Subordination 6.7

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I was too tired to be surprised.  I’d managed to grab some rest, and I was feeling more together, more connected to me.  Having my bike and my friends at hand made all the difference.  I didn’t want to let this sudden piece of what-the-fuckery screw that up and leave me confused and frustrated.

I made my way to a chair and sat.

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll hear you out.”

“You told me that when you got a familiar, it would open doors for me.  That I’d have the ability to affect the real world, and it would be something for the two of us.  It didn’t really work out that way, did it?  Evan’s yours.

“I suppose he is.”

“I don’t have agency, Blake.  I can make a difference, but it’s always filtered.  I can break glass, and I can maybe stall a crowd of ghosts, but I’m… I’m just so frustrated, because I can’t take action A to achieve result B.”

“You want to summon something from one of Grandmother’s books, to give yourself that agency?  To have hands in this world?”

“Yes.”

“While Tiff and I were napping, you’ve been… what, pacing?  Reading?”

“Both.  And talking to Evan.  I can’t ever sleep, he can’t either, I guess we’ll keep each other company when the rest of the world rests,” Rose said.  She touched her head, seemed to notice hair that had pulled free of the braid, and started to unwind it, starting over from scratch.  A nervous habit.

So she’d been talking to Evan, getting an idea in her head, seeing my familiar, wanting an approximation for herself.

“You were able to check on the others while you did all that?”

“Kind of?  It eats away at me, to be away from ‘safe’ sources like you or the house.  But I can move more easily here.”

“Okay, good.”

“Are you changing the subject?”

I shook my head.

“Well?”

“Well, I can sort of follow your line of thinking,” I said.

“I’m not saying I like this idea, but I want to do it,” Rose said.

“One very careful summoning and ritual,” I said, “And you have a pair of hands in this world, and you have some muscle.”

“That’s the idea.”

I nodded slowly.

“I didn’t expect you to actually hear me out.  Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” I said.  “I’m hearing you, but I don’t know that I agree.  This sounds like fucking lunacy.”

“It’s crazy, but you picked me as a champion.  You’ve got two champions you’re afraid to let loose, and probably with good reason.”

Leery of, not so much afraid, and I’m leery with definite good reason,” I said.

“You need firepower.”

“Nukes, you mean?” I asked.

“No!  No, look, listen!”  Rose was more agitated.  She flipped the book open.  “Grandmother wrote some stuff saying that back in the day, before studies in diabolism had come so far, people had a bad habit of chalking up any particularly nasty Other as a demon or something infernal.  There was a whole period of history where almost every bad Other was thought to be a demon or demonic, and the classification was harder for some to shake than others.  So I’ve been researching, and looking at the criteria.”

“What criteria?”

“For what I need, for what we need.  The summoning would need to have a physical form.  I know Evan’s… he’s a good kid.  He wouldn’t have been my first pick, or even my second, but he’s served you well, and I can see the fit.  But he can’t move a book or turn a mirror if I need him to.”

“He can, sort of.”

“Without risking breaking it and leaving me high and dry?  Blake-”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yeah, I admit it.  He’s not a good manservant.  But is there anything in that book that’s going to fit?”

“Maybe?”

“We’re biding time, Rose, waiting this out, hoping that Conquest gets reckless enough to make a mistake.  If you want to talk this out with me, I’m game.  But please understand that’s not a yes.  I just want to know what direction you’re thinking of going.”

“Then, um, let me see here, I’ve got it in one of these books, I color coded the bookmarks.  Except I didn’t have a bookmark for the sixth, so I used a sprig of herb.  Here.  First option.  She’s Mary Frances Troxler.  Origin unknown, but she may have been a wraith, a ghost that took on other qualities.  Mediums used to call on her to help women find their husband to be.  The ritual was tainted, too much negativity, maybe it got blamed when the marriages didn’t work out.  Calling her a demon or a thing of darkness, and the label starts to become true, in a roundabout way.  She started showing up when she wasn’t called, was eventually bound, and she remained a minor tool of diabolists for some time.”

“What kind of tool?  Finding husbands?”

“The ritual used a mirror.  She’s been summoned in ways since before zero A.D., and she only went bad recently, a hundred and twenty years ago, about.  When she did go bad, she started crawling out of mirrors and carving up the women who inadvertently summoned her.”

“I can see why she piqued your interest.  The mirror theme.”

“Yeah.  She’s one of something like nine different entities that are related to the whole ‘Bloody Mary’ urban legend.  Even has the name right.  All stemming from the same roots: vanity, mirrors, and women.”

I nodded.  “She’s the sort of Other you’d want on our side?  Keeping us company for however long?”

“Don’t think I don’t hear the tone there.  No, I don’t know if I’d want to have her around long-term, but she has uses.  Pros: she’s tied to the mirror thing, and if there’s a complex answer to be had with my… I guess current predicament, maybe we learn something from her.  She’s dangerous, a killer, capable of striking at our opponents from an unexpected place.”

“You want to kill our enemies?” I asked.

“They want to kill you, Blake.  Killing me by proxy.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’m… I guess I’m okay with going after the Eye, or the demons, or any of that.  But when you think that it might be the Sisters of the Torch?”

“What about Laird?” Rose asked.

“I… I don’t understand Laird, I don’t even remotely like him.  I even hate him, because he’s every inch the kind of holier than thou motherfucker that’s made my life miserable since day one.  But no, I don’t want to kill him.”

“He might really be holier than us, if we’re diabolists, Blake.”

“Fuck that, and fuck you for saying so,” I said.

“He’s dangerous, and he’s not going to stop.  Okay?  Listen, I’m not proposing outright murder.  I’m saying we should use something that can murder, so they know we aren’t playing around.  We then rein it in, to keep it manageable.”

“That sounds slippery,” I said.  “I’m not going to use the words ‘slippery slope’, but I think it sounds like there’s a lot of room for something ugly to happen.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.  I heard a book close.  “I won’t say you’re completely wrong.  I was about to get to the cons, and it’s a longer list.  She’s evolving, and just like you don’t want to mess with a virus that’s constantly changing, I don’t know if we want her around if we can’t predict her exactly.  Besides, my suspicion is she’d only target women, even under orders, and that’s limiting her to going after the Sisters.  And maybe it’s a bit selfish of me to say so, but I don’t like the idea of utilizing something like Mary Francis Troxler if she’s going to bounce off the protections they have in place and come after me.  In my mirror world, even.”

I nodded.  “Starting to get a better idea of what you’re wanting to do, though.  Other options?”

“Tallowman.  Originally thought to be possessed, modern thought points to him being a revenant.  Died, or suffered some gruesome injury, but didn’t go down.  Soul couldn’t rest, too hungry for revenge, basically a serial killer zombie.  The spirit didn’t leave the body, and the body came back for unfinished business.”

“How’d he die?”

“Loner, as the story goes, a talented candlemaker who scrimped and saved to buy a woman’s love.  He was betrayed by greedy brothers and their families who wanted the savings.  Multiple stab wounds, left to die, he filled them all with candle wax, then lurched to his feet and kept going.  He got a few of the peripheral family members, others severed his head, then left it be.  His body kept going, as the story says, driven by hate, it separated the body fat of the ones he’d killed to make more wax, stuck his head back in place and patched the other wounds.”

“Resourceful fellow,” I commented.  “Would have helped if the family didn’t keep leaving the body behind.”

“Yeah, well, that was the pattern.  Multiple attempts at stopping him, bludgeoning, trapping him, severing limbs, and each time, he got a few of them, used the fat to fix himself, patching up the wounds and replacing the missing parts, and he kept going, until it came to the brothers.  He was stopped when the brothers took refuge in a church, repenting.  Coincidence or no, the church candles melted some of the wax holding him together, and he burned up.  The priest had heard them repenting the murder and theft, they went to jail, yadda yadda.”

“Weak to fire as the big con?”

“Something like that.”

I nodded.  “That’s a problem, when we’re talking about the Eye.  Pros?”

“He’s described as diligent, before he went all monster.  The book that records his history suggests he’s been summoned with some regularity, and not just by diabolists.  Maybe he’s the kind of guy we can keep on hand to do some of the mundane stuff for my sake, and if trouble comes up, we light his wick and point him in their direction.”

“I’m not entirely sold.  If we’re going to dig into the sketchy stuff, I’d rather get something of value.  Again, presuming we even do this.”

“Sure,” Rose said.  She smiled.  “Next option… well, you like your birds.  What does it mean to you if I say James Corvidae?”

“Corvidae… crows, mockingbirds, ravens, rooks.  Do I want to know?”

“Long thought to be a member of the seventh choir, chances are good he perpetuated the myth himself, to make himself scary even to the practitioners who had some idea what was up.”

“Oh, so this is a clever one.  Fits, with the corvidae motif.”

“Yeah.  Aside from deciding what he isn’t, nobody’s really stepped forward to say what he is.  I guess, if you had to stick a label on this one, I’d say ‘Bogeyman’.  Which seems to be a convenient practitioner label for ‘loner Other with a penchant for terror or murder’.”

“With a bird theme?”

“Peripheral.  Names tend to find him.  James Crow, Jamie the Rook, Jay Chough, and so on.”

“I’m seeing the theme.”

“Always the same general appearance.  Slouch, black hair slicked back, hook nose, nice clothes that have seen too much use.  Word is he came to the New World with the settlers, but there’s no record of him in the old world.  There’s been theorizing that he was a curse bestowed on us from the First Nations, over some slight.”

“What does he do?”

“He forges connections between things.  Very inconvenient connections.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“He takes that which people most love, then gives it to another.  Your favorite possession finds its way irrevocably to the hands of your best friend.  You can’t fault him for having it, but resentment builds.  In a year or two, you’re mortal enemies, and you’ve lost both your favorite thing in the world and your friend.  Except it’s not always an object.  It could be your soulmate.  Your mother or child.”

“That would suck.”

“Putting it mildly.”

“It would suck a lot,” I amended.

“I’ve thought about it, and I’ve read some of the side stories… I can’t help but feel it’s almost worse than what the Barber or the demon in the factory could do.  If you go mad, or if you get erased, that’s… it’s horrible, but you’re still gone.  James Corvidae, he leaves you completely and totally intact, but missing that one thing or person that gives it meaning and purpose.”

“I’m having a hard time picturing him helping you out.  In fact, I’m having a hard time picturing us using him at all.”

“I’m not.  He fits into a middle ground where he’s too scary to summon when he’s almost too weak to use.  But I think we could use him.”

“How?”

“We talked about setting our enemies against one another.  Corvidae is a tool we could use.”

I tilted my head to one side, then the other.  “What about ‘too scary to summon’?”

