Histories (Arc 5)

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

The streets were thick with people.  Men in bowler hats, with long coats.  The streets had both automobiles and horses and carriages.  Joseph glanced around, wary of attack from any direction, tales of pickpockets made him anxious.  He couldn’t shake the idea that his wallet would disappear at any moment.

“Rest easy,” the man’s companion said.  “You have me here.”

“You’re right,” Joseph said.

“Is it worth it, this trip?  These extremes?” his companion asked.

“I’m offended that you even have to ask,” Joseph said.

“Hm,” the familiar responded.  “Chalk it up to differences in how we look at the world.”

Joseph turned to regard his familiar.  The man was dressed as well as anyone else on the street, his hair cut short, neatly parted, a long coat over a suit with a tie, and over-the-ankle boots with slight heels.  The only oddity, one that no passerby seemed to take note of, was the face.  The familiar’s face appeared to have been carved off and pulled free, only to be haphazardly nailed back into position, with nails all around the edges.  The skin hung loose in places, was stretched too tight in others, and he had a permanent leer, exposing perfect white teeth that looked like they had never touched food.

The nameless bogeyman had adopted this new role and familiarhood with a surprising ease.  Then again, he was a stealer of faces by trade.  An actor.  Toronto was very much his sort of city.

A boy in a cap came running down the street, jostling the familiar.

“Careful, my lad,” the bogeyman said, clapping a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the boy said.

Then the boy looked up, and his eyes widened in fear.

The boy was still young enough to be innocent, it seemed.

No matter.  The boy was already running away, releasing only a small, incoherent, frightened noise before he was gone from view.

“I’m getting turned around.  I’m not used to wrapping my head around this sort of place.  Would you find us the way?” Joseph asked.  He passed his sheathed knife to his companion.

The face-stealer drew the blade from its ornate sheath, then held out the sheath, arm outstretched.

They passed a gaggle of young women.  One glanced at Joseph, then looked away, suddenly shy, demure.  No attention paid to the bogeyman with the knife and reaching arm.

The companion found the point where he could balance the sheath on one extended fingertip.  A tap of the thumb made it spin.

It came to a stop.  Joseph took note of the direction the sheath’s end pointed.  “Thank you.”

“It’s your trick,” the companion said.  He let the sheath fall, extending the knife, and the sheath slid into place over the blade.  “I’m only borrowing it.”

But you can do it without anybody noticing.  “Thank you all the same.”

The sheath was handed back to Joseph.  He put it away before anyone could take notice.

“What do we do when we find them?” the companion asked.

“Them?  Who was it you just looked for?” Joseph asked.

“I assumed you wanted to find him before anything else.”

“I thought we’d find her, talk to her, and leave.” Joseph said.

“Did you?” the familiar asked.  “Yet you brought me.  You bound me as your familiar knowing full well what your mission here would be.”

“Yes.  Rescuing her.  Your… talents, they’re a just-in-case measure.  Nothing more.”

“I am a murderer, Joseph.  I can pretend to be many things, but when you take off the mask-”

The bogeyman raised a hand to his face.

“Don’t,” Joseph said.  “Not here.  People will notice.”

“As you wish.  Take off my mask, and I’m a monster.  Your mind is sound, you knew what I was, you knew what you were doing when you reached out to me and offered a position as familiar.”

“I liked you.”

“You’re telling the truth, of course, but who was I, then?  You knew that the complete picture was monster and mask.  I was playing a role, in part.  I was a factory worker with gentle hands, genial, a father.  You knew my friendliness was borrowed, the natural charm and kindness taken with the face, and you could peer past the act when even his family couldn’t.  You still made the offer.”

“I suppose I did,” Joseph conceded.

“But now you waver, my friend.  You lack conviction.”

“No.  I have never felt more certain about what I do.”

“You feel certain about why you do,” the companion said.  “You follow your heart.  But what you do?  You bound yourself to a murderer because you knew you might need a specific someone murdered.  Let’s not pretend we aren’t going to run into him.”

Joseph frowned.

His stretched expression as placid as it could be, hands folded behind his back, the companion walked alongside him.  He’d said his piece.

“Does it bother you?” Joseph asked.  “The idea of returning to murder?”

“Not at all.”  As if to reassure, his companion smiled.  It had the opposite effect.

“You didn’t take any compunctions or guilt when you took the man’s face?”

“I don’t know if I can.  It hasn’t ever come up, frankly.”

“I see.”

“You’ve decided that you’ll be using me, then?”

“I suppose I have.”

“Excellent,” the companion said.  “I was wondering if I might need to coax you into it.”

“Are you eager?”

“No.  But I made promises to assist you.  If it comes down to it, I’ll force your hand to see those promises through.”

“That so?”

“Just so, my friend.”

“And how would you coax me?  Or force my hand?” Joseph asked.

“By telling you that she and he are in the same place,” his companion replied.  “Nothing has changed.”

The news hit Joseph like a slap in the face.

“You’re a right bastard sometimes,” he said.

“Yes,” the companion said.  “You asked, I answered.  When I agreed to the deal, I agreed to be your servant and confidante.  The only lies I tell you will be for your own good.”

“That’s all I ask for,” Joseph said.

His companion smiled, a contrast to Joseph’s own stoic expression.

“Shall we point them out again?” the companion asked.

“No.  I can sense them.”

“Very good.”

The building was a proud one.  White, with columns at the front, gardens well tended, trees trimmed.  No single individual could have looked after it alone, much less look after it so well.

They kept walking until they had crossed the street.  Joseph reached into his coat.  When he withdrew his hand, he dashed blinding powder in a half-circle around him.

The powder expanded rather than dissipate.  A rolling cloud.

Along the length of the short side street, people coughed.  They would see it as smoke from one of the nearby factories, fumes from the automobiles, or something of the sort.

One by one, they found a reason to leave.

“Expensive magic,” the companion said.  “Manipulating people to this extent.”

“I’ve been preparing for this day for some time,” Joseph said, not taking his eyes off the door.  He drew his knife-sheath from his pocket.

Nobody emerged from the house.

If it weren’t for his third eye, Joseph might have thought they weren’t inside.

“Will you go knock?”  Joseph asked.

“Of course.”

Joseph remained where he was, knife in one hand, sheath in the other.

His companion knocked.

The door swung open, and a violent noise sounded.  The blast of a gun.  The bogeyman was lifted off his feet by the force of the shot, knocked down the stairs.

The creature rolled on the ground, groaning in pain.

The man from within the house stepped outside, a rifle in hand.  He wore a vest with no jacket, his mustache was curled, his hair graying.

“Ah.  The boy,” he said.

“Where is Hester?”  Joseph asked.

“Inside,” the man said.  “Where she’ll stay.”

“It’s not right, you… what you do with her.”

“What do I do?”

“Keep her prisoner, possess her.”

“I do what men have done since time was first recorded.”

“That doesn’t make it right, Mr. Canfield.”

“It makes it reality,” Canfield said.  “It seems you’ve brought a knife to a gunfight.”

“Are we fighting?”

“You tell me.  Maybe I have the wrong idea, boy.  Could be you’re holding on to that knife because you have another use for it.  Loose thread on your jacket need a slice, hm?  Are you going to tell me it’s something like that?  That you were just stopping by to ask how my daughter was doing, and then you were going to skip along and do whatever boys your age do these days?”

“I was, but I was intending to leave with her.”

“I’m older, boy.  More learned.  Better armed.  I have more power, more contacts to lean on.  I’m in good with the Lord of Toronto.  This isn’t the fairy tales.  This damsel isn’t in trouble-”

“She is,” Joseph interrupted.

Canfield shook his head.  “No.  She’s safe.  She’s in my care, where she’ll stay.  Any misguided hero who arrives to carry her away is liable to get filled with pellet.  If they live, they get a beating too.  The hero doesn’t win by any rights, boy.  There are no happier ever afters.”

“I never aimed to be a hero,” Joseph replied.

“No?  Is that why you’ve bound yourself to this… thing?”

The older man nudged the bogeyman’s head with the toe of one boot.  The creature recoiled, writhing in pain.

“It’s a part of it.”

Canfield stepped over the bogeyman’s body, gun pointed at Joseph.

Not a moment later, the bogeyman rose to its full height behind Canfield.

With the sight, Joseph could see a protection flare.  An ornament that warned of imminent danger.

Before he could shout a warning, Canfield whirled around, firing a second shot.

The bogeyman collapsed on the stairs.

“Persistent fellow,” the man said, aiming his gun at Joseph.  “Not too pretty either.”

Joseph didn’t know what to say in response.

“If you want to scurry off with your tail in between your legs, I understand.  My daughter is watching from the window.  You do that, and that’ll be the end of it.”

Joseph didn’t dare look, in case it was a trap.  But he felt the connection.

Courtney.

“You’re not running.”

“No, I suppose I-” he almost slipped into ain’t.  “I suppose I’m not.”

“If you want to pick a fight, you should know you’ll lose, and if I do you the grace of leaving you alive, you’ll have some lifelong reminders of what it means to cross me.”

He stopped at the far end of the street.

Joseph chanced a look.

Courtney was indeed in the window, blonde hair falling across her shoulders, hugging herself.

Another stolen glance.

The bogeyman was gone.

“Are you going to fight me?” Canfield asked.

“I’m not much of a fighter.”

“What are you, then?  You practice, clearly.  What do you practice?”

“Illusion.”

“Glamour?”

Joseph shook his head.  “Only illusion.”

“Hardly a fitting match for my daughter.”

“Nobody can be a fitting match for your daughter.”

“You and I might agree for the first and last time on that,” Canfield said.

“We agree for different reasons.  You think it’s because no man is worth her.  I think it’s because your perspective is so twisted that you love her.”

“Are you insinuating something?  I’ve never touched her in an inappropriate manner.”

“I believe you.  But you love her in an inappropriate manner, and so you lock her up so nobody but you may have her.”

“We crossed paths for mere hours, a year ago, and you’ve come to such wise decisions?  You must be a genius, boy.  The next Sherlock Holmes.”

“I’ve asked around.  People talk about it.”

Canfield scowled a little.  “Spreading ideas behind my back?  If you’d come at me head-on and been polite about this whole rescue nonsense, I might have let you off easy.  But you’re running short on my mercy, acting as cowardly as that.”

“Your colleagues talk about it as if it were a charming quirk.  Your enemies talk about it like it is.  An ugly thing.  Your family… it hoards.  You collect and make trinkets, you decorate yourself with them, and you’ve twisted that, turned it backward.  You’re hoarding her.”

Canfield fired the rifle.

The bullet felt hot as it tore through Joseph’s knee.  It was the sort of pain that carried a kind of finality.  The knowledge that things wouldn’t be right again.

Joseph screamed and dropped to the street.

“You little pissant.  You letting your cock lead the way, spin you tales?  You’re the one who is twisting things around in his head.  You want my daughter, but there’s no way that could ever happen, and you blame me?”

Joseph struggled to move so he could reach into his jacket, all the while striving to avoid moving his shattered knee.  He found the powder, then flung it out.

Masking his location, a veil.  Altering connections, as well.

“Illusion, you said,” Canfield told him.  “You haven’t moved.”

He leveled the rifle in Joseph’s general direction.

“Sir!” Joseph heard the voice.  Deep.  “I heard a shot?”

“Ah,” Canfield said, his voice pitched to carry across the street.  “You removed the effect you’d erected moments ago.  Attempting to make me look bad in front of my servants?”

“Sir?  What are you talking about?”

“I’ll explain later,” Canfield said.

As the powder cleared, Joseph remained out of sight.

But Canfield had donned a monocle.  Another trinket.

The man aimed the shotgun-

Then half-turned as his heavyset manservant strode down the stairs.  He could sense the danger, but he couldn’t move fast enough.  The heavy man stabbed him.

