Subordination 6.10

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I stopped, and Isadora was content to let the words sink in.

I glanced inside.  Inside the vacant apartment, Alexis and Ty were drawing on the floor in chalk.  Deadly serious.  Rose appeared here and there, her distorted reflection appearing in the door of the oven and the glass light fixture.  She was no doubt giving directions, and I was pretty sure she had a book held in her hands.

Evan was simply watching from his perch.  Maybe talking – it was hard to tell when he opened his beak.

Rose appeared in the window beside me, and the angle allowed her to get a clear view of Isadora.

I met her eyes and indicated she should go back with a little jerk of my head.

A frown creased Rose’s face, but she left.  I saw her rejoin the others.

She must have said something, because they all tensed a bit.  I held up a hand, telling them to stay back.

Isadora, in the midst of this, stood there, calm and regal.  Her chin was raised just a touch too high, as if she couldn’t quite shake the guise of the noblewoman, even when she’d long since abandoned it to become the stern college professor.  Her dress was fashionable if simple, white, and there weren’t many places where she would have stuck out while wearing it, her coat had a ruff that might have been fur and might have been feathers.

Her breath fogged in the air, which I found somewhat interesting, on a basic level.

But I was focusing on these things to distract myself from reality.

“Fated,” I finally said.

“You are not long for this world.  When you are gone, your partner will take your place.  Things will reorder themselves in the aftermath, and she will adopt the ties that you have abandoned.  Depending on her nature and the internal logic of things, it’s very possible that minor people in your life will become major people in hers, in the transition.  It will be disorienting, for her, for those you two know, and for your enemies.  There’s a kind of strategy to it.  Rose will be able to dispatch whoever killed you in the chaos that follows.  In the days, weeks and months that follow, things will reach an equilibrium.”

“Just like that?” I asked, feeling numb.

“As I’ve said, your death at my hands would make for the cleanest ending.  The transition would be naturally smooth.”

“I mean, my grandmother did this?  So easily?”

“I don’t imagine it was easy.  All things have a cost to them.”

“She’s murdering me.  And Rose is… what, Rose was made, unknowingly complicit?  Set up to take advantage of my passing?”

“It may be that you two already sense it on an instinctual level, that there is only place for one of you in the world.”

“I’m getting really tired of people telling me I’m going to die.  Laird at first, then more powerful individuals, and now you, saying it like it’s a certainty.”

“That, too, might be instinctual, the others taking notice.”

I was distracted by the rather dark thoughts of death.  I looked up at her.  “Hm?”

“Practitioners and Others can see the ways of things, the ties that bind, and just as a mortal might learn to intuit the weather, we learn to intuit other things.  Some of us have a background that lends itself to seeing these things, as the farmer’s attention falls on the weather.  Some only have a small sense of things, only when the prevailing winds are especially strong.”

“And the prevailing winds are suggesting I’m going to bite it?”

“Yes.”

“I have to ask, then, what’s the point of you coming after me if my death is inevitable?”

“All deaths are inevitable.  Even immortal things will perish eventually.  Why would you ever murder someone, knowing they’ll die eventually?  That’s a rhetorical question, no need for an answer.”

I rubbed my hands together for warmth, then folded them into my armpits.  I leaned against the railing of the balcony, facing the others, the city at my back.  “I think your point is clear enough.”

“Good.  If it helps, I don’t think you’ll need to concern yourself with me until you’ve cleared up your business at the police station.  I’m more comfortable leaving you be for this little exercise, given how disruptive the antics were yesterday morning.”

“Antics?”

“We talked about spinning plates.  Where a dragon is said to make a bed of gold coin, I find I’m more comfortable on a bed of these metaphorical spinning plates.”

“Everything in balance?” I asked.

“Yes.  I’m as sensitive to changes in the balance of things as a common man might be to changes in the light or to noise.  I’d struggle to explain this to you as much as I would struggle to explain color to the absolutely blind, but I would say that power touched across a great many individuals and places, like a vast stroke of lightning, followed by a thunderclap forceful enough to shift each of those things from their positions.”

“Shift?  Tossing stuff around?”

“In part, but it primarily moved people somewhen else.”

“Ahhh.  That wasn’t me.”

“I know.  It was the younger Behaim that was at fault, who earned my ire here.  Time distorted, and everyone that you and the younger Behaim had talked with moved backwards.  Reality wobbled quite a bit until you each caught up with the rest of the world.  The metaphorical plates fell, and my rest was disturbed.”

“In the late hours of the morning?”

“Not that it matters, but I sleep eighteen hours a day.  A useful thing for my mother, created as a sentry and sentinel over holy sites, a nuisance of a thing for me.”

“Ah,” I said.

She was grouchy because of the little time reversal that Duncan had pulled, and she was giving me a free shot at them first.

Was this what it was like being on the other side of the fence?  Duncan and Laird had lost the three times, and they’d broken their word, and now other people and things were conspiring to help me screw them over.

I wasn’t about to complain.

“If that’s all, I’ll leave now.”

“Wait, please,” I said.  “Two things, if that’s alright?”

“Perfectly alright, Mr. Thorburn.  I declared war, I’m obligated to hear you out.”

I paused.  “Can I filibuster you?  Hypothetically?”

“If you can hold me here by discussing relevant things.  I don’t believe you can, and even if you tried, the Lord of the City would find you and catch you before then.”

I nodded.

“What did you want to ask?”

“I’ve been led to believe that the Lord of this city is merely a figurehead.  That you’re keeping him in place.”

“Fell would be the one who told you.”

“Yeah.”

“Yes.  Essentially true.”

“You could have told me.”

“When?  By the time I had a sense of you, I knew you were a diabolist, and nobody is going to associate with diabolists that easily.  It’s easier and safer to remove you, given the precedent history has set.  Even now, after you’ve proven your mettle.”

“Is the figurehead thing why you’re coming after me?”

“Yes.  We can’t have you unseating the Lord of the City.  Your background makes things worse.  You’re upsetting things, and while it isn’t so dramatic as what the Behaims did, it’s a problem across the board.  You can see what’s happening in the city.”

Screwed twice over by things I couldn’t control.

“Alright,” I said.  I didn’t want to argue.  Not about that.  “What if I said that I don’t expect to win?”

She arched an eyebrow.

“Just asking,” I said.

“If you lose, you’re just as dangerous.”

“Things aren’t that binary,” I said.  “Existence isn’t black and white.”

“Existence is very much binary,” she said.  “You exist, or you do not.”

“I think you know what I meant.  I don’t think you can paint all of reality with strokes of ‘right and wrong’.”

“I would argue that everything can be broken down to right and wrong,” Isadora said.  “Case in point, I can ask, ‘Do you disagree?'”

I stayed silent.

She smiled a touch.  “You don’t give me an answer, because you’re afraid of giving the wrong answer.  I just condensed a great many possible answers into two.  Right, wrong.  You can do the same with all of existence, if you wish.”

“I see.  I’m not sure I like that view of reality.  If there’s one right answer and nearly infinite possible wrong answers, aren’t there an awful lot of wrong answers in existence?  Isn’t reality made up of a great deal of wrongness?”

“Break it down, Mr. Thorburn, examine the densest material at the most fundamental level, and you’ll find a lot of empty space between the components of each molecule.  A great deal of empty space between molecules.  Look at the universe itself, and take note of exactly how much of the void occupies the solar system, compared to the objects, and I think it’s a strong representation of reality.”

“You’re linking right and wrong to existence and nonexistence.”

“I’m the very manifestation of that link, aren’t I?  Rhetorical question, once more.”

“Point taken.”

“Look at the very fact that we are alive in the here and now.  How likely are we as individuals, how likely are we in this exact state at this exact time?  Right is being a point of light in an infinite darkness, and that holds power, because it brings vast complexities into being.  Even small decisions or changes in wording might lead you to different courses in life, to meet different people.

My friends inside were noticing I was talking to someone.  Were they seeing the connections?

It was good if they were getting practice.  I shifted position, trying to convey that I was at ease.

There was virtually no way the Sphinx would come after me right now.  It wasn’t in her nature.

“I have to admit, it’s eerie to hear a being such as yourself talking about the universe and molecules.”

“Then I’ll give you the sort of answer I might have given when I was young, instead.  Everything is reducible.”

“Even your argument, apparently.”

She smiled.

“There’s a problem with that, though,” I said.  “When you asked me if I disagreed, I stayed silent.  You reduced it to two possible answers, but I took a third option.”

“Silence.”

“Yes.  Before this discussion began, you reduced another question to two possible answers.  Will I defeat the Lord of the city and destabilize things enough to justify your murdering me, or will I lose and surrender myself to him, justifying you murdering me?”

“You’re proposing a third option?”

“Would I be offending your intrinsic nature if I said I’m proposing a third, fourth and maybe fifth option?”

She smiled, “Not at all.  My favorite answers to riddles are the ones I could never anticipate.”

I nodded.

“Anything else?”

“My friends,” I told Isadora, while staring at Alexis.  “When you come after me, please leave them alone.  Ty is pretty awestruck by you, Alexis is maybe the most right person-”

“Thorburn.  There’s no need to justify why I should leave your friends alone.  If they remain out of it, I will leave them be.”

I nodded.

“I wish you luck, diabolist.  I will try to find you later in the day.”

“Thanks for being fair,” I said.

She nodded, then hopped up to the railing, then stepping off.  The flapping fabric of her dress, coat and hair spilled out into something bigger, and she was full size before she was halfway to the ground.

I sighed.

I’m going to die.

The realization was a heavy one.

But I couldn’t dwell.  The others were getting more restless, and I needed to move.

I stepped back inside, rubbing my hands.  Evan lighted on my shoulder.

Three circles, each distinct.  Geometric shapes, symbols, and words scrawled out in remarkably good handwriting.  That would be Alexis.

As I progressed further into the room, the bathroom came into sight, a large mirror facing the door.  I could see Rose standing in the doorway of the bathroom.  The best reflective surface in the empty apartment.

She moved, and I could see the summonings.  Three, in circles on the other side of the mirror.  The others had drawn the circles, they’d appeared in the mirror world, and Rose had enlisted their help in summoning the things, using her voice to summon them to her mirror reality.

From there, I suspected, they could be bound into more convenient packages, as Maggie had bound Dickswizzle into the flute or the whistle or whatever it was.

The circle closest to me held a woman.  She was dressed in brown homespun clothes that were spattered with dark brown patches that I suspected were dried blood, holding a kitchen knife that seemed disproportionately large, all things considered.  Her facial features seemed slightly offset, as if they weren’t quite anchored in place, and the longer I stared, the more the eyes, cheekbones, eye brows, nose and mouth seemed to drift from their starting point.

A man with an apron and vest, wild orange hair, and slashes of dull ashy yellow wax crusting his skin here and there.  One of his eyes was missing, and the orb within was more wax, set with a tiny black dot in the middle, slipped into place.

The other circle was empty.

I wasn’t an expert, but there was only one Other we had discussed summoning.  I’d vetoed the choice.

Rose was tense.  Braced for an argument.

Was there more to the inherent hostility?  Was the sphinx right?  Were we instinctually aware that there was a game of musical chairs in progress, the two of us dancing in circles, and only one chair?

Fuck that.  Fuck the hostility, fuck the arguments wasting time, fuck the game of musical chairs.

I’d take the third route.

Starting by forestalling whatever argument she was prepared to make.

I tried to keep my voice level, but a kind of hoarseness found its way in despite my efforts.  “In the interest of full disclosure, the Sphinx has informed me I’m fated to die.  It won’t be too long.  It’s… sounding pretty damn certain, and it fits with what some others have been telling me.  Fated, was the word she used.”

