Subordination 6.9

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The television that Joel had brought into my apartment showed an endless series of reports on what was going on around the city.  Blackouts, fires, raised tensions and overcrowded hospital rooms.  Looking at it from a distance, ignorant, I might assume it was just another night of typical sensationalist news reporting.  Worse than most nights, but there was a natural ebb and flow, right?  Some nights, you’d have more stories and more ugliness than there’d been in the past two weeks.  Unusual but not alarming.  Nothing that would shift the average Joe out of his comfort zone.

Except I had outside knowledge.  I could place many of the events and deduce more.  The Eye, and ghosts were active, which was influencing people in subtle ways.  Maybe, just like Alexis and I had experienced our own simulated heart attacks, a few people who were in line to have one experienced some.  How many ghosts were active, and how many negative emotions, diseases or other issues were being triggered prematurely?

Magic has a price, but it’s not always the practitioner that pays it.

I leaned back on my futon.

Joel was here, more or less filled in, and more than a little concerned that Alexis, Tiff, and Ty weren’t with us.  Goosh was at her place.

Fell patrolled the perimeter of my apartment, his attention on the taped-down diagram that protected the edge.

“This is a mess,” I said.

“I agree,” Fell said.  “As perimeter defenses go, this is pretty sad.”

“I was talking about the general situation.”

“Oh.  What did you expect, Thorburn?”

“I hoped that he’d stick to the deal he made with the High Drunk and leave the city alone.”

“He is,” Fell said.  “An omission to protect the city from his underlings isn’t the same thing as targeting the city.  If that tests the truth, the power he gleans from the ambient misery makes up for it.”

“Fuck,” I said.

“Keep in mind, too, that this is his city.  There are quite a few reasons why practitioners and Others often want to be Lord over a city.  There are mundane reasons, wanting to protect one’s interests, or keep the riffraff out, cultivating a certain flavor of Other and practitioner to occupy your domain.”

“If you were to become a Lord,” Rose said, “It’d mean keeping out the likes of Laird, and putting your friends in better positions.”

“I do not want to become a Lord,” I said.  “No way, no how.  I already have enough people gunning for me as it stands.”

“If they’re already gunning for you, what does it change?” Maggie asked.

“You’re not seriously suggesting it.”

“Not even remotely,” Maggie said.  “You’d die, first of all.”

“And there’s nothing remotely redeeming about it,” I said.  “I mean, I can see the broader appeal.  When you claim a demesne, you make a challenge.  If there’s less in the way of individuals to reject that challenge…”

Rose finished my sentence, “…You can be bolder about the claim.  More power for you, more power for the people under you.”

Fell nodded.  “That’s another reason.  Respect is one kind of power, and it’s a power you can use as fuel or currency.  Few things command respect like being Lord of a city.”

“But like all things, that comes at a price,” Rose said.  “Thus the figureheading of Conquest.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Too many knives aimed at your back.”

Fell went on, “Getting back to my original point, outside of mundane or common sense reasons, there’s something to be said for the fact that the city is yours.  When you own something, it’s a one-sided relationship, and that means an uneven exchange of power.  One way or another, you influence that which you possess.  If you are the Lord of a city, then your substance runs through that city.  This isn’t something you control, but is more incidental.  When Conquest is passive, biding his time and building his strength, then the city is too.  When he is at war, then so is the city.”

When the city is at war, then there’s fire, people in the hospital, and a general ambiance of fear.

“I wish I’d known more about that, going in,” I said.

“I wish you had too.  I thought you might have some idea, and the plan to bide our time was with the knowledge that the city might suffer in the meantime.  I’m of two minds, now.”

“Two minds?”

“I’m glad you’re not heartless, Thorburn.  It helps when I have to work alongside you.  But at the same time… it’s obvious you’re bothered by what you’re seeing in the news, and the effects your contest are having on the public.  You’re wringing your hands-”

I looked down.  I was unconsciously toying with the locket chain, hooking my fingers beneath it.

I put my hands down flat.

“-and I’d be able to tell if it weren’t just that.  It’s not bad that you care, but strategy-wise?  From a purely rational perspective?  You being heartless would help.”

“Not too heartless,” Maggie said.  “That would mean demons, and I don’t think anyone here wants demons.”

“Right,” Fell said.  “A little bit of heartlessness could help.  Accept that what you’re doing helps everyone in the long run, if you depose Conquest, accept that some people are going to get hurt incidentally, and make do.”

“That sort of runs against my personal philosophy,” I said.  “I want to leave the world in better shape than it was when I arrived.”

“Says the diabolist,” Fell said.

“Yeah,” I said, dead serious, “Says the diabolist.”

He nodded.  “Well, decide how you’re going to handle this.  I’m going to try to patch up your defenses here.”

“Out of curiosity, how?” Rose asked.

“His champions are the Sisters, Astrologer, Chronomancy, the Eye and the Shepherd.  He picked a variety of talents, but we should be able to establish this as a refuge if we can distinguish it from the spirit world version of the apartment.  I can target human frailties and distract attention from the location, and I can ward off ghosts.  We’ll have to cross our fingers that the Eye doesn’t show up here, because my talents aren’t the type you use to stop him.”

I nodded.  “Thank you.  I’ll cross my fingers, so to speak.”

“I feel the need to stress that this isn’t a long-term protection.  We’re better off constantly moving.”

“I know, I get it.”

I’d had brief words with the others before we’d settled on my apartment.  Rose was a factor in the decision; she’d wanted company in visiting the apartment, in case something or someone was waiting for us when we arrived.  Some books were here.

I wanted to be here because I wanted to sleep in my own bed, stupid as it sounded.

With experience and the various ups and downs we’d faced, I was becoming aware of just how much my personal strength, power, and vulnerability was linked to my existence as Blake Thorburn.  Having my bike had done wonders.  Having my friends was nourishing on a spiritual level.

Was there a flip side to that?  Was I weakening myself if I thrust myself into unfamiliar situations?

Was I weakened by the fact that Maggie was here, in my apartment, making me distinctly uncomfortable?

Maggie had taken her time examining the Hyena’s sword, then explored my place.  I already had my doubts about her, but being under her scrutiny didn’t help.

I’d picked up art here and there.  A piece of wood that had been sat in the water of some lake or river long enough to be smoothed over, dried, painted and varnished.  A little white dog, a little abstract in shape, but recognizable enough.  A black and white series of images of women with their shirts off, backs turned or chests covered with arms, showing off their tattoos.

Maggie’s attention turned to my bookshelf, which was only half-filled with books.  The rest was trinkets and odds and ends, and admittedly two shelves of junk like screws, bill notices and change that I had stuck up there because I couldn’t be bothered to put them away where they belonged.

I wasn’t the only one looking.  Joel was studying her too.  He saw me seeing him looking.

“Where’s she sleeping?” Joel asked.  “Or are you not sleeping tonight?”

“I spent last night in a jail cell.  I’m definitely going to try to sleep tonight,” I said.  “Maggie?  Any preference?  Do you need to get home at some point?”

She considered.  “It might get complicated if I’m gone long enough for someone to notice how long I’ve been gone.”

“How did you arrange things with your dads?”

She shrugged.  “My parents and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to what I’m doing here.  It’s been worse since the change of location, coming to Jacob’s Bell.”

“Please tell me you told them you were coming.  I don’t want to get arrested for kidnapping a minor.  I was just in jail for being accused of murdering one.”

“For murdering me,” Evan clarified, sagely.

“I took measures.  There shouldn’t be trouble,” Maggie said.  “If there is, it shouldn’t inconvenience you.  But if I explain now, it will inconvenience you.”

“How does that work?” I asked.

She shrugged.  “I can tell you, if you want.  But maybe it’s better to focus on other things?”

“Maybe,” I said.  I met her eyes.  “You understand where I might be a little concerned by the fact that you’re dodging my question?  Unknowns are bad.”

“If I hadn’t taken measures to get out of Jacob’s Bell, I wouldn’t be standing here.  You wouldn’t have my particular brand of help.  I didn’t have many options, and the option I did find was pretty dratting fragile.  You could be grateful I’m even here, helping-”

“I am bribing you with access to magical tomes.”

“Something you were offering before.  I’m not complaining, I’m only saying.”

“You’re here, you’re helping.  It’s… it’s great.  Really.  But I think it’s a dumb move to let our guard slip, so I gotta ask.  Are you doing anything nefarious here?”

“There’s no real malice or hostility in my heart, honest.  I’m here because it’s a way to improve my personal situation, because I don’t like guys like the Lord of the City, or even the idea of Lords in general.  Besides, it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than sitting in podunk nowhereville and going to high school.”

“People have been hurt.  You’re putting your life at risk, and it’s interesting?” Joel asked.

Yes.  Believe me, I’ve seen stuff that makes this seem pretty tame,” Maggie said.  “This gives me a chance to explore.  It’s great.”

Joel latched on to the first part of her statement.  “Stuff that makes this seem tame?  I’m not sure I want to know.”

“You don’t.  You want to know why I can stand beside your buddy right now, when most won’t?  I’ve seen things that might rate an eight on the cosmic scale of bad.”

