Conviction 5.3

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Who was Blake Thorburn?

Who was I, in the grand scheme of it all?  What did I amount to?  When I bled the essence of Blake Thorburn onto the concrete floor of a jail cell, what was I giving up?

Presence.  I couldn’t communicate effectively with Evan.  The loss of presence was part of the aim, though.  To put myself in a situation where maybe I could slip the metaphorical noose.

Strength.  I couldn’t stand straight.  Kind of a problem when I needed to be running.  I didn’t have balance.  When I pushed on a door to let myself into the next section of the building, I found it hard to do.  Hard to say how much was blood loss, how much was a loss of personal power, and how much was my disconnection from reality.

My awareness of the world was fuzzier.  Flickers appeared and lingered at my peripheral vision, like radio static, rain, or falling leaves.  I was hearing phantom sounds, only to realize they were real sounds, badly filtered.  I couldn’t pick out what I was supposed to hear and the background noise of the police station.

My thoughts, too, were fuzzier, disconnected from events.  Which was why, really, I was dwelling on what was happening to me more than on my surroundings.

“-Have to go that way,” Evan said.  He said it to Rose.

“Okay,” Rose said, before glancing at me.

She was clear enough.  So was Evan.

They were easy to focus on.

We headed down the hallway to the stairs.  I missed the first step and came down hard on the next.

Feathers rose into the air, touched with blood.

I looked down for the source of the feathers, and I saw my tattoos.  Three of the birds were beheaded or partially beheaded, the cuts intersecting their faces and necks, the other parts of their bodies already gone.  The blood that still bled out from the wound was thicker around the stumps, and the matted blood where I’d pressed my arms against the mattress to staunch the flow was caked around their bodies more than anywhere else.

Huh.

“Blake,” Rose shouted, from somewhere far away.  “Pay attention!”

I’d stopped.  I looked around for her.  I wasn’t carrying a mirror, and if I had been, it would have been confiscated along with my various tools.

“Don’t look for me, move!”

Move.  Right.

I headed down the stairs.

“They’re coming,” Evan said.

They?  Who were they?

“Blake!”  Rose said, trying to snap me to reality, maybe doing the opposite.

But I focused.  Bloody feathers on the stairs and the landing before the next flight…

Again, I used my toe to draw a line.  Residual blood from standing in the pool of it made it easier to do.

Officers and a man with a first aid kit came running up the stairs, running right past the disoriented guy with sliced up arms.

I smirked.

“Get moving.”

I wasn’t sure if it was Evan or Rose saying that.  I listened all the same.

As I set foot on the landing, I saw golden diagrams spiral out from scribbles on the wall.  I’d mistaken them for gang tags, but they were runes.

One connection fixated on me, all the more noticeable because my connections to everything else were so thin.

An alarm.  Duncan Behaim was on his way to intercept me.

“The front door is one floor down,” Evan said.  “Very close.  But you have to pass through a gate to get there.  If you go that way, there’s a back door to the parking lot.”

He was more lucid.  Because we were closer to his body?

“The parking lot has a fence, but you can climb on a car to go over.”

If I’m strong enough.

“Okay,” I said.  “Did you find the objects I told you to hunt for?”

No response.

“Objects?” Rose asked.  I saw her face reflected in the glass of a framed award, hanging in the stairwell.  Odd, that it was as easy to make out as it was.

“Duncan Behaim.  Nephew.  He’s borrowing spirits or something,” I said.  “Chronomancy tricks.  Reset my day to keep me here until I’m out of time.  I sent Evan out to see if he could find it.”

“Did you find the things Blake asked you to find?” Rose asked.

“It’s in the basement, I think.  Behind a fence, a man sits there.”

I rounded the end of the stairs, and made my way down the next flight.

“Evidence lockup,” Rose said.  “That’s kind of clever.  We can’t get to the stuff without drawing attention.”

Her voice got further away as I got away from the nearest reflective surface only to jump in volume as I got to the next spot.

“I could do with going to evidence,” I said.  “They have June’s hatchet and supplies.  I think.”

“I still don’t know what’s going on,” Rose said.

“I’m being framed, I said.  “For murder.  Laird’s aiming to win round three, and he’s set his nephew on me…”

More feathers, as I hit the ground a little too fast.  I was moving a little quicker, talking a little more coherently, yet something else was giving way.  It was my focus that was narrowing, a kind of tunnel vision, but it seemed like a damn good deal.  Being able to function, just a little more, for some loss of peripheral vision?

“…backed by all the power the Behaim circle can provide at range,” I said.  I caught some feathers out of the air, jamming them in a pocket.

I had no idea if they were useful or abstract, but I liked having something on hand.  I felt naked without my tools and trinkets.  Exposed, oddly enough.

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Let’s think rationally about this.  Is the hatchet really that useful, worthy of the time and effort?”

Duncan Behaim was closer now.  I was still making my way downstairs.  Time.  That was the question.  If I made my way to the basement, I could very well run into him.  Maybe before I found my things, maybe after, as I made my exit.  It depended on how easily I could find my way through the area, get past the man at the gate, and all the rest.

“What did you bind Evan to?”

“I didn’t,” I said.

“He died in the police station?”

“He died in the woods, where the goblin-Hyena-wolf-thing was.  He survived it.  Escaped,” I said.

“Are the woods close?”

“Evan came with- with his body,” I said.  “Cops brought it.”

“That still doesn’t make sense, Blake.  He’s apparently aware.”

“I know,” I said.

“He’s not a ghost, then?”

“I don’t know what he is.  But he’s a help, and I’m not about to second guess that,” I said.  More feathers came loose as I made my way down to the next landing, taking stairs two at a time and hopping down.

“It kind of matters.”

“Getting out of Duncan’s way matters more,” I said.  “I… tell me what I should do.  I’m compromised.  Not thinking straight.  Do I go for the exit or-”

Duncan turned.  No longer making his way to me.

“-nevermind.  Okay.  Evan.  He… he’s still there.  The echo, yes, but there’s the consciousness, and he’s still got the consciousness.  It never moved on.  He doesn’t want to move on.”

“He’s a soul?”

I winced.  “Don’t know.”

“Actually using and leveraging a soul is a little different than using a ghost, Blake.”

As before, Rose’s voice fell away as I made my way down the steps, then resumed at full volume as I passed another frame.

I stopped in my tracks, quickly enough that more bloody feathers stirred.

“Blake?”

The cadence, the timing of it… something was wrong.  I said as much.

“Something’s fucked up,” I said.  I was slurring my words a bit.

“What something?”

Rose, too close?  Too clear?

I stopped to focus on my environment, and I felt other things slipping away.

I was incomplete, broken up.  Focusing in one area meant sacrificing in others.

I felt that tunnel vision focus begin to fall away, but I also felt weaker, as if I was feeling all of the exhaustion of the last day and all of the effects of the blood loss hitting me at once.

The recovery of my overall awareness was slower, going this way.  I was losing strength and gaining awareness at less than half the speed things had changed, going the opposite way.

Was there some prevailing wind, metaphorically speaking?  Was I working against some general effect that was meant to confound me?

“You’re giving me a really screwed up read, Blake.  I can’t really make things out, especially as they get further from you and the mirrors.  I’m supposed to use you as an anchor, and I don’t think there’s nearly enough tying you down.”

Or holding me up. 

The stairwell looked just a little bit distorted, and it wasn’t my perceptions being twisted.

“Something’s wrong with the stairwell,” I said.

“I don’t think- ever get home,” Evan whispered, agreeing.

“Yeah.  It’s a trap,” I said.

“You’ve been heading downstairs for way too long,” Rose said.  “What floor were you on?”

“Third,” I said.

“I thought it was the sixth or something,” she said.  “Shit.”

My progress down the stairs was slower, this time.  I tracked my location relative to Duncan’s…

One section of stairwell, connected Escher style, top to bottom.

“Find-” I winced at the pain in my arms.  That pain joined my hearing and eyesight among the things that were getting muddled, hard to compartmentalize or stop focusing on.  “Find the rune.”

I was dimly aware of the feathers in the air.  All the ones I’d loosed, while repeating the same descent down the stairs, so disconnected from reality that I wasn’t realizing what was happening.

“There,” Rose said.  “On the other side of the wall.  It’s… glowing in the darkness, kind of.”

I pressed my hand against the wall.

Unreachable.

Unreachable by humans.

“Evan,” I said.  “Go find it, see if you can do something?”

Rose repeated my instruction for Evan, pointing.

He was back in four seconds.  “Can’t.”

“Why not?” Rose asked.

He shook his head.  “Can’t.”

“This isn’t the time to start acting more like a ghost.  Why can’t you?” Rose asked.

“F-frostbite?” Evan asked.

He held up one hand, showing us fingers that were frayed at the tip.  More ghostly than they might otherwise be.

“Salt,” I said.  “This is all very deliberate.”

I was aware of Duncan Behaim making his way across the building.  “Rose?  I guess this is connections 101, for you.  Look.  Can you sense Duncan Behaim?”

“Oh god,” Rose said.  “Blake-”

I winced, and shut my eyes.  Firm, I asked, “Can you?”

“No.”

My heart sank.

“Blake-”

“If I give you more power, then-”

“If you give me more, you’ll die.  Don’t.  I didn’t ever imagine you’d try to do something like this.  Or… get stuck in prison.  Or any of this.  But I’m not capable, even with a bit of a boost.  You shouldn’t have assumed like this.”

“Was going with my instincts,” I said.

“You really shouldn’t trust your instincts if they’re telling you to carve yourself up.”

“I needed backup,” I said  “This kills two birds with one -ow- stone, so to speak.  Bringing you back, and reducing my profile.  This is serious.  We’re in trouble if we can’t deal with Duncan here.  Right now, I think he’s busy setting up more traps.  Sealing us inside the building.”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “I’m trying to think.”

“Good,” I said.  “We need it to come together.  Because I just gave up almost everything I have to bring you back and give you some muscle, and apparently you can’t get muscle.  I need you doing what you can, because I’m not up for more than getting from A to B, and mid-level problem solving.”

“I think you’re putting an unfair burden on me,” Rose said.  “I don’t have the ability to do much of anything, here.  I can’t affect the world.”

“You couldn’t, but that was before,” I said.  “That doesn’t mean you can’t now.  You might be able to talk to people, or distract them, at least.  Figure something out.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

With that, she was gone from the frame.

I wandered down the stairs, then up a few flights.  There was no ‘snap’ when I passed the boundary.  Duncan remained one floor below me at all times.

Rigging traps at the exits, binding me in place.

He hadn’t hurt me, though.  Laird hadn’t either.

That was a good thing to keep in mind.

What were the other options?

Thinking outside the box… I could theoretically break the rune by taking the most direct route.  Rather than walk around to the other side, I could try attacking it from here.

Punch through the wall until I could break the section of wall the rune was painted on?  Even if I had the raw strength, I didn’t want to do that to myself, and I wasn’t sure it would work.  Tearing the railing from the wall somehow and using it as a battering ram?  Same problem.

Besides, my ability to easily alter and affect the world was apparently one of the things I’d lost when I’d spilled my own blood.

I looked down at Evan.  “It looks like we’re stuck here until Rose figures something out.  Unless you can figure out some kind of escape route.”

He turned around.

I followed his line of sight.

“Very funny,” I said.

Much of the light in the stairwell came from a single large window, just above one landing.

He shrugged.

“We’re still on the third floor,” I said.

He shrugged again.

“Right,” I said.  I glanced around.

No other brilliant ideas were presenting themselves.

Staring at the bright window, turned gold by the sunlight, it disoriented.

When I looked away, I couldn’t help but feel that the stairwell was a little more crooked than it had been.

“Fair enough,” I said.  “We’ll do it your way.”

I kicked the window and it didn’t break.  Not a huge surprise; I’d controlled my kick so my leg wouldn’t keep going, only to get sliced up by the remaining glass, but I’d held back in the process… not that strong.

I tried again, moving back so my position would keep my leg from going too far, kicking harder.

Nothing.

Rose returned, her silhouette dark, the light shining from behind her.  “Duncan’s drawing runes by the front entrance.  We need to use the other exit if we’re going to run for it.”

“Any progress on getting me out of here?” I asked.

“I can get reactions from people, speaking, but there’s nothing I can use anywhere near the rune on the wall.”

“Can you break this window?”

I saw her look, craning her head around to take it in.

“Even a little,” I said.  “You have a lot more power to devote to the task.”

“I also lost almost two days of time,” Rose said.

I kicked the window again, to no effect.  I hurt more than the window did.  My arms, my head, my general disorientation…

Fuck.

But that time, I noticed Duncan reacting.

A connection.  Between him and the window?

Of course.  It was an obvious way out.  I hopped up to search the surface.

There.  On the surface of the window, a rune.  I recognized it as one that enhanced durability.

This was the Behaim style, apparently.  Big chronomancy, using the family and the circle, bits of shamanism, enchantment and other tools here and there.  Binding, augmenting, distracting…

I scratched at it.  Permanent marker.

Nothing in the stairwell to scratch at it, my pockets had been cleaned out.

“I can’t think of another way out,” I said.  “I can’t force you, but… well, look at it this way.  It’ll take something out of you, but it’s going to exact a price from him too.  Quite possibly a greater price.  He said he’d keep me here.  Let’s make him lie.”

“And if I spend something and I can’t deal with the abstract demon?”

“Spent or not, we can’t do anything about the abstract demon until we’ve dealt with Duncan here,” I said.

Rose heaved out enough of a sigh that I could see her shoulders move.

“Get back,” she said.

I nodded, retreating partway up the stairs.

I heard a heavy thud, a shuddering of the window within the frame.

“Fuck,” she said.  “Ow.”

Duncan had noticed.  He was approaching now, running.

“A crack… and it didn’t take that much out of me.  One more try…”

The window shattered.  I saw glass fly.

Then Rose’s voice from further up the stairs.  “I am stronger.”

I heard footsteps.  Duncan approaching.

I wasn’t interested in a direct confrontation.  I took a moment, touching my sliced right arm, raised my shirt, and drew a symbol on my chest.

I hoped I had it right.

I got a running start, one hand on the wall for balance, and I jumped.

Tired as I was , the jump still gave me enough air that I could clear the row of jagged glass points at the bottom of the frame.

I didn’t touch the glass, but I didn’t land on the row of parked cars beneath the window, either.

The wind rune I’d inscribed on my chest was one part of it.

The other rune Duncan had drawn on the windowframe, hidden, was the other.

The same kind of rune, apparently, that connected one part of the stairwell to the other.

The sun flashed in my eyes, and I was back in the stairwell, ten feet above the ground.

Ten feet above stairs, rather.

My landing was a rough one.  I was lighter, but not so much that I made it past the entire flight of stairs.  I hit the stairwell, and I didn’t have the balance or wherewithal to catch myself.  I tumbled, and I hit the ground hard.  Pain lanced across my arms, following the tracks of the cuts, reopening them.  My elbow hit floor hard.

“That’ll do,” Duncan Behaim said.

I flopped over, still lying on the ground, a matter of feet from the broken window.

He stood at the top of the flight that led up from my current position.  He leaned forward to correct the angle of a framed plaque on the wall.  “I think we can count this one as a second win for me.  In a moment, we can move on to round three.”

“What if I surrender now?” I asked.

“What if you do?” he asked, sounding very unimpressed.

I spoke, coughed partway through.

“It would help if you were a little clearer,” he said.

I repeated myself, about as loud, then rested my forehead on the ground.  My arms hurt.

“Shall I get a little closer?’ he asked.  “I’ll need to watch my step, lots of glass to slip on…”

A moment passed.  I looked up.

He hadn’t moved one tenth of an inch.

“Uncle told me about your mirror-dwelling companion,” He said.  He touched the frame in front of him, moving it so it was askew.  “I’m not an idiot.  You’re going to need to try a little harder than that.”

The frame exploded, all the same.  A hand thrust out with the glass, faint, feminine, with nails poised to strike like claws.  It grasped blindly for Duncan’s face.

Duncan caught Rose’s wrist.  Already, that faint hand was fading.

Before it could, he twisted it, and drove it hard against the side of the frame, where ragged glass still jutted out.

Rose screamed.  Duncan let go, and the hand became smoke.

Glass around me shifted as if something was moving through it, until Rose appeared in a larger fragment that rested against the wall, clutching her wrist.

