Subordination 6.3

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“Power comes with a price.  Believe me on that,” Nick said.  “Now, speaking as the owner of a shitty little store out in the middle of nowhere, that means the power has value.  What we do, we’re bartering with that power.  Sometimes you come out a little ahead, sometimes you don’t.  You can change it around, work in different currencies, different kinds of power, you can give currency for goods or services, or give up goods and services for currency.”

The city seemed darker than it should have been, as I watched out the window with half-lidded eyes.  My allies were in the back seat, Evan was perched on the dash, watching the road.

“You can invest it, and you can be in debt,” Nick said.  “Blake here is in debt, in more ways than one.”

“How come?” Alexis asked.

“My family dug themselves into a deep, deep hole,” I said.  “By inviting you guys in, I may have dug myself a little deeper.”

“I was going to say you cut yourself open and bled your currency out to pay someone or something,” Nick said.

“That too.  You’re close enough,” I said.

“You did that to yourself?” Alexis asked.

I turned around in my seat to look at her.  Tiff wasn’t here, so it was only Alexis and Ty in the back.  The other Knights were in a car that followed behind us.  Alexis had the book on protections in her lap, while Ty had the Essentials tome, his attention apparently on the very last few pages.  The appendix?

“It’s complicated,” I said.

“You said the police did it.”

“You did,” I said.  “I didn’t correct you.”

“You lied to me.”

“I can’t lie,” I said.  “And neither can you.  Be fucking careful.”

“Wait, did I just fuck something up?”

“You were technically correct, because I have lied to you in the past.  But be careful.  I misled by omission, because it was probably going to make things worse if I started rattling on about rituals and ritualistically reducing my personal footprint to evade the cops, or about Rose, who I mentioned just a bit ago…”

“Yeah.  I get it.  But it kind of sucks to hear that you played me.”

“It sucked to have to play you.  Which is why I told you,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.

Evan piped up, “She understands but she’s still mad?”

“Evan,” I said, “It’s cool.  Subject handled, more or less.”

“I’m not mad,” Alexis said.  “I’m disappointed.”

“But you understand why he did it?” Evan asked.

“Evan,” I said.

“Yeah, I understand,” Alexis said.

“But-” Evan started.

Evan,” I said.  “We don’t have a lot of time.  Drop it, please?”

“Okay,” he said.  He turned around to look out the front windshield again.

“I need a smoke so bad right now,” Alexis muttered.

“You were talking about power, Nick?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  It’s a gamble.  People like me and my family, we don’t play with a lot at stake.  You could say we did, once upon a time, and we paid the price.  The rules here, they’re old.  They predate modern society.  Reach back to days when you had kids because many wouldn’t make it to adulthood.  When girls were bartered off in marriage.  People are currency, and we lost our people.  You be careful with yours, Blake.”

“You’re supposed to be helping them figure all this out, not me.”

Nick raised one eyebrow, but he went on.  “Three ways you build up power.  Blake has one, maybe two?”

“Just the one,” I said.

“You buy a property, demesnes in our world, and you hope it’ll appreciate in value.  You cross your fingers that the shelter and comfort it offers you, the status and recognition in the eyes of your peers will add up to the investment paying for itself.  With me so far?  Good.”

Leonard-in-a-bottle rested between my feet.  I also had a hammer I’d marked with a wind rune, as a dim replacement for June, and I had the demon’s arm.

Nick went on.  “You can pick an implement, too.  Your tool of the trade.  There are no takebacks.  Everything matters, when you make your choice.  The style of it, the history, the type of item, the purpose it’s meant to serve, the symbolism…”

“An object?” Alexis asked.

“Like a wand,” I said, “Or a dagger…”

“Any restrictions?”

“Has to be something you can hold in your hand, or hands,” I said.

“I know what I want to use,” she said.

“This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that it’s a major commitment, that you don’t jump into something like this.”

“Yeah?”

“But I’d be a hypocrite,” I said.  “After jumping into this with Evan here, and I think I know what you’re talking about.”

“The custom iron,” Ty said, looking up from his book.

“Yeah,” Alexis said.  “It’s had a place of prominence on a shelf over my home kit for the last while.  It’d be great to put it to use.”

I nodded.

“Custom iron?” Evan asked.

“Old-fashioned tattoo gun,” I said.

“Oh, cool!”

I’d be worried about corrupting the kid with the smoking, swearing, tattoos and motorcycles, but he’s already dead, and it sort of pales in comparison to the terminal violence, demons, and the magic ritual bullshit.

“That’ll have to wait,” Nick said.

“Okay,” Alexis replied.

“And,” I added, “It’s something that needs more research.  What does the gun imply, and all the rest of that jazz.”

“Sure,” she said.

“These are life-altering calls you’re making,” Nick said.  “Like I said, the rules are old.  You don’t backtrack, you don’t get to decide on one option here and then backtrack.  We talked about setting down roots.  There’s the tool, the choice of vocation, how you want to face down the world and how you want the world to look at you.  Finally, we have the familiar.  Kind of like marriage, but with one of the monsters.”

“I’m getting really sick of that comparison being made,” I said.  “Can we call it something else?”

“A business partnership,” Nick said.

“Much better,” I said.

“One being you tie yourself to.  The demesne, it’s a safe ground.  A place you can call your own, where you can defend yourself far more easily.  It’s a reflection of you and the choices you’ve made.  The other things?  Familiar and implement?  Might be you have less options on some fronts, and more on others.”

“Can you have more than one familiar?” Ty asked.

“Not so much,” I answered.  “It’s more of a commitment than that.”

“Some circles over in Asia do,” Nick said.

I glanced at him.

“Different expectations, different rules.  The ritual’s different, too.  It’s less like a partnership and more… hostile takeover.”

“Like the Lord?” I asked.

“Maybe.  They tend to emphasize having more Others, bound into object forms.  Said Others don’t have to be cooperative.”

“I’d be into trying something offbeat like that,” Ty said.

“Tradition has a power,” Nick said.  I nodded.

“I’ve never been much for tradition.”

“What about respect?” Nick asked.  “Having a familiar earns you some.  Go off the beaten track, it’s going to change people’s perceptions of you.”

“I’ve never put a lot of stock in that either,” Ty said.

“It’s an option,” I said.  “But it may be an option that has to wait until we have access to my grandmother’s library.  Look, we’re running out of time, so let’s not dwell on ‘what ifs’.”

I was anxious, impatient.  I wasn’t entirely certain I’d helped myself by bringing these guys on board.  It had felt right, but in practice… there was no way to get them up to speed.

“Summing it up, all kinds of power are currency, and anything you do from here on out costs,” Nick said.  “Sacrifices, even small ones like being polite, or taking a risk by making a promise, they pay you back.  Politeness forges stronger connections, and connections keep you upright in the grand scheme of things.  Making promises and keeping them buys you favor from the underlying forces that drive things.”

I closed my eyes, leaning my head against the headrest.  “Nick sees things as a broad sort of business.  Rose wants to view it as something in the same vein as science or math, with an internal logic.”

“And you?” Ty asked.

“I described it as a kind of art,” I said.  “There’s some bullshitting, a lot hinging on trends and abstract rules, vague elements you can’t pin down.  Things don’t fit neatly into boxes.”

“I’m not one to talk,” Nick said, “given how I barely practice and how badly the Knights have fucked up when we tried our hands at it, but doesn’t that make you the stereotypical starving artist?”

“By your definition, with power as currency?”

“Yeah.”

“By that definition, sure,” I said.  “I guess it kind of does.”

Nick nodded.

“There’s a lot of different ways of doing this stuff,” Ty said.  “I’m looking at the short descriptions here, and it’s interesting, but I don’t think there are any ways I can figure out in the next half hour.”

“I’m not expecting you to,” I said.  “I’m… fuck.  I’m doing this backwards.  Rose is supposed to be the long-term planner, I’m supposed to handle the short term.  But here I am, shooting myself in the foot in the short term for hopeful long-term gains.  We could call you guys my insurance.  You maybe back me up, make it so the other guys are scratching their heads and wondering exactly who you are and what you can do, but you should stay out of the thick of things.  If things go sour-”

“We bail you out,” Ty said.

I nodded.  “Maybe.  If you can do it without putting yourselves at too much risk.”

“Okay,” Ty said.

“There are some basic circles and ideas for protections in here,” Alexis said.

I spoke up, “Rule of thumb, you make a circle oppose whatever it is that drives the Other you or magic you want to ward off.  You can make it similar if they’re weak, but I’ve had fairly limited luck with that.”

“Okay,” she said.

“I’m not an expert by any means,” I said.

“Most practitioners don’t get in any real fights except maybe a conflict over their familiar or demesne,” Nick said.

“Really?” I asked.

“You might be more experienced than most.  Not very knowledgeable, but from what you said about your library, you have a way of fixing that problem.”

“Trick, then, is staying intact until I can make the fix,” I said.

Nick nodded.

There was a moment’s silence.  I felt the pressure descending in moments.

“Would be fantastic if we could try pulling off a binding in the next half hour,” I said.  “I could do with a little more power.”

“Don’t know where you’d go.”

“Sites of recent murders?” I asked.

“The Shepherd claims all local ghosts, spirits, spectres, phantoms, wraiths, poltergeists, and apparitions.”

“Damn.  Goblins?”

“Not anywhere near the heart of the city.  Fringes only.”

“Fuck,” I said.  “What about… I dunno, the local folk tales, the things that go bump in the night?  The miscellaneous monsters?”

“Is the thing we really want to do before you go up against an enemy is to fight another enemy?” Ty asked.

“I want to feel more prepared,” I said.

“I don’t think there are any perfect solutions,” Nick said.  “I doubt there’s much of anything you can do to be prepared for tonight, whatever you’re doing.”

“Having more of an idea what I’m doing would be one thing,” I said.

He smiled without humor, my expression was comparatively somber.

“You feel that?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure what he meant.  Feel?  I felt… tired.  In pain.

No, he was referring to another kind of sensation.

“No fucking way,” I said.

“What?” Ty asked.

“Listen up, you two, here’s your first lesson in the field.  I want you to pay particular attention to all the weirdness going on around us.  Start with the immediate stuff, the connections between each of us, things being carried back and forth.  Over time, you’ll visualize it into something like cords, strings, ribbons…”

“It’s more a feeling for me,” Nick said.  “Physical.  Everyone sees it differently.”

Interesting, but I didn’t respond.  I didn’t want to complicate things.

“I can see a pattern between us,” Alexis said.  “Like a cat’s cradle?  I see the firefly things-”

“Spirits,” I cut in.

“Spirits moving around.  They leave trails in their wake.  It almost looks like strings from my hand to your arm, and from my head to your mouth…”

“That’s essentially it,” I said.  “Ty?”

“I see something.  Yeah.”

“Look beyond it.  Same idea.  Hold your focus, but move that focus.  Like crossing your eyes by focusing on a finger that you’re moving closer to your face, but in the other direction.”

“There’s… a lot of noise,” Ty said.

“A whole city filled with connections,” I said.  “Look for the big stuff.”

“Big?” Alexis asked.  “There are blotches, but they could be the spots on my eyes from looking at lights.”

“Like I said before, a mix of bullshit and confidence go a long way,” I said.  “Trust that it’s right.”

“Okay, trusting… what am I looking at?”

“You’re looking at maybe ten of the major players in one place,” I said.

“Ten?” Ty asked.

“There are ten major players?” Alexis asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Something’s wrong.”

It took us another five minutes to get close enough for Nick to drop us off.  He stayed where he was, waiting to reunite with the other Knights, minus his buddy, who was tutoring Tiff in some basics.

From there, it was another five minutes of walking.

I could see it, using the sight.  More clear than before.  The tower.  It overlapped with the manse.

The rest were gathered on or around the steps leading up to the manse.

“Diabolist,” Isadora said.  She stood there on the street, in full sphinx mode.  I glanced down the length of the side street.  Nobody present.

“Greetings, Isadora,” I said.  It seemed like a safer bet than ‘good evening’, because I wasn’t sure this evening would be.

