Conviction 5.4

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We made it three-quarters of the way through the ritual without any sign of the fanfare or effects that had accompanied Rose and my mystic awakenings.

Of course we did.  The world surrounding me was already touched by craziness.  We had an audience of psychic echoes.

Then I, _____, by the old rules, invite you into the world of man and mortal, I read.

“Then I, Blake Thorburn, by the old rules, invite you back into the world of man and mortal,” I improvised.  “Let this be the port and gate by which you enter, the destination and arrival, passing through the border…”

I briefly wondered if I could really invite Evan into the world of man and mortal if I wasn’t really there.

“…Now, or when we arrive there,” I added, just in case.

I drew a circle on the floor in soap, retrieved from the dispenser above the sink.  Surrounding Evan, and the body.  He stood within, I stood without.  As icons of civilization went, hand soap was… it was something.  At least it was distinct enough in the gloom, with the lights catching it.  All we’d really needed was a circle.

“As the willing guest, I… Evan Matthieu, accept your hospitality,”  Evan said.  “By… by our compact, I agree to share of my power and share in yours.”

“By that same compact,” I said, “I agree to shelter you, whatever form of shelter you might require, my home and hearth are yours to share, in the brick and mortar, the demesne and the spiritual.”

“I accept the offered shelter, and I agree to guard that territory as if it were my own.”

The walls were falling away.  Not fading, not collapsing… they were already hard to make out, dark in a room lit only by the glimmers of ghosts.  Light snow fell on Evan’s side, rain and wind on mine.  Shadows congealed into trees behind him, dark, barely lit by the moon.  Leaves were falling along with the snow.  They landed in darkness, settling on a surface that was well beyond the walls of the morgue.

I glanced over my shoulder.

The city, under rainfall, lit by flickering, dim streetlamps.  Each time a streetlamp flickered out, it resumed flickering somewhere else, as if the city were changing in the moments it was dark.

Some of the ghosts fell away, as if they were actors playing a role on this stage we’d set.

Angrier ghosts, I suspected.  Ones who’d died in pain.

They occupied the landscape, which intersected at some vague point I couldn’t define, where it was unclear where I was looking at wet leaves and snow lit by flickering streetlights or wet city streets lit by the moon.  They were shadowy bystanders in my world, monsters in his.

This… wasn’t really what I’d wanted or hoped for.

But it was a common ground, I supposed.  Evan seemed to take it in stride.

“I offer you sustenance,” I said.  “Whatever form of nourishment you might need.”

“I accept your sustenance, and I agree to lend you the strength I gain in return.”

I remembered a whole section in the book that had gone into detail about that one exchange.  It went both ways. It could mean I fed Evan my personal power in exchange for his muscle or talents.  Sustenance for a powerful being, conversesly, could be attention, or praise, while the being supplied strength in the form of personal power.

“I give you reprieve from the forces that hold you, as the old laws permit.”

“By the compact, I guard you against those…”

“Selfsame,” Rose mumured.

“-selfsame forces.

“I give you asylum from the forces that follow you, as the old laws permit.”

Death, the usual ‘force’ this line referred to, wouldn’t claim Evan’s soul for the time being.

“By the compact, I follow you.”

The connection between him and his body flickered, moving until he and I were connected.  It looked thin.  Insubstantial.  That was a little worrisome.

Duncan had noticed what was going on.

That was concerning.  I could understand him noticing me even with the amount of myself I’d bled away.  I was asserting myself here.  But he shouldn’t have that kind of power at his disposal.  I’d won.  I’d turned his promise into a lie, and that came at a cost.

“Blake,” Rose said.  Stirring me back to the matter at hand.

I read the book.

“I give you this with no expectation of secret knowledge or revelations,” I said.

“I- I-”  Evan stuttered.

I glanced over.  There were two options, common answers for the Familiar.

His eyes scanned the words, trying to make sense of them, reading backwards.  He’d done remarkably well so far, stumbling only on some oddly constructed and very long words.

He looked to Rose

“I can’t tell you what answer to give,” Rose murmured.

Duncan was approaching, making his way down the hallway.  I crossed the room, forging my way through the insubstantial images, found the door there, a little more real than anything else, a little more out of place, double doors in the midst of my background.  I barred the handles.

“Then, um.  By the compact, I share what I have, regard- regardless,” Evan said, behind me.

I nodded, smiling as I turned around.  He wasn’t an Other with knowledge he had to safeguard.  It made sense.

There were options and suggestions here.  This part was more freehand, more personal.  I didn’t really have to dwell.  I definitely wasn’t giving Evan my body.  I wasn’t serving as his mortal hand for a quest.  There were no big terms to stipulate here.

“I, Blake Thorburn, give my friendship to Evan Matthieu.  I offer from a place of shared history, and I give it willingly, with no expectations.  I give my mind and spirit, my body and power, and agree to defeat evils, so I might give him a satisfaction he might carry beyond.”

Evan stared at the book.  He’d proven good at improvising and problem solving while on the run.  Could he do alright here?  Especially as a ghost-ish soul or a soul-ish ghost, who might suffer a bit in the imagination department?

“I, Evan Matthieu, give… my protection?  You asked me to show you to safety, and I’ll try.  You asked me to find things, and I’ll try.  I’m… I’ll do my best.”

He looked like he might say more, but the door banged.  Duncan was on the other side.

“I’ll take your watchful eyes, Evan Matthieu,” I said.  “I accept your company as scout and guardian, as companion, and I offer you a mortal body, as our mutual power allows.”

A pause.  When I glanced at him, he was looking to Rose.  She nodded.

“I accept,” Evan said.

He ceased to be a ghost.  He became something else, a form no larger than my fist, shrouded in the gloom.

The double doors were decaying.  An offensive use of time magic, apparently.  Paint peeled with accelerated speed, cracks formed in the fiberglass, and the little glass windows began to crack, warping slightly as the door distorted around them.

“Then I, Blake Thorburn, bind myself to my words and I swear to give that which I have promised to give,” I said, glancing away from the door to check the book.  “Take what you will, Evan Matthieu.”

Evan’s tiny form hopped over to get closer to the lid of the drawer, to Rose’s reflection.

When he spoke, it was with the same voice.  “I, Evan Matthieu, will take, and I give in return.  I accept, and I likewise swear.”

The connection between us went from insubstantial to solid, dim to bright.  It was like a breaker had been thrown, and the dark backgrounds surrounding us were cast away.  The room returned to what it had been.  Not quite normal, but a ways there.

The door began to come apart.  I backed away, so the wall and counter would help keep me out of Duncan’s immediate line of sight.

I felt better, in a way.  Very much like I’d come up for air after being underwater.

Evan took to the air, settling on my shoulder with a flutter of wings.

Our heads turned in the same moment, looking to the window.  We were in the basement, but the window looked out onto the pavement.  Snow piled halfway up the window’s surface.

I could see him in the corner of my field of vision.  White, speckled with brown.

I grabbed the soap from the end of the drawer that Evan’s body laid on, then pushed the drawer shut.  It only took two good pushes.

Then I tossed the soap down onto the ground in the middle of the floor.

By the time I reached for the window, Evan was there.  Beak and clawed toes on the complicated latch.  There was a keyhole, and we didn’t have the key.

It clicked open, regardless.

I pulled it open, while Evan hopped down, wings flapping.  He achieved the angle he needed, passing through the gap between the top of the piled-up snow and the top of the windowsill, heading outside.  The snow scattered as if something a little larger than a sparrow had passed by it.

Creating a bit more room for me.

I hopped up, putting one foot on the counter, starting to make my way up.

I heard a gun click.

No longer moving, I said, “Why not shoot?”

“Is that really the question you want to be asking me?” Duncan asked.  “I might reconsider and actually pull the trigger.”

“Right,” I said.

“Close that window and lock it,” he said.

I let the window close.  I flicked the lock around.

“I already called for help,” he said.  “You and me are going to stay here until others show up.  You’ve made a mess, and even the fact that you’re here will raise questions.”

“Probably,” I said.  “The door too, I imagine.”

“Turn around,” he said.

I did.

He looked a little ragged, a few cuts on his face, a little dusty. He wore his scarf and a heavy coat with large pockets, no doubt carefully chosen to keep implements and tools out of sight.

He was glaring at me.  Behind him, the deterioration of the door was reversing itself.  The cracks in the glass shrunk, and the damage to the fiberglass gradually healed.

“How?” I asked.  “You said you’d keep me in the building for the day.  You lose access to your magic if you lie.”

“And you aren’t really you, are you?  It’s why you were able to slip my fellow officers so readily.  A portion of you is still occupying the floor of that jail cell.  The man who jumped from that window was… well, I imagine many spirits had trouble figuring out who he was, just as the others did.  I did take a hit, but a lot of the power I’m using right now is borrowed power.”

The spirits and implements the circle had loaned him.

“You managed to escape, and you came back here.  Why?  You did something, didn’t you?” he asked.  “A ritual?”

I looked down at the floor.  The circle had been scattered somewhat when the connection had solidified, as if an explosion had gone off in the middle.

“Yes,” I said.

“To do what?”

As if to answer him, a bang sounded on one of the hatches to the drawers.

Duncan raised an eyebrow.

More bangs.  Steady thudding.  Almost knocking.

“Necromancy?” Duncan asked.  He seemed rather unconcerned.

“I don’t really know what qualifies,” I said.  “I improvised some.”

“Better toying with the dead than diabolism,” he said.  “But instead of my going to check, closer to those very reflective surfaces, why don’t you tell me exactly what you did?  No hedging it, no half-truths.”

There was more knocking.

“Or?” I asked.  “Maybe I don’t want to reveal the cards I have up my sleeve.”

“Or I shoot you in the leg?” Duncan asked.  He reached over to grab a glass vial from beside the sink, then dropped it on the ground.  “If someone asks, there was an altercation.  You tried to hurt me.  You had a… let me see.”

He opened a drawer, found a scalpel, and tossed it onto the ground.  He met my eyes.  “Let them infer that you had a weapon.  I can tell them I briefly and sincerely believed my life to be at mortal risk.”

“I’m flattered,” I said.  “I didn’t think I put up that good a fight, upstairs.”

“You’ll be suffering from a bullet wound too, if you don’t start talking.  Necromancy, yes or no?”

“I don’t-”

Yes or no, Blake Thorburn?  Don’t test me.”

“No.”

“What was the ritual intended to do?”

“Settle Evan where he was supposed to be.  I’m hoping,” I said.

“He’s gone?”

“As far as I’m aware,” I said.  Evan had flown out the window.

“Ah.  Promises?” Duncan asked.

“There were quite a few promises,” I admitted.  Then, to throw him off the trail, I added, “He helped me deal with one monster.”

True, but a bit of a non-sequitur.  If he wanted to weaponize half-truths, so could I.

“And the banging… ah.  She can shatter glass, but not metal, I take it?  Come out, mirror-dweller.  Unless you want to see Blake shot.”

Rose appeared.  She crossed the room, until the drawers showed her reflection, standing at roughly the same point I did inside the room.

“You went to some lengths,” Duncan said.  “Your arms, your… current condition.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m surprised a diabolist would do that to themselves.  I’d think a diabolist would know as well as anyone.”

“I’m not a very good diabolist,” I said.  “No idea what you’re talking about.”

“Demons and devils do ask for people’s souls.  Or they make Faustian promises.  They don’t put any particular value in the soul, though.  That’s not to say the soul is useless as a commodity, it does have some power to it, but my understanding is that most such Others are more interested in the soulless than the soul itself.”

“I met an imp a few days ago, who was very interested in finding chinks in the defenses, so it could wedge itself into them,” I said.

“Exactly,” Duncan said.  “It’s not demons and devils alone that want that kind of opportunity.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and you’ve cracked yourself like an egg, emptying out the contents and allowing anything and everything else in.”

“Seemed like the thing to do at the time.”

“You polluted yourself, and you’re going to get rather sick, given time, Mr. Thorburn.  The initial effect, when the foreign bodies take hold, it’s disorienting.  When they make themselves known, the effect will be very similar to injecting dirty water in your veins.  Our bodies reject foreign entities, and our spirits will do the same.  I don’t even need to do anything.”

He paced a bit.  “I’m going to, don’t get me wrong, but only to secure this.  Ah, I hear my coworkers.”

Running footsteps.

“Don’t suppose I could get you to turn back the clock?” I asked.  “We could have a round three.”

“Wouldn’t matter.  You remain fundamentally the same.”

“Damn,” I said.

No sooner had I said that, than the other cops burst into the room.

“Damn,” I repeated myself for good measure.

Duncan spoke to the new arrivals, “Watch your step, don’t trip.  He tried to bar himself in, in the room with the boy’s body.  Watch for the mess on the floor, too.  He was throwing soap around.  I think he’s a little disconnected from reality.”

“Drugs?” one of the officers asked.

“I wouldn’t definitively rule it out,” Duncan said, without taking his eyes off me.  “There’s only so much we know about him.”

“How much do you really know about anybody?” I asked.

“Just as I said,” Duncan asked, deadpan.  “Irreverent, disheveled, disconnected.  Self-harming, apparently.  He was threatening violence earlier.”

“So were you,” I said.  It sounded feeble.

“Looks like he got you,” one officer said.  There was something dangerous in his tone.  He didn’t look pleased when he looked at me.

Aw fuck.  No police officer liked it when one of their own was attacked.

“I know the usual protocol,” Duncan said.  “But he’s clearly troubled.  I looked at his sheet.  He was homeless for a stretch.  A few near-misses with the law, hospital records suggest he was the victim on more than a few occasions.  Go easy on him.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure,” Duncan said.

I’d hoped Duncan would approach and slip on the soap at the pivotal moment.  But he hung back while the officers carefully made their way over the soap.

I glanced at Rose.

Sorry.

She started to reach for the drawer, hand in a fist.  To knock?

I shook my head.

She moved her hand away.

When I looked at Duncan, he nodded a little.

Evan stood behind him, in ghost form.  Duncan was oblivious to the little boy.

“Hands behind your back,” one of the officers said, as he carefully made his way over the sea of soap.

I obeyed.

“What were you doing, huh?” he asked.

I kept my mouth shut.

I heard fluttering.

Duncan had half-turned, still holding the gun.  Evan-in-sparrow-form was halfway inside his coat, wings still flapping violently.  I heard rustling plastic.

“What the fuck?” one of the officers asked.

Duncan pressed one hand against his coat, holding it against Evan, only for Evan to move, slipping higher up.  More rustling.  For an instant, it was like something out of a cartoon, Evan dodging every time Duncan’s hand moved.

It wasn’t for good, though.  Duncan moved his gun-hand to help block the bird’s path and then reached into his coat.  He came out with a bird in hand.

Oh,” Duncan said.  He looked at me, clearly displeased, then back to the bird.  “Enough of that.”

“What the hell is a bird doing in here?” the officer asked.

“Rifling through my pockets,” Duncan said.

What did he have in his pockets?

The tools the Behaims had lent him?  He’d stopped by the lockup.

Evan was still seeking out the items I’d sent him to find?

Now he was caught.  The officers moved my arms, and for a moment, I could only see Duncan and Behaim out of the corner of my eye.

Evan tried to turn back into boy-form, Duncan held on, and Evan was forced to revert to being a bird.

The officers turned me around.

One on each side of me, they marched me down the hallway, Duncan and Evan following.