Duncan held up a taser.  A spark danced around one of the two prongs at the end.  “Need to get a few things in order before I can turn back the clock again.  I can’t have you running around while I get ready, so I’m going to have you take a short nap.  Your choice.  This or I throw down the cuffs and you put them on.”

“How do I know you won’t use both to be safe?  You guys like your overkill,” I said.  “Looping areas, turning back the clock, slowing time around an entire property…”

“I guess it’s just the taser, then.  As for your observation, it’s hard to dedicate your time to appreciating and studying something as vast and powerful as time, without feeling a need to throw your metaphorical weight around,” he replied.  “I’m sure you understand that, this in mind, we’re rather concerned about you wielding something approximately as vast and powerful, and rather more dangerous.”

I shifted position, trying to back up some, but apparently an inability to bounce back easily was a consequence bleeding myself out.

He was halfway down the flight.  He lifted a picture frame off the wall and tossed it further up the flight of stairs, in my general direction, before Rose could make use of it.

“I have nothing against you, Evan,” he said.  “What happened to you was a tragedy.  I’m genuinely sorry it happened.  But I will banish you if you get in the way, here.  Send you to your final rest by force.”

“I wanted someone to find me,” Evan said.  “I wanted- help.”

“I know,” Duncan said.

“Evan-” I said.

He was summing up his strength, to break pattern.  “He came.”

“I know,” Duncan said.

“Evan,” I said, again.  “Rose, please tell him.  He shouldn’t make it for nothing, here.”

“Kid,” Rose said.  “Blake doesn’t want you to get banished for his sake.”

Evan turned.  Duncan paused partway up the stairs, waiting.

“Tell him to go.  That I said he should.”

“You should leave, Evan,” Rose said.

“But-” Evan said.  He clenched small, immaterial fists.

“Go!” I said.

I saw Evan react, just a fraction.

“He insists,” Rose said, as calm and quiet as I’d been loud.

Evan ran, disappearing down the stairs.

“Thank you,” Duncan said.  He resumed his approach, kicking glass off each stair before setting his foot firmly down on top of it.  “That was decent of you.  If it helps, I don’t have any hard feelings.

“But you’ll pull out all the stops, huh?” I asked.

“I’m not evil,” he said.  “I’m not doing evil.  I’m only doing what I can to keep this situation contained, and quite frankly, it’s kind of a rush to do it with the family’s backing.  I go years without doing anything on even half this scale.”

Evan reappeared, at the top of the stairs.

Following the circuit, from the bottom stair to the top.

I averted my eyes, and started to struggle to my feet.

“Stay put,” Duncan said.

Evan descended to a stair two steps above Duncan.

Then Evan screamed.  Blood-curdling terror distilled, an echo of a memory.  All without warning, in the ear of a man who’d thought he was alone with me and Rose.

A man standing on stairs.

Duncan half-turned and tipped over in the process.

He fell down the stairs much as I had.

I moved, reaching for the taser.

Duncan moved faster.  He hadn’t spent his blood.  He didn’t have gashes running from wrist to elbow.  He was athletic, and in peak fighting shape, recent fall excepted.

I caught his wrist, stopping him from jabbing me, but he got one hand around my right arm, and he dug his fingers into the cut there.

I bit back the scream, groaning instead, doing what I could to put up a fight.  Which didn’t amount to much.

He pinned me, and panic started to win out.  I craned my neck away from the encroaching taser.

Having Evan close helped, somehow.  It was hard to define why.  He’d fought so hard, and he was counting on me, on a level.  I didn’t want him to erode away into becoming another haunt.

I managed to gather up enough presence of mind to twist my head away and scream, “Rose!”

One pane of glass that still jutted out from the window shattered.  Duncan let go, and I pushed him off me, scrambling back.

I briefly considered grabbing a large piece of glass and slashing the man while he was distracted.  But Evan was close, and my right arm throbbed badly enough that I wasn’t willing to let go with my left.

That one took something out of me,’ Rose said, from somewhere nearby.  She sounded weaker.

Duncan was holding one side of his face.  He had a dark look in his eyes when he looked over at me.  He wiped one hand at his eye, and it came away with blood on it.

He lunged, taser in hand, and I threw myself back.  Weak as I was, I moved a little too far, a little too fast, and I hit the wall hard enough that it hurt, cracking my head on it.

My hair was waving like I was in the midst of a strong breeze.

The wind rune.

He was fueling the runes with something on his person.  I’d seen the connection earlier.

I’d already given so much.  A little more…

I let go of my right arm, and my hand was so sticky it pulled at the open wound.  With my bloody hand, I reached over to the window, planted my hand down on the second rune, smeared until I broke the connection, and vaulted over.

This time I made it through.

Something, a lot of somethings, broke, all through the building.

My exit was followed by an spray of glass, bloodstained feathers, and dust.  The wind rune’s wake, perhaps, or the change in pressure that came with the breaking of the effect in the stairwell, releasing the pent up energy and whatever else.

I hit the ground.  I was lighter, buoyed by the wind, but it still wasn’t the most graceful landing.

I gripped my right arm and staggered to my feet.

Not in Kansas anymore.

I hadn’t landed in the parking lot.  Not exactly.

There, in the distance, I could see Conquest’s tower.

The buildings around me were subtly distorted, the streets largely empty.  Where there were people, they were far away, more twisted than the buildings.

Evan jumped down from the shattered window, landing on the roof of a car with an audible thud.

“Um,” I said.

“Blake?” Rose spoke up.  Reflected in the rear window of a parked car.  The car looked like it had been sitting there for years.  Other cars were only partially there.  Derelicts.

“Something’s wrong,” I said.  Did Conquest make a move?

“You look like hell,” Rose said.  “Does that count?”

“Maybe,” I said, my voice low.  “I’m… seeing things.”

“What things?”

“Conquest’s tower-”

I had to stop.  I hurt.

“-A world that’s sort of like Johannes’ demesne.”  I turned my head, looking around.

“You’re sinking,” Rose said.  “Something like that.  There are different terms for it in different books.”

“Sinking?”

“Losing your footing.  I can’t say, since I don’t really see it, I can’t see much at all, frankly, but it could be you have one foot in the spirit world and one in the real world.  Maybe it’s both feet.”

Losing touch with reality.

Too much me given away.

“What… what happens?” I ask.

“You go where anyone goes, if they slip through the cracks.”

“Vague,” I said.  My heard hurt.  My body hurt more.

“It changes from place to place, urban area to rural.  But it’s the spiritual equivalent of rock bottom.  It’s where people like Dowght might go or be chased off to by locals when the imp is done with him, or where things like the goblin you fought might dwell, if they weren’t quite strong enough to hold a territory.  Dark places, dog-eat-dog, unpredictable, hard to navigate.  The spirit analogue to the deep wilderness.”

“No shit?” I asked.

“Sometimes there’s shit,” she said.  “Sometimes fire, sometimes a garbage dump or a lightless pit or it’s a frozen wasteland without any light to go by… like I said, it varies from place to place.  It’s a place defined by the misery and self loathing and desperation of those who dwell in it.”

My arms were throbbing, and I was cold.

“I already had a taste of rock bottom before,” I said.  “Before this.  I don’t want to experience the practitioner-hell version of it.”

“Then don’t use more blood for power,” she said.  “Because I don’t want you to go there, especially if it means you drag me there with you.”

I nodded.

“He’ll come after us if we don’t run,” Rose said.  “That Duncan guy will.”

“Probably,” I said.

“Half the day has passed already,” Rose told me.  “We need to get moving, start planning.”

“We do,” I said.  “But we also need to be ready.”

“You want to go back in?”

“I… think we have to,” I said.

“For June?  For the locket, I presume?”

I ran the edge of my thumb along one of the sore spots where the locket’s chain had rubbed me raw.  “Those things too.”

I turned and headed for the side door that Evan had mentioned.

Duncan was making his way down.

Evan led the way.  Passing through the door.

I couldn’t move it.  Either it was locked, or I was just that weak, now.

I saw Rose’s face in the small, chicken-wire covered window.

The window shattered, glass scattering into the building.  I saw a glimpse of her arm, reaching inside-

I heard a click.  I pulled on the door.

I didn’t have the strength to open it, not completely.  It might as well have been ten times the size.  I had to leverage all my strength to haul it open enough to fit my body between it and the frame, the cuts on my arms screaming with pain.

The walls were stark, cracked to the point that I could see through them.  The stairs were too steep, and I had to catch one railing with both hands to keep from falling.  Every door was barred.  Ghosts… if they could even be called ghosts, lurked in places I couldn’t access.  Shadows of high emotion and desperation, despair and rage.  It was an exaggeration.  A police station as drawn by spirits that were drawing from memory.

“I want to see you, Evan,” I said.

He didn’t react.

“Are you sure, Blake?”

“Do you really want to second guess me, with Duncan bearing down on us?”

She made a face.  “Where’s your body, Evan?”

He didn’t respond, but he turned.  A sharp left.

I saw staff members, police officers, but they were as abstract in this world as some Others were in ours.  Blurry, indistinct.

I’d dug myself in too deep.

That boded ill.

“Rose-” I started.

Him?”

“Feels right,” I said.

“It feels wrong to me,” she said.  “He’s a soul.  A person.  For real.”

“He’s a person that’s said he wants to stick around,” I said.

“You don’t have to like it,” I said.  I was too tired, too insubstantial, to pick my words carefully.  “-have to decide.  Either call him back, tell him to take us to the inventory lockup, or go get the book.”

“This is something huge for both of us.  I’m attached to you, and I’m attached to him by association.”

“Are you saying you don’t like him?”

“That’s not what I’m saying.  I don’t know him.  This is something that takes time.

“Time’s a luxury we don’t have,” I said.  My voice was ragged, came off harsher than it otherwise could.  “I just carried out your plan, binding the imp, giving it to Conquest.  I fought the Hyena, and that was a bitch in its own way.  I’m spent.  Say no, say yes, but don’t fucking dither when every second counts!”

“You can be a real asshole sometimes, Blake.”

“If it helps,” I said, my voice still ragged, worse for having shouted, “I’m not really me right now.”

“Is that it?  Or is it the opposite?  Is this Blake Thorburn with all the flesh and mortal warmth bled away?

She was gone a heartbeat later.

Shaking with exhaustion and anger, I joined Evan in the morgue.  Dozens of ghosts, so insubstantial that many didn’t have faces, faded in and out of existence, lighting the otherwise dark room like so many dying candles.

Evan stood by the wall, brighter and clearer than all of the rest put together.  I didn’t even need to ask.  The connection was clear enough.

I opened the hatch and pulled on the drawer.  It took me three good tugs to get it out, and it was on rollers.

“Did you decide, Evan?” I asked.  “The answer to my offer.”

“To be your partner?”

“Yeah.”

“Why not that girl?”

“It doesn’t feel right,” I said.  “I don’t want to pick her because she’s there.  I want to pick someone who feels like they fit.”

Duncan was in the basement, but he didn’t come for me.  He went to another room, then stopped.

He couldn’t see me, nor could he see the connection between us.

“What do I do?”

“You only have to agree,” I said.  “I… I’ve heard this described as a kind of marriage, which is kind of creepy when I think too hard about it.  But I suppose some principles apply.  If I had to make vows, if I wanted to extend a promise to you while letting you know what you were in for, I couldn’t say that it’d all be happy, or safe.  I could give you a taste of being alive again, but there would be a lot of scary stuff.”

“I’m not a happy person anymore,” he said.  “I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe again.”

“I think you could, if you moved on.”

“I can’t do that most of all,” he said.  Nonsensical, but I got the gist of it.

“I can say that I’m probably going to go up against some scary things.  Things like your wolf.  I’m going to try my damndest to stop them.  To catch them or kill them.  I want to be a force for good in the world, and helping you, stopping the Hyena?  That’s the first time I felt like I was doing that.”

“I want to help people too.  It’s not so complicated when I think about it.  I don’t want people to feel like I did.”

I nodded.  “So… as far as vows go… I’m going to say that if you agree, and you don’t have to agree, really, I’m going to try and be the kind of practitioner that you can be proud of helping.”

“I’m supposed to say something too?”

“If you want.”

“I don’t know what to promise.  I want to help.  I want to stop the bad things, and you’re saying I can help that happen.”

“I can think of a good promise,” I said.  “When this is done… when I fail, somewhere along the line, and something stops me instead of me stopping it?  When I die and the bond between us is broken?  I want you to promise that you’ll say you’re okay.  That you did help.  That you did what you were supposed to and you can move on.”

I saw him stiffen.

“The promises aren’t supposed to be easy,” I said.  “If you really want to stick around, hanging around me might not be the best way to do it.”

“I’ll… I’ll stay.  I promise I’ll go when you do.”

I glanced to my right.  Rose was there, reflected on the inside of the door.  She looked pensive.  Not quite like she was reconsidering her former stance, but… pensive.

“He needs to agree to the Other’s oaths,” Rose said.  “Then we can do the ritual.”

Duncan was still in the basement.

I saw a man enter the room, indistinct and dark, pick up some things at a table, then stride out.  Faceless ghosts watched his every move.

“Can you read?” Rose asked.

Evan nodded.

“You’ll need to read this.  I can’t have you repeat after me, or I might bind myself,” she said, holding the book where he could see.  “The words will be backwards, but try to hurry.”

“I…”

“Your name.”

“I, Evan, agree… to… be… bound… by… the…”

“Strictures,” Rose said.

“Strictures…”

He continued.

Breathing hard, hurting all over, leaning on the drawer, I stared down at the body that sat between us.  The centerpiece for our little ritual here.  A portion of my attention rested with our adversary, the remainder was split between Evan’s recitation and trying to figure out what time it was, how much time I had left

Duncan Behaim would get his round three after all.

With luck, he’d also get something of a surprise.

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329 thoughts on “Conviction 5.3

  1. Just heading out to walk the dog, not going to do a full donation thank you, but I did want to just extend a special thank you to Jim S. The card was lovely, and it’s a thrill to finally get something in my P.O. Box. I do appreciate it.

    1. Nooo my holy trinity is destroyed. I was hoping for Rose, Mirror World and Mirror as the 3 Rituals. At least that way they probably would have gotten into their house again and stuff.

  2. I feel for Rose and all, but Evan is easily the best choice I can imagine for a familiar. They mentioned that you might have to settle on one of the three to get what you needed for the other two but with Evan they are hardly settling at all and will still have what they need for the next two.

    1. I don’t think it’s clear yet whether they are settling really hard here or getting lucky. Still, they have a couple round 3s to win, so whatever gets him through the next 24 hours I guess.

      1. Still since Blake likes Evan it will never really be settling. Even if power wise it isn’t great I think Blake and Evan could have a good working relationship which is far more important.

  3. Typo thread.

    how much time I had left (missing period)

    “He’s a person that’s said he wants to stick around,” I said.
    “You don’t have to like it,” I said. (repeated I said)

    Likely a few others near the start, but forgotten because I was reading furiously; I’m looking forward to Saturday!

    1. nevermind
      usually never mind

      windowframe
      usually window frame

      taser (more than once)
      Taser (brand name, not generic). Electroshock weapon if generic.

      an spray of glass
      a spray of glass

      self loathing
      usually self-loathing

      Because were closer to his body?
      Because we were closer to his body?
      But considering Blake’s state of mind, perhaps written as intended.

      He’s apparently aware.
      aware

      1. “Taser (brand name, not generic). Electroshock weapon if generic.”

        Honestly though, Taser is common usage, unlike Electroshock weapon. Even more that Kleenex for tissues.

      2. It’s not quite a typo, but I’d add Evan saying something (Probably “Uhh”) that prompts Rose to say “Strictures”, rather than having her volunteer it for no apparent reason.

    2. I couldn’t pick out what I was supposed to hear and the background noise of the police station. (should be from the background noise)

      self loathing (should be self-loathing)

    3. Is Blake Thorburn with all the flesh and mortal warmth bled away? (should be “Is this”, I think?)

      Also – I’m not sure how Evan hears Blake speaking at the end but not the beginning of the chapter; though maybe it’s a question of calling vs. speaking when Evan’s present… I didn’t go back to hunt this down.

    4. Missing closing ” below:
      “Is that it? Or is it the opposite? Is this Blake Thorburn with all the flesh and mortal warmth bled away?

      Missing period below:
      A portion of my attention rested with our adversary, the remainder was split between Evan’s recitation and trying to figure out what time it was, how much time I had left

    5. Consistency about stairs:

      “You’ve been heading downstairs for way too long,” Rose said. “What floor were you on?”

