Collateral 4.9

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Nobody was waiting for me when I got back to my apartment, which was probably a good thing.

I didn’t want any questions.

Not about the countless lacerations, scratches and scrapes.  Not about my general level of exhaustion, or the countless things I just couldn’t shed light on.

No people.  There was, however, a note on the door.

Food is in the fridge.  Your cousin stopped by.
-Joel

P.S. Your cousin came by again, 10:30pm.  I checked for you, you weren’t back.  Left her number inside.

I owed Joel something.  I wasn’t good at this.  Taking without giving back.  He’d been upset when I’d insisted, but I didn’t like this imbalance.

No information on which cousin it was, and no phone number.

I opened the door, standing there as it swung open, feeling all of the cuts and scrapes making themselves known, the bruise at my shoulders, and the bruise on my stomach, where I’d only barely avoided being gutted by the deer.  All of me hurt.

Worse, I felt filthy.  I could still feel the little claws scrabbling on my skin.

I checked the length of the hallway, then pulled my clothes off at the door, leaving them outside my apartment.

I headed straight for the shower and cranked it on hot.

The water that ran off me was pink-brown, and it wasn’t the lines I’d drawn on myself that made it brown.

When I bent down, I saw that the brown was composed of specks.

Bugs.  Thousands, so small I could barely make them out with the naked eye.

I shivered, even under the near-scalding water.

I turned it up hotter.

Soap, shampoo, rinse.

More soap, shampoo.  As if I could simply drown them in chemicals.

The hot water ran out long before I was absolutely sure that I wasn’t seeing any more fleas in the runoff.

I stepped out of the shower to dig through the cabinet.

Pills, pills…

Antibiotics I’d been given by Ty after a bad bout of coughing.  I hadn’t taken them because it was a fucking stupid idea to take antibiotics when you didn’t have to.  Good.  I popped one in my mouth.

As for cleaning myself…

There was paint thinner, which I used sometimes after work, but I suspected it would be a bad idea to pour it on myself with the number of open wounds I had.

Rubbing alcohol… same issue.

Hydrogen peroxide?

Fuck it.  It should kill the fleas, and I needed to disinfect the wounds.

A minute later, I was standing in the shower, hissing through my teeth as each of the minor wounds bubbled.  I made sure to brace myself before pouring it on the more severe gouge in my leg.

I patted myself dry with my shittiest handtowel, then stepped out of the shower, still damp.

I had no idea how bad I looked as a whole.  I did know I was covered in marks.  Enough that I’d draw attention in public.  Enough that I might even scare people.

One of my eyelids was torn, and was promising to swell up.  My ear was tattered at the edge, going by touch.  The bruise at my shoulder was ugly, already purple in spots.

I’d suffered harm on another level, too.  The tattoos.  My best gauge to more metaphysical harm I’d sustained.

The birds were… somehow better than they’d been.  A few less feathers sticking up, less hostile, feral, less beady.  But the birds were vivid in color and definition, the branches seemed a little more wicked, more angular and sharp, and the watercolor was a darker cloud, more like the bruise at my shoulder than the lighter hues I’d had before.

I had the eerie sensation that the cloud of watercolor behind the birds was shifting, like clouds moving across the sky.  But when I looked, I couldn’t see it.

A little disconcerting.

I’d need to touch myself up.

I reached for the locket, and paused.

Bit of a problem.

The hair was more like wire.  Augmenting the chain, adding to it, mimicking it.  Where it cut into my hand, the glamour was giving the chain a sharper edge at the seams where metal had joined metal.  Spurs and barbs.

The imp’s influence, or was the glamour simply adapting to circumstance?

I used a nail file, and scraped, clipped or gouged away what I could.

Once I’d brewed together a bit of ink, I began touching up the worst of the damage.  Face.  Ear.  Hands.  The gouge on my leg.

I hesitated, my hand still wet with ink, poised over another set of scars.  Narrow ones, years old now.

There was only so much ink to spare, and there were dangers.  But the idea that I could cover them up, remove one more reminder of the bad old days…

I wiped it away.  Photoediting real life.

I couldn’t say what the backlash would be, but I told myself the alternative to the glamour was me not being able to function or show my face to my friends.

Or my family, as it happened.  I thought of the note.

I found the number inside.  No doubt he hadn’t wanted to leave it on a paper visible for all the others to see.  Respecting privacy.  There was only a Toronto number.

It was one in the morning.  The hour told me I shouldn’t call, but he or she had come by twice.  I questioned whether it was urgent, or if more repeated visits would prompt more questions from the people around me.

In the end, I was too tired to really care about social norms.  I wanted answers, not more things hanging over my head.

I called.

“Hm?  Hello?”

A girl’s voice.  I narrowed it down to Ellie and Paige.

I almost thought Molly, but Molly was gone.

“You dropped by?” I asked.

I heard a hushed, “Blake,” followed by a rustling sound.

“Yes.  Unless you dropped by to talk to someone else?” I asked.

“No.  One sec.”

I heard clumping noises over the phone, more rustling, and then the sound of a door closing.

“I didn’t want to bother my roommate.  Late call.”

“I was out late,” I said.

“The police were asking around, looking for you,” she said.  “They got in touch with everyone.”

Fuck.

“Oh?” I asked.  “Any particular reason?”

“Molly died, then you disappear?  It raises questions.”

“Ah,” I said.

Was Laird trying something?

“What’s going on?” she asked.  “You have the house now?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Fuck that,” she said.  “Why?  What did you pull?  Did you strongarm Molly?”

“No.”

“God, I haven’t been able to think straight, I’m so fucked up over this, and I’ve got exams coming up.”

“When you say you’re fucked up, you mean you’re fucked up over Molly’s death?” I asked.

“Over this.  All of it.  You.  The inheritance.  Molly.  I thought that I’d look into it, get in touch with you, get some concrete answers, settle my thoughts.  Then you weren’t there, which made things worse.  I wound up going back, and you still weren’t there.  Your landlord said he’d seen you…  I need answers, Blake.  None of this makes sense.”

While she talked on the phone, I got the meal Joel had prepared from the fridge.  Lasagna.  I put it in the microwave with a small glass of water.

“You don’t know the half of it,” I said.  “I don’t know what answers I can give.”

“Why you?”

“That’s an awfully good question,” I told her.  “I wish I knew the full answer.”

“Things were just settling down, then something happens to Molly, and that’s bad enough, but you get the house?  Molly just decides to give it to you?”

“Grandmother decided.”

“She did?”

“It’s already set up.  If something happens to me, then it goes to the next person in line.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Do I- Do I want to know where I stand on that list?”

I sighed.

“You’re not jumping to give me an answer.”

“No,” I told her.  “You don’t want to know.”

The silence was painful to listen to.  “Do you know how hard I’ve worked?  To get where I am?  You ran away.  Molly… I don’t even know what happened, but she apparently fell apart before she even had the inheritance, then got worse after.  Ellie and Roxanne never deserved that money, too spoiled, in very different ways.  Your little sister is obviously too young, and Kathryn was the worst of us when it came to tearing down everyone else to get her hands on it.”

“And you?” I asked.

The microwave beeped.  I left it alone.

“I… damn it, I worked for it!  I did some stuff I’m not proud of, but not against Molly or Ivy.  Only against my sisters, who were already playing dirty.  But I didn’t make it an obsession.  I made myself my own person, worked hard at school, and I made it something that could be.  Not something that had to be.”

Except somewhere along the line, it sounds like, you let yourself believe you were the only one who deserved it, and you pinned too many hopes on it.

I didn’t say that, though.  “When she asked, you know, I said you should get it.”

There was a pause.

“I’m sure you understand if I say I don’t believe you,” Paige told me.

She was wrong.  I didn’t understand in the slightest.  I asked, “Why not?”

“Why would I?  We don’t know each other.  You don’t know me.”

“We did, we were friends.”

“We were family who saw each other because we had to.”

That stung.  More than it should have.

“We were friends,” I said, again.  Firmer.  “Back when we were kids.  Then we got along at the inheritance meeting.  We ran into each other at school.  Talked in passing.”

“In passing.  Nothing more.”

“Why are you so dead set on denying any connection we had?”  I asked.

“Because we didn’t.  We weren’t friends, Blake.  We just moved in some of the same circles, and you’re pretending the past has more significance than it does.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but then I thought about the scars I’d erased.

I couldn’t deny that I gave history an awful lot of weight.

“I think you’re a genuinely good person, Paige,” I said.  “So I’m going to assume that it’s the late hour and pressure that are making you obsessing more over the inheritance than Molly’s murder.”

“Murder?” she asked.  Seizing on entirely the wrong point.

Hadn’t she said-

No.  Fuck.

I was too tired.

“That’s how I understand it,” I said.

“The police didn’t say anything about murder.  If anything, it was apparently an accident.”

Someone was revising history, just as Paige was accusing me of doing.  Washing over the murder, turning it into an ‘accident’.  However they managed that.

“I don’t know exactly who said what,” I said.  “What did they say?”

“If you’re looking to get your story straight-”

Paige,” I said.

“…The police said it looked like she shut herself in, because she was scared of backlash from the locals, Aunt Laura seemed to back that up.  She supposedly got cabin fever, fled, and got a little too far out into the cold.  But you said murder.  Which isn’t an idea you throw around lightly.”

Laird’s work?

“Paige-”

She steamrolled over me.  “It’s a little fucked, Blake.  Either you know something you’re not sharing, or you’re fucking with me, or-”

“It was damn suspicious,” I said.  Which it was.  “And clues were dropped.”

“Is that why they’re looking for you?  I thought they wanted to find you because you’d be the second person to disappear.”

“I don’t know why they’re looking for me.”

“But you thought that there was a murder, and you left the area?  Even if you’re a suspect?”

“As I understand it, one of them confirmed my alibi.”

“Did they?  Which is it, Blake?  Were they looking for a murderer or not?”

This was Paige.  She’d always been sharp.

She was a problem, and if she kept along this line of questioning, then it was very possible she’d get the wrong idea and take that wrong idea to legitimate authorities.

I needed to look at her as the threat she was, and that meant treating her as I’d treated Conquest and Pauz.  Figuring out what she wanted and utilizing that knowledge.

What she wanted was knowledge.  Understanding.

“What I know,” I said, speaking very slowly and carefully, “Is that grandmother was involved in something pretty messed up.  Some of that relates to the police chief back in Jacob’s Bell.  Some of it ties to what happened to Molly.  Molly died, I got a message saying as much, I walked right into the middle of it, and the whole reason I’m here is because I can’t do anything there.  I need to wrangle some help from above if I’m going to deal with this, before anyone else in the family gets wrapped up in it all.”

“That’s a little hard to swallow.”

“Is it?” I asked.  “Tell me that, with all the stories we shared between us about the family, that it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility that they were caught up in some hinky town council secret society bullshit.”

She didn’t reply immediately.  I took a forkful of lasagna.

“…Is that what it was?”

“A small few people with too much power, trying to get more power.  It relates to the house, to the whole inheritance thing, and a lot of the stuff Molly was talking about, when she sounded as paranoid as she did.”

“I’m trying to remember what she said.”

“Don’t.  Don’t worry about it, don’t get involved.”

“How am I not supposed to get involved?  Either you’re lying to me, telling me something convenient… or you’re telling the truth, and this does make sense, and I’m supposed to do nothing?”

“Do nothing,” I said.  “Okay?  You’re furthest away from this, out of all of us possible heirs.  You’re, aside from the little ones, the cousin with the best shot of coming out of this okay.  Take your exams.  Spend time with friends.  Enjoy life.  And if this does come-”

I stopped myself.

“If it what?”

“Nevermind.”

“If it does come…”

I frowned.  I was too tired.  Saying things I shouldn’t.  “I’ll see about leaving you a few notes.  The stuff I’ve figured out, tips.  Maybe make sure that Ellie and Kathy can add to it, if they move fast enough.”

“You’re not making a lot of sense, here.  You’re saying you’re in danger too?  That Ellie and Kathy might go the same way?”

“I’m saying… it’s complicated.”

“That’s a pretty terrible answer.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“Why not tell us what’s going on, if I’m going to have to wait until three of my cousins are dead before getting some big surprise about murderous cults or something?”

“Because it’s the sort of complicated that messes up everything it touches.”

“What’s to stop them from coming after us now?  Before we’re in the know?”

“Ros- Paige.  I can’t get into it.”

“Who’s that  Ro-something?”

Rose.  “Someone with a voice that sounds like yours.  I’m really tired, Paige.  I’ve had a long day, I’ve got another one in front of me.”

“Can you guarantee that we’re safe?” she asked.  “Somehow I don’t think you can.”

“No,” I admitted.  “I can’t guarantee it.  But the threats that are involved here, they’re more interested in using the Thorburn family than they are in hurting us.”

“You’re being useful to the people who killed Molly?”

“Yes and no.  Not the way you’re imagining.  But it’s complicated.”

“Blake,” she said.

“Paige.

Why not tell the police?  Oh, wait, you said the police chief was a problem.”

“And there’s more going on,” I said.  I was too tired to navigate this conversation.  “Go take your exams.  Ignore me, ignore all this.”

“What if I don’t believe you?  What if I say this is too implausible, and I tell the police everything?”

“Then I forgive you,” I said.  I crossed the room to get a glass, and filled it at the sink.

“Forgive me?”

“I get it.  It does seem implausible.  Whatever happens, after you spread the word?  I forgive you if your conscience tells you to talk to the police instead of listening to me.”

“You sound odd.”

“I’m just really, really tired, Paige.  I have to go to bed.  Big day tomorrow, stuff to deal with.  Thank you for telling me about the police.  I’m sorry I can’t give you more concrete answers to your questions.”

“…Sure?”

“Good night, Paige.  Good luck with your exams.”

“Blake?”

“What?”

“Is there anything I can do?”

Was there?

“Just the fact that you’d ask helps,” I told her.

“Okay.”

I hung up.

I could have handled that better, probably.

My eyes roved over the tattoos, the locket, the scrapes and bites I hadn’t covered up.  The pain was fresher, now.

I felt very, very mortal.

I collected the glass and lasagna, and I moved over to the dining table.  I almost never ate at the table, preferring to stand, but I needed a surface to work with.

I grabbed the same pad of paper I’d used to sketch out the lines I’d drawn on myself and began writing.

Rose.   Kathryn.  Ellie.  Roxanne.  Ivy.  Paige.  Whichever of you is left at the time you read this.

Blake here.  I’m liable to be dead if you’re reading this.  Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has given me a life expectancy in the single-digits.

You’re in for a rude awakening.  You’re going to find out some stuff.  What I’m going to do here is try to ease you into it.  Warn you about some of the pitfalls.  I’m going to try to do it in a way that doesn’t screw you over:

Don’t stress over the name ‘Rose’ being up there.  It’s a just-in-case.  Consider her an illegitimate grandchild.  But mainly don’t stress about it.  There are enough other things to worry about.

