Subordination 6.2

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I took my time changing clothes, then stepped into the washroom.  No time to shower, but I wiped down with a wet washcloth, got my hair damp and got it as tidy as I could manage.  When I made my way to the living room, they’d already settled in, Alexis looking impatient, Joel typing.

I sat on my futon, elbows on my knees, hands sticking out.  Evan hopped from one finger to the next.

“This waiting is killing me,” Alexis said.  She leaned on the back of the armchair that Joel sat in.  She was short enough that the back of the chair covered her from the chest down.  “Give us a tidbit?  Something to assure us you haven’t gone completely around the bend?”

“Easier if we wait for the others,” I said.  “Once I get started, there’ll be questions, and it’ll be too easy to get caught up in explaining myself.  Better if I explain the once, give you an out, and then give proof to anyone who stays.”

“I know you’re not a murderer, Blake,” Alexis said, “But this is harder to buy.”

“I know,” I said.  “But if it was easy, I might have done it already.  There are costs here.”

“Uh huh.”

Joel was still focused on his phone, texting, looking up only to check on me, to gaze at the small bird.

“They’re your friends?” Evan asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I consider those two family.  Joel’s my landlord, and he’s one of the nicest guys I know.  Alexis saved my life.”

“I’m not sure if I should interrupt your conversation, if you can call it that,” Alexis said, “But I really didn’t.”

She looked so worried.  I hated worrying her.

“You did,” I said.  “I don’t think I would have lasted any longer out there.”

“You don’t give yourself credit.  You’re tough.”

“She’s the person you were talking about when you talked about your tattoos.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “But let’s maybe not get into something that intimate.”

“Non-sequitur much?” Alexis asked.

I smiled a little.  “I’m sorry.”

There was a knock on the door.

Alexis answered it.

Tiffany.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

How bad did I look?

“I’ll explain when everyone’s here,” I said, once again.  I was surprised they’d called her, but couldn’t ask why while she was here.

The others arrived.  Goosh, Tyler, Joseph.  No Amanda.

Two hours until midnight.

“Okay,” Alexis said.  “No more stalling.  Explain.”

“When my grandmother passed, she made my cousin Molly Walker her heir.  Molly inherited a trove of magical knowledge.  The other locals arranged to have her killed, because they thought that knowledge was too dangerous.”

“Magic?” Tyler asked.

“Magic.  Spirits, ghosts, goblins, monsters… all real,” I said.

“Is this a game, or an A.R.G., or-”

“No,” I said.  “It’s real.  In the past few days, I’ve almost been killed maybe a half dozen times.  In two hours, maybe more, maybe less, everything starts going to pieces.  Disaster.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but it’s bound to be pretty ugly.”

“What, specifically, is going to happen?” Joel asked.

“The less I say, the better.  One of the reasons this stuff isn’t common knowledge is that there’s a possibility for collateral damage.  If I provide all the info, you’re a part of it, and you might be in danger because of your relationship to me, or I might be in trouble if you slip up, when I have responsibility over you.”

“It’s… kind of hard to buy,” Tyler said.

“I know,” I said.  “But I’ve only got two hours to get ready.  If this is going to be two hours of me convincing you, or two hours of explanation while I hold your hands, then it’s not going to be enough.  I guess I’m asking for a leap of faith here.  A willingness to leave your old life behind, if it comes down to it, and lend me backup.”

“Leave our old lives behind?” Alexis asked.

“If this gets messy enough, might be I and everyone associated with me need to leave Toronto.  There might be danger.”

“Do you know how you sound?” Joel asked.

“Crazy,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “It would sound even crazier if I told you everything.  But I guess I need you guys to trust your instincts.  Decide if it’s possible for you to believe me, and decide if you’d want to make this sacrifice.”

“Without you telling us what that sacrifice is?”

“It’s dealing with the kind of horror you usually only read about in fairy tales.  The sort of thing you were afraid of when you were little.”

Evan nodded.  I saw eyes turn his way.

I added, “It’s being in danger.  Though I don’t necessarily want you guys in the thick of it.”

“Assuming this is for real, making this leap of faith?” Alexis asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’d try to back you up.”

I nodded.  I hadn’t expected any different from Alexis.

“Turning the tables,” Joel said,  “Can you do us the favor of maybe accepting that you’ve gone around the bend?  You’re in bad shape, and there are treatable things like thyroid problems or manageable stuff like mental problems that could explain a lot.”

“If you’re willing to entertain the idea that I’m not completely off my rocker, just for tonight, I can return the favor later,” I said.  “I can do what I can to accept that I’ve maybe lost it.  Tomorrow.

“If it involves leaving life behind, or the possibility that something could happen to me,” Joel said, “I don’t know if I can.”

I wasn’t surprised.  “Your mom?”

“My mom, yeah.  A couple years ago?  Maybe.  Another few years?  She won’t last that long.  But right now?”

I nodded.  I understood, and I didn’t want him to lose ties to his ailing mother for my sake.  It still stung, just a little.

“I can give you help in other ways,” he said.  “Lend you my car again…”

I shook my head a little.  “No need, not really.”

“Okay,” he said.  “The offer’s open.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “I dunno if you want to leave, but-”

“No way,” he said.  “I’ll hear you out.  Never let it be said I wouldn’t, baby.”

I nodded.

Four more people remained almost silent.  Goosh, Joseph, Tyler and Tiffany.

“I’m thinking of Natty,” Goosh said, when I met her gaze.

“I know,” I said.  “Joel brought her up not long after I showed back up in Toronto.”

“I was close to her.  We’re still in touch.  The bad days from that… it wasn’t all fun.  The bad days sucked, more than I can say.”

“You don’t want to get involved if I’ve lost it?” I asked.

“That is not what I’m saying,” she said, stabbing a finger my way.  Goosh could probably beat me in a fight, on a good day, so it was a little intimidating.  “You know that if you’re in trouble, you can come to me, just like I came to you back then for help with Nat.”

I nodded.

“That said, I’m having trouble believing you’re coming from the same place as her.  I don’t know if that’s Natty being so fresh in my memory, coloring my expectations, or if you aren’t crazy…”

“But?” I asked.

“I’ll hear you out,” she said, as she stuck her hands in her pockets.  “Even if you’re not for real, I’d really like to know more about where you stand and what’s going on.”

It kept coming back to mental illness.  I wasn’t sure how much resistance there was when introducing the unawakened to this world, but I could worry that, no matter how hard I tried, they might keep going back to that.

At the same time, it was rooted in them caring about me, and nobody had said or done anything to suggest they wouldn’t have my back if I had lost my mind.  It wasn’t just lip service, either.  It was being offered with full knowledge of how much that stuff could suck.

That was gratifying.

“Tyler?”

Tyler was black, skinny, his hair cut short, with a toothy smile.  He wore thrift store clothing that was badly out of date, but put together with an eye to color and style.  The thrift store aspect of it wasn’t so much that he was poor – he was, kind of, but even so – he just preferred to buy more, cheaper clothes to mix and match over having a few top notch outfits.  Sort of a metaphor for Ty as a whole.

Ty was one of the artists I worked for, a challenge of sorts.  He had a hard time sticking with things, meaning I had to constantly adapt to whatever new thing he’d picked up.  Thing was, Ty had a way of taking on something totally new and foreign and then abandoning it not long after he’d started to make money off of it.

There had been a time when I would have lopped off a foot for his talent at any one thing.  It was painful, sometimes, watching him struggling to get by.  A part of me wondered if he loved the process of learning something more than he loved being good at that something.  Another part of me thought that he might be addicted to the rush that came with uncertainty.  Anxiety wore on some people, but it very possibly drove people like Tyler to flourish.

The same part of me that worried about his addiction to anxiety wondered if asking him to help me out here was the right thing to do.

“I’m in,” Tyler said.  “A part of me wants these monsters to be real.”

Case in point.

“You wouldn’t really want to, if you knew the full story,” I said.

“Wanna bet?” he asked.

“Not on that one point,” I said.

“Well I’m in.  There’s no way I don’t want to hear more about this.”

“Okay,” I said.

“How are you going to prove it?” Joseph asked.

“Do you believe me?” I asked.  I was a little surprised.  Joseph’s critical eye was easily the sharpest in the room.  He had a way of swinging between what looked like unfailing good cheer and deep, dark moods.  Sometimes it was little things that set him off.  The inability to get one detail right on a project.  Other times, he could toss a project aside without a care.  Though he wasn’t as talented as Tyler or Alexis, his ability to fit what he did make to the ‘scene’, making it applicable and different enough to get noticed, made him perhaps the most successful of us here.

“I don’t not believe you,” he decided.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

He shrugged, smiling a bit.  “It means only that.  Like Goosh says, you don’t give off the right vibe.  I’ll listen.”

I nodded.

“Tiff?”

Tiffany’s expression was worry more than anything.  Not directed at me so much as herself.  “I’m not sure why Joel invited me.  There were others the other night that have known you longer.”

I’m kind of wondering that myself.

“Because I trust you,” Alexis said.

Going with her gut?

“Okay,” Tiff said.  “I don’t feel like it’s my place, but I’ll listen.”

I nodded.

It would have to do.

“Evan,” I said, addressing my familiar.  “Maybe you want to write a letter?”

“I need paper,” he said.

“End of the hall.  On top of the short bookcase,” I said.

He took off.

“You want a trained bird to write a letter?” Goosh asked.

“Evan there is the ghost of the boy I was accused of killing.  Last fall, he was lured into the woods.  A monster called the Hyena stalked him.  He survived until he died of exposure.  Yesterday, I ran into his ghost.  Earlier today, I bound that ghost into familiar form.  He retains his wits, and as far as I can tell, a few minor powers.”

I heard a thump.

A moment later, Evan returned, flying very close to the ground.  He was having trouble flying, with the way the paper caught the air.

I reached out to catch the paper the moment he was close enough.

“I bumped into the wall,” he said.  “The paper got in my way.”

“I heard.  Sorry,” I said.

I made my way to my feet.  “I’m this feeble because I drew too much from my personal reserves.  I bled myself out to power effects.”

“Self harm?” Joel asked.

I crossed to the cabinet by my dining table.  One shelf had wine glasses.  The shelf below was crammed with all the minor crap that tended to accumulate on the table, with nowhere specific to go.

I grabbed a bottle of ink for filling fountain pens.

I unscrewed the cap.  I placed it by Evan, then held it down.  There was a trace of ink on the underside.

He hopped up, stuck his foot down, then hopped onto the paper, resting on one leg, fluttering briefly to catch his balance.

He began drawing out letters with one toe.

“No way,” Tyler said.  He grinned.

Joel was a little less amused.  I saw a frown cross his forehead.  The other seemed to fall into a middle ground.  Confused.  Staring at Evan, or just plain silent.

“Thoughts?” I asked.

“That’s pretty impressive for something with a brain the size of a corn kernel,” Joel said.

“Can I peck him?” Evan asked.  He’d stopped mid-letter.