Rose shook her head.  “Grandmother had a note in her book.  She summoned him once, and he was grateful enough to finally see some of the outside world that he was willing to play along with her needs.”

“Grandmother was good at what she did.  We’re novices.  If other people think this guy is too scary to fuck around with, I’m thinking that’s a pretty good indication to go by.”

Evan fluttered as he entered the room.  I reached out a hand and he settled on the back of it, tiny bird feet hooking on the locket chain.

His head and mine turned to the door in the same moment.

Trouble?  I tensed.

“Hey, Blake.  Do you maybe want to tell your friend here to drop their weapon?”

She came into view.  Jeans under a skirt, mismatched top under a long navy blue coat, a checkered scarf and wind-tousled black hair.  Tiffany was behind her, holding a set of bolt cutters like a club, two-handed.

“Maggie,” I said.

She grinned wide enough to show her teeth.

“She’s Maggie?” Tiff asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  “Are you Maggie?”

“Oh boo on you, Blake.  You do not want to hear the trouble I went through to be here.  Yes, I am Maggie Holt.”

I relaxed some.  “Are you compelled?  Otherwise enchanted?”

“No and yes.  I’m dressed up in my finery, so to speak.  Ready to fight in your war.”

“I honestly didn’t expect you to come fight,” I said.  “I though maybe a phone call, you could share your expertise on goblins, and if you felt particularly adventurous, you might do something to force Laird to head back to Jacob’s Bell.”

“Well, I’m here.  Very curious for details.  Starting with whatever the heck you were just talking about.  Too scary to fudge around with?”

“Don’t worry, we haven’t gone off the deep end.  We were talking about enlisting the aid of a bogeyman.”

“You’ve been big on the recruitment drive since I last saw you.  Some underlings, a familiar, even…”

“Hi,” Evan said.  “I’m Evan.”

“Not a very imposing name.  I was hoping for Blake’s familiar to have a name like Melmoth the Skull-Fu-”

She stopped short, then frowned.  “Melmoth.”

“Nope.  Just Evan.  I’m dead.”

“A ghost, Blake?”

“An exceptional ghost,” I said.

“A ghost.  Bit of a bummer, but it’s better than the other extreme.  You haven’t gone over the deep end?”

“Our local opposition twisted my arm, I wound up binding a demon,” I said.  “Technically, I can’t say I’m not a diabolist anymore.”

“Ohhh man,” Maggie said.

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“Makes me look bad for associating with you.  But I’m here, and that ship has sailed already.  Our usual deal is still on the table?”

“You help me, I give you access to material at a later date.”

She nodded.  “Everything has a price.  Doing it this way, it’s more polite, and it’s safer.  Like selling something for one dollar.  Maybe you’d normally give it away, but doing it like this means you have a receipt.  Generosity doesn’t stretch too far in this world.”

My eyes met Tiffany’s.

Should I have arranged for more of a transaction with my friends?

“Come on in, Tiffany,” I said.  I glanced at Maggie.  “Maggie’s an ally I made in Jacob’s Bell.  I had a library of books and a need of backup, Maggie was willing to give me backup for some knowledge.”

“Serendipitous,” Maggie said.

“Tiffany’s a recent friend of mine.  Another friend introduced us, and Tiffany got on board with the whole magic thing.”

Maggie extended a hand.  Tiffany shook it.

“A champion?” Maggie asked.

“No,” I said.  “Supporting cast.”

“I met one of your champions at the bus station.  Guy in white with a handgun?”

“Fell.”

“He pointed me this way.  He told me to tell you they’ve set up in two more locations, and we should distribute our firepower, emphasizing escape routes.  He’s going to go check on the others, then try to steal some rest before things get hairy.”

I nodded.  “Right now, we’re using guerrilla tactics.  We’ve got the entire spirit-world version of the city to hide inside, and our opponent gets weaker so long as he’s being opposed by equal or superior opponents.  Rose and I were just discussing additional options.”

“Summoning something non-diabolic,” Rose said.

“Just the one something?” Maggie asked.

“When we’re talking about things this nasty?” I replied.  “It makes sense to limit it to one.”

“Well,” Maggie said.  She grinned.  “Speaking as the resident expert in the nast-”

She stopped short.

“Really!?” she asked.  “I did not mean anything rude!  Not even close!  And how does that count!?”

Tiff looked at me, eyebrow raised.

I shook my head.  “I’ll try to explain later.”

Maggie took a deep breath.  “Rephrasing, I deal with goblins.  Not so far removed from bogeymen and bandersnatches, or whatever it is you’re dealing with.  Guy in white-”

“Fell,” I said, again.  “At least I hope it was Fell.  The alternative is that he’s the Lord of the City, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“Fell, right.  He said he was Fell.  He described the situation.  We’re outnumbered and outgunned?  You got me, your enemy got Mister Behaim?”

“That’s the gist of it,” I said.

“Then we need raw power.”

“It wouldn’t hurt,” I said.  “But I’m leaning towards a more defensive strategy.  It means my friends don’t get killed.  You included.”

“Aw,” she said.  She reached up toward my cheek.  I flinched.

“Oh, oops?” Maggie said, her hand still in the air.

I shook my head.

“You were calling me a friend?  That makes me feel things.  I don’t have many flesh and blood buddies, you know.”

Maggie belatedly lowered her hand.  I glanced at Tiff and saw an alarmed look on her face.  From the familiarity?

“Well, don’t like to break it to you,” Maggie said.  “But Maggie Holt doesn’t have a history of doing things halfways.  You asked for me, you got me, and you got someone who knows their way around this sort of thing.  Dealing with the ugly things.  Tell me more about them?”

Down to business?

“We’ve got a Bloody Mary,” Rose said.

“What’s that?”

“A boggart or a wraith, not sure.  A ghost loaded with enough negativity that it went off rails.  Built with echoes that aren’t its own.  Lurks in mirrors, carves up women if they spend too long looking.”

“I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep right again,” Tiff said, her voice quiet.

“You know how to summon and bind it?”

“Yes and sort of.  But it’s unpredictable.”

“I can deal with the unpredictable.  What else?”

“I didn’t tell Blake about this one, it was a subhuman, before.”

“Elaborate?  I don’t know the fancy terminology you people with the books have.”

“What you get when a collection of feral children grow up and breed for a few generations, or when you have that small branch of the population that lives off in the middle of nowhere or on some mountaintop, left with nobody but their own family.  Less human trappings to tie them down to reality, a lot of energy, lust, or bloodlust to stir up the spirits, and you wind up with whole families of inbred, messed up almost-humans.”

“You can summon something like that?”

“If they become Other enough, and certain conditions are met.  This one is called Midge.”

“Midge,” I said.

“She’s the sort of thing you call on when you need to knock a house down.  Not subtle, but not so inhuman that the authorities can’t explain her away.”

I nodded.

“That’s one more,” Maggie said.

“Tallowman,” Rose said.  “Told Blake about him.  Revenant.”

Maggie nodded.  “Zombie?”

“Zombie with a theme and a grudge.”

“Cool.  And the one you were too scared to deal with?

“Corvidae.”

“Bogeyman?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I think I might have to put my foot down on that one.”

“Some ghost, an inbred human-turned Other, and a candle man.  Sounds like a way of evening the odds, if we’re clever,” Maggie said.

“Someone recently accused me of being the equivalent of playing with fire,” I said.  “This sounds more dangerous than fire.”

“Have to be dangerous if we’re going to win,” Maggie said.

I glanced at the others.  Evan’s expression was unreadable, Tiffany looked spooked, and Rose…

“Blake,” Rose said.  “Please.”

“I’ve dealt with goblins, I’ve seen what they’re capable of,” Maggie said.  “You don’t get much more intractable or unpleasant than goblins.”

“I’m kind of surprised that you’re okay with this,” I said.  “The danger, the fact that Rose is talking about monsters that are bad enough they were almost classified as demons, not so long ago…”

“A lot of things about me would surprise you,” Maggie said.  “I’m here, I’m helping for the time being, and I’m raring to go.”

“You’re excited,” I said.

“For this?  Yeah,” she said, smiling.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  “Why?

“Because this?  The contest?  Predefined rules, boundaries, minimized damage, a lot to gain?  I’ve been hoping for something like this for a long time now.”

I nodded slowly.  I wasn’t sure how to take that.

“Don’t suppose you could give me more details?” I asked.

“Right now, with the possibility that something could kick the door in and come after us?  I think we should get ready.  Help me help you,” she said.

I didn’t respond.

“There’s as many holes in the ‘be patient’ plan as there are in this one,” Rose said.

“I suspect that comes perilously close to being a lie,” I said.

“I said it, I stand by it.  I’m asking for this, Blake.”

“Alright,” I said.  “You two handle it on your own.  Better if I’m not directly involved, since I swore not to use any magic for the duration of this contest.”

“Alright!”  Maggie said.

“Do whatever you’re doing quickly.  If Fell thinks the others need backup, let’s not delay too much.”

“Quickly then.  Now, my dear mirror-dweller-”

“Rose.”

“Yeah.  Let’s talk methodology.  Can you follow me over this way?  We’ll need open space.”

“Yeah.”

“The idea is simple.  If you’ve got a mad dog, you want to minimize contact with it.  Keep it in a cage until you need someone mauled.”

“Like you stored the paper goblins, and the goblin in the instrument.”

Exactly.”

I watched them make their exit, Rose shifting between the various reflections in the windows looking from the office to the garage.

“I need fresh air,” I said.  “Or… whatever we have in this version of Toronto.”

“Alone?” Tiff asked.  She looked fidgety.

I glanced at Maggie and Rose’s retreating forms, then shook my head a little.  “No.”

When I was sure Maggie and Rose weren’t looking, I grabbed the bag with the book and the sword, carrying both.

Tiff, Evan and I made our way outside.

“Why are you bringing the sword?” Evan asked.

“Because I feel like I should,” I said.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

“Would make less sense if I felt like I should and I didn’t.

“Yeah, but it would make more sense if you had a good reason,” Evan said.

The street was dark.  It was technically nighttime, but time passed in a funny way here.  The sky overhead was dark, hard to make out with the falling snow.  The only light from the sky came from above Conquest’s tower.  Pale light, as if the moon were only feet above the tower, hidden by the clouds.  It made the contours of the clouds stand out, and it illuminated the tower, as if it were declaring Conquest the ruler of the city.

There was other light.  Red-orange flames, elsewhere in the city.  The Eye was doing what it could to root us out.

How did the regular people see it?  How had they interpreted the Eye’s activity when he’d caused the crash?  A freak accident?  A slick patch of road and driver reactions causing a three-car pileup?  Ugly happenstance leading to the explosion thereafter?