Don’t go past the wall around the house unless a mark is painted at the foot of the driveway, or you see someone walk up there first.  It’s a trap, and it would be too easy for each of you to walk into it one by one.

Laird Behaim is the enemy.  He’s the one directing the Jacob’s Bell contingent.

Sandra Duchamp will surprise you and spoil anything you set in motion.

As enemies go, neither of them even come close to comparing to the real danger.  You’ll realize what that danger is when you see the books on the shelf to the right of the desk.  Resist the temptation.  I’ve had to interact with things in that domain, and nothing good comes of it.

The lawyers count as part of this real danger.

Maggie is an ally.  This doesn’t necessarily make her trustworthy.

Johannes isn’t an ally or trustworthy, according to grandmother and my gut, but you know what they say about the enemy of your enemy.  Tread carefully.

Sarcasm is tempting, don’t.  You’ll understand what I mean.

Those are the bullet points.  Get somewhere safe, then read on.  I’ll explain what’s happened thus far, to put it into context…

Fell was waiting outside when I emerged, standing on the driver’s side of the car.

“Thank you for coming,” I said.

“I take it you’re acting a little more civil this morning,” he commented.

“Trying,” I said.  “No promises I’ll stay that way.  I wound up falling asleep at my dining room table.  I’m tired, and you’re working for Conquest, who is trying to enslave me and fling a small share of humanity into infernal ruin… I might get grumpy.”

“Passenger door is open,” he said.  “Upholstery is clean.  Fleas exterminated.”

I pulled open the door.  Sure enough, it looked like I hadn’t been in it the night prior.

Taking my bag off, I settled it on my lap as I sat down.  Fell climbed in and set us on our way.

“The goblin?” he asked.  “Or the demon?”

“Goblin should be easier than an abstract demon,” I said.  “Goblin first.”

“Mm,” he grunted.  Not a confirmation, not a refutation either.

“Kind of hoping Rose wakes up so she can help me with the demon,” I added.

“No comment,” Fell said.  “And I won’t comment.  Don’t even try to weasel it out of me.”

I almost responded, then I stopped short.  When he said he wouldn’t comment, he’d effectively made a promise.

Bastard.

“So noted,” I said.  I watched as a faint patter of wet snowflakes hit the windshield, melting almost immediately.  The worst aspects of rain and snow both.

He drove just a little fast, for my comfort.

“You expressed interest in meeting the Knights.  Conquest reached out to them,” Fell said.

“That so?”

“It’s your choice.  I’m to take you to each location.  Would you like to see the Knights first?”

I thought of how Rose and I had handled things yesterday.  We’d checked out what was going on, figured out what we’d needed, handled other stuff, and then returned.

Or I’d returned, in any event.  Garbed in magical diagrams.

My clothes were so filthy I hadn’t been able to bring myself to wear them, and I had fallen asleep before I’d thought to launder them.

For now, I was in clothes with pure utility purposes.

“Can we swing by?  I’d like to see what it’s like, then see the Knights, so I can think about the oblivion demon while I work on the goblin problem.”

“They aren’t too far from one another,” he said.  “That’s doable.”

“Thank you,” I told him.

It took a few minutes before we passed onto a road with barely any cars at all.  It had been plowed, but snow had layered on the pavement since.  As confident as he was in his driving, Fell was compelled to slow down some.

“What gets a guy like you to serve a guy like Conquest?” I asked.

“Why would I share that?” he asked.

I started to say something that might have been construed as rude or provoking, insinuating that Conquest might have something to offer someone who had trouble with sexual conquests, and shut myself up instead.  I couldn’t think of a quippy way to word it, in any event.

“I don’t really know what would motivate you,” I said.  “But silence sucks, and you haven’t cranked up the radio, so…”

“You expect me to share details with you, diabolist?  For nothing?”

I almost protested against the label, but it was accurate.  “An alternative is that I share my life story, filling the endless minutes or hours in the car with personal details, either boring you to tears or getting you to sympathize with me.”

“It might be amusing to see you try and fail,” he said.

“It might,” I acknowledged.

“But you’re right.  It’s more liable to be irritating, and there’s an aura around you.  Infecting everything you have contact with.  I want nothing of it.”

“Aura?”  I looked down at my hand.

“The imp’s ambiance.  A light, a pattern, a smell.  The form it takes depends on the individual, and how they choose to see these things.  Right now, you are passing on traces to everything you touch.  Depending on the distance, the infection may be stronger or weaker.  But you always leave traces.  My car will stink when you are gone, cleaning or no.  You leave fingerprints behind, infect people, who infect other things in turn, until the energy is used up, fueling things that should not be.

Radiation.

“Right,” I said.  “So…”

“Don’t talk to me, Diabolist.  Do not interact with me.”

“Are you cool with what Conquest is doing?”

“You’re talking to me,” he said.

“I’m just saying.  For someone so touchy about imp ambiance, you seem remarkably cool with your lord and master doing what he’s doing.”

“No,” he said.  “No, ‘cool’ has nothing to do with it.”

“That so?” I asked.  “Huh.”

“You’re prying,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Knowledge is power, and it’s a kind of security too.”

“A novice mistake,” Fell commented.

“Hm?”

“Are you really more secure than you were before you learned about how this world works?”

“Depends what you mean,” I said.  “I was more secure before I learned about magic and demons existing, sure.  But the moment I began to teach myself stuff, well, whole different ball game.  Yeah, I’m more secure.”

“That same knowledge led to this issue with the ambiance, diabolist.  Had you known nothing, then Conquest would have had nothing to demand of you.”

“So being ignorant is the way to go, huh?” I asked.

“For billions of people on this Earth, yes,” Fell said.  “It affords a kind of protection.  Not immunity.  But on the whole, the average person is better off for being unaware.”

The car briefly fishtailed on ice.  He corrected it.

Still driving a little too fast, all things considered.

“I’d delineate,” I said.  “Break it down into awareness and knowledge.  There are a lot of things where being aware is shitty.  Being aware of how many kids die in Africa is one thing.  Being knowledgeable about it implies you know enough to do something about it.”

“Or,” Fell said, “Your knowledge empowers you to make others aware, and you make their existence a less happy one.”

“Somehow,” I said, “I’m getting the vibe that you’re speaking from experience.  Did knowledge not do you any favors?”

He was speeding up on a long, straight stretch.

“No,” he said.  “Neither knowledge nor awareness did me favors.  Both were snares, of a sort.”

“Snares?”

“Given your circumstances, I’d think you know, diabolist.  No sooner do they tell you, than the shackles slip around your neck, your wrists and ankles.  You’re bound.

“By circumstance?” I asked.

“Or other means,” he said.  “You’ve seen the connections that surround us.  They appear as threads.  Can you name one that couldn’t be used to bind you?”

Familial ties, ties to a place, ties to a thing, to ideas, even.

“Rose wears a chain,” I said.  “Another kind of connection being used to bind?”

Obviously,” Fell said.  “You’re here, aren’t you?”

Here in the car.  Seeing to task number two.

He still wasn’t slowing down.

We zipped past an isolated car.  The shift of wind in the other car’s wake made us wobble.

“You’re talking about Conquest,” I said.

“My father served him, as did his father, and his father before him.  As did my brothers and sister.  On our twelfth birthday, we each received a gift.  Knowledge.  But it isn’t a gift we can return, and it’s a gift that burdens.  The Lord of Toronto acts according to a certain pattern.  He takes, and he doesn’t let go.  I notice you didn’t fight to take your companion with you when you left.”

“She’s already his, isn’t she?”

“Shackled.  Much as I am.  It is perhaps a good thing that she sleeps.”

“You have to obey him,” I said.  “I suspected you’d sworn to serve, I used that against you, forced your hand, even.  But I didn’t think…”

“That my father would have been forced to lure his sons and daughter into the trap, as his father was before him?”

I didn’t miss the slight acceleration as he spoke.

“You’re kept from acting against him.  From hurting yourself or breaking the terms of the agreement?”

“Yes.”

“But not, I gather, from taking certain risks?”

“It is the only rebellion afforded to us.  I didn’t take the out that my family did.  I have only a sister, who ranges far afield in Conquest’s service, and an uncle who watches over the neighboring areas.  My brother died at the hands of goblins, trying to save a small town.  My other brother went after one of Conquest’s enemies, who took mercy on him and killed him.”

“And you just drive fast,” I said.

“That’s less a rebellion than a freedom.  Different things.”

I nodded.

“I’m sorry, Fell,” I told him.

“Hm?”

“Being a dick, before.  Toying with you.”

“We’re not friends, Thorburn.  I’m hoping you die quickly, sometime in the next two days.  It would make a lot of things simpler.”

And if I defeat Conquest?  Where does that put you?

But I couldn’t ask, because he was no doubt sworn to obey Conquest.

I could feel the car shudder as he accelerated.  Tires grinding down ice and snow.

I leaned back and closed my eyes.

“You aren’t worried?”

Not giving you the satisfaction.  I said.  “I ride a motorcycle, and I’ve ridden it in rain and snow when I’ve had to.  Four points of contact with the ground?  A steel cage all around me?  Air bags?  Hardly safe, but I’m used to worse.”

I felt the engine ease up as he took his foot off the accelerator.

He’d wanted to make me uneasy.  He might as well have admitted as such aloud.

“He was bad enough before,” Fell said.  “Since you came here, he’s worse.”

“Conquest?  Yeah.”

“He’s not built to stop when he’s on a course like this.  To steer clear of something like this.”

“Kind of a bad choice for a Lord,” I said.

“A long story.”

“It doesn’t fix anything, you know, if I die,” I said.  “There are more following me.  I’ve taken a small measure to ensure they won’t fall into the same traps, but that’s hardly a guarantee, and I can think of one or two of them who are liable to make some godawful mistakes along the way, even with my warnings.  The sort of mistake that concerns people like you, perhaps.”

“My family has long dealt with major threats.  We serve in a role similar to witch hunters, evading attention, disarming and misdirecting the greatest Others.  If my family hadn’t lost to Conquest and been subsumed, then I might be hunting down the remaining members of your family right now.”

“Yeah?” I asked.  “That’s kind of shitty.”

“Do you not see the kind of damage a mere mote causes?  An imp?  What happens when something greater follows?  Do you think you’re going to come out of your dealings with the abstract devil in one piece?”

“Given that I didn’t come out of the thing with the imp in one piece, no,” I said.  “I admit, I’m a little spooked about what I’m in for.  Feeling woefully underequipped.”

“You should be.”

“You know, my little sister’s two?”

“Oh?”

“She’s one of the followers.  Does that mean you’d kill her?” I asked.

“Personally?  No.  Easier to interrupt her before she sets foot on the path.  Kill her parents, burn any resources your family holds, manipulate her destiny.  If that failed, then I’d wait until she came of a certain age, six at a minimum, where she’s self-aware, or twelve, when she’s about to be indoctrinated, I would likely kill her then.”

“Oh?” I mused.  I considered.  “Pretty shitty, still, but that’s… fairer than many alternatives.”

“Oh?  Have I met your standards, diabolist?”

Fell slowed.  He turned down a side road.  There were only trees on either side of us now.

A woman stood in the middle of the road.  She turned to face us.

I caught a glimpse of the damage that had been done to her.  One shoulder and most of her chest torn away.  The meat around the wound glistened with blood.

Fell drove right through her, and she dissipated.

I craned my head around to see her reforming behind us.  Walking awkwardly in our direction, before disappearing into the drift of snow.

“Ghost?” I asked.

“Close enough.  Term, I think, is a spectre.  Damage or disrupt a ghost like that, you break its pattern.  It spirals out, unbalanced, unable to maintain continuity, and tends to drag a few people with it before it’s spent.  Normally only seen around an area with another presence at work, or if it’s tightly bound to something and you destroy the focus.”

“Huh,” I said.  “I didn’t read anything like that in the book about binding ghosts.”

“Too volatile to bind,” Fell said.  “Just like you don’t handle old explosives.”

I nodded.

We passed a stretch of dead trees.  Skeletal, pale.

I saw a group of tall men and women standing in the midst of the trees.  Half again as tall as normal people, naked, their skin mottled, they were almost camouflaged.  They simply stood there, arms at their sides.

Each one had been wounded the same way.  Their heads had been bitten off, leaving only the neck and a lopsided lower jaw with teeth pointed skyward, tongue lolling.  One of the men had a very small erection.

“What were those?” I asked.

Fell shrugged.

We passed another cluster of ghosts.  All standing stock still.  All maimed.

As we passed, a few of them took tentative steps or crawled in our direction.  They gave up after we were gone.  Responding more to our presence than anything.  Like they were magnetic, but it wasn’t magnetism that had pulled them to us.

“Why so many ghosts?”

“I suppose his victims can’t go on while a piece of them rests in his stomach,” Fell said.  “He’s been around a few centuries, moved over this way when people began to settle the new world.  The spectres follow after him when he moves on.”

We passed a burning tree, half the branches torn away.  It only dawned on me a moment after we’d passed that it was another Other.

A bloodstained patch of snow.

A tree with gore strewn around the branches like streamers, an animal that had no right to be alive at the heart of it.  Another Other.

I drew out the objects I’d been given, for finding the hyena and the abstract devil.

“He’s more to the right,” I said.

“I know,” Fell said.  “I’m not taking you to him.  I’m moving around the perimeter.  You wanted a view of the area.  An idea of what to expect?  This is it.”

“The Others are maddened by pain, insensate, out of place and out of sync,” I said.

“Yes.”

“How do I even protect myself against them?”

“Not my concern.  As I said-”

“You’re happy enough if I die.”

“It means Conquest isn’t able to use you.  At least not to the same extent.  With the hold on your companion, he’ll likely have possession of your ghost, but the impact isn’t as strong.”

“Huh,” I said.

My eyes passed over a rock with snow layered on top of it.

In the same instant I saw a flash of blood and realized it wasn’t a rock, but something big, we’d passed it.

What in the fuck was that?

More ghosts.  A smattering of children, all wounded.

Centuries.

Maybe one to three people a year?

“Would the ghosts collect nearer to roads?  They’re bound within a certain proximity of him,” I said, “But…”

“Most would be on roads when they were killed.  They would gravitate towards the road in death.  Familiar ground,” Fell said.

“Then what’s deeper in the woods?”

“Things that don’t linger near roads,” Fell said.  He made it sound so obvious.

“Alright,” I said.  “I think I’ve got the gist of it.”

Fell turned, letting the car spin out, then turned the wheel into the spin.  It fishtailed more, then settled on its new course, going in the opposite direction.

Okay, it wasn’t a bike, but that was a touch nerve wracking.

“That was more reckless than ‘free’, I think,” I said, as diplomatically as I could.

“You don’t want to stop moving in a place like this,” Fell said.  “Too many things in too much pain, no longer aware of the rules and treaties.  They invite disaster, breaking oaths in blind attempts to distract themselves from their agony, and the malign spirits cluster around them as a consequence.  Everything spirals down to ruin, here.”

