Collateral 4.12

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By and large, asking an American how far away something was tended to get an answer in terms of miles.  The gas station is a quarter mile that way.  Ask a Canadian?  Time.  The highway is a ten minute drive thataway.  Or so the idea went, with exemptions for more civilized areas of the States and less civilized parts of Canada.

When I tried to parse how big the park was, the number of Others present, I thought in terms of time.  Time to get away.  The amount of time that had passed between each encounter with a ghost or some other Other.

I’d passed maybe one spirit every two to five minutes.

Judging by the number of spirits I could sense by way of connection, now, extrapolating?  This park was as big as fuck.  A good hour or two on foot, if I didn’t backtrack to where I’d started out.

The net was drawing closed.  Not a circle, enclosing me, but a general shape that followed the contours of terrain, streams, hills, cliffs and other stuff that might impede travel.

Not that I could extrapolate anything from the patterns I saw.  I wasn’t that smart, for one thing, and there were too many different kinds, following different rules.

Not to mention that the trees were thick enough that I couldn’t make out much twenty feet ahead of me.

I ran, shotgun in hand, branches of holly held to my back by both the coils of chain and my jacket, pricking at my shoulder, neck, and ear.

The first ones to reach me weren’t ghosts, but Faerie.  Mangled, savage Faerie, who had made themselves beautiful, used Glamour to change their shape and conform to ideals of beauty, only to find themselves in the Goblin’s clutches, maimed and somehow trapped in his realm.  Hair grown long, dirty, clothes in tatters, where years of abuse and survival in the woods hadn’t removed them entirely.  Eyes stared at me from behind long greasy hair, the faces and forms I could make out were attractive.

Were it not for the look in their eyes, the fact that they’d been harrowed by years of pain and degradation, the resentment and hate, I might have dismissed them as Hollywood savages.  Actors playing roles.

I turned to take a different route, and one broke away from the group, blocking my path.

I remembered what Fell had said.  This was a bad place to stop moving.

“The tree people,” Evan said, his eyes on the Faerie.

“Yeah?” I asked.  I almost reached out for his hand, then stopped.  I took a hard right, pushing through the branches.

“There weren’t many who bothered to climb the trees and come after me in my treehouse,” he said.

“These guys?”  I glanced back.  Only one chased, now, but she was running.  Faster than I was.  Closing the distance.

“I climbed out onto a branch that wouldn’t hold them.  They tried and fell.  I went out onto another branch…”

He trailed off.

“Evan?”

“Stop trying.  Please.  I just want to sleep.”

There it was.  The cadence that suggested I was talking to the echo, not the consciousness that had somehow remained.

I looked to confirm, but the act of looking meant I ran headlong into a branch.  Not a thick one, but something that could scrape against my face.

The glamour was torn away, where I’d covered up the bites from the vermin.  A light scrape on the cheek was matched by a smattering of gouges and scratches, just as raw and painful as they’d been when I’d covered them up.  One glamour taken away.

Not just that glamour.  The branches scraped against my coat, my pants, and the stripes of glamour I’d painted all over myself were snatched away.  Very easily.  Dangerously so.

Something told me it was by design, not bad luck.

I turned and aimed behind me as I ran, and saw a glimpse of the savage Faerie, one long-nailed hand pressed to the bloodstained strips of cloth that bound her stomach, the other clutching at a branch.  She caught a gossamer strip of something, and the stuff flowed over, across, and into her hand and arm like smoke or water.

Was it imagination that she seemed a fraction faster, a little more Faerie and a little less savage and broken?

I raised the shotgun with one hand and fired back at her.  The blast knocked her clear off her feet.

I turned my attention forward, trusting my ears to catch the sound of body hitting snow.

Instead, I heard the continued sounds of her footsteps behind me.  Not as close, but still there.

I might have wondered if she’d landed on both feet or all fours like a cat, only to resume running, but I didn’t have the luxury.

Two more Faerie were flanking me, running just a matter of feet to my left, shoulder to shoulder with one another.  Both men.

I shifted my shotgun to a two-handed grip and winced as another branch whipped my face, punishing me for not paying enough attention.  A little less glamour, and a taste of blood where my lip had been cut.

I didn’t remember blood in my mouth when I’d been attacked by the imp’s animals.  Was the universe charging me interest?  Making the wounds just a little worse?

The distraction interrupted me from aiming at the pair and hitting both with the shotgun.  A waste of bullets, maybe, but they were too close for comfort, and I didn’t have a wealth of options when it came to shaking them off.

Instead, I reacted a little too slowly as I moved the shotgun.  One hand settled on the barrel, catching it before I could aim it.  He pushed it away with a deceptive ease.

His hand was broken, but not bleeding.  Where index and middle finger had been shattered rather than broken, reduced to spears of splintered fingerbone, he jabbed the hand at my face, aiming to thrust them into my eyes.

I pulled back, still holding the heavier end of the shotgun in both hands, and my forward momentum was interrupted by the thick branches of a large tree.

I was no longer moving.  Not a good thing.

I was cornered with someone pressed up against me, clearly intent on hurting me.

Less good thing.  Worse thing.

I pulled the trigger, fully aware I wasn’t about to hit him, much less anything else.  The savage Faerie barely reacted.

He reached back, then stabbed at me again with the shattered ruins of his hand.

I caught his hand, more out of fear and reflex than anything clever or skilled.  Because putting my hand in front of the stabbing wound was better than leaving my face in the way.  The splinter of bone tore through the webbing between two fingers.  Blood flowed freely down my hand and into my sleeve.

I felt stabs of pain on my injured hand.  Where the blood flow from the cut webbing didn’t obscure it, I could see my hand changing.  Once-covered wounds opening up, the holes appearing in my gloves.  As if the interest I was paying extended to what I wore and carried, indiscriminate.

“Evan,” I managed.

But Evan was backing away.  “I’m lighter than they are.  Perch on a branch.”

I wasted precious seconds fighting with the Faerie, struggling to keep those bone points from reaching my eye sockets, while my mind turned over his statement, tried to figure out the trick.

No trick involved.  In his ghostly little head, he was retreating to the thinnest branches that wouldn’t support the Faerie’s weight.

The other Faerie arrived, stopping a short distance away.  The woman Faerie with the gut wound and a male Faerie with his arms cut up into ribbons.

Others drew a little closer.  Ghosts.  Everything else.  The net closing tighter around me.

“The wolf’s watching me,” Evan said.

Watching us.

“Hope it’s a good… fucking show,” I grunted, pushing against the Faerie’s hand.  It was all I could do to avoid losing it and letting myself drop to the ground.

The fabric of the glove gave way, tearing away.  Turning to rags.  The flesh that was revealed was dirty, stained, riddled with scrapes and wounds.  Only a few were from the animals.  Some was interest, and a lot of it was…

I felt stabbing pains in my fingers.

Saw his fingers changing, in kind.

Lesson learned.  Trying to use glamour was a bad idea, if I was going toe to toe with Faerie.  It was like opposing like, and they were too well versed in glamour and trickery to lose this tug-of-war.

He was transferring the wounds to me, along a medium he was very well versed in.

Blood flowed from the wound, a little thicker now.

Drenching chain and locket.

His eyes moved down to our joined hands.  There was a glimmer of confusion on his face, or curiosity, or something else entirely, as he noticed the thin chain that criss-crossed my hand, the locket that was pinned to the back of it.

Had I been of sound mind, less paralyzed by the sudden contact, I might have been able to use the distraction.  As it was, I fumbled for purchase and failed, my mind filled with steel wool and white noise, putting me on the defensive and keeping me there.

Comhroinn liom,” the woman rasped.

The male Faerie didn’t respond.

Comhroinn le linn,” the other male Faerie echoed.

The pain in my fingers intensified, until I felt like it was reaching a crescendo.  A critical point where it felt like they would explode or be torn away, leaving only slivers of bone.

This wasn’t the pretend sort of pain that ghosts caused, either.

I groaned, and the groan transformed into a scream as the pain built up.

I raised a foot, kicking at his hand, where he gripped the shotgun.  Then, rather stupidly, I swung it at his head like a club.  It moved a little faster than it should have, and wind stirred his hair as the barrel hit his ear.

But he was Faerie, and this wasn’t the sort of thing that was useful.  He caught the barrel with his good hand, his eyes staring into mine.  His ear wasn’t even bleeding.

“Evan,” I said, but it was only a whisper.

“Through the squeeze,” Evan said.

“Need… useful…” I grunted and gasped the words, hating how small my voice sounded. “input.”

The pain built again, faster, harder.

A crack sounded through the area, like a gunshot, and my fingers leaped into the next category of agony.

Lesson learned, I thought, which was ironic, because I could barely think.  How was I supposed to learn when I couldn’t think?

Comhroinn!” the woman shouted, over my scream.

Angry.  The thought barely connected.

She was angry.

Not at me, either.

So I did the second-least intuitive thing I could do, here.  Short of actually letting him stab me in the eyes, I moved my face closer to said stabbing implements, where my hand gripped his.

I could feel his breath on me, feel the weight of his body.  As with the Imp, when I’d stepped outside the rabbit-gut circle, I felt like every iota of movement in his direction came with a corresponding loss of sanity and courage.

But, just as I’d pushed through that with one singular goal, I acted with a goal here.

I kissed the back of my hand, getting a very up-close view of the way his hand was regenerating, piecing itself together with the glamour he was taking, and all of the bits of my hand that he was scraping up along the way.

Then I spat.

Blood from the back of my hand, where it flowed from the stabbed webbing, sprayed onto and over his shoulder, in the direction of the Faerie woman.

She reacted, angry, no longer willing to hold back.  Her face contorted with anger, glamour helping to twist her features a step further.  For a moment, she resembled the sort of faerie that cursed newborns to die from a pricked finger.

She didn’t attack me, though.  She attacked my assailant, blood feeding the connection between them, leading to the natural conclusion.  Jealousy, anger, frustration, a desire to have some of the relief he was finding.

I was free, as they tumbled to the ground.  Flight instincts took over.

I didn’t make it one step.  My flight was interrupted by a minor snag.  Literally.  The branches of holly that stuck out of the back of my jacket caught on the tree branches.  A velcro attachment of hook to hook, in a dozen places.

I tore free with a roar.

Without the Faerie in my face, I was able to take in my surroundings.

A little ghost boy with a hooded jacket.  Two fighting Faerie.  Another Faerie lunging for me, getting pulled into the fight instead.  Trees.  And a whole lot of Others.

They came with a kind of fog, standing behind and between trees, surrounded by the moisture and the rolling snowflakes.  Not zombies, despite the glistening, angry wounds that each sported, the sometimes shambling gaits.  As with the Faerie, I saw resentment here and there, glares, anger, hope.  A mix of emotions, a wariness about the Others they stood next to.

Many heaved and panted for breath, some whimpered or moaned.

It wasn’t so much that they were on the same side, as the fact that I was on the side of the healthy, the unwounded.  That made me something to be torn down, in their twisted perspective.

“Through the squeeze,” Evan said.

“I don’t object,” I said, trying to take in the numbers and find a gap, failing.  “What squeeze?  What are you talking about?”

“Just over there,” he said, very quest.  “Just- just- through the squeeze.”

I had an eerie sensation of someone with a stutter, trying and failing to communicate.

Was he lucid-ish, right now, but forced to communicate through riddles?

He was looking in one direction.

“Over there,” he said.  “Just over there.”

On the other side of the ring of Others.

This wasn’t a situation where I could deliberate.  Standing still was bad.

I charged.

Red rover, red rover.  Send the stupid-ass diabolist over.

I jammed my hand into my pocket as I broke into the all-or-nothing run, intent on getting ammo, and I felt the agony explode in my hand.  I was mid-stride, and very nearly forgot to bring my left foot forward again.  As it was, I stumbled, lost momentum.

Broken finger, at the very least.

I pulled my hand out of my pocket, my index finger bent in a place it wasn’t supposed to bend, a single shot clutched between ring and pinky fingers.

I had a better sense of what I was doing this time around, as I popped the shotgun open and fumbled a shot inside, butt of the weapon jammed under my armpit.

The ghost ran alongside me.  Flickering, keeping pace, showing different images of him standing still as he paused mid-stride to let me keep up, let me forge the way.

Too many big Others in the way, here.  Not as big as the Hyena, not as big as the blind brute I’d run into before.  Still… big enough.

I wasn’t about to be pinned down again.  I fired off to one side, aiming to catch them off guard, then made a sharp change of direction, springing off of one toe.  I swung the shotgun like club at the one I’d hit hardest with the shot.  Not a big one.  A smaller thing, with wood armor or wood skin or something.  A bit more wind power, a bit of an impact.

He stumbled back into others, and I hurried through the gap.

Finding myself face to face with others.  Five feet away, ten feet away, twenty feet away.  Still approaching the source of the Hyena’s cry.

Were they obedient, or had they come to attack the thing that had hurt them so badly?

Both?

“Through the squeeze,” Evan said.

Through the squeeze.  I looked to see him, and he was gone.

Trouble was drawing closer, and I didn’t trust myself to reload.

Scanning the surroundings, I found myself making eye contact with a woman.

Blonde, with one eye that sort of bugged out, the other joining three quarters of her face in being covered by blood-stained bandage.  The bandage bound her tightly enough that I could tell her face wasn’t the normal shape, or she’d had a lower jaw and she didn’t anymore.  The damage to her neck meant her head hung at a cocked angle.

I’d made eye contact, and I couldn’t break it.  I could see the connection, hard, unyielding.

I staggered to the left, blind, and I had to turn my head to keep my eyes fixed on hers.  I had little doubt that if I’d been moving, or driving, the connection would have held fast enough that I might have snapped my neck turning my head as I passed her.

She had to fight the others to get closer to me, while I blindly ran to one side, unable to look where I was going.  I hit branches, trees.

I had only seconds before I got surrounded and swamped by bodies.  The idea terrified me.  Even with everything I’d seen, it rated as one of the worst ways to go.  For me, anyhow.

She wasn’t a ghost.  Something else.  One of the unique sorts that urban legends were based around, like the hook-handed murderer who scratched at car handles or the murderess who appeared in mirrors in dark rooms.  She was simply Other.  A siren call for the eye alone.

I tried to move my hand in the way, to block the eye contact.  My wrist bounced off the connection as if it were something solid, and my various injuries made their displeasure known as the impact rattled each of them.

“Through the squeeze,” Evan said, a little to my left.

I headed his way, stumbling, my feet sinking into a deeper patch of snow, hitting a rock.  I was hoping that some other bastard would get far enough ahead of the eye-woman that they might block the view.

They weren’t being so generous.

“Through the squeeze,” Evan said, again.

I followed the sound of his voice, Marco-Polo style.

My foot moved over, and I hit nothing at all.  Open air.

I fell.  My back hit more solid ground.  I was left with one leg down a hole, arms splayed out, shotgun in one hand, my head wrenched at a dangerous angle as my eyes insisted on holding contact with that woman-Other’s single orb.

If I’d fallen in a different manner… snap?

I swept my good hand forward, through snow, bringing the shotgun with it.  An augmentation to the wind, a push…

The connection was strong enough to push snow out of the way.

But not all of it.

For a brief moment, the link was broken.  I turned my head, looking away.

Only to become aware of how close the rest of the Others were.  Lying on my back, I could see them creeping around my peripheral vision.  Some closer than five feet.

Evan was among them, standing through my leg.

He flickered, looking concerned, then jumped.

Jumping right into my stomach.

Through my stomach.

My ass and left leg weren’t touching solid ground.  I drew my right foot back…

Gravity had its way with me, dragging me into the same hole that the little ghost had slipped into.

I landed on my back, and was momentarily blinded by the snow that had followed me down.  My heart pounded, and my hand throbbed in time with each beat.

Others would be following.  Pain aside, I needed to move.

I flopped over onto my stomach.  There was barely any light, which somehow made it easier to make out my little companion.

It was… not a cave, but a collection of stones and roots that had made a kind of tunnel.  The ground beneath might have eroded away, or it had simply grown like this.

