Subordination 6.8

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My gut told me that Evan was a good fit for me.  We meshed, we worked together, we complimented one another’s strengths.  Even on an aesthetic level, maybe, we didn’t look out of place, Evan perched on my hand.  Maybe that was vanity, my self-image, my liking of birds and Evan’s given form.

Maggie, too.  I could picture her with goblins standing in a small group around her.  It was like the way pets came to resemble their owners.  Maggie’s hair stuck up in places, her clothes were slightly mismatched, and her forward attitude was one that could leverage goblins.

I could see Rose, reflected in a cracked window, and I could see Midge, meeting the water-runed dolls head on.

Whatever it was, that same gut feeling told me that Midge wasn’t a good fit for Rose.

I had a suspicion as to why Rose had gravitated towards Midge as a summoning, but it wasn’t a suspicion I was free to think through.  We had more pressing problems.

Tiff and Fell did what they could to stop the two that reached us.  Fell kicked the one, while Tiff swung her bag like a flail at one that was only waist high.  All things considered, the dolls went down easy.  Fell planted his foot on the neck of the one he’d kicked over, stomping hard enough to sever head from body.  No more avenues for the mystic energies to flow through the thing’s body.

Of the rest, Midge grabbed the two vessels closest to her and used them as bludgeons to strike down the next three to pass within ten feet of her.  They weren’t really for fighting.  Plastic, and many were hollow plastic.  They couldn’t deliver many hits, but they could latch on, smother, or simply deliver their relatively weak hits over and over again.  It enraged her more than it hurt her.

She took a step forward, oblivious to the fact that it would bring the earth dolls closer.

Midge was easily a few hundred pounds, more reminiscent of a Neanderthal than Homo Erectus.  She smelled, she had bad teeth, and her dress was some old fashioned thing that dated to an era when very few people had been obese, or nourished enough to grow above six feet in height, a draping of cloth with a too-small flower print that looked like bargain bin curtain material, her large, misshapen nipples standing out like golf balls beneath the thin fabric.  She walked through snow on dirty, bare feet.

Her hair was thin, coarse, and lanky.  But her eyes… yeah.  I could see where the ‘subhuman’ label had been applied.  Or even where people might have thought of her as a demon.  Not only a glare, but a hard stare that held hatred for every last thing in the world, shifting to suggest a nuance to that hatred, for each and every thing she looked at.  Resentment, disgust, loathing.

It was very possible that someone or something like her might have been called an ogre, once upon a time.  Fix the hair and clothes and keep her eyes hidden, and she might not turn many heads on the street.  Leave her as she was, and she fit among the monsters just as easily.

She was big, red in the face, and her blood had been practically boiling from the moment she’d arrived.  She grunted with every swing of meaty fists, breathing hard, roaring wordlessly.  She didn’t walk, but stomped.  She was magical by virtue of the fact that she’d been summoned here.

She was hitting all the marks to draw the attention of the dolls and mannequins.

Even swamped, bogged down under their combined weight, she was managing.

But even if they were thrown off or torn in half, they came back.  Not putting themselves together, but crawling, lurching, or otherwise flailing in an attempt to close the distance.

They were drawing closer to us.

“She’s not hitting the runes,” I said.  “Rose, tell her.”

“Midge!” Rose called out.  “Get the-”

Barely even sparing a glance, Midge caught one by the middle and hurled it.

“-Symbols-”

The thrown doll sailed through the Rose-occupied window.  We collectively flinched as shattered glass flew past us.

Our retreat and our gasps had brought more of the dolls toward us.  Many included the ones that Midge had broken.

“Might be better to leave her alone,” Maggie commented.

An explosion erupted as one of the dolls got too close to Midge.  I saw two more twisting, contorting, their limbs bending in impossible ways as they turned their ‘faces’ skyward.

I shielded my face in anticipation of the explosions.

Two more.  Not as bad as I might expect from a grenade, but still enough, I imagined, to leave a serious injury.

Midge lowered her arm, where she was covering her face.  Her other hand was outstretched, reaching.

Fire had scorched her, leaving the skin discolored and split, angry black-red scorch marks visible on the flesh, even from a short distance away.  Two meaty fingers dangled backward, waggling from the thin bits of tissue that attached them to her hand.

She used the damaged hand to cave in one hard plastic head.  A finger came loose as she did.

The elbow of that same arm drove another back into the crowd.

Not even slowing down.

Her face was burned, I saw, as she turned to one side.  The pain seemed to encourage her.  It made sense in a way, if raw anger and hate were the only things that fueled her, then pain would motivate, not debilitate.

It reminded me of my own train of thoughts, not so long ago.  Pain and emotions and the impact they had on us.

“Talk some,” Fell said.  “She’s got their attention, we can drag a few of the least dangerous ones away and deal with them.”

“Right,” Maggie said.

“She’s not listening to Rose?” I asked.

“Experience tells me you gotta wait for the right moment” Maggie said.

“Blake said you were a novice,” Fell said.

“I’m a firm believer in making up for a lack of quantity in experience with quality.  Quality experience says that you either get the bad Others who-”

She stopped as the next batch of dolls arrived.

I participated this time, guarding Fell’s left side.  I had the sword wrapped up, to keep Maggie from noticing the particulars, and I’d paid particular attention to binding up the handle, where the three-quarter inch spikes were just dense enough that I couldn’t comfortably hold the thing.

Even though it was wrapped in cloth, the top end far too heavy, I managed to jab one with the sword, driving it back.  I hit it in the leg, aiming for the joint, and belatedly realized it was the most durable part of the mannequin.

Fell kicked it in the chest in the same way someone might try to kick in a door.  The chest caved in and weight did the rest.  The mannequin folded in half, pulled down by the weight of arms and its head.

There were only a scattered few left.

“I hope the right moment comes soon,” I said.  “This is one metaphorical genie that needs to go back in her bottle.”

Maggie nodded.  Her eyes were on Midge.

More explosions, doing more damage to the other mannequins than they did to Rose’s new pet.

“This is how the sisters operate?” I asked.

“No,” Fell said.

“Then how?”

“The Lord of a City often imposes rules of conduct.  In Toronto, as you’ll find in many places, the very first time you go to ask the Lord of the City for something, you’ll be asked to agree to certain terms.  One of those terms is that you need to be ready to stand in defense of the city.  These vessels would be the token offering from the Sisters of the Torch.”

“In case some aspiring Lord comes and decides to unseat Conquest?” I asked.

“More or less.”

I nodded.

The snow made it hard to tell which ones had which rune.  The metal-runes had barely moved from their meandering circuit through the area, and the others were largely engaged with Midge.

Two, I saw, were twisting and shriveling like ants underneath the microscope.  Fire runes.

“Heads up!”  I called out.

But Midge grabbed them, one in each hand.

The left-hand one was shoved right into the midst of the other vessels.

The right-hand one was a doll, the same size as a five year old child, but hairless.  Midge turned, heaving it like someone might throw a shot-put.

In our general direction.

“Shit!” I shouted.

“Crumbs!”

We turned, putting distance between us and the flying doll.

Midge wasn’t throwing at us.

Not at the mortal humans, no.

At Rose.  The doll was flying toward the same building where Midge had thrown the doll through the window.

I looked at Rose.  “Move!”

She moved, darting off to the right side of the window.  I didn’t see her in any of the adjacent windows in the half-second before I covered my face and eyes.

The explosion shattered a series of windows on the ground floor, and cracked a few on the second floor.

The explosion went off a few feet from Midge, too.  She stumbled, but didn’t lose her footing.

Midge was in the process of going after the ‘metal’ vessels.  They didn’t fight back as she tore them to pieces.

When they started to go down, the struggling remains of the other vessels ceased.

The metal ones had been, what, transmitting a signal?  Providing structure?

Maybe a factor in why they had all arrived around the same time.  The ‘metal’ vessels were the generals.  Vulnerable on their own.

Well, the others hadn’t put up a big fight.

In the midst of the half-circle of flames and burning plastic limbs around her, Midge glared at us.

She was bruised, bleeding from a dozen cuts and scrapes, and she was burned.  Here and there, wounds overlapped.  In places where she’d been burned and then punched, the skin was more messed up.

Had it been us in the thick of that, even as a group, I didn’t think we would have been standing.  But as far as Midge was concerned, the vessels hadn’t served any purpose except to help her demonstrate just how good she was at hurting and killing human-shaped things.

And now, with the vessels taken care of, the only human-shaped things around were us.

Midge smiled, reaching up to bite off a chunk of skin that hung off the side of her hand, like someone else might bite off a hangnail. She rubbed the resulting ruin of a hand on her dress, leaving a zig-zag of brown-red blood on the fabric.  She didn’t even flinch.

This is some horror movie shit right here.

“How do you get her bound again?” I asked.

Maggie said, “If they’re tightly bound and sworn to oaths, you don’t need to, they stick to the rules that were laid out.”

“Midge isn’t sworn to oaths, is she?”

“Nope,” Maggie said.  “She has to follow the instructions given.”

“I think we need a few more details here.”

“I talked Rose through a basic release.  Rose didn’t think she’d be able to leverage any power, so I drew out the diagrams, she used the Thorburn voice, I did the physical side of the binding, and then passed ownership of it to Rose.  Rose says the word, Midge gets released, Midge goes after the target, then she comes back and is either bound again or banished.”

Fell nodded, as if that made all the sense in the world to him.

“Target’s gone, why isn’t Midge coming back?” I asked.

“You’d have to ask Rose.  Something went wrong.”

“How do we get her to come back, then?”

“Rose has to order it.”

“Midge doesn’t seem interested in giving her the chance,” I said.

“Nope.”

Fell drew his gun.  I doubted it would put Midge down.

This was a mistake.

It was a dangerous mistake.  Something Maggie had pushed for, a little reckless and unprepared, and now we were reaping the consequences.  We’d traded one problem for another.

It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Maggie – I suspected her inability to swear pointed to a mistake in her past.  She was new to this.

It was out of the ordinary for Rose.  Over the past couple of years, I’d spent a lot of time dissecting myself.  How I dealt with problems, what my limits were.  What I needed and why.

How did Rose deal, when backed into a corner?  I knew her to be more disciplined and liable to think to the future on the whole.  But here she was, feeling the effect of almost two weeks of confinement in the mirror world.  Her only contact with others had been a hug and brief handholding with me and some contact with Others, manhandling from Conquest and a quick kiss from Padraic.  She’d been interrogated, and that had only compounded how very vulnerable she felt.

Was this Rose as she was when pushed to her limit?  Reckless?  Just as indiscriminate as I’d been described?

“If Rose hides somewhere out of sight, maybe?” Tiff suggested.

“Theatrics are important,” I said.  “When and how you say something can impact the strength of the words.  Cowering, hiding and asking her to go back is less likely to work than a stern order.”

Midge looked around, turning glaring eyes on everything in the environment.

She bent down to pick up an inert vessel, then grabbed another.  Both mannequins, the heavier sort, damaged from the beating Midge had delivered.  She held them under one arm, then started striding towards us.

Somewhere between an approaching rhino and an infant girl absently carrying a toy around with her.

“Rose,” I said, with a tone and sharpness that carried through the empty street.

“A few kinks to iron out in this whole ‘mirror-girl summons stuff’ concept,” Maggie commented.

“Rose!”  I said, louder.

Midge’s momentum and direction suggested she didn’t plan on slowing down.  She slipped briefly on a slippery bit of road, but it didn’t make her seem less threatening.  Just the opposite.  She stumbled and slipped towards us much like a boulder might take a careening path down a hill.

There was no doubt in my mind that she was gunning right for Fell, planning on plowing through.

Fell seemed to have the same impression.  He raised his gun, aiming.

“I don’t think that’s going to do much,” I said.

“I’m open to ideas, Thorburn,” Fell said, a mite testily.

“Goblins?” I asked.

“That might be like throwing fuel on the fire,” Maggie said.

Fuel on the fire.  Goblin and gun wouldn’t work, too aggressive, too direct.

Counter with opposites.

In terms of our indirect assets…

Not quite how the idea was meant to be applied.  Not every Other fell into neat categories, and Midge was hardly some incarnation of aggression, but it was a starting point when I needed to brainstorm, and the train of thought led me straight to one option.

“Evan,” I said, touching my hand to my shoulder.  Evan made the two-inch hop to my finger.