      “Third,” I said.

      Duncan remained one floor below me at all times.

      “We’re still on the third floor,” I said.

      [in other words, the stair loop is only one floor tall; it runs from floor 2.5 up to floor 3.5, presumably. There must be two landings involved, one with the big window; if there were only one landing, Duncan wouldn’t be able to appear at the top of the flight, as that would put him (looped) on the same landing as Blake.]

      “Duncan’s drawing runes by the front entrance.

      “That’ll do,” Duncan Behaim said.
      I flopped over, still lying on the ground, a matter of feet from the broken window.
      [Blake is on one landing]
      He stood at the top of the flight that led up from my current position.

      [Why would he be above? He’s coming up from the second floor where apparently the main entrance is. Though — perhaps he came up to the landing level 2.5, and stepped down into the looping stair.]

      He was halfway down the flight. He lifted a picture frame off the wall and tossed it further up the flight of stairs, in my general direction, before Rose could make use of it. [“in my general direction” should be down the flight of stairs.]

      Evan turned. Duncan paused partway up the stairs, waiting. [should be “partway down the stairs”.]

      Evan ran, disappearing down the stairs. [this makes sense for Duncan descending towards Blake, as do the following sections where he falls to Blake’s landing.]

      1. Whoa! I guess I shouldn’t use three dashes as separators… I didn’t realize WP supports full Markdown syntax (why should comments ever use heading tags??)

  4. So, Duncan is forsworn. Honest-to-goodness forsworn with a dramatic thunderclap and everything, because he promised to keep Blake in the building and failed. I guess that’s a pretty serious failure, especially since they entrusted a lot of power to him so he could keep that promise.

    And that apparently cost him everything, since he couldn’t even see connections. I guess Duncan can still play the legal angle, since he’s a cop and Blake tried to escape, but I doubt he can make anything stick without magical aid.

    The bad news is, Blake is completely bled dry and it’s not like Evan is a powerhouse either. Binding the abstract demon will be… fun.

    Also, Rose repeatedly mentions that binding an actual human soul was a bigger deal than a ghost. Wonder what sort of side effects we can expect.

    1. If he’s forsworn, then I’m pretty sure that he couldn’t “get his round three.” I took that to mean various traps that were designed to keep him in place breaking once he wasn’t there to contain.

      I also thought that the reason that Duncan didn’t see the connections is for the same reasons that the muggles couldn’t see Blake–because he stretched himself that thin, gave up that much of himself, that there just isn’t much left to see.

      1. Rereading Bonds 1.3, I’m not so sure. Being Forsworn doesn’t mean you lose your ability to use magic (at least not any more than you would with any other lie), it means you lose your ability to defend against it.

    2. I don’t think Duncan is forsworn. We don’t have evidence of an actual promise. But it’s possible that he lost karma and power on failing to do something he said he would do.

      Others reason for him not seeing the connection: Blake barely registering on his radar anymore, because of all the blood he spent, being in the Dark World and all that, and him not really caring since he figures Blake has gone away and he needs to extend the area of effect of his loop rather than run after him.

      1. “We’re keeping you for the entire day” was the promise, IIRC. And when Blake jumped out the window, they clearly failed to keep him for the entire day. And therefore, snap.

    3. I think Blake may just be in a weird enough place that he can’t be seen by anyone not in there with him, even practitioners. If Duncan really is forsworn, round three is going to be a bit of a disappointment, I think. That is, unless his time magic kicks in at a prearranged point and he reverts to being unforsworn… Damn time wizards.

      1. If that were the case, perhaps Blake would also go back to before he spent his power, which would be awesome. Of course, it’d be even better if Rose kept the new power she got from him. But this is all ridiculously optimistic thinking.

    4. I don’t think he’s forsworn for a very simple reason: he didn’t break an oath. There are clearly different levels of lying, and Blake seems to believe that escaping would make Duncan a liar, but it should be clear that not all forms of lying instantly forswear a practitioner (Blake and Rose have lied, even). At best, he’s lost some power.

      I agree with Subbak’s analysis, though: he can’t see Blake because Blake has almost no presence left in the real world.

    5. Forsworn is if you break an oath.

      Lying just means you lose some power, I guess related to however many people heard it and how important it was. Practitioners actually can lie, but it weakens them.

      1. I can see Duncan as having sworn an oath to keep Blake in the building for 24 hours to Laird and company: they gave him loads of fancy toys to play with, some of their own power and an important mission. And Duncan most likely would have done so thinking he held all the cards anyways as a police officer and an experienced practitioner. Keeping a murder suspect in custody for a single day should have been childsplay.

        And then it all went horribly wrong.

        1. Hmm…

          I wonder.

          If being foresworn is such a big deal to practitioners, yet all it means that you lose your ability to defend against magic. Does that mean that – for us to truly grasp its severity – we should look at it as the practitioners’ equivalent to contracting HIV?

          1. I think that being forsworn is bad because not only will you lose any protections you had set up for any enemies, you now have nothing stopping any malevolent others from going after you. It’s like being chucked into shark infested waters after being cut open so your bleeding, I think.

  5. Well, I’m jazzed to see the familiar binding starting to rev up…and worried about the fact that they were supposed to run their Big Three deals past the family lawyer first…

    Hopefully that won’t bite them in the ass too hard.

    Thank you for including that bit about why Rose wouldn’t work as a familiar. The biggest issue that people tend to have about predicting actions like this is that we forget how the characters feel about things, rather than just what is most effective, and I certainly did that here myself.

    How did Rose figure out what he was talking about, though? I know the conversations people have had about this, about the offer made, and I still didn’t make the connection to what he was saying that fast.

    1. Oh, yeah. The lawyers might be upset with him. They might even conclude that he has failed to adhere to the terms of Rose Senior’s will, and pass the house on to the next Thorburn. THAT SURE WOULD SUCK.

  6. This was some really good chapter. Now that Blake’s on the backfoot, I find the tension has really ratcheted up a notch. It’s a lot more compulsive reading than the info dumps of earlier arcs.

  7. Great chapter (as well as the one before, where I didn’t have the opportunity to comment).

    So I’m not sure how this works… Apparently the idea is that if Evan is Blake’s familiar, Duncan resetting the day takes him with him. So even though the ritual was done during round two, it stays done. But does Blake’s blood loss stays done as well? Or does he reset the day with unspent power?

    Also, apparently, the time he spends stuck in a loop counts again his deadline for Conquest, or at least Duncan appears to think so. It also would explain why Duncan reset Blake’s day on top of his own (aside from meta-level narrative reasons): Blake is on a shorter deadline and will have spent more power, and while he is acting with additional information Blake has proved talented enough at just improvising things that Duncan may feel this is not so much of a drawback. Of course, if he gets a familiar out of the deal well Duncan may want to reconsider that…

    1. I was wondering about whether the time travel resets his state or not. It’d be awesome if Blake got all of his power back, especially since presumably the Behaims would be the ones fronting the cost.

    2. I’m thinking that yes, the familiar bond won’t break with the reset. First of all, that’s a hard connection to break – normally it only breaks if the practitioner dies. Second, the reset spell targets Blake. If Evan is part of Blake, then the spell targets him as well. Memories and whatnot should be intact I think. As to other things, Blake’s physical state might be restored (no self inflicted injuries) but I suspect his loss of power might still be a thing, though he might gain quite a bit back with his familiar connection to Evan.

      I don’t think the time he spends in the loops counts against the deadline. Blake has “from midnight to midnight to accomplish one task.” and “The same goes for the next day, and the next.” – the deal with half the day passing probably just has to do with how much time has passed in the current loop. A reset would actually give Blake some time back, so if he can get out quicker he’ll benefit.

      1. Then if Blake does not loose power or time, what exactly is the point for Duncan of resetting him as well? Lower power/karmic cost because it “feels” right to the spirits enacting his ritual?

        I know some people have said that if Duncan could reset his day without affecting anyone else it would be OP, but the fact that he can affect noone else but Blake is already OP… He could use that time to deal with something else than the Blake situation, possibly. Also, there were several characters in Worm (think of most 10+ Thinkers) that had abilities on the same range of power evel as “reset your whole day while keeping the memory”. So I don’t buy the explication “if he could do that, he would already run the universe”.

        1. Maybe Blake remembered because he’s a practitioner, (so any practitioners in range would remember) and was named so that he didn’t regain anything he’d spent on the previous loop. Sort of a “fuck you, your power and energy was pointlessly spent away on a reality that no longer exists”. Sounds like a Behaim thing to do.

          Also, if you look mechanics-wise, it makes sense for this setting that there’d be a non-obvious price for the reset, and I’d imagine that the caster has to spend power to refund losses to those who are not targeted specifically.

      2. I’m fairly certain the time loop only really ‘exists’ inside the police station, or to however far Duncan extended it to. Similar to how Laird slowed Blake’s timeline the first time they met so that it appeared only a few minutes had passed while he was sitting at the booth, but time snapped back to having had a few hours pass when he left it.
        I’m pretty sure all the Behaim time magic is fixed to specific areas, time passing normally outside of those areas, similar to how time might distort in a demesne.
        Therefore, it would count against his time.

        I do agree, though, that it’s likely he’ll be healed but still have lost power. Duncan probably will have lost power as well.

  8. I hope Blake’s bird can come back to life when he’s feeling a bit more like himself. Tiffany and her friend who did the tatoos are going to freak out otherwise, and either he’ll have to come out as a practitionner, or he’s going to say that he had them altered to be decapitated birds, which will not help the “I’m not a crazy child murderer” thesis.

  9. So what is Evan’s mortal form gonna be? A mouse? A Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)? A Tundra Merlin (Falco columbarius columbarius)? A bat? A Right-Hand Cat?

      1. “Zombie” and “gets better” don’t really mean the same thing…

        In any case, I doubt Evan could reveal himself without repercussions, since they’d be bringing people into the nasty, brutish, and short world that practitioners live in… and suffer all the karmic backlash that entails.

      2. I’m imagining a scene in a courtroom, with Evan as a newt familiar.

        Lawyer: And then Mr. Thorburn killed that poor child!
        Evan: No he didn’t! He turned me into a newt!
        everyone stares
        Evan: I got better.

        1. “-What do you burn apart from witches?
          -More witches !
          (silence)
          -Uh… Wood?
          -Exactly. So if he is made of wood, he is a witch. What are thorns made of?
          -Burn !!!!!!!!!!”

    1. Let’s see. An animal that will run from a great threat, intelligently, yet will also stand and fight protect ones it has a bond to. Based on what happened on the stairwell, and before, I believe that Blake, despite his grandmother’s wishes, has collected himself a dog familiar. I could definitely see Evan as a Border Collie or some other small-medium size dog known for high intelligence.

      1. I know a fellow named HABIT would suggest he be a rabbit.

        With Blake’s lifestyle, though, he’s going to need a pet that travels well and isn’t overly suspicious if he carries it around with him.

        That’s why I suggest that Evan should be the Atretochoana eiselti, a sort of snake-like amphibian without lungs or limbs.

        Ok, so some people might be frightened by that particular familiar.

        You know what, even better. Get Blake a pirate hat: it’s time for a parrot! Bright, colorful, kids like them, and they don’t look out of place riding around on someone’s shoulder. My suggestion is one of the Macaws.

        Ethan the Parrot would have some good benefits. He could fly around and scout the area. He could talk to Blake like that, giving him tips that are easily dismissible as just the parrot talking. He also draws attention from civilians, making it more likely that he’d have a crowd around him to serve as protection in case anyone tries something in public. Plus, while a bird colorful bird does somewhat stand out if you’re close enough to see it or happen to be looking up at the right angle, it also means that should Ethan get wounded or separated in that form, civilians would notice and provide assistance. They would be more willing to defend such a bird, known as they are as pets and as something people consider cute. If they remember Blake, they could even help bring it back for him.

        Besides, I think he’s going to wind up with bird anyway. Blake’s got bird tattoos that help keep track of his HP and MP levels. He travels all the time, and a bird could ride with him in his pocket while seeming less disgusting than a rat or mouse. Smaller ones could be fed with a large pocket of seeds. Plus, birds can scout around without being quite as recognizable.

    2. I would suggest a bat or bird like a robin. They move fast and can search routes quickly.

      Is the Latin significant or just for reference?

        1. A lemur or small monkey could work. I would love to see Blake team up with Evan Aladdin-style. I do see one problem though:

          A monkey . . . in Canada? It would look strange to see a guy with a monkey companion.

        2. No. Monkey’s are foul, evil, poo flinging little bastards. Evan is far to nice and clean a kid to be a monkey. Stupid monkeys, they always made us watch them for too long at the zoo, and rushed us right past all the cool stuff like the Elephants and Bears, and Otters. Oh god now it’s the baboons with their hidious asses, always turning them towards us, and we have to eat next!

          Ahem, anyways I think Monkey’s are only good when eaten by Harpy Eagles. Harpy Eagles are awesome.

      1. I would love for Blake to have a kid sidekick or servant boy, but how would he explain his new companion to regular people? If he still has the apartment when this is over, how does he justify the new roommate to Joel?

  10. That was great. And now Evan is Blake’s familiar! is happy 🙂

    I guess Blake has decided to go all in for one final round. Either way, it’ll definitely be decisive. I think this is for the best, actually. He’s in a significantly weaker position in a rigged game, so the way to actually come out ahead is to go all in on a situation that looks winnable, rather than waiting for them to put you in an inescapable situation. Duncan clearly isn’t a bigwig in the Behaim family, so Blake could potentially pull off a real win here and shut Laird down hard.

    Also, it looks like I was wrong, and “we’re going to keep you for the day” is a promise of a sort. I’m a bit surprised by that. I guess as a practitioner you shouldn’t make claims about the future unless you really mean it.

  11. So, to be clear, Evan is now Blake’s familiar. Right? Because if someone bursts in and interrupts the ritual, I’m going to go crazy(/ier).

    1. Didn’t you catch the earlier speculation? All of the important conversations get interrupted. This one will likely be no different.

      The ritual has begun. It has not yet been finished.

      1. That’s /exactly/ what I’m afraid of. Goddammit, wildbow. You’re going to make us all suffer for the lulz, aren’t you?

  12. It might be written this way because Blake is disorientated, but:

    Because were closer to his body?

    should probably be using “we’re” or “we were.”

  13. Oh Happy Day! Duncan Behaim, catspaw of the Laird, has fallen prey to his own trap and become forsworn! Evan has consented to become Blake’s familiar! Rose becomes badass for a few moments! This calls for jubilation in the streets!

    I have provided suitable background music in the link.

  14. Great chapter! There is hope for Blake yet! I can’t wait to see the repercussions of Blake taking round 3…

  15. Oh dear. Blake looks to be on his last leg. I wonder if binding to Evan will result in Evan retaining memories from the time they were together in the second rewind. Of course, it might be that the third rewind breaks that binding, because then it would have never happened.Same goes for the giving of power.

    Of course, if Behaim is really forsworn, then there may not be a third rewind. That isn’t necessarily a good thing either, because Blake’s in a really bad state. Not only is the blood loss bad, but so is his loss of himself.

      1. It seems practitioners can worm their way out of legal situations fairly easily. So long as he’s gone and there’s no connections (+therefore no awareness) remaining between him + cops he’s out. Electronic records don’t even seem to matter.

        1. I think it’s records as a whole that don’t matter, and the electronic nature of things is irrelevant. I mean, Blake could see the areas of perception of cameras, not just people.

          But that’s an interesting point, though it seems like it’s likely not one that holds wholly true when there are other practitioners there to spit in your soup.

        2. Correction: Practitioners can worm their way out of legal situations easily when they have no practitioners are working against them and vast resources, including enchanters. It’s less clear on how easy it is without knowledge, experience, power and karma reserves, and enchanters helping you out.

          Enchanting seems pretty OP for manipulating muggles, honestly, so I’d imagine the better enchanter has the best chance of winning in a legal battle with everything else being equal (obviously the defendant has an advantage if there’s no evidence and/or you have an alibi and the plaintiff has an advantage if there’s lots of evidence).

      2. It certainly makes a compelling case, at least to the police. The general assumption is that if you are keeping secrets, you’re guilty. Add in an escape to the picture and you can guess what the police are thinking.

        The interesting part is how the “cutting of connections” works. It makes you forget that the person is in the room with you, but does it erase their very knowledge of that person? Chances are, probably not.