“And nobody’s stopped it?”

“The gain isn’t worth the risk.  Too many ask why they should risk getting bitten, if it only gets them a mad dog on a leash.  Leave that mad dog in the wilderness.  Mark trees and stones with wards, to keep people away.  More runes to keep the roads intact.  Let it have the woods for itself.”

“But Conquest wants it.”

“Conquest wants everything.  But yes, Conquest wants this in particular.”

“Why?”

“I would be betraying my master if I answered that.  Simply see to your task.  You have until midnight.”

“Right,” I said.

Again, my eye caught a glimpse of another spirit in the Hyena’s woods.

A ghost, I was pretty sure.  A child in a long hooded jacket, running between the trees.

I wasn’t sure, but I hadn’t seen any wounds.

I shivered, settling in for the drive to visit the Knights of the Basement.

Things settled down when we hit the proper road, without the crust of ice.  I was left with only my thoughts.  The items I’d need, the precautions I’d need to take…

I’d torn the front off a pad of paper, and I pulled the folded paper from my pocket.  I began taking notes.

Time flew.  Fell didn’t volunteer anything.

“Here,” he said.

A convenience store, with far too many cars parked out front.  I was put in mind of a biker gang in some pitifully small town.

With no empty spaces, Fell had to block one car in as he parked.

“Would you like me to wait, or would you prefer I pick you up at a later time?” he asked.

I debated, then said, “Wait, please.”

“They’re expecting you,” he said, gesturing.

I got out.

Not two seconds later, Fell peeled out, tires crunching on snow.  He revved as he disappeared down the road.

He’d asked what I preferred, but… hadn’t committed to it.

And he’d promised to deliver me to each location in turn, but… hadn’t promised to bring me home.

Well, at least he hadn’t left me in the goblin’s woods.

I wasn’t halfway to the front of the convenience store when a man sauntered out.  A large cat leaped onto the snow-covered railing, then the top of the ice box.

I could see the connection between them.

“Diabolist?” he asked.

“I prefer Blake,” I said.

His saunter had hid the object in his other hand.

He leveled a shotgun at me.

“You have two seconds to keep me from shooting,” he said.

“Stop Conquest?” I asked.  No hesitation.

Which amounted to half a second.

He deliberated for a long second.

The shotgun dropped back to his side.

“Come in.”

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246 thoughts on “Collateral 4.9

  1. Well, there goes my long-held hope of Blake recruiting Paige out of order of the succession; it seems far less likely now.

    Though it would be much harder without access to the house, I will admit.

    1. Actually, I disagree with the idea that Paige is out of the game. I doubt Paige is the type to not dig into stuff if something comes up that is rather big. She is perceptive and inquisitive as well as being interested in what goes on.

      In fact, I predict the following path:
      Blake, being Blake manages to make a big mess, which puts Blake (or someone else close to him) in critical condition (hospital, jail, dead, most wanted, something). Paige, seeing much of Blake’s paranoia prove to have some substance investigates and becomes involved. A rescue of some sort will ensue, either Blake rescuing Paige, or Paige rescuing Blake, probably both, and probably in that order.

      The only out that I see is if the affect one(s) are simply Blakes friends, which is also likely.

      I guess my position on this can be summed up like this, it is worse for Blake if his family get involved, so they will.

      1. Or Blake dies and the story shifts to Paige’s POV. You know, if Wildbow decides to get really vicious. We identify with Blake only to find out he dies and Rose is forced to work alongside Paige while trying to prevent Blake’s career criminal cousin from unleashing the barber with bare bits of knowledge.

      2. Indeed. Also, the Law of Conservation of Detail expects – nay, demands – that the rest of the family get involved somehow. Why have so much of an heir buffer left if it wasn’t going to come into play?

        1. Considering the most likely fate that the Thorburns are facing, if they get into the Practitioner game, you may want to change that to: “heir buffet“. 😉

          1. Molly died to tool use, I don’t think she got eaten, per se.

            Although that brings up a really skeevy image of an army of goblins descending on her with knives and forks.

            1. Pro tip: If a goblin offers you a spatula covered in brown goo, don’t lick it. You don’t know whe- …hang on, you do know where it’s been.

            2. Exactly! The spatula was obviously dipped in chocolate cake batter. To lick that would contaminate that bit of batter, thus making it useless for the cake.

            3. “Exactly! The spatula was obviously dipped in chocolate cake batter. To lick that would contaminate that bit of batter, thus making it useless for the cake.”

              And it would be terrible, ruining a goblin double-choc cake. They use special moulds, you know. Very unusual shapes. Nothing quite compares to a big portion of goblin-flavored chocolate starfish.

    1. I found nothing significant at all, nothing more than slightly more or less common usages:

      handtowel
      more commonly hand towel

      strongarm
      more commonly strong-arm

      Nevermind
      more commonly never mind

      godawful
      more commonly god-awful

    2. A few missing quotation marks here and there:

      “Paige.

      Why not tell the police? Oh, wait, you said the police chief was a problem.”

    3. Typos:
      – “Tell me that, with all the stories we shared between us about the family, that it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility” -> That’s one negation too much. ‘Tell me that it’s completely out of the realm of possibility.’
      – “he’ll likely have possession of your ghost, but the impact isn’t as strong.” -> ‘won’t be as strong’

    4. “Tell me that, with all the stories we shared between us about the family, that it isn’t completely…” one too many ‘that’s.

  2. Just an FYI, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect wounds anymore. It’s either too weak to be useful, delays healing and increases scarring, or puts you at risk for an embolism. One of them, I forget which. I think PVP-I is the preferred disinfectant? Not saying Blake should or would know that, but I figured it was useful to know. Stay healthy. =)

    And the stranger was Fell’s brother, I take it? Interesting…I didn’t recognize the other family members if we’ve met them, but I’m hoping we’ll get to see all of them.

    I wonder if Blake ever has dreams about meeting new people and not being threatened with death. Poor guy’s got the worst luck.

    1. I’m pretty sure a tertiary character gave Skitter that same speech, shortly after Shatterbird shatterbirded everything. 😛

    2. My theatrics didn’t seem to impress her. Her tone was almost disparaging as she said, “Nobody uses hydrogen peroxide anymore. It delays recovery time.”

      “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” I said. ”If the wounds heal over embedded glass, it’ll be that much more unpleasant.”

      “Do you have medical training?” she asked me, her tone disapproving.

      “Not enough, no,” I said with a sigh. I had the swarm pass over my hand again, picking up the hydrogen peroxide and depositing another plastic bottle in its place. ”Iodine?”

      “Thank you,” she said, in a tone that was more impatient than grateful. ”We’re going to need more than this.”

      “I’ll see what I can do,” I told her, trying not to sound exasperated.

      1. Ah. I was a latecomer to Worm (started when the penultimate chapter was posted?) and binged through it in about 3 days, so I’m afraid my memory on details isn’t as stellar as it could be, apologies. Not sure if healing over glass is actually problematic, come to think of it, though from experience, trying to cut fragments out post-healing is a pain. >.<

        Also from depressing personal experience, that is an INSANE amount of fleas. I’m surprised he was able to think straight when covered in enough to discolor shower water. ._.

      2. Please, what chapter was this? Searching worm isn’t dangerous on a tvtropes level, but until wildbow publishes a version I can skim quickly I’ll never focus enough to find anything.

  3. Hydrogen peroxide is a rather lousy use for cleaning wounds, sure it fizzes but so does pop. For some reason a lot of people think it helps, it does not.

    1. On the other hand, if Blake can get his hands on some concentrated sulfuric acid, he could mix up a batch of Piranha Solution, which could be very… useful.

      http://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/1j0ahv/mythbusters_breaking_bad_special_full_version/

      As Wikipedia so eloquently puts it:

      “The dehydration process exhibits itself as the rapid carbonisation of common organic materials, especially carbohydrates, when immersed in piranha solution. Piranha solution was named in part for the vigour of this first process, since large quantities of organic residues immersed in piranha solution are dehydrated so violently that the process resembles a piranha feeding frenzy. The second and more definitive rationale for the name, however, is the ability of piranha solution to “eat anything,” including in particular elemental carbon in the form of soot or char.”

  4. A mad dog on a leash seem pretty useful as a tool or raw material right about now & Blake is currently too underpowered to turn his nose from using spectres as fodder/sacrifices to a greater power for better tools.

    1. I think the point is that the cost is too high. Having a pack of spectres will do Blake no good if he immediately dies after weakening himself to capture them.

  5. So many awesome things here!

    I knew that bugs would be trouble. I’m glad Blake glamoured himself (kinda) better. I can’t help but feel, though, that undoing old scars will come back to bite Blake later.

    It’s pretty awesome that Blake’s trying to leave helpful hints to the others in line for the inheritance. Paige is probably going to call the police though.

    These last 2 chapters I’ve come to like Fell. He’s no Maggie, but his stock is rising. Also, I think we just learned a bit about Nameless Practitioner Hero.

    So Blake’s plan begins to unfold. . .

    1. Indeed, fixing the woulds nobody but him and Fall knew about is one thing, but fixing scars all his family knows about and would notice are missing is just stupid considering how glamour works.

      1. Depends on what part of Blake’s body that’s been scarred. If it’s someplace that only gets exposed when he’s taking a shower, it’s probably safe for him to give himself a little extra ego boost.

        “Hey, Blake! So good you could make it to the family reunion. Now, why don’t you drop those trousers, eh? The kids want to admire your… scars.[Nudge nudge] [Wink wink]

        Granted, the Thorburn family is messed up, but there are limits. (Hopefully.)

      2. Seeing a lot of similarities between Fell and Blake. Both got sucked into the practicioner world because of their bloodline. Both have lost family members to Goblins, with Maggie being involved. Both have Conquest making them his bitches.

    2. He wrote Worm. I’m sure any situation that could reasonably involve bugs will be trouble, considering what they can do.

  6. Good chapter, Fell is a very interesting character, and I would like to see how he is developed. One thing I appreciate in particular is how all the characters have ties to others, and all seem to be individuals, but act in the intricate web of oaths and traditions.

  7. Short thoughts… longer later.

    Someone last time suggested using glamour to cover wounds – and Blake did. Kudos for calling it. And Fell didn’t even pull the trick I thought he would to break it and re-harm Blake.

    Was Laird trying something?
    It would be par for the course.

    Paige may have been manipulated by the Duchamps like Blake’s other family was. The could make sure that Paige was more obsessed with the situation fairly easily.

    Someone was revising history
    Glamour is a possibility. Manipulating relationships so that those who remember Molly’s death remember it as an accident rather than murder is another possibility. Both point to Duchamps.

    Yeah! Back story on Fell and his family. Not nice backstory, but Blake has proven competent at working with people’s motivations to get what he wants.

    So, Fell’s brother was the one who stopped the boss goblin that Molly met. Wonder why the brother looked like a bum.

    Rose is Conquest’s now. Blake now has to take Conquest all the way down to free her. That was sort of known before, but it was flatly stated here.

    “Too volatile to bind.”
    So, Blake probably won’t be doing any ghost/spirit binding among the Hyena’s prey.

    Conquest wants the Hyana. Hmmm… Nothing obvious comes to mind.

    Fell left Blake alone to talk to the Knights. That might be a way for him to subvert his orders, leaving Blake to talk to possibly rebellious practitioners. Or maybe not.

    1. Conquest /wants/ – his motivation… seems to almost end there. He is an incarnation of obtaining. Once he has, he can want a new thing, want to make the old thing more his, or fade away. And there’s a limit to how much an old thing can be made his.

      1. Extending the idea: Conquest wants Hyena enough that Fell could give no details as to why due to loyalty constraints. So the short answer is that having the Hyena would extend Conquest’s domain in a very significant way. What is a significant extension? Conquest already “controls” a lot of land, so the land is probably not the issue. Conquest already keeps everything it takes, so the Hyena’s ability to keep anything it has eaten part of is not really a serious addition to Conquest’s arsenal (although it is a scary ability). What Hyena has that Conquest can take is a lot of bound victims with a variety of powers.

        So, an odd interlinking set of guesses:
        Known: The ghosts that Blake saw in Conquest’s domain were very weak.
        Known: The ghosts that Blake saw in Conquest’s domain were all strongly bound.
        Known: The moderate power ghost that Blake brought in (June) could make significant changes in Conquest’s domain.
        Guess: Conquest drains ghosts for energy.
        Guess: Conquest can’t allow powerful ghosts in because they can alter his domain.
        Guess: Conquest can allow powerful ghosts in if he has control of them somehow, e.g. through Hyena.
        Known: Blake thinks Conquest is weak.
        Guess: Conquest can’t bring powerful Others into his domain because they may unseat him.
        Guess: Conquest can allow powerful Others in if he has control of them somehow, e.g. through Hyena.

        So, I am guessing that Conquest thinks he can leverage Hyena’s control of its victims to bring a large number of powerful Others and ghosts (specters) into his control and perhaps drain them of energy (or just force obeisance). Conquest couldn’t do it before because of his weakness to ghosts and his overall weakness, but if he can get Blake to bind Hyena then Conquest can use Hyena’s control to exert his own.

        1. [Puts on scholarly scholar’s hat of scholastic scholarlinessitude]

          As even 10-year old juvenile delinquents know, Ghosts are immune to Fighting and Normal attacks. Conquest is all about the fisticuffs, so he’s fucked unless he’s got someone to catch the ghosts for him.

          If the reason that the Lord of Toronto desires to catch the Legendary Hungrihungrihyenamon is, in fact, that he means to use it as a Ghost-countermeasure, that would imply that the Hyena is either a Poison- or Bug-type.

          And now he’s sent Blake out to fetch it.

          Considering that this is the Wildbowverse, Blake has only one option:

          Hope that it’s Poison.

          Hope that it’s Poison.

          Hope that it’s Poison.

          Of course, the Hyena might just be a rare Shiney. How could Conquest resist the temptation?

          1. That actually makes sense. After all, The Hyena’s signature move is Bite, which does effect ghosts.

            The only problem is that Conquest already has a bunch of ghost trophies in his realm.

            1. Let’s hope Blake doesn’t encounter a Ghost that’s learned the Curse move. Not that Curse is particularly powerful, but it’s just creepy.

              “Whoa, why are you hammering a giant nail in your own head? What is- AAAGHH OWW OHH GAWD, THAT HURTS!

              Oh, on second thought – in Pactverse, a Ghost that uses Curse would actually be pretty nasty. Not only is it damaging its opponent, but it’s also weakening itself to the point of winking out of existence, thus depriving the practitioner of resources (i.e. you won’t be able to bind a Ghost that’s already spent itself).

          2. Poison and Bug aren’t good against ghosts. Dark is. If you feel confidant you can kill it first, and want to take the risk, you can use a ghost yourself. Poison is a good Fairy countermeasure though. Maybe Conquest should just get a Toxicroak with either Sucker Punch or Dark Pulse?