I flung out my hand.  Evan flew in the direction I’d cast him.

I was secretly happy that had worked.  Theatrics.

Good kid.

Evan used the same maneuver he’d used against the Eye.  Through the legs.  A little more force than a sparrow should have had.

Midge fell, landing on all fours.

It bought us time to retreat, backing up a step, while she stood up, grabbing the vessel she was carrying.

“That’ll do,” Maggie said.

“Rose!” I shouted, again.

“Midge!” Rose called out.  Finally stepping in.  I couldn’t tell where she was.  “Your task is done!  Return!”

Midge shouted something incoherent, tearing the head off the mannequin she carried with her.  When she threw it, it moved like an arrow shot from a bow.  It passed through the thick, graffiti-covered glass that encircled a bus stop bench and hit a shop window.  I saw only a flicker of movement to suggest that Rose was fleeing.

She’d sought cover behind another transparent surface, and it hadn’t worked.

The glass around the bus stop shattered into tiny fragments in the wake of the mannequin part.  The shop window broke into large triangles, several feet long, then broke again as they hit the sidewalk.

Midge twisted another piece free of the mannequin.  A club-like hand and forearm.  She was breathing hard, her eyes scanning the area.

“I order you-” Rose started.

Midge turned on the spot, flinging the hand.

Another shattered window.

It was a really good thing that Rose wasn’t a real person.  If the inbred monster from the back-country was something I’d summoned, I wasn’t sure I’d be dodging these chucked objects so well.

“Maggie,” I said.  “Rose happen to give you any more details on Midge here?”

“They fall into categories.  Natural, they get twisted by their environment.  Built for cold, desert, for living in ravines or deep caves, inhospitable places.  Social, they form tribes.  Cannibal families or that sort of thing.  Then there’s the loners.  Break from the pack, their pack dies, or they’re exceptional members of a family unit, too crazy or brutal to be allowed to mingle.”

Rose started to speak again.  Midge turned to throw another hunk of mannequin, but Evan swooped close, screwing up her aim.

“I bind you, Midge!  I bind you as your pa was bound!”

Midge reacted to that.  She said something I couldn’t make out.

“You were his precious, his only gir-”

Midge threw another hunk of mannequin.  Evan’s interference wasn’t well timed enough.

“Midge was part of a family,” I said.

“She might have been on her way to becoming a special one, but vigilantes came after them all before things progressed.  Whoever claims the dead didn’t want her.  Rose said, what was it?  They think Midge dwells in the darker patches of limbo.  The hands that catch the fallen have gaps between the fingers, and nothing caught her.  Those who know the name can haul her up for a time, before the depths claim her again.”

“Can we cut whatever connection is holding her here?” I asked.

“Your pa called you his mosquito.  His skeeter!” Rose called out.  “I tie you to your father, and I bid you to return to him!”

Another broken window.  Further from Midge.

Rose was being strategic in the surfaces she moved between.

Except I felt my connection to Rose shift and break.  Something had happened.

Had she not moved out of the way?

She was still there, but she’d retreated to somewhere distant.  Maybe the house.  Catching her breath?

Midge turned in a tight circle, holding the lower half of a torso.  Watching and listening.  Patient.

Evan flew by.  She swatted him, a glancing hit, and I felt the impact.

My familiar found his senses and flew away before she could step on him.

When Rose didn’t appear, Midge turned her attention to us, hefting the mannequin part.

It wasn’t just that she was big, six feet tall and four feet wide.  It was how she was constructed.  If the bus stop was any indication, it’d tear past us like a cannonball.  Fell shot her.

When Midge didn’t fall down, he shot her three more times.  The brutish woman took a step back.

Midge had stopped, her damaged hand pressed to two of the bullet holes.  She looked up at us and smiled.  As if she relished this, or she felt something other than pain when wounded.

“You could spell up that gun,” Maggie said.

“I’ve been working under the Lord of the City since I was twelve,” Fell said.  “If he needs a practitioner taken care of, a bullet works.  If he needs something bigger taken care of, he doesn’t send the illusionist-enchanter.”

Midge wasn’t throwing.  She was waiting.

Evan swooped.  Muscles stood out in Midge’s legs.

“Back!” I barked out the word.  Too fast and sudden to be a proper shout.Evan veered off with a flutter of wings.  Midge’s swing seemed lazy and horribly timed when she hit only open air.  I suspected it would have pulverized him, had it connected.She was baiting him in.

“Why can’t she be dumber?” I asked.  “Why did Rose have to pick something that could be so fucking problematic when it slips the leash?”

“Subhumans aren’t stupid, they’re socially backward,” Maggie said.  She thought for a second.  “Really socially backward.  And they’re good with improvised tools and weapons.  Supernaturally good.”

“Ah.  Put a broken chair in their hands, they’re going to be better at murdering you with it than if you gave them a proper gun or knife?” Fell asked.

“Yep,” Maggie said.  “And the ones who do get some crazy weapon like a jackhammer or a machete become the subhuman exemplars Rose described.  Ones with actual personality, trademarks, and rituals.”

I sighed, not taking my eyes off Midge, watching for any possible sign.Fell’s phone rang.  Midge was moving, drawing her hand back.

“Heads up!” I called out.

But Fell was already reacting, and it wasn’t to waste air on warnings.  He threw a handful of powder into the air with one free hand.

The hurled piece of torso missed by a considerable distance.

“Couldn’t have done that sooner?” I asked.  “Spare us the tension?”

“Shhh, Thorburn.  You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Illuminate me,” I said.Midge threw again.  To the same distant spot.I saw confusion on her features.

The phone rang for a fourth time.  Fell finally answered.

He paused for a moment.

“Okay,” he said.  He hung up.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Your friends are nervous.  There’s activity near them.  Either our opposition tracked down the effigies I secreted around the city, and they just happen to be in the neighborhood, or the very temporary protections I put down are faltering.  The Astrologer is very good at navigating and finding things, and that could include your friends.”

“They aren’t tied to this, they aren’t my Champions,” I said, then quickly added, to be safe, “in the sense of this contest.”

“They’re involved.  There’s a massive gap between not wanting them to be tied to this and them not being a part of it.  You know it.”

I glanced at Tiff and bit my lip.

Midge paced.  She approached the bus stop, then tore the bench loose.  Stainless steel or something approximate, cut into a wavy shape so it wouldn’t be comfortable to sleep on.

She bent it, twisted it, and tore it in two pieces.

She threw them blind.Hoping to hit something.

The post that held up the roof of the bus stop was the next casualty.  She threw it so it flipped end over end.

Uncomfortably close to us.  Tiff made a noise.

Midge made a few more indiscriminate attacks, dismantling the bus stop.  None came as close as the post did.

She found and threw the largest blades of glass that had come down from the shop display window.  Each one thrown like a throwing knife or Frisbee.

Useful pieces of glass exhausted, she paced, searching, constantly on the lookout for us or for Rose.

Her eye settled on something else.

Fell’s car.  Battered, with one broken window.

“No,” Fell said.

She stalked toward it, slipping briefly on ice.

“No, no, no!” Fell said.

He moved, and I took that as my cue to move.

We had our differences.  If it came down to saving my friends and the lengths I would go, I suspected he would be caught off guard.  He was a loner, by all appearances.  He’d mentioned family, but he functioned alone.  I didn’t.

But the car?  I had my bike.  I could understand his attachment to the car.

We’d fucking rescue that car.

Evan flew around me.  Where he’d made Midge stumble, the push he gave me helped steady me where I felt unsteady.  Just as it was easier to slip when I was already slipping, it was easier to move forward with balance when I was upright and on firmer footing to start with.

“Evan,” I said.  I reached out.  “Hold up!”

He turned in the air, then landed on my hand.

“That part before, where you stuck your arm out and I took off?” he asked.  “That was great!”

It had been, but I didn’t have time to agree.  “Part two right now.  Fake out.  Watch for my signal.  Don’t stop watching.  Go.

“Yeah!” he said, saying it as he took off, so his voice faded slightly as the distance increased.

Midge had noticed us, meaning that Fell’s protection wasn’t sticking with us any longer.

She maintained her course to the car.  Did she think someone was inside?

I actually managed to arrive before Fell, putting myself between Midge and the car.

Unarmed, no magic, and a sword I could barely hold, even if I was in a position to use it as a weapon.

“Evan!” I called out, looking over Midge’s shoulder  “Now!”

Midge turned, faster than I might have expected, arm drawn back.

I raised one hand, gesturing ‘stop’.

Evan flapped hard, steering himself away, reversing direction.

A momentary stall and fake-out.

Midge’s expression when she faced me again was something to behold.  Her face was burned, the whites stood out, her pupils narrowed to points, and brown nubs of teeth were bared.

She apparently didn’t like being deceived.

When she struck out, it was from fifteen or so feet away.  Far enough away that I hadn’t anticipated an attack.  Close enough that I couldn’t move out of the way.

Fell was already throwing the powder into the air.

Midge released the blade of glass, an underhand throw, quick and accurate.

I could see the powder taking form.  Another me standing two feet to the left, catching the glass in the stomach.  Impossibly, it went all the way through with a wet sound, made a louder thunk sound as it hit the car, and then belatedly shattered.  Leaving illusion-me with a morass of glass shards in his midsection.

Fell, just to my right, raised his gun.

She caught his hand and crushed it, gun and all.

Then she pulled.

One arm came free of the socket.

She caught the other hand before he could stagger away.  One hand on his chest, another on his wrist, another pull.

This time, due to angle and the force with which she gripped his hand, it came apart at the wrist.  She had to try a second time to tear the arm from the socket.

He spun to the ground from the force of the maneuver, and landed in just the right position for her to step on both of his kneecaps, pulverizing them.

Leaving him to bleed out, she reached for the car.

The real Fell threw out a handful of powder, directly at her maimed reaching hand.

She closed it into a fist, then turned toward Tiff and Maggie, car forgotten.

“Protecting the car,” Fell said.  “Your friends will need to manage, but if we lose the car-”

“I get it,” I said.

Superficially, if we lost the car, we were limited in how we could get around.  The guerrilla strategy wouldn’t work.

Sentimentally, he was attached to his car, and while I’d never put my bike before my friends, I could sort of understand him putting his car before relative strangers.

Besides, berating him for being selfish wouldn’t achieve anything.  Focus number one had to be on stopping this rogue summon.

We’d tried to fix one problem and we’d created a bigger one.

“I’m back,” Rose said.

Speaking of.

I looked.  She was in the car’s side-view mirror.

A dark red line crossed her white blouse, and blood had spread from it, seeping into the cloth around it.  It forked like a lightning bolt might.  Or a crack in glass.  From one shoulder to the other.

“You’re hurt.”  Putting it lightly.  A few inches higher and it could have been her throat.

“I’ll cope.  I found the solution, but I need a distraction.”

I glanced at the others.

Maggie had the flute in hand, and Dickswizzle was dancing circles around Midge.

We had a second.

“Okay,” I said.  “Fell, can you do this again?”

“No,” he said.

“Why not?”

“If illusion like I use is going to fail, it’s going to fail on the third try.  Deceptions work that way.  Besides, I need to have her attention before I can redirect it.”

As he’d caught her fist with the powder, or the thrown object.

I nodded.

I signaled Evan.

He swooped low, Midge fell, and Dickswizzle leaped, biting at her throat.

Too many double chins to get through before he could reach anything vital.

Midge caught the goblin and tore it in half.

In the distance, I saw Maggie tossing the flute aside.

Rose intoned, “Midge, daughter of Rackham Thin, daughter of Fat Mam, drinker of blood…”

Midge found her footing, grabbed at the road where there was a pothole, and tore a chunk out.

Fell shot her until she dropped it.

“…Bound by the sixth seal, the second point of the star, marked Gula, marked Forente…”

Crawling on all fours, Midge found a storm drain grate beneath the snow, lifting it up.

Evan flew close.

She swung as she stood.  He dodged.

“I bind you once more by this imperfect sealing.  Until it is repudiated by the blood that forged it, you may never be perfectly bound.  Let this suffice.  By the Thorburn blood, return to the morass from which I called you!”

Midge dropped the grate.

A trick of the light, like a shadow passing over the sun, and the darkness was molasses thick as it collected her.  When it passed, she was gone.

“Fuck me,” I said.

