Collateral 4.5

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“A king?” Pauz asked.

The birds settled, landing on the snowbanks all around us.  The dogs sat.

Fuck.  I didn’t want to see him listening.

“Ix-nay the ealing-day ith-way evils-day,” I muttered.

“Thirty languages of mankind,” Pauz said, his voice far too deep for how small he was.  When he stood, he used the claws on his hands to perch.  When he moved forward, he used the claws to keep his balance, with the oversized head and heavy slouch.  His blind eyes were heavily lidded, as he glared at me.  “I have learned from each host that I have taken.  But I do not know this tongue?”

“For real?” I asked.

“For real,” Pauz said, deadly serious.

“My companion doesn’t want me to deal with you, Pauz,” Rose said.  “He thinks it’s dangerous.”

“Then he is right,” Pauz said.  “I am a danger to you.”

Was it bad that a very small part of me wanted to laugh in response to that?  Rationally, I knew he was in no way harmless, but… so tiny.

“You are,” Rose said.  “You’ve made that clear, here.  But you have a goal, don’t you?  Standing orders?  I wasn’t too far off when I assumed you were acting against the natural order?”

“Mm hmm,” Pauz said.

“Upheaval, disorder, sowing seeds.  Doing damage that won’t ever be repaired.  The animals here are never going to act completely normal again, are they?”

“No,” Pauz said.  “They are mine, and so are the people.  I have my claws set in them, and already, I rend these people, strip things away, and change them.”

“Building a foundation,” Rose said.  “So you can climb the ladder, access the greater powers, and more important people.  Turn them upside down as you have with the animals.”

How would that work?  A politician or CEO made feral?  Savage?  Falling from power, doing as much damage on the way as they could?

Pauz’s head turned.  A car was approaching from the end of the street.  The animals all moved simultaneously, crows alternately flocking closer or flying away, dogs slinking into the shadows or recesses where they could hide between cars and snowbanks.  The birds descended on the disemboweled rabbit carcass I’d discarded, then took to the air, flying with the carcass carried between them, rending it, tearing, savage.

The car slowed as it approached the airborne flock, which only made it easier for them, when they dropped the dead rabbit onto the windshield.  The glass cracked but didn’t break.

The car skidded to a stop.  There was a pause, where the driver and passenger looked at me, the whites of their eyes showing.  They started moving again, crawling forward, and then turned into a driveway.

Were they going to comment?  Wonder why I was standing in their neighbor’s driveway?  Force me to leave, and abandon the safety of my improvised circle?

They backed up, accelerated, then braked hard.  The tattered rabbit corpse slid over the hood and onto the driveway, just in front of the garage.

They fled the car, glancing at me, then hurried into their home, leaving the corpse where it was.  The car locks were activated after they were inside.

Pauz climbed up the side of the car, onto the hood.  One strike of his claw punctured the window where the cracks already spiderwebbed out from the impact site, leaving a hole I could maybe have fit my head through.

The imp hopped onto the roof of the car, while a skeletal dog climbed up and wormed through the hole in the window, the edges of the glass slicing it here and there.

I could see the dog through the car windows, moving in between the driver and passenger seats, into the back seat of the car.  Not sitting there, but hiding on the floor of the car.

Something told me it wouldn’t act until the car was well in motion.

No.  I had to pay attention to the birds, the dogs.  It was a fundamental problem, a change in the overarching dynamic of how they operated.  They were cooperating, acting in sync, according to Pauz’s more malign interests, but working against the system that was our ecosystem.

If a politician was brought under the influence of Pauz the way the animals here were, then they might do as Pauz wanted them to do, while working against civilization and society.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about what kind of damage someone could do, given zero compunctions, an imp on their shoulder, and a powerful position.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about what Conquest would do, given the same.

Fuck.

“This isn’t going to work the way you want it to, Rose,” I said, speaking under my breath.

“We don’t have much of a choice,” she said.  “And we’ve got him listening.”

“Remember the nuke analogy?  He’s the equivalent of fallout, the radiation, pollution, whatever you want to call him.  Handle with fucking care, Rose.”

“I know.  Back me up?  Trust me?”

I had to think about it for a second.

“Blake.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I’ve demanded the same of you too often to do anything different.  “I’ll hear you out on this.”

“Pauz!”  Rose called out.

“Mm?”  Pauz responded.  He was watching crows tear apart the rabbit.

“You’re not getting very far, are you?  You’re seeding your malignancy here and there, but something’s going wrong, isn’t it?  You keep changing hosts.  You’re not getting traction.  I’m offering you a shortcut.”

“You’re offering me a king.”

“Yes.  Someone with power, with clout.”

“Who?”

“The Lord of Toronto.  An Incarnation of Conquest.  He thinks he can use you.”

“Does he?”  Pauz asked.

“We can set you up with him, so you’re in a better position than ever.”

“How?  Why?”

“The why is easy,” Rose said.  “We’re not exactly on good terms with the local Lord.  As for how… I’m going to need you to play along.  We’re going to bind you.”

“Trickery,” Pauz said.  He made his way across the roof of the car, his claws scratching and poking through the metal as he did, eliciting nail-on-a-blackboard screeches.  “Deception, lies.”

“A little more subtle than that, Pauz.  I’m thinking… If we simply bind you and release you, it’s too obvious.  He’ll bind you himself, whether you agree or not.  But if we give the contract a time limit.”

“Hm?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m on the same page as the Imp here.  Hm?

“If we did the binding now,” Rose said, “and I’m not saying we should, we’d give it a time limit of sixty hours.  Then you’re free.  No fanfare, no announcement, nothing overt changes.  We could even mock up a fake connection or binding to hide it, in case he bothers to check… but I don’t get the impression Conquest knows the ins and outs of demons and devils.  He wouldn’t be dealing with this or relying on us if he did.  You’re in our service and in our power when we turn you over to Conquest, as payment, the time limit runs out, and you’re free to do as you see fit, positioned right next to him.”

“With him there and listening,” Pauz said.  “Easily swayed.”

“And,” Rose said, “If we can manage it, you’d have distractions.”

“You’re thinking about the other two,” I said.  Fuck me, Rose.  This isn’t playing with fire.  This is playing with the big red button.

I’d almost protested out loud, but she’d asked me to play ball.  I’d asked her to play nice enough times… I supposed this was where we really were the same person, or were siblings.  It was only natural the tables would be turned, that she’d reflect my own personality traits.

“Yeah, I’m thinking about the other two,” Rose said.  “We have to deal with them one way or another, anyhow.  Let’s use them.”

“I’ll need time to consider,” Pauz said.

So do I.

“We can give you that,” Rose said.

“You can return tomorrow,” Pauz told us.  “The Dowght home.  My realm.”

“No,” Rose said.  “Tonight, not tomorrow.  We’re on a schedule.”

“Tonight,” Pauz conceded.

“Neutral ground,” I added.

My realm,” Pauz said, his eyes narrowing.  “You’re ‘on a schedule’.  It is where you’ll find me, diabolists.”

“We’ll also need a promise of safety, for my companion, when he leaves this circle,” Rose said.

Pauz didn’t reply.

“The deal is off the table if you don’t,” Rose said.

“If I don’t,” Pauz said, “You die.  You’ll get colder, others will ask you to move.  Something will force you from that meager defense.  Then the crows take your eyes, and the dogs eat the softer bits of you.”

“Not me,” Rose said.  “My companion?  Sure.  But you’d only really get one of us.”

“Hey,” I said.

“I suppose it’s up to you, imp of the fifth choir,” Rose said.  “One more death at your hands… or a chance to manipulate Conquest itself, possibly affecting this whole city.”

“Or,” he said, “I ask what you’re willing to give me.”

“You’re trying to extort from me?” Rose asked.

Pauz didn’t reply.  He left his question hanging in the air.

“My name is Rose Thorburn,” Rose said.  “Your kind knows of my blood.  Demons greater than you have dealt fairly with us, insofar as there is ever a fair deal.  What will they think, if a mere imp were to disrupt that arrangement?”

“Depends who you asked,” Pauz said.  His voice was a low growl, tense and wary.

“I’d ask the big names,” Rose said.  “Shall I say them?  Shall I speak the names of the higher members of the fifth choir?  I’d need only say them once, and we would have their attention.  Say them five times, and I could negotiate with one of the entities you answer to.”

Pauz was tense.

“You’re not even a pawn to them, Pauz,” Rose said.  “You’re not even a pawn on their pawn’s chessboards, so to speak.  You’ve been largely forgotten, and I don’t think you want to be remembered.  Not when you’re in the act of spoiling a longstanding working arrangement.  Not when I could ask them to remove them from the picture as a bargaining point they wouldn’t even think twice about.”

“Brave words, from the woman in a mirror inside a very fragile circle,” Pauz said.

I had only a split second to think about it.  I stepped out of the confines of the rabbit-gore circle, passing the threshold, moving closer to Pauz.

Radio static.  Outside of the circle, I could feel his presence.  It was like radio static in my head.  White noise that wasn’t pleasant to listen to, fuzzing around the edges.  Prickling at my skin, making me irritable, hypersensitive to everything that might bother me otherwise.  The nip of the cold, the discomfort where the hatchet’s holster bunched up my boxers beside my balls, and the feeling of sweat-soaked clothes pressing against my shoulders and back.

Senses in overdrive, distracting white noise.

I could smell him, now.  Feces, hot garbage, and blood.  More of the same, a physical representation of a presence that was radiating into the area.

I wondered how different this would have played out, without the circle.  Would the meeting have opened with a hit of static and stench that would have rocked my senses, kept me from maintaining my senses?

Despite the distractions, I still advanced closer, kept my shoulders square, chin up, my gaze level.  I couldn’t react to anything I was experiencing; I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get my bearings and remain stoic in the face of it all.

I had to move around the snowbank that separated the two driveways to draw closer.  My hand involuntarily clenched as the sense of distortion built upThe noise of it steadily increased, dissolving my thoughts now.  No longer did I have that one concrete line of thoughts, all the other thoughts at the edges, cross-checking, comparing, searching for ways to expand or elaborate the thought.

Just one, one idea plodding along, and everything outside of that one line of thinking was noise and chaos, working against instead of with.

Dimly, I was aware that what I was doing was stupid, walking headlong into the radiation.  I heard flapping nearby, the crows drawing nearer.

The idea became an action, singular, an impulse.

Rose spoke, and I wasn’t entirely able to make it out.  The flapping continued, but they weren’t drawing nearer, now.