            1. Ah, excellent points, sir! But – is your scholarly hat bigger than mine? Hmm?

              Doesn’t matter if your advice is better, your facts have actually been checked, your reasoning more thought-through, and your grammar less gramm-atrocious – the guy with the biggest hat is always right.

    2. “Conquest wants the Hyana. Hmmm… Nothing obvious comes to mind.”

      The Lord of Toronto obviously wants an audience for his big Broadway musical Evil Villain Gloat-a-thons.

      1. Either the Hyena’s got a problem with the laughing gas, in which case excuse my flatulence, or it’s actually a female goblin that made itself a false penis. Personally, I’m hoping for more dick in this story. I think we could use some more hot dickings. I want to see Blake go down to his local record store this Tuesday from 4 to 9 and just give away the hot dickings. Just pass ’em out.

        Mmmm….hot.

        The only problem, he may need a prescription for that. A prescription signed by…Dr. Tran!

        What? We got everything else thrown in with this multiverse? Why not a dashing secret agent who keeps a list of all your mothers to seduce and kill?

        1. Blake is already giving everyone the dickens. If they aren’t getting the dickens from being exposed to the Imp radiation, or getting the dickens from him simply being a Diabolist, they will surely be getting the dickens from his infernal, one-eyed, serrated, glow-in-the-dark, Babbytorem-batter-dispensing, soon-to-be-Familiar-Implement-plus-Demesne-infused Crotch Fiend (i.e. his penis).

          http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/233450.html

    1. How much “juice” does June have left?
      Is sand in general, a pouch of sand, or something else Fell’s implement? What’s his familiar? Does he have a demesene of his own, or is he bound to Conquest’s pocket dimension?
      Could a pair of the entities from Worm collide with Pact-earth and surrounding multiverses should they want to? Are there any ways of moving between the near multiverses in Pact?
      Will Face or Boil ever be continued? I liked Boil in particular.
      Why would the Knights agree to meet with Blake if they intend to shoot him on sight?
      Why doesn’t Blake get himself a gun or just invest a weapon with glamour? As long as he doesn’t make it too outrageous (I.e 12 ft sword) he should get a supernaturally useful weapon out of it, which he might even be able to get away with shape changing to fit new threats.
      Is there a way to cleanse the radiation short of using it all up?
      Would a ghost of someone who died protecting their child from violence make a good ward against physical violence if inhabiting a coat?
      When you destroy an Incarnation, do you get any of its power?
      Would dealing with a low-level divinity be a good way to offset the radiation, bad karma, etc.?

      1. “Is there a way to cleanse the radiation short of using it all up?”

        Nope, it’s like your skin suffering xanthoproteic damage. The only way to – umff – get rid of the yellow stain is by wearing it off, grinding and buffing until there’s nothing left but a fresh, clean layer. Blake will have to – grunt – try to rub all the Imp’s radiation off on his enemies, rather than let any of his friends – hng! – suffer.

        [Goes back to dry-humping Conquest’s leg and giving Lardo Behaim friction burn from an intense full-body twerking session]

        Oh no! Looks like the chief of police has passed out! Quick, butt-to-nose resuscitation! [Fetches the elephant from Dowgth’s back yard, makes it sit down on Lardo’s face]

        Good boy, Jumbo! Here, have a peanut.

          1. It was too big to be a housebound pet. We had to climb over it any time we wanted to get into the kitchen. We tried to ignore it, but have you ever tried to ignore an elephant in the dining room? It’s simply not possible, and whenever you try to talk over it it gets insulted.
            AnD tHeY nEvEr FoRgEt
            Omigod, it’s got me! It’s choking me with its trunk! MY COLLECTION OF SCADINAVIAN MODELS GOES TO…
            oLiVeBiRdY cAn’T tAlK rIgHt NoW
            dsfgajkl;alkgaprg

            1. Remember. An Elephant never forgets… Or forgives. I want to make a movie called Hellaphant with that as the tagline.

        1. I would ask you to explain, as it would not match Conquest’s MO to be a familiar. In order to bind a familiar, it requires a slight amount of concession on both sides, even in cases where the familiar rules (ex. Briar Girl). Conquest would not concede in any way, he is Fell’s master, not his Familiar. Also, it does not match with the story that Fell told, because if Conquest was Fell’s familiar, then the story would imply that he was also Fell’s father’s familiar, and the bond with a familiar is a lifelong one. I think Fell and Conquest’s paradigm is closer to that of the lawyers, and their masters.

          1. There’s nothing to say you can’t pass your familiar on to your kid.
            Conquest’s concession may very well be, “I will stay here and drain your power. You will fix things, and allow me to take things.”

      2. I think he’s stated that Boil’s his next project, after Pact. Face he’s putting on hold until he can do it visually, as a graphic novel or a webcomic.

        1. Maybe my next project. When I’ve had time I’ve been trying to do versions of it, aiming to get it to come together, and it’s… sort of not.

          At least, it’s not coming together in such a way that I feel like I could write it for any length of time.

          1. Glad to hear the sample stories aren’t completely dead. I liked Face, particularly.

            Maybe when the time comes, extend the existing sample stories by a few more chapters and take a revote?

            1. Tastes differ, I guess. Boil was probably my least favourite of the samples. For whatever reason I just didn’t care what happened to the protagonist. In Face, the protagonist was a bit of a cypher but that implied some interesting reveals to come, and the premise itself seemed more intriguing by the end. I was smeh on Face when it just seemed like a hunger games/battle royale rip-off. But with the twist of it taking place alongside their ordinary lives with their real life identities concealed and the rules of the game constantly shifting…? It has a lot of potential.

              All that said, Wildbow shines in the long game. Three sample chapters (which were gratefully appreciated, don’t get me wrong!) aren’t enough to even begin to guess where a Wildbow story might go. Pact was one of my least favourites too and it gets stronger every arc.

      1. I had the same initial “hmm. I didn’t. Know those were in Canada” response when I first read the description. I did not, however bother to look it up.

        Conquest seems very Canadian here.

        1. Mara was described as an “aboriginal”, too, back in the introductory chapter, when Blake caught a glimpse of her in his vision, and again in chapter 2.1:

          “A middle-aged aboriginal woman sat alone, and nobody sat near her. Mara Angnakak. She straddled the line between practitioner and Other. When Jacob’s Bell was first settled by colonists, she was already here.”

          For some reason, the word “aboriginal” just seems to conjure up images of the indigenous population of Australia, rather than any other. Didn’t even make a double-take at her surname, Angnakak, which might have been a bit of a hint. 😉 For example:

          http://www.assembly.nu.ca/pat-angnakak

          Not sure if the name Angnakak has a specific meaning, although it could be a variant of ‘Angakok’, which – according to Wikipedia – is a type of Inuit shaman:

          “The angakkuq (Inuktitut: angakkuit; Inuvialuktun: angatkuq; Greenlandic: angakok, pl. angákut[6]) is the intellectual and spiritual figure among the Inuit who corresponds to a shaman. Other Eskimo cultures traditionally had similar spiritual mediators, although shamanism among Eskimo peoples has many forms and variants.”

          1. Thanks for solving that for me. I assumed it was because he signifies the Power of Conquest of the British Empire, which also encompassed Australia, so Aboriginees wouldn’t be out of place. For Mara, I assumed she was widely traveled for some reason we would find out at a later point in the story.
            That they’re local is far less convoluted.

            1. Those are pretty much exactly the same assumptions I jumped to, when the word “aboriginal” cropped up. 🙂 Not sure if Canadians in general are in the habit of using that specific word to describe the indigenous people, or if it would be just as believable for Blake to think of them as “First Nation” or “Inuit”. In that case, Wildbow might want to consider rewriting those passages for clarity, since he’s probably got quite a few other non-Canadian readers who are liable to be just as confused by it.

    1. Isadora seems a bit. . . buxom. I suppose that is appropriate. Good drawing. (I knew there was a reason I never took ethics in school!)

      1. I.

        Like.

        Big.

        Cats and I cannot lie!
        You other posters can’t deny
        That when a Sphinx walks in
        with an itty bitty coat
        And twenty claws in your throat
        You get mauled!
        Gotta run a bunch
        Cause you notice that cat wants lunch!

          1. Don’t worry about it. You’re not the only guy whose keyboard ends up getting sticky, when Isadora shows up. 😉

    2. “[monotone] Tasteless jokes will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record, followed by death.”

  8. Yes, Fell is awesome.

    Was the little girl in the long coat in the woods significant? Was she the Hyena? Find out next time on DRAGON BALL Z.

    1. My guess is that she’s Briar Girl. Now why she would be in the Hyena’s domain is another question – presumably one that will be answered if/when she rescues Blake from the army of spectres, or helps with binding the Hyena.

      1. She might have dropped by, on one of her – significant pause – …‘business’ trips.

        From chapter 3.2:

        “For the feorgbold, I had to dig up and barter for the corpses no one would claim. I walked from here to Toronto and back, a full day and night to get there, longer to get back, dragging the body in a suitcase behind me. I purified them, I washed them utterly clean, I decorated them with care, and I gave of myself to bring them forth.”

        1. That explains why she’s in Toronto. That doesn’t explain why she’s in the Hyena’s domain. You’d think your garden-variety graveyard or morgue would have a few Johns or Janes Doe.

          1. Well, Briar Girl has been spying on Blake since before he arrived in Toronto. She could be trailing him.

            Or inversely, the Hyena could have mutilated one of her “friends” and she is there for revenge. Could this possibly lead to an “enemy mine” situation?

            1. Sounds like Tiffany’s not the only girl who’s discovered that she’s got special feelings for the tattooed dude. 😉

              Briar Girl and Bla-ake, sittin’ in a tree, e-visce-ra-tin’ him from head to knee!

        1. But. . . The Hyena is a goblin, not a demon. I’m not sure how closely they are related in the Pactverse, but I’m pretty sure they are not the same.

          That being said, Briar Girl probably considers the Hyena an enemy. Her friends are nature spirits, and the Hyena partially eats spirits.

          1. Keep in mind some Others are harder to classify than others. Grandma Rose’s notes stated that the Barber has been identified as both a Demon and a goblin, and gave a technical term for him. Some don’t fall as neatly into existing classifications as others do.

          2. Conquest sent Blake after the Hyena because it was tainted with demonic power. While that was not stated directly, it was classed as a “being the sort that diabolists deal in” and it was classified together with two clearly demonic entities.

            While there is likely indeed a spectrum, this thing is close enough to a demon that Conquest grouped it with two other things that are clearly demons.

            And as Sir Fuente pointed out, anything that tortures spirits by partially consuming them and leaving them alive to suffer is probably not going to be a friend to Briar Girl’s nature spirit. Especially note the description of several of the wounded spirits would suggest they are nature spirits.

            1. On the other hand, Briar Girl is being bossed around by her overly-powerful familiar. Depending on what that bear-fish Other’s agenda could be, it might have grounds for wanting the Hyena disposed of, rather than just leaving it alone, and may have forced Briar to go and deal with it.

  9. Would have been super-cool if the shotgun-toting Knight of the Basement had chosen a chimpanzee as his familiar, and his nickname turned out to be Weird Pete. And he runs the Friendly Local Game Store. Just to tie in with all the Knights of the Dinner Table fan-gushing that’s been running rampant in the comments sections, ever since the Knights of the Basement were introduced. 🙂

  10. Huh. So Conquest is not only the de facto Lord of Toronto, he enslaves entire families, getting them to snare their kids into working for him. Literally, giving dem an offah dey can’t refoose, eh?

    Sounds like Conquest is the Godfather of the Canadian mafia, AKA the Nova Scotia Cosa Nostra:

    http://www.jayfosgitt.com/deadduckcomic/?p=245

  11. Comments:
    – Blake fixes his wounds with the glamour ink here. But a few chapters ago (around ~4.2, maybe?), he worried that getting glamour into his bloodstream might be bad. Did he resolve these worries, or just decide to ignore them?
    – Devils are insane. The imp is just a mote, and even it can corrupt other things by proxy…
    – Fell is interesting. If Blake survives long enough to confront Conquest, and then Fell and Blake survive this confrontation, Fell could become Blake’s first real, genuine ally.
    – When Blake lost his reflection in the very first chapter, I expected this to be a minor inconvenience, rather than the major problem it turned out to be. (That said, Blake should try to get himself a webcam or use mobile phone to take photos of himself. That might work. After all, people can still see Blake, right?)