When fires started up across the city, did they invent an excuse to keep it convenient?  People could convince themselves of extreme things when threatened with dissonance; reality challenging their fundamental understanding of the world.

It bothered me a little that people were going to those extremes, twisting their minds around things to sell the idea that there was a flaw in the power grid or an arsonist at work.  That they’d sleep a little less easy at night because of what was happening tonight.

It bothered me a lot that people had died.  That Conquest had let the Eye loose specifically because of my challenge, and I hadn’t been able to save those people.

Alexis was naturally heroic.  I wasn’t.  I wanted to be a good person, but being a hero wasn’t really in my makeup.  At the end of the day, I was more focused on just trying to repay the debts I owed and make sure that I left the world better than it was when I’d come into it.

Even before the whole magic thing had come up, that had been my philosophy.  Nothing grandiose, but if everyone could keep to that idea, then maybe we’d all be in a better spot.

I could, if I listened to the wind, hear the explosion and the screams.  I couldn’t say if it was because of the way this spirit world worked, carrying impressions more easily, or if it was just in my head.

Flames, low in the car, not even merciful enough to burn away the oxygen before it burned the person, as was more common in house fires and the like.

I blinked hard as a snowflake flew into my eye, with enough force to sting.

“I thought you were going to give the sword to Maggie,” Evan said.  “Didn’t Fell say something like that?  She’s a goblin wizard or something?”

“We were,” I told him.  “Fell did suggest that, and yeah, Maggie is the sort of practitioner who deals with goblins, and who, if she were very good, would deal with goblins like the Hyena.”

“But you’re not giving her the sword?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m suspicious that may be a bad idea.”

“Why?” Tiff breathed the question, as if afraid to ask it.  “You asked her to be one of your champions, but you don’t trust her?”

I had to double check to make sure Maggie wasn’t in earshot.  “I trusted her about as much as you can trust a relative stranger, facing a situation like I was.”

“You just used the past tense,” Tiff said.

I nodded.

“Why?  What changed?”

She did,” I said.  “Maggie did.  Something’s happened since I left Jacob’s Bell.”

“But you’re letting them go ahead with it?” Tiff asked.

I looked in the direction of Rose and Maggie.

“Right now, I’m focusing on preserving my relationship with Rose,” I answered.  “I don’t think she’d forgive me if I shot her down now.”

“I know I shouldn’t say stuff like this, but that’s really not a very good reason,” Tiff said.

“It really isn’t,” I agreed.

Fell came to get us, not running into a soul on the way from Alexis’ hideout to the garage.  On the way back, however, we did run into problems.

The Sisters had mobilized, making a play.  In retrospect, we maybe should have moved earlier, before they had time to prepare.

They’d built an army.

Dolls, lifesize models, and a variety of mannequins, staggered through the streets.  Some had faces, others were blank.  Many were undressed.  Ten or so were gathered around Fell’s car en-masse, hugging it, standing on it, or steadily bashing it with hard plastic hands.

Each one had a rune inscribed on their forehead.

Our cover was poor at best – a short fence around a patio for some place called ‘Miss Panda’s’, but the things were largely blind to us.  Ones without line of sight moved as steadily toward us as the ones who should have been able to spot us.

“Vessels,” Fell said, with a note of annoyance.  “This isn’t my specialty.”

“I thought you said that direct attacks like the Eye’s weren’t your specialty,” Rose said.

“Those either, if I’m on the defensive.”

They were breaking away, spreading out a bit.  Mostly in our direction.

“I’ve seen something like this,” I murmured.  “Dead bodies, infused with those who’d died to the elements.”

“The good news is they have a weak point,” Fell said.

“Glowing runes?” I asked.

“Yes.  Even a scratch or a smudge will disable them.  The bad news is that it isn’t sensible to go after them individually.  The very bad news is that the Sisters are elementalists.  They specialize in natural forces.  Not every rune there is the same.  Pay careful attention.”

I looked.

The dolls and mannequins moved as their individual joints allowed, many clustering around Fell’s car, which was idling a block away from the garage.  Some moved on all four limbs, like spiders, some facing the ground, others facing the sky.  It was hard to keep track of ones I’d looked over and ones that were just moving in particularly awkward ways.

I was more than a little put off by the fact that they seemed to be moving steadily in our general direction, in fits and starts.  It made me feel like taking the ten seconds to look over the things would cost me somehow.

Sure enough, though, the runes differed here and there.  Each was outlined in the same way; they were drawn inside a circle with rays extending outward.  What was in the middle fell into four or five different sub-groups.

“The one in the red dress, that looks like it walked out of a display case?  The rune in the center of its face is a variant of the fire rune.  I would not be surprised if it happened to violently blow up if you got too close to it.  There are a lot of them around the car.  There are others with breeze runes… they move a little faster in general.”

“Can I use presence to try to stall them?” Rose asked.  “If I had enough power behind my words, could I order them to blow up, all the way over there?”

“Maybe,” Fell said.  “I doubt it.  They aren’t being controlled by anything except some very basic impulse.  Not words.”

“What then?” I asked.  “Does it have something to do with that sun shape the runes are drawn inside?”

“Ah.  Yes.  Reaching out,” Fell said.  “You make something warm and you drive it to seek out other warm things.  In this spirit world, there aren’t many things that are truly warm.  It’s only a reflection of the physical world.”

“Breeze runes,” I said.  “Could that also mean breath?”

Fell glanced at me.

Silently, we turned to look at the mannequin-vessels.

Only a handful were moving with any meaningful velocity.  Slowly and steadily.  The detonation runes.

“What is it?” Tiff asked.

I watched as the things staggered and crawled forward.

I held my finger to my lips.

We watched as they gradually slowed, until they were moving at a glacial pace.

“Shhh,” I said.

The vessels roused once more.  A few seconds of movement.

Fell gestured, and we took a collective step back.

Another subset of dolls moved toward us as a mass, faster than any of the rest.

Easily twenty steps for, what, five of ours in total?

I took one step back, independent of the rest of the group, and each of the dolls and mannequins from that group moved four or five steps in our direction.

How long ago had they deployed?

Why hadn’t they segregated more?

Much like the elements that had been used in the awakening ritual.  Breath, explosion, ground… air, fire and earth.

Air-imbued vessels to pursue us by a half-step for every breath we took, two or three steps for every word we spoke.

Fire imbued vessels to steadily seek out our warmth.  Slow, inexorable, and Fell suspected they would blow up if they got too close.

Earth-imbued vessels to track us by our footsteps.

There were two other kinds.

The ritual had used a representation for water.

I could make them out, now.  They were limp, arms dangling at their sides.  When the wind blew harder, they shifted slightly, willows bending in the breeze.

It was ominous.  As a general rule, the ones that more often didn’t move so far.

When those ones moved, how far would they go?

There was also the fifth group.  They moved steadily, but not toward us, as a rule.

“Metal or wood?” I asked, pointing.

The question bought us a moment’s pursuit.  Had the vessels been uniform in size and shape, I imagined it would be a march, a dozen hard feet hitting ground at the same moment.  But they weren’t.  It was a shuffle.

“Metal,” Fell said, quiet, “Never wood, post-industrialization.  Dying element.”

Did Rose notice?  Had she drawn the same parallel?

Her attention was elsewhere.  Focused on Maggie.

What was going on there?

“Move carefully,” I said, keenly aware of how much ground each word cost us.  “Strategically.

“Drat that,” Maggie said.  “Cut the Gordian knot.”

I glanced at Fell.

“How hard can you cut?” he asked.

“Pretty fucking hard,” Rose said.  “Ready?”

Each word was another three feet of lost ground.

It sucked, but this was the closest thing we had to training wheels, to see just what she and Maggie had put together.

“Go,” I said.

Rose went.  She released Midge with a loud cracking sound.  A breaking window.

Three hundred pounds of inbred muscle and fat appeared on the street, amid the shower of shards.

And with the act of magic, the water vessels woke, closing the distance to us in heartbeats

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236 thoughts on “Subordination 6.7

  1. Time to see what an evil zombie can do.

    I do like this sort of thing. Lots of practitioners working to screw over lots of other practitioners.

    Maggie is very keen.

    I guess they’ll have to figure out their enemies one by one and counter them.

  2. And the Thorburn Legacy begins to show it’s might. Rose has agency now. Agency like she can chuck grenades, but agency all the same. Divide and conquer tactics? Threaten or coerce opposing groups into inaction? Have Miss Mauling Mary maul a sister to get them to back off? The whole problem is that I can’t see Laird, the Eye, the Sisters or the Shepard stop even if they feed Conquest to ErasUr. They all need to be either cowed or killed.

    1. Seeing the gloves come off more and more demonstrates why everyone is scared shitless by the idea of the Thorburns. If things keep escalating there’s not a lot of ways this can end well.

        1. Well the last Wildbow protagonist started with bugs and got to [spoilers]

          This one started with demons. So if we get the same amount of escalation we should end up at… probably something like eating Universes for power.

            1. A story where things didn’t change wouldn’t be much of a story at all. It’s about as much of a spoiler for Worm as saying “you’re going to be older next year” is a spoiler for real life.

    1. candlemaker
      usually candle maker, but given the antiquity, possibly written as intended

      soulmate
      usually soul mate

      I though maybe a phone call
      I thought maybe a phone call

      halfways
      halfway, possibly written as intended

      lifesize
      life-size

      1. I’ve always seen “soulmate” and “candlemaker” as single words. (For support: Spellchecker agrees with me.)

    2. “Cool. And the one you were too scared to deal with?
      -missing a period.

      but the things were largely blind to us. Ones without line of sight moved as steadily toward us as the ones who should have been able to spot us.
      -second sentence directly contradicts the first.

      1. “He fits into a middle ground where he’s too scary to summon when he’s almost too weak to use.”

        -strange phrasing, is this supposed to say “he’s not too scary to summon or too weak to use”

        1. It makes sense to me, in a “worst of both worlds” sense — saying that it’s not an even trade, that the cost of the summoning could be greater than the benefit.

      2. I disagree with the second point and suggest that the sentence refers to literal blindness. Because line-of-sight is a non-factor in the things’ approach, it is reasonable to suppose that the things are blind (or at least not using any sight they may have to plan their paths of travel.)

        1. In that case, it should be-
          the things were largely blind to us. Ones who should have been able to spot us moved as unsteadily toward us as the ones without line of sight.

    3. I though maybe a phone call –> thought

      human-turned Other –> human-turned-Other

      closing the distance to us in heartbeats –> period

  3. Hmmm. I wonder. Did Maggie always have so much trouble with names? I can’t recall that, but as well as not knowing any of the “book terms” and needing explanations for them, she seems to be having an awful lot of trouble remembering what to call people.