Somewhere along the way, I crossed another ten feet, reaching the car at the end of the driveway.  I had the hatchet in my hand as I looked up at Pauz.

I thrust it out, into the side window of the car.  The top of the hatchet’s blade punched through the glass, and frost spread out from the impact site.

Pauz moved back a half-foot as the frost spread along the car’s exterior.

I stayed there, arm extended, hatchet sticking through the shattered window of the car.

I wasn’t able to do much else, besides fight the pressure.

Rose said something else.  “Do I need to say a name?  Baph-”

“No,” Pauz interrupted.  “There is no need.  Go, diabolist.”

The word was enough.  The order, almost.  Still stiff-necked, back straight, I turned to leave.  I fought the urge to stop when I saw the animals waiting, clustered on the snowbanks, at the edges of driveways, lurking in the shadows beneath and beside cars.  Dogs, crows, rabbits and cats, all in ill-health.

“Blake,” Rose said, when we’d left the imp behind.

“No,” I replied.

“No?”

I could still feel the effects of being so close to the Imp.  It was hard to piece two and two together, much less string multiple words along.  “No… not now.”

Not with the animals still here, watching.

We were almost at the subway station when I started to feel like I was getting back to normal.

My heart was pounding, I realized, my mouth was dry, and the adrenaline was making my hands shake.  I felt pumped, but it wasn’t a good kind of pumped.

It was the rush that lingered after the flight or fight instincts had kicked in.  I’d experienced it enough times.  If I could go my entire life without ever experiencing it again, I’d die content.  Fat chance.

Well, maybe not, now that I thought about it.  The way things were going, with the estimations people kept making about my life expectancy, dying soon might not be out of the question.

“Okay,” I said.  I took a deep breath, as if that could help with the vaguely sick feeling and the way my heart was still beating out of sync with what my body, mind, and emotions were doing.

“Okay?” Rose asked.

“I’m… up to talking, and I don’t think he’s got any animals that close by.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Thoughts?”

“Still reeling,” I admitted.  “That last bit was unpleasant.”

“I don’t think either Pauz or I expected it,” she said.  “Why?”

“Because my mind turned off, and because… I don’t know.  I was sort of trying to show we weren’t to be trifled with, and I wanted to break the car window.”

“Huh?”

“When they see the damage, they’ll look,” I said.  “It’s… close as I can figure, the only way they’re going to see the dog that’s inside the car.  Maybe they’ll shit themselves when they walk over to the second broken window and the dog starts barking and snapping, but at least they won’t find out about the dog while they’re driving on a busy road and it bites their arm or throat.”

“You were thinking about all that?”

“I was going with my instincts,” I said.  “Which is apparently the only thing you can do when you’re face to face with him.”

“Until he starts perverting your instincts,” Rose said.

“What the hell?” I asked.

“Huh?”

“Him?  That?  That was not what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?”

“Something more feral.  Something more like the barber.  That was more like a goblin, and… it wasn’t stupid.  There were times it seemed eerily human.”

“The books warned against using labels, putting things into tidy category of goblin and demon and whatever else.  So maybe Pauz is more on the goblin-ish side of the spectrum.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Except goblins, as far as I know, don’t involve the metaphorical radiation we’re talking about.”

“And it’s a parasite.  Remember what it said about the languages?”

“It knows thirty, but somehow it skipped Pig Latin.”

“It’s moving from host to host.  And it’s taking something away from each one.  Bits of personality, bits of knowledge.  Piecing things together.  It’s growing, I’m sure, with each one.  Remember, it’s a spark.  It’s trying to become a fire.  Consuming, devouring, growing to a point where it’s out of control.”

“Which is why it’s been stopping and starting again?” I asked.

“No.  I don’t think that’s why,” Rose said.  “We won’t know for sure, until we meet this Dowght person he’s infected, but I think he’s killing them by accident.  Think about what the women described.  Dowght is feeding wild animals, drawing them to the area, then abandoning them to remain here, starving and vulnerable to Pauz’s influence.  He’s living in filth, hoarding…”

“He’s maybe starving at the expense of feeding the animals?” I asked.  “Or he’s getting bitten, or scratched, or diseased… so he dies in a little while, of an infection he’s not taking care of because Pauz has sway over him.  Pauz moves on, starting the cycle anew, a little stronger each time, a little more human, as he collects bits of his hosts.  Fanning the flames, until the blaze you’re talking about finally takes.”

“I think so,” Rose said.  “It’s what I imagine, when I picture the situation and the relationship between the imp and its current host.  That thing doesn’t seem like it would take good care of someone it’s using, not if it’s not taking care of the animals.  If we extrapolate… I don’t think it considers events beyond the present.”

“Which is why you’re offering the deal you are?”

“In part,” Rose said.  “It might be easier to deal with the two of them than it is to deal with Conquest and Pauz separately.”

“Unless they get along,” I said.

“Let’s hope they don’t,” Rose told me.  “Because this is the closest thing I can come up with to a backup plan.”

“Next to orchestrating a mutiny?” I asked.

“Next to a mutiny,” Rose said.

I trudged on in silence, resisting the urge to fidget and burn off more of that lingering adrenaline.  I pulled my gloves off and wrung my hands, then cracked my knuckles.

“Heads up.  I won’t be able to reply in a few seconds,” I said, “Approaching the subway, don’t want to be seen talking to myself.”

“If we got a phone,” Rose said.  “You could hold it up to your ear.”

“Kid on the subway saw you,” I said.  “I’m not sure people wouldn’t hear you, too.”

“There was one thing that bugged me, by the way,” Rose said.

“Hm?” I grunted.  I was uncomfortably close to a bystander, a guy standing just inside the subway entrance to smoke.  Which was illegal, but still.

“You ask me to trust you, cool.  I’ve made that leap, knowing a hell of a lot less going in than you knew going into this.  But I ask you to trust me, and you hesitate?”

I rounded the corner as I descended the stairs.  There were people on the platform below, but not in earshot.

“Dealing with demons,” I said, “A little different.”

She didn’t reply.  I supposed it was because the mirror pendant gave her a view of the people in front of me.

We need to find a way to pull all this together, I thought.

A growl behind me made me whirl around.

It was an older lady, carrying a small dog that wore a jacket.  The dog snarled, as my eyes met his.  Or hers.

“Shhh, honey,” the old woman said.

The dog yapped, lunging in an effort to get out of its owners arms.  Never mind that it probably would have hung itself, the way the leash was coiled up.

“I’m so-” the woman said, stopping as the dog tried to lunge again.  “Sorry!”

The yapping, growling and struggling grew more intense.

“He never does this!”

“It’s-” I started.

But the sound of my voice seemed to tip the balance.  The dog bit its owner, tiny white teeth disappearing into the meat of her fingers, exposed gums meeting flesh as blood welled up.

I fled, backing up, moving to the far end of the platform.  There was nothing I could do.

Only distancing myself.

“Man,” a guy standing near me said.  He smiled a little, “You always wonder about those owners who put their dogs in little jackets.”

I couldn’t bring myself to react, nor respond.

No doubt in my mind.  This was our metaphorical radiation.

I could only hope it wore off soon.

I caught the train, not in the direction of home, but the University.

Crows in nearby trees called out as I walked down the broad footpath.  Taunting me.  Maybe threatening me.

The buildings were old, or as old as buildings got, in a country that only dated back a couple hundred years.  Stone, stately, majestic.

The Sphinx’s domain.

I’d received no help from Fell or the Lord, but I did need to reach out, and this was the only place I could think of to start looking.  Problem was, the university was probably two or three times the size of Jacob’s Bell, especially when the various residences and student buildings were taken into account.

It was a starting point, but it was damn nebulous as starting points went.

Well, the most obvious solution was often the correct one.

I headed straight for the visitors center, entering a building with a stone exterior and great white pillars framing the glass turnstile door.

Students milled this way and that, most in winter gear.  A desk at the back had staff waiting, but it also had lines.

My eye fell on the table with campus calendars, and the two computers that stood on either side.  Each computer, it seemed, was set up with a basic search engine for campus information.

Isadora, I tried.

Nothing.

I looked for a list of professors instead.

Phixopolous, Isadora, Professor of Ethics

Not even trying to mask it.  She apparently wasn’t concerned about other practitioners finding her.

I dug a piece of paper from my pocket and wrote down the name and then found the building for the Ethics department, and a map to get my bearings.

I left the visitors center and headed for the building in question.  Odds were good that she wouldn’t be there, but that was ideal.

Trouble presented itself before I was halfway there.

One at first, then – I saw him wave over some others out of the corner of my eye.  A whole group of college-aged guys peeled away from a cluster in the open area just beside the university center.  Following me.  They moved in twos and threes, but they formed a general group of about eight or so.  The connections between them and me marked their interest in me.

A few seconds after I’d noted the connection, some girls joined the group. I got a glimpse of them all as I rounded a corner, doing my utmost to keep from tipping them off.

The girls hadn’t joined the group after all.  Instead, they walked on the very periphery of it.  Each girl was independent, while the guys were a herd.

The Sphinx’s people?

No.  The connection seemed fairly feeble, as such things went.  As far as I could tell, without looking over my shoulder and letting them know I was on to them, they had no tie to the ethics department I was headed to.

“Rose,” I said, under my breath.  “People following me.”

“What can I do?”

“Get a feel for them.  Hop to any nearby reflections, see if you can’t get a better look at what I’m up against, come back and fill me in?”

“I can.”

It was a long walk, one that gave them chances to catch up.  The girls were pulling ahead, more athletic in general, more given to the pursuit.

“I don’t know who or what they are,” Rose said.

“I’m wondering if they’re just susceptible to whatever effect is sticking to me after that talk with Pauz.  Drunk people, more in tune with their baser instincts…”

“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that’s it.  I don’t really have any senses, outside of sight.  I can look at them, and they’re boys from college, talking, bumping shoulders, joking around, walking with arms around each other’s shoulders.  Some drinking surreptitiously.”

“But?”

“But… I feel like there’s an energy there.  I don’t know if I feel it or if I’m seeing stuff I can’t put my thumb on.  Like, they’ve got a vibe, good looking, they’re high-energy, naturally outgoing people, and they get people swept up in their attitude?”

“And the girls?” I asked.  I didn’t even care that some people gave me quizzical looks.  The guy talking to himself.

“Girls?”

“Yeah, Rose.  There are girls there too.”