“You might be overestimating that,” Fell commented.

“I’m not,” Maggie said.

“I second what Fell said,” I added.  “Rose, Evan and I have squared off against a small demon.  Knowing what I know, putting it in context, I might rate it a six, and we almost didn’t make it out.”

“I’ve seen an eight,” Maggie said, a little firmer, “I’ve seen a lot of stuff.  Take my word for it.  A lot more suffered, and a lot more didn’t make it out.”

She sounded so calm about it.  From my perspective, when I thought about the demon in the factory, I felt vaguely sick to my stomach, or I felt like I could start seeing things in the darker corners of my apartment.  Could she really be talking about an eight without any sign of distress?

I sighed.  “I guess I’ll take your word for it, then.”

She nodded.

“This is going to take a while,” Fell said.  When I looked, he was pouring powder onto the floor, then using one of my tools to scrape it into shapes and patterns, building on and inside the diagram we’d taped out.  “In a minute, I’ll have to cover other rooms, and then I’ll go.  If we’re going to figure out what we’re doing tomorrow, we should do it now.”

I nodded.

Fell said, “I’m going to leave you guys when I’m done, so I can look after my family.”

“I wasn’t aware you had one,” Rose said.

“He told me he has siblings, and his parents and uncle were involved, if I remember right?” I suggested.

“I do have a family,” Fell told Rose.  “Conquest might try to use them against me as leverage.”

Family.  Did that mean allies?  “Can I ask who they are, or is it too personal?”

“You can ask.  My niece hasn’t been inducted into this world yet.  She benefits from the protections of innocence, and she’s in capable hands, but I’d still like to be sure.”

The niece couldn’t be another ally.  A shame.”Not going to stop you,” I said.  “You’ve helped me protect people close to me, it’d be hypocritical to deny you the chance to do the same for yourself.”

“Thank you,” Fell said.  “Frankly, you can’t stop me if I do want to leave, I don’t need your permission.”

“That too.”

“What’s the plan, as it stands?” Fell asked.  “We’ll need to set up somewhere else at some point tomorrow.”

“The plan,” I said, “Is to sleep, eat, and then I visit the police station.  If I don’t, they might start thinking I look a little guiltier.  Besides, I need to collect June.”

“Who?” Joel asked.”Ghost in a hatchet.  I left her behind.”

He nodded.

“The same police station where you ran into the Behaims?” Fell asked me.

“Yeah.”

“That sounds like a potential problem.  Do they know you’re coming?”

“They’re chronomancers who dabble in augury,” I said.  “Divining the future.  I wouldn’t be too surprised.”

“Can you avoid going?” he asked.

“I could,” I said.  “I’m wondering if I should.  I mean, for reasons beyond the charges against me and getting the hatchet.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m thinking of going after Laird.  I’ve had three wins against him, I’m not sure what that means in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t help but feel I’ve got the advantage and I should use it.”

“He’ll have help,” Maggie said.

“Yes,” I said.  “Almost definitely.  But I don’t think that help will include the heaviest hitters.  Not the Eye, probably not the Shepherd.”

“The Astrologer,” Fell said.  “Heavy enough.”

“She’s possible.  So are the Sisters,” I said.

“Walking right into the lion’s den?” Maggie asked.

“If I’m going to walk into the den,” I said, “I might as well go in prepared to deal with the motherfucking lion, so to speak.”

She smiled.

“If I’m going to help, I’ll need to know more about the Behaims,” Fell said.

“Alright.  Well, they’re arrogant and well-learned,” I said.  “They tend to prefer big, devastating effects, and the entire circle is supporting whoever they’ve got in play.  Laird had the entire circle helping to power his ritual, back in Jacob’s Bell.  Duncan had trinkets infused with power.”

I retrieved the little stonehenge charm bracelet and held it up.  “Credit goes to Evan, for collecting this.”

“You stole it?” Fell asked.

“Evan did.  So yeah, I guess we did?”

“Bad karma, depending on how you do it,” Fell told me.  “Especially if the possession has power.”

“We were fighting,” I said.  “Going head to head.”

“Even if you’re fighting, certain objects belong in certain hands.  The universe doesn’t like that kind of disruption.”

“The Universe is awfully nitpicky when being nitpicky would inconvenience me,” I said.

Fell shrugged.  He resumed working on the powder diagram.  It looked like a strong wind would muss it up, but it was remaining in place.  “Look.  If that’s the case, then how come Duncan didn’t get bitten by karma when he took June, my hatchet?”

“Ah,” Fell said.  “If he did, then it’s only fair if you took something of his in return.”

Hm.

Alright, then.  Not complaining.  I leaned forward as I spoke, “Look, the Behaims are making a bid for power.  Taking me out of the picture is a part of that.  They’re collectively handing power to Laird and Duncan, probably under the belief that they’re going to get paid back tenfold when Laird becomes Lord of Jacob’s Bell.”

“A shame they’re a whole city away,” Fell said.  “With that kind of power structure, it can be good to hit them on the ground level.  Put the guys on the top of the pyramid off-balance.”

“Definitely a shame,” I said.  “That’s essentially it.  I can’t guess what they’re going to try to pull, but I think my having Evan on hand might help if I need to slip out of a trap.”

“You’ll have us for company,” Rose said.

“If Laird has allies and I have allies, they cancel each other out at best.  He’s liable to have more, and they’re bound to be stronger.”

“True,” she admitted.

I had challenged Conquest to a duel of sorts.  This was the duel.  We each had our respective groups, and we each had given up our abilities.If this was a challenge involving leadership, I’d have to exercise some.

I tapped my fingers on the coffee table in front of the futon.  “Consider all the factors at play, be ready, be prepared, and brainstorm.  We don’t need a solution right this minute, but I do think we need a strategy, and I’m confident we can come up with something if we put our heads together.”

There were a few nods, more unconscious than not, as they silently agreed with me.

Conquest drew power from grinding others under his heel.  Physically, mentally, and emotionally.  We needed to keep our spirits up.

“Fell,” I said.  “I need to know about the Astrologer.  I know she was an apprentice, her master passed the buck to her.  She was apparently sympathetic to us, but Conquest tapped her as his champion.  I know she apparently summons things, but I don’t know much else.”

“She does summon things.  Those things are more manufactured than produced.  Drawing spirits from the area, then cobbling them together under an impression.  If a ghost is a psychic imprint on the fabric of the world, then the Astrologer makes the imprints and then fills them in with the available resources.”

“Making ghosts?” I asked.”The candle that burns twice as hot burns half as long.  Her summonings burn bright, and they don’t last for very long.”

I nodded.

“Power has a price.  She and her predecessors have paid a literal price for their power.  To make her impressions, she uses machines at the outer rim of the city.  Lights, lasers, and properties she controls throughout Toronto.  Not as organized as you might imagine.  They’re points of light on a dark canvas, and she uses them to draw pictures.”

“Constellations?” Rose asked.

“Essentially.  Nobody in Toronto has a firm grounding on what the exact rules are.  Those of us who do have books on astrology are working with ideas that are often a hundred years old, if not older.  What she’s doing is larger in scale than what the books propose, but it’s also limited to certain things appearing in certain places, after certain preparations are made.”

I frowned.  “I want to say we don’t have to worry about her unless she lures us to a specific location, but that’s no guarantee, is it?  We could wander right into an ideal spot for her.”

“Or she could find our location, use a computer to turn certain lights on and off, and align her metaphorical ‘stars’ to drop something minor in our midst,” Fell said.  “As a practitioner, she’s no particular threat to Conquest.  Too conditional.  As a strategic asset, she’s a problem.”

Fuck,” I said. “But didn’t her master make a sacrifice to earn her protection from being pressured by Conquest?”

“Yes,” Fell said.  “On the proviso that she wouldn’t oppose him.  She did, and that protection defaulted.  I don’t know what else Conquest has done to seize her.”

I nodded slowly.

“Anything else you need to know?”

“A few things,” I said.  “But they can wait until the morning.  Minor stuff.”

“Alright.  Let me wrap up the other rooms,” Fell said.  “Nobody’s going to be forcing their way through from the spirit world apartment to your real apartment.  I think it’s subtle enough it’ll hold up to a cursory examination.”

“Excellent,” I said.  “Thanks again.”

“If you want to make it up to me, let’s not make this contest of yours a complete disaster.  Suck it up, turn off the news, and focus on the steps we need to take to win the challenge and stop Conquest.”

“I think I can do that,” I said.

“Good,” he said.  “Because there’s a loophole in this contest of yours.  Nothing says I have to be loyal or obedient, and as far as I’m concerned, the best way to stop Conquest or his champions from killing you or forcing your surrender is to kill you myself.”

“The fuck?” Joel asked.

“No,” I told him, “It’s okay.”

“Is it really, hon?” Joel asked.  “Did someone change the meaning of ‘okay’ while they were stirring up all this crazy?”

“Yes, it’s really okay,” I told Joel.

“You agree, then?” Fell asked.

“Yeah.  Can you keep my soul or whatever it is out of his grasp?  Killing my mortal body won’t be enough.”

“I can try.  I might need to make a container.”

“Good,” I said.