    In other news I’m thinking this Corvidae guy is exactly who they need to summon. Taking things away from people seems like it would damage conquest something fierce.

    1. Did anyone other than Briar Girl or the sisters use corpses as material? I think it might be an elementalist thing.

  4. Very glad to see that Rose wasn’t thinking of something with an intrinsic “radiation,” but rather something else contained in their vast library.

    Though now that I type that, I’m wondering why radiation wasn’t considered a tool for determining whether or not something was truly diabolic in the first place. Hm. Perhaps it was just thought that it was possible that only some of them would have it?

      1. Thank you very much for the quick response 🙂

        So was Pauz just abnormally noticeable then, what with the corruption of thoughts and such, easily–or at least clearly–blocked by Blake’s short-lived suit? I had been thinking that he was the standard, but…I can see that.

        1. The kind of taint spread from Pauz’s “radiation” depends on the practitioner’s way of interacting with the world. From Fell:
          The imp’s ambiance. A light, a pattern, a smell. The form it takes depends on the individual, and how they choose to see these things. Right now, you are passing on traces to everything you touch. Depending on the distance, the infection may be stronger or weaker. But you always leave traces. My car will stink when you are gone, cleaning or no. You leave fingerprints behind, infect people, who infect other things in turn, until the energy is used up, fueling things that should not be.

          Another example kind of like this is Annabelle’s relationship with Tromos: Anyone who interacts with me too much has bad dreams (2.x)

          I’m assuming that demons generally warp people/Others with connections to them, and the familiar bond presumably shares the warping effect with the practitioner. The incest demon affected the author of Black Lamb’s Blood, but as far as we know it didn’t spread at all. I can’t really remember any kind of spreading taint similar to Pauz’s radiation, so I think it’s just that Pauz’s special kind of warping those around him makes people release radiation of his kind.

        2. All of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. He’s too scary for a normal practitioner and too weak for a diabolist.

  5. Hmmm… The enforcer of Maggie’s no-curse rule apparently takes an active hand occasionally. That is bizarre – I wonder what the story is. One of Padraic’s crew tried the “give me your apologies” tact, which failed because Blake was properly paranoid, so perhaps the same one tried “give me your curses” with Maggie.

    1. Since there’s a lot of Rose-bashing on here, I should say it was actually Blake who was in the process of walking into the apologies-trap until Rose stepped in and deflected it.

    2. It apparently went with “give me your ‘dirty’ words” and even euphemisms and slang like ‘the nasty’ count; so it creates a giant weakness when dealing with goblins given that their names are based on such words.

  6. Maggie has changed. Itching for the closest facsimile of a fair fight she can get? More ruthless? Battle-armor powered up and ready to go?

    What’re the odds that Behaim turned on her as soon as Blake was forced out?

    1. The fair fight thing may have lead Maggie to believe that this would be the safest way to unleash the third round of blood and flame promised to the Goblin Queen. I don’t quite remember if Blake knows about the promise, and if not, could easily have misinterpreted Maggie’s near joy at being able to get out from under that burden.

        1. It’s the last, I think. The theory was crushed pretty fast in the comments section, but apparently some either missed it or weren’t convinced.

        2. There was a Maggie history chapter that will explain and show you round 1. Round 2 caused Molly’s death, and round 3 is yet to come.

          1. …Molly was supposed to cause Round 2, but true to his reputation Laird mislead the newb to advance his own ends. Round 2 has yet to come, but it’s about to hit like a ton of incestuous bricks.

          2. How can that be round one? the ….goblin-y thing said “three more” as in, what was already going on wasn’t the first round. More like, after she made the deal, she would see three more instances of the same flame and death thing.

        1. It’s possible that Molly counts for one or that another one happened when Blake left. Something happened at least. Maggie seems a bit off.

          1. Eh, until we find out what happened in Jacob’s Bell while Blake was gone, I’ll chalk this up to Blake just not knowing Maggie that well.

            And she may well have an ulterior motive. Just not the one Blake is expecting.

    2. I wouldn’t say she’s changed. Blake’s just seeing a different side of her.

      Based on Maggie’s back story, she’s probably been looking for something like this so she can complete her ‘three rounds of blood and fire’.

      1. And, damn it all, Blake is right to be reevaluating her.
        Maggie has her damn reasons (and they’re good ones), but Blake doesn’t know them.

  7. I’m surprised that Evan didn’t protest with Rose going for summoning Monsters & releasing them when Blake made a deal with Evan to join forces to stop Monsters in order to help people.

    James Corvidae: No. With Blake’s karma level, even summoning him would be tempting fate.

    1. RDT’s was just as bad as Blake’s, and Corvidae played along for a chance to see the sights. Hers was worse, even, because there weren’t two karma-calibrating deaths behind her. Blake has, in contrast, the death of a senior moderate diabolist (RDT) and that of a relative innocent, albeit at the hands of a goblin (Molly).

      1. Didn’t Granny Rose say she added to the debt? She would have only had 6 lifetimes of bad Karma vs Blake’s 7.

        Is Karma automatically used up by dying? I don’t think that’s the case. The whole reason Blake has all this bad Karma is because he inherited it from his dead ancestors. Molly probably used up some bad Karma without adding to the debt, but if my memory serves correctly, Granny Rose apologized because her life was a net lose Karma-wise.

        Unless I’m wrong and it’s actually the opposite. . . I should go to sleep.

        1. It is not used up, but the math could still work out. Granny’s death would not have done anything, since it was apparently natural – her life was already spent doing diabolical things. Molly’s death is assumed to have reduced the debt, since she died as a newly introduced heir without doing anything. Blake’s actions might have reduced the debt, although he could have also added to it. So he might be better off than Granny was when she tried Corvidae.

          Personally I think Corvidae is a good bet. He would have some really good synergy with Fell, who is also good at manipulating connections. And I doubt that this is going to be won by pure strength – which is what all of the other choices are.

          1. A natural death? She died on the stroke of midnight on the eve of a nice round birthday.

            I would think that Molly’s death consumed bad karma because it was bad luck, being scared into leaving the safe ground and an intended assault escalating to murder.

            I think that Corvidae might be very effective, I think he has interesting synergy, but I think that he would be very, very dangerous. Good point about pure strength, though.

            1. Corvidae’s power might be very effective at undermining Conquest, if used carefully. Of course, anything “given” by him might not be so easy to get rid of, so they’d have to pick what goes where very carefully.

          2. I agree with Sheaman: it’s not because she didn’t do anything, it’s because the universe arranged things so she’d die. It was bad luck, a metaphorical snake eyes courtesy of the universe weighting the dice.

            It’s been established that the universe putting you into a bad situation uses up some bad karma, but I’m not entirely clear on whether actually dying in such a situation clears more bad karma (just desserts or something like that.)

        2. I’d have to check her letter again, but I don’t think karma is used up that way. (I think we agree on this point) I think it’s more along the lines of “the death finishes the life,” i.e. how you died has a bearing on how your personal karma level interacts with the whole. It’d be why Isadora keeps admonishing Blake to “Die cleanly,” as that has the best effect on the karma level and therefore the world at large. RDT, a possible loss, died at a predetermined time in the heart of her demesne, so it’s possible that the karmic spirits left her consequences to play out by chance. Molly, a possible gain, was killed by goblins, which means that for the most part the good she did was interred with her bones.

          1. I think thats more Isadora coming to respect Blake enough that while she still wants him to die, she thinks it should be quick and relatively painless.

            1. That plus the beneficial effect a quick, painless, and dignified end would have on his karma and thus karma as a whole. She’s an Other who is bound to the idea of karmic balance, she knows what she’s talking about in that regard. Very few others, IMO, but in that regard she is an expert.

            2. I think Isadora killing Blake would help his karma because she’s an Other of karmic balance despite the death being clean, rather than because of it. I’ve been getting the impression that horrible, painful, terrible deaths eat up more karma to bring about than clean deaths.

          2. I agree that death affects your karma, but I think that it has more to do with deals. It’s mentioned that what is owed but not paid by the time of your death adds bad karma to your family, so that would definitely have an impact.

            I really am not following your reasoning on the last parts of your post, though.

          3. Eh, I assumed Isadora said to die cleanly because the alternative she sees is to die in a fiery hellstorm of demonic summoning. That would clearly be bad.

            1. It doesn’t seem that difficult. She did just say that the way you die has an effect on the universe as a whole…

        3. Is Karma automatically used up by dying? I don’t think that’s the case.

          I think you’re right, and it isn’t automatic. As I understand it, negative karma is basically a build-up of pressure (and the reverse for positive karma). The pressure tends to equalise. If you suffer a big enough karmic backlash you remove some of the debt for the next generation (for positive karma, it draws good things to you).

          Since Rose Sr. basically died in relative comfort she didn’t get to reduce the debt much. Blake, on the other hand, must be burning through a lot of negative karma with everything that keeps happening to him.

          1. Exactly. It’s explicitly stated that the exceptionally bad things happening to the Thorburns will be exacerbated by their bad karma, which ‘spends it’. Fate wants them to sit quietly and take it.

            This would mean that normally a diabolist with bad karma would even things out slowly, but they would have the tendency to struggle and invite even worse karma by summoning devils and daemons to save their skins. I doubt your average diabolist makes it any better for their line in the process. Blake’s probably doing a great job though, so far.

      2. Corvidae was probably that bad option, you know the one that makes all the others seem good, so the person your asking will pick the one you really want. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t the choice Rose wanted to go with, so much as the others.

          1. Maggie and Rose probably did get Mary and candleman though. But in order to summon something doesn’t it need to be either bargained with or sealed?

            So who bound candle man after he went up?

    2. I’m surprised Blake didn’t protest Rose going off and summoning on the grounds that she and he are considered interchangeable by a lot of things (remember Pauz’s complaints a few chapters ago?) when making personal oaths.

      Saying “I won’t use magic for the duration of this contest” and then having Rose go and do magic seems like it could come back to bite them later…

  8. Great chapter.

    It feels like Blake says some variant of “a little more/less me”, with the me italicized, at least once per chapter. Is that intentional? It’s starting to grate a bit, I’ll admit.

    1. It’s a core concept, without many ways to express it. Probably the sort of thing that would need to be tweaked in eventual edits/rewrites.

  9. Oh no. Maggie, you were my favorite character. Please don’t be evil and betray Blake.

    So it seems we don’t have to worry (too much). Rose doesn’t plan on summoning demons. She shouldn’t chose the wraith though. It’s not physical enough and would probably back fire.

    I’m glad Blake is keeping the Goblin sword. I want to see him use it more.

    It seems Blake and Tiffany are getting closer. She’s becoming his confidant. I look forward to seeing how she develops.