Evan spoke up, “There’s gotta be a way to stop it.”

“This isn’t the movies, Evan.  Yeah, I’ll fight it if the chances comes up, but something like Isadora would be pretty screwed if she lied that blatantly.  If she tells me something straight up, I’m inclined to believe her.”

I saw Tiffany’s hands go to her mouth in shock, as she took it in.  She was the first to react, oddly enough.  Our relationship was the newest, the shallowest.  Was that why?  did it take longer for others to grasp the full import?

Alexis’ expression was one of shock, but it kept going, distorting, until it hit some breaking point.  Her face crumpled a little, and tears appeared in her eyes.

She reached up, as if to hug me, then thought again about it a moment later.

I felt like an utter asshole for not just hugging her anyway.  That was what happened in the movies, right?

But I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit how shaky I felt.  Standing still, being stoic, it was all I could do.

I looked at Rose, and I could see the alarm on her face.  She’d been waiting, probably, with words prepared to argue for the summoning of the Corvidae spirit, and I’d left her speechless.  But it was more than the shock that Alexis was demonstrating so well.

Was she worried about her own existence?

Good.

“I’m sorry Rose,” I told her, and my voice was a little hoarser than before.

I didn’t tell her why I was sorry.  I’d lie to let her keep worrying.  If we were caught up in some dance we weren’t aware of, then maybe mutual self preservation would push her to cooperate where she wouldn’t otherwise.

“I’m sorry Evan,” I said.  “We made a deal, though, and I’m going to try to make the most of the time we have left, to follow through.”

He didn’t respond, but he hopped over a bit and settled closer to my neck, leaning on me.

Ty hugged Alexis in my place.

Fell finished painting the posterboard, then stepped back to examine his work.

My eyes moved from the board to the circle that was drawn on the floor of the apartment, checking over every detail.

“This is your escape hatch,” he said.  “While in the spirit world, things take on a different dimension.  The workings of practitioners are more physical, the workings of man are more fragile.  You’ve already seen hints of this, how easily neglected things fall to ruin in that world.”

I nodded, and Rose nodded with me.

We’d talked briefly, running through the various stages of grief in our own way and our own individual orders.  I’d gone in with acceptance of a sort, and it helped that my recent brushes with death had acclimatized me to the idea.  Rose still seemed to be in denial.  But she’d dropped the pretense of a fight and she seemed to be in my court, now.

I wished it hadn’t affected Alexis as much as it had.  Ty, too, seemed to have switched to a very introspective mode.

We’d agreed not to tell Fell and Maggie, when we heard them at the door and realized our time for mourning was over.  Not telling them meant putting on our best game faces.  Some of us were doing better than others.

“With luck, the defenses they’ve set in place are going to be geared towards stopping us in the spirit world.  If they are expecting us, they have to expect that Blake will make a personal appearance in the real world.  If he couldn’t, he wouldn’t be able to follow through on the agreement he made with the local police chief.  They’ll be prepared in other ways.”

I drummed my fingers on the kitchen counter that divided the kitchen from the living room.  “We hit them from multiple directions, and we hit them hard.  I’m inside the building with Evan and Rose.”

“Will you be okay?” Alexis asked.

She was maybe having the hardest time dealing with what I’d told her.  It surprised me, because she was often so strong.

But people worked to leave legacies, and while my ambitions were pretty damn low, merely on leaving the world a better place than I’d left it, Alexis was having to face the fact that the legacy she was leaving was in jeopardy.  One of the people she’d saved and helped rehabilitate was potentially going to die.

“No idea,” I said.  “But Rose has the firepower, Evan can hopefully help me work around the traps.  We have Alexis and Ty as eyes on the scene, and Fell guarding the perimeter to distract further trouble.  In an ideal world, this is our chance to take out one of Conquest’s champions.”

“Perception and misdirection are my stock in trade,” Fell said.  “I’ll set your friends up so they’re hard to spot and capable of tracking whatever is going on.  If trouble heads your way, I’ll try to turn it aside or stall it.  If I can’t, Maggie will step in.”

“The goblin catching expedition was a wash,” she said.  “I have my gremlins, and some Faerie tricks I’ve picked up, but that’s it.”

“Faerie and Goblins are usually opposing,” Fell said.  “Allying or borrowing the help of one usually scares off the other.  A feud dating back thousands of years, even.  It’s surprising you’re able to balance the two.”

“I know,” Maggie said.  “But I hate goblins, and that counts for something for at least one Faerie.”

I nodded.  “Whatever you can do helps.  We’ll try to be fast, hit them hard, do what I need to do, and get out.  I just don’t want to get cornered again.”

Rose spoke up.  “Saying ‘we’re going to do this fast’ feels like you’re tempting fate when we’re talking about chronomancers.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Definitely,” she said.  “But since we know who we’re up against, I did some reading.  Time is a fundamental force.  It’s hard to find a valid counterpoint to it.  But it’s a heavier thing to manipulate.  The restrictions are bigger, and the costs are stricter.  Physical space is one of the big restrictions.  You mess with time, you have to work within certain boundaries.  The house is a pretty clear example of that.”

“Very strict focus on the area affected,” I said.

“Turning back the clock, if the sphinx was right, is probably limited to degrees of separation and connections.  Only people that are three degrees of separation from the target, you, and from Duncan, or something like that.  If there were ripples that extended beyond that third degree of separation, then there would be incongruities.”

“Stuff not adding up?” I asked.

She nodded.  “And that costs, when dealing with a magic that’s very costly to start with.  It’s not a cost you can anticipate, either.  Chronomancers either have to build up a safe buffer to protect themselves in case they wind up having to pay a penalty fee, or they suffer consequences.”

“Like?” I asked.

“Years off their lives, premature aging, distorted perceptions, stolen memories.”

I nodded.

How was I supposed to process this?  On the shallow level, we were talking about employing monsters to stop Laird and Duncan, very dangerous creatures.

On the other hand, I was hearing about those penalties, and my knee-jerk reaction was to think that I wouldn’t make my worst enemy face something like that.

To be rushed to their demise?

Maybe it hit closer to home than it might have before my conversation with Isadora.

“That’s essentially it,” I said.  “If ghosts or vessels start to show up, Ty and Alexis do what they can to warn us so we can clear out, or Fell and Maggie go after the Shepherd.  If we end up facing the Astrologer, Fell tries to bend the paths the light is following and distort the picture.”

“She’s stronger at night,” Fell said.  “Less of a concern.”

“We have strategies for everyone.  Either stall and warn us or go on the offensive, depending,” I told them.  “Stay alive above all.”

“Let’s go,” Fell said.

I bent down to pick up the posterboard and wobbled a little, stopping halfway only to catch my balance.

Still not entirely recovered.  Not even halfway there, even.

It was hard to tell if I felt better because I was getting better, or if I was getting used to being a weakling.

I folded the posterboard along the pre-cut marks, until it was a quarter of the usual size.  I slid it into my backpack.

Fell, Maggie, Rose and Alexis used the gate to cross over, and they became vague silhouettes, pale.  Rose was even harder to make out than usual, but she was brighter than the rest.

Two overlapping realities.

I had to wonder if this kind of vague form was what Others made out when they looked at us.

I focused on them until I could make them out, as if I were adjusting the dial on a microscope.

Alexis stared back at me, her eyes lacking irises or pupils.  As it had after the awakening ritual, her hair shifted as if in a breeze.

Her clothes were transparent, and her tattoos stood out.  On her back, on either side of her body, on her leg, including a few small ones on the side of her foot, practice sketches, visible through the foot, as if it were more real than her flesh was.  Three molars were visible through her cheek, like some faintly glowing mark on her cheek.

I glanced away before I saw anything too rude.

Fell was also wearing an astral body, and his clothing had changed in a way that left me no doubt he’d inscribed it like I had my suit.  I could still peer through it, seeing the holster of his gun and the powder that now stirred as if it were alive.  I deliberately avoided looking below the belt.

Maggie – Maggie was just as problematic, but for different reasons.  A touch too young for my conscience.  What I could see of her without looking right at her was surprising.  She was second only to Rose, and Rose was pretty much an astral body made solid, Maggie was the most intense to look at.  She was something wild and restless, her hair tangled and bristled like a briar bush, eyes dark, slightly thinner than she was in reality, her fingertips and ear tips were pointed.

I couldn’t tell without looking, but I thought there might have been blood spatters.

Had she stepped a bit too far into that world?

Or, maybe, was she right?  Had she really dealt with an ‘eight’ on a scale of one to ten?

Fundamentals had warned about using the sight too much, going too deep.  I was starting to understand how that worked.  When we crossed over, our sight had adjusted.  If I peered hard enough or long enough, I suspected, I might not be able to readjust my vision to view the normal world at all.  Go too deep, exploring permutations and distant perspectives of things, and perhaps you couldn’t resurface.

I could see the problem with that.  Being in the real world, but only able to view the spirit world version of it?  It would be like going mad, except the monsters and things in the shadows could very well be real, and there could be no hope of maintaining normal relationships, when you saw normal people through the eyes of an Other.

There was probably more to this, what I was seeing, and what it meant to look at things out of focus and see the spiritual side of people, but we didn’t have time to explore it.

I adjusted my vision until they were blurry enough that I could look at them without being embarrassed, and signaled the go-ahead, carrying the posterboard.

We moved as a unit, though Rose moved from mirror to mirror, and Evan flew, taking to the air to view the area around us.

Interesting, to see how some pedestrians walked through Fell and Alexis, while others stepped around him, as if unconsciously acknowledging his presence.

One by one, we split off.  Taking our stations.  Ty, still real, found a table at the window of a big book store, while Alexis stopped on a street corner.  Fell and Maggie waited on the same block the police station was on.  An impressive red brick structure.  Some police officers and a fair number of cars were situated just outside, the cars parked along the length of the street.

Evan approached, flying low to the ground, flying recklessly enough to disturb some of the brave pigeons that had lingered for the winter.  He rose just in time to land on my shoulder, and I flipped up the hood of my sweatshirt.  He took refuge beneath as I set the hood down flat, Evan peeking out from beneath.

Wouldn’t do to have a bird flying around the police station.

Here we go.

Through the doors.

I used the sight to search for traps, a brief sweep.

“Move!” a heavyset woman ordered me, when I opened the door but didn’t rush through.  Nothing on the frame.

“Old man,” Rose whispered.  “Over the staircase.  Crucified by gold chains.  Sand leaking from the areas where the chains bite into the walls.”

I nodded.

They were here.  I turned, heading off to find another, less direct route to the chief’s office.

“Stop,” Rose said.

I stopped.

“Four.”

“Four?”

“Four Behaims.  Very close.  Younger.”

Bastard isn’t one for half-measures.

I reached over to push up my sleeve.  I touched the Stonehenge charm.

I could feel connections of varying intensity.  Bonds between the charm bracelet and the other people around me.  People paying fines, staff, police…

Two to my right.  A teenage girl and a younger boy who was maybe just on the cusp of teenhood.  The boy had what looked like a pad of yellow sticky notes held between index and middle finger, and was periodically flipping through it with his thumb, a practiced gesture.  There was something drawn on the top one, and it looked complicated.

Another to my left, older, maybe older than me, a man in sunglasses.  Another in front, the same age, standing to one side, fiddling with her phone.  It wasn’t a smartphone, some brick phone, the durable sort.

All of them had the standard Behaim look.  Dark hair, square faces, heavy builds that weren’t necessarily fat.  Well, the youngest boy and the older girl looked like they might be, but that wasn’t the concern.

None had noticed me quite yet, but I was stirring interest by way of the charm.