“You’re going to let the bird outside?” one asked.

“Yeah, I’ll get it outside,” Duncan said.

They didn’t seem to catch the distinction between let and get.

“If I happened to want to complain, again, about the issue of Duncan being involved, here,” I said.  “A third time, no less…”

“I was downstairs,” Duncan said.  “I had words with Ellis, at inventory, and I heard a commotion.  It would have been remiss to not check and see what was going on.”

We ascended the stairs.  Things weren’t as odd as they had been at their worst.  I still wasn’t absolutely sure about what was real and what was the natural wear and tear of the police station, though.

Duncan stepped out of the same side door I’d entered after dropping down to the parking lot.

His back to the officers as they led me further up the stairs, he twisted and snapped Evan’s neck.

To say the strength went out of me wasn’t right.  I felt like everything that was holding me upright was gone.  As if all the contents of my torso just bottomed out and hit ground.  Muscle sloughing from bone, brain liquefying…

The only things keeping me from hitting the stairs face first were the two officers who held my arms.

I wasn’t really disintegrating.  But I felt like it.  The sensation of my toes and shins banging against stairs as they hauled me forward felt out of place given the immensity of what had just hit me.

The deal I’d struck with Evan, the de-facto deal, was to keep him from Death.  Death, even with outside intervention, wouldn’t claim him.

But that deal, holding to that deal?  That took power.

I was dimly aware as the dead bird was tossed at the side of the building.  I felt it like a physical blow when salt was tossed onto the body.

Duncan shut the door, bringing in a brief draft of cold air, equally discordant in terms of the sensations on my skin and how they jarred with the pain and general devastation that simple act had wreaked.

Cold air…

Something clicked.

“…Feel ugh,” I said, almost incomprehensible, even to myself.

“What’d you take?” the officer asked.

“Need fresh air.”

“You’ll have to make do with this air,” he said.  “There’ll be a toilet you can puke into if you need it.”

I need the door open, I thought.  It’s one of the things I need.

I looked for Rose and found her reflection reflected in a black LCD screen.  One glance told me she’d felt the effects of Evan’s second death just as much as I had.

There was no way I was going to put up a fight.  I could barely move.  Rose couldn’t affect this world.

Evan… Evan was lying in a snowbank with a snapped neck, until he pulled himself together.

If I was going to win this, we needed to achieve it with this alone.

“I’m sweating, I don’t feel good.  I need some cold air,” I said, stressing the word cold.

All true, on each individual count, taken separately.

“Deal,” the officer said.

My eyes didn’t leave Rose’s, as I was dragged further along the path between cubicles.

“Maybe Officer Behaim can interrogate my ghost a few hours from now,” I said, trying and failing to sound angry enough to fit the line.  It was forced, it was obvious enough that Duncan would twig to what I was doing, and I wasn’t sure if it was a lie or not.

Nothing seemed to change, though, and I was short enough on resources that I suspected I’d be able to tell if I burned any more.

“You sound a little-” Duncan started.

Rose interrupted him.  “June.”

She’d caught my hint.

Duncan had gone straight to the inventory room, where all the crime scene evidence was locked behind a caged door.  I’d thought he was collecting his trinkets, the ones the Behaim family had given him, but that wasn’t it, or it wasn’t the whole story.  He’d anticipated that I would come back for my things, and had waited for me there.

He carried my hatchet because it was the best way to ensure I wouldn’t find my way into that locker and claim it the moment he had his back turned.

“June,” Rose said.  “Make your presence felt.”

Rose’s plan was apparently different from my own.  I’d hoped to get the door open, to flood the place with cold… Rose was going more direct.

But if the room temperature here dropped, then it would bode ill.  We’d be reaping bad karma for bringing people into the fold, if anything bad happened to them as a result.

“June, you’re colder than you’ve ever been.  Feel how cold your fingers and toes are.”

“I’m going to go report about what happened downstairs,” Duncan said, giving me and Rose the briefest dirty looks.  “Talk to you guys later.”

He almost ran, heading away.

“June,” Rose said, louder.

“You say something?” the officer asked me.

I only shook my head.

Duncan was pulling off his jacket, folding it over one arm-

Rose raised her voice.  “June!  Remember that moment!  You remember that moment when you realized you were going to freeze to death!”

Duncan dropped his coat.  He shook his hand a little, as if it stung.  He didn’t bend down to pick it up.

The officers were walking me out of the area.  In a few seconds, I wouldn’t be able to influence events.

I looked for Rose, to ask for help, to pass on a message, and I couldn’t see her.

When I looked, using the sight, I found her in Evan’s company, outside the building.  She was talking to him, I was dimly aware.  Convincing him that he wasn’t really dead.  That it was only a broken neck.

That all he had to do was turn his head and fly, because I needed him.

A moment later, she was breaking a window, to give Evan a way in.

The sparrow came flying through the police station, in from the stairwell, making a beeline straight for the fallen coat.

I resisted the two men who had me by the arm, which didn’t amount to much.  Looking, straining to see…

The bird had revealed the contents of Duncan’s inside pocket.  It was barely visible, but for the edge of the hatchet’s handle and a plastic bag sealed with deep red tape.  Tape that, I was sure, if I viewed it up close, would read ‘evidence’.

“Officer Behaim!” I raised my voice.  I sounded drunk, I was so out of it.

“Shut up,” the officer that was hauling me off said.  “You hurt an officer, but even if Dunc-”

“Why is that evidence in your pocket!?” I shouted, ignoring him.  “In that jacket pocket!”

Heads turned.

“I was right!  You’re screwing with me!  You have no reason to have that!  You’re not supposed to be touching my case!”

I saw Duncan, head bowed slightly.  A moment passed.

He bent down to pick up his jacket, grabbed the hatchet and tossed it to the ground.  I saw pink on his hand where skin had stuck and torn away.

I was too focused on that to notice that he had drawn his gun.

The other people in the room were moving a fraction slower than they should.

He’d done something, in that moment his head was bowed.

I was moving slower, or I would be, if what had happened to Evan hadn’t left me more or less paralyzed.  No moving out of the way.

The bird flew past me.  As with the snow, he gave me just a bit more of a bump than he should have been able to.

The two shots missed.

Others were drawing their weapons, but Duncan was moving, retreating.

Disappearing into a room, shutting the door.

I was hauled in the opposite direction, away from confused shouts and bellows.

Evan came to me, settling clumsily on my shoulder, nearly falling.  His wings fluttered violently until he found his balance.

The officer seemed a bit taken aback.

“I collect birds,” I said, glancing at him.

“Keep quiet,” an officer that held me said.

He dragged me into the hallway with the cells, depositing me in the one opposite the cell I’d occupied prior.  Drunk-girl cell, harboring trace aromas of puke.

“What do we do with the bird?” the other officer asked.

“I’m not touching it.  Leave it be.  We need to go see what’s up with Dunc.”

“You keep that bird here,” the other officer told me as he undid the cuffs.

The door slammed shut.

I settled on the bed.

“He’s resetting time,” Rose said.

I glanced at the door, unable to reply without sounding like a lunatic to my neighbors in the next cell.  I shrugged.

At least it buys me more time to plan for the abstract demon.

“You collect birds?” Rose asked me, appearing on the stainless steel surface of the toilet.  “Or was that a lie?”

I rolled up my sleeve.  Silent, not wanting to be overheard, I tapped the birds.

“Oh,” Rose said.  “I guess that counts.”

Evan flew down to my hand, then lifted one foot.

He let go of the locket, letting it fall into the bowl of my cupped hand.

I smiled.  I murmured, “I had a feeling you were a good pick.”

I popped it open.  No hair.  But there was a black crust to it, a patina, like silver in grievous need of polishing, or copper that had gone green.

Maybe.

It took me far too long to wind the locket’s chain around my wrist, tightening it until it was uncomfortable.  Evan hopped around on my sleeve, one leg still raised, wings flapping.

The other leg raised.

No wonder he’d had trouble landing.  I held out a hand, and Evan deposited another object into it.

I grinned, feeling relief wash over me.  “Definitely a good choice.”

I showed Rose, and I saw her eyes widen.

I wasn’t so worried, now.  All I had to do was wait, uncomfortable as it was.  I was still aware of the deadline that loomed.  I had a demon to find and bind, and it was already early afternoon.

Evan hopped up to my shoulder.

“Can I speak?” he whispered.  “Or will they hear me?”

“I’m not sure,” I whispered back.

“You introduced me to June earlier,” Evan said, in my ear.  His voice was hoarse.  “You were saying you needed more help, before.  She was the first person I thought of.”

I nodded and gave him a silent thumbs up.

Evan flew over to the cell door, settling on the bars.  He pecked twice.

The door popped open.

I stared, then leaned over, using my foot to hook the door.  I shut it, glanced at Evan and shook my head.

“Are you sure?” Rose asked.

I leaned over the other way, to speak to Rose.  “If I’m going to get out of this with my life intact, I have to play by the rules, at least a little.”

Confiding in a toilet, I thought.  Maybe I have gone mad.

“What Duncan was saying earlier,” Rose said.  “It’s true for any ghost.  A fractured echo of a person, it gets filled in with the relevant pieces.  Evan’s… he’s a little bit bigger than a ghost.  I’m guessing we’re seeing one thing that filled in the empty spaces.”

“I guess so,” I said.  “What filled me up?  What’s going to happen when my body decides to reject it?”

“I don’t think it was so simple.  How many different effects did you use?”

I shook my head.  How many runes?  How many lines to break connections?

“Let’s hope we get you out of here while you still feel okay,” she said.  “That power you gave me?  I lost it when Evan’s neck got snapped.  I don’t think Duncan there realized you’d transferred the power in-house, if you know what I mean?”

He’d thought I’d given the power away, that I had no reserves?

Yeah, that was the kind of surprise I’d hoped for, in an abstract way.  Rose, Evan and I were interconnected, it seemed.

“When you assume,” Rose commented, “You make an ass of you.”

“That particular barb cuts both ways, given how fast and loose I was playing it there,” I said.  I leaned back.  “I’m going to try being very still and very quiet, in the hopes that I can delay the inevitable.”

“If you can’t go after the abstract demon,” Rose said, “That’s okay, isn’t it?  You only promised you’d try to bind the three things.  Conquest only really wanted you to do it so you’d be weak and pliable when it came to his big plan.”

“Well, he achieved that,” I said.  I lifted a hand, then let it flop down.  “He had altars, Rose.  Three altars, for three prizes.  I think it’s a little more complicated than that.  And besides, I told Evan I’d help him stop other monsters from preying on people, and, seeing what Pauz and the Hyena did?  I’m not so keen on letting another thing run loose.”

“Yet you’re really okay with waiting?  With trusting the system here?” Rose asked.  “Duncan is out there, manipulating it.”

“That’s three wins for me,” I murmured.  “Three times I’ve successfully woke his boss up to the fact that he’s gaming the system, gunning for me.  I’m thinking maybe this time, it’s going to stick.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “But I’m not unsure either.  Gonna conserve energy for now.  We wait.”

“Then I’m going to read,” Rose said.  “I want to actually help for this one.  And I’m saying, for the record, I’m hoping they keep you, just a little longer.  Because I don’t think you’re up for it.”

“That’s fair,” I murmured.  I shut my eyes.  “Good plan.”

“Blake Thorburn!”

I opened my eyes.

It was Duncan’s voice.

“Dunc, stop.  You’re not doing yourself any favors.”  His partner’s voice.

“Thorburn!  You took something from me!  Give it back!”

He was shouting, and something or someone was keeping him from entering the hallway.  Maybe he was being led away in cuffs.  Didn’t matter.  He was pissed, and the day hadn’t reset.

“Good job Evan,” I said.  I smiled, shutting my eyes again.

I moved my hand, to ensure the object was still there.  A short silver chain with the charms on it.  A bracelet, with little silver etchings of the individual components of Stonehenge.  Evan’s second retrieval from Duncan’s jacket pocket.

If Duncan hadn’t broken his promise to keep me contained, I still might have worried, because he had the items.

But he didn’t.  Not all of them.

Leaving me reasonably satisfied I was safe from another reset.

I shut my eyes again, smiling at Duncan’s fading shouts.

“Mr. Thorburn.”

Not shouting, this time.  I raised my head to look.

My lawyer was in the hallway, on the other side of the barred door.  Mrs. Harris, with her badly bleached hair and crisp suit.

“What time is it?”

“Six in the afternoon.  You had a pet bird?” she asked.

“More a friend than a pet,” I said.  I rubbed at my eyes.  “I’m becoming very eccentric.”

“Apparently so.  I’d ask, but I’m in a hurry.  The apparent malfeasance in your case has raised enough reasonable doubt.  I got in touch with a justice of the peace, and she had words with the police chief here.”

I nodded.  “I can go?”

“They raised some questions about your activity in the morgue-“

I heard her prattle on, saying nothing of consequence.  The lack of time was getting to be more of a problem.  I had six hours to bind the demon and get it to Conquest.  I needed time to prepare.

“Can I go?”  I cut her off.

“It’s complicated,” she said.  “There’s the question of charges against Officer Duncan Behaim, the allegations against Laird Behaim, further charges possibly being pressed against you, and paperwork.”

“Yes or no?” I asked.  “Can I go?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

“Can I talk to someone in charge?” I asked.

“I can ask.”

“Please,” I said.

That was it.  Things were falling into place.

The officers showed up to escort me to the police chief’s office after a ten minute wait.  Those ten minutes stung worse than the first hours had.

When they helped me to my feet, though, I was surprised at how weak I was.  No more strength than a baby.  I staggered rather than walk, my leg muscles failing me.

This might be phase one of the rejection process.

Worse, it was phase one of the possession process.  I’d read about what happened when too big a spirit took up residence.

“You wanted to have a word?” the man asked.  He left me standing while he sat, which was kind of a reverse power play, or he was trying to make it clear he wasn’t trying to intimidate me.

“What happened there… it’s going to be ugly, when the media gets ahold of it.”

He didn’t sound surprised.  More weary.  “Ah, that’s your approach?”

I shook my head.  “You know that what you have arranged against me is thin.  It’s clear there was something going on with Behaim there.  You made a mistake, letting him get close to me after what I told you, when you first brought me in.  If I wanted to make a fuss, I could make a big fuss.  But I don’t want to make a fuss.”

He nodded.

“All I want is out.  I have important stuff to do.  You can handle this incident however you want to handle it, I go away, except to come in and say what you need me to say, at my own convenience.”

“We have questions.”

“You can ask those questions.  But in exchange for my complete and total cooperation, I’m asking you to save those questions for a day or two from now.”

“I can’t imagine it’s wise,” he said, “To compound one breach in procedure with another.”

“I’m thinking it’s going to look bad no matter what you do,” I said.  “I’m offering.”

I’d seen it before.  The forces that had been keeping me in were now disrupted.  Balance sought to restore things, and that meant pushing me out.

I just had to leave the door open for it to happen.

“I have no intention of leaving Toronto in the near future,” I said.  “You’ll have my full cooperation, you know where I live…”

“Check in first thing tomorrow.”

I was eager enough to jump at the chance.  “Of course.”

“I would send an officer to give you a ride back to your residence, but with the mutters going around the department, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“I have errands to run, of a sort,” I said.  “That’s fine.”

He gave me a look.  “Whatever condition you’re in, I expect to see you tomorrow.”

I nodded.