        1. The impression I got is that it essentially removes your focus/attention on that person. You might remember at some level that you’re supposed to have a prisoner called Blake in the cell block but you won’t think about it unless someone brings your attention firmly back to that.

          Think of how noone thought anything of Duncan being in the room until Blake kept forcibly drawing their attention back to it.

          If Blake cut the connections, effectively the police would forget they need to pursue him, but Duncan could just keep reminding them.

          Muggles really do seem to be playthings of the practitioners in this setting…

  16. Hmm, I like Duncan a little bit more now. And Blake should really stop cutting himself everytime he’s faced with a problem. Stop hurting yourself Blake! It’s not the answer!

    Looks like Evan is joining the gang, let’s hope this doesn’t end horribly for him.

    1. Well Duncan’s little speech, and his willingness to let Evan go… I definitly like him better than Laird. Laird, I always feel like his actions are tainted with self interest, and a lot of smug bastardy. I get a lot less of that with Duncan.

  17. Great, marrying kids and performing rituals with the dead. This is turning into a regular Mormon cult around here. What’s next, magical underwear?

    That’s not a joke. Mormons have magical underwear. How long before Blake starts wearing one with a special “Please don’t let me crap these” rune in them?

    1. And along with the magic underwear Mormons wear, Catholics, with the rite of transubstantiation, practice ritual cannibalism? Sheesh. Don’t act like one of the Behaims, don’t try to use literal truth to push your figurative lies.

      1. Yes. But most religions are pretty fucked up, it’s not just Catholics.
        My religion has a folk belief about swinging a chicken three times around your head (by its head) until you break its neck. Symbolically giving it your sins for the year.

        Fucked Up, folks, that’s religion in a nutshell.

        1. I think it’s more that old culture in general is fucked up, and religion is the only place it hasn’t been cleaned up to meet modern standards (what with the sanctity of the religious tradition and all that jazz). This is probably why I’ve always found religious books terribly disappointing as moral guides.

        2. Atheism Baby!

          Problem with the Mormon branch of my family is that with all the kids they taught them to fend for themselves when it comes to food gathering. Or in other words they clean out your fridge without ever asking.

      2. While I’m under no restriction as far as lying, I have yet to see where anything in that comment was a lie, especially with you admitting that they were all literally true.

        If I have offended your religious sensibilities, then please, as an upstanding and moral person, pray for your deity to kill me. They say that if you have but a tiny seed of faith, you could move mountains by prayer. Well, toss one on my head, Typhon-style. Rain fire down, zap me with lightning, strike me with a heart attack, or a stroke, or whatever. I’d suggest tsunamis and tornadoes, but those are getting played out.

        Just go ahead and ask for a deity to kill someone who offended you personally, you moral fellow you. Hijack some sort of god responsible for keeping the world spinning and the creation of morality, and be like “He made me angry. Kill him and various people around him.”

        1. I’m an atheist (and not from a Mormon background) but am still offended by your distortion of the truth there. The “Mormons” who marry children are sects that have been excommunicated from the church–they just add that to the name to try to add authenticity to their BS–and the baptisms of the dead don’t actually involve corpses in any way. I do think that the holy underwear is silly, but it’s just a rather heavy-handed attempt to enforce chastity, something plenty of other religions do in other, often far worse ways.

          If you hadn’t said that it wasn’t a joke, it wouldn’t have registered as being as bad as it did, just fyi.

          1. They self-identified as Mormons. Why is that good enough for me? Because I’ve heard the “No True Christian” fallacy used all the time. Every time a Christian does something wrong, another person declares that they were no true Christian. Same for Muslims. I suspect there’s always someone who wants to say that about a member of their religion who does something wrong.

            By your reasoning, Ken Ham has the authority to declare that all Christians who believe in evolution are No True Christian. After all, he makes it a point to claim that there are Christians and there are people who believe in evolution. You know, making the groups mutually exclusive by such a declaration. Thus, they have all been excommunicated and should not be considered Christians. Does this illustrate to you why such a declaration is not good for identifying someone’s religious beliefs?

            Or perhaps you’d like being told by some of these other apologists that you aren’t really an atheist because every atheist secretly knows God is real and is just angry at him. I’ve heard that one before. By your admission, other people get to decide which religious group you belong to, not yourself.

            Instead of confronting that their own religion doesn’t automatically make them moral or that its teachings can be used in a way that other members don’t see as reasonable, they’d rather ignore all that and just declare that the person is not a member of their religion.

            And that is why I don’t accept the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

            As for why I think the baptisms of the dead involve corpses, that’s because baptizing the living is just called baptism. If the person you’re baptizing is a corpse, then the chances are good you’re baptizing the dead, barring a reality where a corpse does not represent a person who was once alive or who will be alive again before long. In other words, you got your causality screwed up on why I’m saying something is akin to something else.

            1. Some nits to pick. ‘Christianity’ almost isn’t a religion anymore, since it applies to so many different splinter groups and sects, but saying someone is or isn’t ‘christian’ is rather different than saying that someone is or isn’t ‘baptist,’ for instance. Referring to those pricks as ‘mormon’ would be about as valid as a cult springing up and referring to themselves as ‘catholic’ without actually, say, following the Pope. Affiliating said hypothetical cult’s actions with the church as a whole is rather absurd, and it is the same principle here.

              I don’t believe that terrorists are true muslims either, quotation marks or not, for many of the same reasons that I don’t think of the Crusaders or Inquisition as truly christian, because they betray the nature of the religion they profess to follow.

              No, it really doesn’t, not least of which is because the LDS church does have a Mormon Pope, which allows for things such as excommunication in the way that being the president of a single ministry doesn’t (at least for believers in other churches).

              My “admission” is that leaders of organized religion can make determinations on whether someone has been ejected from their organization, which is different from what you are saying.

              I have heard that too, but even if it made any sense (or was any more valid a statement than ‘every theist is secretly an atheist who just pretends to believe to make themselves feel better,’) that’s not what atheist actually means. But then, I’m used to people not knowing what they’re actually saying, something that I do attempt to rectify in myself to reduce my hypocrisy.

              I repeat that there is a distinction between denying an individual and an entire group.

              On the (probably faulty) assumption that you are being sincere, baptism of the dead is actually baptizing the living who stand in proxy of the dead; you could argue that the dead are involved, but there are no corpses whatsoever.

            2. I’ve heard some people claim Christianity isn’t a religion, though most of the times that was a Christian attempting to liken it to a philosophy instead. Always a flawed argument, you see. Believes in any religion hold very different viewpoints, enough that they could be said to not be religions by someone wanting to invoke http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman.

              I just have a problem understanding where all the psychics are coming from. Mind reading has never been shown to work before, but all of a sudden you can read the minds of dead, devout Christians from the Middle Ages and determine whether they were pious. You can read the minds of Muslims and Christians alike and tell which ones believe in what you as one individual think religion is all about.

              It’s amazing, especially since it requires a stunning command of so many different languages. We’re talking, even reading people’s minds from the 1700s, you’d have to figure out which “f”s are “f”s and which ones are “s”s. Then you throw in what passed for English even further back in the Middle Ages…a language without even these words http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html

              You would find those people incapable of mimicking cold-blooded luggage.

              That’s just the difficulty reading English minds. You try reading a Muslim mind, you’re likely to make a Farsi out of things.

              Yet you are able to determine whether anyone, even entire groups, were devout believes in the same religion as other sects.

              If you can, read the minds of some highland denominations for me. I’m always interested to hear about butte sects.

            3. Psycho Gecko,you keep throwing the “no true Scotsman “fallacy,but I disagree,kinda,on how you use it.Most fallacies are only fallacies because they are used in the wrong context.Appeal to antiquity,for example,is totaly valid when talking about wines,or about a dam that has never in a 1000 years failed (unless the other argument is that it is too old,so it is falling apart).

              So,how does no true Scotsman apply to ideologies?Ya see,thats the hard thing,ideologies and religions fuck things up like that.Saying Stalin isno true communist,because he did things antithetical to communist thinking,is a valid argument,because an ideology or religion is more than a label.At the same time,the more abstract it becomes,the more opposing sects you get,so in the end you have many groups judging each other as wrong,some of these being wrong according to the ideology or religion objectively,others saying they do not believe specific parts of that ideology or religion,some who take everything literally,others who think more metaphorically etc.

              This,of course,creates chaos.But is chaos enough to cry “fallacy”?no,because some of these are objectively against what the ideology or religion stands for.So,what to do?I cannot advise,but I’ll tell you what I do:I treat every person separately,treating his beliefs and ideologies as he transcribes tem,rather than as others do,and I do the same with each abstract movement/sect/etc (for example I treat Stalininsm different than communism)using labels as a necessary for humanity helper,but not as chains,like you,ironically,do when talking about Mormons or Christians just by telling them they cannot use the “no true Scotsman”fallacy.

            4. Just responding to the “appeal to authority” (aka “appeal to tradition”) bit: That fallacy isn’t really just “older is better” it’s “this is right because we’ve always done it that way”.

              The wine example doesn’t rely on just “older wine is better because it always has been”. Winemakers have a good understanding of the fermentation process and can explain and prove the reasons that aging makes wine better.

              Re: the dam example, you yourself pointed out that it’s a bad idea to assume the dam will hold just because it has always held before.

              The thing about fallacies is that using one doesn’t automatically make the claim wrong. I could argue that male sheep have horns but male pigs don’t have horns therefore it will be sunny tomorrow. It may well be sunny tomorrow, but not because my argument had any validity. Fallacies will always be fallacious, even if occasionally they favour something that happens to be true. And if something is true there will always be other, non-fallacious ways to demonstrate that.

            5. irrevenant,sorry,wrong way of saying it.

              What I meant is,if something looks like a fallacy,that doesn’t necessary mean it is a fallacy.This site
              http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/
              provides an example for every fallacy it has about something that looks like that fallacy,but isn’t.

              No true Scotsman is a fallacy because it moves the goalposts,anyway,not because the conclusion it reaches is wrong,or because it doesn’t adequately prove it.I’d say that,if people were more interesting in the truth than winning an argument,no true Scotsman is a viable argument to refine some points.

          2. Mine is really the better stance, I think.

            After all, the world is full of times when people have been labeled by others and shaken it off. At one point, some white people said some black people were slaves. They said they didn’t deserve equal rights. They said “woman” was the label for someone who stayed in the home, cooked, cleaned, and bore the man’s babies. Some people realize every day that even though society labels them a man or a woman, that society is wrong. Some people realize that they don’t fit in to society’s label that a true man only likes women and a true woman only likes men.

            Some people chose not to believe it and chose not to be constrained by the labels of others. You let someone else label you like that, and you let them restrict who you are and what you can do.

            Rather than be a slave to the labels that others place on them, people should self-identify according to what they find they are.

            A person chooses, a slave obeys.

            If anything, it’s an important tie-in lesson to our story here. The Behaims and Duchamps say Blake is a dangerous diabolist who will wreck the world. Blake can choose to accept the manacles of such a label. He could let himself be imprisoned or killed for the greater good. He chooses to continue being who he is, though, rather than who they label him to be. He decides who he is.

            1. Now these are better arguments, some really good stuff mixed in with less appropriate points, but the distinction still exists to me, that there is a difference between such designations of a specific organization and of oneself.

              But you have given me some food for thought, which I shall now masticate upon. Cheers.

            2. @Seaman: I love that you used the phrase “food for thought, which I shall now masticate upon.” I have to use that in everyday discourse now. Hmm… or maybe I’ll talk of “mentally masticable musings”.

            3. If you masticate too much, you could go blind. Perhaps if you were to masticate an iron maiden. Then again, some people like things rough in the bedroom like that.

            4. Hmm, but while the iron maiden might like being masticated, I’d be worried about going blind due to excess iron mastication. Come think, any sort of tomfoolery in bed with a ferrous maiden could be pretty dangerous. I suppose Iron Man would be fine, though. He’d probably be able to attract her with his raw magnetism. He would put her in flux, and she would feel the pull of his electricity! And once together, they would only be separated by tremendous force!

            5. You know, I never realized that. I suppose in retrospect I should have guessed as much. A rich nerd built a suit that he likes to be inside of? From that perspective, it’s fairly obvious what gender he chose.

            6. Well that just makes power armor as a whole seem like it’s compensating for something, and I know that’s not the case because I wear power armor.

              Granted, it can’t fly, and it doesn’t have ranged weapons, and the armor is lighter, but it’s power armor all the same!

          3. This is Gecko we’re talking about. Protip: When in doubt, any post he makes that’s off-kilter in more than 3 ways simultaneously should probably be taken as a joke. Even if (especially if) he says it’s not a joke.

            1. Ah, but just because I “should” take it as a joke doesn’t mean that it actually is one 😛

            2. I’ve even said before that I like to be underestimated, and still they underestimate me. It’s like I’ve been chosen to be Rodney Dangerfield around here. It’s almost enough to drive a man to religion.

              Dear Joe Pesci, please beat these fuckers knees in with baseball bats. Amen.

              Don’t worry, guys, there’s only about a 50-50 chance of that one getting answered.

  18. Many comments are talking about a second rewind, but I really don’t see why we need a second rewind in order to have a round three. Can anyone explain why we might expect another rewind here, instead of Blake just marching back into the thick of things and – somehow – forking up Behaim’s junk?

    1. The reset allows Blake to win AND stop himself from being a wanted fugitive who escaped custody. Plus it will be the third win, of a third win. I imagine that adds a whole order of magnitude more OOOMPH than a normal third win would.

      1. That would be nice, if it happened and if it worked that way – but why would Duncan do it, is my question.

        1. Because the power of three is important. He was going to reset even if he won round two, just for the third win bonus

  19. UUUUUUUUUUUURGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH. All of this tension. All of the cliffhangers. When I was catching up, and reading Worm, I thought it was interesting how each ‘page’ ended with a cliffhanger. Only to realize why a week or two ago when I caught up and the police found Blake. Dammit all… I wish I had the patience to check like, once a month and get a ton of updates at once but I have a neeeeeeed to know what happens next…

    Oh wow, only 35 comments right now ? Last update I saw had over 100 in like, the first few hours.

      1. That, and there is a lunar eclipse going on at the moment, so those who are staying up may be a tad preoccupied.

  20. I hope Rose develops past her current character sometime fairly soon–so far, she’s spent most of her time being the old cop stereotype in a buddy cop show. She spends so much time telling the rookie to stop throwing the regulations out the window and acting rashly that I keep on expecting her to pound her mirror-desk and tell him to hand over his badge.

    1. Last chapter I was all for bringing rose back. Now I’m for putting her back to sleep. Blake gives her all he has to wake her up, and she responds by constantly complaining and calling him an asshole.

      1. Well, she’s understandably upset with his current state, worried about him, and afraid for him and herself. She also likely doesn’t know how to receive gifts, similar to Blake (given their family dynamic, it’s unsurprising.) Rose likely feels uncomfortable that Blake went as far as he did for her, and I’d imagine there’s some guilt and frustration there, in addition to her being worried, afraid, and anxious. Then he expected her to be able to pick up the slack, and she’s likely afraid she won’t be able to, which could get both of them killed. Given her worry, anxiety, fear, and discomfort, it shouldn’t be surprising that her response is to be upset and angry/shrill rather than thankful or relieved. She directs her upset comments at what is currently happening rather than rationally engaging the sources of her complicated medley of emotions, which is understandable given the situation they’re in.

        Also, people are complicated, and emotionally scarred/damaged people often respond in atypical ways.

        1. Not to mention how often Blake’s going with his instincts resault in him getting turned into a bloody mess.

  21. Blake demonstrates once again that his best talent is not raw power or even tactical genius but stealth, determination, and an application of a variety of quickly acquired skills. Not a combination of traits I’ve really seen before, and quite the opposite of what one imagines when they think of a diabolist. This is going to be interesting.

    Not sure how that’s going to help him against a null demon, though. Weaponized ret-gonning is several orders of magnitude higher than anything Blake could conceivably have access to at this point in time. Heck, that’s higher than anything Conquest has displayed yet. The only way it could be limited is if there was some kind of weakness in the creature’s own anatomy.

    I have to say, making the kid’s soul his familiar is a really, really questionable act. If nothing else, it’s going to look /very/ questionable, if not downright monstrous, to anyone who doesn’t know the context. And even with the context, you still have to wonder if a child should be allowed to make those kinds of decisions. By all rights, Evan belongs in some kind of afterlife regardless of how much he wants to stick around. I’d assume that would be the natural order of things. This has bad karma written all over it.

