Collateral 4.4

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What did it say about me and my situation when my first thought when I got dressed wasn’t what looked good, but what would serve me best in a bad situation?

I grabbed a pair of cargo pants from one drawer and frowned a bit.  Not my first choice.  Free clothes I’d gotten at a shelter, I hadn’t liked the pants then, I didn’t like them now.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful.  It was more… well, as Joel had gently put it, not long after I’d moved in, they had probably been out of fashion for a few years before their previous owner had bagged them up with a bunch of other clothes and dropped them off at a shelter.  But they would have been out of fashion in Ontario, which put us about two to four years behind the times.

By the time I traced it back to a time when it would have been in fashion, I was thinking the late nineties.

Bleh.  They were canvas, and consequently durable, and the extra pockets were what I was looking for.

T-shirt.  Knit hooded sweatshirt to get the two added pockets.

I slid the hatchet down the side of my pants leg, and found it didn’t sit nearly as well as it had with my jeans.  Too much room, the handle swung as I walked.  I held on to it instead, and I grabbed two spare belts from the hook in the back of my closet.

What else?  The locket was still uncomfortable.  Looking at it, I noticed the small wound on the back of my hand where I’d stabbed myself.  It wasn’t scabbed over, but it wasn’t bleeding either.  Tender.  Infected, or had I just washed away the scab while showering?

The Faerie hair was, I noticed, winding along the chain, maybe a little closer to the injury than elsewhere.  Closer to the wounds on my fingers where I’d sliced myself than it was to my arm.

“You okay, Blake?”

Hearing her voice coming from nowhere didn’t startle me anymore, I realized.  “I’m okay, generally speaking.”

“You look pensive.”

“I’m trying to shake the idea of this Faerie hair crawling into the hole in my hand and winding its way through my entire circulatory system.”

“That’s grisly.”

“It’s not impossible to believe,” I said.  “And if I let myself think it’s possible, then it’s going to become more possible, and once I get hair threading its way through my bloodstream, pain, physical changes, well, there’s no way I’m just going to meditate and convince myself it isn’t real.  So how would I stop it?  Even if I pulled it out, could I be sure I got all of it?”

“That’s… darker than I’ve come to expect of you.  Letting your imagination run wild.”

I looked over to see Rose in the mirror I’d stuck to the wall, an open book in front of her.

I sighed and turned my attention to my toolbox, putting things aside as I dug through the contents.  A box knife found its way to the kitchen table.  I found a set of small glass jars of acrylic paint, and weighed them in my hand before setting one aside.  Hole punch, good.  A few smooth-headed bolts, nuts…

I paused, before I could get lost in the mindless busywork.  “I guess I kind of woke up this morning and the plan doesn’t seem so hot as it did after way too much intensity and too little rest.  I’m thinking in terms of worst case scenarios.”

“Well, we’re stuck with it, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “We’re committed.  Give me a sec to think this stuff through, then I want to hear what you’ve been reading.”

“Deal,” she said.

I took the small jar of paint to the sink and washed out the little paint that remained, making sure it was clear.  Then I took a pair of scissors and removed all of the hair that was crawling free of the locket.

Lighter, spoon, burning hair, some water…

I emptied the resulting ink into the paint pot and placed it in my pocket.

Box knife into the other pocket.  Handful of hook screws in a sealed plastic bag, some string, pencils, a compass and protractor from a math set, a marker and two pens.

I found a small knife with a sheath, put the knife aside and used the sheath for a pair of scissors.

It took me a minute to arrange things so it was comfortable, and so I didn’t have too many things that would rattle or click as I walked.

I put the belts on the table, and propped one foot on the chair.  I wrapped a belt around my leg, up the thigh, then marked the point where it crossed over.  I did the same halfway down.

Using the box-cutter, I cut up the belts.

“Don’t look, Rose,” I said.  “Taking my pants off.”

“M’kay,” she said.  “Not asking why.”

I pulled my pants off, took the sections of belt and looped them around my now-bare leg, then used the hole punch to get through the leather.  I had to force the bolt through, with the smooth side pressing against my leg, to fix it in place, but I didn’t apply the nut.

I used a remaining length of belt to form loops, slid the hatchet through a few times to make sure they were a good fit, and attached the upper and lower portions together.

I screwed the bolts on tight to fix it in place, pulled my pants back on, and experimentally slid the hatchet in and out.  In a resting position, the axe pressed against my hip.

In a pinch… I caught the underside of the hatchet’s head with two fingers and pulled it straight up.  I caught the handle.  A shift of my grip, and I slid it back into place nearly as smoothly.

I tried walking around with it, and it didn’t swing at all.

I donned the bike mirror pendant that had come with the stuff Rose had given me.

“Probably going to chafe the hell out of my balls,” I muttered.  Boxer briefs or no.

“I said I wouldn’t ask why,” Rose said, raising the book so it blocked my view of her face, and her view of me.  “I’m not asking.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Then tell me.”

“About?”

“Motes.  Or abstract demons.  Or goblins,” I said, as I headed over to the hall closet and pulled a jacket on.

“If devils are fires, motes are sparks,” Rose said.  “Best comparison I can come up with.”

“Works.”

“Most of the time they just drift.  They’ll burn you if they make contact, but they’ll also burn out.  That’s probably not the sort we’re talking about.”

“It’s lodged in a person,” I said.

“Something like that.  If a spark happens to drift to a person or place where things are more… combustible, you can wind up with a blaze that’s nearly as bad as the one that set the fire in motion.  I don’t think this is that sort, either.”

“No?  It’s bad enough he wants it dealt with.”

“The Lord of Toronto wouldn’t be content to leave things to unreliable and untrained diabolists, if things were at that point.  That leaves two options.  It’s either an organized mote, which one of the three books I glanced over call imps, which means it’s still linked to the one that made it, or it’s independent, a blaze in the making.”

“I assume they need to be handled in different ways.”

“The organized ones have a mission,” she said.  “The independent ones don’t.”

I thought about how I’d figured out why Conquest was operating the way he was, how things had fallen into place.  Knowing about the motivations driving my enemies made it a hundred times easier to interact with them.  It put everything into context.

Was it strange that I hoped the thing was part of some organized group?

“And the host?” I asked.  “I learned my lesson last night.  Fuck of a lot easier to deal with something that’s human at the core.”

“Conquest was human once,” she said.

“I almost forgot,” I said.

“Kind of similar, really.  Let a mote get carried away, you end up with something that isn’t recognizable as human.  Our advantage is if this thing isn’t that far gone, there might be something human at the core.”

“Can they be saved?”

A knock at the door turned both of our heads.

Conquest’s man, Fell?  With all the info we’d been promised?

I headed to the door.  Not a practitioner.  Joel.

“Hey,” he said.  “How are you doing?”

“Honestly, I don’t really know how to answer that question.”

I gestured for him to come in, and he made his way into my front hall as I headed for the dining room.

“I just wanted to check in.  You sorta disappeared on us last night.”

“I said I would.”

“You did.  I sent everyone home as soon as Tiffany got back, locked up your place, but I waited up a bit to see if you’d show, and you were late.”

Time apparently flew when you were in another world.

“Yeah.  Thanks for that.”

“I was talking with some of the others.  Goosh, Alexis, Joseph.  This fear you have, that someone’s going to kill you?”

“Oh yeah,” I said.

“I’m just wondering, where do you feel you’re at, mentally?”

That is a hell of a question,” I said.  “One I’m not sure I’m prepared to answer.”

“Because I’m going to be upfront.  I’m worried about your mental health.”

“You hinted as much before,” I said.

He nodded slowly, and I could see how he was watching me, studying me.  “Do you think you’re getting sick?”

“Mentally?” I asked.  I sighed.  “I’ve wondered, but no.”

“No,” he said, more of an agreement than a counter to what I was saying.  “You don’t fit many of the symptoms.  You’re not irritable, you’re not distant.  You know that’s sort of why I said I’d invite people over?  To see how you fared?  And because it looked like you really needed people?”

“I didn’t, but it makes sense in retrospect,” I said.

“It usually starts with something bad happening, like the death of a family member.  Which got me thinking.  But you didn’t seem too distant.  Alexis said you seemed pretty together when she talked to you on the balcony.  You didn’t get angry when I raised the idea that you might be losing it.  So when you say that people might want to kill you…”

“Yeah,” I said.

“That’s not really an answer, baby,” he said, very gently.

“No, I guess it isn’t.”

“Family stuff?  I know you aren’t close to your folks.  If it’s people you feel you have to protect…”

“It’s… more that I don’t want you guys embroiled in it,” I said.

I could tell that saying as much annoyed him.

But he bit back the annoyance and asked, “Did you talk to someone last night?  Did you get help?”

“Less than I’d hoped,” I said.  Did massive understatements like that affect my karma like outright lies did?  Probably not, but it felt like they should.

“Police?”

“I don’t think that would achieve anything,” I said.  “And right now, I just need to do what I need to do, and try to find my own way through it.”

“You don’t need to do this alone.  Do you want backup?  We’ve got flexible schedules, for the most part.  If you need company, someone to watch your back, we could set it up, so you don’t have to go anywhere alone.”

I knew why he was being so persistent, I just wished he wouldn’t be.  “No backup, not right now.”

“Do you need anything?  Don’t jump to saying no, either.  Think about it.  Because if you’re right, and this is as bad as you’re saying, somehow, you can’t leave us feeling like there was something we could’ve done to contribute.”

I tossed all the extra stuff I’d placed on the dining table into the toolbox.  “I’ve got a bunch of… I guess you could call them errands, these next few days.  A few people I need to see, to try and make sense of it all.”

“Accountants?”

“In the loosest sense, maybe,” I said.  “I’m liable to be out late.”

“You want something in the fridge, for when you get back?  A waiting meal?”

“That’d be excellent,” I said.

He smiled.

“I owe you guys,” I said.  “Really.”

“You’ve always been too uptight about making things equitable.  Giving me your bike..”

“You gave me your car.”

Lean on us, Blake,” he said.  “You’ve damn well helped us out without getting paid back in kind.  If you’re in trouble…”

There was another knock on the door.

“Another favor, if you can, Joel?” I said, as I headed for the door, “If people are saying they’ll drop by, maybe tell them I’ve got my hands full right now.  Odds are good I’m going to be in the middle of something or I’m just plain not going to be here.  I don’t want to sound like you’re not welcome, but-”

“But you’ve got your hands full.”

I opened the door.

The nameless practitioner with a name.

I glanced back at Joel.  There wasn’t the slightest bit of curiosity on his face.

“The details you requested,” Fell said.

“Thanks,” I said.  “Hey Joel?”

“Yeah?”

“What if I told you this guy was one of the people who might be trying to kill me?”

He frowned a little, but it was very little emotion for what I was telling him.  “Is he?”

“I don’t know yet.  But maybe remember his face, and if something happens to me in the next few days, assume it’s him?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, frowning a bit more.

Fell reached out to put his hand on my shoulder, and I stepped out of his reach.

“Enough nonsense,” he said.

“Whatever,” I said.  “Lock up my place, Joel?”

Joel nodded.  “Of course.”

I popped into the kitchen, found the plastic container and grabbed a cupcake.  I offered one to Fell, and he shook his head.

I headed down the hallway with Fell.  When we were out of sight of the apartment, he reached into a pocket and threw a full handful of white sand onto the ground behind us.  It made a small cloud as it hit the ground.

I saw the connection between him and Joel disappear entirely, in the midst of it.

He glanced at me, clearly irritated.  “Don’t do something like that again.”

“Seeing what the limits are,” I said.

“You invite someone into our world, the costs are on your head,” he said.

“I wasn’t inviting him to our world.  I was telling him you might try to kill me, which you might.  If you use magic to fuck with him, then the costs are on your head.”

“Mm hmm,” he said.  “Do you really want to tempt me to go after your friends?”

“I’m thinking,” I said, “That if I already haven’t, I’m going to take steps to protect my friends postmortem.  You don’t want to see the sorts of traps I could set up.”

“I can see the connections around you,” he said.  “And I know bluster when I see it.”

“How does a guy like you wind up working for Conquest, anyways?”

He didn’t reply.

“Shadowy guy, going almost completely unnoticed, apparently good at manipulating connections.  What’s the rationale?”  I asked, before taking a bite of the cupcake.

He gave me a look, but again, he didn’t reply.

I swallowed, then responded, “Alright.  None of my business, maybe.  What is my business, is this info.”

He handed me a piece of paper.

C. Dowght.
1412 SunnydriveEtobicoke, ON

“That’s… not terribly helpful,” I said.

“This and this as well,” he said.

He handed me a large splinter of wood and a bone.  I held both in one hand and used the other to raise the cupcake to my mouth for another bite.

While I examined the items and chowed down on cupcake, the only noise were three sets of footsteps and the sound of a chain dragging on the floor.

The connections between the wood and bone and some distant location were rather strong.

“No details on what the enemies are?” I asked.

“I know very little,” he said.  “But I can answer questions.”

“C. Dowght.  The possessed guy, I presume?”

“Possession is the wrong word, but yes.  He’s cut himself off from friends and family, and neighbors have started to complain about smells and pests.”

“Pests?”

“In the past, the mote has touched other individuals.  Trash collected around them, and animals were drawn to the trash.  Stray dogs, raccoons, rats…”

“Other individuals, plural?” Rose asked, speaking from the mirror pendant.  “The mote hasn’t built up strength?  Catalyzed?  Become something more dangerous?”

I finished eating the cupcake while she took over the questions.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“What does the mote look like?  What are its behaviors?  Powers?”

“I don’t know.  The Lord kept an eye on matters, which is his responsibility, but things never reached a dangerous point.  It grew to a certain strength, then moved on, starting over.  We never had cause to act.”

“That’s all you know?”

“Essentially.  He’s been abusive, threatening neighbors, they’ve complained numerous times, but the mote travels, distracting, and intercepting communications.”

“Sounds more like an imp,” Rose said.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“And it’s interesting that it’s roaming.  That suggests something about it,” Rose said.  “It doesn’t need to micromanage whatever it’s doing.”

“So… it acts, and then it leaves things alone, focusing on damage control?” I asked.  “Keeping the authorities from stepping in?”

“Something like that,” Rose said.

“What are the other two?” I asked.

