Collateral 4.8

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No sudden movements.

June was in my hand.  With my other hand, I reached out for Pauz.  I hooked my fingers into the cords that bound the outside of the book, my thumb encircling the spine.

In other circumstances, I might have tried to make a circle like I did with the rabbit guts, but these were these circumstances.  I needed to make this special delivery before midnight.  I couldn’t stall.

Animals were faster than me.  Couldn’t run.

Fighting them?  If it came down to pure numbers, they won.  A hatchet and a heavy book could only deal with so many at a time, and even a withered, diseased, half-dressed guy could catch one of my arms.

I glanced at Dowght, moving my head slowly so I didn’t provoke anything.

I saw him picking up a steak knife from the table.  There was still food crusted on the blade.

Okay, he could do worse things than catch one of my arms.

“Dowght,” I spoke, my voice low, calm, soothing.

He didn’t respond.  He didn’t seem certain about his grip on the knife, so he shifted position, holding it in two hands.

“It’s done.  You’re free,” I said.  “All the things that have been hurting you, the confusion, all the parts where you feel horrible, they can stop.  Work with me, leave this house behind, get healthy again, stop being so cold and hungry…”

He was already shaking his head.

“I’ve been there,” I said.  “I know what it’s like.  The-”

“Mine,” he rasped.  His expression was twisted in anger and fear.

I hadn’t really thought it would work.  But I’d had to offer.

“I have to take care of them.  You want me to leave?”

He transitioned to more fear than anger, from the point he started the sentence to the point he ended it.

“Hard to imagine, huh?” I asked.  “I’ve been there too…”

The animals were creeping closer, where my back was turned.  I shuffled around, changing position, so the animals were to my right, Dowght to my left, table behind me.

“…a shitty status quo seems awfully damn good, when life has conditioned you to think that nothing better might ever come your way.”

The new perspective didn’t help.  I could hear papers rustling as things started approaching under the table.

“You want to take them away?” Dowght said.  “They’re all I have.  You… bastard.”

He sounded more plaintive than accusatory.  His hands shook as he held the knife.

“I’m sorry, Dowght,” I said.  “I don’t think there’s a way that this plays out, where it all works out okay.”

“I’ll kill you,” he said, unwittingly offering some truth my statement.  “They can eat you and they’ll be happy and fat, and everything goes back to the way it was.”

There was no way he’d come back from this.

“You won’t be happy, if things go back to the way they were,” I said.

“I’ll have them,” he responded, his voice not even a whisper.

Which wasn’t a rebuttal.

I had nothing to say in response, and silence lingered in the ensuing moment of quiet.

Quiet?  The rustling behind me had stopped.

I couldn’t shake the notion that something was poised, ready to pounce-

I threw myself backwards, onto the table, hauling my legs up and out of the way.

My coat, my nice coat, was mussed up by the leftover plates and garbage on the table.  It was sticky, meaning I didn’t slide as much as I’d expected to.  I was left with my legs in the air, nowhere to put them that didn’t mean dropping back to a standing position.

A rather large cat leaped onto the table, making a low snarling sound as it lunged straight for my face.

I hit it with the edge of the book.  It had to weigh twenty pounds at most, but forward momentum on its part and an awkward angle on mine meant I wasn’t able to knock it from the table.

The animal went on the offensive, scratching, clawing at the book.

Bad.  If it cut the twine-

I dropped the book, caught the far end of the table with my hand, and swung my legs around.  With the leverage, I was able to stab the very end of the hatchet at it.  No awkward angle there.  I struck it, knocking it to the ground.

A cur of a dog lunged up at one corner of the table, but didn’t succeed in getting up.  It stayed there, huffing out barks, snapping even though I was several feet away, two legs on the table’s surface, chest pressed against the side, with one leg coming up, failing to get high enough to find purchase.

I was so busy watching it that I nearly missed Dowght.  The only hint that he’d moved was the shift in the light and shadow of the room.

I turned my head, to see him rounding the table.  The dingy light from the sliding glass door lit him up, highlighting how pale he was, reflecting his pallid skin, the thin hair on his head, his open eyes focused solely on the knife and where he intended to stab it.

He didn’t bring down the knife in a two handed motion, nothing dramatic.  Knife held in both hands, he simply pointed it at the side of my stomach and pushed out.

I still held the edge of the table, and I hauled on it, half-turning, half-rolling, to get away from Dowght and the knife.

My feet touched ground, my shoulder hit the sliding glass door, and my balance was thrown.  I felt a delayed burst of pain as my body informed me that Dowght hadn’t missed.  Not completely.

I was now, as it happened, on the same side of the table as the cur.

It dropped, all four legs on the ground, hackles up, pacing a little left, a little right-

Something under the table bit me.  Just like Dowght had, subtle, no forewarning.  Teeth sinking into my calf.

No protection from the outfit here.

I buckled, involuntary, and the cur took that as a cue to attack.

In my head, the course of action seemed simple.  Swing down with the hatchet, to stop whatever was biting me, then a backhand swing to hit the dog.

One-two.

Except, as it turned out, a fatal blow to a squirrel that had its teeth buried deep in your leg made the head move, twisted head and jaw, shifted teeth.

I buckled more, gasping out a sound that might have been a swear if I’d had a full breath of air in my lungs.  Reflex, or simply not having the strength in one leg to support myself, I bent over.

All it took was one impact to knock me over.  The cur was on top of me, jaws on the space between my shoulder and neck.  Crushing more than piercing.  Leaving me on my back, without purchase on the trash-littered ground.

With the dog so close to me, hampering the movement of my shoulder, I couldn’t get a good swing in.  The pain made it all too easy to imagine my shoulder was being pulverized, sent rays of pain shooting down my arm, until I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to hold on to the hatchet.

One small movement, a leap of faith.  To release my deathgrip on June, shift my grip up-

I punched more than I swung, driving the metal head of the hatchet into the cur’s face.  Once, twice-

Something bit my ear, hard.

More claws scrabbled at my scalp.

Mice.  Rats.  Something in that vein.  I felt pain, and the pain intensified with further contact, joined by other sensations.  Blood welling.

The fear I’d felt even before I’d entered this house, that had built up as I’d written the contract, it now took on a note of panic.

These things were diseased.  Filthy.

Covered in fleas.  Lice.  Other things.

I ‘punched’ the dog again, hard, and it released its grip.  Not because it had chosen to- the axe’s tip had cracked something in its jaw.  It withdrew a fraction.

This time I swung, taking advantage of the animal’s retreat, the added distance, the fact that I could reach.

Blade met flesh, and the cur died.

More animals were collecting on me.  Cat’s claws pricked through my slacks, and mice scampered across me, biting at flesh where my t-shirt and dress shirt had pulled up to reveal a strip of skin above my waistline.

I used my hand to knock them away, felt pain flare where I’d torn my own flesh, forcibly separating them.

I was halfway to climbing to my feet when the one-eyed cat pounced, scratching at the back of my neck.  A small weight, but the footing was absolute shit, some literal, some just trash.

I struck it with June, a backwards swing, hitting with the blunt end.

Blood hit the sliding glass door behind me and froze on contact, frost curling out from the spatter.

I used my free hand to strike the mice from my scalp, shook my head for good measure.

“No,” Dowghty said.  “My dog, no.  Oh no, no.”

I very deliberately avoided looking at him.

“No, no, no.  He was a good boy.”

If I could get through the sliding glass door… it was cracked open.

But the footing would be worse.  The movement through the snow in the backyard slow.  I’d still have to get past the fenced-in area, over the fence or through a gate.

I wasn’t sure I’d be in a better position.

The animals were closer now, shoulder to shoulder.

Hm.

Scratch that.  There weren’t many positions worse than this.

I reached out, ready to push on the door, where it was cracked open.

Cue enough for the animals to attack.

I kicked at the largest ones.  Cats, dogs.  But that did nothing against the rest.  Squirrels, mice, rabbits.

Teeth like inch-long blades, more, smaller teeth, half an inch, a quarter inch long.  Biting.  Scratching.

I did not know that rabbits had claws.

“No, the dog, no!”  Dowght cried out.

I kicked swinging the hatchet to dislodge one of the larger rabbits and scare off a cat that was getting braver.

“No!  Stop, you bastard!”

I could barely stand.  I was one good bite away from losing all strength in my legs.  My back against the glass door, I swung the hatchet at Dowght’s hands.

I’d expected him to recoil, to draw back or protect himself.  He didn’t.

The hatchet’s blade clubbed its way through flesh more than it cut, forming more depth between the middle two fingers, and frost sealed the wound.  The knife dropped, forgotten, and Dowght stumbled forward, raising his hands to flail blindly at me.

Reflexive, not wanting to be touched, my mind still lingering on ideas of disease as I saw his blood, I caught his injured hand with my free hand mid-swing.  I could feel how cold the wound was, beneath my fingers.

With that alone, the pain of the wound being crushed in my grip, he crumpled.  Strength had gone out of him.

The larger animals attacked him.

Biting the hand that feeds.

I batted away the smaller ones, shoved at the sliding door.

Accumulated snow and ice made it simply tilt to one side, the top moving while the bottom remained in place, rather than slide.

The door made a crunching sound as it settled back in its previous position.

With the noise, every animal looked up at me, going still.  Some had their mouths on or teeth in Dowght, muzzles bloodied, as their focus moved to me.  Whole clusters of them were on or immediately behind the table.  The light from the window made their eyes seem brighter than they were.

Dowght, for his part, wasn’t even fighting in self defense.

I was panting, and each beat of my heart was soon followed by a throb of pain from the various cuts and bites across my body.  The mauled shoulder was a different kind of pain.  Not throbbing, not stabbing, but a dull, grating sensation, like something wasn’t working on a mechanical level.  Shifting my posture made something mechanical go very wrong, and I was nearly blinded by the pain that followed.

Two or three dozen animals still staring up at me.

Angry, frustrated, scared, I dug into a deeper, animal part of myself.

I bellowed at them, arms spread, weapon in hand, looking big.  As intimidating as I could manage.

They dogpiled me.  All attacking, all at once.

I swung the hatchet, three, four times, hitting multiple animals with each swing.  Their mass making every action harder, more tiring.

Animals I hit and injured recovered and rejoined the swarm.

One swing clipped a little too close to my leg, and I felt my shin freeze.

The animal smell, the weight of them, the lack of any personal space, to the point that I could scarcely breathe without risking that a mouse would find its way into my mouth, it all built up to one moment, the connections forming.

Not good connections, not a good moment.  Only the sort of moment that made me turn down an offer like Alexis’.  Like the moments where I turned down an offer for a hug from Joel, who I trusted as much as I trusted anyone.

I dug deeper, for something more primal, drawing from reserves I shouldn’t.  Blind, furious swings.  I threw them off, kicked, struggled, wasted far too much energy shaking off animals that weren’t even there.

In the midst of it, they backed off.

I didn’t stop.  I fought to get rid of the littlest things that swarmed me, first, then swung the hatchet at the glass door, blunt back end first.

It bounced off.

Again.

Fuck!”  I swore, as if the heat and the ferocity of the utterance could somehow empower the hatchet to shatter the thick glass.

Why couldn’t glass break like it did in the movies?

A smaller dog was drawing closer, ready to take advantage of the distraction.  I swung at it, knowing I’d miss.  It backed away a step.

I panted, but I couldn’t breathe.  The air was so filthy, it was like there was no oxygen left.  My head swam, and I felt like I might throw up, from mingled revulsion, panic, and exhaustion.