“No pecking Joel,” I said.

I waited for him to finish  I held up the paper.  The words were a bit of a scrawl, disjointed, but he’d done a pretty damn good job.

‘Its all true.’

“You forgot the apostrophe,” Joseph said.

“I’m a bird,” Evan said.  “I’m a kid.  I’m dead.”

“The mistake is excusable, given the circumstances,” I said, as I put the paper down.

Still, Evan seemed somewhat offended, and he made his way to the cap from the small bottle of ink, stuck his toe in the ink, then flutter-hopped over to stick his foot down, depositing a dot of ink.

“Okay, that’s a little uncanny,” Joseph admitted.

“That’s not proof enough?” I asked.

“It’s easier to accept that a bird might be exceptionally well trained, and that you or whoever trained it might have expected the apostrophe thing to come up,” Joseph said.

Nobody was arguing that point.

Fuck me.  If cool, intelligent people who trusted me were going to be this fucking dense, I could probably get away with using magic in public.

Not that I hadn’t used it in public, but I’d at least been discreet.  Maybe there wasn’t even a need.

Was this the natural resistance to the unknown?

Why hadn’t I run into it when Rose first showed up?

I reached into my sleeve and retrieved the locket.  I had to twist and unknot it a bit to get it free from where it uncomfortably encircled my wrist.

There wasn’t much here.  The hair was gone, but the dark crust on the interior wasn’t.

I got my finger thoroughly smudged, then drew a diagram on the top of the coffee table.

“By doing this,” I said, as I drew, “I’m introducing you to this world.  Your mistakes from here on out are mine, in part.  The consequences can be heavy, and I’m not in a position to be able to afford mistakes.”

I wasn’t sure how well this would work.  Glamour fed on belief, and there were a number of disbelievers here.

But I might kill myself if I used blood, and I had no idea how to use the Stonehenge charm that Evan had taken from Duncan.

I moved my hands back.

The coffee table slid a solid two feet, and the diagram disappeared.

“You kicked it,” Joseph said.

“He didn’t,” Goosh said.

“Nope,” Alexis confirmed.  “I watched.”

“Magnets, then,” Joseph said.  “Strings.

“That would only make sense if he wanted us to think he’s crazy,” Alexis said.  “And he’s not that kind of guy.”

“Thank you,” I said.  Joseph seemed flustered as he tried to reconcile very conflicting ideas.

“This is for real,” Joel said.  “There’s no way you set something like this up when you’ve been gone.”

“And because he wouldn’t,” Alexis said.

“You’ve known him longer than the rest of us have,” Joseph said.  “Forgive us if we’re a little slower to buy something this insane.”

I nodded.  A fair argument.  I’d been running into Alexis since almost day one on the streets.  I’d only really gotten to know her a few months in.  The rest of these guys, I’d known for a year, year and a half.  Tiffany?  For a week.

“You’re forgiven,” I said.

“This shit is real?” Alexis asked.

I nodded.

“The people you thought were trying to kill you are part of this?”

“Among them, the Lord of Toronto, a circle of time-manipulators that include one cop in the police station, very possibly a group of enchantresses.  In the past three days, I dealt with an imp that made the local wildlife go violent, the goblin-thing that caused Evan’s death, the aforementioned cop, and I tried and failed to deal with an honest-to-god demon.  Each of which tried to kill me, or managed to take a piece out of me.”

“Is that the way it always is?” Goosh asked.

“No,” I said.  I hesitated.  “It’s because of who my grandmother was.”

“Who was she?”

“An eminent diabolist,” I said.  “Someone who trafficks in the really bad stuff.”

I saw some eyes go wide.

Not wide enough.  They didn’t get it.  Not yet.

“Basically,” I said, “I’m spent.  This is why I need some backup.”

“What could we even do?” Joel asked.

You should do nothing,” I said.  “You have your mom to look after.”

“What you’re dealing with sounds important.”

“It is important.  If the Lord of Toronto gets what he wants, the world is liable to become a less pleasant place to live, putting it lightly.  But if you don’t look after your mother, Joel, the world still becomes a less pleasant place, get it?”

“It’s a question of scale,” he said.

“I was just dealing with a group of people who have someone in their group that isn’t a part of any of this.  She’s part of the group because being able and allowed to perform magic means you aren’t able or allowed to lie.  Oaths become binding.  She’s the group’s liar, for when they have to interact with other parties.”

“Joel couldn’t lie to save his life,” Goosh said.

“I’ll take what I can get,” I said.  “You in, Joel?”

He nodded.

I contemplated for a moment.  “None of you guys have run away screaming, which might mean I’m not doing my job at explaining this.”

“It’s not that we’re not a little freaked out by what you’re throwing at us.  It’s more that we’re on board,” Alexis said.

There were nods from everyone but Joseph.

He seemed to be having a harder time getting into this.

“Joseph?” I asked.

It seemed to be all the cue he needed.  “I’m gonna head out.”

“Hold on,” I said.

“I’m not saying I don’t believe it,” he said.  “I’m… it just doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of how it all fits together.”

“I can’t say it’ll make more sense after I explain, but it won’t magically start making sense on its own.”

“Give me a bit to wrap my head around it,” he said.

“How long is that ‘bit’?” I asked.  “The next two hours are pretty vitally important.”

“I’m not so good with stuff that I don’t get,” he said.  “I’d be more liability than help.  Check in with me in a day or two.”

“You’re running?” Tyler asked.

“No.  I’m not scared.  I’m unprepared.”

“I’ve been unprepared since day one,” I said.  “I know remarkably little, and I’ve had to face down some big problems.”

“That’s you.  I get it, I respect it, and I don’t envy you at all.  But you gave us a choice about whether we’d get into this, and I’m exercising that choice now.”

“You’re running,” Tyler repeated himself.  A statement this time.

“Don’t stop him,” I said.

“Maybe I am running, I don’t know,” Joseph said.  “I don’t want you to feel like I’m abandoning you, Blake.  Is there anything you need?”

“Sure.  Supplies,” I said.  “Tools.  Stuff I can use to draw.  Possible weapons?”

He fumbled with his keychain, then got his key.  He tossed it my way.  My reactions were too slow to catch it.  I picked it up from my lap.

He explained, “My place is yours.  Raid it for whatever you want.  But I’m going to stay out of this for now.”

“Where are you going?” Joel asked.

“I don’t know.  I’ll figure it out.  No hard feelings?”

“I’m sorry to see you go,” I said.  “But I’m glad you’re going, if you feel the need.”

“I’m sorry to be going, too, but…”

He trailed off, leaving the sentence for someone else to pick up.  Nobody did.

“Raid my place,” he said.

He made his exit.

It was bewildering and it hurt.  It was all the worse because I could see why it was happening.  Joseph wasn’t someone I was overly close to, but I’d considered myself closer to him than I was to my own parents.  I’d worked for him and with him, we’d confided in one another.  I respected him.  No shenanigans seemed apparent with a glance, no connections or other meddling.  He was doing this of his own volition, as far as I could tell.

Joseph was the most successful of us in the broad sense.  Yes, Alexis had steady work, but Joseph had garnered attention as an avant-garde artist, and was making it at a job that very few people did well at.  He succeeded because he was keenly aware of what his broader audience wanted.  He kept his finger on the pulse of the community, identified what would work, and made it happen, with a somewhat perfectionist manner.

I’d really wanted him on my side, in the midst of this.  To have his observant eye reading the situation would have made a world of difference.  I felt like he would have been an exemplary practitioner, given the opportunity.

I looked at the others.

“I’m in,” Ty said.

Alexis nodded.

Goosh hesitated.

I could read her expression.

“No?” I asked.

“If it was mental illness, I could get that.  But… you’re talking about something I’d have to keep secret from Amanda.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Or, admitting that she’s only a new relationship… that we probably aren’t in it for the long haul, it’d mean cutting myself off from future relationships.”

“I’ve found,” I said, “That that’s maybe the hardest part.  And that’s what I’m trying to fix here, reaching out to you guys.”

She nodded.

“That’s a no, then?” I asked.

“For now?” she asked.

Now was the most important time… but the thing that was going on with Conquest was just words to them.  The meaning and gravity of it wasn’t clear, and it wouldn’t be.

“I’ve got your back,” Goosh said.  “If that counts for anything.”

I nodded.  “Thanks.”

I saw eyes turn to Tiff.

“Don’t feel pressured to say yes because others are saying yes,” I told her.  “I asked you how you handle stress, a few days ago.  You said you don’t generally manage it well.”

“No.”

“It’s okay if you’re not into this.”

“Is there any part of this that isn’t horribly stressful?” she asked.

“Very little.”

She frowned.  “But this is major.”

She was trying to convince herself to move forward.

Why had Alexis invited her?  Tiffany liked me, and I liked her too, but I didn’t trust her on the same level I trusted the others.

“This is major,” I agreed.

“Then I’ll try to help, and I’ll do that very little that I think I can do.”

“Are you sure?”  I asked.  “I had arguments with a companion, not long ago, and I don’t think this is the sort of thing where half measures will do.  It might be better to back off.”

“I’m sure,” she said.  She sounded more confident, and left no room for argument.

Damn it.

Well, I wasn’t going to turn down help.

“Okay.  Three people.  There are things we need,” I said.

“What things?” Alexis asked.

“A dagger,” I said.  “An hourglass.  A skull.  A coin…”

By the time the Knights arrived, half an hour later, I’d given the others a brief idea of everything that had happened to date.  I had stayed out of the way while they moved furniture in my living room, and we had a set of circles drawn.  My visual memory was strong, and it was stronger still when it came to stuff I’d worked on with my hands.

I already had the bowls set out along the diagram.  We had stuff for most.

Ty was at work using a hacksaw to take a chunk off an iron poker from Joel’s place.  Joel, for his part, was going from apartment to apartment, trying to find Myrrh and an old coin.

“Hey,” Nick said.

“Hi,” Evan replied.

“Hi,” I said.

“You’re up to something,” Nick said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Nick, meet Alexis, Tyler, Tiffany, and Goosh.”

“Goosh?”

“Yep.”

“You’re awakening these guys?”  Nick asked.

“Yeah.”

“You’re aware that it’s typically very important to ask the local Lord for permission for this sort of thing?”

“Is it?”

“Failing to do so gets you in hot water.”

“Are they in hot water, or am I?”

“You, I’d think.”

“Then I can deal,” I said.  “He’s probably going to be ticked at me later tonight, whatever happens.”

Nick nodded.  “Here.  I brought the books.”

I looked over the texts.  Basic Protections.  Possibly useful.  Runes: Natural.  Very useful.  One text that had apparently been torn in half.  Only the latter half of the book remained, and…

Essentials.

Perfect.  It wouldn’t have made sense if they didn’t have a copy, short of the demon eating it.  This was the book a practitioner needed to have in their library.  The farmer’s almanac.  This one was an older version, at a glance, compared to my grandmother’s, and the spine was tattered, held together with clear tape.  I took a minute to double check I had the circles right.