“The splinter is from an old factory you’ll find on the outskirts of the city.  You should phone me when you’re ready for me to drive you there.  The abstract entity resides there.  The same is true for the goblin.”

“Please tell me you have a better description for this thing than you have for the mote.”

“An imp, not a mote,” Rose cut in,  “I think.”

“Imp, right,” I said.

“It was identified by context alone, and it is very possible it has been in the general area for some time.  It was brought to our attention by a local group of practitioners, a collection of dabblers more interested in socializing than their practice.  They were looking for a place to set up shop, where they might be able to establish a set of demesnes well out of the Lord’s dominion.  You understand, I’m sure, that he doesn’t like demesnes being formed inside his city.”

“I can sort of see that,” I said.  “Conquest’s territory being claimed?”

“Exactly.  The unfortunate group shrunk to three quarters of the size before they started connecting dots, realizing that there were inconsistencies.  Gaps.”

“Gaps?” I asked.

“They scheduled people to check out certain possible locations on certain dates, while they were investigating.  One group exploring each weekend.  One weekend, they found they had nothing scheduled.  They repeated their research to find buildings they might explore, and the factory turned up, matching with the gap.  In further investigation, they found a very small, closely-knit urban explorer’s group in the area, but that group hadn’t logged any visits, despite the ease of finding the abandoned building.”

“Meaning people aren’t getting there,” Rose said.

“Or,” I said, “They’re disappearing.  Not just them, but all records of them?”

“And both groups that were intending to explore it had members walk unwittingly into the trap,” Fell told me.  “The practitioners, the Knights of the Basement, took every possible precaution and visited the location.  They found a being they identified as a demon.  We believe they may have lost more members in the ensuing retreat, but there’s no way of knowing.”

“Annihilated in every respect,” Rose said.

“You said this fucking thing was minor,” I said.

“It is.  A greater devil or demon wouldn’t have let someone escape.  There would be less limitations binding it.  It could move quickly, but had to draw close.  We assume.  All reports suggested it was more animal than anything else.  Feral, unthinking, acting according to its particular pattern.”

I nodded, frowning.  Erasure.  The idea sat uncomfortably with me.

But, I remembered, I couldn’t get distracted.  I had to remember our second objective.  Reaching out to other groups.

“We’ll need to talk to these guys,” I said.  “The Knights.”

“That’s inconvenient.”

“Direct eyewitness reports,” I said.  “You can’t expect us to go in blind.”

“No, I suppose we can’t.  How soon would you need to talk to them?”

“Tomorrow, maybe,” I said.  Give Rose some time to read up on entities like this.  “We’ll handle one of the other two today.”

“Very well.  I’ll let them know and arrange a time.”

“This bone belongs to the goblin, then?”

“Perhaps the most straightforward of them all,” he said.  “Locals call it the hyena.”

“The hyena?”

“Just as serial killers form patterns, many Others do too, and they find power in those patterns.  The hyena is a big enough threat that our Lord believes he could fit in among the demons and devils.”

“Why?” I asked.  “What’s the pattern?”

“It eats spirits and Others.”

“I assume that’s not the whole story,” I said, as we exited the stairwell and stepped into the lobby.

“It doesn’t eat all of them.  By which I mean that it doesn’t finish eating anything.  The park where the goblin resides is littered with elementals, spirits, ghosts, and other beings that have been maimed, left half-devoured.  They’re lashing out in blind pain, and everything they touch is being twisted in turn.  Their pain is causing them to attack fellow Others, which only perpetuates the problem.  Dealing with the hyena would be tricky enough, but it has goblin followers, and it’s a treacherous road.”

“Sounds like a whole lot of what Conquest was looking for,” I said.  “Not just this guy, but the pain and general suffering around this… Dowght’s place?”

“We’re not looking for commentary,” he said.  “You either resolve the situations or you fail, which suits my Lord fine.”

“Right,” I said.  “Forget I asked.  Who do I reach out to, if I want to do some research?”

“We would like you to remain in contact with us alone.”

“You have books?  Because I did mention that I don’t have access to my grandmother’s stuff.”

“We can provide you with the knowledge we have.”

“That’s not good enough,” I said.  We stopped at the front door of the building.  “We were promised resources.”

“You were, but we’ve already provided some.  He holds them.”

“Wonderful,” I said.  “Fulfilling the letter of the law, here?”

“Essentially.”

“Is this at your master’s bidding?” I asked, getting just a little angry.  “Should I pity you for having to serve an idiot or pity you because you’re one?”

“I’ll be reporting this to my Lord,” he said.

“Fine,” I said.  “Report all of this.  He put up a fucking big show, last night.  Lots of threats, an awful lot of time and energy into getting my partner and I to do as he asked.  So… is he too dense to realize he’s going to get us killed and lose everything, or are you the idiot who thinks he’ll let it slide if you don’t tell us anything?”

“You don’t know him as well as I do,” Fell told me.

“I- Isn’t sharing a fucking name with us bound to serve him better than shortchanging us?”  Have to stick to questions, rather than statements.  “Tell me where I can find someone with some damn knowledge.”

“I do not take orders from you, diabolist,” Fell said.

“No?  Because you take orders from him, and I can’t help but feel that it’s kind of pathetic on some level.”

“Keep this up, and I could leave you bleeding to death in this lobby.  A sprinkle of sand, and your body will sit here and rot.  Your friends will hold their noses and step over your corpse, but you’ll remain here until the animals take you to pieces.”

Touched a nerve.

But I couldn’t back down.  I needed to reach out to others, and there was only one person to ask if I was going to find some to talk to today.  The apparent second in command of the guy I was preparing to confront.

“You could,” I said, “But will you?  No.  Conquest wouldn’t let his second in command make calls like that.  It would make him look weak, having to rely on you, deferring to your judgment like that.”

Which the Lord of Toronto might well be.  Weak, delegating instead of taking action himself.

If Fell knew how weak Conquest was, he couldn’t risk cluing anyone into that fact.  If he didn’t know, he couldn’t risk his own hide.

The only snag was a third possibility.  That he knew, that Conquest knew he knew, and successfully killing me would keep anyone from figuring anything out.

I was tense, waiting for an attack.

“And letting another person make demands?” Fell asked.

“Requesting information and assistance that would allow me to better assist your Lord,” I said, trying to sound as respectful as I could.

“I’ll talk to my Lord and get back to you,” he said.”

“It’ll have to be fast,” I said.  “There are only so many hours in the day, and I’m working with a deadline.”

The look he gave me was a cold one, impassive.

Why didn’t I think he’d hurry to give me an answer?

We parted ways without any sort of farewell.  Fell climbed into a car he’d illegally parked in front of the building, while I headed for the subway.

“You aren’t making any friends, doing that,” Rose said.

“Making friends isn’t generally the point when you antagonize people,” I said.  “He had it in for me, throwing me in front of the bus a few times while I was dealing with the Lord.  Before the Lord decided that, hey, demon summoning might be a good idea.”

“You know I could go to Grandmother’s and get her contact book?”

“I… had almost forgotten about that,” I said.  “But maybe it’s better that we play by the rules, and avoid letting on that we have access to more books.”

“Unless we run short on time.”

“Unless we run short on time,” I agreed.  “Might have to pull an all-nighter to meet with some of the others.”

“Might.  You up for it?”

“I don’t have a choice,” I said.  I flipped up my hood to help against the cold wind that blew from behind.

“Where’s our next stop, if we aren’t talking to any of them?”

I held up the paper so she could see through the mirror.  “We’re catching a ride on the subway, so we can visit Mr. Dowght, the unfortunate imp-blighted man.”

“We’re not actually doing anything, are we?”

“Looking,” I said.  “If we’re going to talk to someone and talk mutiny, we might as well ask informed questions.”

“Sounds good.”

I heard the faint sound of a page turning.  I guess she didn’t need to worry about bumping into anyone as she walked down the sidewalk.  She was reading as she went.

I resented here just a little.  I knew she was helping, but the fact that she could sit back, relax and read kind of sucked, when I was the one watching out for trouble, my Sight in overdrive as I peered at connections for everyone around us.  I stopped at a ‘don’t walk’ signal, and half-turned to glance back at the people behind me.

Not that there was any guarantee that I’d be able to see the connections of anyone hostile that might be following me, but I had to do something.

I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and turned my head, but it was already gone.  A glimpse, a flicker.

A group of people crowded in a bus shelter, a flock of pigeons, all puffed up against the cold, a couple getting in their car…

Someone walked through the flock of pigeons, and they took off, scattering into the air.

Except for one, which lingered for a half-second before taking off.

I watched it as it flew, joining others in the air, weaving in and out, focusing my Sight.

No connection to me, but there was a cord that stretched between it and a distant location, some distance to the east.

Someone in Jacob’s Bell was keeping tabs on me.  Via Pigeon?  I couldn’t imagine it was Maggie.  It didn’t fit Laird, and it didn’t seem like it would be the Duchamps.

Mara?

Briar Girl?

I descended the stairs to the subway, paying and then pushing my way through the turnstile.  The train arrived quickly, and I braced myself, closed my eyes as the crowd pressed in, pressed close.

When the opportunity arose, I pushed through the crowd and moved back to the most open space, in a corner, bracing one foot against the wall so my knee jutted out.  A subtle discouragement against pressing against me, unless someone wanted a knee pressing into their thigh.

The doors whisked shut, the car kicked into motion, and we were on our way.

I checked over the car, found nothing suspicious, and let myself relax for a moment, watching the barely-lit tunnel pass by through the dark window.

The person nearest me bent down to grab his bag off the floor just as the car pulled to a stop.  He lurched, off balance, planting a foot on the ground, and banged against my knee.

I bristled.  I didn’t want to, but I tensed, bothered.

“Sorry, miss,” he said, as he caught himself, standing.

He straightened, then glanced at my face, and there was genuine surprise there.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Sir,” he said.  He looked genuinely embarrassed, but he smiled, showing me bad teeth, very white but in dire need of braces.  He glanced at the window, then back at me, and I saw momentary confusion on his face.  “Sorry sir.”

He hurried to make his exit from the train before he missed his stop.

No sign of anything suspicious, with the Sight.  An ordinary person.

I looked at the window, the same spot he’d just glanced, and I saw Rose, standing in the same spot I was standing, an open book in her hands.

Had he seen her?

It wound up being a bit of a hike from the bus stop to the street we needed.  Suburbs, extending this way and that.  Row and row of residential areas, dotted by the occasional park, patch of woods, or school.

Right away, I could tell that something was wrong.

Crows gathered by the dozens in nearby trees, making their characteristic unpleasant cries.  The homes were big, the cars in driveways undeniably expensive cars, as a rule.  But things looked just a bit unkempt.  Driveways weren’t shoveled, I noticed two broken windows, one BMW that had been plowed in and abandoned for the spring.

In several places, branches had been torn from trees by the snow, and they had been left there.

I passed a car where a pair of forty-something women were unloading bags of household stuff, having just finished a shopping run.

“Excuse me,” I called out.

If looks could kill.  I only got glares in response.  They shuffled back.  Almost afraid.

I pressed on.  “I’m looking for…”

They turned to leave.

“Fourteen-twelve?  C. Dowght?” I called out.

I got a look of disgust mingled with the fear and the abject dislike I’d seen in those glares.  “Craig Dowght?  You’re his friend?”

“No,” I said.  “No.  I’ve been asked to look into the situation there.”

That earned me a critical once-over, as she looked at me and apparently deemed me unsatisfactory.  “You’re with the city?”

“I was asked to handle this by someone who is,” I said.

“We already told them everything.”

“Tell me,” I said.

One of the women turned to the other, “My hands are getting cold.  I’m going inside.  Can you talk to him?”

“No, I’ll come with you.”

Ignoring me, the two women turned to head for the door.

“Hey,” I said, raising my voice.

They didn’t even turn to look.  Furtive, hurrying.

“Hey!”  I shouted.

That got a response.  They turned, obviously alarmed.

Too alarmed.

Even the way they held themselves, heads ducked down…

Was that the case with everything here?  With everyone?

The cawing of the crows carried through the general silence.  The roads here weren’t active.

One mote, or one imp.  Whatever it was.  It was up to something here.

“He’s left his place a mess, as I understand it,” I said.  “Some animals?”

“No, a lot of animals.”

“Rats, raccoons?”

“Stray dogs, cats.  Mangy things.  He feeds them, you know.  He’s a hoarder, but he hoards animals.”

“And, what, it’s getting to be enough of a problem that people won’t leave their houses?”

That earned me irritated looks.  A bad guess?

Something was keeping people from leaving their houses, abandoning their nice cars under several feet of snow.

They weren’t volunteering anything, here.

“Any specific incidents?” I asked.

“Incidents?”

“Attacks?  Strange behavior?  Anything about Dowght himself?”

“I wasn’t lying when I said I was cold.”

“If you help me,” I said, raising my voice, stern, “I can maybe fix this.  But it gets a lot harder if I’m flying blind.”

“We’ve reported it for months and nothing’s come of it.”

“We think someone’s pulling strings,” I said, “Stalling investigation by dealing with stuff behind the scenes.”

I saw them exchange glances.

“And,” I said, “You should know that if I don’t deal with it, there’s a good chance this will keep getting swept under the rug.  At least until it gets so bad there’s no choice but to address the problem.”

“It’s already bad,” one woman said.

“How bad?  Tell me.”

Another set of glances.

“Or tell me why you don’t want to talk about it?”

“You aren’t with the media?”

“No.”

“If this story gets out, nobody benefits,” the second woman said.

“If it gets out, they’re forced to take action.”

“And property values plummet, we get embarrassed, and they do the bare minimum necessary, procrastinating until someone else takes over and foots the expense.”

“Ah,” I said.  “But it’s the embarrassment, really?”

“Now you’re being rude.”

“What incidents?  What happened?”

“Someone, and I’m not naming names, had their baby attacked in its stroller, back in the fall.”

“By?”

“Mice.”

“Mice in a stroller,” I said.

“It’s not that we’re afraid to leave our houses.  You get attacked once, and you learn to be careful from there on out.”

“Attacked?”

“It’s that man.  He feeds the animals, and they get dependent on him, but then he stops, or he starts feeding different animals, and-“

“I’m getting the picture.  You wind up with a lot of hungry mice, stray dogs, cats, and whatever elses who are collecting in the area, dangerously hungry, and a human looks like a good target.”