    Great lines:
    – “When I bent down, I saw that the brown was composed of specks. Bugs. Thousands, so small I could barely make them out with the naked eye.” – Two Worm references!
    – “More soap, shampoo. As if I could simply drown them in chemicals.”
    – “I had no idea how bad I looked as a whole. I did know I was covered in marks. Enough that I’d draw attention in public. Enough that I might even scare people.”
    – “I hesitated, my hand still wet with ink, poised over another set of scars. Narrow ones, years old now. There was only so much ink to spare, and there were dangers. But the idea that I could cover them up, remove one more reminder of the bad old days… I wiped it away. Photoediting real life.”
    – “Except somewhere along the line, it sounds like, you let yourself believe you were the only one who deserved it, and you pinned too many hopes on it.
    – “This was Paige. She’d always been sharp. She was a problem, and if she kept along this line of questioning, then it was very possible she’d get the wrong idea and take that wrong idea to legitimate authorities.”
    – ““That’s a little hard to swallow.”“Is it?”“Tell me that, with all the stories we shared between us about the family, that it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility that they were caught up in some hinky town council secret society bullshit.””
    – ““Why not tell us what’s going on, if I’m going to have to wait until three of my cousins are dead before getting some big surprise about murderous cults or something?””
    – ““I get it. It does seem implausible. Whatever happens, after you spread the word? I forgive you if your conscience tells you to talk to the police instead of listening to me.”” -> A remarkably magnanimous act. I approve. But then, it’s also another promise/oath…
    – ““Is there anything I can do?” Was there? “Just the fact that you’d ask helps,” I told her. “Okay.””
    – “My eyes roved over the tattoos, the locket, the scrapes and bites I hadn’t covered up. The pain was fresher, now. I felt very, very mortal.”
    – “Blake here. I’m liable to be dead if you’re reading this. Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has given me a life expectancy in the single-digits.”
    – “Sarcasm is tempting, don’t. You’ll understand what I mean.”
    – “Those are the bullet points. Get somewhere safe, then read on. I’ll explain what’s happened thus far, to put it into context…”
    – ““I take it you’re acting a little more civil this morning,”“Trying,”“No promises I’ll stay that way. […] I’m tired, and you’re working for Conquest, who is trying to enslave me and fling a small share of humanity into infernal ruin… I might get grumpy.”” -> Awesome.
    – ““Passenger door is open,”“Upholstery is clean. Fleas exterminated.””
    – ““No comment,”“And I won’t comment. Don’t even try to weasel it out of me.” I almost responded, then I stopped short. When he said he wouldn’t comment, he’d effectively made a promise. Bastard.
    – ““You expect me to share details with you, diabolist? For nothing?”“An alternative is that I share my life story, filling the endless minutes or hours in the car with personal details, either boring you to tears or getting you to sympathize with me.””
    – ““Knowledge is power, and it’s a kind of security too.”“A novice mistake,”“Hm?”“Are you really more secure than you were before you learned about how this world works?””
    – ““Given your circumstances, I’d think you know, diabolist. No sooner do they tell you, than the shackles slip around your neck, your wrists and ankles. You’re bound.““By circumstance?”“Or other means,”“You’ve seen the connections that surround us. They appear as threads. Can you name one that couldn’t be used to bind you?”” – This is probably also why Fell got angry at being summoned by Blake calling his name.
    – “On our twelfth birthday, we each received a gift. Knowledge. But it isn’t a gift we can return, and it’s a gift that burdens. The Lord of Toronto acts according to a certain pattern. He takes, and he doesn’t let go.”
    – ““You have to obey him,”“I suspected you’d sworn to serve, I used that against you, forced your hand, even. But I didn’t think…”“That my father would have been forced to lure his sons and daughter into the trap, as his father was before him?””
    – ““You’re kept from acting against him. From hurting yourself or breaking the terms of the agreement?”“Yes.”“But not, I gather, from taking certain risks?””
    – “My brother died at the hands of goblins, trying to save a small town. My other brother went after one of Conquest’s enemies, who took mercy on him and killed him.” – Wow. So now the identity of the nameless practitioner in Maggie’s chapter is revealed. Fell becomes way more sympathetic this way.
    – ““He was bad enough before,”“Since you came here, he’s worse.”“Conquest? Yeah.”“He’s not built to stop when he’s on a course like this. To steer clear of something like this.”
    – “If my family hadn’t lost to Conquest and been subsumed, then I might be hunting down the remaining members of your family right now.”
    – ““Do you not see the kind of damage a mere mote causes? An imp? What happens when something greater follows? Do you think you’re going to come out of your dealings with the abstract devil in one piece?”“Given that I didn’t come out of the thing with the imp in one piece, no,”“I admit, I’m a little spooked about what I’m in for. Feeling woefully underequipped.””
    – ““Oh?” I mused. I considered. “Pretty shitty, still, but that’s… fairer than many alternatives.” “Oh? Have I met your standards, diabolist?””
    – ““You’re happy enough if I die.”“It means Conquest isn’t able to use you. At least not to the same extent. With the hold on your companion, he’ll likely have possession of your ghost, but the impact isn’t as strong.””
    – “He’d asked what I preferred, but… hadn’t committed to it. And he’d promised to deliver me to each location in turn, but… hadn’t promised to bring me home. Well, at least he hadn’t left me in the goblin’s woods.”
    – ““Diabolist?”“I prefer Blake,””
    – ““You have two seconds to keep me from shooting,”“Stop Conquest?” I asked. No hesitation. Which amounted to half a second. He deliberated for a long second. The shotgun dropped back to his side. “Come in.””

  12. Random Thought:-

    I think we all have been stuck thinking too linearly, bargaining isn’t the only way to gain the allegiance of Others, it’s relatively safer provided you can provide what they want. The more risky but rewarding method would be setting Challenges & Wagers harkening back to the times when Others toyed with humans for sport i.e.The Riddle of the Sphinx, The Game of the Gods, The Wild Hunt.

    1. Yeah, it would be fun to hear more (perhaps in a future interlude chapter) about the inevitable game shows that the Practitioner community must have come up with:

      Wheel of Misfortune, Demesne Boyard, Demon Or No Demon, Inside the Diabolist’s Box (adult-only pay-per-view), Who Wants To Be a Practitioner’s Heir: Canadian Edition, Jeopardickswizzle

      After all, the previous chapter featured Blake playing Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Choir Imp?

      1. Those are good – I liked the last one the best (answer is maybe, game isn’t over yet, but Pauz scored some points). Inside the Diabolist’s Box brought up some weird and disturbing mental images though.

  13. Yeah, something like the hyena doesn’t seem like it’ll be much for trickery and deceit when murder is at all an option. Unless this sucker is one hell of a lot less feral than the surroundings imply, forcefully binding it is the only option.

    And uh… I don’t recall Blake learned how to do that. It’s one thing to bind something like pauz when it likes your plan. But this thing… Well, trickery is probably the best bet. But if its been around for centuries, that is likely easier said than done.

    1. You just need to learn its logic, and the gaps in its logic. Which I’ll admit is a lot easier to do when you can talk to it, but given that it’s called a Hyena, and it leaves things half-eaten, we can draw inferences from there.

    2. Bargaining might work. One possibility is to pull a similar stunt: “Hey, Hyena, wanna chew on the Lord of Toronto?” Plot point reuse is not likely, but from a theoretical point of view it might work.

      Blake could always offer up one of his own body parts, but that is frankly small compensation for a being that has eaten so many. The best option is to use someone else’s body parts if he can (enemies, of course).

      But in general bargaining is unlikely, force is unlikely (Blake is relatively weak), so trickery is indeed to best bet for getting out without being Blake Long Pig.

    3. If it’s anything like a leucrocuta, though, trickery & deceit (leading to murder) may be its preference. Or, if it’s anything like a spotted hyena, it may be gathering its own messed-up little social group.

      I suspect that calling it “the hyena” is at least partly a misdirection, though.

      1. Shaving accident?

        Shatterbird incident?

        Tried to jump through a window?

        Lost a game of knifey-spoony?

        Cheeseburger stabbing?

        Ignored the “DON’T RUN WITH SCISSORS” sign?

        Ignored the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign and walked in on Granny RDT and her best friend, while they were scissoring with the runs, and tried to gouge his own eyes out to erase the awful, messy sight?

        1. Your general irreverence (and your frankly juvenile insistence on including sex virtually everywhere) normally elicits a rather mild reaction, ranging between amusing and irritating, but applying it here, while almost certainly knowing–albeit vaguely–just what those scars are remnants of, is in very poor taste.

          1. You think that’s poor taste, go read Psycho Gecko’s comments for Defiant’s interlude from Worm. Granted less sex, more horrible puns from the Gecko.

        2. As we’ve seen a lot of hints about Blake’s horrible experiences on the street, it’s not self-mutilation. Which is more of a female thing, anyway. Girls hurt themselves, boys lash out and hurt others. Very generally speaking. This might, of course, be changing as gender roles change. In an ideal world, no one should hurt themselves or others. But we’re not in an ideal world…. We’re in the Pact-verse…
          I’ve had some thoughts about a banner and what it would feature – to the right a book, a candle in front of a mirror with a rose mirror image, to the far left maybe Blake’s shoulder/arm with a bird on it . I’m sad that I’m so untalented in the painting department…
          🙂

          1. A quick glance at statistics available online would seem to indicate that (young) women are, indeed, more likely to engage in self-harming (mostly poisoning, with cutting as a close second) than (young) men. However, there are still a significant number of teenage males who physically punish themselves in various ways.

            Interestingly, an increasing number of young women (again, according to various statistics, news reports etc.) have started to lash out against others, committing acts of violence against others instead of harming themselves – and in comparison to the more traditional male aggressors, teen female violence tends to be more brutal and demeaning, not less. A lot of the female teen attackers try to humiliate their victims (either in the short term, by urinating or defecating on people, say – or in the long term, by burning people with cigarettes, cutting off their hair, or worse things), whereas the guys prefer to stick to the classics, e.g. punching and beating people up.

            Re: Your banner idea – are there any rules about it necessarily having to be a painting? Lots of people have access to camera phones and relatively cheap means of making decent quality photographs. Now you just need to find someone with a tattoo’ed arm, and you’re ready to go. 😉

      1. His family was hated in Jacob’s Bell, he hates being touched, and he lived out on the streets, where he was harassed by some sadistic bastard Goblins. Self-harm is the last conclusion I would draw from his scars.

  14. So it seems like even Blake has started to go with the whole “Blake Thorburn isn’t long for this world” feeling everyones got going.

  15. Fell is more interesting now that we know his history. If Conquest dies it will be interesting to see whether or not his gratitude at being free (provided Conquest didn’t force some sort of suicide pact on him, which I wouldn’t put past him) outweighs his desire to clean up after messes and off Blake.

    The hyena seems a bit like Conquest – he hurts people, and then they can’t leave him. I can see why Conquest would be interested. It could be a useful tool for inflicting calculated pain and suffering, and if Conquest owns the hyena he gets dominion over anything the hyena has dominion over. I’ll be interested to see how Blake deals with this one – better remember to bring some elementally charged metal though.

    The Knights of the Basement clearly aren’t pleased with what Conquest is up to, but they don’t seem unreasonable. If Blake was a willing pawn, then they would have no qualms with shooting him. If however he also wants to stop Conquest, then they’re willing to talk. Blake may end up getting some allies out of this, which will be a nice change of pace.

  16. Wildbow, I hope you realize that once we meet The Hyena proper, we will call him or her by the name of one of the hyenas from The Lion King (Shenzi, Benzai or Ed), depending on gender and personality of course.

    From what we know so far, The Hyena is probably an Ed, shortsighted and focused on biting.

      1. I said short sighted because I couldn’t think of a better term to describe Ed. Words like crazy and mentally ill popped into my head, but I don’t think they are quite correct or appropriate.

        I imagine the Hyena to be a crazy, feral goblin, going around eating Others before forgetting what it was doing in the middle of the act. I was trying to compare that to the feral and, for lack of a better word, “special” Ed, who is shown chewing on his own leg at least once in the movie.

        If you (or anybody) has another suggestion for either the points above or my original point, please post it as a comment.

        1. I wasn’t suggesting that it was a bad descriptor for Ed–all hyenas in the movie were shortsighted, even without his mental issues–but a premature one for the Hyena goblin.

          Ah, I see. I got the impression that the goblin’s behavior was a pattern for the sake of gaining power from using a pattern, or–seeing this chapter–that it benefited from the ghosts and spectres that it was holding. (Though, ““I suppose his victims can’t go on while a piece of them rests in his stomach,”” is kind of weird, considering it’s apparently been alive for centuries. I’m probably assuming too much reality/corporeality here.)

          1. Doesn’t a demesne benefit from having many Others in it?

            Maybe Hyena was a practitioner and has the park as a demesne?

            1. Demesnes benefit from having Others feed power into it, basically paying rent to the demesne-owner. Having them chewed up and spit out doesn’t exactly help matters.

      1. Hang on – Blake is starting to collect bits and bobs for his own utility belt…

        Batman +1

        …he’s cooked up a half-way decent Glamour-based Healing Factor…

        Wolverine +1

        …he’s inherited a huge mansion that’s got a secret area packed with tools and resources…

        Batman +1

        …whenever he’s provoked or facing an enemy, he always resorts to quips and insults, quickly escalating to physical violence…

        Wolverine +1

        …he’s suffered deep emotional trauma from family-related issues, that prevent him from having normal relationships…

        Batman +1

        …and he’s Canadian.

        Wolverine +1

        That means he’s a little bit Dark Claw-ish.

        And now he’s going up against the Hyena. 🙂

        http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Hyena_(Amalgam)

        1. Just sayin’ – may end up having to call the little puppy ‘Creed’.

          When eating
          I’m guided to another world
          Chew and chew again
          At sunrise
          I bite off someone’s knee
          ‘Cause I don’t want to leave the buffet in this place
          ‘Cause there’s a hunger
          A longing for entrées
          From the urge I feel
          When food escapes
          So let’s go there
          Let’s have them for lunch
          Come on, let’s go there
          Let’s ask them for brunch

          Can your steaks be higher?
          Maybe liver and Chianti
          Are your steaks from thighs, eh?
          And some nice fava beans, please

          [Mike drop]

          1. Blake clearly fails the two most important parts of the Batman Test: His parents aren’t Deeaaaaaaad! and he has yet to demonstrate an ability to breath in space.

            As for being Wolverine-like, Blake is still a long way from being the best there is at what he does, as embodied by the recently-uttered phrase “That was handled exactly the way it was going to be handled, with Blake Thorburn on point.”

            Given the way people react to him and his general success rate so far, I’d say he’s a bit more like Leet.

            1. Meh. Blake shouldn’t settle for Batmandom or Wolverinetude, anyway.

              Given the choice, always be Lobo.

              (Original Lobo, not the diluted Emo-Lobo-Diet-Light-Zero, or whatever they revamped him as, lately.)

  17. I can hardly believe that he hasn’t left condensed information for his family before. I mean, I get not wanting to admit that he could fail and die, and even really despising his family, but jeez. If nothing else, I’d think that he’d want to screw up the enemies that did him in.

    I’m still worried about the fact that Blake thanked Conquest for (hopefully gently) retrieving Rose, especially given how careful he was about avoiding saying it earlier. It’s entirely possible that Conquest is too new, compared to the Barber, for such gestures to give him power over Blake, or that his hold over Blake via Rose already eclipses that kind of bond, but still, it’s another worry added on the pile.

    I’ll join the general comments in liking the interaction with Fell. I don’t know if they could be friends, assuming both he and Blake are alive after this personification is somehow unseated, but I do see it as at least possible that they could become allies, since Blake is improving his attitude and because such an action could give Fell more freedom.

    Amusingly, Blake actually was doing himself favors by mentioning the insects that would be infecting Fell’s car–it pushed Fell to get it cleaned that much faster and that much better, knowing ahead of time about the infestation, for all that I’m sure that he would have gotten it cleaned soon just knowing about the blood. At the very least, Blake gets to avoid being reinfested.

    Can we get a confirmation (or even additional input, really) on whether the hyena and the oblivion devil are in the same place? Because that was implied with:
    “The connections between the wood and bone and some distant location were rather strong.”
    and that seems very strange. Though I guess that it could have meant that each had a strong connection with a different distant location? That’s not the implication that I inferred, but I suppose it’s possible.

    1. Not leaving information may also have something to do with the risk of dragging someone into Practitioner business if it’s found by someone who’s not the intended reader. Even now he was circumspect in his notes.

      1. Not if he left the notes stashed in areas that could only be found if they were already being introduced, like in the secret library. I mean initially, obviously, since he doesn’t have access to it right now.

        Does exposure by accident count? If the little boy in 4.08 believes in magic after (e.g.) seeing June, do all of his actions karmically echo onto Blake anyway? Or the relevant actions, at least. If it does, then that makes sense, especially since his apartment has a number of people potentially going in and out without his being there–or at least Joel will.

        No, I didn’t mean:
        “I’d like to see what it’s like, then see the Knights…
        …They aren’t too far from one another,” (4.09)
        I meant:
        “The connections between the wood and bone and some distant location were rather strong.” (4.04)

        Though, he says he wants to see what it’s like so that he can “think about the oblivion demon while [he] works on the goblin problem,” and then Fell takes him to the goblin’s woods?

