…””
    – ““Did you plan to piss him off?”“I planned to study the effect on the area. Which, if you’re right, is an effect over him. Can it be influenced? Can we arrest control over it?”
    – “We weren’t about to discuss strategies against him while he was here. Wait, if this place was an extension of him… could he hear us all the way along? That was a daunting thought. Had we said anything damning? Was that why he’d left us be?”
    – “rules for rituals, words for the contracts…”“There is no need for these things,”“You will summon the entity, and it will attack indiscriminately.”
    – ““You will answer, or I will punish your companion,”“You gave her your coat. You’re attached to her. I must assume you would be upset if she were disfigured or crippled.””
    – ““You aren’t grasping the gravity of your situation, diabolist.”“I’m grasping it,”“I’m trying to adapt to it, and that means figuring shit out!”“The only adaptation I require is your bending to my will. The only things you’ll want to figure out will be how to serve me.””
    – ““I believe you are stalling, diabolist.”“I am not stalling,”“Or I’m not just stalling. I’m raising a legitimate concern.”
    – ““They were bound once, they will be easier to bind again. I can expend power, shape my domain into a prison.”“Right,”“Except… I’m not sure the one I’d be calling has been bound before.””
    – “She had the hatchet, still, but… god damn, I hoped she wasn’t dumb enough to swing it at his face. In her shoes, I probably would have, but I processed things differently than most, when it came to personal space.”
    – “When she’d recovered, while Conquest paced, I met Rose’s eyes. I could tell we were thinking the same thing. If we could get him to enter the circle…” -> That’s an AMAZING idea.
    – ““Yet you think I’ll fall for a simple trick? A petty trap? Things such as these do not go unguarded.”“Actually,”“We didn’t really leave any safeguards.” […] “Your allies, your enemies? I refuse to believe it would be so easy as that.” Enemies, well, there was the rub.” – I’m so glad that antagonists in Wormverse and Pactverse aren’t dumb…
    – ““If you’re immortal,”“Then yes, there is a trap our enemies set before us, but it will barely affect you, while it could have some pretty grave consequences for us.”
    – ““You’re scheming, diabolist,”“At this stage of things, I’m just scheming to buy us some time.”” – Literally completely true. Awesome.
    – ““Don’t fucking touch me,” […] “I’ll come willingly.”“Not when you see our destination. You forget what I am. If it’s a choice between your cooperation and your tears, dragging you behind me while you dirty yourself in fear, I’ll take the latter.” A kind of horror hit me, right in the gut.”
    – “Because I knew he was probably right. Because when it all came down to it, push to shove, I wasn’t really much of a man. Not when someone or something bigger and stronger than me had their hands on me. Not when I was unarmed and certain there was nothing I could do. I had precedent for that.”
    – ““God fucking dammit, Blake! I am not sitting on the sidelines again, while you cross another fucking line!”“Then help!””
    – ““Your words have no weight, mirror-dweller,”“My words are those of a Thorburn descendant, with all of the power of a daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter.”
    – “Then I cursed myself for even thinking that. Because I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t blurt something out in panic. He was everything I couldn’t deal with.”
    – “She was skirting the truth, and he was buying it.”
    – ““Fine. I am a patient being. I will figure out a way to negotiate a path through the barrier, and torture each of you in the meantime.” It kept coming back to that.”
    – ““Then compromise with me!”“With us. Why torture us to death when you could have all of our power?”“Because I take everything I want. I can torture you within a hair of death and have your power at my disposal.””
    – “And, I couldn’t help but note, again, he’s a fucking Incarnation of Conquest in Canada. I’d just invaded the Behaim household under the cloak of glamour. Why the fuck was I putting so much stock in appearances? If I stripped it all away, if I looked at everything he’d said as if he had no power at all… This bastard was the fucking Wizard of Oz. A small, insecure, relatively powerless being, and a whole lot of pretending.”
    – “It wasn’t a realization that won this for us. […] But it was one series of thoughts that shed light on the monster under the bed and made it just a bit less scary. It was a desperate monster we were dealing with. One that was tormenting and scaring us because, maybe, it was clutching for power where it could find it, even if that meant threatening hostages.”
    – “Easy to think something, but hard to act as if it were true. Which fit with what Rose had been saying about my glamour, not so long ago.”
    – “And an abstract sort of devil, not so powerful that it is worth the trouble of binding it, unless you have an expendable diabolist to attempt the deed.”
    – “Couldn’t leave anything behind. The hatchet, Rose…”
    – “As we passed through the doorway, I felt Rose’s wrist crumble in my hand. When I looked behind me, there was no door, and there was no Rose. When I looked in front of me, I saw a parked car. Rose stood in the window, where my reflection should have appeared, faint. Wearing my coat.”
    – ““I’m not sure what I can tell you while you have that shackle on you.”“You think he can hear?”“Just by the look of it, I’d guess it’s more so he can bring you to him whenever he wants. And if he tortures you for information…””

  31. Blake…prepare thy sphincter.

    “This is the first step on a journey. At the end of these journeys, I have turned men into beasts, groveling for my favor, debasing himself for my mercy.”