“No time to rest just yet.  Trouble incoming,” Fell said.  “I can sense it.  More dolls, I think they’re making more batches.  They’re going to be more clever about what they do next, especially if Conquest has a hand in it.  And the Eye…”

I looked.

I could almost sense the Eye.

“It’s moving slower than before,” I said, as we rejoined the others.

“The big thing?” Maggie asked.  “The monster that’s not even trying to hide itself?”

“That thing,” I said.

Tiff had gone silent.  She was hugging herself, as much as she could while keeping one hand on my bike, as if it might tip over if she let go of it.

I didn’t ask if she was okay.

At moments like this, when we were least okay, the compulsion to go with automatic responses was a dangerous one for a person who couldn’t lie.

“We should move,” Fell said.

My eyes hadn’t left Tiff.  She flinched a little as he said it.

“The dolls, the vessels, whatever you call them.  Can we block them?  A protective circle of some kind?”

“Yes,” Fell said.

“We saved your car, we can make a little distance with it.  Let’s use the time we do have to set up the garage.  Backtrack a bit, shore up our defenses, make sure he isn’t going to win a battle of attrition.  If this keeps up, we’ll need all the safe havens we can get.”

He followed my gaze to look at Tiff.  “Her?”

“Yeah.  It’s why they’re on board, and it would be a help.”

He nodded.

“Okay?” I asked Tiff.

She looked rather relieved to have the option.

“Yeah,” she said.

We were down one ally, for all intents and purposes.  Tiff was gone.

But we had Alexis, and we had Ty.

We also had Maggie.  I wasn’t sure why, but when I took a headcount, trying to weigh the options and assets we had on hand, I had trouble counting her among our assets.

It was a hell of a lot easier to blame Rose for the lapse in judgment and control.

But I found myself paying attention to Maggie instead.

I looked through the window at a city that was burning.  No less than six fires or glows of fire that I could make out from the balcony.

The apartment we occupied was one in a new construction.  It looked better than a lot of the structures we’d seen around.  The spirit world hadn’t had a chance to intervene.  It gleamed with hope.

It was a good choice, symbolically.

“They’re going to change up their tactics,” Fell said.  “The Sisters… I think those vessels were something of a one-size-fits-all solution.  Something they could calibrate to send at virtually any threat.  Whatever they send next, it’ll be more specialized.”

I nodded.  It fit.

“If I could say so,” Fell said, “I would say that summoning was a clusterfuck.

“I realized what we did wrong,” Rose said.  “The terminology of the binding Maggie and I set up when we primed Midge to come when I gave the word, it was too narrow.  She was supposed to defeat all enemies we had in the immediate area, then return… but when we defeated some of the enemies-“

“She couldn’t follow through,” I said.  “Freeing her of the contract.”

“I thought, since I only had to ask to bind her and banish her, that it’d be a cinch.  But it was hard, and by interrupting me, she took the power out of my words, forcing me to find stronger wording.”

I wanted more than anything to ask her just how much involvement Maggie had had in the choice of wording, but I couldn’t with Maggie present.

Forcing me to make a mental note of the possible sabotage and move on.

“Let’s forget what happened, past tense, and focus on what will or could happen.  Future tense,” I said.

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Fine by me.”

“I’m short my best goblin,” Maggie said.  “The ones I do have are the most minor sort of gremlin.”

“Just add water?” I asked.

“No.  Dismantlers, trapmakers,” she said.  She showed me the folded paper slips.  Each one had what I might have assumed was a sun scrawled on it, along with goblin names and basic labels.  I belatedly realized the suns were supposed to be mechanical gears.

Screwloose and Douchegargler.  Labeled junkyard dog one and junkyard dog two, respectively.

“Traps are good,” I said.  “Can we put them to work?”

“They’re kind of what you might call ‘mad dog’ goblins.  See?  Written right there.  Junkyard dogs.  In practice, they’re sort of like the subhuman we just dealt with.  You sic them on something, they do their work, then they’re gone.  You don’t rein them back in without a lot of trouble.”

I nodded.  “That’s all you’ve got?”

“All I can use, yeah.”

“Okay,” I said.

“What about the goblin sword?” Fell asked.

“The what now?” Maggie asked.

I hadn’t had a chance to tell him to keep it on the down-low.

Fuck.

I got the sword and unwrapped it.

“Geeeeez.  I’ve heard about this sort of thing.  Faerie used to enslave and bind goblins, during an era when the courts were changing over.  Mixed up relationship between the two.  Many powerful goblins agreed to take up certain forms, as part of treaties.  This thing isn’t small potatoes.”

“It’s not the biggest potato either,” I said.  “Middle of the road, though it’s hard to believe that after seeing it in action.”

“I want this,” she said.

“And you can’t have it,” I said, suddenly very glad for the promise I’d made to Evan.  “Not without us jumping through some hoops first.  Let’s table that for now.”

She frowned, looking genuinely disappointed.

I changed the subject.  “If we’re going to hammer this out, we need to find a way to hold on to any victories and avoid future conflict.  The longer we stretch this out, the better.”

“If we can hold out two days,” Fell said, “The weekend will be over.  The Sisters will either have or want to return to work.  Conquest will lose that resource, on a morale front or in manpower.”

I nodded.  “I didn’t even consider that.”

“Defensively, we can set up walls and wards,” Fell said.  “We can misdirect, and we can cross our fingers.  Problem is, I’m not confident it’ll work long-term.  They’re going to change things up, and the Lord of the City has generations of experience dealing with my family and our magic.  He’ll know how to deal with me.”

“We need another way to duck out of sight,” I said.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Rose said.  “When I was looking at the notion of limbo, the stuff that was going on with Midge, I had something of an idea.”

“What sort of idea?”

“Guerrilla defense, right?  We need to be petty, strike from a location where they don’t expect us.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Is there anything saying we have to stay here?”

“In this building?”

“In the spirit world.”

I glanced at Fell and Maggie, then Alexis and Ty, who were sitting off to one side.

“Morals,” I said.  “We’ve already done a lot of incidental damage.  I’m not sure how this world is reflected by the real world, or vice-versa, but…”

“But Conquest picked this battlefield because it keeps his subjects out of the line of fire,” Fell said.

“And because it probably gives him an advantage,” Rose cut in.

“That too,” Fell admitted.  “It’s more his medium.  More yours, too.  You’re more flexible, Rose Thorburn, but you’re also more vulnerable.”

Rose touched the cut on her chest.  “It’s shallow.”

“It’s meaningful.  You’ll need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses.  You’re stronger here, but you’re safer over there.  Decide.”

“I take it you’re saying we need to decide where we want to set up camp,” I said.

“I’m saying exactly that.”

My friend piped up for the first time since we’d entered the apartment and recapped him on what was going on.

“Why not both?” Ty asked.

Why not both?

Doorways.  Passage from one world to the next.  Not easy to set up, but we had time, and Rose had access to grandmother’s books.

My friends would stay on the other side, keeping the defenses up and tend to the gates.  At least for now.  If they needed sleep, we could take shifts.

We would roam the free world.

Back in the city.  Among the regular civilians, who were oblivious to what was going on.

Or so I thought.

There were sirens.

As a group, Fell, Rose, Maggie and I stopped by a store display.  Televisions played, showing surveillance camera footage and cell phone video.  A crazy obese woman in the middle of a city street, flinging glass at fleeing shoppers.  The news caption on the bottom read ‘Drug-fueled rampage?’

The pattern was the same, the path she took, amid cars that had stopped in the middle of the street.

Until she was gunned down.  In the same spot where Rose had banished Midge.

We watched as the screen changed over.  Changing topics.  Arson, fires throughout the city.  Car accidents.  Property damage.  Deaths.

Conquest was applying his own pressure to us, in his own particular way.  He didn’t actually care about the residents of Toronto.  He knew this would bother us more than it bothered him and his people, with the possible exception of the Astrologer and the Sisters.

I wondered what he thought, after seeing Midge’s rampage.  I hated to think it, but he could almost think we were shoving it back in his face, showing we could do just as much incidental damage.

This changed things, and it made our strategy that much harder to follow.

I turned away.

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256 thoughts on “Subordination 6.8

  1. I might need to not write a Thursday chapter next week, just to stay sane. Feeling pretty worn out, and some visitors/family stuff that’s going on is kind of wearing me out even more (family friend dropped by for many hours last night, when I might otherwise be winding down and getting my thoughts in order in my head before writing today, and expecting guests this weekend). Maybe I’ll aim for three weeks on, one week off, until I catch up.

    Hope it’s okay. Thanks for reading.

    Thank you, also, to tttrouble, for the review on Webfictionguide. Thank yous also go out to Alexander Hollins, Bigjeff55, illogicmedia, Jim, Shipstone, GSW, Tempest. Thank you even to Point of Order, who was less kind than the aforementioned.

    Vote on Topwebfiction if you’re so inclined.

    1. I honestly didn’t expect one this week. It’s fine by me. I’d rather you not wear yourself out to the point that you write a chapter you regret.

    2. If not writing a chapter every Thursday is what you’re hoping is okay, it’s totally okay. I’m pretty sure most people would agree that we’d much prefer you not burn out. Besides, your publishing speed is already ridiculous at two chapters per week, given the average length per chapter. I’m not encouraging you to slack off, but please don’t work yourself too hard; I really want to keep reading your work for years to come, but if you burn out I won’t be able to do that 😦
      (as a side note, people often underestimate how debilitating burnout can be… you don’t generally just work a little less hard for a bit and come out perfectly fine)

      1. Honestly I wasn’t expecting one either. Don’t feel you have to push yourself so much to get things out. If you do you might start hating the story, and then it will suffer for it.

    3. I’ve been reading all the way back since the start of Worm, and honestly, your publishing speed is beyond ridiculous. I would say you need to take some sort of break, mate! Especially considering that you didn’t really seem to take much of one after Worm finished.

      I only have one question, Wildbow: How much would it take for you to go on vacation for a little–monetary-wise? I’m sure your fans would be more than willing to put forward for you to have some sort of small vacation (or perhaps go way beyond that and let you have a big vacation.)

    4. Hey man, take a break if you need to. I (and I’m sure everyone else) would rather you pace yourself, take breaks if you need to, than burn yourself out, and it becomes a chore. I’ve been reading since the end of Worm, and I’ve always been really impressed with out much you put out. Don’t feel bad if you need to take a break,

    1. Of the rest, Midge the two closest and used them as bludgeons to strike down the next three to pass within ten feet of her.

      -missing word after Midge

      1. “This is one metaphorical genie that needs to go back in her bottle.

        -Missing end quote.

        the mannequin folded in half, pulled down by the weight of arms and its head.

        -Beginning of the sentence is not capitalized.

    2. Midge the two closest – missing a word
      She’d sought cover – to – close as the post did. – Formatting issues

    3. Both Mannequins, the heavier sort, damaged from the beating Midge had delivered.

      I think Mannequin should be lower case?

    4. self image
      usually self-image

      neanderthal
      Neanderthal

      shotput
      usually shot-put

      didn’t loose her footing
      didn’t lose her footing

      [many places with no spaces between sentences]

      clublike
      usually club-like

      Midge here?””
      double closing quote – actually looks like no line break between two different people speaking

      [many more, just search for double closing quotes]

      frisbee
      Frisbee

      in the wake of the .
      missing word

    5. ““Experience tells me you gotta wait for the right moment” Maggie said.”
      comma needed

      “Rose was fleeing.”
      After this point, there are no spaces after several of the periods. You’ve already fixed most of the formatting issues in the area.

    6. “They weren’t really for fighting.”

      This isn’t actually incorrect, as far as I can tell, but it feels awkward. I can’t tell if that’s how you intended it, and it’s a region/dialect thing, or if there’s a word missing.

      Also, hope you feel better soon.

      1. Also, initially, Dickswizzle was described as being tied to a whistle. Here it’s called a flute. While I suppose they could be two different instruments, the way Maggie tosses it aside after Dickswizzle’s demise seemed to imply it was meant to be the same object.

        1. Flute; whistle, both are slim silver pipes with holes in them. Same difference, as far as I’m concerned.

        2. That’s not a new thing. The whistle was referred to as a flute once in 3.04 and once more in 4.06.

    7. I am not sure what it is but there is a buuunch of double spaces all throughout the chapter. The second sentence of the chapter starts with a double space.