Joel returned.  He had what looked like an American silver dollar, rather tarnished, and he had myrrh.

I flipped through the book, reading up on the symbolism.  Our coin wasn’t gold.  Did it matter?  The book was vague.

“We’re… fudging a few things,” I said, speaking my thoughts aloud.

“Iron isn’t raw ore,” Nick’s son said.

It wasn’t until he mentioned it that I thought to check.  This text, like the one I’d read from, had iron as one essential component.  Rose’s text had had holly.

“Does it matter if we bend the rules some?” I asked.  “I’m… my perspective is that the magic stuff is bullshitting.  Symbolism.  That the spirits really want to hear the right words and see the right steps being taken.”

“We fudged it too,” Nick said.

“Did you fudge it this much?”

“No.”

“Right,” I said.  I sighed.  Addressing my group, I asked, “Everyone has their personal items?  Something of significance to them?”

They each nodded, with the exception of Joel.

Alexis’ hands were empty, though.  I had to wonder what she’d picked.

“Who’s first?” I asked.

Tyler.

“I’m gonna step out, then,” Priss said.  “Keep my eyes virgin and innocent.”

I raised an eyebrow.  “Goosh?  Joel?  Go with her.  She’s your model.  Get advice from her on being the designated liar, what you can do, what you can’t, what to stay away from, and when to step in.”

“Okay,” Joel said.

“Can I stay?” Goosh asked.  “Maybe I don’t want my eyes to be virgin or whatever.”

I shook my head a little, but I said, “Sure.  Go with your gut.  That’s what I’m doing here.”

Joel paused.  “Are you doing the right thing?”

“No idea,” I said.  “But I need help, and… it means a lot to me that you guys are following through with this.”

He nodded.

I took the chunk of sawed-off poker iron from Tyler.  I gave him the book, open to the right page.

The remaining Knights stepped into the kitchen.  Around the corner.  Giving Tyler and the rest of us some privacy.

While he began reading, I held the iron with pliers and heated it up with the small acetylene torch I kept under my sink.

I dropped the iron in a bowl.

Tyler’s ritual.  The rest of us stepped back to the edges of the room.  I leaned on the dining table for support, the various food items behind me, the demon arm still wrapped in my jacket on the table.

“You need to strip,” I said.

“No way,” he replied.

“Open yourself up, make yourself vulnerable, show you have nothing to hide.”

Really?  Or do you want the girls naked?”

“I offered before,” Alexis commented.  “He said no.  He wouldn’t go this far now.”

“Fuck,” Ty said.  “No peeking.”

He began chanting.  I closed my eyes, thinking and listening.

“Oh my god.  This is really for real,” Tiffany murmured.

“Shh,” someone else said.

She was seeing things change, the bowls and lines move, the light change.

Somewhere along the line, the pink of light shining through my eyelids became black.

I opened my eyes, my hand raised to block my view of Tyler’s bits, and I could see Tyler in the midst of an oasis.  Light streamed in through the balcony window in thin rays, making it seem like we were in deep space.  Said light faded as the diagram and Tyler grew more pronounced.

I hadn’t clued him into this part of the ritual.  I would let him figure it out much as I had.

The knife appeared, sliding around until it was in front of him.  Something Ty had made himself when he’d been into metalworking.  Our ‘dagger’.

“Severing ties to the old Tyler,” he said.

Not quite a one-word response like I’d given.

The ‘hourglass’.  We’d found an hourglass, but it was cheap, chintzy, something small from a board game.  On impulse, I’d included the Stonehenge charm I’d liberated from Duncan.

“Makes me think of phases of the moon.  I like being out and about at times when I’m by myself more than I like places where I’m by myself.”

It was an odd fit.  Was it too far off?

The dreamcatcher, one of the things we’d found that actually wasn’t fudging it.

“I don’t want to be a salaryman.  The idea terrifies me.  I want to be on the other side.  Be an artist, be a wizard, be inspired.”

The skull moved into place.  A cat’s, bleached.  A paperweight from my bedroom.  It had sat on my stacked copies of tax returns before the police scattered everything.  A kind of personal joke.  Death and taxes.

“Until death, I suppose,” Ty said.

The coin.

“I get this is serious,” he said.  He was rambling as much as anything.  “There’s a weight to it.  Price to everything.”

I nodded.  He’d caught that in my broad-strokes explanation of what had happened thus far.

The rose.  It was more lively than the one Rose and I had used.

“It’s all interconnected, I guess?” Ty suggested.  “Life, death, time… yeah.  Saying I’m buying into this until the day I die is meaningless if I’m not in it when I’m alive.  I’m devoting my life to this.”

I winced.  I harbored concerns about Ty’s ability to devote himself to anything.  But, as I allowed myself to think it, maybe he could be something else.  One could devote themselves to music without devoting themselves to a singular instrument and style.  Ty was the type who, if they were a musician, they’d try every instrument and get the sense of every style they could find out about.  That took a devotion unto itself.

The personal item.

A USB stick.

Like I had, he seemed to feel this needed more explanation.

“My sister is twenty years older than me.  I saw life wear her down.  Debt, a marriage that became loveless, kids.  She did everything right and it did her wrong in return.  That stick is my journey.  The poetry I wrote when I was twelve, photos of the stuff I made last week.  It has my email archive, and I’m pretty sure my emails to and from my sister are there.  It’s… it’s me trying to find my way to where I need to be.  Blake’s done right by me, and maybe I don’t need to be there long term, but I think I should be at his back in the short.  But this stuff seems too interesting to not investigate.  That’s who I am… and maybe with this, there’s no way I can fuck up and wind up like my sister did.”

The bowl carried the USB stick away.

There were only the lines to be recited over the food.  Offerings to the various major types of Other.

Then the pledge.

Tyler looked happy.

Fuck me, I hoped that happiness wouldn’t give way to something else entirely.

The ritual finished.  The bowls were scattered around the apartment.

I threw Ty’s sweatshirt and boxers to him.

“Holy shit,” Ty said.

“No kidding,” Alexis said.

“No, I mean… wow, holy shit.”

“He can see,” I said.

“Like you explained,” Alexis said.

I nodded.

“Holy shit,” Ty said.  He looked at Evan with eyes that were too bright.  A lingering, very personal effect, like my tattoos had been.

“Hi,” Evan said.

“Shit on me.  Hi, bird.”

“Evan,” Evan said.

“Evan, sorry.”

“Be careful,” I said.  “Hyperbole is bad.  You can’t lie now.  Might want to cut back on the swearing.”

Ty nodded.  “Did I do that right?  The bit where the objects came up?”

“I used one word answers most of the way through.  I think it’s flexible.  You’re… I dunno, making yourself known, on a fundamental level.  The ideas are more important than the words.  It worked, so it probably wasn’t wrong.”

He nodded.

Eye on the clock.  There wasn’t a lot of time.  I glanced at Nick.  “Can you take Ty out?  Give him a rundown, or take him where you know there’s something he could bind?”

“Not really our thing, binding on the fly,” Nick said.  “But I could teach him the basic runes.”

“Please,” I said.

“Sure.”

“Rest of us clean up, set things up anew, and then the next person takes their turn,” I said.

I watched as the knife came up for Alexis.  I leaned against the wall, so the corner by the kitchen meant I couldn’t see her, but I could see the area in front of her.

“Sculpting.  Carving,”

The Stonehenge charm.

“Stonehenge was for keeping track of phases of the moon, right?  Female, I guess?”

The dreamcatcher.

“Bondage.”

The cat skull.

“Violence.”

The tarnished coin.

“Pride.”

The rose.

“Pain.”

Her personal item.

I hadn’t seen when she put it in the bowl.  I saw now.  Three molars, attached to a plate.

Dentures?

“This one feels important.  If I’m supposed to clue the supernatural world into who I am, make my signature as I step through the door, then… this is pretty fitting.  We’re flawed, people are.  We’re damaged.  We come into the world nearly perfect, naked, and happy and then life delivers the beatdown.  It kicks our asses and makes us feel like shit.  It does permanent damage.  Bad luck, people, our own mistakes.  I want to work hard at things I love, find the good, be one of the people who fix instead of break.  Who loves instead of hates, in my twisted manner of loving, I guess.  I want to make as few mistakes as possible… and I say that as a smoker.  So maybe stick a small ‘hypocrite’ label on me too, while you’re at it.”

The bowl rotated out of view.

“Yeah,” she said, as the next bowl rotated into view.  “That’s about right.”

Words said to greet and pay respect to the Others.

Then the pledge.

The room brightened.

Alexis took her time before she gave the ok.

I looked.  She was mostly dressed.

She took more time to find the bowl with the teeth.  She picked them up, then opened her mouth wide to set them in place.

Her coarse hair shifted as if in a gentle breeze.  A juxtaposition of the supernatural and very natural.

“Hi,” Evan greeted her, as she approached me.

She smiled and raised a hand in a wave, then came to my side, leaning her head back against the wall, eyes closed.  Taking it all in.

Tentatively, I took her hand and squeezed it.  I saw her smile, her eyes still closed.

Only Tiffany remained.  I had more reservations about her than anyone.

I was growing more and more aware of the time limit.  I felt anxious as she went through her paces, for several reasons.

I was glad to see the items find their place.  The knife.

“Dangerous if not handled with care.”

The charm.

“Deceptively simple, has history.”

The dreamcatcher.

“Need to think outside the box, sometimes, to find your dreams, or to find the right ones.”

The cat skull.

“Frightening when laid bare… or beautiful?  I can’t decide.  Both.”

The rose.

“Symbolic, pretty, almost useless.”

The personal item.

An AA chip.

“Not mine.  But my entire life, I’ve been defined by other people.  I’m hoping this is when I can define myself.  Get a little power, when I’ve always felt so powerless.  I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with my new friends, find some courage.  This is… it’s a reminder of broken promises.  That reminder shaped me into who I am now.  Flawed and broken, like Alexis said.  But there’s a certain strength in rules, and I can feel good about myself when I swear to myself that I won’t drink, that I won’t do drugs, that I won’t betray my family.  I like that I’m sticking to these rules now.  If you… if whoever is listening now was listening before, maybe I didn’t sound certain.  But now that the rules are setting in place, I’m feeling more sure.  I want to become reliable, and I will, with your help.”

The bowl moved on.

I drew in a deep breath, then exhaled.

She paid homage to the Others, then said the words that sealed the deal.

The indicators of power were short lived, explosive.  A rush of light as the circle spent itself, then illumination for the entire room.

By the time she was dressed, which didn’t take long, the effect was long gone.

“Hi!” Evan called out.

“Hi,” Tiffany said.

It was done.

I had a circle now.

And I had no more time.

“There’s no time to teach you guys,” I said.  “Which means strict, simple tasks.”

“Strict and simple sounds good to start with,” Ty said.