    Also, Rose gaining the ability to interact with the physical world to some extent? Not quite the result I expected when Blake gave a chunk of his power to her, but it makes sense in a way. At least, as far as my understanding of their relationship goes. I’m probably wrong about that.

    1. The concept of children not being allowed to marry young (and not being allowed to make choices where they & their families are not in immediate danger) is a fairly modern concept. . . I think he’s good on the karma thing.
      I agree with you on the point that people are going to judge him for binding a soul though. Especially when they realize the only way to get the soul to move on is for Blake to die (and that the soul will move on at that point)

      1. I’m not sure ‘binding’ is the right word. I think Rose at first thought Blake wanted to do the same thing as he did with June, which would be a whole sticky mess, shoving a soul into a tool. Creating the familiar bond is entirely different though, and it seems like people have done similar things to that before. It’s better than bonding with an undoubtedly-evil Other.

    2. Come to think of it… maybe the null demon isn’t a demon at all. Just an ancient Duchamp who is capturing beings & cutting all of their connections to anything, and keeping them trapped where nobody will remember to come rescue them, and the whole time absorbing them to provide power for the tons of enchantments the family has on it.

      It seems like so far, every power has its OP uses. Just like I’m sure the lord of Toronto is actually really good at Glamour, and has spent so much time and resources convincing people that that’s his power source.

      1. Come to think of it… maybe the null demon isn’t a demon at all. Just an ancient Duchamp who is capturing beings & cutting all of their connections to anything, and keeping them trapped where nobody will remember to come rescue them, and the whole time absorbing them to provide power for the tons of enchantments the family has on it.

        That sounds like a demon to me. All practitioners are a little bit Other, remember?

      2. Or a Behaim who sacrifices his victims’ lifetimes to fuel the family’s ridiculously overkill spells.

        “No, Duncan. You are the demons.”

    3. He has asked the kid numerous times (too many, if you ask me) if he wanted to go and if he was really sure about it. Furthermore, Blake is setting a restriction for Evan so that he does pass on when Blake does. If anything, I’d call that good karma, not bad.

      Why shouldn’t Evan be allowed to decide that he doesn’t want to die? He’s stuck in a body with powerful emotions that influence his decision-making and make him afraid of death? Sounds kinda familiar somehow… I don’t see anything fundamentally different about such a decision now that he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, so to me it sounds like you’re arguing he should be euthanized because that’s the natural order.

      Furthermore, Duncan was saying that he would forcibly put Evan to rest if he had to, but it seemed implied that it wouldn’t be because it’s the right thing to do, and Duncan said it more like Evan getting in the way would force Duncan to kill him.

      Sorry if that came off a bit harsh, but I don’t like the idea that the sapient and intelligent child named Evan would be removed from existence against his wishes simply because he’s no longer human. It reeks too much of forced euthanasia, and him being an abused child most definitely doesn’t help.

      1. Okay, removing him from existence is unarguably a bad thing. That’s also not what I was saying.

        There is, as we already know, an afterlife in this setting. Afterlife =/= cessation of existence. It is, by definition, the exact opposite.

        1. We don’t know that there is an afterlife.
          We know that, under the current circumstances of this unhappy world where there are precious few people to bind demons and the officers of the law are puppeteered by connection-manipulating practitioners who don’t even care about applying such choice- and mind- controlling magic to the justice system…

          Under those circumstances, when someone dies, their soul usually passes outside of the ability for anything we yet know of to detect. On the other hand, we’ve also seen this Dark World thing – something we, until now, could barely/not detect, where things that have lost their ties to the world slip down to and stew in misery and torment.

          Maybe there is an afterlife. /Maybe that dark world is the afterlife./
          If anything, Blake trying to get an oath that Evan will move on, rather than Evan might move on, without knowing what the afterlife is… That’s bad.

          1. I’m %85.226 sure that the afterlife was explicitly mentioned around June’s binding and the conversation with Andy. My break ends soon so I won’t double check, but somebody should!

            1. The afterlife has been explicitly mentioned multiple times, but I do think it should be mentioned that an afterlife was basically accepted as fact for most of human history. I don’t see any particular reason to doubt that there actually is one (or many) in this setting where mythology is largely true, but we still don’t know precisely what it is, and people still don’t generally want to go to it (they don’t want to die.)

            2. The afterlife has been mentioned, but I don’t believe we yet have very good confirmation of what it is supposed to be or what our sources on it are. Many people assume that there is an afterlife… There is no reason that would automatically end just because Blake and Rose became practitioners. They may habitually believe in an afterlife, without particularly being aware of what it is like or on what grounds they believe in it.

              We usually believe that we have free will, but the presence of powerful enchanters indicates that it is possible for practitioners to start screwing around with that, too. It may be that the ‘afterlife’ of an area is treated as a resource to be claimed by things like Conquest; we really do not know. Yet. I expect we’ll find out, one way or another… ESPECIALLY since Blake now has a familiar who has extra reasons to care about such things.

        2. Removing him from this realm of existence. I still don’t see how it’s fundamentally different. Sending a normal person to the afterlife involves killing them, which is generally regarded as a bad thing. You’re arguing it’s not bad here because he’s not embodied, and I don’t see how that argument holds water. People are generally not happy to die, and I don’t see choosing not to die as an irrational decision that a kid isn’t qualified to make. (and neither does society at large)

          1. I’m not arguing that. You’re reading way too much into what I’ve said.

            Which I suppose is sort of fair, since I was reading way too much into the story itself.

            But anyways. When Evan died, his soul would have gone to an afterlife if the Hyena hadn’t scared the whatever it was that was supposed to take him away. Evan already meets the qualifications for entering this afterlife; He need not ‘die’ again just to go.

            Going to whatever afterlife cannot in itself be assumed to be death, or a cessation of existence. Clearly, something exists there and is capable of bringing other things there. And whatever this thing is, it’s the kind of being that would rather not associate with a creature like the Hyena. Admittedly that could be any number of things, but all of them are either weaker than the Hyena or not quite so nasty.

            1. Still not seeing the important difference, I guess. His body is dead, but he’s still around with mostly the same mind, and to me that’s what’s really important about being alive (not the body bit). That he hasn’t gone to an afterlife seems to me like having avoided death. Saying he doesn’t need to ‘die’ again implies that the important bit was that his heart stopped. I think that his consciousness is much more important than his body.

              I think that anyone with a dead body qualifies for some sort of “afterlife”, or there’d be no reason in particular that Blake would have to assume the afterlife guide was scared away. (and there’d be more ensouled ghosts) People don’t want to die and generally don’t like when others die, and we consider this rational. Is it simply because the loss of a body is tragic? Or is it because of the loss of their mind, their consciousness, from this realm of existence? Suppose Evan’s parents were given a choice of gift, either:
              1) Evan’s body to live again, but without his soul inhabiting it, or
              2) The ability to communicate with his soul independent of his body.
              Which do you think they would choose? Personally, I don’t think it’s about the body.

            2. Counterevidence: http://webfictionguide.com/listings/the-zombie-knight/

              In there, there are psychopomps, the Reapers, that ferry souls to the afterlife, and have no idea whatsoever what, if anything, lies on the other side. It being a cessation of existence is explicitly mentioned as a possibility by one of the Reapers. On the first sentence, even:

              “I guide and protect souls as they make the journey into the afterlife. Or oblivion. Whichever.”

              So just because we know souls go elsewhere doesn’t mean that they actually go somewhere.

        3. We don’t really know what afterlife he’ll go to. It’s possible that he’ll go to some sort of heaven. Or hell for trafficking with a goblin. Or his soul will go to conquest, as lord of the area. Or it will go to an endless blackness of eternal agony. Or it will be wiped clean and he will be reincarnated.

          Murdering someone because potentially there could be an afterlife is extremely morally questionable. Since Evan is fairly sentient I would count it as murder. It is little different from murdering people in the street because they might go to heaven.

        4. also. afterlife may not be pleasant. afterlife may involve loss of personality.
          afterlife is like happy fun ball, do not look closely.

          1. Haha, I’d never seen that skit until I saw this comment.

            Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to the Afterlife. 🙂

    4. Not really, he made sure the kid could give informed consent.
      It’s not like he’s binding the soul of a four year old.

    1. Haha, so maybe he fulfilled the requirement that Rose Sr. set to him. Of course, he didn’t marry a bastard, so he didn’t follow her advice 😛

    2. I think the Famulus ritual and the marriage were separate things, and that the marriage referred to a non-magical contract for support in the non-magical world, hence the advice to marry a bastard.

  22. Duncan lost round two, so he is effectively out of the game. But Blake has won two rounds already, and if he goes back upstairs for another fight with Duncan then he wins all of the marbles of thus little war. Since Duncan is working for his uncle will a win against Duncan count as a win against both?

    1. Blake certainly seems to think that this counts as a round facing off against Laird: “He’d pull out all the heavy weapons to make the third loop a success, and get Laird his third win at the same time, while removing me from the picture… it seemed like a good strategy to have in play.”
      The reasoning certainly makes sense: First, Duncan is a Behaim, so there’s already a connection, and second, “He was working on Laird’s behalf, using Laird’s assets, among others, to best me.”

      Presumably, it goes both ways. Once a noose is tied, it can fit one neck as easily as the other. I’d imagine this third round will be pretty decisive.

    1. Actually, I see several themes in Wildblow’s writing reminiscent of Rand, especially the theme of the stagnant and idiotic establishment stopping those that don’t fit their mold (Roark being ostracized in The Fountainhead, Blake being shat on by all the major powers)

      1. … Disclaimer: The scene I am about to refer to is why I stopped reading Rand.
        I don’t think Wildbow’s writing is like Rand’s. Rape isn’t fetishized.

        As for my understanding of the rest of it – a ‘stagnant and idiotic establishment stopping those that don’t fit their mold’ is a bog-standard literary device. Wildbow uses it with finesse and detail, but if you choose to boil down all of the nuance and interest to the part that is at least partly common to… At a guess, at minimum one in every ten stories – probably more, with the phrasing you used – OF COURSE there will be shared aspects between this story and most stories! I could say that Worm, a superhero/supervillain story, shared themes with Freakazoid because they were both about unusual approaches to the superheroics/supervillainy genre and included a contrast between mundane life and superheroics/supervillainy. But I don’t think that actually tells us very much.

        Similarly, Pact and Harry Potter both include worlds where magical creatures can be broadly categorized, but nevertheless almost every ‘species’ of creature is ultimately at least partly unique, and include a character who considers a perhaps-dangerously-broad class of magical creature as ‘friends’ – Hagrid/Briar Girl. But again, I would want more out of an examination before I start saying that Pact is like Harry Potter.

        1. Good point, and I wasn’t in any way saying Wildblow was writing with the intent of copying Rand, and I agree with your point about Wildblow not fetishizing rape (which is one of the scenes I hated most in reading the Fountainhead in school) but that doesn’t mean that the themes aren’t remniscent of some of Rand’s. I was merely pointing out that some of the themes were similar, which is something all writers do, subconsciously or not, in order to lend more weight to their writing. I am not saying that this was Wildblow’s intent, I am merely saying that I see a correlation between a theme I like in Pact, and a theme I like in Rand’s writing. Pact is not like the Fountainhead, but there are small similarities in certain themes, and I decided to make note of them.

  23. Duncan isn’t foresworn since he didn’t make a promise, but he has now lied and that’s almost as bad. I get the feeling that the elaborate amount of enchantments and spacial manipulation required to magically lock down the precinct require Duncan’s full capacity as a practitioner.

    The hit he took from lying meant Duncan couldn’t keep all of the enchantments going and that backlash has knocked him out. The reset magic has to be set up in such a way that whatever happens to Duncan gets automatically reversed since it’s designed to undo any winning paths by Blake.

  24. So apparently threes are so important that even with Blake pretty well beaten down, Duncan would rather reset the board than try to play it out to a victory. Am I missing something here? Maybe they’ve been burning so much karma playing fast and loose with Blake’s timeline that they really need the bonus multiplier for winning on the third subgame of a third game.

    On a completely different topic, if Evan is bound to his corpse, is Blake gonna have to carry it around in a duffel bag or something? Or does the familiar ritual handle those sorts of logistical issues.

    1. Once again, the time reset doesn’t burn karma. The more specific types of magic require a specific power type. Time magic uses time, glamour uses glamour, Conquest relies on energy derived from acts of conquest, etc. As such, the reset costs time. Karma can be converted into other types of magic power using a demesne, which the Behaims are likely doing as it has been mentioned Laird likely has some good karma stocked up for just such an occasion, but there is no implicit karmic loss otherwise.

      As to why Duncan would want another reset, he’s lost Blake. Blake is slipping from reality, so Duncan can’t easily get a connection to him to find him. Also all the traps and runes broke once Blake got out of the building. He needs to reset things, get Blake back into the cell, and try again with everything he’s got left to keep Blake contained this time.

        1. Well, he probably botched his own position by putting a bunch of traps throughout the station. I’d imagine they aren’t selective as to who gets in them, and that could cause some bad karma. Also, they don’t want to hurt Blake directly, they just want to put him in a position where he’s screwed. Not sure exactly how to win like that besides by putting tasering him and putting him back in his cell, which is what Duncan was trying to do. The idea is to win all future games by winning decisively on the third of the 3 sub-games, which Duncan thinks he can do.

          In case you’re wondering how I count the 3 sub-games: Blake has won twice against Laird in the legal system, Laird has won twice against Blake with time shenanigans, and Duncan has contrived a 3 round groundhog loop that you could say Blake has perhaps won twice. All 3 are applicable to this last round, since it’s 1) about legal troubles,
          2) involves time shenanigans,
          3) is the third groundhog loop.
          Number 3 isn’t needed to make 1 and 2 the third rounds, but presumably three threes is far more decisive.

        2. Duncan had just run all over the station scribbling runes on things. His position among the force is probably blown unless he resets time.

    1. That’s a nice picture, but it really doesn’t look like Barbatorem. Off the top of my head:
      – Blake’s looking at directly at him, which is a big no-no
      – He does not have shears or another sharp tool (sword, cleaver, ect…)
      – He is skeletal, which means he is missing the “bald with patches of hair” aspect.

      I don’t want to come out as harsh or dismissive, this is well drawn. But I doubt anyone reading Pact and then seeing this picture would recognize Barbatorem as opposed to a generic demon.

  25. The only thing I keep thinking while reading every chapter, is: “Man, can’t Blake EVER catch a break?”. Every hurdle he barely manages to survive, every minor victory he manages to scrape up at great personal cost is immediately overshadowed by the amount of problems he still has to deal with. Let’s take a look:

    Yay! He managed to get out of there! Now, he only needs to :
    1) Get his stuff from inside the building.
    2) Capture that existence-erasing Demon in a very small time-frame,
    3) Deal with Conquests hold over him and Rose,
    4) Deal with the trap around the house he inherited,
    5) Deal with The Behaim and Duchamp camp still trying to make his life miserable….
    6) Get rid of the karmic debt of his entire family line (thanks grandma!)
    7) Maybe give Rose a real body? He promised somethinglike that, didn’t he?

    I’m getting a burn-out just thinking about it.

    1. Rose senior probably did her best to improve the karmic balance. And maybe even her own mother (we lack context regarding her crazy book hunts).
      We don’t really know what mishap(s) caused the Thorburns’ debt, maybe it will be expanded upon later, assuming it remains relevant.

    2. A lot of those are explicitly long-term problems (esp. with regard to the karma debt, as it was specifically stated he can only pay off, at most, 2/7 lifetimes of it if he pursues that to the exclusion of every other goal). The trap around the house and dealing with the Behaims are the same problem, Rose’s body is the first thing on the list once he can get to a stable position, and the stuff from inside the building will be dealt with next chapter. I think the bigger problem will be navigating the police station in the real world while seeing strange things in the nether world, not to mention the blood loss that led to that.

      1. Reducing the family’s bad karma would ideally be a long-term goal except that it’s screwing him over every step he takes now. It’s like being in so much credit card debt that getting out of it’s a long term prospect – except you can’t because the interest payments knock you backwards faster than you can step forward.

        Is there such a thing as karma bankruptcy?

  26. So Blake has weakened himself to the point that he’s a little ghostly. Can he learn to make use of this? Even on full power?