Nothing artful or honorable.  The manservant thrust the knife into Canfield’s gut over and over as if he were punching rather than holding a knife.  His face was fixed in place by four small kitchen knives.  A man had died to give him that face.  The effect had been fresh and strong enough that even Joseph hadn’t been immediately aware of it.

Canfield shoved him away, then fired the rifle.  The ‘manservant’ collapsed, then immediately began to stagger back to his feet.

Canfield, unwilling or unable to reload, used the rifle as a club to bash at the familiar.

Joseph reached into his pocket.  Cards.  Bound creatures.

Illusion wasn’t all he could do.

He tore the cards, and the creatures lunged.  Three dogs, noble hounds that might have served as companions to divine hunters once upon a time.

Joseph drew further effects from his repertoire.  Things he’d collected.  A rusted old ring- he raised his hand up, then slammed the ring down on the street.  He didn’t succeed in breaking the ring – only hurting his hand.

He did it again, and something minor came loose.  The older books hadn’t ever described a moderate spirit of this kind, but they were becoming more of a thing with the turn of the century.

As the ring had been destroyed and spent, the spirit would be released only the one time, here.

The hounds were leaping into the air when Canfield used another trinket.  A child’s toy, with a handle at the side.  Everyone present, spirit or otherwise, was bound where they were, hounds held in mid-air by green threads.

“Ironic, in a way.  Courtney made this one, believe it or not.  It was meant to be a gift, but the child it was intended for died.  I keep it on my person as a reminder.”

There was no good way to go on the defense.  Canfield had an answer to everything.

Better to wait and react, counter.

“No smart response?” Canfield asked.  He grunted, wincing.  The stab wounds were hurting.

Have to get him talking.  He’ll die of that stab wound before I die from this injured knee.  He’s older.

“I swear I’m going to watch you die,” Joseph growled the words.  “By my name, by my blood, I’m going to do what’s right and I’m going to free that girl.”

The words carried power.  He felt stronger, the pain was less.  His mental clarity improved.

“Yet you say I’m the one twisted by love,” Canfield said.  “What will you use to kill me?  A moderate rust spirit?  Clever.  Let’s do away with it before it becomes a problem.”

Canfield bent down as best as he was able with his feet trapped in position, and began drawing out a line of chalk.

Joseph, not feeling half the pain he had, reached into his coat for chalk of his own.  A box, with a symbol inscribed on each piece.

He drew out a line, and a dozen other lines scrawled along the length of the road.

He drew out a more dramatic scribble, and scribbles spanned the length of the street, interrupting and confounding Canfield’s circle.

But Canfield continued drawing.

No.

Another trick, then, taking advantage of the pieces already on the board.  Dust, thrown out.  Illusions.  One for the hounds, to make it seem like they were more.  One for the rust spirit, to narrow its focus to Canfield alone, and one for the companion, the bogeyman familiar.  Another illusion for Courtney herself.

Canfield rotated the handle of the toy box, and the lid sprang open, a clown bouncing out of it.

Everything resumed moving.

The circle was complete, and the illusion did nothing to break it.  The hounds landed and stopped.  The rust spirit halted.

Canfield was reaching for a whip.  Something to facilitate turning summonings back on the one who had sent them?

“Father!” the familiar screamed.  Courtney’s voice.

Canfield turned, then went white.

The familiar held the skin of the manservant’s face dangling from one hand.  Courtney’s face was the one that it wore, his body matching hers.

Canfield turned to look, and he saw Courtney in the window, slumped down, her flayed face having left a smear where it had dragged against the window.

It was an opening.  The familiar strode forward and broke the circle.  Canfield blocked the knife before it could strike home.

Joseph allowed himself a moment to try and shift position, so he wouldn’t have to struggle so much to access his own collection of tools.

The movement of his knee momentarily blinded him.

It was the mistake that would decide the engagement.

When he could see again, Canfield had turned the tables.  Canfield had a scrap of white cloth in hand, and he had company.

A man in a white jacket, with a thick handlebar mustache.

The Lord of Toronto.

The illusions had faded, Courtney was fine, as was the familiar.

“You will die soon, Canfield,” the Lord spoke.  “It will be a suffering death if and when it happens.  It is not my place or my way to stop that from coming to pass.”

Canfield nodded.  He wasn’t able to stand straight.

“Hey!” Joseph shouted.

“I prefer subjugation over death.  I surrender my self,” Canfield said.  “It’s my understanding that an incarnation needs to root itself in humanity from time to time, to stay relevant and rooted in the doings of man.”

“Yes.”

“All I ask is that my daughter is taken care of.”

“You’ll have it.”

With that, the Incarnation stepped forward until it intersected Canfield.

For an instant, Canfield was the one wearing white.

Then, a moment later, the one wearing white had a trace of Canfield’s features.

Those features were soon swallowed up in a greater ocean.

The Incarnation brushed at a few traces of blood at its stomach.

“I asked permission to attack,” Joseph said.

“You did,” the Incarnation said.  “You were just.  Not right, but just.”

Joseph grunted as he tried to raise his head.  “If you allow me to walk away, I’ll look after her.  I can guarantee that she will be taken care of, so you can meet your obligation to Canfield.”

“You will marry her,” the Incarnation said.

Joseph nodded.  Hope soared.

“You will not walk away,” the Incarnation said.

Joseph’s eyes widened.

“I name you forsworn, Joseph Attwell.  You did not see the girl’s father meet the end you promised.  You cannot.”

“I…”

“If you would argue your own defense, then do so.  Name the actions you would undertake, and I will grant my assistance in allowing this to come to pass.”

Joseph hung his head.  “I spoke while drunk with pain, and love.”

“Pain is something I know well.  I assure you this is no defense.  Love is something I’m not familiar with, but it is no defense either.  Would you make another defense?”

Joseph shook his head.

“Then I bind you by that which you swore by.  I bind you by name, by your entirety.  I bind you by your blood, to bind all of your kin that follow after you.  I bind you by your word, to claim your obedience for myself.  I offer you a second chance to gainsay me.”

“I can’t,” Joseph said.

“With my claim, I offer you the protections you would forfeit.  It is your choice, whether to accept or refuse.

To be at the mercy of anything and everything, all of the vulnerabilities of mortal and Other both, or to be in Conquest’s service?

“I’ll obey you to the best of my ability,” Joseph said.  And he knew he was, in a way, swearing fealty to Canfield.

“You and yours,” Conquest said.  “All the ones that come after.  You won’t need your familiar.”

He felt his bogeyman slip from his grasp.

“Your children and children’s children, all down the line, are mine, from the moment they learn the practice.  You will not bar them from it, after they’ve come of age.”

Somewhere in the haze that followed, Joseph heard Courtney’s voice.

“I didn’t ask for your help.”

It was then that he knew he was lost.

A hard shove sent the boy sprawling into a chair.

He looked up to see his father glaring down at him.

“What are you going to do about it?” the man asked.

The boy clenched his fists.

“You have no tricks.  You have no power.  I have magic, you don’t,” the man said.  He kicked, and the boy scrambled out of the way.  The man kicked a chair instead, and the boy yelped as the chair tipped over, striking him.  “You’re weak!”

“You want to learn this?” the man asked.  “You want my power?”

A sweep of the arms sent dishes flying off the dining room table, crashing to the floor.

“I have never been more disappointed than I was when I first set eyes on you,” the man said.  “That disappointment, that shame?  It eats at me.  Get out of my fucking sight!

The boy scrambled away.

The man made his way to the kitchen.  His wife stared at him, accusing, holding a child to her shoulder.

“Not a word,” he said.

There was only disgust on her expression as she set a beer bottle down on the counter in front of him.

He swiped at it, grabbing it, and found his seat in his sitting room.

One beer bottle became two, then four.  His nightly routine.

The click wasn’t routine.

He opened his eyes.

It was the boy.  Gun raised, held in both hands.  There were tears in the boy’s eyes.

“You hate me,” the man said.

The boy nodded.

“Then pull the trigger.  Your mother will clean up the mess.  She hates me too.  She’ll be glad to have me dead.  Or are you a coward?”

“You’re the most horrible person I’ve ever met,” the boy said.  His voice was hoarse, his words a whisper.

“If you want me to be scared, you’re in for a sore disappointment, boy.  I haven’t been less scared in a long, long time.  And you know I’m telling the truth, don’t you?”

“I could shoot you, right here, right now.”

“Why are you talking to me, you little fool?  You’ll never work up the courage, doing that.  I’ll even tell you how to do it.  Think back to everything I’ve done to you.”

He could see the boy’s hands shaking.

“I did other things you don’t even know about.  I laughed when I buried Red.”

He’d never shared that tidbit.  He could see the reaction.  The tension that took hold of his son’s whole body.

“God, the way I treated your motherI’d shoot me.  And you don’t know the half of that.”

“She never loved you, she said,” the boy said.

“Yeah.  Loving her was my second biggest mistake, after making you.”

He could see the shock on the boy’s face.

For an instant, he thought the boy would pull the trigger.

Then he saw the cold take hold in the boy’s eyes.

“I’m going to shoot you,” the boy said.

“You keep saying it, but you haven’t done it.”

“After,” the boy said.  “First… I want the books.”

The man shrugged.  “I can’t stop you from taking them.”

“Show me where they are.”

The man lurched, then stood.

The books were in the simplest of hiding places.  On top of the bookshelf.

Drunk, he threw the books down rather than hand them over.  He slumped over.

The boy, still holding the gun up with one shaking hand, grabbed at a book.

The moment that hand touched book was marked by the sound of a shutting door.

The boy turned.

A man in a white coat, with cold eyes, and two figures in chains trailing behind him.

“Oh gods, I’m so sorry,” the boy’s father said.  Tears welled and streamed down his face.  “You should have pulled the trigger.  I deserved no less.”

“You’ve done your duty, Joseph,” Conquest said.

“Please,” the drunk man said.  “Please.”

“Your son’s name?”

“Matthew,” Matthew said.

“Matthew,” Conquest said, noting it.

“What’s going on?” Matthew asked.

“I’m so sorry, my son,” Joseph said.  “I… I thought you’d run away, out of his reach.  That you’d hate me enough to kill me.  I left the guns in reach… none of what I said, I didn’t mean it.  The disappointment I felt was in myself.  I made myself laugh when I killed Red…”

The boy’s eyes widened with each statement.

“Oh gods, I’m so sorry, my son.  It was the only way out that I saw for you.  The only path.”

Conquest intoned the words, “Matthew Attwell, as I bound your father, I bind you.  By your forsaken blood, you are bent to my will, your well-being is purely at my behest…”

“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done, and I’m sorry I pushed you as far as I did.  I’m sorry I didn’t push you far enough.”

“You will serve me unto the end of your days, Matthew,” Conquest said.

“A riddle, if you will,” Matthew said.

“Turning the tables?” Isadora asked.

Matthew smiled.  He was tall, pale blond, with round glasses and a tweed jacket.

“You’re looking at turning the tables,” the sphinx said, making it a statement.

“Is there an escape from my current circumstance?”

“If I told you, you would be compelled to fight against it.”

“If it were direct enough, yes.”

“I would also earn the enmity of Conquest himself.”

“Is that so bad?”

“Bad enough.  My kind is few enough, without getting ourselves killed.”

“Fair.  Is there an answer?”

“There are several,” Isadora said.

“That’s good to know,” Matthew said.  “Is the answer obtainable?”

“Yes.  But not in your lifetime.”

“No?”

“No.  You’ve studied this a great deal.  Approached it as a puzzle.  I respect that.”

“Thank you,” Matthew said.

“You tried the logical, you also tried more free answers.”