Forty five minutes.  Discounting the time it took to drive…

“Nick, want to help me out?  My friends need a fifteen minute crash course in magic.”

“I’m not that knowledgeable.”

“Me either,” I said.  “But it’s going to have to do.  We gotta deal with Conquest.”

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271 thoughts on “Subordination 6.2

    1. I contemplated for a moment. “None of you guys haven’t run away screaming, which might mean I’m not doing my job at explaining this.” I think it should be none of you guys have run away screaming,

    2. stonehenge
      Stonehenge

      trafficks
      traffics

      salaryman
      usually salary man, but I don’t know if the English translation of the Japanese equivalent is salaryman or salary man

      Ty said.Forty
      Ty said. Forty

      magic.””I’m [and several similar near the same place]
      needs line breaks or spaces between the quotes

    3. “Strict and simple sounds good to start with,” Ty said.Forty five minutes. Discounting the time it took to drive…”Nick, want to help me out? My friends need a fifteen minute crash course in magic.””I’m not that knowledgeable.””Me either,” I said. “But it’s going to have to do. We gotta deal with Conquest.”

      The way this is formatted and the quotations can make this last paragraph a little hard to read.

        1. On that note, because my girlfriend teaches English to kids and this is one of her pet peeves: the correct grammar should be “me neither”. Not that Blake would care to use proper grammar.

          Also, I noticed he didn’t use C-word in the last phrase. Dude’s going to learn what’s up, won’t he?

          I’m loving this arc so far, wildbow. You’re gifted dude.

    4. “None of you guys haven’t run away screaming, which might mean I’m not doing my job at explaining this.”

      Should be “none of you guys have run away screaming”?

    5. Typos:
      – “If it involves leaving life behind” -> ‘my life behind’ or ‘my old life behind’
      – “I waited for him to finish I held up the paper.” -> ‘to finish, then held up’

    6. The other seemed to fall into a middle ground.

      This is referring to the other people in the room, it should be plural:

      The others seemed to fall into a middle ground.

    7. Not exactly a typo, but:

      *
      “Everyone has their personal items? Something of significance to them?”

      They each nodded, with the exception of Joel.
      *

      Did Goosh nod as well? Goosh wasn’t doing the ritual, so she had no particular reason to respond to this statement, which seems aimed at those who were about to be awakened.

      1. If Goosh did nod, it may have been meant as a “Yup, everyone else is ready to go, let’s get on with it” nod.

        1. Nope, she hadn’t. Right after that is when he asked Goosh and Joel to go into the other room, but I think Goosh stayed and watched. She isn’t mentioned afterwards, so I’m not sure what happened with her.

    1. Well presumably when you Awaken someone you get them a copy as well, either by coyping it yourself or going through Practitioner society. And then they can get the ones they Awaken their own copy and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lord of each city didn’t have a bunch for sale to new Practitioners.

      1. But who prints it all up? The Lawyers? Vanity Press?

        The Astrologer mentioned Blake was too refined to be someone who was self-taught, meaning that somehow these books are getting out in the world even without someone handing them out to other practitioners.

        1. I’m sure there is a (or several) Practitionner-controlled publishing house.

          Well, some practitioners die and their protections fail, meaning people stumble upon the texts. Maggie is an example, I guess.
          The self-taught practitionners are probably a very tiny minority though.

    2. I like to think it was accidentally included in a yardsale package of 3.5 splatbooks. Followed by the most frantic “GOD DAMMIT MOM” ever.

      Though now that I think of it, would the ban on lying preclude playing a tabletop rpg?

      1. Though now that I think of it, would the ban on lying preclude playing a tabletop rpg?

        I don’t think you would have a problem. A practitioner can say pretty much anything as long as they add a qualifier such as “hypothetically speaking” or “figuratively”.

        1. Good one. To continue a thread from an earlier chapter:

          “Hey, GM. Your goblin names could be more realistic. Something like Buttgurgler or similar.”

          “What are you talking about… and what was that noise?”

        2. In this game, we all understand that we will be speaking in first person to better roleplay our characters. If there are ever any questions, comments, or concerns about whether or not something is said in character or out of character, just ask and it will be clarified. This state will last until one of us steps out that door and ends the session. No, not the door to the restroom there, or the door to the fridge, the other door out of this room. We’re all in agreement? The game will commence in 5, 4, 3, 2…

          It could be done, you’d just have to set it up ahead of time so that the universe understood what was going on. I imagine it would make for an epic gaming session, with your characters moving themselves on a battle mat, actually swinging weapons and casting little glitter spells. The only problem would be when your avatar of evil starts awakening and actually becomes a literal representation of the evil it’s meant to represent and has a portion of its power… you know what, maybe a D&D game played by Awakened people isn’t such a great idea. 😉

      2. Not if that was a rule you chose to break in that room of your demesne. As long as the GM is a) a practitioner hosting the game b) inside his demesne that should be fine.

  1. So he did awaken (most of) them after all. They’re probably waaaaay more out of their depth than even Blake was, they’re taking on a major Other within an hour of awakening… I hope the training montage will cut it.

    Also I hope that the info we have that awakening new practitionners pisses off Conquest does not mean that he gets instant news on people who awaken in his domain. Although it would not be that surprising, since they’re basically declaring who they are to all Others who might be listening. But on the other hands Others apparently cannot refuse the awakening, so probably Conquest was not direct contacted by the ritual?

    1. Never underestimate the value of a good training montage. It may save your life. That said, Blake should probably also teach them the things shown in the montage.

  2. The Blakeguard rises!!!

    I’m surprised Blake was able to get his group awakened without any interruptions or andybody being horribly murdered.

    I forgot about Tyler and Joseph. I suppose now we’ll get some more Tyler character development.

    So we have Blake, Alexia, Tiffany and Tyler Awakened and Goosh and Joel as the Blakeguard blackguards with Joseph not being involved. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

  3. I have this sneaking feeling that Tiffany is going to become the next Lord of Toronto, while everyone else is going to have a horrible, horrible time. Not sure why, exactly, maybe because sue was already the kind of person to keep to oaths, and because Isadora didn’t like her.

    1. Put me down for 25 Jimmies on Half-Foot, Nick the Shotgun guy’s friend (or was it son? I don’t remember)

      1. I don’t think so, actually. She’s got interesting places to go, especially since her practitioner oath seemed, possibly, to hint at her being a healer of connections. I could see Alexis or Tyler dying by biting off more than they could chew.

    2. Note: All losses will be donated to Wildbow via Paypal.

      Define “volume,” please. End of Subordination? An additional 5 smackers on Half-Foot. End of Pact? 10 smackers on Alexis and Tyler dying (with an extra 10 on Alexis or Tyler dying).

    3. Betting on Tyler.

      Also betting on him dying by trying to take on a major demon. Bonus points if he tries to take on Ur and nobody remembers him.

      1. We remember him now. That means he’s not going to be retconsumed. I am very much in agreement that he’s probably going to take on a major demon and get folded, spindled, and mutilated.

      2. I wonder if that’s why Alexis wasn’t there. She was retconsumed… or her personal item was & that turns out has a special significance for that sort of thing.

        But more likely, conquest or Laird the lesser has her

          1. Tyler, just add an A to your name.. that might just help scare a few people (although this means you’ll have to change the ‘e’ to an ‘o’)…J

            Just dont say you first name is Jacob after that ok?

  4. Really hoping that these guys survive Conquest. I wanna get to know them more before they bite the dust. It’ll make it hurt more.

    1. …. So I’m the only one who wants them to survive till basically the end with only one late game fatality? Who would be Alexis, of course, because that girl has “holy martyr” written alllll over her. Except this is wildbow, so instead she not get to be a martyr and will have to live with someone else dying.

          1. I would think that the universe would take Blake’s bad karma out on his friends. They would be collateral damage, essentially.

      1. I want everyone to live. But I don’t think it’ll happen. Hey, I’d love if they all make it to the end of the story as a circle of well respected practicioners reknowned for their good deeds. But I don’t see that happening in this story.

          1. I’ve learned this is a story where you should always expect the worst. That way nearly anything will be a pleasent surprise. Of course there is the possibility the worst thing Wildbow can think of is worse than the worst thing I can think of.

            1. It’s enough to make me afraid of trying to think of the worst thing, for fear that when I’m eventually topped it will be that much worse for my trouble.

        1. I think she has future wife/partner written on her forehead. She gets stronger with each chapter she is in.

  5. From last chapter I expected a Blakeguard and him to explain so they would give him some slack about the crap he gets into, but awakening three people… when he breaks rules he breaks them HARD (Granny Weatherwax would be proud).

    I guess this answers the question of whether you have to be of a particular bloodline to awaken. If three different people could then anyone can. But blood lines are important in some ways… I wonder if we will find out the difference.

    And this still smells like a trap that diabolists fall into – their karma is already so bad and they are already in such bad positions that taking on an extra burden seems trivial (other commenters said similar last chapter). But it is not, especially with him putting his friends in danger.

    1. Bloodlines seem to be important in that they’re a sort of shorthand for Others. “Oh, this guy’s a Behaim. Laird? Aimon? Lame Airhead? Eh, I’ll figure it out later.” Also the concept of the “magic trust-fund” seems to be the sort of thing that requires multiple generations.

  6. I get the feeling that without rose as a constant reminder being forsworn is going to be a much bigger problem. I don’t know if Blake explained this off screen but I didn’t see him seriously emphasize it onscreen.

  7. Wow, I’m so excited for his fight with Conquest. Hopefully in two days… It’ll give me something to think about the next day, May the Fourth (be with you).

    I wonder if that “shit on me” counts as a command or a suggestion or is it whatever the listener interprets it as. If Conquest heard that and tried to do that to Tyler, would Tyler be able to stop Conquest?

  8. Tyler will be a sorceror. That experimentative drive Blake mentioned, “I don’t want to be a salaryman,” “trying to find where I need to be,” all point to it. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyler decides to take a peek at some diabolic text, just to see what all the fuss is about, and Blake needs to clean up his mess.

    Alexis, on the other hand, screams “druidess,” or at worst, “goblin queen.” Sculpting, Carving, Bondage, Pain, Pride, “We arrive perfect, then life delivers the beatdown.”

    Tiffany… I don’t know about Tiffany. She could a healer, she could be an enchantress. Everything she said – “Handle with care,” “Deceptively simple,” “Frightening and beautiful,” – pulled her into an enchantress or illusionist setup. But when explicating her personal item, she talks about following the rules, how they give her structure, how they give her strength. Enchanters and Illusionists are all about changing the rules, getting things to react differently. Ironically, she’ss the most wild card-esque there is IMO, and one, I don’t believe, that Wildbow would just toss aside as an inciting incident.

    However, I’ve been wrong before. -_-;

    Also, who wants to bet that Joseph’s coming back with reinforcements at the nick of time?

    1. I think we’ll see Tyler becoming the new Lord of Toronto, and Tiffany becoming a new (good) lawyer, perhaps starting her own counterpoint to the other lawyers. Sure, I’ll go with what you suggested for Alexis.