I stopped using it, trying to duck out of sight.

Off to one side.

They were searching for me, and I paid attention to the roving connections, trying to hide.

Maybe that was a mistake, because the guy with the sunglasses noticed.  The others saw his reaction and took that as their cue.

I wouldn’t be slipping by.  It was a shame Fell wasn’t willing to teach me his illusion, because I’d really like having it.

“How do we handle this?” Rose asked.

“Gently, I said, as the teenage girl and sticky-note boy made a beeline for me.

“I think Laird is counting on you being gentle.”

“Maybe,” I said.

I turned a hard right.  Heading for a long hallway that would let me put distance between us.

They followed, except for phone girl, who remained where she was.

“Another Other lying in wait toward the end of the hall, keeping you from rounding the corner.  The giant with the hidden face.  He’s powering a circle that was drawn on the wall there, hidden in the midst of some graffiti.”

Fuck me.

“Tell me when you want me to stop,” I said.

“Twenty paces.”

For now, the number of people in our immediate proximity was an advantage.  Cover, and they couldn’t do anything obvious without drawing attention.

“You wanted me to be your firepower, Blake,” Rose interrupted my thoughts.

“Not against kids,” I muttered.

“You think they’ll play nice?” she asked.  “They’ve been practicing longer than you have.”

“Not with those things, and what happened last time.”

I drew looks for talking to myself.  People seemed surprisingly okay with it, all things considered.

“I was more careful.  The restrictions are tight.  No killing.  No harming me or you.”

Mail and reception, bathrooms…

Bathroom could be a dead end.

Another stairwell.

I bit my lip, thinking.

“Three paces.”

I stopped.  Those were my options.

I could see runes laid out, making it a dangerous proposition.

They’d trapped the building.

Pretty fitting, given Duncan’s previous M.O.

Alright then.

If there was anyone inside the bathroom, they were in the stalls.  I walked to the far end of the bathroom, using the sinks to steady myself as I ducked low to see if any feet were visible.  I was alone.

Rose was already waiting when I turned to the bathroom mirror.

“I need you to stall them.  Going to duck into the spirit world.  With luck, their sight isn’t that good, I can slip by.”

“Relying on luck already?” she asked.

I dug through my backpack, pulling out the posterboard.  “They didn’t see the connections as well as I did.  Their sight isn’t that well trained.”

“At least one of them saw.”

“Maybe one of them is competent then, but it’s better than being followed by four.  Go.  We’ll figure this out.”

She went, traveling from one mirror to the next on her way to the door.

I could see her walking.  Raising a hand as she passed one mirror, then it was lowered when she passed the other, her mouth open as she said something I couldn’t make out.

When she’d reached the mirror closest to the door, she had company.

Mary, the woman with the kitchen knife.

Wouldn’t have been my first choice.

I’m losing control of all this, I thought.

Losing control of Rose, no longer having my friends compartmentalized…

The door swung open.

The boy with the sticky notes, the girl I assumed to be his sister.

“Laird uses children to fight on his behalf?” I asked.

“We volunteered,” the girl said.  “Those books you ruined?  Those were valuable.  That was fucked up.”

If theft of property that belonged in a certain place had repercussions, then destruction had to be the same.

“You shit on them?” the boy asked.  “In our aunt’s house?”

“To be fair, I only let a goblin loose,” I said.

“It wasn’t fair at all,” he said.  He held up the stickies so I could see the inscription.  It looked like a complex piece of clockwork more than a magic circle.  “You probably deserve this.”

“Your family killed my cousin, and tried to get me killed.  I’m not supposed to fight back?”

“I-” he started.  He stopped when something clinked against the mirror.

Rose was standing beside me, but something else was tapping the mirror, with steady, sharp sounds.

He and his sister looked at the mirror.

“Go get Gav,” she said, her eyes wide, her voice a hush.  “Get him in here, tell him to use protection.”

He fled the room.

“That was a mistake,” I said.

“No,” she said.  She looked at the mirror.  “That was.”

She reached into her pocket, and she withdrew a chain.  Not steel.  Some other material.

She tossed it to the ground, then kicked it twice, until it made a rough oval shape.  She stood within.

The glass shattered.  A knife point stuck through.

Mary came through a moment later, with a crash of glass.  She collapsed on entry.

The man with sunglasses, ‘Gav’, appeared in the door.  He also had a chain in hand.  He tossed it to the ground at the doorway, then used his toe to move it so it was secure.

Mary staggered to her feet.

I could see the fear on the girl’s face as she remained within her small circle, arms tight against her side, chin raised.

Mary stalked around them.

Raised her knife, ready to stab, but didn’t swing.

The girl reached into her pocket, careful not to let her elbow move beyond the boundary of the circle.  She unrolled a small scroll.  “I hereby bespell you, Blake Thorburn, by the-”

I snapped my fingers and pointed.

Evan flew.

The circles didn’t stop him.

Gav’s chain did move in his passage.

Gav stumbled back, his fear visible even with the sunglasses hiding his eyes.

The door swung shut.

He didn’t know that Mary only attacked women.

The girl’s fear was palpable.  She shrieked as Evan flew by again, and the scroll tumbled to the ground.

“My uncle-”

“-can come,” Rose said.  “We’re dealing with him anyway.”

Evan flew by a third time.  She kicked the chain to make it a rough circle again, and she managed to hit him with her knee.

Enough bullshit.

I strode forward.

I saw her expression as she realized what I was doing.

“No,” she said.

I pushed her to one side on my way to the door.  I kicked the chain under the nearest stall.

Mary swung her knife.

“Scare, no permanent damage,” Rose ordered, stressing permanent.

Which was probably scary enough when you were disarmed and had a knife-wielding Other on you.

Mary seemed to listen, all the same.  The cut across the backs of the girl’s forearms were as shallow as cuts could be.

The Other hung back as the girl retreated into a corner.  Staring, bristling with latent hostility.

I snapped my fingers and pointed at the window.

“Mary,” Rose’s whisper was barely audible over the shrieks and screams, “Come back.”

I was dimly aware of the Other making her way to safety.

I headed out the door, leaving them.

“Officer!” I shouted at the nearest cop, before the other Behaims could ambush me.

The officer turned my way.

“There’s a girl in there with slashed wrists,”  I told him.

His reaction was immediate, calling for help, shoving his way inside.  More officers came running, and the area was chaotic.

Blocking the young Behaims from their sister or cousin.

I used the chaos to my advantage to leave them behind.  I was dimly aware of one running up the staircase that was warded against passage.

As I passed the pictures mounted on the wall, Rose walked in step with me, and the Bloody Mary walked in step with her.

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299 thoughts on “Subordination 6.10

    1. “Gently, I said, as the teenage girl and sticky-note boy made a beeline for me.
      -need end quotes after Gently

    2. through Fell and Alexis, while others stepped around him, as if unconsciously acknowledging his presence. – mismatch of him and Fell + Alexis

      “Gently, I said, – Missing quotation

    3. “Look at the very fact that we are alive in the here and now. How likely are we as individuals, how likely are we in this exact state at this exact time? Right is being a point of light in an infinite darkness, and that holds power, because it brings vast complexities into being. Even small decisions or changes in wording might lead you to different courses in life, to meet different people.

      No closer for this dialogue tag.

      I saw Tiffany’s hands go to her mouth in shock, as she took it in. She was the first to react, oddly enough. Our relationship was the newest, the shallowest. Was that why? did it take longer for others to grasp the full import?

      No capitalization of “did” in the final sentence.

    4. “Was that why? did it take longer for others to grasp the full import?” – missing capitalization

      “Interesting, to see how some pedestrians walked through Fell and Alexis, while others stepped around him, as if unconsciously acknowledging his presence.” – wrong pronoun, him should be them

    5. “that counts for something for at least one Faerie.”
      Hm…is the second “for” the right word here? It struck me as wrong, that it should be “with” instead, but I’m not certain that that’s not personal preference.

    6. merely on leaving the world a better place than I’d left it,

      Should be, merely on leaving the world a better place than I’d found it,

    7. … to meet different people.
      no closing quote

      “Gently, I said,
      no closing quote

      Yeah, I’ll fight it if the chances comes up
      chances come up OR chance comes up

      mutual self preservation
      usually self-preservation

    8. “there, cut arts covered by her” arms.
      ” Ainsle went” Ainsley.

      (Man, this is hard on mobile >.>)

      Some whacky shenanigans there – Though I imagine that if Laird was expecting this, he’d have brought a rain coat…

    9. Evan lighted on my shoulder.
      Evan landed lightly on my shoulder?

      Was that why? did it take longer
      Missing a capital on Did

      He took refuge beneath as I set the hood down flat, Evan peeking out from beneath.
      That felt clunky. Probably could lose the Evan?

      “Gently, I said, as the teenage girl and sticky-note boy made a beeline for me.
      Missing a closing quote on Gently

  1. It’s fun seeing how pathetic those young others are, compared to a well trained practitioner with a suddenly competent Rose.

    Really goes to show, most of them have no real experience with how to win a fight.

    1. How many practitioners do, really? Those with formerly-recalcitrant familiars? Those that went through a tough demesne-claiming? 1, maybe 2 incidents of real tooth-and-nail fighting over a long career of practicing magic?

      The Behaim and Duchamp kids are none of these (Duchamps at least are spoonfed minor Faerie courtier familiars, family-based practitioners routinely make their kids claim small demesnes that are completely encircled by their parents’ and siblings’ demesnes) so it comes as a complete surprise when their opponent fights better and dirtier then they do.

  2. So, the Behaims, once you get past the powerful ones, are actually relatively inexperienced. Makes sense. The Behaims seems a lot kinder to their children than the Duchamps are.

    Laird not bringing in the powerful ones, though? That’s weird. That suggests that either they’re busy doing something worse…or he can’t get them to come. Maybe, with their possibly-existing morals, they’re a little upset at the idea of murdering people. Or maybe they’re pissed at him for trying to drag them into a war in service of a spirit who is the incarnation of not letting go of what he controls.

    1. There may also be varying power costs, depending on how strong the people you bring along are. I suspect that if a rank amateur screws up in a small way, the penalty is a lot less then if a much stronger person screws up: More responsibility, more banked power, more of a backlash if your enemy manages to trip you up. And, seeing as Blake has already destroyed Duncan in a pretty through way, I’d definitely be wary of throwing heavy power at him; especially in a police station where people might notice things.

      So, if you send in the small fry with orders to just slow him down, lead him into traps, etc., the overall risk to your collective karma is lower.

      Just a theory, at least.

    2. Well, the kid mentioned that they volunteered, and they had a specific reason to be very upset with him. I’d imagine Laird doesn’t want to be seen forcefully dragging people into a conflict, and look at the encounter: an incarnation of Conquest attacking a desperate diabolist.. I doubt most people with half a brain would want to step into the line of fire here, even as a neutral party.

      1. I disliked what Blake did to that Behaim woman. Nobody deserves to get a Dickswizzle in their house, happening to their precious items. Besides, it felt really underhanded an unfair.

        1. I was against it because karma would ensure that the same will eventually happen to something of equal value to Blake.

          1. Actually Blake said that Karma would regard what he did as good. And the Behaim’s did something damn unhanded and unfair when they set Maggie up to kill Molly. Them bitching about what Blake’s done to them is the pot calling the kettle black.

            1. Well, it was Right, not Good. As I understand it, you get positive karma for Right things, not Good things (though they often coincide.)

            2. Yeah, Karma in this case works in a way where you can be a total bastard, and get tons of good Karma, and a total saint can get tons of bad Karma.

            3. I imagine it’s a bit iffy to violate sacred hospitality, especially the way they offered it to him.

              He still has to go and show that one girl how he did it, by the way.