“Through the squeeze,” Evan said.

“You’re a little less lucid,” I said.  “How come?”

“Through the squeeze,” he said.  He passed through me on his way to the tunnel.

I wasted no time in following, crawling after him.  Was it weird that I was less bothered by the fact that he passed through me than the alternative?  Probably.

I crawled on my elbows, shotgun in my right hand, barrel resting in the crook of my other arm, unable to even rise up enough to put weight on my knees.  Every brush against the overhanging roots brought puffs of snow down.

“Squeeze for a, what, an eight year old?” I muttered.  “What’s this to me?”

There was no response.  I was talking to Evan the projection, the echo, the replay.

I stopped as the branches on my back snagged.  I had to crawl backwards a distance, then shift them around so they were pressed between my body and the ground.

I pressed forward again, and I made it about two feet further as the chain caught.  A quick check suggested it wasn’t the chain itself, but the bulge it made where my jacket covered it.  More snow filtered through the overhang as I jerked to a stop.

The space didn’t look like it got any more open from here on out.

I backed up again, tried shifting my coat around, pulling it tight against my body, holding it like that with the shotgun-

I heard a growl behind me.  A very inhuman growl.  It was too cramped a space for me to turn around, to even look behind myself.

No time to waste, I tried again.

I stopped short at the exact same place, for the exact same reason.

Fuck,” I swore, under my breath.

A snarl was followed by rustling, and snow raining down on me yet again, in larger clumps.

Whatever was behind me was strong enough to move the roots and stones, to push past them.

Fuck,” I said again.  Was an understatement like that bad enough to count as a lie?

Had I already wondered that?

What did it say that I even had to ask that last question?

I heard another snarl, felt another lunge shudder through Evan’s ‘squeeze’.  Snow fell down on top of me, making my job harder.  Some even landed in the crook between my face and arms, atop the holly branches I was squishing down with my body.  For a second, between fear, snow, holly and the confined space around my body, I couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t want to die like this,” Evan said.  He was sitting further up the tunnel, hugging his arms to his body, legs propped up.  “Not like this.  Not here.”

“Thank you,” I muttered, “For the commentary.  I’d say it was doing lots for my morale…”

I struggled to make headway, failed.

I huffed out a breath, because the struggles were making me hold my breath to the point I might pass out.  “…But I’m not allowed to be sarcastic anymore.”

I heard whatever it was behind me scrabbling for purchase on stones.  Claws or something scraping.

Another movement of the roots overhead and more snow suggested it was succeeding where I was failing.

I didn’t have many options.  June?  No use.  Too slow, maybe counterintuitive, with the ice thing.  Loading and firing the shotgun?  I could clear the snow out of the tunnel, maybe, but I could also kill myself with ricochet, and I’d have an audience if and when I made it to the other side.

I reached down, squeezing to one side, until I couldn’t breathe, to get my bad hand down past my pelvis, past my pocket.

Cargo pants pocket, reaching in while trying to keep from bumping my broken finger, failing.

A little jar.

I had to move closer to the thing that was behind me in order to get the room.  The contents of the jar were cold as I jammed my three good fingers into it.  I smeared the stuff along the chain, pulled on it until it rotated around my body, smeared more on, squeezing it down flat.

Not enough of a covering to be as meaningful as I maybe hoped.

The thing behind me pushed forward again, and I heard wood splintering and breaking.  Snow rained down, twice as much as before.  I could feel hot, fetid air waft past me.

Not the Hyena.  The Hyena’s breath would smell worse.

Still not a good thing.

I heaved myself forward.  A third attempt at that same snag that kept catching on the chain.

A little bit of metaphorical butter made the difference.  I squeezed through, squeezed through the next bit, which was every bit as bad.

I was holding my breath, because I couldn’t afford to take up any more space.  I forced myself forward, jamming my hand against something hard beneath the stone, and I very nearly gasped.

If I had, I might have expanded enough that I wouldn’t get back through.  I might have lost the scarce forward momentum.

My vision was starting to act up, my head pounding, from the lack of air.

Last leg.  I used my elbows rather than my hands to get leverage on the roots and stones, pistoning myself forward.

To freedom.  An open area.  Snow, trees, and a surprising lack of Others.

They wouldn’t be that far away.  I was glad for the silence effect on boots and chain both as I ran over the snow, joined by my companion.

“Thanks,” I said.

He flickered.

Not the usual flicker, where he jumped to another part of the script, then jumped back.

Flickering as in a flame that was dying or going out.

“No,” I said.  “No way.  Stop.”

He stopped.

“I’m so tired,” he said.  “They won’t let me sleep.  I’m so hungry.  I can’t stop to eat, and the only things I can find are things I know I’m not supposed to have.”

He sounded faint, in both senses of the word.  Or were those two sides of the same sense?

“I just… I need to sleep.”

I knew I was hearing the words he’d spoken before he died.

“A little nap.  To save up energy for when it’s brighter out.”

A nap, to conserve energy?

I thought of Rose.

I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the fact that I’d just crawled through piles of snow, or the fact that I was drenched head to toe in sweat in the dead of winter.

Was Rose out of energy?

No.  It had to be more complicated than that.  Pauz had expressed a kind of glee.

He’d wanted to see my face, when I found out.

Why?

Rose had spent energy to break the mirror and the ice, back when we’d first met.  She’d taken her time recuperating.

Just yesterday, she’d broken the windows.  Same thing, closer together.

She was in a coma of sorts.

Conserving energy.

What was different?

I was asking myself the question, but I knew the answer.  Ergo, the chill.

Me.

I was different.

I was stronger.  I was able to talk to ghosts like Evan.

Why?  What was the dark, sick joke that Pauz would find funny?

He was an imp that subverted the natural order.  He’d affected me.  Instead of me feeding power to Rose…

Rose was feeding power to me.

I could imagine the imp’s laughter, mocking me.  His glee, if he could see me now, deep in the woods, knowing that every second I was operating like this, I was taking from Rose, helpless to do anything about it.

I shivered again.

“Thanks, Evan,” I said.  I looked down at the ghost.  “Good tip.”

“A little nap,” he said.

He was in pure echo mode, now.

Which was a riddle unto itself.

“Come on,” I said.

I led him forward, taking the time to very carefully reload the shotgun without hitting my finger.

He flickered again.

“This way, then” I said.

Every interaction was alerting the monster, the goblin-beast.  But I could live with that.  This was a hunt.

Moving at a right angle to the direction we’d been going didn’t elicit any more flickers until we’d walked for about a minute.

Right.  It was a question of territory, then.

Well, this could be a staging ground, then.  I would have liked to get further away from the other Others, but this would do.

I drew the holly branches from where they were tucked against my chest by jacket an chain, and I tossed them to the ground.

The chain was my other tool.  Still slick with glamour.

“Thing to keep in mind, Evan,” I said, talking to him as I threaded the end of the chain through the loop of the dial lock at the far end, “Is humans have been hunting things bigger than them for a very long time.  We’re built for it.  Most of us have pretty good brains in our heads, we’ve got a natural endurance, and the ability to use tools.  We can hold water, and in a sheer endurance run, we can cover more distance than a deer, a gazelle, or a mammoth.”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever going to come,” he whispered, eyes down on the ground.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” I said, affecting fake cheer.  “I came.  And so long as we keep talking, our guest should come too.”

I jammed a twig through the chain, then checked my handiwork.

“A little nap,” he said.  Hearing it for the Nth time, I wondered if he was trying to convince himself.

“No time for napping,” I said.  “I need you alert.  I know you’re not up to a lot of thinking like this, but I’m relying on you for a hint that he’s coming.”

Hard to climb a tree with one hand, but I did it, just to get to a better vantage point.  I made it up as high as I could, then wound the end of the chain around a thick section of trunk, higher up.

“By the way,” I said.  “Introductions may be in order.  June, meet Evan,” I said.

I drew the hatchet, then buried it in the trunk.  I wound the end of the chain around the handle and blade.

I hopped down more than I climbed down, crossed a short distance, then climbed a nearby tree.

“The wolf,” Evan said.

“Fuck,” I said.  “Excuse my language.  Probably not appropriate around an eight-year old.  How close?”

No response.  But when I looked, Evan didn’t look like he was afraid.  More an observation.

Close-ish, then?

I didn’t say it aloud.  If every word I said reeled the Other in closer, I’d have to control it.

I  used the tip of the shotgun to catch the dangling chain and dragged it over my way until I could hook it with my thumb.  I hooked it around a branch.

Before I climbed down, I ran my hand along the chain I could reach.

ColdConductivityHidden.

I tried to push ideas into it.  To change what it was.

For now, it was simply a very elaborate clothesline, about twelve or fifteen feet above the ground.  A metal clothesline charged with the cold from the hatchet.

I hopped down.

This time, I didn’t interact with Evan.  No use bringing the goblin closer.  Not yet.

I tramped in the snow, stomping.  Following a set path.  Here and there, I glanced at Evan, who was curled up and trying to stay warm.  Replaying a memory.  I suspected it was from that same night he’d failed to stay warm, or he’d been too dehydrated, or something else had happened.

Sorry, little man, I thought.  You didn’t deserve this.

Let’s fuck up that wolf.

I tore the bluish holly leaves from the branches, depositing them into the circle I’d stomped into the snow.  I was careful to layer them so the leaves all touched.  The little red berries were spaced out at even intervals.

I was so engrossed in the task I nearly forgot about the other thing I was supposed to be paying attention to.

Or was it more accurate to say the Other thing?

“The wolf… have to run,” Evan said, more agitated.

It was here.  The circle wasn’t a circle.  It was a ‘c’.

Which was by design, more or less.

I cocked the shotgun, winced in pain at the pain that caused my finger.

Such a little thing, so much pain.

He appeared in the woods, almost as if the shadows were binding together to give him a shape.  One caked in filth and blood, but a shape all the same.

“No, no, have to run,” Evan said.  He turned.

“Evan,” I said, sounding as authoritarian as I could.  “Come to me.”

“Have to run,” he said, but he didn’t move.

“Safety, right?  Think about safety.  The treehouse?  The hedge.  The stream.  I’m a kind of safety for you.  Come here.”

“I-”

“Evan.  Surviving ghost.  I swear to you, I will help you.”

The words had power.

Evan listened.  He came to my side.  I reached out for him, and my hand passed through.  I would have wanted to hold him, to crouch by his side, and protect him, or simply rest my hands on his shoulders.

What did it say, that I was willing to have contact with him?

I saw a leer on the wolf’s face as it paced around the clearing.  Mocking me.

I kept Evan with me, walking around the edge of the circle of holly.  Keeping the opening in mind.

He was a bully.  He taunted.  He’d charged Evan earlier just to see the ghost cower.  He couldn’t speak, so he taunted with actions.

Would he do the same here?

Yes.

But not the way I’d planned, not the way I’d hoped.

He charged, but he did it at an oblique angle, bypassing the clothesline entirely.

Great, filthy paws stopped short of the barrier.

He didn’t step through the opening in the circle either.

Instead, using his paw, he struck at the snow.  Snow and the dirt and grass from the ground below were cast atop one of the branches I’d left by the opening.  Branches with holly still on them, that I could maybe throw across the opening once he’d passed inside.

The other branch wouldn’t cover the whole opening, either.

He wasn’t stupid.

The Other’s toothy grin widened, showing teeth.  It would have seemed cartoonish if… well, if he wasn’t fucking terrifying.

“Stay close, Evan,” I said, as I circled the incomplete ring of holly.  My voice shook a little as I said it.

“I don’t want to be eaten,” he said, and his voice shook a lot more.  A replay of something he’d said to himself, once.

“Neither do I,” I said, without taking my eyes off the Other.

He was faster than Evan and I.  Covered more ground.  I tried to keep the ring of holly between him and us, but it was futile.  If he really wanted, he might have lunged, changed direction and lunged again.  I wasn’t sure I would have been able to move fast enough.

But he didn’t.  One ear twitched every time Evan made a sound.

I reached the point where I’d left the other holly branch.  Not enough to close the circle, if I wanted to hide within.  Which I didn’t.  I bent down to pick it up, not taking my eyes or the shotgun off the goblin.

I didn’t want to let go of the shotgun, or take my finger off the trigger, so I hooked my good fingers into the crooks of the branches and bit.  Tore.

Giving me a mess of holly leaves in my mouth.

“Run!” I screamed, around the leaves in my mouth.

I bolted.

The Hyena chased.  Silent, but I could feel the impact as his great paws hit solid ground.

I cast the branch down between him and myself.  There was blood on it from my wounded hand.  I hoped that counted for something.

It did.  The Hyena dodged, leaped off to one side, then corrected course, closing in on me.

No.  On Evan.  On the ghost of the child that had eluded him.  The ghost who had eluded him.

For one second I couldn’t afford to spare, I took in the scene, tore the holly from my mouth.

“Evan!  Come!”

I screamed the words, as if volume could impart some measure of power, commanding the ghost.

Evan came.

Not fast enough.  Not far enough to get away.

I jammed the bloody holly into the end of the shotgun, aimed, and fired, haphazard.

A distraction, repelling the Hyena for one precious moment.

Evan ran past me, flickered, and disappeared.

The Hyena shook its head, looked at me, and lunged.

Into the chain-clothesline I’d rigged.

The branches holding it taut broke like they were nothing.

There was only slack.

I fired a second time, without holly this time.

The Hyena pounced.

A tiny something snapped.

It was like time stood still, as I lost my balance, and landed on my ass in the snow.  The Hyena loomed over me, forelimbs outstretched, claws ready to tear into me.

Back legs on the ground.

I panted for breath, saw the Hyena there, its legs struggling, futile, in an attempt to touch ground.  It did a short tip-toe dance on the ground, rear limbs only.

The tree swayed, where I’d tied the chain up higher.

As nooses went, it wasn’t a conventional knot.  A simple loop, prevented from drawing closed by a twig jammed in the intersection.  The twig broke when enough force was exerted on it, force the Hyena was definitely capable of bringing to bear.  Simple forward momentum pulled the loop closed around the Hyena’s neck.

A choke-collar of metal charged with glamour, with blood, and power.

He snarled, lunging again.  The tree shook, and snow drifted down on us.

“Fuck you too,” I said.

Still sitting in the snow, I pulled my legs around into a cross-legged position.  “Now, I think, we can have a chat.”

He retreated until he could have all four legs on the ground and growled, a long, low sound.

“This is the point where you’re supposed to call all the spirits and ghosts you have at your command, isn’t it?” I asked.  “When you realize you can’t win on your own, you call them, and you cower like the miserable little fuck you are, hiding until your prey is worn down or dead.  So why don’t you call them?  Do that howl thing again.”

He growled, quieter this time.

“No?” I asked.  “You’re not going to call them, huh?  Could it be that you’re scared?  Are you worried that they might want to take back what you took from them?”

He didn’t make a sound, this time.

“Yeah, fuck you,” I said.  “Look, it’s not even sunset.  How many do you think I could call here before the sun’s down?  How are they going to take it back?  Do they just carve pieces out of you, eye for an eye style?  Or would they actually try to recover what you have in your stomach?  Cut you open like the woodcutter did for little red riding hood?  Sew you back up with stones inside you, and toss you into a river?”

No reply.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.  “Which one do you think I’ll find first?”

Still no reply.  Only a malevolent glare.

I left him behind, watching out for Evan.

Hoping he wasn’t gone forever.

He’d been a help.  I felt like I owed him.

I did owe him.  I wasn’t sure I’d fulfilled that oath I’d made, back there.

I probably had, but-

I heard a crunch.

Realized what it was.

I ran back the way I’d come.  Back towards the Hyena.

I saw him biting the trunk of the tree, splintering the wood.

Fuck, fuck, fuuuuuck.

I dashed past him.

He let go of the trunk, lunged for me instead.

I rolled, he kept going.  I heard a choking sound.

But my focus was only on the branch I’d thrown to the ground.

No sooner did I have it than I was heading back for the Hyena.