    So Blake’s basically fighting a puzzle mini boss. Figure out how to navigate the army of Dolls and remove said Dolls from play. Can’t Fell just break the Doll’s
    Connections to the group. Then they shouldn’t be able to move.

    Did Maggie do more than promise not to swear or say dirty things? It seems she is connected with someone or something that’s calling her out when she aludes to something dirty.

    1. I kinda got the impression that Maggie was itching to throw down due to the reputation boost she could get more than anything else. As a small fry, it’s hard to make the big players take you seriously if you don’t get a good chance to throw down, especially if you aren’t the type that is ok with a lot of collateral damage.

    2. “Because this? The contest? Predefined rules, boundaries, minimized damage, a lot to gain? I’ve been hoping for something like this for a long time now.”

      I think what Maggie is hoping for is two-fold: First, to have a relatively safe round of death, blood, and fire; and second, to have some time/place she can actually go all out and use her destructive power instead of, as she promised her dads, mostly binding and protecting. And practice with power will help her with the third round… she thinks. In actuality, the way her curse is structured, the more powerful she is the more powerful the second and third rounds will be.

      1. That makes sense. So then, Blake is just ignorant of Maggie’s true circumstances and she isn’t plotting something horrible. I’m relieved.

        1. That seems like it might be the case. Maggie has this horrible curse hanging over her head and this lets her discharge without killing her family and friends. Hell, the promise might even be working with her. Helping her bring blood and fire to her enemies.

          That makes it pretty clear why she would want this.

          That said, Blake might be twigged onto something else.

        2. I relaxed some. “Are you compelled? Otherwise enchanted?”
          “No and yes. I’m dressed up in my finery, so to speak. Ready to fight in your war.”

          I think she maneuvered her way around “otherwise enchanted” part. I think she told the truth, but not the whole truth. My bet is, she IS under some enchantment. And resident enchantresses of Jacob’s Bell aren’t Blake’s friends.

          1. Otherwise enchanted can also apply to Queen Goblin Bitches prophecy. Maggie wants to be here because it’s a round of blood and fire in relitively controlled circumstances. Away from her dad’s. That she didn’t kick off. Blake is the main character, but he can be wrong about peoples motivations.

            1. Yeah. Maggie seriously needs to level with Blake. It’s poor form to drag your friends into horrid situations BLIND.

            2. I started laughing at the irony of Blake later being upset that an ally didn’t clue him into something important.

              Then it occurred to me that it might be a big enough shock to get him to actually get better about this crap, in ways that Dickswizzle clearly didn’t.

            3. shea,
              oh god. you’re right! (and yes, belatedly laughing).
              Hoping wildbow takes your take.

          2. I think everyone should be using the following phrase more often, “Have you told me everything tactically relevant to our current situation and any upcoming events?”

            1. Addendum:

              everyone should be using the following phrase more often, “Have you told me everything tactically and strategically relevant to our current situation and any upcoming events?”

      2. Yeah, I got that impression too. I assume she’s thrilled to get one round fulfilled in such a controlled way and I’d imagine she has a lot of trouble gaining power as fast as she wants to, since she:
        1) doesn’t have books, so extra time doesn’t help
        2) is not a target and so has to be a belligerent if she wants something (not good for karma or attracting allies)
        3) is outclassed by most people in Jacob’s Bell, so she can’t win in most fights she could get into anyway

        Also, quote to back up your last sentence:

        “No. Walk blindly, pay no attention to this, forget. It’ll make things easier, when the blood and darkness come, next time. Your power is the oath’s power.” (2.y)

        1. Your power is the oath’s power. Please note, this could mean Solomon’s Oath. Common mortals should not be harmed. M/L.

          1. Eh, I don’t think so. It’d be a very weird way of wording Solomon’s Oath. More importantly, there’s no real reason to assume that the goblins are following Solomon’s Oath, and there’s a very good reason to think they aren’t: they’re destroying an entire city of muggles and murdering said muggles with reckless abandon.

      3. ” In actuality, the way her curse is structured, the more powerful she is the more powerful the second and third rounds will be.”

        Nope. there is going to be a serial progression, but it could be smaller every time.

        See Laird-
        “And it’s up to you. We can manage this, or we can leave it be. It could be bloodier, darker, more dangerous, with each repetition of the three, or it could be quieter, a controlled chaos we can both benefit from.”

        1. I forgot Laird’s comment – good point. But please note the context for each.

          Fell’s brother was apparently trying to stop the other (and Other) goblin queen [for distinction, queen goblin]. He started by doing something that would have made the queen goblin go back to sleep for 300 years. When Maggie interfered with that his next set of advice to Maggie was how to weaken her oath – the same oath that allows the queen goblin to come back. So, upon reflection, my interpretation that more power for Maggie means more direct damage might be wrong – more power for Maggie may instead mean more likelihood that the original queen goblin can come back, using Maggie as an anchor.

          Now, Laird. Who is known to say things that Blake cannot distinguish from outright lies. Laird has made statements that even the commenters have trouble explaining as “not lies”. So, I discount a lot of what he says as statements made with so much hidden context that they are not reliable. Also note that, by his own admission, he banks karma for later use, which might include major misdirection. For those particular statements:

          “And it’s up to you.” True enough – if Maggie’s power is the oath’s power, she can choose to increase or give away her power, so this agrees with what Fell’s brother said. She can also choose to work with Laird and his allies or not. True in many senses.

          “We can manage this, or we can leave it be.” We being the Behaims and Duchamps. Just because Laird is talking to someone doesn’t mean “we” means him and his listener. His and his allies’ interests trump anyone else’s interests, period.

          “It could be bloodier, darker, more dangerous, with each repetition of the three, or it could be quieter, a controlled chaos we can both benefit from.” Again, depends on the interpretation of “we” – even “we… both” might mean him and the Duchamps.

          So, in general, I agree that my interpretation needs re-evaluation. Maggie’s strength being the oath’s strength more likely means that it is more likely to draw the queen goblin (or other major powers, since that is mentioned as an option) back for each round. However, to me, more likely to draw more powerful creatures means more likely to be more destructive. Laird’s comments come from a known manipulator who can make statements that his naive listeners cannot distinguish from lies. And he was fairly clearly trying to manipulate Maggie in that exchange. So the quote from Laird is important in this context, but I am taking it with a salt-mine-sized lump of salt.

          Short form, after rethinking it: Overall, I think that increasing Maggie’s power means increased ability to draw dangerous things back for rounds of darkness and fire. This will likely lead to increased destruction but each round could still be controlled (and therefore possibly weaker, making Laird’s comments a little closer to real truth). I still think Maggie would love to get a round out of the way on someone else’s territory where she can practice and cut loose without direct harm to her family.

          1. “It could be bloodier, darker, more dangerous, with each repetition of the three, or it could be quieter, a controlled chaos we can both benefit from.”

            This is the main point. ‘Both’ in this case obviously means Behaims/Laird and Molly. No one can actually say otherwise and mean it. Even Laird.

            Anyway, even if he did mean the Duchamps/Behaims, so what? The sentence means what it means. The cycle could get worse every time, or it could get lighter, each time. Seriously, try interpreting it otherwise. I dare you.
            🙂

            Your power is the oath’s power. From context you are probably right. He is not talking about Solomon’s oath. Probably oaths/prophecy made with/by/on practitioners are more binding than on mortals. The power of the prophecy depend on how well the oath is enforced. Practitioners must hold to their oaths. Mortals don’t.

            In conclusion, Maggie’s power ensures the oath is kept. The events or the people involved affects how bad it is each time. It can get worse eaach time, or better each time.

            Aand… I looked at the text again and it messes up my position. Help me out?^^”
            “Walk blindly, pay no attention to this, forget. It’ll make things easier, when the blood and darkness come, next time. Your power is the oath’s power.”

            According to this it really does seem that the stronger the oath the darker it gets…

            I’mma gonna argue that if Maggie/the oath got stonger, the more faithful to the oath reality would be. Maybe if she were still ‘pure’ reality could accept some fudging of the oath, it would accept a car accident or a riot as Darkness, Blood, and FireTM. Plus she would still have Solomon’s protection. However, even if she were strong, the cycle could still gets better.

            1. Glad you thought about it. What it boils down to is that the easy interpretation of what Fell’s brother said and the easy interpretation of what Laird said seem to be different. Not exact opposites, but in different directions. Without WoG (WoW) or further evidence we have to wait for the story to tell us more. Which will also likely be ambiguous… Oh well, fun to talk about at least.

    3. “Did Maggie do more than promise not to swear or say dirty things? It seems she is connected with someone or something that’s calling her out when she aludes to something dirty.”

      No, it seems like it is spirit-enforced, or fairie-enforced, like how Patrick’s companion wanted to take Blake’s apologies. Not a promise, but a trade.

  10. Uh. So you can’t run away or the Earth Autons (because i’m not going to call an army of mooks made from display mannequins any other way) close on you, you can’t speak on the Air ones get you, if you just stand around eventually the Fire ones will burn you to death and magic triggers the Water ones. My guess is that the Metal ones only defend the others, and are not seeking out targets. The question is, what does each of them do when they attack. We know Fire probably explodes. Earth and/or Metal probably hist hard but not much else, or maybe they petrify you? I guess Air could drain the oxygen in the area, or blast you with wind to make you lose your footing. And water…. summoning a wave would be a bit cliché, but maybe they can work with the water in a human body. Inflicting wounds and the like.

    1. I’m just surprised that Blake & gang didn’t tip them over so that they just fell on each other and set off like a disaster domino for sheer comedy value.

    2. I’m just surprised that Blake & gang didn’t tip them over so that they just fell on each other and set off like a disaster domino for sheer comedy value.

      1. That would be hilarious, but they’d have to attempt it from very long range. I think all those dolls are rigged to go off once they get close enough.

    3. Earth might increase gravity for the target and water dehydrate? Or overhydrate, omg. You keep vomiting up water you didn’t drink and of course it causes disorientation and confusion and death. Never saw that in a story 🙂 But I’m not sure how physics play into this, if the fire things can explode without being loaded with explosives, would the water types theoretically need a water source for this or no? ?? If they can summon waves they could forego the so-and-so many steps for this specific action and surf.
      I want the metal ones to just latch onto people and get dragged around. Or they might grab you and then petrify themselves. At least they all seem to be close ranged. And since air is not only activated by breathing but also speaking, I’m gonna add something like carrying your words away so nobody hears you (scream).

    4. I wouldn’t be surprised if the metal dolls respond to artifice or mundane devices. I’d be terribly disappointed if a modern practitioner forgot to account for guns or grenades.