    Blake’s strength seems to be stealth, infiltration and deception. He needs some more Glamour, but the use for that is obvious. He has a spy/information gatherer in Evan the Boy Wonder. If he can harness this state without horribly giving of his own essence, he should be able to basically be Invisible to muggles.

    Also, won’t Conquest be a little upset that Blake called Rose. Blake Basically forfeited her to him by leaving her in his domain. When asked if Blake could take her, Conquest said no.

    On that matter, the rebellion against Conquest starts tonight after midnight right? I think Blake may have weakened himself to much to contribute. I guess he’ll have to rely on Pauz, June, Evan, Rose and Erasure (and possibly the Hyena). Either that or hope to regain some power on the way.

    1. I guess he’ll have to rely on Pauz, June, Evan, Rose and Erasure (and possibly the Hyena). Either that or hope to regain some power on the way.

      Well, if Pauz can pull off the connection-reversal trick on the Rose-Conquest connection, so that Conquest winds up wearing a shackle and Rose is holding the chain, that’s probably the lion’s share of the battle right there. All that’s left is to use the Hyena-sword and Erasure demon to threaten Conquest with spiritual mutilation and the erasure of his deeds until Conquest agrees to submit to binding.

      Then everyone else shits bricks, as Blake probably becomes Lord of Toronto by Right of Conquest (heh).

      1. If Blake actually pulls that off, do Fell and the Eye of the Storm (or whatever its name is) then become Blake’s minions by proxy of Conquest? They could help defend Blake against the inevitable flood of challengers to the title.

        1. Blake as lord of Toronto… I don’t think he’d like the job. Much less the headaches that would come with it. I mean it’d make his life a hundred times harder.

          Yeah, that’d be par for course with Blake, wouldn’t it?

          1. Goodness, it’s not like it hasn’t already been shown that it’s possible to forfeit ownership of things to people. And, well, Pauz is in favor of handing Conquest over to the conquered Blake in the broad scheme of ‘how about we turn this upside-down’ but I bet Blake could make a really good argument for handing Conquest over to Fell.

            Fell seems to be competent, more-than-mildly clever, and is neither willing to completely condemn Blake nor to simply accept that not being a bad person means that Blake isn’t potential bad news. Fell and his family have already been handling several aspects of day-to-day government for a long time. And on top of that, all the major players have already been working with him anyway.

            1. The potential problem with that plan is that, while Fell might be a good fit for the job (and we’re just guessing at that) he probably doesn’t have the power to hold it. If Blake instated a regime change without the support of the local powers it’ll be a very short reign.

              Perhaps one of the worst things Blake could do to Jerry is put him in charge – I’m sure becoming the new lord via diabolist fiat would make him very popular.

        2. Judging by what happened when Pauz and the Hyena were bound, probably not. All of Conquest’s connections would be severed, and everyone he imprisoned would be set free.

          Mind, Fell may or may not be willing to work alongside him depending on the exact events that take place during Blake’s fight with Conquest, and if Blake tells him about his desire to bind demons to protect the innocent (knowing that Fell’s family traditionally did much the same sort of thing before they were enslaved by Conquest).

      2. Oh, that’s actually a solid strategy. And the best part is, it could happen without any input from Blake at all.

        If the Lord of Toronto claims ownership of the Hyena and null demon, and right after that Pauz’s radiation kicks in…

  27. This got me thinking:-

    A familiar can be an implement but no one said that an implement has to be a familiar, Blake can bind an Other into a suitable shape (la “Hyena”) and use it as an implement without it being his familiar right?

    1. That probably could work, but I guess the Other would have to stay in object form. I’m assuming you’re just using the Hyena as an example, because while a goblin sword could be useful, I think it would be a bad inplement for Blake.

        1. I agree that it would be an useful tool. I just think it doesn’t work as an inplement for Blake. Blake isn’t a warrior. He’s a survivor skilled in espionage. I want Blake to end up keeping all 3, but not as a familiar/inplement.

    2. Isn’t Laird’s implement an Other? That seems like an extremely powerful option, especially if Blake can bind something really, really strong.

      Turning Conquest into a tool would be the ultimate insult, and is conceivable if Pauz’s reversal rot can be exploited. Unfortunately, there remains the question of what exactly Conquest is, let alone how strong he really is. But if he in fact is just using glamours and is not really an aspect of Conquest, then he might have more in common with Blake than we know.

      The Hyena at least already has a “tool” form, but that seems extremely risky since the thing is petty and spiteful by nature. Which means it most likely will be what Blake ends up doing, if the events up to now are any indicator. This would also give him an implement to use against the null demon. Although, I really don’t think the Hyena is all that well aligned with Blake, and there’s no way that particular arrangement would end well.

      Turning the null demon into an implement seems like it’d result in a one-trick pony, which is not what you’d want for a primary magic tool.

      Pauz comes with too many issues to be reliable, of course.

      June is always an option, once Blake manages to recover her. I expect her applications would be rather limited though, unless there was some way to “upgrade” her later on. The other practitioners did mention how she’s a pretty amateur binding.

      Rose could probably end up being the most useful implement if she agreed, but she might possibly have an expiration date and things could get really complicated when it comes time for Blake to fulfill his promise.

      Alternatively, Blake could just use a mirror as his implement. It might be a useful tool for divination and scouting without having to put himself in harm’s way, and Rose might be able to work through it as well which would give her another foothold in the world.

  28. Wait a minute, what is the record for Blake vs Duncan?

    Blake appeared to win round 1 with breaking all the connections and the police deciding to release him, but then Duncan creates the loop. Is that a win for Duncan or a win for Blake with Duncan setting up round 2?

    In round 2, Duncan proclaims victory, but is forced into becoming one who lies when Blake escapes from the building. Blake then comes back though. Is that a win for Duncan or Blake?

    Arguments can be made for both sides. Does anybody have any insight? Can this be made clearer next chapter? I’m a bit confused.

    1. I’m gonna hazard a guess and say:
      Round 1. Blake got the police to release him, along with breaking the connection-manipulation Duncan had set up. Blake wins, leading to Duncan resetting to set up
      Round 2. Blake broke Duncan’s word by escaping the building, and thus won. (Duncan earlier mentioned keeping Blake there). Blake marries Evan and Duncan probably is gonna reset again for

      Round 3. Where Blake has to fight Duncan to decide the winner of the subset of 3 in the third round of Laird vs Blake.

      Also this has me wondering if you can just keep sub-setting the third rounds of contests and try to cheat a win thus.

    2. I’d argue that the loop magic has no influence on whether Duncan is winning or losing. It’s another chance for him to win. When he set up the loop in round 1 for example he set up a chance for his oaths to be broken and for Blake to get a familiar. He set up a lose for himself.

      If Duncan wins the third round the loop will be in his favor, if not the loop will work against him. The time magic is neutral as to who is the winner.

      Since in almost every major conflict Blake has won I would call him a decisive winner.

      Also really enjoying this arc. The story suffered a bit from Blake being a loner with few friends and no one to interact with. Ghost boy is a fun companion to make him feel a bit more social. I like Evan. I like seeing him talk to people who aren’t hiding barely concealed rage. Hopefully Evan will be a regular. Rose is a bit angry for that.

  29. Okay, so we have a Blake who’s nearly faded from existance, his stuck in a mirror vestige partner, and his soon to be familiar, the escape boy. In the other corner we have a cop who is probably getting pissed off and desperate, with resources from his family, and suffering an unknown amount of power loss. I put my money on Blake.

    So Blake is going to make promises so he’ll only use his power for good? Maybe he should make a hammer his implement, and enchant it so only the worthy may lift it.

      1. Not to mention “good” can be subjective, and at times trying to do it you can end up doing some real bad things.

  30. I feel like Blake’s in a lot of trouble right now if the time line isn’t reset. He’s drained of power, bleeding out, escaped from the cell, and all around spent. Getting away could kill him now.

    1. That’s part of the reason I think going back was the right call. The other parts are:
      1) If he gets away, Laird probably wins the legal troubles battle, and
      2) Duncan isn’t nearly as scary as Laird, so Blake might have his best chance for getting a real win against the Behaims here.

  31. “He wants to trap Blake Thorburn? I… give of myself until Blake Thorburn almost isn’t there,” I said. “Evan. Evan Matthieu. Come.”

    Well, now we know what that means- Cloaking and trippy-vision!

    Though I really hope the familiar bond-feedback between Blake and Evan won’t also increase the energy going to Rose. That would stink if the continuous drip increased its “flow” every time Blake healed. How do you balance a shared energy between 3 bonded people?

  32. So when Blake lied via sarcasm to a reflection of himself, with the intent of his words clear and unmistakable, he lost his resistance to ghosts for a week.

    Duncan borderline swore to keep Blake locked up for 24 hours, stated it to his enemy with whom he is in contest, and devoted the sizable resources of the Behaim family to make it so. Duncan has to be hurting in a very, very bad way. And that’s without even considering the backlash of all of his bindings shattering.

    1. Duncan didn’t swear to keep Blake locked up.

      Blake asked Duncan ‘what purpose his actions served’, and Duncan answered the question. He didn’t promise to achieve those actions.

      “Can’t let you go, Thorburn,”, now that has potential, but what with all the effort he put into keeping him I feel that he has wiggle room in that he didn’t ‘let’ Blake leave. (Much like Blake’s promise to endeavor to do things, rather than actually do them)

      1. He stated “We’ll be keeping you for the entire day.” Definitely a lie, now that Blake’s escaped, and a borderline broken promise, to boot.

  33. Problems and unknowns:

    Problem 1:
    Blake was instructed: “Until the end of the custodianship, you’ll need to run any major deals past Mr. Beasley (including the three major rituals.” He is not doing this. He was instructed by Ms. Lewis to get one of the three power sources before they met again, so he is following some of the law firm’s instructions, but not all of them.
    Estimated Result:
    Karma hit for not following instructions fully.

    Unknowns/Problems 2:
    Does Blake still have power loss and remain in the shadow world when the time loop is reset? Will Rose still be free in loop #3? Will Evan remain a familiar in loop #3?
    Estimated Result:
    Generally, I think that magical resources spent and magical changes made do not reset when the time loop resets but the physical world does. (Low confidence in this estimate because of too many unknowns.) This still puts Blake as weak and trapped in the shadow world, but with the additional resources of Rose and familiar Evan.

    Unknown/Problem 3:
    Now that Blake has involved Conquest by pulling in Rose, is Conquest aware of the time loops?
    Estimated Result:
    Real unknown here. Per my guess about magical beings and resources, the answer is “probably.” Conquest probably still has his hold on Rose, but he is likely to be upset with Blake or Duncan or both for screwing with him in this way.

    Unknown/Problem 4:
    Binding souls, by agreement or not, sounds like something that practitioners would frown on. This is only a magical problem if one of the agreements with Others prohibits something like this, e.g. Solomon set up restrictions on such actions.
    Estimated Result:
    No problem from a magical standpoint – it appears that some Others affect souls by agreement (or force) regularly. It might be yet another reputation problem for Blake, especially if Evan rebinds with his body. Which brings up…

    Unknown/Problem 5:
    What is Evan going to bind to as a physical form?
    Estimated Result:
    The result is unknown, but there are major problems either way. If Evan regains his original (now cut up by autopsy) body and gets seen moving around, the non-cognoscenti are going to be UPSET. But there aren’t any other bodies apparently available, and we already know Evan has a strong connection to the original body. If Evan regains his body and manages to escape without being seen, the police look incompetent and Duncan will try to frame Blake for body theft. If Evan uses an animal familiar, then Duncan (and the other police) will try to trap him. I just don’t see this being easy no matter how it falls out.

    1. Blake was instructed, but he didn’t exactly agree to complete those instructions-they were something that were imposed upon him in exchange for the heir position, also something that he did not agree to. I think that completing them would gain him karma, but I’m not sure if losing karma would be the result of failing to do so.

      1. It’s a contract with his family. He didn’t necessarily have to agree to it for it to be binding on him. At the same time, the lawyer demons are only going to come down hard on him for violating it if he is going to harm them or their interests in some way. Remember, they are doing the whole “evil really isn’t that bad” thing. They don’t want to scare him away before they can set the hook.

        The demon lawyers would probably have a fit if Blake were to take a spirit of love and happiness as a familiar, but taking the soul of a boy who was murdered by a mad goblin as a familiar, and promising to further act as a diabolist in the process? No problem Blake, you go right on ahead.

        The demon lawyers have all the time on their side. The more Blake learns about demonology, the harder it’s going to be for him to turn away from the greatest “benefits”

        What was the destination of that road paved with good intentions?

    2. “Problem 1:…
      Estimated Result:
      Karma hit for not following instructions fully.” – He didn’t ever agree to follow Rose Seniors instructions, and not doing what the ‘evil-diabolist’ asks you to do sounds like a karmic positive to me.

      “Problem 4: …
      This is only a magical problem if one of the agreements with Others prohibits something like this, e.g. Solomon set up restrictions on such actions.”
      Solomon made the restrictions on the Others by binding them. Unless Evan has been a disembodied soul since the time of Solomon, I don’t see how a Solomon restriction would apply to Evan.

        1. At the moment he has agreed to the ‘Strictures’. Do we know that these ‘Strictures’ are the Solomon restrictions? :/

          If so very Catch 22: Be disembodied spirit -> become familar means agreeing to gain a new ‘existance/body’ BUT can’t be done by disembodied spirit, but if he’s gained a new existance/body by agreeing/becoming familar then he isn’t a disembodied spirit anymore head explodes in puff of pseduo-logic

    3. One thing that came up during the excerpt we got of the familiar book was that it’s basically impossible to really separate a familiar and its owner without some very serious magic. That one woman bound her boyfriend as her familiar, and the muggle justice system was incapable of sending him to prison if it meant moving him to a different city. If they manage to pull this ritual off without interruptions, that will pretty much be that. Until the Behaim-Duchamp union pulls another trump card out of its many asses, at least.

      Also, that elf familiar Blake fought earlier was still an elf, at least while Blake was fighting it. The animal form thing is probably more like a voluntary transformation, and Evan’s natural form of a ghost is unobtrusive enough that he can just keep using that if he wants to.

    4. If Evan escaped with his body he could have some fun with the police chief.

      “I don’t want to go back! Duncan had me taken from the forest and then tried to force me to comply with his plan to hurt Blake, threatening sending me to the next world if I didn’t comply with him. I am very afraid that Duncan will end me. Blake didn’t kill me but Duncan threatened to end me.”

      All of that completely true. Not provable in a court, but it would be a serious reputation hit to Duncan.

        1. I’m not sure how well any glamour or such would hold up in court, and it would invite attack or manipulation to publicly oppose a person for a long time. If you give a well resourced practitioner a lot of time they can mess up your plan. If you can get to the point where you are hauling a zombie up before a court I’d be impressed and that would lead to much fun, when the person you supposedly murdered tried to speak in your defence.

    5. “Until the end of the custodianship, you’ll need to run any major deals past Mr. Beasley (including the three major rituals.”

      Those aren’t instructions strictly speaking. That’s a statement of fact. If he binds Evan without running it past Mr. Beasley that simply means Grandma rose was wrong.

      1. Or that was just her distilling the gist of the instructions to her heir(ess), rather than an accurate rendition of the wording of the contract.

      2. Grandma Rose introducing her heir to magic makes Grandma Rose wrong. Im not sure you can be foresworn after you die.

        1. I don’t understand. Why would Granny Rose be forsworn? She vowed that her children wouldn’t learn magic. It’s the grandchildren that are becoming heirs. That’s kinda why Blake has as much trouble as he does.

          Or am I just misunderstanding your comment?

          1. Hmm, but does it extend to the grandchildren as well? If not, why weren’t they taught earlier? It’s not necessarily exactly what she swore, but she wrote, “I swore I wouldn’t ever make my children go through this. I would let them lead lives untouched by all of this.” That second sentence may explain why she couldn’t teach the grandchildren magic (the children wouldn’t be “untouched”). Then again, she might have used one of her children to lure the barber, and I’d assume the other practitioners and bad karma interfered with her children’s lives… Perhaps “children” in this context means “progeny”? It is kind of puzzling exactly why the grandchildren weren’t introduced into the magical world before she died and everyone tries to get them killed.

  34. And now, some other commentary:

    Rose leveled up – the ability to reach out of mirrors and affect the physical world is scary, especially if she gets enough power to do it without losing form in the physical world.

