Subordination 6.4

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“I expected as much,” Conquest said.  “Every man is someone’s son, and very few men have been born to fathers without some sanguine humors.  To give up without a fight would mean going against thousands of generations of fathers who had the courage, adoration, and aspiration to find a woman, as well as the strength to survive to adulthood.”

“Are you planning on filibustering until the time’s out?” I asked.

“No,” Conquest said.

“Good,” I said.  “Because I really don’t care all that much.”

“You’re being disrespectful.”

“I think actions matter more than words.  I’ve listened, I’ve done as I was ordered.  Three quests, three monsters fought.”

“If you think actions matter more than words, you may not be paying attention,” Fell said.  “Words are very important in our world.”

Conquest spoke, his voice a low rumble that reverberated in an uncomfortable way, as if the deepest rumbles gave way to a nail-on-a-chalkboard screech that I couldn’t quite hear.  “You’ve brought me an arm, but not the demon proper.”

“I still tried,” I said.

He seemed to consider.  “I believe you.  When the younger Behaim reported that you had bled yourself out, I thought you were trying to make yourself so weak as to be useless,” Conquest said.

“I still beat him.  I couldn’t have been that useless,” I said.

Duncan glowered at me.

“You have a familiar, and a cabal,” Conquest observed.

“I prefer ‘circle’ to ‘cabal’.”

“Your concerns matter little to me.  You are a diabolist, few would deny that.  The diabolist’s circle is traditionally called a cabal.”

“Cabals,” Fell commented, “are traditionally exterminated by witch hunters or similar means.  There are inquisitors in Montreal who would be very interested to hear about this.”

“What?” I heard Ty say.

Fuck.

“What are you doing here, Laird?”  I asked.

“My nephew failed to defeat you and ran afoul of the Lord of Toronto,” Laird said.  “I’m smoothing things over.”

“Clever subversion can be overlooked, as it raises my status further when I triumph regardless,” Conquest said.  “To have someone undermine me and fail, they cannot get away with it, or Toronto would seem weaker as a whole in the world’s eyes.  The elder Behaim is offering me some assistance for the time being.”

“Uncle bails Dunc out, huh?” I asked.

“Family looks after family.  Or it should.  Ah, here we are.  Midnight,” Laird said.  “Five minutes until the imp is free.”

“Changing the subject?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter enough to be worth discussing,” Conquest said.

It matters if I can remove two of your allies from the picture.  Turning Conquest’s allies against him had been a plan for some time now.

“I think Laird wants to steal your throne from under you,” I said.

“I know what he wants,” Conquest said.  “The elder Behaim, however, will take a sure thing in claiming Jacob’s Bell over the great risk of seizing and attempting to hold Toronto.  What he wants and what he will do aren’t the same thing.”

“Yes,” Laird said.

“You would do better to focus on what’s going on here,” Conquest said.  “On yourself.  I know what you were planning.  Your companion was kind enough to inform me.”

“I’m sorry,” Rose said.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “Did he torture you?”

“No.  He made me say it.”

I nodded.  “It’s okay.  Not surprised.  I’m sorry.”

“You went and got other people involved?”

“Yes.”

“Without asking me.  Stupid.  So many things wrong with that plan.”

You’ve been through a lot.  I’ll let that slide.

“Four minutes,” Laird said.

I was out of time.

Having Alexis and Ty here made me feel more vulnerable, not less.

“Then I should put my plan into action, I guess,” I said.

“You might want to try sounding more enthusiastic,” Laird said.  “Give the impression of confidence where none exists.”

“Conquest,” I said, ignoring Laird.

“Yes?”

“The Seventh Seal.”

“Hm?  Ah, yes,” Conquest said.

This was the moment of truth.  He knew what I meant.  I only had to let him consider it.

“Rose Thorburn,” Conquest said, taking hold of the chain that led to Rose’s shackle.  “In the time we have remaining, I would like you to draw a circle.  Bind the Imp’s book and its contents.”

Rose hesitated, then lurched to her feet.  She moved like she was a puppet, not a person, fumbling through the books, clumsily pushing them aside, her fingers only dextrous when they found a book she could use.

“I’m not familiar with that particular terminology,” Laird said.  “The seventh seal?”

“It’s not magic.  It’s a movie,” I said.  “A man challenges Death to a contest.  I’m formally challenging Conquest.”

“That challenge will have to be quick,” Laird said.  “You’re short on time.”

“I’m afraid you’re working from a flawed assumption, diabolist,” Conquest said.

“I’m afraid of that too,” I admitted.

Fuck, my heart was pounding so hard I wondered if he could hear it.

“It is the nature of humanity and, in fact, all living things, to vie against Death.  Those contests occur every day.”

“And?”

“And thus Death may very well accept such contests.  It fits with the natural order of things.”

“That makes sense,” I said.

“For Conquest, however, well, it is the nature of mankind to struggle against bondage.  It is also the nature of man to ultimately yield to it.  The forces that would control man are more tireless than the individual man.”

“You would argue there’s no point?  It’s a foregone conclusion?”

“Yes,” Conquest said.

“Three minutes,” Laird said.

“Conquest is also about change,” I said.  “Revolutions occur, dictators are toppled.  It’s in human nature to change our reality as much as it is to go head to head with Death.”

“Change by triumph is the province of another Incarnation.  Liberty, perhaps.”

“When one tyrant takes over from another, that’s not Liberty at work,” I argued.

“You’re talking about War, now.  About Conflict.  I am despair, loss, subjugation and pain, all made incarnate.  I am not the battle, but the one who seizes that which lies in War’s wake.”

I clenched my fists.  “You fucking know-”

“You would do well to show me respect, Thorburn.  I have nothing to lose by saying no.”

“But you’re not going to, are you?” I asked.  “You’re right.  It’s in human nature to wage war against Death.  That makes that contest possible.  But it’s in your nature to crush people under your heel.  Are you going to go against your nature and pass up the opportunity to crush someone?  Me in particular?”

“I am not a slave to my nature.  Many of my kin are, but few of my kin are lords of a city.  I have resources they do not.”

This was the gamble, and I’d lost.

Necessitating a riskier gamble.

“What if I said you were a coward?” I asked.

“If you did, I would respond by subjecting your Rose to the worst I can offer, then turn my attention to your cabal, then to you,” Conquest said.  “You would regret those words.”

“Oh shit,” I heard Ty mutter.  “Torture?”

I didn’t begrudge him that, but I was kind of really glad that Alexis was staying quiet through all of this.

I had.  If I could have said something to him without tipping Conquest off, I might have pointed out that torture here was entirely different from the kind of torture we might experience in the real world.

In the real world, there was only so much pain you could take before your mind or body gave out.  In this realm, Conquest made the rules.

I tried to tell you guys what you were getting into.

Are you calling me a coward, Blake Thorburn?” he asked, stressing the ‘are’.

I had to be very, very careful what I said.

“If you don’t accept my offer for a contest, I’ll call you weak,” I said.  “Not a coward, since you’ve promised to go after my allies if I call you that.  And if you threaten to go after them again, I’ll call you something worse.  Because something as strong as you’re supposed to be should be content with doing your worst to me and me alone.”

He stared down at me, massive, as intimidating as fuck.

A lie.  A delusion.  I was banking everything on that, on the insecurity I’d guessed was at the root of him.

“I can and will make you regret those words, if you insult me,” Conquest said.

“If you do, at least have the guts to make me and me alone regret them.”

“If I accept, I will see this contest through, I will win, free to take my prize.  If I refuse, you’ll follow through with the light oath you’ve made, insulting me, and I will be compelled to torment you in retaliation.”

My mouth was dry.  I tried to swallow and failed.  I hoped I wasn’t giving up a tell.

Or maybe he took it as his due.

“That’s essentially it,” I said.

“I am inevitable, much as Death is.  Eternal.  You can’t expect to win.”

“I don’t,” I said.  “Not really.”

I was attacking him on three fronts.  Or trying to, in any event.  Attacking his nature as Conquest, giving him a chance to crush me.  Attacking his insecurity, using the fact that he couldn’t let on how weak he really was… and I was hoping that there was a little something human in him, something that struggled against the boredom that came with eternity.  Would he find this interesting?  A riddle or a mystery?

I looked at Rose, who knelt on the floor, drawing a circle around the bookstand in chalk.

“One minute and thirty seconds,” Laird intoned.

“We will decide the terms before the time is up,” Conquest said.

He was game?

He was willing to play ball.

I couldn’t bring myself to be happy.  Or I could, but it was a dim thing, lost in the midst of the tension and quiet terror.

“Let’s,” I said, my voice tight.

“What form shall this contest take?  Chess?  A musical duel?”

“I was thinking something more fitting for you, Lord of Toronto.”

“Dispense with the flattery.”

“Fine.  The contest… two sides.  One king, five champions.  First king to topple the other wins.”

“You would go to war against me?”

“Neither king can make deliberate use of power while fighting in Toronto.  We can’t retreat to our personal realms.  This should be a more even contest, more about our leadership and the ability to use our Champions than about the power we wield.”

“You want to cripple me, while negating the effect your own weakness has on things.”

No.

“In a sense,” I said.  “This contest is about leadership, using the resources we have available.”

“Very well.”

That was the gravy.  The tidbit I offered to him as bait.

I knew full well that he had power he could leverage that was intrinsic.  Ambient.  He knew it, and he perhaps thought he was getting one over on me.  He was Conquest and he used power just by being.  I handed him this advantage because it got him on board, and it paved the way for future discussion.

I knew there were a dozen ways he could bend the rule.

But I had him listening, playing ball.

“A king must either surrender or be slain by the hand of the opposing king or that king’s champions,” I said.  “When it’s done, the contest is won.”

“Agreed.”

More gravy.  Conquest couldn’t die.  I could.  He had two ways to win, I had the one.  He was also very good at getting people to surrender.

“We pick our champions.  Taking turns.”

“If the champions don’t agree?” Conquest asked.

“Then they don’t agree, and you have an uncooperative champion,” I said.

“Fair.  I will pick first as the challenged.”

Damn.

“Agreed,” I said.  It wasn’t worth fighting over.

“Thirty seconds until the imp is free,” Laird said.

“You don’t impede my exit, nor my champions, before… let’s say one hour from now.”

“Very well.  What of the others?” Conquest asked.  “The ones outside?”

“You forfeit your power over anyone who isn’t one of your champions.  You don’t have to announce it, because a mutiny wouldn’t be keeping with the spirit of the contest, but you can’t order the supernatural residents of Toronto either, directly or by proxy.  Only your champions can be commanded, and only the champions or you can seize victory, or it’s not your victory.  Everyone outside remains in play, and can be convinced to join one side or the other.  Neither of us are liked, so it effectively levels the playing field.”

“A little extreme,” Conquest said.  “If you fight me without the forces at my disposal, are you truly besting me?”

“It’s the metaphorical chess game,” I said.  “We have the board, we each have the same number of pieces.  It’s a question of how well those pieces are used.”

“I cannot forfeit all of my power over others, diabolist.  It is a part of me.”

“You can decline to exercise it,” I said.

“I am not one for even contests.”

I know, but this isn’t as even as you’re pretending it is.

“Then pick your champions well.”

He stared down at me.  Then lowered his head a fraction.  “I’ll accept with a condition.  When I’ve won the contest, I can demand what I want of you.”

Fuck me.  I was expecting that, and it still almost knocked the wind out of me to hear it.

Fuck me.  Fuck.

It was scary, and it was almost as bad as falling victim to the lawyers.

“When-” I found my mouth dry.  The Eye was still here, the air was hot, and I was nervous.  I couldn’t speak for a moment.

“Time’s up.  The imp is free,” Laird said.

On cue, the book’s bindings opened.

Had Rose finished the circle?

She had.  A simple one.

The book unfolded, and Pauz rose out of it, tearing his arms and tiny horns free of the tendrils of ink that stuck to the book itself.

He looked around.

“Hm,” he said, in the voice that didn’t fit his small body.  He perched on the edge of the bookstand and looked down.  “Hmm!?”

“The circle was the Lord’s action, not mine,” I said.

“The circle was drawn by your hand.  You betrayed your word when your mouth spoke of my secrets to Conquest.  I can see, and I am aware.”

Rose’s hand was my hand, her words my words?

Damn it.

“The hand was forced to move.  It was the Lord’s action,” Rose said.  “The mouth was forced to speak.

Pauz hopped, turning.  It pointed an accusing finger at Rose.  “It speaks!  I might call you forsworn, Thorburn.  Mere excuses.

He looked at me, pointing with his other finger.  He screeched, “Are you forsworn!?  Defend yourself!

Fuck me.  I hadn’t expected this angle.

I managed to hold my composure.  “By the terms of our contract, you can take this dispute to a neutral third party.  Your argument would be a hard sell, I think.  I’m not responsible for what the Lord of Toronto does, after I brought you to him.”

“You are if you led him to this path,” Pauz growled.

“I speak honestly when I say I didn’t plan for or want this.”

“Why am I bound?” Pauz asked, his eyes falling on Conquest.  “Why take me if you would bind me fast?”

“You are of little interest,” Conquest said.  “I had no real plans to release or use you.”

Conquest spread massive arms with draping sleeves knit of his own skin, as if embracing his realm, the scene.  “This is a tableau.  I will use the Thorburn diabolist to summon dark powers to my realm, and I must set the stage accordingly.”

“You had me fight those fucking things so they could be props?” I asked.

Conquest’s voice was deep, imperious.  “I had you fight them for many reasons, diabolist.  They will put all visitors into a particular frame of mind.  I did it to weaken you, to distract while I made use of your Rose.  I did it to better secure my realm from rogue agencies, and for other reasons besides.”

“They’re props.  The metaphorical equivalent to animal heads mounted on a hunter’s wall.  Except you didn’t even do your own hunting.”

“They are sources of power, too, trophies won with my abilities, even if those abilities were used to send others to hunt on my behalf.”

I bit my tongue so I couldn’t say something I might regret.

“You did well, Rose,” Conquest said.  “It seems to be an effective circle.  Tell me, did you subvert me?”

Rose made a face.  I could see the momentary strain, as if she were about to have a stroke, then relief that came with obedience.  “Yes.”

“Tell me, how?”

“The chalk circle is weak.  It won’t hold.”

“I want you to repair it.  Can you do it now?”