    2. who wants to bet that Joseph’s coming back with reinforcements at the nick of time?

      I was thinking more along the lines of him eventually showing up as a villian.

  9. You know, there was a lot of light and stuff going on. Sure, practitioners can power magic themselves, right, but how is it powered when they don’t have power yet? Well, you’re supposed to get the Lord’s permission. Why? I think it pulls something directly from the Lord, weakens him ever so slightly. They’d usually want to extract a boon or favor from the petitioner. For a Wizard of Oz like Conquest, when you lose just a little bit of power from three people suddenly awakening, perhaps that’s all the power you once had?

    1. The spirits in the area want to welcome you to the fold, assure you that, yes, this is real, there is power here for you, just reach out and take it. It’s kind of a “first taste is free” sort of thing. The second taste (the so-called “first workings”) required power.

  10. … and Fell walks in on Blake hatching a conspiracy to overthrow Conquest. Three new practitioners, one only slightly-renewed Blake, a couple of new Blackguards, and the Knights versus Fell. My money is of Fell, especially since he carries a gun.

    1. I think Fell would try to help, actually. It seems like he has to follow Conquest’s orders, but unless Conquest gave him a blanket order to kill those who plot against him or something, (seems pretty dangerous as an order, and we’ve seen other members of his family have been escaping through recklessness in following orders) he’s not compelled to attack Blake. He wants Conquest overthrown, he’s just in a position where he can’t do much to make that happen himself.

    2. Fell walks in on Blake saying “we have to deal with Conquest” and proceeds to stretch his oaths to the limit and attempt to convince himself that Blake clearly meant he and his new buddies were going to make a deal with Conquest, perhaps. He’s going to be twisting the letter of the law to the breaking point to avoid killing Blake and handing Conquest a permanent pet diabolist who probably can’t be killed.

    3. But Nick carries a shotgun!!! I think if Fell just walked in right now with only his gun and connection powder, the Blakeguard (and Nick) could take him. If he came in prepared with a plan, however. . .

        1. I think you might be a little confused. From the last chapter:

          We reached their truck. Nick, who I’d dubbed ‘Shotgun’, was standing by the truck, his overweight, one-footed buddy beside him.

            1. No no.. THe Fuzzy knights are something else entirely although Ben and His loaded D20 fate changer could be useful here…

    4. Again, Blake needs to talk down/suborn Fell. I’ve been saying this for a while now. Fell’s loyalty to Conquest is nonexistent, and his obedience is enforced at metaphoric gunpoint. All Blake needs to do is convince Fell that the “gun” can be pointed elsewhere, or removed entirely. (OK, I get that Fell was forced to swear oaths, but malicious interpretation of such is a practitioner’s stock in trade)

      1. I think Fell’s obedience is more enforced than just by the threat of an oath. His father was forced to become a practitioner before he even had a clue what one was, just by touching a book. He couldn’t have been bound by just an oath – he wasn’t even a practitioner at the time. Conquest has either got some kind of geas on them that actively steers them into obeying, or else there’s some kind of Domination-Mind-Magic going on that makes him think he has no choice.

        I expect Fell to be pretty grateful if/when Conquest gets the boot, though. He’ll likely be the first truly enfranchised practitioner to be on Blake’s side.

        1. But there is a whole bunch of leeway in there. For instance, Conquest doesn’t specify how quickly Fell has to drive – Fell can drive really slowly, instead of his normal really fast. All that matters is that Fell isn’t present when Conquest needs him, forcing yet another power expenditure.

        2. “I think Fell’s obedience is more enforced than just by the threat of an oath.”

          Agreed:

          Joseph and all of his children have hated being bound to Conquest. Despite this, the only “out” that any of them have found is suicide by Lord – obeying Conquest in ways that led to their early death. And, as far as we know, that is the only way they have succeeded against Conquest. That has cost Conquest diminished power, lost servants, and missed opportunities. To put it another way, it looks they were willing to die just to whittle him down because they had no other way to diminish him. That sounds like it is a heck of a lot more binding than your standard oath.

          Oh, hey, just thought of a good way of saying “promise that doesn’t bind shit” in the Pactverse: a Behaim promise.

        3. Wait, what? I didn’t think that touching the book is what forced him to become a practitioner, I thought Conquest just came for them when they come of age (I think 12) and that Joseph Atwell was specifically trying to get his son to kill him and run away on that day, because Conquest would be coming for him.

          I think the domination-like effect is just what Joseph agreed to in order to not be fucked once he became forsworn:
          “Then I bind you by that which you swore by. I bind you by name, by your entirety. I bind you by your blood, to bind all of your kin that follow after you. I bind you by your word, to claim your obedience for myself. I offer you a second chance to gainsay me.”
          It’s a binding, and seems a lot stronger than an oath. He bound him “by [his] entirety” and bound his blood(line). Also remember that in this world the sins of the father are visited upon the son, so affecting an entire bloodline like that probably isn’t atypical.

          1. I do think that touching the magical tomes made him a practitioner.

            “Your children and children’s children, all down the line, are mine, from the moment they learn the practice. You will not bar them from it, after they’ve come of age.” (5.x)

            Notice that that’s also how Maggie became a practitioner, with the tools from Fell’s brother. And of course, there’s this gem as well:

            “Where did you pick up the practice? A place like that, the circles hold tight to their power. Are you a refugee from the goblin’s festival of blood? Easy to imagine a practitioner who wandered that way might have lost their belongings.” (4.02)

            1. It seems off… If touching a magical tome made you into a practitioner, there’d be no point to the awakening ritual. If touching a magical tome removed your muggle protections without providing any power, that’d be more than a little dumb and I’d also think that magical books would be handled much more carefully. This is also supported by 2.y (Histories):

              **She picked up the book. Symbols, magic circles, script.

              “No. Walk blindly, pay no attention to this, forget. It’ll make things easier, when the blood and darkness come, next time. Your power is the oath’s power.”**

              If simply touching the book made Maggie into a practitioner or removed her protections, then there’d be no reason for him to tell her to not use the book, since she’s already fucked by touching it. Furthermore, he’d presumably try to stop her from touching it rather than commenting afterward.

              The way I understand the quote from 4.02 is that if a practitioner’s books found their way into a muggle’s hands, (which one did, as we saw in 2.y) they could awaken themselves and gain knowledge that way (which Maggie seemingly did, as we saw).

              I could see it as possible that the particular book that Joseph’s son touched was trapped in some way, but it seems… weird. Who would do such a thing? Conquest? No, it seems too indirect an attack and somewhat against his nature for no particular reason: 12 year old unawakened boys shouldn’t generally need to be trapped, especially when you have control over their father. Joseph? Why would he do that when he wants his son to escape? I just don’t see any particular reason to believe that anyone would go through the effort to make the book a trap.

            2. It could be that the very act of picking up a book symbolises acquiring knowledge to Others.

        4. It was explained in 5.x (Histories): Fells bloodline is foresworn, and conquest bound them by blood, i.e. “conquered”, as a practitioneer would bind an Other.

          Fells works on cutting this binding by means of Conquests demise…. which propably includes him.

          also: Tiffany -> Wildcard and will propably be chosen as a blood sacrifice on the altar of the Lord of Toronto.

    5. Well, Fell probably IS going to show up.

      “Shall I assist him[Blake]?”
      “Your choice,” Conquest said.
      “I’ll go meet with him shortly, then.”
      “Do.”

  11. Speaking of which, how in the world did they find Myrrh? Who keeps that in their apartment and would be willing to give it to people who just came banging on their door after 10pm at night? I think the universe is smiling on Blake and his friends, despite his bloodline’s massive bad karma.

    1. Karma does seem to be in Blake’s favor for once. Probably more of the rule of three boost whatstheirnym mentioned last post. Would be amusing if the myrrh had been a gift to one of the tenants from a behiem…

      1. Rule of three… Huh.

        Three practitioners were awakened, and the third seems to be the wildcard. Hmm I suppose Tiffany will be significant. At the very least, she has plot armor for now.

          1. I’m not sure you know what plot armor is. Every good story has plot armor, even non-fiction, even stories with no characters at all. It’d be a pretty lame story that started out introducing story elements and then goes around killing/destroying them for no reason that has anything to do with the plot. Why were they introduced in the first place? The nature of story structure requires that plot armor be a thing.

            Even then, though, Worm was a story which involved prophecies. Certain characters were guaranteed to be around regardless of events. Saying plot armor isn’t present because it’s a wildbow story is like saying gravity doesn’t exist because rocks fall downwards. Not only is it wrong, but you’d have causation completely backward.

            1. Where reality acquiesces would perhaps be a better term. Take ErasUrr for instance. Something needed to have died there, or the demon would be underwhelming in the eyes of the audience. However, none of Blake’s sapient allies could have done so, because we wouldn’t have gotten to know them so what’s the point of their deaths? So, we had 3 sacrificial goblins to feed to it, that we didn’t know about until ErasUrr killed them. Likewise, people have already noted that Blake should have been killed numerous times over, and he’s been very lucky despite his physical and spiritual injuries. So (as far as I can tell) Wildbow says to his universe “I need Blake to survive until X time.” And the Pactverse thinks it over and says “OK, but he’s going to get the s**t kicked out of him in the meantime.” And Wildbow says “OK” and writes that, which is where we come in.

              I guess what I’m trying to say is that reality has basically the final word on whether or not characters die. There’s no clumsy authorial mandate (that I’ve been able to spot) that forces DEMs of either variety. I’ve noticed it in Worm too, and I’d elaborate further, but that (obviously) involves spoilers. And we don’t need yet another Sesame Street invasion taking up more of Wildbow’s time.

            2. Landis,
              I’m convinced someone in universe is manipulating things. Perhaps the astrologer.

      2. Alternatively, this is all just setup for an even more horrible tragedy that couldn’t have happened if they weren’t initiated.

    2. Artists, man. I’m more surprised they didn’t smoke it all.

      And… Is Blake an expy of Kurt Cobain? I admit I’m not an aficianado of Nirvana, but I’m beginning to think there may be some similarities here maybe…

      Or I’m just being weird and dumb. Eh.

    3. Myrrh is an incense as well as being used in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine. Blake’s friends seem a fairly alternative lot, so it’s not surprising they have some lying around…

  12. I like how Nick is just kinda going with the flow. Some crazy dude shows up claiming he can take on the Lord Toronto, and going around poking beehives everywhere he goes, and Nick just kinda follows along placidly, just kinda being generally friendly and helpful. He should have been called Sancho Panza.

    It’s a nice change from the default hostility he gets from everyone else, although I can’t help but wonder if he’s really thinking ahead very far about things. I mean, literally every other practitioner we’ve met has had an agenda. Does he not have one because it was stolen from him by ErasUrr? Or is he just naturally mild and altruistic? Or does he actually have an agenda and is just being manipulative on a longer-term scale?