So few of the animals were truly dead.  I’d injured a great many, but their bloodthirst was apparently overpowering it.

I backed up until I stood in a corner, a large cabinet to my left, hatchet held out and ready.

I was shaking like Dowght had, holding the axe much like he had his knife.  Except my left hand was injured, a scratch along the back that had only been interrupted by the locket.  I couldn’t close the hand with enough force to hold onto the weapon.  Instead, I used it to hold the weapon steady.

The sensations of the animals crawling over me, the presence, invading my space, it flashed through my mind.

I gagged, coughed to try and clear my throat.

I was bleeding from a hundred small wounds, and maybe a dozen bigger ones.

My head nodded, a bow, a dip.  A sudden and unexpected exhaustion, trying its hand at getting a hold on me.

My head still bent, eyes on the ground between me and the animals, I felt a single tear roll down my cheek, stinging as it ran across scratches and bites.

I was, I realized, standing about three feet away from where Dowght had been sitting, at the head of the table.

This was it.  There was nobody coming to my rescue.  Even Rose, if she happened to show, could do nothing.

Pauz had made his play, and it had been a clever one.  Short sighted, but clever.  Distracting me at pivotal moments, keeping my eyes off his prize.

I had no idea how the property transfer worked.  If Rose would disappear when I did, if Pauz could get the property through her, or if the next Thorburn would inherit the debt, as I’d inherited Molly’s, and Molly had inherited Grandmother’s.

Or, perhaps, if Pauz was simply content to have me here, a ghost he could manipulate and use, infect, so a piece of me could relive this end for a few decades or centuries.

I looked at the animals.  The dogs had their heads low, ears down, the cats were slinking away, avoiding eye contact.

I almost smiled, as I turned my eyes back to the ground.

As ends went, I supposed, being torn apart, piece by tiny piece, by various wild animals, it wasn’t the worst possible end I could face, given the way my life was going.  Kind of funny really.

Except for the part where there was anything remotely humorous about this.

All I had to do was relax.  Let my guard down.  Stop fighting.

There would be pain.  Or more pain, and then… whatever end I had in store.

I sank, my legs relaxing, my back sliding down the wall.  Half-inch by half-inch.

Easing myself down gently.  Feeling every hole and scrape on my body send its insistent, signal to my brain, a signal that peaked, vying with the others for the whole of my attention.

Halfway down, I stopped.

Forearms had come to rest on knees as I lowered the weapon, lowered myself.

The hatchet still sat in my hand.

June.

I blinked, slowly.

June had gone out like this.

Hurting.

Hopeless.

Letting herself relax and accept oblivion.

As if I were moving in slow motion, my eyes moved to the ice, the blood that had frozen in place on the window.

Then I looked at the animals.

Heads down, ears down, afraid.  Subdued.  Not even attacking as I let down my guard.

Ahh.

So ice and cold hadn’t been the only thing I’d been dashing all over the place as I’d fought.

There was the emotion that June carried with her, too.

Double-edged sword, that.

I didn’t raise myself, but I did brace my feet against the floor so I wouldn’t sink any further.

Whatever state the animals were in, I didn’t believe they’d let me walk out.  I didn’t believe they’d let me take one step out of my corner before they resumed tearing me to shreds.

Fuck, the pain wasn’t letting up.  I could imagine sensations as the wet spread of blood, but when I looked at my legs, I saw there was blood in places I hadn’t felt it, and places that had felt wet were dry.

I was able to push through the encroaching despair, now that I recognized it for what it was.

I dug for the things that drove me.  Rose.  Promises.  Molly.  My friends.  Even the rest of the world, as abstract as that seemed.  Or my fucked up extended family, which was very not abstract but simultaneously hard to justify on a rational level.

God damn it, I’d been lower than this before, and I’d fought my way back.  I was not going to diminish my past triumphs before by giving up now.

Maybe that was a lie.  Low in a different way, maybe.

Yeah.  Low in a different way.

Right.

Which brought me back to the question of what the hell I was supposed to do.

Call the lawyers?

No.

Maybe I would have, if I’d thought about it before, while in the throes of despair, but right now it felt too much like admitting defeat.  Giving up.

I could reach out to Briar Girl, knowing she was watching me, but for what?  She couldn’t really help.

I could call Ornias, but… that would only worsen the situation overall.

I had small options, and I had the disastrously strong options, but very little in between.

Getting from here to Conquest seemed insurmountable.  Stepping outside meant facing down all the animals out there.  Crows.  Bigger things.  I was working with a time limit, and I still had to get there.  Knowing my luck, I’d get refused access to the subway for looking like a murder scene.

Too much.  Too hard to form a plan.  Too much to do, too many obstacles to overcome.

Discouragement loomed, despair, and this time it wasn’t June.

How?  Any one of these things was doable, but knowing the obstacle that came after, it was hard to figure out a direction, a way to connect ideas into a plan.

I could see the animals building their courage.

“June,” I said.  “I need your help.  Come forth.”

No luck.  That was Rose’s power, not mine.

But… right there, I felt like I was on the brink of something.

Ideas.  I raised my head some.

First of all, I was thinking in the wrong direction.  I needed to work backwards.  I realized it as soon as I worked out the second point: that there were names I could call.

Technically, I could call any name to forge a tenuous connection.  I could use those connections.

Third of all, a completely unrelated idea… I had the means to cheat.

“Fell, servant of Conquest, servant of the Lord of Toronto.  I summon you,” I said.

I shifted my weight, planting my feet to raise myself up some.

“Fell, you creepy-ass gun-toting bitch of Conquest, I summon you,” I said.

A mongrel growled at me.

“Fuck you too, dog,” I said.  My heart was pounding.  It hadn’t really calmed down, but I was acutely aware of my fear.  I could see a way out.  I just needed to not die right now.

“Fell, I call you again, errand boy, connection manipulator, the practitioner with no name.  Get the fuck over here.”

I reached into my pocket.  With two fingers, so I didn’t need to bend down and dig deeper, I drew the jar free.

I couldn’t unscrew it without dropping the hatchet, and I couldn’t drop the hatchet without opening myself up to attack.

The animals were feral, acting well outside their normal rules, but they weren’t stupid, and I had a bit of an edge as long as June’s presence affected them.

Paint jar still held between my index and middle fingers, held there more by the traction of my gloves and the shape of the fingers than the strength of my hand, I held it out against the cabinet, lid facing forward.

I swung the hatchet.

Jar shattered.

The animals were moving.  I moved too, lunging forward.

Kicking, hard enough to send one of the larger dogs sliding into other animals, making each injury on and in my leg sing with hot agony.

Not using the hatchet.  Not June.  With my injured left hand, I touched fingertips to the mingled ink and blood on the blade.  It hadn’t all frozen.

I drew a line of the liquid across my throat, as if I were slitting it.

There was no room for doubt or hesitation.

“June!” I cried out.  Not in my voice.  Not in Rose’s either.  The Thorburn voice.  “Come!”

I nearly lost my grip on the hatchet as she leaped forth.

Cold.  A pulse of despair.

A tattered, frostbitten woman, head bowed.

She seemed fainter.

I touched the blood and ink still on the hatchet, and spread it across the blade, visualizing the effect I wanted.

Glamour filling the scratched-in inscription.  Sinking in.

When I looked at June, she seemed less faint than she had.

Still faint, though.  The animals seemed vaguely wary of her.  They weren’t looking at her, but they were a little less eager to advance on me on the

“Remember the cabin, June?” I asked.

“So cold.”

“It is.  Did you think about food, while you got the fire ready?” I asked.

“I’m hungry,” she whispered.

“A feast,” I said.  “Are you dreaming of a feast?”

“I’m hungry,” she said, with the exact same inflection as before.  “But there isn’t much food in the cupboards.”

“There isn’t much food in the cupboards because…” I prompted her.  My eyes didn’t leave the animals.

“There isn’t much food in the cupboards.  It’s winter.  It’s hard to make it to the market, and hunting is slow.”

“Hunting,” I said.  “Did you hunt?”

“It’s cold,” she said.

Defaulting to pattern.  Nothing to connect to, to answer the question.

“Why is hunting slow?” I asked.

I needed an in.  A connection.

“The animals sleep during the winter.  I’m so tired.”

“It’s cold,” I prompted her.  “The animals are asleep for the winter.  It’s winter.”

She echoed me.  Caught up in the words.

“It’s cold,” I repeated.  “The animals are asleep for the winter…”

It became a chant.

“Walk down the path, June,” I said.  “Walk home.”

She advanced, still repeating the words, her physical form jerking between the times she’d said or thought each phrase.  But she walked.

“Fell,” I said, as she got into the flow of it, a rhythm.  The temperature in the room was dipping precipitously.  “I summon you.”

I could feel the connection to Fell.  I touched the residual blood on the hatchet, and found only what was frozen there.  I scraped off what I could with my gloved fingertips and cast it out, at the connection between Fell and me.

“Come, Fell,” I said.  “I fucking order you to come.”

I advanced further, following in June’s wake.  Animals backed away, circling around, looking for an avenue of attack.

The cold affected me too, and it was all the more intense where I was hurt, where teeth had pierced clothing.

I saw Dowght, in far worse shape than me, almost mangled, cringing in the face of the freezing temperature.  He would be feeling it ten times over.

I wasn’t strong enough to carry him, even if he was malnourished.

I touched the hatchet to his face until he moved his head.  His eyes fell on me.

“Bastard,’ he mewled the word.

I didn’t have time for this… he’d rejected my earlier offer for help.  He’d had to, but he’d rejected it.  In moments, June would advance out of my reach, and I didn’t quite have breath to shout out orders.  The animals would finish circling around and attack us from behind.

That was if they didn’t decide to brave the cold and attack regardless.

“Look,” I said.  I used the cold of the hatchet’s metal to make him move his head, then touched it to his temple.  “Eyes forward.  Look at your animals.”

I could see his eyes open.  One was nearly unable to open, with the way his eyelid had torn.

I spoke, “They’re going.  Follow them.”

“But…”  He started to turn his head, looking down.  Looking towards the animals that were circling around.

I touched the cold hatchet to his chin again.  He raised his chin out of the way, looking more in June’s direction, looking in the direction of the animals that were in front of June, steadily retreating as she advanced, uncomfortable.

“They’re leaving,” I repeated.  “Come on.”

I offered the handle of the hatchet for him to hold.

“They’re going,” I said.  “Hurry.”

Hurry because the animals will get us if you don’t.

“Bastard,” he whispered the word.

But he took hold of it.  I hauled him to his feet.

He was lighter than I’d thought.

More unstable, too.  He stumbled.  I used my left forearm instead of my arm to stop him from outright colliding with me.

I didn’t like touching.  Especially someone I didn’t trust.  But… this was what it was.

I took a half-step in June’s direction.  Without the pressure of my forearm, he nearly fell, stopped as he came to rest against the arm again.  I tried again, praying he wouldn’t fall.  I didn’t have the power to haul him to a standing position a second time.

Once he found his stride, though, he only needed my forearm to steady him, not to support him.

I’d nearly forgotten, in the chaos.

I switched arms, bracing him with my hatchet-arm, and I reached for the table, struggling to reach without dropping my charge.

I hooked my baby finger through the twine that bound Black Lamb’s Blood.

Half-blind, tattered, Dowght followed June and his animals.

“Turn in the path, June,” I managed.  Easier, without the burden of a man’s weight, malnourished or no.