“I’ll go wrap up.”

I nodded.  I turned my attention to Maggie.  “Futon okay?”

My hands were paralyzed, one wrapped around the handle of the Hyena’s sword, spikes sticking through the flesh and out the back of hand, thumb and fingers, too painful for me to let go of it.  The other hand was tangled by the locket and the cord that surrounded the imp’s book, fingers bent back out of position.  When I moved, it had been a jerky, frustrated movement, the length of the sword, the pain, and the weight of the sword and book all frustrating my attempts to interact with the world.

My arms were cracked open like a hard plastic doll, and all that was within were feathers of mixed, dull colors, sticking to one another.

I couldn’t move fast enough to catch up to anyone.  I was too tired, too gaunt, an old man in a young-looking body, and the objects bound to my hands were too awkward to allow me to open doors easily or even walk through a crowded area without banging them on something.

I couldn’t close my eyes, because something black and monstrous slithered beneath the surface every time I did.

When I breathed, it was like I was having the heart attack again.  The air I spent was air that I couldn’t replenish by any means.  I was deflating, losing substance.

There was nothing to do but stand there, too tired to move, arms spread like I was crucified, or a bird in mid-flight, staring at Rose and her gathered summonings, with Pauz perched on her shoulder.

I somehow knew that words would cost me more of that vital substance than I could afford to spare.  I knew, too, that nobody would listen.

I stared until my eyes watered, because the idea of blinking was too terrifying…

The water in my eyes became welling moisture, and the resulting tear that fell from my right eye was black and heavy.  I could feel the tendrils and tiny clawed feet reaching out from the tear, rasping against my cheekbone.

I stirred, and for a moment, the feeling of the blankets around my legs was reminiscent of the tendrils.  I kicked at them, frantic.

I gasped like I was coming up for air, or bouncing back from another ghost-induced heart attack.

Holy fuck, fuck me, fuck.  I’d had more nightmares than I could hope to count over the years.  I couldn’t recall any that were more horrifying in the light of day.

A small sound escaped my lips as I lay there, panting, trying to convince myself that the infinite space that lurked just outside my field of view wasn’t some vast residence for the sliver of abstract demon that had found its way into my eye.

Blake.

I startled at the sound.

“Are you okay?” Rose asked.

Her voice, quiet, was eerie, in this time and place.  I could see her as she’d been in the nightmare.

When I’d seen Midge, I’d known Midge was a bad fit for Rose.

There was more to it, though.  I’d also had a suspicion that Rose had picked Midge for a reason.  She’d taken my place in the world in the dream.  I was the monstrosity there, not her.

I was the doer of our pair, the warrior even, by necessity more than because I was suited to it.  Rose was the thinker, the scholar with access to the books.

Midge… Midge would maybe have been be Rose’s warrior in my place.  Making her less reliant on me.  Supplanting me.

Not quite so extreme as it had been in the dream, but supplanting me all the same.

It wasn’t a comfortable thought.

“You were watching me sleep?”  I asked.  I’d tried to sound like I wasn’t suspicious, but I was pretty sure I’d failed.

“Evan said you were having a bad dream.  I came to make sure you were okay.”

I followed Rose’s gaze.  Evan was perched on my headboard.

Silent, I sat up.  The idea of sleeping any further was a dim fantasy now.  I sat on the edge of the bed in only pyjama bottoms, breathing hard.

The light outside my window suggested we were on the cusp of dawn.  I could hear the street.  Life, activity, people going about their day.

“Do you want a hug?” Evan asked.

Evan was one of the only people who didn’t make me feel slightly panicky when he touched me.  But then again… “I don’t think you can hug me, can you?”

He hopped up onto my shoulder, and I did everything I could to keep from picturing his taloned feet as some eerie parallel to the claws I’d felt scraping against my cheekbone.

He reached his wings forward to touch the front and back of my neck.

“This doesn’t work,” he said, sounding a little frustrated.

“Sorry,” I murmured.

He hopped down with a brief flutter, then resumed ghost form.

He hugged me with arms that couldn’t touch, just putting his arms in the right place.

I looked at Rose and saw her looking away.

This scene, a little boy hugging a half-dressed adult, might have looked a little weird.

The oddness of the situation put a small smile on my face.  It was a distraction from the odd, dark pressure of the dream, and that did a lot to help.

“Thanks, Evan,” I said.

“I don’t know what else to say or do,” he said.  “It doesn’t seem right that you don’t get a hug or reassurance when you’ve had bad dreams.”

“Part of being an adult, I guess,” I said.

“It shouldn’t be.”

“Maybe you’re right.  Don’t worry about it.  I’m not a huggy person.”

“Okay,” he said.  He sounded doubtful.

I stood and approached the window.  Evan, returned to bird form, settled on my shoulder.

“I’m glad you got a chance to sleep,” Rose said.  “I think maybe I feel less tension now that you’re in a better place.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.  Like there’s less question of where power is needed, so it can just flow.”

I nodded.  “How’s your chest?”

She touched the place where she’d been cut.  She’d changed tops, and wore something with a collar more like a dress shirt, a cameo pinned over her heart.  “Healing.  Or… not even healing.  Healing implies a natural process.  This isn’t natural.”

I nodded.

I stared down at the city streets, watching the first people coming and going, heading off to work and school.  Most people in this neighborhood were students.

“Mom and dad never hugged me much,” Rose said.

“No,” I said.

“I’m kind of angry at them.  Or at fake-them, if you will.  That they didn’t prepare us better for the world.”

“There’s hardship that leaves you stronger, and there’s hardship that leaves you weaker.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, more to fill the silence than anything.

“There are good things too,” Evan said.  “Good things that make you weaker, and good things that make you stronger.”

“True,” I said.

“Um.  So maybe instead of standing here in the dark, we could do one of the good things that make you stronger?”

“Evan’s bored,” Rose said.  “He woke Maggie up to turn on the television so he could watch something.”

“Makes sense,” I said.  “Yeah, we could do something like that, maybe.  Just let me get my bearings here.  The quiet is nice, and it’s going to be a scary day, I think.”

“Yeah,” Evan said.  He hopped over to my other shoulder.  After a moment he moved up to the top of my head.

“Evan,” I said.  “That’s not quiet.  Is there a problem?”

“Nope.  Sorry.”

He took off, flying through my open bedroom door.

I heard Maggie, and briefly shut my eyes.

“She’s awake,” I said.

“She slept even less than you did, if she slept at all.  I’m not sure, but I think something might be bothering her.”

So much for peace and quiet, getting my bearings.

“Rose…” I started.

“What?”

“Have you noticed anything about Maggie?”

“Noticed?  No.  Why, have you?”

“Gut feeling.  Something’s off.”

“You paid more attention to her than I did.  Why?”

“Just,” I said, lowering my voice to be sure that Maggie wouldn’t overhear, even if she happened to appear in the doorway.  “How much of the wording in Midge’s ritual was Maggie’s?”

“You think she sabotaged us?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “There’s nothing I can put my finger on.  But maybe… be wary?  In case?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I couldn’t ask for anything more, because I wasn’t sure what to ask for or how to figure it out.

I pulled on a black t-shirt.  I crossed over to my bathroom, with the shattered mirror.  I glimpsed Maggie sitting on the futon.  She’d taken off her jeans, sleeping in shirt and underwear, and while she was too far away for me to make out, I saw her adjusting her blanket to cover her lap.

Rose was talking.  “I spent the night working on the rules for the summonings.  Wordings, covering more bases.  It’s more thought out.  I’m confident moving forward.”

I took a deep breath.  I found myself at a loss for what to say or do.

How could I say I didn’t want to take the risk again, without essentially telling Rose that I wanted to strip her of one of the only resources she had in the midst of all this.

How could I describe what I’d seen in the nightmare?

I took my time answering, washing my face more carefully and thoroughly than I otherwise might.  I ran my damp hands through my hair, to get it out of my eyes for at least a little while.

“Yeah,” I said, when I’d finished.  “We can go over that in a little bit.”

I made my way to the living room.

Maggie had pulled on her jeans while I’d washed my face.  She said, “Evan’s saying he wants to go for a motorcycle ride.”

Oh.  When he’d wanted to do something good and healthy, that’s what he meant.

“Plenty of time for that later,” I said.  “We’ll be spending a while on the bike, I think.

Aw.

“Aw,” Rose echoed him.  “Maybe you are heartless after all, Blake Thorburn.”

I ignored her.  “Evan, why are you so into the motorcycle when you can fly?”

“Because it’s a motorcycle?

“Hard to argue with that kind of reasoning,” Rose commented.

“It’s easy to argue with that kind of reasoning,” I said, without any hostility.  This normalcy of this was like a breath of fresh air.  “Be careful about lying, we don’t need a hit to our power now, in the middle of all this.”

“I’m not lying.  I’m not talking about the reasoning.  I’m saying the kind of reasoning, that of a young boy, is hard to deal with.”

“Nuh uh,” Evan said.

I offered a noncommittal groan by way of response.  Too early in the morning.

“Did you have any luck brainstorming while you lay there all night, or did you actually sleep?” Maggie asked.