“And bears,” the second woman said.  “No attacks, thank God, but I’ve heard they’ve been lurking.  We stopped putting out trash, stick it in the back of the car and take it to the dump ourselves.”

The other woman added, “The birds too, they attack.  Nobody talks about it, but you see the exterminators.”

I didn’t follow her segue?  “For the birds?”

“No,” she said.  She looked like she was caught between humiliation and annoyance.

“For the rodents?” I guessed.

“For the bugs,” she said, whispering the last word.

“For the bugs, I see.”

“They’re in the basements, the pantries.  If you seal it, the mice get at it.  If you don’t, the bugs get in it.  I can’t turn my back on a glass of orange juice without finding a fly drowned in it.”

“I’m starting to see the problem.  Alright.  I’m going to see what I can do.”

“There’s no easy fix for this,” the first woman said.  “Even if you deal with him, the infestations, and the upset to the ecosystem…”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said, again.  I paused.  “Is he violent?”

“I don’t know.”

Have to assume he is, then.

My momentary deliberation seemed to be their excuse to make their exit.  I couldn’t think of another question before they disappeared inside, bags rustling.  The door slammed shut.

I checked the house numbers, identified the direction I needed to walk, and trudged in the slush along the side of the street.

The crows croaked, shuffling on branches, roughly half of them staring down at me.

A woman screamed, a bloodcurdling shriek.

Turning, I saw no woman.

A hare, or a rabbit, charging me.

Mouth opened wide, incisors ready to bite-

I shifted my weight and kicked.  It sailed over a snowbank and into a driveway.  Crows on nearby trees flapped wings and shifted to different branches.

“Rabbits scream?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “Startles predators.”

I moved around the snowbank, wary.  “I’m not the one who was attacking there.”

“No,” Rose said.  “Hm.”

I saw the rabbit lying there, on its side, breathing fast.

I thought about using June, then settled for using my boot instead.  “I know it’s not your fault, bunny.  Sorry I have to do this.”

I stomped on its head full strength, twice, then backed away, scuffing my boot in the snow and slush.

Graymalkin, Paddock,” Rose said.

“Hm?”

“Macbeth.  Twelfth grade English?”

“I didn’t take twelfth grade English.”

“Act one.  The three witches call out an invocation.  They call out the names of Graymalkin and Paddock.”

“Demons?”

“No.  A cat and a toad.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Humans paying obeisance to animals.  Back then, the natural order was that god ruled over all things, the king served just under god, all the way down the line to the lowest order of mankind, but mankind was given dominion over the earth, power over the animals.”

“Right, okay,” I said.

“But the witches, well, it’s a sign that they’re something twisted and wrong, that they reverse the natural order of things.  Animals on top, and the king brought low, as in Macbeth’s case.”

“You think that’s what’s happening?”

“Yeah.”

“And Dowght is at the center of it.”

“Has to be.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“Not the word I’d use for it.  A rabbit just tried to hamstring you.”

I glanced up and around, taking in the crows.

Were more looking at me than before?

The caws had stopped.

I’d had feelings like this before.  Where my instincts told me nothing good was coming.

I bent down and picked up the rabbit with gloved hands.

“Blake?”

Crows took flight, a handful at a time.  This time, they didn’t just settle down on the closest branch.  They were flying around me, keeping a certain distance.

Coordinating.  Lovely.

“And here we go,” I said.

“Blake?”

“I saw this on TV, a bit ago,” I said.  I gripped the rabbit in both hands, one hand around the ribcage, the other at the base of the ribs.  The mangled head drizzled blood on me.

“What the fuck are you doing, Blake?”

I squeezed, forcing the contents of the rabbit’s lower body down.

The rabbit’s internal organs burst from its anus with explosive force.  They landed in a single mess on the driveway, steaming.

The first birds descended, swooping down.  I ducked low, shielding my head and face, and stomped on the organs, hard.

Turning around, I used my boot to drag them on the surface of the driveway.

When I’d turned a complete circle, returning the tattered remains, blood and rabbit shit to the point where they’d landed, I straightened.

The birds were veering off before they reached me.

“A circle,” Rose said.

“Like repelling like,” I said.  “Blood, fur, shit, freshly sacrificed life… holy fuck, I’m glad that worked.”

“We’re still in a bad spot,” Rose observed.  “You can’t leave the circle.”

“No,” I said, “Suppose not.”

The fluttering of wings filled the air.

“I’m open to ideas,” I said.  “Maybe using June?  Freeze them out?”

“I’m not sure we can freeze them before we freeze ourselves,” Rose said.  “They have feathers, you don’t.”

“I guess,” I said.  “I’ve got a hell of a lot more body mass.”

“They’ll just fly away and keep watch.  We need to address the source of the problem.”

“Source?”

“Imp!” Rose shouted.  Her voice rang out.  “I, Rose Thorburn, bid you to announce yourself!”

The tone of the fluttering changed.

“My line has dealt with others of your kind.  Announce yourself, or be diminished!  You are not so strong you can ignore me!”

I heard a growl behind me and turned.  A dog, so thin I could see its ribs sticking out.

A cat appeared at the edge of a gutter.

More dogs appeared on the fringes.

And, after the birds collected for a moment, then parted, the Imp made its appearance.

Two feet tall, proportioned like a baby, it was lipless, its mangled double row of fangs exposed.  The eyes were pale, like a blind man’s, the skin somewhere between ashy gray and black.

“Pauz, of the fifth choir, feral and foul,” he said, in a deeper voice that didn’t fit his frame.

Oddly cute, in a fucked up way.

“You hear what I said about Macbeth?” Rose asked.

“Uh huh.”

“Want to help take down a king?”

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

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245 thoughts on “Collateral 4.4

    1. racoons (twice)
      raccoons

      There would be less limitations binding it.
      There would be fewer limitations binding it. Less for a sliding scale, fewer for countable objects.

      judgement
      judgment

      You wind up with a lot of hungry mice, stray dogs, cats, and whatever elses who are collecting in the area
      Perhaps better as “whatever other animals are collecting”
      ‘Elses’ is not a usual word.

      Graymalkin / Greymalkin

      Via. Pigeon?
      The period is unnecessary.

    2. One too many or too few periods at the end of the sentence below:
      “Giving me your bike..”

      “noise” should be “noises” below:
      “the only noise were”

    3. “While I examined the items and chowed down on cupcake, the only noise were three sets of footsteps and the sound of a chain dragging on the floor.”

      Should be “the only noise was three sets”

      1. “the mote travels, distracting, and intercepting communications.”
        travels, distracting and intercepting*

        “I didn’t follow her segue?”
        No question mark needed.

        I suppose it may not be a typo, but why does Rose keep forgetting that Blake didn’t finish high school? It’s a minor thing, but it happens repeatedly.

    4. Possible typo: “The homes were big, the cars in driveways undeniably expensive cars, as a rule.” -> The second ‘cars’ is redundant.

  1. First live update after having binge- read Worm and catching up.

    Just wanted to say that I’m falling deeply, madly in love with your characters, and to keep up the great work.

  2. Oh, this is precious. Conquest wanted a diabolist to run errands for him. He thought they’d bind their quarries. Wouldn’t it be something marvelous if the diabolist in question just… convinced them to attack without being bound? That’d come out of nowhere.

    1. Wasn’t having the entities bound, captured, and brought to Conquest part of the agreement? If being bound wasn’t mentioned, that could be a win for Blake.

      1. Blake agreed to “strive” for having the entities bound, captured, and brought to Conquest. Having the entities bound (by agreement), captured (after the fact), and brought to Conquest (to eat his face off) should qualify.

        1. Also, Blake agreed to strive for this, as another commenter below noted. I’m not quite sure of the wording for Rose’s end of the deal.

        2. I would like to point out “brought to be” is not the same as “give to me” (as asserted by the distiction between “give” and “lend” concering June). So if he binds, captures and brings them, he still has them. Unless Conquest decides to TAKE them, which seems a likely scenario.
          So, binding&capturing them (capturing maby not by force, but negotiation) then bringing them to conquest an telling him in his face “this is mutiny, there is no conquest to be made of us” and having them chew him up… sounds too easy to be doable.

        3. “Hi, Conky! I’ve brought you those three Others you wanted. As you can see, they’ve been bound with a piece of shoelace, each – no, Hyenapooplicker, stop eating that, it’s not healthy for you – and, um, captured with butterfly nets. Of course, it may look like the butterfly nets are just perched on their heads at a jaunty angle, like discount fedoras, but don’t let appearances fool you. These vicious fuckers are totally captured. Umm, ‘captured’ means that they willingly walked in here, dressed to kill – specifically to kill you, right? At least, that’s the meaning of ‘capture’ that’s in this dictionary. Look, it’s been written in a very authoritative nuance of blue crayon, so you can tell it’s official.”

          1. “Also, I agreed to all three of those, but you failed to specify the order. So, you know, it’s your fault, really. Sucks to be you.”

    1. I don’t think Rose/Blake want a demonic eldritch battery. Every single drop of power you squeeze from it will probably strengthen other demons or something related.

      1. I’d be more worried about the power they take from it tainting them, really.

        You are what you eat, after all.

  3. And so the wacky gender-bender hijinks begin. . .

    It’s nice to see Rose being more assertive and taking charge for once.

    It may not be a good idea for Blake to keep the imp. I get the feeling that Briar Girl would be upset if he brought the imp back into Jacob’s Bell.

      1. I actually thought of it the other way. Picture this:

        Jacob’s Bell is on fire. Goblins are running amuck. Round 2 of blood/fire has began. The Behaims and the Duchamps are away at the wedding. Mara and Briar girl don’t care. Johannes actually is enjoying it. Try as she might, Maggie doesn’t have enough power to face the threat alone.

        In the distance comes a familiar man. It’s Blake! Why is he pointing at the goblins? In that moment many goblins disappear or are attacked by the Jacob’s Bell wildlife.

        When confronted by the Psycho Goblin Lady, Blake points again. She is then mostly eaten alive by the Uber Goblin.

        Impressed by Blake’s heroism and control over Goblins, Maggie becomes his partner.

        What I’m trying to say is, Blake having the Uber Goblin may be mutually beneficial to both him and Maggie.

        1. Except that Maggie “The Goblin Queen” that spent all that time (months to years) working very hard to become the “The Goblin Queen” and control the strongest of Goblins, gets pissed that Blake one ups her in one day.

          1. Unless Blake ends up phoning Maggie for advice re: goblin hunting, which seems likely. He may offer her the captured goblin as payment, under the stipulation that “If I manage to keep it, and someone (i.e. Conquest) doesn’t steal it, then you can totally have it”.

          2. I think Maggie has been at it for half a year, since her home burned down. She works exclusively with Goblins, so she’s got the title of “Goblin Queen” in the same way that Blake as the title of “Diaboloist”.

            Remember, its stated that most are looked down on for Dabbling in multiple fields, and given her first encounter and pact was with a goblin, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to think they listen to her because of that.

  4. “While I examined the items and chowed down on cupcake, the only noise were three sets of footsteps and the sound of a chain dragging on the floor.”

    Um. What?

    The third set of footsteps would be Rose, since she has to walk with him, but…the chain? The one with the faerie hair was still wrapped around his hand, last I checked, but even if it wasn’t, it shouldn’t be dragging on the floor, so…something Rose has? Something Blake didn’t notice Fell carrying?

    How do the two statements “a twisted goblin that even other goblins steer clear of” & “it has goblin followers” make sense together?

    Also with the bit in the subway–it does look like the two are beginning to merge, here. Maybe. Should be interesting to see what happens.

    1. I think the chain is attached to the manacle Conquest put on her. I could be wrong though.

      The goblins follower part is odd. Maybe we should understand it as “even some other (or most other) goblins steer clear of it”.

      The bit in the subway probably means that the guy was a practitionner. Just because Blake didn’t see anything about him doesn’t meant the guy can’t be awaken.

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

        Good call there. I had thought that it was still in its ethereal form, but it was a chain again. Man, having a perception-specialist as an antagonist sure is a quick path to Paranoia-central.

        It could mean that he’s a practitioner, sure. I don’t really have a huge amount of faith in Blake’s ability to interpret his Sight, for all that insight does appear to be a growing specialty of his. But if that’s not the case…

        1. It just occurred to me:

          The only adjective given to the man in the subway was white but fucked up teeth.

          What was a descriptor for Pauz? “its mangled double row of fangs exposed”

          Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

          1. That’s more or less what I meant, though I could have phrased it better.

            I don’t necessarily doubt his ability to perceive what he has stated with confidence that he can see, I just doubt his ability to perceive things that experienced practitioners what to hide, using glamour or other means.

            1. I don’t necessarily doubt his ability to perceive what he has stated with confidence that he can see (i.e., that he can tell a practitioner by their connections), I just doubt his ability to perceive things that experienced practitioners want to hide while they are actively trying to hide them, using glamour or other means.*

              I really wish that I could edit these.

      2. The thing about the Goblin can make sense if you look at it in one way. The target Goblin has some form of compulsion power over other Goblins that make them follow it, but it has a defined radius and other Goblins can see what happens to Goblins that get to close. Once that happens the word will spread through word of mouth that if they want to stay free they have to avoid that particular Goblin.

        This isn’t a new idea, Fred Saberhagen used it for the Mind Sword in his Book of Swords series (highly recommend the series). The person wielding the Mind Sword controlled everyone in a defined area around him and people outside that are saw friends and loved ones fall under the spell and ran away and spread the word. So in the end you had a person that had human followers while at the same time everyone tried to avoid the wielder and his followers.

      3. That’s the most likely possibility, with the least ominious implications for Blake. So no way in hell it’s actually going to be that.

    2. Genghis Khan was a human other humans tended to steer clear of and he had human followers. I mostly interpreted it as other goblins avoiding it, afraid they might become subservient to it.

    3. I think the part about the goblin followers is sort of like how Voldemort has followers but they are afraid to get too close to him, as he WILL murder them if they are an issue.

        1. Alternative: Conquest dressed as Elmer Fudd, Blake dressed in the skin of the wabbit he vanquished, and Jeremy Meath dressed as a duck.

          B: “Drunkard season.”

          J: “Thorburn season!”

          B: “Drunkard season.”

