Collateral 4.10

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The Knights weren’t quite what I’d expected, as far as practitioners went.

I wasn’t sure what I did expect, or why my expectations were high.  Laird was… a cop.  Sandra was a well dressed, prim woman.  Maggie wouldn’t draw any particular attention.

Maybe when I started looking at the likes of Briar Girl or Fell, I could start pointing out odd stuff, but that was more along the lines of Briar Girl not wearing clothes a hundred percent suited to winter, or Fell’s penchant for wearing white.  Not something that would turn heads, but it raised an eyebrow if one paid too much attention.

These guys… they were pretty much exactly the sort you’d imagine would be spending their time in a no-name convenience store on a side road in the middle of nowhere.  Four of them.  Three guys and a woman.  Very casual, slouching and entirely at home in their individual seats, a young man behind the counter, man and woman at a table beneath the front window, and Mr. Shotgun standing beside me at the door.

“Blake Thorburn,” I introduced myself.

“Not interested in pleasantries,” Shotgun said.  He was thirty-something, with a scraggly mustache and beard, longer hair, jeans, misshapen sweater and lumpy jacket.  The large cat lurked near him.

The others were similar.  Large t-shirts, jeans, a little tattered.  More comfortable than fashionable.  The guy sitting by the window was rather heavy, and unshaven, wearing a baseball cap even though it was winter.

“Names make things easier,” I said.

“Names have a kind of power, don’t they?” the youngest of them said.  A boy, about fourteen, with a resemblance to Shotgun.  No mustache or beard, though, a t-shirt instead of a sweater.

“As far as I’m aware,” I said.  “But I suspect there’s a difference between having power and having power over something.”

“How does that work?” Shotgun’s son asked.

“Hush,” Shotgun said.  “You’re the enemy of… not an enemy, but a problem.  That fair to say?”

“I suppose it is,” I said.

“That doesn’t mean you’re trustworthy.  I can’t say I know much about demons or diabolism or any of that, but I’ve got a good eye and a good gut instinct, and one or both are telling me there’s a reason I really wanted to pull the trigger on you, back there.”

“I’m not sure.”

“You’re lucky I’m a level headed guy, Blake.  Able to check myself, question what I’m feeling and why.  But if I had to describe it, I’d say I feel like my wife acts when she has P.M.S., being around you.”

“Lovely,” the woman by the window said, rolling her eyes.  I took it that she wasn’t his wife, from the tone and attitude.  “Does she pull a gun on you?”

“She’d be tempted to pull the trigger,” Shotgun said.

“You’re irritable, twitchy?” I asked.

“A bit.”

“I bound an imp yesterday.  He was making animals and people feel that way.  Act in ways they normally wouldn’t.  Now… well, now he’s not affecting them anymore, though traces linger.”

“You stopped it?”

“For now,” I hedged, “I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring.”

“Ah.  Like I said, I don’t know much about diabolism.”

“I don’t either,” I said.  “I wouldn’t be too surprised if you knew about as much as I did.”

“If you’re binding imps, then you know more than we do.  I’m afraid we’re not sharing names.  Call it paranoia, if you must.”

“I might have to,” I said.

“Can we trust you, Blake?  I think that’s the bigger question right now.”

“I can’t lie,” I said.

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“I’m going to be blunt and honest here,” I said.  “And I’m going to hope you don’t all fuck me over too badly, as a result.  Conquest is twisting my arm, metaphorically speaking, to get me to clean up some of the local messes, and he’s sent me your way to get some answers on one of those messes.”

“We know this, Fell said as much,” Shotgun said.  “Skip ahead to what you said to me outside.”

“Well, that’s only a small part of why I’m here.  I’m thinking you probably don’t have a lot of answers about that demon in the factory.  The real reason I’m here is that I’m looking for some allies.  Because I’m not sure anyone wants Conquest to finish sending me on errands and start using me for something more serious.”

“Demon stuff,” Shotgun said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What if I shot you?” he offered.  “You could stop worrying about being used.  You’d be dead.”

He said it in such a friendly, casual way.  Like he was offering me a ride.

“Conquest wouldn’t be too happy with you.”

“He’s sending you after that demon,” the guy sitting under the window said.  “I don’t think he cares a whole lot about your well being.”

“Point taken,” I said.  “But there’s a difference between me dying because I wasn’t able to hack it, and his subordinates interfering.”

“You’re big on making distinctions, aren’t you?”  Shotgun asked.

“Don’t we have to be?” I asked.

“How’s that?”

“You know… dealing with Others?  Avoiding getting snared in a verbal trap?”

He shrugged.  “Or you can just minimize contact with the things.”

I frowned a bit.  “I’m going to need a few more details on who you guys are.  And names would really help.”

“We’re the Knights,” Shotgun said.  “Can’t call ourselves just ‘knights’, or we’d be treading on toes, so our full title is ‘Knights of the Basement’, kind of an in-joke.”

“Makes me think of board gamers or something.”

“Close enough.”

“And?” I asked.  “You focus in?  You do…”

“We dabble.  All of us dabble.  We’re with the council, because it means we don’t get blindsided if something comes up or changes, easier access if we want to check it’s okay to grab a certain demesne or get a familiar.  Maybe once in a while we can do a favor for a bit of knowledge or a trinket.”

“You’re dabblers,” I said, “As in… you don’t have much firepower?”

He glanced down at his gun.

“Firepower that’s going to matter to someone or something like Conquest?” I clarified.

“Not so much,” Shotgun said.  “Not against someone like… that.”

The way he’d avoided Conquest’s name made me think it was maybe better to not keep saying it.  I could call Fell, just by establishing that connection, and maybe I didn’t want Conquest to know I was talking about him.

Damn it.  I couldn’t help but feel a profound disappointment, with a hint of panic.  I’d found an in, possible help, and they didn’t have any muscle.  I was running out of time, and I didn’t have any meaningful allies.  I was actually losing progress in terms of allies, if I counted losing Rose.

“But you have a grudge against the man in charge?” I asked.

“Grudge?” Shotgun asked.  “Not so much.  But, well, he’swhat he is.  Not exactly looking out for anyone’s interests.  Has a way of demanding things and not giving anything back.”

He glanced at his buddies, as if looking for confirmation.  I saw some nods.

Mostly, I just saw glares leveled my way.

Shotgun continued, “Part of why we attend the meetings, from time to time.  Gives us a chance to see how he’s acting, if we need to clear out for a bit, keep our heads down.  Sometimes all it takes is a periodic visit to bow our heads, show proper respect.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Then… I’m guessing you’re not exactly willing to put your lives on the line?  He’s an inconvenience, as you said, not an enemy.”

That got me a slow shake of the head, and a very casual, “You’re pretty much on the mark there.”

I sighed, leaning against the counter.

“Can I offer you anything?” Shotgun asked.  “Very possible we don’t have anything to offer, but I can offer food and water.  Tuna and egg sandwiches aren’t bad, in the fridge over there.  Or candy bars and coke, if you’re wanting a snack.”

“A sandwich would be great,” I said.  “And a coke, sure.”

The guy sitting by the window got up from the table to walk over to the fridge and grabbed the stuff.

“On the house,” Shotgun said.

“The hospitality is recognized for what it is, thank you.”

He nodded a little, circling around the counter to take a seat by the register.  He glanced up at the television on the wall.  Sports news.

Not many straight answers to be had here, as far as names or capabilities went.  They were small fry.  Dabbling practitioners.

“Is it normal, to be…” I searched for a word.

“Low level?” the kid asked.

“To work within such a small scope,” I said, a little more diplomatically.

“Not sure,” Shotgun said.  “We only have the locals to compare ourselves to.”

“Can you tell me about them?  It might help me figure out where to concentrate my efforts.”

“We’re new, so I don’t know much of the history.  Sisters of the Torch, as I understand it, they were a sorority or club at the University, got their hands on something.  Built themselves up.  Each new year the group would select a few worthy members of their club or whatever to join the core group.  Nine parts secret society to one part practitioner.  They’re more likely to give you a special discount on real estate or help you ask for a favor in local government than do anything fancy, if you get me?”

I nodded.  “Any specialty?”

“Elementals.  Most basic kind of spirits you get, dealing with nature.  Rain, sun, fire, harvest…”

“Where do they stand with Conquest?”

“They don’t.  They’re in the council in name only.  They’ve maybe struck a deal with Conquest, because they only send one representative a year with a gift.”

I made mental note of that.

“The Sphinx-”

“I’ve met the Sphinx, the Drunk, and the Astrologer.  And Fell.”

“Ah.  Okay.”

“Sphinx wasn’t a big fan of me,” I admitted.  “Not big on the diabolism thing.”

“To be honest, neither are we,” Shotgun told me.  “But you don’t seem to be an immediate problem, and we’re not really types to pick fights.”

“Except when it comes to pulling a shotgun on a complete stranger.”

“That’s called being ready when the fight comes to you.  Not knowing anything about you… hearing only casual mention of what a diabolist does?”

“Fair,” I said.  I tore into the sandwich wrapper and took a bite.

“Sphinx is old, and maybe it’s more personal for old things.  Teaches at the University.  Periodically goes for the kids who can’t hack it.  Once every decade or so, maybe.  Failing grades, depression, panic, a downward spiral everyone recognizes, and then their rooms are cleared out one night and they’ve up and disappeared.”

“Didn’t know that last part,” I said.

“She is what she is.  She occasionally takes a student under her not-so-proverbial wing.  We’ve talked it over, and the general consensus is she finds the stragglers and tests them.  Winners get mentored.  Get a natural glow about ’em, you know what I mean?”

“No, not so much.”

“Stuff starts going their way.  Lucky.  The right people start gravitating towards them.  Things falling into place.”

“Good karma,” I said.

“Yeah.  That.  Girls stick around for two or three years and then take their leave, wiser, talented, brimming with confidence.  We’ve seen, what, two?”

“One left a few weeks after we first joined the council,” the woman sitting under the window said.  “Another one wrapped up earlier this year.  Left before Summer.”

“I could do with some of that good karma,” I said.  “But I don’t think even the Sphinx’s ministrations are about to help me with the massive debt my family’s incurred.”

“If she doesn’t like you, I can’t imagine she’s going to change her mind.  Old dogs and new tricks, you know?”

“Suppose so.”

“Um, who else?  You mentioned the Drunk?”

“Yeah.  He’s, again, not a big fan of me.”

“Cultist of Dionysus.  Orgies, parties, and a collection of satyrs, nymphs and other beings with a connection to fertility, hedonism or both.”

