Void 7.1

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Laird woke, free of any chain, handcuffs or rope.

I watched as he opened his eyes, groaned, and then stared in momentary confusion at the slice of pizza and the glass in front of him.

When he raised himself from the floor, he was treated to a view of me, Maggie and Fell.  Evan was perched on the handle of the sword I held, while Rose was inside a full-length mirror, provided by Joel.

He took in the scene with care, very deliberate.  His attention fell on the chalk circle around him.  Three concentric circles, the first about five feet across, the third about nine feet across.  Each had been elaborated on with an intricate, almost lace-like border that ran along the perimeter, pointed outward.

“What’s this?” he finally asked, while pinching the bridge of his nose, his eyes screwed shut.

“That’s pizza.  Pepperoni and onion.  The coke might have gotten a little flat since we poured it.  You took a few hours to wake up.  I was almost worried.

“That’s not what I was asking,” he said.  “The circle.”

“It’s a problem if any of your friends, family, or allies find you,” I said.  “That circle means they shouldn’t be able to.”

“And if I ask for help or simply walk out?” he asked.

“Fell here has his revolver loaded with shot shells.  It’s like a small shotgun, painful, debilitating, but it probably won’t kill-.”

Laird interrupted, “-I don’t need an explanation.  I know what shot shells are.  You’re offering hospitality with one hand and threatening to shoot me with the other?”

It was Maggie who spoke up, “The tried-and-true rules have a firm grounding in history, officer Behaim.  The roads were dangerous at night, food was hard to come by.  You couldn’t turn away someone at your door, and you couldn’t refuse a guest amenities, or you were sentencing them to death.  You couldn’t abuse hospitality given for the same reason, because you’d be sentencing the next guy to death.  But, all that said, nobody’s going to begrudge a man, a peasant, or a king their right to keep a weapon on hand if they know their guest is a potential threat.”

“And here I thought you were a novice,” Laird said.

“I have a lot of free time,” Maggie said, “Not a lot to do, I’ve become a bit of a student of history, as it happens.  You learn relevant things all the time if you pay attention.”

“Blake’s recent bout of forgetfulness excepted, I’d say we’re all students of history,” Laird said.  “I’d hope we’re all learning.”

Maggie smiled.  “True.”

Rose, not smiling at all, said, “Yet you keep coming after us, and you get bitten worse each time.  What’s that they say about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again?”

“I prefer to view it as one long, ongoing conflict, than a series of failures.”

“How convenient,” Rose said.  “I’m not sure the universe agrees with you.”

“I’m not sure either,” Laird said.  He rubbed at his temples.  “Ah, my head.”

“Please excuse me if I’m not too sympathetic,” I said.

“Fully excused,” he said.  He looked up, squinting a little at the light that came in from the window.  “Well, this should be interesting.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “But let’s handle the mundane stuff before we get to the interesting.  You have food, drink, can I get you anything else?”

“Water,” he said.  “Sugary drinks give me a headache, and I could do with an Aspirin, to start off.  Whatever that goblin did hurt quite a bit, and it’s left my head pounding.”

“It smells too,” Evan commented.  “My mom used to get me to eat my asparagus by telling me it would make my pee stink.  You smell worse.”

“I do,” Laird said.  He wrinkled his nose.  “Am I being greedy by asking for a bucket of water, a washcloth, and maybe a change of clothes?”

“Bucket and washcloth are doable,” I said.  “They can double as a chamberpot.  We just had someone go shopping for us, but we didn’t get clothes.”

I almost said sorry, but I wasn’t so sure I was.

“A chamberpot, how medieval.  My coat, then?  It seems to have gotten the worst of it.”

“A plastic bag,” I said.

“Please.  And… where is my implement?”

I pointed.

Laird looked.  The watch sat on a nearby table, outside of the circle.

“We make no claim to your property, except to secure it.  I don’t know if you can see from that angle, but there’s another circle to keep the zeitgeist spirit firmly in place.”

Laird nodded.

“Maggie,” I said.  “Could you round up the stuff?  I’d rather not take my eyes off him, Fell’s got the gun, and Rose can’t do anything.”

“No worries,” she said.

“First aid stuff should be in the bag by the door.”

“Yup.”

“The tables have certainly turned,” Laird observed.  “Me, alone, my companion secured out of reach, virtually useless…”

He gestured toward his golden pocketwatch, and his gaze passed over to Rose.

Rose scowled just a little.

“…And there you stand, Blake, looming ominously, with me at your mercy.  A great deal of help at your disposal.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What happens next?  Shall we repeat history, with the roles reversed?”

“I give you what you need, then finish the circle,” I said.

“Finish?”

I nodded.

“It’s an odd circle.  Humans don’t lend themselves to being bound inside diagrams, for the most part.  The details… who drew this?”

“Why would I want to open my mouth?  To give you hints?”

“You don’t need to, but you can give me answers for the same reason you’re giving me food.  I can’t reciprocate your generosity, really, unless I give you answers.  It’s a win-win situation for you.  You get karma by playing by the rules, or you get answers.”

“Win-win-lose, you mean,” I said.  “I could give you vital information that leads to you breaking free and getting the better of me.”

“Does that mean there is vital information to be had?” he asked.  “Information you’re  insecure about?”

“I’m insecure about a lot of things,” I said.  “Sharing information about the circle isn’t even in the top ten.  I’ll explain the circle soon.  For now-”

“-For now, I’ll stay put if it means I don’t get shot.”

I nodded.

Maggie returned.  Rather than a bucket, she had a small trash can with a lid.  Probably better.

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’ll bring it to you like this, but I’m not going to empty it when it’s full.  So gross.”

I nodded.  “Fill it with water?”

She nodded.  I waited while she filled it with soap and water from the sink.

Laird was looking around, one hand raised to block the light from the window as he took in the apartment.

“Your apartment?” Laird asked.

It was a vacant room in another building Joel managed, a space he rented out to students, but I didn’t need to tell Laird that.

I shrugged.

“Do you remember our first conversation?” Laird asked.

“Comparing the residents of Jacob’s Bell to countries?  Yeah.”

“I compared my family to America, if you remember.”

I nodded.

“What happens when an American dignitary is kidnapped?  When any offense is made against the American people or American soil?”

“Overreaction,” Maggie said, from the kitchen.  She arrived with the little bucket of soapy water and a wad of paper towels.  “An excess of force.”

“Overreaction.  Well put,” Laird said.  “You know that this won’t end well for you, don’t you?”

“I’m holding out hope,” I said.  I was careful not to block Fell’s line of sight as I stepped over the lines, carefully planting each foot so I wouldn’t scuff the marks in chalk.

Standing in the midst of the circle, I set down the little bucket of soapy water, reached back, took the paper towel, and set it down too.  Aspirin, a garbage bag and a glass of water followed.

Laird carefully arranged each item so he still had room to sit.  His attention seemed to linger on the circle.

“Pizza,” I said.

“Hm?” Laird asked.

Maggie handed me the pizza box.  Only a few slices remained.

I handed it to Laird.

“And some more water,” I said.

“One sec,” Maggie said.

“Pizza will keep for a little while, and it’s edible cold.  We don’t plan to leave you here so long that you’ll run out of water or face an overflowing chamber pot.”

“I see,” Laird mused, leaning back to get a better view of Maggie filling a vase with water – there apparently weren’t any pitchers in the cupboards.  “I’m staying here for a while, then?”

I nodded.

“Could I ask for a book or two, then?”

“No,” I said.  “Don’t have any, and I’m not sure you couldn’t use it to pull something.”

“A chair?  Something I could use to sleep?”

“You have the plastic bag with the coat for a pillow.  The apartment isn’t cold,” I said.  “I want you fed and healthy.  Nothing more.”

I handed over the water pitcher.

He grabbed it, but he didn’t take it from me.  It left me suspended in place, waiting for him to grab it.

He used the opportunity to stare up at me from his kneeling position, speaking in a low voice.  “When America is attacked, retribution tends to be brutal.  Not necessarily swift, but they hold grudges.  Pearl Harbor, Nine-Eleven…”

“I would argue that America’s living a lie,” I said.  “They spend a great deal of time deluding themselves about just how powerful they are, a lot of time deluding others, and a lot of time abusing the power that does exist.  Not that Canada’s a whole lot better.”

Laird took the water jug.

“Deluded, hm?” he asked, as he set the jug down.  He took a second organizing everything.

“Yeah,” I said.  “About how many friends they have, or the reality of the ongoing war, so to speak…”

I trailed off.

When Laird didn’t answer right away, I started to make my way back out of the diagram.  Maggie offered a hand to help keep me steady.

“I’m getting more eager to hear the answer to this particular riddle,” Laird said, tapping the floor next to the circle.  He’d placed the bucket behind him, and was busy removing his coat.

“Soon,” I said.

He folded the coat and stowed it in the garbage bag, squeezed the air out, pointing the opening at us, then knotted it firmly.

I pulled up a chair, sitting facing him.

He took his time getting organized, shifted position, sitting on the floor, and looked at me.

“The circle will break up incoming connections, and should serve as a barrier to anything going out.  You’ll have trouble practicing,” I said.  I indicated Rose.  “Rose’s work.”

“I’ve seen similar,” Laird said.  “But there’s a little too much detail and not quite enough substance, if I may say so myself.  The outer circle may be stronger, but you passed it easily enough.”

“That’s intentional,” I said.

“Do tell.”

“I’d rather show,” I said.

I reached over to the table, grabbed a book, and then leaned forward, placing it in between the first and second circles.

Black Lamb’s Blood.

“Hm,” Laird said.

I laid a piece of paper down on the book.  It was bound with a sticker, the only thing we’d had readily available, and marked with a script.

“Pauz,” I said.  “Should you accept the compact written on that paper, I release you.”

The bindings of cord came undone.  The book opened, pages flipping around, and Pauz unfolded in the process.  There was a brief fuzz of black around him, like insects, feathers or coarse clumps of hair scattered into the wind, a spray of blood.

He flexed, turning to stare at me, then looked down at the diagram that surrounded him.

I watched carefully, the words to call him back on the tip of my tongue, as he made his way around the circle.  Caught between the first and second of the three circles, Pauz did a full circuit before deciding that there wasn’t a weakness he could capitalize on.

“A watchdog,” Laird said.

“I asked myself what you cherish,” I said.  “Then I asked myself how I could use that against you.  You’re arrogant, you want to be in charge, to be Lord, to have power.  Pauz can take all that away.

“You made the circle weak on purpose.”

“Yes,” I said.  A fragile magic circle inside a stronger magic circle inside an even stronger magic circle.

“What are the terms you gave the imp?”

“They’re written in the envelope.  Rose’s research, again.  Careful wording.”

Laird glanced at Rose.  I did too- she was standing there, her arms folded.