          1. Blake didn’t know they were still setting it at the time. He had, for all intents and purposes, just thwarted their effort and was in the clear when he decided to Dickswizzle them. Not only that, but it was part of the branch family, probably people who were just following orders and trying to provide for their kids, nieces, and nephews in the dangerous world of practitioners. They were relatively innocent. And then imagine the scarring that would have happened to the poor kid if she was the one who discovered the mess D: And then realized that her cousin was a transformed diabolist the entire time and he could have fed her to his pet demons at any time D: Or maybe he still could D:

            I would be unsurprised if that kid had nightmares because of Blake.

            1. “just following orders”
              It boggles the mind how people still use that as an excuse.

            2. It bears mentioned that, given the antiquated model that karma uses, it seems likely that that’s actually a plausible defense in this one case.

            3. I don’t think that you can say the Behaims are just following orders. I get the impression that Laird isn’t so much in charge of them so much as he is a greatly respected member of the family. They agree to screw Blake over with the ritual because Laird hypes him up as a chaotic element, not because he tells them to. Among the older members there might not be as much of a hierarchy.

    3. A slightly related comment which I’m not sure where to put…

      Anyone else reacting the fact that the price of time magic is variable depending on the number of incongruities. And that the caster has to pay for it?

      So basically by tricking enough people to knock on the door of the mansion it should be possible to empty the power buffer powering the time trap, because it has to burn power creating “explanations” for why people are taking months to deliver stuff to Thorburn manor.

      I’m unsure what exact conditions are needed to trigger the trap, but the coin seemed promising. However, there is probably a karma cost for sending innocents into a trap meant for you. But it seems like a feasible way to remove it at a great cost to the Beihams.

      1. I think this was more specific to the “time travel” spell. It can modify people three steps away from Blake and Duncan, but if it goes farther than that its unpaid for. If the change is too much, they get assigned a big cost!

      2. On the other hand, I suspect that if people start disappearing after being mysteriously summoned to the Thorburn mansion, Blake’s karma almost assures that he’s going to take the blame for it. Nothing like adding “potential serial killer” to the list of labels people already tar him with.

  3. That’s the trouble with putting all your eggs in one basket, Behaims – sometimes the basket tips. I mean really, when it happened with the time-slow working you were lucky to be able to try it again. When it happened with Duncan it should have been a warning sign. When it happens now? You have no excuse.

    The trouble with relying on “rule of three” is that your enemy gets two cracks at you, at best.

  4. Also: Blake keeps information from Rose in order to manipulate her while claiming full disclosure. An important step in their relationship to outright lying to one another by omission. I get that he’s dealing with a lot of horrible trust problems with her specifically, but…argh! These two are such beautiful idiots.

    1. Agreed. Though I honestly can’t say that I’m 100% sure that if Rose had to choose between Blake’s life and getting out of the mirror, and being a real girl, she’d choose Blake. All it would take is a moment of weakness on Rose’s part. One little delay helping him… Again the question is which would Rose want more. Blake alive, or freedom? We got another illustration that Rose is a lot less merciful than Blake. If she had her way, the Behaim’s might have been down a few kids. Permanetly.

      1. Given what we know about other Thorburns and that Rose stayed with the family and Learned Their Ways, I think it’s a pretty safe bet which one she would go for…

      2. Rose swore to protect Blake in Breach, 3.1:

        “Damn you, Blake. How am I supposed to not say something? Yes. I will help you. I will do what I can to protect you from whatever’s going on with you, good or bad. I swear.”

        Seems like an awfully broad oath, so if it hasn’t bitten her yet, then she can probably work around it.

  5. Blake has yet to realize, however, that “You will die” is much less rigid for a mortal practitioner than Isadora implies. Actually, “You will die” is much less rigid for a mortal, full-stop.

    1. Wait, wasn’t the current plan to shoot Blake in the head and bind his soul? Fell is prepping a soul jar to kill Blake. Hell look at Midge, she’s doing just fine despite being dead. I’m sure Blake will do even better.

      I hope Rose can be the PoV character. Or Maggie.

      1. Perhaps they can switch places, with Rose in meatspace and Blake’s ghost hanging around in mirrors. It would even allow offing him and still keeping him as the viewpoint character.

        1. I’m actually a big fan of this, although it would be really easy to make it sorta cliche-like (switching up the roles, much like – what’s that one book/movie where the mother and daughter switch bodies and have to learn how to deal with it and figure out they should be nicer to one another?) it’s also pretty fitting…

      2. Really hoping we get Tiffany or one of the other living members as a PoV character if Blake gets offed. Rose just rubs me the wrong way.

    1. Egg on my face, the typo thread wasn’t there when I posted this, could you please be nice mr/mrs wild bow and delete it

  6. Well, a girl with slashed wrists. And a Laird. That can’t look good for Laird.

    Okay, seriously Laird? You’ve tried this exact tactic before! And it failed! And cost a crapton of power! And angered a sphinx. And it was a rule of three win for Blake. Your much worse off now, and Blake is much stronger.

    The only thing I can think of is that Laird is trying to make Blake kill a kid, or he hopes Blake will go too easy on a kid.

    1. Maybe since Blake’s wins involved him outsmarting Lardo, he just made him lose intelligence as well as power. Also, remember, Conquest is the one moving the pieces in this metaphorical chess game, so he would only use the brute force dominance in order to thwart Blake.

    2. And Laird’s tried it with better people as well (although that’s not saying much, given Duncan’s poorly thought-out antics). I hope for their sake that one of them is at least willing to fight dirty.

      1. It looks like they’re trying Quantity over Quality this time. I think Duncan mentioned something of Blake-level excitement happening once every 2-3 years, so I think he was actually one of the more experienced practitioners in the family. If they’d tried this tact to begin with then they would probably have put Blake down. But now they’re left with second-tier Behaims.

      2. Duncan’s efforts were actually fairly good, he just held back (and I hope we get a good explanation for the comparative kid gloves of Laird and Co. at some point).

        If Blake hadn’t been willing to take unpredictably near-suicidal levels of risk, Duncan would have succeeded. Essentially Dunc’s plan failed because Blake was too ignorant of the consequences of his actions (possible possession) to act sanely.

        1. “Plan failed because opponent was too ignorant for sanity” is such an awesome reason to fail. And so Duncan lost to a week and a half awakened Diabolist without any of the three major rituals. Even with his save game. And failed so badly that his opponent got a Familiar while they were fighting. Blake may learn the ways of the Skitter yet!

    1. Blake will make his own words come true. Blake and Rose will inhabit the same body, with Rose in control (Chariot, again). Blake will be… background.

      1. Remember that one of the meanings of the chariot is harnessing opposing forces (the black and white horses) to pull in the same direction. If anything it suggests more of an even sharing.

  7. I don’t really know whether Blake’s inevitable demise is as inevitable as it seems. His MO is upsetting the order of things, and even if his grandmother planned it out, you know what they say about the best laid plans…
    Also, really excited to see Blake and pals going into strategist mode for this conflict, reminiscent of some of my favorite moments from worm.
    Good to see another example of Blake causing the Duchamp/Behaim kids to question their moral high ground. All signs seem to indicate Blake as a force for upsetting the balance, and if he’s smart, he can use that to make the world better.

      1. I don’t know about Pauz being the key, I believe his powers are not as great as all that. I think Blake’s survival relies more on his nature. Fell calls him fire, but fire is just as much a tool for creation and advancement as it is for destruction. Fire is also a tool for survival, the one spot of warmth in a cold world. While Blake’s diabolical nature makes him appear more like the destructive fires of hell, I see him more as the fire used for survival at his meekest state, and the fires of creation and evolution at his strongest.

  8. If Urban legends like Bloody Mary are real, maybe they can go to a local Lover’s Lane to capture a Hookman or visit a playground to bind a Slenderman.

    1. The way I’m interpreting it is that Rose was designed as the heir and that Blake dying is both part of the cost and “collateral fuckery”. That is, I don’t think Rose was created for the purpose of sabotaging Blake, and was instead created for the purpose of being the heir (which might make her end up sabotaging Blake).

    2. Blake is a karma buffer for Rose. Also, since she did not have a life of physical confrontation like he did, he is a method of getting her up to speed on the combat side of things. All IMO.

  9. Well isn’t this getting interesting.

    I want to see more of the Spirit World. It’s cool seeing Rose walking around and stuff.

    Silly kids, don’t you know it’s a bad idea to bring chains to a knife fight?

    I love how Blake and Evan now have their own move they like to do. The Evan blast could only be better if Blake cupped his palms together like a kamehamehadouken.

    I think Blake is going to die. The is interesting. I can see it going one of two ways. Either we get a protagonist switch with Rose as the lead, or the story continues and we get to read Pact: The Misadventures of The Demon Blake. Perhaps Granny Rose can even become a current supporting character. Of course, taking into consideration Blake’s belief that things aren’t all binary, there could be A third and even a fourth option. In 3, Blake dies, the story just ends and we’re left like a person dining on French cuisine, unsatisfied. The fourth and most unlikely option is that Blake somehow survives.

    Could Maggie’s Faerie tricks have something to do with her secret liasons with Padraic? Also, what did he do to her body? I know Maggie was desperate but. . .

    I like Isadora. Duncan woke her up from a nap and she’s angry. She should chow down on some Duncan-Os later. Also, 18 hours of sleep a day. I wonder if she’s the type of professor that takes naps during class.

    1. Could Maggie’s Faerie tricks have something to do with her secret liasons with Padraic? Also, what did he do to her body? I know Maggie was desperate but. . .
      More wood for the conduit theory – the psycho queen goblin is riding inside her and will show up when she wants.

    2. I think it’s a hard thing for an author to pull off a protagonist death and switch focus in a satisfying way. GRRM does it, but the connection to one character is far less intense than here – he uses another perspective and frequently shifts the viewpoint character anyway in ASOIAF. Here, we have spent a substantial amount of time with Blake as the protagonist – changing the protagonist via death with no added “becoming something else able to still interact with the world somehow” would be equivalent to ending the book and starting the sequel. I would have to become invested in a new main character.
      Given the insane speed things are happening at, even if his death is three months away (which is “soon”), we could look forward to quite a lot of stuff happening. If there were some interludes from the perspective of the new main protagonist sprinkled in, this might ease the transition.

      1. Good point. If his death were three months away it’d be about 6 times as long as it’s already been up to this point, since it’s been ~2 weeks.

        That’s more than enough time to finish the story. I doubt we’d even need a character switch at all, since even if Blake dies it could easily be at the end of the story.

    3. “Also, 18 hours of sleep a day. I wonder if she’s the type of professor that takes naps during class.”

      I’m amazed she has time to teach classes.

      1. It’s probably a very prestigious 400- or 500-level class that only meets once a week, but she’s uncannily good at actually teaching ethics. Also, Other of Balance. As long as she doesn’t do anything “Out of character,” as it were, everything goes her way.

      2. What else does she do with her day? I mean probably about 2 hours for class, maybe about an hour for tutoring her Chosen if she has one that year, and then another 3 hours to do stuff with. There’s so much she could do in that time!

        1. Grading the stuff she assigns, office hours. Lots of admin stuff that as a teacher she might need to do. (Lots of it she can work around; discussion based classes, oral tests with all the caliber of a dissertation defense) She’s probably striven for (and achieved) a good rhythm for that, however.

  10. I don’t think the Sphinx knows the rules of the contest! O_O.
    She wants to keep Conquest as the figure head, but if she kills Blake the contest is never ending. Conquest is denied his power forever. Her killing Blake deposes Conquest.