“Hm.  Not sure what you’re referring to.”

“Your wife.”

“She’s a lovely woman.”

“She’s unfaithful.”

A wide smile broke across Matthew’s face.

“You chose her because you knew she would be unfaithful.”

“She’s a brilliant person.  She must have figured out what I was going for.”

“You looked for these qualities in her.”

“She’ll teach my children well.  Well, ‘my’ children, even if they aren’t my blood.  Enchantment works well with illusion.  Maybe that’s what we need, in terms of different approaches.”

“You’ve defined yourself by those games, by these studies,” Isadora said.

“Books and deception.  An illusionist’s prerogative.  An Enchanter’s too, now that I think about it.”

“What good is misdirection if your subject finds their direction a moment later?  Don’t answer that.  Rhetorical question.”

“Fair question.”

“I don’t have many of those.  A boxer who only feints achieves nothing, Matthew.  You must feint and then deliver the blow.  If only to have scored the points when the round ends.  Fail to deliver that hit, and your opponent very well might.”

“Conquest will?”

“Your opponent isn’t Conquest, Matthew.  It’s fate.”

“Ah.  Fate’s something of a bitch, isn’t it?”  Matthew smiled.

“A young girl is born in Egypt.  The odds are good that she will be mutilated and sewn up.  A child born in Africa may spend their life in poverty, starving, if they are unlucky enough to be born in the wrong region.  Another child might be born with a disability.”

“And members of my bloodline are doomed to be slaves to a greater power.  Fate deals a harsh hand.”

“Yes,” Isadora said.

“But a child born to poverty can fight their way to success.  A disabled child can overcome their limitations,” Matthew said.

“An uphill battle.  For every one that succeeds, there are many more who simply live with the hand that life dealt them.”

“That shouldn’t stop them, or me, from striving for that success all the same.”

Isadora frowned.

“What?” Matthew asked.

“I’m sorry, Matthew.”

“Sorry?”

“Your wife is unfaithful, Matthew, but the children she bears will be yours.  They’ll be Conquest’s, too.  Your struggles to date have been fruitless.”

The smile fell from Matthew’s face.

“I’m sorry.”

“Damn,” he said.  “Damn, damn, damn!”

Isadora waited patiently.

“Damn!” Matthew shouted.  He kicked the chair to his right.

He hated being this angry, even when it was a real anger, and the anger he’d grown up with had been partially an act.  He forced himself to stand still, calming down.  It wasn’t very effective.

His back to the sphinx, he stood there, head bowed.  He moved his glasses to wipe at his eyes.

After a few moments, Isadora asked, “Would you like more tea?”

Matthew nodded, his back still turned.

“I’ll brew up another pot.  In the meantime, let’s talk about your research.”

Fell closed the car door.  The diabolist was staggering away, gas can and emergency kit in hand.  Hooded jacket, tousled blond hair, and a general look that was more Other than human.  Hollowed out.

The little familiar had taken to the air, circling around a few times, while three maimed goblins with chains around their necks trudged behind, dragging bundles of halogen lights and wires.  A quick glance suggested that Rose wasn’t in the mirrors here.  Good.

He checked the route on his phone, then mounted it on the dash.

Fell wasted no time in leaving.

His own bloodline had fallen prey to bad circumstance.  The thing in that factory was worse.  Worse than a force that had altered the lives of generations.

He needed to prepare.  The Lord of Toronto, if left unimpeded, aimed to summon things that should be left alone and forgotten.  But they weren’t forgotten, as Blake and Rose were demonstrating, and Conquest was already demonstrating that he had no plans to leave them be.

Fell’s father had turned an analytical mind to the problem their bloodline faced.  He knew that there was leeway. The shackle that bound them was not perfectly fit, and one could wiggle within the confines of the rules and stipulations.  His father had demonstrated as such.  When Conquest had given an order that Fell’s father hadn’t wanted to obey, the man had carried it out with such recklessness that he’d died.

The window of opportunity had passed, resources that Conquest had invested into that particular bid for power remained spent, and Conquest grew weaker.

Their family was no longer growing, and Conquest had less pawns in play as a result.  This had coincided with the Lord’s waning power.

They’d win through nicks and patience, with one eye open for opportunities.

Except the Thorburn had arrived, giving Conquest a convenient way of getting the power he wanted.  Inadvertent, but still a problem.  Still unforgivable.

Fell had little pity for those who’d been doomed by circumstance.

The first step would be getting access to his books.  Too many things simply didn’t make sense.  Conquest’s decisions, the methods, the aims.

The speed limit sign said fifty kilometers an hour.  Fell hit ninety.

A horn blared as he rounded a corner.

He shifted gears, reoriented, and hit a hundred on the next stretch.

Even if he died, there were others in the family.

But it would weaken Conquest, and a death colored by spite wasn’t such a bad thing.

Defeating and removing Conquest would be better still.

Tonight and the events that followed would decide things.

The GPS in his phone told him that it should take an hour to get home.  He made it in thirty-nine minutes.

Powder from his pocket on the car ensured it wouldn’t get stolen or ticketed.

He reached his apartment.

“Uncle!”

He wrapped his arms around his niece as she ran up to him.

“Thank you for picking her up at the airport,” he said to his mother.

“My pleasure,” the woman said.  “How is the situation?”

“We’ll talk later.” He talked to his niece. “For now, I want to hear how my niece enjoyed the last few weeks at the castle.”

“It was amazing!  The very first day there, Jaclyn showed us all of the friendly others!  There’s a merman in the basement, where it flooded, and a giant in the hills, and there’s…”

He only half-listened, hugging the girl close as he kicked off his boots and made his way to the kitchen to get a drink.

Her father, Fell’s older brother, had gone the way Fell’s father had.  A reckless death.  Suicide by Lord, simultaneously causing trouble that put Conquest on uncomfortable footing.

Making her his.

His to look after.  His to doom to subservience, when the time came.

His grandfather had tried to use anger and hate to drive his father away.

His father had tried to misdirect, to game the system.

Fell only used distance.

“I didn’t do any magic,” she said, a little breathless as she finished.

“I know,” he said.  “I’d know if you did.”

“They showed me so much!  There’s an old shrine with a god who people used to worship.  And the merman, every time you go to talk to him, he goes under the water, and he comes up with a present.  Real gold, sometimes.”

“That’s amazing,” he said.  He glanced at his mother.

“Emily brought me back a present,” the woman said.  Showing off a necklace that had maybe suffered for decades spent underwater.

“And they let me sit there when Jaclyn met with her class.  They practiced, and I sat on my hands and kept my mouth shut.”

“Perfect.”

“I really want to start doing the stuff they did.”

“Maybe one day,” he said.

She smiled.  “On my next birthday?”

“We’ll see,” he said.  “That depends on a lot of things.  Some are important things I need to talk to your grandma about.  Which means you should be getting to bed.”

“But you just came back!”

“We can talk in the morning, Emily.  But you know I can’t like, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What I’m going to talk about with grandma here has something to do with whether we’ll let you learn magic.  If things work out in the next day or two, we won’t have to wait.”

We won’t have to wait until Conquest forces me to indoctrinate you, like my father was forced to do with me.

Though the way that Emily was going, she’d probably ask some time after she came of age, and he’d have to obey regardless.

“Go on, honey,” Fell’s mother said.  “I’ll be in to tuck you in soon.”

The little girl pouted, but she left.

Fell and his mother sat at the other end of the apartment.

“We can send her back to the castle after the school year is over.”

Fell nodded.

“I know some people.  They’ll be visiting for the wedding in Jacob’s Bell.  We can send her with them when they go home.”

“She’ll be well-traveled, if nothing else.  Can you manipulate the connections?  Enhance the attachment between them and her?”

“Not without making dangerous enemies.  We’ll find one place to tie her down that’s out of reach.  That reach has been getting smaller.”

“It might not stay small if things start catalyzing here.  Thorburn is dealing with the abstract demon.”

“Will he succeed?”

“That’s the question.  If he does… and if he doesn’t have a plan, then all hell might break loose.”

“Careful about hyperbole.”

“It’s not hyperbole.”

“Be careful all the same.  Go on.”

“If Thorburn fails… something tells me that my understanding of what should happen differs from our local lord’s expectations.”

“He wouldn’t be so reckless with Thorburn, given what the diabolist is to him.”

“No,” Fell said.  “It’s… eight thirty.  Thorburn’s deadline is midnight.  I don’t think things are going to settle down then.  The other local players will make moves, our Lord will respond, potentially bringing out the big guns.  Thorburn is his own camp.  The major players are another camp entirely.  Allied but not friendly.”

“And where do we stand?”

“With Conquest, unfortunately, unless a good opportunity comes up.”

“I’m not quite so beholden to Conquest as you are,” his mother said.

“That reality relies on you staying under his radar.  If you’re going to abandon that position, we should make sure it’s for good reason, with optimal timing.  Tonight, given the chaos that’s likely to unfold, the timing is far from optimal.”

“In enchantment, we pay particular attention to degrees of connection.  There tend to be figures who serve at the heart of the intricate webs of connections.  People who have far more connections extending from them than your typical person.  Social people, players of the game, catalysts…  You most certainly are not this kind of figure, Malcolm.”

“Few illusionists are.”

“Putting aside the fact that you’re an enchanter, not just an illusionist, we should give thought to who the lynchpins are in this tangled web.”

“The Lord of Toronto.”

“Yes.  Who else?”

“Thorburn.  Though I say that with caveats.”

“Which caveats?”

“He’s severed his connections with the rest of the world.  Very nearly bled himself dry.  He’s now straddling the line between human and Other.  I genuinely wondered if he was possessed, earlier.”

My family doesn’t particularly want him to do well here.  My own feelings… well, I feel fairly lukewarm about my family’s wishes, given how things have played out in the last decade or two.”

“Understandable.”

“He’s a tool.  Is he a tool we can use?  You need to give me the answers.  You’re the one with eyes on the scene.”

“Yes, but… well, Blake Thorburn was having a discussion on the way over to visit the demon.  He and his partner talked about the dangers of using fire as a diagram.”

“Not very conventional.”

“That’s just it.  He’s… he is fire, metaphorically speaking.  Hard to predict, hard to control.  Even as a useful tool, he’s dangerous.”

“And if that fire were put out?  If we cut the few connections that remain?”

“He’ll be lost.  Potentially to Conquest.  Do we want to, though?  Conquest seems remarkably at ease with the idea that Thorburn might get devoured by the demon, soul and everything else about him cast down into oblivion.  Why?

“Logic suggests that the demon would eat him, his companions would be lost as well, and the next Thorburn would find themselves heir to the property, powers, and dangers.”

“Yes,” Fell said.  He leaned back.

“The Lord of Toronto clearly feels something else would unfold.”

“Apparently.”

Fell’s mother affected a smug tone, “What could that be?”

“We don’t have time to play games.”

“Not games.  I will always expect you to stay sharp, Malcolm.  Give me an answer, instead of complaining.  Your grasp of the answer will be better if you achieve it yourself instead of me giving it to you.”

“The mirror-companion is heavily tied to Thorburn.  The Lord of Toronto is tied to the companion.  Does he think he can somehow rescue Thorburn if it comes to it?”

“Possible.  But let’s look closer at the mirror-dweller.”

“She’s a bit of a riddle,” Fell said.

“Is she?”

She was maintaining that same smug tone that had driven him batshit insane when he was a teenager.

“What else could she be?” Fell asked.  “If she isn’t the riddle… she’s the answer?”

His mother smiled.

“Thorburn gets removed from the picture and… the mirror dweller is the one who takes up the position as heir?”

“It answers questions.”

“It raises more,” Fell said.