“Hello,” Evan said.

“No shitting way,” Ty said.  Under his breath, he said, “She’s beautiful.”

“Shh,” I said, under my breath.  My mind was working overdrive.

Alexis was silent, which I was grateful for, but I did hear the scratch of her lighter.

Conquest was inside with five others.  Fell was liable to be one of them.

Outside, I could see the sphinx and a number of women with white masks and rings that blazed red.  The Drunk stood a distance away, beside a man with a long, crooked stick, who was busy feeding a carrot to a large gray horse.

Diana the Astrologer wasn’t here.

“This is the one?” one of the ring-wearers asked.

“The Thorburn heir, yes.”

The woman with the mask and glowing ring stepped to one side, as if trying to get a better look at me.  “I remember the last Thorburn diabolist to visit Toronto.  Your grandmother?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I was just a child, watching through a crack in the door while she talked with my mother.”

“Talking about what?”

“Something about her children and the University.”

“Did it go well?” I asked.

“No,” she said.  “No, it didn’t.”

I nodded.  That was vague, but I didn’t want to look ignorant, and if she wasn’t going to volunteer details there, she probably wouldn’t if I pressed her.

“I’m Blake Thorburn,” I said.  “I’d like to ask your name.”

“Names are dangerous to give, and it’s impolite to ask when we’re already taking pains to protect our identities.”

“Okay,” I said.  “My apologies.”

“Apologies taken and accepted.  You can call me Elder Sister, or elder for short..”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.  “And… the horseman is the Shepherd, I take it?”

“You won’t get much out of him,” Isadora said.

“He have something against me?” I asked.

“Vow of silence,” the sphinx told me.  “Some believe it gives you more power.  If you don’t say anything at all, outside of rituals, then you don’t leave room for even the smallest breaks in the truth.”

I nodded.

“He’s apparently vexed with you,” Isadora said.  “Any particular reason why?”

I saw the connection flicker into being, raised a hand to cut it and Ty off before an answer could be given.

I knew the answer, regardless.  The Shepherd collected the dead.  I’d collected Evan.  Stuck one foot in his territory.

I glanced at the horse.  It wasn’t an Other, but it wasn’t quite a normal horse either.

“You have friends,” the sphinx observed.  “And a familiar.  You’ve been busy.”

“I have been,” I said.  “You’ve been working behind the scenes.  Forming a coalition?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m suspicious things are about to get messy,” I said.

“We’re here to keep that from coming to pass,” Elder Sister told me.

“Then cooperate with me,” I said.

“We already received one appeal to cooperate with you.  We said no,” she said.

That would have been Priss.

“I wonder if your new helpers know the danger you pose,” Isadora said.  “Do you know the dangers of being in a diabolic cabal, strangers?”

I remained silent.

“If you aren’t one now, you’ll become one.  The forces we’re talking about, they insinuate themselves into the fabric of reality.  They forge new connections, to draw themselves to people.  I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve seen it happen again and again.  The book consigned to vaults finds its way to mortal hands.  The beast we hoped to leave alone in deep waters is stirred by a wrecked ship.  When you gather in groups, you give them more opportunities.  More flaws to reach for and exploit.  You reek of it.  That wrapped thing you hold reeks of it.  Filth.”

She managed to inject a surprising amount of force into that last word.  She paced closer, until she was a claw-swipe away from us.  One heavy sweep of a forelimb and she could end all of us.

There wasn’t a lot we could collectively do when faced with something that was easily ten times our size, but I managed to stand my ground.  Fifty percent courage, fifty percent me not being steady on my two feet.

“You are tainted by association, diabolists.  Each of you throwing off more taint with every step and action you take.  But when more are tainted, and they interact, they taint each other, and the effect lingers.”

“One diabolist is more agreeable than a group?” I asked.

“Zero is more agreeable than one,” she said, her voice low, her eyes glaring.

Ouch.

“Good thing those guys aren’t diabolists,” I said.

“It is a good thing,” Isadora said.  “If that changes, we will eagerly do what others have done in recent history.  Remove you from the picture before it becomes a problem.”

“Irony is, there aren’t many other actions you could undertake that would make me snap and cut loose,” I said.  “I won’t threaten you and say ‘Leave them be or else’, because that would be dangerous and crass.”

“Yes it would,” Isadora said.

“I won’t say it,” I said, emphasizing the ‘say’.  I stared up at her.

There wasn’t a single identifiable movement to her face.  Not a twitch of eyebrow, nose or mouth.  She didn’t move a fraction, but I could sense the shift in her attitude.  The tension of her muscles changed.  She was danger distilled.

“Things were stable before you came, diabolist.  They are now far from stable.”

“I want things more or less stable, too,” I said.  “But you’re letting the diabolist label lead you to conclusions.”

“Do you have any conception of how old I am?” she asked.  Her voice was more dangerous now.  She was big enough and her voice had enough low notes that I could feel the vibration of it in the air.  “How few of the mortals alive today are able to trace their ancestry back to the day I was a cub breaking free of my egg?  When the first thing I did after that was devour my weakest siblings?”

Her wings had unfolded somewhat, making her silhouette larger.  In the gloom, her eyes caught the light.

“The works which wrote of my mother have largely yellowed with age.  I have seen events play out time and again, and I have grown tired of the patterns I see you mortals repeat, time and again.”

She said tired the way I imagined a serial killer might talk about murder.  With a hint of danger, but a suggestion that it was very matter of fact for her.

“The pattern of the cults, the cabals, the secret societies, it’s one I see again and again.  The only reason I do not say it with certainty, to tell you that you will fall to corruption and ruin, is that I’m not certain you’ll live long enough to get that far.”

“That’s fair,” I said.  “Alexis, Ty, I need you to do all of us here a favor.”

“What’s that?” Ty asked.

Alexis didn’t speak, but I saw a puff of smoke to my left.  I didn’t turn to look at her, in case i started to lose my balance and wobbled on the spot.

“Swear.  You won’t tou- you won’t open or read from any of the darkest tomes.  None of the demon stuff.”

“You said we shouldn’t make oaths lightly.”

“This isn’t light.  This is one sphinx with a lot of experience and a number of concerns, wanting some reassurance.  One way of getting that reassurance is by devouring us.  Another way is for you to make a promise.”

A puff of smoke.  Alexis.  I heard her say, “I promise, I’m not going to mess in the dark texts you and Blake are talking about.”

“Okay,” Ty said.  “I promise.”

I looked up at Isadora and spread my arms.

“I have seen this play out before, Thorburn,” the sphinx told me.  “The oaths.  Oaths can be broken, consequences or no.”

“Then I’ll swear too,” I said.  “I’ll take all reasonable measures to keep the contents of those books out of the hands of my, er, disciples.”

“You would do better to swear not to touch those texts yourself, Thorburn.”

“I can’t make that promise.  I have other responsibilities, and other entities leaning over me.  Were I to promise, I’d earn the enmity of other forces.”

“Forces related to the greater evils.”

I nodded.  The lawyers would stop playing ball if this went any further.

“This does not please me,” she said.

“My motives aren’t to side with those forces.  I speak from my heart when I say that I believe I am one of your better options.  I have no intent to use the knowledge in those tomes in any way that could spread the taint, only to bind the beings and save innocents from their touch.  I did it with the imp, and I tried with another evil.”

“You gave the imp to Conquest,” she said.

“Largely because I had no support to draw on, Isadora, daughter of Phix.”

Her head moved, and her eyes flashed as the light left them, then caught the surface again.  “You blame me?”

“Some,” I said.

She pursed her lips, then turned her head to glance back at the others.  The Sisters of the Torch, the Shepherd, the Drunk and others.  As she moved her head, her hair moved from where it draped over her left breast.  I avoided looking, in part because I was more captivated by the way the ambient light caught her high cheekbones and the frown-creased brow, making her appear more like a lion or a raptor than I’d ever seen her.  In part because being caught looking seemed dangerous.

She looked down at me.  “So be it.  This promise doesn’t remedy the situation, but if you fail in this, you and yours will suffer for it.  There is justice in that.  I believe in justice.”

I nodded.

“You will exact promises from your other disciple.  I smell one on you.  She was there when you came to my office.  She is warm for you.”

Warm for me?

Alexis coughed, just behind me and to my left.

“I’ll extract the same promise from her, if and when a convenient hour arises,” I said.

“And any disciples who follow.”

“Yes,” I said.  “In exchange for this amenity, I would like to ask a favor.”

“Ask.”

“Let us end the conversation here.  Allow me passage inside.  Don’t slow me down or get in my way.  I have a schedule to keep, and it will do more harm than good if I can’t.”

“If we stopped you here,” she said, “What would the consequences be?”

I remained silent.

“You should give me an answer you know is wrong, feed yourself to me.  With every ending, the cosmos reorders, the geometry settling into new patterns.  At the hands of a goblin, such as the one you bound, the reordering is an ugly thing.  Consequences persist.  The skein tangles.  I am a creature of the balance, and death by my tooth and nail, talon and claw is the cleanest death you could be offered.  The new order would be a better order, for you having left it.”

“I’m almost insulted,” I said.

“You have my leave to go.  I cannot speak for the others,” she said.

She couldn’t speak for the others, but she had enough authority that I suspected her permission would count for a hell of a lot.

“Are we coming?” Ty asked.

I glanced at him.  I opened my mouth to say no.  That the Knights were close, and they should stay behind.  That I needed the backup outside.

“They remain safer with you than elsewhere,” Isadora said.

Seven words to dash my plan to the winds.

“That doesn’t mean it’s better to take them with me,” I said.

“It is better,” she said.  “I’m not a prophet, but I have an eye for the ways of things.  You have help elsewhere, but you’ll need help inside.”

I hesitated.

“I appreciate the advice, but ‘better’ is vague.  Better for me, for them?  For the world as a whole?”

“For all things.”

“I’m too used to having everyone turn on me, everything be a trap,” I said.  “This… I’m having a hard time trusting my recent fortune.  No offense intended.”

“You did a good thing.  A right thing, and you recently transferred some of the negative karma from yourself.  Three separate events.”

I frowned.  “Then the reason I’m free to put a circle together-”

That has nothing to do with it,” she said.  And her expression went a little cold.  “I cannot speak for the particulars.  Maybe there was some good in it.  But I meant what I said earlier.  The cosmos gave you a rope.  You have neatly knotted it.  I hope you are the only one who hangs, but as I said before, I have been around long enough to see the patterns.  I am not so optimistic.  I suspect things progressing smoothly there was not karma being kind.”

That might have been the cruelest thing she could have said to my face.  I was left momentarily breathless.

I pulled myself together.  There were only minutes.  “Yes, you two are coming.”

Ty nodded.

“I appreciate your hearing me out, Isadora,” I said.  “I get the impression something in our relationship isn’t reconcilable, due to history that precedes me by some time, but… I appreciate that you’ll reach compromise with me all the same, and I appreciate the advice.”

She dipped her head in a nod.  “Die cleanly, diabolist.”

With that unnerving farewell, I turned to go.  Alexis and Ty followed.

Passing up the stairs meant passing the other group.

I saw each of them staring at me.  The Sisters glared, the twenty-somethings shifting their weight.

The Drunk remained very still, except for the wine bottle he held and tapped on his knee.

The Shepherd barred my path by stepping forward, directly into my way.

He didn’t look at me.  His eyes were on Evan.

He brimmed with negativity.  The feeling made me think of the shelters in the dead of winter.  The general ambiance, suspicion, loathing, anger without a target, anger with a target, discomfort, pain, hopelessness… he radiated it.  When his eyes moved over to me, it became more intense.

“You had months,” I told the man.  “You didn’t.  He needed someone to find him, and I found him.  Don’t fucking blame me for your cowardice.”

Much as I’d seen in the morgue, ghosts appeared.  Vague, damaged, insubstantial.

Some were a little less ghost and a little more spirit.  Some were so real I might have mistaken them for people.  Others were only fragments of ideas, stirrings of snow suggesting the vague outlines of people.