When I’d left his reach, he’d turned back to the tree.  Biting again.

I threw the branch, and he recoiled.

As with the circle of holly, I kept the branch between us, drawing closer to it.

I tore off bits of holly and distributed them in a wide circle around the trunk.

Cast off more bits and the remaining berries in his direction, until I was sure he wasn’t about to approach the tree again.

“Fucker,” I said.  “Fuck you, you fucker.”

I was learning all sorts of useful lessons.  Like not leaving a haphazardly-bound Other unattended.

“Now, what do you say?” I asked.  “Should I go find your pets?  Tell them that you’re not in good shape?  Or should I find some holly?  Surround you until you have nowhere to go?  Until you have to sit still while they take you to pieces?”

He growled, very different from before.  Head as low as he could get it.

“Or do I use a bit of power?  I can see the connections radiating from you.  Wouldn’t take much.”

I drew out a line in the snow.  “There’s one.”

I drew out another line.  “There’s another.  There’s a lot of blood on my hands.  I don’t imagine it takes much to bring them running.  They’re probably pissed.”

Another growl, head low.

“The alternative,” I said.  “Is that you agree to be bound.  Which is probably loads better than you deserve.”

He didn’t move or make a sound.

“If I don’t get an agreement of some sort, I’m going to bring the others.  I’ll protect myself and watch.  I’d tell you how that kid you just tried to get?  He was actually pretty awesome.  He in no way deserved this… but you don’t care, do you?  It’s not what you are.”

There was no grin on his face.  He was only a mangy cur, now.  Big, but still a mangy cur.

“Ten,” I said.  “Nine.  Eight.  Seven.  Six.  Five-”

He spoke.  A language I couldn’t understand.  Something guttural, with more sense in the silences than in the utterances.

It was, I suspected, a language so basic that most could understand it.

I submit.

The tree, no longer bent by the weight pulling down on it, rose to its full height, casting the remaining snow into the sky.

And somehow, with just the movement of that one tree, it seemed like the sun was able to reach the area around me, making everything brighter.

A sword hung from a point partway up the tree, the chain looped around blade and handle.  It swung from the movement of the tree, blade ringing each time it banged against trunk and branch.

My entire body protested as I climbed the tree, but I made it up to where I’d tied the chain, collected June, and unbound the chain.

I was careful to bind the sword in chain before I headed for the ground.

The thing was ornate, but in a very odd, unpleasant way.  An ugly face of the Hyena’s head in profile, a ragged claw at the pommel, and the blade itself was uneven, with terrible weight.  I didn’t miss the fact that the grip had spikes sticking out from it, so anyone who held it would gouge their palms and fingers.

A pretty fucking reluctant binding.

I looked to connections, and found the way I needed to go to reach civilization.  Trudging through the snow, shotgun slung over one shoulder, chain-wrapped sword in hand, resting on one shoulder.  Uncomfortable and heavy.

But I wasn’t in a rush.

The forest was peaceful, bright.

Here and there, I saw ghosts flickering out of existence.  Their wounds widening, tearing them into pieces, leaving fragments to drift out of existence.

The remaining Others were already gone.  Finally healing, maybe.  Or something.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, if it was something.

I was nearly to the wood’s edge when I saw him.

“Evan,” I said.

He wasn’t fading.  Wasn’t disappearing.

He was the Hyena’s, but not in the same way the others were.

“The wolf is defeated,” I said.  “He shouldn’t bother you anymore.”

“The wolf leaves,” he said.  He flickered.  He had that tone that ghosts did when they were repeating scenes from the past.  Part of a riddle I hadn’t answered, though I had a pretty good idea now.

“The wolf leaves,” I said.  “Yeah.  I’m taking him away now.”

“The wolf leaves,” Evan said.  “But the wolf will come back.  I have to keep running, until help comes.”

He looked over one shoulder, a flicker of fear on his face, and then bolted.  Running, faster than I could follow.

“Yeah,” I said.  I rattled the sword.  “Fuck you, goblin.”

There was no response

I approached the roadside.

“Nick of the Knights,” I said.  “Because Fell will kill me if I call him like this.  Nick of the Knights.  Nick of the Knights.  Shotgun guy.”

I felt the connection appear.

“Great,” I said.

I sat back and waited.

“You look a little worse for wear,” Fell said.

I didn’t comment.  I only waited.  I ached, I was scabbed over in a dozen places.  People stared when I passed them.  At least I’d had a good container for the sword.  A cylindrical case for holding posters and artwork.

It was fucking heavy, which didn’t help the weight of it.

Conquest’s manse loomed before me.  Not too bad a walk from the subway stop.

“You’re quiet, too,” Fell said.  “Don’t tell me you traded away something like your voice.”

“Was a pretty unilateral deal,” I replied.  “I think I scared him into submission.”

“All with hours to spare,” Fell smirked.  “I thought you’d have another last-minute finish.”

“I hurried this one, because I need time to plan and prepare for the next.  It’s the ugliest one, far as I can figure.”

“Probably.  Come on, then.  Let’s get this over with so you can keep preparing.”

I followed him inside.

There was no illusion of a ground floor when we entered.  Only a vast open space, and a tower.  Lopsided, elaborate, so impossible to ignore that it commanded attention, reminding me of the Other with the eye.  There were decorative features that would have been impossible on another structure.  Gravity would have torn it to pieces.  Spires jutting off like blades in scabbards at a man’s hip, points facing skyward.  A pale white halo surrounded the top floor, reminiscent of a crown.

I did not appreciate the long walk up to the top.  Floor after floor, with screams of the tortured muffled by closed doors, dark, facing scene after scene where Conquest paid homage to himself.

I reached the top, where Conquest waited.  But I supposed he didn’t sleep.  He just was.

He was still in his halfway-form, half man, half monster, flesh stretched, beard, the eyes more whites than anything, wearing clothes that were part skin, part coat, part robe.  He held no animal, but I saw that the rooftop was bordered by a moat, where large silver fish swam in perpetual rings.  The only light was a pale reflection from Conquest himself, and from the halo-crown that surrounded the tower.

There were five points of interest around the tower top, besides Conquest himself.  Rose was one.  Asleep, her back to the wall, with a short chain trailing from her to Conquest’s hand.

I looked, and I saw the connection between us.

Suspicions confirmed.  Something was wrong with the flow of it.  Too much coming my way.  It was twisted, never straight.

There were also three altars, behind and to either side of Conquest.  The book sat on one.  The other two were empty.

“You have one more day,” Conquest said.  “Then we get to business.”

“I understand,” I said.

I drew the sword from the container, then laid it on one altar, chain and all.

“I assume I can’t take Rose with me?” I asked.

“No,” Conquest said.

“With your permission, I would like to leave now,” I said.

“Leave?  To prepare for your next task?”

“No,” I said.  “Yes.  Both.”

“Both,” he said, with a tone that suggested he was pointing out the inconsistency.  The almost-lie.

But all three answers were true.

“There’s something I need to do,” I said.  “With your permission?”

“Granted,” he said. “You’ve done well, servant, being so prompt, bearing scars from service to me.”

I could have argued, but I was too emotionally weary.

And I needed his cooperation.

“Fell,” I said.  “Do you have a phone?”

“You don’t?”

“I’m poor,” I said.  “Please?”

Conquest gestured, and Fell frowned a little.  He stepped forward and handed me the phone.

One search.

Another.  For a map.

I stared at it for a while.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

When all of this comes crashing down.  I hope.

Peaceful.

I luxuriated in the quiet, the isolation.

Time to myself, in a way.

To put thoughts in order, plan, strategize.

I was functioning on a higher level because I was more me.  Because I was borrowing from Rose.

I couldn’t even feel proud of what I was doing, knowing that it wasn’t all my success.  I had to figure out a way to repair the connection, before I took too much.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t do good.  I… I was glad, for what I’d managed to do, clearing out the woods.  Not proud, but glad.

It was as if a deep-seated worry had less of a hold on me.  I could do good.

I would do good.

Snow crunched underfoot with each footstep.  Periodically it squeaked.  I couldn’t make out much, but the moonlight reflected off the snow, and it let me see the essentials.  Ground, tree.

I’d tended to my wounds, and I’d seen the tattoos.  I’d given a lot of blood, and I’d suffered for it.  I was paler.  but the tattoos weren’t more vivid.

Things were starting to make sense.

The pattern of my boots crunching through snow stopped as I came to a halt.

I saw the ghost.  Evan.  Running from something that was no longer chasing him.

“Evan,” I said.  I thought of the internet search.  “Evan Matthieu.  Stop.”

He stopped.

“Can we talk for a bit?” I said.  “I promise I’ll do what I can to keep you safe.”

He looked over his shoulder.  A flicker.

Something of an echo.

“Come on,” I said.  “I know where we need to go.”

He nodded.

I would have held his hand, if I could have.

But I just walked alongside him.

I saw how furtive he was.  There was nothing left in him that could really relax.  It had been easy to miss when we were together, because there had been no reason to relax.  But now that there was peace of sorts in these woods… it stood out.

“Your mom and dad looked for you,” I said.  “It was in the news.”

He looked up at me.

“You were trying to go home?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You said you tried the road, but that didn’t work.  Did you figure out the direction you needed to go, to go home?”

“I have figured it out,” he said.

“Present tense,” I said.

“”I… I almost forgot?  But yeah, I saw an airplane!” he said, with a note of excitement.  “I saw… and I know it’s going to the airport, which means home is… that way!”

He pointed.

“Were you in the treehouse?” I asked.

He frowned, then nodded.

“That makes it easier,” I said.  “You saw the plane, and left the safe area behind.  The treehouse, the hedge, the stream…”

“Uh huh.”

“And you thought you could just find hiding places along the way, right?  You didn’t need the hedge and stream if you knew where you were going.”

“I think, not thought.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Come on, we’ll be able to tell when we’re closer, because you’re a little more you, I think.”

“More me?”

“Yeah.  Come on.”

We walked together.  It wasn’t a fast walk.  I knew the minutes and hours were ticking on.  I knew this was an imperfect science.  Time I should be sleeping, preparing for something that was pretty fucking scary.

But like I’d said, I had something to do.

“Do you remember my name?” I asked.

“Blake?”

“Yeah,” I said.  We’re closer.

Somewhere between his home and the treehouse.

It was an hour before we got far enough.

He flickered.

“I… I need a nap,” he said.  “I’m so tired.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “And… I don’t think you were here.  But we’re close.  Come on.  Let’s look.  Look for good hiding places.”

He nodded.

It didn’t take that long to find, now that we were close.  He started to break up when we reached places he never had, and places where he was too far away, like he had when I’d fought the Hyena.

We wound up by a series of rocks.  I had to crawl to get far enough in.

Evan’s expression was solemn.

I was careful, brushing away the snow.

I touched something that wasn’t earth.  Not snow, not dirt, not wood.

Gently, I dusted off his face with the back of my good hand.  Cold to the touch.

When I looked at Evan, he was crying.

“You found me,” he said.

“Yeah.  I’m sorry it had to be like this.”

He shook his head.  “I- I-“

He stopped, crying openly.  He hiccuped.

I waited, patient.

When he could finally speak again, he did so through more hiccups.  “I wanted someone to find me.  So I could go home.  But I can’t go home, can I?”

“Not like this,” I said, my eyes on the ground.

He took another moment, a brief wail cut short, a whimper.

I saw a flicker in my vision.  But when I looked, there was only darkness.

“It’s your choice, Evan,” I said.  “If you want to move on, go wherever you’re supposed to go, I can try to help.  I don’t think it’ll take much.”

He shook his head.

“Whatever’s supposed to help you on to the afterlife, I think the Hyena scared it off.  It’s why you’re so… whole.”

“I don’t… I can’t.”

“There’s another option,” I said.  “I… I think you’re pretty amazing, lasting as long as you did.  And, I think there’s something to you, that maybe resonates with me.  Being scared, being alone.  I had a long series of bad days, too.  We’re similar, kind of.”

“Yeah?”

“You don’t have to answer right away, but… well, it’s maybe not the best idea, it would mean you’d have to help me in some pretty ugly stuff.  But would you want to be my familiar?”

“What?”

“Like the witch has her black cat, kind of.  You could be alive again.  And I think you’d be you, because you’d take a little bit from me to stay whole.  I’d… I’d like to think I’d take from you too.  Because helping you, like someone once helped me?  It might nourish my soul, my being, if that makes any sense.”

“Not really.”

“Is that a no?  You’re totally allowed to say no.”

“You… you stopped the wolf, didn’t you?”

“The Hyena.  A goblin.  Yes.”

“I don’t know what I could really do.”

“Show me escape routes,” I said.  “Help me move faster.  We’d figure it out.  But I’ve dealt with a lot of ghosts and goblins, and…  it sort of feels right?  To be honest, this thing I have to deal with next?  I could really use help.  But please, don’t feel pressured to say yes.  I would… hate myself forever if you did.”

He nodded slowly.

But he didn’t get a chance to give me an answer.

Lights flickered on, all around me.  Dots.  Beams.

Flashlights.

“Toronto PD!  Slowly raise your hands over your head!”

I looked at the corpse, then at Evan.

Police?

Of fucking course.

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288 thoughts on “Collateral 4.12

    1. thataway
      that away, but probably written as intended

      One glamour taken away.
      One glamour had taken away. (maybe – still don’t quite get the sense of it)

      fingerbone
      more commonly finger bone

      criss-crossed
      crisscrossed

      velcro
      Velcro – brand name

      hiccuped
      hiccupped

      Eyes stared at me from behind long greasy hair, the faces and forms I could make out were attractive.
      Hard to follow. Maybe: … hair, but faces…

      jacket an chain
      jacket and chain

      “”I… I almost forgot
      double opening quotes

    2. I drew the holly branches from where they were tucked against my chest by jacket an chain, and I tossed them to the ground.

      jacket and chain

    3. Possible typo: “Cold. Conductivity. Hidden.” -> This sounds like it wants to be a list of adjectives or nouns exclusively, so ‘Conductive.’ or ‘Secrecy.’ or something might fit better.

    4. “Squeeze for a, what, an eight year old?” I muttered. “What’s this to me?”
      Two articles; one needs to go unless it’s okay because of speech.

  1. Laird getting back at Blake for that last stab at his rep? And I called the whole going to jail bit. Time to see how that all shakes out. My question would be how good is Blake at dealing with

    All in all, Blake did so well taking down the Hyena (a fraction of the damage to himself and the negotiation was a snap vs Pauz, plus chance at a familiar) that he had to get hit some other way.

  2. Looks like Blake got a little too wrapped up in the magical world. This arrest is going to be pesky. I wonder if Laird set it up, or even if he’ll help Blake out of it in exchange for concessions.

    1. Laird is the police chief of a small town and called for a truce after he screwed him over, this is the Toronto PD. Unless Paige did something stupid and drew his attention, this was the work of Karma and/or the High Drunk.

      1. Karma really wants Blake to get really close to the lawyers now and the first thing Blake should know:- None of his attempts at good deeds will go unpunished, he will ALWAYS be the one to end up paying.

        Putting Evan to rest was a good idea, making him a familiar isn’t.

        1. Paige did mention that the police were looking for Blake. Laird could have been have sent word to Toronto that a suspect has fled there. I don’t know how Canadian law enforcement works, but that is an idea.

        2. Well, technically speaking, an autopsy would reveal the kid died from natural causes. Blake can’t be convicted there. Not technically speaking, they’d hold him under suspicion for well over a day that he doesn’t have…

          This might actually be the Astrologer or the Sphix’s doing. They oppose Conquest and Blake’s doing a little too damn good of a job.

          1. The problem isn’t weather he will be found innocent or guilty, the problem is how long he will be police custody, he’s on a deadline remember?

            1. Yep, which is why I said they can hold him. I wonder what Conquest will do to him for failing. Worse, if he made an oath, breaking it could cost him his power.

            2. The oath is “I’ll strive to meet my end of the bargain” IIRC. So yeah, if he’s detained he should be good, but he probably has to make a credible attempt at resisting arrest and so on for the “strive” part to apply, and that’s bad.