“Any story there?”

“Lots.  Word is he was trying to make a play, some time back.  Offered favors here and there.  One of the Sisters wanted a baby, he delivered.  Baited the Astrologer into falling in lust with something more spirit than person, and she wasn’t happy when that spell was broken.  Even started collecting more vicious things to keep in reserve, we’ve heard.  Then it all fell apart around the start of the ‘oughts.  He’s mostly flying solo now, a little more inebriated a little more often.  We’ve mostly steered clear.  He and we march to the beats of very different drums, so to speak.”

I took a swig of coke to clear my throat.  “You dabble, you’re interested, but you don’t want to stick your neck out for anyone to swing the axe at.”

Shotgun nodded.  “Astrologer?  Powerful.  Doing a succession thing.  Every time they get old, they find an apprentice, teach them, and pass on the title and the knowledge.  I never really got what she did.  Future sight, sure.  Connections?  Yeah.  Summoning things from the sky?  Yep.  But never directly, there’s some underlying system of rules and relationships she has to navigate.”

“She’s not a fan of the… guy in charge.”

“Nope.  Her old mentor offered himself up, to be one of those tragic ghosts in the Lord of Toronto’s manor, buying her safety with his afterlife.  She doesn’t pay any tithe, and she mostly has free reign, so long as she attends enough meetings and doesn’t act directly against him.”

“Does that mean she’s not on my side?  I can’t get her to do something?”

“No.  I think she’s eager to stop Conquest, and she’s been looking for a chance for some time.  I’m not sure if she can’t or if there’s a reason she won’t, but it is what it is.”

I nodded.

“Shepherd, not of much use to you.  Guides the dead.  Deals with ghosts, cleaning up the bad and collecting the good.  Tends to stay away, but is on pretty good terms with Conquest when he’s around.”

“That sounds like a problem.”

“It’s the local landscape.  Nothing more.”

“Landscape matters lot when you’re talking battle,” the woman under the window said.  “Terrain?  Strategy?”

“True,” Shotgun said.  “Fine, we can agree it’s a problem.  Who else?”

“Eye of the Storm,” Shotgun’s son said.  “Queen’s Man.”

“Queen’s Man isn’t a concern.  Goes between here and England.  Serving a spirit of Crown and kingdom,” Shotgun says.  “Not here now.”

“Good to know.”

“Eye of the Storm isn’t human.  And it is a servant of our local Lord.  One you’ll need to worry about.  Our Lord needs something done, he asks Fell.  He needs something destroyed, he gives an order to the Eye.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“A fire alarm going off at midnight,” Shotgun said.  “All the exits blocked by flame.”

Cryptic.

“I meant, more, what type of Other is it?”

“Don’t know.  We’re not the people to ask if you want clear answers about that sort of thing.  But mankind and fire have a long working relationship.  A relationship that extends to times when you sacrificed things to gods and spirits.  Most big cities have at least one bad fire in its past, and in cities that do, you can usually find something like the Eye, a memory of that fire and sacrifice.”

“That explanation is a bit too vague for my tastes,” I said.

“What I do know, and I’m welcoming any of the rest of you to jump in and correct me, is it’s a thing that tends to change as humanity does.  We start to use wires and electricity, and the Eye became less fire and more storm, you know?  It’s a living reminder that whatever we were given, whatever we took or learned, energy-wise, there’s still a danger there, if we don’t show proper respect.”

“And it serves at the whim of the Lord of Toronto?”

“Arms, legs, torso, head, but nobody’s going to look at it and think it’s human.  Keeps to its own until it’s called.  If you’re going up against the Lord of Toronto, don’t give him a chance to call.”

I nodded, even as I was thinking about how Conquest had brought Rose to his domain.  How could I prevent him from doing the same with this ‘eye’?

“Sounds like I need to get in touch with the Astrologer,” I said.

“Could be.”

“And if I do want help going up against the Lord of Toronto,” I said, speaking very carefully, “Can I offer you anything in exchange for a hand?”

Shotgun exchanged looks with everyone else that was present.  “Probably not.”

“He’s wanting to use my knowledge for something ugly,” I said.  “You kill me now, he’ll be mad enough to do something to you.  Leave me alone, and I might be forced to do what he wants, and that could mean issues for you.”

A very, very small ‘could’, given the deal the Drunk had struck, but still theoretically possible.

“So we have to help you, is that it?” Shotgun asked.

“No,” I said.  “But helping me would do us both a world of good.  I can even sweeten the deal.”

“We don’t set our sights all that high,” he said.

“I’ve got something in the works,” I said.  “Tomorrow night, at midnight, it comes to a head.  You help me, and I’ll give you access to my family’s resources, minus the… troubling books.  The books I don’t particularly want to read.”

“Meaning we wouldn’t be dabblers,” he said.  “We could be…”

“A lot of things,” I said.  “I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t at least one good book on every major subject and discipline.”

“I can see the appeal,” Shotgun said.

“It’s an option,” I said.

“But, and I’d have to talk to the other Knights for their opinions, I’m quite comfortable being a dabbler.  A group of low-key people who lucked into more mysterious things.”  He glanced at his familiar.  “Don’t have to stick our noses in too deep, don’t have any pressure.  No enemies, not a whole lot to fear, outside of our one big fuckup to date.  We get to be excited if, a couple of times a year, we get a new book, a new doo-dad, and we can explore it together.”

“Then…” I said, reaching for an answer.  “You want less?  Not access to a whole library, but maybe a guarantee of a book once in a blue moon?”

Shotgun looked at the others.  I saw one or two shrugs and some nods.

“You’re speaking closer to our language now,” he said.  “But the risk is still too high.”

“The risk is already high,” I said.

He slowly shook his head.  “We walked into a bad situation once, thinking we had no choice.  It didn’t go well.”

“I was aiming to get around to that topic,” I said.

“Makes for an awful lot of wondering, you know?  Oblivion.  Knowing we maybe had friends or family, people we had as friends, people we loved, and they were devoured.  Eaten so completely that we can’t even remember them.”

I nodded.  I put the coke down on the nearest shelf.  “I’m sorry for your losses, whoever they might have been.”

“Thank you.”

“If you have any thoughts, or if you can let me know what precautions you used that didn’t work, it would help a great deal,” I said.

“Precautions?  Half the ones we used, it ate.  We can’t remember if we tried something and it didn’t work.  Can’t remember what the others tried doing that didn’t work out.  We tried circles, I know, but maybe it never got far enough to try eating those.”

“What kind of circle?”

“Same type you usually see.  Lines and reinforcing shapes, all of us at the center.”

The same kind that had been used on the Barber.  That had worked, ostensibly, because he was abstract, just like this oblivion demon.

Huh.

That would have been my first guess and one of the few educated guesses I could make, and it was wrong.

How did one ward against a being of nothingness?

“Anything else?” I asked.

“We went in armed.  We do okay, at trinkets.  Swords, knives, wands.  Whatever the others brought, it didn’t work.  That’s… just about all I can tell you, on the weapon and self-defense front.”

“Better than nothing,” I said.  But not by much.  I didn’t have the resources to research and figure out a good path to take, and the fact that the evidence and memories had been ‘eaten’ meant I couldn’t even work by process of elimination.

“I lie awake thinking about it,” Shotgun’s son said.  “The thing.  The near-miss.”

“We shouldn’t have brought you,” Shotgun said.

“I’d lie awake thinking about it even if you hadn’t.  Who did we lose?  What place did they have in our lives?  Then you think about what happened to Marcie…”

Shotgun glanced at me.  “My son’s ex-girlfriend.”

“She’s still my girlfriend, I think,” the young man said.  “At least, that’s what I think she was.”

“Yeah,” his father said.

“You’re going to have to fill me in,” I said.

“She disappeared,” Shotgun said.  “Few days after that afternoon.  We’ve talked about it, tried to figure it out, actively tried to find her.  But there was nothing.  She wasn’t eaten, or we wouldn’t even know, but…”

“I can’t really remember her face,” the son said.  “Or her last name.”

“I think,” Shotgun said, “The people around her were eaten.  Mother, father, maybe a sibling or two, a friend.  There wasn’t enough connecting her to this world, so she just…”

“Went,” the son said.

“Went away,” the father echoed him.  “To wherever people go when they fall through the cracks in this world.  Makes you wonder.  Were we something different, before?  Did we have more dreams?  More aspirations?  Did we lose important people that were supposed to prop us up, and settle into a different position when we tipped over, without them?”

“As in, maybe you weren’t all a bunch of dabblers working within a small scope, before?” I asked.

“I look back at the places we were investigating,” Shotgun said, “And they were big.  A factory?  An old farmstead?  Far too big for our sad little group.  Too big for a group twice our size.”

The guy sitting under the window spoke, “It eats away at you.  Wondering what we had, before it was taken away as thoroughly as something can be taken.  We can’t do it again.  Can’t go up against something big and lose.”

“Can’t take the risk,” Shotgun said.

I finished off the sandwich I’d been nibbling on, thinking.  Nobody volunteered anything further.

“You’ll back me against the Lord of Toronto, if there’s a zero-risk way of doing it?” I asked.

“Yes,” Shotgun said.

“Will you take on a small risk, if I offer a book, once in a blue moon?”

“What risk?”

“Not sure yet,” I said.  “Still trying to pull pieces together and form a game plan.”

“Then we’re not sure either,” he replied.

“Fair,” I said.  “Will you hear me out if I want to contact you with a request?”

“Number’s on the phone,” he said.  He gestured, and his son reached over to grab the phone on the counter, turning it my way.

I wrote it down.

“Dealing with that thing is tomorrow, so I should have time to talk to the Astrologer before then,” I said.  “Today, I’ve got to deal with this goblin called the Hyena.”

“We’ve heard of it in passing.”

“Give me a hand in dealing with this thing, any tips, trinkets, knowledge, it means I’m in better shape for dealing with the Lord of Toronto.”

“You’ll need a small army,” Shotgun said.

“I’m going in alone.”

“Then you’re probably going to die.  Too many nasty, angry things in those woods, I’d give you low odds even if the Hyena wasn’t there, if you just had to go in and out, dealing with the flora and fauna in there.”

“And the Hyena?” I asked.

“The Hyena caught and mutilated each and every one of them.  Think about that.  Think about how long it’s been around, the number of fights it’s been in.”

“It’s a fighter, then?”

“It’s a goblin, so yeah.”

