Subordination 6.1

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I was still lying in the snow when the Knights found me.  I’d called them, they’d answered.

Headlights shone through the wire fence.  They didn’t want to get closer.  I heard the truck’s doors slam, followed by the murmur of conversation.  Men and at least one woman.

I dug in my pocket with my free hand to get a mirror.

“Rose?”

“I’m here, Blake.”

“You got out in one piece?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” I said.  “You maybe want to say hi to the Knights, then?”

“You can’t?”

“Give me a minute and I’ll see if I can stand,” I said.  “But we need to make the most of the time we have, so maybe if you could get us started?”

“Sure.  Be right back.”

I made myself move, and it was harder because I was cold, harder still because I’d spent just about everything I had. My first course of action was to cover the demon’s arm, which had joined the rest of me in sinking into the snow.  Harder to do than it should have been, because I wasn’t willing to look directly at it.

The Barber was evidence that demons could be tricky.

I managed to get my jacket off and wrapped it around the arm.  It was only then that I felt confident enough to try to stand.

Movements happened in fits and starts, every part of my body either numb with exhaustion or tight with pain.  I turned over, then got on my hands and knees, then rose to a kneeling position.  From there, it was a matter of getting from a kneeling position to a standing position.  I’d maybe taken a solid minute to get this far in the process.

“Need help?” Evan asked.

I nodded.  I wasn’t quite sure how useful he would be, but I wasn’t about to turn down help.

One foot under me, good.  Another under me, using the demon’s severed arm as a cane, and I still lost my balance.  Evan tried to catch me and failed.

I landed face first in the snow, arms to my sides.  Every single one of my injuries felt like they’d just inflicted on me a second time.  I felt Evan land between my shoulderblades.  He said something, but I couldn’t hear with the snow muffling the sound.

I lay there, trying to sum up the strength for a hands-and-knee crawl through foot-deep snow, my exhausted brain somewhere else entirely, trying to piece together a plan using the tools I had.

I heard footsteps shuffling through the snow.  I raised myself up a fraction.

A woman.  Someone I didn’t recognize.  Not old, but not young either.  She looked like the sort who would have been the really cute girl next door, but some lines had reached her eyes.

She bent down, offering me a hand.  I took it, grabbing her upper arm while she grabbed mine.  More leverage and help than I’d get simply by holding her hand.

She straightened, offering me the strength of her legs and arm both.  She caught me when I stumbled into her, one hand on my shoulder.

I stiffened at the physical contact, but I didn’t have the ability to do anything about it.  We settled into a position where she held one of my arms with both of hers, steadying me while still holding me up a little.

Her expression throughout was grim, a little sad.

“They said you failed?” she finally asked.

“They?”

“I’m the Knight’s blackguard.  Priss.  A lot of groups have a member like me in them.”

“A blackguard?”

“The designated liar,” she said.  “Sometimes you need someone with the protections ordinary people have, or you need a person who can bend the truth or lie, when questions start getting asked.”

Ah.  I’d read about witch hunters and the like.  Priss would be the same thing, minus the witch hunting part.

“It was you in the police station?” I asked.

“Hm?”

“Time got turned back, and in a previous timeline, a member of the Knights stopped by the police station to give me an alibi.”

“Oh.  That would have been me.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I didn’t do anything in this timeline.”

“Thank you all the same.  The only reason you didn’t was because a police officer intervened the second time around.”

“Someone stopped us.”

“What did he say?”

“That there were wards and runes in place for a specific purpose, and if we entered, it would be as good as a declaration of war against him and his people.”

“I take it you guys weren’t willing to fight that war,” I said.

“It’s not just that.  We asked if he was on the local Lord’s side, and he said no.  We briefly talked it over, and we thought we’d play it safe.”

“I get it,” I said.

“We didn’t want to interfere if you were doing something convoluted, and no, we didn’t want to pick a fight without knowing what we were getting into.”

“You really don’t have to explain,” I said.  “I’m not… I guess I’m not expecting or demanding anyone to go against their nature or take risks.  I get it if you’re shy of getting into any more messes.  I just had a taste of what you guys went through, way back when.”

“My husband said you failed?”

I nodded.  “I’m sorry.”

“Looking at you, I don’t think we can say you didn’t try.”

I huffed out a bit of a laugh.

Evan alighted on my shoulder.

“Hi there, bird,” Priss said.

“Hi,” Evan said.

Priss didn’t even flinch.  But it wasn’t the non-flinch of being unsurprised by the unusual.  It was obliviousness.  She hadn’t heard.

“He’s Evan,” I said.

“Same name as the boy you were accused of murdering?” Priss asked.

“Yep,” I said.  I didn’t volunteer anything more.  I wasn’t sure what the rules were.

We reached the door in the chain-link fence.

We reached their truck.  Nick, who I’d dubbed ‘Shotgun’, was standing by the truck, his overweight, one-footed buddy beside him.  Both had their guns, and were talking in murmurs to the truck’s side view mirror.

When I got close enough, I let go of Priss and hobbled forward until I could lean against the front of the truck.  My leg briefly blocked the headlight, and the sudden darkness made my heart jump.

“What’s in the jacket?” Nick asked.

“Demon arm,” I said.

“You got a piece of it?” Nick asked me.

“For what it’s worth,” I said.

He nodded.

“I was just telling them we had to run,” Rose said.  “We went in with ideas, only one really worked.”

“Fire,” I said.  “When we do this again, we use more fire.”

“Huh?” Priss said.  “I’m missing something.”

She doesn’t see the girl in the mirror.

I pointed at Rose.

Priss turned, bending over.  “Oh.  Huh.”

She squinted some.

“Huh,” she said, again.

“You’re going back?” Nick asked, stepping forward to wrap one arm around Priss.  Priss wrapped one arm around him in turn.

“It needs to be bound or eliminated,” I said.  “But it won’t be tonight, I don’t think.  Probably not even tomorrow.  We figure out how to trap it inside, we burn it out.  Or we burn it until it’s small enough to bind.”

“I can’t believe you want to do this again,” he said.  “God.”

“To be fair, I’m sort of thinking the same thing,” Rose added.

“I don’t want to go back in,” I said.  “But I’m more sure than ever that that thing needs to be stopped.”

“I wouldn’t object,” Nick’s male friend said.  If I’d been given his name, I’d forgotten it.  “But getting this close is about as much as I can manage.  Scares the everloving shit out of me.”

“Yeah,” Nick said.

I nodded.  My eye roved over the jacket-wrapped demon’s arm.  I’d seen it with my peripheral vision, and my impression had been of a human-sized arm with clawed fingertips that managed to be brutish, fat, and disproportionately long at the same time.  The end of the limb where the teeth had bitten things off, had been bitten off at an angle.  The cut had been more or less clean.  I flexed it as well as I could, and found it rigid.  I suspected it could cut anything a butter knife could.

“We’re not ready,” I said.  “We need to deal with the Lord of the city, but we don’t have the assets.  It’s ugly, and it’s about to get uglier.”

“When you say ‘we’-” Nick started.

“I’m saying Rose and I.  Evan.  You said you weren’t willing to do more than offer token assistance, low risk assistance.”

He nodded.  He’d only wanted to stress the particulars.

“I’d hoped to win you over and get you on our side by stopping this demon.  Getting a kind of revenge on your behalf.  I’m sorry I couldn’t.  But circumstances allowing, I’m hoping to try again.”

Nick nodded.  “That’s something.”

“I’m not asking you to fight, or to do anything.  But can I hitch one more ride?”

“It’s why you called, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then let’s get the fuck out of this godforsaken place,” he said.  “You take the back seat.  Bit of a squeeze, but my front seat doesn’t really slide anymore.”

The heavyset man gave me an unsolicited hand in climbing into the truck, then walked around to the far side to climb in.

A moment later, we were moving.

I leaned my head back, wanting nothing more than to sleep.

“I have books on hand,” Rose said.  “Incarnations, binding Greater Others…”

“Is he a greater other?” I asked.

“He’s Conquest,” Rose said.

“That’s a name we don’t want to be throwing around willy-nilly, Rose,” I said.  “Sorry.  I sort of picked up on that during my last big conversation with the Knights.”

“Right.”

“He’s not the C-word,” I said.  “He’s a C-word.”

“Well put,” Nick said, from the driver’s seat.

“He’s an incarnation,” Rose said.  “A being tied to the intrinsic workings of the world, at least on an abstract level.  They have no technical beginning or end.  They just are.  What we see is kind of a crystallization of that essence.  Some jackass decided to invoke a force and absorb the force in question into themselves and fucked up, they gave themselves over to the force for some reason or another, or a big event helped it come into being.  Now it’s autonomous.  You can weaken it, but you can’t really kill it.  He’s… major enough to count, I think.”

“Right,” I said.  “Can you bind something like him?”

“Can I?  Probably not.  But binding anything is theoretically possible.”

“Right.  That’s vague.”

“It’s all I’ve got, until I can get more reading done.”

“Then let’s talk plan of attack,” I said.  “The Imp’s binding-”

I couldn’t say too much around the Knights

“-won’t hold,” I finished.

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “I really sort of hoped for us to have more of a plan of attack by this point, so it could serve as a distraction.”

“But we don’t have a plan,” I said.  “C-word has few friends, and a good few enemies.  Except none of them want to play ball with us.  Which means we’re doing what we can with the very limited resources we have.  Two bound ghosts, Evan, you, me, maybe the Knights giving us another ride if they’re feeling particularly generous, and a few small tools.”

“That’s essentially it,” Rose said.  “We do have other allies, but-”

“But they’re allies who ask a heavy price,” I said.

“Yeah.”

I nodded.

Nick spoke up, “Do we know these allies you’re talking about?”

“Lawyers,” I said.

“Lawyers?”

“An association of diabolists in suits,” I clarified.  “I think they want me to join.  They kind of offered me a get out of jail free card.”

I could see him glance at his wife, a look that probably conveyed an awful lot I wasn’t privy to.

“I’m not particularly keen on accepting said deal,” I said.  “There’s that saying, out of the frying pan, into the fire?  We could easily be talking about the hottest fire there is.”

I pointed straight down for emphasis.

“You really are a diabolist, then,” Priss said.

“I know names I shouldn’t,” I said.  “Names I don’t want to know.  Yeah, I guess, on a technical level.  Not at heart, though.”

Priss turned around to look over one shoulder.  “You kind of look like what I expected of a diabolist.  Kind of.  In two very different ways, put together.  But you don’t act like one.”

“I’m not quite sure what a diabolist is supposed to look like,” I said.