              Not to mention pauz fucking with Conquest without Blake there to take advantage of it is something he really doesn’t want to see.

            3. @someguy

              Blake can argue, appeal, and call in favors (haha snrik pfffff theoretically). If Blake is arrested, Blake wins instantly.

              Why? Conquest forced the contract, and he is lord of Toronto. If Blake is under contract to Conquest and fails to meet it because of the police, ergo Conquest does not have control of Toronto. It can even be interpreted as Conquest failing to meet his end if the contract or failing to lead, all of which should nuke his existence.

            4. Erm, if Conquest’s part of the deal wouldn’t have been void if he held onto Blake and Rose personally, why would it be void if the police (which are probably not even considered his proxies) are holding on him?

              I mean, it’s possible that it would have an effect on his reputation (though I doubt it) but beyond that…

      2. Laird is still a police officer, I don’t doubt they’d listen if he gave a tip they were interested in.

        The terms were “until you give [me] an excuse;” that’s vague as hell. Perhaps “I hear that you’ve been binding demons” is enough of an excuse for him.

        Also, don’t forget–we only heard that Laird was calling a truce through an intermediary who can lie, not from Laird himself.

        Not that I necessarily think that it was him (though it does seem plausible). I’m just saying, keep the options open.

        1. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Laird apparently thought that Blake attacking his reputation meant that Blake would not hold back from releasing fire and brimstone on the world (2.07); that’s a pretty freaking huge jump, but the police chief allowed that to be his determinate, so even if the offer was real, I wouldn’t count on just about anything being too small to trigger Laird’s escape clause.

    1. Long time reader, first time poster. LOVED Worm.

      Theory crafting here. I have believed for some time that Rose is Blake’s perfect familiar. It should allow her to leave the mirror and would likely reinforce her so that she will not eventually tear/fade as a visage is bound to do eventually and may actually be Blake’s only way of doing so. Thinking back to familiars provided to the blonde family (name escaping me atm), it strikes me that she may serve a dual purpose, from grandmother Thornburn’s planning, of doing some kind of loophole/rule abuse female heir AND providing her actual heir with a ready-made familiar.

      Getting back to why I am replying to the post I am specifically replying to, perhaps it is not karma, or at least not specifically in this case. Perhaps he can have no familiar EXCEPT Rose. This may be either, admittedly, karma due to his oaths to her or a contingency set up in advance to make sure that he has no familiar except her so that the loophole/rule abuse female heir stays in place.

      And as a side note, I currently think she is the only Other that Blake could picture himself with forever as described by the exerts or where ever it was that said that a familiar is an other that you form a relationship with that can be closer than marriage. the already shared background means the he and she knows one another better than almost any other people can. In any case, this all may have been covered by someone in previous comments. I have skimmed some of it and there does not seem to be a consensus because… Wildbow… no other reasons needed. >.>

        1. To be honest, I’ve been thinking that the marriage should be between Rose and Blake since the subject was brought up. Yeah, considering that they are already bound st the hip, being a familiar would definitely be in Rose’s best interests.

  3. Donation thank-yous:

    Thank you, Gabriel E, Taelor, Oliver, Mako, Stephen S (I definitely recognize your name, thanks again!), Poddubnyy, Chase, Jorge, Michael W (I had a grade-school classmate with your first/last name), Steve A, and Ronja.

    Extra-big thank-yous go out to Yi-Che, Edward Mc (wow!), Paul G, Rasmus (!), Gregory P, and Michael B.

    And thank you, Patreon subscribers.

    You guys are awesome.

    Adding to the total (inc. last month’s patreon total), that’s two bonus chapters (minus tonight’s) & halfway progress to the next.

    1. Hi, I don’t want to sound vain or something, but are you only listing the larger donations? I (Nathanaël F.) donated a bit about 2 weeks ago and I don’t think I saw my name in the comments, which would tend to make me think my donation wasn’t processed. It shows in my bank statement so if Wildbow did not get it that’s annoying.

      i’m probably worried at nothing though.

        1. Oops. Really sorry. I was expecting the donations thank-you on Thursadays only, and I dind’t really participate in the discussion of that chapter, so I must have missed it. My sincerest apologies.

  4. Yeaaah. I wa getting confused when the binding happened and nothing went to hell right away. Oh well.
    Let’s hope Fell is real good at fixing situations.

    1. why should he fix this?
      Really, he has zero reason unless Conquest tells him to. And Conquest has about the same number of reasons to do so.

      Normaly, if you are arrested by the police, you call a lawyer…
      But he is NOT arrested yet. Sure, he looks supicious as hell, next to the corpse of a boy missing since the last fall, but the police has a yet to be quantified amount of info.
      Also, if no other parctitioneer is involved (which is unlikely), and Blake was in a better shape, he could properly destroy/manipulate the connections up to the point the police lets him go for the moment. But hey, someone properly set them on his tail and he is pretty woughed up… big chance getting out of this on his own.
      “Who he’s gonna call? The Lawyers!”

      The real question is, why are they THERE and, as the text suggests, in large numbers.

      Also, I do not know how to feel/think about Blakes idea taking a ghost as a familiar.
      Certainly possible, given that Ghosts are essentially Others (speculation on my part), but their fragile and degrading nature makes them somewhat… unsuitable, I guess?
      All in all, he could make a worse choice, in terms of connection he has with Evan.
      But what shape would he choose, as a familiar (or what form would Blake recommend).

      1. It seems that Evan is a lot more than a typical ghost. The Hyena’s interference with the area led to the inability of his “spirit” to move on and leave behind only the ghostly impression.

        I love the idea of Evan as a familiar. Boy Wonder issues aside, he very quickly filled out as a character, and there is a clear synergy between them.

        Thank you Wildbow. Please don’t forget to give us a few occasional breather moments and maybe just one or two good things, even if it is just so you can tear our hearts out all the more gruesomely in the next chapter. 😉

      2. Blake can also feel a circumstancial resonance between Evan and himself. Resonance being able to collapse bridges and other massive things from an accumulation of small pushes (the sum of which wouldn’t actually damage said massive thing), I’m looking forward to their working together.

      3. Classical case of Blake thinking outside the box. We’ve all been thinking of a familiar as a source of power for Blake. He saw the possibility of a familiar as someone he can empower for other benefits (speed, advice, etc.) .

        Whether that actually pans out in the long term we may or may not see.

  5. Wildbow you scoundrel you. Blake has a real problem with the cops, doesn’t he?
    “No, Officers, this isn’t what it looks like. I was just wandering in the woods when I came across this corpse of a child and began speaking to it.”

    1. He’s a Wildbow character. He’s bound to do stuff that looks really bad for outside observer even though it’s perfectly justifiable.

    2. “I’m a psychic. I found Evan’s ghost, and was trying to give him the ability to move on if he wanted to.”

        1. While standing over the months-dead-of-natural-causes, corpse of a young boy, well hidden deep in a large park, that excuse might actually fly, at least once they verify the cause of death and that Blake has no connections to the kid whatsoever. How the hell else are they gonna explain him finding the body? Unfortunately, if that did happen, I see it making the news, a video like the leprechaun one going viral, and Blake reaping a firecane for breaking The Masquerade.

          1. Thing is, if the police bring Blake in, they might notice that he happens to have had a cousin die under mysterious circumstances, causing him to get quite the inheritence… They might decide to contact the Jacobs Bell police chief… And I’m sure Laird would have interesting things to say… And the longer Blake is tied up being questioned the worse it is for him.

            Is it weird I find the relitively mundane threat of the police more worrysome for Blake than a freaking existance eating demon?

            1. Now strange at all. Blake is a Diabolist. He’s expected to be able to deal with a minor demon. On the other hand, he is a formerly homeless 20 year old. It can be expected that the police are a danger to him.

          2. “How the hell else are they gonna explain him finding the body?”

            Easy. He kidnapped the kid and hid him in the woods, not expecting him to die. It does look very suspicious indeed.

            1. I do accept that as a valid hypothesis that they would come up with, but that happened last fall. Or…this fall? Do we know the date for certain here?

              Regardless, that happened in the fall, and now we know that it is winter. So it’s not like Evan died literally yesterday.

              Obligatory “interruption of important conversation” shout-out.

  6. Goddamn it Wildbow… -_-

    Well, at least hopefully forensic evidence should show he’s been dead for a while, although finding him here is pretty damn fishy under any circumstances, let alone for someone under suspicion for a murder investigation…

    Goddamn it Wildbow… -_-

    This is why we can’t have anything nice…

    1. The real problem is that Blake’s whereabouts during the time of Evan’s death are probably unprovable. And the Toronto PD are going to believe that the only person who could know where the corpse is would be the (presumed) kidnapper.

      So, Blake is in serious trouble. And I don’t think Conquest is going to raise a hand to help.

      1. I wouldn’t be so sure that Conquest won’t help. Being taken into the custody of the Toronto PD is becoming perilously close to them “owning” Blake, and if he were to be convicted… Well that’s certainly bondage to another.

        And Conquest doesn’t like for his toys to be taken away.

        1. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. All things considered, actually, I think you could even say that he is getting off pretty easy here, seeing who the author is. Ever since it was announced that this segment would be the end of the arc, I had sort of been expecting something like this, although I must admit I did not see the mundane law enforcement coming. Better than Pauz sitting on Conquest’s throne or Rose dying, I suppose… oh wait…

          Anyways, how I see it, here is how it could turn out:

          a) He spends a very uncomfortable night in prison, helpless to do anything but wait, before being released in the morning, for lack of evidence.

          b) Same scenario, but he gets released in the morning through Fell’s interference. Conquest likes his toys.

          c) He is in profoundly deep **** and keeps digging deeper. No choice but to call the demonic law firm to the rescue. They are lawyers after all.

          d) Wildbow happens.

          Things to keep in mind:
          He has no real people to call upon to corroborate any alibi. Fell, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist, and Conquest hardly seems like he would be making court appearances. Heck, he doesn’t even know their number. He promised Fell he would see him tomorrow night. Speaking of which, guess which imp is about to get loose? Also, Rose is slowly being drained into him. So yeah… Not good. I don’t think he’ll spend the whole day there however, unless he remains there throughout the whole arc.

            1. Nope, June still exists:
              “My entire body protested as I climbed the tree, but I made it up to where I’d tied the chain, collected June, and unbound the chain.”

              I think the sword is just the goblin.

  7. Lovely. A great chapter. Blake has his second binding victory and Laird may just have just won round 3. I look forward to seeing how Blake gets (doesn’t) out of this one.

    Blake finally has made some headway into the big 3. He has chosen a familiar. Evan may not accept, but progress nevertheless.

    When Blake first made the offer to Evan, I thought that it was a horrible idea, a ghost familiar. As I finished the chapter, I realized how awesome that would be. Blake lives alone in a poorly lit mansion with only his kid sidekick as a companion. Blake is becoming Diabolist Batman! The nickname Evan the Boy Wonder is becoming more and more appropriate.

    Kudos to the guy who predicted the chain collar last chapter. I would go back and double check who you are, but I don’t have the will to do so right now. +82 Pact Points

    1. Evan the Boy Wonder?
      Pencil monkey pencil monkey pencil it please.

      Definite kudos on the noose. I didn’t think it long enough, but chain was well used.

    2. Blake is becoming Diabolist Batman. Which is available as a toy at Target, I believe. And I know what shape Evan is going to take as a familiar.

      A robin.

  8. The fact that he’s been dead for a while will probably do nothing to help: Blake was still living in Toronto and it’s unlikely he has an alibi for the uncertain and probably large period of time during which the kid died.

    On top of that, Blake’s got a shotgun (well, unless he gave it back) that he’s probably not allowed to own, and a hatchet that he’s probably not allowed to carry withotu good reason (assuming laws about weapons in Canada are the same as in most of the civilized (i.e. non-US) world). Also, unless he glamoured himself back since talking to Conquest is going to be pretty scary-looking, which will not help convinving cops he’s not a crazy murderer. He’s going to have a hard time getting himself out of that without having to “talk to his lawyers”.

    1. People aren’t allowed to carry hatchets in the rest of the world? That’s news to me.

      The traumatized kid who saw Blake cut a beast’s throat probably told his parents who called the cops. The police were probably on the lookout for Blake when they found him talking to himself about “ugly stuff” and heavily scratched/injured in front of a missing child’s corpse.

      With the Thorburn bad Karma, Blake probably can’t talk himself out of this situation. This doesn’t look good for Blake. Back to normal I guess.

      1. OK, I’m French and I’ll admit I only know for sure about French law, although I have good reason to think it’s the same elswhere in the EU. How it works in Canada is just a slightly educated guess from me.

        Basically blade/blunt weapons fall into several categories depending on how long they are and whether it is a shapr blade or not. In the more dangerous categories, you’re allowed to own them and to transport them with good reason, but not to carry them on the public way. So you can’t have a hatchet tucked into a holster to be easily accessible, but it’s fine to have it in a bag wrapped in cloth, as long as you can justify why you have it with you (“I’m going to the forest to get some firewood” or “It’s a gift I’m bringing for someone”, or whatever).

        Now basically I’ve only ever been stopped once with a blade that I wasn’t allowed to carry in my bag. I was transporting it wrapped in bubble paper, which is fine, but the problem is I was trying to get back to France from the UK, which is actually not fine (that’s when I learned that import of blade weapons is also severely restricted). Luckily the station security was not fully aware of that law and I was able to get away with paying extra to have it go separately from my luggage (they wouldn’t let me keep it on the Eurostar).

        1. Oh. What if the blade is kept out of sight? As I understand it, June is kept holstered in Blake’s pants.

        2. I think the way it works in a lot of places is that you’re allowed to have dangerous objects on you, as long as it’s apparent that you’re intending to use them as TOOLS rather than weapons. Like, having a hatchet in the trunk of your car is fine. Or having a chainsaw, or an arc welder, or ten fire axes in the trunk of your car. Having a hatchet concealed in a holster in your pants, when being caught by the police next to the dead body of a child? Very much NOT fine. Generally, making an effort to keep an object hidden and easily accessible in your everyday clothes shows that you’re expecting to be forced to used it very suddenly, and there are only so many situations where you really need to get a hatchet in your hand in the next four seconds.

          1. ghostcat after me.
            Ghostcat After Me!

            (They really will stalk people for days, letting you see them… scary business)

    2. I live in Wisconsin USA. I carry a hatchet in\on my tool belt. It may be differ in other U.S. States but I never really had any problems. I am a bit surprised Blake is not doing the same. It is a easy and reasonable way to care the tools.

      1. Blake promised June he would keep her warm. That’s why he carries the hatchet next to his body. A tool belt on the outside of his clothes probably wouldn’t qualify.

  9. Unfortunately, Blake would be lying if he said he didn’t know the boy or what happened to him. Technically Blake was even involved in Evan’s death, post dying, but still involved.

  10. Vindicated! Extenuating circumstance: Evan is not your run-of-the-mill ghost because he was never properly ‘collected’ – apparently even Valkyries (or whatever) avoid the Hyena. Familiarity at last.

  11. OK, maybe karma is a bitch, but this is ridiculous. Only Fell knew what Blake was looking for. The timing is ridiculously bad. Just as Blake gets there (OK, a couple of minutes later, but still) the cops show up? To a place they could never find before, so they had to be guided?

    This makes Fell/Conquest look guilty as hell. Only Fell knew what Blake was looking for, although Blake did ask for the phone in front of Conquest, so probably Conquest knew. Only a practitioner could have directed the cops to the specific place and time and even then, it couldn’t have been easy.

    If that is the case, what is the advantage of throwing Blake in jail? Conquest apparently wants his third toy, with the alters being set up. And Conquest specifically said that Blake had one more day, and then to business, so he was anticipating Blake’s next success.

    So this doesn’t fit anyone – the only group with knowledge apparently don’t have motive, and the groups with motive and ability (Behaims, Duchamps, Jeremy) shouldn’t have the knowledge. What the hell?