“Thank you,” he said.  A dismissal.

Triumphant, I made my way out, one hand on the wall for balance.

I made my way outside, and leaned against the wall.  My legs were shaking.

“He thinks you’re an addict,” Rose said.

I raised an eyebrow.

“You look like you’re in the throes of withdrawal.”

“Ouch,” I said.  Evan hopped from one of my index fingers to the other, then back again.  Some passerbys stared.  My locket dangled from one wrist, the Stonehenge charm from the other.

“You’re not in any shape to do this.”

“This isn’t going to be a run-around binding, or I’m not going to be able to handle it,” I said.  “Even without… this, I’d be too tired to do anything of the sort.  This one is one we’re going to have to tackle with our brains.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m counting on your brain.”

“I hope I’m up to the task.”

“Rose?  I talked to the Knights.  This one scares the fuck out of me.”

“I can imagine.”

“I’m not sure you can,” I said.  I drew in a deep breath.  “Can you follow the chain back to Conquest?  I need you to send Fell, so he can give me a ride.”

With that, Rose was gone.

“Let’s fly,” I said, flicking my finger.  Evan took to the air, and I limped.

The abstract demon wasn’t the end of it.  Five minutes after midnight, tonight, Pauz was free.

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316 thoughts on “Conviction 5.4

  1. So, uh.

    I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, was unwinding late last night, checking my email before bed (I’ve been looking to move, am awaiting several email responses) and saw one email. Donation received.

    A very generous someone paid for two bonus chapters.

    I have no words. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t suffice. Saying that I was so shocked and thrilled that I was rendered very wide awake doesn’t really convey it. I’m freaking blown away.

    Thank you, Mr. F.

    1. As one who is not in a position to donate, (some day I hope to be in a position to do so) I would like to offer my thanks to the donaters and Mr F. in particular. Your contributions make my life brighter for sure.

    2. Yes. Seriously, Mr F, that is extremely nice of you. Thank you for doing so much to support something that brings peope so much happiness.

      1. Well somebody is awesome. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to donate two chapters worth, but I’m glad someone who could did.

    3. I’m guessing that’s the power letting Blake win his third-third round…

      Cheers to Mr F. for his peerless generosity.

    1. “As the willing guest, I… Evan Matthieu, accept your hospitality,” Evan said.
      extra spaces after closing quote

      conversesly
      conversely

      mumured
      murmured

      “You and me are going…”
      You and I
      Normal sort of mistake, so possibly written as intended.

      I still wasn’t absolutely sure about what was real and what was the natural wear and tear of the police station, though.
      real and natural say sort of the same thing, was something else intended?

      passerbys
      passersby

      1. Now he was caught. The officers moved my arms, and for a moment, I could only see Duncan and Behaim out of the corner of my eye.

        Should be Duncan and Evan, presumably.

        I’m somewhat confused about what happened to the blood — Blake was bleeding enough to make pools on the ground, so he must look like he’s just murdered someone (or survived a murder attempt), but no one seems to bat an eye at it — other police officers, his lawyer, and even normal passersby outside seem to notice the “pet bird” more than they notice that he’s covered in blood. Would the police at least give him medical care, even if they buy Dunc’s line about self-harm?

        Another great chapter, anyway… still more hooks to pull us along (how exposed is he to possession? What are the repercussions of choosing a soul as a familiar?), plus we already have the abstract demon, Conquest and Pauz’ release. Plus his return home will be interesting (his friends have been told he was arrested for a boy’s murder…), and what’s Fell going to think of giving a ride to another bloody mess? And in the slightly longer view — implement and demense still remain to be established….

        1. This bothered me a bit too, but what I have decided to believe is that, unless told otherwise by the author, blood spilled for magical purposes will not be visible to unawakened humans. Blood simply spilled, without being used for power, is perfectly visible. If you cut yourself for blood to power magic, then the wound reopens later, the original blood will not be visible to the unawakened, but the injury, and the later blood will be visible if not used for power.

          Remember that the unawakened people are apparently unable to see all the runes Duncan has been drawing all over the station, except for the rush job he did outside the interrogation room with spray paint. I’m not sure they even saw that, they were possibly only reacting to how he was moving and acting.

          I’m also guessing that a familiar has a strong power to “belong”. The unawakened officers might have been caught off guard by the bird, but they would be affected by the bird’s familiar bond to see that the bird belonged with Blake, and this would bypass rational thought. An awakened person would, of course, immediately recognize the bird as a familiar, as Duncan did.

          1. I think there’s some support for your idea about magical blood being invisible to muggles.

            The police chief thinks Blake is high and having withdrawal symptoms, and they never bothered getting him any medical attention. If they knew he cut himself open in one of their cells, they would have gotten someone there to check on him, and probably thrown in some suicide watch to boot, with the police chief knowing that his weakness is from blood loss as opposed to drugs.

            1. I was just thinking of all the puddles and smears of blood Blake’s been leaving around here and there. The blood might actually be completely used up when used for purposes of power, not just invisible to muggles, but gone. Elsewise another practitioner could simply collect some of it and use it to create a link to Blake. He’s left more than enough blood in places his enemies can find it for them to have found it and used it.

            2. He better be careful thinking about magic if he ever massages the one-eyed weasel. If blood can do all that, who knows what a little bit of homemade mayo can do.

        2. I’m sure his friends will be interested in blake’s arrest, but despite Duncan’s comments, Unless he spent major mojo to disrupt their connections to Blake I can’t see thyem being anything less than supportive of him. They are a community that has strong connections to the streets (see Blake) and thus I would expect a much stronger trust of each other than of authority in general and the police in specific. Given Blake has warned at least Joel that he’s trying to keep them out of it to avoid getting them in trouble, and the fact that people don’t really want to believe their friends are child murderers, I’d expect them to rally round Blake harder than before. In fact if I were to expect any fall out from this It would be that his friends start over riding his ‘I need to deal with this on my own’ thing and butting – especially if he comes home from the police station, covered in blood and visibly as messed up as he is.

        3. I think seeing ‘Duncan and Behaim’ together answers the question of whether Blake was competing for three wins against just one or both. See both there confirms that Blake really was in a power struggle against both. If this is correct, then what has happened to Behaim back home. Also, what happened to the time spell around the mansion? Can Rose go check?

          I suppose it does not matter too much about what happened back home until Blake finishes a few more things in Toronto. Now, onto the next job for Conquest.

          I agree it was another great chapter and cannot wait for the next one.

    2. Now he was caught. The officers moved my arms, and for a moment, I could only see Duncan and Behaim out of the corner of my eye.

      Umm, Duncan and Behaim? Is Laird here? I know Duncan is A Behaim. Maybe he meant Evan and Behaim?

    3. Aw fuck.
      Aw, fuck.

      Good job Evan.
      Good job, Evan.

      Worse, it was the first stage
      Worse, if it was the…

      “You have no reason to have that”-lie

      Neither sure nor unsure: not possible, thus a lie.

    4. “Sustenance for a powerful being, conversesly,” –> conversely

      “He looked to Rose” –> needs a period

      ““You make an ass of you.”” –> out of yourself

    1. “you look like you’re in the throes of withdrawal”

      Sounds like something went to complete shit to me.

      1. He’s out. He’s got Evan as a familiar and Rose to read the books for him. If that’s all that’s wrong then things aren’t complete shit at all.

        1. He’s also “cracked”, and more than likely in the beginning stages of full-on demonic possession.

          He won big, but it cost him a LOT. And he still has to deal with a demon. Things are definitely not going well for him yet, in my opinion.

    1. Lots of people did, actually, especially for a robin.

      Only for Evan, though. I don’t recall anything in the general speculation.

  2. I have been jonsing all week for the next update and seeing a new chapter upon the 5th refresh felt like Christmas.
    This chapter just felt so . . . satisfying. Though it comes at a time with Blake at a drained state, having a leg up in power and a decisive triumph over the opposition almost makes me giddy.
    Thanks again to Mr. F!

    1. A leg up in power… No, I don’t think so. Blake is more drained now than he ever previously has been. Rose has always been fragile, but she’s definitely no better than she has always been.

      Evan is small and fragile as well.
      But now, Blake has a familiar who knows well how to leverage being small and fragile, and how to evade strength even with weakness.
      And also, Blake has a friend – one who he can speak with about magic, about his worries for the future, and about all the rest.

      He also maybe-has some glamour… and made exactly the right decision: He chose to check up on it, offer his attention to it, and set things up just the same as if it was all there. If there’s so much as a speck, he’s set up circumstances right for it to start returning. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if next time he checks the result is that instead of having no hair, only a single hair is there, hidden in some nook as if it had always been there…

      1. Yeah, I have similar thoughts on the locket. The hair may only seem missing due to the expectation that it might be missing. Pretending everything is as it should be and that it is still there could bring it back.

      2. I don’t think it’ll be hair. The hair had been trying to fuse with whatever is being paid attention to and is around it, (the locket, which is why it became steel-like, and his wound, which is why it moved towards his wound) which makes sense, since glamour apparently strives to become seamless with its environment. He also got a decent amount of blood on it, and I don’t remember him checking it after that, so it might have changed more even before the locket was opened.

  3. So, familiars must not have to occupy a real animal. Because there was no bird for Evan to occupy, but he became one anyway.

    So, Evan and Blake both may be possessed by spirits. It is too much to hope for that they will be something useful.

    Duncan crossed the moral event horizon there when he snapped Evan’s neck and tried to shoot Blake. He probably thought he could reset time and the shooting would go away, but Evan stole his tokens of power, so that stays on the record. Of course, with his depowering of Blake through the link to Evan, it might be a Pyrrhic victory for Blake.

    I really have to think more about what went on, some of it seemed confusing the first time around.

    1. Lets hope that if the “abstract demon” somehow eats the tools that Evan captured from Duncan, it dosent somehow wipe the victories Blake achieves here.

      But if the connections between the Behiems/DuChamps and the tools can be used as a homing device… that opens up a whole realm of opportunity for Blake to screw them over.

      1. I don’t think that’s quite how the eraser demon works. It doesn’t actually go back in time and prevent something from happening – just nobody remembers it. If it erased the tools, then there’s be gaps. Nobody would remember how the time loop was powered, Duncan included, but there should be enough relevant stuff still in existence for those involved to remember that it happened. The gaps left from an erased object is probably less than that of a person in most cases.

    2. I don’t think breaking Evan’s neck crossed the event horizon. … But trying to kill Blake? It does. And not, I think, only for us.
      We’ve seen the extreme and frankly ridiculous lengths that Laird goes to justify everything he does as ‘not trying to kill anyone’ – keeping the option only for times he could write off as ‘thought he was going to summon a big demon’ and even then couching it in maybes and might-have-tos.

      He has, in other words, regardless even of what Karma thinks, invested a significant amount of effort into never attempting murder. And he seems to have spread that to the rest of the Behaims, and from Black Lamb’s Blood we know that holding to commandments can generate karma. I’m willing to wager that Laird made an agreement of some sort never to attempt to have someone killed.

      1. Explanation for Evan: Duncan was under the impression that Evan was a ghost, and not a full being, AND that Evan was a thing that Blake was trying to use to harm him.

  4. heh, no need for round #3 of a time loop if you can score the third win within Loop #2.

    Don’t tell me we were partially right about the fusion of spirits thing and Conquest is planning on ritually merging the 3 and eating the end result.

    1. I wonder if it counts as a third win against Duncan. I know it counts as a 3rd win against Laird, but this one could be the first win of a new category since it wasn’t in a loop.

      Is a ‘win’ generic? Does it count even if the circumstances of the other wins aren’t sufficiently similar?

  5. Oh my, that’s quite the haul Blake got. And this will make Lairds’ life more difficult so that’s great.
    Let’s hope Rose shines in next chapter ’cause binding a demon doesn’t sound easy at all. With Blake weak and drained as he is …
    Dang, can’t wait for next chapter.

    1. It also fits into such lovely patterns.

      Pauz: Rose and Blake, together. Rose handled much of the first part, Blake much of the last part.
      Hyena: Blake alone.
      Eraser: Rose alone (or nearly so.)

      Now, what we want to happen is for them both to come together to do a final binding which is the third for both of them at the same time. If Evan assists in the Eraser binding and this theoretical fourth binding, then we have three threes – Evan will have assisted for the Hyena, the Eraser, and whatever this fourth binding is.

      I’m thinking it’s quite likely that it will be Conquest, or something that Conquest calls up, or something that the Lord Drunk calls up.
      The ridiculous, not-going-to-happen thing would be binding one of the lawyers turned hostile, or something equally ridiculous, like Ornias.

      1. I’m going to guess Pauz for the third Evan binding. Seems like the kind of thing Blake said he’d try to stop, and Evan can help with rebinding him when the current binding is released.

    2. Yeah, that evidence, the gunshots…I think this is going to rebound on Laird Behaim. It’s possible that whatever the cops do to try and correct the view of them as pulling stuff like this will turn into them pinning the blame on the Behaim conspiracy to show that it most definitely wasn’t systemic.

    3. Will it take something abstract to capture another abstract? With Rose being the only diabolist with any ability to think right now, it seems like her being an abstract could mean something more than just Blake’s feminine link into the inheritance. Rose seems like the voice of reason in every previous encounter but if she were in control, they would both be dead. It might just be me but I keep hoping for her to play a bigger role in an encounter and this one seems to mirror her strengths.

      1. I just think their problem with the abstract demon is that they’re not thinking in abstract terms. They want to put a definite “what” to the thing. They want to conceive of it as a being with a body and features and all that, thus bringing a knife to a brain fight. That’s part of why they lose. Their protections and abilities are great for more specific things, but they haven’t a clue how to deal with anything so fluid.

        Remember, Blake has been warned about trying to classify Others. I’d say that warning is of paramount importance when going up against the Nihilist Demon.

        1. This demon (let’s call it an Imp, it makes everyone forget after all) must be a grave force indeed, even the Gecko is making insightful comments.
          Can’t wait to read the next part, but alas – family.

  6. Oh man, exited. This is gonna be big.

    Evan is awesome. Blake actually has one of the three power sources now.

    And also, Blake really needs to just sleep it off for like, a week. He doesn’t sound so great.

  7. I freaking swear, the first words my eyes caught as I opened the page were
    “We made it three-quarters of the way through the ritual–”
    and I just started mentally swearing up a storm haha

    Glad to see that Death really is staved off with the familiar bond.

    I really didn’t expect people to turn and listen to Blake when he started shouting about June, but alright.

    “I collect birds,”
    …lie? Oh, haha. That’s…wow, Pact, you do bend the truth like crazy.

    “We need to go see what’s up with Dunc.”
    What the ever-lasting fuck? He just started shooting at a bound suspect–held by these two, no less–and that’s what they say? How much mental fuckery is going on here?

    I feel like he should have tried to rub the spilt blood into Evan, to see if he could get the power not sent to Rose that way.

    Ah, that’s what Evan took. With any luck, that was also the thing that was bleeding power into the runes around him–Blake could use a hell of a powerup right now.

    Very nice chapter. Kudos.

    1. Oh, he’s in Drunk-Girl cell. So no blood, though I suppose the sparrow could just fly over there to try it. Oh well.

      Rose’s talk of filling…what is it that she sees, that she’s talking about? After a bit of thought, I assumed she meant the power he took to pull himself together, but what would they have been seeing from that? He already undid locks before that.