He had a small army at his disposal.  A collection of Junes, Leonards, Evans and others.

“He’s not one to care about right and wrong,” the Drunk observed.  “The ghost was his, he thinks, and you took it.  Context doesn’t matter.  Doesn’t help that you’re dangerous.”

“You get to be a shepherd by shepherding,” I said.  “Giving shelter and care to your flock.  Evan needed that care, and that man didn’t give it.  The name doesn’t fit.”

“Attacking a man’s name is bad form.”

“I don’t hear him complaining,” I said.

The Drunk smirked.  He raised his bottle, then drank.  More than anyone except maybe the Shepherd, the look in his eyes was dark as he looked at me.  The humor was only a thin, ineffective facade.

I made a mental note.  He was more of a threat when he was being vaguely friendly, over the top, and uninhibited.  It kind of fit.

But he still stepped aside.

As he left, the sisters stepped in.  They’d hesitated before, but they were able to gather some confidence from the sheer numbers and the power that were arrayed here, between the Shepherd and the ghosts.

“If you bar my path, you’re liable to get on Conquest’s bad side,” I said, very deliberately using Conquest’s name, “I don’t want to work under him, but I am, and you’re making the task he assigned me harder.”

“We’ll be on his bad side anyway,” one of the older Sisters of the Torch told me.

“You’re standing against him.”

“And against you,” the Elder Sister said.  “The blackguard was convincing, but not quite convincing enough.”

“We’re on the same side,” I said.

“Not right here we aren’t,” she said.

“That’s unfortunate,” I said.

“It really is.  You messed up a great many things by coming here.  I don’t think you can even fathom how.”

“I dunno,” I said, meeting her eyes with a level stare, “I’m getting a pretty good idea of how fucked up things can get.”

“You’re a threat,” she said.

“No he isn’t,” a voice piped up.  Evan.

She glanced at him, only briefly breaking eye contact with me.

“Blake helped me.  And he promised me he would stop the real threats.  He cares about his friends, and he’s honest, and he’s smart and he’s cool.”

“You don’t know enough to understand,” she said.  “He’s one of the real threats you’re talking about.”

“No he isn’t.  I’ve seen some of the monsters.  One of them sort of killed me, by trapping me until I was too tired and hungry and cold to keep going.  Another one of them was in the factory.  He tried to stop them.  He stopped one.”

“I’m not going to argue with a child.”

“You’re going to lose, by the sounds of it,” Ty commented.

“Did you try to stop the monsters like the one that sort of killed me?” Evan asked.

“We’re not that strong.”

“You’re elementalists, aren’t you?” I asked.  “You deal with spirits of nature, and going by the name and the glowing ring motif… you deal with spirits of fire?”

“Yes,” she said.

“The demon in the factory is vulnerable to fire and light.  You could have done something.”

“It’s not what we do,” she said.  I couldn’t see her face past the white mask.

“It’s what I do,” I told her.  “Tell me again how I’m one of the real monsters.”

“You serve your ends and the Lord’s.  Your family has long dealt in forbidden things.  I know.”

“All I know,” Evan said.  “Is he tried.  You didn’t.”

“Well,” the Elder Sister replied, “I’m trying now, if it means you don’t deliver that thing to Conquest.”

“You’re done trying,” a man said from behind her.

She moved to look before I did.  Winning the staring contest wasn’t much, but I’d take any victories I could.  Evan could have probably beat me in an actual fight.

Fell.

“Step inside, Mr. Thorburn,” he said.  “Shepherd?  Put your grudge aside.  Sisters, you do not want to cross Conquest right now.”

Reluctantly, the group parted.  Many ghosts faded as they joined the Shepherd in moving to my right, while the Sisters drifted off to the left.

I stepped inside.

I gave Alexis and Ty a moment to get acclimatized.

“I didn’t think you were in this deep,” Ty said.  His eyes roved over the tower interior.

My eyes fell on the clock.  Five minutes to midnight.

“I’m in pretty deep,” I said.

I glanced at Alexis.

She, for maybe the third time in all the years I’d known her, put out one cigarette, then lit up another.

“You okay?”

“Mm hmm,” she said.

“That’s not really an answer, and if it is one, it sounds like a lie,” I said.

“They’re not words.”

“Vagueness and bullshitting,” I said, “remember?”

“I remember,” she said.  “No, I’m not entirely okay.  I can scrap when I have to.  I can’t scrap against something like that.”

“Like the sphinx.”

“Right.  I’d be way happier if I had… I dunno.  Anything?  Some power, some tools…”

“We are most definitely on the same page, there” I said.

“Stupid question, but why is everyone standing outside?”  Ty asked.

It was Fell who answered.  “Preparing for war.  They all have their ways of finding out what’s going on.  That one of your Knights is going around trying to recruit allies for you has helped fill in others.”

“They’re taking sides,” I said.

“Isadora and the Sisters opposing Conquest, though Isadora is keeping secrets.  The High Drunk and the Shepherd are loosely affiliated with Conquest.  The Knights and Astrologer are nebulously affiliated with you and your new circle,” Fell said.

The Astrologer is in our camp?

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Conquest isn’t one for Pyrrhic victories.  He plays for keeps,” Fell told me.  “He’s just about won.”

I had a hard time putting a name to the feeling in my gut.  It was kind of like the abstract demon in that regard.  Too horrible.  Paying too much attention to it would give it more power.

We approached the top of the tower.

“Oh… wow,” Ty muttered.

Conquest was in full monster mode.  A giant, skin stretched over his muscular, warped frame, wearing gear that resembled both armor and a robe, with a halo that made me think of platinum.  A sword twice as long as I was tall was slung across his back.  A rifle with a bayonet attached was also slung over his back, going the other direction.

While my companions were awed at the sight of Conquest, my eyes fell on Conquest’s companions.

A man with rags draped over him from head to toe.  Burly, tall, the sort of guy that’d be a top of the line defenseman on a hockey rink.  Hair stuck out from the midst of the rags, scorched, standing up in sharp tufts.  His skin was blistered and burned where I could see it.  I could smell the smoke and ozone from the other side of the broad tower top.  He burned away the air merely by being here, and I wasn’t in good enough shape to be breathing properly to begin with.

One of his eyes was visible.  It burned so bright I couldn’t meet his gaze.

The Eye.  An unliving, monstrous counterpoint to the notion that fire and energy are man’s tools to be harnessed.  A disaster waiting patiently to happen.

Duncan Behaim.  Not in uniform.  He sat on the wall, slouching a little.  Glaring.

Laird Behaim.  Not in uniform, but he wore a long jacket with a badge on the sleeve.  He didn’t slouch.  He held his head high, his expression placid, pocket watch in hand.

Rose.  Arms limp at her side, her head hanging.  She didn’t even look up as we approached.

Conquest bent down, and he picked up a black-covered book that looked positively tiny in his massive hand.

“Three minutes before midnight,” Conquest spoke.  His voice echoed in his alien realm.

“Yes,” Laird said.

I threw the arm down.

“Eight minutes until the imp frees itself.”

“Close enough,” Laird said.

“I imagine you have a strategy,” Conquest said.

Rose raised her head.  I saw her eyes widen in surprise as she saw my friends.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I do.”

I just wished it was a better one.

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278 thoughts on “Subordination 6.3

  1. And against you,” the Elder Sister said. “The blackguard was convincing, but not quite convincing enough.”

    “Th

    “We’re on the same side,” I said.

    Something missing

    1. Suppose this is the typo thread. Also- Conquest and Behaims is my least favorite alliance ever. Glad to be caught up in time for this.

      1. Well, unless the Behaims think that, after they deal with Black, they could do something about Conquest before he gets Rose to summon Ornias for him, it’s a pretty bad idea to ally with him instead of joining as a neutral party. Maybe they hope the imp will win against Conquest and they’ll be able to handle the imp, who knows…

        1. Or maybe he’s there to bail Duncan out. Maybe Duncan did get rendered forsworn, and Conquest showed up like he did with Fell’s ancestor.

          1. Or maybe he got Laird through Duncan like he got Joseph’s bloodline.

            That seems unlikely though, because at least Joseph swore an oath by his blood, I don’t think Duncan was dumb enough to do that. And Laird would not look smug if that was the case.

      2. the Other you or magic you want to ward off
        There’s an extra ‘you’.
        the Other or magic you want to ward off

    2. thursday
      Thursday

      backseat
      back seat

      being in a the diabolical
      being in a diabolical

      in case i started
      in case I started

      “Th [nothing following]
      truncated, even if indicating interruption

      phyrric
      pyrric

    3. “You don’t backtrack, you don’t get to decide on one option here and then backtrack. ”
      Backtrack twice in one sentence.

      “Do you know the dangers of being in a the diabolic cabal, strangers?”
      in a diabolic*

      1. I noticed this too but I read it as Blake being colloquial in his speech. Sort of like an everyday and super informal way of saying “Does he have something against me?” The “does” is implied.

      1. The sentence works for me as it is, meaning something like “I suspect [that] [your plans] progressing smoothing [in that circumstance] was not [the result of] karma being kind.”

      1. “that” is optional in that context. It’s like you can say “I think that you have a good point” or “I think you have a good point” and either are equally valid. (“I get the impression” takes the place of “I think”).

    4. <>

      I’m not sure it counts as a typo or even an error, but shouldn’t the Sphinx kill Blake for that answer to her question ?

    5. “Rule of thumb, you make a circle oppose whatever it is that drives the Other you or magic you want to ward off.”
      that opposes? opposite of?

      “He smiled without humor, my expression was comparatively somber.”
      This is a bit off, here. You could leave in the comma and take out the ‘was,’ or turn the comma into a semicolon; either would work, but neither really looks like it would fit well.

      “You can call me Elder Sister, or elder for short..”
      short.*

      ” In part because being caught looking seemed dangerous.”
      Fragment, probably intentional.

    6. oppose whatever it is that drives the Other you or magic you want to ward off. ‘Other you’ doesn’t make any sense

      the power that were arrayed here –> ‘power’ or ‘was’

      “We are most definitely on the same page, there” I said. –> needs a comma after the quote somewhere

  2. Should have expected Conquest to bring in more allies, but nonetheless completely surprised by it. Wonder what Duncan is doing there: He lost pretty hard and lost with borrowed power from the rest of the Behaims. Perhaps he’s collateral to get Laird to bring his firepower to the upcoming fight on behalf of Conquest?

  3. …Um. Wow. I want to be way way waaaaaaaaaay far away from THAT. Yeesh. This could get messy.

    Just a little bit.

  4. So Blake dumped some of his karma on Duncan. I guess there are other methods to fix your karma troubles. Yeah this might get really hairy.

    Wait, the Behaims work for (or with) Conquest, including Laird. (Incoming backstory) Fell’s niece is related to someone from Jacob’s Bell. Laird was trying to make a Lordship in opposition to Conquest. Maggie went from a town were Fell’s brother died to Jacob’s Bell, where Fell has relatives, and goes straight to working for Laird. Are the Behaim’s under Conquest’s control all along? (and ofc, fighting it in their own way)

    Put that down as my first WMG for the series.

    Please shoot it down as much as possible.

    1. The only weak point I can see atm is the connection between Fell and Jacob’s Bell. We don’t know that Fell’s niece is connected to Jacob’s Bell. It’s hinted that a wild oat of the Duchamp variety has been sown in Fell’s family, but we don’t know that.

      Also, if the Behaims are under Conquest’s control, why don’t they let Blake sabotage him as much as possible?

    2. If they belong to Conquest, they must defend his best interests as much as they can, with some wiggle room about what ‘best’ can mean.

      Forcing Blake to go back to Toronto and stay there appears to be a great way to help Conquest increase his powerbase.
      At the same time, since they expected Blake to fight back against Conquest (they have augurs, after all), killing him also helps the Lord in a different way.

      All while they gamble a powerplay to remove themselves from Conquest’s influence. It kind of fits.