“Sunken eyes, gaunt, lanky, thinning hair, clearly not taking care of yourself, with a crimson and black robe and hood, and some flesh-bound tome in your hands…”

“I look like that?”

“Dark circles around your eyes, your hair is greasy-”

I touched my hair.  “I spent the night in a prison cell, no showers offered.”

“Hood?”

I touched the hood of the sweatshirt I wore under my jacket.  “That’s reaching.”

“The other image I had was some goth teenager who was in over their head.  You’re kind of a middle ground between the two.”

“Between an old, deranged man in a wizard robe and a clueless goth teenager?” I asked.

“A slightly deranged, clueless young adult?” Rose chimed in.

“Exactly.”

I leaned back, sighing.  “Well, this clueless, deranged-looking twenty year old needs to figure out a way to defeat a centuries-old entity, because time’s running out.”

Rose spoke up, “When time’s up, there’re three eventualities that are liable to come up, without us stepping in.  The Imp finds a way to manipulate the Lord, and we’ve got a deranged, dangerous, warped Incarnation in the area.  The Lord finds a way to leverage the Imp, and he’s stronger, or there isn’t a problem, and we’re forced to obey C- Toronto’s Lord as he demands access to all our family’s power and knowledge.  That last one being our worst case scenario,” Rose said.

“I’m not so sure,” I said.  “Just about every time someone says ‘worst case scenario’, I immediately think of a bunch of ways that things could get even worse.”

“Pessimism?” Priss asked.

“I like to think it’s the creative side of me more than pessimism,” I said.

“It’s a very fucking bad scenario, if he gets what he wants,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. Getting back on track.

“We could fight fire with fire,” Rose said.  “I mean, we bring out the big guns by, well, calling in the big guns.  Summon and bind something from one of Grandmother’s books.”

“How is that any better than calling the lawyers?” I asked.

“It’s cleaner.  The demons are technically safe to use, if we make absolutely no mistakes.”

“There will always be mistakes,” I said.  “Human nature.”

“What’s messier in the end?” Rose asked.  “We risk Toronto’s Lord getting what he wants, and he unleashes uncontrolled demons on the world, we give him what he wants and he uses controlled demons to achieve the aims and ends that he exists to pursue…”

Conquest.

“…Or we use controlled demons to achieve our aims, for the good of everyone in this city?”

“I think that’s a pretty slippery slope,” I said.

“I think you’re exactly right,” Nick said.

Priss glanced at him, confused.

I glanced up at Rose while Nick gave the ‘twenty words or less’ explanation to Priss.

Rose had a counter-argument waiting, “We only have… two and a half hours to get something in place.  I’m not hearing anyone come up with better.”

“Demons don’t make anything better, as far as I can tell,” I replied.

“Then make up a plan.  Give me any plan.  You talked about the Hyena, I talked about how we’d sic our enemies on each other…”

“And we have a demon’s severed arm,” I said.

“What are we going to do with a demon’s severed arm?”

I looked over the coat-wrapped arm.  The tapered edge…

I’d thought of a knife, but the shape, it invoked another sort of thought.

“It’s like a chisel, a wedge.   A doorstop?”

“A doorstop?” Rose asked.

“Let’s work backwards,” I said, leaning forward, the demon’s arm in my hands.  “Evan’s good at escaping, yes?”

“Yes.”

“That’s the last step of our plan.  Escape.  Getting away intact.  The step before that… let’s say we find a way to bar the door to the C-word’s personal realm.  We’ve never seen him outside of it, and we can safely assume he’s going to be there when he calls us.  I think he’s setting a stage, almost, in that tower of his.  We get in, do our thing, whatever we need to do to distract him…”

“How?”

“Imp gets loose, and we release the Hyena, too,” I said.  “There are more than enough ghosts in there for it to use against C-word, and it’ll weaken him.”

“The plan was to strengthen him.”

“If you have ideas on how, I’m open to them.  For the time being, I’m thinking maximum distraction, a broad-strokes plan to throw him off balance.  We use or make the opportunity to escape and wedge the door shut behind us.  Maybe, if we can find a way to do it, we tap the demon’s abilities and make it so there’s no door at all.  We contain the damage, we contain the threats…”

“And me?” Rose asked.

“Evan can break locks.”

Normal locks.  No guarantee on this sort of lock.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “So we have two things that could break the lock.  Maybe if we can get enough muscle behind it, we could use this demon arm to break the chain.”

“Muscle.  You’re as weak as a baby, Evan weighs, what, an ounce?”

“I’m stronger than I look,” Evan said.

“You are,” Rose said, sighing, “But I’m not so confident that you’re strong enough that it’s worth this risk.”

“You have a material form in there,” I said.  “You could do it.”

“If you’re close enough to see me while you’re in there, he’s close enough to take the arm from you,” Rose said.  “Maybe Evan could slip close enough to break a lock, but taking the time to chip at the chain with one end of an arm?”

I sighed.

“We could teach you a rune or two,” Nick said.

“No power to supply to said rune,” I answered.  “And we’d need a lot to counteract his stores of power.”

“That’s a bit of a problem.”

“Thanks though.”

“Sure.  So this is your friend that you said was in trouble.”

“Yeah.”

“His nearly useless friend,” Rose said.  “I can read, and I can argue, and I can’t do much else.”

“You can give awfully frightening suggestions,” Nick said.

“That too,” Rose said.  “For all it’s worth.”

She sounded so much like me sometimes.

“This part of things sucks,” Priss said.  “Not hearing a good bit of the conversation.”

Nick leaned over and began updating her again

“Let’s not forget, you got shackled in the first place for my sake,” I told Rose.

“He was gunning for it from the beginning,” Rose said.  “To get me in chains.”

“Was he?” I asked.

“Yeah.  I’d bet on it.”

Fuck,” I said.  I hadn’t realized how badly we’d walked into that one.  I’d thought it was a lose-lose situation at worst, and we’d picked the lesser of two losses.  Rose could be freed, but I couldn’t be put back together if Conquest tore my mind, body or heart apart.  Hearing that he’d wanted this particular end result sucked.

“If you’d like,” Priss said, “I could pay visits to a few locals.”

Priss.” Nick said, with a warning tone.

“Not taking sides.  More like I’m doing my job as a good citizen of the community and conscientiously informing the locals of exactly what’s going on.  Of course, I’ll probably only be able to visit a few over the course of the evening.”

Visiting only the ones she thinks she can convince.

“I don’t like this,” Nick said.  “You never wanted to get into all this.  You were probably right, too.”

“I want to get into it here and now,” Priss said.  “I’ll be careful.”

“Careful enough?”

“I can call in the others, too,” Priss said.

“I’m not sure I agree with that either, for other reasons,” Nick said.

“It’s a moot point, if the kid doesn’t want us to,” Priss said.  “Might mean word leaks.”

“I appreciate the offer,” I said.  “Thank you.  Please do, if it’s possible.”

The words didn’t feel like enough.  It was a note of hope, when I was feeling pretty hopeless.

Priss glanced back at me, offering me a small half-smile.  Nick said something I couldn’t make out, and they started a whispered conversation.

Two hours, twenty minutes and change, to try to figure out how to unseat a ruler who’d been in charge of this city for a very long time.  One who’d made a lot of enemies, yet still sat atop his metaphorical throne.

But that wasn’t the sum of the problem.  He was a stubborn, single-minded entity.  He…

“He isn’t human,” I thought aloud, interrupting the conversation between husband and wife. “He follows a set of rules.  There are things he can do, but there are an awful lot of things he can’t.”

“Yes,” Rose said.  “But any Incarnation will tap the ranks of humanity for fitting subjects and sacrifices, to give themselves a reservoir to draw from.  Pride might be able to perform actions that don’t raise its standing or gain the ability to bow to others in a pinch.  If they go too long without sacrifices, they start to become more… I don’t know how to phrase it…”

“Mechanical,” I said.  “They become more mechanical.”

“Basically.  Parts of the overarching machine of reality.”

“Well,” I said, “That’s a weak point.  How often do they need sacrifices?”

“Depends how often they break their own internal rules.  Once every thousand years?  Once every hundred years?  Daily?”

Time, again.  “It’s too bad we can’t tap the Behaims for help on that front.  I could do with that number having less zeroes on it.  What other weaknesses do Incarnations have?”

“They’re fairly rigid.  Something like the sphinx could theoretically learn some magic to a degree.  Like, shamanism, the source might differ, but she could learn the runes, still appeal to the spirits, and make an offering, hoping to achieve a small effect.  But Incarnations… basically are what they are.  No more, no less.  One that’s absorbed a lot of people might be flexible enough to bend the rules, and a human that’s absorbed an Incarnation successfully could, too, but they’re mostly just going to do what they’ll do.  For the Toronto Lord, he has a narrow repertoire.”

“Okay,” I said.

“The book says that within that repertoire, well, an Incarnation can approach a god in terms of sheer power,” Rose said.

“Right,” I said.

Of course, I knew that Conquest wasn’t quite that powerful.  He was a dying incarnation, and his power as a local lord wasn’t real so much as it was feigned.

If he was killable, I might try my luck at killing him.  But he wasn’t.

“Alright,” I said.  “What about binding, then?”

There was a pause.

Priss glanced over her shoulder.  I, for my part, looked up.

Rose wasn’t in the mirror.

“Nick?  Pull over,” I said.

Nick pulled over.

I rose from my seat, looking in the mirror.

Rose wasn’t there, even as I looked at a different angle.

I stood up in the back of the truck, until my head touched the roof of the truck.  The book was there.  Lying on the street, dropped.

She’d been abducted.

I settled back down into a sitting position.

Fuck,” I said.

“I’m not following,” Priss said.

“She’s gone,” Evan said, though Priss couldn’t hear him.

“My friend has just been abducted,” I said, feeling very weary and a little afraid.

“Do you need to run to the rescue?” Priss asked.

“We should,” Evan said.

“No,” I said.  “I… I don’t know what to do, exactly.  But this is the second time.  He has a habit of taking her and keeping her, and she was someone I really needed at my side.  The last time he held onto her, she was unconscious.  I… he likes threatening people.  He threatened me.  I don’t like the idea that he’s putting the screws to Rose like he threatened to do with me.”

“If he has that strong a hold on her,” Nick said, “Might not be pretty.”

“It won’t be,” I agreed, “And it isn’t.  Fuck.”

“What are you going to do?  If you want a ride to the Lord’s place…”

“No,” I said.  “I’m not really capable of doing anything if I go there.”

“Then what?”

“I need to… arm myself, somehow.  Build up my strength, in more ways than one.”

“Weightlifting,” Evan said.

“Not fast enough.”