“Be right back,” Rose said.  She sounded as if she were saying it while in the process of making her exit.

“Okay.”

A few seconds later, Rose reported in.  “Yeah, there are girls.”

“I know there are girls.”

“They’re more predatory somehow?  They remind me of Ellie.”

“Our older cousin,” I said.  Rose’s comment was on the mark.  From what I remembered of her, Ellie could play at being charming, if she wanted money or favors.  Ninety percent of the time, however, she defaulted to a low intensity glare, like she hated you and hated life, and she needed no excuse to switch to a more intense attitude of ‘I hate you and I’ll hurt you if you get in my way.’  No filters, no impulse control.

“They’re with the boys, but not with them.  Yeah, they’re the ones you want to worry about.  Not quite so harmless looking as the boys.”

“The ‘boys’ didn’t look harmless to me,” I said.

“It’s part of that vibe I get from them, I dunno.  Like, the air they give off.  The friendly, slightly immature sort of guy who wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Yeah?” I asked.  “You’re, like, saying ‘like’ a lot.  Twice that I remember, in the last minute.”

“Am I?  I am.  Fuck,” Rose said. “What’s wrong with me?”

“Try to hold off regressing to your hormonal teenage years,” I said.  “Because I’m pretty sure they’re closing the distance.”

Was there a point where I’d need to break into a run?

Could I outrun them?

I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with.  Nice guys with a more pleasant sort of energy, and more dangerous girls?

I was in the middle of trying to figure out a game plan, when I saw someone raise their hand.  A small wave.

No.

A guy I didn’t know, heavy and sporting the sort of beard that had been grown for length more than style, and a girl I did recognize.  Tiffany.  Alexis’ latest rescue, the artist who’d put together the gift I’d given Conquest.

She said goodbye to the guy and walked over to intercept me.

“Hey, Blake.  I didn’t know you went to University,” she said.  She smiled.

“I don’t,” I said.  I stopped in my tracks, knowing how dangerous it was.  “Hey, can we talk while we walk?  Or brisk stride?  I’m in a hurry.”

“Um, sure,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Meeting someone?” she asked.

“Hoping to,” I said.  I turned to look at her, offering a little smile.  My motives were twofold.  Putting her at ease was one fold, getting a glimpse of the group behind us was another.

They’d slowed down, but they were fanning out.  One of the lead guys and two of the girls were talking, and something about the intensity of their looks and the changing nature of the connection between us said they were adjusting their approach.

I could hear crows cawing at me, mocking me, reminding me of what was going on.

Fuck.  Between the radiation and the heaps of bad karma my bloodline had, I was a walking disaster area.

How could I tell Tiffany to get the fuck away without really upsetting her?  Without upsetting Alexis, too, and my other friends in the process?

“I’m not walking you away from where you need to be?” I asked.

Say yes.

“No.  I’m- I could do whatever.”

Damn.  I glanced at her, and saw she was averting her gaze, looking down at the ground as she walked.  It wasn’t just the here and now.  It was the way she was.  No personal confidence.

“You’re going to school here, huh?”

“Alexis helped me apply for a scholarship.  I have no freaking idea what I’m doing next year, but even one year of University is more than I ever thought I’d do.  My family doesn’t have a lot of money.  Or any money, really, and I kind of have a little learning disability, not a big one but I actually have been postponing a visit to the disabilities center to talk about my exams and… I’m saying all the self-pitying stuff that I’m not supposed to tell people the first time I meet them.”

I looked at her, and I was able to see the group in the reflection in a window.  Rose was there too, looking about as worried as I felt.  Which was a lot.

“You know all that helpful, well-meaning advice they’re giving you?” I asked.

“Hm?  Yeah.”

“I’m really bad at following it, personally.  So I want you to know that with me, you don’t have to sweat it, okay?  I’m absolutely going to take it in stride, or I’ll try to.”

“Alexis said you’d be like that.”

“Alexis is pretty awesome,” I said.

That earned me my first really wide smile.  Common ground, a safe subject.

“She really is,” she said, followed by, a second later, another unprovoked hit to confidence.  “I feel like a bit of a pet project sometimes.”

“Take it from another pet project of hers,” I answered, “Don’t sweat it.  Joel was just telling me earlier, it doesn’t all have to be equivalent.  Take the good, don’t question it, and be glad to give what you can back.  They’re a good bunch of people, just… enjoy them.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, just take it in stride, relax,” I said.  “Speaking of giving, the painting you sold me might have saved my life, last night.  Thank you.”

“Really?  You paid too much for it.”

“I truly believe it was worth what I paid.  More than, even,” I said.  “I needed a gift, for a… very eccentric guy.  A bottle of wine wouldn’t have worked, and I needed to get in his good graces.  It got a good reception from just about everyone present.”

“Really?”

“Really.  Like I said, a lifesaver.”

“The eccentric guy liked it?”

“He wasn’t sure he liked it until everyone else started saying it was good.”

“So he didn’t like it.”

Another look at Tiffany, more pointed, another chance to see where the group was by way of peripheral vision.

They were flanking me.  Two of the girls, one on each side of me.  Like lionesses working together.

It caught me off guard enough that I forgot to say what I was going to say.

“He really didn’t like it?” she asked, taking my silence for something else.

“I meant what I said,” I told her, my eyes straight forward now.  “If I were to judge solely by the decor of his front hallway, I might say he doesn’t have a real sense of aesthetic, taste, or consistency.  He needed other people to chime in before he could decide for himself, about your painting.  But it did end up doing what it was supposed to, and a good number of people did like it.  Really.  Many of whom know what they’re talking about.  Take that for what it’s worth.”

She didn’t take her eyes off the ground, but I saw her expression soften, tension disappearing.  She unconsciously reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear.

I was so busy looking I nearly missed it.  Right there, to Tiffany’s right, the ethics building.

The group following seemed to be expecting me to go further down the path, to have more time to flank me or cut me off.

“This way,” I said, quickening my pace, “Sorry.”

Tiffany, however, slowed.  “I might have to catch up with you another time.  You’re obviously in a hurry, and I’m not a fast walker.”

If she stopped, however, the other guys would catch up with her-

They, I noticed, were reacting to my change of direction, realizing they wouldn’t be able to catch me.

“Coffee,” I blurted out.

“What?”

“One errand, I’ve got,” I said, walking backwards, mixing up my words in the hurry to get the idea out, “And I’ll treat you to coffee?”

She looked startled, deer in the headlights.  For a second, I thought she’d back up, fleeing my presence, right into the approaching group of eight or so guys.

But she nodded, quickening her pace to catch up with me again.

Still too slow.

The two of us reached the front door of the building.  I side-stepped to open it for her, and a hand stopped it from opening.

I turned, and saw the group was clustering around us.

“Hey!” one guy said.  Brown haired, wearing a dark green scarf, a letter jacket and skinny jeans.  He smiled wide, and made it look genuine.  “Been a little while, huh?”

A little while?

Oh.  He was one of the guys from last night.  One of the ones who’d been with the drunkard.

Followers of Dionysus on a University campus?

Fuck.  I could start to put two and two together with that.  The predatory women at the fringes of the crowd…

In my catch-up reading last night, I’d read about women that drank wine and blood both.  Tore men to shreds in violent, drunken revels.

“I actually have somewhere I’m aiming to be,” I said.

“Don’t be unfriendly, man,” he said.  “Come on.”

The guy was uncomfortably close.  The smell of him was too.  Weed and booze and guy smells and sunshine and hay.

“Who’s your friend?” another guy asked.  “Hello, miss.”

“Hi,” Tiffany said, her voice quiet.  She looked as if she were caught halfway between her complete lack of self confidence and the presence of the guys.

“Want to come to a party?  We’re pretty damn easygoing.”

“I was just at a party last night,” she said, glancing at me.

“Perfect,’ he said, not missing a beat.  “Parties every night, it’s how University is supposed to be.”

“Hey, man,” the guy in front of me said.  I could feel his breath in my face.  “You don’t need to worry about her.”

Then, under his breath, he said, “Worry about yourself.”

Worry about myself?

Fuck that.

“I gather your cult leader has a problem with me?” I asked, loud enough for Tiffany to hear.

“Cult?” Tiffany asked, her eyes widening.

The guy I was talking to gave me an annoyed look.  “That’s not exactly fair.  Or appropriate.”

“Yeah?” I asked.  “How would you describe it?”

“More like a frat,” he said. “Minus the initiations and douchebag stuff.  Very laid back.”

“With an emphasis on the laying?” I retorted.

His eyes narrowed.  “See, now you’re upsetting me a little, and I’m a really hard sort of guy to upset.”

“Great,” I said.  Trying to sound upbeat, not nearly as intimidated as I felt.  “Your fault, really.  You’re the one who approached me.  You’re keeping me from leaving.”

“Now you’re being argumentative,” he said.  He flashed another winsome smile.  “Don’t do that.”

“Where’s this discussion going?” I asked.

“We’re chatting, friendly-like,” he said.

“What’s the goal?” I asked, “What are you after?”

“Well, I figure maybe your friend could come with us, and you, me, and some of my lady companions here could go have a private chat.”

The lady companions.  They weren’t even trying to look like any private chat we had wouldn’t end up with me bleeding or dead.

“I don’t know,” Tiffany said.  “We were having a nice chat, and we were going to go out for coffee.”

“Coffee with friends can happen any time,” one of the guys said.

“Tiffany,” I said, “Cult.”

The idea seemed to knock some sense into her.

“I’d like to say we’re more like a frat minus all the stuff that makes frats unpleasant,” another guy chimed in.  “Question is, how often do you have a number of rather attractive young men expressing interest in you?”

I could see Tiffany trying to process the idea, as if it was a first-ever.

Fuck them, toying with her.  Tiffany seemed pretty cool.  I was not going to see her thrown to the wolves.  Or whatever animals these guys were.

“I don’t think you’re getting the message, here,” I said.

Physical contact was not a thing I really did, but I reached out and found Tiffany’s hand.  I gripped it, then pulled her closer.  When she was beside me, I put my arm around her shoulders.

She kind of froze, more than anything else.

“We’re going out to coffee soon, because I think she’s cool, and I’d like to get to know her better.  You’re being exactly the kind of douches you’re professing not to be.”

“Let me at him,” one of the girls said.

The lead-guy looked at me, “You know who she is?”

“I think I know what she is,” I said.

Which sounded pretty bad without context.

