Conviction 5.5

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It was already dark.  Heavy snow was falling, making it feel darker, even if the snow was white.  The lights that shone through windows felt oddly small, and headlights offered fleeting flashes of brightness.

Conquest’s tower still loomed in the distance.  A hint that I was seeing glimmers of the spiritual.  It was probably altering my perceptions, the balance of light and dark, the shape of things.

It was probably visible from anywhere in the city, to Others and reckless practitioners who were struggling to hold on to their humanity, like myself.  Conquest’s symbol of power.

Either way, things weren’t nearly as distorted as they’d been when I’d re-entered the police station and made my way into the morgue.  It was hard to say whether I was recovering or whether I just wasn’t zig-zagging between the real world and the spiritual.  Maybe things were simply leveling off, and I was viewing things through a faintly spirit-tinted lens.

I’d gotten out.  Not out free and clear, but out.

I moved my arm until the locket itself reached my palm, and then popped it open.  I rubbed my thumb on the inside of the lid.  “June.”

Evan made his way back to me.  Surprisingly few people noticed as he descended and made his way onto my shoulder.  I moved my hood.

I felt the connection.  I drew a smudge on the wall, to feed that connection.  “June.”

“Do you want me to get her?” Evan asked.  The hood of my jacket was up, and Evan was nestled in the space between my hood and the side of my face.

“I don’t think you can, June being as heavy and unwieldy as she is,” I said.  I looked over my shoulder.  “Fuck.  I said I’d keep her warm.  I don’t think she’s cold where she is, but… I’m worried.”

Nobody paid any mind to me as I talked to Evan, crazy and bedraggled as I might have looked.  My presence in the world was pretty damn low, and it was very possible that anyone who did see me talking thought I was using bluetooth or drunk.  As for the actual words being spoken, I was moving slower than just about anyone on the sidewalk, and nobody was around long enough to hear what I was muttering, if they cared enough to listen.

I was tired, and I was far enough away from the police station.  I swept snow off the bus station bench, very nearly falling over as I bent forward, and took a seat.

“What can I do?” Evan asked.  “About June?”

“Nothing.  This is… it’s awkward.  Kind of screwed up on a lot of levels,” I said.  “If I feed the connection, though, she might find her way to me, or I’ll at least be able to keep her from slipping away and getting lost before I get back to the station.”

Evan shivered.

“If you’re cold, you could go back to being a ghost.”

“I’d rather be alive and cold,” he said.

“That’s allowed,” I said.  “You’re okay?”

“I feel okay.  My neck hurts.”

“A lot?”

“Some.  I’d go back to being dead if it hurt more.  It feels more better than before.”

“Good,” I said.  I nodded.  “Good.  I don’t want this to be a bad thing for you.”

“I don’t either,” Evan said.

We sat there, not having much more to say.  Evan’s head turned this way and that, watching the city going through its motions.

It had probably been a while for him.

A car slowed on approach.  I felt the connections tying the occupants to me, and tensed.  A drive-by?  Or whatever the practitioner equivalent was?

It was Fell, with Rose in the backseat, not really there so much as reflected in the windows.  He stopped in the middle of the lane.  An illegal park, I noted.  A car honked at him, as it had to change lanes to keep heading down the street.

I tried to stand and failed..  I was like an old man, too stiff to move much, not enough strength to make much of the movements I did make.

I was getting looks from passerbys.  Did they think I was an addict or drunk, as Rose had observed?  A crazy hobo?

It wasn’t something I liked to admit, but the judgments of others did matter to me.  My judgment and perception mattered to, as far as how I could and would view myself.  I didn’t like being bedraggled.  I’d promised myself I’d move forward, that I’d make constant, consistent efforts to be a better, stronger person, both in general, and in terms of who I interacted with and how.

Fell stepped out of the car, ignoring the incoming traffic that very well could have slammed into his open car door, and walked around the front of the car to approach me.

He had a gun in his left hand.  Momentarily I wondered if I’d made a mistake, asking for Rose to summon him.  People weren’t freaking out as they saw the gun.  Fell himself barely registered.

He offered me his right hand.  I caught it, and Fell hauled me to my feet.

He didn’t support me, though.  When I was up, he let go, and I was left to stagger forward to the passenger side door of the car, where I leaned against it.

“Thank you for coming,” I said.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Fell said.  He paused.  As a tangent, he said,  “You’re cutting this one close.”

“Can we get moving, then?” I asked.

I tried the door handle.  It was locked.

I had several pet peeves.  That was one peeve of note.  Few things got me so pissed as when someone made me ask.

“Can I?” I asked, gesturing towards the door.

“I was instructed to bring you to the factory building,” Fell said.  “Turn around, look at me.”

I did, leaning against the car door for support.

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t have to bring you if I have reason to believe you’re not you.  You look like you could be possessed.”

“You’re fucking with me?” I asked.

“If your head turned around three hundred and sixty degrees,” Fell said, his tone placid, “and you started spewing projectile vomit everywhere, I wouldn’t be particularly surprised.”

“Cute,” I said.  “Can we talk instead about how a police officer practitioner at the station was flaunting his power, working against Conquest’s aims?  That I dealt with him?  That’s got to be worth credit.”

“To another lord of a city?  Quite possibly.  To Conquest?  Less possibly.  To me?  Not at all.”

“What do I have to do to prove I’m me?”

“That question is for you to answer, not me,” Fell said.

“Do you want details from our past meetings?” I asked.  “I’m tired as fuck, but I could come up with something.”

“If you were possessed, the being that possessed you would have access to your memories.”

“Can you or Rose tell me, then, how one usually identifies the possessed?”  I asked.

“Request the aid of an expert,” he said.  “Or use one’s common sense.  No expert available, and my common sense is telling me something is wrong.”

“I just dealt with an imp, a crazed goblin-beast and a practitioner with a vendetta, all in the span of two and a half days.  If things were right, that’d be a pretty good sign something is pretty damn wrong.”

That had sounded better in my head.

I turned to the side, “Rose?  Help me out here?”

“Blake, don’t fight this.”

“Rose-”

“It’s a bad idea, to go forward.  I’ve been reading the texts.  We don’t know enough.  We aren’t ready, not for this, not for tonight.”

The stress she put on that word… she was referring to our ability to deal with Conquest.  To use Pauz and enact some plan.

I worried Fell would catch it, but he just looked generally annoyed, standing there with the gun in hand.

Rose continued, “It’s hard to protect against something as abstract as this, especially when you don’t have the information.  You can barely move.  Just… accept that Fell isn’t going to give you a ride.  That you can’t go and stop the abstract demon tonight.  You tried, you failed.  You met your end of the bargain with Conquest.”

“But not my bargain with Evan.  I told him I’d work against the real monsters,” I said.

“You can.  Your promise to Evan has nothing to do with your promise to Conquest.  The odds are very, very low that anyone is going to get hurt in the meantime, waltzing into the abstract demon’s lair.  It’s isolated, by all accounts,” Rose said.

“It is,” Fell said.

Rose went on, “Take the rest of tonight to recuperate.  We meet with Conquest tonight, as we arranged, we deal with that.”

Again, the thinly-veiled reference to dealing with Conquest.

I was already shaking my head.

“Blake, you can do it another day.  Tomorrow, or the day after.”

“With the way life keeps coming at us hard and fast?  With all the other shit that’s liable to come up?  I’m not so sure,” I said.

“There isn’t a lot I can do,” Rose said.  “I can’t really affect the world you live in.  I was… I was put here, and I’m supposed to be the figure on your shoulder, guiding you, but you don’t listen to me.  You picked a familiar without my input.  You blithely stride forward, trusting your instincts.  Can you understand how this impacts me?”

“I understand,” I said.  “But with all due respect, I’m the one who’s sliced up, I’m the one who almost got shot, who almost got devoured, who fought off a swarm of fucking squirrels, housecats, and other animals, including some murderous relation of Bambi…”

“Careful,” Rose said.  “Lies.”

“…So to speak,” I added, even though I was pretty sure I was in safe territory.  “I’m the one in the line of fire, Rose.  I’m the one who’s doing the binding.  Work with me.  Don’t work against me.”

“I am working with you.  I’m trying to keep you from taking a path that’s going to get you killed.  Maybe, maybe you’ll lose a bit of power, if you don’t meet your obligation to Evan.  But you lose everything if you die.”

“I’m coming out of every altercation a bit stronger,” I said.  “With more tools.”

“You’re coming out of every situation in pieces.  I don’t even think you’re running on metaphorical fumes anymore, you’re running on borrowed fumes.  Power borrowed from me, and now power borrowed from Evan.”

I glanced at Evan, as far as I could make him out.

“What I think,” Rose said, “Is you’re falling into the same trap most diabolists do.  The same trap grandmother did.  An inability or unwillingness to look forward.  You’re too focused on the present.”

“Present is kind of important.”

“I’m sure grandmother thought the same thing.  Except you’re liable to run into a situation like she did.  You reach the end of the line, where you’re cornered or all the problems and consequences you’ve been postponing start catching up with you, and you’re forced to make a big compromise, or you make a mistake, or something.”

“Or something,” I said.  I sighed.  “You’re probably right.”

“Grandmother hit the end of the line, she had to pick an heir… she admitted, at least to me, that she had waited far too long to do it, that she didn’t prepare us enough.  But I can’t help but wonder why she set the rules that she did.  Going to meetings, reading for the future.  Forcing us to make plans and lay groundwork.  Do you think, maybe, she wanted us to do better?  To not repeat her mistake?”

“Do as I say, not as I do?” I asked.

“Look forward,” Rose said.  “Think beyond today.”

“Bringing us back to the issue of today,” I said.  “The problem at hand.  Kind of hard to ignore.”

“Then focus on it.  But… can’t we find a way to work together?  Compromise?  Let me focus on the future, you focus on the now, and we find a way to make it work together?  Except you need to fucking listen to me when I give you advice.”

The anger was uncharacteristic.

For a moment, I wondered if Rose were the possessed one.

“Okay,” I said.  “Alright.  Compromising, then.”

“Thank you.”

“If you two want to hash this out,” Fell said, “I’ll go.”

“No,” I said.  “I… I think whatever happens, we’ll be helping you out.”

“Do you?” he asked.

I didn’t answer.  My thoughts were muddled.  I was thinking about Rose, about the demon.

I couldn’t tell Rose in front of Fell, not without raising problems, but we needed more firepower to deal with Conquest.  We definitely needed firepower to deal with Conquest and Pauz at the same time.

At the very least, if we could do something about the demon, we could get the Knights on our side.

What would Rose say?  She would say that risk wasn’t worth it, and we should push forward with what we had.

If I had to trust my gut on this, though, we couldn’t.  Even as a mockery, as a being that wasn’t really as powerful as he made himself out to be, he was too strong.  I could see the tower now, I’d seen the other practitioners, I’d seen Conquest within his domain, after Rose had passed out.

“Rose, do you have ideas on what to do about this demon?” I asked.

“Some, but they’re incomplete, unverified.  If it slips past your defenses, you’re gone.  I don’t know where that leaves Evan and me, but I don’t think it’s good.”

Slipping through the cracks.  The first ones to mention that concept had been the Knights, if I remembered right.  if they didn’t outright disappear, they’d go where things went when there was nothing to hold them up.

“It’s a scary idea,” I said.  “Let’s… let’s talk compromise.  What if we found a way to do this?  If we hashed out enough of a plan that we could be reasonably certain, using Fell’s term here, that I wouldn’t get eaten?”

“I don’t think anything would make me feel that certain,” Rose said.

“Not certain.  Reasonably certain.  There will always be surprises.  There’s nothing we can do about them.  But if we ignore random happenstance and bad luck-”

“Which are a factor, with our bloodline’s karma.”

Fuck karma.  Life sucks, it’s always sucked a bit.  I’ve fought for everything I have, and I’m still fighting for everything I have.  Nothing’s changed, as far as I’m concerned.  Here’s what I’m saying.  You and me get in this car.  We drive to the factory.  We talk.  We hash out a plan.  You treat it as if we were deadly serious about it, no quibbling.  If we’re not on solid footing by the time we arrive, we turn around and go.  Or we walk back, if Fell insists, or I call friends and get a ride.  I don’t know.”

“Forgive me for saying so, Blake, but I can’t help but imagine we’ll get there, I’ll say we aren’t ready, and you’ll go in regardless.”

“I swear I won’t, so long as you’re saying so in our mutual interest, go against your word.  The power is in your hands, Rose.”

An oath.  The inability to lie was a handicap, a bad one, but the truth had power too.

Rose hadn’t replied.