    My only regret is I won’t get to see the look on her face.

  11. Also, since Blake is now in the Spirit World, maybe he will die, but come back to life as the Spirit Detective, with a bitchin spirit gun, and Maggie would get a sweet spirit sword (the Hyena), Rose would get long red hair and a whip named after her, and Fell would become shorter, and gain a third eye.

    This probably won’t happen though, but a man can dream.

  12. Things will reorder themselves in the aftermath, and she will adopt the ties that you have abandoned. Depending on her nature and the internal logic of things, it’s very possible that minor people in your life will become major people in hers, in the transition.

    So after Blake dies, perhaps Rose will partner up with Johannes or Penny.

  13. That was a rather easy battle with the Beihams, how much Karma did Blake unload on them? Even though he’s fought an absurd number of battles for his few weeks as a practioner, his experience shouldn’t make up for both Karma and his Bleed out. Either there is an absurd amount of power in his relationship with Evan, which is already exceedingly OP since mystical bindings like protection circles don’t work on him, or something else is going on here.

    Does the fact that Blake is male and therefore not actually a full fledged Thorburn help with the Karma deal, or are he and Rose sharing the Karmic burden right now, dividing the Karma?

    1. I don’t think the battle’s over yet. Blake neutralized one of the four (the girl) and scared another pretty bad (Gav). There’s still 2 or 3 left plus Laird and Duncan plus all the traps plus the time spirits that are waiting for Blake.

      Remember a lot of Magic has to do with presentation. Blake is scary. The big bad Diabolists summon a knife wielding horror and tear your defenses away. They handled it about as well as practioners without much live battle experience could be expected to.

      Can Evan bypass all circles? I get the impression that circles are supposed to be specific to be effective. One should use material either opposite or like the target. I’m not sure what relation “chain” has to sparrow/super ghost. . . Unless it’s made out of salt or holly or something like that.

      1. I speculate that a chain can be interpreted as a symbol of imprisonment and since Evan is an embodiment of escape, his attacks are super effective against it.

      2. Blake also put a hit on their karmic arrogance.
        Words have power, and by invoking his cousin’s murder, he drained them of power.

    2. How do you unload bad Karma onto someone else? Other than accepting someone into your family or cabal. I know that good karma can be taken in some way by Others. What else do we have? Isadora talked about that in a previous chapter, what did she say, and what did she mean?

      1. I assume that since:
        1) Bad karma makes bad things happen to you
        2) When the universe make a bad things happen to you, it eats up bad karma,
        3) If you try to do bad things to people, you get bad karma
        basically what happened was that Duncan’s encounter with Blake was bad-karma-eating for Blake, and since Dunc was a douche during the encounter, he picked up some of the bad karma.

        Also, Blake was vindicated and the Behaims were revealed to be assholes, which I’d imagine gave more karma shift.

  14. I think Isadora may be misleading Blake a bit.

    Rose will be able to dispatch whoever killed you in the chaos that follows. In the days, weeks and months that follow, things will reach an equilibrium.

    If that’s the case, isn’t Isadora just opening herself up to attack by Rose by killing Blake? Perhaps Isadora will attack Blake, and allow one of Conquest’s champions do the actual killing.

    1. Isadora has to prevent a disaster and restore the balance somehow, and nudging Blake toward the right answer, be it third, fourth, or even fifth, seems like a really good move. And she smiled at Blake quite a lot in their conversation.

      1. The cat’s from Cheshire, and is always smiling.
        Yes, she’s creating something, and playing the game.
        Cat’s Cradle, pulling on just the right strings.

        1. But in past encounters she looked angry, not smiling. She hasn’t used any Cheshire Cat Grins previously, and I don’t think it really fits with the mythology of the Sphinx. I think she actually likes Blake, but that won’t stop her from doing what she feels must be done.

          1. I don’t think she’s going ton corner him and kill him. I think she’s going to push him to find a better answer than the ones she can see right now.

  15. Isn’t Rose considered the same as Blake whenever someone talks about them? So what if by saying “you” are fated to die, Isadora means that either Blake or Rose is fated to die. And only if Blake dies will Rose replace him and if Rose is destroyed then nothing major happens in terms of body switches.

  16. Good chapter, though I personally don’t think Blake will die. Maybe he can pull a fakeout by drowning or stopping his heart they restarting it in a hospital. He dies, but then comes back. The Sphinx is not all knowing, they have been beaten before in stories. I’m curious what the the behaim’s plan was, and what their instructions were. I don’t care how confident you are, you don’t follow someone who can summon demons, and doesn’t look scared. They have already seen what Blake did to their cousin weakened, and in a police station unaided. He now has a cabal, Fell, a goblin summoner, and a stronger Rose. So now their family will be known for a cop who intentionally tried to kill a suspect, and a young girl who slit her wrists. Still think attacking Blake is smart? The other thing I am wondering about are the black sheeps of the behaims and duchamps. Every family has those who don’t agree with the rest of the family on certain issues, and rebel in some form or another. There had to have been a version of Blake in both families at some point who told their families to fuck off for their selfish/shitty ways and left. If they exist maybe he can call for advice.

    1. A girl who slit her wrists inside of a police station where she had no business being, no less-she’s not even from Toronto! After her cousin/brother got himself arrested, for trying to kill a restrained prisoner who they must by now suspect that he framed for child murder.

      The Behaims are just getting increasingly rolled over by the mundane wheels of the justice system Blake set in motion way back in arc 2. The Duchamps can nullify them short term, but long-term delaying a police investigation while Blake keeps giving it kicks towards the Behaims? Maybe they can pull it off, enchanting is pretty hax. But it’s a distraction and a drain on their power.

      1. Runaways always have business in a police station.
        Also, anyone lost often looks for a cop.
        And the PO Behaim could simply say, “I was keeping an eye on her”

        1. Runaways have little business slitting their wrists in a police station. And if she is a runaway, that means that her parents are going to take the backlash because a girl who runs away from home and tries to kill herself is a strong sign of abusive parents.

          I really, really hope that her life doesn’t get ruined like that because of these shenanigans. I’ll have faith in the Duchamps.

      2. While Duncun probably isn’t an active cop anymore, I can easily believe that the various Behaims around the police station have the excuse that they are visiting their [uncle/brother/cousin/etc.] for moral support or something, and therefore have an perfectly good reason to be in the police station.

        That is, where is everyone getting the idea that the Behaims aren’t welcome in the police station?

        1. Because members of their family have been accused of a criminal conspirecy against someone, who just so happens to be coming to that police station that day? Nope, nothing suspicious about that.

        2. Duncan is probably an escaped prisoner, not an active cop at this point. And even if it was some “moral support” thing, they would be there to meet Duncan. Not stand around slitting their wrists.

          Look, Duncan was caught in the middle of a frame job for Evan’s murder, and then attempted to kill Blake. Laird and unknown members of the family were accused of a conspiracy. A child called FROM HIS HOUSE alleging child abuse. Laird disappeared immediately after Duncan went down.

          Everything points to conspiracy against Blake. A bunch of family members showing up in the police station, without any particular business, when Blake is supposed to arrive reeks of intimidation. Following Blake into the men’s bathroom and then LIGHTLY cutting your wrists reeks of a bad frame job take II, or possibly more child abuse.

          The absolute worst part though is they can’t deny the anti-Blake conspiracy.

    2. There’s probably others like Rose, his lawyers, and an anthropomorphic personification of death or two who have a say on whether his soul can go back to his body once it’s left. Come to think of it, the Shepherd might even be able to make a claim if Blake dies on his turf.

  17. Those wounds on her arms are clearly defensive wound though. So The Girl could just as easily point to Blake as being the one to slice her arms.

      1. she can simply say, “I was attacked in the bathroom. Blake Thorburn was there.”

        She dosen’t have to say Blake Throrbun attacked her.

        1. A Duchamp kid would say that, and then probably construct an intricate facade of half-truths to get Blake arrested and implicate him in every crime he’s implicated the Behaims in. But this is a Behaim child. Remember the insight that Rose had on them, back when they were first plotting to ruin Laird’s public reputation? The kids will crack if they’re put in an interrogation room, because, well, they’re kids. Maybe this one in particular will have the presence of mind to immediately frame Blake, but it’s still up in the air.

        2. Can she actually say that? Is it still “being attacked” if you chase your enemy into a bathroom, and he sics a monster on you in self defense?

        3. And then HE can just say, “Was your attacker a man or a woman?” and “As soon as I saw your wounds I hurried out of the bathroom and notified an officer.”

        4. It does matter if she’s in the girl’s restroom or the men’s. One looks… normal like a kid being a cutter. The other? Well, blake being nearby for any reason is going to make him look like a bit of a child molestor/rapist.

          1. also, wildbow, how the hell does blake not think whether he’s in the men’s or ladies’ room? Is it a unisex one?

            1. Do you usually think “I’m going to the bathroom” or “I’m going to the ** bathroom”? You usually don’t need to specify to others or yourself.

            2. I remember when my family and I went to an Outback Steakhouse once. My 10 year old brother comes back from the restrooms, sits down, and immediately asks, “Mom, am I a ‘Bloke’ or a ‘Sheila’?”

            3. Dude,
              as often as people say “I’m going to the girls’ room” or the “men’s room” yeah.
              Also, I have a perhaps unwarranted fear of winding up in the wrong restroom,
              so I do note which one I’m going in.

        1. “Officer, there’s no blood on those shards, nor are my hands bleeding, nor is my shirt damaged in a manner that would suggest breaking the mirror or picking up a shard to terrorize a helpless girl with. Or, you know, at all.”

          Bloody Mary used a knife, not a glass shard.

    1. If Blake sliced her arms, the girl would have told so. Oh wait, she can’t say that.
      With Blake’s karmic high ground over Behaims, pointing alone will not work.

    2. ‘Cept she can’t lie. And the Behaims have already been accused of a conspiracy to frame Blake. Oh! And there was a 911 call from a child in their house alleging child abuse!

      Child gives you evasive answers implying Blake is guilty. When she is an apparent runaway. From an abusive family. With a penchant for framing Blake.

      Oh and the wounds are the opposite of defensive. They are hardly wounds at all. Not even permanent scaring. That’s like not being able to cut deep enough. Swinging a weapon at someone but only scratching them? Twice? Not particularly easy.

      This whole situation looks like
      Child abuse leads to runaway. The abuser follows. The child tries to commit suicide instead of coming home. They adult tries to frame Blake.

  18. Reading over these comments here is a wild long term guess. Blake is going to “die” or come close to it and be bound to Rose as her familiar.

    1. It’s usually very dangerous to theorycraft based on the comments – I mean, Wildbow’s spoofed us at least twice in Worm, the first time involving exactly the sort of sketchy information and wild extrapolation that leads to speculation such as yours.

      With that said, however, your “wild long term guess” seems mostly sound. Blake will die at some point, it’s fated. Furthermore, Rose will survive him, which is also fated. However, given how poorly Rose and Blake work together, there would have to be substantial positive growth in their working relationship before having Blake be her familiar becomes a valid option. Right now it’s just too tumultuous between them.

      1. Well, there’s the possibility of it happening as a desperate attempt by Rose to save Blake’s life. The practitioner/familiar teamup doesn’t have to be a perfect match, it’s just very impressive if it is.

      2. I’ve been rereading Worm in my spare time and reading the comments. I’m pretty sure he’s spoofed the community more than twice. He does a marvelous job at crafting the perfect story that doesn’t quite run linearly. Things we forget about come back into play and things we counted on go awry.