“Magical weightlifting?”

“You got a familiar between the time we dropped you off at the woods and today,” Nick said.

“It’s too soon to get an implement, I don’t have Rose to talk me through it, and I don’t know what I’d take.  Demesnes, same thing.  I don’t think there are any other shortcuts out there that would give me a concrete enough power boost.”

“We have a few basic texts, if you need them,” Nick said.

“Though we’re pretty fucked if you borrow them and lose them,” the other guy said.

“Maybe,” I said.  “I dunno what I’d do.  But I appreciate anything I can get, really truly.”

“We can’t drive you around all night.  Gas is expensive, and I’m not sure that it’s going to get you anywhere,” Nick said.  “Where can we drop you off?  We can hang out a bit, if you need a bit of company.”

“My place.  Near the University, you’re close.  You don’t have to stick around.  You’ve helped a lot already.”

“Not a problem.  What’s your next step after you get home?”

“I don’t know,” I said, again.  “You asked me where I wanted you to drop me off.  That’s where I want.  I have no ideas when it comes to need.”

“You’re aware that the local Lord controls people, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “He’s got some sway over… F-word.”

“I wouldn’t worry about throwing his name around,” Nick said.

“He got ticked the first time I called for a ride, repeating his name,” I said.  “But yeah.  He also told me he’s sort of under C-word’s sway.”

“Your friend might be too.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“If I’d connected the dots right off the bat,” Nick said, “I might have warned you.  But he might know what she knows.”

I let my head drop forward until my forehead rested on the back of Nick’s headrest.

Very gently, he asked, “You’re not going crazy or flipping out.  Was this all part of the plan?”

Without moving my head, my eyes still closed, I said, “The plan was scary, flimsy and incomplete enough that I’m not devastated to realize our enemy knows what it is.”

“No?”

“I’m more spooked at the idea that he might think to ask Rose if she can access the books he wants.  If she can bring mirror-world variants to C-word, then it’s all over.”

“How long would it take to set something up?” Nick asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” I said.  “He’ll want sufficient protections.  Protections would take a little while, especially if they were thorough.  The summoning itself requires calling out a name.”

“So you have time.  The situation isn’t too much different.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Might be twenty minutes, might be hours.  The only constants here are that I’m pretty much powerless, and C-word pretty much has to follow his rules.”

“Wish I had ideas,” Nick said.

“What happens if he doesn’t follow his rules?” Priss asked.

“He loses ground, I imagine,” I said.  “Maybe it’s like Monopoly.  You lose money you don’t have, so you give up assets you’ve claimed until you’ve paid up.”

“That’s something,” she said.

“I’m not sure it matters.  There’s no way to compel something like him, so at best I’m putting him in a situation where he either follows his nature and conquers others, or he suffers a small loss.”

“I don’t really get it,” Evan said.  “Who’s he conquering?”

“Rose,” I said.  “Very probably.  He’ll be breaking her down, making her miserable, making her obey him by exercising force and being scary.  He ruins stuff, takes…”

“Can we make him take something he shouldn’t?” Evan asked.

“Maybe,” I said.  “I’m not sure what that would be, and that’s probably the sort of circmstance where he draws from his reservoir of humanity and bends the rules.”

“Alright.”

“I like the line of thinking, though,” I said.  I made a mental note.

There was another rule, but I wasn’t eager to say it out loud, because it was the sort of information that was very dangerous to have.  Conquest was weak, but he had to look strong.

Right.

“When he’s done with Rose, he’ll turn his attention on anyone he can, with the exception of the people he promised he wouldn’t.  He told the Drunk he wouldn’t,” I said.  “Toronto, the Drunk and the Drunk’s acquaintances are safe, if I remember right.”

“The Drunk is on his side?”  Nick asked.

“The Drunk is on the sidelines.”

Nick nodded.

“He’ll come after me at some point.  Doing whatever it is he does.  Conquering, subjugating, sowing despair, taking control,” I said, thinking aloud.

I turned that idea around in my head.

“Which isn’t a bad thing,” I added.

“Huh?” Evan asked.

“He’ll bring us to heel.  He won’t kill us.  It might be he can’t kill us.  He can only set us up to die by other hands.”

“‘Might be’ is pretty thin,” Nick said.

Pretty thin was at least something.

These were the rules of the game, so to speak.

“There are a lot of one-way streets around my place.  Take a right, then a left,” I said.  “Or if it’s too much hassle, just drop me here, and I’ll walk.”

“You’ll hobble.”

“I’ll stagger forward like a zombie,” I said.

He took the right-hand turn.

I wasn’t much of a planner.  It wasn’t in me.  When I’d worked, I’d outlined the stage layouts, display cabinets and mounts for the various pieces, but I’d improvised throughout, bent and adjusted my outlines.  I was good at that.

Thinking ten steps forward wasn’t in me.  Rose had proposed that she’d be the long-term thinker in all of this, and she’d leave the moment to moment strategy to me.

It had almost worked against the abstract demon.  Ur.  It was very possible that I might not have made it out without our synergy on that front.

That situation could have gone worse.

Except maybe it had gone worse.  Fuck.

Now Rose was in Conquest’s clutches, and she was no doubt working overtime to try and convince him not to hurt, torture or get the wrong info out of her.  If he found out she could get the books, or if she divulged any other telling secrets, then this might all be over.  If she didn’t, or if Conquest proved suitably distracted, then we maybe had time.  It depended on how well Rose could improvise and if she could use those distractions.

On my part, the planning was left to me.

We arrived in my neighborhood.

Home.  It felt awfully far away, considering the fact that I was there.

“Right here,” I said.

There was no room with the long row of parked cars, so he stopped in the middle of the street.

“Want us to drop by?  I’ll bring our books, we’ll check on you, maybe get you somewhere you need to be?”

“Please,” I said.

“Maybe an hour, then,” Nick said.

“Right,” I replied.  “Thank you.”

“You going to be okay?”

“Honestly?  Probably not.”

“Figured as much.”

He opened the truck door for me, climbing out so I could get out, giving me a hand.

I still didn’t like the feeling of hands seizing me so firmly, as well intentioned as it was.

I managed a smile of thanks all the same.

Evan landed on my shoulder.

It was all I could do to keep my balance, so I didn’t turn when I waved my free hand in a farewell to the Knights.  The other hand held my coat-wrapped demon arm.

I used my key to get through the door at the front, but stopped in the lobby.

I made a sharp left, then headed through the hallway.

The garage adjoined the building.  Joel’s car, the same one I’d borrowed, was there.  That meant he was home.

My bike was also there.

I really wanted to go for a ride.  It would be suicidal, given the local weather, but I really wanted to go.

I ran my hand along it.  “Put a wind rune on you, maybe?  Or maybe I can dig up something like a balance rune?”

“You’re talking to the motorcycle?” Evan asked.

I’d nearly forgotten about him.

“Yeah,” I said.  “My motorcycle.”

“You have a motorcycle?” he asked.  The enthusiasm was so clear I couldn’t help but smile a little.  It was like a perfect reflection of the little boy inside me who had first given me the push to consider the thing.

“I guess I’m introducing you to my life,” I said.  “This is my bike, and this building is my home.  I count many people in here as family.”

“You’re related?”

“Not by blood.  But we’re good friends.  Family supports, back each other up.  Accept the inconveniences.  Sometimes that means a mom wipes a baby’s ass, even though it’s gross and boring.  Sometimes it means you give a brother-in-law a place to stay.  Sometimes it’s just a listening ear you wouldn’t give to a friend, but you have to give to them because the bonds are that tight.”

“Yeah,” Evan said.

Fuck me.  I was rambling, and I was probably making him miserable.  He was whatever the opposite of an orphan was.

“Sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“It does.  But it’s okay.  It’s interesting to think about, and it makes me miss my parents.  But not in a bad way.”

“That’s sort of what family is, isn’t it?  It doesn’t always feel great, but that feeling of connection kind of helps fill a hole, doesn’t it?”

“Sorta.”

“Well, these guys backed me up when I needed it.  They’re more family than my family-by-blood were.”

“Can they back you up now?”

“Maybe a little.  But I can’t tell them about magic without putting them in danger.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “The tour… apartment lobby.  My landlord and good friend Joel’s apartment is down here on the ground floor.”

“Uh huh.”

I limped to the elevator.

I’d come here for a reason.  It was only dawning on me now what that reason was.

I needed more strength to go up against Conquest.  This was it.  Nourishing me.  Building up the reserves I’d spent when I’d spilled my own blood and sacrificed a part of myself to revive Rose.

“Third floor, my apartment.  A friend helped me get set up-”

I stopped short.

Said friend was there, sitting by my apartment door, back to the wall, legs crossed, phone in her lap.

“Stay out of sight a bit?” I asked.

A light flutter of wings, transformation into a ghost while midair, and Evan disappeared through the wall.

The flutter seemed to get her attention.

“Blake,” Alexis said.  “Holy shit.”

“Hey,” I said.  “What are you doing here?”

“Where the hell have you been?”

“The police arrested me.  I thought they quizzed everyone I know.”

“I know,” she said.  She climbed to her feet.  “You’re bleeding?”

I looked down.  I’d taken off my coat to wrap the arm, and my sweatshirt sleeves were brown and crusty with blood.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I only kept looking down.

“Let me text Joel,” she said.  “He’s been worried sick.”

I nodded.  I wanted to say no, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak around the lump in my throat.

A part of me had believed that I’d come back to find only an eviction notice.  That radiation of some sort might have caused me to lose my ties to friends and home.

“There.  Are you okay?”

I shook my head a little.  My voice came out hoarse with sudden emotion.  “No.”

“You didn’t tell me it was that serious.  Holy fuck.  They framed you for murdering some kid?”

No doubt in her mind?

I’d been playing subtle mind-games with myself, falling into Duncan’s trap, believing that my friends might abandon me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “They tried, anyway.”

She was closer now, looking me over.

“But your arms,” she said.  She reached out, as if compelled, then stopped.  “Can- can I see?”

I knew that the images wouldn’t line up, that they wouldn’t fit.

But I couldn’t say no.  Not really.

She stuck her hands in her back pockets while I rolled up one sleeve.  My right arm’s sleeve, so I could hold the jacket and demon arm without making the locket too obvious.

“Oh no,” she whispered.

I looked.  The heads were attached, the images distorted, and the blood that had crusted over masked the colors.

But long cuts still marked the backs of each arm, and some, despite my efforts with glamour, intersected my tattoos.

“We can fix that,” she said.

I nodded.

“Was it police brutality?” she asked.

“It was just one of them that was a real bastard.”