“I didn’t have as much trouble falling asleep as you’d think.  It was waking up that sucked.  Did you sleep?”

“No.  I spent the night thinking.  Big day ahead of us.”

I nodded.  “You want food?”

In the end, we hadn’t ended up eating at the apartment.  Fell had reached out to us, and we’d agreed to get started.

All forces assembled.  We’d collected Ty, Alexis, and Tiff from their camps in the spirit world, Tiff taking watch near the real-world side of the gateway in the garage, stopped for donuts, breakfast sandwiches, and coffee, and got ourselves sorted out before we split up again.

Maggie and Fell headed out for a brief visit to the junkyard, in the hopes of catching goblins.

Rose started her refining of the summons, and we took it as a learning experience for the new recruits.  They did the diagrams and physical work, Rose did the actual invocation.

I stood watch, standing on the balcony outside the apartment.

A figure landed on the next balcony over.  So massive she might have knocked it to the ground, if she hadn’t become human in the process of landing.

Theatrics.

I was tense, but the approach hadn’t been hostile.  Had she wanted to pounce on me, she might have been able to.

Even now, I was reasonably confident I could duck into the apartment behind me.

“Hello, Isadora,” I said.

“Thorburn.  You look better than you did last night.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Is there a particular reason for the visit?”

“I’m thinking of the trick that circus performers do, spinning plates balanced on fingers and sticks.”

“I know what you mean.”

“Not quite so hard as it looks, to keep them spinning in place.  But when something sets things off balance, the fallout is dramatic, even catastrophic.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You seem very intent on upsetting a balance we have been working to maintain for some time.”

“Maybe the balance needs upsetting?” I asked.

“Who are you to say what should or shouldn’t be disturbed?”

I hesitated.

She seemed put off by that.  “I relieve you of the consequences of my riddle.  You’re free to answer.”

“I’m a mortal man,” I said.  “Isn’t it our prerogative to screw with the status quo?”

“Just as it’s your prerogative to establish it?” she asked.  “I’m not making that a riddle either.  It’s a rhetorical question.  I will say that in the myths of my time and birthplace, it was traditionally those with divine blood who had the power to affect change.  All were at least somewhat Other.”

“I was under the impression that all practitioners were at least a little bit Other,” I said.

“You’re not entirely wrong.”

“I don’t like the idea that the ignorant, non-practitioner mortals are powerless, though.”

“Mere mortals are among the most powerful, in a sense.  But we could debate that for days or weeks on end, and that’s not why I’m here.”

I shrugged.  “Why are you here?”

“Two reasons.  One hostile, that may inadvertently help, one helpful reason that may lead to disaster for you.”

“Oh,” I said.  “I’m going to say ‘Great‘, with all the sarcasm I can muster.”

“Hostile:  I’m making a formal declaration of war, in fairness.  I will attack you in the next day.”

I exhaled slowly.  “You couldn’t put it off?”

“No.  Not really.”

I nodded.

“The helpful.  You should know that when you perish, Rose will be the next Thorburn heir.”

“Wait, what?  Really?”

Really, Mr. Thorburn.  It’s fated.”

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146 thoughts on “Subordination 6.9

    1. I deem thee typo thread (if acediamonds doesn’t mind).

      multiple places where WordPress has concatenated sentences again, already noted by others

      stonehenge
      Stonehenge

      I startled at the sound.
      I started at the sound. Startled requires an object.

      Midge would may have been be Rose’s warrier in my place.
      Midge would may have been Rose’s warrier in my place.

      pyjama
      pajama (US)

      A piece of wood that had been sat in the water…
      A piece of wood that had been set in the water…
      OR
      A piece of wood that had been in the water…

      They tend to prefer big effects with devastating effects
      repeated word is slightly awkward, could the second one be results?

      1. It’s actually a pretty good idea to have the typo thread as high up as possible, easier for people to see so they know where to post their typos. So yes, no objections here.

        1. Great job with the quick fixes. Software stupidity is incredibly annoying and you do so much already, so wow.

          You’re still missing: “Making ghosts?” I asked.”The candle that burns…

      2. I would argue against startling requiring an object. Or rather, that sound requires an object of some kind to be made, so it could fit that requirement in that manner. Anyway, startle reflex comes in two forms from the inferior and superior colliculi. One for audio reflex and the other for visual reflex.

          1. To “effect change” is to bring about change (intended meaning); to “affect change” is to alter the change itself, which doesn’t quite make sense.

            1. Sorry, I know that. I was half asleep. I suppose I only know that most of the time.^^’

      3. “We each had our respective groups, and we each had given up our abilities.If this was a challenge involving leadership, I’d have to exercise some.”

        Missing the space between ‘abilities’ and ‘if’.

      4. and a general ambiance of fear –> ambience

        “Who?” Joel asked.”Ghost in a hatchet. I left her behind.” –> paragraph break needed

        “Making ghosts?” I asked.”The candle that burns twice as hot burns half as long. Her summonings burn bright, and they don’t last for very long.” –> other paragraph break needed

        Some sentences without spaces or with double spaces, might want to check that

        Evan is fucking adorable

      1. I saw several chunks where it looks like sentences lost line breaks where the person speaking changed.

        Starting at the line

        “Who?” Joel asked.”Ghost in a hatchet. I left her behind.”

        I found several of them where the speaker changes without a line break. Haven’t finished reading the section, so it may be a localized issue.

        Thank you for your work, Wildbow.

      2. The only one you seem to have missed is Fell’s line: ”The candle that burns twice as hot burns half as long…”

        It’s still pinned to Blake’s question.

        1. I guess this can be TYPO THREAD!!!!!

          A shame.”Not going to stop you,”
          -needs a space after shame.
          This normalcy of this was like a breath of fresh air.
          -doubled word.

      3. Bugs like this can be incredibly annoying; but they’re not random. If you want to email me with more details about your workflow (“I write in X, create the WP post, copy in content then save as draft” etc.), I’ll bet I can help you find a way to make sure it never happens again.

        Step 1 is to reproduce the problem reliably.

  1. So, Blake is gonna spend some time in a soul container, then? I wonder if he’ll get his old body back, or if it’ll be mauled beyond repair?

  2. Not gonna lie. This chapter was a little painful to read. I’m not saying it’s bad. The problem is that after the line “How does that work?” I asked., most of the chapter is one massive block of text. I’m going to have to revisit this chapter after the formatting is fixed.

  3. “You stole it?” Fell asked.

    “Evan did. So yeah, I guess we did?”

    “Bad karma, depending on how you do it,” Fell told me. “Especially if the possession has power.”

    “We were fighting,” I said. “Going head to head.”

    “Even if you’re fighting, certain objects belong in certain hands. The universe doesn’t like that kind of disruption.”

    “The Universe is awfully nitpicky when being nitpicky would inconvenience me,” I said.

    Fell shrugged. He resumed working on the powder diagram. It looked like a strong wind would muss it up, but it was remaining in place. “Look. If that’s the case, then how come Duncan didn’t get bitten by karma when he took June, my hatchet?”

    “Ah,” Fell said. “If he did, then it’s only fair if you took something of his in return.”

    Does this mean that Duncan will still have bad karma for purposely losing Blake’s ‘glamour hair’ ? If so, there may be benefits to losing it after all.

  4. Looks like Plan Use a Demon Arm to Shape-shift shouldn’t be that hard for Blake to use.

    He appears to have been affected by ErasUr, and gets a new enemy. At least Isadora is being civil about this, and is an enemy you can respect. Also good news: R4 Laird vs Blake: Kick Lardo while he is down.

    I will give an accolade to who ever guesses the third thing that Isadora came for. Something from Blake?

  5. Damn, Evan is just too adorable. Let’s hope adorableness helps Blake recharge even more, ’cause now this has become even more complicated for him.

    The Sphinx prepares her attack! But she’s nice enough to tell Blake about it, you can tell she was raised well.

    And Blake probably should’ve mentioned that the Behaim and the Duchamp are making a new fancy covenant in Jacobs Bell, because I think that Fell would be interested in that information.

    Let’s just hope that Isadora goes and attacks Blake in the most inconvenient time and then she kills Laird because he gets too smug with her riddles. Fun times.

    A nice chapter of a little relaxation. The team really needs some of that.

  6. Points to the commenters who correctly predicted that Rose would be the next heir after Blake. Now, why the heck would Isadora tell him that? Also, why would Isadora say “when you die” rather than “if”? I know it is sort of inevitable, but, combined with the comment on fate, it makes it sound like Blake’s death is also fated.

    1. I think it is. Ms. Lewis did the same thing, expressing near certainty even though he could join the firm (which would presumably get rid of the threat of his enemies killing him.) I still think it’s because Rose was designed to be his replacement and is sucking his essence away.

      1. Because if you look at all the shit arrayed against Blake it seems inconcivable that he could survive. Simply put, too many things want him dead. Everyone who can check fate sees him dead. Hell I’m amazed he isn’t dead already, and it’s only going to get worse.

        That said, I hope Blake lives to 108 and dies a well loved and respected man, who held on to his ideals, and made the world a better place, just to stick it to fate, the man, all the jerks, and everything else.