“No.  I need materials.  Animal entrail or animal blood.”

“Then it can wait.”

“You deceived me,” Pauz accused me.

“I did, but not on purpose.”

“I will not have what I want, like this.  Forever bound, a decoration?  A well of power to be tapped.”

“No,” I said.  “I guess not.”

I’d hoped to destabilize and distract Conquest and contain the taint, or to make him more powerful in a manageable way.

This was the worst of both worlds.  Conquest had power, but it was tainted power.  He was entirely in control, stronger, in a very hard way to manage.

Well, I had other ideas, but I wasn’t sure if I should use them.  There were consequences.

“I name the Eye as my first champion,” Conquest said.

Quite possibly, by all accounts, the most powerful being in the city.

If I’d had first pick, I’d feel twice as confident as I did. There were traps here.  Ideas that could so very easily fall through.

“I name Rose as my first.”

Rose perked up at that.  “Why me?”

“Come on,” I said.

The chain dragged along the floor as she approached me, a little bent, almost weary.

I found her hand with mine, and made myself hold it.

Physical contact wasn’t comforting to me.  Just the opposite, really.  I could deal – she needed it more than I did.

“The Shepherd, as my second champion,” Conquest said.

Another more powerful figure, and arguably a strategic choice.  The Shepherd was a practitioner specializing in ghosts, and, well, many of my assets were ghosts.  Evan, Leonard.  June, who I didn’t have access to.

If we were kids in gym class, he was picking the power players, and I was picking the geeks.

I couldn’t delay longer.  This would be my first gamble, among my picks.

“Fell,” I said, turning my head.

Fell’s eyebrows raised.

“You would take my own subordinate?” Conquest asked.

“He knows you best.”

“He does not have to agree,” Conquest said.

His words had weight.  A latent menace.

Conquest couldn’t use his hold on Rose or Fell to subvert them while this contest lasted, but he could take revenge for any perceived betrayal after the fact.

Fell looked at me.  “There are things I need to say that I can’t, because I am forced to obey him.  If I joined you, I would be free to say it, but it would be too late.”

“I’m asking all the same,” I said.

“Damn you, Thorburn.  You couldn’t make this simple?”  Fell asked.

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes,” Fell said.  “Fuck you, but yes.

I nodded.

He saw what this was.  A chance to fight back against Conquest.  He didn’t like it, but with all I knew about who he was, I knew he couldn’t say no.

Conquest’s voice was deep, brimming with latent anger.  “For my third, I take the elder Behaim.  He owes me a service for my mercy in regards to his nephew.”

“I do, and I’ll do as you wish,” Laird said.

Great.  Time manipulation.

I could only hope that the Behaim batteries were running low after the recent shenanigans.

Right.  My third pick…

“I pick the Hyena,” I said.

“What!?” Evan piped up.

“Relax,” I said.

“The Hyena is not yours to take,” Conquest said.

“It’s not your place to stand in my way, by the terms of this contest,” I said.  It took all the confidence I had, but I crossed the tower’s top to collect the sword form the Hyena had taken.  I held it gingerly in both hands, so the spikes in the thing wouldn’t stab me.

As I returned to my group, I could see the fear in Alexis’ eyes.

I had three friends who were practitioners now, and only two remaining slots.

Thing was, I wasn’t taking any of them.  I didn’t want them on this battlefield.

“I could take one of yours from you,” Conquest said, to my back, as if he were reading my mind.

It was very possible.  I didn’t take my eyes off Alexis.

He had two options.  He could assert his power, picking safe, strong options, or he could gather power by taking someone like Alexis from me, cowing and breaking her.

I was gambling everything that he wouldn’t.  I was gambling that he was insecure, that he couldn’t afford the loss, that he would favor stomping on me and winning this unequivocally, over taking one of my friends from me.

“Hmm,” Conquest murmured.  The little hum reverberated through his realm.  “The imp and the Hyena are there for the taking, so you seize the Hyena, thinking I might take the imp.  Do you want to trap me, diabolist?  Impel me to take the imp, a being you know how to deal with, that your Rose can deal with?”

I didn’t flinch, managing to keep my expression level.  The best poker face I could manage.

“I will take the Astrologer as my fourth,” he said.

One of my allies, all the same.

Did he know?  Was he aware that Diana was on my side?  Fell was aware.

Damn.

He had some degree of sway over Diana by virtue of being Lord of Toronto.  He apparently thought he could bully her into falling into line.

“Then I take the imp as my fourth champion,” I said.

“I expected as much,” Conquest said.  “I’ll take the one in charge of the Sisters of the Torch for my last champion.”

Great.  The zealots.

He was picking assets that came with forces of their own.  The Shepherd had his ghosts, Laird knew other Behaims, and the leader of the Sisters came with a little bit of clout, some manpower.

The ones who remained, not yet elected to be champions, were the Sphinx, the Knights, my cabal…

Either I didn’t trust them, or I didn’t want to bring them into this fight.

“I name Maggie Holt,” I said.

“I do not know this one,” Conquest said.

“A Jacob’s Bell resident, my King,” Laird said, with a trace of sardony.  “A novice Goblin Queen.  No doubt intended to help with the goblin sword he called the Hyena.”

“Very well.”

It was done.

“You may take your leave, as we agreed.”

I stepped towards the imp.  Conquest didn’t stop me.

“Are you going to play ball, Pauz?”

“What?”

“I can leave you here.  You can spite me.  And you might stay here for the remainder of your existence, an immortal prop for an immortal being.  Or I can bring you with, and you can give me your obedience.”

“Three days of obedience,” Pauz countered.

I turned to leave.

“Yes!” he cried out.

“Tell me you’ll go back in the book, and you’ll return to the book at my order, any time from here on out.”

He glared.

“I’m not fooling around, Pauz.”

“I so swear,” he said.

“All of you.  Including your essence and power that you would cast out.  I don’t want to carry a book that’s shedding your power.”

He remained silent, glaring.

I spread my arms.

He sat down, and the book closed itself, the cord winding around the exterior, the same weird bondage-style knot around the black leather tome that I’d seen before.

I collected it.

“You have what you need.  At ten minutes past one this begins in earnest,” Conquest said.  “Leave.”

“You have to relinquish your power over my Champions, by the terms of this contest.”

“Do I?”

“The terms were that you couldn’t command or assert control over anyone who wasn’t a champion of yours.”

“Very well.  I will exercise no power over them.”

“Not good enough.  Release Fell from the deals that hold him, for the duration of this contest.  Rose too.  The shackle has power over her, a weight on her mind and conscience, a reminder, it links you to her and her to you.”

I could see his expression change.  It was quite dramatic, given how monstrous his face was, the skin stretched.  The movement of a brow made skin slip and snap into new positions, baring more teeth incidentally.

“I see.  You not only sought to undermine me, but to unshackle that which belongs to me?”

I nodded.

“Rest assured, Thorburn, when I take my victory, you’ll regret this contest of yours.”

I was already sort of regretting it.  The forces arrayed against us were pretty ugly.

I had two assets that I was loathe to use, and one that might not answer the call.

“You are hereby freed,” Conquest said.  “Let it be known, what I have claimed, I will reclaim.”

That done, he released Rose.  The shackle came off.

She looked at me, wide-eyed, rubbing at her wrist.

Fell stood a little straighter, as if a burden had been lifted off his shoulders.

That done, I took the first step down the stairs.  When I teetered, Rose used her grip on my hand to keep me from falling.  Alexis, on my other side, caught me.

“Fuck you, Thorburn,” Fell muttered, behind my back.

“What the fuck are you saying?” Ty asked.

“I’m telling Blake Thorburn that if he thinks he’s done me a favor here, he hasn’t.”

“I guess I haven’t,” I said.

“I don’t need a rescue attempt,” Fell said.

“You’re getting it anyway,” I told him.

We passed down only one flight before we reached the base of the tower.  We’d climbed four to six, easily.

Fell pushed open the door, and we didn’t pass into Toronto.

Not exactly.

We were in the spirit world that layered our own.  The same caricature of a world that I’d seen outside the police station, when I’d very nearly slipped through the cracks and ceased being Blake Thorburn altogether.

A heavy fog hung over everything, and a dense falling snow made it harder still to see things.

The only cars were parked.  There were no people.

“Um,” Alexis said.  “Okay, I need another smoke.  Ty?”

Ty took over in helping keep me standing.  “Shit on me.”

“Careful,” I said.  “Lies.”

My eyes were on the forces arranged around us.  The Sisters, the Sphinx, the Shepherd, the Drunk, the Knights.

I felt a tug on my hand.

I looked, and saw Rose’s feet lifting off the ground.  She was fading, eroding.

I let go, and she disappeared.

I felt the connection move.  She’d returned to the reflections.

A bit less of a gap between the mirror world and this spirit world than it was between the mirror world and the real one.  Rose wasn’t contained quite so strictly to the mirrors.

Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.  Vestiges were fragile, and she’d taken a beating lately, on a number of levels.

“You’re using the Hyena?” Evan asked.

“I’m keeping Conquest from using the Hyena,” I said.

“But-”

“I’m so lost,” Ty said, talking over Evan.

“Evan, Ty… All of you.  I know you have questions, but… not now.”

I had questions, myself, but I was keeping my mouth shut.

I didn’t want to debrief or fill in the blanks while staring down the Sphinx and the rest of Toronto’s finest.

I made my way down the stairs, Ty at my side.

The Shepherd and the Elder Sister made their way to the door we’d just left, giving us sidelong glances as they walked.

“You entered through one door and left through another,” Isadora commented.  “You’re standing on the other side of things.”

“War,” Fell said.  “It’s not unusual for a Lord to do this, to minimize the effects to the real world.”

“I would argue which world is ‘real’,” Isadora said.

“The mortal world, if you will,” Fell said.

“I will.  Things will bleed over.”

“They will,” Fell said.  “Five champions to each side, and the rest of the players may pick their sides or sit this one out.  With the kind of muscle he has, I don’t think things are going to be pretty for the residents of Toronto, even with this measure in place.”

Isadora nodded.

“It’s an arena,” Ty said.

“Essentially,” Fell said.

“He’s doing this so he can fight with no holds barred.  It’s an advantage to him, but… this is something that’s in his rights as a Lord?”

“Yes,” Fell said.

I nodded.

“That book you hold offends my senses,” Isadora commented.

“There shouldn’t be taint spreading from it.”

“The book is tainted.  Nothing spreads, but it is perverted, fouled,” Isadora said.  “Please don’t move so much.  You’ll spread the smell around.”

“Sorry,” I told her.  “It’s still less offensive than letting Conquest hold on to it.”

“Perhaps.  I’m not sure I like what I see.”

“You told me to go in there with my friends.  I think you were right.  Conquest maybe expected me to protect those friends, and he let his guard down, giving me the goblin and imp.  Thank you.”

The sphinx shook her head.  It was quite dramatic, all things considered.  “Don’t thank me.  You’ve started something, and I’m concerned that it’s the sort of war where there is no victor.”

“With all due respect, Isadora, daughter of Phix,” I said.  “You didn’t help me before.  If you don’t participate, you don’t get to complain when they don’t go the way you wanted.”

“I’m participating, Mr. Thorburn, rest assured.”

That said, she turned to leave.

Her wings folded around her, and she simultaneously stepped out of this world and into the other, adopting a human guise.

I squinted, using my sight, and I could peer into the real world.

She left in a snit,” Alexis said.

Nick had approached while we talked to the sphinx.  As a practitioner, he straddled this world and the mortal one.  The ignorant were relegated to that other world.  If I focused, I could make them out as silhouettes in the drifting snow and heavy fog.

“I think I need a debrief,” he said.

“I know,” I answered.  “Just… give me a second.”

A few seconds passed.

Blake,” Evan piped up, cutting into the silence.  “What are you doing with the Hyena?”

“I’m kind of wondering what he’s doing with Ty and me,” Alexis said.  “We made this leap, and-”

Guys,” I cut her off.  I came across a little more intense than I’d hoped.  “Take… take a few minutes, get acclimatized.  Talk amongst yourselves.  I just need a bit to get my head in order.”

“What you mean is you want us to leave you the fuck alone,” Alexis said.

“For five or ten minutes,” I said.  “You’ve… A good few of you have been involved in this for a day, for hours.  I’ve had day after day of it.  There isn’t anyone here, Pauz and the Hyena excepted, who I don’t either deeply respect or feel very fond of.  Really.  Just give me five or ten minutes.  Please.

There was no reply.  Awkward silence stretched on.

The awkward silence became a merciful silence, punctuated by whispers between others in the group.

My eye fell on a cracked window.  I could see Rose on the other side.  Hugging herself.

Rose hadn’t even said hi to my new recruits.  My circle.  My cabal.

I kind of missed the point where I could talk things out with her.  We kind of needed to return to that point.

Need being the operative word.  I wasn’t sure we’d survive if we couldn’t.

The sword was heavy as I set it down on the dining room table.

This spirit world was a representation of our world, but the forces that had affected it were very different.  I was only just barely beginning to wrap my head around it.

In the mortal realm, things were maintained by care, regular cleaning and maintenance.  Here, things were maintained, I suspected, by caring.  Things that were neglected were neglected, while cherished objects were well looked after.

The parts of the road where cars traditionally traveled were in pristine shape.  Some of the other parts were so pitted and ruined they might as well have been ditches or chasms.

It was eerie.  An entire city, desolate.  When I did see something, it was an eerie thing, a phantom image of a person in the other world who made a deeper impression, a lesser Other, like some faerie equivalent to a rat or a child’s nightmare that had slithered out of a dream and into this world, where it now hid in the cracks, scratching out some kind of existence I might never wrap my head around.

Even my apartment was an eerie twist on its real appearance.

Evan.  Rose.  Ty, Alexis, and now Tiff, who’d stayed at the apartment.  We also had Nick, his one-footed friend, and Priss, as tertiary allies, Fell as a questionable ally and information source, and the imp and Hyena were… mostly just questionable.

“Can I have your phone?” I asked.

“You don’t have a cell phone?” Fell asked me.

“I… no.”

“I’d like to know how you get by in this day and age without a phone.”

“I just do,” I said.  “I never really thought about it.”

He gave me a funny look, but he handed over his phone.

I searched online.  Finding a phone number was hard.  Finding an online profile wasn’t.  I sent Maggie a message over social media.