“It’s progress.  A step forward in understanding.  We can illustrate the connections that extend between everyone present,” his mother said.  She reached for her purse, withdrew a tablet, and began drawing on it.  “Everyone is a sun, with rays radiating out from them, attaching them to the world around them.  Mr. Thorburn is a bright star, if one that might burn out soon.  He’s eliminating those rays by his own actions, or circumstances might snuff him out.  Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Conquest is perhaps the brightest star in this city.  He’s connected to virtually everything.  This is one of the factors that make him hard to remove.”

“We’ve been over this.”

“I’m illustrating.  Who, then, is Ms. Thorburn?”  His mother touched the pad, leaving a dot.

“Companion to Blake,” Fell said.  “Bound by Conquest.”

“Yes.  Remove Blake, assume she doesn’t disappear, and she’s…”

“Still Bound by Conquest.  With no other ties to the world.  His and only his.”

“A pet diabolist.  With everything that entails.  It might be in our best interest to look after Mr. Thorburn.”

Fell frowned.

“We can’t help him now.  Trust Mr. Thorburn to manage for the time being.  Let’s arm ourselves for the conflict that’s about to erupt.  Go get the books, I’ll tuck my granddaughter in.”

Fell nodded.

He reached the bookshelf, but he got no further.

He felt a tug, and he was in Conquest’s tower.  He caught himself before he could stumble or fall.

Conquest was here, monstrous, massive.  Expending more power for pure theatrics.

On another day, he would be glad Conquest was expending power so readily.  This day was different.

“Thorburn has escaped the demon’s lair,” Conquest said, his voice a low rumble.

Fell had no idea how to feel about that.  He remained still.

“Is that a good thing?”

“Good enough.  Trouble’s brewing.  The locals are stirring.  I may ask the novice diabolist to help me manage it.”

Setting him up to die.  Again.  Stirring more trouble, creating chaos.

“Shall I assist him?”

“Your choice,” Conquest said.

“I’ll go meet with him shortly, then.”

“Do.”

No mention made of the fact that he’d hauled Fell from his day-to-day.

Fell turned to go.  A disturbance made him pause.

Conquest had brought the mirror-dwelling girl here much as he’d brought Fell.  More expenditures of power.

“Now,” Conquest said, to the girl, “You will tell me everything you don’t want to tell me.  Starting with Mr. Thorburn’s plans.”

“No- I-”

“There is no choice in the matter,” Conquest intoned.

“I-”

Fell paused.  “Miss?”

Conquest turned.  Ms. Thorburn ceased stuttering.

“It goes easier if you just obey.”

Ms. Thorburn’s voice cracked.  “I- he’s setting the imp on you.  It’s already scheduled.  He was calling in the Knights, and he’s releasing the Hyena too.  I think they figured out how.  They want to trap you in your realm with the monsters, and use the demon’s appendage to lock the door.”

Conquest nodded.  “This is a start.  Keep talking.”

Fell took his leave.

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

Advertisements

242 thoughts on “Histories (Arc 5)

  1. Random thought.

    Would it be possible, in the Pactverse, to implement some version of Faust 2.0?
    http://xkcd.com/501/
    Obviously not that subtle, but would a prominent sign next to the front door of a house declaring that any practitioner entering promises, say, not to harm or use magic without the permission of the owner, or something like that?
    While we’re on the note of exploiting oaths, do they could if the oath-maker is under the influence of something? If you aren’t yourself when you’re on drugs, would at least your drug-affected self be bound? If none of these work, can this be exploited by making oaths you don’t want to follow while high, thereby either dodging or taking ahead of time any karmic penalties from oathbreaking?
    Are there any other such abuses possible?

    1. It seems how Conquest allowed Fell’s distant ancestor the opportunity to explain out of being foresworn due to circumstances, I could easily see the possibility of renegading on an oath under an influence. I bet it would depend on how well you argued your case, and perhaps how strong you are to back it up.

      1. What about being more directly coerced into breaking an oath? If Conquest has complete power over his subjects, what happens if he says, “Fell, I’m bored, so let’s see what happens if you forswear yourself. You will do so now”? The universe doesn’t seem to accept crimes of passion as a mitigating factor, but what about duress?

        1. I’m guessing any attempt at duressing someone into forswearing themselves would rebound on the duressor instead. The deep laws of nature are about honor, and they are smart enough to trace the dishonor back to its ultimate source.

        2. I think you’d need to think about the psychology of a practitioner who would go the lengths of mostly-enslaving other practitioners to their will. In Conquest’s case, I don’t believe such an action would ever come to mind; he would be wasting energy to waste more energy. But our hypothetical ‘Loki’, would very likely have other mannerisms/habits which would put him at odds with other practicioners in a very public way.
          I don’t think Joseph was a victim of a ‘crime of passion’, but of a ‘crime of wording’. Taking what he said exactly, “‘I swear I’m going to watch you die,’” Joseph growled the words. “’By my name, by my blood'” He could have used looser wording- cease to exist/be comes to mind. It implies death, but the Conquest takeover could be reasonably argued (imo, atleast) to end the existence of the man known as ‘Canfield’ The end bit is what makes me feel cements how major of a vow this is, and I believe this is why Conquest is able to ensnare his future generations as well. Otherwise, those who ‘carry his name & blood’ would carry the debt of being foresworn; though I wonder if that does nothing as long as the child does not become a practicioner. If I were a betting man, I’d say they still lose all protections, given how it has been very well defined that the “sins of the father a bourne upon the son”.

      2. He had an out, though.

        “I’m sorry, I don’t see Canfield around me. Is Canfield standing right in front of me, or is that Conquest? Is it Canfield’s body and mind there, or did Canfield as a person die?”

        What’s worse is that, in his own way, Joseph got what he wanted. He married her and he hated it. Sounded like she didn’t much care for it either. He gave up not only his life, but the life of his descendants and she didn’t give a damn. Probably only married him because Conquest said they would marry.

        Poor bastard. Al Bundy had it better than him. Al’s wife didn’t love him, sure, but at least she wanted sex from him all the time. And money. Sex and money. Plus, his kids would have never been in Conquest’s service. Kelly would try and learn magic off the back of a Lucky Charms box and Bud would forswear himself every time he tried a pickup line on a girl.

        But at least Al Bundy had a chance for glory. Yep. He may work in a shoe store in a job better than Fell’s day-to-day, but has he ever told you about the time he scored four touchdowns in a single game? That’s what I thought. Fell’s so bad at scoring, he’s got himself a kid without even having sex.

        1. Of course, it wasn’t completely fair to Courtney either. She didn’t ask the guy to care more for her than she did for him. It’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, to say you’ll risk all that for them. She might have just liked him as a friend, or maybe she didn’t even know the guy. Just one day a random guy shows up and wants to rescue you thinking he’s the knight in your fairytale story? Even worse, he’s got a murderous bogeyman with him who likes to cut off and wear the faces of those he kills. Doesn’t that sound like a pleasant individual to share part of your life with, especially knowing that he’s a pawn in the game where two men are fighting over possessing her.

          Then her creepy dad merged with a being of near-godlike power (within the borders of Toronto) and forced her to marry the guy and pop our a kid, with the now embittered unrequited love interest being a bad father and husband.

        2. Yes, Canfield is gone; but being ‘overwritten’ and being ‘dead’ are different enough to not be able to split hairs on the matter. Conquest even told Joseph he’d help him in his defense, if he could think of a way to defend himself- he knew Joseph didn’t. Pure speculation, but I wonder if Conquest’s offer of help is just laying the groundwork for bringing Joseph into his fold. Like, he claimed the right to arbitrate/punish Joseph for being foresworn and thus, due to reaching an agreement in arbitration, absolved Joseph of the penalty being foresworn carries (maybe taking a Karmic hit in his stead? Or just expenditure of personal power to reestablish the normal ‘practicioner’ defenses.)

          1. He should have tried to split hairs on the difference. If I had been pressed on that point I would have said.

            “Well, I do see this as death. You are now an other, not a human, and as such it is debatable if you count as alive by the common human definition of cessation of biological functions. Do you even function biologically? Is his soul still around? If not, if his soul has been consumed by you or left, then many human religions would say you are dead, in that the soul is the vital spark of life, and they are certainly worth respect, praise the gods. I would not say they are wrong.

            But I think the most important argument saying you are dead is a transhuman one. They define life as a way of thinking, of brain function. They still see themselves as themselves if their brain was destroyed, replaced by robotics, so long as they keep on thinking in the same way. The continual presence of a way of thinking is what they see as being alive. Others fit as sentient beings under this, even without any biology. You have destroyed his way of thinking, and as such he is permanently dead. Some transhumanists would mourn. The man was a bastard, but maybe he could have been redeemed in the future. Now his way of thinking is forever gone.

            I don’t think it’s fair to restrict me to a particularly pedantic definition of death. I mean, of course, I expected him to go on ‘living’ in some ways when I said the oath. His legacy would live on, in his daughter who I hope to marry, just as mine will live on in the heirs you expect to enslave. His effect on the world would ‘live on’ in a host of ways. His immortal soul would ‘live on’ in the afterlife. If someone resurrected him with some arcane science or magic that would be annoying but he would still have died once. I merely expected an end, a death. I saw him die.

            I am satisfied with the completion of the oath. It is in fact more complete than I expected. I have delivered him a transhuman death. He is, I hope, forever out of access of influence on this world. That is a stronger death than I hoped for. My oath is met tenfold by my belief. I thank you for aiding me in this, and do not wish you think I am unreasonable in any way. In return, I am happy to do you nine favors, of a reasonable by my reckoning, level, for you killing him in a way I could not, presuming you do not hurt or cause death of me or mine. I made an oath. You helped me meet it nine more times by my belief and I am very grateful.”

            1. You aren’t a child, living before some of these concepts were even conceived, who was just shot in the knee and is now being confronted by a far greater power.

              He could have tried to argue further, though, yes. I suspect he thought it might lead to a harsher constrictions.

            2. I know it was a stressful situation, but if you can’t bs in a stressful situation you are not a great practitioner.

              He would of course use local definitions, not his own. Worth trying to bs it. I don’t see any evidence arguing leads to harsher constrictions. It’s free, as far as I can see.

            3. There’s a problem with this, I think. I get the impression many of these “definitions of states” or just definitions in general are not up for interpretation but are already defined by reality or whatever laws govern it (in regards to this story, I mean). A person could not forswear himself by virtue of thinking himself an oathbreaker, in much the same way as Blake was still able to lose power early on despite not recognizing his words as lies. Personal definition was, in this case, irrelevant.

            4. In my argument I made an attack with both local definitions (e.g. what the gods think) and the concept of intended meaning. Both are possibilities. Personal definition may be irrelevant, but I tried to refer to general definitions that most would have.

    2. I suspect the sign wouldn’t work. A practitioner could well say “I do not accept these terms, and intend to enter the premises regardless” to bypass the strategem. (i.e. the software-cracker route – why enter a contract for something you can simply take without the other party’s consent?)

      Note, for instance, that actual E.U.L.A.s for software require you to check a confirmation box (the equivalent of putting your mark on a contract) before the program lets you continue with installation. If you don’t, the program shuts down instead. This is because legally speaking, you can’t enforce the terms of a contract on someone simply for using your product. They have to agree to the terms of the contract provided, and there has to be a way of verifying that the contract was agreed to. That’s why the “no install until agree” setup: The software being installed on the computer is considered sufficient evidence that the owner either clicked the “I understand and agree” button, or is guilty of software piracy and can be gone after for that instead.

    3. I previously commented on the possibility of using the restrictive oath system to create the Awakening equivalent of the public license / copyleft system. This would be tricky but should be possible.

  2. I’m interested in the fact that this scene shows us the allies that the abstract demon ate. And why is it that practically every-one in these interludes has a tragic backstory?