“All I need from you, Rose, is for you to give me Rose Thorburn’s best showing, from the moment we get in that car until we arrive.  Until we get back, if we actually go in.  That’s the end of the compromise I’m asking you to meet.  If I can’t argue it well enough to go in, we shouldn’t go in.  That’s my end of the compromise.”

“Okay.  Just… just give me a minute to get some things together.”

I nodded.

“I don’t seem to recall giving you permission to enter my car,” Fell said.

“Some practitioners have barometers, to measure where they stand in the grand scheme of things,” I said.

“Implements and the like, yes,” Fell said.

I started to pull off my coat, Evan fluttering loose, and I very nearly fell.  It took me far too long to make any headway in pulling my arms from my sleeves.

I was left standing on the street, the snowfall heavy enough to have piled on the shoulders of my coat, cold, my sliced arms and tattoos exposed.

It was almost too dark to see.

“I hope you’re going to treat that bird on your shoulders better than you treated these ones.”

“I certainly hope to,” I said, trying to catch my breath.  The struggle with my coat hadn’t helped.

“This?  It’s not quite good enough.  It almost works against you.”

“Probably,” I said.

“Man, you really cracked yourself wide open, didn’t you?”

“I guess so,” I said.  “Needed to make myself small.”

“You may well have done that,” he said.

He unlocked the car door.

I opened it, and I didn’t sit down so much as fall down.  Evan fluttered down and landed on my hand, while I took a humiliating amount of time to catch my breath after the brief exertion.

Duncan had been right.  I was sick.  It just wasn’t fever and cough sickness.  Something more insidious, sneaking up on me.

Fell started the car, pulling out.

When I couldn’t catch my breath fast enough, I coughed, trying to pull more air into my lungs.  I waited for Rose’s jab, a reminder that I wasn’t capable of doing what we were talking about.

“Ready?” Rose asked.

No jab.  I was genuinely grateful.

“If you are,” I said.  “Get us started.”

“Demons and devils fall into choirs.  Choir of dark, choir of chaos, choir of ruin, choir of madness, choir of the feral, choir of sin, and choir of unrest, in order.  What we’re dealing with… I think it’s a demon of darkness, by all descriptions.”

“Darkness,” I said.  “Didn’t we hear something different from somewhere else?”

“Maybe you did.  But we don’t know where demons come from, but they exist as a sort of counterpoint to the forces of creation, civilization, growth, and order.  The choirs aren’t real things… only an idea that some have clung to, some demons and devils included.  They’re a handy way of categorizing.”

“A dangerous way of categorizing,” I said.  “Like calling something a goblin, when it could be something else entirely.  You prepare to deal with a goblin, and you get surprised.”

“Yes.”

“Or,” I said, glancing down at Evan, “If you’re open minded, you can figure out that the goblin has another weakness you can use against it.”

“It’s the thing I have the hardest part with,” Rose said.  “I feel like there’s a science here, a rationale behind it all, and then we run into something like time magic or some other garbage, and it doesn’t fit.  I want to figure out the underlying rules, so I keep reading, I keep hitting the books.  If we can figure out the internal logic of this world, we can start to nail some things down.  I don’t like the Others that straddle or ignore categories.  Especially the scary, demon-tier Others.”

“My view on it,” I said, “Is that there aren’t hard and fast rules.  This isn’t a science, exactly.  It’s not like math, where you can decode it and figure out the system.  It’s more like English class.  Or art theory.  You interpret, you divine the symbols and commonalities, you inject your own voice, views, and apply your own labels and rules, given the chance.  Math is just there, waiting to be discovered.  With English, with art, you can forge your own way.”

I saw Fell looking at me through the rear view mirror.

“No comment,” he said.

“I hated English class,” Rose said.

“So did I,” I said.  “Mrs. Gazo?”

Fuck Mrs. Gazo,” Rose said.

“I hate a lot of this too, for that matter,” I said.

“Fair point.”

“If figuring stuff out is your strength, then let’s move forward, and you look at things in that light, and I’ll look at them in my own way.”

“But the important bit of what you just said is that you want to get this discussion moving again,” Rose said.

I nodded.  “Only so much time.”

“Okay.  For our purposes, let’s look at the demon we’re after as a creature of darkness.  Virtually every creation myth touches on certain key ideas.  Light is the most common.  The sun, fire, something in that vein, it’s intrinsically linked to creation in the human consciousness.  To the birth of the universe, the planet, society, and other things.  Water and earth tend to follow in general popularity, but those aren’t choirs we need to focus on.”

I nodded.  “Choir of darkness.”

“The antithesis of creation.  You could say it’s the most powerful choir.  Entropy distilled.”

“I hear you,” I said.  “I’m hard-pressed to think of a good way to ward off something like that, though.”

“I had ideas.  My concern is that it isn’t enough.  There’s too many questions.”

“We ward off creatures with their antithesis, unless they’re weak enough that related elements can repel them,” I said.  “What idea did you have?”

“My idea is that we ward off darkness with fire.  Prometheus, Khepri, the sun.  Fire keeps figuring into myths.  It holds a key place in culture and myth.  I mean, mankind survived, back in the day, and Others presumably preyed on us then.  Fire was a staple.”

“Lighter fluid, then?” I asked.  “A burning circle in the earth.”

Maybe,” Rose said.  “If you stepped into a room with that demon today, it’s what I’d suggest.  I don’t know if it would work, but burning to death would be better than anything that demon did.”

It would probably get my soul anyway, I thought.  I didn’t volunteer that tidbit.

“You’re thinking fire,” I said. “But?

“But fires go out, Blake.  Fires spread, raising questions of what happens if we burn down the factory.  I’m not sure which choir Barbatorem figures into, but he’s an abstract entity, and grandmother bound him with rigid, defined lines.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“How do you do rigid, defined lines with fire?”

“That’s a bit of a problem,” I said.

“There’s also another question… and this is more in your camp than mine, if we’re talking distinctions between diabolism as a science and diabolism as an art.  Look to the stories, evil creatures of this caliber, and fire tends to be their bailiwick.”

I sighed.  “Yeah.”

But this was about finding ideas, not just about shooting them down.  “What if I were to create a flaming diagram using glamour?  Work around some of the inherent problems? ”

“That’s fine if you’re doing it, Blake, if it’s you alone.  Except you’re bringing another individual into the picture, bring the demon into the picture, and maybe it believes in the flame enough to make that flame act like fire.”

“Bringing us back to square one,” I said.

“Or it doesn’t believe the fire, because it’s not exactly in the same realm of experience as we are, and we’re back to square zero,” Rose said.

I raised an eyebrow.  “Square zero?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Glamour doesn’t work,” I said.  “Okay, something else then.  What about… something glowing?  I’m picturing a length of chain, red hot.”

“Or fluorescent lighting, to be a little more down to earth?”

“Or that,” I said.

“It’s an option,” Rose said.  “I’m not sure how we’d make it work.  Your idea and mine both have problems.”

I looked in the rear view mirror, meeting her eyes.

“They’re ideas,” Rose said.  “A step forward.”

“What other forms of light exist?” I asked.  “Lightning?  I don’t know how we’d do it, but lightning is… unpredictability aside, it’s kind of ordered.  There are rules electricity follows, and we need something ordered to counteract the being’s abstract nature.”

“Lightning would be… impressive if we could pull it off, but I’m not sure where we could find a Tesla coil at this late hour.”

“Moonlight,” I said.

“How do you clarify moonlight?” Rose asked.  “How do you give it enough order that it’s going to stop something like the abstract demon?  A lens?”

“How do you define anything?” I asked.  I leaned my head back against the headrest.  “Boundaries.”

“Boundaries?”

“Without boundaries, nothing has shape.  You shape light with darkness.”

“I think you’re a little delirious,” Rose said.

“Fell, do you happen to have a flashlight in the glove compartment?”

“I have a flashlight.”

“I would be much obliged if you’d give it to me.”

“Give, not lend?”

“That, or we stop by a Canadian Tire on the way.”

Fell pulled over by the side of the road.  He stepped out of the car, and I heard the trunk pop open.  Outside, people came and went.  I saw a figure that wasn’t human.  A ghost, distorted to the point that it was a few feet taller than anyone else on the street.

The passenger door opened.  Fell handed me a roadside kit.

“Can I say-” I started.  He closed the door in my face.

A moment later, he opened the driver’s side door.

“-I really respect a man who’s always prepared,” I said.

He started up the car again, looking over his shoulder before pulling onto the road.

“I can even overlook you slamming the door in my face, because I’m perfectly happy getting to where we’re going,” I said.

“We’ve already talked about where I stand,” he said.  “Right now you’re helping Conquest get his hands on another one of these creatures, and you know my feelings on that.”

“I do,” I said.

“Return to your conversation.  The only help you’ll get from me is either assistance in getting yourself removed from the greater picture, or assistance I’m obliged to give.”

“He doesn’t like you,” Evan commented.

“Very few people do,” I said.  “Of those few people, I think more than a few are going to have an awful lot of questions about the murder arrest.  But that’s beside the point.  Let’s keep brainstorming, Rose.”

“Sure.  I somehow feel like solid barriers aren’t going to hold up against this entity.”

I dug through the kit Fell had given me, finding the flashlight and setting it aside.  There was a first aid kit as part of the thing.  I began patching up my arms, using my glamour to touch up the spots where the tattoos had been distorted, and bandages to bind the rest closed.  “The Knights tried some staple protections, and they didn’t work.  Or some worked and those are the reason they’re alive.  A big part of the problem in dealing with this thing is that we can’t figure out what worked in the past because of luck and what worked because it worked.  Trial and error doesn’t work when the errors get erased from existence and memory.”

“A circle drawn on the ground may not hold up,” Rose said.  “But in the interest of being more positive than negative, putting my best foot forward, there’s another direction we could go, if we wanted to brainstorm.”

“Another direction?”  I asked.

“Rather than light, maybe creation?”

“A circle that grows?”

“Putting it out there.  I don’t know how you’d do it, but… my concern with fire was that it would destroy more than it created.  Fire grows, but that’s a short lived growth.  If we could find something that expands, while maintaining an intrinsic order…”

“Fire doesn’t destroy,” I said.  “It changes.”

“We’re talking magic as an art, aren’t we?  Not science?  Wasn’t that what you said?”

“What does it take to get you on board?” I asked.  “When do you start thinking this might work?  That we might be able to go in there and bind it?”

“I’d want to go in with a few options that make sense.  A few ideas that are sound, given what we know about demons and how they operate.”

“Three?” I asked.

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Three good ideas.”

Three ideas to hammer out.

“Can we count fire as one idea?” I asked.  I held up a pack of matches.

“What are you burning?”  Rose asked.

“I’m hoping our very prepared Fell here has a can of gasoline in the trunk.”

“Planning on blowing yourself up?”  Fell asked.

My eyes closed, I said, “Might incinerate myself, or burn the place down with me inside it.  That a good enough reason to give it to us?”

“Yeah,” Fell said.

“I’ll count fire as half an idea,” Rose said.

“Need two and a half, then,” I said.

“Objects associated with growth… plants?” Rose asked.

“A wreath?”

“Hard to find something that really grows year-round,” she said.

“Evergreen plants,” I said.  “Holly?”

“Hmm.  Or just pine.  I’m not sure you’re in a condition to weave anything complicated, and I’m not sure how ordered it could be.  Put it in the maybe pile?”

I nodded, grabbing the flashlight.  “Light… if I may demonstrate…”

I moved the flashlight, covering it with one hand, so only a sliver of light escaped between my fingers.

A line.

“Darkness,” I said, pointing to an area where the light was blocked, “Light, then darkness again.”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “That’s one idea.”

“One and a half, if we count moonlight?” I asked.

“Maybe.  Okay.”

“If we take Fell’s car battery-”

“No,” Fell said.

“Was worth asking,” I said.  “If we steal someone else’s car battery…”

“That’s more like it,” Fell said.  “If you want to get arrested again, please, be my guest.”

“Let’s consider that another option,” I said.  “Are we on the right track, Rose?”

“If I’m allowed to be negative, I’m not feeling quite ready, even with this in mind.”

“But it’s a step forward?”

“Yeah.”

“Then let’s keep at it,” I said.  “Protections somewhat covered, we can improvise or come up with something else, if we don’t stick with the plants.”

“We need weapons,” she said.  “Protections mean jack squat if we can’t do anything to the demon we’re supposed to take down.”

“We can talk weapons,” I said.  “How long do we have?”

“Half an hour,” Fell said.

“It’ll have to do,” I said.  “Same ideas apply?”

“Light, fire, energy, creation,” Rose said.  “Can you put together a torch without setting your head on fire?”