She veered towards the room to her left.

“Cabin door, June,” I said.

She paused, recognized the front door for what it was, and approached it.

We emerged into the outdoors.  Animals scattered as we passed through the door.

The cold that June emanated was intense.  My breath was freezing as it left my lips, crusting around my nose and mouth.  I couldn’t feel much of anything, which was almost a blessing, given my injuries.

“Come on, Fell,” I said.

Birds filled the air.  No longer Pauz’s eyes in the sky, they winged this way and that.  A storm in motion, unpredictable.

A larger animal slowly paced into the middle of the street.

Ominous as fuck.

A deer, antlers fully grown, a dozen points that could pierce a heart or an organ.  A crown of points.  Promising danger more than it promised self defense.

There was blood around its mouth and nose.  Tatters of flesh and fur hung from the blunt teeth I could see.

“What the fuck happened to Bambi?” I asked.

“He’s beautiful,” Dowght said.  “Majestic.  A tyrant, a despot.  My third favorite.”

“You’re going to a mental asylum,” I said.  “Just to be clear.  I don’t think you’re fit for ordinary society any more.”

“Handsome.  Noble,” Dowght muttered.  Oblivious.

I couldn’t run without abandoning Dowght, couldn’t deal with three hundred fucking pounds of muscle with more speed, strength and weapons than I had.

“Fell,” I said, using the Thorburn voice.  “Come on.”

The deer shifted position.  Mouth slightly agape, teeth showing, it lowered its head.  Points aimed at me and Dowght.

Not a mating thing.  Not self defense.  Just murdering me with its freaking horns because it could.

“June,” I said.  “Turn left.”

She veered closer to the deer.  It didn’t seem to care.

It scuffed the snow-covered road with its hoof.

Preparing to charge.

I would shove Dowght in the way, if it came down to it.  I just didn’t think it would make a big difference.

“June,” I said.  “Remember the end.  When the pain went away.  Slipping into the deepest sleep you’ve ever experienced.”

She flickered, and she was curled up on the ground, a blanket around her.

“Deep sleep,” I intoned.

She flickered, then disappeared.

No.

The impact I felt to the hatchet was feeble at best.  Almost imperceptible.

The cold still swirled around me, but I could feel its effect weakening with every passing second.

Not what I’d meant for her to do.  Experiencing her death so deeply that she died a little.

But it hadn’t been for nothing.  The deer staggered.  It shook its head.

I let go of Dowght, letting him fall.  With quick, hurried strides, I crossed the distance.

The deer began to rouse.  I broke into a run.  The bite in my leg seized up, I stumbled, slipped-

I could see the deer recovering.

I found my feet, closing the last few feet, just as the deer lowered its antlers, points aimed at me.

I blocked the points of the antlers with the book that dangled from my hand, huffed out a gasp at the impact.  Stupid, I knew, to use the book like this, but accidentally freeing the imp from his bondage was still better than dying.  I was pretty sure.

I was able to stop the deer for just one instant.  Any longer, he’d rear up, kick, trample me, or just try again and succeed in stabbing me.

I planted the hatchet in his neck, blade grinding against bone.

The deer collapsed like a puppet without strings.

“No!” Dowght hollered.  “No!  No!”

He crawled more than anything, closing the distance.

I only backed away.  The temperature was normalizing, going from ‘cold’ to ‘still pretty damn cold’.

The animals were closing in.

Not just the animals that had managed to get inside the house.  Every single damn creature in the neighborhood.

Dowght reached the deer, and he embraced the corpse.  Openly weeping.

My hand throbbed where I’d used it to brace against the antlers.  My leg throbbed from the running, and the various injuries.

All of me hurt.

The protection the ghost afforded was fading.

I looked around, at the animals that were poised on snowbanks, beneath cars, slinking forward.

In the houses themselves, I saw only drawn curtains, the lights on…

No.  One person was watching.  A boy.  Eyes wide.

He’d probably seen the deer murdering scene, from the shock I could make out.  I looked, taking in the scene, imagining how he might see it in the gloom.

Oh.  Maybe that’s why he seemed so alarmed.  There was a bear in the shadows between two houses.  Hard to make out, but most definitely there.

“Fell,” I said, again.  “Fell.  Fell.  Fell.  Fell…”

I saw headlights at the far end of the street.

“Fell, Fell, Fell…”

The car approached.  Stopped.

The door opened.

Fell stepped out, glancing around.  I saw him throw a handful of sand around himself.

He drew his gun, pointing it at me.  He paused.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” I said.

“I’d shoot you right here, but you look bad enough it might be a waste of a bullet.”

“Thank you for coming,” I said.

“In many circles,” Fell said, “Calling a practitioner that way is considered terminally poor manners.”

“Noted,” I said, eyeing the encroaching animals.  “I’m new to this, I’ll keep it in mind.”

He didn’t lower the gun.

“I have the imp,” I said.

“Do you know what it’s like?  When someone calls you like that?”

“Not so much.”

The bear was emerging from the alley.

“A jerk at your very being.  Small jerks, but jerks all the same.”

“But you can’t shut off the connection because your master ordered you to help me.”

“I can’t use that connection that’s being formed against you, either, no.  But if you think I’m his slave, you’re making a very dangerous assumption.”

“Slave, servant, lieutenant, I don’t know,” I said, my voice low.  “All I know is I’m bleeding, I need a ride, and he wants this imp.  I’m not sure what time it is, but-”

“Ten twenty.”

I’d thought it was approaching midnight.

“It’s ten thirty, he wants this imp by midnight.  Give me a ride, and we can both enjoy the rest of our evenings.  You go back to… watching late night TV, I don’t know.  I go tend to my wounds and prepare for tomorrow.”

“Not my responsibility.”

“It makes it look like you went above the call of duty,” I said.  “Show Conquest-”

“This base sort of manipulation is beneath even you.”

“Fair,” I said.  My voice had a roughness to it.

Okay, the animals were dangerously close right now.  If he got back in his car, I wasn’t sure there was anything I could do.

“I’m going to deliver you to Conquest,” Fell told me.  “But I need you to understand one thing.  The slight?  Abusing my name?  I can take my revenge, when all is said and done.”

I nodded.  Too weary to speak.

“Come.”

“Him too,” I said.  I pointed the hatchet at Dowght.

“Him?”

“Leaving him here means he dies.”

Fell looked at the broken man.  “We won’t bring him, but we’ll secure his safety.”

I watched as Fell approached Dowght.

“Fucker,” Dowght said, sobbing.  “Fuckers!  Bastards!”

Fell cast sand around the man.

“Ahh!  Fuck you!  In my eyes!  Fuck you, you crab-dicked fucker!”

Fell turned and left.  He passed right by me, returning to the car.

I hurried to follow.

“He’s safe?” I asked.

“He will be,” Fell said.  He tapped his phone, mounted on the dashboard.  “Car.  Dial nine-one-one.”

“The imp is deterring all emergency response,” I said.

“Stop talking,” Fell told me.  “Unless you’re talking about your diabolism, I either know already, or I don’t care what you have to say.  This is what I do.  I clean up and handle details.”

The voice came through on the other end of the phone.  “Toronto emergency services.  What is the nature of your emergency?”

Not one word from Fell, the entire trip to Conquest’s lair.  Which was nice in a way.  It let me shut my eyes.

Fell led the way through the front door.  I clutched the tome to my stomach, partially for the security.  Partially to stem any ongoing bleeding there.

“Am I putting myself in danger?” I asked.  “Bleeding out onto his rug?  Can he use my blood against me?”

“It isn’t blood given.  Could he take it?  Yes.  But he could do that regardless of your wishes, if he had a mind to.”

“Gotcha,” I said.

We ascended to the second floor.  The decor was different.

A continuation of what he’d been doing before.  A tower, white, as if hewn from a single, gargantuan piece of bone.  Floors alternated between ones open to the outside world, ringed by pillars, and ones that were entirely closed in.

Conquest was in a half-human, half-monster form, when we reached the top.

A green crab sat in his hand, its legs perched on his splayed fingertips.  He had three slaves at his feet, now.  None of them were Rose.

I threw the tome to the ground between us.

I need that back, I thought.

No use dwelling on it right now, though.

“Hm,” Conquest said.  “You appear to be worse for wear, Diabolist.”

“I do,” I replied.

“And that task could have been handled much more gracefully.”

“Not when you give the job to me,” I said.  “That was handled exactly the way it was going to be handled, with Blake Thorburn on point.  Don’t you like chaos and conflict?”

“I have no feelings either way.  I am an entity of conquest, a very distinct thing.  My ends were not furthered by any significant measure, there.”

If he was complaining, did it mean he lost power?

“I understand, Lord of Toronto,” I said.  I bowed my head a little.  “I’ll aim to keep your interests in mind for the future.”

When I raised my head, though, he was looking right at me.  Right through me.

Maybe I wasn’t being as subtle as I should have been.  Fuck it.  I was too tired, too hurt.

“You’re free to take your leave,” He said.  “I will see you before midnight tomorrow.”

No thank you, no acknowledgement.  Just that.

Dick.

“I need contact information for the Knights,” I said.  “Research for the Hyena.”

Conquest signaled Fell, who handed me a pad of paper.

“There’s also the astrologer,” I said.

“Why her?” Fell asked.

Can’t you just agree and make life easier?

“I’m going to have to deal with an abstract entity in the next two days.  I’m thinking the astrologer could be useful.”

Anyone could be useful, given how little I know and how little I have.

“Still not seeing it,” Fell said.

“Make do for the time being,” Conquest ordered me.

Fuck.

I nodded slowly.

“I said you could take your leave,” Conquest said.  “If you would like to stay the evening, we could see to the torture I mentioned the other night.”

“One more thing,” I said.  “A request, Lord of Toronto.  It… very much relates to my ability to handle these tasks.”

“What request?”

“Rose.  You chained her?”

“I did.”

“Can you bring her here?  Gently?  I’m… somewhat concerned about her.”

“I’m not inclined to obey the requests of underlings.”

“Even when those requests serve your interests?” I asked.  I dropped to one knee, grunting in pain as injuries opened.  “Please, Lord of Toronto.  I ask this, knowing you are among the only ones who can help me like this, knowing it puts me in your debt.”

He took his time.  I didn’t budge.  Head bowed, body aching, kneeling.

“Diabolist,” he said.

I looked up.

Rose dangled from the chain.

Unconscious.

“She’s sleeping,” Fell observed.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.

Conquest spoke, “Your previous worries have been resolved.  You may have new ones, but I will not stoop to answering every single concern you have.  You will be handling tomorrow’s task without her help, it seems.”

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked, again.  To Fell, this time.

He smiled a little.  “Consider my silence a fair repayment for the summonings.  And, perhaps, the blood on my car’s upholstery.”

“And the fleas, I imagine,” I answered him.  “And the lice.”

I saw his expression twist.  “You’re not doing yourself favors, diabolist.”

Still kneeling, I stared at the three of them in grim silence.  Conquest, Fell, and Rose.

Neither volunteered anything more.  They seemed to be waiting for me to do something.

“Thank you, Lord of Toronto, for bringing Rose here,” I finally said.  Conquest didn’t seem like the sort to cave and break the silence.  Like Pauz said, being immortal made you patient.

“Your presence grows tiresome, Diabolist.  Your stench doubly so.  Take your leave, before I become irritated.”

I stood.

“Lord,” I added.  “In terms of the imp I’ve delivered to you-”

“If I have not been clear enough, we can return to the subject of torture.”