          J: “Thorburn season!”

          B: “Thorburn season.”

          J: “Drunkard season! …Wait, stop!”

          Big C: Shoots ginormous anime-style blunderbuss. “Shut up! You’re giving me a head ache.”

  5. Nice. So we get to see Blake’s & Rose’s (mostly Rose’s, I guess) skill at bounding things. He already defeated the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

    Also, I expect we’ll have a chapter with the Knights of the Basement soon (next week maybe?) and we’ll see if they are indeed a D&D playgroup. The information on them so far does not contradict it, although the idea that they would break into small groups to explore tends to imply that they are more numerous than a single playgroup (which would normally be around 5 people).

    1. I kinda love shout outs like that in this type of fiction.

      What I will be most impressed with is if Wildbow subverts a few tropes about gaming/D&D groups. You mainly see groups of teens/students as role players but we are starting to get to the time where a lot of players from the 70’s/80’s are no longer spring chickens.

      An older group of gamers going through various mid life crisis’s who then stumbled into real/great power makes me laugh. It is almost worthy of a story in its own right.

      1. “An older group of gamers going through various mid life crisis’s who then stumbled into real/great power makes me laugh. It is almost worthy of a story in its own right.”

        Sounds somewhat like one of the descriptive bits of flavor text from the tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade, where the vampires from clan Brujah tend to have a dim view of the magic-users from clan Tremere:

        “Tremere: It’s like someone Embraced a bunch of D&D geeks and told them their spells were real.”

    2. “The information on them so far does not contradict it, although the idea that they would break into small groups to explore tends to imply that they are more numerous than a single playgroup (which would normally be around 5 people).”

      It could be worse. They might be frickin’ LARPers. 😮 😉

      Or (slightly) less horrifying: They could be members of the same gaming society, which could consist of any number of people who intermingle, forming and joining new gaming groups within the overarching structure of the gaming society, whenever someone buys a shiny new game they want to GM, or has an idea for a new campaign etc.

      Unsurprisingly, there’s already (at least) one existing gaming group that officially bears the name Knights of the Basement. They seem to be based somewhere in Virginia, US:

      http://basementknights.blogspot.com/

      1. If Magic: The Gathering is a real thing in the Wildverse then a card club would be a large group, not just 1 GM and a few players.

      2. Since Jake is a Diabolist (whether he likes it or not), couldn’t he use a 1st ed. D&D book as his implement? Get an actual Balor for a familiar? nerdgasm

            1. If those guys got their hands on some of the nastier diabolist spellbooks from the Thorburn library, they’d probably refer to the summoning rituals as Power Word: Nuke.

    3. I wonder if Wildbow is familiar with the comic Knights of the Dinner Table. I sort of hope one of these guys has a gazebo for a familiar.

  6. Oh man, its name is Pauz. That’s just adorable. And Blake will strive toward his end of the deal but Rose is free to do as she pleases.

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

    I wonder why Conquest didn’t say “surrendered to me”. If I had to guess I would say that it’s better for Conquest to just take them away by force. I hope that comes back to bite it in its metaphorical butt.

    1. Groan. Good catch on the pun. Between the goblin names and the Imp name this reminds me slightly of Erfworld.

      As far as agreements, Rose agreed also (4.4):
      Conquest: “I want each bound, captured, and brought to me.”

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

      So there is a vague hope the contract would weaken if Conquest and his direct followers don’t provide the help cited, but based on the conversation with Fell, Conquest is weaseling on that promise.

      1. Looking forward to the next exciting installment of Pact, where we’ll no doubt be introduced to Pauz’ imp buddies: Snaw-Golz, B’Uhboo, and Mr. Fluffybunny-Buttercup.

        (Mr. Buttercup is a right nasty li’l fucker.)

  7. Poor Blake. Look at what he has become. he literally kicks bunnies. He finds imps cute (and not the type of Imp that. . . I forget my point).

    Blake, the bunny kicker, is on the loose!

      1. Can’t wait to witness Blake’s inevitable slow descent along the slippery slope onto steadily darker moral ground. 🙂

        “Welp, this guy’s already dead. Waste not, want not.”

        SQUELCH

        “Huh. Whattaya know, the average length of an adult human’s small intestine really is approximately 7 meters. Makes for a bigger warding circle than a rabbit’s, at least.”

  8. The demons of this world seem to focus on destruction of different sorts:
    —Ornias: stars or the heavens in general
    —Barbatorem: physical health, and soul (perhaps hope of positive afterlife)
    —factory demon: existence
    —Pauz: people and property via animals?
    So, is the name of the ultimate demon Entropy? (Bit of a physics joke there.) But the idea of destruction also works with what Briar Girl said about them. It appears that they are all unmakers (no relation), but each with specific domains for their unmaking.

    1. In regards to your entropy idea: It was kinda implied that Ornias relates more to thermodynamics than directly to stars – that’s why summoning it would make fuels that little bit less efficient. Entropy and thermodynamics are fundamentally linked so….Ornias might be even more terrifying than you thought hahah.

      I think Pauz relates more to animal:animal relationships (including human:animal ones) such as by ruining food webs.

      I think you’re right that demons have their own unique targets which they destroy, but they seem to use these to cause as much damage as possible. Ornias doesn’t directly ruin the world but it makes it harder to get energy —> burn more fuel —> climate change, oil wars, economic issues etc. etc.
      Pauz doesn’t directly ruin the world, but like the witches of macbeth it ruins the natural order of things so the animals run amok and cause damage.

      1. That makes me guess whether the overall, large-scale conflict in Pactverse is between Order (karma) and Chaos (entropy, devils).

        1. An interesting concept. It would help explain why diabloists are such mad bad-karma-generators when karma isn’t linked to morality.

  9. Huh. Read up on the toyol Some guy mentioned. Apparently they sound like an ideal low level familiar… For an unscrupulous individual. Well suited to following orders for burglary, espionage, sabotage, and, if old and and powerful enough, assassination.

    In return, they like to be treated as children, given toys, eat with their owner/boss, even cuddle and hug, like a creepy little Elmo. Oh, and they need a bit of their boss’s blood on, specifically, the 14th of every month.

    However, I am unconvinced that Paws here necessarily is one. No mention of an affinity for animals is mentioned, and they are described as fairly benign when left to their own devices. That indicates either artistic license, or Paws is just Paws.

    Either way, yes, its blatantly clear now that Conquest done goofed. He never did require that the entities he listed be put under his control, just brought to him. If Blake and Rose can set things up so that they can convince Conquest to let them keep Paws and the next one they hit to make the process easier, they can then be used gang up on it. Add in Isadora, Diana, and their allies, and Conquest is S.O.L.

    As for the dude seeing Rose instead of Blake’s reflection… That is ominous, but not strictly evidence the guy is a Practioner. He may just be sensitive, or Rose is somehow gaining… Prominence, I suppose is a good word.

    Or hey, could be he just had a brain fart.

    Nah.

    1. I always thought that Blake now has no/Roses reflection and no one noticed because how often do you see someones reflection?

      Similiar with the books Rose took I’d bet my pants that they have no reflection until Rose puts them back.

      1. How often do you see a reflection? Very.

        How often do you see the reflection of a person you just tripped over before seeing the person himself? Never, unless you’re tracking by a connection to a held object and see the female impression before looking without sight. Or, more likely, he was just told about the female.

        1. “How often do you see the reflection of a person you just tripped over before seeing the person himself? Never, unless you’re tracking by a connection to a held object and see the female impression before looking without sight. Or, more likely, he was just told about the female.”

          Unless, y’know, you’re just a regular Joe Shmoe standing in a subway car, where it’s quite common to be standing sideways. 😉 In that case, poor Mr. Bad Teeth might only have registered Blake’s ‘reflection’, i.e. Rose, without looking directly at Blake. When he tripped over Blake, he thinks he’s apologizing to a woman, and ends up doing a double-take, as he tried to reconcile the inconsistency between the actual dude, and his ‘mirror image’ in the subway car’s window.

          It’s possible that Mr. Lacklustre Dental Treatment is actually a practitioner, and will appear in a later chapter, but it seems moderately more probable that Wildbow wanted to provide foreshadowing for some future event, making sure that it’s established that non-practitioners can see Rose. It will certainly make matters easier, if Blake ever decides to introduce some of his bohemian friends to Rose, before they’ve managed to get her out of the mirror.

          1. Mr Lackluster Teeth is the real protagonist of Pact. As in imPacted teeth.

            It makes sense! goes to update fan/crackpot theories page

      1. Nah, Bug/Poison types are usually fairly underpowered. You wouldn’t want Blake & Rose to end up like Team Rocket, would you? They should hold out for a Charmander, it’ll eventually become the best gym sweeper in Kanto.

        Err, Lardo stomper in Canada. 😉

        1. Both Bug and Poison types have been improving though. Bug has gotten some really heavy hitters with Volcanroa and Genesect, plus some great moves like U-Turn, Silver Wind, Bug Buzz and X-Scissor. Poison is still not too great, but it got a buff with being one of the better things against Fairy types.

    2. Blake was and is able to see Rose without the Sight. He was able to see Rose without being a practitioner. Witch Hunter Kid could hear Rose. All signs point to Rose not being remotely covered by the weirdness censor.

      1. That’s…possible, but don’t forget that both of those cases are unusual.

        Blake is tied to Rose, and Witch Hunter Andy has some level of weirdness around him already–even judging from what’s been demonstrated thus far, he’s apparently bereft of connections, or at least the ‘visual’ representations of such. Besides, it would be impossible to attack Others and practitioners if you couldn’t even get past the blinders that are up by default.

    3. I’ve got a bad feeling that Conquest did that on purpose and intends to “conquer” these wild spirits that Blake has to bring him. The deadline may partially have been an attempt to prevent Blake from being able to gather them together or find a work-around.

    1. I think it’s the belts that are going to cause chaffing. June herself is on the outside part of his leg. I assume. Who in their right mind would keep a hatchet between their legs? (…in Canada?)

      1. What’s better, addding “in bed” or “in Canada” to fortunes?

        Or, “between [their] legs in Canada” “in a Canadian bed”?

  10. Seeing Rose take initiative is nice, makes it feel more like a partnership. Is anyone else hoping he gets his friends in on this soon?

    1. I’m seeing it as Blake falling far behind on necessary reading & ending up in situations where he really can do better if he had read up 1st.

  11. So, if Blake makes an alliance with Pauz, and it starts summoning up a bunch of animals, it sounds like an ideal situation for Blake to start experimenting with the animal-blood shapechanging that the Briar Girl told him how to do, to increase the amount of magical power he has.

    1. That doesn’t sound like how Briar Girl described it:

      “Depending on the effort you put in,” she said, “It could make you stronger. Learn to control your body’s shape, and you can flex that muscle when something else tries to.” 3.02

      It seems more like that was increasing his sense of self, gaining a mastery over his own body.

      Good catch on this being the point where that shapeshifting comes in handy, though.

  12. “The park where the goblin resides is littered with elementals, spirits, ghosts, and other beings that have been maimed, left half-devoured. They’re lashing out in blind pain, and everything they touch is being twisted in turn. Their pain is causing them to attack fellow Others, which only perpetuates the problem.”

    Oh man, no wonder Conquest won’t touch this himself – if June can alter his domain easily, imagine what dozens(?) of tormented spirits of various sorts could do. Weapon!

    A demon that erases things from existence. An excellent tool against a being that it is difficult to kill by direct confrontation – erasing an idea is one way way to end it. Another weapon! However, that would probably leave Jeremy as the local Lord, which in many ways would be worse for Blake than Conquest is.

    It is unclear if Pauz can be turned into a similarly dangerous weapon, but even if not, this is two for three for beings that can be used with great effect against Conquest. That being said, Conquest has strong mortal followers and probably an ace in the hole (or five) in case these beings are used against him.

    1. I read that as basically saying, “Here’s a place to farm experience points.” Blake gets to challenge a whole bunch of weakened Others and take as much power as he can. It’s a smorgasbord for a low-level practitioner like Blake.

      1. Knowing what we do about this universe, how everything is out to get Blake, I can see this turning against him.

        He farms spirits and levels up. It’s only after he has gained a few levels that he realizes that the Pactverse has dynamic difficulty and the enemies scale.

        Blake will come to find that, even though he is stronger, so are all of his enemies.

        1. Oh please, if he hadn’t realized that by the time he got evicted by an angry chronomancer, he’s a goner.

          Of course, that’s one of the myriad ways he’s a goner, but still.

        2. At least he’s a quadratic wizard instead of a linear fighter. 😉

          But wait, he often bonks his enemies around, doesn’t he? He fights, and casts spells. But that would indicate that he’s…

          Multi-Classed! 😮 Oh Blake, you poor deluded soul. When the lawyer said that “you’re not long for this world,” she wasn’t half kidding, was she? 😉

          1. Maybe f he can find the diabolic tomes of old he can be a different sort of fighting and thieving spell caster with performances tricks. Maybe he’s luring us all into a false sense of security whilst he desperately levels as a…. 1st edition BARD.

            …Would also explain Rose seeming comparative weakness. she was told to go Bard as well but she picked 3rd edition by mistake. Fortunately she recently got the 3.5 errata and was updated to 3.5 then made her way through on to 3.75 aka Pathfinder….

        3. It’s the other way around: as Blake’s enemies get stronger, he levels up accordingly. He is a recurrent boss fight for every living thing in the universe.

          1. “Hey!” Blake shouted. “Stop jumping on my head! That really hurts, you know.”

            The fat assailant in the red plumber’s uniform and the fake mustache just shrugged.

            “It’s a-me, Lardo!”

          2. I could buy that if it wasn’t the case that Blake has multiple lifetimes worth of bad Karma. The universe hates him. In universe, he’s been thrust into the role of a (probable) big bad. All the “heroes”, neutrals and lesser evils in the Pactverse have reason to kill him asap.

            If Blake is a boss, he’s an early one that’s not allowed to go into its “one-winged angel” form.

  13. It’s great to see Rose and Blake working together and not constantly suspecting each other’s motives. Also, great chapter. Loved the part where he squeezed the rabbit – made the scene so much more vivid.

    1. You should comment more. Your Avatar alone is so cheerful that it almost evens out everything happening to Blake.

        1. He’s probably gotten a lot less voracious and loquacious, after people told him to cut down on his consumption of Wildbow writings:

          “Pact is a sometimes web serial!”