      This bit in particular has extra spaces, is lacking spaces and is lacking a word or two:
      “She’d sought cover behind another transparent surface, and it hadn’t worked.The glass around the bus stop shattered into tiny fragments in the wake of the . “

    8. It’s not a typo, but it reads kind of strangely when Blake says “My friend piped up…” I think it’d read better as “Ty piped up….”

    9. “It was like the way pets came to resemble their owners.”

      Did you mean owners came to resemble pets? Because I never saw Maggie as a pet.

      1. Owners and pets often look like each other, and it’s typically assumed that pet comes to resemble the owner, rather than the owner coming to resemble the pet.

        He said “like the way pets came to resemble their owners.” He’s not calling Maggie a pet, just saying she came to resemble the goblins in a way that’s reminiscent of (like) how pets come to resemble their owners.

    10. watching for any possible sign.Fell’s phone rang.
      -Missing a space before ‘Fell’

      “Evan!” I called out, looking over Midge’s shoulder  “Now!”
      -missing a comma

      “Illuminate me,” I said.Midge threw again. – missing a space before ‘Midge’.

      She threw them blind.Hoping to hit something. -missing a space

    11. we complimented one another’s strengths –> complemented

      “Illuminate me,” I said.Midge threw again. To the same distant spot.I saw confusion on her features.
      any possible sign.Fell’s phone
      She threw them blind.Hoping to hit something. –> no spaces between sentences (also lots of double spaces but I didn’t really bother)

      “Evan!” I called out, looking over Midge’s shoulder “Now!” –> period after ‘shoulder’

    12. “more reminiscent of a Neanderthal than Homo Erectus.”

      I don’t know if Blake would know this, but should probably be “than Homo Sapiens”. Both are descendants of Homo Erectus. Unless the point is that she looks more modern than he was expecting.

  2. One problem with the stalling tactic – Blake promised to go back to the police station and answer their questions.

    Well, he might still do that, but if he does, the questions will probably end up being “Oh god, why is everything on fire?”

      1. Scratch that; Rose and possibly Evan rely on him for their power, so he should try to maintain as much of it as possible. Also power reserves seem to affect magic resistance, as in the case of the heart attack ghost, so he doesn’t want to blow any more than he has to.

    1. The implicit promise there being that he’ll answer their questions directed to him. I don’t think he promised to answer any rhetorical questions that are uttered in his presence.

      1. They’re probably professional enough not to ask irrelevant rhetorical questions anyway. I really don’t see any way this ends up being a problem, as long as he remembers to show up and there’s no interference from his enemies.

        But that would require something to go right, so, yeah.

      2. I was more worried about the fact that while he’s busy talking to the police, the Eye of the Storm might burn down the police station or something. He really can’t afford to stay in one place with a bunch of innocents right now.

        The thought that he’d have to answer that question literally honestly didn’t occur to me. If everything is on fire, the fact that you have to answer questions about the fire seems pretty low on the priority list.

  3. Missing a verb below (probably should be “Midge grabbed the two closest”):
    “Of the rest, Midge the two closest and used them as bludgeons to strike down the next three to pass within ten feet of her.”

  4. Interesting to see how the “real world” interacts with the spirit world. Midge going berserk is seen as “A crazy obese woman in the middle of a city street, flinging glass at fleeing shoppers.” Notably the autons are “fleeing shoppers” and Midge is simple “obese” rather than deformed.

    1. Back to the drawing board Rose. See Blake was on to something. Raw power isn’t everything. Get something you can work with.

      1. Raw power is difficult to obtain but easy to lose, with their current repertoire and the forces of the Universe arrayed against them, versatility like Evan’s Escape ability is a heck lot more useful.

        Rose lives in a mirror, playing to her strengths utilising mirror based scrying magic would have really been more useful for scouting.

        1. I both agree and disagree. Raw physical power may not be best suited to Rose’s strengths. It does, however, help cover up her major weakness. She’s trapped in the mirror world. A big reason for the summoning was to give her some physical utility.

          She has versatility and indirect abilities. She needs something to allow her to directly interact with the world other than by just talking. Hopefully, a longtime summon will be able to fulfill both roles.

          1. The summoning wasn’t a bad idea, just the execution.

            They underestimate Midge’s intelligence when they summoned her. As Maggie stated, she was socially backwards not stupid, and abused the ‘Exact Wording’ like we’d expect from different Others. Let’s be honest, given her appearance and the fact that she fell through the cracks in Limbo without something to hold her up, we should have expected her to not want to go back and if she had killed Rose that’s exactly what would have happened, she would have had freedom.

        2. Yeah, I’d also point out that raw power makes people want to steal it.. with the universe actively trying to screw him, we could bet people would be steered into chasing after him, so it’s probably not as useful as it might seem at first glance.

          BTW, I totally called Evan’s escaping/survival abilities being a helluva lot more useful than just some extra power.

          1. Yeah I must confess I didn’t even think of familiars adding an additional (magic enhanced) skill-set, I thought they just provided knowledge, firepower, and/or a power source depending on the familiar. Evan was an incredible score. Especially since he’s human, and thus doesn’t follow an alien mindset or pattern of rules.

  5. This would be one of the reasons why summoning demons and devils is a bad idea if the results from summoning and using Monsters result in so much collateral damage.

    1. I think Others do have Karma, just not in the same way.

      Karma is basically the Spirits being pissed at you for breaking their expectations. The Sphinx eating people who incorrectly answer her questions is in keeping with her nature, so it gives good karma. If she ate people for no reason she’d lose karma. Likewise the Eye and his firey murder is expected.

      For practitioners, their nature is defined by the way they identified themselves in their awakening ritual and also the things they say (especially oaths).

      In this instance, Conquest would lose Karma only if he stopped embodying Conquest (e.g. by being thwarted, losing possessions/minions). Collateral damage is basically tangential to his nature (i.e. no real effect either way).

    1. Others, probably yes. Incarnations, I don’t think so. I think It’s more along the lines of “Are you following the laws that bind {insert concept here}? Y/N”

      1. Conquest needs to conquer, which means he needs to win. He isn’t winning, he isn’t conquering, he isn’t fulfilling his nature. Even if his nature extends to being conquered, he’s still not fulfilling it, since Blake’s just using stalling and disruption tactics.

        1. I’m with Mrvoid. There’s no way you get to be Lord of a city without everyone else having some assurance that you won’t burn the place down. For a normal practitioner, that’d have to be some vaguely worded but non-negligible oath about protecting it or whatever else Lords are supposed to do. If Conquest is immune to that, they wouldn’t let him become Lord unless they have some other way of preventing him from doing exactly what he is currently doing.

  6. Good job Blake, I’m sure Fell notices you now that you helped him defend his car.
    And Evan is just the best familiar, all happy about the theatrics used, not caring about the fact he was sent directly into a muscular lady that would’ve crushed him. It warms the heart.

    This thing is going to keep scalating and that’s terribly bad, Toronto is going to be engulfed in a lot of chaos. Better buckle up.

    And we have yet to see what the lovely Isadora is planning. (hint: it sucks for Blake). For that matter Laird has yet to make his move, and seeing what he did to the Thornburn mansion I can’t help but feel that giving him time is just a terrible idea.

    1. The Fell-Does-Not-Shoot-Blake-In-The-Face gauge is slowly ticking towards completion, indeed. Fell’s investment in his car is an interesting look into his perspective. I guess he takes some comfort in keeping it maintained, since he’s otherwise usually so restricted, and does the reckless driving thing-he’s been hoping that he gets to die in that car. It had better be in good shape when he does it!

  7. I was honestly not sure when the illusion Fell was getting ripped apart if it was real Fell (cue Conquest not getting Fell back and breaking a promise) or if it was an illusion.

    On that note: what says they need to stay in Toronto?

    Final note, the real winner here is the Lawyers. Lots of incidental damage. Blake could call them and ask them to rofl stomp Conquest for him. Everyone lives happily ever after. But he’s all moral and shit. But now his little game is getting people killed well, isn’t the cost worth it?

    1. It’s less that Blake is too moral to call them and more that they’ve been very helpfully transparent about their goal to do terrible things and ensure that he joins them in doing terrible things. If Blake continues to engage with them (or worse, gets in debt to them, since he still hasn’t paid off the last favor) he’ll end up in a position of making the world, objectively speaking, a worse place to be for the rest of however long it continues to hold out against the devils.

      1. The lawyers might resualt in a short term people not getting killed. In a long term the people get fucked up in ways that make getting killed seem fun goes up.

        1. Where’s all this vehemence regarding lawyers coming from? My impression is that lawyers exist to create firm rules, and that while they are fine with controlled destruction, they don’t seem to exactly be evil.

          I’m more of the impression that the Lawyers broke deals with people that have unknown consequences, and Blake isn’t comfortable with heading into deals filled with unknowns.

          1. From 2.04:
            “In the process of signing the contract, you agree to give them a foothold.”
            “I think I get it, even without the books,” Rose said. Quiet. “We make that deal, to save our hide, and they get stronger, making life harder on the rest of humanity.”

            They’re not evil in the sense of mindless destruction or enjoying kicking babies; it’s not that their character or personality is viscerally unpleasant or repulsive. They’re evil in the sense of actively working to help devils and demons, which has the side effect of screwing over humanity.

      2. But Blake can’t cause a whole lot of harm interning for a few days. That’s the next price! Hell, Blake will do a lot less harm than whoever gets sent in his place. He’s a shitty diabolist. So not only does Blake protect innocents in Toronto, he gives shitty help to some Diabolist. Double win!

        As long as Blake avoids making any truly bad deals with the lawyers its all good. He just needs to stop when they ask too much! 🙂

    2. I figured out that Fell getting ripped apart was probably an illusion about halfway through. Still, really spooked me for a second there. :I

      The lawyers always win, because they rig the game so that there are no losing conditions. I mean, the absolute worst thing that could realistically happen to them is that Blake manages to deal with his own karma, and they fail to recruit him. Rose Thorburn Sr. already paid them for their services once. They’re not gambling anything.

    3. “What says they need to stay in Toronto?”

      The fear that if they leave Toronto, all bets are off. Another commenter picked up on this last time.

  8. The lawyer’s goal isn’t to do terrible things, their goal is to pay off their karmic debts, which will likely take centuries or more of enforced servitude doing terrible things that you don’t really want to do, which is the main reason why Blake wants to avoid calling in the lawyers more often. I think Miss Lawyer just wants some good companionship over the next couple centuries of her time in office before her debt is paid off.

    1. They don’t want to pay their debts, per se. That involves upwards of 5 thousand years of working for other diabolists (judging from Blake’s chauffeur). What they want is to 1. make partner (shaving time off their sentence by default) and then 2. promote a fellow diabolist into their position, shunting them out of the company with a clean slate. To this end, they recruit as aggressively as they can, tailoring their recruitment pitches to every single diabolist they “help.”

      And it’s funny how paying off their karmic debts involves wiping any trace of your identity from the world, and then helping other diabolists become stronger.

      They are an unholy mixture of drug dealers, social engineers, and the Borg. They are a honey trap that actively puppeteers its victims into luring others. I get why Blake feels he can’t sever ties with them, but it’s long overdue.

      1. Wait, what? Long overdue? To cut ties with his only ally with real resources at their disposal? They don’t even ask him for help or favors except in response to his requests, so cutting ties doesn’t even free him from anything, it’s just taking an option off the table.

        1. The only reason the Astrologer isn’t firmly in his camp right now is because Conquest snapped her up as one of his champions. The lawyers are a dangerous temptation, and one that is actively rooting for Blake to be assimilated. I don’t trust them farther than I can throw them.

          1. Er, but then why would they be any better if he swore not to take their deal? Seems to me that then they’d want him dead so they can possibly get the next in line. If they don’t really care about his welfare beyond his use to them, they certainly wouldn’t care about it more after he declares he won’t be useful to them.

            I can see some logic to the idea that his relationship to them could possibly cause some potential allies like Diana to hesitate, or beings Isadora to view him more harshly. Even so, I still feel he doesn’t have any evidence that he’d be better off after severing ties with the lawyers, even if you ignore anything they’d do to respond.

            1. They’re still bound to help him fulfill Granny’s requirements in a reasonable fashion. It’s just that they won’t do anything more than that. No leisurely walks and practitioner-vision tutoring sessions. No guarantee of safe passage should one home become inaccessible. You get the idea.