        1. I dunno, I feel like something being fated is more than just “incredibly likely”. I imagine we’ll get more clues next chapter.

          1. Oh, and to make clearer what I meant about Ms. Lewis in case it wasn’t clear, I’d like to reference Ms. Lewis’ actual words in 2.06:
            “I’m telling you the truth, Mr. Thorburn. Look at me. You’ll see I don’t hesitate, I won’t glance away, my eyes don’t waver. You know I can’t lie, but I am telling you an utter truth. *You are not long for this world. Barring exceptional circumstance, and I do mean exceptional, you are going to be replaced by the next heir.”*

            When she says she’s telling an “utter truth”, I’m assuming that she means it’s unvarnished honesty without deception. Making a claim about the future and saying that you’re telling the complete truth seems like a foolish mistake under most circumstances, and Blake is clearly not yet worth enough to the firm to take a gamble on such a statement unless she was positive.

            Those who take the deal get their slate wiped clean (so no bad karma) and their old lives and every part of those lives would be left behind. (2.04) I’m assuming that includes at least owning the estate, and the estate may pass into the hands of the lawyers. His enemies mostly just wanted him out of the way or were spurred on by his karma: they really had no reason to pursue him if he no longer had bad karma and gave up ownership of the property, so if he took the deal he shouldn’t really have had anyone out for his blood anymore. Also, the lawyers presumably protect their employees from outside harm (I would certainly assume them capable of doing so, at least.. all indications are that they’re pretty powerful.) In summary, I don’t see why he’d even be in danger from anyone else if he took the deal.

            Since I don’t think taking the deal would count as “exceptional circumstance”, I’m assuming Ms. Lewis must know something important about Blake that hasn’t been explicitly revealed.

            1. Wow, okay, I guess I should use html tags if I switch italics repeatedly. It looks like it might match the last asterisk on the first word-wrapped line it finds another asterisk… strange.

      1. Supposedly vestiges like her fall apart eventually. A few years I think it was? So reversing that reasoning, if she’s fated to replace him after his death, that means he’s going to die within a few years.

        1. On the plus side, it would appear Blake finds a way to fulfill his promise to her. Hopefully he manages to fulfill other promises before he snuffs it, as well.

          Hmm… I was just starting to like Blake, too. A sudden change in protagonist would come as quite a shock, especially since as I mentioned before Blake is such an unusual candidate for his position. I feel like Rose would be a more typical diabolist.

          1. I don’t like to play too many games guessing the next plot twist — it takes some of the fun out of reading! — but Blake’s death would not necessarily stop him from being the protagonist. Evan’s been dead for months, and he’s a major character. Rose hasn’t ever existed on the mortal plane.

            I’ll keep my guesses on how this may unfold to myself…

            1. I don’t know. So far we haven’t gotten any signs that raising the dead is doable, or at least easily doable in the pactverse.

  7. Ha, called it!

    Well, mostly. I didn’t think Blake was actually the heir, and that Rose was already the true heir.

    1. I speculate this may mean that ‘Rose’ may be the soul of RDT mixed with fragments of a Fetch of Blake’s & bound with connections and spells such that when Blake dies, she will get ‘re-incarnated’ with his meatshell as the raw material for her new body.

      There may be a way to give Rose a body without Blake dying though, a possible ritual I have in mind entails:-

      Blake using Alchemy to create a blank Homunculus mixed with 3 drops of his blood and a bit of glamour to make it female.

      Then place Blake and the blank between 2 full length Bagua mirrors, one of Xiantian Bagua & one of Houtian Bagua.

      Ritually separating Rose & Blake, transferring her essence into the new body via silver acupuncture needles in all of Blake’s acupoints linked with red silk threads (dyed with Blake’s blood) to the same in the blank.

      1. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Rose Sr. arranged to have the Barber whip up a body for Rose Jr. if Blake were to ever snuff it. In fact, Blake might be there purely to give Rose Jr. a way into the world. Why settle for kids/grandkids when you can just engineer your own perfect inheritor to carry on the family name?

        1. Yeah, I was thinking that at the inheritance meeting she liked Blake the most, so she engineered a female version of Blake and put her right after the “official” heir, Molly. I don’t fully understand how Blake fits the requirements to be heir, but I’m guessing Rose and Blake are considered one entity in some important ways (which was hinted at by Pauz.)

          1. Rose senior died the same day she met Blake, though. Seems like it’s not enough time to create something as complicated as Rose. Maybe it’s something she got Molly to do somehow, or the lawyers.

      2. Perhaps, but I don’t feel like RDT is one to cling to life. The impression I got of her leads me to believe she wouldn’t try to reinsert herself later in the family line.. I’m not exactly sure why, but I feel like she’d see it as cowardly or desperate.. and as beneath her in some way.

  8. “The helpful. You should know that when you perish, Rose will be the next Thorburn heir.”

    “Wait, what? Really?”

    “Really, Mr. Thorburn. It’s fated.”

    If things are fated, then why not pre-empt Fate by having Blake die by asphyxiation by Fell’s hands, be clinically dead for one minute to pass on the Thorburn Karma & heir status to Rose, then resuscitated back as Blake Thorburn the Diabolist under the burden of his karma alone? Of course, the price for this would be the Familiar Bond with Evan breaking & Evan passing on… I dunno, freedom from inherited karma comes with a price but would it be worth it?

    1. I’m imagining the practitioner definition of death is different than the medical one, with regards to this kind of thing.

    2. People who fight fate usually end up fulfilling it. It would take a greater power to subvert fate…demon-level basically.

      Now, when he dies, as everyone and their mother has been hinting at, time-skip to where his friends are experienced and working with Rose for some overarching plot like in Worm. Like the rest of her family arguing her claim to the property since they probably can’t find a birth record and more Demons!

      1. “People who fight fate usually end up fulfilling it. It would take a greater power to subvert fate…demon-level basically.”

        You don’t fight fate. You make it work for you. Turn it into a plot twist. Rose is the heir after Blake dies? Sometimes you can make the prophecy twist be a good thing. There was an episode of Xena I think where a prophecy stated that this woman’s child would take the throne from the king. The evil chancelor wanted to kill the woman and her son. But the king kind of fell for her, and she was a widow… So once he married her, it meant that her child would take the throne from him, as his rightful heir.

        Okay, let’s put some hypotheticals on this. Arrange it so that Rose will be reborn as his daughter, and suddenly he can’t die until after she’s born. Shit like that.

        But Blake, don’t let poor communication kill. If you keep this from Rose, it will affect how you act towards her. Poison your relationship. Let her know this. And let your friends know it too, so she’ll be aware that some shit will go down if she causes your death to get out of the mirror. Anyways for the next few days at least she won’t want to be a real girl if it means Conquest gets her back. I guess how Rose handles this depends on how badly she wants out of the mirror and to be a real girl, and how much she cares about Blake.

        Here’s the question. Would Blake die for Rose, and would Rose die for Blake? For me it’s maybe, and I don’t know.

  9. The next chapter/last chapter buttons need fixing. This seems to be a recurring problem. The “next chapter” button on the last chapter isn’t working, either.

  10. I’m wondering if it’s actually in the cards/on the table at this point for Wildbow to kill Blake off in an at least semi-permanent fashion and switch POV.

  11. The war against Blake tomorrow will be helpful. Conquest cannot let it succeed. Which means that Conquest will need to move against Isadora.

  12. I’m thinking that Blake dies to win them the contest and Rose makes him her familiar, and hands in the world. On the surface similar to what’s going on now, but different power dynamic.

  13. “Three reasons. One hostile, that may inadvertently help, one helpful reason that may lead to disaster for you.”

    What’s the third reason?

  14. That would make Rose the third heir. Given the power of threes, that probably means she’s the one Rose Sr. wanted all along, and Molly and Blake were just filler heirs.

    1. Hm…but then there are eight total possible heirs. A hypothetical ninth heir would be three by three…even more significant! Perhaps there’s someone before Paige, or someone after her.

      1. No need to worry too much, remember how Blake won against Duncan in the second loop with a third victory? Blake can do the same as the second heir by supplanting Rose’s fate the same way Sir Apropos of Nothing supplanted Tacit’s hopefully without the incest or similar consequence.

      1. Yeah, but if it’s a boy, he’ll be forced to become a tough country singer:

        “Well, my daddy left home when I was three,
        And he didn’t leave much to Ma and me,
        Just this old hatchet and a smelly imp called Pauz..
        Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid,
        But the meanest thing that he ever did,
        Was before he left, he went and named me “Rose.”

          1. “The tune doesn’t have to be clever /
            And it don’t matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line /
            It sounds more ethnic if it ain’t good English /
            And it don’t even gotta rhyme

            . . . er, excuse me – rhyne

            • Tom Lehrer, “The Folk Song Army”
        1. “Pauz” doesn’t rhyme with “Rose”. Well, not if you’re pronouncing “Rose” the way most folks do.

  15. I guess Blake can be Rose’s familiar though would Rose take a chance knowing how unpredictable and rash Blake is. Blake’s theory about Midge is that Rose wants someone completely obedient as her hands.