        I’m seriously only getting more confused.

        1. I think that the boy would not see June, and his friends would just find him to be crazy(er), because as it was shown earlier, that Blake could not see less “physical” others, like Barbie,(unlike the more physical feorgold and goblins, which were seen by pre-awakening Blake and Maggie) until he was awakened. Unless the kid has latent psychic ability, in which case, he might be a possible Chekhov’s Gunman?

          1. No, no, that was a good point, the impact of awakening slipped my mind for a minute.

            Poor example aside, my question still stands.

        2. According to Fell, in chapter 4.4:

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

          That statement seems to indicate that the Eraserdead demon’s factory is close to the Hyena’s park.

          1. While that “The same is true for the goblin.” isn’t very clear, I think Fell meant that Blake could also phone him to drive him to the goblin, like he would drive Blake to the demon.

            1. If the focus is on the assumption that Fell is screwing with Blake (again), the nameless-guy-with-a-name may have meant that Blake could call him all he wanted to ask for help, but never promised to do anything about it.

        3. I get the feeling the rules for not telling people are pretty strict. If someone explicitly goes through Blake’s stuff to find out something, that would probably absolve him from responsibility. If he leaves his notes lying around somewhere and Joel happens to read them, that’s probably Blake’s fault.
          Before now, he didn’t really have anything new to tell the next heir, so that may also be a reason he didn’t before.

          His excuse for talking to the Knights is that he needs more information on the demon, but he’s currently tackling the goblin problem.
          So he needs to get the information from the Knights so he can use that in the making of his plan for the demon (which he’ll bind tomorrow) while he’s binding the goblin today. And for the goblin he needs to go check out/scout the park, which is why Fell drives him to the park, which is close to the Knights.

    2. Blake had worried about giving thank you’s to Others because of the particular rules in regards to the barber, but I don’t think he has to worry much about Conquest in that regard. Conquest doesn’t play by those rules, and age has nothing to do with it. Every Other has a different set of rules. The Barber gets special leverage when someone says thanks or says please and things like that, Isadora gets to eat you if you don’t answer her questions cleverly or thoughtfully, etc. Saying thanks to most Others is usually fine, as is answering questions. The important thing to know is when there’s an exception.

      1. My point is that he doesn’t know when those exceptions are, so he was trying to be careful–
        ““I’m glad. I appreciate the consideration, Lord of Toronto,” I said. I didn’t want to thank him, so I chose my words carefully.” (4.02)
        –but was too tired here to do so. It could be nothing more than another indicator of fatigue, but there were already plenty of those, so I suspect that there is more to it. Though it could be author error, of course /shrug

        “There are older meanings in these things and they will either free him or give him power over you.” (1.06)
        I suppose you’re right, it doesn’t explicitly state that it is older beings that fall under this purview. It doesn’t explicitly state that it only applies to the Barber either, but your interpretation is fair.

          1. This was at the end of Conquest accepting the piece of art; there were no movements towards enslavement yet.

      2. I just realise that Isadora must have the right to kill most of her students. I wonder if making on of her test and making a mistake is enough..

        1. I feel like the rules for awakened and non-awakened people are different, though. Like how the Barber can attack all the practitioners he wants, but not ‘normal’ people. On the other hand, goblins can cause strife and damage to ordinary folks as well, so I’m not sure.

          1. Rose explained to Blake in chapter 1.7 how Suleiman the Sorcerer King had forced the majority of Others into a seal, a “formal acknowledgement on the part of an Other, that they won’t interfere with mankind without excuse, they’ll obey certain rules, and the practitioners will leave them be. Typically an Other bears some symbol or token of this bargain. Over time it’s gained a power of its own. Being sealed physically alters the Other, but it also affords them certain protections against us.”

            It was also pointed out that this agreement was “pretty vague”, so make of that what you will. 😉

            Presumably, Isadora wouldn’t gobble up random students (unless they looked really, really tasty), but if Blake or some other practitioner joined her class, and was being a complete smart-ass, she might have a cunning way of making them disappear in seemingly legit manner. [Burp]

  18. hm, I wonder what was the familiar of granny. I know it took the form of a cat, but now I’m really interested in knowing who it was.

      1. When you see that an afghan hound can be a gatekeeper of the 7th ring, a cat can be much, much more.
        See also Briar Girl’s “rabbit”.

  19. I posted a comment earlier and accidentally checked the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” box. How do I make it stop notifying me of new comments? Is there a way to uncheck it?

  20. Trying to game what Blake could possibly do against Hyena. The only thing I have, which is straight from Blake’s own use of it, is for him to use glamour to heal some of the victims temporarily. That might help him talk to some of the victims and learn more, or earn some temporary allies. However, it is definitely not a viable attack strategy because of the weakness of glamour to being noticed. If the Hyena has been around that long it probably knows how to deal with glamour.

    The only other possible route I can think of is to bargain for some help from the Knights. They can’t help him against the Eraser, except in terms of knowledge, because they failed to do anything against the Eraser even when they “took every possible precaution”. However, if Blake has a good enough plan to turn the Hyena against Conquest, he might be able to get help from them in dealing with it. Or heck, they’re the experienced practitioners, maybe they have a plan to turn it against Conquest.

  21. I just realized that Grandma Rose might have forbidden dog and rat familiars simply because she’s a cat person. After all, her familiar was a cat.

    1. Could be. It could also be anti-Johannes measures (Faysal Anwar is undoubtedly the Alpha to any dog-shaped spirit any of the heirs might pick up, and any rat-shaped spirit would easily be prey), or even something to do with diabolism or anti-diabolism. I don’t think we have enough information on the subject yet.

      1. Indeed. 🙂 In the words of the great detective himself: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

        (Or: “Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay,” if you prefer.)

        However, if people stopped posting rampant speculation based on conjecture and insufficient facts about the Pactverse, the average number of comments per chapter would plummet from 200+ to 2. 😉 The guessing game is perchance half the appeal of the story.

  22. Blake needs to find some way to either get rid of demon stink, or keep it from getting on him in the first place. Dealing with, well everyone he might want to deal with is only going to get harder. Others and practicioners are going to be repulsed by him. And he really isn’t going to like the effects on them.

    Also is the Glamour really healing Blake, or just covering up his wounds. Because if it’s the latter there could be a point where the Glamor breaks and Blake is a lot less good looking than he used to be.

    I’m also wondering this. We know pagan gods exist. But the Demons seem to be based of the Judeo- Christian faith. Thing is a lot of Demons were based on pagan gods, like Baal. Then you’ve got Baphomet, who if I remember correctly was a bastardization of Mohammed who was created by the Catholic church to scare people away from Islam. So how does that work out?

    1. I agree with you, getting rid of the stink would be really practical. How would you go about it? (Can you cover it with thyme, rub it off on others, meet with
      angels?) And does it influence his own behaviour as well as others’?

    2. The Abrahamic god likely originated from the Canaanite pantheon of gods, and was later changed into a monotheistic god when Israel arose from their civilization. We don’t know a lot about how gods work yet other than that they need worship to survive – one important aspect may be how changes in their belief affects them, as the Abrahamic deity has gone through a lot of revisions in the religious texts. Given the number of different religions based on this deity and the numerous schisms within, any number of things could have happened. If gods are malleable then the god could be powerless due to the sheer number of conflicting beliefs making it lack coherency, or it could have split into multiple gods, or the original god died since too many changes were made and it isn’t actually worshiped anymore and a new god or gods may or may not have taken its place to reflect the new beliefs.

      Also, we don’t know if Baal is actually a demon in Pact yet. As I’ve mentioned before, in regards to how things are in the Pact universe I wouldn’t put too much stock in the stories as recorded by non-practitioners – those would likely be incomplete and inaccurate in a number of areas, given the passage of time and the fact that non-practitioners may not have had a full understanding of what they were seeing at the time when the events occurred.

    3. Glamours work on the basis that as long as they are given substance initially the world recognizes them as normal. The longer they remain, the more real they become, until they are real.

      Covering the wound to make it seem normal and keeping the glamour on will eventually make it real as long as no one contradicts it. It’s a multi-purpose tool when you consider that he won it barely and yet its goddamn useful for everything.

    4. That’s a darn good question. Could be an alt-universe retcon where the history was different, but that’d be a cheap handwave unsupported by the text to date.

      I think instead it may have been that these demons, like Ornias for example, are simply taking credit for natural occurrences, and purposely building a persona and powerset as a route to influence and such. Unless we are supposed to believe these things predate the creation of the solar system, if not the universe, which is… Bizarrely androcentric, for them to be slumming around here.

      Of course if you are billions of years old, the lulz may be the only excuse you have to do anything.

      1. Others seem to be reshapable through the force of common belief. Who’s to say that reality itself isn’t the same? Sure, now the Universe is billions of years old. But maybe 5000 years ago it was only 1000 years old. Some aspects of it were probably doing the Heisenberg thing, too. Stars were pinpricks in the celestial blanket and lanterns in the sky and spirits. It’s only once someone got a good, up-close look and reported back that they got locked into one form.

    5. I think it would be fairly improbable that world history in this universe follows ours on every major point. Not only is that very restrictive on how story elements might come into play, but it makes a lot of sense that things would be playing out differently. Also it gives the opportunity for having things line up with the real world in surprising ways, such as (for a potential example) 9/11 being a major Conquest-related event, but being a completely different thing from what it is in our history.

      1. Briar girl and Ms. Lewis both made it pretty clear that Demons like Horny-As started as beings of creation, that became beings of utter destruction. So the fallen angel aspect of Demons is still there. I guess it’s wether or not Angels serve a single supreme divine creator force we need to know next.

        There’s also the question of just how much Practioners and Others keep up with scientific discovery. In human understanding, the stars went from little pinpricks of light in the sky to suns, and the sun is a lot bigger than the earth.

    6. Hmm… hey if a Demises can convert power from one type to another maybe it can convert demon radiation to COSMIC POWER! If he binds enough demons he can make a nuclear reactor of sorts. But filled with demons.

  23. I was looking back over the Gathered Pages entry for the Big Three and a thought emerges: Why doesn’t Blake pick up an asp as his implement? A hidden bludgeoning tool, symbolic of how easily he can tap into feral-ness. A weapon, speaking to how he is the physical side of the Thorburn heir. Two states, speaking to his pragmatism in a fight.

    1. I don’t know how the legal standpoint is on these thinge in canada, but in germany extending batons are illegal to carry around. How about a Taser? its more non-lethal, it needs a power source, but can itself be a power source (in a manner of speaking) if its charged.

      A baton itself is “straight”->no imagination and “blunt”->no tact or sensiblity, which both does not reflect Blake in any way imho. also, the extending baton is “hidden”->treacherous/implies ill intention which would proprably be a baaaad thing as an implement.
      While a taser is stricly speaking self defence.

      Hmm, how about a Flashlight? Some old fashioned ‘Maglite’. doubles as light source, baton, AND commonly used by security guards. Also, having one in your backpack is not that suspicious in mundane terms.

      1. A mirror fits him really well right now, actually. He mostly reacts, after all. His actions are a reflection of the circumstances his opponents throw him in. He was just a harmless guy who wanted to be left alone. Laird pulled some BS, which is the only reason Blake went after him with the police station.

        They told him they were afraid of the nukes, so he threatened them with one.

        He was forced to confront Conquest and now he’s working to overthrow Conquest. Fell helped push him toward revealing himself, and now he’s gotten Fell to reveal information about himself instead.

        Everything that they’ve wanted he has done. They asked that the house and legacy of the Thorburns be taken. He took them. They cowered before him, he was frightening. They have reordered time. They have turned the world upside down, and they have done it all for him! He’s exhausted from living up to their expectations. Isn’t that generous?

        1. Ah, at last, the Psycho Gecko arrives. Don’t underestimate him as just being bizzare puns and humor. As his dissection of a mirror as Blake’s implement shows, he is quite astute. Much like a dangerous other, caution is advised.

          Damn, now I got to go back through all the old comments, don’t I?

          1. yes, He’s managed to go all the way back to 1,1 and pretty much commented on each chapter, although i couldn’t find anything by him in 3.2, 3,3 or 3,4.

            i wasn’t expecting the gecko dimension door spell to work either…. although it did remind me that doors are entrances in two directions. we serials eh? The ‘Moai’ the merrier.

            1. If you were caught up, you’d know that Moai can’t exactly come to the phone right now.

              I got 3.2 up there, but for some reason it doesn’t let me post 3.3 or 3.4’s comments. When I try, it tells me I already posted a duplicate.

              Well, I’d hate to make a liar of the website, so here goes:

              3.3

              Art there, she said, Dickswizzle. ART! Not fart. You’re as bad as Dr. Nefario.

              Hey now, Blake, don’t be at all put off by the Fool card. That’s the best card in the deck. It doesn’t add or take away from any of the others, but it has a power all its own. The journey. The ability to walk off a cliff and not fall until you notice you should be falling. Sounds like a glamorous little trick, right?

              Personally, I’d be more concerned about being compared to a high priestess. Kind of a knock to the confidence when you’re already supposed to marry a guy despite being straight.

              Dammit, Matatoa Bobby Doomgex! You’re not supposed to be helping these assholes with a ritual to attack our main character. Wait a minute, I get it. I get it. Of course you aren’t involved in such an attack. Because, duh, this is clearly not going to kill him. Or destroy him. Or remove him.

              Carry on then. I’d say don’t forget to visit for the holidays, but I’m gonna put up a sign this year saying “Not at home to any anthropomorphized holiday personifications.”

              3.4

              And so now Blake managed to get inside a little boy. Such is the power of the mustache. And putting your hands on a boy.

              Listen here, Earl, you really need to make some sort of list of all these things that count for good or bad Karma. Your mentor, Carson Daily, didn’t spend a lot of time teaching you these things, and you need to prepared. Hey Crabman!

        2. Sorry, sir. The David “King Jareth Awesome-Jodhpurs” Bowie quotes are reserved for Maggie Holt, resident Goblin Queen. Blake will have to settle for Hoggle.

  24. You know, I think I’ve played this song before. The melody is different but I hear the drums of war. So it seems my mission is the same. What always ends in bloodshed begins as just a game.

    History repeating. Who do you call when dead horses need beating?

    History repeating. Who do I call when my punnery is fleeting?

    By the way, ShawnMorgan, nice plan. You were right, I was a little tickled at the thought. Or was that the gerbil down there? Either way, the problem was clearly that when you said my name seven times, you used a period rather than a comma for the last one. You know how Powers Beyond Mortal Reckoning tend to be Grammar Nazis, don’t you?

    1. Huh, so you have finally appeared.
      I assume what with all the comment section worship you have become a com,ent section physical god and that Wildbow will soon be smiting whoever summoned you lest genoscythe rise again.