“Will you be giving him to another?”

“I do not readily release my hold on that which I have claimed.”

I nodded, turning to leave.

Contract terms met.  Making some attempt to ensure that Conquest kept Pauz.

Hurting, sore, worried, and above all else, pissed, I made my way back to the real world.

A little worrisome that I didn’t have Rose’s advice on what to do next.  I’d finished one big step in her scheme.  I had Pauz and Conquest in one place.

For better or worse.

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182 thoughts on “Collateral 4.8

  1. Hope it came across ok.

    Donation thank-yous. Thank you to Peter, Benedict, Joe F, Walter, Jesse, Dylan, Wilka, Saku, Eliezer (Message recieved, considering it), Keith, Nathanael, Sean, Eran, and Steven E. Your generosity is appreciated.

    Big thank-yous go out to John D, Daniel E, Patrick B, Benjamin C (with the awesome last name), Jared T, and Daniel F, for their generosity.

    No bonus chapter scheduled – amount is just a bit shy.

    Nonetheless, I appreciate it, guys, more than you know.

    /salute.

  2. Well, he didn’t kill a bear, but he probably traumatized a random boy. So that’s nice.
    Oh Blake, you primal despairing murderer you, that went as well as I expected it to. Clever use of June too.

    Screw you Bambi.

    1. If Men in Black has taught me anything, it’s that little kids don’t stay out late at night surrounded by monsters and crazy animals. That kid is probably a practitioner or Other in disguise.

      1. A knight of the basement perhaps. Although the way I read it, it seemed the boy was watching from one of the windows around 1030 at night, which isn’t quite as unusual.

        1. Yeah. I’m not sure if I misread that part last night, or if Wildbow ninja’d that section, but tree kid was watching from a window, which kinda makes my point invalid.

    2. Like seeing Bambi skewering him would be better for the kid. That would have really screwed him up, because then Bambi was going to go for somebody else until Bambi went the way of his mother.

  3. I wonder if Blake would get negative karma if that kid died? Fell only protected Dowght from the animals, so the kid probably isn’t exactly in the safest location, and the animals are out of the house in part due to Blake, so…

    Excellent chapter, though probably not the best idea for me to read it right before bed.

    1. The kid (if he really is just a kid) shouldn’t have been out alone at night. Everybody in the neighborhood already knew that there were a lot of dangerous animals around Dowght. They even were expecting bear attacks. If the kid got hurt, it would not have been Blake’s responsibility.

      Why would it affect his Karma anyway? Blake didn’t vow to protect anybody from the animals.

      1. The kid wasn’t outside. Blake scanned the neighbourhood’s windows and spotted him watching, whereas other houses had their curtains drawn.

  4. When dealing with the Hyena, be sure to harvest its’ leftovers first for extra resources and as a precaution against a repeat of Pauz’s petty little trap.

    1. From what we know the hyena works differently. The Others it has maimed aren’t under it’s control. It’s just hurt them badly and left them to their natural fight or flight instincts. The same trap probably wouldn’t work, since the hyena couldn’t gather them in one place. The best the hyena has in terms of actual resources is a few goblin subordinates, which Blake should be able to prepare precautions against.

      Also, I doubt Blake has the time to gather them all up anyways.

    1. Oh wow. I didn’t even realize that. I live in America and my knee-jerk reaction to unplanned visits to the hospital is “don’t go unless you’re bleeding out”. Because the hospitals will bleed you dry regardless.

      Huh, so Blake actually has access to medical treatment.

      1. Not without questions, though. Blake’s got at least one slashing knife wound, he’s been bitten by at least three different species, and he’s covered in funky drawings that are definitely not tattoos. Plus there’s that whole bad karma thing so emergency room staff won’t be inclined towards charitable explanations.

        I wonder how he’s going to explain things to Joel?

  5. Good to have Rose back. Not conscious, possibly injured but back. Pretty good, relatively, when I consider both Wildbow’s series and the shit that goes down.

  6. I guess I get to start the type thread:

    deathgrip
    usually death grip

    Dowghty
    Dowght

    The movement through the snow in the backyard slow.
    would be slow?

    self defense (thrice)
    more commonly self-defense

    dogpiled
    more commonly dog piled

    bloodthirst
    more commonly blood thirst

    fit for ordinary society any more
    in that circumstance, anymore

    unwittingly offering some truth my statement
    to my statement

    to- the
    spacing around em dashes is up in the air, but I usually see so space on either side or a space on each side

    “Bastard,’ he mewled the word.
    mismatched quotes

    “You appear to be worse for wear, Diabolist.”
    previous uses of the word diabolist, even by practitioners, have been uncapitalized

    1. I think “He transitioned to more fear than anger, from the point he started the sentence to the point he ended it” should be “from the point I started…point I ended it”

    2. Missing antecedent for “it” below, or incorrect antecedent/pronoun agreement:
      “I’d injured a great many, but their bloodthirst was apparently overpowering it.”

      Unnecessary comma below:
      “send its insistent, signal”

        1. Oh hell. Yet another unintentional typo. Sigh. This is why anything I write I run it by others before it sees the light of day. (Not a fiction author, just some technical stuff for work.)

    3. Typos:
      – “I kicked swinging the hatchet” -> ‘I kicked, swinging’
      – “short sighted” -> “shortsighted”

    4. “No,” Dowghty said.
      Either Blake is giving him a pet name, or this is a typo. Or I somehow missed that his name is actually Dowghty.

  7. I don’t think Blake should be dong so much to antagonize Fell. The dude may eventually snap and just decide conquest being pissed at him is no worse than having to deal with the annoyance that Blake is being. I mean, Fell is certainly not nice towards Blake, but he is reasonably polite at least.

    I’m not a big fan of fight scenes in general because those tend to be hard to follow, and “Blake gets mauled by mundane animals” is less interesting anyway than most cape fights in Worm. But that’s just my own opinion, I’m sure there are some people who enjoy this kind of chapters more.

  8. Dude’s going to need to make a quick stop at the emergency room and a spare copy of that book.

    On the bright-side, the Hyena is probably going to be easier to deal with. After all, he knows that all he has to deal with is an entire park of half-eaten Others and Goblins rather than having it blindside him.

    1. The Hyena might have been easier as a first choice, but I don’t think Blake can survive the encounter solo in his weakened state. Options include buying help from the Lawyers, offering favors for Maggie’s help, and dragging Joel and a couple other friends in to his shit. He will consider the Lawyers’ cost to be too high. Maggie is a 17 year old high school student who lives an hour away; it would be a tough sell to get her help and therefore, again, too high a cost. Blake does not have the resources, knowledge, or time to introduce his friends to this other world in a manner that encourages their safety and doesn’t inflate his karmic debt.
      So… it will be interesting to see where Wildbow goes with this.

  9. …I really like Fell. He gives me that nice professional vibe, with a fun undercurrent of screwing over people that irritate him in minor ways. Problem-solving, details-oriented servant of the Lord of Conquest has a nice ring to it-I’d like to hear his story.

      1. I dunno, I feel like it could be boring; to be accurate, I think he would need to have been raised by practitioners in a nice an orderly environment. I think demeanors/personalities like his are the result of overcoming consistent challenges rather than surviving some singular traumatic event. His background could perhaps be elucidated in a shared Histories chapter alongside characters like the astrologer, but I don’t think he has the sort of exciting past that one would be tempted to write about in a histories chapter. Sure, there may be content there with his role as a fixer, but I don’t see that the exercise in world-building and character development would advance the story as well as many of our alternatives.

    1. Honestly, I like the dynamic he has with Blake. Subtly screwing each over while trying to curry favour with Conquest. It’s hilarious. I’m sure the two of them will become best friends.

      I’m not even sure if that was sarcasm or not. Huh.

    2. I can sympathise with him, a little. Blake is probably really annoying – he’s very ignorant, probably coming across somewhat cocky despite that, and he’s been antagonistic.

  10. Wow. Guess I’ll never think of deer the same way again. Also, how could Blake not know rabbits have claws? It’s pretty obvious. My rabbit scratches and bites me all the time.

    1. Most people don’t have pet rabbits, for one. I certainly had no idea they had claws. What do they generally use them for? Digging? As part of foraging/eating?

      1. Yep they use them for digging but not for foraging or eating but for building a burrow:

        Rabbit habitats include meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands.[1] Rabbits live in groups, and the best known species, the European rabbit, lives in underground burrows, or rabbit holes. A group of burrows is called a warren.[1]
        ,,,
        All rabbits except cottontail rabbits live underground in burrows or warrens, while hares live in simple nests above the ground (as do cottontail rabbits), and usually do not live in groups.

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

        The claws also help with traction in soil for running since they get up on their toes to run.

      2. Ripping my skin open as I’m trying to clip them, that’s what they are for.

        I once saw a judge at a show get a very deep cut on his arm from a Rex that had clearly not been clipped before the show. Everyone was like “holy crap”, while he just went over to his kit, pulled out some super glue, sealed himself shut, and then finished judging the breed before heading to the doctor.

          1. Nail polish remover are ketones, not acrylates. You probably don’t want to ingest any of them, but that’s as close as they get.

            1. Superglue is cyanoacrylates. As long as the wound doesn’t become infected, there would be no need to remove the superglue, i.e. no need for nail polish remover.

  11. It’s a hard life, being a fledgling practitioner and new diabolist. You bring someone an imp, bound and delivered on schedule, and it’s “what have you done for me lately.”

    Blake has some definite brutality in him when cornered, and people keep backing him into corners. Bad karma, self-serving practitioners willing to take advantage of the new guy, it all adds up to an ugly situation that hasn’t gotten any better.
    Rose being asleep is interesting. Has she slept before? We know that breaking mirrors has tired her in the past, but I don’t remember her actually sleeping. People sleep to rest and recover their strength, generally, so they can think more clearly. I wonder if Rose’s fatigue could have effects on Blake, such as making it harder for him to think clearly as well and do things like spotting contract loopholes.

    To me, the kid looking out the window is reminiscent of Maggie’s backstory. Bystander who observes strange goings-on. Hope it works out better this time around.

  12. When I read I like to think about what would I do in that situation and I realized that I wouldn’t be in that situation. The moment I found the library and learned what grandma was involved in I would have started researching destruction magic and hiding magic. I would have learned how to created a superpowered magic fire that embodied the destructive aspect of fire then poured gasoline all over the house and lit it up. Then using the fire as a distraction and using magic I would have snuck away and got a ride with a friend to disappeared somewhere far far away. Maybe joined a monastery for protection.

    Which reminds me; since this story has so much to do with demons, what kind of power do priests have? It would be awesome to meet some kind of badass demon hunter priest who has a battle axe for an implement. Would suck for Blake, but would be an fun character.

    Also, why doesn’t Blake go to a church and ask for sanctuary? And what kind of magic protection would a church provide?

    On another point, maybe Blake’s implement should be a tomahawk or a hatchet. He seems pretty good with an axe. He could bond with the priest about the pros and cons of using an axe.

    1. You would:
      a) Release Barbatoren.
      b) Be eaten, killed, tortured by Others as soon as you left the house.
      c) Release whatever else is bound in those tomes.

      Yes, in real life magic would include a lot of prayers to God or, at least, a lot of religion.