When I spoke, it was in a low voice.  “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t spiteful.  Dealing with those kids back there?  That was fucked up on a number of levels, Laird.”

“They knew what they were doing.”

I stabbed my finger in his direction.  “You used them, you’ve brainwashed them with the Behaim-centric, anti-Thorburn thinking.  I had to fight to keep them alive, and as far as I can tell, that’s more than you did.  Your child, your nieces and nephews.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re toxic.  You’re dangerous.  If you’re miserable for the next couple of days, I’m not going to complain.”

Days?” Laird asked.  I thought I detected a note of surprise and emotion, a hint that I’d broken through the facade.

“You’re not short.  You might have trouble sleeping, if you can’t stretch out all the way.  Breach the line of that circle, and Pauz can come in and join you.  He shouldn’t cause any physical damage that can’t be reversed, but if the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t want to test Pauz’s ability to bend those rules.”

I saw Laird look down at the imp.

“The rules don’t say I can’t talk to him,” Pauz said.

Lines creased Laird’s face as he turned to look at Pauz.  Concern?

“The rules say you have to stick to English,” I said.  “No demonic tongues or anything of the sort.”

“Yeah,” Pauz said.  He crawled forward on all fours, looking almost feral as his back arched, the individual vertebrae sticking up, a spine with an ‘s’ curve, apparently.  A baby with a mouth like a piranha, dead eyes, and dark gray flesh.  He made a scratching noise, circling around until he was out of Laird’s view.

“Do you want to volunteer information?” I asked Laird.  “This could go easier.  I could give you amenities, or

“I didn’t think you were capable of this, Thorburn,” Laird said.

“I’m not doing anything but keeping you here.”

“It’s torture.  Psychological torture.  You’re setting me up to fall into the imp’s clutches, but by doing it like this, you defer responsibility for it.”

I glanced at Rose.  It had been her idea.

“To be entirely honest, I wasn’t aware that was actually a thing,” I said.  “Deferring responsibility.”

“It is,” Laird told me.  He’d gone very still, and looked very grim, the lines in his face making his age and stress obvious.  “You leave a man standing on a chair with a noose around their neck.  The powers and spirits that would decide where responsibility for the death rested don’t necessarily have the wits or the long memory needed to figure it out.”

Fell sat in a chair, the butt-end of the gun resting in his hand.  He’d relaxed a bit since the imp was summoned.  “It’s true.  There’s a reason practitioners prefer curses and convoluted ends over efficient things like bullets.”

“Ah,” I said.  “Interesting.”

I shifted position, getting out of the chair, then crouching until I was at eye level with Laird.

When I spoke, my voice was low.  “Tell me, is that deferring of responsibility the reason you used Maggie and her goblins to go after my cousin?  Molly Walker?”

“Ask your friend there.” he asked, pointing at Maggie.  “She’s the one that sent the goblins after your cousin.”

“No need.  Rhetorical questions don’t need answers,” I said.  “I just wanted you to know you didn’t win any points in this discussion by reminding me of how you had Molly brutally murdered, using and manipulating Maggie.”

He stared at me, unflinching.

“Sit tight,” I said.

I rose to a standing position, using the seat of the chair and Maggie’s help.

“You’re playing with fire,” Laird said.  “If that imp breaks through-”

“Pauz.  I am Pauz,” the imp growled, enunciating it pa-ooz.

“If the less-than-charming Pauz influences me, it’s a step forward for his kind.  There’s no recovering what we lose to them.  Objectively, taking this risk is more evil than the murder of a thousand Molly Walkers,” Laird said.

“Or, you know,” Evan piped up, “You could not kill a thousand girls?”

“You sound scared, Laird,” Rose said.

Laird spread his arms.  Pauz lunged, moving three feet into the air, snapping his teeth in an effort to seize Laird’s fingertip as it approached the line.

But Laird had stopped just short of passing over the circle.

Pauz landed with a heavier thud than I might have expected.

“I admit I am,” Laird said.  “If that’s what you wanted out of me, then you’ve won.”

“That’s not the victory we’re looking for,” Rose said.

“What do you want?” Laird asked.

“To remove you from play,” I said.  “For the purposes of this contest.”

“And in general,” Rose chimed in, finishing my thought.  “To ruin you, Making it so people have to ask, ‘Is Laird compromised?’  ‘Is he in any shape to lead?’  By doing this, we get as close to the line as humanly possible.  Raise the question.”

“You remind me of her,” Laird said.  “Of the elder Rose, your predecessor.”

Rose didn’t reply.

I pointed.  As a group, we retreated from Laird and the imp.

You remind me of someone else, Blake,” Laird called out.

I didn’t take the bait.

We were halfway to the pre-furnished bedroom on the far end of the apartment when I heard the noise.  It sounded like something between nails on a chalkboard, a bird’s screech and a death scream, if an something the size of an elephant were to make the sound.

I was slower than the others in stepping back to see.

The imp was on all fours, facing Laird, mouth open.  Laird was halfway to his feet.

“Mercy,” Fell muttered.  “That thing made that noise?”

Pauz screamed again.  Most of us covered our ears.

“Pauz,” I said, “Stop.”

He stopped.

I didn’t even have a chance to draw in the breath to say another word before Pauz launched into a full on speech.

“You won’t have a moment’s rest,” Pauz spat the words at Laird, “You’ll slip, step too far.  When you let me in, the first thing I’ll do is make you drink the contents of that chamberpot.  I’ll bleed you and you’ll leak, pissing yourself in fear.  I’ll watch you scramble to sop it up, to lap at it with your tongue and blot it with your rags, fighting to keep the circle from being compromised.”

“Thorburn,” Laird said.

Pauz continued, “Give me one hour inside that circle, and I can break you.  I can make you wallow in your own piss and shit like a pig in mud, and you’ll be happy to do it, because it pleases me, and because it means I won’t make you feast on your own filth.”

Ew,” Evan commented.

“Shut the thing up, Thorburn,” Laird said.

I stayed silent.

The eerie gravelly voice went on, “Give me the chance, and I might go after your family, and I’ll do the same to them five times over.”

“Thorburn,” Laird said.  “You’ve won.  You got me.  You don’t need to drive the point home.”

Pauz continued, “If you don’t give me the chance, I’ll make a sport of it, I’ll reduce you to the sort of animal that would go after them and do depraved things.  I want to watch you come back to me like a dog to its master.”

“I’m not listening, la la la,” Evan said, wings to the sides of his head.

Laird looked up at me.  “I can’t take another hour of this, let alone days.  Anyone would make a mistake.  Let the imp through, or fall asleep, or jump at a sudden scream and accidentally trespass over the line-”

“Did Molly beg?” Rose cut in.

“Again,” Laird said, leaning his head back, staring up at the stippled ceiling, “That’s a question you should be asking Maggie.  Ask her about blood and darkness.”

“You’re a bit of a bastard,” Maggie said.

“Deferring the blame,” Rose added.

“She was there, I wasn’t,” Laird said.

“But wait,” Pauz said, and he sounded earnest enough to catch our attention.  “You don’t have a tail, do you?”

“If you want to beg for mercy, maybe you shouldn’t start by arguing trivialities about Molly’s death,” Rose said.  “I didn’t really know her, but Blake did.  He cared about her.”

Laird didn’t answer, and Pauz took the opportunity to continue.  He almost crooned, if that was even possible with his hoarse, rough-edged voice.  “Shall I drag your intestines out through your arsehole so you have something to wag for me, Laird Behaim?  That’s not permanent damage.  It’s within the bounds of the written rules.”

Ew,” Evan said.

“Pauz,” I said, “Shut up.”

He shut his mouth and glared at me.

I chewed on my lip for a second.

“Thank you,” Laird said.

“You shut the fuck up too,” I said.  “If I hear another word out of your mouth, I’m liable to let the imp have his say.”

Laird shut his mouth, his lips in a firm line.

“You don’t really get a good look at someone until all the chips are on the table,” I mused.  “You don’t get a good look at yourself, either.  Right now, though, listening to you, I feel like I’m getting a sense of you.  How you’ve responded to this whole situation.  To the circle and Pauz.”

Laird, mute, could only listen.

“You started by trying to be clever.  To figure it out, to be gracious and win me over in little ways.  You picked at Maggie and Rose to try and find weak points, and tried to figure out what you could about the circle for much the same reason.  I didn’t miss that.  That’s Laird Behaim on the surface level.  Push a little deeper, and you get the reaction, the rationalizing.  Morality, deferring the blame.”

I studied him.  His eye flicked between me and Pauz, who was mute, tensed as if to leap, mouth pressed into a frown that extended from one corner of his jaw to the other.

“Push deeper, add a note of desperation, and we see what may well be the real Laird Behaim.  You’re pushed to find a solution, you’re almost begging, and in that moment, you go for the first ideas that come to mind.  Ideas that would work if the tables were turned and we were trying to convince you.  You tell us we’ve won, as if the nebulous idea of victory is something I even want.  You continue to rationalize.”

Laird spoke, knowing full well that I’d threatened to sic Pauz on him for speaking just one word.  “I’m not the enemy you think I am.”

“You’re sure as fuck not my friend,” I said.

“You don’t have it in me to give this imp a genuine shot at me,” Laird said.  “I’m thinking the rules of that contract allow him to scare me, but not actually get to me.”

I didn’t flinch as he met my eyes.  “Do you want to try me?  Test that suspicion?”

Laird paused, gauging me.

Then he shook his head.

“Didn’t think so,” I said.  “Pauz, if he says another word without my express permission, I permit you to talk to him again.  Until then, I want you to remain silent.”

Laird glared at me.

“Rose,” I said.  “Do me a favor?”

“Maybe?” she replied.

“I’d feel a hell of a lot better with a second line of defense.  The Tallowman, maybe?”

“The whole idea of using Pauz was to avoid having to dedicate too many resources to keeping him contained.”

“Please,” I said.

Rose hesitated, then relented.  She nodded.

“Classic Bond villain mistake,” Ty said.

“I know,” I said.

“Leaving the enemy in the deathtrap, ignoring him?  A henchman of questionable loyalties watching over things?”

“I know,” I repeated myself.  “But there are things to do.  Time is passing, and we can’t make dealing with Laird a full-time thing while all my enemies are scheming.  We wrote up that contract carefully.  The imp can’t actually do much.  The Tallowman is a bigger threat to Laird than Pauz.”

“Don’t tell me you did the monologue, explaining things.”

“I did, kind of.”

Damn it, Blake,” Ty said.

“It makes sense in context, the karma gain for fair play-”

“You’re telling me the universe encourages being the Bond villain?”

I hesitated.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Ty asked.

“Kind of?  Convoluted traps are generally better than just shooting the bastards, apparently.”

Ahead of us, Fell was talking with Maggie.  The man paused.  “Don’t underestimate the value of a bullet.”