“I’m having a really hard time thinking of why I shouldn’t just let her at you,” he said.

Fuck.  With Tiffany right here?  I couldn’t do anything with her nearby.  I-

The window five feet to my left shattered violently.  Then another.

The group reacted, and the guy with his hand on the door moved it.

My arm still around Tiffany, I hauled the door open, forcing his gloved hand to slide rather than hold it shut, and hurried inside.

Coming face to face with Isadora.  Human, but her face and hair were very much recognizable.

“Hi,” I said.

“Bringing trouble to my doorstep, Mr. Thorburn?” she asked.  “And… female guests?”

“She’s the one who painted the thing you saw last night.”

“Mmm,” she said, “It was good.  Not my style, but good.  One moment.”

She walked past me, approaching the group of young men and women, who were on the other side of the door.

They backed away a bit as she stepped through.  The door clicked shut.

I could only barely hear her.  “Certain oversight at this University has been gracious enough to allow you to prowl on this campus.  If you would like to make an issue of it-”

“No, ma’am,” the lead guy said.

“Behave, and don’t overstep your bounds,” she said.  “Or privileges can be rescinded.”

They scattered.

The door opened.  “A window was broken.”

“Wasn’t us,” Tiffany said.  “It just happened.  I didn’t see how.”

“I’m sure,” Isadora said.  “I know what you’re going to ask, Mr. Thorburn.”

“Yeah?”

“You don’t have a sense of the big picture.  Or just what it means when you come to my doorstep, smelling like… something foul.  I’m sure you know what I mean.”

“He… doesn’t smell,” Tiffany said.  “You don’t have to be such a bitch.”

Wait, what?  This wasn’t the Tiffany I’d been talking to just seconds ago.

“There’s an irony in those two statements being paired together.  Nonetheless, I’ll cut this short, so you can be on your way.  No.  Not with the sort of business your family has done.  If you try anything, I’m going to work against you, if anything.”

“If you could put me in contact with some of the other locals-”

“No, Mr. Thorburn, and goodbye.”

With that, she was gone.

All for nothing.

“What was that about?” Tiffany asked.  “What a bitch.”

I sighed.

“I’m not sure why she reacted like that,” I said.  “It doesn’t matter.  Sorry about all that.”

“It’s okay.”

“The arm over your shoulder-”

“It’s- that’s more okay than the rest of it,” she said, eyes dropping to the ground.  She stammered a bit.  “I don’t- I’m not sure that makes sense.”

“It does,” I said.  “Listen, I did promise coffee, and it looks like I’m clear.”

“Yes,” she said, and she smiled in a shy way that made her eyes squint.

I could see why Alexis had connected to her.  Tiffany and I were similar in some ways, different in others.  Alexis hadn’t been completely off her rocker when she’d considered introducing us.  Only just a bit off her rocker in the how of it, maybe.  This wouldn’t be an obligation coffee, or a rescue-coffee.  I was pretty confident in that, now.

I just wished I could feel half as confident about the radiation and its momentary influence on her.

Or about Rose, who might have suffered for those two windows she’d broken.

Or the deadline, and the Imp we had to figure out how to bind.

Or anything, really.

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168 thoughts on “Collateral 4.5

  1. The next chapter link on the previous chapter isn’t working. I had to get here through WordPress’ automatic next chapter/last chapter thing. Also, typo thread.

    1. It’s working now. WordPress/my internet decided to be rude at precisely midnight, I got one thing through, but not with my last-second edits, including the links.

      Anyone seeing this comment might want to reread the last segment (following the Sphinx making her exit), as it was a bit kludgy before.

      Thanks for the heads up, either way.

    2. snowbank (more than once)
      more commonly snow bank

      malign interests. but
      either an extra period or an uncapitalized B

      Pauz said. he
      uncapitalized H

      “Your were thinking about all that?”we
      no space, uncapitalized W

      every one
      more commonly everyone

      infectino
      infection

      Speaking of giving, The painting
      capitalized T

      Shall I call on the names of the fifth choir?
      If Pauz is an imp of the fifth choir, how is calling on his counterparts going to cow him? Should Rose be calling on his superiors? Are they in the same choir?

      1. My understanding was that Paws is a servant/creation of the fifth choir. If that is the case, Rose was talking about his superiors.

      2. Pauz seems to hope the fifth choir has forgotten him and Rose is cowing him by telling him that the Thorburns have a long professional history with the higher ups of the fifth choir. Including Baphomet it seems.

    3. CHECK OTHERS

      “Not when I could ask them to remove them from the picture as a bargaining point they wouldn’t even think twice about.”
      ask them to remove you*?

      “It’s part of that vibe I get from them, I dunno.”
      Is that whole thing supposed to be italicized?

      1. Bugger, that “CHECK OTHERS” was a reminder to myself to take out duplicate typos >.< Sorry about that, everyone.

      2. Not when I could ask them to remove them from the picture as a bargaining point they wouldn’t even think twice about.”

        Seems like you have an extra ‘them’ that should be a ‘you’.

    4. visitors center
      visitor’s center, although admittedly a lot of the signs I have seen for them do not use the correct possessive either

    5. ” pawn’s ” should probably be ” pawns’ ” in the sentence below:
      “You’re not even a pawn on their pawn’s chessboards”

    6. “putting things into tidy category of goblin and demon” -> ‘tidy categories of goblins and demons’, or something. The current phrasing seems off somehow.

  2. “Alexis pretty awesome,” I said.
    Missing an “is”.

    “You were thinking about all that?”we give the contract a time limit.
    The second part seems unrelated.

    1. I think she knows.

      You don’t have a sense of the big picture.
      I am led to believe that all of the major players know, but it’s most beneficial to keep him Lord currently while various plots and plans are being made and done in the background.

      1. Probably they do. But that means they are all willing to throw Blake to the wolves, and that is a problem for Blake.

        Or the big picture refers to just how bad they find his Karma, and Diabolists in general.

  3. Anyways, as it appears I am the first comment, great work Wildbow, read Worm, loved every word of it. Your writing has much improved from the beginning of Worm to now, kinda a unique experience to see a writer evolve. Anyways, thanks for the story.

  4. Well, everyone’s still trying to kill Blake.

    At least he’s closer to being able to pull the trigger on the whole demonic apocalypse thing. Honestly, him ending the world would make my week.

    1. It would be an interesting turn if the majority of Pact ended up taking place post (literal) apocalypse or in the after life.

      It may have to if Blake doesn’t get a major win soon.

    2. I maintain that the best course or action Blake could take here is to find a way of using the Barber to sever a very specific connection – that of magic to the world. Just think, Lairde utterly screwed because non of his esoteric tools would work and he’d find he was up against people who were much better practiced at the mundane, Conquest dispelled to become an abstract idea without a personification. Demons forever severed from the world, angels and gods too. Others left as either strange memories or confused humans. A very strong winning position.

    1. It’s only going to get worse, the more he interacts with the Infernal, the more the Supernatural Rot sets into his presence so Others/Practitioners with powers tide to the Natural & Divine perceives him as foul no matter the circumstances.

      1. Problem is that every being that could help him avoid that path has already decieded he’s too fart gone.

        This has been the one thing I haven’t liked so much about Pact so far. Too many out to get Blake, with his only chance to not die horribly being to embrace damnible powers.

  5. SQUEEEE! Woo date!

    Side note: Laird has forced Blake into a situation where he needs to hand Conquest over to Pauz. Are we 100% sure he isn’t on team demon? It would make all of his actions seem a lot more logical.

  6. I guess Blake should have asked for help before tangling with the imp-thingy. He is being almost as stupid as every other practitioner we’ve met so far. Maybe there’s something about magic that makes people make crap decisions or something…

    1. In Blake’s defence, he didn’t expect to actually confront or do anything with Paws.

      On the other side, Blake should have expected the imp to show up, if only because of his bad Karma.

      1. “So, this guy who wants to unleash an astrocidal demon on the world also wants me to gather some stuff for him. You know, an imp that’s trying to pervert the natural order so he can become an even greater purveyor of death, that sort of thing. Who wants in?”

  7. “Look, we need to talk, because both you and I lack a complete picture and it’s doing us both a lot of damage.”

    I really wish that Blake could come across just one person who’s interested in reacting after trying to understand the situation. Rejecting people based on family stereotypes is exactly the sort of thing practitioners are supposed to have a talent for avoiding – it even mentions in this chapter how reckless it is to assume you know the difference between a goblin and an imp. I dunno if it’s arrogance or the influence of bad karma or what, but the level of blind prejudice Blake keeps facing seems more on a level of people ousting a garbageman because of how he smells than of any kind of actual moral considerations. When is he going to meet someone who can react intelligently instead of reflexively?

    1. I really wish that Blake could come across just one person who’s interested in reacting after trying to understand the situation.
      I agree, it is bugging met too. Isadora’s given reason, which is his family, is wrong in this case – Blake is the black sheep of the family and doesn’t want to enter the family business. By not helping him avoid his problems, she is making it harder for him to not to deal with demons, just by sheer necessity.

      However, it may be the smart move in the long run when dealing with diabolists. Given what tends to happen to them and those around them, most people who deal with them probably regret it in the end. Isadora has been around long enough to see the pattern and steer clear of it.

      Still, it would be very satisfying if Blake somehow saved her ungrateful butt.

      1. Rose mentioned it earlier, about how diabolist slowly become influenced by their demons, and the deals. It’s an inherent risk, no matter how noble he is, and its not helped by having Pauz’s scent all over him.

        She’s an Other that proceeds over Karmic Balance and he’s draped in Bad Karma and supernatural rot. She can probably see the good, and she knows he wasn’t lying when he said he’s been trying to steer clear, but she’s been around enough to know how power corrupts.

        The only reason she didn’t kill him already is because she’s staying away. She’s not helping him, but she’s not gunning for him just yet.

        1. “If you try anything, I’m going to work against you, if anything.”

          If anything I thinks she is gunning for him and going out of her way to counter EVERYTHING he’s going to do like what Laird did in Jacob’s Bell.

          1. But she’s not trying to flat out kill him. Remember, she’s far stronger than him and an Other. It wouldn’t take much for her to make him vanish, and he was the one who approached her while smell as he does, even if he’s working for Conquest.

            Isadora and the Astrologer both said they would be working against Conquest in his goal to use Blake, enemies or not. The easiest thing for them to do if they wanted to stop him was to kill Blake. They’re probably going to hinder him, but it’s clear that despite Blake trying to save himself he’s playing a dangerous game and they’re trying to minimize the fallout.