      Speaking of, I love that Evan’s pledge to show Blake to safety just lets him autopick locks, that’s flipping awesome.

      “gunning for me.”
      Ha

      I find the standing/sitting dynamics stated here strange, since I’ve also read the opposite, and personally recall several instances where being forced to remain standing was considered a reprimand or insult.

      Ah, something I forgot to mention; this is the second time that the Knights have been fucked with in ways that they cannot afterwards remember; one way to look at it is that those Knights, the ones that put themselves on the line for him, no longer exist in a very real way. They might not be worried, but the Behaims may have just made themselves some enemies.

    2. He collects birds /now/ at least. He’s got one in particular he’s very proud of and who helped him a lot today.

      As for Duncan, he’s been using enchantment for, by implication, a VERY long time. And the male witch-hunter told us that there is almost no way to defend against the control of enchantment without being awakened. Duncan, like the Duchamps, is a mind-control user through many small demands. Blake only managed to break the ones concerning himself. That probably weakened a lot of the other ones… But where a normal person /might/ care more about how their friend is doing than whether they just tried to murder someone, or even think “Why in EVERY HELL I CAN THINK OF did Duncan just try to murder that guy!?” and want to go check… With enchantment, unless it’s interfered with more directly, they’ll keep defaulting to Duncan-as-friend. Or at least, Duncan-as-person-they-won’t-push-away. I like to imagine that one of the flaws of enchantment is that sometimes, when you try to force someone to be a friend who will never lead you, they instead become a nemesis who won’t let you get away.

      Don’t know if that’s true.

    3. I don’t think that losing the blood itself contains the power. I think you use the blood as a conduit to expend your personal power (or someone else, if they get a hold of your blood.) I don’t think that Evan rubbing Blake’s blood on himself will give him more power. It might attune him more to Blake or something like that, though.

      1. it also provides a nice and convenient way for magick to work.
        If you weren’t using blood, you might feel lightheaded etc etc.

  8. Hmm. So, leave a vacuum, and things try to fill it up. I suppose that explains why he can use Glamour so well; this sort of thing’s been Blake’s modus operandi pretty much from the get-go. As for what (if anything) might have filled the hole Blake left during his escape, well, he did use that Wind rune on himself; whether that might result in possession by wind-spirits or simply result in him becoming a little bit more Other (with his talents slanted towards shamanism/wind elemental magic) really remains to be seen.

    It also seems like the ideal situation for performing a Famulus ritual, and since Ghosts possess the same sort of “empty space to be filled”, Evan may wind up a lot more powerful than you’d expect. Looks like my guess that he’d become Something Else a while back was right. Hopefully he won’t that pick up enough Null Demon radiation for that Something Else to be “a demon”, though.

    1. Blake’s body should reject anything that’s not compatible with him. I’m thinking that the wind spirits he likely took in may be compatible though. Blake tends to move around a lot when he’s doing magic stuff, he likes riding his bike so he may like the feeling of the wind, and things like that. Maybe he’ll end up a bit faster, or lighter on his feet, or have brief bursts of power like a metaphorical gust of wind at critical moments. Yeah, a bit more “Other”.

      And yeah, Evan is quite useful. He can open locks and it seems he can hide things he’s carrying in bird form until he drops them. What haven’t we seen yet? Get some compatible things to fill in whatever space there is and he could end up with even more abilities.

      1. Ok, here’s another thought on Evan – he may have absorbed a number of the ghosts in the morgue. Notice how many ghosts moved away as the ritual was completing? What happened to the other ghosts who stayed in the area?

        Think about it. It’s a police morgue. How many criminals who died in the act, maybe shot by police or citizens or even just slipping up and snapping their neck, would have left their ghosts there over the years? People who can pick locks, pickpockets, burglars who sneak around, etc. Ghosts with talents compatible with escape, stealth, and scouting, and as such compatible with Evan, not something his nature would reject. That would explain a lot of Evan’s new abilities.

      2. I think the lock picking was because of the role specified for Evan in the ritual. He’s being picked to scout and to help Blake escape. He seemed to do that job very well. Stealing the stonehenge thing helped Blake escape rather than get looped. Flapping around in the coat exposed the evidence to allow Blake to escape. Evan knocked Blake out of the way of two gunshots, allowing him to escape death.

        I think that helps explain Evan’s skill in lockpecking.

  9. Awesome. My breath stopped when Duncan snapped Evan’s neck. I only started again 10 lines later when I realized he wasn’t dead for good.

    Already we see Evan’s abilities saving Blake’s life and letting him get the decisive win. I knew he’d be awesome 🙂

    Info dump on symbolic meanings to sparrows:
    * “God’s acknowledgment of the minor or seemingly insignificant aspects of life.”
    * “meaning for sailors that they’ve found something for which they had been looking.”
    * “a symbol of swift action”
    * “a symbol of travel or soul-searching”
    * “association with moral action”
    * “a sign of impending death”
    * “catch the souls of the recently deceased and carry [them] to heaven”
    * “symbolised true love and a spiritual connection”
    * “Joy
    Inclusion
    Creativity
    Simplicity
    Protection
    Community
    Productivity
    Friendliness”

    1. …wow, a lot of that works. I mean, when you have this many options and you release the human mind at it, then you’re going to get a lot of connections, but still…

      They’ve found something for which they had been looking.
      swift action
      moral action (what with the ‘fighting the forces of harm’ deal)
      sign of impending death
      catch the souls of the recently deceased and carry [them] to heaven
      Inclusion
      Creativity
      Friendliness

      …still, that’s a nice set of meanings that match, even at first glance.

    2. … Now, rationally speaking, I know that there’s a pretty good set of symbols from one source or another connecting most things to most things, depending on how many steps one is willing to take.

      But especially as a one-step association, that is a REALLY good set of symbols.

  10. Nice chapter. I’m a little sad that Duncan turned out to be so much less interested in doing his job than in supporting his uncle, but at least he got his comeuppance for it.

    Between being to break glass almost at will and unlocking any lock with two pecks, Team Thorburn has quite a set of thief tools developing. Those things alone are good enough to come up with a way to deal with a really broad spectrum of problems.

    I wonder if there’s a real bottom to hit, as far as power usage goes. Seems like Blake keeps finding new ways to become even more spent. Can he just keep going down and never come up for air?

      1. He lost the hair, so I don’t know if he can do that. He still has the locket, though, and the patina on it certainly isn’t natural. Wonder if it can still do something?

  11. Another great chapter, although I thought “killing” Evan was going to cost him everything he had just gained. Now he has a few hours to deal with the abstract demon… I’m just hoping he can use it to remove the chain on Rose while binding it, although I’m sure there are ways things can get worse.

  12. Also? Pretty sure that Duncan’s Forsworn now; maybe he would have been able to avoid it if he reset time, but now that charges have been laid against him, he’s almost certainly going to get whacked for violating his police officer’s oath. And maybe we have an idea of why it’s such a shitty state to be in, if it opens you up to possession by zillions of petty spirits.

    1. Duncan is in deep shit. He’s either Forsworn or at least completely drained of power, he’s under investigation for tampering with evidence and attempted murder (with no magic to help him out from under it), and the rest of his family is probably pretty pissed at him (lost blake, lost the loaned bracelet, made all of them look bad with his ineptitude). Really goes to show the power of that third victory.

      1. No doubt it hits on many levels. He promised to keep Blake inside, and failed completely, so he should be forsworn there. He is tricky with words and meanings, just like Laird, so as long as he WINS he can twist things so that he fulfills legal oaths. He lost, though, and he might not be able to twist things so that he is upholding the law after the fact, which means he’d be forsworn again. Duncan could be really, really screwed by this.

        What seems to be being made really clear to me is it really does not pay to screw with other magic users, even if you should be able to trounce them. In the scheme of things, Blake and Rose are total novices blundering through things, and they managed to severely and possible permanently damage an experienced magic user who could freaking turn back time several times in a day. With all his care and trickery, as bad as he pummeled Blake, he still lost badly in the end.

        This also makes me think there’s something much bigger behind Laird’s motives than has been presented so far – his potential losses in this whole Thorburn conflict are incredibly huge. Why not simply establish a peaceful relationship and try to guide the fledgeling diabolists into being the nicest possible kind of diabolist? Especially since they’ve expressed a desire to not actually be diabolists? Having a potential big nasty in the neighborhood doesn’t seem like nearly enough reason to risk all he could lose here, especially considering his claims to have a means of protecting against it. It doesn’t jive.

        1. Don’t forget about Johannes. Laird straight up stated he wanted the Thorburns to last longer to serve as a buffer against Johannes.

          1. The Behaims and Duchamps are also planning something back in Jacob’s Bell, something big enough that they need to either get a blessing or stay hidden from lords of cities hundreds of miles away. The implication is, those lords would want a part of it. I don’t think that can be just about the economic development from freeing up some land.

  13. Started reading Worm last fall. Loved it so much. Pact is turning out to be just as good. Thank you for the awesome stories!

  14. I swear to god, the only thing going through my mind when the bastard snapped evans necks was “BURN THEM ALL”

    You’re going to try and murder the soul of a child because of your crusade to end a bedraggled diabolist? Fuck you. Fuck everything. Die in a whole you piece of trash.

    1. Did he know the bird was Evan? I don’t think he knew Evan was a familiar (and hence wouldn’t be expecting the shape change). If he did know that, then he’d know that killing the bird wouldn’t kill Evan.

      What he did know was that this isn’t an ordinary bird, and this bird is connected in some way to dangerous diabolist Thorburn.

      1. His reasonable assumptions go as follows:
        One: Evan is a recent, therefore powerful ghost.
        Two: Blake did a major ritual.
        Three: Blake was desperate for power right now.

        He did not destroy what he thought was a child’s soul; he thought he destroyed or severely weakened the impression of a child’s fear that had been turned into a familiar for Blake.

      2. Pretty sure he knew that Evan had become Blake’s familiar. You can see the lightbulb come on when he pulls Evan out of his pocket.

        1. Agreed. If nothing else, a lot of the Duchamps have bird familiars. Also, Blake suddenly gains an animal that is helping him. That screams familiar. Blake certainly clued in fast enough that an animal hanging around a practitioner was a familiar, and he hasn’t been a practitioner for long.

      3. He had to realize it was a familiar at that point, and he’d just been questioning Blake about what ritual he could have been doing with Evan’s body. I think he had a pretty good idea.

        And I think that karma probably wouldn’t have given a shit if he knew it was a kid or not before he attempted to kill it.

        1. Salt is also traditionally used for purification. Might have been making sure no angry animal spirit came after him, or that anything bad Blake did to it was cleaned away so it can pass on normally.

          1. ““Blake, salt is a purifying material, cleansing. It can work against certain Others,” Rose said.” (1.06)

  15. If Jeramy attacks Blake after Conquests’ plan falls apart, maybe Blake should make preparations by sacrificing lots of hangover cures to Bilious the Oh God of Hangovers.

      1. Rose already has; keep a lookout for a small pillar of smoke. Also, stuffing my two cents through any available opening, invoking the No True Scotsman fallacy falls through when the
        “trueness” has a direct connection to the “Scotsman”. When religion f(x) has commandment x, someone not keeping commandment x is not “true”. Someone may say that they are Anoian, but if they do not shout ” Why won’t this utensil come out? Why did we get it anyway?”, then they are not a “true”,fully practicing Anoian. Christians (label) can steal, but Christianity says not to. Someone who steals is not fulfilling the terms. Butte sects.

        1. The Ten Commandments are Jewish, not Christian. And no sect of Christianity has said that you can only be a Christian if you don’t steal. Stealing has absolutely nothing to do whether or not someone is a True Christian, especially since that’s one of the sins that denominations declare as not bad enough to send someone to hell.

          They tend to identify whether someone is a Christian or not based on if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior while believing in the existence of only one deity. See, that’s a definition that even includes the early heretics who lost the vote on the orthodoxy that Jesus is both all man and all divine.

          By your understanding, every Christian in prison for theft of any sort shouldn’t be labeled a Christian because they did something that other Christians don’t like to think Christians do. This is exactly the problem with deciding that they are No True Scotsman. Instead of having to think about the fact that their religion doesn’t stop them from having to identify with thieves and murderers, they just declare those people to not be real Christians. Then they go about their merry little lives, thinking that No True Christian would do something like that. Meanwhile, there’s some other bunch of True Christians elsewhere who would look at something the first True Christian does and say they weren’t a True Christian because of it.

          It strikes me as exactly the same as Josef Stalin removing communists he didn’t like from history, or proclaiming them to have never been communists. And he would know, wouldn’t he? He was General Secretary.

          And as for your specific example: Mathew 21:1-2: “1 When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me.”

          It makes perfect sense that True Christians could be thieves, considering that act of grand theft donkey committed by Jesus’s disciples at his command.

          1. Look, there is a reason that I used religion f(x) and Anoian theology. I don’t want to go into a religion that people will feel defensive of or aggressive to. Also, I know very little about Christianity. I’m atheistic, a formerly religious Jew. Anyway, you have a list of things to do and not do (religion) and then you have people who label themselves under a religious denomination. Now, the people may not fulfil the list of do/not do, but that does not mean that the blueprint is faulty, only that the people are. Niezcheian wannabes are annoying, but if they either do not follow or do not understand their source, you can’t blame Niezche for that! Judge an idea for what it is, blame the people for everything else.

            1. The list of things to do for Christians is “believe in the teachings of Jesus”

              It gets a little iffy the more specific you try to make it. Some versions maintain dietary restrictions like Catholics, others don’t. Most put the Sabbath on Sunday, but not the Seventh Day Adventists. Some think sex before marriage is horrible, others don’t. Some denominations of Christianity believe in civil rights; others don’t. Some believe in loving your neighbor: some most definitely don’t. Some believe in separation of church and state, others don’t. Some accept science, others don’t.

              I don’t see why y’all can be so supportive of the fallacious arguments about No True Scotsman, yet I’m not claiming y’all are no true atheists. That’s more than can be said about people like Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, and Sye Ten Bruggencate who happily decide that millions of Christians aren’t Christians because they practice the religion slightly differently.

              But if you really want to say that Ken Ham and Ray Comfort get to declare Christians to not really be Christians just because they accept that evolution is true, go ahead. If you want to accept that any Christian who ever looks for proof of his religion is not actually a Christian, like Bruggencate, go ahead.

              So if that’s what you want to do, if you want to rewrite Christianity for Christians and decide that you can’t be a Christian if you’ve ever stolen, cussed, had sex before marriage, eaten a fish on a Friday, celebrated Halloween, had the Sabbath on a Sunday, and keep your kids in public school rather than home school them, go ahead.

              And please, take your mindreading powers over to the James Randi Foundation and win that $1,000,000 prize for anyone who can demonstrate proof of the supernatural.

            2. Whether or not the person qualifies as a member of the group is completely irrelevant. That’s why it’s a fallacy.

              For an extreme example, if a murderer professes to have been “saved” and converts to Christianity, then murders his cell mate, any christian is going to say “Well, clearly he wasn’t REALLY a christian, as no true christian would commit murder”.

              The whole point of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is that it is changing the definition of what a “Scotsman” is to exclude the undesired individual, even though that individual meets all the requirements to be a member of that group. Scotts don’t like the idea that a Scotsman would molest children, so after a child molesting Scotsman is found the definition is arbitrarily altered on the fly to exclude them from the group.