“Then why name it after a scavenger?”

Shotgun shrugged.  “Wasn’t us that named it.  Might be the association with death and carrion, might be the fact that it’s closer to being a beast than a man.”

“Quadruped, then?” I asked.

“Yep.  Fast, big, strong, and about as mean as you get.”

“Don’t suppose I could borrow one of those weapons you were talking about?”

“If you get into a fight in there, chances are pretty good that whatever you’re fighting is going to make noise.  Noise brings other ones down on your head.  After that, it’s a matter of time before you’re dealing with a crowd.  I don’t imagine there’s any weapon I could give you that would let you do that.  If you were good enough at fighting, I think you’d have a proper weapon already.”

I nodded slowly.  “So fighting isn’t really an option.”

“It’s an option.  It’s just a damn shitty option.”

“Stealth, then,” I said.  “More my style, maybe.”

“You do know that a lot of Others have different senses than we do?” Shotgun’s son said.  “Not just sight and hearing and smell, but other ways of detecting people?”

“I assume so,” I replied.

The son shook his head a little.  “You’re just… what, you’re going to sneak in and do what?”

“Try to bind the Hyena,” I said, “or die in the process.”

“You know what happens when he kills you, right?”

“I know,” I said.

“I don’t think your chances would be that much worse going up against the Lord of Toronto on your own,” the son said.

“They’d be a great deal worse,” the fat guy by the window said.  “The Lord is an Incarnation, and the goblin is still a mid-tier goblin.  Mid-tier or not, it’s still a bad idea to go up against the Hyena.”

“Yeah,” Shotgun said.  “I’m thinking the same thing.

I took a deep breath.  “I don’t have a choice.”

“Run.  Whatever the Lord sends after you, I can’t imagine it’ll be as bad,” the son said.

“I’ve got someone who I can’t leave behind,” I said.  “Conquest shackled her, and… yeah.”

“How attached are you to her?” the son asked me.  “Do you love her?”

That was a good question.  Did I love Rose?  Was it borderline narcissism if I did?  Familial love?

“I don’t have a lot of experience with love,” I said.  “There are people I think I love, who I owe for what they’ve done on my behalf, the support they’ve given me, and maybe she fits in that same category, kind of, but…”

I trailed off.  I couldn’t put words to the thoughts.

“If you have to think about it, maybe it’s best to just walk away,” the son said.

“Can’t,” I said.

“You swore an oath?” Shotgun asked.

It hadn’t even crossed my mind.  But it was an easy answer to give.  “Yeah, well, I made promises to her that I can’t fulfill unless she’s free.”

“Fair.  We all do stupid things from time to time,” Shotgun said.  “What do you need?”

“Chain,” I said.

“How much chain?”

“How much chain do I want to bring, or how much chain do I need for this situation?” I asked.  “Two different things.”

“There you go again, with your distinctions.”

“I want miles of chain,” I said.  “But I can probably only bring a few loops, before it slows me down too much.”

“Twenty feet?”

“Should work,” I said.

Shotgun glanced at his fat friend by the window.

“We have more than twenty feet there,” the guy said.

“Use the bolt cutters, trim it down to size.  But leave the lock connected to the end.”

“Sure,” the guy said.  He heaved himself out of the chair.  His gait was funny, not quite a limp so much as stumping.

I realized he had only half a foot.

Shotgun looked at his son.  “Go find the bolt cutters and help out.”

His son left.  No injuries there.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You don’t seem like a bad sort, whatever you’re doing with the demons.”

“Like I said, it’s not by choice.  I inherited the title, entirely against my will, and the Lord of Toronto wants to use me for access to my family’s reputation and power.”

“Then, given the chance, you’re not going to touch the things?”

“I can’t promise that,” I said.

“Oh?”

“I read some propaganda, just yesterday.  Justifying what diabolists do.  It wasn’t… completely wrong.”

“I’m not sure I want to know.”

“You have to ask, if the diabolists don’t bind the demons, who will?” I asked.

“The powers that be band together to deal with them.”

“Do they?  Look at what’s happening here.  Three minor threats, too much trouble to deal with.  They get ignored until they can’t be ignored.  Then what happens?  Yeah, maybe the local powers do gather together.  And all of them suffer like your Knights did?  Lots of damage?  Powerful figures brought low or infected with taint?”

“What’s the alternative?”

“I’m not sure it is an alternative, but maybe people like me and my grandmother deal with them.  Shouldering the cost ourselves.  Dealing with the karmic burden, the more abstract costs, too.”

“So nobody else has to?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I don’t know how much of it was legit or not.  Maybe it means taking on a burden that sinks us, and we inevitably take other people down with us. That it’s too messy for anything else to be possible.”

“If that’s true,” the woman who now sat alone by the window spoke, “Then I worry about us being involved.”

“I wouldn’t blame you.  But I don’t know.  Maybe it’s possible to shoulder the cost and live an otherwise good life that makes up for it, and leave the world better in the end… if our children don’t get greedy and try to use it or take on more debt for short term gains, leaving certain grandchildren with catastrophic amounts of debt.”

“You’re talking about your family, I take it?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Or maybe it’s all just a lie, and there’s no way out from under this.”

“What if that’s true?” Shotgun asked me.  “Maybe we should keep our distance.”

“That seems to be the safe bet everyone else is making,” I told him.  “I wouldn’t blame you much.”

“Much?”

“You’d still be retreating at a time I think the locals really need to be mustering their forces.  Conquest is fucking dangerous.  I’d blame you for ignoring that.”

Shotgun didn’t respond.

I polished off the sandwich and coke.  “Can?”

Shotgun pointed.

I dropped both wrapper and coke bottle in the can.

“What do you know about shamanism?” Shotgun asked me.

“I know… maybe three symbols, off the top of my head.  Dealing with the smallest spirits.”

“I’m going to show you two more.  One for quiet, for the chain.”

“Quiet is good,” I said.  “And the other one?”

He showed me the shotgun.  The butt-end of the weapon had a symbol inscribed in the wood, so it sprawled all over the wooden surface, curving around to the other side.  I turned to look, but my view was obscured as he pushed it closer to me.  Against my chest, into my hands.

He didn’t let go of the weapon, though, holding it with one hand.

“I thought you said a weapon was a bad idea,” I said.

“It’s a bad plan.  As contingencies go, it’s something.  Consider it a loaner, not a keeper.  You don’t use this on my family, and you don’t use it in any way that leads our local Lord to think we’re against him.”

I could have argued, pressed for better terms, quibbled over intent to hit his family, to cover for the slim circumstance where I accidentally clipped one.

Not worth it.

“I swear I’ll do my best to get it back to you,” I said.  “I swear I won’t use it in a way that harms your family or informs the Lord where your allegiances lie.”

He nodded, letting go.

“That symbol is one for wind.”

“Wind?”

He shrugged.  “Mess with other elemental forces, and you risk disrupting the mechanism.  Weapon is maybe a little lighter, pushes a little harder.”

I nodded.

The other two returned with the chain.  They laid it out on the counter.

Shotgun grabbed the lock, turning it over so the side opposite the dial faced us.

“Your blood will work best,” he said.  He began sketching out the symbol.

My blood.  I was leery, but I had only so much of the glamour to spare after I’d touched up my injuries.

A noisy chain could lead to far more blood being spilled.

I pricked my finger and began drawing out the mark he indicated.

“You gave me your gun,” I said, while carefully copying it.

“Yeah.”

“Don’t suppose you’ll give me your name?”

“Nick,” he told me.

“Thank you, Nick.”

“That thing in the factory fucked us up so bad we can never even fathom what it did to us,” he said, his voice low.  I could see him glancing over at his son, at the other end of the room, as if verifying the guy was out of earshot.  “I think we had actual lives before.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“If you want to stop it?  Or something like it?  I’m not getting in your way.”

“Right on.”

The truck pulled to a stop.

I shifted the chain’s position at my shoulder.  Coils looped over one shoulder and across the body, held close by my jacket.  It barely made a noise as I adjusted it.

Hatchet at one hip, flare gun at the other, shotgun at my back, strap cross-wise with the chain.  I had a box knife in one pocket, pens and twine in the other.  Nails and other construction stuff in one cargo pocket, a small paint jar with far too little glamour inside in the other.

I was painted in the glamour-ink, but I’d had only so much to spare, not nearly enough for full coverage.  I’d gone for a hodgepodge job on skin and clothing both, instead.  Streaks, that I might match the colors of it to the background.

“I’d drop you further in, but…” the fat man, Teddy, trailed off.  He had an explanation, he just didn’t want to give it.

He was scared.

So was I, frankly.

“Wish me luck,” I said.

“Good luck.”

I made my exit.

Ghosts were already emerging from the trees.  Some ethereal, some so real I had to look twice to see where they weren’t quite real.  Feet a little hard to make out, or faces a touch too contorted.  All bore ghastly wounds where the goblin had bitten them.

Some veered my way.  I backed away at the same time the car pulled a ‘u’ turn, and the ghosts chose to follow after the car rather than me.

That wouldn’t remain the case.

I’d inscribed my boots with quieting runes, and the crunching of snow and branches were muted.  More blood spent.  I could have used glamour, but I valued the versatility the small tin offered me over the cost that the blood payment involved.  Being a little bit more me wouldn’t keep me alive in a pinch.  Being able to change my voice or features could.

Overhanging pine branches had caught the snow, meaning it wasn’t so deep that I was sinking in knee-deep, as I’d feared.  With the quiet the runes afforded, I could move reasonably quickly.  Not running, but not walking either.  I had to conserve strength.  This was a hike, a marathon, and chances were good that I’d need to run at some point.

A glance behind me indicated that a ghost from that initial pack had followed me.  A man, missing an arm, a mess of gore around his knees, floating as much as he staggered.  He didn’t care too much about the intervening obstacles.  Slow, steady progress.

I sped up a fraction.

Another being a distance away.  Something bigger and Other.  Huffing, panting in what sounded like quiet agony.  I couldn’t make it out beyond the intervening branches and the shadows that the overhanging needles and snow afforded.

It didn’t notice me, and my steady forward progress left it behind soon enough.

In a slow moment where I needed to find a way past a fence of crossing branches, the pursuing ghost drew a little closer to me.

I could hear him speaking.  “It hurts.  Why does it hurt so much?  The car…”

I scanned the area.  I had a choice of either pushing through the branches in front of me or going around.  Pushing through the branches meant noise.  Going around meant looping closer to the pursuing ghost.