I returned the phone to Fell.

I drew in a deep breath, then sighed.  “Okay.  One at a time.  In order of introduction.  Rose?”

Silence.

“Rose?”

I looked, and she wasn’t anywhere near us.

Where other connections were either smooth and fluid, or weak, occasionally jerky and flickering where they snapped into place one moment and disappeared the next, Rose’s connection to me was something else entirely.  Inconsistent, jumping here and there, but most definitely not weak.

She appeared at one of the shards of mirror that I’d tacked to the wall.  My head wasn’t the only one that turned to look at her.

“Rose,” I said.

She dropped some books, making a noise, glanced at me, and said, “Gimme a minute.”

Then she was gone.

“Okay,” I said.  “We’ll touch base with her later.  Who’s next?”

“If it’s order of introduction, shouldn’t we be before her?” Ty asked.

“You were only introduced to this today.  Um.  Fell?”

“I’m the second person you ask?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “You had something you wanted to tell me?”

“It’s too late to make a meaningful difference.  I might say you’ve already shot yourself in the foot, but that’s understating it.”

“Explain, please,” I said.  “Because as far as I can tell, this is the only way I’m going to get one over on Conquest.”

“A contest that overwhelmingly favors him?”

“He wouldn’t accept if it didn’t,” I said.

“He could have taken us,” Alexis said.

“He could have, but he wouldn’t have,” I said.  “I… I sort of understand him.  He’s more machine than man.  He follows certain rules.  If we know what those rules are, on top of the underlying motivations, we can predict him.  Maneuver him.  I don’t think this is as unwinnable as it looks.”

We, the people at this table, just have to get past the coven of elementalists, the time travelers, the ghostmonger, the astrologer, and a flaming force of nature that could theoretically bring mortal Toronto to its knees,” Fell said.

“Exactly,” I said.  “I didn’t say it would be easy.  But it’s not unwinnable.”

“You also have the Drunk out for your blood, for reasons inexplicable to me and Conquest both,” Fell said.

“There’s that,” I admitted.

“And the Sphinx is going to try to kill you.”

“Wait, what?”

“There’s been animosity towards you from the outset, the moment it became clear who you were and how you played into Conquest’s hands.  Can you wrap your head around why?”  Fell asked.

“I’m a diabolist.”

“No.  That’s part of the problem.  That label means anything that goes bad can potentially go catastrophically, but it’s not the whole problem.”

“You’re going to have to explain,” I said.

He frowned, leaning back.  “You’ve upset the balance.”

“Things were stable, now they aren’t.”

“In a nutshell… but there’s a complicating factor.  Conquest isn’t as strong as he appears.  Strong, to be sure, he can protect Toronto from outside forces, and he can hold his ground, but he isn’t as strong as he appears.”

There were murmurs from our assembled allies.

“I know,” I said.  “I’m… I guess I’m not surprised you figured it out too.

Drawing more murmurs.

“You don’t see the problem?” Fell asked.  “We all know, for the most part.  Maybe the Sisters don’t.  The Knights don’t know, I know.  But it’s common knowledge.”

“He’s a figurehead,” Nick said.

“He’s a figurehead,” Fell confirmed.  “He’s predictable, he’s something we can manipulate in a pinch, and he’s got the job that nobody here wants.  If Conquest fails, someone else has to take the job, and unlike Conquest, the rest of us aren’t immune to the thousands of very creative means of assassination that the practitioners of the world might employ.”

He looked around the table.

“When I say things are stable, I’m saying that people are either on board with the figurehead idea, or they’re under Conquest’s thumb, by virtue of being enslaved or being weak.  You coming in here, you’ve spoiled that… and that’s why you’re not going to find one more ally in this city.”

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349 thoughts on “Subordination 6.4

    1. dextrous
      dexterous

      entrail
      entrails (never singular), but since it is in speech, perhaps written as intended

      Fell’s eyebrows raised.
      Fell’s eyebrows rose.

      sardony
      the sardonic?

    2. “I know,” I said. “I’m… I guess I’m not surprised you figured it out too.
      no closing quote

    3. I didn’t begrudge him that, but I was kind of really glad that Alexis was staying quiet through all of this. I had.
      -I had what?

    4. Poss. continuity error: Fell is still shocked that Blake doesn’t have a phone, even though Blake just had to borrow his phone in Collateral 4.12.

      1. Maybe Wildbow can have Fell be shocked that Blake “STILL” doesn’t have a phone to preserve that continuity?

        A small fix perhaps that doesn’t require a rewrite or rethinking.

          1. So I have a few theories since we are talking about the phone. The first one is that Fell is the one that sourced the info about him going back to the body because he gave Fell the goddamn info in the search history. I mean honestly Blake, maybe if you owned a phone you would know they have a history of everything you do it on it you big dummy!

            The second which I’m surprised to not see people talk about, is that Blake already has fulfilled the requirement to marry a man. After all, hasn’t everyone been calling the familiar relationship similar to marriage? Considering its half bullshitting, I think he could get away with calling that requirement fulfilled.

      2. Technically, Blake didn’t tell Fell that he didn’t have a phone. The section in 4.12 was:

        “Fell,” I said. “Do you have a phone?”
        “You don’t?”
        “I’m poor,” I said. “Please?”

        Fell never actually got an answer to his question, and still wants to know how Blake gets about in everyday life without a phone.

    5. “To have someone undermine me and fail, they cannot get away with it, or Toronto would seem weaker as a whole in the world’s eyes.”
      This…feels off somehow. Like there should be a question mark after ‘fail,’ and ‘it’ should be ‘that.’ I’m not sure how much of that is personal taste and how much is syntax/grammar-driven.

      1. The entire paragraph is confusing to me. Conquest seems to be saying that clever subversion is forgivable, but incompetency must be punished.

        1. Everyone likes seeing someone do something well. Even when Coyote tricks you, well, you have to admire the skill with which he did it. But when someone tries to turn traitor and still manages to screw that up, not only is it insurrection and punishable by death, it’s also darn embarrassing and they should be ashamed. Also, this could give Conquest an out if Blake wins.

        2. The way I’m reading it, Conquest is saying:
          If you betray me, (and don’t win) then I must destroy you and all you hold dear or people will conclude that I (and by extension Toronto) am weak.

          It’s not that uncommon a sentiment, actually.

          1. “Clever subversion can be overlooked, as it raises my status further when I triumph regardless,” Conquest said.

            1. Hmm, you’re right, it’s more nuanced than the way I put it. Let’s try again:

              If you try to gain an advantage against me and fail to gain that advantage, I have won and must exact my price, or I’d be going against my nature and people would think I’m weak.
              If you successfully gain an advantage against me, you have won, so I don’t have to punish you. Also, it just makes me win even harder when I ultimately end up winning.

              He’s not saying that he won’t punish people who subvert him, just that he isn’t compelled to. (Clever subversion can be overlooked…) He seems to want to punish Blake a lot for his clever subversions, after all.

    6. In the Table of Contents, is it on purpose that there are (Pages 1), (Pages 2), and (Pages 4), but no (Pages 3)? Assorted (Histories) do not count.

    7. If you don’t participate, you don’t get to complain when they don’t go the way you wanted. –> when ‘things’ don’t go the way you wanted

  1. Well. Blake’s clearly set to add “Toppled a city-wide alliance” to his resume list. As for how Blake wins this fight? Between his choice in allies, I suspect that he’ll try to pull it off with some kind of sneaky trick. Or attempted sneaky trip at least.

    Hyena vs Shepard would probably be an ‘even’ match, just based off the fact that Shepard uses ghosts, and the Hyena ruins ghosts. Maggie could bring forth a goblin army, should she be willing to play ball: Perhaps a distraction for the Sisters?

    1. I think a Hyena vs. Shepard matchup might actually be lopsided in the Hyena’s favor, since the Shepard was unwilling to fight it before. Only problem is the Hyena is unlikely to do anything Blake asks it to, and it certainly won’t go back in that sword willingly.

      Pauz could probably royally screw over any enchanters/enchantresses just by existing, and might even be able to sow chaos among organized groups like the entire Laird clan. But probably his best asset is that Pauz’s radiation might not even affect Maggie’s goblins, allowing them to slip in among the chaos and start knocking heads while everyone’s distracted. But Pauz is imbalance in form and function, and the Sphinx probably wouldn’t be very happy if Blake used him at all.

      Not that Blake is likely to use those two, since they’re bona fine “dark forces”.

  2. A figurehead. That’s why they left Blake hanging out to dry. Conquest is a figurehead, and that’s the status quo that’s so important. God, this doesn’t have a blessed thing to do with the diabolism, does it? They’re going to try to kill Blake because if he succeeds, then they have to take care of their own s**t. Why are the practitioners Blake wants to get help from all such massive twats? (Save for the Knights, and apparently the Astrologer)

    1. I think it goes back to what Nick said: Most practitioners don’t get into fights unless they have to. So if the price of peace is a little bit of subservience, its easy to step back and let things be as long as the price doesn’t hurt you too much.

      So, its an uneasy alliance built out of “I don’t want to fuck with others, and Conquest will act as a nuclear deterrent for a small price.” Human nature to take the easy route.

    2. All of them have Bystander Syndrome and want to continue to enjoy it. So long as C is the Lord of Toronto whatever else happens is no skin off their karma, with him gone they will end up havin to you know actually “do something”.

      1. …God, I hope Blake kills every last one of them. All those who would stand aside while a practitioner is driven to evil, all those who would bow to a slab of wood because it’s easier to pretend it’s in charge, all those who didn’t take a stand because “it’s not what we do.”

        1. I’m not actually that much against figureheads.
          But this figurehead wasn’t doing what needed to be done. The hyena, the Imp (less so the unbeast) needed to be fixed.

          1. A figurehead is only good insofar as the people that are really in charge can direct it towards good. Ever since Blake showed up, they’ve been spinning things so that the status quo, which has already enslaved numerous ghosts, practitioners, and entities, stays in place. This “chess match” between Blake and Conquest only made it official.

    3. Though, they appear to be overlooking one major factor: the Drunk does want the job, unless I’m forgetting something. He was all set to go for it until Canada’s stint in the War on Terror boosted Conquest up from the edge of demise. If the opportunity arises, he may act.

      1. Yeah, I’m thinking that the Drunk may actually work towards Blake’s interests regarding toppling Conquest, take control, then with his newfound power try to prohibit Blake from going back to Jacob’s Bell. Having to contend against two consecutive Lords of Toronto within days seems like the kind of thing that would happen to Blake.

        1. And, in typical Wildbow style, the wily drunk will be a substantially greater threat than the mostly predictable Conquest. Well, he’ll be a greater threat to Blake. Conquest actually stands a chance of releasing demons and fucking Toronto over entirely.

          1. I think the biggest threat is probably going to be the Duchamp family. They are well on their way to world domination.

            1. Not so sure about that. In Sandra’s history, (3.x) the aunt says:

              “But what we’re really doing is manipulating them to get them into our power, and hoping they’ll come to learn the same thing we did.”

              “Which is?” Missy asked.

              “This is the only way we’ll survive as a family.”

              Doesn’t exactly come across as “We’re poised to take over the world!”

            2. Being able to reproduce is the only way humans survive as a species… The fact that if you remove some aspect of the Duchamp you make the coven unviable does not mean that taking over the world is not within their reach.

            3. Well yes, without any reproduction they wouldn’t survive, but that seems not to be the contextual meaning of the aunt’s words. She doesn’t seem to be talking about getting married and producing offspring; she seems to be talking about forcing the children into arranged marriages that can get the family a better position.

              It seems to me her words suggest a precarious position, almost like they’re struggling to survive. Why couldn’t they survive if they stopped forcing their offspring into diplomatic marriages? Perhaps they have a tithe of some sort or there’s an upkeep cost on the working for their family. We don’t know the reason, but they don’t sound like they’re in a position where they’re poised to take over the world.

    4. I disagree with your stance of other practitioners. It’s not so much about other practitioners being twats, or that they don’t care (which they don’t). It’s about not starting a war. Others are like humans in that they like power, they want to obtain more power. Conquest exerts control over Toronto and everything that resides within Toronto, but the moment Conquest is gone, everyone will make a play for Toronto and its power.

      Not one of the big players in Toronto wants to have Conquest’s job, and that is not selfish. That’s sensible. And with Conquest gone, they will be in danger and so will be everyone else in the city.

      1. Blake’s being a Diabolist is important. It’s what enables him to throw things into chaos. If he was just some practicioner newb that stumbled across things then he wouldn’t have Rose, the Thorburn library, and an heritage that Demons respect enough to listen too.

        And yeah, I called it. Power struggle the moment Conquest is out of the way. And I can imagine Conquest might be just a little more clever than I gave him credit for. I think he manipulated everyone so they’d give him Vetanini Job Security. Well Blake is about to be even more hated. See, I knew it’d get worse.

        1. Who is/was Vetanini? The only one I can think of is the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork Lord Havelock Vetinari.

          1. It’s a word in Sanskrit. It’s a bit hard to find an actual translation, since Sanskrit isn’t written using our alphabet, but based on what I could find, it seems like it means something along the lines of wage or stipend – relating to receiving money (or a living of some sort) on a periodic basis.

            So maybe he was saying C’s job security is based on regular tribute from everyone? Doesn’t seem like too huge of a stretch.

            1. I just assumed he was talking about the 40K character who everybody hates, and nobody wants in a position of power, but is good enough at his job that everybody just lets him keep ruling.

            2. It refers to making things so that things will get really bad without you. It comes from the dis world books, where vetonari kept everything stable in his city.

      2. Ah, but you yourself admit that they don’t care. It’s not even about not starting a war, which Conquest would do himself sooner or later. It’s about enjoying the fruits of a situation where an easily-diverted tyrant is given control of a major metropolitan area, while turning a blind eye to the pitfalls. And when the people in said pitfalls have the audacity to complain, well then, we just need to teach them a lesson, don’t we?

        Myopic bag of conjurors.

  3. Now they must play … the most dangerous game!

    Alright, I know the Blakeguard is the most accepted term for this new cabal that Blake is creating, but now that Fell and Maggie are joining the festivities I think we should call it differently, if only because this cabal just got 200% mor snarky.

    Something like the Thornguard? Knights of Thorns? the least dangerous cabal?