              Christians don’t like the idea that a Christian could be a thief and a murderer (technically, they can according to a legalistic reading of the versions of the bible that most denominations use) so they commit the “No True Scotsman” fallacy to excise them from their group.

            3. I get what you are saying, I really do. I understand the TS fallacy, and agree that it is, in fact, a fallacy.

              The problem with using Christianity as an example is that once you “believe in Jesus” you are a Christian. Anything else is moving the goalposts. I get that.

              I suppose that the point of contention is that I was assuming
              A) there is an ideal Christian that everyone can agree fulfills all qualifications, I.E. “True Christian”, and
              B) there were more qualifications than “believe in Jesus”

              Now, can we please go back to discussing Anoian Philosophy?

        2. Religions vary in their entry requirements. Christianity is tolerant of some degree of sinfulness. The main requirements for being a Christian are loving god and loving your neighbor. Willfully committing a moral violation taxes that relationship but won’t necessarily cleave it. If you can provide reasonable justification for your actions (as say, Catholic mafia members did, in that they were providing protection to the people they forced to pay them protection money) and make a strong effort to stick to the core commandments you should be fine.

          It’s more like christian f(x)= 2love of god(must be above 0)love of man

          If you repeatedly violate the general principles of your and the wider christian community then Christians will avoid you and you will no longer be part of the body of Christ and you can’t reasonably call yourself a Christian and have it mean anything. This can be ameliorated to some degree by love of god, but eventually love of man will turn to hate, be negative and the more you love god the more sacrilegious you will be.

  16. With the way Blake gets beat all to hell all the time, I feel like he’s trying to give Harry Dresden a run for his money! Dude takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’!

    1. Well, Dresden has assloads of power, and has since Storm Front. Blake started at thbbt and is gaining it through guile, not brute strength.

      It’s more like seeing Molly (Carpenter) claw her way to the top after being plopped in without a clue, and without help. Same subtle mind at work.

  17. So… that’s bad for the Behaims. I mean they made Blake’s life a little more difficult. (If he doesn’t collapse from exhaustion in the middle of plotting. Then he doesn’t need to bother with the abstract demon at all. Or deal with Conquest.) But that was a BAD loss. There agent in Toronto is gone. There rep is gone. They lost in the chronomancy department in round three of chronomancy. They gave Blake a new power source. Who knows if that Backlash damaged anything.

    I swear, Laird is either frighteningly incompetent or intentionally pushing Blake to be the Hero of Hell we all know he can be.

    1. It’s worse than that. This was the third strike with the police. Not only did Duncan get caught, but because of the mess with his uncle and the need for the police to show this as some sort of isolated incident related to a personal grudge, rather than systemic corruption, I think they’re going to come down real hard on Laird too, no matter the different jurisdiction.

      1. They’d have to investigate this closely or else the RCMP will get involved, unless Larid & Duncan have family connections in there too.

      2. The Duchamps can manipulate connections. If they come to their aid again, they might be able to repair Duncan’s position. Or if that isn’t an option, they could cut all ties between Duncan and his family so the effect doesn’t spread outward.

        1. This was a third time, though. That always has some sort of huge symbolic effect. I don’t know that the rules of the universe would allow the Duchamps to shield Laird from this backlash.

            1. Round three isn’t entirely over. Laird’s third attack on Blake is over, and he lost – his family spent a lot of resources, his nephew has no chance of continuing his career in law enforcement and is possibly going to jail for attempted murder and trying to frame one Blake Thorburn, and his enemy has gained a loyal familiar and what is likely a pretty good power source stocked with at least enough time to loop back most of a day. That’s a decisive loss for Laird, but keep in mind that his position was higher to begin with so he’s got more cushion than Blake does.

              Next, what we should expect in a day or two when Blake goes back to the police station to answer questions, is Blake’s offensive. The third and final attack on Laird’s reputation. The ground work has been laid perfectly – the letter to the RCMP that got Laird questioned about Molly’s murder, the call from their own home that got Laird taken in by his own men, and now another Behaim trying to frame and murder another Thorburn. If Blake can rest up enough so he doesn’t seem like a drugged up loonie then he can press this when it comes time to ask questions and get the police really investigating the conspiracy against his family. There’s enough for it to stick this time, so Laird’s reputation can be ruined quite decisively.

            2. If that’s the case things are going to be a lot harder for Blake. Laird is hardly going to let himself go down without a fight. And something like that seems like it is right up the Duchamp’s alley. They may decide to pull out all the stops, resources burned be damned. Screwing with the heads of the questioners to make them trusting towards Laird and suspicious of Blake, Time looping it if it doesn’t go their way… Yeah it could be an absolute bitch. And now I worry Wildbow is going to do it.

            3. Rather than just having a Behaim brought in for questioning, he got a Behaim caught dead to rights messing with evidence against him.

              Oh, and if you remember, Duncan Behaim then shot at him twice in the middle of a crowded police station.

            4. It seems pretty damned decisive to me. The game was for Blake to get out of the murder charge. The result is the police officer (previously in the offensive position pushing a murder charge) is in jail after being caught tampering with evidence and shooting at the unarmed and captured suspect, after the suspect repeatedly expressed fears about the police officer committing malfeasance. A “win” for Blake could’ve just been avoiding the murder charge and getting out in time to work on the abstract demon. This is a complete victory.

              The only problem is that the cost to achieve that victory was very high. That makes his further tasks harder to complete, but the legal troubles battle has most definitely been won by Blake. He could leverage his win to hammer the nail further in and cause more damage, as Enjou suggests, but that’s just icing.

            5. This was a pretty damn decisive win. If this was a crime drama this would be a good place to cut to credits or end the book. Bad guy being dragged away, raving at the hero, after getting caught red handed and doing the shoot+run at the hero. That isn’t just decisive, that’s a hilariously epic win. Blake even mentioned the Universe was pushing him out as part of the win. That’s round three and its a solid win for Blake.

              On top of that Blake stole a power source, and hit Duncan with a lie and backlash, and burned up a bunch of enemy resources.

              The Duchamps and Behaims might be able to try and salvage this so the fallout doesn’t obliterate them, but this is win number three. That has power. And that power will work against them. They aren’t going to be able to turn this against Blake.

            6. Well with Duncan it does seem pretty decisive. But I was talking more about the rounds with Laird. If this was a round 3 with Laird it still feels like he can come back for another one, or start another match up.

  18. “I’m becoming very eccentric”
    I loved that line.

    When Duncan snapped Evans neck I was horrified. It came so abruptly that in that second I forgot he was safe from death.

    Also I’ve yet to mention how much I enjoy the fact that Blake is tired and wounded unlike in most stories where when a hero is injured they heal within a day.
    I love that realism it really feels like each victory and loss is important and one of my favourite part of wildbows writing.

    1. I felt the same way about Evan’s neck. I really thought for a moment that Wildbow would do that and that Blake was well and truly screwed.

      1. I have a feeling wildbow totally /would/ do something like that… except it would have been against the rules he set out for himself. That said, it’s not like he isn’t sadistic enough.

        1. Wildbow isn’t sadistic enough. Wildbow is very fair, sometimes even forgiving… And sets nigh-impossible tasks.

  19. Good job! This story is so amazing! I really feel for the involved parties, and we’re getting to know Blake quite well, I feel.
    Duncan now knows how it is when you start relying a little bit too much on magic. 🙂
    Thank you, Mr F!
    Thank you, wildbow! I hope life gives you some good returns.

  20. amazing chapter, even if there wasn’t a third time loop, Blake still won the third round of “bring in the law” , i only hope they can bind the abstract demon without losing too much.
    i would also like to thank Mr F, you made the world a better place (for some of us), and thank you wildbow, i hope you can comfortably live off your writing soon, god knows you deserve it, you may not be so famous yet, but for me (and i’m guessing a lot of other readers) you are right there at the top.

  21. i also have this horrible feeling that after they are done with the abstract demon we will get hints that they took someone else with them, and will spend the next few days frantically searching the past chapters for evidence that Blake might at some point have someone else with him, and his life is so miserable because that person was erased. “John dies at the end” style.

  22. Hrm, as weak as Blake is right now, I wonder how much of Evan is going to leak into Blake?

    I also wonder if this will be a bad thing. Evan is at least a human soul, and has a lot of qualities that Blake desperately needs. Rose might even welcome it, if the merger doesn’t impact her.

  23. I didn’t follow what Blake was planning in a couple cases.
    -Why did Blake want Dunc to slip on the soap in the morgue? Was Blake just going to make a run for it, perhaps after Rose tripped Dunc by reaching through the reflective surface (?) of the pool of soap on the floor? (Does Rose reflect in suitably still surfaces of liquids?)
    -Why did Blake want the door opened to let in some cold air? What did that have to do with activating June? Blake had a plan to expose that Dunc was carrying June on him by having the door opened?

    Anybody help me out?

    1. My interpretations:

      Why did Blake want Dunc to slip on the soap in the morgue?

      If you are in a desperate situations and you have little recourse then you try and take advantage of any little edge, even if it as little as a bar of soup on the ground.

      Why did Blake want the door opened to let in some cold air?

      It is cold out side and there is snow on the ground. If the door was open activating June to cause more cold is more plausible then a n insulated room suddenly getting freezing. Making non-practitioner aware of magic can cary a heavy karmic burden and black was avoiding exposing the non-practitioner cops with him at the time.

      1. I’m pretty sure the cold air thing was a covert message for rose. He doesn’t want to look any more crazy than he has to, and telling reflective surfaces to go get June wouldn’t help that.

    2. Talking about how much he would like some cold air right now was a way of telling Rose that she should fetch June without looking like a crazy person to the cops.

    3. When Blake wanted Duncan to slip, Blake was surrounded by police officers. He would not have been able to make a run for it. I think he just wanted Duncan to slip out of spite, to get a sense of superiority

      And maybe he wanted the door opened as a distraction?

    4. See, Blake has a crush on Duncan, and he was really interested in having Duncan pick up the soap because Blake’s sore enough without his rear end becoming every Toronto practitioner’s gateway drug. He’s got a history of being shafted by the Behaims, you see. So he was hoping he could tap that by actually being the tapper, and not the tappee.

      The reason Blake wanted the door open was because of Duncan’s vow to keep Blake inside the police station. Duncan wanted Blake to squeal like a piggy (no offense, Wildbow), so he took him to the land of uniformed men, cages, electroshock, and handcuffs. As previously noted, though, Blake is tired of being pricked by everything except a razor.

      Seriously, Blake is rapidly becoming the Ric Flair of Pact. Locked door? He cuts himself. No KY Jelly but he really needs to manhandle himself? He cuts himself. Poured himself a big bowl of cereal but ran out of milk? He cuts himself.

      Hopefully, like Ric Flair, Blake won’t learn when it’s time to quit.

    5. I’m not sure about the door (signalling Rose to get June, that seems likely).

      The hand soap, though, was spilled before DB entered the room, and well before other cops were heard to be on the way. I think BT just wanted DB to slip and fall, thus putting DB at a disadvantage while BT either kicks him in the fork, or runs, or both.

  24. Wow. I honestly thought that Wildbow had killed off Evan, mere pages after he’d completed the familiar ritual. It seemed like something Wildbow would do.

    Then, of course, I read on hoping he wasn’t really dead, and I was right!

    That is a kinda sweet set of familiar vows.

    I admit to being a little confused about what exactly happened when Duncan shot at Blake there. Did Duncan run away? The section seemed a bit hard to follow.

    Of course, how is this going to look to unrelated practitioners after the fact? Blake Thorburn, diabolist, is a suspect in the murder of a little boy but weasels out of charges via magic shenanigans. Then he shows up with a brand new familiar… which is the soul of a little boy.

    1. Duncan slowed time and then shot at Blake. Evan used his abilities to move Blake out of the way of the shots.

      At this point the two slowed officers had their weapons mostly drawn. Seeing this, and knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get another shot off without risking getting shot himself, Duncan retreated to reset time, not realising that his power source had been taken.

      Under apparent fire by one their coworkers, one of the officers began returning fire/providing cover fire while the other officer brought the unarmed prisoner (Blake) to safety

  25. Yay!

    Finally, Blake takes a couple of metaphorical steps away from the cliff that Wildbow’s been inexorably pushing him towards.

    Take that The Universe! (read Wildbow the Unrepentant)

    \¤/

    So, open-ended question:
    What size of a donation elicits a donation chapter?

    Coz, while I’d never dream of pinning Wildbow to a specific request, I’m sure I could scare something up somewheres around end month if the upside was a 3rd person non-“Every single atom in Existence hates your guts” take on Blake-the-Wiser.

    Big up to Mr. F by the by. Web fiction was made for such as thee…

  26. Blake just keeps on trucking. His endurance is seriously ridiculous. It’s amazing that he’s still able to move about, let alone continue to be a badass. From the start of all of this about a week ago, he’s gotten pretty much no restoration besides some glamour to fix up some damage from Pauz’s animals (a bunch of which was ripped off later) and whatever he was getting from Rose until he gave it all back with interest and an energychanging inefficiency fee. In that time, he’s:

    1) Nearly died in the freezing cold (+ lots of bruises and wounds to face and hands)
    2) Probably got close to getting frostbite on his hand while getting June
    3) Fought Letita the Faerie familiar to the point of collapse
    4) Got too deep into a glamoured persona and had it break
    5) Fought Pauz’s animals, sustaining multiple nasty wounds in the process
    6) Fought the Hyena (lots of bruises and superficial wounds) and got caught by a Faerie who siphoned away glamour from his wounds, especially his locket hand
    7) Given away entirely too much blood to return the flow towards Rose, then continued to use more, and apparently filled himself with spirits his body is likely to have a violent reaction towards (which maybe looks like withdrawal)
    8) Gave up enough energy to keep Evan alive after his neck was snapped.

    And during a lot of it he’s been in fight or flight mode (which is quite draining) while mostly running on very little food or rest.

    1. Next up- Let’s go bind a Demon that EATS existance. With no time to rest and restore himself. WHAT THE HELL IS BLAKE RUNNING ON!? I don’t suppose he’s have time to meet up with the Astrologer and she can help him out? No of course not.

      Man if it weren’t for Phryic victories Blake wouldn’t have any victories at all.

      1. This might actually turn into an advantage. Binding a demon that eats existence while at the moment barely existing at all.

      2. I’m hoping Blake passes out. The Knights decide that he needs to go to a hospital to not die of rabbies and he is much more likely to be able to get revenge if he has more than six hours to accomplish this. It would be the selfish thing to do. If they be friends with Blake Pauz won’t curb stomp them. Conquest won’t curb stomp them an account of getting Pauz.

    2. This is, perhaps, my biggest problem with Wildbow’s characters. Real people get tired, they become drained. Willpower is finite a finite resource! You can run out of it and while I can see an experienced practitioner being able to deal with all of those situations, Blake just had his world turned upside down after discovering magic and he shouldn’t be able to handle these situations, his harsh past notwithstanding.

      I know that after discovering magic and apparently being lucid, I would either head straight into a mental hospital or I would collapse. I would have been killed immediately by my enemies, and I am sure any real person would not have fared better.

      But I suspend my disbelief because the story is awesome otherwise.

      1. I believe the evidence suggests that “willpower is a finite resource” is more self-fulfilling prophecy than actual rule. At least, not having such a belief correlates with more willpower/mental endurance.