The oil factory.  The building was ominous.  Blocky, with large windows that hid more than they revealed.  A lonely chimney stack stood off to one side, the trees around the building were thin and badly bowed by snow and ice, like overgrown saplings more than trees,  Graffiti covered the structure, hinting at how many people had once come here to explore and leave their mark on the isolated building before the demon had taken up residence.

Here and there, parts hung away from the factory itself.  A fire escape, half-collapsed, an overhang for a carport, only the rusted skeleton remaining.

Fell had stopped the car five minutes ago.  I surveyed the factory without moving a muscle besides my eyes.  Taking it in.

I couldn’t help but feel that if I asked, Rose would say no.  That she was contrary, on a level, that if I said white, her first impulse would be to say black.  On a level, that was fine.  It was good to have something to keep me in check.  Tiring, frustrating, but good.

But I still wasn’t going to budge or comment.

“We don’t know enough,” Rose said.

“We’ll never know enough,” I said, before I could remember to keep my mouth shut.

Maybe I was the one who was contrary, now that I thought about it.

“If you want to argue a point, Blake, this would be a good time.”

“I think this thing needs to be stopped,” I said.  “There are an awful lot of reasons.  Some personal, some relating to Evan, some relating to Conquest, and some general ones.  Maybe, if we wait a day or two, it’ll be the same.  Someone’s not going to make their way out here and stumble on the demon.  But a week?  Two weeks?  Then it gets a little sketchier.  We have to wonder.”

“So we wonder,” she said.

I continued.  “Black Lamb’s Blood suggested it’s the diabolist’s responsibility to handle this shit.  We had that responsibility thrust on us, in a way.  If we’re going to do any good in our short, violent existences, this is one way.”

“Not if you’re giving that bound being to Conquest,” Fell said.

Not helping.

“Black Lamb’s Blood said a lot of things,” Rose said.

“What I’m asking is just… if we don’t stop it, who will?  And is anything really going to change if I wait until the day after tomorrow?  Do a little more research?  Or is it going to be what it is?  Something scary and unfathomable, where we can only make educated guesses in how to deal with it.”

“A little more education can go a long way here, when we’re relying on educated guesses,” Rose said.  “Hell, we could find a Tesla coil or something, spit out electricity.  Or get a neon sign maker to do a diabolic circle.  We could have better resources, too”

“That sounds marvelously tacky,” Fell said.  “I’d be offended on behalf of practitioners everywhere, if you tried it and it actually worked.”

“Not helping, Fell,” I said.

“But if you’re asking whether we’ll actually make strides worth the risk of waiting?”

“I am,” I said.  “Let’s say we have to do this.  I can’t speak for us, but I can speak for me, and I kind of do have to do this.”

“If you’re asking,” she said, repeating herself a little, “and if we have to weigh it against the chance that we might not get another chance, and all the consequences that would entail?  I guess it comes down to you.”

“Me?”

“I don’t know if you’re in good enough shape to do this,” she said.  “Prove you are.  Get out of the car, without Fell’s help, without Evan’s, and get the gas can out of the boot.  Walk to the treeline, so we can start on our evergreen protection circle.”

I reached for the door handle.

“Blake.”

I stopped.

“Start by telling me you’re up for this.”

“I think I have to be,” I said.

“That’s not an answer.  Think carefully before you open your mouth again.  Because if you say yes, and you aren’t… this is over before we begin.  You can’t afford the loss that comes with a lie.”

I sighed.

“I think I can do this,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.  “You’re hedging it a bit there.”

“I am,” I admitted.  I didn’t waste any more breath.

I prayed I was telling the truth.

I opened the car door, and I forced myself to move.

My legs barely budged.  Stiffness had set in.  It was more like I occupied a corpse than a body.

I used my hands to lift my right leg, moving it over to my right, then did the same with my left.

I slid out of my seat more than I climbed out.

“Don’t forget the kit,” Rose said.

I winced, then bent down to grab the roadside kit.  Flares, matches, emergency candles for setting on the road, a teepee, a blanket… it was heavy.

I held it with both hands, my arms straining against the bandages.

I reached the trunk, and let the roadside kit fall to the ground.

“Shh,” I told Evan.  I popped the locket open and drew a ‘wind’ rune on the gas can, then rubbed my finger against the lid to get more of the dark grit that had accumulated, and did the same for the roadside kit.

“Shh?” he asked.

“I’m cheating a bit,” I admitted.  “Don’t tell.”

“Okay.”

I moved the gas can over to the side of the car and filled it with some gas from Fell’s car, using the squeeze pump.  I shut the trunk and began my long trudge over to the treeline.

The factory loomed there, pale and heavily decorated, the windows ominously dark.

Even the moon seemed to shed less light hereabouts.  The snow typically reflected light, illuminating an area, but we were far from the city, there was less light to go around, and even the movement of a cloud over the moon made a huge difference.

I swayed a bit as my feet sunk a bit too far into the snow.

My hands were shaking, even as they gripped the bag and the half-full can.  I wondered if one or the other would just slip from my grip.

But I still reached the treeline.

I set the kit down, and I got out the deflector mirrors that had come with it.

“You did it,” Rose said.

I nodded.

“Fell just said something, and I’m going to take his word on it.”

“Yeah?” I asked.  The word was curt, cut short because I didn’t have a lot of breath to spare.

Reduced lung capacity?  I thought of the ‘wind’ rune I’d drawn on my chest.  Fuck.

“If you are cracked, if spirits are taking up residence, maybe your spirit needs a bit more encouragement than usual.”

“I wouldn’t complain,” I said.  “But you’re taking advice from the guy that wants us to fail?”

“Does he?” she asked.  “He wants this thing stopped.”

“But he doesn’t want Conquest to succeed,” I said.  “Fine distinction.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “We don’t want Conquest to succeed either, do we?”

“No,” I said.  “And we’ve missed out on an awful lot of planning time on that front.  We’re going to need to use what we have.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “You want to get us started on the evergreen protection circle?  We’ll need the torches too.  I guess I’ll get us started on the whole plan against Conquest.”

I began to free branches from the tree and wind them together.

“The plan, the thing I read about in Black Lamb’s Blood,” Rose said, “We need to turn them on each other.  One way or another.  It was one of the big options presented.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I caught that when I skimmed it.”

“Can we do it?”

“I think we could,” I said.  “It’s not going to be easy.  Conquest… he’s weaker than he lets on.  If Pauz realizes, that’s going to give Pauz the clear win.  We need to strengthen Conquest, but we need to do it in a way that puts him on an even playing field with Pauz.  We need to do it and we need to get away alive.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “We have the goblin?”

“He has the goblin.  But… it’s not very comfortably bound.  Very reluctantly bound.  I suspect we could unbind it rather easily.”

“Okay,” she said.

“And we have the Knights on our side.  If we get this thing, and only if we can make headway against this thing.”

“Okay” she said.  “Give me a minute to think while you work.  First things first.”

I nodded.

I looked towards the factory.

First things first.

My hands shook so badly I could barely weave the branches together.

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226 thoughts on “Conviction 5.5

  1. Whoops. Scheduled the date, forgot to schedule the time. 2 minutes late as a consequence. Not my finest moment.

    Sorry to anyone who was refreshing at the hour – am tired and a bit frazzled, and family visited with only a few hours warning earlier today, kind of catching me off guard. It was nice to see them, but I was caught off guard nonetheless. I’ve defaulted to being kind of an asshole in situations like that, saying “I need to go work” when I do need to work.

    Thanks for the spate of donations, recently. I’ll try to list donation thank-yous and update the total sometime this weekend, if I get the opportunity.

    And above all else, thank you for reading.

          1. Aha, I’ll like to second that as someone who is also further down that list but I doubt Worm’s ever gonna fall too far down. I can vividly see a future where the top five is occupied by Wildbow written serials.

    1. It really says something about Wildbow that he worries about being two minutes late with an update. Compared to a lot of even professional writers…

    2. Hey Wildbow, this is my first time commenting on Pact and I have to say that I’m enjoying it so far and the level of detail and world building you’ve put into it is really impressive considering you would have put in the same amount of effort into 3 other stories(I still do wonder what might have been with Boil).

      Today though I’d like to make a slight criticism. You have to make your dialogue more natural. Honestly most of the time it usually reads like psychiatrists talking to each other, there is very little natural dialogue as people are too specific and I don’t really think that’s how most people talk.

      One example would be the conversation with the girl at the university. I can buy that that’s how Blake talks with his close friends and diabolists are also obligated to speak like that but everyone else? So yeah, maybe there is a reason for it but for know it kills immersion for me a lot.

      1. I know what you mean, and I think it’s been brought up before (by me, even). His characters do tend to all talk similarly (Re: Taylor & co with Blake & Rose & Fell), which leads to the dialogue seeming a bit artificial, and the ones that talk differently (I’m thinking Imp) have more distinct ‘voices’.

        Part of this could be because wildbow isn’t really heavy on character description – his stories are very plot driven and that’s great, I love it way more than pages and pages of describing how a character looks/talks, but it’s true that the voices could use more separating. I dunno.

    3. Thank you for your kindness. Your regular posting of content, even if it is 2 minutes late, is a great sign of your quality as an author. There are several fine authors that I like a lot, such as Brandon Sanderson, for their reliable and quick writings schedule. You are on that list as another reliable author, worthy of many donations.

    4. Hey I know you usually don’t do the ‘interview the author’ type questions, but does your family read your work?
      b/c if they do they should understand how important it is haha really though your serial is the only way I’m able to read as much as I would like to now that my life has gotten a bit busy. Thank you so much for your work and I hope it continues long into the future

      1. Very few family members do. It’s rare for an author’s family to partake, from what I see & read. Even spouses often don’t read their husband/wife’s work (not that I have a spouse), and that’s something that surprises me.

        My dad reads, though, and my uncle does too. My dad in particular is really supportive (he and his family threw me a little party when I released Worm’s last official chapter). He’s an entrepreneur-turned-business-owner, and he’s offered me advice and given me nudges here and there – I don’t think I’d be where I’m at without his help. Even where he didn’t offer explicit advice, being able to talk and have someone listen or act as a sounding board for my own anxieties and thoughts goes a long, long way. He got me to think about writing as the thing I really wanted to do, careerwise, and he nudged me on the subject of the donation button.

        Then there are other family members. Holidays tend to be the worst. Trips, getting yanked here and there, having others dictate my schedule, etc. My most stressful writing days happen around Christmas, as a general rule. I’ve also had babies dropped on me to babysit on writing days, I’ve heard more “You can miss this one update” more times and in more variations than I can count, and I’ve been told ‘you don’t deserve to get lucky and have this be a success.’ That last one stems from my general lack of direction in University and in life in general, before the serial took off.

        I think, writing a web serial, you often fall into two traps, in the eyes of others. The first is that writing isn’t taken seriously. It’s seen as frivolous, more a hobby than a job. The second trap is that when you work from home, people sort of expect you to be flexible. And it is a little flexible, true, but there are limits.

        The way I think about it, though, is that if I were working 14-16 hour shifts at an office (and I do work 14-16 hour days while writing), would it be reasonable or fair for someone to expect me to drop what I’m doing and take an hour of my time to help out with something? I don’t think so.

        Sure, I don’t have a strict operating schedule. Give me a few days of notice and I can try to shuffle things around and get writing done in advance (though I really do best with my routine going strong). I don’t have a boss per se. Not in the conventional sense. But in another sense, I have 12,000 bosses (maybe 3000-4000 now that we’ve left Worm behind and moved on to Pact). And most of my thousands of bosses might like me or love me or love the work I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to take the work any less seriously.

        Rant over. Sorry about that.

        1. Unrequested piece of advice– write in a coffeeshop or library. As soon as you leave home to go to work, people suddenly get it.

          Of course, you probably already know that you’re comfortable writing at home. But if you think library would work… It would cut down on babysitting requests.

          Also your work ethic is awesome.

        2. As one of your bosses I order you to not exert yourself to the point you get severly sick. You can’t write if your in the hospital.

          The problem with missing one update is that it may not stay one update. Miss one child’s birthday party, one AA meeting, one meeting on account of bieng “too busy” then you may start missing others because you’ve missed the one. Well that isn’t the case with everybody, but sadly it is something I’ve been guilty of in the past, and anyone who can stick to a schedule when in the eyes of others they don’t “have” to earns my respect.

          Glad to hear some of your family does support your chosen path in life Wildbow. I hope someday you’ll be able to tell someone trying to foist their kids off on you that you are too busy approving or rejecting casting choices for a Worm movie.

          1. Worm movie? Worm is far too long for a movie to do it justice, and I’m not sure it would be easy to adapt Worm to television and do it justice. You’d need a big budget or reasonable special effects in all the action scenes. I could see Pact working as an HBO series though.