    Duncan is burning resources like a wildfire burns forests. We have seen him use multiple bindings and runes throughout the building, the looping staircase, and a major time spell that involves multiple familiars. He has lost the spent resources guaranteed and if he loses the contest he is well and truly screwed magically. Not to mention, unless he is burning even more magical power to keep his fellow officers from noticing, he is going to be seen walking around doing strange things throughout the building, so he is either taking a magical or reputation hit for creating the various bindings.

    Which brings up another point. We have a more experienced magical practitioner who presumably has one or more of the familiar, demesnes, and implement trio and who has a major situational advantage (a healthy police officer in the police station where Blake is a weak prisoner) and Duncan is still getting beaten by Blake in direct confrontation. What the hell? Is Duncan just that much of a wuss?

    Which also brings up: Why the heck have the Behaims and Duchamps not used direct physical or magical attack against Blake? Every time we see them, they are using cat’s-paws, familiars, or indirect attacks. And the Jacob’s Bell contingent didn’t even use the witch hunters to kill Blake even though it is clear that the female witch hunter would have done it in a heartbeat. They claim they are afraid of what Blake would do, but they don’t ever take direct action. What are they so afraid of in that direction?

    The Escher staircase was cool, even though it was used against Blake.

    Evan remains impressive. However, he is verging on “too smart and aware to be a believable kid” territory.

    1. Duncan underestimates Blake, and Blake’s resources. He also didn’t think Blake would be crazy enough to do the exsanguination thing.

      And the funniest thing about this is that Duncan completely forgot about his own escher staircase. That’s how Evan got the drop on him.

      And speaking of Evan, he was trained in life to look for ways out of bad situations. This was what carried over into unlife. Screaming at the bad man who’s trying to hurt your saviour is perfectly reasonable.

    2. I continue to suspect that the Behaims and Duchamps-or perhaps just a faction of the Behaims and Duchamps like Laird and Sandra-have ulterior motives in pushing Blake towards diabolism. The steady escalation feels to me like Laird and Sandra actually want Blake to go apeshit (controllably so, while they’re protected) so they can…do something. Possibly internal family politics.

      This would also explain why they had Molly attacked-the lawyers might have given her a name, too. They wanted to force her to use it.

    3. Also: re: Why don’t they just take direct action? Plausible Deniability, and the ancillary benefits that someone like Blake can provide them. Also, direct action allows Blake to claim allies that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to convince. Keeping their involvement in the shadows makes it more difficult for him to become an actual threat.

    4. I’m starting to think that Duncan is actually incompetent. He’s made mistakes. Even disregarding those, there’s no reason why, with his resources and experience, he shouldn’t be able to utterly dominate Blake. Perhaps there’s a reason why the family never uses him for the important stuff.

      The Behaims want the Thorburn heir to quietly submit to them before getting wiped out. Even Molly’s attack wasn’t meant to kill her. Blake is just too proactive. Blake is proving himself to be quite formidable. If Blake wins round 3 with Duncan, and subsequently round 3 with Laird, the Behaims will probably be forced to rethink their strategy.

      1. Duncan admits that he hasn’t done anything like this in years. He’s probably out of practice-running under the radar in Toronto doesn’t exactly make it likely that he’ll get into a serious practitioner fight.

      2. The Behaims are consistently underestimating Blake, and I think they’re making a risky attack now because they’ve received reports he’s working for Conquest, which would probably be very worrying news and cause for alarm about fire and brimstone if Blake weren’t such a badass. I think Laird’s attack is probably somewhat rushed and using an inappropriate assailant (Duncan) because of this worry.

        It seems they still don’t want to cross the line into murder, though. Above all else, I think the Behaims (at least the ones in law) think of themselves as keeping order and peace, which could possibly condone letting bad people suffer due to their own circumstances, but would presumably not condone directly attacking them.

        1. re: the above and the catspaws comment above,

          “I’m sworn to do no direct harm to others, and I won’t.” 1.05

          That’s a very good reason right there. Family units may be considered “one person” enough that Laird can’t order or even allow any of them to attack directly, though that does seem rather doubtful.

          1. Oh, fair point. I’d assume they’ve sworn the same oath for some reason.
            Perhaps he and the officers in his family found some obscure and esoteric oath to be a police officer that included such a restriction but allowed some of the more questionable things they’ve done.

          2. Good reminder – I had forgotten that.

            And it could be that both magical and karmic backlash are lessened when using go-betweens.

        2. Once again, the Behaims are acting insanely by deliberately crossing Conquest by interfering with an agent he’s acknowledged as useful. A lord of a major city could probably obliterate their entire town without even half-trying.

          The antagonists in here continue to make zero sense – they’re playing the game like they’re more desperate than Blake, and they’re not.

      3. Are you SURE Molly’s attack wasn’t meant to kill her? Yes, Maggie didn’t want to kill her, but Laird could have probably predicted what would have happened when she set her Goblins on Molly, given that he’s knowledgeable and she’s a newb.

        From what Laird said in 2.7, I thought he was more upset over the fact that it was so public than the fact that Molly died.

        1. The publicity angle makes even more sense when you consider how they’ve been screwing with the police’s heads, making them remember that it was accidental rather than a mauling.

          Unless the police themselves are deliberately laying out misleading information, which is possible.

        2. I assumed that Laird had someone off Molly intentionally. Laird never said, the goblins’s killed Molly.

    5. “I guess it’s just the taser, then. As for your observation, it’s hard to dedicate your time to appreciating and studying something as vast and powerful as time, without feeling a need to throw your metaphorical weight around,” he replied. “I’m sure you understand that, this in mind, we’re rather concerned about you wielding something approximately as vast and powerful, and rather more dangerous.”

      Is why he doesn’t do anything. He is worried about Blake summoning an end of the world demon. Murdering him in public would also invite retaliation from a new heir. Also he mentions he has nothing against Blake personally- he probably isn’t a natural murderer.

      As to why Blake won, he had a three to one numbers advantage, which he leveraged well. Also he was being wrongfully imprisoned.

    6. It’s like how the good guys in Batman always strive to capture their enemy — it’s only the bad guys who want to kill their enemy. Laird can’t convince all of his allies that they should kill Blake just on the off chance that Blake might go bad, he can only get everyone in a circle, loaning their power, if he can convince them that they’re not striking directly at Blake, that they’re still being “good”.

  35. I am absolutely loving this arc so far; definitely my favorite. It’s nice to see Blake acting quickly and intelligently, putting the things he’s learned to use. As much as I sympathize with Rose about her difficulties dealing with Blake in general and her surprise to get dragged into this situation only to find him bleeding and incarcerated with no idea how it happened, I also think that it might help in the long run that he was so willing to place his faith in her like that. It’s partly a sign of desperation, perhaps, but also one of respect for/belief in her abilities.

    It’s also interesting that the Blake vs. Duncan situation is now approaching round three despite being a subset of Laird (using police) against Blake. On the bright side, a Blake victory should have major implications and rebound on Laird hard. Of course, the other side is that if Duncan manages to win, Blake will be on the receiving end of two round three losses at once, as well as missing his deadline for Conquest.

    It’s possible that Blake could survive that, but I think it would probably mean a shorter leash held tighter by Conquest, and the mundane implications could have profound negative impacts on his relatonships with his friends/family. On the other hand, if he officially gets let out of custody he may be able to point to that as evidence that he didn’t really do anything wrong, and explaining that the Behaims are going after him could help a lot, allowing him to talk to his friends some, maintain those important relationships, without having to either sound crazy or show them magic is real.

    I’m guessing that if he finishes the familiar ritual before time is reset again, it will stay completed despite the reset, if only because Duncan and Blake are the two focus points of the ritual and seem to be the least affected by it. If it resets their physical condition, Blake could (best case) be back to full strength, with Rose and Evan both fully aware of what’s happened via their connections to him. Even if Duncan is restored to full strength as well, that would be a net gain for Blake by virtue of now having Evan/Rose both present, informed, and on his side.

    If power expenditure/physical states are not reset, then Blake is in a great deal of trouble…but by the same token, Duncan probably won’t get all of his expended power back, and he’s been running around like a busy little Behaim bee. He’d probably have more of an edge in that case, but I’m not sure how much. If Blake’s injuries rollover, as it were, then he’ll probably need medical attention very quickly, which might give him a legitimate excuse to be taken out of the police station if he can stop Duncan from preventing it.

  36. A few items of interest I haven’t really seen mentioned in other comments.

    First, Rose actually managed to get a bit of influence in the real world. She managed to reach out and try to strike at Duncan. It seems that if she’s powered up she has significantly more utility. Blake needs to get her a power source she can use instead of drawing from him so she can be of more help.

    Second, Blake has made a promise that he’ll do his absolute best to stop the diabolic beings of the world when he encounters them. His course as a diabolist is pretty much set in stone now.

    Third, the blood feathers that are coming out of him. He’s stuffed some into his pockets. I think he’s going to be able to use these against the eraser demon. Blake is leaking presence, and I think the feathers are his presence given form. Blake has asked himself what one might use as opposition to oblivion, to nothingness, to just not being there anymore. Presence makes a lot of sense. I’ve also had a thought that ghosts might be effective, given that the eraser demon is also forgetfulness in a way and ghosts are Others that are like incarnations of powerful memories.

    1. 1: Indeed. I wonder what allows her to do this. Does it have something to do with Blake giving up some of his substance to her, or her being powerful, or what?
      2: Like we didn’t know this already.
      3: Let’s hope so…

      1. I’m pretty sure Blake gave up his presence. He mentioned that as a secondary goal: “He wants to trap Blake Thorburn? I… give of myself until Blake Thorburn almost isn’t there.” Also, Blake is losing his presence and ability to affect the world while Rose is gaining presence and ability to affect the world.

  37. I remember seeing people suggest in the comments that Rose could break Laird’s eyes because they’re reflective. Her doing it to Duncan is a nice nod to that, and also means she probably can’t pull that trick under normal circumstances. Round three would almost be too easy if she can just blind Duncan, so I’m guessing that power-up gets undone when the loop happens. Good news for Blake.

    Rose says Blake needs to stop powering things with blood. Blake noticed that Duncan powers runes with some object on his person. Blake knows how to use some runes. Blake has previously tried to make Duncan lose power.
    Hypothesis: Blake will get a new battery soon.

    1. Wait, what? Rose didn’t break Duncan’s eyes from the mirror world, did she? I thought she just threw a piece of glass at his eyes.

      I would assume that Duncan is using his implement for the runes, which might be useful to Blake, but probably can’t be used as effectively as Duncan can use it.

    2. “New battery”?

      If you mean that he’s going to learn runes, then I sure hope so! It’s one of the few ways he can increase his power without needing more power first.

      1. With the possible exception of the shotgun, all rune use we have seen takes small sacrifices to work – food several times, and blood for Blake’s wind rune this time. I bet the shotgun took something to imbue also.

        Still, if inexpensive mundane objects such as food can be used for sacrifices, the cost is at least a minimal, non-magical expenditure.

        1. If I had to guess, I’d guess that power given to the rune is more or less permanent (lasts until tampered with), but power given by Blake returns at some rate. So, even blood-powered runes give him an over-time advantage.

  38. Maybe someone has already seen this, but I noticed it a few weeks ago on my re-read through of Worm. Here’s a quote from 30.4 (Speck)

    “A quaint old house on a hill, surrounded by rose bushes, a grandmother…”

    Now, I’m not saying that this is for sure Pact, but it sounds a lot like Pact. So, did Wildbow bamboozle us by pretending to want to decide to write more stories? Or was he just unsure whether he was writing pact yet?

    Needless to say, if you go to Worm 30.4, there are lots of spoilerific things happening right around that quote, so don’t do it unless you’ve read it.

      1. Wildbow would hardly be the first writer that kept an idea for use later. It happens all the time. Someone will have an neat idea, but it won’t fit in with the current work. Then they do something it fits in perfectly.

    1. For instance, there’s [spoiler], [spoiler], and of course when [spoiler] [spoiler] to [spoiler].

      On a serious note…I wonder what would have happened if [spoiler] had brought folks from that quaint house on a hill. Would magic work in the Wormverse, or superpowers in the Pactverse? Could Blake have signed a deal with Cauldron for more power, or Glaistig bind some faeries? And then the other stories come into the picture…
      The possibilities are endless.

      1. I do not recall for certain, but I believe Wildbow has mentioned that the circumstances are wildly different between the two universes. I suspect that the actual physical laws apply equally to both universes, but the things that are relied upon would not work. Any superpower that involves something existing only in the Wormverse would fail in Pact, and Pact’s spiritual shadow-worlds may not exist to be influenced in the Wormverse.

        For examples of stuff that probably crosses over:
        Tinker-made technology likely works in most or all worlds, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some supers thought to be Tinkers were actually just endowing objects with power, and not actually making new technology.
        Any spirits actually brought from the Pactverse to the Wormverse would probably retain their functions and personal power reserves… But not their ability to call on external power, which seems to cover even a lot of things considered ‘personal’ in Pact.

        I don’t think I dropped any Worm spoilers. If I did, I apologize.
        I’m very interested as to whether Pact’s connections are an inherent thing, or a function of something else – I currently think they’re how the ambient spirits view things, making them not all that dissimilar to the runes we’ve seen.

        1. Reread (among other things) 2.04. That includes a fair amount of talk (though earlier chapters likely have more) but it basically boils down to–the Sight allows them to see the spirits moving around, and the spirits move along connections between people and things.

          So if the Sight worked in another world, that might have the interesting scenario of having the connections themselves present, but invisible in the absence of spirits.

            1. She said as much for while she was in the mirror, but it never made sense to me why she couldn’t see the spirits in the real world from the other side…

        2. We know that the Entities spread between universes, and that their initial multiplication caused them to inhabit all versions of their original homeworld–including the Pactverse’s. There’s no reason that the same wouldn’t be true in reverse; there just happen to not be any major magicians in the Wormverse, like how no shards happened to end up in the Pactverse (despite the occasional shard or dozen showing up in some other universes).

          More importantly, I refuse to assume that there’s some unhinted-at limitation. Especially since that clamps down on the available interesting ideas.

  39. “I have nothing against you, Evan,” he said. “What happened to you was a tragedy. I’m genuinely sorry it happened. But I will banish you if you get in the way, here. Send you to your final rest by force.”

    And there’s another statement-bordering-on-a-promise. Even stronger than a promise, actually, going by Alexandria’s philosophy as given in Worm 22.4. Two ways to look at this: (1) if Duncan loses, he’ll be in even worse shape than “just” having lost the third round, or (2) Duncan’s willingness to lay everything on the line is itself what makes the third round so meaningful.

    On the other hand, Evan has promised to move on if Blake dies. If Duncan actually kills Blake in the third round, he benefits from fulfilling his ~promise on top of the obviously conclusive win, again strengthening the power of the third victory. This seems to support the running theory that the Rule of Three is as much a self-fulfilling prophecy as it is a rule encoded into the universe by mere historical belief.

    1. I’m not sure it’s so much self-fulfilling as it is that people have a tendency to fulfill it. Self-fulfilling means that knowing the prophecy makes it likelier to happen.

      But yeah, it’s an interesting thought.

  40. I looked down for the source of the feathers, and I saw my tattoos. Three of the birds were beheaded or partially beheaded, the cuts intersecting their faces and necks, the other parts of their bodies already gone. The blood that still bled out from the wound was thicker around the stumps, and the matted blood where I’d pressed my arms against the mattress to staunch the flow was caked around their bodies more than anywhere else.
    Huh.

    Blake, Master of Understatement.

    “This kills two birds with one -ow- stone, so to speak.”
    I’d say it kills a great deal more than two…

    The frame exploded, all the same. A hand thrust out with the glass, faint, feminine, with nails poised to strike like claws. It grasped blindly for Duncan’s face.
    Huh. I don’t remember that before.

    I hadn’t landed in the parking lot. Not exactly.
    There, in the distance, I could see Conquest’s tower.

    I can’t decide if that’s convenient, or the opposite.

    “Is that it? Or is it the opposite? Is this Blake Thorburn with all the flesh and mortal warmth bled away?
    1. You left out a quotation mark. I should probably put this in the typo thread, too.
    2. Yes. Question him, waste time doing so. Right now. When time is at a premium. Oh, and kinda ignore that the flesh and mortal warmth are a bit important to one’s self, neh? Especially since your biggest source of issues and drive are driven by a lack of such…

    “I’m not a happy person anymore,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe again.”
    Smart kid.