            1. Isadora is a Karmic being… but that means that at the same time, she almost certainly needs very good reasons – or permission – to actually kill someone. Countering their every move, on the other hand, seems to be pretty freely allowed because the laws of Karma lack errata or scope – there is no ‘spirit’ to the law, only the letter.

              This is especially odd in light of the mention that the spirit of the truth is helpful in a karmic sense. Perhaps there are multiple systems at work? Perhaps the ‘spirit’ is simply so much lesser than the ‘letter’ that Laird can afford not only to work despite it, but to actually discount it?

    2. One of the biggest problems is that Others, and I suspect this rubs off on practicioners who deal with them, is that they don’t recognize changes too well. Take the whole recognizing the bloodline more than the individual. Honestly I’m amazed that doesn’t bite Others in the ass more often. Have an enemy bloodline, and expect them to always act the same, use the same strategems? You might find that the parent you perfectly understood the mind of is replaced by a child who does things you cannot follow, and suddenly you are losing.

      It seems both the others, and even the Universe have a hard time realizing one of the great universal constants. Things change. And you either keep up, or you die.

        1. Except that they don’t seem to have suffered confusion for it. Others hunt bloodlines – but the children are not the parents, and the most dangerous thing for a defender or hunter is the unexpected. Why are there still so many Others who ignore such changes?

          For a bloodline like Sandra’s, it makes sense – the mother bind the daughters to behave in the same way, and so they intentionally stifle change. But even there, there are witch hunters outside the system but associated that… don’t seem to have had any impact?

      1. Interesting. And rather a good explanation for how humanity went from being Other chow to serious contenders on the world stage. Others are often more powerful, but just don’t adapt as quickly as humans do.

        Why do I feel like Blake’s going to end up being the poster child for this theory?

    1. That was my first reaction also. I guess “I’ll tell your boss about your screw-ups” is a serious threat when the boss in question is a demon lord.

    2. I also like the hint at the Pactverse demonic structure – Baphomet seems to be an ex-virtue (5th choir), summoned with 5 calls.
      By this logic Ornias would be ex-principatus. Ms. Lewis didn’t give Blake that big of a nuke after all.

      Interestingly, if the 7th choir can already cause meteor impacts and entropy boosts worldwide, the stronger ones would happily munch on the godzilla threshold for breakfast.

      1. Bah, we all know that by the end of the story Blakewill have summoned ole Nick himself. Because you can’t have a story about diabolists and not have Lucipher show up. Beelzebub and Asmodeus ( which admittedly may be more probable what with the Seal of Solomon reference etc) migh or might not be acceptable substitutes 😀

        1. Turns out Lucifer is actually quite alright, and not too crazy about his job.
          “So you never wanted to be a Diabolist, and spread darkness and entropy in the world? I can relate. I was all “But Lord, I think things are fine the way they are, and I don’t see why I would want to rebel and be cast out”. Well you know how that went. Only upside is that I get most of the really good bands.”

      2. Good catch on the 5th choir, five calls thing. We’ll see if it holds up later but it sounds good so far. So does that mean that there are demons that can be summoned by one repetition of their name (in the right mouths of course)?

        Looking it up, it seems every medieval scholar had a different structure for the choirs, if Wikipedia is accurate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_angelic_hierarchy, and look under the section “Choirs in medieval theology”. And of course, it appears most of them arranged hell in a different manner than heaven.

        But if this holds, the demonic first choir, the equivalent of Seraphim, can be invoked by a single naming. That actually sounds a lot more dangerous than the beings who take more effort. One slip of the tongue… although I guess it has to be deliberate or homonyms would kill a lot of practitioners.

      3. But “placing stars in the Firmament” is quite close to the attributions fo Virtues (supervising the movement of heavenly bodies), so that’s a bit weird…
        Also, apparently according to some sources Satan himself was from the sixth choir (Authorities) before he fell, so there’s not a clear corellation between the choir a demon was in before he fell and its power.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_angelic_hierarchy

  8. By the way, thank you so much for finally giving us at least a glimpse of how June works. I’ve just been dying for one, so even with it being brief and distant with Blake’s interference, thank you.

    Now, would the cell damage from the cold balance against the reduced bloodloss…

  9. I was so pleased to come into this at the start, as opposed to when I began reading Worm a quarter of the way through. “No more playing catch up.” I thought. Ha. Life had other plans…

    Anywho, I’m really enjoying this. Especially the contrast between Pact and Worm. Pact feels like it’s foraging it’s own path. It doesn’t feel at all like a side project. It’s it’s own separate, and equally magnificent, creation. Truly loving everything about it, and that’s coming from someone who usually hates magical settings, or anything other than scifi really.

    I’ve tried my hardest to read through the comments while trudging through the archive, but the comments are longer than the story itself on most updates. Has anyone in the comments found a reason in mythology or in fan theory for dogs and rats being forbidden forms for Familiars? It’s been bugging me. It must have a reason and I’m sure it will be revealed eventually, but it seems like half the familiars we’ve seen have broken that rule. Something that only applies to Diabolists? And of course, one last question. Do we have a proper fan art repository yet like the Undersiders group on DeviantArt? I’ve seen Pencil Monkey’s work, which I love btw, but I was surprised to not find anyone else doing anything in the fan art department.

    1. Welcome to the Pact – I remember you from Worm (note that you were with Worm longer than I was).

      OK, rats and dogs. It comes down to Johannes.

      RDT’s notes on Johannes say “He bears a set of antique pipes as his implement, and has a Gatekeeper of the Seventh Ring (ref Astral Bodies: vol 3, and Prime Movers) as his familiar, named Faysal Anwar, which takes the form of a rather large Afghan Hound.” (1.6) Blake notes that many of the Others and spirits around Johannes are children. If Johannes is based off of the Pied Piper of Hamelin (pipes + controls children), he can control children and rats using the pipes. Note that many Duchamps have (things in the form of) cats as familiars. (3.3) This is also bad news for rats.

      As far as dogs, the pipes may be able to control dogs also. Other commenters came up with different theories. First, the only two dogs we have seen have been deific spirits of considerable power (Faysal Anwar and Tromos). So the form may be reserved. Also, with Faysal Anwar around, any other dog is definitely not the alpha dog and this is bad news for anyone opposing Johannes.

      So, all guesses, but if you are playing local politics in Jacob’s Bell, rats get eaten or taken away and dogs get cowed by Faysal Anwar.

    2. Two possible working theories for why dogs are a no no:

      1.) We have seen one confirmed devine familiar, and one supposed devine familiar, which each took the form of a dog. The lord of a city as depicted in one of the assorted pages chapters, and Johannes’, respectively. This is evidence that such Others prefer dogs and that there is some connection.

      2.) Dogs just plain do not like demons. Just look what happened with the yapper dog this chapter. I think there may have been an earlier incident but can’t remember for sure. Evidently famiars take a genuine mortal form, not just a guise. Some of them learn quite a bit actually having fluids and stuff flowing and jiggling and whatever , as its a novel experience to more abstract Others. The dogness may interfere with their duties because of that.

      There are a BUNCH of reasons, both physical and symbolic, as to why dogs wouldn’t like demons. Some breeds, especially in Asia, were bred to serve in temples and protect against evil spirits. Add in that a primary reason to have a dog is for general protection, and they may just have a natural resources instinct at work.

      Also, demons and diabolists apparently just… Stink, to arcane senses. So there is that.

      1. That’s already been addressed in Jacob’s Bell. iirc, Laird even mentioned it in the coffee meeting. Dogs are a no-no because of how powerful those Others are.

        The dog in the subway barked because of the corrupted smell that the imp left on Blake

        1. Agreed on the second point.

          On the first, please clarify. What Laird said in the meeting (1.5) was:

          “Unconventional, but a police dog was off the table, and I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life dealing with any Other that would need to take such a large and inconvenient mortal form. Not that this one is so weak.”

          So Laird did say a police dog was “off the table” and mentioned the problem of having a large companion of any sort, but why dogs aren’t good for anyone in general is unclear.

          1. It’s possible it’s because of Johannes. If he has the super-alpha dog like the Valkyrie, that could mean that weaker Others would be more ‘submissive’ especially if they’re taking a similar form, and Laird didn’t want to chance that?

            1. It feels like a more general rule than dealing with the one upstart Sorcerer in the town. I could be wrong, but it really seems to be a more standard precaution, at least until you reach certain levels of power.

              Or, you know, it could have been a deal that Granny made with her cat familiar before her death.

      2. I’m liking the idea of dogs naturally clashing with Others and thus making for bad mortal forms. If I’m remembering correctly, it’s been mentioned that dogs used to protect people from Others in colonial times and whatnot. If even the little purse-dog is naturally violent towards just the residual evil of an Imp then it would make sense that only an extremely powerful familiar could get past that natural clash between dogs and the supernatural.

        1. I think the purse dog was so aggresive because of the very specific residual imp evil. That little bit of stink seems to make things aggressive. Tiffany was also affected by it.

    3. Hey… wait a minute… weren’t you the “death sketchbook” person? I seem to recall you drawing a bunch of characters from Worm, who all died the moment you posted them to the comments section.

      Please don’t kill off Blake.

      1. I keep trying to be reassuring without mentioning spoilers, but it’s turning out to be pretty difficult. Let’s just say it turns out I’m probably not actually cursed. Thank goodness 😛

        I am immensely please people still remember that, though. Good times back in the Days of Worm.

          1. Most certainly. Use it however you please. Honestly as long as people don’t pass it off as their own I don’t care what they do with the stuff I make. I’m just pleased to see it getting used and spread around 🙂

        1. There were special rules applied in some cases remember? They had continent sized balls.. You know who i mean. Best non protagonist I think i saw there. I really don;t think this is spoiler but wildbow, if it is I’ll take full abjurement.

  10. Thinking by typing…

    So, Blake can’t even get close to an imp unshielded without being temporarily twisted. Better learn a mobile defense ASAP. It appears that Rose’s distance is effective sheilding for her.

    I agree with Blake, Pauz was a lot more thoughtful than expected. If it takes from everyone it controls then eventually it will be quite knowledgable and powerful. Spark to blaze indeed.

    Rose and Blake both keep saying the name Pauz after leaving it behind. That is not smart given the class of entity they are dealing with. Every other named demon notices when Blake or Rose says their name, and Rose even mentioned this when bargaining with Pauz.