I sighed.  “I won’t and I don’t.”

Ty changed tacks, “Evan, back me up here.  The rule for an evil genius is that you’ve got to have, like, an ordinary five year old kid to keep around and tell you your plan is idiotic.”

“I’m not five,” Evan said.

“He’s not ordinary,” I cut in.

“And Blake’s not evil,” Evan added.

“Doesn’t matter,” Ty declared.  “Look, how many Bond movies have you seen, Ev?”

“None?”

“None!?  You’re in dire need of an education.  We should make that a thing, tonight.  Shore up our defenses, sit back with some videos on the laptop, and get the kid caught up with the greatest hits.”

I let the discussion between Ty and Evan continue in the background while we walked.  The Hyena’s sword sat in a poster tube, a hat sitting on the upper end, covering up the hilt where it stuck out of the tube.  It was awkward, slung over one shoulder, and banged against my right thigh like the Hyena was striving to make its irritation known.  Evan, for his part, was perched on the pom-pom on the hat.

People looked, curious, but I was well beyond the point of caring.

Rose was back with Alexis and Tiff, giving them quick lessons.  Ty had been restless, which wasn’t so unusual for him, and I’d been glad to have him along.  He carried our supplies, general arts and craft stuff we’d sent Joel and Goosh out to buy while we waited for Laird to wake up, while I carried the Hyena.  My carrying both would have been awkward.

The streets were crowded, people doing their shopping in the evenings, and I could smell rich food as people grabbed late lunches or early dinners.  I was hungry.

It was easy to forget to attend to real life.

First things first, though, we had stuff that needed doing.  The sphinx was due to attack, and this was the optimal time.  I didn’t want to be near Laird when it happened, lest disaster strike, and if I was being entirely honest with myself, I wasn’t upset to know that Alexis was a fair distance away.

“Fell, how are your power reserves doing?” I asked.

“I’ve used more power in the past three days than I do most years,” he said.  “Covering us up, covering our tracks and keeping the hideouts out of sight.  It’s not easy.”

“Where do you stand?”

“If and when you ask me to do this stuff tomorrow morning, I might have to say no,” Fell told me.

I nodded.

Rose had only the two summonings.  The Hyena was a dangerous tool to use, as the sword seemed to suggest.

We’d dealt a blow to Conquest.  The trick was seizing this opportunity and running away with it.  I was no long sure I wanted to bide our time, knowing how Conquest might let his people prey on Toronto, but I’d do it if I had to.

Take an advantage, hold on to it, and let Conquest be just a little bit less of a conqueror.

The next step was a simple one.  I needed to keep from slipping in anyone’s standing.

I pushed up my sleeve and touched the Stonehenge bracelet.

The Behaims, as far as the connections suggested, weren’t close.  The last Behaim owner of the bracelet, Duncan, was a good distance away.

That was a very good thing to know, considering that we were on our way to the police station.

“You’re sure about this?” Fell asked, as we approached the block.

“No,” I said.  “But I don’t know how much they know.  This could be the last place they think to look for us, or it could be the first.”

“Be wary,” he said.

I nodded.  “Evan?  You know who to look out for, I hope.”

“Yep!”  Evan took flight.  But he circled, fluttering for a moment in a haphazard attempt at staying in one place, difficult with the strong wind.  “Ty?”

“Yeah?”

“Batman would totally kick her ass.”

That said, Evan was gone.

“Brat,” Ty said.

“Let’s hurry,” Fell said.  “I can’t tell how, but they’re actively looking for us.”

“The Astrologer?” Maggie asked.

“More like a thousand tiny eyes than one big one,” Fell said, “If it were her, it would be one big one.”

I picked up the pace, quickly falling into step beside Maggie.  I heard Ty grumble, the contents of his bag jostling as he  hurried after, metal clinking against glass.

“I could do something with the sword,” Maggie said.

“I see it as Evan’s more than anyone’s,” I said.

“I’ve only got two gremlins, and it’s a rip-and-tear summoning with no control, and I’ve got some Faerie tricks I bargained for, but I’d really rather not use those.”

“We’ll manage,” I said.  “This is an in-and-out job.”

She frowned.

“We’ll see what Rose can dig out of the books after,” I said.

“We should be doing that now, put this off.”

I shook my head.

I heaved the double doors open.  Letting us into the police station.  Before they could shut, I stuck  one hand out, stopping it from closing.  “Ty, stay out here?  Keep an eye out?  Run if there’s trouble?”

“What happens to you if there’s trouble?”

“We’ll see the connection changing as you run.  I’m getting to know this place like the back of my hand, we can find another exit.”

He rolled his eyes.  “If you’re sure.”

Fell moved my hand.  “Less talking, more walking.  They’re on their way.”

I nodded.

No Behaims lying in wait.

No destruction.  No sign of an all-out practitioner skirmish.

It was eerie, disconcerting.

I approached the desk on the third floor.

“I want to talk to the police chief,” I said.

She arched an eyebrow.

“What?” I asked.

“Third visit in as many days,” she commented.

Third visit?

I frowned.  “I was here earlier?”

“Yes.  You and two officers.  One wasn’t local?”

Hm?  Me and the Behaims?

“What happened?” I asked.  “Got a little bruised up earlier, my memory isn’t all there.”

She narrowed her eyes.

Suspecting me of being an addict?

“It’s true,” Maggie cut in.

“It’s part of why we’re here,” Fell said.  “Helping him out.”

That seemed to be the qualifier the woman at the desk needed.  The joys of having buddies with good karma.  I gave people the wrong impression, led people to expect the worst.  The goblin queen in training gave off a better vibe, and the hitman in service to the secret lord of the city was the pleasant, convincing one.

“You came in, the two other officers stepped forward to offer their help.  You -rather loudly– called out to the police chief, calling him to you.”

The fucking memory erasure.

“That was the last I saw of you,” she added.

I frowned.  “There are back stairs, aren’t there?  Over that way?”

“Yes.”

I’d tried to duck out, to evade Duncan and Laird, and something had gone wrong.

“Thanks,” I said.

I turned on my heel.

Down the stairs.

Fell stopped me before I could round the bend and head for the basement.  “They’re coming.”

“Who?”

“Don’t know.”

“I’ll deal,” I told him.  “Two minutes, then you can drag me out.”

He opened his mouth, then shut it.  “Go.  I’ll be outside.”

I nodded.

Down to the basement, end of the hall, near the morgue.

A cop stood behind a chain-link mesh, leaning over a free paper with a sudoku puzzle.  The crossword was already filled out.

“I’m here to reclaim something of mine,” I said.

“Name and ID.”

“Blake Thorburn,” I said.  I fished for my wallet and driver’s license.

I noticed the response.  A dozen connections responding to the name.

Were there ears out there too, searching for any hint of my name?

Something to watch out for.

“Yep, I remember the captain calling, but you were supposed to show up this morning.”

“Something came up,” Maggie said.  “Can we go?”

“Can’t let you walk around swinging this thing around,” the police officer said.

“I’ll put it in my bag,” she said.  “Promise.

The power that a small oath had.  Just a little more oomph.

The officer handed over the hatchet, and Maggie stuffed it into her bag.  We made our exit as fast as we could without running.  Maggie stuck her hand into the bag and handed me the hatchet as soon as we were out of sight.

We made our way outside.  Ty had taken off the backpack filled with supplies, and it rested at his feet.  Fell stood beside him, holding a scrap of paper.

When he saw me, Fell raised the paper to show me.

A flier, nondescript, something about an impromptu concert.

But an eye was drawn on it, stylized.

I could feel the eye looking.

“They probably made a few thousand of these, then tossed them out to be carried into the wind,” Fell said.

“They’re stepping up their game,” I said.

“Worse,” he said, “I think they’re sharing tricks.  This is the Astrologer and the Sisters, I’d bet.”

I clenched my teeth.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when Evan landed on my shoulder, fluttering in my ear in an attempt to compensate for the wind.

“Trouble,” he said, sounding as if he were panting for breath.  It was eerie, jarring with his tiny bird form.

“Trouble?” Maggie asked.

“People.  They’re not really there but they’re there.  On the other side.  Women.  They’re almost flying.”

“More tricks shared,” Fell said.

“They’re just around the corner.”

I glanced at Evan.

“Really,” Evan said.  “Waiting.  They’re doing this thing with their eyes closed, and fingers pressed together…”

“They’re looking,” Fell said.  “And I’m not sure I can stop them, if they’re doing this.  Too many eyes.”

I frowned.

“Then there’s only one option,” Maggie said.  “We gotta hit them.  We knew it was going to get ugly.  Let’s be the ones to decide how.”

“How?” I asked.

“Blood and darkness,” she said.

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236 thoughts on “Void 7.1

  1. Blood and Darkness? sounds like some very interesting things are gonna be happening soon.

    also, i like that we are assembling what Blake missed in 6.11, bit by bit

    1. I also find the arc name ominous. Void? Whats going to be voided? Aside from Laird’s bowels if Pauz gets his hands on him. Is someone going to be in an empty void?

      1. As with other arc names, there are multiple meanings. Perhaps some agreement is going to get null and void.

    1. I was almost worried.”
      second opening quote instead of a closing quote

      pocketwatch
      usually pocket watch

      To ruin you, Making
      To ruin you, making

      hitman
      usually hit man

      sudoku
      Sudoku

      me, Maggie and Fell
      convention is to put the speaker last: Maggie, Fell and me

      I could give you amenities, or
      truncated sentence

      1. I notice, Unmaker, that about half of the time you suggest spacing out a compound word into two (hitman, pocketwatch), I am more familiar with the compound usage than the spaced one. Dialect differences, I guess.

        1. Agreed. Also, considering the narrator’s voice, any other dialectic errors should naturally be ignored (“me, Maggie, and Fell”).

          1. I am not an English major, but even for works where characters always speak in non-standard English, aren’t the non-dialog parts supposed to be written in standard English? I admit that a first-person narrative sort of blurs that line, so this is a real question, not a rhetorical one.

            1. “When he raised himself from the floor, he was treated to a view of me, Maggie and Fell.” <– This is a fine sentence. There are multiple technically correct ways to write it. For instance, in a list, should a comma go before the final and? Writer's choice, and as long as they're consistent with that choice the author will be correct.

            2. Come on, that was cute, and you have to admire the dedication.

              I mean it was frustrating and annoying, but I could’t find it my heart to hate the guy. (Neither the author nor the narrator, for that matter.)

        2. Combination of a spell/grammar checker and and a Google-hits-count of what is more commonly used. I do use my own discretion for both and I do say “usually” or “more commonly” rather than just say something is a typographic error, unless the evidence is really disproportionate.

          1. I wanted to respond to this comment enough to take a break from work.

            You seriously use outside tools and references in your typo fishing sessions each section? That’s some dedication!