    To be honest I expected more explosions, but this is way better. Oh yes. Soon Toronto will be involved in a terrible paranormal storm, with repercusions so dire that Rob Ford will be elected mayor of the city.

    And I’m calling it now, BlakexFell forever. The birth of the most toxic friendship.

  4. Can Rob Ford getting knocked on his ass/possessed by one of the Shepherd’s ghosts/devoured by the Eye please be a thing in the next chapters?

    1. Um, I don’t think Wildbow would involve real current people in the story. It kind of makes the whole thing dated.

      1. I’m pretty sure Rob Ford refers to Conquest. A nickname given back in that magical time when Blake hadn’t practically bled himself dry and Pencil Monkey was still with us. As we find out more about the Toronto players, i’m thinking Rob Ford would more accurately be the Drunk.

        Also, I don’t think Pact needs to worry about dating itself with old references. Pact doesn’t take place “now” like some stories do. It is firmly January 2014 in the Pactverse.

        1. Sure its set in time, but in 5-10 years, nobody is probably going to remember Rob Ford (ok, that’s not true, but most people will have to look him up, especially younger people)

          1. I just mean like a scene: “Blake stumbled back, swinging June, and the hatchet passed through a fuzzy shadow – someone on the mortal side. They fell back, dropping a handful of white powder – cocaine?”

        2. Still no sign if him. ah darn. I miss his art stuff. I think maybe he thought he was superfluous when PG returned to us?

    1. And the book itself alongside it. He’s able to fulfill the lawyer’s task once again.

      Probably won’t have any time to do it though…

  5. Poor, poor Maggie.

    Seriously. All she did was murder one person, and now to make amends she has to fight a war with the Lord of a city! Totally…actually, now that I think about it, that’s totally fair. She’ll probably think that, too, which is why she’ll join up, hating herself for her dratted conscience!

      1. Ohh, I forgot about Maggie’s little bargain there. I wonder how that would play out, if they decided to pop up right in the middle of C & B’s game. Or maybe the game itself will qualify, what with the Eye running amok?

      2. Oh yeah, if Fell looks like his brother enough, or if Fell can see the connexion, that’s going to be aaaaaawkward.

        1. Oh man, I totally didn’t realize what negadarkwing was referring to until you wrote this. Haha, awkward indeed..

  6. Oh, Blake Blake Blake, don’t you know? Never assume that no one else knows your cunning deductions. Of course Conquest would be a figurehead. In hindsight, what else could he be, if people aren’t even bothering to show up to his meetings. He has no real effect on their lives, besides being that convenient scapegoat + protector.

    I think Fell is wrong, though, there is one person in town that would be just giddy over the prospect of replacing conquest. Why, he might even throw a party in honor of Blake, where the wine will never stop flowing…

    1. Huh, so Blake makes enemies of all of Toronto by going after a BBEG, except for the one person who really, really hated him before. Huh.

      1. Except he’s liable to stab Blake in the back afterwards. If anything I’d stash the toxic ghost in a wine bottle in his collection so when one of his men opens it up they get dosed in the fumes.

        1. Too bad that Jeremy has that promise that Blake won’t return to Jacob’s Bell. He’s defitily playing people here. Well I for one welcome Toronto’s new party town. Even if Jeremy should have paid a little more attention to how his god was born.

        2. I wouldn’t be surprised if the High Drunk were immune to it. Might not even give him a buzz.

          … or maybe it will give him a buzz, and he’ll end up liking it because of that.

    2. Except that he promised to keep him from going back to Jacob’s Bell. Given that Blake’s own oaths compel him to return, this puts them in inevitable conflict.

        1. In the most half-assed definition for “see to it”, he could give orders to his underlings to keep him from going back.

          Then, if Blake ever wipes them all, he’s free to go back. Meath ‘saw to it’, but it kinda failed. Like his marriage.

        2. He will see to it. He’ll see to it that Blake goes back. It’s like asking a friend to watch your donut and they say, “Sure” when they really mean, “Sure, I’ll watch it go into my mouth.”

  7. It seems Evan may be having a little issue with Blake reclaiming the Hyena. I guess I would be bitter too if my partner chose a new ally who had already indirectly killed me.

    1. Yeah, to resurrect a metaphor from the depths of Blake’s disdain, the honeymoon period has come to an end. Now comes having to live with one another for the rest of their lives!

      Eh, no friendship is without some stones in the road.

    2. No surprise, really. Blake says they’re going to put the scary monsters away forever, and now here he is about to take it back out. It’s like, are we really putting these things away or are we just stuffing them into some weapons locker for later use?

      1. “I’m going to try my damndest to stop them. To catch them or kill them.” (5.03)

        Nothing about forever there, and plenty of room for using them later 😛

        Interesting thought: could Blake bind the Hyena more firmly–which he really is going to have to do before he could use it anyway–and then literally use it to death, the way that he almost did with June? Or would it gain enough power, presumably from the maiming that it would do, in order not to gutter out? Because that sounds like a fantastic way to get rid of the nasties, by sealing them up so that the taint can’t escape and then using them until they just fade away.

        1. Hmm, I like the idea, but I think that might just be a quirk about ghosts. Ghosts not only have within them a power reducing memory, (their death) but are kind of like batteries anyway, in that the impression left fades over time and with interaction. I’d imagine that while Others in general have personal power that can be drained, like humans they don’t simply start disappearing when it gets low.

          Hmm, on second thought, Blake is disappearing as his power and presence drains… but he was also giving of himself to Rose, so we don’t know if that’s typical of having used up most of your power, or whether that’s the kind of thing you can force a being to give when binding them. Also, I have to wonder if the Hyena-ness would get transferred out to the world in some way, kind of like Pauz’s radiation. It’s basically their presence, and if it’s completely sealed I don’t see how they can be losing it. I guess I don’t really know, but I’m going to treat Blake’s condition as atypical of power usage, and not the kind of thing you can (at least easily) force an Other to do.

  8. But Fell is wrong… At least at some point in the past, the High Drunk was very much not on board on the “Conquest as a figurehead” idea. So if he’s still interested in making a power play for being Lord of the city (I’m assuming he has a plan re: assassination, or the Duchamp would not have selected him), he may very well end up rooting for Blake.

    On the other hand, he said to Conquest he’d sit this one out and promised a minor favor, and he said to Sandra he’d “see to it” regarding Blake not coming back, and he also appears to simply hate Blake.

    So I guess he just has a lot of incentive to make sure both players loose. Isadora’s prediction may very well turn out to be true.

    1. he said he would sit out Conquest taking blake. he may be able to bend the rules here, as this is something new.

    2. Also, and maybe this is just wishful thinking, the Drunk would probably be a better Lord of Toronto than Conquest… and Sandra might be won over to Blake’s camp in the process, especially with Laird’s help in spiking things.

    3. My money says that Meath never wanted to take down Conquest, he just strung the Duchamps along so that he could have a steady lay that didn’t look like jailbait. Go back to the Histories, he never said anything suggesting what HE wanted regarding Conquest and the Lordship of Toronto.

      1. Sandra certainly doesn’t seem to think he wanted her for her body, saying that it’s not how she contributed to their relationship, since how could she compare?

  9. Using the factory as a battleground to fight against the Eye could be profitable if risky with ErasUrr as an environmental hazard. Using the Hyena as bait for the Shepard can also work, the chain Duncan lost can also be used to taunt Laird. Evan can be used to mock the Elder Sister by Naming her a Coward 3 times until she proves herself otherwise.

      1. Well, if Ursula’s killed, that’s kind of a win/win for Blake, whether or not it actually helps him fight the Eye. I’m pretty sure he swore to kill it at some point, and if not, it would put him in very good graces with the Knights.

        1. Only a true win/win if they mutually kill one another. No more fire incarnate and no more abstract demon. Two threats down, a promise fulfilled, and many lost souls avenged through flames that snuffed themselves out afterwards.

        2. Potential problem: Killing the abstract demon might interfere with Blake’s promise to try binding it for Conquest. Risking a power drain in the middle of a big fight might not be worth it.

          1. His end of the bargain was to bind it by tonight, and he “strove to do his best” to fulfill it. I don’t think he has anything forcing him to confront it again; I think he merely expressed an interest in doing so.

  10. Also, I will never get tired of Fell forgetting that Blake doesn’t have a cell phone. Such a barbarian, Blake.

    I like to think that he’s deliberately forgotten that Blake doesn’t have one, just because the absurdity offends him.

    1. “Just because it’s easier for him to assume that Blake is doing things to him from malice rather than lack of support” maybe applies too. Karma?

        1. He could still have mentioned not having one because he never had one because it got erased. IMO, the “I don’t know” is a big clue.

          1. ErasUrr doesn’t erase things from existence, it erases the memory of things. Anything he said in regards to a phone he might have owned would still have happened, and any time he used this possible phone would still have happened. He just wouldn’t remember doing so.

            1. I don’t think that’s been completely established that EraseUr only erases memories. The girl fell through the cracks in the universe because her parents were eaten by it. It it were only memories I would expect her to have just assumed she were an orphan. She still had other ties, her boyfriend, and the other knights, etc. I believe she fell through because EraseUr rid them from existence.

              The only evidence I’ve seen people state to conclude that it only erases the memory of eaten things is that the fire did not go away when the lighter was eaten. This is not good evidence though as it’s entirely possible that EraseUr is simply weak against fire and unable to eat it, given how it took massive damage for even getting close to it, shedding mountains of flesh to try and snuff out even a little.

            2. If it obliterated the goblins, kept them from ever existing, then how did it use their blood to obscure the windows?

            3. No, no, you’re not paying enough attention to what I’m saying.

              There’s a reason that I added “kept them from ever existing” in my question. If you want to say that ErasUr utterly destroys what it eats, then that’s one thing, and we can discuss that.

              But if we’re talking about retroactively keeping things from ever existing once they are consumed, then it doesn’t make sense to not eat their blood, because what the hell would the blood have come from, if there never were any goblins in the first place?

  11. Another reason to read pact:

    “We, the people at this table, just have to get past the coven of elementalists, the time travelers, the ghostmonger, the astrologer, and a flaming force of nature that could theoretically bring mortal Toronto to its knees,” Fell said.

    “Exactly,”

    I look forward to seeing how the next few chapters/arcs go.

        1. And on top of that, he gets to be snarky about it because he has “allies”, unlike that looser of a brother who got himself killed on a solo mission.

  12. It must really be nice having the ability to just make a Dark World copy of the real world to duke it out whit someone, no holds barred, and avoid burninating a bunch of Muggles. I guess the cape damage insurances from Worm don’t operate in Pactverse… :p

  13. Never let it be said that Blake picks even fights. He apparently doesn’t like it unless the deck is completely stacked against him. I guess it feels normal when he is trying to hold back a tidal wave with an umbrella.

    So, last chapter I commented that Blake’s attack on Conquest was ridiculous given the imbalance of forces, but this is even more so. Sigh. Really Blake, what were you thinking!?

    And Fell called it in describing Blake as fire in a previous chapter.

    And who would take Conquest’s place? Isadora has complained about her mortality several times. The Drunk would be disastrous for Blake, perhaps worse than Conquest – Conquest just wanted to use Blake, but the Drunk wants Blake dead. Fell probably doesn’t have the personal power or want the position. Laird? The Shepherd? See commentary about Jeremy. Johannes? A complete unknown?

    1. Blake himself, obviously. He’s got lots of experience in having a lot of people who want to assassinate him.
      It wouldn’t even be that different from Conquest: most of his power relies on boasting and hoping his opponents don’t find the weakness in his plans, everybody hates him but is also scared of what he might accomplish…

      1. Yeah, a diabolist in charge of Toronto. War with Montreal, here we come! (Based on what was said this chapter about Montreal.)

      2. And with all the Shit that comes with the job, all the challengers out to destroy him, the fact almost everyone in town hates him, and the fact he’s so tied to Jacob’s Bell… It would be the shittiest reward Karma could possibly give him for winning in this situation

        Jeremy doesn’t want Blake dead per se. He just needs to make sure that Blake never returns to Jacob’s Bell. The problem is that this would probably get Blake rendered Forsworn or something, and get him killed.

        1. And so Blake becomes the new Lord of Toronto by right of Conquest… inadvertent though it may be.

          And then the Lairds decide just letting him run around is probably a really bad idea, so they go all out in trying to kill him dead.

          Yikes.

    2. The only obvious answer to who should take over for Conquest would be Blake himself. Nick has already said that Blake has more experience than most practitioners with conflicts, he has a familiar that is perfect protecting against assassins, and by becoming Lord of Toronto, the godzilla threshold would naturally be advanced. Also, it would make it more likely that Blake ends up being the ultimate big bad. Also also, the lord of Toronto being laid low by someone who was once homeless there would probably severely weaken Conquest, meaning that we could see some progress on the Ur-Conquest front.
      That said, I wonder if an incarnation can be changed from one to another? Liberty might make a good Lord for the city, while Revolution might have a chance at changing the Diabolists’ fate.

      1. That would happen if the idea of liberty was one strong enough to gain sway over most of the city. Incarnations are ideas made real, but belief is central to their formation, so the entire city would have to follow the tenets of liberty. However, it does make me wonder, would Philadelphia have Liberty as its lord due to the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Such an important and well remembered document would surely have weight, by the sheer number of people that care about it. If Liberty is an incarnation, it would be strongest in America, a country that still believes itself to be the pinnacle of the “free world”

    3. Fell, maybe. Not exactly powerful, but he’s got the experience and it feels Karmically appropriate for the slave to become the master.

  14. OK. Another possibility.

    Subordination

    Blake and Conquest each have champions in this contest. They each require the subordination of their respective champions. Each has at least one champion who is not loyal to him.

    Now for wilder speculation: Blake will have to get the extended Blakeguard (now including Fell, maybe what’s left of the Knights and hopefully Maggie) to recognize him as their leader and be in subordination to him. I wonder how much of the extended Blakeguard will be left by the end of the challenge. Will any of the extended members stay with Blake?

  15. Well, this sucks for him. He can’t win for losing, but quite frankly all I’m hearing is that they were chickens in letting Conquest reign rather that manning up and protecting the domain. They let those who weren’t aware be enslaved.