She glanced at me, then at my apartment door.  “Your apartment, they totaled it.”

“Yeah.”

“We put what we could back in place.”

I nodded again.  “Thank you.”

I heard the elevator ding.  Joel.

“Where have you been?” he asked.

Where had I been?

I’d had thoughts on want and need earlier.  This was the flipside.  I needed this, but I didn’t want it.  The genuine caring about how I was doing.

I wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

“Trying to survive,” I said.

“People do crazy things for money,” Alexis said.

“Power more than money,” I said.

She nodded.  Taking it at face value.

Taking me at face value.

“You look like hell,” Joel said.  “Why are you bleeding?”

“Police did it,” Alexis said.

While Alexis got Joel up to speed, I stepped to one side and opened my apartment door.

Sure enough, I could see things out of place.  Damage.  My sanctuary disturbed.  One of the closet doors had been taken off the roller mount, set to one side.  Things in the closet were out of place.  There were stacks of paper on the coffee table that were supposed to be in a box in the other room.  Scattered by the police, no doubt, and set in place by my friends.

I needed to plan, to prepare, to get my ducks in a row and my weapons out and loaded.  Whatever those weapons were supposed to be.

I needed to recharge my personal batteries.

I needed the emotional support, at a point when I felt lower than ever, and damn hopeless.

I needed to act, to help Rose, to help myself.

There wasn’t any clear path in front of me.

I thought of what I’d just been saying to Evan.

“Joel?”

“Yeah?”

“Before, you were telling me that friendships didn’t have to be even.  That sometimes they were lopsided.”

“Yeah.  I was being hard on you.  I didn’t realize you were in the middle of something this messy.”

“How do you know which side the scales should tip?  When it’s lopsided, how do I know if I’m serving the friendship or serving myself at the expense of the friendship?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, but… trust your gut?”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I need help,” I said.

“What kind of help?”

I leaned against the wall.  I couldn’t look at them, so I looked the same way I had with the demon.  “The selfish sort.”

“Be selfish if you need to,” he said.

I nodded.

The silence lingered.

“Blake?”

“I’m in a bad place.  So much worse than you can imagine.  So I’ll start you off slow.”

“Sure?”

“Evan!”  I called out.

Evan appeared.  Sparrow form, alighting on my reaching finger.

“Blake?”  Alexis asked.

“This is the kid I was accused of murdering,” I said.

“Sure?” she said, sounding very unsure.

“The diagram taped around the apartment is a really shitty magic diagram, for protection,” I said.

“You’re worrying me.”

“You’ll be more worried when I’m done,” I said.  “Can you call some of the others?  I’ll explain what’s going on, I’ll suffer the consequences, but I’ll explain.  Then, when some of my other friends arrive, you can decide if you want in.”

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271 thoughts on “Subordination 6.1

    1. “We can fix that,” she said.

      “Police brutality?” she asked.

      Seems like weird repetition, to have her speak twice in a row.

      1. Similarly, “Sure?” is used twice in six lines towards the end of the chapter, without any reference to this fact. It didn’t stand out much the first time through, but it did in subsequent scans.

          1. Typically, if a line repeats like that, there’s some reference in there to, more or less, convince the audience that it wasn’t a mistake. For instance:

            ““Sure?” she said again, sounding very unsure.”

            This time lacks that. It’s a minor quibble, but I thought it worth mentioning /shrug

    2. shoulderblades
      shoulder blades

      everloving
      usually ever-loving

      goth
      sometimes capitalized: Goth

      circmstance
      circumstance

    3. Typo: “Every single one of my injuries felt like they’d just inflicted on me a second time” is missing a word; “just been inflicted” would be a solution.

    4. Truth to be told, the start and the middle part of narrations seems to be…, sorry, superfluous, it could be way shorter, But when it came in the very last several worth of PageDown button, it really shines.

  1. Yes! I’ve been wanting him to bring some of his friends in on this since the beginning. I’m sure it’ll all go terribly wrong, but for now I’m happy to see it.

    1. I KNOW! It’s like he’s saying “f**k the rules that brought me here. I’m going to win, and I’m going to do it my way.” 😀 It’s wonderful.


        1. Yup, that’s pretty accurate. We saw it in the biopunk story, too, to an extent. The Peer protagonist seemed like a reluctant rule-breaker, too. I think wildbow has a type.

            1. He has previews of a few other stories, from when he was deciding what to write after finishing Worm. Spoiler alert: He went for the urban fantasy one.

  2. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! There was NO reason, Zip Zero Nada, not to let his friends in on this. Not even with the possibility of karma backlash.

      1. True, but he can’t protect them from the practitioner world. Fell demonstrated that clearly enough. This way, they know what’s been going on, they can go to bat for him if necessary (say if the police show up again), and their connection is that much stronger.

        1. Given Blake’s warnings to Fell on the day he went to scope out Pauz, Blake’s thoughts when signalling Rose to trigger June in the police station, and Duncan’s swift actions to get the hatchet away from his coworkers when the Thorburns did so, it seems like even using magic on mundanes can count as introducing them to the magical world in some manner.

          Though that introduces some confusion about Sandra’s manipulation of the police…though Witch Hunter Andy did say that fixing these things cost the Duchamps more than Blake knew, so that could have been what he meant. Man, if that’s the case, talk about some unknowing revenge on the practitioner that screwed with you, if they forever lose some karma whenever you do something that violates this old-school code of conduct that you’re wholly unaware of.

          Come to think of it, that may be part of why demons generate so much bad karma. If their radiation counts as an introduction, making you pay for the karmic mistakes of everyone affected, and if the demons blast out the radiation continually as they go about doing your bidding…that’s a whole lot of people’s actions dragging down your karma.

          1. I think magic can affect normal people with less chance of problems if they don’t realize magic is being used. The Duchamp’s connection magic, Isadora’s karmic riddles, and using magic creatures disguised as humans minimize the odds of causing backlash (if not mitigate it completely). Things that can either be explained away as chance, that have an appropriate scapegoat, or are cloaked in a Stranger-like effect to avoid attention. I think Pauz may be a good example, since he was able to affect an entire community without getting the sort of karmic bullseye that Blake has. And Duncan’s broken enchantment on the Chief probably hurt his karma as soon as the man noticed the discrepancy.

            Now that I think about it, I wonder if the what protects politicians from such manipulations? Are they all practitioners? Do they rely on the Illuminati? The Lizardfolk? Or are they fully susceptible to such things.

            1. That would be such an interesting element of the story at some point. Some guy gets elected to office and the first thing that happens is he gets instructed on the existence of the Illuminati as a defense against magical manipulation. No wonder politicians never seem to be able to tell the truth after getting elected: they’re all Blackguards.

            2. My current headcanon is that representative democracy is a sham put on to entertain the masses, with all such elections controlled by enchanters and the like under the guidance of the various city Lords.

            3. Come to think of it, the fact that politicians are required to lie to the public at times would mean that they would rarely, if ever, be practitioners themselves (I suppose glamour/illusion could let a blackguard fake it). Witch hunters or blackguards, perhaps, but never actually practitioners.

              Also, as usual for Wildbow, “blackguard” is an awesome name for the position.

            4. Politicians don’t lie. They just twist the truth! Its one of the reasons we need to stand up against the likes of terrorists and icecream trucks!

            5. The President cannot be a practitioner. They make too many promises before and after the election for it to be safe. Their support staff? The spin doctors, analysts, people with their fingers on various pulses? Those would be absolutely riddled with practitioners. Especially the senior echelons of such.

      2. He’s aware of this. Blake brought this up when he called it this a selfish act of friendship.

        If all goes well, things will be better. So more likely is that everyone will be dead, Toronto will be on fire, and Blake lost his hat. But hey, it’s worth a shot.

    1. There was a reason. The same reason the person in the previous chapter shouldn’t have made the oath. Doing something like this exposes your companions to the dangers of the other world. It grants you a little extra strength when you most need it, but it’s a high risk gamble that could backfire on you harder.

      As he said, he is drawing on his limited resources of friendship. There is always some risk they will be expended.

    2. At least his motivation is not “I need more power / an army” which he does…

      They are his friends, they are his family, they are the ONLY connection he has to the REAL world.
      And honesty is good karma, isn’t it?

      1. They are in danger. Just by being near them they are in danger. And the protections that are supposed to keep the uninitated safe don’t always work too well. Just ask Maggie’s old town. This doesn’t mean they will be practicioners. They wouldn’t be much help if they were, since as newly awakened practicioners hey would have no apriciable power. But they can as Backguards help while keeping most their old protection.

        1. Those protections don’t seem to ever work well.
          So far as I know so far, they consist of three things:
          One, action taken against mundane people has to be concealed.
          Two, mundane people do not automatically make oaths of everything they say.
          Three, mundane people do not know enough to go out and offend most beings.

          Because of One, they also don’t know at all that there are dangers, even if the dangers need a reliable means of concealing themselves before they can attack.
          Two, at least, seems to genuinely be a protection.
          Because of Three, they don’t know enough to bind or hamper most beings, too.

          1. It doesn’t seem like Others can make bargains with mundanes. They can use force or magic on them, but no bargains. Given that some of the worst crap we have seen in magic is based on bargains, this is not a bad protection either.

            Also, Barbatorem could not enter a mundane household elven though it could enter demesnes, so there may be other protections.

  3. Huh. She can’t see Evan, can she? Wonder how he could make his presence felt. Open and close a few doors, maybe?

    Next question is, what can he do with a handful of non-magical but loyal friends? Aside from helping him rest and relax for a few hours before all hell breaks loose. Which is important, but still doesn’t really solve the big problem.

      1. Rune for movement on a coffee mug (And he’s still got a smidgen of glamour in the locket, so there’s the power taken care of). Lack of reflection. The changes in the tattoo. Pretty much all the ways to crack this wide open we were talking about before Duncan dropped the Groundhog Day bombshell on us. Even if those don’t work, the demon arm that smoulders when exposed to light will make s**t real PDQ.

        1. Remember though that he doesn’t have the power to showboat and the view for those who are awakened is far different for those that aren’t.

          They might not even be able to see the demon and considering how it might jump into their eyes that should be a last resort.

          1. The arm’s inert, and Priss was able to see it well enough, IIRC. And we can leverage the altered viewpoint easily, by simply asking Evan to switch back and forth a few times, while in, say, Alexis’ hand.

            1. Priss didn’t see it. She can see that he has something wrapped up in his jacket and he told her it was its arm, but he’s not willing to risk looking at to to find out if it’s inert or if it’s inert.