    Fell had already mentioned that Conquest wanted Blake dead because he already had Rose, and that when Blake died Rose would be next in line.

    Something is still off. When Rose made her pact it was different from Blake’s. Maybe that will finally come into play. Maybe we will finally learn what Blake’s grandmother did. Others have mentioned Rose, and wondering what the grandmother did. I think they called it a heartbeat or Pendulum.

    Blake has been taking a lot of punishment and has bled out a lot of power. He might fall through the cracks. Maybe there is a way to use Urr demons ability to make Conquest and the rest forget about Blake. If no one remembers Blake, then they wont think its weird that Rose was named heir. They would assume that was always the case. Also, if magic always has a price it would suck for Blake’s friend to forget about him after he gets them involved in his world.

    I think Blake got screwed from the beginning. The Thorburn power always goes to a female. Blake did get sort of lucky in the beginning too, so its not like the universe was going against him. What if he was just tricked into believing he had a karmic debt when it was actually Rose’s debt. And now he became a Diabolist and screwed himself. Hell, I think it was even mentioned that he should marry a man, who isnt a nice guy, as part of the conditions/advice.

    PS – The part of the dream with the eye was straight up nightmare fuel.

    1. I think Blake got screwed from the beginning. The Thorburn power always goes to a female. Blake did get sort of lucky in the beginning too, so its not like the universe was going against him

      Blake was definitely put into a bad position in the beginning. The universe is actively working against him. That’s kinda been a major part of the story.

  16. Taking into account the last conversation with Isadora, and the entire conversation with Fell about sealing Blake’s soul to protect him from Conquest.

    The good of Isadora’s war: If Blake dies, in the right condition, they’ll still hold his soul safely. But… He’s dead, which means that Rose truly inherits the Thorburn heir position.

    The good and bad of Rose inheriting the position: Potentially good path: Both of them become the active heir after Blake is restored to life in some form. The potentially disastrous path warned by Isadora: Rose turns on Blake, destroys him completely for good.

    I suspect, based on the final conversation. Blake WILL die, but what happens as a consequence will be either very good or very bad for him. After Worm, I’m sure it’ll be something worse than very bad.

  17. “Even if you’re fighting, certain objects belong in certain hands. The universe doesn’t like that kind of disruption.”

    “The Universe is awfully nitpicky when being nitpicky would inconvenience me,” I said.

    Is it wrong I want to see the universe get punched in the face?

      1. The only question is do we want him to summon Getter Emperor or The Super Tengan Toppan Gurran Laggan?

          1. Fate usually has 3 female bodies but kicking all 3 in the crotch can still work since despite popular belief and lack of testicles, it’s still extremely painful for women to get hit between the legs.

  18. Okay lets talk about some of the non Rose things.

    Sounds like Maggie had to call in a favor or get some help in order to get away from the dads. But from who? Only ones I can think of would be Paidrac or maybe Johannes.

    “Oh. When he’d wanted to do something good and healthy, that’s what he meant.”
    He’s a kid, what the hell do you think he meant?

    Rose didn’t ever actually answer how much of the wording was Maggie’s did she?

    “I pulled on a black t-shirt. I crossed over to my bathroom, with the shattered mirror. I glimpsed Maggie sitting on the futon. She’d taken off her jeans, sleeping in shirt and underwear, and while she was too far away for me to make out, I saw her adjusting her blanket to cover her lap.”

    And what about her lap needed covering up? Okay I may just be too suspicious, and she was just doing the relitively innocent thing of mastering her domain… But if so, shame on Maggie, Evan is a minor!

    1. Or a favor from the dads themselves.

      Evan’s a pretty mature kid. He’s also a ghost who typically takes the form of a bird. Also, Blake’s had a bad day few weeks. I’m not blaming him.

      Huh?

    2. I assume it’s just that with the jeans off, there’s only panties twixt her nethers and the breeze. She’s being minimally modest.

  19. Is it just me or is commenting going a bit slow? I would have thought a bit more fervor would have been caused by Rose is the next Heir when you die, it’s fated. Is everyone out seeing Godzilla? Cause I will be.

    1. Prophecy twists are so common that there’s no surprise anymore, unless Wildbow is playing it in such a way that the twist is that the worst possible interpretation with the worst possible outcome for the protagonist will come true.

    2. If I had to guess, it’d be because we already learned it in Fell’s chapter?

      While this information is certainly news to Blake, it’s not news to Fell, Conquest, or us….

      1. I assumed that meant that Conquest was going to use the chain he had holding Rose to subvert the usual rules, and keep Rose and her mirror library around even when they should have dissappered. Not that Rose continuing to exist was what is supposed to happen.

    3. It is indeed surprising. There’s usually at least one hundred comments within twenty-four hours.

      Perhaps it’s the transitory nature of this chapter which causes people to wait? We got a bunch of good character moments, but those are always tricky to sink your teeth into in a comment. Action scenes are easier to nitpick and analyze.

  20. So… let me get this straight. This contest started one hour after pauz got free, so at around 1:05 in the morning. Then, after some chaos, he goes to sleep and wakes up at the crack of dawn. So, around less than 6 hours after Fell mentioned that he wants to kill Blake, a SPHINX says that it’s his fate to die and Rose to be the next heir….

    Anyone else think Fell checked up on his family, then went to isadora to concoct a little plan to kill Blake? Even if only temporarily.

    Also, If blake dies and comes back… what happens to Evan? EVEN IS TO ADORABLE TO DIE! er… again….

    Lastly… I thought Rose already WAS the thorburn heir? She’s been saying “as the heir of thorburn” and things like that… so… does she just become MORE of an heir? Or is isadora just confusing bllake with half-truths and misleading facts?

    1. Isodora can’t lie and doesn’t need to. Is it too far of a stretch to think the entire reason Rose was made was to have the perfect heir?

      Maybe Roselyn had some augers look into the future and plan this. Rose is already terrifying without a body. When she gets one, everyone will fear her.

      1. She may not lie, but she is a sphinx. Wordplay and multiple meanings are not beyond her. Actually, you really should NEVER take anything someone says is “fated” or “according to prophecy” at face value.

        No, rose being a perfect heir isn’t too far a stretch. It is suspicious though. If she’s the perfect heir, why make her third in line? Why make her have a history similar to Blake’s if he never ran away? And why make her come into being only after molly dies?

        Yeah, most can be explained away if she looked into the future, and planned everything, but only if the future is impossible to change. If someone can change it with free will, then this is the most idiotic plan the big bad diabolist Roselyn could ever come up with- way too many avenues for failure. I don’t know how future-gazing and fate works in this world, so I could easily be wrong.

        What we know- Rose Sr. Was powerful, she didn’t want to be a Mann-Lewis-Levin lawyer because she needed a lot of power for something, she was A lawyer (and will be one until the day she dies), and she, and her cat, were declared to have died between 11:59 and 12:02 (probably right at midnight if I had to guess).
        For all of those knowns to lead to her making a perfect heir seems…. odd. There are tons of theories people have mentioned that would fit better.

        And again- if Rose will become the next thorburn heir… then what is she now? I thought she already WAS the thorburn heir. Unless there is someone else named Rose Thorburn who will become the next heir… or another Rose…. Actually, now that I think about it, every heir in the line of succession the lawyers pointed out could each have a mirror-version of themselves named Rose. In which case- yeah the next heir will be rose, followed by rose, rose, child rose, baby rose, and rose.

        Honestly, Blake frightens me way more than Rose ever has. His plans rely on action and intuition, things that are very hard to predict and put down. In fact, looking at all he’s don in the past two weeks…. dude’s a beast. Yeah, Rose is more likely to summon something Dark, but many practitioners are expecting that and know how to deal with killing diabolist who do things like that. As far as blake goes… everyone thinks they know how to deal with him, but he’s been proving them wrong.

  21. “It was a really good thing that Rose wasn’t a real person. ”
    ” She’d taken my place in the world in the dream. I was the monstrosity there, not her.”

    Dude, Blake, stop deamonizing Rose. 24 hours ago, you kept saying how you wished you had her back, how much you needed her, and how grateful and thankful you were when you got her back. Now you think of her as a fake person and a monster? And you wonder why she’s been a bit hostile towards her? She’s basically you, so start treating her like a person, and maybe she’ll do the same for you

    That is… before Fell and/or Isadora kill you and Rose takes your place….

    1. He only started doing that when she came back with the whole I’m more of a Thorburn crack. That’s not exactly a good thing. Besides, you’re neglecting to menton how glad he was to have her back and touching her since she’d been lacking it despite how uncomfortable it makes him.

      He cares about her but to deny what she is doesn’t change it. He accepts she isn’t a solid meaty human until he can find some way to change that. More importantly this little revelation and dream aren’t going to do wonders for their teamwork.

  22. There’s an elegant solution to this. Blake dies. Rose becomes the Thorburn heir. Hopefully Fell’s had a chance to make that soul jar to keep Blake’s soul out of Conquest’s clutches. Why don’t they swap places? Do some ritual that gets Rose out of the mirror and into Blake’s (now vacated) body, and get Blake into the mirror.

    1. Technically speaking, and practically speaking, why would she bring him back? What does he have to contribute to her in mirror format that she can’t spend that power to maintain him elsewhere?