      And makes Laird’s unsufferable dickishness suitably wildbowesque. Sorry about the lack of downshooting. We all expected he had reasons, didn’t we.

  5. The calm (exposition) before the storm. 3… 2… 1…

    Conquest and the Behaims? Nothing good there, although it seems unlikely that the Behaims would knowingly allow Conquest access to the books.

    Having the Astrologer to teach the Blakeguard would be a major plus. Of course, Blake and friends have to survive first.

    Anyone want to guess what Blake’s strategy is? I have no earthly clue.

    But… Blake has fulfilled his vow of doing his best to bind the three demons, so unless Conquest can be forsworn without damage, he has to fulfill his vow of defeating the time moat around the Thorburn house. Which should put him in direct opposition to Laird, but apparently not… yet at least.

    1. The Behaims would knowingly allow Conquest access to the books.
      Laird is diabolical in the Dungeons and Dragons sense – he demands Law so that he can turn it to his personal purposes, whatever Evil he might engender.
      Duncan, as we have seen? He talks about how he does good things, but when it comes down to it he would rather murder someone in front of his friends, because he thinks he can just cover it up with a time reset.

      The Behaims are not people who oppose Blake out of prejudice about his position, as Isadora does. The Behaims are people who want to turn demons to their purposes – just without having to touch them, by sacrificing Thorburns on that altar instead. I make this prediction, and though I admit it could turn out otherwise, I don’t think it will.

      1. I think Laird is more Lawful Selfish than Lawful Evil. He twists his word professionally for his family’s benefit and for the benefit of the world. Both at the same time, if he can.

        I imagine he’s going to be forced by Conquest to let him through the magic barrier. And probably more. I suspect Laird is also going to have a trick up his sleeve that’s going to mess with Pauz. Some Clockblocker shenanigans or something.

        1. Oh he’s definitely got something to mess with Pauz.

          Conquest: “Three Minutes before Midnight.”
          Laird: “Yes.”
          Conquest: “Eight minutes until the imp frees itself.”
          Laird: “Close enough.”

        2. I think Laird is more Lawful Selfish than Lawful Evil. He twists his word professionally for his family’s benefit and for the benefit of the world. Both at the same time, if he can.

          This. I can understand why people don’t like Laird, but some of these comments try to portray him as this incredibly evil monster. He may have been jerkish to Blake, but that doesn’t make him bad or evil. Some even implied that he secretly wants to unleash demons on the world.

          Laird likes his family and his world. He works to better and protect those things. I’m all for disliking Laird, but I’m seeing some of this dislike coming from characterization that isn’t there (yet).

          Also, I think Laird is either rescuing Duncan or making his own move against Conquest to ensure he can set up a Lord in Jacob’s Bell.

          1. I don’t think Laird actually wants demons on the loose. What he wants for Blake to remain a scary but powerless “threat” so he can consolidate his allies. And to that end he’s killed an innocent (Molly) , using another innocent (Maggie), and forced a third (Blake) out of house and home. Not to mention sending his nephew after Blake to frame him for child murder.

            1. And Laird’s not evil per se. The problem, however, is that he’s two-faced, smug, and far too overconfident that he can handle Blake when he lashes out. I admit that we haven’t seen characterization that specifically states he wants demons running around, but his actions seem to have no other logical conclusion, especially given his tendency to force Blake into a corner. Laird’s damn lucky that Blake hasn’t dropped the O-bomb on Jacob’s Bell, or that he hasn’t launched the Barber-missile yet.

            2. I admit that we haven’t seen characterization that specifically states he wants demons running around, but his actions seem to have no other logical conclusion, especially given his tendency to force Blake into a corner. Laird’s damn lucky that Blake hasn’t dropped the O-bomb on Jacob’s Bell, or that he hasn’t launched the Barber-missile yet.

              I disagree. Based on the info we have, I cannot reach the same conclusion. Yes Laird has been smug and selfish, but over the course of the story what has he actually done?

              Laird wants the Thorburns to not be a threat. He starts off by explaining the situation to Blake, including that they were enemies, and tried to scare him into submission. Blake responds by essentially threatening everybody with demons (kinda showing that he was right in a way. Caution was needed when dealing with Blake). Again, Laird tries to neutralize Blake by making it clear that he has protections set up against the “nukes” and tries to make Blake’s deals ineffective. It’s only after Blake performs a personal attack on Laird and his family that Laird legitimately goes on the offensive. Even his big attack (though intended to simply remove the Thorburns as a threat) amounted to a big warning to Blake to stand down.

              Laird specifically mentions that he makes his moves based on magical predictions on how to prevent the worse case scenario. So far, he’s suceeded in that. He has not made the best decisions with regards to Blake, but he has been able to avoid Blake summoning Demons in Jacob’s Bell so far.

              Laird’s biggest mistake was probably. sending Duncan to further neutralize Blake. I think we all can agree Duncan handled that horribly (and on top of that lost all 3 rounds). It’s worth noting, though, that Duncan is only given this responsibility after Blake starts collecting demonic entities.

              I can’t agree that Laird seems to be goading Blake into unleashing something. Really, all his actions point to wanting to neutralize Blake, having him quietly capitulate until it’s time for him to die. Laird even says something to that effect during their first meeting.

              Blake’s situation and karma is what keeps putting him into corners. If Laird starts doing legit evil things, I’ll have a basis to think otherwise. For now, I can only say that Laird is a smug enemy of Blake.

            3. The problem is that Laird pretty much said to Blake “I’m going to use you, and then when I’m done with you, you and your entire family are going to die.” Most people don’t react well to something like that. Laird’s plan was that Blake was going to be the buffer against Johannes. But he introduced himself in such a way that he made it clear that he was an enemy. If he really wanted to keep Blake from being a problem, he should have offered help and protection, in exchange for certain promises. Like not using demons. Basicly he should have offered a truce and help dissarming the nukes, rather than telling him he needs him to block the northern border with Johannes, then when he’s confident he can take Johannes, die.

            4. “Yes Laird has been smug and selfish, but over the course of the story what has he actually done?”

              Going through the laundry list yet again, He 1) arranged for Molly’s murder at the hands of a self-styled “goblin queen,” thereby removing an heir who didn’t fit his script and poisoning any future relations between said goblin queen and any future heirs, 2) left Blake at the mercy of 3 separate Faerie, with very little provocation, 3) removed Blake’s sanctuary from him, and 4) gave Duncan the resources to frame Blake for murdering Evan. And that’s leaving out the things the Duchamps have done.

              Furthermore, he did the first three under the assumption, which he knew was false, that Molly and later Blake were diabolists so he’s got carte blanche. Even though neither had so much as uttered a powerful name before the Starbucks ambush. If Blake’s playing a dangerous game with Conquest, then Laird was playing an equally dangerous one with Blake.

            5. Also let’s not get so focused on the magical we forget the mundane. There is money involved. A lot. The Hillside House is on property that is worth a lot. And Jacob’s Bell is prone to grow like crazy if it gets sold to devolopers. But the Thorburns can’t sell it. Honestly the best way to thin the next few heirs out would be to have the Duchamps manipulate things so a few murder some family members for the money, then have the police solve the cases.

            6. Going through the laundry list yet again. . .

              I think we need to go back to my original point. I think you’re arguing against a point I wasn’t naking. My point was that we don’t have an indication that Laird is the horrible, puppy kicking, demon wanting monster that some comments are making him out as.

              As to your list: 1) Is bad but doesn’t indicate that he wants demons around. It implies the opposite. 2) He left Blake alone in a coffee shop. Bad things could have happened, but ultimately didn’t. It became a lesson for Blake. I find it interesting that Laird called Padraic and company, Blake’s “protectors”. 3) That was retaliation for Blake attacking Laird’s reputation. A relatively peaceful counterattack, by the way. 4)Was Duncan told to frame Blake. I read it as an assignment to neutralize/detain Blake, with Duncan just being incompetent and going about it in a bad way.

              None of these acts indicate Laird is secretly plotting to have demons run amuck. Also, people are allowed to have enemies and attack them. It’s not unreasonable, considering that Granny Rose was very powerful and admitted to committing various wrongs, for the local practitioners to automatically consider the heirs as threats and enemies. The same clout that allows Rose to command imps and demons should reasonably allow others to associate the heir demons.

              Even Blake has suggested killing Laird, destroying the Behaim/Duchamp family, attacking kids, and killing Conquest (though nobody would be upset about that last one.).

              It’s also worth noting that Laird was acting on incomplete information. He didn’t know the full scale for what Granny Rose left for the heir and what the heir could be forced to become. In fact, she did leave instructions that the heir had to use the demon lawyers (the same ones that Blake kept in mind when he deliberately chose not swear off using demons).

              Is Laird an enemy? Yes. Is Laird snug? Yes. Is he selfish? Probably. Is he trying to bring forth demons? No. Is he a monster? No. Is he even worse morally than Blake? Arguable

              If you want to argue that Blake has been justified, I have no fault with that. If you want to say that Laird is the “Bad Guy”, I have no fault with that. If you want to argue that Laird is some horrible monster that secretly wants demons to run amuck, I do have fault with that, because that characterization is not supported by anything in Pact so far. It’s a view of a character based on stuff that isn’t there.

              I, of course, maintain the right to change my mind if Laird starts saying and doing stuff real evil tonight or if someone supports the “Laird is a demon wanting monster” theory with something from the story that I hadn’t considered.

              That was long-winded and written on my smart phone. I apologize if there’s any spelling or syntax errors.

            7. @negadarkwing: I’m guessing that what’s keeping them from doing this is much the same reason that Molly’s death appears to have been genuinely unintentional: they have some morals, or at least a significant set of their family does, so they object to murdering innocents. Manipulate, sure. Murder crosses a line.

            8. My point was that we don’t have an indication that Laird is the horrible, puppy kicking, demon wanting monster that some comments are making him out as.

              Oh. Agreed. We have many indications that he’s a two-faced SOB, but none that he wants demons to actually be summoned. (That would be insane, and he’s definitely sane. Overconfident in his own abilities, maybe, but not insane) At worst, he wants Blake to make the attempt and fail so that people can lynch him. (Which is iffy in and of itself, given the utility of a freelance diabolist as a distraction and a target)

        3. Lawful Selfish is Lawful Evil in D&D. Man, it’s like you guys have never ever played.

          We aren’t talking Rolemaster, where Evil is EVIL dammit, and the GM will take your character sheet within a week if you play EVIL.

    1. I literally laughed out loud imagining Blake saying something to that effect:
      “Laird?! Dude, you seriously need a hobby beyond being a dick to me.”

  6. Well, it looks like Laird got there right in the nick of time to save the day! Boy, chronomancy and a lot of prophecy sure is handy.

    I’m liking Tyler’s enthusiasm for this whole thing. I hope he doesn’t die horribly too quickly.

    I liked Evan calling the Sisters out on not doing anything about the demons-it’s not their role. Right. This is an “if you don’t step up who will?” situation, kids.

    I also really like Isadora-she’s right. Blake knows it, she knows it. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t made mistakes in how she’s handled this situation.

    1. You know the old saying. All evil needs to flourish is for good men to stand by and do nothing. They hope they can just leave demons buried. But like Isadora said, they always find their way back up to the surface. And then you have to deal with them again. When you have termites, you don’t keep them out of sight and hope they aren’t eating the beams of your house. You call an exterminator. The problem is the various other practicioners have made it so there is no one qualified to be the exterminator.

      I like Isadora too, even with the sibling eating, and Blake should die horribly bits.

      1. Something that’s interesting is that there seems to be a view of the demons as…disorganized? Inactice? Not working actively?

        But it seems like most people think they can just leave them buried, and deal with them as they come up. But the existence of the lawyers disproves this assumption. They’re actively working to bring the greater evils into the world-and doing it on a national or even international scale. Local cooperation won’t cut it with them.