              Also, I wonder if he can get Evan type stuff onto a keyboard as a bird by pecking the keys. Or teach him to write like the cricket in Mulan. It would certainly be adorable, if nothing else.

    1. She can. It’s just that she has (understandable) difficulty believing that a sparrow is the kid Blake was framed for murdering.

      Also, interesting that Priss couldn’t hear Rose.

        1. People have been speculating that mundanes could see Rose, based on the subway guy and Witch Hunter Andy. That Priss couldn’t is…interesting.

          1. She could, it’s just that she needed to focus specifically on Rose to get past whatever perception filter was in place on the fact that Blake’s reflection was a girl and in the wrong place. (Subway Guy probably snuck past it with the assumption that Blake was the girl in the mirror) What I find more interesting is that Priss couldn’t hear Rose, and Witch Hunter Andy could. I’m guessing the latter had some amulet or something that allows him a limited version of the practitioner sight.

            1. Please cite where you are getting the idea that Priss could listen to Rose, because I thought

              “This part of things sucks,” Priss said. “Not hearing a good bit of the conversation.”

              was fairly clear.

              As far as Andy goes, a trinket seems totally plausible, as does the idea that whatever severs their connections without wrecking havoc on their lives also tears away the mundane filter.

            2. (For Sheaman3773)

              “Huh?” Priss said. “I’m missing something.”
              She doesn’t see the girl in the mirror.
              I pointed at Rose.
              Priss turned, bending over. “Oh. Huh.”
              She squinted some.
              “Huh,” she said, again.

              Apparently Priss couldn’t hear Rose at all, but she could see [i]something[/i] weird when she looked at Blake’s reflection. I guess it’s possible to catch it if you’re looking for it (I hope one of Blake’s friends checks Blake’s reflection to see if he’s a vampire. That’ll be fun to explain away), by accident, as subway guy did, or to notice via use of some sort of charm or tool, as Andy did.

    2. Apparently they can see the bird but not the ghost-form? My guess is Blake has one or more of them hold Evan while he shifts between the two. Maybe have him go in and out of wall too

      1. Or just have him take requests. I’d believe in the supernatural if someone had a sparrow that could fetch small objects, open the window, fly three counterclockwise circles around me then land two clockwise circles around Blake, etc.

        Well, either that or it’s a robot sparrow.

      1. That thought had occurred to me–that they could at least pour some of their power into his tools, buff them up, maybe restore some to Blake himself–but even if he remembered it perfectly, there were a lot of props involved, of which he has none.

        1. Though, to counter my own point, from Maggie’s festival of blood and Matthew, son of Joseph and father to Malcolm/Fell, (not to mention Isadora’s comments during the magical interrogation in 4.02) it seems like even picking up a practitioner’s tools is enough to awaken someone. Perhaps with the caveat of picking them up with intent to take/use them. Or is it just magical books?

          So I suppose Blake could try to do that with Leo or somesuch, if he knows about it and if there aren’t any other issues that I’m forgetting or unaware of, like that said tools would no longer work for the original practitioner.

          1. Maggie was already seeing things she wasn’t supposed to. And she chose the tools – in a sense, she knowingly agreed to enter the world.

            Joseph and his bloodline are forced to induct their children when the come of age or try to enter the magical world. That is because of their bondage to Conquest.

            So I think mundanes can handle magical tools fine, unless they know what they are and want to use them. Then you are asking to become a practitioner.

      2. First off that takes a lengthy ritual that quite frankly isn’t something they would be compelled to believe or let alone try if they think he’s nuts.

        Second off normal people are afforded some protections by the sheer virtue of not being involved and awakening is becoming close to an Other.

        Third off, they lose the ability to lie which is rather major for normal people. A Blackguard has value for this reason alone.

        Fourth off, if they get involved any deeper they’re liable to get caught in the crossfire. Them being his pillars of support are fine, them stepping a foot into this world would mark them as bigger targets.

        They might support Blake but getting them involved any deeper than needed is bound to push back. Not many people could deal with the sheer amount of things he’s dealt with (and I stress this part) over the last month. Becoming a practitioner isn’t something you do for the sheer hell of it, everyone to this date has been involved because of blood (family) or death (violence) and it takes up a huge part of their lives.

        1. Not many people could deal with the sheer amount of things he’s dealt with (and I stress this part) over the last month.

          And by last month you mean past 2 weeks?

            1. “You look like you’ve been through hell. It’s only been a week.
              […]
              The carpenter resurrects, only it takes him a week[.]”
              (4.01)

              Then the three days, one for each abomination…

              Has it only been 10 days? I mean, “a week” could be fudging a little, a lot of people aren’t precise enough, but…dayum, not even one full fortnight? What a terrible week and a half.

            2. “Damn. His life sucks.”

              That is true. It should be the closing line of any profile for Blake.

        2. And what if one gets pressed into a corner and uses their art irresponsibly or to kill for a less than optimal reason or say one of them takes this further and teaches another, who teaches another, etc. And then they become reckless or such.

          Not only does he eat part of the backlash, but if he stirs up enough trouble other practitioners are going to start putting them in their places.

          Also their different crafts are a finite resource to an extent. We’ve already seen Blake dismiss using Shamanism against Laird because he has a good rep with the spirits in Jacob’s Bell and out of all the ghosts he tried to wrangle only June and the drunk were available.

    3. Pretty sure she can see, but not hear, Evan.

      Well, he might need more than a few hours, but…well…there’s a reason the Behaims and such form circles. There’s power in numbers, neh?

  4. At this point he might as well bring Paige into the mess too. Also, nearly the opposite of how i’d be doing stuff. I would be trying to set up for my inevitable failure. Still aiming to hit Conquest, but not really expecting to have that much left.

    I am glad that Blake knows enough to swap to an different Indy Ploy, but I feel that the story won’t be the same with the friends in the know. At least he can be honest with more people now.

    I look forward to he Blake moves on Conquest, what with drama and flair being important. They both know it going down tonight, and so Blake is going to go big and flashy.

    How to pull the Drunk into this mess? Summon Conquest to the Drunk’s place? The Drunk to Conquest’s? Is time for Blake to say yes to that party he was invited to? That is my vote. Go to the party, yank Rose to you, cut the shackle with the arm and wait for Conquest, make mayhem in the meantime. You are fire Blake, time to burn.

    1. Actually, I think he should try and suborn Fell next. Blake’s fire, metaphorically. Fell’s bound to Conquest. Fell now needs to ask himself; “Are my bonds iron or rope?” The Drunk has sworn to stay on the sidelines, plus one favor on Conquest’s side.

        1. Alternatively liberal application of a demon limb. The best part is they wouldn’t even remember the binding.

        2. Making iron brittle would involve rapid heating and cooling. Heating it up to the point where it’s malleable would involve third-degree metaphoric burns on Fell’s hands, not to mention a lot of power that Blake might not have. If the bonds are rope, on the other hand, it takes a lot less heat to burn away enough strands to cause them to snap.

          And “Burn Bright” should be the tagline for the second movie. (After “Damn me, damn them, damn it all.” for the first)

        3. Even if the metal doesn’t melt, increasing the heat toward that point weakens it greatly. Before steel even melts, it’s lost most of its strength. That’s why a fire that doesn’t melt steel could still cause a skyscraper to collapse.

    2. I don’t see much changing with the story. Blake’s going to have a better place to rest and vent, and a better support system, but that’s about it.

  5. Blake is cornered and out of options, so getting his friends involved might be his only escape. But I can’t help but think that Blake is falling more into the “diabolist” mindset, thinking too hard about the now without thinking about the future. That said this is was a good chapter.
    And I like Evan being adorable every once in a while. It’s nice.

    1. The thing is being introduced to this whole thing is pretty sucky, as we’ve seen so far. Especially if you’re being introduced to it by someone really desperate failing to fight off powerful ennemies.
      So while assistance might be good for Blake, just by telling them he’s really not doing a service to his friends. And when one of them dies because of the practice (let’s face it, how is this not going to happen? Do you remember who’s writing this story?) he’s probably never going to forgive himself.

      1. Well, he did say it was a selfish thing he was doing. The fact is that the relationshops Blake has with his friends were never going to hold up under the kind of pressure a secret like this can exert. I can tell you 100% that if a good friend of mine were in a position where they either had to give up on my friendship or else tell me something dangerous, I’d rather be inducted. Better to be in danger with friends than out of danger and alone.

        Not that a demon-summoning Conquest holding court over Toronto would have left them especially safe anyway.

        1. Yeah, on a couple of levels if I was Blake’s friend I’d want to know.
          I’d always rather make an informed decision, not being awakened may make you safer, but it leaves you open to enchanters manipulating you on a really fundamental level, or falling into something like the hyena’s territory without realizing. Also, if a friend of mine found out that there was another level of reality, that the laws of physics as we knew them were incomplete or negotiable, I don’t think I’d forgive them for not telling me.
          Anyway from a purely strategic point of view I don’t think he has a chance without a few allied pieces on the board. Even something like a friend able to lie and willing to cover would make a huge difference.

        2. “Not that a demon-summoning Conquest holding court over Toronto would have left them especially safe anyway.”
          I would say this this would see the current political balance of the whole world fall apart. WW3 for a start.

        3. “Not that a demon-summoning Conquest holding court over Toronto would have left them especially safe anyway.”

          Conquest promised to leave Toronto alone. By extension, that includes the mundanes. They abrogate that protection by becoming practitioners. Whether Blakeguards lose that protection also is an open question.

  6. So what exactly is he doing to his friends by exposing the masquerade? Like, can others more openly interact with them now that they know, even if they’re not awakened? I’d guess that’s sort of the case since no one attacked Blake before Molly died, but maybe it had to do with transfer of Karmic debt rather than knowledge.

    Well at least in the future Blake won’t be so isolated.

    1. I don’t think he’s doing too much to them, just by informing them. Ignorance hasn’t been stated to give much protection.

  7. Creating a Coven with his friends and bringing them into the Other Side… This will not end well especially with his Karma Level. On the othe hand If one of his friends can work with metals and jewellery, having tools made to specifications like finished at the stroke of midnight or soaked in moonlight for X nights could be usefull.

    1. I love the idea that he’s creating a new coven… a new Thorburn “Family” so to speak. But, yeah, I’m expecting this to result in hell for his friends. But maybe with the help they give and the stronger connections they’ll form with him, it might become net positive.

      One of the things that bothers me about this story at this point is that we have only a couple examples of Blake’s friends demonstrating their affection for him beyond normal friendly acquaintance. Since it’s first person, we can’t really know what they’re thinking, but I can’t help wonder — just like Blake does — how much they really care about him. Helping him clean up, giving him food, hanging out, that’s all fine and good. It’s the burying a body-type help that I very worried some might have be willing to give.