      1. Not to mention, of course, welching on the contract with the lawyers. Which is a whole can of worms in and of itself.

    2. Funny, your post sparked some thought as to how I’d play this out, and first off, I’m not sure I’d accept Laird’s offer as to that coffee because obvious trap is obvious, and I wouldn’t start by throwing an apple of discord at the first council meeting. I might rush off and check on the barber once hearing about it, but I’d try to break that news gently, possibly reading the letter aloud so as to demonstrate an interest in full disclosure. Then I’d ask if anyone would be willing to lend ideas/power to bind it in a more permanent prison than the attic. Extend an olive branch that way.

      Of course, then Johannes et al. would scheme circles around me, but at least I could say that I tried. Also I’d hit the demon button once I’m suitably pissed off. (For instance, if they stripped me of sanctuary the way they did Blake, I’d hit the demon button so hard it would crack)

  13. Thinking by typing…

    Glamour to use the Thorburn voice… damn that was inspired.

    “This is what I do. I clean up and handle details.” Hmmm. Wasn’t Blake saying that knowing a person’s motivation would help when dealing with them? This isn’t quite motivation but most people have some motivation invested in their job. At a minimum, it is the first detail we have about him other than appearances and actions.

    Green beetle last time, a green crab this time. A hint at what he does in the natural order, I think is what was said about this. A crab is primarily a scavenger, as some beetles are. Claiming and eating dead things. I still can’t get an idea to gel. Any ideas, anyone?

    1. Well they’re both armored creatures, to some extent, right? Beetles are hard to pin down – the amount of diversity between species is huge, which makes it tough to say anything definitive or useful. Crabs…as you said, more about scavenging than hunting. They are delicious, but I don’t know if that’s true for beetles.

      Could the green animals all be one shapeshifting familiar he has? Maybe one that gains forms by conquering other familiars, or something? That would explain why it’s so close to him, and not in an obviously subservient position, which he seems to prefer for the most part. As far as the scavenging thing, maybe the idea is that the creature picks up the scraps after he conquers something/someone, like the image of a dog at/under a master’s table, or any other pet for that matter. Presumably, Conquest gains power best by taking it, so having a familiar that works with that approach would make sense. He’s all about taking that which is not freely offered, taking things from other people. In that sense, I’d think that the ideal symbolic crab would be the hermit crab, which scavenges a shell produced by another creature, since Conquest seems to be weaker than he appears and more of a scavenger than a conqueror, in Blake’s estimation.

      Of course, Blake’s estimation may not be entirely correct.

          1. I may be off-base here, but I think authors only benefit from giving cannon information (confirmation or rebuttal) in very restrictive circumstances. Clarification of something most people seem to get wrong that the author does not plan on revisiting in-story is one of the circumstances I can think of. Here, there is still plenty of time to introduce the correct idea, so any cannon-by-author would constitute a spoiler.

        1. Any chance of getting a more detailed description of Conquest’s monster-hybrid (one winged angel?) form?

          “Conquest was in a half-human, half-monster form, when we reached the top.”

          Is it anything like the rictus-grinning, molten-coated, many-handed form with eyes of darkness, that he turned into in chapter 4.3?

          BTW, tomorrow’s fan drawing thread is going to feature a drawing of Conquest, which (for reasons which will become clear when you guys see it) is going to need to be revised. Would be fun to draw Conquest in one of his more monstrous forms, for the growing collection. 🙂

    2. They are armored but still easy pickings. That’s what Conquest does. He’s like Paws (that’s his name damnit!), he goes after weaknesses and digs in. A real one would show his past victories and his future conquests on his wall as if they were already his, not illusion conquests as his desmesne seemed to be. More “I own you already” and less “submit to me for I am Conquest.”

      Seriously, he has a beautiful sphinx under him, but she has no qualms challenging him and leaving the meeting. What?
      I think a good imitation of a character emulating Conquest is the antagonist from the end of Sherlock season 3. There are other examples, but that one’s in video =\

  14. “That task could have been handled much more gracefully.”

    “Unfortunately, I am woefully underinformed about such things. If it would suit your purposes, I would greatly appreciate your condescension and instruction.”

    Blake needs to learn the Way of the Brown Nose. :p

    Summoning Fell was a pretty great idea. I liked that. I like Fell in general, actually. He dislikes Blake for actual human reasons, and not because he’s a jackal. I could actually see a sort of camaraderie developing there, given enough exposure to each other.

    1. I think you are forgetting that the first significant interaction of Blake and Fell was Fell apparently doing his level best to torpedo Blake by trashing Blake’s gift to the Lord. At that point Fell knew little or nothing about Blake but attached him with apparently dangerous or deadly intent.

      Short form: Fell attacked first and without warning. That makes him an enemy until something significant changes.

      1. Well, of course he’s an enemy. Everyone is an enemy. My point was that Fell is an enemy because of his opinions, and not because of his philosophy, which makes him distinct from every other character so far.

        One’s opinions stand a far greater chance to chance than one’s philosophy does.

        1. I’m not sure about that. Fell could have the philosophy that all newcomers should be scuttled if possible in order to reduce competition 😛 And then it was Blake reacting as he did that cemented the dynamic.

          Or, and I’m surprised no one mentioned this, it’s possible he’s compelled or sworn or just plain dedicated to offering advice to his Lord, to helping him spot holes or errors in conversations or reasoning, particularly if Conquest isn’t that good at that kind of thing–which is at least possible, and would help explain why Conquest was sitting out of so much of the conversation.

  15. My apologies if it was already specified, but did Blake remember to take Rose along with him as he returned to the “real” world? I did not think I saw any mentions that he did. Although the chain binding her might render that point moot, it was still said the previous time that he did, so I am assuming that she isn’t really his technically his property, and therefore vulnerable to the whole “whatever you leave behind belongs to conquest” thing…

    Also, Blake, y u no stop antagonizing crazy powerful relationship manipulating magic users? -__-
    No good can come of that. Ever.

  16. Soo… who here thinks that Conquest is the patient type and will wait two days to open his present? Show of hands? Anyone think Conquest is capable of waiting for two more days?

  17. Yikes yikes yikes, how on earth is he gonna clean himself, a bathtub full of bleach?

    I mean can he go to the hospital? ..covered in warpaint^^

  18. “That was handled exactly the way it was going to be handled, with Blake Thorburn on point.”

    My favourite line in this chapter. I’m starting to really warm up to Blake. His interactions with Fell continue to amuse me.

    1. I think his somewhat feral nature should tie into his implement, but I have no idea what sort of implement would be feral.

      1. Well, Blake’s nature is sort of civilization-gone-feral, so the ideal implement to represent that would probably be a nailbat.

        It would never work, though–there just aren’t enough places you can go carrying a nailbat.

      2. I still like the idea of using his tattoos. He has a natural scene on them (with personal significance). They’re a tool that’s always at hand and can’t be taken, which is both practical and suits Blake’s growing paranoia. They’re a permanent, painful change to his body, which fits how he approaches problems – creatively but recklessly. And they already have magical value as the “tell” for his glamour.

        1. Very true, but I don’t think they could qualify as an implement, as they are literally not an implement.
          Accepting they are a possibility, they have already been custom fit to him, as people tend to get tatoos that they feel define them. Do colorful birds on a branch fit him? They are creative, yes, but reckless? He does like information before action, how does that fit? Also, the declarative aspect is important, what do his tatoos actually say about him?
          Authoritatively, they fit, if he is interested in sticking with glamours on himself as tatoos show willingness to change the way he looks. On the other hand, tatoos are permanent which is not something you want in a glamour.
          Implements have to have a ridiculous amount of detail for a metaphor. I’ve noticed that people are too complex to have metaphors that fit well enough. Metaphors tend too only have two or three levels of connection if that’s understandable. (My vocabulary and word search skills are annoyingly whimsical.)

          1. Is it possible that Blake could get some ink (magical or otherwise) set up as his implement, then get additions to his tattoos using said ink? Just a thought.

            1. I don’t know if Ink itself would work for an implement. In that case an Inkwell might be better, working similer to the chalice. Or a pen. Blake gets a pen for an implement, he could then go up against someone with a sword implement, and prove the pen is mightier than the sword.

      3. How about a tinker’s hammer? Partly destructive, partly creative, small enough to take anywhere except in an airplane carry-on. Associated with a history of wandering men held in low esteem who work to improve broken things.

        I’m liking this idea too much.

        1. Interesting. I’m actually really liking it as well. It’s certainly better than the weapons that people keep suggesting, despite Blake explicitly denying such an option, and it seems to fit him on numerous levels. Yes, very interesting indeed.

  19. Excellent chapter and arc. I was expecting something akin to the glamoured clout down the line, but somehow it didn’t give him Rose’s voice. Interesting.

  20. It could have been worse. Blake could’ve been attacked by a swarm of bugs. Instead of just receiving bites and scratches, he would have bites, scratches, venom, possibly lungs filled with insects, stings, and pierces. Blake got off easy.

    Can he just glamour himself better. I doubt anybody will, for some reason, doubt the fact that Blake isn’t bitten up and hurt.

    1. That is a quite good idea if Blake is ever hurt without witnesses who dislike him.

      But Blake sees Fell in one day or less and Fell can continue their little pissing match by going “Weren’t you badly hurt? You were! Since I know you aren’t good enough for most healing yet, you must be using glamour. Which breaks if someone notices it. You were badly hurt… you were badly hurt… you were badly hurt…”

    1. It does seem quiet without him around doesn’t it? Tell you what, I’ll archive binge world domination in retrospect. then when i get up to “Girl” His current chapter, I’ll come back and ask pencil Monkey for an assist by welcoming a new commenter…

      Turnabout is after all fair play. and i’m sure he’ll be amused.

  21. Am I the only one who is surprised that Blake tried to save Dowght?

    It’s not that I thought Blake was the type to leave a person to die. It’s that /I/ am apparently the type to leave a person to die.

    Dowght seemed so utterly broken by Pauz that it did not even occur to me to try to save Dowght. In fact, my instinct at the start of the chapter was that Blake should have immediately used June to kill Dowght and then let the animals go after the easier meal while Blake escaped.

    Not sure if that would have worked, but it seemed worth a shot.

    1. I was thinking similarly until I actually read this chapter. I was expecting Dowght to be a feral, mindless almost-zombie. I didn’t expect him to be able to talk. He obviously has a degree of his mind in tact. Imo, that changes the equation

      Blake did ask if it was possible to save him.

      1. I was also thinking more along the lines of leaving Dowght, or possibly giving him a mercy kill. I didn’t think there would be enough left for any saving to occur, and absent Pauz’s control I pretty much assumed the animals would eat him alive, so it seemed like the best option available.

    2. I was thinking in terms of burying the hatchet into his head and then freezing the area around… I’m a bad person, aren’t i?

        1. Hmmm, but maybe that would cause Blake to lose the competition of slander, invoking the rule of three and totally send him to practitioner jail forever (also known as death)

        2. …no, it would just give the police the ammunition needed to take him down legally, a.k.a. get him out of a sanctuary long enough for those bribed Others to get at him. Especially since those women earlier spoke to him and knew he was interested in Dowght.

          Now, something less obvious and traceable, like tripping or pushing the nigh-mindless man into the ravening animals, on the other hand…

  22. “You’re going to a mental asylum” sounds like something that would bite Blake in the ass at a later date if he doesn’t see to it.

      1. Still, though. It sounds like a statement of fact– I’m pretty sure Blake still has to watch to make sure everything he says is true.