    Let’s be real here, the real threat is Laird and his connections to the Duchamps, and maybe the Eye. The Sheperd? Hyena. The Elementalist? June. The Astrologer? Fell can probably take her if he wants to keep his freedom.

    Need more allies, call up Briar Girl and make her work for that land with some undead. Didn’t she say they were balanced? There you go. On another note, Maggie gets a pet Hyena with a chain collar wreathed in Ivy and if worse comes to worse and we go the nuclear option…well, he knows how to reach the Lawyers.

    And this is all Sandra Duchamps fault in the first place for telling The High Drunk about Blake in the first place.

    1. …Damn, you’re right. Sandra totally set this all in motion when she called Jeremy up. She was married to him for what, a decade? Two? She had to know what he’d do. So all of this is part of her scheme. How do the Behaims fit in? Why send Duncan to stop what she started? Is there discord, disunity, in the alliance? Does one hand not know what the other is doing?

      I have to admit, though, she makes a pretty great big bad if she is. A world-spanning family of enchanters with enough connections to bring down hell on anyone’s head, with her at their head?

      1. Just because she set it in motion doesn’t mean she planned for everything. She asked for Jeremy to stop a dude from coming back. That made Jeremy ferret out exactly who this Blake fellow was, possibly in order to make sure and perhaps to turn any potential allies against him.

        I doubt he knew what Conquest would do, partly because I don’t think he knew that Blake was a diabolist. Sandra said “You’ll know him when you see him,” which presumably she wouldn’t say if she went was going to give more information about him.

        1. Either way, the chain of blame leads back up to her because of her family feud with his. If Karma is involved in this then all the mistakes made can take a hit out of her.

          1. I agree with that, though with the caveat that I think how much bad karma she gets depends on how much she should/could have forseen, based on 2.4, when speaking of executions:

            If they offer you a chance to speak for yourself and you don’t, they would face little backlash.

            Based on that and the general “feel” I get for how magic works in Pact, I think you get bad karma for your actions basically in proportion to how much people would blame you if they knew all of the details (or perhaps exactly proportional to how much people would blame you using a blend of mostly archaic moral systems)

    2. Unfortunately for Blake, all of these potential measures have some counterbalance attached to them. Loose the Hyena or give it to Maggie, and Blake risks losing Evan’s trust (or having him leave outright). He doesn’t have June on hand, so he’d have to go pick her up at some point to make use of her. Injure the Astrologer too much, and he might lose a potential renegade ally. The lawyers are very unlikely to give Blake any more assistance until he finishes reading that book… which is currently housing Pauz. And letting Pauz out will almost certainly piss Isadora off.

      Blake has an awful lot of powerful options on hand, but it’ll cost him dearly.

      1. I don’t think it’s physically possible for Evan to leave Blake, judging from the first Gathered Pages. Lost of trust, though, seems entirely possible. And that’s a good point re: giving it to Maggie, I hadn’t considered that.

        I’m not sure that I agree with you about the lawyers…after all, the driver did say:

        “There’s no particular rush to finish the book. I believe the threat of a deal ignored and the impact to your karmic balance is enough incentive to follow through.” (4.01)

        Still, some good points here.

  16. “For my third, I take the elder Behaim. He owes me a service for my mercy in regards to his nephew.”
    You know Conquest, you don’t really need to call in that favor. Fucking with Blake is apparently Laird’s sole hobby, he’d do that for free. You could probably even charge him for the privilege of getting to kick the shit out of Blake.

    1. It would have been so amusing if Blake had chosen Laird.

      Suicidal, but the look on Laird’s face would have been almost worth it.

  17. So… lemme see.

    Announcements.

    If you live in the US, please pay attention to the Net Neutrality thing. This is important, and it’s the kind of important that impacts me and my writing and anything else you might do online. Maybe the impact wouldn’t be immediate, but any change to American policy is liable to have ripple effects that reach out across the web, as others follow suit or as American sites get affected and the rest of us feel the sting.

    Don’t know what I’m talking about? A video:

    Call your representative, email, visit in person, do whatever, but don’t make the mistake of thinking your voice doesn’t matter, because when we all think that, then we end up silent.

    Other stuff… I got another huge, generous donation, bigger than any one yet, courtesy of Sean and Catherine. Adding up the donations from patreon & the latter half of April, I don’t think you need to worry about Thursday chapters for a while. I’m going to try to get one out every week until I’m caught up, including this week. If I’m still falling behind, (Like, say, if the backlog hits 7-8 chapters) I may increase the amount to stay sane.

    The only time I might take a break from the Thursday chapters would be in ~2 months. My brother’s getting married, it’s a destination wedding, and I’ve got stuff to do to pull my weight, family-wise. The Tuesday and Saturday chapters would continue unabated. I’m thinking I might write something in the way of a side story. Maybe a Maggie Holt arc or two? Something I can do in advance without losing my stride.

    Thanks for the support, and don’t ignore that net neutrality thing. Pretty please. Spread the word and apply the pressure. I like the internet as is.

    1. Hey I just wanted to pop in and thank your for talking about net neutrality. It makes me very happy to see people with a platform to talk about it from making the situation known.

    2. I do, in fact, like the internet. I use it for work, video, games and Pact. I would like the internet to improve, not go backwards.

      A Maggie Holt Arc would be awesome. Would this take place alongside Pact, in the past, or an alternate universe?

            1. Don’t be silly. She’s the new Doctor.

              …Not like that! She’s just… His successor. Nothing to do with his regeneration abilities. Impressive though his biological imitation of the Melusine mech may be, it has limits, and it would require something going seriously wrong to give him a body too far from his original.

    3. Hurray for more Thursdays! The wait between Tusedays and Saturdays is too long without some middle of the week Pact goodness.

    4. You do realize you might actually have to be political about this later right?

      I wholly support net neutrality, but it’ll be frustrating if people say “Pay attention to this issue IT‘S SUPER IMPORTANT!” and then don’t have a voter’s guide or action plan to tell people what to do with that attention.

      I really hope that, come November, we’ll see the collective citizens of the internet actually making it known to voters which people to vote for if they care about net neutrality.

      1. Why wait?
        a quick Google suggests that you can get involved now:
        Letter writing campaigns:
        http://www.commoncause.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=1408869

        http://act2.freepress.net/letter/two_million/

        For more info, check out this very in depth article: http://www.androidcentral.com/net-neutrality-worth-fighting
        the TLDR: “If you want to express your desire for a free and open internet, there is something you can do: tell the FCC (http://www.fcc.gov/contact-us).”

        Good Luck!

        1. Spreading the word could help. Also, you could perhaps help net neutrality in your own country. Many in the international community have already enforced at least a basic level of net neutrality; you can check an overview of various country’s laws here:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_neutrality#Legal_situation
          If your country hasn’t adopted net neutrality, it couldn’t hurt to let your legislative body know you support it.

    5. The YouTube link is to a playlist. I love CGP Grey and agree that all his videos need to be spread, but maybe you’d like to fix that youtube link? Because net neutrality is still important and may be an actual issue again.

  18. “There isn’t anyone here, Pauz and the Hyena excepted, who I don’t either deeply respect or feel very fond of. Really.”

    Fell included? Really? That must be… interesting news to Fell.

    1. I think I’m starting to come on board with the idea that the bastard man Blake is going to marry will be Fell. He rescued him from bondage! How romantic!

      1. Yup. Fell ” I didn’t ask for a rescue attempt.” The girl that hone of his forebears spoke to, “I never asked for your help.” Yes?

    2. Yeah, I’m not terribly surprised he respects Fell. I also agree it’s probably news to Fell. I think that statement could potentially help Fell’s opinion of Blake and willingness to help, and thus Blake’s chances of not dying horribly in the next 24 hours.

  19. “Perhaps it will be me again. Perhaps no. But you will experience blood and darkness and fire, like you experienced it here. If you agree, it will be so.””

    can’t burn down Jacob’s Bell yet… but Toronto seems fair game

    uh-oh

    1. In the Wormverse, Toronto’s little war game would draw the likes of Slaughterhouse Nine or the Endbringers. It’d be interesting to see Pactverse pull some big players too.

      In particular, I really want to see an example of some upstanding practitioners that can see past Blake’s label of diabolist. Legend, Chevalier, something of that ilk.

      Or who knows, maybe even another diabolist. Others surely exist, and they might be curious about who replaced the rather notorious elder Thorburn.

      1. In other words, the escalation in conflict is going to only get worse. It’s interesting, because I’m already wondering at the mechanics of the world. We learn about the source of power in Worm, and there’s a vague idea of “Others” in this, but where do Others come from?

        What I’ve gathered is that they’re from another dimension that was partially sealed off. Demons and the like can only interact within strict parameters. But that meant someone had to figure out how to force them to only act within specific parameters. You don’t just come up with the perfect plan the first time around, so someone had to experiment with this. I wonder if we’ll ever see what came to pass and how it came to pass.

        1. Do you not believe that they could have originated here because it would have been very difficult for humans to have developed the way that we have with the monsters preying on us continually?

          1. My naive opinion? No. Have 20 abstract demons running around and you have entire towns being wiped out. That’s not really accounting for infighting between Others, but there are creatures like the one that brings down/puts up stars. I’m going to hope that means small meteors, not real stars… but even then, get a couple of those things fighting, and the fallout would look closer to an extinction event.

            1. It’s not naive to me; that’s the biggest reason I typically do the same when I plot stories. I just wasn’t sure that such applied to this story.

              Just curious =)

  20. Oh, he’s called in Maggie. And there is at least one major goblin involved, and the element of fire twice on the opposite side (The Eye and the Elder Sister). Looks like round two of Maggie’s “blood and darkness and fire” just might be starting.

    And Evan was complaining about how Blake’s friends understood what Blake did but were still pissed at him. The shoe is on the other foot now, isn’t it? Evan may understand why Blake picked the Hyena, but he certainly isn’t happy about it.

  21. I’m personally hoping that Fell gets to be lord of the city. His family has probably earned the right. He also knows all of conquests duties, so he could technically do the job.

        1. There’s a gigantic difference between “doesn’t want power so is less likely to abuse it” and “hates all of this crap and wants nothing to do with it, and so is likely to neglect his duties.”

  22. Hehehe…hahaha BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Feel free to imagine some lightning and thunder there.

    Blake does have one ally, one person who is willing to take Conquest’s job. I’m talking about the man with the golden liver. Ladies and gentlemen, the Dionysian!

    Also, I suggest summoning a certain other demon. No, not the one you’re thinking of. I mean something like this fellow.

  23. Blake still needs to go to the police station in the morning. That’s gonna open him up to some more attacks.

    1. Sincerely hoping that if he can win this, the next morning will be a refreshing one.

      Can you imagine it?

      After all this trauma, just a normal police station interview, a warning, but no extended drama or paranormal influences. It’d be almost a break for Mr. Thorburn.

      Of course, unlikely to happen. Wildblow metes out casual slice-of-life about as often as hurricanes hit Arizona.

    2. I think the Behaims may just shut the fuck up about that. Karma’s biting them in the ass, and any more waves might not go well for them.

    3. The match starts out in minutes and Laird is around. I don’t think we’ll get to see ‘next morning’ anytime soon.

  24. So… Blake now has a pet demon? I mean seriously? He has an obedient demon! He could make it someone’s familiar! Rose’s familiar for example.

    On that note let’s see here, since this is basically Pokemon its all about picking attacks that go against weaknesses.
    Shepherd – basically Hyena food. Also Pauz could probably start a rebellion. Plus he could probably flow right into any damaged spirits, especially once the Hyena got to them. As Fizz would say “FEEDING TIME!”
    Eye of the Storm – Sort of a problem. June if she can somehow get stronger maybe. And isn’t he a spirit? Maybe the Hyena can eat it.
    Sister of Flame – meh, I don’t think she would handle a concerted animal attack particularly well. Pauz her.
    Astrologer – So basically Conquest promised not to use any power, and she hates him. Umm… yeah, I don’t think Blake needs to do much of anything against her.
    Laird – The only thing the Behaims have done is fail hilariously at Blake. The time moat was cool, but really he should have gotten out of the house long before hand. You forced Blake to do what he should have long ago. Plus Blake just won a super victory over Laird. He’ll probably charge the Stonehenge charm or something.

    Now we just need to get Conquest to surrender – I bet poking him repeatedly with the demon arm would work. Okay, it wouldn’t convince him to do anything, but it might kill him.

    1. I like how he basically told Pauz, “do what I say or I leave you the fuck here” and Pauz has to comply. So different from their first interaction.

    2. Flames vs Animals goes about as well as June vs Animals. Instinct tells them to run from the source of it. No, it’s possible to smother the flame spirits by stripping away air, drowning them in water, or Blake getting June back somehow.

      The Sisters already admitted they were too weak to take on the Abstract Demon and they had a type advantage. Elder Sister has been made apparent that she doesn’t have much in the way of courage unless in numbers, like with Isadora present. The worse they can do is box them in with the flames and burn away their oxygen supply if the flames can’t reach them. If they can summon flame spirits but not control them the wind can turn it against them, but it’d be stupid of them not to be able to treat or render themselves immune to burns…

    3. … Erasing the memory of Conquest? That sounds like it could go wrong in all sorts of interesting ways. So, naturally, it’s what is most likely going to happen.

      I can’t imagine actually using the thing, though. You can’t look at it or it might end up stuck in your eye, touching it is probably not good for you, and if you do manage to successfully sever something you might not even remember doing it. It’s gotta be the least practical weapon in existence.

      1. I don’t think the memory of anyone will be erased that already hasn’t been. We weren’t shown Blake’s 3 allies before they were erased. So we shouldn’t have seen Conquest if he is going to be erased.

        I guess Wildbow might go for stylistic inconsistency. But that’s a maybe at best.

  25. The High Drunk does want the city for his God. The reason he was an ass against Blake was because of Sandra Duchamp.

    So Conquest was already weaker than he looks. Do the following actions make him weaker?

    • Blake taking control of Rose again
    • Blake releasing Fell for a few days
    • Ty and Alexis walking into Conquest’s space and walking out without getting put under Conquest’s control
    • Behaims not getting put under Conquest’s control despite entering his space

    His whole thing is subjugation, and those actions go against his nature.

    Ultimately the Hyena is the most important piece that Blake got.

  26. “When I’ve won the contest, I can demand what I want of you.”