      Great chapter though! Just as addicting as Worm.

      1. Yeah. Pact is pretty cool but my main complaint with it has always been that we got thrown in at the deep end from day 1 with no real feel for who the main character is as a person – and hence with no real reason to care what happens to him. We know a bit more about him now but he’s still kind of a cypher.

        When Wildbow edits this, I personally recommend including a chapter in arc 1 where you get to see Blake’s normal, mundane world before everything goes to crap. Or heck, include it as a “History” at the end of arc 1. Anything that lets us understand the character we’re supposed to root for.

        Exception: If there’s a narrative reveal that requires it. And even then it may not be worth the cost.

        1. “what’s to keep me from appearing on TV tomorrow and showing off my magic?”

          “Responsibility,” the old man said. “It started as an ethic; you don’t initiate someone into this world without teaching them the proper way things are done. That ethic became a rule, and the rule became a part of the fabric of things. If you introduce someone to all of this and they make a mistake, then some of that karma weighs on you.”” (2.04)

        2. I’m pretty sure that the karmic consequences are directly proportional to the things that your confidants do with the knowledge. If they do bad stuff, you get bad karma. If they do really bad stuff, you get lots of bad karma. If they do good stuff…maybe you get good karma? We can hope, at least.

          1. Huh. I wonder why the Thorburns haven’t utilised that approach to reducing the family’s karmic debt already. Find several really good people, induct them into becoming practitioners and reap the karmic interest in good deeds.

            (And yes, this is a variant of my “have lots of kids to repay lifetimes of debt faster” approach – it’s even easier if they don’t have to be your blood!).

            1. “lots of kids approach”:Maybe only one Thorburn can be the heir at a time

              “induct good persons approach”karma isn’t about good,its about right.This would require grooming,no matter what the person,and that assumes he doesn’t trick him,he doesn’t suffer epic fail,he wants to work for a diabolist and the local community won’t interfere to such a practice.

            2. For “good” read “right”. And the plan still holds. Have 10 kids. Raise them on tales and expectations of becoming noble warriors for right (ideally have someone else raise them far away from Jacobs Bell). Equip them with lots of non-diabolic magical knowledge. Have them sent out into the world to do great things on their eighteenth birthdays. Profit! \o/

              There can only be one heir/head of family at a time, but indications are that the actions of all awakened members of a family affect that family’s karma and all awakened family members suffer or benefit from the family’s karma. (Even unawakened members feel the effects of karma to a lesser extent, but probably don’t contribute to it even a little bit).

  8. Fighting Conquest with the power of LOVE.

    Pure awesome.

    Have to add: I too have been inspired to write again by you, Wildbow. I used to write a lot when I was younger; I lost my plot, along the way, but I’ve been writing again. Liner notes, mostly – nothing resembling a real narrative – but when it’s ready, I’ll be posting. Thanks for that.

    1. Not just that, but it turns out Fell was giving Rose a tip last chapter. Conquest has to subjugate people to gain power.

      “It goes easier if you just give in.”

      That wasn’t him getting her to give up. That was him weakening Conquest a little. Conquest would have gained more power if he spent more time torturing Rose and breaking her. This way, he didn’t break her. She just quickly gave up. Not much of a conquest.

        1. Maybe he’ll stick Rose in a metal bikini. And then at the end she finishes him off by using the chain to strangle him. And it will have happened because she did submit, but wasn’t broken.

        2. See, I was creeped out when I realized he had her the entire time she was comatose. Unchaperoned. shivers

          I’m thinking your idea is better, with Fell giving advice to Rose rather than Rose having already been partially broken while under Conquest’s supervision.

      1. Love, friendship, whatever. It’s a continuum rather than solid divisions. Besides, “The Power of Love” came first.

  9. I also really like that he’s going to tell his friends the truth. The plot can go so many ways from here – hopefully starting with them believing him.

  10. There’s no “last chapter”/”next chapter” button, and in the last chapter the “next chapter” button doesn’t work. Also, Conquest is referred to as Conquest a few times, when he should be C-word.

      1. Hey, is it possible to get a search box like in the Worm website? Pact is now long enough to start needing one.

        1. There is one, it’s just really hard to see because it’s the same color as the background. You need to mouse over it.

        2. There is one, in the bar along the top of the screen, the same one that has About, Table of Contents, and Donate. It’s marked by a magnifying glass.

          If that is what you meant, don’t worry about not seeing it–it took me a while to notice it as well.

          1. the link went missing. so much of an attention seeker, and dimension hopper ms laborn from elsewhere ( many of you know where ) is trying to spotlight mug Blake…)

            In that vein and avoiding spoilers wonder how her powers would have done against that demon…

  11. Thanks for reading.

    For the record, there should be a Thursday update this week. I’ll update the donation count at April’s end (Wednesday or so)

    1. Thank you for having/letting/allowing Blake to crack the masquerade here. Far too many lesser works would have spiraled the “hilarious” misunderstanding into cheap drama.

      1. Indeed. I’ve gotten really tired of the ‘protagonist has to lie to his friends to protect his secret identity’ plot everywhere. I was so happy blake just went and told his friends.

        1. Agreed. Their was an early Iron Man story in the comics where Tony’s heart condition worsened and he had to wear the full armor all the time. Does he
          A- Come clean to Pepper and Happy letting them know of his situation and asking them to help run his company while he sees what he can do to improve his condition?
          Or
          B- Say Mr. Stark is indisposed and left Iron Man in charge of running Stark Enterprises, causing them to think that Iron Man has kidnapped Tony Stark and is trying to steal his company?

          Hint, the stupider one.

    2. Thank you for that. I would have gone insane if I had to wait until Saturday to read the next chapter xD

      The Big Reveal is one of the best parts of these types of stories, imo. The fact that this is coming early is a rare occurrence and I’m itching to see his friends’ reaction.

    3. This is why I was pretty pleased that we had no Thursday update this past week. Because this week, with the Conquest showdown looming before us, we get Sat-Tues-Thurs-Sat-Tues, all in fairly rapid succession. I don’t know that it will be enough, but it seems pretty convenient from this end 🙂

  12. Conquest isn’t merely a greater Other. No, no, no, big as he is, you might say he’s a significant Other.

    Seeing as this place is refreshing him and he might wind up with a large group of friends who can help him, we might see the beginning of a demesne here. He’ll want to refrain from masturbation if he hopes to be master of his domain, though.

      1. I think the lawyers are going to be reasonable on that. And as for demesne, this should be it, IMO. Buy his apartment from Joel, explain why it needs to be his, warn him of the dangers of the demesne ritual, then get cracking. Jacob’s Bell council meetings are a day-trip away.

          1. Too big to be manageable. Esp. since Joel’s a newbie, if he even takes the oath in the first place. Remember what the Behaims and Duchamps do? They get a house and they divvy it up between themselves and their children, so that each child can claim a demesne. If Joel’s smart (or Blake tells him of this exploit), He’ll claim his apartment (at least) and allow Blake and any others who want to take the plunge to claim demesnes in their apartments. Even the High Drunk was content with nothing more than a condominium.

            1. Seems improbable that everyone who agrees to awaken would even want to take their apartments as the demesnes that they’ll be connected to for the rest of their lives. Whereas Joel probably worked hard to get this apartment building that he could live off for the rest of his life.
              As for being a newbie, he wouldn’t have to make it his demesne right away, and he could probably get help from Blake and the rest of the (so far hypothetical) circle.
              Living in another practitioner’s demesne would probably require a renegotiation on contracts, but should be doable in advance.

    1. Conquest doesn’t like people making demesnes inside the city limits, remember? That’s why the Knights were scouting out the building with the darkness demon in it and why most of them got eaten as a result.

      Remember, the demesne-creation ritual requires you to issue a challenge to all nearby spirits who would challenge you for ownership of the land; due to Conquest’s nature, he’s almost certainly incapable of refusing such a challenge. If Blake tried to make his apartment a demesne, Conquest would almost definitely show up, and he may very well decide to call up the Eye of the Storm and burn the apartment building down. There’s no guarantee that he’d bring Pauz or the Hyena along with him, either, and without those, Blake’s missing what could quite possibly be some of his most powerful weapons.

      1. Once the dust settles from Blake’s attempt to rescue Rose? I’m not certain that’ll be a problem. If only because we have about ~8 more months of story to go.

      2. They almost certainly don’t have time for a Demesnes creation ritual now. But after Conquest has been Conquered they certainly do.

    1. He burned the demon out, so it didn’t lose the eye. It was in serious danger of being lost, but he got it, at least enough to save the eye.

      Whether there will be other consequences, though…

    2. He didn’t lose an eye.
      He almost did during his fight against urrrr- but he got rid of it by putting a burning towel right next to his eyes.

  13. “He’s not the C-word,” I said. “He’s a C-word.”

    “Well put,” Nick said, from the driver’s seat.

    Did anyone else get the joke here?

  14. I hope all the members of Blake’s future Coven get different specializations…
    He could really do with a pyromancer for ErasUrr. And someone to build magical knick knacks, and check out if what local ghosts are available. I Wonder how many he’ll bring into the fold. It’ll be Nice for his friends to get some charactrization. So: he should at least have a pyromancer definetly, a valkyrie maybe, whatever the hell a knick knack maker is (a shamanist perhaps?), and maybe an enchanter and chronomancer (maybe an augurer too, fairly safe thing to do it seems like, and Behaims do that future telling thing on top of their time thingy) to help him against the Behaim-Duchamp coalition.

    1. 1) I’m pretty sure that a lot of what they do is based on what information they have access to. Assuming that they get access to the apparently very well-stocked Thorburn library after all of this is said and done…

      2) Holy crap, I just thought about what the Jacob’s Bell folk will think if Blake comes back into town with a posse of newbie practitioners. Possibly indifference, because with that many people, any gain in power would be offset by the multitude of new openings that they would make. Possibly it will make them more rabid, because holy crap, that’s a whole lot of people with access to the magical nukes now.

      1. Assuming Blake would/could bring his friends to J.’s B. at all.
        They should just go on with their Toronto lives instead of being uprooted regardless of magic stuff, I’d think.

        1. Assuming that they do become practitioners:

          Since they would have lost the protections given to mundanes, they would need a safe place to stay until they could learn enough to protect themselves.

          They would need to learn enough to protect themselves, and the Thorburn library seems like an excellent place to do so. Added bonus of a several more readers, though likely of varying effectiveness, which could help the situation a lot, on both ends.

          With the way that Blake keeps talking about them, I would surprised if many of his friends would even be willing to let Blake walk away after being caught up on what’s going on.