    2. ““You don’t have it in me to give this imp a genuine shot at me,””
      You don’t have it in you*?

      “I was no long sure I wanted to bide our time”
      no longer*

    3. He grabbed it, but he didn’t take it from me. It left me suspended in place, waiting for him to grab it.

      I stuck one hand -double spaced between stuck and one

    4. Continuity or confusing:

      A cop stood behind a chain-link mesh, leaning over a free paper with a sudoku puzzle. The crossword was already filled out.

      Sudoku is not really a crossword, so either there are two puzzles or the Sudoku puzzle is being referred to as a crossword. Perhaps clearer as:

      A cop stood behind a chain-link mesh, leaning over a free paper with a Sudoku and a crossword puzzle. The crossword was already filled out.

      1. It’s been a while since I’ve read a physical paper, but don’t they normally have a puzzle section containing Sudoku, Crossword Puzzles and Wordsearch? I read it as, the crossword was filled out and the cop moved on to the sudoku.

    5. “Laird spread his arms. Pauz lunged, moving three feet into the air, snapping his teeth in an effort to seize Laird’s fingertip as it approached the line.”

      This part was a bit confusing: aren’t there two circles between Pauz and Laird? Or are the inner two very close apart?

      1. No. Pauz is placed between the first and second circles; as stated initially, “Three concentric circles, the first about five feet across, the third about nine feet across.” So the lower numbers are the inner circles. Laird is in the inner-most space, Pauz in the middle one, and the outer-most is empty–presumably it’s a contingency to keep Pauz from being able to escape if Laird musses up the second circle at some point (or if there was a mistake with the second circle, since Pauz’s actions imply that the contract doesn’t forbid him from trying to leave a damaged circle), or it might have additional aspects to it that work to break connections and impair workings.

        A crummy diagram that may or may not help:
        ( Empty ( Pauz ( Laird ) Pauz ) Empty )

    6. “He grabbed it, but he didn’t take it from me. It left me suspended in place, waiting for him to grab it.”

      Should the “grab” be “take”? He’s already grabbed it at that point.

    7. “I prefer to view it as one long, ongoing conflict, than a series of failures.” –> rather than

      I could give you amenities, or –> needs -”

      if an something the size of an elephant were to make the sound. –> if something

      I was no long sure –> no longer sure

    1. The 5-year-old thing from the list was first suggested in the comments a few (>1, < 10) chapters ago.

  2. “Or, you know,” Evan piped up, “You could not kill a thousand girls?”

    Oh Evan, you have such wonderful lines.

    I am also enjoying how genre savvy they are. Talking about bond villain mistakes?

    Since Rose bound Laird I am of course expecting him to escape, or make a good attempt at doing so.

    1. I couldn’t help but laugh at the mental image of Evan’s bird body trying to cover his ears with his wings.

  3. Loving Evan’s lines. On the other hand, leaving Pauz to guard Laird? You are a monster, Wildbow, you know that, right? No one deserves Pauz.

    Thank you for the bonus chapter, Wildbow. I wish I was in a place to donate, but maybe sometime in the future I’ll scrape something up.

    1. If this is gonna get ugly, fight in terrain that’s good for nobody, lead them to the factory. The Elder Sister already gave away that weakness when she said that’s not what they do.

    2. Except Laird is a trained diabolist and Blake and company do no know that. Laird should be able to control or perhaps bind Pauz. He got the classic “foul” counter from Blake: soap and water, like Blake used to cleanse himself the first time.

      1. That…had not occurred to me.

        Though just because he’s trained in diabolism doesn’t make him a diabolist. More than just a semantic argument, I mean that just because he has the knowledge doesn’t mean that he’s actually acted on it, and that lack of experience can be a serious handicap.

        1. Blake probably lacked experience more than Laird his firs time around. And protective stuff against demons is supposedly exactly what Laird trained for as a kid. And he’s bound to be good with contracts what with all those loophole shenanigans and rule abuses he’s constantly pulling.

          1. Oh, Blake totally lacked experience. And it was a handicap that he dealt with. There’s no way to know if Laird would be able to handle that handicap just as well.

            There’s a difference between wresting control of an asset and warding it off, especially when that asset is a demon.

            Good point about shenanigans, though.

      2. That is a pretty awesome idea. A clear solution to countering Pauz. And with Laird’s karma it might just work.

      3. To elaborate, Laird has a garbage bag, trash can, and soap and water. Two classic containers of foul things and a classic counter. If he is good enough he can actually trap Pauz, and he was trained by RDT, so he is almost certainly good enough. He doesn’t obviously have fire, which is the classic counter to Tallowman, but I suspect that is not going to stop him.

        1. He has the fire of his conviction, perhaps? Maybe Tallowman can be “turned” (D&D sense) if Laird has enough force of mind behind him (like a D&D cleric)?

          1. Yes, Blake doesn’t know that Granny was supposed to train Laird is Diabolism countermeasures. Assuming it actually happened this could totally turn Blake’s win into a loose. So of course it’s going to happen.

        2. But even so, Tallowman is at least limited to his physical form and probably can’t possess things or whatnot. All Laird would have to do is outrun him until he can reach an adequate counter. Assuming he can get past him in the first place, that is.

          1. A good point. An adequate counter is just outside of the circle – Laird’s implement. So Laird deals with Pauz, lunges for his implement, spends power to delay Tallowman for a moment or two, and then runs.

            1. “there’s another circle to keep the zeitgeist spirit firmly in place.”

              It’s entirely possible that the circle won’t do anything to keep Laird from reaching inside and grabbing it.

      4. I don’t know if he could bind pauz without speaking, and then pauz drives him insane and causes all sorts of nightmare fuel damage.

    3. Yeah, the fact of the matter is that everything Pauz said is going straight into the nightmare fuel section of Tv Tropes. That was straight-up disturbing. I don’t think even Laird deserved that.

  4. This update was glorious. Laird brought low, Evan still wonderful, Ty still funny, Police Station BS swept away. Oh yes, and Maggie decides to broach the topic of her prophecy. Firing on all cylinders, Wildbow. Can hardly wait.

  5. I’ve read the last two chapters and I have gone without commenting, because my only comment would have been a loud “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH” as I read the cliffhanger, and I would like to say thank you to Wildbow for allowing me to have this reaction every time.

  6. According to my quick analysis, Laird could try to suborn Pauz and escape that what. All he has to do is make a non-aggression pact with Pauz, walk out, grab his implement, defeat the Tallowman and make hay. Not such a good plan given that Laird is a diabolist. He never said anything that could be construed as him stating his inability to break out if left unattended. The closest was state that he couldn’t last an hour with Pauz talking, but that isn’t going to happen now. Even if Pauz could talk freely that only means that Laird thinks he can finish his deal in under an hour.

    1. Ah, but your analysis does not factor in the compact hidden in Pauz’s circle. I would expect it to include something about not making deals with the prisoner being guarded.

      1. making deals ccan work for Blake in the long term; if Liard makes the deal, Inquisitors will go after Liard for being a greater threat given his power level.

        1. Ah long term, something Blake aint got. He needs short terms answer to build a long term solution for Rose to complete. I don’t think that letting Laird out is going to have much usable benefit for Blake. However, the Inquisitors will most likely make an appearance sooner or later, better to be hunting Laird than Blake.

      2. I hope it does so, Unmentioned Plan Guarantee be my aid. I also hope that Laird still goes for it anyway and gets burned a bit, but not that bad. Blake is clearly trying to be the one who will stand above the dishonest dealings that pervade the Practitioner world. Laird attempting a written contract with Pauz will simply allow Pauz to tell Blake later, or not, depending on Pauz loyalty. (…ha)

        It is simply my utter paranoia speaking up in my analysis. If I was Laird and was planning on trying to deal out, that how I would have wanted to play my cards. I cannot play that well though and I don’t know how well Laird plays under pressure, so idk if it is actual how it played, but leaving and imp with a diabolist seems like a bad idea.

        1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Blake doesn’t know anything about Laird having diabolist skills. He just knows that his home has some protections against RDTs demon nukes.

          1. It would be weird for last chapter to end with “I have figured out how the Behaims get their power [but I’m not saying it while the cameras are rolling]”, and this one to start with the Blakeguard misjudging how the Behaims get their power.

            Yes, the Histories chapter and all the hints here make it obvious that Laird has all the tools he needs to start his career in diabolism, but the narrative structure points heavily towards it being anticipated and countered somehow.

            Also consider that Rose has access to Rose senior’s books, including her diaries. Those should include a description of Laird’s training – and if she is half as clever as she’s made out to be, the description would be written in such a way that it helps the Thorburn line as much as possible. If they’ve figured out that Laird has diabolist training, they might have known to look for this and build their plan around it.

            1. Blake figured out that the Behaims draw from power stored over generations. He got it from Laird’s commentary At the end of that chapter, and the Histories clarified the set up, that Laird is not sworn to maintain the store and is able to burn through it freely. Blake has had no indication that Laird knows a thing about diabolism.

          2. He doesn’t. I wonder how many people know that Laird has diabolic knowledge? If I were Blake and Laird turns out to have handled Pauz, I’d ask him outright if he is, in fact, a diabolist. I would then refer to him as such in other company.

            1. That would probably be worth a lie, for Laird.
              So don’t ask him, make the assumption.
              And let your version of the truth speak for itself.

    2. I would assume that the pact that Rose wrote up and that Pauz agreed to would contain a clause preventing such an agreement.

  7. I love Ty and Evan dialogue. Blake will be out facing down Cthulu or something, and Evan will mention, “This is just like that scene in Godzilla!”
    He paused. “I watched it with Ty last night.”

  8. I think Evan has the best idea here for how to poke holes in Laird’s morality: Claiming to be better is not the same as claiming to be good. Calling someone’s actions evil when they try to do good ruins your credibility to call them evil in future. Not getting punished for a crime doesn’t cleanse the sin.

  9. This chapter was quite pleasant. I think this may be the first chapter in a while that Blake has been in a (relatively) favorable position.

    Good job Ty. Glad to know I’m not the only one who recognizes Blake’s villianiness. Blake should embrace the “bad guy” roll.

    Blake is finally using the tools at his disposal. He’s letting Rose summon her monsters and isn’t afraid to use Pauz or the Hyena. Also, June is back! Still waiting to see some LIAB action, though.

    I look forward to seeing how the Laird/Blake dynamic continues to evolve. They’ve both seen each other trapped, in a weak and pathetic state. Who will make the first leap to change their relationship?

    “Then there’s only one option,” Maggie said. “We gotta hit them. We knew it was going to get ugly. Let’s be the ones to decide how. Blood and darkness.”

    Don’t forget fire! Time for round 2 (3)!!! I long to see Maggie in her powered up Gobliny Goodness.