              Maybe “sever ties” was too harsh, but they’re dragging him down and he needs to escape them as soon as possible.

            2. I suppose escaping from them could potentially be a good idea, but I’m not confident about that and I have no idea how he’d accomplish such a thing. I don’t understand how they’re dragging him down; could you cite some examples/references?

            3. They’re very up-front about wanting Blake to join them, for one. Damages 2.4:
              “We’re hoping to include the heir of the Thorburn estate in our number.” Keep in mind that him joining them involves “Loss of identity,” right down to your name becoming Mann, Levinn, or Lewis. If he’s lucky.

              They won’t let him denounce diabolism entirely, for another. Damages 2.4: “Theoretically,” [Blake] asked, “what would happen if I swore, right here and right now, that I was never going to take the deal?”

              “We would conduct business as the contract with Rose D. Thorburn mandates,” [Mr. Mann] said, “But you would find that we, like the universe, had far less goodwill towards you.”

              Third, Ms. Lewis gave him Ornias in Damages 2.5. A demon of the seventh choir, given to a newbie practitioner with carte blanche – at least for the first summons. ““If it comes down to it, I [Ms. Lewis] will give you a name, and you can call it.”

              “A name that I wouldn’t regret calling?” [Blake] asked.

              “I would take on the cost,” she said.”

  9. RIP Dickswizzle. Nobody could stick wands up their orifices like you could.

    Maggie is gonna need a replacement for her goblin. She should try to Conquer Midge at a later date.

    Evan’s back to being awesome this chapter. “That part before, where you stuck your arm out and I took off?” he asked. “That was great!” Yes Evan. Yes it was.

    Poor Tiffany. I hope she recovers. Blake and Alexis will probably have to give her some comfort.

    Good to know that the Blakeguard definitely knows how to move between the Mortal World and the Spirit World. Interesting that they have to create gates to travel between. I thought it might have been an instantaneous thing. These should come in handy in the future.

    I am wondering what the non-champion parties are going to do. If Isadora or the Drunk binds or kills Conquest, does the contest have no winner or does it simply go on forever?

    The Dolls appeared as regular shoppers and Midge appeared as a fat woman to mundanes. Perhaps a good percentage of deaths and disasters seen on the news are actually just Others doing Other things in the Spirit World and fewer humans actually die than we thought.

    Blake and Rose need to reconnect. The should spend some quality private time to themselves. Perhaps some physical contact is in order between thing. Rose needs some comfort, and Blake needs some Rose.

    I like Rose summmoning things. On her third attempt she’ll probably summon something she can keep full time.

      1. As evidenced by Fell’s words this chapter:
        If illusion like I use is going to fail, it’s going to fail on the third try. Deceptions work that way.

    1. If conquest is bound, banished or otherwise incapacitated by someone other than Blake’s team, their game is probably a draw. Which is fine for Blake. He doesn’t need to win, he just needs to not lose. He’s got something of an edge there over Conquest, who must go for a clear and decisive victory because he’s Conquest.

    2. “Blake and Rose need to reconnect. The should spend some quality private time to themselves. Perhaps some physical contact is in order between thing. Rose needs some comfort, and Blake needs some Rose.”

      That sounds a little to… Romantic?

          1. Rule 34 has no exceptions. I am sure that somewhere out there someone has already written a shadow-twincest for Rose/Blake. Please, no links, I really don’t want to know.

            1. Ah, if Pact had random gratuitous sex scenes. Blake would certainly be different.

              So If Blake and Rose summoned an Incest Demon, and a Masturbation demon, then asked the demons what it would be if they had sex, do you suppose the demons would start aurguing over it?

            2. Come on, Grandma Rose kissed a goblin and your worst idea of Rule 34 is Rose/Blake?

              Psh. Somewhere out there, Blake and the Hyena are in the middle of some BDSM.

    3. The exact terms were surrender or be killed by a king/champ, IIRC. If Blake dies Conquest would need to find someone to surrender to. Which I’m sure the Drunk would gladly accept. Plus Conquest will have failed in two promises to Blake. (Regret the Contest and making a demand of Blake.)

      So basically if the Drunk kills Blake he wins.

  10. So here’s a thought:

    We know that Rose has inherited the Thorburn clout. She can use Presence as a Thorburn to command and interact with Others that are naturally above Blake and Rose’s level E.g. June, ErasUrrr, and the Dolls.

    My question is, can Blake start building up his own clout separate from that of being a Thorburn? As Blake keeps gaining victories and power, shouldn’t he start to gain respect as practitioner in his own right? Now, he at least is recognized by spirits when he commands them with Runes. If Blake does gain his own reputation, I look forward to seeing him and Rose standing side by side, feared by the common Other/Practitioner.

    1. IF they survive, I think Blake and Rose will most likly be a feared couple (yes, this word).
      At least after this stunt, their names will be known. Propably leading to a power shift here or there. Also, i think Isadora will make a move on the throne once the little game is over, whatever the outcome.

      Sidenote: Their mirror theme opens up all kind of nicknames for the members of their circle: The Shards, Reflections, Mirror-Men (as opposed to Minute-Men)…

      1. Possible Cabal names:-

        Shadow-Mirror (Super Robot Wars ref)
        The Phoenix Foundation (MacGyver ref, Blake’s on the fly binding and bird theme)
        Shatterbird (Damn Obvious ref)

        1. The Flock
          The Motherflockers
          Birds of a Feather
          And, of course, the various specific names for bird groupings, like the Rookery, the Parliament, and the Murder.

  11. Hi, everyone, having just caught up on Pact after binge-reading Worm I must say what absolutely wonderful stories! I don’t have the words to describe how much I love them both, they are my absolutely favorite fiction, period.

    On current events: Maggie definitely sabotaged the summoning, now shes getting her “blood and darkness and fire”, with having people on her side, so to speak.

    P.S.: For some reason I have been always associating Blake doing magic with this musical masterpiece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Oe7Q8OCm5I

    1. Yes, I too was thinking it might be time to look into some necromancy, for getting Rose a manservent. She needs it to be able to correctly follow certain commands. “Move Mirror. Fetch object. Kill person.”

  12. “I’m short my best goblin,” Maggie said. “The ones I do have are the most minor sort of gremlin.”

    “Just add water?” I asked.

    “No. Dismantlers, trapmakers,” she said. She showed me the folded paper slips. Each one had what I might have assumed was a sun scrawled on it, along with goblin names and basic labels. I belatedly realized the suns were supposed to be mechanical gears.

    Screwloose and Douchegargler. Labeled junkyard dog one and junkyard dog two, respectively.

    “Traps are good,” I said. “Can we put them to work?”

    “They’re kind of what you might call ‘mad dog’ goblins. See? Written right there. Junkyard dogs. In practice, they’re sort of like the subhuman we just dealt with. You sic them on something, they do their work, then they’re gone. You don’t rein them back in without a lot of trouble.”

    Well, there goes my idea for a gremlin-autocad fusion for Instant runes down the crapper.

    The good news is that since gremlins are traditionally good against machinery, siccing Screwloose on Laird’s watch-familiar and Douchegargler on Laird at the same moment can really fuck them up if done right.

    1. Careful, a gremlin is no pushover. They’re easily more powerful than Bugs Bunny, but not so strong as Hulk Hogan from the 80s. Then again, I doubt even Midge could take on 80s Hulk Hogan.

  13. Okay now I am starting to worry about Maggie. What happened with Midge does reek of subtle sabatoge. Not enough to outright betray Blake, but helping in such a way it sets up for it to turn into disaster later. I hope that isn’t the case. I really like Maggie. But there are ways she could have been subverted. A whole bunch of enchanters in Jacob’s Bell. Or Laird using her dads to leverage her. I don’t see her willingly going with anything the Behiem-Duchamps would do.

    The other worse possibility is that if someone was subverted it wasn’t Maggie. It was Rose.

    Hey, talking about Jacob’s Bell residents, there is one potential ally that might, and I stress the might, be convincible to work with them. Johannes.

    1. Hey, talking about Jacob’s Bell residents, there is one potential ally that might, and I stress the might, be convincible to work with them. Johannes.

      The thing about Johannes, though, is that we don’t know that much about him. So far we basically only know that he’s dangerous and mysterious.

      On the one hand, so is Blake. From what we’ve directly seen of Johannes, he hasn’t done or said anything particularly threatening or evil.

      On the other hand, Granny Rose warned not to deal with him until gaining 2 of the big 3 (or even not at all). Also, it is assumed that, leaving things to the natural course, Johannes will eventually be the major power in Jacob’s Bell.

      I don’t think Blake wants to be in debt to anybody with as much power as Johannes is assumed to have.

      I look forward to learning more about Johannes and seeing how much his reputation matches up to the reality.

      1. The first we saw of Johannes was in the dream before rose came. He seemed pretty nice there. Warning blake and all.

        1. He seemed nice, but look at his wording. “Listen, I don’t think you should believe what any of them say about me.”

          He didn’t say, “the things they say about me are false.” He said that, in his opinion, you shouldn’t believe what people are saying about him. The things people are saying about him might be true.

          Also, he told Rose that she would “find [her]self in good company, should you visit [his demense].” What company is that? The vestiges that are hunted down by Others in his demense. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was trying to lure Rose into a trap. I’m not saying he was, but at this time, Johannes should be considered a possible threat.

          Hell, even Grandma Rose was leery of the guy, and Grandma Rose basically made the Behaims and DuChamps quiver in fear.

          1. What company is that? The vestiges that are hunted down by Others in his demense.

            We don’t know that. We know that Johannes has a huge territory that has a vestige version of it. The whole “Others freely hunting down people (or vestige people) is just something Rose assumed.

            That goes in line with point that, though he has a bad reputation, we haven’t directly seen or heard evil from him. He’s mysterious and powerful. For all we know, he could just be a more powerful Blake (decent guy with a bad reputation).

            Johannes definitely should be considered a threat, if only because he’s considered powerful by pretty much everybody.

            1. Actually, Rose didn’t assume it. Maggie outright told her and Blake that Others are free to re-live the old days in Johannes’ demense. Even if Others aren’t hunting down vestiges, this means they would be hunting down humans, which would be worse, and it is allowed and probably encouraged by Johannes. The reason I think it’s vestiges and not actual humans is because the witch hunters would be against Johannes if humans were being hunted down and killed. Andy said that he’d occasionally take jobs from Johannes, so I don’t think the hunters have anything against him, unless Laird or Sandra say so.

              But you’re right, we’re not exactly sure if he’s evil or just amoral or whatever, and negadarkwing is right that the Behaims and Duchamps aren’t the best judges of characters, but I still think considering Johannes as a non-threat and/or potential ally is a dangerous move for Blake. Maggie might do it, but she’s shown to be power hungry and reckless.

          2. I wouldn’t call the Behaim’s and Duchamp’s the best judges of character, considering how they’ve handled Blake. If you look back at Laird’s introductory speech, he seems to think that it’s only a matter of time before Johannes burns out, and thinks that Johannes has just gained too much power too quickly. But Johannes is also a relitive newcomer to Jacob’s Bell, unlike the families that have been there for generations. Like Blake he throws the established patterns off. Between the two families, I think the Duchamps and the Behaim’s like being able to anticipate what their enemies will do. A lack of information makes that harder.

            Of course absolutly none of that means Johannes is a nice guy. shrug

      2. Paraphrasing the Evil Overlord’s List (probably not the first hundred, but it was in there):
        I will not make deals with entities more powerful than I am. They will only double-cross me in my moment of glory.
        I will make deals with entities less powerful than myself. Then I will double-cross them. In their moment of glory.

    2. I think there’s an easy explanation for why Maggie would commit a little friendly sabotage.

      She needs two more rounds of blood and fire, but she doesn’t necessarily know how much blood and fire are needed to qualify. If they’re like the first round though then it’s a lot.

      So every little but she can generate helps.

    3. It’s entirely possible it was just that Midge was smarter than they gave her credit for. It was the wording that betrayed them and the fact that Midge was smart enough to try and kill the only person who could send her back.

    4. You know what ? If I was an evil genius like Wildbow, I wouldn’t make Maggie or Rose the subverted ones, but Blake. After all, he bled himself out some times ago then went and fought /demons/. Maybe something came and subtly invaded the empty space, like we were warned. (If we go this way, it wouldn’t be illogical that it impacted Rose as well, being a spiritual entity and in a bad psychological place on top of that).