          The money situation would be trickier, as I don’t think that Blake’s stipend could cover that many people, and Joel’s income seems to be based (almost?) solely on the friends paying for rent, but he might be able to swing it. Especially since there wouldn’t be a need for an errand boy anymore, maybe. On second thought, nevermind, even if the townsfolk don’t become an issue because they don’t know who the friends are, the practitioners would likely pounce. Hm.

    2. I feel like having a circle really opens him up to attacks from the Enchantresses… There are a lot more connections to manipulate and protect.

      1. See, thinking about how any seemingly good thing can actually be a horribly bad thing! That’s the sort of attitude you need for Pact!

      2. “When dealing with people without defenses, enchantment is incredibly potent” 3.05

        At the time, I took that to mean the unawakened, that practitioners had some measure of inherent protection beyond the fact that they could see their connections being altered if they looked, but perhaps that’s incorrect. If it is correct, however, that shouldn’t be as much of an issue.

        I would be more worried about them creating openings by making the standard newbie mistakes, really. Unwise oaths, inadvertent lies, etc.

    3. I think a “knick knack maker” should be called an artificer. (Borrowing from the archetype of mages in M:tG who create and empower machines of every stripe)

  15. Awesome chapter. Hyper addictive story. There is one thing I’d like to get off my chest though. This sounds very Seinfeld, but the amount of times the phrase “It is what it is” (or similar) is used, has started to bug me. Its not that I inherently dislike the phrase, Its that I see it as a strong characterization and if its used by too many different characters, I feel like it comes through as the authors voice and can weaken the characters. Please accept my humble criticism.

    1. Noted and accepted. Thanks fantapop.

      Like ‘copacetic’ in Worm, it’s one of those things where I don’t keep good track of when I use it, and I then use it too often in succession. I will keep an eye out for it.

      1. It could be explained as “local people’s thing”. Certain phrases and words stick better in certain geographic regions, and knowing that can reinforce the credibility and/or suspension of disbelief.

      2. I vaguely recall someone outside the Undersiders’ circle using “copacetic” and being vaguely bothered by it, because I tended to assume it was a trend Lisa started.

  16. Guys, Bhig3 made a really good point last chapter:
    “The fire might have still remained because ErasUr is unable to consume the fire.”

    We’ve been using the existence of the fire despite the lack of a lighter to prove that ErasUr does not change the past, that she only changes memories. Maybe she can change the past, just not the past of fire.

    1. 😀 Thanks

      Fell’s mother’s comment about how unconventional it was that Blake used fire against the demon kind of bolstered this idea in my mind as well.

    2. One of the reasons the Knights believe that they had many more members before is that they were looking at very large buildings to set up in. If ErasUr changed the past, they wouldn’t have ever run across him. (and ofc you get all the paradoxical problems that come with changing the past)

      1. Yeah, to be fair, the only basis for thinking that ErasUr changes the past, is that the Knights think that she does. Then again, the Knights might have been referencing the idea that people change based on their (current) connections and memories.
        I have to say, this really is a fun logic puzzle.

  17. so much awesome, if it helps keeping them alive wildbow, you are great managing teams and i’m convinced it will make for a more interesting story.
    about karma.. if you get a small share of the karma from the actions of people you bring into the supernatural world, then blake might be able to pay off his family’s debt with some help from his friends, they all seem like nice people and even if he only gets a small fraction, 6 or 7 seven practitioners doing the right things should be a pretty big amount of positive karma. mmm, its starting to sound like a pyramid scheme.

    1. Technically, the lawyers only said that their mistakes would give him some poor karma; they never said anything about their acting well transmitting back to Blake as well.

      That doesn’t mean that it won’t, it just cannot be taken for granted.

  18. Great chapter, and I loved hearing about the goblins last chapter. Sure, it’s fun to speculate, but people reading this in one go aren’t going to stop for several days in between each chapter to chat with other people about how the book is going, so they aren’t going to speculate anywhere near as much as we’ve been.

    I got several paragraphs in on this post and realized that there wasn’t enough room in the post for Blake to take on Conquest in this post. Darn! But I loved the post, I’m glad he’s bringing other people in, I’m glad he has friends. I actually have some hope for him now! I mean, I’ve been thinking that he was going to end up like Ernie in Sesame Street when he lost his third rubber ducky, but I have hope for him now that he’ll walk away from this relatively intact.

    1. SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS…Come on. Seriously. No frakking spoilers.

      1. You’re in the comments section for the latest post, and people basically only comment in the very newest post.

        How can there be spoilers? no-one else (wildbow presumably excluded) has read farther than this chapter.

        Well, you could be reading the comments before reading the corresponding chapter of the story, but that would be silly.

          1. I think Sir fuente and Olive Birdy you hit that problem right on the nail

            seriously peeps, no worm spoilers. okay?

            1. Either we have the power to edit our comments here, or there was a lot more Sesame Street in Worm than I recall.

          2. Yes, apparently there are people who haven’t read Worm yet and are reading this? So someone came along and edited my post. I know they’re separate stories, but in my opinion it’s like discussing the second book in the Heroes of Olympus series and referencing something in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.

            1. Alright, let’s say there’s someone who is a slow reader and is reading both stories in parallel. Or they only just now heard of Worm through Pact. If there is a hypothetical person who is reading this before reading Worm, spoilers should be left out.

    2. [naive]Hrm. That’s odd. I didn’t know Ernie lost his second rubber ducky, let alone a third.[/naive]

      lookofdisapproval.jpg

  19. So. We’ve reached that Godzilla Threshold. Will be interesting to get a better sense of how much it takes to get rid of the muggle protection, with all the blurriness the Blackguard introduced to that question.

    1. I didn’t think that the blackguard really introduced any blurriness.

      “Sometimes you need someone with the protections ordinary people have, or you need a person who can bend the truth or lie, when questions start getting asked.”

      She’s just an ordinary person, whose role is staying with the magic-users so that she can…well, what it says right above. She all but explicitly states that she’s an ordinary person, and while she could lie, I’m reasonably confident that this was the truth. It’s generally bad form for exposition to be false, for all that it can be useful to surprise the audience later.

      1. Yeah, but on the other hand she’s also aware of magic existing and is used to acting with/against them. How deep can she get before she loses her protections? Someone like Andy is has to be in too deeply to have those protections, but I think most of us were assuming once you’ve seen enough to convince you magic is real that you lose those. Apparently it requires you to cross some other line.

        1. The line is probably awakening, it’s one thing to know that the supernatural exists and quite another to be able to do something about it. Awakening seems to take the metaphysical safety switch off a person’s perceptions. I can’t imagine simple knowledge of the supernatural’s existence is enough, it’s implied that before the Seal of Solomon everyone knew the Others existed. Though on the other hand, before the Seal of Solomon people didn’t really have much protection to speak of at all.

        2. If I’m remembering correctly, a large part of the reason that people become Witch Hunters (like Andy) is that they keep the protections. I believe most of the protection still apply until you are awakened.

  20. Well this took a turn for the better. I like and respect that Wildbow is willing to shake things up with major changes. It will be interesting to see what happens after the masquerade is broken (at least with regards to his friends).

    It’s good to see that Blake is savvy enough to know that Conquest would find out about his plans.

    So far every arc has had a secondary meaning. For example, Conviction. Blake escaped conviction by the legal system but gained a new conviction to fight evil.

    Subordination. The first meaning seems obvious. Conquests wants the Thorburns (or at least just Rose) to capitulate to him, being all submissive and subordinate. Could it also refer to Blake’s Buddies (all I can come up with at the moment. Anybody have a better name for Team Blake)? His new recruits may be subordinate to him, considering him their magical leader. Could Blake induct the Knights into his group, instantly becoming the leader to a decent size circle?

    1. There is virtually no chance that the Knights of the Basement will merge into Blake’s group. Ally, maybe; merge, nope.

      As for team names, Blake’s basically showing them the ugly truth he’s been hiding, no glamour, no masquerade, no protection, no bliss of ignorance. So i’d call them Disillusionists for now.

      Knights of the Basement meet Diabolist and Disillusionists, on a more silly note.

      1. There is virtually no chance that the Knights of the Basement will merge into Blake’s group.

        I don’t mean this in an accusing way, but can you back that up? You just made a statement without elaborating. I literally have no reason to accept what you said. Perhaps my thinking/memory is off, but the Knights are currently a weak, small group. If merging would provide them with protection, I don’t see why that option would be automatically dismissed.

        Disillusionists. . . Heh, I get it.

        1. I am much better with predictions than explanations 🙂
          Conterarguing all you “pro” points with stronger “contras” could work, though.

          Your “provide them with protection” speaks for the alliance, but merging into Blake’s can actually put them under crosshairs. You don’t want to touch the diabolist if you’re not cursed by family connections already, that’s more danger than protection.

          1. The Knights of the Basement seem to have a cellular organization to them (at least that’s my impression). If that’s the case, I could see Blake’s friends becoming another cell rather than having Blake absorb them. Keep in mind that they’ve been practitioners for much longer than Blake and likely have more experience. Even if they’re diminished, they’re still his seniors.

            At the very least, he’s probably going to request assistance and basic training for those who decide to become practitioners.

            1. You are right, nothing prevents Blake’s friends from training with the Knights and eventually joining them, especially if Blake goes back to Jacob’s Bell, and they stay in Toronto.
              There is not even a group yet, everything’s on an individual basis.
              Maybe Alexis starts practicing, and Joel says “you’re crazy, I’ll have none of it” and stays out, or other way around.

    2. Since Blake’s current combat style is improvised spellcasting by MacGyvering components and he “collects birds”, I recommend the Phoenix Foundation.

  21. “I’m not so sure,” I said. “Just about every time someone says ‘worst case scenario’, I immediately think of a bunch of ways that things could get even worse.”

    Hey, Blake’s learning! Good for him.

  22. The power of friendship is nice, but the power of love is even stronger! Blake needs to bring Tiffany and Alexis to Conquest and use the power of love to defeat him. Most people don’t even realize how powerful love is:

      1. It’s strange. I was trying to do embedded video. It has worked in the past. I even tested it on another site after it didn’t work the first time. . . Perhaps WordPress doesn’t like me anymore.

  23. Hmmm.
    Blake has basic knowledge… and perhaps more importantly, he is utterly willing to share. We’ve seen that assumptions about time spent as a practitioner are not as solid as they seem – that a very new practitioner can still achieve things if they have any form of leverage. They’re just assumed not to have leverage.