  14. Hmm.

    Rose (and by extension Blake) agreed with Conquest in his “I want each bound, captured and brought to me”. Is that a “I agree to do it for you” or an “I agree that you want it done”? The second simply confirms Conquest’s own opinion/desire, doesn’t actually promise to do anything.
    Curiously, Conquest did not demand a single unambiguous promise nor did he give one so far as we saw him speak. In his getting Jeremy’s non-interference he never actually promised anything – it was all passively phrased or as questions.

    And that evasion and lack of directness is rather weird for something that’s supposed to represent Conquest.

    1. I do believe that Conquest has mostly bought into its own hype and has successfully intimidated everyone else into not messing with it.

      Its rather like North Korea, in a way. Nobody likes it, even its “alies”, but its juuust powerful enough and capable of jacking everyone’s shit if it doesn’t get its way that stomping it down isn’t worth the risk it poses in… Collateral damage.

      Of course, its been made abundantly clear that Conquest has officially alienated everyone and will receive no support from the rest of the community for this stunt. It crossed too bright a line in too blatant a fashion, even if it didn’t strictly break any oaths. I would be frankly amazed if there wasn’t room for a new Lord of toronto once this story arc is over.

      1. If Blake times things right, he can get the High Drunk in a desperate enough position to call in favours & resources from the Duchamps in Jacob’s Bell for the scramble for the Toronto Lordship, that might get provide Blake with some relief when he gets back to Jacob’s bell until Jeramy actually wins….then he’s fucked.

    1. Your best one yet! I love how Maggie and glamour Blake are just chilling out together.

      +250 PP

      +50 Bonus PP for Glamour Blake

      +25 Bonus PP for adapting Maggie from your original drawing to your “comic” style.

      1. Thank you, sir. 🙂

        “+25 Bonus PP for adapting Maggie from your original drawing to your “comic” style.”

        You mean, the first drawing wasn’t in a comic style? 😉

        1. The original could be considered a comic style, but a few points make me hesitant to call it a “comic” style, namely that the original was simply one picture, lacking dialogue, story, or a punchline. Also, Iirc, the art is a little different (could be just the coloring, could be subtle changes to the style. I’m not that skilled at analyzing art, other than “that looks nice”, so I’m not sure.).

          Because you were able to take the original drawing and adapt it to the comic, I was/am impressed and so awarded the bonus.

          1. Oh, okay. Biggest difference between the original and this one seemed to be the fact that the first Maggie drawing was in color, and here’s she’s in black/white/blue. (Which, as anyone who’s played Magic: the Gathering will tell you, can be a winning combination.) 😉

            Glad you like ’em, either way. 🙂

    2. Nice – not many artists are able to draw that easily in a noticeably different style. Although I note the dialog and action remains all Pencil-Monkey ;).

    1. At this point, the Imp is bait for the Goblin which is bait for the Devil which would be bait for Conquest. Keep your eye on the prize.

      1. Honestly I’m rather partial to Isadora myself. She’d match Blake’s duality aspect in a sense. Sphinxes are used as temple guardians, so they are meant to fight unholy things. Blake on the other hand has to deal with those unholy things himself, working with them and binding them. She’s powerful enough that she could help bind by using opposing power. Add in that she’s a being of karmic balance and Blake has massive karmic imbalance and it’s a pretty interesting pairing. Unfortunately she’s probably too powerful, and Blake would need to be in a position of significant advantage to negotiate with her to get her to agree in a way where she wouldn’t dominate the relationship.

        I’m honestly not a fan of Paws being Blake’s familiar though. I think he’d be a bit too weak for that purpose, and his particular domain doesn’t seem that interesting to me. At best I can see him being a possible servant candidate for Rose, though whether he’d be suitable or not is a matter of debate.

        My other favorite candidate is the demon in the factory. It’s minor enough that Conquest can just leave the problem be until a diabolist he can risk comes along, so if Blake can bind it then it probably isn’t so strong that it can force itself to be the dominant party in a familiar relationship. It’s true powers aren’t really understood yet, but what we’ve heard so far is interesting.

        1. One other thing on Paws being a bad familiar candidate – he’s an imp, which is a type of mote. Motes burn out. Imps where mentioned by Briar Girl as well, and she stated that they are running on a limited battery. Blake needs a familiar to use as a power source, so using an imp with limited power isn’t a good idea. He needs something that is self-sustaining.

      2. How come so many people are so keen on Blake getting Isadora as a familiar, anyway? The Sphinx is clearly just one provocation away from gobbling him up like steak tartare. One slip of the tongue, and Blake’s a goner. Was there anything especially awesome about her? Anything in her description in chapter 4.2 that made her seem particula-

        “Her human arms were folded beneath prodigious breasts”

        …Yeah, Blake should absolutely get an, umm. Arrangement, with Isadora. She seems uh, super-qualified for the job. Ahem.

        1. Actually, I’d prefer Isadora to be Blake/Rose’s Mentor Figure of the Trickster/Sink or Swim type, That or a Quest Giver that aims to thwart Demonic incursions with missions similar to Blake’s current errands.

          1. Good idea. A giant golden exclamation mark over her head would be an effective way of getting people to stop ogling her bazongas. 😉

        2. Let’s not forget ..three times the size! just imagine!.. to quote Miles Vorkosigan “burrow in and hibernate winter”

          But more seriously, she’s a guardian of karma (+an art professor?) and long-term speaking karma is exactly Blake’s long term problem.

          1. “Let’s not forget ..three times the size! just imagine!.. to quote Miles Vorkosigan “burrow in and hibernate winter””

            Right, time to tabulate. So far, this story has featured:

            One (1) Sphinx with beach-ball sized mammaries,

            Several vicious Goblins who habitually stick everything up their backside,

            One (1) Rule 63 gender-bent magical clone of the main character,

            One (1) teenage magic-user (potentially jail bait) who is utterly incapable of saying naughty stuff,

            A clan of hot blond enchantresses who specialize in manipulating emotions and relationships,

            A cadre of bohemians (and everyone knows what they get up to… Umm, what kind of stuff do bohemians get up to? Oh, right – next item:)

            One (1) petite tattoo artist and her inexperienced girlfriend, who are looking for a partner for a threesome,

            One (1) very friendly (possibly gay, or bi-curious) landlord with a shmexy mustache,

            A coterie of Greek mythological sex addicts (including hunky Satyrs and loli Nymphettes),

            …And a main character who’s absolutely unwilling to engage in any kind of physical contact with another living being. 😦

            Welp, that’s gonna make for some interesting results once the Rule 34 effect catches up. 😉

            1. That’s actually quite insightful, but you missed a connection:

              “One (1) teenage magic-user (potentially jail bait) who is utterly incapable of saying naughty stuff” who specializes in binding the “several vicious Goblins who habitually stick everything up their backside.”

              This reminds me of a GM rule from TFOS (Teenagers From Outer Space, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teenagers_from_Outer_Space_%28role-playing_game%29), a game which specializes in recreating some of the wacky anime situations. Paraphrasing: sex isn’t funny – frustration is funny. Yes, the GM was instructed to make sure the PCs got right up to the point that something should happen… and interrupt them every time.

            2. “Paraphrasing: sex isn’t funny – frustration is funny. Yes, the GM was instructed to make sure the PCs got right up to the point that something should happen… and interrupt them every time.”

              But this is the Wildbowverse. Here, the rule is: “Sex isn’t funny, and neither is frustation. Constantly escalating life-or-death situations, on the other hand…” 😉

  15. Didn’t blake say he wasn’t going to tell rose the plan in the last chapter lest she somehow alert Conquest through the link?

    1. As I understood it, the big thing that Blake wanted to keep from Conquest was that he figured out that Conquest was pulling a Wizard of Oz. Having Conquest know that he’s plotting sedition and mutiny is apparently of lesser value.

      Though I do have to admit, I’m getting tired of all of these convenient excuses for Rose not to know what the hell Blake’s plotting at any given moment. It’s not even a way to keep us in the dark, because we follow what Blake is thinking while on-screen, for the most part, so what’s the point?

  16. [“Can they be saved?”

    A knock at the door turned both of our heads.]

    Yet another “Interruption”, the answer to that question will be very important when handling Pauz.

  17. Did Blake actually bring something to bind Paws into or any tools to do it? Otherwise he would have to have Paws follow him until he could bind the imp.

    Though, when you think about it, it brings up nice imagery if Blake binds things to his gloves. He could pose and point and summon stuff!

    After being captured, assuming Paws doesn’t listen to Blake, can Rose just give the imp the command to “obey the words of Blake Thorburn” or something like that?

    1. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t, seeing as how this was supposed to only be recon, but there was that toolkit that he packed into all of those many, many pockets of his.

      That…is an interesting idea…though the idea of having Others wrapped around my hands at all times is a bit disquieting for me.

      “Blake,” I think, would work fine–he’s still a practitioner, still a person, he just doesn’t register as a Thorburn; at least, that is how I understand it.

      1. “That…is an interesting idea…though the idea of having Others wrapped around my hands at all times is a bit disquieting for me.”

        Expanding upon the omake from Damages 2.5:

        The Demon was waiting, biding its time. What was time to one such as It, anyway? Patience might be a virtue, but lurking silently in the darkness until your victim was ripe for murderin’ was just as surely a sin. And It was good at sinning.

        It had been trapped, bound and enslaved, to do It’s new master’s bidding. The prison that It had been rudely crammed into was flimsy, with a faint odor of dead cow and human sweat. Some article of clothing, perhaps. It did not matter. Soon, the new ‘master’ would let his guard down, and It would be ready. He would feel the tender caress of oblivion, scream and kick and soil himself as every aspect of his being, even the very impression he’d left upon the fabric of the time/space continuum erased.

        But first, It was going to have some fun. The new ‘master’ had a habit of rubbing It’s prison up against something, It had noticed. It didn’t seem to be an attempt to draw power from It – rather, it seemed like the ‘master’ would sometimes forget he was wearing the clothing that It was trapped within, and It would get caught up in his frantic rubbing sessions by accident. It had also noticed that it was a specific part that It was rubbed against, every time. Something in which the ‘master’ had invested a great deal of personal power, time, effort, and hand lotion. A rod? No, definitely smaller than a rod. A wand, then.

        It was looking forward to the ‘master’s next rubbing. It would break down the walls of this frail jail and let the ‘master’ feel the first burst of total annihilation upon his most precious possession. It would savor the look of utter devastation upon the ‘master’s face, when he realized that he’d lost his wand, before It plunged the ‘master’ into the empty void. Granted, a single look of devastation wasn’t much, but It didn’t have a lot of entertainment, so it had to take what it could get. There wasn’t much chance of getting cable TV or NetFlix, especially when you have a habit of obliterating the cable guy.

        And then Blake’s ‘reading’ session was rudely interrupted, when Rose appeared in the bathroom mirror:

        “Hey, are you done with the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum yet? There’s a really interesting passage on… Erm, Blake? What are you reading?” Rose screwed up her face in a disgusted expression.

        A furious blush was spreading on Blake’s face, as he scrambled to grab the glossy magazine that had fallen out from its hiding place, concealed behind a large arcane tome that he’d pretended to be engrossed with.

        “Well, umm… I’ve been cooped up in this house for ages, there are certain… urges, that need to be, umm… dealt with.” He excused himself lamely.

        Rose didn’t stay for the rest of his explanation, as she had already hurried out away to a different mirror.

        “Hey! You’re not offended, are you? I couldn’t help it, I’m horny as-”

        He cut off in mid-sentence, as the second interruption in as many minutes occurred; this time, however, the intruder wasn’t his incorporeal house mate. A malodorous blast of acrid brimstone filled the enclosed space in a heartbeat, as the bath tub exploded in a cloud of porcelain shrapnel. Shrouded in sulfurous smoke, a towering figure unfolded itself, its curved horns scraping the tiles on the ceiling.

        Lo! Ornias, Flayer of the Firmament, Sunderer of the Zodiac, had arrived.

        Blake scrambled away from the horrifying entity in a blind panic.

        “N-n-no fair! I didn’t say your name!” He screamed.

        The demon screwed up its horned visage in something that was no doubt meant to be a bladder-seizure-inducing scowl, but looked vaguely like a childish pout.

        “NUH-UH! NO BACKSIES. IT TOTALLY COUNTS!”

        Suddenly, a small black hole formed in mid-air, above one of Blake’s gloved hands. Blake did a double-take, as he realized he’d forgotten to take his gloves off, before he, uh… went to the bathroom. That was a rather dangerous habit, wearing gloves that contained a bound demon when you’re… ‘reading’. Before he had time to ponder the possible emasculating consequences that he’d narrowly averted, Ornias disappeared into the singularity with a cry of: “NOT AGAIN! IT’S JUST LIKE THOSE BLOODY SWISS MUPPETS WITH THEIR LARGE HARD-ON COLADAAAAA…!”, followed by a small ‘Pop!’, as the black hole collapsed in on itself.

        “Huh,” Blake said. “That was a happy ending I wasn’t expecting.”

        He smirked at his own cheesy joke for a moment, before Rose exploded the bathroom mirror in disgust.

  18. So erm, does Conquest want Blake to get existence eaten?

    Because that might everyone forget what they were fighting about?

  19. Socially speaking, Blake is retreating almost nonstop to fast shortcuts in conversation, except with Rose. He looks towards a goal, but seems a little too willing to pay costs to get there faster. Reasonable, for someone who is worried about dying in a matter of days or weeks – but given that he wants to live longer, he might want to act like that with at least one group besides Rose. On the other hand, Rose is the most important person to act like that with.

    Rose, on the other hand, is much superior at playing the long game – looking towards the end of the conversation and beyond. In this conversation alone, she brought up Macbeth both to explain the imp – and to tempt it, later. Perhaps she only took the opportunity afforded, but I suspect that she’s able to slip set-ups like that into to conversation.

    Also, I remain of the opinion that the evidence against Laird must be collected, and then he must either die or be imprisoned legally – in the latter case, the justice system will need a great number of wards set up to prevent him from abusing his unknown-to-people-at-large weapons. In the former case… there’s the vigilantism problems: One, it’s vengeance, not quite justice, and two, you’d better be DAMN sure, because you don’t even have a court of people to help test things out with you. Three… In the likely event that Blake finds out that Laird had actually-good reasons, he can undo imprisonment, but not death.