      As the story progress, Blake will become more and more wary of Rose and Maggie (and so will we), until the big revelation “It was him the problem all along” who will come /just/ a bit too late to avoid everything getting out of hand.

      (Sorry if some of my sentences don’t make sense, English is not my native language. Please feel free to correct any mistake)

      1. Your meaning was clear and your idea is interesting. The only significant grammatical issue is “who will come” should be “which will come” – who is for people, which is for things, including ideas such as revelations.

      2. Oh dear. Just a bit of paranoia will go incredibly far with Blake. There’s that saying “It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you”, but that’s not quite true. You can still be too paranoid to accept what little help you’re offered. Fortunately, it seems like he’s not letting that get too far yet, since he’s giving Rose the chance to do stuff that he doesn’t care for nor agree with.

      3. There has been a lot of hinting something has crawled into Blake. But what? The darkness demon might have escaped from the firelight he held up to his eye. And that’s when he was truly low. OTOH, Fell thought he was possessed BEFORE that. If Fell is right it came from the police station. That time there was a shit ton of spirits being used. Plus one might have gotten freed from the backlash.

        Regardless even if Maggie isn’t subverted she is at the center of a lot of blood and fire. Powered by her. And that’s exactly what she is going for. She’s dumping the damage on someone else, or even trying to USE the blood and fire to her advantage. She very well may be trying to feed it.

    5. I’m really hoping it was Rose and Maggie both being careless (Rose because she’s, hmm, :not doing well right now, and Maggie ’cause she’s young and reckless and has a history of not really thinking things through), and that although Blake is being properly paranoid, that he is wrong in this circumstance.

  14. I think you mean “homo sapiens” rather than homo erectus. Homo erectus would have looked more monstrous than neanderthals, not less.

    1. “Midge was easily a few hundred pounds, more reminiscent of a Neanderthal than Homo Erectus.”

      I think Wildbow was making the comparison on body size. Homo erectus was smaller than Homo neanderthalis.

      1. It’s not actually an error because Blake is presumably operating from the common stereotype of a Neanderthal, but the average Neanderthal male was around 5’6″ and 170lbs (ie shorter than your average modern human, if stockier). They also were probably fair-skinned and not particularly hairy. The classic “caveman” portrayal of Neanderthals has been totally debunked, nowadays.

    2. Fun fact about neanderthals: suspected (as of several years ago, this may be out of date) that their brain cavities were larger than those of even modern homo sapiens. Why then were they wiped out, except for traces of DNA in us from when they bred with homo sapiens? There isn’t any evidence of violence in their culture. The only bones found with injuries appear to be caused by conflicts with animals. It’s possible early humans simply wiped them out.

      For an interesting sci-fi look at the evolution of humans check out the book Inherit The Stars.

    1. Estimating a 6,750 word average per chapter, 51 chapters, 344,250 words. If a page is 250 words double spaced (standard for a novel, IIRC), that’s 1,377 pages.

      If a book is 60,000 words minimum, that’s five or six novels.

  15. “Lord, promise me you won’t touch the city, me, mine, or the Duchamps of Jacob’s Bell, and I’ll sit on the sidelines for this one.” Jeremy, 4.2.

    Exactly how does this not count as touching the city? Because this contest is somehow separate from Conquest’s attempt to control and use Blake and Rose? This contest is an extension of that same attempt, a formal challenge for Conquest’s control of Blake. Because Conquest isn’t technically doing the actions himself? His chosen champions are performing the actions so the actions are done by his choice and his will. Jeremy now has every right to interfere. And since the promise was made to Jeremy, Jeremy has every right to name Conquest forsworn if Jeremy chooses not to interfere.

    And yes, I know that the technicalities of this world might not actually let Conquest weasel out of this, but this should cause some significant problems for Conquest. It is looking more and more like a double standard for lying – the less powerful like Blake get tripped up by little things like sarcasm but people like Laird and Conquest can get away with what looks like flat out lying or promise breaking. %lt;/rant>

    1. It’s the technicalities of the CONTEST that can allow Conquest to weasel his way out of that oath.

      Blake specifically said that he can’t use his own powers in this conquest. That it only applies one’s skill as a leader and conqueror, rather than one’s own skills and powers.

      So, “Conquest” isn’t touching the city. He sent out his champions and while they might be working under his orders, it isn’t by his hand. Any damage done CAN’T be by his hand as long as he’s following the rules. Even if he tells Eye to go destroy blake’s house in the real world. He isn’t using his own might by the rules of the contest, so he’s also honoring the oath, technically. As long as the universe says he is honoring ONE of them, then he is honoring BOTH

      1. I get that – it was sort of the point of my second rhetorical question. But a ruler saying “I won’t do X” and then sending his armies to do X is still being a duplicitous a__hole and should get punished for it. Consider that Pauz tried to name Blake forsworn for Rose’s actions – not the exact same situation but similar.

          1. Then consider the justification that got Blake out of this: It wasn’t his/Rose’s action, because it was Conquest’s. We already know that if you force someone to do something it counts as your action and not theirs, so maybe this is a question of how much agency the Eye has?

      2. Hm, though come to think of it…Pauz tried to use the reasoning that Rose’s word is as Blake’s and her hand is as his to get them forsworn. They didn’t argue this, just that Rose hadn’t done anything of her own volition. Doesn’t this mean that Rose using magic equivalent to Blake using magic? Or are they seen as distinct individuals in that sense?

        1. Rose and Blake are both considered “The Grandchild of Rose Thorburn and the heir of the thorburn line/name”, so they are two indivuduals but the same person kinda. Or, the Others see them as the same person.

          Blake and Rose can both use June (I miss june….), so to June, one’s orders is the same as the other, even if one is more powerful. So Rose trapping Pauz counts as Blake’s fault. But she wasn’t doing it of her will, so they got away with it.

        2. I think for the purposes of this contest Rose counts as a separate person specifically because Blake named her as his Champion. Basically if anyone argued that her using magic was illegal because they were the same person that would open the door for Blake claiming he was entitled to an additional Champion.

  16. Jeremy is the one conserving forces and energy here and may well be the one to pick up the pieces when it is over. If so, he can perform a very counter-intuitive torture on Blake: “Here Blake, have a nymph.” On a normal, healthy, unattached heterosexual male, that is not exactly torture, but with Blake’s prior history and resulting neuroses a nymph becomes a serious problem.

    1. I dunno…. after seeing the nymphs at the college… they seem pretty fcking dangerous to me. Not quite sure I *wouldn’t call being in a locked room with one “torture”.

      1. I don’t think those were nymphs at the college. The nymphs are attractive young girls, probably used for Jerry’s “parties”.

        I think the ones at the college were Bacchae/Maenad. In the mythology (according to Wikipedia because Greco-Roman mythology is not my specialty) they were followers of Dionysus (The Drunk’s God) who were known for getting into a mad (as in crazy) state in which they tore animals and men apart.

          1. 😀 Ahahaha… :/ Wait, are you serious? You saw how well she handled Midge. Why would a Maenad be any better?

            1. Ummm. . .

              . . .

              Rose is more experienced now? Actually, that can work.

              Between Blake and Maggie: “How do you get her bound again?” I asked.

              Maggie said, “If they’re tightly bound and sworn to oaths, you don’t need to, they stick to the rules that were laid out.”

              If all went according to plan, Midge would have returned and left the battle field. Rose failed because 1) she underestimated Midge and used the wrong wording for the command and 2) Midge couldn’t be bound/was improperly bound.

              Rose would be more prepared for the Maenad. Rose would have to bind and force her into oaths of obedience/loyalty.

              Assuming Rose could do that, I think it could work out well. Both Rose and Maenads can be aggressive and ruthless. One under Rose’s guidance/control could be pretty scary.

            2. But the thing is, there can be no mistakes with bound familiar (e.g. Hildr) as with a bonded (e.g. Tromos) familiar. Midge was a good wake-up call in that regard but again, there can be no mistakes.

      2. They females on the college campus were the Bacchae (a.k.a. Maenads). Jeremy has three types: satyrs and nymphs are avatars of the nicer sides of wild partying, including both drunkenness and sex. Bacchae are avatars of drunken frenzy, i.e. they are berserkers. Blake didn’t know the signs and the differences when he first encountered them, so he didn’t identify them in “his” story but the side story about Sandra and Jeremy identifies them.

  17. I seriously want to see a Boogeyman find its way onto the team. Something like the face stealer from the Fell interlude… that would be awesome.

    1. I was thinking about that since the start. An evil, scary and mad Other or Practitoner who twists rules and reality like his mind.

      I’m just thinking of Jack Slash or Mannequin as a practitoner. That would be awesome.

      1. I’d rather see Alan Gramme as a practitioner. He might take Blake’s side.

        But knowing what we know about Jack, he’d be the scariest thing in the story except maybe Barbatorem. And yes, I’m including both Corvidae and Eras-Ur in that.

        1. Mannequin’s first appearence was in my opinion the most frightening of all S9. His inability to talk combined with his communication via mirrors or keyboards gave him a otherworldly presence. Together with his uncanny movement he looked more like something that belonged to Silent Hill than the “real world” of Worm.
          He would perfectly fit in a world like Pact, as a demon of the Choir of Madness or Choir of Unrest.

          1. If Alan or rather Manniquin is from the Choir of Madness, then the Smurf must be in charge.

            And yes his first apperence was creepy as hell. And as someone who is afraid of major surgery, all the things he did to his body makes him extra freaky to me.

            1. We don’t know for sure what’s the Origin of the Endbringers and Pact and Worm exist in the same Multiverse, so…

            2. We don’t know for sure that Goofy’s words were the truth. It’s what he needed to say, not necessarily the truth. So we have no proof that he was right.

          2. Interesting, I found Bonesaw the most frightening. Something about the Creepy Child has always touched a nerve, and superadvanced evil biology is Seriously Scary Shit. Jack even made rules for Bonesaw to follow (like no epidemics) so she didn’t just vastly outmurder the rest of the group.

            1. Hmm, on second thought this might be spoilery… if it is, sorry and feel free to change it. It’s totally fine if I end up saying some strange things about Sesame Street characters.

            2. What made Bonesaw so much more frightening to me was the realization that she wasn’t necessarily a child like we think she is. With her abilities she could be everyone, or everything.

            3. Well Considering Spoilers I ended up feeling Spoilers about Bonesaw. In the end I hope she Spoilers, because really Spoilers.

    2. I found the Face Snatcher rather likable. For a muderous face carving off boogyman. Of course the whole, kill people and cut off their faces thing would probably make Blake and his friends a little nervous around him.

    3. The Bogeyman Rose mooted was James Corvidae (Jim Crow? The reference doesn’t make sense to me.). His thing was giving your keystone connections to other people.

      That would be seriously awesome for sowing dissent amongst the ranks of their enemies (which is a natural fit for any Thorburn who played Grandma’s game like Rose did), but it could also backfire hard if ol’ Jim was in a subversive mood.

      Take Alexis away from Blake, give her to Rose. Blake loses a friend/love interest, has to watch Rose and Alexis together thereafter. Take away Blake’s tattoos, he loses that connection to overcoming his past (a crucial aspect of his identity). Take away his bike, take away Evan, fragment the Blakeguard, etc.

      On the other hand, stealing conquests from Conquest is a double whammy. Fracturing the Sisters, the Behaims, or the DuChamps would be devastating (especially the DuChamps, because a single male child from a rebellious daughter would ruin their working). Take the Shepherd’s prized ghosts, anyone’s familiar/implement, give Conquest’s tower to Rose, etc.

      The Bogeymen, insofar as Other-types are analogous to Wormverse classifications, would be Strangers. That makes them pretty darn dangerous. While Jim Crow or another Bogeyman would absolutely wreck Conquest, I think he could easily wreck Blake too.

  18. “But here she was, feeling the effect of almost two weeks of confinement in the mirror world.”

    Wait- it’s been LESS than two weeks? Holy crap, Yeah, Two-weeks-ago Blake to Current Blake? Proof that people really do have a strong reason to fear him. He already has more combat experience than most practitioners, on top of picking a fight and holding his own against a Lord of a major city, who happens to be an incarnation of Conquest…

    Question though-
    About this spirit-world vs real world interaction?