        1. Yeah, I think that’s rather interesting, too. Most people seem to want to just ignore demons and devils, thinking it’s better to just leave them alone. Fell thinks this explicitly in 5.x:

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

          However, the discussions with the lawyers and the sections from Black Lamb’s Blood suggest a more sinister reality: the demons are working to diminish the humanity and the world, and will continue to do so if they are not actively opposed. From 4.x:

          Some knowledge can’t be destroyed absolutely, and I suspect many Wrong things collect tomes and texts to disseminate among the public, in case of such an event. I know some lesser beings have asked for copies of my writing, and diabolic organizations will collect or order research.

          Instead, it is a long series of Wrongs that are too easy to ignore. The world and everything in it erode.

          1. While it probably varies from one daibolic entity to another, it’s clear that a good number of demons are organized. They have Choirs, and they have ranks. A heriarchy. And they are hardly unthinking. Pauz is a baby, very low in the ranks. And he is still very cleaver and very dangerous. When your enemy is a subversive organization working from the darkness, total ignorance is not a protection, but a weakness. If practicioners think that taking out the Daibolists and ignoring the demons while going “la la la can’t hear you” is going to work, they are dead wrong.

    2. You want Tyler to die horribly slowly? You have a strange way of expressing fondness for enthusiasm.

  7. Then Fell turns around and shoots Laird and Duncan. Dun dun duuuun.
    This meeting is about to go to hell and I’m sad that no one will say a one liner when it happens. And things are already looking even more grim for the Blakeguard, since karma is indeed a bitch.

    Blake suffered some backlash after the glamour broke, right? I wonder if Conquest would feel something like that if Blake were to attack his facade.

    1. Laird: “I’m going to groundhogs day you so hard!”

      Duncan: “Its time to get things moving.”

      Conquest: “You’re a slave to dramatics aren’t you? I’ll show you how a true master does it.”

      Blake:”I’m going to show you how devilish a diabolist can be if you don’t stop.”

      Rose: “Well, I know I must look aghast as a ghost. Could you give a free spirit such as myself a tether.”

      Evan: “Freeeeeeeeeee Birrrrrrrrd!”

    2. That’s one of my only regrets about Pact and Worm: not enough epic quotes. Part of what makes the two so beautiful is how every action ties in so well with and builds off what came before, but it means any quote has to have about a page of context. Plus the characters are given to understatement. So, most of the epic quotes and speeches in Pact and Worm are from the comments section rather than the works themselves. All things considered, a very minor complaint, though.

    1. The only thing Isadora can be accused of is acting on justifiable patterns. She doesn’t see the individual over the balance well. Remember, she isn’t human so you can’t expect her to be. A clean death is basically the best he can hope for in her eyes.

      1. I guess, but still, when a scared newbie wants your help to stay alive without resorting to diabolism, you don’t turn him away because he smells funny.

        And “justifiable patterns” reeks of “self-fulfilling prophecies” with a self-righteous candy coating.

            1. Not so much hypocritical as hyperopia. Which is a flaw shared by all known thinking creatures, to whatever extent they can.

            2. So it’s OK (or acceptable, at least) for Isadora to abandon a diabolist in the forest because she can’t see why his tree is different from any other? :/

          1. Isadora may have flaws due to her nature as an Other, but that doesn’t mean Blake isn’t entirely justified in calling her out on those flaws. Being understandable doesn’t mean it should be allowed to stand unchallenged.

        1. I cannot deny the second point, but the first does deserve a caveat:

          He dealt of demons. That’s rather a red flag for a diabolist…

          1. Demons that he would not smell of, had she actually opposed Conquest at that meeting rather than writing Blake off as “his new pet.” The sole reason he is a diabolist now is because Conquest gave him a push. A push that he openly stated he would give at the meeting, with Isadora and the Astrologer present.

            “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”
            -Edmund Blake, paraphrasing Reverend Charles F. Aked.

            1. She doesn’t know what demons he smells of, and you certainly can’t think that Isadora would know the results of her dismissal of Blake. It was in her interest to make sure that the newest diabolist in town died before he got the power to get everyone in trouble.

              And before you say that Blake wouldn’t…she doesn’t know that. Remember how old Isadora is, and how some local Others mistake Blake for his grandmother at times? Yeah, it’s reasonable for her to expect Blake to follow in the footsteps of his family…

            2. He said, flat-out, “I’m doing my damndest to keep from going down that road.”. To which Conquest replied “So you will have to take an unwilling push down that road.” Isadora had every right, every responsibility, to rescue Blake or kill him right then and there. She did neither.

            3. Isadora did not have the ressources to go against Conquest immediately, even with the Astrologer’s assistance, or she would have. Rescuing Blake would probably have been even trickier than just plain killing him. I cannot see why you put the responsibility for that on her.
              Refusing to help Blake later on was a questionable decision though, which could have gone differently if Blake hadn’t been contaminated with Pauz radiation.

          2. I don’t blame her for balking at the lack of resources. She’s never, I don’t think, had to fight anyone stronger than her. But what I find most irritating is that she assumes sight-unseen that Blake’s a nasty-pants diabolist who’s under Conquest’s thumb, and immediately turns up her nose. Even at the meeting where Conquest took him; “And I was almost starting to like you, morsel.” Guess what, b*h? That smell you think he’s going to get on him is only going to get worse if you don’t get off your furry hindquarters. And now here she is, standing in sanctimonious judgment of Blake’s actions, after he’s dug himself even deeper into the field of magic that she hates than he was at the start of this whole mess, deeper than he was when he personally asked for her help. Fk you very much, Isadora. You could have avoided this.

        2. And what’s more, she is flat out wrong here.

          “The new order would be a better order, for you having left it.”

          Really? The new order would be better, given where Rose is? Somehow I don’t think so. (I don’t think she knows about Rose, so I’m not holding this against her, but it doesn’t exactly work wonders for her sagely countenance)

          1. Its quite possible that the world would be better off with Blake dead here. He has the power to unleash hell with a few words. He has refrained from doing so, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t at any point in the future.

            1. Right, but remember, when Blake dies Rose (may? will?) get his power, and Conquest has control of her right now. So if he died, right here, things would probably be worse. Rose knows the evil names too.

            2. The point was the one made by Fell’s mother: Why is Conquest trying to get Blake killed? Because then Rose will become heir, and Conquest has already bound her. An order where Conquest has complete control over a pet diabolist with the same ability (maybe even greater, since Rose is the one with the greater power over Others) may very well not be a better order.

              At the same time, I can see how Isadora could still be right, since I’d imagine in general a desperate diabolist could potentially cause more damage than an enslaved diabolist.

            3. I believe Conquest is wrong here, the testament clearly states which way the power will be handed down, Conquest simply doesn’t know it.

            4. Conquest is probably hoping he can game the system. Or just keep Rose and her mirror books.

              The problem is that everyone else isn’t able to see how their own actions force Blake to take the ones their afraid of.

          2. Better is hard to define – as Blake picked out above. Isadora may just be figuring that Blake doesn’t “clean up” after himself and, as she put it leaves “tangles”. So taking out Blake might just mean the world is a bit more orderly without him ricocheting about.

            shrugs

            Impossible to know really.

          3. I chalk this up to pure ignorance. Isadora is probably under the impression that if Blake were gone, so would Rose. A reasonable interpretation of their situation, however wrong it is thanks to Conquest’s meddling in this unique scenario.

          4. I think that she just means that way that for the way that things settle down after a death, hers would end up with the best result for the universe compared to anything else that would kill him.

  8. Her head moved, and her eyes flashed as the light left them, then caught the surface again. “You blame me?”

    “Some,” I said.


    Blake answers a question of Isadora’s. Is that intentional?

    1. Blake only promised to not answer the question of “where’d I get my power?” Other questions are fair game.

            1. Hard to answer the titular questions unwisely, since the only answers are “yes” or “no”.

            2. greatwyrm, don’t forget Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral! Those are my favorite answers.

    2. Hmm, interesting, I hadn’t noticed that. I suppose “some” isn’t really an answer that can be argued much, so there’s not too much danger in this particular instance. I think answers to her questions have to completely answer the question while not leaving any points that can be argued.

      1. I think Isadora gets the ‘right’ (so to speak) to destroy people who answer her questions/riddles incorrectly. Sometimes it takes some spinning to prove that their answer is not correct. So the fact that she did not argue against Blake’s response means that she was either unwilling or unable to spin the partial blame away from herself.

        1. Well, the question was about whether he blamed her, not whether she was deserving of blame. Even if she could convince Blake that she was not to blame, it doesn’t make his answer incorrect.

  9. So I’m calling Tiffany as the problem child of the group. I mean she’s new and from the moment she’s gotten here the signs are showing.

    Although I love Isadora being blunt. Warm for him…

    1. Blake also hasn’t gotten the promise of no Diabolism out of her yet. Any bets on her doing some before he can? Honestly I’d have gotten that one out of all of them immediatly after they awakened.

      And +1 for the Blake/Tiffany ship.

      1. For extra Star-Crossed drama, if Blake does get the promise of no Diabolism out Tiffany, she may go the Evangelist route since she craves structure.

        1. I don’t see that mattering much, since Blake doesn’t seem to enthused about summoning demons in the first place.

      2. Ooh, interesting idea.
        I can’t blame Blake for not considering it. Not exactly top priority anyways; what, is Tiff going to summon a demon in the half-hour between now and the fight with Conquest?

        Eh. Shipping seems out of place at the moment, what with Blake’s life constantly being in danger. Plus, they barely know each other (and we barely know about her); it’s a bit early to take sides.

          1. We run into the same issues, compounded by the fact that Maggie killed Molly. (Well, she was in the chain, but still.)

            If we’re shipping anyone, we should ship Rose. Perhaps if she can find a nice man to settle down with, that clause in Grannie’s contract will be fulfilled.
            I’m thinking of staying up ’til midnight on Monday just so that idea doesn’t get buried and ignored.

          2. We can’t afford ship to shop combat at this point. We can go for a polygamous ending for now. Wait, if he did that he could fulfill granny’s instructions to marry a man and still get a wife, (or two)

            1. Hm. I don’t recall if polyamorous marriages are legal…In Canada. And from my experiences in other fandoms, I’ve discovered that polygamy/polyandry/any combination of men and/or women above two is often marginalized as a ship. So I’m uncertain about the survivability of polygamy as a shipping method in a small fandom.

        1. Blake’s life will always be in grave danger. If we let something minor as looming DOOOOM stop us from shipping, Black will stay shipless like a sad sealess sailor.

            1. Well, what are commenters going to do if they can’t ship? Sure, there’s still the elaboration of tinfoil hat conspiracies and the occasional Monty Python reference spoof, but that only gets you so far, and there are four whole days between Tuesday and Saturday…

            2. And we can’t even get into a lot of WMGs here because they would contain Worm spoilers. We have got to get the WMG page started on TVTropes already.

              But hey, at least we can now start speculating on the Blakeguards implements, specialties, Familiars, and Demenses.

            3. Speculation of various sorts is always fun. So is finding more to do in your life than one story updated twice a week.

  10. Oh shit. I cannot see this ending well for anyone. I am vividly recalling in the first arc where there was a line that went something like “other practitioners want to work against people with bad karma.” I wonder if that’ll happen with Blake’s friends. The karma might make them quicker to abandon him, now that they are initiated.

    1. It might make them react worse to mistakes he makes, but if they’re willing to help out a homeless guy they’re pretty damn good friends. Blake’s karma isn’t that bad, and if it was he’d have been having more problems with that kind of stuff earlier.

      Your general appraisal of the situation is accurate, if redundant. (It’s Pact, has anything ended well for anyone?)

  11. From Collateral 4.2, the words of Conquest:

    “You can stay here, safe from your enemies, and I will use your knowledge.”

    Is Blake going to trick Conquest into becoming forsworn?

    1. It’s rather worse than that…

      “I will use you up for the little knowledge you have, and then I will kill you once that knowledge is exhausted.” (4.03)

      The first is can, possibility, the latter is a statement of the future, which sounds like a promise.

      Kinda throws a damper on that whole “Maybe Conquest can’t kill us” bit from before, huh?