    1. Blake’s the only one trying to do anything about the demon that wrecked his and his circle’s life. (Actually trying, at that, not just paying lip-service to the idea that that thing needs to be eradicated) Furthermore, Blake has expressed an extreme aversion to the world being dragged into hell, and is poking beehives to avoid such.

      And Briar Girl only had an agenda insofar as “My future demesne needs to have Thorburn land in it to amount to anything, therefore I need the land.”

      1. Sure, but we’ve seen no evidence that Briar Girl would have interacted with anyone else in a less calculating way. Look at how the Duchamps barter their responsibilities – trading off who has to drive a 12 year old to ballet lessons. There’s always a deal to strike, even if you love someone.

        Up to the point where Nick came in, I kinda got the sense that was how it was always going to be. Nick is very much an anomaly.

        1. Those trade-offs and deals happen in real life families too. My parents used to play whole backgammon matches (with doubling and everything) to see who has to do the dishes, get the groceries, bring me to bed and read me a story…

    2. Eh, some crazy dude who also bound an imp and Hyena, and after losing to ErasUrr, said he’d probably go again because someone needs to stop it. Those are probably important in Nick’s estimation of Blake, and fits into their “agenda” (which really just means ‘goals’ with a negative connotation.)

      Also remember that Blake started off with default hostility from Nick and the rest of the Knights, with Nick starting off their relationship by leveling a shotgun at him. Blake talked with them and showed them that he wasn’t a bastard, then demonstrated his skill. They probably like him for being the scruffy underdog, for trying to make everyone’s life better, and for actually doing well with incredibly deadly tasks. (Nick suggested Blake would need a small army to bind the Hyena, but he did it virtually alone)

  13. That was wonderful. I absolutely love learning more about Blake’s friends. Seeing how they each react to magic and how they handle the awakening ritual. I’m bookmarking this chapter, because I’m willing to bet that the descriptions they chose to give for the items must be significant somewhere down the line.

    Also Tyler. I’m anticipating three possible scenarios for him. 1. He turns out to be an over zealous idiot and he gets himself killed early on. 2. He turns out to be an absolute savant and becomes Ultrawizard. Or 3. He goes completely off his rocker and does something very, very bad. Either way, looking forward to seeing more of him.

    Love this chapter. I have only one question. Weren’t they all supposed to be naked?

  14. Holy smokes, he really did go through with a mass awakening! Blake, you goddamn cult leader. The ritual scene was the best, I feel like I know these characters better already. Evan popping in to say Hi to each one in turn was adorbs.

    1. Evan adorableness:
      “You forgot the apostrophe,” Joseph said.
      “I’m a bird,” Evan said. “I’m a kid. I’m dead.”

  15. I was surprised at how easy that went. Joseph seems to be the only one with a normal reaction to finding out that your entire worldview is false.

    I suppose we can take that many artists have a higher than normal suspension of disbelief, especially Tyler.

    Also, during Alexis’ awakening it’s mentioned that her clothes move as in a breeze. I thought you were supposed to be naked for this?

    1. ty is desperate, for something, anything to be different. it’s why he’s been so changeable in his art. Can’t stay stable for anything.

    2. And after Wildbow was reminded they were supposed to be naked, her HAIR moved like it was in a breeze.

      So this is an important distinction, I’m guessing? o.o That it made it into the story in two iterations?

  16. Nice chapter, this story is a lot more appealing now that Blake has friends in the know. Conquest doesn’t seem anywhere near as scary as Leviathan. I’m hoping to see some Endbringer-level action by the end of this Pact.

      1. As the root comment of this has not been sanitized, does mentioning that topic not count as a spoiler? It makes sense that mentioning publicly-known-in-story background material might not be a spoiler, but I worry that without a clear guideline it will just lead to people pushing further than they ought to.

            1. Yeah, that happened to me a few times too. Side-effect of being late to the party when there’s hundreds of comments. The commentariat seem to be of an unusually high calibre, too.

      2. Why? I really want to see that post edited to read “Conquest doesn’t seem anywhere near as scary as the Cookie Monster”. 😀

  17. Comments:
    – The fact that Blake doesn’t have the faerie hair anymore hurts a lot. But if he somhow wins against Conquest, his power rating is likely to skyrocket…
    – Though if Conquest fails, the Drunk and Laird might step in immediately.
    – There’s no way this will end well, but I’m still looking forward to how Blake’s circle develops. Maybe some of his friends will actually survive?
    – I have no idea how Blake’s newly awakened friends can actually help him. Except…well, their personal power is unspent, so maybe they can donate it to him somehow, or maybe they can power his rituals or something…
    – Incidentally, now that most of Blake’s friends have crossed over into the practitioner world, will he still be able to recharge himself by staying in their presence?

    Best lines:
    – “I saw some eyes go wide. Not wide enough. They didn’t get it. Not yet.”
    – “I contemplated for a moment. “None of you guys have run away screaming, which might mean I’m not doing my job at explaining this.””
    – “Forty five minutes. Discounting the time it took to drive… “Nick, want to help me out? My friends need a fifteen minute crash course in magic.””

    1. Oh, and I just realized: By awakening his friends, Blake has created more weak points for himself. In particular, the lawyers will use his friends as leverage to turn him more towards their side. My call now: Barbatorem offered healing powers, right? Blake will eventually be tempted to use them to save one of his friends who lies dying in front of him…
      (Conquest would abuse this situation, too, but might be unable to in a direct fight.)

      On the other hand, those friends of his who survive the night will be able to potentially grow very powerful due to the Thorburn library. And now that Blake has a circle, and some allies, he can even avoid the Catch-22 of demesne – implement – familiar!

      1. Yeah, that’s the Behaim and DuChamp way out of the “no power for demesne / implement / familiar” circle. A circle that trusts each other can do magical barn raisings for each other, bootstrapping themselves into a much higher power bracket than a lone practitioner can.

    2. -“Maybe some of his friends will actually survive?”

      Guys, we have got to invest in some optimism. Maybe Wildbow isn’t writing a heart-crushing story. Maybe this one will be full of happy times and rainbows. Things don’t always get worse. If we believe hard enough maybe…

        1. This isn’t Worm. Blake seems to actually have managed to start out in a much deeper level of Shit than Taylor did.

          1. I think it’s possible that this story is running in reverse, at least in that respect. Blake starts out with -1000 karma, and the story lightens up as he slowly grinds it back up to 0, or maybe even a positive, single-digit number.

          2. Oh god, yes. Taylor started with Lung and that was engineered for the best outcome. She knew what she was doing on her first night out for the most part.

            Blake got hit with a near murder by homunculus, his cousin murdered, and finding himself surrounding by enemies on all side.

            1. As an aside, Wildbow has said he doesn’t really engineer outcomes. He likes characters to get out of scrapes by their own ingenuity.

              Stephen King apparently does the same thing : when he started writing “Misery” he expected it to be a short story on which the protagonist would be dead within 20 pages. Said protagonist turned out to have a lot more fight and ingenuity in him than King anticipated and it ended up a full novel…

      1. Investments are only worth it if there’s a decent return value.
        Betting on optimism right now means to that after the next in-story hours, Rose is rescued, Conquest is defeated in a way that doesn’t lead to imminent desolation, none of the Blakefolks get hurt in a permanent fashion, other Toronto/Jacob’s Bell players remain peaceful and the rest of the Thorburn family doesn’t show up.
        … it may be author typecasting, but I seriously can’t see it happening.

        Once you accept that the happy happy fun time path isn’t a possibility, it boils down to what horrible thing you can think up to counterbalance it properly.
        Losing Rose feels a bit overkill.
        Pyrrhic victory against Conquest is quite likely, since a clear loss pretty much means lifelong enslavement.
        Prediction wise, it can be any combination of losing an ally (or several) or gaining more enemies.

        Once past the impending doom current events, I’m looking forward to the next time the lawyers say hi.

        1. Pff, as if any of the Thorburns save Paige pose any threat whatsoever. At the very least they’ll be driven out by an irate sparrow.

        2. That’s a tad ridiculous. If Pact is running on an inverted “dark/depressive” scale compared to Worm, then the fight with Conquest isn’t where everything would suddenly start going right. It would take many, many more chapters before Blake could overturn the accumulated karmic debt of his entire bloodline. I wouldn’t expect anything to start going right until the end of the very last arc.

          Assuming this is indeed the case, I mean. It could just be that Pact starts worse and gets worse.

        3. Honestly, I think about the worst thing Wildbow could do to Blake right now is have him successfully defeat Conquest and inherit the Lordship of Toronto. If he thought he’d inherited a mess of troubles before

        4. My personal bet is Pyrrhic Victory: Conquest is defeated and everyone survives, but not before hell-on-earth is at least partially unleashed. I have no evidence to support this beyond personal preference and a nearly nonexistent parallel to Worm*.

          *should be vague enough to be completely unspoilery; if you’ve read Worm maybe you’ll figure out what I’m referring to.

    1. I’d explain the trick to getting these fan names to stick, but some might overuse it, thus devaluing said trick. But credit where credit is due, the Blakeguard comes from a thread last chapter.

      (Btw, if you do know the trick, there’s no need to post it aloud here. Keep it for yourself(

  18. Good chapter.

    The one problem I have with it is that Blake is not coming across as being as utterly exhausted as he should be. Given what’s happened to him, he should be at his utter physical limits, and that would definitely affect his ability to be coherent. He’s basically done the equivalent of running a half-marathon both of the last 2 days, plus a full one today, with little sleep. This story should be going more like “To Build a Fire”, “Night”, or “Into the Wilderness”. This is distracting enough to be a problem. I think it would be reasonable if you were to retconn some form of magical uppers into the story. For instance, using a smudge of leftover glamour to wake himself up (wiping out the circles under his eyes?), or the Knights have a wake-up rune. Even if it were something limited and fragile, it would help with suspending disbelief.

  19. Oh Blake. Now he’s got to get 4 decent power sources instead of just 1. He’ll need to if he doesn’t want his friends to keep using up their essence like he did.

  20. If Blake’s gonna include Tiffany in the Blakeguard, he might as well invite Maggie to join. She could add some nice muscle to the circle. They all would appreciate the shared knowledge and experience. He should just make her vow loyalty first. Perhaps even Penny and Jo could be recruited (though unlikely).

    1. Seriously? Why would Maggie swear loyalty to Blake? Why would he even ask her to? That would be a very, very bad idea. Blake seems nice to us because we’re seeing the story from his perspective, but this is a world where do don’t swear a vow without a really, really good reason. See: Fell.

      Maggie is a badass in her own right and should not be made subsidiary to Blake.

      1. By a vow of loyalty, I didn’t mean a vow of subserviency. I meant a vow not to betray or harm the group.

        1. not sure she could make that in good conscience. after all, the goblins are coming… and the more she knows, the more dangerous it is.

    2. I too hope to see Maggie meet Blake’s friends. She seems like she could use some friends of her own. That weren’t killed by Goblins.