      1. A little birdy expressed a desire to see me come over here, and flattered me with tales of people talking about me. At least they appear somewhat more truthful than the tales told to Dany Targaryen about people anticipating her return and sewing dragon banners. Slightly.

        I didn’t come ill-prepared or without bearing gifts, though. I’ve left my mark on each chapter that’s passed, unless I missed one or a comment got held up. I tend to catch a strange reaction when one begins with quotation marks for some reason. And then at least once I got ahead of myself with a comment, unless Wildbow has been nice enough to delete that one for me.

        And now…we boogie! youtube.com/watch?v=CXAwolUpz4g

        1. Welcome to Pact from one who enjoyed your comments in Worm.

          Warning to everyone else – prepare for a wild ride, and since PG doesn’t self promote in comments (and rightly so), check out: http://villainousintent.wordpress.com/

          And no, PG did not suggest/ask for/threaten to break my (anything) for that link.

          1. I’ve self promoted a tiny bit. I just don’t want to be the guy showing up everywhere going: “And if you liked that long discussion on the medical benefits of the poo of the original Godzilla versus the poo benefits of one of the remake Godzillas, including the one coming out this year, stop off at World Domination in Retrospect to learn more.”

            One good thing is that from my site, you can find links to other stories written by people who have read Worm, like There Are No Heroes, Stone Burners, Tieshaunn’s Brennus, A Grey World, Ghost Touch, Symbiote, Sins of the Fathers, The League of Prey, and The Named. Actually, that’s pretty much everyone the links are for.

            1. Helloooooo Psychoooooo geckooooo! Welcome to the Pact comments thread, a new place to terrify and awe with your tight grasp of metaphor, humor and other assorted improvised weaponry. I am so glad to be here for this momentous occasion, and perhaps now I can let go of my shame for never having gotten a proper Greeting during Worm. Although, finding your first comment here is tough. See, the problem is, you spammed your clone comments tactically all over the story, and I can’t tell which is the real one!
              Anyway, seriously, glad you made it. I now present to you this Gift Elephant mysteriously bound and gagged.

            2. Ah, here you are. I have neglected this comment of yours for too long, Olivebirdy. You may have regretted helping draw my attention here since this, but hopefully not. This one here was the first part where I was caught up and commented.

              Ah, who am I kidding? Feels like someone’s cracking a whip overhead and yelling “Be funny!” at me. Not sure if that’s a good motivator or not. Maybe if the person was in some black latex, you know?

              Thanks for the elephant, by the way. Had trouble finding a spot for it, so I set it in the room somewhere. I don’t think anyone’ll notice, or say anything if they do notice it.

              Feel free to stick around over at my spot. Just in case you were over there for more than just to coax me over here.

    2. Damn the nineteenth century, or you talking about a different period? By the way that video about Grammar Nazis you have pays off in the end, turns out to be bloody hilarious.

      P.S now he;s here it was nice knowing you. Looks at the word ‘reckoning’… grabs it and runs…

    1. Thursday chapters only come out to play when it’s raining.

      Raining Ben Franklins, that is. Bada-bing!

      …Or wait, this is Canada. Um.

      Raining Sir Bobby Bordens, that is. Bada-boom!

  25. And by leaving my mark on every update, I do mean this one. Aren’t you glad you mentioned my works before, Negadarkwing?

    Dammit, Blake, always taking the easy way out. This is what Piper, Phoebe, Paige, and Prue were trying to talk about all this time, you know. Can’t use magic for personal gain, blah blah blah, comes back around on you three times, blah blah blah, actually it got a lot more boring after they finally managed to off poor Cole. Sniff. Cole was truly one of the best villains. He tried to be a nice guy, but he got dumped on worse than a landfill. Truly, the half demon was the most human of the bunch, especially compared to that goody goody whitelighter.

    Any whitelighters in the audience tonight? pulls out a crossbow and shoots randomly Not anymore. Go ahead, charge me en masse. I dare you, motherfuckers. I double dare you. This is a universe with trolls. That’s right, bitches, I got a crossbow. Detritus’s crossbow. The Piecemaker. It uses specialized Flying Fuck technology that makes it clear you better care enough to back off.

    That’s what I thought. Don’t bring no nymphs around here unless they like a strong pimp hand to the face. With rings. The leprechauns could tell you. Or should I say, Mexico’s premiere mini-estrella wrestlers could tell you, if they weren’t so busy suplexing donkeys from here to Tequila. Agave a good deal, don’t worry about it.

    Too bad about Blake and his cousin there. That’s the problem with his family. Can’t be sure he’s on the same Paige. I made a funny! Which is actually a quote related to the teenage mutant ninjas and Splinter, who I think just got done using Blake’s ass as their new favorite flavor of pizza.

    It was the next morning. I rolled over to a sight he thought was merely a nightmare the night before. A sexy nightmare, like with bloody faceless monsters in skimpy nurse outfits and arms distorted to form mantis-like bone scythes. I saw Fell who just laid there on his back, staring up at the ceiling, looking pissed. “Don’t talk to me, Diabolist. Do not interact with me,” Fell said pointedly.

    “Morning, sunshine.”

    “You’re talking to me,” Fell said.

    “For someone so touchy about imp ambience, you seem remarkably cool with what we did last night.”

    “No,” he said. “No, ‘cool’ has nothing to do with it.”

    “That so?” I asked. “Huh. Not even when you had me smack your ass with an ice cream sandwich while your head was in the freezer?”

    “You’re prying,” he said.

    “Yeah,” I said. “Knowledge is power, and it’s a kind of security too. You’re like my big snuggly evil teddy bear. I just want to hug you and squeeze you until your stuffing comes out.”

    “A novice mistake,” Fell commented.

    “Hm?”

    “I don’t do relationships. This was a mistake at worst and a one night stand at best. It won’t happen again.”

    “I love it when you play hard to get, pookie,” I said, watching his face screw up with anger.

    “Don’t you use pet names with me. It’s not like we’re bound together or anyth-“ he stopped short as I held up my wrist and the manacle attached to it. A chain ran from it, down underneath the covers. Frantically, Fell lifted both arms, looking over his wrists. Seeing them not likewise manacled, he released a sigh of relief.

    With a chuckle, I tugged on the chain. The yanking on the other manacle down below his navel left him with eyes practically bulging out and a face quickly turning a furious shade of red.

  26. Ahem…and since a certain someone mentioned this…Oh, and don’t worry. I’ll be as gentle as anybody is whose mustache tickles your ear late at night…

    Dear Grant Moxham,

    Welcome! Glad you finally caught up. It’s always nice to have another person hanging around Worm’s commentary. I’m sure you’re dying to know how it all turns out. Depending on whether you caught up before or after the [SPOILER] I’m either confident that either the world will be destroyed in a horrible apocalypse of penguin souls stuck in a cosmic blender, or I think it’ll probably be okay after all because those fuckbags got what was coming to them and it’ll be all sunshine and lilacs from here on out.

    Now, when I look at Worm, I see a lot of Blasto in it. Dark, serious, raped by the Slaughterhouse 9, and with the piss taken out of it somewhat by a childish individual who insists on making people dance to children’s tv shows.

    To that end, I’d like to invite you to the song that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends. Somebody started singing not knowing what it was, now they’ll keep on singing it forever just because.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve done that joke before. I need a new act. New material. Here, hand me your wallet. I’m going to make it disappear. Runs off with it

    From Far Away “Ta da!”

    Ha, yeah right. You think I do this for money? You think I get paid to entertain y’all?…nope. Guess we know which one of us is smarter after all, despite my jokes being so intellectually stimulating.

    Well, Grant Moxham, welcome to Worm. And now I am unleashed upon Pact.

    So, Pact audience, get ready, because from now on, there’s going to be a whole lotta butt rapin’!

    No, wait, that was just wrong.

    There’s gonna be ALL the butt rapin’!

    1. Don’t know if you caught the Request of God comment in a previous chapter, but Wildbow requests no Worm spoilers. Wildbow even deleted a small number of the worst offending posts.

    1. Thursday chapters are donation chapters only. Wildbow mentioned, in the first comment to the previous chapter, that there was “No bonus chapter scheduled – amount is just a bit shy” this week. Hence, no Thursday chapter.

      Big W probably needs some time to recuperate his strength, too, what with all the bonus chapters he’s been churning out.

      1. Woops, I must have accidently mixed up Thursday and Tuesday as the day we get donation chapters. Just goes to show that Wildbow’s been working hard and spoiling us lately 😉
        Forgive my mistake!

  27. I’m normally a lurker, but this chapter brought up a common misconception: you can’t just down antibiotics like that and expect them to work. Different antibiotics are good at tackling different kinds of bacterial infections; they have to be taken for long periods of time; they do nothing for viral infections (which is important since some of the critters that bit him – can’t remember what they were now, sorry – might be capable of carrying rabies or other nasties); and finally, under some circumstances they can do more harm than good, because they take a toll on your body’s native flora, which help crowd out neighboring infections.

    I know it’s not realistic, but Blake needs to stop playing medic and get his ass to the ER stat.

    1. There are broad-spectrum antibiotics. For best results you should take targeted antibiotics, but for that to happen you need cultures, and that requires 1. a place to take a culture from and 2. time. I think we can safely say that’s time Blake doesn’t have, so if he does get Abs his only choice (for the time being) are broad spectrums. And even if he does get medical attention they’re going to take some cultures and give him broad spectrums while the cultures are growing anyway.

      The treatment for rabies is a vaccine. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other viral wound infection that’s a big deal.

      Collateral damage of Abs to normal flora is not a concern when the alternative is sepsis. The worst that can happen is an opportunistic infection like C. difficile, which while potentially serious is treatable.

    2. Agreed – that should have come with a “do not do this at home” warning. Glad you put it in. Medical professionals are the people who should evaluate the necessity of antibiotics and other medical care.

      That being said, just about every action Blake takes should come with a “do not do this at home” warning and he doesn’t seem likely to live long enough for rabies to be the thing that kills him.

      1. There’s also the problem that arises from too many people taking antibiotics when they don’t need to contributing to the evolution of bacteria into forms resistant to those antibiotics, creating superbugs. Soon enough, it’ll be time for Gonorrhea 2025: The Clap Claps Back.

        Personally, I think Blake needs to swallow a big dose of peniscilin.

        1. Pact: Here There Be Dragons

          Or rather, psychotic geckos. Or is that psychosomatic geckos? Psychologist geckos? Psychiatrist geckos? Or perhaps…gechoes?

          My god, I’ve figured it out. This isn’t the real psycho gecko; this is his gender-flipped mirror duplicate, created by old grandma Thorburn! Or possibly some demonic lawyers! Or both! Or something! Or his own mad science, taken even too farther than usual to plunder the secrets of the universe at the cost of unleashing something that was not meant to exist!

          Well, I’m on my guard now, Psycho Gecko. THIS commenter is ready to cope with your madness, and you’ll never make a monkey out of me! Never, do you hear!

          Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Psycho Gecko R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
          Ia! Ia! Ia! Psycho Gecko fhtagn!

          No! Get out of my head! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

          My god. It’s too late for me.
          I can only pray it’s not too late…for all of us.

          1. Psychopomp Gecko, remember?

            Everyone’s obsessed with the idea of a female me lately. There’s accusations of me either being or marrying the Goblin Queen, there’s Pencil Monkey thinking I have ex-wives, and now you think I’ve been genderflipped.

            The fact that you’re curious and can’t stop thinking about me and a female version of myself might indicate you’re not so safe from me psychologically. If it helps, remember that there have never been any versions of me spotted in other dimensions.

            Besides, you have other things to worry about, snoring and kicking in your sleep like you do.

            See you around, George…here in the comments section, of course.

            1. Never said anything about ex-wives, just ex-mothers-in-law.

              Remember, you’re in Pactverse now, where Nature not only abhors a vacuum, but frankly hates everyone’s guts with a fiery passion, and where the Casimir effect will not only spit out virtual particles, but can cause beings of pure **Eeeevil* and mindless destruction to spontaneously materialize – such as herpes simplex infections, telemarketers, and ex-mothers-in-law.

              (The ‘ex’ stands for ‘exceptionally nasty’.)

        2. Personally, I think Blake needs to swallow a big dose of peniscilin.

          My immediate thought was “Psycho, you know it’s spelled ‘penicil–‘… Oh. Right. I get it.

          Carry on, good sir.

      2. “CAVEAT: Kids, bringing about the Apocalypse is dangerous. Do not attempt in your own home.”

        -Narrator, Good Omens

    3. I think Blake might be inclined to go to the hospital if he had time, but he doesn’t. He’s just patching himself up as best he can with what little medical knowledge he has and a bit of glamour.

    1. Was that an orgasm? Or a scream of anguished terror, induced by heart-stopping visions of a small lizard eating the sun?

      Or one of each?

  28. So here’s my reckoning of things:

    Everything, demons included, hate diabolists.

    It seems like most magic users and Others out there are involved in this balance, which they are somwhat associating with karma. Either way, the net good and evil in the world must be maintained, and usually it does so either by happenstance or through the actions of magic users against those asshats who go too far.

    Problem is, a diabolist is, by definition, someone who obtains magical power by utilizing demons, who seek to destroy that balance. Their presence tips the scales in the bad direction, forcing everything else to perform actions to counter it whether they’d like to or not.

    Plus, the debt gives the demons a foothold. It’s got to be paid back, whether that’s the diabolist letting them have a shot at the world, or their manipulations with the lawyers. So even just to gain regular ole mundane power levels, a diabolist is probably making deals that give demons a foothold and threaten the balance. Then you take into account that they can access huge amounts of power once they know how, but at the cost of a significant debt, and you see why the rest of the magical community seems to have it in for them.

    Why would a diabolist do this? Well, if power, money, youth, and so on weren’t enough incentives, you also have to think about how people naturally are. Every day, billions of people do their part to make the world a worse place. They build a golf course here, they drop a can on the ground there, they say get pissy at a waiter. It all builds up and soon enough we’re living in Mad Max, with that mohawk guy in the assless chaps telling us we have the hands of a woman. If I bring that up, it’s only because Vernon Wells hasn’t seen the last of me yet.

    What’s one more little drop of lifeblood out of the world? Still, every little bit counts, like voting, but everyone assumes their little bit is so minor that it’s unimportant in the grand scheme of things, like voting. With so many people of such a like mind, those little things build up until the world is at the mercy of some huge red dick that wants to eat babies. Like voting.

    It doesn’t hurt that, let’s be honest, some of the demons are very convincing: youtube.com/watch?v=54LAJmIleDU

  29. I don’t see any good actions in this story. Not from most of the other practitioners anyway. Murdering the poor newbie diabolist girl via goblins? Seriously? You couldn’t go up to her and truthfully tell her that her family would be far better off without all those diabolist books and that she should burn them? Hell, you couldn’t threaten her with death instead and force her to promise never to use the books instead? Or I dunno, bribe the witch-hunters to get into her house and burn the books? It’s not as if any wards would stop them.