    However, Blake also hasn’t done anything yet to properly break the veil between mundane humans and Other things.
    However-however, he is now doing things with the intent and trappings of showing someone magic. That probably counts for a lot.

  24. Hey, assuming they all get through this Blake will be able to introduce Rose to his friends. Well sorta, maybe, kinda.

    1. It occurs to me that one way of polishing off seven lifetimes of bad karma would be to have multiple people working on it.
      Maybe if one or more of his friends end up awakened they could actively pursue good karma in their daily lives (much more easily than Blake could in his shit show) and then find a way to transfer him their excess.

    1. Oh man, if the Behaim circle pulled out tons of awesome magical tricks just because Blake is heading down a diabolical path of destruction, can you imagine the looks on their faces when they find out he’s making a Diabolist Circle?

      I’d take a picture, frame it, and put that on my ceiling so it’s the first thing I see in the morning. Now THAT’S a way to start one’s day off on a good note.

      1. I don’t think they should all be Daibolists. Aside from being the most difficult and dangerous specilization, I think a good variety of disciplines would be a good idea.

        1. There were several listed above. We don’t really know enough about any of them to accurately guess future specializations, but a good pyromancer wouldn’t go amiss, nor would an artificer (to make equipment on order for practitioners). An enchanter would be good to have as well, given the way connections permeate everything.

          Assuming of course that every shamanist rune Blake has is given freely to the group. Because those have come in handy on numerous occasions.

          1. Phew… finally caught up with Wildbow’s writing! I discovered Worm when it was finished (or nearly finished, anyway), so I had no opportunity to comment. Now, however, I can finally join the ranks of the comments section!

            Just had a thought – what is the actual benefit to becoming a proper shaman? Blake seems to be doing fine with the runes he’s been given. I know relations with spirits are important, is it perhaps easier to improve relations when you specialise in shamanism? Or are runes stronger? What do you all think?

            1. Possibly you become sort of a “repeat customer” to the karmic spirits (because the runes and such are interceding with them directly), with all the benefits that implies (including better bang for your buck with runes). Also, possibly you become more desirable as a friend to nature-oriented Others.

          1. Oh they’ll assume the worst. But that doesn’t mean Blake’s friends would all be using Diabolism. Besides be funny to see a Beiham come all prepared for a diabolist and run into something else.

            1. They will /publicly/ assume the worst, then try to get everyone dead or imprisoned before they have to worry about whether or not it’s a lie.

  25. Nice chapter. Good to see some hopeful stuff happen after the double whammy of despair the last two chapters gave us.

    Blake has two big things going here – the win from beating Duncan in the Behaim’s third attack on him, and his loss in failing his third diabolic binding. Winning in the latter was probably crucial to his plans to stop Conquest succeeding, but third rounds are pretty strong. Success breeds success, failure breeds failure. The universe seems to have punished him by having Conquest yank in Rose and having her spill the beans, making the plan as it stands unworkable right now.

    On the other hand, it seems that the Behaims’ attempt to ruin his connections to his friends has done the reverse due to his win – his friends already believe he was framed without him needing to explain, and their connections to him are probably stronger than ever. They’re willing to help him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them were willing to do the awakening ritual so that he’s got some practitioners solidly on his side for a change.

    He couldn’t have gotten through a double loss for third rounds, but with one win and one loss he’s still got a chance.

    1. Huh, interesting. I hadn’t thought of his win against Duncan pushing his friends closer to him, but that makes perfect sense.

  26. It looks like Blake doesn’t suffer from the same problem Taylor did, i.e. an inability to genuinely ask for help.

  27. Cluing in your buddies; smart. Avoids them being used as pawns against you, gives them a heads up as to what’s really going on when weirdness enters your life, gives you a support network.

    No idea if Awakening any of them is a good idea, given how much Pact magic is based on inherited supernatural authority and they have none. Though Maggie Holt doesn’t seem to have problems, so maybe there’s ways of gaining some of that metaphysical clout within your lifetime.

    1. I suspect that Maggie gets around the lack of inheritance problems by being an adorable little badass, inherited knowledge, and lots and lots of goblins.

    2. Blake doesn’t really have much either, but he does just… well okay he doesn’t do great, but still.

  28. “It’s too bad we can’t tap the Behaims for help on that front.”
    Blake, are you forgetting you took some timey wimey from Duncan? I don’t know if he can use it or not, but its worth looking into.

    1. Ah, someone else remembered that trinket as well. Can’t wait until we see what it’s used for. My current guess is that it’ll play a role in shattering the time field around Hillsglade.

  29. So now Blake is responsible for the newbies he will awaken. But what if they do double plus good? Become a right team of helpful positive karma badasses? Blake is responsible for all that right? This could be Blake’s key to a lowered debt! Its like a pyramid scheme.

    1. The lawyers didn’t say that good karma transferred from the people inducted into the magical world, just the bad. They didn’t say that the good didn’t transfer either, but it’s an important distinction to remember.

  30. So he gets the karma hit of adding “civilians” to the crazy world.

    I don’t know… his friends are artists. I can see at least 2 or 3 of them asking to be awakened because “I knew fairies were real!”

  31. Careful Blake. Saying “When my /other/ friends arrive” can possibly considered a lie, if they don’t fall under what he considers a “friend”

    Makes me wonder- if you say “this is my friend”, but the other person hates you and wants you to die, and does not consider you a friend at all, are you lying? Or is “this is my friend” automatically implying “As far as I’m aware” along with it?

    1. “Friends” is being grouped with “Allies” here, or rather is being differentiated from “Enemies.” Close enough to count as a not-lie.

    2. A person is your friend as long as you consider her as a friend. Even if she’s trying to kill you, as long as you say she’s your friend, she is. Now this isn’t necessarily mutual. She may be your friend while you are her enemy. She doesn’t consider you a friend so you ate not her friend even though she’s your friend.

      I hope that made sense.

  32. Uh-Oh. I just realized, last chapter ended with Fell on his way to see Blake. I think we are approaching another one of those times when Blake is in the middle of an important conversation only to be interrupted. Basically, I think Fell is about to show up and interrupt the Blakeguard talk.

    1. Ooh, yeah, that timing’s off. Especially with Fell’s sole source of freedom. Hopefully Blake can use the opportunity to suborn Fell, or if that’s impossible, get him to stand aside while the diabolist does his dirty work.

    2. Yes, but look at Fell’s half lies in his conversation. He says it is a “good thing” that Blake escaped from the oblivion demon. He also SPECIFICALLY asks permission to assist Blake in (paraphrasing: ) “managing trouble that is stirring up amongst the locals.”

      Essentially, Fell has asked permission to help Blake take down Conquest. O.O

  33. Ah, that is thinking with portals. Reminds me of an old comic where a guy finds a magic lamp, and the genies says he can’t wish for more wishes. So he simply wishes for more genies and problem solved. He has no clout, and no allies, so he simply creates some by sharing what knowledge he has. Even better if he can turn them into practitioners. Blake’s circle would be united by friendship. No people obsessed with more power and authority, no double dealings, no young family members subordinate to older ones, etc.

  34. So in jrpg terms, Blake seems to be multi-classed, somewhere between a ninja/thief and a summoner/trainer.

    Right now, Blake could really use a white mage. Alexis seems to like healing people (in an emotional way at least). Perhaps she can fulfill the role. Nick and his shotgun can fill the archer/gunner role. This leave Blake a need for muscle, both physical and magical. Perhaps Goosh (tall mother bear type) and Amanda (Petit, enthusiastic type) can fill the roles of fighter/knight and black mage respectively. This leaves Blake with a need for buffs. We know Tiffany is an artist and creator. She could fill the role of artificer/chemist, making magic charms, trinkets and tools for the group.

    If Blake fills these roles, he should have a nice team going. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: The Blakeguard (or at least one possibility).

    1. If it were that easy to initiate new people, the masquerade would never have lasted this long.

      Which brings up another point. In this world, Others are obviously a serious threat to public health. Maggie’s goblin, the Hyena, and Pauz have all affected significant numbers of civilians, all within the limited time and space of this story. If the masquerade isn’t going to be pierced by statisticians and public health officials, there must be something pretty damn strong keeping that from happening. Whatever that is, is something that could present a risk for new practitioners who decide to tell their friends.

      1. Didn’t someone mention there was a cover-up for the goblin festival of blood? Also with what we know about Others mostly targetting thos who have fallen through the cracks of society, it seems to me that the very few instances where an Other is powerful enough to do something on a large scale and yet is not bound by the Seal of Solomon are covered-up. The others are not noticed by statisticians because they are part of the statistics and have always been (for things like Pauz) or arrange their own cover-up (for things like ErasUrr).

    1. Hey, I have a use for those days. Monday I walk around with a Rastafari hat on and keep calling everyone “mon” with a phony Jamaican accent. Sunday, I plot to destroy the local star. Friday is when I do my frying for the week. Mmm, nothing like six day old chicken. Thursday is when I hound some poor bastard and keep him from drinking anything all day. As for Wednesday, well, that’s hump day.

      1. Odd…. I thought on Wednesday you would have been campaigning for the right for retrogamers to marry their gaming system.

  35. “Was it police brutality?” she asked.
    “It was just one of them that was a real bastard.”

    You just might make it, Blake.

    “I’m in a bad place. So much worse than you can imagine. So I’ll start you off slow.”
    “Sure?”
    “Evan!” I called out.


    Cool.

  36. I think I figured this out. The astrologer lady, the sphinx, even The Drunk? all in on this. They’re manipulating things from behind the scenes — deliberately getting Blake into just enough trouble but not too much.

    With friends like that, Blake’s prospects are looking a lot higher.

    1. The Drunk? Ha, no. He wants to “see to it” that Blake a) stays out of Jacob’s Bell per his promise to Sandra, and b) stays in Toronto as a corollary to a. The Sphinx? Ha, no. She, like most of karma, is of the opinion that diabolists with poor bottom lines need to die in order to stop pulling the balance in the negative direction. The Astrologer? Maybe, but we’ve seen nothing of her influence since the meeting. The only spy Blake’s noticed had connections to Jacob’s Bell, which means it was probably Briar Girl keeping an eye on her investment in Hillsglade land. (Or Laird/Sandra keeping an eye on the enemy)

      1. Or the drunk or one of his flock.

        and I’m totally not ruling out the idea that the Drunk makes his promise come true, as a consequence of all of this.

        I think the Drunk’s concession from Conquest is going to break Conquest. That’s his contribution to wresting Toronto from Conquest (which is a much larger desire than anything he’s promised Sandra)

  37. Black Lamb’s Blood, he is building a circle of moderate diabolists. He is planning ahead to make an end run on reality.

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