    1. “Rose, on the other hand, is much superior at playing the long game – looking towards the end of the conversation and beyond. In this conversation alone, she brought up Macbeth both to explain the imp – and to tempt it, later. Perhaps she only took the opportunity afforded, but I suspect that she’s able to slip set-ups like that into to conversation.”

      In some ways, it’s fortunate that Blake is the active partner of the duo, since his personality and skill set is geared towards impulsive actions and spur-of-the-moment decisions, and he’s accustomed to being in physical danger. Rose, on the other hand, is more bookish and thoughtful, which makes it exceedingly useful that she’s the one who’s trapped in the mirror world, having access to the Thorburn library 24/7, and being protected from physical attacks, even though several Others have displayed the ability to reach her inside the reflections.

      Blake might bitch and moan about being the one who’s constantly on the spot, but he’d probably be even less comfortable if he were the one who was forced to sit on the sidelines, nearly unable to influence matters except by digging out useful information from musty old tomes. Rose would definitely not be able to function efficiently, if she was in mortal peril every five minutes.

      It’s a shitty situation, but it could be so much worse if their roles were reversed. It’s almost as though Granny RDT planned it this way. 😉

      1. Well, now that you’ve said that, there’s obviously going to be a point where Blake’s trapped in the mirror and Rose is stuck in the real world.

        1. obvs.
          And it will freaking KILL Blake. Not that Rose will be much better…
          But Blake swore to help Rose, and sitting in a mirror ain’t gonna feel like helping.

          1. Figuratively kill, not actually kill, right? Or even “OH NO your limbs are now backwards and you can’t do anything out of your face” kill?

  20. Everyone is picking their favorite familiar for Blake and he did say that he would concentrate on that next (to give Rose a way to manipulate the real world). However, I really don’t think we’ve seen it yet. As many pointed out, Isadora would be good but is way overpowered. Blake and Rose both are trying not to deal with demons in any form. Add to that, the familiar bond is described as being close to marriage, so any demon-based familiar is just not happening (don’t like them, really don’t want to marry them)… short of an extreme, insane emergency.

    Honestly, it would seem easier to get a demesne (the apartment) or an implement (one of his many tools, or the whole toolbox). He is at least comfortable with both of those.

    Did we ever get a definitive answer on the question of whether Blake and Rose could get separate familiars, implements, and demesnes?

    1. “Did we ever get a definitive answer on the question of whether Blake and Rose could get separate familiars, implements, and demesnes?”

      It seemed as though Rose didn’t have much of any kind of magic to draw on, inside her mirror world. No spirits she could see with the Second Sight, at least, so chances of her getting a familiar might be slim.

      She might not even count as a practitioner in her own right, being a vestige. She’s been able to command Others, in cases where Blake expected to be doing the commandin’, but that may be due to her having inhereted the ‘female Thorburn’ crown.

      It would be really cool if they find some way around that issue. Perhaps she’ll have more options, once they find a way for her to stay corporeal, without having to with for Conquest to feel grabby.

      1. One way about it is to get a paired implement with Yin-Yang natures, the Yang half of the implement in Rose’s hands to grant her a corporeal form and the Yin half of the implement in Blake’s hands to grant him a measure of the ‘Thorburn Clout’. the problem is getting the implement physically to Rose.

        1. If Blake can get a familiar that’s able to travel into the mirror world, which Padraic and Conquest have already shown to be possible for certain Others, it would be easy-peasy to smuggle items in and out between Rose and Blake.

          Such a familiar would also be a useful servant for Rose, and could open up for a lot of cool stunts and underhanded maneuvering that might give Our Heroes a fighting edge in their many, many, many future conflicts.

      2. 1st time read through, but I’ve been wondering – given there seem to be no spirits in the mirror world, couldn’t Rose just claim the entire mirror world? That would seem to be a relatively large Demesne with few objectors who could or would challenge her for it, and Blake could help out as magical muscle to fight them off (since they’d have to come in from outside the mirror world, and thus be open to attack from him).

        Developing that into an actual power base would require inviting spirits and Others into the mirror world after, but in terms of sheer size it would dwarf anything Blake could hope to defend and thus have great capacity for power growth.

    2. There are a couple of ways to go with a familier. One is a familiar that amplifies what you are already good at. Laird seems to have one of those. Another way to do it is with a familiar that covers what you are weak at. Sandra and Hildr are an example of that. Most of the defenses against a subtle enchantress won’t work so well on a troll.

  21. A point: Blake’s future contained the High Priestess. And then he shortly met Jeremy (OK, priest, but that’s a quibble). Rose’s future contained the Chariot. And then she shortly met Conquest. So it is entirely possible that the cards were signs of the upcoming meeting, not the future state of Blake and Rose. That also works if the left hand is “what to avoid”.

          1. Cups is aligned with water — undines and such. And love, not so much drink.
            If he gets all the earth and fecundity critters, I’m putting him under pentacles.

  22. “What did it say about me and my situation when my first thought when I got dressed wasn’t what looked good, but what would serve me best in a bad situation?”

    This is always how I look at getting dressed. I see no reason to ever go outside wearing anything that does not give me full range of motion and ample pocket space.

  23. We’ve all been talking about how Conquest messed up by not specifying that the entities brought to him be bound for Conquest. But I think that’s kinda the point. Conquest conquers. If Blake did his conquering for him it would remove the lion’s share of power Conquest stands to gain from this.

    1. Seems like they are bits of their power that get cast off in their wake. Sometimes they are left intentionally to pursue some agenda, sometimes they are just something that wasn’t intentionally left behind. The former would probably obey a direct order from its maker, but I get the impression that they are generally something left behind so it’s not quite a minion. Like Rose said, sparks from a fire is probably the most apt comparison. Offspring that generally cause some smaller harms and then burn out, but may cause another blaze before doing so if conditions are right.

    2. I understood Motes to be remnants, castoff or forgotten pieces of power left behind, that can grow into new beings once more.

      1. But Pauz is organized, has an identity & rank, he was left in Toronto intentionally. Now the real question is weather he was left by the lawyers (or agents/assets) along with the book as another baited hook for Blake.

        1. While the lawyers no doubt have a complex Machiavellian plot to get Blake to go further down the path of the diabolist I doubt they have that level of omniscience. The imp has been active at least since fall, probably longer, and Blake has only been the heir for a little over a week. The goblin and the lesser demon have also been there for longer than that. At most the lawyers left some minor demonic stuff in Toronto the lord wouldn’t bother to fix immediately based on the chance that one of the Thorburn heirs might end up going there as potential things to use, but going any further than that would be granting them an absurd level of predictive ability considering that they couldn’t know for sure if Molly would get killed and they didn’t know what kind of person Blake was or that he’d be going to Toronto so soon after inheriting.

          1. My take on this is that the demons are trying to take over everywhere, so they see what they can get away with basically everywhere. What they can get away with in Toronto is three threats that are just under the “I really have to deal with this” threshold for the Lord of Toronto and the other practitioners there. Note that Pauz causes just enough disruption in an area to do damage, but not enough to draw active resistance, and then moves on. I bet if Pauz or other demons could get away with unleashing literal hell and burning Toronto to the ground they would, Blake or no Blake.

            In short, finding demons at work everywhere isn’t a deliberate challenge to Blake, it is just demons being demons. The organized ones are just smart about it.

  24. “You know I could go to Grandmother’s and get her contact book?”

    I don’t think the phrase “contact book” showed up before. Is she referring to Dramatis Personae?

    The little black book where the ‘allies’ section contains only the lawyers’ number?

    If she’s still talking about allies, going by what their topic was, that doesn’t make much sense. Only information on enemies there.

    1. Blake and Rose don’t have any awakened allies. Blake’s entire plan relies on causing the players in Toronto to turn sides (at least against Conquest). In order to do that, they need information about who/what the players are. I think Rose’s thought process was that the book might have info that they could use in their quest (it had info on the players of Jacob’s Bell after all).

  25. OMG! I love Rose’s last line. It seems like she is finally getting some time in the badass limelight. I really hope they manage to beat Conquest. The title of the arc is pretty ominous.. what kind of fallout will the upcoming clash create? I’m looking forward to it.

    1. I am hoping that the collateral refers to the legal sense of that which is risked in a contract (ie Rose being held as collateral by Conquest). Of course, this being a Wildbow story, I fully expect half of Blake’s friends from the party to be dead within a week.

  26. Just binge read the whole thing from the beginning to here, after finally coming to see what happened after Worm ended (that was a great story). Let me quickly interject, this too is a great story.

    Anyway, he already called Conquest the Wizard of Oz, right? It’s obvious what Conquest is trying to do. Here’s someone who may very well have “real” power and that scares Conquest to his very bones. He’s sent Blake on a death mission, fully expecting Blake to die (just like the Wizard did to Dorothy when he sent her after he Wicked Witch of the West). He’s hoping to get one or two bound creatures that he can torture into following him before the “eraser” erases Blake.

    But here’s what’s going to happen. Blake and newly bound creatures are going to turn the tables on Conquest, which is going to fuel Conquest’s powers even more, because that’s obviously a conquest, but it’s really the incarnation of Conquest which is going to be fueled, not the actual man who is currently the host of the incarnation of Conquest. Which means that incarnation is going to inhabit… who?

    1. Maybe Blake could get it. Or Tiffany. I’m hoping for TIffany. Or Maggie. ‘Cause it would be funny.

      1. Can we please stop with the ludicrously strong suggestions for Blake’s familiars?

        Does no one remember Briar Girl?

        1. We remember Briar Girl. We also remember Annabelle and Tromos.

          The famulus ritual creates a lifelong bond. While finding a weak familiar may be beneficial in the short term, it could cripple Blake in the future when he’s more powerful.

          Blake still has some time to get a familiar. It doesn’t even have to be the first of the big 3 that he gets. I think Blake should get stronger and try to get a relatively strong familiar.

          In the meantime, Blake continues to add trinkets and monsters to his arsenal. 1 week in he has 2 ghosts, 4 goblins and glamour. Hopefully by week 2’s end he will have 5 goblins, 1 imp, 1 devil, 2 ghosts, glamour and some other tool we haven’t seen yet.

          Blake is getting stronger. His familiar should likewise be strong.

          1. My point was this passage from 2.01:

            “She had contracted with a familiar too powerful for her to handle, creating something that was less a partnership than a practitioner dominated by the spirit.”

            I’m not suggesting that he contract something weak, I’m just suggesting that he bonds with something that is not a magical creature that holds nobility in a major city and whose age is best measured in millennia or the Lord of said major city or the freaking Norse god of trickery and deceit.

            I want him to have a strong familiar, I just don’t want it to be ridiculous.

            p.s. Nice accounting of his trinkets thus far, though the whistle’s a loaner and I’m not sure that the one-shot ofuda should count.

  27. No update tonight, guys, just FYI. I don’t generally update two weeks in a row unless I’m really behind or the new chapters are coming in quickly enough to demand it. It’s been a busy few months for me, and I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and get regular non-writing stuff done as of late.

    1. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

      How could you let us down like this! Why a mere twice a week update schedule that you keep meticulously, and now you say you won’t be doing the third update for a third week in a row? How can you let us down so!

      So yeah, serously, we’ll just wait until Saturday. You keep to your regular schedule like clockwork anyways. We’ll just fall back on the old Familiar and Implement debates if we get bored.

      1. “We’ll just fall back on the old Familiar and Implement debates if we get bored.”
        As you have said, so shall it be.

        I was a supporter of keys for a while, but, while they are important to Blake as a symbol of the independence realized by his bike as both transportation and a significant piece of property, it does not follow that they typify his manner of interacting with the supernatural world, nor that they symbolize a path he wishes to follow in that regard. Now, I have not been an active participant in any Implement discourse, so what I state here may have been proposed elsewhere. That said, I think that to determine the best implement choice for Blake, we must proceed as follows:
        First, we must examine the actions he takes in crises. His foray in to magic is primarily motivated by survival, so any implement choice must suit his natural reactions to the stresses and threats typical of these dangerous situations. Concerning the examination of his actions, I propose that the best way to proceed is by analysis of each individual action in terms of intention and symbolism. Having done this, one way to proceed is to examine only the intersection. That is, to look at a schema of classes of actions and look at those intentions and symbols which are universal in a given class. However, I feel that this approach is too heavy handed and leaves out important aspects of who Blake is. As such, I propose that, instead, we look at which various intentions and symbols frequently, though not necessarily universally, coexist and use these results to arrive at one or more of what are called Wittgensteinian family resemblance concepts.
        Second, we must undertake the above process for non-crisis magical world interactions to arrive at another set of said concepts.
        Finally, we must take these two sets of concepts and conduct a search of plausible implements for ones which instantiate the crisis concepts, then examine the resultant list for implements compatible with the non-crisis concepts.

        Criticisms, comments, requests for definitions, requests for more detailed argument of certain points, requests for elucidatory examples, essays evaluating my methodology and qualifying my point, suggestions of better things to do with my free time, et cetera, are all not only welcome, but encouraged. Further, if anyone wishes to share or request relevant sources, I would deeply encourage such. Personally, I would quite like a summary of the current literature in Speculative Implement Choice.

        1. Not sure if your Sequipedalian Loquaciousness is intentional or not… My irnoy detector is failing as this late hour.

          But anyway, the recent events definitely make me think Blake is going to go for the staff. It’s good to hit people with (which Blake is apparently likely to do), he clearly does not care how he looks so the incongruity of walking down the street with a staff will not be a problem, it’s something you can lean on, which is definitely what Blake needs right now, as Joel pointed out. It’s also crude and simple, so it’s probably +4 against Faeries which can come in handy when fighting the Duchamp.

          1. “But anyway, the recent events definitely make me think Blake is going to go for the staff.”

            When in Canada, go for the hockey stick. 😉

            1. Not just Canada. Didn’t Dresden (Jim Butcher) disguise one of his rods as a hockey stick so he wouldn’t look strange carrying around a big stick in Chicago?