        1. Well, current studies that I’m familiar with suggest that it’s a reality. You can argue that it’s that way because people believe it is–and I’m not sure how to control for that, given that they are already controlling for the patients not knowing what they’re being tested on–but some people believe what you do, and the tests came out the same.

          Hm. What studies are you referring to?

          1. I can’t recall the names, but I know there have been studies which indicate that not only is willpower a finite resource, but choosing not to eat a cookie and making complex moral decisions expend the same amount of willpower. Of course, giving in and eating that cookie also replenishes willpower, so eat cookies.

            But yeah. There’s something called Decision Fatigue, which makes it hard to repeatedly make hard moral decisions. For instance: the parole rate of criminals in the US in the morning is >60%, by lunch time it drops to <1%, then back up to ~40% after lunch, then back down to <1%. This is because it literally becomes harder for the judge in charge of parole to make the difficult morale choice of freeing a convict. As Decision Fatigue sets in, they default to the easy choice, sending the criminal back to prison.

            It's a disturbing find, one that indicates that many of our institutions may be set up poorly with regards to Decision Fatigue, and that our judgement and productivity fall prey to it.

            All this said, humans do have a remarkable ability to pull out more willpower when they need to. Just as humans can find stores of energy they never knew existed in times of crisis, so can they find hidden stores of willpower. Both energy and willpower are finite, but often deeper than you think.

            Also I would argue that the defining trait of a good action protagonist is extraordinary willpower. The ability to go beyond the limits other people who be brought short by.

            1. So there are studies showing evidence in both directions; that sounds about right nowadays.

        2. Return of Dread Pirate the Psychology Student!

          Willpower is less a resource than a muscle. Use it to resist a temptation, like delicious cookies, and you’ll be more vulnerable to other temptations later. However, the next day you’ll be better able to resist the cookies, and able to resist more temptations before giving in. So on add infinitum. Taylor had time to train up her willpower; even resisting the urge to drown her bullies in bugs before she became a cape probably helped. Blake has likewise been resisting the temptation to return to his family, to give up his freedom in exchange for comfort and safety, for years. Not to mention all the troubles of being homeless. These last weeks have been like a willpower training regime from hell, leaving him incredibly drained but ultimately stronger. No surprise his willpower is so much greater than ours!

      2. I think it is unlikely but possible to have crazy endurance and do very well in stressful situations. Almost anyone would have died easily if they were put into Blake’s situation, but Blake’s not just anyone. I mentioned this before, but good stories (fictional or non-fictional) are often about improbable events and/or atypical characters. Characters in stories usually have a few traits that people can relate to, but they’re often far more capable of doing awesome things.

        For example, the reason articles like this:
        http://www.cracked.com/article_17019_5-real-life-soldiers-who-make-rambo-look-like-pussy.html
        are interesting is because the characters achieve amazing and improbable feats.

        1. Soldiers are trained, for one. Blake is just your average guy who had a rough background. He is a common person, just like Taylor was your average bullied girl. In fact, that’s one the strengths of Wildbow’s characters—there are millions of other people just like them, but a turn of events lead them to have a very different life.

          Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the story and I love the way Blake acts. He is a total bad-ass and I love bad-asses. I am willing to suspend my disbelief because I get an exciting and enthralling story in return. However, Blake does not feel quite human. We don’t see enough of the scared shitless Blake, we don’t see enough of the panicky Blake. We see a guy that, given a few moments, will come up with a solution to any problem, no matter how big the problem is, no matter his physical condition (Blake has hardly slept the past few days! His brain should be mush), and no matter how much stress he is dealing with. And he just keeps going without any need for rest.

          Something that really bothered me at the start of the story is that Blake took the whole witch grandma, mirror clone, magic mafia, demon meddling situation with a stride. He was surprised, but a real person would probably have had their mind broken into a tiny million pieces. I, for one, would have turned myself in to a mental hospital. But we don’t see Blake question these events, we don’t see Blake taking a moment to panic. He goes straight to work and figuring out what is the next step to take.

      3. I do know what you mean, but there comes a point where you either roll with the fantasy or just let it steamroll you.

        It’s an idea that has come up a number of times before (though not on here that I am aware of) but if you are stuck in a reality that you can’t distinguish from a hallucination, trying to break the illusion is important, but not as much as survival, and what if it’s not a hallucination? Mind, this didn’t come up explicitly, but it is applicable.

        You do have a point, however. It is kind of off-putting, especially on rereads. In the initial read, I was too happy that it actually was a fantasy story after all and Wildbow hadn’t shifted over to some sort of contemporary genre that I wouldn’t be interested in to really take much note of it. (No, I didn’t know much about Wildbow at that time, besides the fact that he wrote Worm and I was interested in what else we would write). But in rereads, it had felt quite strange.

        Do we know if Blake believed in this stuff before he was thrust into it?

    3. Letita the Faerie Familiar should be a Saturday morning cartoon in Pactverse.

      (I had typed “is” instead of “should be”, but it could have easily been a lie. Dang you, Wildbow!)

  27. Wait, is the upgrade to Rose permanent? Then Blake could do it again when he’s feeling a bit better to permanently upgrade Rose again until she can go completely out of the mirror, right?

    I mean, this isn’t the smartest of moves, obviously. It’s plausible, though.

    1. Rule of Thumb in Pact:

      When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would this be a good thing to have happened to Blake?”

      If the answer is yes, then that’s probably NOT what happened…

      1. Not entirely true. It certainly seems that the rules of the universe include “things always get worse” and “Blake gets screwed”, but not everything is bad in the long run. Fighting Letitia got him the glamoured hair, which has been hella useful.

        1. But he wasn’t able to keep it since Duncan threw it away. I think another way Karma gets to screw with Blake is to ensure that he never gets to keep his hard earned prizes/victories for long as they will always end up slipping through his fingers.

          1. Fucking Blake over is an actual rule to the universe. And it will keep happening until he substantually lessens his families Karmic debt.

    2. I would guess that blood doesn’t do well at making permanent upgrades. That the boost is only temporary. Until Rose uses it up. And Rose mentioned she lost it when Duncan snapped birdies neck.

      Of course if its NOT temporary AND Blake figures out how to deal with the spiritual bacteria AND he happens to have a good few days of downtime AND he has nothing better to do AND it doesn’t corrupt Rose with Blakeness that would be a pretty damn useful trick.

      So its probably a bad idea.

      1. One of Blake’s greatest needs is a source of power that doesn’t drain him so much. Once he has that he can get to work on feeding it into Rose the strengthen her existance. I imagine that at leas once he get’s a Demense that’ll at least be a place she can leave the mirrors.

        1. Step 1: Get a mannequin
          Step 2: Replace mannequin’s face with mirror
          Step 3: Put faerie hair on mannequin
          Step 4: Take mannequin outside, and stare intently into mirror.
          Step 5: Claim it’s performance art so people will watch.

  28. I am still think the transition from Duncan saying “Go easy on him.” to shooting Blake was a bit abrupt. Evan tried to help Blake (Duncan may or may not have known Evan was a familiar at that point) so Duncan “killed” him. Then Rose activated June and hurt Duncan, exposing Duncan’s walking around with evidence at the same time. Maybe that was the trigger, because it painted the Behaims as dirty the third time. So maybe the shots were a combination of “nothing more to lose” and “I can get out of it by time reversal”.

    Speaking of which, Duncan attacked Blake’s familiar. Which, by “eye for an eye” thinking, opens up Blake to attacking Duncan’s familiar. Do the loaners count? That would make Blake’s ability to keep the charms make sense because otherwise all Duncan has to do is tell the police to search Blake and they would take away anything extra Blake had on him.

    1. At this point Duncan’s pull with the police is nill so searching Blake at his behest is not going to happen. In fact, any suggestion Duncan makes is probably going to have the opposite effect.

    2. It wasn’t that Duncan didn’t want Blake hurt (he even had his gun out). He just didn’t want an unjust beating to occur for damage he received when they were fighting earlier. He’d decided this round would be a keeper, so he shouldn’t damage his karma for spite.

      After Blake screws the round up by revealing he’d stolen evidence, he’s both pissed and fully ready to reset the clock. I’m guessing he’s thinking something like, “I’m going to go back anyway, so I might as well reset the clock with a few bullets in Blake’s body.”

  29. So I’ve been thinking about the deal with Evan passing on after Blake dies. Obviously, this could almost be calculated to anger Eliezer Yudkowsky and many of the HPMOR fans that found Wildbow through him. And initially, it seemed to me that they would be right. I mean, even though practitioners in this world have evidence that makes an afterlife a hell of a lot more plausible, Blake can’t really be sure that they’re right about it. And Evan, as Blake as seen him, is at least slightly capable of learning and reacting, so he has something to lose from accepting a truer death.

    However, consider the options here:
    -Evan remains as he is, a soul/ghost. We don’t know if, now the hyena’s gone, his soul would leech away and he’d eventually become a normal ghost, and fade as such. But we do know that his existence as such is likely to be friendless, and that without sustained interaction with others who respect him, his stuttery ghost aspects are likely to dominate his flexible soul. If this isn’t a fate worse than death, it’s certainly not substantially better either.
    -Evan becomes Blake’s familiar, gaining a friend and power and increasing his ability to learn and grow. Then Blake dies, and he goes back to being a ghost. Probably the trauma of Blake’s death would mean that Evan would be left as just a ghost, with no leftover soul. And even if not, the outcome would be as above.
    -Evan becomes Blake’s familiar, but agrees to “pass on” afterwards. Best case, he gets a worthwhile afterlife; worst case, I’d say he’s still at least as well off as in the options above.

    So I think Blake’s actions there were defensible even from a strong anti-death stance.

    1. “Obviously, this could almost be calculated to anger Eliezer Yudkowsky and many of the HPMOR fans that found Wildbow through him.”

      I consider myself a fan of HPMOR. And I believe that death is final in this universe (no soul, complete loss of what makes me a “person”). So…

      I don’t think it is “calculated” to anger at all. Fantasy settings commonly include an afterlife or other planes of reality and Wildbow created the setting well before contact with EY so that part cannot be deliberate (assuming causality in our universe).

      By my understanding, Yudkowsky’s anti-death stance in based on the idea that death is non-existence. In Pact, as in many fantasy universes, this is not the case. Moving on in Pact is like HPMOR’s Harry’s example of someone moving to a different country that is hard to contact. So, moving on doesn’t actually kill (destroy) the person here. There are probably changes in the soul, but this still ameliorates or obviates the prime objection that EY has to death (again, to my understanding).

      Evan was stuck in a loop here – unwilling to go back to his parents, unwilling to transition to an afterlife, and decidedly unhappy where he was. My take on Blake’s pressure to make Evan promise to move on is that he was taking a friend who was clearly unhappy where he was and unwilling to move and convincing them to move in the hope that they will do better elsewhere. This is not substantially different from the recommendation that depressed people explore new activities and situations in order to ease depression.

      Add to that, the current existence in Pact is clearly dangerous to ghosts, even strong ones. So Evan was actually in some danger here. Another reason to convince him to go elsewhere once his protection (Blake) lapsed.

      And, if Blake actually isn’t pulled into hell in the afterlife, both he and Evan might appreciate companionship wherever they go.

      1. Plus there was no promise of “when”, just at some point. That means Evan doesn’t have to pass on immediately, but if he doesn’t, then he has keep working to change himself until he CAN pass on.

      2. As stated before, just because the souls go somewhere else doesn’t mean that they actually go anywhere.

        Otherwise, good argument.

    2. Personally, I interpreted Blake asking Evan to “move on” after his death in the context of not getting caught up in depression over having not done enough-look at the context of the vow. He’s asking Evan to be able to say that he’s okay, that he did his best, it wasn’t his fault, etc.

    3. Nah. In universes where reasonable evidence for an afterlife exists, death isn’t a bad thing.

      Or rather, it’s not as bad a thing as permanently ceasing to exist.

      Actually, you know the Oblivion Demon? The entirely real and rational fear it inspires? The fear of ceasing to exist, now and forever? That’s the fear that death inspires in rationalists in our world.

    4. I am not a fan of all that HPMOR stuff, but I too think that death is death. You die, that’s it. No afterlife has been proven.

      That said, I detest the Thalmor in Skyrim because 1. I support freedom of religion and 2. within the confines of the Elder Scrolls, gods exist and Talos is one of them.

      The fact that something exists within a fictional world doesn’t matter. You don’t see atheists or theists getting up in arms at the existence of Norse gods in Marvel movies, after all.

      1. Everyone detests the Thalmor in Skyrim. Everyone. In and out of universe. (Have you seen the penalty for getting caught killing one?)

        1. One of the Programmers said he wanted to put an elf grinder trap that grinds up Thalmor into purple dust in the game because “They deserve it.” Sadly it seems like we’ll have to wait for TES VI to kick their asses. Unless TES Online magages to continue the MMORPG curse.

          1. I’ve heard there’s a lot of non-jerk Altmer in TESO (also, I don’t believe the Thalmor were psychotic douchebags at that point in history). However, I don’t care enough about TESO to actually research the High Elf character there.

            1. Thalmor is a goverment that rules the Summerset Isles, Altmer is the race. Basicly the Thalmor are Nazi’s, the non-Thalmor Altmer are German expatriates/of German descent. And they hate each other. Any Altmer who is not a member of the Thalmor need to be purged in the Thalmor’s eyes. Hell the guy who probably hates the Thalmor the most in Skyrim is an Altmer who’s a Legate in the Imperial Legion. He was stationed in an area that had a lot of Altmer refugees living in it, when the Thalmor invaded for a purge.

          1. Not hating all the Altmer I can understand. Doing otherwise would be racist, despite their fictionality. But what could they possibly see in the Thalmor as seen in TES: Skyrim? Who, if you’re paying attention, are mundicidal, intolerant of beliefs (political or religious) that don’t mesh with their own, and possessed of a god-complex that dwarfs the Meric standard. And even if you’re not paying attention, they’re murderous gits that talk down to you all the f**king time.

            1. My favoured technique for dealing with groups of Thalmor:

              Walk up to the rear-most Talbot, ask who they are etc. They’ll stop to talk to you. Make sure that, by the time they get up to “You don’t believe Talos is a god, do you?” the rest of the group has moved on a significant distance. Remain silent. When they attack, slaughter them in completely justified (and non-criminal) self-defence.

              Repeat until there are none left.

              PS. The whole “is Talos really a god?” thing is ludicrous. His shrine works, doesn’t it?

          2. I did. Apparently they got hacked or something and moved blogs; couldn’t find anything positive on the Thalmor there. Only one confession about how it made one player mad that the Nords were called the only racist group in Skyrim when the Thalmor were equal to or worse than them.

            1. Taken in-and-of itself, the Thalmor would have a point (and this is the Altmer perspective on the whole). Their race was robbed of godhood by the deity that made Tamriel, by tying them to it. Therefore, said deity needs to be punished and his influence removed. However, they go too far. They’ve started removing everyone that doesn’t agree with them from the court of Alinor; several in-game texts refer to Altmer refugees or escapees, who are trying to get away from the Thalmor. They’ve started no fewer than 2 separate wars (the Argonian war of revenge and the Skyrim civil war) with their machinations. And last but not least, they’re trying to wipe out Man entirely so that once they’re done with Lorkhan, they will never be removed from their power again.