      1. Yeah, but Briar doesn’t want to screw him over like this…although, wasn’t she the one who tried getting him hit by a car before?

        The timing is too perfect, I mean he just got into the damn place, even for Karma to be a bitch. My guess is someone who can work with the future or predictions like Maggie mentioned, An Augur, had a hand in this.

    1. The Duchamps can track Blake via connections though, right? Also, we know that Briar Girl (or somebody from Jacob’s Bell) has been spying on Blake since he returned to Toronto. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that one of Blake’s older enemies set this up.

      It could have been Fell though. Remember, Fell doesn’t want Blake or Conquest to succeed. This could be another subtle form of rebellion.

      1. My memory is a bit hazy. Could you point me to where we learn that someone from Jacob’s Bell is spying on Blake?

        1. Collateral 4.3 or 4.4, if I had to guess. Or thereabouts. He sees a pigeon and deduces it’s a Jacob’s Bell resident. Ctrl-F pigeon to look for it.

    2. Behaims and Duchamps make a good bit of sense. Try and win that round three. Of course there are so many ways this could just end terribly. Most notably Blake resorting to the lawyers. Which he will do if it looks like he has to. Hell, Conquest doesn’t let things go. He’s not letting the police steal Blake. Fell can get Blake out in two seconds and destroy any memory of him. If Laird was behind the tip… well now he’s the one who oddly new the location of the body.

      Astrologer, Sphinx or similar: Maybe. They have motive. But I mean really? Its probably the most counter productive thing they could have managed! Now Conquest has the Hyena (the ghost mauler) and Pauz (the rebellion bringer) in his area filled with subjugated ghosts. Congrats you handed the forces of evil a epic win.

      The Lawyers: Force him to call in that chip. Its possible they assumed that Blake would weigh the choices of being bailed out by the lawyers versus handing Conquest over to the demons and pick the former. This way they say “oh sure we’ll get Conquest off your back and slip these charges onto Laird.” instead of later getting called into do something like: “Hey, I want my demesnes to be Yellowstone. Yes all of it. Can I count on you to keep that safe for me?” Or “Hey, I want Ornias as my Familiar, totally loyal and not excessively destructive.”

      The Spanish Inquisition: Okay, it would probably be the Canadian Inquisition. Seriously guys Blake is like Hell’s new hero. You need to step up.

      Karma: Its about time it stepped up and did something.

      1. “Astrologer, Sphinx or similar: Maybe. They have motive. But I mean really? Its probably the most counter productive thing they could have managed! Now Conquest has the Hyena (the ghost mauler) and Pauz (the rebellion bringer) in his area filled with subjugated ghosts. Congrats you handed the forces of evil a epic win.”
        So they are the forces of Lawful Stupid? Sounds about right.
        “My word! Someone is actually doing something to try and help people and stop dangerous others! At cost to himself with no real benifit!”
        “Gasp, this is awful! We have to stop him immediatly!”

        1. To be fair, that’s not what they’re actually observing. What they are seeing is that Blake is a path for Conquest to get access to a bunch of demons, at least, or that Blake has already collected demons and handed them straight to Conquest for his own selfish purposes.

          What, you think avoiding torture isn’t selfish? It’s understandable selfishness, very understandable, but it helps nobody but himself, so it is selfish. (Pay no mind to any future people he might help).

      2. I’d say it’s either Fell or karma or just Fell being used by the universe for karmic purposes. Fell has been trying to stop Blake, and he had access to the phone Blake used to do the searches on.

        I can see a couple ways out of this that don’t involve calling the lawyers. First, he could call Paige and ask her to pay his bail. Second, he could call the Astrologer and hope she shows up to help – he needs to meet her anyways.

    3. Isn’t this all on Park grounds (as in there is a Federal Forest or at least rangers that keep watch around there, I remember them coming to a trail earlier on). The Hyena’s gone and if people are not afraid of the area (unless the wards are still in effect…) then someone might have called the police for a bloody mess of a guy wandering around.

  12. amazing chapter, apparently there are beings charged with collecting he souls of the dead (psychopomps, hopefully not of the gecko variety), assuming Evan was christian is that confirmation that angels exist? I’ve been thinking, maybe the christian God exists, but entered a pact with humanity, agreeing to provide a good afterlife in exchange for worship, and its too busy fulfilling its end of the bargain to actively affect the world (or maybe that was part of the agreement).

    1. Given that we have some decent evidence that the Hellenistic gods exist, I would not be surprised to find out that the Wildbow universe is populated with any and all gods worshiped, probably with their strength tied to the amount of belief in them. In that case, there would be no need for a non-interaction clause, as the major gods of the modern era would do a good enough job messing up each others’ plans.
      Also, glad to know that I apparently grew up in a civilized part of the US.

        1. hmmm, how many times does he have to call out He Who Shall Not Be Named before the tattered king comes forth and the towers of Carcosa rise?
          Would the Yellow Sign have effect?
          How would a Mi-Go familiar work? The poperly would not agree to be one…
          Could a practitioneer wander the Dreamlands and bind other peoples dreams, or collect any sort of power?
          My best bet would be Nyarlathotep, the only one of the bunch actually interacting with Humanity as a whole, apart from having a snack when woken.

          Conclusion: SOOOOOO much potential for fanfic.

          \me has been reading too much of “The King in Yellow” to come out sane.

      1. i don’t think there’s any other god with nearly as many followers, assuming there is only one god for all abrahamic religions (and not some weird mantling with different beings taking over the same role), since most other major religions in the modern world are either nontheistic or polytheistic. that’s of course assuming power gets divided between several gods in polytheistic worship… and now i wonder whether saints/prophets get a share of the loot in abrahamic religions, mmm.

        1. The whole thing with the local version of Conquest suggests that gods probably also have multiple separate manifestations to match their multiple interpretations.

          It should be noted that, in the first world anyway, many people’s interpretation of the Abrahamic God is “he exists but is fairly quiet these days and exactly what he’s like is kind of vague”.

  13. And it gets more fun. Blake was seen around Dowght’s residence. Dowght, who has a hatchet wound in his hand. Want to bet Dowght’s blood is still recoverable from the hatchet? So, assault with a deadly weapon, or the Canadian equivalent, one night followed by finding Blake with the previously unrecoverable corpse of a young boy the next night. Toronto PD will lock him up tight. Pile on top of that Jeremy and the Duchamps manipulating connections like crazy to make things worse. This looks very, very bad.

      1. I think so, yeah. It chose the form itself because there’s a sculpture of its head on the sword, and there’s spikes on the handle.

        And it turned into the sword as soon as it said ‘I submit’.

      2. See chapter 1.7 – Others bear a symbol or token of the big bargain that keeps them from overly interfering with mankind. That sword is likely the Hyena’s token, much as the shears are the barber’s.

        1. Uh. I’m pretty sure it’s all one token/symbol, to mark that they’ve been affected by the Bargain.

          The shears were implied to be the kind of foothold in the world that is created when a practitioner joins the Firm.

          1. It was said about the symbol or token that each Other had to symbolize Solomon’s Pact that it changed th Other in some way. It would make sense if the sword was the Hyena’s specific symbol.

    1. Dowght was crazy, and it was self-defence. I don’t think Blake has to worry too much about him, at least if he calls his lawyers. As far as I can tell, the worst he can get stuck with is Concealed Carry Without A Permit.

      1. I could be wrong (espacially sicne Canadian law on this subject is likely to be derived from British law, which is significantly different for the law in all places that were under Napoleon’s rule, France obviously foremeost) but I think claiming self-defense only works in court, it’s not going to make the police drop the charges because the assulat still happened after all.

        But yeah, likely to be different in UK and Commonwealth country. I’d be happy to be corrected.

      1. If they lock him up, they’ll probably take the locket for safe-keeping. Which is a whole world of bad on its own.

        1. …crap. That hadn’t even occurred to me. And Briar Girl said that glamour was too fragile to stay in one piece if it is not willingly given…holy crap.

      1. The horror in my guts says they were a cheery, 20+ member, multi-generational gaming group that stumbled into a splatbook with some actual spells. They learned about the void demon, said “hey, there’s 20 of us, and everyone says it’s a very minor demon, so like CR 2-4. We could totally take it!” And then… yeah. As a gamer and a dad who would merrily give a testicle to find a splatbook that actually contained Charm Person and Color Spray, like a Tecton punch right in the feels.

          1. Experience Points? Maybe just the dream of using cool magic tricks to defeat a dangerous enemy? I’m assuming you mean something like “expand their knowledge or powers” rather than expanding their group size or territories. I recall no indications they were interested in the latter.

  14. A lot of the consequences for this require Blake being caught. And as Blake, for that matter. He’s gotten into the habit of using a lot of glamour-who wants to bet he can change his face well enough that he won’t be recognized before they cuff him?

    1. Of course, that depends on him thinking fast under pressure, when he’s about to be locked up. He’s noted his issues with that sort of situation before.

  15. I was scabbed over in a dozen places. People stared when I passed them. At least I’d had a good container for the sword. A cylindrical case for holding posters and artwork.

    Or perhaps some random muggle called the police after seeing this beaten up and rangy man walking around, dragging around a (probably stolen) poster case.

    1. I think that might have been the case that he used to carry around the painting he gave to Conquest the first time he met him, actually.

  16. Fuck. It was all going so well until that very last bit.

    When Blake managed to force the Hyena to submit, I think that’s the sort of time when Kamina shades spontaneously appear, sunlight pours from the heavens, and a power chord or awesome theme music starts playing.

    And then managing to talk with Evan – and pull him back to being more whole, no less…

    Of course. Karma and (possibly) Laird won’t allow Blake to get three good things in a row.

    1. …get three good things in a row ROW FIGHT THE POWAH

      So far we’ve seen Blake survive against all odds and growing in strength continuously.
      The Spiral Energy is strong in this one.

  17. I’m sad that Blake is getting arrested here, because there’s no time for him to have any really interesting reactions with muggle police. Unless the Astrologer is associated with law enforcement somehow, like Laird is, there’s just no time for it. Best hope is that maybe he meets a detective or someone who will get dragged into the story due to Blake constantly being a person of interest in investigations. I do hope he at least gets to meet Evan’s parents and give them some comfort.

    Evan becoming a familiar is an interesting idea. Evan is certainly likeable, but having him as a familiar would mean having a kid around all the time. Would Blake seriously be comfortable introducing a permanent child to the life of a diabolist? That seems ripe for no end of creepiness. Would he keep his current form? We’ve only ever seen one example of a familiar not taking an animal form up to this point.

    1. I thought there’ve been at least two human-looking Familiars (Laird’s old man and the possessed guy in one of the Gathered Pages), and several semi-human-looking Others (massive sword lady and the Troll from another interlude). So it’s not unusual that Blake would have a human Familiar.

    2. I wouldn’t call a newly created Other permanent. It looks like Others are adaptable and have lots of room for change.
      Evan might not grow up as a human, but he can definitely learn and gain experience, and his appearance might change as well.

    3. if Blake gets Evan as a familiar he will be basically wasting of the 3 main power slots, sure he may be more powerful than a normal ghost, but not much more, i was really hoping he might convince one of the feral faeries. he should just bind Evan and see if one of the newly released others are grateful enough to become his familiar, several should be (assuming they are not all insane, which is quite likely).

      1. There are two things to note about Evan. First off he’s compatable. Ms. Lewis said that having a compatable familiar helps make it more powerful, and Blake won’t have to worry about trying to overpower something powerful that doesn’t want to be there.
        Second, Brute force isn’t what Blake seems to think he’d get from Evan. It sound’s like Evan would be quick time even prompts. With Evan, Blake is hoping to be shown things like duck under an assailents swing, to evade it and throw them off balance.

      2. Blake doesn’t have much in the way of options for familiars, given his standing. Also, while not a powerhouse Evan is clever. Remember what Essentials says – “Wit is the greatest defense and the sharpest weapon, on battlefields such as these.”

        Besides, you don’t even need a familiar to be a powerful practitioner. Annabelle was a contender for Lord of an entire city before she had one. Having a powerful familiar is helpful, but it’s hardly necessary. It’s more important to have utility.

        1. Besides, Blake and Rose had been discussing something similar since they established that they need one of the three to get the other two. One is sacrificed so that you can do better on the remaining two. I still think putting the kid to rest would be more merciful, but he could do worse.

          1. “It’s your choice, Evan,” I said. “If you want to move on, go wherever you’re supposed to go, I can try to help. I don’t think it’ll take much.”

            He shook his head.

      3. This is a relationship that’s been compared to marriage (uh… Evan’s age makes that comparison a bit weirder than I had thought, but anyway). Blake doesn’t want to bind something dangerous that he doesn’t even get along with just because it has more raw power.

    4. A short, rather cute female cop walks into the interrogation room and sits down across from Blake
      “Mr. shuffles papers Thorburn is it? I’m Lieutenant Murphy, why don’t you tell me what happened?”

      1. Call her cute to her face. I dare you.

        Though, when did she leave the American force in Chicago to join the Canadian force in Toronto? 😛

        1. She’s been having trouble with internal politics. Murph showing up would be so cool. I get the feeling that she’d be unimpressed by Laird’s carpet-stuffing of a murder case.

      2. That would make me soooooooo happy. Honestly I think it would be more likely that Harry Dresden was hired by the parents to try and find the sons body though, but Dresden knows whats really going on so he tries to help Blake out…… ok I’m gonna go write this now.

  18. How on earth does Blake talk himself out of an police interrogation?
    I mean what can he tell them?
    “Yes sir I just was wandering into the woods, covered in wounds, to find the place a kid died a year ago”

    Also won’t get the help of a medical professionals critical eye ..”stop you are making it worse”.

    1. He could go with the truth.
      “I’m a medium, and I was out here to help the spirit of a dead boy find a bit of peace.”
      Sure, it’s not going to get him out of custody, but as it looks, nothing he can say is going to do that. And being considered a loon is better than keeping his mouth shut or lying.

      1. …. These aren’t normal police on a normal job, I suspect.

        There are supposed to be wards up – put in place independently of the Hyena.

        1. That’s a good point, but we don’t know that the wards would have stayed up without the Hyena in there.

          Possibilities include “so long as the goblin-beast resides in these woods, keep people away” and the Hyena’s presence (and subsequent continual banishment of other spirits) creating an outward pressure that propped the wards up, so that they would collapse without issue whenever the goblin moved on again.

          Of course, it’s worth noting that Even was leaving the area when he died…and that he got in in the first place. Clearly the wards don’t just stop people from entering.

          Though, only tangentially related, if the Hyena scared away all unmaimed spirits, then how did any of Blake’s shamanistic symbols work, since they are supposed to work through spirits reading and enacting them?

          More tangentially related, what happened to the goblin followers Fell told us about…?

          1. Maybe the golin followers got lost in the woods? Yeah, it’s a dumb answer.
            About the spirits, maybe they were brought with Blake from the store.

          2. I’d guess his shamanistic symbols worked directly on the spirits in his shoes, on the gun, and on the chain. Blake simply entering might have been enough to carry/draw a small influx of fresh spirits, as well.

        2. From the look of things this isn’t just a couple of cops showing up at a bad time. Someone tipped them off.

    2. “I heard there was a monster in these woods and went to see if I could find it. I thought I saw something, got scared and crawled into this place and stumbled across the body.”

      1. “i knew that a boy disappeared in the area, i found this strange tree house, and decided to follow the path to see if i could find the body”

        1. The problem with this clever wording that implies different chronology than the truth is that it won’t hold up to follow-up questions. Which will happen.

  19. I think Evan as a familiar is brilliant for a few reasons:
    1) He’s not decaying like a normal ghost would be, and he’s also not a malevolent Other trying to take power from Blake, so there likely wouldn’t need to be much Blake would have to give up
    2) Blake is comfortable around him, which is important both because affinity was mentioned as an important thing for a familiar
    3) The essence of Evan is being clever and good at escaping, which is incredibly helpful to Blake. Like I mentioned in the last chapter, extra affinity for escaping and avoiding can dramatically increase Blake’s survival chances, but getting Evan as a familiar is even more powerful than having an imbued magical object. Being extra slippery should help a lot when everyone is out to catch you.