          1. Also, he has shown himself to be a far superior short-term/on the run planner. She is a better researcher, but he is a better survivor. without blake, Rose would not be very long for the world.

        1. Blake is a pretty versatile use of power–if absolutely nothing else, he would be a useful library assistant, and with the size of the Thorburn library, that’s no slouch.

  23. Maggie being all enthusiastic about this is the creepiest and most adorable thing (well, second-most, with Evan in this chapter). I guess Blake just got a reminder that yeah, this is the girl that accidentally murdered his cousin and then had enough problems with feeling remorse about it that she preferred to manipulate him to get power rather than try to make amends. She’s the best, isn’t she?

    Fell was thinking that Blake knew about this beforehand? He’s giving Blake a lot more credit than Blake deserves. I wonder if he did think that Blake was heartless? If so, that gives the slash-ficcers a new angle for their shipping. Especially with the “Kill me before they take me” thing, which in slashfic is traditionally used as a tool of emotional manipulation in zombie AUs.

    Joel being all WTF at practitioner bullshit makes me feel sorry for him. His friend/little brother figure has got in way over his head. Poor guy’s protective instincts must be going a mile a minute and he can’t do anything about it.

  24. I really enjoyed this chapter. It focuses on the group instead of just being a jump from one crisis to another. Even though a new crisis does occur at the end there. Feels like something that gives me energy as one of the Outsiders that watch from beyond space and time.

    1. Ya. The fact that there is a group now is an awesome development that makes Pact so much more interesting.

      I hadn’t even realised I was missing it, but the interplay between several characters makes this a much more fun read…

  25. I apparently can’t submit comments anymore? Oh, well. Apologies if this is just an error on my end and my spamload of comments show up later.

    1. I think it’s more a twist on the classics of Divination and Conjuration. Maybe some artifact making as well.

  26. “But if I explain now, it will inconvenience you.”
    Curious. Not curious enough to be implausible, though. Not enough to gather suspicion, but enough to fertilize it.

    Could she really be talking about an eight without any sign of distress?
    Could be. Could be she’s manipulating the scales, or has them calibrated differently.

    “The Universe is awfully nitpicky when being nitpicky would inconvenience me,” I said.
    On the bright side, it makes the universe easier to predict. Unless it stops being like that when it would be convenient.
    Dammit Murphy.

    I nodded. I turned my attention to Maggie. “Futon okay?”
    “Yeah, if you need to, kill me and bind my soul in a jar so Conquest doesn’t get me. Hey Maggie, you okay with crashing on the futon?”
    I swear, Blake’s getting a bit too used to this.

    I was the doer of our pair, the warrior even, by necessity more than because I was suited to it. Rose was the thinker, the scholar with access to the books.
    Zion and Eden?
    Hopefully, that’s confusing enough to people who don’t already know what I’m talking about to not be a spoiler. If it is, hopefully whatever remains will still make my point clear to anyone who knows enough.

    This scene, a little boy hugging a half-dressed adult, might have looked a little weird.
    I’d agree, but more from the fact that the boy’s a ghost and the adult has a bunch of cuts running down his tattooed arms. Rose isn’t helping the picture any, either.

    “Evan’s bored,” Rose said. “He woke Maggie up to turn on the television so he could watch something.”
    Kids.

    “I’m not sure, but I think something might be bothering her.”
    Next you’ll say that Blake is in danger.

    “I’m saying the kind of reasoning, that of a young boy, is hard to deal with.”
    “Nuh uh,” Evan said.

    Yuh huh.
    Having dealt with my brother when we were both young boys, and continuing to deal with him to this day…well…I’d say less young and more immature, and that immature girls can probably be that way too, but aye.
    P.S. Nice to see Blake’s vestiges bickering like brother and sister.

    “Isn’t it our prerogative to screw with the status quo?”
    “Just as it’s your prerogative to establish it?” she asked. “I’m not making that a riddle either. It’s a rhetorical question.”

    I’ll answer it. Ayup. It’s the duty of humans to change the world, make it more or less stable, as it fits their beliefs of what the world should be. It’s the rawest form of democracy.
    Probably the duty of most Others, too.

    “The helpful. You should know that when you perish, Rose will be the next Thorburn heir.”
    “Wait, what? Really?”
    “Really, Mr. Thorburn. It’s fated.”

    Conclusion:
    Either Blake isn’t going to die without first dissolving the Thorburn legacy as we know it, or he’ll die in a way that lets Rose live. Briefly, at least. In the latter case, Rose is definitely going to outlive Blake.
    Assuming, of course, that we can trust fate.

  27. Rose is more of a Thorburn than Blake is, while Rose meant it as an insult, isn’t it a good thing for Blake? The less Thorburn he is, the more free he is to walk other paths; besides, being a Thorburn is what led to the 7 lifetimes worth of bad karma in the 1st place.

    With Blake’s nature being duality & his instincts seemingly set in opposition to Rose’s, & her instinct is to summon darker Others to use when threatened; isn’t Blake’s natural speciality the sealing & binding of Others

    1. As I stated when Rose said that line, being more Thorburn isn’t a good thing. Thorburn’s are the ones who accumulated seven lifetimes of Karmic debts to dump on you. They trafficed with demons, making all other practicioners and others hate them. Most of the non practicioner family members are total assholes. They got you guys into the huge mess your in. So I think being a bit less Thorburn is a damn good thing. Being more Thorburn doesn’t make someone better Rose. It makes them worse.

  28. This exchange has me curious:
    **
    I shrugged. “Why are you here?”

    “Two reasons. One hostile, that may inadvertently help, one helpful reason that may lead to disaster for you.”

    “Oh,” I said. “I’m going to say ‘Great‘, with all the sarcasm I can muster.”

    “Hostile: I’m making a formal declaration of war, in fairness. I will attack you in the next day.”

    I exhaled slowly. “You couldn’t put it off?”

    “No. Not really.”

    I nodded.

    “The helpful. You should know that when you perish, Rose will be the next Thorburn heir.”

    “Wait, what? Really?”

    “Really, Mr. Thorburn. It’s fated.”
    **

    Remember Isadora is a practitioner and cannot lie with impunity. She’s also a Sphinx, and they are very good with wordplay.

    She did NOT say she was declaring war on him. She said she would attack him.

    Immediately before that she said the hostile reason for her presence might inadvertently help him.

    Me? I think that Isadora is going to declare war on someone else. She said she would attack Blake within the next day, then she tells him that Rose will be the next Thorburn heir, it’s fated. This might cause him to lose hope, and could be considered an attack, and if he does lose hope, it might lead to disaster.

    Isadora is being all Sphinxy (did I make a new word?) about it, but I think she’s going to join the fight on Blakes side, against Conquest, and make her own play for Lordship of the city. Blake would almost certainly let her have the Lordship if she wanted it. He seems to have some respect for her, and of all the choices for other powerful local practitioners (that we have seen) who might become a Lord, she seems least likely to be a nightmare.

    1. “She did NOT say she was declaring war on him. She said she would attack him.”

      OK, that is an interesting idea. Just the sort of double-speak we are used to seeing from practitioners around here. So she declares war on Conquest and attacks Blake also?

      I still think her statements are going with the more literal interpretation, i.e. she is declaring war on Blake. The reason I think this is, when she is not asking riddles, Isadora has been one of the more straightforward beings we have seen – she says what she likes and dislikes and what she intends directly.

      1. I have only one thing to say to that. She’s a Sphinx. She might be mostly honest and straightforward in a casual situation, but if she’s really going to war, I cannot imagine her NOT trying to twist the truth in so many confusing directions that nobody can predict her actions.

        Think about it. Conquest has to expose his most powerful allies to defeat Blake…

        Holy. That might actually be Blake’s PLAN. Conquest uses several of his most powerful allies against Blake, and Blake is counting on at least one, perhaps more, of Conquest’s enemies attacking Conquest’s allies while Conquest is locked in the champion proxy battle with Blake.

        Isadora would appreciate that tactic, I think, once she recognized it, and I think she came to tell Blake what she did, when she did, in order to let him know that. If, of course, he was clever enough to pick it out of what she said.

        Trying to make everything Isadora says be a riddle would just make her a torture to write, even for Wildbow. But having her drop out of the sky and make statements like that reeks of Wildbow getting ready to play with out minds a little bit 🙂

  29. Oh, and Maggie’s reason she gave to her dads for going to see Blake? I’d be willing to bet she told them she was going to visit him and try to jump his bones. This, if told to Blake directly, would certainly cause issues, which is why she doesn’t want to talk about it.

    This might also explain why she intentionally sabotaged Rose’s ability to control Midge, if in fact she did. She wants the creepy mirror girl out of the picture so she can have Blake for herself.

    Remember, she’s a goblin queen. She can’t curse, but you can be certain she’s no innocent. If she’s set her sights on Blake, it could get very dangerous to be a female with close ties to him.

    Oh, and was that a lie when Maggie said she didn’t sleep, or was it a lie when someone said Evan woke her up to turn on the TV?