            But yeah, the trap of letting yourself miss out on one is insidious. I have big respect to Wildbow for how regularly he updates this.

            1. A worm TV show would need to be a cartoon, so it wouldn’t need to budget or special effects departments.

            2. As it was stated for the Mistborn series, an anime format would be ideal. It already avoids that whole “only for children” preconception, at least for anyone who actually knows anything about anime.

            3. It doesn’t have to be the whole story. Film is a different medium, and needs a different approach. Some books are suitable for slavishly accurate film adaptations, but not all, and that isn’t the only thing that adaptations can strive for. You could instead write a movie sequel, following the antics of the surviving cast after Worm ends. Or pick a small part of the narrative, like the buildup to the Leviathan fight, and forge a cohesive story out of that, cutting and adding as necessary. Or write a new story in the same setting. Or abandon the setting and make it one of them “spiritual sequels”.

              (Contessa Beats Up Everyone, coming to theaters this summer.)

            4. Also When I saw Worm movie, I mean as a series, splitting it up. They didn’t try all the Lord of the Rings in one go.

        3. I read a lot of serial content (mostly webcomics), and I want to reaffirm that you are not underestimating how impressive it is that you do not miss updates. I still read and respect creators who do, but the ones who don’t are on a separate tier.

          1. Do you know of anyone other than Girl Genius and (possibly) Goblins? I can’t think of any other such creators…

            1. Goblins just went on a 6 week hiatus because the author had a nervous breakdown or something. Only thing up right now is an image meant to indicate his present mental state.

            2. Darths & Droids will always get their update up. At least some of the time they have a few in the can set to auto update if they are doing conventions or something.

            3. …ah. Well, that’s what I get for not following my webcomics properly >.>

              Oh, Darths and Droids, I haven’t read one of those in ages.

            4. To be honest neither have I. Not since about halfway through Episode 4. I should fix that sometime.

            5. David Willis, to the best of my knowledge. Well, except, hmm. I know he used to post filler material while he was attending week-long conventions. Still, that’s not the case for his newest comic (Dumbing of Age), which at present has a buffer of over three months of daily updates..

            6. I believe Gunnerkrigg Court never misses an update as well, though I can’t be certain. Tom usually has a buffer for it, which is how he gets by (I guess having a longer buffer was more important before he started working on the comic full time).

          2. Say what you will about LICD, they (when I was paying attention) had a religious, professional-level update schedule.

            Then they sort of branched out, as far as I’m aware, setting up a webcomic host that has dropped the ball a number of times now?

            1. You should take a look at Nahast, with a two year hiatus that only resumed recently, sad to say the same cant be said for Ow My Sanity.

          3. What about xkcd? I don’t think Randall Munroe has ever missed an update, not since the early days anyway. Not sure, though.

    1. It was certainly a jolt. I wish we could discuss it more, but ultimately I just want to see how this thing actually turns out to act.

  2. Well, Blake is in really bad shape… and going up against what is possibly the most terrifying source of nightmare fuel next to, maybe, some parahumans in Worm. This is going to be very bad.

    1. The next threat isn’t really a physical one so he’s probably not too screwed. His brain is fine, as long as that works he can win.

  3. My mind says “OK, Blake probably isn’t going to die here, The year’s not even half-through, I mean the shoe with Pauz in it hasn’t dropped yet, you can keep breathing.”

    My nerves say “Mommy! I don’t wanna face the demon!”

    1. Obviously Blake gets erased from existence in an arc that gets cut short and Rose wakes up in the mansion as our actual protagonist.

      1. …That would be a pretty excellent twist. Rose having to work with a random ghost who (she’s got no idea how) is somehow her familiar, dealing with the mirror issue with large applications of broken glass, that sort of thing.

        Unfortunately, it would lose us Blake and Rose being massive assholes at one another. Although on reflection, this is probably the norm for sibling relationships in their family.

        They should hunt down Paige to compare notes-she’s a twin, after all, and her brother apparently sabotaged her in the meeting with Grandma Rose. She can provide Rose with valuable instructions on how to mess with Blake.

        1. Blake and Rose are indeed acting like siblings. I have one and can confirm.

          Of course, they’re acting like siblings of a younger age than they are… But then, they’ve not known each other for all that long, so that’s appropriate.

          1. Actually a lot of Rose’s reactions could be explained by her caring about Blake. After all who likes seeing someone they love tear themselves apart and engage in self destructive tendencies. Of course there is her self interest here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a little bit of worry about Blake causing some of her reaction. I mean she passes out and then when she wakes up he’s in prison, bleeding himself dry and a total mess. Then he get’s his familiar… And she has no say in it, something that probably makes her feel like he totally dissregards her feelings and opinions. Now he wants to go after an incredibly dangerous demon that they don’t have enough information on while he can’t even stand on his own… It’s suicide, and it’s suicide that will take her with it.

            In Blake’s defense he knows that there is a deadline for their anti Conquest plan. And he has to make sure Pauz doesn’t win it, because that would be the worst case scenario. Conquest getting what he wants is almost as bad.

            In Rose’s defense, she’s absolutly right. They aren’t ready. Blake is in no shape for this. Blake does dissregard her advice and her desires. She’s stuck sharing everything with him, only it’s not really sharing, since really it’s all his. At the same time he needs her to do almost anything, so she’s got to be frustrated with how unequal their relationship is.

            Blake tends to be reckless. He goes with his instincts, and they tend to resualt in him being a mess. But Rose tends to be too cautous. She’s also more selfish than Blake is.

            It’s like two siblings that really need to be put in seperate rooms. Not being stuck together all the time will do wonders for their relationship.

  4. With how torn up Blake is, I cannot imagine that he lasts past tonight without a break, probably a week or more. The only way I can see him do that is if he lines up this Conquest fight just right. then he needs a break, maybe time to settle his apartment, or simply settle in a hospital.

    1. The problem is will his enemies give him that long? At the very least Blake would need some help watching out for him.

      1. Maybe he can tap the charm bracelet to go on a week long cruise at Behaim’s temporal expense. “Oh hey Laird, I enjoyed all the time your family has been saving up for decades ;)”

        1. That would be funny… Though as much as it takes to gather up time, I don’t think the Behaims gave Duncan a whole week. He really wouldn’t have needed more than 24 hours.

          I really doubt that Blake’s enemies will give him much time at all. Even with Duncan taken care of, unless this counts as a desicive enough win that the Behaim-Duchamp circles won’t give him anymore time than they have to to rest. They kept after him when they chased him out of town after all. We have Jeremy acting against Blake for Sandra. And we have whatever other agents are about. Hell the Duchamp’s want to be nasty, fuck with Blake’s friends heads, and get him evicted from his apartment. That was not a suggestion Wilbow.

          So in short I think Blake is going to need some allies if he’s going to get any rest. Note, that in this case the Allies have to be practicioners and others. His friends really can’t help him with attacks on his person. They can recharge his self, but they can’t help against Behaim time fuckery, Duchamp relationship fuckery, or Jeremy greek mythology fuckery. But if his plan manages to work with luck he’ll have Fell, the Knights and hopefully the Astrologer on his side. Course with his luck they’ll all end up out for his blood or dead.

          1. I don’t see the Behaims being able to go on the offensive for another few days at least. They have to tread lightly so as not to garner attention from the powers in Toronto, and their last attempt failed even though they committed a good deal of resources. Given what Duncan was caught doing, I don’t think any Behaim would be sufficiently good a magical manipulation to get close to Blake without him being able to call the cops on them. I don’t think they or the Duchamps will be moving anything in directly without first giving it some consideration, given that the operation they put together quickly failed so badly.

            Jeremy is another problem, but I don’t think he’s able to attack too overtly. He made a promise to sit on the sidelines for this, so he can’t overly interfere with Conquest’s pet diabolist or he’ll end up breaking that promise. The aggressive invitation to a party was probably something he could get away with, since it wasn’t really an attack. I find it most likely he’ll truly be a threat after Conquest is dealt with, but if Blake is going to be attacked by someone else before then it is likely to be him.

            Honestly, given how much he can do as worn out as he is, a good night’s sleep and a few hot meals should get him in a good position.

            1. ” They have to tread lightly so as not to garner attention from the powers in Toronto,”
              The thing is that the powers in Toronto are about to be very distracted… I dunno I just get a feeling of Deja Vu. It’s like when he got run out of Jacob’s bell, people thought he would be getting a bit of a reprive. Between Sandra calling her ex, meeting Conquest, and Officer Duncan it became clear it was more a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire.

              “Honestly, given how much he can do as worn out as he is, a good night’s sleep and a few hot meals should get him in a good position.”
              It’s not just physical exaustion Blake’s suffering from though. He’s drained of his essential Blakeness. I think the best way for him to refill that is with his friends. The question is how much damage did the murder frameup do, and how are they going to react to Blake’s current state. He does look like a druggie, and I’m sure they’d want to help him, but he can’t exactly admit he has a drug problem.

            2. Even if the local powers are distracted, they don’t want to get noticed. That distraction is going to be short term, and the plan to install a lord in Jacob’s Bell is a long term one. Even if the locals can’t do anything about it immediately, they can do something after that.

              The frame-up probably helps him since it’s been exposed. Frame-ups tended to happen quite a bit during labor disputes a while back, and when they were exposed public sympathy tended to swing in favor of the framed party. Seeing as Blake already told his friends that the police chief of Jacob’s Bell was out to get him and now that chief’s nephew had him falsely arrested and tried to shoot him quite publicly, it’s also consistent with his existing narrative. Remember, Duncan tried to make it so that Blake was trapped in the station, and when he lost on the third round the universe made it so Blake would be forced out – it should work similarly with his friends, and instead of weakening their connections to Blake it will strengthen them.

            3. Depends. Remember the universe hates Blake. So even if he wins, I don’t think he gets as much as someone else would. It’s like if he entered a contest that had a “Garunteed Cash Prize” “Up to a million dollars” and won it, he’d get a hundred bucks, or have to pay it all in taxes.

            4. I think Blake’s probably safe here in regards to his friends actually being on his side. However, if the connections are indeed stronger he’s got another problem – they’re going to want to get more involved in helping Blake out of his mess. Keeping them out of the whole magic business may not be possible, so the risk of further karma penalties comes up.

            5. “Jeremy is another problem, but I don’t think he’s able to attack too overtly.”

              Really? When I read the confrontation at the university, Jeremy’s satyrs (or whatever) said they wanted to have a ‘talk’ with Blake? At the time that was cast as a sinister threat, but I read it as Jeremy being a potential ally/temporary employer for Blake. After all, the guy spent decades trying to take down Conquest.

  5. Fell really needs to learn to embrace new ideas: neon signs are the perfect circle material: they are both physical (glass containment, etc) and abstract (distinct wavelengths due to dual particle/wave nature of mattter), they consume (electricity), create (light), and maintain statis (the individual electrons). Also, really portable.

    1. But I understand how one would feel offended that a thing like that worked, because it doesn’t really feel right. Perhaps that’s also why it wouldn’t work so well as they hoped?

      1. I can see the universe calling bullshit and vetoing the neon circle. It is just too damn tacky. Some magic works better when you throw in drama for the watching spirits. I expect the inverse is true, and some magic fails because the practitioner didn’t approach it with the proper respect.

        1. I dunno, if Blake somehow obtains a method of doing Instant Runes that actually works, I can see his spells being more powerful simply because it looks cool as Spirits/Elementals/Others being narcissistic egotists that they are want to get in on the act.

        2. So I guess a lot of glow sticks wouldn’t work then? Oh, think of the suspense as Blake frantically tries to crack enough of them to make a circle. And to keep cracking them as the first ones go out.

    2. The problem is you can’t close a circle with neon – there will always be two ends. The best you could do, like you see in fluorescent bulbs designed for the old incandescent sockets, is create a spiral.

      1. You could actually make a neon circle. It’s just not typically practical because it requires you to run a wire or something through the glass, which is troublesome.

    3. Obligatory physicist statement that the amplitude (particle/wave) nature of light has nothing to do with the fact that it has specific quanta.

      Also that light is neither a particle nor a wave, it is a cloud of amplitude which expresses some characteristics consistent with individual point masses and some characteristics consistent with waveforms (particularly time-dependent characteristics).

      All this said, laser lines would probably make a great circle.

      1. Neon works because you excite a gas and it emits in a very specific set of frequencies. These frequencies are related to the energy differences between quantum states. Since it is a noble gas these quantum state are as predictable as is possible.
        More ordered than this? Only a laser. Even a cheap diode laser would be a best option.
        I agree, a laser and a set of mirrors would be better, add the extra show involved and it would even be more powerful.