    Uh-oh. That wasn’t if Conquest won. That was if anyone won the game.

    1. Except that Pauz burst free before Blake could agree to that condition, and Conquest had previously stated that they would be done before Pauz broke free…

      Hm. Might need a lawyer to sort that tangle out. Is Blake now bound to submit to Conquest’s demands? Or is his earlier suggestion about forfeiting his power over those not under his control-but Conquest abided by that one when he freed Rose and Fell.

    2. Demand: (v) ask authoritatively or brusquely.

      Its still a request. Doesnt mean Blake has to agree. He wont have much authority if he loses.

    3. “When I’ve won”

      He very clearly indicates that it only applies when “I” (Conquest) wins. He just indicates that such a thing is inevitable by using when rather than if.

      1. Wait. When that was posted, it said “When the contest is one.”

        Wildbow, have you been stealth-editing the comments section again? Sneaky author.

        1. Ha, I saw that too, but didn’t notice it on my second read-through, so I thought I might’ve imagined it.

    4. I think it’s more important to note that Blake did not get a chance to name what he wins if he wins. He was interrupted by Pauz popping out.

      1. Agreed, I noticed that and am more than a little worried Blake will win and get little out of it. Of course, right now that’s not nearly as pressing a concern as not dying or losing the contest.

    5. “When I’ve won the contest…”
      Unless you’re using a different definition of “I” than anyone else, that’s definitely only if Conquest wins.

      And yeah, Blake didn’t agree. Might as well try an xckd-style EULA to force Conquest to commit seppukku.

  27. I see many coming up with 1v1 scenarios and planned fights. Blake sending his champions to fight the enemy champions with the corresponding weaknesses. However, the enemies will also strategize, and it is more than likely that multiple champions will be involved in a fight and said fights will not go as planned for either side. There is also the fact that Conquest’s champions have multiple allies; the Elder Sister alone might not put much of a fight, but her covenant can.

    “If you think actions matter more than words, you may not be paying attention,” Fell said. “Words are very important in our world.”

    You know, I really like Fell’s allusion to his family’s blood oath. Had his grandfather kept his mouth shut, Fell would be free (more reasonably, however, Fell wouldn’t exist, or someone else would have been born because the timeline would be different).


    (Comment about two chapters ago)

    Before, I raised as an issue with how easily Blake accepted the whole magic business; he didn’t even question it. Two chapters ago, Blake wondered to himself the exact same thing, and he got reactions from his friends that seemed more reasonable and more in-line with the way a person would react. Glad to see Wildbow addressed the topic in the story, and I like to think it was because of my comment 😛 I do wonder if we will see an explanation for why Blake took in magic with a stride.

    1. Blake also had the dream where he saw the Jacob’s Bell players, then the reflection. Then the monster tried to kill him. All this before he even made the pact. He didnt really get any time to question it.

      1. He had time to question things when he got to the house, and… under those circumstances, given that I have my full cognitive capabilities, I would conclude I have snapped out and head into the mental clinic (and get myself killed on the way there by monsters). I guess it is reasonable that someone else could be far, far more willing to accept the supernatural, but unless Blake was a wacko, I would expect a bigger shock 😛

        1. I feel like stylistically, it was just omitted because it would have been irritating to read about a character who keeps going through stages of disbelief.

          More to the point, did Blake ever have time to be shocked? He’s been kind of in a limited form of fight-or-flight ever since this whole ordeal started, and it doesn’t help that Molly died.

          It was strongly implied that Molly was a lot more shocked/uneasy about magic, and I think subconsciously Blake realized he needed to act differently to survive. Once the lawyer told him that his confidence and ability to perform magic actually scaled up the strength of his magic, it gave him even more of a reason to shove any anxiety/thoughts into the back of his mind.

    2. 1-on-1, screw that. That’s for fair fights. If you’re in a fair fight you’ve done something wrong.

      This is war and he wants to win. Conquest might can have others on the field but he can’t expect them to work well with one another. Blake should try that divide and conquer thing again.

    3. I dunno, if my reflection turned female and then broke my mirror from the inside, after a bunch of dreams about magic and one dream that broke the fourth wall, I’d call that magic confirmed and try to act as appropriately as I could.

  28. Could a smart Fell use this as his way to escape? We know that Conquest only has power over a limited range, and Fell is completely free for now. Could Fell catch the next airplane to… New Zealand and finally be free?

    I guess the problem with this is that, even if Conquest’s range is limited, he could spend (a lot of) his energy to pull Fell back. Or maybe the bond between Fell and Conquest would be too weak to be recreated?

    1. I think Conquest could also go : “hey Fell, I hope you’re enjoying your vacation in New Zealand. By the way here’s a video of me torturing your niece and your mother to inches of their lives. When are you coming back?”

      1. Conquest is very technologically knowledgeable then. Hm. How would Conquest conquest the Internet? Also, I wonder if there are internet spirits.

        That’s a good point, though. Couldn’t Fell also take them, though?

  29. Conquest knows, on some level, or at least suspects, that he’s a figurehead and that’s why they let him stay. He may have ambitions to be bigger, but he still knows how to play them so they don’t turn on him before he’s ready.

    Hence why he didn’t take either of the things Blake brought. He knows the balance will be upset by him adding too much power, and although that might be his eventual aim, by leaving Blake stuck with the ugly evil tools it makes people think of them as Blake’s, not conquests’s, and keeps them motivated to maintain the status quo.

    1. I didn’t consider that. However, if Conquest wins this fight, he’s not going to be a figurehead anymore. It’s now in nobody’s best interests to let Conquest win, no matter how badly they wish Blake had died back in his grandma’s house.

      1. It’s hard to gauge how strong OR smart Conquest is. He could be really good at maneuvering, but as Blake said, it might be because he just maneuvers to balance the multiple facades he has got going on.

        Or, as Fell said, the community is fine with Conquest staying in power. They might have even helped nudge his maneuvering in the past. He openly admits that they have manipulated Conquest before, in slight ways.

        I’d really prefer Conquest to be a fool rather than someone who is really good at maintaining balance. It gives Blake a chance to be a better Lord than him (or whoever replaces him to be a better Lord) and smooth some of his messes out.

        1. It doesn’t matter if he was a fool before, when Blake showed up that ended with the promise of power and Rose. It also make it clear why they were neglecting those three ‘minor’ threats…besides cowardice and survival instincts. Nobody wanted him to get them and he clearly can’t go out and get them himself. If a couple of dozens of innocent people went through hell because of it, oh well that’s the price of balance…

      2. I’m not sure that I follow your reasoning here. Why would C-word not be a figurehead if he wins this challenge? I would imagine that what he would demand of Blake would be what he took from Canfield (after lots and lots of C-word’s oh-so-beloved torture, of course), and from that one scene alone we know that it’s not a game-changer. Not to mention C-word’s comments in this chapter about being able to go against his nature due to having resources other C-words didn’t.

  30. God, I hope Fell and Blake get married. Fell meets Grandma Rosanne’s requirements perfectly (an utter bastard) and also their interactions are hilarious. Looking forward to the fighting!

    1. That would be hilarious. However, what would the situation be between Fell and Rose? Would the Thornburn line then have new blood by mirror children being born?

      1. I suppose Blake might name Ivy his succesor, and maybe, like, take her in every summer and teach her the family Craft.

        1. He has a niece, but we’ve seen no evidence of a wife. If I had to guess, he’s delaying getting married as long as he can in the hopes that he’ll die somehow before he has to have children to be enslaved.

    2. Not to mention the fact that Blake would be marrying into the Duchamp family thanks to Blake’s mother’s bloodline.

      1. I’m thinking the Sisters of the Torch are not Duchamps, and that Fell’s mother is part of the Sisters of the Torch. The whole “working will be broken by a male child” thing makes Fell pretty unlikely to be a Duchamp child.

        1. Maybe it Sandra meant that having male offspring would stop the Duchamp line for that branch of the family, and that’s why Sandra’s family would not let her have a baby boy.

          ““You know they won’t let me keep it. One boy, and the line is broken, the working unravels.”

          This means, that as long as the mother does not mind breaking with the Duchamp line and family, she can have a baby boy once the necessary preparations are done.

          1. It seems more serious than just her own line, based on her panic. Also, I would’ve assumed that Fell’s mother would’ve gotten a lot more information about Blake before he arrived. Furthermore, the Duchamps seem to make arranged marriages, and I really can’t see why they would choose Fell’s father for marriage. I really don’t think we have good reason to believe she’s a Duchamp, at least yet.

            1. There was no panic. Sandra bsimply would not leave her line, family, coven. Working under the hypothesis that ‘the line is broken, the working unravels’ means no more only girls in the line, Fell’s mother left the coven, had a marriage for love, had a boy, and broke the working for her descendants.

            2. Sandra didn’t seem particularly attached to her family at that point, though. She’d already left them behind and not really had all that much contact with them. She had no reason to care about ending her line anyway, since she didn’t even want children originally, and it’s doubtful she’d get any outside of her marriage to Jeremy. There’d be pretty much no downside, other than having been tricked.

  31. “I don’t need a rescue attempt,” Fell said.

    “You’re getting it anyway,” I told him.


    I really like the callback to the way Fell ended up under Conquest’s sway in the first place. I’m sure the spirits have noticed too — the big question is, does the parallel make it more likely that it’ll be how Fell escapes Conquest’s grasp, or more likely to screw Blake over by making the same mistake?

    1. It means Fell is marrying Blake.

      Er… ahem. I agree, it’s an awesome callback, but I think it’s twisted just enough that Fell will escape, maybe. Or end up being absorbed into Conquest. Either way…

  32. I’m kinda reminded of another challenge by another ‘invader’ of another city. Not to get too spoilerific or anything, but it does remind me of a certain situation in Worm. Only reversed in a way: in the first one, the challenger (a walking spoiler) has all of the advantages. In this one it’s the other way around.

    Just watch out for bugs, Blake, is all I’m saying.

  33. Thinking about the resources Blake currently have most of gave me an idea:-

    What Blake currently have most supernaturally is Bad Karma and it well and truly screws him over when things matter the most; What if Blake can screw over the other Toronto Powers and C’s champions by choosing the Battlegrounds for the Challenge in areas where horrors & things that go bump in the night (I.e. Pauz and the Hyena) were left unchecked because “they’re the Lord of Toronto’s’ problem” to bring everyone else’s Bad Karma to the fore?

  34. Battle feild command is new to Blake we have no reason to expect him to be an Ender Wiggin. He has two bound monster both of which people are forgetting will glady take advantage of any chance to fuck Blake over, especially if they think they can escape after. Example Blake can’t order Pauz back in the book if Pauz gets Blake killed.

    It’s fine and dandy to say that the hyena can take the shepard but Blake dsn’t have that lvl of control over it. It’s more like maggies paper goblins point it away from you and let it loose. After which it really won’t have any reason to listen to Blake.

    If anything is going to make the differance here my money is on the books rose is transporting, and even that seems like a long shot when they need to bind and or kill an army of humans and Others and they themselves are less then a dozen people most of whom are hoplessly out of there depth.

    I don’t doubt wildbows ability to find a reasonble and jaw dropping solution but I don’t believe for one second that it’ll be as easy as playing up type advantages. Besides which getting conquest to surrender, to admit defeat. It would be the inverse of his nature, not at all easy.

    1. Besides which getting conquest to surrender, to admit defeat. It would be the inverse of his nature, not at all easy.

      Strange, I seem to recall that Blake has a champion on his side who specializes in reversing natures.

      I agree that it won’t be easy for Blake. All of Conquest’s champions are either crazy powerful on their own or have their own followers.

      I don’t know how much of a problem Pauz and the Hyena would be. Pauz basically vowed obedience (but not necessarily loyalty) to Blake. He’s basically Blake’s Fell. The Hyena was scared into submission and bound itself for Blake. Does that mean it has to obey him? I know that it was a reluctant binding. Perhaps Blake should just use it as a sword or give it to Maggie.

      1. Huh, I hadn’t thought of that. Here’s hoping Blake uses that…

        Pauz and the Hyena are both more or less required to do as Blake asks. This doesn’t mean that they’ll do what he wants. This is why access to Grannie’s books and Maggie’s aid will be pretty darn important.

      2. A thought occurs: Blake’s two bound champions are basically walking wrenches, and can foil any carefully applied strategy just by existing whether or not they’re being directed. Rose can play mission control, Maggie has the raw numbers (and might be able to handle the Hyena for a short time), and Fell has access to both illusion and enchantment, making him a misdirection specialist. It’ll be close, but there’s a strategy in there somewhere. The only problems are getting Pauz and the Hyena locked away afterwards, getting Evan on board with the idea, and finding some way to keep Isadora from killing him when it’s all said and done.

    2. I’m thinking of an omake file where Ender Wiggin swaps universes with Blake now.

      It’d be interesting to imagine what a senior diabolist would do if placed in Blake’s shoes. Would they do worse because they were too cautious, or would their experience help them handle Conquest more deftly?

      Honestly, despite Blake’s bad karma and inexperience, he really does make up for it with his tactics and short-term improvising. Sure, he’s bullshitting half the time, but Rose just left to do some reading, and with her level-headedness added to the game I think he has some potential for leadership.

      Regarding the hyena – I see it as being a fairly intelligent (if conniving and brutal) hunter. Given the opportunity to understand its situation, I think it would help Blake out. Also, the Shepherd would be a super-tempting target.

      I mean, if you were a hunter who specialized in deer, and then I told you there was a guy whose mission it was to collect all deer in the world, you’d probably be tempted to go pay him a visit.

      If the Shepherd were flexible, and were willing to offer the hyena a share of the ghosts, I could see Blake losing control, but the Shepherd seems very set in his ways. In such a situation, point-and-shoot may be the simplest solution.

      Also in such a large contest, it’d be a strain on the reader if every single conflict were hugely difficult. Giving Blake an amusingly easy win amidst a bunch of hard-fought wins/losses would give the pacing a nicer texture. 😛

      1. Would there be an 8-year-old Blake in Battle School and a nineteen-year-old Ender dealing with demons? Because I can’t see it being interesting otherwise. (I can’t imagine that working out well for either. Blake isn’t suited to Battle School, and Ender…well, demons.)

        You don’t get to be an experienced diabolist without learning when to be cautious and when to be aggressive. The real question is what costs they’d incur in doing so.