    I think Isadora will interrupt the upcoming fight. Perhaps her war will be against not-Blake. Maybe she will be able to provide the needed Blood and Darkness.

    Blake’s war needs to end soon. Fell is using up too much power.

      1. Leonard-in-a-bottle, as previously mentioned. A ghost Blake bound right after June, which has not been used since.

  10. “It makes sense in context, the karma gain for fair play-”

    “You’re telling me the universe encourages being the Bond villain?”

    I hesitated.

    “It does, doesn’t it?” Ty asked.

    “Kind of? Convoluted traps are generally better than just shooting the bastards, apparently.”

    The Universe wants theatrics & Practicioners to play out Roles in stories. I’m calling it, the meta-laws of Pactverse runs on the Theory of Narrative Causality. This may be bad though, with Blake playing the Bond Villain, it’s practically begging the Universe to assist Liard in breaking out & trashing the place.

    1. Sweet, so I can make references to TvTropes to bolster my theories? (At least also reference them in a Wastonian as well as Doylist manner)

    2. Dude you’re only now realizing this?

      This whole, magic is art, not science, and also like English class, has been clear for a while. Even before Blake had his “English class” explanation. It was pretty clearly implied in the lawyer mentor chapters:

      “A very good question,” Ms. Lewis said. “Tell me, how does it go in the stories?

      Which tells you all you need to know, really. Things work like they do in the stories. So it’s been, what, triple-confirmed now?

      1. 1st time this stood out for me was when the DuChamps drew The Fool card for Blake (Once is happenstance).

        2nd time was when Blake was sucessful in binding the Hyena when acting like a 80’s movie action hero for Evan (Twice is coincidence).

        Now the Universe encourages being the Bond villain (Three times is enemy action), which will be absolutely confirmed if/when Liard breaks out at a dramatic moment to take away Blake’s final victory against C by the skin of hs teeth.

        The rest of Pact so far has been character building, introductions & setting up how much life wil suck for Blake. I assumed the lawyer’s words were part of the ‘road to hell’ thing.

    3. Hmmn, so is “You can’t thwart stage one” in effect? Cause then Blake can totally make some plan where stage one will take decades to be done, and can only be thwarted with his death. Then Rose will come out and it’ll be a Thanatos Gambit.

  11. I gave people the wrong impression, led people to expect the worst. The goblin queen in training gave off a better vibe, and the hitman in service to the secret lord of the city was the pleasant, convincing one.

    Well Blake, maybe people are getting the right impression about you. After all, Blake is the Demon summoner that is currently holding and torturing a police officer.

    1. It not torture, it is an enhanced containment technique. Besides, is a dirty cop really a cop? Finally Blake probably will not be holding Laird for long given their relative Karma.

      (All responses not entirely serious)

    2. To be fair, Laird is a rules lawyer to such an extreme that trapping him with another rules lawyer is probably the only sure way to contain him for any length of time without outright killing him.

  12. Oh dang, Maggie is going to go GoT on them. Better watch out.

    Using Pauz, I see. Clearly not slipping down any slope, just some controlled harmless diabolism. Nothing to worry about. And Evan is just a nice kid, I don’t think Blake would be able to do this without him. Let’s hope the blood and darkness don’t spill too much on the other side, the last thing the city needs is more tragedies,

    1. But the Universe will blame Laird if he gives himself over to Pauz. So that will be more bad Karma for him and his family! Huzzah!

  13. So, I had the weirdest dream last night. I wish I were kidding about this…but I dreamed that I popped my pants, and ErasUrr made me forget about it, so I was walking around with all the “disadvantages” of pooped pants, but was unable to think about it.

    As a note, I know that isn’t how the demon works…but my dream mind apparently doesn’t.

    For some reason that I cannot say, I thought you all should know that.

    1. It’s ok, the first time I read the chapter where Grey Boy uses his abilities I had the worst nightmare of my life about him so I imagine the two of us are not alone. That said I could see that being an interesting use of connection manipulation. Make a person forget they have a bad comb over or a giant green piece of lettuce between his teeth.

      1. I had a dream between Blake naming Maggie a champion and her arriving where when she arrives Pauz starts hitting on her and trying to get into her pants. She was about ready to give in just to get him to shut up. It was actually disturbing as hell.

          1. Actually the disturbing thing was the lighting. It was all dark and scary ominous, so everything looked creepy. And Pauz just radiated a sense of Wrong, so there was that too.

    2. What if was how the demon works? That’d mean that there was a demon in your pants, and it ate something there.

      Maybe something in your pants was larger than it is now, but you don’t remember anymore, because the demon ate of it.

  14. Yes! Maggie’s blood and fire is going to be awesome if Blake lets her do anything…
    But still, leaving Laird in a chalk circle with a bucket of water. Is Pauz supposed to stop him from throwing water to the outer circle? A bucket of water. And a chalk circle. I just don’t see this going well, and the imp doesn’t really make me feel better…

    1. The circle is easy to break, and Pauz can’t stop Laird from breaking it. Pauz doesn’t want to stop him. Pauz wants that circle broken, the circle is what’s keeping him from doing all those wonderful/terrible things he was threatening to do earlier.

        1. And if he tries to deal with Pauz, Pauz gets to talk back, unless Laird knows some sort of secret sign language thing.

          1. I don’t know if secret sign language counts as saying a word, but Pauz would be able to argue that it does. So he gets to do his thing without being forsworn.

  15. OK, Void. Possibilities:

    Conquest is defeated, thus leaving a power Void that needs to be filled.

    Blake gets creative with Erasurrrr and a Void is created in the universe.

    The Blakeguard realizes that they are need to be more ruthless in the future. This creates a Void in their figurative hearts.

    Conquest is bound by Isadora, thus Voiding the contest.

    Blake dies and his spirit falls thru the Void.

    Others?

        1. I tend to think Blake is ending up in the same place Midge got to. Its Rose. No demon is going to show up and drag his soul to hell. Blake is gonna fall through the cracks.

          So no the void won’t be empty. On the plus side Rose can summon him.

    1. Conquest goes down, leaving a power void.

      Next round with ErasUrr happens, and it “voids” (eats) something.

      Blake is killed and kicked into the void.

  16. A thought occurs. Fell may have chosen his gun for the purpose of avoid deferred responsibility. If he can hang himself and perhaps Conquest well enough, he may be able to end his families’ subordination.

    1. Indeed, Fell doesn’t care if he gets shit Karma. What could happen? He dies? He starts sucking more? I believe that’s a good thing in Fell’s book.

      1. If bad Karma means the universe tries to screw you, wouldn’t that mean putting Conquest in a better position for Fell? Its the same as how Blake is being pushed to Diabolism even though he originally wanted to stay away from it.

        The better thing would be to garnish good Karma in hopes of finding an opening to do what you want.

  17. I have a speculation. Laird blames RDT for his father’s death and when I told Blake that he reminds him of someone that someone happened to be Aimon. He’s drawing parallels between the “bad influence” RDT had on Aimon and the relationship of Mirror-Rose and Blake.

    1. I was thinking the same thing 🙂

      Someone just last chapter was commenting that there were notes about Aimon’s observations even a couple years ago, and speculating that perhaps they died at the same time. That would be both an interesting twist, semi-romantic act, and a reason for Laird to be both upset and inexperienced as a leader (only becoming the head when RDT died a few months ago).

      I was also thinking of Blake as a tempering and guiding force for Rose, as Aimon might have been for RDT. There’s not enough interaction for such a conclusion, but since RDT was a pariah with no other friends and little social interaction besides being attacked or glared at, I think that without Aimon she might have ended up pretty evil. (making Aimon a tempering/guiding force

      1. I to was wondering if Aimon is who Blake reminds Laird of. I wonder if Laird didn’t agree with the idea that the system needs to change, and felt Rose led his father astray.

        1. Laird was a little kid then and the main decision Aimon seems to have made regarding his family is that he made Laird do a less limiting set of oaths.
          I assume that something more must have happened to make Laird such a disagreeable piece of …character.

  18. “Again,” Laird said, leaning his head back, staring up at the stippled ceiling, “That’s a question you should be asking Maggie. Ask her about blood and darkness.”

    “You’re a bit of a bastard,” Maggie said.

    Could there be more to what went on between Maggie, Laird and Molly than what we know. Here Laird eludes to the prophecy, but doesn’t outright say it.

    Could Laird have given an oath not to mention the prophecy? Could Maggie have been more at fault than we realize?

      1. I think it’s “rude” words. One of the times when Maggie is stopped from talking, she says:

        “I did not mean anything rude! Not even close! And how does that count!?” (6.07)

    1. well, either that is a LIE, or it’s not. A bastard has a real, technical meaning.

      Is Laird Behaim illegitimate or not?

  19. “You’re a bit of a bastard,” Maggie said.

    So, Maggie just said a bad word, since when is that allowed?

    1. Another possibility is that her access to swear words increases as she gets closer to each round of blood/darkness/fire. When she talked in 2.02 she spent a while working around the block to say “blue”.
      In 6.07 she can pronounce “skullfu-” and “the nast-” before it blocks her. Looked severely weakened already.

      More wood for the psycho queen goblin possession theory…

    2. Whatever her word filter is, it’s old-fashioned. Bastard (like bitch) are decent technical words. Used technically, they’re not bad words (though bastard is still a little perjorative).

    1. Little bit of a Bastard could mean he was concieved outside of wedlock, but that his parents were married before he was born.

  20. I hope Laird doesn’t manage to escape, though Unmaker makes some pretty good points.

    Things are going well for Blake, which makes this kind of feel like the calm before the storm. Given Blake’s luck and the way this next encounter is shaping up, it might be messy..

  21. I would probably cripple him to be honest. Consider it small karmic balance for killing a girl. Nothing too bad, just enough to weaken him. Maybe break some fingers, or a leg. Too bad they can’t summon horror movie villains. Make a saw trap so that if he moves too far away he dies. Should still leave a human guard with a gun, just in case. Be a true bond villain and give him food poisoning. If he escapes he still has to deal with migraines, diarrhea, etc.

  22. Also, I hope Maggie explains the blood, darkness, and fire, rather than just letting Blake stumble into what might turn into another eight out of ten on the fucked-up scale.

  23. I would just like to say I really, really like the way you dealt with people exposing their plans to their enemies, Wildbow. “The universe likes it!” Great job.

  24. If Blake was really as genre savvy as he seems to think he is, he’d have realized that leaving Laird on such an antagonistic note was a bad idea.

    Laird will either get out or he won’t. Assuming he doesn’t, Blake has all the time he needs to deal with him properly once he has some actual time; he doesn’t need to try to pack all his revenge into the first five minutes. Assuming he does, it would have paid to leave Laird with some reason to avoid treating this event as something to get revenge for, himself.

    At the very least, though, it could have been an opportunity to extract an oath from Laird. Laird said Blake “won”. That comes with privileges that should have been exploited.