“I’m… my arm wasn’t crushed.  What happened to my arm, Day?  Day?”

I circled around.  Couldn’t waste time debating, or I’d only corner myself.

He grew more agitated as the distance between us closed.

“Day!  It’s- the car hit your side, Day!  It’s supposed to be your arm!”

We were no more than fifteen feet apart.  I rounded the thicket of trees and started to make more distance between us.

Your arm, Day!”

With the surge of anger, the irrationality, I could feel the distance between us closing faster.  He was running, or whatever the equivalent was when one floated.

I picked up my own pace.  Get far enough away, and he’d calm down.  He was only reacting to proximity.

“Your arm, my legs!”

His legs.  The idea and the words carried a certain power with them.  Pain.

Incapacitation.

Someone might as well have hit me across the knees with a baseball bat.

I collapsed.

“Your arm, my legs!  You don’t get to do this to me, Day!  You never played fair!”

Talking more as he drew ever closer.

I crawled, fighting past the pain.

It’s an illusion.  Pretend.

Nice words, but it was hard to convince my body.

I hauled myself forward.  My eyes fell on a tree with low branches.

I wasn’t silent as I ascended, hauling myself up with arm strength more than my legs.  It didn’t help that the ghost was still screaming.

Something reacted to the noise.

When I did get high enough to tentatively try using my feet to climb, I found I moved quieter.  Climbing, seizing higher branches, climbing the tree.

Cornering myself already.

I was scarcely ten feet above the ground as I brought my legs up out of reach.

The ghost approached, stopping right beneath me.

Day!  Fuck you, Day!

The other thing approached.  Big, shadowy, lumbering.  It left a trail of blood in its wake, a wound that never stopped bleeding.

Fuck.

One great hand settled on the trunk of the tree, not two feet from my foot.

It was blind, face savaged.  Such was the wound.

And it wasn’t moving.  Fuck.

He knows.  He’s coming.

A whisper.

I looked, and I saw a ghost perched in the branches.  A little boy with a hooded coat.

No blood, no bleeding.

“Who knows?” I whispered back.

“The wolf-thing.  The worst of them.  He knows.  Run.  Have to run if I’m going to get home.  Keep running, keep hiding, and I’ll be able to go home.”

With that, he leaped down.  Both ghost and lumbering Other turned, but both were too slow.

He disappeared, like the wind.

Little fucker.

I was stuck where I was.

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200 thoughts on “Collateral 4.10

      1. That’s Written As Intended, pretty sure, mainly because Blake’s avoiding saying Conquest’s name to avoid tugging on the connection.

    1. well dressed
      more commonly well-dressed

      well being
      more commonly well-being or wellbeing

      new year
      New Year if it refers to January 1, otherwise OK

      Summer
      summer

      “Day! Fuck you, Day!“
      “He knows. He’s coming.“
      Two opening quotes rather than an opening and a closing

      “If that’s true,” the woman who now sat alone by the window spoke, “Then

      Maybe it’s possible [continues]
      extra line, possible missing text

      I was in the middle of
      truncated sentence

        1. No, that’s right; “the powers that be” is a common expression that refers to local or regional authority, supernatural or Otherwise.

    2. “That would have been my first guess and one of the few educated guesses I could make, and it was wrong.”

      I’m confused here. The circles worked, or at least there’s no reason to think they failed. So why does Blake say they’re wrong?

      1. Either Blake’s failing to infer something, or Nick is implying that the circles didn’t work, since people were eaten, and the only reason he remembers them being used is because the Hyena didn’t have to go so far as consuming them.

        1. I think you mean the abstract demon. The Knights of the Basement have heard of the Hyena, but they don’t seem to remember facing it.

    3. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t at least one good book on every major subject”

      Is there an extra negative there, if what you mean is “it is likely there is at least one good book per subject”?

    4. Typos:
      – ‘level headed’ -> ‘levelheaded’
      – “Landscape matters lot when you’re talking battle” -> ‘matters lots’ or ‘matters a lot’

      1. “Nails and other construction stuff in one cargo pocket, a small paint jar with far too little glamour inside in the other.”

        Cargo appears to be in italics.

      1. Also, they only seem somewhat nice due to their current situation. If Blake somehow binds the demon and got it to undo all the damage it did to the Knights, their true personalities may be a lot different & given how the Universe hates Blake, they may turn on Blake for simply witnessing them at their weakest.

    1. Hmm, I think you’re confusing “most of the group don’t want to die too much, and some might think you’re okay” with “nice”. Given what Blake has seen so far, I can see where the confusion came from. The guy pulled a shotgun on him, said he felt like he still wanted to shoot him, and the rest of the group glared at him for a while. They eventually calmed down and even gave him some help, so I could see “reasonably cooperative” or “not spiteful bastards”, but they’re not exactly “friendly” or “nice”, the way I see it.

      1. I think they’re the “nicest” people we’ve seen so far, given that Blake can actually reason with them and they’re cooperating, rather than them being ornery, confrontational, conniving, or outright violent.. That we’re aware of, yet, anyway, though I do think it’s high time Blake found some friendlies at this point.

        What you have to realize in this universe, is that having a shotgun pulled in you is nothing personal. 😀

        1. True, but “nicest” or “friendliest” and “nice or “friendly” are different. I think having a shotgun pulled on you is personal, it’s just everyone has something against the Thorburn family. Might be the whole “can bring down hellfire and brimstone” thing.

      2. I can understand someone being initially scared and threatened in this universe given the many horrific threats, such as connection eating demons, insane incarnations of conquest, terrible elves.

        But they were actively friendly, helpful, and reasonable. When he explained things they were very cooperative, to the point of giving him weapons and magic. That counts as friendly in my books. It’s the sort of thing I really enjoy in this sort of story- seeing practitioners work together to deal with horrific threats that shouldn’t exist. Seeing plans and impulses succeed and fail.

  1. The boy – he hasn’t gotten caught by the Hyena yet! Somehow, he found a place to hide, somewhere the goblin couldn’t get at him, and died there!

    1. Based on the short description, he may just be too fast. However, he would also have to be always awake and aware if he keeps getting away – speed doesn’t help if you are caught off guard. Nice to know there is a possible answer, though, even if it is far from obvious.

      1. In order to die without marks, you generally need to go unconscious first, or into shock. Both leave ample time for a carrion-feeder like the Hyena to close the distance and start to tear. Ergo, it needed to be warded away from the boy somehow, and assuming he was a non-practitioner victim, it probably didn’t involve a magic circle of some description.

        Judging from where the boy started talking to Blake, it’s probably in the trees somewhere. That plus “quadruped” suggests the Hyena has an inability to climb. Meaning Blake can stave it off by getting in a tree.

        However, a) finding a b) non-Other tree that c) can be climbed easily will probably be a tall order, not to mention, of course, that d) his legs are racked by pain right now.

  2. “I think we had actual lives before.”

    This is legitimately terrifying. Not jump scare terrifying, existential dread terrifying.

    This fucker ate a family so that people would remember when the daughter fell from reality, OUT OF SPITE. Of all the things for Blake to deal with, an existential eraser is probably among the worst.

    1. Might not have been spite. The way I read it, the girl’s family were part of the group of practitioners and they all got erased. Then there was nothing significant left to anchor her to the world. Briar girl? Or someone we haven’t met?

      1. Oh, that’s possible. I just noticed that Maggie owes Fell’s Brother a debt, and that the Knights might have been major players, before, which might be part of how Meath got so close to unseating Conquest. I like their backstory, though. They remind me a bit of the Travelers. I guess I’m just a sucker for well written if melodramatic tragedies. Especially in the background.

    2. Completely agree about this being crazy terrifying. Being completely erased sounds worse than death, and being one of only a few survivors, not even able to remember who is missing or what you were before they were missing… yeah, that’s like a nightmare.

      I disagree with the spite bit though, since I think it was just incidental that she survived and people sorta remembered her. The abstract demon doesn’t sound like something that really goes in for the whole ‘spite’ thing, unlike say a goblin that eats part of everything it comes across.

  3. Wow. The abstract demon is really fucked up. It’s definitely the “more problematic” of the three. How could the local powers not do anything about that shit?

      1. Maybe they just don’t care. Some people just keep walking by if they see someone getting mugged. A person might have a mentality to say “they should have protected themselves better”, “I’m not sticking my neck out to get shot”, or “I don’t know them and since its no one I care about, to hell with them.” People can be quirky.

        1. Maybe whenever something happened that [i]should[/i] have made them care enough to act, they still didn’t care because they couldn’t remember the victim. Maybe there was a whole group of powerful practitioners that heroically announced they would deal with it, and then failed. Maybe that happened several times and the last time was a week ago.

          1. Wow… If that’s the case, then the world of Pact in general is probably waaaaay more fucked than the world of Worm. I’m even surprised civilisation survived this longs when demons have been around since the dawn of time, considering that the Endbringers in Worm were less than 20 years old total.

        2. There’s a difference between getting in the middle of a crime going down and not caring. I’m not a fighter, I fail to see how me getting in the middle of a mugging could result in just about anything good, but I would get out my phone and call the police right away; as a citizen it’s my duty to alert the authorities, but that’s as far as I even should go. The ones who are trained and geared for it do their jobs to stop it, the untrained and unprepared do not.

          1. The authorities,in this case conquest,barely give a shit though,And as for the rest of the council,the knights did give a shit…they got devastated.

  4. I get the creeping feeling that he’s underestimating the cost of using blood for that stuff… Also, there’s definitely something up with that kid ghost thing. It showed up earlier and seemed odd to me, but now I’m sure.

    Dunno if it’s been caught already, but there’s one point where the sentence “I was in the middle” or something like that just sort of ends, with the rest of the paragraph missing.

    1. Even after the scare he had where Rose mentioned he’d gotten paler, just after he won the glamour? Maybe. As for the kid ghost, I think he escaped somehow. He obviously didn’t get out of the Hyena’s forest, but somehow he found a spot where the Hyena lost his scent or couldn’t follow, and died there. Possibly climbing a tree, or hiding in a river.

      And the dangling sentence was the first thing caught by the typo thread.

  5. So Blake may very well truly be going down the Diabolist path. I look forward to seeing his journey to be coming a master Diabolist.

    Does Blake have transparency streaks along his body and face now? If so, that’s awesome.

    I wonder what Blake’s plan is? Why a chain? Will he pull a Conquest and connect The Hyena to himself?