    2. There are so many different possibilities:

      • Blake takes over Rose and becomes Rose in the flesh
      • Rose takes over Blake
      • Rose takes over Blake and is killed, Blake returns
      • Blake doesn’t die, status quo continues
      • Blake becomes bound in something, returns later, Rose gets a body
      • Blake becomes an Other, Rose is the heir
      • Blake becomes the new figurehead Lord of Toronto, is taken over by Conquest
      • Blake becomes the new figurehead Lord of Toronto, takes over Conquest
      • Blake gives in to the lawyers and becomes a demon, somehow fights this
      • Rose gives in to the lawyers and becomes a demon, doesn’t fight it
      • Rose is finally revealed to be a mask for Grandma, or Grandma herself with Blake’s life, gets a body and starts kicking ass with Blake hanging from a phylactery around her neck
      • etc. etc. etc.
      1. Thank you for reminding us that there are many, many interpretations of this “fate”. Kind of Blake’s point – there are rarely truly binary solutions.

        Also, how the heck did you do the bullet points?

        1. Google “markdown” — the comments support markdown for formatting.

          Unfortunately it also allows you to make huge headings and a few other disruptive things (as I did by accident a few weeks back… this is how I realized markdown is enabled here).

      2. I sorta see the pair being mixed together into a singular, for some reason, or some variation of one ending up with the meat suit of the other. I remember way back when some guy on the train thought blake was a ‘miss’ out of the corner of his eye and such.

        1. That’s the norm. Are you suggesting that you don’t have exoskeletal boobs? That makes you unusual.

        2. That’s the norm. Are you suggesting that you don’t have exoskeletal boobs? That makes you unusual.

    1. Rose as Navi is surprisingly fitting considering their strained relationship. Didn’t see that coming from the b&w pic.

      Very nice work on Skitter as well.

  19. I’m curious as to why so many people assume Blake is going to die. Isadora’s exact words were that he is “not long for this world.” Incidentally, this is also the exact phrase Ms. Lewis used. Going back a bit further, Laird told Blake he was “as good as dead” at their first meeting. None of these are equivalent to “you will die soon.” Unless I missed an instance where someone was more direct about it, all of the signs seem to point to Blake leaving the real world to become a part of the spirit world. Maybe he becomes too Other, maybe he gets lost somewhere, or maybe he and Rose end up swapping places as others have theorized. But his actually dying doesn’t appear to be implied.

    On the note of Rose and Blake potentially being at existential odds, it bears remembering something Ms. Lewis said to Rose: “Your future is tied to his. His success is your success. His failure is your failure.” As one of the lawyers, Ms. Lewis would presumably be privy to Rose Sr.’s grand plan regarding Rose, and that statement would be a direct lie if the desired result was for Rose to force Blake into a tormented oblivion (i.e., a state of failure).

    1. Oh, nice catch. So either Isadora is misreading the situation, which is entirely possible as we’ve seen she’s not infallible, or Ms. Lewis doesn’t know the whole story herself (which is possible as Rose appears to have been thrown together in about an hour, and Granny probably didn’t trust the lawyers further than she could throw them, like the bedridden octogenarian she was).

      Also of note? Isadora prefaces her statement about Blake and Rose only having one chair to fill with “it may.” Everything else is Blake extrapolating.

      1. Never said it was. In fact, given Wildbow’s track record, it probably isn’t better for Blake. But I’d argue that not completely losing the protagonist and switching to a hitherto non-POV character 1/3 of the way through the story is better from a literary point of view.

      1. All that says is if he dies, Rose will be able to dispatch his killers, and there will be chaos following his death. It’s still contingent on him dying at all.

  20. Maybe I’m thinking that based on izzy’s love of spinning plates and her scary as fuck power level, I’m envisioning Blake doing the wordplay dance and making sure that conquest bites the dust, leaving izzy as the new lord. People already respect her (I think), and as she’s shown to understand the way a Lord should operate in the practicioner populaces best interests.

    Blake might find himself in a position where he can leave, invite his circle back to a de-behaimified Jacobs Bell and live the high life as the new lord.

    Alternately, He’ll find himself as the new lord of Toronto and with wildbows propensity for exponential godzilla thresholds, the sudden shift in power in the area to a new, barely educated diabolist will create the illusion of a power vaccum, drawing in other lords looking to expand on the tasty canadian scenery, eh?

    P.S. voting option 2

  21. Why is Blake suddenly able to use magic in the contest? Or does breaking connections with stolen time power not count as magic?

      1. Later, Blake breaks their connections to him in the bathroom.

        I pushed my way into the bathroom, touched my locket to smudge my finger, and drew a line on the ground to break the connection, disrupting their ability to track my location.

        What we’re the exact wording for the contest? I know Blake interpreted part of it as not using magic to summon things, but I don’t remember that specifically being part of the rules.

        Also, if he’s not allowed to use magic at all, he’s broken the rules several times already by using the Sight and transitioning ghost between worlds .

        1. Neither king can make deliberate use of power while fighting in Toronto. We can’t retreat to our personal realms.
          what specifically did he already do that broke that rule? The sight is considered inherent, not deliberate, much like conquest affecting the area around him. I don’t recall blake doing anything magical to ghosts, throwing salt around isn’t using magic.

          1. what specifically did he already do that broke that rule

            Thanks for looking that up. When I mentioned Blake’s breaking rules, that was specifically under the assumption that Blake was not allowed to use any magic, which seems to not be the case.

            Now we just need to figure out what “deliberate use of power while fighting” means. Does that mean his personal power? Is it only in combat? What counts as deliberate? What counts as power?

          2. He wasn’t fighting, he was running. That’s the likely loophole. Another obvious loophole (not applicable here) is the “in Toronto” part.

        2. That’s not magic.
          Breaking connections and using your sight doesn’t qualify as magic. They’re basic skills. Like drawing a circle with chalk.

          Magic would be utilizing something of a system, like summoning or using Runes.

          1. Do we have a Pactverse definition of magic? I would consider pretty much anything that mundane can’t do, magic. Also, breaking connection,at least, requires magic power in order to be done.

            1. I wouldn’t count sight as a deliberate use of his magic/power. For shotgun, his “sight” is literally a part of him. As for breaking the connections… that can go one of three ways.
              First- he broke the rules.
              Second- it wasn’t “his” magic (sketchy , as he DID earn it…)
              Third- He’s not using his magic for the battle against Conquest and his Champions, he’s using it agaainst some outside parties. This (at first glance) seems the most likely, as if that wasn’t the case, then anyone not in the contest could challenge conquest and win since he can’t use his power. I’m laible to believe that the rule applies only to those participating, and conquest/blake can use magic when not dealing with the contest.
              After all, Respect is considered power, and C is using his in this battle.

              However, that is ALSO sketchy reasoning. And, as the universe dislikes Blake, option 1 is looking like the most likely one. Sadly.

      2. “I pushed my way into the bathroom, touched my locket to smudge my finger, and drew a line on the ground to break the connection, disrupting their ability to track my location.”
        This didn’t happen?

        1. I’m pretty sure that counts as him using the glamour’s power not his own, which I think technically keeps to the letter of the rules.

  22. Ha! First, Duncan is being suspected for a conspiracy with Laird and stealing Blake’s stuff, now his relative is caught in a male (or is it unisex?) bathroom with slit wrists…
    Behaims are going to have their hands full whenever it comes to law enforcement from now on.

    I am REALLY bummed that Fell didn’t teach blake some illusion magic. I know why, but still. With having Evan as a familiar, and given Blake’s personality, I’d love him to be an illusionist-diabolist.

    Wow. Shotgun wasn’t kidding when he said most practitioners don’t have much combat experience.

    I think talloman would’ve been better here, especially since we’ve only seen 1 female behaim here… or Corvington- because I think he’s the coolest so far, based on descriptions of him.

    To be fair- Blake DID call his granmother a rancid cunt (with all due respect) on her deathbed, he shouldn’t be surprised that she orchestrated his death.

    1. harden,
      If Blake was anywhere nearby, when a girl sliced her wrists in a men’s bathroom, that’s going to go poorly for him. Raper is the least of his issues then. “I followed him into the bathroom — we were going to talk a bit… He scared me!”

        1. Fair, but that would be yet another stab at blake in the eyes of law enforment from a behaim, who are already under scrutiny-
          First, blake sent a letter about Laird’s suspiciousness. Then, there was an anonymous tup that Laird and his family were doing not-so-nice things from a child, and Duncan got caught conspiring things to look poorly for blake.

          Unless magic is involved (which I would totally believe), the police would quickly doubt a behaim’s accusations toward blake. But, yeah I can see how that would backfire on blake.

          1. Yes. You think they’d know better is what one often has been saying about the Behaims.

            They ought not to try to frame him… again.

          2. Slit wrists (classic suicide), not cut deeply enough to do real damage, no real sign of a struggle, no blood on Blake, in the wrong bathroom, past frame job attempts, Blake was the one who pointed it out, Blake didn’t try and escape, child abuse call etc.

            Yeah, sorry this looks very very bad for the Behaims. Accuse Blake? Why did she go into the men’s bathroom to take with someone she never bet before? Where is the blood on Blake? Its pretty hard to slit someone’s wrists with no other injuries? Why are the cuts so minor as to not even cause scarring? What the hell is she even doing in Toronto? With her uncle? Oh and why have Laird AND Duncan mysteriously vanished?

            Sorry, this looks like another sloppy frame job.

            Hell, its not like any of them can actually name Blake as the attacker. Three people answering no questions?

            1. Technically speaking, he did attack her, he just attacked her w/ an Other. I don’t know for sure, but it seems reasonable for her to be able to say that he attacked her. Even if Rose counts as the attacker, it’s already been established that one can count as the other.

            2. Even if Rose counts as the attacker, it’s already been established that one can count as the other.

              I don’t think the Behaims know that Rose and Blake can be considered one person. Laird deduced that Rose was a vestige, but assumed that she was a vestige of Granny Rose, not Blake. When he asked if she was a vestige “of Rose”, he got conflicting answers. I don’t think they have the ability to instantly notice the sameness of Blake and Rose like some Others (and Johannes) can.

              The girl would think that she couldn’t say Blake attacked her because she thinks she was attacked by Others, not Blake.

            3. ““Of Rose?” the North End Sorcerer asked, his eyebrows raised.

              “Yes,” Padraic spoke out loud, at the same Laird said, “I don’t think so.”” (2.02)

              Padraic thought that Rose was Granny, likely (as I’ve said before) because they have a hell of a time telling different family members apart anyway. Laird didn’t think that Rose was Granny, and he might have come to the same conclusion as Johannes, though obviously that’s not a certainty.

              That’s not my point though. My point is that, from a certain point of view, Blake did attack her–he just used an Other or two (i.e. Mary and possibly Rose) to do so. It’s the same way that Blake can say, “Your family killed my cousin” without lying, even though they did it through a cat’s paw that used Others herself.

      1. “Officer, she followed me into the guy’s bathroom, started raving about some ridiculous and disgusting property damage that I supposedly did, and started throwing chains around. Anything I would have done would have been self-defense. However, all I did was shove her aside in an attempt to get the aforementioned chain.”

          1. “It’s a very strange situation, Officer. I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe she cut herself on something in the fall?”

        1. You could say….she couldn’t accuse him of Jack Slash
          YYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH…….

  23. Isadora: No! How could you live! NO NO NO! Everything relied on you DYING!
    Blake: Suck it catbird.
    Rose: All ur famliar r belong 2 us!
    Ty, Alexis, Tiffany, Fell: W00t W00t!

  24. As long as Blake doesn’t leave the story completely I’m happy with all possibilities 🙂 More worried about Evan. And every other charakter, since their importance will apparently change if Rose takes over.