        The Hyena probably doesn’t want to help Blake. I’m pretty sure it’s required to help some by its binding, and pitting it against the shepherd would be a brilliant thing to do in a pinch. (Until then…well, Blake’s closest companions are a ghost and a being who’s basically an artificial ghost, so he’d be shooting himself in the foot by giving the Hyena more victims.)

    3. Blake is much more of a Miles Vorkosigan. Just bullshit and if that doesn’t work bullshit more until it works.

  35. The contest ends when either Blake or Conquest is killed by the other (or their champion) or admits defeat. Conquest is effectively immortal and doesn’t seem like the type to surrender ever. Fell and Rose are only free from Conquest during the duration of the contest.

    If Blake (or someone else) managed to bind Conquest, would the contest continue forever. If so, that may be the way to truly free Fell and his family. Just bind Conquest and leave him in a ring forever.

    1. That or somehow getting C to have to attack The Drunk and his faction or go against his nature, leaving him forsworn or weakened.

      1. It’d be fine, I’m sure. Though you would need to find an active volcano in which to forge that one ring.

        1. And some engraving tools, of course. Can’t forget that the ring is meant for a spirit of Conquest, can we? Naw. What should we put on the ring to make it conquesty? You have any ideas? I was thinking something like: One ring to rule them all.

  36. “I still beat him. I couldn’t have been that useless,” I said.
    Burn.

    “Your concerns matter little to me. You are a diabolist, few would deny that. The diabolist’s circle is traditionally called a cabal.”
    I’d say it’s more accurate to say that a circle of diabolists is called a cabal. By my calculations, Blake’s circle has one diabolist. QED, not a cabal.
    Also, will Blake ever manage to get people to decide to stop calling him a diabolist? He’s stuck with the title because of his grandmother; hardly seems fair to force him to wear it for eternity.

    “If you don’t accept my offer for a contest, I’ll call you weak,” I said. “Not a coward, since you’ve promised to go after my allies if I call you that. And if you threaten to go after them again, I’ll call you something worse. Because something as strong as you’re supposed to be should be content with doing your worst to me and me alone.”
    Um…burn, I think? Playing with fire, buddy.

    “Neither of us are liked, so it effectively levels the playing field.”
    You can say that again…

    If we were kids in gym class, he was picking the power players, and I was picking the geeks.
    Better hope they’ve got…um…actually, I can’t think of any way geeks could prevail over jocks in gym class.
    Better hope they can go for the gate, I guess…

    “The Hyena is not yours to take,” Conquest said.
    “It’s not your place to stand in my way, by the terms of this contest,” I said.

    Very true, very true.

    “I name Maggie Holt,” I said.
    That was out-of-the-box…

    Alright. So it’s Conquest, the Eye, the Shepherd and his ghosts, Larid and the Behaims, the Astronomer, and the zealots versus Blake, Rose, Fell, the Hyena, Pauz, Maggie and her goblins, and possibly Evan depending on how familiars count.
    Conquest has three groups and one or two heavy hitters. Blake has a single group (which won’t be terribly helpful in the city), two heavy hitters, and inside info. He might also be able to get more help from Maggie if he lets her keep the Hyena, which is a nice long-term goal. Overall, though…yeah, this ain’t gonna be easy, even if Conquest doesn’t bend the rules.

    “All of you. Including your essence and power that you would cast out. I don’t want to carry a book that’s shedding your power.”
    He remained silent, glaring.
    I spread my arms.
    He sat down, and the book closed itself, the cord winding around the exterior, the same weird bondage-style knot around the black leather tome that I’d seen before.

    He never agreed.

    “I see. You not only sought to undermine me, but to unshackle that which belongs to me?”
    Oh come on, Conkers, you had to see this coming.
    Hey, guys, when we need to mock Conquest we should call him Conkers. It should drive him nuts.

    “Rest assured, Thorburn, when I take my victory, you’ll regret this contest of yours.”
    Is he honestly that confident/hubristic, or is he bluffing to try and intimidate Blake?

    Fell pushed open the door, and we didn’t pass into Toronto.
    Not exactly.
    We were in the spirit world that layered our own.


    Oh dear.

    “You’ve upset the balance.”
    “Things were stable, now they aren’t.”

    Yeah, what else is new?

    1. I’d say it’s more accurate to say that a circle of diabolists is called a cabal. By my calculations, Blake’s circle has one diabolist. QED, not a cabal.
      Also, will Blake ever manage to get people to decide to stop calling him a diabolist? He’s stuck with the title because of his grandmother; hardly seems fair to force him to wear it for eternity.

      I read it as “the circle belonging to the diabolist” is called a cabal. Since it’s Blake’s circle, it can rightfully be called a cabal.

      Also, it’s appropriate now for people to call Blake a diabolist now. He has now accepted that role and does deal with the diabolic. While it was just an inherited title 3 days ago, it’s a truthful title now. It’s best summed up be this interaction between Blake and Pauz:

      “Were you calling me diabolist, before this?”

      “No,” he said. He smiled. “Because you weren’t. But you are one now, hm?”

      1. Hm. Point…

        Still, if binding one imp makes you a diabolist-for-life, I’m surprised there aren’t more cabals.

        1. I think most practitioners are kind of like the Knights and mostly don’t interact with Others. Would you choose to try to bind a demon or devil if you weren’t forced into or completely and utterly screwed anyway?

          1. Assume for a moment that that’s true. What about folks like the Behaims who are a lot more into magic? Or, you know, just about anyone who needs to deal with demons? Wouldn’t evangelist groups be technically cabals?
            Now let’s consider that Jacob’s Bell doesn’t seem to have many low-key groups like the Knights…despite having a couple major circles, a line of local diabolists, etc.

    2. Given that the “gate” was a planet desintegraging energy feild I really, REALLY hope they don’t go for the Pact equivilant

      1. I was actually thinking more of the actual gate. Way to make me doubt that you’ve actually read the book.

        1. Hold up there cowboy i read my copy of enders game to peices! ender was my hero all through middle school. The battle room gate was just a gate. But the battle room was mostly a game, a combat simulator. The “real world” aplication of the tactic was to spoiler alert (unknowingly) throw away an entire fleet to exterminate the buggers, minus one queen.

          Blake is not in a combat exercise like the battle room. for all intent and purpose this is a war. If u want to call in the enemies gate is dwn strategy then u better keep the context in mind.

          1. “Enemy’s gate is down” is really just a callout to orient yourself based on your actual objective, rather than any preconceived notions. It doesn’t mean “sacrifice everything to kill all of your enemies”.

            1. No shit but it’s also what Bean said to remind ender of there last battle from their battle school days. Both times they use the same strategy. throw everything at the enemy. Take really heavy losses maybe even losing all your people and pray u win either on a technicality or because u have a planet destroying weapon.

              It’s a gamble, an all or nothing i have no other possible chance so lets at least go dwn fighting gamble.

            2. Well yes, both instances involved a gambit, but that’s because of their focus on the actual goal. I still don’t see “go for the gate” or “enemy’s gate is down” as translating into “sacrifice everyone in a last ditch stand”, except in situations where that’s all you can do to win.

          2. A few things to consider.

            1. It’s an analogy.
            2. Blake’s turned his situation into a game. A game where the outcome is deadly, but a game nontheless. After all, a real war isn’t nearly so heavily regulated.
            3. On the opposite note…”It stopped being a game when they threw away the rules.” –Andrew Wiggin
  37. You’d think Fell would be more grateful: he has the ability to kill himself on purpose now. There is no possibility whatsoever of Conquest getting his hooks into him again, so Fell’s family is completely free and clear, no matter what else happens.

    1. Heck, Fell could end this now.

      “You are hereby freed,” Conquest said. “Let it be known, what I have claimed, I will reclaim.”

      Just commit suicide and Big C is forsworn. Done and done. Would actually be poetic justice, too, since that’s essentially exactly what C did to Fell’s ancestor in the first place.

      1. But then Conquest could just have the Shepard bring Fell’s ghost/spirit to him and claim it that way. Also, I want Fell to stick around.

        1. Do it in a pile of salt. Then poor more salt on his corpse. That would be pretty damn funny.

          “Hey, hey Conquest, I name thee Forsworn! Also Pauz gank him.”

      2. Right…or he could kill Rose. That’s a whole lot of birds with one stone, especially if he does so by killing Blake, and comes with the bonus of being alive to taste the victory.

    2. Well, Fell doesn’t have to bind his family anymore if he kills himself, but that doesn’t mean that they’re free of Conquest. I think Fell’s bloodline itself is binded to Conquest. If nothing else, if Conquest wins he can probably exact his revenge on Fell’s family without (much) repercussion.

    3. More to the point, for the duration of this contest Fell can explain to his niece exactly why she shouldn’t take up magic. His entire family line could end up free, even if Blake loses this contest and Fell himself gets reclaimed.

  38. I’m really hoping that Blake’s solution to winning over the forces at work is to strike a deal with them- “If I win, and you help me win, I’ll be your next figure-head Lord of Toranto, and take the city as my demesnes to better fortify it’s safety”

    I know that having this much “good” happening to blake at once is dooming him on every level, but it would still be epic if it happened.

    1. Diabolist in charge of any large territory, figurehead or not, usually ends horribly. He won’t last five days before someone, or the High Drunk, decides to take him out.

      1. The perfect scapegoat. Plus, no one has to worry about the next Lord getting pissed for taking away their pet-diabolist.

  39. Well this is an interesting turn of events. Blake’s strategy here isn’t as good as he hoped, but he’s got very little choice – things aren’t all that different from how they’ve been to begin with. He has a store of knowledge he has to sort through to find useful information, he’s got less resources in other departments than his enemies do, people want him dead, and it seems hopeless to turn the more neutral factions to his side. Yup, just another Tuesday.

    Blake’s choice of champions are probably the best he could make. Get Rose safely back into his camp, take away a useful pawn that wants his freedom and knows the enemy, get the diabolic beings out of Conquest’s hands, and bring in a relatively unknown and therefore unpredictable piece. It’s high risk for high reward, but he doesn’t have much choice. Conquest’s choices are safer for the most part, but the last two choices are risky. The Astrologer was in Blake’s camp and dislikes Conquest, so I expect her to subvert him at a crucial moment, and the Sisters were in Isadora’s camp so they may not be too keen on a Conquest victory in this matter. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    1. If I were Conquest, I woudn’t put much faith in Laird’s loyalty, either. Laird does not want a diabolist Incarnation, and I think that he is much smarter than Conquest is. People, do not underestimate Laird’s cunning and capability.

      1. Laird’s way of dealing with that would be to kill Blake, not to subvert Conquest in a way that would be to Blake’s favor. I think Conquest wants Blake alive at this point – with Rose no longer shackled, he has to take Blake alive and force a surrender if he wants to get a pet diabolist.

        That’s to Blake’s advantage in the greater conflict. Conquest by his nature goes for total victory. Killing Blake wins the contest, but it doesn’t result in the desired prize. Conquest isn’t likely to use the Eye early on since it’s a destructive Other that would likely end up killing the target, so it’s probably a contingency plan in case things start favoring Blake too much. Aside from Laird, the Sisters are the only other asset Conquest has that might try to kill Blake early on. As such I think the Shepherd will be who Conquest sends against Blake first – it’s the safest path to total victory.

        1. Yeah, Laird might actually try and kill Blake for realzies here. The problem with that is it will make Rose the heir and she has minimal ties to anyone other than Conquest. He’ll just tug and reshackle her. Victory Conquest. Assuming Laird isn’t stupid (he is) he wants Conquest to not get a demon, but he can’t kill Blake. Its a problem.

          1. It’s like you guys don’t remember that Laird swore not to deal direct harm to anyone:

            “I’m sworn to do no direct harm to others, and I won’t.” (1.05).

            1. Seems you’re forgetting that he still managed to kill Molly, he just did it through someone else. Just because he can’t just up and shoot you doesn’t mean he can’t get you killed – there are a myriad of indirect ways to kill someone, especially if you’re willing to stretch the definition of what is indirect.

            2. @Enjou: Well, by all indications he tried to get Maggie to hurt Molly without killing her, as Maggie gave the goblins the order to hurt but not kill:

              She had command of several goblins and ordered them to strike her and leave her alive. (2.07)

              The community even shortchanged Maggie afterwards because of how poorly it went (which admittedly was largely because of the muggle attention, but I’d assume Laird didn’t want Molly dead yet.)

              I don’t disagree with your point and I definitely think Laird wants him dead, just wanted to point out that Molly’s death isn’t proof-positive of the ability or required intestinal fortitude to indirectly kill someone.

            3. Molly’s death was an accident. Insofar as it comes to Laird and Maggie.

              “Maggie Holt is the one who orchestrated the attack on your cousin, Molly Walker. She had command of several goblins and ordered them to strike her and leave her alive. She did it at our behest, in exchange for small favors, gifts of power and offers of knowledge.”…”I tried to call it off, but it doesn’t work that way.”
              -Strange that the goblins disobeyed orders, although it is possibe that they did leave her alive, either dying, or something else finished her off.
              Also, the attack was Maggie’s, the murder might be other’s.

              “When it went as poorly as it did, we were upset. The public had taken notice, and they had alerted authorities. We fulfilled the letter of the deal, but did so by offering Ms. Holt the bare minimum we could.”
              -This could mean that they were only upset that the public found out. This does not help my case, but I thought I should point it out.

              “Ofuda would be along the lines of what Sandra Duchamp might know,” Laird said. “I think that was what she offered Maggie for the murder of Molly Walker.”
              -Notice that this could mean that the deal was only finalized once she murdered Molly. No premeditation. On the other hand, it could mean that there was a difference of opinion between Laird and Sandra. Sandra definitely has the capability to be startlingly brutal. However, if Sandra asked for Molly’s head, then Maggie either would not play ball, or would have had her goblins kill Molly on purpose.

              In summation, I don’t think that we are finished with this plot point

            4. Right, Laird never said Maggie’s goblins killed Molly. Just that they were ordered to attack and it went poorly. Hell, maybe the goblins just failed miserably.

          2. Without the shackle I don’t think that Conquest can yank her to his location – that was, after all, the entire point of the shackle. She isn’t his in the way Fell is. Also, even if Rose can continue existing for a time if Blake died, she’d instantly be sent back to the house where she’d be protected until she ran out of juice.