      1. Not necessarily: remember Blake’s chapter use “I” when other POV use the POC character’s name. This is different enough that the second kind of narrator could be slightly more omniscient, or more “in the present” so that later alterations of the timeline do not affect him.

        1. Exactly. We move from 1st person limited to 3rd person omniscient. Not a discontinuity at all, and in fact a Word of Wildbow clarification of the ACTUAL continuity.

          I feel it is safe to assume these goblins were part of the Hyena’s cohort. Their binding is not discussed as they do not exist ever (because they were eaten) and they were briefly mentioned earlier (by Fell, I think) for meta reasons, so we could draw a conclusion about who they were.

          ALSO it could be argued that Blake never encountered/bound all of the goblin cohort, so Fell was still able to mention them in Blake’s 1st person, limited, past tense narration, as not all of the Hyena’s cohort WOULD be eaten in the future. (This is confusing. Wibbly-wobbly, timely-wimey stuff for sure.)

    1. If you become a practitioner, either you’re in dire enough straits that you’re willing to make a major sacrifice for power (so you have a tragic backstory), or your parents did and they saddled you with the debt (so you inherited their tragic backstory). It’s not surprising when you think about it.

      1. well the kids of laird seem happy enough although there is some dirty laundry in the family, but i think is possible to be a practitioner and have and otherwise happy life.
        i just cant think of anything right now

        1. Laird’s family has been at it a while and have managed to mitigate their bad karma so they’ve got a surplus of good. Being a practitioner seems to require either prior knowledge (Teacher, Family) like the Duchamps or some experience that leaves you awakened like Maggie, so whether you enter good or bad depends on that. Not to mention messing with Spirits, Connections, and Time is a lot different than someone who deals with the bastards that are Goblins and the evil that are Demons.

    2. This is a wildbow story. It is becoming apparent (though two times is by no means a pattern) that he really loves his tragic backstories, no matter the setting.

          1. Me too. Rather laugh than be miserable any day. Problem is, you tell a joke today, no matter how good it is, and the person who hears it will probably be minimally affected by it the next day. Kill off one of their relatives, and you have a whole book worth of conflict.

            Unfortunately we see this every day in the real world.

      1. Because we already knew three people had been eaten, and those three people had been wiped from the main story. Presymably by being eaten. If it wasn’t them, then who in Earth were they?

        1. Or these people aren’t in the main story because they weren’t physically present when the events in the main story occurred – and why would they be? – and no one mentioned them – and why would anyone mention them?

    3. Blake’s version is first-person.

      This is third person limited, one step closer to omniscient. Blake is telling us his own story, but Wildbow is telling us Fell’s story.

      1. That right there is probably the best answer. And a satisfying one as well. The trick with the retconsuming (Love that, whoever thought that up) demon messing with the story was brilliant. It was also torture. I’m glad we got to suffer through it for a while, but I’m even more glad we’re not left wondering forever.

      2. That was my interpretation as well (or, alternatively, that Blake’s story was experienced in real-time, while Fell’s was a history, which wasn’t affected by the demon).

        I’m disappointed that the truth was shown so readily, though. There was so much awesome speculation in the last chapter about who had died, and why they’d participated in the fight, and whether Blake had had other allies in the past who had died for his sake and then been erased…

        And to then find out the truth? That vastly diminishes the impact of ErasUr (or whatever the demon’s nickname is). This is one case where I wish I’d remained ignorant.

        1. When read in the way we’re reading it now, about twice a week, drawing it out like that would be more interesting. But when read as a completed story chapter-by-chapter over about a week (or two), a quick explanation of who/what Blake lost after the fact would be preferable. Tension is maintained during the action, and the brief wind-down puts it all into perspective.

          I like how this ‘wind-down/explanation’ actually hypes ErasUrrr up as even stronger than we initially thought, though. This is no minor demon, Blake was expected to die and only narrowly escaped. He’ll have to come back with a heck of a lot more than a few goblins just to take that thing on again.

          … It’d be worrisome if the thing tried hunting him after it got a taste of him like that. That is one creature you really don’t want lurking around a corner.

        2. i agree, not knowing was beautiful, so many possibilities, such terrible implications, all gone, like a goblin in the jaws of ErasUrr.

        3. Am I the only one who thinks that they successfully bound the demon? Blake walks out dragging three goblins (they were stuck inside and all Blake could grab was one limb, right? The rest should be inside). He looks “hollowed out” as an act so that Fell thinks that’s the case, corroborating Rose’es story that the only weapons being thrown at Conquest are the hyena, the imp and the Knights. She never lied, just omitted the full truth. The ErasUr is going to eat Conquest (and maybe everyone else), IMO.

      3. we know oblivion doesn’t really change the past, everything remains the same (the fire was still there, even if blake didn’t have anything to start it, and some of the knights continued existing even without parents), so with blake we get first person perspective with his memory being affected as is everyone else’s, but the histories are books or an outsiders perspective, and books, photographs and other material objects wouldn’t change. i’m guessing the oblivion works like a stranger’s power, people can’t retain memories of devoured objects and even someones face on a photograph cant be identified as a person, with the mind just ignoring it. much simpler than rewriting history or checking the entire world for every single piece of evidence.

        1. The fire might have still remained because ErasUr is unable to consume the fire. It’s barely able to hurl large swaths of flesh at the fire and takes an excess of damage when normal beings might only get a slight burn.

          1. I like that thought, that fire is immune to retconsuming. We’ve been using that fire to support the idea that ErasUr can not change the past. Maybe she can, just not fire.

    4. I love it. All these dark stories and dark twists make me happy. It gives me all sorts of ideas about how to be darker in my own stories.

  3. Starting the typo thread:

    well tended
    usually well-tended

    my self
    usually myself

    less pawns
    fewer pawns (fewer for discreet objects, less for sliding scale)

    But you know I can’t like, right?
    But you know I can’t lie, right?

    1. “We can talk in the morning, Emily. But you know I can’t like, right?”

      Shouldn’t that be, “you know I can’t lie” or am I misunderstanding?

    2. I was a little confused as to whether Canfield held a rifle or a shotgun. Most of the time it said rifle, however it was referred to as a shotgun at one point and Canfield talked about filling him full of pellets, which come out of shotguns not rifles.

    3. “Joseph glanced around, wary of attack from any direction, tales of pickpockets made him anxious.”

      Comma splice. Either “direction;” instead of “direction,” or “making” instead of “made”.

    4. There was no good way to go on the defense. Canfield had an answer to everything.

      –Should this be offense, instead of defense?

  4. I am intrigued by the suggestion that Fell’s niece has been going to Hogwarts. Just the organized curriculum implied by “class” suggests a far less “Wild West” feel to European practitioners than in Canada.

    Or maybe the Wild West thing in the Toronto area is just Conquest being a dick.

    1. His niece is a Duchamp. I suspect she’s been going to a fairy world. And she might be going to the wedding in Jacob’s Bell. Ah crap, it’s going to be a red wedding.

    1. Yeah. Blake and Rose both explicitly called this out as a possibility, and they know that Conquest can pull this trick. I am expecting that Rose has either been deliberately fed misinformation by the Knight that can lie or has something else clever out of her sleeve, since she’s the one they know won’t instantly break or go feral if Conquest lays hands on her.

      1. I think Rose deliberately let herself be fed misleading information by Blake just to spill believable garbage into C’s ear (I refuse to call the current Lord “Conquest” the only Conquest I recognise is Alexander III of Macedon).

        1. This would be a dangerous tactic. If she was complicit in Blakes decieving her, then Conquest might ferret it out. Remember he has hundreds of experience dealing with entire families of unwilling practitioners. There are probably few tricks he hasn’t seen. He likely has spent an absurd amount of time doing interrogations of the sort he’s putting Rose through.

          However, they might have tried it. I suspect that if they have, Conquest will figure it out, but Blake might be expecting that, and playing at another level above that. This would seem unlikely, considering his recent energy levels and lack of knowledge. Possible though.

          1. They told Conquest what Thorburn is planning. Unfortunatly they didn’t tell him what anything that might be possessing him is planning?

      2. Perhaps this is part of their plan to strengthen Conquest enough to fight on equal grounds with Pauz. Rose may not be telling the whole truth. She was coming up with a plan.

        1. That’s actually pretty funny: she’s telling him Blake’s plan, not her own. So the inverse of what seems like it the smartest plan (keeping her in the dark).
          Probably not what’s happening, but it is a pretty hilarious idea.

          1. That’s probably what she’s doing. She plans a lot better than Blake. Blake doesn’t do the planning thing very well. Possible (poorly written) future scene:
            “Ah ahahahaha Blake your plan is defeated!”
            “It was a bad plan really. I suppose you want to see the arm now.”
            “Yup. This arm looks okay. It should work for what I want. Hey, why is it following my field of vision?”

            “What was I talking about again? Yes your plan is defeated! Rose told me- okay something is wrong. I sent you after an eraser demon that made people… fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What am I swearing about?”
            “I think we’re gonna leave now Mr. Conquest unless you had something else for us to do.”
            Several minutes later…
            “I am free, now to- I swear I had something to do here. The hell did I sign that contract in the first place. Is this a binding circle? Yes, yes it is. Fuck.”

  5. God Conquest is a son of a bitch

    Well that’s all of Blake’s plans out the window, assuming Conquest isn’t actually as self absorbed as he’s seemed so far.

    1. Well he’s the sentient manifestation of the concept of Conquest, so what else would he be? Hmmn makes me wonder if Joseph might not have been enterly wrong about Canfield. I mean he was wrong about Hester, but he might not have been so wrong about her father.

  6. Well, shit. The plan kind of relied on surprise. I think Evan’s escape powers will be needed shortly.

    Also, for all that they’re saying Conquest is weak, his control over his minions is close to total. “Tell me everything you don’t want me to know” is a damn good way to root out any hidden plots.

    1. Yeah, that was my reaction – “well, shit”.

      This I think is the consequence of failing round three. Win big or lose big. In this case, all your plans unravel. Now, how are our intrepid pair of Thorburns going to get out of this mess? I have to wonder how much Fell is willing and able to help.

    2. Well, let’s hope Rose is good at stalling tactics. Conquest says to tell him everything she doesn’t want him to know? Tell him the story of the time she stepped in dog poo. Talk in long, overly complicated sentences! With a heavy Newfoundlander accent! While juggling upside down!

      1. Apon hearing the 3rd sentence about poo, and having grown bored of the juggling, Conquest tells Rose to tell him things about Blakes plan to overthrow him…
        Wow that was swiftly resolved.

        1. “Well you see, Blake’s plan is a rather large plan. In fact, the planning of this plan has taken place over the course of several days. The only way to truly even explain a plan like this is to explain it from it’s conception. Let me start at the beginning…”

          And if he asks her to tell him quickly she can just start babbling at 200 words per minute. If you’re clever enough, that sucker would need a written command order drafted by lawyers before you actually gave him the whole plan.

          1. The problem with open defiance-via-obedience like that is that Conquest never said that he wouldn’t torture them if they did as he asked.

          2. That’s not a good idea. Rose is the brain and strength of the duo right now, and it’s worse to have Conquest spend the time breaking her and strengthening the collar than it is telling Conquest a half truth and letting it stew in introspection and plotting.

        2. Thereby allowing her to avoid telling him anything that she can convince herself isn’t directly related to plans, that are made by Blake, AND are about overthrowing Conquest.

          Success!

        3. Wildbow would then need to collaborate with Steven Brust to write the explanations in flowery Dragarean speech mannerisms. Hrm, I haven’t seen anything new by him recently, need to check and see if he’s released anything new.