            2. Of course it’s debatable just how good this “Godhood” was. At least one text states that the spirits that became mortals were just there. They had no will, and no will power and were basically vegitables. Besides technically every singe Deadra is a god and TES protagonists go through the lower ranks of them like candy. Unbound Dremora Lords don’t even make the top ten for most dangrous enemy in Skyrim.

  30. I wonder what exactly the Stonehenge chain does. I don’t think it’s Duncan’s implement – given what we’ve read about in Famulus about how difficult it is to forcibly separate a practitioner and familiar due to their strong connection, I can’t imagine simple pickpocketing can separate practitioner and implement so easily. I’m guessing it’s the borrowed power from the rest of the Behaim family, and the Stonehenge motif would say it’s probably got something to do with time.

    I suppose the real question is this – is it just a battery filled with “time” that will eventually run dry, or is it an actual power source that can be used over and over again after it’s had time to charge back up? Either way, Blake can probably do some chronomancy of his own now. Probably not a good idea to use that against the Behaims in that manner, given that using glamour against fairies is a bad idea, but if nothing else he can use it to charge runes.

    1. At the very least, it’s an interesting conversation piece. More likely, I think, is that it’ll be a bargaining chip of some sort. It’s probably very risky to use, and I suspect the Behaims would want it back very badly. He may be able to get concessions for its return, if they’re foolish enough to deal with him.

      1. I don’t think they’ll get it back. Remember, Blake won and they lost. It is the spoils of war, taken in battle by the victor from the loser in a double rule of three victory. It’s probably connected far more firmly to him than the Behaims at this point.

      2. “I tell you this with no expectations. I do not want or desire what you have offered in any deals you’ve proposed, and I have sworn not to accept any such offers.”

        If ‘any such offers’ makes it impossible for Laird to take any deals whatsover from Blake, and he just happens to forget that detail when making arrangements to get that item back, that would be glorious.

        1. Oh, if only… Sadly, Laird has proven his ability to twist words into little bendy loops, so I suspect not.
          So what Blake needs to do is to re-offer one of his /old/ offers to Laird, while Laird is desperate. Laird needs to lose the power he’s been using to corrupt the justice system (and everyone else) and hard.

        2. I think Behaim’s use of the past tense protects him here: “what you have offered in any deals you’ve proposed,” meaning that “such offers” only refers to offers made as part of deals proposed at or before the time of the oath.

        3. This is the kind of comment that makes me wish that there was a Like/Love/Thumbs Up/etc function in this comment section.

    2. Isn’t one of the leading theories about what Stonhenge was to begin with that it was a really big calender? In short something for telling time. So it would then tie into chronomancy just fine.

    3. I was expecting Blake to get a power source from Duncan so he wouldn’t have to use blood for everything. The Stonehenge markings make that less likely, but at least time magic is probably more useful against the existence-eating demon.

  31. Here’s some paranoia for you guys. What if the abstact demon eats something of Blake that made his life easier?Something we never read about because, well, it got erased retroactively and we are reading from Blake’s viewpoint.

    1. Here’s a bigger one for you, what if it eats something connected to the story and Wildbow then edits that thing out of all the previous posts.

      1. If he does that, wow, kudos to him for selling it. However, he’s got enough on his plate as it is with real life stuff and writing the next chapter and dealing with Worm spoilers. I kinda doubt he’d go that far.

            1. I doubt it will happen because doing so would make the story unpublishable. It’s the sort of thing you can only do with an online medium.

    2. Null does not erase things from the past. There is no “it got erased retroactively”.

      The cake is a lie now, but it was delicious and moist when I ate it.

  32. Given that Blake is “not all there” at the moment, could he be more or less vulnerable to the abstract demon than most people? If it attacks the fundamental existence of people/things/whatevers, then being less present than most practitioners may actually make Blake less susceptible to its powers, or less likely to be noticed by it in the first place. That could be an advantage of his current, crappy state.

    I’m not sure about Evan, but Rose is also not entirely “there” at any given time, so she may have an advantage or disadvantage similar to Blake’s but on a more permanent basis. Being almost pure intellect, Rose seems about as abstract as you can get while still having an impact on the real world, though I suppose that might not be the same type of abstraction.

    From what we know, the abstract demon seems to attack existence and connections, and its prey may well suffer a fate much like what Blake began to suffer when he bled too much of himself onto that cell floor.

    1. Being less present would probably make him more vulnerable. However, I commented in the last chapter that I think Blake has gained a tool he can use – those feathers that were coming out of him that he stuffed into his pockets. He was losing his presence, his being, so I think the feathers are a physical representation of those concepts. If anything acts as an opposite for oblivion I would think that something that is essentially undiluted presence and being would work.

    2. I suspect he’s more vulnerable to direct attacks from it, mainly because his connections to the world are already weak.

      I kinda theorized this is why circles don’t work against it. A circle armours against things crossing its boundary, including someones connections. Drawing a circle might make it easier to sever someone because their connections are weakened by the “protective” circle.

      You might be right that Blake has lost enough presence to be overlooked by it, but after contracting with Evan he seems to have managed to pull himself back into the world. So, I would assume that he hasn’t slipped through the cracks, he won’t be overlooked.

      Of course the sensible action would NOT involve finding out if it can or can’t spot you…..

      1. Keep in mind that it didn’t erase the circles either. Maybe it couldn’t. The circles may have been partially effective so it couldn’t erase them, but they weren’t effective enough to be a defense. We know that what a circle or border is made from matters – if a circle isn’t made from something that is alike or opposed to what you’re defending against, it won’t be as effective.

          1. There’s more similarities. Yeah, it and the barber are abstract and seem to be able to defeat normal defenses. Also, they seem to bring the mighty low. The barber is often used on the powerful, and the Knights were probably something much more than dabblers before their encounter with the eraser. I’m thinking they are both members of the seventh choir. The barber will also see a contract up to seven times before rejecting it.

        1. I thought they concluded that it ate the protective circles. Of course they wouldn’t remember anything that failed to work against it.

          1. From 4.10 – “We tried circles, I know, but maybe it never got far enough to try eating those.”

            If it ate the circles, they wouldn’t remember trying them.

            1. Or it ate some of the circles and left the others to give its future opponents a false sense of security.

            2. Maybe, but it was implied to be more of a beast than an intelligent entity. That could imply it evolved from a mote rather than an imp.

  33. I was thinking… What happens if Blake does paranormal investigations as a side-project? He’s got the infiltration tools (needs to allow the glamour to grow, but he does have the lockpicking sparrow and the glass-breaking vestige), the “things that go bump in the night” are usually things that he’d be after anyway, and it’s a stable job that provides both money and karma, plus it gives him an excuse to be around places where weird stuff’s happening. The Sphinx might get in the way of a criminology degree, but if, say, the Astrologer vouches for him, maybe things could look up.

    pft, Who’m I kidding?

  34. I wonder if the Behaims and Duchamps are going to send reinforcements after Blake. If they do, it could be interesting if they show up while Blake is trying to bind the oblivion demon, or during his move against Conquest. Though with his luck they’ll show up while he’s still exausted from all of the above.

    It’s funny. We know that all of this is Blake barely surviving and getting the hell beat out of him, at great cost to himself. But to outside observers he’s probably coming across as this ruthless, reckless bastard who will bleed himself dry with no regard for the consequences if that’s what it would take to win. You know, a real scary motherfucker.

    1. How did the Dresden Files put it?

      “They were dealing with something far more dangerous than me, Harry Dresden, whose battered old Volkswagen was currently in the city impound. They were dealing with the potential demonic dark lord nightmare warlock they’d been busy fearing since I turned sixteen. They were dealing with the wizard who had faced the Heirs of Kemmler riding a zombie dinosaur, and emerged victorious from a fight that had flattened Morgan and Captain Luccio before they had even reached it. They were dealing with a man who had dropped a challenge to the entire Senior Council, and who had then actually showed, apparently willing to fight – on the shores of an entirely too creepy island in the middle of a freshwater sea.”

      1. Well put.

        Here’s the thing. They’re not afraid of Blake.

        They’re afraid of Rose Thorburn’s heir. The woman who filled a fucking bookshelf with her original research on demons. Who kept fucking Barbatorem in her attic. Who has a book filled with enemies and a single ally. And that ally is the demonic organization that serves Beelzebub. The woman who single-handed stopped the combined forces of Jacob’s Bell from making a move on a multi-million dollar property.

        1. Bah. Fear. Fear is for the week. Fear is for those unsure of themselves. Fear is for-

          Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit, fuckign big ass spider gett the fuck off me ai flyswatter asdfaadf][\

          ddddddddddddddd

          Got it.

    2. He is a real scary motherfucker. Think about it, would you want to be the guy trying to stop him? The fact that he just keeps on going like an Energizer Bunny makes him even scarier as an opponent.

  35. So now that we got the familiar all sorted out, we can start really serously thinking about Implement and Demense. I have to admit I did not see escape boy soul sparrow coming, so I have no clue what the implement will be.

    1. For implement, there’s a myriad of possibilities but only two objects come to mind that have been introduced thus far that I’d venture to guess about. The first is the shackle that is attached to Rose. It’s an item of binding and imprisonment, which might suit Blake’s purposes towards magic that binds the darker forces. I also see that as potentially being an implement for Rose. The second is the barber’s shears. I can see the possibility of the barber getting loose from his prison, perhaps when some meddling witch hunters come a callin and stumble into the wrong room. If Blake were to kill the barber, then the shears would have a personal connection to him as they’d represent his first truly big diabolic kill.

      For demesne, the only possible I can think of is the vast tracts of Thorburn land. Yeah, he’s currently bartering bits of it to Briar Girl, but I can see her tragically dying somewhere along the line. Maybe Blake might keep his bargains with her posthumously by claiming the forest as his demesne but not evicting Briar Girl’s friends from the premises. Outside of that I can’t think of anything.

      1. “The second is the barber’s shears.”

        NO. No no no. All of the no. Personal connection isn’t enough. Declarative profile is strange enough (who carries a pair of scissors in their pocket anyway?), Authoritative profile speaks to severing connections in an unclean way, Socio-cultural profile speaks to both the hairdresser (at best) and the surgeon (at worst).

        1. For that matter who carries a hatchet in their pants? Blake does. Also, a personal connection to the item itself could affect the declarative profile – the examples from the book are generic. A pair of shears taken from a demon you killed could add the declaration “I’m a demon slayer, I fight that which is Wrong” or something along those lines.

          Breaking connections is something Blake seems to have to do frequently – there’s a certain connection for a wedding he needs to sever at any rate. As far as it being unclean severing, the surgical aspect may counter that.

          Shears can be used for more than hair dressing and surgery as well. Artists use them, and I’m sure Blake has used scissors of some kind in his handyman work. Also, the diabolic aspect of these particular shears would have relevance to this aspect in practitioner socio-cultural circles.

          1. Someone who carries a hatchet in his pants would feel the need to use it or defend himself. Also, Blake has been trying to distance himself from first diabolism as a whole, then extremist diabolism. Picking up a pair of rusty shears that may or may not be recognizable as belonging to Barbatorem does not help either image. Also, he’s focused on binding things, not cutting things away.

        2. Also there’s mutilation happy demon who will take the chance for mischief if it presents itself in the shears. And Blake doesn’t really want to use demons if he can avoid it. I really doubt he’d ever pick the Barbers shears.

        3. As for demesne, the best option I can think of would be for him to buy his apartment from Joel, then make that his demesne. Because he has very little connection to Hillsglade, and lots of positive connection to that apartment.

      2. If Blake didn’t want to be crazy and original, immediately after reading the implements book he’d pick a wand – “the wielder can be assumed to be focused on practitioners and their workings. The result might be an ease with altering or adjusting the work of others, defense against workings, and especially offense against workings”

        That said, Blake does seem to tend towards the unexpected asspull, so he might end up with something different, but /lots/ of things make sense as an implement.

        1. Honestly i think a wand would be a poor choice for Blake. It’s good against practitioners, but as a diabolist he needs something that’s good against demons and other diabolic beings.

            1. Funny thing, duct tape is neither a duct nor a tape.

              And, @Born of Prayers: it would never run out, being a magical Implement.

  36. Rereading this chapter… When Blake Thorburn suggests you use the reset button, he’s being nice. You should take him up on his generousity.

    Then there’s this exchange…
    “Rose? I talked to the Knights. This one scares the fuck out of me.”

    “I can imagine.”

    “I’m not sure you can,”
    Now that’s partially because she wasn’t there for the meeting with the knights. But more than that there have been what seems to me like hints that Blake’s greatest fear is to be tottally forgotten. Like a certain demon does… And there’s also his hoping that he can give Evan something good to carry on when he does move on. Seems like Blake is concerned about his legacy.

    Finally here’s a fun thought. What if some of Conquest fills that vacum in Blake? I know it seems like a stretch but Blake is in the habit of taking tokens from those he defeats. Not quite trophies, but maybe close enough to make some commonality?

    1. “Rereading this chapter… When Blake Thorburn suggests you use the reset button, he’s being nice. You should take him up on his generousity.”

      I laughed. Well done.

      Blake’s already turning out to be quite the badass, in his own unique way. It occurs to me that what makes Wildbow’s characters as cool as they are is because they are fictional characters that are awesome in ways we don’t usually associate with fictional badasses.

      I think Jessica Yamada is a perfect example of this. When you get right down to it, she is just a psychologist. No more, no less. But she’s simply really damn good at her job, and that makes her one of the most awesome characters in Worm, and one of two to become a Memetic Badass.

        1. Depends. People would have to refrence it or use variations of it. Like “When Blake Thorburn suggests [____] he’s being [____]. You should take him up on his [____].

  37. It occurs to me that Blake now has another thing that he could use to barter with the Knights: He knows where the things that fall through the cracks go. If he finds a way to go there without making himself too weak to do anything he might help the Knights find the missing girlfriend. As practitioners are able to manipulate connections they should be able to anchor her to the material plane once she is found. Considering how diminished they are the Knights should jump at a chance to regain something of themselves and their past.

  38. Wha-Wha-Wha-What!!! I could’ve sworn I read that Wildbow said there would be no bonus chapter this week. How did I miss this? I guess I would’ve ended up forsworn.

    I guess we now know the formula for (relatively) good things to happen to Blake. Just give Wildbow boatloads of cash! I suggest that everyone who’s able donate at least 10,000 a week. That way, Blake might even get a happy ending.

  39. So I guess we can officially say that Blake has a bird motif going on. He has magical bird tattoos. When weakened, wings fly out of him. Evan is a sparrow.

    Will Blake become some sort of bird-style spy? Does this motif extend to Rose, or will she gain her own as she develops?

  40. can someone explain this bit to me, i did not get what was going on:
    “What Duncan was saying earlier,” Rose said. “It’s true for any ghost. A fractured echo of a person, it gets filled in with the relevant pieces. Evan’s… he’s a little bit bigger than a ghost. I’m guessing we’re seeing one thing that filled in the empty spaces.”

    1. My interpretation is.. just like how in Jurassic Park, John Hammond used frog DNA to fill in the missing parts of the dinosaur genetic code, the cracks in Evan’s fragmented little spirit body were filled up by sympathetic spirits while he was flickering around the goblin woods. What spirits you ask? The spirits of beak-lockpicking, and spirits of pocket-ninjaing. Basically the kind of spirits that felt they had something in common with a vulnerable little guy trying to hide and escape. That’s my take anyway.