    1. Dude, she’s, like, sixteen. Basically no parent ever is going to let their below-legal age child out of the house to seduce a random twenty-year-old, and beyond that she’s shown no interest in Blake beyond the whole “I want power, you have the ability to give me power, let’s cooperate and forget I murdered your cousin” thing. That explanation is preposterous.

      1. She’s a goblin queen. She’s a practitioner. And you don’t know as much about parents and sixteen year olds as you might think. Not all parents are prudes, and some sixteen year olds are far more adult about sex and relationships than one might expect.

        One way to gain power is to marry into it. She might still want the books, and recognize Blake is likely to get killed off soon. I’m not sure how marriage works for practitioners, but the story has already shown that there is power in the bonds created by marriage. If she manages to snag Blake, and he dies, she might get access to the library, or at least be able to try to arrange for copies of some critical books from the lawyers.

        Blake has already called on her for aid. He knows she was involved in the murder of his cousin. He also knows she was tricked into it by Laird.

        Also, remember, Blake is supposed to marry a bastard according to the contract. Marrying a bitch would probably be appropriate given the gender swap.

        Not saying I know it’s going to happen, because I certainly don’t have that knowledge, but it’s not as far out there as you might think.

      2. Dude, she’s, like, sixteen

        Don’t worry. There’s still hope. Maggie is probably 16 or 17 (a highschool Junior some indeterminate time before “two months ago”). Blake is 20. From an age standpoint, consider: in one year Maggie will be 17/18 and Blake 21. In 2, 18/19 and 22 respectively. That works, and Blake has 5 years (theoretically) to marry. Also, according to the internet, the age of consent has been 16 in Canada since 2008.

        From the standpoint of Maggie’s dad’s: They seem to be more concerned about Maggie’s safety than about what’s considered normal or acceptable by most standards. I’m going to point to the suggestion of Maggie, her Father, his Husband and her Mother living together as my example of the “not normal standards” here (although I do work with a woman who’s close friends with her ex husband’s wife. So maybe. . .).

        From a chemistry perspective: Maggie and Blake have a natural chemistry together. Even Tiff is alarmed by this. They are willing to call upon eachother for aid.

        From a (non author) Watsonian perspective: Maggie and Blake have both been through a lot. They’ve both been in situations, both as Mundanes and Practitioners, that have forced them to Mature. Both have had to make big decisions that will effect them for the rest of their lives. They can use the sweet comfort and power that the other can provide. They can compliment eachother.

        From a (non author) Doylist perspective: Maggie is awesome. She’s #1 on my “Who Blake should marry” list, followed by Tiffany (assuming she becomes as awesome as I hope), then Penny.

        1. Blake turned down a threesome and has yet to exploit the innocent and over-her-head newbie that is Tiffany. The type of girl you just want to corrupt. I doubt he’d want the already corrupted sixteen year-old.

          1. Hi problem is fear of physical contact, not morals. And some people like pre-corrupted girls. I know I do. Less needy that way.

            Besides, I was just talking about legal age, nothing else.

    2. she was going to visit him and try to jump his bones.

      Is jump bones some farmer slang or non American lingo? Whatever could that mean?

      1. Never met anyone in America that didn’t know what that meant! Basically go after him to have sex with him, or start a serious relationship aggressively.

        1. That’s amusing 😄 Literally the first time I remember hearing it was the epilogue of the anime Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure. It’s become more common since then, of course, but that you would say that is funny.

    3. I’m pretty sure Maggie’s reason for coming to Toronto is that she wants to fulfil her own prophecy. She has to witness two major magical catastropes. If she gets a chance to do so by travelling to another city and watching from the sidelines, how could she resist? It may well be what she’s told her parents too. And it’s surely something Blake would find very unsettling if he found out, given how Maggie is clearly trying to escalate things.
      That doesn’t mean, she won’t help Blake win this. But first the situation has to evolve into an “8”, I guess.

      As for the declaration of war: I’d say that one has to be directed at Blake, simply because a declaration is performative. She directly declares a war by saying these words to Blake and she cannot really In that context declare war on someone else because there is noone there to hear it, let alone feel addressed by it.

      1. Although it might not need to be an 8 or above.

        And I suspect both Maggie and Blake are leaning a little too high on how bad things can be. And 8 is probably something like Sodam and Gammorah getting wiped off the map.

  30. As its becoming more and more apparent I won’t have much opportunity to comment on this chapter before Tuesday, I just leave this here.

    With all that Blake’s facing, it would be best to leave town. I mean, consider his enemies.

    They Told Him “Don’t You Ever Come Around Here
    Don’t Wanna See Your Face, You Better Disappear.”
    There’s Fire by The Eye, And Their Words Aren’t Really Clear
    So Beat It. Just Beat It.

    Blake Better Run. Blake Better Do What he Can.
    Can’t afford to use Any Blood. Don’t Be A Macho Man.
    Blake’s gotta Be Tough, Better Do What He Can
    So Beat It, But Enemies think he is Bad.

    Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It.
    No One Wants To Be Defeated.
    Showing How Dark and Strong Is his Fight,
    It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Right
    Just Beat It.

    They’re Out To Get Him, Better Leave While He Can.
    Don’t Wanna Be A Thorburn, Want’s to Be A Man.
    He Want’s to Stay Alive, Better Do What He Can
    So Beat It, Just Beat It.

    Blake’s Gotta To Show Them That He’s Really Not Scared.
    This contest is his Life, This Ain’t No Truth Or Dare.
    Goblins Kicked Him. Then They Beat Him. Others Tell Him It’s Fair
    So Beat It!

    Really, its the best option for Blake.

    Sorry if this ends up looking weird.

    1. He tried that in Jacob’s Bell. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Furthermore, there’s no reason to believe it’d get any better anywhere else.

      1. It would be a major “fuck you” to Conquest. Presumably the Eye is tied to Toronto. The Astrologer definitely is with her network of “stars”. The Sisters probably will balk at a road trip for war. Hell the Shepherd’s whole shtick is taking the ghosts of Toronto Blake won’t get to use power anymore, but in all honesty he was never anything but a battery for Rose.

        If Blake is doing his “Win by defiance” strategy its a good plan. Hell, its basically the flip the board, shit on it and declare victory. Once Conquest is weak enough they can summon and bind his dumb ass followed by forcing surrender.

        1. So play the challenge like playing dice as described by Mat when he gives an analogy for what it is to reason with a woman in The Wheel of Time Book 12?

  31. Question-

    Are we sure there is only one “Rose” who can become the “next Thorburn heir”?
    Or which “Rose” Isadora’s talking about?

    …Is there a way to specify which person someone is talking about when dealing with multiple people with the same name in the magic-world?

  32. and this did Blake Thorburn go down te the records office and deed poll his name and officially change his gender. Rose Thorburn jun smiled she she walked away that day.

  33. Kill Count 2014: Sphinxos, the Paws of Fate!

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

    Isadora’s Isadead: 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
    Dickswizziles Killizled: 1

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0

    Well, let’s get to the musical part. Not easy to find songs about fate, chaos, and cats. Luckily, I found something that hit on a few good points related to all this, including ghosts and hearing noises no one else does. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSYYAhQBTbk

    Isadora’s got a theme you can dance to, that’s for sure.

  34. A thought just occurred to me, maybe Blake eating C’s heart may not be the best way to go about since it’s a method of gaining power that the lawyers recommended, maybe Blake should simply take all of C’s teeth. The reasons are as follows:-

    One. Rendering C toothless would be a humiliating karmic reflection of his true status as a figurehead.

    Two. The lawyers won’t be expecting it & it could maybe unbalance their plans for him just a little bit more.

    Three. If teeth have no power, Tooth Fairies won’t be collecting them.

  35. Last chapter I posted this:

    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.

    So, combined with the revelation about Rose, here’s the plan:
    1. Have Fell kill Blake in such a way as to preserve the body and soul-trap him. Previously commenters (me included) speculated this would automatically kill Rose, but now we know this is not so.
    2. Resurrect Blake using a trustworthy caster (Fell or one of the newbies, not Maggie) and the Thorburn voice.
    Voila! A relatively compatible humanoid practitioner bound to Rose.

    Of course, if Rose thinks that will make Blake more tractable she had better think again. This is primarily a tactic to cheat the contest.

    1. WTF!? That formatting was not intended or in the text in any way. I second Wildbow on this – WordPress is shitty on formatting sometimes.

  36. So… Blake is completely oblivious to the fact he promised to be at the police station tomorrow? -_- Twice, IIRC.

    Dude needs to keep better track of his obligations if he’s gonna be a practitioner…

  37. So,every time Maggie talks,she sounds like she is avoiding to tell something.I swear,making everyone unable to lie makes me more suspicious of everyone’s words than if everyone was lying left and right -_-

    On other news,this is why Isadora is lawful neutral while Lardo is lawful evil.Sure,they are both murderous and predejusticed (though Isadora has the excuse of her nature for both),but when Isadora acts,she acts with exceeding honour,saying to someone she is gonna attack,talking to him bluntly and honestly….Lardojust twists the letter of the law with no honour whatsoever.
    Isadora:”the law is equal for all,”
    Lardo “Thelaw should work to assist me”

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