      1. That’s probably the trigger, y’know. Gotta have enough fresh connections to feed each wave of blood, darkness and fire like she first experienced it.

      2. So, on the shipping front, Alexis and Tiffany are a potential couple, Goosh’s lines this chapter appear to confirm that she’s in a relationship with Amanda, Blake confirmed that Joel was gay, and Tyler and Joseph haven’t been confirmed one way or another. There was also a “Nick” and a “Stephan” in 4.1, but I guess they’re not as close, since they weren’t invited.

        More than half of Blake’s friends are some flavor of LGB. That’s oddly satisfying.

    1. I think I’d prefer to see a few more types of practitioners.

      Like a Valkyrie shoving the soul of a knight into a Witch Hunter to face down some kind of Other.

      Or a Pyromancer using his powers to calm a fire down in hopes of saving lives, only for all but one to have died from smoke inhalation and he thinks himself a failure.

      You know, something that mixes despair and hope.

        1. I hope Wildbow (or someone else, obviously with Wildbow’s blessing) does a Kickstarter for that. I’d totally fund it.

          1. Although I’m really not a fan of character creation you don’t control. But while it’s true to the source material of Worm (and the situation in which “Weaver Dice” were created in-universe, although what’s on the page description references things that would not be mentionned in-universe), this makes a lot less sense for Pact where everyone can do any kind of magic provided they are ready to pay the costs.

            1. I could see a Pact RPG splitting the difference. It would be very fitting if you could choose what path you want to pursue, but not your background.

              Blake didn’t choose to inherit a diabolist legacy, Maggie didn’t choose to be forcibly introduced to goblinkind and Penny didn’t choose to be a magical trust fund Baby. They are not constrained by their respective inheritances, but they do establish their initial skillset, available resources and standing with the rest of the magical community.

              It wouldn’t be a Wildbow RPG if “cope with the hand you were dealt” weren’t a key element.

  21. So, I wonder how using an item that’s holding an actual Other might affect a ritual like this, or how the ritual might affect the other. Are they drawing on its power, or increasing it?

    I also sort of wonder about how the Other feels about what they said about it.

    “Makes me think of phases of the moon. I like being out and about at times when I’m by myself more than I like places where I’m by myself.”

    “Stonehenge was for keeping track of phases of the moon, right? Female, I guess?”

    “Deceptively simple, has history.”

  22. Random Speculation:-

    If Blake want’s a demesne in Jacob’s Bell, he can build himself a workshop/studio/garage on the land adjacent to the House that he supposedly owns, but in order to give it protections near the scale of what the House provides, he WILL need to perform the true ancient rites for its’ Cornerstone as it is erected:- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone

  23. Its been awhile since I’ve posted here, but I’m surprised that no one has wondered about Rose’s reaction to this, or the groups reaction to her. There’s almost no chance that she’s going to be okay with this.

  24. Every time Rose leaves Blake alone for two minutes he ends up getting a familiar or forming a circle or something. She must be getting pretty tired if his antics by now.

    1. At least he only immensely added to their karmic burden this time instead of making binding deals without her input.

      1. What do you mean? His karma will only plummet if they go out and do evil, or possibly if they get horribly murdered. Not ruling it out, but hopefully neither of those will happen.

    2. Blake’s done some of his best work without Rose:

      The infiltration. The Binding of Pauz. The Binding of The Hyena. Round 1 vs Duncan.

      Perhaps Rose should let Blake act independently more often.

      1. “Every time Rose leaves Blake alone for two minutes he ends up getting a familiar or forming a circle or something. She must be getting pretty tired if his antics by now.”

        Well maybe Rose should stop getting Damsel in Distressed. Though I would imagine she’d be even more tired of that by now.

        Ooo, if we have third time Rose in incapacitated… Just imagine what could happen that time….
        “YOUR LORD OF A CITY?!”
        “YOUR MARRIED?!”
        “YOU ATE WHAT?!”

        1. Well, she said she wasn’t (after awakening) and then swore to help him, so I don’t see it as that likely.

            1. … That they received from diabolic entities. And that was only one example (Blake carrying around Pauz’ influence). Which wouldn’t apply to anyone openly accepted as a Good Guy. For obvious reasons.

            2. Wait, are you suggesting that Rose Sr. made Rose in order to fuck over Blake? That’s… a weird idea. What possible motivation would she have to do that?

              I agree with Blake on this: “I didn’t get the feeling she’s actively trying to fuck us over. It’s more… collateral fuckery.”

          1. I don’t think they’ve interacted since she & conquest talked. pauz is the one who put her to sleep in the first place.

    3. (humor) It will teach her to fight harder. If she realizes that the next time she leaves Blake alone she will come back and find that he has been make an enemy of a flaming astral monkey that throws magical crap as a weapon she will put up a serious fight against captivity instead of her usual “I am a lowly mirror girl, what can I do? schtick.

      1. I’m pretty sure that monkey was in the Dresden Files (ok, so it was a demon monkey with magical flaming crap, but its pretty close)

  25. Yikes. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes. I’m so worried for all these people now!
    And I felt the loss of Joseph acutely. Blake was right, having someone with that level or perception and adroitness around would have been handy. I do hope it’s not the last we see of him.

    1. I am probably wrong, but from the description Joseph sounded like someone who was used to being in control of situations by talent and skill. Blake was asking him to jump into a permanent situation where he wouldn’t have any significant skill in or control over, perhaps not ever. That would be anathema to anyone who wanted control and success.

      1. Joe seemed more like someone who liked to be able to see all the pieces fit together. Not the person to take directly into a firefight, but very very powerful for later fights.

  26. So Alexis has dentures. At a fairly young age. I wonder what happened.

    And I hope Blake made sure to explain about Lies and Oaths. Course it would be funny if Alexis vowed she’d get Blake and Tiffany to try knocking some stuff together with her.

  27. … Hmm I just realized something.

    Blake may have fucked the ritual up for the girls. What if you were supposed to use Holly for girls and Iron for boys?

    1. Then Others will be very confused by Blake, who is a female Thorburn who says she’s male (because all Thorburns are female, but she used the male ritual and insists that she is in fact a he despite her last name.)

      And then also, there are these two ungendered new practitioners who say they’re female, yet CLEARLY used the male ritual!

      I imagine that the spirits are probably going to write it off as the magical equivalent of crossdressing and just be briefly confused.

    2. Highly doubtful. Molly used iron, remember? And Molly and Blake were working off the same physical copy (which, presumably, that all the other heirs, all female, were going to follow). The holly was in the mirror copy that Rose had.

      1. Is that why it didn’t work for Rose, because she used holly instead of iron? If she does it again with iron, will she get all sorts of “blast eldritch power from any mirrored surface” abilities?

    3. If that were the case, I’m pretty sure “essentials” would have mentioned that girls use holly instead of Iron. Now I’m more suspicious that maybe Grandma Rose didn’t want Rose doing the ritual right.

      1. This has some merit.

        I don’t think Rose is a practitioner. She can’t be a practitioner because she’s not human. She’s an Other, though human-like enough that we sometimes forget. Perhaps Granny Rose knew Rose would break something if she did the true human ritual.

        Assuming that Rose does have the potential to be a practitioner, I don’t think she is one now. Her ritual was basically meaningless as there were no spirits in the mirror world to witness and accept her words and actions.

        1. Actually, I’m thinking the choice of holly was purposeful. Iron is typically associated with the physical, often connoting speed, strength, or energy. Holly typically symbolizes divinity, sacredness, or other lofty concepts, and is often associated with exorcism, banishing, or otherwise having power over demons/devils. I think that it’s at least somewhat related to why Rose has the power to interact with Others so well.

      2. Oh hmm, I just thought of another possibility. Grandma Rose knew the person who wrote Black Lamb’s Blood, right?

        Wasn’t the author of BLB advocating for a change in the awakening ritual?

          1. Hmmn, interesting point. I would have thought it would be accomplished by changing the oaths, but maybe your on to something too. What is different about Iron and Holly? What could it affect?

            1. Iron
              Iron is an element, basic and raw, esp. as ore. Iron is the most stable of elements, it is hard to change, yet if you combine it with small amount of other material as an alloy you can improve it. Iron exhibits many unique or rare properties including magnetism (sometimes natively), a temperature based crystal structure change that make a near ideal material for working.

              Iron is a basic component of civilization, since before the Seal of Solomon, and can be shaped into weapons and tools, structures and vehicles, as well as decorative and ornamental stuff.

              Above all else Iron is a symbol of physical strength and power.

              Holly
              (Don’t know quite so much about holly)
              Holly is an evergreen plant, with spined leaves and red berries.

              Holly is a symbol of life and defensive strength.

              Whether the holly comes from a tree or a bush may be significant as well.

            2. Copying from my above post:

              Iron is typically associated with the physical, often connoting speed, strength, or energy.

              Holly typically symbolizes divinity, sacredness, or other lofty concepts, and is often associated with exorcism, banishing, or otherwise having power over demons/devils.

              I think the choice of Holly was purposeful, and intended to help Rose in being The Voice.

        1. *insert dramatic music here

          Dum Duum Duuuuuum!!!!!!
          (Not calling the idea dumb. I just don’t have practice using onomatopoeia)

          So perhaps Rose is a guinea pig in this regard. I just wonder how much of a difference a substitution of ingredients would make for awakening.

        2. Yes:

          Power would not be obtainable through the old awakening ritual, and the new ritual would limit and control diabolists.

          But also:

          Laws were set in place. Those same laws are the ones that a practitioner agrees to abide by, in order to broker access to what lies beyond the curtain.

          My suggestion is simple: We amend the laws.

          He/she wasn’t suggesting a change that any particular individual can make. Besides,
          1) Rose Sr.’s heirs definitely don’t need any shackles; they’re screwed enough already
          2) Blake didn’t have holly as an ingredient

  28. I wonder if Joseph was already in, a “designated liar” type who’s already ensconced in the Scene. In which case, Conquest just learned what’s coming for him…

    1. I was kind of suspecting Joseph to be a practitioner already. most of what he says can be seen as practitioner style not-lies. The only sentence that doesn’t fit is:

      “You kicked it,” Joseph said.

    2. Too many moving parts to be viable. Blake was homeless, and it’s sheer luck that he got off the streets in the first place (if Alexis hadn’t come along…). Once Alexis found and rescued Blake, it’s sheer luck that Joseph was in her friend group, or was inducted into her friend group. (Before you say “connection spoofing”, Joe’s a blackguard or equivalent, he doesn’t have the power to do that on the fly.) And even then, Granny Rose’s trick with the vestige came out of nowhere. Even if a practitioner had found Blake before this occurred, he’d be a non-threat because the gender was wrong. Also none of the powers recognized Blake save the Drunk, who was warned by Sandra.

  29. OK, serious thoughts time:

    While I do appreciate that Blake is finally not getting the crap kicked out of him, and that he did the exact opposite of what characters in this situation normally do… I’m still just not quite invested in the Blakeguard here.