      1. I can’t believe he missed that one. He got the glamor-hair from the faerie the last time and it was so indefatigably useful, I cannot believe he didn’t get something from Laird. Maybe Blake’s not used to actually winning?

        1. Blake got something from Laird, he got a measure of him as a man, which Laid proved he was not much of. Granted, it’s not magical power but it will make how he moves easier for Blake to predict.

    1. I think Blake feels bad about what he’s done/is doing. I don’t think he wants to extract oaths from Laird under threat of Pauz’s torture. That would be a Bad Guy thing to do, for all it might be practically useful.

      I don’t know that it’s been conclusively proven how duress interacts with oaths, anyway.

  25. I love Tys genre savvy. I predict this one will go far. Considering the way wildbow plays jump rope with the Godzilla threshold it may not be long before enough genre savvy launches him to king of the fairy court.

    ……or be killed in a gut wrenching nightmare manner. Its wildbow folks flip a coin and yes balancing on the side is a valid call.

  26. This chapter is my favorite thus far.
    It contained only good things (which means things are headed towards some fresh hell… Sigh…)
    But also, Evan. Evan. Evan.
    Tbh, I’m slowly becoming more fond of the Pact heroes than I was of the worm ones. Ty and Evan interacting was the best.
    (most of my absolute favorite characters in Worm weren’t from Taylor’s group)

  27. I think I’m seeing something here that bothered me with Worm, too: The self-professed good guys/official heroes repeatedly and explicitly relying on the supposedly all evil diabolist/villain not being willing to stoop to the level of villainy they themselves employ, and nobody’s seeing a problem with it.
    Like with Behaims risking the kids who, if the ‘evil’ guys really were evil would now be some combination of dead and worse things, and the Sisters just hanging around the corner apparently confident that Fell won’t just go pew pew pew and gun them down like they rapped for the wrong label.

    I get hypocrisy and double standards, but would it really be too much for at least someone sometimes questioning the sensibility of trusting the evil guy to be less evil than the good guys?

    1. Here is the thing. (I assume) Laird knows how Blake works, and Laird knows Blake is not out for blood, that Blake is not trying to kill people and let fire and brimstone hail from the heavens. Laird is manipulating people into thinking this is the case for whatever plans he has.

      And if Blake does kill a child, he gets worse reputation.

      1. Makes you wonder how much of the Thorburn karma was the result of legitimate assholery, and how much of it came from people like Laird putting their kids in harms way and giving the Thorburns worse karma when no one could save the kid in time.

    2. See, I don’t get how they can think Blake is so awful and yet antagonise him this much. Do you really want to slap around the guy who might just snap one day and loose Barbatorem on everyone? Barbatorem is scarier than guns, it’s scarier than bombs, it’s scarier than nukes, mustard gas and anthrax combined. That thing gets to you and you and hell would be a merciful blessing. If I knew the guy who had his hand on the leash of a dog that mean was around I’d move to the next continent over but I wouldn’t piss him off.

      1. Matt,
        Barbie ain’t nearly as scary as nuclear weapons.
        There are still places in bloody America where you can’t live.
        65 years later.

        Barbie’s not permanent, he’s sent against a particular person.
        He’s not the creeping, invisible death that you wont’ notice until its too late.

        1. Except by the description, Barbatorem does something to the soul. Die of radiation, keep your soul. Get attacked by Barbatorem:

          “It is believed that he can sever his target’s ability to access any higher plane, forever and irrevocably denying them whatever good things might await them after death.” (1.7)

            1. One of the defining traits of these demons is that they’re all like nuclear weapons. Summoning Barbie isn’t just a well-delivered sniper shot to a specific target’s head. The darn thing is going to taint whatever it comes into contact with, and leave behind motes that will possibly become imps. Basically, summoning Barbie makes the world irrevocably worse than it was before, which means Barbie is nastier than nuclear radiation that will eventually go away after 65 years.

      2. They probably don’t think he’s bad. The problem is he’s in the way of progress and has access to demons, which are corrupting. He’s an obstacle in the way and the demons give everyone a reason to gun for him.

  28. You know, Blake’s discussion with Laird reminded me of Shan Yu. He fancied himself a warrior poet. Wrote volumes on war, torture, the limits of human endurance. You know, he said “Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.”

    Feels like that’s relevant to this section.

    This isn’t going to go the best. Not sure what kind of aspirin they went for, but at the very least they’ve given him access to willow bark in a sense. That’s one thing to consider, with how deferred responsibility works because spirits are too dumb and have too short a memory, how do all the various substitutions work? They can’t be too smart or James Randi would have died from downing bottles upon bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills. He’s a magician, so he would know.

    The whole system of relying on these stupid spirits to do things seems like a major flaw. Why, if someone had access to magic that erased time or memories from things, they could do all kinds of crap and get away scot free.

    Also, not that Blake realizes this, but he left Laird, who was at least a little trained in diabolism, right there with Pauz and a copy of Black Lamb’s Blood.

    Kill Count 2014: Is It Too Much To Ask For Frikkin’ Pauz With Frikkin’ Laser Beams On His Frikkin’ Head?

    Eyes Poked: 0
    Shepherds Sheared: 0.5
    Behaims Boxed: 3.5
    Astrologers Debunked: 0
    Elder Sisters Given A Good, Hot Dicking!: 0

    Isadoras Isadead: 0

    Conquests’ Keisters Kicked: 0


    Roses Pruned: 0
    Bloody Marys Drunk: 0
    Tallowmen Stopped The World And Melted With You: 0
    Fells Fershnickered: 0
    Hyenas Hunted Down: -1
    Pauzs Oozed: 0
    Maggies Halted: 0
    Midges Mashed: 1
    Dickswizziles Killizled: 1

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0

    Now that Blake and Evan are a team of dashing secret agents, complete with Evan having his own, bird-shaped and -sized tuxedo, I think it’s only appropriate we find some good music for the situation. Let’s pull one out of the vaults of the masterminds while they go over evil plans and death traps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyI4A8wNY_w

    1. I made a comment regarding the way the spirits and karma works on a previous chapter.

      There are no spirits in Rose’s mirror world. Could she, maybe, get far away from any reflective surfaces and quietly tell a lie? There would be no one to hear it, no one to attest to this and give her bad karma. Can’t think of any use for this because whatever you do will be isolated from the rest of the world, but it shows the system can possibly be gamed.

      1. Like the invisible kid in Mystery Men whose power was that he could become invisible as long as nobody was watching? That worked for him eventually, but you can’t “wear” a lie (although I’m sure someone else will come along and prove me wrong shortly). If a tree falls in the woods and nobody cares (if you lie where nothing/nobody can hear you), then does anyone care?

        1. “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody cares (if you lie where nothing/nobody can hear you), then does anyone care?”

          …No? I’m honestly confused a bit here. The question appears to answer itself, but philosophical questions like that usually have a sting in the tail.

          1. So you could go way, way off where nobody could hear you, then tell a lie. Maybe it’s in your demense with nobody else around. Maybe it’s on the space station or something. But what would be the point? Why would anyone bother?

            1. Because, if my interpretation is correct, it shows you can isolate yourself from the world and you would be free to do certain things as long as they don’t impact the world. At the very least, it means you can break oaths without suffering consequences. Maybe that is meaningless, since it is isolated from the rest of the world, but you could conceivably do things that require you to lie isolated from the universe and let these things benefit you, rather than lying. You could add as many levels as needed to this.

              For example. You need to summon a demon and you need to give it your name so he can then track you and kill you after you do your deed. You summon the demon in an isolated location, isolated from all spirits and any other observers, and you tell the demon a false name. Assume this demon isn’t very smart and he doesn’t try to look up a connection between you and the name. You just got yourself a free demon summoning. The universe won’t know where it came from, you will not die and you will not receive a karmic backlash for lying or whoever the demon hurts.

              This presupposes a lot, I know. We clearly don’t know enough about the laws behind the Pactverse. But if spirits mediate karma (and you don’t need spirits to make summonings, and the summoned entity will not tattletale on you), then you have a free pass to do anything.

              And many practitioners would not risk getting the universe angry at them, so it is understandable if nobody were to try this.

          2. I find that science tends to trump philosophy.

            Technically speaking, a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear makes no sound, as what we perceive as sound is created when vibrations enter our ears and are interpreted as what we’ve named sound. If no one is around, no sound is produced.

            1. I find it humorous that I agree with your first part and disagree with your second.

              More specifically, I think of sound as the vibrations in the media themselves, rather than our eardrums’ interpretations of them. Therefore there is of course sound when no one is around to hear it.

              I don’t really like wikipedia, but it serves to provide a useful excerpt for this point:

              “In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as a typically audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a medium such as air, and water. In physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound

              Which makes the whole argument about semantics, rather than philosophy or the like.

  29. ““Yep!” Evan took flight. But he circled, fluttering for a moment in a haphazard attempt at staying in one place, difficult with the strong wind. “Ty?”

    “Yeah?”

    “Batman would totally kick her ass.””

    It probably doesn’t matter in this universe but if ‘her’ refers to the other Wildbow protagonist then Evan just told an atrocious lie.

    1. Not if Grant Morrison is writing Batman. If he is, Batman totally wins. Having figured that he might need to fight her six months before he does, the limits and weaknesses of her powers, all skills a woman of her age and physique could possibly have aquired, and how to counter them. Then he’d also have a working plan for how to deal with the events in the end of Worm. But only if Morrison is writing.

  30. Something i’m not sure about. In the beginning of subordination, The Blakeguard needed to set up gates between the Spirit World and the Physical World. Also, Rose needed Maggie to do the physical side of summoning monsters. By the end of the arc Blake is able to freely hop between world’s and Rose seemingly can summon her monsters at will (with prepared wording).

    Why is that? Could it be that Blake and Rose have gotten stronger as Practitioners? Could it be that Blake is becoming more Other? Could the rest of the Blakeguard just be such extreme novices that they need assistance to switch between worlds?

    1. For the latter, the reason is probably actually doing the ‘summoning’ requires the physical rituals, but once you’ve summoned and bound the others, you can just use The Voice and The Thorburn Clout to call them.

      Not sure about the world hopping. Did Blake really world hop in this chapter? Maybe Wildbow just skipped writing about constantly using portals because it’d get tedious.

      1. They carry the portals with them.

        “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.” (6.10)

  31. So…. who does Blake remind Laid of?

    Also, why did Blake give him soap? He knows soap helps against the foul-ness of Pauz.

    Will maggie’s blond and darkness plan work out?

    And lastly, probably the mist important question I have- Who did even say would get their ass kicked by batman? I MUST KNOW

    1. I’m pretty sure the person Blake reminded Laird of is their shared relative Aimon. Laird knows about the relation but Blake doesn’t, so he was probably hoping to shake Blake’s mental state with the revelation.