    3. “Tell me everything you don’t want me to know” is a damn good way to root out any hidden plots.
      Or stuff you really don’t want to know. Like “One time I took a dump and it smelled like hot metal!” Or “I was watching this porn and the part with the horse really turned my on! And they weren’t doing anything sexual with the horse! Just riding it! Fully Clothed!” Or “Out of all the Star Wars movies I like Phantom Menace the most. Jar Jar is an underappreciated Character!”

      1. I think Conquest can get away with it because any reasonable person would know he doesn’t give a damn about how much your shit stinks, your sexual preferences, or the like. He wants exactly one thing.

        1. but he said things YOU (sorry, don’t know how to use italics) don’t want me to know, not wanting him to know your sexual preferences is a perfectly reasonable thing, and he did say everything… so maybe she’ll still be talking through the next chapter.

            1. Dammit, I will try again. … with i in between the first set of arrows, and /i between the second set. The first set of arrows goes before the start of the itallics and the second set after them.

      2. Ten seconds later : “Tell me everything tactically relevant to our situation that you don’t want to divulge. Don’t play smart with me or I’ll torture you horribly. Don’t ever say anything good about Jar Jar again, or I’ll torture you horribly.”

        But still, it’s funny how many people (me included) thought about that possibility.

        1. Conquest specified that Rose should divulge everything she didn’t want to say, “starting with Mr. Thorburn’s plans.” Which means that the tactically relevant stuff rises to the top.

          1. At which point she can truthfully say that he has no plans against Conquest that she’s aware of. The dangers of not specifying which “Mr Thorburn” you’re talking about. 😉

            And yes, I know Conquest is unlikely to make a rookie mistake like that in the first place…

            1. But there never was another Mr Thorburn,because the powers were passed down to women,unless you wanna use some unpowered member’s name.The mr,if used by the oold meaning,means the head of the family.I guess she could use her grandma’s husband…

    4. Unless you can rules lawyer with “It would defeat the purpose, but I want to tell you how I’m going to defeat you so very much“. It would be amusing, if probably out of character, for Rose to decide she wanted Conquest to know how badly off he was, and thereby avoid telling him the good plan.

  7. Great chapter. Also, way to kick the crap out of any remaining sense of optimism we had, Wildbow. Bravo.

    Good to see Fell’s family history. His mother is a Duchamp it seems, but she doesn’t care all that much about her family’s plans given the match the made for her.

      1. Bloodline apparently doesn’t matter to Conquest, remember? Isadora’s conversation? The unfaithful wife’s children with other men will be considered Conquests anyway?

        1. I took that part as saying that Fate will ensure that there will be no children from the wife’s affairs. Fell’s line is compelled to take a wife and attempt to sire children (or they wouldn’t do it in the first place), and Fate will ensure that only those couplings result in a child.

      2. Good point, I wasn’t thinking of that last night. If I had to guess, then I would suppose that she isn’t a practitioner so the family line business and thus the working ensuring only female children doesn’t apply to her. Remember that it’s useful to have some people like witch hunters who know about magic but can lie, so it wouldn’t be unusual if the Duchamps train some of their children along those lines. They’d also be considered more disposable, because I don’t think the Duchamps would marry off one of their practitioners to a family line bound to serve Conquest.

        1. Even if that’s the case, it seems like the Duchamps want to take over Toronto or are similarly obsessed with conquest.

          There’s the marriage to the priest of Dionysus, and then this. Are they trying to surround Conquest with Duchamps, and at some point do something to either support or over throw it.

          1. They don’t want to take over Toronto per se, rather they want to be a powerful dynasty. The Duchamps gain power by marrying their daughters off – through this they get a regular flow of magical items and connections to practitioners outside their local area of influence. Had Jeremy succeeded in becoming Lord of Toronto, some of the credit for that would have gone to his wife, and remember that the Duchamps basically argue that behind any great man is a great woman.

            If they can show that taking a Duchamp enchantress as a wife is helpful on a path to power then they can up their asking price to get one. More powerful people marry Duchamp women, and more power flows back to the coven in Jacob’s Bell. They aren’t interested in holding positions of power directly, but rather want to be power brokers of a sort.

            1. You know the saying “Behind every great man there is a great woman”? Maybe they want to be the great woman?

    1. Would be nice if she is skilled enough to sever ties to the DuChamps without suffering too much unmanageable backlash, there is a way out given that Fell was born a boy and the spell requiring only girls to be born to the Duchamp Line didn’t unravel unless Fell is a girl with a “boy shell” illusion.

    2. Also, way to kick the crap out of any remaining sense of optimism we had, Wildbow. Bravo.

      Are you kidding? I haven’t felt this optimistic about Blake vs Conquest in a while. If we didn’t know whether Conquest knew or not, we would have no idea whether Blake can make it – but now that Conquest knows, there is no surprise bad ending. This means Conquest is fucked. 😀

      1. That was what I got out of the scene as well. I doubt Rose knows the plan, and if Conquest believes that really is what Blake will do, he’s in for an unpleasant surprise. However, it does mean Wildbow will surprise us in another probably worse way.

        1. “Are you kidding? I haven’t felt this optimistic about Blake vs Conquest in a while. If we didn’t know whether Conquest knew or not, we would have no idea whether Blake can make it – but now that Conquest knows, there is no surprise bad ending. This means Conquest is fucked. :D”
          Every time it looks like Blake might get a break in this story, a short time after something happens that makes his situation worse. You’ll forgive me if I am a little skeptical at the thought of that changing anytime soon. So if Conquest gets fucked, that means a magical gang war will start up and tear Toronto apart, or Conquest has the Eye of the Storm burn the city down as one last fuck you or something.

          Though I did get the amusing image of Conquest complaining about how this can’t be, he knew Blake’s plans. And Blake wearing clown makeup asking him if he seems like the sort of guy who has plans.

    3. Pretty sure his mother can’t be a Duchamp, because Duchamp women only give birth to women.

      The only way this applies is if he’s the son of a Duchamp and the drunk guy, but I think he’s too old to be that.

    4. I think the mother’s a Behaim, actually, due to Fell being a man. Unless it turns out that Fell and his brother are secretly female for some reason.

          1. We know she’s and enchantress, doesn’t get along with or agree with her family, and has some connections with Jacob’s Bell. Hmmn, at no point does it actually say who her family are, though. Maybe we haven’t actually met her family yet?

            1. I think you guys are confusing Fell’s wife and Fell’s mother. Some of you are talking about his mother, Courtney, and some of you are talking about his wife. His wife is pretty clearly a Duchamp. His mother, Courtney, and her father, I sort of assumed were just some family we didn’t know about. What evidence is there otherwise?

            2. Sir Andy, I do believe you are mistaken. Courtney is Fell’s grandmother. The woman he was talking to was his mother. He isn’t married and the kid is his niece.

              I agree that the mother seems Duchampish. If it is so, we’ll eventually need to hear her story. We know from the account of Sandra that the Duchamp magical girls thing can be overwritten. Perhaps the mother isn’t considered a Duchamp anymore.

  8. Ok, Landis. Breathe. There’s a couple of ways Rose can weasel around this. There’s gotta be. Let’s take her confession step-by-step.

    “He’s setting the imp on you. It’s already scheduled.”

    True, but the imp’s not going to attack until it’s too late.

    “He was calling the Knights”

    He called the Knights at the police station.

    “and he’s releasing the Hyena too.”

    The only way he’d be able to do anything high-caliber against him.

    “I think they figured out how. They want to trap you in your realm with the monsters, and use the demon’s appendage to lock the door.

    Possibly false. “They want to trap you in your realm with the monsters” is the best course of action, but it also sounds like a Rose plan. I guess we’ll have to wait to see the Blake plan. Also, using the demon’s appendage to lock the door seems very flimsy, especially since it dissolves in the sunlight. He would stay locked for a night, tops.

    Hope? Maybe?

    1. Yes, that’s right, they want to trap Conquest in his realm and lock the door forever. Think about it, that would be great! But in all reality, they know that plan has a chance and a half of nothing to actually succeed, so instead they’re going to do… something else.

  9. “I think they figured out how. They want to trap you in your realm with the monsters, and use the demon’s appendage to lock the door.”

    Context: “she thinks” is not the same as she knows, “They want” is not the same as they will.

  10. Nice to finally see some Malcolm Fell backstory. I suppose it makes sense, in retrospect, that Fell has some Duchamp lineage, considering that we constantly see him covering connections. I suppose Conquest vow magic>Duchamp lineage magic. This, of course opens up questions into what his mother’s past is. Why did she leave the circle? What is her standing with the Duchamps? Fell mentioned that he has a sister. Is she a Duchamp? Is she Conquest’s?

    I now must wonder whether Rose was manipulating Conquest or not. Could she have been forced to deceive Blake? Is this part of the new plan to bring down Conquest?

    I’m really interested in what plays the other major powers will be.

    Will Blake keep his new Other look? It’s probably not gonna convince others that he’s a heroic diabolist.

    So I guess we have confirmation that the 3 allies were bound Goblins. I’m pretty sure these were not the paper goblins. Paper bindings (ofuda iirc) were described as capturing wild Others and releasing them later, still wild. These goblins were bound. I see 3 possibilities. 1) Conquest gave them to Blake. The Lord promised to provide Blake with some knowledge and resources. 2) Blake captured them around the hunting of the Hyena. 3) Maggie gave Blake more goblins than we know because Blake forgot about them.

    I forget who the girl was supposed to be. Was it the Astrologer? The Knights mentioned one of the local powers being good with Conquest due to a deal her father made with him. I forget her name though.

    I chapter raises more questions than it answered, for me personally. I enjoyed it nevertheless. I have but one request, Wildbow. Please don’t go down the Lost route. I loved it at the time, but I don’t think my heart could take it, if this constantly raised questions, only some to be answered. Of course, I loved Lost when it was on. I feel conflicted. I fear my thoughts may be muddled and will appear disorganized and nonsensical. I need to get back to bed.

    1. The goblins are described as “maimed,” which strongly implies they used to be the Hyena’s. The use of chain to bind them is consistent with that, as it’s what Blake brought to the Hyena’s den.

      1. I like this theory. I wasn’t really feeling the allies got eaten by the memory demon because it would have looked the same whether there was a good explanation for them being there or if they were just thrown in to show that the memory demon killed some stuff, but this fixes it a little bit.

    2. The woman can’t be a Duchamp as she had sons instead of daughters, which would have broken the Duchamp’s line. I think it’s more likely that she’s a Behaim.

      The girl who Matthew was talking to was the sphinx, I think.

      1. Yup,

        “Turning the tables?” Isadora asked.
        Matthew smiled. He was tall, pale blond, with round glasses and a tweed jacket.
        “You’re looking at turning the tables,” the sphinx said, making it a statement.
        “Is there an escape from my current circumstance?”
        “If I told you, you would be compelled to fight against it.”
        “If it were direct enough, yes.”
        “I would also earn the enmity of Conquest himself.”

        Isadora is a sphinx, who is connected to Conquest, doesn’t seem to like it but doesn’t want to make it angry at her, and if you look back at the chapter with Blake going to visit the sphinx you find out her name as a professor is

        Phixopolous, Isadora, Professor of Ethics

        I’d say it’s a pretty sure thing that they’re one and the same.

    1. Conquest is Conquest, not Obliteration. For him to directly destroy a thing in his power would be to deny his nature.

      1. Except if he kills Blake, he gets control of the Jacob’s Bell property, thus instantly making him a major player in that scene. Quite the conquest. People die in conquests all the time.

        1. Hmmmn, I wonder if something like Sacred Hospitality is at play. We know the Lawyers set up Blake being able to go back to Toronto and set things up with the Lord. Who is Conquest. Now it seems the no lying clause is very much in effect for even the most powerful Other. So if he said he’d offer hospitality to Blake, then he may not be able to directly kill Blake without provocation.