    Followers of Dionysus on a University campus?
    That’s a good fit for the satyrs, but maybe not for the Maenads (Bacchae).

    “He… doesn’t smell,” Tiffany said. “You don’t have to be such a bitch.”
    “There’s an irony in those two statements being paired together.”
    I caught it on second read – the demonic taint that Tiffany is not noticing is influencing her behavior negatively, so even though she says nothing is wrong (“He… doesn’t smell”) the second statement proves something is wrong.

    Hopefully Tiffany isn’t too tainted (feral?) from the second-hand demon smoke. Alexis would not be pleased with Blake if Tiffany came back less balanced than before. The demon taint may be a counter to her passivity, but I don’t think anything good comes from getting demon radiation poisoning.

    1. Isadora’s line could also be a straight animal thing – dogs and smells. I’m not sure how to explain. I like your idea, too.

      1. That’s what I thought before this post too, that it was her being a ‘bitch’–or at least, more like an animal–that let her smell what Tiffany was missing. This interpretation fits better though, I think.

    2. So, Blake can’t even get close to an imp unshielded without being temporarily twisted. Better learn a mobile defense ASAP. It appears that Rose’s distance is effective sheilding for her.

      Given that Blake took so quickly to the glamour, my suspicion is that he’s excessively in tune with the various supernatural effects practitioners experience. So he feels the biting cold of June more, his tattoos grow more vivid even with no conscious use of glamour, he gets hit hard by the supernatural radiation from demons, etc.

      See how quickly he took to the Sight (and the difference between his and Rose’s rituals) and all the other practical skills he’s tried. One walk with a Lawyer and he can detect and mask connections, he defeats a faerie on his first attempt (with no power to his name, even), he uses his warding skills to block off supernaturally angry animals and an imp.

      Rose, on the other hand, is seemingly unable to use even the Sight. She makes up for this by being orders of magnitude more competent with the verbal skills, which makes sense both by virtue of their differing experiences (life on the streets vs. life with the family) and any possible magical shenanigans RDT may have undertaken.

      1. Blake is excessively sensitive because he’s weak. That’s been fairly solidly established.

        Interesting idea that said sensitivity is something he could use, though. Not sure how, but getting bowled over by things stronger opponents barely notice might be a useful plot point eventually.

        1. Claymore is a manga that treads along this line. Essentially the ‘weakest’ of the soldiers focuses on being able to detect the sort of ‘essence’ of the enemy. This lets her avoid attacks where stronger Claymores have to block/defend with brute force.

        2. Blake is especially sensitive because Blake was never real / didn’t exist until recently. Rose was the original heir and this is their grandmother’s plan to protect them.

          It would make their min-maxing make sense, how Blake could be heir despise being a guy, why only Rose’s voice appears to have supernatural effects, and so forth. Right?

          This is my pet theory.

          1. I had a similar theory until I realised his backstory has too much vauge glimpses that will eventually be explained. If he were just a new minmax player then he would have already had an explained backstory or from a less meta perspective be more rose like in skill set and less prone to impulsive instinctual actions.

          2. Unlikely because, again, Blake’s friends are real and they remember Blake.

            Unless you’re implying RDT is powerful enough to rewrite history in a city under the rule of a powerful Lord.

  11. Rose was badass in this chapter and Fauz was hilarious in a dark humour sort of way (like most funny things in Pact). Apparently, the Thorburns have had dealings with Baphomet. I wonder if he’ll make an appearance.

    Jerry has evidently decided to throw subtlety to the winds. I understand that the Olympians liked their sturm und drang and Dionysus was the god of the frenzy, but he was also the god of madness, of making people see things that are not there or that are not what hey seem, the god who liked to hide his divinity to help mortals screw up even more before punishing them.

    I wonder how much the demonic rot had to do with Isadora’s newfound abruptness.

    1. It wasn’t necessarily Jerry. While Jerry seems to have some clout with them, that doesn’t automatically mean the Maenads and Bacchites don’t also wander around doing their own thing – perhaps on their own initiative and perhaps under direction from Dionysus.

  12. I wonder if we weren’t all that far off the mark with the Rob Ford comments after all. Its pretty heavily implied what would happen to a political heavy weight who came under Pauz’s sway, and it does kind of match up with what we know.

    I dunno Wildbow, are there genuine coincidences in this work?

  13. Soooo, I was trailing the Web when I came across this little beauty….

    A nice little mock up of how I imagine the Thorburn Library looks like. They even got the lighting right.
    wallpaperswide.com/the_library-wallpapers.html

  14. I recommend vale for as a familiar as he has little chance of denying Blake or betraying and has rose to keep him from stealing depending if he actually listens to her. Or to compliment his glamour skills Orias or marbas.

    1. …what? Who the heck are Vale and Marbas? And in what way does a demon who makes all the energy sources in the world grow less efficient complement glamour?

  15. You know I sometimes wonder if Wildbow shouldn’t rename this series “Watch as Blake gets ever more fucked.” It seems like every step Blake makes he gets shoved back two.

    I also have two riddles.
    What is the fastest way to make someone an enemy?
    What is the surest way to ensure someone is damned?
    One hint. They both have the same answer.

    Anyways I’m sure something horrible will happen because of getting coffee with Tiffany.

    1. Something horrible will probabbly happen to Tiffany & she’ll end up blaming Blake for it (most likely the frat boys will try again out side of Isadora’s domain).

      1. Well judging by how things have been going so far, either
        A: something happens at the Coffee shop that puts Blake and Tiffany in danger, that Blake narrowly manages to avoid dying horribly from, but at least he makes it out okay.
        Or
        B: Things actually go okay at the coffee shop, but then something happens tottally makes any gains Blake made feel utterly hollow.

      1. Well Tam Lin’s answer isn’t wrong…

        Though the answer I was going for is “Treat them as though they already are.”

  16. Blake is going to need some protection from demon radiation if he’s going to keep dealing with these things. Or at least some anti-demon smell deodorant. Maybe carry some sage in his pockets or something.

      1. That would have the problem of repelling normal people, and probably a few Others he doesn’t mean to repel as well.

  17. “Not when I could ask them to remove them from the picture as a bargaining point they wouldn’t even think twice about.”

    It sounds like it’s supposed to be “remove you” rather than “remove them”

  18. Looking from the perspective of the characters, instead of our own, it kind of feels quite sensible to stay away and refuse to help or even actively obstruct any diabolist. Generally speaking, their current situation is good and one they like being in (the exceptions are often more willing to work with Blake) and they’re confident they can handle it, whereas working with Blake would basically be playing around with a nuke and bringing it into that familiar playing field that they like, they have power in and they’re good at handling already. Why would they do that?

    1. Keep in mind that roughly two thirds of diabolists fail badly enough that they die or have to join the demon law firm. Of those, how many do you think screw up badly enough that their messes cause egregious harm to anyone in the area? It’s not like accidentally setting off a nuke only hurts the person who made the mistake. This of course isn’t even counting those among the diabolists who stay alive who are sociopathic enough that they don’t care about the effects their work has on others. With a few exceptions, many people would think obstructing diabolists from practicing would be a good thing.

      As to working with them, in a few cases you might need an expert’s help to bind something that’s lose in your town. Or in Conquest’s case he’s just desperate for the kind of power that will keep him alive.

  19. Just a random thought that popped into my head, not sure if someone else has said it yet.

    I think a good idea for an implement for Blake would be a mirror. It would work well with the whole ‘Rose stuck in a mirror’ thing. I think it also fits with his view of not trying to be a diabolist but just trying to survive. He could set his magic around the idea of reflecting other people’s (or things) magic back at them. A good defense while still able to be used offensively.

  20. So, I had some thoughts on the business of what Others smell like. Demons, devils, goblins, and a many other types of Others seem to have smells relating to their nature.

    Barbatorem smells of rot, burning hair, and blood. Pauz smells of feces, hot garbage, and blood. I’d imagine Ornias smells like fire and blood. The Others associated with Dionysus smell of sex, wine, and some degree of blood. Blood smell seems to indicate a degree of violence.

    Demons and devils in particular seem to leave their stink on anyone who has had dealings with them. This might make things particularly troublesome for Blake if he took a demon familiar, since many beings seem to be inclined to work against anything that smells like that and it would make any dealings with such entities less likely to succeed. However, I currently find it very likely that Blake will end up with the demon in the factory as a familiar – it’s a lesser entity, more an animal than something clever that can plot against him, and then there’s the rule of three. Three days to perform three bindings on three diabolic beings. The proposed binding with Pauz is limited, I imagine the binding of the hyena goblin will be stronger but more along the lines of binding Dickswizzle to the whistle, and that means the last binding will probably the biggest and most powerful if it succeeds. A familiar binding would fit that.

    But that leaves Blake with the problem of having permanent demon stink on him. However, I have had a thought about that – again, the smell of a particular Other seems to be associated with its nature, with what it does. What kind of smell would a being that effectively obliviates the entire world of a person’s existence smell like? Given that the person in question is just gone, completely erased and only leaving behind gaps, would there even be a smell? Maybe instead this particular being is much more subtle, simply giving off a feeling that something is missing or that you’ve forgotten something.

    Hell, it might not even be a demon. It sounds kind of like a demon, but Others aren’t always easy to classify. The ones who identified it as a demon are the Knights of the Basement, and they are just dabblers who probably only considered as one of the major local powers due to the size of their circle more than anything. They certainly don’t seem to be the types who’d know much about demons and devils, so misidentification is perfectly possible. It could just be a rare type of Other associated with memory that has some demonic qualities. It wouldn’t be the first Other we’ve seen that blurs the line.

    1. So if Blake takes the “abstract devil” as a familiar, would Blake end up having no smell at all since it’ll affect his nature & wipe away the memory & existence of his scent?

      1. I don’t think getting a familiar affects the practitioner’s nature unless it’s part of the contract or the familiar is powerful enough to force changes on the practitioner. Really though it depends on the nature of the entity in question. It’s possible that Blake might be able to use it’s erasure powers as a form of protection, erasing any demonic “radiation” that comes his way so that he doesn’t smell bad to Others that don’t like diabolic beings.

  21. Pact ‘parallel art’ thread, or where fans can plop all the Pact Adjacent art (read not actual fanart, but pretty darn close… ) that they happen to come across on the Worldwide.

    Word. B-)

    1) Isadora

    2) Thorburn Library

    ………….

    That’s it for now. Enjoy and see if u can’t add to the pseudo-fanart collection. Cheers!