      1. Oh, you’re assuming that Granny Rose cuckolded her husband with Aimon?

        I can see how you would infer that, but I’m not sure that it was even implied, really, let alone leading to such a state of certainty.

        1. Certainty? Not really, I just like to present my wild mass guessing with confidence.

          But yeah I think it’s a pretty solid guess. I mean let’s face it, drama basically demands that Aimon and Rose’s forbidden dysfunctional kinda-sorta-romance slash friendship with benefits only really ended at death regardless of marriages and other such trifles.

          1. A better guess would be Elder Rose’s father. As she said on her deathbed that Blake reminded her of him.

            Also, since Elder Rose’s first-born was not Blake’s dad, it’s harder to believe that after they both had kids with other people, Aimon and Elder Rose got together again and had a kid.

            1. Did she HAVE a husband?

              The only evidence I can think of is her specification that the heir marry (preferably a bastard) within 5 years. Which is, of course, not evidence, but merely anecdotal support.

  32. Wow. That’s some moderately epic sadism on Pauz’s part.

    I’m starting to like him. I’m a sick bastard.

  33. “Didn’t think so,” I said. “Pauz, if he says another word without my express permission, I
    permit you to talk to him again. Until then, I want you to remain silent.”

    Bad idea. If Laird tries to escape or someone comes to rescue him, his jailor can’t do anything to alert the others.

    1. Would you really want to give Pauz a way to keep in touch with you?

      Either way, if someone did come by to break Laird out, they’d have to do something about the circles he’s in, first. That involves either releasing Pauz, or somehow nullifying him. In the first situation his rescuers are toast, and in the second no amount of backup plans would make a difference.

    2. Eh, there’s probably something in the contract that says “if he escapes/rescue comes, say “Blake Thorburn” three times.”

  34. Ya know Wildbow, I usually hate it when authors plug political commentary in their writing. Like, you have no idea how much that infuriates me, due to the way it invariably brings the plot to a screeching halt over something I genuinely don’t care about, just so the author can get something off of their chest.

    But dammit, that was pretty OK. The story wasn’t slowed down just so the Marty-Stu could hop on a soapbox for a bit. You’ve even got plausible deniability in that Blake and Laird were speaking strictly in metaphor and that your views were not being reflected.

    Good job. I mean that. Just be careful to keep it that way, because I’ve seen how bad things can get…

  35. I really hope the Conquest arc is done after this. No offense, but I’m starting to feel some kind of arc fatigue. I mean, the story is interesting and it’s pretty well written, but after 50 chapters (not counting the interludes), I would like to see something more.

    Maybe I just miss the Worm style, where every arc was memorable on its own. Maybe I’m too stupid to see it, but I can’t really find a reason for why the arcs in Pact are broken down they way they are.

    1. I’m sort of fatigued with it myself. Should have moved things along faster, but I didn’t. Lesson learned. Aiming to wrap it up this arc.

      1. Kind of Glad to hear it. It’s not that this has been a bad plotline, but it’s time to either see some of the other players in Toronto develop, or move along with things. Conquest has kinda been a detour from the original conflict in Jacob’s Bell, although that has been aleviated by Laird’s recent involvment.

      2. Have you taken a vacation since you started this three years ago or whatever it was? Maybe take a couple of weeks off to go somewhere or just chill.

        1. Wildbow doesn’t skip updates, it’s crazy dedication. Said something about how if they stop writing it’s really hard to start back up and really easy to fall into procrastination. Personally, I’m very glad (unless it’s negatively impacting his health) because it seems like his writing is important to him. But I agree that if it gets to be too much he really should take a break. On the other hand, he’s gone three years, so… seems like he has it figured out.

      3. I’ve been enjoying it, but … the timing is a bit slow (for reading segments on the internet over the course of weeks).

        I love GRRM, and read his first book in less than a day, so I’d have happily read this entire segment with Conquest, and not have been the LEAST bit tired of it by the time it was over. But that’s bundled — this isn’t.

    2. It helps for me if you think of it like TV seasons, or installments in a movie or book trilogy or something. Book/Season/Film 1 was Jacob’s Bell, ending on Blake getting kicked out of Hillsglade. Book/Season/Film 2 is what we’re on now, the so-called “Conquest arc.” Book/Season/Film 3 is the aftermath, the scrambling and such that happens once Conquest is toppled (as indeed he will be; we’ve got 7 more months of story left at bare minimum and Blake would never submit to a puppet king’s authority).

      1. It occurs to me that “at bare minimum” is not the best qualifier there, given Wildbow’s previous comments on how long the story is set to go. We’ve got ~7 more months of story depending on how many donation updates we pay for and how long the story ends up needing to go.

        1. Still have to deal with the Duchamps (even with a total victory over the Behaims here), Johannes, probably expand on the non-C Lords we’ve heard of so far (Annabelle and Montreal, if those aren’t the same person), get an implement/demesnes, two more goblin queen invasions, expand on Padraic, Angnakak, and something more with the rest of the Thorburn family. Plus any Toronto fallout after C is wrapped up.

          That’s in addition to escalating the whole diabolism thing a LOT. I’d be surprised if we don’t see a 10 on the Blake-6-Maggie-8 scale. That all is going to take a lot of words. I’m thinking another year on this.

          1. He’s not looking to do a Worm-length blockbuster this time around, IIRC. This is intended to be a cross between a palate-cleanser and getting a few more genres under his belt before diving back into the Wormverse for a sequel (Once Pact is done, he’ll be working on Boil, IIRC). Of course, that information was given out before he started that Department 64 thing on spacebattles, so I don’t quite know if he’s got any plans for this beyond “It’ll be done when the story wants it to be done, dangit!”

            As for your projected expansions, Johannes and Angnakak are definitely on the menu, so to speak, as are the implement/demesne (although my fervent belief is that there’s an arc devoted entirely to making his Toronto apartment his demesne). Montreal is definitely going to take an interest in the new cabal that screwed with an incarnation of Conquest and lived to tell the tale, and Padraic still has a part to play. Also, there’s only one more “blood and darkness and fire” round once this current one is finished, and I agree that at some point we’ll see a 10 on the diabolism scale. The rest (Annabelle, the rest of the Thorburns) is more iffy.

            1. I definitely see “dealing with the lawyers” and possibly “changing diabolism as we know it” as another arc that needs to go there at the end. Chekhov’s Army y’know? Maybe my expectations are too high, but I feel that if it ends without Blake changing the world as we know it, it will be a disappointment.
              Eh, no pressure, wildbow… 🙂

  36. Heh. I just started rereading Worm, and the thing that had me chuckling was the amount Wildbow was asking for to do bonus chapters back then. $75! Now the asking price is about 15 times higher and yet the “bonus chapters to go” number just keeps ticking up and up.

    Also, Wildbow, it might just be me, but the tone of your comments has been getting more and more fatigued. Push that donation limit to the sky, dude. You deserve a break of only writing and publishing 15000 words a week or so instead of 20000.

    1. I love how protective the readership is….

      Of course it comes from having a ridiculously devoted author I mean what the heck man. What the heck.

    2. It really wouldn’t surprise me if Wildbow’s writing speed hits the capacity for a well written Nanowrimo amount on a fortnightly basis.
      I’m envious of that but am inspired even if i still have a crossover fanfic to finish form last year at the end of Worm. I said i’d write it so I will.

      @Wildbow, every time you get Three, maybe five bonus chapters queued up and waiting, increase the amount required by 100 dollars.. A ‘I need to slow this down but I wont’ take the micky’ kind of thing?

      What do others think?

    3. Honestly, it’s more real life than anything else.

      Trying to find time to edit Worm. Every time I try to work it into my schedule, something comes up. I feel guilty that I haven’t made more progress. I’m currently planning on focusing more concretely on it in a few months, because I’m…

      Moving. Or wanting to move, and I was spending a bit looking earlier this year, but it’s postponed for a few months because…

      My brother’s getting married in a month, it’s a destination wedding (kind of? An hour off the beaten path in the deep woods of Quebec), and I live closer to the destination than he does, so I’m helping out a bit – people will be staying at my place around the time the wedding happens, and the boxes and boxes of stuff he’s had delivered are piled up just beside my bedroom door. There was more on this front earlier in the year, and a lot of people have been stopping by (my brother in January, two aunts stopped by Feb, uncle in April, his fiancee/son earlier this month), stuff’s been getting delivered (less lately). It mostly breaks down to me dwelling on stuff I should be doing in advance, like…

      Trying to get some practice in for driving, to take the test and upgrade my license – I don’t do the car thing (expensive, I’m a writer living off 2-3k a month average), but I have to be able to drive to help out, and I really should get the full license anyway, just to have it, even if I would like to live an existence without the cost & hassle of owning a car.

      There’s also insomnia. Dunno what it is, but more nights than not, I’ve been falling asleep at 4-5am instead of my usual 2am. Forces me to wake up at my usual time and write tired or else I wake up later and more rested and have to write more in less time. Today I’m writing more in less time, didn’t get to sleep until 5am last night. I’ve flirted with insomnia since I was ten – I have perpetual ringing in my ears, sounds like a fire alarm going off in the next room 24/7, but I mostly had it handled. This is something else, me being tired, head hitting the pillow, and nothing coming of it for hours.

      I’ve always, in school, working, and otherwise, functioned best when I can do the stuff I need to in bursts and then take time off to unwind. Lately I just haven’t had time to do the unwinding, and that also makes the writing more stressful – because I’ve had less time for my mind to go on idle and ideas to percolate.

      I don’t feel like Pact is the sort of thing I’d be rushing out to publish, and a big part of it is the real life distractions that haven’t necessarily impacted the writing directly, but maybe made it so the overall flow isn’t quite there, or there are a few more stumbling points than there might otherwise be. I’d much rather tackle Modern Supernatural again in four or five years and do it right, than try to work Pact into a publishable form. For now, I’m mostly aiming to give you guys the best quality product I can, keep you entertained with something regular, and get through the next few months, aiming for a stronger finish in the fall when everything else is behind me.

      1. I’m still enjoying Pact just fine, so don’t worry about that. Though it does sound like you have a lot on your plate right now.

      2. Maybe you should update Pact less often? At least for a few months as that wedding passes and you get more time. I think that most of us in the comments section would understand, and I’d hope that the other readers would as well. You are writing around 10 chapters a month, around eighty thousand words? I do realise that Pact is your source of income, but there are clearly other things that require your time, and you need time for yourself.