    1. I’ll second being more worried about Evan than Blake, especially given what Blake made him promise.

      1. Evan didn’t promise “I’ll go when you die” — he promised “I’ll go when you do.”

        In the Pact universe, dying doesn’t always mean “going”; I’m pretty sure it won’t mean that for Blake, either.

  25. Thinking by typing:

    So, Rose can perform magic if it is in her world.

    Blake was remiss to not tell her that she would be the heir after him. Blake is exchanging short-term cooperation for longer term problems if he does manage to cheat death.

    “Rose will be able to dispatch whoever killed you in the chaos that follows.”
    Revenge by proxy is at least better than no revenge at all.

    Blake’s continuing use of “there is a third choice” is hopefully indicative that something unusual will happen. Wait, this is Wildbow, something unusual will happen, and it probably won’t be something that many commenters or in-story characters are predicting.

    It was really nice to get some good exposition from Isadora. Probably manipulative, but still.

    Hey, Isadora is a cat – she sleeps 18 hours a day.

    “Even now, after you’ve proven your mettle.”
    So Blake gets some respect from her. Too little, too late.

    “Faerie and Goblins are usually opposing”
    Feud or not, it makes sense that the “weak to crude” hate the inherently crude and vice versa.

    So Maggie is somehow fae but is also a goblin queen. So she is apparently taking the aspects of the faerie who bound goblins. No wonder she was so interested in the Hyena.

    I said it last chapter, but it bears repeating: Blake dies to screw the contest with Conquest and Rose summons him as one of her warriors.

    1. I don’t see Blake dying until the endgame. This is middlegame at best. And Rose doesn’t need to know she’ll survive until Blake’s death is unavoidable. Like, literally unavoidable, not the “unavoidable” that he’s been dealing with ever since he got dragged into the practitioner BS.

      1. False. Revenge is a form of justice. It’s just that justice, in all it’s forms, is blind and can lead to unhappy ends for all.

        Check out Count of Monte Cristo. Evildoers get punished. Sure, out of revenge and hate, but they still got what they deserved.

        Or simply, to quote one of my favorite shows- “If love can sometimes destroy people, then surely, hatred can sometimes save them”

  26. Really hope Blake manages to survive somehow – screw fate, he should take control of his own destiny.

    I do have a rather ruthless idea of how to get out of it. Use Corvidae on himself. Have his connections to Rose and the property moved to someone else, making someone else the heir. The bad karma and the fate to die, all the target’s problem. The target dies, Rose becomes a person in the real world, and she becomes the heir as planned. Blake lives and has fulfilled his promise to Rose to help her out of the mirror world. Seeing as Conquest is already in a bad position, giving him a crap load of bad karma and a vestige constantly draining him would almost assuredly be the end him.

      1. You know, somehow I don’t think killing someone is particularly ruthless when they are trying to kill you with child soldiers. Laird.

        The thing about Conquest is he can’t die. And he’s a fundamental concept. He would be pretty high up on my list of people to not brutally murder. I also wouldn’t want Rose to end up influenced by Conquest. We don’t want her turning into Conquest take II.

        1. It’s been established that Conquest can die, he just can’t be killed by normal means. Stabbing, maiming, shooting, etc. won’t work. He can die if he runs out of conquest energy though, like what almost happened before 9/11 gave him a boost. The concept itself continues to exist, as well as other incarnations of that concept, but the particular incarnation is effectively dead.

          Hooking up a parasitic vestige would drain him. In fact, if you’re going to do that you might as well accelerate the rate of draining to hasten it. You’re right that influence may be a problem, but in 6.1 it was indicated you could absorb a force like that provided you don’t screw up somehow. Also, Rose’s tarot card of becoming is the Chariot, which has to do with the concept of conquest as well.

  27. I don’t think “Blake” is going to die. I think “Blake Thorburn” is going to die.

    Remember how he has ErasUrr’s arm?

    Remember how he’s already kind of cut off from his family, and with his cabal arguably has a new family?

    Blake Thornburn will die, and Rose will become the heir. But Blake of birds and ink? Blake will survive.

      1. Yes he did. And besides its totally inert anyway! Which is why we don’t need to worry about the suspicious lack of conquered people in Conquests realm.

  28. Did Blake ever extract a no-diabolism promise from Tiffany, like he told Isadora he would? “if and when a convenient moment arrives” was what he said, IIRC. I’m pretty sure there’s been a few convenient moments.

    1. It might have happened off screen, but keep in mind that “convenient” is a rather flexible word. The entire time since he’s gotten back from the tower has been spent in conflict, preparing for conflict, or resting and charging back up. He has a high stakes game to win, so while he’s playing there aren’t necessarily any convenient moments.

      1. In addition to the reasoning above,

        “I’ll extract the same promise from her, if and when a convenient hour arises,” (6.03)

        The whole hour has to be convenient. Yeah, he’s off the hook at least until the contest is completed.

    2. Keeping Tiff from being able to read about demon books would be awfully inconvenient. What if they want her to help bind the Ur-Shadow or something?

  29. “You are not long for this world.”
    There goes my favorite interpretation…

    “You can do the same with all of existence, if you wish.”
    Not that this is a terribly useful way of looking at things.

    “Break it down, Mr. Thorburn, examine the densest material at the most fundamental level, and you’ll find a lot of empty space between the components of each molecule.”
    Actually, the densest matter is stuff like neutronium which has been compressed so much that there isn’t that much empty spaces between nuclei. It’s not made of molecules, but it’s still matter.

    Fuck that…I’d take the third route.
    Attaboy.

    I like the way this is going so far. Keep it up, Blake.

    1. Let’s get nerdy.

      The densest matter I could find is Quark Matter, which supposedly has an “average inter-quark separation is less than 1 fm.”

      A quark is less than 1 am in diameter. 1 fm = 1000 am. Let’s assume quarks are spherical.

      Volume of a sphere = (4/3)π(d/2)^3

      Fraction of quark matter occupied by quarks, by volume: ((4/3)π(1 am/2)^3)/( (4/3)π(1000 am/2)^3) = (1 am/1000 am)^3 = 1/1000,000,000

      Even if you interpret “less than 1 fm” to mean 10 am, then the fraction would be 1/1000. Still mostly empty space.

      Disclaimers: I don’t know what I’m talking about. “Empty space” is kind of a misleading phrase — particles have effects beyond their “physical size.”

      1. I was thinking of various forms of degenerate matter when I said that. But yeah…discussing the presence or absence of “empty space” is kinda tough when the space-filling things are subatomic particles.

        1. If we’re getting technical, when one is talking about quarks, the idea of physical particles at all becomes rather fuzzy–literally. Everything at that scale behaves more like matter waves, filling all space with some admittedly tiny probability. Even the void, as Isadora puts it, isn’t really empty. The quantum vacuum is buzzing with random fluctuations, with particles constantly winking in and out of existence in a soup of infinite zero-point energy. But I suppose we can permit a millennia-old Sphinx neither to know nor to care about modern quantum mechanics.

          1. Technically, everything is both a particle and a wave. The formula says that vibration (frequency) is inversely proportional to your mass. Humans, walls, etc., have enough mass that you won’t notice any vibration at all. Photons are essentially massless and thus each “particle” (quantum packet) is basically a wave.

          2. She’s the one who brought up subatomic particles in the first place. If she’s willing to catch up to a few decades back, why not the rest?

  30. “You shit on them?” the boy asked. “In our aunt’s house?”

    The books were in Laird’s sister’s house. That means the kids facing Blake our either Laird’s children or the children of another brother/sister of Laird. Remember when Padraic implied that one of Laird’s sons would die in about a year? I think the events in the next few chapters will put one of Laird’s children on the path to death.

    Perhaps one has to pay too heavy a price in his efforts to take Blake down. Perhaps they upset Isadora and she eats one of them later.

    1. It’s possible that he’s the one who got her not to swear as the price for teaching her some tricks, screwing her to be unable speak most goblin names for his own amusement as well.

      1. Well I think that might actually have been her dads.

        My reasoning for Padriac as her familiar isn’t hard to follow. He wants amusement. Entertainment. And as an elf, he hates goblins. Enter the local Goblin Queen, prophecied to deal with blood and fire and destruction multiple times throughout her life… And can’t say naughty words.

        Yeah. That’s prime time, blockbuster entertainment there.

        1. I would agree with the dads thing if not for the fact that in a recent chapter, Maggie acted as if somebody was constantly monitoring her to stop her from saying something dirty. Perhaps, she hasn’t made a vow or trade. Maybe Padraic hates go goblins, and is so helping Maggie to stop her from talking dirty, which could strengthen the Psycho Goblin Lady.

          If Padraic is her familiar, it happened in the last week, for Blake asked if she had one. We should expect to see Padraic soon, if he is in fact Maggie’s familiar, for those who take the Famulus vows are supposed to be nearly inseparable from each other.

      1. Well, she did mention finding an elf that would work with her despite being a goblin queen, and she does have a preexisting relationship with him.

        Just a theory of course. But I think it plausable at present.

  31. Wow. The sphinx is adept at, and believes in/follows, reductionism. Who knew?

    Blake is not long for this wold…. soooo either he’s getting banished to another world (Earth-Alpha?) or this story will not be anywhere near as long as Worm, is that about right?

    1. It’s set to wrap up by the end of the year. That’s what I’m using as a benchmark for “Endgame”, “Middlegame”, etc. (e.g. Middlegame is set to begin in June, and Endgame won’t be until winter sets in.

      1. Really?
        Is this something you know or something you think/expect? If the former- could you link where you got that info (if one exists)?

        1. Wildbow mentioned it when he started the previews, IIRC. I can’t link it right now (poor timeframe/ phone).

        2. Hrm. I can’t find the post where he said that, now. Is the story still set to wrap at the end of the year, Wildbow?

          1. Probably sooner, as the donation updates have moved things along just a smidge faster than I thought.

            It’s hard to gauge these things, though, and I’ll let the story take as long as it needs to.

    2. Define “not long for this world” when spoken by a creature with a lifespan in the thousands on a world that’s been around for a few billion years.

      I’m just saying that lifespans, much like incest, is relative.

  32. “On the other hand, I was hearing about those penalties, and my knee-jerk reaction was to think that I wouldn’t make my worst enemy face something like that.”

    And this is why the Behaim’s are fools. Blake is the sort of enemy you want. Especially for a Diabolist. He’s not going to try to utterly crush you, to destroy you and make you suffer. And this chapter also makes it clear to me that Rose would not have been so restrained. She was clearly more in favor of doing worse to the kids. Maybe even fatally so.

    That said Blake did have a moment where he wasn’t so nice. The “Good” in reaction to Rose being scared. It was a spiteful satisfaction, and motivated by him being upset that she will outlive him. Then again from what Isadora said… When Rose replaces Blake she might really replace him. Take his place in the world with her actions overwritting all of his. Making it as though Blake Thorburn never existed. And that is the thing Blake fears worst of all.

    1. If Blake’s the kind of enemy that you want, then it sounds like they were smart to pick him as an enemy 😛

      I really don’t think that they know that Rose will replace him…or much of anything about her at all, besides where she resides. And to be fair, she did restrict them from killing with the summoning.

      That didn’t seem spiteful to me, it seemed pleased that his plan–to keep Rose helpful–was working. I’m not saying that it was a good thing, or a Right thing, especially not after that “full disclosure” bit, but it didn’t seem spiteful. Even with Blake’s greatest fear thrown in.