  22. Since no-one else noted it so far… Rose stole a trick from Blake there, using “Baph-” like Blake used “Orn-” as a successful bluff. That is like bluffing with live explosives, though.

  23. Jeremy will know shortly that Blake approached Isadora. Jeremy can screw Blake by pointing this out to Conquest, but Blake can screw Jeremy by pointing out that the satyrs threatened to sic the Bacchae an Blake, which would have messed up Conquest’s plans (Jeremy did agree to not oppose Conquest on this). Mexican standoff / mutual assured problems with Conquest. Any bets on who shoots first? My personal bet is Jeremy.

  24. I trudged on in silence, resisting the urge to fidget and burn off more of that lingering adrenaline. I pulled my gloves off and wrung my hands, then cracked my knuckles.

    Did Blake’s Faerie locket disappear? He normally has it wrapped around his hand under his glove. Has it faded into the background? It would be very bad for Blake if he loses his only power source (other than his own blood).

    1. Regardless of whether he lost it or not, this would be a good place for Wildbow to put in a mention of the locket. Emphasize that the locket is uncomfortable and noticeable.

  25. Huh, I hope that Rose speaks to Isadora in private, try to explain the situation. Also, there’s some chemistry between Alexis and Blake! Lovely!

    And Rose almost saying Baphomets’ (I think) name was a reckless thing to do. It was still very effective, though. And holy crap that imp is bad news.

    Poor Blake.

  26. Does anybody remember the LG Shine? It was a cellphone from before smartphones became really popular (around 2009 iirc). It had a metal body and a shiny screen. The big selling point, was that the screen doubled as a mirror.

    Blake should get one of these phones. It has a built in communication for Rose. I also imagine that it would be relatively cheap and inconspicuous for Blake.

    Perhaps it could even be his implement.

  27. Anybody else mentally give Pauz Baby Herman’s voice from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

    I know I did.

    Also, much as I think Isadora seems cool and all, I think this chapter may have been Wildbow’s not so subtle jossing of the familiar shippers for her. And I don’t blame him one bit for it either. I think something a lot of people are missing is that just because something looks like it may be powerful, doesn’t mean it’ll actually work or make any sense to do it without really torturing things into shape. While torturing his characters IS something WB is famous for, he tends to leave plot points comparatively unscathed.

    Of course, I have my own theories and ships of my own (BlakexJohannesOTP4LoL), but I’ve about given up on seeing them actually happen. And I’ll know WB has just been straight tolling us if Blake and J really do get together.

    1. No, I didn’t, but I probably will now. You bastard.

      As to Isadora, while I’m a fan of the notion that she’d make a good combo with Blake I never really found it likely. If nothing else she’s powerful enough that she’s considered one of the local powers just by being there, which means she sits pretty high on the power scale as far as Others go. Getter her as a familiar in a way that didn’t screw Blake would make him too powerful too soon. As stated, I’m thinking the eraser demon now – lesser being on the scale of power, but has a non-standard ability that could be very powerful if used creatively.

      1. Even before that, why would Isadora lower herself to being someone else’s familiar in the first place?

        She’s a Sphinx, an Other whose powers revolve around Karmic Balance. Fae may do it if bored and demons if there is something for them to get out of it, but why would she limit herself by being tied to one person when she’s a local power by simply existing?

        Blake has nothing to truly offer her in exchange for being a familiar.
        And that’s not even including the fact that his family’s dealings and what he’s currently doing goes against her very nature.

        Making a demon a familiar wouldn’t be the smartest thing he could do if he was claiming to distance himself from it. If the rot or radiation Pauz was giving off was any indication, and Pauz is a minor demon, then having one bound by such a connection would leave the rot all over him.

        1. Like I said, it was never likely to happen. The only way I could conceive of it happening is if she was somehow in a position where she was weakened enough that Blake could force a familiar agreement favorable to him upon her. Say after a battle with Conquest or something like that. That probably wouldn’t be a good basis for a lifelong relationship though.

          As to the minor demon and its own smell, I posted earlier speculating that the eraser demon might now have a ‘smell’ given the nature of what it does. Besides, while the universe is consistently trying to kill Blake it seems to balance things out by giving him an out if he’s clever enough to find it… even if said out is sometimes bad in its own way. Binding it as a familiar may be the only way he could bind it, with the alternative being erased.

  28. “Bringing trouble to my doorstep, Mr. Thorburn?” she [Isadora] asked. “And… female guests?”

    She asked two questions and Blake answered at least one. That means either the “allowed to eat people who answer her questions wrong” rule doesn’t apply in this situation, or he answered the question well enough,… or she is now allowed to eat Blake.

    1. I think “She’s the one who painted the thing you saw last night” is either a correct answer or a more likely a non-answer (because “And… female guests?” is a yes-no question, if it’s a question at all. If Isador had asked “who is she?”, then maybe Blake could have been in trouble.

  29. I don’t really understand the Cult followers’ behaviour. What we’re they aiming at, the way they behaved? Why didn’t they just go for a full out sprint to catch (up with) him if they wanted to stop and possibly harm him? If they wanted to kill him why not flat out do it? Instead of this looming threatening “we’re coming for you but not quickly enough” walk…

    1. I think they were trying to blend in and not cause a scene. Blake tries to be on guard, so he happened to notice them following him. They may not have realized that he knew, for Blake never turned around. He only sent Rose to investigate and got s glimpse when speaking with Tiffany. The moment Blake allows himself to be distracted, they reach him, catching him off guard. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were aiming for.

      I think they didn’t want to just hurt Blake. Jerry wants to talk to Blake sometime. They saw an opportunity to retrieve him.

  30. I think the Dionysian cultists were just a show of force, and an attempt at an invitation. Of course, subtlety is hardly a hat of the Drunk God, and Blake would have been too stupid to live if he believed a word they said.

    But they lost nothing for trying, as they and Jeremy were never really on Isadora’s good side to begin with. She just barely tolerates their presence as long as they follow the rules, and they know that she could slaughter the lot of them should they give her cause. Isadora didn’t help Blake, but she probably did… Expedite his extrication from the situation with her arrival.

    Just like a teacher showing up right as a bully is about to hit someone. Entirely appropriate, considering her guise.

    Note I’m referring specifically to the cultists here. The cult in its entirety, including the satyrs, nymphs, and bachae, certainly have numbers going for them. Barring devine intervention, Isadora could likely take on any three to five members of Jeremy’s faction, depending on the group’s composition and how metaphorically tied her hands were. At a guess. The group sent after Blake was definitely not in her league though, as it seemed to be composed entirely of mortals. The ladies might have been scarier, but I doubt any of them had Power.

    I don’t Jeremy necessarily expected this attempt to work, and if he did, then its pretty good evidence he’s either a moron or totally over his head. Or hey, both. The only logical reason to bother trying this is accepting that even a 5% chance of success is worth trying when there isn’t any penalty for failure. This was just a metaphorical free spin at the wheel. No reason not to take as many such spins as are offered.

    Or who knows? Maybe this is all one big Xanatos gambit. shrug

      1. Arguments for accident:
        —A college campus sounds like happy hunting grounds for satyrs and nymphs, so it is not surprising to find them there.
        —The first satyr to see Jeremy was one of the ones that recognized him from last night, who then alerted the others. If they had been on the prowl, they would all have been given a description, and maybe some sort of tracker if Jeremy could come up with one.
        —The satyrs did not specifically stake out Isadora or the Ethics building.

        Arguments for deliberate:
        —Jeremy might have planned it as a blocking maneuver for an attempt to contact Isadora. Jeremy knew where she worked after all. And Jeremy might know that shadowing Isadora too closely would lead to trouble and tell his charges to spread a wider net.
        —They certainly dropped enough clues that Isadora was an actual professor, and where do you look for professors? So even if Isadora wasn’t at the college, Blake might show up there.
        —The Bacchae do not fit in on a college campus and the satyrs can probably take care of themselves, so the Bacchae’s presence indicates intent to have combat.

        Bottom line? Lot’s of reasons for this to happen, accident or deliberate. And Blake’s bad karma probably helps both accidents and deliberation that work against him.

      2. Divination is not outside of Dionysus’s purview. He was the god of many things.

        That said a more mundane lookout does seem probable.

    1. Barring devine intervention, Isadora could likely take on any three to five members of Jeremy’s faction, depending on the group’s composition and how metaphorically tied her hands were.

      I think that Isadora could take all of the nymphs and satyrs easily. There is no evidence that they are combat-oriented or significantly stronger than a normal. The Bacchae are very combat-oriented but are berserker types (frenzied, technically), meaning that they can probably be tricked into traps and don’t coordinate with each other well, so they might be dangerous in unplanned combat but a good tactician or strategist should be able to beat them.

    2. I’m sure that you don’t mean an invitation to join them for real, what with Blake thinking, “they weren’t even trying to look like any private chat we had wouldn’t end up with me bleeding or dead.”

      I would argue that that is help, but that could be considered semantics.

      Uh. Entirely of mortals? The men were “the guys from last night. One of the ones who’d been with the drunkard,” which we know are satyrs, if Rose and Tiffany’s deteriorating mental processes weren’t clues enough, and the women were “women that drank wine and blood both. Tore men to shreds in violent, drunken revels,” the Bacchae or Maenads.

      I’m pretty confident that it was an accident, but even it wasn’t, it doesn’t strike me as that impossible to work. Even if Blake didn’t fall for their lines, people are incredibly stupid in some ways–there are enough people who essentially pantomime a kidnapping or assault just for fun on a (relatively) constant basis that I could see them playing off forcibly taking him as immature guys being idiots. (For clarity, the incredibly stupid people here are the ones who act like this constantly, not those who see them doing it).

      The worst of this for me was the thought that Jeremy now has strong reason to suspect that Blake is, in fact, trying to get in touch with other practitioners, despite the fact that five minutes of thought would lead one to conclude that they would likely want him dead. That lets him prepare for future confrontations accordingly, which is unfortunate(ly par for the course).

      Oh, and the presence of the Bacchae could just be precautions again further predations by, say, the fae.

  31. It’s rather obvious that Blake doesn’t want to be Conquest’s bitch. He also doesn’t know anyone in the city beyond those in the gathering in Conquest’s house, he can’t get help from Jeremy obviously so who does that leave? The two ladies that like his mind and body respectively. And which of the two an insecure young man of no powerbase and in dire need of reinforcements would choose to ask help from? The sphinx, obviously.