        1. For some reason, the truthfulness restrictions in this story worry and confound me more than they usually do. I think that it has to do with the fact that it is the innumerable invisible spirits that are monitoring it, rather than something internal. The Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time, for instance, had a binding placed directly into their being that prevented untruthfulness, but it allowed (for instance) idioms and turns of phrase. More importantly, it was clear that it was only the truth as they understood it that they were restricted to speaking–the sheer fineness of the truth here is slightly mind-boggling, and it seems like it should be violated constantly, though evidently this is not the case.

          For instance, this does seem like he’d be punished for untruth if Dowght dies or escapes or for whatever reason does not end up in an asylum, but apparently this isn’t the case–if nothing else, Blake will not survive if he is weakened twice over by lies and is without Rose or the library (imo). There’s only so many obstacles that can be placed in front of the protagonist…and this post is likely only going to add more 😛

    1. If Pauz were to keep that book from Blake it would cause him harm and Pauz isn’t allowed to do that. So Blake can just go pick it up in a couple days. Or less if Conquest get’s impatient.

      1. Not so much a question of Pauz keeping it as it is Conquest keeping it. Conquest has both less reason to get rid of it (i.e. none) and more reason to hang onto it (i.e. his nature demands that he do so). Blake is definitely not getting that book back without a fight.

  23. I may be way off about this, but Conquest seems to be a scavenger at this point. He doesn’t take things himself, he follows after disruption and takes the detritus. There are also predators who come along after something else has performed a kill and harasses the primary predator until it goes away and leaves part of the kill for the harasser. That is very similar to his usage of Blake – Blake fights and Conquest takes part or all of the kills.

    This also fits in with Conquest’s idea of using demons to cause “a calculated measure of defeat and pain” (4.2). If Conquest releases demons in a controlled manner, he can just sit back and pick at the leavings of the resulting fight. A technical conquest but a weak one.

    If that is the case, then the crab that Conquest displayed is either an aspect of himself (scavenger) or a follow who benefits as Curious George suggests.

    A direct show or usage of force is enough to deter most scavengers. But Conquest cannot be readily defeated that way due to his nature as an incarnate idea: “It is an idea given life. You support it and feed it through certain ideas, and you defeat it by taking the strength from that idea.” (4.1)

    There is an avenue of attack that I don’t think has been mentioned. If Conquest has been forced into being a scavenger or opportunistic predator by circumstance then he has changed himself, but he has kept the old name. This seems to me like Blake’s position when he was covered in glamour – if enough people notice and call attention to the fact that Conquest no longer strongly represents conquest the idea, this could force Conquest the being into relinquishing the name, which could easily cause his downfall. “Scavenger” as Lord of Toronto just doesn’t have the same appeal. Of course, the entity formerly known as Conquest would most likely then actually attack Blake.

    1. I’m not sure that an Incarnation has the capability of change, the person that was taken over by Conquest was just lucky that said idea was such a broad and powerful one. You may be right though, if Conquest the idea, the Incarnation is distinct from Conquest the person.

      “Don’t you like chaos and conflict?”

      “I have no feelings either way. I am an entity of conquest, a very distinct thing. My ends were not furthered by any significant measure, there.”

      If he was complaining, did it mean he lost power?

      According to this section, I’m not sure that scavenging would give Conquest any sort of power. I believe that this section was referring to the fact that Pauz was not conquered, he was persuaded, contracted. If there was no conquering, either by the first predator, or by Conquest itself, he gets no power.
      It could be that the crab and beetles correspond to scavenging, that which picks up the pieces after Conquest occurs, but that would mean that Scavenging is an aspect of Conquest as Wildbow negated the idea that they are a scavenging familiar.

      1. No, I think that the other guy is right: Conquest is a scavenger. He’s not a predatory Conquest that goes out and conquers things through his own might and ability; he’s a scavenger that follows behind those who conquer and picks up the remains. He draws power from an idea, but he isn’t the instigator of that idea, if you understand what I’m saying.

        1. Let’s face it, he’s War’s less cool little brother. He’s the guy who got kicked out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse because he couldn’t play his insturment, but always tried to make it about him. He’s the washed up concept who hasn’t learned to change his shtich to keep himself relevant.

            1. I know who Ronnie is. Only place you can get Alligator milk. But Ronnie was the guy who left the band before they go popular, of his own will, and wasn’t replaced. They went from 5 to 4. Conquest is the guy who gets booted out, then the band gets a new guy to play his insturment, and then all the fans argue about wether the band was better before. Except the new guy doesn’t keep trying to turn every song into a ten minute solo.

              Fun fact. PTerry didn’t know who Ronnie was going to be until he had Lao-Tze figure it out.

            2. “Except the new guy doesn’t keep trying to turn every song into a ten minute solo.”

              So what you’re saying, is that Conquest is Jack Black from School of Rock, before he’s been “touched by the kids”? 😉

              “Fun fact. PTerry didn’t know who Ronnie was going to be until he had Lao-Tze figure it out.”

              Pterry? Is he related to a winsome young lady called Ptraci, by any chance? 😉

            3. PTerry is a nickname for Tery Prachett. So I guess you can say he’s related to PTraci. Number one reason some people want to see the BBC adapt Pyramids.

        2. Conquest reminds me of an Idle Roman Empire. After a certain point, Rome itself stopped doing anything, instead making subordinates do it, which led to the fall of Rome. Conquest seems to be doing much the same, and he, like Rome, might stagnate, and then he would lose his own power as an incarnation,

  24. On attacking the Hyena:

    My original idea for dealing with the problem was to bind one or more of its victims into a weapon and turn them on their attacker. Since the Lord of Toronto seems to be particularly vulnerable to bound spirits the same weapon would make an excellent tool against him.

    However, Rose is the one who can actually bind spirits – witness the trick Blake had to use to wield June this time – and Rose is out of the picture for now. I guess Blake could use the same trick, but that adds one more layer of difficulty.

    Also, improperly bound spirit weapons are apparently dangerous. Even June-hatchet was dangerous to Blake this time (the aspect of giving up he got hit with) and she is a correctly bound spirit weapon.

    So, it is going to be interesting to see what Blake comes up with to attack on the Hyena angle.

  25. On Conquest’s apparent vulnerability to June:

    As this chapter shows, June carries with her aspects of hopelessness and defeat. Normally, I would consider that to be a positive for Conquest, since those are some of the reactions that actual conquest causes, but the two times we have seen June’s power go up against Conquest’s power she has succeeded.

    So, is it possible that Conquest is uniquely vulnerable to June because she carries an aspect that is the opposite of his?

    If so, this is bad for Blake/Rose in two ways:
    —June was apparently weakened when Blake told her to remember her death.
    —Blake is likely to try other bound-spirit weapons against Conquest and they might not work nearly as well.

    1. Goddamnit, you type too fast! 😦 I read it as a weakness to AoE/Shaker attacks, seeing as he is a sort of genius loci.

      1. My personal take on your idea is that the area Conquest resides in is “used to” being controlled by the incarnation of an idea, so other beings like him can influence the area readily. Ghosts have been compared to a collection of ideas, so perhaps they count as mini-incarnations.

        Typing is part of my job. Not the major part, but a significant one. And I work in a literal paperless office – the single printer in the building gets used maybe once a week. Lots of practice.

        1. Or, or Conquest draws power from the pseudodemesne (it is not an actual demesne, right?) and anything messing with the area is either a direct effect on Conquest, or a direct affect on his power source. Remember that he did not want any weapons to enter the area.

          So, theories:
          1. It is a demesne and as such, using AoE messes with the power source/resevoir.
          2. It is,I/> Conquest and has a fisher king effect.
          3. It is a idea ‘zone’ and ideas have power there.(your theory).

          As to typing, I’m putting effort into not just using two fingers.

          1. As to typing, I’m putting effort into not just using two fingers.

            I have been doing this for years and I still can’t touch-type, i.e. type without looking at what I am typing.

            1. In my experience, the only real way to get better at touch-typing is to give yourself no other choice. Do typing exercises and do them with a tea towel covering your keyboard.

              Nowadays I touch-type Dvorak and it’s a moot point – apart from “A” and “M” none of the keys produce the letter displayed on them anymore anyway. 😀

  26. On Rose’s plan:

    We never heard it. We don’t know what it is. But now Rose is in Conquest’s domain with an imp that she successfully cowed before. And Rose already bet on Conquest not being able to notice if that imp’s binding went away.

    So, as a wild-hair idea:

    Rose deliberately incapacitated herself, knowing the only way for Blake to check on her would be to get Conquest to yank her chain (in the non-metaphorical way). Rose is betting on Conquest not noticing when she first wakes up, which gives her time to do things in Conquest’s domain. And she has at least one demon under Thorburn control there with her.

    Rose didn’t tell Blake because he is not good at deception (seen in this chapter) and may have given the plan away.

    This would also be why Rose asked Blake to trust her plan – any plan that was this much of a gamble would require at least some measure of agreement or trust up front; otherwise it could sour their relationship. Also, turnabout is fair play, given how many metaphorical cliffs Blake has jumped off after asking for Rose to trust him.

    1. I doubt Rose knows enough about how she actually works to plot that. She’d have to expend just enough energy to knock herself out without erasing her existence entirely and time it so she woke up at just the right time. Remember that it’s barely been over a week in-story since she crashed into existence, so she wouldn’t have time to experiment on herself to get the timing right. That’s not to say it couldn’t work out that she wakes up at an opportune moment, but I doubt it was planned.

  27. I’ve been waiting for a long time now for blake to imitate female voice with glamour. Now he just need to actually wear Rose image and then… well, I have no idea what then, but I’m sure interested in finding out.

      1. Exactly. He said he didn’t take on Rose’s voice.
        I take that scene as more an actor changing his personality to be more bold/confident/mature/stereotype presumptive first heir/not showing his injuries.

        In which case, I really hope that glamour doesn’t break. That means he’s in a situation where he’s out of control again, which is a bad time for glamour withdrawal.

        1. I took it more to me glamour’s ability to take on qualities that are blatantly impossible, regardless of logic. Just as the lawyer describes:

          “Dress it up in the glamour of possible true death, using a rapier can kill even Faerie.” 2.05

          He wasn’t imitating the voice of anyone in particular, he used glamour to add the quality of Thorburn family practitioners to his voice, allowing him to tap into the history and clout of his family (which really should be his already).

          Which is very interesting, since it implies that he–and more worryingly, anyone else with access to a malleable form of glamour–could theoretically imitate the voice of any other family, limited by the perceptiveness of the listeners.

          Was the wrecked feeling Blake experienced after his infiltration all he’s having to pay for this power? >.> Because it seems rather increasingly impressive and powerful, and that’s making me increasingly worried about any future repercussions.

          1. “He wasn’t imitating the voice of anyone in particular, he used glamour to add the quality of Thorburn family practitioners to his voice, allowing him to tap into the history and clout of his family (which really should be his already).”

            So many possible applications, so little time. 🙂

    1. I’ve had a suspicion since arc 3 that the moment Blake takes the form of Rose or another female, the real Rose would be given a push and would completely merge/take over Blake.

  28. I did a quick google search for green crab, and I got the following snippets:
    “The green crab is a real-life alien invader. This native of Europe and Northern Africa is considered one of the 100 worst alien invasive species in the world.”

    “The green crab is fast and aggressive and has a huge appetite. It eats clams, mussels, oysters, scallops and even small lobster. This crab’s eating habits are the undersea equivalent of a ‘scorched earth policy’, eating most of what is in its path. The green crab has been blamed for ruining several soft shell clam fisheries around the world.”