    I liked getting an opportunity to see plain old “dabblers” instead of powerful or forced practitioners with agendas. The Gathered Pages interludes implied that there were these type of practitioners, but actually seeing some adds a bit to the world of the Pactverse IMO.

    1. Huh, so Blake has decided be a Diabolist, but to use it to try and do good. And the universe will probably hate him for it. Because Blake isn’t the Daibolist it wants. He’s the Diabolist it needs.

      As for the chain… Well what else would you use to restrain a large animal? Blake can’t get a trap as easily.

      1. Now he just needs to elementaly charge the chain. Good thing he just learned some more elemental symbols, right?

        1. Too bad he doesn’t know one for water, huh? Or is the running water thing just one instance of a more general weakness to the elements? That doesn’t make sense to me though, since I’m pretty sure that goblins are made of the raw things of the world…

          1. Running water is one of the most basic forms of elemental power. Magically charged metal is what goblins have to pay power to cross. So when you take a bunch of metal pipes and run water through them, you charge them with a little bit of power. Which makes the goblins have to pay a little power every time they cross a plumbing pipe.

        1. No problem. I just had a thought, what would you bet on Rose’s plan involving Blake taking the last problem he deals with as a familiar for facing down Conquest? I think it would make sense to acquire more power before such a showdown, and Blake has no viable power sources to imbue an implement or a demesnes with.

    2. He may go down it in the future, maybe. He was just not willing to forever swear off potential weapons or tools, with perhaps part of the reason being because diabolists may serve some sort of public function. It just seems much more…up in the air…than you seem to be stating.

      I…guess that’s what it could be. Transparency streaks do make sense, and fit. I got the impression of camo, but yours really makes more sense.

    1. They’ve had their connections eaten and are currently only different from the Others surrounding the Hyena in that they are still Meatbags.

  6. A thought occurred to me.

    Isn’t it about time that Blake experiences a power boost. He used sarcasm to lie almost immediately before Rose called the lawyers for the first time. It was said that Blake would lose some of his power for about a week. He has been operating in a weakened state since then.

    According to my calculations, that should have been about 5 days ago. Perhaps the power that he is due will be just what he needs to get out of the Conquest situation alive.

    Also, Rose has been resting for the first time since her creation nearly 2 weeks ago. Will she be recharged when she wakes up. If so, that’s another bit of power for the Thorburn heir(ess).

    1. I assumed that the power would sort of trickle back to him over time, kind of like how his connection to Ornias is fading over time.

      As for Rose waking up, I actually got an answer that I rather like for Pauz’s question: “Why does someone go into a coma?” To protect their mind.
      Basically, going into a coma is a way of keeping the brain from dying completely by mostly shutting everything non-essential down, usually protecting it from damage that it has already sustained. In real-life cases, the mind can sometimes repair itself while the person is in a coma, but I want to advance a crazy theory:

      Rose went into a coma partly to protect her mind as her “body” changes… possibly moving into Blake’s body, or into an incarnation that has the parts of Blake’s “essence” she’s drained from him (which is another of my theories I espouse and expounded upon earlier). It’s a crazy idea since it has little to no evidence, but it fits with Pauz really wanting to see Blake’s face when “he realizes”, since I’d imagine the realization would horrify him. It also fits with my theory of Rose being 1) the true heir 2) who is permanently draining Blake’s essence 3) so she can gain a real presence in the world rather than being a vestige 4) and possibly get a real body.

        1. I think that there was foreshadowing that was hidden by that. Blake certainly seemed to make the conclusion that this was what Pauz was talking about, but they’d just been talking about Rose.. It seems ridiculous and like a huge non-sequitur to just randomly say essentially “Haha, you totally don’t get how I’m putting you in a terrible situation.” It flows much better to read it as Pauz foreshadowing something relating to Rose or comas or something.

          1. As it has already been mentioned, that’s also a fabulous way to mislead without lying.

            If that seems like a stretch, you can try to think of it as “I’m done giving you any potentially useful information now, so I’m just going to stand here and smirk at you.”

            1. I suppose, but it still doesn’t seem to fit. Perhaps I just don’t have a good conception of Pauz, though.

  7. Ramping up the danger quickly here. First an Imp with crazed violent animals. Not to terribly dangerous all things considered. Now a forest full of mutilated spooks and creatures and a voracious goblin. After that, a demon that literally eats things out of existence and probably killed off the vast majority of a group of dabbling biker wizards.

    If the scale of conflict in Pact progresses like Worm I can only imagine the unholy horrors we’ll be seeing in the future.

    1. You forgot the Lord of Toronto and his allies. And peering into the far far future, there’s also the sword of Marquis Andras which was mentioned by Pauz, so there’s a Chekhov’s Gun for you right there. Not to mention, of course, the fact that the lawyers are a threat. Heck, they’d be a pretty good boss fight. Judging from Worm, they’re probably… Cauldron-level? -Ish? Somewhere around there?

    2. An imp with animals powers isn’t all that dangerous?

      Gee, just imagine if his power had been stuck at only controlling bugs. What a weak thing that would be then, eh? Yeah, I don’t see any potential for such a character.

      1. To be fair, if I was given a choice to fight Taylor, a goblin who’s violent, even by goblin standards, and seemingly captures ghosts; and a demon who would destroy me so thoroughly that nobody would remember me…I’d choose Taylor.

        1. Any true response I could make would be spoilery for Worm, so I’m just gonna stand here slowly shaking my head.

          1. Now, now, don’t dismiss the choice too easily – you can bargain with Taylor a lot easier than you can anything else Blake’s faced.

          2. I’d take Taylor. Depending on the situation she’d let you off with just being webbed up. The Demons would make sure to do worse to you.

          3. You’re joking, right? The worst Taylor could do is kill me, ignoring the fact that she tries not to kill people generally, unless they’re complete assholes (which I hope I’m not). The other two would mean fates worse than death.

    1. Blake doesn’t want to use the nukes, remember? If he did, he’d have dropped an O-bomb on Jacob’s Bell after getting evicted.

        1. The way Big O is described he is too powerful to be used yet – the effect he would have on the world too great. At the moment Blake is not risking enough to warrant paying that price. If he dies to any of the three entities it is not that big of a deal – sure, he wants to survive (does not want to be a mutilated ghost, does not want to be deleted from reality), but not at the cost of darkening the world for decades or centuries. This is why he is going with the current plot to use the entities against Conquest instead of calling Big O down on him – saying the name would be less likely to fail, but cause so much damage.

          If he does say the name soon, it will be when Conquest reveals that Blake’s plan has failed and he has used the entities to power up and become a greater and more immediate threat to everyone in Toronto.

          1. I mean in a very general sense, Blake is soon going to reach a point when he just won’t care about darkening the world. The current trend of losses. If Blake doesn’t get a small victory soon, then what is making him carry on?

            1. Because he’s surviving. He’s not about winning, he on street mentality about getting to the next day. You don’t worry about tomorrow if you won’t live to see it.

    1. i dont think wildbow liked writing that kind of interludes, but yeah, i would like to see it too, there’s so much we dont know about … most things really, and gathered pages interludes are a good way to give us info dumps without abusing the characters.

    2. A lamb is traditionally a symbol of sacrifice, for one thing. And innocence. Black usually means some darker corruption of the original purpose. Perhaps, based on what he said it talked about, it’s meant to symbolize diabolists as taking the bad karma of binding and dealing with demons onto themselves, only to be hated and killed off by other practitioners before they can clear the karmic debt.

      1. Is Binding demons intrinsically bad karma? I don’t think it is. It might be that dealing with demons necessitates power, which is borrowed from the universe, incurring bad karma.

  8. Hyenas actually hunt for food more than they scavenge, in fact lions steal kills and scavenge more from hyenas than the other way round.

        1. It goes back to way before that. Lions are all nice and magestic looking. And have weaker hearts than most big cats, so they can’t do a prolonged chase, so they have to ambush more. Hyenas are all mangy looking and sound like they are laughing insanly. And the females give birth through their fake penis. Back before night vision cameras, when the sun rose, you’d see the lions eating the kill, while the Hyena’s lurked on the outskirts. Then we found out that the Lion’s were theives.

            1. I’m %78.62 sure that this only applies to spotted (laughing) hyenas.

              Knowing Wildbow and his tendency to write powerful females, spotted hyena would probably be appropriate, as the females are larger and stronger (and bigger pseudo penis) than the males.

    1. I was just thinking he should bind the boy in some way, but I was thinking into a coat to get stealth powers. However, given his apparent failure to hide well enough to evade the Hyena, your idea might be better.

        1. I’m thinking that’s the case – he encountered the Hyena in life, got away from it, but died anyways. Part of his nature as a ghost is hiding and escape, so using him for stealth purposes might not be a bad idea.

    2. You know, Blake is becoming quite a collector! First June, then the ghost he trapped in the bottle, and if he manages to bind the boy too, maybe he could compensate for his lack of firepower through innovative uses of his ghosts for any situation. Kinda like the capes in the Wormverse who invent new techniques even with the most mundane of powers!

      1. The boy may still be the Hyena, playing with Blake and others, and the four-legged Other may still be his victim.

        1. But the Knights specifically said it was a quadruped. And we haven’t seen much that says goblins can shapeshift. I mean, even that one goblin that attacked Maggie’s town stayed in the form of one female-esque shape. She didn’t even hide her nose.

          1. No, the Knight’s think the Hyena’s is a Quadruped. It probably is, but bad information hurts.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if the boy turns out to be an other, and not just a ghost.

  9. Thinking by typing…

    Blake’s general looks fit in with this crowd – worn clothes more for comfort and utility than for style. Maybe that’s why he connected with them a little.

    Gaming the factory demon… the people who survived are more likely to have used the correct defenses, so I don’t understand why Blake thinks the circles will not work.

    The Hyena might be named such because it is female. Female hyenas are bigger and more aggressive than the males.

    And, like other commenters, I appreciate the Knights not being immediately against Blake.

    1. Them, Molly, the Sorcerer of the North End, they’re all cordial to him because they’re either new to the game, been in the same circumstance, can use him, simply keep their worldview broad, or some combination.

      The ones who hate him are those who have seen what ends Diabolist come to, the ones who know and hate his family more than him personally, and the ones that naturally oppose demons. Briar Girl herself really doesn’t care about Blake per se, she wants the land and he happens to be her ticket, and the people in Jacob’s Bell hate his family because they can profit off it and/or the fact that the Duchamps love their emotional-fuckery when it comes to connections.