    2. I don’t think that could happen though (Rose replacing Blake in the past) unless Blake somehow manages to keep his memories of the events. I’m saying this because in the Erasur situation (iirc), we don’t get informed about the other ones aiding him until after the fact. If he was going to be replaced in existance then he’d already have been replaced in existance in his and everyone else’s memories (in the Erasur situation, the people who were helping him were erased and nobody remembers them and they think that it was always that way, rather then them getting to the situation and discovering that their aid has disappeared from existence. We’re not even told about the aid other then vague hints. If Blake was going to be replaced by Rose, then none of the things in the book would’ve been written and it would’ve been vaguely hinted at like the Erasur-allies situation.)
      I could probably have worded that better.

  33. Hey, can we make a list of oaths Blake hasn’t yet fulfilled? He promised to explain how his eye colour changed to the little Behaim girl, to start it off.

    1. To Tiffany,
      “I hereby swear that you will not, should I be able to help it, become the Donut Girl in my estimation.”

  34. Oh no! Blake’s going to die! Oh why does he of all humans have to be mortal?

    And why do the Behaims think they can take him when he’s already fated to die in some completely other way? Eh, probably because they don’t know, or they’d imagine that the way Isadora’s talking isn’t some specific scenario rather than a general notion of events.

    Man, Isadora’s going to be pissed if this is just one of those cases where a person’s heart stops and doctors bring them back. And let me add that as someone who has had run-ins with anthropomorphic personifications before, I suspect you can fight Fate. You just better fight dirty. Punch him in the kidney. I mean it. Bend his ass over, get a running start, and go in through the colon.

    Which brings us to…

    Kill Count 2014: Oh Behaim, baby!

    Eyes Poked: 0
    Shepherds Sheared: 0.5
    Behaims Blooded: 1
    Astrologers Debunked: 0
    Elder Sisters Embarrassed To Death: 0

    Isadora’s Isadead: 0

    Conquests’ Keisters Kicked: 0


    Roses Pruned: 0
    Bloody Marys Drunk: 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

    Now then, this update’s musical selection fits with the general downer/action mood some of y’all are feeling about this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhWs3DVk-FU

    “Our fate is fixed. It’s our destiny that must be seized,” Max Malini, The Cape

    1. I too think he should have told Rose. But I do understand why he didn’t. Rose probably wouldn’t try as hard to keep Blake alive. Hell she might even start trying to speed things up at some point so she can get out of the mirror.

      I can still see it backfiring if someone else tells her though.

      1. My money on what happens to Blake is that Wildbow writes somthing interesting. contradict me, I dare you.

      2. No problem:
        “I will help you. I will do what I can to protect you from whatever’s going on with you, good or bad. I swear.” (Rose, Breach 3.1)

        She can’t deliberately try to depose him without forswearing herself. Given the wording of her oath, even withholding help from Blake in any way could be pushing it.

  35. See, Blake this is what you get when you call your grandmother, who is a big-time diabolist, a “rancid cunt.” She sets you up to be the fall guy for the real heir. So it now looks like Blake wasn’t a possible choice, he was a karma and damage buffer for RDT’s real play. And by being an asshole to her, deserved or not, he got on her radar enough to be made into the sacrifice for a sacrifice play.

    Now, Blake, go “third, fourth and maybe fifth option” the hell out of the situation (literally).

  36. I love this chapter. Not least because Blake stumbles into a argument about right and wrong with an ethics professor.

    1. To be fair, she doesn’t actually care about right and wrong. She just wants balance between the two, whereas most people would prefer to see right win out in the end.

      1. Actually most people prefer to see themselves being right and win out in the end. Might makes right & winners write the histories after all.

        1. The point is, Isadora seems like she’d be willing to let a dictator do horrible things, so long as he’s doing so as part of the government of his country, because that’s orderly.

          It tells you how messed up the situation is when Blake is pretty much The Joker to them:

          “I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”

          1. Let me make it fit events a little better…
            “I just did what I do best. I took your little balance and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few fairy hairs and a couple of runes. Hmmm? You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘perserving the balance.’ Even if the balance is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a guy would be taken over by a imp , or a truckload of practicioners get erased from existiance, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the balance’. But when I say that one little old lord ofthe city will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”

      2. No, what she doesn’t care about is good and evil. Right and wrong, she very much cares about, where “wrong” is defined as “that which puts things out of balance.”

        1. As far as I can tell (though I could have this wrong; I’d need to check), you’re using “right” and “wrong” differently than what they mean in Pact. Isadora cares about maintaining the balance, which means doing wrong if things are too right and doing right if things are too wrong. To talk of imbalance being “wrong” to her is just confusing.

          What we’ve got here are three relevant dichotomies: what is good and bad, which isn’t necessarily identical with what is right and wrong, which isn’t necessarily identical with what a given person prefers or doesn’t prefer. Isadora is surely aware of the first two dichotomies, she senses balance and lectures on ethics after all, but in her actions she only seems to consider the last, where she prefers balance.

          1. I’m using “right” and “wrong” here in the way that ISADORA would use them, not in the way that karma would use them or in the sense of good and evil. Isadora DOES have a system of morals that she believes in. That which aligns with her system of morals is, to her, right; that which opposes it is, to her, wrong.

    1. Said he more than likely wouldn’t. Which is disappointing, but understandable. Anticipation is a spice in life I guess.

        1. There apparently exists a Worm online rpg set i think in Alaska where you can play wards or similar. Thing is , the setting is where the local low grade villains have worked wonders restoring the community and saving lives. orders to heros are to maintain the law and not antagonise the populace and also mostly leave the villains alone..

          Anyone who knows the setting better please correct my errors. I know there are some.

          1. I’m only really updating that when I have the time and energy. Maybe it says something that I write when I’m winding down from writing.

            It’s democratic gameplay where anyone can vote for the next action or set of actions, someone else tallies the votes, and I go with the best argued/most popular vote (depending). Players take control of the newly appointed PRT Director of Alaska, with eight capes and two squads under them. The department is brand spanking new, though many of its capes are pulled from elsewhere, and the players choices shape how it operates. The otherwise tight alliances between the factions in the city start to dissolve shortly after the game starts, but, oddly enough, not because of the arrival of the PRT. It takes place during the timeskip.

            It started as a response to Spacebattles (which is arguably my greatest concentration of fans), who tend to argue a lot that the PRT could have done more or better in certain situations, or start certain initiatives. So I’m saying “Okay, but you also have a department to run, capes (some damaged) to manage and crises to handle.”

            In reality, the democratic process is doing a pretty good job at simulating how internal arguments and conflicts and general tunnel vision might lead a department astray, so I’m kind of satisfied with the experiment.

            1. @Wildbow: with apologies due to not knowing where else to post this really, (couldn’t find email address) there’s been a post delivered to worm with code t parse it into an ebook…simply brought it to your attention as I know you have serious time constraints and didn’t know whether or not you’d seen it. I decided to err on the side of caution. if there is no problem here or it is already noted and in hand please disregard this message.

            2. Wildbow, this will probably ping you, but it is intended for ShawnMorgan, whose post is too low on the list to allow a reply.

              Shawn – see the donation page at the bottom. Wildbowpig (at) gmail (dot) com

            3. If a spider is running over every webpage it can find, harvesting anything in the form of @.* why wouldn’t it also be programmed to grab any of the common email derivations like (at).* or “@dot com” or anything else like that? A set of regular expressions to find something like that really wouldn’t be any trouble to write and the spider is already parsing all the code of a webpage, so… just sort of seems like a pointless obfuscation that makes it harder for real-live people to copy/paste emails but probably doesn’t impact email-harvesting spiders. That’s just my two cents.

            4. Apparently stars do some funky formatting here. Just pretend you can see some stars in those pseudo-code regular expressions.

  37. Random thought:-

    It occurs to me that a Behaim who’s an avid gardener that claims a garden as a demesne with a Horologium Florae as its centrepiece could be endowed with overabundant stores of time from the dedication it takes to maintain one, Blake may not be costing the Behaims as much resources as previously speculated.

    1. That would imply strategic thought to how a Behaim practitioner claims their demesne. As they get demesnes while still in childhood/adolescence, I doubt this. (Especially since it involves patience, something children/teenagers generally have in short supply)

      I can, however, see a solo practitioner calling himself an “arborist” or “herbologist” use plants to fuel and shape workings of all stripes.

        1. And why would a practitioner parent, not knowing their child’s magical proclivities, assign them a section of garden as opposed to, say, their own rooms? Especially since the family we’re talking about is a chronomancer family rather than an herbologist one.

          1. I’m not arguing that they would or would not do this. I’m arguing that the parents would assign the children their demesnes, and the parents can plan things out however they see fit 😛

  38. I’m curious about the wording here and I don’t see that anyone else has mentioned it:

    “I didn’t tell her why I was sorry. I’d lie to let her keep worrying.”

    Well, as far as I can tell, Blake didn’t actually lie, except by omission. Interestingly borderline-dangerous thought for Blake to have, nonetheless.

  39. Wow, Blake’s really showing his terrible self esteem here. He seriously thinks that Alexis is upset because her legacy is in danger and not because she’s having to face losing a friend?

  40. You may have seen this already, but I wanted to let you know that the table of contents link to 6.10 is directing me to 6.9. No biggie, just letting you know.

  41. So if Blake manages to stay on this world and survive for longer then four months, how many people are forsworn? The Sphinx and Ms. Lewis?

    1. None.

      They didn’t swear or make an oath. They pointed out something that by all means appears to be right. Even then no one lied.

      Isadora stated it’s fated, which it might be, but even if he does avoid it she didn’t lie since it was fated at the time of her declaration.

      1. If you’re saying something you believe, you need to phrase it like that to avoid consequences.

        “You are not long for this world” is not the same as “I don’t believe that you are long for this world.”

        That said, they wouldn’t be forsworn (I know that we keep saying that, but can Others be forsworn at all?) but I do believe that they would lose power due to lying. This belief is aided by Blake’s:
        “something like Isadora would be pretty screwed if she lied that blatantly”

  42. “I see. I’m not sure I like that view of reality. If there’s one right answer and nearly infinite possible wrong answers, aren’t there an awful lot of wrong answers in existence? Isn’t reality made up of a great deal of wrongness?”

    Yes. This is essentially the definition of entropy.

    (Which unfortunately makes Isadora’s following allusion to intermaterial voids ring somewhat hollow.)

  43. “I think you know what I meant. I don’t think you can paint all of reality with strokes of ‘right and wrong’.”

    Oh no, Wildbow has made another one.

  44. Is anybody else having trouble getting to 6.11? I cant’t get to it from the table of contents either. (I’m on mobile)

  45. Ah. The bit where Blake sees his friends as they pass to the other side and ruminates on the dangers of going too deep with the sight puts a whole new spin on why Padraic saw him as female. Perhaps it wasn’t so much Padraic being other and obtuse as that what he actually sees of Blake just looks Thorburny.

  46. Seems like the Benhaims are big on brainwashing their children,based on their attitudes….I piy them,Blake saying they killed his cousin did stumble one of them up.Duncan wasn’t really tht bad,either,until he panicked and tried to shoot Blake.I really dislike Lardo though.

      1. I wanted to argue about my family teaching me to think by myself…then I realized I am kinda like my mom,and that its probably not intentional.So yes,I concede,you are correct,I apologise for my harshness.

        Lardo is still a megajerk.

          1. It’s probably not entirely intentional with the Behaims either. I’m pretty sure they think they’re doing their kids a favour teaching them that diabolists can’t be trusted and it’s best to kill em all and let karma sort it out.

          2. Sorry, didn’t realise you were replying to your own thread there and I got a little lost.

            Generally, if you have a family that teaches you to think for yourself, that’s because thinking for yourself is one of that family’s values and they think it’s important that their children share it.

            Yes, Lardo is still a megajerk. 🙂

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