  41. Hmm, I wonder if:
    1) the reason Blake was able to remember his day was that he’s a practitioner, and
    2) the reason for Duncan clearly pointing and naming Blake was so Blake’s state would not be reset, regaining any spent power.

    If so, maybe if he’s not pointed out and named in this next loop, (perhaps because Duncan can’t even find him) he’ll have his state reset, and regain his lost power.

  42. A thought: Duncan’s clearly prone to boasting. Boasting about stuff you haven’t done yet is making promises, and we’ve seen how those work out.

    How did he make it this far to begin with?

    1. How far has he made it? He’s a member of the Behaim family, but that’s just something he was born into. He’s got an unglamorous posting away from the family’s main seat of power. He’s probably kind of a screw-up in general, certainly compared to Laird.

      1. Point, but still, the way he goes on would seem to indicate that a) he hasn’t actually piloted a giant, circle-wide working yet (understandable, given his “let the time loop work it out” tactics), or b) he should have been horribly killed by now.

      2. His “unglamorous posting away from the family’s main seat of power” is a covert operation where he’s there to keep an eye on things and ensure that the powers in Toronto don’t find out about the plan to install a lord in Jacob’s Bell. I’m pretty sure that’s not something you send a screw-up to do. He’s actually fairly competent if you think about it.

        He managed to execute a plan to trap Blake and frame him for murder in a matter of hours. The family has also provided him with a wealth of resources, including at least three familiars presuming one of the ones seen belongs to Duncan and the power needed to execute the reset spell. Not long after Blake managed to break his connections in the interrogation room the guy managed to make the circle for said reset spell before Blake was able to leave using nothing more than a can of spray paint, and then proceeded to put a bunch of traps into place. The guy seems to be pretty on the ball to me.

        He’s got all those resources and years of experience as a practitioner, but his opponent is someone who has been a practitioner for only a little over a week, has been stripped of most of his resources, and has a boatload of bad karma. It’s not unusual he’d feel confident enough to make some minor boasts, because normally he’d be able to back them up. Normally. But his opponent is Blake, and Blake is tenacious, resourceful, clever, and is willing to do dangerous and unpredictable things that most people wouldn’t contemplate doing to grab at whatever slim chance of victory he can get. By now he may have realized this, but by now is too late.

        1. . He’s actually fairly competent if you think about it.

          He managed to execute a plan to trap Blake and frame him for murder in a matter of hours.

          I have to disagree. His “master plan” to trap Blake was to show up when Blake was next to a corpse. This is after his people started spying on Blake and giving him information. This seemed like the first and easiest opportunity to trap Blake. I can’t be impressed by the planning aspect of the frame up.

          We know that Duncan is not a novice. He has studied magic and has enough knowledge to make it practical. Then again, that’s also true for practitioner children. It should be expected that he can use his magic powers. That doesn’t, however, make him effective or competent with using them.

          Duncan hasn’t really been part of the family’s schemes. His assignment is to live his life in another city, being on call in case the family needs him. Capturing Blake was one of, if not the, most important jobs he was given. The family put their backing behind this, and Duncan has disappointed so far.

          It is because Duncan has so much knowledge, power and resources that I consider him incompetent. Even if he overestimates Blake a little, Duncan should easily come out on top. He hasn’t (yet).

          I actually respect Laird a little more after having met Duncan. He may be a horrible jerk, but at least Laird is competent.

          1. I said he’s fairly competent, not that he’s a genius. Every step he’s taken towards his goal seems reasonable from the standpoint of that goal – keep Blake in custody for 24 hours.

            Time Blake’s arrest just right.
            Make Blake look crazy and have him locked up for the night.
            Alter connections so he can access Blake in interrogation the next morning even though he’s not supposed to.
            Start a time loop when that fails to get Blake back into a cell.
            Start placing runes and spells throughout the building to trap Blake if he happened to get out of his cell. One of those runes was double layered – the second rune hidden in the window frame that kept Blake from jumping out after the window broke.
            Managed to corner Blake and deal effectively with Rose. If he had less of a sense of decency and had banished Evan immediately rather than letting him go, Blake would not have gotten away.

            Really, the only things that screwed his plans up are that his fellow officers mentioned his last name (which is just pure dumb luck for Blake), Evan being firmly in Blake’s corner, and Blake being tenacious enough to bleed himself to the point of almost destroying his very self. I’m more inclined to say that Blake is just a difficult opponent for someone who is only competent.

            I have to wonder exactly what you would do differently, given access to what we’ve seen Duncan has at his disposal and the restrictions he’s working under. (he doesn’t seem to be allowed to kill Blake if Blake doesn’t try summoning a demon)

            1. Also, you can’t be certain to what degree the Behaims involve him in their planning. He’s their eyes and ears in Toronto, and that’s an important position. I imagine he talks quite regularly with Laird, and I can’t imagine Laird would send an idiot to be his spy on Conquest and the other powers. There are probably Behaims in Jacob’s Bell who have less influence than Duncan does.

            2. Time Blake’s arrest just right.
              All that really involved was following Blake through the forest and arresting him when he stopped. I, like Sir Fuente, can’t really be impressed by that.

              Make Blake look crazy and have him locked up for the night.
              Yeah, that was a good move. I’ll give you that

              Alter connections so he can access Blake in interrogation the next morning even though he’s not supposed to.
              This was a mistake though. By being in the room, it allowed Blake to break free very easily by mentioning the fact he was there three times. He could have easily kept an eye on things and made sure things went his way on the other side of the two way mirror, but he didn’t and Blake almost got released as a result.

              Start a time loop when that fails to get Blake back into a cell.
              This was impressive…buuuuut, I can’t give Duncan the credit for this one. With the amount of resources the spell required (four powerful sounding spirits), it seems more likely to me that he was told how to do it and to use it if things went south.

              Start placing runes and spells throughout the building to trap Blake if he happened to get out of his cell. One of those runes was double layered – the second rune hidden in the window frame that kept Blake from jumping out after the window broke.
              Yeah, this was clever. This shows that he can easily plan ahead and cover most bases. I’ll give you that.

              Managed to corner Blake and deal effectively with Rose.
              His plan for dealing with Rose was to avoid glass…something he actually failed to do, seeing as Rose managed to get him in the eye.

              If he had less of a sense of decency
              From everything we’ve seen of the Behaims, I think it’s more wanting to avoid bad karma than being decent, but that probably isn’t important.

              Really, the only things that screwed his plans up are that his fellow officers mentioned his last name (which is just pure dumb luck for Blake)
              It wasn’t really dumb luck; from what I know of the police (which is admittedly not much), officers are often referred to by their last name (which is actually shown when officer Max Vargis corrects Blake when he calls him by his first name). Even if it was a common occurrence in the police force, it’s shown that Duncan is often referred to by his last name when the older officer tries to calm him down and refers to him as ‘Behaim’.

              He’s their eyes and ears in Toronto, and that’s an important position.
              I know this is a small thing, but he isn’t really. He’s ONE of the eyes and ears Laird has. As Duncan said: “The family likes to have a few key people in spots around the town, to keep an eye on things.” So he isn’t the only one Laird sent. And they’re not all necessarily competent, in fact, if they are meant to fly under the radar, they’d be better off not being able to preform that much magic.

              In short, I guess I can see where you’re coming from, and I do think he’s somewhat competent. However, I think he’s overconfident and inexperienced and that’s where his mistakes came from.

            3. “Alter connections so he can access Blake in interrogation the next morning even though he’s not supposed to.”

              IMO, that was a mistake. Forcing himself into a situation he shouldn’t have been in allowed Blake to leverage it to Blake’s advantage. Duncan could have stayed out of the room and manipulated events and connections indirectly. Yes, that would probably have been less immediately effective, but that gave Blake the lever he used to actually break the first bindings.

              I sympathize to some degree – it is really psychologically hard to stand back from a personally important situation, especially if you have special knowledge and power (such as being a practitioner in a room full of unawakened).

              Duncan was smarter the second time around – he blocked Blake’s avenues of help, stayed away from Blake until absolutely necessary, and placed traps in several routes that Blake actually used. He just wasn’t prepared for Blake’s desperation moves.

            4. The police knew exactly what corpse he was over even before they could have seen it. That takes foreknowledge and preparation. I’m not saying it was amazing, but it’s a bit more involved than some of you are implying.

              He was supposed to be removed from the building without his manipulations, though he clearly was staying close enough last time to be outside the room when Blake was taken to jail for the night. He shouldn’t have been allowed to be outside of the mirror without those manipulations. It did allow for a counterstrike, but he clearly thought that his ability to guide the interrogation–much, much more involved and uncharted than the questioning last night–was more important.

              He did cut Rose, something I’m surprised that others haven’t mentioned much.

              What is said in front of suspect–or outsiders at all–is totally different from what’s said amongst themselves.

              Meh, I don’t think he’s amazing, but he does deserve some credit.

            5. @Cony – “I think he’s overconfident and inexperienced and that’s where his mistakes came from.”

              The inexperience is probably the biggest thing here. High stakes practitioner battles like this are probably pretty rare for anyone who isn’t in or aiming for a high position of power, and even in those cases it probably isn’t usually this direct of a confrontation. Duncan has been trusted with a lot of resources for this, so I’d say the Behaims don’t question his basic competence to carry out his task. The thing is they seem to forget that confrontations of this nature have been the bread and butter of Blake’s life for a little over a week, whereas Duncan probably hasn’t done anything quite like this for a while if not ever.

  43. If I were Blake I think I’d just want a nice sit down and a cup of tea by now, not demons!

    I wonder if conquest was once a soldier’s fighty soul bound as a familiar, is that how incarnations get staryed?

    Also, everyone is thinking “aw yeah, Blakes going to win two round threes at once”, that would be cool, but he’s a wbprotagonist so, victory isn’t guarenteed. This might be the arc where he gets super screwed

    1. We’ve had a few of those. 3 of them, at least. It’s high time he gets some good victories, if only for audience morale.

    2. Also, everyone is thinking “aw yeah, Blakes going to win two round threes at once”

      Three round threes. This is the third time the mundane police have been called in, the third time the Behaims have used time magic to screw with Blake (first was during Blake’s first meeting with Laird, the second the bubble of slow-time around the house, the third is the time loops), and it’s the third go-around of this particular scenario with the time-loops.

  44. I don’t think the round 3 Blake’s referencing at the end is actually going to be another time loop. Round 2 was certainly concluded by Blake getting out of the building, so he could easily start round 3 himself by actively going after Duncan or doing something else aggressive.

    The abstract demon is also Conquest’s 3rd set of three, so more power there as well.

    There doesn’t seem to be anything truly sacred about human souls in this world, and the line between them and Others is fairly indistinct, I don’t think bonding with Evan will be a problem.

    What a lot of people seem to be missing is how little action normal practitioners tend to get. For most of them ‘practicing’ mostly means getting together with the family now and again and trading tricks, or running errands here and there alongside daily life. It seems more political than fight-for-your-life. This means Blake’s already more experienced than a lot of them, even if he knows very little. He’s also fighting for his life – he takes it a bit more seriously. It’s not an accident he keeps winning.

    1. The comment about what most practitioners do versus Blake’s situation is a good point. There is a sliding scale of practical versus theoretical knowledge and most practitioners are essentially part-time hobbyists: relatively knowledgeable but with little experience in high-stakes situations.

  45. Ok, so the tension in this chapter has solidified my distinct dislike of vestige-Rose. I have serious concerns about the possibility that she takes over as the main character…because if she does, then I’m rooting for the Behaims.

    Must she deride and second-guess Blake at every chance? Must he continually convince her to act in her own best interest? She has some legitimate concerns, but wasting time, Blake’s energy, and focus while he’s clearly in serious trouble …

    Good job, Wildblow, for making me annoyed with/care about made up people.

    1. I agree that it’s aggravating in this instance, but the same traits that lead her to be a severe pain in this chapter are also the traits that made her so useful in earlier installments – against Pauz, most recently. Much like Starscream, she has her place and keeps our hero sharp.

      I also believe there is approximately zero chance that Rose will take over as the main character (give or take absolutely none).

        1. That’s kind of her purpose or has everyone forgotten?

          If Grandmother Rose wanted him to have a simply willing assistant then she would have made Rose that way. She has her own set of memories and experiences guiding her and more often than naught those are exactly what he needs. Granted her fabricated memories have led to her having as many issues as Blake in terms of control, but she’s gone for a day and look what happens?

          If she were around he might have remembered to bring something to bind Pauz or caught that he needed to order the animals away before the binding. Who knows what she could have contributed with the Hyena. And while Duncan might have gotten away with so much of this, having Rose around would have made things easier.

          And in the event that Blake screws up and ends up losing more of himself…well, technically speaking Rose is an ideal heir….

    2. Rose is the cautious, thinking side of the pair, although I agree she is a bit nastier than she needs to be.

      To be fair, she was abruptly scene-transitioned into a fraught situation that she was not prepared for by history or disposition. I doubt I would do well in such a situation.

    3. If you were a Bechamp going up against Blake, which charged up mirror-companion would you be more scared of, a warm fuzzy friendly Rose, or a hot-tempered vindictive Rose?

    4. I think that it’s more that she’s scared, out of her depth (comatose for two days, when she gets back Blake is bleeding to death) and generally concerned about the decisions that Blake is making. They both have controlling tendencies and get ugly under stress-Rose is just under the constant stress of being trapped in a mirror that doesn’t really protect her that well, all the time, and we’re reading it from Blake’s POV, so he seems more sympathetic.

      For example, I considered that hey, Blake, maybe you should listen to Rose’s concerns here instead of dismissing them out of hand? He’s kind of a massive asshole to her when he’s running scared.

  46. “Tiiiiiime, is on my side. Yes it is!” sang Duncan Behaim as he rounded the corner.

    “Time may be on your side, but not a doctor,” I said, gritting my teeth.

    “Why do you think I need a doctor?” Duncan asked, setting a determined grin on his face. We both knew this was the big chalupa of our conflict. The giant quesadilla. The titanic taco. This might possibly decide the fate not just of me, but of his whole family.

    Evan floated up from the floor, an incorporeal ghost until he had a grip right between Duncan’s legs. The chronomancer’s little hand was torn off, causing him to cry out and sink to the floor, putting pressure on the rapidly-reddening crotch of his pants. That was how you dealt with asshole practitioners, after all. It was written right there in the Geckonomicon Ex Psycho: “When in doubt, tear their dick off.”

    I walked over and patted Duncan on the shoulder. “Silly chronomancer. Humans shouldn’t play around with time without the Doctor present.”

    1. Hey, Gecko, you’re going in my sig file I think:”Humans shouldn’t play around with time without the Doctor present.”

      1. That’s good to hear. I’d have thought I would be in more sig files by now. I guess all it took was hitchhiking on the ole police call box with a pan galactic gargle blaster in hand. To Ankh-Morpork!

  47. I don’t think anyone else pointed this out – does anyone feel it is important that Conquest’s domain is in the low-rent district? Has Conquest fallen so far that he qualifies as living in “the spiritual equivalent of rock bottom”? I think this is another clue that Conquest is a desperate, fallen being. And it gives Blake an avenue of access to the tower that Conquest might not know Blake can use.

    The characters also bring up the likeness to Johannes’s demesne. Maybe Johannes took over a large section of this spiritual slum easily because such powerless beings live in it and leveraged its relation to the main world to take over a section of the main world. Johannes the slumlord! He takes over, invites Others to live there and charges rent. But is he trying to improve the slum or just reap the benefits of being a slumlord?

    1. It might have something to do with Lordship. Not that Johannes is a Lord, but maybe gaining that kind of control over the spirit world is a prerequisite for taking on that role, and Johannes is setting up.

    2. “But is he trying to improve the slum or just reap the benefits of being a slumlord?”

      Do you remember what his “slum” is like for the human vestiges living there? I think he’s just fine with it the way it is.

      1. I thought he was basically Walt Disney. Except for Others. He has his other amusement park and charges admission. That’s not the spiritual slums, its high quality real estate. Which is why he can collect all that rent.

  48. WOW! Those last chapters were so intense!!! 😀
    Blake “Badluck” Thorburn haha but I think it is totally understandable and justified, the bad karma that he inherited, I like how he works around it n_n

  49. this won’t help his standing with other practitioners. diabolism is one thing but ” It’s powered by a forsaken child?!” seems like crossing a line. dealing in ghosts, echos? sure thats common practice. dealing in SOULS? not so much

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