      In fact, if it were for the fact that he got involved with Conquest, this whole trip to Toronto would have been a vacation from that week of Hell. And that was only because Duchamp got her ex-husband involved.

      1. Why is it that people keep calling Maggie “Molly”? It throws me off every time. I’m just reading along in some post when “wait, what was that about Molly? When did that happen? When did we learn about that? Oh, they’re talking about Maggie, right…”

          1. Weird, they seem very different to me… I guess the hard “g” consonant in “Maggie” seems to fit her harder and more direct personality, whereas “Molly” is easy to say and I got the impression she was a nice and inoffensive person. Maybe kinda sorta.

            I suppose it probably also has to do with the fact that I’ve reread Pact multiple times already to see the chapters from an updated perspective and maybe pick up on more details or foreshadowing, or to check the likelihood of a pet theory.

        1. Maggie
          Molly
          M(vowel)(double-consonant)(ee-sound)
          [Two syllables][first syllable stressed]

          That’s enough on its own, but you can top it off with them both being female friendlies of roughly the same age–and heck, we even learned both of their names in the same chapter. It’s an easy-enough mistake.

          1. Yes, the names are too similar for me to keep them straight without effort. You done effed-up, Wildbow. (I kid, your writing is better than most, whenareyougonnapublishetc)

            And, dangit, another data point for me having had the “hard” and “soft” g’s backwards for decades! My previous data point came from a speech pathologist (whom I was seeing in my professional capacity, not their’s).

        2. It’s a common rule of thumb when writing fiction to avoid names that are easily confused. Two female characters with two-syllable names that begin with “M” and end with the “ee” sound was always going to lead to confusion.

          Unless there’s plot significance to that, I recommend when Pact is re-edited that “Molly” be changed to something more distinct. Without knowing about upcoming characters I would suggest maybe “Zoe” or “Betty” or something…

  10. Yeesh. The Hyena is a mid-tier goblin. Let that sink in a bit, huh? I get that critters lime the “woman” Maggie dealt with before Awakening are presumably high-tier, which indicates that the Hyena, while stupid powerful, may also be, well, stupid. If Blake was the lucky sort, that could be used to his advantage easily.
    But Blake ain’t the lucky sort. I wouldnt be surprised if the Hyena just finished a correspondence course in nuclear engineering.

    1. Some of them are able to pass as human. The imp guy was like a little baby or something, but Barbasol is a bony man. Perhaps we’re dealing with Charmed’s rules here, where more powerful Others appear more human.

        1. It’s True Name is unknown to Granny Rose even with al her skill, apparently cannot/will not speak, predates and cannot be bound by the same method twice. Its also probably also outside of the Infernal hierarchy that the lawyers and the imp belong to or belongs to its State Sec equivalent.

    2. We’ve got one other possible example of a high-tier goblin – the barber. The notes on him mention he could be classified as a goblin or a devil, and he’s a definitive mage killer.

  11. I’m getting a distinct feeling that younger entities and practitioners are less affected by bad karma than older ones. Looking at the people who immediately opposed Blake thus far, most of them seemed to have more ties to older understandings of the concept of morality. My best guess would be that, as people’s way of thinking shifted from a more archaic “eye for an eye” way of thinking to a more open minded one, the new Others and practitioners that were born were consequently affected. Those from older families or magical traditions would therefore, despite their comparably lesser power, find themselves more likely to listen to reason and logic rather than just blind karma and ancestral depts.

    1. I like your thinking, but I believe it is the other way around. That is, old-family practitioners are taught the old karma system and therefore adhere to it more closely. Serious practitioners keep having to deal with things that use the old karma system and therefore adhere to it more closely because otherwise they screw up deals. Non-legacy dabblers don’t get the education or get the crap beat out of them by the karma system regularly and are therefore a little looser about it.

      Still, it would be nice if the damn system could change based on changing thinking.

      That leads me to a strange vision: A new karma system based on the old one like the copyleft and open source licenses are based on the copyright laws. In other words, write a freer system that is technically compliant with the old laws because it uses their own restrictions to enforce more equitable contracts. That might actually work.

      1. Other: And your children will be cursed unto the last generation!

        Practitioner: You can’t do that – I was awakened using the Open General Practitioner License, which doesn’t allow debts beyond those agreed to by the individual.

        Other: Break our agreement and you are forsworn!

        Practitioner: Nope. The Open General Practitioner License is a prior agreement that is entirely based on and enforced by the existing karma laws, so you will be breaking your own agreements if you try to enforce those terms.

        Other: … (explodes in frustration)

  12. Ok, I think I know what we need to kill this thing off. First, we get little dead running hood to his grandmother’s house or something. From there, the wolf thing follows and chomps down on granny. Sorry granny. Then the woodsman busts in, played by Blake, and kills it with some sort of axe-like thing.

  13. And next up for dealing with the abstract devil…go in there thinking of what you’ll see. That’s the abstract part of its power. Not knowing. Nothingness. No expectations. Boom, all of a sudden, you’re attacked by the nothing you were expecting. It has no limits because you imagine it has none.

    Blake should go in there fully expecting to box with a kangaroo, forcing the abstract thing into a boxing match. The next part of this plan involves digging up and reanimating Teddy Roosevelt, then setting up a grand PPV boxing event in Las Vegas: Zombie Teddy versus Devil Kangaroo.

    Now then, for Blake’s little romp in the woods, we should have some mood music!

    youtube.com/watch?v=sG97k6DMNVM

  14. The effects of the eraser demon are more insidious than I thought – you don’t just lose the memories of a person, you lose the effects of those memories. Any confidence or knowledge you might have gained from that person. The more people you know who are eaten, the more diminished you are. Lose enough people and you fall through the cracks. Wow.

    I still think it could make a good familiar choice for Blake provided it’s controllable and its powers are flexible enough. For instance, if it can erase things temporarily but then later restore them you could plot around that. If it can erase selectively you can target who forgets what. If it can do both, you could erase memories for everyone and then restore them to the right people at the right time. For example, if the Knights actually were more than dabblers and Blake could restore their memories of that to power them up but not restore that knowledge to Conquest and his allies then the potential for mischief goes up quite a bit. Selective memory manipulation has a lot of powerful applications in the right hands.

    1. Also, if it can eat connections as well, it’ll be extremely useful against the DuChamps, cutting Laird’s metaphorical left hand.

    2. This sounds like some ginormous wish thinking. Pretty sure such a flexible and useful power is not what Wildbow will go for.

      1. His other main character had a flexible and useful power too, it’s just that she had to figure out how to use it to its maximum potential. Admittedly though what I’ve described is best case scenario. The minimum I think he’d need for it to be a useful power for him would be that he would have to have selective immunity to the memory loss. If there’s no way to restore what is erased, he’d have to be very careful about what he chooses to erase.

        More powerful and flexible applications like the ones I described may still be possible even with that restriction, but like Laird’s time moat around the house the being itself wouldn’t be enough. His time spirit wasn’t enough on its own, but it served as the foundation for the working and he provided additional fuel by using his demesne to convert some of his stocked up good karma into the relevant type of power. That probably works with other types of familiars as well.

      2. Except it’s not. Because unraveling is bound to have consequences. And you don’t know what you’re going to break. You make know that Abby loves her brother Brian, but you don’t know that Brian molested Abby when she was 12 (and that has actively sculpted her personality)

    3. Bind it into the shotgun and shoot oblivion at things!
      Hmm, would be rather handy for hurting something that’s based on belief…

  15. So I think we’ve been introduced to one of the major themes of this story in this chapter. Without getting into spoilers, one of the big themes in Worm was that people just wouldn’t truly work together against the big threats, that they couldn’t put aside their differences and their own petty ambitions. The theme in Pact seems to be about ignoring the problem. Diabolic beings are a threat to everyone, but most practitioners and Others are content to just ward an affected area so normals won’t go in or just ignore the being in question entirely and leave things be until the situation goes Chernobyl and a meltdown happens. They think it’s just not worth the price to deal with the problem right now, even though it’s obvious the price will be much greater if the threat manages to grow to the point where they are forced to deal with it anyways. And so that’s where the diabolists come in. Someone has to take the role of Solomon and proactively deal with things before they get that bad, even if it means shouldering the costs.

    1. So basically it’s all an allegory for international relations and how the world’s governments and corporate entities are dealing with things like global warming and the growing bacterial resistance to all antibiotics existing today(IE they aren’t and when anyone attempts to everybody leaps at the small weakness created by that entity’s small sacrifice to possibly help the future)? I could see how that would weigh on the mind of a guy in the age range of 18-25. I know it weighs on mine.

    2. I like your thinking on the theme – that is certainly a strong possibility.

      Blake/Rose seem like unlikely people to be the modern Solomons, but they cannot ignore the situation because it has been dumped in their lap. They either deal with it or die horribly. Most diabolists who survive seem to focus on their own personal outcomes, but maybe B/R will get greater ambitions (or be forced to by circumstances).

      BTW – The Chernobyl meltdown happened primarily because of poor communication, not neglect of known problems. The full postmortem found several places where proper communication between management and the various work shifts would have stopped the problem. That is neglect of a sort, but it is a little different than the analogy you are trying to make since the actual reactor worked fine during normal circumstances. The government at the time did try to hush it up and ignore it afterward, but again, I don’t think that is the exact analogy you were trying to make.

      1. Solomon was an unlikely person to become Solomon. He did have a bit more going for him, royal blood and David’s deal with whichever Other was playing God at the moment, but still, that’s not exactly the person you’d think of to bind all the things he’s supposed to have bound.

        If he can do it, any practitioner with an otherwise neutral or better karma rating can. They just need to think “What’s wrong with this picture?”, want to change it, figure out a way to make it better, and become diabolists with this future image in mind.

        1. “vcan”and “will/would”are different things,a genius is rare,and I am pretty sure having tools that fit the job and having some luck also played a role.These things always do.

  16. So Blake is starting to think about being a “Good” Diabolist. Not sure how that would work out. He’ll have to walk a fine line to keep from loosing it and just being a Diabolist.

    1. Isn’t that just the usual “Paved with Good Intentions” trap used by Demons to tempt those with Martyr Complex’s?

      1. Well, good intentions are not enough. If all you’ve got are good intentions and you go in unprepared against the diabolic forces, then you’re going to end up dead, enslaved as a demonic lawyer for a few centuries, or worse. When dealing with something dangerous like this, you need to research, plan, prepare, and never underestimate what you’re up against. Unfortunately for Blake his current situation is such that he’s just going to have to improvise.