    “The green crab (Carcinus maenas) is invading Canada’s coasts, ruining prime habitats for shellfish stocks and nurseries for juvenile fish by its burrowing, and eating just about everything that lives in its new home.” <-Conquest

    1. Coincidences aside, Cancer (not the disease) to the Egyptians was seen as a scarab, so it also held the same qualities that were mentioned earlier: resurrection and immortality. Green

      1. Really great catch.

        I don’t think there’s any coincidence here, really. I think what we see here is a deception. Conquest right now is the Wizard of Oz – he’s putting on a big show and not wanting to show how desperate and weak he’s become. He puts symbols of conquest in Toronto into his appearance. He’s showing the crab to Blake right now, but in the earlier meeting when the other powers of Toronto were present he showed scarabs. I checked and it doesn’t seem there are invasive green scarabs in Toronto right now.

        I think the scarabs were a deceptive but not dishonest way of including the crabs in his theme. They were green, and they share the notion of Cancer with crabs, so the green scarabs were a symbol representing the green crabs. But to include such a symbol means that Conquest is getting power from that, which seems pretty damn desperate to me. I doubt he gets much power at all from that. He’s trying to hide it from the other powers, but with Blake he can be more open about it since he doesn’t really seem to view Blake as a threat.

        1. If Conquest is represented by a scarab, rather than becoming weak. he is just weak, since the scarab passes its earthly existence as a worm of the earth before becoming a winged denizen of the heavens. I feel that whatever is going on with Conquest is definitely related to his near death experience and unexpected second wind.

          Also, something I couldn’t find much more information on is that the animals associated with Cancer are the scarab, crab, turtle, and sphinx. I really want to find out more details on this matter because it might shed some clues as to why the sphinx is associating with Conquest, and some possible back story.

          Just something else I found through google that just sounded cool and fits with Conquests nature of leaving things bereft:
          “It will be when the Sun is in the sign of Cancer that a counterfeit Michael the Archangel will slay the Dragon, i.e., destroy the Roman Church and remove every vestige of Christian doctrine from planet Earth. Thus cleansing the earth—by elimination of all historic creeds and remnants of traditional Christianity, inhibitors of the Gnostic program of transformation—will make possible the release of mankind from his bondage to matter and escape to the spiritual realms.”

          1. “Also, something I couldn’t find much more information on is that the animals associated with Cancer are the scarab, crab, turtle, and sphinx. I really want to find out more details on this matter because it might shed some clues as to why the sphinx is associating with Conquest, and some possible back story.”

            Some quotes from the “Zodiacal Ritual of Cancer” pdf, found at MagickaSchool Dot Com:

            “The Tarot card attributed to the path of Cancer is the “CHARIOT”, depicted commonly as a chariot with a starry canopy, pulled by twin horses or sphinxes, sometimes coloured one white and one black. The Chariot signifies “Victory”, but is also attributed to the Magical Grade of Magister Templi and is taken by both the “Golden Dawn” and even more emphatically by Crowley as a symbol of the Great Work itself.”

            “The appropriate Egyptian God for this particular ritual is Harmarchis, a form of Horus as the Sphinx, or “Horus upon the horizon” as the name literally means. The twin Sphinxes within the symbol of Cancer upon the floor also signify the Taoist symbol of the interplay between “Yin” and “Yang”, which is another, deeper, level of this ritual.”

            Considering the Tarot cards that were drawn for Rose and Blake, the crazy conspiracies would seem to thicken – especially when you read about the interpretation of the Chariot Tarot card, from http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/learn/meanings/chariot.shtml

            “Chariot Card Symbols: Triumphal “car” (chariot), armored warrior, sun/moon symbols, lingam and yoni symbol (the encircled rod on the winged shield), black and white sphinxes/lions/horses, sometimes at rest. A canopy of stars and sometimes a throne inside the car.”

            “Chariot Tarot Story:

            The Fool is close to completing what he set out to create long ago, back when the Magician revealed those tools to him. But enemies are now standing in his way, devious human enemies, bad circumstances, even confusion in his own mind. There’s no more forward momentum; he feels he is fighting just to stay where he is. Walking along the shore, watching the waves come in, he puzzles over how to defeat these enemies and get things moving forward once again.

            It is here that he comes across a charioteer, standing in his gold and silver chariot, his black and white steeds at rest. “You seem a victorious warrior,” the Fool remarks. “I feel beset by my enemies, unable to move forward. What should I do?”

            “First, you must armor yourself,” the Charioteer strikes the chariot and then his breastplate with a gauntleted fist, making both ring out. “Next, you must focus on your goal, where do you mean to go, what do you mean to do.” The warrior nods to his beasts. “Your steeds keep the wheels turning, but it is your control and direction of them that gets them to their destination. Dark and light, they must be made to draw in harmony, under your guidance.” The Fool nods. That makes sense. “What if an someone or something gets in your way?”

            The Charioteer coolly meets the Fool’s gaze. “You run them down. Your aim is victory, and to be victorious you must have unwavering confidence in your cause. Never question, never doubt what you’re trying to achieve. Never lose your focus or your motivation.”

            The Fool is impressed and inspired. He thinks he now knows how to get past all the distractions and setbacks that have been keeping him trapped in place, like a riptide in the ocean. He thanks the warrior, but before he leaves, the warrior stays the Fool.

            “One thing more you should keep in mind,” he says, “Victory is not the end, it is the beginning. Remember that before you decide to enter into any contest.””

            Furthermore, from the same source:

            “The Chariot is a card of contradictions. It’s about sidewise battles, yet also about full-speed ahead. It’s about the hard exterior and the soft interior, the light and dark, the water and the shore, moon and sun. It is the Sphinx, which is also often a symbol of Cancer, the lion and the man united, a mystery.”

    2. Good catch. A green beetle called the Japanese beetle has been a particularly bad invasive species, damaging lots of crops in the US and presumably in Canada: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_beetle The examples I have seen (plenty, unfortunately) are more green than the pictures in Wikipedia indicate. There are other invasive beetle species also. There is a short presentation (in an interesting style) at http://prezi.com/r3cnoat5hxvd/invasive-species-scarab-beetle/

      So, Conquest is an invasive species or benefits from invasive species?

      1. Coming in from another area, claiming native resources as your own, taking what you want and screw those already living there?

        That sounds like a perfect example of what Conquest would have taken form and power from before humanity started living the concept, given that he is “older than man” (4.03).

    3. This is a good catch, and from this it seems likely that the aforesaid “green beetle” is an emerald ash borer, another invasive species currently plaguing the U.S. and Canada.

      1. Good eyes all around, here 🙂

        Still, an invasive species is one that incidentally finds itself or is carried to a new habitat where it finds an advantage.

        Very much stating that without a second wind or external gift, it would not have had the strength to conquer. Like Conquest? Haha no, like Paws and Blake.

        1. Wow, very cool thoughts about the crabs and beetles. The “invasive species” thing fits very well with what we’ve seen and heard about Conquest, kudos to my fellow readers.

          I wonder if Conquest could gain strength from, say, a severe viral outbreak or plague? I’m guessing no, since he seems more about the taking/controlling/dominating.
          Huh. Wonder if he gets stronger when the local BDSM community grows. Man, that could get awkward down the line. Or hilarious. Most likely both, actually. I wonder if its only the seizing of power/control that strengthens his concept, or also its subsequent exercise. For example, if a businessman executed a hostile takeover, that would be +2 Conquest, or whatever. If the guy then fired someone at the company, would that add anything? Obviously I don’t expect actual numbers, I’m just trying to get a handle on what strengthens this dude-become-anthropomorphic personification.

          An unrelated notion; what if the reason that Blake doesn’t have Thorburn Voice is because he’s actually adopted or something? I know that theoretically Rose-vestige is necessary because Blake is male, but what if he’s even further from the Thorburn legacy than we think? It seems quite possible to me that adopted children don’t get family perks, given the things we’ve learned about how Others perceive individuals from different generations as being basically the same, and if nothing else the Duchamp family stuff indicates there’s some major importance tied to bloodlines.
          That said, I’m not sure there would be much point; Blake is already as much of a black sheep as it’s possible to be in his family. Hey, speaking of his family, how much do you want to bet one of them comes along to make his life more difficult soon? It has been a while, after all. I’d be willing to bet that, if nothing else, one of them is itching to call him up on the phone and yell at him for being next in line for the house,

          1. Wonder if he gets stronger when the local BDSM community grows.

            Doubt it. Remember how he was talking earlier about different kinds of giving? BDSM is the other kind. It doesn’t leave the submissive broken and bereft; if anything, it leaves her even happier and more content than before, once the scene’s over.

            1. Also, that falls under the purview of the Incarnation of Lust/Desire, that would simply be infringing on another Incarnations’ shtick instead of conquering it.

          2. The Thorbuns are recognized by having female practitioners and by sticking to a small area.(Jacob’s Bell) Blake is not female, as such he does not have the “family resemblance” to others.

            1. Unless Rose is a Parasitic twin/Chimera within Blake’s physical body and her Vestige is her mind/soul given form…..Given Wildbow’s love for Body Horror….

            2. I had a similar thought, but that’s hard to reconcile with Padraic not even realising that Blake was male. If at least some Others are unable to distinguish gender, why can’t Blake affect them? Has he just been unlucky so far that all the Others he’s tried to affect can tell?

          3. “I wonder if Conquest could gain strength from, say, a severe viral outbreak or plague? I’m guessing no, since he seems more about the taking/controlling/dominating.”
            And Pestilience would probably be all pissed off Conquest is trying to steal his gig.

  29. Next up in Pact arc 5,
    Blake the incarnation of conquest takes the predecessor’s familiar, for the more you stir the nest the angrier and stronger he gets.

  30. Conquest is an incarnation that represents the Conquest of the new land by Europeans. An invader species of man kind that took the place replacing the natives. Exactly like the crab and scarab are doing.

  31. Nice chapter, thanks, Wildbow.
    I was wondering, since the barber ans Rose can both travel reflections and for him that includes eyes, um… if Rose managed to get into someones eyes, could she ‘break’ them like those windows and cause people to go blind? Because that might be useful.
    How does anyone now what people have already said, oh my god.

  32. I think Blake just leveled up. Follow me on this one:

    In this universe Exp is earned, not just by defeating enemies as was the case with Letita, but by successfully making Pacts. Think about it, right after successfully making a contract with Paws (pronounced Puss), Blake levels up and starts using new moves, namely Frost Slice, Despair Slash, and Imitate Thorburn. Note that he is able to use the first 2 without tapping into the Thorburn clout.

    If Blake manages to survive binding the other 2, he should come out a good deal stronger.

    1. Yeah, he’s learned a few tricks. But remember that in Pact everything has a cost. He showed up in front of Isadora smelling like imp which makes relations with her worse, Rose is out of commission for a while, he’s been hit with demon radiation twice, he’s been bitten by a bunch of animals, and he’s once again exhausted. All that to bind something that isn’t even on the level of a minor demon. He’s learned a few tricks, but I wouldn’t say he’s leveled up all things considered.

      Tomorrow he’s got to recharge his batteries enough to meet the Knights of the Basement, bind a devil-like goblin that likes to maul things, somehow figure out a way to turn it against Conquest at the right moment, and then deal with whatever else the universe will inevitably throw at him. He’ll get some XP for sure, but what’s it going to cost him?

      I think binding number three is going to be the true level up moment. Three days, three diabolic beings, three bindings. I’m thinking the third will be the most powerful binding, the one that benefits Blake the most – a binding to himself, the binding of a familiar.