        1. The problem with that is, as Blake’s internal monologue mentioned, the ones that responded to rarer stimuli seemed to move the fastest when they were stirred. The heat seekers were slow but constant, the tremor-sense dolls were slightly faster than walking pace, the breathers could catch up very quickly, and the water/spell trackers covered more distance than any of the other types did up to that point in just a few seconds. Intentionally setting off the iron types would be suicidal.

  11. Could Maggie do more with the sword than Blake? She doesn’t have any special Goblin Queen Powers, does she? Not even inherited reputation. Just a little experience?

    So Rose will probably summon all of the Others she picked. I feel like the Pact cast might grow to be even more extensive than the Worm one since there’ll be Summonings and Familiars.
    Thank you again for writing, Wildbow!

    1. I think Blake wants to keep the sword away from Maggie BECAUSE she could get more use out of it. So long as he has it, the profit from releasing the sword is firmly smaller than the profit from keeping it bound.

  12. Oh, wow, I hadn’t realized how much I missed Maggie until you started writing her again. She’s my absolute favorite character. Ever.

    That said, I’m curious as to what changes Blake sees in her. While we have a bit more knowledge of her motivations for doing things, we’ve pretty much only ever seen her through Blake’s eyes. Bravado in tense situations? A lust for power without always thinking things through? Not that out of the ordinary. If anything, the only difference I noticed is that she’s WAY more open and agreeable than usual. What am I missing?

  13. Nobody else suspecting that Corvidae is/was the bogeyman from the Fell ancestor story? A misplaced connection between father and daughter would do well to explain that entire debacle.

    1. I’m guessing no–a major power of Fell’s ancestor’s Bogeyman was the ability to steal faces. That doesn’t seem quite like what Corvidae is described as doing. While there is arguably an overlap, Corvidae’s powers are explained thoroughly enough here that completely omitting the face-stealing part would be odd.

        1. No, I didn’t think Corvidae was the boogyman… After he was described. But you know what? I could see him being something Rose would consider, and get along with. As this chapter re-affirms she isn’t as shy about murder as Blake is.

          Also it’s interesting. She considers what Corvidae does scarier than Erasurr. We know why Blake is so scared of Erasurr. So what about Corvidae sets Rose off?

    1. Pencil’s back! I thought you had been kidnapped by a militia of Indonesian goats. Glad to see you made it out ok.

      Also, nice sketch. Not quite how I imagined the sword. Bonus points for details on the sword I missed when first looking and for having Evan in the picture.

      1. Thanks for the warm welcome, it’s good to be baaaah-ck. 🙂 The goats weren’t too bad, though. We became fast friends, kid-ding around all the time. I even goat the chance to meet the famous Indonesian goat pop star, Billy Goat Idol. (Not to be confused with the Indonesian goat minister of employment, Billy Goat Idle.) The paramilitary goats are busy with other projects, at the moment. They’re working on a propaganda movie, directed by Frank Capra. [/LatinPunForAllTheAcademics]

    2. That is a scary sword. Both for the wielder and the other victim. One might even call it…double-edged.

        1. Nah, my drums and cymbal got run over by a train. You shoul have seen my drums roll. Now that was a crash. Serious broken up beats.

          1. Yes in this story you have to be careful with the Cymbalism in case you drum up unwanted attention. and hey, nice to know running theory that PG ate PM has now been disproven.

      1. He upset the Canadian Yakuza and had to apologize.

        Then ErasUr ate them all off-screen. She ate the finger, too, so now Blake thinks he was born that way.

    3. Nice to see you didn’t give up on fanart. 🙂

      Re: hyenablade – the blade itself was uneven, with terrible weight.
      I didn’t see it as a curved blade from that part, just… a completely asymetrical broadsword with horrible weight distribution. Still, I tip my hat to your attention to details.

      1. Absolutely true, a wonky sword would’ve been closer to the description. However, it was tempting to make it a curved blade, instead, so it would look more like a tongue or a claw. The Hyena itself was described as emaciated and deformed, yet symmetrically so, and since its hilt was described as having a silhouette of the Hyena (presumably in the guard of the sword) and a claw as its pommel, it seemed natural for the blade to be a representation of the Hyena’s body, as well.

    4. Hmm, not really how I imagined the sword, personally. Too many spikes on the handle, and they’re too long; it mentioned that they made it almost impossible to wield without cutting yourself, not impossible to wield without impaling your hand a dozen times.

      1. Fair point, but with long spikes, it would (almost) be possible to hold the sword safely, by carefully sliding your fingers past the Chaos Death Spiky Bits, or using them for added purchase. If you tried to wield it, you’d immediately slash your wrist or lower arm on it. Shorter spikes would be much more troublesome, at least if my personal experience with trimming brambles and rose bushes are any indication to go by. 😉

        Besides, if the spikes make it so super-difficult to wield the sword normally, this would give Blake the perfect excuse to craft his own set of sword-chucks. 😀

        http://8bittheater.wikia.com/wiki/Sword-Chucks

        As for the excessive quantity of spikes… Well, let’s just chalk that up to cartoonish over-simplification, aye? 😛 Much like Blake’s missing finger, which certainly wasn’t caused by the same laziness that made Disney give Mickey and Donald four fingers, rather than five… Ahem.

  14. Our cover was poor at best – a short fence around a patio for some place called ‘Miss Panda’s’

    Thanks for the birthday wishes, Wilbur. You’re a bro. And a dick. ❤

  15. “I wanted to be a good person, but being a hero wasn’t really in my makeup. At the end of the day, I was more focused on just trying to repay the debts I owed and make sure that I left the world better than it was when I’d come into it.”
    Hm, sounds familiar 😀

  16. There is absolutely no way that Rose actually opened up that discussion with her real first choice of summoning. I guarantee you she had her eye on summoning Midge from the beginning. Summoning Midge first, anyway; once Blake’s assented to one summoning, might it not be easier to convince him to agree to more?

    Oh, and I enjoyed Tiffany noticing the Blake/Maggie ship. Man the cannons!

    1. I have no idea why everyone is talking about the various merits of all the possible summons, Midge is what Rose summoned and no one has said a thing about it.

      1. A manifestation of a Hicksploitation stereotype that happens to be true. I’m just waiting to see how Wildbow will present other urban legends and horrors.

        1. Well Fell is on their side now, so they don’t need the psycho in the backseat of the car.

          “Oh, and I enjoyed Tiffany noticing the Blake/Maggie ship. Man the cannons!”
          Hey, now enough Blake to go around, right? I mean I kinda like them both. Course would have been funny if this happened.
          Maggie- “So I’m just wondering what Blake’s like… You know at… Things… In a room with a girl.”
          Tiffany-“What!?”
          Maggie-“I’m just wondering. I mean, I made an offer once, but he turned it down, and it left me wondering…”

        2. Ya been around enough places, you find out a lot of things are truer, and rarer, than folks’d have you believe.

          As for Dark? This isn’t even. Fits into nearly a Troll archetype (or possibly “dumb dwarf”)

    2. It was so obvious a manipulation technique that it wasn’t worth mentioning & I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that there are many Others that she has in mind but have not yet mentioned that she will railroad Blake into agreeing to summon by mentioning the worse ones she has no intention to summon first.

  17. I am quite new here, and have already found myself quite engaged. A question though: are the runes they use the Elder Futhark, or does runic thaumaturgy in the Pactverse run on a different orthographic system?

    1. I’m not detecting much scandinavian/celtic about the Sisters, so your choice of orthography probably applies unless otherwise stated.

    2. A different one, I assume. Duncan’s time-loop working was described as a “diagram,” the Repel rune looked nothing like the futhark I’ve seen, and Fell’s attempt to restart his car involved several interlocking runes.

  18. I’ve thought of an interesting way that Blake could attempt to win the contest. I can’t exactly remember the rules of the contest that Conquest agreed to, but at least one of them has to be along the lines of “None of Conquest’s allies or servants, other than his 5 champions, are allowed to kill Blake”. The rule needs to be at least that strict, else Conquest could get around it by “suggesting” to his allies that they should kill Blake.
    My question is, what if Fell were to kill Blake? He’s still Conquest’s slave by the blood oath, albeit one the Conquest can’t currently order, so if he were to kill Blake it would break the above rule. Conquest would find himself forsworn. I’m not sure what happens when an Other breaks an oath, but if practitioners lose access to magic when they do so, then it can’t be pretty.
    It gets even better than this because Fell and Blake don’t actually have to follow through. They can merely threaten Conquest with the prospect and force him to surrender. It’s quite poetic as this was how Conquest bound Fell’s ancestor: by tricking him into a situation where only within Conquest’s permission could he avoid breaking his rash oath. Because of this, Blake could probably work out this gambit when Fell gets him his ancestors’ journals.
    I was hoping that Blake could extort more out of Conquest via this method, but unfortunately Conquest can always end the terms of the contest by surrendering so that will have to suffice.

    1. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Conquest surely didn’t enter a competition where an unrelated freak accident could leave him forsworn. Also, the two competitors and all champions are allowed to recruit anyone they want in any way they want, its just that the two kingpins that aren’t allowed to exert force upon anyone.

      1. The problem with the rule “Conquest is not allowed to force anyone to help him” is that Conquest can say to everyone in Toronto that he’s the clear favourite to win, and that anyone who helps will get a reward and that for anyone who doesn’t… (Euphemism for “I’m going to kill/torture you if you don’t, but I’m not allowed to say that explicitly while the contest is still happening”). With that, Blake should already have been overwhelmed.

        Besides, there’s no point dismissing any strategy on the basis that Conquest is too clever to fall for it. Given the difference in raw power, the only way Blake will win this is if Conquest blunders. Given that, why can’t Conquest’s mistake have happened already, when he didn’t scrutinise the terms thoroughly and missed a loophole? Especially a loophole that can only be exploited by a strategy antithetical to Conquest, namely self-sacrifice.

        1. I think Blake’s plan is to exploit a weakness of Conquest. Namely that he is Conquest. He has to either conquer things, or take a hit to his power. He can get around this by using a human sacrifice, but that pool is limited too. Blake realized Conquest is a lot weaker than he lets on. And he likened Conquest to a machine. So I think his plan is to get Conquest to expend power over the next few days, then utilize the weakening so ghosts like June can really effect things in Conquests realm. Hmmn, now that I think about it, it would be really funny if Rose where the champion to take Conquest, and then only because she can come out in his realm. But they have to win this, and for keeps, because Conquest isn’t the sort of enemy close enough works with.

  19. “Calling her a demon or a thing of darkness, and the label starts to become true, in a roundabout way. ”

    Sort of like how if you keep calling someone a Diabolist and treating them as a threat, they become one, hmm? Lots of great lines this chapter.