      2. Isn’t that just the usual “Paved with Good Intentions” trap used by Demons to tempt those with Martyr Complex’s?
        Quite possibly. That’s why Blake would have to tread a fine line, lest he fall into that trap.

      3. Blake doesn’t have a martyr complex… Blake and Rose both said “fuck that” to sacrificing themselves rather than giving up information to Conquest. It’s kind of the opposite, like in Soviet Russia: he doesn’t seek out suffering, suffering seeks out him. Literally, given how karma works.

    2. Remember that the lawyers gave him that book and told him to read it.
      It’s probably incredibly hard to resist using demons for personal power.

    3. Sounds awfully idealistic doesn’t it? You bind demons, and keep the world safe, and take on the cost. A real martyr. A hero. Except everyone hates you for it. And declares themselves your enemy and on and on. And the only reason why you can’t just drop a demon on them is because of the collateral damage. And if the average practitioner is any indication so far, they don’t really care about collateral damage.

      And would it really be so bad to sic a demon on them? I mean, just because you stick your factories in a city doesn’t mean you can’t bomb them. And that’s really what they’re doing living down among all those people while you hide out in your mansion to keep the civies safe from demonic rads. And if your not around even more people are going to get hurt since you can’t keep them safe from demons. So in this extreme situation its okay to use the demons. And so the slide begins.

      And then after a long slide you are helping demons get footholds in fundamental concepts of the world. For Blake that slide was about a week to go from, “DEMONS ARE THE ENEMY!” to firing demons at a fundamental idea for the explicit purpose of corrupting and controlling said fundamental idea.

      1. And using said corruption and control to remove said fundamental idea from his office, which he was already abusing from the getgo. It’s still a slide, sure, but not as big of one as you seem to be implying.

        1. And it happened within a week, and he went as far as take the risk of giving total control to an imp over a piece of real estate, which as he noted is probably a betrayla of humanity.

          It’s what demons do, really. This can come in variations. They can offer a deal which sounds reasonable, then screw up the situation for you, offer another deal and so on until you slipped all the way down the slope and are ready to give up everything. Or they can do the kind of manipulation that Conquest described, be the only thing remotely helpful when your situation is terrible (even if they’re responsible for this situation), so you actually start thinking they’re not that bad, and all those other guys deserve to have demons unleashed on them.

  17. Shotgun: I feel like being an asshole to you, but I have no idea why
    Blake: I’m.. I’m a wildbow protagonist
    Shotgun: DEAR GOD

    I’m deeply enjoying the SCP flavours on the factory demon, I’m looking forward to that chapter.

  18. Blake’s point about “good” Diabolists is actually a good one. I mean, the greatest practitioner in this world’s backstory (that we know of) that actually forced many of the Others to respect certain rules? A Diabolist.

  19. Hah! I knew there was something off about the size of the locations the knights were looking for.

    Something that has been bugging about the Oblivion Demon: How are those urban explorers still around? If it kills people and makes them forget that anyone even got killed they would just walk in again and again. They wouldn’t think: Oblivion Demon, they would think: “Gosh how did we miss this cool factory!”. Plus they are “tight knit” they should have been wiped out wholesale.

    Also, I’m beginning to see some similarities with Fell, and the Oblivion demon. They both make people forget about others. Make it so they can’t even notice them. That was Fell’s threat to Blake. Now we are TOLD that the Oblivion demon destroys people utterly, but really they don’t even remember them.

    Maybe the Oblivion demon isn’t oblivion at all, but isolation. Cut off from everyone else, or maybe everyone but a small group. Isolation even in a city teaming with others. That would make circles horribly ineffective, they help cut you off. It would also explain how that urban explorer group didn’t get wiped out.

    Hell maybe the demon got the people Blake talked too. That’s why they’ve been lessened. Perhaps there are a bunch of shattered groups out there. Or even a mostly intact group the connection to the council.

    1. The Knights gave you the answer to your question – the current group isn’t big enough or ambitious enough to explore things like the factory. So the bigger, more ambitious group was whittled away until the remaining group was unwilling or unable to take on the problem. And since this is a retroactive whittling, i.e. analogous to time travel, as soon as the Knights were never big enough to take on the problem, they never took on the problem.

      That is sort of like Niven’s narrative rule on time travel: any universe that allows event-changing time travel keeps changing until a timeline comes into being where no time travel exists: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niven's_laws

      Still, your alternate idea is interesting and has some suggestions on how to deal with the situation.

      1. “The Knights gave you the answer to your question – the current group isn’t big enough or ambitious enough to explore things like the factory.”
        No. My question was about the Urban Explorers. It takes all of one person to explore a place. Why haven’t they been obliterated? It really only takes one person to wander around in an old building.

        “So the bigger, more ambitious group was whittled away until the remaining group was unwilling or unable to take on the problem. And since this is a retroactive whittling, i.e. analogous to time travel, as soon as the Knights were never big enough to take on the problem, they never took on the problem.”

        Its not retroactive. It rips out memories and such, but it doesn’t change the past. That’s how the girl lost her parents, but continued to exist. At least for a little while. And why they can still remember her. And why they can remember going into the factory.

        1. I missed that you were talking about the urban explorers. I will get back to that in a minute.

          Once the demon erases someone they cease to exist and their apparent effects on history cease to exist. There are clues left to people’s existence, like disconnected Marcie, which is (presumably) why anyone was able to diagnose the problem at all. So it isn’t exactly time travel, but it is very close to it, which is why I said it was analogous.

          Mostly the Knights and other local practitioners have no idea what they lost – except for discontinuities like Marcie, it is very much like going back and making sure someone is never born.

          As far as the urban explorers, a similar answer to the one I gave for the Knights works. In the group there would be people more or less inclined and more or less able to go to that particular factory. The more inclined and able would vanish with little evidence, eventually leaving a group of people who were not interested in that factory, were further away from it than the vanished people, etc.

          Then there is the psychological effect. The loss of others would leave discontinuities, which would be vaguely associated with the factory. Consider how the effects the Knights noticed scared the heck out of them. The non-awakened would probably notice this less, but it should still be enough to leave a sense of doubt or hesitation when the idea of going to the factory came up.

          As an aside, urban exploration can be and often is done alone, but virtually every explorer site out there stresses safety measures and the best one is working with one or more partners.

          All that being said, my standard Wildbow disclaimer applies: my record for predicting his ideas is crap.

          1. I like your idea of them associating the factory with something bad on a subconscious level. It’s also very scary: they somehow feel there’s something “off” with events (or non-events) regarding that factory, but they can’t put their fingers on it…

    2. Nope, oblivion. And the knights lost a lot of people because they didnt know that they were loosing people.
      Only a larger group or better prepared eventually found the demon and it couldn
      t eat (or whatever) them all.

    1. Thanks Ace.

      I meant to remind people on Tuesday, realized I’d forgotten, told myself I’d do it with this last update, and forgot again. Just too tired these days.

      The reminder/call to arms is appreciated.

  20. A supposed abstract demon that isn’t actually bound by constructed-shape circles?

    A flashback to the sparklepires mentioned by the witch hunters occurs to me.

    What if it’s a particularly nasty fae glamoured as an abstract demon–but, could glamour really work hard enough to make someone already real stop existing? Glamouring everything hard enough to paper over their existence until it sticks.

    1. But it needed to convince others that these people didn’t exist,which just doesn’t work.Even the retconning of dynasties the faeries do can only happen because every one involved wants to believe it always was that way,and humans and other Others have no reason to destroy this glamour,especially since it would bring the collective faerie wrath to their head.But even all the faeries cannot convince you and people who care enoughabout you that you do not exist.

  21. I just realized – Nick may have just handed Blake one of the best possible offensive weapons for the Hyena. Goblins are weak against metal infused with elemental power. So as long as the shotgun pellets or slugs are metal, they will be sped up by the element of wind and will probably be a devastating weapon against the Hyena.

    1. Blake doesn’t want to kill the Hyena though, so it may not be a good idea to do that. However, the Hyena has a few goblin subordinates and Blake could certainly use the gun against them.

      1. I think the one one for protection he drew on the door, back when he was running away from the duellist familiar.

        1. Bear in mind that Blake has used and learned a few different ones, but apparently only has 3 committed to memory. He probably has more that he would just need to double check before using.

          The lawyer did teach him unlock, so that may be it.

  22. Comments:
    – The background of the Knights of the Basement is pretty awesome.
    – Blake won’t be able to deal with the oblivion devil without Rose’s help – or at least he shouldn’t be able to. He almost died against the imp, a mote; there’s no way he’ll be able to deal with a real devil already. And apparently other practitioners lack the knowledge to deal with these entities on their own.
    – That said, if Blake somehow manages to bind the devil, he might be able to get back some of the memories it ate (like during the negotiations with the imp), and thereby possibly turn the Knights into capable allies who owe him a lot.
    – And if Blake somehow beats even Conquest, things will be similar with Fell, if he survives.
    – The way diabolists justify their own existence is really interesting. As Blake says, those might just be rationalisations, but still, interesting! People don’t consider themselves evil, after all; from your own perspective, your actions are usually justified.
    – The fact that Shotgun offers to kill Blake in a friendly, casual way may be a hint to the previous identity of what are now the Knights of the Basement. And if so, it’s not pretty…