    So, was Midge seen as an obese woman, or did she make an obese woman go crazy? Because midge left, while Fat-Lady got shot down. So when the people take the fat-lady’s body into the morgue and/or police department for examination like Evan was…. what exactly are they looking at? An illusion? A newly created human? Or will they all forget and the evidence “lost” as it bleeds away from the mortal realm?

    BTW- I am absolutely LOVING the fact that Blake’s sword is something between Goblin and Faerie. It’s perfect for him. He already has shown his awesome skill in using Faerie’s weapons/assests, now he has one that is a bit more Muscle than the glamor. I’m awaiting the inevitable Blakeguard VS Faerie Court War.

    Wildbow- Dude, take a break if you need to. Seriously. This is something you likely did because you enjoy doing it, and we enjoy reading your work. It would be tragic if either side lost their enjoyment from this- so if taking a break and keeping yourself sane helps you to keep doing what you love instead of a chore you feel obligated to do- TAKE A FRIGGIN BREAK =)

    1. Yeah. I understand that you don’t want to lose your momentum. So don’t just decide “I don’t feel like it today”. But it’s totally OK to plan for a way to recharge, up to and including a planned and preannounced break.

    2. Blake seems to benefit a great deal from Harry Dresden Syndrome; he’d be perfectly fine piddling around trying to stay alive, but everyone’s trying to kill him and so he needs to grab more and more power just to stay afloat.

      1. That’s an excellent description.

        I wonder how many people there are in Blake’s approximate situation. Being stuck with with a diabolical legacy out of the blue can’t be common, but the general problem of “things trying to kill me and I need power” might not be–and the old library and whatnot make an excellent bit of power to bootstrap from.

  19. So, Midge is not a good fit for Rose, with the whole brute force thing. I wonder what would be? I initially thought faerie, but Rose isn’t as much a creature of self-deception-Blake’s the one that’s good at lying to himself even though he knows himself. Maybe something like Corvidae, who fits her tendency towards pragmatic ruthlessness, but he actually scares her, so maybe not.

    1. I’m waiting for her to make the Barber her assistant. Something that can travel between reflections like her… It means he could kill her at any time, but hey- he didn’t get the title of “in case of big friggin emergency- break glass and pray” for nothing. He has a physical form- one that changes, too, so a versatile one. He can do all sorts of magical things, can cut through a crap ton of defenses, and could probably kill Conquest or at least make him as good as dead. She DID say she needed herself to be strong… that would be pretty fucking strong.

      Which reminds me-

      Why the hell can’t rose jump to blake’s eyes? Or anyone’s eyes that happens to be near blake or in the house?? Those are pretty good reflective things that are a lot harder for someone to break than a mirror. Barber can do it, and the Urr-demon-thing can move in the mirror realm and in the eyes of people too…. Why can’t she? That would be AWESOME!

      Creepy as fuck, but awesome

      1. Why the hell can’t rose jump to blake’s eyes? Or anyone’s eyes that happens to be near blake or in the house??

        Perhaps she can. She just refuses to do so because it’s Sqicky. Also, I don’t think she would fit.

        1. Well, maybe not fit entirely, but I don’t see why she can’t use his eyes as literal peep-holes to see what he sees and always be near him- enough to speak to him without anyone who isn’t next to him being able to hear…

          It would’ve been a good place to hide when fighting the Demon rather than Blake holding the mirror over his head (I know- she probably would’ve died when he looked at the demon and it infected his eyes, but I’m just saying for next time.)

          But… as far as fitting goes… how much does that account for the size of the actual reflective object, opposed to how wide the reflected image is? Like, blake saw her in his bike mirror (which is small) while riding a bike (still not sure how that works, but hey- it’s magic). So the same process should apply for eyes, right? Even if they move around, she can move around too, like with the bike mirror- she wasn’t constantly shaking violently like bike mirrors do, and stayed along on her side, so eyes should work by those same principles?

          1. I suspect that the thing with Barbatorum getting into your eyes has less reflection and more a thing with demons and eyes, but until we know more than two demons I can’t be sure.

            If my guess is true, though (and possibly if it isn’t), Blake’s eyes simply aren’t reflective enough for Rose.

          2. It appears that the mirror world doesn’t exist inside the mirrors, they’re just windows into it (and the only source of light in it). So having a shaking mirror wouldn’t make Rose shake around inside, it would just be like looking at someone through a window that was moving around. It also appears mundane objects are reflected, appearing and moving just like their real version (allowing her to ride on a mirror bike without having to actually drive it). The house is an exception to this, probably because it’s designed that way to be a permanent link to the mirror world like Blake is (or maybe it started off identical, but because it’s never had a chance to ‘reset’ it’s accumulating changes that don’t disappear when they stop being reflected). The combination of these two traits of the mirror world might actually explain why Rose hasn’t looked through peoples’ eyes: she stays in the same place, but her ‘windows’ are both very small and constantly moving as the person moves their head, forcing her to either have a truly puny window (if she stands back) or try to keep her eyes perfectly lined up with their eyes to maintain her view.

            1. One last thing, anything in the mirror world that isn’t ‘illuminated’ doesn’t exist; leaving a mostly empty void with occasional patches of light and reality.

              Basically the mirror world and abstract demons’ ability are fundamentally different. Abstract demons exist in their literal reflection, it doesn’t matter how fuzzy or moving it is because the reflection just moves with the (for instance) eye. Two-dimensional. The mirror world is a full 3D space that exactly matches the reflection of the real world.

      2. Barber and Urr are demons; it might just be a demon thing. As for Rose…well, eyes really aren’t that reflective. Even if they were, they certainly aren’t very big reflective things–have we seen Rose in any mirror smaller than a rearview one, or any clear (not-intentionally-reflective) glass smaller than a window?

        1. Maybe- mirror shards he has hanging around his place, and also the cheep mirrors he first bought when he went to the store before the council meeting. I have no idea how small they were though
          I dunno- eyes are pretty damn reflective. But I guess it depends on the color. Do we know what color Blake’s eyes are? If they are as dark as mine, I can see it not being reflective enough.

          And… maybe it’s a thing about demons only, but I doubt it. It could be about Abstract Demons from the Choir of Darkness (which I’d be more likely to buy). Urr can move through the mirror world AND eyes, which makes me believe Rose should be able to as well. As for the barber, the note said something along the lines of- he can move through any reflective surface and escape his circle, including your eyes

          1. I’m aware of what the note said. But is that prescriptive…or descriptive? It’s a theory, and one that bears investigation once we see more demons, since both we’ve seen have been able to enter your eyes.

            I’m pretty sure the shards were closer to hand-sized and the mirrors were something like rearview ones.

            1. Uh, we’ve seen Pauz, with zero indication that he could get into people’s eyes.

              More tellingly:
              “There are rules to follow. It’s abstract-”

              “Can’t look straight at it,” I said.” (5.06)
              The second that Rose says that it’s abstract, Blake knows that that means that it can get in his eyes.

              Mm. Maybe. I thought of the mirrors as rearview ones, but for bicycles, rather than automobiles.

            2. Imps seem different than demons. From what I recall, they sounded less like full demons and more like demon bits that got stuck in something. If I’m wrong, I’ll need to re-evaluate things.
              Your note about it being abstract…maybe that’s what lets them get in eyes? Dunno.

              They are. Rearview mirrors just aren’t that big. Like I said, about hand-sized.

            3. Abstract appears to mean (probably among other things) that any image of them counts as a part of them. A single arm, a picture, a reflection, all are part of the demon’s body, and it can move the rest of its body to that location. E.g. into your eyes or into the mirror world.

      3. The problem is if her mirror stops letting light through she’s shunted to a different one. If this is damaging or takes power, then that could be a big problem every time Blake (or whoever she’s looking through) blinks.

    2. Maybe Rose is as good at self-deception as Blake is. Certainly, she’s good at pretending to be more than she is. Remember that note at the start of the chapter, about who she is in the dark? (Figuratively speaking.) Besides, a good partner (whether in marriage or in business) isn’t one who duplicates you so much as one who complements you.

      Besides, as a mirror creature, Rose is pretty closely tied to vanity. Fits.

  20. What does Rose need as a semi-permanent summons / familiar?

    —Humanoid physical body to manipulate real-world objects.
    —Compatible and/or cooperative personality to prevent Midge-like accidents.
    —Ability to cast magic itself, so Rose can cast spells with it and still use the Thorburn legacy.

    Basically, a Maggie who is truly cooperative and allied. Unfortunately, nothing that they discussed meets the criteria (closest is James Corvidae, but his cooperation is not likely to last). Oh, well, this is Pact, perfect solutions aren’t going to happen.

    1. By virtue of Blake having a highly-attuned familiar, it’s unlikely Rose will get anything close. They are mirror images, after all. She will probably look for blatantly powerful and dangerous power sources/henchmen (well, henchOthers).

      1. Probably wouldn’t fix anything. She’s already drawing from his power, and when’s the last time they agreed on a course of action that didn’t end horribly?

        She needs two things: A way of disconnecting from Blake that doesn’t end in her death or in some other backlash, and a familiar of her own.

        1. In that case, Blake is probably gonna want to make sure she doesn’t go batshit and try to kill him as soon as she stops being dependant.

          1. Doesn’t sound Rose-ey. As long as she keeps her mental health in check and Blake doesn’t turn into a Lifetime movie villain, it’ll be good.

    2. She needs a spirit of mercury to start with. Possibly a mirror spirit, but mercury is way cooler. Then make a mercury golem! Then she can wear it into battle.

  21. So, if Blake beats Conquest and eats C’s heart, will Blake get a big powerup, or at least a full recharge? Ms. Lewis implied that eating live hearts is a way to gain power. I think it might fit Blake, the bird Diabolist.

    1. Wildbow, Pact is awesome. Worm is awesome. You’re awesome. But seriously, take a week off sometime, or something. Designate a week every month or two that you don’t publish during. Use it to set up a buffer.

    2. I would not eat an Incarnations heart. You are what you eat yo. Glamour is probably okay since you can always set the Glamour to “Blake”.

      1. Except you need to make sure not to get too close to hostile Faerie, or they’ll be able to manipulate you.

      2. Would you eat it while blotto?
        Would you eat it in Toronto?
        Would you eat it in Jacob’s Bell?
        Would you eat it if cooked by Fell?

    3. Bit creepy, though…I don’t think a heart-eating allegedly-faux diabolist would have much ability to convince people that he isn’t really a diabolist.

  22. Rose intoned, “Midge, daughter of Rackham Thin, daughter of Fat Mam, drinker of blood…”

    “…Bound by the sixth seal, the second point of the star, marked Gula, marked Forente…”

    “I bind you once more by this imperfect sealing.  Until it is repudiated by the blood that forged it, you may never be perfectly bound.  Let this suffice.  By the Thorburn blood, return to the morass from which I called you!”

    …I have no clue what this means. What is Gula, what’s Forente? What is the sixth seal, what is the second point of the star? Is the Seventh Seal a good movie? Why is Midge imperfectly bound? Can’t they just fix the binding? Whose blood? Who bound Midge in the first place?

    1. I do not know the answers to your questions. All I do know, is that I find it hilarious that Midge is the daughter of Rock ’em Thin, daughter of Fat Mom (or Ma’am).

    2. “Until it is repudiated by the blood that forged it” This seems to mean that someone once bound her inperfectly, and someone of that bloodline must break that bind before someone can set a new, good one.

    3. I know that “Gula” is Latin for gluttony and greed, and “Forente” is Swedish, meaning “united” in the past participle sense of the word. The sixth seal attested to in Revelations, and is symbolic of catastrophes and apocalypses. Of earthquakes, storms and, by context, hurling spirits down into limbo.

      I further suspect that the star referenced is the Seal of Solomon, a seven chambered hexagram, with six points and a central hexagonal expanse. Perhaps Midge imperfectly bound because she is not signed to the standard, only bound on one point of seven. The binding presumably cannot be completed until Midge is made to swear to the other particulars of the standard, and she cannot be made to swear until released from her current binding, lest it be claimed that she swore under duress.

      The Seventh Seal is, incidentally, a wonderful movie.