  20. Well, consider that this story is slated to go for, what, a year, year and a half or so? Now consider this fight with Conquest and how things are changing and how the contest continues to go on. It’s just possible that Blake doesn’t win this fight. That the fight continues to go on in different forms for the next year or whatever and then he dies.

    1. Do you mean a year real time or in universe? I don’t think Blake can afford to spend a year fighting in Spirit Toronto. Blake still has things that he needs to do.

      In a few hours Blake has to report to Toronto police. He also needs to get Tiffany to swear off using demons Within the next couple of months, Blake still needs to campaign in Jacob’s Bell so that he isn’t executed by public vote. He also needs to attend the town meeting. Sometime he needs to find out whether he can give Briar Girl her little plot of land and, if not, find something suitable to give her instead. He needs to finish Black Lamb’s Blood. Eventually Blake also has to make a deal with Padraic (although he won’t become forsworn if he doesn’t, he will just make Padraic an enemy) and may or may not have to explain parts of the Infiltration to Laird’s niece.

      Blake has a lot of relatively immediately responsibilities and oaths to fulfill. He should end the threat of Conquest as quickly as possible. Personally I think Blake should figure out a way to bind C.

        1. With Blake it’s not a question of will he win. It’s a question of how much he’s screwed when he wins.

          1. Nice summary of every Pact conflict so far.

            . . . except maybe ErasUr, depending on how you count.

        1. ‘Show her his secret’, not tutor her. Exact words, so he can necessarily show her a mundane secret and not a magical one without being forsworn.

          1. Real exact words:
            “Huh?” I heard her say.“Shh,” I shushed her. “If you keep it a secret, I’ll show you later.”
            It’s unclear but I think it refers to how his eyes are now the wrong color. Thus, Blake has to show her how to apply glamour.

            1. I think he just has to show her. As in, already have it rubbed in (assuming that he even has that much left to work with), walk up to the girl, rub his eyes while saying “see?” to change their color, then walking away.

              That seems like it would follow the lines of the promise well enough.

      1. The promise was not to make a deal with padraic, but to hear him out, which opens the door if he does decide to make the deal.
        But, he probably will, as padraic is probably the only faerie that doesn’t want him dead or works for the DuChamps, and blake is running dangerously low on a power source that he is very good at using. Patric can be his new …dealer? Supplier? Pimp?

        Wow… I forgot about half those things…. blake sure has his work cut out for him. I mean really- I’m not sure even I could settle all that without more problems arising along the way.

        Something about conquering conquest seems like a bad idea. But if he somehow BINDS A LORD and an INCARNATION OF CONQUEST to his will…. I doubt he will need to worry about inquisitors messing with his cabal any time soon.

        1. Or perhaps all of the Inquisitors will come after him then, because that sounds like he’s traipsing right over the line to “too dangerous to live.”

          1. In that situation- yeah it would totally call for all forces to unite to TRY to take him out.

            But as things stand now? Blake is too dangerous to live as he is.
            He has generations of demonic knowledge literally at his fingertips (if he’s near a mirror anyways), and went up against and bested –
            A time lord and his circle
            an imp on his way to being a well-known demon of disorder
            an army of ghosts, specters, and other Others, including twisted faeries
            a goblin that OTHER GOBLINS are afraid of
            the universe’s plan to end him
            AND he is currently standing his ground against a lord of a major city, and an incarnation of conquest, gained a cabal, and is turning a VERY diverse number of Practitioners and Others to his cause (even if they shouldn’t be trusted).

            Not to mention he may be partially possessed and not know it, has already upset the natural order of things on an insane scale, and has one of the worst kinds of evil siting in his attic waiting to go all “Barber-ific” on someone. ….
            And it has only been 3-6 weeks since he learned that magic existed.

            Blake is dangerous. Very, very dangerous.

            1. And it has only been 3-6 weeks since he learned that magic existed.

              And by that you mean 2 weeks right? From when Blake met Rose and left Toronto until now has only been about 2 weeks (maybe about 11 or 12 days depending on how you count).

              Yes Blake is scary. Just looking at what he’s done, others would justifiably be worried about the man.

              I can only imagine what it would be like if Blake won this war and we had a time skip to a couple months in the future. Blake could easily be a massive threat leading the Blakeguard in his quest to hunt monsters. . . Or he could end up a slave to a Castrati demon, being hunted down by Tiffany (the only other surviving member of the Blakeguard).

            2. Wait. 2 weeks? The hell? Really?

              I’m not doubting you, as I know you are one of the people contributing to the comments the most. I just thought it was at least three weeks. Because when he got the place to when the first counsel meeting and then from that until the DuChamp/behaim family get together party thing was at least 3 weeks in total. I am going on memory though. Where did I count wrong?

            3. Here’s my calculations:

              Upon returning to Toronto, Joel said Blake had been gone 1 week. That’s 7 days depending on what Joel meant as a week. That night, he met Conquest. The next 3 nights Blake doesn’t hunting the the Toronto baddies. That’s 10 days. Right now is a few hours after the the third night. That makes roughly 11 days depending on your interpretation of Joel’s week.

              I could be wrong, but that’s my math.

            4. But yeah. He’s done a LOT in a short amount of time. Dude is scary.

              Can you imagine what a timejump would do to him? He’d be overlord of North America.

              And I love your blakeguard idea. Especially after isadora’s interpretation of the name Blake.

              I….. can’t see tiff turning into a badass though. Or having to hunt someone she knew. She seems too…. spineless for that (for lack of a better term).
              Unless she got some pauz-juice again. That was hilariously awesome.

  21. Guys, guys, I just thought of something! Maybe the difference between a broken promise and a broken oath (Forsworn), is who is listening and if you are called on it! No one called out Duncan, Ms. Lewis said that the Thorburns were lucky that not many spirits heard them be sarcastic, and Pauz had to try to officially get Blake forsworn!

    1. The idea is that there is always spirits listening. in the air, the ground, everywhere. maybe if he makes it to space or an alternate dimension or something. The resaon things are calling him for being forsworn is they are arguing an interpretation of his oath and actions that COULD be viewed as breaking it and he has to retort and say that he hasn’t and why.

      1. Yes, exactly. The spirits will enforce the forswearing if it is obvious that it is a broken oath. If it is unclear, like Pauz, like Conquest, there has to be a case, someone has to declare them forsworn, and give them a chance to defend themselves. It might also have to do with the amount of spirits that hear. Maybe you can only be forsworn by a deal or a promise, not lies.

        1. Well, if you follow the theory of Animism, that makes sense. But when they awaken it could be that whatever spirit gave them their sight during the ritual monitors them for simplicity.

      2. There are more than just spirits listening, many others who see the world in weird ways. some of them might even see the world as lines of text on a screen..

  22. You know, if Rose had been around when Molly started out, I sincerely think that she wouldn’t have died (fanfic material). If her life wasn’t tied to Blake’s, I’d suggest she get passed down from heiress to heiress as an adviser. At least until she tried to take over.

    And what classification does a bogeyman fall under?

  23. sigh missed opportunity for someone to make the comparison that Rose was on her way to becoming her own Bloody Mary.
    Also, Out of all the cool and EPIC partners rose listed…. kinda let down she picks the inbred tank over the guy that makes new connections.

    Maybe next time? I’m awaiting the part where rose convinces blake to let her summon something for the third time….

    1. I’d be leery of Corvidae. I don’t want, for instance, my vehicle to suddenly belong to someone else. If anything I’d contract him for a set amount of time (say, a year and a day).

      1. But he’s so useful! Turn opponents against eachother, make one of the DuChamp’s best enchanchress fall in love with ty, take laird’s job from him and give it to blake, etc.

        But I can see why he’s too dangerous to call- piss him off and the next cool thing or person you serendipitously find is a perfect reason for you only ally to go all brutus on you.

        1. He’s a dirty bomb. He may not even be a nuke, so much as a normal bomb that scatters radioactive waste. He’s got to be hell on the Karma, and their can be horrible unintended side effects that resault from whatever conflicts he sets off.

        2. All that sounds fun, but what are the costs ? If they are anywhere around barbie’s deals, you don’t want the crow out of his box.

            1. I’m not clear on how permanent the blood loss is. It does sound attractive, but maybe not so much if I end up debilitatingly anemic for the rest of my life.

        3. Corividae’s power is to turn pretty much anything into the apple of discord. And anyone into Helen of Troy. The problem with him is that he might set off a chain reaction. Other people might get sucked into the mess that ensues. What was supposed to be a beauty pagent prize turns into WW3. And if they ever track it back to you, all sides are going to have one thing in common. Being pissed at the douche responsible. So use him with great care.

  24. Corvidae sounded like the most interesting of the lot. I hope they summon him later on, he’d be a great counter to enemy enchanters.

    1. Goblins to the face are good counters to enchanters. J. Crow is good against almost anything but enchanters. Enchanters are the experts in connections.

  25. First off, AGAIN WITH THE CREEPY MANNEQUINS? We had enough fun with the Mannequin. Now a large squad of them?

    Well at least they don’t have grappling hooks.

    Secondly, I concur on the notion that Old Crow could jack up C all the way. Easiest thing in the world for Crow to make sure Conquest loses everything he’s won.

    He’d also make a fiiiiine familiar for Fell.

    1. We don’t know what the metal ones do. They may have the Grappeling hooks. As it is we have various ways of sensing things, and suicide bombers. Let’s hope the spirit of hicksploitation is good. Otherwise Rose is probably going to go for something worse next time. Hey, Rose, Maggie, Evan is great because he’s got great utility, not because he can smash stuff up!

    2. If it helps, they closely resemble the Autons from Nu!Who’s pilot. Except, you know, with drawings on their foreheads.

      1. The autons existed long before Nu!Who,they ever predated the first appearance of the Master by one season,appearing first on the Third Doctor era.

        1. This is very true. Landis’s statement is still correct, though – they did appear in the NuWho pilot.

          It’s especially correct if he was saying that these mannequins resemble the NuWho Autons rather than the dated-looking 70s ones…

  26. Double posts are twice as nice.

    Continuing on with Corvidae, he’s obviously a trickster like… Well, Trickster. Heh. But seriously, while I can’t say he IS Raven, or like Coyote or Anansi or Loki, his primary power certainly indicates he’s all about messing with people. The real question is, just how malevolent is he?

    1. My friend,if he isn’t malevolent,he is crsed with a tragic power and trying to spread his fame to dissuade others from summoning him.But then he wouldn’t be grateful to RDT…unless hecan control his ower when bound.

  27. Okay so first comment, even though I’ve been a fairly long-time follower of your work, Wildbow. I’ll just get down to it:

    Blake’s conversation with Tiffany (Collateral 4.6) read like a session between two psychologists. I get that Blake & Tiffany are suppose to be socially bit uncomfortable/awkward, but that dialogue really read like that to me. Person A confesses some past actions/events that affect his current ones, B gives an acknowledging statement and A continues. Then roles are reversed.