    I think that what should happen is that Evan accepts the offer to be a familiar, then helps Blake escape the situation with his ridiculous escaping skills.

    Something to Ponder: Is bad karma used up in the creation of a bad situation, or does something actually bad have to happen to Blake for the karma to go down? In other words, could he lower his bad karma simply by escaping from a bunch of bad situations his bad karma throws him into?

    1. From a storytelling perspective, I don’t think it really matters. Blake’s debt is so deep that one way or the other, bad karma is going to follow him his whole life.

      From mechanics perspective, I imagine it depends on whether it causes him to be more himself or not. If a bad situation causes him to make compromises with his morals/commitments/opinions/decisions, it doesn’t whether he gets out of the situation or not; he’ll have lost karma either way. On the other hand, if he’s true to himself, he might die or he might get out of it, but his karma would improve regardless. (i.e. karma changes based on one’s decisions, good or bad things happening to you is merely a symptom.)

    2. I was under the impression that bad karma is only cancelled by good karma, so the bad situations would just keep happening until you died or got some good karma to pay it off.

      1. It’s mentionned that you eat some of the karmic backlash by dying, so presumably something bad happening to you also lessens your debt. But yeah, it’s still following him all his life barring a miracle or him joining the lawyers (and either way the small bits of karma that he’d have lost beforehand wouldn’t matter).

        1. He’s kinda screwed for life. Practitioners are the only ones who accumulate Karma like they do because they can understand how it works and avoid the pitfalls, but his family left him with seven lifetimes worth. I mean, with his Karma, one of those cops will have a weapons malfunction and shoot him in the head, eating maybe a 1/4 of a lifetimes worth.

          1. …Because that sounds psychopathic even for diabolist?Because the average selfish person,and I think that was what his family was,rather that psychopathic,wants to protect his family?Because the kids needed to be practitioners,and that would give them the power to not cooperate or,worse,summon more bad karma or a family destroying demon?

            Unless you meant that they mass produced them so the bad karma is divided,in which case I think it mostly affects the heir,which,in the Thorbuns,seems to be only one person.

          2. Additionally, look at the percentages, child wise. We have maybe three decent people out of all the children and grandchildren. I think most Thorburn children would worsen the debt instead of helping to alleviate it. After all, that’s how it got this bad in the first place.

  20. I REALLY like the idea of Blake having Evan as a familiar. Evan is just such an awesome character and he really helped Blake out during his time of need. He’ll probably just become MORE awesome once he becomes more “him”. I recommend the doormouse look for Evan when he’s hiding out in animal form. Please let Evan accept! And also please let Blake be proven innocent as fast as possible because I want that nothingness being DEAD (or binded, I guess). Can’t wait for the next arc when we’ll find out what’ll happen!

  21. Woo-hoo! We get Evan! (Probably)….and of course the cops show up. I think this is the second time Blake is suspected of murder. The third time is going to be a doozy.

  22. Wait, if Evan is different because some “whatever’s supposed to help you on to the afterlife” was scared off by the Hyena, does that mean Evan is an actual soul with ghostly properties? Wonder how that would play into the familiarization. Could Evan be activated as a practitioner?

  23. The ghost as familiar, could go either way. A trapped moment is the basis im currently working on for ghosts, so Evan could be permanently locked as he is.
    But would the familiar bond allow change?
    If so then a ghost would be a great option, innate skills at escaping as a solid starting point.
    The lack of substance to a ghost would enable a large amount of growth and versatility if he can grow and change.
    Maybe not a huge amount of power, but power isn’t what Blake needs, he can call on power if he is willing to go that route. What Blake needs more than anything is options, him being a Wildbow character, it’s more options on how to screw up, but options none the less.
    The last couple of chapters have restored my faith in the story, i had my doubts, but you have resolved them. Well done Wildbow!

  24. Yes, Blake, make Evan your familiar. The kid’s a goddamn badass.

    And fuck, the police. Looks like Blake’s going to get just as anti-authoritarian as Taylor was, if this keeps going on.

  25. I think I can identify “Comhroinn liom,” and “Comhroinn le linn” as being in a Gaelic language (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx). As to the meaning, I can only speculate based upon the internet translations. The one that makes most sense in the context is “Share him!” (as opposed to “some X” or “department X”) I’m mostly guessing, though. I never spoke a word of Gaelic in my life and am mostly guesstimating “liom” and “le linn” to be inflexed versions of “he”.

    Almost completely unrelated (but closer to my actual field of study), both Manx language as well as the breed of cat are from the Isle of Man.

  26. Damn it Universe, will you stop being such a fucking idiot and screwing over the people who are actually to make you a better place, and helping the assholes who game the system. Otherwise you deserve to suck. Which is sorta ironic.

    1. But. . . The story is written by Wildbow. If it’s any consolation, the people the universe is “helping” are probably being screwed in more subtle, offscreen (for now) ways.

      1. The lawyers say as much, it mostly boiling down to people coming to rely on the good karma until it doesn’t kick in to save their rump and they’re kaput.

        This universe seriously is a jerkass.

  27. I like evan’s personality, but how does this work in terms of power? Blake already has Rose draining his reserves of power, so it would stand to reason that he needs a familiar which can function as power generator (or at least a rechargeable battery). The other familiars seen so far have been decent power sources (trolls, faerie, servants of gods) but blake even says here that he’d be giving power to Evan (“because you’d take a little bit from me to stay whole”). That makes 2 Otherish once-humans draining Blake’s power reserve instead of bolstering it. I’m interested to see how this plays out. Even when Blake and Rose were discussing the 3 power slots they discussed having to choose something lame just to get enough power to make the other two decent. Can Evan really output magic-watts on the necessary scale? and how appropriate is it to bring a kid into the demon-riddled Thorburn karmic wasteland?

    1. Blake definitely needs another power source, but I doubt that Evan the Boy Wonder would be enough of a drain too put Blake over the edge.

      People seem to be forgetting that practitioners can claim tools, power sources and Others without making them Implements or Familiars. Evan works because of Blake’s comfort with him. Blake was even willing to touch the boy!

      I think, if Evan accepts and becomes the first of the big 3, Blake should fight more Others into submission and force them to provide power.

      Also, Evan should take the form of a bat.

    2. That was my thought also. Blake did sort of hint that the boy help Blake recharge his energy by being simpatico with Blake, so maybe it is a net benefit, but it cannot be much of one.

      The trick will be getting Evan into a physical body so that he can help Rose. What form will Evan take?

    3. Evan isn’t the choice I’d make for a familiar, but I can see why it would work for Blake. As Blake mentioned, they are similar in their feelings of being scared and alone, which is something good for the familiar relationship. His particular nature of finding escape routes is also compatible with Blake. How many situations has Blake had to find escape from? Escaping Briar Girl’s minions on his way to Jacob’s Bell, escaping from the faerie until he could get into a position to fight it, escaping Laird’s house, escaping Conquest’s immediate demands to summon Ornias, escaping Pauz’s trap, and now with Evan’s help escaping the Hyena until he could fight it. Given Blake’s bad karma constantly puts him in situations where he’s liable to get killed, having something else that can help with escape is probably not a bad idea.

      In regards to the comments about taking a little bit from Blake to keep him whole, I don’t think this is necessarily talking about magical power. It’s more about helping with identity. Also, like Blake said he hopes that he’ll take a little back as well. Having a familiar that’s similar gives you synergy, so the reinforcement would go both ways. Also, given that Evan hasn’t moved onto the afterlife he has a soul, unlike most ghosts, so that likely makes him self-sustaining – normally he might always be at the level of a newly minted ghost.

      As to the form to have him take, I vote for ferret. Ferrets are excellent escape artists. They can squeeze through small spaces, they’re silent and hard to notice, and they’re not too bad at climbing things. I’ve owned two ferrets total, not at the same time, and for both of them they managed to escape to the outside multiple times. The most likely fate of a ferret that doesn’t come back after escaping is to die of exposure, which also fits Evan’s circumstances.

      Don’t believe me? Then watch this adorable video of a ferret – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t89HKfTnt7A

      Additional benefit of a ferret is that I think it would synergize with Blake’s tenacity – one time when one of my ferrets escaped the neighbor’s rottweiler tried to eat it. The neighbor came out to two animals covered in blood, the ferret latched to the dog’s neck hanging on for dear life… none of the blood belonged to the ferret.

    4. We know that familiars often take from their masters as well as the other way around. It’s an intimate and personal bond with a lot of room for variation, as far as we can tell so far (that’s what I was getting from the Famulus sections, anyway). They’re not just rechargeable batteries or power sources, they’re another being who you share your life with. The practitioners we’ve seen almost always try to choose a powerful being in order to gain more power and influence, but that’s not so different from a lot of arranged marriages in feudal times–often you married into other families in order to increase the standing of your family (and often it was arranged, similar to the Duchamps).

      As I said above, I think Evan is appropriate because he offers amazing survival skills (if you don’t see that as perhaps more useful to Blake than a modicum of power, I’m not sure we’re reading the same story) and is unlikely to be a malevolent, malicious, cunning, or conniving Other like most Others that have been around for a while. He could be a friend and ally and we don’t know his potential for growth yet. He could potentially grow into a complete badass in power level, too. As for bringing him into the karmic wasteland, as it is he’s a ghost, and so restricted to the area in which he experienced a living hell on earth and then died from. Blake is offering him an actual life again. Besides, someone would undoubtedly come along to use him if Blake left him there. He’s not a normal ghost, after all.

      As a side note, I’ll also add that choosing a familiar independent of any existing affiliations or restrictions also makes a lot of sense if Blake ends up growing into as complete a badass as Taylor. Having powerful allies is nice, but you have to play nice and pay attention to their goals and desires, and probably also consult them before taking action, which could probably kill Blake. It’s much easier to be unfettered with regard to allegiance while rampaging through the ranks arrayed against you.

  28. So, I’ve reread the last bit of this chapter a few times, and I get the impression that Evan-the-ghost and Evan-the-corpse are both present (I get that from this line “I looked at the corpse, then at Evan.”)

    So, that begs the question. Can muggles see ghosts? I can’t remember if there’s been official word on this. If they can’t see ghosts automatically, could the ghost be given a power boost in order to become visible to muggles?

    If either of the above is true, then that seems like an easy way out of this situation. Just go, “Hey, cops. You know that dead kid? Well, here he is up and walking around and talking, just a few feet from his corpse.” I think that might make the situation weird enough that the cops just decide to walk away or something.

    Blake could go on to do something similar to let Evan say goodbye to his parents. I don’t know if that would give him karma (I’m still not 100% clear on how karma works), but I doubt it would hurt. Also, it would be nice.

    By the way, I approve of the nickname “Evan Boy Wonder.” I like that better than the nickname I had given him “Evan UberGhost”

    1. Showing the pigs (Oh. my. god. Is that the joke with Piggot’s name? If so, slowpoke me, someone. In a few months.) a ghost would be letting them into the masquerade. Which there are some sorts of consequences of, if you do it with too many too quickly. But I can’t remember what those consequences where or in which chapter it was mentioned.
      That could certainly be used as a last resort, though reactions would be unpredictable.

      1. Strange,I thought the joke with Piggot was that P is like an upside down b.Certainly a meaningful name.

    2. Speaking of not taking care of the masquerade, I hope the next thing Blake says is “Mann, Levinn, and Lewis” three times. One moment, the cops are coming up on the suspect, caught alone with a body, and the next his damn lawyer steps out from behind a tree like an impeccably dressed jack-in-the-box.

      1. I don’t think Blake can afford to call the lawyers right now. The cost for the next bit of help is a favor. Blake is on a time limit and needs to rescue Rose before Conquest’s domain literally goes to Hell. Blake can’t take time off to do a favor., especially when he hasn’t completed the first task the lawyers assigned him yet.

    3. Even if the cops can see Evan there still would be questions about it since he’s a missing child. And they’d take him to a hospital to get him checked on, and call his parents, etc. Though if there are any practicioners on the force, they’d realize pretty quick that Blake isn’t resposnible for Evan’s death. Though with Blake’s luck they’d probably still want to screw him over for some reason.

  29. Ok. I’m gonna do that thing that people sometimes do and see if it works.
    Evan-Should-Take-The-Form-of Thread:

    1. I think the obvious answer would be a bird, like a Robin.

      Robins are fast, fly high enough to see escape routes, and are always cautious.

      Also, that would make Blake’s sidekick Robin, The Boy Wonder. So there’s that.

      1. I don’t think a flying animal of any kind fits. Evan’s escape methods are all ground and climbing based, and Blake can’t fly either so escape by air isn’t really helpful. Nor is it particularly clever.

        1. Ok. You caught me. My previous comment was 83.23% joke. The idea of Evan as a Robin is mostly just to complement his “Evan, the Boy Wonder” motif from these last 2 chapters.

          That being said, I was thinking more along the line of, as a flying creature, Evan can have a bird’s eye view. This allows for him to see and alert Blake of more escape routes than if he were simply on land.

          Of course Evan’s escape methods ate all land based. He is currently in the form of a child. I meant he could look for land based routes. Bear in mind that we do have precedent in Letita of a land based familiar taking a flight based form.

          1. There are issues with a bird’s eye view to find escape routes. Primarily, it’s not so useful indoors. Blake will be working both indoors and outdoors, so he needs utility in both types of spaces. A ground animal would be better for that. Additionally, while a birds eye view can spot things that you can’t see from the ground it goes the other way around – you might not see some things from the air that you would from the ground.

    2. When I was a child, my family had a pet pitbull, Lucy. This dog was quite the escape artist. This dog would constantly break free from the bondage of leashes, chains, dog houses, human houses and cages.

      The terrifying thing was though, whenever Lucy freed herself, her bondage was still activated. The collar would lie on the floor, still in a loop. The chain would be unbroken. The cage we put her in would be closed and locked after she somehow escaped! It was truly freaky.

      Because of my experience I would suggest Evan take the form of a pitbull. Blake would just need to find the reason for Granny Rose’s warning about dog Familiars and avoid the dangerous parts.

    3. As I said earlier, I vote ferret. Natural escape artists, quite clever, good at hiding, hard to notice if you’re not looking for them, and tenacious.

        1. Ferrets seem too predatory to work for Evan, his whole thing is about hiding and fleeing. I think he’d be better represented by a swift prey animal. Mouse was mentioned and I think that would be a good fit, or a small bird.

          1. I don’t think a mouse would fit – Evan is clever and tough. If he wasn’t he wouldn’t have been able to evade the Hyena for so long. Mice can be clever, but I wouldn’t say they are tough. Also, their method of escape is more about running fast and hiding than finding a route out of somewhere – not so much of an escape artist so much as just fast, which doesn’t necessarily help Blake since he needs to use whatever the route is. Also, other familiars may be too much of a natural enemy to him. Cats and snakes are common, and they eat mice. The form may also be too close to a rat.

            Bird doesn’t fit for reasons I stated in posts above. I think Evan is more suited to a land animal associated with the concept of escape that can squeeze through tight spots and climb well.

            You’re right that the predator aspect of a ferret may not fit though. Maybe a very young ferret, not quite a baby but young enough that it hasn’t learned to hunt yet. It might also symbolize what he and Blake could become later on – I can see Blake becoming more proactive about going against his enemies rather than reacting. Young animals of all kinds are generally prey, even ones that become predators later.

            Meanwhile, more ferret escape videos!
            Escaping a cage by squeezing through the bars – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ECMOE-4qEU
            Escaping from a window by climbing the blinds – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckY2SvsCQZc
            Ferret climbing up a brick wall – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI3dvacJ5So

            1. I forgot about the prohibition about rats. That probably nixes the mouse idea.

              How about a merekat? These creatures are great at running away and even post sentries to alert others to danger. It would probably look strange in Canada, but from the outside Blake is an eccentric future millionaire living in a mansion. It fits.