      1. “Once that knowledge is exhausted.” Conquest said. Blake’s going to do his damndest to make sure that knowledge stays unexhausted.

      2. Oh, that line is even better for Blake. If Conquest kills him before the knowledge is exhausted, Conquest is foresworn. If ANYONE kills Blake other than Conquest, then Conquest is foresworn.

        1. The obvious solution for Blake’s problem with Conquest is to pull out a knife or something and threaten to use it kill himself, and use the threat of thus making him Forsworn to extort Conquest with.

        2. Well, I think being forsworn is only when you literally swear to do something, not just when you say you will do it.

          1. Nope. Any promise you make carries the danger of being forsworn. Remember why Blake couldn’t misdirect as they sussed out where he was from? “If it please you, I won’t say, so you can enjoy the riddle.”

            1. No, I’m pretty sure it depends on the severity. For example, when Blake is performing the familiar ritual and noticing that Duncan noticed him:

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

              The “cost” he thinks is imposed is not being forsworn, or else he’d say so. Also, if every single promise held the cost of being forsworn, (basically the ultimate penalty) the degree of conviction you put into a promise clearly wouldn’t matter at all. It’d be similar to having the death penalty be the punishment for any crime you’re convicted of, which is silly. We’ve already seen there’s a sliding scale for most things involving karma and lying, with plenty of examples of “small lies” and such.

              In the example you bring up, it would’ve just been foolish to say where he was from after saying he wouldn’t , but there was no indication he would’ve been forsworn. As far as I can see, he just would’ve lost power (perhaps a great deal of power, but it wasn’t an oath)

      3. Ouch.. you’re right, that kinda blows that idea out of the water. At the same time, it would mean that Conquest won’t kill him until “that knowledge is exhausted”… Actually, doesn’t that mean that Conquest would take a power hit if Blake dies for some other reason than Conquest killing him after ‘exhausting’ his knowledge? I suppose the potential power gain is far greater…

  12. So the obvious question is: how can Conquest’s and Behaim’s goal match? Conquest want to have a diabolist pet to unleash demons on the city and claim a greater area (possibly including Jacob’s Bell). Behaim claims to be a community man and to want to avoid that kind of thing, also if they’re making a power play in Jacob’s Bell it certainly is not to fall back under some other Lord’s influence.

    So either Laird is not actually allied with Conquest (or won’t be as soon as Blake tells him Conquest’s plan), or he’s an even bigger hypocrite that we thought earlier and just hates Blake.

    Also, I would have loved to see the look on Laird’s face when Duncan told him that he had utterly failed to hold Blake and was going to be prosecuted himself.

    1. Don’t forget that Laird wants his plan to be kept hidden from Conquest too. That’s another easy point of failure, albeit one with potentially nasty long-term issues if Conquest isn’t dealt with in a sufficient final manner.

      Laird does want Blake dealt with, and Conquest wants to deal with him. I would wager that Laird either doesn’t know what Conquest wants as an end result or (more likely) thinks that he can deal with it before it actually becomes a problem. It could be no more long-term than that.

      1. Laird’s got a pattern going. He wants to be there, making sure that the diabolists summon demons. He just doesn’t want to /personally/ summon any of them.

      2. Could be that Laird can screw with the flow of time for the Imp and Blake so that when Pauz is freed at the wrong time, it causes a breach of contract that renders both Pauz & Blake forsworn.

        1. Or the Bastard (Laird) is somehow going to manipulate things so that Conquest is no longer an issue, Blake is even more stuck than before, and he walks away smelling like roses. We probably won’t be lucky enough to see him have something really bad happen to him.

            1. He only needs to be the next incarnation of Conquest. This would solve Laird`s problems and ruin Blake.

  13. The Shepherd is loosely loosely affiliated with Conquest. That’s a relief, as it means Conquest can’t command the shepherd to command his spirits, like Fell’s grampy. The spirits or Shepherd’s other abilities may be used offensively, but at least he won’t synchronize with Conquest.

    That makes this third-in-a-movie-trilogy, all-the-villains beatdown slightly more simple. Duncan is probably quite cooked though guided by Airhard, who in turn likely has been contracted to delay that 5th minute after midnight.

    I’d be disappointed if those outside didn’t enter the fray eventually.

  14. Ohhh snap. I guess this is going to be the first grand battle in Pact. It’ll be fun to see how Blake will skitter his way out of this (pun intended). Fun, but knowing wildbow, extremely painful. I really hope there’s no deaths. Except Conquest. That asshole needs to go.

    Since we’ve seen how bad karma can apparently be dropped on others, maybe Blake can finally bring his family’s name out of the dumps, and go out and become a demon slaying hero with time bending, fire-bending allies. When Conquest is put down, maybe Isadora would become the new Lady of Toronto, and even be on Blake’s side.

    And gotta admit, “Blakeguard” is pretty catchy!

    1. As much as fate and karma love shitting on Blake unlikely it’d happen.

      As Much as Fate and Karma love shitting on Blake, I damn well want to see him live to a hundred and ten, and still be a good guy, who has changed the world for the better and is well respected for it.

  15. So the plan relies on. . . Tiffany?!? Where is she? Could she be setting up something from afar with magic paint? The Blakeguard needs to grab Rose and run. Send Evan to steal the fire ring or something.

    At least it’s now confirmed that the Blakeguard will have different specialties. I wonder who the white mage will be.

    We”re finalli gonna see some LIAB action!

    Perhaps Laird is going to save Blake and company. The Lord of Toronto having his very own diabolist doesn’t seem to fit in to the Behaim plan. Could this be the time Blake and Laird team up?

    1. Laird’s plan requires that he be the opposing balance against diabolic chaos.
      Laird’s plan requires that he become lord, without OR WITH the permission of the nearby lords.

      Laird’s plan has already involved secretly playing every side while pretending to be horrified.

  16. So, Blake’s done a good thing, a right thing, and has transferred some karma elsewhere.

    I wonder what those events were?

    I’m fairly certain that the “right” thing was keeping his promise to help Evan by making Evan Blake’s familiar. But the negative karma transfer…hopefully it was to Duncan, because otherwise it might have been to someone he liked.

    The “good” thing could be binding the Hyena, but I’m not certain of that-he did it with ulterior motives, and was commanded to do so, for one.

    1. There were three karma transfers, and he just awakened three friends… Or it could be he just defeated three evil influences, the demon, the hyena and Duncan. However, I think that others may be immune to karma because they are representations of forces and no longer really have free will in the normal sense; they must follow the drives that make them. In that sense the Others would be like ultra powerful ghosts, essentially an imprint of an idea on the world. And they gain power from belief and actions around that idea.

      1. On that note, I think the Shepherd may be more Other than human. His dedication to his cause (even against logic and facts) feels more like an Other following its pattern than a human being set in his ways.

        Heh, I didn’t even notice that “being” was a pun until I was done writing.

  17. With rebellion and defiance being the opposing force of conquest; couldn’t it be countered with heavy metal?

    1. If this were a different author, and maybe even with Wildbow, I’d argue that the opposing forces to Conquest are friendship, trust, and cooperation–that Blake just harnessed in bringing in his friends.

      I mean, it’s a bit smarmy, but I’m feeling like his method of going about gathering strength was perfect fit the task.

    2. Aaand, now I have a mental image of Blake beating the shit out of Conquest to “We’re not gonna take it”

      1. Maybe mix in some Freddy mercury, “princes of the universe” or “jenny is a punk”, anything in the social zeitgeist that screams rebellion and what have you. Macknelmore might do the trick with his counter/hipster style. I might think nickelback, but I think that its not That desperate yet.

    1. ‘C’ is the Disc One Final Boss, Laird is the Mini-Boss and as 1/2 the head of the Behaim-DuChamp Alliance, head of the Quirky Miniboss Squad, the Lawyers are the 3-headed Dragon of the Final Boss who created Occult Law Firm in the 1st place.

      1. I peg Laird as a recurring boss, that gets harder and harder the further into the story you go. Black Knight in the video game Shovel Knight is the first example that comes to mind. Ooh, or Balrog in Cave Story. Love those games.

  18. “Different expectations, different rules. The ritual’s different, too. It’s less like a partnership and more… hostile takeover.”

    “…They tend to emphasize having more Others, bound into object forms. Said Others don’t have to be cooperative.”

    Oaths of Blood Brotherhood can also work but that way lies the Cycle of Revenge and Tragedy since the oaths include sharing each others’ enemies and being an Other that’s centuries old means having a centuries long list of enemies; With filial piety and family ties being big in eastern cultures, those same enemies will strike at the Practitioner and his/her heirs just to get to hurt his/her new Sworn Sibling tying the entire bloodline down in a cycle of tragedy and vengeance until it goes extinct.

  19. So what is the “good thing, right thing” Blake did?
    — Binding Hyena
    — Keeping promise to Evan
    — Bleeding out and getting closer to clean death
    — Pwning Duncan
    — Fighting ErasUrr
    — Telling truth to his friends
    — Something else

      1. I think telling the truth to his friends isn’t among those. Removing Pauz from his current area and getting Dowght some help probably is the third thing, or the first thing if you want to go chronologically.

    1. Good thing: getting Dowght some mundane help.

      Right thing: Helping Evan.

      Transfer of karma: Pwning Duncan.

      Seems pretty clear to me.

    1. Me too. I can see why she’s siding with Blake. Isadora’s faction seems more about stopping Conquest from using the demons rather than ending his reign, but Blake is more of an opportunity to end him for good.

      As an Astrologer her big thing is reading the heavens to predict the future, and her implement is a golden spindle. I’m guessing she’s working largely behind the scenes, reading the heavens, and then spinning connections so that they are in an advantageous place for Blake’s plans.

      1. She’s also a very good ally. Their is a connection between the Stars and time, after all. She might not manipulate it like the Behaims but she still should have useful knowledge. And of course their is fate written in the stars, and all that. What might she have seen for Blake that makes her be willing to give him at least the benifit of the doubt that others do not see?

      2. I think its less that the Astrologer is on Blake’s side and more like she’s opposing the Drunk since he’s targeting Blake specifically and this is her way of flipping him the bird.

        1. So, the Astrologer looked back at the conversation, realized this was all Jeremy’s fault, and decided that fuck him, she’s not doing what he wants?

      3. Called that the Astrologer was on Blake’s side!
        And fell’s. This whole thing had too many ways to go sideways,
        to not be getting some guidance.

  20. “Conquest has just about won” Whew, that’s a relief. Remember the laws of narrative causality frown upon being able to beat the bad guy too early. You can’t thwart phase one. On the other hand if he says “nothing can stop me now!” then he’s fucked.

        1. Blake is probably not a huge reader though, and doesn’t strike me as a guy who would spend that much time on the internet anyway. He never mentionned missing it while at Hillsglade House, and we know he does not own a smartphone. I’m not even sure he has a computer.

          1. It seems odd, yeah, but I remember him referencing tropes a couple times. Maybe he was a troper before he ran away from home?

    1. Funny, that was my first thought as well, after the standard hyperventilating at the cliffhanger (and the reveal of Lardo in Conquest’s camp).

  21. The last two chapters were simply exceptional.
    Following on his promise to Evan must have reduced Blakes bad Karma since this is the kind of thing important in this old system of rules (not good or bad which are relative but making oaths and being true to your word).
    I also consider that the Behaims got some of Blake
    s bad Karma since they lost in the rule of three.

        1. Maybe you typed a different symbol, like back primes?

          like this

          There’s also a strange streight quote… ‘Like this?’

  22. “Most practitioners don’t get in any real fights except maybe a conflict over their familiar or demesne,” Nick said.

    “Really?” I asked.

    Deja vu for a certain line from Worm. And of course a reminder of how much it sucks to be Blake

    “Things were stable before you came, diabolist. They are now far from stable.”

    “I want things more or less stable, too,” I said. “But you’re letting the diabolist label lead you to conclusions.”

    Thing’s might have been stable. But where they good? And could that stability have really lasted? Their is one universal constant. Things change.