              Obligatory phallic comparison in 3… 2… 1…

            2. The staff is a little too cliche. It’s also a fairly authoratative symbol when you’ve got a magic user holding it. I guess Key’s don’t fit as well as I once thought, although I’d still love to see a practicioner use them as an implement, and won’t rule them out completly. Another possibility to me is Blake’s tool box. I see it as being much like the Chalice, in that it can store and redirect power. It also stores tools, and Blake has largely been using the tools he’s aquired.

            3. “Obligatory phallic comparison in 3… 2… 1…”

              Oh, relax. If people wanted to sweat and giggle over smutty interpretations of “The Magus thrusts his mighty Staff/Sword/Rod/Wand into the Cup/Chalice”, they’d go read Alan Moore comics. 😉 Plenty of introductions to the Kundalini Chakra Vajayjay system in those stories. There’s even a pervy old Diabolist who wants to do nasty things to an innocent young black-haired aspiring spellcaster, if anyone wants to do a comparison to the Maggie/Blake shipping.

              http://dedroidify.blogspot.com/2012/02/promethea-issue-10-sex-stars-serpents.html

            4. ” Another possibility to me is Blake’s tool box. I see it as being much like the Chalice, in that it can store and redirect power. It also stores tools, and Blake has largely been using the tools he’s aquired.”

              Given the whole “Blake/Rose male/female Thorburn duality” palaver, if Blake picks a tool box as his implement, Rose should try to acquire a power tool, or perhaps rather a spirit level. (Because she’s such a level-headed spirit, y’know?)

              [Chirping crickets]

              …Right, well. If you thought that joke was bad, wait till you hear the one about Rose sticking her tool in Blake’s box. 😉 Overly symbolic, much?

        2. I’ve been thinking hard about what Blake should/could take as an implement. According to the Implement text, the three major things to consider are “declarative, authorative, and socio-cultural.” In my mind, declarative is the most important of these– it’s important that the tool match the way Blake works. Let’s look at some of the suggested options:

          Keys: suggests that this person is a custodian, someone with responsibility and power. Keys suggest control a gate or control passage from one area to a next, and the power to free or bind. Extremely powerful sybolism for a diabolist and matches some of his promises to free Rose. This implement would signal to Others that he controls which demons can rampage or be set free. It could symbolize his charge of protecting the Thornburn knowledge. I worry that the keys are too passive for Blake, though. They don’t match his penchant to act without thinking, or to fight when cornered. If anything, I feel the keys are a better fit to Rose.

          Tattoos: suggests that this person is open to permanent modification of themselves for a task. Their power is inate and always with them. The promenance of the tattoos conveys their willingness to be bold and go against societal norms. As a symbol for Others, it suggests that you work primarily by making deals that modify who you are. It suggests a focus on appearance. Very dangerous symbology to pick in this world. Very passive.

          Mirror: suggests that a practictioner shows the truth to Others. Can suggest powers related to twisting/reshaping environments, illusion/trickery, or reflections of workings. Entirely too passive for Blake.

          Staff: suggest that a practitioner draws great strength from their implement. Implies stability, authority, and a willingness to immerse in the practitioner world. Stability doesn’t feel like a good fit for Blake.

          My current favorite:

          Gloves: suggests someone who needs protection while getting their hands dirty. Suggests a willingness to act, to get close and personal and fix their own problems. Could also suggest a willingness to do deeds which can’t be traced back to the practitioner. Suggests someone who is a proud member of the working class. Suggest someone who doesn’t want to touch or be touched. I think this Implement fits Blake perfectly. Gloves aid him in the shaping and molding of power, and in the creation of other magical tools. It highlights that, of both him and Rose, he is the half that is rooted in physicality and who acts in the real world. He is the hands of the duality, and he manipulates the world.

          1. Nice analysis though you forgot one possibility “chain” or “glamour chain” or “imaginary chains”.

            For Roses implement I currently only see the book as viable.

            1. Sure!

              Chain: Suggests someone who binds or is bound, one who weighs down or is weighted down. Chains are flexible but primarily used to constrict. Like the keys, the chain can carry an aspect of ownership. Unlike the keys, a chain also carries a meaning of “domination” or “oppression”. I think a chain is a great choice for Conquest, but it doesn’t (currently) match Blake’s style. Chains also imply a weakness and fragilty to the practitioner– if one link fails, the chain fails.

              Another idea for a chain that might be more appropriate for Blake is a broken chain. This could maybe used as an inverted symbol– representing freedom (and at a stretch, riot and chaos). This symbol is a bit too passive for Blake though– it removes almost all the active connotations from the original symbol.

      2. “We’ll just fall back on the old Familiar and Implement debates if we get bored.”

        Familiar/Demesne/Implement could be the Pact equivalent of rock/paper/scissors:

        Demesne is so big and non-Euclidean that Implement gets lost in it.
        Implement wallops Familiar.
        Familiar poops all over Demesne.

        Now we just need some suitable hand gestures to represent the three concepts. How about this for Implement: a clenched fist with an extended middle finger – representing a wand, y’know? 😉

      3. Ok then, here’s my latest insanely risky plan for Blake’s familiar and implement combo. The barber as a familiar isn’t happening, but I think we can still use him, so here goes…

        Since the universe is going to try to force Blake down the path of the diabolist, he’s going to have to deal with demons and devils frequently. That means he’s going to need protections, and protecting against something is generally easier and cheaper when you have something that’s like it. As such, Blake should go full diabolist in his choices for these.

        For his familiar, he should take the lesser demon in the factory. It’s a lesser being, so probably easier to control, and if he makes it the third diabolic being he binds he can probably pull it off with as a rule of three win. It’s power is also extremely interesting – it erases all memory and records of a person and possibly objects as well, but not their effects on the world prior to being erased. Lots of possible applications there. For instance, an enemy group may make a plan and agree to execute it, but if you erased a person or essential object in their plan then their plan is incomplete but they might still execute it. If nobody notices the gap in the plan before execution, then their plan is incomplete and more likely to fail.

        For his implement I still want to involve the barber. Further bind the demon into the shears it currently inhabits so it can’t leave them anymore, in much the same way you’d bind a ghost into an object. After that you turn it into an implement. Shears as an implement would already have a lot of uses – severing connections for instance. Blake does need to sever the red string of fate connecting the couple getting married, so an implement with that kind of specialty might be a good method. However, an implement with a devil sealed inside of it would also have that devil’s powers – in this case the ability to enter demesnes without permission and the ability to cut through defenses. Maybe medical knowledge too, so a twisted form of healing magic.

        I think this combination fits Blake in a way. He’s pretty much going to be a diabolist whether he likes it or not, so both fit his practice. I think the shears fit him to a degree as well – he tried to sever his connections with his family by running away, and yet he was forced back into it by his grandmother. The implement would be something that severs connections, with a link to his grandmother in the form of a devil she captured and bound.

        1. What you’re suggesting is waaay too evil fro Blake. Erasing people from history is nasty stuff, i don’t see him anticipationg doing that or associating with a being whose specialty it is.

          1. I’m not entirely sure I agree – erasing someone fully is essentially the same as killing them, and if you think Blake is going to get through this story without killing some people along the way you’re crazy. The real difference is the consequences involved in this type of death. Nobody else would mourn or be angry about the person’s death since nobody else would even know it happened, or at least until they noticed the gaps but even then it wouldn’t be the same since they couldn’t even remember the person.

            The gaps is where the damage is done – positions mysteriously unfilled at a place of business or government, money that is somehow in or out of a bank account with no record of transfer, a house mysteriously abandoned, a parent with no memory of the person who helped conceive their child and a child with no memory of the other parent yet neither having had any psychological effects of this lack of knowledge up to this point. When these gaps are suddenly noticed there can be confusion and chaos, a strange form of decay. There’s just different consequences from a normal killing, though they aren’t necessarily more evil inherently.

            Also, it may be possible to use those powers to lesser degrees. Erasing objects, erasing particular memories, erasing connections, erasing active spells, etc. Full erasure of a person may just be a selectively used tactical nuke as a last resort.

    1. No. 9/11 was in 2001, Pact starts this winter. He wouldn’t be old enough, and it was implied that Sandra had to abort because for some magical reason if a Duchamp practitioner bares a male child it will undo the working that makes Duchamps have only female children and end the line in general.

      1. Or maybe they made a deal with some Other that implied paying with the life of a firstborn male descendant, and they got around this problem by making sure that descendant never existed… Although that would probably generate massive bad karma.

        1. That…makes a startling amount of sense. But take it a step further.

          Remember back to the council meeting, when Padraic was offended because of his exclusion from the deal offers Laird was brokering. What kind of counteroffer did Sandra offer him? A messenger to other faeries, with a single proviso: that it last “until our family line ends or the Queen is replaced and the court dynamic changes up once again” (2.02).

          Now, if the messenger were somehow fantastic enough, would it not make sense for the faerie to, say, preserve the Duchamp line so that they could maintain the messenger?

          Now apply this to the Duchamps.

          Say, they get some sort of perk or bonus that was intended to be temporary, until their firstborn son, probably with the implication that (as you said) the son will be payment for the deal. But the Duchamps found a way around that…which will dissolve the moment that there is a son born to their family, along with the loss of the son himself.

          For RL, this web of supposition would be really fragile, but within a story, with the scenario set up by the Duchamps themselves…I like it.

          Counterevidence, anyone?

          1. I don’t think it’s along the lines of a mere perk. It has to be something big, otherwise I think that Sandra would have fought to keep the child – she seemed to want to, but knew her family wouldn’t let her. The reason for aborting would have to be pretty strong for her to agree. She outright stated “One boy, and the line is broken, the working unravels.” The line is broken, done, ended, kaput. She’s loyal enough to the family that she certainly couldn’t tolerate that.

            The working could have indeed involved some Other, but I don’t think that’s particularly relevant. I think the line ending has more to do with the Duchamp pedigree/pattern. If she bore a male, the Duchamps would suddenly be in the same situation as Blake is – Others would no longer recognize them as someone they need to listen to seriously. For the Thorburns their pedigree is that they are female and keep to “a small community” (1.03), though that small community could just be interpreted as being Jacob’s Bell. For the Duchamps their pattern is a coven of female enchantresses that only bare female children.

            Should a single one of their practitioners bare a male child the pattern would break and the whole coven would lose the respect, authority, and recognition among Others they’ve worked towards for who knows how many generations and centuries because the pattern would be irreversibly broken. Duchamp wives lose a significant deal of their usefulness to prospective husbands, the daughters no longer have a reason to obey the family in who they marry and go off to establish their own lines, and so the dynasty collapses.

            The good side of this hypothesis is that while first generation practitioners have a harder time of getting Others to do what they want, it’s not impossible since a line has to establish respect somehow. Blake currently has to rely on Rose’s voice to get Others to do what he wants, but if he does enough things that gain the respect of Others he may eventually not need to.

            1. I suppose I didn’t phrase it well, but I didn’t mean ‘perk’ in terms of ‘small, nearly incidental benefit,’ I meant it more along the lines of ‘(semi)permanent beneficial effect,’ which I guess is more gaming vernacular.

              That’s where the supposition that the son is the payment comes into play–she’d never be able to keep him anyway, if he was required as payment, so why sacrifice whatever they got from the deal?

              “The line” may or may not mean their family line. That’s certainly possible, but hardly conclusive. I’ve run into that phrase meaning any unbroken chain of (circumstances) satisfied.

              I feel like there’s a large part of your argument missing. You say that a Duchamp bearing a son would break the pattern that they’ve established, and this would also lose them respect. Okay, let’s concede that for the moment. What would the point of establishing the pattern have been in the first place? They deliberately create a pattern with a gaping weakness so they can get the prestige of maintaining the pattern? Not to mention, the Thorburns’ pattern has indeed been broken, and yet all of the male descendants that the Grandmother had didn’t break the strength of their name–it’s just that the men apparently don’t get to use it. Rose doesn’t even exist on at least a few levels, it seems, but she still has the Voice.

            2. There is absolutely no evidence the son would be payment. No statement was ever made to that effect. All we know is that the working would unravel.

              As to it being the family line as a whole, the evidence supports it. If it only messed with Sandra and her descendents then it wouldn’t be something that the rest of the family would oppose, but she stated “You know they won’t let me keep it.”

              The point of establishing a pattern is established in 1.03 – ” Beings as long-lived as powerful Others have trouble telling us apart, when we live and die so quickly and when we often look the same, and it helps to establish a pedigree or pattern.” Ancient beings are going to regard first generation practitioners as newbies and they need to actually accomplish stuff to get respect, but if you establish a pattern your descendants will get some of the respect that prior generations earned. I would also hypothesize that a more distinct pattern will be more effective at keeping that recognition. (though some Others may have an even harder time telling individuals within the pattern apart due to that)

              The Duchamps have a rather unique and therefore strongly recognizable pattern. They are all female, they are all enchantresses, and their practitioners only bare female children. It’s pretty odd that any set of women would bare only daughters, and the working normally ensures that oddity is kept in place, but if somehow a male child is born it negates one of the pattern’s aspects. It took the power of a god to work around it, so it’s not like it’s that easy to break the pattern. With such a strong and unique pattern, they can probably more easily maintain relationships with powerful Others, like how they have ready access to faeries as familiars.

              The Thorburn line isn’t broken. It’s a much more simple pattern (which perhaps makes it a bit more flexible as well) – female practitioners (numbers may vary) and keeping to a smaller community. There is no restriction in this pattern that those females can’t bare male children, or even necessarily that the men couldn’t try to become practitioners too. (they just don’t get the benefits of the pattern) Blake is worked into the pattern artificially by creating Rose and linking her to him, so the line is unbroken since Rose is considered real enough that she fits. Blake though is a first gen newb in the eyes of many Others so he has to earn respect the hard way.

            3. I know that the son being claimed as payment wasn’t stated; that’s why I called it supposition, rather than fact. As for no evidence, we do have evidence that Others try to claim people as payment–look at Padraic, who is apparently our go-to Other to reference despite the fact we haven’t seen him in ages.

              I didn’t try to imply that only Sandra and her descendants would be affected. I’m not sure how you got that from me, but that’s neither here nor there–what I was trying to say was that “the line is broken” might not refer to a family line at all.

              Ah, I see your reasoning now. Thank you for explaining it more thoroughly.