          1. He threatened Blake with torture. I’m not sure the laws of hospitality are a-OK with that.
            More likely, Conquest’s hope is that Blake needs to die by ErasUrrr so that Rose only has a connection to him. If he dies by normal means then Rose may die too. Of course that seems to not be what Fell’s grandmother believes, but it could be everyone’s unsure about what happens in this case. The best outcome for Conquest is Blake being erased, and he’ll only settle for killed (and hoping things work the way he wants them to) if that can’t happen and he’s proving troublesome.

            1. I did say “like”. Something that keeps him from just squashing Blake like a bug and claiming Rose as his own. So he has to go about it in an indirect way.

    2. Obvious conclusion : Conquest isn’t strong enough to kill Blake himself (and for one reason or another, doesn’t want to ask Fell to do it for him).

    3. It’s not that Conquest wants Blake dead. He wants ErasUrr to kill him, thus severing all his connections to Rose… and leave Rose with precisely one connection of any meaning: her chain to Conquest. Killing Blake normally would leave Rose still connected to him.

  11. I have legitimate fears now that Rose wasn’t just sleeping the last couple of days. Could she just have been greatly weakened by Pauz’s effect? Could Conquest have been torturing her? Has she been deceiving Blake since returning to him?

    While on the matter, is Rose bound to obey Conquest or is he just using intimidation to force her to talk. If it’s the latter, Rose may not be obeying Conquest. She could be misleading him with misdirection, half truths and omissions to put Blake in a more favorable position. Meanwhile Conquest would assume that Rose was obeying and telling him “everything she didn’t want him to know”

    1. … Oh wow, that’s an interesting line of thought. Rose being bound that is.

      I wonder what crazy shit would happen if Rose was bound to be someone else’s familiar.

      However, I don’t think subterfuge is Rose’s strong point, and subterfuge that exists would have to be baked into her knowledge of the situation, by Blake. And the lack of planning on his part doesn’t seem to imply he has. (barring the usual “Holy shit I’m making this up as I go along” effect)

      Of course, ErasUr might have ret gone that somehow like he did the goblin helpers.

      1. I think Rose is better at it than Blake if there’s even a tiny element of planning involved. Blake improvises better, but Rose is clearly more devious.

        1. Of course when the guy your planning against can just force you to tell him your plans, that hurts their ability to be effective. So hopefully Blake can surprise Rose. Again.

  12. “Tell me everything you don’t want me to know.”

    “Mirrorverse grandma Rose did not leave me any underwear. Dammit, Conquest.”

    1. “Tell me everything you don’t want me to know.”

      “I can picture you as a Drag Queen.”

      “Blake is hung like a horse, that’s why he has so much trouble finding pants that fit.”

      “Rosebud was his sled.”

      1. Why would Rose not want Conquest to know the end to that movie? Having great twists spoiled to you is the kind of things I would wish upon my ennemies.

    2. “I sometimes think about spanking myself with a basting brush. The first time I masturbated, it was during an episode of Xena. But then Xena went off and Jerry Springer came on and I couldn’t look away or stop in time. I’ve never shaved my pubic hair. Last time I used the bathroom, I thought I was going to need a machete to get where I could wipe myself. I enjoy futanari foot fetishist hentai that shows them being covered in honey. I actually do read Playgirl for the articles. I’m the person who found the web serial ‘World Domination in Retrospect’ by searching for ‘domination girls contact number’.”

      1. “I was very dissapointed none of Grandma Roses old clothes were dominatrix outfits. I wet the bed until I was twelve. A boy once told me I gave the worst blowjobs in the world. A girl once told me I give the worst cunillingus in the world. I sometimes think Blake is sexy. The toilets in the mirror world don’t work. I stole my recipe for chocolate no bake cookies, though I can’t remember from who.”

          1. I didn’t steal anything! I came up with the idea indendently, just look up! I came up with and posted a few before I even read yours, then I came up with some more, and since this seemed to be where to post it.

            Besides when I steal things I always leave a Jack of Diamonds as calling card.

            1. Suuuure you did. Lemme guess, you just happen to be friends with a writer who is trying to write about psychopaths and a Quaker guy who happens to be a psychopath himself.

  13. It’s now obvious that Conquest is a Wizard of Oz. He tricked that guy into signing away his life. “I name you foresworn.” Ok, so what? “So stuff will happen, and you’ll be losing out on stuff. I’ll extend my protection if you swear to follow me.” Wait, why?

    Look at how Fell dealt with Conquest. Conquest pulled him in and said “Stuff.” Fell then supplies an answer and says, “Should I go and blah?” Conquest says, “Maybe, what do you think?” Fell answers, “I’ll go and blah.” Conquest then says, “Do.” And Fell does. Conquest probably isn’t all scare and games, but he has very little real reserves.

    1. Well, do consider Conquest is much weaker now than he was before. And if the Lord of Toronto wants to make your life hell, and you are weak since you are foresworn, he can probably make your life hell.

    2. If you are forsworn basically every Other or practitionner can kill or maim you if they feel like it, and neither break things like the Seal of Solomon or occur karmic debt.
      So yeah, that’s a shitty life. Joseph probably did not realize what being subject to Conquest meant, though, or he would just have killed himself on the spot.

    3. Wait a minute ! You’re right. Conquest didn’t actually say “You broke your promise and now you’re going to pay the price”, just “I now say that you are foresworn” which, is automatically true since it’s a tautology. It seems like borderline lying, but still within the limits of what Conquest could get away with.

      Because if you think about it, Conquest was responsible for the guy’s non death, which I think at least negates part of the responsibility from the boy, and the man was metaphorically dead anyway.

      Which means that, maybe (just maybe) the boy could have walked away (Conquest didn’t say he couldn’t, just that he wouldn’t), but he was tricked into submission even though he didn’t need to submit in the first place. Conquest, you manipulative bastard…

  14. I liked the acting demon thingy. Reminded me somewhat of that Faceless Guy I fought once.

    Then again, having the face stuck to his own reminded me of someone else.

    Quite the jocular and foolish fellow there, but then he is the Clown Prince of Crime.

    And now it appears that Conquest could, by getting Blake killed, gain one of the most important properties in Jacob’s Bell. What a coup that would be. It would feed him as well, I think, especially when the bulldozers clear off the nature Others in the back.

    Speaking of erasing things, anyone else got some Deja Vu in these comments?

  15. Aha! I got it!

    Blake sorta needs to marry a man. Fell doesn’t want to drag more kids into Conquest’s service. I think some of that sexual tension I picked up between the two of them might come to fruition. Sweet, juicy fruition. Those two really put the fruit in fruition. And possibly in a few other places. I’m not touching those bananas, and maybe y’all shouldn’t either. From the look of things, looks like Blake will groping some grapes soon. Fondling the ole kiwis, if you know what I mean. Getting his mouth full of some peach, so long as he’s careful to avoid swallowing the pit at the end. Mix his strawberries with Fell’s cream, in a matter of speaking. Bust a coconut.

    Listen, I’m just saying what I alone have been thinking ever since I wrote that about Blake and Fell’s head in a freezer, except now Fell’s going to stick his head into somewhere tight and dark instead. An overgrown apple orchard, of course. All the better location for Fell to find Blake’s cherry and pop it.

      1. Fox and Gecko, sitting in a tree,
        Y-E-L-L-I-N-G. First comes theories.
        Then come Jokes.
        Then their crying cause their privilege’s revoked. . .

            1. According to my research, some foxes are tricksters, going as far as to take human form to accomplish its goals.

              I believe our Fox may be one of these.

    1. Goddammit, I was just thinking of posting something about what would happen if Fell wound up being gay, then realized that would mean Blake could marry a man.

      Also, if I’m correct, Fell is a bastard. If not fell, then Fell’s father.

      1. Well Blake actually just has to marry someone within five years. Considering most people won’t give him a live expectancy of five months, the marriage thing can be a bit down the list. Anyways it might not be worth the bonus Karma recieved to marry a male bastard if it is a misserable marriage. Besides Fell’s family might have had enough of marriages motivated by nessicity. Course motivated by love got them into this mess… But do they really want to get out from the slaves of Conquest mess and be sucked into the who Thorburn family mess?

        Also all the evidence so far is Blake is a straight man.

        1. It would be marriage out of convenience, not love or desire. Also, when I imagine Blake marrying a man I imagine it as a sort of partnership, like having Evan as his familiar. Blake and Male marry and they’re all, “Welp, guess we’re allies now. I’ll help you with your shit and you’ll help me with mine.” It doesn’t mean that they have to have sex or love each other or anything.

  16. Joseph had to watch Canfield die (and free the daughter, which he almost did).
    Even if Canfield didn’t die when Conquest took over old man’s body, Joseph still wasn’t forsworn, because he could still theoretically watch Canfield die at some point later.

    Damning your entire bloodline just by being lovesick and subsmart, that’s Pactverse for you.

    I really liked how Joseph pulled an Itachi, though. Hate me, my son, and grow strong enough to escape your fate. Didn’t work out 😛

    1. I don’t agree. Canfield did not exist anymore, so he could not die in the future, and this was obvious enough for the spirits around to have noticed it. Moreover, if the Lord of a city says “this guy is forsworn”, that probably doesn’t help your cause.

  17. “He’s severed his connections with the rest of the world. Very nearly bled himself dry. He’s now straddling the line between human and Other. I genuinely wondered if he was possessed, earlier.”

    Actually, the state Blake is currently in “empty of self” is pretty close to the state of emptiness (Śūnyatā) most who study the Diamond Sūtra seek to achieve on the path to enlightenment. Right now, Blake has the possibility of obtaining greater power through epiphany or crash & burn, becoming flotsam in the sea of fate and karma.

    1. I’d like to point out that 「becoming flotsam」 is just the opposite of gaining greater power. Even if you gained some control over 「the sea of fate and karma」, it would be at cost of not caring anymore.

      An enlightenment changes your way of living and doing to the point where you actually recognize being brutally murdered as the best option and just go prepare your successor to take over.

    2. Hm. Interesting analysis of Blake’s state. It sort of ties into the “High Priestess” card Laird drew for him with the Tarot.

  18. So we have a name for Fell now. And funny, but I never imagined he might have a kid (well, not his kid, but you know).

    I think I preferred it when we didn’t know who or what might have been eaten by Erasur. This way felt kind of… anticlimactic?

    1. The real consequence of the allies getting forgotten, though, has nothing to do with what they were. Blake doesn’t know, can’t know, if he lost a critical resource in that fight. Everything he does from this point forward has to involve a certain amount of self-doubt, because his memories are no longer a reliable guide to interaction with the antagonists he’s had to deal with.

      The fact that they actually were a resource he’s had for a while (at least since his fight with the Hyena, if not much earlier) means that some of his/our memories actually have been warped, since obviously those goblins would have had to have played a role in the police station, if nowhere else.

      1. Really? I suspect strongly that Blake made little or even no use of the goblins in the station. As goblins, they’re almost guaranteed to lack the subtlety required to operate anywhere NEAR non-awakened officers. It is possible that they could have done some of the purely physical actions Evan was shown to do, however, and they could have assisted in any unseen engagement with Duncan.

        As for other things they might have done, I’m not sure. But I still think that given what we do know of what happened, they probably didn’t play a very large part compared to Blake and Evan and Rose.

      2. Yeah, but Blake’s self doubt would have been more effective, I feel, if we the audience were doubting along with him.

        And yeah, I get the feeling they didn’t do much in the police station… there are no goblin-shaped holes in the narrative that they’d fit in. Your memories seem to just assume you solved the problem in a different way to how you actually did it, but could Blake’s memories invent all the shenanigans in the station?