        I don’t think your writing ability has been negatively impacted and I don’t mind at all the length of the Conquest arc. I loooove this story so much, I just drop whatever I am doing whenever you update. I wish I could go on a binge like I did with Worm (since I started reading Worm when it was almost over). I do remember, however, thinking to myself that the last chapter felt a little (just a little) “dry”. I don’t remember why I thought that though, and it could be personal bias (I was tired when I read it, for example)

      3. Insomnia is a bitch. I wrote a whole rant about it from the perspective of someone who’s been suffering it from his teens but that was best deleted. I’ll just say that people don’t get how insidiously it affects every aspect of your life and makes absolutely everything just a bit harder.

        I sincerely hope it’ll get easier on you when the stress levels subside some.

        1. I used to have insomnia when I was fourteen. It came out of the blue and it left without any reason. It lasted six months? Give it or take.

          It was so, so, so horrible to just lie in bed five or six hours and only fall asleep at six, seven or eight in the morning… The worst part was how my parents wouldn’t understand how much it affected me. And how hard it was to convince them to take me to the doctor. After three days of only getting three hours of sleep I came crying to them, asking them to take me to the doc, and they got angry at me. And man was it annoying how they’d insist I’d get addicted to the sleeping pills…

          Insomnia is horrible and scary.

      4. Please take time to take care of yourself!

        We can wait to read more of whatever you produce. In my experience, if I don’t take time for myself, it eventually catches up with me and then I have to take the time.

          1. Take the day off! Holy crap, Wildbow. I just checked and you wrote 12 chapters in all of May (and 6.11 that got retconned from our collective memories :P). Out of the five Thursdays in May, you wrote an extra chapter for four of them. Not to sound unappreciative, I love reading this story, but didn’t you say you would only do two extra chapters a month?

          2. Please do take the time. You do so much for us just by writing this, we don’t begrudge you any time you take to yourself.

            Also, you’ve done the Behaim check for us already (“I pushed up my sleeve and touched the Stonehenge bracelet…”) so we can be secure in the knowledge that they won’t pull another memory trick like last time.

          3. I get it. Saturday the update chapter heading/title will have skipped a number and he’s going to be walking away saying, “Ok, I think ErasUr is dead, but what just happened, I feel like I’m missing something in my life.” Then Rose will walk up to him and slap him across the face, because how could he have forgotten about her getting a real body?

      5. “For now, I’m mostly aiming to give you guys the best quality product I can, keep you entertained with something regular, and get through the next few months, aiming for a stronger finish in the fall when everything else is behind me.”

        Your stressed writing is much more fun to read than most author’s best writing. All the witty lines, awesome scenes, great fights. Thank you for all the hard work.

  37. I believe what Blake is trying to do is force Laird to take himself out of the picture for a couple days. He knows Laird can ‘bank time’

    I suspect that he’s counting on Laird banking a lot of time, basically pushing himself forward in time, taking zero actions, in an effort to avoid having to worry about accidentally allowing Pauz into his circle.

    In essence, he’s forcing Laird to take himself out of the picture for the duration of the engagement, and if Laird sets himself to do nothing for two days, even if someone does come to free him, it won’t matter.

    1. Maybe, but he’s effectively out of the picture anyways since he’s trapped in a circle with an imp and a candle zombie guarding him. He also doesn’t have his implement, so it may be difficult for him to actually bank any time.

      1. @farmerbob1: Interesting idea!
        @Enjou: Good point, many higher workings need an implement or Implement.

        I wonder what banking time looks like from a normal’s point of view – would Laird just appear to “blank out” or freeze? Most of the workings we have seen so far look like accidents or coincidences to normals.

  38. I genuinely enjoyed this chapter! I can’t wait to see Fire and Blood. I hope Laird gets it bad enough that he’s damaged for the rest of the exchange. I just hope Blake x Sphinx doesn’t mean we lose Blake entirely.

  39. Based on the last chapter, it’s beginning to look as if Rose is not any one specific person, she is the embodiment of Thorburn power. Blake can’t control demons without Rose doing it, or letting him do it. Barbatorem has the ability to “carve out a reflection” Mirror Rose. Barbatorem can destroy the immortal soul, I bet he can tie knots in family bloodlines as well.

    Rose Sr, near death, bargains to have Barbatorem cut the family’s bloodline power out of her and give it to her for use in a future ritual. She bargains with the Demon Lawyers as well, small bargains, but enough to get her what she needs.

    Molly, the first heir to die, is transformed into a vestige and the Thorburn bloodline power is imbued into her by the lawyers, using the stored bloodline power. The result is Rose.

    Rose now holds the power of the Thorburn line, and she will learn as each of the subsequent heirs learns, their teacher, their companion, their protector as much as possible, helping them survive as they are attacked by the Thorburn karmic curse due to their status as heirs, rather then their possession of bloodline power.

    As the heirs die due to Karmic backlash, the Thorburn family karma grows less negative. Each heir lives longer learns more, offsets more karmic energy before they die.

    In the end, Rose, having learned and lived through the lives of all the rest of the heirs, becomes the familiar of the last Thorburn heir, but she is too powerful for the heir to contain, and they become a combined being much like Briar Girl.

    But without the karmic debt.

    Laird has been prepped from childhood to fight Thorburns. He will do his damndest to end their line with the family power. In the end though, he’s doing what Rose and Aimon wanted him to do – spend the Behaim Family’s karmic/power surplus to pay off the Thorburn Family karmic debt.

    Even if all the heirs die, Rose is the embodiment of the Thorburn family power. She will have the potential to find a host and continue the line if any practitioner tries to take her as a familiar. The lawyers might even have instructions to assist her in finding a suitable host.

    End result? The Thorburns and Behaims are not polar opposites in karma. They can live with each other without the universe pretty much forcing them into conflict.

    The problem?

    What stops it from happening all over again when Mirror Rose has a clean slate of Karma and is sharing a body with a host?

    1. The only problem with your theory is that Isadora outright said Rose is the next heir, and that she would replace Blake.

      1. Hmmm, but Rose has always been the heir to power, Blake is the current heir to the bloodline, to the house. I think you are right that you’ve poked a bunch of holes in what I’m thinking.

        Isadora may not be right. Being wrong isn’t lying, and I don’t think she’s omniscient. She may be detecting Rose’s potential but not understanding it right, since she’s not a diabolist, and may have never seen anything as convoluted.

        Time will tell.

        1. Well it’s not a bad thoery. If it weren’t for what Isadora said, I’d think you were definitly on to something. But due to her being a creature of Karma, I think she’s on to something. Then again, I think you might be on to something too. There is a key piece of information we are still missing here, I think

          1. There is also the possibility that Blake is the last blood heir left. It would seem terribly wrong if the rest of the heirs after him had been killed offscreen, and I strongly doubt Wildbow would do such a thing. Almost not worth mentioning, but as you say, we’re missing something.

          2. I think it is very possible Isadora may be misleading (I don’t know if she can lie) Blake for her own balancing act. While farmerbob’s theory doesn’t /sound/ right to me (I can’t recall any evidence to support it), I think we should take Isadora’s words with a pinch of salt.

  40. The chapter title isn’t ominous at all.
    Arc title. Whatever.

    Laird’s the new Piggot, it seems.

    “What happens when an American dignitary is kidnapped? When any offense is made against the American people or American soil?”
    “Overreaction,” Maggie said, from the kitchen. She arrived with the little bucket of soapy water and a wad of paper towels. “An excess of force.”


    “I would argue that America’s living a lie,” I said. “They spend a great deal of time deluding themselves about just how powerful they are, a lot of time deluding others, and a lot of time abusing the power that does exist.”
    As much as I’d like to argue, I really can’t.

    “You leave a man standing on a chair with a noose around their neck. The powers and spirits that would decide where responsibility for the death rested don’t necessarily have the wits or the long memory needed to figure it out.”
    Fell sat in a chair, the butt-end of the gun resting in his hand. He’d relaxed a bit since the imp was summoned. “It’s true. There’s a reason practitioners prefer curses and convoluted ends over efficient things like bullets.”
    “Ah,” I said. “Interesting.”


    Well, understated, but aye.

    “Pauz. I am Pauz,” the imp growled, enunciating it pa-ooz.
    I now understand how to say Pauz. Yay!

    “You remind me of someone else, Blake,” Laird called out.
    I didn’t take the bait.

    Aw. I can’t help but wonder who. The elder Behaim?

    “You’re telling me the universe encourages being the Bond villain?”
    I hesitated.
    “It does, doesn’t it?” Ty asked.

    Gotta love the Universe.

    People looked, curious, but I was well beyond the point of caring.
    How much are people seeing, I wonder? Does the Hyena look like a sword to the muggles, or something more mundane? Is Evan looking like he’s acting like a normal bird? Does Ty look like he’s talking to the others, Evan’s gaps filled in somehow? How hard do the universe and the muggles’ minds try to maintain the Masquerade?

    1. Isn’t that what makes him the hero?Acting PG in a PG is not that heroic imo,the universe lets you,but if you add to the difficulty,you have to kick the universe to the balls rather than stopping being a good guy.

  41. Why is Pauz so unnerving?to the readers,I can understand,but to a seasoned practitioner who trained in diabolism?

    Honestly?Urasur or Barbatorem would scare the shit out of me,and I would probably be scared by a free Hyena or Pauz too,at least in a real life scenario (tey do not seem that scary if I just read them from a book-except Urassur,that guy scares me even though I am just reading about him,thats a high quality horror monster)

    But under that situation?I would troll the heck out of Pauz,its like having something you hate on a leash unable to reach you,no matter how much it barks,it can never bite you unless you dun goof,s I’d just bark right back.

  42. Rose is everything that Blake should’ve been. I see Blake as way too “paragon”, too much of a goody two-shoes in my opinion, too afraid to use the resources of his family because they’re evil I guess? or maybe he’s afraid of the bad karma? And then you see Rose not being afraid to summon stuff because she’s actually intelligent enough to realize you can do more good using those resources and still have good intentions.

    I’m probably the only one who thinks that having an 8 year old kid as a familiar was probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen a protagonist do. Literally anything would’ve been more interesting as a familiar. Not to mention bringing in his friends as new recruits to act as baggage and take the negative karma hit as well. I was actually more interested in Blake’s friends before they became practitioners. Having Blake lead a “cabal” while he has months of experience as a practitioner at best just seems like an even stupider decision than having Evan as a familiar.

    I liked Blake during Arcs 1-5 but when Rose said she was more a Thorburn than Blake, she was 100% fucking correct and a part of me is glad she’s drifting away from him. It’s not a coincidence that whenever Rose isn’t around Blake ends up deciding on something really retarded. What’s next? Blake decides on getting a demesne in a 6 by 6 hobo hutt in the middle of the forest? Is it wrong of me to hope that all his friends and his familiar get killed off so he realizes just how those decisions were? If that happens then maybe Blake would actually go through some character development enough to realize how things should really be done. /rant

    Ok, had to get that out of my system. It’s been a while since I’ve been that frustrated with a protagonist but I love the story and the complexity of how the world works makes it enjoyable.

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