    “You had months,” I told the man. “You didn’t. He needed someone to find him, and I found him. Don’t fucking blame me for your cowardice.”

    If your fear to try yourself to fufill your duties because of something you can’t deal with, then find someone who is willing to do it for you. But they didn’t did they?

    “No he isn’t. I’ve seen some of the monsters. One of them sort of killed me, by trapping me until I was too tired and hungry and cold to keep going. Another one of them was in the factory. He tried to stop them. He stopped one.”

    “I’m not going to argue with a child.”

    And another reason to love Evan. And he’s right.

    1. If your fear to try yourself to fufill your duties because of something you can’t deal with, then find someone who is willing to do it for you. But they didn’t did they?
      Well-said.

      And another reason to love Evan. And he’s right.
      Indeed. Evan might be my favorite character.

        1. I’m not sure which form is less suited to head-pats and hugs, “tiny bird” or “insubstantial ghost”.
          Poor kid.

    2. ‘“Most practitioners don’t get in any real fights except maybe a conflict over their familiar or demesne,” Nick said.

      “Really?” I asked.’

      This goes to show that, even though practitioning is a life-long commitment, most practitioners are very hands-off. They don’t dedicate their lives to it, they don’t sacrifice their jobs or their families. But maybe they use a little magical shenanigans to help themselves out in their lives, or they do some research into this magical wild-west, or maybe they get into a fight every now and then.

        1. After picking on Glassware (above) about Tyler dying horribly, I suppose I deserved that.

    1. Something tells me he’d agree, and heartily. Duncan and Laird have no reason to go along with Conquest’s plan, especially since the only reason to take down the time moat would be to get at the books in the library. And since Conquest is, well, Conquest, it’s not hard to infer which books he’s interested in. Which means, one or both of them are being coerced into going along with this. Duncan is an easy target given his bungling of the Thorburn incarceration, and Laird could be there to negotiate a hostage release.

      It’s another wrinkle, but if Blake can roll with it, he could come out better than expected. Probably won’t happen that way, but a guy can dream.

  23. “Okay,” I said. “My apologies.”

    “Apologies taken and accepted. You can call me Elder Sister, or elder for short..”

    Did Blake just fall into the trap that Rose saved him from on his first trip out? What happens next time Blake tries to apologize to someone?

    1. Technically, Blake didn’t offer all his apologies, just some. If that happens, the Elder Sister stole the rest.

      I think.

  24. Evan piped up, “She understands but she’s still mad?”
    Ah, kids.

    “You can pick an implement, too. Your tool of the trade. There are no takebacks.”
    Interesting. Looks like our guesses about a soft cap were wrong. Probably. Possibly. Man, this is confusing.

    I’d be worried about corrupting the kid with the smoking, swearing, tattoos and motorcycles, but he’s already dead, and it sort of pales in comparison to the terminal violence, demons, and the magic ritual bullshit.
    This made me laugh out loud. That made me need to explain what I was laughing about.
    Net positive.

    “I’m suspicious things are about to get messy,” I said.
    I’m suspicious that that would be obvious even if you didn’t know about Pauz and such.

    “I wonder if your new helpers know the danger you pose,” Isadora said. “Do you know the dangers of being in a diabolic cabal, strangers?”
    I remained silent.

    Not the best choice, Blake.

    “That wrapped thing you hold reeks of it.”
    Heh. Bit of irony there. I wonder if context would improve her disposition.

    “You would do better to swear not to touch those texts yourself, Thorburn.”
    “I can’t make that promise. I have other responsibilities, and other entities leaning over me. Were I to promise, I’d earn the enmity of other forces.”
    “Forces related to the greater evils.”
    I nodded. The lawyers would stop playing ball if this went any further.

    Also, Conquest would be angry at you. Ahead of schedule, I mean. And he’d probably be angry at Isadora, too, for pressuring Blake into it.

    “[Tiffany] is warm for you.”
    Warm for me?

    Good Lord, Blake, are you really that oblivious?
    Actually, saying “Good Lord” might count as a lie in Toronto. Zing!

    “That doesn’t mean it’s better to take them with me,” I said.
    “It is better,” she said.

    Huh. Some up-front honesty. What a surprise.

    “Attacking a man’s name is bad form.”
    “I don’t hear him complaining,” I said.

    Nice one, Blake. Both seriously and sarcastically.

    “I’m not going to argue with a child.”
    “You’re going to lose, by the sounds of it,” Ty commented.

    Nice one, Ty. Ditto.

    “No, I’m not entirely okay. I can scrap when I have to. I can’t scrap against something like that.”
    And the award for Understatement of the Week goes to…

    Good luck, Blake & co. I hope you live long enough to get a proper name for your circle; I don’t want the Othersiders to stick.

    1. Demons just seem to piss Isadora off, and probably for good reason. Also, using the severed arm as a way to trap Conquest in his manse doesn’t seem exactly viable anymore.

  25. Tiffany sort of disappeared, there. That makes me nervous.

    I want to know what Blake’s plan is. The one that came to my own mind, before reading this, was warning his companions not to look at the demon arm and then chucking it at Conquest while shouting “Hey you! Catch!”

    I don’t know that that would help, but it would be hilarious and (presumably, if the arm hasn’t lost its eye-reflecting effect) completely fuck up Conquest’s immediate effectiveness. One tends to look at incoming projectiles.

    1. or better yet. while shouting “this is mine, don’t take it” , might cost conquest some incarnation points.

  26. I just had another terrible idea.

    Alexis has a lighter. Rose can access the Thorburn library at any point. Alexis is coming inside Conquest’s domain with Blake. Once they gain access to the physical library again, they can just turn the mirror around and voila, the books are restored.

    1. To complete the thought, will Blake toss the lighter to Rose so she can slip away and burn Conquest’s prize?

    2. Actually the mirror world doesn’t seem to update with the real world, so the mirror copies of the books would be lost.

      1. Mirror copies of the books on one side of the mirror. Rescue the books she can from the current side, set fire to the diabolist section, run back to conquest saying that it caught on fire and these were the only ones I could save. Once the flames on this side run out of fuel, Blake can turn the mirror around and they still have half an amazing practitioner database.

        1. So if Blake & Rose get out of this, they will need to go back on the road to the point where C fished her out to get back the book she dropped.

      2. Hey… even if the mirrorworld only duplicates any one object once, that would still allow Rose and Blake to duplicate any object once, as well as use Casa Roseburn as a hammerspace – once they figure out a way to transfer materiel between mirror and meat world. That would allow them to get a (perfect?) copy of any object they can get a reflection of.
        Incredibly useful if possible. Hadn’t thought of that before.

        1. It sounds like a demesne is a wonderful thing, doesn’t it? Pity it ties you down to one place so firmly.

          1. Is it?

            In Bonds1- 3, a letter from R.D.T. says:

            Study and enact the ritual found in Demesnes. Baba Yaga had her hut, I have my room. <

            At least TV Tropes claims, that Baga Yagas hut could (maybe) move.

            What we were told about Johannes demesne makes it possible, that the claimed space doesn´t necessarily has to be inside a contained building or framed by something solid in every dimension. Maybe the ground, but not the height or the ceiling.
            He might have used some trick though to get it, so that might be a special case, like if he just told a number of Others, if they helped him establishing his demesne, he would offer them the opportunity to relive the good ol´ days there and that gave him enough support to bend the rules.
            Or maybe he warped the complete space into the size of a marble, claimed it and then re-expanded.

            Might it be possible to make a moving demesne?

            Like a vehicle?
            True, the book said, you can access your demesne with tricks, like drawing chalk lines in the form of a door, so I´m not entirely sure how useful a moving demesne would really be, but is it possible, as far as we know?

            If not, then what, if you claim a very small „building“, like a garden shed and then load it onto a big truck to move it around?

            Can you claim some sort of clothing as your demesne, so you would never have to leave it and bring it to every fight?

            Sorry, if that has been brought up and explained before.

            1. Stuff like this makes it all the more plausible that the Doctor is a practitioner. The TARDIS is both familiar and demesne, and his implement is the sonic screwdriver.

            2. I don’t think having a clothing demesne would be very helpful. The power boost you get from being in your demesne is that you control the rules in the area of the fight. If you’re the only one in the demesne, the effect would be much less.

            3. fghjconner
              Yes,but you control all the rules.If you get in your fightsuit,even if such a suit,as a life choice,reduces your magical power,you have perfect defense,plus you can lie at will.It has its disadvantages (no rent),but it is still a viable tactical choice.

  27. I wonder. What happens if Conquest is ever forced to not take something he wants? Or someone takes what he wants first? Would he stop being Conquest? Could one set up a trap like that?

    Rose suggested something similar before. Making Conquest take something that would be bad for him.

      1. I think that’s where Conquest has to dip into the reserves of his human host/sacrifice in order to keep from loosing power. The question is how much of that reserve does he currently have?

        1. That’s impossible to know, of course. He doesn’t act like he steps outside of his shtick very often, but who knows how many sacrifices he gets, or with what regularity?

  28. Alexis’s idea for her implement seems like it would be quite a good fit for her. She did Blake’s bird tattoo, and it became magical incidentally. Imagine what she could do if she wanted to make magic tattoos on purpose? A rune tattoo to give someone a permanent spirit enhancement could probably work, and she could put any number of other symbols or circles on a person for any number of purposes. Hell, she could probably make a pretty lucrative business in the practitioner world by selling her services as a magical tattoo artist.

    1. Only if they provide her with the ingredients for the ink plus a little extra for her services. If they provide her with specific diagrams for more complex works, she can accumulate a store of knowledge pretty fast.

  29. “You reek of it. That wrapped thing you hold reeks of it. Filth.”

    Maybe next time before Blake interacts with any Practitioners and Others after he’s been dealing with Infernal Forces, he should engage in Ritual Cleansing like the Bareshnum or multiple similar rituals near its class to minimise or be free of taint first.

  30. Wow, this one chapter tight with suspense, god, how i couldn’t wait for the next chapter.

    Can’t wait the shit coming from Conquest people when they made Blake so desperate, he brought a circle with him, a circle of artist(s), that’s foreshadowing.

  31. You lied to me.”

    “I can’t lie,” I said. “And neither can you. Be fucking careful.”

    Uh-Oh. I think there may be another reason why Blake has been so weak since arc 3. In 2.7:

    “You lied to my face,” I said.

    “I can’t lie. I’m a practitioner.”

    Blake lied by saying Maggie lied to his face. Unlike with Alexis, that isn’t even technically true as she was already a practitioner when he met her. This is on top of his sarcasm lie.

    I’m thinking that Blake has been operating in a weakened state since arc 2. If Blake ever gets s chance to fully recharged and recover, we may find that he’s actually much stronger than we think he is.

    1. This makes me wonder to what extent the universe draws a distinction between a deliberate lie, a failure to uphold a promise or oath, a wrong statement for which you had the information to know it was wrong (but for whatever reason didn’t draw the correct conclusion) and a wrong statement for which you did not have the information to know it was wrong.

      If a non-practitioner tells you his name is John, and you then tell someone else that his name is John, but it turns out he was lying about his name, do you get dicked for it?

      1. Any seasoned practitioner would say “He says his name’s John.” and then leave it at that. Fell’s name isn’t really Fell, as an example.

        1. But a guy like Fell can still say “You can call me Fell.” because you can call him Fell. You could call him a chicken fucker and it wouldn’t be a lie. Just pull him over and be like “License and registration, chicken fucker!”

            1. You can call a person whatever you want. Am I a gecko? Am I psycho? Who cares! You can call me Psycho Gecko. You can physically form the words from your mouth hole.

      2. If you lose power from making any false claim, you can use practitioners as oracles. Have them state the claim you want to test, then if they lose power you know it’s false.

        I imagine that the prohibition against lying works on a knew-or-should-have-known basis. The universe is not exactly fair, but it has a sense of honor, and wouldn’t dick you over for no reason like that.