    BTW, WTF universe? If one does a lot of evil, evil gets done to him in return? Doesn’t that mean that even more people do evil in the end? No, no, others can’t forgive you for fucking things up because the universe pushes them to perceive you in the worst possible light and react to you in the worst possible way – like having you murdered via goblins.

    And that ladies and gentlemen is why some people put on their black hats, take out their black tomes, and start violating the Laws left and right and center. It’s a crappy universe so why bother preserving it when you could call forth the Destroyer of Universes, the Crawling Chaos, and The Darkness That Eats All Things to totally level everyone and everything and then remake a better universe out of the ashes? Or even don’t remake it at all, merely destroy it out of spite; the universe and its crappy Laws screwed you so you are going to screw them back. Isn’t that what those very Laws say?

    1. Ah yes, glad you noticed that about the WTF universe thing.

      Let’s just say that karma isn’t necessarily what some people in the West think it is. It’s not unusual for it to be used as a justification for not helping the poor, disabled, or sick, since the justification goes that if someone was born with no arms, or has no money and lives on the streets, or gets stricken with polio, it’s because that person did something bad enough to deserve that either in their previous life or their current one.

      I must admit, I hadn’t thought so much about that one until that Julia Sweeney one woman show where she encountered that in her spiritual journey after leaving Christianity.

      Similar thinking can be found in other religions too.

      The thing is, any diabolist seems to be guaranteed due to their specialty to harm the world because their primary form of obtaining power is to give a foothold to beings that want to chow down on earth.

      To put it another way, Blake is Angel and the other members of Angel Investigations. That makes the Behaims and Duchamps more like Buffy and her Scooby Gang, who see Angel and his team as selling out and working for the bad guys during the last season.

      Or like the Behaims and Duchamps are regular witches or the Charmed Ones while Blake is running around making a deal with the Source of All Evil.

      1. Potential Pact/Angel match-ups:

        Rose = Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkle
        Andy = Gunn
        Alexis = Cordelia
        Fell = Spike (…Nah, Spike was much funnier, and had considerably smaller amounts of stick up his jacksie.)

        Fingers crossed that Blake gets turned into a Muppet, and a werewolf love interest uses him as a chew toy, and he gets in a fist fight with Fell while still Muppetized, but manages to win anyway, and… Actually, just the “turning into a Muppet” part would be satisfactory enough.

    2. Re: Burning the books: They’re afraid of what might be locked inside them. Blake brought that up while talking to Laird (before we found out he was an asshat), and Laird responded with exactly that point. And they can’t find out about what’s locked inside them without reading them. And they don’t want any Thorburn trainee to read those books, nor does Blake (et al.) want anyone else to read the books. It’s a Catch-22, like so many other things are for a human practitioner whose current position reeks of everything the universe hates.

      Agreed on all your other points. Blake is either a much better man than I or one whose “protect innocents” instinct is poised to get him killed. Again like so many other things are for a human practitioner whose current position reeks of everything the universe hates.

  30. It is not good and evil it is being fair and keeping your world. Basically you gain power by making deals. Break deals, deal in a dishonest way and the universe will conspire against you.

  31. Guys!

    I figured out how get rid of the bad Karma.

    It’s simple, Blake summons up one of the older demons and gets it to tell him the names of some angels.

    Then he stops Devil summoning, and begins to summon exclusively angels.

    1. Not going to work. If you’ll remember, many of the demons used to be angels. If he asks for names, the demon can get around it by giving him the name of beings that are fallen angels, aka demons, and trick him that way.

      1. Not to mention the way things go for Blake, angels either won’t do shit, or are huge assholes who cause as much trouble as demons.

        1. Well, if demons are anti-universe the Angels are probably pro-universe. Unfortunately the Universe wants to kill Blake. Plus its sort of an ass.

          1. Also an angel turns up sees a Diabolist, then does her job and decreases the amount of evil potential in the world by one Blake Thorburn.

            A possible reverse of my above supposition is that by enabling Blake to effectively vanquish Laird Behaim amongst other foes, the angel protects the rest of the Thorburn family. This would effectively result in removing more evil potential.

            There remains ( of course ) whatever literary paradigm Wildbow Invokes whilst simultaneously utilising sheer creative talent to outmanoeuvre all of our wild mass guessing.

            1. There’s also the part where angels in the bible aren’t all nice, happy, fuzzy types adhering to conventional goodness. Just ask the residents of Sodom after their soccer team won the big game and they had a big gay drunk celebration, or that time an angel was called down on Egypt.

              Technically, the best way to remove all evil potential from the earth would be to kill every human.

    2. Summoning angels instead of demons won’t get rid of existing bad karma, nor does it inherently generate good karma. Remember, karma isn’t about good and evil in Pact, it’s about right and wrong – telling the truth, keeping promises, paying off your debts, not introducing people to magic who won’t use it responsibly, having a demesne and maintaining it. Doing those things to generate good karma is the traditional way to get rid of the bad.

      Blake’s problem is that under those methods he could only expect to get rid of two of his seven lifetimes of bad karma at most. He has to do more to have a reasonable expectation of making a dent in that. I can only think of a few realistic ways he could do that.

      Get a Johannes scale demesne and maintain it to generate an abnormally large amount of good karma. This might be troublesome as he’d have to find a way to entice enough friendly Others and practitioners to live there and defend it, and I don’t think he’s going to open his own amusement park of vestige murder to do it.
      Get others to take his bad karma. I don’t think you can actually force this like others are trying to plot, but it might be a good penalty to inflict upon defeated foes in exchange for mercy. Beat the Behaims and Duchamps, get each family to take on one lifetime of bad karma. If they distribute it so that each family member gets some, then the negatives from the universe probably won’t be too bad. Given they likely have some excess good karma stored up anyways, they can probably pay off the debt after a few months or years this way.
      Get others to give him their good karma. Could be a penalty for a defeated enemy, if they have enough saved up. Alternatively, it could be something he asks for as a price in deals with friendlier practitioners. Given that practitioners tend to want to get rid of local diabolic threats but don’t want to deal with them personally, if Blake gets really good at diabolism he could also ask for this as a price for his services in that field.

  32. The answer might be to force the bad Karma on someone else. Remember, when Mr. high-and-mighty police chief wanted to kill a defenseless diabolist girl, he enticed the goblin queen into doing it instead of doing it himself. How hard would it be for Blake to craft an all-but-complete summoning spell that gives him access to a demon when completed – and then have someone else do the completion, knowingly or otherwise?

    Also, question; is there a possibility to force the universe against itself with bad Karma exploitation? For example, Blake sets it up so that major demons will inherit his land and be able to act freely out of it if something bad happens to him. If the universe screws him via bad Karma, the universe gets screwed by the demons far far worse than Blake could do alone. Thus the universe cannot keep the balance by harming Blake.

    Even if it doesn’t work against the universe, that would be a good thing to do to all the guys (and gals) coming against him;summon Ornias and a few of his buddies in bindings set to break as soon as Blake dies or suffers equal permanent harm. Announce it to everyone under an oath to speak the truth and see how everyone scrambles to not only leave you alone but also help you survive any and all dangers.

    1. RE: transferring bad karma: Blake still has one good strike at Laird’s reputation left. It’ll be a doozy, too (3rd of 3). Which, furthermore, the Behaims and Duchamps are scared stiff of – Note the haste they displayed in making sure the hairy scary diabolist punk can’t get back to his sanctum, dammit. And the problem with a partial summoning spell is that if you’re crafting one of those, the demon in particular will object to the wait. An all-but-complete binding has a similar problem. Blake essentially has one one all-but-complete summoning, but he’s probably unable to pass it off to someone else, mainly because that would involve transferring the connection from him to someone else.

      RE: Karma logic-bombs. That sort of thing is a multi-step process, the universe will screw with him every step of the way, and a dead diabolist means their personal bad karma essentially goes poof, while a dead Thorburn is a bit more complicated but still involves a cap on the total amount of bad karma the family can accrue. (Note that that’s only because Granny made a mistake in her teens – swearing to let her children “grow up away from all this.”)

      RE: Dead-man switches. Again, multi-step process, involving summoning and binding demons into your soul or body, or some other thing that would tell them when exactly to come out and play. Also there’s a level of collateral involved that Blake might find skeezy.

    2. I don’t see any good actions in this story.
      Agreed.

      As for the rest, my guesses as to the karma system are:

      The story points out that karma is not about good and evil, it is about right and wrong. The problem with that in this universe is that right and wrong are based on draconian, antiquated, eye-for-an-eye rules. For some fun reading in that vein, search for code of Hammurabi and read. Based on that:

      Re: Target the newb, WTF Universe
      Working with karma is karma-neutral or positive. So shitting on the poor newby diabolist who hasn’t done anything wrong other than inherit lots of bad karma is perfectly OK, as long as they don’t break other rules or agreements. Basically it means they can, in each circumstance, choose the absolute worst interpretation that doesn’t break other rules and use it with no backlash or even get rewarded, karma-wise.

      Re: WTF Universe
      Again, not good or evil, breaking (archaic) agreements or not. The problem I see with demons is that demons broke the agreement to work for / help build the universe. They are the first and often greatest rule breakers. Therefore, they are karma black holes and rub off on anyone they touch, which is mostly diabolists. Unfortunately, demons don’t seem to get punished for their actions (proportionally, I mean), but those who deal with them do.

      Re: Destroy the System
      Agreed, with a different target. Some things are so broken they need to be trashed rather than dealt with or fixed. The universe isn’t broken here and killing it would take a lot of innocent and good people down. The karma system is what needs to be trashed. That might be an arbitrary distinction in this system – the universe and karma might be inseparable. In which case, I generally agree, but with the proviso that demons are not good agents because they take things out with maximum pain and degradation along the way instead of clean oblivion.

      Re: Force Karma on the Universe
      The system is the machine that keeps track of karma, but it (apparently) doesn’t have karma itself. So attempting the karma backlash on the universe won’t work until you figure out how to target the system.

      Re: Force Karma on Someone Else, Trap Yourself
      Might work. Deliberately setting a trap seems to be a bad idea. Telling everyone “do X and you will release something nasty” might work, if the something nasty didn’t have its own agenda. No matter how tight Blake makes the wording, demons will find some loophole or circumstance that allows them to be freed. So anything Blake sets up to cause major havoc for any reason is something that will almost certainly be set off. Blake knows this, or at least he knows not to trust demons, and he avoids it, not for karma’s sake, but because he doesn’t want to bring something nasty into the world.

  33. I hate waiting. I got lucky with worm and started reading when it was almost finished so there was instant gratification with the conclusion. But because I loved Worm so much, I started reading Pact and the wait for the next chapter is killing me!!! What’s going to happen with the goblin? What’s going on in those woods? Hypothesizing what’s about to happen is not helping! I want to know Wildbow! You are a god holding back the awesomeness that is your stories. I’m an addict of Wildbow! Is there anything you would recommend reading while waiting for your chapters?

    1. Calm down, breathe and chill. If you can’t wait, have a reread of the old chapters and look for foreshadowings :p

    2. i knew i wasnt the only one!, everything you say applies to me aswell, except the addiction to wildbow part… that sounds a little creepy. but yes, i love everything he writes, and i usually read through books i like in days or weeks, so reading a webserial is quite a new experience to me.
      The reading recommendations sound like a good idea, i discovered worm via the author’s notes on HPMOR, so it would like a pay it forward for wildbow, spreading the awesomeness of whatever he likes.

  34. Yaknow…I was wondering why Paige was put last on the list. Could it have anything to do with the fact that she’s interested in doing law at some point in the future? Perhaps Rose sr. thought that Paige would be more susceptible to the lawyers’ deal?

  35. Bugs. Oy. I think we all know how nasty those can be, don’t we, Skitter? Thank God* that these bugs weren’t directed or organized…

    *Assuming that there is a Pactverse god willing to accept and deserving of thanks for this event.

    Anyways, this chapter brought up two interesting possibilities.
    1. What are the chances that Blake dies at some point in the early chapters and passes his knowledge onto…whoever’s next? wildbow isn’t unknown for his unexpected plot twists. How many people saw Skitter turning villainous from the first couple chapters? How many who started reading in the ABB era could have about Leviathan, the Nine, Echidna, and the fallout from those? If you started halfway through, would you have expected Taylor to go hero? And I certainly doubt anyone seriously expected Scion’s…reaction even a chapter before it happened. And, now that he’s left an evidently-lengthy note for his relatives…
    2. On that note, why doesn’t Blake consider recruiting his friends and relatives to the magic world? Not at first, of course, maybe only after they ask three times or something. It would satisfy his friends’ curiosity and net Blake some allies. Potentially dangerous, karma-wise, but that should help more than it hurts if he plays it right, and it’s not like he’s going to be seriously affecting the karmic debt in his lifetime.

    1. 1) People have brought that idea up before. I find it implausible on a couple levels, but the most definitive is narrative.

      From what we know, Rose’s life is tied to Blake’s. The last chapter before the GP makes that even more likely (though I admit that it might be technically possible for her bond to flip over onto the next heir). If that’s the case, then if Blake dies, so does Rose. If Rose dies, then we (for instance) will never find out wth was up with her modified ritual. Even if we find out that there is no real difference beyond what we know, the Voice and the Hands, it still wouldn’t be resolved satisfactorily within the story.

      Not to mention, it seems a bit late for a Decoy Protagonist.

      2) I’ve had that thought too, numerous times. Speaking as a Doyalist, I think it would do a lot to break apart the “I’m all alone and totally screwed” feeling permeating the story. Speaking as a Watsonian, he doesn’t like putting people he cares about in danger, and with his friends at least, he already feels like he’s insanely indebted to them without dragging them into this crap. On the other hand, he disagreed with Fell on the fundamental point of whether or not it was better to be ignorant of the supernatural, so there is still hope for the future.

      Blake is clearly operating under the assumption that he can at least get some of the debt off, even apart from what’s needed to satisfy the lawyers–forward progress is still important, even if it’s not actually reaching the goal. At the very least, the universe might start throwing slightly nicer curveballs at a mildly lesser frequency.

      1. Well, it would be sad to not find out what was up with that, but look me in…whatever the online equivalent of an eye is and tell me that there aren’t any potential plot threads in Worm that never got picked up.
        And you never know.
        True enough, I guess, but I can’t see Blake’s friends helping out much with his fundamental issues: Powerful enemies, lack of knowledge, and lack of power. On the Watsonian hand, I did specify that it would only be after they asked three times (which should deal with karmic issues if anything does), and like you said, he seems to think that being knowledgeable of magic isn’t such a bad thing if you’re not defenseless. Again, it’s a possibility.

  36. I see from here and the previous chapter,Blake is a straight up good guy,no ambiguous about it,with bad powers.Interesting change from Taylor who,while I personally consider the paragon of good guys,does some pretty grey acts.

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