    The dialogue in general seems to sound a bit off at times; granted that might be in part because practioners can’t outright lie. Prime examples would be Evan-Blake dialogue and Rose-Blake dialogue. Blake has been incredibly straightforward and honest in those, it also seems seems they’re a bit too scripted, in order to achieve A and with the directest route possible. While it’s good to not have excess words, I feel conversation would be more life-like with some fat to the bones.

    This one is a bit of a minor nitpick: “Mary Frances Troxler” being in use before 0 AD already. The Mary part is perfectly fine, being in the Testament and having roots in Greek/Hebrean languages. Francis, however, originates from around the 13th century and is basically the English version of Franciscus(late Latin), that basically translates to “Frenchman”. Troxler, well, reminds me of Troxler’s Effect, named after a Swiss scientist. Would fit with the “Frances” part, but if she came into being already pre-AD, it’d be better to give her a full Hebraic name, or put in a mention she’s probably been renamed over time.

      1. This makes me wonder about some things we were discussing before. It seems like if asked a certain number of times, an other must give a name, or be named. And that the namer has some power over the named. Rose tried this on ErasUrr. Maybe Grandma Rose did the same thing for Barbertorem?

  28. Out of the four Midge seems the logical choice. The psycho mirror ghost has too much chance of turning on Rose, the candle zombie is persistent but doesn’t seem all that powerful and has a fire weakness, and the bogeyman is scary in a similar way to the eraser and seems more like it’d do long term damage than anything else. Best just to go with the simplicity of a hulking hillbilly horror.

    1. The Midge is a manifestation of hicksploitation sterotypes which entered modern public consciousness with the legends of Alexander “Sawney” Bean & Christie-Cleek. It’s probable weaknesses would include:- ritual removal of genitalia, hands and feet then left to bleed to “death”, fire, hanging and possibly wood from a Dule Tree.

      On a side note, maybe the Bonhomme Sept-Heures will make an appearance if Blake ever goes to Quebec.

      1. Given that Others seem to primarily be weak to their thematic opposites, it seems to me more likely that she’d be weak to symbols of civilisation and (especially) sophistication. Classical music, technology, symbols of organised religion, and the like.

    2. Of the four? Don’t you mean of the six?

      “Then, um, let me see here, I’ve got it in one of these books, I color coded the bookmarks. Except I didn’t have a bookmark for the sixth, so I used a sprig of herb.”

      (and yes, I know that you meant of the four mentioned. I just wanted to point this little detail out, since it seems to have been overlooked.)

      1. That seems oddly worded. “I marked the pages” or “Bookmarked the pages” would have worked.

        Why did she specify that she used a sprig of herb for the sixth? Being careful about lying? It doesn’t seem like the spirits would be THAT anal about semantics. Seems suspicious.

  29. Hey Wildbow, I’ve been writing my own web serial for a while and I was hoping if you could link it on here, por favor? I remember you had a rule that you’ll only link a web serial if it has ten chapters, and mine has reached that requirement.

    The title is The Saints. Link’s here: http://arcanenetwork.wordpress.com/

    Thanks.

  30. I think Midg would be a better spelling than Midge. More in keeping with the whole “less than human” motif.

    1. Midge’s parents probably don’t know how to read and write in the first place. Whoever wrote that book either wrote down his name as he heard it or copied it from someone else who did that.

  31. Ok, so Bloody Mary, the Candyman (or the Candleman in this case) mixed with the Creeper, the Crow, and female Leatherface. I’ve seen worse teams.

    So they went with Midge. I’m torn between a pair of quotes here, but I think I can save the second for a moment later. So here’s the first thing I thought of about our dear Midge: “They may be zombified pain-worshiping backwoods idiots, but their our zombified pain-worshiping backwoods idiots.”

    As for part of the suspiciousness of Maggie, I have seen two things that seem odd to me. First was that Maggie was getting really, really close to being forsworn over swearing. Somehow, she even had a heads up from some other source that what she was about to say, while not a cuss word, would count as sufficiently obscene to forswear her. This seems odd, especially when you consider that your local person to deal with the forsworn is Conquest.

    Then there’s this:

    “But Maggie Holt doesn’t have a history of doing things halfways. You asked for me, you got me, and you got someone who knows their way around this sort of thing. Dealing with the ugly things. Tell me more about them?”

    Does Maggie Holt also have a history of referring to herself in the third person? And while we’re at it, does she usually say “You asked for me, you got me” so soon after they were mentioning the names of various Others who were similar to demons?

    And most important, is Maggie Holt gonna step in this ring and try to go one on one with the Great One? Because the Rock will never, and the Rock means never!, lose to such a roody-poo jabroni. So the Rock says this. Take the Hyena. Shine that sumbitch up real nice, turn it sideways, and shove it straight up Maggie Holt’s candyass!

    If ya smelllllll, what the Rock is cookin’?

    1. Maggie always curses attempts to curse like that. Like a stutterer, she can’t get it out. It’s my opinion that she gave away her ability to curse, as opposed to swearing not to swear.

    2. “Does Maggie Holt also have a history of referring to herself in the third person? And while we’re at it, does she usually say “You asked for me, you got me” so soon after they were mentioning the names of various Others who were similar to demons?”

      Ohh… that’s a good guess. I missed that one.

      But of the people/Others Blake has asked for up to this point, who among them is capable of full-on body snatching? Or at least possessing? I really hope “claiming ownership of your body” isn’t something this Corvidae fellow can do.

      1. I can think of one fellow in particular who has been spotted around Toronto in the past and who may have an odd relationship with Conquest, but the third person part in itself is more weird than anything. After all, she did come out and say that she was Maggie Holt earlier. It just didn’t seem completely right for her.

  32. Alright, so it appears the Sisters are doing it for themselves. This would be an excellent time for a smoke grenade, by the way. Toss it out and let the smudges happen. Let’s hope none of them have thought to get Bloody Mary in on this Sister act of mayhem.

    Anyway, it looks like Rose is ready to rumble and she’s brought Midge in to do the monster mash.

    It’s time for the kill count!

    Kill Count 2014: Back By No Demand Whatsoever

    Eyes Poked: 0
    Shepherds Sheered: 0.5
    Behaims Beheaded: 0
    Astrologers Debunked: 0
    Elder Sisters Embarrassed To Death: 0

    Conquests’ Keisters Kicked: 0


    Roses Pruned: 0
    Fells Felled: 0
    Hyenas Laughed Out Of Town: -0.5
    Pauzs Oozed: 0
    Maggies Halted: 0
    Midges Mauled: 0

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0

    And for our song this time around, it was the shattering glass that did it for me. There was a fun quote for awhile in the wrestling world that was used to refer to one certain wrestler, and I think it’s applicable here.

    “When you hear glass, it’s your ass.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=li05vAVXcQs

    Can somebody give me a hell yeah?

  33. “He might really be holier than us, if we’re diabolists, Blake.”
    “Fuck that, and fuck you for saying so,” I said.

    No argument to either one.

    “There’s been theorizing that he was a curse bestowed on us from the First Nations, over some slight.”
    Perfect helper for a couple of Caucasian Practitioners.

    “He takes that which people most love, then gives it to another. Your favorite possession finds its way irrevocably to the hands of your best friend. You can’t fault him for having it, but resentment builds. In a year or two, you’re mortal enemies, and you’ve lost both your favorite thing in the world and your friend. Except it’s not always an object. It could be your soulmate. Your mother or child.”
    “That would suck.”
    “Putting it mildly.”
    “It would suck a lot,” I amended.

    Sounds…interesting.

    “Not a very imposing name. I was hoping for Blake’s familiar to have a name like Melmoth the Skull-Fu-”
    [Maggie] stopped short, then frowned. “Melmoth.”

    …Melmoth? And he’s actually a commenter? This is…unusual. Repeatedly.

    “Technically, I can’t say I’m not a diabolist anymore.”
    You can still say you’re not a willing diabolist.

    “Really!?” [Maggie] asked. “I did not mean anything rude! Not even close! And how does that count!?”
    Well, at least she gets a warning.

    “I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep right again,” Tiff said, her voice quiet.
    Poor Tiff. Well, it’s the cost that comes with the territory.

    “A lot of things about me would surprise you,” Maggie said.
    I have no doubt. Blake made a good friend choice.

    Alexis was naturally heroic. I wasn’t. I wanted to be a good person, but being a hero wasn’t really in my makeup. At the end of the day, I was more focused on just trying to repay the debts I owed and make sure that I left the world better than it was when I’d come into it.
    I dunno, that’s pretty heroic in and of itself.

    “Something’s happened since I left Jacob’s Bell.”
    …Yeah, I guess it has. Can’t quite put my finger on it…like she’s pretending to be Maggie. Not automatically not-swearing, exaggerated stuff, etc.

    Can’t wait to see how this ends up.

  34. I have a question.

    Blake had some allies when dealing with the Demon, right? If I recall correctly, three goblins. If we assume he asked Maggie for help and she gave him some, and those were who got eaten….

    Does it seem strange to anyone else besides me?

    I mean, if that was who helped him, and it “counted” as far as the universe is concerned, this is the third time she has helped him (even if no one remembers the second), but her reasons are…. a lot different than the first time. She seems WAY to eager to help Blake out, and it seems waaaay to strange to say it’s because of the guilt.

    Am I the only one who thinks something is seriously off here? Not just what Blake suggested about something going on in Jacobs Bell, something seems dangerously off here…
    Just me?

    1. Also…. she DID just admit to being enchanted. She may have said that her clothes are magical but… I have never heard of “enchanting” being used in terms other than connections.
      Also never heard her speak in the third person before…

  35. Wildbow, you don’t seem to have noticed that the guy Rose mentions summoning with the bird themed names can also be called Jim Crow. Combine that with the fact that there are (if I’m not mistaken) no black people in this story (there were only 2 in Worm, iirc), and you have a dangerous mix. Is Wildbow racist? O.O Just kidding. I finished Worm and came here, and I’m very glad I did. Blake is starting to feel a lot like Taylor, with this ability to think on his feet. In fact, this feels a lot like Taylor’s first run-in with S9. Good stuff

  36. There’s been theorizing that he was a curse bestowed on us from the First Nations, over some slight.”

    some slight

    At first thought this “Dismissive Understatement of the Year”-winning phrasing was Rose just paraphrasing the sentiments of 19th-century white practitioners, not erasing the bad history there herself. But in light of later discussions with the Sisters of the Torch…

    It certainly resembles Conquest’s way of regarding the natives and the atrocities committed against them.

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