      1. This has been bothering me for a while, yeah. I think I can hammer together an explanation based on the metaphysics: Practitioners don’t lie because if they lie they lose their power, but this isn’t an immediate thing, it’s because of the weird animist way the setting works involves power transfer from spirits on an undetectable scale. So, if a practitioner says “I can’t lie,” it’s actually making a promise to the spirits, reinforcing the pact made when they awakened that they won’t lie. So the spirits don’t take power away because they’re operating under a paradigm where “I can’t lie” is 100% true.

        I think we’ve seen other practitioners make similar statements, so it might not be a newbie mistake?

        1. It’s a deal with the devil, except the devils are spirits representing everything in the world in that animistic way you stalked about. So basically, every time he lies, any spirits around that heard it decide not to work for him for a little bit because he broke his end of the bargain.

          That part where the spirits are actually the enforcers may explain the forsworn thing as well. An oath must be a big thing that draws a lot of attention, like from the Other lord of Toronto. So when someone breaks an oath, something bigger like him comes along, maybe not manifesting quite like he did, to enforce it or punish the person who broke it. In Fell’s family’s case, this obvious dealbreaker allowed him to reverse the state of things so a human family served an Other. That also explains why Laird got summoned to deal with Duncan’s forswear-a-palooza.

          I think that’s what we should call trials for those who have forsworn. “Forswear-a-palooza”.

          1. Duncan didn’t break an oath, just a promise. I don’t think he got the Forsworn to the face yet.

  32. From Collateral 4.4
    While I examined the items…the only noise were three sets of footsteps and the sound of a chain dragging on the floor. The connections between the wood and bone and some distant location were rather strong.

    Weren’t the goblins supposed to be retconned?

    1. If you’re asking about the chain dragging on the floor, it was assumed to be Rose’s chain that she had gotten from Conquest.

  33. Laird. OK, that makes sense. Conquest was too weak to beat the time moat himself, so he contacted the person who created it. However, it seems that Conquest and Laird would be too divided in the fundamentals, i.e. controlling the diabolist books, to reach any sort of agreement. The only thing I can think of that Laird might want enough to do this is for Conquest to back Laird’s attempt to become a local Lord, but that has other problems.

    Oh, a prediction for Duncan: Conquest hasn’t merged with a human recently and he has been expending considerable effort. I think the Behaim’s failure is about to become part of Conquest.

    1. I don’t think Laird and Conquest would be that much divided…I mean, Conquest has already said that he won’t attack Jacob’s Bell. Maybe that’s enough for Laird?

      1. Laird seems, to me, to be the sort of person who would be reasonably concerned about Conquest’s ability to not lose control of the historically very hard to manage demons he’s thinking of using, not to mention the total chaos it would plunge the world into. Maybe it would benefit him, but it’s quite a gamble for someone with, from what we’ve seen, relatively small ambitions (He just wants to rule a city. Not even someone else’s city, just his city).

        1. Perhaps I’m being blinded by the fact that Laird’s been only shown as an enemy so far, but I see him as only truly caring about himself his family.

          1. Actually, the thought occurs about that, that Jeremy only got Conquest to promise he wouldn’t touch Toronto or the Duchamps. He said nothing about the Behaims or Jacob’s Bell as a whole. So it’s in Laird’s self-interest to either become an honorary Duchamp or stop Conquest from getting what he wants here.

            1. You’re right, sorry I misremembered that. I thought he said he wouldn’t touch Jacob’s Bell, but he actually said the Duchamps of Jacob’s Bell. I guess that means Laird should really be on Blake’s side then? Or the Sphinx’s at the very least.

            2. Jeremy didn’t get any such promise, IIRC. Just an implied agreement.

              Also Laird opposing Blake here? This fits with all his past actions. Helping team demon along.

  34. So, implements have to be handheld. There goes the motorcycle. I can’t think of anything that fits the criteria, yet. Still, that was exciting. This is very, very dangerous. And I like Unmaker’s prediction about Duncan.

    1. I don’t think it HAS to be, it would just be very hard to use something that wasn’t handheld. I think that’s what Nick was alluding to.

  35. Yet another shiver-inducing chapter. Keep it up, Wildbow!

    On another note, is reading Pact affecting anyone else’s life in weird ways? I just spent a good week arguing about the exact wording in a new lease before agreeing to sign it, and I don’t think I used to be this legalese-OCD.

    1. Nah.
      Had the Nazgul look at one of my old leases. Assured me that it was blatantly illegal three ways to sunday, and could be thrown out of court (along with the rest of the city’s leases) whenever I pleased.

  36. Does a demesne really tie one down to one place all that much, necessarily?

    In Bonds1- 3, a letter from R.D.T. says:

    Study and enact the ritual found in Demesnes. Baba Yaga had her hut, I have my room. <

    At least TV Tropes claims, that Baga Yagas hut could (maybe) move.

    What we were told about Johannes demesne makes it possible, that the claimed space doesn´t necessarily has to be inside a contained building or framed by something solid in every dimension. Maybe the ground, but not the height or the ceiling.
    He might have used some trick though to get it, so that might be a special case, like if he just told a number of Others, if they helped him establishing his demesne, he would offer them the opportunity to relive the good ol´ days there and that gave him enough support to bend the rules.
    Or maybe he warped the complete space into the size of a marble, claimed it and then re-expanded.

    Might it be possible to make a moving demesne?

    Like a vehicle?
    True, the book said, you can access your demesne with tricks, like drawing chalk lines in the form of a door, so I´m not entirely sure how useful a moving demesne would really be, but is it possible, as far as we know?

    If not, then what, if you claim a very small „building“, like a garden shed and then load it onto a big truck to move it around?

    Can you claim some sort of clothing as your demesne, so you would never have to leave it and bring it to every fight?

    Sorry, if that has been brought up and explained before.

    1. I have this idea stuck in my head that a demesne just has to be property the Practitioner owns, dosen’t have to be land and since demons get more milage out of the souless, Blake can claim his own soul as his demesne just to bait Infernal Others to defeat & bind when they seek to challenge him for it in order to to subsume his identity and gain greater foothold onto the world.

      1. Not sure it’d be a good idea to use your soul as bait, especially if you’re right and various greater demons can challenge you for it…

  37. Wait a minute. We’ve seen Conquest show up to a foresworn person, spell out that they’re now foresworn, and seek to get them to agree to give themselves up to Conquest. Duncan is at least partially foresworn. Does Conquest own Duncan now? Is that why Laird came? Did Conquest just make a deal with Laird, “Break the time lock on the house and help me kill this guy we don’t like and I’ll give you visitation rights to Duncan”?

    Also, I wrote it on the wrong post, but a whole week for another update in the story? Argh, it hurts us, precious. :p

  38. Anyone else think something is up with Tiffany? First, she is off doing something else, even though what Blake is doing is of paramount importance right now. Second, Blake’s “I’ll extract the same promise from her, if and when a convenient hour arises” smells suspiciously likely hedging his bets on being able to see her again at all. So, possibilities:

    Blake sent her to get something from the house once the time moat is down? Nothing there that she can influence is powerful enough to make a difference (Barbatorem won’t listen to her). Maybe he is planning long term and having her get some useful books before Conquest claims them. Hmmm… The conflict is all about the diabolist books. Blake could force a Pyrrhic victory on Conquest by removing or destroying the demonology books before Conquest can get them.

    Blake sent her to Jacob’s Bell for another reason? The only possible reason would be for some deal with Maggie (others in Jacob’s Bell are enemies). So, unlikely.

    Blake sent her after ErasUrrr? No. Too dangerous.

    Blake sent her away for her protection? Possible, which would maybe be the reason Alexis isn’t saying anything about it.

    My best bet is the first one – destruction of the books would screw Conquest and call serious doubt into Laird’s campaign against him and the Thorburns. And Blake doesn’t want to use them anyway, so it is no direct loss for him. Of course, Blake was warned that it was not that easy, and it will piss the lawyers and Conquest off mightily. I still think this is unlikely, this is just the best guess I have so far.

    1. “Tiff wasn’t here, so it was only Alexis and Ty in the back. The other Knights were in a car that followed behind us.”

      And, a bit later:

      “It took us another five minutes to get close enough for Nick to drop us off. He stayed where he was, waiting to reunite with the other Knights, minus his buddy, who was tutoring Tiff in some basics.”

      So she’s getting instruction from a Knight and they’re both elsewhere. No indication of why they were left behind rather than doing instruction in the car on the way or something. At least not that I noticed. It could be part of the plan, or it could just be that she was the last one to do her ritual and the extra time the others had makes a difference.

      But I’d bet on part of the plan, even if the part is just keeping an extra card in his back pocket, out of sight.

      1. OK, so my idea of sending her to Jacob’s Bell was way off. Oh well. Reading other comments about Tiffany seems to indicate that several people think her absence is suspicious.

    2. “I’ll extract the same promise from her, if and when a convenient hour arises” smells suspiciously likely hedging his bets on being able to see her again at all.

      Of course he’s hedging his bets. If he had said “I’ll extract the same promise from her” without qualification, I think that would be a promise.

  39. Just had a nasty thought. Laird is sworn not to use the diabolist books. However, the manner in which Fell’s family entered Conquest’s service shows that a practitioner can get around being forsworn by being in service to another power, one who can grant the protections that being forsworn breaks.

    So, a practitioner with a lot of chutzpa could pull a reversal like this:
    1. Swear not to use diabolist books, pact with demons, or summon demons.
    2. Get close to the books and demons because you would be one of the few trusted to do so.
    3. Grab them all the books and demons and make a pact with one or more of them to regain the protections you just lost by being forsworn.

    So, Laird’s endgame could be actually taking over as the big evil diabolist, with his oaths not to being the means to get close to his goal without being obvious about it.

    I think the likelihood of this being the case is low, but the fact that being in service to a greater power can get around being forsworn means that oath breaking can be a tool (a f***ing expensive and dangerous one) rather than a situation to avoid at all costs.

    Hmm…. Follow-up thought. If you intend to do that, then any other oaths you might break are no significant additional cost after the first. Such as someone’s oath of office that many commenters think Laird broke already. Still, the sequence is out of order – if you are pulling this strategy, then the first oath to break is the one about not messing with demons. After that, breaking any other previous oaths has trivial cost.

    1. Of course, you did just give a demon complete control over you. While your plan is plausable… I don’t think anyone could possibly recommend it.

      Oh, had a thought: the Asian practioners forcibly bind spirits and Others to objects and then command them. Pokemon league confirmed in Pactverse?

      Maybe Shaman Kings instead…

      1. Damnit all. So Japan has Pokemon, England has Hogwarts, I wonder what other places have…

    1. Didn’t notice that was an imbed code instead of a link. Wildbow will probably get rid of that. Here’s what I meant to paste.

      [Removed]

      1. Third time is the charm. This time there’s a space in the word “youtube”. If it makes it an embedded video anyways, I declare witchcraft.

        https://www.you tube.com/watch?v=hiKyNbx4RXg

    2. Well, if Blake calls for the big ‘O’ one more time, at least he’ll be able to collect some meteoric iron for the creation of some powerful tools.

  40. I’m finally caught up with Wildbow’s writing!

    Question: updates are posted at midnight, right? If so, midnight of which time zone?

    1. The posts are scheduled for one minute after midnight, Tuesdays and Saturdays, EST. Some Thursdays – I try to give advance warning.

      WordPress lags, so the posts can sometimes go up at 12:02 to 12:05, depending on server load or other factors.

  41. I have been around long enough to see the patterns. I am not so optimistic. I suspect things progressing smoothly there was not karma being kind.”

    Replace “karma” with “wildbow,” and Isadora is completely indistinguishable from any other poster in the comments section in previous updates.

    Also man glad I read these last two updates in one sitting. So much talking, and this is a much more exciting cliffhanger to stop on.

  42. on the subject of forced familiars…they argue against it with “tradition” and “respect” but don’t touch the whole slavery, most others worth having are sentient (and anything that doesn’t deserve better is too nasty to want one tied to you let alone a whole pack of them) bit?

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