            2. Meerkat might work, but their escape strategy is to run into their prepared burrows. Also, as you mention it might look odd. Ferrets are legal in Ontario, so it wouldn’t be a problem if it looked like Blake had one as a pet. Maybe a ferret-polecat hybrid would work – something between a domesticated animal and a wild one. It would fit with Blake’s general duality theme, where he’s a civilized human being but can be like a feral wild animal if pushed into a corner.

    4. Do familiars have to take the form of an animal, or the form of anything? Laird’s is just in in watch (implement), right?

      1. Laird’s familiar’s other form is the watch.

        But as Laird said, it’s both his familiar and his implement–I wouldn’t take it as anything other than an aberration.

    5. Who says Evan the Boy Wonder has to take the form of an animal? I think he should take the form of a servant boy or a child. His cover could be as Blake’s ward or adopted child. That gives him Human capabilities, which overall outweigh animal ones.

      1. “Who says Evan the Boy Wonder has to take the form of an animal? I think he should take the form of a servant boy or a child. His cover could be as Blake’s ward or adopted child. That gives him Human capabilities, which overall outweigh animal ones.”

        Well first off, people are going to think something is funny about the kid never aging. Second, Evan is already going to have human capabilities. Familiars can assume their original or true form, remember? Hildr can be a troll or a Stoat, Letita can be a Chicadee or a Fairy swordswoman. I assume that the Familiar having a different form is either a power saving, or disguise measure. And finally, one thoery about the no dogs is that it takes a really powerful other to maintain such a form. I guess that came out of something Laird said at the diner.

        1. 1) Can familiars change their second form or are they just stuck with the 2 (shapeshifters excluded, of course)? If Evan can change his ward/servant form, this isn’t really an issue. Otherwise . . .

          2)While Evan may not be a true ghost, he is truly ghostly. He can’t touch or directly act with the physical world. When I said human capabilities, I meant being able to physically interact with things as well as well as to be seen by muggles.

          I have no comment about the dog theory. I just didn’t want to only address 2 of your 3 points.

        2. Laird said something along the lines of ” was out for obvious reasons” without explaining why. The reason for the theory is that the only two we’ve seen that take the form of a dog are Johannes’ familiar (and we know Johannes is crazy powerful, at least now) and Tromos, the Steed of Enyo, who, as the name suggests, used to be the steed of a goddess of war and destruction. As such, there’s an idea that only crazy powerful familiars should take that form for some reason. Another idea was that Johannes has a pipe instrument for implement and could pied piper your familiar away, though that seems less likely.

          My theory is that it suggests a more equal relationship, and possibly lets the Other get away with significantly more mischief if they set their mind to tripping you up, which presumably the conniving ones (that is, pretty much all of them) would inevitably do.

      1. Good point. I think both practically and thematically the bird fits best. The thing about “land-based routes” does not make sense because of course a non-flying individual is going to use land-based routes… And he won’t be a bird all the time anyway, only when he needs to be seen in public.

        The only thing the ferret has for it is that it’s slightly more common for “artist-like” types like Blake to own and carry around.

    1. “Oh noes! How is Blake going to get out of this one?”
      I’m sure that if he calmly explains the situation the police will believe him, and let him go.

      Oh, who am I kidding, he’ll be lucky if he doesn’t get shot.

  30. Is it a coincidence that Pauz’s boss is bound to a sword and the Hyena is also now bound to a sword? Conquest seemed much more pleased with this than receiving the imp. I wonder how much of that was due to getting a power boost from having something conquered in his name rather than negotiated with.
    Another thing that struck me is that the hyena operates a lot like conquest, surrounded by the ghosts of those it’s defeated, maybe that’s why conquest wanted it so much?

    1. Another possibility for Conquest’s better mood is that Blake was actong far more polite and submissive this time.

    2. Fell admitted that Conquest wanted the Hyena most of all, without admitting why. This was when Fell was driving Blake to meet the Knights. So Conquest is probably happy that he got his main target.

      As to why this was his main target, my primary hypothesis got shot down – the beings that the Hyena had collected started going away when he was bound, so Conquest can’t control them simply by controlling Hyena. And Conquest can also permanently bind beings he controls, so the Hyena’s ability along that line doesn’t add significantly to Conquest’s abilities, at least the way I read it.

      1. Looking at the Hyena, it’s MO seems suspiciously similar to Conquest-compatibility is discussed upthread, and we haven’t seen if Conquest has a familiar, have we?

      2. Conquest is about dominance as much as it’s about control. One of the ways this incarnation gets that dominance is to inflict measured pain and suffering upon his victims. The Hyena fits that – he mauls the victim, putting it into a state where the pain does not end, it fears its attacker, but is controlled in the sense that it can’t stray too far. It doesn’t matter that the Hyena’s own little army is gone, Conquest would probably benefit from using his new tool to start building a new one.

        1. I like this theory. It fits in Conquest’s style. And it also works with grinvader’s theory below – turn the Hyena from a being opposing Conquest and add its ability to impose suffering and control to Conquest’s arsenal.

      3. I’m thinking it’s some kind of pissing contest. Conquest is unpleased that someone (or something) else is getting too close to his shtick.

        Like someone else we may or may not particularly remember at the moment, although less awesome for sending a gopher to actually take care of it.

  31. So I was thinking of something. As many people already pointed out, Blake’s going to need time if he wants to get out of this with not too many long-term problems, time which he does not have.
    On top of that, he cannot make Evan his familiar without the books (I doubt he memorized the ritual). So he either needs Rose awake, or needs to wait for Conquest to deal with the slow-time thing.
    Add to that a narrative concern: the fight cannot be too easy or it’s underwhelming. But anyone even slightly relevant so far getting eaten by the abstract demon would be annoying for Wildbow to write, because he’d have to navigate around everything that person did so far when showing us Blake’s internal thoughts. Not good.

    I think somehow he will not fight the demon. Maybe the lawyers will take care of it for him, probably something unforeseen will happen but at this point in the story it seems like fighting the demon doesn’t make great narrative sense.

    1. Or, for a spot of mind-fuckery, we’re already watching the universe as it is after the Obliteration Demon consumed everything that it will consume. The demon being forced somehow to regurgitate that which it has taken is another possibility, albeit a rather unlikely one.

      That’s an interesting theory, but why do you assume that anyone will be fighting with Blake? He’s been pretty solo (at least as far as practitioners go) thus far.

      1. Actually I find it pretty likely that at some point Blake will be working with someone else. There is at least Maggie, who he’s sort of worked with, and who I would not be surprised to see ask him for help when a round of Blood and Fire rolls around.

    2. The hopeful part of me wants to think that defeating the demon will return that which was stolen… Who am I kidding, this is a wildbow universe.

      1. Honestly I’m amazed Blake didn’t have to fight his way out past all the Others who wanted his body parts. I don’t suppose some of them will owe him now? No of course not.

      2. It’s been stated that demons are servants of entropy- and that makes it a fundamental law of the universe that they can’t give back what they steal, even if they want to. As they say- nothing is certain except death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics.

          1. Most of the time I’ve heard the 2nd law is cited, people left out 1st and 3rd because they didn’t know what they were talking about. They tended to get the 2nd one wrong too. That’s why I was so glad to hear Bill Nye point out that the Earth doesn’t count as a closed system due to a huge outside source of energy called the Sun.

            1. Also, the Earth is radiating heat away. If it wasn’t, it would burn to a crisp really fast.

            2. And occasionally the Earth receives matter from outside sources, like from meteors. It may not seem like enough to seriously affect evolution, until you remember the dinosaurs.

            3. No if Christian science institutes have tought us anything, it’s that Dinosaurs died out because they overslept and missed Noah’s Ark. Except for the T-Rex, which died because there was a Coconut shortages, and they had nothing to eat.

  32. Blake would try to get his goblin sword back. It seems like the perfect anti Duchamp weapon. It should be very effective against faeries. Also, the spikes on the handle mean that he can easily power it up with blood. That might be useful for breaking connections as well.

    Really Blake really needs to retrieve both of his bindings after rebellion comes. He needs the book back to fulfill his deal with the lawyers.

    I am curious to what we will actually see when we actually see #3. My prediction is that it will be something that we aren’t expecting. We may find out later that Blake actually has a companion now that will be retroactively erased by the time we find out about it.

    Depending on the nature of #3 Blake may want to keep it as well. Does it erase things by eating them, or another way? If Blake can somehow harness that, he could be better equipped to take on Conquest.

    1. Shedding blood doesn’t mean a power-up, it means shedding power. The Hyena’s sword, by trying to demand blood in order to use it, is implicitly saying that the submission is incomplete – it will still fight Blake, just by being recalcitrant.

      1. I disagree. Blood is power in the Pactverse. We’ve seen that adding one’s blood to something adds power, even if it takes a bit from oneself. I think Blake’s smart enough to find a way to use the goblin sword without bleeding himself. Perhaps wrapping the handle in clothe or glamour. My thought was that he basically has access to a blood power up by allowing the spikes to penetrate his hand.

        1. When is use of blood temporary, and when is it a permanent surrender, that “forever lighter those few drops” type contract magic?

          Can’t remember where I first read that, but unless blood just means “fresh, refined energy” to charge the spell with, Blake’s shamanism and such doesn’t seem like it should benefit from blood use.

          1. Harry Potter, using FiendFyre, if my sources are correct.

            Here, using blood seems to be directly casting from HP – a renewable source over weeks, but one that will have an immediate downside. Also, very personal, so there’s probably heavy metaphysical linkage.

            1. Thank you!

              I can accept blood-charged spells to be more powerful, potent, and personal. However, if you want a permanent effect – a permanent signature or oath or curse or such – I keep thinking it should have a permanent effect on the person who gave it.

            2. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, specifically. Canon didn’t go into detail enough to know if FiendFyre cost anything more than magic, though I rather doubt that it did.

              I tend to concur, with the addendum that Blake seems pretty certain that he’s losing part of who he is with every bit of power lost through blood.

        2. Like if Blake makes a sign with his blood and a spirit is channeled, it can mean

          “I am giving from myself permanently to maintain this deal”
          Or
          “You watched me hurt myself, that should be satisfying enough to commit fully”
          Or
          “This deal is temporary and ends when the energy from my blood is burned out.”

          Blood use in signatures means permanence in Pact, so blood either symbolizes the depth of Blake’s commitment to the deal or it permanently scars and weakens him. Which is it?

          Plus, does that mean a permanent connection/bond from Blake to his contracts? Will masking that connection break the contact?

          1. Blood probably temporarily weakens him. Think blood loss. You lose too much at once and you’re weak. You lose some every now and then but have plenty of time to renew it, you’re fine. Problem is, Blake’s been doing all this stuff for relatively little time.

            Still, if he really wants to drop some blood, I recommend the forehead. Bleeds easily if you so much as razor blade it, looks great, and easy to close.

            If it didn’t recover so easily, hell, Ric Flair would be dead a few times over by now.

  33. Didn’t expect Collateral to cover both bindings, but that probably means the next one will be a doozy. Looking forward to that.

  34. Ok, upcoming problems other than the eraser demon.

    First off, Rose. Blake is feeding off of her now, and it turns out the tattoos are a way to measure her health rather than his. She’s asleep to conserve energy because Blake is using hers, but she’s not an independent being. She’ll run out. Blake needs to set the flow right, or get another power source that he can use to keep her charged. If he can’t, she’ll disappear for good.

    Second, this arrest invites the problem of how to deal with Evan’s parents. It’s inevitable they’ll become involved now that the corpse of their son has been found. If Evan does become his familiar, will they keep the parents involved? They could see their son again, even if he’s in the form of a talking animal, and I’m sure it would make both Blake and Evan feel better. On the other hand, that would get them involved in the magical side of the world, even if they don’t become practitioners, and Blake would have some responsibility towards them.

    1. Evans parents are hardly a problem, if they aren’t practitioners they won’t see his ghost. He’s either the guy who found the body or the guy who they think left him out there to die. Blake turning them into practitioners is also impractical since he doesn’t like to drag others into this stuff, no friends of his nor the few family members he gave a damn about. Not to mention he doesn’t need anymore responsibility since it bites him in the ass every time and he’s planning a coup against the Incarnation.

      Why would they want to see a constant reminder of their son’s death in the form of a ghost anyway? Remember, lucid or not, Evan’s ghost is suffering given form, his soul has long since passed on.

      The main problem from the arrest is the fact that he’s being detained when he’s on a deadline.

      1. The trick is that (for now) Evan’s soul hasn’t passed away. Psychopomp apparently didn’t want to hang around the hyena. So, his ghost is quite aware and versatile, and now that Blake made him realise his own death, Evan could possibly lose the ghost symptoms (fixations, partial animations, reduced ability to interact) and just remain as an unbound soul, which could be neutral, suffering-wise.

        1. Indeed, Evan is more than a ghost to begin with since his soul is still there. Becoming a familiar might make him more whole, since he’ll be alive again. Remember, Blake needs to recharge his batteries by seeing his friends and doing other things to make himself feel like himself, so it stands to reason that Evan might benefit from seeing his parents. But as I said, even a slight introduction into the world of magic opens a connection, so the question is whether or not it’s worth the risk.

          1. We don’t know. Souls may be immortal, so if his ghost body is destroyed it may simply result in his soul being collected and ferried off to the afterlife now that the Hyena isn’t there to scare off whatever does that.

            1. Soul immortality presents some problems, though, namely that it would continuously decrease the amount of energy present in the interactable universe unless souls are recycled like in reincarnation.

            2. If the Hyena could scare off a collector of souls, it can probably get the souls too.

              And if this is a mid-tier Goblin, I would hate to see what’s above it…oh wait…

            3. Remember: psychopomps generally can only kill off that which is meant to die at that time. Like when Hercules wrestled Death. Death’s touch is self-explanatory, but not so much when it wasn’t Herc’s time to go.

              Though, considering how Death finally caught up to him, I’d say Herc paid for putting Death in a full nelson.

            4. In some versions of the myth the poor psychopomp must have had to make multiple trips too. Some have the human part of Herc going to hades, the divine part going to Olympus and becoming the god of strength, and his corpse getting tacked up in the heavens as a constillation.

            5. I don’t believe that soul immortality would present any issues if they aren’t made up of energy in the classical sense–which would only make sense, really, since that would make them detectable.

    2. “it turns out the tattoos are a way to measure her health rather than his”

      Where are you getting this? The tattoos have changed before, but the one that Blake noticed as being related to events was apparently due to Pauz’s influence. My take on the tattoos is they react to demonic influence. Which is why they didn’t change this chapter because Blake didn’t pick up corruption from the Hyena.

      1. See, my read on the tattoos was that they were still measuring Blake’s strength/power reserve, but they were improving (less vivid, etc.) as fast as they were precisely because Blake was draining power from Rose.

        1. When Blake first came back to Toronto he had just spent a week fighting for his life mentally, physically, and magically. That should have been a low point for his power. But his tattoos were more vivid than before. That’s why I think the tattoos are a measure of demonic influence:
          After the first week they were more vivid – he had demonic influence that week.
          After the interaction with Pauz they were more feral looking – obvious demonic corruption.
          After the Hyena capture they were unchanged – no compromise or demonic influence from the Hyena.

          1. Being more vivid due to demonic influence doesn’t make sense – demons twist, destroy, rot, and diminish things they get a foothold on. Why would they make his tattoos more colorful and beautiful?

            At that time Blake was weaker. He’d used some blood and he’d told a near lie through sarcasm. Rose on the other hand had no problems. She hadn’t expended any power for a while, so her batteries would be fully charged. If the tattoos reflect her state of being, it would make sense that they were vivid, colorful, and beautiful.

            After the encounter with Pauz, the tattoos were worse for wear, the birds twisted and feral. During the same encounter Pauz twisted Blake’s connection to Rose. Blake himself has had some time to clean himself up a bit, remove some of the influence from himself. If they were a measure of influence on him, they probably would look a little better. The connection to Rose however is still messed up, still twisted. If they measure her or at least the connection to her then it would make sense that they haven’t changed at all.