        1. It seems very probable to me that Blake would have summoned up a goblin to break a window before asking Rose to do it. Not only would it more likely have been capable of the feat, but it would have cost less. Also, based on past experience with Blake’s intuition (not to mention simple convenience), it seems super probable that Blake would have sent a goblin through the window before making the attempt himself.

          I’m okay with the idea that Blake would have still gone through with the plan to bleed himself dry, because 1) he needed Rose back on an emotional level, even if he could have come up with a plan that didn’t require her, and 2) he wanted to gather as many allies as possible for attempt number two, so he wouldn’t be forced into attempt #3. This also explains why Rose seemed to have a nearly inexhaustible supply of power to do things: some of them she didn’t really do.

          I’m just speculating, but it’s going to be interesting if Rose tries to do any of the things she remembers doing and finds them costing her much more than she expected.

          1. Good thought there. Blake already theorized that circumstances that helped him were luck, but if the players don’t match their stories they might think the others have greater power on hand.

          2. I don’t think that people affected by ErasUr make up new memories to full in the narrative, I think the memories are just gone. See the pauses in the conversation in the previous chapter. See the lack of a lighter for the fire. There were no false memories created to explain, the memories were simply gone.
            I am still unconvinced that the demon only erases memory and connections. The knights at least thought that there was a cascade effect from the erasure.

            1. When people can’t remember something, the mind tends to automatically make up details to fill the gap. That’s why police can get several different descriptions about (for example) what car the perp was driving.

              So, in practice, the distinction is pretty slim between making up memories and the memories just being gone.

    2. I can feel disappointed with the casually unveiled allies this chapter. It was needed so we can move forwards, sure, but…

      “Blake, that neon sign idea is so stupid, so tacky, you’d just better forget about it.”

  19. Well everyone is feeling way to upbeat and optimistic about the end of this chapter! Come one we need to think of all the horrible ways Blake’s life can get worse! Maybe Conquest will try to take him for his new meat puppet. Or he’ll manage to stay alive against all of Conquest’s enemies at the cost of slowing them down enough Conquest gets exactly what he wants! He’ll manage to piss off the last few practicioners in town that didn’t hate him! He’ll catch a cold!

    1. My bet is the conquest is going to end up forcing Rose to be bound as his familiar, and that means that Blake and Evan are bound to him even further. And then they’ll go on adventures solving mysteries in a weird 70s van, and it will turn out that Evan is just a guy in a bad costume of a ghost this whole time.

      1. I don’t think an Incarnation can have a Familiar…it seemed to be human-exclusive. That being said, he could always just torment her for Blake’s failure to rub salt in the wound or let the Hyena maim her and eat Evan.

      2. I’m pretty sure only human practitioners can have familiars. The familiar relationship was set up by Solomon, who created the laws between humans and Others. One Other can’t take another Other as a familiar (phew).

          1. Did she? That’s interesting.

            Oh, right, Rose mentioned that she didn’t want to say the vows and accidentally wind up being Blake’s familiar instead. So, maybe the only requirement is that they have to say the vows?

            That could be bad.

  20. “He needed to prepare. The Lord of Toronto, if left unimpeded, aimed to summon things that should be left alone and forgotten. But they weren’t forgotten, as Blake and Rose were demonstrating, and Conquest was already demonstrating that he had no plans to leave them be.”

    And here we have one of the big flaws in most practicioners feeling towards Daibolists like Blake. Those things that should be left alone and forgotten? They don’t want to be left alone and forgotten. They can and will move in the dark. And when they do, you need someone who knows how to deal with them, and how to stop them. In sort you need to treat the disease, not the the symptoms.

    1. I feel the same way, but for opposite reasons, almost.

      I think that they do want to be left alone and forgotten. They can do their best work when no one knows that they’re there or what they’re doing. Look at how these “evils” were thriving before Blake showed up.

      But why were they left alone? Because nobody wanted to deal with them. Because the only people that do are the ones that are ostracized and hunted down.

      1. Maybe not. We already know they require some sort of foothold in the world to influence it, and that’s what they primarily try to bargain for. A demon of any sort attempting to gain power in the material world would need to bargain with one of its inhabitants (a diabolist) to acquire a vessel or location from which to spread their influence.

        I imagine these forgotten evils would very much want to bargain with humans, else they would not be forgotten.

        1. It probably depends on the entity. If something Pauz has already got his foothold they can just grow and grow in size. Then they deploy more imps, and the cycle starts again. Same thing with the incest demon. Now yes those were spawned from larger entities who needed someone to at least summon them. However once they are in the world, they would very much like everyone to just leave them alone while they spread.

  21. Well. Fell got a whole new perspective combined with the sub-plot of the need to plan for a future direct action.

    In addition, grabbing Rose may well count as an unacceptable hindering in the contract between Conquest and Blake.

    I know. I’m not a transactions lawyer and it seems the whole pact verse runs on the need for them.

    1. When you fall in love make sure your actually in love with who that person really is, and not who you want them to be.

  22. you shouldn’t have mentioned the goblins wildbow, not knowing was much better, also, goblins feel kinda disposable, imagining it may have been some of the knights or a friend was much more interesting.

    1. The knights knew better, so they were out. Blake wouldn’t be dumb enough to take his non-practitioner friends, so that was out. We already figured it was goblins from the last chapter, we just didn’t know if they were Maggie’s or the Hyena’s.

      In fact, I have more questions as a result. How did he have those Goblins with him in the police station? What really went down during that Hyena fight with their aid? How did he get them to work for him?

      So many questions and no answers forthcoming…

    2. I very much disagree. Not knowing was really annoying, a bit like a cliffhanger except we couldn’t really expect resolution in the next installment. I’m glad Wildbow cleared that up.

    3. we knew at least one was a goblin, at that at least 3 allies were eaten, maybe some knights who felt they had nothing else to lose and had to try something, not necessarily one of blake’s non practitioner friends, it could have been a family ally, or one of Toronto’s practitioners helping with his plan, this is a horror story and existential horror is the best kind, now the mystery is gone. but that’s just my opinion, i’m glad this provided closure for some people.

  23. Analysis (Why Joseph Failed):- Joseph set things up in a way that Canfield was a dragon in as story hoarding great treasure with him as The Hero seeking to obtain it. This is the correct method to boost his success rate by the meta-laws of the Theory of Narrative Causality, reasons for why he failed are as follows –

    Critical failure #1 – He admitted he’s not much of a fighter and fought Canfield head-on like he was a great warrior hero seeking to slay the dragon.

    Critical failure #2 – He’s an illusionist, his correct Hero archetype is that of a Guile Hero, he should have gone the Jack & the Beanstalk route and sought to steal Courtney away with Canfield’s death being incidental to getting away scot-free as the goal which lead us to…

    Critical failure #3 – Swearing to watch Canfield die “By my name, by my blood, I’m going to do what’s right and I’m going to free that girl.” Joseph went out of his role as The Hero by setting Canfield’s death as the primary goal instead of getting away with The Girl (treasure).

    All 3 factor enough to create a crack in the story’s momentum for C to enter as Diabolus ex Machina to strip Joseph of his role as The Hero of the stage to turn him into a prop, setting the background for his family/bloodline tragedy.

    1. Also, the fact that he didn’t bring any real weaponry didn’t help. He could have solved this much faster is he’d just brought a gun, or posed a tripwire mine on the door.

  24. Actually, is Conquest able to kill Blake at all. He sets him up to die multiple times, but what would he do that if he could just break his neck and take possession of Rose ?

    Even if he needed to use ErasUrrrr, he could just break Blake’s legs, ask Fell to put it in the middle of the demon’s lair (at day, to be safe), and the result would be the same. Obvious explanation : Conquest is so weak he just can’t afford to expend the power he would need to kill Blake.

      1. Maybe, but Fell says Conquest set Blake to die, which would make more sense if Blake was a liability than an asset.

        1. Maybe originally, but he’s getting it done. Let’s face it, no one probably expected hm to survive Hyena beast. Thus he has uses and this seems to be Fell’s opinion. We need Conquest’s to know for sure.

    1. Its possible the Universe frowns on forcibly gaining control of people like that. I.E. no torturing random people into swearing oaths to you. Same thing with Rose. If he kills Blake the Universe will frown at Conquest.

  25. Here’s a question: Does Rose’s giving information to Conquest, especially info which could be so damaging, breach any promises she made to Blake? Is she forsworn now? Or does Conquest’s coercion override that sort of thing (just like how any contract you made under duress would never be enforced by a court, and could in fact absolve you of liability)?

    1. I’m pretty sure if you swear to never reveal a secret and then you deliberately reveal it, you’re forsworn regardless of duress or circumstances. If, however, you promise something vague like “to help you to the best of my ability” (which is the kind of wishy-washy stuff Blake and Rose have been promising to each other), you’ve got massive amounts of room to wiggle out of it – like, ‘overall I could help way better if I avoided torture by revealing that secret and then had more strength to participate in that big fight coming up.’

      Just hypothetically, you understand.

      1. In some ways that’s more constraints because not only are you setting a goal, you’re also setting a standard to which that goal must be attained. “To the best of my ability” is a high target.

        Unlike how people typically use that expression (“I’ll do it if I get around to it”) a practitioner would be obligated to genuinely work at it as hard as they possibly can.

  26. Been too busy the last few days to comment, so this is a catchup comment for the last chapter, apologies for posting it here, but I sort of wanted some feedback on it and that is harder to do when it is not current.

    I think Fell can successfully fulfill Joseph’s oath and break the bloodline curse. How?

    The oath giver is still around, by proxy: the oath was on his bloodline and Fell is part of the bloodline.

    The oath target is still around, by proxy: Conquest absorbed Canfield, so Canfield still exists.

    The oath was:

    “I swear I’m going to watch you die…”
    Conquest can be diminished enough to be defeated, and with ErasUrr, perhaps actually destroyed=die.

    “By my name, by my blood, I’m going to do what’s right…”
    Fell can do what’s right in this situation by helping Blake and Rose.

    “and I’m going to free that girl.”
    Fell can free or help free Rose.

    This should fulfill Joseph’s oath and end the bloodline curse. Of course, there are major problems:
    1) I am stretching the meanings here. But as the Behaims have demonstrated repeatedly, that doesn’t stop things from working.
    2) This is a little too neat and heroic for Wildbow’s rather dark, gritty writing.
    3) Fell cannot go against Conquest directly, so he cannot actually plan this or participate in such a plan.

    But it was at least an interesting thought. Any comments?

  27. Noone seems to be commenting on the fact that Joseph’s familiar stole Courtney’s face! Apparently that didn’t kill her, but… face! Did she ever get it back!? WTF! O_O

    1. Dude,reread,him stealing it was an illusion,to throw her father off guard.He didn’t actually do it.

      1. I reread it at the time and I have again now. It still seems unclear to me what actually happened in that bit. Seems like she’s okay at the end, though, so…

        1. “The familiar held the skin of the manservant’s face dangling from one hand. Courtney’s face was the one that it wore, his body matching hers.

          Canfield turned to look, and he saw Courtney in the window, slumped down, her flayed face having left a smear where it had dragged against the window.

          It was an opening. The familiar strode forward and broke the circle. Canfield blocked the knife before it could strike home.

          Joseph allowed himself a moment to try and shift position, so he wouldn’t have to struggle so much to access his own collection of tools.

          The movement of his knee momentarily blinded him.

          It was the mistake that would decide the engagement.

          When he could see again, Canfield had turned the tables. Canfield had a scrap of white cloth in hand, and he had company.

          A man in a white jacket, with a thick handlebar mustache.

          The Lord of Toronto.

          The illusions had faded, Courtney was fine, as was the familiar.”

          Note the final line.

Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s