        1. When you are speaking of amplitude you mean wavefunction (psi) amplitude? That is |Psi*Psi|?
          I tend to think the the wavefunction and its collapse when the foton interacts with matter are just ways of describing the duality wave particle. This mathematics doesn`t really explain things only gives a means to describe them.

          1. There isn’t really a good term to describe the reality of particles, so the term “blobs of amplitude” often gets thrown around, as it’s a pretty good descriptor of what the math looks like.

            1. Superposition of wavefunctions? Quanta?
              I really never heard “blobs of amplitude” before. Perhaps because I am a computational/ experimental physic and not a theoretician.
              I really tend to think in terms of wavefunctions, I worked with Gaussian basis sets for atoms and molecules and follow the works that use a superposition of plane waves to study crystals, so, I tend to think in these terms.
              Anyway, I repeat: laser, even diode laser is a nice idea for Blake and easier than neon lights. Coherent light, with a well defined frequency (which, of course, tends to make the photons difficult to find) is a nice idea.

      2. Ah, but if you make a circle out of lasers you risk attracting every cat familiar in the neighbourhood and they would just ruin it….

  6. Starting the typo thread:

    I tried to stand and failed..
    either one too many periods or one too few (ellipses)

    right. if
    If

    I swear I won’t, so long as you’re saying so in our mutual interest, go against your word.
    the last clause is confusing… but Blake is in a bad way, so perhaps written as intended

    “Fire doesn’t destroy,” I said. “It
    truncated sentence, possibly more than one lost (sentence afterwards doesn’t match)

    1. “Okay” she said. “Give me a minute to think while you work. First things first.” ==> “Okay,” she said. “Give me a minute to think while you work. First things first.”

      1. It feels more better than before.
        More better?
        Evan is young, but he’s not that young.

        My judgment and perception mattered to, as far as how I could and would view myself.
        Too.
        ‘as far as how’ is confusing. Maybe ‘insofar as I could or would’…

        “We could have better resources, too”
        Missing a period.

  7. Well, Blake can’t get a minute of rest. Worm went a lot easier on Taylor at least in the beginning, where she actually got to sleep in her bed several nights in a row, and even make full nights… Not to mention, casually hanging out some times.
    The last time Blake has had a moment for himself was basically when he was having a donut with Tiffany, and that was more than two days ago.

    1. Wildbow reckons the start of Worm is too slow. I think the start of Pact is too fast and the start of Worm was paced pretty much perfectly. Worm had time to establish the normal life of the antagonist and give you good feel for who she was before throwing her in the deep end. We met Blake briefly already put of his comfort zone at the Will reading, then bam. And without a reason to care what happens to the protagonist the first few arcs are hollow.

      IMO, Pact would benefit from at least one chapter at the beginning (probably Chapter 2) where we can see Blake in his normal life before the excrement hits the rotating blades at the end of that chapter.

      1. Agree with this some. Blake has no real motivation at the beginning other than survive, so I rooted for him less than I did Taylor. He’s working his way up from homelessness, so if there had been a chapter where he considered goals related to that, it might have helped us understand him more.

  8. I still really love Fell. You go, Fell. You passive-aggressively urge that diabolist to get himself killed before he makes everything worse and makes your family vows even more of a laughingstock than they already are.

    1. You know the funny thing is I think that if Blake actually pull off his get rid of Conquest plan, Fell and him could become great friends… And Fell wouldn’t be acting any differently to him.

      1. I want to see Fell and Blake save Maggie from her recurring nemesis goblins. Especially since I think Laird promised to help her, and Fell probably blames Maggie for his brother’s death, we can get all kinds of antagonistic allies!

  9. Great chapter. I love how Blake and Rose discuss their different views on how magic works. It’s probably a mix of the two. There are underlying rules to the system, but at least one of the fundamental core rules allows the system to constantly be in a state of change as culture and symbolism change. It’s both an art and a science, and you have to keep experimenting because the rules at the surface level keep changing.

    1. I think they’d probably do better if they thought like engineers, not like scientists.

      Culture and symbolism changing is part of the science of this. The way the universe works seems to be that emotion and thoughts summons up creatures that have power depending on the strength of those emotions and thoughts. What rose wants is an easy way to apply the well known universal laws that opposites and likes bind to those sentient emotions and lock them up.

      What she needs instead is a tool to quickly test entities. She needs her books to classify the entities and then a way to quickly test them to refine their attack.

      For example, a syringe filled with liquefied essences of a variety of sources dripping fluid on a magical organism to cause some damage and then quantifies that damage based on how much its form shifts. You collect some power from the organism through stealth and then test it out.

      So you might find that Holly and Pine cause 4% degradation to its form. You know from experiments that 12% degradation is the minimum needed to bind an entity of this power level. Then you know that either you have to pump in an another 8% power from another source to shore it up, or you need to test more substances within that range to find a better match.

      Rather than trusting on books and theories to give you the true value of each entity what she needs is better tools to help her experiment. Once she has survived a lot of bindings she can use the data to refine her theories so she needs less tests.

        1. That’s slightly difficult when they have one diabolist, one vestige, one familiar, and one – oh wait, he just drove off.

      1. I do like your thinking about experimenting with the system in order to understand it better, but it runs into two huge practical problems:

        First, the whole system runs more on psychology than physics. Most of the rules seem to be historical conventions and agreements and they seem to be enforced by the ambient spirits. For example, the not-lying and not-forswearing requirements are simply agreements and the effect of breaking the laws depends on how many observers you have at the moment – consensus physics if you will. It is extremely hard to design an experiment in psychology without the person being experimented on guessing something is going on and screwing with the experiment. To put it another way, it is nearly impossible in this system to avoid observer bias because the observers actually do influence the system. And any intelligent being that realizes it is being experimented on is going to mess with the experiment.

        Second, go ahead and try painful experiments on powerful intelligent creatures. I will be way far away making a betting pool on how long you survive.

        So, not a bad idea, but unlikely to ever happen in Pact.

        1. The agreements being enforced by ambient spirits is hopefully a mostly constant variable. There is of course some room for drama, if you embody an appropriate emotion you can better utilize the spirits, but the fact that people use circles composed of materials means that materials are an apparent necessity in resisting spirits. And of course the subjects of your binding can resist, but I’d hope that their resistance would also be a fairly predictable affair- if you know how strong they are you know how strong their resistance can be.

          If this is not true, if ambient forces tend to utterly swamp out the predictable effects of materials- if day two your demon binding doesn’t work unlike day one because they resisted a bit more and the spirits were a bit less helpful, then binding is inherently more difficult and tricky to analyse.

          My analysis is predicated on the idea that if you know how to block an organism and do so it will, all other things being equal, have a 100% success rate in doing some predictable level of blocking.

          On your second objection.

          “You collect some power from the organism through stealth and then test it out.”

          My assumption is that these people do already intend to go after spirits. As such, this would hopefully be a lower risk way of doing painful experiments on powerful, intelligent creatures. Collect some of their essence and do experiments on that. Collect some of their spiritual radiation. That way when you fight the powerful spirits you know what materials have the greatest effect on binding them.

  10. One of these days, an author is going to commit book suicide and just kill their protagonist while they try to scheme their way to victory. =).

    Depending on how this goes, 2/3 items are going to help Blake. Maybe he’ll destroy Conquest, maybe he’ll get Conquest to acquiesce and give him freedom, or maybe Blake will be on the lamb again (a little worse for wear than he is now).

    I’m looking forward to what Blake figures out to do with his new bracelet.

  11. “That sounds marvelously tacky,” Fell said. “I’d be offended on behalf of practitioners everywhere, if you tried it and it actually worked.”

    I can’t be the only one who laughed at this line. Great stuff.

  12. Is anyone else kinda weirded out by Rose’s rules becoming inconsistent?

    Maybe I’ve overlooking something, but it seems like she’s not restricted to being just in mirrors around Blake and in the mansion anymore.

    I mean, I can see her being able to go to Evan, since he’s plugged into their network now–I wouldn’t be surprised if she could use reflective surfaces in his vicinity too now–though what reflection was outside there…? And I could see her being able to follow the chain back to Conquest, though I’m rather surprised he was fine with her leaving…I can even justify her being able to go into other mirrors in the police station, assuming that they are close enough to Blake to count, or that her greater power allows for mirrors further away to work correctly.

    But riding in the car with Fell? All the way back from Conquest’s tower? How on earth does that work?

    What am I missing here?

    1. She got a power-up from Blake’s bloodletting in the prison. Blake is having trouble moving around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if what he’s lacking in mobility, she gained.

    2. The car was close to Blake when he noticed she was inside it. I suppose it sounds like she rode all the way with Fell, but maybe she just popped into the window when she saw it light up near Blake.

      1. The thought occurred to me, but where would she…ah. She could have spent the time reading at the house instead. I mean, I would think that reflective surfaces would pass Blake all the time, since even CD covers count, but…alright, I guess I can buy that.

    3. Ok, so they’ve got “three” ideas so to speak. A lot of half ideas apparently, but if they followed the same thing with weapons then they’ve got three half ideas for protections and three half ideas for weapons.

      Protections are a circle that grows, made of plant or fire, a line of light from the flashlight, and moonlight somehow ordered. Something using electricity is a fourth possibility, but they can’t be certain about access so it probably doesn’t count.

      A torch as a weapon has been mentioned, but we don’t know if they’ve agreed to go with that or not. We’ll just have to wait and see what they’ve thought of.

      The important thing here is that the third idea they use, possibly the third in both categories, has to work and it has to work well. The first and second ideas used can be partially effective or even fail outright, but whichever idea they use third is what’s going to be decisive. A failure on the third idea is oblivion, a success is total victory. A win here will make Blake a true diabolist.

  13. I think Rose & Blake are both half-right and half-wrong, I speculate that the Practitioner/Other world rules are based on Theatre/Storytelling tropes and clichés which affects Others the same way Physics affects Humans.

    Practitioner/Other/Human interactions and relationships move like audience participation theatre in which the roles, actors and props are interchangeable depending on which is more dramatic or has more momentum (Theory of Narrative Causality). The real reason Others make deals with Practitioner willingly is because it will allow them to switch roles to obtain more power and get out of roles where they are being drained like milk cows.

    The DuChamps were stupid/unfortunate enough to draw The Fool Card for Blake which now associates him dramatically as The Hero of a Monomyth (partly why 3 is a major number required for victories) and the Behaim/Duchamp Alliance + allies as The Road of Trials. Now this isn’t fixed, if Blake fails he becomes just another prop like Molly, his success will depend on him playing the role of The Hero with a Thousand Faces successfully e.g. Quipping “Help is here kiddo.” to Evan like an 80’s action movie hero is dramatic and cool enough to boost his success against the Hyena in contrast, Blake wasn’t being dramatic or cool when dealing with Pauz and was perfunctory which is partly why he got screwed even when he survived.

    1. That’s a convenient explanation, since it involves zero effort to maintain: just write a scene to be dramatic and and exciting enough and it it’ll automagically follow all the rules to work out for the protagonist.

      1. Not really, that only boosts success rates for the Practitioner’s deeds and spells. What is Dramatic and what is Right don’t often coincide & Karma is about Right and Wrong; just because you succeeded in what you do doesn’t mean it will lessen negative Karma, it may even add to it.

    2. That’s very well thought, I hadn’t realised the full meta-level meaning of Blake being the Fool.

      Also unlike pidgey I don’t think having an in-universe way of explaining why things work the way they should is lazy: it exposes you to constraints as well, because once people start realising how far ahead genre saavyness can get you, characters have no excuse for not being dangerously genre saavy all the time, and that genre saavyness can also not fail regarding magic. Different set of constraints, that is all.
      Plus, Wildbow being a Troper, this is only to be expected…

  14. Wow, potentially a big mistake, Rose.

    Telling an agent of conquest the name of the demon your grandmother bound in your house. A demon that has apparently been known for centuries by name, and is a strong threat to other practitioners because he can ignore some normal defenses practitioners count on. A demon that might actually be known outside of demonologist circles, even if it’s only an example of a demon that can bypass some normal defenses against demons.

    A demon that that agent’s family might actually have known about, due to their activities hunting Others and demons in the past.

    I did not read further after seeing that quote. I did check to see if Barbie is mentioned by name by searching the page.

    I’d bet that before all is said and done, Conquest makes a play for Barbatorem, because Barbatorem is exactly the type of demon Conquest would want to take down practitioners.

        1. Keep in mind Grandma Rose wrote a lot of those demonology books herself. And she didn’t summon Barbertorum with his name. She did it with a baby and a ton of boar carcasses.