      1. Further up in the comments I suggested he might have also been filled in by compatible ghosts in the morgue. For instance, a criminal with lockpicking skills who died in the act might leave a ghost that has a magic lock picking talent, or maybe a pickpocket for the pocket-ninjaing. Many low level criminals would actually have a lot of compatible skills for escaping, stealth, and scouting.

        1. That could make more sense, I can see how spirits of escaping might float around a police station, but I’m not sure about the ghosts of pickpockets. I always imagined police morgues would be full of innocent victims, or maybe gang members more than the kind of gentleman thief who bothers to learn lockpicking.

          That said, maybe Blake got filled up by the spirit of a drug addict.

          1. It only takes one ghost of a lockpick who got shot on a burglary to give Evan that talent, and there were likely decades worth of ghosts in the morgue.

  41. My last thoughts on the Eraser before we actually find out what is going on:

    Another commenter suggested that the Eraser destroys connections instead of wiping things out of existence and that seems likely given that we have seen practitioners use connections in a similar manner (ignore this guy by breaking the connection). The Eraser sounds like a more extreme example of that idea.

    So where are the people it erased? Best case scenario: Blake and Rose find the disconnected/erased in the spiritual dead lands that Blake can now see (again, suggested by someone else) and return them, gaining a lot of favor from the Knights.

    So, the basics are: bind with like or bind with opposites. Binding with like would mean with something that destroys connections. Too bad Blake doesn’t have access to lots of Fell’s sand. Binding with the opposite would mean binding with something that naturally creates connections. What is that in the magical world? Trap it in message boards? Various internet sites have created huge numbers of connections where they didn’t exist before, but I don’t see how you could trap the thing in Faceb**k. No good ideas here. My weaker idea is that you can trap it in something with no external connections for the thing to affect. For example, a closed circle has no external connections, so it would hopefully have nothing for the Eraser to manipulate. But at some point during creation the circle is open and vulnerable, so it is unclear how this can practically be used. A person with fewer connections should be less vulnerable. Go in blindfolded and without Sight? I just don’t have any good ideas, or, for that matter, bad ideas on how to deal with this.

    1. Drain Mark Zuckerberg of his blood and use it to draw a protective web, it’s a win-win.

      Honestly, I half expect Blake to kick in the factory doors and find Fell sitting making sand castles. My old theory was that Fell was picking off people who threatened Conquest using the demon as a cover. Several things are wrong with the whole situation though, F&C truthfully said it was some kind of demon, but didn’t seem to know much about it. But, if they don’t know much about it, how can they be planning to use it in some kind of three-altar ritual?

    2. If Blake is able to restore the Knights to their former power to some degree, prior experience with Wildbow’s stories says there are at least even odds the Knights turn out to be a future antagonist. Maybe before they were all but wiped out, they were actually an aggressive, imperialistic clan of practitioners. Sure, they seem nice now, but that could just be because they were held together and spurred on by central warlord figure who got eaten. Spitballing, I know, but nonetheless, I’d be surprised if helping the Knights regain power didn’t come back to bite Blake in the arse at some point.

    3. Using like to repel or bind like isn’t advisable here. Yes, it won’t upset the demon as much, but it requires more power than using the antithesis. I really doubt Blake can do oblivion and connection severing better than this thing, so best to try to find an opposing idea.

      If the eraser demon is simply breaking connections at an extreme level, then the opposite would be things that reinforce and strengthen connections in a strong manner. Reinforcing your presence and being by loud and flamboyantly declaring yourself to get attention so as to make strong connections with anything listening, strut around like you own the place to connect yourself to it and get anchored, or something like that. I think circles work by blocking connections, since they intersect them, so maybe try the opposite – lines parallel to your connections could serve to strengthen them and make barriers to block something trying to sever them.

  42. So I was thinking about earlier chapters. And I remembered that the Barber’s cost for making your blades eternally sharp is enough blood to make you pass out.

    Enough blood to make you pass out.

    Blake almost lost himself expending the amount of blood he did and he didn’t faint. Duncan said that demons can do some seriously nasty things to people who have given too much of themselves.

    All of a sudden the Barber’s deal seems orders of magnitude more terrifying.

    1. Good catch – Blake has illustrated just why most practitioners prefer external sources of power – using up to much of the internal power, e.g. by bloodletting, turns you into a highly desirable set of clothes in Others eyes.

    2. I’m not sure if losing blood and losing power/presence is the same thing. If it was any practitioner would loathe getting a paper cut. Blake nearly lost himself because he infused that blood with power. If all you were giving is blood, but not blood infused with power, then I think you’re not in too bad a position. Still, you’re right that with that much blood lost there’s still a possible void to fill.

      Also, the gain from losing all that blood is advanced medical knowledge. Eversharp blades costs two cupped hands full of your flayed skin.

  43. So, was Rose able to bring Evan back after he died because of his vows with Blake to ward off death, the fact that he is a familiar, the fact that he was a ghost or something else?

    This brings up an interesting question. What would have happened to Jo had Blake killed Letita? Would it drain Jo to bring her back? Would Letita just die? Would they both?

    1. I think (warning: conjecture) that Letita would have died, and Jo would have been out a familiar. I base this on the fact that Blake notes that his deal with Evan was to protect him from the forces that pursued him – which, in Evan’s specific case, happened to be Death. I think that Duncan fully expected Evan to be gone, but the particulars of this familiar-binding ritual allowed (and forced) Blake to expend personal power to protect Evan from Death.

      1. “Your familiar won’t die like they otherwise might, but they might borrow a chunk from you to keep themselves going, if they want.” (2.x)

  44. Has anyone considered what happens when a chaos demon, a powerful goblin, an oblivion demon, and a spirit of conquest end up in the same room with one another?

    We don’t know how Demons / Others react to one another. I suspect the demons have more power to affect Others than the other way around, provided they are not drastically different in “rank”

    Does the Chaos demon’s power modify the eraser demon to become a restorer demon? Does the Eraser demon’s power cause the Chaos demon to forget what it is?
    Does the Chaos demon’s power modify the goblin from a wanton slaughterer to something less bloodthirsty?
    Does the Eraser Demon’s power cause the goblin to forget what it is?
    Do these things happen simultaneously?

    And then we have the spirit of conquest in the middle of all this. Is he effected in any way by the demons?

    Can’t want to see 🙂

    1. If that is the case, I suppose the best outcome of tonight’s confrontation would involve Pauz having made Conquest Blake’s servant, Erasure a sustenance strengthener for Blake, and the Hyena more loyal. At the same time Pauz is partly eaten and forgets his mission, staying a faithful ally to Blake.

      In reality though, I expect the confrontation to involve blood.

    2. I doubt we’ll find out the full effects Conquest intends, or at least he’ll never get to actually finish. If Pauz is unbound things are going to fail and Pauz will take a hold on Conquest and probably amp up on the invasive species thing. I imagine this will jump start his evolution into being a full fledged demon with his own symbolism and whatnot, though that may only be a problem if Blake doesn’t act fast enough.

      1. The Imp reverses the norm, like humans becoming subservient to animals. The Hyena damaged Others and hunted humans. The abstract demon alters reality by erasing things from existence.

        Perhaps he wants to use some combination of Pauz and the Hyena to make humans subservient to animals and/or Others, then have Nihilist erase the parts of the ritual needed to undo all this so that the world sticks that way?

        1. He feeds off acts of conquest, though, which are mainly human/human. Unless he’s expanding his purview to include animals as well, that shouldn’t be profitable for him. More likely he’s going to conquer them utterly; he did mention that previously-bound stuff was an easier fight than otherwise.

          1. Before man conquered man, man had to conquer their competitors in the animal kingdom. THEN man conquered the Others.

            Now look at him. He has a chance to put humans on the bottom of the pile, with his own pet Other eater to do his bidding.

            1. …not to mention all of the Conquering animals that Conquest has had on or around him, which have been identified in the comments section…

          2. I don’t buy into Gecko’s theory, but Conkers is clearly drawing power from invasive animal species, the crabs, beetles etc.

  45. It just occured to me that it might be a good thing that Blake didn’t yet have an implement when he was arrested. Duncan could have confiscated and destroyed it. And some of the stuff in earlier chapters made it sound as though that is a very bad thing for a practicioner.

    1. There’s probably some thing that protects it, kinda like how Blake protected Evan.

      Unless you can’t do that for some reason, I guess.

  46. Each time a streetlamp flickered out, it resumed flickering somewhere else,
    streetlamps? As in the stationary lights? Wouldn’t other streetlamps light up, rather than the entire pole moving?

    1. I’m pretty sure that that was the point, that seeing it do so was very surreal.

      As for it appearing to move, it’s possible that they were too close to each other to be different lights but too far to be in the same place, or that he just thought it less likely to be that a new streetlamp would flicker on just as the old flickers off.

      Really, it’s probably just for effect.

  47. “I’m surprised a diabolist would do that to themselves.”
    One of these days, someone’s going to realize that diabolists-by-blood who aren’t terribly interested in dealing with darkness don’t act like most diabolists.

    “What the hell is a bird doing in here?” the officer asked.
    “Rifling through my pockets,” Duncan said.

    …And the police officers don’t find this suspicious?

    His back to the officers as they led me further up the stairs, he twisted and snapped Evan’s neck.
    To say the strength went out of me wasn’t right. I felt like everything that was holding me upright was gone. As if all the contents of my torso just bottomed out and hit ground. Muscle sloughing from bone, brain liquefying…

    …Damn. That sucks. At least Blake’s preventing Evan from passing.

    Evan flew down to my hand, then lifted one foot.
    He let go of the locket, letting it fall into the bowl of my cupped hand.

    Either Evan’s a lot bigger, the locket’s a lot smaller than I had imagined (I’d imagined both were about palm-sized), or there’s some kind of magic going on here beyond the obvious…but regardless, good work Evan.

    Nice to see that justice is finally being a thing.


  48. Based on the web serial Pact (by Wildbow):
    https://pactwebserial.wordpress.com

    … with additional inspiration taken from Hitherby Dragons and especially Enemies Endure (by J. K. Moran):
    http://imago.hitherby.com
    http://books.hitherby.com


    A Thermodynamic Theory of the Soul
    (by an anonymous author)

    What’s in a soul? To begin with, the best way to discover the nature of souls in general is to examine the condition of soullessness. To be soulless is to be capable of anything; anything goes, nothing is beyond the pale. Therefore, counterintuitively, the effect of the soul is to limit and constrain one’s potential. You are what you don’t do. If this is granted, then the central thesis of this work becomes an inevitable mathematical consequence: souls have negative mass. A proof follows.

    Consider two individuals, one with a soul, one without; call them Aleph and Bet. They are otherwise identical in every way. Place each in an identical circumstance, that being an empty and unfurnished room with two doors leading out, labeled 1 and 2, respectively. Suppose that Aleph is a prideful soul, and is therefore certain to shun the door labeled 2. Bet, being soulless, can be considered equally likely to exit through either door.

    With these facts in mind, we now calculate the entropy of each room at the instant the experiment begins. It can be determined by logical deduction that the rooms will have an identical entropy if and only if the contribution from Aleph’s soul is zero. The formula for the entropy in Aleph’s room is this:

    S = k log (W + a)

    … where S is the total entropy of a room,
    W is the number of possibilities in Bet’s room,
    a is the number of additional possibilities in Aleph’s room (which we shall see is a negative number),
    and k is, of course, Boltzmann’s constant (may his soul rest in peace).

    We now set out to determine the value of a.

    Before proceeding, please note that as the experiment commences, there are more than two possible fates for each room. Many more, in fact. Aleph certainly will not go through door 2, but any other choice is possible. Aleph may wait for one minute before exiting the room, or five; may knock on the door before trying the knob; may turn the knob in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction; may speak aloud any number of utterances; may decide not to exit the room at all, instead wasting away there to nothing out of sheer spite; and may, upon actually deciding to exit the room, exit with the left or right foot first, or with a leap, or backwards, or crawling on hands and knees.

    It can be said, however, that no matter how many possibilities exist in Aleph’s room, there must be twice as many possibilities in Bet’s room: for Bet may do absolutely anything that Aleph does, but then finally exit the room through door 2. Thus, we have determined the precise value of a:

    a = -W/2

    As previously mentioned, since the essential nature of the soul is to eliminate possibilities, not to add them, as might be naively supposed, this is a negative number; and as a result, there is less entropy in Aleph’s room than there is in Bet’s. Yet this leads us to a strange conclusion if we consider what would happen if Aleph’s soul were given to Bet. Consider this formula:

    dS = dQ / T

    … where dS is the change in entropy,
    dQ is the energy introduced to the system,
    and T is the temperature of the system before the energy was introduced.

    Now, clearly, there is a change in the entropy of Bet’s room after we introduce Aleph’s soul; and equally clearly, no other energy was introduced; therefore we know that Aleph’s soul must be composed of a non-zero amount of energy, like all things, and it is this energy which is responsible for the change in entropy. However, as we have just established, the change in entropy is negative. Since the temperature of the room (one imagines) is positive, the change in energy must be negative; energy was REMOVED from Bet’s room when we ADDED Aleph’s soul, leading to the inescapable conclusion that Aleph’s soul is composed of a NEGATIVE amount of energy. And so, since we have mass-energy equivalence:

    E = mc^2

    … we know that Aleph’s soul, like all souls, must have a negative mass. Q.E.D.

    I would like to add one final note for the inquisitive reader who has made it this far: it seems plausible that one’s soul could grow stronger or weaker, and therefore screen off a greater or lesser number of possibilities. Since a soul is constituted of (negative) energy, as has just been proven, this would have thermodynamic consequences. In particular, we would predict that the strengthening of a soul would be accompanied by a release of energy, which one supposes would heat the surrounding environment if it were not captured by some other process. Conversely, we would predict that the weakening of a soul may actually “suck” energy out of the surrounding environment, making it colder, or may be outright impossible without the direct application or expenditure of energy in some form.

    However, it must be said that the energies involved would most likely be insignificant. A reduction of possibilities by half — which was accomplished by a fairly weak soul, it must be said, being above soullessness in only one detail — would correspond with only a minuscule reduction in entropy. However, if the soul can become stronger by a very great degree, an enormous amount of energy could potentially be released: suddenly making a vow which cut one’s entropy (not possibilities) in half would raise one’s bodily temperature by approximately 40 degrees kelvin (or celsius), the proof of which is left as an exercise for the reader. (Assume a body weight of 70kg and temperature of 37 degrees celsius.)

    In closing, since a negative mass would be repelled by gravity, we can make one last prediction: a purer soul makes one lighter on one’s feet.


    This is written in-character as someone more prone to certainty than the actual author, and is probably riddled with all kinds of errors, mathematical and otherwise. Full disclosure: I am not a physicist. I even made some mistakes deliberately, the most important of which was to conflate “possibilities” with “states”. I have no remorse for this at all, because the anonymous author’s universe contains magic. Thanks for reading! — Spencer


    1. Very cool. I like the conclusion that increasing the strength of your soul increases your energy, not because it is a source, but as the product of a thermodynamic reaction.

  49. I’m surprised no one’s commented on Blake agreeing (twice!) to check in with the police station tomorrow. Given how chaotic his life is, that seems a serious risk of unplanned lying…

    1. especially since they said “Check in first thing tomorrow.” He is going to be awake at midnight and probably has better things to do then to go to the police station.

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