    Simple elimination. Wouldn’t be particularly hard for anyone to guess.

    1. And how would Blake have found the astrologer? The only one at the meeting he had a clue how to find was Isadora.

      1. Yeah, even finding Isa was only based on the info that she was a professor.

        The only ways I can think of (other than waiting for info from fell) would be to wait until approached by Jerry or summon Ornias to mess with stars. I kinda doubt that summoning Ornias would work anyway, but it’s an idea.

  32. Yeesh. Lots of ways Jeremy may or may not have known anything. I vote it was drunk luck, until and unless actual evidence is revealed to support something.

  33. (BTW, kinda disappointed that Blake just opened the door to the Sphinx’ domain, and didn’t have to ring a doorbell. The author really a beautiful opportunity to work “Isadora, bell” into the narrative.) 😉

    1. …And I managed to miss a beautiful opportunity to use the verb ‘miss’ correctly. 😛

      “The author missed a” etc., is what should’ve been written in the previous comment.

  34. Not when I could ask them to remove them from the picture as a bargaining point they wouldn’t even think twice about.

    Probably be more effective to ask them to remove him, Pauz, from the picture instead. Still, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to remove him from the picture when you’re so fixated on getting removed from the mirror? You know what they say about people in glass houses.

    Figures the satyrs would be running around as a fraternity.

    “I’d like to say we’re more like a frat minus all the stuff that makes frats unpleasant,” another guy chimed in. “Question is, how often do you have a number of rather attractive young men expressing interest in you?”

    I could see Tiffany trying to process the idea, as if it was a first-ever. Fuck them, toying with her. Tiffany seemed pretty cool. I was not going to see her thrown to the wolves. Or whatever animals these guys were.

    “I don’t think you’re getting the message, here,” I said.

    Physical contact was not a thing I really did, but I reached out and found Tiffany’s hand. I gripped it, then pulled her closer. When she was beside me, I put my arm around her shoulders.

    She kind of froze, more than anything else.

    “We’re going out to coffee soon, because I think she’s cool, and I’d like to get to know her better. You’re being exactly the kind of douches you’re professing not to be.”

    “Let me at him,” one of the girls said.

    “This conversation is over,” I said.

    The lead-guy looked at me, “What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

    Tiffany leaned close and asked, “Germans?”

    I whispered back “Forget it, he’s rolling. We’ll have to wait it out.”

    Lead-guy continued. “And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough…” He paused for a couple of seconds, “…the tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go!”

    Lead-guy then ran off alone, the crowd watching him go, confused. He then ran back.

    “What the fuck happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. ‘Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you, Bluto, we might get in trouble.’ Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Blake, he’s a dead man! Rose, dead! Tiffany…

    One of the girls stood apart from the rest, “Dead! Bluto’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now, we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture to be done on somebody’s part!”

    Lead-guy spoke up again, “We’re just the guys to do it!”

    Isadora pushed the door open from behind me, glaring at them. I grabbed Tiffany and slunk back out of sight in the doorway. “Yeah, I agree. Go get ‘em,” the sphinx in human guise said.

    Lead-guy raised his voice “Let’s do it!”

    Isadora pointed off to the side, “They went that a-way.”

    The Dionysians ran off in what was obviously the wrong direction.

  35. Comments:
    – Is Blake proficient with computers? From his background, I’d guess ‘no’? If things were different, if Blake could bring computers and Internet access into the Thorburn house, he could truly profit.

    Great lines:
    – ““For real?” I asked. “For real,” Pauz said, deadly serious.”
    – “Was it bad that a very small part of me wanted to laugh in response to that? Rationally, I knew he was in no way harmless, but… so tiny.” -> Blake’s intuition misfires for once. And obviously, he’ll come to regret that thought soon enough…
    – “I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about what kind of damage someone could do, given zero compunctions, an imp on their shoulder, and a powerful position. I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about what Conquest would do, given the same. Fuck.”
    – ““Remember the nuke analogy? He’s the equivalent of fallout, the radiation, pollution, whatever you want to call him. Handle with fucking care, Rose.””
    – ““I know. Back me up? Trust me?” I had to think about it for a second. “Blake.” “Yeah,” I said. I’ve demanded the same of you too often to do anything different. “I’ll hear you out on this.””
    – “Fuck me, Rose. This isn’t playing with fire. This is playing with the big red button.
    – “I’d almost protested out loud, but she’d asked me to play ball. I’d asked her to play nice enough times… I supposed this was where we really were the same person, or were siblings. It was only natural the tables would be turned, that she’d reflect my own personality traits.” -> Yes, I appreciate that. Rose is supposed to be something like a female Blake, after all.
    – “It was like radio static in my head. White noise that wasn’t pleasant to listen to, fuzzing around the edges. Prickling at my skin, making me irritable, hypersensitive to everything that might bother me otherwise. […] Senses in overdrive, distracting white noise.” -> Oooh, that’s interesting. Those demons and devils are really powerful, no matter how small.
    – “Just one, one idea plodding along, and everything outside of that one line of thinking was noise and chaos, working against instead of with.”
    – “It was the rush that lingered after the flight or fight instincts had kicked in. I’d experienced it enough times. If I could go my entire life without ever experiencing it again, I’d die content. Fat chance. Well, maybe not, now that I thought about it. The way things were going, with the estimations people kept making about my life expectancy, dying soon might not be out of the question.”
    – ““Him? That? That was not what I was expecting.”“What were you expecting?”“Something more feral. Something more like the barber. That was more like a goblin, and… it wasn’t stupid. There were times it seemed eerily human.”“The books warned against using labels, putting things into tidy category of goblin and demon and whatever else. So maybe Pauz is more on the goblin-ish side of the spectrum.”” -> The witch hunters cautioned against using labels or something like that in Blake’s vision in chapter 1, too.
    – “It’s moving from host to host. And it’s taking something away from each one. Bits of personality, bits of knowledge. Piecing things together. It’s growing, I’m sure, with each one. Remember, it’s a spark. It’s trying to become a fire. Consuming, devouring, growing to a point where it’s out of control.”
    – “We won’t know for sure, until we meet this Dowght person he’s infected, but I think he’s killing them by accident.”
    – “If we extrapolate… I don’t think it considers events beyond the present.”“Which is why you’re offering the deal you are?”“In part,”“It might be easier to deal with the two of them than it is to deal with Conquest and Pauz separately.”
    – “I was uncomfortably close to a bystander, a guy standing just inside the subway entrance to smoke. Which was illegal, but still.” – ^^
    – ““There was one thing that bugged me, by the way,” Rose said. “Hm?”“You ask me to trust you, cool. I’ve made that leap, knowing a hell of a lot less going in than you knew going into this. But I ask you to trust me, and you hesitate?””
    – “I couldn’t bring myself to react, nor respond. No doubt in my mind. This was our metaphorical radiation. I could only hope it wore off soon.” – That sounds like the kind of thing which gives diabolists a bad rep.
    – “Trouble presented itself before I was halfway there.”
    – “I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that’s it. I don’t really have any senses, outside of sight.”
    – ““And the girls?” I asked. I didn’t even care that some people gave me quizzical looks. The guy talking to himself.”
    – “I could hear crows cawing at me, mocking me, reminding me of what was going on. Fuck. Between the radiation and the heaps of bad karma my bloodline had, I was a walking disaster area.” – Indeed. Hah!
    – “and… I’m saying all the self-pitying stuff that I’m not supposed to tell people the first time I meet them.”
    – “I looked at her, and I was able to see the group in the reflection in a window. Rose was there too, looking about as worried as I felt. Which was a lot.”
    – ““I feel like a bit of a pet project sometimes.”“Take it from another pet project of hers,””
    – ““Speaking of giving, the painting you sold me might have saved my life, last night. Thank you.””
    – “She looked as if she were caught halfway between her complete lack of self confidence and the presence of the guys.”
    – ““More like a frat,”“Minus the initiations and douchebag stuff. Very laid back.”“With an emphasis on the laying?” I retorted.”
    – “The lady companions. They weren’t even trying to look like any private chat we had wouldn’t end up with me bleeding or dead.” – Ouch.
    – ““We’re going out to coffee soon, because I think she’s cool, and I’d like to get to know her better.” – That ‘because’ might skirt on a lie again.
    – ““You don’t have a sense of the big picture. Or just what it means when you come to my doorstep, smelling like… something foul. I’m sure you know what I mean.””
    – ““You don’t have to be such a bitch.” Wait, what? This wasn’t the Tiffany I’d been talking to just seconds ago.”
    – “I’ll cut this short, so you can be on your way. No. Not with the sort of business your family has done. If you try anything, I’m going to work against you, if anything.””
    – ““I’m not sure why she reacted like that,”” -> Well, I guess that counts as a not-lie.
    – “I was pretty confident in that, now. I just wished I could feel half as confident about the radiation and its momentary influence on her. Or about Rose, who might have suffered for those two windows she’d broken. Or the deadline, and the Imp we had to figure out how to bind. Or anything, really.”

  36. I found it kind of funny that Rose was too busy checking out the eye candy to notice the bacchae.

    “And the girls?” I asked.

    “Girls?”

    “Yeah, Rose. There are girls there too.”

    “Be right back,” Rose said. She sounded as if she were saying it while in the process of making her exit.

    “Okay.”

    A few seconds later, Rose reported in. “Yeah, there are girls.”

    “I know there are girls.”

  37. Something is going to happen at the coffee ship, and Tiffany is either going to be hurt, or going to make it out just barely okay, then be hurt later. Then Tiffany will die. Then Alexis will blame Blake, and Blake will blame himself, abd Alexis will die. Then Blake will summon a devil in his rage and mourning, and use it to become the next Conquest. The he will go back to Jacob’s Bell and rip Lardo’a dick off.
    So say we all.

  38. I REALLY want to see them go looking for imp and find a 19-20ish black girl with yellow horns and a costume next to a few other people, like a muscular blond girl, a kinda-sorta nerdyish girl, a lesbian couple with one girl next to a giant stuffed animal and the other with a crossbow, and of course a girl in a costume with a swarm of bugs around her. Idunno why, just weird things I guess.

  39. “But… I feel like there’s an energy there. I don’t know if I feel it or if I’m seeing stuff I can’t put my thumb on. Like, they’ve got a vibe, good looking, they’re high-energy, naturally outgoing people, and they get people swept up in their attitude?”

    Aw crap, I know this one.

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