          1. Originally posted in wrong level…

            I commented on this point before but in 1.7 when describing how Rose Senior baited the Barbatorem:

            a pile of festering boar carcasses, six feet high, each carved with his name

            I don’t see how that section can be interpreted as meaning anything other than that the deamon’s name was on the swine. If the entities’ name is on the swine it means Rose Senior knows the name…

            1. “his name” doesn’t mean that he only has one name. It also doesn’t mean his name was in a recognizable language (it could have been a symbol and/or something “primal” like the Hyena’s submission).

              Furthermore, I could easily see the carving as a way of connecting him to the name “Barbatorem” (with the attractive aspect being the pile of corpses with an innocent virgin baby on top).

            2. Oops, the points I made are already suggested below. I’m going to finish reading comments before I make any more replies…

          2. Uh, while I agree with your overall point, there is a small caveat that someone else already pointed out…

            “a pile of festering boar carcasses, six feet high, each carved with his name when well into their state of decay” [emphasis mine] (1.07)

            1. Dammit, I should have refreshed. Why oh why can’t we edit or delete our posts…?

              Since this is here and cannot be taken away (and I don’t want to waste Wildbow’s time asking him to delete it) I’ll give the quote that negadarkwing mentioned from the prior chapter, with a reminder of the confusion it incites:

              “[Barbatorem] is an older one, bearing some status and a few stories from years past, with no name of any meaning that has survived the passage of time.” (1.06)

            2. So this is odd. We have the name on the boar carcasses, but we have the book saying he has no name of meaning. The only thing I can think of is that he still investigated the boar carcasses but the name was not one that really had meaning. It piqued his interest, but he didn’t have to respond. And considering he’s mute and apparently comunicated to with gestures, I wonder if Barbertourm would respond to his name being called.

            3. Unless the most ancient and primitive concept of a pile of festering boar carcasses, six feet high well into their state of decay IS his name like how the Hyena couldn’t speak but can let out a growl of primal submission.

        2. Nope, that letter that says “Oh BTW, there’s a demon in the attic” specifically notes that she called him Barbatorem “as a little joke,” IIRC.

      1. I commented on this point before but in 1.7 when describing how Rose Senior baited the Barbatorem:

        a pile of festering boar carcasses, six feet high, each carved with his name

        I don’t see how that section can be interpreted as meaning anything other than that the deamon’s name was on the swine. If the entities’ name is on the swine it means Rose Senior knows the name…

        1. Forgot about the name on the boar carcasses. At the same time the book entry on him stated the Barber didn’t have a known name. Odd.

          1. This could be another instance of “it has power because we give it power.” Rose Sr. names Barbatorem, and in doing so (and perhaps with some help from her own considerable power), gives that name some ability to catch his attention. The boars and baby do the rest. It’s not so different from the rules underlying glamour–if anything, it’s too similar to be an interesting plot element.

    1. I thought Barbatorem’s name was “Ornias” from the chapter where he fought the Farie familiar (2.5).

      Quote:
      “Ms. Lewis,” I said. “Would you happen to know the name of that something nasty that might come if I called it?”

      “Yes,” she said. “Ornias. He once placed stars in the firmament, but he now calls them down to earth. Say his name seven times.”

      1. They’re different. Barbie is the Barber. Ornias is the Star Destroyer (thrower). The lawyer was referring to the latter.

  15. Blake’s current condition might actually benefit him to some degree in his upcoming encounter. Like vs. Like. Blake no longer has a strong presence, and that might make it harder for this demon to attack him. It might even make it easier for Blake to detect or attack the demon.

    Can’t want to see what next chapter brings.

  16. It occurs that fighting a demon of nullity while technically not being entirely real in a spiritual sense might actually give some measure of protection. Because Blake gave of himself until he almost didn’t exist he presents less of a target to an entity that concerns itself with erasure.

    1. Oh, also, being trans and a practitioner must be incredibly stressful, considering Others have a much less fluid understanding of gender than the modern understanding

      1. Next on Pact: The adventures of Mistress Blakina Thorburn, transexual practitioner extroardinare!

        Glamour would make sex change operations a breeze. Maybe Blake could make some money on the side with a black market black magic trans-op business.

        1. He could also take the never-dull-blades deal from the Barber, then make a fortune renting out his cutting blades to industry. He could call it.. Blakes Blades. And his marketing would be a podgy short guy with shears and a cheesy smile.

          1. I wonder if Blake could invoke Leonard in a Bottle to clean his appartment while he was out on his diabolist business.

            “Lenoard come forth, remember what it was like to clean! Clean my oven Leonard.”

          2. Speaking of Barbatorem’s deals, Blake just totally missed out on one by bleeding all over the floor. If he’d cut himself with a bit more foresight, he could have gotten some sweet medical powers too, for no additional expense!

            At least that’s how I think it works. Based on what Duncan was saying, Barbatorem probably doesn’t need the blood for anything, it just wants it out of the practitioner’s body so that the practitioner will be more vulnerable to Barb’s devil mojo.

      2. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily true. Gender may be fluid, but it does have tendencies, and since the only people we’ve seen given gendered terminology is cisgendered (as far as we know), it’s entirely possible that they perceive your gender rather than your sex. That might actually be quite pleasant, comparatively speaking.

        And we really aren’t as advanced as we think that we are, socially speaking–I remember reading an article talking about how at least some native american cultures revered the transgendered, believing them to encompass the spirits of both sex. But I suppose that many of the native american spirits went the way of their people. It could be cool to see otherwise, though…

        coughnaagloshiicough
        😛

        1. “Gender may be fluid, but it does have tendencies, and since the only people we’ve seen given gendered terminology is cisgendered (as far as we know), it’s entirely possible that they perceive your gender rather than your sex. ”

          I don’t think this can be true, since we’ve seen Others who perceived Blake as female, unti he pointed out he’s male.

          1. I took that as her just not paying sufficient attention / knowing she was talking to Thorburn and assuming he was female without looking, but that could be counterevidence.

      3. Actually it’s my (rather wishful) headcanon that Blake is trans (female-to-male, to be clear). Assuming that magic is as cruel to trans folk as you say, that sucks for him, but it does explain how he could be the heir to the Thorburn estate. Also being estranged from his family and living on the street for a while is a sadly common trans experience.

        It doesn’t really seem to fit with what we know of his childhood, though, and I’m sure that wildbow has an explanation of how he’s an heir already worked out.

        1. A fair and fine headcanon. But aye, I think at this point, Blake might have alluded to that. As far as canon-canon, I’m pretty sure why he gets to be heir has something to do with Rose’s existence.

    2. I think the practitioner would be OK as long as there was a disclaimer at the top of the story. We’ve already seen that practitioners can get away with a lot simply by adding “hypothetically speaking” or “metaphorically” to their conversation.

    3. I’m guessing that Blake doesn’t know any fire/sun/moon runes yet. Those would probably be useful.

      When I first read that Blake was using glamour, I thought it was a mistake for the hair was gone and there was nearly nothing in the locket. I then realized that this is consistent with what we know of glamour. By not addressing his lack of glamour and setting it up like normal, the little glimmer naturally adapted to become more when Blake assumed/believed that there would be some glamour in the locket. He may have even forgotten the (almost) total lack of glamour, considering all the things he is focusing on at the moment.

      If this or something similar is the case, I’m impressed Wildbow.

        1. Don’t worry, I just did the same damn thing. This is what happens when you stay up late to read this, then wake up early due to hunger.

  17. You can represent light, creation and order just fine in a single circle.
    First, get some iron. Iron is the most stable element in the universe, the one that all lighter elements fuse to and all heavier elements break up to; it is as real as it gets. It is also a symbol of industry and progress, order.
    Secondly, melt the iron in a solar oven. It is going to cost a lot but you are using sunlight to make it, representing the concept of light being the antithesis of darkness insofar as darkness is the opposite of creation.
    Third, cast the iron into a ring yourself. That casting is an act of creation, you working with the intent to make something permanent rather than using a material you found for your circle.
    Fourth, make the circle with specific measurements; a circle to protect one person, which is three tenths of an inch thick, five feet in diameter, that weighs seven pounds, marked with a string of eleven symbols -numbers or letters- of your choice, repeated thirteen times. Belief and order give strength, to quote a famous writer.
    Last but not least, polish the iron ring you made until it is spotless and gleams.

    Expensive? Yes. Time-consuming? Yes. Hard to make? Yes. But that is what would make it a really good implement IMHO.

    1. I’d say, alternatively, he could go with words or music.

      It has to do with the power of naming things and saying the right things, but language is very much a powerful symbol in itself. Not only is it one of the first steps toward a civilization and order, but it is also mentioned as a creative force.

      To quote our old friends at John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

      Or let’s take it back to Genesis: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

      Similarly, words have power in Egyptian mythology, as a means to hold onto a person’s ka when they die. Mummies, statues, or depictions in artwork were good, but even the written name of a person could contain their ka. Less about creation and more about life there.

      The African trickster god Anansi gained possession of stories (interestingly enough, his tasks now remind me of these tasks of Blakes) and in some traditions he’s the one who created the moon, stars, and sun. That one’s more of a stretch, though.

      Then in Skyrim, you have the way language works, where words affect the world and can create the conditions that are spoken, like causing fire by speaking the word. This is set up as being explicitly linked to the being who is speaking and what they know and can conceive of, which is why humans created the dragonshout about mortality and why it could weaken the dragons.

      I think this might be because the word creation implies agency. After all, as I’ve heard in arguments elsewhere on the internet that are better at baiting flames than anything else, creation implies a creator. And a creator has to have some way to refer to the things they do, even if it’s a language in only their own mind.

      Heck, I think it’d even weaken this guy if he was in an area that was thriving economically. He set up in a closed-down factory. A place where people make things that is no longer used.

      1. That makes sense but giving words substance even in abstract takes power and Blake’s all tapped out unless the very vacum from the cracks in his being can be used as an abstract form of primal nothingness that he can use or Blake can somehow use the pollution within him from Pauz’s pets and his hallowing to infect the demon given its nature and the fact that Nature abbhors vaccum.

  18. New thread with idea accidentally posted as a reply:

    I’m guessing that Blake doesn’t know any fire/sun/moon runes yet. Those would probably be useful.

    When I first read that Blake was using glamour, I thought it was a mistake for the hair was gone and there was nearly nothing in the locket. I then realized that this is consistent with what we know of glamour. By not addressing his lack of glamour and setting it up like normal, the little glimmer naturally adapted to become more when Blake assumed/believed that there would be some glamour in the locket. He may have even forgotten the (almost) total lack of glamour, considering all the things he is focusing on at the moment.

    If this or something similar is the case, I’m impressed Wildbow.

    1. If he believes it strongly enough, the smallest, tiniest bits of hair, down to the molecular level most likely, in the locket will grow into real hair again. Blake didn’t win a portion of the Other’s hair, he won a portion of their power. As long as he doesn’t lose all of his association with that power, like losing the locket completely, or burning the locket and destroying the power of the hair with fire (or whatever else might destroy the power completely) the power will regrow the hair.

      That’s my take anyhow.

    2. He mentioned there was a patina on the inside of the locket. That might actually be the hair, given how it was earlier tending to merge with the locket. A patina might make a lot more sense to the cops examining it than some chainlike, barbed, growing lock of hair.
      Or of course he could just be moving around any shreds of glamour still stuck to him from the Hyena fight.

  19. ” If we can figure out the internal logic of this world, we can start to nail some things down.”

    Oh, poor naive Rose. Haven’t you figured out yet that it operates on Insane Troll Logic?

      1. Well, when all you have is a hammer…

        Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rose talking about nailing things down soon after we saw bits from Black Lamb’s Blood was on purpose.

  20. This chapter revealed all seven of the diabolic choirs. very interesting stuff.

    Choir of dark. First choir. Beings related entropy and total destruction. The strongest choir, the one most truly aligned with the end.
    Choir of chaos. Second choir. Beings related to disorder and randomness. Perhaps they cause improbable things to happen, but in ways the invariably cause harm.
    Choir of ruin. Third choir. Beings related to decay, disintegraton, and disaster. I’m thinking a slow end, one where you suffer loss after loss unti you’ve got nothing left.
    Choir of madness. Fourth choir. Beings related to insanity, delusion, and paranoia. Speaks for itself I think.
    Choir of the feral. Fifth choir. Beings related to twisting humanity’s own against it. Domesticated animals turned vicious and rabid, people no longer capable of being civilized.
    Choir of sin. Sixth choir. Beings related to the baser urges of humanity. Lust, gluttony, etc., warped and taken to extremes.
    Choir of unrest. Seventh choir. Beings related to something abstract and ill understood. Lots of things can cause unrest. A succession crisis, a king gone mad, ill omens like a star falling from the sky. Results might be riots, revolt, civil war, neighbors turning against neighbors.