            1. How do you know she’d be instantly sent back to the house? AFAIK, we have no actual knowledge of what would happen to Rose if Blake were to die.

            2. “The way she’d described shattering the pond’s ice, she’d been shunted to another location. Forced to the nearest safe ground.” (4.06)

              I assume that he’s presuming that, should she survive Blake’s death, she would be shunted to the nearest safe ground, which by default would have to be the House.

    2. Yup, just another Tuesday.

      Pauz unbound itself 5 minutes into Saturday, December 21st, 2013.
      Enter the weekend of DOOM.

  40. Blake should try to neutralize either the Eye or the Shepherd first. If he comes close to the Eye, I’m pretty sure that’s an insta-fail condition. Blake needs the Shepard dealt with to make best use of Evan and to utilize LIAB and June (when he gets her back in the morning).

  41. “What form shall this contest take? Chess? A musical duel?”

    It’s a pity. We just missed out on a high stakes, epic rap battle.

    1. Better yet… a dance off!

      For my champions, I choose The Osirian Portal…and referee Bryce Remsburg.

      Now, finally, I shall stand a chance of defeating my dance off nemesis…Stephen Hawking. You hear me, Hawking?! One of these days, I’m gonna dance so hard, you’re going to feel like you’re standing still while the universe moves around you. Then you’ll be crushed into a singularity and the only thing to escape will be some information.

  42. Seriously ? They all knew ? And no one thought about telling Blake something like “Hey, think about it, awful stuff may happen even if you defeat Conquest.”

    1. Hey, they didn’t help him with the demons or goblin. They didn’t tell him any of this. They just hoped he’d get killed like most others.

      It’s their own fault…and Sandra’s.

    2. Damnit Sphinx… I’m starting to think Maggie had the right idea when she chose to specialize in goblins. Sure, they’re going to destroy things and shit absolutely everywhere, but you expect that. They’re endless fonts of despair, but they’re pretty blatant about it. I imagine they’re a refreshing change from the constant plotting and backstabbing the rest of the world engages in.

  43. I’d like to know what message Blake sent Maggie.

    “Hey Maggie. It’s Blake – you know, the guy whose cousin you murdered? Yeah. I kinda picked a fight with an immortal incarnation of conquest, so if you could just come here and fight against the embodiment of destruction by fire for me that’d be super. XOXOX

    P.S. It’s a good thing there’s no prophecies about you bearing witness to destruction by fire and mass death or anything.”

    1. I imagine that it involved rather a significant amount of guilt-tripping, yes.

      Her dads aren’t going to be pleased if she sneaks out at night to go fight a war in Toronto. That might lead to consequences with Blake.

      Also, did he just post that message on her wall as Fell or what. That kind of bugs me. Does it count as lying if you lie on an online chat?

      1. Right, that’s actually why Maggie would come. “I need to fight the embodiment of fire in a bloody battle? Hmm… I can’t die here since I need to have a third bloody fire battle AND this won’t happen to my friends and family. Sure Blake! I’ll come! “

    2. “Blake Thorburn here. Want to make amends? Come to my apartment in Toronto for the weekend, I’ll fill you in when you get here. 123 Homesweethome Ave., Toronto, ON, CA”

      Anything more in-depth would carry the risk of letting non-cognoscenti in on the secret world of practitioning.

      1. and that message written that way can sound so damned dodgy that he may play right back into mr corrupt police guys hands… not that they’re competent enough to do anything more than they can…

  44. I’m really enjoying this story, and these last two arcs have been my favorite so far!

    I’ve already hopped-to for the net neutrality thing, though I appreciated seeing it here. Go Wildbow!!

    For the most part, I only have two complaints (and they are relatively minor):

    1. A lot of the character voices blend together – as in there dialogue is written similarly. It’s gotten a tiny bit better, though, especially Blake’s voice, so maybe that was just Wildbow getting a handle of the characters. I hope they continue to distinguish themselves even further.
    2. I have a hard time visualizing the characters – there often aren’t enough descriptors. It took forever for me to realize what Blake looked like (blond hair, pale skin, not sure on eyes, average height for male, drug addict-ish) And I still only know some vague ones for others (Goosh is “mamabear”, Ty is skinny with a toothy smile and thriftstore clothes, Alexis has snaggleteeth? black hair, short, etc.), and barely anything at all for others (Maggie has a checkered scarf). Though maybe I just missed them? If anyone can point me to other descriptors, let me know 🙂 And I’m not saying I need paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions – just a line or two here on their coloring and distinct features, maybe. Though, again, this is a minor complaint.

    Lovin’ this so far! Can’t wait for Thursday!!!!

    1. Thats one reason Pencil monkey was appreciated, His art work seemed liked it helped there a few times.

  45. Alternatively:

    “Hey Mags, I got this kickASS goblin here. Thing freaking eats ghost parts and then uses them hunt other stuff. Total monster, seriously, horrible in every way. Want to make it your familiar? Help me out here in Toronto, meet some of my friends, promise to play nice with us, and this thing is all yours “

  46. Poor Maggie, getting caught up in this shitstorm. Although, some Others that may not age would help with time shenanigans.

  47. You know, Rose must really be getting tired of Blake’s shit. Oh, you got a familiar? Oh, you have a circle now? Oh, you’re lord of Toronto now? Oh, Blake, you joined the lawyers? Oh Blake, you ended the universe?

    1. Look, Rose. It’s okay. Just truuuust me. I have a plan. It is a terrible plan, but I will fix it. Step one is to bring the universe back. Yeah, I never said it would be easy, but it’s doable!

  48. „Did you hear about this new diabolist, who challenged Torontos City Lord, an incarnation of Conquest, to a contest and won, utilizing an Imp?“

    That will totally help Blakes reputation…

    On another note;
    Is there actually a good reason not to let Conquest run the city as a figurehead, after Blake won?
    Making Conquest surrender, would surely weaken him a great deal, making him actually a better figurehead. He would still be immune against many magical assassination tactics, but would be less of a threat to his own city and easier to control for many of the practitioner of Toronto.

    The Drunk or Laird might try to topple a weakened Conquest, but if so many of the other practitioners were actually in on the figurehead – idea, they could back a weakened Conquest, if one of them tries something.

    1. C is immortal, that means he can’t die no matter what you do to him, so even if Blake cuts out C’s heart and ate it as his prize, C will become lesser but will still be ‘alive’ for lack of a better word.

      Which brings to mind the idea of Blake hanging C in a meat locker, having Incarnation Sashimi or Incarnation Liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. whenever he needs a power boost.

      1. He can’t die, but can he feel pain? If he can, that would probably go against Blake’s moral to torture someone like that.
        Also, he wouldn’t be a very good power source if he’s locked up in the meat locker. Not a lot of Conquering to be done around there.

        1. “He isn’t War, but Conquest. Massed forces, takeovers, forced change. He continues to find power in other ways. Yes, he prefers warfare and bloodshed, but he can draw power from the steady expansion of civilization into nature, from real estate, from business takeovers, government, law, and other small forms of tyranny.” (4.01)

        2. Just the conquest of the incarnation of Conquest. That’s got to count for something. Anyway there will still be conquests they just won’t be Conquest’s

    2. Why not let Conquest continue to rule? Because Conquest’s main power is his rep. Without that rep, he’d be unable to fulfill his duties as Lord, including beating down upstart wannabes and facing off neighboring/rival Lords. I know that all the other powers would be working behind the scenes to help him, but at a certain point, even that’s not enough. It’d be like… leaving Rob Ford in charge; eventually, it just makes you a laughingstock. (Sorry, Toronto.)

  49. How much time-juice does Laird’s family have? Does it cost them to send it across distances? I feel like they should be getting weakened sooner or later.

      1. or when (Redacted) went after (Redacted) with a (Redacted) up the (Redacted) whilst Skitter (Redacted/Redacted/Redacted/Redacted.. dear gods, okay Rachel!…. i’ll stop just stop those things from chewing me!!!!!

        But yeah Wildbow has gotten a little louder than usual when spoilers turn up. Quite rightly irritated. (Only posted the above cos i cant see any way it could constitute a spoiler

        Also remember, No pact spoilers on Worm either….

  50. Ah yes, net neutrality…well, suffice to say I come across more as an argument against it. I’m for it, of course. The internet is and should always be about the free spread and expression of pornography, so of course net neutrality is a good thing.

    Mainly because I’m not in the internet provider business.

    See, the big secret is that evil isn’t something performed solely by men in power armor or masks. It’s not necessarily about knocking over a jewelry store or robbing a bank. No, the the masterminds out there are like Neo when he gets shot at: the really evil don’t have to rob a bank, because they can own it, take out insurance on its investments, tank them, them collect millions from the insurance and subsidies used to keep the bank afloat because it is too valuable to the economy.

    But I digress.

    If all you care about are some million dollar businesses making even more money, go ahead and get rid of net neutrality. That’s the upside to it, after all. That’s what will inevitably happen, as we’ve seen time and time again. That’s what businesses do. Their one measure of success is how much they earn.

    Some people mistake this for the basis of all morality. That’s like saying that the basis of morality is how many worms you eat because you saw an early bird chowing down on them.

    There’s only so much I’m going to debate morality here at this point, though, because I don’t have to. I merely have to point out the merits of allowing someone to debate morality. Net neutrality means that an ISP company can shut down the debate. They can slow some sites to a crawl, restricting the flow of some information and ideas, in order to shape how people think by feeding them a faster supply of…whatever. Use your imagination. Whoever you are, whatever religion, whatever political party, whatever side of an issue you’re on, imagine the other side is in control of which websites you get to see.

    That’s why net neutrality is important.

    Now, I know I ain’t just talking to people from the U.S. here, but that’s one reason why I like the First Amendment. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petitioning the government. It’s the debate. It’s the result of people recognizing that tyranny can easily occur if you allow someone to control what ideas are up for discussion and distribution.

    Each of those are about ideas. You want to be able to speak your mind equally as anyone else. Well, sorry, no. You say something that MegaCorp doesn’t like, and you get less equal speech and speed no matter what you blog or tweet. You want to practice whatever you feel you should in terms of religious beliefs. Sorry, if you don’t accept the one true gospel held by whomever’s running the show at MegaCorp, your internet in general is slower, except for those handy one true gospel sites, of course. You want to report on or check on the news? Better be news favorable to MegaCorp, or the time it takes to load your site is going to be measurable in millennia. You want to hang out with some friends and chat about things you like? MegaCorp’s going to need to sign off on that. It might be more important to send out the next big memo regarding TPS report cover letters that day. You want to petition your government? Hope you don’t feel like expressing your political views hostile to MegaCorp via any social networking sites, online petitions, or email. It’s not quite the horse and buggy days, but you’ll be back to writing letters and hoping someone at your political capitol actually bothers reading the old mail system. Don’t worry though, the guys doing the things you don’t like get to keep sending those emails and such, creating quite the obvious popular groundswell to affect real time policy.

    That’s just my take on it, I guess. I suppose it wouldn’t be if my ability to read the Constitution was restricted to finding it in book form IRL.

    The internet is the future. Take your future into your own hands.

    First the internet, then…the world! Mwahahahahahaha!

    1. and this is why I actually appreciate PG, when he gets serious he tends to talk some really sense with with forethought and seems possibly quite a voice of reason.

        1. Surprisingly yes, though not very many. A quick check on Google confirms that they’re not immune to the bandwidth issues the various corporations would use to enforce net control, so I guess that answers that question. Usenet would be squelched almost immediately, along with other sources of free and unrestricted speech.

          Unless that last part changed when I wasn’t looking.

          1. Well, I doubt that anything would happen immediately, so as to keep mass riots from occurring and rolling back any change. They’d sneak the changes up on us slowly.

  51. I thought Toronto would be a Breather Episode where Blake meets his friends again and can prepare for his next round against Laird. And now he disturbs the national magical politics, and summons the wrath of magical society upn himself. Can Blake do anything, without having horrible und unforeseen consequences.
    “Rose, I go buy some groceries.”
    “Try not to destroy the city or end a dynasty.”

    About his choices, while I expected Rose and Fell I was surprised about the Hyena. I wonder how he will control it. Maybe it will synergize well with Maggie, but I’m skeptical if Maggie was a good choice. And what did he think when he chose Pauz? I doubt the Imp would be either useful or loyal to him (but that’s just screaming Chekhov’s Gun to me).

    1. As far as I can tell, he wanted Pauz and the Hyena away from Conquest. They’ll be useful in their own chekhovian way of course, but that appears to be his primary motivation in picking them.

      1. And that’s what he should tell Evan, also. The Hyena is a terrible thing, but it’s better that it’s in the hands of Blake rather than in the hands of Conquest.

    2. He dominated the Hyena. The Hyena gave into Blake, which is why it took the sword form. I don’t know if Blake will be able to properly handle the Hyena, but I don’t think he has to worry about it being out of control.

      1. The Hyena steps forward. “You have my sword!”

        Rose steps forward. “You have my know.”

        Pauz steps forward. “And my ass!”

        Everyone glances over at Fell. He just shrugs. “You have my help, but I’m not giving my fuck.”

    3. The last time he went to get groceries he ended up punching his cousin and nearly getting arrested. So, no, he really can’t.

      Also- Isadora said at their first meeting he was a creature of dualities, and part of his justification for the contest was the element of conquest in one ruler overthrowing another… so I’m amused to notice that his first two champions, in order, are “Rose” and “Fell”.

  52. Wow. I can’t even imagine how this is going to escalate afterwards. Like, Worm started out as a small city thing, then became cosmic. This… we’ll see, I guess.

  53. If this was an anime,we’d have 6 1v1 battles,or perhaps fewer with one being 2v2,etc.

    But this is Wilbow,so I except total chaos.

  54. … fuck. This is exactly the mistake Blake made binding Pauz- focusing on the target and not the world around it. “Conquest is manipulable and predictable, so maybe we can win” rather than “Conquest is manipulable and predictable, so why hasn’t someone unseated him?”.

    Or, perhaps most importantly, “Conquest is manipulable and predictable, so when he came after me out of nowhere, whose decision was that really?”.

  55. “… very few men have been born to fathers without some sanguine humors.”
    I would say that very few men have been born to fathers, period. Usually it’s babies who get born, and mothers who handle the birthing. 😛

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