    Great lines:
    – “You’re the enemy of… not an enemy, but a problem. That fair to say?”“I suppose it is,”“That doesn’t mean you’re trustworthy.”
    – “I’ve got a good eye and a good gut instinct, and one or both are telling me there’s a reason I really wanted to pull the trigger on you, back there.”
    – ““You stopped it?”“For now,” I hedged, “I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring.””
    – ““Can we trust you, Blake? I think that’s the bigger question right now.”“I can’t lie,”“That doesn’t answer my question.””
    – “I’m going to be blunt and honest here,”“And I’m going to hope you don’t all fuck me over too badly, as a result.”
    – “The real reason I’m here is that I’m looking for some allies. Because I’m not sure anyone wants Conquest to finish sending me on errands and start using me for something more serious.”
    – ““What if I shot you?” he offered. “You could stop worrying about being used. You’d be dead.” He said it in such a friendly, casual way. Like he was offering me a ride.”
    – “The way he’d avoided Conquest’s name made me think it was maybe better to not keep saying it. I could call Fell, just by establishing that connection, and maybe I didn’t want Conquest to know I was talking about him.”
    – “Damn it. I couldn’t help but feel a profound disappointment, with a hint of panic. I’d found an in, possible help, and they didn’t have any muscle. I was running out of time, and I didn’t have any meaningful allies. I was actually losing progress in terms of allies, if I counted losing Rose.”
    – ““Is it normal, to be…” I searched for a word. “Low level?” the kid asked. “To work within such a small scope,” I said, a little more diplomatically. “Not sure,”“We only have the locals to compare ourselves to.””
    – ““Sphinx wasn’t a big fan of me,”“Not big on the diabolism thing.”“To be honest, neither are we,”“But you don’t seem to be an immediate problem, and we’re not really types to pick fights.””
    – ““Except when it comes to pulling a shotgun on a complete stranger.”“That’s called being ready when the fight comes to you. Not knowing anything about you… hearing only casual mention of what a diabolist does?”“Fair,””
    – ““I could do with some of that good karma,”“But I don’t think even the Sphinx’s ministrations are about to help me with the massive debt my family’s incurred.””
    – “Word is he was trying to make a play, some time back. […] Baited the Astrologer into falling in lust with something more spirit than person, and she wasn’t happy when that spell was broken.”
    – ““She’s not a fan of the… guy in charge.”“Nope. Her old mentor offered himself up, to be one of those tragic ghosts in the Lord of Toronto’s manor, buying her safety with his afterlife.”
    – “I think she’s eager to stop Conquest, and she’s been looking for a chance for some time. I’m not sure if she can’t or if there’s a reason she won’t, but it is what it is.”
    – “Eye of the Storm isn’t human. And it is a servant of our local Lord. One you’ll need to worry about. Our Lord needs something done, he asks Fell. He needs something destroyed, he gives an order to the Eye.””
    – “Most big cities have at least one bad fire in its past, and in cities that do, you can usually find something like the Eye, a memory of that fire and sacrifice.”
    – “It’s a living reminder that whatever we were given, whatever we took or learned, energy-wise, there’s still a danger there, if we don’t show proper respect.”
    – “You help me, and I’ll give you access to my family’s resources, minus the… troubling books. The books I don’t particularly want to read.”“Meaning we wouldn’t be dabblers,”“We could be…”“A lot of things,””
    – ““But, and I’d have to talk to the other Knights for their opinions, I’m quite comfortable being a dabbler. A group of low-key people who lucked into more mysterious things.” He glanced at his familiar. “Don’t have to stick our noses in too deep, don’t have any pressure. No enemies, not a whole lot to fear, outside of our one big fuckup to date.”
    – ““Then…”“You want less? Not access to a whole library, but maybe a guarantee of a book once in a blue moon?””
    – ““We walked into a bad situation once, thinking we had no choice. It didn’t go well.”“I was aiming to get around to that topic,”“Makes for an awful lot of wondering, you know? Oblivion. Knowing we maybe had friends or family, people we had as friends, people we loved, and they were devoured. Eaten so completely that we can’t even remember them.””
    – ““We can’t remember if we tried something and it didn’t work. Can’t remember what the others tried doing that didn’t work out. We tried circles, I know, but maybe it never got far enough to try eating those.””
    – ““The people around her were eaten. Mother, father, maybe a sibling or two, a friend. There wasn’t enough connecting her to this world, so she just…”“Went,””“Went away,”“To wherever people go when they fall through the cracks in this world.”
    – “Makes you wonder. Were we something different, before? Did we have more dreams? More aspirations? Did we lose important people that were supposed to prop us up, and settle into a different position when we tipped over, without them?”“As in, maybe you weren’t all a bunch of dabblers working within a small scope, before?””
    – ““It eats away at you. Wondering what we had, before it was taken away as thoroughly as something can be taken. We can’t do it again. Can’t go up against something big and lose.”“Can’t take the risk,””
    – ““You’ll need a small army,”“I’m going in alone.”“Then you’re probably going to die. Too many nasty, angry things in those woods, I’d give you low odds even if the Hyena wasn’t there, if you just had to go in and out, dealing with the flora and fauna in there.”“And the Hyena?”“The Hyena caught and mutilated each and every one of them. Think about that.”
    – ““So fighting isn’t really an option.”“It’s an option. It’s just a damn shitty option.””
    – ““You’re just… what, you’re going to sneak in and do what?”“Try to bind the Hyena,”“or die in the process.”“You know what happens when he kills you, right?”“I know,””
    – ““Do you love her?” That was a good question. Did I love Rose? Was it borderline narcissism if I did? Familial love?”
    – ““If you have to think about it, maybe it’s best to just walk away,”“Can’t,”“You swore an oath?” It hadn’t even crossed my mind. But it was an easy answer to give.”
    – ““You don’t seem like a bad sort, whatever you’re doing with the demons.”“Like I said, it’s not by choice. I inherited the title, entirely against my will, and the Lord of Toronto wants to use me for access to my family’s reputation and power.””
    – ““Then, given the chance, you’re not going to touch the things?”“I can’t promise that,”“Oh?”“I read some propaganda, just yesterday. Justifying what diabolists do. It wasn’t… completely wrong.”“I’m not sure I want to know.”“You have to ask, if the diabolists don’t bind the demons, who will?”“The powers that be band together to deal with them.”“Do they?”
    – ““What’s the alternative?”“I’m not sure it is an alternative, but maybe people like me and my grandmother deal with them. Shouldering the cost ourselves. Dealing with the karmic burden, the more abstract costs, too.”“So nobody else has to?”“I don’t know,”“I don’t know how much of it was legit or not. Maybe it means taking on a burden that sinks us, and we inevitably take other people down with us. That it’s too messy for anything else to be possible.””
    – “Maybe it’s possible to shoulder the cost and live an otherwise good life that makes up for it, and leave the world better in the end… if our children don’t get greedy and try to use it or take on more debt for short term gains, leaving certain grandchildren with catastrophic amounts of debt.””
    – “You don’t use this on my family, and you don’t use it in any way that leads our local Lord to think we’re against him.” I could have argued, pressed for better terms, quibbled over intent to hit his family, to cover for the slim circumstance where I accidentally clipped one. Not worth it.”
    – ““You gave me your gun,”“Yeah.”“Don’t suppose you’ll give me your name?”“Nick,”“Thank you, Nick.””
    – ““That thing in the factory fucked us up so bad we can never even fathom what it did to us,”“I think we had actual lives before.”“Yeah,”“If you want to stop it? Or something like it? I’m not getting in your way.”“Right on.””
    – “More blood spent. I could have used glamour, but I valued the versatility the small tin offered me over the cost that the blood payment involved. Being a little bit more me wouldn’t keep me alive in a pinch. Being able to change my voice or features could.” – Such an awesome line…

    1. -What do you think the KotB used to be?
      -I don’t think that erased memories can be retrieved; I’m getting more of a ‘devoured’ vibe from this.
      -Why do you do the ‘great lines’ part? Most of us who are reading the comments have read the chapter already, and so has Wildbow. Also, it kind of detracts from the impact of the individual lines if you clump them all together; It might be better if you chose the top three or so sentences that you liked.

      1. this ^ , someone had to say it, you make good points with your comments, but the “good lines” part feels redundant in its current state.
        i agree with erased memories being irrecoverable, it would diminish the impact too much otherwise.

        1. BTW, sorry if my comments are awkward/don’t make much sense, i’m not a native speaker and kind of read too much and write/speak too little.

          1. your english seems perfectly fine. I’m not nearly as fluent in anything else.
            But if you end posts with “not native speaker, corrections welcome!” I’ll try and help fix grammar mishaps.

        2. Seconded. I don’t know if it’s a drive to include context or something, but when the “great lines” cover almost all of the dialogue in the chapter people do not really want to read them.

  23. I first stumbeled on “Worm” in August, I just finished “Harry Potter and the metod of rationality” by LessWrong, and he recommended your webserial. I read the first 4 arcs, then i had to stop and came back at the start of January.From there it took me 3 weeks to finish it.
    From [Arc 8 on] i could not stop reading, that arc made what was a good foreseeable story with very good characters in an unforseeble story with very good characters and extraordinary( for the most part) action scenes( psyhical and battle of wills). The confruntation [in the Cell arc] was probably the best part of the whole.

    I started “Pact” last week and it gets better and better. I love when battle is waged through dialog and I tink the potential is big given the “I can’t lie” rule(4.7 is my favorit chapter so far).

    I wish you a long and successful carrer in writeing Wildbow. I have only one suggestion: change the background, the screen is so white that it disturbs the eyes( especially at night). “Worm” backgroung had a way to pull you in( ad to that the picture of the city), by constrast “Pact” feels somewhat blank. At least that is my opinion

    P.S. sorry for my english but I am not a native speaker. I can read without much problems, writeing and grammar not so much.

      1. I get no pleasure from belonging to the ranks of the whiners, but the whiteness of Pact has been bothering me as well every time I come here.

        I rather liked the more cream or something toned background you had on Pig’s Pen, would that work for Pact? It’s still white while taking some of the edge off from the brightness.

    1. Uh, you really shouldn’t discuss specific events in Worm like that in the comments for Pact. Most of us have read Worm already, but some probably haven’t.

  24. I’m new here, and would like to say Hello, people! (I have stalked the comments sections for a very long time though) I would like to make these statements: I have read Worm and have been reading Pact, and we need 2 more votes to get #1 on Top Web Fiction! I originally came to read Worm a long time ago, after seeing a reference to it in HPMOR. Keep up the good work, Wildbow!

    Note: Any opinions of me one can attain from this comment do not express my personality, as it is only an introduction for one to attain some background info with my interactions with Wildbow’s work, along with small other details.

    1. Wow! This comment is so warm and cordial (I hope I’m using the correct word. It doesn’t look right in my head for some reason.) that I feel compelled to respond. And so:
      Welcome Doom Platypii (Evilness42). . . Though I hope you realize we’re gonna call you Doomy, or something similarly.

      1. Use Evilness42, I just put in Doom Platypii because I had to for the Google account. I might make a wordpress one to change that, or something. Doom is there because I felt like it, and Platypii is there because I couldn’t put platypus, so this is like platypuses, or platypii, or platypeople. You can get the picture. Anyways, just consider my username Evilness42. And then shorten it based on that.

  25. Wow,usually existential horror is not really scary to me,its more “meh,interesting concept”,Nor is gore unsetling,I usually do not care about it.You have challenged this facts about me many times in your previous novel (though all gore in question was,in part,more that just gore),and,with Imp and abstract demon,you have done that here too (though ,again,imp’s gore is more than just gore).

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