    But as is stated, categorization is handy but it’s also dangerous. There’s a significant amount of potential for overlap here. A demon might inflict madness on its victims, but it might do so for another aim – Dowght was certainly insane after Pauz got a hold, but the aim was to make feral animals.

    Then there’s this little tidbit to consider – “The choirs aren’t real things… only an idea that some have clung to, some demons and devils included.”

    Some demons and devils categorize themselves into a choir. Is that significant? Does an Other have anything to gain by putting itself into a category? Perceptions matter in the Pactverse. I can see it working both ways. If another categorizes itself, it puts itself into a box of sorts. That box gives it focus, and that focus can give power, but it also defines the being in a way that could expose weakness.

    Also one other thing that hasn’t yet been explained – what is the difference between a demon and a devil? Is there one? Both terms seem to be interchangeable at times, but I can’t help but think that for the purpose of categorization there has to be a difference.

  21. Continuation of the typo thread:

    I was getting looks from passerbys.  Did they think I was an addict or drunk, as Rose had observed?  A crazy hobo?

  22. The next few chapters are going to be good.

    I was kind of surprised Blake considers Pauz to be more powerful than Conquest right now (if he can see past the illusion). I recognize that Conquest is weak enough that most the other practitioners think he might go at any second, but clearly he still has power within his domain along with boatloads of tools and servants.

    I’m curious as to how the other readers expect Conquest to just be gone after this next encounter, leaving Blake (or someone) in charge. Do they expect Conquest to be bound? To surrender to an imp? Even if there is a fight when Blake gets back and Pauz gets free, Pauz usually takes a long time to set up, to really start effecting the host. Even a battered and bruised host.
    That said, I can’t really see Blake and co. just beating Conquest into the ground repeatedly. I can’t see him surrendering or agreeing to be bound after trading words with his subjects either. I think the most likely scenario is Conquest ends up demon-ridden (or imp-ridden) and the contradiction of Conquest being conquered causes him to slowly fade from existence.
    Note the ‘slowly’ part. Unless Blake can convince the abstract demon to erase Conquest (which may or may not be a good idea), he’s still going to need to get a rebellion going. And there’s no way Blake gets the seat of power over the few who’ve been setting up to take it for decades.

    1. In a contest between Others raw power isn’t the only thing to consider, and Blake realizes this. If Pauz and Conquest were to have a direct confrontation, then Conquest would win hands down even if he’s weaker than he lets on. Pauz isn’t going to go for a direct conflict though. He’s going to wait, he’s going to observe, he’s going to find a weakness that he can exploit to get a foothold. That’s his ability, and in spite of his low level of raw power he’s very good at that one thing. Conquest is a rather direct concept at its core, so the incarnation probably isn’t good at fending off more subtle attacks. That’s why Blake and Rose want to beef up Conquest a bit – it makes it harder for Pauz to exploit the weakness, making the conflict last longer, wearing both of them out and giving time to gather additional forces for a conflict to take both sides down at once.

      The combined forces of Blake, the Knights, the Astrologer, and maybe Isadora against a further weakened Conquest and an imp has the potential to win the day. Conquest will probably be dead at the end of this, with some possible piece that Blake can use as a tool remaining. As for Pauz, I fully expect the arbitration clause of the contract to come into play.

    2. Well, if Pauz pulls of his connection-reversal trick on the connection between Conquest and Rose, the bulk of the fight is already over, once Conquest is wearing a shackle and Rose is holding the chain. Then, Blake just has to threaten to carve him apart with the Hyena, and erase his deeds with the oblivion demon until Conquest submits to binding.

      He may need Shotgun Guy to deal with Fell, though, to stop Fell from trying to stop him. Fortunately, Fell can’t take suicidal actions, and if Shotgun Guy holds a shotgun to the back of Fell’s head with a promise to blow it off if Fell moves before the struggle is over, that’s Fell taken care of right there.

    1. Cool product, cool idea. Thanks.

      For entrapment, I note that it still cannot be a completely closed circle (always two ends).

    2. That’s an awesome idea. They look fine.

      This also looks awesome. An electroluminescent poster. You can lay it on the floor, turn on the power, and bam, you have a full elaborate circle of power around your demonic entity. You can spend as long as you like making the perfect circle of binding and then activate it by putting it on the floor, connecting it to a battery, and flicking on the switch.

  23. “I’m coming out of every altercation a bit stronger,” I said. “With more tools.”
    Isn’t Blake the guy who said he felt whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker? Cause as much of himself as he’s poured out these last few days, I don’t know if he’ll even make it long enough to use the tools, or if they’ll even be worth it.

  24. I really start to like Fell.

    If Conquest gets removed, he and Blake could become allies (I doubt they would ever become friends).
    Hey, maybe Blake forces Conquest to release Fell from his services, so he could show him that he isn’t so bad and that they can help each other.

    1. Yeah! And then since Fell has never had a job in his life that didn’t amount to “shoot these people, spread some sand around, say “Glory to Conquest” and leave,” Blake has to help him find a job, and teach him about being thrifty with your money! He can get a room in Blake’s apartment building, which leads into the Joel/Fell ship I have been shipping for the past three hours.

      1. What are you talking about? He’s eminently qualified to be a chauffeur.

        “Yes, sir, I can take you to the demon infested factory. You would like a can of gasoline to immolate yourself with? Very well, sir.”

        1. Well if he keeps giving Blake rides to demon bindings in the future.
          “Thanks for the ride. I really appreciate it.”
          “Hell you know how much I owe you. So where’s Rose?”
          “She’s sitting this one out. Can’t say I blame her. This demons body is made of pure shit, and it’s living in a sewage treatment plant.”
          “You do realize your walking home.”
          “What happened to owing me?”
          “I don’t owe you that much.”

    2. And then Fell shoots Blake.

      Gratitude is nice and all. Maybe Fell would feel bad about killing Blake. However, Blake is still a Diabolist, and I don’t think gratitude alone will stay Fell’s hand. It would be wise to either get oaths from Fell, or kill him before taking on conquest.

      1. Pers’nlly I’m starting to think that the whole Diabolist label that Blake’s got saddled with is more a function of karma than anything. If a practitioner is defined by the kind of magic they do, then Blake has done way, way more necromancy and glamouring than he has diabolism. The only actual acts of diabolism he’s performed have been bindings so far, sure he knows how to summon Ornias, Lord of the Seventh Choir, Snuffer of Stars, The Rapetrain With No Breaks, etc. but he never actually did.

            1. I don’t know about that. Let’s review the story since he came to Toronto:

              Blake managed to reach an Accord with the Imp. Afterwards, Blake nearly gets mauled to death by animals, so he uses some glamour, which seems to be almost a Panacea for Blake.

              Later, he met the “Knights” and got a shotgun with a wind Rune to increase the Velocity of the ammunition. He also gets some Coil chain enchanted to be quieter.

              The Hyena was a Bitch to fight, since it was a Behemoth of a monster that could leave you as little more than a Skidmark on the road, if it wasn’t so fond of causing suffering. It left Wanton destruction in its wake, ripping off and swallowing pieces of Others with a Jaw strength that let it literally bite through trees. The fact that it couldn’t travel through the Gully or holly leaves is why Blake was able to barely Skitter away from it. Blake had a Hunch and Browbeat it with Assault and Battery, capturing it and threatening to use its own Manpower against it.

              Blake returns at Night to find Evan and seemed to take steps towards becoming a Gallant diabolist Crusader when asking Evan to be his familiar. Then, since nothing good can come to Blake without suffering, Duncan used Blake as a Scapegoat in a murder arrest simply because the Behaims think his status as a Scion of the Thorburn family makes him too dangerous to live unmolested. Blake did Triumph, though, and likely doesn’t need to worry about legal troubles for at least a little while. However, his victory has cost him dearly, and he’s on the verge of collapsing, shaking like an addict, and has reduced Lung capacity.

              This monster can Scrub your existence away, which is ridiculously terrifying. Even if he does succeed in binding it, though, Pauz still might pull a Judas and backstab Blake through some loophole in their agreement.

              So, I guess I think that soon enough Conquest’s realm will become a Circus of scary monsters, and I don’t know if he has the wherewithal to get to the top of the pile. Still, if he gets that far he should Cherish the lives of himself and his companions, even if he doesn’t come out on top. 😀

  25. As far as binding an abstract entity goes, something like music might work. It has to do with creation, and can be made along rigidly ordered mathematical lines.
    Also if I was this demon I would want to get situated at a retirement home or hospice. You can find people there who both have affected many people throughout their lifetime and are on the fringes of society and wouldn’t be missed by practitioners or authority. Maximum effect, minimum risk.

    1. For some abstract entities music might work to repel, but I don’t think it’ll will work against this one. Creativity isn’t quite the same thing as creation in the context of creation vs oblivion. Music might work better on an abstract being related to silence, or something along those lines.

      1. Music against silence would be direct opposition.
        The problem here is that this thing is oblivion, and so they’re having trouble finding /any/ direct oppositions.

        In that context, abstract creations such as music could be a help, but in the same way as a circle – it’s an ingredient to use, not a solution on its own.

    1. Probably an ingrained reflex. Drivers don’t turn their head to talk to passengers, so… even if he didn’t see Blake, he knew he was there and gave him the eye.

      1. The issue isn’t whether Fell saw Blake (although now that I think of it. . .). It’s the fact that Blake can’t see reflections but somehow saw Fell. My question is does this need to be edited, or is this a hint that Blake changed. Perhaps he gave part of the portion that goes to Rose thus allowing him to see reflections. I’m not sure.

            1. Everyone sees the mirror world. And apparently its filled with mirror people. I wonder if Rose can use them as a power source. Or info source depending. Like the North End Sorcs area except EVERYWHERE

            2. Uh, no. Rose is alone in her mirror world, it has been stated several times (like when they went to meet Pauz, she was reading while walking.

              However, since normal people can see Rose, it would tend to indicate that seeing Rose is not inconsistent with seeing other people’s reflection (I doubt everyone in the world suddenly lost their reflection when Rose was created).

            3. I’m really not certain that mundanes can see Rose that easily. The scene in the police station seems to indicate the opposite. Also remember that the people that we know/think have seen her aren’t necessarily representative. Subway guy, we have no idea about, but the only other non-practitioner we know of is Witch Hunter Andy, who is demonstrably not a mundane. As for the relevant scene:

              “I don’t have the ability to do much of anything, here. I can’t affect the world.”

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

              “I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

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

              “I can get reactions from people, speaking, but there’s nothing I can use anywhere near the rune on the wall.”
              (5.03)

              Not to mention when Rose was invoking June, and the biggest reaction from the cops physically holding onto Blake was:

              “June,” Rose said, louder.

              “You say something?” the officer asked me.
              (5.04)

  26. First time to comment, simply because I couldn’t postpone it any longer.
    I just wanna say Thank You! Wildbow first for Worm (which I swallowed in a month or so (too much free time)) and now this awesomely awesome new serial.

    You really do make my day everytime you post a new chapter.

    And damn chronomancy to hell. I cant wait untill blake gets enough power and clout to take out the Behaims for good, i really wanna see Laird taken by the Butcher.

    1. I think you mean the Barber, not the Butcher. And Blake is too nice to do that. Hopefully he’ll stay too nice as that’s a major part of his plan to avoid becoming one of those Diabolists.

      Oh and welcome first time poster. Hopefully you will be properly greeted soon… MWAHAHAHA

    2. To quote the Butcher: “Ahh, fresh meat!”

      Don’t worry, word swallower. Wildbow has plenty more words to shove in your mouth until you have to learn to overcome your gag reflex. Hopefully, Wildbow’s been reading a lot of pineapples lately. Might help the words go down quicker.

      That’s the thing about pineapples. They’re a good influence on people. You ever seen anybody do anything evil with a pineapple? Nope, probably because you never read about this time I faced off against a helicopter.

      Still, it comes out of nowhere, like a donkey punch. Except when pineapples are involved, it’s a Hawaiian punch. Hawaiians are good like that. Much like when a person delurks just to say their first comment and then relurks, they need a way to say both hello and goodbye at the same time.

      That’s where someone like myself comes in. Like a fruit company executive overthrowing a monarchy, I’m taking over down here to wish you a merry welcome to the comments, B. Arly.

      So welcome, B. Arly, to the comments.