    I think the main problem is that they were introduced comparatively recently, with only a few brief paragraphs describing Blake’s relationship to them. We have only a tenuous grasp on their characterization, which was delivered almost entirely through exposition. If we’d had a Histories chapter focusing on each of them, their relationship with Blake, and maybe some of the arcane juju they’ve unknowingly sidestepped, that would be great to see. It’d also be a great place to point out some Chekhov’s Guns so we can do some theory crafting concerning their specialties. Ideally, that would have been in place of Fell’s chapter… But hey, take what we can get.

    1. I actually expect it t happen the other way around. That we’ll get to know them much better in post, including their background and stuff.
      Also, I think Wildbow maybe didn’t really want to write interlude chapter(s) with nothing overtly supernatural in them at all. Would have been weird.

    2. Eh, nah. I’d rather not get non-magical chapters. I expect Wildbow could make it interesting, but it’d seem like we’re straying off-topic. It’s Wildbow’s style to give the information organically through events, rather than cramming in exposition. Even character descriptions are mostly either sensory or directly relevant to the situation (since we’re basically getting Blake’s thoughts at the moment, not random info dumps about what Blake knows). Give it time; we’ll definitely get to know the characters better.

  30. I am a veteran of worm and will freely admit that wildbow’s writing makes me scared for the mind and souls of this new Blake-guard. While the undersiders “mostly” survived the rest of world was ripped to peices. Please Mr. Wildbow, I was hurt once before; isn’t that enough?

    1. Um. . . Spoilers!!!

      Btw Wildbow, if you’re reading this and are going to edit the post as you sometimes do, can I request the new version of the comic be pie related?

  31. Blake’s new circle- The OtherSiders!

    So if Bllake had very little power because technically Rose was the Thorburn heir, and because he was feeding power constantly to her, does that mean these people will be even stronger than him?

    1. At this point, I think a 3 year old is probably stronger than Blake. even disregarding Blake’s current bled out state, the other members of the Blakeguard don’t have 2 parasites each that they have to supply power to. I’m pretty sure in the case of pure personal power, Blake is the weakest (mostly) human in the room.

      1. …Two parasites? Blake has Rose, who is arguably symbiotic, but from a pure power perspective could be a parasite.

        But if you mean Evan, Evan has drawn power from Blake only to achieve amazing victories and rescues Blake would have had little hope of achieving.

        1. You’re right. Symbiote is a better word. My point was that while Rose and Evan have been extremely useful and have provided help, from an actual power standpoint, Blake is still the one supplying them with power. They are draining him, and he isn’t receiving power back.

          1. I don’t think Evan is a power drain in the same way that Rose is. Evan draws on his oath and purpose, and has his own existence outside of existing as a reflection of Blake.

          2. One’s familiar both draws upon the practitioner’s power and is drawn upon, depending on their needs.

            Granted, Evan’s had a bit more need than Blake recently, but hey, it’s a two-way street.

    2. OtherSiders? That’s just a cheesy reference to Worm, and Blake doesn’t strike me as the Weaver Dice type. If the rulebooks even bring up the Bay’s underworld at the right time.

      It’s possible. I doubt it’ll matter much, though; how much power could a vestige take?

  32. I’m really glad Blake’s actually getting a team together. The lack of any close relationships for the first part of the story felt really bleak, and even when he got back to Toronto it was just in time for Rose to get captured. Hopefully they’ll all stick around… though I have a feeling Tyler might bite off more than he can chew against Conquest.

  33. Since I’m fairly certain the story isn’t about to end I’m going to hope that means blake and at least some of his friends make it through this and back to jacobs bell. At which point I’m really looking forward to Blake and friends walking into the councel meating as a group and hearing how people start shaking in their shoes over the fact that the one diabolist newb, now has at least two fairly tough bindings under his belt (since he may get UR before going back) and a group of wild card assistants.

    1. Did blake make an oath at some point to destroy the behaims and duchamps?

      I bet just before the last arc, someone else destroys them and blake becomes forsworn.

      And then he makes a deal with a demon for the first time & beats whoever the main baddie turns out to be.

      And then I post spoilers to make the author waste his time.

        1. Can it be considered a spoiler if he’s just making up something he thinks will happen?

          And wha? Where did Big Bird come into this?

      1. Huh. Mentioning You-Know-Who* so obliquely was actually a spoiler.

        Anyways. I don’t see her showing up, nor anyone from Worm. Remember, wildbow only said that they were in the same multiverse on a whim. Besides, if a different YKW had found the Pactverse, don’t you think they’d have used magic against yet another YKW?
        Geez, I hope that all the you-know-whos didn’t make this incomprehensible. If only WordPress had a spoiler system like TV Tropes or most forums.

        *Not Voldemort, silly. Miss spoilers-that-waste-the-author’s-time.

        1. Besides the crisis crossover is for when Wildbow runs out of ideas. But just imagine Blake summoning Beezlebub and Taylor taking control of it!

          1. I think Beezlebub would be a bit too complex for Taylor to take control of. [Spoilers pre-emptively removed by GreatWyrmGold.]

            And that would make an awesome bit, once wildbow completes Pact and maybe something else, to fill the time between epic stories.

  34. I should start checking for bonus chapters more often.

    “Yeah,” I said. “But let’s maybe not get into something that intimate.”
    “Non-sequitur much?” Alexis asked.
    I smiled a little. “I’m sorry.”

    Amusing.

    I can’t tell if it’s just the type Blake hangs around with or what, but wildbow seems to be really good at getting people to identify with his characters. At least two or three of Blake’s friends sound a surprising bit like me. Not entirely unlike what I’ve thought about Blake himself, Skitter, Tattletale to some extent…

    “That’s pretty impressive for something with a brain the size of a corn kernel,” Joel said.
    “Can I peck him?” Evan asked. He’d stopped mid-letter.
    “No pecking Joel,” I said.

    I wonder if that helped convince anyone.

    “You forgot the apostrophe,” Joseph said.
    “I’m a
    bird,” Evan said. “I’m a kid. I’m dead.”
    This is the most I’ve ever laughed at a dead kid having bad handwriting.

    If cool, intelligent people who trusted me were going to be this fucking dense, I could probably get away with using magic in public.
    I wouldn’t push it, but…well, don’t go tossing around fireballs and demons and you should be fine.

    Joseph wasn’t someone I was overly<i? close to, but I’d considered myself closer to him than I was to my own parents.
    Blake, you’re probably closer to Fell than you are to your parents. All that says is that you’ve got a screwed-up family.

    “Is there any part of this that isn’t horribly stressful?” she asked.
    “Very little.”

    Honesty is pretty funny for some reason.

    “Are they in hot water, or am I?”
    “You, I’d think.”
    “Then I can deal,” I said. “He’s probably going to be ticked at me later tonight, whatever happens.”

    That is a…unique attitude.

    “Really? Or do you want the girls naked?”
    “I offered before,” Alexis commented. “He said no. He wouldn’t go this far now.”

    wildbow, were you trying to make this a funny chapter?

    [Insert Alexis’s Speech Here]
    Impressive. Surprising, too, after a string of one-word, often monosyllabic answers.

    Interesting how Blake’s friends cut down on their statements after he mentioned that he only used monosyllabic words. Maybe they were hoping to be more like the “experienced” guy in the room? Guess they haven’t caught up to what’s going on in Blake’s life.

    Can’t wait to see how this all turns out.

    1. That is a…unique attitude.
      He had the same towards Laird. Things don’t get much worse when the first interaction leads to death threats.
      He didn’t expect the time moat, but it’s not as definite as death.

      Conquest wants to break him under physical/mental torture ? Might as well piss him off.

      1. True enough. Still, “it doesn’t matter how much I piss off the god as long as no one else gets flak for it” is unique.

        1. It doesn’t really feel unique, but I’m not sure if that’s an error in my perceptions or if I just read different stories from you.

          If you’re planning on revolting against a Lord that night, tracking mud on his rugs isn’t exactly going to make him that much angrier.

          1. It still isn’t wise to taunt the waiting dragon. It might decide to just eat you now, instead of biding its time.

  35. You know, three newby practitioners plus one spent demonologist versus Conquest and all his slaves just isn’t going to work.

    I would normally say that due to Blake being a Wildbow protagonist, but it just makes no sense that three just-awakened practitioners and a spend diabolist can take on the Lord of the city. If he were that weak, one of the others would have overthrown him already – remember that Jeremy was actively trying that with Sandra’s backing about 13 years ago. I get that Blake is good at pulling tactics that no-one else has tried and pulling stuff out of his ass under pressure, but this is just ridiculous.

    The more likely result is Blake and his friends get added to Conquest’s retinue.

    1. But that is the typical Wildbow protagonists charm, my dear Unmaker! Even facing impossible odds they will prevail because they are secretely asshole motherfuckers at heart that love shocking the ever loving shit out of people by ALWAYS doing the unexpected. I can’t WAIT to see how Blake will shock us all, acquiring a victory by the skin of his teeth.

      1. Personally, I’m expecting Rose to pull a turnaround, possibly by exploiting Pauz to subordinate Conquest to herself. I looked back on the Tarot reading-there seems to be fairly general agreement that the left hand drawing represents their future, and Rose’s left-hand drawing was the Chariot, one of the popular meanings of which is “Conquest” and seems like generally the card that would represent him.

    2. Three newbies, one spent, and the Knights. There’s a bit of leeway there. Also, we don’t know Blake’s plan beyond “get backup, as crude as that backup may be.”

      1. It’s not just them. Fell’s histories makes it clear a lot of the players are planning to make moves tonight. Conquest is not mr popular, and just about everyone has reasons to want him gone. And a straight up win for the Blakguard against Conquest won’t mean smooth sailing. Their will be a power vacum in Toronto. And the struggle to see who will be the new lord could be quite ugly.

        1. “Fell’s histories makes it clear a lot of the players are planning to make moves tonight.”

          Point. But according to Isadora, some of those moves will be against Conquest’s new pawns, meaning Blake and Rose.

          “Astrologer, I am glad you’re here – we could seriously use some help against Conquest. And you’ve got summoned creatures. great, more firepower! Wait, why are they all looking at me?”

  36. The novice black mage whose LUK is running in the high negatives is going straight for a mid-tier boss battle with a noob party, a handicapped partner, god knows (maybe not even) how many debuffs and very little HP. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Meh,have beaten bosses with worst odds.Admitedly,it was in action rpg games when you could just avoid all the hits,but still,thats closer to rl anyway.

      1. Yeah but Blake has the equivalent of nearly 0 STR and 0 DEX, which is going to seriously hamper his mad dodging skills. Hopefully Evan’s powers and assists will be enough to compensate.

  37. I love this story, first time commenting. Kinda hope Blake ends up becoming Rose but oh well we’ll see :3

    I really love bringing people in through the Veil. I feel invested in them, too, and that’s always a good feeling.

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