    First thing’s first, Blake. You need to settle on a safeword. And you’ll want to get very used to the idea of a guy you barely know touching you, because he’s about ready to caress your tonsils with his dick, and he’s not going in through your mouth.

    At least it’s good you found away the Conquest of Canada. I mean, if this was the Conquest of the United States or Conquest of Iraq, then you’d have some mean motherfuckers to deal with. Don’t even get me started on Conquest of France and Conquest of Germany.

    Toronto’s Conquest is so weak, I beat he could be taken over by a grassroots takeover by American citizens led by John Candy. Surrender pronto, or they’ll take Toronto!

    I’d just be careful having Conquest unseated. If you personally do it, then you might wind up as Conquest instead, and then you’ll be him instead of yourself.

    But I don’t see what the big deal is about Ornias. It’s just Ornias. I mean, what kind of a name is Ornias anyway? An Ornias kind of a name, that’s what kind. I bet Ornias isn’t even that bad of a guy after all. I think we should give Ornias a chance. If he gets out line, just kick his butt. Or knee ass, I don’t care.

    By the way, I have been given this announcement to read. The city council announces the opening of a new dog park on the corner of Earl and Somerset, near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the dog park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Do not look at the dog park and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The dog park will not harm you.

    Wait a minute, that can’t be right…I think somehow my emails got crossed with Cecil from Night Vale again. Lovely little town, I recommend a visit. It’s way off in the desert but they have a lovely waterfront. Well, they had a lovely waterfront. Whatever you do, don’t visit Desert Bluffs. They’re just not as nice and friendly as Night Vale there. Bit of a rivalry between the two towns, you know.

    1. Does Cecil know about that affair you had with the local glad, rad, CAD-designin’ scientist, Carlos Danger-Ranger-Stranger von Schmexyhexenwolfenstein?

      Those two confirmed concussed conformist bachelors are pretty tight, you know. They might even have been involved in an intimate relationship, i.e. a rope/superglue accident.

      Cecil would be pretty princely pissed, if he knew you’d been suckin’ on his boyish friend’s cyanoacrylate. Or had sex with him. Actually, he might be cool with that. This is Night Vale, after all – the most liberal and free-thinking town in the U.S.

      So long as you remember to do all your thinking between 1:00 PM and 1:02 PM on alternate Thursdays, in the designated Hard Tin Foil Hat Zone.

      “First thing’s first, Blake. You need to settle on a safeword. And you’ll want to get very used to the idea of a guy you barely know touching you, because he’s about ready to caress your tonsils with his dick, and he’s not going in through your mouth.”

      According to Wickedpedia, “Inuit throat singing or katajjaq, or Iirngaaq, or Piqqusiraarniq, or Pirkusirtuk, or Qiarvaaqtuq, or Katadjak, or Nipaquhiit, is a form of musical performance uniquely found among the Inuit”.

      So Blake has nothing to worry about. Conquest just wants to challenge him to a traditional singing contest that is practiced by the natives of Canadia.

      Furthermore: “Unlike the throat singers in other regions of the world, particularly Tibet, Mongolia and Tuva, the Inuit performers are usually women who sing only duets in a kind of entertaining contest to see who can outlast the other.”

      Blake totally qualifies, since the Thorburn heir is, by definition, always a woman. And if anyone objects, Conquest will be happy to help him reinforce his claim to compete as an Inyourend-oh throat squealer – Conquest could always just rip his balls off. They make excellent maracas, after Blake has been helpfully helped by Conquest to suck the contents out. (Not by using his mouth, of course. He needs to keep it in shape for the competition, you see, and Blake’s got plenty of other orifices that can be re-purposed for sucking, with a little more help from Conquest.)

      Further fervor furnishes furthermore, that there are even recorded incidents in such captivating singing bouts where “the lips of the two women almost touched, so that one singer used the mouth cavity of the other as a resonator”.

      So if you feel anything trembling and vibrating in your mouth, Blake, on the cusp of exploding and discharging a tremendous volume of unknowables: don’t worry. It just means that Conquest likes you, and wants to play you like a harpsichord. Or the way Townshend and Hendrix play the guitar. Or the way Keith Moon plays the drums.

    1. Personally I think this bit sums it up nicely:

      Taking him in helped to divorce my brain from the invasion of my personal space, and I managed to get my thoughts on track, taking in our general circumstances.

      Fuuuuuuuuuck, I thought.

  32. Conquest…there are thinks that cannot be conquered….there are persons that cannot be conquered….being the embodiment of an idea,any idea,criples your potential,while at the same time it gives you enormous power (not in this case,which is even sadder).A god,a being who can multitask,just as it embodies/command concepts is much stronger.

    A concept that can step outside of the specs of its concept,on the other hand,is much more powerful.On retrospect,maybe thats what made the Endless (and the nobles from Nobilis,and other similar personification who can step outside their specks)are so absolutely OP.

    1. I suspect the difference between an embodied concept like Conquest (in Canada!) and gods like Thor or Ares or Anubis is largely one of scale. They also have concepts they embody and are presumably fairly beholden to.

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