      1. Good catch – rule of three. And Conquest set him up for it. Probably just a coincidence, but useful for Blake… if he actually succeeds on the second and third tries..

      2. Er, I think that by definition, Pauz is a minor demon. A minor demon that’s been feeding (in an admittedly inefficient manner) on a number of hosts. Quite a lot, potentially, given that he professes to know 30 human languages, his apparent taste in targets, and the general rates of bi- or trilingualism in Canada.

        …which are kind of conflicting, when I actually looked them up. The highest seems to be http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Politics/2012/10/24/20304481.html , citing Statistics Canada (or claiming to, since I don’t see an actual link or citation), which claims ~20% of the population have a mother tongue other than the official Canadian two. I’d need to do more research into how job prospects are for immigrants to Canada to say more, and even then, nothing explicitly says that Pauz didn’t get some from before he split off from Andras, or that he spent all of his ‘life’ in Canada, for all that it seems likely.

        Would another binding set to wear off on its own–perhaps 4 minutes after midnight–suffice? I cannot decide if that would be narratively fitting or repetitious.

        That is a good point about the threes, though Conquest was probably doing it so that he could get the most power out of it (or perhaps that just happens to be the number of diabolist-related problems that exist in Toronto at the moment, which would be suspicious, or just the number of such problems that are big enough to be serious tasks but small enough that he doesn’t have to stir himself personally).

        Even putting aside that that would mean a lifetime bond to what appears to be a mindless beast–and a demon, which Blake is less interested than ever in utilizing, even if this one does seem like it would be the best choice of the lot–Blake did say that he would strive to fulfill Conquest’s favors, which means binding them in order to pass along possession to Conquest. The familiar bond cannot be so transferred, from what we know, so it seems like if it is at all possible to otherwise bind the demon and he chose to make it a familiar instead, Blake would be forsworn. Or maybe he just has to try first and then it would be okay to bind it that way, I’m still confused on what exactly the limits and who the arbiters on this kind of thing are. Though…since forcible familiar bonds are supposed to be high-level-enchantress perks only, how do you make a familiar bond with an Other with animal level intellect, like a fairy?

        Speaking of, did anyone else notice that Andy said that you have to be a Duchamp to get a Faerie familiar in 3.05, but it was Laird Behaim’s niece that was talking about getting a Faerie familiar when she was older? Would it be because the two families would have been bound by marriage for years by that point? Because it seemed like a long-held idea for Leanne…Or Andy was lying, since he can do that. Hm.

        1. Andy might not even have been lying, just exaggerating for emphasis. The Behaim and Duchamps families seem to have been working towards a mutual agreement, a cease-fire or alliance, for quite some time. Maybe the Duchamps have been letting the Behaims get some of the bargain bin Faerie as familiar material, to help cement the deal, even prior to the wedding which will no doubt seal their Pact.

    1. A protagonist? Voluntarily go to the hospital while conscious? For their own injuries?

      Pffft.

      More seriously, I wonder what happens if you apply a glamour of immune to rabies to someone. Would he be immune to it so long as it lasted, and then follow the normal progression of the illness when it breaks? Would they appear to be fine, and only show that it has been infecting them once it wears off? Would the disease just race to make up for lost time after it stopped working, like the temporal distortion in demesnes?

      Would the immunity kill off the disease if the glamour was active for long enough?

      There would be some crazy implications for medicine if it works in that last manner.

  33. “You’re going to a mental asylum,”

    “This base sort of manipulation is beneath even you.”

    Aren’t these both false statements? So they’re allowed to lie now ..?

  34. Here lies Dowght, consumed by from without. No doubt, he lost this bout.

    Blake may yet lose this one in the long run. Those wounds are for the dogs. And the cats too, I suppose. Either way, he’s got a mess of mangy animal bites all over him. If he kisses Tiffany again, she’ll get 12 different types of animal syphilis. At least one of them has to do with the wild gerbil that crawled up Blake’s ass.

    At least June was able to get him to recognize he shouldn’t let himself die off like a little bitch. Do not go gentle, Blake. When you go, go swinging a hatchet and kicking a dog right in its hairy, well-licked balls! For man was not meant to lick his own balls, and a man shall enforce that edict on his best friend via force if necessary.

    Ah, nice to see one of the Senior Partners has shown up. I was wondering when Wolfram & Hart would appear in this little tale. Blake sure could have used an Angel on his side right then. Kinda sucks that one kid had to see Bambie die that way. Axed to death in the middle of the street. Disney sequels tend to suck like that, you know.

    Hey, Fell should be acquainted with small jerks by now. After all, he sees one every day when he looks in the mirror. He thinks blood, fleas, and lice are bad? Wait until he realizes that Blake gave him crabs. It’s always so cute when two people who hate each other connect so intimately like that.

    “How did you call me this time, Blake?” asked Fell, practically spitting my name in disgust.

    “It was easy, really. See, I told the witch doctor I was in love with you. And then the witch doctor, he told me what to do. He told me ‘Oo ee, oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang, oo ee, oo ah ah, ting tang walla walla bing bang!”

    “Dammit, Blake, I must have you now! Stick my head in the fridge and smack my ass with an ice cream sandwich!”

  35. Comments:
    – Blake considers calling the lawyers, and Ornias, but I thought only Rose could call them?
    – Blake’s Thorburn-voice-cheat was brilliant. But there’s still the issue of why glamour works so well for him. And, given this is wildbow’s fiction, there’s also the question of how these specifics will screw him over at the very moment they are revealed.
    – I was wondering about where the book was throughout the fight, and whether Blake would forget it. I’m glad that was addressed.
    – “This is what I do. I clean up and handle details.” -> Given the story is subtitled ‘Devils and Details’, and given Fell’s backstory in chapter 4.9, I wonder whether that’s a hint that Fell will become an ally, friend or servant of the Thorburns once this arc is over.
    – The fact that Pauz, Fell, and maybe even Conquest all know what’s wrong with Rose might be a significant hint as to what’s wrong with her. Whether that’s any help to Blake, on the other hand, is an open question.

    Great lines:
    – ““I’m sorry, Dowght,”“I don’t think there’s a way that this plays out, where it all works out okay.”“I’ll kill you,” he said, unwittingly offering some truth my statement.” – Haha :).
    – “My coat, my nice coat, was mussed up by the leftover plates and garbage on the table.”
    – “I felt a delayed burst of pain as my body informed me that Dowght hadn’t missed. Not completely.”
    – “Something under the table bit me. Just like Dowght had, subtle, no forewarning. Teeth sinking into my calf. No protection from the outfit here.”
    – “The fear I’d felt even before I’d entered this house, that had built up as I’d written the contract, it now took on a note of panic.”
    – “I did not know that rabbits had claws.” – That was the second surprise! He already didn’t know that rabbits screamed (but neither did I).
    – “it all built up to one moment, the connections forming. Not good connections, not a good moment. Only the sort of moment that made me turn down an offer like Alexis’. Like the moments where I turned down an offer for a hug from Joel, who I trusted as much as I trusted anyone.”
    – “I dug deeper, for something more primal, drawing from reserves I shouldn’t.”
    – “Why couldn’t glass break like it did in the movies?”
    – “This was it. There was nobody coming to my rescue. Even Rose, if she happened to show, could do nothing. Pauz had made his play, and it had been a clever one. Short sighted, but clever. Distracting me at pivotal moments, keeping my eyes off his prize.”
    – “I almost smiled, as I turned my eyes back to the ground. As ends went, I supposed, being torn apart, piece by tiny piece, by various wild animals, it wasn’t the worst possible end I could face, given the way my life was going. Kind of funny really. Except for the part where there was anything remotely humorous about this.”
    – “Ahh. So ice and cold hadn’t been the only thing I’d been dashing all over the place as I’d fought. There was the emotion that June carried with her, too. Double-edged sword, that.”
    – “I was able to push through the encroaching despair, now that I recognized it for what it was. I dug for the things that drove me. Rose. Promises. Molly. My friends. Even the rest of the world, as abstract as that seemed. Or my fucked up extended family, which was very not abstract but simultaneously hard to justify on a rational level.”
    – “Getting from here to Conquest seemed insurmountable. […] I was working with a time limit, and I still had to get there. Knowing my luck, I’d get refused access to the subway for looking like a murder scene.”
    – “First of all, I was thinking in the wrong direction. I needed to work backwards. I realized it as soon as I worked out the second point: that there were names I could call. Technically, I could call any name to forge a tenuous connection. I could use those connections. Third of all, a completely unrelated idea… I had the means to cheat.”
    – “My heart was pounding. It hadn’t really calmed down, but I was acutely aware of my fear. I could see a way out. I just needed to not die right now.” – Hah.
    – “I drew a line of the liquid across my throat, as if I were slitting it. There was no room for doubt or hesitation. “June!” I cried out. Not in my voice. Not in Rose’s either. The Thorburn voice. “Come!””
    – “Not what I’d meant for her to do. Experiencing her death so deeply that she died a little. But it hadn’t been for nothing.”
    – “Stupid, I knew, to use the book like this, but accidentally freeing the imp from his bondage was still better than dying. I was pretty sure.”
    – “The temperature was normalizing, going from ‘cold’ to ‘still pretty damn cold’.”
    – ““I’d shoot you right here, but you look bad enough it might be a waste of a bullet.””
    – ““In many circles,”“Calling a practitioner that way is considered terminally poor manners.””
    – ““It makes it look like you went above the call of duty,”“Show Conquest-”“This base sort of manipulation is beneath even you.”“Fair,””
    – ““I’m going to deliver you to Conquest,”“But I need you to understand one thing. The slight? Abusing my name? I can take my revenge, when all is said and done.” I nodded. Too weary to speak.”
    – ““Stop talking,”“Unless you’re talking about your diabolism, I either know already, or I don’t care what you have to say. This is what I do. I clean up and handle details.””
    – “I threw the tome to the ground between us. I need that back, I thought. No use dwelling on it right now, though.”
    – ““And that task could have been handled much more gracefully.”“Not when you give the job to me,”“That was handled exactly the way it was going to be handled, with Blake Thorburn on point. Don’t you like chaos and conflict?”” – Amazing.
    – ““You’re free to take your leave,”“I will see you before midnight tomorrow.” No thank you, no acknowledgement. Just that. Dick.”
    – “Can’t you just agree and make life easier?
    – “Please, Lord of Toronto. I ask this, knowing you are among the only ones who can help me like this, knowing it puts me in your debt.”
    – “Your previous worries have been resolved. You may have new ones, but I will not stoop to answering every single concern you have. You will be handling tomorrow’s task without her help, it seems.”
    – ““What’s wrong with her?” I asked, again. To Fell, this time. He smiled a little. “Consider my silence a fair repayment for the summonings. And, perhaps, the blood on my car’s upholstery.” “And the fleas, I imagine,” I answered him. “And the lice.” I saw his expression twist. “You’re not doing yourself favors, diabolist.””
    – “Conquest didn’t seem like the sort to cave and break the silence. Like Pauz said, being immortal made you patient.”
    – “Contract terms met. Making some attempt to ensure that Conquest kept Pauz.”
    – “Hurting, sore, worried, and above all else, pissed, I made my way back to the real world.”
    – “A little worrisome that I didn’t have Rose’s advice on what to do next. I’d finished one big step in her scheme. I had Pauz and Conquest in one place. For better or worse.”

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