  35. For Blake’s sake, Evan’s body better be old! But just because I said so, fate will gift a fresh corpse.

    “Officer, I was out late in the park, stumbled through a lot of holly, and found this body while looking for something. Why no, this blood is mine officer. Could you drive me to the hospital please? I probably have tetanus 10 times over.

    1. He figured a timeline of a few months before. Unless someone screwed with the cops’ perceptions, it’d be really easy to exonerate Blake. It just looks bad because he’s standing there, bloody, a hatchet on his person, near a dead body.

      Still, we can rest assured knowing that, as this is a Wildbow story, whatever happens next won’t be good for Blake.

  36. I thought the lights at first was Magic happening and Evan was being transformed…
    Nope, Police!

    I’m of the mind that Evan agreeing (the Nod being sentiment enough for a bargain to be struck), that he can distract/help Blake escape. Just bolt Blake!

    1. Yes. And it is interesting that Conquest is moving up the ladder of species size and complexity: beetles to crabs to carp. Of course, the highest level of invasive species is man.

      1. I don’t know if that’s significant or not. I think the fact that he’s cycling through them is. Conquest changes his appearance to reflect types of conquest. Originally he was in the colonial garb, which was the original big type of conquest in Toronto. Yet that well has run dry, so now that he’s moved on to conquest via diabolism he’s changed to a scary, twisted monster form.

        While invasive species match the idea of conquest, it really does so only in an obscure way. It’s not something most people would associate with the idea. In other words, it’s probably not a good source of conquest energy. Cycling through them may mean that the well runs dry pretty quickly on that. That he relies on this is a sign of weakness.

        On a related note, I think this is the crack in Pauz will use to get a hold on Conquest. Invasive species subvert the natural order since they aren’t naturally supposed to be present. I could see him having Conquest make more and more of them show up in his domain, making them the dominant theme rather than the secondary or tertiary one.

        1. I like your idea for Pauz’s mode of attack. I don’t think that Conquest uses up the “conquest energy” for the species he’s showing – he would have run out of species well before Blake showed up to see them. I think it is just a visual effect like all his changes on the landscape of his pseudo-demesne and like he sometimes shows up with slaves and sometimes not.

    1. Hey, that seems like a plan:
      1 – get a pet diabolist
      2 – get him to catch you an eraser demon
      3 – get him to bind a bunch of demons, making the world a generally better place and taking on loads of bad karma
      4 – feed him to the eraser demon so he doesn’t spread that bad karma everywhere
      5 – go to 1, but skip 2.

      Obviously Conquest is not that interested in 3, but that’s something a Well Intentioned Extremist might be inclined to try in his place.

      1. But it seems that it erases their effects on the world as well, which would presumably unbind those demons.

        1. Well it does not undo everything exactly. For example, the Knights still investigated the factory, which they never would have with their current group size. It’s kind of like the Oblivion in the webcomic Goblins: it makes things never have existed, but people remember acting as though it had existed (which does not make sense) all the time. Basically, don’t think to hard about it or it will tie knots in your brain.

          1. Despite reading that webcomic, I hadn’t considered that method.

            But if that was the case, I don’t think that they would have collapsed into their new forms, as Nick so depressingly put it; the forms would have stayed the same.

            And shouldn’t the demon have been spotted sooner, then, when people become aware of these gaps in their knowledge? I mean, for all we know the demon took residence there five minutes before the Knights visited, but…

            1. Almost impossible for muggles to notice due to their weirdness censor (remember Maggie’s town?)very hard for practitioners and Others,as I’d imagine it eats connections,images,smells….anything that could be used to track him.Practically the only way to notice him is to have a big group of people be decimated,and even then,if there are no survivors or if the group is not of practitioners,there is still a 90% chance nobody will notice.This demon is made of stealth,he is worse than a Stranger from Worm:a stranger,at best,can hide himself,but this guy can hide all the evidence better than himself,which is less handy on a fight but much much better for not getting noticed long term.

  37. I was reading a Gizmodo article about all the dead bodies on Everest and had an odd thought. How many of them would’ve become ghosts after death?

    I’d think a lot.

  38. Lesson learned: Trying to use glamour in combat against a Faerie is like trying to use Drag Slave against Ruby Eye Shabranigdu.

    Lesson learned: Never step outside a protective circle just to do a good deed until the Other has promised actual, explicit restraint/protection or surrenders. (For foiling Pauz’s petty trap with the dog in the car, Pauz screwed with the Blake/Rose connection.)

    Anything else?

    1. That would be a logical point for Pauz to have screwed with their connection, but don’t forget, the imp had been hesitating about letting them go at all–the gesture was as much to intimidate the imp as it was to help the people, if not more.

  39. You know, I just thought of a new possible reason that the cops might have shown up. We’re all so used to this being a story about magic and Machiavellian conspiracies that sometimes mundane explanations don’t cross our minds… you know, Blake repeatedly shot a shotgun in the park earlier in the day, and the park is close enough to houses that Evan was able to wonder in. Isn’t it plausible some random muggle might have heard gunshots and called the cops to come in to investigate?

    1. Coincidences? You must be new here.

      I kid, I kid. But luckily we are gonna find out in less than an hour. Weeeeeeee.

  40. Comments:
    – Ouch, now that Pauz has reversed Blake’s and Rose’s connection, and Blake knows about it, his oaths that he’d help her could possibly limit his actions to the point where they both die…
    – “I knew this was an imperfect science.” -> I found that passage really confusing. I have a vague guess that it refers to saving Evan, or offering him to become Blake’s familiar, or something, but I’m not sure.
    – I predict Blake’s encounter with the police was another of the drunkard’s ploys. Heh.
    – I find Blake’s victory somewhat implausible here. The problem with beast or animal antagonists is that they can be caught in traps or otherwise outwitted in a way that human opponents would detect. Compare Pauz’ amazing ploy during the binding with Blake’s crude way of trapping the hyena. And after he caught the hyena, he was really lucky that it was even possible to bind someone without a contract, that a simple act of submission was enough. Especially given that he didn’t know this beforehand.
    – Picking Evan as his familiar is an interesting choice. Given Blake needs to have his boundaries respected to function properly, this might work well. I guess I’d rather seen something stronger, too, but personal fit is important, and Blake and Rose already remarked that obtaining demesne, familiar, or implement was a bit of a Catch-22.
    – We’re >3 months into Pact now and Rose has been forced into passivity sooo often. I really hope she’ll get to play a far more active role at some point. If this were an RPG, Blake is currently leveling up, and there’d be a danger of leaving Rose behind in terms of power and experience…

    Great lines:
    – There it was. The cadence that suggested I was talking to the echo, not the consciousness that had somehow remained.
    – “A little less glamour, and a taste of blood where my lip had been cut. I didn’t remember blood in my mouth when I’d been attacked by the imp’s animals. Was the universe charging me interest? Making the wounds just a little worse?”
    – “I felt stabs of pain on my injured hand. Where the blood flow from the cut webbing didn’t obscure it, I could see my hand changing. Once-covered wounds opening up, the holes appearing in my gloves. As if the interest I was paying extended to what I wore and carried, indiscriminate.”
    – “Lesson learned. Trying to use glamour was a bad idea, if I was going toe to toe with Faerie. It was like opposing like, and they were too well versed in glamour and trickery to lose this tug-of-war. He was transferring the wounds to me, along a medium he was very well versed in.”
    – “So I did the second-least intuitive thing I could do, here. Short of actually letting him stab me in the eyes, I moved my face closer to said stabbing implements, where my hand gripped his.”
    – “She didn’t attack me, though. She attacked my assailant, blood feeding the connection between them, leading to the natural conclusion. Jealousy, anger, frustration, a desire to have some of the relief he was finding.”
    – “It wasn’t so much that they were on the same side, as the fact that I was on the side of the healthy, the unwounded. That made me something to be torn down, in their twisted perspective.”
    – “I had only seconds before I got surrounded and swamped by bodies. The idea terrified me. Even with everything I’d seen, it rated as one of the worst ways to go. For me, anyhow.”
    – “Was it weird that I was less bothered by the fact that he passed through me than the alternative? Probably.”
    – ““Fuck,” I said again. Was an understatement like that bad enough to count as a lie? Had I already wondered that? What did it say that I even had to ask that last question?”
    – ““Thank you,” I muttered, “For the commentary. I’d say it was doing lots for my morale…” […] “…But I’m not allowed to be sarcastic anymore.”” -> Awesome!
    – “She was in a coma of sorts. Conserving energy. What was different? I was asking myself the question, but I knew the answer. Ergo, the chill. Me. I was different. I was stronger. I was able to talk to ghosts like Evan. Why? What was the dark, sick joke that Pauz would find funny? He was an imp that subverted the natural order. He’d affected me. Instead of me feeding power to Rose… Rose was feeding power to me. I could imagine the imp’s laughter, mocking me. His glee, if he could see me now, deep in the woods, knowing that every second I was operating like this, I was taking from Rose, helpless to do anything about it.”
    – ““By the way,”“Introductions may be in order. June, meet Evan,””
    – “I was so engrossed in the task I nearly forgot about the other thing I was supposed to be paying attention to. Or was it more accurate to say the Other thing?”
    – ““Evan. Surviving ghost. I swear to you, I will help you.” The words had power. Evan listened. He came to my side. I reached out for him, and my hand passed through. I would have wanted to hold him, to crouch by his side, and protect him, or simply rest my hands on his shoulders. What did it say, that I was willing to have contact with him?”
    – “A choke-collar of metal charged with glamour, with blood, and power.”
    – “I was learning all sorts of useful lessons. Like not leaving a haphazardly-bound Other unattended.”
    – “He spoke. A language I couldn’t understand. Something guttural, with more sense in the silences than in the utterances. It was, I suspected, a language so basic that most could understand it. I submit.
    – “I didn’t miss the fact that the grip had spikes sticking out from it, so anyone who held it would gouge their palms and fingers. A pretty fucking reluctant binding.”
    – “Here and there, I saw ghosts flickering out of existence. Their wounds widening, tearing them into pieces, leaving fragments to drift out of existence. The remaining Others were already gone. Finally healing, maybe. Or something. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, if it was something.
    – ““You’re quiet, too,”“Don’t tell me you traded away something like your voice.”“Was a pretty unilateral deal,”“I think I scared him into submission.””
    – ““You’ve done well, servant, being so prompt, bearing scars from service to me.” I could have argued, but I was too emotionally weary. And I needed his cooperation.”
    – ““Fell,”“Do you have a phone?”“You don’t?”“I’m poor,”“Please?””
    – “Peaceful. I luxuriated in the quiet, the isolation. Time to myself, in a way. To put thoughts in order, plan, strategize. I was functioning on a higher level because I was more me. Because I was borrowing from Rose.”
    – “I couldn’t even feel proud of what I was doing, knowing that it wasn’t all my success. I had to figure out a way to repair the connection, before I took too much. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t do good. I… I was glad, for what I’d managed to do, clearing out the woods. Not proud, but glad. It was as if a deep-seated worry had less of a hold on me. I could do good. I would do good.”
    – “I would have held his hand, if I could have. But I just walked alongside him.”
    – “We walked together. It wasn’t a fast walk. I knew the minutes and hours were ticking on. I knew this was an imperfect science. Time I should be sleeping, preparing for something that was pretty fucking scary. But like I’d said, I had something to do.”
    – “It didn’t take that long to find, now that we were close. He started to break up when we reached places he never had, and places where he was too far away, like he had when I’d fought the Hyena.”
    – “When I looked at Evan, he was crying. “You found me,”“Yeah. I’m sorry it had to be like this.””
    – ““I… I think you’re pretty amazing, lasting as long as you did. And, I think there’s something to you, that maybe resonates with me. Being scared, being alone. I had a long series of bad days, too. We’re similar, kind of.”“Yeah?”“You don’t have to answer right away, but… well, it’s maybe not the best idea, it would mean you’d have to help me in some pretty ugly stuff. But would you want to be my familiar?””
    – ““Like the witch has her black cat, kind of. You could be alive again. And I think you’d be you, because you’d take a little bit from me to stay whole. I’d… I’d like to think I’d take from you too. Because helping you, like someone once helped me? It might nourish my soul, my being, if that makes any sense.””

    1. So your response to people telling you that they didn’t like what you were doing with this…was to just wait until most people stopped paying attention and then post it anyway? Assuming that your intent is to communicate to the author what lines you liked so as to aid in his writing, I can only applaud your decision, as it accomplishes your goal without irritating those who expressed irritation. I might recommend putting more space in between the quotes, however, so that it’s not quite so “wall of text”-like.

      I…don’t see your reasoning for the oaths to Rose restricting Blake’s actions as such. Saying that he will help her doesn’t preclude him doing anything that would hurt her, even if the drain drew greater when he was spent or somesuch.

      He bound his ghosts without a contract–the contract was just to keep the them from screwing the other over. So he did know this. Even if we didn’t see him do it, however, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how. I was befuddled last time when Blake used the cord pentagram to bind Pauz, because I didn’t know that he knew that. I imagine he thought that he would have to say “I bind you,” but technically the Hyena already was physically restricted by a chain covered in liquid power. I was befuddled this time that the goblin could turn itself into an object that it is bound with; if he didn’t know that, what was he going to bind it to, the chain itself? If he did, why not stipulate that in the contract with Pauz, and keep his hands on that book that he needs?

      I completely agree on the familiar. And if they can’t get a powerful familiar, it really is best that the weaker familiar is a friendly (and AWESOME) one. The whole “I help you find escape routes” is pretty awesome too.

      So. Much. Agreement. on the subject of Rose. I think I posted something to that effect a while ago, but it really is annoying. Though, I do think that Rose already had quite the advantage when it came to knowledge, AND she has the Thorburn name to fall back on, so perhaps she’s not falling behind as much as you may think, and I did think that this was giving Blake more chances to add to his own name, something he seems to need pretty desperately.

  41. the drama nuances from Blake and Evan, no matter how unearthly, got a down-to-earth feeling to it, inexplicable but somehow understandable, and when that is given to a casual reader such as me, it sent chill down my spine.

    After all, I learned the action-suspense wasn’t everything (in Pactverse), arguably, ‘mundane’ character relationships (their ups and downs) frequently present a solid grounding, a familiar feeling where reader could simply make sense of this ever-conflicting moral discombobulating warfare.

  42. What did it say, that I was willing to have contact with him?
    That he’s a kid, which makes him A. not a threat and B. appeal subconsciously to those paternal/protective bits of your brain?

  43. FYI, there are traces of Google Translate in this chapter – Comhroinn liom and Comhroinn le linn are surrounded by span id=”result_box”

  44. You bastard, Wildbow! I wanted so much for Evan to join up somehow with Blake (I was thinking infusing into some other material), and then almost squee’d at the familiar part.

    And then you fucked it up. I can’t believe it.

    Really though, great job on the story. A bit slow at first for me, but I am now enjoying this just about as much as Worm.

  45. Hi, long time reader first comment! Finished Worm a while back and now catching up with this. I’m usually too impatient to comment (sorry!), but dude, this fucking chapter.

    The last scene between Blake and Evan made me cry, like really cry for about 20 minutes. I like the fact that Blake didn’t count costs or think about power and simply went with what felt right when asking Evan to be his familiar. The idea that they’re two damaged kids who are so determined to survive and they could maybe find strength in each other, that’s incredibly touching and beautiful writing.

    And I felt like that scene helped me too, though I’m not sure how or why. I think that’s what good writing is supposed to do, take the reader on a journey that they come out of with a few more emotional skills and a bit more strength to face things in real life. So, yeah. Thanks for that.

    (Btw, while reading this, I remembered a poem by William Blake called the Sick Rose which has the line “The invisible worm”? Bit of a stretch but I thought it was funny.)

  46. Hmm, everyone is assuming the cops are actually police. Therefore, because this is Wildbow, there must be a twist. Like when Blake just closed the door on Barbatorem. I think something is pretending to be the police to take advantage of Blake. Or maybe just to troll him.

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