    4. A lot of demonology comes from stuff like the Key of Solomon, so I imagine the star is one similar to the Star of David. In fact, here’s a pentacle from the Key of Solomon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aemethms.gif

      There’s also other stuff, like the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum or “Hierarchy of Demons” which names 69 demons, including a fellow named Orias. You know, various grimoires out there are fodder for this sort of thing. I suppose, having been bound, Others like demons would encourage people to find this stuff to give them a chance to frolic on Earth.

      And before I forget, the Lesser Key of Solomon isn’t the same as the Key of Solomon. It lists 72 demons and slightly changes up the order from the Hiearchy.

  23. It was a really good thing that Rose wasn’t a real person.

    And here lies the underlying reason of the tension growing between Rose and Blake. Deep down, he still doesn’t consider her a real person. He feels she’s just a weak part of him. That enables him to make big decisions without her and to subvert her. This answers Rose’s questions about why Blake tries to be equitable with strangers and friends but not with her. As long as Blake continues to have this attitude deep within him, their bond won’t heal.

    Fortunately it seems Blake is now making a conscious effort to rid himself of that feeling and treat Rose as an equal.

    1. But Rose really isn’t a real person. She’s something other similar to a vestige put in place by his grandmother (or someone else) for purposes unknown. She’s also a glaring weak spot to him and he’s better off without her if he’s unable to get some sort of binds on her to prevent what Conquest did from happening again.

      1. I’m not going to debate whether or not Rose is “a person” or her effect on Blake. I’ll leave that for someone else, if they are so inclined. I will say that Rose considers herself a real person. Therein lies the fundamental conflict between Blake and Rose.

        1. I think you are reading that in a different way than perhaps was meant. I don’t think the narration meant “it was a really good thing that Rose wasn’t a sentient being deserving of autonomy and free will”. It seems far more likely that the intend message was “it was a really good thing that Rose wasn’t made of flesh and blood and tied down by conventional physical parameters”. At the very least, that reading of that word makes more sense in my mind.

          1. I think you are reading that in a different way than perhaps was meant.

            Nope. I am almost certainly am reading that in a way differently from what was meant.

            The main and most obvious meaning is that Rose didn’t have a physical, flesjy body with which to be hit by Midge’s missiles. That doesn’t, mean however, that we can’t look deeper.

            The wording implies the underlying feeling that Rose is not truely a person. Those are the words that Blake thought. Therefore, we can speculate that Blake may be harboring these feelings deep inside. That would actually explain some of Blake’s actions.

            I would elaborate, but I fear I would just end up repeating my original comment.

            So basically, I’m aware of the main understanding of the that sentence. My comment was more about that sentence’s psychological reflection of Blake (I hope that made sense. I’m literally making this comment from bed).

            1. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. What would you have said..thought…whatever? “Good thing Rose is ethereal and not actually composed of flesh and blood”?
              Besides, “real” can mean “counts as a” or “actually exists”. You could say Chuck Norris isn’t a real badass, and you could say Batman isn’t a real badass, and they’d both be correct (Chuck Norris is really just an aging actor, Batman is fictional) even though they’re wrong when viewed from the other perspective (Chuck Norris exists, Batman is widely agreed to be badass). Just because Blake thinks one doesn’t mean he thinks the other (e.g, thinking that Chuck Norris isn’t a real badass doesn’t mean you think he’s fictional, and thinking that Batman isn’t a real badass doesn’t mean you think he’s a wimp).
              Now I need to think about why that example came to mind first.

    2. Mmm. I also noticed this, but I reasoned that, given the context, it is possible Blake wasn’t being dismissive of Rose.

      Rose isn’t a “real” person in the sense she is made of meat and bones, and she isn’t a “real” person that is in the “real” world where she can get hurt. If there were a real, solid, tangible person behind the mirrors, then that person would have gotten gravely or lethally hurt.

  24. When rose said Midge was called “Skeeter” I couldn’t help but picturing a fat, 6foot tall version of taylor/skitte…..
    That image will give me nightmares, most likely.

    “This is some horror movie shit right here.”
    Yup.

  25. For a familiar, Rose needs something abstract, yet which can also deal in the physical. I’m wondering if a forsaken practitioner, just Other enough to count, could be used? Someone recently cast down, and seeking revenge or even just a second chance, who has never been summoned before.

    1. cough Barber cough

      I’m not sure she can get a “familiar” but maybe an Other bound to her in a dickswizle-like sense?
      But yeah, there already was an instance of someone who is a little too much Other being a familiar.

      1. Somehow I think that most demons would jump at the chance to be bound to a mortal. That’s got to be the ultimate foothold in the world. Of course, that would mean you are bound to the BARBER. Which probably is bad for your karma. … I wonder if the Barber can sever you from Karma?

      2. I would say that anyone who binds the Barber as their familiar deserves what’s coming to them, but no one deserves what the Barber would do.

  26. Olivebirdy:

    I don’t know the literal referents of most things in Midge’s “Binding Invocation”, but I DO know what Gula is; it’s the Latin name for Gluttony, as in one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Seems appropriate for Midge, no?

  27. Olivebirdy (again!):

    Hmm, “Forente” is also Latin and also relates to Gluttony (capital G), the sin. St. Thomas Aquinas further defined gluttony, preparing a list of six ways to commit gluttony, including:

    Praepropere - eating too soon.
    Laute - eating too expensively.
    Nimis - eating too much.
    Ardenter - eating too eagerly (burningly).
    Studiose - eating too daintily (keenly).
    **Forente - eating wildly (indiscriminately, mindlessly)**
    

    Again, sounds like Midge.

  28. .”A dark red line crossed her white blouse, and blood had spread from it, seeping into the cloth around it. It forked like a lightning bolt might. Or a crack in glass. From one shoulder to the other.”

    Actually this is a little reminder. Rose isn’t actually human. She’s an other. And it’s a different set of rules that applies to her for a lot of things. Now, this doesn’t mean she isn’t a real person. But it may well effect a lot of things. As an Other can she even get a Familier and Implement? Well the first Gathered Pages subtly implied that it’s possible for a ghost to become a mortal, so she hopefully can become more real. But I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point Rose gets bound, not just in the way Conquest did, but by a practicioner, due to her being an other.

    Oh, and Wildbow…
    ” her large, misshapen nipples standing out like golf balls beneath the thin fabric. ”
    Why did you feel the need to describe THIS to us?!

    1. “” her large, misshapen nipples standing out like golf balls beneath the thin fabric. ”
      Why did you feel the need to describe THIS to us?!”

      Why did he feel the need to describe Haeg Mora’s death back in the Peer preview? The various bits of body horror in Worm (ill-defined due to spoilers)? Half the stuff in the Boil preview?

      …Actually it’s a good question.

      1. Well, it drives the imagery home; show, don’t tell. Wildbow doesn’t need to tell us that she’s horrifically fat and ugly; we can mentally see that for ourselves. Fortunately for the immersion, but unfortunately for ourselves, we can’t un-see it.

    2. Well, you don’t have to imagine it, no one told you to do so. However, this description, no matter how ‘unearth-y’ it is, is simply a way an author trying to explore/find what his/her audience react the most to.

      So in a way, would you rather read a story from an author that doesn’t bother exploring his/her uncharted use of word and sentence composition; in the end become boring and easily predictable OR cringe once in a while, for the love of the story, and whatever the mad author (e.g. Wildbow, as the name suggest) trying to put into our reading palate.

      1. “Well, you don’t have to imagine it, no one told you to do so. ”
        Visual thinkers have no choice in this. The moment I read it I see it. There iis no moment of choosing to imagine it.
        I agree with the rest of your point. I like the detailed descriptions, even of horrifying scenes.

  29. Kill Count 2014: Barely Anyone’s Fucking Dying, Yo

    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 Mashed: 1

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0

    Hard choice on the music this time, I admit. Given some of the atmosphere, the themes, all that mess, it wasn’t easy coming up with a potential theme, and this doesn’t quite fit the action, but I thought it made a good song for Midge. Some similar themes, you know?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5Avu5f6Tws

    Careful when you summon a demon…

  30. Perhaps Maggie is actually the Goblin Queen. Wasn’t Maggie told that she was the conduit for the Queen? Is there anything that says that the Queen has to come back in her own body instead of Maggie’s body? I think the Queen is going to be trying to sow additional blood and fire, etc., and Blake should have set up a doppelganger password with Maggie. Blake asked for Maggie, and he got her, physically. Mentally, however… The Queen is dressed up in her human suit finery to have a fun battle.

    The only question is whether or not Maggie is aware of what her body is doing right now.

    1. Maggie is a Goblin Queen. She made that pretty clear. It’s her magical trade. In fact, if she doesn’t end up marrying Blake, she’ll probably marry David Bowie.

      Could you possibly be meaning the Psycho Goblin Lady from Maggie’s History? That would beg a lot of questions?

      How did PGL come to take Maggie’s form? Why didn’t she recognize Fell? He should look similar to Nameless Practitioner Hero who almost defeated/banished her? How does she know Blake? Why is a goblin able to perform summoning rituals? Was Dickswizzle really PGL’s best goblin?

      I’m not saying your theory is wrong. It just opens up a whole lot of questions.

      1. Nameless Practitioner Hero was related to Fell, maybe. I got that impression off something I read in Fell’s interlude.

        As for the relationship between Maggie and the Goblin Queen, perhaps part of letting Maggie go and that whole “You’ll bring blood and flung feces a few more times” thing was that she would act through Maggie in some situations. Maybe some sort of influence over her actions that she does or doesn’t realize, maybe possession, maybe she’s slowly incarnating in Maggie’s place until there’s only the Goblin Queen. Then, when the whole mess ends, Maggie will be back until the next major catastrophe time for her.

        1. “My brother died at the hands of goblins, trying to save a small town.” 4.9

          My take on the curse is that it is difficult for the queen goblin to get to the real world often and that the curse helps overcome that limitation by tying the queen goblin to the goblin queen.

  31. Evan used the same maneuver he’d used against the Eye. Through the legs. A little more force than a sparrow should have had.
    Midge fell, landing on all fours.

    Well done, kid.

    “Your pa called you his mosquito. His skeeter!”
    Well…um…I’m sure it ounded better when he said it.

    We’d fucking rescue that car.
    Noble sentiment. Hope that it doesn’t kill or maim you!

    “No time to rest just yet. Trouble incoming,” Fell said. “I can sense it.
    So can I, and I’m not even in that universe. Or multiverse, I think.

    I wasn’t sure why, but when I took a headcount, trying to weigh the options and assets we had on hand, I had trouble counting her among our assets.
    I remember this coming up before, in reverse I think. Hell if I can remember why.
    This must be what it’s like for people who forgot who Imp was…

    “I think those vessels were something of a one-size-fits-all solution. Something they could calibrate to send at virtually any threat. Whatever they send next, it’ll be more specialized.”
    Probably. Frikkin’ tinkers…

    “And you can’t have it,” I said, suddenly very glad for the promise I’d made to Evan. “Not without us jumping through some hoops first. Let’s table that for now.”
    Wise.

    A crazy obese woman in the middle of a city street, flinging glass at fleeing shoppers. The news caption on the bottom read ‘Drug-fueled rampage?’
    That answers some questions and raises others. Like, where did she come from? Did a random obese woman suddenly feel the Power of Midge and start going nuts? Did she appear from nowhere? What kinds of entities have that happening to them when they cross worlds?

    1. “So can I, and I’m not even in that universe. Or multiverse, I think.”
      ho ho,but you are,and you will soon become a protagonist.

  32. While looking back through the first chapter to try and find out Granny Thorburn’s name, I came across an interesting thing from back then. It wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows at the time, but what we know now…

    “I am a lawyer, Master Blake, and I expect to be one until I pass on. I’m disappointed that you would make assumptions about a whole profession.”

    1. A point, but officially entering the demonic law firm erases karmic debt. Since it was instead passed on, it appears that RDT did not actually become a member of Mann, Levin, and Lewis (sp?).

      1. Yeah. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Granny Rose had an identity, which members of the diaboloc firm don’t have.

        Perhaps it was her mundane job, or she considered herself a rules lawyer.

  33. It was very possible that someone or something like her might have been called an ogre, once upon a time.

    Rose should summon Shrek. He’d make a food ally/partner/subordinate. S
    He’s strong, decent with tactics, can talk and has fine motor control! I wanna see Rose riding an ogre

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