      P.S.: Here’s a nice picture of the Barber for you to enjoy. http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/4/46949/1763621-brutus_beefcake___edward_leslie_07a_copy.gif

  27. Ok, I just thought of a way you could experiment and figure out what does and does not work against this thing with multiple tries, provided you escape to try again of course. Basically the strategy is to have a backup of every idea you try.

    Hypothesis: The eraser demon only erases memories and records of what it erases, but does not alter history or past actions.

    Experiment:
    Step 1 – Come up with your ideas for protections and weapons and make at least two physical examples of each.
    Step 2 – Place one example of each idea on individual tables in a safe area.
    Step 3 – Make your attempt to bind the demon using your ideas.
    Step 4 – If not enough of your ideas don’t work, run like hell and hope you don’t get eaten. If enough of your ideas work, celebrate that you won’t have to do another round.
    Step 5 – Examine the tables.

    If the hypothesis is correct, then the examples should all still be on the tables because the eraser demon couldn’t actually erase them unless they somehow count as records. You won’t remember actually using the failures or even bringing them with you, but you may remember coming up with the idea since you still have an example that isn’t erased or at least you can reason out that you must have tried the idea since it’s on your tables of things to try. If you didn’t win on your first try, you will at least know what failed to work when coming up with new ideas. You can then repeat the experiment one more time, maybe two if the universe is deciding to count to three in a way that favors you.

    1. The demon would probably erase them. Otherwise, the Knights would still have records of their old members (phone numbers, e-mail adresses…).

      1. If Enjou was talking about copying over descriptions of the defenses, then yes, I would agree with you.

        But it seemed like he was talking about actually (e.g.) constructing a circle of light using flashlights and leaving that on the table. If it doesn’t change past actions–if the Knights losing access to the book about familiars didn’t break the bond between Nick and that ‘cat’–then the circle should still be there.

        1. Yes, that’s what I was talking about doing. It could still fail if the physical examples count as records though. It might be wise to take a few precautions like cutting the connections between the examples and the ones you take with you and connecting the examples firmly to the tables, or something like that.

          1. Oh okay, I misread. Yeah, that might work, but mostly the proble with entities that erase things out of existence is that, like time travel where you can change the past without creating a new timeline, it doesn’t really make sense. So we can expect characters to not do the things that expose those inconsistencies, unless (and here it doesn’t seem like it’s the case) the power in question is actually fake or works only because people don’t question it.
            There are similar powers that go “poof” when you look at them to hard in Pact, glamour being the most obvious, but “the demon disappears in a poof of logic when you prove him he cannot exist” would be a bit… weird for the tone. Also, last time a Wildbow protagonist tried a logic bomb, we all know how well that went.

  28. Okay so I’ve been wondering. Does it count as lying for a practicioner if they say something beleiveing it is true, and to their knowledge it is, when in fact it is false. Let’s say a practicioner offers a guest the last beer in the fridge. But the practicioner’s roommate has just chugged the beer down, unbenownst to him. I mean the practicioner wasn’t lying. To his knowledge there was a beer in the fridge. It just happens that outside his power this statement was rendered false. Would the practicioner still take the hit from lying, or would he be okay because there was no intentional falsehood.

    1. If I had to guess, I think the practitioner would largely be safe here because what’s said is in the spirit of honesty. I can’t say it’s perfectly safe, but hardly in grave danger. Still, it’s vague, and I could see a number of mitigating factors.

      The importance of what the practitioner is wrong about comes to mind. In your beer example, it’s not all that important. Nobody is going to make a fuss. If there’s a penalty at all, it’s probably so small that it may not even be noticeable. I suppose if the guest got upset and made a scene then whatever spirits are in audience might take more notice and the penalty might be bigger. Being wrong about something more important may have a bigger penalty, like if someone got hurt or something due to that wrongness.

      If there is a significant penalty I suppose in your example the practitioner could head to the nearest convenience store, buy a six pack, go home, put one beer in the fridge and then immediately take it out and give it to the guest. In fact, if you really wanted to reap some good karma through force of sheer drama then you could also destroy the refrigerator to ensure that the beer in question really is the last beer in the fridge.

      Still, I can’t see practitioners being able to function day to day without qualifying everything if there were major penalties for this kind of thing.

    2. No, I don’t think so. When the practicioner said that, their interpretation of the world included a statement “there is a beer in the fridge = true”, and like with most soft sciences, one’s personal interpretation matters more in magic than the facts do. Otherwise practicioners wouldn’t be able to use nicknames like “Briar Girl” and “Barbatorem”.

    3. So far canonically…

      Duncan said he would keep Blake all day (he thought it was true)

      Blake escaped, he thought that by doing his so he would turn the statement into a lie

      Duncan later confirmed that, implying he would have lost power if Blake were fully himself

      So we can say that an accidental lie only damages you when it becomes known to the spirits, and the number of spirits who knew you lied determine how much it hurts you.

      Non-canonically, writing an entire magical system is as hard as balls, and there might be edge cases that just don’t have an answer yet. On these fronts I’m going to stop hypothesising and just enjoy the fiction.

      1. “writing an entire magical system is as hard as balls”
        Agreed, especially if you insert the word “consistent” in there.

        “On these fronts I’m going to stop hypothesising and just enjoy the fiction.”
        Agreed again, but for me too many discrepancies hurts the story.

        Fortunately, Wildbow gets to fudge a little. You pointed out one of the circumstances that makes the whole lying issue a multidimensional sliding scale rather than an absolute: Blake was less “Blake” when he made Duncan’s statement a lie.

        It also seems to matter how dramatic you make the statement, how many beings (including spirits) are listening, how you phrase the statement (even when saying essentially the same thing), whether or not it can be interpreted as an oath, the effort you take to make sure the statement is correct, etc. Too put it another way, there are so many undefined situational modifiers that the same lie can be anywhere from devastating to slap-on-the-wrist, depending on circumstances.

        1. Although it’s worth noting that even lies which no one notices (such as Blake’s sarcasm) can still be penalized. So while theatricality matters, it’s not everything.

          1. “So while theatricality matters, it’s not everything.”
            Yes, it is only one part.

            “lies which no one notices”
            The problem is this universe is, as Ms. Lewis pointed out, there is always something listening. There are minor spirits everywhere. I forget which religion this is, but there is one that assigns a spirit (animus) to literally everything. That seems to be very similar to the world of Pact.

            1. Animism is the general belief. As mentioned, Shinto is one system which is, to my knowledge, an Animistic system. There are others, though, and Animism is the broad category for such things.

      2. I see a difference between making a claim about the future and one about the present or past. If you make a claim about the present or past, you have no power to make it true if it is not already true, whereas if you make a claim about the future, it is not untrue until you fail to enforce it to be true.

        That is:
        I think if you say “My father went to Europe last year” and believe it, it’s not a factual claim and I don’t think you’d get a power penalty for simply believing an untruth.
        If you say “My father is going to Europe next year” and believe it, it can be seen as a promise (it hasn’t happened yet, so you are claiming/promising something will happen) and I think you could get a power penalty if it doesn’t happen, since you had some power to effect the result.

    4. If you make an offer to a guest and then rescind it you are not being a good host. I can easily imagine that would have a karma hit. You shouldn’t make offers you are unable to back up. It is a weak promise and an oath which is more important- you promise to offer them a beer but are unable.

      As a general rule you shouldn’t make offers you are unable to meet, or where there’s any reasonable probability of you being unable to meet them, which is an entirely predictable consequence of this offer. If you did this you should then immediately run to the stores to buy them a beer to avoid any issues. If you are running low on resources you shouldn’t promise others them in case you run out.

      This is why a good practitioner will learn to guard their words. Say “I think there’s some beer left in the fridge, you can have the last one if it’s there.”

      1. In that specific example, yes. But my point is what is believed to be true and what is true are not always the same. For example pre Coprinicus and Galalleo did practicioners get treated as though they were lying if they stated that the earth was the center of the universe, and sun revolved around the earth? Once that was beleived to be true. But advances in scientific knowledge have proven it false. Can it be regarded as a lie if it is what is belived to be the truth?

        1. We’ve been directly told, in story, that if the spirits can’t verify a statement it doesn’t count as a lie. When Blake escaped without most of his spiritual essence that didn’t count as a large powerloss for Duncan because it was unverifiable if Blake had left to spirits (just as Blake intended, he was somewhat invisible to spirits).

          As such, I imagine you’d be fine saying that the earth was the center of the universe. There are still people who believe that. It’s a debatable truth. The spirits are unlikely to be able to fairly penalize you.

          For the statement that the sun revolves around the earth, unless they have contact with the sun spirit or god it would be hard to determine the truth. You could even be penalized for the truth- suppose the local god said that he pushed the sun around the earth in his chariot and had convinced the local spirits that this was true. If you deny that then you would be less trustworthy to those spirits and as such lose power.

          If however you said that the sun revolved around the earth and then later recanted due to the evidence your past statement might well count as a lie.

        2. I would say that that brings up the whole distinction between mens rea and actus reus. Guilty mind and guilty act. The lie itself might be the guilty act, but do they take into account the guilty mind?

          They seem to take sarcasm into account, but they don’t take into account acting against the spirit of an agreement while holding to the word of an agreement, so it might focus solely on the act regardless of what the person thought.

          Interestingly enough, this means that magicians should do whatever they can to help scientists figure out the truth of the universe so that the magicians will become steadily more powerful over time than their past counterparts who were wrong about what was going on.

          1. If this is the case, you can fairly easily find the truth just by saying things and checking your power levels. If they remain above 9000, you have not told a lie. Science made easy!

            1. Though I suppose if the “truth” is just a version of “truth” that spirits enforce, this doesn’t get you at objective truth. But then helping scientists doesn’t help either. Still, you can get at the current “truth” being enforced by spirits using the make-claim-and-check-power-levels method.

              I think it depends on the belief of the person when they make claims about reality. (e.g. If I have reason to think you’re in America and I say you are, I won’t get a power penalty if you’ve left America on vacation) Otherwise it seems incredibly risky to make any unqualified statements at all, and screwing over a practitioner would be somewhat easy with clever wordplay if they made unqualified statements about what they believe.

  29. “Request the aid of an expert,” he said. “Or use one’s common sense. No expert available, and my common sense is telling me something is wrong.”
    “I just dealt with an imp, a crazed goblin-beast and a practitioner with a vendetta, all in the span of two and a half days. If things were right, that’d be a pretty good sign something is pretty damn wrong.”
    That had sounded better in my head.

    You just dealt with an imp, a crazed goblin-beast and a practitioner with a vendetta in the span of two and a half days. If you were eloquent, that would be a good sign that something was off.

    “Do as I say, not as I do?” I asked.
    Given the path that “do as I do” took her down…not bad advice.

    “…I don’t know if it would work, but burning to death would be better than anything that demon did.”
    It would probably get my soul anyway, I thought.
    Cheerful, aincha?

    “That, or we stop by a Canadian Tire on the way.”
    Googles
    …Huh. You know, I thought this was kinda odd, but then I remembered things like American Express and British Petroleum, and wondered why it seemed odd.
    Man, introspection is weird.

    I couldn’t help but feel that if I asked, Rose would say no. That she was contrary, on a level, that if I said white, her first impulse would be to say black. On a level, that was fine. It was good to have something to keep me in check.
    …You know, that might have been intentional on Grannie’s part. What did she know of Blake? She saw his attitude, which impressed her, but also saw that he was a bit, shall we say, short on good decision-making skills (and I don’t think you can tell me I’m wrong). Blake’s too brash, too impulsive…so she gave Blake a vestige that would counter those impulses. Hopefully.

    As much as everything looks doomed, it’s looking up. There’s actually a decent chance Blake won’t die.

  30. “That sounds marvelously tacky,” Fell said. “I’d be offended on behalf of practitioners everywhere, if you tried it and it actually worked.”
    Aaaand, Fell is my favorite character.

  31. Coming back here. I can’t seem to find other comments that mentioned this.

    “Darkness,” I said. “Didn’t we hear something different from somewhere else?”

    I might be just very bad at reading, but I never did figure out what he was alluding to. Which is making me speculate this is another instance of Blake inexplicably half-remembering someone else’s words that we have no explanation or origin for, like in arc 2.6, about “haste makes waste”:

    “Hm?” I asked. “That sounds familiar.”
    “I didn’t have a last year of high school,” I said. “I left home. Still sounds familiar.”

    I’d suspect the oblivion demon ate someone who said both these things, the same way one tends to half suspect ErasUrr ate Blake’s cell phone that he never had… but he’s remembering traces? Which would be a first, if that were what happened.

  32. There are a number of metaphysical and philosophical objections to mathematical platonism, that is, the argument that “Math is just there, waiting to be discovered.”

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