  28. I guess this must’ve been said a bunch of times already, but can we get a count off of how many ways in which we’ve been told Blake never existed before ‘running away from home?’ That’s why goblins don’t listen to him, or the lawyer’s either; why he’s so excellent at glamor; why his tattoos seem so alive– they’re the most human thing about him, the thing that’s seen the most real human effort. Why his connections to his friends are so metaphysically weak and yet why he’s so attached to them, as nothing else he remembers is actually real. Why he claims to be the Fool and the High Priestess– the empty, limitless beginning and the powerful, waiting, knowing passiveness– and why, now, the man sees Rose on the subway. Also why we got a description of his looks so late and not much of one at that.

    Surely there have been more times? A woman standing behind him, was that the line? What do you guys think?

    1. Sandra on Blake (3.3): “A reading of Blake Thorburn drew the Fool card with the right hand, the High Priestess with the left.”
      His reaction (3.3, internal dialog): First of all, I resented that. Second of all, ominous.
      His reaction (4.4, talking to Isadora): “Honestly, I chose the most bullshit answer [Fool and High Priestess] that sprung to mind, because even if I was wrong, I thought it would buy me time to think or to argue the point.”
      So that isn’t his personal claim, that is a reading of him by an enemy that he has dismissed.

      As far as the rest of the points:

      The Thorburn legacy is normally only passed by the female line. Many commenters (me included) are speculating that, while Blake may be a practitioner in his own right, the legacy powers went to the female side, i.e. Rose. That’s why certain things only listen to Rose (goblins and lawyers so far, but note that Barbatorem is ignoring Blake).

      Tattoos and glamour issues? I haven’t heard a really good, consistent explanation on those. Subject of much speculation.

      Friends? He is reluctant to get close to people, both physically and emotionally. Joel keeps getting on him about it. That is my explanation for weak links.

      Rose on the subway? The answer as to how well hidden Rose is from “normals” is not well established. The guy apparently saw Rose in the window reflection and was confused because he saw a female reflection but a male person.
      He glanced at the window, then back at me, and I saw momentary confusion on his face.
      Other commenters have speculated either that Rose is becoming visible to normals, or the guy was a practitioner or potential practitioner.

      From what I see, the evidence says that Blake actually existed, unlike Rose, who knows she is a created being (1.2: “I crashed into existence, with only a few places I could go.”). He was ignored and unappreciated – his parents lost him three times in public situations (3.01), but there is a consistent back story for his past. We just haven’t heard many details on what happened before he ran away.

      1. I’m pretty sure Rose has always been visible to normals. She was visible to Blake sans sight. She was visible to Witch Hunter Kid. All signs point to Rose being completely visible to everyone.

        Which I suspect will lead to an awkward conversation with Joel and co at some point.

        1. Perhaps, but the argument could be made that Blake could see because he and Rose have a special bond together, and Andy could see because he’s special, trained to deal with Others and having special equipment.

          I think you may be right. They have dealt mostly with practioners so far.

    2. If this is in fact true it seems like a poor planning decision. The price of a “tomato in the mirror” surprise twist is that it makes it very hard for the audience to genuinely get to know and empathise with the character in the interim.

      Since it has been hard to get a solid feel for Blake, your theory seems plausible…

  29. Apparently, squeezing the guts out of a dead rabbit is called “push gutting”.

    Go on, try typing that into the Youtube search field and see what happens when you hit enter. 😛

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

        “Does that include watching TV shows about squeezing small wildlife until they poop themselves inside out?” Joel asked. When I gave him a look, he said, “Thin walls.”

  30. I think the purpose of the imp is to spread entropy.

    Remember what Briar Girl sad about the cost of summoning beings like Ornias? When they use their power, the cost is then taken out by a bunch of imps which spread suffering of some form or another until they burn out or are bound by practitioners.

    I think this imp is one of those imps, released as a side-effect of a diabolist calling the power of some great entitity.

  31. What shocks me is that nobody’s commented on the idea of a choir yet. This implies they have some kind of social structure. Choirs are common in churches, and plays into the idea of fallen angels.

    Interesting. I’m wondering what kind of discordant song a demonic choir would make.

    1. One might comment on the Tolkien-esque idea of a song that makes the world. Most of his ideas have a mythological precedent, so Wildbow might have found one for the Ainulindalë (in fact, the Ainulindalë is supposed to have precedents in both Christianity and Norse Mythology. Maybe the idea of choruses comes from that?).

  32. This is maybe getting a bit heavy with the fucked-ness. I can take main character being fairly fucked, but there hasn’t been a moment of respite so it’s losing meaning. Going to heavy to fast.

    1. Stephen King apparently takes a similar approach to writing sometimes. Come up with peril, drop protagonist in peril, protagonist does best to get out of it.

      “Misery” started as a short story but the protagonist turned out to be wilier and more inventive than King anticipated and it grew into a novel.

      Wildbow plans more than that, I believe but he has said that he often doesn’t preplan ways out for his characters, requiring them to be inventive to survive…

  33. In the magical land of Toronto, Canada…Blake Thorburn was putting on clothes.

    I don’t see what’s wrong with late nineties fashion either. The 90s, when the men had long hair and the girls had short shorts.

    Easy there, talking so much about the swing of your handle down in your pants. I’ll give you this, you’re certainly getting June more hot and bothered than it sounded like her husband did. You keep this up and you’re going to have a ghost who summons freezing weather and porno music.

    Good news is, Canada is in desperate need of more locally filmed pornography, so you stand to make a lot of money out of the deal. Maybe dress you up with some of those fancy shoulder pads that generals from the 1800s wore, with the little frills hanging off the edges of them. You’re there, sleeping in the on call room at some sort of business that busts ghosts. All of a sudden, June appears floating over head. You get a glimpse of her before she disappears again, followed by your zipper unzipping itself.

    Wait a minute, I think I already saw that in a movie.

    “I didn’t apply the nut.”

    Of course not. Should have had Rose at least undress before not looking. Then maybe you’d have applied the nut. You have got to let one out. If you think blood is a huge deal of personal power, just think how much you’d get from releasing the kraken. Blake, it’s time to nut up or shut up.

    Damn it, Joel, with you calling Blake “baby” all the time, I can’t help but think of Toby Benson.

    Really, I don’t see what’s so unsettling about Erasure. You’ve just got to give A Little Respect: youtube.com/watch?v=RiKVjS3gR88

    “We’re not looking for commentary,” he said.

    Conquest would fucking hate me, wouldn’t he?

    Hahahahahaha! Let’s all play a rousing game of Kick The Bunny! Weee! Look at it go.

    When it comes to Vampire: The Masquerade, I must confess a certain preference for the Malkavians. It’s the broken mirror, you see. A difference between my foolery and Blake’s. He’s not willing to break the mirror. Of course, then the problem is that you’ve got at least two shards of a broken mirror. So that’s two times as many mirrors. So you need to break even more mirrors. Good think Malkavians have a long time to get over 7 years bad luck.

    Course, good ole Blake had a mirror broken for him already. Very fitting that his mirror was broken by Rose at his first awakening.

    And Oglaf isn’t funny. Remember, the nature of a joke is an inversion of the natural order. What’s funny is that most of the time, hearing a dirty joke doesn’t involve the phrase “A horse fell in a mud puddle.” But in Oglaf, if the apprentice is going to be constantly denied sex, then what’s so funny about finding a new way to deny him any?

    That’s why sometimes, the box of chocolates must be regular chocolates and not poisoned or acid or filled with 100% authentic lady’s fingers. I guess a joke is sort of like bad karma, in a way.

    1. “Hahahahahaha! Let’s all play a rousing game of Kick The Bunny! Weee! Look at it go.”

      Blake’s feet are so misunderstood. They weren’t trying to thump Thumper’s bumpy rump, they just wanted a comfy, cozy pair of slippers. The Bunion Union’s funny-bunny-slippers-rights are in the Geneva convention, people!

      When Bugs Bunny asked “What’s up, doc?”, who would’ve thought that he was just rehearsing for his daily proctology exam?

      Of course, since the answer was always “this probe, up your butt”, he didn’t really need all that rehearsal. Bugs could’ve settled for the reach-arse-all. At least the carrots must have kept his prostate healthy. A wabbit with a wampant ewectwile diswowdah ain’t no waughin’ mattuh.

  34. Comments:
    – There’s an amusing contrast here between Taylor and Blake. Taylor carried her epipens with her for so long without getting a chance to use them that they basically became a running joke. Blake, in contrast, is more of a handyman, and brings tons of tools.
    – Blake mustnt’t fulfill all three of Conquest’s favors; he must strike before then. If he doesn’t, the Rule of Three might make further resistance on his part impossible.
    – I love how they’re trying to deal with the imp…
    – If nonpractitioners are beginning to see Rose’s reflection, that’s foreshadowing for…something. I wonder for what?

    Great lines:
    – “Hearing her voice coming from nowhere didn’t startle me anymore, I realized.”
    – ““I’m trying to shake the idea of this Faerie hair crawling into the hole in my hand and winding its way through my entire circulatory system.””
    – ““It’s not impossible to believe,”“And if I let myself think it’s possible, then it’s going to become more possible, and once I get hair threading its way through my bloodstream, pain, physical changes, well, there’s no way I’m just going to meditate and convince myself it isn’t real.”
    – ““Don’t look, Rose,”“Taking my pants off.”“M’kay,”“Not asking why.””
    – ““Probably going to chafe the hell out of my balls,” I muttered. Boxer briefs or no. “I said I wouldn’t ask why,” Rose said, raising the book so it blocked my view of her face, and her view of me. “I’m not asking.”” – Cute.
    – “Knowing about the motivations driving my enemies made it a hundred times easier to interact with them. It put everything into context. Was it strange that I hoped the thing was part of some organized group?”
    – “I learned my lesson last night. Fuck of a lot easier to deal with something that’s human at the core.” -> Heh.
    – ““Hey,”“How are you doing?”“Honestly, I don’t really know how to answer that question.””
    – “Time apparently flew when you were in another world.” -> That could still cause issues for Blake.
    – ““Did you talk to someone last night? Did you get help?”“Less than I’d hoped,” […] Did massive understatements like that affect my karma like outright lies did? Probably not, but it felt like they should.”
    – ““Do you need anything? Don’t jump to saying no, either. Think about it. Because if you’re right, and this is as bad as you’re saying, somehow, you can’t leave us feeling like there was something we could’ve done to contribute.””
    – ““I owe you guys,”“Really.”“You’ve always been too uptight about making things equitable. Giving me your bike.”“You gave me your car.”“Lean on us, Blake,”“You’ve damn well helped us out without getting paid back in kind. If you’re in trouble…””
    – “The nameless practitioner with a name.”
    – ““You invite someone into our world, the costs are on your head,”“I wasn’t inviting him to our world. I was telling him you might try to kill me, which you might. If you use magic to fuck with him, then the costs are on your head.”
    – “We believe they may have lost more members in the ensuing retreat, but there’s no way of knowing.”“Annihilated in every respect,”“You said this fucking thing was minor,”“It is. A greater devil or demon wouldn’t have let someone escape. There would be less limitations binding it. It could move quickly, but had to draw close. We assume.” – Hah. Right, a ‘minor devil’ is like a ‘baby giant’ – still huge.
    – ““Just as serial killers form patterns, many Others do too, and they find power in those patterns.””
    – ““We were promised resources.”“You were, but we’ve already provided some. He holds them.”“Wonderful,”“Fulfilling the letter of the law, here?”“Essentially.””
    – “Conquest wouldn’t let his second in command make calls like that. It would make him look weak, having to rely on you, deferring to your judgment like that.” Which the Lord of Toronto might well be. Weak, delegating instead of taking action himself. If Fell knew how weak Conquest was, he couldn’t risk cluing anyone into that fact. If he didn’t know, he couldn’t risk his own hide. The only snag was a third possibility. That he knew, that Conquest knew he knew, and successfully killing me would keep anyone from figuring anything out.”
    – “I heard the faint sound of a page turning. I guess she didn’t need to worry about bumping into anyone as she walked down the sidewalk. She was reading as she went. I resented her just a little. I knew she was helping, but the fact that she could sit back, relax and read kind of sucked, when I was the one watching out for trouble,”
    – “The train arrived quickly, and I braced myself, closed my eyes as the crowd pressed in, pressed close.”
    – ““Rabbits scream?”“Yeah,”“Startles predators.” I moved around the snowbank, wary. “I’m not the one who was attacking there.”“No,”“Hm.”” -> Hah.
    – ““Interesting,”“Not the word I’d use for it. A rabbit just tried to hamstring you.””
    – “They were flying around me, keeping a certain distance. Coordinating. Lovely.” -> Yes. Well. As we know from Worm, coordinating animals, insects, humans, whatever…they’re all trouble.
    – “The birds were veering off before they reached me. “A circle,”“Like repelling like,”“Blood, fur, shit, freshly sacrificed life… holy fuck, I’m glad that worked.””
    – ““We need to address the source of the problem.”“Source?”“Imp!”“I, Rose Thorburn, bid you to announce yourself!” The tone of the fluttering changed. “My line has dealt with others of your kind. Announce yourself, or be diminished! You are not so strong you can ignore me!”” – Wow, I like that. I’d been wondering how the supposed power of Rose’s words would manifest itself.
    – ““Pauz, of the fifth choir, feral and foul,” he said, in a deeper voice that didn’t fit his frame. Oddly cute, in a fucked up way.”
    – ““You hear what I said about Macbeth?”“Uh huh.”“Want to help take down a king?””

  35. But they would have been out of fashion in Ontario, which put us about two to four years behind the times.
    I’ll take your word for it.

    “Wanna take down a king?”
    I like the way she’s thinking.

  36. Sanity check – if Blake is worried about the faerie hair infiltrating through the wound on the back of his hand, why not move it to the other hand? Seems like a simple way to reduce the odds by switching to a less damaged hand.

  37. Rose is showing! This cannot end well.
    Love the scare with bugs and imps. Now all we need are dogs, lightbulbs, and premature orgasms. Actually, could Alec make that happen? I don’t even know, man. Feels like a lot more than one muscle though.
    Ah, Blake, how far you’ve come. From being time-juked in a coffee shop to plotting regicide with an imp against a Horseman of the Apocalypse. They grow up so fast. :’)

  38. No comments on how Fell still hasn’t said a single thing that affirms he is in Conquest’s service?

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